Monday, December 12, 2016

Thin-Skinned Monarchs, Ugly Doublets, War-Bears on the March: News from the Hill Cantons

And now the News from the Hill Cantons...
Late Sunlorday residents of Marlinko were surprised by the sudden plastering of a 72-panel wall-poster onto the Tomb of the Town Gods-- penned no less by our most puissant and august new Overking, Radulf II, himself. The surprisingly verbose and sharply-worded jeremiad is a rebuke to the passing words by Mavo the Elder, a local junior master in the Illustrious Workers of Wood. 

Mavo in comments at his guild meeting had stated “for the record” that the new monarch's claims that a 1,100 foot-high wooden scaffold would be constructed for the overking's Build the Ziggurat project was “a physical impossibility with our current construction methods.” After 48 panels of detailed derisive comments leveled against every individual member of Mavo's kin for 13 generations, our beloved monarch gently corrected the record with a firm and dignified assessment that He is in fact “quite amazing in his mastery of zigguartry and civil engineering...and that a single wart on my dog's teat has more comprehension of these matters than Mavo has learned in his lifetime.”

A showdown in the petty kingdom of Pohansko seems eminent. Riders from the eastern wilds say that two of three columns of war-bears are now in striking distance of the little client state after mastodon-ambush and cave-exploration delays along the way.

Break out the ugly velvet doublets and mustard yellow cloaks of mourning for the Sunlord is nearing his annual wintry vacation with the dead Hyperborean gods. Traditionalists are warning Cantoners not to go soft on the time-cherished practice of taking a favored toy of the children in their lives and replacing them with burned beets. “Spare the beets, spoil the child.”

Goatherds in the hills north of Revoca town have noticed a “totally unremarkable and hitherto unfound small valley choked with green tube like plants and slender clusters of rusting iron pagodas.” Surely the slivovce is flowing early and freely in that Canton this time of year.  

Friday, December 9, 2016

Misty Isles of the Eld Review Round-Up

Confession time. Despite having more than a few years experience getting published in the so-called real world, I was disproportionately nervous about getting my first real elfgame booklet, Slumbering Ursine Dunes, out in a non-shitty form.

I spent a lot of time in that spring of 2014 reading and rereading a lot of the toughest criticism of adventure writing in our circles trying to drill down on what  the most common pitfalls are (like I already had years of strong but untested opinions myself). Pretty high on that list was Bryce Lynch's reviews on Ten Foot Pole blog. Tough, often funny and in my own game design value wheelhouse his reviews were really a good marker for that kind of weeding out.

So anyways punchline, I felt like his recent review of Misty Isles of the Eld was a well-earned one for our crew (and I emphasis crew the publication just wouldn't be the same without the creative love of Luka Rejec, Robert Parker, Humza K and Trey Causey).

And while I have you here are some other rundowns on the labor of love:

A nice comprehensive video rundown on MIE (do check out the rest of his list of Youtube reviews). 

And a great overarching review by John Bell in the context of all three SUD series books.

Needle's fun take on Misty. He gets me.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

The Salacious Salon of Sxiploi

An excerpt from the upcoming What Ho, Frog Demons (fourth book in the Slumbering Ursine Dunes series) for your amusement, a little stylish sub-level inside the Temple overlooking the Hot Hell in which you can employ the Top Ten Books of Hell list (along with some other guiding boxes in the text to help with the demonic repartee.

Room 10. Cloakroom. Blixr, a sickly thin frog-demonette with flaccid urine-yellow skin and a loose-fitting (but immaculate) white uniform fronted with golden braid sits on a tall stool here behind a counter. In a terse, heavily-accented croak she ask for cloaks or other outerwear, producing from a slit in her wane neck an obsidian token in exchange for the article of clothing. A delicate cape made from ocular-bat wing membrane (worth 150 gold pieces) and a heavy ermine coat with thick shoulder pads and inexplicable rows of cast iron barbs (worth 500 gold pieces) hang on a rack behind her. The demonette will only attack if the cloak rack is disturbed.

Blixr [AC: 5, HD: 2, Hp: 9, Attk: 2, claws 1d4]

Room 11. Moist Towelette Room. Two large white-steel covered buffet trays sit here on a gleaming, polished marble counter. Two cans of magic sterno (low open flame burns for 24 hours before running out) sit below the trays warming neatly-folded moist towelettes. A small sign scrawled in menstrual blood states “take one and only one and refresh.”

Taking more than one has no consequence.

Room 12. Salon. The salon is decorated in the clean, crisp lines of Late Hell Modernist style: bare, polished rock floor with light thin metal gas burners (mounted on the wall for illumination) and a long airy window on the southern wall emitting red light. Through the glass panel (which overlooks interdimensionally the Hot Hell), a massive pillar of fire can be seen arching up from a plain of volcanic glass littered with styrofoam cups. A low, black wood coffee table has three tiny artfully-arranged delicate bowls containing decorative ebon black, pale green and blood-red pearls (worth 2,000 gold pieces each) and a platter of giant fly thoraxes wrapped in lammasu bacon.

Lounging on three low, sleek hobbit-skin couches are three Type B frog demons, Kanvmp, Hilrtnoc and Vasescltz, debating and discussing the political dimensions of soul-juice derivative markets (they vary in the difference of regulation of said financial instruments) and Hot Hell literary trends with their host, Sxiploi, a severed donkey head resting on a velvet cushion. The demons will react to apparent sharp points by the mute and long deceased head. The debate is punctuated frequently by droll, cutting gossip about local Marlinko human notables.

The demons will not immediately attack but will demand that party member participate in their conversation. Failure to provide more than two real-time minutes of interesting conversation (or attempts to steal the table bowls or otherwise be a boor) will bore the demons enough to fight, otherwise they will let the party come and go with no fuss.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

The Hill Cantons in Its Bottom-Up Infancy

The Hill Cantons campaign is eight years old this week (the blog following later). Happy Birthday, you don't look a session over 400. In another eight years it's going to get off its ass, go get a driver license and take a miserable job stocking groceries to earn its damn keep, mister. 

Now that the HC has a published life--and worms its way into the most unlikely of some of your weirdo world spots--looking through the old maps and notes the incredibly modest, bounded and radically bottom up nature of the campaign at its get go hits me like a brick. Running a weekly game—plus publishing—over eight years of mostly just-in-time production creates so many layers and layers stacking upwards that looking at the first seems alien.

Take this. This is the original players map. The original play area was a tiny space, a mere 20-by-20 mile area—what is now known as Ostrovo Canton (north of Marlinko Canton and one of 32 current regional maps). The map was hexless and vector based with an intentionally slower “exploration” movement.
Click on me for thy detail
It was small geographically, but it was dense as hell.

In two manic pre-launch weeks (what a difference having kids make) I drew up around 30 illustrations, cross-sections and site maps (here are some samples). I cut corners by only stocking half of the first level of the two big tentpole dungeons with 4-7 mapped levels and loads of micro-dungeons.

And then I threw in a heap of other people's work (something I completely stopped doing that I sometimes regret). That un-named castle in the woods to the north? That's Castle Amber. And looky there, there is Sham Bowman's gonzo-erffic Dismal Depths. And yes that is that Bone Hill.  Later replaced by Lumash the bone tower with a reskinned Silent Hall (Major Xhom!) from Stonehell.
The Hall of the Mountain King
(Now the Faux-Mead Hall of the Ancient Hyperboreans)

Upper Works
A piece of the Undercity below Muth. Recycled not just once, but an egregious twice as part of the Jakalla Underworld and Kezmarok's undercity. Shameful. 
To prep for holes and to break up travel, I brainstormed a list of 12 “floating sites.” If I rolled a 2 on an encounter check on a d6 I would then roll a d12 (crossing of entries) and blam the party would encounter a tower of homicidal, foot-chopping landsknechts or a small seedy tavern run by a crow-footed hill-witch. I still use this method to this day, constantly replenishing the pages of the same tattered spiral notebook.

Equally keeping with the equally radical and then fashionable West Marches concept there were zero hooks, no NPC quest givers, no plots, no campaign news and town (and off-map civilization) boring places much akin to a suburban cul de sac life. Religion was just fakey cakes Catholic Church (Sun Lord), some goddess heretics akin to Mormon feminists and totally undefinied “pagans”.

Monsters pretty much were “what's in my miniatures collection”--with reskinning to make them occassionally quite weird. Ghuls and ghost minotaurs because I only had time to prime the figures. The Eld originally just being “mysterious veiled, red robed humanoids with spears” based on my large collection of El Cid-era Andalusians (only becoming the Eld when James Mal started writing about Dwimmermount play sessions).

There was no real world setting either, just a vague idea of two human never-to-be-visited core domains and a vague idea that this was culturally late 15th century Bohemia as imagined by an acid-riddled Jack Vance—with sleestaks, Howardian kozaks and Cthluhu shit.

The only NPC interaction and motivation was “here's a map you inherited, nothing happens here, go explore.” Yeah, yeah I've written extensively about how quickly all of those things evolved away no need to go on, grandpa. But, man,  from little acorns do big oaks grow.  

Monday, November 14, 2016

A New Overking, the End of Crowdfunding and All Things

[So-called real world news: The OSR Bundle of Holding, the super-sale that includes humble Misty Isles of the Eld among some of the best and brightest of our scene, ends in a day's time.  The Operation Unfathomable Kickstarter has ended with a whopping $21k end (if you missed and still want to back stay tuned to the page BackerKit will allow you do so).]

And now the News from the Hill Cantons...
It is over. The Lords Temporal have met and decided on our next Overking. In a shocking upset for both the favored Steeplejacker and Lisping Norker candidates, Uberduke Heimlic of Popradu and Under-Prince Yohann-Pavol Legitimus, Wildgraf Bodegast, youngest brother of the departed monarch and head of the Grimbibber will don the deo-fox robes and lich-garland crown of state. 

Assuming the name Radulf II, the new Overking has promised an aggressive rollout of the hitherto opaque and secretive program An End to All Things. Keeping to long tradition all of the losing candidates have been smothered with velvet pillows—with the notable exception of Koza the Regimental Goat who is said to have fled his stall in the Black Army barn last night.

Dead first in our dear new Overking's local appointments is the new Cantonal Viceroy, Ropucha Rigygtzenacht, former Surveyor-Lord of Canton Departments Both Hilly and Forested (and reputedly dead). The self-described “frog demon nationalist” has announced that the first 200 days in in office will include plans to deflate the supply of electrum pieces, “feed half the poor to the rest of the poor”, free sexual access of the upper nobility to the livestock of the commons (an obvious pandering to the defeated Steeplejackers) and the construction of a massive White Ziggurat just outside Marlinko. 


In Marlinko still literally up and arms about the War Bear March on Pohansko—and hotbed of “Kozer” activity—the cantonal Rada has met in emergency session to reportedly (and incredibly) consider “Marlexit,” a secession from the Overkingdom proper. Meanwhile several dungeons, both new and restocked, still remain free to loot, pillage and die ignominiously and forgotten in.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Frog Demons Finishing Up the Dunes Series

Just as we close out the Op U Kickstarter (oh yeah by the by Misty Isles of the Eld and a heap of A-side OSR work is on super sale at the Bundle of Holding), we started down the last phase of the Dunes series. I finally, finally passed over the draft manuscript to the distracted hands of my editors the fourth and last adventure What Ho, Frog Demons. While it's not the 100+ page monster of the Misty Isles, at 30 pages and growing it's still a lot more than the 12-16 page product of micro-dungeons we promised.

After a good deal of insomnia agonizing about whether it all hung together as well as its sequels I think I am getting to the place about feeling good about what's rolling off the line. The master of font and trade-dress mimicry magic of Trey Causey working with a lovely anuran illustration from Luka Rejec (another brother from another mother) have us already good to go with this great little homage/satire cover--very fitting for the terribly misguided mix of Wodehouse, gonzo D&D and cosmic horror satire that's the theme for this one.

Basically beyond my usual quirky meandering sections, you get two quite different, but ballpark theme-linked small-scale adventures that have been specifically designed to be either wholly slottable in most home campaigns or run alongside the hooks and chaos index of Fever-Dreaming Marlinko, Misty Isles and the Dunes.

On one hand you have the low-level trap-hell dungeon of the Frog Demon Temple with its wandering squads of booby-trap laying frog-demonettes, gratuitous deadliness and hell-spawned literary salon on one side and on the other the building tongue-in-cheek horror of the Manor of the Beet God, with a rising Infection Index dynamically changing the nature of the site as the players chose to explore or ignore the mounting menace and mystery.

Let's see if it works.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Bloody Pohansko: When Strongholds Go Bad

One of the great pleasures of an eight-year campaign mostly driven by so-called bottom-up world building (really like gender more of a fluid spectrum thing) is that there is a periodic filling in of the blank spots on the map.

I had really intended the War Bear march on Pohansko as a set up for some solo matrix wargaming on my end, but some of the long time players jumped in with wanting their characters to march along. I do love every once in a while posing open-ended grand scenarios in which I have no idea exactly how the players are going to tackle it or what the outcome will be, so ka-blamo a simple map and battle roster becomes a whole new campaign area.

Here are the particulars for you folks at home:

What's Happening?
Pinc the Petulant, king-let and spiritual head of the Insufferable Path of Disproportionate Grievance has imprisoned a company of 20 war-bear cadets in lieu of paying back wages (and into their woefully underfunded dental fund). The war-bears sit polearm-deprived and deeply despondent in the dungeons of Pohansko, a tiny micro-kingdom and fortified trade town in the wilds south east from the Cantons.

Medved, master of Slumbering Ursine Dunes and all things bear, has called the general muster for all warbears. In solidarity (and applied needling from the Guild of Condotierre, Linkboys, Roustabouts, and Stevedores) the Rada of Marlinko Canton has sanctioned the formation of a volunteer company complete with battle-wagon train.
What are the Forces Involved?
Three uncoordinated columns of war-bears are converging on Pohansko. The columns are all led by stubborn het-bears and that fact coupled with Medved's utter disdain for details means that there is no real strategy other than “angrily march there and fuck shit up.”

The fast-moving Vanguard Column of 90 young war-bears is led by the magnificently gruff and spirited Commodore (purely an honorific and ironic title) Chlupatý Hýždě. Second Column of 120 seasoned bears and a small number of allies is led by the cautious master of dogged defense Ald-Hetbear Stary Bote and is lagging 1-3 days behind the van. The Third Column composed of 180 warbears and the bulk of the human allies (and battle wagons) and of is led by the up and coming star in war-bear soldiery Snout-Captain Nová Lák and is averaging roughly a week behind the vanguard.

Stranding against them are the faux-barbarian war-bands of Pohansko. Exact numbers are unknown (but likely to run anywhere from 500-1,000 strong) but well-known to all is their bizarre martial adornment in exaggareted Bronze-Age-ish war gear (complete with cow-hide shields and engorged, impractical bronze shoulder pads) and division into doctrinally -incoherent warrior societies handed down by the first adventurer king Pohan. Pinc himself is said to have fell arcane powers that can send even the most placid and content of hruz heads into a snarling rage over the most wee of issues.

What Are Operational Conditions Like?
The weather has finally turned autumn nippy in the southern Hill Cantons. Periodic chilly thunderstorms roll in from Stormchild's breath over the Persimmon Sea.

The road east past the incestuous backhills shithole Bad Rajetz is barely a road, more a high place made up of the shattered backbone of an old stone Hyperborean highway surrounded by a sea of mud.
The road runs through terrain much akin to Pohansko proper: craggy rocky ridgelines punctuated by cedar-breaks and vine brambles (and the occasional old beech and gnome-pine stand).

What Do We Know about Pohansko?
Well I will tell you all about that benighted place and its public secrets tomorrow, champ.

But now a song from the solidarizing citizens of Marlinko
The Wagons of Ursine Emancipation
With the battle wagons, and greater,
Speeds the hairy liberators,
Onward cheered by hosannas,
And the waving of yellow banners.
Roll it along! Roll it along!
Spread your banners,
While bearlings shout hosannas.

Ursine eman-cip-ation
Cannot rest on human foundations
And the fields of Pohan's magician
Bears but a crop of perdition
Pull up the fields! Pull up the fields!
Ursine eman-cip-ation
Cannot rest on human foundations.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Pan-Dungeonism, War-Bears on the War-Path and the Odious Uplands

I'm rather enjoying my real world news mixing with my fantasy world news (you can judge which is which) so expect this to be a semi-regular post here on the blog.

In things Hydra Cooperative related, Operation Unfathomable's Kickstarter has been launched and is trucking along. The first stretch goal is hit which means the Odious Uplands, an entire already-written book-length wilderness supplement is a go. Strange Stars OSR is at the proofing stage and I continue to attempt to push through that last bit of writing of What Ho, Frog Demons (the fourth and last of the Dunes series).
And Now the News of the Hill Cantons...
The fact-finding mission of self-styled Son of Mulmak, advocate of pan-dungeonism, is rumored to have met fierce resistance in the upper levels of the Mountain Hall of the Hyperboreans. An anonymous source in the Guild of Condotierre, Linkboys and Stevedores says that the party ran into unexpected new residents calling themselves the Servants of the Antagonist, Ha-Vul the Great Restocker.

The seemingly interminable election of the new Overking drags on with the 27 lord-electors continuing to bicker and maneuver and the powerless majority to debate and riot. A crowd of bystanders in Marlinko's Tomb-Plaza rescued a local Worker of Wood member who attempted to gouge out his eyes with an auger while simultaneously hanging himself on a self-made gibbet. The man was heard screaming repeatedly “please Sun Lord, just make it stop!”, an apparent reference to the length of the campaign season.

For the first time since the Green Rye Uprising, Medved, hirsute divine Master of the Dunes, has called the muster for all leveled war-bears. Under pretext of rough behavior, Pinc the Petulant, despicable petty tyrant of the pocket kingdom of Pohansko, has imprisoned a score of war-bears in his foulest dungeons allegedly to avoid paying back wages. Hosts of bearlings have been seen marching east and south through Marlinko Canton mustard banner unfurled with a new ballad on their hairy lips.

In the gaol cell I sit,
Thinking glaive-guisarme, of you,
And our bright slumbering home so far away,
And the tears drip my snout
'Spite of all that I can do,
Tho' I try to cheer my comrades and grunt hurray.

Brump! Brump! Brump!
The war-bears are mar-chin'
Cheer up cubs here we come!
And beneath the starry paw
We shall smell the blessed honey again
In the free dunes of Medved's sandy home.

In the battle's van we stood
When their horsey charge they made
And they swept us off
A hundred bearlings or more
But before they reached our phalanx
They were beaten back, dismayed
And we heard the roar of victory o'er and o'er

Brump! Brump! Brump!
The war-bears are mar-chin'
Cheer up cubs here we come!
And beneath the starry paw
We shall smell the blessed honey again
In the free dunes of Medved's sandy home.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Operation Unfathomable and Hill Canton News

The Hydra Cooperative is about to make another big ole leap forward in coming weeks. Next Monday, October 10th the Kickstarter for the one of my favorite (and way too self-deprecating) creators in this little scene, Jason Sholtis, is bolting out the gate.

And yeah, yeah I know, like you, I have seen a thousand crowdfunding ships launched--many of them floundering still out there years later. But not only is the extended-dance remix version of Operation Unfathomable in excellent shape going in (the main manuscript pretty damn clean, a host of illustrations completed and even the stretch goal material written and edited), it is also has a damn funny, pitch perfect Harryhausen-esque stop animation video that even if you don't pledge you should check out. 

[Guerrilla ads below and above by the world-famous Trey Causey, whose Strange Stars OSR is going through final edits.]
And Now the News from the Hill Cantons...
The Velveteen Group, operators of Marlinko's seedy-chic Black Pomegranate bathhouse were reportedly “going to bring a war without peril [sic] to the streets of the city” over the opening of an unlicensed, yet contrada-sanctioned new "grooming facility” in the Sullen Apriarian quarter by an obscure guild with origins in the Marches of Nur. Said group spokesman Pan Otkar “This so-called 'facility' with its lack of hands-on experience year in year out, poises a public health disaster to our city body. Traditional Marlinko bathhouses have delivered for centuries on the promise that any on-site pleasures will be mixed with the proper atmosphere of jaded weariness and sullen indifference.”

The Beneficial Society of Scavelmen and Engineers, Social has reportedly been testing campaign slogans for the Steeplejackers party claim to the Overkingdom throne on forcibly-detained groups of debt peons, glitter-slyphs and law students. Sources say that the focus groups have zeroed in on the catchy, yet opaque slogan of “Superlative Souls are Deplorable” as the party's new war cry. Fortunately with the electorate set at only 27 souls -- all of which already have their horses in the race – the slogan is nuncupatory.

The self-styled Son of Mulmak, proponent of the heretical theory of pan-dungeonism and best-selling author of A Brief Relation of the World-Dungeon Unitary, As it Was Delivered to the Folk of Marlinko is gathering together a field work expedition for the faux-meadhall haunts of the Mountain Hall of the Hyperboreans with the explicit goal of “proving that a subterranean spiderweb of byzantine tunnels and treasure-house sub-basements connects all to All.” Undoubtedly the all-loving Sun Lord will strike him down and all who follow him in his hubris.

Monday, September 26, 2016

The Ten Hottest Books of the Hill Canton's Hot Hell

Excerpted from a sidebar helping GM's navigate a demon-driven literary conversation in the Salacious Salon of Sxiploi, a sublevel in What Ho, Frog Demons (the fourth and forthcoming installment in the Slumbering Ursine Dunes series). 

Bestsellers of the Hot Hell
1. Applied Hedonics: Are you Pleasuring Yourself Enough at the Cost of Others? Written by the Shade of Tizzard. A rising newcomer to the Hot Hell literary scene, the author rings the warning bell on creeping weal in the City Whose Brass Towers Stand Beyond.

2. The Paleo-Soul Diet: A Homecoming to Primal Demonic Gastronomy. The case for the return to simple Cave Dwarf spirit essence-cuisine. Channel your inner Zombastadon.

3. Capital in the XXIII Aeon. Everyone claims to have read this 2,358 page exploration of demonic political economy.

4. Three Word Title: A Guide to the Naming of Products Auteur and Ludic. A short, focused primer.

5. The Iron Doom Crawling Red Monolith of the Cursed Pod-God Maze. Controversial childhood memoir of bestselling Roohaznarf the Uncheckable Flame that Consumes All. Told entirely through random die-drop charts, the title and accounts of charming life events reset at the conclusion of the book.
6. The Five People You Meet in the Sun Lord's Orb. A horror novella exploring the terrors of cloying human religious sentimentality.

7. Black Hobbit Lives Matter Not. A dry, yet informative oral history of halfling agitators in the world of Zem.

8. My Turn Again. A political autobiography of Zzatz, the eternal tyrant of the Seamless Machine. Rumored to be written by shadowy wraith-writer Mo'laliik.

9. The Tome That Cannot Be Spoken Of.

10. The Penultimate Tome That Cannot Be Spoken Of. There is a rather slim volume – one that I am not specifically referencing in anyway either on my tongue or deep in my stolen soul, nor am I ideating as a physical object or as literary concept – that may or may not be the sequel of another book. Perfect as a gift for that special someone in your life of Unspeakable Evil.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Koza the Goat for Overking and other News of the Cantons

Business first, starting tomorrow 10:00 am CST Misty Isles of the Eld will be DriveThru RPG's Deal of the Day which means a massive flipping 24-hour sale at 40 percent off. I am highly likely to run a design contest for making a Misty Isle of your own fever dreams tomorrow as a related celebration. Details on that and the related fabulous prizes then. 

And now the News from the Hill Cantons...
Our dear Overking Ragimund is gone and buried. Hurrah for the new Overking, whoever the Sunlord Most Judicious (and the Lord-Electors) deem worthy.

Though without vote and voice, the realm is hypercharged with talk of the succession. Screaming pummeling crowds gather in Marlinko's Tomb-Plaza screaming and pummeling their arguments for each candidate.

Rumor run down on the candidates:
“Experience the Koz”, the slogan rings through the commons as the filthy multitudes show their inexplicable mass love for Koza the Regimental Goat as the new candidate. Alternately styling themselves Kozers, Koziacs or the self-deprecating Goat Bros his followers seem to be everywhere and enthusiastic despite the long odds. Campaign appearances of the goat inspire a near-hysterical expressions of adulation by the thronging hordes who bleat in chorus with the short punchy stump speech of the nominee.

The Uberduke Heimlic of Popradu and his Steeplejacker party have announced an expansion to their program: a modest poll tax on the “leveling” of “classed characters” strangely offset by a tax credit to those characters under the rank of fifth and possessing no more than 4,999 gold suns.

Wildgraf Bodegast is running on the standard Grimbibber playbook of mentioning nothing about their events, program and policy to their social inferiors. There is little to read in the tea leaves of that party's traditional, secretive pilgrimage to the Peristyled Temple of He Who Rides Whooping the World-Turtle into the Ebon Sphere of Blissful Annihilation, though merchants in the capital find odd the sudden mass invoicing of frog-featured copper masks and wavy gnome-skinned daggers by the party.

Under-Prince Yohann-Pavol Legitimus refuses to campaign as a matter of principle declaring it consistent with Lisping Norker's time-honored program of changing nothing “besides the sheets on his bed.”

Meanwhile in Revoca it looks like the cantonal government is experiencing a bit of a renaissance, thanks to the infusion of new blood into its officialdom. The shrine to Our Lady of Not the Lake is looking considerably “less shitty” thanks to the newly-installed and increasingly-beloved priest. And the Lady Draga relieved of her perpetual siege by suitors seems almost lively after her weekly “date nights” with her new Consort. Gambling on dominos seems to have had a huge uptick in Throvemesto, the miners camp. The rada council is “almost concerned.”

Friday, September 2, 2016

Dueling Rules and Combat Options for Classic D&D

A full eight out of ten times I am quite peachy with the abstract (mostly quick)  combat resolution of well-aged edition D&D. The game's primary play arena is granular site exploration and combat typically runs at the right balancing point. (If you don't believe me go run Runequest in a dungeoncrawl setting and see how far you get in a session.)

That said, there are some times when it just runs flat and anti-climatic. Some of the worst let downs being one-on-one fights with a hated villain or worthy opponent.

For going on seven years I've noodled around with a few subsystems to model that kind of fight. The first Hill Cantons Compendium had options for making a pressed attack at an AC penalty (and a defense with an AC bonus). By this Axe used a dice pool and included some scaling options. The following synthesize those with some inspirations from the interesting combat rules from Heritage's old and obscure John Carter, Warlord of Mars.

Warning: none of this has been playtested yet (and I am still working out ways to model fights involving multiple opponents and missile weapons). If you do find yourself using them, drop me a line and tell me how it goes!

Dueling Rules
Dueling rules are used for climatic or otherwise interesting battles between single opponents. Standard rounds and the standard hit/damage system are used but employ non-standard options, modifiers and initiative. Players and the GM write down their option from the following list before the round starts and reveal them as it begins.

Your Options for the Round:
1. Standard Attack. Vanilla measured attack, normal modifiers. Opponent taking Concerted Defense gets an modified attack response, but no Counter.

2. All-Out Attack. Attacker pushes the limits and trades a furious series of blows—at a cost of corresponding amount of AC for the round. If she hits and scores damage at or above the result on the following chart. Opponent taking Concerted Defense gets a modified attack, but no Counter.

To Hit Option
AC Penalty
Damage Inflicted to Stop Counter
5 hp
7 hp
9 hp
11 hp

3. Concerted Defense. Character pulls into a defensive stance, parrying and waiting for an opening to strike. The character opts for a bonus to his AC, taking a corresponding penalty to hit for attacks this round. The character strikes at the end of the round and may gain a Counter (a second similarly penalized attack in the round) if an All-Out fails to hit and/or make the minimum damage threshold.

AC Bonus
To Hit Penalty

4. Dirty Trick. Character attempts to throw sand in the face of her opponent, kick in the nether parts or otherwise distract the opponent (player/GM should go wild giving flavor for this). On a roll of 1-2 on a d6 the opponent can not carry through with their option this round (AC is at normal) and loses the next round completely if the trickster employs a Standard Attack. (In other words the trickster can make a free unmodified, uncountered attack at typical AC the next round).

Who Strikes First in the Round:
1. Character playing a Dirty Trick. If both characters are doing Dirty Tricks, automatic no effect for the round and no effect for the next if they both succeed at their d6 rolls.

2. Character making an All-Out Attack. If both characters are attacking than the character with the higher plus modifier strikes first. If tied than both attacks are simultaneous.

3. Character making a Standard Attack. If both characters choose this, then combat is simultaneous.

4. Character making a Concerted Defense. A defending player now attacks using their penalized attack. If he is defending against an All-Out Attack that didn't hit or makes its damage threshold then the player gets a Counter, a second penalized attack. 

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Building a Mid-Level “Domain Game”

If there is one lesson I have learned from years of oodling around with domain-level play is that bounded, “lower-level” domain game activity is often way more gratifying and fun in a well-aged D&D-like campaign than playing a game of high-rolling rulers. 

The nature of D&D with its emphasis on micro-site exploration and granular personal advancement just plain makes it better suited and more enjoyable to play a petty wanna-be lordling clearing a fragile hold in a vast and hostile wilderness or the mayfly life of a warband chief than it is to be even a lowly baron stuck with the static play (and bean-counting) of rulership.

And I've found the more you can ratchet down the frame, the easier and more natural a fit it seems. A natural extension of this is creating more avenues for players to carve out power positions inside society well-below name level.

What follows is my first stab at instituting it in the Hill Cantons campaign. As always feedback and yakking about your own best practices appreciated.

Hill Cantons Social Advancement
At fourth level a player is eligible to worm/buy their way into local office broadly speaking: an entry-level position within the Canton government/legal system, a contrada society junior officer, guild journeyman (and this extends to a business such as owning an inn), magical college good standing member, mercenary officer, criminal society officer, etc. See below for a list of current open positions in Revoca Canton (a much larger list coming down the pike for Marlinko).

Co-creation and Creative Down-time. Players are encouraged to co-create details about both their position and the local branch of the institution. Players also have the option of creating elaborate downtime plans though mechanical adjudication/impact is completely at the GM's time/energy level for the week.

Obligations. PCs holding office are assumed to have to rote duty Obligations happening in downtime, see position listing for exact number of days. These obligations are often localized (as in the PC has to be around town). Failure to meet Obligations due to being away for adventuring/travel or incapacitated produce a small cumulative chance of 5% per day (rolled at the moment the PC resumes duty) for a demotion or loss of position. Before the roll is made the player can opt out of the roll by “Throwing Money at the Problem” (a “tax” of 1d6 x 100 gold suns).

Career Opportunity. Once a real world month or upon attainment of a new level, a player holding office may invoke a Career Opportunity (none of them involving opening mailing bombs for you) at the beginning of a session that they the player are in attendance. Opportunities provide the following:
1. The PC must sit out the session (again this must be a session the player is in).

2. The player must play a henchperson or hireling that session. Players lacking a decent henchperson can roll up a backup character at 60% their current exp. Henchmen and hirelings tied to the position (ie your underlings) can be played and gain a 20% bonus on exp in the session with 0-level hirelings earning 1st level at the end of a session.

3. Player invoking a CO rolls on either the Fabulous Prizes or Advancement chart. The die used is dependent on the Position listing. Players can add  +1 on their die by throwing in inducement money at 200 gold suns a pop (up to a +3/600 gold maximum).

Fabulous Prizes Chart
1-2 This Shit was Just Laying Around. Pick up 1d6+1 pieces of mundane equipment for free (value no more than 20 gold suns each).
3-5 Little Bites. Bribe money of 1d4 x 100 gold suns straight into your hot pocket.
6-8 The Clothes Make the Man. You have acquired an extra-ordinary piece of fashion worth 1d8 x 100 gold sun (and half the exp).
9-10 The Corner Office is Open? Player gains personal control of rooms or structure commiserate with position. A position inside a castle thus gaining a suite or a shrine priest is given a small hut. 1D4 x 100 exp for the new digs.
11-12 Rank Does Hath its Privileges. Major graft/bonus chance this time PC level x 300 gold suns.
13-15 My Precious. Magic item “falls off the cart”. Randomly determined or by GM discretion.
16+ Fuck Yeah. Roll Again Twice (ignoring this result).

Advancement Chart
1-2 That Bastard Pavol Out Maneuvered Me. Again. NPC rival (if none, gain one) gets the roll instead, no effect. +1 to you next Advancement roll due to the resentment inducement.
3-5 An Embarrassing Yet Hilarious Faux Pas. Your character is the in the news next week, strangely you still get +2 to your next Advancement roll. Otherwise no effect.
6-9 Missed My Window But Patient I Am. No effect, though add +3 to the next Advancement roll.
10-11 Oh I Suppose I Can Make Do. You are not promoted but you have made your current position much comfier, take a roll on the Fabulous Prizes chart at +2.
12-15 That is Clearly Under My Job Duties. Minor Expansion of an aspect of your character's current position and a +2 on your next Advancement roll. GM and player negotiation, typically this would be something like an extra hireling (or two) or bumping up to the next die for Advancement or Fabulous Prize rolls etc.
16-17 My Obvious Talent is Appropriately Awarded. You are either promoted to higher office (if open) or can take a Major Expansion of your current position.
18-19 How the Mighty Have Fallen. A rival is disgraced/demoted or the office above you is vacated through a death/demotion/promotion.
20+ The Right Place at the Right Time. You can choose any two results from the Advancement chart.

Current Entry-Level Offices in Revoca Canton
A number of mostly ceremonial and not-particularly lucrative--though relatively prestigious and open to quick advancement—positions with the Revoca Cantonal Rada (council) or Lady Draga's household retinue (the line being blurry since by right the Lady holds five of the Rada's nine seats) are currently open. 

Rada Prestidigitatior
Entry: Fourth level magic user or white wizard. Purchase of new tea set and party clothes, 400 gold suns.
Income: 5 gold suns per week stipend
Superior: Rada Thaumaturgist, Princess Zuzu
Hirelings: Buc, a talking honey-badger and scribe.
Obligation Days (per week): 1 (tea-party and discussion of agenda)
Fabulous Prizes Die: d8
Advancement Die: d8
Perks: A musty sigiled night-blue robe and pointy hat. Learning new spells from Zuzu at half rate. Access to the cantonal library (such as it is)

Brevet Lord-Consort
Entry: Fifth level and at least gentry pedigree (1,500 gold suns forgery). And the Lady must take at least a minimal shine to you. Gender strangely unspecific.
Income: 40 gold suns per week, spending money for baubles.
Superior: the Lady Draga (duh)
Hirelings: Himek your personal valet who might be stealing from you.
Obligation Days (per week): 2 (date night and ceremonial duties)
Fabulous Prizes Die: 1d6
Advancement Die: 1d12 (promotion to official engagement and Lord-Consort if male)
Perks: fancy velvet doublet with the Lady's monogram, signet ring with small container of snuff. Sugar (though of a platonic and proper sort).

Haruspex of the Leshy Contra-Movements
Entry: Fourth level and a spell caster. 500 gold suns worth of slop bucket contents to your immediate supervisor.
Income: 5 gold suns per week stipend
Superior: Cantonal Patriarch, Father Hog/Sister Sow
Hirelings: Mu'u [whistle-whistle noise] the Xom (old, inscrutable yet unpleasant like much of his race).
Obligation Days (per week): 1 (entrails reading at Rada meeting)
Fabulous Prizes Die: d8
Advancement Die: d8
Perks: pile of salt, sacrificial animals, the Vertz blade (a wicked, flanged copper-hilted dagger, +2 vs. Old Pahr spirits of the forest)

Friday, August 12, 2016

Contest and Video Review of Fever-Dreaming Marlinko

A rather nice and thorough video review of Fever-Dreaming Marlinko by Talking About Games. Here's the fun part, the host is doing a contest based on my dumb Robo-Dwarf class presented in Marlinko  with a chance to win a copy of the book.  Contest deadline is August 12th (later today, so get entries in.)

Here are the contest particulars: "Send me a youtube message or write a comment below saying why it's a good thing and a bad thing to be a Robo-Dwarf."

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Reviews and News of the Hill Cantons

There have been a number of interesting reviews of things Hill Cantons popping up here and there as I finish up the last pages of the last installment in the SUD series, What Ho Frog Demons. John Bell of Retired Adventurer blog fame did a rather nice (and first) overview of all of the published products and the context of the Hill Cantons as a setting. Needles of Swords & Stitchery ran through some interesting usages of the recently released Misty Isles of theEld. And here's a nice, long video review of the Dunes themselves.

And Now the News from the Hill Cantons...
The ritual words have been intoned this most dolorous of days:
Cover the sun dials, cut off the herald, prevent the pelgranes from hooting with a juicy bone. Silence the balalaika and with muffled drum, bring out the golden coffin, let the mourners come.”

Our dear Overking, Raginmud LVII “the Effervescent”, alas has been called to the all-consuming fiery orgasm of the Sun Lord. For the next month all residents of our realm – on pain of spoken poetry and mutilation – are required to follow the sumptuary dictates of the Orichalcum Bull: the dyeing of all exposed skin black, the donning of mustard-yellow sackcloth robes and the wearing of the four-cornered hat of mourning (tassels optional).

And so the great political succession game of the Bull begins. Leading heirs to be considered by the 27 Elector-Lords Temporal, Spiritual and Arcane are reported to be:
1. Uberduke Heimlic of Popradu, the Ragimund's 11th (legtimized) son and leader of the Steeplejacker royal party whose program includes aggressive expansion of the corelands, heavy regulation/taxation of the casting of spells greater than that of the second rank, returning to the platinum standard and a moderately liberal social policy on inter-species amorous activity (with a sub-plank recognizing dirt-gnome life-partnership).

2. Wildgraf Bodegast the Teal, Ragimund's youngest brother and now presumptive head of the Grimbibber party whose program is ostensibly secret but said to include strict fiscal discipline and an ambitious program entitled An End to All Things.

3. Under-Prince Yohann-Pavol Legitimus, the sole issue of Ragimund and his Queen-Consort. The decadent and quite aged prince has been reportedly press-ganged into service as head of the of the ad hoc Lisping Norker noble coalition whose stated policy seeks to change “nothing about the world but the sheets on the royal bed.”

4. Koza the Regimental Goat of the Great Nemec Company of the Black Army. It is unclear what this seemingly immortal goat's political positions are—and which group of Elector-Lords sponsored him. A clear favorite among the common class.

Meanwhile in lesser news, 49,000 residents of eastern Maarb were said to have been killed in a earthquake in that Southlands country yesterday.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Reverse Centaur: Another Dumb Hill Cantons Class

The Revoca Canton party (the junior varsity team of the campaign) have found a solid, if dim-witted group of allies out in the mythic woods in a tribe of Reverse Centaurs. Rescuing the horseheaded humanoids a couple weeks back from the ravages of a two-headed giant (admittedly one that the party themselves released into the world) allowed them in time-honored campaign tradition to “unlock” a new dumb Hill Cantons class. Big thanks to Gus L for co-writing the class. 
On the Making of Horselings
Long ago in the Land of Ostpahr dwelt Kůň and Otokar, brothers two. Fair of head and long in leg the two so loved horses as to eschew the company of their own wives. All morn and to the eve, the brothers mounted and rode their corral of mares. They mounted and rode them in the tall green waves of the steppe grass and mounted and rode them on swelling ridges high. Mounted...why does thou giggle so? In that day they were sedulous and attentive and use to the practice of daily equestrian drill...

One day in the summer high First Pavol, a trader of horseflesh, came to them with a comely named Hrebec. Shining and black the steed stood tall in shoulder and wide in breadth, his eyes were as two flashing rubies and his mane tassels of purest gold. 

Said the humble horse merchant: “Great and mighty lords of the pastures, king of kings Svat the Four-Faced called on me in my slumber and spoke to me saying that I will have his divine favor if I make a free gift of that I hold most dear. This horse I hold most dear, more to me than my own wife, who helpeth me not in the mounting. I give him unto thee.”

The brothers praised Pavol for his piety and each other for their good fortune and made ready to mount Hrebec. But neither could allow the other to be the first to ride the horse. Both Kůň and Otokar drew ire. Hard words came forth from their mouths and the two drew forth their long blades. With mighty twinned swings they were both cleaved in two. 

Their life spilling from them on the rocky soil, great and likable Radhost took pity on the dying brothers and working deftly split Hrebec. With skillful hands the god bound the torso and head of Kůň to the body of the horse and Hrebec's stately head to the body of Otokar and the two were made whole and wholly other.

And so it was that the two ancient races, the centaurs and reverse centaurs, came to live in the world of Zem...

Reverse Centaur
Requirements: STR 13, INT 11 or less
Prime Requisite: STR
Hit Dice: 1d10
Maximum Level: 9

Proudly sporting the heads of horse-kind on their chiseled wide-shouldered otherwise human bodies, stand the proud, strong (though somewhat thick) children of Otokar, the Reverse Centaur.

Reverse Centaurs can carry on their strong backs an abnormally large amount of gear, gaining +3 STR in carrying weight (up to 19) in systems that use STR for encumbrance. Reverse Centaurs move at 120' round unless they are at heavy encumbrances. Reverse centaurs possess an innate “horse sense” allowing them to move vegetation finding trails and hidden paths and will always safely find way home after flight with no memory of escape route.

RCs are sadly also prone to severe panics and must roll 3d6 (or more if circumstance warrant) vs. INT to avoid fleeing if an ally dies, take half hp in damage, or of exposed to lightning to avoid stampeding in sheer terror. They make another check after one turn of flight to return to adventure or will wander to camp/home.

Reverse Centaurs fight and save as fighters of the same level. Their cumbersome tops and proneness to an affliction they call “saddle sore” leads them to only be able to wear leather armor. They can use all weapons other than lassos, a weapon profoundly and irrationally hated by the creatures.

Reverse Centaur Level Progression
Hit Dice (1d10)

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

High Summer in the Hill Cantons

And now the News from the Hill Cantons...
Prepare the ebon-black skin dyes and four-cornered hats of mourning dear listeners. For it has come to pass that our dear Overking lies mute and gravely ill in The Great Chamber. Now is the time to put away treasonous borderlands talk that His August Majesty failed to acquire a single level in that arbitrary system of personal power gauging popular in the Cantons and unite to help the Lords Temporal, Spiritual and Arcane in their sacred roles as Electors should Raginmud LVIII be called to the fiery orgasm of the Sun Lord.

High Summer has opened a wave of occurrences large and small in Revoca Canton. Strange lights and whoops have been heard from the great mesa in the southwestern hills. Rogue Vlkodlaks have begun spurning the comforts of the “strategic hamlet” they have been generously provided by cantonal authorities and even taken to raiding outlying farmsteads. Lady Draga "Twitterlight's" recent 18th birthday has dredged up the usual round of greatly begrudged suitors. And visibly shaken reverse centaurs have even been seen at the weekly town fair begging for scraps and mumbling about a “dangerous snake giant ” up in the hills.

Pelgrane trappers in the hills north of Marlinko speak of a bizarre encounter with what appears to be a mutant variation of the sweet-tongued and terrifying deodand. Arrows were fired at a lavender-skinned humanoid in a plain harness who had apparently consumed one of their party members (albeit one not beloved due to his pugilistic and tedious theories about aesthetics). The creature was able to freeze the trappers for a full minute with a cerebral monologue before it made its escape, stating: “I am about a humble creature of thought of the great tribe of Zenodads. Yon arrows that you fired at me. What is the nature of its flight? Surely they failed to strike at me because all objects when they occupy an equal space are at rest. But yet when they are in motion are still occupying such a space at any moment. Therefore those flying arrow are motionless and failed to strike me.”

Mulmak the Unnicknamed, the wildly successful and seemingly unkillable local man-at-arms who has risen to a captaincy in the Feral Shore colony, was in Marlinko last week tersely and briefly speaking at a gala celebrating the opening of his new charity, The Beneficant [sic] Mutual Aid League for the Mild. The new charity house will help aid those afflicted and stigmatized by excessive modesty, a little known yet troublingly tenacious malady in self-aggrandizing Marlinko cultural life.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Pursuit Rules for D&D

Given the frequency (and wisdom) of player-characters deciding in D&D games to run the fuck away, the game's IGO/UGO movement kind of falls down on having a satisfying way to adjudicate a foot chase. With the previous Hill Cantons session on “pause” with a dual snake-headed giant in hot pursuit of the party as it madly ran out of a lush pocket dimension behind a dungeon mural, I found myself scrambling to come up with something that would spice it up.

Fortunately my Hydra partner, Robert Parker had come up with some pretty nifty and suspenseful ones for his Savage World of Krul campaign and with the help of fellow-player Cole we hammered out a set of rules to use for the session. So here's the amended set of Robert's Rules.

Pursuit Rules
Each round of pursuit is considered to be an abstracted partial normal round. All movement is random (see chart below) and simultaneous.

1. Movement during a Pursuit. A character or creature rolls 1d6 for each 30' of normal movement. Each pip thrown is worth five feet of movement (rounding up to the next 10 foot increment if using a 10-foot gridded map). That's the total maximum distance covered in the round.

Normal Movement Number of Dice

A pursuer ending a round five feet away or less may make an attack.

2. Fighting or Other Actions During Pursuit. Making an attack, closing a door or other similarly lengthy action reduces the above movement die roll by two dice (making 60' foot movement impossible, 90' one die only and so on). Spellcasting, mapping and other action taking concentration is not permitted unless the character opts to end fleeing or pursing.

3. Monster Gives Up. A monster chasing must make a morale check for each 60' increment it falls behind after the first round. If the morale check is failed the creature makes a doleful or bored noise and gives up the chase.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Misty Isles Behind the Scenes, Cut Art and a Review

Quick post to highlight a couple mole-like appearances of my new mini-sandbox, Misty Isles of the Eld, around the web.

Yesterday I had the chance to write up a behind the scenes piece as a guest poster at Tenkar's Tavern. I threw in several incredible pieces of Luka Rejec's that sadly didn't make it into the final print product due to text flow issues (two posted here, the top one being Eldmen slaves working the stim-jam Plantation House).

Also here's the first Misty Isles review from the always-interesting Eric F. over at Swords & Stitchery. His ten point has my brain popping about deviant variations in how the isles could be run at the table. Good stuff go check it out.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Misty Isles Out in Print and North Texas RPG Con

[Translation into common: Misty Isles of the Eld is now available in print and I had a blast running it—among much socializing and gaming—with peeps on Friday morning at North Texas RPG Con.]

Preliminary Report to Eld Overmind, Filing Operative: Agent Xoxx, HUMINT Section 112769
Plans to prevent today's release of Misty Isles of the Eld, the incendiary expose of our foothold in the so-called Hill Cantons, have had a sub-optimal effect. Of concern to Marlinko, Erelhei-Cinlu and Dallas based operatives is the 1.5-day full sellout of pre-release copies by subversive elements in the self-styled Hydra Cooperative.

On the positive side of the Great Ledger, Psychonaut torture-aesthetes in the North Texas RPG cadre made great advances with the odnic-psychic implantation process on the captive party of Misty Isles intruders--Son of Ondrj (wereshark), Pan Vorstr (and his devious man-servant, Jevo), "Other" Pavol (and his talking dog, Kahrul), Glamdalf, Termnix ver 3.3 (robodwarf), Lil Medved (warbear), Zereth and Boinger. Indeed by the end of the session the subjects were clearly convinced that they were Earth humans named Jason Sholtis, Zach H, Billy Longino, Brad Ncube, Jason Hobbs, two Jameses and Chris Holmes, son of the Holmes that allowed us access to this dimension.

Though inartful, staged photos below (and especially that of the purported session by “Jason” on G+ yesterday), will help further in providing deep cover for the op in coming months. Further reports to be filed in the coming days. 

High level crawling in the Jakallan underworld with Victor Raymond. Personal high point was putting a ru'un (an exceedingly high hit dice, potent bot like construct of the Ancients) "around the corner" (shoved into a pocket plane). 
Playtesting Merle Rasmussen's new espionage game "Codename Acrid Herald."
We got a chance to co-create the ancient ruins in the op. 
Fixing to play Zulu Apocalypse with Zeb Cook (my commanding officer on the British side), Steve Winter (co-umpire), Bruce Heard (the other junior British officer) and Doug Niles (Zulu commander).
Humza, Kevin Hendryx (co-umpire) 
My platoon (24th Foot) in serious danger. 
Blood bath. My men are about to rout.