Saturday, September 14, 2019

Further Thoughts On Using Gary Gygax's D3 Vault of the Drow For Your Old School Campaigns.

"As a member of a bold party of adventurers, you and your associates have trekked far into what seems to be a whole underworld of subterranean tunnels -- arteries connecting endless caves and caverns which honeycomb the foundations of the lands beneath the sun. Your expedition has dogged the heels of the Dark Elves who caused great woe and then fled underground"

Today I've been doing a lot of thinking about 
D3: "Vault of the Drow" from (1978), by Gary Gygax. My God I do love this module not so much because its an adventure but because its more of the Drow first edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons adventure location  sourcebook.

The real show stopper here is  Erelhei-Cinlu, & Gygax & co. go absolutely old school nuts in this Drow capital. This place is nadier of evil with a captial 'E' in Advanced Dungeons & Dragons giving the dungeon master unlimited acess to the backstage of the Drow & its here that we get a very interesting genisis of an idea;

"D3 Vault of the Drow is set in Erelhei-Cinlu, an underground stronghold of the drow, and the Fane of Lolth, their evil spider-goddess.[7] After traveling for league after league into the Underdark, the adventurers come upon Erelhei-Cinlu, the vast subterranean city of the drow. The adventure is written in a very open-ended fashion, giving the Dungeon Master (DM) free rein to script any number of mini-campaigns or adventures taking place inside the drow capital. An extensive overview of the drow power structure is given for just this purpose. Eventually, the players may discover an astral gate leading to the plane of the Abyss, leading into the Q1 module"The Drow are a corrupt and decadent people ever the match for any of Michael Moorcock's  Melniboné or Clark Ashton Smith's Hyperboreans. Yes I said Hyperboreans! The Drow in D3 Vault of The Drow make excellent enemies of the Hyperboreans. But how they are in completely different systems & it wouldn't make sense. Well, the worship of the Elder Elemental God may be threatening the drows' matriarchal goddess, Lolth & this gives way into maze like politics of Erelhei-Cinlu. The PC's could with some very careful bobbing & weaving make their way into the inner workings of the incredibly dangerous city of the module.
Classic Jeff Dee artwork

Ironically the way into the back door of Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea's Underborea is by Gary Gygax from the Drivethrurpg entry on D3; "During his lifetime, Gygax offered a few different sources for his drow. Ultimately, they're probably derived from the Svartálfaheimr — the dark elves of Norse mythology. Ironically, when the drow were printed up in the Fiend Folio (1980), that book also contained the "xvart," which had been called the "svart" when published in White Dwarf #9 (October/November 1978) and which were thus another Svartálfaheimr derivative." Now if the Svartálfaheimr have been tunneling into the world of Underborea for centuries perhaps picking apart the corpses of the heroes & old gods killed during Ragnrok. Now  I can see the Drow using these tunnels to  make a series of lightning raids on the surface of Hyperborea. After all the Drow & the  Svartálfaheimr share some common ancestry; ""In Norse mythologysvartálfar (O.N. "black elves", "swarthy elves", sing. svartálfr), also called myrkálfar ("dark elves", "dusky elves", "murky elves", sing. myrkálfr),[1][2] are beings who dwell in Svartalfheim (Svartálf[a]heimr, "home of the black-elves").[3] Both the svartálfar and Svartálfaheimr are primarily attested in the Prose Edda, written in the 13th century by Snorri Sturluson. Scholars have noted that the svartálfar appear to be synonymous with the dwarfs and potentially also the dökkálfar ("dark elves"). As dwarfs, the home of the svartálfar could possibly be another description for Niðavellir ("dark fields")." " This is long before the film 'Thor Dark World' & its proto Dark Elves using ancient science fantasy technology.

The Drow of Gary Gygax's D3 Vault of the Drow are not misunderstood EMO PC's, no these are the utterly & unremittingly evil alien bastards of the Fiend Folio. These Drow are more likely to enslave, corrupt, & debase any PC's they come across in the process. And no plane Prime is safe from them!

At the end of the module there's a gate that opens into the Abyss & yes that gate leads straight to the lair of the demon goddess  Loloth. But what if this isn't the only gate in the deepest parts of Erelhei-Cinlu? What if before the religious split the Drow's fifth columist agents & forces were carrying out sabotage, intrigue, & corruption missions across the planes as we saw in the Against The Giants series of modules? What if those were only the tip of the iceberg! What if the forces the Drow of Erelhei-Cinlu are on the march again? I wrote about something like this all of the way back in July of this past year on this blog; "This could help to explain the dark & fast link between the giants of Hyperborea & their servant slaves the Dwarves. After the events of Ragnarok giants became complacent & were easy pray for the Hyperboreans. The Drow were seduced into worshiping a spider demon goddess instead of their rightful goddess of fate  Atlach-Nacha. There are still 'true' Drow who worship their mother goddess as they see here but they have retreated into the darkness of Earth's Dreamlands. The PC's are hopelessly lost in the twisting churning tunnels that lead into the underworld of Gary Gygax's Q1 Queen of the Demonweb Pits. " Meaning that the tunnels of Erelhei-Cinlu connect to a wide  variety of underworlds & underdarks across the planes perhaps even your own campaigns.

Ten thoughts On Using 
Gary Gygax's D3
 Vault of the Drow For Your Old School Campaigns

  1. The Drow could pop up quite literally anywhere in the underworld of your own campaign setting. 
  2. Drow spies are infeltrating royal courts, working as kingly assasins, spies, & mercenaries to gather information about their enemies by working within their midsts. 
  3. The Drow are corrupting & using graft to bend various races to their wills for unknown reasons & their on the rise. 
  4. Because they have the ability to plan hop there is no reason to use them as an option for PC & instead use them as the alien enemies of all that is good as they were intended. 
  5. The split in Drow politics & religion might increase the number of Chaotic cults on the surface world as the Drow renew old hates & dangerous ancient alliances. 
  6. Drow are some of the most dangerous foes that PC's can face ever. 
  7. Ancient Drow liches from  Erelhei-Cinlu may have been left on the surface world to help pave the way for future invasion. 
  8. Mind Flayers & other ancient enemies may use the Drow invasion as an excuse to make their move on the surface.
  9. D3 Vault of the Drow is a tight & very dangerous adventure location & using it for old school play may result in some very deadly encounters & adventure. 
  10. There is enough material within Gary Gygax's D3 Vault of the Drow for three or four campaigns. 

Old School Domain Level Play With B1-9 In Search of Adventure As Old School Sword & Sorcery Campaign Jump Off Point

So I was discussing B9 Castle Caldwell with some friends & someone over heard us & quickly dismissed this old school anthology module as Basic D&D tripe. Oh I beg to differ folks. Tonight we're going to go into one of the turning point modules for B/X D&D and how it relates to domain level play & the OSR. First off don't buy B9 instead buy In Search of Adventure which is an abridged version of both B9 & some of the other adventures that preceded B9 as a super module. This is really the one to get.

"THRESHOLD! The northernmost town in the Duchy - and your last stop before your adventures begin. Threshold, the gateway to mysterious castles, lost temples, deadly caves and caverns. You have heard the stories and legends, now you wish to see for yourself. This product provides a complete campaign adventure that will take beginning characters from 1st all the way to 3rd level and possibly beyond, drawn from the first nine modules of the B-series adventures." According to the Amazon review

In Search of Adventure: The Grand Duchy of Karameikos Anthology is one of the best of the Eighties products to come out because it gives a highly playable & detailed region in the style of a pseudo European campaign setting sure some stuff from the venerable adventure modules was left on the cutting room floor but the sum is greater then the parts. Here the the PC's are adventuring in someone else's domains & the anthology approach of this mega module strings it together nicely especially for sword & sorcery styles of old school play. Castle Cladwell & Beyond is in this one but its got a completely different feel to it.

"The Clearing of Castle Caldwell--A local merchant has recently purchased a small castle... but when he tried to move in, he discovered that the castle was already inhabited!  

Dungeons of Terror--A strange trapdoor in the floor of Castle Cadwell leads to a terrifying challenge! The Abduction of Princess Sylvia--On the eve of her wedding, the beautiful princess has been kidnapped! Can you save her in time? The Great Escape--Imprisoned in an enemy fortress, without armor or weapons, your situation seems hopeless. Yet there may be a way to freedom . . . The Sanctuary of Elwyn the Ardent--A mystical chime of great power has been stolen?but by whom? In the wrong hands, the chime can cause untold harm! But can you find and defeat this mysterious and powerful creature?"

This adventure takes the PC's from the first level right through about maybe third or forth level in terms of Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea or Adventurer, Conqueror, King by giving them a well strung together adventure resource that makes them the center of the action. They're the heroes of old as a part of this over arching plot boiler of this adventure setting. "The modules B1-B9 include: B1 In Search of the Unknown, B2 The Keep on the Borderlands, B3 Palace of the Silver Princess, B4 The Lost City, B5 Horror on the Hill, B6 The Veiled Society, B7 Rahasia, B8 Journey to the Rock, and B9 Castle Caldwell and Beyond." With a bit of work on the DM's part this anthology can be used to build out the adventure locations used in both the original adventure modules and the super modules to do Marvel Conan comic style returns after one part of the anthology is completed this was a tactic that served me well a few times when running this series of modules especially of the dungeons of the B4 The Lost City where entire dungeon sections are left blank allowing the DM to create five or more abandoned tunnels that can lead to the surface & back tie in with the B6 The Veiled Society as faction of the city setting. Why?

The entire module is build around the premise to allow rookie DM's to take PC's up class levels & have the entire module used as a viable campaign. This means that while the adventures are mostly intact it has a completely different aim then say some of the individual adventures unto themselves. In fact this allows PC's to take several of the adventure locations featured as possible domains for their parties. This is something we see today in several OSR products.
There are several reasons why In Search of Adventure  works for sword & sorcery style play:

  1. Ready made adventure location domains built into the module. 
  2. The PC's have personal adventure investment in the campaign setting location. 
  3. The whole adventure can be dropped into your favorite old school retroclone easily and it still fits quite nicely. 
  4. Lower tier encounters make this adventure ring true with beginning level parties 
  5. The module is still deadly and dangerous regardless of the starting level, this is something that many DM's I know forget. 
  6. There are several encounters that have threads that can be woven into other parts of a sword & sorcery campaign. 
  7. Loot, locks, & opportunity means that parties can carve out their own kingdoms if they're smart about it. 
  8. NPC's are deadly, devious, and dastardly - Several players I've known underestimate this adventure and it gets them every single time. 
  9. Campaign expansion opportunities, have you ever wanted to drop in weird adventure location or dungeon? This is a great anthology to use for exactly this sort of a reason. 
  10. More locations and more trouble for players  DM's should take full advantage of the dangers of domain play from their favorite rules sets when using this adventure. In fact it can easily be tied into White Plume Mountain for campaign expansion.

OSR Commentary On The Orc Raids Of B11 King's Festival By Carl Sargeant For Your Old School Campaigns

"Someone has "borrowed" a cleric, and without him, the fabled King's Festival cannot go on. Unfortunately, it looks like the orcs have him, and your characters must rescue him. "
So I've been playing around with & looking over lots & lots of B/X  & Advanced  Dungeons & Dragons adventures over the last six to eight months. Now let's dive into the deeper B/X pool with an adventure that seldom gets mentioned.

If your looking for a B/X Dungeons & Dragons adventure that will actually take your PC's from first through fourth without the iconic drivel that seems to follow in the wake of Keep On The Borderlands. Let me point you all in the direction of one of the most under sung modules to come out post classic era TSR then B11 King's Festival might be just what your looking for. This introductory adventure will take your PC's from levels one right through four with action, danger, & plenty of actual plot.
This is an adventure that takes the humanoids & orcs especially bringing them where they belong front & center. So I know what your thinking, " What the hell does this have to do with Sword & Sorcery"? Well I'm glad you asked. The orcs of King's Festival are the nasty & highly dangerous pig faced orc bastards that old school players know & love.
But as good as my word 
B11 King's Festival makes a perfect Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea second edition set up. The fact is that in AS&SH orcs are the product of a mating of Picts with a really nasty Lovecraftian or Clark Ashton Smith pig demon thing.

The result of this is a rather nasty monster with all of the charm of a migraine headache for your PC's. But there's also another hook here for AS&SH players for the DM to take full advantage of,
 "King's Festival provides players and DMs with a valuable introduction to fantasy role-playing in the land of Karameikos."
 If we transfer the events of King's Festival to just outside of the Hyperborean capital of Khromarium then suddenly things take a very weird turn of events. All of this might center on Petrides the evil NPC behind all of the events of this adventure. He could well be connected with the thieves/assassins guild  network of one of the Vorloi, Radu, and Torenescu families Atlantian royal survival families in Khormarium from my version of B6 The Veiled Society.

What King's Festival does doesn't just set up B6 but also puts orcs dangerously close to the Hyperborean capital & sets up events for either an earlier brush with Keep on the Borderland or a combat round about with Night's Dark Terror waiting in the wings. This all culminates in the awakening of the Lovecraftian forces of 'The Temple of Elemental Evil' set on Hyperborea.

I've written about The Temple of Elemental Evil way too many times on this blog. But there's a more subtle & insidious reason to pick 
B11 King's Festival as introductory adventure. B11 puts the PC's square on the path of domain level play, the PC's are in the cross hairs of the royals of the adventure & destined for greatness or the headman's ax. The stakes here are perfectly aligned for a Sword & Sorcery campaign set against the Adventurer, Conqueror, King rules set. 

I've used B11 King's Festival in the past as a set up for a  Dark Avalon campaign. The 'orcs' were debased humans that had been mutated by the chaotic energies of Fairyland. There were  the ruins of Elven engines nearby allowing the animation of the dead. This all centered around the occult gateway that was beginning to open up again allowing a crossover into the dread realm. The set up here was the fact that the kidnapping by the 'orcs' was the first salvo of the Rose War.  The adventurers were pawns in the game of the royals. My point is that B11 King's Festival is flexible as it is useful.  If your going to set B11 for Dark Albion make sure that you use Cults of Chaos.

1d7 Random Lovecraftian Sword & Sorcery Adventure Hooks Table For Your Old School Campaigns

Horror & evil grow like a cancer across the worlds, heroes are needed to stem the tide of this cancer. Men & women of valor,courage, and wisdom. Monsters, tyrants, & nameless horrors straight from the depths of the deepest underworld threaten the mortal realm. Are your heroes ready to meet this these threats head on?

These Sword & Sorcery hooks are set at levels three through six for PC's of B/X Dungeons & Dragons as well as most retroclones such as Labyrinth Lord or Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea second edition.

These could be used as adventure or campaign starters with some tweaking for your own home Sword & Sorcery campaign settings. These hooks are set up with an experienced group of players in mind with mid tier characters in mind.

1d7 Random Sword & Sorcery Adventure Hooks Table
  1. A pack of Nightguants has taken residence with a nearby set of ruins. Each night they take a random person on a wretched journey to a hag that strips them of vital life essence and returns them before morning. Each victim always has the same bone jarring nightmare of her asking them over & over about a hidden hoard of treasure in some ruined temple. The village priest is advertising for adventurers to track her down & destroy the monster! The village itself is becoming ruined because no is maintaining the place and the nightgaunts are unnerving as well as consuming the livestock in the most horrid fashion. There is a +2 dagger & small 120 gold piece stash within their nearby hide out. 
  2. A necromancer has moved into the area & has gathered a cult of death worshipers nearby in a hidden grove. Each night zombies rise from the ground to gather around a sacred set of stones and worship a demon he or she has summoned for some unknown purpose. The place is getting an evil reputation among nearby villages and there is a festival coming up.The village elders are looking for heroes to destroy the necromancer & restore order. There are rumors of a treasure buried in the center of the standing stones.
  3. A basilisk has taken residence within the ruins of a once rich temple of Apollo and is coveting the former offerings of the god. Priests of Apollo are seeking adventurers to take down the foul creature but there is a demon behind the thing who is guiding its actions. He wishes to attract a cult to further befoul the place. The heroes receive dreams of the monster going on a rampage through a nearby village. 
  4. Villagers have recently uncovered in a field a sealed vault of the Elder Things a giant black pudding  and the thing is on a rampage each night at the hour of the dead. Fields, crops, and villagers have been killed and a wizard as well as heroes are needed to put the thing down. 
  5. A hunger spirit has been let loose by the meddling of a local wizard and now crops, people, animals are all dying. An ancient talisman of the Ancient Ones is needed to put the thing to rest. The artifact is found in the temple of the gargoyles nearby hidden within the grove of the old ones. There is said to be other treasure there as well. 
  6. A young druid has angered a shambling mound who was resting as a part of the grove of elder trees. Now the thing rampages each evening destroying and all in its way. A horrid fate awaits any who crosses its path but there are rumors of a necromancer who might be using it to uncover a treasure of old. The thing has killed three villagers already. 
  7. A young priest of Cthulhu has come looking for converts to his twisted faith & is assisted by 5 zombies of Deep Ones whom he has awoken from deathless slumber. Now he seeks their grand tomb in the nearby endless swamp of Woe. He is holding the local village hostage and needs brave adventurers to plumb its depths.

    Out of what crypt they crawl, I cannot tell,
    But every night I see the rubbery things,
    Black, horned, and slender, with membranous wings,
    They come in legions on the north wind’s swell
    With obscene clutch that titillates and stings,
    Snatching me off on monstrous voyagings
    To grey worlds hidden deep in nightmare’s well.

    Over the jagged peaks of Thok they sweep,
    Heedless of all the cries I try to make,
    And down the nether pits to that foul lake
    Where the puffed shoggoths splash in doubtful sleep.
    But ho! If only they would make some sound,
    Or wear a face where faces should be found!
    Night-Gaunts  (1939)
    by Howard Phillips LovecraftWritten circa 1930. First published in Weird Tales (no. 34, no. 6, December 1939).
    Part of the "Fungi from Yuggoth" cycle of poems.

'Mythic Evil In Old School Campaigns' - Another OSR Commentary

Why would any of the planar elements & powers care about some lowly PC on some backwater world? Because the lowly adventurer does not stay in the lower ranking tier of the adventurer if they survive long. From the very beginning in Original Dungeons & Dragons the fate of the player character is writ in blood & violence. As the player characters make their way up the levels of their careers the cosmic game plays itself out in the mythology & adventures of the campaign.

The wargaming aspect of Dungeons & Dragons was built in right from the beginning & as well as this came into a more sharper focus & use of

Gary Gygax and Jeff Perren's  Chainmail.

"Dave Arneson used Chainmail in his Blackmoor campaign, and many elements of Chainmail were carried over wholesale into Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) in 1974. In fact, the original edition of D&D required that the reader own a copy of Chainmail (as well as the Avalon Hill game Outdoor Survival). The first edition of Dungeons & Dragons frequently defers to Chainmail, for example in the rules for elves and hobbits, in the "Invisibility" and "Conjure Elemental" spells, for the special abilities of monsters, specifically for the text of many monsters including goblins and ghouls, in the magic items descriptions (e.g. "Horn of Blasting") and in the naval combat rules."

But another gaming is playing itself out at the same time as the game plays on. The players might not be aware at all that the battle of power plays out as they assume their place as the movers & shakers of the world. Demons, gods, and other far worse things are watching them from the shadows.
All of this echoes through Dungeons & Dragons right from the beginning with its role springing from the Chainmail rules.

"Shortly before the publication of Chainmail, Gygax wrote to Wargamer's Newsletter describing his intention to add "rules for Tolkien fantasy games" to his medieval miniatures rules, including rules for balrogs, hobbits, trolls, giants and the aforementioned dragons.[17] In a 2001 interview, Gygax recalled that the members began to get tired of medieval games, and I wasn't, I decided to add fantasy elements to the mix, such as a dragon that had a fire-breath weapon, a hero that was worth four normal warriors, a wizard who could cast fireballs, [which had] the range and hit diameter of a large catapult, and lightning bolts, [which had] the range and hit area of a cannon, and so forth. I converted a plastic stegosaurus into a pretty fair dragon, as there were no models of them around in those days. A 70 mm Elastolin Viking figure, with doll's hair glued to its head, and a club made from a kitchen match and auto body putty, and painted in shades of blue for skin color made a fearsome giant figure. I haunted the dime stores looking for potential additions and eventually found figures to represent ogres, elementals, etc. The players loved the new game, and soon we had twenty or more players showing up for every session.[18]
The first edition Chainmail Fantasy Supplement added such concepts as elementals, magic swords, and archetypal spells such as "Fireball", "Lightning Bolt" and six other spells"

So right from the beginning mythological elements have been a part of the Original Dungeons & Dragons product set up. Psionics, Demons, Druids, Artifacts & Wandering Monster Tables were all part of the "Eldritch Wizardry" from 1976. This set up the PC's as heroes in the mold of Conan & other Sword & Sorcery characters who were always encountering demons in the wastelands of various novels. The height of war gaming in the 60's & 70's paralleled the rise of Original Dungeons & Dragons.

This means that the dungeon master's campaign world & player's PC's go from being nobodies adventuring on a back water world to suddenly appearing on the multi dimensional stage the second their PC's encounter their first demon or devil. Because waiting right in the wings are the minions of the gods who be more then happy to claim a soul for the armies of the gods. This goes back to mythologies the world over.

This all ties back with the rise from lowly adventurer to king or wizard along the steady levels of the game. "Eldritch Wizardry" gets a Hell of a lot of undeserved heat almost literally. Check out the B.S. in this Amazon review from a verified purchaser  ; "This book contains sections on the five areas mentioned in the title of the review. Half of the book dealt with psionics.

The only real problem with this book is the decision the writers made to jump into the world of Satanism and demonism in it. I don't believe anyone on the team were believers in it. I've heard that Gary Gygax himself was a Jehovah's Witness. I think it was just an exploration of a type of fantasy that existed more prevalently in those days. One example I am aware of is the movie "The Black Cat" starring Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi (1934). In that movie, Boris Karloff's character was a Satanist. After saying the word "Satanist" though, no further mention is made of the concept.

The 50s and 60s were pretty innocent. Evil stuff like we see today didn't much exist back then. The words were merely just mentioned for the basic thrill it gave everyone and then nothing much deeper was ever explored. The same goes for this book. Except for the mention of the word "Demon" and the idiot who chose to put a painting of a naked woman on a sacrificial altar on the cover, the book is pretty innocent. Honestly speaking, the only reason why there are statistics for demon and devils in this book, is so that players can go and find them and kill them.

It was really too bad though. The cover of this book and the mentioning of Satan and other devils in Dragon magazine really put a bad and undeserved stink on this game."

By the way its diabolism oh reviewer, the real reason that the demons are in the game is to act as adventure set pieces & vile villains in the vein of mythology & pop culture for adventures. PC knights, paladins, clerics, etc. are their to battle these evils there by pulling their respective worlds from back water to chess piece on the board of the multiverse. This is the actual function of alignment in the game & clerics are one of the prime agents of the gods in the game. Once again this great reviewer of Basic D&D spells this out the form and function of alignment in his review in part one of Basic D&D. I highly recommend you take a look.

Player characters are subject to forces beyond their ken the moment they step into their first dungeon. The gods are watching them.
All of this is pretty much spelled out in the Original Dungeons & Dragons Gods, Demi Gods, & Heroes By James Ward & Robert Kuntz & even pushes on the Arthurian legends of King Arthur & his knights. The struggle between the otherworld, the worldly, & the quests of the divine is intertwined throughout that mythological & literary tradition.

So let me push this who commentary into a modern OSR context for you oh dear reader. With retroclone games such as Swords & Wizardry, Lamentations of the Flame Princess, & even Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea second edition it would at first seem that these struggles & tussles with the divine & demonic might not have any place within them. This isn't true at all. These forces are at the center of the struggle of these games. There are vast alien & demonic forces right at the heart of Lamentations of the Flame Princess where a first level wizard can use the Summon spell to get themselves into a world of trouble. I've actually used a summoning spell going wrong to be the center of a beginning adventure for an LoFP game. In Swords & Wizardry there are numerous adventures where the demonic plays a central role.
The forces of chaos are front & center in the 'Weird Tales' source material of Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea with its alignment system which states that the forces of chaos wish to tear apart civilization. The forces of law wish to save it & guess whose there to save it all!?

A favorite art piece from AS&SH second edition.

Last night I mentioned a Near East occult text with ties to the blog post woven through out and tonight will be no different with me using the Abu Maʿshar to tie things together.
Abu Maʿshar, Latinized as Albumasar (also Albusar, Albuxar; full name Abū Maʿshar Jaʿfar ibn Muḥammad ibn ʿUmar al-Balkhī أبو معشر جعفر بن محمد بن عمر البلخي ; 10 Aug 787 – 9 Mar 886, AH 171–272),[3] was an early Persian[4][5][6] Muslim astrologer, thought to be the greatest astrologer of the Abbasid court in Baghdad.[2] While he was not a major innovator, his practical manuals for training astrologers profoundly influenced Muslim intellectual history and, through translations, that of western Europe and Byzantium.[3]
Abu Ma'shar was a Persian nationalist"

So not only is the Abu Ma'shar a corner stone of Western occult tradition but its great real world occult resource that not only touches on the celestial, the demonic, etc, etc. But the 'Kitāb al‐milal wa‐ʾl‐duwal ("Book on religions and dynasties"), probably his most important work, commented on in the major works of Roger Bacon, Pierre d'Ailly, and Pico della Mirandola' 
Also hints at the greater workings of heroes, knights, etc. in their struggles against the evils of the universe against a cosmic background.  Its just the type of real world resource that could make a perfect resource or capstone for an OD&D or Lamentations of the Flame Princess game.

In the end the only thing that stands between the weirdly dangerous & demonic forces of the other dimensions is your PC's. The may succeed in their struggles or fail utterly but in the end the clock keeps on ticking invisible against the patterns of the campaign. This is part of the essence of old school play. For now keep those dice rolling.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Commentary On N3 Destiny of Kings By Stephen Bourne For Advanced Dungeons & Dragons First Edition

"The kingdom of Dunador is in trouble. Since the king, Halfred of Dunthrane, was killed in a hunting accident, the land has hovered on the brink of civil war. Crown Prince Edmund, at 18 only half-trained and quite unprepared to assume the throne, has yet to be crowned. Currently he is on a pilgrimage to the holy shrine of Nevron in the province of Andevar. While the uncrowned king is far from home, anarchy reigns in Dunador."

So while I've been revamping & updating some of the articles on this blog. I stumbled upon some of my notes on Stephen Bourne's N3 Destiny of Kings. This is an unusual module in any number of ways but it bares some looking into. I'm reminded of Graham Staplehurst review from  White Dwarf #80 in which he called N3 Destiny of Kings; ""a well-planned adventure for a medium-sized, low-level AD&D party”. He considered the adventure particularly appropriate for an inexperienced or novice party, as very experienced players "may find it a little sparse on the intrigue and cloak-and-dagger side". Staplehurst found a few bugs in the text, although he felt the module was well introduced, with useful aids such as a glossary of names and places and a plot synopsis. He felt that the random encounters were overpowered, and noted a walled town of "ludicrous design, containing a jousting field just 130' long". He concluded the review by describing the module as, "Overall, a well-thought out adventure that shouldn't be too hard to slot into an existing campaign, and would make a very good introduction for new players."

Could  N3 Destiny of Kings adventure formula & plot line be taken apart & applied to Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea?! Yes in spades, the party must find  the prince of Dunador & return him to his kingdom. Along the way the characters must contend with scheming Dukes, raiders and corpses as they trace the pilgrimage the Prince took before the King's death! If Dunador was in Hyperborea then it probably going to be in near or in Vikland. The whole adventure plot of the adventurers uncovering  & rectify ignoble deeds, bringing traitors to justice & saving a kingdom from disaster relates to the membrane of royals outta of the capital city of Hyperborea becoming unstable. This has echoes across the political ether of the setting. There's all kinds of unrest happening in various AS&SH adventures. Add to this the growing of the Cult of Reptile God on the Lizard Coast & it up points to the powers behind the thrones of Hyperborea becoming dangerously  restless.

The whole of  N3 Destiny of Kings  smacks of a proto Keltic or Viking style political upheaval. Or it could be the equivalent of  the start of a King Arthur style tale. The echoes of this art present within Clark Ashton Smith's Averoigne stories:

There maybe far more going on here then the PC's realize. The powers at play maybe doing far more then the party realizes as the Druid councils & cabals get in on the act of king making. The royal houses might just see the opportunity to go to war over the fact that the prince is missing. 

If this is a faux Arthur style political play here then its a very dangerous move. Dunador is not tied to any one AD&D campaign world. So the kingdom of  Dunador could have much more influence over the politics of the capital of Hyperborea  then was at first seen. This is going to be a prime opportunity to have the PC's ingrain themselves into the upper ranks of Hyperborean social life. The PC's are going to have their hands full with the political intrigue that the module visits on them. 
The fact is that this is not a run of the mill module is the very thing that is going to draw your player's in & hook them. The module makes excellent use of the political machine to draw the party into the deeper parts of 
 N3 Destiny of KingsI've said it before and I'll say it again, classic modules are classic for a reason.  In this case its the whole package that works on many levels is not just the adventure  base of N3 Destiny of Kings. I highly recommend 
N3 Destiny of Kings for both the experienced dungeon master & the novice players. The destiny of Dunador is now in your party's hands! 

Using Classic TSR Era D&D B/X Adventures For An Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea Campaign Path Plus Free OSR Adventure Resources

So I've been thinking about running PC's through some basic adventures for Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea but I need some old school options to get the player's juices going. Fortunately I've got several real world friends who have run several player groups through classic TSR era adventures and modules.

I've been talking with some folks in the real world about Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea; customizing the sword & sorcery setting to fit into a more pulp 'on the edge' of the dangerous wilderness & wanton ruins sort of mode. So I started to dig back through old notes & blog posts of adapting 1st edition AD&D & B/X D&D modules for an adventure path that emulates the sort of a feel that I'm going for. This adventure path might include the following classic TSR era ones& beyond :
B2 Keep on the Borderlands but then I'd take a left at Judge's Guild & use Frontier Forts of Kelnor create more ruined forts along the borders of Hyperborea left vacate by the Green Death.
Then I'd run the PC's through  the free OSR adventures of 
RC Pinnel aka Thorkhammer's XS1: Luln &
XS1A: The Ward of Wereskalot  both of which contain OD&D &  adventure elements that echo the Keep On The Bordlerlands ethos. So some assembly is required for AS&SH. This is going to get players ready for
X1 Isle of Dread which could include a lot of the Free Threshold 
Issue 3: The Sea of Dread & Issue 4: The Sea of Dread material but a lot of adaption is required here. 
Some of the material found in those two issues could lead the PC's across the face of Hyperborea into the desert regions which takes them into the classic  B4 The Lost City. The Lost City is vast & could be used as another Hyperborean lost colony deep within the desert interior of  Hyperborea itself. It could contain vast dangers to the outside world that if not dealt with could be very dangerous to the continued existence of mankind on the face of Hyperborea.

There's more then enough room to include the Iron Ring of B10 as a subfraction of the weird remains of the Elemental Evil cult of The Lost City. The humanoid races of the Lost City are actually degenerate Hyperboreans warped by the presence of the evils of the cult of the demon god  Zargon. Finally the Lost City adventure location leads deeper into the Hyperborean countryside which resembles the a weird Russian interior ala B10. Why B10? 

There is a lot that can be done with 'The Lost City' module especially by taking Hyperborean adventurers deeper into the Lower Catacomb's dungeons and mysteries. This could raise AS&SH adventurers beyond the limits of the game's PC's levels.

B10 Night's Dark Terror is a good module to expand the PC's horizon's deep into AS&SH's adventure domains & possibly into extensions of Hyperborean politics and domain play.

"B10 Nights Dark Terror - The module begins in a beleaguered farmstead. The PCs then explore more than 20,000 square miles (52,000 km2) of wilderness, with eighteen locations, including a number of mini-dungeons, a ruined city, a riverside village, a frontier town, and a lost valley, with the minions of the Iron Ring waiting for the PCs at every step."

By dropping out the usual D&D races & trappings then just concentrating on the Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea PC gaming & setting elements B10 goes into a pulpy adventure module with tons of campaign play.

I've been thinking of the usual humanoid and goblinoid races which could be all that remains of the Hyperboreans, degenerate and dangerous beastly things mixed with traces of alien demonic blooded horrors from beyond the pale of Hyperborea.

Because these modules are now available on Drivethrurpg & Rpgnow with a print option its not hard to figure that they'd make excellent fodder for a sword & sorcery campaign. Especially B10 would can easily be customized as the dungeon master needs or wants.

Cosmic Hi Jinks - Commentary On Nexus's The Infinite City rpg & First Comics Series Warp With Even More OSR Overtones

My working/playing  copy of Nexus The Infinite City so used with the cover worn off.

So I spent the last couple of days in the presence of the royal family of Cynosure, yeah that's right we're in for more Nexus The Infinite City & First Comics commentary. So the Wikipedia entry on the pan dimensional city of Cynosure reads;"
Cynosure is a fictional pan-dimensional city that exists within the First Comics multiverse.[1][2][3] It is described as floating in a "bubble" in the "pan-dimensional vortex." Because of its unique situation, Cynosure is an important center of multi-versal commerce and much of the city's government is geared toward maintaining favorable trading conditions.
Different zones of the city operate under different physical laws because of the proximity of other dimensions. Guns and other technology work in some parts of the city and not others. Similarly, magic is operable some places and not others. Swords generally work everywhere. Different dimensions variously move in and out of phase with Cynosure, regularly in some instances and randomly in others. Occasionally dimensions will seemingly exist entirely within the confines of Cynosure, as for example the so-called "snowball dimensions" which roam throughout the city, or at "Infinity Lanes," a bowling alley in which each lane is a separate dimension.
Perhaps the most noted resident of Cynosure is John Gaunt, also known as Grimjack. His fate is uniquely tied to that of the city, as he is doomed to be reincarnated for as long as the city exists. This doom came about when Gaunt voluntarily walked out of Heaven to save the life of a friend who, if he were to die, would have been condemned forever to Hell. It is through Grimjack's experiences during two of his incarnations (Gaunt and James Twilley) that much of what is known about Cynosure was revealed."  Its also completely wrong & our favorite pan dimensional city predates Grimjack by an entire comic book series and setting. Going all of the way back to 1983 when Warp issue #1 premiered with 'The Coming of  Lord Cumulus'  a cover by the classic Frank Brunner graced the cover .

Wait, what the heck is Warp? "Wasn't that a comic book style super hero broad way play way back in the 1970's & early 80's? " , the hard core comic book fans reading this  are saying this  right now. Yes it was.
"Warp!, also spelled Warp, was an American science-fiction play created at ChicagoIllinoisOrganic Theatre Company in 1971 by co-authors Stuart Gordon and Lenny Kleinfeld, the latter under the pseudonym Bury St. Edmund"
Issue one follows the 1973 broad way production of Warp!  pretty closely except with a few minor but points.
"David Carson, an everyday bank teller, learns that he is Lord Cumulus, "avenger of the universe & protector of Cynosure ". Suddenly transported from an annual employee-awards dinner to the mystical realm Fen-Ra, he finds himself battling for the destiny of the multi universe  against his brother &  antagonist  Prince Chaos. In this world, he encounters the sage & wizard Lugulbanda who sends him on his quest aided by the leather-clad Amazon warrior Sargon Mistress of War. They battle Valaria the insect sorceress and Chaos' henchman, the purple ape Symax"
Here's where things get interesting the citizens of Fen Ra are essentially gods not unlike DC comics New Gods or The Externals. God like cosmic beings who have all of the foibles of humanity with all of that power eternal. Lord Cumulus is one of the biggest jerks I've encountered in science fantasy, he's like this over the top Prince Charming on steroids with the power cosmic who messes things up. In fact the entire line of citizens are flawed & many are betrayers throughout the series. The families & citizens of Fen Ra have a lot in common with the Roman gods of mythology & more modern incarnations of  flawed demi gods such as featured in the work of Roger Zelazny's  Amber and the Courts of Chaos.
These holy royal bloodlines all back reference P.J. Farmer's World of Tiers series of novels which also uses and exploits many of the Golden & pulp age setting ideas & world building. That series also back references one of my all time favorite myth makers  William Blake's mythology.
"The Jadawin family (or at least their names) are taken from William Blake's mythology.[2] This mythology is referred to by the characters in the stories (mainly in The Gates of CreationRed Orc's Rage, and More than Fire)." "
This series was later homaged (ripped off) for the classic & some what infamous rpg system  Lords of Creation by Tom Moldvey for  Avalon Hill. The World of Tiers was also talked about in the classic From the City of Brass to Dead Orc Pass in One Easy Step
Alts: Theory and use of gates: From the city of Brass... to dead Orc Pass in a Dragon magazine article in issue #37 & The Best of Dragon #2.

This all ties back into the roll of Lord Protector of Cynosure really. How? Well way back in Warp issue #7 we learn about Cynosure and that earlier incarnations of Lord Cumulus was the Lord Protector of the pan dimensional city

"The Lord Protector of Cynosure is an artificial being constructed from cells and energies representing all of the various dimensions. As a result, The Lord Protector is charged with vast reality warping powers to be used in the preservation of the city. During Gaunt's time, the Lord Protector was Phaeton. He was killed and possessed during Dancer's second rebellion and Gaunt and his allies created a new Lord Protector from a cloned being infused with the essence of a sorceress called Sphinx. It is unknown if there continues to be a Lord Protector in Twilley's time. Lord Cumulus also spent much time on Cynosure and was idolized by the citizens. After his untimely death, many others including Phaeton tried to replace him. "

This in fact was the set up for the Demon Wars for when the last issue of Warp wrapped up there were a lot of loose ends that were picked up in later issues of  Grimjack. Personally I was always a Prince Chaos fan (the brother to our 'hero') & a 10th level super scientist in his own right with the ego to match. He's so over the top that he deserves his own blog entry on his own but that's another time.

So what's all of this have to do with Nexus The Infinite City & Gamma World First & Second Edition? There is a lot of water under the bridge with this one so excuse me if I take my time with Warp. There were a lot of realities that were left broken & time lines screwed up in the wake of the disappearance of both Lord Cumulus & Prince Chaos. These also included several dimensional realities where the Ancient's touch off the apocalypse because of their absence. In fact the ending of this series paved the way for Starslayer & Grimjack.

Warp exploited a lot of comic book pardon the pun here comic book tropes & with the disappearance of Lord Cumulus at its end set in motion a series of cosmic events that I turned into full blown campaign cycles that the PC's had to wrap up. They never even encountered Fen Ra but they sure did encounter a number of trade house NPC's & several PC's that traced their watered down royal  blood back to Fen Ra, The Courts of Amber, William Blake's various mythological family members. Later I would use Warp as a sort of blue print to create my own arching families of flawed demi gods for deeper Nexus The Infinite City play.

Warp by First comics is so over the top that it's a great resource for not only Nexus but Dungeon Crawl Classics and other OSR systems! May you never get fleas from the fur of the 
purple ape Symax!

Keep em rolling folks!

This blog post is for educational & entertainment purposes only and is not a challenge to the trade marks or copyrights of any to first comics or the holders of the Grimjack  or Warp copy rights or trade marks. Nor Nexus The Infinite City. None of the role playing games mentioned in this blog entry are responsible for it. This blog post is for entertainment & educational purposes only