Wednesday, June 27, 2012

South Texas Minicon August 18

The North Texas RPG Con is done gone, but it's afterglow burns on. Time again for our coat-tails rpg and miniatures event south down IH-35.

We will be returning again this year to the resort town of New Braunfels (located between Austin and San Antonio) and we are looking at August 18 for the date. The event will be at the Convention Center again see here for more info on the venue. 

The game line up has not been fully determined yet (here's your chance to pitch a game), but you can expect likely another full day of gaming in three slots. People co-organizing and likely running games so far are:

Ed of Two Hour Wargames fame. Last year he ran a wonderful gladiatorial spectacle in 28mm.

The esteemed Desert Scribe of Super Galactic Dreadnaught. He runs mean games of old school spaceship battle royales.

The infamous Brad of Crushing Skulls who ran a scenario last year with us as the characters of the DnD cartoon. (This year if he runs something I promise not to be a jackass and derail his game as a murderhobo).

And yours truly who will likely run a session of some weird old roleplaying game (Holmes Basic, Empire of the Petal Throne or Chivalry & Sorcery) and a big giant fantasy mini battle using my By this Axe I Rule! 

How could you miss that? Registration is free, but it's awfully neighborly to RSVP an invite (email me at kutalik at gmail dot the com). Even more neighborly to give us a contribution on site.  

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Campaign News Roundup

Moving, work, busy blah blah blah. In the meantime some news from the campaign for players and voyeurs.

St. Jack's Church of the Blood Jesus has gone underground—literally. After three weeks of backbreaking work—under the expert supervision of the Termex the Robodwarf--by devotees of the syncretistic cult, a catacomb space has been excavated under the Marlankh workshop of a Sitvek, a cult follower. It's unclear where the nun-maenads acquired the skulls and other bone bits that make up the exquiste ossuary-like sculptures in the cramped little vaults. The new sparagamos fane is a "thing of beauty" reports cult leader Vatek son of Vatek. See map below of the currently excavated space. 

High society in the southern cantons is all a-titter with the return of the Lady Szara to her town-manse in Marlankh. The notoriously-erratic lady abruptly moved away two years ago “to visit relatives back in the Corelands” and her manse was overtaken by the seemingly undead Kugel the Lucky. That haunting must be at an end as five wagons drawn by somewhat unnerving, red-eyed black stallions arrived just yesterday piled over with her belongings.

Guildsmen of the Illustrious Workers of Wood (commonly referred to as the “Totterers”) are celebrating the fifth century anniversary of their local lodge this week. A giant wickerman has been erected in the Plaza of the Horned Oracle for the festivities.

The scurrilous tribe of were-worms who migrated from the Weird into the Slumbering Ursine Dunes last month have stepped up their depredations in the area. The Marlinko Rada has hotly debated a plan to introduce giant robins into the dunes to halt the menace. The Guild of Accipitraries, Drovers, and Ankle-Beaters has begun a program of mutating, growing, and training said birds in anticipation of the lucrative contract. 

Friday, June 22, 2012

The Cult of Storm-Child

Of the so-called Old Gods (really quite new by some reckonings) of the Hill Cantons, Storm Child, is one of the select few pagan deities tacitly tolerated by the Lords Spiritual.

Though he is reputed by certain esoteric orders to be merely the half-human offspring of one of Radegast's many dalliances with the female half of humankind, he is undoubtedly the most beloved of the Lord of Hosts' children and his cult flourishes to this day in the backhills of the borderlands. His followers' abodes are instantly recognizable by the littering of children's toys, many teeth-marked, throughout their living space. “Storm-Childist households can look a little harried now and then,” opines the great Bombasticus but they have a good time.”

Not one for subtle interventions Storm-Child demands the attention of mortals he encounter. Many of the “touched” ruffians, mountebanks and picaros that style themselves “adventurers” spread too-consistent tales of hearing the godling's howls carried by a far wind while deep in the Weird.

Thanks to the ever-replenishing wonders of the Sublime Source of Crowds, details of the cult are offered here today, the day of his celestial birth. I will be making use of the wonderful D&Dized adaption of Runequest cult info that David from Dungeons Down Under has available for download here.

Deity Name: Storm-Child, The One Whose Cries Rend the Sky

Area of Control: Thunderstorms, Willfulness, and Dice

Following: Elderly eccentrics, stubborn children, gambling den operators, those who are Chaotic yet Good-natured and resist authority.

Organization: informal, horizontal network of localized Circles.

Clergy: Storm-Child has no regular spell-casting clerics as such. However adventuring classed types of any variation (and suitable alignment) may elect to become vocational lay-priests.

Duties: Each morning the lay-priest must greet the dawn with a loud shout of “Deeeeeee”. Once a month a sacrifice must be made to the local Circle of 10 gold suns times the level of the character. Failure to do so will mean being stripped of all powers granted by the demi-god.

According to the savant Allandros, priests of the Storm-Child have a tradition of eating dice on high holidaty. This is done to devour the luck of those inimical to the faith. 1x/level/week, a priest of the Storm-Child may devour dice while thinking of a particular foe. That foe will have a -4 penalty to all die rolls for d10 days. However, the Storm-Child's priest must save vs paralyzation or suffer the Curse of Teeth (see below).

Powers Granted: vocational lay-priests can assume special powers at odd levels beginning with the third. To assume the appropriate power the priest must sacrifice the equivalent of 500 gold suns times the character level worth of goods that delight the Storm Child (jeweled polyhedral dice, toy wagons constructed of rare woods, fish sticks and the like).

Non-Listed Spells: All Spells can only be cast when wearing no or leather armor.

Available at 1st level (500 suns sacrifice):
The Squalling. Once a day, summon a brief and violent windstorm that sounds like screaming and wailing. Mechanical effects could include knocking down foes, doing damage (buffet, or sonic), deafness, immense irritation (especially in parents). (Spell created by The Elder Isles' famed storm-brother, James Stuart).

Shocking Grasp. (see rulebook)

Available at 3rd level (1500 suns):
The Curse of Teeth. Usable once a week. Anyone failing a saving throw vs spells becomes subject to a terribly painful curse.

Firstly, a random (4d8) number of teeth will become loose and fall out over a period of 1d4 days. This in itself isn't particularly painful, though the shock of losing teeth and temporary blood flow may be the equivalent of a single HP of damage per day.

Secondly, new teeth appear within the targets skull and begin to push their way through the gum line and into the mouth, taking 3d10 days for all of them to come through after the last one has dropped out. This is massively painful and for each day during this phase the target must make a Saving throw vs Spells. Success indicates they are only at -2 to all rolls due to the pain. Failure indicates they are essentially debilitated and are at -6 to everything. Powerful Anaesthetics (like booze) will numb the pain, allowing normal activity, but probably carry their own risks...(Again thanks to James, what a mensch.)

Taboos and Bans: Followers of the Storm-Child are not allowed to eat food sitting at tables but must consume all sustenance while wandering around their place of rest.

Holidays: According to the writings of Bomasticus, Storm-Childist families conduct a seasonal ceremony commonly called the Howling Jubilee “in which normal social hierarchies are inverted. Household servants exert temporary control over  policy, boss their overseers and definitely speak their minds. Domestic animals are taken off lead and their grooms are expected to pick up the collars and wear them for a little while. The Littlest One rules. This is apparently a vestige of the days when we all slept in the same room with dogs, and there have been times when the inversion has applied with magical force in larger circumstances: curses and even quests rebounding on their casters, restraints untying themselves and blocking the business of the secular authorities, crib gates somehow popping open on their own. Such phenomena please the Storm-Child.”

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Need Some Advice, Oh Brain Trust

This morning I finally finished the draft of the Roustabout's Guide to the Hill Cantons. I am a little befuddled now that I am in the active self-editing phase just where to take it.

In a nutshell the Guide was intended to accomplish a few goals:
1. put all the variant subsystems, alternative classes, and other gameable material for classic D&D I have been working on for the campaign and blog as a follow-up to the Hill Cantons Compendium.

2. compile all the setting-specific stuff that has at least some portability and utility to other people's games together in one place. So all the lists of unique equipment, special items, spells, horse breeds etc.

3. give an overview of the actual setting: religion, cosmology, sites of interest, etc.

My two intended audiences are: 1. the home group and Google Plus players both longstanding and new (there are always “special guest stars” coming and out) and 2. people who like to tinker and collect this kind of variant stuff (ie people like me).

Soooooo,here's my problem should I take all the things from the previous Compendium, clean them up and put them into a single booklet/pdf? Or release it as a second, separate booklet/pdf? Or some other option I am overlooking?

I know first world problem, but help me stop waffling puh-lease.  

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Fathers and Sons Redux

They were fighting again. The fourth time that afternoon. The Professor's glasses had slipped to the tip of his nose and threatened to fall off, but there was nothing he could do about them. He was too busy trying to keep Wild Bill from hitting him.

Those are not my words, they are my father's. But I am The Professor. Or at least I was for a time in the early 1980s as a thinly-veiled protagonist—as was my brother "Wild" Billin my father's serialized fantasy novel.

I've written of this before, the late childhood thread that ties me back to my first days with this game and the deep vein. My father runs all through that narrative. Playing D&D with him, the Vietnam combat vet, and the magical realism of that teetering Edwardian house in the hills above LA.

The book was another piece of that. We would spend summers with Dad in Southern California in the rawness of that time after my parents' divorce, it was where the hook would be set with that first blue box of Basic D&D with the gangly red dragon. The summers were spent awash in things new, wonderful and weird despite the pains of that time.

The game was to some extent a way to keep that alive through the longer truck of the school year back in Texas. And importantly the novel which came to us several pages at a time in thick envelopes did too. I hung on them. I could hear my father's voice in them, the same lively voice that would narrate whole chapters of The Hobbit or the Lord of the Rings to us from creased paperbacks when were were around.

I realized reading through the rough smudges and mark-outs of one of my greatest paper treasure, the non-correctable typewritten—there's a nostalgia onto itself— compiled manuscript how much of the game's influence entered in my everyday conversation. That first bit on the post is the beginning of the book, it begins with the cats-and-dogs fighting that was near-constant between my brother and me in those days. The funny thing is what my dad writes about the cause—most definitely something that actually happened:
H-h-he said,” Wild Bill stuttered. “Said I wasn't wise.”
I did not,” The Professor said calmly...
He said I was low on wisdom.”

I can almost hear the Gygaxian WIS shorthand in that remark. No bonus divine spells for Bill.

The meat of the book was our journey into the far and distant land of a demonic tree spirit, the Tumbo, and of course our battle against his fell influence. There are touches of LeGuin's Earthsea books the magical power of true names and the like through it, which makes sense given how my dad had handed them over to me at the time.

Erik Jensen of the Wampus Country (and he can correct my paraphrase if I am wrong) once stated in a discussion I posted on G+ about DCC rpg that he was done with the dark and gritty in the games he runs, that instead he was looking for that childlike wonder aspect of fantasy.

I don't want to wax on about the golden-tinged private Narnia-Idaho of my childhood (at least more than I have), but I liked how Erik stated that. It was an important corrective to how I feel about aspects of fantasy, the visceral yet softer emotion of that sentiment can indeed balance with the dark, metallic edges and the maladapted picaresque that I love.

With all the imaginative, creative little boys running around in our burgeoning extended family, it's something I genuinely look forward to: being a conduit into that wonder. All you fathers out there playing the same role, I tip my hat to you today, savor and appreciate that role.

And, of course, on this Father's Day to my own conduit, The Professor says “thank you” and “great love.”

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Celebrate We Have Undercity Contest Winners

No fancy lede, no meandering aside, just the announcement. Thanks to all 16 who submitted entries, all of them truly are good and interesting creative approaches to this beast the Undercity.

Starting with the honorable mentions.

Honorable Mention for Would Have Won Second but Wasn't an Undercity Level and/or Best Yank of My Chain: “G” with “Flamingo Bubble Party Paradise”:
“Garden-of-Eden-ish glade on surface. Inhabited by pelican-halflings and flamingo-elves. Isolated themselves in magical bubble to prevent surface-nasties from attacking. Baddies retaliate, enchant the bubble. Becomes ethereal-ish and simply starts sinking into the ground, leaving no trace. Bubble still protects against crushing earth and provides air, so life continues. Recently bubble has been having problems. Often just shows static instead of the illusory sky, clouds and sunsets. This is due to the magic of the bubble being tied to family bloodlines, that have become muddled after generations of inbreeding. Bubble also glitches in and out of existence at times, covering the peaceful glade in debris and rubble.”
Honorable Mention for Awesome Cross-Section Layered Cross Section: Tim Shorts with “Charnel”

Honorable Mention for Most Aesthetically Pleasing and Fascinating Pointcrawl Map: Richard Guy with Noah's Ark

Honorable Mention for Wonderfully Lyrical Entry that Would Most Likely Have Gotten Second if I My Slow-As-Molasses Brain Had Another Week to Figure Out What the Hell it All Means goes to Scott Martin for “Lavilokan”:
“Obliquely referred to in nursery rhymes as “Lavilokan” or “the City Below the City / Shrouded in Glass,” Iron Mountain Deep is the only impregnable data center of the ancients known to survive the cataclysm more or less intact. The uninterruptible engines guaranteed to run 2,000 years are now grinding down, creating opportunities for the ambitious and the unlucky to access loot, secret knowledge and desperate wonders. Most who find their way in among the haunted platters opt to remain, driven to renounce the world above by ancient lights and strange meat. And of course, bands of mutant derro and less easily classified monstrosities demonstrate that the dwarves who first came here to mine the ribbon of fluorescent glass and peacock iron under our bedrock never actually moved on 300 years ago as advertised.”
Honorable Mention for Fuck Yeah Let's Get Our 40K On goes to Mike D. for Grimdark. Make sure to check this out on his blog.

Honorable Mention for Cool and Creative But Not Really an Undercity goes to...well almost all the rest of you. But I still love you and now want to do a megadungeon concept contest.

Third Place goes to Thomas M. for his Death in June sounding “All Pigs Must Die” which you can find here on his blogIt's a toss-up whether I love his Pig-Cathedral or Shadow-infested Senate more.

Second Place goes to Tom Hudson for his sunken, petrified elf treehouse city level “The Trees of Stone”:
The inhabitants of Ulbey Mara had a nice, bucolic life going. Classic elven tree-city, gorgeously landscaped, on a dense network of islands in a shallow, marshy lake. Not so many furry friends, but both avian and amphibian companions. Plenty of sun, not a hint of dismal swamp in sight. Hunting nearly as easy as gathering: fish to spear, more fish and lesser birds to net, plenty of time to frolic by the unearthly light of magic lanterns.
Then they pissed off the wrong elemental. Or demon. Or elemental demon - oracles aren't very clear, fragmentary thousand-year-old written records less so, and there's even less left of most would-be explorers than there is of the contemporary records.”
His backdrop mechanics for handling sites are also pure gold. 

And the First-Place title of Undercity Ur-King goes to Evan Elkins for “Uz”. Evan, perhaps not surprisingly since he's been plugging away on an Old Testament-like space-fantasy undercity as major project for a while now, hit it all the way round. The intro starts off strong:
“ Uz, the First City of Men, is a ancient metropolis that sits on the ruins of a thousand eras. It was the first city built after the Deluge, a great catastrophe of unknown provenance that destroyed humankind’s previous civilization. It is said that Antediluvian humans reached out and built great kingdoms among the stars, but their current progeny are incapable of such feats. But Uz is only the First City of Men. The people of Earth were ruled over by horrid beings from other worlds for long years after the Deluge, and their ruins may be found beneath Uz as well. They ruled for millennia until Uz of Uz used their own powerful “magic” to destroy their cities and build his own. Humankind (and Martiankind and Reptoidkind) made many terrible weapons of war and horrible chimeras both before and after the Deluge, and those creatures still lurk within the twisting labyrinth beneath Uz. Antediluvian relics, martian vats, reptoid nurseries, and Uzite tombs can be found throughout the underworld.”
And then goes into providing--past a 7-layer cross-section map—room-complex generators for each layer. Great stuff and I will leave it there as he's going to start running it soon-ish. Congratulations again to all who participated. First, second, and third winners should hit me up with an email to talk prizes.  

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Kitbashing and the Slothrog

The Undercity contest is now officially closed as of an hour ago. I have 16 submissions in hand and as usual you my lovely, mad readers have outdone yourselves. Tonight I weigh all the various bits and make hard decisions, tomorrow announce the winners.

In the meantime I have been digging on this great little article from Gary Gygax about fantasy Chainmail battles in 1972. As I wrote on Google Plus, I love the whole playful DIY ambiance of the article. At the time there were no little metal fantasy figures commercially available and you had to make do by kitbashing your own.

Reading through that piece you see Gygax joyfully talking about converting plastic giant sloth toys into balrogs, 1/72 (that's 20mm) Airfix “Robin Hood” figures into hobbits, plastic toy 54mm Indians into trolls, and 40mm Elastolin Turks into menacing orcs.

All day mad notions have been plaguing me about outfitting my own kitbashed retro array. Fortunately Ebay auctions on Elastolins are sky-high, so I can resist the urge to go fully bonkers on this, but scanning through my shockingly large amount of small plastic children's toys I have some interesting little mini-projects.

And wouldn't you know it out of some little Hobby Lobby value pack of Ice Age critters, I even have me a giant sloth! Pictured here next to a 28mm Norman archer, I reckon him to be around 35-40mm. This “Slothrog” (name appropriated from Chris Hogan) will be kitbash retro fantasy project #1.

So what to do with him to take him from that to something like this?

Perhaps drill in some metal pins and putty for horns. Maybe use some dark wash and firey red undertones. Not sure how to make myself an appropriately menacing blade of fire and nasty whip. Green putty and twine?

The Slothrog
No. Enc: 1-2
Alignment: Chaotic (Evil)
Movement: 40'
AC: -1
Hit Dice: 8
Attacks: 1 (sword, whip, or teeth)
Damage: 1d8+3, 1d6, or 1d10
Save: F8
Morale: 10
XP: 1,820

When raised from its demonic stupor, the Slothron can be a formidable foe. It can elect to use either its firey magical bastard sword +1, nasty barbed whip (save vs. paralyze when entangled by a hit) , or sharp incisor-like teeth in a combat round. The Slothron can cast Slow twice per day and can only be hit by magical weapons.  

Campaign News and Hex Map

Before I call the deadline for the Undercity Contest (you have two and a half hours to send an entry in), I wanted to sneak in some campaign stuff for current and incoming players. First the recent news then old news as a record.

A Kezmaroki trade-dromon, The Effectuator, sighted a mysterious golden domed barge in the deep seas south of the cantons. The sighting, the third such, is being heralded in backhills hamlets south of Bad Rajetz as a holy sign. In those sad, curiously ignorant settlements there are rumors of the rapid grass fire spread of a schismatic sect that welcomes a barge-like manifestation of the Sun Lord.

In other exotic cult news, St. Jack's Church of the Blood Jesus has passed its sell-by date as the flavor of the month. Doctrinal arguments over virgin births, a shortage of animals suitable for the Sparagmos rites, and a growing annoyance to the Rada have withered the strange sect's recent growth spate. Despite the setbacks, Vatek son of Vatek, continues to preach the Good Word along with the most devout of the nun-maenads.

A wandering band of were-worms is rumored to have taken residence in the Slumbering Ursine Dunes. The growing thorpe of Kugelberg has reported on two small raids that have stolen some property and weirdly top-soil from the fields.

Players' Campaign Hex Map (and as always I remain an Unreliable Narrator):

Old News:
Libor the Lugbrious, that most dolorous of highwaymen, has been plying his trade again in the southern bounds of Marlinko canton. The Rada has upped the bounty for his head to 1200 suns. 

Vatek, son of Vatek, is claiming to have unearthed a 500-stone beet from his tenant farmer's field in the southlands hamlet of Ctyri Ctvrt. Most strange of all is the twisted face-like blemish near the giant beet's crown. A local shepherd claims to have heard a booming voice emanate from the storage hut where it is currently housed two nights ago. 

Dashing Marlankh bon vivant Jarek the Nagsman is reputedly looking for “rough, sporting types” to participate in a “tiger-baiting soiree” at his town-manse. He's offering 200 suns ahead since nary a citizen took him up on his previous 60 sun offer.

The biennial blood rains have been falling all through the Cantons this week. Expect great big buckets of thick sanguine downpours throughout most of the week. Old wives maintain that the rains are due to water miraculously forming into rain clouds over the Scarlet Sea. Men of learning, of course, reject such superstitious claptrap and counter sagely that it's the Lady's beating of the Sun Lord with her silver chains that creates the soil-enriching rain.

One-Armed Jiri, master of the Mako League of the Free-Handed, is seeking nimble minds and stout hearts to retrieve a matter of “trifling importance” from the Mountain Hall of the Hyperboreans. The redoubtable Man Around the Underworld is offering good suns upfront, left arm as collateral, to any soul seeking employment. Interested parties should present themselves at the Square of the Bog Haruspex for further details. Grooming optional, but appreciated.

The eastern hinterland town of 
Bad Rajetz (known as Rientzdorf by Nemec-speakers) have stopped all exports of their renowned leather goods to Marlankh. No caravan has left the town for going on two weeks now. Speakers of the Rada and fetishists are concerned.

Raugraf Androj Animachus the Younger is celebrating his ascension to the title of his father Androj Animachus the Right Bastard with a two-day fair at his hold just east of Ostrovo. Feats of arms, wrestling, cat-juggling, midget-tossing, a grand melee, giant toad races, and other contests will be held and great prizes of gold and baubles awarded to the victors. 

Monday, June 11, 2012

Undercity Design Contest

Back from the Redneck Riveria (apparently this phrase is used Tanelorn-like throughout the Gulf beach areas) and am rearing and ready to return to the imagined sights and sounds of fantasy gaming. (Guess all that whoopin' and wavin' a giant confederate battle-flag as I drove my ATV shirtless through the dunes didn't done tucker me out as much as I thought.)

Here in the Hill Cantons returns from summer interludes are always heralded with some kind of asinine and/or pointless contest for readers. Who am I to buck the weighty hand of Tradition?

I've been trying to wrap my head around how to present undercities more robustly this past month, so what a gloriously appropriate design contest. Catch up here and here if you missed the original posts.

What do I have to do? Design a single layer of an undercity. Make it big, bad, bold and weird.

There are two steps for an entry:
1. Tell us about it in a short paragraph (2-4 sentences). Who lived there? How did it get buried? How many long years have passed since it slipped below the surface? What fell beasts live there now? What strange mysteries lurk down there?

AND either (or both if you are feeling ambitious) of the following:
2. A simple pointcrawl map (see here) with notations for use in play. Feel constrained by strange schematics? Invent your own, slacker.


3. A clever mechanic for stocking structures or room complexes. It could be something like Mark Pettigrew's system for generating undercities in Tekumel or something all brilliant and original.

All submissions must be in by this Wednesday noon CST. You can email me submissions at kutalik at the gmail dot com or leave them here in the comments.

First and Second place will receive a choice of one of the following prizes (first loser picks after the winner naturally):
1. $10 gift certificate to Amazon or Powell's.
2. a copy of MAR Barker's Man of Gold (that has some fantastic undercity scenes).

But wait there's more. Your entry won't just moulder on a shelf but will be used in the actual mega-undercity that I am busy designing for the Hill Cantons campaign. Get cracking.