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.