Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Endurance of Campaign Settings

I happen to think that the World of Greyhawk Fantasy Setting is one of the finest fantasy worlds ever conceived. This, I am hopeful, will come as no surprise to anyone reading this blog. But I thought I would explain for a moment as to why I think it is so.

I am tempted to go on at length about the innate genius of Gary Gygax and his boundless creativity, but honestly I think that the published WoG is a far superior product for having been a collaborative effort, even during his heyday at TSR. Don't forget that the original Lake Geneva campaign bore little resemblance to the Greyhawk published in the 1980 Folio, or 1983 gold box. What was published wasn't the original campaign, but-- quite remarkably-- we are told that the players in that original campaign actually lobbied for Gary's campaign to be altered to conform to the published version!

Inasmuch as any campaign is a collaboration between the DM and the players, so too was Greyhawk. Without the players there would be no Robilar, no Melf, etc. People other than Gary Gygax wrote some of the most influential modules that ended up becoming institutions of Greyhawk; the Slave Lords series, Mordenkainen's Fantasic Adventure, The Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan, the Lendore Isle series, etc. etc. etc. Gygax was not the author, but they made their indelible mark upon the setting.

I also think that a mark of an outstanding setting is its ability to step beyond the game system for which it was originally designed. Greyhawk stands out in this regard as possibly the most transported game setting in history. There are campaigns in Greyhawk using the various A/D&D rules and their clones, of course, but there are also ones using the rules for Castles and Crusades, Savage Worlds, GURPS, Rolemaster, Fantasy Hero, Hackmaster ("Greyhack"), and doubtless others I am unaware of. I personally think Greyhawk, with its very feudal setting, would be perfect for adaptation in the Chivalry & Sorcery game, and I might just do it myself, if I can ever get a set of the first edition books at a reasonable price. My point is, most settings are dependent on a single game system; Dark Sun, Gloranthia, etc. Greyhawk persists outside of a particular game system, meaning that the setting itself has qualities which give it merit.

The fact that it is, as I alluded to above, largely an amalgam of Medieval Europe and its feudal system is, I think, a plus. It's easy to extrapolate from what is fairly well understood. Too many settings go out of their way to be DIFFERENT!!! and end up just being quirky. I think that's why Jorune never caught on, despite the absolutely gorgeous art that the game enjoyed; what the heck is a thriddle? But you say "There is a troop of the Overking's Lancers in full plate trotting down the forest road" and you can much more easily paint the picture.

Perhaps the best quality Greyhawk had, in terms of accessibility and endurance, is that it wasn't exhaustively detailed. I really like the Forgotten Realms, but it was just too easy to get overwhelmed by the sheer amount of detail. The history, the characters, the politics; as a DM I felt like I was boxed in, unable to go off on some tangent for fear that I would contradict something that had already been published. With Greyhawk, there is the skeleton, and points of punctuated elaboration (in the form of adventure modules and, later, kingdom books like Iuz the Evil). Entire kingdoms are described in two paragraphs; that gives me the latitude I like when I'm running a game. Harn was downright intimidating with its level of detail, even moreso than Forgotten Realms because it was on such a small scale!

So, to sum up, I think Greyhawk's enduring popularity comes down to:
  • A strong editorial hand, but not to the point of exclusivity
  • Trans-game endurance and portability; the strengths of the setting transcend the rules
  • Familiar enough to help establish setting, with not so much detail as to need an M.A. in Medieval Studies to play.
  • A skeleton framework to build on, not an already-built edifice to play within.
This, of course, doesn't attempt to define "what makes Greyhawk"; militant neutrality, NPCs, etc. But in a general sense, I think it does help to see why Greyhawk has endured all these years, and why it's likely to in the future, regardless of where the rules end up.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

If I owned D&D...

James Maliszewski, over at his excellent Grognardia blog, recently posted on what he'd do if he was in charge of making a new edition of D&D. That, naturally, got me thinking as to what I would do if I were in charge of the D&D property. (If anyone from WotC or Hasbro is reading this, please do consider this a product pitch, and a resume is available on request.)

I begin by pointing out my belief that the strategy that TSR and WotC have followed since 1989 and the inception of Second Edition has been misguided and ultimately self-defeating. They have seen each successive edition not only as an "improvement" on the rules system, but also stopped printing and producing new material for earlier editions. This was done, quite naturally, in an effort to force their customers to spend their limited gaming budgets on the newest products, thereby justifying the not-inconsequential development costs (I have no reason to doubt WotC's claims that they spent more than a million dollars in the development of 4th Edition).

In addition, they seem to shoot themselves in the foot with the way they approach campaign settings. It's no secret that they haven't known what to do with Greyhawk since Gary Gygax was forced out of the company. They did very well with Forgotten Realms until recently, when the forced conversion of the setting to meet the new design limitations of 4th Edition seems to have alienated a large portion of FR's fan base. Many fans complain that settings lose some of their uniqueness when they are "upgraded" from one edition to the next.

And therein lies the key to my idea.

I would not have a single, "current" version of D&D. I would have a myriad of games, all under the D&D banner, each with differing mechanics and cosmological choices, each tied to a specific "core setting". The term "Dungeons and Dragons" would no longer refer to a single specific game system, but rather to a generic "game type". "D&D" has always been a de facto synonym for "role-playing-games" for most people. As a publisher, embrace it, baby!

  • D&D: Greyhawk Edition, with mechanics largely taken from AD&D 1E.

  • D&D: Forgotten Realms Edition, with mechanics largely taken from AD&D 2E.

  • D&D: Eberron Edition, with mechanics taken from D&D 3.5.

  • D&D: Planescape Edition, with heavily modified 3.5 mechanics, befitting the off-the-wall nature of the setting.

  • D&D: Blackmoore Edition, based on mechanics largely taken from OD&D.

  • D&D: Known World Edition, based on mechanics largely taken from the BECMI rules.
And so forth.

What does this approach do that the current approach does not? For starters, it acknowledges that some people prefer different versions of the rules, and treats them with the dignity that they deserve. All editions (and a myriad-- nay, an explosion) of new rules would remain in print. With the advent of pdf and on-demand publishing, this would be trivial to accomplish.

From a sales point of view, there is little downside. The audience that purchases "the latest rules" simply because they're "the latest rules" would still do so; they'll just move from one setting to another when they do. The ones who prefer to stick with the rules and setting as it is would still purchase new product developed for those rules and that setting. Development costs might be somewhat higher (since writers would be needed who were conversant with a larger number of systems), but as long as older settings were still supported, they would remain revenue streams for much longer. Imagine if WotC were still printing 1E DMG's and PH's, rather than surrendering that market to products like OSRIC and places like eBay.

Now, this doesn't mean that Greyhawk fans, for example, would be incapable of running a Greyhawk campaign using, for instance, the rules officially written for Forgotten Realms. In fact, that would be a plus for WotC; they would make sales both on Greyhawk products and Realms products. The former for the setting material, the latter for any rules expansions. Hell, fans already have kit-bashed things like Savage Worlds Greyhawk and GURPS Forgotten Realms. From the standpoint of the publisher, I would think it would be a good thing to get in on some of that action.

And imagine the secondary line of conversion products that could be marketed. Maybe even with a meta-setting (Planescape? Spelljammer? Something completely new?) where the very laws of reality (i.e., game rules) change depending on where a character finds him or herself.

The benefits to gamers are obvious; they get to decide what to support. The benefits to the publisher is obvious; they radically extend the revenue-stream lifespan of anything they develop. The mind reels with the possibilities.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Zagyg and the Pussycats



This video has a lot in common with the latest release from Troll Lord Games, Castle Zagyg: The Upper Works. You might consider this the first part of my review of Upper Works, but I'm not going to talk about any specifics about that product, but rather what it has to say about the legendary Castle Greyhawk in general. Perhaps this is my review of the Introduction.

Even among us Gygax purists, it is a misnomer to speak of "Gary Gygax's Castle Greyhawk" as if it were a static thing, as if there was the one he used back in Lake Geneva and that was that. The tale had been related by EGG in various places on the web, but it is very succinctly put in the introduction to Upper Works. In short, there was the original original dungeon, with 13 levels. Then he remade it completely (but based on the first), with Rob Kuntz as co-DM, and it hit 30+ levels. Then he made a 6-level version for convention play, again based on what had gone before. And now we have Castle Zagyg, with an unknown number of levels (as yet) and yet another re-design of the dungeons based on what has gone before, and yet not in any specific way identical to it.

Given that history, I wouldn't see any reason to not view this as an authentic version of "Castle Greyhawk" (even if the names are changed for reasons of legality). If, that is, Mr. Gygax actually wrote it.

It turns out that Gary Gygax is not the author of the present work. Various sources on the Internet tell the same story, that they were at one point or another the actual authors, and sent their material in to Gary for review and correction.

And you know what? That doesn't bother me too much, either.

The key to the equation, to my mind, is just how heavy a hand EGG had in that process. If he just gave things a cursory glance and said, "fine, dump the truck full of money in my living room and I'll sign", that would be one thing. But I am told, by several people who would legitimately be "in the know" that EGG's hand was exceedingly heavier than that during the creative process. He might not have written the first draft of the text, but apparently he was a heavily involved editor, to the point of re-writing substantial pieces of text. Little, if anything, has escaped his scrutiny and influence.

Reading the books, it is obvious that his literary style has either been scrupulously copied or imposed upon the text. That, in and of itself, is a positive mark in my book, and I can only hope that future releases received similar attention from him, and are only in the pipeline because of the realistic limitations of the production process. I daresay it will soon become apparent if they are not.

So what does this have to do with the video? Well, when it comes to Castle Greyhawk/Zagyg, as far as I can tell, it's the same song no matter how you sing it. And what a great song it is!

Monday, September 15, 2008

It's not "fluff". It's "setting".

One of the things that makes me cringe when I read various gamer-related message boards and blogs is the terms "crunch" and "fluff". Language and psychology go hand-in-hand, and I think the pervasiveness of the terms heralds a shift in attitudes towards gaming over the last couple of years.

Back in the day, rules were called "rules". Background was called "background" (or, alternatively, "setting"). Early on, the approach to both was an extremely light touch; the original World of Greyhawk folio, for example, is almost Hemmingway-esque in its brevity; you had just enough information to get started. The same thing goes for the OD&D rules (and, I would say, the first three of the AD&D rulebooks).

You could say that trend ended with third-party products like Harn, which was incredibly detailed in presenting its setting, or Arms Law, which was a very detailed combat simulator (and which eventually grew into the Rolemaster game system).

But now it seems that the balance has shifted away from setting and background, and over to rules. By way of evidence, I submit the rise of the terms "crunch" and "fluff" to describe rules and setting, respectively. I think the terms themselves betray the bias of their users.

"Crunch" is hard. It's solid. It's necessary. It's the sound of your boots on the gravel as your character stomps along like a twenty-sider-fueled killing machine hurling fireballs and lopping off the heads of demon lords with your +5 vorpal holy avenger frostbrand two-handed sword. It is the key to value.

"Fluff" is ephemeral. It's light, easily transferrable, and brings little heft per dollar. It's vaporous and vaccuous, and can be blown away by a small gust of wind caused by the backswing of a +5 vorpal holy avenger frostbrand two-handed sword taking off the head of yet another demon lord. It is of little value.

Now, these are not universal attitudes, of course, and I am not trying to say that they apply 100% of the time. But they are reflective of the overall attitudes, and the respective values placed on rules vs. setting. Just look at the newly released Forgotten Realms book. WotC made a deliberate calculation that they wanted to make the Realms more accessible. How to do that? By wiping out all the accumulated background ("Realmslore" as fans of the setting call it) so new gamers wouldn't be overwhelmed. After all, it's only "fluff", right? It can't have much value.

Or, look at Pathfinder. Are folks really jazzed at the default gaming setting that the Paizo folks are coming up with? Or is it the rules-- an updated version of 3E-- that is generating all the excitement? Setting is almost a necessary evil that you need because adventure paths have to exist someplace. It's just "fluff".

Perhaps my aversion to the denigration of setting is a function of my style of play. I DM a sandbox game; no adventure paths, no overarching plot driving the characters in my campaign. The world is there, humming along, and the players are free to roam about that sandbox any way they choose. In order to run a game like that, you need a lot of background, as the characters' interactions with that background drive the action of the campaign. And you can't do that with just fluff.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Lawful Evil Religion in Greyhawk

Something piqued my interest while finishing up my article on the pilgrims of the Flanaess. Of all the 60 deities of Greater, Lesser, or Demi- status listed in the original Guide to the World of Greyhawk, there is only one of Lawful Evil alignment; Hextor. One would expect, even with the loading of so many of the Greyhawk deities to the Neutral alignment, there would be more than a single being representing the ethos of both law and evil. I suspect this was not an oversight, but another sideways glance into the vast tableau that stretches beneath the surface of the World of Greyhawk.

We are told, in the Gord the Rogue short story "Cat or Pigeon?" (presented in the book Night Arrant, now lamentably out of print), that the "cult of Asmodeus" is a well-known source of evil doings, at least within the precincts of the city of Greyhawk. Within the precincts of the Horned Society, we are told that "deviltry" is the state religion (itself a change from the novels, where it is implied that the Horned Society serves the Daemons of Hades rather than the Devils of the Hells).

I submit that a cult dedicated to the Dukes of Hell is widespread in the Flanaess, and that most of the human (and possibly demihuman and humanoid) population of Lawful Evil alignment adheres to that faith. This cult would be seen as a great rival to that of Hextor; bear in mind that Hextor dwells on the plane of Acheron, rather than the Nine Hells.

Owing to the nature of their alignment, it would be a very regimented faith. All honor would eventually flow up to Asmodeus, but this could easily be done through intermediaries. Either individual sects would honor different arch-devils, or different unholy days along the infernal calendar would mark celebrations in honor of those lesser, but still puissant, beings. It could be a combination of both, of course, but in either case the chain of command, and the power of the sacrifices, would ultimately flow to the Arch-fiend.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Pilgrims and Pilgrimages of the Flanaess

Pilgrims can be found in most civilized lands of the Flanaess. They can be found wherever holy (or unholy) shrines and places of power can be found, and the devout will often undertake such a pilgrimage as a religious obligation. Scant information, however, is to be found concerning the nature of these pilgrimages, their destinations, or those who journey on them.

The encounter tables in the Glossography of the World of Greyhawk Fantasy Setting™, pp. 8-11, as well as those listed in the ADVANCED DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS, DUNGEON MASTERS GUIDE, pp. 179-194, list pilgrims as one of the standard-type encounters. This article will attempt to add both color and substance to such encounters, providing a framework upon which the Dungeon Master may expand such seemingly-dry encounters into an opportunity for role-playing and setting-building. Circumstances will, of course, determine how your PCs are received by any pilgrims they encounter, but as a rule those on a pilgrimage, even those of evil alignment, are more intent on their destination than in interacting with those met on the journey. (Enterprising PCs may, of course, seek to join the pilgrims, either as fellow seekers or as guards; their motives for doing so, and the outcome, are up to the Dungeon Master to determine.)

A pilgrimage is, by its nature, a journey undertaken for a religious purpose. Different faiths will have different opportunities for pilgrimage in different lands. Too, some pilgrimages are long affairs requiring months of travel; it is very possible that the object of the pilgrimage is nowhere near the location where your PCs may encounter the wandering band of religious seekers. Notes on pilgrims found in different places within the Flanaess follow. Bear in mind that this material is written with the original Boxed Set in mind, and are therefore set in and around CY 576. Campaigns set in later periods will not necessarily be able to use the following information without some modification to accommodate the “advances” in the timeline.

Pilgrimages are usually led by clerical authorities, who organize the pilgrimage for the benefit of those wishing to undertake the journey. It is a misnomer to believe that only those of Good alignment will be pilgrims; groups of pilgrims can be lawful good, chaotic good, neutral, chaotic evil, or lawful evil (see the ADVANCED DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS, MONSTER MANUAL, p. 69, for details). The alignment of the pilgrims will, of course, determine with which deity or deities the pilgrimage is associated.

Occasionally (15%), a singular event may trigger a mass of pilgrims to share it as a mystical or otherwise transformative experience:
  1. Death of a religious leader
  2. The rise of a prophet or teacher with a distinctive message of reform (95% chance this will be deemed heretical by the mainstream church)
  3. A miraculous occurrence connected with the deity
  4. Victory in a religiously-inspired battle against heretics or a religious rival
  5. An avatar of the deity has been sighted
  6. A (fraudulent?) relic of a deity has been discovered and put on display
  7. The End Is Near. It must be true, everyone says it is.
  8. DM's prerogative
Rarely (5%), pilgrims do not have any particular destination in mind, but rather have undertaken their wanderings with the intention of allowing their God to guide their travels and thus reveal some Truth to them in a way that more conventional pilgrimages might not. Neutral pilgrims of this type will invariably be followers of Fharlanghn.

Most often (80%) such a journey is made to a particular sacred shrine or other place of religious significance (details on such destinations are given below, by location).

Almor, Nyrond, and Urnst

The worship of the Oeridian diety Heironeous, God of righteousness and chivalry, predominates these lands. Indeed, the Prelate of Almor, ruler of that clerically-led land, rules the land in the name of the church of the Invincible One. There are many different shrines to be found within these lands, and penitents from far across the Flanaess will be found here as pilgrims. The capital city of Chathold does contain the great Cathedral of Chivalry, with its famed stained glass panels; a very popular place of pilgrimage. There are smaller, but still quite impressive, temples and shrines throughout Almor, including that of Heironeous-by-the-Sea on the coast of the Sea of Gearnat, famed for its powers of healing beyond those of normal priests.

Bissel, Gran March, and Keoland

Holy sites within the once-imperial and still-grand kingdom of Keoland and its neighbors are many and splendid. Lawful Good pilgrims in Bissel will most likely be followers of Rao bound for the holy shrines of Veluna (q.v.). Those found in the Gran March or Keoland will either be devotees of St. Cuthbert (40% chance) bound for the great healing shrine in Shiboleth, followers of Heironeous (50% chance) en route to the Temple of Heironeous Triumphant in Niole Dra, or followers of Delleb (10%) bound for Niole Dra and the great library-cathedral the church maintains there as a holy duty.

Chaotic good pilgrims in these lands will almost always be followers of Kord, who travel to the various temples to that deity in the Sheldomar Valley to participate in the sacred contests of strength and combat that are held throughout the year. The most famous of these are held in Hookhill and Gradsul, with more modest affairs in Flen, Cryllor, and Niole Dra as well. Victory in the contests is said to be a sign of the God's favor for the coming year.

Neutral pilgrims will of a certainty be devotees of Olidamarra, bound for that God's temple in Gradsul. Touching the marble statue within is said to grant good fortune and on occasion the gift of glibness of speech to professional musicians, bards, etc.

Evil pilgrims will maintain a low profile in Keoland, which has little tolerance for such cults. Those of lawful bent will be on their way to visit the pair of shrines to Hextor which are tolerated in Flen and Cryllor, while those of chaotic demeanor will be bound for the hidden shrine to Erythnul said to exist hidden deep beneath Niole Dra itself.

Blackmoor

Pilgrims of all alignments found in this strange boreal land will be bound for the same place; the mysterious ruined city which extends for miles between the Cold Marshes and the sea. Most will be worshipers of strange and degraded cults seeking either enlightenment, power, or bear other, more alien, motives. Even those of good alignment will be odd in their manner and distrustful of outsiders, albeit not overtly hostile. Such pilgrims will often know secrets of the temples and shrines of the city that are unknown even to the most knowledgeable of sages.

Celene and Highfolk

The olven realms of Celene and Highfolk are unique in the composition of their pilgrim populations, inasmuch as they are excluively of olven stock. The shrines to the olven deities are many and scattered; typically they are small and honor an aspect of one of their Gods associated with a particular natural feature such as a waterfall, spring, or idyllic glade. As such, olven pilgrimages tend to be of shorter length than those of others. There is a 15% chance that pilgrims of Good alignment will be humans passing through the olven lands; bound for the shrines of Saint Cuthbert or Rao in Veluna and Verbobonc.

Evil pilgrims in these lands will disguise that fact well, and will either appear as good pilgrims or a merchant caravan of some sort. They will almost certainly be bound for either the Temple of Elemental Evil in the Kron Hills (35%) or one of the shrines of Nerull hidden in Veluna and Furyondy (60%). Rarely (5%) they will be pilgrims seeking the “blessings” of Iuz, making their way to Dorakaa to join the service of the Old One. Such pilgrimages are usually one-way trips.

Greyhawk and Verbobonc

The Free City of Greyhawk is, of course, one of the most cosmopolitan places in the Flanaess. Faiths of every description can be found there openly, with the exception of the most foul sects of demon- and devil-worshipers. Despite this, there exist within the lands claimed by the City no destinations for pilgrimage*, and those on such journeys are not often found within its domains. Those that are encountered there will be passing through, with a 50% chance of being destined for nearby Verbobonc.

Verbobonc itself is a stronghold of the faith of St. Cuthbert, which is unsurprising given its strong ties to Veluna and Furyondy to the north. Several shrines to the Saint exist within the Viscounty, marking several minor events during Cuthbert's mortal life including the Church of the Holy Cudgel, marking the spot where Cuthbert first cut and hefted the wooden bludgeon for which he would become so famed.

Evil aligned pilgrims found in Verbobonc will sometimes (25% chance) be seeking the ruins of the Temple of Elemental Evil in the Kron Hills. Otherwise, they will simply be on their way to some other unholy shrine in the Flanaess, most probably one of the several well-hidden temples of Nerull in Furyondy and Veluna.

* One exception being those who worship the demigod Zagyg, of course, but such are so few and far between that organized pilgrimages are nearly unheard-of.

Ekbir, Tusmit, and Zeif

Pilgrimages in the Baklunish lands are limited to those of some civilization and urban nature. Lawful good pilgrims will invariably be heading to one of the many small shrines of the Lost Imam Al'Akbar, whose reputation for miraculous healing powers is famed throughout the Flanaess and beyond; such shrines may be found in all of the cities and most of the villages of the region, each specializing in some particular ailment. Caravans of pilgrims will spend years visiting each and every one in an effort to heal the afflictions of all the seekers present among their ranks. (If chaotic good alignment is indicated by the die roll, treat as if lawful good were rolled.) Neutral and evil pilgrims will be en route to one of the great monasteries found on the edges of the Plains of the Paynims (in which are taught not only the arts of physical self-mastery but philosophical enlightenment under the tutelage of the famed mystics of the mysterious West).

Furyondy, Shield Lands, and Veluna

The faith of Saint Cuthbert of the Cudgel is very well-entrenched within the lands of the central-west Flanaess. Lawful Good pilgrims encountered here will most certainly belong to that faith, and will be most zealous and earnest in their devotion. The Great Cathedral of Mitrik attracts the faithful from all over the Flanaess, along with the Church of the Apotheosis, which marks the spot where Cuthbert was raised to Godhood in a blast of light and crashing of tree-limbs. Those of chaotic good or neutral alignment will be making for the temple of the beautiful Myhriss, whose temple at Chendl has seen the weddings of nobility from across the Flanaess for many years (25% chance the pilgrims encountered are specifically on their way to attend such a wedding as a holy obligation). Any evil pilgrims encountered here will be in disguise, and en route to either the Horned Society (if lawful evil is rolled, they will be in fact of neutral evil alignment and headed to Molag to pay obeisance to the lords of Hades) or Iuz (if chaotic evil).

Geoff and the Yeomanry

The Grand Duchy of Geoff is host to a large number of followers of Lirr, Goddess of poetry and art. The great Theater in Gorna is host to a never-ending series of productions, readings, and exhibitions, to which the faithful make pilgrimage at least once in their lives. Caravans of such worshipers are lively and beautiful things, almost pageants in their own right. Pilgrims of either chaotic or lawful good alignment will be of such sort, and can originate from as far away as Medegia or the Thilronian Peninsula. Neutral or evil pilgrims within the Grand Duke's lands are usually en route to smallish countryside shrines dedicated to Ralishaz or Erythnul. The Grand Dukes have, over the years, persecuted these shrines with greater or lesser verve (physical harassment or greater taxes, respectively); their worshipers, however, are no small source of revenue for the Ducal coffers, and economics has won out over righteous zeal over the years.

Great Kingdom, Medegia, North Province, South Province

Although it presently enjoys a great reputation for wickedness, the Great Kingdom was not always so, and it remains to this day a very cosmopolitan and relatively tolerant land.

The See of Medegia, of course, is a clerical state under the suzerainty of the Overking in Rauxes, and as such the worship of Hextor is predominant. But even here the worship of other deities (with the exception of Hextor’s hated brother, Heironeous) is tolerated, if not exactly encouraged. Worshipers of Hextor will most likely be making for the capital of Mentrey with its maleficently magnificent Blood Chapel, supposedly the first place the God was seen after His re-appearance around 570 CY. A no less imposing (but, much to the chagrin of the Overking, less revered by the faithful) Temple of Hextor exists in Rauxes as well. There is a 25% chance that pilgrims will be headed towards Rauxes, 75% chance that they will be heading to Mentrey. The fact that this fattens the coffers of the Censor rather than those of the Overking is something that has not gone unnoticed by either.

Non-evil pilgrims will usually be followers of Zilchus, heading for the city of Irongate (if neutral), or those of Pholtus (if lawful good) headed for the Pale. Chaotic good pilgrims will either be followers of Trithereon headed for the famed Free Falls marking the headwaters of the Gray Flood in Hexpools (50%) or followers of Lirr headed for the biannual contests of poetry, song, and art sponsored by the Seven Shrines of Lirr as a religious festival (sacred to them but open to all) held in Innspa to mark Growfest and Needfest. It is said that Lirr Herself appears there at irregular intervals, and that Her presence is known by the supernaturally excellent performances.

Idee and Irongate

It is said that Zilchus Himself was present at the laying of the foundation for the great walls of Irongate, as a sign of the commercial success the city would enjoy in years to come. For that reason alone it has become a destination for those who seek the favor of the God of Business, and pilgrims of neutral or lawful alignment will be such worthies (note that such pilgrims will be a combination of both a pilgrim caravan and a merchant caravan; just combine the entries as described in the ADVANCED DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS MONSTER MANUAL, and adjust the number of mercenary leaders accordingly). Those of chaotic good alignment will surely be headed for the Thin Vale in Idee, which is home to a miraculous shrine dedicated to the Goddess Wenta. Farmers visiting the shrine are said to have their next harvest blessed by supernatural abundance. Those of evil bent are most assuredly en route to one of the shrines in the Great Kingdom and Medegia (q.v.).

Ket and Perrenland

For encounters with pilgrims in Ket, there is a 50% chance they will be as described in the entry for Ekbir, Tusmit, and Zeif (q.v.). Otherwise, treat them as described here. Evil pilgrims will be on a journey of discovery, bound for the Yatils in search of a legendary shrine to the dark God Tharizdun which passed from the ken of civilization centuries ago. If any have been successful in their quest, none have ever reported it. Those of good alignment will be bound for the spectacular Glittering Cathedral of Ulaa situated on a commanding height overlooking the pass between Molvar in Ket and Krestible in Perrenland. Neutral pilgrims in Ket will be dedicants of Beory, making their way to Her holy shrine in the northeastern tip of the Bramblewood forest. In Perrenland, neutral pilgrims will be adherents of the faith of Zilchus, en route to Schwartzenbruin and the enormous market-shrine therein.

The Pale and Tenh

The Pale is, of course, the seat of the religion of Pholtus of the Blinding Light, and pilgrims of Lawful Good alignment will be adherents of that faith exclusively, as other faiths are actively persecuted within its lands. The Tenha, while more liberal than their neighbors to the south, nevertheless will only have such pilgrims within their borders, en route to the various shrines to Pholtus found in the Pale. The greatest of these is the Grand Cathedral of the Light in Wintershiven, a fantastic amalgamation of glass and stone whose sheen can be seen for miles from the walls of the city. There are a number of smaller shrines to which pilgrimages are often made by the faithful, including the shrine of the Heavenly Courses (in the headlands of the Rakers), where some believe Pholtus Himself commanded the sun and moons in their orbits, as well as the Temple of Doubting Folly a few days' ride northwest of Ogburg, where those who have doubts concerning the iron-clad certainty of the faith are often found to seek the removal of such stains from their souls.

The Scarlet Brotherhood

Pilgrims encountered in the lands controlled by the Scarlet Brotherhood will be of Lawful Evil alignment exclusively; ignore the alignment table given in the Monster Manual. Pilgrim bands will be members of the Brotherhood itself, undertaking journeys to several of the unholy places maintained by the secretive society.

Sunndi

The great and tranquil Gardens of Chellester in the eastern side of the County, sacred to Delleb, attract a great many worshipers of that deity. It is said that, while walking through the peaceful and immaculately trimmed paths, even the most difficult problem of philosophy or logic will reveal its answer. Pilgrims of lawful good alignment will have that as their destination. Those of neutral or chaotic good alignment will surely be bound for the Four Airs Tor; a singular mesa northwest of Pitchfield which is sacred to the four Gods of the Winds of Oeridian religion; Atroa, Sotillion, Telchur, and Wenta. Particularly favored are those four days of the year when the winds change their direction around the tor, marking the official change of season. Those present for the event are considered to have the blessings of the winds and seasons for an entire season, until the winds once again change. Finally, pilgrims of lawful evil alignment (treat all rolls indicating chaotic evil alignment as lawful evil instead); the Vast Swamp. Somewhere within its trackless mires and pools is said to be the lair of the demigod Wastri Himself, and those who are attracted to His bizarre faith must needs use Sunndi as their highway to so do (often, they will disguise themselves as pilgrims of some other bent, to avoid the attention of the authorities, who find the growing power of Wastri to their south to be inimical to the interests of the County).

Sea Princes

From far and wide, those who favor the Goddess Joramy visit Her great temple complex in the westernmost parts of the lands of the Sea Princes, at the very foothills of the Hellfurnaces. Vast volcanically-fed hot springs and subterranean lava flows are the centerpiece of the spectacle. Pilgrims of lawful good, chaotic good, and neutral alignment will be bound for the temple. Those of lawful evil alignment will be bound for the shrine of Syrul in Westkeep (50%) or they will be among the devil-worshipers who bear the ruby tattoo on their persons and make for the great Infernal Temple that dominates the skyline of Hokar (50%). Those of chaotic evil alignment will be headed for the Hellfurnaces, and will be extraordinarily tight-lipped about their ultimate destination. Ultimately, it can be learned that they are heading towards the unholy places of some demon prince or queen, but the specific identity of the fell monarch of the Abyss is left to the Dungeon Master to determine.

Duchy and Principality of Ulek

Deep in the heart of the Silver Wood there lies a large glade. On its surface, it does not appear special in any way, but to the followers of Ehlonna of the Forests, it is known to be a place of special holiness and magic. Pilgrims of good or neutral alignment in the Duchy will be headed there, to simply take in its quiet beauty and sacred energy in silence and beauty. In the Principality, in the hills north of Havenhill, there is a temple built on the spot where, it is said, the God Fortubo taught the art of metalsmithing to both dwarves and men. Lawful good and neutral pilgrims will be bound for that sacred smithy. Those of chaotic good alignment will have as their destination the shrine of Llerg of the Hills, at the headwaters of the Old River. There, it is said, the God of Beasts gathered the Lords of all animals in special conclave at the beginning of the world. Those who hold the Beastmaster in reverence hold the spot in special regard. In both of the Ulek States, pilgrims of evil alignment will be well disguised and bound for hidden shrines to evil deities or devils and demons that still persist in the Lortmil Mountains. Beltar in particular, among those of chaotic evil bent, is known to still have shrines which are venerated by those of fell intent.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

More Thoughts on Homebrew

I've come up with what I think is a pretty good idea for an adventure setting. It would take advantage of many of the older pulp fantasy memes that are seeing such a resurgence. R.E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, H.P. Lovecraft, Edgar Rice Burroughs, etc. I've got a number of forks in the road to think through, though, and I would welcome any input from those folks who might be reading the blog.

The core of the setting would be an ancient lost city; plenty of scope for dungeon crawl and semi-wilderness adventuring. The environment would be tropical; mountain, marsh, and jungle. Lost cities belong in jungles, surrounded by steaming stinking swamps in which weird stone idols lay littering the landscape at odd intervals. The chief bad guys would be serpent-men and ape-men; fighting both each other for thousands of years. Neither the serpent-men nor the ape-men will have been the builders of the lost city itself, although over the centuries both have occupied it and seen their civilizations crumble away, so they both now dwell in the jungle and swamps. The city bears the marks of their habitation, but as one goes deeper into its catacombs and further beneath its foundations, signs of the builders are still to be seen. There might be smaller outlying ruins as well, and of course the current cities of the ape-men and serpent-men could be points of interest as well.

I think this offers a lot in terms of an adventuring milieu. It would be run as a complete sandbox; no story arc or adventure path (although there would be story threads that the players could and doubtless would involve themselves in, they would in no way be mandatory-- the fun part is that the players today so often don't realize that). There are some questions, though.

The origins of the player characters are a big one. Do I include a "new" (say, 30-50 year old) colony town on the shore? Set up, perhaps, to service ships on a trade route, or as a source of rare foodstuffs and lumber. Or do I make humanity more removed, making a trip to the jungle from the player characters' home base a regular event? That has the bonus of adding logistical problems to the players' list of worries. Or could it be even more esoteric; the player characters know of a magical gate or other MacGuffin that allows them to travel to and from the jungle from their home base hundreds of miles or even worlds away? Each has plusses and minuses.

I'm also very seriously thinking about moving away from 1E for this campaign. It is without a doubt the game system with which I am most familiar; I could wing an entire campaign off the top of my head for months if I needed to. But as I discussed in another post on this vague subject, I also want to get away from some of the standard A/D&D cliches. This will be an all humans campaign, for one thing. Dwarves and elves belong in a setting that's more northern European in nature. Anything that's not a human is a threat to the supremacy of man and deserving of extermination (at least, that's how the players will begin the game; time will tell if I can work in some moral ambiguity on the subject). I also want to toss alignment. "Planes of existence" will be completely inaccessible, and any "otherworldly" beings will be quite literally so-- think Yag-kosha from R.E. Howard's "Tower of the Elephant" or many of the Lovecraftian beings. Gone will be the medieval-type demons and devils, in will be more unknowable horrors befitting the environment of foetid swamp and trackless jungle.

I need something with a very quick but workable combat system. Low magic will be the rule, so something that allows for a lot of action is necessary. I don't think I need clerics as a separate class; fighter, magic-user, and thief should be sufficient, and I'm iffy on the thief. "Guy who relies on his body" and "guy who relies on his brain" might just be enough of an archetype for me (that would, of course, require a developed skill system).

Dare I try something like this with a no magic setting? It bears considering. Anything that is purported to be "magical" would in fact be technological in nature. Titanium-iridium swords that make mincemeat out of opponents' armor, for instance. That might fit in with the ruined city concept. "Magicians" would be those who had figured out how to use the stuff (if they exist as a group at all; this might be my key to getting rid of classes altogether). But I definitely don't want a post-apocalyptic vibe; I'm thinking more of the degenerate sleestak from the original Land of the Lost (with their magical-seeming pylons) than Gamma World.

I could use GURPS to pull this off. It would probably give me a good opportunity/excuse to learn how to do Savage Worlds. I've always liked the idea of Arms Law/Claw Law (that's what Iron Crown Enterprises' Rolemaster system was called before it was called Rolemaster), but I'm not really conversant with it. Lejendary Adventure has an obvious appeal, and is skill based rather than based on classes, but I'm afraid it's too dependent on its magic system to work, or at least for me to hack it so that it's not present. Of course, I could just go back to OD&D, take out the magic and the elves/dwarves/hobbits/etc. and insert a skill system but I'm afraid it might be so much work that I might as well just write my own system.

So, whatcha think?

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

The Squeaky Wheel

I finally got a copy of Castle Zagyg: The Upper Works today. Woot!

It came via Priority Mail, postmarked coincidentally on the day after I posted about not having received my copy over on the Troll Lord Games message boards.

Kudos to the Trolls for such lickety-split customer service (although a quick email saying it was on its way might have forestalled some needless heated back-and-forth). Not only do they read their own board, but they saw an irate customer [edit: okay, a VERY irate customer] and moved to rectify the problem. I must still wonder at why I never got it in the first place, but that is at least a step in the right direction.

First impressions: this thing is vast. Many books, hundreds of pages. It will take a long time to digest it all for the actual content. There are some typos and formatting problems, but not many. The maps are gorgeous, but marred by the fact that the map of the Mouths of Madness and Storerooms seems to be cut off on three sides (including completely cutting off one letter on the right that identifies one of the caves (L). Fortunately it's easy enough to figure out from context, but it's irritating that such an obvious flaw was let by.

It may sound like I'm being overly negative, and I honestly am not trying to be; the above are about the only negatives I've come across thusfar. In fact, the content, from what little I've flipped through, seems very solid. It's awesome to see some of the old Castle Greyhawk lore has been included. I don't want to spill any particular beans, but it does seem as if this will satisfy my own expectations as far as "things you'd expect to see in Castle Greyhawk" goes. I am very much looking forward to reading through the entire text, and will post a complete review once I have done so.