Sunday, November 30, 2014

5e DMG First Impressions

I just picked up the Dungeon Master's Guide from the local gaming store last night (paying twice as much as I would have paid on Amazon, but the twin desires to support local business and have it right then won out), so I have had a chance to get into it any any detail, but on an initial flip-through, a few things are apparent:

  • The contents are nice in the abstract, but their development isn't quite what I would have liked in several places. It's all well and good to say you can give XP for things other than killing monsters, but more robust guidelines would have been nice. Likewise with new race creation, since the races in the PHB seem to be built with some ideas of balance in mind, more specific guidelines would have been nice. I don't need a book to tell me I can make up stuff beyond what's in the book--but I'm probably not the audience for that sort of advice.
  • In contrast to the race creation "rules," the monster creation stuff seems to be well done and reasonably detailed without going overboard.
  • I like the sections on playing D&D in different genres of fantasy, but neither the genres nor the audience is served by having all of the examples be from D&D tie-in novels. I'm not against including those for commercial reasons, but having those be the only ones given seems a bit crass.
  • I like the number of variety of variant rules, though I don't know that I'll use any of them.

Friday, November 28, 2014

An Assortment of Faeries & Spirits

The Denham Tracts (1846-1859) on folklore contain a list of fairies and other creatures of the North of England. The list is supposedly based on alist given in Reginald Scot's Discoverie of Witchcraft (1584) but is much expanded (in some cases, by duplication). In fact, the Tract contains beings not otherwise attested, suggesting Denham may have invented them.

Of course, that's not particular bar to their use in-game. Here's the complete list to start statting from:

"ghosts, boggles, Bloody Bones, spirits, demons, ignis fatui, brownies, bugbears, black dogs, spectres, shellycoats, scarecrows, witches, wizards, barguests, Robin-Goodfellows, hags, night-bats, scrags, breaknecks, fantasms, hobgoblins, hobhoulards, boggy-boes, dobbies, hob-thrusts, fetches, kelpies, warlocks, mock-beggars, mum-pokers, Jemmy-burties, urchins, satyrs, pans, fauns, sirens, tritons, centaurs, calcars, nymphs, imps, incubuses, spoorns, men-in-the-oak, hell-wains, fire-drakes, kit-a-can-sticks, Tom-tumblers, melch-dicks, larrs, kitty-witches, hobby-lanthorns, Dick-a-Tuesdays, Elf-fires, Gyl-burnt-tales, knockers, elves, rawheads, Meg-with-the-wads, old-shocks, ouphs, pad-foots, pixies, pictrees, giants, dwarfs, Tom-pokers, tutgots, snapdragons, sprets, spunks, conjurers, thurses, spurns, tantarrabobs, swaithes, tints, tod-lowries, Jack-in-the-Wads, mormos, changelings, redcaps, yeth-hounds, colt-pixies, Tom-thumbs, black-bugs, boggarts, scar-bugs, shag-foals, hodge-pochers, hob-thrushes, bugs, bull-beggars, bygorns, bolls, caddies, bomen, brags, wraiths, waffs, flay-boggarts, fiends, gallytrots, imps, gytrashes, patches, hob-and-lanthorns, gringes, boguests, bonelesses, Peg-powlers, pucks, fays, kidnappers, gallybeggars, hudskins, nickers, madcaps, trolls, robinets, friars' lanthorns, silkies, cauld-lads, death-hearses, goblins, hob-headlesses, bugaboos, kows, or cowes, nickies, nacks, waiths, miffies, buckies, ghouls, sylphs, guests, swarths, freiths, freits, gy-carlins, pigmies, chittifaces, nixies, Jinny-burnt-tails, dudmen, hell-hounds, dopple-gangers, boggleboes, bogies, redmen, portunes, grants, hobbits, hobgoblins, brown-men, cowies, dunnies, wirrikows, alholdes, mannikins, follets, korreds, lubberkins, cluricauns, kobolds, leprechauns, kors, mares, korreds, puckles, korigans, sylvans, succubuses, blackmen, shadows, banshees, lian-hanshees, clabbernappers, Gabriel-hounds, mawkins, doubles, corpse lights or candles, scrats, mahounds, trows, gnomes, sprites, fates, fiends, sibyls, nicknevins, whitewomen, fairies, thrummy-caps, cutties, and nisses, and apparitions of every shape..."

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Wednesday Comics: Pax Americana

"In Which We Burn"
The Multiversity: Pax Americana #1 (January 2015), Written by Grant Morrison; Art by Frank Quitley 

Last week saw the release of the fourth installment of Morrison's Multiversity storyline. Pax Americana is perhaps the most ambitious issue to date, being a refiguring of/homage to Watchmen, and either a commentary on deconstruction and comic book violence or the essentialness of violence to American cultural--or possibly both. So check it out.

All that aside, the issue takes place on Earth-4, which is essentially (or possibly exactly) the same as Earth-4 (first appearing in 52 week 52 in 2007), the home of Captain Atom, the "Quantum Superman" that appeared in Final Crisis: Superman Beyond. In other words, it's a mixture of the Pre-Crisis Earth-Four (home of the characters DC acquired from Charlton Comics) and the Earth of Watchmen (characters inspired by the Charlton characters--well, after they were inspired by the Archie/MLJ characters). If that's a bit confusing, there is some background here.

Blue Beetle (Earth-4)
This Blue Beetle is Ted Kord, Earth-4's version of Charlton's second Blue Beetle, who first appeared in Captain Atom #83 (1966). There is mention in this issue of Dan Garrett, who shares a name and probably more with Charlton's first Blue Beetle--who they had purchased and revamped from Fox Comics. The original version of that character (and the likely inspiration of Pax Americana's Dan Garret) first appeared in Mystery Men Comics #1 (1939). Both these Blue Beetles have analogs in the first and second Nite Owls in Watchmen. The Question's accusation of the Beetle's impotence in this issue is a specific reference to Nite Owl.

Captain Atom (Earth-4) 
First Appearance: Final Crisis: Superman Beyond #1 (2008)
The original Captain Atom first appeared in Space Adventures #33 (March 1960). Both that one and this one are Allen Adam, who gained super-powers after being "atomized," then reforming with atomic powers. This Atom's expanded consciousness, almost godlike power, and blue skin are borrowed from Dr. Manhattan in Watchmen.

Nightshade (Earth-4)
Eve Eden is the daughter of the Vice President and a superheroine. The original Charlton Nightshade first appeared in Captain Atom #82 (1966) was the daughter of a U.S. senator and a visitor from another dimension with the power to manipulate shadows. An otherworldly origin for Eve's mother is mentioned in this issue, but her veracity is questioned by both Eve and her father, and her mother is portrayed as suffering from dementia, at least at the time of the story. The Nightshade stand-in in Watchmen is Silk Spectre, though she is not as close an analog as the male characters.

Peacemaker (Earth-4)
The original Charlton Peacemaker (a man who "loves peace so much he's willing to fight for it") first appeared in Fightin' 5 #40 (November 1966). The loose Peacemaker analog in Watchmen is the Comedian. Dialog in Watchmen hints that the Comedian assassinated John F. Kennedy, a parallel to the Peacemaker's actions here, though in a very different context. Unlike the cynical Comedian, the Peacemaker of this story seems to be a well-meaning idealist.

The Question (Earth-4)
One of a couple of similar masked and fedora-ed vigilantes created by Steve Ditko, the Charlton Question first appeared in Blue Beetle #1 (1967). Rorshach in Watchmen was inspired the Question and his non-Code approved doppelganger Mr. A. While taking a role in the story similar to Rorschach's, Pax Americana's Question moves beyond the the black-and-white moral reasoning of Mr. A and Rorschach and espouses of 8 color spectrum theory of moral development (probably from here). He is, however, as ruthless as both of those characters.

This is actually Yellowjacket's first DC Universe appearance in any version. The original Yellowjacket was Charlton's very first superhero character, debuting in Yellowjacket Comics #1 (September 1944). That Yellowjacket was Vince Harley, crime writer. This one is Vince Harley, comic book writer. He has no direct specific Watchmen analog.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Down in Troglopolis

The vast system of caverns and passages that riddle the underground of the Land of Azurth are a realm unto themselves, known (appropriately) as Subazurth. Parts of Subazurth are wild and dangerous and in the hands or claws of monsters of various sorts, but other areas are quite civilized and organized into petty kingdoms and even cities. The greatest of these is Troglopolis.

 Troglopolis is a large city, perhaps not so grand as the Sapphire City of Azurth but hardly unimpressive. Most of its inhabitants are pale, large-eyed humans called Underfolk. They busy themselves the the same sorts of tasks that occupy those on the surface: they cultivate mushrooms and lichens, fish underground lakes, mine metals, raise bats and train them to carry messages, drain goblinic slime pools for public safety, and engage in commerce--some of this with the surface world.

The practice of religion is found amongst them, as well, of course. They know of Azulina and her handmaidens, but they also venerate relics they find in their caves. These anomalous items do not seem to have come from Azurth above--in fact, they sometimes seem of more advanced manufacture. The Troglopolitans view these as gifts from the gods.

Humans aren't the only inhabitants of Troglopolis and the civilized regions. Their are little folk like in the world above, though there are some varieties not found in Azurth proper. The troglings (or troggles) are furred and tailed humanoids who typically live rather shiftless lives amid ancient ruins of a pre-human civilization.

There are also the diminutive but industrious deep gnomes (sometimes called red gnomes, for the color of their caps). They enlarge passageways to standard sizes, shore up caves, decorate areas with blocky, angular sculptures, and even cultivate the grow of crystalline rock candy outcroppings that so many creatures use for sustenance. It is quite likely that a great under-city like Troglopolis would not be possible but for their efforts. Deep Gnomes are collectivist, owning everything in common and valuing the public good above all. Other species are sometime derisive of them, even destroying the gnomes’ work when it suites them, but the deep gnomes seem oblivious to such affronts, wholly content in their labor.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

It Came from the 80s

You never know where you might find a map usual for a game.

Need of village of nonhumans to visit/slaughter. How about a smurf village?

Need an Under(not so)dark or a small scale wilderness pointcrawl? Visit Fraggle Rock.

Friday, November 21, 2014

My 5e Stuff So Far

I figured I had done enough Fifth Edition posts that it was time for a sort index. This doesn't include Land of Azurth campaign material without any game mechanics, so it's all monsters and races:

New/Modified Races:
Dwarf, Azurthite A more fairy tale/folklore version.
Elves, Gloom Dark elves without the Drizzt.
Rabbit Folk
Frog Folk

New/Modified Monsters:
Bugbear: In Azurth, they're the stuff of nightmares. Literally.
Death Dwarf: And you thought dero were bad...
Hobgoblin: In Azurth, our hobgoblins are different. And crazy.
Manhound: They aren't lycanthropes but they're pretty bad.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Faces of Mars

On Google+ the other day, Evan Elkins sparked a conversation about the portrayals of Mars in the works of Clark Ashton Smith, CL Moore, and Leigh Brackett. While there are a lot of differences between their future red planets, they start from a Barsoom base and had an ingredient ERB never utilized: colonialism. Not that it was a particularly glaring oversight for Burroughs to ignore it; his earth folk on Mars were never numerous and trickled in one at a time. These three, though, developed there respective Mars into something less fairy tale or Gulliverian travelogue and so they had it--but they dealt with it differently.

In Smith's Mars stories ("The Vaults of Yoh-Vombis," "The Dweller in the Gulf," "Vulthoom") have colonialism merely as a background. The native Martian aihai are largely just set dressing. They act as bearers or as guides for the earthling archeologists and treasure-seekers that are the protagonists of Smith's tales. The history of Mars is more potent--and more deadly. Earthmen seem to have free rein on Mars in the present, but that only gives them the freedom to blunder into ancient places where they don't belong. The Curse of King Tut's Tomb and Fawcett's doomed expedition to the Lost City of Z are good templates for Smith-style Mars adventures--as might be Lovecraft's At the Mountains of Madness.

CL Moore's protagonist is not a treasure-seeker or archaeologist like Smith's and his fate is not as grim. He's not a representative of colonial authorities--in fact he's often hiding out from them--and exists in a criminal underworld made up of native Martians and outcasts of other worlds. He might be Charlie Allnut in the African Queen or Jake Cutter in Tales of the Gold Monkey--except the same ancient horrors Smith's protagonists unearth are still lurking out their, waiting to snare the unwary. Despite Moore's more multifaceted approach, her stories still don't involve resentment Martians might have against the Earth. The colonization is still mostly window-dressing.

Brackett's portrayal of Mars is much like Moore's, except that deals specifically with the tension between colonizer and colonized. This is something that develops; her earliest Mars stories are more straightforward sci-fi adventures. Eventually though the Tri-Council of worlds is seen to be of secondary importance to "the Company." Brackett's Martian's for all their Celtic names resemble Native Americans as they were beginning to be portrayed is Westerns like Cheyenne Autumn or Duel at Diablo. There might also be a bit of Heart of Darkness in Brackett's Mars, at times, though her protagonist is unique: an outsider, himself, and more savage than any Martian drylander. This doesn't make him any less resented by the Martians though, because they don't just resent people of Earth as their conquerors, they resent them for being young upstarts with less history. Brackett for all it's Old West by way of the Middle East flavor is more than a little China under the thumb of the Great Powers in the the early 20th Century.

There are ancient secrets lurking on Brackett's Mars. too. (You pretty much can't have pulp Mars without them.) Here, though, it isn't greedy colonizers digging them up or merely stumbling upon them, its Martians hoping to use them against their enemies (i.e. mostly the colonizers). Unfortunately, for them, they are seldom exempt from ancient dangers.

What's the point of all this? Well, I think this distinction is strong (though certainly not solitary) distinction between the Mars of these respective authors. Gaming in any sort of colonial Mars setting would require some consideration of how that fact of this colonization will impact the PCs and their actions.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Wednesday Comics: The Path Taken

"The Path Taken"
Artesia #6 (June 1999) Story & Art by Mark Smylie

Synopsis: Outside the walls of Dara Dess, Artesia sacrifices a ram to the gods. Soon after, the Kings of the Highland Citadels arrive. She tells them of the arrival of the Thessids in the Midlands. The kings will not ride with her, but they agree to each send a banner lord to accompany her. They ask if she plans to proclaim herself Queen of Dara Dess. If she presses her claim, they will standby and bear witness.

Her siege has taken its toll. Only a hundred men still stand with Bran; the rest are dead or have deserted. Artesia's forces greatly out number them. She gets word that they have breached the walls:

Artesia encounters Ulin, one of Bran's best warriors. He's angry at her ambition, asking why should couldn't have waited until he had gotten  Bran out of the way. The two fight, and Artesia finally stabs him with the end of her polearm. He staggers away through the doors into the throne room. Bran is there with the rest of closest warriors. Through the back, Artesia runs Ulin through.

Bran chides her for killing Ulin and says she comes as a usurper. Artesia retorts that that was how Bran took the throne. In the highlands, she reminds him, kingship is taken by popular acclaim or force of arms not bloodline.

He accuses her of betraying him and stealing his men. She replies that she served him well and made him a conqueror--and then he killed her sisters. She sends their ghosts to confront him. Bran protests that he didn't kill them, it was the Agallites, but the ghost of Lysia points out he didn't stop it.

Bran and his men proclaim they are not afraid of ghosts and order the spirits to begone. Their charms protect them.

Artesia responds that he understands so little. (They come, the ghosts say. They come.) Did he think the sacrifices and prayers were for nothing? Does he not understand who she serves? And then, they are there:

Bran falls back in fear. His men fall to their knees before the goddesses. The goddesses of war proclaim their blessings on Artesia. And they are gone.

Artesia tells the men to hold Bran. They do as she bids, removing his crown. She begins a spell, a curse, even as Lysia asks her not to:

She takes his head past her troops to the shrine of Yhera. There she places it on a pole. Bran's spirit must stay her and watch over the highlands and one day Artesia will return and he will tell her what he has seen and heard. She kisses his head on the lips. This too shall have consequences, Lysia warns.

Artesia cannot turn back. She has made her choice. For good or ill, she is "loosed upon the world."

Things to Notice:
  • Poor Ulin. We barely knew him.
  • Artesia employs a voulge I think. Sorry Gary, I've forgotten all the polearms you tried to teach me in AD&D.
The three goddesses that come to Artesia's aid are the Gorgonae, the triple war goddesses. Their name comes from Greek mythology, obviously, but they most resemble the Morrigan, a Celtic trio of goddesses associated with war and death.

Bran (the Welsh word for "jackdaw") is named for a character in Welsh myth, whose severed head also keeps watch.

Monday, November 17, 2014

A Druid's Cabin in the Woods

In our Land of Azurth game this weekend, the party left Rivertown headed for the Enchanted Wood, hoping to put a stop to the poachers--and win a reward. With the elven ranger in the lead, the group eschewed the trail to follow the Babbling Brook (which actually babbles), hoping to come across a talking animal that might be able to tell them where to find the poachers. Ironically, A non-talking mockingbird told them (via Speak with Animals) about things that were neither man nor beast hunting in the woods and a horned shadow that crossed the moon on those nights. They found tracks a couple of days old that looked like human hands but with claws, supporting the mockingbird's story. Dagmar the cleric's knowledge of religion provided the clue that the Horned One, Lord of the Hunt, was an archfey that fit the description of the shadow.

They followed the tracks to a hidden trail then to a ritual circle formed from wooden posts and a great oak festooned with deer skulls. The party decided to hide out in the woods and stake out the circle. While they were waiting, a talking rabbit wandered by. He told them that a witch and a group of cultists used the circle and some sort of box was involved in the ritual. He also told them about a druid ("The friend of the forest") that lived on the other side of the wood.

Art by John Hower

The party got the rabbit to show them to the druid's abode, but not before the cleric and ranger got briefly enrapted by the glossolalia of the Spouting Spring (they were saved by the frox thief throwing a big rock into the water, disrupting the sound). They found the druid's door magically locked, and the druid seemingly unconscious on the floor inside. A disagreeable bluejay living in a bird house told them after a visit from a witch who drew some sigil on the door, the druid had not been out of his house. Erkose the Figher broke a window so that Waylon the frox could climb in. The druid was still alive, but barely arousable. Waylon was able to force the door to open from the inside. Dagmar deduced that a potion--herb-based but magical enhanced--cause the druid's current slumber. She and the ranger were able to locate a plant to at least ameliorate its effects. The druid, Llailogan, confirmed that the witch Ursa had poisoned him.

In his short intervals of wakefulness, he told them that Ursa had a pact with the Horned One and was trying to return the world to a savage state. She used a ritual given to her by her lord to create manhounds. Are the "jaded gourmands" of the rumors working with her?

Since darkness was falling, the group stayed in the druid's house overnight. They hear the baying and howls of dogs in the night, and faintly, a strange music that the bards notes seems to have a rather large assortment of instruments. Passing the night without ever seeing the manhounds, the party resolved to set a trap for the cultists and set out the next day to do that.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Azurthite Bestiary: Manhound

Art by Jeremy Duncan
There are archfey that resent the so-called civilization of Man and desire the return to a more natural state. These beings sometimes gift their cultists with a ritual which can transform humans into a bestial form and brings their bloodlust to the fore.

The manhound looks human twisted into an approximation of a cannine shape, becoming only a little more hirsute in the process. The may be distinguished from lycanthropes in that they only have one form (a mostly quadrepal hybrid) and only vaguely resemble in specific species of animal. Their "curse" is not contagious nor are they gifted with any of the immunities or weaknesses of the lycanthrope.

medium humanoid (shapechanger), chaotic or neutral evil
AC 10 in human form, 12 (natural armor) in hound form
Hit Points: 30 (7d6+6)
Speed: 30 ft.
STR 14(+2) DEX 13(+1) CON 12(+1) INT 10(+0) WIS 12(+1) CHA10(+0)
Skills: Perception +3
Senses passive Perception 13.
Languages Common (unable to speak in manhound form)

Animal-Like Hearing and Smell. Has an advantage on Wisdom (Perception) checks relying on hearing or smell.
Shapechanger. Under the influence of an ancient spell, normal humans are turned into humanoid quadrapeds for the duration of the spell (typically 2-8 hours). Their abilities scores remain unchanged in human form.

Bite. +3 to hit, reach 5 ft.,one target. Hit: 4 (1d6+1) piercing damage. A creature must succeed on a DC 11 Strength check on be knocked prone.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Trouble in the Enchanted Wood

Rumors of poachers in the Enchanted Wood north of Castle Machine in the Country of Yanth have lured a band of adventurers (my 5e game's PCs) to investigate--and to hopefully gain some reward money. Hunting has been prohibited in the Wood since the time of King Smalt I, the Nigh Great, of Azurth, owing to the peculiarity of much of its plant and animal life having the capacity for speech. It is supposed that this is exactly the reason the current hunters are in the Wood: they are (or they serve) a cabal of jaded gourmands seeking to dine on meals they can converse with beforehand.

This strange property of the flora and fauna arises from the magical waters of the Babbling Brook that meanders through the wood and its source, the Spouting Spring. The brook itself (as the name suggests) is vocal, and even at its susurrating volume, it can impair the concentration of spellcasters and unnerve those who are around it for long periods. The spring is even worse. Its ceaseless chorus of nonsensical orations are taken as oracular glossolalia by some and tormenting, demonic cacophony by others.

The waters enhance the linguistic abilities of any who drink from it. For adults, the effect in temporary, lasting at most a day and most likely only a few hours, without repeated ingestion (1d4 x 1d6 hrs.). Immature creatures raised on it retain the enhancement indefinitely.

Few members of mannish races live in the Wood, though their may be a few hermits. Fulvus, the eremite whose teachings touched off the War of the Purpure and Or. lived near the brook. There is said to be a somewhat eccentric druid that makes his home somewhere in the forest, but if so he has been unable to stop the poachers.

Travelers and those living nearby report strange sounds coming from the wood at night. It is a sound all to exultant and cruel to be the baying of wild dogs, yet all too guttural and animalistic to be the laughter of men.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

D&D in Stop Motion

I ran across the deviantart page of Richard "Loneanimator" Svenssen. He designs stopmotion models and has done some short films in the fantasy vein. Of particular interest to readers here are his D&D inspired models. Check out this fight with a beholder:

Here's multiple angles on an owlbear.

Makes you wish Harryhausen had done a D&D movie circa 1981, doesn't it?

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Wednesday Comics: The Lion, The Witch & Her Wardrobe

"The Lion, The Witch & Her Wardrobe"
Artesia #5 (May 1999) Story & Art by Mark Smylie

Synopsis: Artesia is weary. Her army has been pushing forward without rest. Her crow (really the war-spirit Demidice) returns to show her visions of what transpires in the wider world: She sees the Thessid forces breaching falls and destroying the watchtowers. The Empire's armies are triumphant thanks a a traitor.

Then she sees what will transpire in the future:

She "dreams of the death of the world" and her "heart sings with joy."

She awakens, unsure of what she has seen, though her lieutenant Ferris recognizes the mark of the lionheaded goddess Hathnalla upon her. Coincidentally (or not) her bannerman Hueylin has returned from treatment by the surgeon's of Hathnalla's cult. Artesia instructs Hueylin and a group of men to stay behind to speak for her army--and make sure the food, supplies, and coin keep flowing to keep them in the field, whether King Bran joins them or not.

Two captains approach with word from Pavel, the emissary. Bran will not parley. The citadel is sealed and none enter or leave. Artesia had a bad feeling. She sends the two captains to watch Dara Dess and she rides out to a shrine to Djara.

She's joined at the shrine by a pale woman, Urgrayne, Witch-Queen of the Harath-Eduins. She knew Artesia's mother and what she could have been--what she could have made Artesia, instead of the soldier she has become. Now she goes to fight for the Middle Kingdom that turned her king against her--and killed her loved ones:

They were all murdered because they laughed at the Agallite's defeat at Artesia's hands. The Agallites had killed Lysia the night before, even though Bran wished her spared as his seer. The priests cursed them as they died so the death guides couldn't find them. At the urging of Lysia's spirit, Urgrayne searched and found these others as the Wild Hunt rode the night. Some were lost though.

Artesia thanks Urgrayne for saving them, but she has not:

Artesia must bind them, but she only knows how to do minor charms or make war spirits her servant. The ghost of Lysia says there are other ways, and she will show her. Artesia strips her armor and draws sigils on her skin. She performs the ritual and binds them to her body, makes them part of her.

Things to Notice:
  • We see the goddess Hathnalla for the first time
  • And the Isklids--more on them in later issues.
The title is a bit jokey for the heaviness of the issue, but it's an accurate one.

Hathnalla, Ferris's leoncephalic goddess, was likely inspired by Sekhmet and equally leonine Egyptian goddess whose purview was also war and healing. Her name suggests both Anath (a Semitic war goddess) and Valhalla (the Hall of the Slain in Norse myth).

Djara as a goddess of crossroads, resembles the Greek goddess Hecate. Her idol is depicted as three faced, just like Hecate's. Urgrayne, who is (perhaps poetically, perhaps not) is a variant on Ygraine or Igraine, ultimately derived to Eigyr, the mother of King Arthur.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Grimmer Fairy Tales

So for oh, a century or so, genre writers have been trying to "rehabilitate" fairies and put the scary back in them. The fact that Guillermo del Toro has still got to talk about that on director's commentaries for films like Hellboy II and Don't Be Afraid of the Dark suggests Machen and Blackwood, et al. just didn't get through to the masses. So I'm not going to convince you fairies can or should be scary, I'm going to suggest some different campaigns you can use them in if they are.

Unseelie Apocalypse
Malign fairies associated with death stalk the world and humanity is in danger of extinction. I've pitched the Faerie Apocalypse before, but that version was more analogous to the alien invasion plot or perhaps something like Planet of the Apes. This is the Faerie Apocalypse as more akin to zombie apocalypse films. It's more Walking Dead than Falling Skies, which mostly comes down to tone and some small details. Get read of the shining courts and anyway to negotiate with the Folk and play up their relentless murderousness. Fairies have a connection with the dead--take a look at the slaugh--so they're already something like zombies.

Rock City is scary, but probably not scary enough
Goblin Market
Roadside Picnic isn't genre horror, but it has some horrific elements to it. What if, instead of aliens, the Visitation had been fairies. What if there were zones of fairies? Neil Gaiman's Stardust sort of depicts a Fairy Zone, as does the urban fantasy series Borderland. (Both of those were borders rather than circumscribed zones, true, but close enough!) Neither of them are particularly horrific, though. But if you played up the alien weirdness of the Fae Zones (think Wackyland except terrifying lethal and just plan hostile to human life), you can probably get there. This would play pretty close to the "dungeon as horror" thing except all the creatures would be of the Fae.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Four Flavors of Fantasy in Azurth

I've written a number of posts now about the Land of Azurth, my new 5e setting, but I've only done a couple where I "pull back the curtain" and discuss my thought process about the setting as a whole. So here goes.

My initial statement of influences was essentially sword & sorcery comics of the 70s, Oz, Scott Driver's Dwarf-Land, and Adventure Time. As happens, those have gotten refined a bit over time, and perhaps more focused in terms of what I'm taking from them. It occurred to me that the touchstone for Azurth are fairytales and the earliest works of fantasy literature.

I wanted Azurth to sort of resemble Oz--and so it does. A land divided into quadrants. In Oz, the different lands are pretty similar. There inhabitants vary, true, but they aren't as differentiated as say Aquilonia and Cimmeria in Conan's Hyborian Age or Darokin and the Minrothad Guilds in Mystara. Thinking of the Mystara Gazeteers in general got me thinking about each country as a mini-setting unto itself.

Unlike Mystara, though, I wanted the countries to work within the boundaries of "fairytales and earliest works of fantasy literature," and mostly, I think I was able to do that.  Here's what we've got:

Noxia; A farytale land where the Evil Queen has won and taken over.
Yanth: A Oz-like, fantasy Americana/American fairytale sort of land, in the main.
Sang: Planetary Romance/boy's fantasy adventure.
Virid: Girl's fantasy adventure. She-Ra or Golden Girl sort with a bit of Golden Age Wonder Woman and Amethyst: Princess of Gemworld and perhaps a little Disney Princess.

All of those have the common element of owing as much to fairytales as to Tolkien (indeed, the clearest antecedents of two of them are pre-Tolkien). All of them (from fairy tale kingdoms to Barsoom to She-Ra's Etheria) share the motif of a larger realm with odd wainscots within it. Most of them engage in quite of a number of hoary tropes/cliches that mainstream fantasy lit and most fantasy rpgs find too cheesy/twee/juvenile to engage in (so instead they engage in modern tropes/cliches far more overused currently, potentially making them boring and samey).

Conceptually, all the countries fit together, but it will be interesting to see how it works in the game. Noxia connects to Yanth by way of their fairy tale underpinnings and things like Wicked, but Yanth to Sang might be a little harder, though some 70s comic fantasy, and things like Lt. Gullivar Jones: His Vacation might prove informative. We'll see.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Campaign Rumors

I wanted to run my new Land of Azurth campaign as more of a sandbox than my Weird Adventurs campaign (which tended to be more "mission style" as it was mystery oriented). I still intend for their to be mysteries in the current campaign, but they be more of an "easter egg" variety, by which I mean something cool if the players figure it out, but probably never essential to an adventure.

To this end, I borrowed a technique from Chris Kutalik over at the Hill Cantons, who runs the best sandbox campaign I've had the pleasure to play in: use of rumors, both as an adventure menu for players and to provide a window into ongoing background events in the setting. (Chris has a lot of other useful and stealable ideas of running this sort of campaign. Just check out this recent post.)

Anyway, here's the first set of rumors I gave the players at the end of the first session. This establishes the existence of the Publick Observator, which can serve both an in-game and metagame purpose:

In games where I have the time, I like to have the characters meet. It gives them a chance to get warmed up for roleplaying (and shows me how much they want to roleplay--which has implications for how I handle later sessions) and it gives them a chance to make up some background material that may be good grist for future adventures. I had asked each player prior to the first session to come up with a reason (or what they would give to others as the reason) they might be coming to Rivertown to seek an audience with Clockwork Princess Viola. One of the players suggest her ranger was coming to discuss a poaching problem--dovetailing nicely with one of the rumors I had thought of but not yet told the PCs about, of course!

This gave the them a good reason to select what they wanted to do next session. Of course, the other goings-on they chose not to investigate may not just go away. Some will have longterm consequences or will show up again, maybe with more dire connotations, next week. Over time, of course, these pre-session rumors will compete with goals and plans completely generated by the players.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Over the Garden Wall

Over the Garden Wall is a mini-series on Cartoon Network, running in 2 parts a night, every night this week, but I'm sure it will be repeated. Created by Patrick McHale (previously of Adventure Time), the series tells the story of two brothers lost in the woods--a magical forest, called the Unknown. There they meet talking animals, undead townsfolk, and avoid a dark Beast that people say roams the woods.

It's part Grimms' fairy tales, part Wizard of Oz (and maybe a bit Sandberg's Rootabaga Stories), imbued with great deal of folksiness. Where Adventure Time has rap and chiptunes, OtGW has parlor music and ragtime. Where Adventure Time has non sequiturs and weirdness, Over the Garden Wall has whimsy (not that it isn't weird at times).

Whimsy like a possum playing a dobro, which is just the right kind, I think.

If you like stuff like my Land of Azurth posts or Wampus Country, then you will probably like Over the Garden Wall. Even if you don't like those things, you probably should check it out just to see. Here's the first episode on Youtube.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Wednesday Comics: Artesia's Homeland

We'll pause in our story to get a little bit more of Smylie's great world-building. These two pages come from Artesia Annual #2, and give background on Daradja, the land in which the story began.

Warning: The text contains some spoilers for the series (though mild ones, I think). Read at your own risk.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Azurthite Bestiary: Hobgoblin

Art by Filip Cerovecki
In the Land of Azurth, hobgoblins are what comes from small folk or goblin warlocks who give themselves wholly over to some dark power. Exhorted to ever greater infamies in the name of arcane power, they barter their souls all at once or piecemeal, until they are dragged from this world to be fashioned into something more—and less—than what they had been. All hobgoblins are driven mad to one degree or another by their ordeal, but this only serves to increase their unpredictability and capacity for evil.

Hobgoblins have lairs in creepy locales, dark plots and sinister henchmen (villainous elves or dwarves, beast folk, clockwork monstrosities, minor demons or umber hulks are possibilities).

Small fiend, chaotic or neutral evil
AC 15 (natural armor)
Hit Points: 30 (7d6+6)
Speed: 30 ft., fly 60 ft.
STR 10(+0) DEX 14(+2) CON 12(+1) INT 14(+2) WIS 14(+2) CHA 16(+3)
Skills: Arcana +9, Intimidation +10
Damage Resistances cold, fire, bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing from nonmagical weapons
Damage Immunities poison
Conditioned Immunities poisoned
Senses darkvision 60 ft.
Languages Common, Goblinic, Infernal

Chilling Laugh. The cackle of the hobgoblin causes any creature within 300 ft. and able to hear it must succeed at a DC 11 Wisdom saving throw or be frightened for 1 minute.
Spellcasting. The hobgoblin is (at least) a 7th level spellcaster. Its spellcasting ability is Charisma (DC 18). It has a number of spells like a 7th level warlock.
Exploding Death. If reduced to 0 hit points, a hobgoblin explodes--messily. Any creature within 20 ft. must succeed on a DC 15 Dexterity saving throw or get slimed with hobgoblin ichor or be stunned for 1 turn.
Respawning. A destroyed hobgoblin will reform with full hit points by the next new moon unless their soul is found and destroyed.  Their souls are always kept hidden but generally are close by.  They have the appearance of insects or other crawling things molded from congealed shadow--inky black, confection-sticky,and unpleasant in texture. These souls can be destroyed by fire or magic, but possessing one affords a means to leverage a hobgoblin to do the possessors bidding.

Claws. +5 to hit, reach 5 ft. Hit: 6 (2d4+1) slashing damage.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Night of Souls

An Allsoulstide Melaina charm
Melaina, the Faerie Lady of Souls, is most in the minds of the people of the Land of Azurth during the Allsoulstide celebration at the end of the harvest. Children go a-guising and receive treats in the form of skull-shaped cakes or candies. The nuns of Melaina paint their faces and perhaps dye their hair in honor of their goddess.

The Sisters of the Lady of Souls sometimes bestow skull cakes, as well, but theirs are of a magical sort and only doled as they divine the goddess wills. Ingesting one of these special cakes imparts the ability to speak with the departed, provided they are near an item or location tied to the soul, and the soul wishes to talk (reaction roll). The willingness of the one who ate the cake is not required.

On these nights, flickering will o' wisps abandon their usual places and appear in the streets of cities and towns and punctuate the darkness with their eerie, variegated glow. While not as overtly malevolent as the mad ones that haunt the wild or forgotten places, their purposes are inscrutable, though legends say they sometimes urge the living to discovery of old secrets.