Thursday, July 3, 2014

[Throwback Thursday] Sorcerers of the Wilderlands

Today I’m reminiscing about writing Sorcerers of the Wilderlands; not quite a class-based expansion, not quite a spell-based splat book, and yet still not a monstrous manual, it included a little bit of all three. Sorcerers of the Wilderlands grew out of my infatuation with the classic demon-summoning wizard, a subject that for various reasons was mostly completely discarded from Dungeons & Dragons in the second and later editions.

This was, I feel, an unfortunate development in D&D, as I feel it distanced the game from its Sword & Sorcery roots. Demons and the sorcerers who summon them are a major factor in most classic Sword & Sorcery. Conan faced the demons of Thoth-Amon, Tsotha-lanti, and Zogar-Sag, as did the myriad knock-offs (especially Kothar and Kyrik, who faced demons in virtually every story); even the wizards of the Dying Earth summoned and faced countless such creatures (known as “sandestin,” usually), and the Balrog of Middle-earth was essentially a demon.

And of course, the ultimate BBG of Original D&D was none other than the Balrog. He got a good bit of back-up in Eldritch Wizardry, where they divided fiendish monsters into the classic demons and devils category. But then things took a turn away from the classic demon-summoning sorcerer. As the game developed from OD&D and D&D and AD&D, demons drifted away in favor of more High Fantasy, rather than Sword & Sorcery elements.

In D&D of course, they completely disappeared until Frank Mentzer brought them back in the Immortal-level Rules. They sputtered along in AD&D through the Fiend Folio and Monster Manual II; one can tell that Gary really loved demons, as foes at least, as he continued to add in more demons in his adventures and books. But of course, even he wasn’t so hot on the summoning and use of them, even by NPC wizards, as the spells to do so were all of very high level and highly dangerous.

And then of course we had the D&D Witch Hunts of the’80s, and TSR switched hands, and after that they dared not even call them demons anymore.

But me, I always loved demons, whether they were the small and easily slain kind, the sexy and tempting kind, or the big, ugly, and beat-down kind. I never felt that hordes of goblins, orcs, or even gnolls or bugbears were worthy foes for true heroes and great adventurers. Demons, the kind that nearly flayed the skin from Conan’s back; the sort that cavorted with the arch-wizards of the 21st Aeon; the hordes of such that assaulted Kothar and Kyrik and any of a number of nameless Conan-pastiches – these are true foes meant to die on the end of a hero’s blade.

Fortunately for me, Bob Bledsaw agreed. In fact, demons were a major factor in the wider world of the Wilderlands. Long ago, before I even dreamed of publishing my own Wilderlands under the AGP label, during one of our visits Bob and I had talked about the wider world of the Wilderlands. I remember he discussed the “demon empire” found to the south of the Wilderlands; it filled up the three maps to the south, he said. I, always eager to fill in the further ends of the map, immediately took out a sheet of paper, drew a tall rectangle inside which was a quickly-scribbled representation of the Wilderlands as I knew it (three maps wide, six maps tall), and then three small boxes below, each the size of a standard regional Wilderlands map.

“So,” I asked, “How does this fit?”

“No… no no no. Not three region maps. Three maps each the size of the Wilderlands,” he said.

I stared at him, dumbfounded.

I could not understand; if there was a vast demon empire that big, how on earth was the Wilderlands not overrun by demons? Bob said that it wasn't a single empire, no; the demon lands were divided into numerous empires, each fighting each other, and then each empire was often divided, the various demon lords fighting among each other over petty, foolish points of precedent and power. He then talked long and in detail about the demon society, how it was based on magical power and prowess indicated by one’s demonic features – so many horns, such defined hooves, skin coloration and so forth. He had an entire society he had developed for these demons.

I then asked him why there were no demons in the Wilderlands proper, if there were so many not so far away. He then informed me that I had apparently missed them, because there were plenty of them, especially female demons. I was quite confused, as I did not remember much in the way of female demons being noted in the books.

“Why yes, of course,” he said. “All those houris… those are female demons.”

I’d long before researched houris, way back when I first ran into them in the City State. I’d always figured that from the original religious sources and the context of the setting, the name was simply a replacement for doxy, harlot, or whore; but no, Bob had intended all “Houri” encounters to be with an actual demoness!

So yes, guys… every time your characters were hanging out with houris, you were cavorting with demons!

So some years later, when I finally got Bob to put pen to paper and draw the maps beyond the Wilderlands, I finally got to see the demon empires… and what empires! The Demon Empire proper, the Great Horned Empire, the Lesser Horned Empire, the Chaotic Horned Empire, and all the myriad sub-divisions and ever-competing, ever-warring petty kingdoms and realms.

Turned out that only the elite among the population were actually true, full-blooded demons; most of the residents of the empires were mortals, humans, demihumans, and humanoids long ago enslaved by the demons, who themselves had once been the slaves of the utterly alien and inimical Markabs. The middle-class consisted of the Demonbrood, those descended from mortals and demons; among these were the Houris, which were originally created by the Markabs as a sort of pleasure-demon, to be given to favored servants. Sort of like self-replicating pleasure-model replicants, after a fashion.

The demons one summoned, then, were in Bob’s original vision demons from these empires, summoned so that their masters could gain more mortal souls, and thus more power in the Demon Empires, and gain ever more power and influence in their homelands. Bob’s demons could be visited simply by traveling far enough to the south… if one was mad enough to do so…

Origins of the demons aside, I still wanted NPCs, and even player characters, to be able to summon and interact with demons as I had read of them in the various original sources. And so I concocted my version of sorcery… a kind of magic that, at the basic level, anyone could use in order to summon a Demon Lord. From there, though pacts and alliances, even a fool (and especially a fool) could gain power at the cost of his soul… and those steeped in magic and ancient grimoires could command amazing levels of sorcerous power.

And so, I wrote Sorcerers of the Wilderlands
Sorcerers of the Wilderlands details the demon-allied wizards, priests, warriors, and rogues of the Wilderlands. Sorcery, that special branch of magical might that can be gained only through pacts with demons, is dealt with in detail, including Dark Pacts, Petty Evils, Lesser Evils, Greater Evils, and in depth, sorcerous spells, including special summonings and curses.
 SPELLS: Curse of Choking Doom, Curse of Madness, Curse of the Evil Eye, Curse of the Grotesque, Curse of Rotting Death, Curse of Primal Chaos, Demonfire, Demonground, Demonic Eye, Greater Curse, Plague of Doom, Sacrifice, Soul Rend Curse, Summon Demon Lord, Summon Demon Swarm, Summon Demonic Simulacrum, Summon Greater Demon, Summon Least Demon, Summon Lesser Demon, Summon Nightmare Steed
 Also included are two new monsters: Demonic Simulacrum and Plague Bearer Demon, as well as a new magic item, the Potion of Plague.
 AGP00301, 28-page digest booklet, $6.00 MSRP

Unfortunately, for whatever reason, I never offered Sorcerers of the Wilderlands as a stand-along PDF. It was combined with Warrior-Mages of the Wilderlands, an early version of Monsters & Treasures of the Wilderlands, and a preview of the never-published Valley of the Dead Queens in the PDF version of the 2008 Wilderlands Jam, which turned out to be the last PDF product published by AGP.

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