Wednesday, December 30, 2009

New Construction in Megadungeons

One of the least-used special abilities of dwarves is their 75% chance to determine new construction. When you read back over the history of the early Castle Greyhawk as run by Gary Gygax, we are told it was constantly in flux; new areas were being created, old areas were being re-worked, etc.

This is certainly not something that I've paid much attention to in the past myself, but it's something I've included (via the Greyhawk Construction Company) but hardly emphasized in my recent Castle of the Mad Archmage work. But I think it's an important piece of the megadungeon puzzle, as I've discussed in the past. They're not static things; they are always in motion. Not just with creatures moving into new digs to replace ones that have been slain and traps being reset, but the very physicality of the place undergoing change. The pace can be slow, or it can be swift, but in order to capture the true notion of the megadungeon as a constant work-in-progress, it should not be ignored.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

eXPloring the World of Greyhawk

What would motivate a Christopher Columbus or a Marco Polo in a D&D-type setting?

Jeff Rients came up with an absolutely awesome idea (perhaps "came up with" is the wrong term; "articulated for use in D&D" might be a better one) that one should earn experience points by the simple act of exploring. Reaching certain destinations would earn a character a certain modest amount of x.p.; the idea is that by "broadening" oneself, one gains life experiences (that can be translated into x.p. in game terms). Others have also talked about the same concept both before and after (and apparently it's something that has roots in Warhammer and Rolemaster as a concept), but unfortunately I hadn't run into the idea prior to reading Jeff's post.

This harkens back to the concept of the "Grand Tour" of various Continental centers of culture that English gentlemen-to-be were expected to undertake in order to round out their education and get acquainted with other lands and see for themselves the roots of their Classical educations. In contemporary America, you could make an analogy to "visit the Grand Canyon", "see Niagara Falls" (with bonus x.p. for "go over Niagara Falls in a barrel"-- not any waterfall will do), "go skydiving", etc. Think of it as The Bucket List with x.p. awards for crossing something off the list.

I think this is an absolutely terrific idea, and have, needless to say, jumped on it and poked around with it in Greyhawk-specific terms. I take it a little beyond just "see the sights," though. I think experiences that aren't specific to locale should count, too; seeing a dragon fly overhead for the first time, making a pilgrimage to a shrine of your patron deity, etc. Jeff suggested that he could find a hundred such things on the map of the Flanaess, so below you'll find 100 entries, broken roughly into four categories; geography, religious obligations, general events, and class-specific events. Almost all of the awards are in experience points, but a few yield benefits of another nature.

So, without further ado, I give you...

eXPloring the World of Greyhawk

It should be noted that, unless otherwise noted, all of these awards are one-time prizes, and are in addition to any other experience points that might be accumulated while in the process of earning the prize for the particular geographical feature or special event.


1. Amedio Jungle. 300 x.p. for traveling at least 10 miles into the steaming jungle. An additional 300 x.p. for finding the vast lake concealed within.
2. Azure Sea. 300 x.p. for sailing from one side to the other (i.e., the Hold of the Sea Princes to Onnwal, the Principality of Ulek to Idee, etc.).
3. Baklunish Lands. 250 x.p. for a non-Bakluni to visit one of the Baklunish nations (Ket and westward) for the first time.
4. Blackmoor. 400 x.p. for reaching the ruins at the edge of the Cold Marshes.
5. Bright Desert. 400 x.p. for traveling at least 60 miles into its expanse.
6. Burning Cliffs. 50 x.p. for seeing the billowing steam and smoke of the Cliffs from afar; 250 additional x.p. for actually travelling into the region of the Cliffs themselves.
7. Castle Greyhawk. 200 x.p. for spending at least an hour on the first level of the dungeons, over and above any x.p. that might otherwise be earned there. Followers of the demigod Xagyg receive a bonus of 250 x.p.
8. Csipros Erd. 200 x.p. for visiting the Geysers of Death and living to tell the tale.
9. Corusk Mountains. 500 x.p. for crossing the mighty mountain range by a route other than the pass between Jotsplat and Knudje.
10. Enstad. 400 x.p. for entering the capital of the Elven realm of Celene.
11. Erelhei-Cinlu. 400 x.p. for entering the city of the Dark Elves.
12. Esmerin. 400 x.p. for visiting the fabled vale in the Lortmil Mountains.
13. Greyhawk. 250 x.p. for entering the city. An additional 100 x.p. for staying overnight in the Foreign Quarter.
14. Gull Cliffs. 500 x.p. for looking out over the crashing waves of the Solnor Ocean from their heights.
15. Here there be dragons. 400 x.p. for traveling off the map of the Flanaess.
16. Innspa. 250 x.p. for entering the city and sampling its famous baths.
17. Irongate. 250 x.p. for entering the city.
18. Land of Black Ice. 300 x.p. for gazing upon the vast frozen expanse with your own eyes.
19. Loftwick. 200 x.p. for entering the city.
20. Lopolla. 250 x.p. for entering the city.
21. Nyr Dyv. 250 x.p. for sailing at least 30 miles from land.
22. Molag. 200 x.p. for entering the city.
23. Niole Dra. 250 x.p. for entering the city.
24. Olman Islands. 200 x.p. for visiting these isles which mark the southernmost reaches of the Azure Sea.
25. Phostwood. 200 x.p. for entering the gently glowing forest for the first time.
26. Pinnacles of Azor’alq. 400 x.p. for seeing the famed massive spires in the Dramidj Ocean.
27. Pits of Azak-Zil. 300 x.p. for finding the lost dwarvish mine.
28. Rauxes. 250 x.p. for entering the city.
29. Rel Astra. 250 x.p. for entering the city.
30. Rel Mord. 250 x.p. for entering the city.
31. Rift Canyon. 400 x.p. for gazing over the rim of the mighty chasm. Bonus of 250 x.p. for traveling to its bottom.
32. Rigodruok. 500 x.p. for visiting the legendary Rainbow Vale beyond the Land of Black Ice.
33. Scarlet Brotherhood. 300 x.p. for penetrating the mighty plateau controlled by the mysterious red-garbed monks.
34. Schwartzenbruin. 250 x.p. for entering the city.
35. Sea of Dust. 1,500 experience points for traveling one week in the immense desert. A bonus of 1,000 x.p. for reaching the Forgotten City.
36. Sinking Isle. 350 x.p. for walking along the waterlogged surface of the isle when it breaks the surface as it is wont to do.
37. Skrellingshald. 300 x.p. for re-discovering the famed lost city of the Flan, in the Griff Mountains.
38. Stoink. 200 x.p. for entering the town.
39. Suhfang. 2,000 x.p. for visiting the kingdom in the distant West.
40. Temple of Elemental Evil. 300 x.p. for passing through the front gate into the courtyard of the legendary Temple.
41. Tovag Baragu. 150 x.p. for touching one of the stones.
42. Turucambi. 250 x.p. for visiting the vast semi-submerged limestone complex in the Oljatt Sea.
43. Twisted Forest. 150 x.p. for walking among the petrified “trees”.
44. Valley of the Mage. 500 x.p. for penetrating at least 50 miles into the valley.
45. White Plume Mountain. 200 x.p. for viewing the endlessly streaming flow of steam emanating from the famous volcano.

Religious Obligations (see Pilgrims and Pilgrimages of the Flanaess)

46. Those of Baklunish extraction receive 10 x.p. for visiting each of the hundred Healing Shrines of Al’Akbar that are scattered throughout the Baklunish lands. There is a bonus of 15 x.p. if one is accompanying someone in need of the particular healing properties of the shrine in question.
47. Those who worship the Arch-devils of the Hells and their lord Asmodeus receive 150 x.p. for visiting the imposing Infernal Temple in Hokar.
48. Followers of Saint Cuthbert gain 200 x.p. each for visiting the Church of the Holy Cudgel in Verbobonc, the Great Cathedral of Mitrik, and the Church of the Apotheosis in Littleberg. They receive 300 x.p. for visiting the Healing Shrine in Shibboleth, Gran March.
49. Followers of Delleb get 300 x.p. for visiting the great library-cathedral in Niole Dra, Keoland. They receive 175 x.p. for visiting the Gardens of Chellester in the eastern portion of Sunndi.
50. Devotees of Ehlonna receive 200 x.p. for visiting Her sacred grove in the heart of the Silverwood, in Ulek.
51. Followers of Heironeous get 500 x.p. for visiting the Cathedral of Chivalry in Chathold, Almor. 250 x.p. more for visiting the shrine of Heironeous-by-the-sea on the coast of the Sea of Gearnat. And 350 x.p. for visiting the Temple of Heironeous Triumphant in Niole Dra, Keoland.
52. Worshippers of Hextor receive 200 x.p. for visiting the Blood Chapel in Mentrey, in the See of Medegia. They also receive 100 x.p. for visiting the great Cathedral in Rauxes.
53. Followers of Iuz get 150 x.p. for paying homage to their deity in person during one of his quarterly Great Audiences in Dorakaa.
54. Those whose patron deity is Joramy will receive 250 x.p. for visiting her temple in the foothills of the Hellfurnaces, in the western portion of the Hold of the Sea Princes.
55. Followers of Kord get 100 x.p. for the first time they participate in one of the sacred contests of strength and combat in Hookhill and Gradsul, with 50 x.p. for the first time they are in the contests in Flen, Cryllor, and Niole Dra. These awards are cumulative (i.e., one can get 450 total for appearing in all these contests).
56. Devotees of Lirr receive 100 x.p. for attending the great Theater in Gorna (in Geoff). They receive an extra 150 x.p. if they end up performing there. They also receive 100 x.p. for attending one of the performances in the Seven Shrines of Lirr in Innspa (and a bonus of 100 x.p. for performing at one of them).
57. Followers of Llerg receive 150 x.p. for visiting the shrine of Llerg of the Hills, at the headwaters of the Old River.
58. Followers of Lolth get 200 x.p. for visiting the Fane of Lolth in Erelhei-Cinlu.
59. Followers of Olidamarra get 300 x.p. for touching the marble statue of the God in Gradsul, Keoland.
60. Those adherents of the faith of Pholtus of the Blinding light have several destinations in the Pale from which to choose. They receive 250 x.p. for visiting the Grand Cathedral of the Light in Wintershiven, 150 x.p. for paying homage to their God at the Shrine of the Heavenly Courses (in the headlands of the Rakers), and another 150 x.p. for purging themselves of doubt and error at the Temple of Doubting Folly a few days' ride northwest of Ogburg.
61. Followers of Syrul receive 100 x.p. for visiting her shrine in Westkeep, in the Hold of the Sea Princes.
62. Followers of the evil demigod Wastri receive 50 x.p. for visiting the Vast Swamp, and an additional 150 x.p. for finding the temple of their deity within the endless and trackless mires.
63. Farmers who are devoted to Wenta will find their next harvest increased by 20% if they visit the shrine in the Thin Vale, in Idee (1 in 4 chance; the increase will only happen once every five years, maximum).
64. Worshippers of Zilchus receive 150 x.p. for travelling to the free city of Irongate (and a bonus profit of 10% on whatever trade they happen to be conducting while on their first visit).
65. Any who recognize the divinity of the Oeridian Gods of the Winds can receive 200 x.p. for visting Four Airs Tor; a singular mesa northwest of Pitchfield. If they are present when the winds change, they receive a bonus of 5% to all x.p. earned during the next 3 months.


66. Attending a wedding at the Temple of Myhriss in Chendl, in Furyondy will gain one 25 x.p. (Devotees of Myhriss earn 75 x.p. for doing so the first time.) This is an award that can be earned as often as once per year.
67. Seeing a dragon of young adult age or older flying overhead earns 100 x.p.
68. Witnessing the crowning of a king or other royalty earns one 50 x.p.
69. Attending the Midsummer revels in the Elven court at Enstad, when the moons are both full, earns one 400 x.p.
70. Retrieving a treasure marked on a treasure map for the first time; 50 x.p.
71. Witnessing a fireball or lightning bolt spell for the first time earns 35 x.p. (one or the other; not both).
72. Going on a ship for the first time; 40 x.p.
73. Witnessing an honor duel amongst the Rhennee; 40 x.p. Participating in one; 250 x.p.
74. Experiencing one of the great storms in the Sea of Gearnat; 100 x.p.
75. Being on a ship that is attacked by pirates; 125 x.p.
76. Travelling more than 100 miles from the place of your birth; 1 x.p. per 10 miles (greatest distance). (The game master might want to calculate this on a regular basis rather than in real-time, to avoid unnecessary book-keeping.)
77. Those encountering advanced technology for the first time (lasers, robots, etc.) gain 250 x.p.
78. Riding an unusual mount (elephant, roc, polar bear, etc.) earns 25 x.p. per animal type.
79. Flying for the first time (whether by spell, magic item, mounted on a pegasus, etc.) earns 100 x.p.
80. Seeing a character (PC or NPC) of over 20th level; 50 x.p. (Note; this is not per character; anyone only gets this once, and does not apply if the character in question is in disguise or incognito.)
81. Fighting as a soldier in a battle with at least 1,000 troops on each side; 100 x.p. (can be cumulative for multiple battles).
82. Commanding at least 500 troops in a battle with at least 1,000 troops on each side; 200 x.p. (halved if the battle is lost).
83. Spending at least 1,000 g.p. on a single night’s carouse; 250 x.p. bonus.
84. Seeing an undead creature for the first time is worth 45 x.p.
85. Encountering an extra-planar creature (devil, elemental, etc.) for the first time earns one 100 x.p.
86. Seeing some creature or representative of some race that is supposedly mythical; 250 x.p.
87. Visiting either Luna or Celene (the moons of Oerth); 5,000 x.p.
88. Solving a murder mystery or other serious crime for the first time; 300 x.p.
89. Witnessing the “Rite of Battle Fitness” in the Hold of Stonefist; 200 x.p.
90. Seeing a king or other ruler in person (as in a parade or procession, etc.); 25 x.p. (can be awarded once per year).
91. Travel as part of a merchant or other caravan; 50 x.p.

Class-Specific Experiences

92. Cleric: successfully converting someone to your own particular religion; 50 x.p.; 10 x.p. for every subsequent convert (lifetime maximum 1,000 x.p.—Saints have no maximum (that’s one of the things that makes them Saints)).
93. Druid: saving a grove of at least 30 trees from destruction; 200 x.p.
94. Fighter: defeating another fighter at least three levels greater than yourself (alone); 250 x.p.
95. Paladin: defeating a Greater Demon for the first time; 400 x.p.
96. Ranger: First giant-class creature killed (solo) whose hit dice are at least three times higher than the level of the ranger in question; 250 x.p.
97. Magic-user: watching a spell being cast that is more than three levels higher than you can cast; 300 x.p. (Cannot be cast for the purpose of benefitting the recipient.)
98. Illusionist: watching a spell being cast that is more than two levels higher than you can cast: 250 x.p. (Cannot be cast for the purpose of benefitting the recipient.)
99. Thief: stealing a treasure of at least 1,000 g.p. value where the victim doesn’t realize the treasure’s been stolen; 400 x.p.
100. Assassin: Assassinating someone twice your own level (victim 6th level minimum); 500 x.p.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

A Very Scary Solstice

A few years ago, a particularly twisted friend of mine (hi, Craig!) gave me a CD of "A Very Scary Solstice" by the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society. Normally I loathe with the fiery passion of a thousand white-hot suns the fan inspired lunacy known as "filking", but these were so clever and so wonderfully twisted that they bore a spot into the cockles of my heart, much like a fungus-encrusted worm in rotting Arkham might do. (The HPLHS has since come out with a second volume; "An Even Scarier Solstice" and they are both worth every penny.)

But how to share these gems with you, my erstwhile readers? Eureka! Enter YouTube. Thanks to the shameless intellectual property pirates wonderfully enterprising creatively syncretic folks over yonder, I can now present a sampling of these wonderfully insanity-inspiring carols to fill your Yuletide with an even mixture of humor and mind-warping horror from Beyond.

Enjoy while you can, for now The Stars Are Right!

We begin with my personal favorite, "The Carol of the Old Ones":

And thence to "Awake Ye Scary Great Old Ones". Tidings of Madness and Woe, indeed!

One can almost hear Bing himself crooning out "I'm Dreaming of A Dead City"...

And you know, it really is "Beginning to Look a Lot Like Fish-Men". I love this time of year...

And we end this trip down Santa-Claws lane with the rousing "Great Cthulhu Chorus", as sung by the Dagon Tabernacle Choir. *sniff* Always inspiring.

Glad Yule to all, and to all a good night. May you live through it!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Castle of the Mad Archmage named best free product of 2009

Many thanks to Zach Houghton over at RPG Blog II for naming Castle of the Mad Archmage as the best free RPG product of 2009. I really appreciate the nod, and it's really great to see that folks are enjoying the fruits of the labor. I am genuinely surprised at the positive reaction this project has gotten. Look for more stuff in 2010!

And, as a reminder, there is now a new installment of CotMA available for download, which takes us down to Level 7: The Crypts. Enjoy!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Avatar (spoiler-free review)

What do Peter Jackson, George Lucas, Paul Verhoeven, and the Wachowski brothers have in common? They will all be banging their heads against walls, wishing they had made "Avatar", or at least lamenting that it steals their thunder.

I have seen Imax films before, and I've seen the latest generation of 3-D films (most recently, the Disney remake of A Christmas Carol, which I didn't hate, but certainly didn't love). But I have never before today actually seen an Imax 3-D film.

Today I saw James Cameron's "Avatar", in Imax 3-D.

This was a film that was enormously hyped prior to its release (as well it should be, given its purported half-billion-dollar production cost). Cameron invented entirely new technologies just to make his film, knowing that the story wouldn't work without them. It's not an already-established franchise from successful books or video games, and aside from Sigourney Weaver it doesn't have an A-List cast. What a gamble...

A successful scifi/action film requires three elements, at the very least; effects, story, and acting. Let me take these elements in order.

The 3-D effect is remarkable. I saw Disney's "A Christmas Carol" just a few weeks ago, and I've got to say the 3-D in "Avatar" is superior. Perhaps it's the way that Cameron uses it; there are no boogies-jumping-at-the-screen. It is most impressive when it's the most understated; when you're looking down a corridor, and it's like you're looking through a window. There were a couple of instances where the old foe of 3-D came through-- in most of the shots where there was a very strong contrast between a dark foreground and a brightly-lit background, there was a bit of fuzziness in the 3-D. But other than that it was impeccable.

Although can we PLEASE lose the Matrix-esque "moving-down-a-tunnel-of-light-to-simulate-connecting-to-a-virtual-world" effect? It was lame when it was green. Making it white is no improvement.

The digital effects are just effing stunning. Cameron said that when he saw what Peter Jackson did with Gollum in the Lord of the Rings, he thought it would be possible to realize his vision. But... damn... the natives (who are all CGI) absolutely blow away the trolls of LoTR, and sad to say the clone troopers and Geonosians of SW:Episode III are left in the dust.

The plot is somewhat ham-fisted in its condemnation of colonialism and capitalism, but that is really secondary to the story of the embedded spy who "goes native" and has to choose between his own people and the people he has come to know and love. Add in a love story with a great twist, and the political and personal sub-plots between the various factions (military, civilian, and scientific) behind the Earth colony on Pandora, and it's a very complex film, although Cameron is able to keep his primary plot moving like a juggernaut, and the sub-plots help it along in its inevitable track, but not (usually) in a predictable fashion.

The acting is just wonderful. The live action sequences (and the line between those and the CGI sequences continues to blur) are excellently served by the cast, and the effects wizards really seem to have learned a knack for translating the performances of the actors into their digital doppelgangers (dare I say avatars?).

I am deliberately not going into details because I don't want to include any spoilers. But the effects are almost perfectly executed, the story is well thought-out and carries the action excellently without seeming contrived, and the acting is first-rate.

I cannot say that "Avatar" is the best science-fiction movie ever made (I still keep Stanley Kubric's "2001: A Space Odyssey" in that slot), I think it may well be the best sci-fi/action film I've ever seen, if one cares to split such hairs. Certainly it beats T2, the Matrix films, and even Star Wars (if the Ewoks were big and blue, this would be Lucas's ideal "a primitive culture defeats a technologically superior one through ingenuity and determination" scenario).

One important caveat: I don't think this is the birth of a franchise. Cameron told his story, and there's little more to be said (although any hack could always plop a mediocre film in the same setting). I truly hope this film makes its millions, and is then left to lie fallow in the field of Hollywood's few truly original films.

Overall, I would give this film five stars. It's outstanding on both the technological and storytelling levels. It's honestly something that you should see.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Castle of the Mad Archmage December Release Now Available!

Sweet merciful bloodstained Gods! It's done, and just in time for the Yuletide!

It is with no small amount of relief that I am pleased to report that the latest version of the Castle of the Mad Archmage is now ready and available for download. As usual, it's free, and available as a 3+ MB pdf file.

This was a really difficult level to write, for a variety of reasons, but one of the chief ones was the fact that it is in fact really 40 or so mini-dungeons, all working off a central core. Trying to keep things from being too repetitive was a challenge, as was trying to keep the pendulum from swinging in the opposite "every encounter is a weird bat$#!t thing you've never seen before!" direction. I hope I've struck a nice balance.

I must especially thank my co-conspirators; Joe Bardales for his as-always terrific mapping (and dealing with seemingly endless revisions and corrections, mostly my own fault) and Steve "Honorary Joe" Rubin (because everyone working on this project must, of course, be a Joe) for catching scores and scores of errors, continuity glitches, and other flubs to elevate the whole thing to something much more professional-looking. And both as volunteers. My congratulations and profound thanks, gentlemen.

As always, comments, questions, observations, and the like are more than welcome. Feel free to trumpet the news hither and yon; CotMA is once more blessed (?) with a new level, and there are more to come. Hopefully Level 8: THE LESSER CAVES will come much more quickly than this one. I'm shooting to get back on my monthly schedule. And bonuses! Oh, man, do I have extra stuff planned... But more details on that when the time is ripe.

Download it --> here <--

EDIT: Some folks have reported a limit on the number of downloads RapidShare will allow at any given time. Thus, I have also uploaded the latest and greatest version of CotMA over at MediaFire. You can download it --> here <--

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Interior Module Art

Why do publishers include art inside adventure modules?

I mean, aside from the rare instance where an illustration is required to make the description of a particular area intelligible, or in the case of illustrations intended for the game master to show to the player (which is not what I'm talking about here), I have to wonder why do companies bother?

Adventure modules are, by their nature, utilitarian products. They're meant to be used in actual play. The inclusion of interior art doesn't assist that function in any way (other than noted above).

Do you think that the inclusion of such art helps the game master get a better understanding of the "feel" of a particular module? (In which case, what about the use of generic fantasy art, such as we see today in the licensed clipart used in some modules?) How about pictures of particular characters/NPCs/deities/etc.? Why include them if they aren't intended to be shared with the players? Doesn't that defeat the purpose? Do modern publishers use such illustrations as a sort of atavistic homage to the way modules were done in years gone by? In which case, why did TSR include such art in the first place? From my recollection (I've not actually looked through the modules in my collection; so it may be wrong) the old Judge's Guild modules had much less art than their TSR counterparts. Why did TSR add an extra couple of pages worth of art? Just to round out the page count to a number divisible by 4?

I'd be particularly interested in hearing from those out there who've published their own modules, but all are, of course, welcome to comment.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Thinking About Dragons

Dragons are, of course, as iconic a piece of the game as can be imagined. Hell, they make up half the name. Dragon magazine came up with a few excellent ideas for the scaly beasts: I note with particular fondness Richard Allan Lloyd's outstanding "filling in the missing dragons" article in Dragon #65, which gives us the evil Yellow, Orange, and Purple dragons (and which was ultimately revised for 2nd edition in Dragon #248).

Richard Allan Lloyd, by the way, was the man who invented the Starmaster play-by-mail game, and I actually worked for him as a game master for the game for a while. Man, I loved that game. But I digress.

There were also the gemstone neutral dragons in The Dragon #37, offered by Arthur W. Collins (Crystal, Topaz, Emerald, Sapphire, Amethyst, Ruby).

I also liked the combat upgrades dragons got in 2E: wing buffets, tail slaps, fear, etc. I play with those in my own campaign, and almost all dragons beyond the very youngest are also able to use magic (and I assume all dragons are able to polymorph themselves at will). I throw in the removal of "dragon subduing" to make them really fearful opponents. I'm also fast and loose with the 3 breath weapons per day rule. I think that makes 'em a little too under-powered.

But one thing just struck me while I was forced to watch "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" on television tonight. The dragons had such cool names. The Oriental Fireball. The Hungarian Horntail. The Swedish Short-Snout. They refer back to either the physical characteristics of the beast, or its place of origin, or both. The names given to the dragons in the monster manuals are, by any objective standard, quite lame. Red, Black, Copper, Silver...

It occurred to me that, in the World of Greyhawk Fantasy Setting, one might have more interesting names for the standard dragon types in the monster manuals, based on their habitat, their images in the Monster Manual, and so forth. I give you:

The Dragon Types of the Flanaess

Black: Sunndi Proudhorn
Blue: Bright Desert Hornnose
Brass: Suloise Fanwing
Bronze: Almorian Arrowsnout
Copper: Crystalmist Curvehorn
Gold: Suhfang Serpentine
Green: Sussian Mossback
Red: Hellfurnaces Redbelly
Silver: Yatil Silverwing (aka "Cloudherder")
White: Thillronian Fanhead

Naturally, though, as dragons of the Flanaess are sentient, they do not themselves use these by-names, but these more common appellations are used by humans, demi-humans, and humanoids (in their own tongues, of course), in everyday speech.

And, for the edification of those who might not have access to the 2E Monstrous Compendium, here is a very brief overview of the special abilities dragons possess:

Detect invisible creatures (10' per age category).
Clairaudience in lair (20' per age category).
Fear: 15-50 yards range as they get older, young adults cause fear in all >1 HD automatic panic for 4d6 rounds, others save vs. petrification or fight at -2 to hit and damage.
Snatch: young adults can grab victims (50% chance of pinning their arms), fly up and drop them. Automatic claw damage if you're snatched.
Plummet: The dragon lands on some unfortunates, crushing for damage equal to its bite, getting between 1 and 12 people depending on its age.
Kick: Anyone in the rear hemisphere of the dragon can suffer claw damage and get knocked down (save vs. petrification).
Wing Buffet: Any target at the dragon's side can be attacked by its wings, damage as claws, dex check to be knocked down.
Tail Slap: Adult and older dragons' tails do 2x claw damage against a number of opponents equal to its age category; they are also stunned for 1d4+1 rounds.
Stall: If flying, the dragon can just stop in mid-air, attack with all 4 claws, and kick up dust that blinds and prevents spell casting for one round.

Also, their armor class gets better as they age (start improving by 1 AC after Juvenile) and they get +1 "to hit" per age category.

These things are most definitely not pushovers in my campaign. They will have you for breakfast unless you are very well prepared. Literally.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

The Hall of the Mountain King

In my dotage, I find myself drawn more to classical music than I have been throughout my youth. That is to say, I like it at all. When I was growing up, the only classical music I liked was in Warner Brothers cartoons (and most of that, I didn't even realize until I started listening to real classical music-- "Hey! I recognize that!"

I now notice, however, just how much of a variation in classical music there can be. The same piece can be completely reinterpreted, and yet remain quantifiably the same piece of music. Take, for example, Edvard Grieg's "Hall of the Mountain King." Here it is in its unadulterated form:

You all know the piece; you've heard it on some commercial, or in some movie, or something. You might not have known its name (Hel, I didn't know it was part of the same piece of music as "Morning" until not long ago), but the elasticity of the piece makes me stare in wonder. Consider this:

It's only four instruments, and it's heavy metal, but it's undeniably the same piece. How's that possible? Well, here's another:

Damn, that's got a completely different tone and feel. And yet, it's got the same notes. Same piece, completely different experience. And holy moly, we can even find this:

So what is my point with all this? I think it points to the question, raised a month and a half ago, of whether or not it is possible to publish a megadungeon. I wrote on this subject a few weeks ago, but I thought it meet to follow up with this musical analogy. Edvard Grieg wrote his megadungeon (the Peer Gynt suite) in 1875. He laid it down, in writing, and left it for others to "imagine the hell out of". Others have since done so; as orchestral arrangements, as metal, as techno...

The same can be said of any megadungeon. It is initially written by someone. Then others come along and play it on different instruments (different game systems). Each game master makes it his own; Apocalypto plays it differently than DJ Liquid. Just as I might play Castle of the Mad Archmage one way, someone else might play it a completely different way. From the same notes, they would make different music. Such, I think, applies to all megadungeons.

They all get played differently by those who run them. But they all start with the same music. And that's the point. Publish the same music, and get a million different songs. Such is the beauty of the megadungeon.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Even Yet More Minifigs Pics

Thanks to the good offices of snookums8 over at eBay (whomever he or she may be), I've got a ton of new pictures uploaded to my Minifigs Greyhawk miniatures page. Look for goblins, Overkings guards, human forest dwellers, heroic mercenaries, and a lot more. Enjoy!

Friday, November 27, 2009

Love in the time of clerics

The possibility of death by disease was very real in history. I've often wondered how the presence of D&D-type healing magic might impact the course of an outbreak of some plague or other. Having a little bit of time on my hands, I decided to crunch a few numbers. It's a very basic analysis, omitting a lot of ancillary factors, but I think it's instructive.

Let's crunch some numbers.

Just to take something as a baseline, the Black Death of Europe (1348-1350) killed about 33% of the population of Europe. That's approximately 1.1% of the population per month. Now, I know that's an imperfect figure, because it doesn't take into account births, or other causes of death, but given my reading on the subject, it's actually not too far off, when brains mightier than mine apply themselves to the death-rate problem during the Black Death.

My question would be, how many clerics would it take to stem the tide of such a virulent disease? Would a Black Death be possible in a D&D world, or would the grace of the Gods be enough to stem the tide of infection?

Consider this: the clerical spell Cure Disease is a third level spell. That means only a fifth-level cleric can cast it, and it requires a 9 hour rest time (minimum) to recover (plus 10 minutes to actually cast the spell). Assuming those fifth-level clerics are casting their spells at the maximum rate, that gives:

720 hours per month ÷ 9 hours per spell = 80 spells per month

Wow; now that I actually work it out, that's pretty measly, and that's working full-out, with nothing else going on. And that's only counting fifth-level clerics!

But paladins have the power to cure disease as well; once per week at fifth level. So count paladins as 1/7th of a cleric. Fifth level cleric, that is.

To stem the tide of the Black Death, you'd need 138 fifth-level clerics (or their equivalent in paladins, at the going rate of 7 paladins per cleric) to cure the new cases of disease, per one million people:

1,000,000 people x 1.1% = 11,000 dead per month

11,000 ÷ 80 = 138

The question becomes, how many clerics are there in the setting? If you've got 138 5th-level clerics per million people, you can hold off an epidemic as virulent as bubonic plague. Anything short of that, and you've got a problem. The extent of the problem is directly proportional to how far short of 138 5th-level clerics are available, per million people.

In a city the size of Rauxes (pop. 41,000) or Greyhawk (pop. 58,000) that translates to 7 or 8 fifth-level clerics, respectively. I think that is entirely reasonable. In a more rural setting, where higher-level clerics are more scarce, the story might be different. Hommlet, for example, could be served by Terjon and Jaroo (twice as much as the small village needs) and come out unscathed.

Ultimately, unless the DM invents some sort of magic-resistant or extremely virulent (beyond the bounds of the black Plague of Europe) plague, clerics of a typical campaign setting should be able to handle the problem. Of course, it wouldn't leave them any time to do anything else, which might be an opening for some enterprising Arch-Daemon to wreak havoc...

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Sometimes wargames are not about who wins

When it came to three of my favorite games from my youth, there was absolutely no question of who would win. We went into them knowing that the Allies would win AH's Afrika Korps, Sauron would lose SPI's War of the Ring, and NATO would win SPI's World War 3. (The victor of AH's Third Reich depended on which edition of the game you were playing; Avalon Hill kept over-compensating with each successive edition, so that the Axis always won first edition, the allies always won second, etc.) But we spent hours and hours bent over those maps, shuffling counters around, and not caring one bit.

Why? Well, there was the long-shot chance that a clever strategy (or, more likely, either lucky dice or a bone-headed mistake, and I saw it happen in all of these games) would give the predestined loser a fighting chance. But a lot of the time, those games were simply played for the sake of the game.

Afrika Korps, for example, is a flat-out race for the Axis player. Can he capture Tobruk and get the game in-hand before the overwhelming mass of Allied reinforcements comes in mid-game? If the Allies play at least a halfway decent stalling game, they've got it sewn up. But before those reinforcements come in, the game is a fascinating display of how to maneuver and compensate for limited resources on both sides. After that, it's only a fascinating display of limited resources on the Axis side...

For War of the Ring, it's nigh-unto inevitable that the Free Peoples will be able to plop the Ring in Mount Doom. The real game was the maneuvering beforehand; it was a hoot as the Sauron player to send hordes of Southrons into Gondor, sweeping all before them, while Wainriders overran Long Lake and the pitiful dwarven defenders of the Lonely Mountain. But short of a few really lucky encounters against the Fellowship (like a Balrog turning up where the Barrow-Wights belonged), it was an exercise in siege warfare until Frodo made it to the magic hex. Even "Boromir Attempts to Seize the Ring" wasn't any great help; Boromir just turned into the character marching towards Mount Doom, and he was better able to defend himself.

Oh, World War 3. One of the vast line of NATO-Warsaw Pact set pieces SPI produced in the 1970's. This one was on a global scale, with counters representing entire armies. It played much like World War 2 with Russians as the bad guys instead of Germans, and have the Russians steamroller over western Europe, only to be stymied by their complete lack of naval power (thus turning England once more into America's staging area), but ultimately the NATO economic juggernaut proved too much for the Soviets. At which time, if you were playing using the optional nuclear warfare rules, the Soviet player simply launched all his ICBMs and the game ended in an apocalyptic draw. They didn't even bother to include a Soviet aircraft carrier counter. The ocean was that much of a non-starter strategy for the USSR.

But even so, the fun part was playing up to the point of inevitable doom. There was a tipping point to each of those games before which they were really enjoyable. Then one side or the other slid down precipitously. But man, it was a fun ride while it lasted. At the time, I didn't really have the wherewithal to try to balance them out. It might be fun to try. Anyone want to buy me a copy of SPI's War of the Ring for Yule this year so I can give it a whirl?

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Religion in the World of Greyhawk


In previous posts, I gave a run-down of the Oeridian, Suel, Flan, and Baklunish pantheons individually. They share many (most) deities, but there are interesting omissions and overlaps. The Flannae Gods are ubiquitous; they found their way into the common pantheon of the Flanaess. The Gods of the Bakluni are the opposite; Istus, the Big Goddess of the pantheon, is unique to the Baklunish, and only appears as a prominent figure in those places with a significant Baklunish population. There are some "obvious" groups of deities; the Oeridian Gods of the Winds, for example, or the Divine Pair of Heironeous and Hextor.

Some deities, such as St. Cuthbert of the Cudgel and Pholtus, seem to be robust enough to have full-blown religions centered on them alone; the twins Heironeous and Hextor could almost be said to constitute a dualistic religion. Medegia being the center of Hextor-worship, Almor being the center of Heironeous-worship, and each mortal enemies of the other, influencing the policies of the secular states around them in their religious quest.

We also have the problem of the "Old Religion" as we see in the module The Temple of Hommlet. The druids seem to have their own faith, completely separate from the religion of the clerics, and yet the Gods of each (notably Obad-Hai and Ehlonna of the Forests) have followers of both clerical and druidic bent. Add to that the fact that Gygax, in later years, said that the druids worshiped not conventional deities but the forces of Nature itself.

How to reconcile all this muddle?

First off, it's important to note that such a muddle is very historical (the example of the Roman Empire comes to mind), and the very fact that there is no clear delineation of religions, deities, and priesthoods is actually a strength of the setting; religion in Greyhawk is messy. In a more "rational" campaign setting, where religion was designed in a more systematic fashion (and I have been as guilty of such in my own homebrew campaigns as anyone), we might miss the sort of organic feel that religion in Greyhawk presents us.

Clerics (and Druids), operate in a polytheistic fashion, although some are henotheistic in nature (other Gods exist, but they aren't worshiped). That is, if a cleric dedicated to, say, Fortubo, was in need of help with healing, he or she might well make an offering to Pelor, despite the fact that they weren't dedicated to that particular deity. I note that Pelor is also a member of the Suel pantheon, so it's perhaps a first-order leap.

A cleric of a deity noted for a more henotheistic approach, such as St. Cuthbert or Pholtus, on the other hand, might well rely on his or her patron deity, regardless of the specific need. But just because a cleric of Pholtus might not be willing (for reasons of ideological and theological purity) to make an offering at a shrine of Wee Jas, the reverse is not necessarily the case. An adherent of Wee Jas might well be more than willing to make an offering to Pholtus, because Wee Jas isn't so picky about exclusivity. The cleric of Pholtus who does so, on the other hand, might well find his fifth-level spells being withdrawn...

The question of clerics vs. druids, and the issue of the "Old Faith" is an interesting one. On the one hand, we have references to druidry as "the Old Faith", utterly distinct from the religion of the clerics of St. Cuthbert (and presumably the rest of the Gods and pantheons), and Gygax's statement that Druids worship Nature itself. On the other hand, we have the fact that the Guide to the World of Greyhawk states clearly that several deities can have servants of both the clerical and druidical classes. Maybe the Nature-worshiping Druids are the "old faith", and those who worship conventional deities are regarded as interlopers. The monolithic structure of the druids is already cracked by the module "Dark Druids" by Pied Piper Publishing. Maybe there are more fractures than we have been led to believe...

On the whole, I think the less-than-systematic reality of the religions of Greyhawk, and the relationship between some deities and pantheonic religions, as well as the lack of clarity vis-a-vis clerics and druids, adds a great deal of color and flavor to the World of Greyhawk. Just as in the real world, we see different people with different approaches to particular Gods, and no One True Way.

Let a thousand flowers bloom...

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Castle of the Mad Archmage: Dreamation 2010

I am pleased to report that I will be running two sessions of Castle of the Mad Archmage, my humble megadungeon creation, at the Dreamation convention in Morristown, NJ, February 18-21, 2010. (I'll also be running the Diplomacy tournament, as well as one other game yet to be determined.) I don't have any scheduling information yet, but will post it once I receive it. This was a real blast to run at Dexcon last summer (another convention held in the same place and run by the same folks as Dreamation), and I'm looking forward to another fun time in the crumbling ruins.

Monday, November 9, 2009


I know I've been posting much less frequently than usual. My usual computer has mechanical difficulties, and I was forced to order a replacement fan from Singapore(!).

So I'm basically on almost-no access until the new part arrives and I can do the five-minute replacement. I feel like I should be selling pencils on a street corner.

All kinds of goodness when I return, promise!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Players Wanted

I'm looking for some players in the northern NJ area (Morris/ Sussex/ Warren counties are nearby) to join my AD&D 1E game (set in Greyhawk, of course). I'll be rebooting the campaign slightly after a several-months hiatus, and am looking for a couple of new players to round out the party. We generally play on Friday nights, and don't stay up too too late.

If interested, please either reply here with your email address or send me a private email at the address in the lower-right corner of your window in the "A Note on Legalities" section.

Yeah, that's the picture from Dexcon, not the regular group. For some reason, I don't seem to have one...

Monday, October 26, 2009

Is the Temple of Elemental Evil a Megadungeon?

Norman over at Troll and Flame thinks so. So do some of the commenters over at Grognardia. Personally, I disagree. It does touch on the definition of "megadungeon", of course.

To my mind, a "megadungeon" in the strictest sense lacks an overarching plot. Indeed, it is a wilderness unto itself that adapts to a variety of different plots. Due to its lack of plot-driven nature, it is not the sole focus of a campaign, although it can very well stand as the tentpole of a campaign, and most proper old school campaigns should have such a centerpiece. But it should not be the raison d'être of the entire campaign.

A megadungeon should be large enough in and of itself to absorb the punishment of repeated forays into the depths without significantly depleting the supply of bad guys (and, ultimately, treasure). The mechanism of this replenishment is irrelevant; fountain of endless orcs, insane demigod, miles of troll warrens, interdimensional portals... The replacement rate of the bad guys should exceed the ability of the players to annihilate them. They can achieve local superiority in a given section of the megadungeon, of course; a given level or sub-level can be cleared out, and even claimed by some of the players (as happened in the original Greyhawk campaign, of course). But in the long run, the dungeon wins; you're never "done" unless you say you are.

I have some specific problems with The Temple of Elemental Evil that are somewhat beyond the scope of this post. However, regarding the question of whether it meets my own (admittedly arbitrary) criteria for a megadungeon, I think it clearly does not. It most certainly is plot-driven (the players are there to stop the re-ascension of the Temple in the local area and ultimately beyond). The stock of baddies is limited; kill enough elemental priests of the various factions, and you'll eventually run through 'em all. And, most importantly, it is designed to be "finished". You thwart the minions of the Temple, stop Zuggtmoy from being freed (or, in some cases, freeing her), and then move on to greener pastures.

Not so with a "classic" megadungeon.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Is It Possible to Publish a "True" Megadungeon?

James over at Grognardia has published an interesting essay "Schrödinger's Dungeon" which has garnered a lot of replies in the few short hours it's been up. Much as I like and admire James' work for the most part, I fear he has missed the mark on this particular subject.

I launched this very blog with the lament that James mentions in his first paragraph; we are all the poorer that Gygax didn't have a chance (whether in the later years of his life, or while he was still with TSR) to publish some version of his own Castle Greyhawk. I stand by that assessment.

One of James' key passages is this:
When most people think of a "dungeon," they expect a set of maps with a key describing rooms and their contents. A megadungeon, by its very nature, can't be detailed in the same way. It's a lot more "impressionistic" and relies heavily on ad hoc adjudication by the referee, as the players explore it. Not all of the megadungeon's rooms are inhabited at any given time -- this is important -- and many of their inhabitants might change, depending on player action, referee whim, or the luck of random rolls. Likewise, even the geography of the megadungeon might change, as the referee adds new sections, closes off old ones, or otherwise alters what the characters have experienced to date.
Which is, of course, correct, but which does not address the central point of the Lament of the Old-Timers. We didn't have any model for that process! It was only discerned after years of careful reading-between-the-lines in various disparate sources; The Dragon, fanzines, hints in modules and rulebooks, etc. When I, and others, lament that Gygax hadn't published his own version of the Castle, I think it's implicit that we would have expected that such advice would be sprinkled throughout such a product, implicitly and explicitly. If nothing else, than by example.

Rather, when you look at the modules that TSR did, in fact, publish in the earliest years, the lessons were exactly the opposite of what James defines (and I, in large part, agree with) as the parameters of a "classic" megadungeon. Steading of the Hill Giant Chief et al weren't much given to spontaneity (although lip-service is paid to the notion that the giants will not stand idly by while adventurers make numerous forays into their lairs). There was very much the idea of "come in, clean it out, and move on to greener pastures", and it seems that Gygax himself was consciously leaning in that direction. Here's what he wrote in the DMG (p. 91):
...but when it is all over the monsters will not magically reappear, nor will it be likely that some other creatures will move into the newly available quarters the next day.
It's at odds with how we know his own Greyhawk campaign was run, but it's still an interesting (if contradictory) statement.

But back to James' argument; I think the real value in publishing a "complete" version of Castle Greyhawk (or Castle Blackmoor, or Maure Castle, or any of the various ones that dominated the early scene up in LG) would have been as an example of a starting point. Even the fabled Castle Greyhawk started as a map on paper with notes. Even if the map changed, and the notes most certainly changed based on various player activities (as well as reactions imagined by Gygax and later Kuntz), that starting point would still have been an invaluable resource to have. Most especially if it were accompanied by the briefest of introductory essays in the form of "you know, in the original campaign, none of this was lasting; once the player characters wiped out the kobolds on level 1, such-and-such happened; in your campaign it might be very different" might well have made all the difference in the world!

Instead, we had a steady stream of tournament modules (not that I've anything against them! G1-3 and D1-3 are among my favorite modules ever). They reinforced in the minds of tens of thousands of young dungeon masters (myself included) that dungeons were intended to be relatively limited in scope, have a particular theme, and as a rule end up with a fight against a Big Bad Guy to win access to the Treasure Room (or, in some cases, multiple Big Bad Guys and multiple Treasure Rooms). We learned by the only example we were given.

Imagine what would have happened if, instead of cranking out tournament modules, TSR had settled down to publish a large, if skeletal, Castle Greyhawk. A couple of lines per encounter. Encouragement to DMs to "take it and imagine the hell out of it" throughout.

James is absolutely correct when he states that a published module cannot possibly capture the ever-changing-based-on-player-actions nature of a megadungeon. However, I think that misses the point of the Lament of the Old-Timers. He says:
In every case, the changes are in response to play and it's this quality of megadungeons that makes them hard to put into a published form.
And I must disagree. Any dungeon, no matter how small, can (and should) change in response to play. Whether it's a three-room crypt or a ten-thousand-room megadungeon spanning twenty levels, the change-in-response-to-play aspect is constant. What we lacked, for years, was a model of how to properly set up such an enormous playing field in the scope of a single dungeon setting. How to get past questions of "dungeon ecology" (which Gygax admittedly didn't give a fig about in the beginning, but begrudgingly came to realize as being at least something to take into consideration)? Factions within dungeons were, apparently, a staple of Gygax's approach. A "still life" of them in action, at least as a starting point, would have been a great help in such a context. Ditto the "random zaniness" factor, noticeably lacking from the earliest module efforts of TSR.

James concludes with:
I simply don't think such a thing would ever have been possible and any attempt to present a "Castle Greyhawk" trapped in amber would necessarily feel inadequate. That's the nature of the beast and therefore I think the only way to experience a proper megadungeon is to build it yourself.
And I think here he lays the foundation of his own inconsistency. If I write my own megadungeon (which, incidentally, I have), it exists solely as a starting point. From the moment my players hit the corridors, it's up to me, as the Dungeon Master, to alter and adapt, to change and manipulate, to reflect the actions of those players and how I imagine the inhabitants would respond. If someone else downloads Castle of the Mad Archmage and does the same, or if any of us had done so with a hypothetical "complete" Castle Greyhawk from 1982, what, exactly, has changed? Each of us would have taken (or will take) it in completely different directions, according to our own DMing style and the actions of our players.

Which, I think, is the whole point.

Where the heck have I been?

I meant to wrap up the Religions of Greyhawk thing, and do a lot more work on the next level of Castle of the Mad Archmage, but I got knocked on my ass on Monday with the flu. And having to work all week (at home) through it. And my wife going into the hospital for some serious surgery (which she had today, and all is well), so I played the single parent most of the week, illness and all. And now my daughter seems to have come down with the same damn thing I did.

So... life's been busy as of late. Back to the grind soon, I hope!

EDIT: Sweet merciful Istus... seems I'm not alone! Just a quick look at my blog roll shows the same sort of post from Sword +1, Uhluht'c Awakens, and even the sainted Grognardia from a day or two ago. Nil desperandum, my dear bloggers! Across the desert lies the promised land!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Baklunish Pantheon

Istus (Goddess of Fate and destiny) N
Geshtai (Goddess of lakes, rivers, and wells) N
Xan Yae (Goddess of twilight, shadows, stealth, mind over matter, etc.) N


Is that it?

Yes. I think an argument can be made that the Baklunish don't import the deities of other pantheons into their own worship. The first is historical; if one looks at the map of the migrations of various races across the Flanaess (on p. 10 of the Guide), the Baklunish made naught but a half-hearted foray into the lands currently occupied by the nomads. The proximity of the Oeridians to the Baklunish heartland explains how the Oeridians could have taken the worship of Geshtai and Xan Yae into other lands, as they spread their own vibrant culture and most of their own pantheon. Yet no other cultures made any inroads anywhere close to the Baklunish lands. They are outsiders; aloof, and they are often portrayed as exotic strangers in some of the fiction that takes place in the Flanaess.

It should be noted, too, that Istus, for all her prominence in the setting (including having a rather large, if uneven, module named after her), is not listed as a "common" deity. She is also the only Greater God in the Baklunish pantheon (not that there are all that many Baklunish gods to choose from...). We are told that her centers of worship are Greyhawk (which boasts a small, if identifiable, native population of Baklunish extraction-- notably the only land in the Flanaess that does), Dyvers, Rauxes, Rel Mord, and Stoink. All centers of trade. It is not unreasonable to conclude that those "centers of worship" are merely for the benefit of the Baklunish traders who frequent those capitals of commerce (Stoink, we are told, is a "wasp's nest" of illegal activity, so those Bakluni indulging in the commerce of contraband might well have something of an outpost within its walls).

There is also the commentary of Gary Gygax himself on the subject:
The plan was to introduce a new pantheon of [Baklunish] deities. Obviously that never eventuated... nor will it ever unless WotC decides to do so.
EGG's (understandable) bitterness aside, it speaks to the notion that the Baklunish gods were only partially represented in the World of Greyhawk boxed set, and that their expansion was eventually supposed to have happened. To me, that reinforces the surmise that they are not included in the "common" designation for the other deities. Bear in mind, too, that a natural definition of the Flanaess would begin, not at the left-edge of the Darlene map, but rather at the line of mountains beginning at the Hellfurnaces, through the Crystalmists and Barrier Peaks, and up to the Yatils (much like the Ural mountains are said to divide Europe from Asia).

That being said, and operating on the assumption that the Baklunish haven't imported any gods from the other cultures of the Flanaess, but rather only loaned out two of their own, whose worship was disseminated through the auspices of the Oeridians, several conclusions can be made.

They tend towards neutrality, and they tend towards female deities. The lawful neutral alignments designated for Zeif and Tusmit, as well as the neutral good alignment of Ekbir support this notion obliquely, although I would daresay that a fully-developed Baklunish pantheon would display the same characteristics of the other pantheons thusfar found in Oerth; a marked tendency towards neutrality on both axes, but with certain deities of more defined alignments being presented related to specific interests.

Coming up next-- wrapping it all up, and presenting some conclusions about the nature of religion in the Flanaess.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Flan Pantheon

Allitur (God of ethics and propriety) LG(N)
Atroa (Goddess of spring and the East Wind) NG, Oeridian origin
Beory (Oerth Mother, Goddess of nature, rain) N
Berei (Goddess of home, family, and agriculture) NG
Bleredd (God of metal, mines, and smiths) NC
Boccob (God of magic and arcane knowledge) N
Bralm (Goddess of insects and industriousness) N(L), Suel origin
Celestian (God of the stars, space, and wanderers) N(G), Oeridian origin
Saint Cuthbert (God of wisdom, dedication, and zeal) LG(N)
Ehlonna "of the forests" (Goddess of forests, flowers, and meadows) NG
Erythnul (God of hate, envy, malice, and panic) CE(N), Oeridian origin
Fharlanghn (God of horizons, distance, and travel) N(g), Oeridian origin
Geshtai (Goddess of lakes, rivers, and wells) N, Baklunish origin
Heironeous (God of chivalry, honor, justice, and valor) LG
Hextor (God of war, discord, and massacre) LE
Incabulos (God of evil, plagues, and nightmares) NE
Joramy (Goddess of fire, volcanoes, anger, and quarrels) N(G)
Lirr (Goddess of prose, poetry, and art) CG
Lydia (Goddess of music, knowledge, and daylight) NG, Suel origin
Myhriss (Goddess of love and beauty) NG
Nerull "The Reaper" (God of death, darkness, and the Underworld) NE
Obad-hai (God of nature, wildlands, freedom, and hunting) N
Olidammara (God of music, revelry, rougery, and wine) NC
Pelor (God of the sun, strength, light, and healing) NG
Pholtus (God of light, resolution, and law) LG(N), Oeridian origin
Procan (God of the oceans, seas, and salt) NC, Oeridian origin
Rao (God of peace, reason, and serenity) LG
Ralishaz (God of chance, ill-luck, and misfortune) CN(E)
Sotillion (Goddess of summer, the South wind, ease, and comfort) CG(N), Oeridian origin
Telchur (God of winter, the North wind, and cold) CN, Oeridian origin
Trithereon (God of individuality, liberty, and retribution) CG
Ulaa (Goddess of hills, mountains, and gemstones) LG, unknown origin
Wenta (Goddess of autumn, the West wind, and the harvest) CG, Oeridian origin
Xan Yae (Goddess of twilight, shadows, stealth, and mind over matter) N, Baklunish origin
Zilchus (God of power, prestige, influence, money, and business) LN
Zodal (God of mercy, hope, and benevolence) NG

The Flan pantheon can be said to be the most "generic" of the various pantheons described in the World of Greyhawk Fantasy Setting boxed set, as all of the Flannae deities are also listed as being "common". As the Flan people were assimilated and/or conquered by the invading Oeridians and Suloise, so too were their Gods and Goddesses brought into the invading culture. This is a process well known to history; the Romans were the masters of such syncreticism, and the Germanic tribes (down to the Norsemen of the Viking age) were not above bringing in foreign deities they found particularly attractive or useful.

The numbers: 36 deities total, 22 male and 14 female. 9 are lawful in some respect, 7 chaotic, and 29 neutral. 19 are good and only 5 are evil. This is in keeping with the numbers we've seen in the Suel and Oeridian pantheons, more or less.

What is interesting is the nature of the Gods of Flan origin. Four of them are Greater Gods, which is a record among "common" Gods originating in a particular race (the Oeridians have 2, the Suel and Baklunish have none). And the nature of those divinities is striking in its importance.

Beory is the "Oerth Mother". The very essence of the living world, encompassing all of nature and the life-giving rain. Nerull is the God of Death; the one universal constant that afflicts all mortal races. In the Gary Gygax "Gord the Rogue" novels, he is equated with the arch-daemon Anthraxus. Pelor is the quintessential "sun god"; another universal godly archetype. Only Rao, as God of peace, reason, and serenity, seems out of place in this quartet, but that might speak to the non-warlike nature of the Flannae, whom we are told were excellent hunters but poor warriors, and which led to their eventual downfall at the hands of the more aggressive Oeridians and Suloise.

This could indicate a certain level of respect, even on a subconscious level, for the Flan from the Oeridians and Suloise. Their deities are the Big Guns, and although the Suel have three Greater Gods themselves, none of them has been accepted by the rest of the populace in the Flanaess. Only the Flan Gods are "common". Folks just don't seem to like the Gods of the Suel.

It is somewhat interesting to note that Beory's position of Oerth Mother is bifurcated by both Ehlonna "of the forests" and Obad-hai. She is the Goddess of the forests, and He the God of nature itself. It might be suggested that they form a "divine pair"; the offspring of Beory, and in their way analogous to the various divine twins whom we see throughout European pre-Christian culture (Freya and FreyR amongst the most prominent examples).


Just a couple of quick notes.

First, I've added a bunch of new pictures to the Minifigs World of Greyhawk miniatures page. There are still quite a few to go, but as they come up on eBay, I've been grabbing the pictures and integrating them. I also included a couple more comments.

Second, you may have noticed the slightly new look to the blog. Many thanks to Reit Wrecks over at Three Column Blogger for the step-by-step instructions on how to add a third column to the layout, and then how to adjust the margins between the columns. Simple and very effective.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Suloise Pantheon

Allitur (God of ethics and propriety) LG(N), Flan origin
Atroa (Goddess of spring and the East Wind) NG, Oeridian origin
Beltar (Goddess of malice, pits, and deep caves) CE(N)
Beory (Oerth Mother, Goddess of nature, rain) N, Flan origin
Berei (Goddess of home, family, and agriculture), NG Flan origin
Bleredd (God of metal, mines, and smiths) NC
Boccob (God of magic and arcane knowledge) N
Bralm (Goddess of insects and industriousness) N(L)
Celestian (God of the stars, space, and wanderers) N(G), Oeridian origin
Saint Cuthbert (God of wisdom, dedication, and zeal) LG(N)
Ehlonna "of the forests" (Goddess of forests, flowers, and meadows) NG
Erythnul (God of hate, envy, malice, and panic) CE(N), Oeridian origin
Fharlanghn (God of horizons, distance, and travel) N(g), Oeridian origin
Fortubo (God of stone, metals, and mountains) LG(N)
Geshtai (Goddess of lakes, rivers, and wells) N, Baklunish origin
Heironeous (God of chivalry, honor, justice, and valor) LG, Oeridian origin
Hextor (God of war, discord, and massacre) LE, Oeridian origin
Incabulos (God of evil, plagues, and nightmares) NE
Joramy (Goddess of fire, volcanoes, anger, and quarrels) N(G)
Kord (God of athletics, sports, and brawling) CG
Lendor (God of time and tedium) LN
Lirr (Goddess of prose, poetry, and art) CG
Llerg (God of beasts and strength) CN
Lydia (Goddess of music, knowledge, and daylight) NG, Suel origin
Myhriss (Goddess of love and beauty) NG
Nerull "The Reaper" (God of death, darkness, and the Underworld) NE, Flan origin
Norebo (God of luck, gambling, and risk) CN
Obad-hai (God of nature, wildlands, freedom, and hunting) N, Flan origin
Olidammara (God of music, revelry, rougery, and wine) NC
Pelor (God of the sun, strength, light, and healing) NG, Flan origin
Phaulkon (God of air, winds, and clouds) CG
Pholtus (God of light, resolution, and law) LG(N), Oeridian origin
Phyton (God of beauty and nature) CG
Procan (God of the oceans, seas, and salt) NC, Oeridian origin
Pyremius (God of fire, poison, and murder) NE
Rao (God of peace, reason, and serenity) LG, Flan origin
Ralishaz (God of chance, ill-luck, and misfortune) CN(E)
Sotillion (Goddess of summer, the South wind, ease, and comfort) CG(N), Oeridian origin
Syrul (Goddess of deceit, false promises, and lies) NE
Telchur (God of winter, the North wind, and cold) CN, Oeridian origin
Trithereon (God of individuality, liberty, and retribution) CG
Ulaa (Goddess of hills, mountains, and gemstones) LG, unknown origin
Wee Jas (Goddess of magic and death) LN
Wenta (Goddess of autumn, the West wind, and the harvest) CG, Oeridian origin
Xan Yae (Goddess of twilight, shadows, stealth, and mind over matter) N, Baklunish origin
Xerbo (God of the sea, water travel, money, and business) N
Zilchus (God of power, prestige, influence, money, and business) LN, Oeridian origin
Zodal (God of mercy, hope, and benevolence) NG

First, some numbers. There are 48 deities in total (owing to the large number of Gods who are unique to the Suel pantheon); 31 are male and 17 are female. 38 have some element of neutrality in their alignment, while only 12 are lawful and 14 are chaotic. 20 are good and 7 are evil.

There are some interesting duplications here, now that the Suel-only deities are included. Xerbo is almost entirely superfluous, with Zichus covering money and business, and Procan covering the seas. Magic is doubly represented by Boccob and Wee Jas, whose other sphere of influence-- death-- is also covered by Nerull.

The pattern continues throughout the pantheon; gentle Phaulkon's mastery of the winds is challenged by no fewer than four deities of Oeridian origin (Atroa, Sotillion, Telchur, and Wenta), while even Lendor as God of Time finds his role already taken by Cyndor. Fortubo, the Suel God of mountains, finds a rival in exotic Ulaa, while both Llerg and Pelor make claim to being the God of strength.

Why? Why would the Gods unique to the Suel pantheon find themselves being edged out by more popular rivals? More to the point, why would the Suel themselves bring in alien Gods that would tend to rival their own, more native Gods and Goddesses?

At the risk of playing armchair psychiatrist, this could speak to an inherent inferiority complex amongst the Suel. Once possessors of a large and powerful empire, now reduced to refugees in foreign and hostile lands, perhaps they felt that Oeridian deities might somehow be stronger than their own, failed, pantheon.

Friday, October 9, 2009

The Oeridian Pantheon

Allitur (God of ethics and propriety) LG(N), Flan origin
Atroa (Goddess of spring and the East Wind) NG
Beory (Oerth Mother, Goddess of nature, rain) N, Flan origin
Berei (Goddess of home, family, and agriculture), NG Flan origin
Bleredd (God of metal, mines, and smiths) NC
Boccob (God of magic and arcane knowledge) N
Bralm (Goddess of insects and industriousness) N(L), Suel origin
Celestian (God of the stars, space, and wanderers) N(G)
Saint Cuthbert (God of wisdom, dedication, and zeal) LG(N)
Delleb (God of reason and intellect) LG
Ehlonna "of the forests" (Goddess of forests, flowers, and meadows) NG
Erythnul (God of hate, envy, malice, and panic) CE(N)
Fharlanghn (God of horizons, distance, and travel) N(g)
Geshtai (Goddess of lakes, rivers, and wells) N, Baklunish origin
Heironeous (God of chivalry, honor, justice, and valor) LG
Hextor (God of war, discord, and massacre) LE
Incabulos (God of evil, plagues, and nightmares) NE
Joramy (Goddess of fire, volcanoes, anger, and quarrels) N(G)
Kurell (God of jealousy, revenge, and thievery) CN
Lirr (Goddess of prose, poetry, and art) CG
Lydia (Goddess of music, knowledge, and daylight) NG, Suel origin
Myhriss (Goddess of love and beauty) NG
Nerull "The Reaper" (God of death, darkness, and the Underworld) NE, Flan origin
Obad-hai (God of nature, wildlands, freedom, and hunting) N, Flan origin
Olidammara (God of music, revelry, rougery, and wine) NC
Pelor (God of the sun, strength, light, and healing) NG, Flan origin
Pholtus (God of light, resolution, and law) LG(N)
Procan (God of the oceans, seas, and salt) NC
Rao (God of peace, reason, and serenity) LG, Flan origin
Ralishaz (God of chance, ill-luck, and misfortune) CN(E)
Sotillion (Goddess of summer, the South wind, ease, and comfort) CG(N)
Telchur (God of winter, the North wind, and cold) CN
Trithereon (God of individuality, liberty, and retribution) CG
Ulaa (Goddess of hills, mountains, and gemstones) LG, unknown origin
Velnius (God of the sky and weather) N(G)
Wenta (Goddess of autumn, the West wind, and the harvest) CG
Xan Yae (Goddess of twilight, shadows, stealth, and mind over matter) N, Baklunish origin
Zilchus (God of power, prestige, influence, money, and business) LN
Zodal (God of mercy, hope, and benevolence) NG

I'm deliberately leaving demi-gods out of this listing, as I think they have a different status in the context of cultural pantheons that I'll address at a later time.

We have a few Divine Groupings here. Atroa/Sotillion/Telchur/Wenta are an obvious first choice, but it is interesting to note that their genders seem a tad out of whack. Three females and one male. Indo-European tradition allows for Divine Twins to be of either gender (Pollux and Castor, for example, or Freyja and FreyR), but a four-way split seems intuitively to want two males and two females. But it is not so. Perhaps Atroa(spring)/Wenta(autumn) and Sotillion(summer)/Telchur(winter) function as a sister/sister sister/brother combination. Perhaps some Oeridian myth recalls the bitterness felt by Telchur at being the "odd man out" (literally) and thus his affinity with the harshest time of the year. Pehaps Velnius would be their father, and this would be a myth that originated with the Oeridians?

The brotherhood/rivalry between Hextor and Heironeous is already well-attested. There seems to be a bit of a brotherly rivalry between Celestian and Fharlanghn as well, but its nature is unknown to us. Why, exactly, does Fharlanghn wander endlessly?

It's interesting that both the "noble" warriors-for-Good Gods (Saint Cuthbert, Heironeous, and Pelor) as well as the "soft" Good Gods (Allitur, Delleb, Rao, and Zodal) are here. I think it's possible the two leanings of Good; "active" vs. "passive" could have a mythological conflict.

What I find ultimately fascinating is that, looking at things from a pantheonic perspective, "common" deities like Boccob could be very different in an Oeridian church than he would be in a Suel temple. I'd probably do a whole new write-up for each, one for each perspective (i.e., pantheon).

In terms of numbers, 19 members of the pantheon have Good as part of their alignment. Only 5 have Evil. 10 are Lawful and 8 are Chaotic. A full 29 have at least some part of Neutrality (I'm pretty sure that is a trend we'll see throughout this exercise, and it's a function of Gary Gygax's innate sense that deities should be ambivalent at least on some level). There are 39 deities in all, 25 male and 14 female.

Pantheons and Henotheism

James over at Grognardia made an excellent post about the background of a certain religion in his campaign, and in the comments made the following observation:
I always found the quasi-medieval society of D&D a poor fit for the kind of religion we see in most fantasy settings. Likewise, such religion is rarely pantheonic, tending more toward a kind of weird henotheism.
Now, for the benefit of those who might not be as up on henotheism as I am (it's really weird how it's come up in two completely unrelated blogs I frequent in two days), henotheism is essentially the practice of worshiping only a single God, while acknowledging the existence of others.

While I would vehemently disagree with James on his first assertion about the suitability of quasi-medieval societies for polytheistic religions, I agree wholeheartedly with his point that most fantasy RPGs (or, at the very least, D&D and its derivatives) encourage a certain henotheism by positing a world with many Gods, but requiring clerics (and, by implication, encouraging other characters) to worship a single "patron deity". AD&D was particularly rife with this idea, and it is apparently to be found in the very original Greyhawk campaign as well, with the Gods Pholtus and St. Cuthbert only being invented so clerics in the campaign would have some sort of deity upon which to hang their spiritual hat (or, perhaps in the latter case, chapeaux). The original AD&D goldenrod character sheets even had a box for "patron deity".

Historically, of course, there is a certain precedent for such a thing. Ancient Egypt toyed with the idea, and there are some indicators that the pre-Biblican Hebrews had a similar arrangement (hence the "thou shalt have no other Gods before me" in the Commandments; it is difficult to have other Gods if no other Gods exist). The ancient Romans certainly had folks who worshiped a particular God to the exclusion of all others (although, in a key distinction between themselves and the Jews (who had an official exemption from the practice) and the Christians (who, originally, did not), they found themselves capable of making pro forma offerings of incense to the deified Emperor (and, presumably, other Gods as well). We are told that, among the ancient Norse, certain individuals were known to be especially close to certain deities, but it is unclear whether that precluded them from attending a sacrifice on behalf of another. One imagines not, but their private practice was almost certainly henotheistic.

Anyway, to the gaming point here; James made a good point about the lack of historically authentic polytheism in many (if not most) fantasy RPG settings. Greyhawk is no exception to this, although it does have the seed of a solution, originally presented in the gold boxed set. Therein, on pp. 63-64 of the Guide, we have a list of deities that includes, among other things, their racial origin (common, Oeridian, Suloise, Flan, Baklunish, and unknown).

This, I think, provides the kernel for the development of a pantheonic approach to religion, vis-a-vis Greyhawk.

When we break down the Gods listed there by pantheon, assigning the "common" deities to each, we come up with a much more interesting breakdown. Some of the more immediately notable points:
  • All of the Flan Gods are common. They have been absorbed by all the other cultures in the Flanaess. Presumably, this is because they were present when the invading Suel and Oeridians came into the Flanaess.
  • Oeridians have some unique deities, as do the Suel and Baklunish. Some of them cross over, but not all.
The listings do bring up a few questions that, as far as I know, have never been answered. Some of the "common" deities are listed with a specific racial origin, and some are not. I might speculate that this means they have retained some of their "foreign allure" even though they have been otherwise assimilated into other religions. The others, presumably, each appear in identifiable form in each religion, albeit wrapped in a completely culture-appropriate bundle.

Three Gods are listed as having "unknown" origins; Tharizdun, Wastri, and Ulaa. Tharizdun and Wastri make sense; they are not part of any pantheon, and I can easily see how their worshipers would have an exclusive bond with their Gods. However, Ulaa is also listed as being "common"! If I am following the "foreign allure" concept from above in such cases, it leads me to the conclusion that she is present throughout the three cultural pantheons, but her presence is discordant. She's universally alien; obviously an import from someplace, as she doesn't fit in to the normal pattern of worship, but her cultural foreignness is truly foreign. Where Pholtus speaks with an Oeridian accent, nobody can quite place Ulaa's.

In the next day or two, I'll post the specific breakdowns by pantheon as it relates to the World of Greyhawk, along with a few thoughts on the implications of each.

Regionalizing Humanoids

Honestly, what is the difference between an orc, a hobgoblin, a goblin, a kobold, and a gnoll? It's not hit dice; they range from 1-1 to 2 HD, hardly a vast range (3+1 if you include bugbears, but the point remains). Some are lawful evil, others chaotic evil; the way I play them, that would be seen as a difference in tactics (LE being prone to fighting in close order squares, with CE attacking in swarms), but that's not necessarily a universal thing. Weapons? Pole arms, mostly.

And if there's no real difference between them, why have different species of humanoid in the first place

One way to give them that real difference would be to distinguish them by geography. I could envision a campaign where, say, there are humanoids all over the place, but where you go determines what sort of humanoids you find. This could be done in the Flanaess; the hobgoblins of the Great Kingdom, the orcs of Iuz and the Bandit Kingdoms, goblins as the scourge of the Sheldomar Valley, etc. That would give some nice flavor in terms of distinguishing one area from another, as well as providing for a means of tipping off players that something's Not Quite Right ("Those were kobolds! There shouldn't be a kobold within a thousand miles of here

Another way to regionalize your humanoids is to give them some real distinguishing characteristics or abilities that differ by geography. If you just have to have your orcs and goblins shuolder-to-shoulder across the land, you can still break things up and give the players an unexpected twist. Perhaps the orcs in the northern Vesve Forest have honed their archery skills out of necessity from combatting the nearby elves, and now have a +1 to hit with the longbow (which is carried by 75% of them in addition to their regular weapons). The hobgoblins of the Bone March, on the other hand, might have mastered the giant lizards of the region, and formed a force of cavalry mounted on the beasts. Perhaps the goblins of the Pomarj are chaotic evil rather than lawful, and their behavior and tactics will be changed as a result. The kobolds of the Hollow Highlands could get a +1 to hit with their trademark blow guns.

Humanoids don't have to be as cookie-cutter as they are in many games, or as uniform as they are presented in the Monster Manual. On the other hand, their modifications shouldn't be capricious (well, *these* gnolls are blue, and they have 8 HD each!). Assigning the characteristics by region helps with both of these goals.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Back in the Old Digs

You know, I should have known it wouldn't last when I couldn't bring myself to take down the laminated Darlene Greyhawk maps from my office wall.

I'm not giving up my plans to create a homebrew campaign, or tinkering with the rules (or even develpoing my own completely new game), but ultimately there's no way I'm going to give up my beloved WoG completely. So... I'm back in the old blog!

I've imported all the posts and comments from the Grognard's Lawn, so nothing will be lost, and no need to jump back and forth between the two. I'll be taking down TGL completely in a week or so, once everybody has a chance to get the news.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Real-Life C.H.U.D.s!

Well, not really (these too look way too ill-fed, for one thing), but this article over at The Sun got me thinking, quite naturally, to my gaming-addled brain, about those who live in underground environments.

Are these not the orcs and goblins of which our games spin tales, who dwell within the nameless darks, venturing forth to plunder from the surface world in order to drag their loot into their subterranean dwellings?

In all seriousness, it's a tragic thing that folks need to live like this, but it did give me a game-related idea. What if there were ordinary folks who just lived in the dungeons because they chose to? What if there were just first-level shmoes who had a room tucked away in the dungeon, off the beaten track, who knew some of the ins and outs and called some abandoned storage room home? No monsters, no rakshasa or wererat trying to lull the player characters into a false sense of security. Just people. Villagers in the dungeon, but not all conveniently put together where the PCs can figure out who is most likely friend or foe.

Think Newt from "Aliens", or Marvin in "Die Hard 2", or any number of characters from "Beauty and the Beast".

Oh... it makes the rakshasas and wererats all the worse, because the players won't know when they should or shouldn't trust the "nice, ordinary folks" they find in the tunnels. Friend? Foe? I can't tell!

It gives much more meaning to the "parley" option. Such dwellers would know at least the local topography, beasties, etc. and might be inclined to share their information for some loot, or food, or news, or whatever. Or they could turn out to be a nest of doppelgangers and kill off the party one by one. Muhahahaha...