Thursday, February 27, 2014

Industrial Necromancy, Husk Zombies and Live Nude Girls

Of the Scarlet Sultanate's peculiar institutions, one alone stands out enough to be capitalized, Industrial Necromancy.

Though roundly criticized by the priests of Ilmuqah the Third Moon, whose own divine words characterized the black art as that of “ahmoq” (which roughly translates to “the hardened excrement of an ocular bat”), it is a proscription roundly ignored due to its sheer profitability. Indeed though impossible by the metaphysics of Zem to pull off in the safe, dull confines of the corelands parts of Himyar, the entire economic basis of the satrapies bordering the Weird revolves around the zombie-worked, state-owned plantation system.

Due to the willful historical amnesia of that land's coreland inhabitants, who like many walled-off citizens in human existence prefer not to know how the metaphorical sausage is made, how this came to be is only murkily known. It is highly likely though that its time-misted origins lie in the macabre law from the suspected necrophile Sultan Eraam of the Twenty Pillars (who is said to have been a “colossal pervert” even by the standards of the Yellow sultans of that time) that deeded the corpses of all who die in the land to his personal estate.

It is also known that the inglorious smashings of the various Latter Hyperborean successor rump states by the (then) Pahr, Nemec, and the little-known Madeupname barbarian hordes, left those necromancer-kings who hadn't molted into space-god apotheosis without gainful employment. Carpet bags in hand many of the more fortunate such emigres ended up in middle-management positions as satraps of the Sultanate's outlying and entirely unprofitable marches.

Hoary old histories aside, the craft of the necromancer today has slumped away from the artistry that produced behemoth flesh-crawlers, trumpeting zombastadons and other fell wonders toward the more practical trade that primarily centers around the fast and large-scale production of the workaday undead, the Husk Zombie.

Husk Zombies
No. Enc.: 4d6 (6d6)
Alignment: Chaotic (Evil)
Movement: 120’ (40’)
Armor Class: 7
Hit Dice: 2
Attacks: 1 (weapon, preferrably a khopesh)
Damage: Weapon
Morale: 12
Exp: 30
The most striking aspect of the appearance of the common Husk Zombie is the shriveled, dried-out parchment-like skin pulled tight over the bony frame. Though the brittleness of the skin gives a fragile look, the sustaining power of that railroad-verse called the Anti-Cantons imbues the creature with a surprising strength in its new existence.

Unlike your typical murderhole zombie, the husk zombie retains a flickering of its human intelligence and consciousness and can be ordered to maintain ranges of structured tasks such as bringing in harvest or marching/wheeling in formation.

Many a critical observer has noted a fierce, malevolent look of barely repressed resentment in the eyes of such tasked husk zombies and woe unto the unwary necromancer who is negligent in his warding and frugal in his spell components!

Friday, February 21, 2014

A Holiday in The Scarlet Sun

The Nefarious Nine after more than a year are back on the trail of one of their longtime White Whales, the Golden Barge that I mentioned the other day here. After a number of NPC horse trades the current resting place is in the hands of a fiendish satrap in the hitherto blank(ish) spot on the map, the Scarlet Sultantate.

Which is all just to say “yay” by me as it gives me an excuse to hone down on creating some new real estate in the campaign. Here's a first stab.

The Scarlet Sultanate
No other human land gets as much verbal abuse, naked envy and off-color joke-making in Overkingdom conversations as does the Scarlet Sultanate. To be sure the land called Himyar by its inhabitants, a name that roughly translates into Vulgar Hyperborean as the “human nation that is not shit,” is a dizzying place of refinement, great beauty, baffling mores and terrifying mystery.

The sun-dappled northern and eastern edges of the mini-continent are quite pleasant year-round in climate, dominated by ancient chaparral-covered low-rounded mountains punctuated by broad, citrus-groved valleys, willow-choked box canyons, bizarrely-twisted iron-woods, wide black-sanded beaches and languorous red-walled cities. Further in the mountains rise up high and the northern faces are covered in thick cedar forests and cratered moonscapes with small clusters of mountain-clan towerhouses clinging to cliff faces here and there. The southern reaches--tucked into the rain shadow of the Persimmion Sea--are a bleak and cold rocky desert, only made more terrifying by the vast cyclopean ruins in its stony interior.

The People
While culturally the peoples of the coastal areas are fairly homogenous, a curious divide exists around skin pigmentation between the albino “Whites” and coal-hued “Blacks.” Though there is literally no biological, social class, or other meaningful distinction between the two “races”, Himyaris tend to socially segregate among these lines.

Supreme power is held by the Scarlet Sultan, an anonymous monarch chosen from the youngest son of the royal family of scarlet-skinned “Reds” who overthrew the insane, devil-worshiping “Yellows” centuries ago. While absolute in his power, by tradition the monarch does not sully himself with the dirty work of anything like ruling. All real political decisions goes through the Barren Mothers (a court council of ritually-sterilized Reds), a shadowy network of assassin-mystics, and the White and Black necromancer-satraps of the provinces.

Traditional Himyari religion revolves around the worship of  “Ilmuqah the True Moon”, a third white moon that believers say is so pure in its divinity that it cannot be perceived by the inadequate human eye. Popular representations of the deity present him as a massively-ripped, vine-draped man with a bull's head who masochistically rips himself apart with raw lightning in the shape of a sickle once a month. This divine self-mutilation is said to be both a training regimen for his annual “ass kicking” of the Sun Lord on the first day of winter and a self-imposed penance for the self-evident horribleness of human existence.

In recent centuries traditional worship has been replaced in the sophisticated coastal cities with the abstracted doctrine of the Thousand-Seeded Pomegranate, a belief system that is so multi-faceted, highly-theorized and internally contradictory that it stubbornly defies explanation to heathen northerners. The mountain dervishes while outwardly professing old-time Ilmuqah religion are said to worship in secret a tribe of demon dancers.

Metagame Feel and Inspiration

Think Umayyid-era Al-Andalus with healthy doses of pre-Islamic southern Arabia. Throw in some heavy doses of Clark Ashton Smith's Zothique and 19th century Orientalist painting (so, so terribly sorry Professor Said).

Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Kudůk, Quarterling Love-Children of the Cantons

Deep in my ancestral motherland exists a roleplaying game, DračíDoupě (DrD or Dragon's Lair), that contains some loveablely weird critters that cries out for homage and adaption to the kolach-loving peoples of the Cantons.
The Kudůk as self-imagined
No. Enc.: 3d6 (5d8)
Alignment: Neutral
Movement: 90’ (30’)
Armor Class: 6
Hit Dice: 1
Attacks: 1 (weapon or hurling rock)
Damage: 1d4+1 (rock) or weapon
Save: H1
Morale: 9

The wee peoples of Zěm suffer daily humiliations at the hands of a callous (yet fair) humanity. Banned from the corelands of civilization, they are forced to the margins of borderlands life living on at best in urban environs as the butt of the southlands hobbit-wrangling sport-circuit. Rurally a greater, if desperately poor separate existence has been carved out by Overking writ in the shtetls (ghettoized villages) in the frigid Marches of Nur.

There stirred on by undoubtedly by the silver-tongued lies of Black Hobbit agitators—and the occasional pogrom by bigoted Soldier-Bears--some younger buck halflings will occasion escape into the wilds of the Weird. Not quite hardy enough yet to make it in “maroon” communities of their own, these halflings will seek out the cave shelters of Feral Dwarfs. Several centuries of such intermixings has produced a now-increasingly hardy (and socially-constructed) race of dwarf-hobbit love-children, the Kudůki.

The average Kudůk combines many of the physical features of both parents, appearing alternately to outsiders as either short-bearded, linebacker-built hobbits of exceptionally dour countenance or as rosy-cheeked cherubic Harpo-esque dwarfs. 

Though most Kudůki will be found dressed in fierce-looking leathers and furs (though tastefully cut), recent drives by Kudůk nationalists have produced a unique fashion-trend introducing over-sized, triple-horned bronze helmets, thick metallic belts and light cloth chitons or tunics to the usual mix of clothing.

Internally the Kudůk mind is often one of extreme identity confusion bouncing around from a bi-polar cycling of luxury-loving complacency and temperate gluttony to a sudden obsession with the process and fruits of mining. Kudůk lairs as such will often resemble an underground jumble of crude leather pillow-stuffed salons and country-styled kitchenettes next to wholly industrial areas such as ore smelters and mine shafts.

Because of their marginal status and semi-outlaw status, quarterlings will often look on outsiders from a purely predator viewpoint: at best as valuable trade sources to cheat around the edges (placing a chubby little thumb on the scales here and there to jack up a price) or at worst severely drubbing and robbing if they outnumber/power a party by large numbers (drawing the slippery ethical line at cold-blooded murder).

Kudůk enjoy the somewhat diminished abilities and drawbacks of both groups of wee folk: 30' infravision, hiding outdoors or in natural caves at 45%, +1 to initiative if in all Kudůk party, +1 to hit when throwing rocks, and a 1 in 6 chance of detecting construction-based traps (but a 1-2 chance for secret doors). They may not use two-handed weapons.

When encountered of groups of 18 or more they will be accompanied by a 4 hit dice leader who has a 40% chance of being batshit insane.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Barge in Hand, The Hill Cantons Head North

The hatches have been battened, the sails trimmed. The vorpal blade has gone snickety-snack and the metaphors mixed. The Hill Cantons and I are full speed ahead--with a blessed minimum of adult real life responsibilities--to the Dallas Metroplex for the North Texas RPG Con this year.

I lump the HC in there, not as final confirmation of creeping disassociative mental illness (I hide it too well), but as an announcement: I will be running a Hill Cantons game on Saturday morning (9 am to a theoretical 2 pm) at the Con.

The game will be set in one of the longest standing White Whales of the campaign, the biomechanical golden barge of the Eld that formerly was beached on the Slumbering Ursine Dunes--and will be again as we back up in time. I will be running it with pregens (though you are welcome to bring your own 2-3rd level character if you can stand some vetting) and the same Laby Lord/AEC that I run at the table.

It's (mostly) nice to put the virtual names to the real faces in the conviviality of the gaming table, so it'd be right nice to meet any of you. (I have eight slots maximum and with registration not opened yet only three unofficially reserved at this moment.)
This world news finished off to news from the real Hill Cantons world...
The term “bonder” may become a thing of the past. In a wallposter declaration Goatday, the Decade King declared that all mercenaries manning Kezmarok's walls serving 20-year debt-bonds are absolved in exchange for citizenship and a reduced two-year term of service. The proclamation was greeted with wild abandon in the Little Cantons quarter. No hobbits were hurt.

A provocative new pamphlet is rocking the excitable (and riot-prone) academic world of the Cantons. A Brief Relation of the World-Dungeon Unitary, As it Was Delivered to the Thinking Folk of Marlank theorizes that mirroring the surface of the world is a vast subterranean network of dank chambers, byzantine tunnels, tomb complexes, fiendish traps, treasure houses, and creatures fell.

That said “dungeons” combining those elements exist is a matter of consensus among scholars, but this new doctrine of pandungeonism that claims that all said murderholes are but the surface manifestations of a single world-dungeon has already drawn the ire of the ecumenical council of the Temple who have deemed it and its anonymous author, The Son of Mulmak, “borderline heretical.”

The shock waves caused by the freakish disappearance of half of Kezmarok has started to hit the Cantons, Marlank which owes its fragile prosperity and survivability deep in the southern Weird to its trade position with the half-ruined metropolis has been hit hard in the last month. Indeed some of the better bred citizens are feeling the pinch and there are rumors that some of the most wealthy of families have been forced to sell their swanky Tomb-Plaza facing townhouses to the deeper pocketed fixture of the city's nightlife, Lady Szara.

Arriving on the docks of Karldeset on the Feral Shore as immigrants:

Zim Byi, an immaculately-coiffured “first-level specialist” with a self-evidently fake Scarlet Sultanate name and pronounced northern drawl. He is accompanied by two thuggish “business associates” and a chained coffle of what he calls “temporarily embarrassed millionaires.” He offers to sell said sad folk's indentured contracts to the colony for a fixed price of 500 suns (3.4 years remaining on all for 21 hands “I will throw the children in for free” he says with an oily sneer)

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Revised Campaign House Rules

Mission creep seems to be on my lips a good deal these days when talking about how much of what I expected I would be doing at various points in the campaign has seemed to become things fairly different from what the elevator pitch was at the get go.

Tone and the nature of the sandbox have evolved into new phases quite obviously (I hesitate to use a high-falutin', Kuhnian word like paradigm) and taking stock this week realized that the actual at-the-table house rules and play quirks really are quite different from what I have in print on the blog and in the Compendium. So for players (old and new) and the curious here is what's in use:

New or Codified Rules
The Eternal Scumbag. The Weird doesn't always produce the terrifying or inimical, it's infection can extend strange life-hopping properties to those that spend inordinate amounts of time in its presence. If a PC dies the player can elect to roll up a new character with half the experience points of the deceased character. All meta-knowledge is assumed to transfer to the new character and there is a certain “look in the eyes” that hops with the soul.

The New Dude. Players starting new PCs can choose two routes for chargen: 1. use the alternate background generator in the Hill Cantons Compendium, or 2. roll 4d6 drop the lowest in order for attributes and start with the normal die roll for starting cash. Starting spells are your INT minimum per permitted spell level. Maximum hit points for your starting hit die.

Playable Classes. This being a Humancentric campaign, humans can elect to be any class from the LL/AEC rulebook (using the lower B/X like hit dice). They can also play any ridiculous and silly class from the Compendium or Live or Wild or Die, which to-date is the Mountebank, Newhonian White Wizard, Chaos Monk, Amazon, or Pantless Barbarian. Demihumans are consigned to the race-class ghetto of the Compendium: Robodwarf Feral Dwarf, Half-Ogre and Black Hobbit.

Clerics and Priests
Only followers of the Sun Lord (or those of Father Jack's Blood Jesus church) are allowed to play Clerics. Most other classes however can elect to be priests of other divine powers (see Live Weird or Die for specifics).

Coming Back from the Dead. The party can elect to have a dead character raised by the Patriarch of Kezmarok (sanity permitting) for 5000 gold suns or reincarnated (rolls on the Big Dumb HC Reincarnation Table) by the Archdruid of Svat the Four Faced, Vilem Nelsin for 3000 suns. Special favors may be substituted for a partial or full remittance of payment if the NPC has need.

The Rule of Mulmak. It takes real grit and a heap of luck to survive as a Hill Cantons hireling, so one that passes through that forge is assumed to take on some of the heroic properties of the PCs. Any henchperson who is of the third level or higher is entitled to a roll on the Death and Dismemberment table if they reach 0 hit points.

Conspicuous Consumption. Living high on the hog is a cherished tradition among Eternal Scumbags. Gold for non-adventure-useful luxury items like fashionable clothing, unfortified real estate, foodstuffs, recreational drugs, empty titles of nobility, etc can be burned for exp at the rate of .5 exp per 1 gold sun spent. A list of consumables (which assume you have access to a city such as Kezmarok or Marlank) can be found in Live Weird or Die or along the above links.

Magic Backpack. Anything you need in your backpack is somehow on top when you need it. Bam its a rule, wizard did it.

Non-Stupid Encumbrance. Enc rules are handwaved if the PC is carrying the “logically normal” range of goods. Bulky treasures (remember gold suns are 1/10th the weight of the D&D gp) or large items will encumber you as per my judgment. Dur.

Villain Cameos. From time to time, people outside the main party will continue to play the parts of various NPC villains (Kezmarok's surviving Autarch for instance). The GM will strive to reduce meta-knowledge and will cap the amount of carnage if it strays into the Non-Fun sphere of thing.

Rules from the HC Compendium No Longer in Use
Exp for training or gear. We use the double-dipping rules from above now.

The Alternate Charisma rules. Nope.

Loyal Followers and the Hireling wage scale. Hireling rates are at the prevailing Guild-set wage.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Six Years Before the Campaign Mast

Today marks the six-year anniversary of the Hill Cantons campaign proper. The campaign started as a West-Marchish type of affair in Austin with a house-ruled Castles and Crusades powering a more or less biweekly game of old, old friends and their children.

The blog followed on its heels a month with the intention of modestly being a clearinghouse place where I put the house rules, after-action reports and other campaign material and obviously took on a life of its own as a place for me to rediscover the hobby and then go batshit crazy with DIYing and rumination.

Thanks to a few decades of obsessing over the Harper's Index and CRPG game stat run-downs, I am inordinately fascinated with quirky-ass, quantitative breakdowns over time, so here's a ballpark stab (again) at some of the numbers associated with the campaign in its years. Most numbers are likely lowball guesses and reflect the insanely chaotic amount of paper and virtual detritus accumulated.

Number of Sessions: 166
Number of Sessions on Google Plus: 108
Number of Players: 53
Number of Player Characters: 76

Graph Paper Site Maps (almost all dungeons or Undercity): 152
Handrawn Maps: 68
Pointcrawl Maps: 22
Hexographer Maps: 9
Filled Spiral Notebooks of encounters, treasures, events and random flavor notes: 5

Hireling deaths: 72
Rolls on the Death and Dismemberment table: 35
PC Deaths: 15
PCs Raised from the Dead: 2
PC Reincarnated: 1
NPCs Reincarnated: 1

Godlings killed: 3
Gods rescued: 1
Otherworld Gates Entered: 9

Pieces of the Rod of Seven Part found (and then rehidden): 3
Biggest Haul of Gold (cursed): 350,000
Biggest Haul of Gold (not cursed): 20,000

Highest PC level: 7
Highest named NPC level: 14
Named NPCs higher than the party: 12

Highest HD of Critter Killed: 18