Picture Pong: MARP


So, False Patrick and Scrap Princess started a game of image response ping pong.

This being the foul year of our lord 2020, it’s gone viral.

The forces of chaos and law are forever at war, and all of creation is their battlefield.

But, on occasion, the great powers of order and disorder are obliged to meet peaceably. This presents some logistical challenges – how does an immovable object and an irresistible force interact without mutual destruction?

The answer, my friend, is Marp.

The marp are metaphysically inert, equally unaffected by chaotic or lawful influences. They also seemed to be cursed with unfaltering altruism. Thus, they make perfect intermediaries, shuttling between the two opposing sides like the hapless children of irreconcilable divorcees.

Whenever an inter-dimensional armistice is being signed, it’s marp who are serving drinks and passed hors d’oeuvres.

Marp seem to intuitively understand all languages but can’t say anything other than “marp,” whence comes the name by which they are known throughout the cosmos. They communicate among themselves with a complex system of blinks from their single, tripartite eyes. Utterly ineffectual in combat, a marp’s first instinct is to flee as fast as it can. As a last resort, a marp can project a prismatic spray (as the spell) from its eye, once per day.

Now, gentle reader, it’s your turn. Behold, who or what is this:

Scum & Villainy

“If there’s one thing you can say about mankind,
There’s nothing kind about man.”
– Tom Waits, Misery Is the River of the World

While the unclaimed territories teem with strange beasts and unknown terrors, the danger travelers most often encounter will be their fellow humans.

A good way to populate seedy bars or add some spice to a bad guy’s gang. Player-characters could hire them as retainers, but these assholes will betray them at the first hint of a better offer.

No. Appearing: 
Hit Dice: 1; saves as Thief
Movement: Normal human
Armor: Light (Filthy jerkin)
Attack: Long knife (1d6 damage) or short bow (1d6 damage)
Morale: Low

Cheap Shot: Craven brigands add 1d6 bonus damage to attacks made with advantage.
Take the Money and Run: As a standard action, or a bonus action after a critical hit, a craven brigand can attempt an opposed Dexterity check against an adjacent target. On a success, the brigand steals a random item from the target and can move up to their speed.

I Search the Body (1d8):

1 – 4: 1d6 copper coins, 1d4 silver coins
5 – 6: half a bottle of rotgut booze
7: crumpled and creased letter from a loved one imploring them to come home
8: minor trinket worth 2d10 gold pieces



“Anabaptist Emissary,” by Marko Djurdjevic

No. Appearing: 1
Hit Dice: 1 – 6; saves as Cleric
Movement: Normal human
Armor: Medium (chain mail shirt underneath cassock)
Attack: two-handed weapon
Morale: Very High

Terrible Swift Sword: The zealot can make an extra number of attacks equal to their hit dice, against the same or different targets within range.
God Wills It!: When an attack would reduce the zealot to 0 hit points, roll 1d20. If the result is 11 or higher, the zealot drops to 1 hit point instead. Each subsequent time the zealot drop to 0 hp, the target number to beat increases by 1.

I Search the Body (1d12):

1 – 4: Ultra-orthodox religious text
5 – 8: Pewter holy symbol
9: Illuminated hymnal (worth at least 1d10 gold pieces)
10: Bottle of sacramental wine and pewter chalice
11: Censer and box of incense
12: Locked alms box containing 1d20 coins worth 1d12 gold pieces



photograph by Aki Pitkänen

No. Appearing: 1d4
Hit Dice: 2 – 4; saves as Fighter
Movement: Double normal human, unaffected by naturally occurring difficult terrain
Armor Class: Medium (Tattered hides + high Dexterity)
Attack: Woodsman’s axe (1d8)
Morale: Average, or low in the presence of fire

Like a Cornered Beast: A feral woodsman gains advantage on attack rolls when they have less than half their total hit points.
Hunter’s Horn: Once per day, a feral woodsman can summon 1d4 feral woodsmen with 1 hit die each. They arrive 1d4-1 turns after the summoning.
Once a Man…: Feral woodsmen have advantage on Wisdom checks to resist mind-affecting spells and abilities

I Search the Body (roll 1d8):

1 – 2: One meal’s worth of jerkied meat from an unidentifiable animal.
3 – 4: Creepy, vaguely humanoid figurine carved from an antler.
5 – 6: Animal pelt cloak with a hood made from the animal’s head (roll 1d4 for animal: 1 – deer, 2 – wolf, 3 – cougar, 4 – bear).
7: Necklace of talons from birds of prey.
8: Braided human scalp.

No. Appearing: 1, but there’s a 4-in-10 chance they’ll have 1d4 craven brigands as minions.
Hit Dice: 2 – 4; saves as Fighter
Movement: Normal human
Armor Class: Medium (Brigandine jack)
Attack: Medium melee weapon or hand crossbow (1d6+1 damage)
Morale: Average

None Shall Pass: A creature hit by the warden’s melee attack must succeed a Strength check or be unable to move until the end of the agent’s next turn. On a critical hit, the agent’s target is automatically knocked prone.
I am the Law!: As their action, a crooked road warden can attempt to impose their will on their opponents. Each creature that the agent can see and can hear them must succeed a Charisma check or suffer disadvantage on attacks against the warden for the rest of the encounter.

I Search the Body (1d10):

1 – 3: A sheaf of unserved warrants and bounty notices.
4 – 6: 1d4 pairs of iron manacles.
7 – 8: Pouch contain 1d4x10 silver coins
9: Official warden identification seal
10: Collapsible spyglass



photograph by Mark Cant

No. Appearing: 1
Hit Dice: 2 – 5; saves as Cleric
Movement: Normal human
Armor Class: Light (Form-fitting leathers + high Dexterity)
Attack: Whip-dart (1d6 damage, 10-foot reach)
Morale: Average during the day or in bright light, High at night or in low light

Coils of Darkness: As their action, a priest can summon shadowy tendrils to confine one target they can see per hit die. Targets must succeed a Strength or Dexterity check or become restrained.
Fade to Black: For a total number of rounds per day equal to their hit dice, a priest of shadow can infuse their body with nethereal energy, becoming incorporeal (immune to non-magical sources of damage, able to move through up to 5 feet of solid matter). In low-light conditions, or at night, they are also invisible.
Sight-Stealing Strike: Instead of dealing damage, a priest can choose to blind their target. Unless the target succeeds a Wisdom check, they are unable to see for a number of rounds equal to the priest’s hit dice.

I Search the Body (1d8):

1: Blacker than black silk scarf with subtle black print (worth at least 100 gold pieces).
2: Plain mask made of white material that feels like porcelain but is harder than steel.
3: Black velvet pouch contain 1d4+1 cut black stones, each worth 1d4x10 gold pieces.
4: Vial of what appears to be black ink. When exposed to air, the liquid turns into a cloud of impenetrable black fog (as the spell darkness).
5: Ring made from coil of silver and black metal wires (1-in-10 chances of enchantment).
6: Shadow cult codex written in silver ink on black pages. A priest of shadow will go to extreme lengths to reclaim it.
7: Silver wire-frame spectacles with lens of smoked glass (worth 1 gold piece).
8: A flask of sweet, dark liqueur and a box of glossy petit fours. If a creature consumes either of them, they must succeed a Wisdom check or fall into an unwakeable sleep for 1d4 hours.



illustration by Don Greer, from “Down in the Dungeon.”

No. Appearing: 1, 1-in-10 chance of having a craven brigand as a “squire.”
Hit Dice: 2 – 5; saves as Fighter
Movement: 3/4ths normal human
Armor Class: Heavy (remnants of plate armor + scaly hide)
Attack: Medium melee weapon or unarmed strike (1d4 damage)
Morale: High

Hideous Strength: The knight deals extra melee damage equal to their hit dice. A creature struck by a knight’s melee attack is pushed back 5 feet.
Vitriol: The knight can spit a glob of toxic saliva (1d6 damage, 30 foot range).
With My Last Breath, I Spit at Thee: The knight makes a free attack against the creature that drops it 0 hit points; if the attack hits and deals damage, the target must succeed a Wisdom check or become cursed.

I Search the Body (roll 1d10):

1-3: A well-used misericorde dagger.
4-6: Tattered and soiled banner of a defunct knightly order
7-8: Dog-eared manual of chivalrous conduct
9: Gold signet ring bearing the crest of an extinct noble house
10: Silver locket with an engraved picture of a young woman inside



photo model: Chiharu Okunugi

No. Appearing: 1
Hit Dice: 1 – 4; saves as Thief
Movement: Normal human
Armor Class: Light (Quilted jacket + High Dexterity)
Attack: Long bow (1d8 damage) or minor melee weapon
Morale: Average, but has advantage against fear-based spells and effects

Barbed Arrows: creature who takes damage from ranged attack gain disadvantage on attack rolls -or- halved movement until arrow removed (deals 1d6 additional damage when pulled out).
Trick Shot: Instead of dealing damage, can use ranged attack to disarm, trip, or pin target.

I Search the Body (roll 1d8):

1-3: 1d12 barbed arrowheads
4-5: Philosophical treatise; a character that reads it for at least one hour and succeeds an Intelligence check gains advantage against fear-based spells and effects for 24 hours.
6-7: Ornate lacquered case containing a single arrow with jet-black fletching.
8: Silver filigree brooch shaped like an insect with emeralds for eyes (worth 1d6x10 gold pieces)



costume by Colby Vincent Edwards, for “The Eighth Day”

No. Appearing: 1d3, 3-in-10 chance of having 1d6 feral woodsmans as minions
Hit Dice: 1d4; saves as Magic-User
Movement: Normal human
Armor Class: None (ragged traveling clothes)
Attack: Light melee weapon or blowgun (1 point of damage + 1d3 poison damage per round (Constitution check to negate), 30 foot range)
Morale: Average

Living Corpse Dust: The cabalist throws a handful of foul-smelling powder at an adjacent living creature with an Intelligence of at least 3. If the target fails a Constitution check, they have to obey the commands of the cabalist for a number of rounds equal to the cabalist’s hit dice.
Nightmare Dart: Special blowgun ammunition. Does no damage, but the target must succeed a Constitution check or suffer from terrifying hallucinations for a number of rounds equal to the cabalist’s hit dice.
Watcher in the Woods: Creatures have disadvantage when attempting to detect a sneaking or hiding cabalist.

I Search the Body (1d10):

1: Creepy corn-husk dolly with a lock of human hair inside.
2: leather pouch of 2d12 divinatory knuckle-bones
3: Glass jar full of (roll 1d6): 1-3 – moonshine, 4 – pickled eggs, 5 – swamp water and leeches, 6 – eyeballs
4: Flute made from a thigh bone
5: Candle made from human fat, burns with a blue flame; while lit, it reveals hidden doors and traps within a 15-foot radius
6: Goblet made from human skull
7: 2d10 blow darts and a waxy lump of poison
8: Ceremonial pipe and hallucinogenic herb mixture
9: Grimoire bound in human skin
10: Amulet containing mixture of salt and iron filings; once per day, the wearer can automatically succeed an attempt to resist possession or mind-control.


Several Spellcasters

Roll 1d8:

  1. Haelingas
  2. Akimu Mugulaji
  3. Melucida Pontrefax
  4. Wodus Twane
  5. Duard Estroy-Pleck
  6. Brindel Hargasp
  7. Peyonna Aduwathé
  8. Senrautha

illustration by Oz To

Utterly ancient, kept alive by the power of the sentient sword Brightbane that holds him in thrall. Can burn spell slots to summon the shades of beings slain by the sword to assist him in battle. Cannot refuse a challenge of single combat.


photograph by Bobby Rogers

Akimu Mugulaji
A courtier and diplomat with impeccable taste. Blind since birth, he employs spells of scrying and concealment to disadvantage his adversaries. Visual magical effects will always involve a shade of purple.


photograph by Greg Kadel

Melucida Pontrefax
Grew up on the streets, has numerous underground and criminal contacts. Casts spells out of a purloined grimoire.


illustration by Tom Kilian

Wodus Twane
A jolly, if eccentric, wizard in semi-retirement, more interested in fishing. Practices a water-based form of teleportation called far-diving.


Duard Estroy-Pleck
Failed attempt at lichdom left his consciousness in the body of a cat. Uses his imperfectly mummified body as a familiar.


Brindel Hargasp
Half-human daughter of an infernal duke. Not evil, but her idea of socially acceptable behavior is a little warped. Her favorite spell is umbral talons.


illustration from Suikoden III

Peyonna Aduwathé
A spell-casting prodigy still in her teens. Has very little patience for people not as intelligent as she (basically everyone). Her technique is flawless, but she lacks practical experience.


photograph by Joe McCann

A steely-eyed master of esoteric fire magic. Has an epic tolerance for alcohol and loves a good drinking game.



Deviant Artists and High-Impact Bible Study (Actual Play)

Last night, I played a one-shot Black Hack game at No Land Beyond, a gaming joint in Baltimore. Justin Sirois, local author and game maker ran four of us through a few scenarios based on his campaign module Beneath.


My dirtbag thief, Nimbleshanks

The party consisted of:

  • Ethan Solheim, a cleric (played by Dan)
  • Morg, a conjurer (played by Ash)
  • Nimbleshanks, a thief (Me)
  • and Oleg, another conjurer, and his familar Fenris the Wolf (played by Brian)

So, the story begins in the town of Crag Lee, which has become known as a hub of creativity and innovation, but has recently experienced a rash of disappearances – people just head into the forest north of town and never come back. Those that remain have started blacking out mirrors and windows.

One of these missing persons was the owner of a local mine and associate of Baron Lennox. Lennox hired the party to go after his business partner and hopefully find her so the mine can be reopened.

The adventurers leave immediately, in the middle of the night. On their way out of town they pass a bonfire into which townspeople are chucking all manner of mirrors and reflective surfaces. Strange things are afoot in Crag Lee.

In the northern woods, the party meet Hannah, a mercenary who’s looking for her missing brother Cameron. Introductions are made, and while Hannah and the adventurers discuss what she knows about the situation, movement is heard from the south. Everyone looks and sees… this guy has set up an easel and has been sketching the group the whole time. Before anyone can ask him what the hell he’s doing, two more dudes reveal themselves; like the first the guy, they’re dressed in paint-smudged smocks, but instead of brushes or charcoal, they’re holding spiked clubs. PLAY THE FIGHT RIFF!


Morg attempts to dispatch the dude with the easels using the spell “black vomit,” but is only partially successful – instead of blasting the artiste, the Morg’s vomit just dribbles into a puddle on the ground. The intended target attempts to thwack Morg with the folded-up easel and critically fails – the easel flies out of his grip and lands several yards away. Ethan rushes over to stand on top of the easel and recites a prayer to bless his companions. Oleg sics Fenris on the two goons, but the wolf is an unable to land a blow on either. Both goons rush Ethan, who manages to fend off their clubs with his shield. This leaves them vulnerable to Nimbleshanks, who backstabs the bejeezus out of one them.

At this point, two more goons emerge from the woods to tussle with Hannah. Morg sort of judo throws the artist into the puddle of black vomit, which begins dissolving him. Ethan whiffs with his mace, and both he and Nimbleshanks take clubs to their respective domes. Oleg zaps one of the newly arrived goons with a magic missile, which allows Hannah to escape and take out one of her attackers with a crossbow bolt that explodes into a tangle of thorny vines. Nimbleshanks knocks down the goon he didn’t gank with a leg sweep and handsprings away.

Much to Ethan’s dismay (he’s a cleric after all), Morg reanimates the goon Hannah just killed and orders him to attack his former compatriot. The zombie slays him, and Ethan finished off the remaining goon with a mace through the face.

To Ethan’s continued dismay, the reanimation spell lasts for a hour, so the zombie hangs out and chats with Morg. Turns out, the zombie was formerly George Kilroy, leader of a gang of renegade artists that turned to crime. Zombie George gives Morg his sketchbook, which is full of well-rendered depictions of violence and depravity. Everyone else chills out for the rest of the night to recuperate from the fight. The scene ends with Morg carrying out Zombie George’s last wish to be “turned into art” and impales it to the easel.

Bright and early the next morning, Hannah leads the party further north to a staircase leading down. The group takes the stairs down,



After 20 stories downwards, the stairs open into a hallway carved out of salt-encrusted stone. The hall terminates at a dead end with mirrors affixed to eastern and western walls. Hannah does something to the western mirror, causing it dissipate into a doorway through which everyone hustles through.

On the other side, the party finds themselves in a large chamber full of pews and and sparsely populated bookshelves. In a far corner, a robed figure sits in an armchair facing another mirror. Hannah points out a ledger laying open on a lectern – “Cameron” is written on one of the pages, in his hand, indicating that he had been this way. The person in the robe becomes aware of the group and greets them; Hannah identifies them as Michael, who ran the bookshop in Crag Lee.

Michael requests that everyone lay down their weapons, saying that they won’t be needed in paradise. Everyone is naturally reluctant to disarm. Michael insists and begins summoning waves of larger-than-normal sized frogs. PLAY THE FIGHT RIFF!


Fenris quickly gobbles up a brace of frogs, but they turn out to be super-poisonous and he dies. Hannah is swarmed by amphibians, but Ethan beats back the frogs that leap at him. Morg uses magic to draw blood out of Fenris’ corpse and form it into projectiles that absolutely wreck Michael, who collides with the mirror he had been gazing into at the start of the scene. The mirror cracks and all the frogs turn their attention to Michael, who has begun rubbing his hands over the broken glass as if he could smooth it out again. The frogs attack him; one even manages to crawl into his mouth and Michael starts suffocating.

Hannah, now free of the frogs herself, implores the rest of the group to protect Michael – she’s convinced that he has information on her brother’s whereabouts. Nimbleshanks tip-toes through the frogs and whack’s Michael in the back of the head with a Bible that he had in his inventory for some reason. The frog flies out of Michael’s mouth and Michael himself is knocked unconscious. The rest of the frogs, thinking Michael is dead, retreat back through the mirror.

All in all, it was a fun way to spend three hours. This was my first time playing with the Black Hack rule set and I dig the loose, improvisational nature.



Inspiration & Admiration

Between travel, home improvement projects, and Fourth of July festivities, I haven’t had much time to devote to RPGery lately. So, a listicle – the last resort of the lazy blogger – a half-dozen of my favorite RPG-related websites.

  1. A Book of Creatures: A treasure-trove of monsters from around the world. Each entry is thoroughly researched (with citations, even!) and illustrated. Why settle for a bog-standard ogre when you could sic Bulgu on your PCs? Spice up maritime adventures with one of the many varieties of evil whale. No matter what kind of adversary you need to terrorize some murder-hobos, someone somewhere has already thought it up.
  2. Abulafia: A clearinghouse for random generators. Whether you’re completely out of ideas or you just need that one spark to get you going, there’s a generator that’ll spit out one, ten, one hundred things at you. Sometimes, I’ll just pick a random generator at random and see where it takes me.
  3. Last Gasp Grimoire: The repository of mad Australian Logan Knight. Come for his brilliant house rules, stay for the hilarious re-caps of his group’s (mis)adventures.
  4. Middenmurk: Another blog run by an Australian; sadly, Middenmurk and its attendant tumblr seem to be inactive. A real shame since Tom Fitzgerald is a great prose stylist – I don’t think there’s a more evocative depiction of a crapsack Medieval fantasy setting than his.
  5. The Oblique Strategies: Okay, this last one is kind of a cheat, since, while you can access the Oblique Strategies online, I have a physical deck of them sitting on my desk. They were original created to work through problems with writing music, but they can be applied to any creative endeavor, including role-playing games. I’ve not gone through all of them, but the one that has resonated with me the most as a DM has been “Gardening, not architecture.”

JOESKY TAX: The Dust of Fascination (wondrous item, uncommon) d42891fe428976f4b3eac6fbfaaeccdb

A creature that gets a fistful of this shimmering, iridescent powder thrown in its eyes must make a Wisdom saving throw. On a failed save, the creature stares off into space as it becomes fixated on whimsical hallucinations, oblivious to goings-on around it for 1d4+1 rounds.

If the target succeeds the save, it has disadvantage on Wisdom (Perception) checks for 1 round and is pretty pissed off at you, since you just threw sand in its face.

The dust is contained in a crushed velvet pouch; there’s enough for 2d4 uses.