Sunday, December 31, 2017

Looking Ahead to 2018

Every once in a while, I find it helpful to take a step back and list out the things I've got cooking. It helps me prioritize, and gives my friends and fans a chance to see what might be coming. Of course, this isn't set in stone, especially the stuff out in the later part of the year, but it's the direction I'm planning on moving.

January: As previously announced. the Kickstarter for the new Castle of the Mad Archmage module starts tomorrow. In addition to the normal pdf version, there will also be an exclusive, 100-copy-only hand-made and signed hard copy. I'm pretty sure these will go quickly, so you might want to jump on it quickly. The Kickstarter goes live at noon Eastern time tomorrow.

In addition, I will be making available a series of extracts from the Adventures Dark and Deep Players Manual. These will be booklets on the Bard, Jester, Mystic, Savant, and Mountebank. Each will have the full class description and all the spells for that class. The idea is that if you're playing one of those classes, it'll be a handy reference to have at the table, so you won't have to wade through the entire Players Manual to find your spells. It'll also be good for people who just want to add a specific class or two to their 1E, LL, S&W, or other old-school game.

February-May: Work continues on finishing up the DM's Guide to Greyhawk 576. I'm getting the hang of converting 1E and 2E monsters to 5E. Once that's done, I'll start moving on to other areas of Oerik outside of the Flanaess. Zindia first, and the Baklunish Basin next. Of course, until Wizards of the Coast opens up Greyhawk on, it's all an academic exercise, but if they ever do, I'll be loaded for bear.

June-December: Now I'm getting pretty speculative. I've been thinking about a science fiction game for a long time. For some reason, most sci-fi games tend to be skill (or mutation!) based, rather than class based. What I'm thinking of is a sci-fi RPG based on the 1E/Adventures Dark and Deep system. So it would have races and classes, and an xp-buy skill system. It would also be generic, rather than being tied to a specific setting. Whether it would be a White Star-style space opera, or a Mutant Future-style post-apocalyptic game, remains to be seen.

Alternatively, I've also been itching to do a real hex-and-counter wargame based on the Battles of Hastings and Stamford Bridge, with the outcome of the one influencing the setup of the other. Loose too many troops at Stamford Bridge, and the English won't be able to take on the Normans at Hastings.

Time will tell.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

New Year's Eve's Gone By

When I was a kid growing up in New Jersey, naturally we watched television out of New York City. This was back in the 70's, when there were only three networks (2, 4, and 7) and three independent channels (5, 9, and 11).

But what I remember most about New Year's Eve wasn't the ball dropping on television, but rather the movies that were played. I have no idea why, but channels 5 and 11 always played either Yellow Submarine or 2001: A Space Odyssey.

I've decided to celebrate both my long-past youth and the holiday by watching both films this year on the eve of the new year. We had planned to have people over to celebrate, but bronchitis has swept through the house, and we'll have a small, cough-filled, family celebration this year.

With Chinese food. That's the other tradition. You always have Chinese food on New Year's Eve.

Happy New Year, everyone.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

More Castle of the Mad Archmage Coming in January

It is with great pleasure that I can announce a new expansion to the Castle of the Mad Archmage will Kickstart in January. But this is going to be something special.

On Level 5 of the castle dungeons*, there is a magical gate to a land of living music, where if the PCs enter,
"...they will be taken to a pocket universe where musical instruments are alive, all language is done by musical notes, and The King of Instruments, a magical sentient pipe organ whose sound serves as the Platonic Ideal for all earthly music, can be found."
This adventure is in the spirit of the classic modules Beyond the Magic Mirror and Dungeonland, with the PCs brought into a plot within the Land of Living Music, and then having to find a way home. It'll be for Adventures Dark and Deep, but that means it'll be compatible with almost all Old School games. I don't have a page count yet.

This will be a departure from my usual way of doing things in a very significant way.

This will include a hand-crafted, limited print edition of 100 signed and numbered copies. And once those hundred printed copies go, that'll be it. These will be true collector's items.

As usual, the money will go towards art and editing (and in this case printing).

Details to come on Kickstarter at the start of the new year. Watch this space!


* Level 5, Area 53, for those who are curious.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Greyhawk Monsters in 5E

Similar to my previous update about which gods were going to be represented in my Players Guide to Greyhawk 576, now that I'm in the home stretch of the DM's Guide, I thought it would be interesting to list out the various critters and creatures that are currently scheduled for inclusion. As always, the list is subject to change, and I'll keep this updated as I make progress by marking completed monsters with an asterisk.

To get to this list, I started with the monsters included in the Greyhawk Adventures hardcover, plus those in the Monstrous Compendium Greyhawk Appendix. Some came from adventure modules or Dragon magazine articles, a few were necessary because spells or magic items required them, a few came out of the old Minifigs Greyhawk miniatures line, and a few I included for the sake of completeness, to fill in gaps in the existing monster line-up, especially with some of the inner and outer planes.

Beetle, Death Watch*
Beetle, Slicer*
Brownie, Buckawn*
Brownie, Quickling*

Crypt Thing*
Dragon, Cloud*
Dragon, Greyhawk*
Dragon, Mist*
Dragonfly, Giant*
Dragonnel, Aquatic*
Dragonnel, Magnus*
Elemental, Time*
Elf, Valley*
Elf, Wild (Grugach)*
Giant, Forst (Voadkin)*
Gremlin, Fremlin*
Gremlin, Galltrit*
Grue, Elemental, Chaggrin*
Grue, Elemental, Harginn*
Grue, Elemental, Ildriss*
Grue, Elemental, Varrdig*
Hobgoblin, Norker*
Lich, Suel*
Mist Wolf*
Mite, Snyad*
Para-Elemental, Ice*
Para-Elemental, Magma*
Para-Elemental, Ooze*
Para-Elemental, Smoke*
Plant, Carnivorous, Kampfult*
Plant, Carnivorous, Giant Polyp*
Plant, Carnivorous, Vampire Cactus*
Quasi-Elemental, Ash*
Quasi-Elemental, Dust*
Quasi-Elemental, Lightning*
Quasi-Elemental, Mineral*
Quasi-Elemental, Radiance*
Quasi-Elemental, Salt*
Quasi-Elemental, Steam*
Quasi-Elemental, Vacuum*
Rat, Camprat*
Rat, Vapor Rat*
Shadow, Slow*
Sea Snail*
Sprite, Atomie*
Sprite, Grig*
Sprite, Sea*
Turtle, Giant Sea*
Turtle, Giant Snapping*
Vampiric Mist*
Wraith, Soul Beckoner*
Wraith, Swordwaith*
Zombie, Sea (Drowned One)*

Thursday, December 14, 2017

A Serious MCU Proposal - Ka-Zar and the Savage Land

With all the talk about the possibilities of the Fantastic Four and X-Men joining the Marvel Cinematic Universe (which possibilities I myself covered not too long ago), with the announcement today's announcement that the Disney-Fox deal is indeed going to happen, I thought I'd do a head-fake and make a proposal for a new MCU film that's completely under the radar. His first Marvel appearance was in an X-Men comic, but he's featured prominently in Avengers, Spider-Man, and his own title comics for decades.

I speak, of course, of Ka-Zar.

Although this Tarzan-inspired (to say the least) character is not very well known today, he's been around since the 1930's. He lives in a section of Antarctica called the Savage Land, which is lush and green, and home to dinosaurs, aliens, and a type of vibranium (the same metal that Captain America's shield is made of), so Klaw (the arms dealer in Age of Ultron we'll be seeing more of in Black Panther) is a frequent visitor. The skrulls have been known to be there, too, and we're going to be introduced to them in the upcoming Captain Marvel movie.

But what I think gives Ka-Zar and the Savage Land so much potential is the dinosaurs. Just look at the popularity of Jurassic Park/Jurassic World. Now imagine a film where Falcon is fighting pterodactyls, or the Hulk drops a T-rex with a single shot to the jaw, or Bucky-as-Cap runs through the jungle chased by a pack of velociraptors. It would be like having a Jurassic World/Avengers crossover without having to pay Universal for the name.

The technology has existed to do believable dinosaurs with CGI since 1993, and it's only gotten better. This could be a really fresh direction for the MCU, and something I think could really resonate with audiences. If there were any issues rights-wise with Ka-Zar (he did first appear in an X-Men comic book), those will be all gone now.

I want to see Iron Patriot fighting skrulls riding triceratops' in the City of the Sun God! And now it could happen.

Playtest Closed

Just a quick admin note - I've got more playtesters for my 5th Edition Greyhawk 576 project than I need. Way more. Response has been terrific, and I thank everyone. But for now, I'm closing the door on new playtest groups.

I'll still keep making updates on overall progress here. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

MCU Implications of a Disney-Fox Deal

With the news that Disney and Fox are very close to a deal, I thought it might be fun to speculate on the implications such a thing might have on the various Marvel movie and TV properties. For those who haven't been keeping up, Fox is looking to shed everything except their sports and news operations, so they can focus on them as a core product. That would entail losing their film and entertainment television divisions, among other things.

Assuming such a deal goes through, the most obvious implication for Marvel (which is owned by Disney) is that a huge chunk of their IP would return to the fold, as it were. The X-Men (including Deadpool and Wolverine), Magneto, Fantastic Four, Galactus, the Silver Surfer, Doctor Doom, Kang the Conquerer, Super Skrull, and other characters would suddenly be accessible to the MCU.

The easy part of this equation is the Fantastic Four, et al. Fox has tried to start up a Fantastic Four franchise twice now, and gone down in flames both times with movies that were frankly bad and which didn't "get" the characters at all. Since that's one of Marvel's undisputed strengths, and since there's no gravy train that would be interrupted by so doing, I think that's the low-hanging fruit here.

Heck, the timing would also be impeccable. Marvel is about to launch Phase Four (get it???), many of their powerhouse stars are no longer under contract (or are so expensive to get back that alternatives might be welcome), and they also have an ongoing history of weak villains. Having Doctor Doom, Kang the Conquerer, and Galactus as potential long-term bad guys would be very welcome. Plus, Captain Marvel next year is going to introduce the Skrulls as a villain (to go with the Kree that we've already seen in the movies and Agents of SHIELD). Having access to the "named" Skrull villains like the Super Skrull and the Skrull Empress would be handy.

So I say Phase Four will be the introduction of the Fantastic Four, with Doctor Doom and/or Galactus as the Big Bads to drive things throughout the phase, and possibly into Phase Five.

The X-Men, however, are a different story. Retconning the existing films into the MCU whole-cloth is out of the question. First off, the question casual audiences will ask is "where were the Avengers when Magneto took over the Statue of Liberty?" (among other things). There's a huge interconnected backstory in the X-Men movies, with time travel and all sorts of other shenanigans, and neither franchise mentions the others. So the only alternative would be to start fresh, shutting down the current series of films and TV shows and setting off from square one.

But that's a non-starter. That franchise has brought in over a billion adjusted dollars so far, and shows no signs of lessening. Why mess with that? There's no real pressing need to have mutants in the MCU (that's what the Inhumans are for, even if their solo TV show was a bit of a bomb, it would still be possible to jumpstart them with a film somewhere down the road, especially with the more cosmic stuff coming into view, and the centrality of the Kree in the Inhumans' backstory).

I say Disney would keep the X-Men franchise as-is, pumping out its own movies and shows, while at the same time being able to use individual mutants in the MCU as needed. Possibly rebranding them as Inhumans, or just calling them "enhanced" or "miracles" or whatever.

Either way, Disney needs to figure out a way to more tightly integrate their television and movie lines. Get Perlmutter out of the way, so we don't have any more debacles like Marvel's Inhumans. Especially with the massive amounts of work that Agents of SHIELD is doing to develop a backstory for the Kree and Inhumans, especially with Phase Four likely to be a lot more "cosmic" in focus, they need to make sure things stay in alignment. Perhaps even have a TV-to-film appearance. A little fan service never hurt anybody.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Thoughts on the Frost and Fire Giants (and Stone Giants, too!)

Following up on my musings about the connection between the Elder Elemental God and the Hill Giants in G1 Steading of the Hill Giant Chief, I would like to move on to the other two modules in the series.

The next one, G2 The Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl is going to be the shortest in terms of analysis. There's no direct connection to the Elder Elemental God anywhere in the place. That in itself is noteworthy, as there is in the other two. I would posit that the frost giants were brought in as allies after the hill giants, and possibly after the fire giants. The drow are definitely directly involved in advising the frost giants, however, as we are directly told that of false map in the lower level area 4A "Of course, this is a ruse, cleverly laid by those who motivate the giants..."

Those being Eclavdra and her drow, of course. So the drow are actively micro-managing the frost giants.

There is one line in G2 which is often overlooked, and which points to another missing part of this venerable and well-loved series. In the Background section, we read "...their most important mission, however, is to gather intelligence as to what or who is behind the unholy alliance of hill, stone, frost, and possibly other types of giants as well."

Note that it doesn't mention fire giants, but does mention stone giants!*

There are a few stone giants in the glacial rift, there to "see how well the frost giants are doing in their war on humankind." We also have representatives of the ogre-magi, who have signed a treaty with the frost giants (presumably to join the war), and apparently the frost giant jarl has only recently sworn fealty to the lord of the fire giants, as the latter's representatives bear a silver bear statue as a token of the frost giants' jarl's loyalty.

More grist for the mill of hill giant discontent, by the way. The frost giants are making things happen, getting new allies, and are cozening up to the fire giants, who are directly connected to the drow. There are some hill giant messengers here, but only to deliver a report on Nosnra's success to the frost and then fire giants. The hill giants could well be feeling they've been given the short end of the stick, as I speculated in the previous article.

Now let's move on to G3 Hall of the Fire Giant King, which I always viewed as the best of the series. This was the biggie of the series, with three levels, and costing a whopping $5.50, as opposed to $4.50 for the other two (if I recall correctly). It's also the most complex, with both drow and fire giants to contend with, amongst others. And, of course, it serves as the lead-in to the D1-3 series of modules.

First, the description of one of the scrolls in Snurre's council room specifically says it has "instructions for the King, telling him to gather forces of hill, stone, frost, and fire giants, along with whatever strength he can raise in ogres, ogre-magi, cloud giants, and any other creatures for an all-out attack ont he provinces to the east and northeast." It's from Eclavdra, and "promises powerful help from 'Drow'".

Remember that in 1978, the drow were just a footnote in the Monster Manual. But it's also interesting to see the stone giants included once again in the roster of those involved in the attacks. There are also stone giant engineers who have been working for Snurre, presumably to build out his underground lair.

Something else of interest is that no one is here to be convinced to join the giant/drow cause. All that work is apparently being delegated to the frost giants.

But the centerpiece of the adventure is the Temple of the Eye on the second level. This is the prototypical temple of the Elder Elemental God. The pillars radiate uneasiness ("simulate this by making players uneasy in whatever way you find best" - Gygax you magnificent sadist) or fear; the altar can invoke the Eye and thus cause death, insanity, aging, or other nastiness; and a tentacle can pull one or more unlucky slobs to their ineffable doom if the Elder Elemental God is summoned.

This is an encounter custom-made for the paranoid players in Gygax's campaign, rather than the bull-in-a-china-shop players in every other campaign outside of Arneson's. But it also hearkens back to the weird abandoned temple we saw in the Steading of the Hill Giant Chief. But here, it seems, one can actually summon the EEG, whereas there one can only summon a vague vision of a tentacle.

Side note - the ceiling in the Temple of the Eye is at least 50' high, so the ramp between levels 1 and 2 is either very long, or very steep, or both.

Side note the second - the inclusion of tentacle rods in the 5E DMG as magic items for drow seems a bit odd. I think they were included by someone who didn't realize that they were wielded by the very small faction of drow that were opposed to Lolth. Fair enough; many people don't realize Lolth isn't the big bad of the series.

A few things about the Temple of the Eye. First, it's in active use by both the fire giants and their servants and slaves, and the priests are drow. There are explicit areas of the temple for the giants and servants, and there is no mention of any giant priests.

Contrast that with the temple in G1, which is obviously not in use (because it's behind the rebel orc barricade), and has no mention of priests whatsoever (although recall that rubble-choked passage to the second level through the vestry).

I've got two brilliant theories here.

First and foremost, I think this can play very well into my idea about the weird abandoned temple in G1. As we've seen, that was a much lower-powered place, not fully capable of invoking the Elder Elemental God itself. Perhaps it's a function of physical size, or location (where the EEG is able to project itself onto Oerth might be subject to all sorts of unknowable restrictions based on non-Euclidean geometry), or something else.

But imagine this scenario. The hill giants stumble across the weird abandoned temple whilst clearing out the dungeon beneath the Steading. In so doing, they tickle the peripheral awareness of the EEG, making themselves known, but not able to be acted upon. The giants excavate further to the second level, and discover an entry to the drow underworld. This brings the Eilservs into the picture, directed by the EEG to this newly-activated hive of activity, and sets off the whole use-giants-to-gain-power-in-the-Vault plot.

But here's the kicker. The Eilservs, being ambitious, don't stop at hill giants, and as they move on to other giant races, they finally come upon the fire giants, who have access to a fully-functional temple that can invoke a portion of the Elder Elemental God, and the drow move in to control them through the cult. Not needing the shrine discovered by the hill giants, the entrance to the second level, and the potential back door into the underworld, is ordered sealed. The hill giants, kicked to the proverbial curb, are now useful only as cannon fodder and lackeys. Nosnra doesn't like that one bit, but can't do much about it. Still, it's a wedge that could, in theory, be used against the Eilservs.

Oh that sounds good. Really good.

But here's my second brilliant theory, and it revolves around why the fire giants' temple is called the Temple of the Eye.

There was a television show in the mid-70's called Kolchak the Night Stalker. It featured Darren McGavin as Karl Kolchack, a Chicago reporter who invariably stumbled across stories involving vampires, or aliens, or zombies, or what have you. There was one episode, titled The Energy Eater (link goes to the full episode!). It turns out that the monster is an ancient Indian bear god who is sleeping underneath a newly-constructed hospital. In one scene, a bunch of x-ray plates are scattered on the ground, and when put together to make a single image show an immense eye, proving that the creature exists.

An eye.

We already know that Gygax was influenced by this short-lived show (1974-1975), because he's on record saying that the reason rakshasas are vulnerable to blessed crossbow bolts is because that was a plot point in another episode of the series, Horror in the Heights.

I submit that different temples of the Elder Elemental God might be able to manifest different pieces of that weird entity. The one beneath the hall of the fire giants is a temple of the eye. There might be others elsewhere; a temple of the maw, a temple of the brain, etc. Just a thought, although it might admittedly take the idea too far. At the very least, I think it's entirely plausible that Gygax was influenced by the show to have the image of the disembodied eye in his own mind when putting this module together.


* There is already a module by RC Pinnell, titled G4 Sanctum of the Stone Giant Lord. It departs from the whole Elder Elemental God theme of G1 and G3, however, and is apparently part of a whole series that covers many giant types not mentioned in the original material. A review of it, or its sequels, is out of the scope of this article, but I present it for those who might be interested.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

The Elder Elemental God and the Hill Giants

One of the little things tucked away in the original Against the Giants modules (G1, G2, and G3) is the connection to the Elder Elemental God that runs throughout the first and last in the series. I'd like to tease out some of those connections and see where they lead, especially in the context of the other EEG references we see in Greyhawk.

Let's begin at the beginning, with G1 Steading of the Hill Giant Chief.  Specifically, the dungeon level, which we are told is "certainly superior to orcish work" and "old." There are areas (18, 22, 26, and 27) that are in the process of being cleared of rubble, with tools and the like in the latter two areas. Obviously the hill giants stumbled upon this dungeon complex and either built the Steading atop it intentionally, or discovered it after the Steading itself was complete. The latter does seem somewhat of a stretch, unless they were unconsciously guided by some force to do so.

The dungeon level is pretty extensive, and we're not told how much of it has been cleared, or how much was already clear when the giants took over. But the fact that there are still areas being cleared of tons of rubble, and that the whole is old, leads to the conclusion that the whole was a self-contained dungeon complex before the giants moved in upstairs. The fact that the ceilings are 20'-30' high, however, indicates that it was originally built for giant-sized creatures.

There are two very interesting items about the southeastern portion of the dungeon (the portion that is blocked off by rebel orc slaves, who've erected a wall of boulders to seal themselves off from their former masters). 

The first is the most obvious - there's an abandoned temple of the Elder Elemental God in area 17A. Although it's not specifically labeled as such (it's called the WEIRD ABANDONED TEMPLE), there's little question of it, although it seems to be long abandoned and only operating at partial power (compared to others we see). It has the same sort of insanity-inducing effects, and it is possible to invoke an image of "a writing amorphous form of sickly mauves and violets" with "formless members". 

Immediately adjacent to this temple is a VESTRY (?) (area 18). It's got "disgusting murals and bas-relief depictions of nasty things."That would square with the description we get of an EEG temple in G3 Hall of the Fire Giant King

But this also brings us to the second interesting thing about this part of the dungeon level. The vestry has "a flight of ridged, step-like stones slants steeply downwards toward the south, but this way is completely blocked by tons of stone blocks and rubble."

And that flight of stones leading down? It undoubtedly leads to the lower dungeon level.

Those of you familiar with the adventure module will at this point be swiftly reaching to your bookcases, in order to flip through the module and its maps. You will doubtless then come back to the computer and shout, what second dungeon level? There's nothing like that in the module!

Oh yes there is, dear summer child.

First, of course, there's area 18 that leads down to it. But there are is also a mention of it in area 21: "their main hunting ground is the series of caves beneath their own, the entrance to which is through the sink hole at the east edge of their lair. (The lizards feed upon the fungus and the fungus eaters.)". And yet again in area 23: "All carrion crawlers in the whole complex of caves and caverns come to this area from time to time to breed. ... these monsters will appear ... from the north or south along the stream or by one of the sink holes." There's also a sink hole in area 19, and while there's no mention of it in the text, it undoubtedly leads to the same level of caves and caverns.

So we have:
  • The dungeon level was here before the giants, and contains a temple to the Elder Elemental God
  • The giants have at least partially cleared the level, including the temple
  • There is a second dungeon level consisting of caves and caverns with undetailed fungus and fungus-eaters
  • The giants allowed the temple and all entrances to be walled off, and haven't bothered to unblock it
So the giants took the time to clear the temple, but left the staircase leading down choked with rubble. In addition, they haven't seemed to care that the orcs have cut off access to the temple, so it's not a place that is either in active use for worship by them, nor is it particularly of importance to them. Heck, it's entirely possible they're happy that the orcs sealed the place off. 

It's also possible that they intentionally threw that rubble in their to deliberately seal off the caves and caverns. While this is a fun theory, I tend to think it's not feasible, since the drow would undoubtedly have noticed that their access was cut off. 

What all this adds up to, in my opinion is that the giants either stumbled on (or were subconsciously guided to) the temple of the Elder Elemental God, and doing so somehow alerted the Eilservs (who were already worshiping the EEG). That was the impetus for the drow to incite the giants to their attacks, as mutual worshipers of the EEG. The fact that there's a sealed scroll from Eclavdra in the Steading, identified with the symbol of the Elder Elemental Eye, also speaks to that interpretation. 

It's also not impossible that the second dungeon level leads to the underworld passages of the drow, too. But when the drow reached out to the much more powerful fire giants, the hill giants felt slighted. Still under the thumb of their more powerful frost and fire giant allies, not to mention the drow, they might well have been happy to abandon the temple and see it sealed off, halting further efforts to unblock the access to the second dungeon level, with its potential connection to the underworld.

This adds another level to the intrigue going on; the hill giants (or at least Nosnra) are growing restless, feeling slighted at being displaced by Snurre and the fire giants. That's why they don't particularly care that the rebel orcs have cut off the temple of the Elder Elemental God, which would otherwise be a powerful connection to House Eilserv. 

It's noteworthy that although there are stone giants and a cloud giant in Nosnra's hall, there's no particular mention of them being there to be convinced to join the attacks, as we see in the frost and fire giant adventures. It almost like the hill giants were told to entertain these guests, but not trusted with trying to bring them into the cause. That's left to the fire and frost giants.

I think expanding the module to detail the second dungeon level, with its caves and caverns, and fungus and fungus eaters, would be worthwhile. Where does that passage in the vestry lead? What's under those sink holes? Is there a connection to the drow underworld, with drow troops and advisers there, waiting for the giants to clear the passage from the vestry, unaware that such efforts have been abandoned?