Sunday, 31 October 2010

Ivashu: The Eaters-of-Eyes

The Vlasta, or Eaters-of Eyes, are amongst the most common (and the most feared of Ivashu). Hunting in packs, the Vlasta roam throughout Harn, attacking intelligent prey and animals alike. Feared for their sharp beaks, their ability to leap great distances and penchant for devouring eyes and sexual organs, Vlastu are hunted wherever, whenever, they are found.

These small beasts rarely exceed a height of two feet, yet their powerful tail and muscular legs allow them to move at great speed and leap distances of up to twenty feet from a running start.

Most often encountered in caverns or subterranean ruins, they hunt at night, emerging on the surface to find and devour prey. Though they mainly subsist on small rodents, they view man-flesh as a delicacy and have been known to pursue fleeing men great distances in search of a special meal. Luckily, they are light boned. Even a glancing blow can leave A Vlastu crippled and easy prey for its companions.

In combat, the Vlastu leap upwards to attack their foes, oft times using weight of numbers to overbear a foe and bring them to ground. Their preferred targets are the eyes of their foes: when rolling a natural twenty on their attack roll, a Vlastu will inflict maximum damage and has a chance to pluck a randomly determined eye from it's socket. The victim must save vs spells in order to prevent this. Only characters wearing full, face enclosing helms are immune to this effect. Upon plucking an eye, a Vlastu will immediately break of it's attack to spend a round savouring (and devouring) it's prize.

Note: Vlastu may be summoned by a Cleric of Ilvir (ie: a druid) using the Animal Summoning spell.


OSRIC-Harn stat-block:

Frequency: Uncommon, Number Encountered: 2D6, Size: small, Move: 120ft, Armour Class: 8, Hit Dice: 1/2, Attacks: 1, Damage: 1D4 + 1 Special Attacks: Eye Pluck (see above) Special Defences: None, Magic Resistance: standard, Lair Probability: 50%, Intelligence: Semi, Alignment: Neutral Evil, Level/XP: 1/5+1hp

Treasure (Lair Only): 1d4 x 500cp (80%), 1d4 x 100 sp (75%), 1d4 x 10 gp (50%), 1d4 gems (50%), 1d4-1 jewellery (50%),

Tactics: Vlastu will attack using pack tactics, often with one member acting as a lure or distraction. They will swarm a single target if possible, overbearing it and savaging it with their sharp beaks. Once a foe is slain they will attempt to attack anyone approaching the corpse. If left in peace to devour their prize, they will not pursue for 1d4 hours while they feast.

Friday, 29 October 2010

Money Matters

Exchange Rates:

As an established game world, Harn has it's own currency system that doesn't quite jib with that of 1st AD&D or OSRIC. For one thing, Harn currency is based entirely on one type of coin: the silver penny. Only a very, very rare few gold coins ever make an appearance.

Alas, this doesn't quite work with OSRIC, where the difference between gold, silver and copper coins is often quite important to the gameplay. Luckily, although Harn only has one denomination of silver coin, it does have certain terms which are ascribed to a certain amount of these coins.

For example:
HARN PRICES

  • 4 farthings = 1 penny 1d
  • 12 pennies = 1 shilling 12d
  • 20 shillings =1 pound 240d

So one pound is 240 silver penny's. A farthing, by the way, is just a quarter of a penny. Quite literally, a penny that has been cut into four. In the real world, a pound, was (apparantly) the number of silver penny's that could be made from a pound of silver. But don't quote me on that one.

For OSRIC-Harn, I'm going to extrapolate the above model, but instead of a penny representing 1 silver piece, a single penny is actually going to be a copper coin. A shilling will be represented by a silver coin and the pound will be represented by a gold coin.

However, the term “pound” sounds too modern to British ears (we still use pounds and pence over here after all) so we'll change the term “pound” to something more evocative of the past. Crowns are made of gold, so we'll call a gold piece a crown.

So:

OSRIC-HARN ECHANGE RATE:

  • 1 penny = 1 cp

  • 1 shilling = 12cp = 1 sp

  • 1 crown = 240cp = 20sp = 1 gp

Of course, this doesn't quite match up with the OSRIC system, meaning that some items will become relatively cheap and others relatively expensive. Iron Rations, for example will cost 480cp per day. Enough to buy a ridiculous number of candles. On the other hand, the price lists in D&D have been askew for years, and no-one's game has been ruined by them yet. So, the standard price list in the OSRIC rulebook will remain unaltered, even if the relative value of the coins concerned has changed quite a bit.

Coins and Encumbrance:

One thing that will be greatly effected is XP progression. I may have mentioned before that in OSRIC-Harn I want to encourage an Old School style of game play; where characters actually avoided random encounters rather than wringing their hands together in glee at every sighting (as many do now). Therefore, I will either only be awarding XP for loot (at the rate of 1GP=1XP) or else I will drastically reduce the amount of XP gained in actual combat.

Needless to say then, this new currency system will make the humble copper piece even more of an encumbrance nuisance than it is now. I fully intend to abandon the old rule that 10 coins weigh one pound. Instead, 100 coins will weight one pound while still taking up 10 pound's worth of carrying capacity in any given container. A small pouch, which has a carrying capacity of 2.5lbs, could therefore hold 25 coins (and nothing else). However, these coins would add only 1/4 of a pound to the characters encumbrance value. A large sack, with a carrying capacity of 40lbs, could therefore hold a total of 400 coins. These coins would take up the entire volume of the sack, while still weighing a mere 4 pounds for encumbrance purposes.

Obviously, this means that the money carried by a PC will have far less of an effect on his encumbrance value than it once did. It will not, however, allow a character to carry more coins that he could normally, because these coins will still take up the same amount of space in his containers. A character can (realistically) only have so many pouches or sacks on his person at one time. What it will (hopefully) help to prevent is the ridiculous situation where an armoured character of average strength, carrying only a plain wooden staff, a dagger and a few hundred coins (and remember, ancient coins were the size of a pinkie nail) can be so encumbered as to slow his movement to a crawl.

So, to recap:

  • 240 coins (any denomination) = one pound of weight for encumbrance purposes.

  • 10 coins take up one pound of carrying capacity.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

A Plea for Help

As you may have noticed, the campaign sand-box thus far is frankly overflowing with low level adventure sites. Mostly, this is for three reasons.
  1. I want to be able to re-use this sandbox in later years with other player groups while keeping it as fresh for me as possible.
  2. Lets face it, the risks are good for a TPK or two along the way. More adventure locations means more variety for players who don't want to explore the same old dungeon again and again.
  3. It would be nice to have enough room for two or three different player groups (sometimes with the same player in more than one group) without having the various party's tripping over each other all the time.
However, I now find myself at the stage where I have to populate the sandbox with some low to mid level adventure sites and, frankly, I'm struggling. Much as I would love to create a half-dozen (or more) mid level sites from scratch, I simply don't have the time to do so. So, while I'll probably look to create one or two of my own devising, I need some suggestions for published modules to add to the Sandbox.

But here's the kicker, they would have to be plausible to the setting. By which I mean, temperate climate, not based around a permanent civilised settlement (Trobridge is the only one in the immediate area, and even it can't have too much going on at once.) and largely free of "non-feudal" flavour. I'd consider any published 0ed or 1st/2nd ed module, classic or otherwise, even ones from the pages of White Dwarf, Dragon Magazine. There are simply hundred out there, but I'd rather not simply re-use the same half dozen or so modules I've played again and again. I want something fresh.

Suggests in a comment please, to Dangerous Brian. All advice given gratefully received and appreciated.

Sandbox Locations Part II

The following sandbox creations and non-canon for the Harn setting. Many are derived from published adventure sites adapted to the world of Harn, some more obviously than others. These are the low to mid level locations. A third article will cover the mid to high level locations and a fourth will consist of my notes for each location (what lives there, what module it's based on, local politics in the location, that sort of thing) and will be full of spoilers for my players.

11 DWEOMERDEEP

An ancient trading settlement built by dwarfs in the years prior to the coming of men on Harn. Situated between the two Dwarven Kingdoms of Azadmere and fallen Kiraz and only a few days travel north of Elvish lands, the Deep gradually declined after the coming of the Atani. With the invasion of these fierce humans, roads became dangerous and in time the Sindarin abandoned the land of Harn to men,secreted themselves away in their woods. Dweomerdeep continued to see trade between the two Khazdul Kingdoms, however, yet it was one of the first Khazdul settlements to be sacked during Lothrim's's war against the dwarves of Kiraz.

12 HALLS OF HERPA

A temple to the God Agrik, founded by followers of Lothrim near the zenith of that wizards power. When the dwarfs defeated Lothrim, his empire fell apart, affording the Tulwyn and Chelni an opportunity to rid themselves of the hated sect and their tithe of child gladiators.

13 PALACE OF ARGENT REPOSE

Another ancient site, built by elves and dwarfs, the site had been plundered and left in ruins by the invading Atani, who treated it with a certain reverential awe, shunning it thereafter. Lothrim built atop the network of cellers and storage rooms which remained in the foundations, creating his infamous Palace of Repose, a dwelling place for his lovers and concubines and a place of reward and relaxation for those of his followers who served him well.. Rumoured for many years to lie in close proximity to Trobridge, if any travellers have found it, they have kept it's location secret as yet.

14 BALDHILL

A craggy hill overlooking the Salt Route, Bald Hill is home to a number of small caves, sanctuary to brigands, Gargun and worse. Many of the caves are unoccupied at various times of the year, but the lie uncomfortable close to Trobridge. Both Terlin the Innkeeper and Kurson Ondailis the would-be knight of Trobridge regularly send expeditions to the Hill to clean out the caves.

15: THE GHOST TOWER OF ELKALL-ANUZ

The Ghost Tower of Ekall-Anuz is said to move regularly from one world to the next. Certainly, it often stands in the ruined city of the same name, but travellers insist that on other visits, sometimes as little as a week later, the Tower has vanished from the ruins, only to appear again at some later date. Seemingly without pattern.

16: THE BARROW CAVES

A series of caves once used by the Jarin to bury their dead, now shunned as a haven for undead, Ivashu and worse, Some of the caves are said to be connected, Most have been sealed and resealed over the decades and centuries by adventurous Tulwyn, but at any given time at least half a dozen seals lie broken and open, the contents defiled or stolen.

17: SKULL KEEP

The ruins of a an outpost overlooking the pass. Dates from the Tyranny of Lothrim period. Though remarkably intact, its gate-less entryway , twisted portcullis and two large rents in the north (Salt Route facing) wall of the keep make it appear uncomfortably like a skull. Once a common (and popular) camp site for caravans, those who once used it began to report a number of disturbing disappearances over the last few years and have since taken to giving the site a wide berth.

Monday, 25 October 2010

Henchmen Horde

I've finally managed to acquire some photographs of the (now painted) henchmen and retainer figures I mentioned in an earlier post. The assembly and painting process required a total of four hours (not counting the time it took for the mili-put to harden). The miniatures are Wargames Foundry Normans. Not bad for a price tag of £8.2 of the figures are unique. The other 6 are two "doubled" up miniatures. Fortunately the 6 doublers all wear cloth coifs under their helmets so I've painted each hood a different colour for ease of identification (and hp tracking) on the tabletop.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

The Clerics of OSRIC-HARN

One of the major issues encountered when integrating a game world into a specific D&D rules-set (or, more commonly, when creating a home-brew setting) is how to integrate Gods and divine spell casters into the rules.

Religion, or rather, religious detail, is one of the many great strengths of Harn as a setting. It's relatively small number of Gods when compared to many other settings (less than a dozen) mean that the designers have been able to detail (in a single supplement) all the many religious orders, fighting orders, rituals and holy days of Harn's deities.

Here, I'll go through each of the God's in turn (also dealing with the animistic religions of the various human barbarian tribes) detailing the various OSRIC rule variants that will apply to their clerics clerics on Harn.

Agrik:

Agrik is a fiery, evil God of war, the breeder of violence for its own sake. He is favoured by those who enjoy rapine, pillage, cruelty and destruction. He is worshipped by dozens of squabbling clerical sects each sponsoring one or more fighting orders. His faith is illegal throughout most of Harn, but is legal in the nearby Thardic Republic. In OSRIC-HARN Agrik is Lawful Evil. His clerics may be lawful evil, lawful neutral or neutral evil. Clerics of Agrik can only use weapons which inflict great pain and suffering on their foes: Morning Star, Whip, Battle-Axe, Crossbow, Daggers, Flaming Oil and (barbed) Javelins

Halea:

The Goddess of Wealth and Pleasure, she demands unswerving devotion from her adherents. Only women can enter her clergy but her temple guards are most often male. She is popular among the merchant classes and those who revel in decadence. Halea is Chaotic Neutral. Her clerics can be of any non-lawful alignment. Helea prefers that he worshippers avoid violence through honeyed words and bribery rather than engaging in combat. As a result, her clerics are permitted the use only of daggers, slings, staffs and clubs.

Ilvir:

The creator of the Ivashu (monster-kind). His followers are individualistic, creative and mystical. Dozens of sects worship Ilvir, although his adherents are few and mostly found in distant Orbaal. However, many pass through Trobridge on pilgrimage to the most sacred site on Harn: the home of the God himself. Ilvir is True Neutral. Unique amongst the Gods of Harn, Ilvir has no clerics. His worshippers are led by Druids who must share his True Neutral alignment. The Druids of Harn are closer in temperament to the ancient druids of the Celts than they are to modern druids or druids as portrayed in later editions of D&D. All normal rules restrictions apply.

Larani:

The Lady of Paladins is the goddess is chivalry and battle, favoured by the feudal nobility and their men-at-arms. She is served by many saints who embody the ideals of chivalry and who are counted as masters of one knightly weapon. Larani is Lawful Good. Her clerics may be of any lawful alignment, even lawful evil. Her clerics are restricted to knightly weapons such as the longsword, the lance, the dagger and any weapon designed to be used from horseback. All Harn's paladins are worshippers of Larani. Larani has no church in Trobridge, though the village's Peonian priest has requested that a cleric or Paladin of Larani be despatched to the town.

Morgath:

Morgath is the master of chaos, evil and the undead; who despises all things fair and noble. His church is dour and ruthless and infamous for it's rituals of human sacrifice. Having been corrupted by the Shadow, Morgath is Chaotic Evil. His clerics must either share his chaotic evil alignment or else follow the path of neutral evil. His clerics prefer to let their undead servants (and in some cases, masters) fight on their behalf. They follow all the normal restrictions for clerical weapons but add the dagger to their list. They may not cast any curative, healing or resurrection spells. Morgath will not grant them.

Naveh:

A god of darkness, best known as the Bringer of Nightmares, worshipped by thieves and assassins. His fanatical clerics have been known to commit suicide as a sign of their devotion. Naveh is Neutral Evil. His clerics may be of any evil alignment and may freely multi-class as Assassins following the rules for demi-humans. All clerics (whether multi-classed or not) follow the assassin class restrictions for weapons and armour.

Peoni:

The Goddess of agriculture and healing. She is worshipped by most rural folk. Her clergy are divided into celibate (and chaste) male and female orders. Both maintain many hospitals. Temples are always situated close to areas of poverty. Peoni is Neutral Good.

She is the most commonly worshipped deity on Harn, the patron of the common folk. Her clergy are technically superior to those of Larani, just as the Goddess Larani serves as the protector of Peoni herself. In practice, the two faiths are independent, but allied, temples; with no one faith having control of the other. Her clerics can be of any good or True Neutral alignment. They are expected to be pacifists. In OSRIC-HARN, this is reflected by their weapon choice. They are restricted to using weapons that do not (technically) shed blood. For conservative clerics, this means club or staff. Those less concerned with the spirit of the law use any weapon normally permitted to the cleric class.

Sarajin:

The God of Battle-lust. He demands honour and bravery from his adherents, mostly humans of Lythian descent. His sport is war. He has been known to join in human battles. Sarajin is Chaotic Neutral. His clerics must be chaotic in alignment, though few are chaotic evil. They are allowed only two weapon: choices: the warhammer and any variety of axe. There is a small temple to Sarajin in Trobridge. However, the priests are often out among the barbarian tribes, performing missionary work, and can rarely be found there except scheduled ceremonies.

Save-K'Norr:

The God of knowledge and seeker of enlightenment, The Sage of Heaven. His adherents believe that a safe and ordered society precludes evil behaviour. They are devoted to providing guidance to the powerful, furthering knowledge, and spying on political and religious groups in the furtherance of the former two goals. Save-K'Norr is Lawful Neutral. His clerics may be any lawful alignment or True Neutral. His clerics prefer to avoid combat and are permitted only the staff, club and dagger as weapons. They may not wear metal armour.

Seim:

The benign God of mystery, magic and dreams. He is the special deity of elves and dwarves. Siem's worshippers favour a personal approach to the deity, communing in private rather than through organised worship. Most Harnic rangers are followers of Seim. Seim is Chaotic Good. His clerics must be chaotic good or neutral good. They may not wear metal armour but add the longbow, short-bow and spear to their list of permitted weapons.

Tribal Priests:

The many human barbarian tribes worship a variety of deities and minor spirits, apparently capable of granting some magical power. Those few barbarian clerics who follow one of the true gods of Harn follow the rules for their deity listed above. All others count as either a Shaman or a Witchdoctor. Both varieties of spell-caster may be found in any given tribe, they are not automatically mutually exclusive.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Sand-Box Locations: Part I

I've been giving a lot thought to some of the adventure sites I'll be using in my Sandbox campaign. Here are a few initial concepts and ideas. This first part of the article lists adventure sites that are canon or semi-canon (fanon) locations located near the Trobridge Inn. Those appearing in the second part of the article will be my own additions.

1 TROBRIDGE INN:

The Inn is itself is a possible (indeed, likely) site for adventure. With two “canon” factions striving for control of the village (see my earlier post, here) and a third, somewhat more passive faction of my own devising (Lyra) there will be plenty of opportunity for conflict and intrigue. The Trobride Inn supplement includes an adventure that introduces a (possible) fourth faction into the mix, but it's longevity depends on the patience and temperance of the PC's. Both of which are traits adventurers notoriously lack.

2 THE WATCHTOWER CATACOMBS:

“Everyone” knows there are haunted tunnels beneath the ruins of the old Watchtower. Which is exactly why no-one but Kurson's heavily armed Brigands are willing to go near it. Rumoured to be the location where Kurson stores all his all-gotten “tribute” from the villagers and tolls from the ford.

Likely to be one of the first sites explored by the party. There is a small map provided in Trobridge Inn, but it leaves plenty of room for expansion. And oh, do I intend to expand it.

3 THE RUINED FORT

Located in the wilderness around 15 leagues west of the Inn, the ruins represent a failed attempt by the Thardic Republic to extend their sphere of influence further along the Salt Route. Few people in the region are said to know exactly where it is located (it is not visible from the road) but all who speak of it insist the place is haunted by Morvin and frequented by Ivashu.

Also likely to be among the first sites explored by the party. While this location exists in canon, it has never (to my knowledge) been fully developed. So this will be one of the first dungeons I have free reign to create as I wish.

4 HILL OF THE DARK GROVE

A barrow near haunted Taztos, said to have been opened and explored by Lothrim himself. The garrison have yet to discover its location, though few have been foolish enough to try. They might not take kindly to strangers riling up the restless spirits of the dead.

5 KOREGO

The largest and oldest hive of Gargun known to exist on Harn. It's territory extends for many leagues in every direction, with smaller settlements known as “Warrens” scattered throughout the region. It is said to be led by the most cunning and wicked of the Gargun kings, who, almost unique among his kind, seems to possess at least some powers of both magic and statecraft.

I doubt the players will ever end up here. At least, not before they reach name level. Not unless they are very, very stupid. Or very, very, clever.

6 ANISHA

An ancient Cython (as the Earth-masters are called in my campaign. Purely because it sounds better to modern ears) ruin approx. 30 Leagues north of Trobridge. The surrounding area is said to be heavily forested and mountainous but with many well preserved buildings and extensive passages beneath. A village of humans who treat the site as a Holy Place can be found along a game-trail to the west of the ruins. They claim descent from the original inhabitants.

I'm likely going to use a published module to represent this site and its surrounds. I simply haven't quite settled yet on which one.

7 ELKALL-ANUZ

Only twenty leagues t the North West of Trobridge, in an area of otherwise flatland known as the “Plain of Towers,”Elkall-Anuz was once the great capital of the wizard-tyrant, Lothrim. It may even have been the birthplace of the Gargun, who are said to have been created by Lothrim's magics. 600 years old, the site includes many unexplored barrows in the surrounding area and (in my version of Harn) three massive towers that once housed his Gargun army. The site is deep within Chelni territory, but the tribes folk avoid it as though it harboured plague.

This will be one possible location for the campaign's Mega-Dungeon. At the moment I'm leaning towards using the maps from the Ruins of Greyhawk or (only slightly less likely) Stone-Hell Dungeon for this one. On the other hand, creating a mega-dungeon of your own from scratch is a fun and rewarding experience. In the end, I think my final decision will come down to whether or not I have the time to create my own computer -generated maps before the players get here.

8 PESINO

Another Cython site, 25 leagues Southwest of Trobridge. The site lies within the confines of the demon-haunted Shava forest, inside the territory claimed by the Sindarin Kingdom of Evael. The site is said to be guarded by more than just the army of the Elf King. Those who enter the forest and are not turned back by the elves often return so terror-stricken, that they can never discuss the experience nor approach these dark woods ever again.

Way, way to many spoilers to discuss my plans for this place here.

9 TASHAL

The capital of Kaldor, Tashal marks the eastern end of the Salt Route, though JEDES (farther South) is almost equidistant in terms of travel. 60 Leagues North East of Trobridge along the Salt Route, it is home to Kaldor's king for much of the year. Said to be the second largest city on Harn, there are few things on Harn that cannot be bought or sold here.

I don't really intended to use this location as an adventure site as such, I envision Tashal as being one of the party's “go-to” sites when they need to trade in a lot of treasure or make a big purchase and can't afford to wait for the next suitable merchant to come along. I fully intend to run a few side-trek adventures at this location however, but there's a reason it more or less marks the Eastern edge of the “low-level party” sand-box.

10 TAZTOS

A fortified camp of the Thardic Legion, Taztos marks the easternmost extent of Thardic territory and the westernmost extent of the campaign map. Too small to be of much use to character seeking to divest themselves of loot, it will likely see use more as a final stopping point on the Salt Route for any west-bound caravans escorted by the players.



Tuesday, 19 October 2010

HARN: Lysa of Amael




Lysa of Amael, the Glassworker of Trobridge Inn, is something of a mystery. The Trobridge Inn book describes her as a purveyor of glassware, gems, art and other fine goods. It also goes on to say that the Sindarin merchants who visit the town generally trade only with her.

So what's so special about her? Well, for one thing, I have to wonder where she gets the sand to make her fine glassware from. She could fetch it from the nearby river, I suppose, but I fancy that river sand is too course and unrefined to make good glassware. So why would a glass-blower settle at Trobridge Inn, so far from the sea and good quality, fine sand?

It's my expectation (and therefore, the way it's going to be in Osric-Harn) that Lysa is in fact a spy for Evael, the elven Kingdom just to the south of Trobridge Inn. Her position on the Salt Road places her in the ideal spot to monitor any developments in either the Thardic Republic or Kaldor that might effect the affairs of the elven homeland. For one thing, given that Kaldor and Tharda both lack a sea port, a land invasion is their only likely means of attacking Evael (not that a land invasion would be much of a threat, but that's a spoiler for another day). More relevant however, is that her location allows her to gather news from both western and eastern Harn, living, as she does, on the only reliable land route between the two civilised southern regions of the island. She is also in an excellent position to monitor the Korego Gargun and observe two of the three barbarian tribes that neighbour Evael.

Happily, this also makes her an ideal third local patron (with Tirson the Innkeeper and Kurson the Brigand) for the PC's to interact with.

Moreover, while she may be human (Evael also has a small human population) Harnic elves are nearly indistinguishable from humans. The two species can also, on occasions, produce children from unions of elf and human (rare, but not quite to the same extent as on Tolkein's Middle Earth). So, by making Amael an elf or a half-elf, I have a handy relative, mentor or friend for any Sindarin PC's in the party. Perhaps her “glass-blowing” helps hide the fact that she is secretly a mage or alchemist of some sort, merely selling surplus glass-ware brought by Sindarin merchants rather than making it herself. Or, it could just simply be that she is a simple, modest glassworker who just happens to be friendly with a few Sindarin merchants. Where's the adventure in that?

OSRIC-HARN Appendix N

Following on from a number of other Bloggers, I've decided to create an Appendix N listing all the gaming and non-gaming influences for my forthcoming campaign. This list is by no-means complete. I'll be working on it over the course of the next few weeks, gradually adding more items until it stand reasonably finished. But for now, here's a sampler:

Gaming:

The Harnmaster Rules and Harn Setting (of course)

Red Box D&D:

My introduction to the hobby.

OSRIC (naturally)

WFRP 1st edition;

The grim setting, gritty humour, irony and the sheer futility of the characters (my first character was beggar with a walking stick, a bowl, some fleas and nothing else) struggling against something as all encompassing as the settings vision of Chaos has left me with a love of the Old World that none of GW's later meddling could ever completely destroy. I mean, Brettonians on GRAIL QUESTS? Come on.

Runequest/Glorantha:

Another incredibly detailed, well realized setting. I truly think that Harn and Glorantha between them are the main influences on all my gaming campaigns, my fiction writing and my world building. Over the last twenty years, my home-brew setting (200,000 words or so and counting) still aspires to their level of detail.

Artesia RPG and Comics:

A newer setting, Artesia's sexuality, realism, well developed politics and engrossing setting (in turn influenced by such books as Mary Gentle's Ash) are truly inspirational. Alas, the Fusion system leaves a lot to be desired, but there's a lot to be said for rules that list different game effects and protection values for better than two dozen different types of plate armour.

Film:

Conan the Barbarian:

The whole film screams “Old School Gaming”. It has everything from a proper party of adventurers, an EHP (Evil High priest), a Wizard, a Quest from a King, A Princess in need of Rescue, a Raise Dead Spell, Player Character Death, Henchmen, Mooks, TWO Evil Temples (including one tower), Giant Snakes and an honest-to-god dungeon. Like it or hate it, you can't deny this film is very Old School.

The Lion in Winter:

Politics and Intrigue involving the family of King Henry II, Eleanor of Acquitaine, and three of their children: Richard the Lionheart, John and Geoffrey of Britanny. Delicious. Demonstrates rather well the danger or “family disputes” over inheritance in a feudal setting. Excellent inspiration for the second half of the campaign (hopefully starting about 7-9th level) when I plan on drawing the characters into politics and the Kaldor Succession Crisis.

Fantasy/Science Fiction:

Mary Gentle, “Ash”

The story of a female mercenary captain in the late medieval period, Ash melds factual European history with a slight “alternate reality” flavour and a “magic rare” alchemy/ritual based magic system where a company of priests preying for divine intervention really can change the weather. Again, in common with all my influences; gritty, realistic, non-cinematic violence and excellent battle scenes abound.

George R.R. Martin, “A Game of Thrones”

Not as gritty, dark, grim or “realistic” as I first thought (certainly not when compared to the likes of Ash or the Penman books) the world and the politics are still engaging. Some of the characters are a little too stereotypical for my tastes, but when you have a cast as large as George's you can forgive him for relying on tropes a little too often. Still not sure where its going, but the multiple plot lines, intrigues and loose ends very much jibe with my style of writing and Gming.

Erikson, Stephen, “Malazan Books of the Fallen”

A D&D world as it was meant to be, with battles won (or lost) on the strength of magic, mortals with power to rival the gods, evil Empires, brave heroes, prophets, demons, an ancient race of vengeful undead. Divine, animistic and arcane magic. Elves, Orcs, Trolls, Giants and other races all (very convincingly) disguised as something else through the weaving of an authentic seeming culture and language. Dozens of concurrent plot lines, multiple groups of protagonists and antagonists (reminiscent of when a GM runs several different groups of players through the same sandbox campaign at the same time). If anything, the books can be guilty of being too detailed. Subtle hints dropped two or three books before only resolve themselves into answers much later (and often involve two or three different groups of protagonists stumbling o to different facts, allowing you, the reader, to peace together the truth while leaving most of the characters stumbling around in the dark.

Bedlam. Simply wonderful, marvellous, engrossing, engaging bedlam. What George was aiming for (but never quite suceeded in reaching).

Historical Fiction:

Sharon Penman:

Sunne in Splendour (Richard the III) is a little too “late” in the Medieval period for the true “Old School” feel. But “When Christ and his Saints slept” covers the Anarchy Period (the war between Stephen and Empress Matilda), “The Devils Brood” covers the reign of Henry II and the various civil wars his sons and wife fought against him (ties in nicely with the Lion in Winter) and “The Reckoning” covers the reign of Edward I (of Braveheart fame). All very well researched and historically accurate with a gritty, old school feel. Fantasy fucking 'nam? Try seeing how frequently important figures dropped like flies for silly mistakes in real life, then complain to me about Fantasy Nam.

Elizabeth Chadwick:

“Lords of the White Castle”. Not as gritty and close to the bone as Penman's work, but just as inspirational. This particular book tells the true story of Fulke Fitzwarin, King Johns childhood companion, who ended up fighting a more-or-less single-handed rebellion against John for the better part of his reign. Good example of how a “robber baron” could exist in an otherwise lawful Kingdom, although Chadwick's Fulke is portrayed more as a “wronged man” than a brigand.

Non-Fiction:

I can think of about forty titles that have influenced the realism and authenticity of my gaming/writing style but right about now I'm too damn tired to write a paragraph on any of them. Additions to this appendix will come later, and be announced on the blog.


Untied Kingdom: The War in 2011

UNTIED KINGDOM: THE WAR IN 2011:

Inspired by Crisis in Alcovia and England Prevails I've decided to set about creating my own modern warfare campaign setting. It will be set in the UK (primarily because ever modern-period gamer in Britain that I know off has at least some UK army miniatures). The premise is that no-one outright won the British elections in 2010 (as in real-life) not simply because of the vote, but because of allegations of vote-fixing and corruption ala Florida in the USA. The labour party (still under the leadership of Gordon Brown) boycotts parliament in protest when the Tories and Liberals form a new coalition government.

As the year progresses, the Tory public spending cuts (25% across the board) combined with rising fuel prices, strikes and an outbreak of swine flu (with which the weakened National Health Service cannot cope) leads to increasing unrest until a popular rebellion breaks out, led by militant elements of the Unions and the Labour Party. The Royal Ordinance factory in Leeds is quickly captured by rebel forces (dubbed “The Reds” by the Tory government for their labour-party leanings and the red armbands they wear). A series of disproportionate responses by the Tory-Liberal government drives elements of the armed forces to defect to the Reds.

Meanwhile, in Scotland, First Minister Alex Salmond (of the Scottish National Party) uses the opportunity afforded by this civil unrest to issue his long-awaited referendum on Scottish independence. With a definite mandate from the voters, he declares Scottish to be a sovereign nation, ordering Scottish elements of the armed forces to remain neutral in the Red-Tory conflict (or to withdraw from it if already engaged) and return to Scotland. Meanwhile, he has Non-Scottish units North of the Border confined to barracks. Many Scottish units obey his “return home” command (including forces based in Germany, Afghanistan and the Falklands), others do not. Meanwhile, a small force of Unionists forms around the charismatic Lt. Col Edge (formerly of the Royal Scots Regiment) and enter the war as an anti-independence, pro-UK faction.

This gives us six factions to game with: The Reds, the Government Forces (known as Tories or “Blues”), the Scottish Government Forces (known as “Scot-Gov”) and the Unionists (pro-UK Scots) being the obvious four. The fifth group will include “neutral” parties trying to limit the damage to UK infra-structure (such as a small RN task-force defending the North Sea Oil Fields from all factions for “posterity”). Finally, we have the inevitable NATO or UN led peacekeeping forces, caught in the middle (as usual) and probably manipulated by the remaining five actions for their own purposes.

I'll record the campaign on a blog of the same title, here, but it will be a while before I get round to setting it up. My fellow war gamers might have plenty of appropriate (“painted”) miniatures, but I sure as hell don't.

Monday, 18 October 2010

Just a Tad Embarressed. Never Mind

Whoops. Whose been following people's blogs under the wrong name then, Dangerousbrian? Could it be you. Um, yes.

Seem's I've been following blogs under a name based on the first part of my email address. Not good and not clever. How will people know I've been following their blogs? More importantly, what kind of an idiot puts his email address out and about on the net like that?

Silly me.

There should be a good number of folk out there how now have me listed as a follower under the name "Dangerous Brian." Which can only be a good thing really. Do other bloggers receive notification of these changes of details, I wonder? Or are there still a lot of people out there wondering why the guy who said they would start following their blog never got round to it?

Ah well. I've never claimed to have any clue about how these things work.

Suffice to say, if your blog shows under my "Gaming Blogs" links, then you're being followed by me.

Old School Inspiration: Sir William Marshal 1146-1219

Sir William Marshal (1146 – 14 May 1219), was the greatest, most famous knight of his time. A real life paragon of the chivilric ideal, he was greatly admired even by his enemies. Many are even said to have attended his funeral.

He rose from disgrace, the son of an traitorous robber-baron, to become the most famous knight in Christendom, 1st Earl of Pembroke and personal friend and confidante to generations of England's Kings: Stephen (arguably), Henry II, Henry "The Young King", Richard d' Lion-heart, the much-maligned King John and Henry III.

Before him, the hereditary title of “Marshal”, designated the head of household security for the king of England; by the time he died, people throughout Europe (not just England) referred to him simply as "the Marshal".

Read a little more about his life, and find out why he can be an Old School Inspiration, both to your players and for your own campaign.

Early Life and Childhood:

Sir William Marshal was the son of the villainous John Marshal, a robber baron who used the chaos of the “Anarchy Period” to enrich himself at the expense of other lords, frequently switching his support from King Stephen to his rival, the Empress Matilda. So villainous was this lord, that he broke an agreement with Stephen to surrender his castle while under siege. When reminded that his son, William, then a mere child, would be hanged in forfeit, Sir John (who had his wife with him in the castle) is said to have scornfully replied, “I have the hammer and anvil with which to make more and better sons.” Stephen, justifiably regarded by historians as a good man; but too kindly and soft-hearted to be called anything other than a poor King, took pity on the boy and, after ordering him taken down from the gibbet, spent the remainder of the day playing with the lad and his toys instead of assaulting the castle.

The younger son of a minor knight, William inherited no lands of his own. He was squired to a major landholder in Normandy, who was said to be his mothers cousin. William was knighted in 1166 while serving in a campaign in Northern Normandy, fending off a Flemish invasion. In his first skirmish he managed to fell several knights, but was so caught up in the experience of his first battle that he failed to take any for ransom. In 1167 he entered the Service of the 1st Earl of Salisbury, whom Henry I sent to help defend the lands held by his wife, the famous Eleanor of Acquitaine (see the forthcoming article). When the Earl was killed in an ambush, William stood his ground over his lords body while others fled and was captured as a result. A penniless knight with no-one to pay his ransom, he would likely have been executed . Yet Eleanor, impressed by his loyalty and bravery, paid the ransom herself.

Thereafter he made a living as a tourney knight of legendary skill. It is said that, on his deathbed, he recalled having bettered over 500 other knights on the tourney field. William was not a man known to boast. Indeed, by 1197, despite having no significant lands of his own (yet), his winnings were so regular and so lucrative, he could afford to keep a company of knights in his service.

In Service to the Young King:

In 1170, Henry I appointed the (already legendary) Sir William to the household of his son, Henry the “Young King.” At this point in history, young Henry was already known to be ambitious, reckless, a poor administrator and intemperate in his spending. It seems likely that the far more virtuous Marshal was placed in the Young Kings household to keep him out of trouble. The Young King idolised Marshal, who seems to have taught him a great deal. The Young King became something of a legendary Tourney Knight himself under Marshal's tutelage. Marshal is believed to have councilled against the Young Kings abortive rebellion against his father in 1174-1174 but, in keeping with his honourable reputation, Marshal was the Young Kings most ardent and loyal follower during the war, regardless of any personal misgivings.

His position of favour made him many rivals however, and in 1182 he fell into the Young Kings disfavour. He thereafter entered into the service of another powerful magnate and tourney knight, Phillip of Flanders. However, he remained loyal to his lord, the Young King, even when the Young King himself was disloyal to him. He returned to aid the Young King in his second rebellion against his father and, when the Young King died of dysentery in 1183, William was one of the few who did not desert him on his deathbed. Some claim that it was William himself who took the news to the “Old King”, Henry I. With the Old Kings permission, William fulfilled the Young Kings oath to go on Crusade by wearing his dead lords' cloak on Crusade to Jerusalem.

The Old Kings Favour:

Upon his return, he was rewarded with great Royal Favour, being granted control of Royal Lands and the guardianship of the lady Heliose, heiress of Lancaster. It has been suggested that Henry expected Marshal to marry the lass, as was his right, and take her lands for himself. But for whatever reason he did not do so. The more romantic version of his tale has it that Sir William felt it would be not be right to marry what amounted to his own adopted daughter. However, this was a common (and not entirely scandalous) practice of the day.

He also spent time in the household of Prince John, accompanying him on his abortive trip to Ireland, but had far less success in reigning in the spoiled and treacherous John than he'd ever had with the Young King.

The Turbulent Reign of King Richard.

In 1189, during one of the future King Richard's rebellions against his father, Marshal unseated his future King. It is clear from contemporary accounts, that William could have killed the boy (already a famous warrior himself) had he willed it, but instead slew Richards horse to make his point. When Richard left on the 3rd Crusade, Marshal was appointed to the Regency council to govern in his absence. He remained loyal to the Kings appointed regent, his brother John (Marshals former pupil) for much of the regency period, even when John expelled Richard's Justicar (a near-treacherous act) but eventually joined the rebellion against John (in King Richards name) when the Prince's deprivations became too much.

During this rebellion, Williams elder brother John remained loyal to the Prince and fell in battle. King Richard allowed William to inherit his brothers lands and titles, including his hereditary position as Marshal. William then accompanied Richard on his campaigns in France. While Richard lay dying on his death bed, he appointed Marshal Constable of Rouen and gave the Royal Treasury into his custody.

The Honest Broker, in service to a Tyrant:

With Richards death, John, the new King of England, also inherited the loyalty of William Marshal, who supported John over the claims of his nephew, Arthur of Brittany (the young son of Johns dead elder brother Geoffrey). He defended Normandy on the Kings behalf, but he and John had something of a falling out when John abandoned the Duchy to the French in 1204. During the signing of the treaty with the French King, William paid homage to the French King for his lands in Normandy (as was the honourable thing to do) making it clear that he would pay the French King his dues, but would still consider John his overlord above even the King of France. However, this act, however reasonable by the standards of the time, caused a rift between John and Marshal.

Yet despite this rift, when the Barons rose against King John in the First Barons War (leading to the signing of the Magna Carter) Marshal was one of the few Earls who stayed true to his King. Indeed, when John died, the King appointed Marshal, the one knight in all Christendom whose oath and loyalty could be trusted, to act as regent for his nine year-old son, Henry III. In fact, it was William himself who made the arrangements for Johns funeral. He would spend the remainder of his life defending Young Henry III from threats both foreign and domestic, even going to so far as to ratify the second signing of the Magna Carter on his young King's behalf.

The Best Knight in Christendom:

Throughout his life, in a time where men changed their loyalties more frequently than whores changed clients, Williams loyalty always remained constant to one man: his King, whoever that man might have been. Even his “rebellions” were in the service of one King against another (in the case of the Young King against the Old) or in the service of a King against an usurper. So highly regarded was he for his fame and loyalty to the Crown, that even men he had previously fought against (such as the "Old King" Henry I, Richard even John) knew he could be counted upon and trusted with their lives. Indeed, during John's disastrous reign as King, it was Marshals reputation and statecraft that kept the Kingdom of England alive and prosperous. While it was said that no man could trust the word of King John, the saying also went that there was not a man alive who could not trust the word of William Marshal.

PART TWO: Using Marshal in your Campaign

William Marshal is the ideal knight of his time, a veritable Paladin. In Old school Terms, he clearly qualifies as Lawful Good, serving his rightful lord with loyalty and honour while, at the same time, trying to steer that self-same lord away from evil or chaotic acts. In this regard, his life makes him an ideal role model for lawful good Paladins, Cavaliers and Rangers. Especially those who must serve less than admirable masters.

Finally, from a DM's point of view, Marshal is the ideal political ally for a band of “good” adventurers. He can be a patron or sponsor (especially of “knightly” characters) and works best when used as an influential “good” patron in a region or Kingdom otherwise overrun with lawful neutral or lawful evil types such as would be common in a feudal society. However, more interestingly, his loyalty to evil masters also makes him an excellent foil for characters looking to topple the likes of a King John. In such instances, the players might find themselves and your campaign's "Marshal" on opposite sides, creating one of those rare, plausible opportunities for good vs good conflict that was such a staple of the Old School genre at various times.

At the very least, even if Marshal and the PC's never see any actual conflict between them, his mere existence in the campaign can be a reminder that not everyone who serves a Kingdom of evil can truly be considered evil themselves.

Friday, 15 October 2010

Old School Miniatures: On the Cheap

Times are hard. Metal figures are expensive. Buying enough lead figures to make up a decent band of brigands, for example, can set you back forty or fifty euro's. And then, of course, there's the whole new issue that most modern fantasy rpg miniatures are targeted for the modern audience/gaming industry. By which I mean late medieval armour, dress and accoutrement's as opposed to the more traditional "old school" dark-age style.

However, all is not lost. You can still acquire decent looking miniatures for your RPG while keeping up that all important Old School feel -and without putting too much of a dent on your pocket book. The answer: wargames miniatures.

Plastic mould technology these days is so good that it's possible to produce plastic figures that rival (or even exceed) their metal counterparts. Moreover, even metal wargames miniatures (from historical specialists at least) tend to be cheaper than roleplaying miniatures and even most fantasy wargames ranges.

True, you can splash out ten or twelve pounds for a pack of random pre-painted miniatures, but going down that route might cost you a veritable fortune before you get enough figures of a given monster type to use in an encounter. Plus the paint jobs tend to be terrible. Contrast the painted miniatures at the beginning of this article with any of the D&D figures available on ebay. I bought a pack of 32 of these plastic vikings from wargames factory's Hammer of the Gods Range for £18 (You lucky Americans can get them for $19.95). These figures here, 8 of them, took four hours to assemble and paint and cost me the equivalent of £4.50. If I'd bought 8 viking looking types in single figure Reaper miniatures packs, it would have cost me at least £24 (probably as much as £30, depending on where you shop). How many packs of D&D boxes would I have had to fork out for to obtain 8 human warriors in chainmail? A heck of a lot, let me tell you.

As it is, I intend on painting another four of these guys for gaming purposes. The last twenty (plus 8 figures from the Saxon Fyrd box) are going to make a Viking Mercenary unit for my Norman WAB army. The remaining 24 Fyrdmen are going to be split into a unit of 8 archers (on stone, roleplaying bases) and 16 unarmoured RPG melee types. And voila, for a grand total of £36 quid, I've got myself another wargames unit AND all the armoured and unarmoured human NPC warrior-types I''ll ever need for an Old School RPG campaign.

Of course, it would be nice to have some more disciplined looking armoured warriors as well. Which is why I bought 8 metal Norman spearmen from Wargames Foundry for a grand total of £8.00 as well. I'll paint these guys up and use them as henchmen and hirelings for my PC's. Pictures to follow when I've finished painting them.

I also forked out another £8 for a pack of Saxon "outlaws" from the same firm -giving me a nice mix of armed civilians for use in gaming as hapless civilians, prisoners, mule-skinners and even torch-bearers for the party. I'll post up my painted versions here at some point too,

Grand Total: £52.00 for 80 gaming miniatures. How much would it cost to order all that from Reaper Miniatures eh? £300 quid at least, I reckon.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Amorvrin and Gulmorvin: The Undead of Harn




One of the most fascinating variations on traditional fantasy tropes within the Harn setting is the world's treatment of undead. While other settings have skeletons, zombies, wights, wraiths and much, much more besides, Harn has the Amorvin and the Gulmorvin. Or rather, those souls exposed to the Shadow of Bukrai who chose to embrace a new existence in undead form, and the animated bodies of souls which choose oblivion instead. The former, mostly corrupt, evil and decadent beings to begin with; become the Armovrin: intelligent, evil beings who seek to subsume the world into chaos by spreading the taint of Shadow. The latter are those souls which refuse the Shadow (and who fail to resist it's influence) only to be utterly destroyed, their bodies no more than an empty, mindless which barely contains the Shadow essence within.

Both forms of Undead serve the mad God of Death, Margoth, a being who sought to possess Bukrai and was instead driven mad by it's influence. Bukrai is a primordial force, representing the very chaos of the primeval universe. A being which embraces oblivion and destruction. Though once he sought to master Bukrai, Margoth has long-since subsumed himself to it's foul purpose. Many Amorvin, perhaps even the great majority, were once mortal followers of Margoth who chose to “live on” in his service, long after their mortal existence had ended. In all Kelestia, the world of Harn, only one being, Bukrai, has the power to destroya soul, utterly. It is a power it employs both greedily and often. Soon it will have amassed an army large enough to eradicate every living thing on Harn. And after it, the world entire.

Amorvrin are created from a living body, near-death and infested with Shadow. Gulmorvrin can are created from the empty shells of the recently dead. The Shadow's pernicious influence greatly slows the process of decay, allowing some of it's to retain a certain “life-like” quality for decades, while others gradually fade away into nothing. While Amorvrin seek to further the influence and power of the Shadow throug intrigue and violence, the Gulmorvrin exist in a state of near-limbo, stored away in vast vaults until called upon by the clerics or Amorvrin of their faith to take action.


THE UNDEAD IN OSRIC-HARN:

Harnic undead cannot enter any place consecrated to a deity other than Margoth. Pious followers of any deities (paladins, druids, clerics and even 0 priests) may use the holy symbol of their faith to repel such creatures. In OSRIC-Harn, this will permit such characters, of any alignment, to Turn Undead. However, only Priests of Margoth may rebuke or command them. The Undead of Harn do not suffer injuries as do mortal creatures Some may even only be harmed by magical weapons. Therefore the Undead of OSRIC-Harn are immune to backstab damage. When destroyed both Gulmorvrin and Amorvrin crumble to dust, but unless slain by a consecrated (blessed or undead bane weapon; including holy water) Amorvrin will reform in their lair, ready to take revenge, within 13 days. While all undead exist as (and exude) pockets of the Shadow, Amorvrin are more dangerous in this regard than the mindless Gulmorvrin.

Nor do the undead of Harn share a common appearance. The Undead of Harn decay over the pasage of long years,their bodies becoming more skeletal and eventually more ethereal. They “decay more slowly” than natural corpses, in a process that can require hundred of years (longer, if the right balms and herbal treatments are applied). OSRIC-Harn undead are just as likely to be skeletal as they are fleshy or etereal. Consequently, the undead of the OSRIC-Harn campaign are not divided into Armorvrin and Gulmorvrin based solely on traditional, arbitrary expectations of which “type” of undead constitutes a “free willed” or “mindless” monster. In efect the traditional concept of mindless and free-willed undead has been on it's head.

OSRIC-Harn undead are not divided into Amorvrin and Gulmorvrin based on arbitrary notions of sub-type. Instead, they are defined based on their hit-dice (when alive) and whether or not the soul of the dead being chose to accept Shadow or attempted to deny it. OSRIC-Harn will therefor e have Amorvrin zombies just as it will have Gulmorvrin vampires. No player can ever be sure that the "zombie" they face is "merely" a 2HD monster. It could very well be a 4HD monster with the sleep spell memorized..

Some distinction is possible. Both types of undead exude a sense of cold, of decay and evil in the form of a palpable, shadowy aura. Observant players might be able to distinguish between the two based on behavioural cues. However, the most common means of distinguishing between brainless Gulmorvrin and cunning armorvrin is by the shadows tht envelop them. That it, by the presence of lack of a Shadow aura. A dim, shadowy manifestation of intelligence and free will in the form an inky black mist drifting lazily about the undead form) happens to be. It is this aura that facilitates the corruption of otherwise pure souls by the Almorvrin.

Amorvrin undead of a given "sub-type" are considerably more powerful -and dangerous- than their mindless, Gulmorvrin counter-parts. Amorvrin undead types will be turned as though they were two steps higher on the turning table than the “standard” Gulmorvrin version. Amorvrin who advance under this rule to the extent that they “ fall off the top” of the table cannot be turned by any means. Neither form of undead, no matter how powerful, may ever be able to step onto consecrated ground. They are so impure, the ground itself refuses to accept their presence in a place of reverence and veneration. Any creature that tries shall be smote down by the very gods themselves.

MYRVRIA AND THE "UNHOLY OATH":


Any creature engaging an Amorvrin in melee risks corruption and death from exposure to the Shadow. Any character in such a predicament must save vs Death magic every other round of melee combat or become Tainted. Tainted characters cannot heal lost hit points by any natural or magical means until a Remove Curse spell is received. If the character dies (or falls into negative hit-points) while under the influence of this curse, he will receive a visitation from the demi-goddess, Myrvria, who will offer him “eternal life” (as an Amorvrin) and his “heart's desire”. All for the small price of taking the Unholy Oath:

“To own myne form, when breath Hath fled, shall I gift myne soul.”

Uttering this oath thirteen times binds the soul to Morgath and allows the Shadow to mould and shape it. Characters who accept the pact rise from death thirteen days later as an Amorvrin of a type with a number of hit dice equal to (or less than) his own. He cannot be raised or reincarnated, not even by a true resurrection or divine intervention. His soul is gone. Utterly consumed by the Shadow. Once this pact is made, only a “true” death at the edge of a consecrated blade will save him. If the dead or dying character refuses to take the oath, he must make a final saving throw against Death magic upon reaching -10hp. If he succeeds, his soul has fought off the Shadow infestation and, while he is still dead, the character may be raised by normal means. If the test is failed, his soul is consumed as before, and the corpse shall rise as rounds as a Galmovrin.

This occurs on the 13th round after death. The character becomes a Galmovrin of a type possessing a number of hit dice equal to his own or less (DM discretion). He will be fully under the control of the Amorvrin or the Spellcaster who created him. Like a character who accepted the Unholy Pact, his soul has been utterly consumed and is now beyond even the power of a God to recover.

Any character reborn as an undead being must change his good-evil alignment track to Neutral evil. All Gulmovrin are considered lawful evil, regardless of previous alignment.

THE ANIMATE DEAD SPELL

Recently slain characters (killed within the last 13 rounds) whose body is affected by a raise dead spell must also succeed on a Death saving throw or suffer the destruction of the soul and rise again as a Gulmovrin.

If the character has been dead for longer than 13 rounds, he does not need to make this save. His body will rise as a Gulmovrin, but his soul is safe in paradise. A character whose soul has not been consumed by the Shadow but whose body has been animated as a Gulmovrin can be raised as normal provided “his” Gulmovrin is slain. Thereafter, a Remove Curse spell must be cast upon the body. If the Shadow remnants lingering within the corpse is not removed from the body prior to the character being returned to life, then the dead characters soul is called back to his body and consumed by the taint still within the body. At the DM's discretion, the corpse will again rise as a Gulmovrin 13 rounds after spell completion. On very rare occasions however, part of the characters soul might survive the botched process. In which case the character rises as an Amorvrin 13 days after spell completion. An especially unpleasant fate for the character if his corpse has since been buried in consecreated ground during this time.

Gulmovrin created by the Animate Dead spell are always Lawful Evil.

ATTITUDES TO THE UNDEAD:

Needless to say, were the lore concerning how swiftly a single Almovrin can create a horde of fell followers to become widely known, no man or woman in Harn could ever sleep soundly again. Therefore, the churches and faiths of Harn guard this knowledge jealously, allowing the common folk and nobility to hear only the vaguest rumours of Undead creatures and their power. The church of Margoth is an exception. They want people to be afraid, but are unlikely to be believed. Starting players, therefore, should be unaware of much of the above information. Knowing only that certain restless dead are rumoured to walk and that the power of faith is said to repel them. Perhaps only a cleric or paladin of Larani (who is Margoth and Bukrai's most unyielding foe) might have an inking of the greater truth.

The Gods of Harn may be divided on many thorny issues, but on one thing (and one thing alone) do they agree. The spread of the Shadow-taint must be combated by every means at their disposal. Even Paladins of Larani and anti-paladins sworn to Agrik have been known to (temporarily) set aside their differences against this common foe of life itself.

Monday, 11 October 2010

The British Old School Revival? Lets see?

I came across this blog article courtesy of another blogger. It does an excellent job of describing the history of the RPG industry in Britain, even going so far as to point out why the British Gaming industry took the direction it did.

My following comments will make a hell of a lot more sense if you take the time to read the original article (on Fighting Fantasist - heres another link)) first.

While I myself lived through many of the same events as the Fighting Fantasist - and can empathise closely with the nostalgic sentiments contained within the article, by it's strictest definition I would have to class myself as a hybrid British-American style old school gamer. Or even an American-style old School Gamer, rather than a "British style" one. At least, going by the argument presented within the article I'm responding to. Hell, before I read the artictle I hadn't even thought there was a difference!

While Fighting Fantasy, Warhammer and WFRP have all certainly influenced my preferred, dark, gritty, melancholy DM style, I can't deny that American games such as 0D&D had (and have) a far greater greater role in my gaming history and development than they did for the blogs author.

For one thing, I was introduced to Fighting Fantasy and Games Workshop through the red box D&D edition. Not the other way around as the article suggests is the case with most UK gamers. In fact, I stumbled across Glasgow's Games Workshop store in Queen Street because I was desperately trying to track down the "Dragon and George" wargames store (which did a sideline in RPG's and RPG Miniatures) that I'd stumbled across a few years before while out shopping with my favorite aunt and uncle. As it was, a box Of GW oringinal plastic Space Marines (circa 1988), a box of lead Haelequins and the 2nd ed Ad&D Players Handbook were the eventual result of that happy accident.

Yes, artists such as Blanche (and those other greats that featured in the original Warhammer 40k Rogue Trader book) and Pat Mills (of Slaine and 2000AD fame - actually, he might have been the writer rather than the artist, but either way he was still a huge influence) were more influential on my gaming -and fiction- style than the original TSR artists (whose style I never really warmed to). Yes I still have every 2000Ad comic from issue 500 right up until the mid 2500's (it was a weekly comic). Yes I cherish my treasured White Dwarf magazine collection and still discuss classic scenarios, like the Dark Rise Over Irrilian mini-campaign (ground-breaking for it's time) and the Druid's Grove with my fellow old fogey's. But even so, when I think of Old School, it's still the Red Box, 1st ed Ad&D (2nd ed had just come along when I started gaming. Most local gamers I knew resisted the edition shift for a while) Harnmaster and RuneQuest 3rd ed that I think of first.

Not Fighting Fantasy, not Lone Wolf, not Judge Dredd, not WFRP. And sure as hell not Chainsaw-bloody-warrior.

Though they all pretty awesome games, I have to admit. And I did like killing zombies with my chainsaw. Hoo-Yah!

In any case, it's interesting to see the development of gaming in Britain from another point of view, from another Brit. It's just that in this case our particular gaming experiences over that same time period have been so different. But then, I was only 8 years old ("I'm nearly nine!") in 1988. Perhaps it was because I seem to have come across gaming so much later in the decade than Coopdevil, Fighting Fantasist's author. It may very well even be because I was younger (I haven't checked Coopdevils profile yet so I'm not really sure of his age, but I suspect he'll be a bit older than me) during this formulative period for the gaming industry. Were TSR and other non-GW licensed games more prevalent in Britain in my early days, as oppossed to his? Possibly. GW (and White Dwarf) started to become much more GW-centric a year or two after I bought my first issue of White Dwarf magazine (Number 86 I think it was. The featured adventure was "A Murder in Lofton". See? It really was as good as the article says). Or were American games and supplements such as those produced by TSR simply easier to get a hold of in Glasgow than elsewhere in Britain? Frankly, I'm not sure. But I'd love to hear other peoples opinions -from both side of the pond- on why our respective outlooks could be so different. Likewise, if anyone can point me at similar essays on British Gaming History and the "British OCR Revivial", I'd appreciate it. I'd love to take a look.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Ivashu: The Monsters of Harn

One of the the many excellent design features of the Harn setting has to the the Ivashu: a rationale for incorporating absolutely any wild monster idea from any game setting into your Harn campaign.

Essentially, the Ivashu are the spawn of the “Craven God”, Ilvir, the only Harnic deity actually resident on Harn. Ilvir spends his aeons absorbed in the creation of new life-forms, yet, for some undisclosed reason, he has only a finite number of souls to work with. For this reason, all his creations are sterile. Thus, he will never run out of souls to work with for very long.

These beasts literally spawn in a pit not far from the Trobridge Inn sand-box I'll be using in the early stages of my OSRIC-Harn campaign.

The more intelligent Ivashu speak a language of their own, Ivashi, which I'm going to otherwise restrict to followers of Ilvir and a few specialist sages. Many, however, are semi-intelligent at best. Others are little more than dangerously powerful beasts.

Many of these creatures will (at least initially) seem familiar to gamers from one game setting or another. However, they tend to have subtle but interesting difference. Over the next few weeks I'll be considering some of the more common, “canon” Ivashu; while at the same time figuring out how to incorporate them into the OSRIC rule-set.

Adwelna: The Beloved Torturer

These fifteen foot bloated, be-tentacled worms are found only in the deep forests of the Felsha mountains (which, happily, happen to be found in my little sand-box). The Adwelna grasps prey in its tentacles before slowly devouring them whole over in a period of hours, relying on it's acidic saliva to turn part of the still-living body into mush before cramming in another body part. Luckily, the beasts are apparently quite slow, although they can be relentless in pursuit of prey. They have a “hex” power to stun their prey, helping them overcome their lack of speed.

Mechanically, this makes them rather similar to the Carrion Crawler(c), though of course it's not actually called that in OSRIC. Although the crawler is a bit of a “dick” monster I've always liked it, both as a player and as a DM. For low-level parties, they are manageable when alone and sometimes (barely) manageable when encountered in small numbers. Provided, that is, the party is prepared for them. I wont be using psionics in the HARN-OSRIC campaign, so the Hex power has to go. I might simply keep the paralysis tentacles of the Crawler as a “hex” function, but this seems too easy (or rather, too “dickish”). My favoured alternative would be to replace the tentacle paralysis with a slow effect. This would at least mean that characters would be able to escape it's clutches (at least until they stop and make camp) provided they don't close to melee range.

I'll also drop the number of attacks from 8 to 5 (as the Adwelna has only five tentacles, not eight) and have each attack cause 1d4 damage plus the slow effect. I'll also make it AC3 all over, as opposed to having different AC on different facings as with the Crawler.

Another “run-away” factor that the Adwelna should have that the Crawler doesn't is slow speed. Carrion Crawlers were such a bitch in early editions of D&D because, in addition to their multiple paralysis attacks each round, they were damn fast. Faster than most PCs in fact. So I think I'll reduce the speed to say, 40ft per round, and the jobs a good 'un. This would make them something of an “ambush hunter”, which is fairly in keeping with their traditional campaign role.

OSRIC-Harn stat-block:

Frequency: Uncommon, Number Encountered: 1 or 1D4, Size: large, Move: 40ft, Armour Class: 3, Hit Dice: 3+1, Attacks: 5, Damage: 1D4 + slow (save vs paralysis or half speed for 1d4 hours or Remove Curse), Special Attacks: Slow, Grapple, Special Defences: None, Magic Resistance: standard, Lair Probability: 50%, Intelligence: Semi, Alignment: Neutral Evil, Level/XP: 3/105+3/hp.

Treasure (Lair Only): 1d8 x 1000cp (50%), 1d6 x 1000 sp (25%), 1d3 x 1000 gp (25%), 1d8 gems (30%), 1d4 jewellery (20%), 1 sword, armour or misc weapon (20%).

Tactics: The Adwelna will attack from ambush, seeking to slow its prey, either through bludgeoning or grappling. Once grappled, a foe will be bludgeoned or and/squeezed until unconscious, at which point it will thrust the adventurer into it's mouth to be devoured (1d4 acid damage per round). It may or may not continue to attack while in the process of feeding, but will certainly defend itself if attacked during this time.

Though semi-intelligent, this may not be evident to adventurers due to its inability to form words. It does, however, understand Ivashi. It may or may not choose to consider Ilvirian pilgrims passing through it's territory as prey. It will, however, always view an adventuring worshipper of Ilvir as such.

DUNGEON ECOLOGY II: Wind Obelisks


I've just recently begun reading through StoneHell Dungeon, looking at it as a possible alternative lay-out for the OSRIC-Harn campaign's mega-dungeon, Elkall-Anuz. Up till know I've been working on the assumption that I would be using the Ruins of Greyhawk to represent the possible birthplace of orc-kind of Harn, but viewing repeated articles on Stone Hell Dungeon persuaded me to drop a few quid and have a look.

Obviously, I'm very impressed. Else I wouldn't be considering simply abandoning all the work I've been doing converting the Ruins of Greyhawk to Harn. Stone Hell only has the first 6 dungeon levels unleashed so far, whereas Ruins has nearly thirty. More than I could likely ever need. Since I have a good few months yet before the campaign gets off the ground, I have plenty of time to think through my options.

In his introduction to StoneHell, Michael Curtis writes that, “While concepts like dungeon ecology and realism are not completely ignored in Stonehell Dungeon, neither are they acquiesced to if they stand in the way of a good time”. That said though, he's clearly put a little thought into it. The dungeon has everything from a magical coolant system to a magical air-circulatory system.

You can read the authors blog here: The Society of Torch, Pole and Rope.

By the way, spoiler warning. You might not want to read the rest of this article if you plan on playing the Dungeon. The spoilers won't ruin the play experience for you, but they do unravel one or two minor mysteries.

The magical air conditioning consists of a series of “Wind Obelisks”, scattered throughout the dungeon. Each serves as a teleportation portal, but, unlike most such portal, permits only the entry of fresh air and the egress of bad. A particularly important concept, as anyone who has ever been down a mine will tell you.

The coolant system is apparently connected to some sort of arcane device found in the later dungeon levels (the ones to be dealt with in a later supplement) but works on the same principle as the Obelisks. One magical item teleports hot water out of the dungeon, it's counterpart teleports cold water back in.

Nice simple concepts for a magical dungeon ecology. Both of which will work well with my magical “store-room” idea, regardless of which mega-dungeon I eventually decide to use. I'm not yet sure what sort of arcane device I'll hook the water system up to. It might be related to the arrival (or creation) of the Harnish Orc, but that seems a little too obvious. Too neat. I may have to think of something else.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Harn

Harn. One of the most detailed, evocative and highly rated campaign worlds ever published. So why doesn't it have the market recognition it deserves?

That's certainly not a question I'm sure can answer, though I might have a stab at it in a later article. In any case, I love the game world almost as much as I love "old school" gaming. While the Harn setting was always a little too "magic poor" for the tastes of most of members of my gaming circle in the eighties and nineties, the feudal setting evokes images of the Anarchy period of English History (the civil war between King Stephen and the Empress Matilda) as well as the succession crisis and civil wars in the later reign of King Henry the Second and his magnificent wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine.

Because I love both the Harn setting and the OSRIC old school rules, I've decided to mesh the two together for my next campaign. The (very political and not really old school) Dragon Age game I've been running since Christmas last year is about to reach it's end. While one of my players is looking to run a Savage Worlds game, the likelihood that I'll be changing jobs in March means that I'll finally have more time for gaming. As in enough time to play in one campaign and GM another.

The fact that two of my fellow gamers will likely be moving in with me and the missus around that time doesn't hurt either. So, as much as I'm looking forward to outwitting someone else for a change (as opposed to being the outwitted DM myself) I'm already working on the next campaign.

I already foresee several challenges in integrating the magic-poor Harn setting with the OSRIC rule-set. For one thing, I'll have to bend and twist a lot of monsters into shape. The scarcity of magic in the Harn system shouldn't be too much of an issue. The entire island of Harn has a human population (including Kingdoms and Tribes) of just half to three-quarters of a million people. Thus there are very few adventurers to spread those very rare magical items between. The PC's wont have to worry (much) about going to loot a place that's already been cleared out by other adventurers the week before. To most folks, they'll just be yet another band of mercenaries, albeit a group that takes on slightly nuttier risks than most such outcasts.

Additionally, while Harn has very few monstrous humanoid races (orcs being about it) it does have a large number of unique, vaguely-defined creatures created by the "Craven-God", Ilvir. Meaning that I therefore have a built-in rational for incorporating just about any weird beast ever to see print into the campaign. Just so long as I use them in small amounts.

On the other hand, the orcs of Harn are divided into a number of "sub-races". It wouldn't be too hard for me to simply replace some of the existing sub-races of orcs with variations on creatures such as goblins, hobgoblins, bugbears and so on (but not Kobolds, I have different plans for them). True, it could be argued that this would construe a wasted opportunity to inject a little something extra into the culture and lifestyle of the ubiquitous orc. Yet the orcs of Harn are already unique in so many different ways that I see no need to develop them further. I will, however, elaborate on what makes the orcs of Harn so special in a future blog post.

I plan on using the excellent published Trobridge Inn settlement as a starting point for the campaign. It's a small Inn and village located on a main caravan route, the "Salt Road", many days travel from the nearest "civilised" outpost. It's also right in the middle of a half dozen excellent adventure locations. These include three different sets of ancient ruins, several more recent battlefields, the largest Orc Warren on Harn, two hostile (human) barbarian tribes and some adventure locations of my own devising. The Inn is also one of the few places on Harn visited by Elven merchants. Coincidentally, these elven merchants are among the few beings to traffic in magical or high quality expensive goods. Thus, there will be visits by someone that the PC's can sell their most expensive loot to at least a couple of times a year.

Even better, the Inn affords plenty of opportunity for politics and intrigue. The local brigand is something of a wannabe knight and has taken control of much of the settlement; charging tolls for use of the ford and forcing the villagers to pay him “taxes”. Needless to say, as most of the inhabitants live in this dangerous area precisely because they wish to escape the feudal system this brigand is trying to emulate, there is a certain degree of resistance to his plans. This resistance centres around the fortified Inn complex itself, with the Innkeeper (and his mercenaries) having the active, open support of the village Craftsmen and the more tacit support of the village as a whole.

Factor in that the Inn lies in the wilderness almost half-way between the Thardic Republic and the Kingdom of Kaldor (both of whom the Brigand is trying to court in return for recognition of his “knightly” status) and you can see that there will be as much scope for adventure at this “safe haven” as there will be out in the dungeon or wilderness.

And on top of it all, by the time the characters reach “name level”, the Kaldor succession crisis should be reaching boiling point. That includes plenty of time for the PC's to make a name for themselves beyond the relative back-water of the Inn. That is, before they get dragged into this budding little civil war by one side or the other.

DM Bliss.

I'll keep you updated with more articles reagrding the OSRIC-Harn campaign as things progress.