Friday, October 19, 2018

Rereadings & Commentaries On Judge's Guild's "City State of the Invincible Overlord" By Bill Owen and Bob Bledsaw

"The City-State of the Invincible Overlord was the first fantasy RPG setting ever published (1976). It features a huge walled city that is ruled by the eponymous (lawful evil) Overlord and the surrounding environs that are full of adventure possibilities. What was so striking at the time that it was first released was the incredible level of detail that the product contains. Hundreds of streets are mapped, named, and populated with shops, temples, inns, taverns, brothels, houses, barracks, and the like. Hundreds of NPCs are listed along with their stats and rumors they know (for starting adventures). The history and political system of the City State is described along with relevant laws the PC's must abide by while inside the city. It includes dungeon levels beneath the City State and detailed information for nearby adventure / dungeon sites: the dwarven fortress "Thunderhold" and the "Sunstone Caverns".
The City State was designed for Dungeons & Dragons (Original Edition) but was not officially licensed for D&D until 1978. The license ended in 1983. It was printed many times over the life of Judges Guild and changed in size and configuration in subsequent editions." 
From the RpgGeek Entry here
Since the Me We social media platform has turned into the same roving social media marketing commercial for the fleeing hoards of OSR folks including all of the annoying Kickstarters & OSR stuff. I find the whole experience pretty hallow & soulless. So I'm going to keep my account but I'm not going to use it. Its way too much of a time suck these days because work has been killing me I'm moving away from it.
Instead over the course of a day I've been getting back into the older edition & OSR material that I actually own. This brings me to some observations about
The City-State of the Invincible Overlord. First let's get some real world background out of the way about this product;

Bob Bledsaw and Bill Owen founded Judges Guild in 1976 to sell subscriptions to gamemasters, but they needed a real product to get things going, so they began work on a large map of Bledsaw's City State of the Invincible Overlord. They got this first product done just in time for Gen Con IX (1976).[1]:186-187 A listing of cumulative sales from 1981 shows that City State of the Invincible Overlord sold over 40,000 units.[1]:200

City State of the Invincible Overlord was designed by Bob Bledsaw with the assistance of Bill Owen, and was inspired by Bledsaw's own Dungeons & Dragons campaign.[2] City State of the Invincible Overlord was first released at Gen Con IX in August 1976.[3]
City State of the Invincible Overlord launched Judges Guild as a company, and was the centerpiece of its Wilderlands of High Fantasy campaign setting, the first licensed and published Dungeons & Dragons campaign setting"

" The City-State of the Invincible Overlord" goes hand & glove with the Wilderlands of High Fantasy because its meant to. Over the years I've seen lots of gamers & hobbyists separate the two products. This is fine but taken as a whole these Judge's Guild products work like a campaign watch setting. Not perfect by any means but with its own Judge's Guild style. This is really key to gaining an over all understanding of the vision of Judge's Guild back in '76;
"City State of the Invincible Overlord" setting itself was a single city designed to be both as a base for campaigning, as well as a seed for city-based adventures. A second product, Wraith Overlord, explored the city's subterranean cellars, sewers and catacombs.
The City State of the Invincible Overlord setting was used as a home-base for characters created by Judges Guild in other products. Attention was also paid to synchronising the setting with broader adventure possibilities: a northern Dwarven fortress city Thunderhold with an associated "dungeon" area; and a series of four modules written to explore areas adjacent to the route from the City State of the Invincible Overlord setting to Thunderhold, as well as a fifth which was to introduce a "witch" NPC character class"
The city state is the home glue of a campaign setting & players even to this day seem to fondly remember this adventure location. Why?! Because it provides a 'safe spot' between adventures & the wilderness of the dangerous supernatural world of high fantasy. The city state could easily provide the dungeon master with infinity opportunity for getting the PC's into & out of  then back into all kinds of trouble.

Because of the very nature of the
"City State of the Invincible Overlord" setting it became the perfect foil for the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Player's Handbook first edition. The "City State of the Invincible Overlord" setting provides numerous opportunities for use as the origin point for PC's in game.  There is isn't simply one or two of these points in  "City State of the Invincible Overlord" but literally dozens.

Bill Owen and Bob Bledsaw meant for the city state to be a whole cloth adventure location that would be used for years & years by players. And it has for all these years & on numerous table tops all over the world. The "City State of the Invincible Overlord" setting still stands out among a wide variety of old school & OSR products to this day. The adventure location is still being used on numerous table tops & in a myriad of campaigns right now. Not a bad legacy to a company that produced some of the most epic products for Dungeons & Dragons.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Rereadings & Commentaries On Judge's Guild's Wilderlands of High Fantasy By Bill Owen and Bob Bledsaw

Wilderlands of High Fantasy By Bill Owen and Bob Bledsaw
"Wilderlands of High Fantasy is a supplement for fantasy role-playing games published by Judges Guild in 1977.[1] It is part of the same world as their earlier City State of the Invincible Overlord setting materials. "

"Details the wilderness areas of the City State. Valley of the Ancients, Valon, Tarantis, and the Barbarian Altanis. This playing aid includes s 32-page booklet on the villages, populations, leaders, technological levels, citadels and castles, and wilderness monster lairs of these areas. The first of our wilderlands series, this covers the settlements of the City State of the Invincible Overlord, Tegel Manor, Modron, Thunderhold, and Haghill. This Playing Aid has been Created and Approved for use with D&D."
So while everyone is extremely concerned about the mass migration away from G+ social media collapse. I've kept my head down & my mouth shut & I've been going back over some of the Judge's Guild's
Wilderlands of High Fantasy By Bill Owen and Bob Bledsaw. I've been looking for a Swiss army knife of sand box & wilderness settings.  For me this is the standard of those. The dungeon master is given a thumbnail sketch of a settlement, an alignment, a title or bit about the ruler, & very little basic information. 
The dungeon master is fleshing out just about campaign level everything else from the ground up &  filling in the blanks as the player play through the adventure location & affairs of the Wilderlands. This approach was summed up on Grognardia in the comments section on the Wilderlands entry by Mundi KingAugust 31, 2011 at 9:15 AM 
who sites Rob Kuntz's feelings & opinions quite concisely;
"I think Rob Kuntz gave a concise response to the issue of level of detail in adventuring products in a post over at Greyhawk Grognard.

"As there are literally 3 camps that exist within this sphere (DYI and fill in the blanks yourself, give me a little context to mix and match with my own, and DO IT FOR ME) this argument cannot be resolved cross-camp, but only by the weight of numbers attached to each of the three. So the best response is: YMMV." --
Original Post"

This quite literally sums up the entire approach that Judge's Guild had toward their products & their campaign settings. It also matches out my feelings about the Wilderlands as a whole. The focus here is on 'adventure' & eventually on running an entire kingdom. The Wilderlands really allowed the player's PC's to make an impact without whole sale damage to the entire setting. There's just enough detail without phone book of background to filter through. The strong points are
the random tables and all those maps. They make world building easy & high customization possible within the Wilderlands.
Other modules seem stale and stagnant while the JG stuff is completely inspirational all of  these years later. That's the key for me with the Wilderlands, their not a cantonal setting these are the settings that you & the players customize through actual play.

So is the
Wilderlands of High Fantasy By Bill Owen and Bob Bledsaw still actually useful for old school & OSR style games?! Yes it is perhaps more so now then when it came out. How can I justify this answer? The truth is that the materials haven't changed nor have they needed to. The same tight descriptions & ideas that made the
Wilderlands of High Fantasy great still apply in spades. I've seen the lower tier adventure locations used in Lamentations of The Flame Princess games & even as stand ins for Gamma World game adventure locations. The adventure  material of the
Wilderlands of High Fantasy is great stand in adventure locations for games such as Labryth Lord & Labryth Lord Advanced.
This also means that its original Dungeons & Dragons as well as its Advanced Dungeons & Dragons roots still are firmly in place. The
Wilderlands of High Fantasy was made to be used with the original Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Master's Guide. The random tables, charts, & stats line up perfectly with the material by Gygax in the DMG.  

"Don Turnbull reviewed Wilderlands of High Fantasy for White Dwarf #6, and commented that "It is good, and well worth the money, particularly if you are a 'fantasy campaign' fan." After rereading Wilderlands of High Fantasy this past week I hardly agree with the reviewer's assessment.
Classics are classic for a reason & in my mind the Wilderlands of High Fantasy By Bill Owen and Bob Bledsaw stands the test of time for campaign easy & table top utility.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Review & Commentary Of Castles & Crusades Codex Celtarum By Brian Young For Your Old School Campaigns

"The Codex Celtarum contains a veritable host of gaming material. Built around the complete mythological cosmos of the Celts, in it you'll find new spells for your druid, cleric, and illusionist. New monsters, including mountains of fey. New magic items. For the very bold, there are new powers for your characters, allowing your characters to become fey! 190 new spells 90 gods and monsters from the Celtic mythos 150 powers for the fey monsters & characters (optional) The Druids."


For the last two years I've been looking at the cover for
Castles & Crusades Codex Celtarum & pretty much wrote it off as yet another "elf games" source book for Castles & Crusades. Every time a Troll Lords sale would come up I look & think maybe?? Two things have occurred that changed my mind. One I'm actually running a Seige Engine powered game. Two I've got players who are nuts about all things Celtic. So I contacted (stalked) Troll Lord Games about the Mythos Bundle for Castles & Crusades.
When they didn't contact me right away I went ahead & bought the entire line of physical books. I loath & hate pdfs but love books at the table. Over the years I've seen various hog pog incarnations of pieces of Celtic mythology in many editions of  Original Dungeons & Dragons, Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, 3.0, OSR etc.
There is a lot of material to cover & this book tackles the subject head on & goes right into the meat & patatoes of the material. Is this a book for the player or the dungeon master? The answer is both. This book clocks in at about a hundred & seventy six pages of very well researched material.  Castles & Crusades Codex Celtarum came out about five years ago & Troll Lords has expanded the Mythos line quite a bit.
This is a book for the serious dungeon This book is for the dungeon master who wants to run an entire Castles & Crusades game within a mythological Celtic Iron age setting with Fey & all that goes with it. In one book you get all of the tools for doing this because your going to be placing all of those elements into the realm of the Fairy. This book was written by an academic who knows, eats, breathes, & lives his material. Castles & Crusades Codex Celtarum encompasses the entire experience of playing within & without in the realm of Fairy & Fey.
This book boils down all of the classic elements of Celtic mythology & legend into an actual playable supplement for Castles & Crusades. It does with professionalism, class, & its very well written. Brain Young is an academic who really gets into his mythological gaming material with wit & solid writing.
The layout is solid, the writing is easy to get through, the material sparks the dungeon master's imagination. But is
Castles & Crusades Codex Celtarum
good for other  Siege Engine products? Could this book be useful for say Amazing Adventures?!
The answer to this is yes! Much of the material here is straight up fantastic to adapt to a pulp setting & it easily lends itself to whole cloth idea. The Fey are legendary & very alien their own right. These are not weird Elves & lets play them, this is straight up epic mythological C&C material. This makes it unexpected & straight out of the box a surprise to player in a pulp game campaign. If you are going to use Castles & Crusades Codex Celtarum with Amazing Adventures what are you going to need?Much of this material has been filtered  after a fashion & adapted to the Amazing Adventures Companion by its author Jason Vey.

With 190 new spells 90 gods and monsters from the Celtic mythos 150 powers for the fey monsters & characters (optional) The Druids all of these C&C elements can be ported over easily into other Troll Lord products including Amazing Adventures! rpg. I can actually see using Castles & Crusades Codex Celtarum with the Victorious Rpg.  Using Victorious or Amazing Adventures I can see a pulp investigative or heroic campaign using the Celtic mythological material as adventure fodder. The adventure elements within the
Castles & Crusades Codex Celtarum are very fresh & well presented.
The book packs a lot into its one hundred & seventy five pages. But is the book worth its price of admission into the Celtic world of the Fey & Fairy? In a word yes! I think that
Castles & Crusades Codex Celtarum is not only a high quality book for Castles & Crusades but for any OSR or old school dungeon master. I give the Castles & Crusades Codex Celtarum a solid five out of five.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Review & OSR Commentary The Murder Knights of Corvendark From Monkey Blood Design For The Swords & Wizardry Retrolcone & Your Old School Camapigns

"No one knows from where they came. All feathers and spite. Their vile beaks spit angry screeches, and beneath their wing beats, acrid miasmas swirl.
Within the subterranean caverns beneath Wychington — on the shores of Lake Grimwater — a small part of a region from long ago, or maybe a time yet to pass, has come into existence. Malign and abhorrent half-men, half-crows inhabit this harrowing place. Standing menacingly, clad in the darkest armour, or on their pitch-black wings protected by lighter, piecemeal leather armour, they murder men and feast on their flesh. Strangely resentful of their barely-feathered gods, they despise other living creatures for taking their breaths.
This is Corvendark, and under the sign of an inverted, five-skulled star, the Murder Knights dwell.
Since the coming of this otherworldly realm, the Grimwater Lake region has been plagued by the atrocities of the ‘harpies’ — as they have been incorrectly named — regularly raiding the surface lands. None have been ravaged more so than Wychington, a small town on the northern lake edge at the mouth of the Lesselling River.
It is now that heroes are needed. Who will destroy this menace, or send them back whence they came?"
& the product is full of full on maps! This is an adventure location module. But when I received the email I grabbed my comp copy from Drivethrurpg I was astounded at the number of location based maps & yes this does bloody well plug into the Midderlands setting. But not necessarily for all your OSR campaign needs & I was pleasantly surprised by this. The Murder Knights of Corvendark From MonkeyBlood Design is designed for use with Swords & Wizardry but can easily be adapted for use with OD&D.

There are a lot of traditional Dungeons & Dragons elements within this adventure & that's a good thing. The fact is that many of today's OSR designers & writers try to reinvent the adventure formula. The Murder Knights of Corvendark doesn't do that. Instead it presents the adventure elements in such a way as to give the players & the dungeon master some time get through the adventure in challenging & engaging way. This adventure can be played over six or so sessions in my opinion but if the players are stupid they're going to die in glorious & gory ways.
The cartography is excellent & the writing is up to Midderlands standards. For the most part everything in the The Murder Knights of Corvendark clicks all of the right buttons.  For adapting it to other OSR & old school campaigns. The Murder Knights of Corvendark could with some work be placed within Mystara or perhaps the lands of Greyhawk. Blackmoor might be a bit of a stretch but it would work.  
The Midderlands campaign setting is where
The Murder Knights of Corvendark 
is going to work best. The tone & setting details picks everything in this adventure up with gusto & runs with it.
I can hardly see using
The Murder Knights of Corvendark with Lamentations of the Flame Princess or another dark Europe OSR setting. This adventure would suit Dark Albion & other Europe based OSR games. The theme of the Old Warhammer / White Dwarf old school adventure weirdness is certainly here in
MonkeyBlood Design's efforts in The Murder Knights of Corvendark. Because this is a fifty page adventure location based adventure there's lots to do & events happening within the adventure itself. Sure there is a spooky theme here but its not flat hitting you over the head with itself. There is an investigative & solid way of dealing with players in the module's method. The adventure location areas are well fleshed out but not overwhelmingly so like other OSR adventures. The full theme runs well though out the text here & the dungeon master can & will have to run with certain adventure hooks. Overall I really liked The Murder Knights of Corvendark .
I hope to see more adventure location based modules from
MonkeyBlood Design crew. I'd give this a five out of five because of the above the cut quality efforts from the rest of the OSR crew.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

New OSR Cult - The Fangs of The Fatherland For Your Old School Campaigns

With the collapse of the worship of Baal Hammon's Carthagian religion & society many gods would have simply faded to the 'Other Place'. Instead "the beast" aspect of the god was taken to the darkest pits of the Inferno & merged with its other self in the form of  the collective devil thing  Zeus Amun. The howling wolf prince of Hell was the product of centuries of neglect & violence among the demons & devils. It found its place among the rabble of the Inferno & thrived. Its cults returned to Earth with an infernal  vengeance. The cults thrived among the werewolves where its mark was welcomed.

The god thing took command of the alien tribal warriors  known as eye killers as his own personal guard creatures & began healing wounds between desperate cults. He became known as a peacemaker but it was all illusionary. The devil was consolidating power on Earth.  He knew of the wars that were coming in Hell & the Inferno.

"According to the "Dictionnaire Infernal" by Collin de Plancy, he commands forty legions of demons and carries the title of prince. He is also an entity many looked to reconcile friends and foes, and procure love for those seeking it. The Egyptians viewed Amon or Amun as their supreme God; they represented him with the blue skin, in a rather human form."

Each new werewolf of his influence that was created was another piece in his bid for mastery on Earth. He appeared in his blue skinned man guise to many black magicians & casters giving them knowledge of the weaknesses of enemies. He was & is a demanding master needing a sacrificial murder among is worshipers every forte night.

"He was written about by Johann Wier in 1583 in the "Pseudomonarchia daemonum"
"Amon, or Aamon, is a great and mighty marques, and commeth abroad in the likeness of a Wolf, having a serpents tail, [vomiting] flames of fire; when he putteth on the shape of a man, he sheweth out dogs teeth, and a great head like to a mighty [night hawk]; he is the strongest prince of all other, and understandeth of all things past and to come, he procureth favor, and reconcileth both friends and foes, and ruleth forthy legions of devils."
And much later by S. L. MacGregor Mathers in the Goetia
"The Seventh Spirit is Amon. He is a Marquis great in power, and most stern. He appeareth like a Wolf with a Serpent's tail, vomiting out of his mouth flames of fire; but at the command of the Magician he putteth on the shape of a Man with Dog's teeth beset in a head like a Raven; or else like a Man with a Raven's head (simply). He telleth all things Past and to Come. He procureth feuds and reconcileth controversies between friends. He governeth 40 Legions of Spirits. His Seal is this which is to be worn as aforesaid, etc.""

In 1939 deep in the German Black Forest members of the Thule society called down Aamon's essence in a bit to make a an elite corps of S.S. super soldiers. The plan worked a bit too well & the 'Fangs of The Fatherland' were born that night. Violent beyond human understanding & cunning as their devil father the Fangs were the perfect terror weapon. The Fangs obeyed the will of their devil father rather then the high command. This has sparked some violence among the Thule society & the Fangs.

'The Fangs of The Father' can only be created in a barbaric occult rite with 'the fluid of the Aamon' a dark potion indeed. Created through a combination of sacred herbs, the blood from a murder, & prepared by a witch sacred to Aamon. This occult practice & many others has created resentment & outright war among other groups of werewolves who view the 'Fangs of the Fatherland'  as evil incarnate. There has been an on going war between the Skalds of Odin & 'the Fangs of the Father' for years now. The Skalds are bardic werewolves who view the Fangs as abominations. 'The Fangs of the Fatherland ' gain some very attractive benefits from their devil master. They will live for 1d20 extra years & have a +2 Charisma when in human form. The fangs gain a +2 on any melee damage from their supernaturally powerful claws.

"The Fangs of The Fatherland " gain the 'Dark Speech' supernaturally  can understand speech of other evil creatures. One or two Fangs have been attached to certain occult related Nazi units & raider groups that rage across the planes looking for artifacts,relics, & treasures. As of 1952 the 'Fangs of The Fatherland' operating in America & have been seen helping American fifth columnists. There is also evidence that they are aligned with certain black wizard sects & witches covens.
The Fangs of The Fatherland can appear whenever the interests of the Reich are. They are very dangerous & extremely evil. They maybe encountered across the planes or in many dungeons.

Note - The Fangs of the Fatherland are NPC bad guys & very dangerous for PC's to encounter. The Fangs should only be encountered rarely or spoken of in whispers. A pack of the Fangs should only be encountered by experienced NPC's.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Shadows of Saltmarsh Amazing Adventures! Rpg Session Report #1

The Green Man a menace to the PC's coming up.

I've just started an Amazing Adventures rpg  by Jason Vey game last night. The PC's ended up crossing over into an alternative world time line of 2100. The mono skyscrapers of the preserved New York Sky line greeted them. This was after tracking down the cybernetically enhanced courier of Nazi dimensional traveler  from 1952. The world of these Nazi is world where Operation Spark in 1943 succeeded in killing Hitler(or did it). Germany sued for piece in the world courts but continues hostilities with the Allies They turned over the hierarchy & infrastructure of the German high command responsible for the Final Solution  

Israel was founded much earlier in this world & continues to play a part in Western affairs.

This Nazi Germany has been locked in a Cold War with the Allies since the war's 'end' & continues to operate through powered agents, individuals, & teams. Now they've been raiding alternative dimensions & time lines. They've stumbled upon the world of 2100 where the countryside has mostly been abandoned & come across a Great Race of Yith library beneath the ruins of a castle in up state New York. 

What the characters also learned is the criminal mastermind known as 'the Alchemist' has been running a slave trade & human traffic ring in New York city of this alternative 1952.This bastard controls all of the major smuggling & drug traffic from the Salt Marsh neighborhood down on the water fronts. He has ties to the Nazi smuggling agents into New York. Their latest agent came in on the Sea Witch.

Yes I'm running U1 The Sinister Secret of Saltmash by Don Trumball with a Troll Lords Amazing Adventures pulp/super hero spin. So I'm dumping the whole Scooby Doo aspect of U1 & turning the Alchemist into a lich/pulp villain of incredibly evil aspect.

Monday, October 8, 2018

More Commentary On D2 Temple of The Frog By Dave L. Arneson & David J. Ritchie

Why is DA2 Temple of The Frog so critical to the history of  Dungeons & Dragons? Well for many folks it was the first time they had heard of Dave L. Arneson.

And the extensive history surrounding his contribution to the creation of Dungeons & Dragons in Nineteen Eighty Six.  David J. Ritchie had done a bit of a service to the Dungeons & Dragons community by pulling together all of the Dave L Arneson's incredible elements into their world of Blackmoor. Now lots of folks could experience the horrors of the Great Dismal Swamp. We're talking epic Pulp level heroism on the part of the PC's if they survive the experience.
The history & timeline of the Temple of The Frog speaks volumes of the horrors that St.Stephen of the Rock has been visiting on the surrounding countryside. Mind control, mutated monsters, forbidden cults, human ritual sacrifice, & worse?! There are conversions of the human races of Blacmoor for Basic Dungeons & Dragons. These same races are the prime motivation for the Egg of Coot whose pure evil basic & simple.
But when you begin adding into the mix the actual elements of Dave Arneson's First Fantasy Campaign. Then the events of DA2  begin to turn legendary. Make no mistake about it the Egg is threat because of its status as it manipulates events,people, &  battles both in front of as well as  behind the scenes.

At some point the Egg & its cults will begin the conquest of various worlds but seems to have run afoul of something in Greyhawk. But Greyhawk's version of the Egg seems to be waiting for something. 
There is evidence that the Egg's spies & agents have been working for decades in Judge's Guild's City State of The Invincible Overlord. The thing is that both St. Steven The Rock & The Egg of Coot may have bitten off more then they can chew when it comes to the Wilderlands of Fantasy. Judge's Guilds Wilderlands of High Fantasy had/has an extensive list of NPC's that were perfectly suited for the shenanigans of  the Froggies.

The beauty of DA2 Temple of the Frog is how easily it slots into an existing campaign setting. Factions & such are perfectly aligned with the old school play style when this adventure hits the table. I think its the excitement that bleeds out from David Arneson's creations & coupled with David J. Ritchie's work on adapting it.

Because DA2 is easily adaptable I seen a few folks over the years retrocon the adventure into their original Dungeons & Dragons Blackmoor setting. The reverse enginnering of this style of play gave me some pause as I realized just how much of Blackmoor was Arneson's work & play with his players. Buts its only going to be a matter of time before the Egg's forces & the Froggies will once again march across the planes to accost the many worlds of the plane Prime!