Thursday, August 11, 2022

Shadow Appalachia: Logan Barrow Hills

The moundbuilders fell like a dying star out of time when they came to these wilds. Banished and dispossessed, they fled from their stolen lands in the East and washed up among the beeches and maples of these parts. They set to work quickly, establishing themselves as the new world order from the Great Lakes to the bayou deltas, keeping a special interest in the hillocks and hollers from Chillicothe to Tobaccoville. The Lenape and Shawnee remember, and try not to dwell on the episode. It was a bloodbath.

In history's irony, the moundbuilders perished. Their sorcery and industrial warfare were formidable, but their numbers were too few to last. Tribes came and went. They minded the barrows of their elder enemies to ensure nothing crawled out of the earth. Then settlers shuffled in and laid timbers. The natives were pushed out. Roads were paved and bulldozers flattened the old mounds. Strip malls were erected in their place. As a sleeping lion ought to be left to his rest, this time-lost dirt should not have been disturbed, and now an ancient epoch is coming back to life along the Guyandotte River.

Tianna Palmer - Artstation

Wandering through these parts might reveal (d20)...

1-4: d4 occultists [1]* in plain clothes, carrying backpacks and camping gear, otherwise unassuming. Closer inspection reveals they are loaded down with reagents, mystical objects, fell daggers (d6), and simple spells at their disposal.
1: Digging up a small plot of old gravestones within a rough circle of lit black candles. They're tired and sweaty, muttering aloud that "this was not what we signed up for." 
2: Drinking sweet wine at a table in the woods, fully dressed with a lavish feast entirely out of context with the environment. A painting of a brightly-arrayed man with cloven feet sits at the head of the table.
3: Meeting with three men in military fatigues [2], carrying duffel bags of electronics and old books. They are armed with M-16s (d10, bulky) and brokering an exchange of resources.
4: Standing over a faintly-glowing sigil carved into the ground. They pour oil over a flayed deer which is staked to the ground atop the sigil. It twitches slightly. The deer is, in fact, the seed form of a wendigo [3] being ritually summoned to this place.

5-8: Treasure hunters milling about ruins, woods, and roads looking for a quick buck or dopamine hit. Friendly towards you but skeptical of your intentions. They carry shovels (d6, bulky), metal detectors, and lots of old maps. They don't want to share what they find.
5: Thomas Thatchett and his two buddies [1], all wearing hunter's camo and holding composite bows (d6). They have a little off-road wagon of tools and devices, and are eager to ask you if you've seen local evidence of Shawnee artifacts.
6: d6 archaeologists [1] who are operating out of an RV. The vehicle is always getting stuck on a rut and nearly falling over. They are carrying d4 spellbooks and/or relics of profane arcane power dug up "a few miles from here." 
7: A bunch of tourists led by Agatha Abernathy [2], who is a self-proclaimed ghost hunter and knows all about the lore of these woods. In truth, she's a pothead with a penchant for incense and grifting. The group is lost at this point and will turn on Agatha if they realize she's taking them for a ride.
8: Two old guys so drunk they can't even tell you their names. They clap and cheer and nearly kiss you while explaining that they "hit the jackpot." They are surrounded by half-empty bottles of cheap bourbon and their bags are filled with petrified fossil remains of enormous humanoid bones. 

9-11: Government agents performing covert operations related to sites deemed points of interest in the name of national security. You are not meant to know they were here, and they'll ensure steps are taken to silence you.
9: d10 Men in Black [2] who stand around the dead body of an oversized human in a pool of blood. All of them are wearing slick black suits, black fedoras, and aviator sunglasses. Even with your notice, one of them wordlessly takes out a flamethrower and immolates the big corpse. They will slip away from you if challenged unless taken by surprise.
10: A squad of four operatives [1] who are lugging a fallen camrade out of a gully. The dead man is missing his left arm and most of his chest to an enormous, ragged, bite wound. They could use your help but will immediately betray you when the coast is clear.
11: Mr. Arneson [3], a deepthroat. The sort of guy who has seen it all and orchestrated most of it. He is a tenured handler and a practiced conspiracist. He has tremendous spellcasting ability. He is alone, observing a local historical marker. He has the vital organs of some passers-by in a cooler in his trunk.

12-15: d4+1 wild animals loping about the woods and hills, skittish as you would expect. Something about them seems out of the ordinary. Lingering with them reveals they are clearly unnerved, more prone to fight or flee than they ought to be.
12: Cougars [2] which are not at all happy that you've stumbled upon their litter of cubs which all have three eyes and murmur like human children. 
13: Not-deer [2]. They look, act, and move like deer, but their mouths are far too articulate and they smile at you from the dark and whisper about your family sins.
14: Black bears [1] who are foraging berries but skulking around like they are being pursued by larger predators. The woods are rather quiet as they approach.
15: Regular old natural deer. One is limping due to a crossbow bolt lodged in its midsection. It has mostly stopped bleeding. The wild-eyed hunter [2] is not far behind, and very hungry.

16-18: d6+1 documentary filmmakers lugging cameras, EMF readers, climbing gear, and energy drinks. Their work is "really important" and people "need to know" what they've uncovered. They are cooler than you are, at least in their opinion. One of them is just along for the hype.
16: An overconfident team of rookies in flannel, with slouchy beanies and manicured beards. Working on The Lurkers Below, a rip-off of The Descent, but "real this time." They are being tracked by the fabled Misingwa, the half-masked spirit which causes accidents for disruptive presences in the woods.
17: Randy Esposito, a unified theorist with a YouTube channel, merch line, and tight goatee. He's here to track down evidence linking the UFOs to Bigfoot to Pan to federal mind control experiments and more. Will talk to you for hours in a silky baritone about how angels and demons are not what you think.
18: Tenured paranormal investigators who know the area well, currently tracking down rumors of a lair of the "Wormaids," some sort of naga/siren cryptid living in nearby subterannean resevoirs and lakes. They know their stuff, and are happy to collaborate and share information.

19-20: A giant [3] travelling alone. It stands 10-12 feet fall, with pocked, gray skin and unkempt red hair, and is otherwise human in appearance. Its clothes are ornate and unfamiliar to you, with robes and a breastplate. Everything around them is utterly silent and still.
19: Standing in a clearing, surrounded by old mossy dolmens, speaking an unknown language in basso tones. One arm is outstretched, rippling with greenflame which courses from its hand into the faces of three hapless people. They writhe and groan as the skin is peeled off of their skulls.
20: Hunched over a fallen tree, carving harsh runes into the wood. It is surrounded by the spectral forms of two massive owls and ten humans in chains with bald heads. Together they chant nacash, nacash, nacash, nacash, nacash...

*For all NPC statlines ([1], [2], and [3]), see this post.


  1. Being from Appalachia, these tables are terrifyingly evocative of what a fantast Appalachia would be like

  2. I just watched your interview on Dieku Games. I played original D&D and Traveller back in the mid-70s, and so my mindset has always been similar to what is now described as OSR or FKR. I understand your preference/passion for diceless resolution; however, dice rolls are (1) fun and (2) insert tension and drama into a game, and (3) allow the GM to 'discover' rather than 'dictate' what happens. I wonder whether you are missing out on some additional, drama, fun, and discovery by so limiting your experience at the table. You could interject it even in situations you think are 95% likely to happen, ask for a roll and watch the players hope that the pesky 5% chance does not throw a monkey wrench into their plans; and the look of relief on their faces when they succeed. They don't have to interfere and you don't have to use modifiers; you just decide what the likelihood is and let the player roll. I look forward to your thoughts on this.

    1. You'll get no argument from me on those points--I deeply enjoy dice! That randomized resolution is strictly necessary for RPGs is, however, not the case. Even in my diceless-resolution tables, I'm still rolling plenty of dice to generate content, reactions, morale, rumors etc. Most often I find my tables tend to float somewhere at or just below the Into the Odd/Cairn/Weird North level of mechanics, all of which are grounded in stat-based d20 rolls for saving throws and various polyhedrals for damage (such as this post here, which is all statted for Cairn/Liminal Horror).

    2. I agree that randomized resolution is not 'strictly necessary' for RPGs; my argument is that non-obtrusive randomized resolution adds a lot to the game that diceless resolution does not allow for (namely tension, drama, hopes/fears, discovery and unexpected twists (even for the GM).

    3. I can see it both ways. Without a doubt, the most tense, dramatic, dynamic, and unexpected sessions of my life have been diceless.

  3. With regard to the magic in Weird North; since there is no dedicated game mechanic for magic or spells per se, is magic a negotiation with the GM (like White Hack); or does it just happen and then there are saving throws (like any other action in WN), or does the GM just decide? When the PCs use magic, I assume is when they roll on the Fell Sorcery table? I would appreciate your guidance regarding magic in the Weird North.

    1. Apologies on the lateness of response here--I never saw the notification for your second comment from the 25th!

      Magic in Weird North could be any of the above. Most often I establish it as coming out of the Fell Sorcery and Aspect tables (which are full of magic-adjacent abilities). Traditional magic (wizards with spellbooks) is not a prevailing theme in Weird North's implied setting. Think James Earl Jones becoming a horrible serpent malison rather than a party mage casting fireball.

      That said, traditional or similar magic could be in Weird North. I'd tie it to corruption in nearly all cases, as the assumed trajectory of those who dabble beyond their own natural mortality are tempting slow or sudden annihilation. Look at the Dirtfriend's "Decompositor" ability--I'd argue that is direct, target-affecting magical assault, and it has potent effects (an HP-less STR save against critical damage) but it comes at the cost of a corruption save. You stare into the abyss, it stares back.