Saturday, June 28, 2014

[Saturday Night Special] So I've been running this Mutants & Mazes Campaign

Well, last night was a wash. Between running errands, work, and a bout of food poisoning that kept me up till 5 am this morning (and thus caused me to call off at work and finally get some sleep this morning and afternoon), I've gotten nothing done. Missed out on Freeform Friday, and still haven't gotten around to writing a review, so I figure I'll write about my ongoing, irregular Mutants & Mazes campaign I am running.

It is set in the Realms of Murikah, in the Midzee Lands, specifically, in the hilly borderlands between Awbash, Free Ohyo, and the Great Ohyo Forest (starting in Hex 1028, for those keeping track). Here is found a small independent village known as Sanktree; whether the name is derived from Sanctuary or from Saint Tree, no one knows, but the great millennia-old Kwerkus (intelligent and psychically-powerful mutant Oak) that is the leader and heart of the village might mean it is a bit of both. The villagers have always welcomed those who are friendly and seeking shelter, regardless of the reason, provided they were willing to provide for the common defense and work for their own keep.

Near the village is an ancient ruin of stone and glass; there the Professor resides, a pure strain human who has deep knowledge of the artifacts of the Ancients. Some say he is also powerful in the ways of wizardry; but as he is both mostly sane and usually harmless, he is at least not a Sorcerer-Scientist.

The Professor, together with his friends and allies, are the protectors of Sanktree. As such, he recently sent out several young, footloose, and perhaps dangerously bored adventurers on a mission. His "instruments" he said, had been picking up strange signals on the "radio-band frequencies," in a code he believes is used by the pirates of the Midzee. So he sent a group of young adventuresome-types off to check and make sure everything was OK to the north...

Till Millstone (1st level Hobbit Magic-User/Thief) and Killniss (1st level Elf Ranger): Till and Kill were adventurers in 4th Age Middle-earth who went down the wrong tunnels in the ancient ruins of Angband, emerging in this strange new world of weird magic and super-science.

Jesika (1st level Pure Human Cleric of Apollo) and Sol-Re (1st level Mutant Human Fighter/Mutant Master): Jesika is an outcast from the Temple of Apollo in New Manpoor, where her faction (the Greek pro-Mutant faction) recently lost out in an internecine struggle with the Roman anti-Mutant faction (sponsored by the temples in the Empire of Man). Sol-Re, a weak-willed kind of fellow, has been her personal bodyguard ever since he accidentally slew her brother in a battle.

Tinman (1st level Basic Android Fighter) and Lizzardo (1st level Mutant Lizard Mutant Master) are the Professor's adoptive sons; the one found bereft of programming on a battlefield, the other found half-dead alongside a river bank.

Feu (1st level Pure Human Fighter/Magic-user) and Skweeker (1st level Mutant Rat Thief) were also exiles from New Manpoor, Feu having sought shelter from the guild of wizards from which he stole, Skweeker from the band of thieves to which he formerly belonged.

They ran into trouble almost immediately as they traveled north, for at a local crossroad in the trail they encountered a band of Pig-Man; fortunately, they caught them by surprise, and made short work of them. However, now warned that danger was far nearer than they ever expected, they kept on toward Bobburg, the next nearest settlement to the north, with much more caution.

When they reached Bobburg, they discovered that it had recently been attacked; the wooden palisade was still burning. They went in to investigate, and found that everyone was gone... all the bodies, villagers and attackers, had disappeared. When Lizzardo went and checked the tavern/inn on the village green, he found the remnants of the villagers... they had been re-animated as Zombies

Thus began a furious battle between adventurers and zombies, during which the necromancer, Walpurgo, challenged the adventurers from his window in the great suite of the inn. Arrows and even bullets bounced away, for he had some sort of protection against common missiles. Black lightning shot forth from his staff and blasted Lizzardo, who, then flying and shooting wildly, fell to the ground and was quickly consumed by the ravenous zombies. 

But even as he was laughing at this victory, Tinman lifted and aimed his plasma rifle (40 watt range); the magic shell around the necromancer glowed briefly, then faded quickly as its creator was all but disintegrated in the blast.

The adventurers lamented their lost friend, and after deciding that not enough was left for a funeral, went into the tavern/inn to loot the place. There they discovered a slug-like being, cowering and hiding; a Sloogah accountant, the assistant/apprentice of the necromancer. He warned them that if anything happened to him, "they" would be very angry. Then after attempting to get one over on the adventurers with a sleep spell, he was cut down by Tinman.

Up in the grand suite they discovered the ashen remnants of the necromancer, alongside his staff and a pair of night-vision goggles. When they picked up the staff, it whispered dark things to them, so they immediately threw it down and rolled it into a bag. When they tried to get into the chest against the wall, Feu discovered much to his chagrin that the runes he found upon it weren't simply warnings, they were an actual curse! One failed saving throw later, Feu is possessed by a fiend, and cackling "I'll swallow your souls" at his friends.

Sadly, they were forced to kill him, as they had no way of driving the spirit forth. After giving the chest wide berth and throwing Feu's bullet-ridden corpse out the window, they slept for the night. The next day they were awakened by a great horn sounding from the distance. When they went to investigate they discovered that a group of Hwiska vikings, foot and horse, had arrived at the gates, and were calling for Walpurgo. The group thought to bluff their way through things, though they had the halfling (invisible through use of his magic ring of invisibility), behind the leader of the vikings just in case.

Things went down pretty well as expected, and as the leader was giving the order to attack, a halfling appeared on his back, for with a roll of "Natural 20" and an "Instant Kill" roll on the critical hit table, the halfling took out the big-bad in one shot. Sadly, the viking's morale held, and they still pressed the fight. Killniss used his one-shot bazooka device to take out half the vikings in one fell swoop. Then during the battle it became apparent that the herald of the leader was also a Basic Android, much like Tinman, with whom he went toe-to-toe. When Tinman's two-handed sword skewered the herald, it grinned, then clicked, and started counting down... "10... 9... 8..." and everyone, vikings and adventurers alike, ran like hell.

So few were caught in the blast, impressive as it was. The surviving vikings fled, and the party retreated to lick its wounds. They then decided to investigate the rest of the tavern/inn, and were rewarded with finding a secret tunnel in the cellar. The tunnel, it turned out, went to the Bobburg Tower, a great standing stone of glassy black stone that the mysterious, reclusive, and never-seen Bob apparently lived in, or did at one time, for no one in living memory could remember having seen Bob.

The party then discovers why, as the tunnel leads, after some trouble (a big metal gate with push-button lock; "666" being the proper code, of course), to an Ancient underground shelter, where they discover a run-down metal-skinned android. This they give some power, by jury-rigging a power bypass from Tinman. The android Bob greets them merrily, and says he will help them however he can; it turns out that he was the founded of the village, helping refugees after his owners in the complex died of unknown causes. They then use his guidance, fractured as it is, to check out the rest of the complex; all is abandoned, powered-down, the hydroponics section overtaken by living, angry fungi (avoided), and the nuclear power station, after opening the door, obviously irradiated (I warned 'em, I did). All the treasures were long ago looted by Bob to help the people of Bobburg.

Then they have Bob show them the way up, into the tower. There they discover that there are many rooms pristine and un-spoiled, save by time, most with some sort of government-style shield on the wall or official-looking desks. They find several security-bots, most of which seem to be out of power or shut off; one of these, however, comes to life and shoots at them when they try to open a certain door. With a quickness none thought possible of her, Jesika takes out her needler and blasts it, even as with the other hand she takes its slug-thrower from its hand...

And that was where the last session (third session thus far) ended... and we pick up again tonight.

Friday, June 27, 2014

[Throwback Thursday] Barbarians of the Wilderlands 1

So today’s Throwback Thursday was pretty much called out by the OSR itself, as the subject of the Barbarian class in AD&D has been of some issue of late, being discussed both at Tenkar’s Tavern and Greyhawk Grognard.

This is quite pertinent to a major booklet I wrote for the Wilderlands of High Adventure: Barbarians of the Wilderlands 1, which was essentially my attempt to re-create and adapt the Barbarian class presented by Gary in Unearthed Arcana for use with the Wilderlands in Castles & Crusades format. Like most, I had a love/hate relationship with the Barbarian as originally designed. Something always seemed a bit off about it; it did not fit my own personal notions of what a Barbarian class should be like, and it was some years before I understood why.

I grew up, like many, reading the 1966-1977 Lancer/Ace editions of Robert E. Howard’s Conan stories; you know these well, as they were graced by the work of Frank Frazetta, who influenced people’s concept of Conan’s appearance for all time. These are the 12-volume paperback series edited and expanded by L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter. I also sought out and read a number of the full-blown pastiche novels in the expanded series by various publishers, most notably by Tor from 1982 on…

Gary often mentioned the strong influence the Conan stories had on Dungeons & Dragons from the start; it would be fair to say, I think, that it was the sword and sorcery of Conan that had a greater influence on him than the high fantasy of Tolkien's Middle-earth, though even the Conan stories take a back seat to the picaresque tales of Jack Vance’s Dying Earth. Gary probably read the original Gnome Press compilations of Conan, the first collections of the stories originally released from 1950-1957; this was the first time they were compiled since they were published in Weird Tales from 1932 to 1936.

But strong the influences were, and yet, from the outset of the game, a “barbarian class” was nowhere to be seen. I think that this might come from recognition that, as adventurers go, Conan was quite unique. Though he was a barbarian, and quite proud of that origin, he was so much more than “just another barbarian.” By the end of his career, he was highly educated, perhaps the most well-traveled adventurer of his day, and has been so many more things than just a simple barbarian.

Conan was unique even among his own people. Though given to their black moods and melancholies, he rose above his grim-minded cousins and went into the wider world. Remember, no civilized person who had not spent time on the Cimmerian border ever mentioned having ever even seen a Cimmerian. Conan was not merely a barbarian, he was an aberration, and his career, though hardly unique (as we meet many adventurers in the Conan tales) was the broadest and deepest of its kind in its day, from a street-thief in Zamora to a king in Aquilonia.

Conan wasn't just some thick-skulled barbarian. Rather, Howard’s Conan wasn’t; he was something else, something unique, altogether. However what Conan, the literary character did was launch an entire genre of literature, the Sword & Sorcery genre, with a distinct sub-genre in emulation of Conan himself, the Barbarian Genre. This, I think, is where far more influence on the “Barbarian Class” came from; not Conan himself, but the other barbarians of pulp literature that later followed. As I, and I think many, missed out on these characters, the Barbarian class as presented in Unearthed Arcana always seemed a bit off… as it didn't really emulate Conan much at all, nor did it really intend to...

Dig deeper into Appendix N, and you will find the real fathers of the Barbarian class… Fafhrd of Lankhmar (1957, Fritz Leiber, published by Gnome Press, the second publishers of Conan stories); Thongor of Lemuria (1965, a Conan pastiche by Lin Carter, ere his work on Conan); Ganelon Silvermane of the Gondwane series (1974, again, Carter); and Kothar and Kyrik (1969 and 1975, respectively, both by Gardner Fox). And these are merely the barbarian characters who made the cut to both get published books (rather than mere stories in various magazines) and get mentioned in Appendix N.

Pulp fiction was rife in the late ’70s and early ’80s with stories with barbarian characters who had been inspired by Conan, and Gary had read, at the very least, many of the most prominent of them. I believe that it was these barbarian characters, rather than Conan himself, upon which Gary's Barbarian class was based. That, I believe, is why the Barbarian class never rang true with me, in relation to the Conan stories I had read. It was not until more recently that I was able to acquire the Kothar and Kyrik tales, and put all the materials therein in conjunction with what I knew about Fafhrd, Thongor, Ganelon, and the other barbarians of the later pulp era (notably Brak the Barbarian, by John Jakes, published first in 1968).

Suddenly, after reading these stories, the Barbarian class as Gary designed it made a whole lot more sense. It was never meant to emulate Conan; it was meant to emulate these other barbarians, inspired by what the readers and writers thought Conan was all about. These other barbarians are more like stripped-down versions of Conan, focusing on the caricature of the barbarian rather than the character of Conan himself, as of course each author had to develop his own character separate and distinct from that of the “original” barbarian.

So anyway, this realization came upon me long after I had published Barbarians of the Wilderlands I. In it, I developed the Barbarian class as I felt it should have been, if written for use with Castles & Crusades. It included many of the core elements that made Gary’s Barbarian distinctive, but also was designed more with emulation of Conan in mind, notably with the addition of the Versatility class ability, which allows the barbarian to adapt to the society and cultures around him as he travels about on adventures. In essence, I created a “Conan-style” barbarian and left the barbarian class as developed in Castles & Crusades (itself a development of the barbarian in Third Edition Dungeons & Dragons) as the more “generic barbarian,” or “savage warrior,” as I re-name the core C&C barbarian class in Barbarians of the Wilderlands I.

Here’s the sale’s blurb:

From beyond the Pale they stride. Grim, mighty-thewed, born on battlefields and raised amidst wolves and lions. A road of red ruin they wreak across the civilized lands. From the cold north, the burning wastes, the boundless plains, and the fetid jungles they come, finding civilization wanting, but wanting all that civilization can give... and whatever they can take...
 Barbarians of the Wilderlands 1 features an alternative barbarian class for Castles & Crusades; tips on how to work both the original barbarian class (renamed "savage warrior") and the barbarian in together in urban and rural civilizations; plus listing and details on the major barbarian nations of the Wilderlands. If you prefer a barbarian class based on classic pulp Sword & Sorcery themes, this is the class you have been looking for...
 The new barbarian class abilities include: Native Arms & Armor, Primal Rage, Resilience, Savage Glory, Sixth Sense, Tribal Abilities (Animal Handling, Armor Maker, Battle Cry, Berserkergang, Bowyer, Canoeing, Demon Slayer, Fast Movement, First Aid, Horsemanship, Horse Warrior, Jumping, Languages, Master Armor Maker, Master Bowyer, Master Weapon Smith, Runes, Running, Savage Horde, Savage Retainers, Scale, Seamanship, Signaling, Sound Imitation, Swimming, Weapon Smith, Wilderness Abilities, and Wizard Slayer), and Versatility.
 Versatility is the great ability of the barbarian, as it enables him to learn the skills and abilities he needs to operate, excel, and conquer in the decadent realms of civilization.
 The new barbarian class can be used with any Castles & Crusades campaign!
 Plus, this booklet also includes details on nine barbarian nations of the Wilderlands of High Adventure: Altanians, Amazons, Karakhans, Karzulun, Mgona, Moonrakers, Skandiks, Tharbrians, and Valonar.
AGP00251, 36-page digest booklet, $7.00 MSRP

I like to think I pretty much succeeded in my goal of creating a more Conan-esque barbarian class. It was certainly one of the more popular AGP product, both in PDF and print format, and is a “Copper Seller” on both DriveThruRPG and RPGNow.

The class itself, however, is less than half the book. The rest is taken up with details on the specific major barbarian peoples of the Wilderlands, brief two-page spreads detailing the history and origins, range, appearance, religion, tribal structure, terrain and climate, favored weapons, favored armor, specific tribal abilities, languages, and names of nine major barbarian nations. So there is a ton of information on the Wilderlands of High Adventure in the book, too. It was the brief write-ups that eventually inspired me to go all-in and write up a complete guide to the Tharbrians… which as I mentioned earlier, didn't sell quite as well.

Finally, I should note that the tome is called "Barbarians of the Wilderlands 1" as a second volume was in the works. That volume was to include the barbarian nations of Karak, to go with the map of Karak, and to include numerous important barbarian NPCs from around the Wilderlands. That volume was only ever partially completed ere I folded AGP. You can find some of the NPCs I wrote up in early posts on the Google+ fan site for the Wilderlands.

I also later went on to put together a Barbarian class for Labyrinth Lord and publish it on my personal blog; this one needs some more work on it, I think. Maybe I’ll finish it some day and combine it with some tribal write-ups for the Barbarians of the Olden Lands… hmmm…

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

[Midweek Roundup] First week of the Dailies is in!

So far the experiment in trying to write a post a day is working. Just in case you've missed them, here's a run-down of all the posts I've made on the this blog in the last week:

Wednesday June 18th: The Dailies!
Wednesday June 18th: [Wondrous Wednesday] Mageglobe, Magewand, and Ring of Defense
Thursday June 19th: [Throwback Thursday] Tharbrian Horse-Lords or Up Harzburk! A Morguhn!
Friday June 20th: [Freeform Friday] Stone Heads, Talking Paintings, and Spoon Goddesses
Saturday June 21st: [Free RPG Day] Remember, Olden Lands, Midzee and Adlerstein are PWYW
Saturday June 21st: [Saturday-Night Special] So I ran some v3.5 tonight...
Sunday June 22nd: [Sunday Driver] Touring the Olden Lands
Monday June 23rd: [Monstrous Mondays] Gyflegyr
Tuesday June 24th: [Chart and Table Tuesday] Bandit Clerics of the Olden Lands
Wednesday June 25th: [Wondrous Wednesday] Devil's Leap, Pit of Ghouls, and Throne of Thunder

Here's hoping I can keep this up... regular writing keeps the ol' mind going, and the more I write, the more I can write...

[Wondrous Wednesday] Devil's Leap, Pit of Ghouls, and Throne of Thunder

For today’s Wondrous Wednesday entry, I am providing three of the many interesting magical and wondrous locations found in the Olden Lands:

This hill is found in the Adlerbergen in eastern Gyrax, upon the shoulders of the Wunderspitze, or Wonder Peak, at the southeastern verge of the Central Adlerbergen. One of many storied and legendary locations in that region, the Devil’s Leap is a tall conical hill; it is barren, a boil amidst the green pastures of the high vales, and though well below the snow line, it is still always chilly upon the hill, even in deepest summer.

At the peak of the hill is a pentagonal cracked black stone, the size of a large altar and just large enough for one person to stand upon easily. If one does so normally, it affords a lovely view of the surrounding region. If one does so during the Witching Hour (3 am to 4 am), one can magically leap from the altar to any other point in the World Above. Legends say that one must call upon the King of Hell to do so, but in fact, no such invocation is necessary. One merely needs to visualize the destination, even if he has never been there, and leap from the altar. If the location is merely a fable or a false rumor, the leaper ends up in the place that most resembles that location.

The leap is automatic, but not instantaneous. One flies through the air at 666 miles per hour. The trip can thus be quite long and cold, with the only companions being the stars and perhaps the moon. While the leap is automatic, the landing is where the difficulty lies. At the landing, the leaper must make a saving throw versus Magic; if the save succeeds, the leaper successfully lands unharmed. If the leaper fails his saving throw, he suffers 1d6 points of damage per point by which he failed the saving throw.

Use of the Devil’s Leap is considered a Chaotic act, and permanently stains the soul, as it is an aspect of the Underworld, an extrusion of Chaos into the World Above.

Upon the southern shores of the Serene Sea, between the Titan’s Gulf and the Eoshan Deep, along the northern shore of Kryx there stands the Desolation of Makkarash, a terrible wasteland of rock and sand, accursed of old by the Titans themselves. At the heart of the wastes and along the shoreline of those fearsome waters, within sight of the Isles of Ghouls, is the ruined city of Makkarash. A place of strange towers, worn black temples, ramps to nowhere, and non-Euclidean structures, one of the most prominent ruins is an ancient temple complex.

At the heart of this complex, deep beneath the earth, lies the Pit of Ghouls, said to connect to all the tunnels of all the ghouls everywhere they may dig in the Underworld. And of course, even hedge wizards know that ghouls have access to every crypt, necropolis, and catacomb ever dug by man, and have even found their way to every corner of the Numberless Hells. Thus, this site is a true nexus point of the Underworld, from which virtually any other location in the Underworld can be accessed.

Of course, that access would come with a steep price, for the Pit is, after all, the heart of ghoul activities in the Olden Lands. The nearer caverns are a virtual ghoul metropolis, where the flesh of the dead is sold in bazaars side by side with the living flesh of slaves; such is often the end of those captured from the World Above by other races of the Underworld, sold on down the line from slaver to slaver, to end up on the block only to be added to the larder of the ghouls, fleshed up only to be slaughtered and buried for proper fermentation…

But too, other things, lost things found and things better lost, can be found for sale in the lich-light glow of the lamps of the markets of the ghouls. Here necromancers and sorcerers abound; dark-order witches congregate and revel; and the other denizens of the Underworld feast and fete, trade and talk, for the Pit of the Ghouls is neutral ground, held sacrosanct by all, for the penalties exacted by the ghouls for breaking their peace are unspeakable.

Deep in the heart of the Thunder Peaks of eastern Elysion, in a vast bowl formed by the tallest mountains of the range, stands a vast, crumbled ruin. Here it is said that long ere the Elysians arrived out of the Dawn Lands, the Storm Giants possessed a great kingdom, with the ruins being their great capital city. At the heart of the ruins, high atop a central peak at the heart of the bowl is a huge throne made of shimmering blue stone.

Long ages of rain and weather have beaten the stone down, but even today, countless millennia after the last of the Giant Kings sat upon it, it still possesses a magnificence beyond that of any mortal throne. Standing a total of 36 feet tall, the blue stone shimmers with power; a distinct smell of ozone permeates the air, which crackles and pops randomly. Those who stand within 100 feet of the throne feel distinctly uncomfortable; those wearing metal armor must make saving throws against Magic every round or suffer 1d6 points of damage from small arcs of lightning that strike from the throne.

Any intelligent mortal being that clambers up the throne and sits upon it must make a saving throw versus Magic or suffer 6d6 points of lightning damage; those who save suffer only half damage. The save only ever need be made once, as thereafter the throne has taken its price. After the initial round of shock, the one sitting upon the throne can call upon the throne’s powers:
  • He may concentrate and view any location within the Thunder Peaks as though he were an eagle high in the skies; this does not include the ability to hear sound.
  • Any spot he can see in the Thunder Peaks using the above ability can be made a target for lightning bolts from the blue, one per minute, each dealing 8d6 points of damage. The bolt is as though cast by a 20th level wizard. If the target is within physical line of sight from the Throne (i.e. within a 270-degree arc facing the front of the throne) the bolts deal 12d6 points of damage and can be flung once per round.
  • While seated upon the throne the one so seated may speak Gygantos, the tongue of giants. After each time the user speaks with giants thusly, the one so seated may make an Intelligence check; if successful, he has permanently learned how to speak Gygantos (Giantish).
  • One who is seated upon the Throne, and who speaks Gygantos, may meditate upon the throne for one week (seven straight days), seeking insight into the Thyrsar Runes used in ancient Giant Magic. If after one uninterrupted week he makes a successful Intelligence check, he has gained insight into a single rune, and masters its magic.
  • If the person seated on the throne is a wizard, he may meditate upon the throne and thereby gain wisdom into spells that are lightning based. Such counts as magical spell research, with each day seated upon the throne in meditation counting as a day spent in research. No cost in gold or other materials is required for this research. At the end of the needful time to research the spell desired, the wizard merely checks to see if he has learned the spell, then if successful may write it down in his spell book (at the usual cost for scribing a spell).

Every time the user masters a new rune or learns a new lightning-based spell there is a chance that he is polymorphed into a storm giant. The chance is 1% per level of spell learned and 1d3% per rune learned, cumulative over time. There is no saving throw against this effect; however, the new storm giant must make a saving throw against Magic or go insane, homicidally and maniacally so, being transformed into a being of pure rage and hatred. In the case of a player-character who makes his save, the character is retired and turned over to the Judge for use as an NPC.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

[Chart and Table Tuesday] Bandit Clerics of the Olden Lands

In the classic Monster Manual, there is a 15% chance per 50 bandits in a bandit gang that there is a 5th or 6th level cleric that is a member of the band; if so, he has a 3rd or 4th level assistant. This seems a mighty powerful cleric for a potentially small band of thieves. Here’s a little chart to smooth that out:

First find the line with the number of members in the bandit gang. Check there first to see if a cleric is present; if a cleric is present, roll for the chance that the cleric has an assistant present. If the roll fails on the first line when checking for a cleric, check on the line above (based on the lower level of cleric) and roll again, and continue until either a cleric is present or all chances have been checked. Roll only once to see if an assistant is present.

Thus a band with 175 members has four chances, in declining likelihood, of having a cleric present.

If a cleric is present, the question one must ask is…

3. The cleric is a Chaos Priest of the Crimson God (CE), using the bandits as spies and assassins in the temple’s interminable war against all other gods.
4. The cleric is a Chaos Priest of the Blood God (CE), exhorting the bandits to further acts of berserker bloodshed and black-hearted villainy.
5. The cleric is a Chaos Priest of the Lord of Change (CN), hanging out with the bandits for the fun of it, as long as there is action, loot, and merry-making.
6. The cleric is a Chaos Priest of the King of Hell (CE), and provides his services in exchange for cash and other considerations, especially seeking to convert the bandits to the ways of the King of Hell.
7. The cleric is a Chaos Priest of the Dungeon God (CE), and provides his services in exchange for cash and other considerations, especially seeking to convert the bandits to the ways of the Dungeon God.
8. The cleric is a member of the Clergy Armigerous of the Gregorian Church (LG or NG) and is seeking to either convert the lot or at least turn them from their thieving ways and back to the straight and narrow. If the bandits are fighting against a Chaotic or Evil lord, the cleric is a very proactive member of their activities.
9. The cleric is a Black Friar of the Gregorian Church (LN) and is making sure that no witchcraft or sorcery infiltrates the gang, for such is the way of the Black Friars. If a wizard is present among the gang, they are not on the best of terms, especially if the wizard is female.
10+11. The cleric is a Brown Friar of the Gregorian Church (NG) and is tending to the physical as well as spiritual needs of the common man, as is the way of the Brown Friars.
12. The cleric is a Grey Friar of the Gregorian Church (LG) and is making sure that the deceased among the bandits, as well as their victims, are properly tended to, lest they rise as the Unquiet Dead, for such is the way of the Grey Friars.
13. The cleric is a member of the Cloistered Clergy of the Gregorian Church (LG, LN, or NG, N) and was once upon a time a victim of the band’s ransom schemes, however, he joined the band after his ransom was paid for personal reasons.
14. The cleric is apparently a member of the Clergy Armigerous of the Gregorian Church (seemingly LG or LN) and acts as per as 8, above, however, he is secretly an Apostate, and a Chaos Priest (D6: 1-3 Dungeon God, 4+5 Lord of Change, 6 King of Hell), usually in cahoots with any wizard present with the gang (50% chance of being either a sorcerer or witch).
15. The cleric is a Pagan Priest of the Laughing God (N), making sure the bandits pay proper respect to the local Fey, and ensuring that their victory feats are most merry, indeed. If present, there is a 50% chance any wizard present is actually a witch.
16. The cleric is a Pagan Priest of the Reaper (N), simply making sure that the Reaper gets his due with every battle.
17. The cleric is a Pagan Priest of the Storm Lord (N, NE, NG), seeking to embolden the bandits and turn them from rogues and thieves into a true band of warriors.
18. The cleric is a Druid (N), tending to this wayward flock as he would to a herd of sheep or a murder of crows.

Monday, June 23, 2014

[Monstrous Mondays] Gyflegyr

No. Enc:  1 (1d6 in lair)
Size:   L (12’ long)
HD:   6 (d10)
Move:   20’
    Climb: 10’
AC:  16
Attacks:   Bite (2d6)
Special:   Darkvision 120 ft., Projectile Attack, Projectile Immunity, Twilight Vision
Saves:   P
Int:   Inferior
Alignment:  Chaotic Evil
Type:   Magical Beast
Treasure:  Nil
XP:   210 + 6/hp

No. Enc.: 1 (1d6)
Alignment: Chaotic
Movement: 90’ (30’)
    Climb:  60’ (20’)
Armor Class: 3
Hit Dice:  6
Attacks:  1 Bite or Projectile Attack
Damage:  2d6 or Special
Save:  F6
Morale:  9 (11 with handler)
Hoard Class: None
XP:  570

The gyflegyr is a strange beast born of Chaos, or, perhaps, created specifically by it as a weapon to be used by its favorite sons. It resembles nothing less than a large living cannon with draconic legs. The walls of the cannon are made of strong muscular flesh over a heavy bone structure, the whole covered in plate-like dragon scales. The legs are also thick and muscular, each with four stubby talons designed for gripping the ground. The mouth of the beast possesses sharp retractile teeth, and can bite down swiftly as its teeth emerge in the same round. It has two long eye stalks on either side at the nether end, each possessing several eyes, the better to aim its projectile attack. A small, vestigial tail is found at the far end; this is pulled by the gyflegyr handler to tell the beast to loose its projectile when he has (hopefully) properly aimed the gyflegyr at his enemies.

There are numerous sub-breeds of gyflegyr beasts. The five primary beasts are dragon based: red beasts project flame, green beasts vomit chlorine gas, black beasts spit acid, white beasts shoot ice, and blue beasts emit lightning. These beasts also have vestigial wings on the sides of their long bodies. The sub-breed known as the serpentine spits poison, while a variant of this sort instead actually spits out dozens of asps with each shot! The iron beast shoots large balls of iron that explode like a fireball, while the slime beast shoots out a line of green slime (or some other form of slime or jelly). Of the rarer sort, there is the leech beast that shoots out leeches, the bee beast that shoots out a swarm of giant killer bees, a spider beast that looses large giant spiders, and even according to one report a weasel beast (though this last might be a tall tale told by a scurrilous bard).

ORGANIZATION: Not being natural creatures, gyflegyr beasts are usually found with creatures born of Chaos, such as goblins, orcs, ogres, and other such ilk. They are very rarely encountered on the surface, save near a large Underworld lair or in an area strong in the power of Chaos. Each tribe usually has one to six such beasts, when they are present, and zero to five (d8-3) immature beasts of 1 to 5 HD per mature beast. Each mature beast and its spawn are cared for by a single small clan dedicated to the purpose. As the spawn of a gyflegyr beast might be of a completely different sort than the “parent” beast, no two batteries of gyflegyr beasts are ever alike.

ECOLOGY: Born or created by Chaos, it is believed that some such beasts are hatched of corrupted dragon’s eggs, using terrible rites and rituals cast by tribal witch doctors. Others are born of a mature gyflegyr beast. When a beast is fed between 30 and 60 hit dice of living intelligent creatures is produces an egg. The egg must be bathed in the blood of the innocent every day for 10 to 30 days; if ever even one day the bath fails, the egg dies. When the egg hatches, it is in the form of a two-foot long 1 HD gyflegyr beast, a tiny two-legged bombard. Every 20 to 40 hit dice of living intelligent creatures it consumes, it grows 1 HD and thus more powerful. At 4 HD it grows its second pair of legs. Note that a tribe only rarely brings an immature gyflegyr to battle, but does not hesitate to use them in the defense of their lair.

In addition to its living, intelligent feed, it must daily feed upon materials that help it generate its projectile materials – sulfur and coal for reds, rock salt and brine for greens, crystals and copper for reds, etc. Failure to provide the needful materials means that the gyflegyr cannot use its projectile attacks, and over time, may die of starvation.

TREASURE: Generally gyflegyr do not collect treasure, being only of inferior intelligence and not holding material wealth to be of any value. However, clans and tribes might decorate their favorite war beast with jewelry, and so parts of their treasure may be found draped on the war beast.

RANGE: See organization, above. Wild gyflegyr are quite rare, due to the needs of their special diets. They are usually only found without a clan of humanoids in the ruins of a recently ruined humanoid lair or near humanoid battles; in such cases they are often starving and unable to use their projectile attack under such conditions.

COMBAT: When forced into melee the gyflegyr beast attacks with its vicious bite. However, its greatest use is in ranged combat using its Projectile Attack.

PROJECTILE ATTACK: A gyflegyr beast can project an attack in a conic form 20’ long per HD (10’ per HD for 1-3 HD), half that width at the furthest end of the cone. All within the area suffer 1d8 points of damage of the appropriate type per HD of the beast; victims may make a CL HD Dexterity saving throw [LL: Breath Attacks] to suffer only half damage.

With serpentine asp attacks a failed save indicates the victim is struck by an asp, which immediately attacks the target with a +4 to hit.

An iron beast fires an iron ball that explodes like a 6d8 fireball; the range on this is as per a line, 40’ per HD of the beast (20’ per HD for 1-3 HD), which must make an attack against either a specific location AC 10 [LL: AC 9] or against a specific individual at their AC. If the specific individual is hit, he gets no save against the damage, and suffers an additional +1 damage per die of damage. Others in the area of effect get a save for half damage. If the target is missed, determine where the missile lands using the normal grenade deviation rules; it still explodes wherever it hits.

The effects of green slime, giant killer bees, spiders, leeches, weasels, and other exotic materials and creatures fired from a gyflegyr beast are at the discretion of the judge.

If the gyflegyr beast is currently being handled and aimed for one full round by a trained handler, and the handler makes an Intelligence saving throw [LL: Morale check], the targets caught in the gyflegyr beast’s area of effect suffer a -2 penalty to their saving throws (or the beast gets +2 to hit with iron ball or asps, etc.).

A gyflegyr beast internally stores 1d4-1 attacks plus one per HD, and requires 2d4 rounds after an attack to reload from the stored attacks (1d6 if egged on by a trained handler who makes an Intelligence [LL: Morale] check]. It requires 24 hours to generate one stored attack, during which it must rest and be fed.

PROJECTILE IMMUNITY: A gyflegyr is immune to attacks of the same type of attack it can perform.

Gyflegyr beasts are a thing of ancient myth, legend, and tall tales in most realms of the Olden Lands, for they are usually encountered only by foolish adventurers who delve too deeply into the Underworld. In regions such as Kryx, Nhorr, and Ogroth, and areas bordering on these darkling regions, the gyflegyr beasts are all too real, and have been encountered in ever greater numbers in recent battles and incursions. They are considered unholy abominations against nature by the Gregorian Church, and when even rumors of such things are heard, agents are sent to extinguish the blasphemous creatures.

In the Olden Lands, holy water created by a cleric of the Gregorian Church or other Temple of Law affects a gyflegyr beast as though it were an undead creature. If a vial is successfully tossed down its gullet (from the front only, and at a -4 to hit), it must make a saving throw [LL: Poison] or die, taking normal damage with a successful save. Clergy of Law can also turn/destroy these creatures as though they were undead of the same hit dice.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

[Sunday Driver] Touring the Olden Lands

Our first journey around the Olden Lands will be a whistle-stop tour, hitting one destination in each of the nine regions.

We’ll start in Region 01: Mhordlakh and Bagaudia, where we’ll visit the large town of Paúkgrad, the infamous City of Spiders. Built atop a dark black shelf on the shoulders of the Mordhlagh Mountains, the City of Spiders is spoken of only in whispers, for it is said to be home to a powerful order of sorcerers and priests dedicated to the Chaos-God Örümdjak, the Shadow-Spider. It is known that the forests and hills below the city teem with gigantic and monstrous forms of spiders, many of which can be found in circuses and menageries of the powerful and wealthy across the Olden Lands. Some believe that the unclean beasts are intelligent and work at the behest of the priests; that the circuses in which they are found, especially those managed by Bagaudians, are hotbeds of Chaos and sorcery.

Next we visit the Region 02: Middle Lands and the Northern Wilds, specifically Pfeilburg, in Gyrax, the only city dedicated to the ancient faith of Druidism and the home of the Archdruid of Gyrax. The nearby forests of the Krampusbergen are home to all manners of beasts natural and Chaotic; the faithful claim that it is druidic power that contains the beasts of Chaos, while the religious of the Gregorian Church firmly believe that the beasts of Chaos work hand in hand with the druids. Though nearly extirpated during the Gottic Crusades in the centuries of the Gottic Empire, in the last half-century druidism has had a resurgence among the peasantry of Gyrax, which gives pause not only to the hierarchy in Thysia but also to the lords and kings of Gyrax, for the druids are no friends of the nobility who have long oppressed them and burned many of their friends and family members at the stake.

Third we travel to Region 03: Thundigoth Isle and the Sea of Storms, where we find the large city of Gefärhlichesding, the second-largest city in the region. One of the semi-barbarous cities of the Gotha in the Starcrag Peaks, Gefärhlichesding is named for the great mountain upon which the city sits. For the mountain has a shape like a colossal, fat, winged dragon, sleeping upon its belly in a coil, its long tail resting upon its neck. The city sits comfortably within this ring, the great black-walled castle guarding the only pass standing high atop the “head” of the dragon, which is an active volcano, lava flowing regularly from the great cavern that is found at its “mouth.” The mercenary warriors of Gefärhlichesding are renown across the Olden Lands for their prowess with pike, halberd, and poleax.

We fly quickly back to the West, finding our next target in Region 04: Alspadia and Nhorr. Here we briefly visit bazaars, slums, and dives of Velikigrad, the Big City, the largest city in the Western Marches and the primary point of trade on the southern Raztinak Marshes. The lords and merchants of this riverine city control virtually all trade that passes between Mhordlakh and the South via the River of Night, and grow wealthy on the passing back and forth of copper, silver, gold, amber, amethysts, sapphires, iron, rare woods, and many other resources. Their greatest trade, however, is in slaves, for Mhordlakh buys many slaves from the South, and in turn trades many slaves from the North, usually Bagaudians and savages from Western lands, to the voracious Southern lords.

To the East we sail down the River of Stars to the northern Serene Sea of Region 05: Elysion and Itlania, where we visit a city that makes Velikigrad seem a shantytown by comparison. The greatest city perhaps of all, Velantia, found at the border between Itlania and Elysion, between the Mountains and the Sea. This vast, teeming metropolis is home to more than 80,000 souls, most of them said to be damned by merely living in the greatest of cities. Originally a wooded island, unwanted by either Itlania or Elysion, it was home to thieves, rogues, outlaws, pirates, and outcasts of all kinds. Many would say that it has thus changed little, save that said thieves and pirates now count themselves lords and call themselves merchant-princes. It is said that if one is seeking something, it can be found here, in Velantia, and if the Velantians do not have it, it does not exist, so they will make it for you and sell it to you at ten times its true worth.

From the smoky, crowded streets of Velantia we continue east, to Region 06: Auriante and the Sunrise Sea, where we visit the nigh-mythical Dragon Isles. Home to an ancient and unbroken line of virtually unchallenged Elysian Hero-Kings, traveling this far to the East is like traveling back in time, for the people and culture found on these idyllic isles are little changed from their ancestors who settled here more than two thousand years ago. Sages seeking the nuances of pronunciation of Ancient Elysian can found it spoken here as it was when the Elysians first arrived out of the Far East. All things here seem to have stood still in time for centuries. Whether this is because of the cultural conservatism of the natives or an influence of the local metallic dragon population is also a matter for consideration of sages; for the locals revere and in truth are ruled by the gold dragons that have made these isles their home for countless millennia.

On the further side of the known world, deep in the heart of the Old South, in Region 07: Deshret and the Purple Plains, we find the Tomb Hills, the infamous Ölümtürben, where one is hard pressed to determine the difference between ancient hill and time-worn pyramid, all surrounded and surmounted by countless ruined and standing statuary, stelae, mastabas, and tombs. Here the dead kings and peasants of more than thirty millennia and countless dynasties of Deshret rest, restlessly, for the hills are known far and wide for their wandering packs of ghouls, their processions of long-dead and forgotten pharaohs, the mad howling and gibbering of the shades of Dead Gods, and wars between necromancers who seek to claim the tombs (and the dark and fulsome Underworld of the region) as their own domain. Still, even with all the horrors and dangers, kings and peasants, lords and rogues are brought here from far and wide by those cleaving to the ancient ways of the Dead Gods of Deshret, for this is said to be the holiest of lands, where at the end of the world the dead shall rise, and even the lowliest man buried here shall be as a king, and the worldly kings buried elsewhere shall be naught but beggars.

To the east again, though not necessarily to a cleanlier place, in Region 08: Kryx and the Great Southern Swamp we find the Hills of Dhoraw, a dry, parched wasteland of buttes and plateaus, canyons and dark valleys. These hills are the southernmost entry on most maps of the Olden Lands, with the usual notes of “Here be Dragons” beyond. There are no dragons in the Dhoraw, but there are plenty of harpies, for the hills are their ancient homeland. The hills of Dhoraw are replete with ruins as ancient as any found in Deshret, and more unusual by half, all with strangely leaning walls and maddening lines. Ancient treasures, particularly copper jewelry, strange silver statuary, and gold kylixes, all encrusted with the native turquoise, can be found in the vaults of the ruins, guarded by the harpies and by ancient curses and traps. The local tribesmen hold the ruins to be taboo, but do not stop those who would seek to loot them, leaving their punishment to the harpies.

Finally, at the furthest end of the Olden Lands from where we began, in Region 09: Eosha and the Sea of Steam, we find the strange island of Mupan, where exiles from the Far West have settled and built a microcosm of their distant culture. Since their arrival in the Sea of Steam, the Mupanjin, as they are known, have had only minimal contact with the rest of the realms of the Olden Lands. Most contact is through wandering adventurers, generally a taciturn and unfriendly lot, or with merchants, who as a rule are no better at telling the truth than any other merchants. And so little is known about Mupan; it is known that there are several independent colonies, and that they do not necessarily get along and, in fact, often war with one another.

And so we are at the end of today’s tour of the Olden Lands. If you have specific locations you would like to visit next time, please do not hesitate to drop me a line at, and I’ll see if we can work them into our itinerary for the next tour. If you want to follow along with your own map, you can click here to find the Olden Lands Map Pack at

[Saturday-Night Special] So I ran some v3.5 tonight...

So tonight some guys I game with wanted to play Dungeons & Dragons v3.5, which, as most of you know, is not really my thing. But I figured, what the heck, it's a one-shot. All I asked was that they not create unbalanced, game-breaking characters. I figured, at 7th level, what kind of damage could they really do?

Well, I found out... hoo-boy, I found out. First thing I had to do was outlaw all Diplomacy checks. How a 7th level character can get a 20+ in Diplomacy is beyond me, but I guess there are the classes and feats to do it. Biggest rule I hate in v3.5 is Diplomacy (and that whole social-interaction rule chain). I know that the rules are that it isn't supposed to run roughshod over the campaign, but so many DMs just let it do so that when you don't let it do so, it just ruins a campaign. So I simply had to outlaw them, and rule that social interaction had to go classic -- play it out, no rules-lawyering character builds allowed.

Then I found out that most of the fighter-style feats being used were from rule books that came out after I gave up on v3.5... and they apparently made some incredibly broken stuff officially, as it was all from official books. 7th level super-multi-class Captain Cuisinart rolling four times to hit with swords that were acid/cold/lightning based and healing allies two points for every successful hit. Holy cats, where did that come from?

So anyway, broken stuff aside, it was still pretty fun. I started them in media res after a fashion, with them waking up after a two-week bender to find the city half-deserted and the massive Horde of Thuum almost at the gates, with the gates all locked, the port empty of ships, boats, and even fishing scows, and nowhere left to run or hide. The flower of the kingdom's chivalry and most of the army had been defeated at the furthest forts, and now the smoke and fires of the outriders were seen from the city parapets.

The Horde of Thuum consisted mostly of goblins and hobgoblins, with girallon-steeds (two goblin archers and a driver); manticores and serpenticores (wingless draco-serpent-manticores); and ogres and hill giants. The four characters (one elf and three humans, though one was dragon-blooded for no apparent reason and all were multi-classed to the hilt) woke up in the most expensive brothel in town to find everyone gone, then sought shelter in the great citadel, where the remaining citizens of the city were cooped up elbow to elbow. They were told to buzz off, unless they brought the guards the heads of some of the horde members... so off they went to find some scouts to scalp.

They encountered a girallon with goblin archers along the road to the High Dell; battle ensued. Here's where I found out that scouts are apparently one of the most broken classes in the game, able to add a bunch of damage to an attack Simply. By. Moving. yikes! But one hit by the Girallon caused the scout to run away and up a tree, which the girallon then shook vigorously, sending the scout flying. But Captain Cuisinart and friends made short work of the Girallon and crew, bringing back heads and two live goblins for questioning.

They then bluffed their way in to the King, where they got themselves appointed to the war council (their history being one of well-known mercenary sort). They came up with a few very bad, very deadly ideas for the poor militia, numbering in the scores, to face off against hundreds of goblins, scores of ogres, girallons, manticores, and serpenticores, and a dozen hill giants, all as a feint for their own escape. Then the Priest of the Sky God came by and told them that the Sky God had sent him a cloud to take four heroes into the Heart of Darkness...

They followed the mysterious priest, who took them to a cloud in his open-air temple and flew them into the air. They flew over the Horde of Thuum and past the fires and smoke, into a devastated land covered in darkness. There they found a colossal stone wagon-temple being drawn by titanic spiders, the whole surrounded by thousands of goblins and fouler things. They were met in mid-air by a bat-winged dire shark, which nearly swallowed one of the characters. After slaughtering him, they flew down to the temple and entered via a work door in the tall dome. They went down several flights of stairs to the dark main temple floor, where they found a large pool filled with glittering rainbow water... which turned out to be a giant ooze, the eponymous Thuum of the Horde!

This cosmic entity sought to overthrow Man and his Gods, and offered the characters their heart's desire should they turn from their god-decreed path to follow him. After severe temptations of wealth, power, and concubines (these last for the elf, who was sly and lascivious), they rejected all the offers and attacked...

And here's where Captain Cuisinart really shone, slicing and dicing with his acid-resistant magic blades, slicing the ooze into ever smaller bits, cleaned up by the other characters. One of them did die, after being pounded one too many times in a row by the remaining large oozes. But slay Thuum they did, or at least, his immediate earthy avatar...

And thus ended the session.

They want to play again, also using v3.5. I told them that if I am to run, they need to start out with 1st level characters and limit themselves to the choices available in the Players Handbook (I, not II or III or XVII). From there, anything they might want to branch out into must be found in-game and earned in-game, not merely added as a build option out of the blue. Plus, no Diplomacy or Super-Bluff stuff. So we will see how it goes.

I'll be running them in the sandbox I'm working on, Castle Adlerstein and Environs, as opportunity permits. We're not really fully moved in here yet, so it needs to coordinate between my work schedule and available locations... so it will be an irregular campaign. And now I need to re-acquire the v3.5 books again.

So this should be interesting...

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Friday, June 20, 2014

[Freeform Friday] Stone Heads, Talking Paintings, and Spoon Goddesses

So today as I sat to write, I mused out loud, “What should I write about today, as it is Freeform Friday…”

My wife responded, “Well, you could talk about our evening walk along the Avenue… or halflings. Halflings, maybe?” So…

The Avenue refers to College Avenue, the “main drag” and downtown shopping area of Appleton, where we live. Every third Friday night of the month they host an “Art on the Town” event, in which participating shops stay open late and host an artist – painter, sculptor, musician, what have you – and folks wander around taking in the sights and sounds. So for the first time ever, we went, and had a good bit of fun.

It doesn’t have the critical mass of people that, say, Chicago or San Francisco would have, nor especially any European city, but it was fairly well attended. A few things that stuck out in my mind, game-related wise, were the kind of shops that were still open and hosting artists… and the kind of art they produced.

The Vintage Garden, for example (“Shabby Chic”) was chock full of old furniture and bric-a-brac, though it was quite clean and well-lit, it still kind of reminded me of the kind of places you would find in strange fantasy cities. They had stone planters in the shape of old Greek gods, various classic iron angels re-painted, and old vintage photos in fine vintage frames. In fact, it reminded me of an upscale version of a shop you might find in The City. Here’s a little something inspired by the stone heads:

Planter of the Gods/Eikone: This is a stone planter, usually about two feet across and three feet high, shaped in the form of the head of a classical interpretation of a god/eikone. Any common plant can be grown in the planter; however, if a cleric/theurgist grows and tends herbs considered holy to the god/eikone in the planter, every season on the “high holy day” of that god/eikone, a number of magical leaves equal to 1d6 plus the Charisma bonus of the cleric/theurgist can be harvested and preserved. If these leaves are chewed/smoked/steeped in liquid and consumed or however the god/eikone prefers they be used in a special ritual, the cleric/theurgist will be granted visions of the future/present/past important to the individual and god/eikone. If otherwise consumed by the cleric/theurgist or a co-religionist cleric/theurgist, they grant the consumer a +1 bonus to the level of their next spell cast, provided the spell is cast within 10 minutes. Only one such leaf is effective at any one time.

We also stopped in the Trout Museum of Art, a local art gallery. Currently, it has an exhibit of Time Magazine covers called, appropriately enough, “Moments in Time.” All the covers were from the ’60s and ’70s, and each was signed by the person depicted on the cover, whether in art or photography. An interesting collection. This one, of course, reminded me of the old classic, first featured in Tegel Manor, of the living painting. As one of the covers featured a painting of astronauts leaping to the moon, I was also reminded of Clark Ashton Smith’s classic story, The Door to Saturn. I think that both ideas are perhaps underused these days, even though the “living painting” featured quite prominently in the Harry Potter stories… something I need to consider when working on Castle Adlerstein.

Finally, no walk around Appleton would be complete without a stop at Windows of Light-Angels Forever, a New Age store that is one of our favorite stores in the city. You can find all sorts of cool and interesting stuff there, from tons of books including Isaac Bonewits’ Real Magic, crystals and gems galore, incense, statuary, Tarot cards, and regular sessions with a psychic. The special artist guest at this evening’s event was an artist who works with fiber materials and “up-cycled” wares. She was showing off her “Spoon Goddesses” tonight; these are creations in which she takes an old, antique spoon, unites it with an art-deco style face, and adds such materials as to create a one-of-a-kind miniature goddess figurine. She says that as she is making them, they speak to her and tell her their names. An interesting and, dare I say, likely ancient tradition.

It reminded me of the Godmakers in Lin Carter’s Gondwane series; these were artisans who created not art, but gods themselves, for those who paid the fees. Some were poor and lowly godmakers, and made simple and poor gods; others, such as Ganelon Silvermane’s foster-father were grand masters of the craft, working in exotics and magical materials and using ancient and esoteric magical and scientific arts to create great and potent gods. Often today it is assumed that a cleric in a fantasy world must worship some esoteric and ethereal astral being; what if, instead, the cleric carries his god around in his backpack, or even in his pocket, or on a chain around his neck? What if the cleric makes his own god, and it is his mission to take his simple, small god and make him a great and powerful god? Kind of like the satellite gods in AnomalousSubterranean Environment… but instead of being picked up by a mad AI, the cleric created his very own, very personal god in a drunken stupor or moment of divine inspiration… Here’s an idea. Next time a player rolls up a cleric in your game, after he has bought his equipment, tell him to roll an item he purchased at random… and that is the cleric’s god.

Sooo… that took rather longer than I thought. Lots more interesting stuff I could talk about from our evening walk, and I haven’t even gotten to the halflings yet… vicious little buggers. I much prefer their hobbitish cousins. Maybe next time…

Thursday, June 19, 2014

[Throwback Thursday] Tharbrian Horse-Lords or Up Harzburk! A Morguhn!

So every Thursday, more or less, I plan on posting about a product I published back in the AGP days, or products that I worked on as a freelancer, or perhaps reminisce about products that I didn't actually get to publish or work on but very much wanted to publish or work on. If I get the chance, I might even add a bit of something new… should time present itself. 
This time I want to talk about one of the unsung heroes of the AGP library, Wilderlands of High Adventure Player’s Guide #1: Tharbrian Horse-Lords. It was supposed to be the first in a series of player’s guide that covered the various cultural groups of the Wilderlands, providing all the information on a specific culture needed to fully immerse a character or adventure in the world of that culture. It included not only the “flavor text” information, but also useful crunchy bits, Castles & Crusades style, for players who liked that kind of thing.

It was one of my favorite books to write… sadly, for sales, not so good. Here’s the sales blurb:
Adventure Games Publishing presents the first in a series of cultural sourcebooks for the Wilderlands of High Adventure. Each installment of the Wilderlands of High Adventure Player's Guides includes a fully-detailed culture for players and judges to fully flesh out their Castles & Crusades adventures in the Wilderlands.

The first installment, Wilderlands of High Adventure Player's Guide #1: Tharbrian Horse-Lords details the culture and society of the northern horsemen of the Wilderlands. Tharbrians are renown throughout Viridistan, the Roglaras, and beyond as atavistic and savage horse nomads. They roam the north-western plains of the Wilderlands with impunity, recognizing no lord or master. They have brought down empires and extirpated whole civilizations. Herein you shall discover the secrets and truths about Tharbrian history and society, and details on their abilities and culture.
This 36-page book includes complete details on: History, Environment/Range, Appearance, Personality, Ethnic/Racial Affinities, Culture, Laws and Traditions, Religion, Social Structure, Organization, Gender and Family Relations, Animals, Diet, Technology, Clothing, Armor, Weapons, Combat, Treasure, Language, Names, Racial Traits and Abilities, and Glossary
AGP05501, 36-page digest booklet, $7.00 MSRP

Sadly, it didn't go over nearly as well as I’d hoped. I thought it was one of my better products; I certainly enjoyed writing it, but then, socio-cultural anthropology was always my thing. Really, I am a card-carrying anthropologist (card-carrying as in I have a degree in it and was a member of the anthropology honors society, etc.) But apparently, not everyone is as concerned with being immersed with the culture of their character as I am.

The choice of the Tharbrians as the first culture featured in the player’s guides was an easy one. After all, the Tharbrians can be found just about anywhere in the Wilderlands. Though they are native (that is, dominant) on the Plains of Lethe and the steppes west of that land, they wander far and wide across the whole of the region. So they could be found just about anywhere, making for an excellent “home base” for characters and a lovely foil for the Judge to use against the players when needed.

The Tharbrians featured prominently in the histories of the Wilderlands, long before I got my hands on them. They were the primary motivating force in Viridistan and the area around the City State; though rarely mentioned in the base products, their history was described in detail by Bryan Hinnen in the “Hanging Out in the City State” series of articles in Pegasus10-12. From that basic outline I added in details over the years. First, of course, they ended up being kinda-sorta Gaelic, as in my Wilderlands the common folk of the Roglaras, the Tharbriana, were kinda-sorta Celtic, as were the Altanians from which both races primarily descended (the Altanians, IMW, being a mix of the original Red Men of Mars as envisioned by Bob and the Cimmerians of Robert E. Howard).
To that Gallic-Nomadic base I added on historical and legendary elements from the Sarmatians, Tocharians, Goths, Huns, Alans, Turks, and Mongols as seemed to fit. For their pantheon I put together a mix of various Celtic gods, demigods, and heroes who naturally gravitated toward the nomadic tradition. And then I dropped in a big dollop of the Horseclans; I shook and stirred the cauldron and out popped the Tharbrians. Though of course it took time; the Tharbrians had been brewing for decades, through various campaigns and iterations. I dropped out all elements of the “Neo-Gothic Hun” (complete with spear-pointed pot helm and outrageous German accent) that had crept in there over the years from some point (“Fritz! They killed Fritz!”). 
What are the Horseclans, you ask? Well, the Horseclans are a culture in a post-apocalyptic series of novels by Robert Adams, the totality of which dramatically influenced my concept of fantasy and science-fictional worlds and cultures. In the Wilderlands it is what gave rise, over time, to the pseudo-Greek Viridian Empire and the very Horseclans-like Tharbrians. If you are at all into post-apocalypse science-fantasy fiction, and have a strong stomach for very violent, very un-politically correct fiction, you should definitely check the series out, if you can find it (Adams died years ago, and the books have languished since). The first 12 of the 18 books are quite good; after that point Adams diverges into Heinlein Syndrome and often goes way off course with lots of gratuitous sex and radical libertarian political screeds. Heck, it was even popular enough to license as a GURPS supplement once upon a time (GURPS Horseclans, which is excellent and absolutely required reading if you are a Horseclans fan).
I think perhaps in the case of this book, that the Horseclans influence, combined with the overly anthropological emphasis (it does read in places almost like an anthropological study or thesis), might have been a bit much. After all, there are five pages alone on laws and trials; and a page and a half dedicated simply to gender relations? Plus most of the Tharbrian terms introduced in the book, and the Tharbrian names, are Celtic names, often difficult enough to read, and then fractured Horseclans-style, and thus practically unreadable to any but a Horseclans fan. Not to mention the debased pseudo-Greek of the Viridians mentioned here and there.

Yeah… maybe a bit much. Obsessive, perhaps. But I enjoyed the hell out of writing it. And at least I resisted the temptation to go all in and include the intelligent saber-toothed cats I had in my Wilderlands as the allies of the Tharbrians…

Fortunately, though it is out of print in booklet format, it is still available through Judges Guild in PDF format: