Saturday, January 18, 2014

"Worms upon a Piece of Wood" - Arabian Nights Seas, Joesky Credit #3

When the Muslims took possession of Egypt, 'Umar b. al-Khattab wrote to 'Amr b. al-As and asked him to describe the sea to him. 'Amr replied: 'The sea is a great creature upon which weak creatures ride - like worms upon a piece of wood.'

-Ibn Khaldun, the MuqaddimahTrans. Franz Rosenthal, Ed. N.J. Dawood. Princeton Classic Edition, 2005, p. 209.

Anthony, blogging over at Straits of Anian, asked me way back when for some saltbox components: ocean encounters and a weird island generator. Here's what we got.

Note: As I've written before, I normally try to eschew Arabian Nights influence, but Sindbad's voyages are so crucial and fundamental to my visions of a saltbox in this context that I can't get away from them. (Wait, does that make Sindbad the Old Man of the Sea? Damn you, mixed metaphors!) The bulk of these entries are a lot more gonzo and fairy-tale than the stuff I'm running, and most wouldn't fit into my conception of Legacy of the Bieth. I'm going to need to figure out what oceanic, corsair-like, and piratical components are in LotB itself. I know that there are totally corsairs, and the sea vast terrible and terrifying, but not too much beyond that. 

Ocean Encounters

Deep Dweller: roll a d6. 1-2 idling along minding its own business; 3-4 hunting your ship; 5-6 fleeing something else (reroll on this table)

Ship of the Marids
"Flaming Scimitar" from Dreadfleet
Painted by Centerpiece Miniatures
1   Kraken - Deep Dweller.
3   Dendan - a giant fish capable of swallowing ships in a single convulsive gulp. Deep Dweller.
4   Ship of the Marids - Overly ornate and florid pleasure vessel being propelled by air elementals or djinn blowing at the sails. Will likely have a utterly decadent prince(ss) of the Marid on board, leisurely sailing along, willing to gamble with mortals (or demand that they suffer to provide entertainment).
5   Black Mountain  - this ominous peak off in the distance inexorably drags ships towards it. As they approach, the iron fittings and nails of the ship begin to tear out of the wood (along with anything else that might be on board, like most weapons) and surge towards the mountain, while the ships break apart and sink. Legend has it that a brass man on a brass horse sits atop the peak of the mountain, and about his neck hangs the tablet which causes the mountain to continue its reign of destruction.
6   Ship in Distress - Unexpected rocks, treacherous seas, attacks from below...something nasty has hit this ship. Roll 1d4 to see who's in trouble: 1 Local islanders, 2 Merchant vessel 3 Foreign dignitary 4 Corsair
7   Local Islanders - trade, supplies, local news. If you feel like, roll on the Weird Island Generator below to see whether these guys are coming from someplace weird.
8   Foreign Voyager - Some folks from way the hell elsewhere. Visiting dignitary? Crazy random traveler? 
9   Corsairs - Yeaaah they probably want your stuff. Deep Dwellers, reroll 1s.
10 Spinning Djinn Whirlpool - This djinn is spinning in place, generating a giant whirlpool about himself (or herself). Why? Any way to reason with them?
11 Uncanny Storm - Maybe it's a giant roiling thundercloud in an otherwise-clear sky. Maybe it's crackling fluorescent pink lightning striking down and turning the water to ice. Maybe it's just some St. Elmo's Fire that's bobbing throughout the ship and making friends with the crew.
Skeletal Serpent
(Serpent d'ocean, by Huang Yong Ping)
12 Skeletal Serpent - A giant sea serpent comes slithering out on the waves - skeletal, possessed of a horrible intelligence, red gleam in its eyes - offers awful bargains and knowledge from the black realms of the sea.
13 Shoal of Talking Fish - Deep Dweller, but 3-4 they're hunting your ship to ask the PCs a favor. Maybe they're spellcasters.
15 Cloud of Hate - As per Fritz Leiber. This deep white fog possesses those with an overwhelming capacity for hate and turns them into ravenous killing machines. In dire straits, it will form tentacles and a giant eye and strike out directly at those who oppose it, taking up the weapons of its former ravenous killing machines.  It is an avatar of HATE, and a lucky strike that severs its connection to its worshipers will prevent it from forming again for a year and a day.
16 Ghost Ship - a ghostly apparition of a ship that sails just above the waves. No visible crew, no recognized markings.  roll a d6. 1-2) ignores nearby ships, 3-4 )moves to "ram" nearest target, 5-6) targets nearest ship and attempts to superimpose itself on the unfortunate vessel.
Dreugh Concept Art
17 Dreugh Swarm - a swarm of these half-octopi, half-humanoid awful creatures. Deep Dwellers. Can survive outside of the water, so may in fact clamber onto your ship and try to drown your crew.
18 Roc - roll 1d6; 1-3 has prey already, 4-6 is looking for something new, big, and tasty.
19 Wereshark - roll a d6: 1 seeking a particular target; 2 seeking to feed; 3 trying to raid the PCs' ship; 4 spying on the PCs; 5 ; 6 Vietnamese-New Hampshire elven wereshark.
20 Tortoise Island - It's got some snazzy resource on its shell (diamonds! Rare woods! Fresh water...?), but the tortoise is about to dive, or is likely to dive if you start picking up the resources.

Weird Island Generator

First, roll 1d4 to see what's weird about this island. 

1 Inhabitants
2 Environment
3 Monsters
4 Reroll twice, ignore 4.

"Pointy Hats"
By Fredrik Rahmqvist
1 Island is populated by giant talking versions of a regular animal (birds, horses, etc). Ruled over by a monarch of that species (a phoenix or simurgh for the birds, a Houyhnhnm for horses, etc.) who is able to speak, arch, sneering and dismissive of humanity. Cut a careful line between the fairy-tale nature and the physical, animal nature of the ruler; emphasize its physicality and power. 
2 Culture has one of the Seven Deadly Sins (plus bonus) as a core virtue. Roll 1d8: 
1. Sloth: Megacephalic petty sorcerers carried about on litters by lobotomized slaves.
2. Pride: Societal status determined by individualized duels of some sort; visitors are of course at bottom of hierarchy until they duel.
3. Avarice: Corsairs who loot and pillage from the neighboring islands. They do not sow. You have only what you can take, and you're always in a race to keep taking. 
4. Wrath: Curious and horrendous custom of torturing all who come to their island.
5. Lust: The island has some strange feature inhibiting traffic, and the inhabitants of the island are all desperate to leave (terminal boredom? despotic or murderous overlord?), and will do anything to put together an escape plan; this "anything" is likely to sabotage the PCs. Think an island full of amoral versions of Number Six (McGoohan, not Helfer). 
6. Vanity: Solipsistic and dubious about the idea that anything could exist outside their island. 
7. Envy: The islanders will latch on to all facets of the PCs and try to mimic their mannerisms and culture. They won't want to let the PCs leave, because they're starved for new ideas.
8. Gluttony: Population is ludicrously obese. I'm not talking anything that's within the realm of normal human weights.* I'm talking Fatties obese, Jabba the Hutt obese. Possibly using mass as a measure of social ranking. Possibly being fattened up as food / incubators / survival mechanism for something weird that happens on the island. 
3 Inhabitants are very welcoming to outsiders, but have strange customs which wind up causing pain. Sinbad encountered this with the islanders who insisted he marry one of them, but then revealed that if one spouse dies, the other is buried alive with them. Some other examples might be ritual sacrifice 
4 Inhabitants are laboring under a major curse. Roll 1d6: 1) During the days their lower halves turn to blocks of marble 2) They forget the events of the previous day at the stroke of midnight 3) They are all vertically bisected (but still able to live and function and speak, just really sad and awkward and hopping around on one leg) 4) All inhabitants of the island have been turned into some small animals, which can speak and lament their fate. 5) The oracular talking bird that guides them continually lies, sending them further into misrule. 6) The inhabitants are obsessing over a zahir that is trapping their thoughts and gradually erasing the island from reality itself. 
5 The ruler of these islanders is a decapitated head, placed in a bowl containing vital essences to keep the head alive. The ruler seeks to acquire a new body by some means fair or foul. 
6 They're cannibals. To be expected, since frickin' half the Arabian Nights stories mentioning sea voyages have this come up - to say nothing of Odysseus's voyages, and Polyphemus. 

Edmund Dulac
1 Perfectly symmetrical island. When structures are built on one side facsimiles will appear on the other. Same for the remains of any sapient being. Every day that a facsimile is separated from the island, roll a d6; on a 3+ the facsimile disappears. 
2 Island suspended in the middle of a whirlpool by vast pillars of rock, making transit to and from the island incredibly perilous. 
3 Sunken, inverted step pyramid filled with water in the center of the island. There are paths of open air mimicking the passages within a normal pyramid, and it is possible to explore the pyramid, walking on the strangely high-surface-tension water; however, treading too heavily, bearing too much weight, or piercing the surface of the water may cause the passages to start leaking and filling up. (The corridors will will unflood and the surface tension reform within 24 hours if broken.)
4 Island is a biome that does not normally appear in the climate (tundra, perhaps?). Optionally, the island is actually a gate to another location; if you lose sight of the shoreline or objects there, you wind up shifting fully to the location being gated to. (Lose sight of the shoreline in Madagascar, and you wind up in Siberia...)
5 One cave has historically been used for dark necromancies. As it is approached, people take on the nature of an undead equal to their HD/level (so a level 1 wizard will have the benefits and penalties of being a skeleton and a wizard; a 5 HD cyclops will become a wraith-cyclops, etc.). Have some undead stats handy, and try to have some unusual undead available so that transformations aren't all the standard platitudes. As affected individuals leave the area, they return to normal. 
6 The underground palace of a djinn princess (or prince) is located on the island, and is said to contain a pathway to the City of Brass itself. But no sign of movement has come from the palace in quite some time...

1 Coven of necromancers with giant undead servitors
2 Flock of monstrous avians (harpies, perytons, etc.)
3 Demon-possessed large animals (think the Lions of Tsavo but worse and all demonic) committed to terrorizing the locals. No interest in rulership or gross consumption, but to cause pervasive terror. Or they're waiting for something, killers even more horrendous than the animal that they now ride... 
4 Colony of ghuls - erudite, urbane, eaters of the dead, and running out of consumable corpses. 
5 Sorcerer keeping the populace in thrall through use of charm spells to set up a secret police. No, everything's fine here in this little island village, how are you
6 Conclave of giants being held at the center of the island. Think a cross between Tolkien's Entmoot and a high-value drug deal, only with forty or fifty participants, all of whom are ready to resort to violence. 

* Don't be a dick and mock actual fat people if this entry comes up.

Influences: Clark Ashton Smith, esp. Island of the Torturers and Quest of the Gazolba
Jorge Luis Borges.
The Thousand and One Nights.


  1. Dang that's a lovely list - I like the black mountain the best.

    1. Thank you! The black mountain is a really cool part of one of the Arabian Nights tales; it winds up sinking a hero's ship and killing his crew. I think that it would be a wonderful start for a wilderness survival adventure, especially when you've got to make do without anything metal handy.

  2. Having alarming thoughts about the symmetrical island. And stealing _all_ this for CCH. Damn.