Saturday, March 31, 2018

Breaking The Bondage of Labels & Imagination in Old School Gaming

He who has trod the shadows of Zothique
And looked upon the coal-red sun oblique,
Henceforth returns to no anterior land,
But haunts a later coast
Where cities crumble in the black sea-sand
And dead gods drink the brine.

He who has known the gardens of Zothique
Were bleed the fruits torn by the simorgh's beak,
Savors no fruit of greener hemispheres:
In arbors uttermost,
In sunset cycles of the sombering years,
He sips an amaranth wine.

He who has loved the wild girls of Zothique
Shall not come back a gentler love to seek,
Nor know the vampire's from the lover's kiss:
For him the scarlet ghost
Of Lilith from time's last necropolis
Rears amorous and malign.

He who has sailed in galleys of Zothique
And seen the looming of strange spire and peak,
Must face again the sorcerer-sent typhoon,
And take the steerer's post
On far-poured oceans by the shifted moon
Or the re-shapen Sign.

The idea of the lone city of ruin out in the middle of the scorched desert sands hearkens back to my early days in original Dungeons & Dragons. The call to old school adventure is very strong when I see a piece of artwork like this.

 This piece of artwork evokes the emptiness that one finds in the back bones of  the writings of Clark Ashton Smith's work. There's a certain melancholy of pulpy doom laying in wait for the unwary adventurer & trespasser after strange things. So I've been going back over my Original Dungeons & Dragons box set from 1974 & watching the progress of the HYPERBOREA: Beasts and Cannibals Kickstarter campaign. Still I've had time to do a bit of research into the background of Clark Ashton Smith's Zothique setting for a bit. Especially seeing some of the artwork by Johnathan Bingham and Del Teigeler.

AS&SH art by Johnathan Bingham

Both modules seem like their going to be in line with the quality  of the Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea second edition book;
"The Anthropophagi of Xambaala is a great way to start a new campaign, with several pages dedicated to the town. Several locations have been developed, whilst the remainder is yours to develop to your tastes. The main adventure is a great challenge for players old and new, and there are plenty of seeds for further escapades.

The Beasts of Kraggoth Manor is a great adventure module for challenging mid-level adventurers. This site-based adventure is located in the hoary wilderness northeast of the City-State of Khromarium, and features the weird and storied history of a lost family."

But what seems to be happening here is the continuation of many of the pulpy adventure themes seen in the writings of the Lovecraft circle including Clark Ashton Smith. The idea of the desolation, depravity of the past of Hyperborea, and the legacy of the ancient Hyperboreans intruding upon the present of the adventurers. The ancient legacy calling upon the future is something we see in spades in CAS's the Tale of Satampra Zeiros, (1931).
Carry this forward to the decaying future of Zothique in  Empire of the Necromancers, The (1932) & we see the cycles of time ever repeating themselves.
What does this have to do with original Dungeons & Dragon's wastelands? Plenty when looking at the whole set of OD&D we see a tool kit for playing in a wide variety of play styles. But in the Underworld & Wilderness book we get into the deserts of D&D's  imaginary deserts & wastelands where nomads, dervishes, lords, wizards, red martians, Tharks, black martians, yellow martians, white martians, apts, banths, thoats, calots, white apes, orluks, sith, and darseen are at play. Time is not a solid construct in Greyhawk, Blackmoor, or for that matter Hyperborea. 

A wish spell & the players could be visiting the wastelands of Edgar Rice Burroughs Barsoom or the worlds of Lord Dunsany. Time & space are fickle constructs at the edges of the map especially around dungeons & ruins in old school games. I was asked if there was a clear division between 'gonzo' adventures & historical gaming. My answer is a simple 'no'. Because my imagination is not a thing of divisions. I mix & match OSR & old school games freely and this is also the spirit of retroclones such as
the Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea second edition & mini settings such as the Midderlands by Monkey Blood Design.  The free wheeling spirit of the OSR is something that keeps me & my players coming back for more!


Taken on the whole campaign settings are unto themselves  tool boxes for both players & dungeon masters to use & abused as the necessary of game play dictates. The boundaries of time & space are only limited by the imagination not setting, rules, or system. All of this comes back to the Advanced Dungeons & Dragon's first editions Dungeon Master's  Appendix N's ring around for inspiration. Look at the far future world of CAS's Zothique for exactly what I mean;
"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."

Clark Ashton Smith is drawing from everything that he wants as a writer of incredible imagination to breath life into creation. What bravery & insolence to take such a step during the world of 1931. Can you & your players do any less? I think not!

We draw on the realities of our imagination to create worlds of imagination & potent adventure for our players. For myself I use a mix of Arthurian, historical, pulp, science fantasy, & whatever I feel or need. Can you as a dungeon master need to take the steps into the larger world of imagination and weave the world of adventure! Labels of fiction limit the imagination and we should not be confined by them in bondage to our categories and boxes of dreams. Write & create the adventures & dungeons that you & players want!

Friday, March 30, 2018

More Violence & Madness From SC3 Expedition to the Barrier Peaks By Gary Gygax Part II

"This western area, particularly the mountain fastness which separates  Bohemia from the Dry Steppes, has long been renowned for the generation of the most fearsome beasts, and it has been shunned accordingly -- save a handful of hardy souls with exceptional abilities.
 Bohemia has been plagued by a rash of monster attacks of horrid aspect and only a group of adventurers with the most skill, daring, & courage can take on this threat! "
 The Warden goes down over the forests of Germany but that's only half of the adventure. Bits, pieces, & whole wrecks of space craft have gone down into Bohemia, even all of the way to the Russian Steppe. And there are mechanical things, horrid monsters, and strange diseases plaguing the countryside! "

So my afternoon was shot to Hell & back today because of a special delivery but that's alright. The RPG Pundit was kind enough to provide me with exactly what I needed to torture my players. So we've been speaking about S3 Expedition to the Barrier Peaks By Gary Gygax & I mentioned that there were other chaser ships, engineering ships, & robotic manned drone ships. Why Bohemia? Because during the Thirty Year War Bohemia was plagued by a series of UFO incidents recorded in myth & legend. 

The Thirty Years War devastated Europe across the board leaving it vulnerable to the forces of  forces of darkness but this isn't our world. I've run a ton of Lamentations of the Flame Princess & their adventures. One thing I've learned is that real world history doesn't equal out to the adventure setting being our own Earth. "Thirty Years' War was a war fought primarily in Central Europe between 1618 and 1648. One of the longest and most destructive conflicts in human history, it resulted in eight million fatalities mainly from violence, famine and plagues, but also from military engagements."  That is a lot of destruction & plenty of opportunity for monsters, mayhem, & even science fantasy technology lost to the fog of war.

Life however at home went on & deep in the wilderness of Bohemia monsters straight out of legend were terrifying the local countryside. Strange items, artifacts, & mechanical monsters were found in odd places. Here's where the  RPGPundit Presents #19: Frantabulous Gonzo Robot Generator
comes in very handily. This is a fourteen page pdf that has tables to randomly generate anything from a mindless rampaging drone robot to a maliciously intelligent A.I. robot of the most horrid aspect. Its not that expensive of a pamphlet and it can be used with any OSR based or other old school style game. But I digress. 

Why not simply use the robotic life forms that are presented in S3 Expedition to the Barrier Peaks? Because its so iconic of an adventure module that you as the DM need to present some other options.  The fact is that for the Lion & Dragon retroclone the Rpg Pundit presents series is a low cost support system that can really bring home the old school monster bacon without breaking the bank.
So when during the conflict can this happen? Anytime really but during the latter half of the Bohemian Revolt puts it nicely into perspective.  Even if the dates conflict with when the 'Warden' comes down in the hidden valley in The Black Forrest in Germany. There are going to be ships falling from orbit for a long while. Staging this during the latter half of the Bohemian Revolt gives the whole perspective.

"In the east, the Protestant Hungarian Prince of Transylvania, Gabriel Bethlen, led a spirited campaign into Hungary with the support of the Ottoman Sultan, Osman II. Fearful of the Catholic policies of Ferdinand II, Gabriel Bethlen requested a protectorate by Osman II, so "the Ottoman Empire became the one and only ally of great-power status which the rebellious Bohemian states could muster after they had shaken off Habsburg rule and had elected Frederick V as a Protestant king".[38] Ambassadors were exchanged, with Heinrich Bitter visiting Constantinople in January 1620, and Mehmed Aga visiting Prague in July 1620. The Ottomans offered a force of 60,000 cavalry to Frederick and plans were made for an invasion of Poland with 400,000 troops, in exchange for the payment of an annual tribute to the sultan.[39] These negotiations triggered the Polish–Ottoman War of 1620–21.[40] The Ottomans defeated the Poles, who were supporting the Habsburgs in the Thirty Years' War, at the Battle of Cecora in September–October 1620,[41] but were not able to further intervene efficiently before the Bohemian defeat at the Battle of the White Mountain in November 1620.[42] Later, Poles defeated the Ottomans at the Battle of Chocim and the war ended with a status quo"
You have huge swaths of history & time when various other worldly factions can interfere with the comings & goings of humanity. Then there is the matter of whose using whom. We know for a fact that 
the Averoigne region survives due to the efforts of the Amber royal family. But we also know that a wide variety of black wizards of  CAS's Maal Dweb status might have also had a hand. If the demi god Egg of Coot had its tendrils in the background who knows what else might have been playing up the violence of the Protestants & the Catholics?   There were rumors of  the Habsburgs having several otherworldly ties to dark forces throughout in the political press of the time.  If these are the chess pieces then the adventure locations are the board.
These wrecks that have come down from the sky present unique adventure opportunities to both players & dungeon masters. As I mentioned in yesterday's blog entry there is ample opportunity to add in some high end science fantasy weapon technologies in the form of
RPGPundit Presents #3: High-Tech Weapons

 What I haven't mentioned is that this system enables a DM to have a complete listing of blasters, lasers, & more including some heavy weaponry that should be used with a bit of caution. Equipping your robotic horrors is going to be easy because this stuff is all for both old school & OSR systems!
All of this continues on in the steppes of Russia where the weirdness continues as robotic horrors ravage the countryside in search of both biological, technological, and mineral resources to help repair 'The Warden'. There are myths & legends concerning certain types of giants & other horrors unleashed during the events of the Thirty Years War there. These could be more other planetary biological specimens released by the wreckage of the space craft.
This would not be the last of the effects of the appearance of the Warden as we shall see.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Omens of Murder, War, & Chaos In SC3 Expedition to the Barrier Peaks By Gary Gygax

"The Grand Duchy of Geoff has recently been plagued by a rash of unusually weird and terrible monsters of an unknown sort. This western area, particularly the mountain fastness which separates the Grand Duchy from the Dry Steppes, has long been renowned for the generation of the most fearsome beasts, and it has been shunned accordingly -- save a handful of hardy souls with exceptional abilities. Within the last few months, however, a walled town not far distant from the area, and four small fortresses as well, have been destroyed by mysterious attacks!"
When it comes to S3  Expedition to the Barrier Peaks its been a favorite of mine for years & I haven't looked at it in some months now. That changed tonight after looking at Howard Hawks 1951 Thing From Another world film. I began to think about S3 Expedition to the Barrier Peaks and how it might play out in Lion & Dragon rpg Thirty Year War Europe.  The Elves have been making their own great push & losing thus  creating power vacuum.
Tsathoggua still holds power through his witch covens in France & St.Stephen  The Rock  offers council to other Chaos forces. Meanwhile something unexpected happens in the skies of  Germany!

There have been unexplained nightmares happening to all of the royal wizards of Europe. The skies over Europe are filled with strange signs & omens. Then skies of Germany opened up and something unexpected happened!

"Although we have seen, shortly one after another, many kinds of signs on the heaven, which are sent to us by the almighty God, to bring us to repentance, we still are, unfortunately, so ungrateful that we despise such high signs and miracles of God. Or we speak of them with ridicule and discard them to the wind, in order that God may send us a frightening punishment on account of our ungratefulness. After all, the God-fearing will by no means discard these signs, but will take it to heart as a warning of their merciful Father in heaven, will mend their lives and faithfully beg God, that He may avert His wrath, including the well-deserved punishment, on us, so that we may temporarily here and perpetually there, live as his children. For it, may God grant us his help, Amen. By Hanns Glaser, letter-painter of Nurnberg"

Flugblatt of Basel 1566Flugblatt of Basel 1566
"Otto Billig made an effort to provide a historical context for the apparition in his comments. He notes Nuremberg was one of the most prestigious cities of the late Middle Ages, a ‘Free and Imperial City’ known for its wealth and nobility. It tried to maintain a neutrality during the furious warring between Catholics and Protestants during the Reformation, but when one Protestant prince was rebuffed when he insisted on financial tributes to fund his battles, the city was besieged and its trade cut off. Though ultimately successful in defending itself, the rebuilding of fortifications in Nuremberg necessitated a new round of taxation and the city suffered hard times in its aftermath. On Good Friday, 1554 another siege happened and one broadsheet publisher described mock suns that prognosticated God’s will wanted confession of sinful ways – i.e. the victims brought it on themselves. Another sky apparition followed in July of knights fighting each other with fiery swords, thus warning a coming Day of Judgment. Very similar apparitions of knights fighting in the skies were frequently reported during the Thirty Years' War. Many similar broadsheets of wondrous signs exist in German and Swiss archives and Nuremberg seems the focus of a number of them, presumably because of the hardships and conflicts of the ex-prosperous. Such conditions typically accentuate apocalyptic thought"
Apocalyptic thought is exactly the thought that the otherworldly demi god has been sewing through his own star based Chaos cults. The seers across Europe have been receiving visions from the Egg of Coot's Grey minions. These are cults are detailed in Cults of Chaos for Dark Albion.

Not only has the Egg brought down the 'Warden ' but several of the chaser & engineering ships creating more ruins, dungeons, & adventure locations in not only the hidden valley near Black Forrest of Germany but in the deep wilderness of Bohemia & even to the steppes of Russia.

Several technological artifacts have been recovered by the Church & the dangers of these items concerns them. But among the royals across Europe there is already a mini 'Gold Rush' on towards these dungeons even as reports & rumors of horrid monsters of legend are appearing. The royals are already looking for a leg up against their enemies and there are rumors of Plague spreading where these aberrations appeared in the sky.

Now for adding in some other science fiction technological weapons systems into this mix for either the Lion & Dragon retroclone system or any OSR game I highly recommend
Let's face it S3 Expedition to the Barrier peaks is very iconic & by switching out some of the items that the parties of adventurers find it will add a bit of spice to this infamous adventure. 
S3 Expedition to the Barrier Peaks is going to be a mini campaign for Lion & Dragon & its not going to be easy to complete. There are going to be a multiplicity of theaters of adventure across Europe. If the ship's remains are causing radiation damage or an alien disease there could be some very nasty PC deaths right out of the gate. This was a tournament module & this cold take months to sort out with a large group of players. Lion & Dragon offers up some solid tools for dealing with this sort of adventure including a quick combat systems, cross compatible OSR & old school friendly systems, & a good foundation for playing across a war torn Europe during the  Medieval historical periods.

This is going to be a thinking DM's mini campaign where the not only are the players going to half to contend with the literal fall out of these space ships but their going to be dealing with the invasive species of monsters infecting the countryside.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Using & Abusing Barrens of Carcosa Adventure Module Six By Geoffrey McKinney For Your Old School Campaigns

Its been a long while since I cracked open Carcosa Module six Barrens of Carcosa By Geoffrey McKinney.

The cover art by Luigi Castellani  depicts the Yellow Men of Dulaja worshiping a purple worm shoal. The cover artwork pretty much sets the tone for the module. Each of the Carcosa modules is a self contained module based not on Lamentations of the Flame Princess's retroclone system but instead Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 1st edition or OSRIC but they could easily be used with  LoFP.

This module is a hex crawl in every sense of the word & it doesn't matter where you set your PC's down in the module. Module six has many of the elements that make Carcosa the unique experience that it is. There are lots of weird Lovecraft references, encounters with weird Spawn of
Shub-Niggurath, & some very non traditional monsters. But this is module that's designed to be a bit more accessible because the stats in the module are AD&D first edition its a much more accessible module for a DM looking for a casual dip into the setting. Everything in the adventure is self contained & very DM friendly with a very brief overview of the module piece of Carcosa & all bits & pieces ready to go straight out of the gate.

" BARRENS OF CARCOSA contains a large-scale hex map, introductory information, geographical notes, and detailed encounters keyed to the map. "

The module is on its side so my players don't cheat but you can get an idea of the layout.

The layout is clear & clean ready to go straight out of the box. The hex encounters are straight up well laid out & the descriptions are evocative without going beyond the top. This a module for any level PC but I'd clock it in at level four or five in my estimation. Encounters are lethal but not stupidly so unless the PC's blunder into certain keyed encounters. There are several colored people's cities & settlements while the technological levels are about 9th century Europe to the upper end of the Greys.
This module is made to be a bridge gap between the science fantastic setting of Carcosa & Advance Dungeons & Dragons first edition. The fact is that this module presents the setting in more at the table top adventure hex crawl. The maps read something more like a sustainable adventure campaign then the lethal brew that the original setting book was. The monsters are still the usual Carcosa fare of Illithids, aliens, mutants, dinosaurs,&  icky/slimy/oozy/wormy/tentacle-rape horrors but there's more of a traditional Dungeons & Dragons vibe to Carcosa module six. 

Barrens is a much more accessible module then some of the other Carcosa materials on the market & its self contained. A DM can run it straight out of the box & drop PC's into it. I've had several folks tell me that its not as balls to the walls gonzo as some of the Carcosa materials and personally this is a bit of a strength in my opinion. There are several ways of inexpensively adding in more gonzo material one of the best of which is  The Carcosan Grimoire. This is a community fan submitted Carcosa reference that has lots of sci fi & B movie goodness that can easily be added into Barrens of Carcosa without breaking the system. Can Barrens of Carcosa be run with original Dungeons & Dragons or B/X Dungeons & Dragons? Of course it can! Overall the module has a lot of plusses going for it if the dungeon master is used to running the type of adventure kit style that Barrens of Carcosa module six offers!

The kit approach is the exactly how these modules work taking each module as another piece of a greater campaign setting puzzle. Do you need LoFP's Carcosa book? Not at all but it can be added to the module to provide another setting layer.

Carcosa is one of the great kitchen sink settings able to be used in a wide variety of ways & in some respects Barrens of Carcosa ties into the hex crawl encounter weirdness of the original. But I've had visions of dropping a party of Arthurian knights & warriors into module number six for sometime.  There are several ways of doing this within the context of the Arthurian literature & several nasty & dangerous witches capable of cursing a party right onto the accursed & lost planet.
Elaine,  Morgan le Fay, & Morgawse are the heads of several covens of incredibly dangerous Chaos worship aspect. Each of these is more then capable of cursing a party of knights, warriors, & a mid level wizard off to the lost planet.

In point of fact there was some evidence of these witches having truck with Shub Niggurath in some of the more modern Lovcraftian literature. Dark Albion or Lion & Dragon  in fact could be used to fill in certain settlement deals within Barrens of Carcosa.

OSR Commentary The Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual & Dungeon Design Commentary

I've been doing a lot of thought about B/X Dungeons & Dragons almost all of yesterday. By the time Moldvay Cook Dungeons & Dragons was in our area back in Seventy Nine the first Edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual was hitting us players hard in the dungeons. My PC's  must have died about a hundred times back in the Seventies & early Eighties. It was a part of a learning curve as a player & to some extent as a dungeon master.

Using various edition materials was no big deal back among us in grade school & it seems this method has always stuck with me as a dungeon master. The idea of the  adventure environment shaping the monster encounters goes back to growing up with my family whose always had a very close interest in the wilderness. Ecology & hunting went hand in hand back in the small town in New York state and then later on in Connecticut. Any abandoned or ruined buildings always had animals in them the second the opportunity came up. So to a certain extent the idea of dungeons & ruins having lairs within them isn't far from my imagination.
The mega dungeon as urban adventure location has always had a certain appeal for me as a dungeon master. Chaos & evil moving into take over as an opportunity presents itself as the older residents of a place died off was some something logical in my mind when I was younger. To a certain extent it was the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual first edition book that was responsible for this. 

Spending hours pouring over it gave me as a dungeon master ideas after taking some tid bit in a monster entry & then running with it. To a certain extent this was something that came from  of  Holmes Basic D&D boxed set & Moldvay Basic D&D boxed set overlapping.

As players we'd mix & match various OD&D, B/X Dungeons & Dragons, & Advanced Dungeons & Dragons first edition resources as needed. The Monster Manual made a certain path into dungeons very dangerous. The monsters ecology wasn't writ in stone from the wrought pages of The Dragon, yet. Sure there was the occasional 'ecology of ' articles here & there but the adventure  fields were wide open. To me they still are!

The first edition Monster Manual set the tone for dungeon exploration because it brought the monsters forward in the imaginations of the dungeon master & players. I'm trying to collect my thoughts very quickly here & pick the wisps of memory from the swirling thoughts of dungeons, dice, snacks, & cracking open of cans of Pepsi and 70's pizza. The Monster Manual gave insights into the monsters that the B/X sets presented which gave them life on hundreds of pages of graph paper.
Even today the backgrounds of the monsters were determined by the dungeon, adventure, & campaign. The fact is campaign is everything for monster placement. Yet time & again it seems to be the opposite today. Parameters are so narrowly defined & there seems to a much smaller venue for the player's imaginations.

Dungeon masters it seems at times don't leave themselves enough room to allow the players to fill in the blanks. There should always be a sense of mystery & mythology about the dungeon & adventure locations. Time & again I find that much of this same dungeon & design philosphy applies to the myriad of retroclone systems.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

A Quick OSR Commentary On The Advanced Dungeons & Dragons First Edition 1979 Dungeon Master's Guide By Gary Gygax Edited by Mike Carr

So I'm about to piss a whole bunch of OSR people off but there's one only one real book that I've needed in all of the years of my 40 plus years of table top gaming. Published in '79 by TSR & written by Gary Gygax & Mike Carr  its been my go to book for original Dungeons & Dragons, Gamma World, Boot Hill, & Advanced Dungeons & Dragons first edition.

For me the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Master's Guide has been my Swiss Army knife of table top role playing books. The book covers all of the basics & advanced aspects of the grand game.
"It is intended as a companion book to the Player's Handbook, which contains all of the basic rules of gameplay, and the Monster Manual, which is a reference book giving statistics and characteristics to various animals and monsters. The Player's Handbook, Dungeon Master's Guide, and Monster Manual are collectively referred to as the "core rules" of the Dungeons & Dragons game.[4] Both the Dungeon Master's Guide and the Player's Handbook give advice, tips, and suggestions for various styles of play.[5]"
So why this post & now? Well there seems to be a movement in the last couple of months to frown upon the use of third tier OSR product with older original systems.  This sort of thing sticks in my craw because it really gets to the idea of the DYI OSR movement.
"The first edition Dungeon Masters Guide covered all the essential rules for the Dungeon Master: creating and maintaining player characters and managing non-player characters, handling combat, and running adventures and multi-session campaigns.[7] The book also included descriptions of magic items and treasure, random monster encounters, and statistics for the basic monsters and creatures of the game.[7] New magic items were introduced, including the Apparatus of Kwalish.
The Dungeon Masters Guide contains scores of tables and charts for figuring damage and resolving encounters in a typical adventure, tables and rules for creating characters, and lists of the various abilities of the different classes of characters."
I've run everything from Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea first & second edition, to Dark Albion all the way to  Carcosa & back again. Yet I've almost always used the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Master's Guide for reference time and again.

Here are my top ten  reasons why I love the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Master's Guide from 1979 especially.
  1. The random dungeon generator! This one key part of the original DMG was precious to any DM with a crew of players coming over in forty five minutes and no side quest or other adventure ready!
    "A feature of the first edition Dungeon Masters Guide was the random dungeon generator. The generator allowed the Dungeon Master, by the rolling of dice, to generate a dungeon adventure "on the fly". A dungeon complete with passageways, rooms, treasure, monsters, and other encounters could easily and randomly be constructed as the player progressed. It could be used with several people or a single player. The generator was not included in subsequent editions of the Dungeon Master's Guide but made a re-appearance in the fifth edition Dungeon Master's Guide." 
  2. All of the stats for all of the monster in the Fiend Folio & Monster Manual. This might not sound like a big deal but man does it come in very handy. 
  3. The original random harlot table! This one table provides the DM with endless opportunities for assassins, thieves guild contacts, pick pockets, and even the occasional one night stand. Where do other bastard son or daughter adventurers come from? They come from the original harlot table. Need to know where that sexually transmitted magical disease came from? Can be used for men as well with a handy dictionary or Theseus. 
  4. Want to take your PC's into Hell or the Abyss? The DMG had everything you needed. 
  5. A butt load of artifacts that you could customize to your own campaign. These weren't the product  iconic artifacts of later editions. Instead these artifacts were the stuff of legend that DM's would day dream about throwing into a campaign someday. BTW a pro tip from my friend Peter those random artifact tables could be used to generate your own artifacts or add powers to existing ones such as Odin's spear or some other godly item.
  6. Everything you need for campaign & dungeon management is in one book! You don't have to spend a billion dollars to get everything you need. 
  7. DYI PC customization, everything is here for creating PC's from the ground up. 
  8. Dungeon management 101 is contained within the DMG and the advice still applies in 2018. 
  9. Appendixes that actually make sense & are actually useful for a DM. Everything from Appendix N as a source of guidelines on what books to read for inspiration to random demon generation is right here. 
  10. Gary Gygax himself wrote this book and it comes through loud & clear. His voice echoes through this tome & the ideas are all still fresh today.

    For the record this book can & is in use today with any number of retroclone systems & Advanced Dungeons & Dragons first edition campaigns across the planet.
    For now keep em rolling!

Monday, March 26, 2018

The Subtle Winds of Chaos In X2 Castle Amber (Château d'Amberville) By Tom Moldvay

The Lion & Dragon Rpg system has been one that's been on my mind for a couple of months now along with its setting Dark Albion & Cults of Chaos.
So talking with one of my players has been interesting as we've been discussing the ins & outs of his character's social status. Social status during times of war can & did fluctuate with the fortunes of royal patrons & families.

This is especially true around the Amber family of X2 Castle Amber by Tom Moldvay, the Clark Ashton Smith's Averoigne adventure can be a bit problematic in Dark Albion's setting. Castle Amber (or Château d'Amberville) is exactly the sort of place that the Frogmen wizards of Paris would wipe off the face of the map. Or is it?
So the players solve the inner plots, mysteries, & adventure points of Castle Amber (or Château d'Amberville) & then the entirety of the Averoigne region is destroyed? Not a chance & there's one very good reason Stephen Amber whom is the family's patron. But he's not the only wizard in the family.

Thumbing through X2 I noticed a number of little details that link not only the adventure but the family
d'Amberville to a number of France's historical points of reference.  The d'Amberville family could become powerful patrons in France's resistance to the Frogmen forces. There are deep reasons why this would be the case; "
In ancient times, Averoigne was settled by the fictional Gallic tribe called the Averones. They established a number of settlements in the region, many of which were fortified when the Roman Empire absorbed the region. When Christianity spread through the Empire, many churches and monasteries were established among the ruins of Druidic temples. Greatest among these was a great cathedral constructed in Vyones, completed in 1138." Averoigne is located in the southern half of France and its involvement during the Hundreds Years War foreshadows the events of the coming of the Frog cults.
"Ever since the Norman conquest of 1066, the King of England held lands in France, which made him a vassal of the King of France. Tensions over the status of the English monarch's French fiefs led to conflicts between the crowns of France and England, and the extent of these lands varied throughout the medieval period. The French kings had endeavored, over the centuries, to reduce these possessions, to the effect that only Gascony was left to the English. The confiscation or threat of confiscating this duchy had been part of French policy to check the growth of English power, particularly whenever the English were at war with the Kingdom of Scotland, an ally of France."

So throughout Averoigne England's role in the Hundred Years War is not only remembered but the sting still echoes throughout the region. Tom Moldvay knew the CAS Averoigne cycle stories well and so bits of this politic leak into the module of X2.
The frog wizards fear the region of
Averoigne because of its ties to Chaos. They know some of the cults & history of it but fear curses and its hidden powers. This also has to do with the sting of the Hundred Years War's expense & hidden costs as well as the occult powers behind some of the motives behind it. "For about nine years (1328–1337), the English had accepted the Valois succession to the French throne, but several disagreements between both monarchs prompted Philip VI to confiscate Edward III's lands in France, which in turn convinced Edward III to reassert his claim to the French throne. Several overwhelming English victories in the war—especially at Crécy, Poitiers, and Agincourt—raised the prospects of an ultimate English triumph, and convinced the English to continue pouring money and manpower into the war over many decades."

Bandits & worse swirl at the outer edges of France during the War of the Roses this state is also found in ruins of the stronghold of Ylourgne. This ruin is an  abandoned abode of evil robber barons, where the horrid affairs of the "The Colossus of Ylourgne", by Clark Ashton Smith (Weird Tales, Popular Fiction Publishing Co., June 1934). 

So why are the frog wizard kings staying away from Averoigne? Because of the influence of Stephen Amber himself. His family's dominance & patronage of the cathedral along with the town that surrounds it hints at the level of prowess associated with the family.
"The northern half of the territory is dominated by the walled city of Vyones, site of an impressive cathedral."
Even though he's supposedly at rest Stephen Amber conforms to many of the occult abilities of a lich even in death.
Where is the information coming from about all of the movements & inner workings on the court of the English? The very queen of England
Margaret of Anjou was a born spy mistress and hybrid of the frog wizard's bloodline but she's even more then they reckon.
"Margaret of Anjou (French: Marguerite; 23 March 1430 – 25 August 1482) was the Queen of England by marriage to King Henry VI from 1445 to 1461 and again from 1470 to 1471." Margaret of Anjou is a highly placed operative whose been two steps past her own masters through her patron in the form of St.Stephen the Rock. She's been the toad god  Tsathoggua's operative whom the frog kings think is their hidden queen.In fact she's been getting intelligence not only from her own spy network but through her own court wizards through the machinations of Blackmoor's St. Stephen the Rock. 

So why would St.Stephen the Rock be interested in Albion? The expansion of his own Chaos based cult of the Toad god right in the heart of another plane. He can't proved weapons, monsters, etc. but he can provide intelligence on the Queen's hated enemies.
Shakespeare portrays Margaret as an intelligent, ruthless woman who easily dominates her husband and fiercely vies for power with her enemies. Among those enemies are the Amber family whose resistance to her own dark masters give her pause.

"Mother of Toads" (originally published version), by Clark Ashton Smith (Weird Tales, Popular Fiction Publishing Co., July 1938) gives an intimate portrait of the inner workings of the sort of chaos witch whose on the payroll of Tsathoggua. The Gallic tribe called the Averones are the last heritages of a far older order going back to the time of the Roman Empire which absorbed the region. "The Enchantress of Sylaire", by Clark Ashton Smith (Weird Tales, Weird Tales, July 1941) goes into some details of this.

Why is
Tsathoggua playing with his agents in this manner? Because it suits the iconic sense of humor of the Great Old One. X2 Castle Amber presents several adventure elements that can deeply connect Albion & Blackmoor without breaking a sweat as the factions of chaos play war with one another with the PC's stuck in the middle.

Old School Post Apocalyptic Gaming & OSR Commentary

I haven't updated the Dark Corner blog quite while & so I wanted to do a bit of post apocalyptic commentary today. Don't worry we'll be right back to the D&D & OSR material on the blog for for tomorrow. In the meantime if you wand a bit of Gamma World style weirdness & OSR commentary.

Go Right Over Here For
Your Post Apocalyptic Commentary!

Saturday, March 24, 2018

The Dwarven Curse Of The Caverns Of Tsathoggua - The Volcano Lands Olathoë' Session Report Thirteen

"Several dangerous & diabolical NPC's showed up in the Caverns of Tsathoggua & a chance encounter with an unexpected guest of diabolical intentions makes things very dicey for the PCs tonight. "

The third gift — an enormous hammer by Elmer Boyd Smith

In tonight's game the PC's managed to survive against several otherworldly NPC's including Captain Brand an NPC other dimensional pirate & agent of Chaos. The dimensional scoop of The Trinity of Awesome +1 managed to pick up the pirate whose been wandering the ether from another game campaign over a year ago.
The PC's managed to work over several minor monsters & defeat the minions but the Captain himself managed to escape. Several crystals & an encounter with some really nasty Norse mythological Dwarves convinced the players to finally get their act together & get the hell out of the dungeon. Needleham & Gingum remain one of the more dangerous locations within the Volcano Lands. Captain Brand's chaos mutant minion was attacked by a yellow orange slug monster who drained the poor bastard dry of their life force. There was little the party could do.

This was a heavily modified version of Venger Satanis's   Slaves of Tsathoggua with the encounter with oracle Despair actually being a Hyperborean demi goddess in tonight's game that almost got one of the PC's into her clutches. The player was a hair's breath away from being taken out of the game forever.
Finally the PC's managed to get away from one of the caves & sort of set themselves up for a quick trip over to 
The Islands of Purple-Haunted Putrescence coming up in two weeks. Meanwhile the party are carrying several Norse mythological Dwarven treasures which they have no idea of the depths of crap they've gotten themselves into.

Freyja in the Cave of the Dwarfs by H. L. M

So part of the set up for tonight's adventure actually came from A.Merritt's Burn Witch Burn which appeared in
Famous Fantastic Mysteries June 1942 issue. Several of the Dwarven treasures were inspired by the items that appeared in the background of this classic Merritt novella.


One of the other dimensional  gateways in tonight's game connected with a location that I've used before from Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea second edition namely  the Lug Wasteland. The Lug Wasteland might seem very familiar to my players & readers of this blog namely because its being featured in the New Kickstarter for AS&SH second edition's new adventure The Beasts of Kraggoth Manor by Tim Callahan.

The Lug Wasteland will be coming up soon in my on going campaign because of its rich lot of Pre Green Death ruins & dungeons. The fact is that much of this region draws heavily upon Clark Ashton Smith's Tale of Satampra Zeiros, The (1931). So its a natural that this region will soon be appearing once again. The party managed to survive against several weird events & perhaps might live another day but it was a very narrow escape in several spots. Will they continue to survive and what is the strange Dwarven treasures connection to the events going on
The Islands of Purple-Haunted Putrescence?! 

Friday, March 23, 2018

The Legendary Legacy of The Knight of the Yellow Pentacle For Your Old School Games

"Sir Gawain, a knight of King Arthur's Round Table, accepts a challenge from a mysterious "Green Knight" who challenges any knight to strike him with his axe if he will take a return blow in a year and a day. Gawain accepts and beheads him with his blow, at which the Green Knight stands up, picks up his head, and reminds Gawain of the appointed time."
So I've been going over & over my notes of Arthurian literature & mythology constructing this campaign setting for the Lion & Dragon rpg clone system. I've also been concentrating on one of the latest & yet mostly forgotten knights of Camelot. This knight's family continues the traditions of Camelot & their fight against the powers of Chaos. Because Lion & Dragon is a medieval authentic system it closes gap for a wide range of OD&D & Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. 

Sir Gwain is the one knight whose adventures find him against the games of Fairyland, the powers of Camelot, & on various otherworldly journeys including the quest for the Holy Grail. Yet his family not only survives but goes on to thrive after the death of Camelot after the powers of the Fey conquer it.

"Gawain (English: /ɡəˈwn/, Welsh: [ˈɡawain]; also called Gwalchmei, Gualguanus, Gauvain, Walwein, etc.) is King Arthur's nephew and a Knight of the Round Table in the Arthurian legend. Under the name Gwalchmei, he appears very early in the legend's development, being mentioned in some of the earliest Welsh Arthurian sources.
He is one of a select number of Round Table members to be referred to as one of the greatest knights, most notably in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. He is almost always portrayed as the son of Arthur's sister Morgause (or Anna) and King Lot of Orkney and Lothian, and his brothers are Agravain, Gaheris, Gareth, and Mordred. He was well known to be the most trustworthy friend of Sir Lancelot.[1] In some works, Sir Gawain has sisters as well. According to some legends, he would have been the true and rightful heir to the throne of Camelot, after the reign of King Arthur."

Gwain is the son of Arthur's sister Morgause (or Anna) and King Lot of Orkney and Lothian. Both of these lands of Orkney and Lothian both have hard core  brushes with Chaos in the form of the giant races. These races were servants of the Elves left over from the pre Biblical Flood.
"There are also accounts of giants in the Old Testament. Some of these are called Nephilim, a word often translated as giant although this translation is not universally accepted. They include Og King of Bashan, the Nephilim, the Anakim, and the giants of Egypt mentioned in 1 Chronicles 11:23. The first mention of the Nephilim is found in Genesis 6:4; attributed to them are extraordinary strength and physical proportion"

When I mention Elves here I'm not talking about the traditional Dungeons & Dragons Elves. I'm speaking of the Elves of  Fairy Tales, mythology, the former gods, etc. The races of elves of original Dungeons & Dragons racial fame are merely the former slaves of the Elves along with the other OD&D races.

Original Dungeons  Dragons's  Gods, Demi Gods & Heroes Robert Kuntz and James M. Ward gives a bunch of options for giants in the vein of classic mythology.

"As a general rule, giants are among the most magically gifted beings in all Norse mythology. Fire
and Frost giants have the ability to change shape, polymorph objects, control weather to a certain
extent, use illusions (count 10% as solely illusionists) and use fire and cold respectively.
Another interesting characteristic is that these giants are not stupid as legend often informs us
that they are. Also, some of them equal the gods for beauty. Listed among the other giants that
reside in Jotunheim (Giantland) are Storm giants. Rock giants and Stone giants, though these
groups are not as banded together as the Fire or Frost giants are. Giants have class H treasures.
If not detailed, giants take 100 Points of Damage and their armor class is 3."

The giants Fafner and Fasolt seize Freyja in Arthur Rackham's
illustration of Richard Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen.

Sir Gwain's family has some of the last major interactions & battle with chaos during the Arthurian push. Sir Gwain & The Green Knight, is a saga which traces down the familial patriarchal battle with what some believe is the Green man. I don't think so. What you're really looking at is Sir Gwain's battle with one of the major arch devils or perhaps Satan himself.
"Given the varied and even contradictory interpretations of the colour green, its precise meaning in the poem remains ambiguous. In English folklore and literature, green was traditionally used to symbolise nature and its associated attributes: fertility and rebirth. Stories of the medieval period also used it to allude to love and the base desires of man.[34][35] Because of its connection with faeries and spirits in early English folklore, green also signified witchcraft, devilry and evil. It can also represent decay and toxicity.[36] When combined with gold, as with the Green Knight and the girdle, green was often seen as representing youth's passing.[37] In Celtic mythology, green was associated with misfortune and death, and therefore avoided in clothing.[38] The green girdle, originally worn for protection, became a symbol of shame and cowardice; it is finally adopted as a symbol of honour by the knights of Camelot, signifying a transformation from good to evil and back again; this displays both the spoiling and regenerative connotations of the colour green. "
"Scholars have puzzled over the Green Knight's symbolism since the discovery of the poem. He could be a version of the Green Man, a mythological being connected with nature in medieval art, a Christian symbol, or the Devil himself. British medieval scholar C. S. Lewis said the character was "as vivid and concrete as any image in literature" and J. R. R. Tolkien said he was the "most difficult character" to interpret in Sir Gawain. His major role in Arthurian literature is that of a judge and tester of knights, thus he is at once terrifying, friendly, and mysterious.[38] He appears in only two other poems: The Greene Knight and King Arthur and King Cornwall.[39][40] Scholars have attempted to connect him to other mythical characters, such as Jack in the green of English tradition and to Al-Khidr,[41] but no definitive connection has yet been established."

This is where the interactions with the covens & cults of Chaos in Dark Albion's Cults of Chaos come from. There has been a subversion of the orders of the supernatural since the upheaval of the Romans in Britain. Many powers of Fairyland itself have been taking full advantage of the circumstances to step into the gaps in worship to replace the natural order.

Even Sir Gwain isn't immune to the effects of Chaos as parts of his extended families. That's right families plural whose touch of the supernatural or otherworldly isn't lightly brushed away.
" He has, however, been connected to more than one woman in the course of Arthurian literature.[32] In the alliterative Middle-English poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Sir Bertilak's wife flirts with him. In the aforementioned The Wedding of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnelle, he marries the cursed Ragnelle, and in giving her "sovereignty" in the relationship, lifts the spell laid upon her that had given her a hag-like appearance.[33] He is also associated with a vague supernatural figure in various tales. The hero of Le Bel Inconnu is the progeny of Gawain and a fairy called Blancemal, and in the Marvels of Rigomer, Gawain is rescued by the fay, Lorie.[29][34] In the German tale Wizalois, the mother of his son is known as Florie, who is likely another version of the Lorie of Rigomer. In her earliest incarnations, Gawain's love is either the princess or queen of the Otherworld."
Gwain in fact has children with those who tend the works & gateways to Fairyland as well as the Otherworld ie the traditional Dungeons & Dragons races.

The power of this otheworldly or occult  influence can be seen in the shield of Gwain but its symbolism is obscure at best.

"The pentangle on Gawain's shield is seen by many critics as signifying Gawain's perfection and power over evil.[47] The poem contains the only representation of such a symbol on Gawain's shield in the Gawain literature. What is more, the poet uses a total of 46 lines in order to describe the meaning of the pentangle; no other symbol in the poem receives as much attention or is described in such detail.[48] The poem describes the pentangle as a symbol of faithfulness and an "endless knot". From lines 640 to 654, the five points of the pentangle relate directly to Gawain in five ways: five senses, his five fingers, his faith found in the five wounds of Christ, the five joys of Mary (whose face was on the inside of the shield) and finally friendship, fraternity, purity, politeness and pity (traits that Gawain possessed around others). In line 625, it is described as "a sign by Solomon". Solomon, the third king of Israel, in the 10th century BC, was said to have the mark of the pentagram on his ring, which he received from the archangel Michael. The pentagram seal on this ring was said to give Solomon power over demons.[49]
Along these lines, some academics link the Gawain pentangle to magical traditions. In Germany, the symbol was called a Drudenfuß and was placed on household objects to keep out evil.[50] The symbol was also associated with magical charms that, if recited or written on a weapon, would call forth magical forces. However, concrete evidence tying the magical pentagram to Gawain's pentangle is scarce".

This same symbolism would come into play with Clark Ashton Smith's Enchantress of Sylaire, The (1941) & Enchantress of Sylaire, The (1941). This means that the symbolism is a very potent weapon against the Frogmen wizards of Dark Albion & Lion & Dragon.

It would also come to foreshadow the events of the war between Gwain & Lancelot along with the coming end of Camelot.

"These glowing portraits of Gawain all but ended with Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur, which is based mainly, but not exclusively, on French works from the Vulgate and Post-Vulgate Cycles. Here Gawain partly retains the negative characteristics attributed to him by the later French, and partly retains his earlier positive representations, creating a character seen by some as inconsistent, and by others as a believably flawed hero. Gawain is cited in Robert Laneham's letter describing the entertainments at Kenilworth in 1575,[28] and the recopying of earlier works such as The Greene Knight suggests that a popular tradition of Gawain continued. The Child Ballads include a preserved legend in the positive light, The Marriage of Sir Gawain, a fragmentary version of the story of The Wedding of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnelle. He also appears in the rescue of Guinevere and plays a significant role though Lancelot overshadows him. In Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur, Guinevere is found guilty; however, Lancelot returns to help Guinevere to escape from the castle. But Mordred has sent word to King Arthur; Arthur sends a few knights to capture Lancelot, and Gawain, being a loyal friend to Lancelot, refuses to take part in the mission. The battle between Lancelot and Arthur's knights results in Gawain's two sons and his brothers, except for Mordred, being slain. This begins the estrangement between Lancelot and Gawain, thus drawing Arthur into a war with Lancelot in France. When King Arthur deploys to France, Mordred seizes the throne, and takes conrol of the kingdom. Gawain wages two wars with Mordred and Lancelot. He is mortally wounded in a duel against Lancelot who later lies for two nights weeping at Gawain's tomb. Before his death, Gawain repents of his bitterness towards Lancelot and forgives him, while asking him to join forces with Arthur and save Camelot"

Sir Gwain's war also foreshadows the events of the Thirty Year War long after Arthur has been taken by Fairyland's witches to Avalon. Throughout the sagas of Sir Gwain & Arthurian there are many artifacts & magical treasures. These were items that were thought to have acted as symbols of rulership & statehood for either the Protestant or Catholic forces during the Thirty Year War. During the French intervention and continued Swedish participation (1635–1648) the same ground that was the undoing of Arthur became the focus for the mid point of Europe.
"France, although Roman Catholic, was a rival of the Holy Roman Empire and Spain. Cardinal Richelieu, the chief minister of King Louis XIII of France, considered the Habsburgs too powerful, since they held a number of territories on France's eastern border, including portions of the Netherlands. Richelieu had already begun intervening indirectly in the war in January 1631, when the French diplomat Hercule de Charnacé signed the Treaty of Bärwalde with Gustavus Adolphus, by which France agreed to support the Swedes with 1,000,000 livres each year in return for a Swedish promise to maintain an army in Germany against the Habsburgs. The treaty also stipulated that Sweden would not conclude a peace with the Holy Roman Emperor without first receiving France's approval.

This almost became the tipping point for all of Europe in microcosm of the events of the war. Rape, looting, murder,etc. all were the norm for a moment in France.

A landscape with travelers ambushed outside a small town, painted by Vrancx
Could the tipping point to the forces of the Elves have come from a small band of upper crust adventurers royals Hell bent on stopping the supernatural forces behind their own human pawns?! I know that in my games the legacy of Gwain plays out much later on.  This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Sir Gwain.