Saturday, December 21, 2019

Two Nightwick-Inspired Campaign Ideas

One of the challenges I often face when designing D&D campaigns is what I refer to as "the whole deal." Even if I'm starting a campaign with a small hexmap or a single dungeon, I get stymied when figuring out the rationale for default D&Disms like elves, orcs, and the various kinds of magic. I might post more about this later, but the TL;DR here is that, to solve this problem, I often develop campaign ideas starting from games I've played in. Here are two ideas I have that have originated with the Nightwick campaign run by Evan of In Places Deep.

The Corpse-City of Kar Hadash
Setting: The ruined city of Kar Hadash, on the coast of the Desert Lands, far southwest of Nightwick Abbey.
Vibe: Ruined city megadungeon in a late medieval southeastern mediterranean

Centuries ago, the Lawful Empire of Man invaded the isle later known as Zenopolis and deposed the cruel dynasty which was preeminent amongst the isle’s kings. The last survivors of the dynasty fled with their secret treasures across the sea to the Desert Lands. There, they founded Kar Hadash, the ‘new city,’ and brooded over their plans for revenge and supplicated their demonic masters for foul boons. It became a pirate port and den of wickedness renowned the world over. It is no wonder, then, that it was one of the first places laid waste by the crusading Sword Brothers.

For centuries afterward, the city was a charnel house and dwelling place of naught but ghouls, but now rumours of resurgent cults, strange prophecies amongst the desert tribes, and piratical pretenders to the ancient throne have drawn a new generation of crusaders and tomb-robbers to the dead city.

Raiders of the Lost Empire
Setting: Atalia, the Desert Lands, and isles of the Starry Sea ~1400 years before the Nightwick Abbey campaign
Vibe: Sword and Sorcery Rome in the age of the Crisis of the Third Century.

The revelations of the Empress have transformed the Empire. The miracles of those initiated by Gax Ovo have transformed the world. As those who hear the holy thrumming Law and those who hew to the Old Gods (and worse) split the empire in revolt and revolution, the ancient temples and nemetons of ages forgotten are ripe for overthrow and plunder. Noble zealots and ignoble vandals seek out the treasure-vaults of the Empire’s Old Gods — Orcus Oath-binder, Apollo Far-shooter, Hermes Soul-taker — and try to stay out of the way of the clashing legions of the riven Empire.

Saturday, October 5, 2019

Xothesque Adventurer Origins

The adventurers who delve into the mysterious Black Pharos come from to Yond on the continent of Gnydron from across the wide oceans. Roll 1d20 to determine where your character hails from:

Xothesque Origins (1d20)
1: Western Archipelago. Lying amidst the Black Current that flows between Zothique and Gnydron, these islands are inhabited by pirate clans, exiles from the mainlands, and hidden devotees of disreputable gods.
2: Naat, the Funereal Isle. The home of ancient orders of catacomb-dwelling monks, defending their charges against jungle-dwelling anthropophages.
3-6 Xylac. A breakaway maritime province of Cincor, whose mercantile triremes travel to all quarters of the world from the ports of Mirouane and Oroth.
7-9 Cincor. An ancient and shrinking empire centred on the tomb-girt plain city of Yethlyreom.
10-11 Ilcar. Northern Cincorcian suzerainty of rock-carven towns in mountainous plateaus.
12-13 Tasuun. Desertified remnant of the sorcerous empire of Ossaru, which once stretched to the western sea.
14-15 Yoros. Southern Cincorian suzerainty of warm, fragrant forests and wide, fertile river deltas.
16 Cyntrom. Large island of petty lowland kingdoms and fractious hill clans.
17-18 Calyz. A rich eastern kingdom ruled from the high-domed palaces of Shathair.
19 Far Isles. Fabled Uccastrog, Sotar, and other, legendary islands of the Orient Sea.
20 Stranger Lands. Gnydron is more subject to incursions of "outsideness" than any former terrene realm; and more liable to the visitation of beings from galaxies not yet visible; also, to shifting admixtures and interchanges with other dimensions or planes of entity.

Friday, September 27, 2019

The Red Manse of Oumkha

Those adventurers who seek the mysteries of the Pharos strike out from the Red Manse of Oumkha, a paltry oasis of humanity within the eerie vastation of Yond. Its crumbling reddish-ochre walls date from the rule of the devil-kings of the Pharos, when it served as the dwelling-place of some unknown viceroy, warlord, or hierophant. It is only one of the ruins ringing the outer approaches of the Pharos, but gained notoriety amongst the Yondorkandi as the dwelling place of the madman Oumkha, once apprentice of the doomed Arbaz who disappeared in the shadow of the Pharos.

A few years ago, the heterodox, vermillion-robed Daughters of the Maugourah came to reside there, beginning to clear the rubble and replace ruined stone with wood and brick. The sisterhood persevered in the midst of the prowling horrors of the wastes, and since then, the Red Manse became a stopping-place for the exiles and wanderers who people the region, eventually taking on the quality of a small market village.

More recently, a soubashi of the far city of Aburuz has arrived with a troop of guards, dispatched to assert the authority of that city over the settlement of the Manse. He wisely does not press the issue with the locals, and spends most of his time in some (relatively) palatial tents outside the Manse.

The Manse itself is built around two courtyards. The southern, fountain courtyard is where newcomers water their animals, and is overlooked by the apartments converted into the House of the Magourah. This section, except the old shacks clustering around the south side of the House, is closed to outsiders. The northern market atrium, once a tiled garden, is now filled with the tents and shacks of scavengers and craftsmen.

The manse is bisected by a large passageway, connecting the fountain courtyard to the market atrium and the road north, and a smaller passageway east to west, dividing the market atrium from the house of the Magourah and fountain courtyard.

A berm of rammed earth stretches to the west, remnant of some fortification from past ages of Yond. The Soubashi’s tents are northeast of the market atrium, along with the ruder dwellings of the cactus-gatherers, hunters, and smiths.

Most of the population of the Manse is temporary — beggars, exiles, heretics, escaped slaves, refugees of war, criminals fleeing the law, muck-farmers, mushroom-gatherers, hunters, scavengers, dust-sifters, dew-collectors — but a few personages stand out as more constant dwellers in the Manse’s walls.

  • Sister Ouahaub is the public face of the Daughters of the Magourah, and assumed by most outsiders to be their leader. She is the one who handles the money, goods, or services the sisters charge for stays in their simple shacks.
  • Sister Amuathah is a cheery, punctilious old woman who dispenses poultices and other medicinal remedies to locals and visitors. She is frequently seen in Vosseion’s company, presumably because of the overlap in their professional interests.
  • The Soubashi is a flighty, paunchy man who was dispatched from the far city of Aburuz to ensure the dwellers of the Manse pays the Vizier their due, he has so far failed to make strong headway in the taxation department. He seems more interested in purchasing artefacts dug up by from the surrounding area.
  • Youb the wine-seller is a sun-shrivelled old man clad in faded and threadbare finery, who imports wine and other liquors from New Yondorkand, Aburuz, the nearer coasts of Cisyondic Gnydron and beyond. His product being universally popular, he often accepts payment in goods and services from the nomadic wastelanders.
  • Vosseion the apothecary, shisha-monger and tea-seller is Youb’s counterpart as another purchaser of exotic flora gathered by the wanderers of the wastes. He wears only plain black silks, and entirely depilates his pallid skin.
  • Nabrarzha the smith is a grizzled, scarred, one-eyed, seven-fingered woman who works with metals and gems. It is an open secret that she fled from the torture chambers of New Yondorkand, where she was imprisoned at the Hierarch’s pleasure over an aesthetic disagreement regarding her sculptures.
  • Among the muttering priests, fakirs and holy women who sell charms and prophecy in the market are the handful of shrine-keepers of Yugla, the ugly, laughing beetle-god. Colourful sacred beetles are fed with choice cuts of meat to gain Yugla’s favour, and their divinatory movements amongst the scattered offerings of petitioners are interpreted by the shrine-keepers in response to petitioners’ questions.

Rumours (1d20)

  1. The Red Manse is not the only ruined villa nearby. Some are nearly intact.
  2. The Pharos mutates those who linger under its mauve glow; everyone in the the Red Manse will be beast-men ere long.
  3. All the expeditions to the Pharos are cursed; those who ‘return’ from the Pharos are demons in stolen faces.
  4. The thearchs of Ong plan to conquer Yond; their spies infiltrate the Manse and New Yondorkand.
  5. Soon, the Hierarch of New Yondorkand will march on the Manse and kill them all.
  6. The food harvested from the mushroom forest to the northwest turns men to beasts.
  7. No natural beasts reside in the wastes; all are accursed former humans.
  8. The Hierarch of New Yondorkand is a demon in human guise.
  9. There is a great city of beast-men to the north. They are preparing to march on the Manse.
  10. The ancient Crown of Yond resides in some hidden tomb, still worn by the true ruler of this land.
  11. To the west is a crack in the earth which falls away into the starry sky.
  12. The Daughters of the Magourah abduct people in the night to be their lovers and slaves within hidden chambers of the Manse.
  13. The Daughters of the Magourah are the disguised handmaidens of a princess of Bel-Nahath, fled from the thearchs of Ong.
  14. Great bats fly out of the Pharos to feast on the psychical essence of humans.
  15. The Magourah is in fact a lamia, driven out of the Pharos by the inquisitors of Ong. The daughters are her mesmerized cohorts.
  16. The Pharos marks the place where the gods had wrought the world, the axis mundi, and birthing-place of Veragammata Phanes, mother of the cosmic egg.
  17. The Pharos is the tomb of Thasaii, dark god of Old Yondorkand. His devotees still hide among the peoples of Yond.
  18. The Pharos is the tomb of Thasaii, euhemerized king of primordial Yond, slayer of the dragon Thaumogorgon.
  19. The Pharos is the wick of a strange living flame that resides deep within the earth.
  20. The light of the Pharos is the lantern-light which projects the shadow-puppets of mundane reality.

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Autopsy Report on an Equine Cadaver

On my last post, someone asks:

I'm curious, as I wasn't around back then- what happened in 2013 that makes you consider that about the time that the OSR died?

I peg it at 2013 because of a number of trends, most of which intersect with the mass movement to G+ space (and the forced integration of G+ and blogger) by OSR participants. 

1. Blogs.
The rate of blogging was falling dramatically in favour of G+ posting. And, by this time, many core OSR blogs and their associated communities, and blogs as a means of communicating between bloggers, had either stopped (a la Grognardia in 2012) or disappeared (a la Eiglophean Press in the late Triassic). The ones that kept posting tended to degenerate into clickbaity content-grinding (like endless d100 tables du jour or Zak’s Fiend Folio bullshit). This is partially driven by…

2. Monetization. While other people (cough Evan cough) have strong feelings on the aesthetics of the monetization of OSR blog material, I don’t really have a problem with it, but the move from posting, discussion and criticism to aggregating, publishing, and promoting dramatically changed the tone and quality of OSR discourse. Around 2013 "OSR" became a promotional term to stick on your PDF or KS to sell to the preexisting audience of blog-readers.

For one thing, tons of people seemed to shift into Consumer Mode at the drop of a hat, even when it was at odds to the very point of the shit they were reading up to that point. The central event here is everyone getting their jimmies rustled for a Dwimmermount book, despite Maliszewski specifically saying that a published megadungeons are bound to disappoint. And then when real life intruded on the (too optimistic) KS schedule, some people started flipping out and shitting on Maliszewski personally. Then someone started bitching about round numbers of coins in rooms, proving Maliszewski right… 

You can call someone’s blog post crap (and explain why) and still be friends or respected colleagues; but doing a bad review of their product (and explaining why it is) takes money (theoretically) out of their hands, hanging a sword of Damocles over presenting anyone’s real thoughts about anything publicly. And the OSR was never And people care about this more because…

3. Socialization. The faster pace of G+ commenting and the face-to-face communication of ConstantCon exposed much of the community to much more intimate scrutiny of itself than before, stripping away the emotional distance of blogging and replacing it with the awkwardness of actual speech. By 2013, what previously had been a community linked primarily by blogrolls had become more discrete sub-communities based around playing in weekly games with mostly consistent player-bases, which sorted themselves according to subsets of interests, personalities, and politics. Ideas which previously were written up in blog posts become bullshit you said at 2am to 1d6 randos across the globe. 

4. Politics. (All kinds).
With exposure to more people in more frequent and intimate ways, things about each participant in the community that never really came up in (most) blogs started to become obvious to the other participants, and around this point most people started dissociating themselves with large sections of the community based around political views — both ‘regular’ politics and internal scene politics. (I had a list of examples here, but it infuriates me still to recount them, so I will leave them mouldering in G+'s grave.) A year later, the intersection of external politics, internal politics, and another scene's internal politics gave rise to greater actual stakes for all of it. 

Thursday, June 6, 2019

The OSR Is A Dead Horse

The OSR as a single, coherent community died around 2013. It was never a coherent philosophy or genre. "OSR" is now a meaningless brand identity, like "green" or whatever. Any communities that exist now are not OSR, but post-OSR, and if the members of any such post-OSR communities participated in the OSR before it died they, generally speaking, hate large swathes of the rest of the former OSR community. If they don't, they weren't there, like the reverse of Woodstock except in this metaphor there was no Woodstock, just Altamont.

Any attempts to "rename" the "OSR" is missing the point. Either it's trying to find a new brand identity to grind into the dust of meaninglessness, or just trying to ride a dead horse.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Caves of Chaos Restock — Part One: Everything (Part Two)

This is the second half of our first step in restocking the Caves of Chaos. You can read the first half here.

Last time, we established who or what built, used, and inhabited it in the past. Now, we begin to establish who or what inhabits it now.

Again, we want to preserve the basic point of the Caves, where the players explore the territory of a variety of foes, some of which are allied with the inhabitants of other caves, and which present a variety of challenges to the players.

Using the Red Box monster list as a suggestion, and guided by the previously-established history, I've started to flesh out the inhabitants at the most basic level:
  • A - Fungi/Giant Bugs
  • B - Ghouls
  • C - Goblins
  • D - Goblins
  • E - Special
  • F - Orcs
  • G - Special
  • H - Wizard and Minions
  • I - Oozes
  • J - Cultists
  • K - Elves

I've chosen this mix to include both "regular" humanoids, undead, wildlife, and a couple of "specials." This should make some of the areas of the cave both feel different and present different kinds of challenges to the PCs.

In order to underline and complicate these differences, i'm also going to relate certain caves to each other factionally. These relationships will be more obvious than in the original version, and hopefully offer more choices to the PC when it comes to allies of convenience or sources of information. These faction-relationship will form the other half of the 'story' of the dungeon as it changes in response to PC actions.

Each faction is first formed by connecting areas to each other:

A - Fungi/Giant Bugs - Purple B - Ghouls - Orange C - Goblins - Green D - Goblins - Purple E - Special - None F - Orcs - Orange G - Special - None H - Wizard and Minions - Green I - Oozes - None J - Cultists - Orange K - Elves - Purple

This provides us with the following factions and sub-factions.

  • Faction One (areas K, D, A): The elves, goblins, and their fungi
  • Faction Two (areas J, F, B): The cult of Orcus, the orcs, and ghouls - J, F, B
  • Faction Three (areas H, C): The wizard and goblin minions - H, C
  • Faction Four (area E): Special
  • Faction Five (area G): Special
  • Faction Six (area I): Oozes

With these relationships in mind, we can also start to flesh out our ideas about what each group is like. I’m going to start just with an evocative name that suggests evocative imagery:

  • A - Fungus Garden
  • B - Shadow Ghouls
  • C - Clan of the Pallid Eye
  • D - Redcaps Clan
  • E - “Ghosts”
  • F - Bonesplinter Cadre
  • G - Aged Lamia
  • H - Arch-inquisitor of the Pallid Eye
  • I - Pit of the Oozes
  • J - Cult of Orcus
  • K - Deep Elves

These links will, of course, change over time. Most obviously if one part is wiped out, but also in response to stress or the movement of other factions or other unusual circumstances. If the goblin chief is killed, perhaps the remainder may ally with the other goblins instead of remain loyal otherwise. The wizard may cut a deal with new groups to serve his ends. Oozes might feed on carrion left in an emptied area and colonize it as well. Et cetera.

Next time we'll start stocking the caves themselves, starting with... outside the caves.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Jump Drives in Traveller - An Illumination

This post grew out of discussion with certain others about handwavium technologies in RPGs, with a specific focus on interstellar travel constraints in Traveller. As someone who is always interested in how genre constraints are perceived in-character by PCs, and who was weaned on robust technobabble, I wanted to try to address the operation of the default Traveller jump drive. This is written without reference to OTU assumptions, working mostly from the relevant pages of the LBBs. 

If anyone has any critiques of this description in relation to the mechanics of the LBB jump drive, let me know in the comments.

When activated, the jump drive produces a bubble of ‘realspace’ within jumpspace, and in forming the bubble imparts to it the mathematical equivalent of a ’ballistic trajectory’ in reference to realspace-jumpspace coordinate correlations. By way of analogy, the jump drive is like a nuclear pulse rocket, using a single release of energy to lift off from the surface of a planet. Following this analogy, the fuel consumption and gravity-well distance is the minimum necessary to achieve realspatial ‘escape velocity’ for the jump-bubble. Because the formation of the jump-bubble occurs while the ship is in reference to realspatial coordinates, the course must be plotted before the activation of the jump-drive. No means of affecting the trajectory of the jump-bubble from inside, once created, is known, although research continues. (This may have something to do with causal issues related to the realtemporal-jumpspatial issues described below.) A major part of the trajectory calculation requires the jump-bubble’s surface to collapse, ‘re-entering’ realspace, in relation to the energetic level of the bubble at the moment of intersecting with gravitational warping of jumpspace — hence the ‘empty space problem’ of navigating without relation to gravity wells, and the requirement to climb out of a gravity well to form a jump-bubble.

The bubble’s extent in realspatial dimensions is related to ship size, but jump-capable ships currently require a minimum of 100 tons of displacement (although this is likely to be a constraint of power and fuel needs in relation to materials engineering rather than jumpspatial physics). The bubble’s minimum extent in realtemporal dimensions is subjectively between 150 and 185 hours (approximately 605 000 seconds, on average). The temporal size of the bubble appears to be related to the minimum density for realspace bubbles within a jumpspace ‘medium’; decreasing subjective jump time would require a method of adjusting realtemporal density without risking the bubble’s jumpspatial surface tension. (Given the time spent in the jumpspace bubble during a misjump, it is possible there’s an inverse relationship to realtemporal ‘density’ and jump-bubble surface tension.) It’s often assumed that the time spent in jumpspace also corresponds to travel time ‘within’ jumpspace, but the lack of ability to perceive jumpspace except as a theoretical mathematical construct means that this is likely to be a mere projection of sophont realspatial assumptions.

Free Hexmap Templates

Hey, with the #hexplore stuff going on I figured I should clean up and post some hexmap templates I've had sitting around for a while: H...