End of Year Accounts

The more-or-less end of the year is an appropriate time to do an assessment of how well this reckless endeavour has gone. Records go from 3/6/14 to 30/12/14.

Sales have remained somewhat flat since the beginning. This is neither spectacular nor terrible. I'm playing for the long game, eventually the back catalogue will be so large and knowledge of it be so common that it will quietly start to turn a profit. At least that's the plan. Being excellent is easy, being consistent is hard.

I must stress here that there is no inherent nobility in running at a loss. I take no pride in it, it is not a good thing and I will put a stop to it as soon as I'm able. If you make something good and worthy you should be compensated and sustained by it.

Commissions are where the money goes. From the beginning I aimed to get to a point where I could pay professional rates and have consistently pushed them up there. Still, from this point I would need to triple them to match something like Weird Tales. Not happening any time soon. At some point I'd like to be able to pay myself similarly. Long game.

Net income: Around -£100 and 60something copies from breaking even. Pretty damn good considering the costs of replacing a printer are included there.

So other than numbers, what did we learn?

  • I'd like to think I'm easy to work with but who knows. Either way, when working closely with another I feel the work is definitely stronger.
  • I have absolutely no idea how good/bad The Undercroft is. I'm not used to this distance from the audience and am endlessly frustrated with it. Unless you hear the sincerity in their words, praise or criticism is hard to take too seriously.
  • As I said the last time I did this, reviews are hard. I don't think a zine is a very reviewable thing, I know I've tried and failed. Do you talk about the work itself? What if it's an anthology work? Is the writing or collecting more important?
  • I still dislike talking to people over the internet. You either sound hysterical or like an arsehole when tippety-typing.

What next?

  • I want to get weirder. Everything so far has been quite tame and in the bounds of what you'd expect from a supplement. Some people have been funny about demon boobs on the cover of #3, I'd like to explore that discomfort some more. Not just through nudity and shock value (although sure, why not), but other ways.
  • Bigger projects. There are 2 books in different stages of development that have taken ideas that were originally going to be blog posts or zine articles. There is a definite A, B, and C class system going on (you're currently looking at the C game).
  • More issues. Short of me dying, I won't stop.

Hopefully someone finds this stuff interesting or useful. I certainly appreciated others doing similar when I was starting.

Humourous Henchmen

I have never remembered what a henchman's morale is. Call me heartless, but they all look the same and are never around long enough to care or find the scrap of paper I pretended to write it down on. Besides, if I got attached to every one of them I wouldn't be able to do my job (i.e. killing henchmen).

So, henchman morale checks; or the "does my henchman run off with all my stuff" roll.

When you meet them you roll for what kind of temperament the henchman possesses and you write it down right there where the players track what the poor fellow is hauling around for them. The dominant humours are listed with the roll penalties used on the following tables:

Sanguine -1
Choleric +1
Melancholic 0
Phlegmatic +2

(the traits of each are listed at the end and may help characterise a henchman that no one much cares for)

To use a past example of a henchmen, who bravely took their own life, we would record their name down as follows:

Volrath the Phlegmatic Foreigner

Possibly. Or you could write it down on a scrap of paper and forget about it, much like you traditionally do with their secret morale. Or not use them at all and just roll.

If they are asked to open a suspicious door or otherwise perform dangerous tasks on your behalf in a capacity outside of their job description:

1-2 Happy to be of assistance
3-4 They do it, but if they are harmed by the experience their faith in you will be rattled  (a 1 cumulative malus on all rolls this adventure)
5-6 They refuse

When asked to guard a pile of gold so large that they could run away and start a new life with it:

1 They cut and run
2 They make a secret nest egg. Steal 2d10 coins per pocket! (They do this without the player's knowledge and will not respond well to random checks. They're sociopathic adventurers as well, don't you know)
3-4 They palm a few coins. 2d10 coins or one small easily concealed item.
5-6 Honest and true

If one of their number dies or some other horrifying event occurs in front of them:

1 Run! Run away!
2-3 Frozen for a number of rounds equal to the number rolled
4-6 Business as usual

How much trouble can a wealthy armed killer get into with his downtime? (Roll this at the start of an adventure or some other convenient in-between bit. Minus 1 to this roll for every full 5 points of damage they took in their last outing; they need to let off steam after almost dying in this dead-end job)

1 Lots, roll twice

2 Some, roll once
3-6 None

Roll D44, do not add humour bonus.
11 They got drunk and talkative at the local social club. Every secret you have that they could reasonably know, they've told in great detail to everyone listening. Expect unpleasant surprises.
12 Your pockets are lightened. The henchman has taken their fair share (in their eyes) and skipped town. Leaving with a recently acquired macguffin, perhaps?
13 They join a competing adventuring company who have just moved into the area.
14Their sketchy past catches up with them. 1, they get killed in their sleep 2-6 their old enemy turns up and starts causing trouble.
21 They start their own competing adventuring company
22 They gambled and lost. They are not only now broke, they owe money to the local seedy underbelly. This can not be resolved by just killing a bunch of guys, the mafiosi will sneak into your inn and stab you while you sleep if you get handsy with them.
23 They elope with a local lover. Skip the next game and return with +1 to all rolls for an adventure due to the refreshing break.
24 A man/woman comes forward as your henchman's illegitimate/abandoned child. 3 in 6 chance it's true. They will either want compensation or to follow in their parent's footprints and join you, whichever is most inconvenient or interesting.
31 A fight breaks out, most likely started by the restless henchman. They take 5d8 damage in bar-room shanking damage.
32 They got arrested on counts of: 1-2 Theft 3-4 Assault 5 Murder 6 All of the aforementioned
33 They went on a legendary bender. Drink, drugs, girls, boys, now! Their hang over is of such magnificent beauty that they nurse it all through the next adventure, suffering -2 to every roll involving thinking or moving.
34 They've been recruited into the Potters Guild militia. They're off to Loch Doldrum to fight the Mud Men and take their precious clay. Steady work, good pay.
41 Their wife/husband has come to retrieve their wayward spouse. Deal with it.
42 They dipped their wick in one too many pots. Syphilis! See Undercroft #1 or just make it up.
43 Drunk in a ditch somewhere. Alive but they miss the next adventure as they find their way home. 
44 Caught in a riddling contest with a retired servant of the Manticore. If they pass an intelligence test they win a trinket from the Manticore's old horde (it will be relatively inoffensive) and D1000 XP.

Friendly, Energetic, Forgiving, Confident, Charming, Talkative
Weak-willed, Egotistical, Gullible, Shallow, Disorganized, Self-absorbed

Takes the lead, Independent, Hard worker, Strong-willed, Practical, Determined
Cruel, Rebellious, Stubborn, Insensitive, Arrogant, Rude

Thoughtful, Faithful, Self-sacrificing, Analytical, Organized, Practical
Pessimistic, Morose, Vengeful, Insecure, Shy, Jealous

Dependable, Patient, Accommodating, Witty, Calm,  Forgiving,
Docile, Indecisive, Lazy, Stubborn, Indifferent, Yielding,

The Undercroft #3 is out and proud

Oh me oh my, it's happened again.

We have golems seeking treasure while England is upturn'd; wise men and cunning folk, lead by a Dark Star to the Fern Court; and the story of a young man, an old man, & a bridge.

Cover by +Jeremy Duncan, illustrations by +Matthew Adams and +Jim Magnusson.

Writing by +Alex Clements+Barry Blatt and my fine self.

Now on sale. Treat yourself, buy one for the kids, stick them under the Christmas tree and surprise your mum.

Arthurian encounters by the roadside

A white stag bursts from the undergrowth, stops in your path and makes eye contact. For that split second you are all transfixed by its evident majesty, and then it bounds away. Eating its flesh will heal all heart sickness, it's pelt will swaddle the future king, and a crown made from the creature's bones will make the wearer beloved by man and feared by fae.

A young man has stationed himself at the opposite side of a bridge. He challenges you as you approach to single combat so that he may earn his knighthood. Behind him is a tent, a fire pit, and a selection of helmets sitting on top of weapons rudely struck into the ground. If you wade through the river instead of using the bridge he will insult you and question your honour but otherwise not interfere.

The road ahead has been furrowed and the forest on either side is shattered and torn. The giants would never wander this far south, you tell yourself, but the birds speaks volumes in their silence.

A body lays in the middle of the track at the end of a long trail of blood. On inspection his teeth are missing and his eyes have been struck out. There are tiny feathered spines still in the sockets and a silver coin under his tongue.

The path ends suddenly. Perhaps your attention has flagged and your feet have wandered or maybe your map is too old. You turn to retrace your steps and the path behind you is gone. Thick forest abounds.

A knight is struggling by the roadside with who-knows-what. He is quite frantic and looks like he is wrestling with something vicious, but on approaching you discover his sword has just become stuck in the scabbard and he is angrily trying to draw it out by bracing it between his legs and pulling. If you offer to help him he will grumpily accept. After some embarrassing pulling and falling and swearing he throws the sword to the ground and stomps off towards the nearest town ranting about not being stingy when it comes to scabbards. The sword is magical in some rather mundane sense.

Dungeon Camping

When you make camp in the halls of the dead or the ventricles of a monumental stone war machine you must assume a certain degree of risk. By all means, set a watch, make a rotor, look very very hard into the gloom at the fire side. You may have the pleasure of seeing what bloody inconvenience you have brought upon yourself moments before your sleeping associates do.

An enterprising drip has worked its way into your rations and prompted a luminous blue fungal bloom. It glows faintly and is quite pretty, but might be best not to eat them.

Small creatures have made off with a random item in the night. They have replaced it with a bundle of twigs or other appropriate local detritus. An equitable exchange maybe?

You wake up choking. Your mouths and eyes are filled with little puddles of brown water that dribble down your chest as you sit up in a panic. You seem fine but all your metal gear shows sudden signs of rust developing.

You are woken up several times by the distant voices calling your names. Some of your friends claim it's just the wind, but you heard it. None of you count as having had any sleep, even the naysayers.

Your party is awoken by an angry man waving a strip of velum in your face. It has a large seal and apparently entitles them to exclusive rights to the salvaging of this dungeon/cave/ruin/&e. "Them" being a moderately sized adventuring band.

While your watch sleeps and the dreams still hover, you see one of your party enter the fire light and wipe thick juices from their mouth before quietly slipping into their blanket as though they had never left. They claim to remember nothing on waking.

One of you wake up in a different and potentially dangerous location. No one saw you leave or knows where you are.

Everyone wakes up fine and dandy, except for one. That one has an enormous pulsating spider sitting on their face that retreats as the others stir, slipping inside their mouth and down they gullet in a diminishing bouquet of legs. Then they wake up, good as ever.

Develop these in directions prompted by the reactions they receive.

Smashing weapons

My plucky players have entered a megadungeon in the vain hopes of escaping the mind racking adventures of the surface world (the fools!). This opens all sorts of interesting things to mess with based on extended periods spent underground, away from civilisation. Like weapon fatigue, something I've quite fancied for a while.

In real life swords are pretty delicate things, maybe surviving a couple of intense battles before needing a good seeing to. Spearheads come loose, polearms snap, knives bend, clubs splinter &c.

Every time you roll a 1 the die size of your weapon drops. So, a typical sword on rolling its first 1 will fall from d8 to d6. This goes all the way down to d3, where you are reduced to a heavy nub with which to assail the enemy, though rendering pitying looks rather than blood and bruises. Up until this unhappy point it is fixable. Lamentations' rules of "bigger weapon, bigger dice" works very nicely with this, simulating a longer period of usefulness in larger weapons that have more to fall apart. A polearm without a head is still a big stick, after all.

Similarly, by design armour takes a pounding. When a 20 is rolled against you, your armour drops by increments of 1 until it falls apart. Up until that point it can be repaired and patched quite happily.

So, repairs. It will take 10% (modified by local market trends) of the item's value to repair an increment. A sword worth 100 silver pieces that has gone from d8 to d4 would cost 20 silver to repair. While on the road a character that has suitable equipment (whetstone, nails, needle & thread, whatever makes sense) may repair one increment of damage sustained that day.

This system shouldn't be symmetrical. Enemies aren't around long enough and are too varied to make proper use of these rules. Instead, keep a tally per game of how many times you've rolled a 1 for non-players' attacks. Every 4th (5th? 3rd?) 1 rolled will result in that fellow breaking their weapon. As for players rolling 20s, a 20 is its own reward but you could potentially apply the same system: every Nth roll shatters some armour.

I suggest varying the increments each game, possibly going so far as to roll it randomly so as to keep the players from being tempted to count them.

Shields, of course. Shields.

If you have a shield you can ignore armour fatigue, however at the end of the fight there is a 1 in 3 chance that the shield is knackered beyond use.

Entirely unrelated point:
If you don't know why a location is named the way it is then it probably shouldn't be named as such. The people living there don't need to know, but you should. In countries that have existed for more the a few generations place names are very literal and locals are usually aware of the history.

Books as remembered (poorly) by me, Part 2

On by Adam Roberts

I sometimes feel I'm the only person who's read this, a (sci-fi?*) book from the well respected Adam Roberts. That is of course until I meet someone who has read it, but then I find out they hated it so instantly expunge the conversation from my memory. Can't be wasting mind space on people who are so very, very wrong.

The link above will give you a plot synopsis and a bunch of people grumbling about it (remember: wrong) so I'll spare the details and get to why this book makes games better and everyone should read it and agree with me.

World building is important, obviously. How you do it is your own business but consider the option of being totally fucking mental. On takes place on a vertical world, The Wall, with platforms and outcroppings all the way up it that people live on. At various points they think about what's on the other side, or what's at the top, or why they can't fly very far out before they get pushed back in. Pretty crazy, huh? But wait! It's not. Mr. Roberts explains in a chunky essay in an appendix that the book is on Earth after a (apparently vaguely plausible) shift in gravity, so that it spirals around the world rather than pulls us down. There is no other side of the wall, there is no top, and you can't fly far out 'cos that's just space up there. And he didn't tell us in the fiction. Of course you could possible piece it together, but that's not the point.

So what is the point? Good question, me. The point is that he had a hidden keystone that connected everything in his setting together. If we had access to it then it would all click together, all the strangeness, everything that just didn't make sense. It did make sense.

The practical application here being: start with a keystone, extrapolate out, then hide it. It creates a wonderful logic that can only be seen from a specific angle, and one day you can hand over the keystone or have it taken from you, whereupon everyone will go ah ha, we're so smart!

Round of applause.

Besides this there are a few incredible portions of the book that translate to more concrete things that can be stolen, all need to be read to be used. The war fought through a vertical jungle full of tiger sized carnivorous earwigs, a trader who uses children as walking larders, and that god damn alien. Three pieces that will prove excellent fodder for theft.

* Like all good fantasy/sci-fi it resists easy labels but it most certainly generically inclined. Talking of genre, when are we going to admit that the fantasy/sci-fi genre split is ridiculous. They're the same bloody thing.

Books as remembered (poorly) by me, Part 1

I like talking about books, so I'm going to do that for a while. You could call what I'm about to do an Appendix N, but let's not. That term holds no meaning to me, I never saw the Appendix N when it came out and only learnt about it from other people whispering about it in corners. Spurred on by their hushed tones I found a digital copy of it and was shocked at how tiny and narrow it was. It's called a bibliography.

So here's part 1 of my annotated bibliography. I'll spare the waffle and just serve the meat.

Gene Wolfe

Gene Wolfe looms large in my lizard brain. Where there should be fight or flight responses and the urge to feed and fuck, I have the need to be Gene Wolfe.

Recommended reading:

Book of the New Sun
Latro in the Mist
Wizard Knight

All of these books are written as artefacts, two diaries and one long letter. All have unreliable narrators. Severian in Book of the New Sun is moving through a world that is as weird as anything on Dying Earth, yet we aren't given a proper look at it because that's just how it is for Severian. Everything is filtered through someone to whom this is normal or only slightly odd, leaving us wondering what's really happening. On top of this we also have the "translation" performed by Gene Wolfe, who claims the book is a found text which has to be very generously translated because of a lack of better words for such alien things. Many of these approximations are very weighted classical Greek references that reward knowledge of them.

These are all interesting things.

Both Latro and Wizard Knight are probably better written works, tighter and more disciplined. Each experiments with form in interesting ways, Latro is writing the diary because he forgets everything each morning. He is the opposite of Severian, being pure eyes for us to see through. The reader is more informed of what is happening than that poor fellow is, we having the ability to contextualise what he is writing.

Wizard Knight has the least experimental form: a letter written to his family back in the mundane world explaining why he isn't coming home. A portal fantasy, which is rare nowadays in adult fiction. This book is subtle and doesn't lean so heavily on classical references, instead creating an internal folk lore that requires extreme attention to unravel.

Of the three, Book of the New Sun is the undoubted king of influence. I read it at a formative time, way back when I started writing properly, and it has embedded itself. Every bit of literature, poetry or RPG thing that I do is held up against this book and judged. There are other books (as we might see later) that have had a more profound impact on a fundamental creative level, none have come close to the consciously chosen influence this has.

What did I learn?

  • It is okay to not make sense, to be obscure and referential. You don't need to lead the reader by the nose or particularly help them in any way.
  • Experimental forms can work if you throw everything in to them. We are not just making lists of facts to be absorbed, we can make things that tickle at an obtuse angle.
  • Narrators matter. Even in RPG books, a narrator is a choice that we make. 
  • Create the weird as though it is part of the furniture. Do not point.
  • It is okay to have a full three act play in the middle of your work.
  • Be weird, but have a logic to it. Even if only you know how it connects, it should connect.
  • Be unapologetically literate.
  • Anti-intellectualism and pop-cultural absorption is a choice, so make it or don't. Don't allow yourself to be washed along because that's how it's done.
  • Foreshadowing and slow realisation is the greatest thing. When weeks later a player goes "Oh my shit..." and links everything together in a montage of paranoia, then you have Gene Wolfed them.

Shake it off

Some days you wake up and your cup runneth not. Where before you couldn't shift your head for fear of something sharp and interesting sloshing over the side and onto your lap, now it is dipped into with a dozen tiny spoons who have to scrape against the sides.

Priests who took vows of pacifism. They are all issued apostate bodyguards to inflict and deflect harm on their behalf.

The princess in the tower was the worst monster of all and contained all life, the only way to stop her was a physical and metaphorical rape, sullying the universe forming inside her. Even the king of the dead refused to do this.

Humans from the end of time who seed the past with immense fighting machines, intended to be recovered by enclaves of their people and used to prevent the future they have. Their technology is not accurate so they form communities and pass on the locations as prophecy.

A group of nomads who run from their past. Their past chases them and all their stories are true. Towns they camp near have children stolen by changelings and trolls move in under their bridges.

Magicians travel between worlds regularly, understand actual science, every wizard tower you plunder is a monumental loss to humanity.

The undead siege an unsiegable sea wall. Months and months, bodies on bodies. Eventually they will walk over.

The Friendly Sea leads directly into the Deamon Sea, this is where all drowned sailors go, where all the treasure ships have sunk and also explains why it is so dangerous. The waters pour down a daemonic drain. The shores of the primary sub-realm are littered with these treasures.

The world is infinite, as is each sub-realm and realm above. The daemons worship us as gods but we do not understand their ways. Do we kill our gods as we worship them?

The world is shaped like a trampoline with a bowling ball in the middle. At these points the worlds touch, but they are very steep.

At any one time there are 4 or 5 things that might end the world.

Vornheim is a spaceship, buried face down in the side of a mountain.

Rats have a secret world with overlays our own. They have kings and countries and wars.

Magic-Users aren't real wizards until level 20, whereupon they retreat from the banal and petty world to pursue things we can't appreciate. Up until then they can barely claim to be apprentices or dabblers.

You get yourself pulled in so many directions, sometimes you have to shake it off.

Latter Kairnlaw (revised and expanded)

The Kairns came to the Kairnlaw in two major waves of migration separated by an interval of about four hundred years. It was the northwest corner of the continent that received both influxes, for east of the Ikon Mountains luxuriant grasslands stretch practically unbroken for three hundred leagues to the coast. This gently rolling land, thickly braided with rivers, is the realm called Prior Kairnlaw. It is superlative grazing land. The Kairns who held it first were loath to share it with their late-coming cousins, and indeed, did not do so, for their cousins—more numerous and hungrier than they—drove them out of it, and into the western plateaus, the colder, rockier, more arid half of the continent known today as Latter Kairnlaw.

Kine Gather lies in Latter Kairnlaw not far from the Bone Axe Mountains, a northern branching of the Ikons. Like its sister-cities of this area—White Lick, Crossgulch, Bailey’s Yards—it grew from a cattle market on a river, a rough-and-ready sort of place where stock could be auctioned and shipped by enterprising men unwilling to endure tedious inquiries into their herds’ provenance or prior ownership. And, again like their neighbours, Kine Gather’s citizens retain even in the moderate prosperity they currently enjoy all the predilections of their city’s founders: raiding, cattle-rustling, passionate quarrels over boundaries, and blood-feuds.

Most Latter-Kairns share these traits, and this is understandable. Their sparse-grown, harsh-wintered terrain compels their herdsmen to arduous seasonal pilgrimages to keep their animals in pasture. Only the hostility of that land to any other economy—combined with what might be called a very stubborn cultural spirit—keeps them at their historic trade. And yet, for all their pains, they can expect to raise only maculate hornbow and dwarf-ox with any success, while in Prior Kairnlaw both these breeds thrive and four others besides: palomino hornbow, crucicorn, plodd and jab√≥bo (of which last, more presently). If scarcity alone had not made cattle thieves of the Latter-Kairns, their enduringly bitter sense of dispossession would have done it. Inevitably they have robbed one another, but they have always preferred the richer plunder and the prestige among their fellows to be won by raiding their homeland’s usurpers.
Nift the Lean

The Greater and Lesser Kairnlaws may claim to have many differences, but religion is not one of them. A pragmatic people, they always know what God to speak to for every eventuality. They're not so arrogant to assume that any one being can solve all their problems, so much so that even converts to Vorn or Qadhi will be sure to stay on good terms with the local Gods. It would be a very brave citizen of the Kairnlaw  who would go on a journey without a quick word to The Bartlet, or visit his mistress without an offering to Judith.

Holy men of the Kairnlaw are bottomless fonts of knowledge regarding who to appeal to at any specific time. They are one of the few people who are equally welcome in Greater and Lesser, respected for their deep knowledge and god-given skills.

Gods of the Kairnlaw

To gain the ability to meaningfully interact with the Kairnic pantheon one must demonstrate intimate knowledge of their vast family. Every time the player creates a fully realised god for the pantheon they have a 50% chance of gaining the right to ask one favour per day. To use said favour they must complete the appropriate invocation.

Loose these powers if on water (temporary), since the gods avert their eyes.

Our Lady Judith, Sister in Sin, patron of cheating husbands.

Many a man has offered up a prayer to her while creeping out a forbidden paramour's window. However her attention is fickle and she is prone to allowing them to be caught by enraged husbands and vengeful wives. In polite circles a wayward husband is said to be "visiting Aunt Judith"

Invocation: Burn a small amount of your pubic hair. One strand would do.

Gift: Those who have talked to Judith can lie utterly believably to women, getting them to believe the most ridiculous things. However 1 in 6 times it will be an embarrassingly awful lie and get you immediately caught out.

The Bartlet, patron of sore feet and wasted journeys.

No one is quite sure why The Bartlet is named so but they continue to put up a prayer to them whenever they set out their door. The Bartlet is typically pictured as an anthropomorphic cat with a permanent look of disappointment, sitting by the roadside. These images are almost exclusively found in remote roadside inns.

Invocation: Throwing a shoe over your left shoulder while offering up a prayer.

Gift: Ensure an unpleasant journey on a chosen party, unwanted pursuers perhaps. This help is oblique: sore feet slowing them down ever so slightly, taking a marginally longer route. 1 in 6 chance it helps enough to make a difference.

Darrow, god of fish suppers.

Fish for breakfast, 
fish for tea,
fish for you and
fish for me! 

A variation on the rhyme is heard on the way home from the harbour, sung with no great gusto. Children sick of the fish they've been gutting all season often don't appreciate the gift that Darrow and their mothers have waiting for them at home.

Invocation: Singing or humming Darrows rhyme while preparing your fishy supper.

Gift: Can prepare even the most foul and rotten fish, turning it into a barely tolerable meal.

The Turnsmith, God of shoe repair and thresholds.

Nemesis of The Bartlet, The Turnsmith is often depicted quietly fixing shoes just inside the door of his house or chasing cats out of his workshop. In Kairnish society cats are considered to be lazy and pessimistic, traits which can rub off wherever they sleep. Cats almost exclusively live outside in Kairnish society, and are most certainly not allowed to sleep where people work.

Many small industries operate from the home. These are advertised by performing the trade by the open door to your house. Thus The Turnsmith is often associated with cottage industry.

Invocation: Leaving a small amount of leftover material from the repair by someone's front door at the earliest possible opportunity. Not doing so will see your work undone.

Gift: Can perform small repairs on mundane items and always seems to have a needle and thread handy.

Lusta-Fi, god of goatherds and lazy boys.

The Kairnlaw has innumerable gods dedicated to every possible aspect of livestock care. Understandable for a people who derive the vast majority of their food and wealth from their panoply of domesticated creatures.

Lusta-Fi looks after the young ones, who are traditionally set to watching the goats, the least important and most annoying of herds. While they sleep or play, Lusta-Fi is said to be keeping an eye on the herd. You'll often hear parents chiding their boys for letting Lusta-Fi watch the goats, that they told them not to listen to him.

Invocation: Build a small pile of rocks, a few inches high or more, on top of a small denomination coin or sweet treat. Then paint a pair of eyes on it facing what you want watched. The offering will be gone when you return, and the eyes will be closed.

Gift: They can leave one mundane situation per day and it'll be fine while they attend to other things. The situation must be low stakes (such as watching a herd, a small child, or a boiling kettle) and not require great intervention to be okay. He would not prevent the goats being stolen, but he could prevent them from walking off a cliff.

The Augot, god of drowning, broken fishing lines and loneliness.

No gods hold sway over the oceon, if one believes the Kairn. Indeed, they do not rule but some live there, such as Augot, spurned lover of Judith. Once he was the god of brotherly love but that all changed when She chased him into the sea. Now he may not break the surface out of fear of Judith getting her hands on him.

The gods are known for their narrow sight which may account for The Augot's new portfolio. Desperately lonely, this god of fraternal love drags fishermen to their deaths in a desperate bid to find company.

Invocation: You must speak into a body of salt water for no less than ten minutes in a friendly manner (a large bowl will do). Keep it light.

Gift: Though the gods lose sight of you over water The Augot can still pull you down. If he is placated before a sea voyage you may ignore the first mishap that afflicts you.

Vockachella, goddess of hunger and children

"I'm so hungry I could eat my husband!" you'll hear the herdswives exclaim as they sit down to another slim meal. The story of Vockachella is a reminder for all good husbands to provide their families with the milk and meat of the herd and to treat them with a gentle hand.

Violent or lackadaisical herdsmen will often find their lives unravelling, piece by piece.  

Invocation: Spit milk in the target's face (this is a dire insult in Kairn society)

Gift: For each favour the gods owe you, you may cause the target to fail at an action.

Destur, god of traditions and failed hunts

The Kairn rarely hunt for food, they consider it to be beneath them. The civilised man has his meat quietly sitting in his grasslands waiting to be eaten. However hunting is still required when a white ape tribe descends from the mountains, or a panther wanders too far from the shade of the Fern Court. 

Destur would disagree with this. His remit is of consistency and cultural bureaucracy. In his eyes everything is judged by how it relates to proper Kairn values, and hunting is not one of them. To spare you from the shame of eating filthy wild creatures he ensures you never find them.

Invocation: Snap an arrow over your knee and with it cut the hand that will slay the beast

Gift: Once Destur is tricked into believing the hunt has already failed you are free to pursue your quarry without interference. The hunter whos hand was cut may reroll one bushcraft test per caster's level.


Obviously Vorn wasn't invented by me, it was made by this guy. In fact, assume everything here is stolen in some way shape or form, I've lost track of where anything came from. This represents Vorn as my group uses him and is mostly intended as reference material for my players.

Vorn flanked by a gaggle of saints. Source

Vorn is concerned with rust, rain and the proper working of the world. "Proper", being rather a subjective term, is a source of unending debate and public altercations amongst the hoi paloi yet the Church itself is in no doubt as to the working order. They may not always be correct, but the blessings they receive from their tired God is evidence enough that they are in essence right and true to His order.

The powers Vorn bestows are inherently linked to the hierarchy of the Church. As one rises is stature one learns to subsume one's petty logic to better view His unfolding plan. An altogether purer instrument of faith. When a lay brother dons the chains and takes up his holy mission he enters an organisation of Byzantine avenues and arbitrary superiors. A Deacon may ask that you collect all the beetles to be found on the southern wall of the Windowless Tower and bring mass to the lower city, feeding said beetles to all who receive it. There will be no reason given, no reward and no results. It is to be done and is part of Vorn's plan.

Each time a priest strengthens Vorn's order at the behest of the Church there is a chance that it was indeed the correct interpretation (5%). If the task is of suitable proportions then you can expect a greater chance of correctly finding the trail of His ineffable plan (50% if it's an adventure, more if it's really big). Roll on the following table each time you get it right.

Loose all powers if you ever use magic, including scrolls or other spell making devices. Magic items can be judged on a case by case basis. 
Loose all powers if you deliberately strike anyone with anything other than a bladed weapon. Force is final.

  1. No Harm But Mine. The priest's touch rusts metal. It can be used as a response to being struck, whereupon the weapon bursts into a shower of rust falling like evening snow. Once per day per wisdom modifier, save vs magic if the thing being rusted is attached to someone.
  2. Baptise in Iron. Once per day per wisdom modifier you may baptise yourself or another, healing 1d8 damage. It need not be full immersion or fully brown, a rusty nail in a glass of water will do.
  3. He Was Born in Battlehymn. Priests of Vorn are no strangers to violence, add your wisdom modifier to all attack rolls.
  4. Rain, Walk With Me. You can never be hurt by any rainy weather related unpleasantness.
  5. Tears of St. Paitr. Target cries brown rusty water. Uncontrollable guilt overpowers one touched person for one turn per level (save vs magic), during which they can't do anything but cry. If they are attacked they will defend themselves and snap out of it. Used at will.
  6. Blood of the Martyr, Blood of Mine. You are part of the plan, your death will be too. When you die you do not lose any experience.
  7. The Bounds of Love. Tie them up with iron chains and they won't dare lie. They must save vs. magic or answer truthfully to any questions, each correct answer deals 1d4 damage to them as the chains tighten (the truth hurts).
  8. At the Roots of the Earth I Lay Sleeping. Once per week the priests can cast someone down and let the earth take them. If the priest can physically throw someone to the floor they must save vs. magic or they will fall into a small encystment where they shall be sustained in perpetuity. If the save is successful they are instead thrown down with great force, fracturing the earth and taking 1d8 damage per priest level.

Godrickson's Corruption

[As seen in slightly modified form in The Undercroft issue 1, by Alex Clements]

Vector: Touching or eating spores
Infection Save: Poison -5

Created by the alchemist-mage Franz Godrickson in order to blackmail city officials, the corruption is a horrific and incredibly deadly disease, however it is entirely asymptomatic until the body of the infected is exposed to a very specific sonic frequency. Vials of the spores are normally sold (for extremely high sums) with a tuning fork that vibrates just so. The infected character must make an Infection Save every hour, but will show no sign of ill health until they are exposed to the frequency, at which point they suffer the consequences, listed in the table below, in full. If they survive, the disease continues to progress, but the Infection Save is made without the -5 modifier.

Number of
failed saves
Body parts liquefied
Finger prints, eye-lashes, most hair is left permanently patchy.
All hair and the tips of fingers and toes. Survivors suffer a permanent -1 to attack rolls and any other physical tasks. They always count as being 1 encumbrance level higher.
Fingers, toes, the tip of the nose and tongue. They can no longer speak well enough to cast spells and cannot hold any items. They always count as being 3 encumbrance levels higher.
Hands, feet, nose, lips, tongue, eyelids and male genitalia. They can no longer speak at all and count as being immobilized.
Limbs up to forearms/calves. Ears are sealed and eyes are useless. The character is considered blind and helpless.
Arms and legs entirely. Lower jaw entirely. No organs function except the heart, lungs and brain. The character will die within a few hours. If in a clean room with someone to give them water, they will survive one to two days.
Sploosh! All that is left of the character is their brain and nervous system, which is left utterly unaffected by the corruption, lying in a pool of stinking goo.


It's easy to forget why I called this thing What Would Conan Do? Other than making me giggle it was what got me into and through university and everything since. What would Conan do? We're not talking 1970s beefcake in a nappy Conan, we're talking R. E. Howard Conan.

Conan would win. He'd defeat it regardless of cost or moral ambiguity, express his will in the most direct manner. Conan wasn't a nice guy. He was a powerful part of Mr. Howard, who said he felt his hand upon the pen when it came time to write. Conan was exerting his will again.

You could build a convincing argument for Conan being Howard. Their relationship was powerful and peculiar, their lives mirrored in unusual ways. Maybe it was the reverse? Howard became Conan as time went on, the relationship turned. He fought imagined enemies and stalked his town in a black poncho and matching hat. When you start asking what Conan would do it leads to odd places.

And then the doctors told him that his mother was about to die. Without a second thought he left his father at her side, walked back to the car, and shot himself in the head. I'm not sure what this says.

Alternative Magic-Users

It's reasonable to assume that magic varies from people to people and possibly even within any given culture there will be some variety. It's even safer to assume that players could use a hand in thinking widely on what kind of magic fellow they want to be.

It's very simple. Pick a philosophy and take their starting spell instead of Read Magic. They all work the same as each other, they just have different approaches and theories. I'll be expanding on this in the future, one is already planned for issue #3 of The Undercroft.

Hedge witch - Unseen Servant

Talented men and women who choose to live lives of solitude on the outskirts of civilisation but not entirely apart from it. Their homesteads are visited regularly by young women seeking love potions, old men with unsightly sores, and small children who linger at the tree line and dare each other to peek in the filthy windows.

They possess a typical practitioners distance from the unenlightened but lack the drive and hunger for power of more the more classical paths to magic. Thus they live poorly on the kindness of woodsmen and farmers in the hopes they don't one day get dragged from their home and thrown in a river when one of them births a child that isn't quite right.

Nganga - Protection from Evil

A mediator between the material realm and that of the spirits and ancestors. A saviour of lives who plays an honourable role in the religious and social order. As a healer of the body the nganga works in close proximity to the spirits, bridging the world of the living and of the ancestors. Witch, priest, prophet, of all the users of magic they are the most integral to the people they come from.

To the nganga and their people, the living world is full of pain and stifling order while the ancestors exist in wild happiness. Through music, trance and divination they can touch this world to bring a measure of true magic to the body of the people.

Necromancer - Cure Light Wounds

Concerned with the power of life and death, their magic comes from that balance. Magic, to them, is the lifeforce which flows through everything, and the necromancer knows how to sense and direct its course. The flow is not as inexorable as some might think, the flow can be slowed or even stopped, it's powers used to turn the wheel of an infinite expanse of power.

Some cultures view their philosophies as offensive in the extreme, denying the dead their place in the afterlife. The necromancers would dispute this naive view of what "lifeforce" is, maybe explaining that one can drink from the river without diminishing it, that the water will return and flow through them. But it is hard to discuss magical theory while on fire.

Demonologist - Summon

Charismatic negotiators with excellent memories for the names and tittles of the denizens of the sub-realms. One of the most academic and arguably scientific of the schools of thought, it is well researched and has a long pedigree of guided instruction from teacher to pupil.

Remorselessly practical, a demonologist requires an encyclopaedic knowledge of their craft lest it fly out of control and ends them. There is very little room for artistry for the demonologist as minor mistakes will ensure they do not live to spread their fruity thoughts.

Alchemist - Purify Food and Drink

Concerned with the refining of the soul into higher orders. Referring to their craft as magic might insult some of the more conservative of their society who would be quick to correct you. What they do is elevate matter, adjust the humours, and scale the pyramid of divinity.

True, they hold showy magics to be a crass misuse of their science, but this does necessarily mean that their research has not led them to theories that could melt your eyeballs out of their sockets.

Ultimately an alchemists aim is the refinement, spiritually and physically, of the base.

Mystic - Bless

The healers, the gurus, the dirty men that sit on poles and commune with the wind. There is no school to go to, few teachers willing or still possessing the mental faculties to teach. No, it is a personal path, a return to the roots of magic as learned by our ancestors.

They very rarely rise to any real power but it is common for one to stumble onto what was once forgotten knowledge now overlooked by more traditional and less laterally minded schools. They are often sought out for their very peculiar learnings.

Classically Trained Sorcerer - Read Magic

Tutored by an old master or hack conjurer. Regardless of quality or integrity they took you in and taught you how to let the spells sit comfortably in your head. Between cleaning floors and lancing boils you found time to read your masters books and get what knowledge they had to offer.

Thus is the story of the average classical sorcerer. They pass knowledge, part art part science, down through apprentices like any other craft (though one that finds few gifted in it).

Enchanter - Charm Person

They know that appearances are everything. Magic happens as a conversation between reality and our expectations of it and enchanters can guide the topic to areas that interest them.

They know that reality is an illusion created by the mind, that the "truth" of anything is subjective and subject to change.

They know that the mind is weak and malleable, yet theirs is strong.

Solipsist - Sleep

Your mind is the universe, nothing is not of you. Magic is just an expression of your desire, instances of your reaching out and swirling the waters. Anything is possible if you will it.

The Undercroft Number Dump as of 30/9/14

Inspired by Tim Shorts' excellent and frank post on zine sales and expectations I thought I'd do similar in the hopes of maybe helping someone out, or at least providing another point of comparison to the original article. This is from limited experience but take what you will from it.

I got into publishing out of nowhere. I had a blog that no one read, knew next to nothing about the G+ scene, came out of the gate with no one at my back (except a few notable exceptions, thank you Tim) and no reputation to lean on. I was prepared to sell 10 copies and call it a success, a fun vanity project and excuse to mess about with a new medium. Fortunately I was way off. Seeing that there was interest and numbers I decided it would be fun to push it to be profitable and self-sustaining, turn the whole thing into a game.

Obviously, to play a game properly you can't cheat, so I decided that everyone had to be paid for any work (except my excel monkey, he can put "Consultancy Fee" on the excel sheets all he likes), even me. So far this has been more successful than I'd expected, with the zine being 6 sales from profitability right up until the printer broke. So it goes. Similarly, games need objectives. Other people's posts like this have offered me realistic targets in sales to aim for. I'd definitely recommend getting yourself some people you aim to beat (please feel free to aim for me), it's all part of the fun of it.

Things I have learned:

  • Reviews matter but are hard to get. Prepare to be politely ignored.
  • Don't sweat the price, charge what you need to turn a profit. This is a community of whales who will put their money into stuff that interests them.
  • You are not a proper business so don't stress about acting like one. Be comfortable with being unprofessional and honest.
  • Have fun and do what you want to do, ignore the shrill and the barbed. If you fail, at least fail on your own terms.
  • Don't be afraid to approach people that know what they're doing. The worst that will happen is you get ignored.
  • Charge for PDFs! Make the same profit margin on a PDF as on a print copy, they're the same thing.
  • Don't feel you need to "earn the right" to do anything. Just go nuts, act like you know what you're doing and it'll follow.

I have the great luck of having a chum who thinks managing spreadsheets is a legitimate pastime so I have extensive and more-or-less accurate records of every penny this venture makes and loses.

Warning: Spreadsheets incoming.

Total sales:
IssuePublishedUK PrintUK + PDFOrcs NestInt PrintINT + PDFUK PDFINT PDFRPG NowTotal SoldIssue
Average profit per sale: £1.42

RPGNow accounts for an unfortunate amount of my sales. Unfortunate because they take a cut, twice, once at sale and once when you take your money out. On a small margin thing like this it's a bit of a killer so I decided to just up the price to account for it. I reasoned that RPGNow is just a convenience outlet, the buyer pays for the convenience while I still get as much as I would from other sources.

Orcs Nest is London's FLGS, getting them to take copies was just the best confidence boost. Hearing they were warning customers that it was weird and gross just sweetened it. Orcs Nest sales are the only place I don't make the same profit as everywhere else since I reasoned it's a vanity/prestige thing to be in there. Shops don't want to be undercut by the publisher, so I have to eat their cut essentially. I recommend you email local FLGS's and ask if they'd like some of your stuff. No harm trying and it's very exciting to see something you wrote AND published sitting on a shelf in shrink wrap.

Sales by month:
IssueTypeJul 2014Aug 2014Sep 2014
1UK Print300
1UK + PDF302
1Orcs Nest404
1INT Print908
1INT + PDF1226
1UK PDF100
1RPG Now856
2UK Print002
2UK + PDF001
2Orcs Nest008
2INT Print0012
2INT + PDF006
2UK PDF001
2RPG Now0010
3UK Print002
3UK + PDF000
3Orcs Nest000
3INT Print007
3INT + PDF000
3UK PDF000
3RPG Now000
4UK Print002
4UK + PDF000
4Orcs Nest000
4INT Print007
4INT + PDF000
4UK PDF000
4RPG Now000
As you can see, August sucked. On a small product like a zine you only exist as long as people are talking about you, which in Internet Land is based on how popular and prolific you are. In my case: not very.

It's interesting how small my UK footprint is. I'm not sure why but I assumed it would be much more brisk in the home market considering I'm pretty much it when it comes to native OSR zines.

Me and my excel monkey were discussing projected sales on issue #2. He thought that #2 would sell less than #1, #1 acting as a "cap" on possible sales. I thought it would blow it to hell. Luckily I was right and #2 has kicked the crap out of #1's first month in under 2 weeks. I blame three things: Contributors that people like more than me, it's just plain better than #1, and reviews. It probably also helps that there are a few people watching me now, compared to the 0 that followed me when #1 came out. 

You'll also notice that subscriptions have done quite well. On the upside I have more operating cash to funnel into my "Dan broke his printer again" fund, but I worry that it'll eat into future earnings. We'll see in a couple of months though.

It's obvious now, but selling another issue revitalises sales on everything. Make more stuff!

Expenses£309.08£1.42217.25Breaking Even PointProfits-£120.63
Commissions Total
(articles and images)
£58.6284.79Sales Remaining to reach BEPMisc Alterations

Additional Postage Charges£5.00Messing with spreadsheet adjustment-£11.81
OSRToday Advertising£17.00Sale adjustment-£1.50
New Printer£129.97
Obligatory CopiesSales
Undercroft 1 Obligatory Copies£3.80Undercroft 1£121.37
Undercroft 2 Obligatory Copies£19.69Undercroft 2£55.32
Undercroft 3£12.54
Undercroft 4£12.54
I've made a point of listing every tiny expense on here (you've gotta play the game right!). As you can see, setting up is a bit costly but very realistically recoverable. Even the printer will likely be paid for by the time #4 comes out.

As for paying folks, I'd say I got my money's worth. The first thing that'll happen as soon as this is profitable enough to pay me is a pay hike for commissions, they're worth it. I do suspect that paying for work intimidates some people into not getting involved though, but this is yet to be confirmed.

So there you have it, a spreadsheet dump. I hope this has helped some of you in some way and do feel free to pester me for assistance if you think it will somehow help.