Thursday, September 30, 2010

Lost Cities and Forgotten Ruins

Second only to the archetypal Dungeon, Lost Cities are my favorite adventuring locale (with sinful urban locales running a close third). You could do a lot worse than base a campaign around these three modules (and perhaps locate them all on a Dreaded Isle?): archaeological sword & sorcery!

Lost City and Forbidden City in particular are amazing modules. Lost City offers a near-megadungeon-sized expansion, and the Forbidden City interior cover map just begs to be ripped off for your own, customized, Eldritch Ruin.

There's plenty of good pulp inspirational reading too, from R'lyeh to Elric's R'lin K'ren A'a. Tolkein's Annuminas has always seemed in need of further exploration to me, out in its troll-infested, ranger-patrolled wasteland.

What's your favorite Lost City?

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Omegea Atlas - Hathras, City of Dreams

Hathras, City of Dreams

Through the Western Waste, across the dead Marshes of Mayz, you arrive at the banks of the tepid River Lozsh. Stretching for a mile on either side of the river is the rambling, terraced City of Hathras. The city looks like a ruin in Springtime: jumbled marble columns draped in flowering vines, broken fountains that spill their crystalline waters out across the delicately cobbled streets, roofless palaces alive with mingled shadows , dappled sun beams, lilting songs, and faerie laughter. But this is no true ruin - the City of Dreams is rich, and well populated.

The folk of Hathras are ancient, decadent, and hedonistic, the last inheritors of a once-proud empire that has degenerated into indolence and escapism fueled by music, wine, and rare intoxicating herbs cultivated on the borders of the Marshes of Mayz. They earn their wealth through the sale of these herbs, which circulate all across the face of Omegea. The population of the city is roughly 20,000, though it is estimated 15,000 of these are slaves, mercenaries, and visiting merchants. The remaining 5000, true-blooded Hathrans, live as spoiled princes and princesses.

Aside from the competent mercenary companies, two important factors keep the city, seemingly ripe for rape and plunder, safe from harm. The first is the city's location. Bordered by the deadly marshes to the south, and by the near-impenetrable Jungles of Gil'Loorth to the north, getting any sizable force near to the city would be difficult at best, and very likely more expensive than sacking the city could repay.

The other factor is the presence of Grom, the Sleeping God, who slumbers in a drug-and-drum-induced dream-state, within a palace somewhere in the city. When last Grom woke, two centuries ago, to war against Hokhli the Wolf, the earth trembled and withered beneath his cloven feet. The folk of Hathras, goaded on by the infamous, immortal minstrel Jingolor, offered the god rest and succor. Since then, at least one Hathran Dream-Witch has remained close to the god, drumming and keeping the herb-brazier full and smoking. It is said that occasionally the bizarre dreams of the god come to life, sometimes to the terror, and often to the amusement, of the local populace.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Wilderlands of High Fantasy - Do you have this?

If not, you should. Unlike certain other (ahem) publishers with classic old-school RPG products, Judges Guild has its stuff up for easy, cheap download (and is also relatively easy to find on ebay). This particular book here, Wilderlands of High Fantasy, I first bought in the local corner hardware store when I was in 5th grade. It was the third RPG product I ever bought, but it was the one I used the longest (and still use).

It achieves just the right balance of detail and vagueness to inspire a referee's imagination. Its easy to play around with. My first campaign with it (B/X) was very Tolkeinesque, with elf lords and rangers and orc chieftains and abandoned dwarven mines (I'm getting a little excited just thinking about it;). In the 90's, it was home to my very own personal 1E OSR during the 2E era, and home to the classic TSR 1E adventures Temple of Elemental Evil, the Slavers series, and the Giant/Drow series (the pastel versions, of course;). In the early to mid 00's it was home to 3E and the Dungeon Crawl Classics. The last few years (C&C, Microlite20, and finally Swords & Wizardry) its been home to a series of picaresque adventures Cugel, Conan, Elric, and Fafhrd would have felt very much at home in.

Its a bit like an empty canvas that helps you fill it in as you paint. Pick a hex anywhere, make a couple of rolls on the multitude of random tables JG provides, and you're good to go.

Do yourself a favor and pick this up. The main book is here, you should get at least campaign map 1 to go with it, and it doesn't hurt to add the City State and the Ready Ref sheets.

That's 30 years or so worth of gaming material for less than $10.00.

If you have it already, share a little love in the comments below.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Friday Frazetta

Another favorite of mine, "Cat Girl" (click on it to make it bigger). Done in the early 80's and then, as many of Frank's paintings, retouched and revised several times over the years (and even completely redone in the 90's). Its an interesting piece, and like many classic painting through time, I believe its an allegory. The painting, to me at least, represents the three necessary elements of adventure: Temptation, in all her seductive glory; Mystery, in the form of the dark, winding forest/swamp; and Danger, in the form of the lurking cats and just the hint of a bare human ribcage lying on the ground.

Oh, and its all Green and Purple, the two most important colors in adventure, as Erol Otus would no doubt agree.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Name that 80's show...

Ok, I'm remembering a show in the 80's about (I should say I think its about, my poor brain doesn't reach back that far with any measurable accuracy) a family that gets... transported(?) to another dimension(?) which seemed fairly earth-like but ruled by some sort of totalitarian state. The poor earth family would get hunted from town to town, I think, and I'm pretty sure there was some sort of recurring villain, a secret police type fellow in a uniform.

Anyone remember what I'm going on about, or is this a figment of my imagination?

Another. Stupid. Hammerhead.

Check Jeff's Blog today for some cool catalog images from 1979. Really takes me back - I can remember drooling over toy catalogs as a kid.

I can also remember hoping, each birthday and Christmas, that I would get droves of Imperial Stormtroopers for my Luke, Han, and Chewie figures to blast their way through. Instead, I got F'n Hammerhead. Over and over and over again. I literally had a dozen of these ugly idiots.

I'm not sure what attraction this beanpole, blue-unitard-wearing slugface had for my parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins, but they seemed unable to avoid buying me the hideous things. I mean, this guy was in the movie for what? 1.3 seconds? Sitting there in the cantina gurgling and looking hideous. If you ever needed any confirmation (other than senor Binks) that the folks in charge of the Star Wars franchise have perhaps completely lost touch with their fanbase, you need look no further than this atrocity: A F'n Hammerhead Jedi.

If I ever get my hands on one of these figures I'm going to destroy it in the most unpleasant way I can devise.

F you, Hammerhead Jedi. F you.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The "Appendix N" of Episodic Play

There are five "textbooks", if you will, that I consider to be required reading for referees and players interested in Episodic Campaigns:

The Dying Earth - Jack Vance

Really the most important, in my opinion, on the list here, The Dying Earth is the "bible" of science-fantasy, episodic gaming. Consisting of three books composed of a number of picaresque tales featuring a changing cast of eclectic persons, the world is the real character. The setting takes on depth and life and continuity, as tale after tale unwinds. As each tale unwinds, the human elements may come and go, but the setting continues to become more compelling, more saturating. This is something you want to replicate in the episodic campaign - characters can drop in and out, stories and adventures may begin and end, but the players always have a constant, cohesive sense of the world they're adventuring in, making it easier to return, or maintain involvement when events take unexpected turns.

The Complete Chronicles of Conan - Robert E Howard

Besides being one of the most iconic and engrossing bodies of hardcore Swords & Sorcery literature you can read, it is also, almost by accident, an amazing example of how Episodic Play can allow you to jump around in time. Conan's fate to become king was known from the beginning - the tales of Conan's past were not told in sequential order. Again, you have a body of work told in very separate and distinct pieces that nonetheless form a cohesive whole.

Imagine running a campaign where players roll up not 1st level characters but 10th level - beginning in the endgame. From time to time, though, a session looks back in time, and the players play out the adventurers that led them to their current lofty states.

Thieves' World - Various

A great set of books, wherein the cohesive whole is made up not just of different stories and characters but written by different authors! The stories, perhaps, would have been more appropriately gathered under the heading "City of Thieves", as the action seldom leaves the mean streets and shadowed back alleys of Haven. Which is why you want this as an Episodic Play resource - there is a metric ton of inspiration here for city-based campaigns. Grab your copy of City State of the Invincible Overlord, read a couple of these stories the night before each session, and you be good to go!

Necronomicon: Best Tales of HP Lovecraft

Lovecraft manages to build not so much a campaign setting through his loosely-connected tales of Old Ones, Madness, and Mysteries Best Left Undisturbed, but a campaign feeling. You know, when you open the first page of a Lovecraft tale, that the protagonist is likely doomed. The only mystery of the tale is the exact nature of that doom: a horrific death? Subversion to some lost ritually initiated mutation? Complete loss of sanity?

This is a good guide for running an episodic play wherein the players are rolling up characters each session that are essentially doomed from the very beginning. No one expects to run the same character again next session - but perhaps they may encounter one as an NPC in the local asylum!

Lankhmar: Fritz Leiber

I include Leiber's tales by necessity - the breadth and scope of Lankhmar's universe is dazzling, and worked so subtly into the adventures of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser you almost don't realize it until you look back on the stories later on. Without a doubt, an achievement to strive for for any referee or world-building engineer. The great variety of types of adventures here makes these tales a vital reference - sorcery, romance, war, mystery, every genre abounds here, waiting to inspire your next session.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Omegea - Session 2

Session 2 - The Head in the Wastes

Session 2 opened with rolling a character for a new player. He played in my old 3.5 Wilderlands group years back, so it was fun to see a veteran "new schooler" experience the old school for the "first time in a long time".

The PCs spread their wings a bit more, starting to take advantage of the opportunities presented by a sandbox game. Actually, I'm starting to think of it as more of a Playground than a Sandbox, a concept I'll investigate more in a future blog post. They decided to pursue the most current lead on the location of the Sword of Rhogrim first, knowing only that the hero last to possess the sword disappeared while investigating a mysterious crystal dome out in the wastes, past a great stone head.

Many of the townsfolk of Majinta are familiar with the head, or the Head of Oos, as it is locally known. It is formed out of a cliffside and is some 60' feet high. After taking on some hired muscle (a couple of out-of-work swordsmen from the slave market, one of which is a "Reptelf", a race I'll detail in another post), the party ventured out the three leagues to the foot of the head. (For some reason I like that expression, "the foot of the head"). There was a clearing in the normal creepy vegetation of the wastes, likely from visiting tourists, as well as a great stone tablet covered in archaic foreign words. One of the characters (a failed academician)was able to translate, and the party flinched as the mouth of the stone head ground open.

Cautiously, carefully, the party entered, making the poor torchbearer/guide/urchin lead the way. They found themselves in a vaulted stone gallery in which every little sound echoed loudly. At the back was a spiral staircase leading up and down, and they also found the skeleton of a dwarf, and what looked like slimy trails all over the walls and ceilings (which made them very nervous). They followed the stair up, hearing a strange hissing noise that got louder as they climbed. It proved to be emanating from an odd circle of metal mesh. If they listened closely, they could almost make out the words "Mae-Dae" or something of the sort. They fidgeted with a group of jeweled studs beneath the mesh, but that only made different and increasingly annoying sounds issue forth.

Up a short stair, they arrived at a landing with a strange metal door marked with a yellow sign bearing a triangle pierced by two arrows. The door proved to be electrified, much to a warrior's chagrin! Up onto another landing, and they found themselves in front of a bizarre array of levers and buttons. Messing around with them a bit, they managed to get two large steel circles to twist open in front of them, and they found themselves looking down at the clearing in front of the stone head - they had managed to open its eyes! Just then, the cleric Deago the Unwise, notices a strange sucking sound above him, and screams as a slimy, 12' long black-and-purple sluglike creature (see stats below) with frond-like antennae squeezes out of a fissure and attacks. It shot a stomach-like, toothy appendage out of its mouth that burned through the cleric's chain mail, sunk its teeth into his chest, and started pulling the unfortunate holy man forward. The party attacked, managed to sever the things stomach-tentacle with a lucky "20", and it withdrew back into its crevasse.

The party threw a grappling hook up through the left eye of the Head and was able to climb up onto the top of the Head. Behind it, they saw another metal door, a paved (though overgrown) courtyard, and a weird chariot-like conveyance with a glass dome and five metal blades attached to the top. Inside they found an array of levers and such, and under the seats they found a white metal box, and a black metal box. The white box contained four syringes of some sort of healing potion, and the black box contained a sort of pistol like device with 6 large shells. Out to the NE, they could just make out the top of a cracked crystal dome in the distance, and they headed towards it.

They were met outside by angry beetles. They managed to flip one onto its back (more fantastic outside-the-box thinking during combat!), and kill it, and were able to slip away as the other beetles feasted on the body of their dead cousin. They climbed the dome, found the valve, repelled down into the greenhouse and started to search through the weird and often hostile plant life within.

Then they ran into the green slime! Things got very bad very fast, flesh was consumed, and it was nearly the end for them. Nonetheless, they were able to escape the dome, heal the damage they had done to themselves to get rid of the green slime with the vials from the ancient chariot, and decided they had best get back to Majinta for a little rest and recuperation. Living to fight another day. They were attacked on the way home by a Fungusbat (see below), but killed it with another surprise 20.

Looking forward to the next session!

This 12' long sluglike creature is black with deep purple splotches, and has two quivering frond like antennae it uses to "see" and "smell" with. Despite its size, it can fit through cracks as narrow as 6", and is extremely stealthy. In combat, it can either spray acidic bile (1d4 points to anything fro 15' in front of it, save for half), or lash out with its toothy stomach-tentacle (1d8 dmg). If it hits by 3 or more over what it needs, the stomach-tentacle has attached itself to the victim, and will do an automatic 1d8 points of damage each round until detached or destroyed. Burjoroi are rumored to be psychically sensitive, and will seek out psychically sensitive individuals to feast upon.
HD4+1; AC5[14]; hp21; atk spray or bite; dmg 1d4 or 1d8; Special see above; Save F4.

This creature appears to be a gray and green bat (with a 8-10' wingspan) dripping with moss-like fungoid growths. Its mouth is unnaturally large, and filled with translucent 9" needle-like teeth (which fetch as much as 2gp each at market, there are about 20 teeth in the average fungusbat). In place of eyes it has two black, branchlike growths that appear to detect motion or air displacement. Its bite can convey (25% chance per bite) a wasting disease that will dissolve the victim into a heap of green and gray fungus in 2d4 days.
HD2+1; AC6[13]; hp11; atk bite; dmg 2d4; Special fungus disease; Save F2.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Friday Frazetta

This is actually a Roy Krenkel cover for A Fighting Man of Mars, assisted by Frank Frazetta. Here two men with swords battle it out under the two moons of Barsoom with fists, knives, and swords, while flying ships pass by behind them. Someone has taken the time to place an ornate martian rug over the edge of the wall there, to protect it from damage caused by the nearby airship's anchor.

Who thinks of a detail like that? I think its pretty cool.

Tonight's game night! In Omegea, my science-fantasy setting. I'll have to remember to try and throw a couple of cool details like that into the game.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Random Table: Slum Encounters

You never know what you'll run into (or what may run into you) during a trip to the seedy side of town. Roll on the table below to see what occurs!

Random Table: Slum Encounters (d100)

1. A trio of young pickpockets. They are members of an immense gang that will torment the party for months if a member is harmed.
2. A haggard, bearded man preaches doom outside an alehouse.
3. The princess of a fallen noble house now despondently sell her favors as a common streetwalker.
4. Two old women kick and mock an obese old veteran with no legs.
5. A dog runs past with an emerald necklace around its neck. A screaming little man chases it.
6. A ruffian hangs from a rope off a balcony, slowly strangling and pleading with passersby for succor.
7. Something unnatural moves in the murky waters of a large puddle in the road.
8. Bat-like creatures with glowing purple antennae swoop down at passersby.
9. A slovenly woman stands in a doorway, waving you in. Two ruffians lurk inside.
10. A black cat runs out of an alley, crosses your path, and disappears into another alley.
11. An overturned cart blocks the road, a foot deep in mud and rotting cabbages. An elderly farmer stands beside it and weeps while the locals jeer him.
12. Four men are beating a drunken fop in an alley.
13. A roadside grill offers strange dog-sized insects cooked over charcoal.
14. A drunken woman runs shrieking out of a stable.
15. Five men in matching floppy red hats walk arrogantly down the avenue, shoving everyone out of their path with stout wooden cudgels.
16. A man in a wizardly-looking robe and pointed hat offers you a selection of charms and amulets.
17. A woman in a transparent silk shift with rotting teeth tries to pull you into her tenement, whispering rough suggestions in your ear.
18. A single, lush pine has grown 14' tall in the muck of an alleyway.
19. A man rolls a barrel of ale down the street, whistling a familiar tune.
20. A vulture perches over the doorway of an alehouse.
21. A row of seven lepers plead for alms.
22. A physician works frantically in the street on a man who has been stabbed while onlookers stand around them and whisper.
23. An unnatural darkness hangs over the mouth of an alley, and a cold breezes issues from out of it.
24. A high-pitched scream is heard from the topmost floor of a nearby tenement.
25. A group of musicians marches down the street, loudly playing revolutionary tunes while a dwarf scampers along behind them collecting tips in a hat.
26. A line of laborers passes crates into a warehouse.
27. A fortune teller squats at the side of the street, stacking small bones atop one another.
28. Two muscular men wrestle in a square while onlookers place bets.
29. A elderly woman sells handmade books of poetry.
30. A human-looking creature with black eyes growls at you.
31. A man pulls a cart filled with fresh fish. He offers you a bargain to buy the lot.
32. A tremendous stench of blood wafts up from a sewer grate.
33. A maddened horse plunges into a screaming crowd, hooves flailing.
34. A vendor offers delicious skewers of meat and vegetables.
35. A sad-looking maiden sells flowers for a pittance.
36. A group of scruffy men gather around a hookah, while the owner invites new customers to join in.
37. A pale woman in black robes walks past with her chin high, scattering white flowers petals behind her from a basket as she goes.
38. An impossibly tall and thin man performs contortions for tips.
39. A man hawks peeks at the growling creature within a covered cage.
40. A buxom woman pulls a cart with a keg of ale, offering to fill tankards for a copper piece.
41. Two merry prostitutes skip down the street hand in hand, flirting with passersby.
42. A married couple bicker loudly from an upstairs window while the children cry.
43. A pair of heavily armed men stand to either side of a doorway, glaring at passersby.
44. A dark-skinned man leads a midget rhinoceros down the avenue.
45. A man plays a set of bongo drums in a nook while a half dozen intoxicated revelers dance wildly.
46. A line of cultists sway down the street, chanting and waving incense burners on chains.
47. A solitary soldier leans drunkenly against a wall, his helmet slipping down over his eyes.
48. Exotic music and feminine laughter comes from an anonymous building.
49. A thin-mustached man stands beside the door of a lotus-den, nodding at prospective customers.
50. Three old veterans enter a bathhouse, chatting and smoking pipes.
51. A gang of children torment a sickly looking goat.
52. A tall old woman attempts to sell you her slave, a young man with one arm.
53. A hooded man watches you intently from a second floor window.
54. A green-skinned man performs feats of strength for a crowd of sighing washer-women.
55. An airship passes by far overhead. Children run out into the street excitedly to watch it go.
56. A pair of thin, blue-robed women sing religious hymns and hand out cheap prayer booklets.
57. A small group of young men and women rush excitedly down the avenue, passing a bottle and giggling.
58. Two toughs chase a young ruffian into a blind alley.
59. Flames burst out of a pair of store front windows. Everyone starts running and screaming.
60. An ageless looking man with amber eyes and pointed ears plucks the strings of a harp while a trio of gangsters stand mesmerized.
61. A unit of the city guard trot down the street in haste, armor jangling with every step. They disappear around a corner up ahead while onlookers whisper to each other.
62. A squealing pig races through the throng, chased by a screaming female dwarf.
63. A deep rumble shakes the ground, and black smoke rises into the air from somewhere up ahead.
64. Two men walk apart with upraised rapiers - a duel is about to begin!
65. A tear-streaked young woman begs you to rescue her from this hellhole.
66. A building nearby sags, and then collapses! People run screaming for cover as choking dust fills the air.
67. A clown makes rude gestures at you as a crowd gathers to laugh.
68. An enraged harlot chases a man from her hovel, shrieking and beating him with a stuffed weasel.
69. A turbaned man charms snakes from a basket with his flute.
70. A man standing near you gasps and falls to ground, dead, a crossbow bolt jutting from his back.
71. A fat man kicks a cowering stable boy, accusing him of theft.
72. Cultists throw books and scrolls onto a raging bonfire in the middle of the street.
73. A boy herds a flock of chickens down the street, ever wary for dogs and thieves.
74. A city official walks into a brothel with a pair of guards.
75. A group of northmen chant and sing loudly in an alehouse, pounding the tables with their tankards as they profess their admiration for a particular preserved meat product.
76. A woman in silk garments hawks costume jewelry.
77. A well-dressed gentleman negotiates with a mushroom vendor.
78. A man tends three barrels of hot water, selling baths for two coppers.
79. An old woman wearing a tiara sells fruit and small wire sculptures from her stall.
80. A worn-out looking prostitute loudly disparages your manhood to a crowd of onlookers if you refuse her favors.
81. A wild-eyed man carries on a lively, though one-sided, conversation with his mule.
82. A clanging sound comes from a nearby sewer grate.
83. A raven follows you down the street, fluttering from rooftop to rooftop, as if spying on you.
84. A red-faced man with a small gang of angry followers points at you and screams "there he is, get him!"
85. A beautiful and fey fairy-like maiden lies dying in an alleyway.
86. A middle-aged woman rushes out of her hostel to you, pleading for forgiveness.
87. A duelist eyes you contemptuously as he sharpens his rapier.
88. A priest leads a defeated looking group of chained slaves past you and into a grim temple.
89. A chimney sweeper hangs by one hand from an eave above you, howling for assistance.
90. A criminal in stocks loudly proclaims his innocence in between clods of filth.
91. A bruised and battered looking prostitute collapses in front of you. A strange red jewel rolls out of her hand...
92. A muttering man in a black robe inscribes a magic circle in the filth of the road with a curvy silver dagger.
93. An armored bully swaggers through the crowds looking for a fight.
94. A wailing maiden flees past you, pursued by laughing ruffians.
95. A barroom brawl spills out into the streets.
96. Two rival gangs face off in the middle of the street.
97. A jolly group of pointy-hatted goblins walk out of a brothel, laughing and shoving each other.
98. A teary-eyed woman pushes her son at you, pleading for you to take him on as apprentice.
99. A dozen sultry young priestesses, with coal-dark eyes and intoxicating perfume, dance through the crowd inviting all to the fertility rites at midnight tonight.
100. The road in front of you collapses into a tentacle-filled sinkhole!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Short Adventure - Beneath the Crystal Dome

his is a short Science-Fantasy adventure I thought I'd share with you. Hope you find some use for it. :)

Beneath the Crystal Dome

Out in the Western Waste, beyond the great stone head of Oos, a cracked crystal dome, streaked with blue and green algae and draped in moss, rises from the suppurating peat of the bog. Strange stone columns jut from the ground here and there around the dome, and skeletons caked in green slime are hanging from several of them. An unsettling deep buzzing, as if from cicadas the size of wagons, fills the steamy air.

At the top of the dome (60' up, and difficult to get to) is some sort of metal, valve-like entryway, not unlike a submarine hatch. The valve opens easily, as if it has been dutifully maintained. The wilderness around the dome is crawling with man-sized, green and black beetles. The beetles are hostile and will cut men to pieces with their razor-sharp mandibles. If cut open, each contains a small black metal box with a single flashing red light and a clump of wires that attaches to the insects' brainstems. On a roll of 20 the beetle has injected a paralytic poison into its victim (save -2) and will feast at its leisure upon the still-living meal. (Bog Beetles - AC5[14]; HD2; hp10; atk bite; dmg1d6; Save F2).

Within the dome (300' across) is a tangled jungle (once a greenhouse of sorts) of bizarre and often hostile plant life. Roll once per turn on the table below to determine if anything lashes out at explorers. Near the western side of the dome, buried in fungal growths, is another hatch, leading to the tunnels beneath the dome. In the SE area of the dome is skeleton, still garbed in the flying leathers of the Air Pirates of the far north. At his belt is an ornate, brass and wood radium pistol with 11 rounds of ammunition (Dmg 2d4; Range 100'; RoF 1), a stainless steel shortsword with a rubber grip, and a flashlight-ring (as per the light spell) with about an hour of use left in its tiny battery.

Greenhouse Encounters (1d6)
1-2 - No encounter
3 - Violet Fungi
4 - Assassin Vine
5 - Green Slime
6 - Amber Creeping Vine

Beneath the Greenhouse

The corridors are perfectly 10' high and 10' across, and perfectly level. The walls are stone but how they were worked is indeterminable. The stone is white in places, but mostly streaked with algae, mold, and mildew. A strong smell of decay permeates the air. A deep throbbing can be both heard and felt through the walls and floors. Every so often, a sharp "crack" (like the cracking a whip, only higher in pitch) echoes through the corridors and chambers. Doors here are stone with stainless steel handles, and most are stuck. There is a 1 in 6 chance per turn that the party encounters a group of 3d4 zombies in filthy white jumpsuits with steel maces. A stair in the NE area leads down to a subway terminal.

1. Bunk Room - This room contains 14 triple-bunk beds, the mattresses long since rotten away. A patch of Green Slime grows on the ceiling in the center of the room.
2. Control Room - One door to this room is secret, the other is locked. Within are several consoles covered in knobs and buttons (all smashed) and seven wall-screens. Six of the wall screens are smashed, but one still functions and gives a snowy image of the greenhouse interior above.
3. Map Room - The west door to this room is electrified (3d6). The floor of the room is glass, and depicts the SE area of the continent of Omegea (The Western Wastes, the Sunken Lands, the Fungal Forests, and the Quartz Barrens). Several points of light, pulsing weakly and connected by glowing lines, can be seen throughout the area. A small white box is clamped to one wall with a red "x" on it - it contains 13 syringes, only 4 of which are unbroken (2 as potions of healing, 1 as potion of cure disease, and 1 as potion of neutralize poison).
4. Examination Room - A dwarf in chain mail has been clamped to a white metal bed here. The corpse is dessicated, but still identifiable, and its chest has been clamped open to expose the internal organs. Its left boot conceals a small velvet pouch containing 9 small diamonds (100gp each).
5. Trophy Room - The walls are hung in various military banners. Seven manikins stand here, each dressed in a different sort of armor and weaponry (brass breastplate, shield, and spear; chain, norse-helm, and dane-axe; black studded leather and two curved daggers; scale mail, square shield with spike, and falchion; green-lacquered plate mail, great-helm, and musket; ring mail, insectoid helmet, and glaive; rune-scribed crimson kevlar vest, helmet, and greatsword. The plate-mail manikin appears to have some sort of ornate harness attached - this is in fact a 10-legged arachnid predator with whirling green eyes (as medium giant spider).
6. Empty Room - This room is pristine white stone. Not a fleck of dust. Not even a bacterium. Sleeping here causes 1hp damage per hour (radioactivity).
7. Laboratory of the Supernatural Anesthetist - A shriveled-looking man in a white lab-coat works here amidst flashing consoles, examination tables, and inscrutable tomes. Magic circles have been inscribed on the floor, and six glass sarcophagi stand along one wall (one contains a tanned-looking corpse clutching the lost Sword of Rhoghrim). The man is Lom - he is 700 years old, has a black gem in the center of his forehead, and mutters madly to himself as he works. Three of the examination tables contain unconscious humans - an old man, an adolescent girl, and a deformed local farmer - all of whom have been stuck with pins and have wired censors glued to various spots but are otherwise unharmed. Lom was an apprentice of the Mindlords of Dyskater before their fall. He will talk to explorers, but only to trick them onto his examination tables. Lom keeps a hoard of platinum bars (10 bars, worth 100gp each) under his filty cot in one corner. He can summon 1d6 zombies to his aid each round (max 30 zombies). Lom has a radio transmitter wired to his heart that initiates a self-destruct system in the lab if he dies (as 10HD Fireball, alarms will go off for 10 rounds prior to the explosion). (Lom; AC4; HD7; hp24; atk dagger; dmg 1d4; Save MU7; spell-like abilities charm person, hypnotize, hold person, slow, animate dead, confusion).
8. Store Room - The east door is electrified(3d6), and the south door is locked. This room contains crates of iron rations (about 20 man-weeks worth), 20 5-gallon plastic jugs of water, 12 hams, 1 case of purple wine bottles, 6 large wheels of cheese, 1 large box of powdered milk, 24 tin cans of chili, 6 large sacks of rice, and an assortment of dried meats and jarred olives. A jump-suited zombie stands here, inert unless molested, clutching a feather quill and a checklist.
9. Sealed Area - The south door is locked and electrified. This room has not been opened in the two-hundred years since Lom first came here. It contains the mummified corpses of the last 12 survivors who made there stand here during the assualt of Lom's zombie horde. Lom locked them in and let them starve to death. The mummies are garbed in white leather armor and fine-quality steel rapiers lie here and there. One corpse still clutches an extremely realistic looking painting (photograph) of a young woman and two small children.
10. Freezer - This room is a solid block of ice. What lies within, should the party choose to "defrost" it, is up to the referee.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Friday Frazetta

Here's another great Frazetta piece - I think it fairly well depicts what a game session in Omegea should look like in the players' minds. I don't know what draws me in so easily about the whole mixed Sci-Fi / Fantasy concept - is it a way to have one's cake and eat it too? Is it because mixed-genre fiction was dying out just as D&D was gaining popularity - making "high fantasy" the de facto theme for most of the next 30 years' game books and supplements? Or is it just not as popular? Even campaign settings like Blackmoor, originally heavy in sci-fi elements, gradually had most of those elements swept under the rug.

What do you guys think?

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

A Lost Age - DAW SF Covers

When I was a kid, Summer Break meant at least two weeks at with my aunt in Palatka, FL, a town in the middle of nowhere that just happened to have a fantastic used bookstore - the "Bookworm". The store was stuffed with used paperbacks; you could usually stuff a bag full of them for about $5, and my aunt made sure I got in at least one trip every summer. The Sci-Fi wall at the time was dominated by these books with bright mustard-yellow spines - DAW SF titles from greats like Vance, Cherryh, Moorcock, Norton, Leiber, Zelazny, and Tanith Lee. The covers were bright, evocative, and the titles lurid and irresistible to a 10 year old boy. Obviously my adolescence came well after the age of Weird Tales and Argosy - for kids in the late 70's, early 80's, DAW SF was our "Pulp" connection. They were cheap, plentiful, easy to read, and memorable.

As a quick scan of the covers will reveal, this was from the age when sci-fi and fantasy were easily interchangeable. The last yellow-spined DAW SF book was published in 1984 (the first was in 1971), about the same time as Tolkien pastiches would come to dominate the sci-fi sections of bookstores, and publishers grew more concerned with clearly delineating their fantasy titles.

The cover art still resonates with me today, and I've begun picking up the odd yellow-spine here and there when I see them at used bookstores and garage sales. Will I ever replicate the 1000-title Bookworm wall of my youth? We'll see. It'd certainly be fun trying.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Omegea - Session 1

The first session of my new Swords & Wizardry campaign went well (at least, everyone seemed happy enough). Character generation was a breeze, of course, which I think surprised the 3.5 vet of the group. I had everyone roll on the Skeletons in the Closet table, with some interesting results that I was able to start working into the game thanks to a bit of palm reading later on. I didn't go overboard with the houserules (yet), since everyone is new to S&W, but did use wound binding and let everyone know there were no class weapon restrictions.

I started the session with a quick combat tutorial, in the form a bandit ambush on the road to Majinta, and went very slowly and methodically through all the steps, reinforcing that an attack roll wasn't necessarily a "swing" and damage a "wound", but rather a minute's worth of slashing and parrying and hacking and dodging. The players quickly picked up on the old-school rhythm of state-your-action / roll initiative / take your turn / repeat, and were improvising their actions as early as round two. It was refreshing (and reassuring) to see how easily the rules lite framework almost insists the players step outside the basic attack roll - damage roll rut.

From there I moved to the introduction, and cut the players loose to explore the city of Majinta. I borrowed heavily from my Sword & Sorcery Dyvers the Wicked for the city, making a few changes, and letting the rest emerge in play. The players took to the sandbox nature of the game easily, and quickly soaked up some adventure hooks. They immediately became curious about the great obelisk in the center of town - and were quickly targeted by an agent of the local crime underworld looking to sell a means of getting into the thing. The players went and met with a "man in a silver skullcap" at the Headless Wench and bartered for a scroll which supposedly will gain them access.

They then secured rooms at an Inn near the slave market, and relaxed a bit in the place's bathhouse. The next morning they hired a guide and set out to explore the city a bit. They met with one of the city's two rival Sage's Guilds to find out more about the obelisk, as well as where the Sword of Rhoghrim might possibly be (and picked up a possible "job" relating to the rival guild's possessions). They then traveled outside of town to the edge of the wastes where they met a witch rumored to be in possession of a few important old tales relating to the obelisk. The witch's price for the tales was the intact tail of a local menace, a sort of lizard-bird with a scorpion-like stinger and a gaze that could turn a man to stone (a creature of Law, perhaps?).

The party went out hunting - baiting the creature with a tasty live goat. The combat was a near thing, a couple of saving throws were necessary (both successful, luckily), combat once again moved outside the realm of roll attack - roll damage into the realm of improvisation, which I found highly entertaining to adjudicate. They returned to the witch with their tail, got their tales, and got their palms read. They then returned to town, made some contacts among the local merchants, acquired some very potent lemon-liquor, and began plotting how best to undertake the several possibly lucrative missions ahead of them.

The players seemed to take very naturally to the sandbox nature of the game, I had come prepared to give them a bit of a "primer" on the concept if necessary, but it was never needed. They took very strongly to following their nose from lead to lead, taking notes on the info gained, and exploring all the clues and options presented. They also contributed to the world around them, as they were quick to speculate out loud about the things and places they stumbled across (especially an onyx eye ring they took off a dead bandit early on), which allowed me to take those ideas and run with them a bit. Majinta itself quickly took on a life of its own, rivalries emerged between the main temples of Uz ( a cult of drug-addled, possibly cannibalistic sensualists) and the Eye (a cult of cruel, ascetic, conspiracy-obsessed fanatics), and histories and legends emerged around the city's landmarks and ruins. For example the city is run by seventeen great families, which evolved from the seventeen nomadic tribes that settled here when the plains to south became the "Sinking Lands". The obelisk was there before them, and a hero from each of the tribes entered it through a disappearing door. Their heads were thrown out a window at the top shortly after. In response, the 17 tribes began a siege of the obelisk, a permanent settlement grew to support the siege, and eventually the siege itself was forgotten, the obelisk proving impervious to harm and unbreachable.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Friday Frazetta

I've always been a fan of the various Death Dealer paintings, arguably one of Frazetta's most iconic characters. Characters like this exemplify Sword & Sorcery to me, mainly due to his obvious moral ambiguity. Yeah, he's hacking apart some foul-looking lizard-ghouls there, but he's no knight in shining armor himself. Is he defending a village from the horde's deprivations, or are they merely in the way of him picking up some extra coin?

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Castle Greyhawk - The Black Reservoir

Some inspirational reading for everyone running games this weekend, or just interested in the roots of the hobby - a Gygax-penned recounting of an early 70's expedition into the depths of the Castle Greyhawk dungeons and one of it's most notorious locations: The Black Reservoir!

I've copied part one of the tale below. For part two, follow the link at the end to Grodog's amazing Castle Greyhawk Archive.

The Expedition Into the Black Reservoir; a Dungeon Adventure at Greyhawk Castle

By Gary Gygax

To the east of the busy walled city of Greyhawk the land is forsaken, overgrown with thorns and thistles. Oozing marsh creeps slowly down. The copses are huddles of weird, bloated trees. The wiry grass seems to grasp at the feet of any who dare to tread upon it. In the center of this unwholesome place, on a rock-boned prominence, hulks the ruin of the grim Greyhawk Castle. Still a few of the bravest sort regularly frequent its precincts---one such as Erac, a spellcaster, Erac the Enchanter, Erac the ambitious, a paladin of Law.
This same magic-user now commanded a party of four bent on despoiling the wicked dwellers of the underworld beneath the castle of some goodly treasure. At Erac’s side paced the lama Londlar. At the back of one was Nulfyke, a dwarf swordsman, while behind the other was the acolyte Ugubb of the Lake of Crystals. The fallen west gate of Greyhawk Castle was at hand, and through this mouldering portal the party passed. In a few moments they had entered the great central keep, heaved open an inner door, and carefully proceeded down a set of winding stone steps---steps worn with age and slippery with dampness. They had entered the dungeons.
A huge oaken door at the bottom of the tower gave into a corridor running east and west. Erac led eastward, turned south at an intersection, followed a branching passage southeasterly, and halted the group in a large natural cavern which was lighted by glowing clumps of foxfire upon floor, walls, and ceiling.
At least a score of elves were lounging about, and they greeted the four adventurers in a businesslike manner. These were the guardians of the eastern stairs. Who or what had made them the warders of this ingress to the dungeon depths no-one knew or cared; for they were there, and no-one cared to dispute their right.
A bargain was quickly arranged: On their return the expedition would allow the elves their choice of any one magical item plus a tithe of silver and gold---all this assuming that the party DID return, and if they returned that they had any treasure to divide. The deeper dungeons are most hazardous, prizes are hard won, and mortality is high. A few parting words and the four went further into the cavern, up a small passage, and then began a long descent by means of uneven steps cut into living rock.
When the end of the stairs was finally reached, the party quickly decided to attempt to explore mostly northward, and proceeded accordingly. Most of the passages seemed to by running laterally, but by dint of much criss-crossing they had gained some measure of progress when a chance entry into a narrow southerly tunnel discovered a flight of steps going deeper still into the bowels of the castle.
One of the adventurers demurred, and an argument ensued as to the wisdom of going further down. This discussion ceased abruptly when a bellowing arose from the corridor they had just left, and without further ado all four hastened on. The end of the steps brought something totally unexpected, however. The space there was seemingly boundless and cloaked with a murk of ebon vapors which allowed but feeble penetration by lanthorn or torch.
It was only after considerable careful probing in all directions that it was discovered that northward lay a sudden drop. The ledge was only a few feet above a sheet of inky water---water of unknown depths. Passing along its edge the four went westward, and within a few yards came upon a large raft moored to an iron ring. Erac wished to set out upon the waters then and there; but Londlar prevailed upon him, so the party explored yet further west along the strange shore.
Some two hundred feet anead (sic) they found a flight of stairs wending upward, and as they passed these by a strange scraping from beyond brought all four to a state of utmost alert. Lanthorns were raised high, and a faint glimmering from afar told them that something unusual lurked ahead. Then the scraping came again, and this time a loud clacking accompanied it.
Into the light scuttled an immense crab, with pincers of sword-like proportion poised in front snapping open and shut as the monster charged its intended prey. Formidable, certainly, but why face a senseless brute for nothing except a chance of death? The four discreetly withdrew at a dead run.
Nothing pursued beyond a few score feet, and Erac called a halt in order to devise a detailed plan. “No more aimlessness! We will now set out upon the dark waters yonder, for I am sure that somewhere within that expanse a vast treasure awaits our taking.” In a trice all were aboard the raft, and with long poles the four shoved the clumsy raft away from the ledge into the unknown.
The raft slowly lost way after the initial rush of ten feet, but Ugubb whispered that a pillar loomed but a few feet ahead, and gradually the raft drifted forward until they touched the granite post with a gentle thump. Working around the support so as to be able to go further northward, the four repeated the pushing off process.
Eventually they discovered that the body of water was apparently a large reservoir. The roof of the place was lost from view in the murk, but everywhere rose mighty granite pillars to support it---hexagonal posts of several yards’ diameter. These supports enabled the party to make their way about the place, and were nearly the undoing of them all.
Quietly the four made their way from pillar to post, fearing that some lurker in the deeps might arise at any moment to overturn their frail craft and devour them whole.Yet nothing broke the still surface of the water save the ripples from the passing of their own raft, and soon they discovered a line of supports stretching away to the left and the right. Pillars which were placed so close to each other that the raft would not pass between them. Further exploration revealed that these obstacles took the form of an oval. What was within?
On the far side the sharp-eyed dwarf espied a rusty lever protruding from one of the pillars. Nulfyke seized it and attempted to move the arm, but it gave only a bit and groaned horribly. Erac then came to the assistance of his lieutenant, but they met with no success until Ugubb too lent his weight. Finally the iron bar slowly moved downward, protesting rustily as it went, and as it moved the stone post slowly and silently began to descend.
There was nothing to be done now but to see what results their efforts would bring, for the monolith sank so rapidly as to prevent any attempt to return the lever to its original position. The raft was drawn into the vortex created by the descending shaft, and as it moved ahead all four of the explorers peered into the space heretofore inaccessible to them.
Terror! The water in the middle of the oval was beginning to roll. A snaky head broke the surface! A sea monster had been awakened and released, and they had unwittingly invited their doom. Londlar, Nulfyke, and Ugubb frantically paddled and thrust with the poles to escape the area as quickly as possible, but the horrid head regarded them balefully.
Erac stepped to the part of the raft nearest the monster, turned his back on it, and chanted strange words while his fingers drew runes in the air. The monster was a scant ten yards distant,and closing fast. It had not come close enough to seize the raft or its occupants, however, when their motions seemed to blur. The clever enchanter had cast a spell of haste upon them, and each now moved at incredible speed. The sluggish craft leaped ahead, but even then it was not moving as fast as its pursuer.
“Faster!” shouted Erac, as he turned again toward the sea monster and again raised his hand. He pointed his finger at the gaping mouth of the beast, and spoke a single word. A glowing orb sped from his hand and streaked toward its target, growing larger until it burst in searing flame just behind the monster’s outstretched neck. A deafening honk came from the beast, and it momentarily writhed in pain.
Would they thus escape? No! They were against the westernmost boundary of the black reservoir now, and the monster was cleaving the water behind in fury to avenge its hurt. And then it was upon them! Its serpent’s neck shot forth and it struck. A blast of fetid breath and rending teeth, and Erac lay dazed and bleeding.
The three paddlers forced the cumbersome vessel northward as Erac struggled upright and reached for his last hope, a strange device taken from a quasi-human in another dimension. He aimed the stubby rod as well as the unsteady platform and the poor visibility allowed, and pressed the small stud on its side.
A beam of blue radiance darted forth, striking the water near the monster and causing it to boil. Another hideous honk of pain and great thrashing. What was that ahead? It looked like another ledge and the hope of deliverance. Erac sent another beam at their pursuer, and then the raft was at the raised stone platform. As it neared the ledge, all four leaped out.
They had gone twenty feet or so along the ledge when two things happened simultaneously: The sea serpent heaved itself upon the ledge behind them, determined not to allow this prey to escape; and from above five pteradons dove upon Ugubb and Nulfyke, who were in the lead. As Londlar rushed into the fray ahead and smote at the menace from above, Erac loosed yet another bolt from the thick rod. This time it fell full upon the head of the monster, and in a second its truncated corpse thrashed on the stone blocks, spattering ichor everywhere.

Part Two

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Building the Old School group - part 2

"Up the Red Caravan Causeway, through the fungus-choked Sinking Lands, and you arrive at the towering sandstone walls of Majinta: City on the edge of the Western Wastes. Beyond the city a shroud of roiling green mist hangs in the air, marking the border of the Wastes. Over the city brood the Totem-Towers of the Majintans, their black iron facades depicting the scowling faces of the city's ancient forefathers. A crowd of merchants, fighting with their stubborn, honking, pack-loros, eye you suspiciously as you near the great gates. But the glaive-wielding, insect-helmeted guards at the entrance pay you no mind - their only concern is that you hand over the silver coin required for entrance.

You've come here following rumors of the lost Sword of Rhoghrim. But the city stinks of Chaos - even the begging street urchins have an unwholesome gleam in their eyes. This is not likely to be an easy job..."

Above is the opening flavor text for this Friday's Swords & Wizardry game. As I blogged back in May (Building the Old School Group), I was puzzling over how to put together a group of like-minded old-school gamers. As fortune would have it, they were, for the most part, already right there in front of me - people I knew from work, clubs, pubs, and old gaming groups - who I knew shared an interest in, if not gaming in every case, the fantasy/scifi/horror genres in general and all they entail from movies to books to video games, etc.

Between 5 and 8 people will be showing up for the first session!

I was pleasantly surprised by the enthusiasm showed by the folks I suggested giving this a whirl - half of them have never played an RPG before, and some are even (gasp) girls! - despite my cautionary advice that they would be entering into some pretty damn nerdy territory (though I made it clear costumes would be expressly forbidden).

The game itself will be set in a new campaign setting I've been tinkering with: Omegea (the opposite of Pangea - the continents have traveled around the globe and gotten back together again just before the end of all things) - kind of a Dying Earth meets Weird World meets Melnibone meets Barsoom type of setting. Yep, dune seas, flying ships, lost technologies, weird cults, radium rifles, amorphous diabolical blobs, all that good stuff. You've seen some glimpses of it already, here and there.

At any rate, I hope it turns out good, and everyone has fun. There's a big stone head jutting out of the sulfurous peat of the Wastes, and a cracked crystal dome beyond that, crawling with nasty-looking, chitinous creatures. Just waiting for a fresh meal...


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