Whitebox for Chthonic Codex: pretend Q&A and mo’better box pictures!

Hey Paolo, how’s Chthonic Codex doin’?

Progress! I just put together the second last test box, using a bad test print I had lying around.

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What’s wrong with the lid? and why did you order the boxes?

The plate got scratched. And was done for a deeper lid, the new lid is slimmer, so the new plate will have to be etched based on the new box. No biggie, heh. I ordered the boxes from a local supplier as I was not happy with going for a fully handcrafted boxed set. Well I was happy with them, but maybe the customers would not be completely happy.

What’s inside?

Glad you asked!

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Dice for scale. They’re a mixture of Gamescience, Citadel/GW and Chessex. And now, with the contents out. Also, ruler for scale.

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AFG is inserted in lieu of Mysteries and Mystagogues (AFG is almost twice the pagecount of CC:MM, btw), as I do not have yet a CC:MM book with the real cover. I got feedback from the first reviewer/proofreader though, so we are very close to printing a big stack of them.

What’s that thing??

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Oh, it’s a foam insert. I carved a big slot for dice, so they do not rattle around the box. The boxes will be shipped with no dice, and with no slots in the padding. You can carve it in whatever shape you need to hold index cards, dice, pencils, votive images, whatevs, or remove it to keep more handbooks in it, like AFG or S&W Whitebox or even, I dare to say, D&D.

Why do CC:CC and CC:AA look different?

That CC:CC is from Lulu, gloss cover. The one on the right is from Clydeside Press, my local printer, and looks odd because it’s unfinished. The shipped versions will have a matte finish (like AFG-R8 above)

Sup with Mysteries & Mystagogues?

Work continued even while I was in Japan, because bullet trains make for good offices and, while they’re fast, Japan is a very long country. I only need to transcribe stuff in, finish the layout (too many herons, not enough axolotls) and bring it to the printer.

Beyond Vancian: Alterations, Dispensations and Essence Corruption

Vancian magic has its place. But it’s not always appropriate, nor it needs to be the only magic system in your setting. Sometimes you want something more flexible, less mundane and more based on fairytale logic. More meaningful choices and deeper consequences.

Chthonic Codex takes the AFG magic system (available in the free AFG preview downloadable here, explained in section 1.2.1, pp 10,11 and already usable with other retroclones) and adds some, urm, bells and whistles of the arcane variety. The results are usable with all of them old school games you love.

Let’s start with the first spell learnt by most casters in AFG, and see what happens to it:

Unveil Arcana

Level: 0. Range: 1’. Casting time: 1 turn. Duration: instantaneous.

The caster uncannily receives insights and visions enabling them to identify and understand one arcanum, an unknown function of the chosen arcane item or phenomenon within rangeIf cast on a grimoire, the caster will be able to identify a chosen spell from the source. The caster can then learn and transcribe it if their levels are compatible. If cast on other items or phenomena, the weakest unknown function or detail of the object or phenomenon will be understood by the Caster first, with more details conveyed on subsequent castings.

Unveil Arcana is, for obvious reasons, cast very often in my campaigns. The characters meditates and has visions and insights about the unveiled arcanum. It would be interesting, far more interesting if the spell was also working with dreams… the concept of Dispensations enters:

Dispensation – the caster has to sleep at least 1d6 hours with their head close to the arcanum to be unveiled. Comfy pillows can be used, but not overly thick.

A dispensation is a condition that, if satisfied, lets the caster cast the spell without spending mana. In retroclones, the dispensed spell can’t be cast more than once a day, even if memorized. So, there you go, casters have a way of casting spells that they haven’t memorized, but it usually involves dealing with spirits, whispering to fishes, gilting doors and other awkward actions like choreographed singing and dancing montages.

The next concept is Alteration. The spell can be cast in more than a single mode. I’d also love to expose you to Metaphorurgy, the discipline of magic dealing with thresholds (both mundane doors and magic portals) which the Gatekeepers hold dear.

Past Passage

Level: 1. Range: touch. Casting time: 1 phase. Duration: 1 turn.

This simple spell folds a door frame over the caster’s time continuum. The door will open on the first threshold the caster went through since last sunset.

Alteration – by smearing 1 hit point wort of blood on the door, the door will open instead on the first threshold the blood went through since last sunset.

Alterations are not only a matter of flexibility, nor they are a new concept. Reversed spells are alterations. What I’ve done is framing the alternate version in a more explicit form. It’s also interesting to note that since in AFG casters can’t cast a given spell more than once per day, a spell with an altered form can’t be used once per form, but only once. In this way they resemble the alternate spells in the AFG handbook.

Why alterations and not having different spells? First, it’s a matter of meaningful choice: if a character could cast 10 different varieties of the same fireball in a day to avoid the limitation, it would run in the face of the core design of the mana system. Second, you’re giving more flexibility to players, which means more choice. And I like choice. Third, because buying a book to read the same spell over and over again with tiny changes really ticks me off and it’s something i do not do.

Now, the darling Essence Corruption. Everybody loves their metamorphoses, and changing is usually fine, but sometimes it doesn’t work. It’s not a problem of magic lingering, but rather a question of wounding and recovery. Some spells do not merely bend reality, sometimes things go wrong and they change the nature of things. This is a spell of the Chthonic Craft, practiced by hermits and stylites of the Hypogea:

Caprine Climb

Level: 1. Range: self. Casting time: 1 phase. Duration: until dawn.

The lower limbs of the caster change into the hind legs of a goat, making the caster look similar to a bocklin from the waist down. The legs bestow on the caster caprine surefootedness, meaning that the now irsute caster will never fail to climb on any natural surface. Apprentices are encouraged not to try this spell on the giant pile of elven skeletons: while the climb is certainly not a problem under the effect of this spell, some of these long-dead elves are extremely cantankerous.

Dispensation – roll for Essence Corruption (weeks).

So, the spell can be cast for free, but if the Essence Corruption save fails the spell wears off but the effects last 1d6 more weeks. Essence Corruption lasts 1d6 time units as specified, the time units being: rounds, turns, hours, days, weeks, months, years, forever. The next time essence corruption is failed for the same spell the time unit will be bumped by one on this scale, the second time by two, and so on, until the magic is gone but the effects are permanent. There are rumours that essence corruption might be liftable, as a curse, but they are only rumours.

Sure, you can change shape into an eagle or a dolphin or a giant bird-demon or a greater asphaltomorph, and you’re good enough to do it without spending mana. But doing so you’re trading a bit of your soul for something else. And it’s not only for metamorphoses: other kinds of magic corrupt your inner spark as well.

Chthonic Codex: Progress, Spelunking Ferrets and Scapegoats

My three-weeks-long trip through Europe (Glasgow-London-Paris-Lausanne-Milan-Hamburg-Berlin-Glasgow) is now finished and I’m back at work.

There’s been progress with Academia Apocripha and Mystery & Mystagogues and Secret Santicore Mobile but since I spent two of the three weeks with an on and off sinusitis progress is less then expected. Sadly the Mystagogue of the Bridge of Bones was not available, so i spent a few days being completely useless but eating like a pro.

Anyway, school design and writeups are at a good point, more schools and more spells have been added. The count at the moment is 8 or 9 schools: the Great Schools of Necromancers, Chimerists, Fire Dervishes, Gatekeepers, Stargazers, plus the Great Workshop, the so-called School of the Unseen (which might be a yet-unobserved school of illusion, a school posing to be a lie pretending to be a school in hiding or might not even exist at all), the Chthonic Craft practised by Hypogean Ascetics, and possibly the lost School of Pharmacy (why lost? good question). Each school comes with 13 new spells, except Necromancy and Pharmacy which have the full panoply of AFG necromancy and physiurgy (that’s healing for you) because these spells are kind of needed anyway.

If I have time I might even “schoolify” all the AFG magic disciplines, bringing the number of schools to, erm, between 11 and 14 depending on how I feel about having these Moon Hunter weirdos and the arcanaluddite Troll Spellsmiths. And human sacrifices for demon-god-worshippers and their Goetia spells. Even if I don’t schoolify them all, we are talking of about 150 spells, half of them new, the other half from AFG, plus special a few game mechanics specific for every school, like the Elixirs from the School of Necromancy.

And there’s gonna be also other stuff. I expect the PDF for CC:AA to be ready in January, and CC:M&M in February. Bookbinding and box-making to happen in March, shipping as they come ready.

Joesky Tax: Spelunking Ferrets and Scapegoats

There are some weird treasures in the boxed set. I’m not sure if they will end up in CC:AA or CC:M&M but they can probably be more at home in the latter. Anyway, here’s a couple:

Spelunking Ferrets are specially trained LVL 1 ferrets. They are unnaturally quiet and letargic and usually do not move much at all. This changes when they are thrown at an opponent: they will attack and, after hitting, they’ll latch in and bury in the victim dealing damage every turn. They can also be inserted in a willing subject, usually through the mouth, but they are also happy with other body cavities, or even with creating new body cavities. There they will dig, extract and devour any external body like internal moulds and oozes, uncontrolled growths, eggs, half-digested godlings, resident squids and extra souls. In the process the ferret will deal 2d6 damage to the suffering patient, and then probably die of indigestion.

Scapegoats are goats kept in sacks. When someone is to be blamed or about to suffer a curse or a mortal wound, the goat will instead suffer the consequences. The scapegoat can also be given away to someone to temporarily avert their wrath. Bagging goats is a very dangerous fine art practiced only by the most adept Savants, but it’s said that it’s common knowledge between Hypogean Hermits. What’s certain is that the mysteric ritual involves naked chanting the Stodgy Selenic Song under the open sky and must be completed before dawn, and that a captured goat is required. The goat will not survive more than a week in the bag, a month if properly watered.

Mysteric Powers in Chthonic Codex: Mysteries and Mystagogues

After more than two weeks of traveling I’m here at my parent’s in Milan. I have a mind-numbing cold that makes me really really stupid and useless, and my back has been in flaring pain for a week. Work on Santicore has slowed down a lot (because sleeping all day makes my existence way less awful) and I won’t manage to ship it by tomorrow. BUT I will try to release the parts that are done-ish.

Anyway, here’s a partial list of powers that might or might not be related to… well, I can’t say. But they might be related to Mysteries & Mystagogues, the third book of Chthonic Codex, due in early 2014. These powers are learnt separately and through strange rituals, and the character does not necessarily know beforehand the name and effects of the power.

Wizard Eyes: the character can see what others can’t. Spirits, auras, negativity, fear, love, and sometimes even other people’s problems. While this is incredibly useful, it’s also incredibly distracting: apply a +1/-1 modifier to all attempts to surprise the subject.

Polypogenesys: the character spawns a squid. The squid lives inside the subject and, as long as it’s inside, they can communicate telepathically. It can be commanded to leave and fight for the host. The squid is literally spawned by the host and will die if not allowed back in the host through any orifice at least once a day (a freaky process to watch, but totally harmless). If the squid dies a new squid spawns in two months.

Daemonic Flim-Flam: the character can entice a spirit or daemon do do their bidding, but at a price, namely returning the favour in the future. An good trick used to avoid returning the favour is to ask for help wearing a beard or a hat. Spirits are easily deceived by such silly tricks, and nobody knows why: they literally can’t understand that the bearded person that asked them a favour a moment ago is the same bearded person right in front of them. But as soon as the disguise is gone, the spirit will soon reach the character to whisk then away and often return them – but only after a while – completely deprived of mana and covered in bruises. (1d6 hits left)

The Theurge who Stares at Goats: the character can intensely stare at a goat to stop their heart. After a full round of staring, the goat must save or die.

Skyclad: while the character is under the sky and completely naked, except for headgear and jewellery, the sky will be their aegis. The character can’t be paralyzed, petrified or held and is protected by claws and weapons (Protection: Light. AC 5[14]).

Hieratic Alignment: the character is now widely known within an in-group and treated as if it was one of them. The character also enjoys their friendship and camaraderie. Such groups could be something like “Bocklins”, “Necromancers” and “Horned Kataracts”. The in-group expects the same behaviour from the character, of course.

Caduceus: the character can bind a snake to a staff to form a caduceus, a staff with healing powers. The snake can save to avoid being bound. While bound the caster can spend 1 mana point to transfer the snake’s preternatural healing and regeneration to a touched ally, healing 1d6 damage. This can be done once per day per level of the snake. The snake can also be cast off the staff at an opponent; after the ensuing fight the snake considers itself excused and will slither away. Binding a recently excused snake is considered a terrible faux-pas.

Naiad-friend: the character is really, really close to a naiad. Like, really close. The character can get the help of the river-spirit by stepping in any flowing body of water somehow connected to the sea and calling for her name. The naiad will arrive after some time, an interval reduced to under a minute (1d6 rounds) if called in her own body of water. Naiads are known to show up at the last minute to save their friends from drowning and other horrible water-related deaths. The naiad will always expect some kind of nice gift or quality time from the character, or will start to stalk and annoy them to no end.

Star-lover: the character’s night dreams are periodically visited by a starchild. If the character is left to sleep the whole night they will wake up extremely tired and debilitated (1d6 temporary damage) but they will enjoy the favour of the star until their next sleep. Determine a specific bonus from the Star Scrying table, which is applied to the character

The Sphenoid Procedure: the character can spend one turn sensing the direction of the closest magic item. While doing so they will profusely bleed from the nose, taking 1 temporary damage.

Shroud of Nox: while fully coated with pitch or black ink the character can reroll a failed save once a day.

Release: Chthonic Codex, Pergamino Barocco Paperback Edition

Today it’s the release date for Chthonic Codex – volume 1: Cryptic Creatures. and  Pergamino Barocco, paperback edition. The PDFs will be shipped from 9PM GMT tonight (4PM EST), the print copies from next week onwards. Due to the approaching festive season, the sooner you place orders, the sooner you will receive the books. Do it too late, wait for January. Mind you, I need to process all orders by hand, so ordering a PDF means having to wait a bit.

Chthonic Codex – volume 1: Cryptic Creatures: the first volume counts 64 pages of fragments from the recently recovered Chthonic Codex, the monstrosities illustrated by Christopher Stanley. It’s the monster manual of the Chthonic Codex setting, as well as being a stand alone monster book for Swords & Wizardry and other retroclones and Adventure Fantasy Game. It will be followed by two more volumes (Academia Apocripha and Mysteries & Mystagogues). It comes in PDF, Print + PDF and three limited editions: Boxed Set + PDF, Codex Edition and Boxed plus Codex Edition.

Note: the limited editions will be shipped in early 2014 and include all the content from the three books. Plus more. I’ll try something different in the development process and will share drafts with who opts for a preorder. Updated versions of the PDFs will be distributed as they are developed.

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Codex in the wild: the cover by Claire Maclean is something I’m extremely proud of.

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Also, tangentially related: printing by hand is effing awesome.

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Pergamino Barocco, paperback editionPDF or Print and PDF!

The Pergamino is a bit of a weird beast.

And it’s going to be printed in two different paperback editions, depending on supply.

Delivered to you in a variety of covers, bindings and paper.

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If you need more details about all the released products, have a gander at the Lost Pages website. Comments below or on Plus.

This is the Bear Company

This is the Bear Company. Yes, I spent hours in the LEGO Shop at the build-your-won-minifig-station to build them.

First row, the spellcasters: Macross the Gatekeeper (a student in the College of Gatekeepers in the Hypogea of the Valley of Fire, temporarily on leave, temporarily also a statue of glass) Caster 3; Malan the Witch (secretly a worshipper of the Mistress of the Hopping Dragons, an hellish Demon-God) in her pre-arm-amputation attire, now her left arm is replaced by a reptilian-draconic arm after a secret ritual that might or might have not have involved sacrifices of some kind of possibly intelligent life forms done in secret from the rest of the goody-two-shoes party, Caster 4; Brian the Healer (previously Robert “Bobby” Bardson the Necromancer, now with a new identity to avoid “debit collectors” due to a possibly unfair sale of war bonds to some merchant in Lakeend to finance their Baarhof Hinterrhoden invasion), rides an undead horse called Bobby (called Brian before his master’s name change, Brian the Undead Horse was a mare in life but for some reason the gender changed on the transition to undead) Caster 4.

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Second row, the fighters: Yuri von Unterväld, wearing the traditional dapper Unterväldian hat and awesome facial hair, being a reliable tough line-fighter dude as always, Fighter 4/Expert 1 (First Aid/Surgery); Timmy the Eight-Years-Old-Orphan, initially hired as torchbearer, gun and crossbow reloader and grenade lobber for amputee Malan, Fighter 2; Zën Jhoneberg, third of the Jhoneberg brothers to first join the Bear Company and then horribly die, is somehow not dead yet. The Jhoneberg family is famous for his exploits and skirmish tactics that can only be described as “reckless” and “raving mad”, but now are seen as normal by the rest of the Bear Company. This went a bit too far, and now Jhonebergian Tactics are considered “what the Bear Company does”.

You can see the party here during a proper murderhobo-style home invasion of the lair of cephalopods (the dice are giant cuttlefishes). They got there finding a stair in an underground pyramid in the Wood of the Gnoles, then going down the unbelievably long stairs, turning north-west at a crossroad of corridors, finding a shattered glass statue of something vaguely humanoid, then a tentacled horror that transform people into glass with its laser-eyes. The pencil sharpener is Macross’s Traveling Trunk, an animated box carrying its master glass statue. Yes, Macross failed the save.

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Some cephalopod-murder later, the party arrives at some kind of gaol, proceeds to kill most guards, then a Horror of the Deep (the one in the AFG handbook? yes) breaks out of the cage, more squid arrive, one of them knocks off half of the group by reading some kind of court record. The dice below are think-shelled nautiloid guards (being horribly mauled by the Horror of the Deep), the purples are squids holding lances, the pink is holding the record.

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Next round Malan opens a Hellgate into the room and with everybody’s gleee avoids rolling 4 sixes, toasting everybody except the horror, which gets to flail ineffectively at Yuri until it dies a death by two-handed sword and dragonclaw. In the meantime more guards arrive, but the stunned half of the group recovers in time to fight them off with guns, bows and axes to the nearest exit.

Chthonic Codex – Cryptic Creatures: approaching release

Chthonic Codex is a monster manual, a bunch of spells and caster-related rules and a campaign setting inspired by stuff you would rather not know. Browse the Chthonic Codex inspiration gallery if you want to grok it better.

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It took 15 months to complete the draft of the first volume. Fifteen months because, while it started as a monsters + setting book, it then grew to become a smorgasbord of setting details and buckets of magic-related new game mechanics. We are talking 180-200 pages there. Then, realizing that finishing a 180 pages book would take me ages, I sliced in three volumes.

Cryptic Creatures is the first volume. It features more than 30 monsters (it’s not fully finalized), so at we are talking at least 66 pages. The contents are the brainchild of me working with Christopher Stanley, which did all the interior illustrations. The cover art is by Claire Maclean. Each spread has a full page illustration on the verso and, on the facing recto, a fragment of the Codex itself and the stats for the monster, for AFG, Swords & Wizardry and other retroclones. Spreads looks like this, click to download the Cephalopod, a new monster and playable race:

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The text above is not final, by the way.

The second volume, Academia Apocripha, deals with the Great Schools of Magic under the Valley of Fire, their students and their secret arts. And more than enough new spells to completely replace the standard spell list. And a couple of new classes, and adaptation of existing AFG spells for S&W and other retroclones. In a way it’s the player’s handbook of the setting.

The third volume, Mysteries & Mystagogues, details the Hypogea of the Valley of Fire. The book will feature mysteric cults and relative shenanigans, magic research, hypogean curios of both the artefact and the natural varieties, the Apotheosis of the Grand Sorcerer of the Valley of Fire and CHTHONOTRON, the Hypogea Generator.

And mana-tar. There’s a sea of iridescent magic tar under the Hypogea of the Valley of Fire. the mana-tar stirs and changes, chasing our thoughts and our dreams.

At any rate, Cryptic Creatures will ship this November in PDF and Print+PDF.

Now, what about the other volumes? And the deluxe editions?

Wait, Editions?

Yes. I’m going to release this baby in two different deluxe editions, provisionally for 35$+s/h each.

One of the deluxe editions is going to be a boxed set. The shape and style of the boxed set is not certain at the moment. This is because for some reason getting a quote from boxmakers is a nightmare. But I have at least three alternatives, and only one of them is to make boxes by hand.

The other deluxe edition is going to be a handbound book. I decided for a coptic binding because it both fits the setting and spreads completely open when laid flat on the table. Depending on the final layout and budget it could still be possible to have the book bound in dragon skin. *

All deliverables (the second and third volumes and the spiffy versions) will be released before April. In the meantime whoever purchased either the boxed set or the bound book will have access to drafts and prerelease versions. And of course I might be late, and that is the nature of projects.

[*]: not real dragon, actually soft, tanned salmon skin, but still looking creepily scaly.