Monday, December 24, 2012

The Forbidden Palace of the Golden Emperor

It is said that since the Dawn of Man, a Golden Emperor has dwelled in the Forbidden Palace.   While obviously an exaggeration, it is true that parts of the palace complex date back to the first emperor to unify Cathay - perhaps even earlier.  Even through countless rebellions and the creation of a myriad of dynasties, for if anything true of Cathay it is that it seeks to break apart when it is whole and seeks to be whole when it is apart, an emperor has always lived there.  Even when the capital was moved during the previous dynasty, they took apart the empire palace and moved it plank by plan, stone by stone, golden throne by golden throne, to its new home in Winding Three Rivers.  

It is also said that each emperor that has lived their has gone mad, though some have been more mad than others.  His Celestial Majesty, the Golden Emperor of the World, Ruler of the Moon and the Sky, is madder than most.  Originally a rebel and a general, he grew aloof from politics after making himself emperor in the Red Blade Rebellion.  It is said that he murmured to himself while walking through halls at strange ours of the morning and began wearing a mask and gloves in order to avoid contact with contagions that he was sure surrounded him.

About ten years ago, he banished his entire court, including his concubines, wives, and children - indeed, everyone but his little lap dogs - from the palace.  Since then he has lived his life in a single room of the tallest tower of the outer wall.  His courtiers gather around the palace's moat each day carrying scrolls relating the issues facing the Kingdom That is the World.  He gazes at these with the aid of a spy glass and lowers his instructions down in a small basket.

The reason for the emperor's madness is the subject of much debate in the teashops and brothels of the capital.  Tradition holds that the ghosts of each emperor stay within the palace in order to advise their successors, though being mad themselves this advice is always poisonous to the mind. Others say that the various secret societies which truly run the empire have corrupted the emperor either with strange alchemy or foul magic.

In the years that have past since he banished his courtiers, the majority of the palace complex has gone into ruin almost preternaturally fast.  Knowing that even the guards have been banished, many rogues, thugs, and lowlifes have stolen into the ruins to abscond with the goods the treasures said to lie within.  Few have returned, and those that have have spoken of horrible creatures, rooms and corridors with unnatural dimensions, and fiendish traps that no previous record concerning the palace mentions.  


The Forbidden Palace is meant to be the "campaign dungeon" of Cathay if I ever run it.  Quite a bit of the dungeon will be the upper works, but the complex stretches a good way below ground as well.  

Saturday, December 22, 2012

What Noppin is Like

Precis: Hammer Horror Japan. 

Conspectus: An imbecilic half-catfish demon emperor who spends his days being entertained by sycophantic courtiers; the Forest of Suicides; monks of the Law attempting to turn themselves into living mummies and crawl into little boxes; ruined castles haunted by cannibalistic ghost-women; spider witches; despotic warlords with no regard for human life; horrible mountain goblins with long noses; hunchbacked, mad swordsmiths; ancient tombs that seem to predate the empire; horrible tetsubo wielding ogres with misshapen, horned heads

Taste; Sound; Image: Barbecued Eel; the music of Throne of Blood; Mitsukuni Defying the Skeleton Spectre

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

What Cathay is Like

Precis: Grotty China.  "ChinaHammer" meets A Chinese Ghost Story

Conspectus: His Celestial Majesty, Lord of the Stars and Moon and Golden Emperor of the Land of 1,283 Idols; hungry ghosts; wandering, bloodthirsty outlaws with a misplaced sense of nobility; mogwai; haunted temples on misty, worn mountain tops; sinister cults masquerading as criminal gangs and vice versa; an impersonal, uncaring bureaucracy that would make even Zenopolis seem efficient;  the Great Dragon's Kingdom Under the Sea - the Home of the Drowned Dead; Sagacious tutors and mad hermits attempting to teach rulers the ways of law; yetis!; thick bamboo forests stalked by natural and supernatural predators; alchemists making pacts with demons to ensure eternal life; tribes of horrid monkey-people and pig-men; martial arts schools that actually train men to be thieves and brigands; "The Voyage of Parco Molo"; A lot of hells

Taste; Sound; Image:  Chinese takeout; Tan Dun's "Through the Bamboo Forest," Li Cheng's Buddhist Temple in Mountain

What the Desert Lands are Like

Precis: A desert realm of Sword & Sorcery with a satanic twist.  Doom metal Stygia.

Conspectus: Doomed Zenopolis with it's glittering domes and ruined temples; its sprawling catacombs and hidden undercity; leprous mutants on sky-boats dragged through the firmament by byakhee, war-shantaks, and other chained demons; the Black Ziggurat; ghost cities squatting in the dessicated remnants of riverbeds; the Temple-Tomb of Moloch of the Fuel-Less Fire; the undead army of the Black Pharoah crawling across the dunes; sand worms!; sand storms and accompanying sand demons; the Meeting Place of the Demons; Sinbad-style islands ruled by Zothique-style necromancers; desert shrines served only by masked ghoul-priests; hideous ghorii; the mummies of ancient kings who died before the Law came to the World; the Blood-Red Sea; ruined castles of the Sword Brothers

Taste, Sound, Image: Lamb kabob; Zoraster's the Old World, Diablo II Act II

Sunday, December 16, 2012

A Grand Tour of the First City of Men: Houses of Ill Repute

Many of the neighborhoods in the Lower City and the Docks contain small alehouses meant to service slaves and freemen in the employ of the various noble houses.  These are typically stocked by the house that has the most power in that respective neighborhood, and since this is the case they usually have only beer or mead and other cheap intoxicants that are easily made in the farmland around Uz.  They are typically open-air affairs that are adjacent to a small building which stores the beer.  Carousing rolls made at one of these establishments are made on a d4.

The Wine House of Barahm-Sin is a famous haunt of drunkards and adventurers.  It is where each session of the game is assumed to start unless I am told otherwise.  It is owned by a Getherite who believes himself to be a living god and is one of the only places where men can debauch that is not owned by one of the noble houses.  Barahm-Sin typically serves the strange turquoise wine of Ilion but can provide other, more exotic intoxicants should the need arise.  Carousing rolls made here are made on a d6.

The Temple of She of the Silken Thighs possesses perhaps the most infamous brothel in all of Uz.  It is a temple celebrating an obscure aspect of Li-Lit of the Night, though some argue that it might actually be a cohort of that goddess or possibly even a deified priestess of the goddess from a long forgotten age.  Like all brothels, the Temple of She of the Silken Thighs also trades in a number of intoxicants not available elsewhere - including, it is said - strange rays that provide the user with infinite pleasure.  Carousing rolls made here are on a d8.

Some of the newer noble houses that build their squat palaces on the Acropolis posses marble bathhouses and pleasure domes designed to display the wealth of the owners as well as provide them with a place to engage in their deranged fantasies. They can provide the carouser with all manner of foreign and otherworldly pleasures.  Access to these is restricted to the nobility, and thus any adventurers wishing to join in the debauchery must either be very close associates with one of the houses - preferably the one whose pleasure dome they wish to access - or become nobility themselves through deeds performed in the underworld or abroad.  Carousing rolls made at one of these establishments are made on a d10.

The Pleasure Palace of Mari-Adab outshines all others in opulence and the turpitudes available to its clients are utterly unmentionable.  Carousing rolls made here are made on a d12.

Right now, each of these use the standard mishaps chart, but once I've done more work on the adventure sites I hope to be able to give each one its own particular set of perils.

In the next part of the tour, I'll discuss notable homes whose owners the PCs might wish to befriend or rob, including the manses of some notable sorcerers.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Uz Session 3 Highlight Reel

Another Uz game happened...
  • No slaves were taken this time.
  • Much of the session included trying to trick Ubara the Man-god's new hirelings into doing things for the party.
  • The party spent most of the time exploring a set of doors that lead off a massive hallway leading to tomb of Uz of Uz. They eventually figured out that these were his concubines and wives.  The key difference seemed to be the garb and grave goods accompanying the different women, as well as the fate of their children - which was depicted on the walls of their tomb.  His "wives" seemed to produce strange beings resembling martians while the concubines' children were cast into the Fuel-Less Fire.
  • The party constructed "the Fire Lance of the Ancient Hyperzepherians," which was just two spears tied together with a torch at the end.  They used this to kill a number of corpse worms they had previously found in this part of the dungeon.
  • In the room beyond they found a necklace that depicted some "beetle-men" as one of the players called them, as well as a number of artifacts that seemed to be designed by someone who had seen technological items but didn't exactly know how they work.  All the sarcophagi they've found so far in this dungeon - with the notable exception of the one belonging to Uz of Uz - seem to be modeled on "Hypersleep Pods."
  • Messing around with one of the sarcophagi belonging to the concubines caused a strange beam to scan over the party - putting the priest Waw and one of the hirelings to sleep.  It then started an alarm which summoned a whole bunch of monsters - presumably dessicated corpses covered in strange, glowing runes the party had previously encountered.  Luckily, Waw had cast hold portal on the entrance to the hall before falling asleep, and they were able to break the alarm before the creatures were able to break in.
  • The tombs contained depictions of Uz involved in various sexual acts with his wives and concubines.  The party made rubbings of these in hopes of selling them later to some perverse collector.
  • No one in the party - including the hirelings - died.  Good for them.
Next week I'll be running A Very Nightwick Christmas instead of Uz, and I'm not sure if we'll pick back up with Uz after that or go back to Nightwick Abbey.  Only time will tell.

How Many Notes Do You Need?

The answer to the question posed in the title is, obviously, "however many works for you;" however, a recent post by Ian Burns on G+ has me wonder how many notes I need.  Ian posted a "confession" that he had spent three days making the entirety of his infamous Vats of Mazarin dungeon.  In total, he spent about 12 hours on the thing - which is more than I've spent on the first level of Nightwick Abbey at any one time, but the fact that he has multiple levels with roughly the same number of rooms has me wishing to improve my stocking efficiency.

When I first started running Nightwick Abbey  I used a hyper-minimalist map key.  I had even sparser notes than James used for his Dwimmermount game.  I typically only marked rooms that had monsters, traps or specials, and all the others didn't even have numbers placed on them.  I might write a sentence or two to explain a "special," but monsters and traps rarely got more than the number there were, the amount of HP they had, and how much damage they dealt.  I winged most of the other details on the fly, which usually worked out but eventually I would start to contradict myself.  In fact, part of the reason Nightwick Abbey might be sentient is that I wanted to explain why shit I had previously described was different.

I ended up changing my note-taking method when I started to run my version of Castle Greyhawk.  Since there were about 150 rooms on the first level, I needed to try harder to make them seem different from one another.  I also needed to be reminded more often of what those differences are, and so my keys started to get much longer and every room got its own entry.

When I started running Nightwick Abbey on G+, I adopted the same method I had used to note rooms in Castle Greyhawk.  I keep the key on a google doc and update the room descriptions every time the party changes something - assuming I remember to do so.  I also used this method when I stocked my Uz dungeons.  Here is an example of what it looks like:

A.2 Shrine of Manugal of the Setting Sun

1. Antechamber: This room is made of plain mud brick in the typical Uzite style and is not decorated in any way.  Along the north and south walls are several cages that once held human sacrifices.
Monster: None
Treasure: Nil

2. Outer Hall: The walls and columns of this chamber depict scenes of everyday life.  The city depicted, while Uzite, is actually Old Jerah.  The southernmost column depicts people being born while the northernmost depicts people being slaughtered.
Monster: None
Treasure: Nil

3. Inner Hall: Unlike the last chambers, this one is painted completely black, and it strangely appears to even dim light sources brought inside.  The columns and walls are completely smooth.  The only carved decoration is the massive statue of Manugal, made from a polished black stone of unknown origin.
Monster: None
Treasure: Nil

4. Sacrificial Chamber: Like area 3, this room is painted with a strange, black paint that seems to dim light.  Pillars are lined with strange, pale green stones.  If anyone is slain in this chamber the stones will light up.  Bones and dessicated corpses litter the floor.
Monster: 5 Vortlups (HP 7, 6, 8, 8, 10)
Treasure: 40gp, 4 pale-green gems (200gp each)

The problem with this method is that it takes me way too long to stock something. This is why I've become interested in Ian's Mazarin key. It seems to be a good middle ground between the two extremes that I've tried. It has just enough to allow me to remember what's supposed to be in there without having to design so much in advance that it takes me a month to work on a level.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Christmas in the Dark Country

Like this but with more snow

Every Duodecember - a month which only occurs on the Church's Lunar calender* - the people of the Dark Country place presents under trees and hang their stockings high.  However, unlike our world they do not do this in anticipation of a day of gift giving, but rather as a ward against a semiannual evil: the Pestilence Man.

Sometimes depicted as a horseman, sometimes as the driver of a sleigh, the Pestilence Man does precisely what his name implies.  He is attended by a host of strange, gnomish servants with patchy beards and bulbous noses.  They are said to distribute disease-bearing toys to children and hide filthy shoes around houses.  All footwear and playthings are placed high in the house so that when one is found on the floor it can be immediately identified for what it is and burned.

Father Winter observed by beings from the Future/Past

In the past, the people of the Dark Country avoided the potential for a grim, plague-filled year by treating with an Old God known to them as Father Winter.  They would leave presents and baked goods for him among the trees of the Fog-Bound Forest in hopes that he would descend from the Nameless Mountains to drive away the Pestilence Man and his terrible gnomes; however, Father Winter was capricious even by the standards of Old Gods.  It was a rare for the Old Man of the Snowy Peaks to banish the plague-bearers without freezing all of the crops and slaying those found outside after dark.  In this way they were able to choose the manner in which they died, but not the fact that they would.

Most peasants still leave presents for this wicked god, for they fear the plague more than they fear famine - which is common enough even without Father Winter's icy breath.  The Church frowns upon this practice.  They believe that the powers of the clerics of Law will be able to protect the villagers from creatures such as the Pestilence Man and his gnomes.  Those clerics living in the Dark Country even claim that the Pestilence Man was banished long ago by a figure they call Saint Santa Claus.  Neither the peasants of the Dark Country nor the clergy of the East nor even the clergy of the West believes this, and none but the Bishop of Lychgate and his stooges even believe in the existence of this man.

Despite its continued practice, the presents under the trees have not summoned Father Winter in almost a hundred years.  Some believe that the Sword Brothers somehow slew or imprisoned the Old God during their crusade.  Whether they did this out of Lawful piety or in diabolic reverence to the Pestilence Man's satanic masters is a mystery to all.

*The lunar calendar of the Church is extremely screwed up due to the fact that the World of Nightwick has a 1 in 6 chance of a full moon each night.  This is my stupid explanation for why the Christmas stuff is happening in the campaign world when it would technically be the middle of July.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

A Grand Tour of the First City of Men: Part One

Uz, the First City of Men, is roughly divided into four parts.  The first part is the Acropolis that looms high over the rest of the city.  It is here that one may find the large, marble temples to the deities of the Uzites with their golden domes and their squat columns.  While the inner workings of these temples are secret to all those except for Priests of the 7th Circle, they still provide quite a few services for lesser priests and laymen.  The service that is likely to be of most interest to adventurers are the libraries of cylindrical texts that each temple maintains.  These texts typically concern the nature and history of their deity and related entities, though it is assumed by most secular scholars and wizards that the most accurate texts are hidden away from the public and reserved only for priests of the highest circles.

The Acropolis is also home to many of the palaces of the cities noble houses.  Most of the population of Uz belongs to a noble house in one way or another - with foreigners and the small minority of freemen that make up the adventuring classes being the only exceptions.  It is only with the cooperation of these houses that King Dagazar is able to maintain any order in his realm, and it is they who are responsible for the complex system of conflict resolution that serves as the "law" in Uz.  Their palaces are typically multi-building compounds bustling with slaves and free craftsmen that serve as clients to the larger house.

While there are at least a few free neighborhoods on the Acropolis, most of the free people and even many of the slaves actually live in its shadow.  The Lower City is the second part of Uz and it is the largest part of the city-proper.  It contains most of the cities markets, wine houses, hostels, and houses.  Many of the neighborhoods within the Lower City are associated with the noble houses of the Acropolis; however, one neighborhood is under a completely separate jurisdiction.  The Street of Sins is actually divided up among a large number of Getherite Slave Lords that use its market to sell their goods.

The Docs lie outside the walls of the city and are poorer even than the worst sections of the Lower City.  There are few markets here, and most of the people who live here are slaves who unload cargo for their noble masters; however, this is also a common place for foreigners to remain when not attending to their business within the city.  In fact, until the capture of Uz by the Phutians - many kings ago - those not of Uzite lineage were confined to this quarter unless they were in the service of one of the great houses.

Finally there is the large suburban area that surrounds the First City of Men.  This is where the copious farms are located that provide the grain and meat animals eaten with in the city.  Most of these farms are worked by slaves in the service of one of the noble houses - which usually have an accompanying villa to manage the nearby farms.  These suburbs spread for a days ride along the arable land near the river, which is about 20 miles at its widest and about 10 miles at its most narrow.

In the next post, I will discuss places where the PCs can debauch as well as the homes of several notable "wizards" that live within the city.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Uz Acropolis Session 2 Highlight Real

Uz of Uz as Depicted in the Complex Most Recently Explored by the Party

So I ran Uz again on Friday...
  • Once again the party went on two expeditions, the first of which involved capturing slaves.  This time the slaves were three humans who apparently had fairly high HD (between 2 and 4) and were operating in the dungeon without torches.  They fetched a fair price.
  • During the next outing, the party encountered a fearsome nekelmu, though it seemed as scared of they party as they were of it so they both backed off.
  • They explored another structure made of that same strange, red rock.  It turned out this was a catacomb filled with strange skeletons.  Many belonged to children that had their skulls forcibly elongated, but there were also three tombs that contained crystaline-looking plastic skeletons of figures roughly 5'5" in height with completely smooth, elongated craniums.
  • One of the PCs was killed by "ghourii" - the mindless ghouls of the undercity - in one of the few deaths that I've felt bad about in a while.  She tried to take out this mechanism that was controlling it's mind that she thought would make it more friendly, but it actually just allowed the creature to leave the room.
  • After seeing several of the paintings that decorated the catacomb, the players are pretty sure that Uz of Uz was both John Carter of Mars and a space marine.
That's it for now.  I also just ran the face to face group through the dungeon, and they seemed to like it a lot. I'll likely be running both groups for it for the foreseeable future.

Thursday, December 6, 2012


I haven't made a monster in a while, so here's one:

No. Appearing: 1d6 (1d6x10)
Armor Class: 14
Hit Dice: 6
Movement: 120'
Attacks: 2 Gore (1d8)
Morale: 9
Alignment: Chaotic

Mooncows are mooncalfs that have been enlarged by necromantic or diabolic energies - either from a diabolist or from an evil place.  They appear as cow-sized creatures made of horribly pale, hairless flesh.  Their eyes are either white and rudimentary or completely undeveloped, and their hooves are fleshy and underformed.  Strangely, their teeth and horns are always full developed, if strangely colored.  Their low is a sickening, almost human sound that reminds the hearer of a dying babe.

Viewing a mooncow is hazardous for the mind.  When a human or demihuman character sees a mooncow, they must make a saving throw or roll on the following table.
  1. The character is gripped by a strange, religious mania and must bow down and worship the cow(s).
  2. The character is possessed by a strange, homicidal frenzy and must attack the nearest human/demihuman.
  3. The character enters a crying (1-3) or laughing (4-6) fit in which they can take no other action.
  4. The character collapses onto the ground with strange visions of the Demon Moon swirling in his/her head.
This saving throw is made each round, but once a successful save is made no further saves are required. 

It is said that on the Demon Moon that drifts through the spheres well above the World of Nightwick that Mooncows are hearded by strange, pallid men who do so in the service of beings best left unmentioned. Where they get the mooncalfs is a mystery even to the West's most learned alchemists and scholars.  Mooncows are usually created in the World because their milk is a fairly common ingredient in potions, poisons, and ritual magic.

It is said that the moon also has Moonbulls, which are as mooncows with maximum HP and incur a -2 penalty to the Save vs. Magic.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Uz Returns! Session Highlights

Map courtesy of Mike D

Friday I ran Uz again for the first time in several months.  I've decided to run a minicampaign in which the PCs explore the undercity beneath Uz's acropolis.  For this session, I had only one "point completed," and I let them know that upfront.  Luckily, they didn't find any of the level's exits so it was a non-issue.  Anyway, here are the good bits from the session:
  • There were two expeditions: one really short one and then one longer one.
  • The first expedition saw the party capture a large number of slaves - forcing me to reevaluate how I'll be giving xp for treasure in the future.  One of the characters that had participated in the previous Uz sessions managed to level up.
  • The short one ended when the PCs were trying to get their captives to the surface.  They were accosted by a small party of men and decided to just climb up the rope rather than deal with them.  One of the PCs threw a hireling down the shaft to buy them some time.  They then heard a his, a strangely electrical noise, and then the shriek of the hireling.
  • Nundar tried to silence the captives by breaking their jaw so that they couldn't defend themselves in court.  This resulted in several of the slaves' deaths.  These were thrown down the shaft.
  • Many of the PCs spent the lucre they gained from the sale of the captives on carousing.  Those that lost money did so due to gambling debts.  Must've been a wild night at the Wine House of Barahm-Sin.
  • The second expedition saw the party enter with quite a few more hirelings including Antiochus the peltast and "Dave" the slinger.
  • When they returned to the dungeon, they didn't find any of the captives' corpses, but they did find their old hireling - entirely skinned!
  • After exploring around what seemed to be a strangely well preserved city street, they bumped into a nest of Maggot Men!  This continues my habit of trying to kill people with monsters they told me about (or drew, in this case).
  • One of the PCs tried to light the maggot men on fire but only succeeded in lighting up his boots.  He was then killed when Nundar misaimed a rock and hit him in the back of the head.  Alas, poor Balzac, we hardly knew you.
  • The party then started exploring an area which Eshimur quickly realized was the Temple-Tomb of Uz of Uz himself!  The whole thing was made of a strange, red rock unfamiliar to all present.
  • They saw pictures of pickup trucks, martians, and glyphs telling them to CONSUME and OBEY.
  • The last encounter came when they were investigating a lesser tomb that branched off the inner hall of the Temple-Tomb.  This was filled with dead bodies, and the bodies they soon found were filled with corpse worms.  They ended up fleeing from these rather than fighting them.
Anyway, I had fun and I hope the players did too.  This session has made me rethink some (fairly minor) things about my presentation of Uz, and I think that's a good thing.  Hopefully I'll be running another session next Friday.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Cocanha: The Story So Far

A more accurate Cocanha map.

A few of the participants in my Feudal Anarchy (née Medieval Hack) playtest campaign have commented that it is a bit difficult to get one's legs because of the number of NPCs and factions running around, so I've decided to do a recap of events so far in the mini-campaign.  Between my home group and the G+ game I've run nine games set in my fictionalized version of the Languedoc, but this will only cover the exploits of the G+ group.

I'll start with the adventure of the Onachus since the first session was more or less a series of combats in order to test out our wound mechanics.  The Onachus was a terrible monster that laired in a swamp north of Narbona.  Many believed this immense, fire-breathing bull was none other than the creature that sired the infamous Tarrasque.  The party* took it upon themselves to slay this monster, but when they road off with a mere two men-at-arms following they found that they bit off more than they could chew.  The creature was almost 30 feet in length, and managed to slay both the men at arms and all of their horses.

Beaten and badly bloodied, they returned to Narbona and waited out the winter of 1192 healing, purchasing new horses, studying about various saints, and hiring men to operate a ballista.  In the early spring of 1193 they set off to fight the creature once again, this time with the blessing of Archishop Ramon Berengar and with men given to them by Ermengarde herself.  They decided to lure the monster to castle of Gruissan, where they quickly surrounded and defeated it.  For their valor, they were granted a keep on the island of Cocanha.

A map of their keep

There was just one problem - it was currently controlled by the bastard son of Ramon de Calanha.  If the party was going to claim its prize, it would first have to wrest it from this robber knight and his band of Yaon mercenaries.  The sailed for the island and arrived at the port city of Alcazar.  There they met the Bishop of Alcazar, and two of the party members swore a public oath to join his Brotherhood of God in order to fight heresy on the island.  Before proceeding on to their new keep, they decided to stay with a young knight who owned a market in town.

He, it turns out, was Folquet the Younger, son of the lord of the manor of Sangriu.  He was an aspiring troubadour whose clearly autobiographical songs left much to be desired.  Later they would come to believe that he once had an affair with the wife of Baron Bernatz, but I'm getting ahead of myself.  He gave them a good deal, but through their conversation they soon learned that he had some dealings with the Yaones.  After this he grew cold and retired to his chambers.

The next morning they made their way to the Castle d'Ezorre, home of Baron Bernatz the Wolf - their new liege lord. They were greeted by the baron's wormy chaplain and steward, Father Perrin.  This clearly paranoid clergyman led them to Baron Bernatz who fed them a good meal at the expense of one of his peasants, whom Bernatz asserted was the best cook out of all the ones that he owned.  The baron agreed to lend them a number of men to capture the keep and allowed them to stay at his castle and make ready.

That night, they were approached by the baron's wife who desired that they should kill the Bastard of Calanha because he had kidnapped her daughter.  She specifically desired for his head to be brought to her. The party reluctantly agreed and set out in the morning to take the keep.  They planned to have their archers and ballista fire on the keep while the cavalry would dismount and go with the infantry down a secret escape tunnel known to several of the men-at-arms. 

This plan seemed to be going well, with several of the Yaones manning the walls dying under a hail of arrows and ballista bolts; however, once the party arrived at the end of the secret passage they found only a pot of boiling oil waiting for them.  They fought their way into the court yard of the keep only to be hit by a stray ballista bolt, taking them out of the fight and killing one of them.  Luckily, the rest of their men were able to take the keep from the Yaones and to capture the Bastard of Calanha.  They found that all of the Yaones they had killed bore a strange, stylized tattoo of a snake on their left arm.

The siege of the Keep of Ervesa by Peter Robbins

Now the party had a problem before them: should the kill the bastard or ransom him back to his father?  Eventually it was decided that they would send him to Bernatz in hopes of gaining a reward.  Unfortunately, this turned out to be the worst course of action because it allowed Bernatz to gain all the money from the ransom and it served to make the Lady d'Ezorre furious with the party.

While several of the knights who captured the keep were nursing the wounds, a few of the healthier knights and a few mercenaries went to slay the legendary giant Boamundus.  This involved a lot of skulking around as they needed to enter Baron Ramon's land but were afraid at how he might react to the capture of his son. While passing through some of the hills on the southern part of the island they were ambushed by a party of Yaones that they quickly routed.  The few men they were able to kill bore the same snake tattoo as the men from the keep.

Boamundus (deceased) as rendered by Jeremy Duncan

Eventually they were able to find the hut in which the giant lived, but he was away from his home.  They left a number of javelins burried in his straw bedding and when he returned he impaled himself upon them.  Angered and bloody, he arose to try and find them only to be peppered with more javelins and arrows and stampeded by cows.  In this manor the party gained 25 head of cattle and a debate about the size of giants started on G+ that has lasted until the time of this writing.

The party sent the giant's head to Baron Ramon, and both of his hands to Bishop Uc and Baron Bernatz.  Shortly thereafter, they received an invitation from Baron Ramon to join him at a feast in Castel d'Ezorre.  The party was wary of a plot against them and declined, but offered to host the baron themselves in a fortnight.  They then decided it would be good if they "left town for a while" and went off in search of the infamous outlaw Xabier the snake.

This lead them to the land of Folquet the Elder, lord of Sangriu.  In the forest due south of his holdings they found a recently abandoned Yaon village.  They believed that the villagers had fled south into the mountains at the site of their party - which included the PCs and an additional 20 serjeants, footmen, and archers.   In the village they found a wicker hut containing a strange idol in the shape of a snake.  One of the party members who was a Hospitaller and a member of the Brotherhood of God destroyed this idol with a mallet normally reserved for driving tent pegs.  From the idol came a vaporous, curdled luminescence that flew up into the sky and eventually merged with the Sun.  After seeing this, the party burned down the village.

The idol

They turned back north to meet with Folquet the Elder, but were greeted by his steward, whom they quickly surmised was an asshole.  He informed them that the lord was ill and quarted them in one of the nicer peasant houses.  He also played music of his own composition for him, and they quickly learned that he was of the same abysmal school as Folquet the Younger.  Finally, the steward retired and the party went to sleep...

Only to be awoken a few hours later when by a commotion outside.  Several of their men-at-arms had discovered strange, albino vipers in their bedrolls.  These they hacked apart with various bladed instruments. The members of the party still within the peasants' hut soon found that a number of the serpents had burst up from the ashes of the cook fire in the center of the hut.  They immediately fled and burned the house down - much to the dismay of the peasants.

The party decided this must be the work of a warlock angry at them for the destruction of the village.  They immediately suspected Folquet's steward, but decided they should also check in with the parish priest in order to make sure he wasn't saying prayers to Simon Magus or anything weird like that.  He saw one of their badges marking them as members of the Brotherhood of God and asked that they come see him during the night.

He revealed to them that many of the peasants whisper dark things about Folquet the Younger and believe him to have dealings with both the Yaones and the Devil himself.  They asked him if he suspected the steward of anything, but he did not.  He did inform them that the steward was a former clerk - a group well known for producing necromancers - and that Folquet the Elder took ill around the same time the steward arrived.

They contrived to have the steward attend a mass given by the priest and hoped that he would be unable to eat the body of Christ, thus revealing himself to be a warlock.  In what must have been one of the tensest masses in history, the party appeared with five of their armed men and met the steward with five of his armed men in the church.  They all took communion, much to the shock of the local peasants who had assembled themselves in the church.  Unfortunately for the party, the steward seemed capable of eating the Eucharist and now it's back to the drawing board for them.

It is currently the middle of the summer of 1193.

*I should note that the party composition has varied over these sessions, but there are a few core members.  The occasional influx of new people is why I wrote this post.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Cocanha Playtest Campaign

I've obviously stolen the format from Chris Kutalik, but here are the notes for the setting I'll be using for my playtests of our medievalist game.

This map is a rough draft.

This campaign is centered around the Cocanha, a fictional island in the Mediterranean off the coast of France.  Much of the island is covered in a mix of farm and scrubland, though its southern portion is home to both a mountain range and a dense forest.  Cocanha is strongly tied to both Occitania and Catalonia, though it also possesses a Muslim past and a small tribe of Basque-like people known as the Yaones.  The people of Cocanha speak a dialect of Occitan known as Cocanhat.

PCs are likely to be members of the same knightly household.

Local Names
Medieval Nicknames

Bishop Uc has formed a militia known as the Brotherhood of God with the express purpose of enforcing the Peace of God and eliminating heresy.  He has asked both of the barons to join him, but neither seems interested in stopping their petty squabbles or rooting out Cathars.

Sangriu has been the site of a number of raids by Xabier the Snake in recent weeks.  Folquet is looking for mercenaries to help reinforce his own forces and for stout men willing to find Xabier’s camp.  The knight believes that the infamous bandit is testing the border for weaknesses.

A man claiming to be the bastard son of Baron Ramon has captured the village of Ervesa with the aid of a band of Yaon mercenaries.  It seems they have slaughtered the manor’s holder and captured the maiden Anor, daughter of Baron Bernatz.  The Wolf has offered a large purse and a small manor to anyone able to rescue his daughter.

Father Perrin, chaplin to Baron Bernatz, seeks pious men to investigate the death of his brother.  Many claim that the man was slain by God on High - or one of His saints - but the priest is convinced that his death is the work of the Devil.

Boamundus, a legendary giant said to live in the mountains on the southern side of the island, has been sighted again for the first time in one hundred years.  He has reportedly been stealing cattle from the villages closest to Castel de Calanha.  Several of the manor lords seek champions to win the cattle back.

Baron Bernatz The Wolf is the lord of Ezorre.  It is well known that he has ambitions on the continent, and he has left the island at several points to fight on behalf of his liege lord, the count of Toulouse.  

Baron Ramon is the lord of Calanha.  He is the scion of a cadet branch of the Trencavel family, and like the Trencavels of the continent he is an ally of the King of Aragon.  Ramon fancies himself a troubadour of some skill.

Bishop Uc d’Alcazar is the head of the diocese of Cochana.  He is officious, petty, and fiercely anti-Cathar.

Xabier the Snake is the leader of a small group of Yaones that act as bandits operating out of the forests and mountains in the southern part of the island.

Sir Folquet of Sangriu is a banneret to Baron Bernatz and the man usually tasked with leading any of the baron’s forces left on the island while the Wolf is fighting his wars on the continent.

Father Perrin is Baron Bernatz’s chaplin and also serves as secular ruler of the barony while his lord is away.  

Saints of Cocanha
St. Cecilia
St. Foy
St. Martha
St. Sergius Paulus
St. Sebastian


The Barony of Ezorre
Castel d’Ezorre
The seat of Baron Bernatz and the center of government for the entire barony, Castel d’Ezorre is a stone castle of modest sized on the northernmost tip of the island.  Ezorre was originally a timber castle built in the ruins of an old Roman fort, Bernatz’s father had it rebuilt and incorporate much of the Roman architecture into the new structure.

Banneret Manors

The Barony of Calanha

Castel de Calanha
This keep acts as the center of the Barony of Calanha.  It is of fairly recent construction, having been built to protect against raids by Mediterranean pirates.

Banneret Manors


The Bishopric of Cocanha
Alcazar was the center of government on the island during its occupation by the Moors.  It still acts as both the commercial and religious center, and is the easiest place to find passage to the continent or to the island monastery of Lampisors.


Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Sgt. Udo's Howling Kommandos

Recently the party in my weekly Nightwick game has become the head of a small mercenary company.  They've named it after their official leader, played by Jeremy Duncan.  The first group of six bandits was encountered in a refugee camp outside of Lychgate.*  They were originally in the employ of a strong boss known as Big Jean, which the party slew.

Toothless Tom Smiler (deceased) was a younger man with a tangled black hair.  He had all of his teeth and often smiles big, broad smiles.  When asked why he was called "toothless," he produced a small pouch filled with teeth and gets another big grin on his face.  He met is end during an attempted mutiny.

Fingers is a medium built man with a large mole, a scraggly beard, and a scar over his left eye.  He is missing the index and middle fingers on his right hand, and you notice that he often attempts to favor it until he remembers that he's missing his fingers.  He personally strangled Tom Smiler to death during the mutiny.

Dunderheaded Mutch is an enormous man with a greasy mop of curly, red hair.  His face is blunt and imbecilic.  He often moans to himself, and though he seems capable of conversation, Tom Smiler noted 
that Big Jean always kept him under supervision.

Dwardie the Fool is a short man with a pot belly whose nose has clearly been broken several times.  He occasionally sings strange, nonsensical songs and dances around like an idiot; however, during times when silence is of the essence you note that he grows quiet and still as a mouse.

Brother Odo claims to have at one time been a priest, but he is also the bandit who believed that the Sun is the God of Law and that demons come from the moon.  He is a rough-looking man with salt and pepper hair and pug nose.

Wamba Big-Member is a boastful Karslishman that makes his fellow bandits uncomfortable.

From left to right: Fingers, Wamba Big-member, Nalla the Lad

It turns out these men were members of a group of bandits living in a ruined manor house south of Hommlet. While passing through the ruins of Hommlet** - and desperately trying to avoid pig-men - they found a number of other bandits in the company of a devil-man.  After slaying their diabolic leader, they added the following miscreants to their band:

Mumbling Marion is unintelligible to everyone in the party except for the other Kommandos.  He is a dirty man with a square head and few teeth.  He enjoys hitting things, which he does with a noiseless intensity.

Nalla the Lad lacks a tongue, so it is difficult to know much about his life story.  He is a thin man who carries a banjo, but you have not seen him play it.

Little Jean looks very similar to Big Jean, but is much smaller.  The other bandits assert they were both from some overly inbred village in Averoigne.  He did not seem saddened by the news of Big Jean's death.

Red Bill is a portly man with a mean snarl.  He can be a bit hot headed, but Fingers assures you he has no love for his former masters and will likely be a loyal - if ornery - companion.

Handsome Jack is missing his noise, and has a prominent brand on his face marking him as a heretic.  When asked about his heresy, he says only that he "stood up to a noble."  It is unlikely that he was handsome before his punishment.

Darbus and Dunbar are twins, and they would be identical if their faces were not both hideously scarred in completely different ways.  Darbus has a scar running across his left eye and his chin has a cleft from an old sword wound.  Dunbar's nose seems to have been broken several times, and his ears are both swollen and cauliflowered.  Or perhaps it is the other way around...

*The Dark Country has seen some really rough times lately, with the White Lady's awful pig-men destroying most of the farmland around Lychgate, a peasant revolt in the south, and a looming invasion by Arnawald, the Black Eagle of Waldheim.

**Hommlet, which lay near Lychgate, was destroyed a few weeks ago by pig-men.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

In Fair Narbona Where We Lay Our Scene

As Chris mentioned over at the Hill Cantons, he, Mike D., and I have started working on a medieval RPG - with quite a bit of help from the nice folks over on G+.  As he mentions in that post, I'm going to be running a playtest game set in the Languedoc.  Below is the map I made for the region between Toulouse and Montpelier.

Click to Embiggen

I'm currently working on a map that will blow up the 24 mile hex containing Narbonne to serve as the main focus of the playtest mini-campaign.  PCs will be starting in the city of Narbonne (Narbona in Occitan) in the year in 1191.  I plan on doing a full write up like Chris did for his Ulfland game, but for right now here are the hooks I'll be using for my first playtest session:

The Archbishop of Narbonne, Ramon Berengar, is upset by the news that his cousin, who held a manor between Narbonne and Perpignan, has died.  Word on the street is that his cousin was struck down by the Almighty Himself - or at least one of His saints - but Raimon is convinced that he was murdered by heretics.  He seeks honest men to investigate the matter.

A man claiming to be the bastard son of Raimond I Trencavel has seized east of Carcassonne and has begun raiding merchants traveling between that city and the coast.  He has captured the daughter of Roger Trencavel, the current ruler of Carcassonne, and holding her ransome for what he believes to be his inheritance.  Ermengarde, the ruler of Narbonne and faithful friend to Roger, has offered a manor and a large purse for any who can return the maiden.

Baldwin, the lord of Ferrals, has sent an emissary to recruit armed men in Narbonne.  Apparently there has been some trouble with the serfs at his manor.

So far, the players seem to be leaning towards rescuing the princess - an old cliche that I've never actually used before now.


Now for a general update - I recently moved back to Hattiesburg, and I've started running the Dark Country again on G+.  I'm using WFRP 1e, so my sidebar is still correct.  I'm really liking the way WFRP makes me think about certain aspects of the setting, such as careers, and I may do some posts about that in the future.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Two New Uz Monsters

I've missed Monster Monday for two weeks in a row, so to make up for that, here are two monsters that make Uz a horrible place to live:

Corpse Worms
No. Appearing: 1d6
Armor Class: 14
Hit Dice: 1
Movement: 90’
Attacks: 1 (proboscis)
Morale: 8
Alignment: Neutral

Corpse worms are awful scavengers found in the various caves, ruins, and undercities of the Future-Past.  They appear as worms roughly six feet in length and three inches in width.  The face of a corpse worm is a hard, blunted point ringed with fleshy holes.  Their skin is slimy and incredibly tough, and it is possible that they are a synthetic creation of the Reptoids.

Corpse worms attack by thrusting their face into their opponent’s belly, eyes, or other soft regions like a sickening harpoon.  After a successful hit, a corpse worm deals automatic damage every round thereafter until the worm has slain its victim.  Thereafter, it will stay in the victim’s body digesting its internal organs.  They will only leave the body when finished - which takes several days - or if disturbed in some way.

Grabbing a corpse worm with one’s hands is ill advised.  They secrete a strong acid from their skin that will do one die of damage to anyone with bare hands.  If some sort of gauntlet or armor is worn, it will dissolve in 1d6 rounds, dealing 1 point of damage to the wearer once the process is completed.

Glassy Things
No. Appearing: 1d4
Armor Class: 16
Hit Dice: 4
Movement: 90’
Attacks: 1 (claw, bite or mucous)
Morale: 9
Alignment: Neutral
Glassy things haunt the upper levels of the Uz undercity.  It is believed to be a martian predator, and it is possible that these creatures swarm the martian tunnels deep below the city of Uz.  They are large, six-legged creatures whose body is made of a warbly, transparent substance.  The glassy thing’s body is almost in the shape of an onion, while its legs are long and tapered.  Its head is little more than a blunt snout ending in a open maw ringed with glistening, transparent teeth.  Its eyes, while small, are adept at seeing in the dark and pick up a spectrum utterly alien to man.

On either side of the glassy thing’s body are sacks filled with a horrible mucous.  It can propel jets of this mucous up to 120’.  This mucous contains a toxin that forces those hit by it to make a saving throw or be paralyzed for 2d6 turns.  This is the way by which glassy things hunt their prey.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Making Europe into Europa

I've been trying to write this post ever since I first came up with a Fistful of Denars.  You see, I have a problem.  I often desire to run a historical campaign, but I worry over issues of accuracy so much that I never get one off the ground.  This is partially a function of the very thing that makes me want to run the setting in the first place: history is what I have my degree in and, God willing, what I will soon have an advanced degree in.  This gives me a crippling desire to get things right, because I'm "supposed to know that stuff."

So I need something to make me think of the setting in a different way - something like Jeff's Wessex.  He distanced his setting from real world England by using a fictitious map with the names changed.  I kept trying to figure out how to do the same, but the only headway I ever made was by changing the Auvergne to Averoigne, but that comes with certain tonal implications and also the added baggage of trying to represent one of CAS's settings faithfully.

I hit a brick wall, but last night I remembered this:

click to embiggen

That is a map of what would have been the Known World to the Greeks and Romans. Note that Asia is at the top and Jerusalem is roughly in the center as in a Mappa Mundi.  This map contains the parts of the world I'm likely to run a campaign in (Western Europe and the Mediterranean) but is still fantastic enough that I can distance myself from worries about accuracy.

Here is a list of historical games I could see myself running at some point:

Rome c. 150 - 100 BCE
PCs are ex-soldiers or otherwise homeless people who seek to make their fortune in the Eternal City.

Rome c. 400 CE
PCs are a comitatus of Germanic raiders, Roman mercenaries, or whatever else they want to be trampling the Roman Empire under their sandaled feet.

Britain c. 450
PCs are the leaders in a Briton community facing an invasion by some slightly inhuman Anglo-Saxons, weird forest gods, and other British groups.

Ireland c. 850
PCs as Viking settlers in Ireland.  I actually ran this one session or two in college, but the group ended up not being able to meet due to schedule stuff.

Southern France c. 1050
This is a Cthulhu Dark Ages idea I've been kicking around.  PCs work for the bishop of a cathedral town investigating reports of miracles, monsters, and banditry.

Byzantium c. 1050
PCs as mercenaries - Latin, Viking, or otherwise - in Constantinople or a fictitious Byzantine city.  Become emperor or get blinded trying!

Southern France c. 1221
See the above link to the Fistful of Denars Post.

England c. 1215
Can you say "Robin Hood?"  This one is a bit more half-formed than some of the others, but it'd be pretty awesome to run a game about medieval outlaws.

The Holy Roman Empire c. 1390
Robbers, cut-throats, and adventurers in post-plague Germany.  Think Darklands but with maybe a tinsy-winsy bit more fantasy elements.

Looking at that list, I see that I'll need to clean up Northern Europe a bit to make room for Scandinavia so that those vikings can come from somewhere.  The general rule will be that if you're in Western or Northern Europe or the Mediterranean it'd look more or less the same but with monsters and magicians.  The further afield you go, the more it gets like something John Mandeville would write about.

I'd set up each of these campaigns in the following way:

1) History before the start date of the campaign went more or less as it did in the real world - excluding those areas that are cut off on the map.

2) The PCs' actions will constitute the basis of a new, alternate history.

3) Later campaigns set after the events of one that's already been played will make references to events in that campaign.  So if you make your guy Roman Emperor, he'll show up on a list of emperors you find in the HRE game and you'll probably find coins with his face on him.

4) All of them will have way more monsters and dungeons on them than historical Europe did (i.e. they will have some).  This one probably goes without saying, but my wife was quite worried there would be no dungeons when I pitched this to her.  She loves dungeons.

One final note: I'm not getting rid of the Dark Country or anything.  This was more of mental exercise to see how I would run a setting where Romans were Romans and Vikings were Vikings without being filled with crippling doubt.