Monday, May 22, 2017

Gathox Deities: The Grand Stultified Energon

So the weekly home group has been encountering more and Surdites, which are insect swarms which animate the dead in Gathox, I thought I would post about their deity. I present to you the Grand Stultified Energon, as well as the description of one of his priests, Vol-Mak-Dron!

The God Which Pulses, Quivers, and Collects, or The Grand Stultified Energon – Few sane beings willingly worship The Grand Stultified Energon, as few who breathe would dedicate themselves to death and accumulation. The X’Xul pay grudging obeisance to the Energon, and he reportedly bestows upon them luck in the accumulation of other sentient beings. The Surdites (see pp.xx), sentient insect swarms which animate the dead, serve him absolutely. The Energon’s wrath is known by the choke of drowning, and his boon by indifference to suffering. His image is that of an imperious and calcified skull fossil, and his passage is known by the burn of ozone.

Favor/ Disfavor: Praying to the Energon allows the supplicant a once per week, 5% chance to improve their saving throw by one point for one task. Should the 5% check fail, the supplicant immediately suffers a -1 to their saving throw for the rest of the day.

Vol-Mak-Dron, Ascendent Resplendent - (Surdite Guardian of the Sennarit Descala)

Cues: Hissing speech, easily bored with the idle chatter of humans, laments his restraint in the consumption of the dead he guards.

Vol-Mak-Dron shares that essential trait of all Surdites of referring to itself with the royal “We.” Unlike its Surdite brethren, Vol-Mak-Dron avoids the consumption of dead flesh and instead stands vigil over the entombed corpses at Sennarit Descala. On the orders of the Grand Stultified Energon, Vol-Mak-Dron remains largely dispersed, existing on a starvation diet while monitoring the entrance to the Cheery Orchard Necropolis for the purposes of forward intel. The Energon favors the tomb-statues of the Descala as well, and commands his steward to protect them with violence if necessary.

Individuals aware of Vol-Mak-Dron’s presence often attempt to converse with it. If the Surdite condescends to engage them, it will usually take the form of a cloaked humanoid male with a buttery, chorused voice, remaining largely in shadow. Vol-Mak-Dron quickly bores of interactions with humans, and will express it with indirect displays of casual violence and vandalism. Its favorite game is to pretend to be a poltergeist haunting the area, pranking the horrified elites with all manner of teasing, taunting, and minor mayhem. Vol-Mak-Dron possesses an encyclopedic knowledge of the Necropolis, although it is reticent to share the terrible secret fate of all Gathoxan life with visitors.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Chapter Fiction by Josh Wagner: Jackie Zhao, A Case Study

Today I'd like to take a different tack and share with you one of the five interrelated pieces of chapter fiction written by my friend, travel-seasoned author, and Gathox guinea pig, Josh Wagner.

JACKIE ZHAO (A Case Study)

His cough won't go away. It started eleven weeks ago with a tickle at the base of the throat, a dry palate, and a scratchiness under the tongue. Only mild coughing, no other symptoms. But it wouldn’t go away. Two weeks later he stopped by Kin's clinic on the sixth floor, sat for twenty minutes with a big view of the Kettle out her waiting room window. She called him in and blasted flood lights down his throat and told him everything looked normal. “You feel a fever you come back,” she said.

Jackie’s family lives at 349H on level 8, Quarter East. By coincidence he was born at 3:49am, which his mother always corrects his brother when he uses that word--coincidence. “It's a miracle,” she insists. “Jamie's little miracle.” But Jackie can no longer afford to believe in synchronicity. First he lost his last job over a misunderstanding. Now his health. What next?

He doesn't actually feel all that bad. Coughs like the devil first thing in the morning, but during the day his energy is high and his throat is fine. Jackie doesn’t drag himself out of bed until he gets so hungry he can't stand it. But once he's up and moving everything is back to normal.

A month after his visit to Kin, Jackie has a fit so intense it literally throws him out of bed. He runs to the bathroom sink and hacks until something comes up. A little thing he catches in his hand before it can vanish down the drain, just to look, just a need to see what's coming out of the body. Blood and phlegm, spotty and thick--but something else in there, too. Something black. Old blood from deep down maybe?

He drops it in a glass. A loud, clinking sound. He fills it a quarter with water and swishes and strains it and what's left over is like a flat, black plastic ring with a tab at one end. He's just wondering what the actual fuck when another fit takes him to his knees. His eyes are watering. He can't keep steady enough to get back to the sink so it all comes out on the peeling tile. A thick, yellow wad. And then more blood. It sprays forth from way back like his throat's a high pressure valve and someone just cracked it with a spike. When the stream stops there's a puddle big enough to make a handprint.

Jackie sifts through the bile and finds a dozen tiny machine parts: a metal pinion, a cog, and a rubber seal. The next day there's more of the same, along with plastic valves, sockets and wee springs. He washes them all off and puts them on a little shelf in the sunlight.

The coughing gets worse every day from then on. Hurts like hell. What’s nice is the fifteen minutes or so after things come up and out, when Jackie can feel a warmish kind of glow in his stomach. In these moments his breath comes easy and slow, like pure spring water filling his body with light, and always follows this sketchy vision in the head of some giant, writhing, interconnected structure of spiraling machinery far out in the desert. It makes him understand the whole city of Gathox is but a fragment in some vast and tangled system whose purpose, Jackie can tell, is to bind a bridge from the core of the planet to the power of the sun.

Jackie trades in a few old things he inherited from his mother for a small space in the Dregs. Here he sets up his table and covers it with the tiny machine parts hacked up over the previous three weeks, some too small to see without a magnifying lens. At first people buy them for the novelty. What adorable little trinkets, so precisely made, will you take five silver for this one? It doesn't cost Jackie anything but discomfort, so he lets them name their price. By the time they come back the following week to complain, he's already spent it all on shitty anti-starvation noodle machines.

“I put it under glass, the little spring,” a customer says. “Now it's gone. And my neighbor bought one of the pinions and she says that vanished too.”

Jackie explains he's not responsible for what's lost or stolen, but the old man tells him nothing's lost or stolen—he'd kept it safe and now it's gone. Besides, he's asked around and it's happened to everyone. Like these things are just evaporating into thin air.

There's a mob around Jackie now, mostly folks who didn't make a purchase but who want to make trouble. Then a girl rushes in screaming hallelujah. “It's a miracle,” she says, how their boiler started working again after being deemed hopelessly kaput by every mechanic in Huttimer territory, and her pops thinks it had to be the little cog he bought from Jackie. Set it on the old boiler because there was nowhere else to put it. Then it vanished. Then the AC coughed to life.

Of course everyone's skeptical at first, but Jamie clears out his stock to replace the parts that vanished for his customers. When they get home naturally they figure what could it hurt and they put them on some busted machine or other. And in no time at all every dead device is back up and running; Jackie's little miracles, they're saying. And business booms.

One morning, after a fit so severe it wipes him out for the rest of the day, Jackie has a dream. In the dream he's still coughing. Sitting on a couch on the rooftop sixteen flights above his apartment. Surrounded by pigeons and antennas, flora outgrowing their pots, raw materials for a bridge someone intends to build between this roof and the one next door. He's on the couch hacking away, in his dream, and he can feel something lodged in his throat, loosening with each gasp. Takes a deep breath and slams those lungs like a bellows and out comes a long nylon rope, whipping up into the clouds. Seems no end to it, but he can feel it unraveling somewhere in his chest. Now he's in the desert and the great structure from his vision is nearly complete. The people building it are like little turtle men, no higher than Jackie's knee, each one hunched under their hardshell backpacks. The rope still uncoils from within, flying toward the sun. The turtle men watch and sing, keeping the whole system in motion. Their song sounds like a choir of sneezes, hiccups, and wheezes. The rope has latched in some outer orbit and it’s pulling the planet up and into the sun. He panics and opens his eyes.

A few weeks later, Jackie's got the most popular shop in the Dregs. He can't cough shit out fast enough to keep up with the demand. Which on the one hand is great because it drives prices up and now Jackie's rolling in it, but of course he can't exactly force himself to produce any faster or train other people to do what he does, so every day is basically angry mobs all the time fighting for their place in line. He stops going down to the market at all, takes cash up front, and has pieces delivered to clients by bicycle until one of his kids gets bikejacked and Jackie upgrades to some muscle and an armored rickshaw.

He avoids doctors and medicine. Requires bodyguards of his own after threats from the local mechanics guild. Jackie’s sure they’re the ones that sent him anonymous envelopes dusted with dextromethorphan and various antihistamines. He's starting to get word from the top, or somewhere near the top, or the mystery that may or may not be something like a top at all, that a man with his skills could be useful in a starship reclamation project. But he's not interested. “I'm too sick to travel,” he says. “Half the day now I'm in bed.”

He’s still dreaming all the time. Now the planet hurtles toward the sun with Jackie at the helm; feels like his intestines ripping out through his face. He bites down on the rope to relieve the ache in his chest. The earth flies headlong into searing heat. The desert's mechanical gyro whirls and grinds. He sees Gathox way down under a tower of milling flywheels and pressurized valves and a complex network of coiling cable and pipework. The clans of turtle people rejoice. Jackie can't fathom it. What's to rejoice about when it’s all moments away from crisping up like Tol Zhanda’s secret recipe for fried spiders? He can feel the heat sucking moisture out of his skin. It's all over, he thinks. Wakey wakey. Time to shine. But he doesn't. He starts slipping between consciousnesses, either to wake up or never wake again in any form but ash. He feels the rope tighten and his legs leap of their own volition. Bounding as high as a wish, but doesn't come down. Dislodged from the surface of the earth. The centripetal force thrusts the planet outward far, far past the pull of the sun. Jackie floats in the void, watching the blue sphere soar away like a marble from a sling or an interstellar cruiser aimed for forever.

Jackie no longer leaves his home. Every morning the cough brings pain, then a flowering light.

His apartment is empty and dark. He keeps no machinery here. One rug, a small couch for clients and visitors, and an open window for his entertainment.

At night the wild shouts and flickering shadows from the Kettle lull him to sleep. But he startles himself awake whenever he can manage it. He no longer finds pleasure in dreams.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Gathox Deities: The God Who Dreams In Pillars And Is A Boy

I thought it would be nice to highlight another deity this week: Dzak Molu, also called The God Who Dreams In Pillars And Is A Boy.

The God Who Dreams In Pillars And Is A Boy, or Dzak Molu - Many believe the young boy braced between two pillars in their dreams to be their spirit guide. Others who breathlessly wake with their bodies frozen, staring into the pupil-less eyes of a boy crouched on their chest, call him a demon. The Mi-Chiw believe he hides in the heart of stars and wish to build a ladder to him in the sky. Dzak-Molu fosters the trips of junkies and the dreams of amphibians. His favor is found in revelatory dreams and his scorn is felt in all deprivations. His image is that of a fiery child between two columns, and his passage is known by an acrid drip at the back of the throat.

Favor/ Disfavor: Favor can only be incidentally gained, through intense bouts of intoxication. A player has a 3% chance to gain favor during an altered state, which will allow a bonus of 1 point on both initiative and reaction rolls until they sober up. Disfavor is gained when that 3% chance is failed, in which the bonuses are reversed to penalties.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

ART POST: Approaching the city

Today, I'd like to share the first three illos for Gathox Vertical Slum, which are a series which involve approaching the city on the planet RED DEATH, which is the de facto setting for a Gathox game.

From a distance, as seen through the binoculars of a desert wanderer:

 And next, that same wanderer flanking the city as it slowly churns it's way across the sands:

And finally, our wanderer (on the left) enters through the Gate of Exploding Benevolence and into the vertical slum:

I hope you enjoy these, let me know what think!

Monday, April 3, 2017

Gathox Classes: Mentalists

This week I'd like to share the Mentalist class and subclasses in Gathox, including a light and quick wild magic table. The Mentalist follows the Magic-User tables from Swords & Wizardry: Whitebox, and features a couple of points of departure.


Mentalists spend their lives in study and ritualistic practice, learning to harness psychic gravity wells and astral confluences for the purposes of invoking magic. In Gathox, they find themselves in the service of elite families, advising gang leaders, or carving out pieces of the city for their own weird devices. Some ply their trade ministering to the masses, forming cults to extant godlings or dreaming up their own. Yet others plumb the depths of reality to expand their consciousness or see beyond the veil of the cosmos.

Mentalists use the advancement tables and abilities listed for the Magic-User in Whitebox. A Mentalist can choose to be a Spiritualist, a Faith Healer, or a Cosmic Doctor at the beginning of play. Each possesses a unique ability to aid in distinguishing themselves from their cohort. Unlike Whitebox, a Mentalist may use any weapon; however, any weapon that is not a dagger or a staff does 1d4 points of damage instead. This allows the Mentalist to deploy in combat with ranged weapons or polearms at second rank, but diminishes their effectiveness.

The Spiritualist

Mankind’s adventures into the world of the self have culminated in the studies of the Spiritualist. Tapping into magical reserves within themselves, Spiritualists have learned to see beyond seeing, and often sell these skills for exorbitant prices. Although occasionally derided as ‘table knockers,’ Spiritualists genuinely possess powers which yield results.

The Spiritualist may use Psychometry, which allows her to glean a piece of information from touching an object with bare hands. This requires one turn of focused, uninterrupted attention, and the information sought must be posed in the form of a question to the GM. At levels one through four, this power can be used once per day; at levels five through nine, twice per day; at levels 10 and above, 3 times per day.

The Faith Healer

This Mentalist has been touched by the mystic forces of Gathox - not the city built by hands, but the God That Walks Forever. The Faith Healer preaches from soap boxes, climbs the esoteric ranks of cults, and treats the sick for sums of gold. Although despised by many as bilkers or spiritual tyrants, Faith Healers possess magic as strong as any other Mentalist.

The Faith Healer may use Lay On Hands to heal the injured. He must touch his bare hands to a prone subject, and at the end of a round heal them of 1d4 hit points of damage, plus one point per level. At levels one through four, the Faith Healer may do this once per day; at levels five through nine, twice per day; at levels 10 and above, three times per day.

The Cosmic Doctor

Cosmic Doctors consider themselves the true purveyors of the arcane, the final arbiters of the divide between the worldly and supernal, the ordained masters of reality. Their studies have taken them so deeply down the rabbit holes of paradox that they become eccentric and bizarre, often with appearances to match. Cosmic Doctors find work in Gathox as advisors to elite families and traders in rarities of all sorts.

Cosmic Doctors may listen to the Echoes of the Future, gaining crucial clues as to an intended path of action. Requires 1d4 rounds of unbroken silence, and the GM arbitrates the results as she sees fit. Usable once per day at levels one through four, twice per day at levels five through nine, and three times per day at levels 10 and above.

Wild Magic

Given that Mentalists are constantly invoking magic in the midst of city-wide psychic fluctuations while riding on the back of a world-hopping godling, strange side effects can occur while casting a spell. When a spell is successfully cast, there is a 1-in-8 chance of wild magic effects; on a roll of 8, consult the chart below.

Roll (1d10)
Wild Magic Effect
The air ionizes, creating a burnt oxygen smell in a 20’x20’ area.
The caster’s skin changes hue 10% warmer, toward red.
The caster’s skin changes hue 10% cooler, toward blue.
Light rapidly shifts from bright to dark, like a strobe, 10’ radius, for 1 round.
A thin sheet of ice materializes on everything in a 20’ radius.
The sounds of laughter in reverse fill a 20’ radius for 3 rounds.
The spell leaves a permanent holograph hovering in reality at the point of casting.
The caster’s face transmogrifies into an entirely different face for a day.
The skin melts off the caster’s hands, leaving exposed muscle and bone. No damage.
The caster’s eyes become two glowing orbs of purple light.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Gathox Deities: The Goddess Who Balances On Narrow Precipices

Given the progress of the new campaign I've been running, I thought it would be fun to make a quick post about one of the deities worshiped in Gathox. The players are all holed up, YMCA-style, at the Temple of Flex, which is dedicated to Ji'Gin'Jir.

The Goddess Who Balances On Narrow Precipices, or Ji'Gin'jir - Acrobats, bodybuilders, performers, and daredevils of many races worship The Goddess Who Balances On Narrow Precipices. She represents the power of the living body, the tenuousness of living amongst many deaths, and the triumph of will over inertia. Ji’Gin’Jir is said to preside over pageantry and games of risk, and to cast a hateful eye on sloth and indecision. Her grace is known by disasters averted and her wrath felt in the punishment of indebtedness. Her image is a mass of gymnasts intertwined, and her passage is known by the lingering stench of sweat.

Favor/ Disfavor: Prayer to Sha-Benyu before the performance of an extraordinary physical act may provide a 1% chance to improve the attempt by 1 die. Failure after the granting of this boon is punished by reduction of Dexterity by 1 point for the rest of the day.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Gathox Map Art: DONE!

So here's one of the largest pieces of art I've made in a long time, which is the culmination of numerous whiteboard drawings during game, spare time sketching, and quite a few hours of rendering.

It's divided into three neighborhoods: the large southern section is The Kettle, or the poorest neighborhood; the upper right hand section is the oldest neighborhood, Berchan Favela; and the upper left is where the richest gangs live, called The Craw.

I'll be breaking out the neighborhoods and keying them for the book. Meanwhile, check it.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Gathox Classes: The Militants

Gathox uses the Swords and Wizardry WhiteBox Rules as its chassis, and today I'd like to share the classes and subclasses for fighting types, also known as Militants. The information listed here is in addition to the information for Fighters found in S&W:WB.


Militants are the bread and butter of street gangs, the might making right for the elite, and the most common PC occupation in Gathox. Rare is the street urchin who grows to adulthood without learning the sweet science, and rarer yet is the merchant who has no need of muscle to enforce the protection of her goods in a lawless city.

Militants use the advancement tables and abilities listed for the Fighter in Whitebox. A Militant can choose to be a Street Tough, Soldier, or Martial Master at the beginning of play. Each possesses a unique ability to aid in distinguishing themselves from their brethren.

The Street Tough

This Militant knows the pulse and rhythm of the city, living in tune with the nuances of bravado and eternally studying the art of the hustle. Barroom brawls and back alley beatdowns provided ample classroom instruction for the Street Tough, and now the Tough is ready for the big time.

The Street Tough enjoys a natural +1 to unarmed attack, and may attempt to Intimidate any humanoid, although only one at a time. The Intimidate forces the target to roll a saving throw: success means the humanoid has called the Tough’s bluff, and failure means that the humanoid must obey the next request made by the Tough, short of harming themselves or their allies.

The Soldier

Unlike the Street Tough, a soldier consciously chose a career path from an early age, signing on with a private defense company or entering into formal training with an established gang at a young age. The Soldier understands the chain of command and how to fight in groups, and never lets the chaos of the moment undermine their countless hours of drills and martial practice.

The Soldier has learned how to apply instantaneous discipline to even the most ragtag band of combatants, and may assert Discipline on their party up to 3 times per day. The use of Discipline inspires the Soldier and her fellow combatants to gird their loins for battle, granting a 1-point bonus to AC and saving throws for 3 rounds. This only applies to teammates within vocal range.

The Martial Master

A Martial Master is a Militant raised within an insular family tradition of fighting, often utterly idiosyncratic and divergent from common forms of fighting. The Martial Master spends virtually their entire adolescence and early adulthood training with family members to become a self-contained, one man army. Players are encouraged to be creative with their chosen martial path, whether it be kung-fu, gun-kata, or something even more wild.

The Martial Master enjoys a 1-point bonus to armed attack rolls, and may Brandish two weapons at once without penalty. The Brandish allows the Martial Master to roll damage twice and take the higher of the two rolls upon a successful attack – in the case of two weapons doing unequal damage, use the higher value damage roll.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

A Fresh Welcome to the Vertical Slum

For the last two and a half years I've been writing, designing, brainstorming, and running a home campaign called Gathox Vertical Slum. The first home campaign ran 48 sessions and featured a total of 17 different players. At first, I just wanted to run a cool sci-fi/fantasy mashup for my friends, but as time went on I realized that I wanted to publish the game. The pause on blog posts has been due largely to playing the game with friends, writing and rewriting parts of Gathox, and making art. Well, that and I moved across the country twice in a year . . .

This post is intended to introduce Gathox to folks that are new to the blog, to the community, or to me. If you haven't seen it, here's the first post I wrote about Gathox.

In Brief

Gathox is a wandering god with a city on it's back. The city is lousy with gangs and aliens, and it's where the players do their adventuring.

Gathox At A Glance

Gathox is a massive wandering godling, either mindless or inscrutable in motives, who travels across the wildernesses and wastelands of at least two dozen catalogued worlds. Sages of all stripes suspect that the godling may exist simultaneously on these worlds at different points in the universal timeline as well. Gathox finds sustenance on these worlds, sucking up dunes, woodlands, and small lakes into the half-kilometer wide maw at its rocky head, perpetually driven forward on more than a million humanoid legs. As the great beast moves, these legs regularly break off and decay where they rest, sprouting all manner of gourds and cucumbers within a fortnight.

Those who have approached Gathox from the front claim they can read the obscure lines of a face on the great rocky mound, its mouth agape in a perpetual wail, eyes turned upward. From a distance, Gathox appears to glide along the surface of the earth, lumbering forward at the pace of an elderly porter. Many who spy Gathox for the first time face difficulty believing that it lives, swearing it looks like nothing so much as a floating island hovering upside down.

A city, also called Gathox, grows on the sloped, mountainous back of the godling. This vast city is surrounded by a great, rocky wall like the rim of a caldera. Precarious stacks of tightly packed buildings sprout from the godling’s hind-quarters, increasing in size and sophistication as the city stretches toward the head of the god, ending in a massive spire which appears like a horn above the face of Gathox. Those who dwell within the city of Gathox often reverently refer to it as “The Great Spire,” although this can just as often refer to the actual Spire itself.

At first approach

Following in the wake of Gathox, wanderers encounter a variety of strange phenomena. Severed human legs in various states of decay adorn the ground, quickly spouting into fields of gourds regardless of the terrain. Piles of trash, exploded and often burning, punctuate the sides of a great concourse of footprints, as if a shoeless army had recently passed through the area. Travelers who follow the path of the city will eventually gain ground, spying first the Great Spire, then a protrusion of buildings, catapults, and lights.

As wanderers draw nearer, greenery can be seen to grow between buildings like weeds breaking through cracks in concrete. Numerous chimneys and industrial stacks spew acrid, oily clouds of pollution into the sky, leaving Gathox perpetually mired in a haze of particulates. Birds circle overhead, diving to the surface in turn, gradually growing more numerous as distant buzzards draw close to see what the fuss is about. Navigating near Gathox can be a chore, as the strength of the godling’s local magnetism causes compasses to point north toward its head. Those who wish to enter the city must do so from the low-sloping back end, which features an elongated metal ramp reaching to the earth which is also supported by human legs grafted to the underside.

What Gathox Does

Gathox uses Swords and Wizardry: White Box rules. There are subclasses of Fighters and Wizards, and no clerics - instead, players can opt to be Mutants as the third class. Players can engage in domain-level play from the first session by playing gangs. There's a ton of weird equipment, totally bizarre monsters, and plenty of debauchery and death to be found. Oh, and psychic powers. Because psychic powers are as rad as lasers. Did I mention there's lasers?