Monday, August 21, 2017

Biomutant - the Gamma World CRPG you didn't know you wanted (until now)

Check this out:

Polygon has the story here and the official website is here. It's a THQ/Nordic RPG coming out next week, a "mutant kung-fu fable" that looks to me like it's 100% DNA derived from classic Gamma World. Needless to say this is one of the few new games announced this year to have me genuinely interested....!

The Hero's Journey: A Look at Character Creation and Rules Differences

Last year James Spahn produced his own OSR fantasy game, "The Hero's Journey." It was a really nice looking book with an evocative cover designed to remind older gamers of those classic Tolkien novel covers, with a simple, stylized depiction of a pastoral fantasy realm, each layer of the image suggesting more mystery and adventure just over the horizon.

Since then I have been waiting for more of "The Hero's Journey" content but James is only one man, and he's got lots on his plate. I thought I'd take some time to explore this game, which has some very interesting twists to it. I figured exploring character generation might be one good way to talk about this system, so here goes....

I decided to roll up a random PC and ended up with a half-elven wizard. I’ll talk system after the stat block…

Name: Cahrain Desmedre
Race: Half-Elf male
Class: Wizard; Level 1; XP 0
Profession: forester; Alignment: neutral
Strength 14
Dexterity 15 (+1)(improves AAC)
Constitution 9
Intelligence 15 (+1) (5 bonus languages; extra 1st level spell slot)
Willpower 16 (+1)
Charisma 13
Appearance 9
Luck 10
HP: 6, HD 1; BHB +0; ST 15; AAC 11
Half-Elven Traits: martial amateur (long sword), Arcane Dabbler (charm person 3/day), fast learner (+5% XP), star sight
Wizard Abilities: magical awareness (detect magic at will); spell casting (2 1st level slots/day), +2 save vs. magic
Languages: common (Middle Tongue), elvish, orcish, Southron Tongue, Old Tongue, deep speech
Spell Book: read magic, arcane dart
Gear: simple clothes, backpack, 60 GP, long sword (1D6 dmg),

Notes on Character Generation:

Stats: THJ has eight stats, renames wisdom as willpower, then adds appearance and luck. The luck stat has some interesting extra mechanics….if you are lucky, that is! Stat generation is not based on D&D conventions and in fact each race has a different range of dice to roll. In our half elf example, above, each stat was 3D6 except for charisma and appearance which were 2D6+6. (Yes, I rolled poorly.)

Professions: THJ adds in professions, which are not unlike a more detailed version of the background trade from AD&D 1E. You roll, get a short list of things you can do with it, and your starting gear. This is a nice touch and something I’d be tempted to port over for use in any OSR game.

Classes:  I went for a conventional class, but THJ has a dozen interesting options including some weird ones like jester, duelist, cavalier and acrobat. These are all reminiscent of older AD&D classes from the early eighties, introduced in Dragon Magazine, but their versions here cleanly reskin them for the more basic conceptual turf of S&W.

Tweaks in Hit Die and AC Mechanics: THJ does interesting things with hit dice, hit point caps and armor. Armor now has a reduction value, which does not improve your AC (or AAC if you prefer ascending AC), but instead is a damage reduction value….so plate mail, for example, reduces attacks by 5 points. Armor class is still improved by shields, though, which grant an AC bonus (as a deflection bonus). This is an impressive -2 for a buckler and a whopping -8 for a large shield. By simply virtue of mechanical integrity it strongly enforces the idea that all fighters in THJ will be sword-and-board guys hiding behind large shields.

Hit points now only roll for the first three levels and starting at level 4 all advancement is a small static number (typically +1 or +2). For our sample young wizard above, that means he could at most hope for 17 hit points by level 7 (the cap for half elves)….as wizards only get +1 HP at level 2 and +1D6 at level 3, then it’s +1 per level after that. A fighter’s top bonus, assuming a CON of 18, could be a max of 39, however, so the wizard doesn’t seem too poorly off here.

The hit point thing seems interesting because it doesn’t look like the monsters took much of a hit on their hit dice, with most having plenty of dice to roll. This is S&W White Box inspired however, so monster hit dice are rolled on D6s, but a hill giant with 8 hit dice is still going to average 28 hit points.

Level Caps: THJ keeps level caps in place. Each race has a listing of what level caps and allowances are available….the system is designed to go only to tenth level however, so many of these limits aren’t so bad. The level caps did make more sense in AD&D where the non-human races at least had the option of multi-classing, something not discussed here.

Oddities: when rolling up the sample PC I opted for wizard because the minimum intelligence to be a wizard is 15, which seemed like a squandered opportunity if I didn’t go for it. That said, the wizard’s starting allotment of spells and spell slots is a little vague in detail. I assume that the spells per level on the wizard chart is how many slots he gets, since that info must be listed somewhere, right? But then that means he gains….how many spells at first level? From the text I am unable to determine this. It’s almost like adhering to tradition, as I recall in AD&D 1E and 2E both finding out how many spells your magic-user started with was never in the section (or book) you’d expect it to be.

Although I like the concept of armor which absorbs damage, I think the system doesn’t go far enough….what about parrying rules, or deflection rules? If you are going to add in this distinction, then it is worth considering what it means for other components of the game. That said, just getting plate (which absorbs 5 damage points) makes your fighter terrifying against most foes if they roll a typical 1D6 for attack damage. Sidebar rules offer some options for GMs who experience trouble here.

I’m still trying to decide if a fighter under this system would benefit more from the extra die of damage a two-handed sword does (2D6) vs. just taking a long sword and large shield (1D6 damage but you gain a whopping AAC 18).

Alignment: THJ focuses on the law/neutrality/axis order of 0E D&D/S&W. There are a few paragraphs on this which after reading over a bit I felt were saying, “most people are neutral, but a few aren’t.”

So as you can see, from looking at the character generation side of THJ there are a lot of quirks and tweaks that would strip the title of “retroclone” from THJ but keep it squarely in the “OSR camp” anyway. I like a lot of the ideas presented here, and think that the most interesting ideas include the luck stat, the damage reduction value of armor and the weird but clever way of restricting character hit points. I am not sure how it would play out yet….my gut tells me the weak HP structure for PCs coupled with the boundless changes for the monsters would make the game feel both deadlier and more difficult, but this may be a desired result.

The book is a pretty complete package, with over 120 monsters and a robust array of magic items on offer, and just enough GM advice not to feel anemic. I am not sure if I would grab it up and run it over, say, S&W White Box, but there is definitely a lot more flavor and many more options in TSJ than there is in its predecessors. It states it's S&W White Box compatible, too....and for the most part it definitely is (you could use monsters and modules with ease).

If James produces more for THJ down the road I will be intrigued to see where he takes it. I'd like to see something with rules for multi-classing options for humanoids, parrying options for weapons, and more depth of design similar to the professions option in character generation.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

FATE Core: More on Character Generation (tiefling wizard)

Here's an example of a FATE character for my established Ages of Lingusia setting. This shows how you can create a tiefling wizard in FATE Core without necessarily having to jump through hoops. There are several sample magic systems provided in the book as Extras. The one with specific schools appealed to me the most so I used their examples as a template for the necromantic chaos mages of the Black Circle. Anyway, here's a FATE Core swords & sorcery example:

Setting:                 Ages of Lingusia (Age of Strife)
Name                    Denethor Targellan

Description        A tiefling warlock of black leathers, reddened skin and a fiery disposition

High Concept:      World Weary tiefling of the Black Circle
Trouble:                 I accept rejection with furious wrath and burning fire
                                I am enchanted and repulsed by sorcerous women of power
                                I can respect any humanoid who respects me
                                My comrades are my stable foundation of sanity
Great (+4): Lore (Black Circle)
Good (+3): Notice, Provoke
Fair (+2): Physique, Will, Shoot
Average (+1): Rapport, Fight, Stealth, Deceive

School of Power: The Black Circle
Permission: one aspect that names the order
Costs: Aspect slot (for permission), skill ranks, refresh
Aspects: The Servants of Chaos are Given Deceptive Power, Power is Won Through Betrayal, Only Sacrifice to the Demon Lords Brings True Power
Skills: Change +4, Destroy +3, Create +2, Learn +1
Magical Stunts:
Necromancy (+2 to use any of the Black Circle’s skills against the dead)
Chaos Imbuement (+2 per scene to use any of the order’s skills to change a target)
Not Yet Learned: Divination of the Abyss (once per scene to reroll a learn skill and keep best result)

Stunts (Refresh 2)
I’ve Read About That (burn a fate point to use Lore in place of another skill)
Specialist (necromancy) (Gain +2 on Lore checks in this subject)
Danger Sense (Notice is unimpeded by environment when detecting threats)

Physical Stress  3              Mental Stress    3              Consequences  3

The Phase Trio:
While traveling in southern Hyrkania after being driven from Blackholm by fanatics of the Church of Naril, Denethor encounters a mysterious castle of azure stone in the Bluesky Mountains. A witch named Denajia meets him at a campfire, to seduce him to her castle….but despite his intrigue he resists. She sends forth orcish raiders to capture him and place him in her dungeon!
(I am enchanted and repulsed by sorcerous women of power)

While in the dungeons of Denagia, Denethor meets Twisp, a Halfling rogue who fell afoul of the witch as well. His earnest acceptance of the tiefling leaves him refreshed at the basic humanity….of halflings, at least. Together, with lockpick and spell, the two escape the tower.
(I can respect any humanoid who respects me)

Later, while traveling on the road, Twisp and Denethor meet the half-ogre Buruum, who is heading to the free city of Malas, where he has heard any humanoid is accepted as given, and the money flows freely in the arenas. They have a glorious battle against Hyrkanian soldiers on patrol and decide that Malas is a fine destination.
(My comrades are my stable foundation of sanity)

Design Notes:

The design above is under the same rules as the last character, but now for a tiefling mage instead of a human space jockey. The big difference is that I have enhanced detail on the School of Magic which is an extra option for this character. The Extras work in lots of different possible ways in the book, and I could have picked a different approach, but I like this one the best. In essence, the extra has a cost (in this case it requires the lore skill, an aspect naming it, and a refresh cost for more than one stunt from the college of magic). I defined three stunts for the college, so there's one yet to be earned.

In actual play, the skills of the college will default for the four defined magic skills, but if the Lore of the chaarcter is higher than the default skill then he uses his lore. This means our tiefling is actually operating at a +4 on all magical effects. Because these function like skills, it means that an ordinary use of a magic skill may not require an invoke or compel since they are not aspects....but the college also places aspects (and stunts) on the character, which he must accept. So as an example "Power is won through betrayal" could be used by the PC to invoke a perk when using a magic skill, or by the GM who sees an opportunity to suggest a's all fair game.

This system is fascinating in how rife with potential it is for unique effects. It is also making my GM senses tingle, since I have a couple players who could (possibly would!) try to abuse the hell out of a system like this. When considering this, I am cognizant of the fact that the invoke/compel process and limited number of fate points in the game is actually built to curb exactly that sort of if a player decides to invoke his aspect "Only Sacrifice to the Demon Lords Brings True Power" by blasting his hapless henchman to fuel his destruction skill check, then I can feel just fine by calling on a compel to recognize that "Power is Won Through Betrayal" leads to his apprentice seeking to spike his drink with poison later...

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Messing with FATE Core: Character Generation

After a very, very long time I am finally warming up to what FATE has to offer, specifically FATE Core, the generic edition of the game from Evil Hat. FATE is not an easy game system to understand, especially if you are used to a more traditional/old school approach to gaming, but it's a system which offers a ton of interesting potential for unique settings that are otherwise hard to do in more conventional game systems, is great for pickup games and collaborative designs, and most interestingly is designed around a core conceit of cinematic/storytelling conventions as key to the experience. Movie logic, if you will, is more important in a FATE game than verisimilitude in design.

Anyway, I recently got inspired to work more with FATE Core when I picked up a copy of the rules and then (many months later!) finally read them. Now I'm kind of hooked on the idea of running this. To try it out I worked out a character to get a sense of how the design works, what things such as aspects (and the associated Invokes and Compels mean) and how FATE Core handles a range of genres. Although it's got a genre Toolkit book out, the FATE Core rules seem pretty well able to handle this as written.

I based the first character design in a setting I ran many years ago for GURPS and then later retooled for Traveller. Ad Astra is a futuristic universe with lots of potential for crazy and unusual high-concept sci fi, so it feels like a good choice for some SF-based FATE gaming. I may revamp prior entries on it for an updated FATE version soon (once I'm done learning the system, anyway!)

To make the test character simple I aim for a pilot. Here's what FATE Core created....I'll talk about how in the notes afterward.

World Ad Astra
Name Tane “Solar Rider” Jones
Description  A rough and world-weary traveler with a scarred right eye, sandy blonde hair (usually short cropped), wears a dusky blue flight jacket from his old Human Commonwealth days.

High Concept:     Freelance pilot of the IF Wildstar operating in Human Space (Freeworld Zone)
Trouble:               Driven to fight fascism and oppression wherever he sees it
Phase Aspects:    Don’t Tell Me the Odds
      Some of My Best Friends are Aliens
      Repay My Debts, No Matter the Cost
Great (+4): Pilot (starship)
Good (+3): Drive (vehicles), Shoot (energy weapons)
Fair (+2): Shoot (slug throwers), Resources, Provoke
Average (+1): Rapport, Physique, Notice, Fight

 The Independent Freighter Wildstar (Aspects could include: "Souped-Up Engine; Turbo-Lasers; Armor Plated Hull) 

Stunts (refresh 3)
Pedal to the Metal
Provoke Violence
Called Shot

Physical Stress  3              Mental Stress    2              Consequences  3

The Phase Trio Story:

Tane stumbled into freelance piloting while working for Exocorp on the terraformed moon world Eodus Prime. He was recruited by locals to help run guns to freedom fighters working against the oppressive corporation, which was backed by Kephran interests. While working to fuel freedom fighters he stumbled across two allies, including the Praektorian rogue Gossamer and the Anageni engineer Teski, who helped him repair his ship during a major firefight from a blockade (Don’t tell me the odds). Gossamer and Tane worked together on a ground operation to help extract guerilla fighters pinned down during the “Automated Offensive” of 2250, a major leap for Tane as he had a general loathing for most non-humanoid species until then (Some of My Best Friends are Aliens). A year later Tane was involved in the strike on Commodus Prison, where he helped free both Gossamer and Teski after they had been captured (Repay my debts, No Matter the Cost).

Design Notes:

FATE builds characters out of the following materials: Aspects, Skills, Stunts and Extras. The Aspects are essentially character descriptors, but the rules provide a lot of context for what these mean and how to make them work.

One Aspect needs to be the High Concept, which you could imagine is the "class+background+archetype" you might see in other games such as D&D. A "Tiefling Warlock Outlander" in D&D could also use that as the High Concept Aspect for a FATE game. In our sample, I went with "Freelance pilot of the IF Wildstar operating in Human Space (Freeworld Zone)." This says the following: he's a pilot, he's got a ship (more on that later), and he's known to operate in the zone, which if this were a collaborative character generation session would likely have been established by the GM in the initial setting discussion phase.

Next up you need a Trouble Aspect. This is the second of five aspects and it needs to be the one which will drive your character into interesting and plot-laden situations. The rules caution against limited trouble aspects....and I imagine a trouble aspect like "Is too awesome to describe adequately" should be vetoed unless the GM wants to read between the lines that the "PC is blinded by his own hubris and false sense of accomplishment." In our case I picked "Driven to fight fascism and oppression wherever he sees it," since that sounds like an easy way to drive conflict: when my dude Tane sees someone oppressed, some system failing the little guy, he is compelled to act.

The next three aspects are defined by creating the "Phase Trio" story, which is a narrative that talks about how he came to be who he is. It's designed in the base rules to create connections with other player characters, but if you have only one or two PCs, or are limited for time the rules provide direction on what to do in those cases as well. For my purposes I went ahead and imagined a couple other PCs in this process just to get a fully functioning Phase Trio story worked out. Each of the three remaining aspects need to reflect some element of the story as presented....this encourages players to get creative, especially if they want specific aspects for their design. I revamped my choices a couple times before settling on the ones I selected...the idea is to make them interesting for both invokes and compels.

These aspects need to show some versatility, because they will be subject to what are called "invokes" which are where you use the aspect to justify a helpful bonus as well as "compels" which are where you use the aspect against the PC in an interesting way (such as the GM saying, for example, "Tane, you are now in an alien bar where the Spulgrot are drinking nectar from the Humfly, which is kind of nerve-wracking since even though Humflies are allegedly non-sentient, they scream just like tortured babies and puppies when being drained by the chitinous spulgort. Would you like to accept a compel to see if you can really negotiate unbiased with the spulgort gangster in the bar while drinking his humfly?")

If you use an invoke, it costs a fate point. If you accept a compel, you gain a fate point. Fate points are limited resources, so essentially you are getting a chance to do something cool later on by accepting your limitation now. The player may also want to see the compel in action since it might lead to a more interesting story, or have consequences in the game that are still desirable....even if the means of getting there require accepting your character's failings.

This, needless to say, is interesting stuff.

Skills are a lot more straight-forward, and FATE Core provides a default skill set with advice on customizing. Each skill includes example Stunts, about which more in a minute. Skills for PCs are ranked from +5 to 0, with zero being untrained. There's a specific formula for skills at the start of char gen, witha "pyramid" of talent dictating what you get. It's a perfectly fine system....but you can tweak the allotment up or down if you are increasing (or decreasing) the number of skills relevant to the setting. The example character is based on the default expectation.

FATE Core's basic mechanical approach to all tasks is to roll four FATE dice, which are labelled with two "-" symbols, two blanks and two "+" symbols. Add the "+" and subtract the "-" and you have your die roll. Then, you add skill bonuses and a +2 bonus if invoking an aspect (you can also invoke an aspect to re-roll). If you exceed the target goal, which the GM sets from +1 to +8 then you are successful. Fail, and you get more interesting and unintended results.

Anyway, stunts are a way to pull off specific effects in the game, which in turn can affect skill checks or aspects depending on what is going on and what the stunt is. The examples in the book provide about 3 per skill, and give you a good idea of what the range is. You could conceivably use these as-is is with minimal or no adjustment for setting or genre. A new PC starts with 3 stunts, and you can get up to 5 if you are willing to reduce what is called your "refresh," which is how many fate points you start with (and regenerate). So the more stunts you can do....the fewer fate points you have to invoke with, and the more you need to accept compels to fill out your points.

In my example, I picked three "from the book" stunts for Tane Jones. Basically he can push his starship (or any vehicle) to the limits of its speed, he can piss off people easily, and he can take a called shot at a moment's notice like nobody's business.

Extras are a catch-all for literally all the extraneous trappings of a genre you can imagine. I've thrown the starship here, with suggested aspects, but I'm still absorbing this chapter so more to come. Needless to say, Extras are basically "characters" which you stat out according to whether they are actions, things, perks, NPCs, or "other." For example, magic, super powers, gadgets, weaponry, vehicles and more all fall under the Extras category.

In the end, character survival in FATE Core is calculated by physical and mental stress, which start at 2 and go up if you have certain skills (physique and will). Consequences are layered in 3, with each one getting progressively worse. You get a consequence with a major risk or failure, and these can be things ranging from "Madness induced by Cthulhu" to "sucking chest wound" and usually disappear after a designated period of time (sessions or even scenarios).

Anyway....more to come....I am quite intrigued at FATE Core and also appreciative that I am at last starting to grokk how this system works. FATE Core is far and away the best iteration of the system I have encountered, and makes much more sense then some other FATE-powered games I tried to delve in to.

FATE Core is PWYW at, so if this sounds interesting, you should check it out!

Monday, August 14, 2017

Ages of Lingusia: The Umian Hills and City of Greslan in the Age of Strife

Umian Hills and Greslan (ca 2092 aw, Age of Strife)

The eastern expanse of low-lying hills and mountains known as the Umian Hills are a vast swathe of hilly canyon lands with a large river-cut valley in its heart where the old city of Greslan, once a colony for mining operations, has rested for over a thousand years. The Umian hills are still a profitable center for mining in the kingdom, and the Knights of the Crown provide direct protection in the region. The Umian Hills are also believed to be rife with natural caverns stretching for dozens of miles, all of which are heavily occupied by the denizens of the Under Realms.

The minhor of the Kedrion Forest migrate to the Umian Hills semi-annually, and the men of the hills have become quite efficient at harvesting the immense beasts, so much so that Candos Gonn Respator,  the duke of Greslan, has proclaimed that the beasts must be protected and can only be harvested every other migration, to insure that they are not hunted out of existence. His knight-agent Coden Dann Barathor serves as his right hand man in enforcing the law.

The Umian Hills are a dense network of canyons, hill lands and natural caves mixed with the many active and dead mines of the region. This is ripe for habitation by denizens of the Under Realms who regularly migrate upward toward the surface, causing no end of problems for the human inhabitants of the region. The Mihidir Empire also claims the lands beneath the hills, so as often as Lancaster to the west has to fight the trolls, so to does Greslan, though Duke Kadaveras of the Mihidir city Groamspite commands large armies of goblin and morlock thralls to do his bidding, unlike his brethren to the west who use the breeding pits to create endless troll thralls.

Greslan itself is an old city, built on three walled tiers along the length of the canyon in which it is nestled out of ancient white marble culled from the local quarries. The city was once a mining colony, but it has been a major city now for centuries, and a sprawling city stretches out from its walls to encompass much of the Great Lake of Threllas in the canyon.

Greslan’s noted features include the marble pyramid-temple to Enki known as the Ziggurat of Life, as well as a famous necropolis of stone to the north where most local noblemen prefer to be interred. There is also a prominent temple to Amasyr, forged in a natural cavern just five miles east of the city proper. The city displays an uncommon level of wealth due to the prolific and seemingly endlessly profitable mining trade, which supplies most of Octzel’s iron ore and precious metals.

Adventure Seeds in the Umian Hills

Poachers: it is off-season for the minhor turtles, but poachers are trying to make a fast buck. Lord Terenos of Greslan’s Crown Knights seeks mercenaries to find the poachers and put them down.

Temple Invasion: the temple of Amasyr in its sacred cave has been overrun with monsters from the Under Realms! A quiet invasion of goblins and morlocks in the temple is just the distraction for an actual assault being mounted by the trolls of Groamspite….

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Quests of Doom 4 Kickstarter - Funded, but is it worth it?

So first off, here's the Kickstarter:

I have all the prior QoD books as well as the 5E books released by Frog God Games so far. In fact I have almost all S&W and Pathfinder books as well, and about the only stuff I don't currently have are Slumbering Tsar, The Blight and Bard's Gate, chiefly because those books are too rich for me at their price points and their actual use is minimal; they would be vanity collector's purchases if I ever get them, and every time I check Frog God's site I never notice them in print for 5E, anyway.

In principle I think the idea of a collection of 32 page modules is great, and perhaps if I was just a guy looking for a module or three to run I might go in on a few if I was specifically excited about some of the descriptions provided. The problem is, I (and most people looking at a FGG Kickstarter) are not the "casual gamer looking at some random modules to buy and use" crowd. We are avid collectors of our favorite games, and most likely love the Frog God products we've purchased before, whether we use them, stick them on a shelf or simply admire the sheer effort put in to these tomes as fun reading.

Prior efforts by the Frog Gods to produce print modules have led to the following problems from a collector/fan perspective as I see it:

1. Finding them in print is damned hard. They don't tend to keep them in stock and in print, and the print run on softcover modules is lower than hardcover, meaning they are likely going to be hard or impossible to get later on if you don't back the Kickstarter. Examples of what I mean are rife on their site, with prior module collections from the past that are only available in PDF.

2. If you decide to back the Kickstarter, then once again there's a cost issue. The great thing about Quests of Doom 3 was I could put $40 and back it. I can't do that here and get all the content. I unfortunately have a lot of personal expenses and not nearly enough free income to invest in a 16 module collection at the price point they have set ($168 for the whole mess for just one system version). I could opt to grab just a few and then try collecting the rest later out of KS, but I'm leary of the likelihood they will have print copies available outside of the KS fulfillment, or that they will have enough to meet demand. Maybe they will, but I really don't know...y'know?

3. Discussion about the cost effectiveness has been discussed on the KS site, but as others pointed out, the entire module set is about as many modules as was released in the QoD Volumes 1 and 2 set from a couple years back. I'm not trying to begrudge their right to make more money on their work.....and this would be 16 modules at 32 pages each, of course, which is likely more content than the prior QoD series combined......but the problem is one of expectations.

4. I really think a series of hard covers, each containing 4-6 adventures, and structured to avoid some of the "reprint" modules that appear to be an issue for Pathfinder, would have been a smarter way to go. As it stands, I'm just not sure I can back this one at all unless I get lucky and have a windfall in my disposable income. And make no mistake....I would like to.

Anyway.....just some thoughts/musings. I suppose there wouldn't be much difference if they had simply said, "Now for a QoD 4 in the form of a 600 page super book for $160!" and I would still basically be, "I'll get this two years down the road with a coupon on their holiday sale because that's just too much for me to spend on a vanity product." Sigh.....if I had All The Money.....

Friday, August 11, 2017

Ages of Lingusia: Port Chudeza in the Age of Strife

Continuing the Gazetteer revisions for the Age of Strife, ca. 2092 aw:

Port Chudeza (choo-day-zah)

Located on the southern stretch of coast across from the island-locked city of Drama, Chudeza is the opposite in disposition and manner of its northern sister port. A den of roughnecks, pirates and thieves, Chudeza is principally known for its lawlessness, or as close to it as a city can get in the province of the king himself. The duchess of Chudeza, Matron Teredeth Gonn Malastor, has been well known for her indiscretions over the years and since her husband passed away five years prior the city’s very nature seems to have changed with her own proclivities. As such, the relaxed policy on law and the fast and loose nature of commerce in the port has turned it –rapidly—into a favored locale for men and women of ill repute.

The port is known for being a favored locale of the North Sea Pirates, and the local garrison and guild hall is maintained by Trevor Dann Draskos-Osterman, brother-in-law to the venerable Abelman Draskos, leader of the North Sea Pirates. Trevor married Antonia Draskos, Abelman’s disreputable sister. Antonia is in fact a close friend of the Duchess Malastor. This has reflected in her influence.

Despite the level of debauchery and sin that Chudeza’s corruption displays, the port is remarkably free of known influence by the Black Society. Certain cults to Mitra thrive in the port, however. It is rumored that the demon known as The Digger, or sometimes as Yetrog, has an unusual level of worship in the city, but the local temple to Enki seems powerless to do much about it. The high priestess of the temple, Lady Tymani Sedrais, seems almost apathetic to the fact that Chudeza displays such corruption just beneath the surface.

Adventure Seeds in Port Chudeza

The Corruption: there is a suspicion promulgated by visitors to the city that the temple of Enki may be corrupted from within, and possibly even secretly allied with the Cult of The Digger.  Allegations that Tymani Sedrais is actually a cult lord for both Enki and Yetrog have not been proven, but suspicious leaders of the Church of Enki may seek someone to infiltrate and find out if the Cult of the Digger has, in fact, undermined their power in the city.

Corruption at the Top: The Duchess Malastor gets into a great deal of trouble and appears to a foppish hedonist, but behind the scenes she is a powerful agent in Octzel’s underworld dealings. She may hire roguish adventurers to conduct actions against her enemies, protect her interests, or silence those who would dare to suggest she behaves in a manner contrary to the will of the king.

Privateers: The North Sea Pirates often stage operations from Chudeza, running their actions against Hyrkania and the Northmen. One or more ships may be in Chudeza recruiting for new actions against the north, all under the auspices of being privateers to the king of Octzel, operating under lawful writ of Duchess Malastor.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Philip Jose Farmer's World of Tiers Series at last available in electronic format

If you haven't read Philip Jose Farmer or his World of Tiers series, here's the links to the new two-part, seven volume compendium that I have literally been waiting for since I first moved to electronic format as a tablet reader six years ago:

Volume I: The Maker of Universes, The Gates of Creation, A Private Cosmos

Volume II: Behind the Walls of Terra, The Lavalite World, Red Orc's Rage, More Than Fire

Note that at least as of this writing the books are about $12 each on Barnes & Noble but $20 on Amazon for some strange reason.

These seven volumes comprise one of the best world-building "planar adventuring" style series to spring from the sixties and seventies, and are distinctly filled with the pulp-styled trappings of Farmer, who you might also know for his Riverworld series, Dayworld series and Wold-Newton Universe books (which are themselves a tribute to Victorian and pulp-era science fiction, tying a diverse lot of classic characters in to one universe). If you're a fan of pursuing Appendix N-styled recommendations, the World of Tiers series is a huge one to check out.

World of Tiers is full of interesting surprises, but the short introduction to pique your interest is to point out that at a certain level this series has more in common with Zelazny's Amber novels than it does Farmer's other books. It's about other dimensions, the strange and unique worlds and physics that keep them functioning, and the godlike engineers of these realms. As Zelazny indicated, it was a series inspired by his imagining as a kid but not brought to life until his forties. Sounds kind of like what most tabletop gamers do these days, right?

I have collectible editions of all the books on my shelf, but I hate to bang them up as they are --you know-- collectible. So getting the entire series in electronic format is a real pleasure. I shall now proceed re-reading one of the defining weird fantasy series of my formative years, books which I have revisited over the years and found only get better each time.

The covers of the last print edition that I have sitting on my shelf

Monday, August 7, 2017

Ages of Lingusia: Octzel's Kedrion Forest in the Age of Strife

I've been meticulously, slowly rewriting and updating my Gazetteer of Lingusia to reflect the "new" era of the Age of Strife. Here's one of those regions, revamped to reflect the adventures of heroes in a post-time-shift 2092 AW....some of the content below originates from my first gazetteer circa 1991ish, and the rest reflects the changing tastes and interests of the DM over several decades.

I've been enjoying D&D 5E and 13th Age as my primary rulesets for gaming with Lingusia, with the caveat that the icons of 13th Age are essentially too limiting for a venerable campaign like this, despite being fantastic plot-hook/event generators That said, you might see references to either system in some of these gazetteer rewrites.

Kedrion Forest

Originally named after Altanir Kedrion, an early explorer from the Fertile Empire of old, this lush forestland prospers in the vast rain shadow of the north coast than runs all the way to and through the Umian Hills to the south.  The region today is known for several dozen small settlements and villages, most of which depend on local lumber and crops of nuts, berries and river fishing.

The Kedrion Forest was once the site of a great mining effort during the early years of the Hyrkanian Empire. Several old castles can be found along the coast where these mines were protected, and there are hundreds of actual abandoned mines scattered throughout the region. It is said that gold, silver and adamantite were readily found in the region, but the area was long ago stripped by the old empire when Octzel was still nothing more than a penal colony.

Aside from the relics of old imperial occupation and mining, there are several ancient elven and orcish strongholds that lie abandoned and overgrown in the region, occasionally serving as temporary homes for wayward adventurers, bandits or foolish monsters. The orcs and elves that once inhabited this region were long ago driven out by humans in the area.

Along the coast of the forest are immense, migratory mutant sea turtles called the minhor. The minhor appear seasonally, wading ashore and making their way through the forest to the foothills of the Loroden Mountains and the Umian Hills, where they burrow in to lay their eggs. Several months later a great migration of young hatch, and during this time the many settlers of the region spend their time harvesting minhor pups for food, decoration and sport. Minhor are not normal turtles: they graze on grass and debris with dozens of porous, red mouths on their stomach, and their armored heads are actually vicious weapons. They can consume meat, despite appearing to be herbivores.

Adventure Seeds in Kedrion Forest:

The Vault: There is rumored to be an ancient cavern, once a mine, that was hollowed out into a temple complex to Yeenoghu, the demon lord. The story is that some time ago the prince of shadows himself, Wormie Vellsoth, claimed this cavern and slew an incarnation of the demon god in the process. He then commissioned a fine dwarven vault door and used obscuring magic to hide the cavern from prying eyes. Some claim he stows his boundless treasure hoards within. Others think it’s a major center of operations for the Black Lotus Guild. Still others think it is a diabolical trap set by the prince of thieves himself to remove competition in a trap-infested dungeon.

Ruins of Castle Dymhar: stories of this haunted castle on the coast speak of how you can see it on a rocky outcropping just twenty miles east of Port Chudeza, but no one can find a safe approach. Those who have scaled the cliffs to invade the castle have found it haunted by a vile wight who may or may not be the ancient Hyrkanian lord Geradastro Gonn Dymhar, the noble believed to have run many mines in the region, and to have so cruelly treated the native elves and orcs that they actually set aside their own differences and slaughtered the noble and all of his men in a night of bloody revenge.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Ages of Lingusia: Galvonar in the Age of Strife

As I've been reconstructing Lingusia in the "time altered era" of the Age of Strife I've been working on updating all of the Middle Kingdoms and their neighbors. Here's a short treatment on Galvonar in the era of 2086-2096 AW, a region often overlooked in my campaigns....


Current Ruler: Sarakani Asaran III (Caliph), the Twelve Sheiks (nomads of Sur, Harad and Arahad)

Cultural Groups: Galvonar is divided into four regions: Coastal Galvonar (Albadia), Arahad, Sur, and Harad. The regions of Arahad, Sur and Harad are each a culturally distinct region of the overall nomadic tribal groups, and each has between 3 and 6 distinct tribes in each region, and dozens of smaller tribes. Coastal Galvonar is called Albadia, the name for the “civilized men” of Galvonar.

Social Groups:  Galvonar has a strict caste system with limited advancement. In the civilized regions of Albadia there are slave castes, mamalukes (warrior slaves), and freedmen with no property. Once a man gains property, which is possible if a merchant prince grants ownership or he gains enough wealth, then he may become a landed gentry, merchant noble, merchant prince, or perhaps even a high order title such as grand vizier or Caliph. Among the nomad groups there is far less structure, with most men defined by the horses they own and the size of their families. Polygamy is rampant among the nomads but less so in Albadia. Women are never allowed to own property in Galvonar, and have many religious restrictions on what they may wear, speak or even learn (see deities below).

History: Galvonar is a stretch of territory identified by several cultural groups that are bound by a number of commonalities. The western Galvonarians, the Albadia, are coastal merchants, fishermen and culturally civilized men who propser from the lush coastlands that are a strip of fertile land bordered by a vast desert. The nomadic Galvonari to the east dominate a vast, treacherous stretch of desertland that encompasses much of the southern subcontinent, and borders both the Albadia to the west, Persedonia to the east and the Galonians to the south.

Historically Galvonar traces its root identity back to around 500 AW when the early Saurian Metal Dynasty was identified by antiquarians in the region as the first appearance of a distinct language and culture that is recognized as Galvonarian today.  It was not until 1700 AW that Galvonar was first united by the warlord Asaran I, a personality of such strength that he is still revered as a culture hero by nomad and Albadian alike. By 1850 AW the Galvonarians had disintegrated into the mixture of sheiks and the caliphate that is recognized today, and remained so ever since.

The current Calif of Albadia nominally claims rulership over all of Galvonar, but in truth his power over the nomad sheiks is limited to a measure of influence through trade and gifts. The nomad Sheiks claim no structure of rulership outside of their own tribes, and frequently war with one another. The Sheiks, if anything, maintain better relations with the Takonorian and Cimer to the north than they do with their civilized cousins in Albadia, or themselves.

Galvonarian religion is rife with contradiction. The foundation of Galvonarian belief seems to stem from a period buried in history, during which the tribes of the region were once independent and practices a form of animism comparable to what goes on in Jhakn today. They were conquered and turned into citizens of the empire of Old Galonia, but after the collapse of that empire the nomads were given over to a period of religious liberation for a time, and eventually Eastonian merchants from the north brought the pantheistic beliefs of the Middle Kingdoms to the region. The result is an interesting contrast of pantheistic and animistic beliefs tempered by the memory of the older faith of Galonia.

Religious Beliefs: Today, Galonian cults are dominated by the following deities:

Dhuka (Naril): the god of mankind, the rule of law and the Empire of Hyrkania was adopted in recent centuries by the Galvonarians of Albadia. His aspect of fire and the sun is the most prominent representation in this region, as his status as a “god of kings” is seen as a northern aspect only (such status is reserved locally for Marduk). His fire temples in Albadia and Sur have spread rapidly in the last two centuries, and have replaced the memory of the lost temples of Ailyenarion, the old lord of fire from Old Galonia.

Kamar (Selene): The goddess of the moon, wife to Dhuka, is also worshipped in Galvonar, and was introduced about two centuries ago around the same time Naril was adopted as Dhuka. She is seen as the courtly patron of women, child bearing, motherhood and education. This is in sharp contrast with the traditional feminine goddess of Udena. Most Albadian merchants have adopted the worship of Kamar, and women in Albadia under clans who follow her have allowed women to learn other languages and broaden their education as a result. The traditional tenets of Udena that require great modesty among women are still prominent even among worshippers of Kamar, however.

Galon: the old supreme god of Galonia, after which the old empire itself is named, is still regarded with feverish intensity as the supreme deity in the nomadic region of Arahad. Galon is sometimes recognized by some Albadia clans, but is mostly eschewed in place of the belief of Marduk and Naril.

Marduk: the ancient warrior king is believed by most Galvonarians to have been the first ruler of Galvonar in the prehistoric era before the Saurian Metal Dynasty, and that the first sheiks like to claim Marduk as an ancestor. Marduk is said in Galvonarian myth to have slain the first dragon kings, Tiamat and Bahamut, and to have protected the land in an era predating even Old Galonia. He is considered today to be a strong god of warriors and kings and has several prominent temples in Albadia, as well as a massive ziggurat in his honor built by the Asaran I in the city of Kiddaros.

Set: Set is worshipped as a cult of deceivers in the desert, propagated by the haikyndyr serpent men in the region. Amongst men, Set is publically considered a profane deity and his worship is actively suppressed. Privately some men seek out his hidden cults, seeing set as a god that grants great power over other men.

Udena: Udena is the goddess of women, and may be an old import from Old Galonian belief that has survived to this day, despite the near total destruction of that Pantheon in the War of the Gods. Udena is a goddess of fertility and magic, and has female-dominated cults throughout Galvonar. She is a deity defined as a trinity, with a strong aspect of both virgin, whore and crone in her imagery. Each aspect is given its own unique element, but are considered parts of the same goddess: the Udena’Caliska (virgin), Udena’Haddara (whore) and Udena’Materaska (crone). The dramatic restrictions on women in Galvonarian society are at least partially due to the beliefs of the cults of Udena, which place intense restrictions on female behavior. This includes requiring that all women cover themselves head to toe in public with specially recognized garb, and that they not be exposed to “foreign influences,” such that  they are not allowed to learn foreign languages or even seek out an education equivalent to men (though knowledge reserved for women only is allowed, including herbalism and various forms of oracular divination). Only priestesses of the Udena’Haddara are allowed to dress down, in sacret sacred temples dedicated to the sacred prostitution of that aspect of the goddess.

Nyctaris: the goddess of the night is revered, especially among the nomadic groups, and is considered the goddess of travelers in the night. She is most prominent in Harad, Sur and Arahad but looked upon as quaint in Albadia. 

Nephythis: The benevolent goddess of the dead, keeper of tombs and the wealth within, is considered the modern caretaker of both the Valley of the Gods where the old pantheon of Old Galonia is said to rest, as well as the protector of the necropolis where old pharaohs and modern leaders alike are all buried.  She has taken on a unique level of worship among the merchants of Albadia and the traders of Harad, who see her as the protector of wealth both among the living and the dead.

Ailyenarion: the god of fire and old civic lord of Galonia is believed to be dead, but is also believed to remain as a spiritual guardian of the Valley of the Gods in the brokenlands of Galvonar. He is sometimes given offerings at his fire temples, which are mostly abandoned but still standing throughout the region, in the belief that his spirit still offers blessings. Aside from Ailyenarion, abandoned temples to other dead gods of Old Galonia such as Bashtet, Metatros and Bashtron can also be found in the region of the Valley of the Gods. There may be a handful of scholars and priests that still remember and even revere these dead gods of old.

Tragonomos: this ancient demon god was one of the seven soul-bound servitors of Eskandar, and his cults are found in secret throughout Galvonar, but most commonly in Sur. The belief in Tragonomos stems from the offer of power and the elements of masculine inheritance that the demon god seems to promise. His covens are often found working behind the scenes to undermine the caliphate and create a new reign of power seeking to make Tragonomos the sole god of the land.

Haro: the god of murder in the pantheon of the Middle-Kingdoms found a foothold in worship in Galvonar, believed to have grown popular in the century leading up to the rule of Asaran I. The Fire Knives, assassin-cultists of this god, are said to have a strong presence in the secret cults of Albadia and Sur.

The Dark Pharaoh: The memory of the Dark Pharaoh from Old Galonia, who rose up in 1950 AW to lead the last Great War of Chaos against Hyrkania in the north had a profound impact on the nomads of that time. The Galvonarians were attacked and enslaved by the Dark Pharaoh’s cults, and until their freedom in the twelve years of that war the Galvonarians learned a great hatred for the Galonians who took to the worship of their Dark Pharaoh. When the Dark Pharaoh was revealed to be the reincarnation of Xauraun Vestillios, the Champion of Chaos, and was subsequently banished or destroyed by Warenis, the Champion of Order, certain nomads had succumbed to the dark madness inherent in being exposed to the Champion of Chaos and even in liberty continued to worship his embodiment of chaos. These cults are few and far between, but often quite dangerous when they gain a cult leader who is able to gain a spark of chaos magic to fuel their hatred.

This is the only scan of the only map I ever did, this part on Western Galvonar. I really really really need to find time to update it....