Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The Orcish Pantheon of Lingusia in the Age of Strife (slightly NSFW)

I've never exactly outlined the pantheon of the orcs of Lingusia. Time to correct that:

The Orcish Pantheon of Lingusia (in the Age of Strife)


Creator god, god of beasts and orcs, Baragnagor is a degenerate mad god of chaos who stole the forms of other creation to cobble together his own people. Baragnagor is regarded as the degenerate brother of Dalroth and Slithotep, a beast neither subtle nor graceful in its desire to consume, destroy and hunt. He is the oldest identified deity in the orcish pantheon (though Set is older, orcs did not embrace the worship of the serpent god until much later). Baragnagor’s cults harbor shrines that look like brutal charnel pits where prey from sacred hunts are cast in to carefully tended beasts, usually carnivorous monsters or natural animals such as bears and crocodiles, to feast on the flesh of the kill in the god’s honor. War chiefs of the orcs often revere these beasts as both aspects of their god and dear pets.

Zafethra, the Blood Goddess

The female fertility goddess of orcish women, rarely spoken of as her secretive cults among the orcish women preserve her worship carefully and keep male orcs away. Zafethra was described as the first orcish woman, and in their folktales it was lust for this goddess that prompted Barganagor to seek to shape his own form to lure her to lay with him. In the end, it was their progeny which became the first orcs. Zafethra’s cult teaches a variety of skills such as midwifery, medicine and healing but certain members of the order belong to a subcult of assassins known as the Jagged Blades, and carry out executions against those who would affront the cult.


The demon god Baphomet is identified as the being which first taught orcs the art of magic. Prior to Baphomet’s intrusion into orcish belief, Baphomet was an enigmatic figure, a winged, goat-headed beast which was recognized by demonic witch covens in Hyrkania during the early years of the rise of the young empire, but otherwise a human cult. It is believed that the Thyzzakoni, the red orcs, first embraced the worship of this demon and so were given over to the mystical traditions of chaos magic granted by the demon god. Today, most of the cults of Baphomet can be found in many orcish cultures, but they remain most profound among the red orcs, so regard the demon god almost as highly as they do Set.


Orcus is seen as the gatekeeper of the dead, and while Orcus is most definitely a demon god of undeath in conventional human worship, Orcus represents the gateway to the Abyssal legions for the orcs. Orc belief states that one must appease Orcus to gain entry into the gates of the Layers of the Abyss, and to achieve this reward is the highest honor an orc can hope for (short of becoming a true demon in the afterworld). To be rejected by Orcus is to fail, and return to the mortal plane as an undead.


Set is a god worshipped in Old Galonia, Zued and other lands by humans, and a patron god of the serpent men of Hazer-Phennis, but the Thyzzakoni red orcs also worship Set, and seek to promote his religion throughout the many clans of orcs. Set is regarded with suspicion, but the power the god bestows on his clerical followers is given much weight among the orcs, who grudgingly accept that the Lord of Lies is nonetheless also a valuable deity to be protected by. Most orcs get very suspicious of red orcs who will then invite serpent men into the mix, for despite the assertion that the serpent men are the created race of Set, most orcs have a deep mistrust of the serpentine race.

The Kraken

The Kraken, one of the ancient pre-human gods of old chaos (the Skaeddrath) still trapped within the crust of the world, periodically reaches out with dreams and nightmares to gain new followers. The last major incursion of followers happened at Old Chegga, but enclaves of dedicated followers exist throughout Octzel. These orcs throw aside all other beliefs and embrace the Kraken exclusively, almost monotheistically, and seek to appease the dark god by finding portals in the Under Realms through which they can feed the dark beast with sacrifice. The followers gain strange powers,  often mutating in horrible ways as a result.


Seth is not related to Set in Lingusia but is a deity alleged in the human pantheon to have been born of Amasyr and Enki. Orcs regard Seth as one of their own, and some orcs, especially the Grey Orc tribes to the south, revere him as a protector god who liberated them from the taint of Baragnagor. These orcs continue to engage in their primal ways, but tempered by the teachings of this god who is a lord of weather and the harvests. The orcish version of Seth is seen as a benevolent giant orc, whom they claim was born of Zafethra and Baragnagor as a demigod, but was raised by the human gods Enki and Amasyr as their own child. In the old era before the rise of Imperial Hyrkania Seth learned of writing and civilization, and brought it to the orcs, making them more than the beasts their god had spawned them to be. Followers of Seth believe their kind have lost their way, and believe that the orcish language is proof of Seth’s influence.


The demonic half-brother of Orcus according to some, this ancient demon lord was banished to the mortal realm long ago, and it is said in his early years of wandering that his amorous ways led to the birth of the first of the Fell Manorg, the black orcs. These demon-touched orcs are exceptionally strong and powerful, sometimes mistaken for ogres except for their charred flesh. Orchraiste is regarded as more of a folk figure in orcish belief, and his current whereabouts as a demon banished to the mortal plane remains a mystery (to most). 

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

D&D Reprint On Demand Report: Spelljammer and Ravenloft

Three more books from the POD option at came in today: Ravenloft II: The House on Griffon Hill, Spelljammer: Goblin's Return and the first-time-in-print Scourge of the Sword Coast. I won't focus on the content, but instead on the quality of these print editions:

Ravenloft II: The House on Griffon Hill

I couldn't resist this primarily because I never owned the original, and I always wanted to investigate the first module to outline Mordent, one of my top five domains in Ravenloft. The cover and binding of this module is great, and it's a bit thicker than the old 1E modules were, mainly due to being perfect-bound on heavier quality paper. The cover and back look great.

However, the interior looks a bit faded to the naked eye, although I noticed it less once I put the reading glasses on. The net effect is that some pages....many....just look a bit "off" in that way a print from a scanned copy tends to be. This is unfortunate. It's not bad enough to make me regret the purchase, however....or the advantage of an inexpensive new copy over hunting for one on ebay. The back contains reprints in color of the handouts and maps for the module, and they actually fare much better, being legible and useful.

Spelljammer: Goblin's Return

I owned this one long ago and ran it once. Like Ravenloft II, the module's color cover looks great, and it's thicker paper and perfect bound spine mean it looks just a tad thicker than the original (which was itself a big book at 68 pages including fold out ship cards. The cards are in the back, and remain in full color, albeit standard, slightly washed-out colors instead of the glossy cardstock of the original.

The print in this module suffers from the same problem as Ravenloft II: a bit light, and feels like a bit washed out in a "print of a scan" kind of way, but the problem once again more or less disappears for me with my reading glasses on so I'm not 100% sure it's me or the book itself. I'm leaning to "book" though because of the next module, which serves as a great control....

Scourge of the Sword Coast

This was the third module to be released in the 2013-2014 D&D Next playtest phase, which means its at once compatible with D&D 5E and also contains some interesting artifacts in its design from that formative phase of 5E, including some interesting monsters stats. The book's never been offered in print before, but it was clearly laid out and designed for print; the POD version looks awesome, and the version I got (the deluxe premium color paper) is crisp and sharp....and the fact that it looks so good and is also so readable is a good test to confirm that the lighter print of the other two books is a real problem, and not just an issue with my eyes.

As a side note this module is a direct sequel to the Ghosts of Dragonspear Castle module, which was a Gencon special with playtest rules and a level 1-10 quartet of scenarios. This is another great candidate for a future POD edition. I actually ran the entire Ghosts of Dragonspear Castle as a level 1-10 campaign in the first half of 2015, albeit ported from the Sword Coast to the Silver Coast of Pergerron. Good module! But not sure how viable Scourge of the Sword Coast is as a direct sequel, since it's aimed at level 2-4, and takes place after the last scenario in Ghosts of Dragonspear Castle, where the PCs would be pushing level 10-11.


I think for the price all three POD books above were worth it, but if you're a collector I'd keep hunting the originals, especially Ravenloft II and its large map of Mordenshire. For Goblin's Return, this module would be perfect if you want to run it....and more than sufficient if you're collecting Spelljammer for fun, but maybe not ideal if you want a "first printing" level of quality. As for Scourge of the Sword Coast....if you had the two prior print release modules from that era (Murder in Baldur's Gate and that other one with the drow elf and the crystal shards) then this is a must-have, and contains plenty of useful stuff to crib for 5E games.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Sick to Death of Black Friday and Cyber Monday

Seriously. I eagerly look forward to not being endlessly spammed about everyone's amazing Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales. The five days following Thanksgiving feel like they have hit a new low this year. All of my favorite sites are enmeshed in reporting on the best deals, to the extent that the "best deals" all appear to be an endless, amorphous amalgamation of all deals, everywhere, at all times. Worse yet, they started this at least a week early for most venues, with the actual "Black Friday" deals being specific targeted specials of limited quanity, barely there to justify the specialness of that particular day for a few hours.

I've never (willingly) participated in Black Friday and have never found that the momentary savings of a day's specials was worth the agony of participating in the consumerist feeding frenzy. But's gotten worse, especially online, and especially when it seems like every venue I like to frequent for gaming, comic and fiction news is currently dominated by an endless parade of "deals reporting" which all inevitably point you to what are essentially the same sort of deals the internet hammers you with already, every single week.....but now with more trumpets and sparklers.

Okay, just had to get that off my chest!

Thursday, November 24, 2016

13th Age Rides Again (more unabashed praise)

I've been playing lots of 13th Age, which has become the default Wednesday game for now (which is in some ways amazing considering there are a lot of D&D 5E books out now I want to be using), but it's really hard to think about not playing it. 13th Age is just such a smooth, friendly game experience and it accomplishes a great "D&D" experience while also allowing for some excellent flexibility in play style, narration and just an overall "customized/modded-out" feel, thanks to its interesting improv-style rules on stuff like One Unique Things, backgrounds, rituals and the fact that most powers and spells are meant to be evocative but leave the descriptiveness to the GM and players.

It is, in many ways, delivering the stuff I liked about 4E D&D without all the baggage 4E came with, and in a Theatre of the Mind style approach to combat that bakes in abstract measurements so successfully that no one in my group gets tripped up in distances and positioning while playing 13th Age.....which is pretty cool. Even D&D 5E, which we usually do TotM and crib a few notes from 13th Age for has us trying to figure out relative distance and positioning on occasion, but these worries never, ever come to 13th Age.

Not much more to this post than another gushing round of praise for the system. We're on a level 1-10 campaign arc over five plots, and we're wrapping the first major plot (probably next week) to start the second. Everyone has gone from level 1 to 3 so far, and will hit level 4 probably after their milestone next session....with a planned 4 or so sessions advancement between levels, we might wrap this campaign late Summer in 2017.

I've been using my Keepers of Lingusia campaign setting for 13th Age pretty consistently now, and am impressed that such a contemporary system feels so right in my most venerable old school setting, the one I started as a kid in 1980. I've accumulated enough adapted material for Lingusia's Era of Strife that I'm tempted to look in to what it takes to do 3PP work for 13th Age, and maybe release it as a book....I'm waaaaay behind the curve on my self-publishing efforts, and at the rate I'm going by the time my 5E edition of Realms of Chirak is ready D&D 6E will be out, so I'd better get cracking!

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Reviewing the Print Edition of Hollow World (Updated with Pics)

Hollow World is one of the first reprint-on-demand books available at Wizards of the Coast's site, and also the first one I ordered to check out the quality of the print. The book arrived today, and here's the lowdown:

What is it?

If you're wondering what Hollow World even is, it's a sourcebook for a literal hollow planet in a D&D setting called Mystara, although the book provides guidance on placing it at the heart of any fantasy realm if you so desire. The setting is one of D&D's more unique visions: a domain of lost kingdoms and fallen empires, a population of each sequestered away inside the hollow planet, with a strange day/night process, in which ancient Immortals have decided they will keep a record of these fallen empires. The many empires of the Hollow World are based on analogs of ancient civilizations of Earth, and in their default setting represent a who's who of the ancient history of the B/X universe of Mystara.

My suggestion is to grab the Duchy of Karameikos from the Gazetteer series to establish a "locale" for PCs to be familiar with on the surface world, then let them stumble upon a means of reaching the Hollow World from there (the core book includes scenarios for just that purpose).

Hollw World contains a lot of useful information for a B/X or BECMI era D&D game, but you could easily convert this to D&D 5E with minimal fuss, mostly through substitution (i.e. use the appropriate D&D 5E monster stat in place of the one in the book). It would also run just fine with current OSR systems like Labyrinth Lord, White Box or Swords & Wizardry Complete with almost zero fuss.


In the original release it was a boxed set with three books and a fold-out map set. The new print on demand edition is a single soft-cover volume with a full color interior on nice quality paper...the description on the product page says its standard heavyweight, but not premium...but it looks pretty damned good.


The resolution/quality is pretty much perfect. This does not look like a print from a scanned looks as good as any current release. It's got a tiny bit of that POD-level graininess (mainly to color illustrations) you might be familiar with, but I had to really stare at it a while to notice. The readability of this is A+ though. Only exceptions I can note are a couple regional maps in the Player's Section are too dark for my tastes.


The core three books of the original boxed set are bound in one volume. In the back are eight full color pages of the Hollow World maps. It's a very usable format. You will want to either grab the old BECMI rulebooks to run this baby, Labyrinth Lord (or similar) or pull out D&D 5E and start converting (my plan).

(UPDATE!) Some Pics:

I have many more of these new reprint-on-demand editions on the way. Hollow World has bolstered my confidence in the anticipated quality!

Monday, November 21, 2016

Loading up: Death Bat Dad get's a hoary hoast of classic stuff in print on demand for Xmas

I went ahead and ordered a medley of print modules today (on top of Hollow World, which is now shipped)....I guess I couldn't wait to confirm the quality of the print editions....anyway, in the order we've got:

Castle Amber --a module I first ran in 1982ish using my hybrid B/X AD&D 1E mashup.

Secret of Bone Hill --a module I ran 1983ish and also led to my second remembered TPK (or nearly so; I recall resurrections were done to get everyone back on their feet from the one surviving cleric who was also a homebrew minotaur).

Uncaged: The Faces of Sigil --a heavily used tome from my mid-nineties Planescape days, and also a lot of fun to read. 

The House on Gryphon Hill --I actually never ran or owned this before except in a free PDF WotC used to distributed in the 3E days.

Goblin's Return --in principle just the existence of a POD Spelljammer module has me buying this. Just need them to release the rest in POD now, please!

Dreams of the Red Wizards: Scourge of the Sword Coast --this was one of the four modules released leading up to D&D 5E as part of the Next Playtest period, but despite the first two modules being in print, the third and fourth were released online long last this corrects that problem; just need Dead in Thay made available in print now.

Anyway.....plan would be to use all of this with adaptations to D&D 5E, of course. I think a revisit of Castle Amber and Secret of Bone Hill are in the near future, and the next time Sigil is visited (as it often is in my settings) then the Uncaged tome will be most useful. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Wizards of the Coast offers up print on demand at the

Exactly what the title says: head on over to here and take a look, Over a dozen books are now available in print format options, including the Hollow World, Secret of Bone Hill, Dragonlance Adventures, Uncaged: The Faces of Sigil and more! The options appear to be based more on what they could produce print-ready scans for, rather than any particular structure to the releases......but damn, this is more than enough to be excited about, already.

I'm going to order something....probably Hollow World....and see how it looks on arrival. Trying hard to remind myself that I can be patient, POD doesn't go out of print.....

Review: Ultramodern5 - bringing high tech mayhem to your D&D 5E games

Ultramodern5 is a weird product. It's definitely a toolkit, and is full of useful content for creating a specific kind of modern or near-future SF experience to your D&D 5E-powered campaigns. It's published by Dias Ex Machina Games, who are also behind Amethyst, an RPG which tries to create a D&D-powered variant on Shadowrun-esque fantasy and future tech. Ultramodern5 borrows somewhat from that setting, but provides all of the content in a context-free environment, with two sample scenarios at the end modeling zombie apocalypse and alien invasion settings.

The core mechanical bits for U5 are introduced right off the bat, which is mostly a few new rules (such as for auto and semi-auto weapons fire), some skills and a few feats. The new skills include some basic crafting rules (engineering), which are serviceable and in the "scope" of 5E's mechanical depth. U5 also introduces a detailed lifepath generator that's kinda neat, and is strongly reminiscent of the old lifepath systems characteristic of R. Talsorian Games' RPGs (Cyberpunk 2020 and Mekton).

The core character generation rules are modified in some interesting ways: characters are defaulted to human in U5, and the rules, while allowing for other races or species, assume you're running a humanocentric campaign. As you read through the book, this will become increasingly evident just why this is so: the toolkit is aimed at very specific kinds of games.

Character generation now focuses on three items: a ladder, a class, and an archetype. The two new steps are designed to allow for a more customized class experience. There are seven ladders, which each describe a core conceit of your character, such as "born leader," "survivor," or "warrior."

There are ten classes, and these function more or less just like regular D&D 5E classes, with the caveat that they have left room open for the archetype (and ladder) to add level-acquired abilities. The classes include more task-specific skill sets, such as the Infiltrator, Gunslinger, Medic, Sniper and Techie. They are all fairly combat-oriented.

 The archetypes replace the more class-specific format in standard 5E where you gain an archetype, domain, school or other specialist feature at 3rd level with any of the twenty-five archetypes included in U5. These are designed so that any class can pick from them, but some classes will naturally have a better synergy (and those classes are mentioned in the archetype descriptions).

As a result, you can get some really odd and interesting character designs out of this....but with the caveat that some will be mechanically superior combinations. For example:

Veteran martial artist ring fighter
Born leader medic anti-hero
Savant Grounder Selfless Protector

Those are all viable (though not necessarily optimal) builds.

The next section of the U5 core rules consist of a massive amount of equipment, weapons, vehicles and armor with extensive details on various forms and types of power armor. It was around this point that I got the feeling the game was heavily influenced by the likes of Starship Troopers and Bubblegum Crisis. Notably absent from this section are rules on cyberware and wetware, as well as pretty much anything you could otherwise use to craft starships or more exotic SF vehicles. The equipment rules do include lots of high tech equipment and a bewildering array of high tech future weaponry, though. There's enough meat here to run a high tech near-future SF technopunk campaign, just minus the cyberware part.

As I was looking through the weaponry and armor rules it quickly became apparent that the game will feel incredibly deadly at lower levels (levels 1-5 most especially) but as things escalate and hit points grow, the damage dealing value of PCs and enemies will have an interesting impact on how high level play feels. If you get shot and take 78 points of laser fire damage, but you don't drop because your a level 16 grounder....well, I'll have to say I need to reserve my judgement on this until I try some actual high level play, but my intuition already is telling me that the feasibility of this in regular D&D 5E works best when you are assuming semi-mythic fantasy heroes, but I don't think that suspension of disbelief will work as well as one might think in a high tech future version of the same,

Aside from copious equipment rules, the book has an reasonable bestiary of foes (about 35 stat blocks) aimed squarely at the new-future technopunk thematics it is best designed for, and follows up with a section on adventure design that includes several "set piece" locations that are presented as archetypal encounter locations with enough info for the GM to run with as-is. After that are two scenario/setting locations: one is "Biohazard" which deals with a zombie apocalypse taking place in pleasant Happyland, and provides five additional zombie stat blocks. The second, "Invasion Proxy" deals with an invasion of aliens in Baghdad. Each  scenario could reflect a new world/setting in its pages, but they actually work just fine for a single campaign where weird stuff like this happens all the time and the PCs happen to be the special ops dudes who get to fix things.

There's some implication that you can use U5 to run all sorts of high tech, modern, western historical and other campaigns in this book. My take on it is that U5 works best for what I would call the "Tom Clancy/Michael Criton/toned-down William Gibson" futures, and has loads of gear and thematic classes to support such. For example, I had experimented a few blogs back with the idea of using Tom Clancy's The Division for a Savage Worlds campaign....but honestly, a setting like The Division would be a natural fit for U5. However, I don't think there's enough here in U5 for me to comfortably be able to run this as a cowboy western, for could probably do it, sure, but it would require a lot of reskinning (so whether that's an issue for you or not depends on taste) of the existing content and careful vetoing of thematically inappropriate choices.

However, if you want to run a future tech setting with lots of hardware, maybe some power armor, and a general vibe that feels like "Bubblegum Crisis" mashed up with more recent films like Babylon A.D., Elysium or even Judge Dredd (the new one) then you are probably exactly the kind of person that U5 is going to really benefit.

I'm kind of hoping Dias Ex Machina puts out a sequel that includes starship rules, cyberware, wetware and maybe even some rules on creating aliens and biogenically modified humans and near-humans --not just the "people are special in weird ways" rules U5 offers, but actual simulant, android, and transgenic rules. If it adds these rules in, then you've got a great set of rules for handling just about any contemporary or future setting using the 5E mechanics to run hard-hitting techno futures with lots of potential for brutal firefights and investigation.

So who would get the most out of this book? I'd suggest that anyone who wants some near-future high tech SF (but without cyberware or starships) or modern gaming will find this a useful tome. It's the only thing we've got right now, and I think it would serve any number of possible modern or futuristic campaigns until (or if) WotC ever decides to cough up a revision to D20 Modern.

The pitfalls could be unintended synergies in the class/ladder/archetype design that lead to suboptimal characters for games where optimizing is preferred....and the other side of that coin, where certain optimizers dominate the game due to their character design. In my read through the game I saw plenty of ways to make a suboptimal character, although nothing egregious (if you're going for an rp-focued PC this will not bother you), but not many ways to make an optimal PC build. I think the stricter design focus, keeping people to three "moving parts" helped.

If you are a fan of D&D 5E and want a toolkit to add modern and future tech themes to your games, or design a new modern/future setting from whole cloth (that sticks within the scope of what this book offers) then I think you'll find a lot to like in Ultramodern5. If you're looking for a broader book in terms of theme, scope and options for design, then I think you'll want to wait to see if U5 comes out with a sequel, or look to other systems like GURPS which provide the largest pool of resources for what might suit you best.

I could also see this book working well for a "Dragonstar" style campaign. If you don't recall Dragonstar, it was a setting for D&D 3rd by Fantasy Flight which merged fantasy themes with a future space-fantasy empire, complete with starships, laser guns, dragons and more. Think Warhammer 40K circa. 1990ish and you've got a good picture of Dragonstar. You could easily use the setting from those books with the rules from this to do a space-fantasy themed D&D 5th; and maybe borrow the starship design rules from Dragonstar to hold you over until U5 gets a proper sequel with such, too.

For me, I'll definitely be using this soon. Probably for a post-apocalyptic style "future tech society that has collapsed" type setting. I'll provide actual play details on how well it all works together soon.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Review: Open Fantasy - the D6 System returns again!

The D6 System has had a weird history, but it's always been a solid system with a lot of fans going back to the Star Wars RPG of the 80's, and these fans absolutely will not let it die....which is good! Because it's a good system, and a lot of fun.

Anyway, in it's last incarnation before death, West End Games released a variety of D6 System RPGs aimed at fantasy, modern and SF gaming. In fact those were all eventually released as free editions (right here). Each was a fairly decent game in it's own right, but suffered a bit (I felt) from being too much toolbox and not enough ready to go content. You had rules, for example, to construct lots of spells in D6 Fantasy but only a few actual sample spells to get you started. This meant there was a lot more prep up front in starting a D6 Fantasy game than was necessary for competing systems (like, ferex, D&D).

D6 Systems have languished in private fan projects for a while, and the Open6 and Mini6 systems are the most interesting examples of how fans have kept it alive and even transmogrified it in new direction. Along comes Open Fantasy from Anthony Uyl and Solace Games, which takes the full open content of the West End Games released and utilizes the OGL itself to flesh out the game into a much more robust one-book system.

The new Open Fantasy, as an example, includes more spells than I can count. It's mostly derived from the D&D OGL, so we're looking at a lot of D6-based interpretations of familiar content, but the mere fact that this includes a full, functioning magic system with tons of spell support is impressive, and instantly makes this an easier system both to run out of the box as well as to use to adapt D&D modules to.

There's also a shockingly robust monster section, which surprisingly does not do a lot to derive monsters from D&D....and also has a lot of non-western monster themes going on. I am impressed, to say the least.

If you're not familiar with the D6 System, then first: I'd love to come visit that rock you live under, but the short version is it's a die-roll mechanic built entirely on D6's, rather than hard stats. You would have a physique (strength) of 4D6+2, for example, rather than 16. When you take action, you roll your stat or skill dice and shoot for a target number. Most actions in the game resolve in this manner. Characters are not based on classes, so you have flexibility in design comparable to BRP, Mythras and other games. It's not level based, earn XP to advance your die codes up the ladder of experience. Finally, it's a "reality based" set of mechanics where in you may get better at doing things but your combat expertise is based on skill, not hit can still die relatively easily. This means that in most cases the GM has more flexibility in how he designs encounters, and with what creatures....and deadly creatures are usually best dealt with through cunning or brute force (sheer numbers) rather than just by leveling up.

Despite the realistic element, D6 System still shows its roots in encouraging cinematic play, principally due to it's heritage as a Star Wars system originally. This is a bit muted in Open Fantasy, which emphasizes it's literary sources as a genre very well, but in actual play you can see how smooth the game is.

In addition to the other robust sections, I'd like to mention that the character race options are also incredibly robust. Each racial type has numerous subtypes (10 for elf, for example) and there are a lot of racial types derived from the OGL. A few are original, and a couple raised an eyebrow (I don't recall dragonborn being OGL anywhere, precisely).

The look of the book is utilitarian in design and filled with very familiar clip art, but ironically this makes the book feel "familiar" and comfortable all at once. Yes, I love utilitarian rule book designs, apparently....I like knowing approximately where to find information with the least amount of fuss, I guess.

You can grab it in print on lulu and rpgnow. The PDF is only $5 and honestly, if you were a fan of the D6 system at all I strongly suggest you check this one out. It's a great system, and this iteration of the fantasy rpg version is the most user-friendly, toolkit-friendly and most importantly: sufficiently robust to start running something with almost zero fuss and muss.

Reviewing the Black Hack

David Black created the Black Hack (I suspect) because Swords & Wizardry White Box was too hard to fit in to a back pocket (and still sit down). The Black Hack is a slim tome of about 20 pages including the cover, focusing on a streamlined D&D-based core dungeon delving experience. You've got all the essential rules in these pages, including four classes (fighter, thief, conjurer and cleric), 78 spells, 37 monsters and the essential rules to run the game.

As you might imagine The Black Hack learns to cut corners everywhere it can. The result is an eerie mashup of the sub-genre of ultra-lite RPGs (from Fighting Fantasy to QWERP to GURPS Lite), D&D, and....oddly....Tunnels & Trolls. For example, monsters are now basically one stat (hit dice) with some notes on special attacks. From that hit die stat you can figure out their damage dealt, hit points, and almost anything else. You also advance in experience by gaining better stat numbers, also reminiscent of T&T. Some of the Black Hack expansions out there are actually solo modules converted from T&T for use with The Black Hack, too.

The game also has the players doing all the rolls in combat....when they attack, they roll to hit, and when a monster attacks them, they roll to avoid the blow. I'll be's a neat way to do it, I guess, but not a very D&D way (to me). Still, this is less "D&D" in design so much as it is a mix of other systems with D&D trappings.

If you like really brief but surprisingly flexible systems, or you want an RPG that can hold it's own for a weekend of gaming but requires almost no space to transport, then The Black Hack is a good choice. Get the print version here, which comes with a fold-out module (Town of Sorrowset), character sheets, and cute little GM screen. If you prefer digital, it's ebook edition is eminently suited to tablets.

I can't honestly imagine myself playing this game (White Box sort of is the bottom level of my desired minimum complexity) but I can distinctly imagine my son running this for his first game in about three years. I might also feel more in tune with the spartan elegance of The Black Hack in another decade or so. Either way....if you're a fan of minimalist systems, this is worth a look. In the end, if you want to add complexity there are like a couple dozen expansions by fans on rpgnow, including more monsters, classes, genres and rules to suit to taste.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Travels in Lingusia: the Ruins of Arkalor (Octzel)

Arkalor was a weird retro-addition to the history of Octzel. When it was first visited it was in the Warlord of Lingusia campaign, which took place in 3,500 AW. The ruins were identified as over 2,000 years old then. This version reflects the ruins as a six century old legacy of evil in Octzel, CA. 2092 AW, during the Age of Strife....

Ruins of Arkalor (Octzel, Gremna Province, Halale Wilderness, CA. 2092 AW)

   This ruined citadel and the vast and ancient city around it is steeped in mystery. The legends say that six centuries ago it was a seat of dark power, where chaos worshipping tieflings, eladrin, humans and orcs alike gathered to pay homage to the Chaos Pantheon. From its gates rode an army of black knights to crush the forces of Octzel and beyond, and it was a terrifying source of dark power. Little history from that dark period of time was recorded, though historians can tell you that Arkalor’s reputation was so terrible that when at last the city fell all reference to it was erased from the historical records. Neither its people nor its rulers are known today, nor why they chose to worship the Chaos Pantheons. Despite this, bardic tales and curious legends suggest the city itself did not fall to the blades of Octzellan crusaders, but instead was consumed from within by a plague of demons unleashed upon the land.
   Today, the haunted ruins are a bane to all creatures living and only a handful of ogre tribes wander the region, daring to get close to the ruins in search of valuable relics. The ruins are known to be haunted by the dead as well as rife with ancient evils, and demons are believed to ingest the catacombs beneath.     

Encounters in the Ruins of Arkalor:
Encounter 10+ for each hour in the region
D20        Encounter Chart 1
1-2          Roving pack of 2D6 ghouls
3              A band of 2D8 kytons move through the area hunting demons
4              A tiefling witch treasure hunter who claims to have ancestry from the city
5              A tribe of 4D6 ogres searching for relics on the periphery
6              A gibbering Mouther prowls about (25% chance of 1D4 of them)
7              A party of fiendish satyrs prowl the ruins looking for relics to sell (2D4)
8-10       A Chaos Gate manifestation; the region is suddenly warped and twisted as the adventurer’s presence in the ruins creates a tether to the Abyss; an Arcana check DC 12 to escape being transported to the Abyss; 50% chance of demons being dragged from the Abyss in to the ruins as well (20+2D10 levels’ worth of demons)
11           1D8 Shadows inhabiting a crumbling building (10% chance of a greater shadow as well)
12           A sudden surge of ancient chaos energy; 2D10 skeletons and 2D10 zombies arise and attack
13           A lone spectre called Nabasath wanders the ruins seeking company, though he is quite mad and likely to turn on his listeners or flee
14           2D6 wraiths rise up to destroy the “invaders”
15           3D6 dretches materialize from the Abyss, possibly led by 1D4 quasits (25% chance)
16           hell hound hunting pack (2D6)
17           A succubus appears and takes an interest in the group
18           A tether to the Abyss pulls in a very powerful demon, which mistakes the adventurers for summoners initially, giving them a moment to negotiate or flee before it realizes where it is
19           A gray ooze slithers through the ruins
20           1D4 Gibbering Mouthers prowls about

Note:  demons and pulled through Tethers to the Abyss will return to the Abyss in 1D6 minutes.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Travels in Lingusia: Old Chegga (dominion of lord Karukithyak)

Fun fact! Old Chegga was originally depicted in a module I ran at a Phoenix convention 
in 1988 and again in 1989. The first scenario was written for use with GURPS 1st edition
 and the play run lasted around 13 hours. The module was published in an issue of The 
Sorcerer's Scrolls but (damn it all) I no longer have the original issue or even a copy on
 disk or otherwise anymore. Since then I have had two campaigns in which Old Chegga 
was revisited in new areas. Some day I will map the whole thing out.

Old Chegga (Octzel, No Man's Land, Mitra's Forest, CA. 2092 AW)

   Six centuries ago Old Chegga was founded out of the waddle-and-daub mud huts of orcs who settled along the length of the vast and deep chasm in which the curious domain can now be found. These orcs found that the steep walls of the canyon sheltered them from most sunlight year round, letting them move freely between the lower dark and the surface world. These orcs were a strange lot, brought here in the search for an ancient, titanic entity called the Kraken, a name that failed to encompass the horror of what lurked in the vast caverns that adjoined the ancient canyon.

   Chegga became a mecca for deviant worship of the ancient Kraken, and it is said that somewhere along its ancient walls stretched a passage that eventually opened up to one of the vast subterranean tunnels, miles beneath the surface, in which an ancient sea could be found, and within that sea rested a slumbering beast with the head of an immense squid and the body of a foul ape. The worship of this deity was tantalizing to some orcs, but to many more it was considered a sacrilege, an affront to the proper gods of the orcs such as Baragnagor, Orcus and Baphomet. In time, the orcish warlords banded against the cultists of Chegga and crushed them, leaving behind only the mysterious ruins and strange relics that they had unearthed in their time in the ancient chasm.

   About two centuries ago the exiled sorcerer and vampire lord Karukithyak, once of the Haikyndyr serpent men in Galvonar to the south, arrived in the region and settled in Old Chegga. He was a follower of Slithotep, the mad god, and had been cursed with vampirism and exiled by his people for turning his back on Set.

   Karukithyak has long since established a dark reign over Old Chegga, rebuilding the ruins and expanding the underground tunnels, recruiting followers from among his own kind as well as the degenerate local orcs and other foul beings in the region, including deep gnomes, grimlocks and ogres. Though he is a high priest of Slithotep and has taken a vast underground chamber in which to build an immense temple to the dark god, Karukithyak has encouraged the worship among his degenerate followers of the dreaded Kraken, and lets them continue their sadistic worship and sacrifices to the slumbering beast.

   Karukithyak never leaves the subterranean ziggurat he had built a century ago, to serve as the temple of worship to Slithotep as well as his private meditation chambers deep within. He instead relies on his right hand man, the enigmatic chaos knight known as Gohondon Zar, a powerful and vile half-orc death knight who serves the vampire lord with ruthless efficiency. Beneath Zar is a network of enforcers who insure the strange ritual complex that is Old Chegga goes unmolested, seeking out rival orcs and other humanoids who take umbrage at the vile practices of Old Chegga by attacking them and exterminating them, then raising the dead in to more zombie soldiers for the vampire lord.

   Karukithyak also has an uneasy hold on Baron Hroder of Galent, whom he turned in to a vampire some years ago. He knows Hroder schemes against him, rebelling against his own vile nature, but it amuses him to let the young vampire try and best his elder. If Zar had his way, however, he would mount an assault on all the human cities adjacent to Mitra’s Forest and exterminate everyone.

   Old Chegga is a deadly underworld domain, and encounters in this region will be expounded upon more in due time.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Travels in Lingusia: Castle Galent (dominion of the vampire Lord Hroder)

Castle Galent (Octzel, Gremna Province, Halale Wilderness, ca. 2092 AW)

   Although Gerton to the north is the capitol of Gremna Province, Galent is a more robust castle, and has long served as a center of trade for the farmers and ranchers of the southern province.  The Barony is ruled by House Kratim, of which Baron Hroder Kratim is the most respected member in the community. He is second in command behind Duke Kalios in Gerton should a defense need to be mounted against foreign or monstrous invasion.

   Baron Hroder has a secret, however. East of his lands is the vast and untamed territory of Mitra’s Forest, and within that forest is the ruinous domain of Old Chegga, once an ancient bastion of chaos cultists and orcs, now dominated by the mysterious power of the vampiric Karukithyak. Some years ago Hroder sought to extinguish the vile forces that operated within the ruins of Chegga, and he failed, narrowly escaping with his life. What is not known is that he was bitten by the vampire lord, and is now in thrall to Karukithyak. For this reason along Galent proves to be exceptionally resilient against invasion from the orc-dominated woodlands, as Hroder’s inside knowledge of the monstrous lands gives him an edge.

    Hroder’s effectiveness against the orc warlords is what makes him so valuable locally, but behind the scenes he is really being used as a pawn by Karukithyak, slaughtering the enemies of the vampire lord so that Chegga may be strengthened. Mindful of his tool’s usefulness Karukithyak keeps Hroder’s position as a reliable agent safe, to avoid suspicion.

   Hroder is weakened in sunlight but does not suffer damage like regular vampires, for the curse of vampirism he received comes from a serpent man who was cursed by Set himself. Karukithyak’s kin are feared by many of the hidden vampire and undead enclaves throughout the land for this reason. However, should Karukithyak ever be slain, Hroder will no longer be in thrall to the vampire lord, but he will also lose his special resilience, becoming a  normal human vampire as a result.

   Secretly Hroder despises Karukithyak’s hold, and worries that he is funneling great power in to the hands of a madman, one which worships a dreadful subterranean and aquatic being called the Kraken. He has, and will, continue to find quiet ways to defy the vampire lord, including hiring adventures discreetly to carry out assaults and raids against Old Chegga.

   Galent is a military town, and it shows. Though only two regular garrisons of militia are maintained here (approximately 300 soldiers) it also hires and maintains an active mercenary company, and is one of the safe harbors for the rogue orcish mercenaries of Halshaggin’s Raiders. Three local knighthoods claim Galent as their home city, including the Order Triumphant, the Order of the Eternally Vigilant and a local office and tower for the Order of the Crown.

   There are numerous inns, hostels, taverns and brothels, as well as spots of entertainment, including:

The Boar’s Tusk
The Riverside Tavern (more of a creek, though)
Ancheron’s Noble Hostel
Fletch-Feathered Inn
Abroshe Gambling Hall
Arena Sports Pits
Crossroads Tavern
Serpent’s Coils

   Before Chenetoz Forks became the popular place to hang criminals, there was the Crossroads of Galent. A long while back someone bought up the land and turned the region around the old hangman’s tree in to an inn and tavern called the Crossroads. The establishment is currently run by an ogre mage of indeterminate origin and who goes only by the name of Gus. Rumor is the ancient tree at the heart of the building is still haunted, and that a malevolent specter of a dead diabolist named Histior Lokenze manifests at least once a year, on the Eve of All’s Darkness, a night when the tavern never gets any visitors past midnight, except on a dare. In the last decade at least five foolhardy souls who paid to brave the tavern on that night and apparently perished of terror, or so it is said.

   The truth is even spookier; this spirit of a mad diabolist does indeed haunt the tree, and Gus has sealed up the rooms and chambers immediately adjacent to its vast trunk, and warded them against the dead. Histior’s spirit manifests on the night of each new moon, though he is able to pass the wards only on the Eve of All’s Darkness, said to be the night when even the stars are eclipsed by the vastness of Death’s Realm.

   The Serpent’s Coils is another well known establishment, run by the enigmatic half-elf woman Histeria, who raises snakes and dances a mysterious eastern dance with them. She trains a small group of professional dancers, and puts on shows that the local merchants and mercenaries pay good money for. Besides its dances, wine and drink the establishment is a renowned brothel, and it has its own secrets as well. At the center of the building is a great pit with an ancient giant serpent, said to be a pet and perhaps even a lover transformed of Histeria. Histeria herself is a mystery, exceptionally long-lived and of unusual nature; she is in fact a were-serpent, and once was one of the greatest assassins of distant Galonia. Even now she trains her finest women to serve as agile assassins for hire, using the serpent as their key weapon. She is also one of the few citizens of Galent to know that Hroder is actually a vampire.

Encounters in the Galent:
Encounter 14+
D20        Encounter
1-5          A major seasonal market and fair is underway for farmers, ranchers and villagers in the region
6-10       Galent’s mercenary company is hiring after rumors of orcish war parties surface
11-12     A local merchant is felled by a serpent’s bite; rumors suggest he died at the Serpent’s Coils, but Histeria seeks the aid of adventurers to prove this is not true
13-14     A band of local blades seek to rough up the fresh new faces in the city
15-16     Hroder is recruiting mercenaries for a special task; he reveals he intends to send them to Old Chegga to gather information on the cult of the Kraken
17           A wealthy nobleman intends to stay in the tavern on the Eve of All’s Darkness, and his wife hires the adventurers to protect him
18           The local graveyard is apparently having troubles with ghouls and risen dead, and needs help
19           The Halshaggin’s Raiders arrive in town on call from the baron, causing a disruption

20           Rumors of catacombs beneath the city draw the attention of a priest of Enki, who seeks adventurers to escort him to find and sanctify these catacombs

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Wonder Woman Trailer #2 -- Looking Great!

I'm really looking forward to this one (disclaimer: horrible, unrepentant DC fanboy here)

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Netherealms of Altavir II: The Gods of Altavir

It's been a while, but time to revisit Altavir, the mysterious new setting I am bandying about with an eye for some future campaign. Here's the last article, for reference. And now...the deities:

Gods of Altavir

   Altavir is dominated by five major cultural groups, including the dead culture of ancient Hapath and Vidari, so powerful in their ways that even long after their civilization was destroyed the memory of their gods lives on.

   The religions of each region are not characterized by any sense of unity, though a number of gods are found in each region, the worship of such deities crossing cultural and political boundaries. Soragul is an ancient Vapari god, worshipped by the long-dead citizens of that ancient city, his grandest temple now in ruins…..but scholars across Altavir still present sacrifice to him before carefully kept shrines to this day.

   The gods of Altavir are enigmatic and distant, but oracular communication, possession and even the summoning of the gods (or their aspects) is not uncommon. Sometimes charlatans pass themselves off as diviners, but other time there are those born with what appears to be a unique tether to the gods.

   There is no consensus on the relationship of the gods to either man or other divinities, other than that such knowledge will always be beyond the ken of human understanding. The gods of Satras in the North are believed to be ancient spirits bent on destroying the world, frozen in their own wave of ice that will one day destroy the land. The Ekasian gods are benevolent spirits of growth and progress, while the Ugandan monotheism suggests a capricious, mad god rules all. The Vidari believe in many gods and spirits, but feel that they are not so powerful as to destroy a world. Behind all of this are the old gods of Hapath and Vapari, regarded as cruel demons of the outer void who would be best left alone, had the Hapathic sorcerers not drawn their attention to Altavir.

Vidaric Pantheon
   The Vidari have a surprisingly mixed cosmology of the divine. The lead god of the Vapari is Sitarnos, a wizened patriarch of the gods who’s temples grace most Vidari cities as a center of commerce, trade and politics. They have Ateinas as the goddess who is both protector, fighter, child-bearer, a patron of women and the family. Heiros is the god of death, gate-keeper of the dead and the sole deity to hold back the demons of the Outer Darkness at bay. Other lesser gods include Ouduan, the god of the great sea and patron of sailors; Merecres, the god of secrets; Adreis, the goddess of love and tranquility, Eris, the goddess of chaos and discord, Targoaes, the god of soldiers and war; and the adopted Hapathic deity Soragul, god of scholars and magic.

Northern Satrasian Beliefs
   The northmen of the Satras Steppes are a dour, stern lot who face an army of ancient, evil gods who are slowly engulfing the world in ice. Their tales of old speak of a cosmic battle in which the Death Gods won, and the old pantheon of light was destroyed. The four key death gods are Yzach, Vexor, Mavag and Thesha. Each is believed to have a legion of lesser undead gods, all undead servitors enslaved to them from prior worlds which they visited and slew all life on. The stories of Satras are that these four arrived as an army, and fought the old gods to a standstill, and the protector god Malevig fought them to a standstill before freezing them in perpetual ice….but as he did they struck and slew him. Now the death gods are frozen in the deep north, slowly awakening. The ice encroaches, for it has been taken over by the will of these destroyers, but one day they will shatter their prison and be free to wipe out humanity.

   Most Northern homes and hearths have a shrine to the memory of Malevig and the old gods, and they believe that a candle or flame must burn at all times to keep his spirit alive, prolonging the inevitable creeping heat-death of the world that much longer.

Hapathic and Vapari Pantheon
   Little is truly known of the old gods worshipped by these enigmatic and very dead sorcerers. The Hapthic belief in Soragul was found and restored in modern times by Vidari scholars, but other gods such as the elephantine Zaggal-Suun and the rapacious thousand-armed Mother of Darkness called Sibasha-Rei remain enigmas, with occasional misguided cults rising up to seek power from these lost beings.

   Most concerning of all were the later cults which worshipped seventeen devils, the so called Sons of the Dark, possibly the children of Sibasha-Rei. It is believed this latter period of devil-worship and summoning was what led to the downfall of Hapath and Vapari. The seventeen are mostly lost to memory, but three devils in particular still have worship in hidden covens today, including Raggus the Black Goat, Simidasei the Lamia Queen and Policari the Breeder.

   Sacred amulets, lost tomes and religious iconography are highly prized in the ruins of old Hapath and Vapari. Adventurers regularly plunder such relics to make a quick buck in their home ports. Occasionally one of these relics contains enough data, or some dark spirit, which accidentally rekindles the lost cult of one of these infernal beings.

Ekasian Gods
   The Ekasian culture is believed to have grown from indigenous nomadic tribes out of the plains of the dead, the Oklos Emanos. Many ancient ruins of a lost civilization are found in that region, the name of which is lost even to memory, and the language of which is mysteriously untranslatable. The Ekasians believe they have a direct lineage to this lost people who likely predated Hapath by thousands of years.

   The Ekasian belief system pays reverence to ancestors. Specifically they regard the ancestors of the ancient dead as guides in the afterlife and even the present lives of their people. The lead ancestral deity is called Nevuar, believed to be the first king of Ekasia, and spiritual guide to the Ekasian kings. Second is Mahulos, a spirit of magic and lost lore. Third is Tynorath, the spirit-goddess of wrath and justice. The fourth and final elder spirit is Makamion, the “maker of better things” who is said to be the ancestor to create all great works of man, the forger. Lesser spirits include Shanasia, the fertility spirit of women, Yamereth, the hearth-protector, and Trialion the spirit of mercantilism. There is a distinct evil ancestor spirit as well, known as Makkod, believed to be the last of the forgotten kings, the one who “brought ruin to the old age of men.”

Ugadan Belief

   The Ugandan worship the “all force” of the being called Sadaqua, which is simultaneously a benevolent and evil being of multiple “faces,” a sort of monotheistic being with pantheistic personalities. Sadaqua manifests as a devil, a savior, a trickster, a caretaker, a warrior, a sage and other roles, all represented within his dark, circular temples dug deep in to the earth.