Saturday, September 22, 2018

OSR Film Review & Commentary On The 2018 Film 'Mandy' For Your Old School Campaigns

There are times in my life where film crosses a bit of a line with me, the line into memory, feelings, etc.. Mandy seems like a simple revenge picture suffused with elements of 2018 phantasmagorical CGI & beautiful technological film techniques. And it is. Check out the trailer.

But last night I sat down to watch this film.I rewatched it a second time to make sure that the brutal head trauma that my brain went through was there. This film is a nihilistic journey of revenge for the main character the life Red Miller (Nicolas Cage) shares with his girlfriend, Mandy Bloom (Andrea Riseborough). All is shattered when a cult of hippy psychos takes Mandy Bloom & Red goes on to forge his +3 battle axe of doom. Then goes on a full blown trail of the dark path of meifumadō ("The Road to Hell").Director Panos Cosmatos takes the viewer on a crimson laced  occult  journey of nihilistic revenge & the theater of the absurd in the face of life.But this is the tragic face of the senseless brutality of murder & plain old revenge with many grind house twists & turns.
If Dungeon Crawl Classics & Lamentations of the Flame Princess had a modern baby this would be it. Mandy isn't a film its a DCC funnel come to life in psychotic blistering crimson laced occult B movie goodness with an art house candy coating.

Change the protagonist of Mandy to a PC & this might as well be the latest Lamentations of the Flame Princess adventure release. This film isn't trying to save the world or change it, its very similar to a Kihachi Okamoto samurai film. The characters are often outsiders to their environments & Red is the same doom laden path of revenge. "Kihachi Okamoto characters are often estranged from their environments, and their violence is a flawed reaction to this" In this regard Nichols Cage is very much in the same mold as Robert Howard's original Conan. A barbarian whose world has been eclipsed by the onslaught of the coming era. The use of the nihilistic & absurd fiddly bits of the philosophy of the film are done with flourish & on purpose with a marked inversion of the journey of the hero. This is not the Joseph Campbell's Journey of the Hero but the dark linked path of its opposite number. But does Mandy have anything to do with Dungeons & Dragons as a whole besides being one of 2018 most 'metal' films? The themes of nihilism, gore, & 'the theater of the absurd' seem to have little to do with D&D but the fate of Red Miller's revenge does

This same twist of fate of the here has often befell many a B/X campaign back when the film was set in Eighty Three. The PC's on the same path of revenge often having 'a death by farmer' end to such an adventure path.
Are there lessons in Mandy for the dungeon master? Yes I know so. The homages & pacing of the film point to a very careful director & behind the scenes crew whose influence was suffused with elements of Heavy Metal bands, dark fantasy novels, elements of HP Lovecraft's circle of writers & all pop culture elements. If the film 'Mandy''s plot  was taken out of the modern & thrown into the dark fantasy world of Dungeons & Dragons then it would make the prime motivator & driver for getting a party of adventurers together. They might be driven down the dark path of meifumadō ("The Road to Hell") which makes 'Mandy' have many similar elements to the Lone Wolf and Cub Kozure Ōkami, "Wolf taking along his child"  by writer Kazuo Koike and artist Goseki Kojima manga first published in 1970.

Mandy is a harsh & brutal film but its honest & very bloody. The nihilism of the film reminds me of Clive Barker's Hellraiser film & the novel 'The Hell Bound Heart' which was done on purpose. I'm really trying to vomit forth all of the impressions of the film that have been running through me since I watched it last night. This isn't a film for the faint of heart or the easily offended. This isn't one that you take grandma too unless your grandmother happens to be into these films. I've known a few in my time who would be. As for a rating I think that this film isn't going to go into a box quietly.  The ratings for this one go from one star to four depending upon your style.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Madness & The Moon New OSR Relic - The Atlas Orbis Factus est ignis Spear For Your Old School Campaigns

“Her antiquity in preceding and surviving succeeding tellurian generations: her nocturnal predominance: her satellitic dependence: her luminary reflection: her constancy under all her phases, rising and setting by her appointed times, waxing and waning: the forced invariability of her aspect: her indeterminate response to inaffirmative interrogation: her potency over effluent and refluent waters: her power to enamour, to mortify, to invest with beauty, to render insane, to incite to and aid delinquency: the tranquil inscrutability of her visage: the terribility of her isolated dominant resplendent propinquity: her omens of tempest and of calm: the stimulation of her light, her motion and her presence: the admonition of her craters, her arid seas, her silence: her splendour, when visible: her attraction, when invisible.”
James Joyce, Ulysses

Forged at the heart of the sun by Zeus himself & cooled in on a dead star on the other side of the universe, the 
Atlas Orbis Factus est ignis was a seduction gift to the Roman goddes Luna.But the relic spear has became so much more. The  Atlas Orbis Factus est ignis is actually an occult  symbol of the moon's power between the world of the waking & the dream realms. It is also one of the secret symbols of the Roman Imperial cult of the goddess. The +3 spear has been lost to history but its cult & secret society live on across the planes & even into the modern era.

Luna's temples & their sacred mysteries &  secret knowledge  has been lost to history;
"Varro lists Luna among twelve deities who are vital to agriculture,[7] as does Vergil in a different list of twelve, in which he refers to Luna and Sol as clarissima mundi lumina, the world's clearest sources of light.[8] Varro also lists Luna among twenty principal gods of Rome (di selecti).[9] In this list, Luna is distinguished from both Diana and Juno, who also appear on it.
The Romans dated the cultivation of Luna as a goddess at Rome to the semi-legendary days of the kings. Titus Tatius was supposed to have imported the cult of Luna to Rome from the Sabines,[10] but Servius Tullius was credited with the creation of her temple on the Aventine Hill, just below a temple of Diana.[11] The anniversary of the temple founding (dies natalis) was celebrated annually on March 31.[12] It first appears in Roman literature in the story of how in 182 BC a windstorm of exceptional power blew off its doors, which crashed into the Temple of Ceres below it on the slope.[13] In 84 BC, it was struck by lightning, the same day the popularist leader Cinna was murdered by his troops.[14] The Aventine temple may have been destroyed by the Great Fire of Rome during the reign of Nero"
Her influence  was the divine power of the kings & royals from across world of the antiquities. The Atlas Orbis Factus est ignis spear allowed Luna's influence to be concentrated into her worshipers. Many mythological attributes were attributed to it including being able to slay any Lycanthropic creature it stabbed. But the spear must be purified in a stream sacred to Luna after any such act. Once per week the spear could also charm a Lycanthropic creature but only the most foolish would attempt such a feat.
It is said that the Atlas Orbis Factus est ignis  could three times per day in the hands of a cleric warrior of the goddess act as symbol of madness or insanity. The symbol dances madly in the air as the light of the moon illuminates it from within.

Once per week 
the Atlas Orbis Factus est ignis could cure insanity & heal serious wounds as per the spell in a temple of Luna. But its true power was tied to the phases of the moon itself & varied with the goddess's occult influences & power.  The owner of can call upon the following minor abilities randomly depending if goddess feels like lending her power to
the Atlas Orbis Factus est ignis. The owner of the Atlas Orbis Factus est ignis must roll on the table below to determine Luna's favor for the night.
Random Occult Powers Of The 
Atlas Orbis Factus est ignis
  1. New Moon - The spear allows its owner to divine the path of any person whose true name the owner knows. 
  2. Waxing Crescent - The spear will burn with a cold & unforgiving light like the wraith of its goddess which acts a continual light spell but with the ability to divine any liars & cheats within a 20 foot radius. Minor undead will flee from this light as it shows them the  unnatural & hideous states of their own souls. Even mindless undead recall their own lives only for a tortured moment. 
  3. First Quarter - the spear points to any true path put before it. The spear will always point to the way to the owner's home.Even powerful illusions & geas can not break this ability. 
  4. Waxing Gibbous- The spear can cut a doorway into the realms of dreams & back to the waking world. 
  5. Full Moon - The owner can frenzy himself into a beserk state under the spear's influence gaining a +1 to all melee & ranged attacks. 
  6.   Waning gibbous- The owner can communicate with any night creatures telepathically within a 20 foot radius & see through their eyes.
  7.  Third quarter- The owner gains true sight for a night & is immune to illusions. 
  8. Waning crescent - The owner gains the temporary form of a wolf for the night but must cast it off at sun rise or risk gaining lycanthropy of the were wolf.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image from Gallery:

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

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Rats in The Walls - Tegel Manor Session #12 report

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

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

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

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

Monday, September 17, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Review & Commentary On B11 King's Festival (Basic D&D ) By Carl Sargent For Your Old School Campaigns

"Someone has "borrowed" a cleric, and without him, the fabled King's Festival cannot go on. Unfortunately, it looks like the orcs have him, and your characters must rescue him."

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

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

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