Homebrew Monsters: Octopus Dragon and Mantis Dragon

While the bestiaries for Numenera, The Strange, and Cypher System have plenty of wonderful creatures for your players to encounter, sometimes you see something you know your players need to encounter during their adventures.

A dragon-like sea creature with blue rings, and spikes and 4 legs ending in claw, four ending in tentacles

Octopus Dragon (Level 7)

While it bears little relation to the intelligent octopodes that reside in the deep, the Octopus Dragon was named for it’s resemblance to them. A cunning predator, the Octopus Dragon camouflages itself to match it’s surroundings and ambushes it’s prey. An Octopus Dragon can breath air, but prefers the ocean, where it’s a more effective hunter. Octopodes despise any association with these relatively mindless predators and will pay handsomely to anyone who brings evidence of a successful kill.

Motive: Hungers for flesh
Environment: Anywhere in the Ocean, Solitary
Health: 35
Damage Inflicted: 8 points
Modifications: Stealth as Level 9, Speed Defense as Level 6 due to size
Movement: Short
Combat: The Octopus Dragon can make two attacks in a round, a bite attack, a claw attack, and/or grabbing with it’s tentacles. The bite attack is venomous and requires a Might Defense roll if the attack succeeds. On a failed roll, the victim becomes respiratory muscles begin to seize up, and breathing becomes difficult. They take an additional 2 points of Intellect Damage (then Might, then Speed) each round as oxygen struggles to make it to their brain. To stop the progress of the venom, someone must pass a level 6 heal check, assisting with false respiration.
The tentacle attack prevents the Octopus Dragon from moving, but allows it to grab onto a target, increasing the difficulty of avoiding it’s bite or claws by two levels. To avoid being grabbed, the adventurer must succeed on a Might Defense roll, level 7.
Interaction: The Octopus Dragon is not intelligent like the Octopodes it resembles. It cannot be reasoned with. Patient predators, they use their superior camouflage abilities to blend in the with terrain and attack when prey draws near.
Use: When a party is investigating something on the sea floor or in a coral reef, the Octopus Dragon might be laying in wait. They are drawn to numenera, or semi-precious jewels, and will kill to add them to their hoard.
Loot: Like most dragons, the Octopus Dragon keeps a hoard, usually in a nearby cave. While typically composed of pearls and shells, adventurers may also find several oddities, 2d20 abadis, 2-3 cyphers or even an artifact in the hoard. If time is taken, a careful explorer might be able to extract enough venom for three uses from the mouth of the Octopus Dragon.
GM Intrusion: The PC fails to realize that the Octopus Dragon has another limb that has been camouflaged, and it now uses it to attack the PC.

A dragon like creature with front arms like a preying mantis, and dragonfly like wings

Mantis Dragon (Level 6)

With a silhouette that shocks with its very wrongness, the Mantis Dragon is an enormous hybrid that is as deadly as it is frighteningly alluring . With their ability to enthrall prey, Mantis Dragons typically wait until their targets are too close to even contemplate escape before capturing them with their hypnotic hum and fluttering of wings. Many an unlucky explorer has been ripped apart by a Mantis Dragon’s powerful forelegs, dumbly smiling all the while.

Motive: Hungers for flesh
Environment: Grasslands, temperate and tropical climates, Solitary
Health: 28
Damage Inflicted: 6
Modifications: Stealth as Level 7, Perception as Level 7
Movement: Short, Long when flying
Combat: The Mantis Dragon has powerful forelegs that it uses to clasp and cut apart it’s prey. Once grasped in the strong forelegs, it’s a difficulty 8 Might Defense roll to escape. The Mantis Dragon does an additional 2 points of damage each round once it has a creature in it’s clutches.
The Mantis Dragon frequently mesmerizes it’s prays with it’s wings. As an action, the Mantis Dragon may spread it’s wings and move towards it’s prey in a slow rhythmic motion, emitting a low hum. Each creature in line of sight must make a Level 6 Intellect Defense roll or become mesmerized by the patterns in it’s wings and the sound it makes. On a failure, the targets are stunned and unable to take actions until the Mantis Dragon ceases it’s dance, or they suffer harm from an attack.
The Mantis Dragon can also bite it’s prey, though it’s preferred attack is to crush a victim in it’s forelegs.
Interaction: Mantis Dragons are predators, and cannot be reasoned with.
Use: The Mantis Dragon, blends into the surrounding environment, rather then tracking it’s prey. The party might venture into its territory and it sees a chance for a meal, or hunters in the region have reported the Mantis Dragon as a threat on their ability to hunt for food for their families.
Loot: Mantis Dragons hide their hoards well, and it will take some time to discover it’s location. The hoard typically consists of 2d20 shins, several oddities, and 2-3 cyphers, taken from previous meals.
GM Intrusion: While an adventurer is in its clasp, the Mantis Dragon takes to the air, and drops them. The adventurer has moments to try to stop their fall.


Images from Gomalemo on Tumblr

Review: The Sun Below- Sleeping Lady, A Numenera supplement and campaign

The Sun Below: Sleeping Lady is a Numenera supplement produced by Dread Unicorn Games and written by John WS Marvin. It continues to develop an entirely new location in the Ninth World, an underground tunnel system that has yet to be fully explored or understood. Along with the new location, bestiary, foci, descriptors, and Numenera, there is a short campaign to run for your players that introduces and delves deep into this new location.

Cover of the book, shows three ladies standing over a desert

A great deal of the set up of this game deals with characters and locations that were introduced in a previous supplement – The Sun Below: A City on Edge. However, running that scenario is not necessary for running Sleeping Lady, alternate introductions are given and the adventure is careful to assume that you might not have prior knowledge.

One thing I think is great in this adventure is that they have it set up to run for charactersA screesnshot of the rules on modifying difficulties of any level. Monster stats are modified by the level of the party, so that the GM doesn’t have to put a lot of work into sorting out altering the difficulty of an encounter themselves. There are also instructions on building up crowds of minions, called mooks here, to swarm up on your characters. They provide different ways to create your mooks so that they can last just a little longer. I really like the way they developed this idea for Numenera and think it would be great to adapt to my own games.

A dancing woman with yellow skinThe adventure begins with the party getting a plea to help save the city of Bursang, part of The Sun Below. However, the situation is more complicated then has yet been realized, and the fate of the Ninth World will end up in the hands of the party. This is a nice and neat campaign, and there are several possible ways for the PCs to try to save the world. The easily modifiable levels of difficulty come in handy with this, as neither you as the GM or the creators of the scenario can predict in what order the party will choose to attack.

I think the creativity in a lot of points of this book is great. For instance, one artifact, The Mind Sword, causes the user to laugh evil when they hit on a roll above 17. Adding quirks like this to artifacts really personalizes them to your character and can introduce great reoccurring jokes and character traits.

The supplement seems to be intended for new GMs, as there is some handholding A mass of tentacles, eyes, and mouthsas you read through it for want to do as a GM. I think this can be great, especially for GMs who are unsure of themselves. The layout is in the same style as the other Numenera books, which makes it easy to recognize when they’re pointing out things like GM intrusions. There are some points were it is a little harder to follow, but for the most part flows very smoothly. There is a lot more art then I was expecting, and it really illustrates the creatures and characters you meet throughout the adventure well.

Sleeping Lady is a great campaign to pick up and run for your party, and is easy to use for the GM. I like several concepts that it introduces, such as quirks on artifacts and mooks for swarming fights. It is available on DriveThruRPG for $7.99. You can also visit Dread Unicorn’s website for more information on their supplements and materials.

*The Redacted Files received a free copy of this supplement for review purposes.

Review: Into the Night, a Numenera Supplement

Into the Night is a new setting book from Monte Cook Games for Numenera. It focuses on expanding the world to outer space, and what terrors and wonders lie out there for the Ninth Worlders to discover.

Cover of Into the Night, features a man in front of a vortex with his hands on controls

It is a 160 page book, with the first section (about 35 pages) focusing on how to reach beyond earth and the bodies near enough to Earth for initial discovery and other exploration. The second section (about 45 pages) looks at the other planets in our Solar System. The third section (about 60 pages) looks at threats and places that adventurers can explore outside of our solar system. The book closes with 20 pages of new creatures to encounter. Throughout the book are new story seeds, cyphers, and artifacts.

Branu's Kiss, with a view of the creatures and plants living insideMany of the existing astronomical objects are ones we can find the analogues for today: the Moon is, well, the Moon, Naharrai is Mars, Urvanas is Venus. However, there are new objects as well, like Branu’s Kiss a globe of blue-green water that orbits between Earth and the Sun. Or Calram, a small object that orbits earth, but is full of beings that have greater tech then the Ninth Worlders enjoy. There’s also a pretty great derelict ship for you to explore.

Beyond our solar system lies more planets, galaxies, and strangeness to explore. These new worlds include some of their history, distinguishing characteristics, and all kinds of ideas to build your own story from. There are also ten more planets that have rudimentary descriptions, which I think are great to use, but also give you an idea on building your own new weird planets.

Each section on a location in this book includes a handy “Using –” panel, with around five plot hooks to pull characters into a situation in that location. I think there’s a lot within the text as well to establish your own ideas for why the adventurers should be here. There’s also information on ways to get there, which can be handy when all the places are light-years apart!

A space suit, emerging from a solid wall with an alien creature in it's broken faceplateI think there is a nice mix of new creatures, and the book also discusses how to re-skin other Numenera beasties to make them fit beyond Earth.

This book handily includes rules for combat between vessels – some of which was outlined in Worlds Numberless and Strange, but I think it is a valuable addition to Into the Night, especially when there’s always a risk your craft may be attacked by pirates. For ship to ship combat you first compare the levels of the ships, and if your ship is a higher level you have a reduction in the difficulty of actions involving the other ship. If it is lower, then the difficulty is increased. You still make attack and defense rolls, and things like ship weapons and coordination with other ships play into the difficulty as well. Specific maneuvers can also be accomplished by modifying the difficulty. There’s a lot going on to effect the roll, but I think the addition of ship to ship combat can make the game much more interesting.

One thing I found odd is a one place you can visit is called The Gloaming, which is also the name of the Vampire/Werewolf recursion in The Strange. Since the locations have nothing to do with one another, I think a different name would be more appropriate, even if in canon The Strange and Numenera aren’t connected.

One minor complaint I have with the book is the scattered nature of the new Numenera. It makes it a little more difficult to pull out a new artifact without them being gather in one place, and it also can make it difficult to find them again mid-play.

A blue man looks across a bleak landscape with low housesThe art in the book is gorgeous, and there is some variation in styles throughout, but I think this serves to give a view of the Ninth World and beyond from other eyes.

I think this book brings a lot into any Numenera game, and is full of great ideas of how to bring Space into your sessions. Into the Night is available from Monte Cook Games as a PDF ($14.99) and Hardback ($39.99). It’s also available from DriveThruRPG as a PDF. You should also look into the beautiful Nightcraft glimmer, which goes into even more detail about a vessel that can by used to traverse space (MCG Store | DriveThruRPG | $2.99).

Mysteries of the Ninth World 11: New Beginnings

erulian

In this episode we finish our journey through The Devil’s Spine, and begin on the next chapter for the group.

Featuring Aser, Ash, Landan, Megan, and Shaunna. Music by Kevin MacLeod, “Decisions” and Parks and Recreation, “The Pit”

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Numenera: Into the Ninth World Kickstarter

Monte Cook Games launched another Kickstarter today at 9 AM PST and managed to get full funding in one hour. This kickstarter is for supplements tone of our favorite games – Numenera. There are three planned books so far: Into the Night, which introduces space exploration; Into the Deep, which takes your group deep into the ocean; and Into the Outside, which allows you to explore other dimensions. You can get each book as PDFs or as hard copies, and higher pledges offer opportunities to playtest, meet the MCG team, and even participate in a game run by Monte Cook! Other book maybe added as stretch goals, and the campaign is already close to passing the third stretch goal announced. Besides the books, several pledge levels include a deck of artifact cards that a GM can use to let their game run smoother.

If you love Numenera, you should definitely be looking at what this kickstarter has to offer. If you’re curious to try, now is a great time to jump in! One pledge will offers a copy and PDF of the core book as well as an expansion of your choice. Be sure to visit the Kickstarter and see what you can get!

Mysteries of the Ninth World 8: That’s Where it’s Better, Down Where it’s Wetter

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The party dives deep to find gharrolan, and are side-tracked by something else brewing on the ocean floor.

Featuring Aser, Ash, Landan, Megan, and Shaunna

Music by Kevin MacLeod, “Decisions”

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Mysteries of the Ninth World 7: Captain Morgan and the Pomegranate Beasts

blood barm
Our heroes head downriver to Harmuth in search of a substance needed to remove the parasites.
Music by Kevin MacLeod, “Decisions”

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TRF Favorites: RPG Systems

Of course, we love RPGs here at TRF – and we try to dip our toes into as many systems as possible. However, some of them have a special place in our hearts, and we come back to them time and time again. So, in no particular order, here are our top 5 systems:

1. Numenera. Numenera is actually the longest running campaign we have for TRF – and for good reason. The Ninth World is a treasure trove of weirdness and creativity. The only limit to what can be done is your own creativity. For the main part I’ve only run written adventures for TRF – The Devil’s Spine and Beyond All Worlds. However, the world is open and so easy to integrate into the games. I’ve begun building my own campaign, and going through the Ninth World Guidebook, Core Book, and Bestiary have given me so many ideas of twists and turns to introduce to my characters.

I love the Cypher system as well. It’s all player facing, so the GM rarely has to roll – I only roll to see what cyphers or mutations to hand out to my players. It’s also a d20 system, but doesn’t use modifiers like Pathfinder or D&D. Instead a difficulty is set for each task between 0-10, and the players must roll above the difficulty x 3 in order to succeed. However, they are able to adjust the difficulty, by using effort, spending out of their pools, being trained in the task, or using a cypher. Players earn XP in every session, for playing and through GM intrusions, which means I as the GM offer them XP in exchange for something bad happening to them. The great thing about XP in the Cypher System is that you can spend it. So you roll a one at a crucial moment? You can spend one of your XP to re-roll. Don’t want to take that GM intrusion? Spend an XP to avoid it. I keep finding myself in other systems wishing I could spend that XP for a re-roll, or adjust the difficulty in my favor.

Character creation is also great. There are three archetypes possible: Glaive (the fighter), Nano (the wizard), and Jack (the rogue). Each character gets to pick a descriptor and a foci, so you get to pick characteristics and what is important to your character, and then get the stat bumps to make this possible. When we were going through character creation for the Mysteries of Ninth World, I told the players not to worry about having an even distribution of the character types, because it’s really the foci and descriptors that make and set apart the characters. For instance, Ilvarya and Titania are both Jacks, but they are completely different.  And I can’t emphasize enough how easy I find character creation and leveling up. It feels very natural, and there isn’t too much to keep track of.

I’ve run games in a bunch of different systems, and Numenera is far and away my favorite. The world is so interesting and so deep, and like I said the only limit is your own creativity. The books are gorgeous and simply a joy to read through – the little tidbits scattered throughout are so entertaining.
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2. Final Girl. We record several episodes each week and attempt to balance about 18 different schedules to make sure we can get the whole group there each time. With that many people, it shouldn’t be a surprise that sometimes not everyone can show up. When that happens we have The Final Girl to turn to. This is GM-less system that takes about 5 minutes to set up, and all you need is a deck of cards. In a game of Final Girl, you create your own horror movie and get to wallow in all the great tropes that exist. I love horror movies, I love the tropes, and I love pulling them out in this game.

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Set up is easy and fun and the rules are very simple. As the game progresses everyone gets a chance to play any of the characters as well as the killer, and it becomes more and more of a bloodbath as the game goes on. The only sticking point we’ve ever hit is that sometimes the card draws mean it takes a long time for the killer to succeed in a scene, but things are set up so that eventually they will kill their victim(s).

Worried you can’t come up with a scenario to play in? The back of the book has 52 possibilities, including “Somehow, you have been sucked into Hell. You are trying to escape because it is obviously not a healthy place to be,” “A scientist or scientists plays God and returns the dead to life. They are not grateful,” and “Dracula.”

This is our go-to game for something quick to play because it is honestly the system we’ve probably had the most wacky fun in.
Sadly the site where we purchased this from isn’t up currently. We’ll keep you updated!
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3. The Strange. A lot of the praises I sung for Numenera can just be applied here. Both games run off the Cypher system, and what works there works just as great here. What is unique and puts the game on this list is the setting. In this version of our world, other realities exist just below the surface of our perceptions where dwell the embodiment of every fictional construct people have ever believed in. Fantasy worlds where lords and ladies live in magnificent castles and knights and magicians do battle with dragons, mad science dystopias where bioengineering runs amuck and people with psionic powers are as common as graduate students, or any number of post-apocalyptic wasteland, all are not only possible but are reachable by people with the ability to interact with The Strange.

The Strange is a long since defunct dark energy construct underlying our reality that once permitted faster than light travel between the stars. Whoever built it isn’t around anymore though, so there’s been no one around to work on upkeep. What’s worse, there are things that live out there in the dark spaces beyond normal space and time, hungry things. Ever wondered why we haven’t found anyone else out there among the stars? The answer is simple: planetvores found them first.

But that’s the big picture. What The Strange means for most people is that you can travel anywhere and do anything, using characters built using the simple yet deep creation system described above. Then, whenever your character goes to another reality, translates to another recursion as they say in game, you manifest in a new body suitable for that reality and get to pick a different focus. Someone who operates undercover on Earth may channel sinfire in the fantasy kingdoms of Ardeyn, or incorporates weapons in the alien recursion of Ruk where mad science reigns. Each place they go, gives characters a contextually appropriate way in which they can be the hero they want to be. In short, The Strange is the ultimate sandbox.
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4. Trail of Cthulhu. In the second episode of The Redacted Files, our brave heroes barely escaped a terrible fate when they were chased off a mountain by its otherworldly inhabitants and their human intermediary. Then they found an entire town flash frozen, its population of 300 souls wiped out in an instant. Then they failed about half a dozen perception checks and the scenario ended because there was nothing else they could do to get the story back on track. What Trail of Cthulhu was meant to address was this very fundamental shortcoming in any system that relies on pure luck for story element. To put it simply, if you need a piece of information to move forward, the Keeper gives it to you.

Trail of Cthulhu isn’t just a straightforward modification of the Call of Cthulhu framework adapted to Robin D. Laws’s terrific Gumshoe Engine though, far from it. Trail seeks to recapitulate everything that is mythos role-playing into a system more suited to procedural investigation, so that the drama switches from will the investigator find the clue to what can the investigator learn from the clues he or she discovers. What this means is that at the end of the day, though they still probably won’t be prepared for it, the players will get to see what it is they were meant to find, rather than wandering around, looking for the plot until the world ends, sometimes literally.

This mentality of automatic success is taken a bit farther with the use of investigative skills, where point spends can be used to gain just a little bit more information, and general point spends that end up working a little like effort in the Cypher System, enabling that spectacular success just at the right moment.

All in all, Trail is a polished experience that makes searching for the truth behind the mythos and the road to insanity so much smoother.
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5. Night’s Black Agents. So, what could make Trail of Cthulhu more awesome? What if you replaced the investigators with spies from your favorite espionage thrillers? And what if you replaced Eldritch horrors with vampires behind a global conspiracy with links to the highest levels of the governmental, commercial and criminal elite? Then you’d have an amazingly entertaining roller coaster ride, otherwise known as Night’s Black Agents.

On top of the usual Gumshoe goodness, NBA adds modular vampire creation guidelines, a menu of thriller combat rules, bonuses for players who specialize in certain abilities, guidance on setting up cities in which your agents may wreak havoc and conspiracies whose scope will boggle the players’ minds.

In the hands of a meticulous planner, Night’s Black Agents is a tool that could easily create campaigns that are works of art. In our hands, it makes for a great way to wreck things in new and exciting ways. We can’t wait to share our first adventure at the end of April.
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*Note: If you purchase these titles from Pelgrane Press, a PDF is included with the book.

–Megan and Aser

Glimmer Review: In Strange Aeons

Ever sat back and looked at your cypher-wielding party battling abhumans and thought, “you know what this needs, something really weird…” If so, In Strange Aeons may be just what you’re looking for. In Strange Aeons is a Numenera glimmer released by Monte Cook Games that introduces the Mythos into the Ninth World. So it’s pretty much the best of all worlds for me.

ISA introduces new character options, Mythos monsters, creature re-skins, and mechanics for adding insanity to your game of Numenera. I added some of these to the Beyond All Worlds side quest that I ran. I also plan to pour more of it into the Mysteries of the Ninth World campaign as we continue into an adventure of my own design.

Insanity Mechanic:

I think this is handled very cleverly. Instead of adding a new pool to track (like the stability and sanity pools in Trail of Cthulhu), ISA uses the character’s existing intellect pool. Using their mechanic, when ever the party encounters something from the Mythos, they must make a sanity roll where the difficulty is equal to the level of the creature. This means upon encountering a Shoggoth they must make a difficulty 7 role. If they fail the roll, they lose a number of intellect points equal to the level of the creature. If a character moves down the damage track due to sanity loss, she immediately loses a point permanently from her pool and regains 1d6 +1 points back. If she loses all of her intellect pool, the character loses their own descriptor and gains the Mad descriptor. They also get to increase their pool to 1d6 + tier and gain an intellect edge. If they lose all of their pool again, then the character cannot recover.
ISA also offers ideas for GM intrusions for your characters as they encounter they Mythos and encourages players to decide to switch over to the Mad descriptor if they feel that is the way their character is going. You can also introduce inabilities as characters grow obsessive, which is balanced by increasing another skill, like knowledge in a certain area.

Character Option:

ISA introduces two new character descriptors – Mad and Doomed. Mad comes into play within the Insanity mechanic, and when a character drops low enough in Intelligence they take the mad descriptor in place of the one they chose at charaacter creation. This descriptor causes the character to become less mentally stable – they gain an inability in intellect defense. However, they also can be given insight by the GM that will give them information that they have no reason to know. The other descriptor added is Doomed. Doomed gives you benefits for perception and speed defense, and you have an asset to resist insanity. However you can’t refuse a GM intrusion, and you don’t get XP when you take one. To quote the glimmer, “The universe is a cold, uncaring place, and your efforts are futile at best.”

Creature Reskins:

If you don’t want to use one of the plethora of Mythos monsters given in the books,  you can improve an existing one using the skins provided, which include Non-Euclidian, Squamos, Tentacular, and Unnamable. For instance, if I want to have a Squamos abhuman, they gain +1 to their armor, and have improved abilities in swimming, jumping, and escaping. However, they will have a harder time peacefully influencing people.

Creature Stats:

ISA gives stats for Deep Ones (and therein, stats for Dagon and Mother Hydra), The Great Race of Yith, Mi-Go, and Shoggoths. (The Strange Bestiary introduces even more Mythos goodness including  Night Gaunts and Elder Things).  I think moving forward I will edit the stats a bit – I thought the Shoggoth was too easy for my party to defeat in Beyond All Worlds. By increasing the hit points and its armor, I think it will become more terrifying.

Conclusion

I think ISA really understands how to add the Mythos to a game. Monte Cook states his intent:

Making something “Lovecraftian” doesn’t just mean adding more tentacles. It isn’t just about monsters from space. Lovecraftian horror is cosmic horror. It is the terror that comes from the realization that the universe is vast, inhospitable, and uncaring. Humanity’s desire to find our place in it is fruitless. We have no place. We are insignificant and meaningless specks in the unfathomable reaches of both space and time. Worse, there are entities so monstrous and vast that should we come to comprehend them—even a little—we would go mad, and should they ever notice us, they might destroy us with but a thought.
This fits Numenera particularly well, actually. Humans of the Ninth World who begin to think about the billion or so years behind them, and the immense civilizations that have come and gone in that time— each so much greater than the Ninth World that humans can’t even comprehend them—can easily begin to feel the grip of cosmic horror.

The glimmer is full of tips on how to run a good horror game and how to really bring the Mythos to life in your game. Making something Lovecraftian isn’t just about introducing tentacles, like In Strange Aeons says, it’s a feeling that this glimmer will help you invoke.

In Strange Aeons is written by Monte Cook and is available on DriveThruRPG and Monte Cook Games for $2.99.

–Megan

City of Needles Adventure Wrap-up

Megan and Aser recently guest-starred in a Numenera campaign at City of Needles. We had a lot of fun playing a mad nano and, well, a bard that go back to a house we could have sworn was just a nightmare. The one-shot was deliciously spooky and quite a lot of fun. We can’t wait to be able to show up again in the Needle’s universe. All of our adventure is up as a serialized novel on the site. You can follow the GM on Twitter at @ProfTesla!

Heart of the House pt. 1
Heart of the House pt. 2
Heart of the House pt. 3
Interview with Tesla
Heart of the House pt. 4
Heart of the House pt. 5
Heart of the House pt. 6
Heart of the House pt. 7
Heart of the House pt. 8