On Reduced Price, Free Advertising, and Megadungeon!


Work proceeds apace with Bestial Ecosystems Caused by Monstrous Inhabitation, but that's not what this post is about.

Can you believe it's been two years since On Downtime & Demesnes was funded? Because of it's success, I'm now a full time creator, with books published by Frog God Games and one from Lamentations of the Flame Princess at the publisher right now.

Long enough that it's time to drop the price a bit. On Downtime & Demesnes is now 9.99 for PDF, 19.99 for softcover, and 24.99 for hardcover. So if you've been waiting. Now's the time. It's available on Amazon.com and DriveThruRPG.  I've also set Artifices, Deceptions & Dilemmas on sale for the next two weeks on DriveThruRPG to celebrate their success. 

Celebrating the success of Megadungeon, I've also temporarily made Issue #3 free. If you're curious and you'd like to check it out, grab it quick.

I've been working on the next issue of Megadungeon, and it's nearing completion. Check out the little teaser to the right. That means, also, it's time to solicit advertisers. There's a catch though, if you don't have the money or are a hobbyist, advertisements for your products are free. I'll just need a 600 dpi. Black and White half or full page A5 advertisement. It's 20$ for a half page and 40$ for a full page, but again, only if you have the money. Otherwise feel free to send me your projects advertisements for inclusion. Megadungeon has an average circulation of 300+ paying customers and growing, with a long tail. Contact me via e-mail at campbell at oook dot cz or on discord with links to the tiff/png/jpg files. If you have some assets, I can even lay them out for you if you need it. The whole point is just to get word out about projects. If you've got one, get it to me.

If you support me on Patreon, you already get digital copies of all this stuff free, so what are you waiting for?

On the Ecology of Elementals

"The earth itself stood against us. Fire walked. What can we do against such enormity?" -Cadrene Sergeant Allanso Illon, shortly before his execution.

Nomenclature: Elementals, Mephits, Primordials, Weirds, Furies, atronaches, Daedra, Genie, Reactionals, Eternals

Description: Raw motive elemental energy

Things that are known:

  • They are made entirely of their elemental material
  • Except when they are not
  • When summoned they may turn on their creators
  • They are immune to their own element and resistant to all but enchanted weapons
  • They may be kept at bay using magical circles of protections
  • They do not eat, sleep, or breath; or not at least as we understand it

Rumors and other whispers in the dark:

  • There are core planes. They are Wood, Water, Fire, Metal, and Earth. The para-elemental planes are Flowers, Mirrors, Liquor, and Paper.
  • That isn't true. The core planes are obviously Earth, Water, Air, Fire, with para-elemental planes of Mud, Dust, Smoke, and Magma, and the quasi-elemental planes of Lightning, Steam, Radiance, Mineral, Vacuum, Salts, Ash, and Dust
  • The elemental realms are far-off and inhospitable places in the material world
  • Elementals come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, and types, from animal forms to alien dukes, princes and kings.
  • Elemental spirits can be summoned to bring the elements in question to motive life. They are bound by ancient pacts they long to be free from
  • Elementals can control the substance of their element. Fire can be cool or many different colors, or it can be solid. Earth can be transparent or liquid. 
  • The elements are suits that extra-dimensional spirits wear
  • Elements are before us, and remember themselves from that time. It is matter that is enlightened and understands itself
  • All elementals come from a single contiguous source that touches our plane in different places, but it all comes to our realm from the same place
  • Fire and Earth are allied. Earth shelters fire and fire allows earth to move
  • Water and air are allied, creating weather. They only allied in response to the alliance between air and earth
  • Gnomes are actually the element of earth that has decided to live, walking the earth as wizened stooped things
  • Salamanders are the form fire takes when it wishes to live
  • Sylphs are the spirits of wind and Undines are the spirits of water
  • Air and water were stymied, unable to take form due to how fluid they were. Until they stole dust from the earth and heat from fire and together crafted flesh
  •  Elementals affect your humors, making you sanguine (Air or Blood), choleric (Fire or Yellow Bile), melancholic (Earth, or Black Bile) or phlegmatic (Water or Phlegm)
  • The 4 planes are integrated in some byzantine complex cycle of renewal linking them all together. Although incomprehensible, it does mean that each elemental plane is not purely made up of only its element
  • Earthquakes, volcanoes  tornadoes and tsunamis are actually powerful elemental creatures that come to the material plane to retrieve what they need to reproduce.
  • They are aliens from another planet known as elementron. They have visited our planet and taken the form of the elements that they found. Now they battle for an esoteric energy source known as elementergon that only they can understand and use. They only desire to collect it, return to elementron and continue the only thing they care about, their endless war
  • Aliens from elementron are sometimes known as deceptimentals and autorocks.
  • Planes overlap. Under certain circumstances, you might find yourself shifted between them
  • The elements create certain feelings in people. Fire generates all consuming hunger; Water is fatigue, exhaustion and a wearing away; Earth feels like growth, tingling crystalline growth; Air feels like a chaotic place of sound and motion
  • The elementals personify those characteristics
  • They are alien and their motivations are impossible to parse
  • Elemental planes don't exist. Magical energy is invisible and casters clothe them in an elemental to provide functionality. Like a prisim splits light, they take the energy of magic and split out an element
  • Djinn and efreet are adventurers from elemental planes exploring ours
  • The planes are the divine cosmic energy, split from the world by the gods. They were expelled in all directions, if the world were healed the prime would again be whole
  • The elementals are "hired" out to spellcasters, because each elemental on the prime material plane serves as an anchor. If enough of a certain type of elementals existed on the prime, perhaps a single elemental realm could remerge
  • A single elemental realm re-merging would be a disaster of incalculable proportions
  • Elementals are actually animus spirits that inhabit all objects
  • The gods before were slain by trickster demons. The current gods are quite vigilant against their return. To avoid their pogom, the trickster demons split themselves among many small shards at a time, placing a tiny sliver inside an elemental. Every time an elemental is summoned or used a small piece is left behind. The tricksters are smuggling their way into the prime, one small shard at a time
  • The elementals are physical manifestation of the unraveling in the world
  • Elementals are the ghosts of dragons
  • Elementals are the pure creative divine energy of a dead god
  • Upon death, your soul diffuses into the world. Casters strip out slips of your soul and animate them ahead of schedule
  • Proto-creatures unable to wait until the world was finished entered it too early. Spell-casters attempt to snatch them up and re-purpose them until the lazy gods finish the leftovers. This may damage the overall pattern.
  • Elements vary on local culture, based on what people believe the world consists of. They are made of various conflicting groups. 
    • Mutare (Change/Birth/Rebirth)
    • Continuitas (Tradition/Unlife/Death)
    • Mentem (Dark/Mind/Knowledge)
    • Puera (Feminine/Cunning/Beauty)
    • Lumen (Light/Joy/Physicality)
    • Vir (Masculine/Directness/Utility)
  • Elementals are the spirits of men who have died from those elements, suffocation, burning, drowning or being buried
  • Real elementals take a shape and stick to it, Hellhounds, Djinn, Mephits. Those elementals that wizards summon are just unformed raw material known as hipster elementals, who were raw material before it was cool.
  • Mages thin the boundary. Firmament, raw creation, enters our realm and lives. This creates both elementals and undead
  • Elementals are from certain types more frequently because pure sources are easier to draw magic from
  • Weak mages who thin the boundary indiscriminately create trash, sewer, or blade elementals. Rural sorcerers might conjure ents or shambling mounds.
  • Necromancers do this intentionally to raise the dead, however few are as skilled as they believe. They downplay the numbers slain by uncontrolled undead.
  • Strange elementals formed from the space between what is and could-be are sometimes formed, being smarter and more unique then their siblings
  • Dragons will kill all those who weaken boundaries between worlds
  • Elementals are the organs of dead gods. Air comes from lungs, stone comes from bone, water comes from blood and fire comes from nerves
  • Elementals that retain their form eventually grow in sentience
  • Elemental planes are actually just demi-planes created by creative pseudo-mortal gods who were masters of wizardry  What you summon may not be what you expect, a horned snake with bark scales with eyes that beam moonlight or an organic mechanical hybrid that shudders in its movements and bleeds oily black ichor
  • They have no souls, its soul and body form one singular unit
  • There are also elemental planes of good and evil, meaning that demons and angles are nothing more then elementals of those planes
  • This means that there are no fewer than 16 different combinations, good and evil interacting with each plane. (Fire, earth, air, and water; cold, mud, magma and dust; barren, pain, darkness and endings; light, pleasure, fertility and beginnings
  • Elemental planes are just like material planes but rich in material and magic
  • Elementals are the foundations of the universe, the building blocks of reality itself
  • Elementals only exist for what states matter can take. Earth is solid, water liquid, air gas, and fire plasma
  • Elementals are the constraints on infinity itself. Without elementals home planes belonging to the inner, infinity becomes troublesome, loses definition and you find yourself simply one among uncountable billions of billions
  • Known alignments are not the only kinds. There are elemental alignments, held by animals and raw elementals
    • Air alignments travel, leaving when things no longer suit. Herd animals are examples
    • Earth alignments wait, patiently out-waiting whatever trial assults them. Hibernating animals and animals that trap or ambush their prey are examples
    • Fire alignments consume, devouring and using all they can reach. Lions and wolves are examples. They are also prone to anger and rage
    • Water alignments hoard and steal. Rats, crows, and small monkeys are examples of creatures with a water alignment
  • They have a hankering for currency, but not of the material sort. . .
  • The plane of air is said to be filled with a Djinn Sultinate, huge airships, and piracy among the floating isles
  • The plane of earth is filled with slaves who endlessly toil in mines for their masters. These factions are in constant, endless war. In these lawless lands, coin is to be made among old mining towns, forgotten cathedrals, or lawless freeholds
  • An endless desert filled with sultanates of brass, fire, sand and steel, the plane of fire is a realm filled with obsidian planes, silt seas, and the deadly forces of the sultanate
  • The undersea city of glass is a mecca in which all that matters in the plane of water transpires. Guilds, factions, whole cities and betrayals lie within its walls
  • There are archomentals, known as the princes of evil
  • Extremely powerful wizards can summon swarms of elementals
  • Some elementals are amalgamates, mixtures of two types a burning tornado, or a freezing earthen beast
  • In fact, the basic types are only the basic ones in the broadest types. There are actually thousands of different types.
    • Air: Blizzard, zephyr, storm, south wind, pestilence, fog, howling, gust
    • Earth: Plains, dirt, desert, mud, graveyard, dungeon, sand, mountain, crystal, metal
    • Fire: cinder, lava, forge, pyre, tinder, hearth, flare
    • Water: ice, bog, river, sweetwater, blood, whirlpool, sewer, geyser, bile
    • Wood: thorn, forest, fungal, rose, gallows, moss, vine, rot
  • There are four classes of elementals
    • Lesser (Summoned by Staff): 8HD, AC 2, 1d8 damage
    • Greater (Summoned by Devices): 12 HD, AC 0, 2d8 damage
    • True (Summoned by Spells): 16 HD, AC -2, 3d8 damage
    • Legendary (Summoned by Ritual): 20 HD, AC -4, 4d8 damage

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On the Ecology of the Doppelganger

"But you see, I'm not the Duke of southern Ostland at all." -Last words heard by the knight Fineous, as replayed by the crypt necropticon

Nomenclature: double goer, doppelgänger, etiäinen, vardøger, Ankou, Ka, metamorph, skin-walker, mimic, therianthrope
Description: metamorphs

Things that are known:
  • They are shapeshifters that infiltrate humanoid societies. 
  • They are bipedal, probably.
  • They can read minds

Rumors and other whispers in the dark:
  • They derive ecstasy from the emotions of fear and confusion. They thrive on disrupting intimate relationships
  • They start their lives by taking over tribes of small dumb humanoids, before moving on to larger more complicated power structures
  • They are humans who receive training from a rare akashic clan. They are trained from birth, given strange potions all in service to their clan. They are the ultimate ninja
  • Prestige among their races is dictated by the complexity of their schemes. The most powerful of them simultaneously impersonate dozens of separate individuals
  • Master doppelgangers can emulate any forms: fire, fog, any organic or non-organic substance
  • There are no doppelgangers. They are actually you, located in another place or time
  • They dwell in a place called the black lodge, where they are trapped, until released by a demon, or the entrance of a naïve humanoid
  • They have no shadow or reflection
  • They are actually born of rare human children, having no race or culture of their own
  • They are actually elven children switched with human children. There is no such thing as an elf, just a face the doppelganger chooses to show us
  • In combat, they can change in a dazzling burst, making the opponents uncertain which is the dopple and which is real
  • Doppelgangers all suffer from amnesia, they don't know who they are or what they are doing. They are just doing what comes instinctually and seems like a good idea at the time
  • They are actually extraplanar, and are summoned and bound by wizards
  • That isn't true, the wizards create them like homunculi, and claim they are from the outer plains
  • They bargain with states and other socio-political entities, asking for strange deliveries and indebting themselves to work as spies for short periods
  • All rulers of men have been replaced by doppelgangers. They live among us
  • They have a compulsion to impersonate and believe they are who they impersonate. They will become hostile and kill anyone who attempts to make them confront their delusion
  • No doppelganger ever dies. When killed their consciousness is reborn in a new body
  • They can't actually survive in civilization for very long because they are just too alien. They lose their forms both mentally and physically
  • They detest others of their own kind
  • Doppelgangers are actually very timid creatures having no sense of worth, believing themselves to be a non-entity. They take other forms in a desperate attempt to please others and escape their emotional turmoil
  • A long time ago, they made an ancient pact with an otherworldly intelligence. They serve this great outer power in exchange for their abilities
  • Doppelgangers may come from any place at any time. They all exist as transient, detached, driftwood through the corridors of time
  • The outer intelligence that controls them stores all their souls in an ever changing box
  • Doppelgangers are actually magical plants created by wizards. They grow in pods that hang from vines where they ripen like fruit
  • They are social parasites, stealing identities to give themselves purpose and meaning
  • Doppelgangers gain more pleasure from mental pursuits then physical ones
  • Doppelgangers view humanoids with contempt, seeing them as agressive and egocentric creatures who will never truly know each other
  • They are stunted elemental creatures. They steal forms and identities to experience life. In their own form the world is grey and lifeless
  • Doppelgangers follow certain people, watching their thoughts like television. They get caught up in their lives and make sure to follow all their favorite characters
  • Shapeshifting is their religion and they will ascend once they have assumed every perfect shape
  • Doppelgangers often live in the wilds as animals
  • They all live in a great link, a giant pool where they all exist together in liquid form
  • They can only hold their shape for 18 hours before they must revert to liquid form 
  • Doppelgangers are mentally unstable. They quickly adopt any odd habits or beliefs picked up by anyone they contact, which then quickly spread back to their conclave
  • In fact, doppelgangers that infiltrate non-doppelganger society for a long time eventually adopt the culture and mannerisms of the locals, they forget they're a doppelganger. They either are the subject of a raid from a doppelganger clan or have an emotional breakdown when they discover they are a monster
  • Some of these doppelgangers see the mental instability as a mirror to their physical malleability. They isolate living aesthetic lives trying to quell their inner turmoil by rejecting their ability to shape shift
  • What is beauty to the formless? They only find beauty in their own form, when they are isolated from all other races. They wear their disguises with disgust. With no home to go to, they have to wander, disgusted by their forms, terrified by exposure
  • When they mate with each other, they produce a doppelganger. When they mate with humans they produce changelings
  • They are thought forms made from concentrated hate and frustrated desires of one or more people, and aimed at an individual which is an object of loathing, fear, unrequited lust or one that you wish to subjugate
    They are the double of this person in particular (or more rarely a tribe, corporation, or idea), the master of its face. It is created with the sole purpose of destroying, humiliating, or replacing that master
    But the doppelganger is filled with complexity and incoherence. It creates a double that is self-directed and strongly willed. It borrows features from its hate-donors, shifting faces freely on the way to meeting its master. It pursues its own bizarre agendas as long as they don't conflict with the inevitable showdown
    Once the master is destroyed and its mission complete? The funny thing about hate and lust and loathing is that they don't just disappear. It is now free to explore the meaning of its existence. Very often, it seeks out those who created it, its wrathful parents
  • They are actually from elsewhere, visiting humanoids and capturing them for study
  • Doppelgangers are like honeybees, led by a queen. The personality of the hive is based on the personalities the queen has copied
  • They were originally humans, modified by wizards to be concubines and spies. At some point, the goose got away from the gander
  • Doppelgangers are actually an advanced ooze that has recently picked itself up and left the dungeon. They just can't seem to maintain their humanoid form, so they borrow it from others to prevent returning to an ooze like state
  • This has caused a rift in doppelganger society, some wish to pursue a hedonistic lifestyle, while others become morose and philosophical, becoming violent and loving to inflict pain on those weaker then themselves
  • They are a strongly secretly religious culture. They perform rituals in private to help remind them of who they truly are
  • They are not just men. Werewolves, mimics, trappers, cloakers, all are doppelgangers in different stages of their life cycle
  • They stole the source of true names and fled where only the damned go. They have returned, paying another price; their own visage. They imprinted the book on each of their souls, allowing them to take any form. You may have them do a task for you, but you must give your name to the book, allowing them the right to use your own face
  • They are violently territorial sociopaths. They do not experience guilt or remorse. They are driven to succeed and control everything, driven by their utter solitude
  • Doppelgangers don't burn
  • They pool them memories in clansmen who become memory wells
  • These memory wells allow doppelgangers to take on the skills and knowledge of those people's minds contained within
  • When unconscious they revert back to their natural form
  • Certain elder doppelgangers can consume the brain of a creature, gaining access to the memories and personality of the victim
  • Doppelgangers believe that the world and everything in it is alive and all existence is a competition, a test of physical and mental superiority 
  • They are failed alchemical creations, the detritus of attempts to create artificial life
  • Their origin is human, undeniably. Altered by magic, alchemy, or surgery in some bizarre fashion
  • Blood from a doppelganger exhibits life-like traits. It ripples and avoids hazards, oozing away from them
  • Doppelgangers eventually replace every building, person, and object in a city with one of their kind
  • They do not sweat or produce other skin excretions
  • They are the liquid sea-formed soldiers of chaos, walking among the stone of the land to destroy law and all its stable forms. That war never ended
  • They often collect rubbish. Small rocks, bits of string, screws, pieces of metal
  • Their natural skin appears greasy, but is actually dry to the touch and feels leathery
  • Doppelgangers are able to alter their voice to reproduce any sound
  • They are immune to charm and their ability to detect thoughts operates constantly
  • After death, their natural form quickly petrifies
  • They evolved in a dungeon environment to take advantage of large groups of unorganized men. A party with more hirelings then it can keep its eye on at once is particularly prone to a doppelganger infestation
  • They lust and desire the wealth of humans, wealth they are unable or unwilling to create themselves
  • They can only reproduce with the aid of humans and leave their children among human children as the cuckoo does
  • Part of their superiority in combat comes from their mental abilities. Against opponents with protected minds (psionics, etc.) they are considered to have a much lower armor class and fight much worse, hitting much less often and doing reduced damage
  • They do not sleep
  • They form their clothing and weapons from their own mass
  • They are the stuff of life that first came forth, protean and ever-shifting. Originally it took on the many varied forms, learning to be born, hold a shape, and die. Now it has appeared again, perhaps to herald the end of the race of men
  • Doppelganger society if founded on honesty and truth, being unable to lie to each other
  • Doppelgangers actually avoid each other because they are the only race they can't read, leading to severe distrust
  • When they age, the take the form of large structures, forest glens, or other giant permanent structures and become powerful psionic beacons containing repositories of memories
  • This large structure then will birth new doppelgangers
  • They respond to their targets, always displaying what each expects to see
  • They are each born without a face of their own. They either break off and worship their own lack of identity, or as is more often the case, just steal one
  • They are creatures without a conscious. They just kill and replace people on a whim, not from malice, but simply from habit and temperament
  • Their natural form is non-viable. They must change form to breed
  • The doppelganger isn't a separate creature, but your own dark side, released. It kills your mind, in a very real sense taking over your body and becoming the evil that lurks inside you manifest
  • Doppelgangers exist only as a curse. They do and accomplish what the original desires, yet cannot accomplish himself
  • They are creatures of balance. When a creature, perhaps descended from the divine, drifts from its nature, a doppelganger appears and reasserts the balance by their actions. This always ends in misery and the balancing creature can only be killed by destroying the original creature
  • A religious order is the source of all doppelgangers. Once sought, the god curses the joiner. They must seek out, defeat, and re-assimilate the doppelganger to be inducted. Often they die or fail. Once a great many had, they bound together and brought down the order that created them. They now seek to bring down the god himself
  • They are robotic killers from the future to kill those who will disadvantage their creator
  • They are servants of the gods who kill those who interfere with worship and their god's divine supremacy
  • They are dreams that survive their dreamer's death

Thus it appeared, I say, but it was not. It was my antagonist - it was Wilson, who then stood before me in the agonies of his dissolution. His mask and cloak lay, where he had thrown then, upon the floor. Not a thread in all his raiment - not a line in all the marked and singular lineaments of his face which was not, even in the most absolute identity, mine own!- Edgar Allan Poe, “William Wilson”

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On Pathfinder: Kingmaker, the CRPG

This is the best computer role-playing game. This is the worst computer role-playing game.

Do you want your decisions to matter? Do you want a challenge, with a real risk of loss? Do you want ambiguity? Do you want adventure? 

Do you want to spend a lot of time reloading saves? 

The Game

Pathfinder Kingmaker is a computer role-playing game based on a series of adventure paths written for pathfinder. An adventure path is designed as a series of scenes preceding planned combat encounters, until the characters reach the end of the path. From "Stolen Land" the first adventure path in the kingmaker series:

". . .these things are called “Adventure Paths” and not “Adventure Lots Of Little Paths,” . . . an Adventure Path is first and foremost a story. While your players will have plenty of opportunities to help shape such a story’s development, on a certain level the story’s going to happen one way or another."

This is, perhaps, useful for very busy people who enjoy building characters to overcome challenges, but seems to limit agency, adventure, and the possibility of wonder, but I'm not throwing stones—many people like this style of play.

Kingmaker was their attempt to not do this. Is this why it's one of the best selling adventure paths they have published AND the one neophyte company Owlcat decided to turn into a massive digital role-playing games? Who can say? 

Me. Yes. Adventure paths are interminable compared to player-driven play. But not everyone can have an above average IQ and people who have trouble with abstraction should get to play D&D too.

The reality of this can be quite upsetting. In the computer game, you can find and run into hydras and manticores and more at level 1 and 2. The correct option here is to flee, and return later (or find specific ways to manipulate the pathfinder system to target the one weakness of the creature). The downside is that the appropriate way to play is save-scumming (reloading constantly for better results), because there is no way for a player to know ahead of playing when they are going to get smote by a monster at level 1.

This continues onto the rules themselves. Pathfinder is a very rigid design, with certain mathematical expectations. For balanced encounters, it's expected that players will die during combat around level 7, which is why clerics get access to spells that bring the recently deceased back to life. It's been baked into the math since early 3rd edition. Skill checks are the same way, difficulties are in the mid 40's by the end of the game, which means unless you've specialized to hit them, you are unlikely to succeed. 

But if you're playing Kingmaker, you're already all in on this. It does implement the rules (for the most part) in a correct way. For example, if you are over-encumbered, your speed decreases on the world map. And on the battle maps. Take off your armor if you get the chance before making athletic checks. You might not roll a high enough perception check to locate an adventure site, and then you fail. 

Finally, there's the time limit. After the first chapter a clock starts (1600 days), and doesn't stop. Events happen, and it's best to address them directly, opposed to the usual video game technique of "do all the sidequests first and save the main quest for last". When quests pop up, like "Rescue my child" or "Stop the troll invasion" you have to address them quickly or things will go badly. You do the main quests first, and then split the remining time between Kingdom management and exploration and side-questing. 

To wit: There is a camping screen, where everyone in the party has a job. This camping screen was a draw to the game. During my game, I let my hunter hunt for rations. This can extend the camp time past 8 hours for a poor roll. 18 hour camp here, 12 hour camp there. These extra hours over the course of the game added up to enough time that I wasn't able to completely develop my kingdom for the 'best' ending. I lost so much time, that I wasn't able to completely raise the secondary stats of my Kingdom to 10. I ended with Divine, Arcane, Stability at 7, Culture at 9, and Espionage at 6. I walked places when I should have teleported. I explored. Once I left the screen on and was in other apps for a few hours, and time passes in the game, so I lost several days there.

The Grind

All of this is very cool, right? Weather happens and affects the maps. Your choices matter, not just in conversation, but in what you choose to address and what you let go. 

But the endless tedium—You're always poor on gold, but encumbering yourself with loot will add hours to your trip. You do this for every quest, you lose weeks of time over the course of the game. Here's a piece of advice for the game written by reddit user u/YogoshKeks

"The only thing that affects the time you have in act 2 is the time of day you speak to Oleg to close act 1. Do it at 16:00:01 after having fully rested. That starts act 2 just after midnight, so you get the full use of that first day. 

With that full day, you can claim Outskirts, run to Oleg to recruit Bokken, claim the resources just north of the capitol, rank up counselor and have about 40 minutes left to start that first bald hilltop 1 day event card."

There is no point in the game where these things cease to matter. Every time your characters level, you need to know what you're going to need in the future to insure you don't 'screw up the build'. (what favored enemy should you pick?) The pathfinder ruleset is incredibly brutal, and unless you are engaging in significant min/maxing, it's unlikely you will win most combats easily. Combine that with needing to rest and recuperate more often if your system mastery isn't there. . . 

The game simultaneous pulls in three separate directions. You need to devote lots of time and money to kingdom management, you need to take time to go around and explore various areas, and you need to be prepared to complete the main events when they occur. These three goals conflict with each other, and create a stressful experience. There are a couple of sections where you have some time to work on your kingdom, where you might spend three or four hours just dealing with kingdom cards and solving kingdom problems. Out of my (strangely enough) exactly 100 hour playthrough to beat the game, 20-25 hours of that was spent in kingdom management. It's relevant to note that this was far from my first playthrough—many ended when I had a problem with a build. This was the run where I decided I needed to beat the game. I would expect a first playthrough to take upwards of 150 hours of real time, using help to avoid getting stuck and considering reloads

Even in the definitive edition, years after release, the game is full of weird non-game breaking bugs. My robe stuck out on either side of the doll like waterwings. Sometimes you'd fail a roll that shows you succeeded. Feats work in unique ways (crane feat being active even when wielding weapons and shields in both hands). Once I enchanted a belt that didn't give a bonus. The game is almost impossible to complete on console due to technical difficulties, but this is not really a factor on the PC version.

The above seems negative, and there's more. The last dungeon (The House at the End of Time) is possibly one of the most frustrating and tedious dungeons ever made. Pathfinder design makes it both difficult and necessary to cover all the bases you need to handle different monster types (swarms, fey, gaze attacks). Tactics on higher difficulties result in tedious and repetitive tactics often requiring reloading to get the roll you need. The load times are long. There's weirdness with some abilities and turn-based play. There are several events that require you meet someone somewhere on a certain day or time, and there is no in-game calendar available for reference. The system and game is by FAR the most punishing to low level characters, making the beginning a arduous ordeal for new players who must have familiarly with the pathfinder system to avoid problems. (You can't hit because you didn't take precise shot and you're firing into melee. Do you have a way to deal with swarms? et. al.) 

The Gold

All that said, this game is brilliant. It's a working real-time with pause/turn-based engine that implements the pathfinder ruleset in a true way. It doesn't consider 'good video game design' and instead only considers honesty to the 'rules as physics' as a primary design goal. There's a roguelike dungeon you can take on with created parties over and over. You can fill your party with characters you designed yourself. The voice work and writing is pretty good, and greatly expands on the original Adventure Path material with exactly the kinds of things you would expect.

There are a ton of puzzles, that are really sharp. You can solve them different ways. An early puzzle has you manipulate sword arms on statues. Once you get them all facing the same way, you get access to a secret room and treasure. Most people then move on, not knowing that if you make them all face the other way, you will open a different secret room with different  treasure. There are puzzles and they aren't terribly difficult to figure out, but the game has no problem letting you move on, none the wiser. Many, nearly all of the puzzles in the game are like this. 

Also, you can solve them in different ways in a traditional sense. You can talk your way to a solution, or fight your way there, or sometimes even avoid the problem. The majority of the game is optional, as evidenced by the sub-four hour speedrun.

And ultimately, your kingdom represents your choices. I've played a Chaotic Neutral psychic, a Lawful Good Dragon Paladin (who walks around in huge dragon form all the time), a party filled with just dragon people and pets, a Lawful Evil hellknight, and more. Each campaign had the world and situation react to my choices. Events, commentary, people's opinions, who's even in the game and around, are all up to choices you make. It's an amazing amount of replayability for a game with a 100 hour playtime. 

And that is indeed its greatest strength and its biggest weakness. Do you want to replay a 100 hour game? Do you want to live in a world where you have to gain an ability and then take a feat for the ability to work? Do you want to enter a brutal world where monsters threaten humanity, and even when giving your best effort you may still fail?

The answer to those questions is something only you can decide.

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On the Thursday Trick, Props: Codes and Hidden Messages Part I

If you're interested in Tricks and Traps like these, be sure to check out Artifices, Deceptions, and Dilemmas, collecting all of these along with beautiful illustrations. 

Props are physical puzzles, tricks, and brain-teasers you can hand to your players at the table for them to actually physically handle.

Scytale: A strip of paper is wrapped around a cylinder, and a message is written across the paper. Unwrap the paper and the message is meaningless, rewrap the paper around a cylinder of similar size and the message becomes clear. Old like the greeks.

Deciphering: If you write the message around something that is lying on the table (A pencil/marker, etc.) then simply handing them the strip of paper should be enough. If you want to give them several options, then the strip of paper should be handed out either before or after the cylinder is found and the cylinder should be disguised (Hairbrush handle) and with a variety of other objects.

Mirror Message: No, not just writing a message backwards. That's dumb and simple.

You can bisect the letters vertically and write a message using the letters: AHINOTUVWX
Or, you can bisect the letters horizontally and write a message using the letters: BCDEHIKOX
(Use a Scrabble Word Finder to get words)

: Once they figure out they need a mirror, they may use one nearby, if anyone bothered to purchase one. Alternately, you may hand out a mirror (or other reflective object) with several other items to obfuscate the text.

You can do this similarly with maps or secret codes using Catoptric Anamorphosis, but it requires some measure of artistic talent and a polished cylinder. On the other hand, if you have a reflective teapot, it can make a fascinating puzzle.

If I were going to attempt it, I would place the teapot/reflective mylar/tin foil wrapped around a paper tube, etc. on the paper, and sketch an outline in pencil of the map or message. I would have a good eraser.

Alternately it can be a letter substitution, or letters can
be missing from the cypher. 
Substitution Cypher: The message is in code. Substitution cyphers are simple to solve if you know the substitution. All the players have to do is have the message, either before or after they are shown a disguised copy of the cypher. It can be hidden in art, murals, colored, or otherwise disguised. The cypher could be written on pillars and stone tiles or hidden somewhere else in the environment.

Deciphering: The key factor here, is that the substitution key must be presented. You cannot fail to mention it, nor should you provide more emphasis on its discovery. If the message is handed out earlier or later then the discovery of the message then the connection must be made by the players. The key can be obfuscated (as in an element of a larger picture, message, or image), but should be available.

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On the Ecology of the Cockatrice

"Those are stone hens up in that den. You'll be a work of art coming out." -Ophid, Country rustic

Nomenclature: Cockatrice, Stone Hen, Rockbird, Cocatris, Calcatrix, Ichneumon, Basilicok, Basilikos, Cocatriz, Velchukruk ("lil peckers" in Stone Giant), Skoffin

Description: Advanced reptillian arcane hen

Things that are known:

  • Their gaze or touch can petrify people, even after death
  • They can fly short distances
  • It is immune to poison
  • A cockatrice has the head and body of a rooster, bat wings, and the long tail of a lizard.
  • A male has wattles and a comb like a rooster
  • The much rarer female appear the same, lacking wattles and a comb only
  • It has red or black eyes
  • It is about the size of a goose or turkey
  • They lay eggs

Rumors and other whispers in the dark:

  • A cockatrice is actually a dragon, possibly born from a dragon mating with something other than a pure dragon
  • Once it has caught the sent of prey, it can unerringly track
  • Any toad or snake incubating an cock egg will produce a cockatrice
  • The weasel is immune to their petrifaction
  • The sound of a roosters crow will kill a cockatrice dead.
  • A mirror will not stone a cockatrice, but they will violently attack the reflection (or any other live cockatrice) until dead or exhausted
  • Its hiss can route all serpents, reptiles, and vipers
  • It doesn't actually petrify, but withers plants, scotches grass, and bursts stone from heat and its deadly breath
  • Its blood is poison that spreads when struck, up the weapon into the body of the person holding it
  • The bite doesn't kill, but passes on hydrophobia to the victim.
  • They are impossible to kill by stabbing. Perhaps this is due to poison or perhaps their skin is resistance to piercing weapons
  • The beak and claws of a cockatrice are made of iron
  • A cockatrice has three tails, not a single snakes tail
  • It is the mortal enemy of the crocodile
  • They are filthy, stupid, and vicious animals
  • If in a city, they can kill many with their poison breath. A cockatrice that has done so, can only be ousted with the power of the gods
  • The cockatrice doesn't actually turn anyone or thing into stone. It has venom that causes calcium to multiply and crystallize, replacing flesh. The stoning that results from this causes a porous appearance versus the statue-like look caused by a medusa or gogon. It is this calcium that they eat
  • The crowing of a cockatrice will curdle the milk inside a cow
  • A pregnant sow will birth deaf piglets if exposed to the crow of a cockatrice
  • The feathers are quite magical, and useful for arrows, quills, bu they must be used quickly
  • The cockatrice is actually a passive grazing animal and not a predator at all. Their deadly gaze is for insects, not man
  • A cockatrice grinds the stone it eats using hard diamonds stored in its stomach. 
  • Sometimes called the "excuse bird" it is often credited with ills it did not cause. They have never been known to eat homework or cause a late snow or poor harvest
  • This name offends them and they retreat into their study of geology, hiding in caves
  • Cockatrices are actually very wise and know many profound and secret thoughts of the origin of things, learned from the earth itself
  • They often correspond with wizards under the guise of being a geothaumatologist or ignohistorian. They pay for their research by providing the locations of gems and raw magic.
  • These locations are the subject of many treasure maps
  • They are not natural creatures, they are created from a rooster of superior chickens and a still living snake plucked from the head of a medusa
  • They don't actually consume stone, but eat it in order to help them digest food. They don't eat rocks like a reasonable animal because they have very tiny brains
  • It is actually a being of extra-dimensional origin. It is a normal hunter and scavenger on its home plane, but on ours it is deadly. It has a envenomed beak and its feathers contain toxic material. It petrifies organic matter, leaving behind crystallized salts
  • Cockatrices are quite fecund, but poisoned easily by toxins in this planar environment  Those that survive all learned to bury their crystalline eggs underground
  • They have a particular vulnerability to strong acids, sonic vibrations and metal poisoning
  • It has a strong affinity for natural forces
  • Cocksatroises was once widely accepted as the plural of cockatrice, now there is debate that it refers to an intelligent breed of cockatrice whose eggs were incubated by tortoises
  • Victims do not turn to stone, but are nearly instantaneously fossilized. The tap from the beak pulls the victim out of sync with its time frame, stealing all the motion from the targets life. This motion is lost to the universe, funneled into another somehow
  • The result of this is every time a victim is refleshed and recovered, that is stealing energy from another dimension. Do that enough and you might be noticed
  • They are used to herd stone giant children and keep them safe
  • They were designed by the wizard Vora Elgath, a wizard and friend of the stone giants who found them peaceful company
  • A cockatrice is not a separate creature, but is in actuality an infected chicken  This mutated form can only survive on venom, kept on hand by their stone giant keepers
  • They are actually the cursed offspring of Ur Kardar, a dragon foolish enough to attack a god. He lost and his eggs were all turned to chicken eggs. A trickster god coaxed the dragonish to the surface by changing how they hatched, becoming his favorite assassins
  • That trickster god's clerics can attune to the cockatrice and command its actions; possessing it for a time and petrifying their foes
  • The flesh of a cockatrice is quite delicious
  • They are vain, bullying creatures and constantly battle for status among themselves
  • Females lay 1 to 2 eggs a month at the waxing of the moon. The eggs are brownish-red, flecked with rust-red speckles and have hard brittle shells. They hatch in 11-19 days.
  • They love to line their nests with shiny sparkly items. The more shiny their nest, the higher the status among cockatrices
  • Cockatrice have the option of petrifying, it does not automatically petrify by touch.
  • The feathers of a cockatrice can turn creatures to stone for a long time after their removal or the death of the cockatrice
  • The females keep a harem of males and kick their young out at six weeks
  • They are the damned combination of a basilisk and its mortal enemy, the rooster.
  • They grow a crowstone inside their vestigial gizzards ranging in size from a grain of sand to marble size. This cloudy colorless gem is a potent cure for poisons and venom  Swallowing the rank tasting stone is the most effective application. The larger the crowstone the more effective it will be
  • Cockatrice feathers are useful as magical quills because of their durability against caustic substances
  • Cockatrice do not always turn you to stone. Some turn you to gold, disintegrate you, liquefy your bones, or turn you into a thrall. Some change your alignment, or polymorph you
  • Cockatrice flesh is a delicacy
  • The saliva of a cockatrice can turn stone back to flesh


Pyrolisk is a cockatrice that causes opponents to burst into flame
Cyrolisk is a cockatrice that freezes opponents solid
Aqualisk is an aquatic cockatrice that eats coral and breaths water
Perfidalisk is a cockatrice that causes wounds that do not heal
Regalisk is cockatrice the size of an elephant
Bicockatrice, a cockatrice with two heads
Somnolisk causes a deathless sleep
Miasmalisk breaths a killer venom that spreads out like a fog

On Ecology, Cyclops

   "It's not an eye, it's a time-sphincter" -Olabuk, mad mage

Nomenclature: One Eye, Cyclops, Logos-bound, Tartaro, Siklops, psyclops, Kyklopes or Kuklopes

Description: Giant men with a singular eye

Things that are known:
  • Giants that have one eye
Rumors and other whispers in the dark:
  • Their primary food source is man
  • They forge bolts of lightning
  • They act as host to annelids, until their lifecycle advances enough to be able to feed from humans. At this point, the cyclops discharges them through their eye into unwilling human hosts
  • Cyclopes have vestigial eye sockets with their eye in the center of their head. This is because in order to become a cyclops, one must remove their eyes
  • Cyclopes have white marble orbs in place of eyes. These are quite valuable and stealing one from a living cyclops is a feat of great daring 
  • The eye of the cyclops is unique in that it isn't covered by a lid. It rests as a sphere in the center of the forehead, hence the meaning of the name 'round-eye'
  • Cyclops are excellent engineers, working and constructing factories which produce tekno-steam marvels. They name themselves after elements and machines: bright, thundering, forge, etc.
  • They build extremely sturdy walls alternating stacking bricks to produce solid, impenetrable barriers. This brick stacking method is known as cyclopean
  • Their creativity spills over into agricultural areas, cyclopes being the first beings to develop agriculture. Legend says that every time they taught it to men, the men slew them
  • Cyclops can control the weather causing winds to bring them ships and dash them against rocks below to feast on the human corpses
  • Cyclops are noted teetotalers, becoming enraged at the thought of drunkards or dipsomaniacs
  • Cyclops cleanse their lands of all other life, having firm and immutable borders that they defend vigorously
  • Cyclopes are, at best, as intelligent as a well-behaved dog
  • The single eye grants all cyclopes great mental powers, not the least of which is prognostication, allowing them to see and change the future.
  • The cyclops is no man-like creature, but instead manifests as a stormy sky, and when approached, it reveals a malign milky sphere, a great eye; to witness the destruction it brings
  • Cyclops are bound by sorceries of the Pythagoreans, doomed to live 216 years backwards

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