Wednesday, March 20, 2019

OSR Campaign Commentary - B6 'The Veiled Society' By David Cook & Clark Ashton Smith's Zothique

"The widow insists there are demons in her house. She hears them at night in her root cellar, and now they call out to her. But she is old and nervous and her mind often plays tricks on her.
Two men, their heads fully sheathed in large, black hoods, dig quickly in the darkness of the cellar. The hole grows deeper as their shovels bite into the earth. "This will teach those meddlers their place," the shorter, slim figure says haltingly. 

"But don't you see the advantage?" snaps the tall man. "They will fear us now. They will fear for their lives."

Grunting, they heave a sailcloth bundle into the hole. As it falls, a woman's hand dangles lifelessly form the folds.
Who is the woman? Why will her death trigger riots and unrest in the city of Specularum? And the assassins: Are they Torenescu, Radu, or Vorloi? Or, curse of curses, the Veiled Society?"
David Cook was on a roll back in '84 & tonight I've had a request to delving further into the deeper rooted urban blight & weirdness that is B6 'The Veiled Society'. More specifically Cowgal '87 wanted to know what my take was on this endearing classic & how I was planning on using it with Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea second edition before diving head long back into the swamp lands of the Quagmire mash up that we talked about yesterday. 
"The Veiled Society," by David "Zeb" Cook, was published in 1984 & still remains one of my all time favorite Basic Dungeons & Dragons modules. 

Over the last seven or so years I've used B6 'The Veiled Society' to establish the urban mess  &  decrepit nature of  the City-State of Khromarium. The criminal network of the module is an excellent example of how to run a 'thieves' or 'assassin' guild network with all of the add on's & none of the hassle. I've connected B6 'The Veiled Society' with AS&SH's The Rats In The Walls' adventure “The Brazen Bull”. The seedy buildings, the offer of another form of Lotus, & all of the weird elements meld with the backdrop of B6 to produce something unique. You see David 'Zeb' Cook sets his adventure right in  Specularum, the capitol of the Grand Duchy of Karameikos making the "Veiled Society" immediately became an integral building block for the Known World. But in our case we're taking this classic module to build up the atmosphere & strangeness of the City-State of Khromarium. How?? We're using the module to build the PC's from 1st straight up to fourth level if their lucky enough to survive the mayhem of B6 'The Veiled Society' .  The key piece of reference for the city of 
Specularum, the capitol of the Grand Duchy of Karameikos is Threshold issue #24 which has a fantastic fan created reference gazetteer. A lot of hard work went into this issue.

So what happens if the events of the past couple of modules are only a small part of an over arching plot. What if the affairs of  N1: "Against the Cult of the Reptile God" (1982) are also connected with all of this & the enemies of the Hyperborean crown are looking to all strike at once!? 

When it comes to  B6 'The Veiled Society'  to Zothique the unusual choice is actually CAS's Isle of The Torturers. There are several reasons for this one is the fact here's what happens when one crosses the society. They end up on exactly the sort of location we see in the Isle of the Torturers. There's also the beginning of the 'end of era' that we see later in Zothique & Hyperborea that we see in AS&SH. 
The depravity seen in CAS's Isle of The Torturers is exactly the same sort of thing that we'd see in the Grand Duchy of Karameikos. Flipping back to the reptile cult from Tomb of the Lizard King is the fact that the Lizard Kings were the royal servants & vassal class of the serpent men. This comes from the fact that the serpent men once ruled the Lizard coast of Hyperborea. Again this is something that we see X6 'Quagmire'.

All of this alien influence flows through the undercurrent of the underworld society of both Hyperborea & Zothique itself. Underborea is rife with the continuing influence of the serpent men within the ruins of what was humanity's last great empire. Those ruins extent far into the Dreamlands Underworld even though the gates are sealed up. 

Various witch cults & secret society's within the City-State of Khromarium have deep & abiding ties to one or more factions of serpent men. The 'Veiled Society' itself might even have ties to the cults of Zargon & have several inner circle cabals connected with the 'Lost City' out in the Diamond Desert.

The rat faction might boast several were rat assassin masters among their ranks who are partially responsible for carrying out the 'Veiled Society's support of the 'Master'. Hule's ascension upon the world stage was no accident but a carefully planned chess move to have a viable enemy & puppet to rally royal support for an enemy that would destabilize the rulers of Hyperborea. Cause as much mayhem as possible & the true scaled rulers of Hyperborea & Zothique could take their rightful place. But B6 'The Veiled Society' would take years to be routed from the corrupt & horrid halls of power in the City-State of Khromarium. But the corruption goes so much more deeper then anyone truly suspects. We'll get into that tomorrow.  

OSR Campaign -X6: "Quagmire!" (1984) By Merle M. Rasmussen & Clark Ashton Smith's Zothique

"Swamp creatures! They surround you now as you move slowly through the gurgling muck. How will you reach Quagmire now? Each day, the hungry sea swallows more of the ancient port city. A fierce fever ravages its people, and now - these foul monsters! Their beady eyes glimmer from deep within the tangled vines.
Are these the creatures that have blockaded the city, turning away the ships that are the city's lifeline? Are these the scum that are starving the people of Quagmire, threatening an entire race with extinction? These creeps? Let's clean this jungle out! "

Merle M. Rasmussen's baby X6 Quagmire gets into the heart & soul of one of longest running Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea campaign runs. This module is an old favorite & gets into one of the areas that I love to deal with namely wilderness exploration & high level exploration at that! X6: "Quagmire!" (1984), by Merle M. Rasmussen, is the sixth adventure in the Expert series for Basic D&D. 

So while X6 is set in the 'Knownlands' the predecessor to Mystara what it actual does is introduces the Serpent Peninsula, Thanegia Island, and their cities of Slagovich, Quagmire, and Thanopolis. The Serpent Peninsula sounds like an incredibly cool place to introduce the Conan style race of serpentmen being the Ancients of this land. In fact there's a X6/I1 Quagmire/Dwellers of the Forbidden City mash-up by Demos Sachlas article over on the Vaults of Pandius. The whole campaign is straight out of Robert Howard's Conan or Clark Ashton Smith's Zothique. Between the headhunters, brain fever, giant leeches, cannibals, and leopards whole thing sounds like its the far future on Hyperborea of AS&SH. Think about it. The rising tidal lands, the ancient cities, & some of the most deadly bits & pieces of nature that D&D adventurers have to  cross. The fact is that Clark Ashton Smith's In the Book of Vergama reminds me of this sort of Sword & Sorcery melding. 

The basic adventure in second edition Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea is "The Black Moss-Hag of Lug". Add in the town of Swamp Gate as the entrance to Quagmire & your good to go! Surely there's no connection to X4: "Master of the Desert Nomads" or X5 "Temple of Death"? Well after the events of Temple of Death the regime of 'the master' has been crushed right?! Well yes that's true but if the master was merely a puppet then things get very interesting. The cities of X4 & X5 are great starting points for AS&SH campaigns set within a mini campaign of all this Sword & Sorcery goodness.

The future world of Hyperborea's coast is going to be dotted with millions of half submerged ruins & dungeons. This is going to make the exploration all kinds of fun & you can bet there's going to more then a few of the spawn of Zargon leading his cults in these various places.

Do the assassinations that were carried by the assassins of Hule line up with another secret society that has been manipulating events from afar?!Specularum from B6: "The Veiled Society" (1984) might be one of the powers behind the 'master' rise to power. A powerful but manipulable force just far enough away to act as a lever for the royals of this powerful city with strong religious abilities & cult aspersions of conquest?

Could the same strong assassins guild be behind the release of Zargon from his prison or some of the horrors of the the Serpent Peninsula  on the world of Hyperborea? The Serpent Peninsula and the Thanegioth Archipelago contain much of the area of interest after all.

Transplant the events of B6 The Veiled Society into the Hyperborean  City-State of Khromarium suddenly lines up with the events of AS&SH's Rats in The Walls. Now all of the events loop around so that the PC's have some very dire reasons to fear those assassins. The real archetects behind the 'master' was a cabal of the Hyperborean royalty. But that leaves what's going on deeper in the swamplands behind the events of  I1 "Dwellers of the Forbidden City".
But we'll have to go deeper into the swamp for that one! 

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

A Review of 'The Pay What You Want' Black Pudding #5 By James V. West

"Dripping and dolloping into view comes the latest issue of this old school RPG zine chock full of nasty goodies for your classic fantasy games!
In this issue you'll see ipzees and orbii, you'll learn aromatic charms, you'll find weapons of magic, many strange people will offer their services for your adventuring party, and you will absolutely encounter some cackling ice witches."

So I'm finally catching up with the 'pay what you want' James V West OSR  creation fanzine  Black Pudding. This issue caught me by surprised because there's a ton of OSR weirdness in this issue. We start with the random encounter tables in 'the marigold standing stones'. Then we get 'the spell books of the marigolds' which ties into the marigold witch & standing stones that's fresh in this issue plus new monsters in this issue. We next get into a fancy flashy stealth version of James V. West's ninja PC class. Then we get a band new quick & well thought out OSR adventure, 'The Rat Queen Dies Tonight.' This nasty little gem of an adventure.
This adventure takes things & events into consideration as a Basic Dungeons & Dragons adventure. There are some fantastic treasures, NPC's, & solid locations. 
Then we get a solid spell book article in the form of Malyfesto's  Grimoire of Nefarious Incanations. These are some wily little spells & some really nice ones in this one page article. This is followed by 'They Come But What Are They' an article of random tables to generate some very nice random encounters. 
Then we get a new race called The Orbii a PC race class  of ancient protectors & warriors to use with your OSR games. The we get Boola an NPC nature protector & all round nice OSR NPC to use in your old school games. The we've got 'Meat Shields of The Bleeding OX' a fine collection of hireling NPC's for your old school games. 
Then we've got a new micro setting for your old school games called 'Adventures In The North'.This is a Sword & Sorcery micro setting that you can drop anywhere in your old school campaign with a Northern feel about it. We've got ice witches, undead, & some solid additions in the form of a wide variety of monsters about. 
This includes some new weapons & artifacts thrown into the mix.  Finally we round out with a James V. West character sheet done in the old school OSR style. I'd give  Black Pudding #5 By James V. West a solid five out of five for its content. 

Pirate & Play The Secret Origin Of The Skull Faced Formorians - Amazing Adventures Game Session Report

"A band of blood thirsty villains has been raiding a variety of worlds & our heroes have stumbled across one of their auctions. The heroes have managed to sneak aboard one of the blood thirsty pirates ships. Will they free the slaves?! Or die in the attempt!?"

My player's PC's have run run afoul of 'Skulled Faced Formorian' pirates (in terms of Castles & Crusades these are Hill Giants with superior intelligence) who were slave trading on Ricca. Ricca is a technological trade zone & full on black market port where anything goes.
One of the PC's got trapped on board the pirates tanker sub & had to fight & sealth his way out after letting loose a chaos slime that the pirates had on board. The pirates had let the slime into the duck works trying to kill our hero.

 'Skulled Faced Formorian' pirate's sub tanker based on this issues cover of Popular Mechanics Magazine - December 1958

Skulled Faced Formorian' pirates are out & out worshipers of chaos. They would love nothing better then to see our heroes roasted on a spit at this point. Already our heroes had been busy sabotaging the sub at various points & one PC had snuck into a 'battle bridge' control room. Then they began messing with the submarine at various points such as causing as much mayhem as possible aboard ship. The pirates realized what was happening but over the course of a few games the PC's managed to make things very nasty for the pirates. Our hero fought his way off ship after managing to tag & tie the pirates system in knots 
The PC's towed the sub out of the black market harbor but then another sub showed up to pick the pirates as the PC's freed the slaves. But things are not at all as they seem.

'Skulled Faced Formorian' pirates are straight up Hill Giants out of Castles & Crusades Monsters & Treasure given a few 'extras' from the Amazing Adventures Book of Powers. 
There's someone very dangerous behind these tribes of Formorians & they're not showing their hand. These mad bastards have been raiding a variety of my campaign worlds for quite some time. This tribe of them has been taken on by some invisible hand going back ten or so years. They are mad & twisted Hill Giants with a lethal cunning & a taste for human flesh.

The Fomorians, as depicted by John Duncan (1912)

They have a taste for twisted technologies & occult technologies as well. They've been known to trade their own children for such items & some of their folks are comely. This allows these pirates to place family in a variety of locations & worlds allowing their operatives & agents to observe potential targets.
There are several monsters that will be coming out of The Amazing Adventures Manual of Monsters for next week! Stay tuned fellow adventurers!
A brand new sub has arrived! And our heroes are being observed by a lone figure hovering above the horizon! 

Monday, March 18, 2019

A Review Of 'The Pay What You Want' OSR Adventure 'The Tall Witch' By Davide Pignedoli From Daimon Games

A friend of mine tonight at a local gaming hole told me about an OSR sort of retroclone inspired by Lamentations of the Flame Princess & Swords & Wizardry called Crying Blades. Specifically he told me about an interesting 'pay what you want' adventure that I might want to checkout called The Tall Witch. 

The plot sounds simple enough;'A mysterious witch is about to be born and threatens the local community'. Sounds simple but I was surprised & kinda shocked that this little adventure came out in 2017 but passed by my OSR radar. The layout is very nicely done & it clocks in at a well filled out twenty seven pages. The actual plot is a bit more sophisticated; 
"According to the local legends, the Tall Witch is reborn every 333 years in this place; reborn of a single large egg, daughter of a sea-serpent and a devil. She’s born already adult and trained in the arts of witchcraft. The Tall Witch is a symbol of destruction and despair for the local population. When the Tall Witch is free to roam this county, farm animals turn savage, cultivated fields fill up with wild trees and bushes, the youngest disappear in the woods to live a dissolute life of unimaginable sins, and the oldest give in to their bestial lusts or desire for revenge... and chaos ensues. "
The artwork isn't bad at all & over all it feels like a straight up inquisitior or investigative occult adventure framed module. Even though 'The Tall Witch' adventure is meant for the Crying Blades rpg I can see this module working very well with many traditional OSR games or campaign settings. The Crying Blades system uses some interesting variations on the traditional Dungeons & Dragons style gaming system ideas;
"The game introduces a few innovations, such as a random talents system for the various classes that replaces abilities, three different equipment-systems (one based on a die size, one on numbered slots, and a traditional one with weight-per-item).

It uses regular attributes checks for actions, and Saving Throws linked to attributes, with some class-modifiers.
Combat is faster than usual: a single d20 roll determines (using the traditional AAC) both if the character hits the monster, and if the monster hits the character. This reduces the number of rounds where both would miss.
Sorcery and clerical blessings do not require to memorize spells but use a simple count to determine how many can be cast per day.
The leveling up system is simple and all classes need the same amount of XP per level. Sorcerers and Clerics, though, need to pay XP to improve their power-matrix and to acquire new spells, thus their leveling-up process is slower. Multiclassing is allowed, but severely limited."

The Tall Witch has already been born & its up to the PC's to close in & seal her fate; " The local priest has already identified the location of the egg: at the base of the cliff south of the village, there’s a large, white rounded rock. It looks like a rock, but that’s the egg. The villagers will provide pikes, axes, and any other similar tools. But the egg must be for sure guarded by other malignant entities.."
Over all this isn't a straight up slaughter fest but a thinking man's adventure. The Tall Witch feels like a Lamentations of the Flame Princess adventure & affair. But it could just as easily be run in a Dark Albion or Lion & Dragon Rpg campaign.

I know that this adventure isn't going to be to everyone's liking but the occult elements are very well done & there's enough meet on the bones of the Tall Witch.  I can see running this adventure as a part of Clark Ashton Smith's  Averoigne stories based in the back quarters of the mundane (for Smith) province in medieval France. Two of CAS's stories that reflect the dark underbelly of the Tall Witch for influence would be 
Mother of Toads (1934) & The Enchantress of Sylaire,  (1941). These stories mirror many of the themes of The Tall Witch.
The loose style & passion of Davide Pignedoli's writing & design of this adventure a snap to adapt into a relatively dangerous & horror filled evening or multiple session of OSR play. This isn't the traditional OSR adventure but one where the PC's are going to be deciding their own fate. This one might end with the characters killing themselves off by their own stupidity. There are some twists & turns in this adventure which could challenge even the most jaded of  old school palettes. I think that the Tall Witch adventure is worth your time & your OSR taste for a well thought out & dangerous adventure! 

The Tall Witch adventure
Is Available Right Over Here 

Thinking About The Arcanum Second Edition System Rule Book By Vernie Taylor & Stephan Michael Sechi

Back in the dawn of the old school era during the dark halcyon days of Nineteen Eighty Four in various Dragon magazine issues one of the most influential & yet least talked about book series was winding its way through hands of gamers. I'm speaking of The Arcanum  2nd edition  a part of the Atlantean Trilogy this was one of those third party Advanced Dungeons & Dragons products that Gary Gygx warned about!?! Umm no!  Actually it wasn't. The Arcanum  2nd edition book is the foundation for a well put together old school rpg system that has a both decent skill system, a level based PC progression, & an innovative magick system! Something that wouldn't come along again until RoleMaser. 

It took the material that Bard Games had in the Complete Alchemist put it into a new book along with other systems hinted at & touched upon within "The Complete Spellcaster" & "The Complete Adventurer". This made it into a completely different package. What's in this package? 

"Rules covering 8 character races, 32 "professions" (classes), a relatively easy combat system, a large magic and spell section, alchemical creations, and magic items. This edition contains many revisions and new material."

All of this came out right at the height of D&D popularity & the Satanic Panic, the red pentacle on  
The Arcanum  2nd edition  book was like giant target for every parent, priest, and preacher around when this book hit the shelves. But the basic systems of  The Arcanum  2nd edition were far easier to grasp then Rolemaster at the time & far more accessible. This book was the first 
part of the Atlantean Trilogy, released in 1984 (with a 2nd edition in 1985).

The Arcanum  2nd edition hit that sweet spot between mythological, legendary, & semi mythical rpging without shying too far away from AD&D first edition. There were the usual races of Elves, Dwarves, Hobbit analogs to be sure but there were other far more interesting PC choices such as beast men, demon blooded races, etc. 
The system  mechanics are simple: a basic d20 roll for most results, armor subtracts from damage, etc.  Wizards & magic users were encouraged to stay out of harms way. They are not walking artillery pieces but don't have to memorize spells ala the Vancian system of AD&D. Magic user classes don't do will in one on one confrontations instead they really should have fighter types as associates. This plants the occult muscle squarely in the center of the Ray Harryhausen style of school of magick ala 'The Seventh Voyage of Synbad'. Transformations such as those below were available to Wizards & other magic using classes back in '85. 

There have been a number of incidents when I've run across gamers who resented having a skill based system within a book like the The Arcanum  2nd edition because it went against the grain of AD&D 1st edtion's 'rulings not rules' tradition. As for my players over the years the skill system was simple, innovative, and well within the bounds of our style of D&D. 

The material here is packaged for both the dungeon master & his players with spells keyed into the PC classes, flavored filled occult symbols, minor magicks, etc. all made within the confines of the classic pseudo pop culture mythological world of Atlantis. There are layers & layers of flavor filled text that pump the book into a class by itself. 



The Arcanum  2nd edition is more of a curiosity piece today then a living & breathing rpg system. Sure there are ton of fans who fondly remember both this book & system but many OSR retroclone systems & products  have overtaken it. But back in '84 it was state of the art! So are there still things worth looking into?! On the whole if you can find a book for less then a hundred dollars & a group willing to invest the time in a system that exists as its own self contained universe then I believe so. Vernie Taylor &  Stephan Michael Sechi  the authors of the The Arcanum  2nd edition book would go on to greater success with Talislanta the spirtual sucessor to Atlantis trilogy.
All in all 
The Arcanum  2nd edition remains a fine resource for a dungeon master looking for something different then the usual 1st edition material Advanced Dungeons & Dragons material.

If your looking for a far more in depth review I did one back in 2015. This review has all kinds of details about the  ins & outs of the Arcanum system.

For now keep em rolling!

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Delving Even Deeper Into Campaign possibilities of X5 Temple of Death by David "Zeb" Cook & Clark Ashton Smith's Zothique

So yesterday I wrote a bit about one of my favorite Basic D&D modules "X5 Temple of Death" By David 'Zeb' Cook. Already I'm taking some heat about it from the usual OSR scholars because I combined it with Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea.  Now yesterday I combined the module with the world of Clark Ashton Smith's Zothique. But there are a wide variety of reasons for this one of which being the fact that Hyperborea in my games is very much linked with the Dreamlands & the far future fate of Earth.

There is a subrealm of the Dreamlands known as the Nightmare dimension closely associated with Mystara. James Mishler has an article about the plane right here. 
Time has very little meaning in certain locations of the transitive planes for they are closely allied with the psychic powers & abilities of the mind. Here the connections between Mystera, Zothique, & Hyperborea become far more obvious. This all ties into the dark occult history of the  Cynidicea & its ties with The Dungeon Master's Guide to Cynidicea article on the Vaults of Pandius. This helps to explain the presence of Zargon on the surface of Hyperborea & its cults deep connections to the Diamond Desert Underborea area.

Zargon's cults are insidious, dark, & very dangerous. They've crossed planes & their wizards should not be under estimated. Zargon is one of the entities that's survived the events of Ragnarok on my version of Hyperborea. The old gods are dead & there a few survivors which leaves room for the entrance of Lovecraftian abominations like Zargon & his ilk.

Thor and the Midgard Serpent (by Emil Doepler, 1905)

Zargon is building his base of power on Hyperborea by the time of the events of X5. The PC's are going to have reached a solid level in the campaign path that I've laid out. There are a wide variety of factions vying to take out the political infrastructure of the fragile governments of Hyperborea. The plane of Nightmares has all of the qualities of chaos that would be perfectly in tune to cause chaos & strife where & when as needed.

Hule is the perfect  an oppressive theocracy of doom to drag down the entire works of Hyperborea leaving the entire world open for take over by the forces of Zargon & its cults. I've never run the Cynidiceans as a joke at all but instead like a horror movie cult akin to something we'd see in a Call of Cthulhu adventure. They've had their sanity shattered as a people & the remains are holding on to maybe the last bits of sanity. The Cynidiceans looked long & hard into the "Dimensional Vortex," which is defined as "the void between all dimensions."

Something deep & sinister answered them back & its been feeding on them ever since. Zargon is only the latest in a long line of horrors that has crossed into the realm of Hyperborea. One or more of the PC's can gain lycanthropy over the course of X5. I strongly suggest that the party allow it to give the players a fighting chance.

The key to  "X5 Temple of Death" By David 'Zeb' Cook. is realizing that there is far more bubbling below the surface. I had details of the Forgotten Fane of the Coiled Goddess show up in X5 such as the legend of the treasure called the Feathered Crown of Nanasa. This led to all kinds of interesting twists & turns as the players wanted to abandoned the quest of X5 to find this artifact.

This leads deeply into the fact that serpent men are behind some of the major threats of the Forgotten Fane. But their connection to both the Dreamlands & the legacy of X5 is thousands of years to late. There are much more dangerous occult & ritual connections between these modules. We'll get into those next time. 

The OSR Campaign Cycle of X5 Temple of Death by David "Zeb" Cook & Clark Ashton Smith's Zothique

"Sent on a desperate mission into an unknown land, you must seek out one called "the Master" and his Temple of Death. There is little time to waste, as you must act before the Master's armies destroy your homelands. But to complete your task, you must battle fearsome guardians, travel through a hostile kingdom, and discover the secret of the Master. Can you survive his defenses and win? "

Well let's get right into it. If the characters have survived the events of 

The OSR Campaign Cycle of X4: "Master of the Desert Nomads" (1983), by David "Zeb" Cook & Clark Ashton Smith's Zothique.

Then things are going to really start getting hairy for them & the capital of Hyperborea is much more danger then it knows. Firs the official background for this module; "X5 Temple of Death is a Dungeons & Dragons adventure module designed by David Cook for use with the D&D Expert Set. It was written by David Cook and published by TSR, Inc. in 1983. The module is intended for player characters of levels 6-10."

The real issue here is the PC level which should be within range of the Temple of Death encounters & this module is straight up Robert Howard & Clark Ashton Smith action. The danger to the Hyperborea capital comes from the fact that the 'master's' assassins have been infiltrating the Hyperborean capital & making their way for committing political  assassinations there. This could in fact destabilize the entire Hyperborean political structure. This adventure  sub plot could become campaign side quest with assassins fighting at shadow war across the AS&SH campaign setting.

The PC's are going to be deep into the Great Pass where  the adventurers must cross the "sanctified land" of Hule. Hule is going to be a problem because it highlights the dangerous religious aspects of this module. The encounters that the PC's face are going to need to be shown restrain & face them down systematically. Hule is perfectly suited as Sword & Sorcery cult straight outta Conan & PC's are going to need to tread very carefully here.

 The occult desert city of Xambaala might have some back up information on Hule's deadly little secrets but the DM is going to have to do an excellent job of sprinkling in some tight links here. Possibly back dovetailing the adventure encounters into  Rats in the Walls and Other Perils if they've already run this adventure.

Why? Well if they've run this adventure then the player's PC's are going to know about some of the political upheaval going on in the Hyperborean capital. The players continue their quest to stop a war in Hyperborea  - making "Temple" one of the most pivotal  adventures that they find themselves in. That being said its here that the PC's are going to up to their necks in the Hyperborean wilderness. DM's are going to have to adapt some of the wilderness encounters of X5 for AS&SH. There are some really deadly bits here.

Two key stories here for X5 in my humble opinion from Clark Ashton Smith's Zothique cycle  are Garden of Adompha, The (1938) & In the Book of Vergama (1934). Both of which really capture the alieness that X5 brings to the table. X5 Temple of Death is a huge & expansive module in the sense that it can & will send a party off into a million directions unless the DM reigns in the adventure elements.  The Great Pass in the Black Mountains has set, numbered locations as a dungeon adventure rather than wilderness. The chapter on Hule and the Dark Wood are very well thought out. The Great Pass for example can get outta hand unless the DM has gone over it with a fine tooth comb.

All of these events in X5 Temple of Death can be used to highlight some of the adventure set up that we used in B4 The Lost City. The cults of Zargon take a back seat as the influence of the Master's cult murders & gains dominance in the lands of Hyperborea. But don't worry this is all a part of Zargon's plans & schemes.

Because Hyperborea is so isolated all of these events are going to take a long time to unfold. On Zothique these events are simply going to be another chain if the unfolding of politics & sorcery but things are going to get very weird & more deadly tomorrow! 

Saturday, March 16, 2019

The OSR Campaign Cycle of X4: "Master of the Desert Nomads" (1983), by David "Zeb" Cook & Clark Ashton Smith's Zothique

"To arms! To arms! The battle lines are drawn as desert men and inhuman tribes wait poised to strike on the fertile and rich lands of the east. The call has gone out through the civilized lands. The armies have been raised to match the invading foes from the west. Nobles and peasants have joined swords to greet the foes. 

But Fate or Chance has decreed another role for a small few. No glorious banners will wave on their march. No squadrons of knights will charge at their word. Instead, they will fight the war through stealth, secrecy, and cunning. The risks they will take are great, but the fates of both armies lie with them. 

It begins one night for your party far from the fighting. Suddenly you are entrusted with the most dangerous missions of the war. Can you cross the Sind Desert, occupied now by enemy armies, to find the Great Pass? Can you find the one known only as The Master? What will you do if your do find him? "

I just got home at about five A.M. or so, because of the nature of my job I don't have a choice but to deal with what comes down the pike as far as circumstances. So I've been thinking of X4: "Master of the Desert Nomads" & Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea 2nd edition again. Just in case you don't know the history of X4 here's the basics in a nutshell;" X4: "Master of the Desert Nomads" (1983), by David "Zeb" Cook, is the fourth adventure in the Expert series for Basic D&D and the first adventure in the Desert Nomads duology. It was published in 1983. X4 is  the first module of a two-part adventure that can be concluded in the exciting "Temple of Death" or played entirely on its own. X4 is for character levels 6-9."

Now I've written about X4 before but when it comes to AS&SH & X4 Master of The Desert Nomads there are few connections & ideas that I've recently had. Lets start with the fact that X4 is easily one of David "Zeb" Cook's most Swords & Sorcery adventures of the X  series. The whole set up is straight out of something that Robert Howard or Edgar Rice Burroughs may have written but in my opinion its actually Clark Ashton Smith that's the real Appendix N influence here. Well let's start with the fact that the Diamond Desert of Hyperborea is a region of highly unstable magical energies & they might connect to the far future world of Zothique. Now let's say that the characters are 1st level PC's & that they need to investigate some weird goings on out in the deserts for the crown heads of  the dismal City-State of Khromarium. Now let's assume they need to get up to ninth level to really be one of the movers & shakers out in the desert.
Now this is where B4"The Lost City" (1982) By Tom Moldvay comes in very handy. If we design parts of the 'lost city' to intersect with X4 where the Master's men have uncovered a Hyperborean relic or wonder weapon then things start getting very interesting. 

The imprisoned  the Lovecraftian demon lord Zargon has been nursing his cults & feeding the 'Master'  from B4 bits & pieces of information. The next step is the fact that Zargon knows a bit about   the skeletal remains of Ymir’s Serpent, a legendary Viking longship & the crew of Sigtrygg Forkbeard who led his company into the pages of history in Ghost Ship of the Desert Dunes. Zargon knows a lot & its been sprinkling seeds of strife into the mix but this takes the PC's deeper into the desert & up the latter of advancement from 1st possibly through third or forth level. 

That doesn't matter because the cult of the master is already onto the ancient occult city, Xambaala, clinging to the edge of the Zakath Desert. Dangerous forces might take the PC's out & its in Xambaala that the PC's learn more of the 'Master's' plans & of his lust for the secrets of a dangerous ruins &  deeper dungeons. The Anthropophagi of Xambaala  By Corey R. Walden (author) has some great PC set ups for a campaign run in AS&SH.

Corey Walden does an excellent job of really set up the occult desert city of Xambaala as a viable adventure location. But its really a solid place to set up an adventurer's base of operations in such a dangerous location. All of this of course depends up the PC's survival. We are not talking light weight adventure here.

The 'master' of course wants the lost secrets of The Beasts of Kraggoth Manor by Tim Callahan (author). Because by this time Zargon's cult forces may have realized the extent of the 'Master's' ambitions. See here's the thing about  The Beasts of Kraggoth Manor & The Anthropophagi of Xambaala  are ideally suited to expand into a Hyperborea campaign with classic Dungeons & Dragons modules at their core. 

Part of this goes back into B4 The Lost City & exploiting the cult factions of the module to my advantage.  Part of this involves using the various peoples and factions from within the module itself. Thanks to the Vaults of Pandius website most of the hard work was done for me.

Let's face facts that AS&SH feels like Zothique & its fine because the rpg encompasses many of the same themes, ideas extra as Clark Ashton Smith's creation. In fact bits & pieces of B4 could be used with Empire of the Necromancers to show the fall out of a competing faction of NPC's working for the 'Master'. Zothique is a mini plane in my games from the far future of an alternative Earth or the current Earth accessible through Earth's Dreamlands. The world of Hyperborea sometimes silently merges with this plane in my games. Give the sheer breath of Clark Ashton Smith's Zothique this is quite understandable; 

How does all of this fit together with the final leg of X4: "Master of the Desert Nomads" (1983), by David "Zeb" Cook second module? Well you'll have to tune in tomorrow.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Retro Review WG4 The Forgotten Temple of Tharizdun For AD&D 1st Edition & Your Old School Campaigns

 WG4 The Forgotten Temple of Tharizdun is one of my all time favorite modules hands down, there is so much occult bleakness and darkness set within the bounds of Greyhawk. Perhaps the over all sense of menace and dread hanging over the temple itself.  WG4 The Forgotten Temple of Tharizdun is flat out creepy and dangerous even more so then the Tomb of Horrors. I dug out my copy of  WG4 as soon as I had picked up Astonishing Swordsmen and Sorcerers of Hyperborea. This adventure is basically a prequel to the legendary S4, Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth. This adventure is a grinder in some respects and does a quite nice job of featuring monsters from the Fiend Folio. It was designed for characters levels five to ten and there are clear reasons why this logic was used.

Once again according to D&D classics site; "Though "Tharizdun" was labeled as WG4, there were no previous "WG" adventures (and never would be). In the Glossography for the World of Greyhawk boxed set (1983), TSR indicated that T1: "The Village of Hommlet" (1979) was meant to be WG1 and that S4: "The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth" was meant to be WG3. Meanwhile, in Dragon #71 (March 1983), Gygax revealed that the adventure formerly known as T2: "The Temple of Elemental Evil" was to be WG2 - but he now said it was to be published in two parts.
As it happens, Temple of Elemental Evil would be delayed a few years more and eventually published as the T1-4 supermodule (1985).
In the forward to Dungeons of Dread (2013), Lawrence Schick further underlined the continuity between the modules intended to be WG1-3, writing, "there's evidence that Gary considered Tsojcanth part of a longer Greyhawk campaign, placing the adventure between T1-T4: The Temple of Elemental Evil and WG4: 'The Forgotten Temple oF Tharizdun'." When seen in that light, the four modules do form a nice adventuring continuity: T1 is "introductory to novice level"; T1-4 carries that up as high as level 8 (and possiblly higher); S4 runs levels 6-8; and WG4 goes from levels 8-10.
In his "Greyhawk Grognard" blog, Joseph Bloch suggests that Iuz might have been the lynchpin holding the arc together, since he's involved with the Temple of Elemental Evil and is also the son of Iggwilv from "Caverns."

The over all look and feel of WG4 is completely Weird Tales. From the cover art and interiors all the way to the essence of the adventure. There's a uniformity of Lovecraftian horror about The Forgotten Temple. According to D&D Classics there are several key reasons for this;"Temple of Tharizdun" was reportedly produced very quickly by Gygax himself, rather than the company's design department. Much of the work was done by Gygax's new Greyhawk cadre. Thus Eric Shook drew the maps, while Shook's mother, Karen Nelson, drew the evocative artwork. Gygax later said that he choose Nelson's artwork to highlight the "melodrama and pathos" of the adventure. An adventure being done by someone other than the design department was very unusual by 1982, as was having a single artist illustrate an adventure - that is, rather than the usual teamwork illustration done by TSR's art department" 

Gary Gygax borrowed the god Tharizdun from Kuntz's Kalibruhn campaign and you can get more of the back history on that here This is one of the modules that I've DMed and played since the Seventies and it was a gift from a family friend whose now long gone. Because of this module's connections with the Southern Yatil Mountains its been a fairly easy fit to customize the entire module to other campaign settings one of the reasons for this was;" It is a combined wilderness and dungeon adventure set in the Southern Yatil Mountains, focused on a temple dedicated to the evil and insane Greyhawk god Tharizdun" Because of this  WG4 The Forgotten Temple of Tharizdun can easily be used within the confines of AS&SH with a bit of work, this module could be used as a part of the centerpieces of the Spiral Mountains. Gods exist in multiple planar locations enabling a DM to port them into a wide variety of old school campaign setting set pieces. In fact I've connected Ksarul, Ancient Lord of Secrets, Doomed Prince of the Blue Room, Master of Magic and Grammarie from Empire Of The Petal Throne to Tharizdun

The battles with the humanoids and the epic uptick in the over all Lovecraftian feel of this adventure piece enables it to be used with other a gaming campaigns including Stormbringer style games with the Deities and Demigods style rules. I've also used this module with both Lamentations of the Flame Princess and as design fodder for the Dark Albion system. It is one of Gygax's most  demonic, sinister, and dangerous Gothic adventure, followed closely only by T1-4.

Over all this is still one of my favorite adventures to customize and play around with because its such a corner stone of a sword and sorcery campaign. There are so many ways that it can be used and go with WG4 The Forgotten Temple of Tharizdun