Friday, August 30, 2013

The Hill Cantrevs of Weirdain Mini-Campaign

One of my oldest and dearest fantasy influences is Lloyd Alexander's Chronicles of Prydain. The Prydain books were the first fantasy novels that I bought and read entirely on my own. Evanline Ness's expressionistic covers and strong, evocative black-and-white maps grabbed me and
Alexander's writing sealed the deal. I blew through all five books as quickly as the Troll Book Club could deliver them.

Though a few Prydain-influenced NPCs, subtly and not-so subtly-veiled, have crept into the home campaign (all hail Lord Gurgi, Master of Tables and the Hambone), I have been jonesing for an avenue to play around in the setting.

The recently released old school-ish Beyond the Wall--which explicitly nods its head to Alexander and another favorite Ursula LeGuin—ramped that desire up again. That BTW features at its core a fellow-traveller lifepath character generation to that of the Hill Cantons Compendium (and to some extent Feudal Anarchy) that evoke the archetypes and tropes of the best Young Adult fantasy of my distant youth is just gravy.

So here we go with another half-baked mini-campaign, 2/3rds Prydain and 1/3 of my own insanity. The players will be the callow youth of Commot Flaylsnaith a small village just over the Little Avern from the Free Commots in the scrubby, war-torn Hill Cantrevs (naturally). Rules expanded below will basically be By This Wall chargen and magic mashed into my old friend, first edition Stormbringer.

Character Generation and House Rules
1. Pick a phlegmy-sounding Welsh here or Lloyd Alexander here name

2. Roll 1d6+5 for each of your starting stats (note that POW will sub out for WIS). Roll 3d6 for SIZ. Don't sweat the low-seeming stats, you are going to get a buttload of bumps using the playbooks. Note that you don't roll for your starting class as per normal Stormbringer.

3. Pick one of the following Beyond the Wall playbooks:
Village Hero
Untested Thief
Witch's Prentice
Would Be Knight (in this case Cantrev lord's warrior)
Young Woodsman
Forgotten Child (available from the free Nobility supplement here.)
Nobleman's Wild Daughter (as above)

4. Add any modifiers to your stats as directed (maximum of 18). Yes, you will likely end up with much higher attributes than usual BTW (that's a consolation prize for sucking more than the normal SB character.) Hit points are SIZ + CON divided by 2.

5. When the Playbook directs you to add a skill, add +20% to an appropriate-looking SB skill. A Weapon Specialization or any other Combat skill for example would add 20% to a Weapon Skill, a craft/profession skill 20% to a similar Craft or Lore skill, etc. Ask me if you aren't sure what the equivalent would be. Give yourself two bonus +10% hikes on skills.

6. Take the starting equipment as outlined in each playbook. We will be using prices from BTW. Leather Armor is the same, while Chainmail is the same as Half-Plate in SB.

7. Magic will also as directed by BTW with my rough conversion of effects. Ignore Fortune Points (fortune favors the bold), Alignment and Initiative (it's by DEX as per SB).

8. Purely optional step. BTW provides a really nifty co-creation take on building your starting village. The quick and dirty, when you roll on a table with a woodcut-looking scroll icon on the right side, that's your cue to make up a locale in the village entirely. When you see the open hand icon that's your cue to make up a relevant village NPC to your backstory.

So away we go aspiring pig-herds and petulant brats. Rumors and hooks coming next.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Elder Scrolls, In-Game Books and Player Info-Dump Opt-In (or Out)

I came late to the Morrowind and Skyrim party (though Daggerfall, which bored me to tears, was some where back in my past). Truth be told both games ate up inordinate amounts of my blog writing time and energy as is my addictive wont.

One positive take-home I received from playing both games, Morrowind in particular, is how unobtrusively the game designers worked in layers and layers of setting depth by scattering hundreds of in-game books to be read at the player's leisure—or not. Here is a book that details the site-specific account (and gameably useful) of a long-past archaeological expedition, there one dealing with the intricate cosmology of the demon-like Daedra, and another purely some fictional in-setting story.

See I love this. 

I am a notoriously impatient player of crpgs with their invariable info-dumps—far more even then my customary tabletop “five minutes and I am out” intolerance—abruptly clicking over and over again through cut scenes and NPCs monologues. But that kind of impatience is at odds with my love of worldbuilding and leisurely exploration of the layers of a setting's mysteries—and of course successfully playing the game.

Others have explored the games' successes with creating an expanded world beyond the bounding of each game's sandbox. I am way more interested in how the technique might be useful to my own sandbox campaign where the players seem to want to explore this stuff at varying levels and with their own hand on the throttle.

So far it has seemed to work very well on both ends. The players approach me individually during downtime, hiring a sage or doing direct research in a temple library, and ask specific sets of questions about ranges of background they want to explore to achieve party and individual goals. I get a chance to put my cracked, 3 am thoughts about the Hill Cantons to paper. Win, win.

But why describe when I can show. Here are a couple recent examples.
Five Shades of Azure
[Bundled up this week with the usual curt dispatch papers from the Decade King's courier is a gift: a rat-gnawed, leather-bound manuscript penned 518 years ago by a  Kežmaroki march-officer, Balazas. A short note from Prince Vdelko tersely reads “of obvious interest.”]

Contrary to the prejudices of the Rock [High Kežmarok] our Pahr subjects here on the Shore are not quite the uncouth louts they are made out to be in polite society. To the contrary, I have had many a pleasing—if such a word can be used when suffering the pains of court exile—moment here at Vygrot in their hearty bearded company laughing at their colorful tall tales, seeing the blush of the red-cheeked village maidens in their white linen and floral bodices...[long, racy and embarrassingly clumsy digression].

Month Five, the Longest Patrol
I can understand the nervousness of the men as I pass in quick inspection, the local reputation of the Ruševin is one of utter fear—when it's not being studiously avoided with a stubbornly-cultivated ignorance. To be sure the hollow bones of the dull malachite walls and jutting, skewed spires sprawl oppressively along the crest of Bojan's Peak and the saddlebacked ridge behind.

But my station now affords no question and orders remain orders to those in service. Mounted, me on my charger, the wardens on their shaggy steppe ponies, the patrol takes the switch-backed, broken ruin of a road up from the valley floor. Passing through the curtain of tall, black pines, an eerie stillness and  a strange buzzing sensation descends over us, hushing the coarse jokes and gossip. The outriders find their way hemmed in by the treeline and gladly regain the quiet comfort of the main column.

Closing in on the western slope we can now make out features of the ruins. Rubble fields and a few free-standing walls seem to rule on this side, giving way to a wide boulevard which stretches north-south from the hulking mass of the gatehouse and the gleaming mass of the outer walls. That central avenue threads its way up to a large enclosed structure—its proportions even from this far distance huge in dimensions.

What giants or demons must have raised such an edifice and for what purpose? Not a single window pierces its massive, long-running walls and the only egress seems to be enormous stone portals that look several stories tall.

With a shudder we are glad to leave this site [sic] behind as the trail turns north to the snow-clad peaks. Even combat with the fire-dwarves that haunt those heights seems welcome to spending time contemplating the horrors that must lurk in such a place...

Lost Vlko and Romuilak the Lupine
[The monograph as commissioned by He Whose Howls Echo Among the Ages, His Fecundity, Tazrun, the Illuminious and Mighty Seneschal of All the Southlands.]
For a people who had their origin in the horse-stunk nomad hordes of the Sea of Grass the Pahr people have been remarkably at home in the scrubby hills, rounded peaks, high valleys and crags of Zem. While many of the hill clans have long since been domesticated into the (slightly) more sedate lives of Overkingdom cantons, tales of the “lost kingdoms”, Old Pahr petty mountain kingdoms that dropped from the historical record centuries ago--and into the popular imagination of this day.

One such tale that looms large in the so-called Southern Cycle, that great collection of folk ballads and tall tales of how the Pahr came to migrate, conquer and be conquered in the post-Hyperborean era, is that of Vlko and its hirsute, half-wild founder, Romuilak the Lupine. Many a man of science would like to believe that Vlko still exists, nestled high in the Cerny mountains, with a people prospering by the simple, bellicose virtues of the Old Pahr hidden and secure from modernity.

“Wild Child” and Twin stories are common amongst all the peoples of the Overkingdom and often mix the heroic and divine. Romuilak's story begins along archetypical lines, an unknown, yet presumed lordly father and harassed mother abandon two twins. Where upon Romuliak is raised by a pack of bog-wolves (known to be great nurturers) and his brother (whose name is lost in time) by an occular bat.

Growing to adulthood, the two are reunited, go on great adventures and gain possession of three mighty items of great magic: the Bear-Cloak of Molak, the Shaggus Staff of Oldest Lhoma and the Cyclo-Crown of Hming the Arched. With these mighty items and a swelling army of druzhina, amazons, reverse centaurs and war-ocelots they sack and raise Xol, the last great Hyperborean successor city-state.

Anger issues satiated, the twin warlords then began to construct a great city, Vlko, on the summits of the two massive, rubble piles of Xol's wreckage. Shortly thereafter a routine sibling spat over who was allowed to sit on the right side of the mead-hall table spilled over into tragic violence and Romuilak slew his twin with a single, greasy blow of a pork chop.

The aggrieved and heart-broken Romuilak swore to make war no more, closed the borders and devoted his remaining years to making Vlko a shining petty-kingdom on the hill...

Friday, August 23, 2013

The Hill Cantons Bestiary: Polymufs

Yesterday's goofball post on the custom Reincarnation table (that I will henceforth be using in the eponymous campaign) reminded me that I have been slacking in my write-ups of the horde of custom monsters I have been using. My typical excuse is that I don't tip my hand to the players, but the qualities of many of these critters are well-known to them at this point—so here we go.

The following "poor dear" creatures are an homage to the work of late John Christopher, in particular the supremely dark, post-apocalyptic Sword of the Spirits series which I ate up with delicious pre-teen anguish. They played a starring role as relatively sympathetic NPCs in the mini-campaign “dragon hunt” sideshow that took place on two small islands far to the south of the Cantons. 

No. Enc: 2d6/1-100
Alignment: Chaotic (Good, Evil, Whatever)
Movement: 120’
Armor Class: variable by armor
Hit Dice: ½ (house polymuf)/1 (field polymuf)/ 2 (feral polymuf)
Attacks: 1
Damage: weapon
Save: F0/F1/F2
Morale: 6/7/10
A firm, but unfair social order greets newborns on the Southlands island of Ptuj. Plagued by two centuries of increasingly bizarre mutations among the population, the local Rada (council) long-ago issued a decree-- irrespective of family social station--that all residents would be divided into three castes on birth: (at least visibly) deformity-free “citizens” (who wear their feathered hair and pastel tunics tied over the shoulder as a sign of their superiority), the “dwarfs” (midgets who are second-class craftsmen but ostensibly free), and the enslaved “polymufs” (the visibly-deformed, semi-free underclass of the island).

While many polymufs remain cowed by the centuries of servitude, others who style themselves “polymuf and proud” have weathered the treacherous local currents and slipped off into the Weird to found “freegan” maroon colonies built around a life of hand-me-down ancient literature and communal living. Life is tough for the feral maroons, yet there is a certain panache and skill in arms that accompanies those that truly “live freegan or die.”

Deformation Table (Roll d20 for each polymuf)
1-2...Almost passable (deformation under the clothes line)
3-10...Minor visible deformation
11-17...Major visible deformation
18-19...1-4 deformations at least one visible
20...Major deformation and mutation (1-4 physical, 5-6 mental on Gamma World 1st edition mutations table)  

Thursday, August 22, 2013

The Hill Cantons Big Dumb Reincarnation Chart

Tuesday night saw a tragic turn in the FLAILSNAILS world when  Ba Chim, that hitherto long-surviving scamp of a New Hampshirean landknecht-dandy, was claimed by the bloodthirsty and capricious dice-gods who cruelly took his 12 hit point life by anti-climatically slipping from a rope on a routine climb just moments after the party slew the resident godling, Grandfather Tiger, in his gabled Feral Shore temple. 

But as Sarah Silverman once famously said “when life gives you AIDS, make lemonaids” (so terrible, sorry) and after a long debate by the (cheapskate) party around the various life-raising options, it was decided to pull the elf from the sun-deprived arms of the maidens under the Holy Oak in the Valley of Am'est and have the Willie Nelson-esque High Druid of Svat the Four-Faced reincarnate his foppish ass.

I am not ashamed to admit that I fully approved of subjecting a player to the mercy of that chart having had a history of frequent abuse of that chart back in the ye old hoary day of soulless AD&D elves. Watching those elf-heavy parties slowly morph into a motley crew of talking badgers, boars and gnolls was too priceless. With the surviving players going on about using the non-standard, goofy-ass critters I love to throw at them on a custom chart I knew I had to do it (also a good excuse to catalog all my custom monsters in a single post).
awww Hell...

Roll a d24
  1. Norker
  2. Grotmen
  3. Polymuf
  4. Qol
  5. Micronaut
  6. Grugach
  7. Ghost Minotaur
  8. Serpentwoman
  9. Kirbyesque Space God (in protean form)
Punchline: meet Ba Chim the Wereshark.  

Friday, August 16, 2013

OD&D Kids Hack Freebie Download Up

Longtime readers may remember that I taught a creative writing and fantasy worldbuilding class for kids at a local school last Spring—that, of course, devolved into a lot of homebrewed roleplaying mayhem.

As I put the last touches on Building Imaginary Worlds II for the Fall semester, I figured it'd be neighborly of me to share the complete (well...complete as this four page thing can be) pdf of those rules with the rest of you knuckleheads. Find that download right here under the title of "Swords and Portals" (title thanks to Josie, the student who won the naming contest).  

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

GuadaComaCon Coming at You Free This Saturday

Our third annual minicon down here in South Texas, GuadaComaCon, is running this Saturday 10 am -10 pm, August 17 at the New Braunfels Convention Center. Admission is still totally free (though we welcome contributions), so come one, come all.

SCHEDULED GAMES (times subject to change)
  • Prime Directive (GURPS Star Trek; 6 players): 10 a.m.-2 p.m.
  • Axles & Alloys (vehicle combat based on Full Thrust rules; 6 players; minis provided): 10 a.m.-2 p.m. 
  • Jeff Dee, Tekumel, 10 am – 2 p.m.
  • Warhammer 40,000 mega battle (unlimited players; bring a 1500-point list army and a 2000-point list army; painted models suggested): 10 a.m. meet; play from 11 a.m.-5 p.m.
  • 5150: Star Navy (Two Hour Wargames spaceship combat; 6 players; all miniatures supplied or bring your own): 2 p.m.-6 p.m.
  •  HOTT-Hammer tournament (Hordes of the Things fantasy rules; unlimited players; loaner armies available):  3 p.m.-7 p.m.
  •  Battle of Hoth (using FUBAR rules; 4 players): 6 p.m.-10 p.m.
  •  Song of Blades and Heroes (generic fantasy skirmish; 6 players): 6 p.m.-10 a.m.
  • Cavemaster RPG with Talzhemir Mrr 
  • Swords & Wizardry with Dennis Sustarre

Monday, August 12, 2013

Hill Cantons Myths Part Two

This is what happens when you read too much Glorantha and Robert Graves.  
Off to Storm the Summer Country, the Golden Company A-went.
How Dalibor and Luboš Became Twin-Rays
One and fifteen score years ago it came to pass in the vale of Velky Rajetz that two identical twins, Dalibor and Luboš, were born to Eliška Vu-Krašny, the ostensibly virginal daughter of the Voivod of that place. Though to her father she spun a magnificent tale of being embraced by the armor-gleamed Sun Lord himself in the sun-dappled meadows beyond the blood-apricot orchards, the straight-necked Voivod was inclined to believe that her lover was no other than his own wayward, sorcery-addled half-brother, František.

Fearing his wrath Eliška fled down the road to the market-village of Marlinko (now the city of Marlank). The Voivod's bond-knights gave pursuit and near the time-weathered shrine of the Horned Oracle, Luboš fell from her arms. Wretched with grief and guilt—and knowing that her own death was near--the fair Eliška swaddled her remaining son and left him in the offering box of the nearby monastery of the Brothers of the Other Mother. It was none too soon as her pursuers were quickly on her trampling the poor maiden under their cruel hooves.

Now it came to pass that Luboš instead of dying on that cold hill-slope was found by the shade Xatis, a castrato-being worshiped in times long past by a forgettable pagan people who lacked all panache and verve. While shorn of both his manhood and sense of divine purpose, Xatis was not a bad sort and raised the bawling lad as his own son in a vast cave called Raustuun in the wilds of the south.

Fierce-eyed Dalibor spent his early childhood in the company of kindly monks who made use of his nimble hands in the monastery cobbler shop. On reaching his seventh birthday the loving, doting monks sold the child to Lord-General Hartung Hellabrecht for a sack of turnips. While in the service of that stern, erudite general, whose campaigns in the Corelands are almost-remembered to this day, Dalibor became inured to both the soldierly life and the the life of the mind.

Though they both led separate lives Dalibor and Luboš they grew up feeling a great yawning hole in their psyches.

On his 18th birthday Luboš proclaimed to his guardian, “today I am a man and I yearn to travel the world and deal with my abandonment issues by a perhaps diverting and self-medicating life of heroic action and drunken wanton.” Xatis in his shrill, yet not unkindly voice gave him leave along with three gifts of magic most potent.

Setting forth from Raustuun on the road to Nowhere [a reference cryptic to modern historians] Luboš espied a great company of landsknechts and war-wagons coming up the road. Raised feral and proud the boy refused to give ground. A young sallet-helmed officer in the van of the host gave challenge to a wrestling match [a common contest of jurisprudence in that time]. During that scuffle in which neither could get the advantage of the other, the helmet rolled off the officer revealing no other than his lost twin brother, Dalibor.

“By the Sun Lord's sweaty balls,” exclaimed Dalibor. “Sweet screaming Mistress of the Mountains,” countered Luboš. The two brothers, once convinced that the other was not just conjured by the sheer will of their respective vanities—which were indeed immense by all accounts—became fast and inseperable companions.

The deeds of the civilized, yet violent Dalibor and the wild, but delicate Luboš following their reunion are too numberable and on occasion too-contradictory (such as the varying accounts of either a bittersweet rapprochement with their father or a terrible siege/slaying before belatedly recognizing their dear old dad) to mention with much detailed justice in this account. But we all know the Major Deeds: the bearding of the Circle Mistress of Habeka, the great heist (and abandonment) of the four cursed brother-blades, the routing of the Horsehead Host, and most of all that final last great expedition where they raised the Golden Company and stormed the Summer Country itself for the glory of our most beloved Sun before disappearing to the heavens.

Friday, August 9, 2013

From the Hill Cantons Cook Pit: Kezmaroki Vision-Bisque

A popular dish in the great hostels of Kezmarok, this dish will add a warm, good-feeling glow to an otherwise dreary expedition to the local murder-hole. Pair with a sharp sheep cheese and a jug of Ptujian corn liquor or a pint of Radegast's Dark.

Mechanical Effects of a Single Serving (2d4 hours):
  • +2 to all saves vs. magic or death
  • Can attempt once to use Clairvoyance or Locate Object on a roll of 1 on a d6.
  • -3 on all attack rolls
  • Curl up in a ball babbling about childhood for 1d6 turns when the stew effects wear off.
    Shouldn't Have Gone Back for that Second Helping.
  • 12 ounces)of Hu'uz (mildly-hallucinogenic mollusk), shell-on (Can substitute Earth shrimp
    sauteed in hash or canola oil depending on what you have in your root-cellar)
  • 1 onion, chopped, divided
  • 1 carrot, peeled and sliced
  • 1 stalk(s) celery (with leaves), sliced
  • 1/2 cup(s) dry white wine
  • 1/2 teaspoon(s) black peppercorns
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 4 ounce(s) Psilocybin, wiped clean (emphasis on this step) and sliced (about 1.5 cups)
  • 1/2 green bell pepper, chopped
  • 1/4 cup(s) chopped scallions
  • 2 tablespoon(s) chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/4 cup(s) all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cup(s) pelgrane milk
  • 1/4 cup(s) reduced-fat sour cream
  • 1/4 cup(s) Slivovce (or dry sherry)
  • Freshly ground pepper to taste

  1. Combine the hu'uz with about half the onion, all the carrot, celery, wine, peppercorns and bay leaf in a large heavy saucepan. Add water and simmer over low heat for about 30 minutes. Strain through a sieve, pressing on the solids to extract all the juices; discard the solids. Measure the shrimp stock and add water, if necessary, to make 1 1/2 cups.
  2. Heat oil in the same pan over medium heat. Add magic mushrooms, bell pepper, scallions, parsley and the remaining onion. Cook, stirring, until the mushrooms are soft, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle with flour and cook, stirring constantly, until it starts to turn golden, 2 to 3 minutes. Slowly stir in milk and the shrimp stock. Cook, stirring to loosen any flour sticking to the bottom of the pot, until the soup returns to a simmer and thickens, about 5 minutes. Add the reserved shrimp and cook until they turn opaque in the center, about 2 minutes more. Add sour cream, slivovce and lemon juice; stir over low heat until heated through-do not let it come to a boil. 
  3. Enjoy the ride, man.   

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Campaign News and Presenting Behind the Scene Mechanics

Recently I shared a few of the subsystems I was using to run the colonizing domain game-like aspects of the Feral Shore new phase of the eponymous campaign here. Today I thought I'd share how I am planning on giving life and color to those tables by interweaving with my weekly (more or less) news reports that you can typically find here if you are on Google Plus.

And now the news...
It's high summer and riot season again in Kezmarok when the Sun Lord himself gets fever drunk on the white hotness of his luminescent magnitude. Jaded connoisseurs of local politics (i.e. most of the native population) sadly opine that the usual artfully planned and executed riots by Autrach-controlled Wellsprings of the Crowd have given way to sloppy and social-destabilizing ones this year.

Why take the massive free-for-all that occurred in the Little Hill Cantons quarter last week. Why Wellsprings agitators would pick the Gravy in Beard, a renowned drinking den of backhills Pahr bonders considered sacred by Radegast followers, as a nativist attack point seemed dangerously foolish. But the shavings (romanticized artist's rendition above) and over-the-top humiliations of the tavern goers that occurred seems insane beyond measure.

Worse yet it has provoked a bona fide political crisis. Though most of the bonder mercenaries manning the walls see those old pagans as annoyingly (and stridently) pagan they are still incensed by the violation of fellow Cantonals—in their own part of the city no less! A massive “ring” meeting of the companies has been called with wild rumors of an unprecedented “strike” hanging in the air.

In other news black is again the new black. Black-dyed velvet doublets with needle-lace armbands, dark-gilded merkins, and ebon peak caps are this summer's cutting edge of fashion in both the Cantons and Kezmarok.

Meanwhile back in the mud-encased Feral Shore colony of King's Ten (which incidentally is being called Kraldeset by Pahr-speakers from the Cantons) it's been a gorgon's bull ride of a week with the camp still reeling from the sudden—and horrible—suicide of beloved sleeper-sage Pelka who was found coughing blood from the glass bottle he had apparently consumed. A rambling incoherent note left behind mentioned odd statements like “must return that bowl” and “what's the planar frequency, Kenoth?”

Still morale remains relatively high with the boost of the recent royal visit, abject fear of the camp clown enforcer, and a new ditty composed by the men that is all the rage.
Current players map.
21.18 being King's Ten

Ballad of Kraldeset
Oh he's a rantin', rovin' blade,
He's a brisk and a feral lad,
Betide what may, my heart is glad,
To see my lad by Kral Stockade.

I'll sell my rock, I'll sell my reel,
My mistress and spinning wheel,
To buy my lad a doublet plaid,
A saber and pike at Kral Stockade.

And oh yes some new immigrants to the colony arrived on the cog today:
The Jaromirs, a laboring family of five from Ostrovo Canton looking to by 40 acres
The Dubceks, a laboring family of 4.5 from Marlinko Canton looking for the same above.

Malinka, 4 hp cruel-lipped executive assistant. Whip, leather and club. Will get you to the dungeon on time for 30 suns/month compensation otherwise settles down to run an abuse salon.

Brown Tomas, former indentured servant now 1st level fighter (6 hit points), arquebus (only works in Corelands), studded leather, morion helmet, scimitar. Stands in your personal space. 60 suns/month compensation to join personal retinue.

Kracki the Hooded One, 3 hp, Half-Plate (AC:5), pike, nunchucks. Laughs at all your jokes. 30 suns/month if part of retinue.