Friday, September 19, 2014

Fallen Empire - Reviving the D&D Language System


The immolation of the Imperial Archives by disgruntled boxing
devotees in the 7th Century of the Successor Empire helped
limit learning to those with access to private libraries
One of the class abilities that both magic-users and nobles (dual classed F/MU with skills in scholarship and ancient knowledge) have is the ability to speak one or more esoteric languages.  In early editions of D&D language skills were handed out to characters with a decent Intelligence in huge bundles, and even more common amongst demi-humans.  These language skills had value as reaction rolls and morale rolls with intelligent monsters often allowed an opportunity for parley or surrender, providing a very fun roleplaying-rich way of avoiding combat encounters and entering into the ‘faction game’ amongst dungeon dwellers.  Just thinking about the set-up of the feuding humanoids in B2 – Keep on the Borderlands should offer an example of how useful speaking orc, goblin and kobald might be in an old Gygax adventure.  I have no desire to track the uses and relationships between fifty fantasy languages, however and while I greatly enjoy a tense parley as both a player and GM, for Fallen Empire I want to emphasize a largely human world and primarily use ‘common’ as a language available to all players.

Rather than create languages that are specific to races or types of monsters I have decided to create a set of languages that is useful in dealing with certain classes of society or broad groups of monsters.  A scholar need not worry if they speak hobgoblin or goblin, but should be able to talk to denizens of the underdark (yes there is an underdark in Fallen Empire – Deep Carbon Observatory made that certain) if they know the Underdark’s version of common – “Crawl”.  Another expected advantage with a smaller number of languages is that inscriptions and mysterious texts can be accessible (assuming you have a scholar in your party) while still being strange and mysterious.  I intend to have two tables of languages - Esoteric Languages and Living Languages, with the first only available in very limited numbers to Magic-Users and more easily to noble scholars, and the second open to anyone based on intelligence (likely only one or two extra per PC to keep the numbers down).

In addition I have made the parley game slightly more amusing for me by constructing language meta-games with mild mechanical effects.  Speaking Crawl works better if you talk like a cartoon cave man, and trying to overawe bureaucratic robbers or get information out of reluctant functionaries (really the most common kind of bandit in Fallen Empire) will work better if you can speak in Imperial Law and use a really long word or two. 

Below is another letter from the wandering and addled noble Imperial Noble "Pepinot Vex, Hereditary Peinkernes Extraordinary" regarding his continued efforts to reach his beloved cousin's country estate.  Apologies in advance for the bad fiction - it's just one of those weeks.  Feel free to skip to the table of Esoteric Languages at the bottom of the post.  

Monday, September 15, 2014

A short review of Slumbering Ursine Dunes draft.


Ursine Dunes Cover
Slumbering Ursine Dunes is a gaming product currently being polished and kickstarted by Chris K. from the Hill Cantons blog. Through various machinations and jesuitical maneuverings I have managed to obtain an alpha copy of Ursine Dunes and the permission to review it.
I’ve always enjoyed Hill Cantons, and have repeatedly tried to play a session or two, but been repeatedly stymied by scheduling conflicts.  With the production of Ursine Dunes I will finally have a chance to glimpse what Hill Cantons looks like from the GM’s side of the table and to delve into the world more.  Now Chris K has provided a lot of free PDF content before, and it’s generally high quality, so I have high hopes for Ursine Dunes, and he appears to be working with some others in the OSR community whose work I appreciate, so I have even higher hopes about the product. Yet from what I've seen it doesn't disappoint.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Upcoming Project

In the next few days or weeks, I'll be putting the final touches on a large adventure (around 40 pages or so) that is a follow up to The Prison of the Hated Pretender.  Not a direct sequel to the previous adventure, but something that references the same ancient despotism and events.  The Dread Machine will focus on the exploration of an ancient valley, containing a decaying machine of great power and evil.  Two keyed locations and several cites to explore, including the Machine itself.  It's designed for adventurer's 3rd-6th level and should offer some interesting challenges.  All new monsters, magic items and numerous traps, but with an effort to create something that can be dropped into an existing campaign world without deforming it.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Lone Colossus - A PDF Adventure Locale

Resolute and alone atop a limestone knob, the verdigris covered remains of an Imperial municipal siege unit, a bronze colossus, the ‘Akolouthos’, 3,200 years old and first operational in the service of the Imperial legions, surplused to the Styllus family until only three years ago.  The Colossi was the bastion of Styllus dominion over five hundred miles of prime Central Province vineyards and grain, but without it the family has been nearly run under by their neighbors, the Comizius clan. Largely intact, the Akolouthos may even be operational.  If the war machine can be repaired or salvaged, the Colossus’ value is immeasurable, and even if destroyed many valuable bits of its arcane workings a likely to be salvageable from the almost intact Colossus.

Like all destroyed Imperial war machines the bronze colossi exudes rotten magic, creating a sink around it of foul arcane corruption.  The sink is not as deep or as large as some, but the hillock that the Akolouthos stands atop is bare of life, and now the rock itself bleeds a bluish black and the birds in the area speak in the voices of sobbing children. The Clossi’s own radiation is compounded by the nature of its destruction, and the ancient arcane fluids corrupted by deep forest shadow magic. 

Friday, September 5, 2014

Sleeping Place of the Feathered Swine - Review

Last Gasps First Product

Recently Logan from Last Gasp published his first commercial (not aggressively so - it’s pay what you want, but if you decide to get pay the man something) product “Sleeping Place of theFeathered Swine”.  I grabbed it right away based on the enjoyment I get from Logan’s blog, and especially from his play reports (including one from Sleeping Place of the Feathered Swine).  Sleeping Place of the Feathered Swine is a simple location based adventure with 13 locations, and a huge amount of flavor.  The adventure has a few piece of great art by the author (great monster illustrations) and includes a wonderful map, along with a novel approach to using the map at the table.  Size or details aren’t what matters here, what matters is the evocative environment and setting, both the contemporary sort of body horror weirdness, late 80’s Warhammer Fantasy grottiness, and a great deal of late 70’s OD&D deadly.  

The Worm Tumor, a primary antagonist

The party finds a failed adventurer, a wizard of some sort, in the wilderness.  He’s lost his Grimore and he’s not well. He tells of an easy commission to surgically take some sort of larva sacks from some kind of horrible beasts that are hibernating in the cave.  His companions were all killed by disgusting mutants in the cave.  He can give the party directions, and proper instructions and warnings regarding the removal and care of the worm cysts. Some alchemist creep will pay good money for the cysts.

Inside the cave things are gross, fungus and piles of rotten feathers everywhere, but worse the victims of the larva (from improper removal of the monster cysts) turn into horrors ready to spread their plague in disgusting ways.  A dying adventurer can be rescued from the previous explorers and provides more warnings (and monster tranquilizers) , monsters lurch from hidden recesses, and all the while a room full of horrible pig/bear/owl things hibernate waiting to be badly tranquilized and have their larval cysts plundered.  Everything can go wrong, and going wrong is deadly and disgusting.

There are simple treasures (broken equipment mostly) suitable for a very desperate low level game, a very strange pearl that creates cave crabs and the lost wizard’s grimore of horrible spells (plus the Feathered Swine cysts – assuming the party doesn’t infect themselves gathering them).

Monday, August 25, 2014

Dungeon of Signs Reviews Dwimmermount


Russ Nicholson Ghasts - Best Art in Dwimmermount
Dwimmermount, long rumored, shrouded in mystery and rage, a controversy and the breaker of titans. I’m not talking about the mega-dungeon, I’m talking about the drama and frustration surrounding the late delivery of this Kickstarted project.  I don’t really care about any of the drama and rigmarole associated with the Dwimmermount, but I am interested in the product itself, a consciously ‘old school’ mega dungeon packaged by, expanded on and rewritten by Autarch press (Of Adventurer Conqueror King – which I don’t have much experience with) and originally conceived and written by Grognardia.

It suffices to say that the Kickstarter was frightfully delayed, the task overwhelming (more on that below) and what started out as a hobbyist’s personal expression of his affection for old system dungeon crawls collapsed into something very different and a bit ugly.  The somewhat tragic, convoluted and painful process of publishing Dwimmermount is alluded to in the introduction along with the project’s basic goals and intentions, but it should be fundamentally unimportant to anyone who is asking themselves “Can I use this mega-dungeon, and what for?”

Thursday, August 21, 2014

HMS Apollyon - Necromancer Subclass


The history of Sterntown and fear of the Ash Plague has made necromancy a forbidden art in Sterntown, and its practice is punishable by the most severe and gruesome of sentences.  Still the power over the dead and the lure of immortality that the dark art offers draws adherents who must conceal their research and take great efforts to disguise their creations.  Because of the fear of discovery that hangs over every necromancer they tend to be reclusive, at first skulking and scurry about and as they grow more accomplished learning to hide in plain sight through disguising their powers and adopting mannerisms that deflect suspicion.  Necromancers are rare, but the last two powerful ones ferreted out by the Church of the Queen’s witch smellers have been sorcerer with social grace, the most vibrant dress, and foppish manners, as far from the black-clad and cadaverous stereotype as possible. 

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Trust The Random Encounter table

When one cracks open the hoary spine of the “Underworld and Wilderness Adventures” (well not spine, they are zine like pamphlets, stapled together) one almost immediately finds a set of dungeon encounter tables.  They look 'normal' at first, table 1 contains low hit dice dungeon vermin (giant rats, centipedes, spiders) and sniveling humanoids like kobolds.  Table 2 starts to get some real opposition on it: hobgoblins, gnolls, berserkers and ghouls.  By the time you’re on table three and four there are the sort of monsters that can really spell danger to a low level party, such as wights, wraiths and giant animals.  This might seem reasonable, even conservative if these tables were broken down by dungeon level, but they are explicitly not by dungeon level.  On the first level of the dungeon there is a 1 in 6 chance of encountering one of the horrors off of table four, and this includes ogres (which are reasonable enough) but also wraiths and gargoyles.  I focus here on gargoyles because they are utterly immune to normal weapon damage in most version of the rules, including silver weapons.

Thursday, August 7, 2014


I've gone and written up the spell lists for the three Ship Spirit patrons available to thier Clerics aboard the Apollyon.  The Lists themselves are in a fromat that doesn't transfer too well to Blogger, but the gist of the casting system is below along with descriptions of the three powers available to 1st level clerics.  The spells themselves are in the PDF.

PDF HERE - including actual Spell lists


The Ship Spirits represent the larger and more popular of Sterntown’s two ecstatic religions.  The Religion itself is loosely organized with various devotees banding together to share space in its shrine houses, which contain many shrines and crèches to individual spirits representing the various aspects of the Apollyon itself.  Each shrine is tended by one or two houngans or mambos who can invoke aspects of the spirit they specially revere and perform magic based on the spirit’s specific nature.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

In Search of the Unknown - B1 Review

How does one review an adventure that is designed to be different each time it’s played?   B1 – In Search of the Unknown, written in 1979 by Mike Carr for inclusion in the D&D basic set, is exactly such a module, with partially keyed areas on a large dungeon map meant to be completed by the GM from existing tables.  In not sure if this represents an authentic alternative to the method of adventure writing that has become standard, a template for a GM’s own design and imagination (perhaps a later version of this tradition might be the recently released Seclusium of the Orphone an LOTFP ‘module’ by Vincent Baker) rather than a complete  pregenerated ready to play location or scenario.  It might also be a messy gimmick that failed to catch on.  Without a consideration of its place in the history of table top games, In Search of the Unknown has some fun set pieces, and a far more evocative setting than one might expect from such an early effort. The module is an unabashed dungeon crawl and one that, in the manner of early D&D, is fairly empty of inhabitants and treasure, but not a bad one, thanks to some classic but well done setting elements and a real dungeon history that is both easy to grasp and helpful at defining areas.

The cover I remember promised Fungal Caverns