Thursday, December 31, 2020

Half-Ogre/Ogre Race-as-Class for B/X

In a wonderfully weird way to end 2020, this post exists because the cleric in my solo campaign just got polymorphed into an ogre when setting off a magical trap...

Half-ogre PC by  Timothy Truman

Requirements: STR 9, CON 9

Prime Requisite: STR

Hit Dice: 1d10

Maximum Level: 10

Armor: Any appropriate for size, plus shields

Weapons: Any

Languages: Alignment, Common, Goblin, Orc

Combat Progression: as a Fighter

Saves: as a Fighter

XP Progression: as a Fighter

Ogre Strength: +2 to Attack and Damage in Melee Combat

Stronghold: An Ogre may start building a stronghold at 2nd level

Weaknesses: -2 on all Reaction Rolls; -2 to hit Small Creatures (like Halflings and Dwarves)

After Reaching 9th Level: An Ogre will be recognized by humanoid populations as a Warlord and the Ogre will attract humanoid followers from far and wide. Ogres may only hire humanoid mercenaries. Specialists and retainers may be of any race.

Here's to better polymorphs and transformations in 2021.

Have a happy and blessed New Year.

Friday, December 25, 2020

Christ is Born!

Notice that the Christ child is wrapped in burial clothes and lying in a tomb underground

 I wanted to take a moment on this strange and lonely Christmas to not only wish you joy and a Merry Christmas, but to remind all of us that Christ is born today because we are in pain. The peace and the joy the Christian world proclaims today may seem hollow, but contemplate the following hymn of the Orthodox Church:

Born of a Virgin, O Good One who also endured crucifixion for our sake, who by death took the spoils of death as plunder and showed resurrection, being God, O despise not the ones that You formed with Your own hand. Demonstrate Your love for man, O Lord of mercy, and accept Your Mother, the Theotokos, who intercedes on our behalf, O Savior, and save us a despairing people.

He who holds all things in His hand is lying in a feeding trough. He is preparing to go to the Cross, to suffer and to die so that we might have a path through the pain and the despair into the hope and joy of His Kingdom. I am always reminded that He knew me then, when He was born. He knew me when he went to the Cross. Despite this, He still went, for me and for you.

Christ is Born! Glorify Him!

Thursday, December 10, 2020

TLoS: The Fighter

One of my goals in this little experiment is to demonstrate that at its core, 5e is just a bunch of mechanics. The reason this is important to me is that once seen as simply mechanics, there is a tremendous amount of freedom that we have as players of the game to describe those mechanics any way we want to.

At a fundamental level, this is why I prefer older versions of the game and the retro-clones that emulate them — they deal mainly with mechanics rather than the special effects those mechanics represent. It frees those of us who play the game to interpret those mechanics to look the way we want them to without all the effort that I am putting into this little project.

For someone like me, the level of detail that 5e goes to when it describes what their mechanics look like is an unending irritation. For example, one of the 1st level spells available to the TLoS fighter is Hail of Thorns. We are told that:

 the spell creates a rain of thorns that sprout from your ranged weapon or ammunition

What if I want it to be a troop of fey that appear and fire their weapons with my character? Or what if I want the plants of the area to throw parts of their leaves and bark at the creature my character is firing at? Why can't the arrow hit the ground in front of the target and then explode into hundreds of little thorns into the face of the creature? There are all kinds of ways the mechanics of this spell can be described and rather than allowing imagination to run wild with the rules as written, I am forced to ignore hundreds of pages of fluff.

Enough are a pair of .PNG files that redefine the 5e mechanics for the Ranger and turns them into an evocative version of the fighter, in the spirit of BX:



Wednesday, December 9, 2020

5e & 4+3 Campaign Notes: The Land of Songs

 My eldest requested that I do a write-up of one of the worlds suggested by my last post. I'll cover some of the foundational stuff in this post, and then follow up with the seven classes re-skinned so as to make sense in the world that emerges from this little thought experiment. Thus, I bring you The Land of Songs:

Known by the humans as Leóthland and the dragon kin as Eordracân, The Land of Songs is what most of the world calls the largest island in the world, at the center of the map above. The people of that island, however, know the entire world as The Land of Songs. This is due to their songs of how the world came to be.

The humans and dragon kin of The Land of Songs worship the Song of the Land, who is known in three particularities: Wóthbora the Singer, Leód the Song, and C'hor the Dancing. The Land was once one, sung into existence by Wóthbora through His Song while C'hor was dancing over the abyss. 

Wóthbora gave language to the dragons so as to help teach humanity, to whom he gave the ability to sing — to be co-creators with Him. Rather than use their gifts to sing in harmony with Leód, humanity and dragon kind built an earthly empire that sought the heavens by their own power. So, Wóthbora stripped humanity of the Song, and the dragon kin of either their wings or their intelligence and ability to speak. He then broke the Land into islands separated by the sea. 

Humanity and the dragon kin fell into silence and darkness; however, Wóthbora preserved one peoples and gave the Song back to them. These are the people of the Land of the Song, who strive to heal the wounds of the Land by teaching the world to Dance with the Song.

This is no easy task. It takes brave adventurers to cross the sea into unknown territories filled with ancient ruins from the fallen empire of humans and dragons. Shadows and monsters lurk within. The people of the Land, however, know that each island has its own melody that can add to the Song. Should the island be cleansed and  that melody be found, the island will return to its place as part of The Land of Songs.

Saturday, December 5, 2020

5e & 4 + 3

Last month, James over at Grognardia reflected on how the "4+3" structure of how B/X presents classes is simple, sturdy, flexible, and helps build a world that feels real

While 5e is not my preferred rule-set (I would play 0e, Holmes, or B/X before I play any other edition), I think it is by far the best of the "new school" editions and (depending on the day) I might even admit that I would rather play it than 1e ADnD. 

One of the reasons I am not enthusiastic about 5e is precisely the reason that it so radically departs from the 4+3 presentation of classes. If one looks merely at the core rules, there are 9 races each with at least two variants and 12 classes with at least two variants each. All told, there are thousands of different mechanical ways to represent a character. Add in the various splat books and this number goes up exponentially. In other words, the only descriptor that can still be applied to both BX and 5e is "flexible," though I probably prefer the word "chaotic" in the case of 5e.

As one might infer from reading my blog the over years, I take great delight in building worlds based on what can be inferred from the rules and mechanics of the game. BX is a fantastic vehicle for this approach. 5e makes such a project virtually nigh impossible due to information overload; however, one of the things I do like about 5e is that it does present all this information as optional. It empowers the DM to put limits on which rules get used and which do not. 

Thus, it invites me to apply the "4+3" paradigm to the races and classes of 5e. What follows is, I hope, inspiring because what I consider to be the "core classes" is, in some cases, not what one might expect. 

Note:  I do have access to a pair of the splat books and am taking advantage of them due to some thematic elements found therein.


World One 

Core Classes 


Paladin (Oath of Vengeance), Variant Human with Heavy Armor Master Feat 


Barbarian (Path of the Zealot), Variant Human with Durable Feat 


Rogue (Arcane Trickster Archetype), Variant Human with Ritual Caster Feat 


Monk (Way of the Shadow), Normal Human 



Barbarian (Path of the Berserker), Mountain Dwarf 


Fighter (Eldritch Knight Archetype), High Elf 


Rogue (Assassin Archetype), Stout Halfling


World Two

Core Classes 


Sorcerer (Divine Soul Origin), Variant Human with Fey Touched or Shadow Touched Feat 


Fighter (Rune Knight Archetype), Variant Human with Fey Touched or Shadow Touched Feat


Warlock (Archfey Patron), Variant Human with Fey Touched Feat 


Rogue (Phantom Archetype), Variant Human with Shadow Touched Feat



Ranger (Fey Wanderer), Half-elf


Wizard (Blade Singing), High Elf


Wizard (School of Illusion), Forest Gnome


World Three

Core Classes 


Cleric (Tempest Domain), Normal Human


Barbarian (Path of the Storm), Normal Human


Sorcerer (Storm Sorcery), Normal Human


Rogue (Swashbuckler Archetype), Normal Human



Warlock (Genie Patron), Dragonborn


Wizard (Blade Singing), High Elf


Warlock (The Fathomless Patron), Half-elf


World Four

Core Classes 


Monk (Way of Mercy), Variant Human with Healer Feat


Monk (Path of the Kensei), Variant Human with Weapon Master Feat


Bard (College of Swords), Variant Human with Ritual Caster Feat


Rogue (Swashbuckler Archetype), Variant Human with Dual Wielder Feat



Rogue (Assassin Archetype), Half-orc


Bard (College of Whispers), High Elf


Rogue (Mastermind Archetype), Half-elf


What I love about this approach is that each world has a distinct feel, grounded in the mechanics of the classes themselves. One can start imagining reasons why each class has the mechanics they do. Speaking of the mechanics, since that is all they are, we are free to re-skin everything within a class to better explain them in context of the world in which they appear.

So, which world would you like to run or adventure in?

Saturday, October 24, 2020

R.I.P. Lenard Lakofka

I just read over at Grognardia that Lenard Lakofka has passed away. James makes the observation that Lenard may be

one of the most underappreciated contributors to the growth and development of Dungeons & Dragons.

I would have to agree, especially when it comes to understanding my own history with the game. Therefore, let me set the record straight. 

As much as I love Gygax, Arneson, Holmes, and Moldvay, none of them taught me as much about being a Dungeon Master as Lakofka did. He put to page blueprints for what I experienced as a young high school kid in a sandbox campaign run by a college student. That campaign opened my eyes as to what D&D could be and I wanted my campaigns to look and feel like that one did. The only TSR publications that ever came close to showing me how to duplicate that experience where Lakofka's The Secret of Bone Hill and The Assassin's Knot.

Though I never ran Bone Hill, I am always striving to make sure my campaigns have the feel that exudes from Bone Hill on paper. Though Assassin's Knot was one of my first true failures as a DM, I still make sure my worlds have factions and humans as the true villains and monsters. Yeah, of all the guys who ever wrote for TSR, Lenard is the one who really taught me to be the DM (or Referee as I prefer) I am today.

Thanks Lenard, and as we Orthodox say, may your memory be eternal.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Holmes and AD&D Weapon vs Armor Class

There is an interesting comment on this post over at Grognardia that points out that the 1e PH has a relatively simple set of rules for combat on pages 104-5. Since the Holmes Basic Set suggests Advanced Dungeons & Dragons as the "more complete rules," I found it very interesting that there are some significant differences between the way combat is presented in these two editions: initiative and the length of a combat round. 

Holmes bases initiative on Dexterity, the 1e PH has each side in a combat roll a d6. In Holmes, a combat round is 10 seconds, in the 1e PH the combat round is 1 minute.

Also interesting is the following quote about Weapon Factors:

You have already seen information regarding the damage each type of weapon does, how heavy each is, how long and how much space each needs, and each weapon's relative speed factor. The same charts also give relative efficiency against armor types. Your referee will use these factors in the determination of melee combats by relating them to his Attack Matrices.

I love how the war gaming roots of D&D can be seen in those last two italicized words. More interstingly, however, is the fact that all of this information about weapons don't really belong in the abstract 1 minute rounds of the 1e PH. On the other hand, the 10 second round of Holmes invites the kind of realism these Weapon Factors seem to want to emulate. 

Long time readers of this blog will know that I have a deep fascination with both Holmes and Weapon vs. Armor Class tables. Given the fact that Holmes states:

The combat tables used by D&D gamers are often extremely complicated. Full tables are given in Advanced Gungeons & Dragons. The tables below are deliberately simplified...

I began to wonder if it were possible to reconcile the "extremely complicated" combat tables from the 1e PH and the Holmes Basic Edition by assuming the Holmes was more correct than the 1e PH. The result was the following table:

A couple of notes before I begin explaining some of the implications of this table:

  1. I interpreted Space Required as how many people could fit in a 10 foot square, with a maximum of 3 standing shoulder to shoulder.
  2. I used the variable damage dice from the 1e PH rather than a universal 1d6
  3. I only used those weapons listed in the equipment list of Holmes and their cost
  4. I averaged all of the various factors of all the pole arms not explicitly named in Holmes to come up with stats for the generic "pole arm" listed in Holmes
  5. I did the same for the generic "sword" listed in Holmes
  6. I stuck to Melee weapons for the present, because Missile Combat in Holmes is a completely different phase of combat
  7. I chose to use armor class ranges to represent Plate Mail, Chain-type Mail, Leather Armor, and Unarmored so as to make things easier when looking at Monster Stats
  8. I used AC 3, 5, 8, and 10 in the 1e PH to represent the armor classes from Holmes 
  9. Note: all of this is possible because Dexterity in Holmes does not affect Armor Class

Lets deal with Speed and Initiative first. Holmes has Dexterity = Initiative. Speed would subtract from a character's Dexterity Score to end up with a final Initiative. Thus, a Fighter with a Dex 11 using a Sword would have a 6 Initiative. 

The 1e PH describes surprise in terms of 6 second phases and states that a surprise attack can happen in that short amount of time. Given that a combat round in Holmes is 10 seconds, it suggests that a character with an Initiative of over 10 could attack twice in a round. Thus, anyone with a Dex 13+ could attack twice a round with a dagger and thus explain that most controversial statement by Holmes that daggers can be used twice per round. It also suggests that ending up with a negative Initiative means that a weapon is too unwieldy for the character to use.

This creates a problem when it comes to Pikes, which have a speed of 13; however, I would argue that with their extreme reach, they can engage targets while Missile Combat is still in effect. The huge speed indicates that a Pike in normal melee is too cumbersome for most characters to actually use.

Another implication of this table is that Plate Mail is better than advertised. Most weapons have a penalty to hit it. The real exception to this is the Two-Handed Sword; however, it has a 10 speed and only one person can wield it in a 10ft. corridor. I also find that the Morning Star is possibly the best weapon overall, rather than the ubiquitous Sword.

While this might all be fascinating, it does run up against a serious problem when trying to apply all of this to monsters. There are several of solutions here that I think would be fair:

  1. Make use of all those detailed weapon % tables that the MM1 has for most of the humanoid monster entries
  2. The average weapon speed of all the weapons above is 7. This can be universally applied to all monsters who use weapons. The 1e PH lists Fist, Unarmed with a Speed of 1. This can be applied to all monsters that don't use weapons.
  3. One could use an Initiative system based on size: Small Creatures get 3d6, Medium get 2d6, and Large get 1d6 with no additions or subtractions.
This, of course, would need to be play tested, but I think this is the closest I have ever come to making a Weapon vs. Armor Class Table that I would actually use at the table.

Friday, September 11, 2020

Towards a Holmesian Dungeon

What follows is not anything particularly new. Many of these ideas have been present within the hobby and explored throughout the years I have been maintaining this blog. My interest here is codifying what I consider to be the characteristics of a dungeon that can truly be called Holmesian — by which I mean a dungeon that puts into practice what the Holmes Basic Edition presents as Dungeon. It has been a quest of mine to find and/or create such a dungeon. This is intended to help both me and anyone else who shares this particular quixotic quest. 

My introduction to the hobby of RPGs was the Holmes Basic Edition. While it did excite my imagination and was the gateway for me to spend years of my life playing various RPGs, I never really played the game as Homes presented it until Gary Gygax’s death. In the wake of this great loss to the hobby, I returned to the pages of Holmes to revisit my youth. What I found inside that blue cover was eye opening. Not only was it as inspiring as I found it back in the late seventies, but it presented a kind of dungeon design philosophy that I have only seen put into practice in part over the many years I have played the game. 

In other words, what might be called a “Holmesian Dungeon” doesn’t introduce us to any really radical new ideas about what a dungeon is (it has been around since 1977, after all). Rather, it combines extant ideas about dungeon design in a distinct way. This uniqueness teases us with a dungeon adventure experience that, though filled familiar tropes, is, at its core, something that I really haven’t ever seen in all my years of playing. 

What I seek to do here is delineate what I believe are the explicit and implicit characteristics of what I call a Holmesian Dungeon with the aim of creating a template for such an adventure to be created.


Large Rooms 

The Example Dungeon in the Homes Basic Edition provides for several large rooms with at least one dimension of 80 to 100 feet or more. 

At first brush, one might not place much import on such a design feature, but a close reading of Holmes reveals that it is a deliberate choice. Melee movement in Holmes is slower than any other edition: an unencumbered character in Leather Armor moves 20 feet per round. Thus, larger rooms allow for encounter distances that make moving into melee a tactical choice. This is especially important for magic and missile weapons:

A magic-user must concentrate on his spell, so he cannot cast a spell and walk or run at the same time, and he certainly cannot cast a spell while engaged in combat.
Once the party is engaged in melee, arrows cannot be fired into the fight because of the probability of hitting friendly characters.

In other words, designing a dungeon with large rooms specifically allows party members to take advantage of both the magic and missile phases of the game and to choose how long these phases are in effect by determining when the party engages in the melee phase of combat. It also allows the Referee to create encounters where it is the PCs who must figure out a way to close the gap in order to avoid the magic and missile phases. 

Doors are Stuck or Locked 

Holmes states that doors are usually closed and often stuck or locked. Opening doors is an important part of the game. It affords an opportunity to surprise monsters beyond the door, but also involves a risk of ruining that surprise. Brute strength can always open a door; however, failure means alerting any monsters that are behind the door. Thieves afford the party a means of opening doors where failure is silent. Magic-users can use a valuable spell slot for a Knock spell which guarantees a silent open door. Additionally:

Doors opened will usually shut automatically unless spiked or wedged open. Doors open automatically far monsters, however, unless held or spiked shut.

Every door in a Holmesian Dungeon is a consequential tactical choice. 

I should note, that in practice, I have found that failing to open a door with brute force shouldn’t result in the door remaining shut, it simply means that the door has been opened in such a way that surprise is impossible. Having players roll again and again just to open a door is tedious and ruins the flow of exploring the dungeon. 

Traps as Non-lethal Time Wasters 

Unlike Moldvay, whose trap examples include poison gas with a Save vs. Poison or die, a ceiling block that does 1d10 damage if a Save vs. Turn to Stone is failed, and a pendulum blade that does 1d8 damage, Holmes understands that traps normally do not serve the purpose of causing damage to members of an adventuring party:

Traps should not be of the "Zap! You're dead!" variety but those which a character might avoid or overcome with some quick thinking and a little luck. Falling into a relatively shallow pit would do damage only on a roll of 5 or 6 (1-6 hit points at most) but will delay the party while they get the trapped character out. Hidden rooms, movable walls, teleportation devices, illusion rooms, dead ends, etc., make interesting variations.

Traps play the role of time waters. While some might pose an actual physical threat to player characters, they can be worked around given enough time. Along with trying to open doors, players must make the choice as to whether or not the time wasted on a trap is worth it. This choice becomes meaningful when one considers the real danger of a Holmesian Dungeon. 

Wandering Monsters are the Real Danger 

Holmes states that a Wandering Monster check should be made every three turns. Thus, everything that takes time in a dungeon brings with it the threat that monsters will come and investigate what the characters are doing. Given that Holmes specifies that a Wandering Monster on the First Level of a Dungeon might come from the Second or Third Level indicates that these Wandering Monster Encounters are not meant to be balanced or even winnable situations for the players. Dropping treasure in order to have the movement rate fast enough to run away can become a necessity. Larger rooms also allow for tactical retreat to be a realistic possibility. Implicit in this Holmesian reality is that a Dungeon Level can never truly be cleared…but more on that below. 

Empty Rooms 

Of the twenty-two rooms keyed in the Sample Dungeon of the Holmes Basic Edition, eight are labelled as Empty. Like the locked doors and time-wasting traps, these serve the specific function of forcing characters to make tactical choices as to whether or not spending time in a room that may or may not have a secret door or hidden treasure is worth it. Of course, there is a danger that game-play with become monotonous and boring as players encounter empty room after empty room. This is where the Implicit characteristics of a Holmesian Dungeon become important. 


The Three Eras 

(Empty Rooms are Not Really Empty) 

One of the curiosities of the Holmes Basic Edition can be found in its presentation of Magical Scrolls. Besides those that have a Protection Spell, scrolls are only usable by Magic-users. Additionally, there are scrolls that have spells that mimic the special effects of Magical Rings, Potions, and Wands. Implicit in this presentation of Scrolls are at least two different eras: 

  • The Present Era, in which Divine Magic is something new enough that scrolls cannot be found within the Dungeon. 
  • The Ancient Era, which knew powerful spells which now only exist on scrolls buried within the Dungeon. 
  • Since the difference between these two is so stark, there probably is also a Quondam Era between the two in which the ancient arcane magics are lost. 

Thus, an empty room need not simply be empty, but can tell a story about a bygone era through the materials used to construct it, the mundane items left behind, and the art and architecture of those who once lived there. This information adds to the weight of the players’ tactical choice of whether a room is worth exploring. 

Powerful Magics Lie Within 

Spells once existed where creatures like dragons and giants could be controlled. Thus, the magics available to those who came before are far beyond what player characters might ever be able to accomplish. Thus, a Holmesian Dungeon itself would reflect this reality — magic was once far more powerful than it is in the present. 

The Dungeon is Malleable 

The primary way this reality manifests itself is through malleability.In its most basic form, this malleability is demonstrated by the ever-present threat of Wandering Monsters. There is, however, an implication that this malleability affects the physical nature of the Dungeon itself. Over time, the dungeon changes to adapt to the new realities of the adventurers that explore it. 

The Dungeon itself is an NPC 

In other words, the Dungeon itself acts as a semi-intelligent, malevolent creature that continually offers up the lure of powerful magic and treasure in order to entice adventurers of all stripes, hoping to lead the to their potential deaths. It is never too challenging, else why would just anyone venture into its depths? No, it offers just enough to make things interesting; however, those ever present Wandering Monsters are there to devour the unsuspecting.

Question: Is there a published Adventure Module out there that ticks all of these boxes? I do not know of one.

Sunday, September 6, 2020

Saintly Saturday: The Miracle of Archangel Michael at Colossae

…on Sunday 

It has been quite awhile since I did a Saintly Saturday, where I look to the Feasts of various Saints as an inspiration for RPG world-building and adventure. In my last post, I noted how James Maliszewski of Grognardia fame published a post about a map I drew for him about a decade ago. The map is of a ruined monastery that once guarded the world from foul aberrations of Chaos that bubble forth from the crags of Urheim. 

It occurred to me that the The Feast of the Miracle of the Archangel Michael at Colossae, celebrated on September 6th, tells a tale that could have been an inspiration for someone running a campaign around the concept of The Monastery of St. Gaxyg-at-Urheim. 

In what is now southwestern Turkey, there was a region called Phrygia and a city called Hierapolis. 

Roman Amphitheater at Hierapolis

Not far from the city was a church dedicated to the Archangel Michael. It was built by a pagan who had a vision of the Archangel directing him to have his mute daughter drink from a spring. After partaking, she gained her speech. He converted and had the church built over the spring.

The region had once been dominated by a pagan cult dedicated to some kind of serpent god. According to a 5th-7th century account of the Miracle at Colossae, Sts. John the Evangelist, Philip the Apostle, and Mariamne, Philip’s sister:

Slew the viper with prayer, as with a spear, putting it to death through the power of Christ.

The Tomb of St. Philip at Hierapolis

It should also be noted that there was a pagan underwater spring called the Plutonium. It emitted poisonous gas and was thought to be an entrance into Hades. 

Plutonium: Enter at Your Own Risk

About ninety years after the church was built, a boy called Archippos traveled to the Plutonium. Repelled by the gas, he went to the spring at the church and decided to dedicate his entire life to Christ. This was a pattern that repeated itself enough that the local pagans decided to destroy the church. For ten days, they worked to divert two rivers in order to wash away the church and the spring that was attracting so many to Christ. Archippos remained in the church praying fervently for the protection of God. Just as the pagans released their dam to unleash the rivers, the Archangel appeared and drove a staff into the ground, causing an earthquake that opened a chasm down which the waters flowed. 

Waterfalls at Honaz

The pagans ran and the locals changed the name of the place from Colossae to Chonae, which means “plunging.” Today the city is called Honaz. In subsequent years, the area was ravaged by Persian invasion, multiple earthquakes, and civil war. The ruins of Hieropolis are a tourist spot where people bathe in baths and springs to this day. 

Thermal Springs near Hierapolis
This story has everything for the beginnings of a megadungeon-centered campaign:

  • A snake cult 
  • The tomb of a saint that fought the snake cult
  • A ruined church/monastery
  • A chasm with a waterfall
  • Magical pools
  • An entrance into the underworld
  • An earthquake revealing parts unknown underground
  • A miracle describing the local geography
  • Invasions and civil wars of civilizations past
I think the lovely part of all this is that implied in this story are multiple entrances into the dungeon where the snake cult  still harbors hatred for the civilizations of humanity that rejected it. How cool is this?

The Monastery of St. Gaxyg-at-Urheim

About ten years ago (has it really been that long?) I drew a map for James Maliszewski over at Grognardia. At the time, there was a bit of an effort to create a "crowd sourced" megadungeon that used contributions from a variety of volunteers. Being a bit of a map geek, I drew several that James was pleased enough with that he shared them with the world at large. 

If you hadn't noticed, after a long hiatus, James has started posting again over at Grognardia. He also let me know that he wanted to do something with one of those maps I drew all those years ago. You can find his musings here

As a thank you, I thought I'd share another map that I drew for my own version of St. Gaxyg-at-Urheim. It briefly showed up in my Lost Colonies campaign very early on when Hamlen lost his beloved spiked club down an underground river. That river led to an underground waterfall which is at the bottom of the map. The club was found, some orcs were felled and then the party went off on one of their many tangents. Enjoy!


Friday, August 28, 2020

5e Also Knows How to do Monsters

In my last post, I admitted that I could not speak for 5e, due to my relative unfamiliarity with it, but made that case that monsters in MM1 are implicitly and explicity personifications of something seriously wrong with the world. Out of curiosity, I decided to look up the monster descriptions from several of the monsters I used as examples from the MM1 in the 5e MM. This is what I found: 

Blink Dog

Blink dogs harbor a long-standing hatred for displacer beasts and attack them on sight. 


Some sages believe the bulette is the result of a mad wizard's experiments at crossbreeding snapping turtles and armadillos, with infusions of demon ichor. 

Displacer Beast

The warriors of [the Unseelie Court] selectively bred the beasts to reinforce their ferocious and predatory nature, using them to hunt unicorns, pegasi, and other wondrous prey. 


The origin of the gnolls traces back to a time when the demon lord Yeenoghu found his way to the Material Plane and ran amok. 


Across the borderlands of civilization, settlements and settlers must contend with these aggressive humanoids, whose thirst for conquest is never satisfied. 


Grasping his mighty spear, he laid waste to the mountains, set the forests aflame, and carved great furrows in the fields. Such was the role of the orcs, he proclaimed, to take and destroy all that the other races would deny them. To this day, the orcs wage an endless war on humans, elves, dwarves, and other folk. 


The most common theory is that a demented wizard created the first specimen by crossing a giant owl with a bear. 

So, 5e also knows how to do monsters, too.

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

D&D Does (Did) Know What Monsters Are

Talysman, over at Nine and Thirty Kingdoms, has highlighted a post over at Throne of Salt which makes the claim that D&D doesn't know what monsters are.  Their conclusion is that monsters should be a symptom that somewhere, somehow the world has gone seriously wrong and that the way D&D does monsters fails in this regard. 

Now, I cannot speak about later editions of the game (though I can believe this of 5e, which seems to have forgotten how to teach players how to play the game), but I can speak for 1e. The MM1 was one of my very first purchases when I got into the hobby, and I spent many hours as a kid being inspired by what was depicted therein. I can, without hesitation, say that the MM1 explicitly and implicitly depicts monsters as symptoms of something gone horribly wrong.

Take the entry on the Bulette:

 The bulette (or landshark) was thought to be extinct until recently when this horror reappeared. It was a result of a mad wizard's experimental cross breeding of a snapping turtle and armadillo with infusions of demons' ichor.

Some idiot magic-user went and pulled a Frankenstein, but we took care of it. What? The monster is still out there? Who has been mucking with magics that shouldn't be messed around with?

Or, how about the Ghoul:

Ghouls are “undead” once human creatures which feed on human and other corpses. Although their change from human to ghoul has deranged and destroyed their minds, ghouls have a terrible cunning which enables them to hunt their prey most effectively.

Couple this with the entry on Ghasts, which boast an Intelligence of 11-12, you have the makings of a cult that seeks to cheat death through cannibalism. While functionally undead, these creatures are actually human.

Of course, there is the Owlbear:

The horrible owlbear is probably the result of genetic experimentation by some insane wizard.

Those pesky wizards, trying to play God in their towers, churning all kinds of vile things into the world. 

My favorite examples, though, are statements like this one, under Hobgoblin:

If elves are nearby, hobgoblins will attack them in preference to any other troops because of the great hatred they bear.

Similar statements can be found under kobolds, blinkdogs and displacer beasts. These statements invite us to imagine why such hatred exists in the first place — something is terribly wrong and these monsters are personifications of it.

So, for those of us who want to have archetypal evil in our FRPG worlds with monsters who personify sin, D&D has done us right since at least 1979.

Saturday, August 8, 2020

World Building with the Noahide Laws

In my last post, B.W. Byers asked me if I had ever looked at the Noahide Laws as a model for a pre-historic law/religious system for a FRPG setting. For those unfamiliar, they are a set of laws said to have been followed by Noah and his descendants after the flood. They seem to be implied in the admonitions God give Noah in Genesis 9:
But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood. And for your lifeblood I will require a reckoning: from every beast I will require it and from man. From his fellow man I will require a reckoning for the life of man. Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.
They are also implied by both the Book of Jubilees, a pseudographical book dated to the second century B.C., as well as Acts 15, where the Council of Jerusalem decides that Gentiles do not need to be circumcised but:
that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality (v.29).
The earliest compilation of the laws can be found in the Tosefta, a collection of Jewish oral law dated to A.D. 189. The laws can also be found in the Talmud.

Traditionally, the laws can be enumerated as follows:
Not to worship idols.
Not to curse God.
To establish courts of justice.
Not to commit murder.
Not to commit adultery, bestiality, or sexual immorality.
Not to steal.
Not to eat flesh torn from a living animal.
The Noahide Laws are simpler than the Ten Commandments and yet still feel very grounded Scripture. In other words, this is an interesting starting place to create a world that feels both similar yet alien.

Bringing out the alien nature of a campaign world can begin with the law about murder. In Genesis, this law concerns bloodshed and this is echoed in the Tosefta. This brings up a dilemma, because God seems to demand that blood be shed for blood. While one could argue that He is warning us of the cycle of violence that revenge creates, it is also an opportunity to start building a society around the Noahide Laws based on various castes where a Law is either abrogated or specifically applied. If blood is to be shed for punishing murderers or in defense of a city from an invading force, a society needs a caste or classification of people who are allowed to break the Law of Bloodshed without fear of retribution from the Law.

Thus, I decided to take an ancient Hebrew letter and use it as both a symbol and a name for each of the castes:


Related to the Latin letter 'B'

The letter 'Bet' is associated with Family, so I thought it appropriate for representing the caste associated with sexual immorality. In a Scriptural context, this caste would be a place to protect victims: widows, orphans, and the abused. It is here that I am going to borrow one of the better ideas from The Witcher practitioners of arcane magic are rendered sterile in exchange for the power they gain from becoming a spell caster. Since, victims are damaged and see sexual relations in a broken way, the choice to become sterile in exchange for power becomes a much easier choice. Consequently, it would make sense that in context of the Noahide Laws that the Wizard's Guild would be the new family for the widow, orphan, and abused. One interesting side effect of this idea is that Magic-users are more likely to be women than men.


Related to the Latin letter 'A'

The letter 'El' is associated with Leadership and Power, appropriate for the caste responsible for setting up courts of justice. This would be the de facto aristocracy of the society, where leaders are known by the title Judge. Given that this is a pre-Davidic reality, however, this caste is not hereditary. It is something one must earn.


Related to the Latin letter 'E'

The letter 'Hey' is related to the verb Reveal. Societies are quite capable of mistaking medicine, science and certain creative acts as blasphemy by muscling in on what properly belongs to God (as the creator of all things). Thus, I thought this caste would be a place where such endeavors can happen in their proper context. Alchemists, blacksmiths, physicians, etc. all belong to this caste.


Related to the Latin letter 'M'

The letter 'Mem' is related to Blood, so it was a no-brainer to have this be the caste responsible for soldiering and execution.


Related to the Latin letter 'S'

The letter 'Shin' is associated with Eating, so it made sense to have this caste be related to the law against eating from a live animal. This caste would involve all those professions responsible for  processing animals into food: butchers, herders, hunters, etc.


Related to the Latin letter 'X'

The letter 'Sin' is related to the verb Grab. As such, I thought it a good fit for those who need to Steal legally — tax collectors; however, in context of a FRPG it also opens up the possibility for a legitimate version of the Thieves' Guild trope and a place for the Rogue/Thief class to have an official place within society. I am reminded of the classic Japanese movie The Taxing Woman.


Related to the Latin letters 'I & 'J'

The letter 'Yad' is associated with Worship, so this is another no-brainer: this is the priestly caste and a home for clerics. As an aside, the Noahide Laws are a polemic against paganism. The implication here is that the 'gods' worshipped by pagans are creatures, something that I have mediated on before in context of Deities & Demi-Gods.


Finally, we have the letter 'Ghah' which is associated with Rope, Twisting, Dark, and Wickedness. This symbolizes everything outside of Society — Chaos, in the tripartite alignment system of older versions of D&D. There are several things I like about this. Rope implies that those who have rejected the Noahide Laws are bound by sin. Twisting dovetails nicely into my Tolkien-inspired understanding of humanoids. Dark and Wicked nicely describe what monsters ought to be. As a bonus, while every letter used above has an analogue in the modern Hebrew, Greek, and Latin alphabets, Ghah has none. It is a nice reminder that Scripture tells us that God created everything from nothing and without God we return to the nothing from whence we came.

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Revisiting World-Building and Clerics

JB of BX Blackrazor has been interested in having religion being part of his RPG experience for a long time. As a consequence, our two blogs have bounced off of each other several times over the years. So, it came as no real surprise that JB decided to use my last post as a jumping off point for discussing his current state in the ongoing struggle of all us who play D&D with Alignment. As it so often happens with these kinds of things, JB has inspired me to revisit a post I did earlier this year on world-building.

In his own attempts at world-building for the purpose of creating a campaign that he could be entertained by for the rest of his life, JB wanted to ground his world by
…picking an epoch in our real world past that is so far removed from today that who knows WHAT might have happened "way back then"
To this end, he has gone far back enough in time that Judeo-Christianity is not a thing. He does, however, indicate that he still wants his cosmology to be sensible.

He opts for what he calls a “New Age-y” cosmology than boils down to a form of pantheism. Historically speaking, the word “pantheism” was coined in the late 17th century and as a concept only really ever showed up as a tendency in other non-pantheistic religious traditions.

While not my cup of tea, he does pose a world-building conundrum that I find tantalizing: how would I build a FRPG game world based on a real world human epoch in the far distant past? As suggested by the title of this post, this isn’t my first time meditating on such things, but JB lays out a few needs that I find inspiring:

  • The cosmology need to be sensible
  • There needs to be a answer as to what is evil and how it came about
  • The cosmology needs to justify the existence of a megadungeon as a central focus of the campaign

In a move that will surprise no one, I am going to turn to the Biblical narrative of Genesis for a lot of these answers; however, where I go in Genesis may be unexpected:
So the Lord dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth. And from there the Lord dispersed them over the face of all the earth. — Genesis 11:8-9
So, the idea here is that Tower of Babel represents that move away from the monotheism of ancient man towards the development of a pagan pantheon as humanity moved from hunter gatherers to agriculture. The people who built the Tower seek to elevate themselves and the gods they have created to the heavens. God came down (which in a Christian context would have been the Angel of the Lord, aka the pre-incarnate Christ) and scattered the people and confused their tongues. In a fantasy context, this could be the genesis of all the various fantasy races. Humanoids in this context can be seen as members of the different races that are twisted because they continue to strive for the goals of the builders of the Tower in defiance of God.

This event also marks the collapse of the prior, more technologically and magically advanced age. These artifacts are not inherently evil, though one might be tempted to have the occasional intelligent sword remind players that the civilization that created the sword set itself against God. So, there would be a desire for the current civilization to recover what it could of the old and use it in a more appropriate way.

The Tower itself could be the megadungeon. The city that built it was abandoned. Given the apparent size of the building, it would be a perfect vehicle for a megadungeon. Want something resembling volcanic caves? No problem, the presence of God Himself walked down to earth using the Tower. Given that God tells Moses that anyone who looks upon the face of God would not survive, we have a lot of leeway as to what the Tower looks like in the present campaign.

In terms of building a civilizational ethos without the advent of the Covenants of the Old and New Testaments, we have the command of God to tend the garden. The People (which will cover all of the various fantasy races, given that God’s action at the Tower is the origin of all the races) are created according to the Image and Likeness and therefore bear the responsibility of representing God to creation and to lift up creation to God. Thus, being caretakers of creation and attempting to return it to a pristine condition might be the motivating factor for lifting up the sword against the humanoid hordes which seek to claim creation for their own.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

The Importance of Evil

I think I agree about the ‘creation by evil’. But you are more free with the word ‘creation’ than I am. Treebeard does not say that the Dark Lord ‘created’ Trolls and Orcs. He says he ‘made’ them in counterfeit of certain creatures pre-existing. There is, to me, a wide gulf between the two statements, so wide that Treebeard’s statement could (in my world) have possibly been true. It is not true actually of the Orcs – who are fundamentally a race of ‘rational incarnate’ creatures, though horribly corrupted, if no more so than many Men to be met today. — J.R.R. Tolkien Letter No. 153
Implied in this quote about orcs is a cultural critique of modern man divorced from God. The “rational incarnate” creature is one that has replaced God with reason, and having done so has rid the world of Good and Evil. Fundamentally, this is why I have a real problem with WotC and its new approach to orcs.

Evil, like cold, is an absence of something. In the case of cold, it is an absence of heat. In the case of evil, it is the absence of good. In a Biblical context, God is the source of all goodness, because Christ Himself tells us:
“Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.” —Mark 10:18 
Thus, when humanity elevates rationality to the point that it thinks God is no longer necessary, a biblical critique would argue that the society built on that foundation is evil. From a practical point of view, good and evil cease to make any sense.

To go back to the heat/cold analogy, imagine that we have lived our entire lives near the arctic circle and have never seen a world without ice and snow. In such circumstances, it is impossible to describe what it might be like to live in the Sahara, because we have never experienced that kind of dry heat in our lives. In the same way, if we live a life without good, we have no reference with which to understand evil.

The consequence of such a world-view is catastrophic on many levels. The first half of the 20th century saw the rise of what Tolkien might call rational incarnate societies. They murdered others and their own in the tens of millions. Absence any concept of good, rationality justified mass murder. The level I am concerned with today, however, is in the realm of stories…specifically about how we construct them in context of an RPG.

The most universal and archetypal stories that have cultural significance and last through the ages are those that at some level pit good versus evil. In my lifetime, Star Wars played with these archetypes brilliantly. Homer, Beowulf, Gilgamesh, the Bhagavad Gita, King Arthur, Shakespeare, etc. all meditate on Good versus Evil. Good yarns have good characters who have complex and interesting motivations inspired by the classic conflict of good and evil.

In context of RPGs, especially classic versions of D&D, character motivation becomes a central feature of the game. Every player has to wrestle with why their character does what they do. Every player has to wrestle with what has the most value. This is particularly true when XP isn’t exclusively given for combat. In older versions of the game where 1xp=1gp, and a goblin was worth 5 xp, getting the 500gp treasure guarded by the goblins became an exercise in weighing values. In campaigns where 1xp=1gp spent, gaining a level became an exercise of literally putting your money where your mouth is, and then living with the consequences.

In this context, orcs are the personification of the absence of good. Whether physical manifestations of sin, spawn of the fallen world, or a humanity that has turned its back on God, orcs allow us to have a reference point for what is good. Without them, every character is an orc. They may look like a human, gnome, or elf, but without the reference point of evil, everyone may as well be an orc.

In a world where everything is an orc, good stories become impossible. Archetypes disappear, because the only character motivation left is selfishness. Without evil, why do anything? When selfishness is the motivation for everyone, everything become normative. Killing millions becomes rational.

Telling stories and playing RPGs become boring and pointless.

So, for me, having a world where orcs are evil is essential for not only understanding the game, but being able to actually play it.

Friday, July 24, 2020

Orcs of My Greyhawk Campaign

Given the fact that the etymology of the word orc includes such definitions as hell-devil, evil spirit, and underworld corpse (literally, the corpses of Orcus), I (unlike WotC) have no problem calling the orcs in my version of Greyhawk evil. In fact, I have always been attracted to the idea of using Gygax’s suggestions for orc and hobgoblin tribe names to represent various different types of orcs in one of my campaigns. Thus, I am going to take several human(oid) monsters and re-skin them (with a few minor adjustments) as different types of orcs.

For the sake of practicality, every orc tribe is primarily made up of orcs by-the-book:  HD 1; AC 6; Atk 1 by weapon; Move 9; Special: -1 penalty on attack rolls in sunlight. Also for practicality, all of the following variations of orc can be found in any tribe; however, these variations are more likely to be found in certain tribes, described below.

The Skull Smashers are a haven for the Swift Orcs, for which I am going to use the stats of a goblin but up the move from 9 to 12. Thus, they survive by outmaneuvering their bigger cousins and by gathering in large enough numbers.

The Rotting Eye Orcs have figured out a way to overcome their weakness in sunlight. Their strongest warriors are infected with a magical disease that rots out their eyes and increases the other senses. One of the side-effects of this process is a lust for violence that results in a battle-frenzy. Frenzied Orcs use the same stats as berserkers.

The Slow Killers get their name, not just from their talent for torture, but from the fact that they can take their time to move either at night or day because Dusk Orcs do not suffer from the sunlight penalty of normal orcs. The Dusk Orc uses the same stats as a gnoll.

The Flesh Renders get their name from the claw-like hands of Talon Orcs. Like Dusk Orcs, Talon Orcs have no penalty in sunlight; however, they prefer to engage in unarmed combat in order to take advantage of their claws. They use the same stats as an ogrillon.

The Death Moon Orcs have a reputation of being silent killers. This is due to their heavy use of Ghost Walker Orcs, who are surprisingly nimble and quiet on their feet. They use the same stats as bugbears.

The Dripping Blade Orcs are widely feared for their reliance on Rivener Orcs. These huge orcs are strong enough to cut normal troops in half with their large blades. Rivener Orcs use the same stats as ogres.

The Leprous Hand Orcs are notorious for their use of undead. This is made possible by their heavy use of Necromancer Orcs who are able to summon skeleton warriors to bolster the ranks of the Leprous Hand. Necromancer Orcs use the same stats as a Tusken Ogre; however, instead of Mirror Image, they are able to cast Monster Summoning I (skeletons only).

The Flayers are literally feared because they are led into battle by Flagellant Orcs, who use blood magic and self mutilation to cast the spell Fear. They use the same stats as a Tusken Ogre; however, instead of Mirror Image, they are able to cast the aforementioned Fear spell.

The most powerful orcs, the Priests of Orcus, are normally only found within the Vile Rune Orcs, who are fanatic followers of the Prince of the Undead. The Priests of Orcus use the same stats as an Ogre Mage; however, instead of having the ability to shape-shift, they have the ability to cast Monster Summoning II (zombies and skeletons only).

Finally, the Long Spears is a mercenary company made up of orcs, half-orcs, and humans. Normally, their leader types are half-orc and they instill a level of discipline in their troops that make them very dangerous on the battle field. Normal troops of the Long Spears use the same stats as hobgoblins, but also gain the Special Ability that as long as they fight in formation, any damage done to one is distributed among all the Long Spears in the formation. For example, if a PC is fighting four Long Spears in formation and does 8 damage, instead of one Long Spear taking all 8, each of the four in formation will take 2 damage each.

Monday, July 20, 2020

Gazetteer for My Greyhawk Campaign

Political Divisions

Current Leader: His Majesty King Pepin I of the House of Rax, Altmeister of All Aerdi
Major military and religious power. More concerned about eastern borders than the wilderness of the campaign map.
Notes: I changed the heraldry from suns to stars because I liked the look better than the original. I am assuming that this is the Crest of the House of Rax and a direct challenge to the legitimacy of the Great Kingdom. This rivalry explains the relative disinterest the Kingdom has in the campaign map. I chose the name Pepin after Pepin the Short, founder of the Carolingian Dynasty which would go on to found the Holy Roman Empire under Charlemagne. I want the Kingdom to have that kind of vibe. 

City State of Scant
Current Leader: His Honorable Authority Mechert Szek of the Iron League
Major naval and economic power. Most influential human political entity on the campaign map.
Notes: I changed the heraldry from the knot to a cross in order to cement the major cultural difference between Civilization (represented by the Oerid, the Kingdom, and the Iron League) from the Wilderness (the rest of the map). The current seat of the Szek is in Scant, which has been relabeled as a City State. St. Nicholas is the patron saint of both sailors and merchants, so he will serve as a place holder as the Patron Saint of the Iron League until I come up with an analogue. 

Wild Coast

Disputed territory that no one bothers to control because it is resource poor. Widely known as a place of sanctuary, if a dangerous one.

Free City of Elredd
Current Leader: Mayor Morvia the Albino
A safe haven for ships trading with Highport. It is also a safe haven for pirates.

Free City of Fax
Current Leader: Mayor Rosgor the Old
While Fax does offer safe haven for most ships, it is out of the way for most trade routes; however, it is a primary destination for people who want to disappear from the rest of the world. Its residents know this and respect it.
Notes: I really like checkerboard patterns in heraldry. So, I decided that the checkerboard is to the Wild Coast as the Tricolor is to Europe. In other words, most things on the Wild Coast use a checkerboard to identify themselves, and the distinguishing feature is the difference in colors in the same way that Italy, France, Ireland, etc. all have the same flag except for the color scheme. 

Drackensgrab Peninsula (Formerly Pomarj)
Overrun by humanoid hordes. Once one of the richest areas on the campaign map. Among survivors, except for a few aristocrats in exile, this crest is not very popular. It is a reminder of past failure, death, and loss.
Notes: The hand is one of my favorite heraldic devices. Thus, I look the creative liberty to include it on my map as the symbol for The Pomarj. It is also a nod to the fact that one of the major orc tribes in Drackensgrab is called the Leprous Hand. The cross on the gauntlet is the Cross of St. Cuthbert.

The arid hills east of the Bright Desert are controlled by nomadic, wild, and warlike tribesmen. They don’t much care for interaction with outsiders.
Notes: The crest is representative of the kinds of symbols used by various tribes. I want them to have a Pictish feel about them — they are covered from head to foot in patterned tattoos.

Bodies of Water

Azur Sea

A major seaway for commerce and piracy.

Sea of Gearnat

Major storms during Spring and Fall make this a dangerous place to sail, but it is a major artery for trade, especially as the access point to the Nesser River. Raiders from the Wild Coast and the Drackensgrab Peninsula frequent these waters during the high trade months of Summer.

Woolly Bay

The original name for this body of water has been long forgotten. These waters are often foggy and telling friendly ship from foe is often difficult, thus sailors often feel as if they are woolly-headed as they sail the bay. Despite this, it is a major waterway because of the trade possibilities north of the campaign map.

Duntide River

Flows southward into the Gnatmarsh where it connects with the Nesser River.

Jewel River

About 150 miles of this winding river is navigable by large craft starting where it empties into the Azure Sea. Large sections are under control of the humanoids of the Dracuhengrab Peninsula.

Nesser River

This wide and deep river can be navigated by most seafaring ships with the right navigator. Thus, despite its relative remote location, is still a major waterway. River raiders are a constant problem.

Geographic Features


Rich in valuable minerals, these hills are arid, rough, and difficult to navigate. They are also home to hostile tribesmen that are not welcoming to outsiders.

Bright Desert

Rumored to be filled with riches and to be the location of a hidden city built by the ancient Suel, its harsh climate and native nomads turn away would-be explorers.

Celadon Forest

The southern tip of this forest is on the campaign map. It is an other-worldly place of sylvan elves and treants. Locals dare not cut trees down and only hunt with permission.

Dracuhengrab Hills

Rich in valuable minerals and the home of many terrible monsters. There are legends of a hidden resting place of one or more powerful creatures who are waiting to awaken.


These treacherous wetlands and bogs are home to a myriad of ghastly creatures and spawn clouds of biting insects in the summer months.

The Headlands

These form the central spine of the Onnwal Peninsula and form cliffs along the Azure Sea. Home to both dwarves and gnomes.
Note: Despite my dislike of the name, I decided to keep Onnwal as a name for the geographic area if not the country.

Suss Forest

A dreary, hateful place full of thorn trees, brambles and thickets. Filled with an oppressive evil atmosphere. Home to all kinds of orcs. It is used at a staging area for raids on the Wild Coast. There is a rumor that there is a lost, ruined city hidden within, but few have ever dared to try and find it.


Trees here grow to unnatural sizes, with many towering to more than 100 feet. It is the home of hardy woodsman, elves, hunters, and adventurers.

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Beginnings (My Greyhawk Campaign)

Now that I have established the map I am going to work with, it is time for me to take my own advice and read through the relevant parts of The World of Greyhawk, note what inspires me,  ignore the rest, and make changes where needed. In other words, if you are a Greyhawk purist, this series of posts is not going to be your cup of tea.

First, lets go over the things I like:

  • Three of the four main human peoples can be found on the map. The Oerid are well represented in the Kingdom of Nyrond and in Onwall. The Suel can be found on the Wild Coast and it can be assumed were the people that populated The Pomarj before the humanoid invasions. Finally, it is suggested in the text that the Wildmen found in the southern part of the Albor Alz are Flan.
  • It is implied that the current King of Nyrond is a member of the House of Rax and the rightful heir to the thrown of the Great Kingdom. The usuper and demon-infested House of Naelax currently controls the throne of the Great Kingdom.
  • The leader of Onwall is called a Szek, which is a Hungarian word for seat or chair — as in Chairman of the Board.
  • Onwall is part of an alliance called the Iron League.
  • Pomarj was overrun 63 years ago.
  • While demi-humans are mentioned in passing, they are portrayed as largely uninterested in human affairs. One possible exception may be the dwarves and gnomes of Onwall. Another is that Nyrond has demi-human troops, but they are explicitly called "scouts" and are only used in times of need.
  • There are two lost/hidden cities on the map. One is in the Suss Forest and the other is in the Bright Desert. Both appear to be built by the Suel.
  • The Wild Coast is largely ignored because it is resource poor.
  • Pirates are major factors in every single major body of water.
  • The Caledon Forest is a no-go zone for non-elves.
  • The Gnatmarsh is filled with “ghastly” creatures.
  • The Drachensgrab Hills are supposedly the home of one or more very powerful creatures that are waiting to be awakened.
  • There are several knightly orders throughout the land (though none are directly related to any place on my map).
  • Finally, I realize that they aren’t explicitly on the map, but I love the idea of the Scarlet Brotherhood.

Now, to things I will specifically change:

  • I realize that this technically isn’t a change, since there really is no real information about religion in the first edition of WoG, but given the history of the campaign setting and the game itself, it still feels like one. St. Cuthbert is the same saint that exists in our history. He was transported to WoG and introduced people to the God of St. Cuthbert. Colloquially, people tend to call Christians followers of St. Cuthbert and leave off “’s God.” As the Point of Light on the map, the Kingdom of Nyrond is the main political entity that champions St. Cuthbert’s God. Given the fact that the Iron League sees the Great Kingdom as their enemy, and that they share a common culture with Nyrond (Oeridian), The Iron League is heavily influenced by St. Cuthbert and his God, if not outright followers. This allows me to add some fuel to the fire of a cultural clash between the Oerid and the Suel and Flan by having the latter be primarily Old Believers.
  • Nyrond will simply be referred to as The Kingdom. It is the only kingdom on the map and it serves the polemic purpose of dismissing the claim of the House of Naelax as the leaders of the Great Kingdom.
  • I don’t particularly like the name Onwall, but I love the name Iron League. So, Onwall will simply be the Iron League, which rather than a group of nations is a group of City States (with some tacit support of the dwarves and gnomes of the Headlands).
  • I want to play up the naval prowess and power of the Iron League. Given that their leader is a “Chair” suggests that their organizing principle is far more interested in economic power than political power. Given the constant pirate problem in the area, it would make sense that the Iron League would take matters into their own hands and protect their business interests. As such, they may be far more influential in the area than the Kingdom, especially at a practical level.
  • The name “The Pomarj” doesn’t refer to the geographical area that contains the Drachensgrab Hills. Rather, it is an old Suel word meaning city state. It specifically referred to twelve City States that used to exist on the peninsula. The geographic area is called the Drachensgrab Peninsula or simply Drachensgrab.
  • The Pomarj were some of the first Suel to officially adopt Christianity, though many Suel remained Old Believers. The leaders converted (some for political reasons), but not necessarily the people.
  • The Scarlet Brotherhood came into existence after the fall of The Pomarj. It was started by Old Believer survivors of the Pomarj who blamed the destruction of their homes on Christianity and the failure of other Christian nations to come to their aid. Thus, they seek revenge and they seek to found a great Suloise Empire that will bring the Christian nations to their knees. To achieve this, they are willing to use any strategy or tactic no matter how vile.
  • The great magics that brought about the Invoked Devastation and Rain of Colorless Fire are long forgotten; however, it is rumored that some powerful artifacts from that period were in the possession of the Suel when the Suloise migrations began. Not coincidentally, the Suel are more natural arcane spell casters than either the Oerid or the Flan.
  • There are going to be two knightly orders that have a presence on the map: the Order of the White Hart (a play on the Order of the Hart in WoG) and the Order of the Red Rose (a play on one of the later developments in the WoG version of St. Cuthbert). The Order of the White Hart is based off of the hagiography of St. Eustathios (who will go by St. Sylfaen in my version of WoG) who had an encounter with Christ while hunting a deer and St. Gobnait who went on a quest to find nine white deer. The Order of the Red Rose is dedicated to the Mother of God because the rose is often associated with her.
  • I plan on re-skinning various humanoids as orcs so that I can use them almost exclusively as my humanoid baddies. I have always wanted to run a campaign where Gygax’s suggested names for orc tribes gets used. As a consequence, all of the various tribes that now occupy Drachensgrab are all orcs: The Death Moon Tribe, The Dripping Blades Tribe, The Grinning Skull Tribe, The Leprous Hand Tribe, and The Long Spears,
  • For the purposes of placing the A-series onto the map, the most important orc “tribe” is going to be the Long Spears. They are actually going to be a mercenary company consisting mostly of half-orcs (at least in the leadership) that have been hired by merchants of the Iron League (through the suggestion of agents of the Scarlett Brotherhood) to take control of Highport. They maintain a neutral port that does business with human and orc alike. While they will turn a blind eye to the slave trade if it is out of sight, the Long Spears make sure the city has the appearance of being above board. This justifies why the Slave Pits of A1 are hidden and not out in the open.
  • I plan on re-working the heraldry of the area so that it suits my proclivities (that’ll be another post).
  • Finally, I plan on incentivizing players to play humans. I want this to be a human-centric campaign where elves, dwarves, etc. are alien cultures that might interact with the human world out of curiosity, but rarely do anything to influence it.