Sunday, December 1, 2013

Another month, another post with little meaning

I was watching Thor: The Dark World, and thought to myself "Self, what if each world was a kingdom? And what if each kingdom was ruled by a different civilized race, and opposed by a different uncivilized race?".

And that's what the last post was for.

And it ties into this one:

And that's all I'm saying for now, except that I have a new copy of the Dictionary of Imaginary Places, and I'm takin' notes.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

A place holder for later, or a note to myself.

Asgard (Aesir)
Vanaheim (Vanir)
Midgard (Humans)
Jotunheim (Giants)
Alfheim (Elves)
Nidavellir (Dwarves)

Hel (The Dead) ?

Niflheim (Ice)?
Muspelheim (Fire)?

Friday, November 8, 2013


Pendulums swing.  That's what they do.  And fashions, like pendulums, swing back and forth (and round and round and up and down...probably more of an ascending or descending spiral than a proper pendulum, but y'know, whatever.)

Hexcrawls are in.  Hexcrawls have been in for a few years now, concurrent with the rise of the OSR, but I think they've hit maturity.  There's no longer a host of posts explaining hexcrawls, or justifying's just "here's my hexcrawl".

And that's fine.  I like hexcrawls, and megadungeons.  They bring a certain flavor to the game.  What I don't like is the assumption that they bring all the flavors because, surprise, they don't.  Random rolling differentiates between hexes, but on a macro scale, it weights everything evenly and nothing stands out. If we are all special snowflakes....

Are there ways around this?  Probably.  Not doing random rolls would be the other extreme.  You can bias or weight the rolls (mountains here, swamp here, lots of civilized stuff here).  You could (and this is more of a conceptual idea that would affect in-game experience) play with hex sizes, from small hexes near civilization to large hexes away from it (I touched on this in an earlier post).  If encounters and travel is measured per hex, then you have more encounters near civilization than you do away from it, rather than a static 3 chances per day or some such.  This, IMO, reflects reality - there are many more chances for interaction walking a mile in downtown Boston than there are walking a mile on a logging road in Maine.

Anyways, all things in moderation.  I like hexcrawls, but it's nice to read about kingdoms once in awhile too.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

More Books Again

So, I went back.  And I found a few books on sale last week on my way back from Vermont.  I got:

Firewall - another Wallander book, so I've read 2 and have 5 more;
Operation Napoleon - by Arnaldur Indridason.  Icelandic author, though this isn't part of the Jar City/Draining Lake series.
Games for the Playground, Home, School, and Gymnasium - copyright 1916
The Execution Channel - Ken MacLeod
The Given Day - Dennis Lehane
The Chinese Bell Murders - Robert Van Gulik.  I think this is a Detective Dee book.
The Yard - Alex Grecian
Thunderstruck - Erik Larson
The Forgery of Venus - Michael Gruber
The Saskiad - Brian Hall
The Whiskey Rebels - David Liss
The 1985 & 1987 Annual World's Best SF - Wollheim.  This is a MMPB series.
Beasts; The Deep; and Engine Summer - John Crowley.
Beyond Singularity - an anthology by Dozois.

I've read The Years Best Fantasy Stories Vol. 3; The Years Best SF Vol. 21; The Outfit; Little SisterThe Boy In The Suitcase; and Beyond Singularity. I'm wavering between Wolf Hall and Nemesis right now.

Little Sister was excellent Raymond Chandler.  His writing is lyrical, evocative, and all-around awesome. I read these just to read them. I spent almost the whole drive back from Vermont thinking about how to write a fantasy story in something similar to Chandler's style.  I think I sorted out how it could work, but I'm not sure if I could pull it off.  5/5
Fantasy Stories 3 was interesting as an indication of changing taste in short fantasy fiction (and fantasy in general).  It was also a Lin Carter ego trip book.  3/5
Years Best SF 21 was typically great; I don't understand why anyone and everyone even marginally interested in SF doesn't read these. 5/5
The Outfit was just like a Jason Statham movie, or vice versa.  I'd read another one. 3/5
The Boy in the Suitcase had some issues in character development (almost all the bits were there, but in the wrong order, IMO), but I'd chance another book by the authors.  3/5
Beyond Singularity had a lot of repeat stories, and no Vernor Vinge, which is just weird and wrong.  And the stories were kinda weird, actually.  A lot of them were really far future, I think, which made the Singularity just a historical event, and not a real point in the story.  2/5

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Second weekend of the booksale.  I think my mother finally started to understand I wasn't exaggerating.  We got there at 9:20am, and there were already 50 people in line ahead of us for the 10am opening.  The line hadn't shrunk when we left at 11:30.  She got everything on her list except the authors that started with "E", which is typical of the random weirdness of the book sale.

I don't quite get where all the books come from.  I like the sale because I can be choosy and get clean books in really good condition.  There are not a lot of library copies or similar that I can see.  But every sale starts from scratch, and they end up with thousands of excellent books.

Last week I got:

  • The Years Best Science Fiction, Vol. 1 & 21, edited by Gardner Dozois (1983 & 2004, btw). Now I need 2-6, 10-12, 15, & 19.
  • The Last Witchfinder, by James Morrow. Looked interesting, good comments on the back cover.
  • Grave Goods, by Ariana Franklin. Enjoyed the first book in the series.
  • The Difference Engine, William Gibson & Bruce Sterling. I keep missing this one somehow.
  • Vellum, by Hal Duncan (a little nervous about this one. Incidently, there is someone in town that gets advance preview copies of a lot of sf books, and donates them afterwards. There are a few in each sale.)
  • The Bellini Card, by Jason Goodwin. The Jannisary Tree was good. 
  • The Absent One, by Jussi Adler-Olsen. Loved the first book.
  • Shardik, by Richard Adams (not sure what to think about this one; I took it down and put it back about five times, but a) it seemed OK when I flipped through it, b) I've actually heard of it, and c) Watership Down, people.)
  • SHEKing Solomon's Mines; and Allan Quatermain, by H. Rider Haggard. Three novels in one book. Classics. 
  • The Years Best Fantasy Stories, Vol. 3 & 5. These are from 1977 and 1980.
  • The Dictionary of Imaginary Places: The Newly Updated and Expanded Classic. I think I actually have this, but the older edition and in paperback. This is hardcover. If someone is interested in the other one, PM me.

This week I hit mystery pretty hard.  SF/Fantasy tends to get tapped out quickly, but the mystery section is always HUGE.
  • The Redbreast, The Snowman, Nemesis - all by Jo Nesbo.  I've heard the name but not read him yet.
  • The Outfit - Richard Stark.  A Parker book.  As in, the Parker movie that came out recently is based on this character. So, two-fisted badass criminal quasi-hero, I hope.
  • Polar Star - Martin Cruz Smith. Wrote Gorky Park, the title of which has been embedded in my mind for decades for reasons I do not understand. I've never read it.
  • The Little Sister - Raymond Chandler. This is one of my two big scores this week.  It completes my Raymond Chandler collection.
  • Helsinki White - James Thompson.  A Goodreads recommendation.
  • The Boy In The Suitcase - Lene Kaaberbol & Agnes Friis.  I'm thinking of going scandinavian for my pen name. They have awesome names.
  • The Fifth Woman, The White Lioness, and Before The Frost - Henning Mankell. Not my favorite Scandinavian author, but good. Although I really didn't like The Man from Bejing.
  • The Darkness That Comes Before - R. Scott Bakker.  Another Goodreads recommendation, this one fantasy.  We shall see.
  • Wolf Hall - Hilary Mantel.  This was my other big score.  I've struck out on this for several years; today I found one sitting alone in general fiction.
  • Something Rotten - Jasper Fforde.  A Thursday Next novel.
  • Where Late The Sweet Birds Sang - Kate Wilhelm.  And another Goodreads recommendation, from SF.
  • A Dirty Job - Christopher Moore.
  • Undaunted Courage - Stephen E. Ambrose.  Lewis & Clark Expedition.  My mother has been talking about this book for years.
  • Worldmakers: SF Adventures in Terraforming - edited by Gardner Dozois.  I love anthologies, particularly from Mr. Dozois.

I basically skipped right over general fiction this time, which is fine and intentional except that I just realized I was going to look and see what they had for Michael Chabon.  Hrm.  I might have to go back.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Stories & books & stuff

It's starting to get dark inconveniently earlier, so more time inside.  Except I've been cleaning, and driving to Vermont to help my sister, and doing stuff.  So, yeah. And, the treehouse.  The f*ing treehouse.  It's awesome, it's brilliant, I'm wicked proud of it, and by god I wish it would fucking end.  The clients are getting testy, and they are incredible to have not shot me long ago. Building windows tomorrow; rope railing if I have time (fun fact: it takes more than 75' of rope to do 4' of this railing, and several hours.  Thread, pull 75', rethread, pull, so on and so forth.) Next week, finish the roof, stain the whole thing, and done.

My mom is coming to town tomorrow.  If it's not pouring, maybe she'll work on the railing for a bit.

The semi-annual Friends of the Tompkins County Public Library Book Sale has rolled around again, so I'm trying to update my list of books so I know what to buy. I usually go twice, sometimes three times, and spend no more than $50 the first weekend, $40 the second weekend, and $10 the third weekend.  Since the price drops daily, and it runs for 3 three-day weekends, that's approximately 12-15 books the first weekend (hardcover or trade; MMPB are cheaper), 16-20 books the second weekend, and however many you can carry the last weekend (You've got to really try to break $20 the last weekend).

I always hit SF & fantasy first, but I've gotten into mystery thrillers in the past few years, particularly foreign (Scandinavian) thrillers. I dabble in popular fiction as well. I loaded up with a lot of "literature" the first few years, but I'm less frequently in the mood to read that, so I've still got shelves of it to go through. I cruise nonfiction & other categories if things aren't too crowded and I'm not overloaded.  I did score an updated, hardcover copy of The Dictionary of Imaginary Places for $3.50 last weekend - and I'm picky about condition, so this is pretty near mint.  Not sure it was ever opened.  I have a copy, but I think it's the older edition, and paperback.

Anyways, have been reading anthologies recently, which is always nice, and doing google searches on authors, which lead me to several genre ezines, one ongoing (Lightspeed) and one defunct (Black Gate).  Subscribing to a few of these is becoming a priority; they help me remember that I'd like to actually submit, and not just read, someday. My BA is Creative Writing, after all.

Man, if I could write short stories and build play structures...that would be a wicked awesome life.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Can't think of a snappy title for this one. Another thought about classes.

It should be clear that I like variant classes, subclasses, and things of that sort.  I'm not a "everybody is a fighter" sort of gamer.  I enjoyed 3e, and I like how Pathfinder has lots of class options.  (I don't play PF, but that's for different reasons).

I'm also aware of power creep, and so on and so forth.  On some levels, this isn't an issue for me - I like characters to develop new things, not just doing one thing with a +1 bonus every other level.  I also don't like screwy XP schemes - this should be pretty well documented by now.

AND I'm aware of the ruleset I'm working in, and the mindset it exists within.

What I'm having trouble with is reconciling my version of the fighter with my versions of the ranger and barbarian (in particular).  I'm not convinced the fighter is evenly matched, but I don't want to give the figher MOR STUF just to bulk him up.

I can also - and I know these aren't posted - see the same issues with the cleric, thief, and wizard.

So what I might try is switching from a one-tier system (all classes are equal) to a two-tier system (some classes are better).  This, if it works, could potentially interlock with prestige classes and multi-classing.  So the core classes would be Fighter, Magic-User, Thief, and Cleric.  Most other classes would build on top of this.

Honestly, I'm not sure if it will work.  Part of the balance between fighters & barbarians, for instance, is the restrictions that are built into each class.  Barbarians get a higher bonus, but it has a duration.  Fighters have a lower bonus that always applies.  I'd have to rejigger class features to build on, rather than replace, each other.

The other issue is balance.  There are two basic ways of doing this: carrot or stick.

XP is the stick.  You want a better class, you have to pay more.  This, for me, doesn't work because most of the time, the two classes will be the same level.  You might as well say the fighter gets a +1 bonus every fourth game session, for that session only.

A carrot would be something like "core classes get a feat at even levels".  That's using some 3e/non-OSR/S&W jargon, but you get the idea.  Instead of better classes getting a penalty, weaker classes get a small, continual, bonus.  +1 hit points per level.  Something like that.

So, I dunno.  I'm probably overthinking it.

Apropos nothing, I'm going to post about books soon.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Classes to Date

For convenience, here are links to the classes I've done so far, plus a few related posts.

On Classes: Creating Concepts (what makes a good class?)
On Classes: Martial Classes (thinking about fighters and that sort)
On Classes: Magic-User Classes (thinking about arcane classes)
On Classes: Magic-User Classes Again (revisting arcane classes after the Illusionist)

Leshii (Player Race)
Leshii (Race-as-Class)

Fighter Class
Barbarian Class (including the Steppe Nomad and Zealot)
Knight Class (including the Cavalier, Chevalier, and Faris)
Ranger Class
Paladin Class (including the Anti-Paladin)

Illusionist Class (first class I did.  Link to The Basic Illusionist document is in the sidebar.

Cultist Class
Cultist Class II
Cultist Class Addendum

Summer, for me, is about being outside.  Part of growing up in a rural area without a tv or computer.  So productivity is way, way, down.  Make hay while the sun shines, my lads and lasses. Also, treehouses.
That said....

  • Working on The Complete Illusionist.  Lots more spells to go through.
  • Writing another spin on the illusionist for Knockspell, so Matt whatshisname has something to put in the Ultra-Special -S&W-Appreciation-Day-Issue. Eventually.  Honestly, I'm not feeling the pressure on this.  ;)
  • Tweaking the cultist, and working out the variants (shi'ar, apostate, etc)
  • Springboarding off the cultist to the other occult classes.
  • Divine classes.  Establishing differences between occult, divine, and arcane systems of magic.
  • Expert/Rogue classes.  Honestly, not overly excited about these, except sometimes I am.  Particularly the outlaw.
  • More setting stuff.
  • I'd like to do more races.
  • I have a f*cking AWESOME idea for new classes that I love, but need to bolt my ass to the chair and work out.
  • Digging into more of the stuff that's out there.  If you want to fuel my pdf shopping, donate some money for tax purposes, or simply make me feel good, clicky-click on the Donate button over yonder.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

On Classes: Magic-User Classes Again

Sorting through spells for the Complete Illusionist makes one think about the different magic-user subclasses, and the real differences between them.  Is Divination really a school on par with Evocation?  Can enchanters teleport?  Should they?  Why do necromancers have fear spells? Does it make more sense for classes and spell schools to be cause- or effect-driven?

This matters, and it matters in OSR games, because once one moves beyond the core four (or three, or possibly two) classes, one starts looking at archetypes.  3e and Pathfinder both have the mechanical depth and complexity to create classes and concepts around pretty esoteric and narrow ideas, like the fighter that knocks things down, or the fighter that uses a two-handed sword instead of a long sword.  OSR games don't have that luxury.  Subclasses in the OSR realm embody broad archetypes and concepts; characters that many people on the street would recognize, and anyone with a smattering of fantasy reading or video-game consumption.

Illusionists manipulate minds and energies to deceive people.  It's an effect-driven class.  Luminous spells shade into serious energy manipulation, while shadow magic gets extra-planar and interdimensional, phantasms merge into charms, and glamers into enchantments. That's just how it is.

Enchanters change the properties of a person or object.  In many ways, enchantments are illusions made real.  On the mental side, charms change a person's mental state, compulsions enforce a course of action, and morale/emotion spells change an emotional state.  On the physical side, enchantments can cause transformations to a physical object's properties and manipulations move the object. (Enchanters largely subsume the Alteration/Transformation school).

Necromancers are a subset of enchanters.  They use fear spells, animate dead bodies, and so forth.

Elementalists make the ka-boom.  Earth, Fire, Water, Air; earthquakes, fireballs,  lower water (wait, what?), lightning bolt....

Summoners...summon things.  In many ways this is potentially the narrowest of the subsets, and I'm tempted to leave it out altogether.  Illusionists summon shadow creatures, necromancers summon undead, elementalists summon elemental creatures...if it's that easy to give away the summoner's stuff, then that's probably the thing to do.

Wizards get what's left over, which isn't insignificant.  A wizard controls magic: Dispel Magic is probably the iconic wizard spell.  And Magic Missile, since they get the esoteric energies.  A lot of abjuration/protection spells would fall to the wizard. And, since wizards know many strange things, they get a goodly host of divinations to top things off.

The Magic-User, then, is the ur-class, the generalist, the iconic icon.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Motivate Me (woof woof)

I've added a Donate button to the sidebar, in lieu of a "pay what you will" option for the Basic Illusionist on RPG Now or some other source.

Disclaimer: I love honesty, particularly when it's coming from me and not at me, and so I feel good saying that I promise to use any and all money received for whatever my heart desires, including, but not limited to, my wishlist at RPG Now, my wishlist at Amazon, Russian matryoshka dolls, Russian mail-order brides, large quantities of caffeine, and touring the great American countryside in a caravan.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Family & Alignment

A quick thought spurred by the Voriskoghn post earlier.

In the Voriskoghn, family is the unit of society.  There is no feudal order, no obligations to anyone outside of your blood relatives.

So maybe alignment only applies to family.  A Lawful person acts in accord with their family, a Neutral person usually does, and a Chaotic person is, well, chaotic.  There is no allegiance to anyone outside the family, so behaving badly does not make someone Chaotic.

Where this gets interesting is with religion.  If family is the primary allegiance, faith must be secondary.  The relationship between a priest and her deity is personal, but between the priest and the church organization?  Not so much.  So family trumps church.

Which means, if you want healing, you're better off with your cousin Foul Phil, who slaughters kittens and worships the Lord of Disease in his basement, than you are with Holy Howard, the Helpful Healer, whose family is at war with yours.

Foul Phil may be a wicked bastard, but he's YOUR wicked bastard.

Edit: To clarify, both Phil and Howard are Lawful.  Neither will kill, maim, or seriously harm members of their family.  Phil, however, is Lawful (evil), and Howard is Lawful (good).  Howard's family is at war with yours, though, so Howard is perfectly justified in taking advantage of your wounded condition and finishing you off, and he'll still sleep well and be Lawful (good) afterwards. (On the bright side, he will probably kill you cleanly and quickly. No such luck if you run into his brother, Horrible Harry, the Lawful (evil) cleric of disease (and Foul Phil's archenemy and rival since seminary school.)

The Voriskoghn: Concepts

I've stated previously that I'm reworking the Shadowend setting, which I do periodically to suit my whims.  This time (read: decade) , I'm looking at the area at top left on the map, the Voriskoghn.

If you divide the map into four quadrants, they are, clockwise from top left, the Near North, Utgard, the Woodmarch, and the Hundred Kingdoms.  My intent, ultimately, is to slide the Near North to the right, and expand the Voriskoghn, putting the great big fjord near the center top of the map as a divider. It will be fractured, with many small mountain ranges, forests, swamps, and lakes.

Things to include in the Voriskoghn:

  • Slavic influences/folklore/mythology.  Ivan Bilibin illustrations.
  • Minor Scandanavian influences.
  • Arthurian influences.  Arthurian knights and Russian bogatyrs aren't that far apart.
  • No big kingdoms.  Or cities.
  • Fractured civilization.  Small settlements.  Each man is king in his own castle.  And there are a lot of castles.
  • Perpetual cycle of ruin and regrowth.  It is a wilderness, but not an empty one.  The population holds steady, but settlements shift, move, and change.
  • Family loyalties.  Going along with the "no big kingdoms" thing, most people's first loyalty is to their family.  A family might hold a few castles in a loose alliance, but there is no feudal system in operation.
  • "Advanced" humanoids.  Many humanoid tribes (giants, hobgoblins, etc) are at roughly the same level as the humans.  A castle might be held by hobgoblins.  Giantish castles are not unknown.
  • Distinctions in magic.  Illusionists, Enchanters, and Wizards each have their own areas of ability.
  • No ancient fallen civilization.  There are enough of those around.  The cycle of ruin and regrowth provides enough dungeons and lost towers to satisfy.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Journal of Meron the Gray

A player handout from a campaign I ran...fifteen years ago?  Click here for the rhyme referenced in the journal.  I'm not going to post a whole lot about this, as I might reuse bits of it in another campaign.  Suffice to say, the names are inspired by Glen Cook and the Taken, from the Black Company series.

Journal of Meron the Gray

14 Sungold
K. has advysed me to keep a record -- it may be of use someday.  It is not a symple thing we plan, and much can go wrong.  He may die, I may die, even Anagai may die -- though it seems unlykely after so long.  She has been an invaluable ayd to us.
I've found a copy of the orygynal rhyme in the lybrary of M. Duikyar, recorded by some itynerant mynstrel four or fyve centuries ago.  It's clearly meant to help, though it also rayses more questions than it truely answers.  We know ten were layd down, but if syx "crossed over", and only three came back, does that mean there were once thyrteen?  Or did she create three more, to replace those 'unreturned'.  Not to mention, where dyd they go, and what happened to those three?  Thys may be the key we've been looking for.

28 Sungold
K. has no new thoughts on the rhyme.  It's three parts warning, three parts hynts & klews & ryddles, and four parts "identyfication".  Of the Ten, three plotted rebellion.  Two were marryed to one another.  Three were syblings.  And one was HER heir.  But, it says not whych is whych.

23 Frostfall

Who'd have thought they'd have names so plain?  Here I've been poring over tomes & codexs old enough to crumble into dust in my hands, and I find them out from a Pelkoti mynstrel, as part of an old ballad.  There's more, something about a journey to the north, which awakes dysturbing thoughts of the Waste, but my Pelkoti is poor. I shall need a translator.

25 Frostfall
Damn fate, and all Pelkoti too!  Kylled in a tavern brawl, drunk as the mouse in the vynter's cellar.  Next summer I'll travel there, and fynd out what I can.  Styll, it could be more than worth it.  Syx went over, three came back?  Only three names are mentioned, and a journey to the north.
R. has sent a letter.  He thynks he's found several of the tombs.  One is not far from Wynterdell, a second in the Wythyn, and a thyrd outsyde Gaydrylar.  Spread across the wydth and breadth of the Kyngdoms.  It must have been a battle royale in the end -- the survyving Fallen hunted down one by one, and "sealed in stone & earth".  There is no record of the ones who dyd it, just hearsay.  The last of the ilven wyzard-lords from Illenda allyed wyth the last of the Nekaryan archmages and the cream of the Ameryte arcani.  You'd thynk someone would've wryt that down.

19 Fyrelyght
R. is dead.  K. confyrmed.

27 Fyrelyght
Receyved package from R., sent before death.  One book of two, thys one relatyng positions of Fallen tombs & traps.   Could a more tymely treasure have come into my hands?  Conferred wyth K. & S., both agree.  Fallen are abroad,at least two, probably no more than three.  Of utmost urgency that we determyne whych are awake, and whych styll sleep.   I journey to Wythyn at earlyest spryng, investygate the tomb thereyn.  Thence northwards, Wynterdell, Orbar, Gaydrylar.  S. & assocyates investygate other restyngs. Meet wyth K. & S.

19 Ycegleam
I'm being hunted.  Followed.  Both.  Magyks uncertayn, unclear, blocked?  Suspect tyme growyng very short.  Dyspatched Tyuk wyth message for K.  Wyll investygate Wythyn tomb.

2 Snowshyne
Date uncertain.  No way to tell time, cantryps only lyght.  Damned fool Y, ambushed, caught, imprysoned.  Captors skeletal, possyble awakened by Fallen actyvyty?  Have been fed mynymal & poor foods -- they are awaytyng somethyng, or sometyme?  Relygyous rytual lykely. 

14 Snowshyne
Last myssyve.  Skeletons (ancyent pryests of Urjyn), have brought in second captive.  Sharpenyng knyves, preparyng for sacryfyce.  Fayrly certayn of date, holy day of Lord of Plague in a day.

Been revyewyng what I know.  Names:

Six of ten.  Use-names.  Knowledge of truenames key.    Whysper one of three survyvors of the journey.  Haunt is a woman.

I had a vysyon of a shyp, a journey.  Umoth-fyre rose on my wynterhand, set on my summerhand.  I was met by a dwarf, and shown a great gate.  Beyond the gate was a forest, and sylver icycles hung from the trees.  Three corpses were hung from the trees.  Theyr hearts pyerced by sylver icycles.

Cenotaphite (2e AD&D monster)

Found this while digging through my hard drive. Pre-3e, but it had Greyhawk names, so late '90s-era; 1997-1999.

Human, Cenotaphite

CLIMATE/TERRAIN:     Graveyard/Subterranean
FREQUENCY:                    Rare
ORGANIZATION:            Family
ACTIVITY CYCLE:         Nocturnal
DIET:                                    Carrion
INTELLIGENCE              Low
ALIGNMENT:                    Neutral Evil 

NO. APPEARING:             3-12
ARMOR CLASS:                8
MOVEMENT:                    9
HIT DICE:                           1+1
THAC0:                                19
NO OF ATTACKS:            1
DAMAGE/ATTACK:        1-4 (club or dagger)
SPECIAL ATTACKS:      Diseased bite
SPECIAL DEFENSES:     Immunity to poison and disease
SIZE:                                     M (5')
MORALE:                           Unsteady (7)
XP VALUE:                         120

Cenotaphites are a cursed and diseased race of humans. They are slightly smaller than average height, with pale, jaundiced skin (often obscured by dirt and grime), and dark, ragged hair.  Their eyes are blue or brown, with yellow "whites", and their teeth are crooked but sharp.

Combat:  Primitive cenotaphites attack with primitive clubs (that inflict only 1d4 points of damage), daggers, or their teeth (see below).  Their command of tactics is basic; they may attack from ambush, or surround prey, but little more.
Advanced cenotaphite cultures are more sophisticated in their tactics and weapons.  They use clubs (1d6 damage), or ancient spears and swords as weapons, and powerful warriors may bear shields or salvaged armor from the ruins, improving their Armor Class.  These advanced cenotaphites are likely to prey upon tribesmen and caravans as well as animals and individuals, and may concoct advanced deceits and traps to capture and kill their quarry.
All cenotaphites are immune to poison and non-magical disease, but are carriers themselves.  The bite of a cenotaphite forces the victim to make a saving throw versus poison, or acquire a deadly rotting disease.  This illness manifests itself in 2d4 days, and erodes one point of charisma and constitution per day.  The victim also takes 1d4 points of damage per day; these points cannot be regained by non-magical means until the disease is cured.

Habitat/Society:  Cenotaphites congregate and live in necropolises and abandoned cities, such as those found in the fringes of the White Wastes, or below the Glimmering Plain.  They are the tortured descendants of survivors of cataclysms, epidemics, genocide, and divine catastrophe.

Most cenotaphites are rude primitives, barely capable of intelligent thought and speech.  Their "rulers" are stronger and faster cenotaphites, who beat those who displease them and eat those who anger them.  They dig shallow burrows in the ruins of their ancestors, or else acquire tombs, cellars, and dry wells as lairs.

A few yellow ghoul communities, however, have preserved vestiges of their past.  These "advanced" cenotaphites speak various ancient tongues, depending on their ancestry, and have excavated subterranean warrens to house their people.  They organize society as they imagined it once to be, though these remembrances are poor and distorted at best.  A very rare few of these cenotaphites have rediscovered magic and the worship of the gods, and may have shamans (of levels 1-6) or wizards (of levels 1-4) in their midst or as their rulers.  Advanced cenotaphites believe themselves to be the dedicated guardians of their fallen culture, and viciously resist changing their ways, regardless of the provocation or incentive.
Cenotaphites communities, if starved of other food sources, will turn upon themselves, eating the eldest and weakest first.  If the community survives, advanced cenotaphites launch raids into human communities to kidnap women and use them as breeders to rebuild the cenotaphites' population.

Ecology:  Cenotaphites, sometimes called yellow ghouls or grave eaters, are carrion feeders and cannibals, surviving on rats, snakes, spiders, and bats, killing their prey and leaving it to rot for several days before eating it.  Advanced cenotaphite settlements raise colonies of rats for this purpose.
Cenotaphites are strong only en masse, and periodically ravaged by stronger carnivores.  Most settlements live in accordance with their habitat, neither giving nor taking in excess.

Cenotaphites are fertile with normal humans, but the offspring are always cenotaphites themselves.  Cenotaphites age slightly faster than humans, reaching maturity at ten years and old age at forty.  Most do not live that long.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Basic Illusionist and Pay What You Want

So...The Basic Illusionist was always intended to be free.  And it is.  And it will remain so.  But this "Pay What You Want" thing that's taking off is intriguing.  I'm not adverse to collecting a little money for The Basic Illusionist if someone feels it's worth it -  I'd either buy more gaming material (grist for the mill), or get some art for another project.

RPGNow doesn't do publisher accounts for people looking to distribute one free product, so I'm not sure if I'd have to price it, and then change the price, or if I should just partner with someone with an established publisher account.

I'll have to think about this.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Setting Snippet: Kaulderzhun

A fragmentary draft of a Ravenloft domain.  It was later absorbed into the Shadowend (conceptually, not as a domain) and appears near the upper edge of the map, just right of center, and just below the dwarven greathall Baidrul. It is likely that the domain retains many of its features, include Iscio's control over its borders, in the Shadowend.

Kaulderzhun stretches 50 miles from edge to edge, a rough, chill circle of forest and stone surrounded by the Mists.  The domain is bisected by a low, craggy, and rocky range of hills.  The land to the east of the hills is unpopulated, with stony soil and haggard trees.  The land to the west is covered in conifers and open meadows, and is bordered on its western edge by a second range of hills.
The human population of Kaulderzhun lives in the western vale, in several small villages. 

Cultural Level
Kaulderzhun is on the cusp of the Iron Age.  Metalworking has advanced to iron working, but other technological developments are typical of a Bronze Age society.

The Folk
Kaulderzhun is inhabited primarily by humans and dwarves, the latter living in the stony western hills.
The Kaulderites used to practive a form of ancestor worship, but have largely abandoned it in the face of Iscio's activities.

Native Player Characters
Player characters from Kaulderzhun receive the survival (forest) proficiency for free, regardless of class.  In addition, they gain a one-point bonus to fear or horror checks involving the undead.

Lord of Kaulderzhun
Iscio, King Under the Hill
16th-level king-wight fighter, Lawful Evil
Armor Class                -6
 Movement                  12
Level/Hit Dice              15
Hit Points                    130
Thac0                          3
No. of Attacks             2/1
Damage/Attack           1d10 + 8 or by weapon
Special Attacks           Energy drain, fear, magical items, wight control, spell powers
Special Defenses         Immune to normal weapons
Magic Resistance        Nil

Str                   20
Dex                 17
Con                 19
Int                   15
Wis                  13
Chr                  1 (18 to undead)

 Iscio is a towering figure of a man, nearly seven feet in height.  His flesh has withered and his face appears pinched, a mask of skin drawn over a bare skull, with

Current Sketch   
The King Under the Hill is less than pleased with the state of affairs in his kingdom, and has been growing more active of late, taking nightly rides across his land and scourging those he comes across.  He desperately wants to increase his power, and is slowly gathering an army of wights, in hopes of sending them through the Mists to find and overrun another domain, thus allowing it to join his own.

Closing the Borders
When Iscio wishes to close the border, stones thrust out of the earth, forming a crude but effective wall.  Characters within 10 feet of the border when the wall rises up must make a saving throw versus breath weapon -- a failure indicates the PC takes 2d6 from the stones, while a successful roll forces the character back into Kauldershun, unharmed.  The wall may climbed by a thief or other experienced character, but it cannot be surmounted.  The top always appears to be just a few feet higher up.

Iscio can strike with his hands in melee, attacking twice per round and inflicting 1d8 +10 points of damage with each successful blow. He may chose to drain 2 experience levels with a strike, but this attack occurs only once in a given round.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Setting Snippet: Mhajapor V - Treasure Island of the Dragon King (expanded)

So, my last few posts were about Mhajapor.  I'd dug into my hard drive, and used the first document I found: "Mhajapor Brief".  I kinda thought I'd written a little bit of extra material, but didn't worry about it.

But then, after posting, I glanced at the entry for the Treasure Isle of the Dragon King, and realized that at least 75% of it was not there.  "Mhajapor Brief" was an overview document I'd edited DM material out of, and not what I intended to post at all.

The Treasure Isle of the Dragon King was missing the most material; I'll post the other missing material later.

The Treasure Isle of the the Dragon King
                One of the lesser isles, this fabled isle would be scare worth a mention, save for one pertinant fact.  It exists.
                The Treasure Isle is an ancient volcano, countless ages old.  It sat dormant for centuries after it's initial formation, and was slowly covered with a thick layer of sediment.  In a final burst of activity, though, the volcanoe reawoke and sealed the soft stone under a hard shell of lava.  Again, centuries past and the waves worked against the solidified magma while the caldera filled with water.  Finally, the sea broke into the soft inner crust.  Tunnels and caverns were etched out of the soft stone, a labyrinth of flooded passages and whirling currents.  The caldera was breached, and salt mingled with fresh water.
                Nowadays, the isle resembles a doughnut; a circular wall of obsidian cliffs and lava fields impossible to traverse by foot, surrounding a flooded caldera.  Treacherous riptides and undertows race through the connecting passageways, certain areas flooding in a matter of minutes as the tide pours in.
                In the center of the caldera, a single black isle rises above the waters.  The volcano's last gasp, this small island is hollow, as the magma has subsided far below the oerth's surface, emptying the lava tube and leaving a pit nearly 700 feet deep, roofed over by 100 feet of solidified magma.  When the Dragon King located his treasure here, this pit was breached and flooded.  99% of the fabled treasure of the Dragon King lies here, in pitch darkness, 700 feet beneath the ocean's surface.
                Geology is not the only guardian of this sacred trust, though.  Coral reefs encircle the island, and no safe passage has every been recorded.  To enter the caldera, a person must either fly over the volcano walls (a dangerous prospect as noted below), or enter the labyrinth of caverns.  All but one plunge below the surface of the water, necessitating water breathing or similar magicks.  The last leads to a shallow harbor in a cavern inside the wall of the volcano, and then to a slippery, narrow passage, parts of which are subject to sudden floods, and edges along a cavern wall above a roaring whirlpool.  After passing these dangers, the tunnel emerges on along the upper rim of the caldera, leaving intrepid adventurers with a long, exposed, trek back down to the shore.
                Inside the volcano walls sharks, octopi, and ixitxachitl swarm the underwater maze, mingling with the likes of barracuda, moray eels, and vicious swarms of saltwater piranha.  Any blood released into the water is sure to bring a swarm of these hungry predators in 1d4 rounds, and more each round afterwards.  A small number of yu lung (carp dragons) also lair in this maze.  These are not as docile as traditional yu lung, and will viciously attack any intruders, while other yu lung alert the greater guardians of the Dragon King's treasure.  Stirges and other cave predators haunt the upper passageways, and often attack just as the party reaches a narrow ledge or slippery downslope.
                Outside the caverns, a family of long-lived basilisks (brought here, perhaps, by a desperate mage's last spell), prowl the cliffs.  They survive on volcanic stone and the occasional bird or stranded fish, but will ruthlessly pursue warm-blooded prey.  Dragonnels also live on the isolated cliffsides, seeking whatever prey they can catch.  They are tolerated by the Isle's greater guardians, and cannot be forced to attack them, save by magical means.
                Finally, the caldera is home to the designated guardians of the Dragon King, two venerable tun mi lung, or typhoon dragons.  These two great dragons take turns patrolling the ocean around the isle (and inflicting hurricanes on the other nearby islands).  If necessary, they may summon 1d6 shen lung (spirit dragons) or lung wang (sea dragons), depending on whether the intruders are inside or outside the caldera.  Finally, their fear of the Dragon King's wrath is so great that each would rather die than be responsible for the loss of the treasure, and any looters foolish enough to leave on (or both) alive will soon face the unfettered wrath of the tun mi lung and as many allies as they can call up. 

                Each maintains an lavish palace on the floor of the caldera, and each is linked to the maze of passageways inside the volcano walls.  In past times, the tun mi lung, a male and a female, have mated, but neither has been inclined to do so for the last four or five centuries.  They have grown accustomed to each other's presence, but would each gladly go their own way if the Dragon King released them from his service.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Setting Snippet: Mhajapor IV (Radamalya, The Treasure Island of the Dragon King, Xeochan)

                Haunted, isolated, and feared are but a few of the words most often used to described the second-largest island in the Mhajapor Archipelage.  An elongated oval shape, Radamalya's southern tip stretches to within 40 miles of Ni-kiowa's eastern penninsula, while its northern end arcs eastward, following the gentle curve of its volcanic spine.  Radamalya has not suffered the intense volcanic activity of Dhonai, however, and its central mountains are low, with rounded peaks.  Geothermal activity underlying the island has created hundreds of hot springs, mud pools, and tar pits, many rich with chemicals and compounds inimical to normal life.

The Treasure Isle of the the Dragon King
                One of the lesser isles, this fabled isle would be scare worth a mention, save that it’s sworn fact in the Mhajapor’s that this island, the treasury of the Dragon King of Ni’hon, actually exists.  The treasure of the Ni’honese Imperium is hidded somewhere in the southern reachs of the Mhajapors, guarded by ancient dragons.  Not surprisingly, no one posts of looting it…though many have been lost in the attempt.

                Xeochan is a small (1 mile diameter) island in the north-west corner of the archipelago.  From the ocean, it appears as no more than a green mound resting on the sea, as Xeochan has no beaches and the cloaking jungle extends into the sea itself.
                Cautious exploration, though, has revealed a startling fact.  The entire island has been shaped into a pyramid of distinctly Amixica origins, and the unusual red-veined ivory marble of the island, unlike any other in the archipelago, has been found on other islands as far away as Dhonai and Radamalya (roughly 200 miles), where it was used to 'shell' other Amixica pyramids.
                Questioning of the Amixica natives of Mhajapor reveals an ancient myth of a Temple of Heaven, where noble rulers and their families, high priests of the Amixicas, and powerful religous wizards were laid to rest over the course of four centuries.  Abandonment of the temple corresponds to the decline of Amixica civilization in the archipelago and elsewhere five hundred years ago.

                Adventurers have penetrated to the third level of this temple, and believe many more lie below.  Those who have returned sport ancient armor of beaten gold and copper (strengthened by many magical enchantments), jewelry of antique design, precious shells, gems, and trade bars from long ago.  They also carry warning of the veritable legions of undead that roam the lower levels of the temple, led by mummies of tremendous power.

Setting Snippet: Mhajapor III (Ni'kiowa, Quihochica, Quixican)

                Marking the westen extent of the Mhajapors, Ni'kiowa is an ancient plateau, now sunk almost to the level of the sea.  Only the eastern tip is mountainous and recent, as the volcanoes of the region have vented their molten fury here.   It is possible, if the day is clear and one has good eyes, to stand on the very south-eastern strand of Ni'kiowa and pick out the green coast of Dhonai, or else move to the north-east and spot the low haze of mysterious Radamalya.
                The sudden underwater dropoff around the island (over 3,000 feet in places), together with an unusual confluence of currents, makes the southern coast one of the richest fishing grounds from Hepmonaland to the Ni'hon Dominions.  It is said that a Ni'kiowan fisherman needs no more than a bucket, for he may simply lean over and scoop the fish out of the sea.
                Only a few breaks exist in the escarpment around the island, ancient canyons now flooded and reminiscent of nothern fjords.  These harbors are deep and sheltered, some of the best in the archipelago, but they are also heavily (and cunningly) defended by the lord of the island, the daimyo Koi Shuutogo.
                Strict laws of inheritance keep strife and feuds over property and titles to a minimum and the island civilized by Ni'honese law.  Ni'honese residents of the other islands have slowly collected here, as have the occasional travellers and exiles from Ni'hon, since the daimyo practices a careful policy of amnesty.  Her own family banned from the lands of Ni'hon, she will not turn away exiles or refugees -- but any of these found guilty of violating the laws of the land are either thrown over the cliffs of the island, or sold into slavery to the pirates of Dhonai.

                This fertile island is the domain of Rajah Ahur Asabaran.  Located in the eastern maze of islands, Quihochica is a low, heavily settled island, boasting one large town (Tohar), and several smaller villages and hamlets.  Several sheltered inlets exist, all protected by wooden watchtowers.  The island's deepest harbor sports four stone watchtowers, complete with catapults atop each tower.   
The reason for the abundant guards and protection is no secret.  Quihochica is the site of the largest and most productive jade mines in the archipelago.   Treasure ships, each protected by several light warships filled with guards, depart regularly for Mhaja and the booming market there.  Ahur, though nominally free and independant, gained and holds his position here through the good graces of Amad Bamhadula, and the Rajah of Quihochica is careful not to endanger his comfortable position.

                Heavily eroded by the passing ages, Quixican lies only a few feet above sea level, and would be unliveable if not for the natural stone dike that surrounds the island.   The islanders work steadily to maintain the integrity of the dike, constantly building it higher and thicker.
                Quixican is one of the breadbaskets of the Mhajapors.  The low, level ground lends itself to carefully managed salt-water irrigation and cultivation of sea rice, a salt-loving grain.  The sea rice extracts and stores the salt in thick root nodules.  The grain, though saltier than many mainlanders prefer, is a staple of the Mhajaporian diet.  The islanders trade the rice for basic supplies, including fresh water, and stone, which they use to fortify their dikes and irrigation channels.  They avoid mining stone from the island itself, fearful of anything that will reduce the level of the land.  The root is often traded to foreign ships for more exotic goods, since it can be dried and store indefinitely.  The nodule is little more than a thick woody skin surrounding a fist-sized lump of salt crystals.
                Quixican has been settled since the first Amixica arrived, but the small pyramids they erected have long since been incorporated into the dike.  The subterranean portion of the complexes, though, remain.  Flooded by the sea, the well-like entrances to these dungeons are avoided by the locals, who believe them haunted.  The dungeons themselves are nearly untouched by adventurers, and many treasures may lie in the dark waters below. 

Setting Snippet: Mhajapor II (Amonchia, The Three Sisters, Dhonai)

The Islands
Amonchia/Isle of Good Hope
      The northeastern-most isle of the Mhajapor Archipelago is little more than a hill of volcanic rock linked by a narrow isthmus to a caldera-formed lagoon, and a favored anchorage of ships coming to and from the Roquerre.  At any given time, one or more ships may be anchored just outside the lagoon, while members of the crew restock their supplies of fresh water, fruit, and meat (from the abundant rabbits and pigs that live on the island).

The Three Sisters (Damalya, Panjah, Sumoret)
                Clustered together, these three islands are formed from some of the oldest volcanos in the archipelago.  They harbor some of the fiercest and roughest pirates in the Mhajapors, brutal buccaneers who favor the rough caves and dangerous waters of the Three Smokers over the indolent lifestyle of Mhaja.
                The three volcanic islands wrap around a central harbor.  It is accessible only via narrow, tortorously twisted channels between each island.  Underwater geysers, forested atolls, sharp reefs, and flowing lava all work to destroy and recreate navigable passages into the refuge on a monthly basis.  Once into the deep basin of the harbor, however, the lush vegetation of the Three Smokers and the myriad small atolls helps conceals the ships and the harbor from view.
                The volcanic rock is riddled with empty lava tubes, eroded chasms, and deep crevices.  Over the centuries, the pirates have enlarged these natural openings into fortresses, filled with secret passages and traps for the unwary and unprepared.  There are at least five separate complexes on the island, though only three are in use now.
                The largest island of the archipelago, Dhonai is shaped like a fishhook, with the hook in the east (and pointed south), and the stem curved north, then west, and finally south again, flattening at the southern end into a broad, bell-shaped expanse of mangrove swamps.
                Mhaja, the largest city of the Mhajapors, is situated just north of this swamp, straddling the mouth of the Hipre river, which runs northward along the volcanic spine of the island.
                The eastern shore of Dhonai is home to many pirate lords and captains, each with their own settlements and (minor) harbors.  Further inland, the jungle dominates the rugged terrain, harboring leopards, serpents, monkeys, parrots, minimal elephants, lizards, and other exotic creatures.  The volcanic mountains that form the backbone of the island are largely quiet in the east, but their western vents roar and belch forth magma and ash, pouring it over the desolate landscape that is the west, and creating lava flows that cut into the hungry jungle.  Only a few fisherfolk and their families, or the most desperate and hunted pirates make their homes on the western coast of Dhonai.

                The principal city of the Mhajapors, Mhaja is a frantic, chaotic city of a thousand vibrant colors and sounds.  Anything and everything may be purchased here, from Ni'honese jade to Ratik sablewood, kofee to opium, and rowboats to dhows or carracks.
                Mhaja sprawls around, over, and through the Hipre delta like a demonic maze writ large.  Stilt houses dot the sandbars and mudflats, connected to the mainland and each other by ramshackle plank bridges, brine-encrusted ropes, or not at all.  Further back, wooden houses huts and houses mark the high-tide water, forced there by the relentless pressure of the residences higher up, the stone temples and mansions of the merchants and traders.

                Mhaja is ruled by Amad Bamhadula, a grossly fat man of unparalleled intelligence.  He has ruled Mhaja, and thus Dhonai, for twelve years. 

Setting Snippet: Mhajapor I

This was written for Greyhawk, placed in the ocean south of the Amedio Jungle.

Mhajapor Archipelago

Various claims to royal titles and leadership exist
Capitol: (largest city):  Mhaja (pop. 23,000)
Population: 80,000 +
Demi-humans: Few
Humanoids: Few to none
Resources: Food, water, rare woods, spices, furs, jade, rare stones.

                The Mhajapor Archipelago lies in the center of the Blu Ocean, midway between Roquerre in the east and Ni’hon in the east.  North of Mhajapor are the Amixica Isles; south is Zhinda.  Trade between the three major powers (Roquerre, Ni’hon, and Zhinda) invariably passes through the Mhajapors, and there the pirates rule.
                The archipelago contains 3 major islands over 75 miles in length, a score between 10 and 50 miles long, and countless volcanic peaks, coral atolls,  and shallow sand spits visible only at the lowest of tides.  Indeed, the only unifying feature of these smaller islands is their lack of fresh water -- a fact that renders them useless, and thus uncharted and ignored -- save by the pirates who make their lairs among them.
                The makeup of the various isles differs depending on the locale.  The southernmost, and smallest, isles are coral atolls and sand spits.  These have no mineral wealth, little or no fresh water, and only isolation to recommend them.
                The central isles, in a band running from east to west, are the remnants of an ancient plateau, sinking back into the ocean from whence it once arose. These islands are of limestone, sandstone, and other sedimentary rock.  Marble and precious stones are often found on these islands, and most support a flourishing ecosystem and human population.  They have extensive cave systems above and below water and flourishing coral reefs and sea life, with the attendant dangers.  Ni'kiowa, Quihochica, and Xeochan are of this type. 
Finally, intersecting the mountain peaks at Ni'kiowa is an arc of fire, a north-south series of volcanic vents and peaks that form the backbone of Dhonai, Radamalya, and the Treasure Isle of the Dragon King.  Exotic minerals and gemstones are sometimes found in these lands, though rarely in any quantity.  The chief asset of these islands is their fertile soil, which supports a diversity of plant and animal species found nowhere else in Mhajapor.

People and Races
                Mhajapor has always been a melting pot of peoples, languages, and cultures.  The oldest recorded race are the Amixicas, who make up 40% of the archipelago's human population, and are considered the native people.  The Amixica pantheon is still the predominant religion of these peoples.
                Pirates, outlaws, merchants, and fishermen began arriving from Zhinda six hundred years ago.  40% of the region is still wholly or part Zhindan, and worship of the Nine-Hundred Guardians is the dominant religion of the "civilized" (a.k.a. non-Amixica) Mhajaporians.
                Finally, Ni'honese began appearing in the islands three hundred years ago, largely fishermen and pearlers seeking better grounds than their traditional homes.  This influx strengthened two hundred years ago with the arrival of the daimyo Shuutogo.   Since then the flow of immigrants has been low but steady, mostly dissidents and outlaws driven out of the Sea of Ni'hon by the authoritarian rulers there.

                Roquerrian’s have only recently discovered Mhajapor, and no more than 5% of Mhajapor’s population is Roquerrian.  Most of those are scoundrels, knaves, and outcasts no longer welcome in their homeland.