Friday, February 22, 2019

Slumbering Ursine Dunes: The Extended Dance Version (Series Omnibus)

[Before we get into today's matter at hand, if you find this blog helpful and most of all want to help me get a new Hill Cantons book out please consider backing my Patreon. I am about to drop the first chapter of the new Revoca Hill Cantons book next week so it's really the optimum time.]

Going on two years now 1-2 times a month I seem to field a variant of the question “are there plans for a compiled version of the Slumbering Ursine Dunes books?” With a whole damn reddit thread (that I was blissfully ignorant of for a fortnight) and What Ho off my plate I think I've reached a tipping point.

Yes, I want to do an omnibus of the first four SUD books.

And I want to do it sooner rather than later with an eye for actual value and increased playability for both existing and new readers.

Likely Going In:
  • All Four Books. All four SUD-kickstarter books back-to-back in sequence. So expect to see Slumbering Ursine Dunes, Marlinko, Misty Isles and What Ho under one cover with one unified, sharper, more user-friendly layout. Hell I want this for my own table.
  • Larger Format. Likely switching from digest size to full 8.5 x 11. While digest is my own personal jam, we need to let some of those cramped tables and illustrations breathe.
  • Hardcover. Preferably with stitching (better quality binding, easier to lay flat over time) and likely with a high-quality traditional print run rather than only Print on Demand.
  • Index. A traditional back of the book index to assist with play at the table.
  • Bookmarks for Digital. The PDF edition will have them for reasons above, a perennial ask for the books from readers and reviewers.
  • More Illustrations. Luka's generous and productive mind packed the last two SUD books with illustrations, looking back from the Dunes and Marlinko they could use some more interior illustrations to snaz them up.
  • Unified Appendices. All those new monsters, items, new classes, subsystems, and weirdo subsystems will be organized together for ease of use.
  • New Cover. Hell, we do judge books by their cover, don't we? Something big, something splashy and hitting the Hill Cantons aesthetic just so.

  • Supplementary and Cut Material. In the maybe category is pulling in wider material to give the books more context and usability. Why I say maybe is that I am laser focused right now on not only finishing the Revoca book but getting it out much quicker than the previous books (and at the same quality level) which means realistically my writing time is sparser. But with my recent move and crazy person level of organization I keep finding whole notebooks of campaign notes relevant to all four books (tons of monsters, items, and even some dungeons) and pinko DIY me loves throwing value at readers who support the Hydra.
  • Design Notes. How and why the sausage was made.
  • Largescale Aesthetic Makeover. Maybe even if we do crowdfunding really kicking it up some design chops (more than than the significant makeover I am imagining above even).
  • Strong Unaccounted Stuff that Readers Want. Seriously, here's your time to chime in. What do you want? Nagging questions from the text? New vistas? The sky is the limit.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Details on the Revoca Hill Cantons Book

I wanted to give readers of this here blog a better sense of the Revoca book ahead, the fifth Hill Cantons book and the first non-SUD installment. If you want to support the creation of this book please consider supporting my broke writers ass at the Hill Cantons Patreon here.

The Revoca Book Elevator Pitch
The Revoca Canton book will lean in much harder to the Mythic Wilderness theme readers saw in Slumbering Ursine Dunes (in this case the old growth woods of beech of the Stuzika with its cycles dominated by the forest czar Leshi giants and the town and dungeon bordering and in synch with its reaches) again with deeper elements of the acid Slavic inspired but still peculiar Hill Cantons cosmology playing a much heavier role. It comes straight off of a campaign phase I ran in 2015-2016 with a mix of old and new players playing new low level PCs.

The wonderful Revoca Canton players map done by the talented Gus L
What You Can Expect in It:
  • A return to the classic sandbox triptych of some of the best early D&D adventures like Keep on the Borderlands: small settlement, wilderness, tentpole dungeon (with some outlier smaller dungeons). In other words a small geographic mini-campaign that can be slotted in a forested mountain remote area of other campaigns and is capable of supporting either a short or long period of play sessions.
  • A heavier dark Slavic fairy tale vibe. Drawing on much more of the supernatural creatures and folk magic of Western and Southern Slavic traditions. Currently the draft has 15 creatures taken straight from these stories (expect that to be expanded).
  • A Twin Peaks/Local Hero/Northern Exposure local eccentrics in a remote small-town vibe (surrounded by a slightly menacing forest and wilderness with layers of mystery). There will be an NPC-driven (but not overly complicated and hard to run) dynamic sandbox.
  • A long rumors and hooks section that will be presented in two optional ways:
  • the traditional random table for those DMs who want to just jump right in.
  • As an opening scenario—an annual “truce” party at the local noble lady's house in which the creatures of the mythic wilds rub shoulders with the local human notables—in which the party one-stop shop learns all the players.
  • A pointcrawl of the Stuz, the mythic wilderness that has sandbox dynamics to keep it changing and feeling alive. The seasonal conditions of the forest change with whatever Leshi has control of the czar's crown at that moment and so do the relative fortunes of the weird denizens (and yes there is a Chaos Index related).
  • A tentpole dungeon, the Great Aviary of Komius Otmar. The main adventure site sits on the opposite side of the wilderness from town. The upperworks sit under a vast glass dome and have a huge array of mythic bird like creatures (taken from a wide variety of world traditions or invented whole cloth by me). It also has some sublevels of extreme danger and reward. The underworks play with a lot of vertical connections and non-linear space with lots of entrances and exits to various places.
  • A hidden payoff mini-wilderness area, Beyond the Mural, that lies...well behind a magic mural in the underworks. This is a whole square few miles of a lush orchid/lily field and rainforest pocket dimension with its own mysteries, sites, and creatures.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Fifth Hill Cantons Book is Underfoot, Come Be Patronizing

Marlinko hillscape by Luka Rejec

The cat's out of the bag in an interview today about the fifth Hill Cantons book, a yet unnamed project that covers the small settlement-wilderness-dungeon classic set up of tiny and weirder Revoca Canton. I'm 26 pages in, but boy howdy is my writing slow and creaky af.

Readers of this blog will also have noted the sheer, sad neglect of this space for going on three years. Between workaholic political day jobbery, dading (these aren't words), and hobby publishing it just squeezes your time/energy too hard. Unfortunately it has also squeezed the vital pipeline and ferment that comes from throwing out mad shit on the wall and having you fine folks riff and mutilate it in real time here.

But hey I'm at a crossroads after moving to Austin and other massive life changes when it comes to continuing writing and designing things ludic and fantastical.

Which gets me to the pitch, I just launched a Hill Cantons Patreon. 

This Patreon is pretty damn simple in concept:

  • I will produce a “chapter” (roughly 5-18 pages) of new adventure locales, pointcrawls, weirdo NPCs, bizarre items, my usual shit in other words.
  • Each chapter will mostly build toward a final published book or game, in this case Revoca Project X and will likely be released every 2-5 weeks.
  • I will add goals as we go along to produce not just my own written content but also supporting illustrations, cartography, etc from some of our other starving artists in the milieu.
And guess what? You don't get dinged monthly if I don't make deadline. Your support only comes in when I finish a section—and like the Slumbering Ursine Dunes kickstarter I plan on doing right by those who do support this along the way and on the backend. And looky here Luka Rejec has already generously made this eye-poppingly lovely banner of Marlinko for the project above (you should also support his Patreonas he is trying to make a go of things too). 

It's a virtuous cycle upwards if you like the work I have done so far on this. Please click here to patronize.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

The World of the Hill Cantons Revisited

It's probably a testimony to how insanely busy and distracted I was over the last year with campaigns in the so-called real world, but I have been discovering and rediscovering all kinds of sadly neglected Hill Cantons material as I methodically work backwards through Google Plus archiving well over 1,000 related posts. 

One great little gem is the following map drawn by one of my fecund of creative partners, Luka Rejec (go support his Patreon and keep this talented guy fed and clothed.) Drawn from my own crappy players map of six years ago (which you can see in this revised post below). It's a rather nice view of the southwestern quad of Zem, the Hill Cantons campaign world. It provides a nice context to the four books of the Slumbering Ursine Dunes series which all take place in an inch wide area right in the middle. 
click ye here.
What the Hell is This Special Snowflake?
This Slavic acid fantasy snowflake is the world of Zem. The Hill Cantons is a region proper (a loose collection of poorly-run borderlands cantons ostensibly ruled by the Overking), the name of the ten-year campaign--and of course now a four-part published series to be ignored and smiled at indulgently like an eccentric uncle.

Zem is a world divided into four near-symmetrical parts, double bisected by the World Canal, domed by the heavenly firmament, and riding on the shell of the World Turtle that swims in a spiraling loop through the cosmic void. It is believed to have its reflection in an mirroring Anti-Reality.

Old wives also foolishly believe it to be a spherically-shaped, concentric “shellword” , a world inside of an Overworld and containing another Underworld. And that the heavenly firmament is but the illuminated rock underside of that upper layer of the world which itself elliptically orbits an outer sun, one of countless billions.

But that's crazy talk.
You can click on me. 
Where did Zem Come From?
Some believe that a dreaming Overgod in floated from Demonspace to this dimension and created it in his self-loathing/loving image. Others believe that the world is but a psychic projection of another, a shadowy cave of folk-spirits and broken platonic ideals.

What Kind of Cracked God Would Want to Live Here?
For a world dominated by a monotheistic religion (the Sun Lord and Solarity) that denies even the existence of other divine forces, Zem is crawling wall to wall with countless cohorts of failed godsgodlingslocal godsbeast godshero cults, and atrophied gods.

Read all about it in the Hill Cantons Cosmology if you aren't asleep yet. Or see here for the Cosmological Appendix N

Just What Exactly is Up with the Weird?
The Weird is a marble-cake band of mythic wilderness/underworld and magitech other dimensions bleeding over and living in a constantly changing/moving (dialectical) tension with human civilization. It is a shifting zone of Other Reality. It's where the feral things are.

But I said it way better and with more detail hereOne of the in-game models of this is the Chaos Index campaign idea

Human civilization is smaller, more thinly-rooted and more inwardly-focused than our world. There's a small-scale survey of the campaign spots in Hill Cantons Compendium II , but here's the big picture rundown:

The Overkingdom of Nemec, Nurian, Heimeti, and Pahr Lands, a “bright colors” psychic projection of late 16th century Western and Southern Slavic (the Pahr) and German (the Nemec) countries. The coreland Overkingdom has three large semi-autonomous borderlands regions: the Hill Cantons, the Translittoral Canton of Hoimatbuch and the Marches of Nur (famous for its War Bears and kuduks).

Marlinko Canton. Well you can read your eyes off about Marlinko city proper here and the greater Marlinko Canton here. The central original hub of the campaign. 

Revoca Canton.  A tiny, remote canton even odder than fever-dreaming Marlinko, the fourth campaign hub--and my next book! Read a tour of it here

Kezmarok on the Rock and Over The Water, a former empire now clinging to life in a half-ruined metropolis after 500 years by the Turko-Fae. Run by the Decade King, a monarch that until late was deposed and blinded each decade. Quite a bit written about this glorious dump herehere, and here.

Himyar, the 19th century Orientalist/pre-Muslim Arabic-ish “Scarlet Sultanate” of the south (with a splash of Clark Ashton Smith necromancy). 

Hy-Brasos, barely-settled Magyar-esque horse nomads cum feudalists with war wagons. Pity the poor dirt-gnomes, glammer-slyphs and talking dogs enslaved by them. 

The Kozak hordes, Old Pahr horse nomads. The western horde being led by Hetboy Pavol.

Oiorpatathat distant and exotic isle near the resting point of the Sun Lord's daily ride, are a fine, strong-boned, if verbally assertive race of Amazons noted for their love of high-crested, baroque helmets, polished armor, and knitting circles.  

Races and Places Weird
Hyperboreans. A long-fallen, world-spanning super-human civilization that possessed great lost sorcerous techologies (read Kirbyesque space gods/science fantasy). Shit went south a millennia ago and their Necromancer-King successor-states left great undercities and ruins on their way out.

Anticantonal Eld. Lords of one of the Cold Hell (a rigid, hierarchical anti-reality). You know, these assholes.

Turko-Fae. Grey-skinned and inscrutable, these strange turbaned warlords have laid seige lines outside Kezmarok for five centuries. They wipe clean (literally) any bit of civilization they wrestle control over.

Grugach. Crazed homicidal and anarchic they pore forth from the so-called "Summer Country" in elk-riding hordes to lay waste to...well anything.

Vlko. A lost (but found by the players) Old Pahr kingdom.

The Feral Shore. A former Kezmaroki borderlands completely wiped clean 500 years ago by the Turko Fey. Now thick with Old Pahr mythic wilderness and the center stage for the current campaign.

So Wait, Aren't We Still Talking About an Elfgame Here?
Yes, yes we are. While I will admit to slipping semi-embarrassingly into long daydreams during the real world grind, there is no childhood hand-carving figurines, collection of awkward short stories for my made-up world. The HC is a creation that has no independent force driving it other than the anarchic and organic process of layer being laid down on lair from the repeated bruising contact with the play table over seven years of running it.

It's a campaign world that has an arc divided up my discernible “phases”. Starting as a West Marches, radically plotless and exploration style campaign, it morphed into a broad-bases sandbox with layers of accreting layers of mystery. (That devolution plotted here)

Still the game, D&D and its microexploration focus, drives the setting. And all roads lead to the dungeon.