Saturday, November 29, 2014

Moving Forward

My laptop died the other day, after five years of faithful service.  Now I've got a new, sleeker, lighter, faster model with about 7x the battery life.  In the meantime, I've been working on some of the mold-lines on C'thulhu trying to clean them up and make them as invisible as possible once the model is painted up.  Here are the ones I've still got the most work to do on:

Because I want to paint the head separately, due to all the detail around the tentacles, I went to the craft store and got a wooden dowel I could fit into his neck-hole - now I've got a Cthulhu-on-a-stick and I can hold that in my off-hand while painting so I'm not smudging anything or missing spots.

And here's an old Grenadier Cthulhu I got on eBay a couple years back and painted up.  I'm for the most part going to be recreating this color scheme on the larger figure.  He's a bitch to photograph because I glooped gloss varnish over him pretty heavily to simulate a wet, slimy appearance, as if he'd just heaved himself up out of a greasy sea.  In fact, I poured the varnish on him so heavily that there's droplets formed at the tips of his wings and a little bit of a "bubble" of it between his right claw and leg.  The eyes were given a coat of glow in the dark paint.  Spooky! SPOOKY!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Raising Cthulhu

My girlfriend and I celebrated four years together last week.  Our anniversary was Tuesday, but because she's going to school full time and working part time, we weren't able to go out on Tuesday.  Our solution was for me to take some time off on Wednesday (on which she only has half-days), take her out to lunch, take her to the yarn shop to pick up material for a couple more knitting projects, and then hit the local gaming store for something for me.  My gift ended up being the Reaper Bones Cthulhu (or C'thulhu, as the box says), a 9" tall multi-part monstrosity that in my eyes pushes the boundaries of what constitutes a "miniature."

Upon getting him home, I immediately opened the box and began examining the pieces that will compose the beast.

And then did a dry-fit to see how the pieces fit together and where I'd need to fill gaps and file down seams - with a big display piece like this, I really want him to look the absolute best he can.  

quarter thrown down to give a sense of scale.
From what I can see there aren't really a lot of gaps that need filling - the arms are sculpted so that the point where the pieces join together is disguised by a fold of skin, and the neck is pretty well hidden in the forest of tentacles.  The only real gap I can see is in where the tail joins the body, but that should be, knock on wood, a pretty simple fill-job.

The one big issue I'm seeing is that the feet don't quite line up with the base the way they should - right foot has a hole to accept a peg on the base, left foot has a peg that goes into the base for stability, but I find C'thulhu simply isn't quite splay-legged enough to fit right; putting an extra quarter-inch of open air between his ankles would fix this.  The solution to this appears to be to dunk one of his legs in boiling water, reposition, then give him a good dunking in a bath of ice water to reset the polymer.  Seems easy enough, and I'll be giving it a go this weekend, I think.  I'm off work on Thursday for the holiday (American Thanksgiving for those outside the US), and took off Wednesday and Friday to play host for my future brother-in-law, who's driving 400 miles to spend the holidays with us, but I'm guessing I won't get a chance to try this until *after* Gina is done using the kitchen to turn out a small feast.

Color-wise, I've discovered that none of the craft stores around me stock Delta Ceramcoat acrylic paint, which has a lot of the shades I was planning on using.  I'm going to try Wal-Mart, see if they have any, and if not I'll mix my own.  I don't have the money for expensive paints produced for various miniatures companies, I use the cheap acrylic paints from the craft store.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Riffing Pusad II: Thaumaturgic Boogaloo

So my copy of The Tritonian Ring and Other Stories has shipped, and should hopefully be here before Thanksgiving, which will leave me plenty of time to read (I've taken some time off work this week upcoming, yay).  In the mean time, let's keep riffing off the Wikipedia article for the Pusadian Cycle:

Pusad is described as "rife with gods made real and potent by the belief of their devotees."  This sounds tailor-made for a game in which anyone playing a cleric is told "here, just make up whatever god you want, there's no real set pantheon." But I think if I were to run something in this faux-Pusad, I'd almost prefer to run it with Stormbringer or Runequest instead of any iteration of D&D - I'm not sure why, but for an all-human sword-and-sorcery kind of world I think I'd rather run it in Stormbringer then try to shoehorn the setting into D&D.  I like the idea of "gods" that are indistinguishable from demons - or from aliens, for that matter, and have priestly magic, wizard magic and demon magic all be the exact same thing.

Maybe this faux-Pusad has tiers of godly entities of varying power levels, ranging from cosmic forces that everyone respects -- for this tier, I'd grab an idea out of the d20 Call of Cthulhu book suggesting that Azathoth, Shub-Niggurath and Yog-Sothoth form a sort of weird Trinity - Shub-Niggurath represents Creation, Azathoth represents Destruction, and Yog-Sothoth adds Time to the mix, so that Creation and Destruction don't simply instantly cancel each other out.

Second tier would be the Great Old Ones influencing the subconscious minds of men - here you've got the temples dedicated to Tulu, Nug and Yeb, Yig, Tsathoggua, maybe some oddballs like Nyogtha.  Ithaqua might not be a bad option given that this civilization is rising up in the wake of the last Ice Age, a dark god of cold and starvation who's given worship and sacrifice to keep him away.

Third tier would be the Gods of Man - entities that human imagination had given life to.  A great example of this would be Yhoundeh, the Elk Goddess worshiped by Eibon's persecutors in Clark Ashton Smith's stories.  This tier would be populated by gods representing personifications of various animal species, petty gods in human form with portfolios such as war, love, craftsmanship, the sea, the sky, death, etc.  Some of these might be demons that have put on a respectable face and pulled the wool over worshipers' eyes.

Moving on...

I'm intrigued by the references to islands off the coast of the mainland: "To the west were the islands of the Hesperides, including the island kingdom of Ogugia, beyond which lay the small island continent of Pusad, home to a patchwork of small states, of which the strongest was Lorsk. To the south of these were the Gorgades, a group of three isles inhabited by corsairs."

The Hesperides, in Greek mythology, were the nymphs that tended to and guarded the Golden Apples  sacred to the gods and necessary to maintain their immortality.  "Ogugia," here, takes its name from Ogygia, the island home of the sea nymph Calypso in the Odyssey.  Alternatively, Ogygia can be derived from Ogyges, a mythologically ancient king associated with the Greek version of the World Deluge myth, and "Ogygian" as an adjective can be taken in the same way Lovecraft's old standard, "Cyclopean" can be - as a word meaning primeval, ancient, and gigantic.  Maybe the Hesperides of faux-Pusad are inhabited by a cult of immortal (vampire?) women, renowned for their soul-shattering beauty, and Ogugia is their "capital" or cult center, guarded by tribes of Harryhausen-style giant Troglodytes.

Pusad I'm still spinning my wheels on.  We'll come back to Pusad and its patchwork kingdoms...

But the Gorgades to the south? In legend the Gorgades were a island tribe known for their extra-hairy women, and Portuguese navigators initially applied the name "Gorgades" to the islands of Cape Verde in remembrance of the island of the Gorgons in Greek Myth, at least according to Wikipedia.  The islands are also sometimes associated with the Hesperides.  And now they've got Corsairs on them.

So maybe the Corsairs are newcomers, invaders - the dregs of the rest of the civilized world pooled in one low spot and forming some sort of Bronze Age Tortuga for themselves.  The hairy women are the indigenous inhabitants of the Gorgades, either throwbacks to an earlier form of hominid or some sort of fantasy "beastman" (beastbabe?) race.  The corsairs occasionally take these women as slaves, but only rarely as the beastbabes are ruled by a "Smooth Goddess" -- an outcast Immortal/Vampire Woman from the Hesperides who has set up her own cult system here, and takes offense at the patriarchal oppression of her chosen people, expressing her wrath by leading the beastbabes on violent raids against corsair-town or blasting it with the occasional bolt of arcane lightning.  Of course she's taught the beastbabes how to smelt bronze and forge weapons and armor...

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Riffing Pusad

I had a few minutes of downtime today (my workload in the office is going up again, because I'm the one-eyed man in the kingdom of the blind) and exploring Wikipedia I stumbled across L. Sprague de Camp's Pusadian Cycle.  I'd read a fair amount of de Camp's Conan pastiches back in the day and reading the Wikipedia article for Pusad (de Camp's effort to do a more plausible version of the Hyborian Age using Pleistocene geography) intrigued me.  I grabbed the one English-language collection of Pusadian material used on Amazon for $5, so that'll be coming in a couple days.  In the mean time, let's take a look at what Wikipedia has to say:
In constructing his "Pusadian Age" de Camp took Plato's account of Atlantis and the supposed period of its existence seriously, postulating an early high civilization thousands of years before those of the Egyptians and Sumerians, at the time of the last ice age.[2] At that time, in accordance with actual Ice Age geography, lower sea levels meant that Eurasia and Africa were joined into a single land mass, whose coastline extended far out onto what is today the flooded continental shelf.
 Civilization was based in the Euskerian lands, which were dominated by the Tartessian Empire centered in what is now Spain. To the south was the mountain range of Atlantis, inhabited by savages, beyond which lay the realm of Tartaros, and to the north Aremoria, a land of Celt-like barbarians. The northernmost known land was ThulĂȘ, a snowy land, and the southernmost Blackland, a swampy one. To the west were the islands of the Hesperides, including the island kingdom of Ogugia, beyond which lay the small island continent of Pusad, home to a patchwork of small states, of which the strongest was Lorsk. To the south of these were the Gorgades, a group of three isles inhabited by corsairs. East of Euskeria was the realm of Phaiaxia, a non-Euskerian country subject to Tartesia near the Thrinaxian Sea, and to the southeast Lake Tritonis, home to the warring Tritons and Amazons.[3]
 The Euskerian civilization was fueled by magic, crawling with wizards, and rife with Gods made real and potent by the beliefs of their devotees. It was also slowly degenerating as the power of magic dwindled in the face of an early flowering of iron-working, meteoric iron being the bane of magic. Simultaneously, over the course of centuries Pusad was slowly sinking. De Camp wrote his first Pusadian tales under the influence of the scientific theory of geological gradualism which then held sway, which led him to reject the possibility of the island continent disappearing in a sudden cataclysm, as related by Plato. Later scientific discovery of the geological forces of plate tectonics have since precluded the possibility of an island continent ever having existed where he (and Plato) put it, regardless of the rate of destruction, rendering de Camp's gradualism as obsolete as Howard's catastrophism. 

I dig this.  I dig this a lot.  The idea of a civilization "crawling with wizards" brings Clark Ashton Smith to
mind, and possibly suggests Melnibonean society as well.  I'm picturing the Tartessian Empire being centered around a sprawling decadent city of sorcerous towers inhabited by drug-addict necromancers and their coteries of bitchy, sarcastic mummy slaves and sycophantic demons itching to betray their masters.  The Empire's surrounded on all sides by enemies; the Celt-like Aremorians to the north, who are maybe advancing into the Iron Age and posing a real threat to the mages of the Empire, and the cannibal tribes of Atlantis to the south.  The Thule of the far north are proto-Norse and probably dealing as much with frost giants as they are with the Tartessians, while the (jungle) swamps to the south are maybe analogous to the depths of the Congo and probably crawling with surviving dinosaurs, aka "dragons."

Phaiaxia sounds Greek to me, and is maybe composed of loosely-allied city-states and big bearded assholes with boars-tusk helmets and hallucinating women in oracular temples.  It's interesting that they're apparently a client-state to Tartesia; I'm debating whether this would be a military, magical, or economic conquest -- all three offer interest possibilities.  Google tells me that de Camp probably grabbed the name from Phaiakia, aka Scheria - the last island Odysseus stopped at before returning home to Ithaca.  The ruler of Scheria apparently had a palace with a system of automatic lighting and robot dogs running around, plus a harbor full of ships controlled by telepathy, so maybe Phaiaxia is advancing technologically and the balance of power between decaying, arcane Tartesia and advancing, scientific Phaiaxia is nearing a tipping point.

More riffing to, maybe I should have saved the $5 I spent ordering the book!

Saturday, November 15, 2014

The Tentacle Beckons

I was talking with a coworker and fellow RPG enthusiast recently - I'd introduced both her and her boyfriend to Call of Cthulhu not too long ago, and they had a blast with the game, and that's impressive given that they both come from a background of hack 'n' slash dungeon crawling Pathfinder.  They showed up to the one-shot I ran with characters prepared and ready to go - a war correspondent and a big game hunter, complete with backgrounds and personalities.  She was telling me about how, after that session, her boyfriend (who is a longtime DM and player of D&D himself) couldn't shut up about how blown away he was by Call of Cthulhu.

Call of Cthulhu is really where I've always shined as a GM.  My first real experience behind the screen was running a heavily-modified Shadows of Yog-Sothoth, with several additional scenarios interspersed between each chapter and the Scotland chapter completely replaced with material I wrote set in a Silent Hill-style town.  The campaign ended up lasting something like 16 or 18 4-6 hour sessions, and featured the development of what we termed the "Shotgun Mythos" -- more Investigators died due to being shot with shotguns or having shotguns malfunction catastrophically in their hands then due to Mythos horrors.

After that a ran a short campaign set in Roman-occupied Alexandria, in which the PCs were manipulated by Nyarlathotep into exterminating a cult of Shub-Niggurath worshipers to further his own bid for cosmic supremacy, culiminating in the PCs calling up Shub-Niggurath to smack Nyarlathotep down.

Next campaign, again a fairly short one, only about eight sessions, used modern day Flying Saucer mythology and the Shaver Mystery in place of the Cthulhu Mythos, I think to excellent effect.  The high point of this campaign was the final scene, in which I revealed that everything past the first session was a hallucination shared by the PCs in a sanitarium following a toxic overdose of experimental dream-suppressant medication.

After that, I converted Nigel Kneale's teleplay for "Quatermass and the Pit" into a short campaign, with Nyarlathotep again manipulating the PCs into opening and activating the Martian cylinder, sending out psychic waves activating latent Martian genes in the people of London.  Under this psychic influence, Nyarlathotep revealed, the people of London would mutate into locust-like creatures, which he termed "the Megiddo Swarm," and wipe humanity from the globe at his direction.  The PCs managed to avert this fate using a Gate spell and, through a great deal of psychic effort, sending the cylinder off-planet.

After this, I took a break, as one of my players commented on my tendency to lean on Nyarlathotep as a villain, and I wanted to refresh myself creatively.  Since then I've run some Pathfinder, a couple assorted sessions of various OSR games, and a short (five session) campaign using the BRP mechanics set in the Caribbean at the time of Elizabeth's reign (which I originally started this blog to use as a campaign journal for, which just didn't work out).

Now maybe it's time to pick up the percentile dice and roll for SAN loss again.  Maybe that's why I'm so flighty and indecisive towards fantasy games lately; maybe I need to sink myself back into horror.  I recently got a copy of Dan O'Bannon's excellent adaptation of The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, THE RESURRECTED, on DVD -- most published Call of Cthulhu campaigns tend to be very sprawling geographically, on the model of The Shadow Out of Time...maybe I should try to do something that sprawls chronologically instead.

Maybe set each player up with three Investigators, one for each of three different eras, with each character being somehow descended from their character in a prior era.  Have the main arc of the campaign take place in the 1920s, say, and one of the Investigators stumbles across an old diary belonging to an ancestor...and when they start to read it, I play a "flashback" sound effect, collect the 1920s character sheets and hand out the players' 1750s (or whatever) character sheets, and have them play out the events of what the character in "the present" is reading.  And later they get access to older documents (such as a ledger maintained by a cult, decade after decade, for hundreds of years) and read about the exploits of their ancestors further back (flashback sound effect again), and I had out character sheets for 1028 AD or whatever, and it's only be piecing together the information they've found in the present with the incomplete information their Colonial ancestors and Dark Age ancestors had that they manage to tie together all the clues and defeat the cult once and for all.

It's a thought!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

In a Way, I've Always Been Old School

Over the past couple years, I've kept drifting towards and away from the OSR "movement."  Almost like tides; I'm easily frustrated by "hobby drama" and when confronted with people acting childishly about a game, I tend to move away for a while, but I'm always drawn back to the "Old School" gaming scene.  As I'd mentioned previously, I'd gotten my start playing RPGs with D&D 3.x; it's not like I'd grown up playing D&D in the 80s (I was born in 1987), drifted away, came back to gaming years later and found the new version of the game too different from that of my youth.  I rolled my first d20 in September 2005.  So it's not that.

Reflecting today, I realized that it's because I'm far more in touch with the sources that influenced the early generations of D&D players then I am with the sources that influence my generation of D&D players.

I didn't grow up playing video games, for example.  My family didn't buy a console until the Wii came out.  I still don't play video games, or computer games for that matter, practically at all.  I'm fairly certain I haven't touched a controller since I graduated college in 2009.  I'm not saying that as a means of acting superior, I just honestly never felt any interest in video games.

I did, however, grow up reading - a lot.  Up until the end of high school I went to my local public library at least twice a week for reading material, and a lot of what I read was "old school."  I read A Princess of Mars when I was in the 5th grade (same year I read The Hobbit for the first time).  My library had the entire Barsoom series in hardcover, a matched set all with the Michael Whelan covers.  I devoured them - to this day, John Carter represents a standard of virtue and "manliness" that I strive to live up to, and Dejah Thoris was my fantasy woman when I hit puberty -- and she's remained the standard of womanhood (yeah, she gets kidnapped and is a damsel in distress quite a bit, but she's also a scientist, a stateswoman, and willing to sacrifice for the good of the whole) that I hold potential girlfriends to.  Hell, I give copies of A Princess of Mars to girls after I've been dating them for a while because I feel like that book is a better key to understanding who I am as a person then any other physical object could be.

For that matter, I paraphrased a Barsoomian saying in conversation with my supervisor at work today - faced with the prospect of having to essentially carry an entire department that's shown they can't find their asses with both hands and a Know Direction spell, I simply said, "Leave me my head and one hand and I'll still get it done."

By 8th grade I was reading H.P. Lovecraft and I'd gotten on to Conan the Barbarian as well, in the Ace paperback editions edited by L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter, with the Frazetta covers.

I still haven't read the Lord of the Rings trilogy in its entirety, and the Silmarillion holds no interest for me.

So my fantasy background is informed far more by Pulp sword and sorcery, weird horror, and sword and planet fiction then it is by "high" fantasy.  And looking in Appendix N...Burroughs, Lovecraft, Howard, Smith...all the guys I grew up reading...are prominently featured!

And while I got my start with the D20's one I hate running.  I hate "balancing" encounters, I hate how powerful PCs get and how fast they do it, I hate the giant stat blocks and the endless lists of feats and spells and powers that PCs get.  I don't feel physically capable of preparing for all that, and that feeling of inadequacy in the face of the rules makes me feel horrible, like I can't run a decent game.

And for what it's worth, I've played all of maybe a half-dozen sessions as a player in the last five years, and one of my players has told me he prefers me in the DM chair because he feels like he can't live up to how good a DM I am.  Maybe that's a bullshit excuse or flattery, I don't know.

But look at that...a background in pulp fantasy literature with an emphasis on grotty, gritty adventure with a strong likelihood for death, dismemberment and worse, fighting sorcerers, cultists and slavers instead of world-threatening "Big Bad Evil Guys"...

Is it any wonder I keep gravitating back towards "Old School" D&D?

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

A Quick Setting Sketch

As  the river Icingbrook winds its way southwest, its steely-gray coils and bends slowing to a sluggish crawl, it cuts through a region known as The Pass; a stretch of grassy plains sandwiched between the Ironclaw Peaks and the Gryphon Mountains.  Here, where the Icingbrook cuts through a series of sandstone cliffs, crouches the town of Cliffhaven.

Carved into shallow caves cut by the Icingbrook and then fortified with thick stone walls and defensive towers, Cliffhaven is the largest settlement in the region and (sitting on the Icingbrook as it does) the center of commerce for the few small surrounding settlements: Plainhome, Stonefast, Highforge and the Elven settlement of Illall.

The waterfront area of Cliffhaven is heavily fortified against river pirates, with squat guard-towers interspersed between docks, the gleaming steel of ballista bolt-heads glittering above the battlements, and the river is crossed by heavy booms of iron chains both upstream and down from the town.  These booms can be raised or lowered as needed, and the chains are studded with heavy iron spikes, a foot long, designed to snag and impale unauthorized vessels.  Residential areas, set deeper within the caves, are accessible via retractable ladders and collapsible bridges built to deny access to marauders, either coming from the river or attempting to climb down the cliff faces to reach the town.  Though many have tried, no berserker, dervish, buccaneer or caveman has reached the good people of Cliffhaven yet.

The people of Cliffhaven (primarily human, with some Elves from Illall and Dwarves from Stonefast) are quiet, Law-abiding folk, attending church regularly - the Church of Law holds sway here - and Lord Murdoch's laws are intended to maintain the peace and ensure prosperity and safety for the people under his dominion.

The primary tavern in town, the Wolf and Dragon, is frequented by sailors, dockworkers, traveling merchants and mercenaries passing through the region looking for work.  Their braised eel is considered exquisite by those who are connoisseurs of such things.

Some rumors one might here sitting in the Wolf and Dragon on an average night...

  1. Grover the Slick, a respected honey merchant from the north, has offered a bounty of a gold piece per Giant Frog skin brought to him, hoping to decimate the local population of these monstrous amphibians, after one snatched his daughter off his barge.  
  2. The necromancer who rules Black Forest Keep to the south has been neither seen nor heard from in a fortnight, and it's said the forest echoes with the sounds of his pet boars mauling each other out of hunger.  
  3. Sir Brenton, the Lord of Gryphon Aerie and guardian of the Golden Road through the Gryphon Mountains, seeks challengers against which to test his skill at arms.  
  4. Patriarch Morse of the Church of Law has heard rumors of a cult meeting at a ruined tower to the southeast of town, that their deviltry is insatiable, and is seeking stout men of faith to cleanse the region.  
  5. Quincey Junior, the rug merchant, has seen the griffins of the Gryphon Mountains swooping low over the Sunset Plain, carrying off something glittering.  He's offering a reward for information regarding any gold to be had on the Plain.  
  6. The reason there have been so few pirate attacks on the river as of late is because they're organizing under a new leader, a Pirate King, and he's holding them in check.  

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Gamer ADD Strikes Again

I'm having trouble getting any sort of commitment from people I know for the 5E Vadhyislavia game (one confirmed, two maybes, a couple requests that I run it using a different system, and a request that I move eighty miles east and run the game there), which means there's room for Gamer ADD to creep in and shoot tendrils through my brain.  And today was definitely a Gamer ADD heavy day, as my duties in the office proved kind of light, leaving me a lot of brain-room to fart around with.

So here are the projects I'm currently working on:

A Once-Green and Pleasant Land (Post-Apocalyptic 17th Century using Lamentations of the Flame Princess rules)
Vadhyislavia (D&D 5E)

And here are the new ideas that crept in today:

My Own Private Blackmoor (Swords and Wizardry plus The First Fantasy Campaign and a hi-res scan of the map from Avalon Hill's Outdoor Survival if I can find it)
GWARsoom (Carcosa with the squicky horror dialed back and the Sword and Planet action dialed up; John Carter and Tarl Cabot fighting Elder Things and Airship Pirates with extra metal craziness thrown in; probably Swords and Wizardry, maybe Lamentations of the Flame Princess)

In other news, I gave the Swords and Wizardry Core Rules a quick read-through today (the one time I played Swords and Wizardry it was with the White Box Rules) and really like them.  White Box I had trouble groking at the time, in part because they were so different from what I was familiar with but the Core Rules have a lot that's familiar from the number of times I've read through Labyrinth Lord since then.  I really like Matt Finch's authorial voice as it shines through, and I like the way the mechanics and the thought behind them was explained instead of just "here ya go, just like you remember it."  I like that I'm given a choice between ascending and descending armor class and they make it easy to use.  It feels more like a toolkit to produce the right game for me then, say, Labyrinth Lord does.

So for now I think I'm going to keep reading and plugging away at some combination of the projects listed above, and gently nudging some of my "maybe" players.  And if I can't get an in-person game going, I'll give Google+ Hangouts and Roll20 a go.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

I Miss the Wonder

I was thinking earlier today about what I want to get out of, and what I want to provide to others, through running D&D.  And that got me thinking about my early days with the hobby.

History lesson time: I played by first session of D&D in September 2005 as a freshman in college, but didn't begin playing regularly until November 2006.  In both cases it was D&D 3.x; I still have never played a single session of OD&D, AD&D, or Basic.  As far as retro-clones, I played in one session of Swords & Wizardry once.  As a GM, I got my start running Call of Cthulhu (5th edition), with a few one-shots of D&D 3.x thrown in.  After college, I moved on to 6th edition CofC, ran a horrible abortive campaign of D&D 3.x that died after a few sessions (I was working 50 hours a week on top of running the game, and the players were unemployed college students who bitched about my game feeling "cliche" so I stopped running for them), ran a few more Cthulhu campaigns, ran a Pathfinder campaign, more Cthulhu, a couple one-shots of Lamentations of the Flame Princess and Labyrinth Lord.

The first real campaign of D&D I played in, from November 2006 through May 2007 (it would have continued on but the DM dropped out of school for a spell) is still the one I remember the most fondly.  I went into it wide-eyed and full of wonder, and memories of that campaign are why I can't listen to some of the graybearded grognards when they get all "kids these days don't play right, with the daggone newfangled editions, by cracky!" (I mentally translate quite a bit of grognard grousing into Old Timey Prospector Talk).  We did a lot in that campaign that wasn't strictly covered by the rules, with the players deciding "I want to do this" and the DM adjudicating on the fly (OK, yeah, there was the time the game bogged down for ten minutes while he tried to figure out if, by the book, the rogue could imbibe a Potion of Invisibility, circle around behind an ogre that had attacked the party's campsite, and Sneak Attack the creature without it becoming aware of him, but for the most part, adjudication on the fly).  And we had fun! We were tracking down a ring of slave-traders and fighting evil priests and since we didn't have a cleric for most of the campaign, banging on church doors at 3 AM demanding healing and happily shilling out the GP to get the grumbling priest to tuck my barbarian's guts back in after a fight with some doppelgangers.

But above everything, I remember the sense of wonder with which I entered into that game.  Case in point: At one point we were chasing after an evil Fire Cleric and he surrounded himself with a ring of fire to protect himself.  My barbarian was already wounded, and I thought, "this fire might kill me...but goddamn it, I need to take this guy down!" and I declared I was jumping through the fire.  In a later campaign, say the one I was in when I graduated in 2009, I would have glanced at my hit points, said, "Oh, I can handle 1d6 of fire damage.  Yeah, I jump through."

Do you see the difference?

What I want out of this campaign is to give someone else the same sense of wonder and excitement I had in that first campaign.  That is my agenda as DM.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Overthinking Everything; Dialing Back My Brain

[EDIT: I had a big long post written and then Blogger ate it.  C'est la vie.]

Overthinking.  It's a trap.

I've been spinning my wheels so hard on the subject of monstrous humanoids lately, I've forgotten a couple basic things:

  1. It doesn't really matter where orcs, goblins and gnolls come from.
  2. Spinning my wheels in place doesn't improve my creativity.  
  3. Excessive fiddling with where monsters come from does not necessarily make for more fun for me or my players.
If I get my way, I'll be running this for a group of all-new players, for me at least.  Most of the people I game with I've been playing with since around 2007, 2008 or so.  I know their habits and their gaming personalities, and they know mine, so we're not really challenging each other any more and I want to sharpen my skills with new players.  

If all goes according to plan, I'll be running Vadhyislavia for the following:

A woman who has never played D&D or any other RPG before, but is eager to try.

A guy who tried D&D once, but was turned off by how combat-heavy it was.  Open to trying again.

A couple who have been playing hack-n-slash Pathfinder for a while now, but took to Call of Cthulhu like ducks to water when I ran it for them a couple weeks back.  

So we have a mix of player experience and the only player to express any preference has requested less combat-oriented play.  

Normally I'd start a campaign with a good fight or something similar to get the players' adrenaline pumping, but now I'm thinking more in terms of how best to introduce the game so as to not turn anyone off with rules and still provide a session that brings them back for more.  That is what I need to keep as my priority, not whether goblins are corrupted frogspawn or mutant children.  

So I think what I need for the first session is just to focus on introducing the setting, keep it light and focused on interacting with NPCs, showcasing Vadhyislavia and the "home base" town of Barschental.  Start the session with a local festival to give a feel for customs, religion, etc., and include some games and such the PCs can participate in; feats of strength, minor wizardry contests, etc.  Throw a small combat in (say, the PCs have to rescue a young child from being eaten by a wolf), more to teach the mechanics of combat then anything else, showcase the rewards of roleplaying (i.e., the PCs get XP for the wolf, sure, but the bigger rewards come from the grateful smith who's the girl's godfather, or a free blessing from the local clerics in exchange for their good deed, etc.) and then bring the session to a cliffhanger conclusion hinting at bigger and darker adventures to be had next session.  

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Gnolls are the New Orc; or, Monstrous Humanoids of Vadhyislavia Redux

I got a lot of really good feedback on yesterday's post debating whether or not to put orcs and half orcs in Vadhyislavia.  And I think ultimately orcs are going to be left behind for this campaign setting.  Like I said, I overused orcs in my last Pathfinder campaign, and honestly their niche is being filled by Hobgoblins and Gnolls in Vadhyislavia.  And if I can mentally justify leaving out gnomes because dwarves and halflings fill their niches better, I can leave out orcs and let hobgoblins and gnolls replace them.  I'd had ideas from the start to have Gnolls as an invading, savage force from the southeast in this setting, and I think I'm going to run with that -- have Hobgoblins as the servants of evil spellcasters and more powerful warlords, and gnolls as the savage monsters lurking in the dark forests and hungering for human flesh.

I'd previously stated that Hobgoblins in Vadhyislavia are goblins that have acquired iron boots and undergone a subsequent metamorphosis, becoming taller and more cunning.  I'd also stated that goblins were made by subjected kidnapped children to strange alchemies.  On further reflection, that second bit doesn't work for me.  There's no way enough kids can get kidnapped to produce a proper number of goblins without completely decimating human civilization.

At work today as I was pondering this, I hit on the idea of "Goblins" being created when alchemical runoff from careless wizards' laboratories pollutes a swamp or pond, corrupting frogspawn with magical energy, causing the tadpoles to mature into goblins.

And then I said, "Well shit, if I'm gonna go that direction, why not just use Bullywugs?"

In 5E, Bullywugs and Goblins have the exact same CR: 1/4.  Hobgoblins, Orcs, and Gnolls all have CR 1/2.  Why have three antagonistic humanoid races running around that fill the exact same mechanical purpose?

So while I think my idea of hobgoblins as goblins that magically get tall and militaristic upon putting on shoes still has merit, truth be told I used a lot of goblins, hobgoblins and orcs last campaign.  I've never used Bullywugs (are they considered WotC IP?) or gnolls in a campaign before.

So here goes, round two:

Bullywugs are the result of carelessness on the part of wizards and witches.  When alchemical runoff from a wizard's laboratory pollutes a pond or swamp, occasionally the corruption gives rise to a tribe of bullywugs.  These squat, amphibious humanoids arise when tadpoles mature in alchemical sludge instead of clean water.  Somewhat tragically, bullywugs as a species are addicted to the alchemical waste they were born in, and as much as they strive to form an independent society of their own, they are quick to debase themselves in service to witches, wizards and other spellcasters if it means getting their "fix."

Between their consumption of toxic waste and their tendency towards inbreeding, mutations are common. The most frequently-observed of these mutations include a panoply of extraneous limbs, unusual size, and clusters of sac-like glands on the creature's back, capable of being contracted to spurt poisonous slime, sometimes with astonishing range and accuracy.

Gnolls, or Beastmen, are exactly what they sound like; savage creatures that haunt the darkest forests of Vadhyislavia, their bodies twisted combinations of human and animal features.  The most commonly seen in Vadhyislavia have the features of boars, wolves, rams or stags, or some combination thereof.  An "average" gnoll might have boar's tusks, wolf teeth and ram's horns, with the tail of a goat and feet twisted into a parody of a hog's trotters.  Regardless of their features, they subsist wholly on flesh, and are more than happy to consume even the foulest of carrion.

Gnolls seem to have little to no real society of their own, with packs ruled by the strongest, most vicious, most unrelentingly brutal female among them.  This bitch or sow (scholars debate the appropriate terminology) is usually a massive, heavily-scarred horror who has birthed a number of litters and has dozens of kills to her name.  This bitch typically maintains her position through casual violence towards lesser pack members, but is often also supported by a shaman or seer.

These shamans have little magical ability and seemingly no connection to the divine; instead, they are masters of pharmacology and intense scholars of entheogens and hallucinogenic toxins derived from plants and fungi.  Whenever possible, gnoll shamans feed their pack mates a broth stewed from such plants before a raid, sending their warriors into ecstatic fits of maddened bloodlust and frenzy.

Gnolls do not produce anything of their own, except carnage.  Their armor and weapons are scavenged from those they kill, and when a sword or axe becomes too badly-notched or blunted for use, they discard it and find a new one, fighting with their nails, teeth and horns if nothing else is available.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

To Orc or Not to Orc?

I'm spinning my wheels really hard as to whether or not to include orcs and half-orcs in the 5E campaign I'm putting together.

On the one hand, Orcs really are a product of "modern" fantasy; they don't really mesh with the dark fairy tale vibe I'm trying for with this setting, and to which end I'm playing up the monstrous humanoids with much older pedigrees then Orcs: Goblins, Hobgoblins, Ogres and Trolls.  And really, what does an orc offer that I can't accomplish just as well with a hobgoblin?

On the other hand, orcs are iconic in a way that hobgoblins aren't; with the recent string of Peter Jackson movies, orcs make a greater impression on players then hobgoblins do.  And part of me wonders if I'm not just leaving them out of this setting because my last Pathfinder campaign was very orc-heavy - I mean, if I'm going to leave them out, I should leave them out because they don't fit the setting, not because I used a lot of them last time around.  Could I reflavor them to mesh better with the dark fairy tale aspect I'm shooting for? I probably could.  Plus, I like the inherent drama that comes with the half-orc, just as it does with the half-elf; you can get stories about characters dealing with their dual natures and trying to forge a place for themselves in a society that doesn't accept them.  The entire breed is a plot-hook in and of itself.

I don't know; the harder I think about this the less convinced I become either way.  Sleeping on the topic will probably help, but in the meantime, what do you think, readers?

What I've Been Working On

Last week was a rough week for me.  All total, I drove close to 1000 miles over the course of three days; from my home town of Rochester, NY to southern Maryland to visit my future brother-in-law, who has been suffering from severe depression (Halloween being his favorite holiday, we decided to time our visit to coincide with that), then driving back to Rochester the next day, so that on Saturday we could drive to Buffalo, NY for my grandmother's funeral, then finally back to Rochester.  I got a little bit of blogging done last weekend, but most of it was stuff I'd already begun or had otherwise extensively plotted out and merely had to transcribe.

Since I've gotten back to Rochester, I've received copies of the 1e AD&D Monster Manual, Oriental Adventures, and the 5E Monster Manual in the mail.

I spent a good chunk of Sunday playing with the yearly/monthly
events charts in Oriental Adventures, and generated three years' worth of yearly and monthly events for Vadhyislavia and then wove them together into a rough background "narrative" against which a series of PC adventures could take place, with the yearly events being geared towards big things affecting the entire kingdom and monthly events more focused (albeit very loosely so) around the town I'm developing as a campaign starting area.  I found it to be a really enjoyable exercise in creative thinking, exploring the relationships between both yearly and monthly events.

Along the way I hammered out an easy calendar for Vadhyislavia, composed of 12 months of 30 days each, broken down into four seasons, with five "empty" days filling out the year, which aren't part of any month; they're tacked on at the end of the calendar and local beliefs suggest these days are particularly unlucky days to be born or die, and that the forces of evil are more active during these "Dark Days."  I think I remember reading that the ancient Egyptians had this concept of "empty" days at the end of the calendar year, but I'm not sure.  I threw a couple major festivals/holy days/other celebrations in each month.  The calendar for Vadhyislavia is set so that the year begins on the first day of spring.

I've begun work on a preliminary list of local superstitions, like "it's unlucky to deliver your baby during the Dark Days" and "if a pregnant woman kisses you during the Feast of Spring, you will experience a good harvest in the fall" but I'm not sure how many is too many/not enough.

As previously alluded to, I've kind of got a "starter" region/home base sort of town in the works; the Village of Barschental, with a few major NPCs/hooks built in to get the players interested.  If things go the way I want (which, who knows if that'll happen) I'll be running this campaign for a few friends who have little to no RPG experience and a couple who have only ever played Pathfinder (and one session of Call of Cthulhu, courtesy me), and I want to provide/generate material that feels natural and comfortable for people who are maybe just dipping their toes into tabletop role-playing games for the first time ever.

And between the town of Barschental and the calendar of events I rolled up out of OA, the beginnings of a campaign suggest themselves...

Your characters have been celebrating the annual Feast of Spring in Barschental; drinking deeply from meadhorns and filling your face with joints of roasted mutton and creamy, buttery pastries, dancing with old friends and complete strangers, taking in the Pageant of Beauties hosted by the priestesses of the Sacred Mother (or perhaps joining in with the Clerics of Law in scowling disapproval of the gyrating hips and low-cut blouses of the voluptuous Sacred dancers).  As the evening wears on, the temperature takes a sudden downturn and the wind picks up.  Snow begins falling, lightly at first and then furiously as the Feast is interrupted by a freak, late-season blizzard...

Monday, November 3, 2014


I've begun painting miniatures again, after something like a two-year hiatus.  First up, the Reaper Bones (plastic) figure of (for copyright purposes) an "Eye Beast."

All the art I was seeing for Beholders had them in drab browns and grays, and I thought that was boring.  I decided to jazz mine up with some bright colors to go with their alien nature.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Monstrous Humanoids of Vadhyislavia

NOTE: I don't have a copy of the 5E Monster Manual yet.  It's in the mail, should be here tomorrow.  In the meantime, here's some things I thought up for flavoring various standard-issue monstrous humanoids to suit the dark fairy tale vibe of Vadhyislavia.

Goblins are variably-sized (from just over 2' to just under 4' in height) creatures with bandy, bowed legs, saucer-like eyes, and flattened, pug-like noses.  They do not reproduce naturally; they are created by witches to use as servants.  Most disturbingly, they are created from kidnapped children; these children, taken from their beds or lured into the woods, are exposed to strange alchemical reagents or unholy rituals, turning them into the simpering creatures known as goblins.  They are left with no memory of their lives before the change and no method of reversing the transformation is currently known.

Hobgoblins are goblins that have acquired (begged, borrowed or stolen) a pair of iron-shod boots; after wearing these boots for a few hours, the goblin stands up straighter, it grows muscular, and it becomes crueler and more cunning.  It is not unusual for a witch to keep a pair of iron-shod boots hanging from the rafters of her house or otherwise presenting a challenge to her goblin servants; the goblin with the initiative and inventiveness to claim the boots has earned the right to wear them and command the inferior goblins.  A hobgoblin deprived of his boots shrinks down into a regular goblin after a few hours.

Ogres are large, brutal humanoids with no sense of subtlety or finesse; it is said that if a witch obtains a lock of an ogre's hair, she can compel not just that ogre, but seven generations of its descendants, to servitude.  Whether or not this is true, the ogres certainly believe it; wild ogres shave their heads regularly, burning the hair in great pyres to ensure their continued freedom.  Servile ogres are often forced to have their hair braided and decorated with colored ribbons as a mocking sign of their servitude.

Trolls, while ugly and extremely difficult to kill, are also extremely stupid; what's more, they're unaware of their stupidity and are in fact convinced that they are incredibly cunning, clever creatures.  As such, trolls love to haggle and bargain, convinced they'll, for example, persuade a farmer to deliver his daughters to the troll to save himself, thus ensuring the troll two meals instead of one.  It's not uncommon to find a witch or wizard with an indentured troll servant, having tricked the brute into accepting a term of servitude.

Hill Giants are a somewhat enigmatic race; largely resembling oversized ogres, their stooped posture, long arms, and short, bowed legs cause some scholars to speculate that Hill Giants are the hybrid offspring of ogres and the Gray Apes of the southern hills.  Others claim that ogres are the "more civilized, refined" descendants of the savage Hill Giants.  Regardless of their origin, it is well known that Hill Giants have an insatiable thirst for alcohol, and will quickly guzzle themselves into a stupor if liquor is presented to them.  This weakness is the surest way to deal with a marauding Hill Giant; leave out a few casks of mead where it will find them, and when it's unconscious slit the brute's throat.

20 Quick Questions for Vadhyislavia

I'm doing it again.  With yesterday's post on Witches, I'm using the mechanics of the game to define role-playing aspects of the campaign setting.  At least this time I caught myself before I sunk myself too deeply into it; in the past this has resulted in campaign settings so tightly structured that they become useless.  So I'm dialing back my thinking on Witches (though I'm going to keep the name and the Green/Red/Black Coven structure, I think), and take some time today to focus on some material that isn't too tightly wound up in the mechanics of the game.  To that end, I once again break out Jeff's 20 Quick Questions for Your Campaign:

1.) What's the Deal with my Cleric's Religion?

There are currently two faiths vying for the souls of the people of Vadhyislavia.

The indigenous faith of the land is that of the Old Gods of the Forest; a pantheon of figures that personify elements of the natural world or major forces at play in the world.  These include the fertility goddess known as the Sacred Mother; the self-explanatory Stormking; Grandfather Stone; the Widow of Winter; Old Man River and many others, ranging from deities known throughout the land to personifications of specific locales; every river, every waterfall, every boulder and tree is thought to have some form of spirit attached, and while not all of them are worshiped, all are given offerings during religious festivals.

The Church of Law was brought into Vadhyislavia with the Imperial colonists.  The Church of Law is less concerned with the material world except as it represents a playground for Chaos.  Axiomites (as Lawful adherents are known) are tasked by the Lawgiver with stamping out Chaotic intrusions into orderly life (for example, fiends, fey, slaad and entities from the Outer Dark are all considered inimical to Law) and expanding the sphere of influence of Lawful civilization, colonizing and taming wilderness wherever they find it.

2.) Where can I buy standard equipment?

Gustavus Segers, a portly halfling with perpetually-sleepy eyes and a lazy smile writ across his broad, placid face runs a fairly large general store in the town of Barschental (whereabouts the campaign will largely be focused).  He carries almost all adventuring gear in addition to farming equipment, shoes, cloth, barrels, easily-transportable foodstuffs (Gustavus claims, with a great deal of pride, that his grandfather invented the canned turnip) and in pens out back he has goats and chickens for sale.  As far as weapons go, he doesn't carry much; daggers, hand axes, sickles and scythes are about as much as he carries.  He rents out space to a small leatherworking shop as well, which can make leather armor in limited quantities.

For weapons and metal armor, you're better off seeing Vilhelm Arpad Kiss, the good-natured Hill Dwarf who handles much of the town's smithing.

3.) Where can we go to get platemail custom fitted for this monster I just befriended?

Vilhelm Kiss will look at you funny and probably charge you double (or more, depending on the size and morphology of the monster), but he'll do it.

4.) Who is the mightiest wizard in the land?

It's said that the Archmage Vencel Voros once made his entire tower fly through the air when he decided he didn't like the view from the southwest.  Joachim Dunst, Imperial War Wizard (Retired) is said to wield Fireballs and Acid Arrows as a poet wields simile and metaphor.

5.) Who is the greatest warrior in the land?

Ottomar Wechsler, once known as Wechsler the Black, was an Imperial Paladin until his leg was mauled and his confidence shattered in a fight with an Eye Tyrant a few years back.  Were he to be brought back into fighting condition undoubtedly he'd be the greatest warrior.  Until then, Ivo Trumbauer, a sergeant in the mercenary company known as the Sanguinary Swordsmen is probably the greatest warrior in the vicinity of Barschental.

6.) Who is the richest person in the land?

Reports vary; some say Joachim Dunst (see above) is sitting on an impressive stipend following his retirement, while others claim Gustavus Segers does far better business then he lets on.

7.) Where can we go for some magical healing?

Magical healing can be had at the Church of Law in exchange for a generous tithe; if you're lucky you'll catch
Patriarch Uli Kneipfels at an off-hour and the kindly old man can heal you.  If not, one of the lesser priests of the Church, many of whom are far more militant and aggressive then Patriarch Kneipfels, will be attending you and you can expect either a condescending sermon or an attempt to rally you to some minor crusade.

For those of the Old Faith, the Druids of the Maple Woods can attend to medicinal needs; refusing donations of cash, they instead take payment in either trade or through the fulfillment of a quest.

For those short on cash, the witch known as Grandmother Bokori who lives just outside of town in a large, ramshackle old hut can dispense healing.  Uninterested in money, her requests for payment tend to be far more interesting; from one, she might ask a pound of lard; from another, three pieces of local gossip.  She also has a standing reward posted for those who bring her new obscene jokes to repeat to other patrons.

8.) Where can we go to get cures for the following conditions: poison, disease, curse, level drain, lycanthropy, polymorph, alignment change, death, undeath?

For poison, disease or curse, any of the above three can help.  Lycanthropy would require a trip to see either the Church or the Druids, as would alignment change, death and undeath.  For Polymorph you're probably better off petitioning Vencel Voros for help.

9.) Is there a magic guild my MU belongs to or that I can join in order to get more spells?

Not as such, but if you encounter a higher-level magic user of the same class you can try petitioning them to take you on as an apprentice or bribe them for access to their libraries.

10.) Where can I find an alchemist, sage or other expert NPC?

Grandmother Bokori can handle most minor alchemical needs and is an overflowing font of knowledge regarding local affairs.  For more academic subjects, try Jani the Archdruid or one of the local wizards.

11.) Where can I hire mercenaries?

There's usually a handful of various sellswords in any given tavern at any given time, especially if you're interested in hiring High Elf Condotierre or members of one of the barbarian tribes that haunt the nearby forests.

12.) Is there any place on the map where swords are illegal, magic is outlawed or any other notable hassles from Johnny Law?

Not overly; remember, Vadhyislavia is untamed, frontier wilderness populated by rough men.  Don't make a nuisance of yourself, don't hassle the barmaids, and don't cast evocation spells indoors.

13.) Which way to the nearest tavern?

The Inn of the Wandering Fox is a popular watering-hole in Barschental, two stories with several bedrooms for rent and an excellent mead-cellar.  The barkeep, a Hill Dwarf named Bartal Zoltanfi, was something of an adventurer in his youth and can sometimes be convinced to put on a demonstration with throwing knives for the patrons.  Try the braised mutton.

14.) What monsters are terrorizing the countryside sufficiently that if I kill them I will become famous?

Nothing too terrifying has emerged from the Realms Below recently, but there are reports coming in that roving bands of cackling, dog-headed humanoids have been encountered in the deep forests to the southeast and that more than one small village has been razed, the inhabitants slaughtered.  King Stefan II has put out a bounty for information regarding these rumors as well as a tentative one on the creatures' heads.

15.) Are there any wars brewing currently I could go fight?

No, though there are always rumors from the Passes that the Holy Empire is going to try to reclaim Vadhyislavia again.

16.) How about gladiatorial arenas complete with hard-won glory and fabulous cash prizes?

Not as such; the Wandering Fox does host weekly athletic events, including bare-knuckle boxing, wrestling, and "Bear Wrasslin'."  The betting on these events can get pretty high.

17.) Are there any secret societies with sinister agendas I could join and/or fight?

Not that you're aware of. But you wouldn't be, would you?

18.) What is there to eat around here?

Local cuisine is heavy on potatoes, rye bread, chicken, mutton and pork, usually with a lot of spices.  Imperial colonization has brought some beef cattle into the region but a good steak is still a major luxury item.  As far as alcohol goes, Vadhyislavians drink a great deal of mead and a little bit of various lagers; Halfling brewmeisters have introduced a variety of ales into the region in recent years, following the Imperial colonization, while many of Imperial descent still favor the extra-heavy stouts of the Empire.

19.) Any legendary lost treasures I could be looking for?

Every so often a scrap of map or a few battered gold coins with a suggestive visage half-visible on one face will turn up and remind people of the legend of King Tiborc II, allegedly buried in a secret tomb deep in the wilderness; according to legend, Tiborc's tomb contains a fantastic quantity of gold and silver, and that the king's body lays in state in a suit of platinum armor inside an electrum sarcophagus.  The tomb has never been found and its veracity is hotly contested.

20.) Where is the nearest dragon or similar creature?

An ancient bath-house, all that remains of a village dating back to the first of the Polarian Invasions thousands of years ago, currently stands in ruin some twenty-five miles from Barschental, cracked in half by an earthquake, half-collapsed into an underground cave and flooded by the hot springs that once fed its baths.  Rumor has it that a dragon, calling itself Fereg Utalatos, has taken up residence there.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Witches of Vadhyislavia

Vadhyislavian witches are somewhere between this...
An undeniable fact of life in Vadhyislavia is the commonality of witches.  Every village has at least one "Weird Woman" or similar living on its outskirts (though not all witches are female).  Capable of small acts of magic, such as devising love potions, enchanting good luck charms, and warding petitioners against hexes and evil eyes, these individuals frequently also act as midwives, match-makers, political advisers, and healers.  In some isolated villages, witches have even taken the place of druids in providing religious instruction, delivering last rites and performing marriages in the name of the Old Gods of the Forest.

What many are unaware of is that not all witches are the same; broadly speaking, they fall into one of two "schools," or "Covens."

Witches of the Green Coven draw power from pacts made with the Archfey; connected thus to the ebb and
...and this.
flow of nature and its rhythms, they get along better with druids then many arcane casters do.  Wily and clever, Green Witches are beguiling figures, often charming, occasionally frightening, but never far from the center of attention when they show up.  Their skin and hair frequently takes on a greenish tone and a texture akin to tree bark or leaves.  In addition to their knowledge of illusion and enchantment spells, Green Witches frequently also know some degree of healing magic.  Occasionally, Green Witches manage to trick a troll or two into agreeing to serve them; additionally, they sometimes ally themselves with Green Hags.

Witches of the Red Coven draw power from pacts made with a powerful fiend; domineering and aggressive, Red Witches know what they want and are prepared to do almost anything to achieve it.  Red Witches are more likely to live in deep seclusion in the forests and hills of Vadhyislavia than near villages, and especially in the many cavern systems honeycombing the countryside.  Red Witches are frequently attended to by goblins, hobgoblins and ogres, using these monstrous creatures to further their wicked schemes.  They occasionally ally with Night or Annis Hags.

It's rumored that a third school, the Black Coven, exists, though little to no evidence bears witness to this.  Some claim that Black Witches work with or for Sea Hags, but from what source they draw power is a mystery.


Vadhyislavian Witches are really just 5E Warlocks with a name change and a few more spells added to their lists for flavor; Archfey-Pact Warlocks (i.e., Green Witches) add "Cure Wounds" and "Greater Restoration" to their spell-lists, while Fiend-Pact Warlocks (i.e., Red Witches) add "Inflict Wounds" and "Contagion."

Black Witches are Warlocks that have made a deal with a Great Old One; I want these to be half-pure rumor, half-so underground they might as well not really exist.  They're deep background, and a player better give me a real good reason to open them up for play.