Monday, March 30, 2020

Dark Sun Sword & Sandal Style

Dark Sun certainly seems to have an element of Sword & Sandal films in its DNA, either directly or indirectly through the obvious influence of 80s Sword & Sorcery films and art. I feel like that's an aspect that could be played up.

To do it "pure," you'd want to lose some of the Dark Sun grittiness. The desert is less Arrakis and more the arid regions of the Levant or possible Egypt. The struggle for survival is less important than the struggle against oppression and injustice. Luckily, there's a lot of that on Athas. Pretty much everything else can stay: gladiators, city-states, the occasional monster, muscular dudes without shirts.

For the full Sword & Sandal effect (at least in the Italian Muscle-bound hero vein as opposed to the Hollywood Biblical epic), it might work best to use something like Crawford's Solo Heroes rules like in Scarlet Heroes so the protagonists can pummel groups of mooks into submission with just their fists.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

A D&D Party as Skillful Companions

There is a type of folktale called Skillful Companions tale. It's exemplified by stories like the Grimm Fairy Tale "The Four Skillful Brothers." In these tales each character has a valuable, specific skill (sometimes highly specific). The use of each companion's ability is necessary to successfully complete the group's undertaking.

Noting that D&D characters (and rpg characters) are defined by classes, races, and player chosen abilities that make them ideally different from the other characters in their party, I going to suggest that D&D adventures really click when they work a bit like a Skillful Companions tale: when ever player gets to contribute their thing and their thing helps the adventure reach a happy conclusion.

I think "player skill" and creative solutions to problems should of course play a part in rpgs. Players derive more satisfaction from solving problems when they feel like they did it, not just their characters. But contrary to some not infrequently repeated old school wisdom I think the answer should sometimes be on your character sheet, or at least the tool your going to leverage to derive the solution ought to be. Having different character types or arrays of spells, weapons, and other abilities having mechanical differences would be inexplicable otherwise.

Adventure design for an unknown group of players obviously has a hard to tailoring challenges, but I think if you're making adventures for your regular group, maybe they should be crafted with the players in mind. There should never only be one way around a problem, of course, and player's can and should be able to avoid encountering a problem entirely, but there's nothing wrong with at least thinking of things that might give each character their time in the spotlight.

Friday, March 27, 2020

Setting Creation: Patchworks & Found Objects

To an extent, almost all world-building relies on borrowing, it's just a question of the size of the blocks being borrowed. Robert E. Howard's Hyborian Age can show its inspirations pretty nakedly in places like Vendhya or Asgard, but even Tolkien's less derived-appearing subcreation has pretty clear analogs like an Atlantis myth. It's not surprising really; real world sources are built on foundations of history; completely imaginary cultures are not only harder to come up with, but also less detailed and less well thought out. The real question is how are these borrowings used?

Mystara (The Known World) is what I would call a patchwork. Its sources are almost always pretty obvious (and the writer's tell you what they are just in case you missed it), and they are stitched together with not much thought to realism. Patchworks have the advantage of being easy to get a handle on for GM or player, but run the risk of hampering the ability to create a vivid, new world. It's also easy for things to run to stereotypes and unintentional comedy, perhaps.

The other form of the borrowing in settings is the one I called the found object. Here the borrowed blocks are smaller, or less overtly recognizable, and they are used in a more transformed fashion. Howard's Hyborian Age actually straddles the border between patchwork and found object. Some of this, admittedly, may be the remove between our pop culture adventure fiction and that of Howard's day. It may be his sources were more obvious in the 1930s. But in any case Asgard as a "Viking culture" and Stygia as "evil Egypt" are pretty big patches. Nemedia gets a little harder to recognize. It's mostly "rival Medieval nation" but its elements of Holy Roman Empire aren't too difficult to see, and it also has details like a band of Northern mercenaries like the Byzantine Varangian guard. Then there are a few lands that are more obscure: Khoraja, for example, has a (Near) East meets West thing going on that might remind on of Howard's historical actioners in the Outremer, but also likely Trebizond.

Tolkien did this sort of thing, too. The Arnor/Gondor divide just changes the cardinal directions of the Roman/Byzantium split, in a way that mirrors the Israel/Judah divide. The Dunlending/Numenorean conflict has echoes of the Anglo-Saxons versus the Celts in the British Isles. These things are there without the borrowing being complete or obvious.

Is there a downside to the found object approach? Well, if the borrowings are too obscured you don't get any advantage of easy recognizability, which might be a problem if you are making a product to sell or trying to communicate things quickly to players. But you still get most of the advantages of patchwork for ease of your own work on the setting.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Conan, 1963

What if during the late 50s to mid-60s Sword & Sandals movie crazy, somebody had got around to making a Conan film? Here's my suggestions for the cast of a 1963 adaptation of "People of the Black Circle."

William Smith as CONAN

Former Miss Israel and Bond girl Aliza Gur as YASMINA

Jack Palance as KARIM SHAH

Christopher Lee as THE MASTER OF YIMSHA

Raf Baldassarre as KHEMSA

and Chelo Alonso as GITARA

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Wednesday Comics: New Science Fiction

This continues to be a good era for science fiction comics outside of the Big Two. Here are a couple of recent releases:

Simon Roy, the co-writer of Protector, is no stranger to quality science fiction, and he and his co-creators (co-writer Daniel Bensen and artist Artyom Trakhanov) have crafted a story set among warring tribes in a North America post a global warring apocalypse. The Hudsoni tribe worship the Devas who seem to be advanced artificially intelligent technology of some sort, but they may have met their match when a member of the Yanqui tribe awakens a robotic demon. There are two issues of Protector out so far, but I'm eager for more.

Cultural anthropologist Jocelyn Young is brought to a secret site in Siberia where delegations from other all over (including the Vatican) are congregating in secret around a startingly discovery: an ancient, crashed spacecraft. And then there's what's inside... Written by Justin Giampaoli with art by Andrea Mutti, starts with a vibe not unlike Arrival. It will be interesting to see where it goes.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Weird Revisited: Scientia Potestas Est

This post originally appeared almost 8 years ago to the day...

[This relates to my previous "Apocalypse Under Ground" posts, so take a look.]

Wizardry is a curse on all mankind.

This is what the common folk say, and sages acknowledge the rise of arcane knowledge went hand in hand with the emergence of the underground--perhaps more than once in history. Wizards are aware of how they are viewed (and feared) and are unconcerned. When you’ve held the words that encapsulate the true forms of reality in your mind--when you’ve experienced true gnosis--you’re above petty concerns.

Practitioners of the arcane art have always existed. Mostly they’re solitary, exploring their art removed from the intrusion of the mundane world. The opening of the underground changed that. It's entrances glowed like an arcane beacon. Those who might have lived their whole lives without ever knowing they had the talent were transformed by what they encountered, reborn into a new world--if they survived their first delve.

The old wizards came out of seclusion to tutor these fledging sorcerers--and to use them them to grow their own power with secrets wrested from below. In time, the adventuring wizards came to surpass their masters, sometimes frighteningly so. These new grandmasters took apprentices of their own, for much the same reasons--though as wizards grow older and more steeped in the arcane, their thoughts and desires sometimes grow more alien, their whims more capricious.

One question above all concerns the grandmasters, though they seldom speak of it, even in their rare conclaves of peers: Does the arcane have a life of it’s own? Does the symbolary that is humankind’s closest approximation of the true description of the universe have its own agenda? If so, does it favor humanity--or the Monsters?

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Weird Revisted: Savage Swords of Middle Earth, Part 2

The original version of this post appeared in 2016...

Continuing an attempt to pulpify Tolkien's legendarium, let's take a look at the races other than Men.

Elves in Tolkien are superior to men in just about every way. Pulp fantasy has that sort of thing, too. Check out this quote regarding an ancient race from "Queen of the Black Coast":
“Cast in the mold of humanity, they were distinctly not men. . .in physical appearance they resembled man only as man in his highest form resembles the great apes. In spiritual, esthetic and intellectual development they were superior to man as man is superior to the gorilla.“
Howard makes mention of  evolution in several places. Sword & sorcery pulp worlds tend toward (pseudo-)science, as they partake of the genre-blending weird fiction tradition, whereas Tolkien's is mostly a mythic world. For the complete pulp feel, The Silmarillion would be merely myth and the true origins of most Middle-earth creatures would be scientific/materialistic--or perhaps some Theosophy-inspired mix of science and mysticism. No need to make a decision one way or another, though, for day to day adventuring.
"Do you not see now that your coming to us is as the footstep of Doom? For if you fail, then we are laid bare to the Enemy. Yet if you succeed, then our power is diminished, and Lothlórien will fade, and the tides of Time will sweep it away. We must depart into the West, or dwindle to a rustic folk of dell and cave, slowly to forget and be forgotten." 
- Galadriel in The Fellowship of the Ring
Decline of advanced races/cultures is a trope common to Tolkien and Howard, so good to go. The decline to "rustic folk of dell and cave" even kind of resembles the decline of the Picts as presented in Howard's "The Lost Race." Lord of the Rings is full of a lot of elvish badassery (the movies moreso) but the more that is downplayed and their waning and decline is played up, the more pulp fantasy it will be. Elves can still be a potent force, but they should mostly stay in their dwindling enclaves.

"I saw plainly the stunted bodies, the gnarled limbs, the snake-like, beady eyes that stared unwinkingly, the grotesque, square faces with their unhuman features..." 
- "The Little People"
Other Howard stories present the Picts or (a pre-Pict aboriginal race) as not just declining but degenerating. The same thing happens to the Winged Folk in "Queen of the Black Coasts" who become winged ape men by the time Conan meets them. One of several origins Tolkien considers for Orcs is that they are elves distorted and corrupted by Melkor. Perhaps the corrupted part is the main thing, then they sort of degenerate on their own?

In fact, there should be more evil, degenerate elves in general; the equivalent of the Black Numenoreans. I don't want to say, "drow," but Gary's description of Erelhei-Cinlu in Vault of the Drow is pretty pulpy.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Wednesday Comics: Social Isolation Edition

If you're bored and stuck and home, you could do a lot worse than listening to our podcast The Bronze Age Book Club, where we explore one Bronze Age issue an episode. Our latest episode has been delayed, but not to worry, we have are continued to record and will get them to you as soon as we are able.

Still, there are already 15 episodes for you listening pleasure.

Monday, March 16, 2020

Weird Revisited: Middle Earth with More Pulp

"Know, O prince, that between the years when the oceans drank Númenor and the gleaming cities, and the years of the Fourth Age, there was an Age undreamed of, when realms of Elf, Man, and Dwarf lay spread across the world like blue mantles beneath the stars. . . Hither came Aragorn of the Dúnedain, black-haired, sullen-eyed, sword in hand, a ranger, a wanderer, a chieftain, with gigantic melancholies and gigantic mirth, to tread the thrones of Arda under his feet." 
- The Red Book of Westmarch
I posted that bit of Howardian remix on G+ years ago goofing around, but it's a serious idea: What would Middle-earth be if presented in a more pulp fantasy (not just Robert E. Howard) sort of way? You could do a really comprehensive overall, sure, where maybe only the names remain the same, but I think a few tweaks here and there would make a big difference. Just take a look at things that are already pretty pulpy: 1) a fallen age following the sinking of a "Atlantis"; (2) Orders of beings with some more advanced and others more degenerate than others; (3) a lot of ruins strewn about; (4) a lot of wilderness separating civilized areas; (5) Magic (to the extent it is practiced by Men--i.e. humans) seems the province of sorcerers who are engaged with evil forces.

So let's start with Eriador, also called the Lone-Lands, which is pretty cool, because that's where the stories do, and see how it goes. Eriador is definitely a "Points of Light" place; a former advanced kingdom where most of the cities have fallen into ruin after a war with a Witch-King.

Witch-King Cultists: When a guy named the Witch-King used to rule, I think there probably should be hidden enclaves (or whole villages) fallen to his service and maybe worship of Sauron or Morgoth. They probably also engage in sacrifices commiserate with their Satanic cultist behavior.

The Rangers of the North: The Dúnedain who struggled against the Witch-King were descendants of Numenoreans (like Conan was a descendant of Atlanteans). After their defeat they become badass wilderness types organized into tribes or bands, I'd guess. They're about as much "barbarian" as Conan is, except they're in tight with elves. They roam the wilderness and hunt orcs and trolls (and probably those Witch-King cults). They could be part frontier lawmen, but also a lot like the settlers described in Howard's "Beyond the Black River":  "They were all gaunt and scarred and hard-eyed; sinewy and taciturn."

Replace the Picts in those Pictish Border Howard stories with orcs or Hill-men, and you've got it. Or replace Solomon Kane in any of a few of his stories with a lone ranger (heh), and that works as well.

Woses: Speaking of Picts, a couple of Howard's Pict stories are perfect inspiration for the mistreated, more primitive Drúedain. Check out "The Lost Race." Here's a perfect description:
"Scarce above four feet stood the tallest, and they were small of build and very dark of complexion. Their eyes were black; and most of them went stooped forward, as if from a lifetime spent in crouching and hiding; peering furtively on all sides. They were armed with small bows, arrows, spears and daggers, all pointed, not with crudely worked bronze but with flint and obsidian, of the finest workmanship. They were dressed in finely dressed hides of rabbits and other small animals, and a kind of coarse cloth; and many were tattooed from head to foot in ocher and woad" 
Hill-Men: Again speaking of Picts, in either Howards frontier stories or some of his other Pictish yarns where their degeneration is more sinister (after Machen) and less sad, the Hill-Men can be those sort of Picts. A little degeneration won't hurt. They're really likely to be those cultists mentioned above, too.

The towns: As to the civilized or more settled areas of Eriador. I strongly support MERP's idea that Tharbad (before it was a ruin) was a decaying city of cutthroats and thieves. A standard Conan tavern ought to fit in well, in any of those towns, too. Just substitute "Brythunian" with "Breeland" and you're good to go.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Elves from the Broken Sword

The elves of Poul Anderson's The Broken Sword are like the standard elves of D&D to the extent they both share similarities to Tolkien's elves (in the case of Anderson's book, it's because they share the same sources), but are very different in other ways: they are haughty and cruel, more classic faerie-like, invisible to human's without witchsight and vulnerable to iron.

Here's an elven subrace for 5e that is a bit more like Anderson's version than the standard D&D ones:

Ability Score Increase. Your Charisma score increases by 1.
Elf Weapon Training. You have proficiency with the longsword, shortsword, shortbow, and longbow.
Cantrip. You know one cantrip of your choice from the wizard spell list. Charisma is your spellcasting ability for it.
Fleet of Foot. Your base walking speed increases to 35 feet.
Iron Sensitivity. Iron weapons do +1 damage against one. You cannot wear iron weapons or armor, or even touch it without taking 1 point of damage per round.

Friday, March 13, 2020

Weird Revisited: Adventuring in The Time of Plague

This post originally appeared in 2010, but recent events brought it to mind...

A little light reading about the Plague of Justinian the other day (and the plague of no home internet access I continue to suffer) got me to thinking about the use of epidemics or even pandemics in gaming. Obviously, succumbing to infectious disease isn’t the most adventurous way to die, but plagues, particularly big ones, have a tendency to cause a great deal of social, economic, and religious upheaval, which is the perfect backdrop for an rpg campaign, or fodder for adventures.

First a few terms. An “epidemic” occurs when the outbreak of new cases of a particular disease exceeds the expected number for a given population. This is, as the definition suggests, somewhat subjective. A “pandemic” is when epidemic conditions exist over a wide geographic area--possibly even the whole world.

The most famous historical pandemic is probably the Black Death which affected Eurasia, and peaked in Europe around 1350. Low-end estimates have it killing a third of Europe’s population. The traditional culprit was thought to be bubonic plague caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis, though their are some new theories.

The societal effects were profound. Depopulation meant fewer people to farm, and that coupled with livestock plagues, and climatic changes lead to famine and starvation. Fearful people blamed convenient scape-goats--often Jews--and Jewish communities were wiped out in some places. Fringe religious groups like the Brotherhood of Flagellants became more widespread.

The Plague of Justinian (541-542 CE) is also thought to have been caused by bubonic plague. This plague may have weakened Byzantium enough that Justinian I was unable to reconquer Italy, shattering any hopes of reconstitute a whole Roman Empire. It may have also weakened Byzantium for its coming face-off with the Arabs a century later.

Y. pestis isn’t the only malefactor out there. Smallpox, influenza, cholera, and typhus caused pandemics before the the 20th century. Measles, yellow fever, and dengue fever never had the same spread, but have caused localized epidemics. Of course, in a fantasy world plagues might be more exotic, even magical in nature.

I can think of three broad ways a plague could be used in gaming. The first is plague as background color. Carts of dead, or oddly dressed plague doctors might just be part of the general ambience of a setting--particularly one with a grubby, "real" Middle Ages feel. It could be treated seriously, or darkly humorous.

The second is plague as apocalypse. As its been pointed out before, there is a post-apocalyptic element to the implied setting of D&D. Perhaps the apocalypse isn’t just a remote event, but ongoing? This could cast the player’s not as pioneers on the frontier, but as defenders of the fire of civilization. This might or might not have implications on the sort of adventures had, or it might just influence the tone.

The third is plague as campaign focus. Maybe the point of the whole campaign is defeating the forces of evil behind the plague? It could be introduced early, as a minor background element, but as more people succumb to the disease it grows in importance. Eventually, finding a cure might become the PC’s central concern, but only after its grown “naturally”( or unnaturally).

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Weird Revisted: Demonland

Art by quiteproustian
The promiscuousness of infernal beings is well-known, so it isn't surprising that by-blows of their trysts are found among mortals. While rare in most of the world, those with infernal blood are the majority of the populous in Demonland1, a city-state across the mephitic Wastes from the Country of Sang. Why so many descendants of infernal bloodlines should be found in one place is a mystery, but perhaps the area had a sulfurous air of hominess for their grandsires and granddams.

Demonland proper is built upon a cluster of small islands in a lake formed by hot springs. The boiling, caustic, malodorous waters are a perfect defense --though they also make life less pleasant for the inhabitants. Demonland’s potable water comes from filtered rainwater collect in cisterns and also by magical purification of the water of the lake itself. The city is only accessible by boat and all goods and visitors make the trip over by ferry.

Demonland is nominally ruled by a Duke (or Duchess), and though this ruler’s power is theoretically absolute, it is most commonly exercised in throwing lavish revelries at which the true rulers of the city go masked. These princes (and their masks) represent the seven capital vices exalted in Demonlander religion and culture. The prince of each vice is officially appointed by the Duke but in practice is more or less elected by general consensus, as the Duke shrewdly defers to the inclinations of the mob. They serve for an indefinite tenure, usually a year and a day. The princes are meant to most perfectly embody their vice, and would-be candidates campaign vigorously (all except the candidates for Prince of Sloth, of course) for the title by engaging in the most audacious (and public) displays of sinfulness to capture the jaded hearts of the populous. The princes hold absolute authority with regard to the practice of the vice they personify and make legal proclamations and levy taxes or duties that might be pertinent as they see fit. They are allowed to keep a percentage of any monies collected for themselves.

Diabolism is the state religion of Demonland. It inverts the morality of most human faiths, promoting vice and condemning virtue. Self-interest and the pursuit of pleasure are valued over altruism and self-denial; Greed and vanity are extolled, and charity and modesty condemned. Demonlanders, however, are only a trifle less likely to fall short of the ideals of their faith than folk elsewhere, so their practice of immorality is as prone to lapses as the practice of morality in other lands.

Art by Arthur Asa
1. The correct demonym is "Demonlander." Never call a Demonlander a "demon" as this is both inaccurate and rude. "Tiefling" is just as bad.

Monday, March 9, 2020

The Half-Seen Tower

Art by Petr Passek
Our 5e Land of Azurth game continued last night with the party trying to find a way to close the portal to the Umbral Realm after having slain the shadow drakes. Nothing they try seems to work. They do discover the missing artifacts of the cervine centaur people (and 3 shadows in the process), and glimpse a partially ruined tower in the near distance, but only when the roiling shadow rising from the portal passes between them and it. Otherwise, it's invisible.

They decide to investigate, but first thing's first: return the artifacts to the tribe. Waylon and Erekose surreptitiously decide to Identify the items first, lest they turn over something truly valuable to the forest dwelling folk. The staff is nothing magical. The diadem is, but the specifics are hard to understand. Waylon asks Tualla if they might borrow for a while, but after Shade intervenes the matter is dropped.

But on the way back to the tribe's encampment they discover another enemy. A pale, black-eyed elf and a couple of hulking humanoids of unknown type are threatening a yearling of the tribe. When Erekose and Kully intervene, the elf and companions make their escape. The kid tells them they wanted to know about "the strangers that killed the drakes."

Shade will brook no child-threatening, so the party tracks them through a shadow-darkened mire to a dark, unwholesome pond surrounded by tall grass--and the half-ruined tower. Ever on the lookout for valuables, Erekose spies a glint of gold in the grass 'round the pond. It turns out to be a ring on the pinky digit of a half-decayed, severed hand.

Waylon tries to get the ring via mage hand, while Waylon goes in closer to investigate and a putrid undead thing rises from the muck to attack. Then another!

While the party is fighting the creatures, someone hidden snipes at them with poison arrows. When they are finally able to catch a glimpse of them, it's two more of the strange elves. The snipers press the party hard, but eventually 7 against two, causes one to beat a retreat and leaves the other asleep in the grass--a captive for interrogation.

Sunday, March 8, 2020

East of Caldwellia, West of Elmoreon

In recent discussions of vanilla fantasy, my friend Paul (owner of the long-hiatused blog, Dungeonskull Mountain) and I have bandied about the idea of an "80s fantasy" world. While we perhaps don't share exactly the same vision for that, both of us agree that famous D&D artists of mid-1e to 2e eras--particularly Clyde Caldwell, Larry Elmore, and Keith Parkinson--play a big part in that.

The visuals are clear and distinct, but is there a setting in the work of these artists distinct from just generic D&D?

I'm not entirely sure, but I think we can say make guesses as to what elements it may have and what elements it does not.

Glamorous Not Grotty
Glamorous might be a little strong, but hey, alliteration! Anyway, we are certainly not in the Dung Ages, or any version of gritty pseudo-Medieval verisimilitude.

Complicated Costumes and Culture
Compared to work of Frazetta, Kelly, or Vallejo, the clothing of the characters has a lot going on: fur trim, feathers, scales, etc. This tends to be true even when female characters are scantily clad. It's all more renfair that Conan. This suggests (to me) more of a high fantasy world than a sword & sorcery one, and an interest in visually defining cultures that doesn't get into the heavy worldbuilding of a Glorantha or Tekumel, but is definitely of the "needs a glossary at the end of the book" level.

Dragons & Drama
There are an awful lot of dragons. I mean,  they're showing up all the time. And often characters are confronting them in a way that suggest they are big, powerful heroes, not the type to die pointless in holes in the ground. The another name for high fantasy is epic fantasy, and that's what these images often convey.

A Touch of Humor
Despite the epicness and high drama, things are seldom if ever grim. In fact, from adventures posing with the tiny dragon they slew, to a muscular female fighter manhandling an ogre, a bit of humor is pretty common.

Friday, March 6, 2020

Red-Eyed Goblin

A goblin made with Hero Forge, colors accurate to the AD&D Monster Manual, except the hair where I had to guess.

And here's a Hobgoblin:

Thursday, March 5, 2020

Weird Revisited: Different Dwarves for 5e

Relevant to my earlier post on vanilla fantasy...

The Tolkien-inspired, Nordic-derived dwarves of standard D&D aren't the only dwarven subraces out there. There is another dwarvish tradition: a more folklore and fairytale one. The dwarves of the Country of Yanth in the Land of Azurth are that sort of dwarf.

Compared to the average D&D dwarf, they tend to be more social and affable. They are fond of good food and drink and are renowned brewers. While they may be miners or metalworkers, they are not as oriented toward these tasks as others of their race, and are just as likely to loggers, woodworkers, or farmers.They have no more love or precious metals or jewels than humans.

Unless otherwise noted, the folkloric dwarf subrace has the traits of the standard dwarf.

Art by Jerad S. Marantz
Ability Score Increase. Wisdom increased by 1.
Lucky. Like a Halfling's.
Size. Folkloric dwarves vary more in height than other dwarven races. Most are medium, but a few are under 4 foot and so small.
Dwarven Combat Training. They eschew the battleaxes and hammers employed by other dwarves, but are handy with the axe and short sword.
Tool Proficiency. Their choices for proficiency are smith's tools, brewer's supplies, cobbler's tools, woodcarver's tools, or cook's utensils.

Monday, March 2, 2020

My Flavor of Vanilla

Since my post on my occasional craving for vanilla fantasy, I've been thinking about what sort of vanilla setting I would do, if I was to do one. At least, what sort I'm leaning toward right now.

I would start with a setup substantially similar to Tolkien's Middle-Earth at the start of the Lord of the Rings. A great war, devastated the shining human kingdoms of the West. Amid the ruins are scattered petty kingdoms and free cities, "points of light" in the D&D parlance, dominated by the Small Folk--dwarfs mostly, but more of the folklore or fairytale variety than a Tolkienian one.

There are still humans there, of course, but the human dominated lands are mostly to the South. Elves exist too, but they are diminished (quite literally) from their Golden Age. They were once fairy lords, but now the elves of the West are short in stature and decidedly less magical. The Dwarf Folk view the elves with some suspicion, since some of their race sided with the forces of darkness.

The approach would be a bit more The Hobbit than Lord of the Rings; leaning more whimsical than epic. The 1937 original version of The Hobbit would be the most central of Tolkien's work. Other influences include Weirdworld, Wally Wood's Wizard King series, selected stories from Lord Dunsany, Scott Driver's Dwarf-Land, and bits of The Princess of the Goblin and a smidge of my own Land of Azurth, particularly some early ideas that got abandoned.

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Enter the Lumberlands!

Erik Jensen of the Wampus Country blog and related publications is Kickstarting a new zine in that setting called Lumberlands: 

"...spend some time in the misty Lumberlands, a vast expanse of enchanted forest where brawny lumberjacks ply their trade, seek adventure and fortune, and defend the frontier from horrible sasquatches."

I loved playing in Erik's Wampus Country game in the days of G+ and I'm pleased it's been resurrected in this zine. Check it out!