Thursday, February 7, 2019

Fifth Hill Cantons Book is Underfoot, Come Be Patronizing

Marlinko hillscape by Luka Rejec

The cat's out of the bag in an interview today about the fifth Hill Cantons book, a yet unnamed project that covers the small settlement-wilderness-dungeon classic set up of tiny and weirder Revoca Canton. I'm 26 pages in, but boy howdy is my writing slow and creaky af.

Readers of this blog will also have noted the sheer, sad neglect of this space for going on three years. Between workaholic political day jobbery, dading (these aren't words), and hobby publishing it just squeezes your time/energy too hard. Unfortunately it has also squeezed the vital pipeline and ferment that comes from throwing out mad shit on the wall and having you fine folks riff and mutilate it in real time here.

But hey I'm at a crossroads after moving to Austin and other massive life changes when it comes to continuing writing and designing things ludic and fantastical.

Which gets me to the pitch, I just launched a Hill Cantons Patreon. 

This Patreon is pretty damn simple in concept:

  • I will produce a “chapter” (roughly 5-18 pages) of new adventure locales, pointcrawls, weirdo NPCs, bizarre items, my usual shit in other words.
  • Each chapter will mostly build toward a final published book or game, in this case Revoca Project X and will likely be released every 2-5 weeks.
  • I will add goals as we go along to produce not just my own written content but also supporting illustrations, cartography, etc from some of our other starving artists in the milieu.
And guess what? You don't get dinged monthly if I don't make deadline. Your support only comes in when I finish a section—and like the Slumbering Ursine Dunes kickstarter I plan on doing right by those who do support this along the way and on the backend. And looky here Luka Rejec has already generously made this eye-poppingly lovely banner of Marlinko for the project above (you should also support his Patreonas he is trying to make a go of things too). 

It's a virtuous cycle upwards if you like the work I have done so far on this. Please click here to patronize.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

The World of the Hill Cantons Revisited

It's probably a testimony to how insanely busy and distracted I was over the last year with campaigns in the so-called real world, but I have been discovering and rediscovering all kinds of sadly neglected Hill Cantons material as I methodically work backwards through Google Plus archiving well over 1,000 related posts. 

One great little gem is the following map drawn by one of my fecund of creative partners, Luka Rejec (go support his Patreon and keep this talented guy fed and clothed.) Drawn from my own crappy players map of six years ago (which you can see in this revised post below). It's a rather nice view of the southwestern quad of Zem, the Hill Cantons campaign world. It provides a nice context to the four books of the Slumbering Ursine Dunes series which all take place in an inch wide area right in the middle. 
click ye here.
What the Hell is This Special Snowflake?
This Slavic acid fantasy snowflake is the world of Zem. The Hill Cantons is a region proper (a loose collection of poorly-run borderlands cantons ostensibly ruled by the Overking), the name of the ten-year campaign--and of course now a four-part published series to be ignored and smiled at indulgently like an eccentric uncle.

Zem is a world divided into four near-symmetrical parts, double bisected by the World Canal, domed by the heavenly firmament, and riding on the shell of the World Turtle that swims in a spiraling loop through the cosmic void. It is believed to have its reflection in an mirroring Anti-Reality.

Old wives also foolishly believe it to be a spherically-shaped, concentric “shellword” , a world inside of an Overworld and containing another Underworld. And that the heavenly firmament is but the illuminated rock underside of that upper layer of the world which itself elliptically orbits an outer sun, one of countless billions.

But that's crazy talk.
You can click on me. 
Where did Zem Come From?
Some believe that a dreaming Overgod in floated from Demonspace to this dimension and created it in his self-loathing/loving image. Others believe that the world is but a psychic projection of another, a shadowy cave of folk-spirits and broken platonic ideals.

What Kind of Cracked God Would Want to Live Here?
For a world dominated by a monotheistic religion (the Sun Lord and Solarity) that denies even the existence of other divine forces, Zem is crawling wall to wall with countless cohorts of failed godsgodlingslocal godsbeast godshero cults, and atrophied gods.

Read all about it in the Hill Cantons Cosmology if you aren't asleep yet. Or see here for the Cosmological Appendix N

Just What Exactly is Up with the Weird?
The Weird is a marble-cake band of mythic wilderness/underworld and magitech other dimensions bleeding over and living in a constantly changing/moving (dialectical) tension with human civilization. It is a shifting zone of Other Reality. It's where the feral things are.

But I said it way better and with more detail hereOne of the in-game models of this is the Chaos Index campaign idea

Human civilization is smaller, more thinly-rooted and more inwardly-focused than our world. There's a small-scale survey of the campaign spots in Hill Cantons Compendium II , but here's the big picture rundown:

The Overkingdom of Nemec, Nurian, Heimeti, and Pahr Lands, a “bright colors” psychic projection of late 16th century Western and Southern Slavic (the Pahr) and German (the Nemec) countries. The coreland Overkingdom has three large semi-autonomous borderlands regions: the Hill Cantons, the Translittoral Canton of Hoimatbuch and the Marches of Nur (famous for its War Bears and kuduks).

Marlinko Canton. Well you can read your eyes off about Marlinko city proper here and the greater Marlinko Canton here. The central original hub of the campaign. 

Revoca Canton.  A tiny, remote canton even odder than fever-dreaming Marlinko, the fourth campaign hub--and my next book! Read a tour of it here

Kezmarok on the Rock and Over The Water, a former empire now clinging to life in a half-ruined metropolis after 500 years by the Turko-Fae. Run by the Decade King, a monarch that until late was deposed and blinded each decade. Quite a bit written about this glorious dump herehere, and here.

Himyar, the 19th century Orientalist/pre-Muslim Arabic-ish “Scarlet Sultanate” of the south (with a splash of Clark Ashton Smith necromancy). 

Hy-Brasos, barely-settled Magyar-esque horse nomads cum feudalists with war wagons. Pity the poor dirt-gnomes, glammer-slyphs and talking dogs enslaved by them. 

The Kozak hordes, Old Pahr horse nomads. The western horde being led by Hetboy Pavol.

Oiorpatathat distant and exotic isle near the resting point of the Sun Lord's daily ride, are a fine, strong-boned, if verbally assertive race of Amazons noted for their love of high-crested, baroque helmets, polished armor, and knitting circles.  

Races and Places Weird
Hyperboreans. A long-fallen, world-spanning super-human civilization that possessed great lost sorcerous techologies (read Kirbyesque space gods/science fantasy). Shit went south a millennia ago and their Necromancer-King successor-states left great undercities and ruins on their way out.

Anticantonal Eld. Lords of one of the Cold Hell (a rigid, hierarchical anti-reality). You know, these assholes.

Turko-Fae. Grey-skinned and inscrutable, these strange turbaned warlords have laid seige lines outside Kezmarok for five centuries. They wipe clean (literally) any bit of civilization they wrestle control over.

Grugach. Crazed homicidal and anarchic they pore forth from the so-called "Summer Country" in elk-riding hordes to lay waste to...well anything.

Vlko. A lost (but found by the players) Old Pahr kingdom.

The Feral Shore. A former Kezmaroki borderlands completely wiped clean 500 years ago by the Turko Fey. Now thick with Old Pahr mythic wilderness and the center stage for the current campaign.

So Wait, Aren't We Still Talking About an Elfgame Here?
Yes, yes we are. While I will admit to slipping semi-embarrassingly into long daydreams during the real world grind, there is no childhood hand-carving figurines, collection of awkward short stories for my made-up world. The HC is a creation that has no independent force driving it other than the anarchic and organic process of layer being laid down on lair from the repeated bruising contact with the play table over seven years of running it.

It's a campaign world that has an arc divided up my discernible “phases”. Starting as a West Marches, radically plotless and exploration style campaign, it morphed into a broad-bases sandbox with layers of accreting layers of mystery. (That devolution plotted here)

Still the game, D&D and its microexploration focus, drives the setting. And all roads lead to the dungeon.  

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

And the News from the Hill Cantons

What Ho, Frog Demons is finally out (print is still behind due to some more snafus with the printing of the maps and other quality issues, give us another week) and with my real world campaign runnings dwindling it's time to get back to the Hill Cantons campaign again. Hurrah!

And now the News from the Hill Cantons...
Hruz resin diviners at the Temple of All Pahr Gods on the Feral Shore speak of the Great Humbling and Relife of Radhošt/Radagest, a time of cosmic divergence in which the least dying of the Old Pahr deities is said to walk and work among mortals again after being tossed from the Firament of the Sky Dome after his divinely scandalous romance with Nocchula the Lady of Flame Orchids Beyond the Mural. Indeed wild rumors of a diminutive, hirsute, and suspiciously snaggle-toothed migrant field hand stepping in eleventh hour to bring in the dank-hops harvest, muck gorgon stables, club recalcitrant contrada dues supporters, and other proletarian tasks have flourished all through Marlinko Canton these days.

And well now some news from Himyar the Scarlet Sultanate...

Crystal rose blooms from the Xobi, the cold rocky wasteland deep in the Weird along the southern edge of that continent, are fetching record prices in the satrap town of Iltasiin. Namoj, the half-Kezmaroki bazaar merchant, is not only paying top gold suns per pound but will also throw in two husk-zombie porters for returning parties (control amulet/suppository included for a modest additional fee).

Ilmuqah the True Moon, the bull-headed patron-god of Himyar, will accomplish the final of the monthly disembowelments as he prepares for the annual wintry ass-kicking of the Sun Lord. Raw lightning, dark nights and frankly embarrassingly masochistic shows in front of northerners is likely by by fanatic worshipers over the next two days.

Travelers in the wooded oasis of Chaseribad should beware of a pack of Şüräle, single-horned, long-fingered cousins of our more familiar forest Leshy. Beware creatures offering “deep tissue massages”-- they mean it and their tickles can bring saves versus death itself.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

What Ho Frog Demons is Out, Here's its Origin Story

What Ho, Frog Demons is out (you can buy it here, print is still in the works).

One thing I can guarantee you about the entire four books of the Slumbering Ursine Dunes series is that while published details can and do vary to protect the wicked they all do represent years and years of actual at-the-table play (above and beyond the many hours of more straight playtesting that comes post-manuscript).

Michael aka Migellito (aka the player of Father Jack of Fever-Dreaming Marlinko fame) relayed a ritual that would happen each and every session of the Hill Cantons weekly game for two years regarding the Frog Demon Temple, which lays just a few miles out of town right on the road to the primetime adventure spots of the time in the Marlinko Canton:
“Chris, every week: "So, you want to go to the frog demon temple?" 
Us, every week: "NO!" 
After about two years of playing and probably more than 50 sessions, we finally say "you know what.. ok, lets go to the frog demon temple". 
We walk up the spooky dead tree aisle to the temple. We go inside the main door. We start down the.. HIRELING DIES. 
We immediately leave the frog demon temple.”

It took another 1-2 years and several levels more powerful before the Nefarious Nine, the Google Plus campaign group that never numbered nine, actually came back to loot and pillage the temple.

In emergent play places and things take on quickly a significance, dynamic, and meaning beyond the design origin. I had never intended the FDT to be anything more than a punctuation in the campaign. Much like the Manor of the Beet God (also presented in What Ho) had intentionally been designed as a “Saturday Night Special”, the kind of self-contained 1-3 session micro-site that MAR Barker threw at players to spice things up between longer explorations.

The original intention of What Ho as a stretch goal was to just throw these sites straight and unadorned at you in a 18-24 page adventure. But like the emergent play of the campaign proper the Hydra Cooperative's publishing mission seems to zig zag and explode out of proportion out of the sheer love of imagining the hell out of things. Untethered by worries about the bottom line we just wanted to make something that blossomed like the play it was based on.

So here we are. The book is out and its busting out of its britches at 114 pages. We threw everything we could at it (a whole Marlinko hexcrawl, tons of NPCs, an infection index, tons of Vanican monsters, etc). If you feel so inclined you should check it out, feel free to mangle it beyond repair. And drop me a line if you thoughts about it (good, bad, or critical I want to hear). 

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Hydra Cooperative Brings (Mild and Curated) Anarchy to North Texas

Teetering on the edge of a new, start-now, well-paying political job (i.e. demanding AF) I get one last reprieve of gainful unemployment this weekend: North Texas RPG Con.

The sinister heads of the Hydra Cooperative will all be there for our annual face-to-face planning and bull session and of course there will be the usual marathon gaming, corridor discussions, buying sprees, and grogging out with the grumblers. I'm personally jazzed about getting in some games with Merle Rasmussen and his new iteration of Top Secret.

Expect tall tales to be spun.

A list of Hydra things going on:
The Table. As usual we will have a lit table. Also as usual the spot will be as much as an ongoing hangout spot as it is a place to pick up product (or more). We are a friendly crew (mostly) and enjoy seeing fellow malcontents from the internet and readers, so please stop by. Also we will have some new and con exclusive product out.

What Ho, Frog Demons. I will be running a playtest of this still-not-done beast Friday at 6pm. Due to a screw-up the con registration has me down for only four seats though I really am more than fine running double that. So if you want to play in the absurd, kitchen-sink that is the Hill Cantons drop by the Hydra table and I will give you an Electrum Ticket for the game.

Mortzengersturm. Trey Causey will be running his Ozian whimsical newly-released adventure Saturday at 1pm. The adventure has been played the shit out of and seems to bring the fun each time so make sure to check it out.

Paranoia. Humza K is going to be running Paranoia Friday at 1 pm. Humza has some published work with the game and runs a mean anarchic session.

Operation Unfathomable. Jason Sholtis will be running Sephilax Must Be Destroyed on Thursday at 6:00 pm set in the Odious Uplands, the wilderness stretch goal from the Op U. Totally prejudiced as an editor of that supplement, but it's a very typically weird and wonderful adventure area from Jason.  

Friday, March 17, 2017

The Frog Demons are Coming Y'all (Eventually)

So the long and short of the update on What Ho, Frog Demons (the fourth of the Slumbering Ursine Dunes series) is that we are right in the middle of the editorial process. The ever-versatile Luka Rejec has jumped over from the illustration side to being the chief editor and just when I thought I was catching a break from the ever-demanding eye of Robert Parker I find myself wading through a 21-point revision list for the manuscript.

Punchline: What Ho is going to take a month or three longer---but it will be tougher and stronger for it.

So in the meantime here's some actual gameable content, one of the lesser tiers of the eponymous critters (the full version comes complete with a random generation system based in freakish real world adaptations to create your nightmare). Also Luka being Luka some sketches of anuran fiends are already percolating through the ether here are some.

Frog Demonettes/Žába'dabel Nymphs
No. Enc.: 1d6 (3d6)
Alignment: Chaotic (Evil)
Movement: 120’ (40’)
Armor Class: 5
Hit Dice: 2
Attacks: 2 (claws or barbed steel darts)
Damage: 1d4 or 1d4+1
Save: D2
Morale: 9
Hoard Class: XI
XP: 60
Like many extra-dimensional xenoforms the Žába'dabel as a demonic race both mirror and defy natural ecology. Frog Demonettes, the lowest of the three basic types—one hesitates to call them life-cycle stages as they seem to lack rhyme or reason alternately evolving or devolving at seemingly random intervals of their millennium-long lives—is a uniformly female-appearing race of man-sized, lithe, pastel-skinned bipeds with short stubby tails.

Though the Frog Demonette is not as intellectually well-rounded as the larger, more mutated Oorhi, they are quite cunning and love tinkering. This dovetails nicely with their typical caste role as trap setters, sanitation maintenance specialists and unionized builders of the grotesque, baroque floats that grace the annual Benighted Parade of Weltschmerz in Peklo, their home dimension.

Frog Demonettes can cast Mend and Push spells once a day. Admittedly a power that will see little use in combat with PCs.