Monday, January 31, 2011

Another Piece of Inspiration

This image is from the tympan of a cathedral in Conques.  It depicts the literal "Mouth of Hell."  That's not a metaphor, that big dragon head at the bottom is actually the entrance to hell.  It's a giant mouth.

Now I need to figure out where that goes on my hex map :D 

Tuesday, January 25, 2011


The Church teaches that the God of Law divided all of the world according to a divine plan.  Just as he separated earth, water, fire, and air from each other, so to did he divide the people of the world into three great orders: those who work, those who fight, and those who pray.  The strict maintenance of these orders and their presumed hierarchy is necessary to the ultimate defeat of the Adversaries, or so many Clerics claim.

Clerics are a class apart.  They alone receive divine wisdom from their God, and they are tasked with using it to protect the people of the World from the workings of Demons and others who would tempt them astray.  In the West, Clericalism is believed to be a a hereditary trait.  One does not become a Cleric, one simply is a Cleric.  Usually this is because the Cleric comes from a line who possess  a "Magic of the Blood."   This quality allows them, just as it allowed their forefathers and mothers, to communicate with the Divine in a way that is impossible for the other people of the World.

Since they are such a small and selective group, they would be ill suited to serve as the machinery of the Church.  Rather, they lead by example.  Clerics find their callings out in the world where their tools and gifts are best suited to helping the other orders of society and defeating the servants of Darkness.  The Church itself is largely composed of lay ascetics and bureaucrats who maintain the collections of doctrines so necessary to the function of the Church as an institution.

Clerics are carefully watched.  The Adversary has many ways to trick mortal men, and one of the foulest is his use of Anticlerics.  Proper orthodoxy must be maintained so that the righteous might be separated from the wicked.  Demons are capable of granting desperate men the powers saved only for those chosen by the God of Law.  In order to prevent these men and women from leading the downtrodden astray, Clerics and Priests must keep abreast of proper theology.

Recent heresies have questioned the need for Clerics.  They point to Magic-Users and note that they are capable of working wonders just as Clerics are.  Some of the literati in the realms of the West believe that Clerical magic is simply a set of formulas guarded by certain families.  They call for these to be revealed to the world so that Magic-Users may study them and better understand the nature of magic.  Those who work, for their part, continue to toil in the fields awaiting the day that creatures pour out of the woods.


It's been awhile since I've done a kinda-sorta in setting post and I thought it was time to try another one.  Much of this entry was inspired by Georges Duby's The Three Orders: Feudal Society Imagined.  While I have some issues with the book, his notes on how bishop's saw their roles in Medieval society are quite fascinating.

The bit at the end owes itself to the recent urge by many OSR types (myself included) to jettison the Cleric from their preferred system.

Monday, January 24, 2011

A Map Has Been Found and Other Underworld News

Thanks to reader Derek Upham for showing me Abyssia.  I'll be basing the main campaign map for Ilion off of this section of Atlantis.

Here is my rendition of it on the continent scale map.

Click to enbiggen

I'm not entirely sure which sector I want to enlarge and place Ilion in.  I've thought about the large island with the mountains in the center since it would allow them to control trade throughout that small sea, but I'm still not sure.

I've completed the Men & Magic booklet for the Underworld, but it uses far too much from the White Box document for me to post it here.  I replicated much of the little booklets because I want players to only need one booklet in front of them to play.  I'm currently working on the Monsters and Treasure booklet, and once it's created I might run a playtest of the rules over Skype.  Eventually I hope to add some adventuring rules to it as well and make the unique portions available freely online as a downloadable WB supplement.  This may or may not pan out.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Alignment and the Underworld

As my previous post should indicate, I'm once again giving thought to how one might run the Underworld setting.  Last night I managed to cook up an almost complete rules document for players participating in such a campaign.  I've hit a bit of a snag though: what do I do about alignment?

Until last night, I had given very little thought to alignment in the Underworld setting.  Nightwick's world is one that is entirely based around alignment.  The God of Law struggles against the myriad of Demons who wish to unmake all of creation to end their suffering.  Underworld has no such struggle.  Sure the various civilizations in the Hollow Earth are attempting to expand into the dark jungles and blasted deserts, but there is little ideology wrapped up in this.  The heroes of Underworld seek glory and riches not the betterment of the human condition.

But what about the Gods? Surely some of the ones I've selected for the setting would be Good or Evil (or Lawful or Chaotic as the case may be).  Well... no.  I have drawn a line between the various demons that magicians conjure and the beings that provide priests with spells.  However, both are equally wicked and demand the foulest rites to be carried out in their name.  One can see my treatment of Apollo to see what I mean.

I could just dispense with it altogether; however, this is probably more trouble than it is worth.  I've decided to include the three basic classes in the Underworld setting (if it worked for Tekumel it'll work for me) and too much of Clerical magic is tied to their alignment.  Cure v. Cause wounds, protection from Evil, detect Chaos, the list goes on.

Until I figure out this issue it seems that development on the rules side will stall.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Need a Hollow Earth Map

I'm looking for a map to base the continent scale area of the Underworld off of.  I can't find one for the life of me, so I'm asking you guys for help.  Public domain is good, and if it shows mountains I'll hug you.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Nightwick Abbey Session 4

Last night's session was the first in over a month.  It wasn't a very action packed session, largely due to time constraints.  We had a bit of catching up to do and quite a bit of time was spent cracking jokes and goofing off.  This is in some sense part of the game, and as long as the participants had a good time then who cares?

The party consisted of:
Ffraid -- A Neutral Cleric  (A quick note: I'll be using the RC's idea of Druids and Paladins, and it is Ffraid's intention to become a Druid once she hits level 9)
Wodewick -- A Lawful Cleric
Slick -- A Thief
Cornwell -- A Magic-User
and their five followers

The village of Nightwick was a bit busier than usual.  Several merchants were setting up stalls and selling goods not normally available in the village.  Some investigation revealed that this is part of an annual fair that lasts only for a few weeks.  The merchants attempt to sell as many goods as they can before winter comes to the mountains and the snow makes travel dangerous.  Several of the party members restocked their supplies, and Slick the thief was able to obtain several magic arrows.  He also cut a deal with a group of Froglings who offered to brew him some potions that an adventurer might find useful if he would come back next week and purchase them.

After this, the party set forth for the abbey once again.  They found that the advancing cold had an adverse affect on the strange vines that spread from the abbey.  A group of Hobgoblins lay in ambush for them inside the ruins, but after trading bow shots for a few rounds, the Hobgoblins fled.  The party took the opportunity to pursue and managed to slay the whole lot of them before they made it inside the dungeons.

The party had originally planned to check out the are where they slew the Hobgoblin leader in the last session, but something about the dungeon caused them to change their mind.  The entirety of the abbey seemed to creek and moan like an old house (only louder).  The players guessed that this must be because something in the dungeon changed.  One of the players suggested that they return to a landmark room and explore out from there, and so they headed to the circular room which once contained the Orcish black mass.  Here they were attacked by a number of skeletons in decrepit armor, but the party one initiative and the clerics were able to turn them.

They moved into an as yet unexplored room that contained a large tapestry.  This tapestry depicted Sword Brothers in a desperate battle with demonic-looking pagans, but when the light flickered the image seemed to warp to depict undead knights slaying innocents.  Behind the curtain was a small hallway leading to a library manned by zombies in monastic habit.  These set upon the adventurers, and after a hireling was slain and two of the party came within inches of death, they fled back to the surface.  The confluence of strange happenings caused one of my players to say "This place is weird. What the hell did these guys do?"

Next week will hopefully be more active, though if we discuss Mr. Bill some more, that's ok too.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

History of the Dark Country

About a month ago I made a post about history in sandbox games.  I thought I'd share my campaign setting's history.  Note to current/potential players: your character wouldn't know about anything before 2000 BP.  If you don't feel like you can keep player and character knowledge separate, don't read this.
  • Time Immemorial -- The War in Heaven.  The God of Law casts rebellious angels into the Pit and creates the material plane to house the ones too cowardly to join in the fight.  In this way fairies were loosed upon the world.
  • After that -- The first race of non-angels comes into existence.  They are the Cyclops.  They build a great empire and wield terrifying magics.  They create the race of Men to serve them as slaves.   The demons trick them into allowing them to enter the material plane.  The Cyclops' civilization crumbles, but without worshipers the demons grow dormant.
  • Later -- The Dwarves separate themselves from fairy-kind and begin to worship the God of Law.  They become mortal (though they have ridiculously long life spans by human standards).  Their kingdoms cover the World.  One kingdom delves too greedily and too deep and finds a demon.  Some begin to worship it.  Thus Goblins are created.  Dwarven civilization crumbles due to wars without end.
  • Even Later -- Humans crawl out of the muck of their origins and find civilization.  Some worship the God of Law, but most just pray to the Old Gods so that they are not eaten.  The origin of the Old Gods is unclear.
  • c. 2000 BP -- The Empire is founded.
  • c. 1500 BP -- The Empire invades the Dark Country.
  • c. 1000 BP -- Barbarians come over the mountains and expel the Empire. The Empire collapses shortly thereafter.
  • c. 250 BP -- The Sword Brothers enter the Dark Country with an army of clerics and merchants.
  • c. 200 BP -- Recognizing the corrupt nature of the Sword Brothers, the people of the West marshal a crusade against them.  Nightwick Abbey is destroyed.
  • c. 100 BP -- The Seven Cities start loosing ground against the pagans.
So that gives me Cyclopean, Dwarven, Imperial, Pagan, and Sword Brother ruins to scatter about the map.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Demons and Devils

Tonight's post was inspired by the excellent Dreams in the Lich House blog.  Beedo's Gothic Greyhawk is a very similar setting to my own Dark Country (so it's easy to loot from).  Also his Black City idea is the very definition of awesome, but that's unrelated to this post.

In a recent post, Beedo discussed the place of religion in his campaign.  Much like the Dark Country, his setting uses the three point Law v. Chaos alignment scale instead of the nine point AD&D one.  As such he had to figure out where to place Demons and Devils, and so must I.

One interesting facet of this conundrum is that B/X or BECMI D&D doesn't actually have Demons and Devils.  Keep on the Borderlands mentions Demons, but otherwise you have to find them in AD&D.  Since I don't have a copy of the AD&D Monster Manual, I'm pretty much left high and dry.  The AEC has stats for a select few, but I only have a PDF copy and as such I'm unlikely to use it at my table.

If I had never played D&D, I would not really conceptualize Demons and Devils as being separate entities.  For the purposes of the Nightwick Campaign they're one in the same.  The legions of the Pit are without number, and many shapes teem in their vast hordes.  Since every supernatural thing in my setting is somehow related to the God of Law's creation and the War in Heaven, it makes little sense for me to divide the two.

But where the hell do I get stats for them?  If I get the AEC in hard copy (which is a possibility) I'll like steal at least a few from it -- particularly Orcus.  However,  I'm very tempted to use the Random Esoteric Creature Yadda Yadda by Jim Raggi of LotFP.  It's a brilliant book which has yet to see use in this campaign, much to my chagrin.  I'll likely use it to fill out the rank and file of Demons while looking to more Goetia based sources for the higher ups in the Demon hierarchy.

Friday, January 14, 2011

General Skills

One of the more intriguing parts of the Rules Cyclopedia, to me anyway, is the Other Character Abilities chapter.  To get this out of the way: Weapon Mastery sucks.  Hell, if I had remembered to add it to my house rules my current Nightwick Campaign would use the LotFP small/medium/large weapon system.

However, I really like the idea of General Skills.  A few players in my old group often complained about the lack of character customization in OSD&D (I mainly ran S&W at the time but they also played LL).  I think General Skills add a modicum of that without the cumbersome nature of 3.x's skill system.  It would help to differentiate say a Northern born barbarian from a knight without the need for separate classes.

It also provides a method of healing that doesn't require someone in the party to be a Cleric.  Now, I like Clerics and would never remove them from the Nightwick Campaign as they fit so well in that context.  However, the idea of a Cleric as a designated healing class bothers the shit out of me.  The healing skill is a nice way to mitigate some of that, but it's limited healing potential still keeps the spotlight on the Cleric.

I would introduce them to my game, but I'm not sure if I want to muddy the LotFP Common Tasks system I already use.  How does one add an Ability roll based stealth skill to a game where any character has a 1 in 6 chance to sneak?  I'm not sure yet.

I will say that I'm very tempted to adapt them into the Underworld setting.  Since I'm thinking of using the S&W White Box as the rules for that setting, I don't have a dedicated way to handle opening doors, climbing, sneaking, and a myriad of other tasks.  Also, since I don't have to accommodate Thief characters, introducing General Skills is that much easier.

Artifact: The Demon's Cauldron

The Demon's Cauldron appears as a crock large enough to hold an adult human body.  Orcus -- or perhaps one of his diabolic minions -- forged the Cauldron in the very fires that permeate his infernal prison.  This forging has bestowed upon the Cauldron a malevolent intelligence.  It primarily served to bolster its creators rotting armies, for any person living or dead placed in the Cauldron becomes a Coffer Corpse in 1d6 rounds.  A save vs. Spell Like Devices is allowed for living subjects.  In addition the Cauldron possesses the following powers:

2 X I: __________, __________
1 X II: __________
3 X III: __________, __________, __________
2 X IV: __________, __________,

Malevolent effects only affect mortal users of the Cauldron.  Demons are not affected by its corrupting influence.  It is said that Orcus let the Cauldron slip from his grasp so that it would cause more chaos and (un)death in the Material Plane.

Guess where I got the idea for this.  Go ahead guess.

Ok it isn't that original, but while listening to the audio book of the Black Cauldron on the way back to Knoxville I had the powerful urge to write this up.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Updated Region 1 Map and Minor Updates

Click to Enlarge

The above is the current iteration of Nightwick Abbey's surroundings.  I abandoned my earlier model for settlements and replaced it with a random one loosely based off of the Hex Based Campaign design system from the Welsh Piper.  Instead of doing it on a big hex by big hex basis, I came up with figures that represented the whole area mapped and then rolled some dice.  The distribution is based on where I felt like things should go, which is my typical manner.

I still have a few more areas to add, including a settlement of town or city size.  The settlement in 1011 (Lichegate) might get upgraded to a full blown city, but I'm not sure yet.  If it remains a town, this one region -- 1/4 of the total area of the Dark Country - will contain 3 of the Seven Cities.  I find that spread a bit odd so I may have to play around with it a bit.

The last session of Nightwick Abbey was canceled due to heavy snow making it a full month since the group last met.  Hopefully the wait will be worth it but we'll see.  I have a bit of stocking/restocking to do in the dungeons.  Once I've caught up enough to not have to worry about how the next week is going to go I'll start on the OPD version and post it here.

Sorry I've been neglecting the blog.  The lethargic state I entered into during winter break has only recently shuffled off.  My output should increase in the weeks to come.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Plans for the Year

Sorry that I've neglected the blog for a bit, but the holidays will do that to you.  I don't have the ambitions that some other bloggers seem to have, but here are my meager goals for the year anyway.

Paint Some Minis: I have quite a few unpainted miniatures and I'm looking to acquire more.  I haven't painted in a while but the wife and I recently bought some primer and other mini painting supplies so I'll be able to renew my tangentially related hobby.  I'll post the piss-poor results here.

One Page Dungeon Project: The vote went overwhelmingly in favor of Nightwick Abbey so I'll try to render a version of my megadungeon for the masses.  Nightwick Abbey wasn't made with the one page format in mind.  What I will most likely do is develop one page dungeon maps that have places to put the specials and monsters that are in my home version of the Abbey.  As a test case I'll be making a sub level of the abbey into a one page dungeon and posting it up here.  If there is still interest after you've seen it, I'll continue with the project.

Examining the Rules Cyclopedia: I won't be doing anything along the lines of a "Cover to Cover," but I'll most likely have thoughts and questions related to my most recent OS acquisition.

For the most part I'll continue my rudderless ad hoc approach, but I had these on my mind and I thought I'd post them.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Keep on the Borderlands Session 2

Friday's session began with two of the players rolling up new characters.  One had lost his thief in the last outing and the other didn't wish to play his now irreligious Paladin.  The replacement characters were a Lawful Fighter and a Neutral Dwarf.  I decided to ditch the LL experience progression system and instead go with the RC in this capacity.  I forgot to mention that I gave XP for roleplaying in the last session as per the RC.

This time they decided to climb up to one of the higher caves rather than deal with the Goblins or Kobolds.  The ended up in one of the Orc caves, as they soon discovered.  They managed to clear out the guard room, but not before one had alerted the other Orcs to their presence.  The fighting afterwards was fierce, and the characters were forced to withdraw.  They were, however, able to inflict serious casualties upon the orcs.

They resupplied in town and then attempted to assault the same cave again.  This time they met minimal resistance.  This was because the leader of this Orc tribe had fled with his stoutest warriors and their captives to the other Orc caves.  Still a few had remained behind, but they were easily slain.  The party discovered a large chamber that contained empty cages and a large pool.  This pool was made of an oily black substance that didn't burn as the party expected.  It smelled "like pigs" and was quite deep.  Unnerved, they decided to see what else they could discover in the cave.

Further exploration revealed the Orcs' storage room, which was filled with captured equipment.  They used the large number of spears to arm themselves and their hirelings and then continued exploring the seemingly empty cave.  They found an opulently decorated (by Orc standards) chamber.  Some searching revealed a large amount of treasure, much to the joy of the party.

Since they had spent few resources, they decided to crawl across the ledge to the next cave.  Once inside one of the hirelings tripped a net and soon the Orcs were upon them.  The Orcs seemed to be of two types: pigs and goats.  They correctly deduced that the pigs were from the previous cave.  Once they were captured the leader from the previous cave appeared.  He directed his minions to take them "to the pool."  However, now they party had managed to cut themselves free and were able to fight their way out.

They wound up in a similar chamber with a pool.  This one contained a number of women kept in cages.  Upon finding that there were no signs of rape, one of the players checked the dead Orcs for genitals.  Finding none, they quickly realized the purpose of the pools.  Since they had lost all but one of their hirelings in the previous battle, they decided to flee back to the Keep.

Upon arriving, I rolled morale for the last hireling to decide whether or not he wanted to retire from the adventurer's life.  He did, and so the party was without hired help.  While looking for some extra hands, they met an easy going Priest named Adolphus.  Adolphus offered to aid them in their raids against the Caves of Chaos.  The party was a bit worried about his sapping their experience, but ultimately they decided that a 3rd level NPC would be of great use to them.

Once in the ravine, a number of Orc snipers attacked with their crossbows.  Adolphus decided this was the time to lay his trap and attacked one of the two PC fighters with his Inflict Wounds spell.  His acolyte pupils jumped out from the woods at the base of the ravine, and battle was joined.  They quickly killed the priest and his acolytes.  They managed to kill some of the Orcs before withdrawing.  Due to the late hour we called it a night here, thus ending our tenure in the Borderlands.

Overall the players and I liked it, though they didn't particularly like the women and children aspect of the module.  One of my players commented that he would have had more fun in one of my homebrew dungeons, but liked it all the same.  I rather liked the open nature of the module, and I definitely think more modules need to have titles rather than names for their NPCs.