Rhyme Clues For Your Campaign

From Coyote O’Reilly

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #0289

Rhyme Clues For Your Campaign

I’m preparing a fantasy-horror Rolemaster game where the characters are stationed in a town full of strange events. For inspiration, I’ve looked to European folklore that arose from superstition and fear of the dark, and Tales from the Brothers Grimm. I’ve explained to the players that this is the OLD world, before electric light, or even gaslight.

For clues, I’ve written several rhymes that form a book the PCs will find in their house. Each rhyme describes some form of creature or villain, but only hints at their nature (with the help of pictures I’ve downloaded and printed off as pages of the book), and possibly how to destroy them.

To keep the PCs on their toes I threw in “red herrings”. Not all rhymes will be things they will face. In addition, I made some descriptions slightly off so the players will have conflicting information to puzzle through.

For instance, I’ve written one rhyme for their first opponent, Mr. Grimm, an ogre who has been stealing children and eating them (as ogres in actual folklore were wont to do). The rhyme states what Mr. Grimm does (stealing children, clubbing them, and then “grinding their bones for bread and using their marrow for jelly”), and how to know when he’s approaching (he whistles), but it doesn’t specify what exactly Mr. Grimm is.

Knowing my players, the book should send them absolutely batty, as they try to pin each event on one of the rhymes, whether the creature/villain is mentioned in the book or not. They should also have a lot of fun trying to deduce the specific nature of each creature or villain based on evidence versus what’s described in the rhyme.

For added flavor, I’ve given all the poems an in-game author, Malcolm Gorey.

When writing these rhymes, I kept two things in mind. After those tips, I provide the poems I wrote.

Keep It Vague

When possible, I tried to write about what the subject was capable of or was inclined to do, as opposed to stating what the creature was. For instance, the King and Queen of Spades, The Reaver, and The Mad Puppeteer aren’t identified as a Rolemaster Warlock, Evil Mentalist, Sorcerer, and Essence Alchemist. Yet, their powers are hinted at in each of their rhymes.

Mr. Grimm isn’t identified as an ogre, although the description of how he likes to stuff children into sacks and “grind their bones for his bread” links him to real world folklore. Amanda’s Blessing is something very close to Amanda, privy to her secrets, yet which goes about killing all of Amanda’s other friends. No mention that Amanda’s Blessing is actually a murderous doll.

Make It Lyrical

This one was a little tougher. When writing each rhyme, I made a point to say it out loud to see how it flowed. When possible, I tried to make them sing-songy, something which kids might sing when skipping rope. Mr. Grimm, Amanda’s Blessing, Springheel Jack, and Johnny Broomstick all seem to work well as such, and to my surprise, the Reaver does as well. House of Cards, on the other hand, works better when recited, especially in a whispery, sinister voice.

A Queen Infernal

A Queen Infernal lay awake
Dreaming of Eternal Life to take.
Dabbled she in darkest arts,
Bathing in blood from virgin hearts.
‘Til one noble girl whose heart she took,
Whose father’s anger the world shook.
From home and throne the Dark Queen was reft,
Sent by her own husband to final death.

A Queen Infernal lay her head upon the block
To pay for her sins at the crow of the cock.
The headsman was smiling and sharpening his blade,
When the vengeful father spoke up, a curse he laid;
“Wicked Queen who stole my daughter’s heart,”
“You shall live, though head and body do part!”
“Eternal Life is your desire, 13 girls you’ve left dead,”
“Eternal Life shall you have, but ever without your cruel head!”

A Queen Infernal awoke alone
Laid in a crypt carved of stone.
Stumbled she throughout the dark,
‘Till out she came into a park;
With great relief, she laid by a pool,
To see a sight that made her blood run cool.
A form of unfettered youth was cast in reflection,
But as for a head, there was none for detection!

A Queen Infernal, it is said,
Now roams about the lands of dread.
Endlessly searching for her forgotten face,
A head long vanished with naught a trace.
Separated from her countenance and long dark curls,
She makes do in the mean with heads of young girls.
‘Tis better to be simple and plain, or ugly and mean,
Than to lose one’s pretty head to the Infernal Queen.

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This one actually comes from Ravenloft villain Jacqueline Montarri who, in turn, I’m sure is based on a short story I remember reading when I was a kid (which was back in the 70’s, so I know the short story is the original). In the story, a husband marries a woman with a yellow ribbon tied around her neck, which she warns him never to remove. Eventually, his curiosity gets the better of him, and he removes it while she’s asleep, only to have her head roll of the bed crying out, “I told you not to remove it….”

Amanda’s Blessing

Amanda’s little blessing
Is everyone else’s curse
Whatever good Amanda does
Her blessing makes it worse

Master Jonny winked at Amanda
Amanda smiled at this surprise
Amanda’s blessing took a knife
And stabbed out Jonny’s eyes

Mary Jane said, “Friends Forever!”
Amanda cried, “We’ll never part!”
Amanda’s blessing took an axe
And hacked out MJ’s heart

Won’t someone take Amanda’s blessing
And make it go away?
Won’t someone please make Amanda
See the light of day?

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Amanda’s Blessing is an evil construct in the form of a doll. I got the idea from the Russian folktale “Beautiful Vassillissa” about a girl who, thanks to her “mother’s blessing” (a magic doll), is saved from the oven of the witch Baba Yaga. Infinitely more fun though to turn the blessing into a curse.

Cassie Dresden

Cassie Dresden took an axe
Gave her mother forty whacks
When she saw what she had done
She gave her father forty-one

Of this crime her sister knew
So Cassie gave her forty-two
When her brother came to see
Cassie gave him forty-three

Sentenced to death for her chore
The headsman gave Cassie forty-four
Ah, you fool! I’m still alive!
You need to give me forty-five!

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This poem is a red herring for my players, the idea being to pull them the wrong way from unmasking the Infernal Queen. As I’m sure most can guess, the first stanza is actually the jump-rope rhyme “Lizzie Borden.” The rest I came up with to fill it out a little more.

House of Cards

One there is, in this House, who rules
One who will not suffer fools
Destroyer of Lives, Twister of Fate
Blackest appetites he seeks to sate
A darker secret he guards.

One there is, in this House, who schemes
Meddling in men’s minds and dreams
Beloved by all that she forsakes
Deaf to the cries of those she takes
Her victims’ souls left in shards.

Two there are, in this House of Woe
Whose decadence the world must never know
This King and Queen of sinister might
Playing games of depraved delight
In this House of Cards.

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The King and Queen of Spades are a Rolemaster Warlock and a Rolemaster Evil Mentalist husband and wife. They are evil members of the aristocracy, and head The Brimstone Cabal (my own take on the Hellfire Club), of which The Reaver, The Puppeteer, and the Infernal Queen are all members. The secret the King guards is that being a collector of evil artifacts, he’s acquired the Infernal Queen’s true head, unbeknownst to her.

Johnny Broomstick

Johnny’s made of broomsticks, Johnny’s made of straw
All you’ll hear is laughter from Johnny’s gaping maw
Johnny likes to dance, Johnny likes to play
But what Johnny likes most of all, Johnny likes to slay

Johnny’s made of shadows, Johnny’s made of hate
Those who cross Johnny’s path find a darker fate
Johnny likes to strangle, Johnny likes to stab
There’s nothing more that Johnny wants than to see you on a slab

Johnny has one weakness, Johnny has one flaw
Know it now and know it well if you would escape his claw
Here is the secret, here is the way, the knowledge that you must learn
If you would stop Johnny Broomstick, you have to make him burn

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A simple evil Scarecrow construct. I thought it wouldn’t hurt to throw in how to destroy Johnny Broomstick, as most players would think of it in 30 seconds or less anyway. What I’m still pondering is if I want to come up with some way to make Johnny fire-resistant….

Mr. Grimm

Better watch your sons by day
Best to hide your daughters at night
‘Cause when Mr. Grimm comes to town
They’re all soon to leave your sight

He’ll find them in their hidden spots
He’ll pluck them from their beds
If they start to cry inside his sack
He’ll crack their little heads

He’ll grind their bones to make his bread
He’ll suck the marrow for his jelly
Your sons and daughters are nothing more
Than food for Mr. Grimm’s big belly

So when you hear him whistle
Don’t let your children play
For Mr. Grimm has come to town
To take them all away!

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Mr. Grimm is my child-devouring ogre. His whistling alerts the party that he’s coming (and, also, clues them in as to who they’re about to deal with).

Pickman’s Model

An artist there was, most perfectly macabre
In dark gloomy colours he was wont to daub
Nightmares and Dreamscapes he would paint
Subjects that made the stoutest men faint
Such horrors he rendered upon canvas cloth!
Such demons he painted, so full of wroth!
Yet never did my complexion turn grey and mottle
‘Til the night that I gazed upon Pickman’s Model

‘Twas late I was out for a midnight stroll
By the potter’s field came I to a grassy knoll
There I rested against an old willow tree
From there a disturbing sight did I see
With canvas and palette, old Pickman was hid
Spying upon a tomb that was missing its lid
When up from that stone coffin rose a dark fiend
And to my ultimate horror, the dread thing keened

“Come hither my brothers, I’ve found fresh meat!” ”
A nobleman’s lady, her flesh is so sweet!”
And from about the headstones, two more rose up
And on the dead woman they all did sup
And Pickman, the madman, how his brush did fly!
He captured the scene under that charnel-house sky!
I’d wondered how his paintings were so full of life
Now with my answer, I fled home to my wife!

Ever since then, Pickman has vanished from sight
Though I think he may be found in the pale moonlight
He and three brothers, feasting upon the dead
The very thought fills my stomach with dread
If you must wander by the old cemetery
Then I pray that you will always be wary
If it is dark I beg you, do not dawdle!
Lest you fall prey to Pickman’s Model!

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I haven’t yet decided as to whether this is a red herring or whether to introduce Pickman and his “brothers” to the party. I based this on Pickman’s Model by H.P. Lovecraft, the first Lovecraft story I ever read, and to this day, my favourite.

Springheel Jack

Jack be nimble, Jack be quick
Springheel Jack knows a trick

Jack be secret, Jack be sly
Springheel Jack knows when you’ll be by

Jack’s got a dagger, Jack’s got a knife
Springheel Jack will have your life

Jack be hunted, Jack be sought
Springheel Jack can never be caught

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What’s a horror game without a serial killer, eh?! (Yes, I’m Canadian.) The Springheel Jack name I pulled from the Stephen King short story, “Strawberry Spring.” In my game, Jack’s actually a Jill, a victim of the Infernal Queen (see the Infernal Queen poem) who kept her head (but still died) when an alert city guardsman came upon the scene and blew his whistle.

Now Springheel Jack is on the trail of the Infernal Queen, killing young pretty women in an attempt to reduce the Queen’s supply of heads and to flush her out. The Springheel moniker comes from Jack’s amazing movement abilities (a staple of many Rolemaster spell lists).

The Mad Puppeteer

Come ye children, and gather near
For I’ve a tale for all to hear
About he who was known as the Mad Puppeteer

The Mad Puppeteer used to make toys
Carved wooden figures of girls and of boys
They would sing and they would dance and make all kinds of noise

But the Mad Puppeteer grew tired of strings
And so, made a pact with far darker things
Heedless, he was, of what the dark often brings

The Mad Puppeteer’s moppets soon sprang to life
The lot of them, stringless, created much strife
Slaying sleeping children with a single-edged knife

But the Mad Puppeteer, he didn’t care
To him, his children of elm were handsome and fair
To this belief he held, even upon the old gallows stair

As for the puppet children, they all disappeared
Vanished, those marionettes so twisted and weird
Pray you never meet them, for they are evil to be feared

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The Mad Puppeteer is actually a Rolemaster Essence Alchemist, and the creator of Amanda’s Blessing, Johnny Broomstick, and the Watchers. His death in the poem is a red herring; he’s actually alive and well and a contact/magic supplier to the party in my game. (Heh heh.)

The Reaver

Forged in silence on a midnight clear
Hear my step and run in fear
In your chest I’ll dig a hole
From your heart I’ll tear your soul
I am the whispers in the back of your mind.

Cast in darkness, surrounded by shade
See my shadow and be afraid
Will and body are mine to break
My thirst only your blood will slake
I am the night that makes you blind.

Graveyard shivers, the caress of death
Cower down at the touch of my breath
The world itself is mine to sunder
I’ll lay you to rest six feet under
I am the silk of your coffin lined.

I am the Reaver.

And you are mine.

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The Reaver is a Rolemaster Sorcerer (spells are devoted to destruction) and an evil member of the aristocracy in my world.


Carved in stone, we guard alone
Your vaulted rooftops make our throne
Etched in fear, our faces leer
Watching over possessions dear

We taunt you

Hear us sing, death we bring
Fear us when we take to wing
See us rise, ruling skies
We all serve as master’s eyes

We haunt you

Granite jaws, long cruel claws
We only serve our master’s cause
Listen all, hear his call
We are to be your downfall

We want you

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Evil gargoyles. By mixing them in with mundane gargoyles on many of the buildings in my campaign town, I find it’s a great way to torture the party by having the evil ones change position every once in a while, leaving the characters wondering if they’re imagining things. As for trying to destroy the gargoyles, well, the owners of the buildings and the town guard might take exception to the party trying to destroy public and private property….

Conan RPG: The Tower of the Elephant

In the Zamorian city of Arenjun stands a single tower. Surrounded by a walled garden, like a beacon to the heavens, the perfect, gem-encrusted Elephant Tower thrusts high into the Zamorian sky; aloof, impenetrable and alien. It is the abode of High Priest Yara and the resting place of the Elephant’s Heart, thought to be the most valuable jewel in the world.

So valuable, that despite the renowned impenetrability of the tower, eventually someone would try to steal it. The Tower of the Elephant is a new Classic Conan adventure scenario based directly on the original story of Robert E. Howard, allowing the Player Characters to undertake the very adventures that the mighty Cimmerian once endured.

Conan RPG: The Tower of the Elephant at RPG Shop 

Tips From Roleplaying Tips Game Masters

Have a roleplaying tip you’d like to share? E-mail it to [email protected] – thanks

Hypertext SRD, Firefox, and Greasemonkey

From Jon Thompson

This is sort of two tips in one, and will only apply to D&Ders or Firefox buffs.

Hypertext SRD

First, I want to draw everyone’s attention to the Hypertext SRD.

A fellow by the name of Jans Carton has taken the free SRD documents published by Wizards of the Coast and fully hyperlinked them into a fast, easy to use website. It contains everything in the SRD (classes, monsters, skills, feats, treasure, combat, epic level information, psionics, spells, and more) and various items of d20 Open Content.

The website is astonishingly handy for both preparing adventures and as a reference when playing. Imagine you are playing D&D and someone says: “Hey, how do I use overrun again?” or you suddenly have to know what it means to be “Fascinated”. Well, if you have a computer near your table you can do a quick search, and boom, you find the information.

This is exceptionally awesome when looking at spells or monsters. If you are looking up information on Ghouls you can just instantly link to exactly what “Paralysis” does, rather than flipping through another rulebook. That is perhaps the biggest advantage of the website: it’s flip free and he rules are always right at your fingertips.

If you digitally prepare your adventures, such as with Open Office, you can easily copy and paste stats of monsters and spells right into it. It’s also quite easy to make your own reference sheets for your DM screen or what have you. Having all the rules in electronic format is awesome.

The SRD contains a remarkable amount of information, and Jans is constantly updating it with things that are not in the official SRD, but are still open game content, such as optional rules from Unearthed Arcana. The updates are quite frequent, despite the site’s free status (though you can help him out by donating a few bucks).


Now for the second part of the tip. This part is a bit technical, but it’s worth it. It doesn’t have a whole lot to do with roleplaying directly, but it is the method I used to customize the SRD website to look how I like.

As a motivation for reading this section, you can compare these two things:

1) What the SRD looks like for most people.

2) What the SRD looks like for me. (Make sure you expand the image so it isn’t all compressed.)

Despite all the awesome interlinked and fabulous usability of the Hypertext SRD there is one thing that I don’t like about it: how it looks. I find the horrible backdrop combined with the color scheme extremely difficult to read, and for months I avoided using it. That all changed when I found two Firefox extensions.

First off, the Hypertext SRD is better in Firefox anyway (the author even says so). On the far right you can see a list of “Firefox Goodies”, such as automatic searching from your toolbars, and a remarkably useful set of bookmarks that you can use to quickly navigate the site.

If you’re not familiar with Firefox, it is an open source competitor to Internet Explorer. I could drone on about how it is better than IE in many ways, but this is not the place, and you need to decide that for yourself. If you want to learn more about it, or download it, you can do so here.

Firefox runs on Windows, Mac OS, and Linux/Unix.

UrlId and Customizing the Appearance of Webpages

One of the neat things you can do in Firefox is download extensions that add to, or modify, the behavior of the program. You can change how tabs work, get extension to download entire websites, block ads, and many other things. However, there are two particularly awesome extensions out there which allow you to do some amazing customization on webpages, including the d20 SRD.

The first, and lesser of these two, is UrlId.

–Begin Geekspeak

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Some time ago it was suggested that all webpages should add a special tag to themselves so that people could make custom style sheets (things that determine what websites look like) for particular pages. It never caught on. But UrlId makes the process automatic. For the HTML junkies out there, it sets the class attribute of every body page to the domain name. Thus, at www.google.com, the body’s class is “www- google-com”. Thus, you can use the special body class rules for style sheets, and Firefox’s style sheet override system to make any tweaks you want to a specific domain.

–End Geekspeak

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What does this mean to the average user? By using Firefox’s style sheet override system you can customize how any website looks! Completely!

So how do you make the SRD look pretty? First you need to install the extension here.

Next, locate your user profile. If you are using Windows XP you will find it at:

C:\Documents and Settings\ \Application Data\Mozilla\Firefox\Profiles\

Inside that will be a folder named with random letters and numbers – navigate into that folder

If you are using another OS, you can go here to get help finding the profile folder here.

Once you are inside your profile folder, navigate into the “chrome” subfolder.

If this folder does not contain a file called “userContent.css” create one (userContent-example.css is not the same thing (but it does contain some additional suggestions for what you can use the file for)). This is the file you can edit to customize how webpages look.

If you just want my tweaks to the Hypertext SRD, then download this file.

Just paste the contents of this file into your new or existing userConent.css file in your profile folder. Once you have done this (and installed the UrlId extension) shut down Firefox and restart it. Then visit the SRD page. Wow! Suddenly everything looks just like it does in the player books, and everything is much more readable. Make sure you visit a page with a table (like http://www.d20srd.org/srd/classes/sorcererWizard.htm#sorcerer). Of course if you don’t like my changes you can undo them by removing the lines you added to userContent.css and restarting Firefox.


Even more exciting than this, however, is a little extension known as Greasemonkey. For the programmers out there this extension allows you to attach custom javascript to any webpage, allowing you to customize practically any webpage in any way! For the rest of you, this extension allows you to download scripts written by others that do a LOT of cool things.

You can get Greasemonkey scripts to:

  • Show all web addresses as hyperlinks
  • Add next and previous buttons to Strongbad emails
  • Rip all of the ads out of Dilbert.com
  • Save your form data for recovery in case you accidentally do something that clears the form
  • Hide all Iframes which hides the few adds that Firefox doesn’t already block
  • Show a preview of your unread messages in Hotmail without actually viewing them
  • Show currency conversion tooltips on American websites
  • Skip those intermediate ad screens on IGN …and lots more

You can get Greasemonkey here.

And you can browse a huge lists of scripts here.

And if you are a programmer who knows javascript there is a great tutorial on writing Greasemonkey scripts here

So, despite the fact that Greasemonkey is cool, why I am including it in a roleplaying tip? Well, if you go to any of the monster sites on the SRD website, you will find that they have a little eye icon which you click to popup a window with the picture in it. Personally, I thought it would be really cool if the picture was just shown on the same page, so you could look at it while looking through its stats, just like in the actual Monster Manual. So I wrote a script to do so!

Once you have installed Greasemonkey and restarted Firefox, then go to this URL.

Once there, select “Install this User Script” near the bottom of Firefox’s “Tools” menu. It will pop up a dialog asking you which websites you want to apply it to, and you _don’t_ need to change it from the default of “http://www.d20srd.org/*”. It will then tell you to refresh the page to see the changes. If you go to a monster page like the Night Hag you should see the Night Hag’s gruesome visage gracing the page! Exciting isn’t it.


So there you have it. An awesome website for GMs, and some Firefox tips to make it even better.

I am willing to help people out with the instructions if something doesn’t work. [Johnn: e-mail me at [email protected] and I’ll forward your questions and comments to Jon.]

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More Online Real Map Resources

From Avlor

re: Issue 287, Online Source For Generic City Maps

After reading “5. Online Source For Generic City Maps From: Kamal” in issue 287, I had to mention a few more satellite data references for mapping: Google Earth and Landsat 7. I’m not suggesting copying them, but they could certainly be good references for realism in game maps.

Google Earth

It has terrain, cities, monuments, everything! (You can even see windshields on vehicles, just to give you an idea of the resolution if you zoom in enough.)

The Landsat 7 Project

It has pictures from around the globe. It’s a good idea source for terrain and cities. The resolution isn’t quite as high as Google Earth, but the way they use the satellite data can really highlight interesting features that you wouldn’t normally see or changes over time. (See here for the effect of drought on Lake Chad in Africa). If you want to add realistic clouds with neat effects from an island see here.

If you want realistic sand dunes see here.


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20,000 Names

From Mike Bourke

A very useful resource to have on tap: 20,000 names (both Christian and surnames) from different cultures around the world. African, Chinese, English, French, German, Greek, Italian, Japanese, Native American, Polish, Spanish, and Welsh. Plus smaller groups like Armenia, Arthurian Legends, Basque, Persian, Norse….


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Use Movies For Plots

From Dave Nelson

re: Issue #288: Inspired By Song: Use Song Lyrics To Generate Adventure Ideas

Nice piece about songs. Ever thought of ripping off entire movie plots? I ripped off the plot for the movie Dante’s Peak (including the bathers getting boiled in a Hot Spring!) I changed the source of the problem from geothermal conditions to a couple of salamanders setting up shop in a long extinct volcano they were trying to revive. I had a village at risk and everything, and the players loved it!