Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Mappa Mundi


Several months ago, I said I would make a post about what makes a good fantasy map.  At the time, I would have said that utility is the highest good.  A gaming map should ultimately be usable at the table, and as such its primary purpose is to display the distances between two points so that the travel time and the number of random encounters that will occur between the two can be determined.  However, almost a year later I have come to a different conclusion: every campaign setting needs two maps.

The first should be more or less what I described above.  I'd prefer a true hex map, but different configurations are possible.  The ultimate goal of such a map is to display distances and to help determine what random encounter charts the referee needs to roll on.*  If it can also be pretty that's cool too, but utility is far more important.

The second map is the setting's equivalent of a mappa mundi.  For those unfamiliar with the concept, a mappa mundi is a type of highly symbolic map used throughout the middle ages.  The one pictured above is particularly famous for its detail, but simpler designs also exist.  Mappa mundi  are not meant to get you from point A to point B.  Instead, they are meant to convey ideological information.  The most simple ones show how the sons of Noah spread across the three continents, and more complex ones can tell the entire story of man from the Garden of Eden to the Apocalypse.

For gaming purposes I mean something a bit more like this:


This map doesn't do a terribly good job of telling you how far the Gates of the Moon are from Runestone but does tell you something about the character of the place and the people who live there.  This is often difficult if not impossible to achieve with a typical hex map.  Plus, this style of map is just more pleasing to the eye.

A good example of a setting that uses both is Harn.  First, we have Harn's hex map:


While not a true hex map in the way Erin of the Welsh Piper uses the term, one can still uses this map to figure out how much time it will take to get from one point to another and to generate encounters over that period.  One also gets a sense of how much farmland is present, which is a rare thing for a gaming map to do.  

Now the mappa mundi:


This map is much better for giving Harn a sense of place, even if it lacks the utility of the earlier version.

Sadly, my talents are much better suited for the more hum drum sort of maps, even if I do admire mappa mundi.  I may attempt one anyway, but my cartoony style will likely be a poor fit for the tangled forests and squalid cities of the Dark Country.


Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Unfocused Thoughts After Skimming WFRP 1e

Today was the first day I was able to look over the new copy of WFRP 1e I got for $5 off of amazon.  I've only previously dealt with 2e -- which I love -- and I believe someone on G+ wanted me to say what I thought about 1e once I got it.  I've only skimmed it a bit at this point, so here are the things I noticed just flipping through the pages.

  • Holy shit! This is awesome!
  • There doesn't seem to be the same kind of unified mechanic that exists in 2e, which kind of saddens me.
  • The monster list is much more robust than the one found in 2e's corebook.  
  • Wait... WFRP rules for random encounters and treasure? I'm in love.  Does anyone know if they port over well to 2e?
  • There's a lot of... stuff in here.
  • The more I look at it, the angrier I get at my 2e book.  I think I like 2e's system better, but the amount of material in 1e makes 2e look like crippleware.
  • The art ranges from mediocre to evocative, and I absolutely love the cover.
  • There's a Jabberwock on the monster list.  I approve.
  • There's also an entry for boars.  Some may find this boring, but boars are fucking mean.
  • I like how the careers are divided up into types.  SBVD does this too, and I may make new tables for 2e that incorporate the materials from those two games.
  • There is a certain irony in the fact that my copy of 1e is less beat up than my copy of 2e; however, since it's a softcover I doubt that will last long.
  • There is a lot more info on the different states in the Old World.  It'll be interesting to read over Bretonnia to see how it's different.  From what I've heard, I think I'll enjoy the 2e version better.
  • Alignment?!
  • The organization seems a bit... off, but it's nowhere near as bad as the DMG.
That's it for now.  I'll make a more complete report after reading through it some more.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

No Regular Nightwick Abbey Sessions for Two Weeks

Due to the fact that the next two Saturday's are Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve, I won't be running my regularly scheduled Nightwick Abbey game until January 7th.  However, I might do a pickup game or two during the week.

In the meantime, I hope to get more work done on the lower levels.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Monster Monday: Children of Stone


Few claim to have witnessed one of the Children of Stone in person, and those that have rarely know them by  that name.  They are rare creatures, and in the Dark Country they are most commonly found in the various ruins left by the Sword Brothers.  How they came to be there, none can say.

They appear as stunted, vaguely humanoid figures with a passing resemblance to an overgrown baby.  Their heads are universally misshapen, and their features roil and contort to make new, hideous faces that most find difficult to look at.  Their bloated form is composed of a bizarre mixture of broken stones, burning cinders, and smoke that all somehow clings together to give this terrible entity the appearance of solidity.  The dim light they cast and their horrid wails can be seen and heard long before the creatures themselves are upon you.

Their precise nature is somewhat of a mystery.  Since their bodies disintegrate into ash upon death, none have been able to study them for any length of time. Their manner of procreation is the subject of much controversy and speculation.  Some have postulated that they are physical manifestation of the psychic trauma created during the events that cause edifices to become ruins.  Others claim that they are demons summoned by terrible diabolists to do their bidding, but since no one has every seen them directly in the employ of such a magician this hypothesis seems unlikely.  The most popular, in the most literal sense of the word, theory is that these mewling creatures are the result of too much old stone being too close to too much fire.  The mixing of the two substances in large quantities, such as often happens when old churches or castles burn down, creates them in the way meat creates maggots.

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This is the first in what I hope to be the resurrection of my Monster Monday articles, as I discussed in an earlier post.

The Children of Stone is an idea I've been throwing around since the very early days of 4e, when I ran a mediocre Wilderlands game using that system and the map of the Elphand Lands.  Originally, they looked a bit more like silicon breast implants that had been crudely molded into babies, but I decided to change them when I saw this image.  They've cropped up in a couple of campaigns since then, and I rolled some of my background for them into my version of the Mite when I ran the Labyrinth Lord version of the Dark Country. While I thought Mites added quite a bit fun to the game, it was mostly in the form of comedy.  These guys, I think, are a bit creepier.

Only two ConstantCon expeditions have bumped into them, and both of those expeditions lost a hireling as a result.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

How I Like Magic to Work

Inspired by this, this, and this.  Here is an excerpt from Clark Ashton Smith's "The Beast of Averoigne."


"Now, when the priest and the marshal had gone, I spent several hours in making ready for my journey. It was necessary, above all other things, to compound a certain rare powder that had been recommended by the demon in the purple gem; for only by the casting of this powder could the Beast be driven away before its time. The ingredients of the powder were named in the Book of Eibon, that manual written by an old Hyper-borean wizard, who in his day had dealt with ultra-mundane spirits akin to the demon of the comet; and had also been the owner of the ring...


Then, an hour before sunrise, when the shadow of the great pine had reached the wall and was climbing toward Theophile's window, there came the thing which I had anticipated. Very suddenly it came, and with no warning of its nearness, a horror of hellish red light, swift as a kindling, windblown flame, that leapt from the forest gloom and sprang upon us where we stood stiff and weary from our night-long vigil.


One of the men-at-arms was borne to the ground, and I saw above him, in a floating redness as of blood, the black and serpentine form of the Beast. A round and snakish head, without ears or nose, was tearing at the man's armor with sharp innumerable teeth, and I heard the teeth grate and clash on the linked iron as I stepped forward and flung the powder of Eibon at the Beast. The second man-at-arms, undaunted, would have assailed it with his spear, but this I forbade. 


The floating powder, fine as a dust of mummia, seemed to dim the bloody light as it fell; and the Beast relinquished the fallen man, writhing away like a burnt serpent from the fire. Its members and body were loathfully convulsed; and the thing seemed to change horribly beneath our gaze, undergoing an incredible metamorphosis. Moment by moment it took on the wavering similitude of man, like a werewolf that returns from his beasthood; and the red light grew dimmer, and the unclean blackness of its flesh appeared to flow and swirl, assuming the weft of cloth, and becoming the folds of a dark robe and cowl such as are worn by the Benedictines. Then, from the cowl, a face began to peer, glimmering pale and thin in the shadow; and the thing covered its face with sooty claws that were turning into hands, and shrank away from me as I pressed upon it, sprinkling it with the remainder of the powder.


Now I had driven it against the abbey wall; and there, with a wild, despairing cry that was half-human, half-demoniac, the thing turned from me and clawed frantically at the gray stone as if it would climb toward the abbot's window in that monstrous fashion that had been its wont. Almost, for a breath, it seemed to run upward, hanging to the wall like a bat or a great beetle. But the change had progressed too far, and it dropped back in the shadow of a pine, and tottering strangely as if with sudden mortal weakness, fell to the ground and lay huddled in its monkish garments like a black night-bird with broken vans." 


Obviously there can be some problems transferring this kind of thing over to a D&D type game, but in a perfect "worldgame" this is what magic would look like.



ConstantCon SuperWorld

Inspired kinda sorta by Grumpy Old Troll, I have an idea for a project that's probably of no use to anyone but amuses me.  I want to stitch together all the wilderness maps from various judges' ConstantCon campaigns into one big map.  It would probably look something like this  only done in Hexographer.

It's probably too much of a headache to work out, but that doesn't mean I'm not stupid enough to give it a few attempts.

Nightwick Abbey ConstantCon (Session 8)

You may find Jason's account here.


If you're interested in playing in future sessions send me an email at evanDOTvanDOTelkinsATgmailDOTcom.  We play every Saturday from 2:00 - 4:00 PM EST.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

ConstantCon: Rupert the Frogling has something to sell you


Rupert van Toad, resident slimy merchant and frogling, has just received an odd item in his most recent shipment of goods.  It is a mauve potion in a clear flask.  He has no idea what it is, but he's willing to make some money off of it. 

As such, the frogling's cart outside the walls is now offering this Mystery Potion (tm) to any willing to pay the price.  The bidding starts at 100sp.*

Characters who are on the Nightwick Abbey list or who have been to Nightwick Abbey before may bid on the Mystery Potion (tm).  To do so, state the amount of money you are willing to bid in the comments of this post.  Bidding closes at 12:00 AM EST December 21st.

*King Stephen and Empress Matilda are well known for diluting their currency.  If your character has gold pieces, those only count as silver pieces for the purposes of this auction.  Sadly, this is true even if the character is not from Wessex because the Froglings mistrust all such coins.

Nightwick Abbey ConstantCon (Session 7)

Session report provided by Zzarchov.  You can find Jason's here.
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Commander's Journal: Broken Table, Broken Dreams

Today I once more had to lead the weak and mewling masses to victory in that most vile Nightwick Abbey.

Assembling a crack team of unimportant nobodies I had to venture into that place, seeking to give final comfort to those bodies I was forced to leave behind due to the incompetence of cowardice of my previous subcontractors. This time I was able to bravely take decisive action and storm into the south tower. Alas some squatters had resealed the door since my last successful venture, damaging my shovel in my attempts to continue forth and provide last rights to those poor souls trapped in that horrid place.

Forcing my way back into the site of my previous victory over the mewling magma babies, and came to a sad and aggravating sight. Some morons had broken the table, and put it back in the position I last left it in (propping up the portcullis) and then lowered the portcullis through its wreckage to taunt me. Despite the fire burning in my heart, deep within my rippling barrel chest, I warned my employees to be wary of the safety hole (editors note: the oubliette) as I dutifully gathered the remaining bodies and returned them to our entryway for easier removal. I returned to the assurances that no more bodies had been found in any of the jail cells I did not have time to search myself. Heading towards adventure I discovered a statue to that St. Gax guy, you know, the saint of that thing. Something was off however, but I couldn't put my finger on it. The incessant wailing in pain as I touched the statue with my holy symbol was quite peculiar and I believe the statue may not be the bastion of holy energy it appears to be. Also discovered was an altar littered with leftover wax. Cost recuperation is extremely important in any modern venture of this nature (margins being what they are). After a few brief prayers and some unusually timed seismic activity we left the altar and continue into an office. 

Rather than properly dealing with the situation, some of the subcontractors rushed in blindly and were attacked by eye eating rat crows which I have named "Wingless Miniaturized Griffon Related Rodents" for easier reference. These vile vermin managed to kill one of the subcontractors through ocular ingestion and nearly killed a dwarf employee , Chuck was his name if I recall (editors note: just no). Thankfully I was able to save Chuck with some quick thinking, and slay Wingless Miniaturized Griffon Related Rodents by trapping them in a corner and pelting them with rocks. Thankfully I was there to properly motivate and manage the team or things would have been far worse. The office had a rather large bureau that was unfortunately damaged by these vermin. We were forced to accept some silver coins and a few gems to cover our losses, at least one of my employees was able to find a ring he had lost.

Our expedition in the black we returned to the surface, sans table, and buried the poor souls now given their last rights.


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If you're interested in playing in future sessions send me an email at evanDOTvanDOTelkinsATgmailDOTcom.  We play every Saturday from 2:00 - 4:00 PM EST.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Thoughts on Maps and the Dark Country

After doing some math,* I've come to the conclusion that the Welsh Piper Hex Templates are the best thing ever.  I was already fond of them, but I more or less used them while wishing I had a bad-ass Judges Guild map to use instead.  However, my sloppy number crunching revealed some things to me that might make me prefer Erin's.

First, the "continent" level is just big enough to hold the areas of France and Britain combined.  There is also some room left over for the channel, but you'd probably have to move parts of Scotland off of the map to really get the amount of water that surrounds Britain.  The point is that it easily fits two fairly large kingdoms who can slug at each other constantly, or perhaps even more smaller ones.  But it doesn't end there.  The "regional" level maps are only a tiny bit smaller than the estimated size of the Duchy of Normandy.  Each one of these represents either a powerful magnate's demesne or a smallish kingdom.

Whether or not this was intentional, it provides a great deal more structure than using Wilderlands maps.  I can guesstimate** their size now that I know how large Erin's templates are, but I don't really have as good of an idea of what a single map represents.  Also, the Welsh Piper templates happen to match up to the sizes of areas I'm familiar with historically, so it's a bit easier for me to figure out how many cities and castles they should contain.  I'll still have to rely at least somewhat on other methods, but that certainly helps.

If one thinks about the number of cultures that existed in both Britain and France in the Middle Ages, one can easily see that an "atlas" level map is probably large enough to last any DM the entirety of his or her career.  Admittedly, this does not incorporate flights of fancy that might make him or her want to run something set in a totally different kind of milieu, but as long as he or she is content with whatever kind of setting he or she set up in the first place it should provide a framework for innumerable campaigns.

With this new information under my belt, I'm going to try and remap the Dark Country.  Longtime readers will know that I am constantly tweaking every map I make -- which is part of the fun -- but this is going to be a major overhaul.  I want the "atlas" map to include large parts of the West, the entirety of the Dark Country, and small slivers of Zenopolis and Novgova.  Those are the four areas I'm most interested in running campaigns in, and it makes a kind of rough sense that they would be next to each other.

I'll be doing the mapping by hand because I've become enamored with colored pencil maps like these two.  Since I don't have a scanner, you're not likely to see these in the immediate future; however, I do hope to be able to present them at some point.

One last note unrelated to maps:  I've more or less decided the rough historical date for the Dark Country would be the first half of the 14th century.  This is a bit outside of my normal time frame, but the Sword Brothers represent the Teutonic Knights c. 1250, and I want them to be in the past.  I'm a bit more comfortable making a fantasy setting move at a glacial pace than I would be if this was a historical setting, but I do think that settings need to change over time.***

* I'm really really really bad at math, so if I'v made a mistake let me know.

**Chrome's spell check recognizes guesstimate as a word.

***Not necessarilly published settings.  I hate metaplot as much as the next guy, but if every campaign in the same setting resets to status quo ante bellum, then it starts to feel too artificial.  These changes are for the individual group to make, and it is best if they are created by player action.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Nightwick Abbey ConstantCon (Session 6)

Today's session report is provided by Lon, who played Erasmus the Magic-user.
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Five PCs set out for Nightwick Abbey: Father Jack, Egor, Erasmus, Morgan and Norrick along with men-at-arms Edward and Frankenstein, Egor's Doberman.  The six humans and dog entered the South Tower, after pondering the new arches that seem to have sprung up wince the last time Father Jack and Egor had come to the abbey.
                   
They found an empty room, with stairs leading up to nowhere and an open trap door leading down.  A faint blue light could be seen from below.  A well-placed iron spike was left from those who last forayed into the room below.  These PCs used the rope, except for Norrick who tried the rusted ladder and found it to be greased with lard.  At the bottom, the group found a glowing blue stone and a doorway.  Leaving the stone alone, they found themselves soon in a torture room, complete with corpses of men with enough flesh to keep their bones in place.  After a few false starts, the group was able to get through a portcullis and followed a short corridor to a large circular chamber lit by candlelight.

A chance encounter allowed the PCs to catch sight of a cultist in robes trying to flee the scene.  Father Jack threw his mace with force and struck down the cultist.  Which was a boon and bane.  For eleven more cultists charged into the room.  A quick fight, as well as a bit of bluffing scared the cultists away.  Frankenstein was able to hamstring one of the cultists, which the group tried to question through his cries and blood loss.

While the group was bust with the wounded cultist, Edward, the stalwart man-at-arms gave a cry of panic and was struck down as three ghouls attacked.  Norrick went on the attack and was paralyzed.  The rest of the group tried to defend themselves as best they could while Father Jack took his time to call for the power of his god to turn away these vile creatures.  The three ghouls ran and disappeared behind a set of self-opening and closing doors.

Choosing not to flow such folly, the group looted the altar of the cultists, coming away with 82 pieces of silver and a piece of obsidian worth about 50 silver pieces.  They set off to explore further down the dark corridors.  But, first they left the cultist in a pit near the altar, "for later."

After finding a ransacked room, the group followed a few archways, finding two niches with statues of emaciated bat-like men.  Turning to another room, the group found eight deer headed creatures that thirsted for blood.  The magic-user Morgan let loose with his spell color spray and struck six of them unconscious.  The remaining two were laid low by Norrick and Frankenstein.  There, the group gained another 100 silver and decided to leave.  They rounded up their scared cultist prisoner, named John and left.

On the way back to the village, the cultist was told if he wished to live, he would take the name Edward, shave his beard and head and continue on as the party's man-at-arms.
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If you're interested in playing in future sessions send me an email at evanDOTvanDOTelkinsATgmailDOTcom.  We play every Saturday from 2:00 - 4:00 PM EST.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Revisiting the Dark Country

Beginning in a week or two, I'll be revisiting the wilderness map of the Dark Country along with its encounter tables and settlements.  Ultimately my goal is to excise most of the standard D&D monsters* that populated my original encounter tables and replace them with monsters of my own design.

Most of these monsters will be specific to the region they're encountered in.  The drowned corpses of the Long Swamp aren't going to be found anywhere else.  I'll make some exceptions, normally with monsters that can be created regularly by magic users such as the standard sorts of undead.  There are also likely to be a few monsters that can be encountered throughout the dark country, somewhat like how I described mites living in dirty houses.

I'll also be fleshing out the Seven Cities a bit more, particularly Lichgate -- for which I also hope to figure out a canon spelling.  I may also take another look at Nightwick Village with an eye towards getting rid of NPCs with character levels.

While quite a bit of this is inspired by Raggi's advice in the Referee book for LotFP, I'm not doing this to evoke the "weird."  I consider the Dark Country to be Dark Fantasy instead of Weird Fantasy, and while that may be a fine distinction there are important differences.  If one is to go by Beedo's Taxonomy of Horror, the Dark Country is firmly in the Supernatural position.  I suppose it is a little different from typical Supernatural Horror in that while an all powerful and omniscient god exists it is horrible and inexplicable in its own right.  My goal from day one has been to make sure that the Church isn't the good guy and neither are the pagans and neither are the satanists.  Still, the Dark Country is heavily reliant on the Gothic** for its aesthetic and I want my vampires, werewolves, and ghosts.

What is more important to me than making the setting "weird" is making the setting mine.  I think Empire of the Petal Throne is possibly the greatest work of early D&D because it takes OD&D and bends it to the idiosyncrasies of MAR Barker's imagination.  While my vision isn't as outre as his, it is certainly idiosyncratic. I've said before that I am more of a horror fan than a fantasy one,*** and I'd like to bring that to the fore even more.

In the days before In Places Deep started, I ran a short lived proto-Dark Country campaign that used a monster list where most of the entries were either invented by me or taken from intentionally obscure sources.  You can see one of my old players' confusion about my decision to go back to standard monsters here, and while I was somewhat dismissive of him at the time I think he was right.****

What this means in the short term is that I hope to restart Monster Mondays sometime around the beginning of next year; however, rather than showing how standard D&D monsters fit the setting I want to introduce and explain the new monsters I'll be using.  I'll also be posting articles on other setting related matters such as settlements, magic items, and dungeons.  This will probably mean that the development of my Albigensian Crusade campaign will be put on indefinite hold.  I still like the idea but I consider the Dark Country to be my magnum opus -- such as it is.

* I'm still going to be using a few like goblins and ogres whose names are evocative enough that they can be used without reference to Tolkien.  Still, I'm going to try to make these conform to my vision of the monster rather than to the standard D&D vision.

** More accurately it's reliant on the version of the Gothic presented in Hammer Horror, Corman's Poe films, and Dark Shadows.

*** I'm even more of a fan of things that mix the two together, such as CAS's Averoigne Cycle or "The Black God's Kiss."

**** I'll still be keeping Dwarves and Elves because there are interesting things to do with them.  Especially Dwarves.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

What the Dark Country is Like

I know that I've spent a large amount of this blog trying to express the feeling of the Dark Country, but I was inspired by Tales of the Grotesque and Dungeonesque to put it into a more concise form.



The Dark Country
Precis: A wet and mountainous haunt of pagans, vampires, and satanists.  Hammer Horror meets The Baltic Crusades with a dash of Diablo I for taste.

Conspectus: undead Templars; The White Lady and her bestial servitors;  pagan rebel groups and secret societies; satanists masquerading as clerics;  horrible nature "deities" that demand sacrifice;  bickering city states and bishoprics;  wild eyed mercenaries who believe they kill for God; werewolf villages hidden the woods; fogbound forests; ruins tainted by foul sacrifices; haunted battlefields; Frogling caravans with perversely magical wares; secretive necromancers probing the nature of humanity;  human sacrifice; villages besieged by unseen forces; the Great Swamp; cyclopean ruins older than humankind; the Mountain King and the last kingdom of the dwarfs; Black masses; the Devil; mindless vampires; glowing horrors created by a magician's mad experiments; fearful peasants; lots of frogs; the haunted and endless ruins of Nightwick Abbey

Taste, Sound, Image: A mouthful of mud, Pagan Altar Volume 1, Roger Corman's Masque of the Red Death



Does that sound about right to everyone else?

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Nightwick Abbey ConstantCon Session... What is it, 5?

This post provided by Zzarchov, who played Samson (a 1st level Cleric)


Commander's Journal: The descent into the abbey


Today I had to test my vast leadership skills to their very core. I was forced to lead a band of rag tag "greens" into a dangerous ruin of a fallen church. Undaunted, I clenched my jaw and set to work, the cool morning breeze blowing my golden locks. Our team began by noticing several recently constructed arches amongst the ruins. They appeared to be coated in a thick slime that was both burned by holy water, and in my personal opinion, foul tasting. Making note of this (I assume someone did) we moved on and investigated the ruins of the south tower, or maybe it was the north tower. It was a tower, and that is what is important. Leadership requires confidence more than facts.


Dropping one of the many glowing stones I had acquired into the tower we saw it was a long way down. As superior leadership requires a clear mind, I decided to lower everyone else down first, allowing me a top down view of any potential problems should they arise. Forcing our way into the tower I lead the group down a stairway until we came to two doors. Using my raw muscle, I easily cracked the door leading to the interior of a tower, allowing one of my subordinates to easily finish opening it with a crowbar. The room appeared empty except for large amounts of rotted wood and slime. I attempted to throw a glowing rock to the ceiling, to see how high the room was, but a strong updraft prevented my rock from sailing more than five feet in an awkward motion, as if thrown by a small infirm child. Sensing nothing of value we moved the only other room available.


This room was surrounded by a large number of sealed iron doors and portucullii. An absolutely fabulous table of great workmanship dominated the room. It was a little rough, but with some proper care I am certain this table could be worth a fortune on the antique market. It is over 200 years old and still functional as a torture device, they just don’t build them to last like that anymore. Exploring around the area we uncovered an oubliette and several unfortunate skeletons trapped in cages. While others dallied about, I bravely cracked open each of their rotted wooden cages with loud snaps. I then assembled the bodies for removal from the dungeon for proper burial, before examining one of the portcullii.


Unfortunately I over-estimated the competence of one of my juniors, I think his name was Chuck (editors note: He was not named Chuck). Who upon opening one of the cells loudly called the attention of a large group of hideous monsters, squat little dwarves of stone and flame belching smoke and embers. Thinking quickly I threw my waterskin onto one of them, extinguishing much of its embers. Then I carefully dove into the partially flooded oubliette to lure them to their doom. Unfortunately it appears some of my subcontractors panicked or were injured by these creatures (including one of the poor dogs, also some temp whose name I didn’t care enough to learn). However the creatures were defeated, the final one extinguishing around me in the water amidst a cloud of sparks and smoke.


I was raised out of the oubliette, and looked over by my fellow clergyman Chuck (editors note: Still not named Chuck). Given a clean bill of health, I combed the water out of my golden locks and we left the dungeon victorious, burying the body of our recently felled comrade as well as the poor souls who’s bodies we liberated from that fell place.


Granting their spirits rest with a proper burial is the real treasure you see, and that is why this mission was a rousing success. A. Rousing. Success.


Yours Truly,
Samson Jones

Friday, December 2, 2011

Caves of Myrddin Session Report

I emailed this to Jeff, but he hasn't posted anything on it yet.  

The following letter was found discarded next to an inebriated messenger boy.

My dearest Susan,

My return from Ireland has thus far been inauspicious, and I regret that my failing health will prevent me from visiting you in your bedchamber.  Since I was unable to bring you an treasures from the Emerald Isle, I thought I might win some more prizes from the ruins of Castle Dundagel.  Oh, how wrong I was.

In the company of one of your husband’s boorish knights, whom I hired to serve as my body guard, as well as two stout fellows and another fighting-man I headed out to the ruins of the castle.  Since the Dragon had been seen entering the southern tower, we elected to check the northern one to avoid its ire.  If only we had known what perils awaited us.  We explored the tower itself, which seemed rather non-descript aside from the presence of a coffin which I now believe must be the resting place of a vampire. 
While investigating the roof I was once again mocked by those hideous crows.  I managed to kill one, and I intended to turn it into one of those taxidermic displays you so love.  Now I cannot look at the thing after the horrors I saw in those dungeons!

After leading into the dungeon proper one of the dwarves abandoned us to die leaving us only with a cryptic warning to “watch out for cage traps.”  Would that I knew what he meant because it could not have been as terrible as what we experienced.  Exploring the chambers more, I found an area that looked familiar to me.  Just as I did, we were assailed by misty figures who soon materialized into vampires. 

Luckily, I had brought a large number of flasks filled with holy water.  These were quite effective against the creatures, but not before the most terrible of their number – a crow faced monstrosity whose terrible visage will haunt my dreams forevermore – raked me with his awful talons.  The shock of this still haunts me, and I find it difficult to remember the incantations that were once so easy for me to rattle off.

On the positive side, the mysterious power I learned in Ireland was of used to me as I used it to slay one of the vampires, which once was a woman.  While I have this small victory I am still gripped by the horrors of the things I witnessed.  I saw the crow-headed master of vampires burst into flame, but I know he still lives.
Incidentally, your husband’s stooge whom I had temporarily borrowed met his end in those tunnels.  I have included the sum of 600 solidi to make up for his loss.
Hopefully I will recover soon and be able to see you once again, my love.

Your snuggle-bear

Philip of Luxembourg

EPT Session Report: The Tale of Dagazar

I, Dagazar, who came to the city of Jakalla seeking fame and fortune, had until just a few days ago only found poverty and despair.  The gates that lead from the Foreign Quarter to the areas of the city where real wealth can be obtained are locked tighter than the chastity belt of a virgin sacrifice to Sarku three days before her death.  With my last golden kaitar gone into the hand of some wine maker, I no longer could afford to live in the meager tenement that had served as my abode since I arrived in the City Half as Old as the World.

But, as I was out on the street with only my sword an armor to keep me company, I overheard two gentlemen discussing a plan to win gold for themselves.  They were from distant lands, just as I am, and they were planning to explore the manor house of Kotaru hiChakresa.  I offered them my services as a slayer of men and beasts, and they graciously accepted -- allowing me a share of whatever treasure we might find in that abandoned house.

After acquiring what little supplies we could attain in the Foreign Quarter, we paid a fisherman to take us in his small boat out to the island on which sits the manor.  Rather than landing on the beach, as we saw other ships had done, we decided to circle around the island to get a feel for the place.  While doing so, we spotted what we knew to be a sea cave and decided that this cave would be the place we began our adventure.

We waded in the chest deep water, with me being careful to carry my pack over my head so as not to wet my supply of torches.  Luckily we soon found a dry enough place to light a torch and continue on into the "caves."  My companions were Orin the Wise and Orin the Witless.  Orin the Wise was a priest of some god who is foreign to my people, and I would guess foreign to Jakalla as well.  Orin the Witless was a warrior much like myself, but he was given to a pride that may one day prove to be the death of him.

I went ahead with my torch, and we soon found both an idol wrought from a strange stone with gold decorations that made it appear most valuable and an obsidian dagger that was too large to comfortably fit a man's hand.  I shudder to think what dark creature could have carried such a thing.  Soon after this we found that the cave was only a small part of a larger complex, and after the cavernous antechamber we were greeted with the squared masonry of -- presumably -- human hands.

We did not get very far down these man made corridors before we heard the sound of voices gibbering in some tongue foreign both to my islands and the wretched city in which I find myself.  Orin the Wise seemed to understand their ramblings and warned us of their approach.  Orin the Witless and I set an ambush that would prevent their travelling further down the hall, and we waited for them to arrive.  They soon did so.  Both were soldiers in some foreign army my comrades inform me is an enemy to Jakalla.

Through bravery and force of arms we attacked and slew a host of the villains.  Wishing to be modest, I only took two of their heads as trophies so that the others of my tribe would not be jealous.  We then took what little valuables the heathens possessed and returned to Jakalla.  There, some acolytes of Sarku were willing to mummify my trophies so that everyone might know who brought those two to their end.  I have tied them to my belt, and there they will remain.  Hopefully soon I will be able to add others.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Thoughts on Harn and Medieval Campaigns


Harn is a setting I have wanted to like for a very long time.  Longtime readers of this blog should know that I love medieval history, indeed I study it for a living, and I in fact came to gaming through medieval history rather than the other way around.  My early high school campaigns were clumsy attempts to more or less recreate the fall of the Roman Empire and the establishment of the various Gothic kingdoms in Western Europe.

I'm far more interested in early and -- especially -- high medieval settings than I am the late aesthetic that seems to hang over AD&D and its settings.  Perhaps it's the fact that I first became acquainted with medieval history when I saw Simon Schama's the History of Britain when I was twelve, and the episode that fascinated me the most was "Conquest!" which, if the title isn't enough of a give away, was about the Norman invasion of England.*  Whatever the reason, I've always been more attracted to hauberks than Gothic plate, and the feuds of petty castellans strike me as better game fodder than the maneuverings of great Houses.

The Dark Country is more an exercise in medievalism than the properly medieval.  It is constructed from a great morass of popular perceptions of the Middle Ages, Gothic literature, as well as actual medieval history.  Still, sometimes I want something with more grounding.  I mentioned in my discussion of the Albigensian Crusade as a setting that merely the idea that the campaign takes place in a more historical milieu allows me to picture it better.  Jeff Rients' melting chairs, cowardly rust monsters, and talking dogs are placed on top of a setting which at its heart feels real to me.  If one was to stand in Nightwick Village and look towards the menacing abbey it would appear as a matte painting on a Corman set:  Moody, terrifying, and beautifully twisted but clearly artificial.

For the most part, this does not bother me.  However, from time to time I want to set something in a world more like the period I study, but perhaps with some embellishments.  Certainly one need not look far for action and adventure in twelfth-century Europe.   Violence and more importantly violent men are common enough that the players should have no trouble finding someone to cross blades with, and the scheming of seneschals provide ample amounts of intrigue for those less interested in combat.

So on the surface, Harn looks perfect for my desires.  The world has often be touted as being one of the most, if not the most, medieval of medieval fantasy settings.  It even takes as its model twelfth-century England which, though it my preferences have now shifted across the channel to France, still appeals to that twelve-year-old boy who heard for the first time how the crown of England was seized, defended, and lost all within one fateful year.  In Harn, Norman helmets and hauberks are the order of the day, and that's just the way I like it.

Harn even has things going for it the actual middle ages lacks, for gaming purposes anyway.  First, the vastness of Harn is mostly a sprawling wilderness.  The Kingdoms of Kaldor and its fellow states are merely islands in the sea of forests, mountains and heaths.  Second, the fact that it is a fantasy setting allows it to be a bit fuzzier with time.  While Kaldor might have Norman-style knights and subinfeudate like William the Conqueror's kingdom, Orbaal is more in the vain of the Danelaw of over a hundred years prior.  Still, it does this without breaking believe ability, which brings me to my third point.

While a historical setting can never truly be accurate due to the limited knowledge we possess, Harn can at least be accurate within its own milieu.  While I'm not one to agonize over crop rotation, I may be more comfortable presenting Harn's towns and cities than I would be those of the Languedoc.  Why?  Because Harn is more definite. I understand that one should place issues of accuracy aside when dealing with D&D, but my historian's brain finds that very difficult in a historical milieu.  Harn somewhat circumvents this problem.

However, I have some problems with Harn.  Bet you didn't see that coming.  First, a quibble: the fantasy naming conventions irritate me to no end.  It both distances the setting from the medieval Europe I so love and  makes comprehension of the setting more difficult as one must work through a series of foreign words -- even though in many cases these words have equivalents that would make their meaning more readily apparent to the reader.  Second, and much more damning, Harn lacks the Church.  A medieval setting with no bishops isn't medieval.  Harn may say it has bishops, which it calls by some bizarre term that I can't be bothered to look up, they are really just D&D pagans with miters on their heads.  Without an organization to give power to their actions, a unified Church, these religions are given far less power than their Earthly equivalents had.

To me the Church is one of the more interesting things about the Middle Ages, and there are ways to include it without including Christianity itself.  One way to do this is the way I took with the Dark Country.  The Church of Law is a kind of crypto-fascist Catholicism with a theology which is similar too Christianity but distinct enough from it that I have wiggle room to make them the bad guys.  Granted, one could also make the organization that started the Crusades and the Inquisition the bad guys, but they are not here to defend themselves.

The other way still allows for elements of paganism.  The fourth Elder Scrolls game, Oblivion, had a more or less medieval Church.*  It had monasteries, abbeys, and cathedrals.  Its monks were tonsured and were benedictine habits.  However, it was still pagan.  All of the good gods had been brought under one Church, and each cathedral was dedicated to one or another in the same way a real world cathedral might be dedicated to the veneration of a saint.

So I'm left with mixed feelings about Harn.  On the one hand it seems better suited for fantasy roleplaying than the Middle Ages.  On the other it lacks one of the core elements that make the Middle Ages interesting and the name recognition places like Northumbria or Gascony have.  I haven't abandoned my Occitania project, but it is already showing some holes that will need to be patched or that ship will have to be abandoned.  While a setting with a silver standard, petty barons, and robber knights might not be up everyone's alley, there are days when its exactly what I want.  Those days have been coming more frequently and consistently in the past few months.