Thursday, May 30, 2013

By This Axe: Fantasy Battle Rules Released

That's a wrap.

Last week I said that I would be releasing a print and pdf copy of my medieval fantasy battle rules, By This Axe. And lo, thanks to the generous, talented aid of Mike Davison (layout), Jez Gordon (cover work) and Richard G (alternate “art noveau” cover coming out later), here they are.

The print-on-demand copy is available here for $7.99 and the PDF here for $2.50. If you order soon-ish you can use the discount code “MAYBOOKS13” to get a hefty 20 percent discount.

With 100 percent of the profits being folded into my personal contribution to Autism Speaks, that translates into $2 for each print copy and $1.36 for each PDF (ouch, Lulu) going to charity. Yay you.

  • Miniature rules for both small (1 figure: 5 warriors) to mid and large-sized (1:20) battles.
  • Abstract pen-and-paper battle system for running battles of any size quickly with a range of tactical choice.
  • Simple, fun, big “bucket of dice” old school minis combat feel.
  • Compatibility with any kind of basing, no need to rebase.
  • Optional card-based command and control rules.
  • Duel mini-game to simulate the stand-out fights of champions.
  • Abstract, fast sorcery and divine magic system.
  • Conversion rules for old school D&D-like rpgs. Your campaign's PCs and NPCs are easily slottable into both the tabletop and abstract mass battle system.
  • Point system for creating match-ups between armies.
  • Beautiful full-color covers courtesy of long, dead Russian artist, Ivan Bilibin.
Also, the core rules will be followed with a free downloadable supplement that will cover:
  • Tabletop scenarios for one-shot battles.
  • Sieges both on the tabletop and abstractly.
  • Campaign rules.
  • Granular magic system that will work with your favorite classic rules set.
  • Stats for a wider range of fantastical creatures.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Sandbox Locales for the Last Point of Light Mini-Campaign

There are more to be added from. Longtime readers will note the co-opting of contest entries—for the greater good naturally. (Thanks Trey, Robert and Michael for this round.)

Ir-Byit (Hex 13.13)
Invariably just called “the Towers”--or more frequently the pedestrian “Town”--the large plasti-steel walled urban core of 5000 sits packed into a compact blue-hued square of pylon-like tower-houses and long, covered arcades. Close to the walls are idyllic melancholic parklands harboring the handful of ancient buildings still in use as lodges of the Valley’s myriad secret societies. Great fields of rubble and broken shells of buildings mark the former extent of the ancient city.

The Fecund Pit of the Lurid Tolahks (Hex 07.14)
This dread cave-pocketed hole is a short if steep two-mile hike down the exterior ridgeline from the Marchwarden outpost of Watchfort Baker. The troglodytic Tolahks were greatly feared a generation ago when their raids ravaged the western villages of the Valley. That the Tolahks would return the gnawed skulls of villagers in the dead of night back to the Watchfort only increased the mounting terror. When bloodnettle flaggelants threatened to trek their grisly gods-fear and sweaty, stained backs into Ir-Byit proper the Marcherlord took the unprecedented action of going on the offensive. Since that terrible pyrrhic victory only a few long melancholy howls have been heard from the Pit since.

The marchwardens still talk of those the chilling dark of the dark outer pit-caves and the short battle glimpses of the gleaming white vaults beyond—and the hidden wealth undoubtedly stashed within those ancient confines.

Glories Past
Shining Ysbhalla, Hex 07.15
From the Scroll of Eytre the Mindhealer:
“What child of the Valley doesn’t know the story of Shining Ysbhalla, fallen ancient capital of Man? It’s spires can still be seem—as can the shadow that crouches among them like a toad in weeds. This is the god or demon-thing called the Thinker, and Ysbhalla belongs to it and its only worshippers, the Soft Ones. Who hasn’t wondered at the giant and macrocephalic shape that crawls through Ysbhalla? Who didn’t tremble in their youth at the hearth-tales of the elders of once-men, flabby, pale, and elastic as a slug or river mussel, who crawl through Ysbhalla’s streets gurgling obscenities and consumed with lust for women who may still stand upright?”

The Obelisk of the Electric Brain, Hex ???
A fragment from Godspawn by Pakah the Yellow:
“Of the many disciplines mastered by the Electric Brain, perhaps the most horrifying was the secrets to life itself. In the great nutrient vats beneath the Temple of Human Achievement, the Brain has tinkered over centuries to create new forms of life, vile combinations of man, machine, and animal. Pushing the outer limits of science and human imagination, these obscene monstrosities were created for the purposes of sexual satiation, torture, and other diversions best left unnamed. In the vast breeding pits and menageries entire generations of unthinkable beasts, many of whom were sentient, lived in died in squalor.

Yet, those unnameable horrors desired for freedom, as all men inevitably do. Many of their revolts were quashed by the Electric Brain and its servitors, but a fair number succeeded as well. Passing through the complex underground mazes that permeated the ground beneath the city-state, tribes of beasts not born from natural evolution slipped into the wild lands outside of the Valley of Endless Luxury.”

The Pyramid of the God-King Syrinx, Hex ???
Doom-Ballad of Moes the Many-Voiced:
“The Old Ones prophecied, and lo it was so! It was Midsummer's Eve in the year of the Unending Worm, and the Seven Eyes of Thon the Beholder stood high in the sky, directly over the capstone of The Pyramid of the God-King Syrinx. Day and night became one.”

Sunday, May 26, 2013

The Last Point of Light: Science-Fantasy Mini-Campaign

I've been dragging ass a bit design inspiration-wise with the eponymous campaign of this here blog. One of the better burnout cures I have found is to throw some energy into an intentionally limited and decidedly different toned game. The Space Cantons and Wilderness crawl mini-campaigns, the TSR Conan and Boot Hill one-shots all were enjoyable diversions and I came out refocused on the center-stage efforts.

This time around I stepped backed and tried reviving a campaign seed idea that spawned one of the most feverishly imaginative contests I have had the pleasure of sponsoring here: the Point of Light/Last Bastion of Man. As my fair city was flooding yesterday, I drew up some notes for an AD&D/Mutant Future mash-up flavored/inspired by dollops of The Night Land, Moebius's Arzach (and Dune drawings), Blood Meridian, Kung Fu 2100, and the three love-children worlds of friends (that I have so greatly admired): Oriax, Uz and Krul.

Who remembers what brought our ruin in the end​? The troubles and tribulations, cataclysms and crises fell so thick in number those many centuries ago that forgetting and hiding became one of the higher arts of survival. What remains of human civilization is clustered in a high, narrow mountain basin roughly 90 square miles in area, a high, lost enclave harboring 15,000 souls.

About a third live in the ruins of a former great city. Life there, though a shadow of what came before, is highly refined with a tendency to rumination on the abstract and cerebral doctrines—and sensuous vices of the flesh. The rest of the valley is more rough and tumble, there the population holds on in semi-fortified villages dominated by wild religious rites.

Centuries of inwardness, fear, and the lasting effects of a great purge of remnant books and other intellectual artifacts have limited the bastion’s knowledge of the outside world to what can be surveyed from the surrounding peaks: jagged foothills, vine-choked forests, giant fungus groves, ash wastes, and the hints of a green-stoned cyclopean ruin that can only be Shining Yashabbla, the Ancient Capital of Man. Beyond the horizon lurks a vast wilderness haunted by bands of inhuman reaving bands and the truly monstrous.

Something has shifted in the valley in the last decade, the rulers of the land have finally opened up that last safety valve to keep their control of the last bastion: permission to explore beyond the peaks. The insane, the maladjusted, and restless dregs of the citizenry answer the call.

Chargen Steps
1.    Roll/Pick House and Race
2.    Roll 4d6 drop the lowest IN ORDER for attributes
3.    Pick Class. Take maximum hit points.
4.    Roll 3d6 for your “Social Rank”. This multiplied by 10 is your starting gold (called Domars).
5.    Buy stuff.

Starting House
From the most indolent noble to the basest toiler, all in the Valley claim descent from mythological hero-ancestors.  Over the centuries society has settled into a number of broad clan-castes around such claims (which are themselves sub-divided into internal prestige ranks).

Roll d10 or Pick
1          House of Drugan the Render of Bodies: Human +1 STR, +1 starting hp and free melee weapon
2          House of Kaimos the Starbird: Human +1 INT. Minor artifact of GM’s choice.
3          House of Cragon the Soul-Auger: Human +1 WIS. Speak with the Dead once a month.
4          House of Tathos the Deathstealer: Human +1 DEX. Reroll one roll once a session.
5          House of Reydan the Redhelm: Human +1 CON. +1 Social Rank and free helmet.
6          House of Guiking the Gilded: Human +1 CHA. +2 to Social Rank and Dogman servant.
7          House of Wozan the Clonemaster: Replicant see below
8          House of Xhom the Contumelious : Dwarf see below
9          House of Raztin the Ever-Faithful: Dogman see below
10        Servants of the Steel Spire: Human Mutant see below

“Pure” humans (all citizens carry some trace mutation) can be of any class.

Roll Class 1 positive mutation and one Class 1 drawback mutation from the Mazes and Mutants chart.  If Dwarfism is rolled, the mutant is automatically treated as a Dwarf as below. The drawback mutation is kept but a new positive mutation is rolled. They are restricted to the martial roles of fighting man, monk or ranger by their caste upbringing.

-1 STR, +1 DEX or INT. Can be fighters or specialists. Mechanically they enjoy the same advantages as the B/X Halfling. As a tinkering caste they gain a +10% bonus when learning or repairing artifacts.

+1 to any 2 attributes, -2 CHA
Replicants are easily recognized by the limited clone archetype population, and considered by most to be really creepy. Will often die inexplicably in five years. Cannot be a magic user or white wizard.

+1 STR or DEX, -1 INT
Can bite for 1d4 damage. Fighting man or ranger only.

No minimum attribute prereqs are required.

Fighting Man
No weapon, armor or artifact restrictions. Hit Dice 1d10

No armor but can use DEX bonus for AC, Control of Self power as per Empire of the Petal Throne at 1st level, +1 to hit with unarmed attacks. Cannot use projectile or energy ranged weapon.

Magic User
Can wear Fur armor and Otus helmet, able to use blackpowder weapons otherwise normal weapon restrictions. Spells require only mental concentration.

White Wizard
Called “Priest”, can wear Fur or Leather, +5% to figuring out artifacts, can use any ranged weapon.

Called “Marchwarden”, +1 to hit with any ranged weapon, cannot wear Ceramic Plate.

Called “Tinker”. As per Lamentations, restricted to leather and under armor but can use shield.

Swords and daggers cost three times as much due to the metal shortage. All other weapons with a metal component cost twice as much. Bone or stone can be substituted at normal listed cost but are -1 damage.

Firelance, one-shot gunpowder tube attached to spear, 1d8 damage, 20’ range, 15 domars

Blackpowder charge, 5 domars per shot

Flintlock, 1d10 damage with exploding dice on a natural “10”. 3 rounds to reload. 80 domars

War-Arquebus (flintlock carbine with handaxe or short sword attached to stock)  100 domars

Erol Otus helmet, 5 domars
Wooden Shield, 10 domars
Furs, AC 8, 5 domars
Leather, AC7, 15 domars
Lamellar, AC6, 30 domars
Synthetic Mesh, AC5, 150 domars
Ceramic Plate AC3, 600 domars

Riding Lizard, 75 domars
Pack Lizard, 60 domars
Work-Moose, 75 domars
Riding-Tarn, 450 domars
War-Tarn, 600 domars

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Buy this Axe

Thanks to the generous helping layout hand of Mike Davison, next week I will finally be releasing into the wild By This Axe, my mercifully short and (hopefully) easily digestible 12-page set of rules for running Medieval and Fantasy battles on the tabletop and/or with pen and paper. Yay me.

Breaking with my traditional horror of things commercial I am a-fixing a price tag to both the PDF and the print-on-demand booklet. Both will still be priced down in the budget range ($2.50 for the PDF and $8 for the booklet) and 100-percent of the proceeds will be shoehorned into a large donation to Autism Speaks, so rest assured that your soul will be pure as you plot the senseless slaughter of countless imagined hordes.

The quick and dirty on what you can expect feature-wise packed into those 12 pages:
  • Miniature rules for small to mid-sized battles.
  • Abstract battle system for running battles of any size quickly with a range of tactical choice.
  • Simple, fun, big “bucket of dice” old school minis combat feel.
  • Compatibility with any kind of basing, no need to rebase.
  • Optional card-based command and control rules.
  • Duelling mini-game to simulate the stand-out fights of champions.
  • Abstract, fast sorcery and divine magic system.
  • Conversion rules for old school D&D-like rpgs. Your campaign's PCs and NPCs are easily slottable into both the tabletop and abstract mass battle system.
  • Point system for creating match-ups between armies.
  • Beautiful full-color covers (front pictured above) courtesy of long, dead Russian artist, Ivan Bilibin.
The core rules will be followed with a free downloadable supplement that will cover:
  • Tabletop scenarios for one-shot battles.
  • Sieges both on the tabletop and abstractly.
  • Campaign rules.
  • Granular magic system that will work with your favorite classic rules set.
  • Stats for a wider range of fantastical creatures.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Riots, Carracks, Celestial Plays and Rolling Back the Weird

And now the News...
“Ole Wampus” Bartol, captain of the Canton-flagged carrack _The Ocular Bat_, was overheard in a hu'uz hallucinogenic stupor roaring—between exclamations of “everything is so mauve”--about how a Storm-Child gale forced his ship dangerously close to the Weird on the Feral Shore [the once-populated coast between Kezmarok and the Hill Cantons cleanly wiped out of existence by the Turko Fey]. Bracing for the curtain of electric feeling of crossing over—and the near certainty of “monsters a-wondering” that seem to pop from nowhere to the clack of cosmic dice in that fell zone—they were shocked to feel only the gusting salt-winds on their back. Running close to shore for several cantonal leagues before tacking back to the deeper waters of the Persimmon Sea, the ship nary encountered the Weird once the breath of that little excursion. Though parlor regulars dismissed the story as “the mollusk-buzz talking”, details, to this humble reporter, seemed surprisingly consistent with his slightly less-inebriated crew.

Anxiety about the disturbingly activist nature of the new Decade King has been ratcheted up a notch this week's *monarchist riot along the gloriously-misnamed Scintillating Avenue of Strident Strumpetry*. A peaceable gathering of *For the Children*, a program beneficently sponsored and funded by the Palace of Affairs Domestic to provide silk wimples and chitons to disadvantaged children of gentility come down in the world, was set upon by rough-handed men with quarterstaves shouting “blood for the Decade King.” The mob then marched down the avenue seemingly at random pulling squatters from the row-towers, shaving half their heads, and painting dwarven penis runes on their bellies.

Our world is one of constant flux, but one thing endures is the *Kiiros Regatta of Ma'arb*. Originating in that Southlands nation's time as a Kezmaroki possession, the biennial naval parade and race is just as reliably dominated by the ever-impressive (and ever-financially ruinous) entry of Ma'arb's preeminent figure, the Despot. The diamond flash of gilded mirrors, blood-curdling war-yells of amazon maidens, and ear-shattering petard-explosions of his “thunder-dromon” of two years back, a sight that many observers could not be exceeded, was in fact topped by the great golden domed, onion-towered pleasure barge that came gliding into the harbor this year. A stream of superlative statements has issued from jealous fixtures of Kezmaroki great-hostel parlors ever since.

Speaking of hostel parlor talk, rumors have been spreading of a “celestial play” to be presented in the underground quarters of esteemed autarch *Drasko the Debauched*. Of course only a high select audience will be on hand to witness such an undoubtedly magnificent display of theatrical delight.

Grooms at The Fesian's Stables (where business has been hopping in recent weeks due to the influx of kozak mercenaries as of late) are spreading a tale of a great rending sound and sudden appearance of a dust cloud from just beyond the new retaining wall on the southeast side of Farwest yesterday. “There was nothing particularly satirical or obscurely colorful about it,” stated one of the dung-smelling witnesses to the incident.”

The wild rumor that spread last night like a sub-world sirocco through the bonders of the Little Cantons has been confirmed by officials at the municipal palace this morning—for the first time in five centuries *the Turko Fey have inexplicably moved away from the outer walls of Kezmarok*. Half-ogres and human slaves were seen striking the great silk pavilions of the besiegers and hastily moving said tents a half-mile back to a new position around the ridgeline of the Vovoli Gardens. A thin grey line of distant figures there—that many from the walls believe to the be the Turko-Fey themselves—was observed watching the proceedings from that height. The news has been greeted with wild enthusiasm from the northron mercenaries and a jaded shrug by native Kezmarokis.

The small crowd that gathered to hear the Decade King's bizarre attempt at oratory last week were disappointed (perhaps relieved) that the speech was drowned in a suddenly frentic bit of building activity from work crews sent by the Autarchs to renovate the crumbling palace exterior. What's more  the intricate webbing of the new scaffolding encasing the building ensured that only the forehead and ornamental morion of the monarch was seen by the crowds below.   

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Now Recruiting: Villains

One of the (many) long-dropped, game-play features from D&D's halcyon early days that has long intrigued me is that of allowing players to take on “NPC” adversary roles to the main adventuring party. Since reading several years ago the amusing back story of Sir Fang, the player-run vampire in Arneson's Blackmoor famous for being the reputed origin of the cleric class in the game, I have always been interested in exploring that bit of outsourced intra-player competition.

Because, see, after running the Hill Cantons for four years with two groups of rather clever and canny veteran players, I've started to feel that the machinations I throw at them have started to feel a bit predictable. (Though the campaign is still mostly locale-exploration in orientation, a fair number of “whirly bits” being moved by any number of NPC-led forces occur on and off-stage at this point).

In plainer words, there are times that I think they are on to my shit. Time to change up and throw (not to abuse my portmanteaus too much) a slurve.

Cutting to the chase, I am looking to recruit 1-5 “NPC” villains to help co-create some of those said whirly-bits. 

The particulars:
1. Ideally looking for someone who has played in the HC but is not currently active—or at least fairly familiar with my campaign posts.

2. I email you your “situation report”: the broad brushstrokes of who you are playing, what your resources are, where you are, how that might interact with the players, etc. 

If you are so-inclined are encouraged to co-create the color and details of your bad apple, villainous lair and attendant forces (of course, with my potential, gentle modification to fit campaign tone and balance).

3. You relate to me what your nefarious plans through some very limited Play by Post (I have limited patience/will for this kind of thing so emphasis on “limited) and/or fairly infrequent Google Plus Hangouts. When this intersects with what the campaign players are doing I will reportback to you on what you perceive of the situation.

4. Note importantly that, the point is not to smash the players per se, but to create some interesting, wild-card challenges for the party. It basically has to be broadly fair and contributing to the overall enjoyment of the campaign. 

Is your soul benighted and wicked enough for this experiment? If so, drop me a line here or on Google Plus and I will send you details.  

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Amazons and Scalping Blades, Campaign News

And now the News...
Our new Decade-King continues to stubbornly stay on the lips of Kezmarokis. Seeking to overturn five centuries of cherished tradition of not having to see or hear from the monarch more than the usual “touch the jewels and wave” appearances of the great festivals, the ceremonial monarch announced to great shock that he would deliver a “rousing bit of oratory” from the organic-machine-themed Yakquirby Balcony on Sunlorday.

In other news, noting the considerable erosion and water damage to the external walls of the palace, the Autarchs have (finally after decades) released funding for much needed structural work on the teetering pile. A massive cocoon of scaffolding went up around the exterior immediately, much to the praise of local citizenry.

The Amazons are celebrating again their biennial Ebon Festival of the Pearls on their distant isle near the resting point of the Sun Lord's daily ride. The festival marks both the climax of the black pearl harvest from the swamp-polyps and the victory of that muscle-bounded race of maidens against the invading forces of the Overkingdom in the Twicefold Battle of Vague Suggestiveness now some 112 years ago. It is said that the high-point of the festivities is the public bathing and drinking by their much-feared, rubenesque queen of the blood of 12 male lovers.

And in the identified magic items department...
The Four Brother-Blades of the Evening Red
In the darkness that fell after the last Latter-State Hyperboran necromancer-king was hung with the guts of the last ur-bureaucrat--a time so dark that the chatiness and love of written language so dear to our age was reduced to flashes of the sordid art of epic poetry—four brother hero-champions of the Muhtl people arose. These brothers, though noted for their bloodlust revels and vicious scalping, were unswervingly loyal to each other and when the vicious Muhtl were finally put down by the Kaftor matriarchs—and their own deaths by castration at hand—through dark oaths had their respective souls transferred in part to their beloved blades.

If all four blades are wielded in battle by a single party, each sword becomes +2 to hit and damage. On a natural 20, the blade lands a near scalping blow to a humanoid causing an additional d6 bleeding damage. Striking the four blades together while chanting “hrom, hrom, hrom” (the Muhtl word for “thunder”) will produce Call Lightning once per day at the level of the strongest wielder. All magical powers of the swords are only functional when all four swords are in use.

Individually each blade exhibits a bare, but strongly-willful sentience (INT 5, EGO 15). When touched the sword emanates a tremendous—and malign—sense of potency, a potential warning that the blades seek to turn the wielder into a debased and violent existence of wanton evil. (When wielding the sword, if erections last for four or more hours, call a cleric.)