Monday, September 29, 2014

A Once-Green and Pleasant Land, or, The Cities of the Conqueror Worm

Random campaign setting idea from work today, geared towards Lamentations of the Flame Princess and episodic play:

In September 1649, the British Isles, wracked as they already were with conflict between Protestants and Catholics, Parliamentarians and Royalists, experienced a very strange, new Revolution that effectively made the prior seven years of warfare irrelevant.  To those who lived through it, it seemed to be the end of the world.  Maybe they were right.

Sinkholes erupted across the Isles, swallowing small towns and ripping apart fields and forest.  Things, unspeakable horrors born from God alone knows what Hell, crawled out of these holes to prey on men.  The Catholics blamed the Protestant heresy for this eruption, while the Protestants blamed Catholic corruption.  Parliamentarians and Royalists blamed each other, claiming the eruption as a sign of divine displeasure with their opponents.  The monsters didn't seem to discriminate.

A generation passes.  The British Isles are quarantined by the rest
of the world, and have become a bombed out, Balkanized hellhole crawling with demons and cultists, dwindling strongholds held by desperate bands of survivors surrounded by miles of scorched earth and ruined buildings.  People have lost faith in the religions of their forefathers, and the only "Church" to be found is that of the Order of the Knights of St. Hopkins, Witch-Slayer, whose fanatical inquisitors' holy books seem to contain only verses on war and bloodshed.  Warlocks and necromancers ply their foul trades openly, and every man strong enough to wield a sword or a pike does so.

Central authority (other than that of the Hopkinites) is nonexistent, with the ruined remains of cities squabbled over by various petty warlords and bandit kings.  The savaged land between the cities is roamed by gangs of mercenaries, as well as both the monsters and those who seek to slay them.  This once-green and pleasant land is now the playground of horrors both inhuman and all-too-human, and is a place where those with determination and strength of arms can become kings by their own hands.

In short: WITCHFINDER GENERAL meets MAD MAX in Mordheim.

Inspirations: WITCHFINDER GENERAL (Vincent Price's best role, if you ask me), ENEMY AT THE GATES, Sergio Leone's Dollars trilogy, Dennis Wheatley novels, Trey's Apocalypse Underground campaign musings.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

A Few More Thoughts on Vadhyislavia

Normally, I'd be asleep by now, snoring like a freight-train.  But my stomach's irritated and I'm waiting for a chicken to finish roasting so my girlfriend can rip the flesh from its bones and turn the bones into soup stock tomorrow, so here I am on the couch waiting for the incessant beep of the timer.  My brain is foggy and tired, so let's see what sort of gaming material I can draw from it while my conscious mind isn't all there.

I played through part of a session of 5E today, confirming the streamlinedness of the rules to me.  I also ordered my own personal copy of the 5E PHB.

Thursday night, while aforementioned girlfriend was in class at the local community college, I got out the graph paper and my PDF of the excellent Renegade Crowns supplement for the Warhammer Fantasy RPG.  I've never played WFRP, I was into the miniatures game in high school (though I never played, or so much as put together a whole army - I was way too "ooh! shiny!" to commit to one faction for more then a unit or so), but this supplement is basically written for what I have in mind for Vadhyislavia.  If you're unfamiliar, the first half of the book is just random tables for generating terrain, dungeons, settlements and petty rulers.  Pencil and 2d10 in hand, I started working my way across the page, laying out terrain -- treating any result of "Barren" terrain as "sparsely forested," any result of "Scrubland" as "moderately forested" and any result of "Forested" as "densely forested."

No scanner handy, so I don't have a scan of this preliminary map just yet, but I'm really pleased with it.  Much of the terrain of Vadhyislavia is hilly and at least moderately forested, which fits with my conceptions of what the area *should* be like, and I got a few nice bonuses as well - the north-west corner of the map ended up densely-forested mountains, limiting travel between Vadhyislavia and its neighbor on that side, the Holy Empire of the Iron Crown - specifically, the principality of Schwartzadlerberg.

It is from Schwartzadlerberg that the colonizing "pseudo-Germans" that make up the new aristocracy of
Vadhyislavia began arriving a half-century ago, and the King of Vadhyislavia, King Ruprecht von Kupferberg, was originally a Grand Duke of Schwartzadlerberg before being assigned the task of "pacifying" the province.  I'm thinking the heavy winter snows of Vadhyislavia block the mountain passes that allow access from Schwartzadlerberg (something that the first colonists might have learned in the most bitterly brutal fashion possible), and have thus contributed to limiting Schwartzadlerberg's efforts in trying to reclaim the seceded province.

Renegade Crowns also gave me some unexpected surprises - three rivers, three waterfalls, a fair amount of cliff, a ton of caves and a massive, densely-forested swamp.  So what does this turn into?

[NOTE: Everything before this point was written between 11:00 and 11:45 at night on September 13th.  Then I got called to help eviscerate a chicken, then handle clean-up and going to bed.  The following was written around noon on September 14th.]

A spot on the map where part of the Underdark has collapsed in on itself, opening a giant sinkhole into which three rivers flow, pouring over the edge in spectacular waterfalls, the sides of the hole riddled with cave entrances and the center of which is a huge, mist-shrouded bog thick with gnarled, sickly-looking trees, Underdark and surface flora growing side by side.

Also a surprise was a small patch of "Barren Badlands" that I decided not to treat as lightly forested - because I couldn't imagine what "lightly forested badlands" would look like.  I stuck that patch of land in the extreme southeast corner of the map and started thinking about monstrous humanoids.

An idea I'd had at work for Vadhyislavia was that orc raids on settlements were becoming more frequent and more destructive, but that this wasn't the true threat - the orcish tribes of the deeper forests were being displaced and pushed west, forcing them into conflict with humans, by expansionist gnolls emerging from further east; I think this badland area is going to be where the gnolls are emerging from.  So the gnolls are attacking the orcs and the orcs, fleeing from gnollish raids, are being pushed into human lands and, desperate for food and supplies, attacking small villages.  It's the sort of situation where the players can mindlessly kill orcs if they want, or can explore the situation deeper and find other solutions, and then go mindlessly kill gnolls.

This led me into thinking about Vadhyislavia in terms of being divided into cultural "bands."  There's certainly precedence for this kind of thinking -- if you look at old Chinese maps, they're divided into zones, with the innermost being China itself, then things like "zone of the allied foreigners," "zone of the non-allied foreigners," "zone of the cultureless barbarians" in increasing concentric circles around China.

Instead of concentric circles, I'm thinking going from northwest to southeast, Vadhyislavia is divided up into the Settled Zone (90% of the pseudo-German settlers are here, the King's Law is upheld, basically no monsters), the Native Zone (not as many of the settlers, mostly the native people, the King's Law is upheld when it suits people or when an overzealous tax collector is watching but most people still live and settle disputes as they did before the coming of the colonists, some monsters but mostly it's a pretty peaceful place to live), the Wild Zone (orc tribes, trolls, hill giants, ruined castles and dungeon crawls abound) and the Forbidden Zone (forests give way to desert, savage tribes of brutal, "eat you then kill you" humanoids roam, Ape Law is upheld - kidding!).

I want to run Vadhyislavia as at least a semi-sandbox game and give the players the freedom to go where they will and do as they please, and I think starting the campaign in or around a "frontier" settlement near the edges of the Native Zone and the Wild Zone gives them plenty of options for monster-slaying, dungeon-delving, or social interaction, then pepper the map around them with, in essence, toy dinosaurs and clues to where those dinosaurs are buried in the sand.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

A General Gaming Update

So, I've been really terrible about doing play reports for the "Blood and Cannonfire" campaign I've been running.  Which sucks, and bad on me, but the recorded episodes are up (except for the finale) and can be listened to on iTunes or here.  All in all it came to five 90-minute sessions and ended with an atomic bomb going off, so that's great stuff.

With that campaign wrapped, it's time to think about what comes next.  Personally, I'd like to take a break from DMing for a while, and I've gotten an offer to make a guest appearance in a friend's 5th Edition D&D game and another friend offering to run a one-shot of Numenera for me.  But I know sooner or later I'll drift back into the DM's chair, so I think I'd like to use some of my time off to start planning where to go from here.  

Some time back I picked up the 2nd Edition Mystara boxed set "Karameikos: Kingdom of Adventure" and have been having a pretty good time reading through the setting book for Karameikos.  I really like the conceit of a newborn kingdom fissioned off from a parent empire while the empire's back was turned fighting another threat, and that confronting that threat has left the empire too weak to reclaim the newborn kingdom.  I'm also really digging the ethnic divide between the native Traladaran populations (humans with a very Eastern European feel to them) and the colonizing Thyatians (very Byzantine humans) and the personality given for King Stefan I - a man trying to do good for his country and trying to advocate for all people, Traladaran and Thyatian alike, but too willing to give second chances and offer forgiveness to those who have done great evil.  

I've also been reading through the 5th Edition Player's Handbook and
so far I really like what I see.  It seems very nicely streamlined (though I'm sure all editions do before the bloat of supplements begins to expand), the layout is good, and I like the nods scattered throughout the text to various previous campaign settings and the idea that 5th is linking them all together in a multiversal scheme.  I've been reading through my roommate's copy but come payday this week I'll be picking up my own.  

My first thought was to simply update Karameikos to 5th Edition and run adventures there - I've got hex maps already provided, detailed setting information, premade NPCs.  But then again, I'm generally uncomfortable running published settings; I either find that there's not enough in them to keep me pumped for running them, or I get cagey about not knowing the setting well enough to run it properly.  

So the next step, I think, is to figure out what I like best from Karameikos, appropriate it, remix it with some other things, and call it my own.  

So what am I taking from Karameikos?
  • Sparsely-settled territory whose native inhabitants are vaguely Eastern European, chafing under the colonial administration of settlers from a larger, pseudo-Germanic empire.
  • The king of this land started out as a imperial nobleman, but when the empire's back was turned, declared his own sovereignty.  The king believed strongly in fair dealings and such, and didn't discriminate against the almost-Romanian locals.  
  • There's an underground slaving operation controlled by a dickish would-be claimant to the throne that the king is too soft-hearted to have impaled on a stake.  
What can I add to this?
  • There's a huge Underworld beneath the kingdom, the ground riddled with cave systems and ancient tunnels linking them together.  
  • Geothermal hot springs and geysers likewise abound, many of which are tapped to provide hot water to public baths in the various cities of the kingdom.  
  • The king is dead, and in his soft-heartedness couldn't bring himself to name just one of his children as heir to the throne, instead putting in his will that he expected his children (two sons and a daughter) to decide among themselves who will rule.  This has set off a Game of Thrones-style succession crisis, with each of the three children believing themselves most fit to rule (or at least, considering their siblings unfit to rule) and each commanding the loyalty of a portion of society.  The kingdom soon schisms into three competing mini-states struggling for command of the whole, with countless opportunities for mercenary bastards and assorted murderhoboes to carve out niches for themselves and either get rich or die trying.  
  • Witches, hags, and ogres taking advantage of the political upheaval.  Given the very Eastern European feel of the country and its native population, this would be a good place for Baba Yagas and child-eating.  This also works well given the strong belief in and use of lucky charms, evil eyes, palmistry and assorted other "folk" superstition of the Traladarans and my Traladaran-standins.  
I need a name for this country...let's see what happens if I throw a few words into Google Translate...

Munterdo.  Erdoslavia.  Szabadsagia.  Foldunk.  Foldunkavia.  Parintilor (saving this one for the homeland of the elves).  Zemlyatsov.  Vadhyislavia.


I like that.  

Monday, September 8, 2014


On my lunch-break today I walked up the street to find a mailbox to drop a letter into.  On my way back to my office-building, I noticed an abandoned paperback book on the sidewalk, and quickly scooped it up.  What I saw on the cover was quite heartening:

Oh man, 1940s pulp sci-fi! With giant white-furred gorillas! I haven't begun reading it yet but just based on the cover I want to make a monster.  For your AD&D/Labyrinth Lord/other OSR ruleset of choice, I present...

No. Occurring: 1d4 (2d4)
Alignment: Neutral
Movement: 90' (30')
Armor Class: 5
Hit Dice: 8
Attacks: 2 (claw or weapon/bite)
Damage: 2d8 or as weapon/Disenchantment (see below)
Save: F8
Morale: 7
Hoard Class:

Outlaw Apes are giant (15'+ standing on their hind legs) white-furred gorillas, more intelligent than their ordinary kin though still animals, and incapable of comprehending the principles of Law or Chaos, Good or Evil.  Despite their great bulk, they can Move Silently and Hide in Shadows as a Thief of 8th level, and can perform Backstabs.  While Outlaw Apes commonly rend their foes with teeth and claws, some (particularly those who have observed adventurers before) have begun crafting large, crude weapons.  These count as a short sword or light warhammer to the Ape, but as a greatsword or sledge hammer to a human that loots one of these brutal weapons.

More concerning, Outlaw Apes feed on magical energy.  They are especially drawn to the auras surrounding magical items, and will attempt to steal and swallow whole small items such as amulets or rings, or chew the magic out of larger items such as enchanted weapons or armor.  On a successful bite attack, the Outlaw Ape can attempt to consume some of the enchantment on these items.  The item has a 10% chance per +1 of enchantment to resist being consumed; as such, a +2 longsword has a 20% chance of resisting the bite; if it fails, it becomes a +1 longsword with a 10% chance of surviving the next bite.