Saturday, March 23, 2019

Steam & Scandal 1971 - High Tech Mysticism & High Caliber Adventure Campaign Encounter

"Tracis Clay lit his "Vander Meer' cigarette & looked out on the face of Manhattan. The city hadn't changed much since he was last here in Nineteen Sixty Nine. But the skyline seemed so different now ever since the all out war between the Black Terror & the Black Bat had wrecked several key city blocks.But it was three years ago when Tracis had left the city after his uncle had been murdered by the Network guilds & the assassins syndicates. There were the usual investigation by his uncle's crowd but the Spider had come closest to nailing the murderers. But the Occult Brotherhood had warned Tracis off of the case. Leaning against his '71  Stanley Steamer Cruiser with its cherry red paint job he could almost picture the bastard's face. But now the Brotherhood had called him back because of weird disappearances down on 42nd street. These disappearances were connected to the cloying fields of darkness that appeared near the victims attacks . It was time to act, there was an aura around the city today." 

New York sky line photo by qwesy qwesy

The witch queen of the Drow is on the move! The Drow Empire is on the move again their scouts have come into a very world weary Pulp New York city. Here the internal combustion engine never really got off the ground. Steam is king, super powers are real, & magic is still king. The year is Nineteen Seventy One & President Nixon is trying deal with the India and Pakistan conflict. He's already sent in 'capes' & sorcerers into the mix. New York is ruled by the Assassins Syndicates & the Network Guilds. But there have been hundreds of disappearances of American citizens over the past couple of weeks. Its too many the heroes have already begun to notice.

NASA’s Apollo solar system program is much more advanced as the  Programs have made colonies on the Moon, Mars, & the interior solar system a reality. But mankind is not prepared for the dire consequences of what they've found out there. The the giant Columbiad space gun back in 1873 & the expeditions of 1901 & 1907 lead to the discovery of sophisticated extraterrestrial civilisation of insect-like creatures they call "Selenites". This opened up the solar system for exploration & exploitation by adventurers. Adventurers & super heroes  have been around since the 1300's. They've been driving the innovation & technological push of this world. Steam power has been one of mankind's driving forces & WWI pushed the power beyond known limits. The Martian invasion of 1905 ended the conflict of WWI & pushed man to almost near extinction.

But that was centuries ago & in six short years America is planning the Viking Program to liberate the Red Martians! That is if internally the world can hold together as super powered vigilantes & 'Capes' deal with all manner of vile villains in the back alleys of cities like Chicago, Los Angles, Tokyo, & New York. While World War I officially ended during the 'Martian Invasion' its shadow counterpart continues across the world in every back alley & dungeon imaginable.
Red China has its agents combing throughout the world for its ancient artifacts & relics of power while its check mated in the pacific by Ricca & other pirate nations. The lich kings having been funded by the British & Americans back in the 1860s.
Meanwhile Russia has joint treaties with both America & Alaska where her agents & super have checkmated an almost successful giant invasion backed by the Drow from 
the  Kerouac Wilderness. Night & Giant Trolls in the employ of the Drow Queen made war on several small towns in Russia & Alaska. They were beat back by a joint effort from agents & heroes.

But is it only a matter of time before the Drow force the cross over into this Prime across the dimensional straits of the Burroughs/Bakshi realms? Already the Sorcerer Deluxes & their secret society kings & queens from around the globe  gather in New York city to discuss the matter!
The Black Terror family is aware of what's happening & they've been meeting at their secret headquarters in New York City.

But President Nixon is afraid of another battle with the Black Bat & the Black Terror which wrecked half of New York! But the Black Bat has been silent for two years now which is very worrying to the Police Force of The United States Intelligence Branch ( a division of the United States Army formed after the Civil War to combat domestic threats).

This whole mini campaign has been inspired by G1,G2,G3, Gary Gygax's Against The Giants  series of modules combined with Amazing Adventures! Rpg Companion & Victorious Rpg By Mike Stewart. 

A lot of these adventure campaign concepts are going to be introduced tonight. My next purchase from Troll Lord Games is a physical copy of Victorious Rpg By Mike Stewart.  coming up! 

Friday, March 22, 2019

OSR Campaign - I1 Dwellers In The Forbidden City By David 'Zeb' Cook & Clark Ashton Smith's Zothique

"Somewhere in the heart of the steaming jungle lies the answer to the whispered tales - rumors of a magnificent city and foul, horrid rituals! Here a brave party might find riches and wonders - or death! Is your party brave enough to face the terrors of the unknown and find the Forbidden City!?"
 David "Zeb" Cook's I1: "Dwellers of the Forbidden City" (1981) was the first adventure in TSR's new "intermediate" series of adventures. It was unleashed on the world in 1981 & the world of Sword & Sorcery Dungeons & Dragons was never the same!
"Somewhere in the heart of the steaming jungle lies the answer to the whispered tales - rumors of a magnificent city and foul, horrid rituals! Here a brave party might find riches and wonders - or death! Is your party brave enough to face the terrors of the unknown and find - the Forbidden City! Information is presented here to reconstruct this exciting tournament and even more has been given to expand play. Here characters may adventure several times in a unique and interesting mini-campaign. Included in this module are background and tournament notes, referee's keys, new monsters, pre- generated characters, and eight different maps."
So begins the infamous I1 Dwellers of the Forbidden City: An Adventure for Character Levels 4-7 (Advanced Dungeons & Dragons) by David Cook published in 1981. 

Now I've talked about I1 "Dwellers of the Forbidden City" but what I haven't spoken of is how this using a mash up article  X6/I1 Quagmire/Dwellers of the Forbidden City mash-up by Demos Sachlas article over on the Vaults of Pandius. But this article  ties directly into mating up Clark Ashton Smith's Zothique with this for an over arching campaign. Because this is one of the prime modules for Dungeons & Dragons it has one of the best flavors for capturing the weird far future world of Zothique. The planes & lowlands have been flooded by the rising waters of the cycles of the sea. Zothique is perfectly suited for the I1 Quagmire/Dwellers mash up because of its description by CAS himself in a letter to another Lovecraft circle writer; 

"Clark Ashton Smith himself described the Zothique cycle in a letter to L. Sprague de Camp, dated November 3, 1953:
Zothique, vaguely suggested by Theosophic theories about past and future continents, is the last inhabited continent of earth. The continents of our present cycle have sunken, perhaps several times. Some have remained submerged; others have re-risen, partially, and re-arranged themselves. Zothique, as I conceive it, comprises Asia Minor, Arabia, Persia, India, parts of northern and eastern Africa, and much of the Indonesian archipelago. A new Australia exists somewhere to the south. To the west, there are only a few known islands, such as Naat, in which the black cannibals survive. To the north, are immense unexplored deserts; to the east, an immense unvoyaged sea. The peoples are mainly of Aryan or Semitic descent; but there is a negro kingdom (Ilcar) in the north-west; and scattered blacks are found throughout the other countries, mainly in palace-harems. In the southern islands survive vestiges of Indonesian or Malayan races. The science and machinery of our present civilization have long been forgotten, together with our present religions. But many gods are worshipped; and sorcery and demonism prevail again as in ancient days. Oars and sails alone are used by mariners. There are no fire-arms—only the bows, arrows, swords, javelins, etc. of antiquity. The chief language spoken (of which I have provided examples in an unpublished drama) is based on Indo-European roots and is highly inflected, like Sanskrit, Greek and Latin."

I1 "Dwellers of the Forbidden City" is one of those modules that drips with pulpy goodness & lacks the stodginess of late Eighties AD&D. "The module was written by game designer David "Zeb" Cook, who partly ascribes his hiring by TSR to his work on this module. In the adventure, the characters are hired to find an object taken to a lost oriental-style city, which has been taken over by a cult of snake-worshipers, the yuan-ti, and their servants, the mongrelmen and tasloi." 

Everything within I1 is geared for a South East Asian style adventure with its own unique Lovecraftian style twist. Having visited Thailand I can honestly say that the Yuan-ti can easily traded in for the Serpent of Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea. Mr.Cook pulls a great deal of his monsters from the Fiend Folio making adapting this adventure one of the more easy tricks to pull off and easily adapted for AS&SH.

"I put the Hidden Shrine of Taomochan into the city" this makes perfect sense and there's some really great resources in the Expanding I1 The Dwellers In The Forbidden City Thread on Dragon's foot's forums. 
Another great set of suggestions is by Ulan Dhor:
"Imade some changes to the module detailed here:


My campaign journal for our run through the module is detailed here:


Have fun with it, I found it to be one of my favorite runs through a published module, lots of open ended potential.


Ulan Dhor"

Over the years I've kept thinking about the arrangement of the Forbidden City & its jungle environs as well as the areas around it. There's a certain Heart of Darkness feel to the whole thing or more to the point Robert Howard's Conan story, "The Pool of The Black One" which first appeared in Weird Tales October 1933. The oppressive atmosphere, the jungle motif, & the tone of the story all echo I1 even though Red Nails with its factions and lost city out of time might fit better. 'The Pool of the Black One' has that same sense of the lost in it that one finds in Dwellers of the Forbidden City. In fact the entire plot of the Pool of the Black One could be lifted & I1 could be mated with The Island of Dread to create a completely different take on old school adventure.

The roles of the various factions in I1 could be expanded as the adventure locations might bare out what exactly happened to the original inhabitants of the city. There are many weird Lovecraftian touches in I1 that could lead to even more adventure hooks and possibilities amid the ruins. One of my favorite monsters from the Fiend Folio is the Yellow Musk Creeper & Zombie. The Clark Ashton Smith story The Seed from the Sepulchre has some awesome suggestions about using such a Lovecraftian or is it Smithian monster.

Because of its very nature this monster has the potential to really abuse a party of adventurers ala Alien Covenant in ways they're not expecting. Not only does this make the monster memorable but very unique because it can be placed in a wide variety of points in the sandbox nature of ' Dwellers of the Forbidden City' In a similar vein is CAS 's The Demon of the Flower which can unleash all kinds of Hell upon a party and might be grown by the Yu erm serpent men.

There is the potential for a lot of movers & shakers from behind the scenes of the adventure as well including the 
aboleth who are some the craftiest bastards in AD&D first edition.The importance of these creatures should never be understated. These monsters can truly be some of the most dangerous NPC's a party can face. They're often used with cults and lots of minions in my games.

Used carefully & I1 Dwellers in The Forbidden City is still one of the best old school adventure campaign resources. It has lots old school adventure resource goodness to offer a DM for creating truly memorable campaigns.

+Dyson Logos  generously pointed out that he's done a number of maps for various locations throughout I1 Dwellers In The Forbidden City. "I've done some maps to detail some parts of the city when we last played through it."

" And for those planning on running it, here's a cleaned up scan of the main map with all DM notations removed - particularly handy if the party enters via the giant tree access point which gives them a good overview of the city"

Thursday, March 21, 2019

High Tech Mysticism & High Caliber Adventure Encounter - The De Media Silvis

The chicken house of Baba Yaga is often seen marching through the 
the De Media Silvis & all sane folks avoid it. 

"Mayhap I shall find curious adventure - mayhap my doom awaits me. But better death than the ceaseless and everlasting urge, the fire that has burned my veins with bitter longing."
-Robert E. Howard, "The Hills of the Dead"

Captain the darkness it took the men & then the invaders as well. There were things among the trees & there was laughter there. The sound was deafening & then came the roars then the biggest son of a bitch I've ever seen saved up. He & his men slayed the dark things with the hoofs, claws, & tentacles. They're offering their services Captain & sir I think we should take em up on it. "
Bart Reynolds First Army Scout New York United Police

Beowulf, A Book of Myths


Just beyond the fires of the men of Drow City there lays another deeper wilderness that connects the long shadows of various worlds. There is the deeper woodlands, the alien woodlands where the reality of the wilderness washes against  the  Kerouac Wilderness. These are places where the Drow refuse to go for here there are monsters dark & dangerous. This place is where even the most dangerous giant has pause & the Night Trolls don't even dark to venture. Here deeper woodlands cross into the realm of nightmare & the monsters are even worse. 
Frog like twilight goblins stalk the darkness as the air it lit up with the glow from the Underworld that casts weird borealis in the skies above. Shadow dragons via with the Scum of Shub Niggurath as ghoul tribes trade blows with heroes who come here to test their meddle against the incredibly dangerous monsters. 

The De Media Silvis touches many planes & even the occasional Gug will venture here as the curse of the Elder Ones does not bother them here. They come to the ancient standing stones & will make war with the Hyperboreans from the far future who come to make offerings to the Elder Ones. One or more of these tribesmen is sacrificed to appease the carnal appetites of the Gugs or the scum of Shub Niggurath near the giant circles of Koth. 

Vision d'artiste de Shub-Niggurath By Dominique Signoret 

The city ruins of Sbcrath Koth are found deep in the dark forests guarded by ghoul tribes & the carnal monsters of 
Ubbo-Sathla. This is where many human wizards come to venture & certain tribes of mutants come from the Burroughs/Bakshi realms. The ruins of this place change & twist with the sleep of men & night mares come here to feed on the lost souls of psychics who fall pray to the lure of the song of Ubbo-Sathla.

1d10 Random Encounters In 
The De Media Silvis

  1. 1d6 gasmask wearing dream wizards of 5th level come to collect dark & shadow Fey here. 
  2. 1d4 wandering scum of Shub Niggurath who have come to pay homage to their mother thing by murdering some poor hapless fool. 
  3. 1d6 ghouls wandering the byways of the place on their way to trade with a forest wizard & they are hoping to avoid a manticore or shadow dragon here. 
  4. 1d6 Drow warriors whom the realm has swallowed. They are very itchy to not become a sacrifice to the Great Old Ones. 
  5. 1d8 Gugs looking for easy prey & sacrifices to bring back to the underworld. 
  6. Giant Slug on its nightly hunt 
  7. A manticore looking to dine on goblins. He carries the wounds of small arms fire from goblins 
  8. 1d8 human adventurers from the barbarian tribes of Croth on a hunting mission 
  9. Dark druids out for sacrifices there are 1d6 of these mad bastards on their way to the ruins of Sbcrath Koth 
  10. 1d6 Amazon warrior women on the hunt for a shadow dragon for their mistress wizard queen. They will trade with other adventurers but hate & loath goblins 

The De Media Silvis touches many worlds & occasionally there will be other places, times, & locations that phase into the mini plane. These times often have dire & mutational effects on those caught within this place as their mutations take on a dire & weird effect.  
The De Media Silvis is said to touch the last days of life on Earth & those who get lost can end up on the shores of the 'last sea'.  Their souls food for the undead giant crabs to call that place home. The De Media Silvis is a dangerous & unpredictable alien wilderness that tests the mettle of even the most jaded adventurer.

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.