Saturday, July 22, 2017

Eurafrika Attacks! [Campaign Idea]

Around about 1929, a German architect by the name of Herman Sörgel came with an idea he called Atlantropa. The idea was simple (no, not really) - he was going to create a new utopian continent out of Europe and Africa by building hydroelectric dams in the Strait of Gibraltar and Dardanelles and the mouth of the River Congo. This would allow the lowering of the level of the Mediterranean Sea, to create more habitable (and farmable) land, the irrigation of the Sahara Desert, and the generation of all the electricity the new continent of Atlantropa or Eurafrika could ever need. The idea was based on his desire for a massive, peaceful project that could bring the warring European nations together and which would improve the lives of millions.

Strangely enough, the idea was not pursued seriously other than by Sörgel and a handful of others. Perhaps the idea can be used to fuel a modern "fantasy" campaign, though.

Eurafrika Attacks

The Eurafrika Attacks campaign is going to take Herman's idea and mess with it a bit. First, we're going to move the idea back to the dark days of the First World War, and give Europe a running start at the project. For our purposes, by 1927 or so the project is complete and Europe is seriously deep in debt. Weimer Republic-style deep in debt. This facilitates the rise of a pseudo-fascist dictator called Hynkel, who now has the power of Europe and Africa at his disposal and uses it to start the Second World War in 1930.

Eurafrikan forces quickly move into the Middle East and Ukraine, and soon they convince a China desirous of revenge against colonial powers to join them. Thus, we get a WW2 with an axis composed of Eurafrika and China against the allied powers of the United Kingdom (who never quite joined the Eurafrikan cause, though a faction of the country is heavily invested in the project and desires Hynkel's success), the Soviet Union and Japan, with the United States practicing semi-neutrality until submarine attacks on its shipping draw it into the war in 1934.

The Hook

So what's the point of this campaign, other than novelty. Well, novelty is probably the main point - a sort of mixed up WW2 that occurs years before it is supposed to and without some of the more disturbing elements of that war.

The real hook, of course, is the use of a bunch of interesting military equipment from the "interwar" period in a hot war. Between the Spad and Spitfires in the 1920s and early 1930s there were all sorts of interesting aircraft, ships and land vehicles designed and constructed, but never really used. Now some of these vehicles have a chance to show what they were made of, and at the same time a few anachronisms might make their way into this WW2, especially cavalry.

A campaign could be organized around a particular military unit and its march into Eurafrikan territory, modeled on the film The Big Red One (1980) starring Lee Marvin and Mark Hamill, which followed a group of soldiers in the U.S. 1st Infantry Division from North Africa to Sicily to Normandy and eventually to the liberation of a concentration camp. A fictional campaign might move through Baghdad to the Balkans and Carpathians and finally into the heart of Europe.

There is also room for espionage in London, Paris, New York and Cairo, jungle fighting in the Congo basin, the Soviet couteroffensive against re-invigorated China in Mongolia, resistance movements in Europe, anti-colonial movements in Africa, or the defense of Japan against a new wave of seaborne invasions from China (will the "divine wind" protect the island nation again?). You can also play on the new geography of the Mediterranean and Sahara, tying in with notions of Atlantis buried beneath the sands of the Sahara being rediscovered, or pre-human settlements that were hidden under the Mediterranean being revealed.

The campaign offers many opportunities for realistic and supernatural gameplay in a period often forgotten due to its being sandwiched betwen the Roaring 20's and the Second World War.

A trio of Siskins patrol southern England for French bombers


Sunday, June 25, 2017

Yo Joe

If memory serves, I promised to do this post two weeks ago. How time flies! In between, the family has gone through a high school graduation and a college orientation, and I've written about 8 quarterly reports for my real job. But now it is time - some G.I. Joe vehicles for GRIT & VIGOR.

I've spent the last four weeks writing High Frontier, a setting toolbox for GRIT & VIGOR based on the "retro-future", or the future that people in 1950 dreamed they and their children would enjoy from the 1960s to the futuristic year ... 2000! We're talking moon bases, space stations, space colonies, lots of cool airplanes and concept cars, etc.

Along the way, I ran across a Wikipedia article on a G.I. Joe fighter plane, and realized I could probably stat those up as well. Where possible, I used the specifications published for these vehicles, and I filled in the gaps with info on the real vehicles on which they were based.

Notes:

Jet aircraft are given a generation [G]. This is added to the aircraft's maneuverability (and thus AC) and attack rolls during combat.

Damage followed by a single asterisk (*) is multiplied by 10. Two asterisks (**) means multiply by 100.



Conquest X-30 | G.I. Joe 1986

Type: Huge Fighter G4
Hit Dice: 30 (105 hp)
Armor Class: 21
Attacks: 2 x 25mm cannons (7d6), 4 x AIM-12 Light Sparrow AAM (1d10**), 7,000 lb of bombs
Speed: 1600 mph
Maneuver: +8
Climb: 8500 fpr
Ceiling: 55,000 feet
Crew/Passengers: 1/0

These G.I. Joe fighter planes are based on the real Grumman X-29 (which appears in High Frontier). It is notable for its forward swept wings.


Phantom X-19 | G.I. Joe 1988

Type: Gargantuan Attack G5
Hit Dice: 45 (158 hp)
Armor Class: 18
Attacks: 2 x anti-satellite lasers (10d6), 2 x BY-106 Little Guy (1d10**), 1 x Bullseye III cruise missile (xxx), 2 x 2000 lb bombs
Speed: 2400 mph
Maneuver: +6
Climb: 6000 fpr
Ceiling: 72,000 feet
Crew/Passengers: 1/0

The Phantom is inspired (loosely) on a model that purported to be the "stealth bomber" (the F-117 Nighthawk) that turned out to look nothing like it.


Night Raven S3P | Cobra Command 1985

Type: Gargantuan Fighter G4
Hit Dice: 47 (165 hp)
Armor Class: 19
Attacks: 2 x 20mm cannons (6d6), 4 x SRAAM AAM (1d10**)
Speed: 2200 mph
Maneuver: +8
Climb: 6800 fpr
Ceiling: 86,000 feet
Crew/Passengers: 2/0

The Cobra Night Raven was based loosely on the SR-71 Blackbird (which means Cobra was as good at hacking the Pentagon as the Chinese, Russians, etc.)


Rattler | Cobra Command 1984

Type: Huge Attack G3
Hit Dice: 30 (105 hp)
Armor Class: 18
Attacks: 2 x 20mm cannon (6d6), 1 x 30mm cannons (8d6), 2 x AAM (1d8**), 2 x Renegade ASM (6d6*)
Speed: 450 mph
Maneuver: +5
Climb: 1000 fpr
Ceiling: 45,000 feet
Crew/Passengers: 2/0

The go-to combat aircraft of Cobra in the cartoons.


Skystriker XP-14F | G.I. Joe 1983

Type: Gargantuan Fighter G4
Hit Dice: 42 (147 hp)
Armor Class: 23
Attacks: 1 x 20mm cannons (6d6), 2 x AIM-9 Sidewinder AAM (1d8**), 2 x AIM-54 Phoenix (6d6**), 2 x AIM-7 Sparrow (1d12**)
Speed: 1500 mph
Maneuver: +8
Climb: 7500 fpr
Ceiling: 51,000 feet
Crew/Passengers: 2/0

The Skystriker was G.I. Joe's principal combat aircraft (and clearly superior to the Rattlers).

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Shameless Self Promotion

I don't normally do this, but I have three new books out and about at the moment, so a little self promotion seems appropriate. Tomorrow I'll find some time to do that G.I. Joe post I mentioned last week.

NOD 32

NOD 32 features a new hex crawl that is right next door to the Nomo crawl from last issue. Nomo was a falling empire, but in Kisthenes the whole world might be going straight to Hell ... or Chaos. The nomads have conquered the great city of Ishkabibel and are now using its wealth and power not only to conquer the rest of Kisthenes, but to bring Tiamat (yeah, that Tiamat) into the material world from the Chaos beyond reality. Worse yet, the other cities of the plain are joining in, abandoning the old gods and gestating their own super-beasts to go toe to toe with the Queen of Chaos.

Other features include:

A new class that is fitting for this issue, the Prophet is a different kind of divine spellcaster, one who is bringing the news of a new deity into the world and trying to found a kingdom in that deity's name.

The gods and goddesses of Mesopotamia

Rules for running circus campaigns in GRIT & VIGOR

And some notions on how (and why) to make monsters interesting for players as well as their characters

$3.99 PDF at Lulu.com

$3.99 PDF at rpgnow.com

Pen & Paper Football

Pen & Paper Football is football without the commercials, endless merchandizing and prison sentences. A few dice and some paper is all you need to simulate an American football game. Just find some friends (or play solo), roll up some teams and pit them against each other in League Play, which requires eight simple dice rolls to play a game, or in Head-to-Head play, which simulates a game play-by-play.

P&PF has all the rules you need to play a whole season of football, with rules for passing, running, kicking, penalties, injuries and even off-season rules for team development. There are dozens of sample teams you can use and handy record sheets for teams, leagues and games.

$1.99 PDF at Lulu.com

$1.99 PDF at rpgnow.com

NOD 31

I finally have the paperback version of this issue of NOD up for sale at Lulu.com. Here's the description:

NOD magazine begins its fabulous eighth year with a full hex crawl covering the crumbling empire of Nomo, a Romanesque city that has lost its emperor. As the empire slowly falls, opportunity for adventures abound. The hex crawl includes three mini-dungeons and hundreds of places to visit.

Other features include:

Two old school classes, the Centurion and Dervish, as well as ideas for anti-classes designed to foil fighters, magic-users and thieves.

Rules for playing poker in GRIT & VIGOR, as well as a gambler sub-class

A host of new "eye monsters" for Blood & Treasure and other OSR games

Plus some ideas on votive orders and on introducing the most horrific concept into fantasy gaming ever conceived ... Taxes!

$7.99 Paperback at Lulu.com

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Teleporting With Style

Teleport and teleport without error are old spells, and in the old school they leave the look and feel up to the imagination. Here are a few ideas on what teleportation might look like ...


1. You appear line by line, like being printed by a dot matrix printer in the 1980s

2. Appear as free-floating fetus and age into current form

3. Appear as skeleton and grow muscle, tendons etc until fully formed

4. Coughed out of the 4th dimension like a hairball

5. Appear in blink of eye, but all people in area have to pause briefly and then move slightly when you appear, as though on an old TV show

6. Trapdoor opens in sky and you fall out

7. Beam in like Star Trek - lots of noise and sparkles

8. Appear in puff of smoke with a musical fanfare

     Level 9-12 – a fanfare of kazoos
     Level 13-16 – a fanfare from a Casio keyboard
     Level 17+ – a fanfare of trumpets

9. Hole appears and you crawl through it

10. Door of light (or shadow) slides open (like automatic door) and you step through

11. Miniature volcano grows from ground and you erupt out of it

12. Swirling cloud forms in your shape and then gradually becomes solidified until it’s you

13. Lightning strikes ground and leaves you when the dust clears

14. Your form is poured like silvery, bubbly liquid that falls from the sky – you emit a small burp when you finish forming due to the ethereal carbonation in your system

15. Space shatters like a mirror, revealing you

16. Velvet curtains held aloft by cherubs parts to reveal you in all your glory

17. A giant hand descends from the sky with a paint brush and paints you into existence

18. You appear as a wavering hologram that slowly becomes real to the peal of invisible gongs

19. Your hand appears holding a wand, and slowly rises from the ground revealing you (and of course ending on your arm extended above your head

20. Purple smoke seeps up from the ground and you appear, genie-like (or Jeanie-like, if I’m being honest)



Friday, May 26, 2017

Magic from the Masters

When I was about 10 years old, Mattel introduced its He-Man toy line. I remember going over to a friend's house to see the entire original line, which his grandparents had bought him for Hanukah. If I'm honest, they didn't do much for me. I was a freak for G.I. Joe and military stuff at the time, and really had no interest in swords and sorcery. As a result, I never had an interest in He-Man. I mostly saw it as a cheap Filmation cartoon. It would still be two or three years before a chance meeting with Tolkien's The Two Towers and Dungeons & Dragons would get me interested in the fantasy genre.

Fast forward to adulthood. What did not interest me as a G.I. Joe-loving kid now does interest me as a weird retro-loving adult. I can now appreciate just how bizarrely creative Mattel's toy makers were with the MOTU line, and I can even appreciate the cartoon, though more by way of laughing at it (gently and with love) than of thrilling to the adventures of He-Man (who I just now discovered shared his voice with Morris the cat - even weirder).

Over the last couple weeks, I've been watching a He-Man cartoon at night before bed to unwind, and in addition to the entertainment value I've been inspired to write a few spells that will find their way into Esoterica Exhumed. Here's a sample:

Battle Beast (Evocation)
Level: Druid 5, Magic-User 6
Range: 30′
Duration: 10 rounds

One animal targeted by this spell becomes a battle beast, doubling its size and Hit Dice, and increasing its damage rolls by +2 points for the duration of the spell. While under the effects of the spell, the animal is treated as a monster rather than animal, and its coloration changes to something weird and unearthly. The animal gains limited sentience and low intelligence in battle beast form.

Blinding Light I (Evocation/Illusion)
Level: Cleric 1, Druid 1, Magic-User 1
Range: 5′
Duration: 1d6+1 rounds

One creature immediate in front of you is dazzled by a sudden intense light that flashes from your eyes. The victim is blinded for 1 rounds, and then dazzled for 1d6 rounds. A dazzled creature suffers a -1 penalty to attack rolls and to all task checks involving sight.

Blinding Light II (Evocation/Illusion)
Level: Cleric 2, Druid 2, Magic-User 2
Range: 20′ cone
Duration: 1d6 rounds

This spell causes those caught in the area of effect who fail a saving throw to be dazzled, suffering a -1 penalty to attack rolls and all task checks involving sight.

Chasm (Conjuration)
Level: Druid 4, Magic-User 5
Range: 60 feet
Duration: 10 minutes

You can cause the ground to suddenly disappear, shifting it briefly into the elemental plane of earth. The resulting chasm has the following dimensions: Width is equal to 5 feet plus 2 feet per level; length is equal to 1 foot per level and depth is equal to 2 feet per level. After 10 minutes, the earth shifts back into position from the elemental plane, burying anything that was in the chasm or displacing gases and liquids (such as water or an obscuring mist spell) that might have been in the chasm to the surface.

Cosmic Comets (Conjuration)
Level: Magic-User 3
Range: Personal
Duration: 1 hour

You conjure three miniature comets which orbit you at a radius of up to 10′. While orbiting, they provide a +1 bonus to Armor Class. Melee attackers that miss their attack roll against you by only 1 point are struck by a comet for 1d6 damage + 1d6 fire damage. You can also send these comets streaking out at a single target, who can avoid it with a saving throw. Targets that are hit suffer 2d6 damage + 1d6 fire damage.

Homing Spell (Divination)
Level: Magic-User 1
Range: Touch
Duration: Permanent

Once a magic-user has placed this spell on a nonliving item, she can, with mild concentration and while rubbing the temples, discern its location relative to her in terms of direction and approximate distance. This homing beacon is permanent, but can be removed with dispel magic or suppressed while in possession of a creature with magic resistance (dice to determine).

Raise Pillar (Evocation)
Level: Druid 3, Magic-User 4
Range: 30 feet
Duration: 1 hour

With the lifting of your arms, a pillar of solid rock rises from the ground. The ground in question must be solid – i.e. there must be rock to form into a pillar. The pillar rises 5 feet plus 1 foot per level, and is roughly 4 feet in diameter. The pillar can be raised under a creature’s feet, in which case they must pass a saving throw to avoid being lifted. If they fail this saving throw, they are carried upwards and could potentially be crushed if the pillar’s height plus their own would force them to violently contact the ceiling of a chamber or cavern. If they are crushed, they suffer 3d6 points of damage. After one hour, the pillar slides back into the ground. This spell can conceivably be used to raise buried treasure to the surface, but the soil in which the treasure was buried forms into solid rock and therefore may make the treasure difficult to access.

Sleeve of Holding (Conjuration)
Level: Magic-User 3
Range: Personal
Duration: 8 hours

The magic-user can stuff 100 pounds per level worth of non-magical, non-living goods up his left sleeve. After 8 hours, the magic-user must dump the goods out of his sleeve or they disappear into dimensions unknown.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Mars, Venus and Beyond

If you have read Blood & Treasure Second Edition, you might already know that I had a sample planar system that resembles the old geocentric model of the universe combined with Gygax's idea of the outer and inner planes. At some point, I'm going to expand on these ideas and write a book called The Outre' Dark - sort of my version of the Manual of the Planes.

To that end, I've already written an article in NOD on the planet Pluto, which stands in for the negative energy plane in Nod's cosmos. This week, I've been playing with maps of Mars and Venus (or Martis and Veneris) for the Nod setting, and thought I'd show them off here, along with a few notes on the settings.

MARTIS, PLANE OF WAR

In the Nod cosmology, Mars is a planet of Neutrality, over which the forces of Lawful Neutrality and Chaotic Neutrality fight a never-ending war.



  • The humanoid Martians come in a multitude of colors, from purple to amber to burnt sienna (and even some maroons living below the surface). They spawn via spores and do not nurse their young. They may have been engineered by a Zetan civilization that destroyed the plane with atomic weaponry before leaving Martis for Nod, where they were involved in founding the Nabu civilization (destroyed in a similar cataclysm).
  • They are joined on Martis by green mutants in the wastelands and bat people in the mountains.
  • The purple Martians are the most civilized (LN). They dwell in hive cities connected by canals.
  • The amber Martians dwell in the north, and might be considered pragmatic Neutrals.
  • The burnt sienna Martians are nomads (and former seafarers).
  • Atop Olympus Mons there is a monastery of weird Zen Neutral monks.
  • Martians wear little armor (or clothing) and arm themselves with swords, whip-swords, daggers, darts, jezzails and pistols.
  • The Martians also use flying ships (skyremes) levitated by weird rays.
  • There is a plant in the Martian deserts that oozes plastic nodules, which the Martians melt down and use to make a variety of objects.
  • The moons of Martis (those little specs underneath the planet) are home to ghouls, who launch themselves into space when astral ships approach too close.

VENERIS, PLANE OF LIFE

Veneris is the positive energy plane in Nod's cosmos. I mixed the idea of positive energy = life with the old ideas of Venus as a jungle world. The map is still in the "rough draft" stage. It is partly inspired by this post at Malevolent and Benign.



  • Humanoid Venusians come in two varieties - the cyan-skinned cave dwellers and the jade-skinned tree dwellers. They are beset by many evils on the planet, for it is populated by numerous beastmen.
  • Venus has very little technology, and all of it in the hands of the gold amazons, who dwell in flying cities. Their sons, the myrmidons, are seafarers and defenders of humanity.
  • Most of the peoples of Veneris have neo-stone age technology, maybe some in the chalcolithic age - giant stone cities, simple weapons, etc. Very Flintstones.
  • There are dinosaurs (though not of the earthly varieties) and other prehistoric animals.
  • Beneath the surface of Veneris is a core of positive energy, which erupts from time to time from volcanoes.
  • The plant life of Veneris is a riot of color. It grows very quickly - a trail cut with machetes would disappear in mere minutes.
  • There are massive oozes on the planet that rise from the seas and cause ecological havoc.
  • The mountains are made of solid gemstone.

MERCURIUS, PLANE OF ELEMENTAL EARTH

I'm adding this one after the fact, having just finished the map. I'm picturing a world almost devoid of plant life with a thin atmosphere where all the real action is under the surface, where the powerful elementals dwell. On the surface, where adventurers are likely to spend their time, there are cities of crystal people who dominate their fellows by dominating the mineral springs they must bathe in to survive, and plundering metallic men who serve the greedy shaitan. I'm using the old idea that Mercury always had one side facing the Sun and the other in perpetual darkness - in this case, the cities of Parahelios and Nyx mark those spots.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Scads of Magic

Imagination!
I've long been a fan of Seventh Sanctum, and tonight I decided to play around with the magic item generator. You get names for items that don't always make sense, but often have in them something you can use ... with a little imagination!

So, here's a scad of magic items in thumbnail sketch form, plus a couple with names I loved that even I wasn't sure how to flesh out with actual gamable abilities.


+1 Banded Mail of Heat Resistance: Stay comfortable in hot weather (summons cold air from elemental air plane), -1 damage per dice of fire damage

Amazon’s Pill: As heroism spell, females only

Barrel of Monkeys: Can summon 3d4 monkeys, once per week
Beggar’s Sandals: Feel no hunger or thirst if one eats/drinks once per week

Celestial Cube: When subjected to magic light, produces a prismatic/rainbow spell of the same or lower level

Coat of Sludge Repulsion: Cannot be engulfed by oozes

Coat of Slyness: Better pick pocketing, hides stolen goods

Earrings of Dancer’s Grace: +1 to AC, +1 to saves involving movement, gain ability to dance (fascinate as bard) once per day

Elemental Gauntlet: Gauntlet can on command turn into one of the following – an elemental earth gauntlet that smashes stone and +1 save vs. acid; a white hot gauntlet of metal that deals +1d6 fire damage and +1 save vs. fire; a gauntlet of ice that deals +1d6 cold damage and +1 save vs. cold; a sphere of swirling air that grants +2 AC vs. missile attacks and +1 save vs. electricity

Elixir of Blood Control: One can cause their own wounds or others to stop bleeding with a glance

Ethereal Brew: When poured out, it causes a whirlwind on the ethereal plane

Evil Drum: Bonus to hit for goblinoids

Flute of Ooze Alteration: Forces oozes to save vs. dancing; bards can cause them to move as they wish within sound

Fork of Time: When banged against metal, it forces all time displaced creatures within 100 ft. to shift into the present; against adamantine or mithral, it shifts the adventurers ahead 1 hour (do not move in space)

Hand Axe of Wind Shield: Can be swung around to create a wall of wind, when thrown, accompanied by a gust of wind

Hauberk of Revealing: Light reflected from this mail dispels illusions and reveals hidden and secret things

Haunted Tower Shield: Once per day can become a portal into the negative zone, releasing a single incorporeal spirit (HD no higher than users) to attack a foe

Helm of Ritual Fish Seduction: Hmmm ... next!

Infernal Sitar: Playing causes people’s shoes to heat up (as heat metal)

Jar of Thought Absorption: One can hold a thought in the jar by putting against the ear and thinking; the thought cannot be accessed by mind reading – mage’s can do this with spells; can put thought back into head in same way – others can try, but may take Int damage

Massive Helm: A large, spherical helm – silly looking, but +3 to AC

Mechanism of Amazon Slaying: I have no idea, but what a great weird name

Pendant of Magma: Allows one to walk across magma and lava with no damage or sinking

Rainstick of Calming: Berserkers and barbarians cannot go nuts in its presence

Ring of Knocking: As knock spell, 3/day

Ruby Draft of Abjuration: Drink liquid to gain abjuration spell – water (1st), wine (2nd), other potion (3rd, and gain abilities of that potion); usable 1/day, spell remains in memory for 1 hour

Salve of Gold: Like fool’s gold spell, enough for ten tiny items

Sapphire Net: Becomes a large web of blue energy that can entrap air elementals and gaseous creatures

Sphere of Ursus: Metal sphere with a copper, silver and gold bear; copper bear summons a black bear, silver brown and gold polar; 1 bear per week, from a ray that fires from the sphere up to 30 feet away; destroying the orb summons a cave bear

Staff of Slime Absorption: Can absorb up to 6 HD of oozes or slimes (1 HD = 5 square feet); when broken or released, they all appear adjacent to staff; can also be ejected as a 30’ cone of acid (damage dice equal to HD absorbed)

Titan’s Wand: Can cast one third level magic-user spell per day, but requires two magic-users to swoosh it

Traveler’s Stick: +5 ft. per round to walking speed, walk twice as long without being fatigued

White Javelin: When it strikes undead, it absorbs their negative energy, up to 6 HD, turning the javelin black – the black javelin then absorbs levels/HD of living creatures until it negates the negative energy, so don’t touch it without a mithral gauntlet

Okay - one more, inspired by watching MST3K's take on Cave Dwellers ...

Helm of the Black Swan: Once per day, a roll of "1" can be turned into a "20", or a roll of "20" can be turned into a "1" within sight of the wearer.


Saturday, May 6, 2017

Simplicity Himself

I discovered Warhammer in high school. Some friends I met in art class were into the miniatures, and brought a catalog with them to school one day. Needless to say, I was impressed. I'd never been into miniatures before that, and the old Warhammer stuff was pretty cool. That led to me playing Warhammer Fantasy Battle and buying, though never actually playing, WFRP and Rogue Trader. I didn't keep up with Warhammer, but the old stuff definitely certainly fired my imagination.

Which brings me to Simplicius Simplicissimus, Warhammer's great-grandfather (or maybe closer than that). Written in 1668 by Hans Jakob Christoffel von Grimmelshausen, it is a picaresque novel set in Germany during the Thirty Years' War (1618-1648). It is the story of a simple country boy who gets whisked into the big events of the day, and I would say definitely an influence on the grim world of perilous adventure presented in Warhammer ... except I don't actually know that this is true. I suppose if you're making a game/setting inspired by the Thirty Years' War in Germany, you're going to end up with something akin to a book about those same events.

The main thing that makes me think there's a link is the progression of Simplicius from career to career over the course of the book. He begins as a simple farm laborer, and then becomes a religious hermit, a fool, an outlaw and sneak thief, a dragoon, a charlatan, etc.

No trollslayers, but still ...
The book is a fun read, and the Alfred Thomas Scrope Goodrick translation I read (from Project Gutenberg) was easier going than you might expect for something written a few hundred years ago. I'll also note that the book moves along at a pretty good pace - old books are sometimes slow (because they didn't need to compete with TV), but I never had the temptation to skip ahead in Simplicius. The book isn't entirely "safe for work", but it doesn't delve too far into sex and bloody brutality. I definitely give it my recommendation as a book to read on par with most modern adventure fiction.

Literary merits aside, the book presents good fodder for fantasy gaming, Warhammer-style gaming especially. The supernatural shows up a couple times, but isn't prevalent, so it's mostly about normal people trying to make their way in a rough time and place. Here are a few passages from the book that I found particularly interesting:

This is the introduction to the hermit who takes him in. This guy is about as Lawful as the book gets:

So I plucked up heart to come out of my hollow tree and to draw nigh to the voice I had heard, where I was ware of a tall man with long greyish hair which fell in confusion over his shoulders: a tangled beard he had shapen like to a Swiss cheese; his face yellow and thin yet kindly enough, and his long gown made up of more than a thousand pieces of cloth of all sorts sewn together one upon another. Round his neck and body he had wound a heavy iron chain like St. William, and in other ways seemed in mine eyes so grisly and terrible that I began to shake like a wet dog.

A description of the soldier's life. This would apply to most old school fantasy adventurers as well:

For gluttony and drunkenness, hunger and thirst, wenching and dicing and playing, riot and roaring, murdering and being murdered, slaying and being slain, torturing and being tortured, hunting and being hunted, harrying and being harried, robbing and being robbed, frighting and being frighted, causing trouble and suffering trouble, beating and being beaten: in a word, hurting and harming, and in turn being hurt and harmed--this was their whole life.

The goings on of the aristocracy at a party - I thought it might make a good random table for behavior in inns and taverns:

'Twas indeed a wonderful pantomime to see how they did fool, and yet none wondered but I. One sang: one wept: one laughed: another moaned: one cursed: another prayed: one shouted "Courage!" another could not even speak. One was quiet and peaceable: another would drive the devil out by swaggering: one slept and was silent, another talked so fast that none could stand up against him. One told stories of tender love adventures, another of his dreadful deeds in war. Some talked of church and clergy, some of the constitution, of politics, of the affairs of the empire and of the world. Some ran hither and thither and could not keep still: some lay where they were and could not stir a finger, much less stand up or walk. Some were still eating like ploughmen, and as if they had been a week without food, while others were vomiting up what they had eaten that very day.

A list of hangover cures:

There wormwood, sage wine, elecampane, quince and lemon drinks, with hippocras, were to clear the heads and stomachs of the drinkers;

A strange spell from the book:

And no sooner had the rogue mumbled some words than there sprang out of each man's breeches, sleeves, boots and pockets, and all other openings in their clothes, one, two, three, or more young puppies. And these sniffed round and round in the tent, and pretty beasts they were, of all manner of colours, and each with some special ornament, so that 'twas a right merry sight.

If you like gore, the book has some gore. This could also work as a description of a fantasy battlefield:

The earth, whose custom it is to cover the dead was there itself covered with them, and those variously distinguished: for here lay heads that had lost their natural owners, and there bodies that lacked their heads: some had their bowels hanging out in most ghastly and pitiful fashion, and others had their heads cleft and their brains scattered: there one could see how lifeless bodies were deprived of their blood while the living were covered with the blood of others; here lay arms shot off, on which the fingers still moved, as if they would yet be fighting; and elsewhere rascals were in full flight that had shed no drop of blood: there lay severed legs, which though delivered from the burden of the body, yet were far heavier than they had been before: there could one see crippled soldiers begging for death, and on the contrary others beseeching quarter and the sparing of their lives. In a word, 'twas naught but a miserable and pitiful sight.

The effect of gunpowder on the world (i.e. look out high level fighters):

But 'twas this cause made me so great a man, that nowadays the veriest horse-boy can shoot the greatest hero in the world; and had not gunpowder been invented I must have put my pride in my pocket.

On the glories of gold (and some supernatural associations with gemstones):

Yea, I could even take upon me to prove that this same money possesses all virtues and powers more than any precious stones; for it can drive away all melancholia like the diamond: it causeth love and inclination to study, like the emerald (for so comes it that commonly students have more money than poor folk's children): it taketh away fear and maketh man joyful and happy like unto the ruby: 'tis often an hindrance to sleep, like the garnet: on the other hand, it hath great power to produce repose of mind and so sleep, like the jacinth: it strengtheneth the heart and maketh a man jolly and companionable, lively and kind, like the sapphire and amethyst: it driveth away bad dreams, giveth joy, sharpeneth the understanding, and if one have a plaint against another it gaineth him the victory, like the sardius (and in especial if the judge's palm be first well oiled therewith): it quencheth unchaste desire, for by means of gold one can possess fair women: and in a word, 'tis not to be exprest what gold can do, as I have before set forth in my book intituled "Black and White," if any man know how rightly to use and employ this information.

Probably not the best name for a game (bolded text):

And though I did no deed evil enough to forfeit my life, yet was I so reckless that, save for sorcerers and sodomites, no worse man could be found.

On random encounters in the Black Forest:

... that I should not escape from the peasants of the Black Forest, which were then famous for the knocking of soldiers on the head.

A melee:

... when we did least expect it, came six musqueteers with a corporal to our hut with their pieces ready and their matches burning, who burst in the door and cried to us to surrender. But Oliver (that, like me, had ever his loaded piece lying by him and his sharp sword also, and then sat behind the table, and I by the stove behind the door) answered them with a couple of musquet-balls, wherewith he brought two to the ground, while I with a like shot slew one and wounded the fourth. Then Oliver whipped out his terrible sword (that could cut hairs asunder and might well be compared to Caliburn, the sword of King Arthur of England) and therewith he clove the fifth man from the shoulder to the belly, so that his bowels gushed out and he himself fell down beside them in gruesome fashion. And meanwhile I knocked the sixth man on the head with the butt-end of my piece, so that he fell lifeless: but Oliver got even such a blow from the seventh, and that with such force that his brains flew out, and I in turn dealt him that did that such a crack that he must needs join his comrades on the dead muster-roll. So when the one that I had shot at and wounded was ware of such cuffs and saw that I made for him with the butt of my piece also, he threw away his gun and began to run as if the devil was at his heels. Yet all this fight lasted no longer than one could say a paternoster, in which brief space seven brave soldiers did bite the dust.

A spell to force thieves to give back their stolen goods, worth 10 sp (or more or less, depending on your system):

And since 'tis as grievous to lose such things as 'tis hard to get them, therefore the said Switzer would move heaven and earth to come by them again, and did even send for the famous devil-driver of the Goatskin, which did so plague the thief by his charms that he must needs restore the stolen goods to their proper place: for which the wizard earned ten rix-dollars.

I hope this motivates you to give the book a read, especially if you're a WFRP player or game master. Well worth the time!

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Menace of the Mer-Mongrels [Mini-Dungeon]

Here's a quickie dungeon for you, featuring mer-mongrels (essentially aquatic orcs), just in case you need something dark, wet and dangerous for your game.

Overview

This is underground and near the sea. Sea water flows down the entrance corridor. Everything is slimy and the water is about 2 feet deep (so gnomes and halflings might need floaties) throughout.
There are clumps of phosphorescent sea weed here and there, giving a dim glow to the caverns - so dim as to be useless, but enough to create weird, wavering patterns on walls.

Mer-Mongrels

HD 1, AC 13, ATK Claws (1d4) or weapon (1d6) or barbed net (1d3 + entangled), MV 20' (Swim 40')

Room Descriptions

1. Corridor is broken here by a waterfall - water leaking in from the ceiling. Just on the other side of the waterfall there is an aquatic assassin vine attached to the ceiling. Just beneath the waterfall, to the extreme left of the corridor, is a pit that leads to the corridor just to the right of [1] on the map (the one that leads to area [14]). That corridor is completely submerged until area [14].

2. Two lacedons are chained to the walls here. The mer-mongrels have a winch in [11] that shortens the chains, but otherwise the lacedons can wander throughout the room.

3. Water swirls around the walls, ceiling and floor of this tunnel, creating a vortex of confusion. Save vs. confusion or become dizzy (-1 to hit, AC and save) for 1 hour.

4. Three mer-mongrel guards are in this room playing a gambling game that involves plunging half a coconut into the water and seeing which player gets splashed. Each has a shagreen pouch holding 1d10 gp. One mer-mongrel has a barbed net, the other two have tridents. All three have daggers.

5. A small natural chimney in this room leads to the surface. The air is fresher here.

6. This is a supply room, containing bits of flesh wrapped in seaweed and stuffed into cubby holes, floating bottles of wine, floating boxes of candles and an odd assortment of tridents and daggers (1d6 of each).

7. Two mer-mongrel acolytes dwell in this room. They have silvery bodies, and each can cast one 1st level anti-cleric spell (chosen by GM). They are armed with footman's maces with heads shaped like octopi with opal eyes (worth 35 gp each). A curtain of barbed chains blocks the passage to [9].

8. The high priest of the mer-mongrels (3 HD) dwells here. He can cast two 1st level anti-cleric spells and one 2nd level anti-cleric spell, and wields a mace like his acolytes (but with pearl eyes, worth 150 gp). The room is also occupied by three white fish who roam around randomly, but who can be commanded by the high priest to swim in a circle, creating either a magic scrying pool or a magic whirlpool (per a water elemental). A sunken iron chest holds 250 sp, 50 gp, a gold bracer (65 gp) and a potion of healing in an old rum bottle.

9. Mongo, the living clam god (a giant clam) dwells in this chamber, the temple of the mer-mongrels. The clam rests in the alcove in the far portion of the cave, and a coral altar has been set before the clam. A young man in rough shape is chained to the altar as a sacrifice. The altar juts about 1 foot above the water, and there are many candle stumps and a few burning candles on the altar. Right before the altar there is a submerged pit (save vs. falling - no damage from fall, but 5% chance of drowning do to an accidental inhalation of water).

10/11/13. Each of these chambers is inhabited by 1d6 mer-mongrel males armed with daggers and blowpipes from which they shoot poisoned sea urchin darts (save vs. poison or slowed for 3 rounds). Each chamber has a small stone chest containing 1d4 x 50 sp and 1d6 x 100 cp. One of the mer-mongrels has a small topaz (30 gp) hidden under his loin cloth.

12. Several sea urchins are kept in this alcove. The water here is envenomed by their presence (save vs. poison or 1d6 damage).

14. This spawning chamber is home to five female mer-mongrels. They are armed as the males, but also carry two nets. There are three young in the room, and they will fight to the death to defend them (and send them fleeing into [16] at the first sight of trouble. A stone chest here holds 200 gp and three bottles of fine wine. The chest is trapped with a sea urchin spine (save vs. poison or 1d6 damage).

15. I forgot to put this number on the map!

16. This is the lair of Yort, the chief of the mer-mongrels. He is a erudite man (he trained in the humanities at a sea elf university) who returned to his tribe when his father was slain by adventurers. Yort carries a +1 trident that can make the water boil in a straight line up to 20 feet long (1d10 fire damage, save for half damage) three times per day. He also has a silver dagger and a chest containing 500 gp, 1,200 sp, a small sapphire (200 gp) and a bottle of giant octopus ink. Yort will offer to pay adventurers off if they leave he and his people alone, but if a child is harmed will pursue them to the ends of the earth to exact bloody revenge.



Sunday, April 9, 2017

Dragon by Dragon - November 1981 (55)

Getting back on the blogging track means getting back into the Dragon by Dragon articles.

This week, I'm going to take a look at Dragon #55, from November 1981. This one has a really good beginning - a cover by Erol Otus. The best thing about the cover - I have no idea what that monstrous thing is. This, to me, lies at the heart of old school games - the freedom to invent something new every game, or to add all sorts of fun details to things old and well-known without the need to invent new mechanics.

I think one of the downfalls of 3rd edition D&D was the attempt to standardize fantasy. Standardization may be important for "branding", but it's terrible for creativity. I think many corporations these days are cutting their own throats by pushing "branding" over creativity.

On to the review ...

First, a moment of righteous anger from the letters page:

"A lot of people seem to have a warped view of how to create a character. Some think you start off at 20th level with all the magic you can carry. Others have the strange notion that you get experience from taking damage. (A character in my world was nearly cut in half by a weapon hit and demanded he get experience for it: Why didn’t he just beat his head against a wall until he achieved godhood?)"

I enjoyed that bit - well said Greg Fox of Scotia, New York

Second, a note of the beginning of the end of Old School in Ed Greenwood's review of the Fiend Folio ...

"The beauty of the AD&D rule system is its careful attention to detail, “serious” (i.e., treating monsters as creatures in a fantasy world, not as constructs in a fantasy game) tone, and consistency. The FIEND FOLIO Tome mars this beauty. In its pages this DM finds too much lack of detail, too many shifts in tone, and too many breaches of consistency."

Here we see the cleaving of the playership - one side needing a "serious" imaginary world and the other just needing a fun place to play for a few hours. I'm in the latter group, and of course love the Fiend Folio. It's probably not a surprise that I don't much are for Mr. Greenwood's Forgotten Realms setting - though I mean no disrespect to Mr. Greenwood. He's a hell of a creator, and deserves great respect in the gaming world. It just sounds like we're looking for different things from our gaming.

I'll note one more line from the review:

"Perhaps it should have been a D&D® book, not one for the AD&D™ game."

Guess that's why I always liked the D&D rules better than the AD&D rules.

I will indulge my sense of humor for reviews one last time here, with this peach from a second review of the Fiend Folio.

"First, the names of the dragons are given in the wrong order. If you look in the Monster Manual under the entry indexed as “Dragon: White” you would see at the top of the description, “White Dragon (Draco Rigidus Frigidus).” The Latin name of the dragon is put in parentheses after the English name. But in the FIEND FOLIO under “Dragon, Oriental” a subtitle will read, “Li Lung (Earth Dragon),” with the Chinese name first and the English name in parentheses. Now, who is going to call this dragon “Li Lung” when “Earth Dragon” is much easier to remember? The names should have been given in reverse form (Oriental name last) for the sake of convenience, if nothing more."

The joy of writing for nerds. At least the reviewer was focusing on the big picture, and not nitpicking.

Now to the feature articles:

Dinosaurs: New Theories for Old Monsters by Lawrence Schick raises the problem we still face with these creatures that we don't face with fantasy monsters - we don't know enough. We know more now than we did then, of course, which means we could well be revising monster stats for these beasts forever. This is why I prefer using dinosaurs in my games as though they were fantasy monsters based on what you got in old movies ... with just a dash of what we now know (the potential for brilliant plummage, for example) to make them weird.

Gary Gygax has a nice article covering some of the peoples of Oerth. This was reprinted in the old Greyhawk boxed set, and I remember reading it there and thinking "Wow, I didn't realize you could make this kind of thing up." It was one of those "unknown unknowns" to me as a kid. I mean, the world is full of people, so I guess people in a D&D world will look like people in our own world, so you don't really need to describe them. I had a lot to learn about the joys of fantasy.

Katherine Kerr has a nice piece on Robin Hood (he has a price of 200 gp on his head, you know). She makes him a 12th level fighter, Chaotic Good, with some pretty high ability scores. This brings up a thought - that D&D is actually better at depicting cruel reality than heroic fantasy in some ways. After all, when we try to model heroes of fantasy literature in D&D, we have to make them very high level and usually give them very high ability scores. Much of the "evolution" of D&D over the years seems to have been an effort to make it more amenable to fantasy heroes than the original game. Sounds funny to say this, given the presence of "heroes" and "super-heroes" in OD&D.

Oh - I should add that Will Scarlet is an 8th level thief, Little John a 10th level fighter, Friar Tuck a 7th level cleric and the evil Sheriff (lawful evil, to be precise) a 6th level fighter.

"It has been recorded, in the lost scrolls of Caractos the Scribe, of which only fragments now exist, that... from the ice-world of Northumbria, many ages ago, there came a youth named Niall, son of Thorkon the Mighty, who was destined to roam the world as he knew it, and to whom was to be given the appellation, the Far-Traveler..."

So begins another tale of Niall by Gardner Fox.This is good, old-fashioned pulp barbarian stuff, so worth a read for old school sorts like myself.


Speaking of old school, this issue has a Basic D&D adventure called The Creature of Rhyl by Kevin Knuth (could this be him?).

The adventure scores one old school point with reversed names - King Namreh (Herman) and Prince Laechim (Michael). It involves treking into the wilderness to hunt a giant monster and rescue the prince from an evil magician.

My only quibble with this dungeon is the presence of some pretty decent magic items on the upper level without too much guarding it. This may be because there are a couple tough monsters lurking in the lower levels that have to be dealt with. There is a nice puzzle room here, and overall it seems like a good rescue mission sort of adventure.

Pat Reinken (perhaps this fellow?) has a nice article on the tactics of escaping danger, mostly covering magic items that help you get away from danger in one piece.

The Dragon's Bestiary features the Devil Spider with awesome Erol Otus artwork, which makes sense since Otus invented the monster. The monster is predicated on trying to escape from sticky webs, in such a manner as to make for an exciting fight. It's a tough monster, so don't play with it unless you're high enough level not to end up spider food.

Jeff Brandt introduces the Surchur, which is quite a horrifying thing, humanoid with a mass of tentacles in place of a head. It's a mid-level monster that doesn't have many tricks up its sleeve, but which could still give a party lots of problems. Kind of a good Lovecraftian thug.

Ed Greenwood presents the dyll in this issue, essentially a swarm of flying leeches.

The final monster is Craig Stenseth's poltergeist, the spirit of chaotic gnomes from Limbo and Gladsheim sent to the Material Plane to spread chaos. Nice origin idea for them.

Speaking of monsters - the magazine reviews a cool miniature called the "gorillasaurus", which is actually a hybrid of gorilla and rhinoceros (so maybe gorillaceros would have been a better name). The image is terrible in the magazine, but I found a good shot at the AD&D 2nd Edition Holdout blog that tells a good story about using it in-game.

For comic fans, this issue has an early Snarfquest, a nice Wormy entry and a What's New?.

As always, I'll leave you with some Tramp and his wonderful little tree trolls ...


 God bless - be kind to one another - and have some fun for crying out loud!
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