Thursday, September 25, 2014

So You Want to Build a World?

When I started putting together my campaign world, I looked around for things to make my life easier, and I found some:

donjon fantasy world generator

This is the one I use.

Click to embiggen.

Welsh Piper's Hex-based campaign design

I used them with Hexographer to make this kind of stuff:

You can embiggen this too!

And I drilled down to get this:

Bigger!  Click on it.

Still, I've always wanted to SEE the world.  Now I can with Map to Globe.

Just click on the Map File link in the top right, browse to the file you got from the donjon creator and PROFIT.  Actually, no profit, just free tools to get you an awesome rotatable, zoomable version of your very own fantasy world.  Like THIS ONE HERE.

I fucking love computers.  Huge thanks to everyone at donjon, Inkwell ideas, Map to Globe and to Welsh Piper!  DM Out.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

My (Abbreviated) Appendix N

My buddy +Torben Schau identified 10 books that influenced him, and asked me to list 10 books that influenced me.

This was hard, because I have, by my estimation, read at least 4000 books in my life (based on 3 books/week since I was 8 years old, rounded down to account for re-reads). I did finally come up with a group of 10 books that I found very influential. I listed them in no particular order, because really, it's hard to categorize "influential."

1. Deadhouse Gates – Steven Erikson.

 This book remains my single favorite fantasy novel. And I've always loved fantasy, so basically this is my favorite book of the 4000 or so I've read. For me it is the perfect blend of worldbuilding detail, adventure, war, tragedy and heroism. If I ever, as a writer or DM, come up with characters as great as the ones introduced in this book, I will be happy forever. For Malazan fans, this is where we first meet (and sometimes, say goodbye to): Icarium, Mappo Runt, Coltaine, Bult, Duiker, Lostara Yil, FUCKING KHARSA ORLONG, Leoman of the Flails, S'ormo Enath, Stormy, Gesler, Heboric Light Touch and Baudin Younger. I did that list from memory. Man, what a great book.

2. The Lord of the Rings – J RR Tolkien

Stuff like The Hobbit and the Gammage Cup introduced me to fantasy, but Tolkien's masterpiece really nailed down my love for the genre. The part where Aragorn tells the hobbits that Weathertop used to be known as Amon Sul, and that that Elendil watched from the Tower for the arrival of Gil-galad before the Last Alliance set out to wage war against Sauron gives me the chills every time I read it.  The FIRST time I read it I was about 10 or so, and all I could think was "WHO ARE THESE PEOPLE AND HOW DO I LEARN MORE ABOUT THAT?"  Tolkien, as much as any writer, influenced my deep love for history, and my affection for those striving against vast odds.

3. Voltaire’s Bastards – John Ralston Saul

One of the non-fiction books on the list.  I read Voltaire's Bastards when I was living in Australia, and it blew me away.  His deconstruction of how a series of logical "rational" decisions can lead to terrible consequences has stuck with me my entire life.  I still try to work backwards from the desired outcome when making decisions, so this book definitely had an abiding impact.

4. The Watchmen – Allan Moore

A comic.  Possibly THE comic.  This book made me realize you could get as much, or more, out of a comic/graphic novel as you could out of a traditional novel.  Ozymandias is very much Voltaire's Bastard, so I'm not surprised those two works come very close together.  Plus, it's the most brilliant deconstruction of the Superhero you're ever going to read.  All comics look different after you read The Watchmen, and if that isn't influential, I don't know what is.

5. The Book of Three – Lloyd Alexander

This book would be classified as Young Adult now, and I know I read it when I was around 8 or 9.  It was scary, mythic, tragic and ultimately triumphant, and ignited my love for Celtic/Welsh mythology.  The Huntsmen and Arawn have both featured in my RPG campaigns, and the tone and themes of The Book of Three have been influential in my gaming since forever.

6. The Judging Eye – R Scott Bakker

If Tolkien ignited my love for fantasy, R Scott Bakker and Steven Erikson brought it to a full burn.  I really liked the Prince of Nothing, but the Judging Eye absolutely blew me away.  The Second Apocalypse series is a modern re-imagining of Lord of the Rings, and read comparatively, it's quite a ride.  To me, Lord of the Rings is 3rd edition D&D, and The Judging Eye is DCC run by Rob Zombie.  Amazing, amazing book.

7. The Illiad – Homer

I have a degree in Greek and Roman Studies, and the Illiad is a huge part of why.  My dad had a copy of the Richard Latimore translation, and I read it in high school.  The clashing of the armor and the roaring of the armies as they smash together has stuck with me 'lo these many years, and I still love the doomed hero (and no, I don't mean Achilles, he's an asshole).

8. Snow Crash - Neal Stephenson

The only science fiction book on the list.  Glossolalia, a main character NAMED Hiro Protagonist, swordfighting, computers, virtual reality, an Eskimo badguy with knives made of glass and a personal nuke?  Stephenson taught me that a story can have all kinds of weird shit in it, but if it's awesome, none of that matters.  And Snow Crash is awesome.  It set my baseline for sci fi and futuristic novels.

9. The Deluxe Transitive Vampire – Karen Gordon

The other non fiction book.  It's about grammar.  And it's funny and clever and excellent.  What more needs to be said?

10. Aztec – Gary Jennings

Aztec is a Gary Jennings book.  So.  If you know Gary Jennings, that says quite a bit.  It's got sex, violence, more sex, extremely graphic violence, oh, and really well researched history.  I generally feel that you learn history better from high-quality historical fiction than any history textbook, and Aztec is pretty much WHY I feel that way.  Also, it has quite a bit of sex.  Books can have sex, in fact, I would argue that they mostly should.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Worldbuilding: The Dwarven Military

When you think of dwarven warriors, the axe and the crossbow are the weapons that come to mind.
Dwarven Axe by Faradon, from Deviantart
They are the iconic weapons of the dwarves, but surely, a dwarven army cannot function with such a limited range of weaponry? Dwarves, as evidenced by the vast sweep of their history, have been successful enough in war to defend their holds and halls from many enemies, so how does the dwarven military engine really work? Well, I can’t tell you how it works in YOUR world, but I’ll tell you how it works in mine.

Based on their culture and physical bodies, dwarves have several inherent advantages, which they work to enhance, and drawbacks, which they work to minimize.

In terms of advantages, dwarves are very strong and durable, build tough fortifications, and have very good equipment and the industry and resources to manufacture a lot of it.

Their disadvantages are that they are not very numerous, move relatively slowly, and are not particularly sneaky. Also, they tend to inhabit marginal lands (mountains and hills) that are not suitable for heavy agriculture.

So, then, how do the iconic axe and crossbow fit into this picture? The axe can be a devastating weapon. It has concentrated cutting power and weight, it is relatively cheap to produce compared to a sword, and it’s effective against both armored and unarmored opponents. The drawbacks of the axe are that it is heavy and relatively slow to strike with - a perfect weapon for a heavily-armored, strong and tireless dwarf.
by heidifury from deviantart
The crossbow can also be a devastating weapon. It is powerful, relatively accurate and easy to use (compared to bows). But it is also difficult and time-consuming to manufacture, requiring specialized industry. Again, a perfect weapons for dwarves – their strength makes it easier for them to reload, it’s very effective from behind fortifications, it can be used by relatively untrained militias (helpful for bolstering numbers) and the dwarves have the industry and technology to build and maintain them.

But that can’t be all… Militaries have to be able to fight in a variety of situations, to have flexibility essentially. Axes and crossbows are effective, but aren’t flexible enough on their own, so what do the dwarves do?

The Standing Army. Most dwarf kingdoms of any size maintain a standing army. In a world with dragons, giants and orc hordes, that’s just common sense. For the dwarves in my world, there are usually 3 branches of a dwarf army, the Regulars, the Scouts and the Artillery.


Regular units are organized into “Guards” or “Watches”, with between 150 and 500 members, mixing male and female dwarves about 70/30. Most dwarf regulars are professional, full-time soldiers, equipped with high-quality half-plate or banded-style armor. A standard Guard will have a mix of roles, not unlike a pre-Marian roman legion. Front-liners carry axes, short swords (sometimes built into forearm gauntlets) and pick-backed hammers, and have round or rectangular shields. Imagine a line of 4’ high roman legionnaires with beards, and you have a pretty good picture of a dwarf front rank.

Flankers carry crossbows, and often work in teams, with a shooter, a loader and a shield-bearer (who can function as a front-liner).

Back-rankers carry polearms – glaives, halberds, Lucerne hammers, poleaxes. Often these weapons will have back hooks and spiked heads. Their job is to chew up the taller foes over the heads of the front-rankers. Back-rankers also often carry twist-bows (dwarf hand-crossbows). These are metal tubes with a powerful spring that are re-cocked by twisting the lower half of the tube and dropping a metal dart into the top. They are fired by pressing a firing stud forward.

The long life of dwarves also means that they train in a variety of different weapons and techniques. Against mobile or mounted opponents, Regular units will trade out their heavy infantry weapons for more crossbows and pikes, essentially converting into pike phalanx.

For underground operations, Regulars will switch out the round shields for more mobile bucklers, and equip more shortswords, daggers, picks and short assegai-style stabbing spears. They will also use a LOT more twist-bows.


Regulars are great in a stand-up fight, or in a dug-in position, but for other activities, the scouts come
in handy. Dwarf scouts are light troops who wear chainmail or reinforced leather armor, and carry heavy arbalests and hand weapons. Scouts are responsible for, well, scouting, but also long-range patrols, caravan guarding, underdark exploration and just about anything else that isn’t covered by the regulars. Their arbalests make them effective snipers, and scout units often work with regulars in large battles by holding rough terrain or shooting for enemy officers.

Scouts operate in smaller groups of 10-25, and are experienced at working independently for long periods of time.


Dwarves love mechanisms, and nothing says “mechanism” like a piece of artillery. My world doesn’t have gunpowder, so no Warhammer action, but dwarves still make some of the best artillery in the world. Any dwarf fortification is going to be well-stocked with artillery. Emplaced trebuchet and ballistae are common, and dwarves have the alchemical knowledge and technical skill to make flammable ammunition.

In the field, dwarves use highly-mobile field pieces, often made of lightweight steel frames. Onager and ballista-style field pieces are both used. Since dwarven armies are relatively slow, they use these pieces to support their troops and to punish more mobile enemies that might try to skirmish with them.

Artillery units in the field usually work with teams of a dozen or so, and often have flanker-style support units of 25 or so to protect them from mounted or flying foes.


Since there are relatively few dwarves compared to more prolific races, most dwarf holds maintain a tradition of extensive militia training. Again, the long life-span of dwarves means that these militia are usually much more competent and efficient than their shorter-lived counterparts, and the effectiveness of dwarf industry also means they are better equipped.

Dwarf militia units can ultimately call up to 75% of the population of a given hall, assuming it is for a limited time (like a siege or single battle). These units include both male and female dwarves. Dwarf militia wear chain armor and have round shields, hand weapons (axes, hammers and short swords) and most of them carry a crossbow, making them effective as both melee and missile troops. Some militia carry spears, and they are capable of basic military formation movement, unlike many other militia units.

Fortifications and Sieges

Dwarves are classic “turtlers” – they build extensive fortifications, defend tenaciously and rarely strike offensively, preferring to take and hold ground. They are masters of siegecraft, undermining walls, emplacing artillery and building extensive trenches, walls and traps. Read up on the Battle of Alesia if you want some examples of how dwarf armies might work in a siege.

Dwarf crossbows, artillery and stonework make assaulting dwarf fortifications a dicey proposition. Their skill in the underground environment also makes long sieges impractical, as they can bring in supplies via underground routes. Enemies like orcs often resort to irregular warfare – constant raiding of farms, trade and mines is more effective than standup warfare against the dwarves.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

5e Dwarves: Talking 'bout mechanics

The session summary reports provide me with reference material as I move the campaign forward, and put the events of the game in narrative form, but they don't really give me the chance to talk about the session from a mechanical or DM perspective.  I personally find this kind of information really interesting to read about, but it makes for a really long post if I include it in the main summary.

This session was a chance to try out Lair Powers.  I set up several of them for the Purple Worm - an effect that knocked everyone prone if they failed Dex checks, a rocks falling from the ceiling damage effect, a caustic slime burning anyone attacking the worms effect and a swarm of tiny wormlings swarming everyone effect.  I didn't want these effect to be overwhelmingly powerful, but on reflection, I could have probably bumped them up a bit.

There aren't stats for a Purple Worm in the materials available yet, so I grabbed some different powers from existing creatures, and tried to make a CR 8 monster.  The party is level 6, but there are 5 of them, so I thought this would be a good challenge. 

Lesser Purple Worm
Gargantuan Monstrosity , unaligned 
Armor Class 11
Hit Points 135 (10d20+30) 
Speed 30 ft., burrow 40 ft. 
STR 20 (+5) DEX -3 CON +3 INT -2 WIS +3 CHA -4
Senses Tremorsense 60 ft., passive Perception 13
Challenge 8 (4000 XP) 

Amphibious. A lesser purple worm can breathe air and water. 


Multiattack: The Lesser purple worm can make one bite and one sting attack per turn

Bite. Melee Weapon Attack: +8 to hit, reach 10 ft., one target. Hit: 18 (2d10 + 8) piercing damage plus 5 (1d10) poison damage, and the target is grappled (escape DC 13). Until this grapple ends, the target is restrained, and the worm can’t bite another target. 

Sting. Melee Weapon Attack: +8 to hit, reach 10 ft., one creature. Hit: 7 (1d10 + 2) piercing damage, and the target must make a DC 15 Constitution saving throw, taking 22 (4d10) poison damage on a failed save, or half as much damage on a successful one.

Swallow. As a bonus action, the worm can make one bite attack against a Medium or smaller target it is grappling. If the attack hits, the target is swallowed, and the grapple ends. The swallowed target is blinded and restrained, it has total cover against attacks and other effects outside the toad, and it takes 15 (3d10) acid damage at the start of each of the worm’s turns. If the worm dies, a swallowed creature is no longer restrained by it and can escape from the corpse using 5 feet of movement, exiting prone.

On reflection, Str and Con should have been higher, and damage probably should have been higher across the board.  I was also thinking about adding an automatic "Overrun" attack for anyone close to the worm.

For the wormlings, I just used the Giant Toad stats.

Couple of notes from the combat:

The Eldrich Blast knockback is pretty powerful, although houseruled that it doesn't effect the Mama worm on the fly.  Sure, nothing in the description says that there are size restrictions on the knockback - but as I said in the session "That's why I'm the DM."

I ruled that the rogue couldn't sneak-attack the Purple Worm, since the worm has tremorsense and knows exactly where everyone is at all times.  Once Hilbo engaged it in melee, I allowed a sneak attack, but I'll have to review exactly how that works.

My basic policy as a DM is that if a rules questions comes up, I make a fast ruling that keeps things going forward.  If somebody knows the rule, I listen, decide if it makes sense, then make the call.  At the end of the session, if anybody has an issue with the ruling, we discuss, check the book, and decide on how to run it going forward.

In the case of the sneak attack and knockback calls, nobody seemed too bothered by them, so we didn't re-address.

Now comes the BIG THING.  Hilbo used his magical item, his action surge and the -5 attack/+10 damage ability.  That gave him 4 attacks at +5 to hit (+5 from str, +3 from proficiency bonus, +2 from his magical maul, -5 for power shot), each doing 2d6 +17 damage (+5 from str, +2 from maul, +10 from power shot).  He hit 3 times in the first round.  When the worm attacked, he used a Riposte and hit, then he got 2 attacks the next round, hitting with both.  He did 124 points of damage total.  Whoof.  So if somebody bitches about fighters being underpowered, cordially invite them to shut the fuck up.

Of course, the worm is a classic brute - low AC, high hp, and this is an attack pattern basically designed to work against it, but still - very effective strategy.

The rest of the wormlings weren't much trouble - Hunger of Hadar and the difficult terrain formed by the dead Mommy worm made them come in stages, and the Eldrich bolt knockback pushed them back into the Hunger area.

The worm only got 2 lair effects off, the knockdown and the caustic slime attack, and the one attack it got off that hit didn't do too much damage, as dwarves have resistance to poison damage and advantage on poison saves.

All in all, the combat ran smoothly and quickly.  The Roll20 app is much improved in terms of speed of use, and the Initiative tool is handy for keeping track of init.  Each character got 1050 xp, which brings Korrum and Hilbo near level 7.

The rest of the session was pure role-play, which was great.  I ruled that Wanderer, who has minor illusion magic and sleigh of hand proficiency, was able to keep his thieves tools and a dagger on him, as they weren't stripped to the skin, and Sinder can summon his sword at-will.  So we'll see how they do with a classic prison escape scenario next session.

5E Dwarves Session: Worm Juice and Treachery

When we left off last week, the party was just about to enter what they suspected was the lair of a purple worm. Likely one of the two that escaped during the Siege of Greatview Hall.

Upon entering the cavern, they noticed several slightly steaming pools of water, and a strong, caustic stench. The area proved to be a raised section of the cavern, with cliffs on two sides and a steep slope dropping toward the center of the cavern. In the cavern area below, they saw a thick stream of greenish slime running into a crack in the wall.

Slie immediately identified the smell and slime as likely indicators of a purple worm nesting ground. The worm (each worm is hermaphroditic) lays eggs in a pile of loose rubble, then wraps itself around the pile, secreting greenish slime that keeps the eggs moist and helps them mature. When the eggs hatch, the wormlings need to be submerged in water until they are about as long as a human, emerging only to feed.

Advancing cautiously, Wanderer approached the huge pile of loose rock in the lower area of the cavern, unaware that the worm could feel his every footstep through the stone…

Mama worm was not impressed by the interlopers, and surged off her egg pile to crush the intruders. The larger wormlings also lunged from the pools, closing in to devour the delicious meaty tidbits.

The titanic convulsions of the approaching mother worm threw Sinder and Slie off their feet, but the other party members managed to keep their balance. Slie began throwing bolts of arcane energy at a nearby wormling, knocking to backward and allowing him to get back to his feet. Sinder and Korrum closed on another wormling, and Wanderer, after firing a single arrow, seemed to tune out for the rest of the battle (as Kasper had to leave for work).

Hilbo believes that a good offence is the best defense, so he rushed the worm-mother. Triggering his magical belt of Bull’s Power (temporary 20 Str for 1 round), he hammered at the worm with his maul, sacrificing accuracy for power and using his energy recklessly (action surge). Three of his blows struck the worm with tremendous force, and the power of his magical maul, Earthshatter, enhanced the blows.

Despite the horrific damage the hammer caused, the worm snapped at Hilbo, but he stepped aside and riposted with the weapon, smashing the worm’s jaw. It’s stinger lashed down, stabbing into Hilbo’s leg, but his dwarvish resistance to poison kept the worm’s venom from having much effect.

A gout of caustic icor also poured from the massive wound, covering Hilbo with acidic ooze that burned his skin and hair. Undaunted, he continued his attack, pulverizing the worms innards. Two more titanic blows crushed the last life from the enormous creature.

After that, it was a simple matter of destroying the remaining wormlings (Hunger of Hadar helped

quite at bit), crushing the eggs with a shattering blow from the magical maul, and cutting out the worm’s gullet, which contained 900 gp worth of polished gemstones. They also found a dwarven round-shield, shining undamaged despite being submerged in the slime of the worm lair.

Having ensured the safety of the mines, the party returned to Greatview Hall, rested, provisioned, and headed back to Goldenhills Hall by way of Gnollshead.

All was in order as they passed through Gnollshead, with trade increasing, settlers building houses, and fishing and prospecting starting around the fort. A 1-day hike across the Twisted Pass brought them to High Grass, the main ranching settlement of Goldenhills Hall.

There, the party was told by the gate-guards that a messenger from the king awaited them in the main barracks, and that he would send a runner ahead to let the messenger know that they had arrived. The party headed to the fort, and upon entering the barracks yard, were confronted by a double-rank of cocked crossbows pointed at their faces.

A smirking dwarf with a braided red beard, clearly the commander, told the party to drop their
weapons and surrender immediately, on the order of King Ironhammer. Reluctant to face off with 25 dwarven warriors, the party laid down their weapons and surrendered. The smug commander ordered them stripped of weapons and armor and chained, informing them that they were “guilty of treason against the King”. He also asked about the location of Hakoah Ironbeard, and seemed quite angry that the “Oathbreaker” was not with the rest of the party.

That night the party was kept under guard in the barracks storage rooms in High Grass, then marched to the underground Greatway . The commander of their escort proved to be Baron Algron Splinterbeard, a member of the clan supposedly betrayed by Hakoah’s Ironbeard clan.

Slie’s pet “kitty” is able to move around completely unseen, and can listen to and relate conversations back to Slie. “Kitty” was able to discover that the Splinterbeard Clan are working for the King, that the King has decided to strike back against the “traitors and scum” in the kingdom that oppose him, specifically the Eigar clan and the Redhammer clan, as well as Paths Command, many officers in the Goldenhills Guard, and some of the lesser clans. Capturing the PC’s is apparently the first step in this campaign.

“Kitty” also overhears that the party is being taken to the kings private dungeon, somewhere in the caverns below Goldenhills Hall itself. Korrum is able to cast a Sending spell to their friend Khidre Eigar, the heir of the powerful Eigar clan, telling him of their capture. Khidre responds that he is also in hiding from the king’s forces, and will contact the powerful Redhammer clan to see if he can arrange help.

So as we left off, the party were stripped of their gear, manacled hand and feet, chained together, and closely guarded and being marched off to the private dungeon of a king who increasingly seems to be either completely irrational or utterly mad. Good times!

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

5e Dwarves Session Summary: September First

After taking the summer off, the old Playtest Group reconvened to kick the Dwarves! campaign off in full 5E style.  There have been a number of character changes, of course, but they have managed to maintain a dwarf-majority party.  However... one of the member of the party is now an elf...  An elf spellcaster, to boot!  Horrors.  How will the intrepid dwarves deal with this arcane point-ear in their midst?

Pretty well, as it turns out.  Of course, +Torben Schau, who plays the point-ear, couldn't make the session, but other events make me optimistic that he will eventually be accepted by the xenophobic, er, intrepid
Hilbo says "Hi"

The current adventurers are:

Hilbo Huggins, the dwarf soldier Battlemaster, played by +J Malfair

Korrum Kargonil, the dwarf guide turned Cleric of Moradin Foehammer (Martial aspect of Moradin), played by +Greg Pierce

Wanderer, ostensibly a dwarf Arcane Trickster (secretly a changeling) played by G+'s very own +Kasper Blomdell.

Slieyronourmous Troves, a dwarf (well, duergar, really) wizard (well, warlock, really), played by +Perry Jones

Sinder, an elf guild merchant Arcane Knight, played by the aforementioned +Torben Schau.

We did quite a bit of stuff via email before the first session started, so when we did get going, the immediate problems were well-established:  lack of food, a damaged hold and freed slaves from hostile races.

The slaves were the first issue addressed.  Specifically, the hobgoblins, orcs and goblins.  Knowing that
hobgoblins are almost pathological about honoring bargains, Hilbo negotiated a mercenary contract with Fear, the leader of the group.  They agreed to work for the party patrolling near Gnollshead Hall in exchanged for regular gold, any loot they take, and the rights to camp in the old fort that the cult of Doresain abandoned.  The hobgoblins will also be paid a bounty for gnoll tails (lots of gnolls in those hills) and are allowed to trade for supplies at Gnollshead Hall.

Next, the duergar.  These slaves were in a near-catatonic state due, it was revealed, to the worms that were eating their brains.  Apparently duergar all have brain-worms that they take drugs to prevent from lobotomizing them.  Slie was able to give them a concoction that killed the brain-worms, but they didn't come all the way back from that, and now the dwarves have them doing simple labor - probably for the rest of their lives.  But it beats the alternative.

Then, the drow.  The two slaves, Verraki and Verrakath, were discovered to be members of House Inncon'eal, a minor, male-run house which provides mercenaries and guards for more powerful houses.  They agreed to bring a message to the head of their house in exchange for freedom, which the dwarves granted.  Surprising leniency for the party, which bodes well for Sinder!

On to the food and repairs.  Despite the dwindling food supplies, the dwarves got right to work, cause, hey, dwarves!  Wanderer and Korrum took a bag of money north to Gnollshead Hall to purchase supplies, and Hilbo, Slie and Sinder stayed behind to supervise rebuilding.

Wanderer and Korrum had a small run-in with Ogres, but were able to secure a good-sized herd of Ahten cattle, getting them back to Greatview before starvation really began to bite.  Fortunately, the fortifications, forges and fungus farms were all repaired as well.  The only wrinkle as found during the clean-up of the upper mines.

A 10-foot wide hole, coated with purplish slime.  Looks like one of the duergar Purple Worms is still hanging around the area.  Following the worm tunnel deeper into the mountain, the party comes upon a large cavern filled with pools of greenish, steaming water and a strong caustic stench...