Tuesday, November 15, 2016

The Hill Cantons in Its Bottom-Up Infancy

The Hill Cantons campaign is eight years old this week (the blog following later). Happy Birthday, you don't look a session over 400. In another eight years it's going to get off its ass, go get a driver license and take a miserable job stocking groceries to earn its damn keep, mister. 

Now that the HC has a published life--and worms its way into the most unlikely of some of your weirdo world spots--looking through the old maps and notes the incredibly modest, bounded and radically bottom up nature of the campaign at its get go hits me like a brick. Running a weekly game—plus publishing—over eight years of mostly just-in-time production creates so many layers and layers stacking upwards that looking at the first seems alien.

Take this. This is the original players map. The original play area was a tiny space, a mere 20-by-20 mile area—what is now known as Ostrovo Canton (north of Marlinko Canton and one of 32 current regional maps). The map was hexless and vector based with an intentionally slower “exploration” movement.
Click on me for thy detail
It was small geographically, but it was dense as hell.

In two manic pre-launch weeks (what a difference having kids make) I drew up around 30 illustrations, cross-sections and site maps (here are some samples). I cut corners by only stocking half of the first level of the two big tentpole dungeons with 4-7 mapped levels and loads of micro-dungeons.

And then I threw in a heap of other people's work (something I completely stopped doing that I sometimes regret). That un-named castle in the woods to the north? That's Castle Amber. And looky there, there is Sham Bowman's gonzo-erffic Dismal Depths. And yes that is that Bone Hill.  Later replaced by Lumash the bone tower with a reskinned Silent Hall (Major Xhom!) from Stonehell.
The Hall of the Mountain King
(Now the Faux-Mead Hall of the Ancient Hyperboreans)

Upper Works
A piece of the Undercity below Muth. Recycled not just once, but an egregious twice as part of the Jakalla Underworld and Kezmarok's undercity. Shameful. 
To prep for holes and to break up travel, I brainstormed a list of 12 “floating sites.” If I rolled a 2 on an encounter check on a d6 I would then roll a d12 (crossing of entries) and blam the party would encounter a tower of homicidal, foot-chopping landsknechts or a small seedy tavern run by a crow-footed hill-witch. I still use this method to this day, constantly replenishing the pages of the same tattered spiral notebook.

Equally keeping with the equally radical and then fashionable West Marches concept there were zero hooks, no NPC quest givers, no plots, no campaign news and town (and off-map civilization) boring places much akin to a suburban cul de sac life. Religion was just fakey cakes Catholic Church (Sun Lord), some goddess heretics akin to Mormon feminists and totally undefinied “pagans”.

Monsters pretty much were “what's in my miniatures collection”--with reskinning to make them occassionally quite weird. Ghuls and ghost minotaurs because I only had time to prime the figures. The Eld originally just being “mysterious veiled, red robed humanoids with spears” based on my large collection of El Cid-era Andalusians (only becoming the Eld when James Mal started writing about Dwimmermount play sessions).

There was no real world setting either, just a vague idea of two human never-to-be-visited core domains and a vague idea that this was culturally late 15th century Bohemia as imagined by an acid-riddled Jack Vance—with sleestaks, Howardian kozaks and Cthluhu shit.

The only NPC interaction and motivation was “here's a map you inherited, nothing happens here, go explore.” Yeah, yeah I've written extensively about how quickly all of those things evolved away no need to go on, grandpa. But, man,  from little acorns do big oaks grow.  


  1. Didn't realize you used miniatures!

    1. I'm a historical miniatures fanatic (my first gaming love). Sadly don't get to use them much these days as nearly all my games are run on Google Hangout.

  2. November 17 is the two-year mark for my ongoing campaign, which I started after discovering the OSR/DIY D&D blogosphere. Congrats on eight years, and thanks for the inspiration!

  3. This looks very similar to how the Rainbowlands (now on session 60) began, except that I had a total of 1 mini-dungeon prepped and told the players in advance, "yeah, I've got one dungeon planned, let's do this."

    Damn. I must be among the laziest of GMs.

  4. Happy birthday to the HC! (Sorry, no cake this time.)

    I miss adventuring there.

  5. Good stuff. Just discovered Hill Cantons and am working my way through the entire blog in chronological order. Just great.