Thursday, September 20, 2018

OSR Commentary On DDA2 Legions of Thyatis By John Nephews For Your Old School Sword & Sorcery Campaigns

I've been reading through Clark Ashton Smith's Xeethra once again & its a 'pact with the demon' story set during the dying earth of Zothique's era of the Earth era. There are strong connections here with "The Empire of the Necromancers", as Cincor is still a living, massive desert country. This story takes place millions of years in Earth's future & almost immediately I thought of Lord Dunsany's dream vistas.

Now while most people are going to almost immediately think of second edition Dungeons & Dragon's campaign world of Dark Sun's open deserts. The truth is that after  rereading this linchpin story of the Zothique cycle. I was immediately taken to another TSR classic adventure though in the form of DDA2  Legions of Thyatis. There's always a certain world wariness with CAS's Zothique stories, the demons are there to serve Entropy in all of her forms, & the wasteland empires of  stories are perfect mirrors of the human based affairs of  the Dawn of the Emperors box set.

John Nephew weaves a perfect villain in corrupt Thyatian senator, Helenites Osteropolus, who embodies the graft & old world wickness of the Thyatian empire. the chaotic swirl of the Thyatian capital's politics is front & center in this module. PC's are going to have to get their hands dirty in this adventure. The empire has the weight of ages behind it & the system is sub combing to entropy throughout the adventure.

DDA1 & 2 bridge the gap between Basic-level and Expert-level play by supporting PC's levels 3-4 & put them center stage in this adventure. The rake PC class gets the hose in this adventure & there's no explanation for this. For a Sword & Sorcery campaign both DDA1 & 2 are perfect adventurers to get the PC's into the thick of the sort of timeless inevitability of the gladiatorial life style. Helenites Osteropolus has deeper connections with the adventure's connections to the Hollow World box set campaign setting. Which implies the underlying weirdness & world wariness of Mystara.

The demons of Zothique are serving their masters with a sense that entropy is going to have its way. They see no reason to really cheat or cause additional suffering. Suffering will come in its own time & on its own terms. This reminds me of many of the points of view that the demons of Astonishing Swordmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea.

Because DDA1 -2 are built as very low level adventures, they're  perfect to port over to AS&SH. The diamond desert is that perfect low level adventure place to have the events of DDA1 -2 take place in. Helenites Osteropolus is a perfect fit for the far future weirdness of AS&SH. PC's have to start out someplace in a Sword & Sorcery campaign & events of
DDA1 -2  give the dungeon master the perfect opportunity to really get to play to the style of the module's events.

All in all its a great module with lots of potential to really sell the idea of being gladiators in the service of the emperor smacks of lots of outside politics determining the course of what happens in the dungeon much later on.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Blood & Webs - An Alternative Ecology For The Ettercap For Dungeons & Dragons

I'm an unapologetic AD&D first edition Fiend Folio fan & user of all of the insane monsters within that incredible game book. The monsters in the Fiend Folio have served me very well & perhaps a bit too well. I've used all them from the first time I got the book & thumbed through it again & again for hours on end.

Among my absolute favorite Fiend Folio monsters is the Ettercap created from the life blood verse of Tolkein's Bilbo Baggins Hobbit. The Ettercap is a humanoid spider monster with the features of an insane man & the abilities of a spider. They are expert poisoners, web & trap builders, & very sneaky as well as stealthy in the extreme.
Wiki lists them as; "An ettercap is a race of bestial spider-men aberrations in the Dungeons & Dragons fantasy roleplaying game" But there's some very interesting fiddly bits & pieces about the Ettercap. First they are found in temperate locations such as forests, swamps, etc. & they are a nightmare in their home environment. Imagine making camp under the large noses of something like this.

They have an AC of six & there's a thirty percent chance of encountering them in their lairs which are going to be an obstacle course of webbed booby traps, dead falls, trip wires, & possibly even webbed poison walls. They attack like ninja using the natural terrain to their advantage & they keep loyal pet spiders. Even though their intelligence is low they are very cagey & cunning using pack tactics to take down larger groups of adventurers.
Adventurers don't actually stand a chance against these things because of the traps they lay & the fact that their senses are so keen. Ettercaps are going to strike at night & we can draw several conclusions from Russ Nicholson's Fiend Folio artwork.
First there are the eyes which seem to indicate binocular vision on these humanoid spiderlike beings & that huge nose. So we've got a monster with low light vision & a keen sense of smell. The claws are massive & look razor sharp along with the claws on the feet perfect for climbing trees & maneuvering through their forest environment.
But where did the Ettercap come from to begin with? There are several theories in mythology over the years strongly connected with much of the lore of Dungeons & Dragon's later editions. But I've got my own campaign origin for these monsters for they are the spawn of  Arachne the spider goddess  of Greek mythology even though her origin goes back much further. The most popular story of Arachne comes from the poet Ovid;
One version appears in the Metamorphoses of the Roman poet Ovid.
In this version, Arachne was a shepherd's daughter who began weaving at an early age. She became a great weaver, boasted that her skill was greater than that of Athena, and refused to acknowledge that her skill came, in part at least, from the goddess. Athena took offense and set up a contest between them. Presenting herself as an old lady, she approached the boasting girl and warned: "You can never compare to any of the gods. Plead for forgiveness and Athena might spare your soul."
"Ha! I only speak the truth and if Athena thinks otherwise then let her come down and challenge me herself," Arachne replied. Athena removed her disguise and appeared in shimmering glory, clad in a sparkling white chiton. The two began weaving straight away. Athena's weaving represented four separate contests between mortals and the gods in which the gods punished mortals for setting themselves as equals of the gods. Arachne's weaving depicted ways that the gods had misled and abused mortals, particularly Zeus, tricking and seducing many women. When Athena saw that Arachne had not only insulted the gods but done so with a work far more beautiful than Athena's own, she was enraged. She ripped Arachne's work to shreds and hit her on the head three times. Terrified and ashamed, Arachne hanged herself. Then Athena said, "Live on then, and yet hang, condemned one, but, lest you are careless in future, this same condition is declared, in punishment, against your descendants, to the last generation!" After saying this she sprinkled her with the juice of Hecate's herb, and immediately at the touch of this dark poison, Arachne's hair fell out. With it went her nose and ears, her head shrank to the smallest size, and her whole body became tiny. Her slender fingers stuck to her sides as legs, the rest is belly, from which she still spins a thread, and, as a spider, weaves her ancient web."[4] This showed how goddesses punished mortals who dared to insult them."

There is mythological evidence that the goddess had prophetic abilities & the abilities to divine the affairs of the gods. Her children inherited her bitterness toward the gods & their chosen heroes. She was consigned to the underworld. Rumors abound of  Arachne being consulted by numerous dark gods, arch devils, demon lords, & many lower world powers some escaping her wrath barely. Many others  gaining knowledge only to be consumed by her crazed lust & insane hunger for the supernatural blood of the gods.

Her children were consigned to the furthest reaches of the planes & outer dimensions . The Ettercaps were   locked away from humanity for a time but they made war upon humanity. The bitterness of the Ettercap tribes knows no bounds even today. They still lurk on the outer fringes of the wildernesses & wastelands of many lands even to this day. Ettercap mercenaries & assassins were renowned in supernatural circles for their violence & ferocity in military operations of sabotage.

Illustration by Aubrey Beardsley from 1894 edition of Lucian's True History of a battle between the People of the Moon and the People of the Earth using giant spiders.

The Ettercap tribes have deep ties with the spiders of Leng in Earth's far future Dreamlands & with the spider creatures of Zothique. The Ettercap have a strong but murky tie with the spider goddess Atlach-Nacha as she is served by several tribes of the monsters. These worshipers are of slightly more dangerous variety of the Ettercap  as they share the hatred of being disturbed from their devotion to their spider goddess. Her divine work of bridging the waking world & the Dreamlands is seen as all consuming. The Ettercaps of

Atlach-Nacha are some of the best trap makers & engineers in existence. They may be summoned by a monster summoning spell but must be paid with a live student of the arts & an offering of at least 780 gems worth of treasure before they will entertain a temporary assignment.

Image from Gallery:

These creatures are sometimes employed by certain forbidden cults to create divine traps & divine dead falls in the name of their forbidden gods. Some divine dungeons & strange ruins taken over by these horrid cults often have supernaturally consigned dungeon engineers who built & maintain the tricks & traps.
These Ettrcap live for the day when the Earth will be cleared of humanity & they can once again take their rightful place under a blotted red sun.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Rats in The Walls - Tegel Manor Session #12 report

So its two A.M. & I've just gotten back from putting my players through their paces within Tegel Manor. They almost came within a hair's breath of encountering 'puffy' the ghost beholder down in the secret dungeons of the manor.Some quick thinking on their part & they made their way through an alternate route through the manor.

The party went back up & into several of the corridors of the manor that were riddled with giant rat tunnels & their were rat masters. The adventurers didn't play games as flaming oil & crossbows were fired at the wererats. The adventurers have had plenty of experience with were rats in my games & having come to hate the lycanthropic menaces!

Having survived the giant rats & their masters, the PCs were subject to bleeding walls, ghostly guardians, disembodied voices that taunted & insulted them. Weird insect goblins that threw grenades at them from the side guest bed rooms & statues that watched & whispered their every move.
Finally they survived an arrow trap in a boom closet wist trying to access the hidden door in the wall. They then almost bought it from a statue that turned into a golden ooze that tried to dissolve the party. With several deft dice rolls they managed to get by the ooze & destroy it with a combination of wits & moxie.Little do they realize that there several monsters waiting them in the garden including several giant slugs!

They've managed to get away with several key items including the iron crown & some of the treasure as well. The iron crown holds the power of life & death over certain members of the Rump family.
The route back to town has been fraught with several terrible monsters & bandit activity. The PC's know this & have elected to return to the village & begin to figure out what some of the items that they've managed to recover are. Oh the whole I think that tonight's game session went very well.

Monday, September 17, 2018

The Royal Treatment Of CM3 Sabre River By Douglas Niles and Bruce Nesmith For Your Old School Campaigns

"Have all of your characters settled down and started dominions? Have you wondered if they'll ever get a chance to fight their way through an old-fashioned dungeon again? Yes, they will!"

The CM series of modules isn't really one that you hear to much about today even with the OSR raging on about classic modules. I first encountered CM3 Sabre River in about '85 when I got involved in playing a friend's dad's higher PC level game.

"CM3 Sabre River was written by Douglas Niles and Bruce Nesmith, with a cover by Keith Parkinson"

The module is mostly forgotten today as a classic of higher PC level domain & dungeon crawl play. You see this module concerns the fact of what happens when the PC's settle down for domain level play & all of the headaches that come with it. Like Robert Howard's Conan who sits on the throne of Aquilonia. The PC's have to look into why & how a curse has been affecting the lands of Norwald on Mystara. "A mysterious curse has hit a barony in the realm of Norwold: The waters of the Sabre River have been tainted, bringing death or evilness to all who drink from them." There's far more going on here then simply healing the land of its curse & the PC's are in the cross hairs every step of the way. The adventure involves an actual investigation besides the expedition to the Tower of Terror. This is a high level adventure for Basic PC's levels 18 to 22, The PC's are put through their paces because CM3 Sabre River actually uses 'the D&D Companion' set.

"What's so important about Frank  Mentzer's Dungeons & Dragons Companion set? Well at its heart everything is built around the PC's domains & strongholds;

"The Player's Companion covers information on character levels 15-25.[5] The book begins with commentary on the changes since a character began as an adventurer at level one.[6] It introduces new weapons, armor types, and unarmed combat rules as well as providing details on running a stronghold and its recurrent costs, such as wages of the castle staff.[5][6] The Player's Companion details the new abilities and increases in skills, spells, and other abilities that accrue to members of each character class as they rise in level. This section concentrates wholly on human characters, treating dwarves, elves, and halflings separately.[6] The concept of "attack rank" is introduced for the three demi-human classes; although, per the Expert Set rules, they are capped at a specified maximum level. Further accumulation of experience points increases their combat abilities. It also introduces the optional character class of druid, presented as a special progression for clerics of neutral alignment"

We've seen the role that Norwald plays in B10 Night's Dark Terrors but its really in B12 Queen's Harvest by Carl Sargent that sets up everything for the politics of Frank  Mentzer's Dungeons & Dragons Companion set! Yup that's right the steps, rules, etc. are all there in the second part of B11 King's Festival.

The Dungeons & Dragons companion set takes the PC's from being middling of the road adventurers straight onto the path of being eventual royals themselves. Don't worry you don't need to grab the Dungeons & Dragons companion box set because all of these rules & such are in the Dungeons & Dragons rules Cyclopedia.

CM3 Sabre River introduces a monster that will haunt my dreams, the sabre claw. A humanoid demon like creature which a flock of which can dispatch even high level parties of PC's. Back in '85 we had half of our seven player's PC's slaughtered by these winged horrors. These monsters were only ever featured in the Creature Catalog & CM3. There are reasons for this. They are monsters that can cause havoc for small parties of adventurers.

But is
CM3 Sabre River a good module? I happen to think so because in many ways it helps to fill out another very weird & slightly terrifying corner of Mystara. The whole module has the vibe of a thriller movie where your not quite sure where the next issue is going to come from. The fact is another plus is the way everything is laid at the dungeon master's feet. The whole of CM3 is placed on the shoulders of the players & from their its sink or swim.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Review & Commentary On B11 King's Festival (Basic D&D ) By Carl Sargent 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."

I had an email request for B11 King's Harvest & while I have covered B11 in the past I wanted to do a fresh blog post on this classic module.  B11 King's Festival is by Carl Sargent can be seen as one of those modules that attempted to revive the Basic Dungeons & Dragons line of product at TSR during the '89 era. I have a very storied history with this module because of its Basic Dungeons & Dragons roots. The fact that its deeply rooted in Mystara or more importantly in as an  introduction to the Grand Duchy of Karameikos. This module can be seen as the Grand Duchy of Karameikos lite in a sense. The whole adventure centers around the region as a whole. The dungeon master has enough details to fill in all of the little layers of B11 with each of the classic elements of Dungeons & Dragons. All of the ins & outs of dungeon crawling along with investigative old school play is highlighted in B11 King's Festival.

While B11 King's Festival seems like its a straight forward adventure module, B11 in fact supplies all of the classic Dungeons & Dragons elements in one very tightly run adventure package. There's enough here to keep a minor Basic Dungeons & Dragons campaign going for months of game play. The overview of the module has the plot revolving around the major big bad at the center of the module. The truth is that B11 King's Festival if used right will put the PC's center stage for the royals in the Grand Duchy of Karameikos & not simply as flavor of the month. That is if they survive the experience & here's where the module really shines. This is another Basic D&D module that takes the PC's into the Dungeons & Dragons Mystara experience. The fact is that on the whole B11 King's Festival by Carl Sargent is a good set of 1st through 3rd guidelines on actually making, creating, & running a classic Dungeons & Dragons adventure. Scattered throughout B11 are tables, references, charts, & advice for actually becoming a better player & dungeon master. Today B11 King's
Festival almost seems forgotten & that's a shame because its a quality low level dungeon crawl adventure romp as much as an introduction adventure module.

For running B11 King's Festival through an OSR retroclone system there are a number of OSR systems on the table including B/X Rules Cyclopedia Dungeons & Dragons. B11 is a fairly easy to run introduction to the Basic Dungeons & Dragons game on its own. All of the classic D&D elements are here in force & the module moves quickly at a brisk pace. The dungeon master is going to have to be on his or her game when running B11 King's Festival. Taken as a whole the module will leave the PC's right in the middle of & at the attention of the royals of
the Grand Duchy of Karameikos! This might not be a good thing depending upon the module's event's outcome. PC's may want to tread this path carefully.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Review & Commentary On DDA 1 Arena of Thyatis By John Nephew For Your Old School Campaigns

"DDA1 Arena of Thyatis  is designed especially for the DM who want to sharpen his interactive skills. * Presenting the detailed layout of a Thyatian noble's mansion and maps of the multi-level Coliseum of Thyatis * For four to six characters, levels 2-3 * Brief guide to Thyatis legal system * New optional class, the Rake * Fast unarmed combat system, including disarming attacks * Special appendix on creating Thyatian names * Featuring The DM's Guide to Winging It""
If I asked if you knew about a BCMI adventure that centered around gladiators, corrupt senators, desert kingdoms, & ancient legacies most likely someone would point me to the second edition Dungeons & Dragons Dark Sun setting. But what if all of the above actually was connected with the ancient late Greco Roman lands from the Dawn of the Emperors setting?

Well DDA1 Arena of Thyatis has all that & the charm of the pit fighter days of the Conan film when Conan was coming up through the ranks to win his freedom. The idea here is that PC's are gladiators & more dealing with the ins & outs of the world of  Thyatian senator and end up fighting in the Coliseum of Thyatis.

DDA1 is a classic but a flawed one because this module should be run by an experienced dungeon master. He or she will be juggling lots of balls with this module from the relationship of the PC's with the senator to the ins & outs of pit life in gladiatorial area. I ended up modifying this module to expand out the origins for several PC's over the years when dealing with the Dawn of the Emperors gazetteer setting material. Getting involved with the affairs of the senator in DDA1 left a very sour taste in the PC's mouths for the faux Rome of the campaign.
The incredible history of Thyatis and Alphatia are on full display here & the party gets a full dose of it scattered throughout Arena of Thyastis.

The PC's become embroiled in the comings & goings of the gladiatorial life as well as all it holds. While not an adult title. I had several fans of the show Rome scattered among our players & there were several indiscretions that happened off screen during the running of DDA1. These weren't simply adds on but events strongly connected with the royal senatorial affairs of Thyatis and Alphatia.  Stephen Fabian's style of the Dawn of the Emperors box set really adds a certain something to the over arching Greco Roman weirdness of the setting. As I said even though Arena of Thyatis isn't an adult title the cruelty of the adventure is there written in blood between the lines. There's lots of potential to really embroil the PC's in some real trouble. Echoes of a Roman style adventure with blood & the dark decadence of Rome is right there.

DDA1 Arena of Thyatis is the gateway drug for low level PC's to get themselves into the dangers of Thyatis life right from the start. DDA1 Arena of Thyatis isn't a classic but its a solid module for beginning PC's who have an experienced DM who wants to run the player's PC's through a whole blood bath of a module without simply knocking off the player's PC's with a simple pit trap.
There are even a few little world building bits thrown into DDA1 to set the stage for Thyatis life such as a name guide, maps of the  colosseum, & even the new class the Rake which actually fits the nasty side of Thyatis life. All in all DDA 1 Arena of Thyatis By John Nephew is a very underappreciated module in my humble opinion. If your looking a BCMI module that has a strong Roman flare then DDA 1 Arena of Thyatis By John Nephew just might be up your alley!

Review & OSR Commentary On Issue #1 of The Midderzine from Glynn Seal & the Monkey Blood crew For Your Old School Campaigns

Glynn Seal of Monkey Blood design has been quietly building his Midderland setting empire with product across the board for old school & OSR games. The Midderlands setting is a dark fantasy England on acid filtered through the warped imagination of early White Dwarf magazine fans wrapped around a Swords & Wizardry rpg core rules set. This brings me to issue #1 of The Midderzine from Glynn Seal & the Monkey Blood crew.

So what's in this issue & why is the Midderzine important to OSR fans?! Well here's what's in the zine; "an interview with Jim Magnusson, 'news' from The Haven Gazette, 3 Hex Locations, The Village of Stonecastle, The Eyeless Harrowers cult, two new NPCs, three new monsters, a new class - Crowmaster, two new spells, five new oddities, four new flora and fauna."
Even if you haven't gotten the Midderlands setting or the Midderlands Expanded book this has some very interesting fiddly bits & pieces that can be applied to bring the Midderlands to your gaming world. For example 'news' from The Haven Gazette are adventure seeds & hooks to get the PC's involved with the locals of this region. But here the adventure hooks pull the PC's in for example the local leper knights have a new expansion; The Leper Knights of Saint Corrobin in Helm’s Ford "In Helm’s Ford last week, the growing group known as the Leper Knights ofSaint Corrobin were granted rights to erect a monastery on the outskirts of the‘Without’ part of town. Many of the townsfolk are unhappy about the close proximity to the disfigured andcontagious outcasts, but Lord Porc Turmeric has confirmed that they are part of a defensive strategy for the town and anyone who obstructs the rights afforded to them will be dealt with harshly." What happens when some of the locals hire the PC's to help clean out some 'undesirables' from the village?! This is only one of the many examples that are woven throughout the Midderzine. The big selling point of the Midderlands is the Gloomuim - A green magick glowing stone like substance that is in fact concentrated magical chaos that can mutate things, be used for magical items, to power spells, mutate animals & flora into monsters,etc. & it permeates every aspect of this dark fantasy England. The 11 adventure seeds & hooks all tie directly back into the settings & the locals making it very dangerous for PCs!

Next we get three new hex locations & all that entail these seem like they came straight out of an early issue of  White Dwarf but they have the unique Midderlands spin to them. That is to say they might be based on some possible real world historical location or other. But these locations always have that green laced weirdness factor that makes the Midderlands unique. We get the 'Plinth of Dullen Fields' with its own take on the possessed royals bit; 'It is said that a witch hexed the oldLord of Shroomsbury, and he became possessed by a devil. Staffleford had acted to prevent the malignancy from spreading. However, the Lord of Shroomsbury also believed the same about the Lord of Staffleford, and had acted in the same manner.' And there's some room here for the dungeon master to really go to town on what else its connected to in their own version of the Midderlands.  'The Ruins of The Cock &Pocket Inn' might be the enterance to a dungeon or underground green hued ruin or something far more sinister. Then there's 'Ratdog Tor' & its deep connection to the twisted monstrosities of the Midderlands. I don't want to go into too much detail here but you get the idea.
Then we get the village of Stonecastle," The village of Stonecastle is ruled over by the Fellchurch family, and the current ruler is Sir Uriah Fellchurch (see The Midderlands Expanded page 182). Sir Fellchurch treats the villagers
well, and they respect him." And we get a whole village setting for the asking where adventurers might actually have a quiet time of it. Well, of course they won't be cause there's more brewing under the surface.
Speaking of brewing we get a brand new cult of eyeless ale brewers known as 'The Eyeless Harrowers' whose ales grace the local taverns throughout the region. These incredibly evocative NPC's have some far more things happening under the tap then you might think & might also be NPC patrons rather then foes!?
Two mid teir NPC's are next who come with their own adventure hooks build in;"Edmund
Fester travels the Western Midderlands with his fellow adventurers; the human thief, Vex Vandel. Then there's this information broker whose not the usual sort; 'Corlin Lackcraw is in
the discrete service of Sir Uriah Fellchurch. He dispatches Corlin around the lands to see what the crows are saying, and feedback any information that may be of use to
We've got three new monsters from 'the Midderlands' including Gloomrats who are absolutely nasty bastards! 'Catviles are large cats devoid of fur, instead being covered allover
with loose, dark, light absorbing skin. ', which I personally want a Catvile as a pet! Check these things out!

This takes me into the demonic 'Devil Goat' & I've seen a couple of different versions of a monster called a 'Devil goat' but this is a disembodied demonic goat head with tentacles & a passion for evil! These things are really nasty & even seasoned adventurers are going to have problems!
Then we are presented with a brand new class known as the Crowmaster! These are men & women who spend years out on the moors & forests listening to the language of Corvids! This folks know all of the gossip & spinets of rumors & information that these birds collect. They advance up in levels & have very tight relationships with these birds. Imagining royals having spy net works of crows, jays, etc. throughout their kingdoms! Well don't imagine it because that's the sort of weirdness of the Midderlands.

We then get two new spells 'covered in shit' & 'bag of crap' which is both pretty great. The covered in shit spell is a second level spell & does exactly what it sounds like. The second spell allows a magic user, druid, or cleric to reach into a leather bag & pull out a useful item or maybe not. The random tables of the Midderlands expanded book has the dungeon master covered but I'd make my own. Its an amusing second level spell for the players.
Finally we get bunch of new Midderlands oddities which are solid magic items strongly connected with the Midderlands setting itself. All in all we get a solid setting fanzine that has been set up by the Monkey Blood design crew & Glynn Seal to act as both fan support & as a solid way of continuing the expanding setting of the Midderlands. That being said I think that it could be be bought by an OSR gamer to really get a good foot hold into the Midderland's setting to really get a feel for it's green laiden weirdness! I'd actually say its a five out of five for its utility & usefulness as a game supplement even if you don't own a single Midderlands book!

For about four dollars American you get the complete PDF right over here!