Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Cult of Undeath, summary of progress

First off; I've had the idea that... maybe I can use some of my Prezov County along with my Tarush Noptii from DARK•HERITAGE and kinda sorta merge them together?  I had a number of changes I was going to make to Tarush Noptii anyway, at least in terms of geography and some names.  It occurred to me that there's no reason why the two can't essentially be merged, even if I keep separate names for them for the two settings; i.e., treat one as a complete copy of the other simply with different names.  It's not like I have a lot of locations for Tarush Noptii established anyway, nor is it like any of the details I have for Tarush Noptii are completely incompatible with Prezov County.  With, of course, a few minor exceptions.

  • Prezov County is a county, ruled by an Elector Count, who is (presumably) part of the selection process of a Holy Roman Empire type government.  In DARK•HERITAGE there is no such organization, so Tarush Noptii could never be a county and could never have an elector count.  Well, OK--that's semantics.  Unless I get involved in nation-building politics, who really cares anyway, right?
  • One of the conceits of Tarush Noptii is that it is ruled openly by vampires.  One of the conceits of Ustalav, of which Prezov County is a bowdlerization, is that the monsters are just below the surface and it is possible to not believe in them.  There are other hybrid models; Karrnath, for instance, from Eberron openly uses some undead (usually mindless undead like zombies and skeletons) as military resources, and is ruled by a vampire king--however, not openly; the vampire king poses as his own mortal grandson, who is actually dead.  I need to ask myself the following question, really: does my own bastardization of Ustalav suffer from having an openly vampiric ruling caste, or does that not even matter for the modules that I'm going to adapt.  Well, I can also ask myself the next follow-up question: does it matter if those two don't align completely between Prezov County and Tarush Noptii, and does it affect at all my effort to re-use elements of both in a hybrid manner?  And if the answer to that is no (and I think it is) then I can just keep that particular detail separate between the two settings.  It doesn't really matter, since in the Carrion Crown adventure path--either the original or my likely adaptation of it, it's not like the PCs are going to meet the king or get involved in any kind of dynastic intrigue, etc.  The only difference it will likely make, and this may be more cosmetic than anything else, is during the 5th module when the PCs get involved in vampire politics a bit in the capital.
  • Well, now that I've talked myself through the difficulties, I think I've kind of decided that having an openly vampiric aristocracy is actually kind of cool; it establishes way up front the themes of the area and its nature as a fantasy setting that feels more like a horror setting, in many ways. It also gives me the opportunity to work through more details of how I can apply this to Tarush Noptii as I go through my continued revision of  DARK•HERITAGE as part of its migration to Google Sites.  So Tarush Noptii and Prezov County converge more and more--but I'm going to continue to keep them separate for the time being.  I still don't want to forcibly adopt Cult of Undeath into DARK•HERITAGE complete with the regional details of that setting, the races of that setting, etc. so I'll keep the two extremely similar areas of the setting technically separate.
  • And I do also like the notion from Karrnath (and from Hollowfaust before that) of using some undead as a natural resource for some manual labor or conscript services.  I can find some way to use that in Prezov County and Tarush Noptii both.

Here's a summary of the names I came up with in the earlier posts.  Nice to have them all listed out, right?
  • Ialomita - small village, location of...
  • Hellstone - a former prison site, now abandoned and ruined after a fire.  Also: haunted.  Of course.
  • Mittermarkt - larger city, site of the Academy
  • Naggazz - the Dweomer Lich (obviously a variation of Dwimmerlaik) the Great Necromancer.  Despite the open nature of undead and necromancy in Prezov County (or Tarush Noptii either one), this guy is still the main Enemy.  Dead and locked away.
  • The Black Path - The cult of Naggazz, dedicated to his reanimation and reinstatement
  • Bitterwood - werewolf infested forest.  Similar in tone to Mirkwood from The Hobbit.
  • Dragomiresti - site of a former village, now infamous as a massacre site.  Abandoned, and... of course... haunted.
  • Innsburough - seaside village of Deep One cultists
  • Grozavest - capital city
  • Seneslau Lechfeld - captured nobleman
  • Spire of Neb Ankh - prison of Naggazz; his former lair/capital
  • Grigore Stefanescu - head honcho of the Black Path.

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Gorillas in our Midst

I stumbled across an archive of my old wiki for Demons in the Mist; the very successful and very wahoo crazy "odd D&D" game I ran as a play-by-post starting in late 2008 and into the first quarter or so of 2009.  Wow, has it really been more than six years?  It has.

Anyway, I've been motivated to restart my long dormant novel project, and in looking at my past notes, I was unsatisfied with the directions I had been heading.  Thinking that a scoundrel "Odd Couple" pairing like Lash and Ricardo would actually make the perfect "first among equals" of an ensemble cast, I wanted to reread their original adventures in my Mist setting.

And I'm not done yet; I'm maybe 25% finished with the Pbp game threads which are probably nearly the equivalent of a modest novel in terms of actual amount of text.  Briefly, I had the wild idea that I could adapt the entire game--not just the characters, but the plot and everything--into DARK•HERITAGE, but the more I read of it, the more I think that's probably not really doable, or at least, if I did it, the result would be relatively unsatisfying.  The tone and feel and even the very details of the two settings are simply too incompatible for that to work.  But it has made me think two things about DARK•HERITAGE as it currently stands that I now need to address...

First; I think some of my stuff is too concentrated.  The FORBIDDEN LANDS, for example, is the specifically Lovecraftian area of the setting, with names cribbed from Lovecraft's Dreamlands sword & sorcery tales and other stories in the same public domain ouvre, like the Vale of Pnath, Carcosa, the Plateau of Leng, etc.  Do I really want that all concentrated in one area, separated from the rest of the setting?  I think not.  In my drive to concentrate influences, I found that I basically had made completely separate mini-settings with a different tone and feel.  This wasn't surprising; in fact, to a great degree, it was deliberate.  But I don't necessarily like it anymore, or desire that now; unlike in an Indiana Jones movie, the characters can't hop on a plane and have a faded montage while a red line moves across the map, and then they're in a different part of the setting with a different tone, feel, and challenges.  It would be easier, and more conducive to what I want to do if I had blended them more thoroughly; it would be better to have the slavers and onyx traders of Sarkomand more readily available rather than tucked away in an obscure and esoteric corner; it would be better to have the apes of N'gah somewhere where I can reasonably have interactions of some kind with them, etc. What's the point of having Lake Hali and Carcosa right on the edge of the Plateau of Leng and within sight (well, not literally, but figuratively) with Kadath?  Then they interact with each other, but not with anyone or anything else.

So second; a restructuring of the map of the setting is needed.  I've still wanted to come up with a new version of the map for some time, and this is the best opportunity to make it a reality.  Because my tools for digital map-making are more limited than I'd like, what I think I'm going to do is stop trying to make a professional RPG product style map, and go back instead to a Middle-earth as drawn by Christopher Tolkien type map.  I'll actually draw--by hand--the map itself, maybe do some very light/limited colorizing, and then add the labels as text on a new transparent layer.  This will be relatively easily done; I just need to find a few hours to pull it off (as opposed to many hours with my previous plan.)  Of course, a limiting factor is determining exactly how much of the map to change and in what way--I may need to go through several drafts before I'm happy with the layout of the setting.

And to come full circle; I am thinking of having Lash and Ricardo--or transparently similar characters, at any rate--be my main protagonist characters in an all new novel outline which I'll also start working on and be disciplined enough to actually finish the thing this time.

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Cult of Undeath template, part 2

Wake of the Watcher is part 3 of the Carrion Crown, and I can actually do this particular module more or less as written.  Sorta.  The concept is that one of the artifacts stolen earlier on in the series (from the poor guy who's funeral brings together the PCs in the first place, actually) isn't one of the McGuffins needed for the ritual to bring to life the Dweomer Lich after all; it's instead a Deep One (of Lovecraftian Innsmouth fame) idol that the Black Path have stolen to trade with the Deep Ones for the actual artifact that they want, which is actually located in the undersea (actually a large inland sea-scale lake rather than the ocean in this case) city of the Deep Ones, here represented by SRD scum.  There are actually a fair number of fish-people analogs in D&D; the scum and the kuo-toa are the most similar to Deep Ones.  Wizards of the Coast decided to keep kuo-toa "product identity" however, so they are not in the SRD.  My own ruleset for m20 does have Deep Ones identified as such, and again--I'm less likely to prefer the proliferation of the same concept into a large variety of different monsters than D&D itself is prone to do.

However, the concept of Wake, as described by the designers, is to be a "reverse Innsmouth."  The PCs are meant to discover that the Deep Ones have somehow been discovered by a cabal of mi-go, who have now enslaved them.  In attempting to overthrow their new mi-go overlords, some of the scum (or maybe it's human cultists from the city) have attempt to contact Shub-Niggurath and Dark Young are at risk for manifesting (which, if I recall, is actually the climax of the adventure.)

I, again, find the concept of monsters and cultists being presented as sufficiently sympathetic that we're supposed to save them, a difficult concept to swallow, and sadly, its a recurring theme throughout this adventure path.  But that's relatively easy to work around; if the PCs need to either find the McGuffin, or stop the bad guys from finding the McGuffin, or at the very least find the clue that leads them to the next adventure--as campy, predictable and railroady as that concept kind of is--then we at least have sufficient motivation to play the adventure out more or less as written, even if they don't want to bother saving the cultists of Illmarsh (Innsburough--let's be plenty clear what we're pastiching here) or the Deep Ones--which seems to me to be perfectly reasonable--they still can explore the area, have the requisite encounters, and whatnot.

I certainly won't include the detailed exploration of the caverns below the city where the Deep Ones live, because again--dungeons.  I don't do them.  I dislike strongly the blinders that module designers have where they can't help but turn everything into a dungeon.

When we get to the penultimate adventure in the arc, we--again (sigh)--find ourselves meant to ally with the monsters, and save vampires from something worse than vampires or something like that.  In the backstory of the campaign, in the waning days of the reign of the Dweomer Lich, many vampires turned away from him, looking instead to capitalize on their parasitic relationship with humanity and therefore foster their continued existence.  The Black Path adherents, however, have allied with a coven of witches and made a deal with them in which they brew a potion or elixir which is like a drug to lesser vampires, particularly spawn.  Hooking a lesser vampire with this, they've convinced him to betray the vampire hierarchy in the capital city (Grozavest).  This guy has been running around murdering vampires secretly and framing a patsy for it.  He's also moved quickly up the hierarchy of vampire social status in the meantime.

The PCs are meant to enter this entangled web of deceits and to some degree sort it out.  They may well have little or no sympathy with the entrenched vampire hierarchy and may in fact well celebrate the fact that it's being destroyed, but the fact that it's to be replaced (in the mind of the young vampire responsible for the murders) with a younger, more aggressive, less cunning generation of vampires means that it's likely worse for the poor citizens of Grozavest.  Also; there are two side effects of the success of this scheme; the Black Path gets the last item that they're looking for in their quest of a string of McGuffins and can go attempt to bring the Dweomer Lich back.  This is, of course, the whole deal that the PCs have been chasing after the entire time they've been playing this.  However, we introduce another wrinkle; the two witches are trying to reform their hag mother, who has been stuck in a swarm form for years, by gathering all of her bones and assembling them together.  That's the stake they have in this whole thing, and what the Black Path has bartered for their help.  Stopping this from happening, or better yet, putting the entire trio out of their misery, is a great secondary goal.

In the final chapter of the series, a very prominent nobleman (Seneslau Lechfeld) has been kidnapped; supposedly if the various McGuffins are used on him, the spirit of the Dweomer Lich can possess him and thereby return to the world from its trap in the tower/prison in which it remains today (the Spire of Neb Ankh.)  The PCs have to race to the sinister cursed lands surrounding his ancient capital, work their way through various undead haunted areas to confront the head honcho of the Black Path (Grigore Stefanescu) who has by now himself turned into a powerful lich, and stop him from enacting his ritual, save the damsel in distress (who happens to be a man, sorry) and halt the plans for the return of the worst villain the entire campaign setting has ever known.

There's also a gratuitous slam at right-wing type guys because on the way, you're supposed to find a group of crusaders falsely accusing a "witch" of being a witch or something.  Blah.  I'll absolutely either cut or completely change that one.

While numerous details of this don't appeal to me, and the structure of the entire thing feels way too much like simple slogging from one combat to another without anything more interesting happening, at a rather basic level, I think it works fairly well and I'll probably approach this with a slightly lighter touch than I have some of the previous chapters in this arc.

There's some interesting suggestions at the end for continuing the campaign from there.  One is that our damsel in distress, Seneslau Lechfeld, starts having visions after his experience of the seals that hold the Dweomer Lich captive failing.  He has reasons to believe that there's something to them, so he contacts his trusted friends and rescuers, the PCs, for help.  Another suggests that the hag mentioned in part 5 is reborn.  Another is that the vampires from part 5 have an all-out vampire war break out in the capital city.  Another is that various former lieutenants of the Dweomer Lich from the time of his undead rule manage to sit up and take notice, etc.

Anyway, we'll see.  Clearly, I'll have some work to do to clean this up into something that will resonate for me personally and my tastes, and the slightly bohemian "misunderstood monsters" and "evil intolerant crusaders" vibes will have to be excised as well as the dungeons, and if I can figure out how, the heavy-handed railroading that the modules assume.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Cult of Undeath template, part I

In order to both decide what needs to be included in my bowdlerized version of the Ustalav setting, and how to modify the modules to be what I want them to, I need to go back through them and keep less unwieldy summary handy.  For this post SPOILERS ALERT I'm going to summarize the modules, both for my own benefit, so I have a template on which to work, and a guideline for where this campaign will go.  It also gives me a guide as to what locations I need to include in my homebrewed up reflection of Ustalav, so I can go on a hunt for names.

Keep in mind SPOILER ALERT that I'm writing this from the perspective of a GM running this thing.  If that's not you, and especially if you're possible to play this adventure path, you should avoid this post.

Enough SPOILER ALERTS yet?  Don't read if you might play the Carrion Crown.

First, The Haunting of Harrowstone is the module that kicks this whole thing off.  It starts off in a small rural town (Ialomita) that is infamous as the site of the worst prison in the entire realm (the Hellstone).  However, about fifty years ago, the prison was destroyed in a fire during a prison riot, and the prisoners, warden and many of the guards were all killed.  As you can imagine, the place is haunted and no small part of the adventure includes an exploration of the Hellstone and the putting down of five infamous serial killers who are now ghosts.  There are no other locations necessary for this adventure, but it makes reference to the larger city with a major Academy that's also in the Realm somewhere (Mittermarkt.)  It also introduces, via shadowy hints and clues, that there's a sinister force, the cult of the great Necromancer (Naggazz) also known as the Dweomer Lich, that's running around causing trouble, although at this point, little of their goals or even their presence will be detectable.  The PCs show up for the funeral of a friend, which involves them, via a somewhat contrived railroad, to stay in town for a month, and have to deal with the failing of the barriers that keep the ghosts of the prisoners confined to the ruins of the Hellstone.  They'll almost certainly also pick up on clues as the nature of the death of the friend--who was murdered by the cult of Naggazz--and they're also obligated as a stipulation of the will, to return some sensitive books to the Academy mentioned above.

So to kick all of this off, I merely need to name two places; the village in which they start, and the city in which the Academy is located.  I also need to decide if I'm going to stick with Naggazz as the name of my Great Necromancer, and give some kind of name to his cult (which I think I'll keep simple and just go with the Black Path.)  I discovered, or at least guessed, that Nagash is an alternate spelling for Najash or Nahash (or Nachash) is the Hebrew word for snake, and is thus the word used to describe the serpent in the Garden of Eden.  It seems most likely to me that the good folks at Games Workshop meant for Nagash to be a subtle reference to the Devil himself.  That makes me like the name even more, of course, although I won't necessarily stick with the Naggazz corruption.  I also don't want to be obviously doing the exact same thing as Warhammer, though.  Melek Taus, the name of the devil to the devil-worshiping Yezidi is another option with a real world origin.

Because I'll be setting the tone for the entire Realm, I'll also need to just establish some minor backstory.  I've called it a county already, and the reason for that is that I want to emphasize that it's a small, Ruritanian-style realm.  The ruler is an Elector Count, and the character of the country should be like that of the eastern Austro-Hungarian Empire; a combination of rural eastern Europeans (i.e., I'll re-use my Romanian name list) combined with German names as well.

The second module, Trial of the Beast, will require more work on my part.  It only takes place in and around the city above with the Academy; Mittermarkt, called Lepidstadt in the original.  It's basically Frankenstein's monster who is captured and due to a quirk of someone's idea of justice, rather than simply being put to the torch, it's put on trial.  The twist in the plot here is that the beast is innocent--at least of these specific murders for which it's being put on trial--and its secret creator is the real monster, although he's supposed to be sympathetic too, because he's sad about his family or something.  Yeah, yeah, yeah--I've read Mary Shelley and I know that's kind of the point (at least to some degree) but the whole thing feels a little too White Wolf: The Impotent Whining to me.  I don't want to run a module where the PCs are running around trying to keep a monster from being framed for murders.  I mean, I guess I could go all Primal Fear on them and keep it interesting, but I'd rather just rework the entire thing.

From a meta-perspective, the point of the module is that the Black Path has come after the creator of the beast in their standard "collect enough McGuffins" quest, which is where the PCs get their next clue which is meant to lead them into the next module.

For Broken Moon, the PCs, now actually directly trying to track down the cult, find themselves stuck in a wild forest where the assassination (by the Black Path) of the most powerful werewolf in the region has thrown the entire werewolf community into disarray.  Here the PCs must negotiate politics between evil demon werewolves and... slightly less evil regular werewolves, or something.  Again; lots of fighting of werewolves, but there's a kind of sympathetic ring to at least some of the "misunderstood monsters" that doesn't ring like it belongs in any kind of horror story.  This may need some reworking too.

Of course, they also get sent out to an old battlefield where the cultists are digging up bodies to reanimate them to have an army ready for the Dweomer Lich.  Here they fight undead/necromancers and get the next clue.  For locations, I need a reasonably large, dark Mirkwood-like forest (again; let's keep it simple (the Bitterwood), and a haunted area that was once the site of a great slaughter and which has now been salted and cursed into complete uselessness (the abandoned and deserted village of Dragomiresti.)  This one may require some rather significant rework as well.

Next time; the next three modules.  This post is longer to write than I expected because I have to skim through all of the modules to summarize them, so I'll split it into two.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Cult of Undeath System (complete!)

That was almost trivially easy, but there you have it.  I adapted my existing DARK•HERITAGE m20 rules to this new setting by copying and pasting, mostly, the rules, editing out any specific references to the setting, putting it on fewer pages, and mixing up the races a bit.  In fact, I used the race rules for my Star Wars m20 game, but renamed some of the races to be more in common with what you see in fantasy; i.e.,  humans, elves, dwarves, halflings, orcs and cursed (by which you can assume that I mean tieflings, basically.  Tiefling as a word is product identity for Wizards of the Coast, so I have to make do with the concept without using the word.  The concept is, of course, as old as the hills and therefore public domain; Merlin himself is said to have been a changeling, for instance.)

As in D&D, humans are the most versatile, with a bonus to all skills.  Halflings are stealthy and dexterous, orcs are strong, elves are learned, and dwarves are hardy.  The cursed are a bit more nuanced, with a few minor bonuses, including to their DEX score, their Physical skill, and their Knowledge skill, to represent intuition that is their heritage from a fiendish ancestor.  Although arguably, their stats look more like what you'd expect from a d20 elf than a d20 tiefling.  Oh, well.

Because I'm using the Star Wars race system, of course, you can tweak any of the stats to your taste, or even create any racial profile (from a mechanics perspective, at least) that you wish.  I don't really recommend that you do so, and even less do I recommend that you people your PC groups with odd and bizarre races that you've created that don't have any place in the setting.  However... well, everyone likes options, even if you don't plan on necessarily using most of them.

EDIT: I'd also like to add the Shadow Sword class to the line-up, now that I think of it.  It seems entirely appropriate for this setting.  Plus, here's a picture of what could be a Cursed Shadow Sword.  Who wouldn't want to play this guy?

EDIT 2: I noticed, as I was going through the spells, that I have already named my Tar-Baphon after all; or at least I have a spell specifically named after what is meant to be the most iconic, legendary necromancer in the history of everything.  However, I deliberately hearkened back to Nagash with my 5th level spell, Command of Naggazz.  I could always edit the name of the spell, but most likely I'll use that.  I've always thought Nagash was a great name.  I don't want to tread too heavily on it, but I'm happier more or less mimicking it than many other options, honestly.

Next up for CULT OF UNDEATH is to start developing the setting.  That won't be trivially easy, and I can't just cut and paste it with a few minor edits, so that will almost certainly be a slower-going process.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Cult of Undeath Introduction

Welcome to the Cult of Undeath!  This is an experiment by yours truly; I'm adapting a number of elements, specifically an existing RPG rules set, a version of Microlite, or m20, and the general idea, tone, theme, and some of the specific events and details of the Carrion Crown Adventure Path.  In my experience, Paizo Adventure Paths tend to turn into a sloggish Death March before they're done, with all kinds of sprawling tangents, red herrings, and way, way too many dungeon crawls for my liking (to be fair; I don't like any at all, really.)  Because I'm going to be so heavily modifying, redacting, compressing, and changing the adventure path that I'm going to have to rewrite it almost from scratch, I thought I'd document my efforts here.

While I was at it, I ended up deciding to simplify and rewrite the portion of the setting in which the adventure path takes place as well, creating--essentially--my own slightly more generic version of Gothic horror themed sword & sorcery.  So not only do I need to document an adventure path, but also a mini-setting.  And because I want to use m20, but I'm not really prepared to endorse any specific iteration of the rules as written--partly because of my own idiosyncratic tastes, I'm even having to document my rules.  The end result of the Cult of Undeath is going to be a truly complete role-playing game: rules, setting and adventures all in one convenient package.  If I'm happy with the result, I may turn to other Adventure Paths and attempt to shoehorn them into the same schema.  But first, let me describe briefly each of those three elements, what they are, what they're like, and what I'm attempting to do with them.

Microlite (m20)
The Microlite, or m20 system (which is what I'll call it from now on out) is a dramatic restructuring of the famous d20 System, which is the backbone of 3rd Edition Dungeons & Dragons and the evolved version of this same game, Pathfinder.  In the case of m20, however, the design goals were dramatically different than either.  Whereas both d20 and Pathfinder are very robust, rulesy systems, with volumes of rules to play with, m20 is only a few pages long.  It hearkens back to the way rules used to be back in the 70s, when we had the OD&D set, which was three little booklets of less than a dozen pages each.  Even ignoring the trajectory of AD&D, which is the one that d20 followed, the more rules-lite versions, such as the later BD&D (various versions) expanded on this small and humble beginning, following the paradigm that more is more rather than less is more when it comes to rules.

m20, then reverses that trend back to the OD&D levels--if not even further, perhaps--but does so not with arbitrary and arcane rules, but with rules that have the harmonic integrity and consistency of d20--but without most of the detail and subsystems and exceptions, etc.  I've used m20 before as the Recommended Rules set for settings I've developed, and I've got a grand total of only 27 pages for a complete set of rules.  And even that is overstating it; if you don't count the title page, the table of contents, a few pages of discussion and introduction, the OGL, a character sheet, etc. all it really takes to play m20 is ten pages of rules and another ten pages of spell-lists and monsters.

In part this is doable by interpreting the rules in the same spirit of "rulings, not rules" of OD&D, as highlighted by several OSR-themed personalities over the last few years.  In part, it's doable because the d20 system which makes up its basic chassis is consistent enough that it can be pared down sensibly moreso than the original rules were able to be.  And in part, it's been done by a ruthless adherence to simplicity and rules-liteness as a design goal.  All m20 games should be avoided by players who really enjoy most the "games within the game" of resource management or tactical combat.  m20 supports those who are interested in collaborative story-telling, fast pacing, and adventure.  I'm almost hesitant to say that, due to the ridiculousness of game design theorists who have tarnished the notion of "story-games" but m20 is not some high-brow, self-righteous and smug artisan rules-set.  It's just simple, no nonsense, base minimum rules for gamers who don't really care for rules.

Prezov County
This is the setting, which will show some similarities to the Pathfinder setting area of Ustalav.  The gist of it is that it is a region meant invoke Gothic horror themes and tone into sword & sorcery fantasy gaming.  In other words, if Bram Stoker's Dracula were brought into a D&D setting, Ustalav would be the result.  Prezov County therefore has the same theme and tone; it's Gothic horror in fantasy.  My only reasons for not using Ustalav are aesthetic: I want to prune and simplify the setting.  I also want it to be more generic; I don't want to "copy" the setting of Ustalav too closely.  I've always enjoyed tinkering with settings, and I struggle, quite honestly, with utilizing pre-written settings as is without making significant modifications to them.  Making it "my own" means I don't have to trample on potential Paizo Publishing I/P, as well as giving me the opportunity to make any changes I want to to better fit the tone and themes that I want to fit.

Prezov County isn't just Transylvania and Dracula, however.  Pretty much any kind of Gothic or even many versions of modern horror are welcome here and meant to fit.  Vampires are an important element.  So are ghosts and hauntings, werewolves, Frankenstein-style monsters, and there's even a city that's obviously meant to be Lovecraft's Innesmouth, complete with Deep Ones at the bottom of a vast lake.

The history of the nation is forged in conflict; the world's greatest necromancer is from Prezov County, and he ruled it with an iron fits for generations.  Although now defeated, the legacy of this brutal occupation by undead casts an indelible pall over the entire region.  This is also reflected in the title of this Google Site: Cult of Undeath, which foreshadows the main antagonist that players are meant to face off against through the course of the adventure path.

The Cult of Undeath
While of course the Cult of Undeath is the main antagonist of the adventure path, it's not quite so simple, and various other tangents get us there.  It is, of course, my goal to greatly simplify and pare down the adventure path as written, but I'm going to at a very high level hit the same beats.  There are six segments to the adventure path, and each has its own focus, with a "metastory" of the Cult of Undeath weaving its way through all of them.  They will be, more or less, as follows--and I say this, of course, without having had the chance to do any of the work of redacting and modifying the adventure path, so I don't yet know what the finished product will look like:

  • A haunted prison, with some of Prezov County's worst villains needing to be put to rest a second time.
  • Frankenstein's monster runs amok in a city famous for its academy.
  • A plague of werewolves and their conflicts and wars spill out of the dark forest and into the streets.
  • A decrepit Lovecraftian Innesmouth analog allies with the Cult of Undeath.
  • A serial killer... but of vampires.  Why are we trying to stop this guy again?
  • The Cult of Undeath races to restore the Dark Lord; the PCs race to stop him.  Classic stuff, here.

As this site evolves, all three of those basic pillars will be developed.  The rules will come first, because I'm mostly cutting and pasting from my earlier iteration of the m20 system.  Setting will follow, and the reworking of the adventure path will most likely be the last to be completed.

The Near Term Prospect of Gaming

After months of inactivity, I poked my old RPG group, and it looks like it's positive for us getting back together again soon.  I don't know if our Star Wars game will pick back up, or if it's faltered to the point where it's effectively dead.  Personally, I suspect we'll end up coming to the conclusion that the latter is true; I think the enthusiasm for the game is way down, and most importantly, I think the GM's enthusiasm seems to be way down.  He's had other things to worry about; just moved, etc., but I think we'll most likely decide that the game has stalled sufficiently that it would be difficult to defib it back to life.  Of course, my projection there may be wrong; it may turn out that everyone is really gung-ho to get it moving again, and that it comes back together.  But based on my prior experience; I doubt it.

So, that opens up the question: what do we play next, then?  I've tossed out there the concept of playing some shorter, old-school retro games; something between a one-shot and a mini-campaign, based on various older modules: B2 Keep on the Borderlands, N1 Against the Cult of the Reptile God or U1 Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh.  Possibly, if we're still up to it, to be followed by X1 The Isle of Dread.  I might even play using the B/X rules, but probably not, because I don't remember them very well and I'm not very interested in figuring out how to play them again, honestly.  We're all very familiar with d20, and it seems to be the group's favorite, so most likely it would be via that system, were we to play this.

On the other hand, that doesn't get us very far, even if that is what we play, and most likely folks will be in the mood to start talking about campaigns again.  There was a thought many months ago that a Horror on the Orient Express campaign.  Two guys in the group contributed to the kickstarter, and although I haven't heard that it actually delivered or not, it's something that we had at one point all agreed to play, at least.

And finally, if old-fashioned D&D is our goal, I'll offer to run a modified and truncated or redacted version of The Carrion Crown; the early Gothic horror themed adventure path from Paizo.  Mostly, I'd want to make the whole thing shorter and eliminate almost everything that looks even remotely like a dungeoncrawl.

In fact, ideally, although I don't know if I can convince the guys to ditch their beloved d20, I'd run an abbreviated Carrion Crown, with the serial numbers filed off, using my own version of m20.  There's no reason I couldn't go ahead and use the corner of Golarion that these modules were originally meant to be played in, and there's no reason why I couldn't simply play it using locations and cultures from my own DARK•HERITAGE setting, but I'd actually want to do neither; I'd prefer to take the basics of Ustalav, at least the parts necessary for this series of modules, and rename to file the serial numbers off of them, rearrange them with a new map, etc.  Just basically simplify and genericize the modules even more than they already are.  And make them shorter, as well--my experience with Paizo adventure paths is that they turn into a Death March long before you're done with them, and I want it to be fast-paced and fun.

I created a new tag, CULT OF UNDEATH in which I'll actually go through the process here on my blog.  The end result of all of the posts with the tag will be:

  • A generic mini setting element that I could use anywhere, which is not connected to nor meant to interface with my main setting, but which is meant to be a more generic sword & sorcery vaguely D&D-like setting.
  • A slightly modified version of my m20 rules, but probably without the setting specific races, and with a few more "standard" generic fantasy races added in instead.
  • A framework for each of the modules in the adventure path on how exactly I'd modify, truncate and redact them into an experience that is, at most, half the length of the original.
And because I like to recycle artwork that I find here and there on the internet, I'll tag this post with a picture of Nagash from the recent End Times event in Warhammer, who will stand in for whatever I end up calling my "genericized" version of Tar-Baphon, the Whispering Tyrant.  Hey, maybe I'll even borrow Corey's Barsoom version of the same concept and call him the Tyrant's Shade?  Or maybe I'll go more classic and call him the Witch-King?  I dunno.  Plenty of time to figure that kind of stuff out later.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

List of Kings

While I'm not actually a fan of the notion that you should develop long histories for your fantasy settings, I have to admit, that I like a good map and chronology as much as the next guy.  While trawling some other blogs, I saw the idea of a d12 table for determining what happened to the rule of kings that allows one to create, without the effort really, a chronology not unlike the Appendix A to The Lord of the Rings.  I've decided to bulk up the chart with a few more ideas and make it a d20 table, and make it more fitted to my setting.

The following isn't meant to be canonical, but I decided to use the system to generate a quick and dirty list of kings for Baal Hamazi, starting at year 1 of the A.S. through year 522--45 years before the present time, when the Empire fell into its current state of Balkanized city-states.

How long do rulers rule?  According to the list of Windsor Kings, the longest reigns were 63 years, but most were much shorter.  I've whipped up yet another quick and dirty chart (keep in mind; although a fantasy setting, I don't have any long-lived races like elves or dwarves to contend with.)

Roll Result
1 d100 weeks
2 d4 years
3 d6+2 years
4 d6+4 years
5 d6+8 years
6 d10+10 years
7 d10+15 years
8 d10+20 years
9 d10+25 years
10 d10+30 years

The cumulative of all of the reigns of all of the rulers I generate needs to add up to 522, so it may require some manual adjustment on at least one or two of the entries (I'm thinking both the first and second will be manual; the rest will be randomly generated.)

The next thing I need is a list of names--Bingo, I've already got one for the Hamazin language, with almost 140 entries on it.  Ideally I'd pick names randomly too, but I'm not going to, just because I don't want to mess around with figuring out a new way to do that with the resources I already have.

And finally, my bulked out "events" table, to give each ruler's reign just a bit of personality:

Roll Result
1 Ruler is the founder of a new dynasty.
2 Ruler has the same name as a previous ruler.
3 Ruler's reign is marked by political turmoil that itself has been given a name.
4 Ruler was converted to a new religion and made his conversion official for the entire kingdom.
5 Ruler supervised a fundamentalist religious revival.
6 Ruler is known as a political or military reformer.
7 Reign ended with the assassination of the ruler.
8 Ruler founded a cadet branch (or more) via his many children of potential future claimants to the throne.
9 Ruler married into another dynasty, growing the realm via dynastic union.
10 Reign ends in scandal.
11 Reign ends in abdication.
12 Ruler supervised significant growth via conquest or other means of the realm.
13 Ruler supervised significant decline and contraction of the realm.
14 Ruler's reign split by a Usurper or Pretender to the throne.
15 Ruler's reign marked by prolonged warfare.
16 Ruler known by an epithet.
17 Rule was notable for a series of natural (or supernatural) disasters.
18 Ruler was revealed to have been an imposter.
19 Ruler spent the majority of his reign ruling in exile.
20 On ruler's death, the realm was split into multiple kingdoms.