Sunday, August 20, 2017

OSR Commentary On Necrotic Gnome's 'B/X Essentials' Project For Your Old School Retroclone Systems

 I have a long & storied history with Necrotic Gnome products but Gavin Norman's new project it hits close to home some might say their essentially some of the essence of B/X Dungeons & Dragons. Let's take a closer look.

So while everyone else is all excited about GenCon 50, I've been quietly watching Necrotic Gnome's latest efforts with B/X Essentials. This is Gavin Norman's The City of Iron's blog fame reworking of B/X Dungeons & Dragons.

B/X Essentials is Gavin Norm's reworking of the B/X Dungeons & Dragons rules into retroclone form so that they'll be a bit more open to the OSR audience as a whole. There's lots of stuff already happening with this project. But why is this being done & how will it differ from B/X Dungeons & Dragons ? According to the official word from Necrotic Gnome,"How does B/X Essentials compare to the original B/X books? The main (and major!) difference is that the rules for Basic and Expert play are combined, rather than being split across two books. Also, as mentioned above, B/X Essentials is written as a quick reference, presenting a clarified and better organized presentation of the rules."
How is this on the whole compare with the Labyrinth Lord retroclone system? Gavin Norman's done a lot with Labyrinth Lord so colour me curious, "How does B/X Essentials compare to Labyrinth Lord? LL also presents a restatement of the classic B/X rules, however its text is, in many places, far too verbose and meandering to be really useful as a quick reference. Also, as noted above, B/X Essentials is a 100% accurate clone whereas Labyrinth Lord introduces several changes to the rules. In B/X Essentials, clerics do not get a spell at 1st level!"  You can find out more over here folks. 
As a LL & BX Dungeons & Dragons fan  for years now I'm dying to see how & what changes are going to be coming.

So when is the B/X Essentinals going to hit the shelves in the wilds of the OSR? Official word is that sometime in September 2017. The interesting thing is going to be the format for me, "The primary format is US Trade (6"x9") paperback (perfect- or staple-bound) with a fully-linked PDF. So, yes, this is a small form factor presentation of the B/X rules! The Open Game Content rules will also be provided in a simple text format." So its going to be simple & easy to digest this is going to be a plus for me.
Today's Encumbrance rules preview came out of the blue and there's artwork from by Thomas Novosel. The layout clean, its easy to read, and there's actually some real changes worked in. So this is very interesting from a DM's perspective. Because you're seeing things from the ground up here. Gavin goes into the deeper reasons for this here

So yeah to say I'm watching this with interest is an understatement. Why? Well there's lots of reasons but mainly I love the simplicity of what I've seen so far from the B/X Essentials project & the ideas that the author/designer is putting forth. Plus its nice to see a solid degree of transparency in the choices that the author is making. I trust the choices that I've so far seen by Gavin Norman.  So for a Sunday keep em rolling folks!

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Forbidden Secrets Of The Lamp - OSR Campaign Commentary On Ray Harryhausen's 'The 7th Voyage of Sinbad' 1958

Top notch adventure as our hero Sinbad must rescue a princess who has been miniaturized and held captive by a ruthless magician. All sorts of obstacles are thrown in Sinbad's way, including the famous swordfighting skeleton. © 1958,

"Sokurah the Magician: From the land beyond beyond... from the world past hope and fear... I bid you Genie, now appear. "

I'm trying to remember the first time I saw 'The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad' but as it plays in the Blu Ray & that damn sound track plays again. I'm transported back to the world of Sinbad on a Saturday afternoon as channel Eleven showed endless Ray Harryhausen sword & sorcery flicks after cartoons. Here's the specifics according to Wiki;
"The 7th Voyage of Sinbad is a 1958 Technicolor heroic fantasy adventure film from Columbia Pictures, produced by Charles H. Schneer, directed by Nathan H. Juran, that stars Kerwin Mathews, Torin Thatcher, Kathryn Grant, Richard Eyer, and Alec Mango."

So what the hell does this have to do with Dungeons & Dragons or the OSR for that matter? Well there have been countless writers, artists, etc. including Gary Gygax & David Lance "Dave" Arneson who took a bit from this picture. But for a dungeon master this film is a god sent for creating & expanding upon for a home campaign. There is almost nothing written about or referenced  about the island of Collossa or its lost people. Sokurah the magician  played expertly by Torin Thatcher has been plundering their secrets, relics, treasures, & life forms for years. He reminds me on a certain level of Forbidden Planet's Dr.Edward Morbius both men are plundering the ancient knowledge of people's long gone. They're secrets are shaping them not the other way around. Sokurah has been messing with the black magick secrets of Collosa & they've been messing with him. He knows each and every detail of the island and its secrets but fails to see the bigger picture.What other secrets await in the dungeons & ruins of Collosa.

[about to land on Collosa]
Sinbad: May Allah grant we find food and water.
Harufa: And may Allah grant we find nothing else.

The peoples of Collosa mastered the transformations of flesh & the creation of chimera. The transformation of the Princess's lady into the serpent woman is both classic & telling.Telling because the magick is both smooth but very dangerous. The great thing about Harryhausen's stop-motion is the dream-like quality that sweeps over the audience. We would later on get another sample of the level of mastery of the wizardry of the people of Colossa.

There's something very unnerving about the skeleton from the Seventh Voyage. The magician transfers a bit of his mind into the skeleton to animate it but its aggressiveness is turned to murdering Sinbad. A friend of mine thought that the skeleton might have been a controlled Deadite ala Army of Darkness. This was something connected to the 'children of the Hydra' skeletons in Harryhausen's Jason & The Argonauts.

Sure by the end of the picture Sinbad & co. sail away from 
Collosa & live happily ever after. But what happened to all the ruins & other materials left behind? Its all still there along with other cyclopes & who knows what else. The island is a perfect adventure point for a mid level party of adventurers. Was Toro the only dragon on the island? No, I doubt it. Toro was a very dinosaur like dragon of an almost singular lower tier intelligence that acted as magician Sokura's watch dog & bodyguard.

So what's the story of the island of
Collosa ? In my mind there are a few hypothesis that come to mind. One its another R&D facility of the gods like 'the Isle of Bronze'. I'm not the first to put forward that theory or speculation. But there's something much more interesting about the island of Collosa. If you watch the journey that Sinbad's crew take across the island there are different variations of ecosystems that they go through. Some are very similar to Skull Island from King Kong from '33. The  dead island nation is very artificial and perhaps was there long before the people of  Collosa got to it.

Elder Thing by 
Віщун -

The island might have been a hold over from the time of the Elder Things of H.P. Lovecraft's At The Mountains of Madness. "
The beings first appeared in H. P. Lovecraft's novella, "At the Mountains of Madness" (published in 1936, but written in 1931), and later appeared, although not named, in the short story "The Dreams in the Witch-House" (1933). Additional references to the Elder Things appear in Lovecraft's short story "The Shadow Out of Time" (1936)." The people of Collosa came later after the oceans drank Atlantis, Hyperborea, etc. Possibly foretold before the disaster that took the ancient world during one of its extinction cycles. So what was the black wizard after? Power & recognition  on the global stage pure and simple, he manipulated events from the first meeting with Sinbad right from the get go. He wanted the secrets of the lamp, he had the secrets of the island dead island nation but that wasn't enough. It never is. He wanted the lamp's protection  because there were deeper levels to the ruins where even greater secrets and horrors awaited him. We know that volcanic vents power the island's facilities.

If we go back to the original source material from
Sinbad the Sailor from One Thousand and One Nights. Then the picture becomes much clearer in the magician's actual agenda ripe with his quest for forbidden knowledge and power. In fact the comic book adaptation Four Color #944 - The 7th Voyage of Sinbad released by Dell on September 1, 1958.  bares this very fact out!

So what the hell is down blow in the vaults below Collosa? My guess is that there are incredibly ancient secrets of the Elder Things. Perhaps proto shoggoth material, relics, ancient secrets, & knowledge beyond the pale of mankind. Just the sort of thing to interest the black wizard of  Collosa. We have very little on the black wizard's background but given the make shift state of his workshop's he's been plumbing the secrets of the island for ten to twenty years. He's adapted, modified, uses the artifacts & relics of
Collosa as he see's fit.

Sinbad: What weird power restrains that monster?
Sokurah the Magician: The man that holds this treasure is safe from even greater danger.
Sinbad: Why didn't you destroy the monster?
Sokurah the Magician: The genie of the lamp cannot be used to work harm. But in protection, his powers are invincible.

So how could Collosa be used for OSR retro clone system? Well given the artifacts and relics of the dead island nation. I can see using
Collosa as an adventure location for Dark Albion. The island and its ruins make a perfect location to look for relics to help the War of The Roses brewing in Albion. The island could also fit into a Labyrinth Lord game as a destination for travelers and adventurers where the cyclops are deadly beyond measure. The island could also be used as a possible adventure location for Mutant Future as its already very dreamlike and could drift along the planar winds to wind up in the post apocalyptic world. The place would also make an excellent adventure location for Lamentations of the Flame Princess where adventurers have to locate one or more items while facing down the horrors of the island's cyclops guardians. Its also a ready made location to use with B/X Dungeons & Dragon's Isle of Dread which I've done many times!

Friday, August 18, 2017

OSR Commentary - High Level Play, AD&D Dieties & Demi Gods, & Operatic Old School Campaigns With 'Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung)'

So another GenCon is on us & social media is a buzz with the latest Con news, numerous pictures, etc. All my best to my young friends & family that are there.The amount of buzz coming out this year's GenCon reminds me of  Eighty Four & the year I learned about some important lessons on campaign management.

If you're following me on G+  then you probably know that I've twisted my ankle pretty bad & I've been flat on my rear for the last day or so. I'm alright. Nothing broken, or hurt except my pride. But I've been flat on my back for a day, icing the ankle, losing time with work, & actually using this time productively. Mediating on the seminal year of '84, there were two very important things that happened, issue one of  Secret Wars was released from Marvel in the Summer of '84 & The Marvel Super Heroes rpg came out.

Suddenly every geek, nerd, etc. was rushing down to the comic shop & grabbing the comics. They also dropped Dungeons & Dragons and Advanced Dungeons & Dragons like bad habits. Eighty Four was a very different time period in table top role playing games, things were a bit more fickle on a local level. The comic book craze was in full swing, there were two or three comic shops in my home town. The local war gaming club split into two clubs & there were four D&D after school groups. Players & DM's had their pick of campaigns from Gamma World to AD&D first edition with numerous options. That was alright but folks were suddenly looking for something different & with numerous DM's there was a bit of a cut throat atmosphere. That Summer I found myself without players or a campaign due to circumstances & one of my co dungeon masters moving away. What the Hell was I going to do? This was also the year I had to get a job & that Summer my adopted Uncle John took me on to his spread up in Goshen,Ct. John was a retired RAF pilot who married an American, he was very good friends with my dad. He came down to Ct to be with his wife's family after being in New York state back in the Seventies where he & my dad had first hooked up as friends. His children were sort of my child hood friends but we didn't see as much of each other as we'd like. So he had agreed to take me on & get me out of my parents hair for that Summer. Also to avoid getting the crap kicked out of me by the bullies in the neighborhood where I lived.
He was an avid OD&D & AD&D player & dungeon master so it was a natural that I was talking non stop about Marvel's Secret Wars. Well, Uncle John got a wee bit pissed at me for not taking the situation in hand & pulling myself up by my boot straps. Many of the local DM's at that time were using Lord of the Rings as the basis for their own home games & I mean like every other one! Conan was a part of Appendix 'N' sure but I needed something different. I needed an edge. It was John's wife Betty that came to the rescaue suggesting Richard Wagner's
'Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung)'
"Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung), WWV 86, is a cycle of four German-language epic music dramas composed by Richard Wagner. The works are based loosely on characters from the Norse sagas and the Nibelungenlied. The composer termed the cycle a "Bühnenfestspiel" (stage festival play), structured in three days preceded by a Vorabend ("preliminary evening"). It is often referred to as the Ring Cycle, Wagner's Ring, or simply The Ring."
Out came Deities & Demi Gods & we were suddenly minor demi gods playing parts in the opera's events.This became an epic long Summer campaign with numerous high level events, love affairs, betrayals, etc. and our PC's were right in the middle of it!

Uncle John used TSR's Saga & his sons were my co players & I was co dungeon master, this was as much to help me through some of the depression that I had as it was to get the campaign events moving. The events followed the opera:
  • Das Rheingold (The Rhinegold) - There were bits & pieces taken from The Against The Giants series to spice things up & some Drow interference with the Rhinegold.
  • Die Walküre (The Valkyrie) there were other subplots of betrayal, love, and backstabbing
  • Siegfried -
  • The PC's were in the background from the time of the hero's birth to death watching and guarding.
  • Götterdämmerung (Twilight of the Gods) - Our PC's died so that events could continue on! There was some epic battles and this leg of the campaign owed more to Jack Kirby's Thor then to bits of the opera, this wasn't until I was older and looked at some of the campaign notes.

My friends began to drift into the game & gods died as well as PC's we were amazed. The whole campaign went down very smoothly as clockwork. It was a magical time to be playing in an old school campaign & we knew that gods could die. TSR's mini game  Saga was incredibly in pulling off this campaign. The maps, artwork, etc. all set the tone & Uncle John photo copied up a DM's screen.  At its height we had nine players and three DM's over a night where the Twilight of the Gods was played out. We had a sleep over & it was epic!

As for Secret Wars, the events came & went but the real shocker came when Crisis on Infinite Earth's hit & that brought home another opera and another campaign of adventure, tears, and legends but that kids is another blog post!

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Review & Commentary On The Battle For The Purple Islands By From Kort'thalis Publishing For Your Old School Campaigns

I have a very strong connections with The Islands of Purple Haunted Putrescence, its a very flexible & dangerous adventure location/setting from the warped mind of Venger Satanis. A gonzo science fantasy setting with  liberal doses of  'R' rated  sex, gore, & lots of mayhem. All of which collide with the  concepts from H.P. Lovecraft's circle of Cthulhu mythos writers. But what are the islands themselves & the brand new factions, horrors, & the adventure kit? Wait what?! Didn't you know that the new Heavy Metal style magazine aesthetic adventure & expansion book The Battle For The Purple Islands has hit the shelves of Drivethrurpg

"What are they? A forbidden sanctuary of weirdness in the middle of the ocean. Three large islands next to
each other with dark purple sand, unbelievable creatures, and treasures untold. It’s a gonzo science fantasy paradise!
You see, much of the dark forces reigning supreme over the purple islands were vanquished by adventuring heroes. They came, they saw, and they slaughtered. A few years went by without incident.
Everyone started coming to the islands after things quieted down—colonists, anthropologists, big game hunters, sightseeing tourists, etc. But then obscene purple blasphemies deep within the islands began to resurface"

The islands have a bit of an overhaul & get back into the multi dimensional madness that them great as an adventure location in the first place. There's lots of reasons for your PC's to be on the islands and the book actually provides a number of random tables to give your characters a reason to be there. The whole affair clocks in at about twenty three or so pages. There's Venger's usual OSR & O5R vibe through out but in this case that's not a bad thing. Basically this book is a number of interconnected adventure plot points with factional information scattered throughout as much adventure as tool kit. Battle for The Islands of Purple Haunted Putrescence is Venger's Seventies & Early Eighties wet dream love letter with blood slime from 'Cannibal Holocaust' mixed with 'Stop Motion' dinosaurs from 'Land of The Lost'.

There are expansions of existing Islands of Purple Haunted Putrescence factions & new ones like 'Cannibal' tribes that will eat your PC's in heart beat, yes you do meet HP Lovecraft & yes there is an Alpha Blue adventure in for you Satanis veteran players. This is an extremely dangerous little book with lots of new pit falls & weirdness waiting for PC's. I'm talking new factions such as the Sorcerers of the Crescent Moon who are serpent men from another time just waiting for PC's. "When at least one of the purple moons is crescent, a snake-man sorcerer named H'ssan comes down from the mountain to steal warm-blooded humans. Under cover of darkness, H’ssan procures sacrifices for Xivirinthi, the ancient wyrm who lives inside the third moon."
Then you've got Talking Apes an in for Apes Victorious if you ever needed one! Why? Why not because everything is better with apes! "The purple islands allow for travel through time, space,
and other dimensions. So, it’s no wonder that certain areas of the jungle have been altered by the
quantum upheaval. Such changes bring civilizations from parallel worlds and alternate universes. Talking apes that walk upright like men is just one example.
The apes are part of a community called New Ape City. They carry machine guns, attempting to conquer the purple islands whenever they meet a force that threatens them—both physically and intellectually… radical ideas that go against their
religious-scientific belief system."
The ones you really don't want to meet are the brotherhood of the Unquiet Void, "A religious order calling themselves Brotherhood of the Unquiet Void devote themselves to those outer
abominations whose slime drips down from another universe, a universe of throbbing, twitching, screaming
flesh, gory and insane and spilling out into the unreachable darkness. The brotherhood worships
entities that hail from such places, and they have a leader named Kaion Vasus" Sort of a combination of the underdwellers from Battle For The Planet of the Apes & what happens to the world population in the film In The Mouth of Madness. These are not folks you want to invite over for supper. Then there's encounters with Lovecraft younger & older(don't ask). Lots of encounter tables for hex crawling across the islands. This is where the book shines of OSR style games especially if your into own a couple of OSR retroclone systems and want to expand your players adventuring! This also takes place in a timeless setting meaning that this is the book your going to want to pick up to introduce new players to the gonzo Lovecraftian sleazy jungle dripping action of The Islands of Purple Haunted Putrescence.
Is Battle For The Islands of Purple Haunted Putrescence worth the five dollar price tag? In a word yes, even if you don't own the original then Battle is your entry level drug for the weird science fantasy setting. This book brings home the setting and there are several tables that should have been in the original book. Your not paying twice for same setting folks this book has lots and lots of new material that isn't the 'special features' that ended up on the cutting room floor. Instead this is an add on book for the setting. Which leads into the next question should there be another book in the Purple Haunted Putrescence setting series of books? In a word yes.
If your into the All Night Long USA style gonzo cheese and weirdness of Venger Satanis's science fantasy setting then this is book for you. Will I be using it in future and upcoming games? In a word yes!
But this isn't a perfect book, I wanted more awesomeness and cult crazy gonzo adventure but this is a gateway & continuation book. In this alone the book sustains and in some points exceeds its goals. I'd say an even five out of five for purple haunted weirdness!


Wednesday, August 16, 2017

OSR Commentary On The Basic Dungeons & Dragons Adventure 'M4 Five Coins For A Kingdom' By Allen Varney For Your Old School High Level Campaigns

"In an instant, the city of Lighthall vanishes from you very midst! In its place come five coins of amazing powers - power to transport you to a realm of fantastic worlds and incredible magic. In this realm, islands float in air and vast armies battle at the brink of oblivion. The return of Lighthall depends on the defeat of one man: the evil enchanter, Durhan the Conqueror.
Surrounding himself with the armies of Volde, Durhan musters his strength for the final assault on Trann. Defeating Durhan insures the preservation of Eloysia. Saving Lighthall, however, is another story. Lost in the raging core of the sun, the city balances on the edge of destruction. The rescue of Trann, its Ruling Wizards, and Lighthall itself all depend upon the powers of the coins - and the brave adventurers who take the quest upon themselves.
For characters of levels 28-32.
Last night I cracked open M4 'Five Coins For A Kingdom' of the high level B/X Dungeons & Dragons adventures because I've been on a Clark Ashton Smith kick for the last six to eight months. This is one of those underappreciated adventures that seldom gets mentioned. Not because its all that bad but because hardly anyone has PC's that make the 28-32 plateau levels.

Allen Varney comes in with a really high level adventure for B/X Dungeons & Dragons in the form of M4 'Five Coins For A Kingdom'. The real star of the adventure is Durham The Conqueror who dimensionally warps an entire city right out of existence.  The PC's are the fulcrum here to the action standing the way of the conquest of their lands & their existences!

With a flourish & weirdness that we've come to expect in the '87 high level B/X adventures after the tepid M3, M4 manages to capture the imagination and high concepts of science fantasy all in one go.  This adventure takes the concepts promised in the higher level B/X box sets and tries to deliver on them. Something that would later carry over to the Dungeons & Dragons  Rules Cyclopedia. But does it work as an adventure?

The PCs stand between the evil sorcerer & the total obliteration of their homelands. To a certain extent the adventure succeeds in this. There are lots of bits and pieces that I like in this adventure including the science fantasy bits.
The plot is interesting & to  it  lives up to the high level promise on the tin;"On a clear day, bright lights appear in the sky over a vibrant city as the player characters stand in the market, and then the city vanishes, leaving the party alone in a grassy field. Five coins fall from sky, each imbued with the spirit of a power wizard beseeching the party to free them and save their world from destruction. Using the magic coins, the party travels to the outer plane of Eloysia, explore what is left of the city of Solius and free the wizards. Before saving Solius, the party must defeat an invasive army led by mad Durhan. Finally, the party journeys into their own sun to save their city." But there's also a weirdness to the design and writing of it. This adventure doesn't follow the adventure plot strings of the M series and for that alone I'm thankful for. The villain is a one off and wizard that could be used in other adventures for campaign play if the DM wants or needs a recurring high level foe. He has to a certain extent some of the tropes of a Dr. Strange wizard draining the life force of hundreds of victims. This plot bit is something that Mr.Varney would actually use for his
Doctor Strange gamebook, Through Six Dimensions (1986) written a year earlier. So what the hell is it that appeals so much to me about M4 Five Coins For A Kingdom? I think its the fact that it delivers on its high level promise. Would I play it or run it today? Yeah I think I definitely world there's a weird Roger Zelazny Chronicles of Amber or Clark Ashton Smith vibe that strongly runs through this adventure.

I hate to say that I've done rude things with M4 Five Coins For A Kingdom but I have. The truth is that I've used this adventure as the basis for an Amber Diceless Rpg campaign but there we are. Yes it worked out quite well back then. But I was playing with experienced D&D players back in then. But then today what retroclone system would I play M4 with? Hmm two different systems immediately spring to mind.

One is the Dark Dungeon Rpg system which has all of the tools for handling this style & level of play. Easily accessible as a pay what you want system. The hardcover has everything that the DM would need to run M4 Five Coins For a Kingdom.

Well the second choice is far more interesting in my opinion and that would be Adventurer, Conqueror, King! This is a tailor made adventure for that style of system and play, the high stakes and the kingdom being up for grabs makes this a nature for just that style of domain level and high stakes weirdness but this adventure is not without the need for modification. Adventurer,Conqueror, King's PC's levels should be carefully examined and modified as needed for M4.

The style of play demanded by the adventure requires certain modifications for it to work as a part of a campaign going adventure:
  1. The encounters have to be tailored to the DM's world and he or she can't be afraid that there will be consequences to their campaign setting. 
  2. Certain restrictions on treasure, artifacts, relics, etc must be observed read this adventure carefully several times. 
  3. Amber style campaign play is built into M4 and the dungeon master should keep this in mind. 
  4. PC's are going to have a huge number of responsibilities on an almost Stormbringer rpg level. 
  5. Reality & dimensional travel is a must here! 
  6. PC death will have dire consequences for their homelands and could lead to further adventures and DM's should make note of this. 
  7. There are several forces of Law who are jerks in M4 and another thing to keep in mind. 
  8. DM's should not be afraid to modify this adventure as they see fit for certain adventure elements to work within their own games. 
  9. Durham the conqueror could make an excellent recurring campaign villain. 
  10. Don't be afraid to go over the top with this one. This is a high level adventure and almost but not quite in the realm of the gods.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Further OSR Commentary On The Free 'Old Mars' Downloads For Your Old School Campaigns

So I'm making some notes and doing some adjustments to my Old Mars material, this means cracking open one of my favorites by Leigh Brackett, Clark Ashton Smith, and C.L. Moore. Here's some thoughts and ideas for background on my next cycle of 'Old Mars' adventure setting material.

For me cracking open a copy of Sea Kings of Mars from Thrilling Wonder Stories v34n02 (1949 06) is pretty much like coming home. The thing is Mars has always been my favorite adventure location since I was a kid. The dead sea bottoms, the desert sands, & the places where John Carter would never be caught dead in are all true of Leigh Brackett's stories of Mars.

Download & Read Sea Kings of Mars Here

This is a rough & ready Mars of the Colonial era where the ancient past is intruding on and bursting into the reality of humanity's push into the solar system. There are connections here that Brackett makes with Atlantis, Lomar, and many of the other Lovecraft circle writer's creations. This isn't as small of a novella as it seems. There are connections, adventure hooks, ideas, and more if the DM is willing to put some time into the novel.
Leigh Brackett's Mars is far more clannish, dangerous, and in some cases alien then what we've seen in Edgar Rice Burroughs or is it? Barsoom has its own feel very similar to the samurai states of Japan on  Earth just before the incursion of the West. Brackett's Mars is the back alleys & shifting sands of clans thrown about by the coming of the humans. This is an old world that has seen far more then the violent more recent cycles of Earth. The ancient past isn't done with the present of Mars by a long shot. The ancient alien remains of Mars are still out in the hidden valleys, weird lost worlds, and in the interior world waiting for their chance to live & thrive again.
In this regard it reminds me of Clark Ashton Smith's Mars cycle, the humans have come to the dying world of Mars. The human see themselves playing tourists taking over from the ancient dying Martian race as they trade baubles in Igarth's 'old quarter'. But  'The Aihai' old beyond time and preserved by the machinations of the plant like Old One Vulthoom and its siblings. These novellas and stories represent not as different a Mars as one might think from Sea Kings.
Humans are the intruders here & they are colonizing and dabbling in places that have seen far older races to be sure. But is there enough room for E.R. Burroughs's multi colored races, Brackett's Martian races, & Clark Ashton Smith's? Yes from the perspective of looking at the plethora of Martian pulp stories I think that 'Old Mars' is a world that has seen its share of an incredible parade of races with room for more. The Green Martians of Edgar Rice Burroughs didn't stay when the planet went entirely extinct. They fled into the dark of space & continued to be employed out in the far flung corners of the universe.
The far future of Old Mars is going to a very rude awakening for the human population on the planet as the Martians come back with the vengeance of a millions swords and radium pistols. This gets into some of the ancient past implied by C.L. Moore's North West Smith stories.

The horrors of the past seem to leak into & ooze into the future because of the very nature of the Martian mythology. There's a promise of faded glory & future bloodshed just under surface of the Martian stories. This makes me wonder about the far future of this style of Mars is there far more that the Human government is worried about? I think so. The implications of the great push outward seems to have far more bubbling just below the surface. The 'Far Future Old Mars' might be a very alien place indeed highly dangerous and aggressive to human and near human beings. That's a blog post for another time. For the moment I'm organizing my notes and making some adjustments to my upcoming adventures!

This  post is not an attempt to violate the copyrights or trademarks of any 
of the films nor properties named in this post. All ideas are for a 
private table top rpg campaign.  The writing, ideas, and opinions 
are copyrighted and trade marked to the author and Dark Corner 
productions. This post is for entertainment & educational purposes 

Monday, August 14, 2017

Further Mediations On B5 Horror on the Hill By Douglas Niles For Your Old School Campaigns

The end of the road. A lonely fort stands on the banks of a mighty river. It is here the hardy bands of adventurers gather to plan their conquests of The Hill, the hulking mass that looms over this tiny settlement.

The Hill is filled with monsters, they say, and an evil witch makes her home there. Still, no visitor to The Hill has ever returned to prove the rumors true or false. The thrill of discovery is too great to pass up, and only the river stands in the way. The adventurers' boat is waiting!

I've been looking into Dark Albion & some of the other Retroclone systems tonight along with B5 Horror on the Hill. Its been a couple months since I've cracked open this wonderful little old school gem by Douglas Niles. ""Horror on the Hill" (1983), by Douglas Niles, was published in 1983. It was the fifth Basic supplement published and the first one that wasn't introductory in nature. Though B5 is intended for characters of levels 1-3"
This adventure has the reputation among my circle of friends as being the straight on the fly beginning adventure right after Keep On The Borderlands. Horror on The Hill is mix of many old school elements from wilderness & outdoor encounters to a bit of dungeon crawling. Infact many of my friends would often pair this adventure with Keep on the Borderlands because of Guido's fort as part of a string of forts along a border wilderness ala Conan's Pictland adventures.

For Dark Albion these adventures would be set along the crumbling borderlands of Dark Europe where the demarcation on the map marks the end of empire & the beginning of horror. This reminds me of the Roman occupation of England & Harridan's wall. The Empire is suffering with the internal War of the Roses and PC's are called back but not before the demands of empire have them go on one last romp of adventure or the PC's are looking into ruins and horror that might give their royal house a bit of a leg up in the war.

The plot is perfectly pulp like according to Wiki with leanings from the pages of Weird Tales more then the usual Tolkien tropes;"The scene of the action is Guido's Fort, located at the end of a road, with only the River Shrill, a mile wide, separating it from "The Hill".[1] At the Fort, hardy bands of adventurers gather to plan their conquests of The Hill, the hulking mass that looms over this tiny settlement. They say the Hill is filled with monsters, and that an evil witch makes her home there. No visitor to The Hill has ever returned to prove the rumors true or false. Only the mighty river Shrill separates the player characters from the mysterious mountain.

A series of caves awaits, full of goblins and hobgoblins. At the lowest layer lies a young red dragon. Set on a volcanic island in the midst of a river."  This module is as much D&D DYI adventure kit as it is adventure just look at the contents,
"This module is designed for use with the D&D Basic Rules. Included in the module are 11 maps, 3 new monsters, and a complete set of prerolled characters."
One reviewer noted something that struck me quite well today, "
As for content, Hunter noted that it gives little detail on the Fort itself, so that it can be easily incorporated into an existing campaign."
The entire module is non world specific meaning that DM's can and should change details to suit their own home game campaign world & settings. There are tons of humanoids and this means they can easily become mutated humans touched by chaos or other worldly influences. This adventure is going to put the PC's center stage and keep them there. That's fine as long as the DM remembers that this a very dangerous module. This one is one of those modules that you bring extra PC's just in case something happens. And believe me it will and this is not a module not to bring your 'A' game to it. Your going to have sharp eye on the rubber NPC's or else they will die.  This is not an adventure that your going into without bringing your 'A' game to the table. This is an adventure that will challenge even the most jaded players if used right.
Horror on the Hill has a bit of everything that places the circumstances of the module firmly into the back yard of the PC's. There is enough here to get an almost complete adventure campaign off the ground. 

There are some reasons for this happening- 
1. Horror on the Hill contains all of the tools that a DM needs to launch this module as an extended adventure / campaign. 
2. There are some design & adventure elements that can make or break this adventure as a whole. 
3. There are enough NPC's here to keep things moving along at a leisurely pace. The action here is not as carefully plotted as some of the  other adventures in this line are. 
4. Dark Albion is a perfect beast to run D5 Horror on the Hill, the extra element of danger adds another set of books to help  circumstances  move along at a brisk case. 
5. There are more NPC's that can help or hinder the part as the same rate of old school goodness. 
6. As I said D5 has some excellent resources to really keep things going and it certainly fits in the Labyrinth Lord's back yard of old school retroclone adventures. But I really feel that Horror on the Hill suits Dark Albion's feel and pressures.

1d6 Random Encounters With Adventurers From Beyond The Planar Winds Table For Your Old School Campaigns

When Old Earth became a restless memory & the hidden things crawled back from the hidden places there were those lost to the world winds. Adventurers,outlaws, & fools who were trapped 'elsewhere'. Often these fools bring with them horrors beyond the pale of man that have taken an unhealthy interest in feeding on them.These horrors sense the thread of destiny on them. They long to feed on their souls & swallow them to draw upon them for all eternity. Those who get involved with them are doomed too share in their fates, but often times few can heed their cries of help. They are brought hither and yon by the winds of madness only to share in the doom of the cold Hells beyond the worlds of man.

What hast thou seen, O wind,
Of beauty or of terror,
Surpassing, denied to us,
That with precipitate wings,
Mad and ecstatical,
Thou spurnest the hollows and trees
That offer thee refuge of peace,
And findest within the sky
No safety nor respite
From the memory of thy vision?

Often times there other far more unscrupulous traders, scavengers, & the like who employ necromancers & black wizards to read the stars of the damned to find these poor souls. For they then seek them out to rob & strip them of their valuable 'Old Earth' relics & artifacts. These parasites are called 'Vultures' and they are the bane of such damned souls. Each adventurer or party that has been lost to the winds of madness will have 1d20 relics and artifacts worth from 100,000 to 300,000 gold pieces. But this is a fools errant because often these vultures end up become prey themselves to the horrors that pursue & murder the damned. An alien demon of type four  or better will be hot on the heels of such a party of the doomed.

1d6 Random Encounters
With Adventurers From Beyond The Planar Winds Table
  1. Captain Carl Nash & crew have been on the run from something that's been picking off his crew for months now (Its actually been over a hundred years 'real time'). He has a pair of valuable custom made blasters 1d8+4 and his crew of adventurers are equipped with disintegrator rods for 1d6+2 with a twenty foot radius. His crew is being chased by a Lovecraftian demon that they disturbed in orbit around Mars. They'll be shocked at the state of Earth if that's where this encounter takes place. 
  2. Natasha Corbin an African/Russian adventuress & renegade captain of her own crew of space cut throats (1st level fighters) are on the run from something that has been absorbing her crew over the past year. They have laser crossbows, silver short swords, and some grenades but this horror can appear almost anywhere. They seem ragged and almost cursed by their fate. 
  3. Naz Grulra - A half human/mutant of Chinese descent she has been heroically saving her crew from the horror that has run them from Mercury to Jupiter and now here. They have a 500,000 gold piece artifact that has enabled a spawn of Cthulhu to track them half way across eternity. She needs help but even they feel there's no hope. Some of her men have started to give up. 
  4. Lar BrU'rau - A red  Martian adventurer whose band of pirates robbed the wrong space liner and acquired a soul gem of an ancient prince from Uranus. The prince's soul is guarded by a demon from beyond the Outer Darkness & the pirates are in a bad way. They have a 50,000 gold piece treasure on them but they're blasters don't seem to do all that much. The demon has been toying with them for ages. 
  5. Larra El - A strange adventuress from a doomed world with her crew that has been pursued across seven worlds. She is armed with a named weapon of alien design that takes out the dimensional hounds that feast on the souls of her crew but these alien wolf like things are lean, hungry, and very dangerous! She has 1d6 minor artifacts upon her person that she'll bargain with but these things want her bad for their demonic mistress!! 
  6. A crew of 'Old Earth Ancients' is pursue of their princess whose run afoul of a nasty Lovecraftian demon lord. They have over 400,000 gold pieces worth of relics on them that they will bargain with the party for but there is a nasty set of winged horrors capable of slicing through an ether ships hull on their heels! They need help or else their doomed!

    This  post is not an attempt to violate the copyrights or trademarks of any 
    of the films nor properties named in this post. All ideas are for a 
    private table top rpg campaign.  The writing, ideas, and opinions 
    are copyrighted and trade marked to the author and Dark Corner 
    productions. This post is for entertainment & educational purposes 
    only. All artwork is public domain as is the Clark Ashton Smith poetry. 

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Ghouls, Ghosts, Shadows & More Swords & Strangeness - Actual Play Adventure Event

I got together with my players last night for my Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers Of Hyperborea game taking place in the Judge's Guild  mega dungeon adventure location of Tegal Manor The PC's in last night Tegel Manor session managed to make a good showing. They went over a bit of their treasure & some of the relics they'd picked up over the last couple of games. Things have been interesting as they find out the unsavory & horrid revelations of the family history of the Rumps. A history including piracy, smuggling, slavery, and debauchery of every strip. These are not the family you really want related to you let alone exploring their Roman style house. This was something the party are slowly finding out. The 'safe bedroom' the PC's spent the night in was adjoined to two other rooms and a secret alchemical workshop. 

One of the bedrooms held a really nasty Ye Liveliest Awfulness/yellow mold hybrid monster. The thing resembled to lovely yellow ladies whose victim was slowly being digested under the covers of the bed. A flaming sphere handled the Lovecraftian bastard & the PC's managed to recover a valuable shield. The horror was brought back on one of the numerous expeditions by the Rumps to Venger Satanis's The Purple Islands of Purple Putrescence.

The PC's managed on to the next room which happened to be the foot of one of the towers of Tegel. There they found another alchemy workshop/ playroom and this one housed a Lovecraftian ghoul blooded member of the Rump clan. She's been having an on going war with her uncle a vampire at the top of the turret & her rather camp & obnoxious cousin a necromancer & reverent of her uncle. He's both insane & completely nuts about games & toys, to that end there's two Roman style ancient Bocce ball courts set up in the room. Along with two Roman statues holding some stylized Bocce balls. The balls came to life nearly taking off one of the heads of the PC's.

Photo by
Queensland Museum

The PC's managed to blast the two balls & the other metal sets which infuriated our necromancer who then dropped two other black balls down the stair well of the tower. Eight shadows slithered out of three holes on each ball and the fun really began for the PC's a running game of cat and mouse ensued! This encounter taxed the PC's and our alchemist had to help the PC's with the remaining shadows after they managed to make a good show of themselves. They made it over the alchemist's table and she quickly whipped out a potion to take care of the remaining horrors. The PC's decided to parley with the alchemist even as they were taunted by her cousin above.

But the PC's still have to content with her uncle with whom the war of attrition continues night after night. This means the PC's not only have a vampire to contend with but the whole place is riddled with giant rat holes that enable him to direct his minions where and when he'd like. The PC's were able to taunt the bastard cousin back but the encounters left them very nervous and they actually retreated back to their room locking the door behind them for safety's sake. This is a good thing, the players are engaged & interested. Note that unlike AD&D first edition AS&SH's vampires are constitution drainers and very dangerous.

What happens now? Well, that's going to be up to the players. There are a six things that they sort of missed in this past week's game.
  1. The corpse hidden in the far corner of the game/play room is a human colonist from some far flung colony. A possible victim as the plane lost manor makes its rounds has been killed by one of the numerous undead. 
  2. There's far more going on within the house then it seems and there are other adventurers about within it. 
  3. The relics collected by the Rumps always seems to make their way back to the manor.. eventually. 
  4. There's other members of the Rump family stalking the adventurers as I write this. 
  5. Other corpses in the halls of Tegel Manor hold vital clues to the destiny & fate of the PC's. 
  6. The cult of Old Ones is alive, active, and very much on the scene in Tegel Manor. 
Tune in next week for more old school weirdness