Monday, October 28, 2019

Give me a fish-man and I will explain the monsters of my setting

Inspired by this post by Joseph Manola I read years ago and late-night sleepy thoughts. 

While Ye Olde Snake-Men Empire isn't a bad idea, I feel it's been suffering a bit of overexposure in the OSR, a critcism which extends to my own WIP setting. Until yesterday, I was riffing heavily on McKinney's Carcosa with the Serpentine (snake-men) being the creators of Mankind for the purposes of occult science. The Kuo-Toa (or their off-brand OGL equivalents) popped into my head as something cool to add to the bestiary. I had originally thought of them as enemies of the Serpentine, Men, and Elves but then I realized they fit the role I wanted the Sepentine to play.

You may ask, "Buzzclaw, what's so special about fish-dudes?" You're right to ask that. My first foray into the Kuo-Toa (and the D&D brand) was 3e; I wasn't impressed. They seemed like generic fishmen. Then recently (this year, I believe), I got a chance to read D2 - Shrine of The Kuo-Toa. That won me over. Horrible, amphibious fish-men ruling and rampaging throughout sea, land, and underworld, kidnapping (fishing? manning?) people for dark rituals. Then the land and sea groups went extinct, leaving only the underworld-dwellers. But they still remember those upstart Men and they're dreaming up schemes of revenge. That's some good shit right there.

Legacies of the Kuo-Toa

Assuming then, that the man-fishes had a stereotypical empire like the classic snake-men, what did they leave behind?

1) Magic! In my own setting, the (off-brand) Kuo-Toa created occult science (less icky Carcosa rituals) then Elves used some of their notes + demonic consultations to create classic D&D magic.

2) Magic Items! In their monster entry, Kuo-Toa really like to use daggers and spears; embellish that dagger +1 with aquatic motifs!

3) Monsters! Land lampreys. Land Urchins. Mantari. Behemoths from the Lankhmar sets. Cloakers too. What's a Roper but a weird-ass land-squid? Are Koalinths and Scrags aquatic versions of Hobgoblins and Trolls OR did the Kuo-Toa take aquatic creatures and create terrestrial versions? Are Mermen and Tritons prototypes or alternative research for Project: Man?

4) Dungeons! All those ruins and tombs are the handiwork of the vanished man-fishes. Are you a bad enough party to dive into ancient, pre-human ruins in search of loot?

Monday, September 16, 2019

More on McKinney's Carcosa, the Lovecraftian Pantheon, and D&D

 I noted in my previous semi-review of Carcosa that McKinney's take on the Lovecraft mythos was a bit odd. Only much later (or much recently) did I realize that his takes are derived from AD&D Deities & Demigods. I didn't notice it despite having read D&DG before because I read it during a different phase of my roleplaying days when the idea of PCs actually fighting gods seemed to be atrocious Munchkinry (I've since changed my attitudes). But that just raises more questions: Are the quirks of the D&D Lovecraft mythos examples of temporary fan theories, corporate obfuscation, or something else?

2 Warps to Neptune catalogs two sets of scans: the OD&D version of the Lovecraft mythos solely by Kuntz and the AD&D D&DG version by Ward and Kuntz. Note that Kuntz's version mentions the Ubbo-Shatla/Abhoth aspects of D&D Shub-Niggurath like I did. The OD&D Shub-Niggurath also does not spawn Elder Things, Deep Ones, or Mi-Go. Kuntz's OD&D Cthuga and Ithaqua also match the descriptions I've seen in Chaosium products unlike the fiery amoeboid and evil humanoid cloud of D&DG. It's unclear why Kuntz/Ward altered the (relatively) faithful OD&D adaptations into the more divergent D&DG versions.

Monday, September 2, 2019

Carcosan Ravenloft Cluster part 1: Darklords

I've been having thoughts about a Carcosa-based cluster for Ravenloft. I've already got a rough map done:

Queen Mora, Lady-in-iron, Slayer of Old Ones
Lawful Evil Blue woman Fighter 12
Darklord of (the realm with crater lake)

Appearance: Mora is middle-aged, attractive but with stern demeanor. She keeps her hair cropped short and has a scar that runs along the right side of her jaw. She usually wears her armor or simple robes; if she is somehow glimpsed nude there will be many more scars, wounds, and acid burns visible.

Background: On Carcosa, Lawful people oppose the Old Ones. For some, this is a reactive position, fighting those Old Ones they happen upon; for others, it is a proactive position involving hunting down Old Ones and spawn. Some advocate that even that isn't enough, that all sorcerers must also be hunted. And a small and unsuccessful fringe advocates awakening the Old Ones to kill them, for is it not better to strike on Man's terms than wait until the stars are right? For the current generation to sacrifice themselves for the sake of their descendants? the Mora was the leader of a small cell of like-minded Lawful hunters who fooled a coven of sorcerers into summoning forth The Haunter of The Moon's Dark, a massive horror who would have not awakened for another millennia. Mora and her followers killed the sorcerers then engaged in a running battle with the eldritch thing using their arsenal of alien technology. The day-long battle ended with the Old One dead, the land irradiated, and possibly thousands dead. Mora lay sprawled on the ground, questioning whether it was all worth it. She decided it was, and that she would do it again if she had the chance. The smoke around her seemed to thicken into a fog . . .

Curse: Mora and all the domain natives are sterile. She rules over a dying stretch of land without a future. She still questions herself but always resolves that she was in the right. Her curse will be broken if she admits she was in the wrong and the evil she did outweighs the good.

Special Powers: When Mora wishes to close the borders, a disorienting, jale-colored fog suddenly appears. The fog disorients those fleeing, forcing them back into the domain. She is also immune to aging but has not realize this yet.

Stats:  S 10, D 11, C 15, I 12, W 10, Ch 16
HD 9+9, MV 9, AC 2 (battle armor), Atks: 1 astatine-pulse pistol (300', 1d8 or 2d8 vs Green Men), 1 radio-beam rifle (1000' line, 2d8), 1 infrared-beam bazooka (3000' cone, 3d8), and/or 1 two-handed sword (1d10),  AL LE

Equipment: Mora has a unique suit of Battle Armor
- provides AC 2
- Back-mounted infrared-ray bazooka (3000' cone, 3d8 damage) which can swing down over her left shoulder, 25 charges
- An integrated radio-beam rifle on her right arm (1000' line, 2d8 damage), 50 charges
- An integrated astatine-pulse pistol on her left arm (300' range, 1d8 damage or 2d8 damage against Green Men)
She also carries two power cells for each weapon in the armor's thigh storage and a two-handed sword strapped to her back.

Prince K'nath
Neutral Evil White man ex-Sorcerer (Fighter) 7
Darklord of (tiny swamp)

Appearance: K'nath is a White male in his mid-20s. His hair is unruly and he has a wild beard. His eyes are bloodshot and he has dark circles under his eyes. His robes were high quality but are stained, frayed, and damaged. He fluctuates between extremely chatty and almost non-verbal.

Background: Finally, Prince K'nath and his younger sister/apprentice Princess K'nara would have their revenge on "King" Valtan. K'nath would summon the Amphibious Ones using a horrific rite to summon an army. But the most sublime, most ironic, most delicious part of the whole affair was that Valtan's own daughter would be the sacrifice. K'nath would be sure to let Valtan know every pain his daughter suffered in excruciating detail. But disaster struck. A mixed band of adventurers took the would-be victim. K'nath was panicking: He could not stop their escape but Valtan's fury would be inescapable and implacable. Then he realized that K'nara was also a White girl, long-haired, eleven years old, and a virgin. She pleaded with him; he tried arguing then used his strength instead. She was dead a few hours later and he had an army of 100 Amphibious Ones. After a moment composing himself, he left her body on the crude altar, leading his army forth through the thick fog to claim his kingship.

Curse: Although his domain is small, K'nath has totally lost all sense of direction and all his magic powers. He thus endlessly wanders the swamp, looping on his own path and getting stranded in patch of fog. His curse will be broken if he gives up on his quest for the crown and/or properly buries K'nara.

Special Powers: All Amphibious Ones in the domain obey K'nath without question, though only up 100 will accompany him at any given time. He is immune to aging and automatically resurrects within 1-6 hours at a random point in the domain with no memory of the past 24 hours and all his possessions intact. If he ever wished to close the borders, the domain would be surround by impenetrable and impassable fog.

Stats:  S 9, D 11, C 12, I 16, W 8, Ch 11
HD 7, MV 12, AC 9, Atks: 1 gamma radiation-pulse pistol (300', 2d8) and/or 1 longsword (1d8),  AL NE

Equipment: K'nath carries a gamma radiation-pulse pistol, a gold signet ring depicting Cthulhu (worth 100-200 gp), two power cells, and a longsword.

Lawful Evil Unique Spawn of Shub-Niggurath
Darklord of (sea/island domain)

Appearance: Z'lgutheb is a crustacean the size of a small hut with a crab-shaped, smooth purple hide, a beak, six dolm-colored eyes, and two thick, stumpy legs. Everywhere it steps it leaves puddles of purple slime. It usually behaves overly friendly the first time it encounters people, but tries to browbeat people into worshiping it, finally shifting to murderous rage

Background: On Carcosa, Law is merely the state of opposing the Old Ones. Some oppose the Old Ones because they wish to usurp their privileged status. Z'lgutheb lived on an island. Its six eyes saw the obeisance and worship men gave to its Old One brethren. It grew envious. It slew its brethren. It waited for the men to worship it with songs and offerings as they had done for its brethren. But instead they turned to other gods Z'lgutheb did not know. Furious, he rampaged, killing all the fledgling cults. The mists engulfed it and he found itself on a much smaller, unfamiliar island.

Curse: Z'lgutheb wants to be worshiped "properly" by intelligent creatures but its Big Island is populated by semi-intelligent apes who can't speak. It knows that there are men on the islands of its domain (fires are sometimes visible on other islands and it has seen boats) but they avoid the Big Island due to superstition. Z'lgutheb cannot swim so it cannot reach them. Some shipwrecked sailors and ambitious adventurers have washed ashore but every time their impertinence drove Z'lgutheb to devour them. If it were to finally give its quest for worship (which turn it Neutral on the Law-Chaos axis), its curse would be lifted.

Special Powers: Z'lgutheb cannot be harmed by common weapons, only magic and alien weapons. The mere touch of its body causes living beings to dissolve into purple slime unless a save vs death is made. If it dies and the curse has not been lifted, it will regrow with 2d12 hours from a pool of purple slime somewhere on the isle. If it wishes to close the borders (or is trying to prevent escape from the Big Island), sudden storms break out all throughout the domain.

Stats:  HD 7, MV 3, AC 6 (hit only by magic or alien weapons), Atks: 1 bite (1d8 + save vs death or turn into purple slime) or 1 touch (save vs death or turn into purple slime),  SZ L (7' tall and 8' broad), AL NE

Equipment: None

Chaotic Evil Bone woman ex-Sorcerer (Fighter) 3
Darklord of (plains domain)

Appearance: Because of her transparent flesh and hair, her only noticeable feature is her skeleton. She is almost always clad in her chrome reflective armor and hauling a backpack. She will always approach strangers with questions about Bone men sightings then quiet down if they do not have news. She smells of stale sweat.

Background: The Red men had finally gone to war. Only Tekeli and a dozen other Bone men had survived the attack. Only two among the group knew the ritual that could wreak vengeance: Tekeli and her lover, Xand. The rampage of the Red men made it impossible for them to retrieve the necessary dozen Bone man sacrifices from elsewhere. Xand and Tekeli acted swiftly and stealthily, disabling their fellows and dragging them to the circle of standing stones. Tekeli volunteered herself to be the 12th victim, pledging loyalty to Xand. The couple set to work of killing the eleven slowly and painfully as the rite required. Tekeli and Xand embraced one last time. Xand did not even have time to realize that he had been stabbed with a poisoned dagger before he collapsed, dead. The rite was not complete: Xand had not died within the circle, nor had his death been painful and slow. Fighting back tears, Tekeli marched off to find a 12th sacrifice, heedless the suddenly materializing fog.

Curse: Tekeli wanders the length and breadth of her domain looking for another Bone man to capture and sacrifice. She is so obsessed with her quest that she doesn't even notice how peaceful her domain is. The only way for her to lift her curse is to abandon her pursuit or to ritually kill herself or another Bone man to complete the ritual.

Special Powers: Tekeli will revive in 1-6 days after death with all her possessions intact unless she was killed as part of the ritual. If she wishes to close the domain's borders then impassable, regenerating, 100' walls of bone spring up around the borders. The walls actively attack, doing 2d10 damage per round to those climbing them.

Stats: S 16, D 12, C 15, I 13, W 10, Ch 6 
HD 3+3, MV 12, AC 8 (reflective armor and small shield), Atks: 1 hand axe (1d6+1) or 1 shortbow (150', 1d6), AL CE

Equipment: Backpack (food, rope, diary, miscellany), belt pouch (14 gp, 35 sp), hand axe, small shield, shortbow, 20 arrows, reflective armor (nullifies all damage from dolm laser, gamma radiation, green laser, jale laser, lanthanum, orange laser, radio, red laser, rhenium, scandium, sulfur, titanium, thorium, ulfire laser, violet laser, and white laser weapons).

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Thoughts on Supplement V: Carcosa (and AD&D Carcosa)

I've been reading Geoff McKinney's original OD&D version of Carcosa. I had read it before but that was really just a skim and I hadn't read the LBB back then so I decided to really read it. I decided to gather my thoughts about it nine years after the party was already over.

This fits right into the setting

Many colored-men: Probably one of the better features of Carcosa. It's weird and different but at the same time mechanically simple. It differentiates the setting in a good way. Also, it seems like no one mentions that Bone Men are Newhon Ghouls.

Alignment: Simple and straightforward, fits the setting, not open to debate.

Sorcerers and rituals: Ah, the eternal stumbling block for Carcosa. I can help but think that if Carcosa had been released six years later the criticisms about the magic would be coming from a different side of the political spectrum. I'm thoroughly desensitized (thanks, Skortched 'Urf) so I have different complaints. The sorcerer is a fighter 90% of the time and the other 10% of the time he's on endless fetch quests and wilderness treks to try to bind horrible space gods that will eat him as soon as they can. If the player eschews all the evil stuff to be a good guy banisher hero then he's a fighter 99.9999% of the time until the referee decided to toss out one of the six monsters that your rituals can affect (one of whom also requires a fetch quest). I would just toss all of this out, it's far too clunky.

Psionics: Just too ephemeral for my tastes. Needs more meat.

Dice Conventions: Yeah, that's gonna be a Yikes! from me.

Monsters, part 1 (Lovecraft commentary): Carcosa uses a lot of Lovecraft material but Geoff changes a lot for unclear reasons. Azathoth is a cthonic deity like in Rats in the Walls rather than the nuclear chaos at the heart of the universe. Cthugua and Ithaqua get obscured names even though Geoff was already toeing the IP infringement line. Yog-sothoth is some sort of fleshy pile and a rapist even though I recall the Dunwich Horror showing the mating was consensual (at least as far as an inbred teen girl can consent to the key and the gate). Shub-Niggurath is literally Abhoth (with some Ubbo-Sathla influences). Deep Ones, Elder Things, Yithians, and others are all spawned by Shub-Niggurath despite very different origins in Lovecraft's stories. Cthulhu is Cthulhu, but the constant overhyping of him in RPGs rubs me the wrong way.

Monsters, part 2 (other stuff): Carcosa has Lovecraft-inspired monsters. Most border on self-parody, with way too many colorless, protoplasmic, or slime creatures. I liked the one made of obsidian shards though. I also dig the Man-Thing/Swamp-Thing homage. The Spawn of See-my-complaints-above are interesting but a pain unless you generate a bunch beforehand.

Magic Items and Technology: This is another one of the great differentiators of Carcosa; no +1 swords or potions, instead plutonium rifles and robots.

The woman and small, non-horrifying animals would be out of place on Carcosa

Geoff McKinney has also released an AD&D line of Carcosa modules on his lulu page. They're mostly by-the-book AD&D (minus demi-humans) featuring the standard classes, alignments, and magic (no objectionable sorcerous rituals). They manage to stand out due to the writing style but are lacking in the hydrogen beam rifle department.

What's the deal with Advanced Basic D&D?

For some reason  there seems to be a big customer base for B/X clones with elements of AD&D bolted on: Labyrinth Lord Advanced Edition Companion, B/X Advanced, Advanced Labyrinth Lord, Old-School Essentials Advanced Fantasy (one of the latest attempts to cash in on this audience), and countless splats for inserting race-and-class or assassins and druids into B/X. But why is it always about piling shit onto B/X rather than trimming some fat from AD&D?

I mean, if you really want a middle ground between the two branches (Intermediate D&D, for argument's sake), it's not really that hard. Cut the races down to three or four, cut the classes down to three or four, change to three-point alignment, remove some of the weapons and armors (the LBB model of leather/chain/plate is elegant in its simplicity), and delete the subsystems you find clunky.

I've half a mind to slam something together based on this idea and sell it on drivethruRPG.

Friday, August 30, 2019

LBB/OD&D: Overman Race

Garth of Ondunin, an overman, pictured on the cover

Overmen are a semi-primate warrior race created by wizards less than a millennium ago. They stand 7 feet tall; have no noses but only nostril-slits; they have yellow, somewhat wrinkled skin; their eyes are red (or uncommonly gold) with black pupils; black hair grows from their scalps and black fur covers most of their bodies; and their five-fingered hands have two opposable thumbs. They possess little sexual dimorphism: Female overmen (overwomen) are physically identical to males except for their reproductive organs and scent-phermones; an overman described himself as "sexually incompatible" with humans and judged human women based on aesthetics rather than sexual features.
Overman have a tendency for bold, decisive, and rather unplanned action. This extends not just to war but also politics and trade. They worship no gods but do not go out of their way to antagonize them or their followers.

•Overmen player characters must have minimum strength and constitution scores of 12 each
•May not be clerics, magic-users, or similar classes
Deal 1 additional damage using melee and throw weapons
•Receive a +5 on saves against non-magical diseases that can infect humans
•Extra thumb increases both grip strength and manual dexterity (possible +5% to certain thief skills and other effects at referee's discretion)
•All chain and plate armor must be made to order (and usually at 30-50% markup)
•May receive a reaction adjustment of -1 to -3 in areas where the century-long human-overman wars still cause resentment (base 35% chance per human settlement)

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

The implied setting of OD&D LBB + Blackmoor

 Greyhawk may have been a mistake

You may have heard about the OD&D Implied Setting, an interpretation of the implicit setting of the original edition of Dungeons and Dragons based on a close reading of encounter lists et cetera. This post is about what setting is suggested when you only use the Little Brown Books (Men & Magic, Monsters & Treasure, Underworld & Wilderness Adventures) and Blackmoot; It's not in-depth.

Races aren't different: Dwarf, Elf, Halfling, and Human.

Classes are different: Assassins, Clerics, Fighting-Men, Magic-Users, and Monks. While the core trio (Cleric, F-M, and M-U) suggest a European milieu while Assassin (if interpreted as a ninja) and Monk suggest an Asiatic milieu.

Combat uses the Alternative Combat Rules + Hit Locations. An interesting aside but combat is a bit different (and not necessarily better)  with Blackmoor, acting almost like a proto-I.C.E. system.

Monsters are a bit tl;dr but for completeness: Androids, Aquatic Elves, Bandits, Basilisks, Berserkers, Black/Gray Pudding, Brigands, Buccaneers, Cavemen, Centaurs, Chimeras, Cockatrices, Cyclopes, Dervishes, Djinn, Dolphins, Dragons (Black, Blue, Gold, Green, Red, White), Dragon Turtles, Dwarves, Dryads, Efreet, Elasmosauruses, Elementals (Air, Earth, Fire, Water), Elves, Fire Lizards, Floating Eyes, Gargoyles, Gelatinous Cubes, Giants (Cloud, Fire, Frost, Hill, Stone), Giant Beavers, Giant Beetles (Bombadier, Boring, Fire, Giant Stag, Rhinoceros), Giant Crocodiles, Giant Crabs, Giant Eels, Giant Fish, Giant Frogs, Giant Leeches, Giant Octopi, Giant Otters, Giant Sea Spiders, Giant Sharks, Giant Squids, Giant Toads, Giant Wasps, Gnolls, Gnomes, Goblins, Golems, Gorgons, Gray Oozes, Green Slimes, Griffons, Hippogriffs, Hobgoblins, Horses (Draft, Heavy, Light, Medium, Mule), Hydras, Insects or Small Animals, Invisible Stalkers, Ixitxachitl, Juggernauts, Kapoacinths, Koalinth, Kobolds, Lacedons, Lampreys, Large Insects or Animals, Living Statues, Locathah, Lycanthropes (Wearebear, Wereboar, Weretiger, Werewolf), Manta Rays, Manticores, Mashers, Mermen (Blackmoor), Mermen (OD&D), Minotaurs, Minotaur Lizards, Morkoth/Morlock,Mososauruses, Mottled Worms, Mummies, Nixies, Nomads, Nymphs, Ochre Jellies, Orcs, Pegasi, Pirates, Pixies, Plesiosaurus, Poisonous Coral, Portuguese Men-of-war, Pungi Rays, Purple Worms, Robots, Rocs, Ropers (no stats), Sahuagin, Salamanders, Sea Hags, Sea Horses, Sea Monsters, Skeletons, Spectres, Strangle Weed, Titants, Treants, Trolls, Unicorns, Vampires, Weed Eels, Whales, Wights, Wraiths, Wyverns, Yellow Molds, Zombies

The monsters deserve more discussion based on certain trends. Namely, there are a lot of very tough aquatic monsters and very few people (or demi-people) out there. On the flipside, there are very many relatively weak terrestrial creatures. Many monsters are derived from British or Greek legends.

The way I interpret this is that setting of the LBB + Blackmoor is one in which wealthy coastal cities (which are vaguely British, Mediterranean, or Asiatic) flourish while the landlocked interior is home to poor and desperate people fighting for survival and wealth. Almost anything in the interior has been plundered; there are no more tombs to plunder or dungeons to find. But in the seas, oh, in the seas! Every island, reef, and shipwreck hints at treasure and terrors.