Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Colours Of a Darker Appendix N - Robert W. Chambers, H.P. Lovecraft, & Jack London

"The Mask" is introduced by an excerpt from Act 1, Scene 2d:

Camilla: "You, sir, should unmask."
Stranger: "Indeed?"
Cassilda: "Indeed it's time. We have all laid aside disguise but you."
Stranger: "I wear no mask."
Camilla: (Terrified, aside to Cassilda.) "No mask? No mask!"[8]

It is also stated, in "The Repairer of Reputations", that the final moment of the first act involves the character of Cassilda on the streets, screaming in a horrified fashion, "Not upon us, oh, king! Not upon us!"

From 'The King in Yellow'
  a book of short stories
 by the American writer Robert W. Chambers

The King in Yellow.jpg

Its been a full year or so since I cracked my copy of R.W. Chambers 'The King In Yellow' & its significance to some of my Original Dungeons & Dragons campaign notes. Chambers work of course crosses over with my recent Appendix N Oz & Wonderland notes. But Chambers was/is a whole cloth New England writer & one of the most successful authors of his era. Recently I cracked open some of my other Chambers books especially the later 'In Search of the Unknown and Police!!!'

Robert William Chambers.jpg

Chambers crosses over back & forth into the realms of dreams in my mind as well as the realms of adventure in the OSR. Coupled with H.P.Lovecraft's Dreamlands cycle or Edgar Allan Poe. There's something very uncanny about the dream cycles that are easily translatable into campaign material or the world of the Fey in my mind. 

This brings me to B3 'Palace of the Silver Princess' both versions of the Jean Wells & Tom Moldvay module. If want to know the real history behind the famous module go right over here.  

B3 Palace of the Silver Princess - Centaur

But what strikes me is the cursed kingdom as a mini dream world or demi plane caught within its curse. B3 has elements of the film 'Legend' from '85. Lost time, curses of biblical proportions, monsters with agendas, and all kinds of weirdness from the Eighties. B3 came out in '81 & was almost but not quite what Dave Arneson had envisioned for a megadungeon. 

Legend (1985) | Fantasy movies, Fantasy films, Movie posters

There's something that I love about the pre Lovecraftian writers fiction that resonates with me so hard. The weird & deadly seems just a bit more non pedestrian because HP Lovecraft has in my opinion become a bit too well known?! Or has he? I often find that people who claim to have read Lovecraft have read some piece of fiction that's Lovecraftian not something like 'The Nameless City' or some of the dream cycle. The problem is today its too much work to actually read a bit. So among certain circles of D&D players Lovecraft's writings are even still to this day unknown. 

 H. P. Lovecraft - Wikipedia

Was Lovecraft a racist?! Certainly he was! But he did get better but really what Lovecraft was a full on xenophobe. The dictionary definiation of a Xenophobe is;"a person who fears or hates foreigners, people from different cultures, or strangers." Lovecraft hated & feared the strange, the different, & the foreign. Some of his tales had especially harsh takes towards Italian immigrants 'The Horror At Red Hook' comes to mind here. And to a certain extent 'The Haunter of the Dark'  a good part of the story reflects both the feeling of the Roman Catholics in the story & Italians of the area. 'The Haunter of the Dark'  is a sequel to "The Shambler from the Stars", by Robert Bloch. Bloch wrote a third story in the sequence, "The Shadow from the Steeple", in 1950.

Illustration of rioters breaking into Parish Prison. Anti-Italian lynching in New Orleans, 1891

But then you have stories like 'The Cats of Ulthar';

"It is said that in Ulthar, which lies beyond the river Skai, no man may kill a cat; and this I can verily believe as I gaze upon him who sitteth purring before the fire. For the cat is cryptic, and close to strange things which men cannot see. He is the soul of antique Aegyptus, and bearer of tales from forgotten cities in Meroe and Ophir. He is the kin of the jungle’s lords, and heir to the secrets of hoary and sinister Africa. The Sphinx is his cousin, and he speaks her language; but he is more ancient than the Sphinx, and remembers that which she hath forgotten"

And as an animal lover especially a New England cat lover I'm more then happy to forgive Lovecraft's mental issues & attitudes because I spoke Robert Bloch at length about his friend. The real question is what the Hell was the Starry Wisdom cult up too?! They were trying to summon  Nyarlathotep in his aspect as the Haunter of the Dark. 

The Cats of Ulthar : H P Lovecraft : 9781944937058

But the follow up stories by Bloch implied that there was a lot more going on behind the scenes in Providence with the Church  of Starry Wisdom.   Are there multiple cults operating around the world at the same time during the 1850's through 1900's?! Yes I believe so! 
Jack London's The Red One chronicles another such alien entity from outside our known space time. The Red One has many characteristics of Lovecraft's Great Old Ones especially the nihilistic elements & themes of the novel. 
There's indications that like a great onion there are multitudes of reality both mundane & completely weird from our local space time continuum in these stories. This pulls from the notion that a multitude of worlds or prime material Earths may cross over when these entities are encountered by ordinary humanity. These meets are very dangerous indeed. 


But several of both Jack London's & R.W. Chamber's themes & setting  elements in their stories & novels become evident & have much in common with some old school modules & dungeons: 

  1. The theme of 'the other' & 'the alien' are evident all around them. 
  2. Dream or nightmare like qualities that indicate multiple layers of reality all within the same fictional landscape. 
  3. In 'The Red One' 'The story's theme was suggested to London by his friend George Sterling: a message is sent from an alien civilization but is lost in the wilderness' This throws itself in the same light as Joseph Conrad's short novel Heart of Darkness.
  4. The crossing over into the otherworldly or alien  environment is something we find over & over again in many of the early D&D modules. 
  5. The theme of the alien or dark 'lost world' suggests the ruin or apocalyptic from the intrusion of the 'other invasive' divinity or alien god. 
  6. Dungeons or ruins are the realm of the deadly & suicidal something inimical to mankind on a fundamental level. 
  7. The theme of the alien as horror becomes evident. This indicates not a prejudiced based basis but one based on survival of the human. 
  8. Treasure is only a byproduct of the adventure but not its basis. There is evil but its so alien that it might not be recognized as the cosmic threat it represents. 
  9. The old themes of colonization give way to the themes of the completely invasive life form. Mankind's days are numbered. 
  10. These alien divinities that exist within these stories point up the existence to a multitude of higher dimensional life forms that can take on entire themes of campaigns. 

Monday, June 29, 2020

The Lovecraftian Connections Of The Free Issue Of Fantastic Story Quarterly 1951 Winter v02n01 To The 'Old Solar System' Campaign Setting

This was one of the successor reprint pulp magazines to the original runs. There were a number of these magazines after the original pulps houses closed down or evolved into animals on the wilds of the news stands. Many of these issues had a bit of the HP Lovecraft circle of writers in the background of the magazine. Perfect Appendix N fodder. What's this got to do with Dungeons & Dragons? Quite  a bit folks, the science fantasy aspect was hot as many stories were inspired by the various Fantastic Story Quarterly's stable of writers including Gordon R. Dickson's first sale, "Trespass", and stories by Walter M. Miller & Richard Matheson"  

You can read the whole history of Fantastic Story Magazine here. 
What made Fantastic Story different was Ned Pines who was in many ways a visionary behind the scenes comic book & science fiction magazine publisher. If your into public domain comic books & super heroes then the name Ned Pines comes up frequently.
"Fantastic Story Quarterly was a pulp science fiction magazine, published from 1950 to 1955 by Best Books, a subsidiary imprint of Standard Magazines. The name was changed with the Summer 1951 issue to Fantastic Story Magazine. It was launched to reprint stories from the early years of the science fiction pulp magazines, and was initially intended to carry no new fiction, though in the end every issue contained at least one new story. It was sufficiently successful for Standard to launch Wonder Story Annual as a vehicle for more science fiction reprints, but the success did not last. In 1955 it was merged with Standard's Startling Stories. Original fiction in Fantastic Story included Gordon R. Dickson's first sale, "Trespass", and stories by Walter M. Miller and Richard Matheson" 
Ned Pines connection to Fantastic Story magazine is interesting because of the direction he pushed the publication  in;" In 1936, Ned Pines of Beacon Publications bought Wonder Stories from Gernsback.[3] Pines changed the title to Thrilling Wonder Stories,[4] and in 1939 and 1940 added two more sf titles: Startling Stories and Captain Future.[5][6] Pines had acquired reprint rights to the fiction published in Wonder Stories as part of the transaction, and he instituted a "Hall of Fame" department in Startling Stories to carry some of this material. Captain Future also carried reprint material, but neither Startling nor Captain Future had room for some of the longer stories in the backfile. At the end of the 1940s a boom in science fiction magazines encouraged Pines to issue a new magazine, titled Fantastic Story Quarterly, as a vehicle for reprinting this older material. The original plan was for the magazine to carry no new fiction, but this policy was changed shortly before publication, and at least one new story was included in every issue." 

That brings me to our issue for free download

Fantastic Story Quarterly v02n01 (1951 Winter)


  This issue is pivotal to my campaign because it contains not one but three of the H.P. Lovecraft circle of writers. Endo Binder has his novel 'The Enslaved Brains' in this issue in the far future of an alternative 1973, this novel smacks of Great Race of Yith technology gone awry. 

Clark Ashton Smith details his "Captain 
Volmar"novel A Captivity in Serpens (1931, also known as The Amazing Planet) which has some awesome action as Captain Volmar leads a crew of space explorers  on the ether-powered ship Alcyone.  I've already talked about the connections between The Great Race of Yith, Forbidden Planet, and Captain Volmar here.But 'The Museum' by Frank Belknap Long is a whole other matter. This story services a perfect bridge gap between the Mythos and traditional science fantasy adventures. The concept is about a museum which alters its visitors and staff into alien life forms shapes ala polymorph spell technologies.  Perhaps your adventurers might work for the staff on a few expeditions across time & space. Again this sounds very similar to Great Race of Yith technologies. HP Lovecraft's The Shadow Out of Time contains many of the technologies described in these stories implied or within the background of the novella.  

 "Stephen Marlowe (born Milton Lesser, August 7, 1928 in Brooklyn, New York, died February 22, 2008 (aged 79), in Williamsburg, Virginia) was an American author of science fictionmystery novels, and fictional autobiographies of Christopher ColumbusMiguel de Cervantes, and Edgar Allan Poe. He is best known for his detective character Chester Drum, whom he created in the 1955 novel The Second Longest Night. Lesser also wrote under the pseudonyms Adam Chase, Andrew Frazer, C.H. Thames, Jason Ridgway, Stephen Wilder andEllery Queen.

Lesser attended the College of William & Mary, earning his degree in philosophy, marrying Leigh Lang shortly after graduating. The couple divorced in 1962. He was drafted into the United States Army during the Korean War"  
Stephen Marlowe wrote under his given name of Milton Lesser and is better known today for his detective fiction then his science fiction creations. In this issue his work on 'When Flame Globes Dance' is perfect fodder for an alien menace on one of the asteroid belt in the 'Old Solar System'. Perhaps these were artificial life form creations left behind by Hyperboreans many thousands of years before. Explorers should be very wary of them. Reign of the Reptiles by A.Connell is again exactly the sort of prehistoric weirdness that one could be finding when messing with time travel and alternative time lines. This novella first appeared in Wonder Stories v7 03. So what does all of this mean? Well  Fantastic Story Quarterly v02n01 (1951 Winter) could be used as a back Appendix S for my 'Old Solar' system campaign in which the PC's begin to suspect that there's far more to the background of the Great Race's time travel & alternative time line efforts. We really have no idea who created the time gateway from the classic original Star Trek Episode City On The Edge of Forever.  But the technology seems eerrily similar to the technologies used by Gary Seven including the Beta 5 computer hidden in his office in Apartment 12B at 811 East 68th Street in New York City. 
And some of the dimensional  travel, alien life forms,etc. described in the 'The Museum' by Frank Belknap Long. Are we really looking at the remains and door stops of the Great Race of Yith as it continues to poke and prod the little ape life forms that the Elder Things accidentally created so many centuries ago? Why? What does this all mean? It means that the war 'The Great Race of Yith' started  continues across many branches of alternative time and space.

This means that the Great Race or its agents could appear anywhere. The fact is that the giant machine from Forbidden Planet is only one of a vast array of mechanisms that have been designed for a slow war that has been fought for billions of years. 
The danger of the Great Race of Yith & its various branches of the Pnakotic brotherhood become evident. In the 'Old Solar system 'campaign setting there are literally thousands of Great Race mega dungeons scattered across the universe waiting for adventurers to find them. Those players who have played through Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea's Taken From Dunwichknow just how dangerous these bastards can be. 

The Errol Otus depiction of the Great Race of Yith from
the original Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 1st edition
Deities & Demigods remains a personal favorite of mine.

The fact is that there are literally thousands of agents, facilities, & bases belonging to the Great Race scattered across time & space. They continue this horrid 'slow war' across a wide variety of alternative timelines and Earth with little regard for the safety and well being of anyone. 
  They're agents & the cult of the the Pnakotic brotherhood know the truth about the Flying Polyps & why the Mi Go have only the least warriors tending their hives in the Old Solar System. They know what waits in the darkness between the asteroids and its dire horrors only hinted about in this issue of Fantastic Stories. We'll get into that soon kids. Till next time keep those dice rolling!  Stay away from the nippers of the Great Race of Yith!

This post is not an attempt to violate the trade mark or copy right of the film  Forbidden Planet or Star Trek & its attendant properties.  The contents of this post are for entertainment & educational purposes only all writings are the copyright and trade mark of Dark Corner productions

Sunday, June 28, 2020

My Thoughts & Recollections on the Passing of Iconic Jim Holloway D&D, AD&D, Rpg & Fantasy Artist

Tonight it feels like the whole OSR & D&D fandom is hurting. Jim Holloway passed away tonight. He was one of the most iconic Dungeons & Dragons, Advanced Dungeons & Dragons first edition, & even present OSR fantasy artists. More over Jim Holloway was a genuinely nice guy from my interactions & meetings with him over the years at Gencon in the Nineties.

Jim Holloway | Land of Nod

My first modern interaction with Jim Holloway came from his illustration & artwork on Dungeon Crawl Classics rpg in 2008. I emailed Jim some questions & bang he emailed back & we talked a bit. In all of my conversations Jim was a class act. It sums up what I think of the man & the artist. 
Jim Holloway | Geekberry

Jim Holloway is one of those pivot Dungeons & Dragons artists in my mind. An artist whose artwork helps to define a moment of time & shift in the 'grand game' of Gary Gygax & David Arneson. I can't begin to try & hammer out my feelings about this man's passing. 
Art Preview: Jim Holloway - Goodman Games

I'm sad that he's gone, disgusted with myself that going back I didn't make more of an effort to get to know Jim, & awed at the body of artwork that he leaves to us in his wake as well as his life's work. But most of all I think of the Holloway family going through this awful time. My respects & condolences on Jim's passing to the Holloway family. 
Dungeon Crawl Classics

Thank you Jim Holloway for sharing your talent, artwork, dreams,  everything that you brought to all of our table tops & wonders of the imagination. Thanks for the artwork of  the first run of the Paranoia rpg and especially the covers to Avalon Hill's Tales of the Floating Vagabond an old favorite of mine. 

Reality Cheque - Tales From The Floating Vagabond Classics

Jim Holloway will live on through our collective dreams, memories, across the table tops of the world every time an old school or current player gets together with his or her friends to chuck some dice. Those dice will roll across a piece of Holloway artwork or some ancient Dragon magazine article. Suddenly the name Jim Holloway will drop into the purview of the nostalgia of a gamer across the world. I do not say this lightly my condolences, respects, & prayers are with the Holloway family this evening. RIP Jim Holloway artist of the old school, the OSR, and our friend. 

Moorcock's Eternal Champion, Deities & Demigods, & Some Random Thoughts on The Cosmic Balance

“Good and evil both increase at compound interest. That is why the little decisions you and I make every day are of such infinite importance. The smallest good act today is the capture of a strategic point from which, a few months later, you may be able to go on to victories you never dreamed of. An apparently trivial indulgence in lust or anger today is the loss of a ridge or railway line or bridgehead from which the enemy may launch an attack otherwise impossible.”

― C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity


Scale ships in the second Ether 

Never let it be said that I waste influences in this case the wonderful Boris Vallejo's 'A Fire Upon the Deep' book cover artwork. Man, this artwork grabbed me back in '92 when I was working in a book shop part time. Like many people I two or three part time jobs to make ends me. But man that artwork stays with you. Personally think these ships would make excellent scale ships. Sorry folks but I'm back to a bit of Moorcock musing. I'm using the Moorcock mythologies for campaign ideas but not directly copying from them. 

Image may contain: night

I've been thinking about 'Spelljammer' specifically the artwork for the cover the 'Legend of the Spelljammer box set from '91. The Nineties sure seem like the decades for manta style sky ships but I've been thinking about now! The now of the campaign promise of Spelljammer. Love the idea of the Spelljammer but the execution left a lot to be desired for me as a dungeon master. 

The Legend of Spelljammer Advanced D&d 2nd Ed. Incomplete 3 Books ...

Never let it be said that I'm ever a guy to leave any stone or campaign idea alone. Now I've been toying with 'Cha'alt' by Venger Satanis for some months now. Over the last couple of months I've toyed with played around, folded,spindled, & mutilated Cha'alt in no uncertain terms. Because of Cha'alt's Lovecraftian  status is it a place that counts as 'Chaotic evil' ?

But then I started going over my Michael Moorcock notes on the Von Bek family;"The von Beks, also known as the van Beeks, the Beks, the Beggs and the Becks, are an ancient, extended family who are important players of the Game of Time. The von Bek family, possibly due to their origin and fact that many members are Eternals, have spread through the Multiverse, and they exist in many realities." Are the Von Bek's, the Beggs, etc. Are the  
Eternal's actually spreading the misery & chaos that they are fighting?! Or is it simply a case that the 'eternal champions are drawn to death,destruction, & chaos?! These things seems to follow them in in his or her wake. 


The  Eternals are inherit to the alignment system of Dungeons & Dragons  going all the way back to original Dungeons & Dragons with Law,Chaos, & Neutral.The Advanced Dungeons & Dragons first edition Deities & Demigod brings home Elric's eternal champion alignment & its not pretty folks. This is not a nice NPC & could wreck a campaign quite easily but again this is the point. Elric is fated & doomed to his fate to end the world. 

The True Story of the Cthulhu and Elric Sections Removed from ...

Elric is known as:" Elric of Melniboné, also called The Albino EmperorElric WomanslayerElric Kinslayer, the Pale Prince of RuinsThe White Wolf, and many other names beside, is the four hundred and twenty-eighth (and final) emperor of Melniboné and an incarnation of the Eternal Champion
." He's not to be taken lightly at all & I've seen dungeon masters use him as a NPC once or twice. The roles that Elric played was straight up vile villain in both of those campaigns. And I've got no argument about. 

Elric stats from Deities and Demigods ..Jeff Dee art | Dungeons ...

Elric isn't a guy you bring home to mom unless mom is an empress you want dead & her soul sucked out by a chaos blade. That chaos is a lower world evil that can be trade under foot & its the sort of thing we see on Cha'alt as well. Cha'alt  isn't the kind of place that one goes lightly too. Its a fallen world not unlike McKinney's Carcosa where sanity & reason are by words for adventurers to tread underfoot. These campaign world settings  take the lives of PC's by the score. 

The Ghost without a Shell: RPG Product Review - Carcosa

It is within these 'fallen worlds' that one finds the most daring fare, the greatest treasure, & the most sanity bending monsters. But its nothing without the two halves of the same coin Law & Chaos.. Or is it sanity & in sanity!? I'm just playing about a very long campaign chain here. But without the AD&D alignment system none of this makes any sense. I would say that there's a meeting point of the lower tier cosmic balance of Moorcock vs the almost Christian cosmology of C.S.Lewis's Space Trilogy with deep smatterings of Lovecraft thrown in. I'm not sure if this is the beginning of a campaign or random philosophical mental masturbation. Only time will tell. 

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Blood Queens Beyond Oz To Wonderland - Wee Warriors Palace of The Vampire By Peter Kerestan, & Judy Kerestan

"For three centuries, the peasants of the Dwarvish island of Baylor have feared the raids of the Vampire Queen and her minions. Sweeping down at night from the palace in the shrouded peaks of the island, they range ever farther in their search for blood. The most recent victim was the Princess of Baylor, daughter of King Arman, who was taken in a midnight raid. King Arman has offered fabulous riches and land holdings with titles to the person or persons who can brave the stronghold of the Vampire Queen and return his daughter to him alive and well. "
Once again I've been speaking with my players & several of my dungeon master friends about my Castles & Crusades/Victorious rpg hybrid campaign that's been an ongoing & very dynamic affair. 

Ages ago PrecisIntermedia sent me a copy of Wee Warriors Palace of the Vampire Queen on pdf. Never let it be said that I ever ran a 'quiet' campaign & let's get right into New York City of War 1870. The city is gripped by riots & civil unrest of the highest order. But why?! What if my dimensional traveling Tegel Manor was drawn to the city by events taking place else such as the fantasy version of New York city that is part an upside down version of city reachable through fairy rings.  So let's dip back into the history of Dungeons & Dragons specifically Palace of the Vampire Queen; 
"Palace of the Vampire Queen is a Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game adventure published by Wee Warriors in 1976. It is notable for being the first stand-alone role-playing adventure."
I've already spoken about using both Flying Buffalo's 
 "Catalyst" system books & the Thieves Guild box set  to give the whole affair campaign legs. 

This goes into an idea that I've had brewing for awhile now that some of the  kingdoms of Fairyland's America  may actually be the kingdoms of Oz. The Dwarvish island of Baylor & its attendant kingdoms are actually a part of the Oz machinery in my campaigns. 

What dangerous royal bloodline does the vampire queen belong to?! Well back about 1845–1847 the 'penny dreadful' of 
Varney the Vampire; or, the Feast of Blood appeared & one of his brides might be perfect for the umm progenitor of Varney. Our vampire queen's origin goes much further back then any guess. She was a precipitant in the Elf/Dwarf wars of Fairy ages ago. 
Varney the Vampire or the Feast of Blood.jpg

This ties in with some of the dungeons & idea that I've had about using Gary Gygax's EX1 Dungeonland modules in this campaign. Credit goes to DM Steve who was on the phone with me last night. The idea that the vampire royals are trying to spark off a new OZ/Wonderland war. 

The Red Queen & the Queen of Hearts might be set up to be at war  with the newly installed Princess Ozmas & this ties back into the party's recent quisi elemental wizard encounter a few games sessions ago.
Princess Ozma by John R. Neill.gif

 All of this ties back into the events centered around  
Gary Gygax's EX2 The Land Behind The Magic Mirror.  

 But I don't want to get into too much here but there's lots of queens & chess pieces being moved across America via  Oz, Greyhak, & Wonderland. Part of the inspiration here comes from an interview that DM Mike & Liz Stewart gave ages ago. And my recent purchase of the Tunnels & Trolls Alice in Weirdland solo dungeon. But that's another blog review coming up! 

New York City is going to be a very busy place coming up. The Vampire Queen is definitely going to be a boss based fight though. Her evil might be a very subtle & sinister thing coming up echoing through the campaign as deals are cut with the Rumps, undeath spreads, cracks begin to appear, and things go North & South fast.. So what could the wicked witches do about it?! 
I might end up adding in a sister Vampire Queen from Mark Taormino's Dark Wizard's #1 The Hanging Coffins of the Vampire Queen. 

Friday, June 26, 2020

Review & OSRing Commentary On Frog God Games's 'Sea King's Malice' For The Swords & Wizardry rpg & Fifth edition D&D

"In the cold and merciless depths sits a brooding menace, ancient, indescribably evil, and ravenously hungry. Perched on his massive throne, the Sea King idly dreams of the delightful taste of land-dweller flesh. He fantasizes his massive jaws bathing in runnles of terrestrial blood. His hate-filled dreams suffuse him with visions of a glorious and bloody feast where his despised enemies those both above and below the waves, drown in a tide of their own blood, torn apart by his fierce warriors.

Only the most desperate or truly foolhardy would seek out this horror in the murky and abyssal depths to confront the terrible Sea King in his court and primeval seat of power."

Now where do I begin?! I suppose I should begin with the fact that this adventure/sourcebook clocks in at 144 pages & 'The Sea King's Malice' was a part of a highly successful Frog God Games kickstarter in Apr 16, 2020. The Lovecraftian overtones here are overpowering & they go hand in hand with the support material that's in 'The Sea King's Malice' pdf book. Full disclosure here I got in on the fifth edition Humble bundle here with the full intent of OSRizing the material for my Castles & Crusades & Victorious rpg hybrid game. Now with all that out of the way let's begin. 

'Sea King's Malice' is interesting from the perspective that it takes the PC's up the level chain right off the bat;"
This adventure is designed for four to six characters starting at 3rd level and takes them to 10th level. This adventure uses a story-based character advancement mechanic. Of course, if you want to tally experience points to advance characters, have at it. Please note though that the encounters in this adventure have not been weighted with exact experience point math in mind. So if you find that your party has gotten to a “level up” signpost and the characters do not have enough experience points to level up, consider awarding some additional experience points based on story accomplishments so that the characters are capable of facing the challenges of that section. Characters are likely to attain 6th level after surviving the Open Sea section and before arriving at Crocodile Island. They should attain 8th level by the end of the Crocodile Island section. Finally, the characters should be at least 9th level before confronting King Bachzarisaa the Insatiable in his lair deep in the sahuagin city of Tzar’Grandula."

Yeah this is not going be easy at all. The PC's are gonna get rolled under the bus because all this adventure fits very neatly into the Frog God Games's Razor Coast setting. If your unfamiliar with the Razor Coast imagine the original 'Pirates of the Caribbean' movies & they made sense (sorta because this is D&D and things vary with players & dungeon master). 

The adventure encounters here are deadly & the book moves fast from what I've read. There's lots of interesting takes on classic D&D monsters with the writing being par for the course Frog God. The artwork is very nice & on point. The monster appendixes have solid information within them. There's a few editing issues here & there but over all not bad considering that this is a Frog God Games product. The writing & design here seem on point to me. But how would I run 'Sea King's Malice'?! To be honest dear readers I'd take Wizard's 'Ghosts of Saltmarsh' & pair it with Sea King's Malice & do a two year or better mega campaign! 
Amazon.com: D&d: Adventure Ghosts Of Saltmarsh Limited Edition (hc ...

But if I was running 'Sea King's Malice' I'd grab 
'Ecology of The Sahuagin'

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because it really goes into a deep dive on Frog God's version of the Sahaugin.
Yeah these guys are reskinned & trade marked Deep Ones but I really don't
 have a problem with this because its gonna save me time in the long run
running the 
'Sea King's Malice' adventure
. Besides 'Ecology of The Sahuagin'  came with
the humble bundle & I really love to get into the head space of the monsters &
into their agendas. 

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Web resultEcology of the Sahuagin

Which brings me to a point here with this review, I'm trying terribly hard not to give away a ton of the adventure plot points of Sea King's Malice campaign source book. For those of you who think I've gone way off of the OSR reservation let me remind you that I'm running this 
with the Siege engine & especially Castles & Crusades. 'Sea King's Malice' easily fits these parameters for me and then some. 
Castles & Crusades - Wikipedia

'Sea King's Malice' is a huge & sprawling campaign so your looking at the better part of a year or more for this campaign to actual play at the table top level. Now if we were to take 'Sea King's Malice' all of the way back to 'U1 Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh' & the 'U' Saltmarsh series of adventures into the mix, well the 'Sea King' becomes a very dangerous & nasty NPC indeed. 

The 'alchemist' in my version of U1 wasn't a 'Scooby Doo' villain but a lich with connections to the Slavers of the classic TSR module series. But that's another blog entry entirely. Is 'The Sea King's Malice' worth your time & coin?! Yes absolutely in my humble opinion. 
How would I run 'The Sea King's Malice' with a game like the Victorious rpg?! Glad you asked because we'll be getting into that soon, oh yes very soon! Muahaha.. 

Thursday, June 25, 2020

The Advanced Dungeons & Dragons first Edition Alignment System In Campaigns & Troll Lord's Siege Engine

Right now in my War 1870 campaign I'm coming across a challenge. War 1870 is a hybrid of Castles & Crusades rpg with a very heavy & dark coating of  the Victorious rpg  But its heart & soul is really Advanced Dungeons & Dragons first edition.

Weird of the white wolf daw 1977.jpg

In the past I've talked about Michael Moorcock's Elric Chronicles on this blog but today we're gonna bring a whole different aspect to the frontage. We're gonna bring up the alignment system & in this case the axis that we know & love from first edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons the fact that it sorta lines up with the Victorious rpg's good & evil axis is only icing on the OSR cake. 

Law versus chaos
GoodLawful goodNeutral goodChaotic good
NeutralLawful neutral(True) neutralChaotic neutral
EvilLawful evilNeutral evilChaotic evil
When it comes to Paul Anderson's 'Three Hearts & Three Lions' the alignment system of AD&D first edition is at its center. With all of the occult secret societies, incredible history, and everything happening in the New York City of 1870's. The mystic mythology of Charlemagne & elements of Anderson's 'Three Hearts & Three Lions' lines up perfectly.
A last gasp of the Fey trying to clamp onto humanity's tit & the upside down city serves as a contrast to the scheming Lovecraftian horrors on the other side of this campaign. 

Three Hearts and Three Lions by Poul Anderson

Saying this is a simple supers campaign is a both an injustice & idiotic. The background here is steeped deeply in New York City history & D&D.. The Appendix for random Demon generation first appeared in Dragon issue# 13 & aligns up perfectly with Castles & Crusades Tome of the Unclean. 
AD&D 1st Edition - Dungeon Master's Guide (Original Cover).pdf ...

The alignments are not simply morale compasses but indicators of complete & total submission to an ideology that rules the soul but not the PC. Its really more of their place in the grand scheme of the chess board of existence. In point of fact this is something we see in 1981's Classic Clash of the Titan film. Harry Hamlin's Persus is the perfect champion of a type of Greco Roman 'Law' as it were against the backdrop of the chaos that Calibos represents. But notice that there is a touch of Chaos about Zesus himself. The alignments are grand & sweeping embracing & destroying as they create. 

Money And Greek Myths: Lessons From Clash Of The Titans ...

With the Greco Roman revival of the 1870's this is a particularly apt indicator of the grand sweeping gestures of the 'gods' but we'll get into that in another blog entry. 

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

I8 The Ravager of Time Adventure By Graeme Morris and Jim Bambra For Advanced Dungeons & Dragons First Editions And Your Old School Campaigns

"So this is the Ffenargh? Mile after mile of stinking bogs overlain by a swirling mist that clings to the skin and chills to the bone. Ahead, a decrepit causeway rises scant inches above the fetid waters and meanders its way through the twisted forms of stunted trees into the depths of this forsaken land.

For years, these blighted fens have been ignored by the outside world, but now an urgent summons brings you into the Ffenargh, to the Court of the Lords Spiritual at Eylea. A foul murder has been committed. Geoffrey D'Arcy, Lord of Myrkfast, has been slain by his own son and you are called upon to find out why.

Death has always hung heavy over this mire, but now an ancient evil has returned to haunt the mist - an evil whose icy fingers reach out to crush any who dare delve its secrets. You, who have faced death a thousand times, meet it now in its most terrible guise. Can you defeat it, or will you fall victim to the Ravager of Time?"

This is a dark and gritty UK adventure set against the stinking fens and bogs of Ffenargh. A setting right out of the imagination of Robert Howard's Solomon Kane adventures. The grittiness of this adventure rings right straight through even as it uses monsters straight out of the Fiend Folio and Monster Manual II. This is an adventure that I've seen used with  the Rune Quest Third edition, the Warhammer Fantasy rpg  and ported over to The  Palladium Fantasy Rpg  as well as Advanced Dungeons and Dragons first edition. Well see why in a moment.
"So this is the Ffenargh? Mile after mile of stinking bogs overlain by a swirling mist that clings to the skin and chills to the bone. Ahead, a decrepit causeway rises scant inches above the fetid waters and meanders its way through the twisted forms of stunted trees into the depths of this forsaken land.

For years, these blighted fens have been ignored by the outside world, but now an urgent summons brings you into the Ffenargh, to the Court of the Lords Spiritual at Eylea. A foul murder has been committed. Geoffrey D'Arcy, Lord of Myrkfast, has been slain by his own son and you are called upon to find out why.

Death has always hung heavy over this mire, but now an ancient evil has returned to haunt the mist - an evil whose icy fingers reach out to crush any who dare delve its secrets. You, who have faced death a thousand times, meet it now in its most terrible guise. Can you defeat it, or will you fall victim to the Ravager of Time? "

An adventure for 6-10 characters of levels 8th to 10th.
There's always been something different about the UK TSR's efforts and this one is no different, I've seen this module described as the bastard child of  Shakespeare meets sword & sorcery with an English twist. Wiki actually sums up the British sense of this module quite nicely;"The adventure is a TSR UK branch production and features non-player character types, expository style, atmosphere, and situations that are notably different from many of the game modules created in the US."
This module is full of casts of characters with back story, twisted motives, and monsters lots of em and pay close attention to those PC levels because they mean it. There something really twisted about this module, maybe its the monsters or the main villain or the fact that it can be ported right into a few of the other swamp based modules that I've talked about. The adventure is clever and doesn't talk down to its audience at all, in point of fact it takes the dungeon master and expects them to take the PC's and throw them into the dark alleys of old age.
Here's the break down according to Wiki;"Ravager of Time is set in the Ffenarch. The Ffenarch is a dismal, boggy environment with only some small areas of firm ground. The player characters are hired to search the fens for a lord's son who killed his father. While searching, the characters become entangled in an evil plot that is tainting Eylea."
I8 takes your PC's by the short hairs and knows that your outlaws and adventurers. You're expected to have your characters use commonsense and there huge swaths of this adventure that are complete railroads but that's because this was a convention set up back in Eighty Six. Again this is a part of the TSR UK formula from the D&D Classics website;" Like most of the TSR UK adventures, this one is plot heavy, featuring numerous NPCs; a jury trial; and a life-draining sorceress, the eponymous "Ravager of Time." All of the adventuring occurs in towns or wilderness, without a dungeon to be found. This would all be much more typical of the TSR adventures of the 90s, but in the 80s it was almost exclusively the domain of TSR UK and (to a lesser extent) Tracy Hickman. Like many of the other TSR UK adventures, this one makes heavy use of monsters found in the Fiend Folio (1981) and the Monster Manual II (1983)."  But does this make the module bad or unplayable? Not at all, in point of fact Ravager of Time captures and encapsulates a certain time period in writing and game design. The plot, the writing, and adventure are a trial by fire in sword and sorcery terms. The country of Ffenargh could be in central Europe someplace in the 1400's with its gritty trappings and plot that could easily be ported over to Lamentations of the Flame Princess or Dark Albion. Yes I must sound like broken record but believe me because of the familiar nature of royal plot, the dark background adventure elements, twisted motives for the NPC's and the events of the backdrop this adventure fits the contents. Its also a tightly written affair and still widely regarded by the OSR community fondly.
There are three real reasons to use this particular module : 
  1. The Ravager of Time has a very dark resonance with its audience and a pulpy grittiness that really tests players to their limits. Because the setting is generic you can drop this adventure into any campaign world and it will work. 
  2. I8 has lots of investigation, hunting, and is a real mental workout it can be customized for DYI work and can be broken and still work for your old school or retroclone campaigns. 
  3. Because of the connection with both the Monster Manual II and the Fiend Folio lots of old favorites show up and can actually get a deadly workout at the table lending this module a bit of an old world horror flavor. Bring spare characters and sheets, PC's should be of the appropriate level. 

So would the Ravager of Time be a good fit for a game of sword and sorcery pulp action for a game such as Astonishing Swordsmen and Sorcerers of Hyperborea? The short answer is a solid yes and the reasons why are very simple. The adventure is distinctly British in both tone, artwork, feel, and content or at the very least pseudo historical in its treatment of Ffenargh. The setting could easily be work of Celtic settlers in shattered shadow of Lemuria, Atlantis, or Hyperborea from Old Earth. The motives and feel of the adventure is sort of a woven dream of a corrupted pulpy landscape pregent with adventure waiting for the right match to come along and set the campaign on fire. This adventure has the feel and elements  of Mac Beth set against the world of Howard and Lovecraft. But this is an adventure for experienced players and PC's in every sense of the word.

Forget the usual solving everything with your sword arm and getting things done with a boot up a monster's backside. This adventure involves thinking things through very carefully and then taking swift action. Because this adventure came out in the shadow of the White Dwarf magazine era. I've seen this adventure converted over to Rune Quest and later on over to the Palladium Fantasy Rpg. This was because of the generic and well thought out way that the U.K. TSR crew put this one together. Its tightly designed, deadly as sin, and capable of taking PC's up a few levels and is a great jump off point for extended bits of old school campaign play. This is not an adventure to be taken lightly. I've seen several TPK's with I8 The Ravager of Time. Is it well done? Yes absolutely it is. Is it worth your time? Yes in a heartbeat. This is also one of the more reasonable used adventures on the open market clocking in at ten dollars for a used copy on Amazon.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Retro - Review & Commentary On I7 Baltron's Beacon By Philip Meyers For Your Old School Advanced Dungeons And Dragons First Edition Game Campaigns

A strangely delivered advertisement has led you to a sage named Demetrios. He needs a rare component to complete a desperately needed potion. The journey to retrieve it will take you through a large, unexplored swamp to a ruined keep, the former headquarters of a vile cult that once claimed the lives of many innocent youths.
To solve the mysteries of "Baltron's Beacon," the characters must excel in handling wilderness, building ruins, traps, puzzles, and new monsters. This adventure, originally designed for tournament use, is now available for your own campaign.

    I7 Baltron's Beacon By Philip Meyers is an adventure that you can drop right into the background of an existing campaign and no one will be the wiser. The there are simple reasons for this and are at the heart of why this adventure works so well for Advanced Dungeons and Dragons. This module is a throwback to other earlier adventures. It's pure dungeon crawling fun in places for a mid level adventure that wears its adventure over plotline on its sleeve. This adventure is one part DYI dungeon adventure location with a very limited backstory that allows a DM to customize it as they see fit. Its an incredibly dangerous dungeon crawl based adventure with adventure content that consists almost entirely of dungeon-crawling, including having adventures through a gatehouse, a keep, and at its core a dungeon filled with a couple of levels of exploration and danger.
It should be remembered that at its core this was originally a tournament module and the adventure is designed for a large group of players and presents a challenge on a number of levels for PC's.

Over the years I've seen  WG4 The Forgotten Temple of Tharizdun For AD&D 1st Edition get a ton of respect and love but one of the modules that over the years I've seen used with   I7 Baltron's Beacon By Philip Meyers where the cultists from one module have constructed the Beacon. Over the years I've seen the Cult of the Black Flame and the Crystal of the Ebon Flame  both tied into the background and setting of I7 many times. This makes it perfect as fodder for retroclone systems including Lamentations of the Flame Princess, Dark Albion, and especially Astonishing Swordsmen and Sorcerers of Hyperborea. According to D&D classics.com; "There's a limited backstory for how some of the inhabitants came to reside in the Beacon, but there's not much attempt beyond that to create an ecology for the dungeon." which makes this a perfect candidate to add into the background of your sword and sorcery campaigns.
Another adventure setting piece is the fact that the adventure has people trying to move into the area around the structure and it sort of reminds me of the fact that the Green Plague has swept through and wrecks parts of Hyperborea. This really brings home the fact that the cult of course would idolize the ruins and dungeon as part of myth and legend from the glory days of the cult. For Dark Albion or the pseudo historic setting of Lamentations this makes the cult a prime target for mercenaries working for the Inquisition placing the cult perhaps at the heart of the Black Forrest or some other border area of Germany or even an isolated region of France or Spain.

 I've also seen this module worked up as a part of the environs surrounding the Frank Mentzer adventure I11 because of the ruins of the Beacon and DM's wanting an area of large expanses of ruins and dungeons. Another interesting character is the sage named Demetrios whose a bit of a non entity except at the beginning of the module, I've seen several friends flesh this NPC to become a central core of a campaign where the PC's were running after the scribe at various times for other adventures in the campaign Similar to the plot line of  the classic Sinbad and Eye of The Tiger.

I've also seen several DM's switch out the Black Flame itself for Lin Carter's Aphoom-Zhah (The Cold Flamefor a more Lovecraftian feel to the module itself. The deity is right in line with cult ideas and Cthulhu mythos elements especially when it comes to adapting the module into a far more sword and sorcery mode for OSR style adventures. The bottom line is that I7 Baltron's Beacon By Philip Meyers  is good solid dungeon crawl adventure that can easily be adapted right into your home old school campaigns and easily fit a wide variety of needs for a sword and sorcery campaign

Reaper Fire elemental which could with the right paint job act as a stand in for Aphoom-Zhah (The Cold Flame)with the right paint job. But I digress I7 Baltron's Beacon By Philip Meyers remains a good old fashioned dungeon crawl that can serve a wide variety of needs with the right motivation and group of players!