Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Horror Beyond Halloween - The Black Plague & Gary Gygax's The World of Greyhawk

Halloween is fast approaching but for me as a sewing machine repair guy its already passed. The hobbyists & sewers are already looking beyond to the next round of weddings, baptisms, birthdays, & million other holiday projects. I snuck in some time away from social media to sneak in some quality time with Dragon magazine#138 '88 Halloween issue. Its an iconic Jeff Easily cover & I've seen it grace a million D&D memes, social media posts, etc.  This issue has the classic Call of Cthulhu rpg  'The Black Book  & The Hunters' article. Which goes into a huge background on 'The Black Book of Shub-Niggurath'. Some invaluable information running a campaign where Shub-Niggurath is a central & main force of the Mythos. But I digress.

Regardless its an old favorite art piece  of mine by Easily.  But I want to speak about horror beyond Halloween & specifically about two articles that make Dragon issue#138 a stand out issue. The first one is the classic Tom Moldvay's 'Ungrateful Undead' Expanding the Ranks of the Ghostly Undead. Moldvay covers skeletons, zombies, & ghouls. The author pulls out all of the stops covering many major undead sub types that wouldn't be seen till the  3.5 Dungeons & Dragons days again. 
But the one article that never get's mentioned is ''The End of the World' by  Eileen Lucas 'Got an ailing fantasy campaign? Cure it with the Black Death.'  Yeah, this is where I want to pick up the campaign conversation. Basically this article is a tour de force for running a fantasy plague through a Advanced Dungeons & Dragons or other rpg  campaign. Not only did the Black Plague kill half of Europe's population but it continues to exist & flare up even today. Horrifying doesn't even cover the basics here of the Black Death. Ms. Lucas does a fantastic job in four pages of laying the ground work for bringing in the Black Death into your fantasy campaign; "Maybe you have an old, tired fantasy game campaign that’s going nowhere, one that you and your players are really sick of and seems to be beyond hope. But you hate the thought of trashing it altogether, after all the work you’ve put into establishing cities, terrains, weather, etc. What can you do? Well, perhaps a plague can help. In a fantasy campaign, a raging epidemic (a disease which descends suddenly upon a community, burns itself out, and goes away) or pandemic (the worldwide occurrence of such a disease) can eliminate unwanted NPCs en masse. Political, economic, and social systems can be totally restructured. Countless new adventures with interesting twists for PCs can be introduced. Then, too, the physical aspects of the campaign that you like will remain unharmed, and your favorite NPCs can be miraculously saved with your intervention, of course."

Sure Halloween is for the kids but let's face facts, its just as fun for adults to get in a bit on the spooky action. Especially the fact that this bit of history is unparalleled in the modern era so far. But what if  
'The End of the World' by  Eileen Lucas wasn't the end of a campaign but the beginning?  What if the adventurers could actually save the world as things started going around them in flames. New England & especially in Connecticut where ghost stories are told around the home fires. Christmas time is the right time for this tradition but horror shouldn't end at the stroke of midnight on Halloween.  Instead the black plague comes roaring into a campaign such as Greyhawk or even dark Europe. But this time Tom Moldvay's  'Ungrateful Undead' Expanding the Ranks of the Ghostly Undead variants begin churning the soil & roaming the streets. 

The PC's in this one are given the powers of demi gods ala Godbound  to deal with the coming plague. The campaign follows the cycle of infection, death, rebirth, undeath, & then the reveal of the NPC villain. In this case the personification of Edgar Allen Poe's 
The Masque of the Red Death

"The dagger dropped gleaming upon the sable carpet". From Tales of Mystery and Imagination ... Illustrated by Harry Clarke, by Edgar Allan Poe. London : G. G. Harrap & Co., 1919. (British Library item 12703.i.43). Illustrating The Masque of the Red Death.

The outbreak of the plague attracts the god personification of evil & disease itself. Sure there's been the famous 2nd edition Masque of the Red Death box set. But this is completely different with the red death striking & crippling another version of Greyhawk. Here the focus shifts onto the player's PC 
"quasi-deities" which are where the party comes in. This types of divinities first appeared in the  March 1983 issue (Issue 71) of The Dragon. Gary Gygax defines them as follows; "quasi-deities," defined as "characters who have risen above the status of heroes, but who are not quite demi-gods."

There are endless ideas for PC's for this sort of a campaign but one of the best insights into an interesting bit of inspiration is Castles & Crusades Adventurer's Backpack. There are several reasons why & let's take a quick peek in: 
  • 13 new classes
  • New Non-derivative spells
  • A new approach on counter spells and canceling spells
  • 34 different backpacks offerings an easier and faster way to equip
  • A fresh easier to use approach to Unarmed Combat
  • Magic Items for classes who have few to choose from

If we start looking into a black plague campaign the reasons for this become obvious. The PC classes can easily be applied to both a dark Europe & a C&C Greyhawk campaign. If we wish to go past the incubation, infection, the rebirth, & the full on set of a plague of undead & into the realm of the gods or the world ending. Then look no further then Mayfair games Apocalypse box set. Written by Johathan Tweet (yes the Over Edge Rpg guy). This box set lines right up with the Demon & Sentinels box sets to give the dungeon master all of the tools to run the end of the world as we know & still feel fine.

So what does any of this have to do with the Godbound rpg or a campaign? Well let's go over that shall we? The godbound will have a heavy impact on a campaign world or setting especially with one like Greyhawk. Greyhawk is designed to be a gritty Sword & Sorcery style world of Gary Gygax action & adventure. The Godbound are literally going to impact the factions, the world setting, the NPC's, because the OSR game is designed to take full advantage of this factor. Luz & his cronies having access to the words, miracles, etc. of Godbound given their cults is giving the literal Devil the details?! Should Luz become aware of the PC's he's gonna stop at nothing to murder every last one of the PC's.

Not only is he going to want to see the black plague run its course but Luz would take full advantage of the chaos. Given Luz's history this isn't surprising because he'd begin to take over far more lands;
In 479 CY, a warlord in the Howling Hills left control of his land to his "son". By the end of his first year on the throne Iuz had assimilated the three surrounding fiefs. In less than three years, that territory was expanded, creating a small kingdom.  Refugees from his conquests told tales of a road of skulls leading from the hills to the capital of the land, Dorakaa.  They told tales of Iuz being the son of a demon and a necromancer, being a 7ft tall demon driven by destruction
This sort of a campaign might take years to resolve & would keep players going with all kinds of mayhem & carnage! 

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