Monday, July 30, 2012

Monster Monday: Beast-men

No. Appearing: 2d6 (1d6x10) [30-300]
Alignment: Neutral or Chaotic
Movement: 12
Armor Class: 6 [14] <16>
Hit Dice: 1
Attacks: Weapon
Save: 17
Morale: 9
Hoard Class: XIX
HDE/XP: 1/15

Beast-men are horrid combinations of man and animal originally created by the demon prince known as the Horned One; however, the secret of their creation has spread throughout the World and thus they are found in the service of cultists, wizards, and Old Gods.

They appear as wiry humanoids with the heads of animals.  They often roam the wild places of the world stark naked.  They seem to either have sickeningly withered genitals or no genitals at all, and it would appear that there are only beast-men.  Some scholars theorize that the process by which they are created masculinizes any women unfortunate enough to be put through it.  If beast-men do wear clothing, it is typically bloodstained and scavenged or made from tanned human skin.  They’re weapons and armor are also either taken from human victims or made from sharpened bones.

The most common varieties in the Dark Country are deer-men, goat-men, and pig-men.  It is rumored that horse-men exist, but reports of this type are relatively scarce.  Beast-men divide themselves into tribes based on the type of head they have, and thus deer-men will not consort with pig-men and vice versa.  Each tribe is either headed by either some sort of conjurer - perhaps an Old God, diabolic cultist, or magic user - or a Beast-man with 4 HD.  For every 10 beast-men in a tribe, there is a 30% chance that one of them will be an anti-cleric or druid, depending on the alignment of the tribe.  These have 1d4 HD and can cast spells as an anti-cleric or druid of a level equal to its number of HD.

There are two possible ways to create beast-men.  The first is the spell Create Beast-men. The second are strange, ink-black pools scattered throughout the Dark Country.  Anyone submerged in these pools must make a saving throw each round or become a 1 HD beast-man with no memory of their former life.  Beast-men not in the service of a sorcerer or cult tend to make their lairs near these pools.  The pool always turns the victim into a beast-man of the same type as the tribe that lives nearby.  The origin of these pools remains a mystery, but most scholars agree that it must be one of the horrid bodily fluids of the Horned one.

Create Beast-men
Spell Level: C6 M6
Range: 240 ft.
Duration: Permanent

The caster may either select either a single target of any level/HD or a group of targets of a level/HD of 4 or lower.  If a group is selected use the chart below to determine how many are affected.

Victim’s HDNumber Affected
>1 to 12d6+3
1+ to 32d6
3+ to 4+11d6

Targets affected must make a saving throw or undergo a sickening transformation that will turn them into 1 HD beast-men in 1d6 rounds.  If a Remove Curse spell is cast on them before this process is completed, they can be saved.  Otherwise, the effect is permanent.

Newly created beast-men have no memory of their former lives and are filled with the desire to fulfill their master’s sickening will.  Whether their master is the caster or the power which he or she serves is left to the referee.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Heroes of the Dark Country: The Ranger

Running Uz before my hiatus reminded me just how much I like the Swords & Wizardry White Box.  It is far and away my favorite iteration of D&D.  As such, I've been thinking about switching Nightwick Abbey to that system.  This was actually what I was originally going to use, but the group in Knoxville was more familiar with Labyrinth Lord so I've been using that and the AEC ever since.

As a result, the Dark Country has a few AD&Disms that I would want to retain even if I switched over.  These are mostly restricted to classes and monsters, both of which are fairly easy to convert over.  Today I wanted to show my attempt to make a Ranger class for S&W.  It's sort of a combination of the LotFP specialist and a Fighter.

Alignment: All Rangers must be of the Lawful alignment.

Prime Attributes: Strength 13+ (+5% XP bonus), Dexterity 13+ (+5% XP Bonus)

Weapon/Armor Restrictions: Rangers can use all weapons and armor but cannot use their stealth abilities if wearing mail or plate armor.

Rangers are Westerners that have learned the arts of surviving in the wilderness.  In the Dark Country - and elsewhere - they use these arts to protect humankind from the horrors that lurk beyond the ken of the Law.

Ranger Level Progression


Ranger Abilities: Rangers possess a number of abilities that enable them to survive in the wilderness.  Their chance of success is determined by the roll of a d6 and consulting the chart below.  If the ability has a 6 in 6 chance of success, roll 2d6; the ability fails only if both dice show 6s.

Ranger Ability Progression
LevelBushcraftClimbOutdoor Stealth Sneak Attack
12 in 62 in 61 in 6X1
22 in 62 in 61 in 6X1
32 in 62 in 62 in 6X1
43 in 63 in 62 in 6X2
53 in 63 in 62 in 6X2
63 in 63 in 63 in 6X2
74 in 64 in 63 in 6X3
84 in 64 in 63 in 6X3
94 in 65 in 64 in 6X3
105 in 66 in 64 in 6X4

Bushcraft represents the Ranger’s ability to forage for food, build shelters, or find their way in the wilderness.  If the Ranger is using this ability to hunt, a successful roll means they have found enough food to feed 1d6 individuals.

Climb represents the Ranger’s ability to climb sheer surfaces.

Outdoor Stealth represents the Ranger’s ability to conceal themselves in the wilderness.  This does not apply to urban or dungeon environments.

Sneak Attack is not based on a d6 chance.  Instead, it is a multiplier applied to damage when the Ranger attacks an enemy that is not aware of him or her.  Rangers only get this bonus against Neutral and Chaotic opponents that live in the wilds, such as beast-men, groans, and werewolves.

Saving Throw: Rangers gain a +2 bonus to saving throws made against poison or death effects.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Making a Dark Country Wilderness Map Take 2

As some of you may already know, the G+ D&D games I run are currently on hiatus.  I got a bit burned out, but not so much that I want to hang my hat up altogether.  Instead, I've been tinkering around with my settings trying to make a milieu that I would use every single time I want to run D&D.  

I wanted it to be something like Dave Arneson's Blackmoor: fairly geographically limited but conceptually large enough to house the bizarre mixture of Hammer Horror, 50s sci fi, Clark Ashton Smith, Tolkien, and Vance I enjoy.  At this point, I've more or less decided that the Dark Country is my setting. So it's the one I'm most focused on tweaking at the moment.

One thing that attracted me to my Cuccagna idea was the presence of water.  I remember really liking how much water was on the old Wilderlands maps because it gave them a very Sinbad the Sailor sort of vibe.  The PCs might come ashore on a small island that has a bit Harryhausen-style golem on it or something else cool.  However, my two big settings - the Dark Country and Uz - both lack a large amount of water.  So I decided to add some.

Dave Arneson based his original map of Blackmoor on a map of the Netherlands.  I thought I'd do the same thing, but with a different region.  The Proto-Dark Country game originally took place in an analog for the Baltic, but I didn't like how flat the region was so I later changed to Romania.  Well I decided yesterday to look up some maps of the Baltic - since it's a sea and obviously would have water - and I found this:

click to embiggen

Almost immediately I noticed that the forest in the southeastern corner of the map had a fairly similar shape to the Carpathian Mountains.  At that point I decided to combine the two.  This is the result:

click to embiggen

The astute observer will note that the southeastern quarter of my map is more or less the same as the one I worked up in April.  This is intentional as it represents the parts of the setting that have actually seen any amount of play.  The other quarters are still subject to change, especially the southwestern one, but this gets across the general idea I think.

Note that the newly added sea already existed, I just shifted it a bit from its original position.  It's called the Starry Sea, and here are some notes I worked up for it several months ago:

The Starry Sea is actually a large, deep lake that formed when a glacier melted several millennia ago.  Strange lights occasionally stir in the deeper waters, and few sailors will willingly cross it from end to end.

Not sure if I'll be sticking with that, but there you go.

I'm still working on the theoretical structure that ties all of my influences together, but I'm definitely happier with the map.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Cuccagna Map, the Lapis Vaults, and Outdoor Regions

I'm still enjoying working on Cuccagna, despite my best efforts to turn my attention elsewhere.  Anyway, here is the current version of the map with the Great Wen, the castles of the various Prosperoes, and the "I don't know what to do today so let's go to the dungeon" dungeon noted on it.

click to embiggen

The aforementioned dungeon is probably going to be called the Lapis Vaults, and it is the former manse of the now AWOL Prospero the Blue.  The Vaults are rumored to be filled with various treasures and hideous monsters created by the missing wizard.  I've been trying to sketch some dungeon maps for it, but it's been slow going because I'm an insecure perfectionist.  

Once they're finished I can start slimming down the monster list by seeing what I put in the dungeon.  Outside of dungeons, I've decided to definitely go for individual monsters.  The Dragon of Cuccagna is the Dragon of Cuccagna, as is the Cyclops and the Unicorn.  There will be some monstrous races, but they'll be largely defined by certain geographic regions.

Speaking of regions, here are some proposed names for the various regions on the above map:
The Forest of Delights
The Swamp of Cudgels
The Riddle Wood
The Forest of Coincidences
The Field of Fortune
The Plain of Plans
The Tired Towers

That's not every feature, and I might get rid of one of the forests to make room for the Saturnine Swamp, but I think it's a good place to get started.

The Great Wen

2104 | The Great Wen | 10,000 | 6 | N | Prospero the Green 11 N MU | Market

The Great Wen sits on a small spit of land jutting out from the northeastern end of the Isle of Cuccagna.  Most visitors find it a surprisingly beautiful sight, especially given its reputation.  Its streets are narrow but clean and they are filled with travelers from the whole of the Mediterranean as well as native Cocknies with in their antiquated and elaborate dress.   The houses and other buildings are commonly stuccoed and painted lurid colors. All manner of goods can be bought in its great market, even - nay, especially - those that the rest of the world find unsavory.

The Great Wen has a reputation for exceptional depravity.  Its citizens are the type that prefers the worldly to the spiritual, and many while away their coins in brothels, gambling houses, and establishments catering to even more outre tastes.  Characters carousing in the Great Wen my spend 1d12 x 250 gp instead of the usual amount.  

Christian and Muslim visitors often find the other temples present in the city a bit disconcerting.  In addition to a Cathedral and Mosque, the Wen also houses temples dedicated to Bacchus, Simon Magus, Pluto, and a host of other gods whose worship was long thought extinguished.  Cocknies are pagan syncretists of the sort that clergy find most vile.

The Ruler of the Great Wen is Prospero the Green, a wizard of considerable power.  He spends most of his time poking his noise into the business of others and fancies himself a schemer without peer.  When not attempting to play the various guilds, cults, and cabals of the Wen against one another, Prospero the Green amuses himself with a range of bizarre turpitudes.  He is particularly fond of games of chance, especially ones of his own design.  The Wizard of the Wen is famed for his ability to brew potions, and he is especially fond of the sort that loosens the will of men and - more importantly - women.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Cockaigne Running Around My Brain

The positive response Cuccagna has received both on this blog and on G+ has kept it in my mind at least a day longer than I expected it to be there.  While I'm still trying to resist the urge to run it, I did give some thought to how I would do so.

For the rules I'd use the Swords & Wizardry White Box as it is my favorite iteration of D&D, OS or otherwise.  Running Uz has reminded me just how much I like it.  I'd probably limit characters to only the three human classes.  While it's possible dwarves and elves and wee people live on the island, most have been driven out of the Europe that is the assumed origin of the characters.  I might add in a Mountebank class similar to Chris Kutalik's, but I think it would need significant overhauling to bring it in line with the simplicity of S&W.

I took a look at the list of monsters in the White Box and selected the ones that I thought would be the most broadly appropriate.  I stole the below format from Huge Ruined Scott, so an * means that the monster has a significant difference from its traditional D&D interpretation.

Demons [Each Unique]
Gnoll (Gnole)*
Hell Hound
Liche* [Each Unique]
Sea Serpent
Vampire* [Each Unique]

I want to shove in Cynocephali, Blemmyes, Perytons, Satyrs and a bunch of weird freaks made in vats.   The last of these will be wholly individual.  Possibly also Calibans, a race of horrid humanoids and anthropophagi bred by wizards to do stupid shit.

The Island of Cuccagna is likely to be too small to contain all of these, and I might end up going the route Scott did by having most of the monsters actually be unique individuals, though unlike the LotFP model many will still be clearly based on folkloric monsters.  Many will also just be freaks.

Ok, now here is a longer list of source material than the one I initially provided:

Jack Vance The Dying Earth*
William Shakespeare The Tempest and A Midsummer Night's Dream*
Lord Dunsany The Gods of Pagana, "How Nuth Would Have Practised His Art Upon the Gnoles," and "The Hoard of the Gibbelins"
Geoffrey of Monmouth The Chronicle of the Kings of Britain
Bernard of Anger Book of the Miracles of Sainte Foi
Caesarius of Heisterbach Dialogue on Miracles
Barbra Ninde Byfield The Glass Harmonica
The Travels of Sir John Mandeville
Jacques Auguste Simon Collin de Plancy, Dictionnaire Infernal
Homer The Odyssey
Clark Ashton Smith Averoigne and Poseidonis cycles*
Brian Foud and Alan Lee Fairies
Various colored fairy books

Some Films:
The Adventures of Robin Hood
Baron Munchausen
Tim Bandits
Jason and the Argonauts
The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad
Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger
Forbidden Planet

One Television Series:
Jim Henson's The Story Teller

This should not be taken as an exhaustive list as I'm sure I forgot something that's worth mentioning.  The reader will note there there is also a lot of "Devil" stuff here.  I plan to interpret this stuff in a slightly more whimsical, if still frightening, way rather than the 70s metal meets horror movies way that is presented in Nightwick Abbey.

Lastly, here's a list of things of things I haven't read but am pretty sure I need to for this project:
Jack Vance Lyonesse and pretty much everything else
More Dunsany

If I've missed something you think I should be reading if I want to do this, let me know.

Monday, July 2, 2012

The Six Who Were One

Once Cuccagna was home to a single inhabitant: the Wizard Prospero.  He worked many wondrous magics and created many strange beasts all hidden away from the eyes of mere mortals.  Then something happened. Few can say precisely what, but Prospero, the greatest disciple of Simon Magus, made a mistake.  Now he has been split into five (formerly six) lesser wizards known as the Six Who Were One. 

[Prospero] the Red is a lecherous man who is nevertheless henpecked by his similarly sorcerous wife.  He is constantly running errands for her, as well as finding excuses to go meet one of his many mistresses - who also make him run errands.  The rest of the Six Who Were One think he is beneath their concern, but those who underestimate him do so at their own peril.

[Prospero] the Orange is a well respected man throughout the Island of Cuccagne, though their are certain, dark rumors about his religious affiliations.  His manse lies close to the Cavern or Sorcerers, and he is attended by many lovely young women who will wine and dine any travelers passing through his territory.

[Prospero] the Yellow spends his days locked in stone tower on a high mountain, far away from Great Wen. He seldom sees visitors, and those that are allowed inside his crumbling manse are greeted by his strange, mechanical servitors.  It is said that the valley around his tower is haunted by an invisible monster only he can see, and that it calls to him incessantly in the moaning of the wind.

[Prospero] the Green is the ruler of the Great Wen, and while he is reputed to be extremely powerful, even by wizard standards, he prefers the day-to-day petty rivalries of court and the machinations of the skullduggers who live in the Wen.  He also enjoys a number of petty amusements, particularly those of the sideshow variety.

Prospera the Indigo is the only sorceress to be spawned from Prospero's original mishap.  Some say that she is the most powerful, while others say she is simply the most ambitious.  She certainly schemes and plots to bring down her fellow wizards, but that is no rarity among wizards.  She was once known as Prospero the Purple, and there are rumors that the changing of her title had something to do with the disappearance of [Prospero] the Blue.  Some who have been in her presents have noted that they can hear the soft moaning of an old man about her at strange times.

Little is known about [Prospero] the Blue, for none have seen him in what seems like centuries.  The other Six Who Were One never speak of him and always attempt to change the subject whenever he is mentioned.

These are not the only wizards on the Island of Cuccagna, for that place seems to breed wizards like straw does rats.  Many other cabals and societies exist which are equally competitive; however, the importance of the Six Who Were One to history of the island and their relative power make them far more noteworthy than those sloppy imitators.

Note: the brackets are there in case I decided that five guys named Prospero is too fucking many.

What Cuccagna is Like

Precis: Jack Vance's The Tempest.  A beautiful island filled with petty wizards and their dumb struggles.

Conspectus: The Seven Who Were One, a group of ageless wizards that were all once the same wizard and now try to kill, eat, or imprison each other; idyllic meadows, beaches, and copses that hide dark secrets and hideous monsters; man-eating horses; beautiful maidens who devour the hearts of men; perytons, satyrs, unicorns, and dragons; horrid vat-things spawned by stupid wizards who don't know math;  The Cavern of Sorcerers where it is said one can enter to talk to the Devil himself; genies complete with matching lamps; Secretive mystery cults that worship gods long thought dead; cynocephaly, blemmyes, and monopods, oh my!; mountebanks exercising their trade on a gluttonous and slothful populace; lotus eaters; half submerged Greek ruins; crumbling castles haunted by strange spirits or fairies; beautiful yet sinister statues of wondrous power; the decadent port city of Great Wen, filled with charming ne'er-do-wells

Short Appendix N: Clark Ashton Smith's Poseidonis and Averoigne Cycles, Jack Vance's The Dying Earth; William Shakespeare's The Tempest; The Travels of Sir John Mandeville; Homer; Lord Dunsany's "The Horde of the Gibbelins" and "How Nuth Would Have Practiced His Art Upon the Gnoles"

Taste, Sound, Image: honey, olives, and feta; "Shangri-La" by the Kinks; Maxfield Parrish's Daybreak

Unfocused Thoughts: Cuccagna

This is another one of those "I'm probably not going to run this but I need to get it out of my system" posts.  It is inspired by my thinking about why I was intrigued with Isle of the Unknown - and was ultimately disappointed with it - and my recent reading of The Dying Earth.  Also The Tempest.

  • Cuccagne is a warm Mediterranean-type island inhabited by a bunch of petty, venal wizards.
  • If I placed it on Earth, it would be somewhere west of Sardinia and Corsica.  The rough date would probably be around AD 1250 but...
  • The island would sorta be "timeless," or at least not like the areas around it.  I'm thinking it would look vaguely Carolingian with large dashes of the later portion of the Western Roman Empire.  But fancier and more decadent in that word's modern sense.
  • I'd try very hard to make the place seem idyllic, as opposed to the crapsack sorta thing I normally do.  Fields of wild flowers, crystal clear streams, scenic sea-caves, that sort of thing.
  • However, I'd also want to make sure there is a (fairly obvious) dark side to all that stuff.  The archetypal encounter I imagine would be the PCs finding a nice Roman-style villa somewhere and being met by a man who offers them a place to stay and some nice wine.  Since PCs are too smart for that shit, they refuse.  When they do so he gets all made and turns into an oozing snake thing and tries to eat them.
  • I also want to contrast the idyllic setting with the petty motivations of the NPCs (and the PCs if I know anything about D&D players).  The wizards are too busy plotting against each other to notice how beautiful - and dangerous - their surroundings are.
  • I imagine that most settlements are fairly small and most live in the shadow of some terrible wizard who vomits rainbow colored goo into a human skull or something.
  • There might be one big town that acts as a port on the island.  That's probably where PCs start.
  • For the monster list, I would strip out most of the D&D monsters that aren't directly from some sort of folklore.  Once that's done, I'd shove in a bunch of freakazoids made by wizards that are all fucked up.  One could easily meet a unicorn or a oozing-snake-thing, but never an orc.
  • Europe, the Levant, and North Africa are assumed to have the religions that would have been present in those regions c. 1250.  Cuccagna, on the other hand would be a bastion of weird mystery cults and creepy paganism.  Sorta like the Wicker Man, but with more painted chthonic chambers and maenads.
  • Ruins and dungeons would either be "Atlantean" or Greco-Roman in origin.  I envision this as a hexcrawl setting.
  • I imagine there would be quite a lot of Yojimbo-style action with the PCs playing wizards off of each other between dungeon or wilderness romps.
  • Maybe it's the time of year or the fact that I live further inland than I used to, but I definitely want this to be an island.  
  • Part of the "this isn't crapsack" thing will be my not worrying about farmland and also having a gold standard for coinage.  Gold is so common and easy to come by there that giant gold coins - ten of which way a pound! - are as worthless as tiny silver coins in the rest of Europe.
Ok, hopefully that got that outta my system.