Saturday, March 31, 2012

Adventures Dark and Deep™ Kickstarter Almost There!

The cover image for the book
Well here we are halfway through the kickstarter campaign for Adventures Dark and Deep™: A Curious Volume of Forgotten Lore, and we're at 84% of the goal. I can't thank you all enough for your support of this project, and am deeply humbled by the results so far.

But we still have 16% to go. Help push this project over the goal line!

Adventures Dark and Deep™ is an attempt to explore what the game might have looked like if Gary Gygax had been allowed to keep developing it, based on several articles in Dragon magazine, numerous bits of information given in various online fora, and other writings. This is a best-guess based on the information available, the result of years of research and an open playtest that's lasted for more than a year and a half. Everything comes from his public statements; there's no insider information at work here.

This particular project, A Curious Volume of Forgotten Lore, is not a full rulebook unto itself, but is a rules supplement intended to be used alongside whatever 1E-like rules you currently use. Whether you're playing Advanced Dungeons and Dragons 1E, OSRIC, Labyrinth Lord with the Advanced Edition Companion, or something else that's compatible, you'll be able to take this book and start using it right away. And what's in it?
  • A new bard class and the jester-sub class, along with all the spells that make them unique
  • The mystic class, a sub-class of cleric, and tons more spells
  • The savant class, a sub-class of mage, plus spells
  • The mountebank class, a sub-class of thief with, you guessed it, more spells!
  • A new alternative combat system that's faster and less complex, including a new unarmed combat system
  • New monsters
  • And lots more!
The book will be approximately 125 pages long, available in .pdf, softcover, and hardcover versions, and is designed to be completely modular. Want to use the mountebank but not the mystic? Don't want any of the new classes, but want to use the new combat system? Go ahead! Everything will work fine. Use what you want, but I think you'll like it all.

The money raised from the kickstarter campaign will be used to pay for artwork by the incredibly talented OSR artist Brian "Glad" Thomas, as well as professional editing.

Help make this a reality, and let's get the kickstarter campaign over the goal so I can start putting out bonus goals!

Friday, March 30, 2012

Memphis, Capital of Mighty Erypt

"Surrounded by gigantic walls, mighty Memphis stood before us; no other city in Erypt was so beautiful, so great, so richly decorated. I could not believe my eyes."

The above image comes from François Marcela-Froideval's masterful series of graphic novels Chroniques de la Lune Noire. Specifically, Methraton 02 - Le Crâne (2003), written by Froideval and illustrated by Fabrice Druet. I don't speak a word of French, and only the first four books have been translated into English, but as you can see above, the art itself is worth the price. (As always, click to embiggen.)

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Also, please take a minute to check out the Adventures Dark and Deep Kickstarter campaign. Help make the ADD rules supplement, suitable for use with all 1E-compatible games, a reality!

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Mapping Beyond the Flanaess: The Low Khanate and Central Suhfang

Admittedly, this was an easier map to do, since Telchuria is mostly empty, as are the Low and High Khanates, but I've got to say these are coming easier and easier to me. Still, I never thought I'd belt it out in a day!


I also made a couple of changes to the map of the Orcreich and eastern Suhfang, in response to a bit of feedback I received on a mountain range name (thanks!) and as expected the result of seeing the two maps side-by-side. The revised version is above and is now linked over to the right in the "free downloads" section.

I'm now firmly into the territory depicted on the map from the 2001 Chainmail game, which led me to include a spur of the mountain range I call The Reins. It doesn't exist in the DA #1 map, but it's most definitely there in the Chainmail map, so I added it. It does add a bit of interest to a fairly dull map. The city of Haven up in the valley between the High Khanate and the Orcreich has nothing to do with the product from Game Lords back in the 1980's, but I do find the name evocative and thought that was a good place to put a lawless town of renegade humanoids and horse-nomads. It's purely my own invention; I don't think there's any canon source for what might be up there.

Speaking of the Chainmail map, it does imply that the whole of Suhfang is wooded. I'm taking that a little less than literally, and interpreting it so that Suhfang has scattered woodlands throughout its length.

Next up: I move south again, covering the Celestial Sea, the southern coast of Suhfang, Dragons Island, and northern Erypt. This map might take a little more time than this last one, because it's going to involve research as to the geography of Erypt, as envisioned by François Marcela-Froideval in his Chroniques de la Lune Noire.

And the gazetteer has not been forgotten, promise!

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Also, please take a minute to check out the Adventures Dark and Deep Kickstarter campaign. Help make the ADD rules supplement, suitable for use with all 1E-compatible games, a reality!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Mapping Beyond the Flanaess: Eastern Suhfang and Orcreich, Gulf of Ghayar

I'm on a roll!

Behold another effort in my Mapping Beyond the Flanaess series. This map covers the eastern portion of the Celestial Imperium of Suhfang, the eastern half of the humanoid empire known as Orcreich, the the Gulf of Ghayar region which marks the westernmost edge of the Baklunish lands. I'm including the map of the Golden Jungle region so you can see how they fit together.

I had to take a liberty with the Ataphad islands in the northeast corner of the map. Some sources have them slightly more eastward than I have them here, but it was necessary to scoot them a bit to the west in order to accommodate the ocean depth lines on the left edge of the original Darlene map that came with the 1980 folio and gold boxed set.

I deliberately eschewed the fan-created material surrounding the Gulf of Ghayar (Istustan, mostly), for the same reason I did so with the Golden Jungle map. I'm trying to start solely from canon, and then filling in the missing details as seems best to me. In doing the research for this map, I was a bit surprised to see just how much canon material there is for the western Baklunish region. Risay, the Gulf of Ghayar, the islands, Komal, Mur, etc. all appear in published sources. We also see the last three of the nations bordering the Sea of Dust as mentioned in Gary Gygax's novel Sea of Death; Sa'Han, Behow, and Chomur.

The full-sized .png file for the map can be found in the free resources section over to the right. I'm still working on the gazetteer covering these maps, but the pace of my cartography is outstripping my writing for now. It is coming, however, and a lot of the details for the various provinces of the Celestial Imperium, the tribes of the Orcreich, etc. are on the way. Please, though; I know a lot of people don't like Orcreich as a name. No need to harp on the fact that I used it. It's canon, I don't mind it, and I used it. Feel free to call it Darak Urtag or whatever you want in your own game.

Up next: I go west, covering the remainder of Orcreich, the central region of the Celestial Imperium, and the Low Khanate. Expect a revision to this map once the next one comes out; I wouldn't be a bit surprised of some labels and such need to be moved around near the left edge of this map.

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Also, please take a minute to check out the Adventures Dark and Deep Kickstarter campaign. Help make the ADD rules supplement, suitable for use with all 1E-compatible games, a reality!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

A Truly Awesome Greyhawk Calendar

Done by Russell Akred, posted over at the Flanaess Geographical Society on Facebook. I only wish there was a larger version out there (click to embiggen).

Monday, March 26, 2012

Gonduria, Aquaria, and Oerth's Four Continents

"Leda! Please don't quarrel with our friend. You are allowing the archfiend his way when you do that," Gord said gently. "His question was deserved. It was also practical." The three had been chivvied and chased across the whole of the world. From the distant south, through the Moving islands, up and across Gonduria's vast continent, and thence across the Agitoric Ocean to western Oerik's shore. No fastness or barren or mountain chain had served to conceal them from the hounding of Tharizdun and his yeth.
-- Gary Gygax, Dance of Demons, p. 402
The location of the continent of Gonduria and the Agitoric Ocean has been a question that has vexed Oerthophiles for quite some time. We are told in the Guide to the World of Greyhawk Fantasy Setting that "Oerth has four great continents and countless islands, and four great oceans and countless seas which surround these bodies of land." (Guide, p. 4) But the Guide only names one of them; Oerik, the continent on which the Flanaess can be found. The text accompanying the Dragon Annual #1 map clearly refers to Hyperborea (the icebound land at the north pole of the planet) as a continent. So that's two down.

The names (if not the locations) of the oceans are all accounted for. The Solnor and Dramij Oceans appear in the original folio maps. The Ocean of Storms and the Oceanum Titanicum are in the DA#1 map. And finally the Agitoric Ocean is mentioned above, but there's no indication of its location except that it is between Gonduria and the western shore of Oerik. Hey... wait a sec... that's five oceans! Obviously two of those named above are actually different names for the same body of water. But which two? Back to that question below.

We are also told that Aquaria is one of the continents on Oerth, some 5,000 miles east of the Flanaess across the Solnor Ocean (which, we are told is only 3,000 miles wide!). Some sources state that Aquaria is on Aerth rather than Oerth, but there's no reason there can't be an Aquaria on both; the one on Aerth is 5,000 miles away, the one on Oerth is only 3,000 miles. Works for me. So that's four continents named. But where the heck is "vast" Gonduria?

For a while, I was inclined to label the westernmost portion of the vast landmass found in the DA#1 map as Gonduria. In the same way that Asia and Europe are deemed to be separate continents even though they share an enormous land border, so too it made sense to me that Gonduria and Oerik could be situated. That would put "the western shore of Oerik" as the western coast of the peninsula upon which the Nippon Dominion is found and would fit in nicely with the quote from Dance of Demons, above.

Unfortunately, the publication of 2001's Chainmail, with its "Sundered Empire" setting dashed this possibility. Although it is set in the northwest corner of that great landmass and thus adds some much-needed meat to an otherwise scant area of the campaign world, it is clearly stated in multiple sources that the Sundered Empire is situated in western Oerik. I don't share the misgivings of many of my fellow Greyhawk fans concerning the setting; I think it  has a lot of possibilities, and can be made to fit with the rest of what we know about the area.

We also know that François Marcela-Froideval's campaign, which includes the lands of Lynn (Lhynn), Erypt, etc. fills up the southwestern portion of Oerik. His Chroniques de la Lune Noire have a ton of information on this region, but that's a subject for another post...

There's also the inset map from the Living Greyhawk Gazetteer that shoves Fireland some 3,500 miles to the west and shifts the landmass seen in the lower-right corner of the DA#1 map over to connect with the landmass in the lower left corner, creating one continent-sized landmass southwest of the Tharquish Empire. Given the fact that the DA#1 map is presented as a sort of "adventurer's map" and is not necessarily 100% accurate, these sorts of changes pose no problem. (The map I found to the right is from the Dungeons and Dragons Gazeteer, and thus isn't exactly the same as the inset map from the LGG, but it's close enough to give you an idea of what it looks like. The one in the LGG has some more empty space off to the right and slightly different labels.)

That landmass, I think, fills the bill for Gonduria. It's in the right place (assuming the waterway between it and Oerik is in fact the Agitoric Ocean; we're still working on that superfluous fifth ocean). Is it "vast"? Well, it's about the same size as the Flanaess, so given the fact that "vast" isn't the most precise unit of measurement ever invented, I'd say it could apply. It's certainly in what would be called "the distant south" from a Flanaess-centric point of view. And, given its position, that would cinch the identification of the Agitoric Ocean as being one in the same as the Oceanum Titanicum. From our postulated Gonduria you cross it to get to the western shore of Oerik. Nice and neat, methinks.

We still need to place Aquaria, home of the Aqua-Oerdians and Frank Mentzer's campaign since 1976 or so. Time for an itsty bitsy bit of math. (I know, I know, I'm ignoring the implications of a spherical world and Mercator projections and that stuff. I'm a history major, not a geography major.)

Oerth has a circumference of 25,200 miles. Oerik is (very) roughly 10,000 miles across, including the Flanaess. The inset map from the Living Greyhawk Gazeteer is about 21,500 miles across from edge to edge. Coincidentally, from the eastern edge of the Flanaess on the LGG inset map is... 3,000 miles. Just the right amount of distance to cover the known width of the Solnor ocean before it hits the edge of the map. And that map also leaves us with roughly 3,700 miles to have another continent which would be... Aquaria. Not that Aquaria has to be 3,700 miles across; it could be significantly smaller. But it would be continent-sized, and therefore would serve to separate the Solnor Ocean from the Oceanum Titanicum/Agitoric Ocean.

So there it is. Gonduria is the continent southwest of Oerik. The Agitoric Ocean is the same as the Oceanum Titanicum, and is separated from the Solnor Ocean by Aquaria. Four continents, four oceans, lots of disparate canon sources, some of which are mutually exclusive, reconciled. Ta-da! If you put the pieces together, it looks something like this:


(Note that Aquaria is on there just to establish its position, not to indicate its actual shape. Continents and oceans are capitalized.)

I realize some of the above conclusions diverge from those of other Oerthophiles, some of whom name Hepmonaland as a continent, and who conflate the Agitoric Ocean with the Ocean of Storms, along with other differences. But given the sources, I think my solutions make a lot of sense, and of course since it's all "canon reconciliation" there is no single right answer. If I've overlooked anything, I'm sure my gentle readers will let me know.

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Also, please take a minute to check out the Adventures Dark and Deep Kickstarter campaign. Help make the ADD rules supplement, suitable for use with all 1E-compatible games, a reality!

DCC RPG Pre-Order Ends April 1st

The pre-order period for Goodman Games' Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG ends on April 1st. By taking advantage of the special pre-order offer, you get:
  • A special edition hardcover of the game, featuring a black cover with gold foil in a 1970's style
  • A pdf copy of the book, which will be sent out when the book is sent to the printer
  • A special edition adventure module, Doom of the Savage Kings, only available if you pre-order the rules
I've been quite looking forward to seeing the DCC RPG, and $69.99 seems a reasonable price for what it promises. The regular hardcover is also available for $39.99.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Banknotes in Greyhawk

"Sums are borrowed and lent between certain dealers in jewels, money changers, bankers, and the like. They have devised a means to transfer large amounts by means of written notes. Naturally, these notes are carefully done, and heavily magicked, but once executed are as good as gold!"

This amazed the young thief, for he had imagined that he knew just about all there was to know about wealth.Gellor then explained to him that such instruments had a way of taking on a sort of mystical value themselves, becoming as dear as-- or even dearer than-- the physical things they represented, be they previous metals, gems, silk, spices, or something else.

-Gary Gygax, Saga of Old City, pp. 238-239
Historically, banknotes, or something akin to them, were invented in China during the Tang dynasty (7th century CE). They were used in Europe starting in the 13th century, and soon became widespread. The Knights Templar were known to use such instruments to help develop their trade and finance network. Initially in Europe they were made out to specific individuals (like a modern-day check), but soon became payable to whomever the bearer happened to be.

While counterfeiting is "as old as money itself", it's interesting that notes in the Flanaess are protected against such by magical protections. Naturally, counterfeiters are rarely stymied by any protective measure for long, and the art of crafting money (and notes) becomes a constant war of wits between the issuers, who have an interest in maintaining the integrity of their currency, and counterfeiters, who see great profit to be made from their craft.

Such a magical protection would need to be rare enough that ordinary criminal elements wouldn't be able to duplicate or defeat it, and yet not so rare (or expensive) that it would be unavailable to the creators of the notes themselves. The spells used in their creation would be carefully guarded secrets, as is the mundane process for creating the notes in the first place. I envision something like the following...

Trustworthy Note*

Level 4 mage, savant spell (alteration)
Requires: incantation, gestures, bank note, powdered gem
Casting time: 2 minutes

This spell allows the caster to protect up to ten bank notes (none of which can be more than 1/2 square foot in size), and alerts others to the presence of counterfeit notes by the fact that they are not protected by the spell, which is kept as a closely-guarded secret by the merchant guilds and clans of the Flanaess. Once a stack of notes has been protected by the spell, the identifying mark of the originator of the note (not the spell-caster, but the mark of the person or group against whose store of precious metal the note's value is promised) will be seen to glow subtly and move slowly. The spell's effect is permanent, but the notes do not gain any bonus to their saving throw vs. destructive forces such as fire or acid. If a protection from fire and/or a protection from lightning spell is cast upon the notes prior to the trustworthy note spell being cast, the notes will be permanently imbued with the bonuses of those spells. If more than 50% of the note itself is destroyed (torn in half, dissolved in acid, eaten, etc.) the spell will immediately cease functioning. The spell requires a powdered gemstone of at least 50 g.p. value be sprinkled upon the notes, so it is rarely used on notes of small value.

Naturally, this spell has fallen into the hands of certain powerful thieves' guilds, but they are careful not to over-use the secret, lest the notes become too devalued and their own wealth become diminished thereby. Certain illusion-type spells and effects can be used to duplicate the effect of this spell, and for this reason dispel illusion is often used by merchants when dealing with great sums (it should be noted that such is standard procedure when dealing with actual transfers of precious metals as well, as it is not unknown for a hoard of copper coins to be turned into platinum by the illusionist's art; such activities invite the death penalty in most civilized lands). Notes without the spell are perfectly legal and accepted in most places, but lack the assurance of trust that the spell's presence imbues upon them.

* This spell description is hereby designated as Open Game Content under the terms of the Open Gaming License.

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Also, please take a minute to check out the Adventures Dark and Deep Kickstarter campaign. Help make the ADD rules supplement, suitable for use with all 1E-compatible games, a reality!

Saturday, March 24, 2012

On Canon

When I published the latest of my "Mapping Beyond the Flanaess" maps, a very strange phenomenon occurred. A few people, rather than discussing the maps themselves (aside from an occasional perfunctory "they look nice, but...") proceeded to rip into them not for their own substance, but because they are based, in large part, on the map that appeared in Dragon Annual #1 back in 1996.

I confess I was somewhat taken aback by this, since it didn't seem particularly fair to take me to task for something that was done by Skip Williams and Dave Sutherland 16 years ago. But apparently old hatreds simmer for long periods, and will find any excuse to come to the surface. My maps were just a convenient excuse to vent their spleens once more.

It does bring up an interesting question as to how, exactly, we handle issues of canon that we don't especially like.

While for most people, the question itself sounds almost nonsensical ("who cares about canon?"), it should be remembered that for some fans of specific game settings, the question of whether something is or is not canonical is crucial. After all, stray too far from the published material, and eventually you're not playing in Greyhawk at all. (The question then becomes, "when does that happen?")

I was one of the first people (perhaps even the first, but who can remember back that far?) back in the AOL days to use the term "canon" in the context of Greyhawk; I myself had heard it in similar context regarding things relating to Star Trek, and found it an apt term. Discussions as to how canon can be fit together, or made to work, are as much staples of Greyhawk fandom as is the introduction of new material ("fanon", as the neologism has it). The main fan-based website for Greyhawk is not called Canonfire for nothing.

There are three approaches one can take with canon:
  • Everything that is published as canonical material should be used, and trumps anything that fans come up with (even material used in one's home game). If new canonical material is published which conflicts with homemade material, the latter is discarded in favor of the former.
  • Start with a base of canonical material, but with the understanding that canon can be discarded as the game master desires.
  • Start with only the very basic material (usually one of the boxed sets or folio, when talking about Greyhawk) and develop your own material from there, ignoring most of the remaining material unless its inclusion is personally compelling. Even the basic material is fair ground for modification.
I should state emphatically that none of these options is right (unless you're writing for Wizards of the Coast, in which case the first option is your only option), nor is any of them wrong. Most, but not all, game masters and players find themselves following the second option, which is more of a spectrum than a point. One can have a great respect for most canon, and still find onesself willing to discard one or two elements that one really doesn't like in favor of a homebrewed solution.



That, of course, is what I did with my Castle of the Mad Archmage. I'm not a fan of the Greyhawk Ruins module, and therefore wrote my own megadungeon to replace it. That's a personal artistic choice, but on the whole I tend to fall into the camp of "use all the canon I can"; probably a 3 on the scale above. There are a few specific items I've replaced (my map of the City of Greyhawk, for example), but mostly those have been done because I don't find the canonical sources as true to their Gygaxian origins as they might have been, and I find my substitutions moreso.

Quite a few people have the same attitude towards the map from DA#1. They don't like the physical layout, or the choices of which cultures are next to one another, or whatever. That's fine, and there's no more wrong with that than their is with my discarding Greyhawk Ruins for my Castle of the Mad Archmage. However, what becomes problematical is how such things are addressed. I feel that complaining loudly and often about what bothers me only goes so far. Without taking matters into one's own hands and actually doing something to address the concerns, complaining turns into whining.

Accept on the face of it that the canonical source isn't going to change. Short of your winning the lottery, buying the rights to it, and re-writing things to suit your fancy, chances are that the offending map, or module, or deity, or whatever aren't going away. In such a case, you have three choices:
  • Suck up and deal with it.
  • Create your own material to replace the offending material (create a new map or module, etc.).
  • Come up with an in-universe explanation for the anomaly and provide a solution that provides a better explanation without breaking canon. Sometimes called "canon reconciliation". Especially used when two pieces of canon seemingly contradict one another.
That last is something one sees a lot in the Star Trek and Sherlock Holmes fan communities. To take but one example; for years before Enterprise finally gave a canonical explanation, Star Trek fans attempted to explain the discrepancy in appearance of Klingons in ST:TOS and later incarnations. Were there different castes of Klingons? Half-breeds? Mass surgery? Dozens of explanations, some plausible, some tortured, were offered. But the best were the ones that explained the anomaly completely within the bounds of canon.

So, too, can such an attitude be taken towards canonical elements of the World of Greyhawk that one dislikes. To take one example that was brought up by my publication of my maps; the notion that Zindia and Nippon (or as I call it, Woguo) are too close together. In the real world, they are separated by China. Surely if they were closer together, Zindia would have an influence on Woguo, and thus Woguo would have a culture nothing like historical Japan.

To my mind, the solution is not to continually complain that the problem exists, but rather to come up with an interesting and plausible explanation that still falls within the bounds of canon. That's why in my maps and related material, I posited that there was an extensive Suhfang (the Chinese analogue) population in more direct proximity to Woguo; this population was later conquered and became the Woguo Dominion. Prior to their current expansionist phase, Woguo was deeply isolationist in character. Since the Suhfang lands were much closer to the island of Woguo than the Zindian lands, the vast majority of cultural pollination that took place would come from Suhfang.

However, it should be remembered that Suhfang in Oerik (at least as I envision it; we know nothing about it but the name and the vaguest outlines of geography) lacks the influence of Zen Buddhism that its real-world counterpart has. It's still a very deeply polytheistic land, and if Woguo is anything like Japan, we need to account for the much more Zen-like character of its religion.

I'm sure the answer is as obvious to you as it was to me. The proximity of Zindia now becomes not a problem, but a solution! What little Zindian cultural pollination there has been of Woguo has been in the form of spirituality, rather than other aspects of culture and technology.

I put this out there not to invite a discussion on this specific idea, but rather as an example of how canon reconciliation is a useful and positive tool. I'm sure the explanation I proffer above will be lacking to some people. The answer, then, is to come up with your own canon reconciliation. Try to come up with an answer that stays within the bounds of canon before you throw something out. You might just find that your explanation ends up being more interesting than what you might have invented in its place.

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Also, please take a minute to check out the Adventures Dark and Deep Kickstarter campaign. Help make the ADD rules supplement, suitable for use with all 1E-compatible games, a reality!

Friday, March 23, 2012

Beyond the Flanaess: Zindia and the Golden Jungle

As promised, I'm continuing to undertake my mapping project, doing the lands beyond the Flanaess in the Darlene style (nowhere near as cool as the original, of course, but a close enough approximation). Today I present the lands to the southwest of the Sea of Dust; the many kingdoms of Zindia, the Ryuujin Dominion, and the southeastern reaches of the lands of the Celestial Imperium.

I've also redone the first map in the series, making some corrections and changes. The rivers in the jungles look much better now, and I've added "Raj" ("kingdom") to the names of the Zindian lands. As always, click to embiggen:


Most significantly, I've changed "Nippon" to "Woguo". The appearance of "Nippon" as the name for this nation comes from Dragon Annual #1 and it's famous map of the lands beyond the Flanaess, but explicitly states that this is probably not the right name. Some GH fans use "Ryuujin", from an article in Dragon #277, but nothing explicitly ties Ryuujin to the Nippon on the map other than the fact that they both sound Japanese. Given the fact that Ryuujin loosely means "dragon king" in Japanese, I object to it as the name of the place for the simple fact that it would render the names of the two seas surrounding it (the Sea of Nippon and the Sea of the Dragon King) superfluous. So, given that there is no real canonical name for the place, I'm going with Woguo pending a more authoritative ruling.

I didn't update the small gazeteer I did earlier, but Zindia as I envision it is not one monolithic empire, but rather a mixture of several different independent states. Some, the various Raj's, are more traditional feudal-type realms. Others, the Ashrams, are communal realms where everyone is, in theory at least, of equal rank and peaceful co-existence is paramount.

The Golden Jungle is a land of dinosaurs and ruined cities. Shemri-no, the free city, is a land of legend, where powerful priest-mages supposedly keep the very multiverse itself in balance. Visitors to the place are rare, visitors who return from it are almost unheard-of. I deliberately did not place the lands from the "Sagard the Barbarian" books here as was done in Oerth Journal 26. If one looks at the maps in the books themselves, it's really a poor fit, and despite the existence of a place called "Ratik" in the first book, they aren't really set on Oerth, but Yarth, and I prefer to keep my 'rths separate.

The Celestial Imperium of Suhfang (Shufeng) is also seen, at least in part, in the latest map. While the central Empire is still solid, consisting of a number of different provinces, the outlying regions have fallen away and become independent states unto themselves. Thus we see kingdoms such as Yanjing and Yuyuan. Some of those breakaway kingdoms on the far side of the Tsangling Mountains have themselves been conquered by the expanding empire of Woguo, and are now part of its Dominion on the mainland.

Aside from the overall geography and a couple of the place names, little of these maps is canon. But they're useful (I hope) and certainly fun to make, and I certainly don't mind giving a slightly different take on the lands beyond the Flanaess.

EDIT: If you look over to the right in the "Free Resources" section, you'll now see links to the full-sized .png files. That should quiet all you who are demanding larger versions of the maps; that's as big as I've got on my hard drive! ;-)

Next up: I'm either going north, and covering more of the Celestial Imperium, Orcreich, etc. or going even further west and covering Erypt and the eastern reaches of some far-fabled lands such as Lynn and the Red Kingdom. We shall see.

Maps done using the superb Hexographer mapping software. Check it out if you haven't already!

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Also, please take a minute to check out the Adventures Dark and Deep Kickstarter campaign. Help make the ADD rules supplement, suitable for use with all 1E-compatible games, a reality!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Inspirational Reading - What Lies Beneath the City

The pair started to follow the passage that had been concealed behind the secret door, Evaleigh carrying the lantern and Gord with dagger in hand.

After a short distance the narrow corridor dead-ended at a broader one that led both left and right. Gord opted for the left, saying that they could try the other direction if this one failed to offer something positive soon.Before long they entered a larger place, pillared and arched, that was the nexus of many tunnels. In addition to the one they had entered from, there were four other passages leading off fro the place, and a spiral flight of stone stairs leading upward as well. Gord disliked the sight of the steps, and after a moment of deliberation, he set off to the right, his female companion in tow.

"What is this place, Gord?"asked Evaleigh.

"Towns and cities are full of surprises like this," he began. "In addition to sewers, drains, cisterns, caverns, and catacombs, there is a warren of escape tunnels and secret adits-- the highways of many who wish not to be seen."

"All cities?" Evaleigh asked incredulously.

"I can't speak for all of them, only a few. I've encountered this sort of passage before. It is part of a hidden means of communication and escape, from its look, and one that hasn't been neglected, either-- so let's press on!"
- Gary Gygax, Saga of Old City, pp. 192-193.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Adventures Dark and Deep Kickstarter Update

I wanted to thank everyone who has pledged to help fund A Curious Volume of Forgotten Lore. We just hit the 50% mark, and are well on our way to getting fully funded. If you think any of your friends might be interested, please spread the word. And if you haven't pledged to the project, I invite you to check out the Kickstarter campaign page and make a pledge.

Also, in honor of this special occasion, I'd like to share the cover art piece for the book, by Brian "Glad" Thomas (click to embiggen):


I tell you, I can't wait to see the finished product.

Monday, March 19, 2012

The Straitjacket of "The Adventure"

One of the design features of later editions of D&D that really bugs me is the idea that there should be some formula for determining how difficult an adventure is, based on the total levels of the player characters. That is, if the player characters have a total of X levels, that means that "the adventure" should have Y total hit dice of monsters (or CRs of traps, etc.), and a concomitant amount of treasure. I bring this up because of something Mike Mearls said in today's Legend and Lore column, talking about the upcoming 5E:
The DM needs rules that can allow for adventures with as many fights as needed, from a single big brawl to a number of shorter fights. I'd like to see an adventure design system that gives me a suggested total XP value for monsters and traps to use so that I can push the characters to the limit of their abilities. I can then spend that XP for one battle, lots of little battles, or just sprinkle monsters in an environment as I choose.

I object to this idea on several levels.

First, it treats the dungeon master like an imbecile, implying that he can't design a fair adventure without some sort of mathematical formula to guide him. While it is very true that most older modules carried with them an indicator of the intended level of player character for whom the module was written ("An AD&D adventure module for levels 6-8", etc.), those were not derived from any sort of tallying of the total hit dice of the monsters therein, but rather were a subjective measure to assist the consumer. If the player characters in your game were all 3rd level, you didn't want to spend your hard-earned module money on Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl...

Second, although I've not heard of this happening, I could see it being used by certain rules-lawyery types to complain that a given scenario was not only "unfair", but was actually "against the rules". It's just a hypothetical, but I can really see someone saying "Hey, you shouldn't have put two xorns in that cave; that put it past our maximum allowed challenge level! I want that last battle re-run with only one xorn."

Third, though, is both the most objectionable and the most insidious. By treating "the adventure" as a unique, distinct ideal for how the game is played, such a system actually makes it difficult (if not impossible without ignoring that part of the rules) to play in a style of campaign that's anything other than modular and combat-oriented. How does one calculate the challenge level in a sandbox-style campaign? Or a megadungeon-based campaign? Part of the challenge of such games is the players realizing when their characters are over matched, and retreating in order to come back later when they are more experienced, have had a chance to gain intelligence about the enemy, etc.

If everything is based around "the adventure", then the game becomes by implication an episodic affair with distinct objectives that the players are expected to meet before moving on to the next. While I have absolutely nothing against such adventures, and myself designed and DMed hundreds of such, I don't want it to be something that is forced by the rules. When "the adventure" is made up of whatever plot threads the players decide to pull this week, or whatever encounters they find (pre-planned or random) in the wilderness hex they decide to explore, mechanics for determining the challenge level of "the adventure" become meaningless at best.

Too, the very notion that everything revolves around XP for slaying monsters flies in the face of not only one of the OSR's chief conceits (XP for treasure, which encourages imaginative play and tactics that allow the PCs to grab the loot by distracting or otherwise avoiding the monsters), but also those of those more inclined towards storytelling games (where XP is gained by successfully interacting with the NPCs, in order to obtain whatever goals one has). I see the value of all three ways of doing things, depending on the circumstances, and wouldn't like to see one become the de facto standard way of play by rulebook fiat.

Lest it be thought that this is going to be one of my posts that gets tagged "grognardish grumpiness", I should point out that the larger points of Mearls' post are ones I can agree with. The very notion that one can roll up characters and complete a full module in an hour is one I, and I think many of my fellow OSR travelers, can embrace. I am also on record as saying I like the notion of varying levels of complexity being able to be played at the same table, even if I may be a tad skeptical as to how it can be implemented.

But if they really want this new game to be something embraceable by fans of many different versions, I hope they don't cripple that goal out of the gate by baking a particular style of play into the rules.

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Also, please take a minute to check out the Adventures Dark and Deep Kickstarter campaign. Help make the ADD rules supplement, suitable for use with all 1E-compatible games, a reality!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

One Page Dungeon Contest 2012

Get your submissions in by April 30, kiddies! All the juicy details can be found:

---> here <---

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Also, please take a minute to check out the Adventures Dark and Deep Kickstarter campaign. Help make the ADD rules supplement, suitable for use with all 1E-compatible games, a reality!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

A Leaked Review of 5E (v1.0)

By its own admission, this is a review of some of the features of the v1.0 of the 5Erules (aka D&D Next), and there's already a v1.5 out there. The people talking seem to be fans of 4E, but there are a number of interesting observations. I'll reserve any further comment for the moment, but take a read:

---> HERE <---

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Also, please take a minute to check out the Adventures Dark and Deep Kickstarter campaign. Help make the ADD rules supplement, suitable for use with all 1E-compatible games, a reality!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Beyond the Flanaess: Sea of the Dragon King

Inspired by my success with the map of the southern Amedio Jungle, I thought I might expand the project a tad. As I mentioned previously, the lands south and west of the Flanaess have been tackled by a few people before me even though canonical references, beyond the map in Dragon Annual #1, which is good for little more than a few names and major geography, and the Sundered Empire setting from the D20 Chainmail game, are few and far between.

So, without further ado, here's my first map Beyond the Flanaess: the Sea of the Dragon King, in the style of the best gaming maps in the world, by Darlene. This map fits below the Sea of Dust and Amedio Jungle on the maps included with the World of Greyhawk Fantasy Setting folio, gold box, or From the Ashes. Click to embiggen.


My own attempt is a deliberate effort to go back to the few scant pieces of canon we do have and build directly on them, rather than trying to incorporate other people's fan material (the Sunela Coast, for example) or material that isn't quite based in Oerth, but has, from time to time, been made to fit therein (Hitaxia, Momboddo, etc. from the Sagard the Barbarian books).

What I did use were Gary Gyagx's Gord the Rogue books which, although lacking in detail, at least gives some names of the nations surrounding the Sea of Dust, and thus at least a place to start. That, plus the map and one-page description in Dragon Annual #1, were my chief sources (although the upper-right corner of the map is based on material from The Scarlet Brotherhood by TSR). I'm also trying for an interpretation of oriental culture different than that presented in Kara-Tur (which ain't going to be easy). Thus, my take is going to be a little bit different than that of others over the years, but, hey; it's all mostly non-canon anyway, so why not make it my own?

Also, I threw together a quick couple of pages describing the countries and natural features on the map. Nothing fancy or too in-depth, but you can download it here.

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Also, please take a minute to check out the Adventures Dark and Deep Kickstarter campaign. Help make the ADD rules supplement, suitable for use with all 1E-compatible games, a reality!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Adventures Dark and Deep™ Kickstarter Now Live!

I am pleased to report that the Kickstarter campaign for Adventures Dark and Deep™: A Curious Volume of Forgotten Lore has now begun!

--> CLICK HERE <--

This is not the full set of three rulebooks (that's coming next year), but a rules supplement containing the new stuff; new classes, spells, combat system, some new monsters, etc. It's designed to be fully compatible with all RPGs that are themselves compatible with 1E, completely modular, and ready-to-use as soon as you open it up.

The goal is to raise $2,500 to pay for kick-ass artwork and professional editing, to make this a first-rate book to use with your game. Check out the Kickstarter page, decide what level of support you'd like to give, and make a pledge.

Thanks to everyone who has supported the project over the last year and a half or so. I'm thrilled that it's about to bear actual fruit.

Monday, March 12, 2012

A Little Ambition is a Good Thing

Q: How many Darlene-sized maps would it take to cover the Oerik map from Dragon Annual #1?

A: Seventeen


Sunday, March 11, 2012

Film Review: John Carter

I came into this film from the perspective of someone who has never read any of the Barsoom books. I was vaguely aware that the hero, John Carter, is somehow transported to Mars, and there finds different sorts of martians, but other than that, I was completely ignorant of the plot, characters, and setting. I will strive to make this as spoiler-free as possible; a few spoilers are given in inviso-text (highlight to read).

If I could sum up this film in one sentence, it would be "I kept waiting for the story to start, and then the movie was over."

Let's get the obvious stuff out of the way. Visually, the film is stunning. From the very first scene, where we see Martian airships battling one another, you really get the impression that you're seeing a completely unique culture and technology, and the creatures (especially the "green martian" Tharks) are exceedingly well done. My only complaint in the visual department is that Deja Thoris's eyes are sometimes a brilliant, cobalt blue, and sometimes they're the regular brown of actress Lynn Colins. Obviously, like David Lynch's Dune, they forgot to digitally color her eyes in some scenes.

I can't fault the acting, either. Given the type of movie this is, you don't go into it expecting Casablanca, but all of the actors and voice-actors do a credible and convincing enough job. Ciarán Hinds, who played Julius Caesar in the HBO series Rome a few years back, stands out as having given an exceptional performance, and brings a terrific gravitas to the screen whenever he's on it.

If anything, my biggest issue with the film is the story. The screenplay has no less than three credits, and I think it shows. We see a lot of setup, and then, just as you expect to see the plot take off, it slows down and we see yet more setup. Then just as we're about to see the story take off, down it goes and we're given more set up. By the time the finale arrives, I at least was left wondering just how we got there.

For example, John Carter spends the first half of the movie trying to get back to Earth, and then suddenly decides he's going to help Deja Thoris. Why? What caused his sudden change of heart? It seems to be a mystery, just as is the sudden change of heart of the Thorks to intervene in the Red Martian civil war.

I must say I also found the music completely forgettable. The simplistic color-coding of the good city and bad city was helpful, but some sort of memorable theme song for one or the other might have been a nice thing, too.

On the whole, I didn't hate this film, but neither was I blown away by it. Considering I spent $15 on a single ticket (IMAX 3D bumps up the price just a tad, but the 3D didn't seem to add anything to the experience), I was a bit disappointed by what I got. I'd give this film two and a half stars out of 5. 

Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Southern Amedio Jungle

There's been a lot of talk over at Canonfire! about the lands beyond the Flanaess; the fabled lands of Zindia, The Celestial Imperium of Suhfang, Erypt, the Empire of Lhynn, etc. Issue 26 of the Oerth Journal focused on this very topic, providing some fan-created speculation (in many cases based on careful research of the few scraps of information we have) and fan-produced maps of the lands of western Oerik.

Purely as a matter of personal preference, though, I don't much care for the style of map that is currently the rage amongst my fellow Flanaessophiles (seen in the aforementioned issue of the OJ). The original maps of the Flanaess, created by Darlene, were and remain the benchmark against which all other such fantasy cartography is measured.

Fortunately, Joe over at Inkwell Ideas has something to help. His Hexographer program (which I heartily recommend) is capable of making maps that, while not exact, perfect copies of the Darlene style, certainly come close. I found it worthwhile to have the professional version, which allows the import of custom map symbols (such as the volcanoes in the map below, in the southern portion of the Hellfurnaces).

So, just as a test, I decided to take a move in the direction of fabled Zindia, the Pearl Sea, and Nippon, and put together a map of the southern half of the Amedio Jungle (which was detailed in the 3.x module The Scarlet Brotherhood). When printed, my map should fit along the southern edge of the Darlene map. This is just a test, mind you, and I don't claim perfection by any stretch. But I'm reasonably pleased with the result.

The idea now is to move westward along the coast, slowly working my way to Zindia (which itself contains such fabled lands as Jahind and Mulwar) and then expanding out beyond. The above map took several hours, but a lot of that was due to the fact that I was experimenting, choosing fonts, creating some custom icons, and the like. It should go much more quickly the next time.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

NPCs in Premade Settings

In the comments of my previous post on "advancing the timeline" in Greyhawk, commenter scottz made a very interesting point:
"Characters/NPC's are canon 'mountpoints' as much as maps or gazetteers are, IMHO."
I take this to mean that, if one is running a campaign in a premade setting such as Greyhawk or the Forgotten Realms, one expects to interact with, or at least hear about third-hand, some of the notable non-player-characters that have become associated with that setting over the years.

I agree wholeheartedly with scottz on this point; notable NPCs from the setting are as much a part of its ambiance as its notable dungeons and the names of its kingdoms.

In Greyhawk, this would mean the likes of Melf, Tenser, Mordenkainen, Sir Robilar, and so forth. In the Realms, the quintessential NPC is of course Elminster, but being taken on as an agent of the Harpers to thwart the machinations of the Cult of the Dragon would certainly qualify as well.

Now that I'm going to be restarting my own Greyhawk campaign, my thoughts naturally turn to how I can make it an exciting and enjoyable experience, and the role of these sorts of notable NPCs naturally springs to mind.

I've actually done this in the past with great success with some of the minor characters encountered in the Gord the Rogue books (and who are known from GH lore as well) such as Biff the halfling, who is a henchman of Melf, and it was a complete blast.

But I wonder how many DMs out there do this as well? Outside of published modules (because, naturally, anyone who runs the Temple of Elemental Evil is going to by definition have their PCs encounter notables such as Burne and Rufus), how many people who run Greyhawk or other premade settings also make a point of using some of the notable non-player-characters when they do so?


Monday, March 5, 2012

The Great Greyhawk Campaign

A perennial complaint of quite a number of Greyhawk fans is the way that the World of Greyhawk setting was altered through products such as Greyhawk Wars and From the Ashes. "Don't advance the timeline!" is a clarion call for those who thought that the changes wrought to the setting detracted from, rather than added to, it. I used to be one of those people myself, and quite a vociferous one at that.

However, I've had something of a conversion on this issue after reading through and considering the implications of what is generally regarded as one of the classic fantasy RPG supplements in recent years; The Great Pendragon Campaign. TGPC takes the players on a multi-generational campaign which starts in the year 485 CE and ends in 566. During this time, the various ups and downs, plots, events, notable NPCs who wax and wane, etc. are all laid out for the game master's use. It is, by its very nature, "advancing the timeline" and it does so brilliantly.

My question becomes, why is it okay for TGPC to sweep the campaign along an 80-year course, but when several products take the World of Greyhawk from 576 CY (the year in which the folio and first boxed set took place) to 585 (Greyhawk Wars), to 586 (From the Ashes) to 591 (The Adventure Begins - a total of 15 years), that somehow ruins the setting? I'm assuming the same could be said of the Forgotten Realms, but I'm not nearly as acquainted with its fans as I am with Greyhawk fans.

Now, I can completely understand if fans of the setting don't like some of the specific events and themes that the later additions introduced. Having demons and devils running around the Flanaess, only to mysteriously vanish, having the western Sheldomar Valley overrun by giants and monsters, assassinating most of the members of the Circle of Eight, etc. could all be design choices that an individual DM could decide didn't fit in with his conception of how he wants to run his campaign. Absolutely understandable, and I'm not saying that's not perfectly within the DM's rights.

However, over the years, the objections I've most often seen in regards to this phenomenon and Greyhawk haven't been with the specifics of the changes, but with the fact that the timeline for the campaign advanced at all. Given the scales of most campaigns with which I'm familiar, having big political and military changes going on in the background wouldn't seem to interfere with the flow of the campaign. Even in a campaign that focuses on the player characters in political and military roles themselves, I would think that having some framework into which their actions can be plugged on the larger stage would be helpful.

Historically, of course, borders change all the time, even to the extent that entire nations disappear and new ones rise. Take a look at these two maps of Europe; the first showing the borders as of 1360 CE and the next the borders as of 1400. France has taken over almost all English territory on the Continent, the Turks have taken over a goodly chunk of the Balkans, the Golden Horde is pushed out of the Caucasus, Poland and Lithuania are merged, etc.

Europe 1360
Europe 1400
If the face of Europe can be changed like that over the course of 40 years, I don't see any issue, from a verisimilitude point of view, of seeing changes like the breakup of the Great Kingdom and the conquest of half the Wild Coast by the Pomarj. In such a campaign, having the DM know the broad sweep of history allows him to give his campaign a sense that things are moving around the world without the direct intervention of the player characters. 

Even if I, as a DM, want to change some specifics to fit what's going on in my game (for instance, if my PCs actually rescue Prince Thrommel in the Temple of Elemental Evil, that means that Furyondy and Veluna are going to be merged into a single state circa 578 or so, and that's going to have a big impact on the geopolitics of the central-west Flanaess), that doesn't invalidate the concept of having a future history timeline to provide a living breathing background against which I can run my player characters' adventures.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Congratulations to James Maliszewski for Dwimmermount Kickstarter

Two days ago, James and he has already met that goal, and even got one $250 backer! The campaign still has more than a month to go, and there's no telling how much he'll raise before it's over.

This is an enormous testament not only to the worthiness of Dwimmermount itself (which is immense), but also to the vibrancy of the OSR as a whole. Granted, James is a "big fish" in the OSR, but the fact that he can raise that much so quickly is absolutely both incredible and wonderful.

Congratulations, James! Nobody deserves it more. I can't wait to see the finished product.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

New Versions of Adventures Dark and Deep™ Open Playtest Rules Now Available

I am pleased to announce that the v1.2 versions of the Adventures Dark and Deep™ Players Manual, Game Masters Toolkit, and Bestiary are now available from the web store at RPGNow.com.

This will likely be the last major revision to the rulebooks for the open playtest. Changes and new material include:
  • New spells, not only for the new classes, but original classes as well.
  • Changes to the player character races (gnomes and halflings especially)
  • New and changed magic items
  • And hundreds of new monsters, rounding out the creatures from all three of the original 1E monster books
Please feel free to download these new books and start using them in your playtest games. As always, feedback (positive is nice, but negative is especially helpful) is not only encouraged, but expected!

UPDATE: 24 hours after the notice went out, exactly 616 pdfs have been downloaded. That comes out to 225 complete sets, taking into account that some people only downloaded one or two books, rather than all three. I'm pretty jazzed about that response rate!

Friday, March 2, 2012

2E Clone Myth & Magic Coming March 16

Some news about New Haven Games about their upcoming 2E retro-clone, Myth & Magic. From their announcement:
Myth & Magic: The Player's Starter Guide and the Game Master's Starter Guide will be available for download on March 16, 2012. They are free and will be accessible on newhavengames.com, RPGNow.com, DriveThruRPG.com and Paizo.com. A separate email will go out on that day.

This marks the first public release of the rules, which is very exciting. We should see a wave of new Myth & Magic players that have since alluded us.

The PSG allows you to create and play one of the four iconic classes up to 10th level: Cleric, Fighter, Thief and Wizard. Some of the rules that were straying away from the feel of our progenitor system, 2E, were reigned back to support the feel of fantasy gaming we're aiming for, but certain of our newer concepts, like BASE20 and the class talent system, are highlighted boldface and center-stage.

The GMSG has all the monsters and magic items you need as a Game Master for many adventures, as well as tons of good advice on world-building and adventure-crafting. We even threw in the adventure, The Shattered Academy, that provides at least one night of interesting 1st-level play.
They're considering doing a Kickstarter campaign as a vehicle for pre-orders. If you're a fan of 2E (and I know there are a lot of you out there), this should look pretty interesting indeed.

I know it might sound a little weird that I'm here promoting other folks' games when I've got one of my own coming out pretty soon (kickstarter for A Curious Volume of Forgotten Lore starts later this month!). But I guess I'm still happily stuck in the "it's a hobby" mindset. I don't think I lose anything by promoting their stuff; I think the OSR in particular, and the RPG hobby in general, can only be helped by more growth.