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Review: Pergamino Barocco

July 23, 2014 2 comments

I don’t usually write reviews, but I’m going to make an exception. Because Pergamino Barocco is a little gem.

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First, it’s a leading example of what I think we should be doing more of: it’s a roleplaying book that is also an artwork. And I happen to be lucky enough to have a copy that’s not strictly a work of mechanical reproduction, being hand-bound in silk.

Now this is not a smart commercial decision for anyone working in the publishing system – the number of books that can be made this way is strictly limited by the spare time of the maker. It’s also not a smart proposition for an artist working in the gallery system – it’s full of writing that gallery buyers won’t read – and worse, gameable content that the art public definitely won’t play, and it’s labour-intensive to reproduce and the written content is laser printed game book style stuff, not hand-written or hand-printed self-conscious art object stuff.

So why do I think we should be doing this kind of thing? Because out here in the deep DIY end of the hobby, where we aren’t dependent on commercial sales or marketing focus groups or the manufactured value of the gallery system, we actually can. We can make things that don’t fit in the usual boxes and we can find a few like-minded souls who will enjoy them and maybe create a laboratory for experimenting with new forms of expression and do something else.

And Pergamino is definitely something else.

It’s also pretty damn good in the content, even if you don’t get the hand-bound version. It’s a collection of a dozen or so very detailed little spells designed specifically to blow the mind of anyone who’s got used to feather fall or sleep. You know how DnD promises this whole Vancian flavour but in the end a lot of the spells are kinda pedestrian? These are full-on Vancian whimsy: exploitable, backfiring, specific, demoniacal, baroque. Even more so than the spells in Nephilim or Elric. And the booklet provides a kind of primer for making more spells in the same vein, because Roger’s method is eminently copiable – he has made a spell book by misreading historical spellbooks. Each spell is illustrated with a woodcut or engraving from Robert Fludd or Edward Kelley or the Malleus Maleficarum or someone like that, which is reinterpreted into something else, that is just as wondrous and strange as the original but also smart and usable and ready to game.

And literate. A pre-lapsarian hut where you cannot lie or engage in violence. A spell for making treasure coins recount their histories (ie direct you to other hordes and hoarders) in the voices of their stamped emperors.

And although it came out like a year ago, I think right now might be its right moment because Patrick and Scrap’s just-released Deep Carbon Observatory is also something else, and the two products point in two different directions for the possibilities of what Zak Smith calls folk-art witchery.

And it has an easter egg (at least one, I guess). And it’s short but delightfully formed, which suits my current impatience.

So if that sounds good to you, go get it. And harass Roger Giner-Sorolla and Paolo Greco into making another one, because you can never have enough oddball spells to act as dungeon traps, plot generators or villain nobblers, even if your players aren’t the kinds of munchkins to work out how to use them to break your game.

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Yellow Belts of Choison

August 8, 2012 Leave a comment

The Yellow Belts of Choison are belts of command.

When picked up they immediately coil around their bearer like snakes. The belts can be worn on a limb or around the head as a turban. They fit snugly but do not constrict, and they can be uncoiled easily but they won’t fall off by accident. They also have some limited telepathic power: when you put one on you know what it does without asking.

There are two distinct kinds – they look identical but have different powers.

The first allows the wearer to command one creature of no more than half their current hit dice/level. The command is a form of domination – the creature isn’t charmed as in Charm Monster, it doesn’t consider you its friend, but it is forced to act as though it were. Creatures thus controlled chafe under the wearer’s domination – so they’re likely to react negatively to the wearer as soon as they get their autonomy back. The effect, while the control holds, works much like Charm Monster in its restrictions: the monster cannot be commanded to commit suicide etc. Whether a creature can be commanded to attack its mates is up to the individual DM – that might break the control just as it might break charm. The creature gets a save vs spells at the moment the command is initiated, with the difference between levels/hit dice as a penalty on the roll.

The second allows the wearer to command one creature, but that creature must have a higher level/number of hit dice than the wearer. The wearer must concentrate and can take no other actions while commanding the creature. Initiating the command requires the wearer to win a contested roll, pitching the best of their Int, Wis or Cha against the creature’s Wis, or in the case of creatures without Wis, against a target of 11 on D20. This roll is modified by the wearer’s Int, Wis or Cha bonus, and the difference in level/hit dice between wearer and target, which is always applied as a penalty. Commanding a creature is fatiguing: every turn (or round if in combat) the wearer must save vs Wis or lose concentration, in which case the command is broken (other methods of breaking concentration also apply).

Both belts require an intelligent sacrifice to bond them to the wearer and make their powers usable.
Both belts can also be used to divert one creature away from the wearer and toward someone else, with no saving throw: that creature will not notice the wearer as long as they take no positive action against it (like trying to hit or command it) – instead the creature will do whatever it was thinking of doing with the target the wearer designates. When it’s finished doing that, though, it might notice the wearer again. Using this power of the belts unbonds them, so that another sacrifice must be performed to make them usable again.

…alas, the powers to walk through fire, fly through smoke and melt people like butter died with Chixi’lu. His den must be out there somewhere, though. And his spell books.

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What G+ game should I run (apart from Monkey Magic)?

February 7, 2012 5 comments

So this is currently the idlest of idle questions. I won’t be running a game at least until I’ve got back into playing more regularly, and given my schedule I shouldn’t be running a game at all, and I’m in France so for all you US people my game would probably be at an annoying time, like 4am EST (1am in LA) on Thursdays. But IF I were to run a G+ flailsnails game…

a) might you be interested?

b) what would you most want to play?

What’s the difference?
Carcosa-Barsoom is a high-colour, high-sci-fantasy rayguns and battleaxes interdimensional romp through Emperor Ming’s closet and salt mines, with a kinda-serious plot: you start as members of slave races. What are you going to do about it?
Encounters on the Sea of OS’r is the Odyssey/Sindbad with minimal packaging, adapted to the contextlessness of flailsnails – you wake up on a raft with stuff you can carry on your person and you encounter stuff – hopefully highly creative, weird, opportunity-laden stuff – and you take your treasure away at the end of the session to spend it elsewhere. If you wanna stick around for multiple sessions and grow independent goals and set down a home base that’s awesome but the game is made to work without any of that.
Vikings and Pirates of the Spice Islands is my southeast Asian pirate game I’ve been doodling on for years. You could be European explorers or native slave-raiders or Chinese pirates right at the birth of the East India companies. Worlds are colliding, history is being made, it’s dangerous and piratical in the classical sense, but with silk, spices and transvestite spirit-mediums.

c) Wait what Monkey Magic? Ah yes.

First Zak said You have a time machine. It can only be used for the following purpose: you may go back in time and change one rule or one other detail of any game. The rest of RPG history will be as if it had always been that way forever. What do you pick?
And Matthew Miller replied: In 1974, Dave Arneson and Gary Gygax created the world’s first roleplaying game. Inspired by their fanatical interest in ancient China, coupled with a love of Chinese mythology, the classic novels The Water Margin and Journey to the West, wuxia cinema, and the weird tales of P’u Sung-ling. It took the gaming world by storm.
And then Roger the GS posted about wisdom and that made me think:

how could you fit the essence of Monkey into a DnD game?

The key is Wisdom. In this version WIS models your enlightenment and possibly harmony with the Tao. You work to increase your WIS, just as you would increase your level. But increasing WIS usually means pursuing goals directly at odds with those suited to increasing level – you have to practice non-attachment, restraint, judgment and moderation. You should still take decisive action, even fight when it’s absolutely necessary, but you should always seek the non-violent path, which provides the best outcome for all. Like humanity in Vampire, it can go down as well as up. Unlike humanity, it’s not just a wet blanket rating – it conveys some benefits (TBD, but at least a “turn” like ability on low-WIS creatures; yogic flying; speak with various things) and sage-like insights. Most of all it’s needed for interplanar Ascent to Nirvana and other related realms. No clerics (or, maybe, everyone’s a cleric), but yes to INT, CHA and CON-based spellcasters.

Monkey’s character sheet (first draft). But I’m not running this for flailsnails because the WIS mechanic is too unbalancing. And I’d have to mess with standard DnD clerics. And other spellcasters might be borked on the WIS-collecting front. There’s still a lot to figure out.

Lesser potions

September 5, 2011 Leave a comment

With apologies to Telecanter.

Potion of slipperiness

Originally developed to lubricate the joints of golems and quickly adopted wholesale by second-hand golem dealers, the potion of slipperiness is also widely used off-label by escape artists, sword swallowers and cat burglars. It renders the drinker’s whole body preternaturally slippery and somewhat deformable, such that they are practically impossible to handcuff or tie up, and may be able to squeeze through narrow openings, such as between cell bars or through the air feed pipes of fish tanks. They will also have to make a conscious effort not to slip out of clothes and armour, or to hold onto anything. The potion takes half an hour to kick in after drinking: it remains in effect for 1d20 hours. Note that the effect is systemic: users are advised not to eat or drink anything while under the potion’s influence.

Potion of spider climbing

Causes the hands and feet of the drinker to develop clinging claws, allowing them to climb on pretty much any solid surface, and the lower abdomen to develop web-fluid sacs and spinnerettes, allowing them to create spider webs, in order to aid their climbing. The web strands are roughly the thickness of spaghetti. A single strand is strong enough to support a 200lb man (ie there’s no proportionality with actual spider web here: the potion’s webs are much weaker than actual spiderweb of the same thickness might be). Multiple strands may be woven together into ropes to support heavier weights. The potion lasts for 66 minutes or 666 steps, whichever comes first. There is a small but cumulative chance over multiple uses of some vestigial effects lasting after the potion’s useful phase is over. Tastes unmistakably of spiders.

Ironbelly

Popular with alchemists, ironbelly allows its drinker to imbibe and/or ingest, without ill effects, the next 1d6 things they can fit in their mouth. A necessary prelude to sampling several of the more exotic potions.

Potion of firebreathing

Combined with a lit torch this allows the drinker to project a flame up to three times the span of their arms, up to three times, to deliver 1d3 cubed damage each time. Side effects include overconfidence, giggliness, loss of co-ordination and/or unreasonable belligerence, lasting 1d6 hours. For 24 hours after ingestion the user’s breath will nauseate anyone to whom they speak, causing -1d3 on reaction rolls. During this time the user may deliberately breathe on victims to cause confusion or wake them from magical or non-magical sleep. Rumours abound that this potion can also help the drinker survive in the elemental plane of fire, but these are so far unsubstantiated.

Potion of incoherence

Renders the drinker incapable of making their point clearly for 1d12 hours. Exact effects are up to the sadistic impulses of the DM or improv acting skills of the player.

Gravel of plausibility

Works something like charm person or a potion of persuasiveness on all who hear the ingester for 1d12 hours, except that the listeners’ basic agreement with the user does not extend to their taking any positive action. That is, listeners would agree to the commands “leave us alone!” or “don’t get up” but not to “come here” or “open the door” or “just hold this for a minute, please.”

Glass of cold awareness

When chewed this fragile glass makes the user acutely aware of what they’re doing, dispelling any illusions or glamours or other states of confusion and temporarily raising the chewer’s wisdom (or intelligence, depending on the DM’s philosophical outlook) by 1d3. Blessed with this new clarity, the chewer must save vs. paralysis to avoid immediately spitting the glass out, canceling the effect.

Soul swap stew

if shared among two or more imbibers this stew will exchange that ineffable, invisible, immortal part of each, that represent their innermost, unchangeable nature, with the others. Note, however, that it will not exchange their consciousness or personality, which are really socially constructed fronts of one kind or another. Deities of confessional or mystical religions will respond to the souls presented to them, not the shells in which they happen to be housed, so this spell acts as a form of transport for the powers of clerics and paladins. Other in-game effects are up to the individual DM and players: it is suggested that certain relationships might be affected (with animals or close family members, for instance) or some outward manifestation of the change of soul be made gradually clearer over time, such as a fondness for loud ties or compulsion to insult elders. Alignment, if used, may be affected.

Derinkuyu discovered by accident

July 16, 2011 1 comment

bldgblog is always worth reading, but this latest post is dungeon delving gold:

No one knows how many underground cities lie beneath Cappadocia. Eight have been discovered, and many smaller villages, but there are doubtless more. The biggest, Derinkuyu, wasn’t discovered until 1965, when a resident cleaning the back wall of his cave house broke through a wall and discovered behind it a room that he’d never seen, which led to still another, and another. Eventually, spelunking archeologists found a maze of connecting chambers that descended at least 18 stories and 280 feet beneath the surface, ample enough to hold 30,000 people—and much remains to be excavated. One tunnel, wide enough for three people walking abreast, connects to another underground town six miles away. Other passages suggest that at one time all of Cappadocia, above and below the ground, was linked by a hidden network. Many still use the tunnels of this ancient subway as cellar storerooms.

And that’s just for starters. If you don’t think architecture and city zoning laws are part of your dungeonscape, you might want to reconsider how a little creative accounting can lead to creative space invasion.

Serendipitously, the equally useful History Blog tells us that the Stepped Pyramid at Saqqara is now being held up by airbags. Which raises the possibility of a Tomb of Horrors that could inconveniently deflate.

Finally Jess Nevins has an intriguingly architectural curse/reinforcement ritual to share. Of course you hold back water with souls. Best of all, bridges built on souls. Or subway systems, your choice.

On CHA, WIS and POW-based magics

May 12, 2011 2 comments

Hill Cantons considers treating Charisma more directly as reputation and ditching all non-physical stats for D&D PCs.*

This post is not really a response to that, but instead a repost of something I said in 2007 regarding That Stat That Means Magical Potential. I propose that we mostly don’t know from the rulebooks what to do with INT, WIS or CHA, beyond a couple of standard applications/effects, and that POW in CoC and Runequest is even worse. The effects of STR are easy to visualize: it tends therefore to get a lot of in-game use. But the effects, the meaning, of the “mental attributes” are less understood, so we have less to apply tactically at the table. And the same is true of vanilla D&D’s magic systems, which is too bad because they could actually give us some insight into the in-game meanings of the attributes.

What do I mean by that? My gold standard for a rule is, can the players take tactical advantage of it? Can they use it as a tool, plan around with it? Can they imagine uses for it that I do not feed them? For me,  AD&D 1e MU and clerical magic do not meet this standard: the way the magic works is a glassy, impenetrable surface. (Same goes for magic in CoC, but there it seems intentional.) Players get spells and they apply them. Maybe they invent clever applications, but they can’t try out new spells unless you provide a novel system for doing so. This model of magic reminds me of what lots of folks hate about thieves: it’s like they have their explicit skills and nothing else. And if those are special thief skills, then nobody else can hide in shadows.

But if they had some understanding of how magic worked then maybe they could ask questions and invent their own effects and just plain be a bit more magical. Rangers do this all the time – “I search for tracks… I collect firewood… is there a plant that can help here?” So I find that rationalizing the magic system is one of the most important elements in making it usable by the players. And I think the following might help with that. And it would probably base magic off CHA, though WIS could do, too.

So. POW. The influence of classic works of anthropological theory on CoC is obvious: it’s written all over Petersen’s rule- and sourcebooks. Oliver Wolters (dead anthropologist, historian, colonial officer) had a theory of personal political power (the ability to influence people and events: Charisma, in D&D terms) in SE Asian society. He said such power was seen as a symptom of inner, spiritual power, which he called “prowess” or “soul stuff” (pretty much POW in CoC. Bear with me).This power varies from person to person, and determines personal effectiveness, leadership ability, ability with magic and ritual, and the occupations associated with magic (fishing, hunting, navigating and war). It doesn’t imply wisdom or education or knowledge or physical strength, but it has a direct effect on success because the universe would be inclined to go with your actions and leadership (luck), just like people would be naturally drawn to your innate superiority (“as bees are drawn to nectar”).

According to Wolters’ view of the Indonesian belief systems he observed, you were born with a certain amount of it, based either on your lineage or your conduct in past lives (opinion differs). Some further social implications follow from this, to do with the natural aristos of aristocrats, and an ever-diluting and sinking system of status, which Geertz wrote about in his book Negara(which really does read, in its completeness and airtightness, like a gaming supplement).

People are naturally drawn to follow charismatic leaders (per Wolters prowess is both POW and CHA) both as a compulsion and because, as cogs in the greater machine, they share in a larger total group POW (spiritual rapport with the leader yields a whole that is greater in combination than separately, although not necessarily greater than the sum of its parts).

This smells like a theory of gravity to me, but I don’t think any model of its relative strength over distance has been put forward – such a diminishment of force over distance seems to operate in Lovecraftian literature, though:  without it there could be no ‘moment of introduction,’ on which to hang the horror. What interests me is that this neatly explains the slippery and weird attribute POW and its associated effects. It also suggested some links with the Mage line of products. POW governs magic (natch) and also luck (which is explained as unconscious magery).

Note that on this schema, magic of all kinds is an appeal to the way the universe works, it’s neither “reality hacking” (something like James Maliszewski’s Termaxian magic) nor the trust in the Powers of Fate that prayer tends to become in RPGs. Instead, your world-view is a sort of spiritual extension of yourself, like a field of force: it exerts an influence on people and things around you.  When you encounter someone or something else your influence competes with theirs (in Greek terms, your genius has a chance of overmastering theirs).

So how do you use it? What I like about this interpretation is that it makes the attribute a more active part of the magical exercise – untrained magery could work something like Clerics without Spells, turning undead could be a POW vs POW (or WIS or CHA) battle, and raising the supernatural stakes is liable either to draw the heroism out of your spellcaster (as their POW overmasters the opponent’s) or turn them (either away or to join the enemy, who has superior supernatural charisma). The ability to increase POW through a POW vs POW battle is not analogous to spiritual ‘exercise’ or ‘increasing skill’ – when you overcome someone else’s POW you effectively snip off a bit of their authority – they spiritually ‘pay tribute’ to you, increasing your authority directly (though this is not modelled in the game as a zero-sum operation… not sure why, or if there’s some further bit of thinking here). This maps neatly onto Polynesian ritual cannibalism, BTW, in which one ritually ingests the strength or force of one’s enemies.

There are other implications for games with Cthulhuvian elements, which might include your flavour of D&D:

– POW also governs SAN, because it represents one’s spiritual negotiation with the world. Encountering another person’s POW is dangerous but intelligible: no matter who wins, you stay in much the same mental/spiritual place. CoC Monsters are spiritually powerful and fundamentally other (we’re not really in Wolters’ territory any more, but you can kind of follow him in this direction, with the right twist of mind…). When you encounter them, their power actively disrupts yours, their world-view intersects with yours and is toxic… modeled as SAN loss, a loss of self-guided mental structure. This is the sense in which I’ve understood John Tynes’ discussion of the more powerful monsters as a kind of mental plutonium. The disruption of your POW is either experienced as trauma (simple diminishment) or a reconfiguring to the monster’s perspective (which is why you can’t play a permanently insane character: all such folks go over to the enemy, as reprogrammed but disfunctional drones). Implications for the undead are left as an exercise for the reader.

– The pooling or investing of POW explains the formation of cults and the strange hold cult leaders have over their followers: they start when the cult leader is overborne by the POW of a monster. The resultant collective POW (that of the monster reflected through the leader) acts as a honeypot for impressionable souls (those with comparatively lower POW), who ‘pay tribute,’ to the collective POW pot, further emPOWering the monster/leader. This is why you have to both mentally and physically separate followers from their leader before they will be ‘cured’ of their cultism. It may also explain why monsters adopt mad human leaders as intermediaries between themselves and larger groups of followers, rather than leading cults personally – aside from the scaleability advantages of a franchise organisation model, the monster may realise that its own direct presence will disrupt the POWs/SANs of its followers, making them somewhat more loyal but a great deal less functional – the leadership effect can be had without the damaging side-effects by refracting their personal magnetism through the leader, who acts as a sort of power-translator or transformer [Ken Hite notes: must write up the “magic as electrical engineering” rules in my head.Yes]

From this perspective, the tendency of cultists to enact summoning rituals may be seen by the monsters as an annoying pathology in their control network (because it brings cultists into direct contact with the monsters, reconfiguring their own POW/worldviews), a bit like being stalked by fans. On the other hand, the whole cult-formation thing might be seen as an irritation or simply irrelevant: there’s no evidence that anyone can control or ‘switch off’ their charisma/soul stuff/POW – it might just be a side-effect of high POW that people trail around after you.

Now I just wonder why Sandy Peterson did such a poor job of explaining it in the rulebook, and if Greg Stafford (or whoever first put POW in Runequest) also read Wolters, or came up with the whole thing in yet a different form. Which, given Greg’s penchant for shamanism,  he may have.

Best short ref to Wolters’ own work: his essay “some features of the cultural matrix” in O W Wolters: History, culture, and region in Southeast Asian perspectives (Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 1982)

*In response to ckutalik, yes I see what you mean. But I like having mental stats for PCs, even if they’re hard to roleplay. Challenges are good. They help you visualise who your character is, even if you don’t always succeed in being them. And you can save against them (INT for memory/education, WIS for common sense, will, morale, CHA for persuasion).

What happens if you drop a gelatinous cube into the Tumbling Dungeon?

May 6, 2011 4 comments

This, by the way, is also what the formless spawn of Azoth looks like when it’s wandering around a vertical dungeon and refusing to fall apart like a proper liquid would. Only black. And here’s Telecanter’s tumbling dungeon.

…there are moments in that movie where it really looks like some spirit or shroud of a ghost rising to wreak its terrible vengeance, and moments when it looks exactly like a liquid, and moments when its sharply cut edges are spooky all by themselves.

So thinking about Telecanter’s hall of four spheres*** it occurs to me that the Indiana Jones billiard ball is not the only hazard that could be flopping aimlessly around an unstable dungeon surface. And checking back on the old Gel Cube I find I like it more than I remember. I’d always thought of it as (a) a stupid trick by a bored DM and (b) a simple herding device for a recalcitrant party. But what if you’re investigating the lair of the mad alchemist or wizard? Isn’t this exactly the sort of experiment you’d half expect to find? And what if the party are sleeping or resting or incapacitated in the dungeon by other threats? Isn’t this just the kind of thing to make them wish they were more alert?**** Why do folks love the Shoggoth and hate the Cube?

So how could this elderly trainwreck of a monster provide some additional fun? First I’d say make it hard to burn, and have it do damage to armor first – that’d give even your recently paralysed MU one round of clothing protection before he’s Cubefood. Mechanically, I’d say the Cube doesn’t get stuck if the corridor’s a bit too small: it’s deformable enough that if there’s a hole under it that’s more than, say, 70% of its area, it will slowly sink into it, and keep sinking until it finds a new cubic space to occupy.* Oh, and the whole “slow” thing; I say Cubes and shoggoths alike aren’t slow as such, they just have poor acceleration and deceleration. They can speed up or slow down by 1mph (or say 3mph for shoggoths) a round, up to a maximum of 60-70mph. Certainly fast enough to do lots of damage to themselves and anything else in their way (a 10′ cube of water is more than 30 metric tons!). And they can turn, say, 90 degrees per round, -10 degrees for every 1mph they’re currently going forward. So most times you encounter them they’re just moving like supertankers in port: slowly and carefully. But if they get a good head of steam up as they run off the cliff into the lake they’ll tumble and bounce and skip across the surface. At least a couple of times.

Then:

1. What if it were averse to something – salt, say? Or attracted to catnip or fresh meat? Then the PCs could herd it around the dungeon themselves. But it won’t go through closed doors – it doesn’t feel a gap. And if it comes to the end of a corridor it’ll reverse. Long-term dungeon inhabitants will know all these tricks, of course.

2. See how it doesn’t digest dungeon walls? Clearly there’s some list of what’s digestible. Clearly you could carry offcuts in indigestible flasks or larger containers and use them as… artillery ammo? Because it won’t splash but it’s a pain to get rid of once it’s in your granary/breastplate/stable. And I don’t see why you shouldn’t be able to snip bits off it – the mechanics for “defeating” it are vague about just what that means. I’d allow cutting weapons to sever it, thereby turning one big hazard into lots of smaller ones.

3. Alchemists are always “digesting” stuff in their flasks. Now it’s a treasure/McGuffin: go get me some Gel. And like Spawn up there, it doesn’t want to be used, so you’ll have to chase it around the dungeon once it’s realised it shouldn’t be chasing you. And it can knock stuff over and close doors and slip down cracks and into the sewer system. And it can swallow all the keys, even if it can’t use them.

4. because “mindless” just isn’t fun. It should have some sort of intelligence, just an entirely alien one. It should know enough that it could find a lair, sneak out at night and paralyse/digest a couple of cows or children, and then disappear by morning. So you start finding these bleaching skeletons around the place and frightened villagers but no explanation. And if it’s not water-based but something else altogether then it might show up in deserts or volcanoes or as the unintended consequence of universe-rending dimensional gates and passwalls.

5. Of course if it is water based it might be able to alter its size/viscosity in water. Drinking water. Which gives me an idea for displacement puzzles – do you have to float a boat/platform/statue, flood an area, swim up somewhere? Get the Cube into the water column and see how much taller it gets (I’ll spare you all my computer adventure game type weight-on-a-seesaw, catapult, airlock, hydraulic and wobbly floor puzzles. You get it). With the right breadcrumb trail and an indigestible howdah you could enlist it to carry stuff out of the dungeon for you.

6. Or like an anemone it could adopt a different shape in water. And/or like a nudibranch it could swim surprisingly efficiently, turning a slow, lumbering land threat into a serious (magical) lake guardian.

7. What if it could communicate, like Thumper, by slapping on the ground, sending booming waves of shock around the dungeon? Who/what would it call? What if it could break through thin sections of wall/floor or crumbling stone bridges?

8. What if it’s one form of the last “stone” left over from constructing the sky and therefore theologically highly important? What if you could compress it into an ooze golem? What if it brought you stuff – clues – to lead you around the dungeon to the cheese, and eventually enticed you into the mindswap device, the same trick its current mind fell for many years ago? Then you could have the fun of taking the mindswapped character’s player into the next room and offering them a choice: either continue as the Cube or play for a while as a ringer for the DM – someone who’s trying to pose as the player’s previous PC but who knows nothing about the story so far, and who had their own reasons for coming down into this dungeon all those moons ago.

* No, I’m not going to model the mass to surface tension ratio or viscosity on this thing: my sense is that if it’s about as dense as water and somehow manages to maintain a cube shape then it could probably be repurposed as some kind of super-material, so hand-waving is all you’ll get here.

** Telecanter, when are you going to link all these posts together or provide an index page or something? This is awesome stuff and it deserves to be collated and popped on Links to Wisdom. srsly.

*** put the cube and the spheres together and you get… a big mess? Bits of caustic jelly everywhere? Deadly pinball? Something that can move the balls around so they go places gravity wouldn’t just push them?

**** yes the being digested to death thing is suitably icky, but I’d guess it kills mostly by suffocation. 10′ of water is considerable pressure, but not a crush attack. But if it falls on you it’ll do… 2d6 per 10′ of fall? And engulf you instantly.