Thursday, March 29, 2012

Three Snake Terrors

How did I get to talking about terrors?  I guess my idea of using systematic creativity to make monsters wasn't quite enough; the interesting mechanics must be situated in some related concept.  And for monster concepts, our own fears and squicks are the best place to look. But it's cool, I like how the idea of the Low People that I came up with from the scary snake direction, and the encumbrance increasing that came from looking at the game systematically, work well together.

That's what I love about blogging, one post leads to another slightly different and then another and before you know it you're in territory you would have never guessed you'd be going.

So here are some snakey terrors.  I remember watching a commercial, just the commercial mind you, for the movie Hisss (?) Sssssss as a kid and being scared.  That peeling flesh is here as well as the writhing, limbless nature of these beasties that seems to bother people.

Tomb Serpents
These pale serpents live for ages even in utter darkness without food.  They grow to the size of architecture, serving as banisters, bridges, or even walls in ancient tombs.  Their bodies are smooth and cool to the touch.  But woe to them that touch those scales.  Their skin becomes dry and flaky, eventually peeling down to the wet meat.  (save or begin shedding at 1 Con point per day, even healed it is likely to leave terrible scars save or subtract the number the Con went down from Char).

It looks like a filthy man but stands five times as high.  It is ravenous, always.   It will not attack as such, but stuff anything it can grasp into its noisome maw.  It's gullet is filled with eels, lampreys, vipers and leeches.  Anyone unfortunate enough to be swallowed will be bit, bled, and crushed to death in the darkness before ever being digested. (allow swallowed players to roll a d4 each round and guess the outcome. If they guess right, they've managed to breathe and avoid damage.  If wrong, they take the difference in damage [guess 4 roll 1 = 3 dmg]).

Low People

Encountered in deep caverns, these appear to be groups of naked humans lying prone.  Closer inspection reveals these things have their limbs fused to their bodies.  They tend to lie in loose circles around mounds of debris and items-- backpacks, rope, bones.  Entering the circle will cause them to begin circling silently, slither up walls and across ceilings.  Unfortunates caught within this circle will begin to feel the pull of the earth stronger and stronger. Many never leave (each round items go up in encumbrance - double weight or slots required.  Characters will become unable to move in a number of rounds equal to their strength score).

Update: Whoops, that movie I linked is some Indian production barely 2 years old.  That is obviously not the one I saw advertised as a kid unless my parents had a time machine or something.  Help me out folks, what movie (maybe just made for TV) had a scene of someone looking into a bathroom mirror as they peeled the shedding skin from their face to reveal scales?

Update 2: Okay, consulted with my brother and found out it was just Sssssss, note the 7 "s"s, haha. Here's the trailer on YouTube, note the fused limb Low People impersonation in there.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Three Spider Terrors

When I was working on the last terrors post I asked my family members "What would scare you if you were poking around in a dark cave?"  They all said spiders and snakes.  I guess we veteran role players get a little jaded with the common fears.  Here are three terrors based on spiders to try and tap back into that ickyness spiders evoke in us.  I'm sure these aren't that original but I tried to offer some interesting in-game effects.  The pale spiders also function in my old deadly distraction sense; not much threat unless the party gets distracted by them (trying to save a comrades body for some reason).

Pale spiders
These cat-sized spiders follow just at the edge of light, wait for a death, then swarm in.   Never fewer than six, they prod and clamber over a body in order to steal a soul.  They prove to be vicious fighters if an attempt is made to keep them from a body.  Corpses pale spiders have fed on can not be revived. 

Grey mugger
A tiny reclusive spider that often catches explorers unaware as they probe old bags and chests.  The bite of the grey mugger is but a sting (1 hit point) but thereafter the healing of the victim with serve to feed the spider (each hit point the victim heals, whether by magic, divine aid, or naturally, will go to the spider-- every 8 hit points will grow the spider and give it an additional hit die making it more fierce).  The spider must be found and slain to sever the link.   

Jerky Men

They are said to come staggering out of caves or old mines and motion for passersby to come close.  An embrace and a kiss is all they wish.  But they are not men.  A kiss from a jerky man, or just a touch, will infect the victim and the flesh near the bite will begin turning to tiny spiders (an inch per day) unless something is done. 

If a jerky man is killed in combat its thin skin will rip open to reveal cobwebs roiling with spiders.  The round after one dies, the person that killed them will be covered with spiders and begin taking one point of damage per round.  Upon death the victim will become a jerky man themselves.  (DMs can adjudicate how successful various means of removing the spiders are).

Friday, March 23, 2012

Silhouettes XXXVII

More public domain silhouettes for your maps, charts, and counters.  Use 'em or lose 'em.  Two from OD&D:
Heavy/Draft Horse
Now that's the classic chimera of myth with goat head extending from lion's back.  Getting the more dungeonpunk dragon with lion and goat head co-pilots will be much harder to do.  And I've conflated heavy war horse here with draft horse (I thought most of the big draft horses today descended from heavy war horse breeds anyway).  If you know about which breeds would be considered distinct examples of each, feel free to let me know.
And a couple alternates. This could be a horse nomad:
and this alternate giraffe looks more iconic in it's giraffeness to my eye:
here's a bighorn sheep:
and one for all the flailsnail jousters:
These have all been added to the zip file linked in the sidebar.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Systematic Creativity

I didn't call this post engineering monsters III because I realized you can use this to come up with spells or magic items too.

So, I thought more about factors in the game that we can work with for effects in-game.  I looked at the D&D combat sequence and even all the things on the character record sheet. 

Here is an image, print it out and trace lines from one thing to another.  These lines can represent relationships between the factors not just for monsters but magic items, curses, spells etc.

Some example ideas:
  • a spell that allows a player to become stronger temporarily by stripping off all gear
  • monsters that have a grudge and become more common on the encounter table each time players kill one
  • a player cursed to only heal by eating gems
  • a valuable creature that always appears at maximum encounter distance and then moves away (think questing beast)
  • a creature of such saintly/devilish demeanor that attacks (or maybe just misses) by pcs of opposite alignment are always fumbles
  • a pc disease-- any time you're hit in combat save or go unconscious
  •  each successful hit on a magical creature maps part of the dungeon on its hide (and it's a nice creature, and you really don't want to hurt it . . .)
  • a magic ring (Bully's Bane) - the more foes you face the more likely they are to fumble
If you like this kind of approach to generating ideas I forgot I posted something along similar lines a while back.  It's about combining classes of things (trap/monster, trap/treasure for example) to generate new ideas.

Also in the same vein is me thinking about how little we have to effect player characters in-game.  I think I discovered some others because of the thinking I did for that post.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Engineering Monsters II

Let's do some more systematic thinking about monsters.  A few thoughts since my last post:

1) Several relationships between factors not only exist already in the game but are considered fundamental.  For example more HD=better chance to hit, better save, more treasure.  Also, bigger=more HD is usually true, and bigger/more HD=more damage per hit is usually true as well.  All pretty obvious I suppose, but just showing that what we're doing isn't different, just looking at other factors in the system that haven't been latched onto much.

2) For example, my chart didn't have "chance to hit" which is a big one, maybe most important.  Some others not on that chart that might be worth looking at: target selection, morale, XP value, and dungeon level (depth).

3) While I'm trying to be systematic, I'm really relying on intuition to gravitate toward mechanics that would a) be interesting in-game, and b) haven't been used much

So, what if we run some of the newer factors through the chart gauntlet from last time (I'm not up to a new chart right now):
  • How about a monster that targets the pc with the most treasure on them.
  • How about a creature that has morale go up/down with every hit attempt (might be hard to track but you might use a die and change the face each time).
  • a monster that has chance to hit modified by depth in the earth-- at level 1 they literally can't hit you and must scuttle away, level 9 you become hors d’oeuvres.
  • How about a monster you can't see once you've hurt it.
  • or, a monster that's size corresponds to its morale.  Not a bigger creature being braver, a creature that you use morale normally, then its size changes-- maybe they puff up to become scary when they're actually wanting to run away.
  • Maybe a creature that can only attack the number of times as it has assailants.  It can't see you if you haven't attacked it, you can just hang back healing the party, or, watching them being devoured.

Monday, March 19, 2012

The Dreamers are Dreaming . . .

This one's for Richard who asked on G+ what the citizens of Bukhara might be dreaming of.  It took me a while.   I just started listing things at first, then thought it might be cool if the dreams had actual in-games effects on the dreamer when they wake.  So, this pdf:

Three Terrors

I know some people probably look a stuff like my last post-- me trying to systematically look at the creative aspect of D&D-- with distaste.  And I suppose I could keep that stuff "off screen" and just share what results I come up with.  But I like doing that stuff.  And I'm always hoping it will help others by being tool-like in their own creating.  That being said, here are some monster ideas as a pay off from that dry post.  They didn't exactly result from that last chart but did come from me bouncing my brain off of it.

Thin Woman
You see her at the edge of lantern light, Emaciated woman with a slow and unsteady gait.  She will walk off into the darkness.  Later, you will dream of her squatting over you, mouth close, pulling your life into her pearl by pearl.  She will keep what is yours (all but one hit point, or all but one Con point for one hit point types) unless you find her nest in that same place and recover those pearls.

Every time an adventurer dies it adds to the gloom of the place they fell.  It becomes muffled and harder to notice things there (make surprise more likely by one pip, hear noise less likely).  The pall cast on such a place takes shape as a muzzy old man, growing in size with each tragedy (and hit dice) crouching to fit in the still dark.  If bothered, it's said he'll strike out like a creature of his size.  Best to leave the place a tomb forever.

Cinder Child
Sometimes, sitting at a fire underground you'll notice another sitting with you.  Small, dark, head hung motionless.  If you touch or acknowledge the child-like shape, it will berate you in a low wheezy voice for as long as your failings require, when it crumbles to a pile of cinders.  This is bad, for now each blow you strike will go first towards its woe (damage done by the afflicted player, in any combat, must go through the child's hit points [2HD?], before the player can do damage to any other target).  Some say it speaks in the voice of dead relatives or hired men.  Be virtuous friend, and light no fires, but under the sky.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Engineering Monsters

I've approached creating new monsters by combining parts of animals that players can easily visualize, by aiming for a particular emotional effect on players (sympathy),  by trying to target the resource  management aspect of old school D&D, and of course just associatively.  But I've also tried a little to think of mechanics that are available to latch onto.  The Stitcher was the result of this, tying a cumulative affect to every successful hit by the monster.

I think there are more possibilities in that direction.  So let's not think like poets, but like engineers for a moment.  I made a matrix made up of the entries from AD&D's monster stat blocks.  If we consider relating one to another are there any interesting monster possibilities?  Let's say the relationships between the first stat and the second can be:

And here's the matrix:

That's just over 500 possibilities.  Let's zoom in on some:
  • 3d is interesting, the slower the monster moves the higher its armor class.
  • 237a would be like a hivemind, the more critters you encounter the more powerful their psionic ability.
  • How about 195d, the smaller the critter, the smarter it is-- watch out for the dwarf ogres.
  • Some of these could be behavioral- 111a could mean this monster in its lair gets more attacks per round.
  • 51b = more treasure, slower moving. An creature armored with precious metal-- golden turtle.
  • 125d = a monster that uses its hit point as fuel to damage you, a lava critter, or acid elemental, maybe
  • 45b = a monster that is more vulnerable when it stops to use its mental attack
  • 28d = nice monster when met singly, evil in groups- sounds like humans
  • 157a = the more treasure the more likely it has a special defense (didn't someone suggest this for dragons recently?)

You get the idea.  I'll let you search for some on your own

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Teleleli Interview

Many moons ago James Hutchings of Teleleli fame asked if I'd review his ebook The New Death and Others and I agreed.  Due to life and my own shortcomings it didn't happen.  Because of that and the fact that I'd seen a lot of OSR blogs review the book already by now, I asked James if I could interview him instead.  He graciously agreed:

Can you tell us about your history as a reader (I'm not asking about influences exactly, because I think even stuff we read and don't like can help shape us)?

The first writer I was a fan of was Enid Blyton. I don't know if she's very well-known in America but when I was young in Australia her books were pretty much everywhere, over ten years after they came out. She wrote books about idealised upper-class British children who either solve mysteries (the Famous Five and Secret Seven series) or have fantastical adventures (The Faraway Tree series). Actually she also wrote the Noddy books, about a little gnome of the same name, but I don't remember reading them.

Later I read the Narnia series, which has quite similar children in a more fully-realised fantasy world. I missed the frequent Christian allegories until I came back to them later in life.

I read a lot more science fiction than fantasy when I was a teenager. Fantasy was definitely less popular in general when I was young, although there were some popular series that were technically science fiction but had the atmosphere of fantasy, such as the Dragonriders of Pern series or the Saga of the Exiles. Lord of the Rings was the big exception, and in fact was more famous than any SF that I can think of. Any long book with a map in the front would have a back cover blurb claiming it was "a series to rival Lord of the Rings", not for example "a series to rival Dune."

I think my idea at the time was that science fiction was stuff that could happen, whereas fantasy was stuff that couldn't. Now days I feel that having ESP or super-advanced alien technology isn't actually that different to having magic.

I actually used to read a lot of comics. Apparently I got my mother to read them to me out loud when I was very little. DC definitely had a higher status than Marvel, and Superman and Batman were easily the most famous and popular superheroes. I also had the idea that Marvel was into making up this pseudo-mythology that I didn't really like or see the point of. In hindsight that might have been the influence of Jack Kirby.

 So, now to the more traditional question about your influences as a writer.  I think you mentioned Dunsany, which I see.  The way you personify things like Fame and death reminds me of the poems of Stephen Crane, too. And some of your punning evokes Ogden Nash.  Were they an  influence?

Lord Dunsany definitely was, but I don't think I've ever read the other two (although having looked them up on wikipedia, I have heard the phrase 'Candy is dandy but liquor is quicker' which is by Ogden Nash). I might have been influenced by Dorothy Parker at times as well.

Dorothy Parker's great.  Could you talk more about Dunsany.  When did you first encounter his work?  What do you like about it?

When I was young I had a book called 'A Treasury of Fantasy', which was a collection of mostly public domain stories including 'The King of Elfland's Daughter' by Lord Dunsany. However I was way too young for it.

The first thing that I actually read and enjoyed of Lord Dunsany was 'Fifty-One Tales', specifically 'A Mistaken Identity'. I don't think I'd ever encountered the idea of characters representing ideas before (the main characters are Fame and Notoriety), or of stories that short (it's 80 words long). Many stories in 'The New Death and others' are very influenced by this story in particular.

Can you tell us a bit about your history as a gamer and DM?

I've probably spent more time playing gamebooks than I have playing face-to-face role-playing games. I think that's influenced my idea of how adventures should work.

In gamebooks the default expectation is that your character should die. Once you succeed there's limited enjoyment in going through the book again, so it's 'used up' as it were. Also gamebooks rarely have a system to allow your character to gain levels or even move from one adventure to another, so there's no 'high level play' that you're missing out on by killing almost every character. Even the Sorcery and Lone Wolf series, which were designed to form ongoing stories so that you could take the one character from book to book, are all playable individually (and probably were mostly played that way). Face-to-face role-playing adventures with the same level of danger are very rare.

I actually never really got into computer RPGs. I briefly played the original Bard's Tale, but in the end I found the 'grinding' as it would now be called pretty tedious. My problem with computer RPGs is that the parts of RPGs that are easiest to do in a computer programs tend to be the least interesting. Anyone can make a computer game where you generate a character, wander through a series of dungeons in a wilderness, and fight monsters from a wandering monster table. I actually think that gamebooks would be a better model for computer games (and I put this into practice with Age of Fable, which is at in case anyone's interested). I suppose the old text adventures where you GO NORTH and GET KEY are sort of like this, but they've fallen by the wayside and in any case I found them quite frustrating (I'm not sure why I found them frustrating and not gamebooks. Perhaps because in text adventures you typically don't die, but simply run out of ideas and get stuck).

How about now?  Are you in a gaming group, running a campaign?

Yes, I'm currently running a game using a version of Mini-Six (which is in turn a version of the d6 rules, used for the original Star Wars and Ghostbusters games). I call my version of the rules the 'Pew-Pew system'. It's a science fiction setting.
I think a lot of your writing has a witty but maybe cynical humor to it.  I'm curious about how you balance tone in your writing and how much attention you pay it.

I didn't make any effort to balance these things in 'The New Death and others'. I just went with whatever ideas I had at the time. However I'm trying to do less humour now, based on feedback.

That last question was too vague; I didn't mean it as a criticism of the humor, but more about trying to get at tone in the sense of serious/hopeful/creepy/absurd.  I never gave James a follow-up question about this.

One thing I found interesting about your ebook is that it collects together many genres: short stories, prose poems, and poems of various sorts. I think dead tree books are generally much more homogenous in trying to find certain audiences.  The thinking being readers of fantasy stories might not be interested in poems and vice versa.  So, I  thought it would be interesting to ask who do you imagine your audience to be?  Or maybe a better question, who would you like your audience to be?

I don't think it's a case of printed books vs ebooks. I think it's me vs everyone else. From what I can see most people who write ebooks are very much writing in formats which are largely defined by books in print. Paranormal romance is very much 'books that are like Twilight' for example, and fantasy is very much 'books that are like Lord of the Rings', at least in format. Even fantasy that's consciously anti-Tolkien, like China Mieville and the His Dark Materials series, use the same format of long books in series.

Even short stories are unusual these days. There are certainly lots of magazines that run them, but in my experience it's rare for any of the many young people that run book blogs to even mention their existence. Flash fiction (stories of 1000 words or less) and poems are largely confined to literary fiction.

Going even further, I wouldn't be surprised if stand-alone novels become rare in the future, at least in genre fiction.

In using an unusual format, at least I'm standing out from the crowd. I've had several reviewers remark that they've never read a book like The New Death and Others, and mostly in a good way. However I've also had reviewers say they didn't read any of the poems because they're not into poems, or that they didn't like the mixture of tones.

Really I don't think that I have an unusual audience (either desired or actual) compared to other fantasy writers. I'm just trying to attract them in an unusual way.
While my favorites were the Teleleli-like stories, I found the variety refreshing maybe this something that is more possible with digital distribution.  Along the lines of the different genres, you've written some poems that translate existing stories by Howard and Lovecraft.  I don't know that I've ever seen that before.  Could you talk about that?

I was influenced by how it used to be pretty common to write poems based on the story of King Arthur (for example). Obviously I was also thinking of how there's an existing fan-base for both Lovecraft and Howard.

I read you are working on a Teleleli book.  I wonder if you've thought about publishing a sourcebook or gazetteer for OSR gamers.

Teleleli was originally meant to be a systemless sourcebook for role-playing games! However once I'd finished it, it turned out that people really wanted stats (and I've done enough business courses that I should have known to do the market research first). I didn't feel particularly enthusiastic about making up stats, and my ex suggested it would work better as a setting for stories.

Anything else you'd like to say to my blog readers?

I'd like to turn the spotlight away from myself for a moment, to talk about something more important.As you read this, there are literally thousands of people who are playing games where the Armour Class numbers go the wrong way. It is vital that they go the correct way, and therefore vital that we continue arguing about it!


You can download James' book on both Amazon and Smashwords:


Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Animal Games

Had a great session Saturday night.  My players gave up on the Undertavern after a cleric was brutally mauled by the Gulo.  They sought out the old Animal Arena and much absurd fun was had.  First bout Spirit Bear vs. Black Panther, and the only match to ever go into overtime (I forget now which won, but one player lost 300 silver on it).  Second bout, the arena was flooded and jelly fish were set upon by a pack of wolves trained to kill invertebrates.  Wolves won.  Third bout was truly a nail-biter a koala vs. tortoise.  Tortoise won.

My players have decided they want to enter the animal fighting business.  So they headed back to the magical chest that leads to Animal Island and ended up encountering more Headless villagers in a favorable way.  They obtained a third scroll for the animal making machine.  They had Dog and Elephant, and now have Panda.

I have nothing prepared for animal fighting houses or tourneys, this was all originally a mingame meant to be entertaining.

I suppose there could be groups of citizens with colors like I've seen medieval Italy had competing, but that doesn't fit the tone exactly.  That would be better if it were humans performing races or tumbling etc.

I could have it set up like Roman gladitorial houses with trainers and lineups.  But I wonder if the absurd waste of animal life would better suit a few rich playboys amusing thmselves by competing in ostentatious displays of waste.

Not sure.  What would you find most fun? 

Some ideas:
  • make transporting animals from the island difficult and dangerous
  • have dangerous rivalries, animals poisoned- party jumped on day of fights
  • have win-loss records for animals and animal heroes
  • I could tie XP to how ostentatious the player displays are
  • make players want to search for specific types of animals- we need x to combat y
  • could make strategy involved-- players have a stable of animals to choose from for each fight

This is sounding more and more like Pokemon, isn't it ;)  Whic is one of the things I was thinking of when I designed animal island, trying to tap into things kids find fun.

Also, props to ZakS, I used a technique I saw on his blog where a player rolls on a random chart and can keep the result or choose the one above or below the number they rolled.  Worked awesome, was hilarious.  Was a great mix of randomness and player choice.  The cleric that was resurrected had to choose between Bleeding, Boils, and Arousal as a permanent side effect.

Happened again with determining the newest animal scroll.  The players had just been laughing it up about how a parrot would be funny, so they could make a parrot-headed elephant-- and also because long ago I introduced a parrot-pig to annoy them with which they summarily drowned in quicksand.  And I'll be dipped if they didn't roll Parrot!  But out of Panda, Parrot, and Peacock they chose the first.  Not sure why, guess cause it has claws and might fight better.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Minecraft and Audience

A few months ago Steamtunnel at the Hydra's Grotto proposed the re-release of the 1e books as a census.  Trollsmyth guesses there aren't much more than 10,000 in the OSR.  A commenter mentions ~58,000 downloads of OSRIC.  Meanwhile this one dude I've been watching play minecraft on YouTube has close to 130,000 subscribers.

What the hell.  Now hold on, yes it's visual and you can sit there by yourself; no need for a game group or products or anything.  And yes, I'm guessing a lot of his viewers might be younger, kids in the 11-14 age group, maybe.  But this is not action packed Transformer stuff-- I find my self dozing off sometimes when he gets into the minutiae of moving monsters around with pistons.  Here's a slow paced technical video where he tries to figure out a conveyor for two monster spawners in Minecraft's version of Hell.

I think a lot of his appeal is that you can learn how to do something he shows you, then go back and do it yourself in your own game.  Heck, if you get stuck, you can even download his save game and look at his design in person.  It feels similar to some of the blogging we do about D&D rules, like the recent exchange about fatigue and me discussing with John how disease might play out in a campaign.  Surely some of Etho's viewers would be interested in playing some simple, streamlined D&D. Or maybe, more than playing, tinkering with the rules and making them their own.  So, where are they?

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Finish this Chart

I found the One-Page Disease chart I'd been working on months ago.  I don't have the mental juice to finish it now.  I will later, but in the mean time thought I'd just give you what I have.  Here is a Word doc.

The idea was to try and capture the biggest archetypal diseases like leprosy and the plague without getting too scientific.  So, what having a disease entails is pretty straightforward for both players and DM, but the catching of them is still kind of spooky-- just being on a ship for a session means you have a chance of catching Ship Fever.

I also divided the diseases into categories because a) it seems like we tend to do that ourselves, treating some diseases as familiar threats to deal with around home and some as fearful exotic things, and b) felt it would help players better know when they might be at risk.

The symptoms are all picked from the standardized list here and try to all have some specific in-game mechanical effect.

What is lacking is symptoms for the diseases of the Wilderness and Underworld and the virulence and lethality numbers (which is really the hardest and most important part- and thus undone).

The disease section of Small But Vicious Dog by Chris Hogan was the starting point for this, so if handling disease interests you you might want to go take a look at his take.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

More Indexing

I've been slowly trying to revise and add to my blog index during boring stretches at work.  If you haven't looked in a while you should check out the printable stuff and random charts.

Makes me remember projects I would like to return to.  I think I have a one page disease chart more than half done somewhere on my computer at home.

Monday, March 5, 2012

NPCs as Locks

I posted twice about trying to make rules that actually encourage more interaction with NPCs here and here.  I've used the card system outlined in those posts to generate backgrounds for some of my NPCs but never did much more with those ideas.  Here's an idea for a simpler if more mechanistic method:

NPCs are Locks
Some set of topics will "open" them.  Opening them will mean different things depending on who they are.  A merchant could give a discount or offer black market goods.  A guard allows entry into restricted areas or gives gossip on crime in the area.  You get the idea. 

I would keep the "keys" to three topics or less and record them along with what it unlocks in your DM notes.  Something like:

Prophet of the Pot - ask about his health, ask about his sons = reveals location of a new temple risen from the sea.

You could check off each "tumbler" in your notes after players have engaged the topic.  If it's been a really long time you might decide they have to start over and ask again about his sons, which makes sense if weeks and weeks have passed.

A great DM could probably do this in their head, but I'm interested in anything that can make my life as DM simpler.  And if you keep in mind that you might have to talk to other NPCs to even know what the Prophet of the Pot cares about, this could give a reason for your players to interact with the folks milling about your imaginary cities.