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 Innsmouth, 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 fist 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 Innsmouth 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.

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