Monday, January 14, 2013

[Designer Notes] Hercynian Grimoire #1

Herein I thought I might present some thoughts on what we were thinking while writing the various articles in Hercynian Grimoire #1:

On Gnolls and Gnoles: Gnolls have always been the odd-man out in the fantasy bestiary. They were not one of Tolkien’s Big Three, had no real precedence in myth and legend, and had their origins in one relatively obscure fantasy literature reference. At first they could readily fit into just about any grouping of humanoids, as they were not that well defined, and simply fit the slot in power between the hobgoblins and the bugbears. But then they were defined as “hyena-men,” which made them sort of a square peg in a round hole, trying to fit in with the Tolkienesque goblin-orc-hobgoblin trinity.

For a long time, through the various campaigns I’ve run over the years, they never really figured much. Then, as I was trying to develop the lands beyond my “European-Centric” portion of a campaign setting, they clicked. After all, hyenas are endemic to Africa and Asia, and are associated with witchcraft and man-beasts in myth and legend. It makes sense that the monstrous humanoids of that region would follow in the same vein. Too, I was never satisfied with the fully hyena-headed gnoll being equivalent to the cunning, sneaky, intelligent gnoles described by Lord Dunsany in his story, How Nuth Would Have Practised His Art On The Gnoles. Thus were born the gnoles, which are a stable half-breed race, more man-like than gnoll-like, though quite furry and still inhuman, and with an evil cunning heart rather than a ferocious bestial manner.

In the Olden Lands, they fill the same niche in the South as do the goblinoids in the North and the orcs in the West. It helps to further define each region culturally and socially as distinct. And with the dichotomy of the gnolls and gnoles, we have both the ferocious savagery of a primitive, backward race and the suave, sophisticated evil of something not-quite-human…

D66 Ferocious Fighters: Who doesn’t love a swarm of interesting warrior-types to use in a pinch when a random encounter calls for a fighter? Of course, they are all tied in with the Olden Lands; it should be simple enough for the initiated to pick up on the cultural underpinnings of the various regions of the Olden Lands from these characters. Some of them will make later appearances in other products; not quite “iconic” characters, but somewhat important figures in the current goings-on in the Olden Lands…

Spells Arcane and Occult: This presents a nice, wacky spell. Subsequent entries in this series will not be quite so extensive…

Spell Songs of Salamacine: Witches figure prominently in the Olden Lands. The Witches of Mhoriedh are, in fact, central to the naming of the product line, the Chronicles of Mhoriedh, as they are the great mortal historians of the Olden Lands. We will have more details on the witch class and their powers coming up soon…

D66 Fairies and Nymphs: Faeries and nymphs are not supposed to really fit in at all with the normal Mortal World, especially so in the Olden Lands, as the fey and the sylvan folk are more attuned to the otherworld of Twixt, aka the Land of Faerie. Their natures, descriptions, even powers and abilities can be as variable as the Judge requires, as no two such beings are ever exactly alike and the rules that apply to mortals do not apply to them. That said, even among the fey, who reside deepest in Twixt, anachronisms in the Olden Lands are very few and far between. While most of the Olden Lands are in the High Middle Ages technologically and socially, though certainly some regions fall back as far as the Stone Age, the Fey vary from something resembling the Dark Ages up to the styles and society of Georgian Era England (as well as similar stages in society for other regions), sans technology.

Gnoll Tribe Generator: A nice, simple system for generating a tribe of gnolls and gnoles, wherever you are in the Olden Lands.

Magical Miscellanea: A handful of magical items of unusual or more mundane sort. The magic of the Olden Lands is not common, but then neither is it rare. There are no lightning-powered trains to be sure, but neither are the world’s wizards reduced to hiding away in caves and mountain-top towers. There are a handful of schools, colleges, and universities at which magic is studied, as was science in its early days. The tradition of these universities extends back a little more than a century in most places; most magic of arcane sort is thus learned still by apprentices sitting at the foot of a master. A few of the old Saracen academies still exist in Eosha, Deshret, along the Paynim Coast, and in Alspadia; these arose during the latter days of the First Caliphate four centuries ago and were the inspiration for the colleges and universities in the North. It is the magical experimentation of the students at these schools that creates the vast majority of the more dangerous, if sometimes useful, magic items that are found today.

Monstrous Menagerie
Hyena; Hyena, Cave, and Lycanthrope, Werehyena: These are presented for completeness along with the gnoll and gnole, above.

Mandayan Nyumbanyama: I’ve loved dinosaurs since the first I heard of them as a child; who hasn’t? The regular use of dinosaurs as domesticated animals in Mandayan and Eosha was inspired by Lin Carter’s Thongor of Lemuria series. It sets the lands apart even further from the lands of the North and the West. And of course, dinosaurs man!

Zelzangyi: This is a weird creature Jodi dreamt up… fits nicely in the Olden Lands, as the locathah of the Sea of Steam needed an unusual pet.

D666 Demonic and Devilish Traits: A little something to spice up encounters with demons and devils and other creatures of such ilk. It is excerpted from a currently back-burnered product, the Pandaemonicon Ex Khaoticus: A Tome Of Beasts Demonic And Vile, which includes tables and charts to generate millions or random demons and devils. In the Olden Lands, demons are creatures born of pure chaos, while devils are the children (and grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, etc.) of the King of Hell, the patron god of the Paynim. He and they rule over many of the various Hells, though not all, and though demons serve at their beck and call, not all demons are in service to the King of Hell and his devils.

D66 Underworld Oddities: This table, and others like it that will follow, were inspired by the old “Special” entry on the “Stocking the Dungeon” tables. The Underworld of the Olden Lands, like the Land of Faerie, is unusual and strange and does not live by the same rules as the mortal world above. Unlike Faerie, which is a completely different “otherworld” altogether, the Underworld is a creation of Chaos, the area where it bled through the strongest into the creation of the Elder Titan. The Underworld inhabits the space between the Halls of the Dead, the Hells, and the mortal world above. Essentially, every major dungeon and most minor dungeons, and even some cellars and crawl-spaces, are connected to the Underworld. It propagates itself wherever it can; a fine, solid, stone-walled dwarven mine might one day find itself with a new, unusual door that just appears out of nowhere… the wise among the dwarves know to avoid it, but the young and adventuresome may well seek adventure and treasure through the door, though they are more likely to find their death…

Olden Lands Preview: Alspadia: Alspadia is, of course, the analog for Spain in the Olden Lands. Some believe that using real-world analogs is not creative enough, or different enough, or simply plain lazy. I find, from my own experiences, that it makes things a lot simpler for the Judge and for the players to play in a world that is familiar, yet subtly different. And so most of the Olden Lands are analogs of historical or well-known fantastical lands. Alspadia of the here and now (2001 AE, the year in which all Chronicles of Mhoriedh products will be set) is still in the throes of the Taifa and Reconquista era, presenting a variety of societies, cultures, and locales in which to adventure. Too, the coastal lands are very active in sea-based trade and piracy, so there are many opportunities for classic Spanish Main style adventure.

Olden Lands Preview: The Oldenwood: The Oldenwood is a classic deep, dark, and mysterious, inhuman and yet non-fey forest. It is a land out of old European legends; Rhe√≠naerdh is lifted from old European tales, while Old Tree of course is Yggdrasil, complete with familiar friends, re-writ and re-tasked for something slightly different. Rhe√≠naerdh, it should be noted, is a patron of the fox-headed gnoles of the Middle Lands, where they are considered, like their patron, a race of tricksters and trouble-makers. The plots and machinations of the Ogres of Ogroth are a major feature in the future history of the Middle Lands… a future history that the players in such campaigns as develop will decide…

Olden Lands Preview: The Blood God: You gotta have a berserker, blood-letting deity in a world where you have viking-style berserkers! As there are no pantheons, as such, in the Olden Lands, the Blood God fills many shoes, from the berserker god of the Thundigoth to the crimson slayer of the thieves of Velantia to the Lord of the Pits in the gladiatorial arenas of the South. And of course, he is a favored patron of vampires and ghouls and creatures of such ilk.

1 comment:

  1. It's like it's 1976 again, but with better writing and technology. Wildly enough, even the content - enjoyable as it is - is upstaged by the use of the OD&D's booklet titles. I've gotta see more of these!