Monday, April 30, 2018

(Belated) Friday Art Attack

Another Friday post that got pushed back to Monday.  Sigh.  Friday ended up being busier in many respects than I expected.  Plus, I've got all this Galaxy's Edge stuff to read still this week! (I'm about two thirds through the newest novel, Message For the Dead.

Everybody loves horrible undead armies marching on the host of the living.  Classic fantasy trope.

Another take on what stormtroopers might have looked like, had they been designed slightly differently.  With more of a 40k vibe, really.

I dunno.  An exploding star, a giant hawk, a city on a weird planet with the gravitationally unlikely super close companion.  Cool image.  Could use for a trance background.

Since I'm reading Galaxy's Edge again, we need some space opera images through in.

 Kind of the Mouth of Sauron archetype, as the movie made it.  Otherwise, an exotic and alien form of vampire.

More space opera concepts.

There's a lot going on here, and much of it is hard to decipher exactly, but isn't this pretty much exactly what sword & sorcery should look like?  Sword & sandal meets Yog-Sothothery meets gratuitous sexy women?

A Michael Whelan Barsoom cover.

Pseudo Roman sword & sandal fantasy is always fun.
 Classic 3e era yuan-ti.  Because of my disengagement from D&D, I didn't know anything about yuan-ti until 3e.  I think they're a pretty fun concept, all things considered.

This is still one of my favorite animals of all time. 

Not sure what to make of this.  A Stygian torturer, maybe.  I believe this art belongs to a Conan game, which seems apropos.

Another take on Zuggtmoy.

Friday, April 27, 2018

S.H.O.K.K. megamix

I've moved most of my music discussion over to my music blog, but since it's really a "feature a song of the day" kind of blog, occasionally I'll still have wider-ranging discussions here.  Occasionally.

I'm probably about to make a hardstyle megamix #8 and maybe #9 using a bunch of tracks that I already have.  The first one I do will feature a bunch of artists that aren't normally thought of, I don't think, as hardstyle artists, but they are clearly hardstyle remixes; like the Blademasterz remix of A*S*Y*S's "Acid Nightmare" or the El Grekoz remix of Tommy Pulse's "The Answer" or the Philippe Rochard remix of Dave Joy's "First Impression" or the Technoboy bootleg remix of Zombie Nation's "Kernkraft 400" (the last is particularly ironic, as the most famous version of that song is the remix by DJ Gius—which is another alias for Technoboy back when he was still doing hardtrance as often as hardstyle.)

I'm still not doing my hardtrance megamixes yet, though.  I did one, but then decided to call it a "prototype" and that it doesn't count!  I might forget the randomization thing and go a different direction with those.  In fact, I'm quite determined to start off with a "featured" megamix.  One of the guys who makes megamixes for YouTube (where I identified a lot of tracks to track down, as it happens) did this with Scot Project, but I'm more inclined to start with S.H.O.K.K.  I'll probably include Flutlicht in that.  I actually had thought (incorrectly) that Flutlicht and S.H.O.K.K. were two names for the same duo, but that's not quite accurate.  There is a guy who was in both duos: Marco Guardia, also known as Reverb, a Swiss DJ.  He eventually split with S.H.O.K.K. but not until fairly late, and he was present for most of their famous output.  He also split with Flutlicht, although as near as I can tell that band just kind of ended when he did.  So, that would be a little bit like saying that Hennes & Cold and Derb were the same people because Kai Winter was in both bands—true, but also not true, because he had a different partner with each of those two aliases.  Curiously, most of the Flutlicht songs have a remix by the other guy from S.H.O.K.K. as either DJ Emergency or DJ Giotto (either way it's the same guy) but what's also curious is that these remixes don't necessarily sound more like S.H.O.K.K. songs because of it either.

Flutlicht actually tends to be less hard than S.H.O.K.K..  This is a little odd; if you listen to the Flutlicht output, much of it is just "classic trance" rather than hardtrance, but the exceptions tend to be the DJ Natron remixes.  Since DJ Natron is the other partner in Flutlicht, and not the one who's also part of S.H.O.K.K., I wouldn't have expected this, but I guess it's Reverb trying out a different style.  Besides, the DJ Natron mixes have a lot of 303 acid stuff going on in them, which isn't really S.H.O.K.K.'s style exactly.

Anyway, I've got enough S.H.O.K.K. songs and remixes that I don't need to add anything to it, but some of the Flutlicht remixes or their own songs sound sufficiently similar to S.H.O.K.K. songs that they'd fit in quite well.  And if I'm going to do that, do I want to add in anything by Avatar from their "Red Planet" days?  After all, that band also has Marco Guardia, and there's even a Reverb mix.  We'll see.  Anyway, here's the songs that I might use, but I might trim this list, because it's a bit too long to make a reasonably sized megamix, I think, if I use all of them.
  1. S.H.O.K.K. - Folie A Deux [Klub Mix]
  2. S.H.O.K.K. - Isn't It All Just a Little Strange? (Flutlicht Remix]
  3. S.H.O.K.K. - My Madness Says... [Marcel Woods Remix]
  4. Altitude - Altitude [S.H.O.K.K. Remix]
  5. Avatar - Red Planet [Reverb Mix]
  6. BBE - Free [S.H.O.K.K. Mix]
  7. Cosmic Gate - Back to Earth [S.H.O.K.K. Mix]
  8. Dave Joy - First Impression [S.H.O.K.K. Mix]
  9. DJ Energy - Excelsis [S.H.O.K.K. Remix]
  10. DJ Spoke - Ignition [S.H.O.K.K. Remix]
  11. Flutlicht - Ahmea [DJ Natron's Rolling Machine Mix]
  12. Flutlicht - Das Siegel [DJ Natron Mix]
  13. Flutlicht - Icarus (The Flight) [S.H.O.K.K. Remix] (I think I might actually like the original Daedalus mix better, though.)
  14. Flutlicht - Mutterkorn [DJ Natron Mix]
  15. Flutlicht - The Fall (which version TBD.  Maybe the Marc Dawn mix?)
  16. Geilomatics - Geilomat [S.H.O.K.K. Mix]
  17. Joop - 3008 [S.H.O.K.K. Mix] (although this is the "new" S.H.O.K.K. with a new partner)
  18. Luca Antolini - We Belong [S.H.O.K.K. Remix]
  19. Marc Dawn - Expander [Flutlicht Mix]
  20. Mat Silver vs Tony Burt - Teardrops [S.H.O.K.K. Remix]
  21. P.H.A.T.T. - Damage Control [S.H.O.K.K. Remix]
  22. Signum ft. Scot Mac - Coming On Strong [S.H.O.K.K. Remix]
  23. Sound Of Overdose - City 2 City [S.H.O.K.K. Remix]
As an aside; just lining up all of these files in a playlist is over three hours long.  I'm not making a megamix that long.  

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

WAR art attack

Aside from my Friday Art Attack series, I thought I'd add a post where I feature some of the older artwork of Wayne Reynolds.  I don't remember where I grabbed all of this stuff; a lot of it was grabbed from an earlier version of his website, some of it was grabbed from Paizo or other publishers who actually commissioned the artwork, and some of it was extracted directly from pdfs of the products that used them, I think.

I'm not as much of a fanboi of his work as I used to be, but I do still believe that his dynamic comic-book-like style is pretty nifty, and I've enjoyed much of his work over the years as pretty iconic for Derived D&D.

Finally, my scenery shot, from Montana this time.  Black Canyon Lake in the Beartooths.

Monday, April 23, 2018


I encourage you to check out one of my other blogs, if you had any interest in my hardstyle and hardtrance posts, because I've generally moved them all over there.

I had thought that I was pretty much done getting hardtrance (which includes some acid, some early hardstyle, a few harder classic trance and even a little bit of tech trance mixed in) songs; I had a pretty good collection, to the point where even my "best of" list was 600+ tracks.  And then, as soon as I thought I was almost done with it, I just got 100 more tracks to review.

Sigh.  65 of them were on the collection, which you can buy from Amazon, called Techno Classics 1990-2010.  Much of this material isn't techno at all, though.  In fact, it's all material that features hardtrance superstar DJ Wag—either as the actual artist, or in one of his aliases or collaborations (like Yakooza, Pro-Tech, Pro-Active, Mikado, etc.)

Now granted, all 100 or so of the songs on my list won't make the cut.  Some of them I probably won't add to my phone at all.  Some of them I'll add to my phone, but not my "best of hard dance" playlist.  And a few of them are repeats of songs I already have, so there's a little bit of duplication involved that'll reduce the numbers... a little bit, anyway.

But there's no question about it; I've still got a lot of work to do to clean up my "on deck" queue, get my playlist completely filled out, etc.  And once I'm done with that, I'm going to start bit-time on hardtrance (again, with the caveat that it'll include some of those other genres mentioned) megamixes.  Boom!

Other than the DJ Wag stuff, a lot of the other stuff I have pending is work by either S.H.O.K.K. or Russenmafia.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Friday Art Attack

Zuggtmoy, in my esteem, bounced back and forth between being a truly Lovecraftian entity, and being about equivalent to Ursula the Sea-Witch.  Love/hate certainly describes her.  It helps, though, when we get some decent material to work with; some good Giger-esque art, maybe, and the crap that she's up to in Out of the Abyss, which remains pretty good stuff, still.

There's a kind of exotic Orientalism or chinoiserie vibe to fantasy sometimes.  Sometimes this can be cool.  Sometimes it's merely an expression of nihilism or hate for "lily white" European peoples and their culture.

If you're going to have exotic foreign fantasy influences, it had better be savage, barbaric splendour, like the Moguls or something, in my experience.  Otherwise, what's the point?

My rediscovery of the medusa as a D&D monster type, and my integration of medusae as a lesser reflection of the actual Medusa (and the snake-men, yuan-ti, or whatever else you want to call them) as a side effect of that was a long time coming.  But it shouldn't have been.  One of the three pillars of Western civilization is the Greco-Roman heritage, after all.

That said, one of the other three pillars of Western civilization is Christianity, and I was very reluctant to admit that into my fantasy for years.  For reasons that, in retrospect, aren't entirely clear to me.

I'm not really a fan of the Amazon warrior archetype that much.  Especially as it's been enabled by soyboy beta fantasy fans who truly imagine that they can be beat up by some warrior woman.  Heck, for many of them it might even be true.


That said, speaking of Greco-Roman tradition, it's not like Athena and Artemis don't represent some... atypical female archetypes, I suppose. The third pillar of Western civilization is the European nations; specifically the Celtic and Germanic peoples who underwent the crucible that created the Hajnal Line.  And they've got their warrior woman archetypes too, I suppose.

Fantasy Naboo!  Speaking of Greco-Roman, the golden age that's got a vaguely Greco-Roman architectural vibe to it is a classic, right?

I'm not really sure what's going on here.  But speaking of Lovecraftian, that's some bad business.

This Destiny race, whatever they're called (I should know, but I can't remember.  My kids play Destiny, not me) replicates a bunch of ideas I already had.  Sigh.  Not that when I came up with it it was all that original, of course. 

What the devil is going on here?  I'm not sure, but don't you want to know?  I do!

UNDEAD!  I just can't get enough.  With apologies to Vince Clark.

Church Rock, in southern Utah.  I can't tell you how many times I've driven past this formation over the years, especially when we used to take regular roadtrips from Texas to SLC to visit extended family.  It's one of my favorite rock formations still, especially standing as it does as an island in an otherwise rather flat basin.

See?  I remembered to throw in my scenery image too!

Thursday, April 19, 2018

D1 Crown of the Kobold King Deconstructed

Crown of the Kobold King is sometimes considered a kind of mini Paizo classic—one of those modules that almost everyone who plays Paizo anything plays; kind of like how everyone played Keep on the Borderlands or The Sunless Citadel back in the day.  It follows closely on the heels of Hollow's Last Hope, and even takes place in some of the same locations.

The premise is pretty cliche; some kids are kidnapped by kobolds who want to sacrifice them to whatever kobolds make sacrifices to, and the PCs wander into town, hear the rumors, and presumably decide to go rescue them.  Another "Timmy fell in the well" adventure.  The PCs are meant to travel back to the dwarven monastery and dig a little deeper into it this time.

This part of the module is all about "Gathering Information"—finding out who the missing kids are and why they're missing, i.e., the dare that they made to go spend the night at the burned out shell of an old orphanage out of town, etc.  This includes finding rumors about the dwarven monastery, since the module makes no assumption that you've played Hollow's Last Hope.  If you have, you'll have to do your own work to integrate the two.

Presumably, the PCs will then investigate the site of the old orphanage, since they find out about the dare.  Investigation uncovers a trapdoor in the ruins, and inside is the corpse of the woman who ran the orphanage.  While I'm not certain how exactly the PCs would piece all of this together, apparently the narrative is that one of the recent orphans was turned into a werewolf when her parents were killed (by werewolves.) She was imprisoned below the orphanage while the headmistress ran an ill-advised program to "purge the beast"—what ended up happening, of course, was that she flipped, went Wolfy, killed everyone in the orphanage, and then set it on fire herself, before running off into the woods.  Really all that the PCs are likely to find out though is that there's a basement or cellar that looks like a torture chamber, some silver knives, and the body of the headmistress with her throat torn out (this was months ago, but I guess the body mummified or something.)  Oh, and there's a swarm of spiders to fight, and there's obvious clues (and an obvious trail) that kobolds attacked the camp of the missing kids.

The werewolf girl then appears and tries to ingratiate herself to the party before attacking them.  But that comes later.  In the meantime, if the PCs somehow missed the very obvious clues of the kids' camp and the signs of kobold struggle, and the trail to follow, the werewolf girl can offer to lead them in the right direction, as she's interested in rescuing the kids herself so she can eat them.  And then the PCs too.

So, the module gives a number of Darkmoon Vale encounters that can happen to liven up the journey from the ruins of the orphanage to the ruins of the monastery, including some that are just color.
  • disturbing crows
  • assassin vine
  • some bugbears arguing about how to eat a lumberjack (echoes of The Hobbit, a little bit.
  • Allips (a type of ghost)
  • the body of an adventurer, including an animated goblet the PCs have to fight as well as some other minor treasure.
  • an imp who was the familiar of a dead wizard.  He mostly just wants to pick the PCs pockets
  • a drunk giant who could easily kill the entire party, but he's drunk and looking for his lost wedding ring before he goes home and gets it from his wife, so there's a chance of either avoiding him entirely, or even helping him.
  • a harpy luring four lumberjacks to their death, unless the PCs stop it.
  • a manticore
The dungeon part of the adventure.  There's no mention of the worg threat dealt with in Hollow's Last Hope, and I haven't bothered to see if the location guides even correlate or not, since I don't particularly care about dungeon adventures.  They encounter some kobolds, a grick that camps out here looking for food, shocker lizards in a hot spring, what is meant to be presented as a ghost, but which actually turns out to be the indigestible armor of a dwarven adventurer suspended in a gelatinous cube, stirges, dire rats, a stupid stone trap that releases vargouilles, more traps, a leftover homunculus, an allip, etc.  There's a battle in the old mess hall between some kobolds and some of the captives who have escaped (including the leftovers of an ill-fated adventuring band and two of the missing kids.)

Anyway, there's more, including various undead, more kobolds, more traps, etc.  All stuff that any self-respecting cliche D&D dungeon adventure for low level characters would have.  

The next level down is more typical D&Dishness; more kobolds, a choker, a gargoyle, dire bats, etc. Some items that are at least nominally innovative; the kobold hatchery, and the giant saber-toothed frogs that the kobolds ride on. There's a further level below this, but it's not detailed and it's assumed that the PCs can't (or won't) go down there, but there's graffiti on the wall about how dangerous it is, warning the kobolds not to go down there. Naturally, there's another adventure later on that covers this.  In the meantime, undead shadows should keep the PCs away.  They are meant to fight the kobold king himself, of course, and then the tribe's shaman who's still trying to make sacrifices.  The last of the missing kids is here, as well as another adventurer taken captive (who was probably already killed in a "practice run" of the sacrifice.

There's drama in town for the PCs to get involved with.  Also, the author is revealed as a bit of a weirdo and a downer; his notes following the adventure have one of the kids go crazy and turn into a serial killer, one of them's dad was secretly a necromancer, one of the mothers tries to hit on the PCs, and the rescued daughter (and her dad) freak out and handle that development badly.  All in all, there's a pretty grim, nihilistic, "nothing you do will really make a difference" vibe to it, although that's not literally true (a few of the NPCs can become good, including the arrogant son of the "lumber baron" who can be lured away from the greedy capitalist pig pursuits of his "lumber baron" father.

Sigh.  PNW hippies are the worst.

Anyway, then there's a teaser for worse evil yet to boil out of the levels of the dungeon that are even further down, and a pretty nifty appendix that details Falcon's Hollow, the town that all of this is based on.  For such a small town, the level of "urban politics" and skulduggery is... rather unrealistic, I think.  But, hey—a town map is a town map, and it's got plenty of ideas of stuff, at least.  And there's a couple of new monsters; a new type of undead, and the saber-toothed frogs.

My problems with this module are very similar to the ones I have with Hollow's Lost Heart (and I presume, to some degree, the entirety of the D-series): 1) I dislike "Save Timmy, he fell in the well!" premises and 2) dungeoncrawls.  Especially low-level dungeoncrawls, which by definition make less sense than higher level ones do, although none of them really work well.  Also; often in D&D adventures, monsters appear gratuitously, which is kind of irritating.  And if those starting premises don't bother you, the depressing nothing-matters vibe and tawdriness of the module is kind of off-putting too.

For my money, what I find potentially usable in this module is some of the detail of the town itself, and maybe some of the ideas for wilderness encounters.  The rest of the module is either too cliche to be interesting, or actively kind of insulting or off-putting.

Gaiseric and Desdichado

I use a small cropped version of the following Angus MacBride image as my avatar on many locations.  It's actually an image of Valaris, an Ostrogothic warrior who makes up a small vignette in the history of Procopius about the Gothic War that the Eastern Roman Empire fought against the Goths who had occupied and conquered Italy.  Although ultimately the Byzantines won that war against Totila and the Goths, they did so in such a Pyrrhic fashion that the Ostrogoths' relatives the Lombards were able to sweep in essentially unopposed and took their place.  Today much of northern Italy is still called "Lombardy" and has an essentially Germanic cultural character (although it no longer speaks a Germanic language for most of that area.)  Southern Italy was later exposed to conquest by the Normans.  And the Byzantines were so drained that their own empire gradually faded away; their loss of strength led directly to the need for the First Crusade to defend Eastern Christendom against the resurgent heathens of Islam.

For a variety of reasons, the success against the pagans was only limited and ultimately, under the martial leadership of the Ottomans they conquered most of the territory of Byzantium, and they hold it still.  One day (and hopefully one day in my lifetime, although I'm not holding my breath) it will be rewon for Christendom again.  But first, Christendom has a long process to "cleanse the inner vessel" before it can set its ambitions on anything bigger.  Christendom has brought itself to an existential crisis by the idolatry and iniquity of the majority of traditional Christians.  Sigh.

Anyway, although the image is of Valaris, who not only eventually lost his duel to Artabazes (although he killed him in turn) and an Ostrogoth, it was presented as a representative example of the Late Migration period Germanic warrior.  My own identity is not with the Goths, obviously, but with others of their cousins from the migrations.  I consider myself very about 45% Celtic (Briton and Scottish), 45% Germanic (Anglo-Saxon with a layer of Viking and Norman on top of that) and about 10% "other" (including very small percentages of Swiss, Portuguese and Jew).  So, the barbarians that harried Rome were not my direct ancestors, but rather close cousins of my direct ancestors.  My own ancestors were more interested in expanding northwestward rather than southeastward.  While I can look at the raids of Brennus or the conquests of Theoderic as part of my "heritage" that's possibly stretching it just a bit.  My heritage is more the Anglo-Saxon conquest of Britain, Horsa and Hengist, Ælle, and the Heptarchy generally (and the Celtic substrate that remained and contributed significantly to the genetics, if not necessarily to the culture and linguistics, of the English as they later emerged.)

Because of that "extended" heritage, where I claim all of the migration period Germanic peoples as part of my heritage (especially if they are concerned with burning down the decadent and wasted strength of the empire, which we are in dire need of again), one of my earlier nom de plumes when I decided that using my real name was becoming inadvisable, was Gaiseric, a king of the Vandals who ravaged what was once the provinces of Hispania and Mauretania and Numidia, sacked Rome in 455, and established a pirate power based in Northern Africa (of all places).  Sadly, his legacy didn't outlive him very long, but the name of his people entered our language as a synonym for destruction of property (vandalism).

Desdichado, on the other hand, is a name that has a much closer tie to my own specific heritage, it being the alias that Ivanhoe used when fighting at the lists of Ashby.  Sir Walter Scott intimated that Desdichado meant "disinherited" which describes Ivanhoe's situation in more ways than one; he's literally disinherited by his father Cedric, and his people, the Anglo-Saxons, have been conquered and suffer the overlordship of the foreign Normans.  Of course, Ivanhoe himself (as his soon-to-be wife Rowena) was not particularly interested in Anglo-Saxon resurgence; his generation was more about the budding identity of English which was mostly Anglo-Saxon, but which absorbed the Normans as well.  Historically (and linguistically) this is nonsense; the English identity didn't emerge until the Hundred Years War, more than two hundred and fifty years after the time frame of Ivanhoe, and Desdichado doesn't actually mean disinherited; it actually is simply a rather fancy word for "unhappy."

Be that as it may, I relate to the concept of Desdichado; our own culture and heritage and country (which is a subset of that Ivanhoe would have founded had he been a real person) has mostly been stolen out from under us, leaving us disinherited in our own lands.  I'm surprised, disappointed, and yet also not that so few people get the reference—I had one guy ask me sarcastically if I was from the "Yorkshire Desdichados, then?" until I pointed out that it's not my real name, and if we actually still had our culture intact, he'd probably get the reference since Ivanhoe is much more a classic of English literature than the anti-literature that the so-called literati have tried to foist on us during our indoctrination posing as education.

In any case, I could have looked for an image that's more specifically Third Crusade age, but since Ivanhoe is a fairly typical romanticized local version of the Germanic warrior, I kept the image of Valaris, who was presented as the prototypical Germanic Warrior in the Osprey series of the same title by Simon MacDowall.  Plus, I was already using the image, and I like it.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Solo: don't get your hopes up

Sure, sure... that may not mean that the movie will suck.  But none of these is a good sign, and I have little confidence in the talent of any of the people working on it.  (Especially Kathleen Kennedy.)

Sigh.  But I'll still see it in theaters.

At matinee price on Saturday morning or early afternoon, probably.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Carrion Hill Deconstructed

I had forgotten that while there are a few linked Darkmoon Vale modules, the D-series, as they call it, isn't really a series.  D was supposed to stand for Dungeon, indicating that it was primarily a Dungeon adventure.  The other codes were, for example, E for Event driven, W for Wilderness, LB for Last Baron, etc.  For the most part, there isn't really a series to the standalone modules, although there was a small series of sorts in the Darkmoon Vale: Hollow's Last Hope -> Crown of the Kobold King -> Revenge of the Kobold King -> Hungry Are the Dead.   You'd think given that there's only one small series, that I'd focus on it, but I had thought before I reviewed it that there were other series as well, and that I could do those first.  Given that there's not, I'm less inclined to concern myself with series, and just deconstruct modules that I'm interested in as I'm interested in them.  I probably should have done that from the get-go—I think I was drawn to the Darkmoon Vale stuff precisely because it was kind of a mini adventure path rather than because it actually was the one that I was the most interested in.  I was having a hard time breaking completely free of my old paradigm of deconstructing adventure paths and wanted to ween myself away from them, or something.


So, anyway, I'm not going to worry about deconstructing these modules in any particular order.  I'm just going to do them as I pick one up, re-read (or read for the first time, if I haven't yet) the module and do my little deconstruction song and dance here on the blog.  And of the standalone modules, it should maybe be a little unsurprising that the Lovecraftian-themed Carrion Hill was always one of my favorites.  One of the few that I actually read all the way through a long time ago too, actually.  Carrion Hill is directly Lovecraftian, and in fact, is almost a pastiche of Lovecraft's story "The Dunwich Horror".  There's some backstory to all of this, but most of it is needlessly esoteric; it's best just to know that there's an ancient shrine under the city of Carrion Hill called the Sunless Grove.  Some cultists mistakenly partially invoked a spawn of Yog-Sothoth, who now lurks under the city trying to finish "eating" the remainder of the cultists so it can regain its full strength (echo's of the Brendan Frasier Mummy here) and summon it's unearthy "father" Yog-Sothoth himself to town, which would be a global calamity if successful.  The PCs are in town (for whatever reason) to find it under siege, if you will, from the monster, and they have to help the outmanned and confused local authorities solve the problem.

In my opinion, the plot and set-up is a little contrived, but not moreso than most D&D modules, so it's probably not really worth complaining about. The module is best utilized if you can ignore the set-up, though, and work it into your campaign more organically.  Right off the bat, you can also see that the module offers an interesting semi-urban (it's really too small to be considered truly urban, I think) setting in the form of the town of Carrion Hill, which has a few unique elements to it.

As the PCs walk into town, there's a crier calling for adventurers (sigh.  I know) as one of the very first things that they see and hear.  They make their way to the mayor's house, where he tells them that some invisible monster has attacked from below three times so far today, the captain of his guard has been killed, it's toppling over houses and leaving a residue of foul slime behind, and otherwise he knows little except "go to the location of the first attack and investigate!" (Why the mayor has such strong opinions on how the PCs conduct their investigation is unclear, except that of course it makes the module easier to write that way.)

Slipper Market, then, has a few bodies under a tent, and the guards are digging through the rubble looking for more.  Apparently the house attacked was a poorly known relative newcomer who mingled little with the locals.  Amid the rubble there's some clues to be found; a blood-soaked rune that might be identified as belonging to the cults related to Yog-Sothoth, body parts of the missing captain of the guard, a tunnel leading below that seems to be where the creature entered the building (but apparently not where it exited).  An old cultist camp and some dark creepers reside here; suggesting that the victim of the attack was, in fact, one of five cultists.

This continues down to the Sunless Grove, a natural cavern even further below.  Two older bodies of cultists are here, including the owner of the house that was destroyed, actually. Here, the PCs will find a ghoul who's spent the last couple of days eating the bodies here, and reading a copy of The Pnakotic Manuscripts that the cultists left behind.  Here they can also find clues that suggest that five individuals camped here, and otherwise start piecing together what's going.  In fact, they went so far as to leave diaries laying around, with their names and everything, although it is written in Aklo so as not to be too obvious.

Bringing the results of this investigation back to the mayor will cause him to charge the PCs with additional tasks—find and confront these cultists, see if they know of a way to banish the creature that they inadvertently summoned, or in a pinch, just kill them so it will be banished on its own accord (and they are, after all, cultists who endangered the entire city and caused the deaths of at least a few dozen townsfolk already.)

Rupman Myre is one of the first cultists to be confronted; he owns a "middenstone vat"—some kind of local natural resource (fantasy unobtanium, basically) and has the sketchy business practice of manning his vat with zombies instead of regular workers, although he keeps this secret.  This is an interesting location; catwalks over bubbling vats, basically, which remind one sharply of how Two-Face and the Joker got their starts as freaks.  There's 8 zombies here, although alchemically treated to appear alive.  And then, of course, Rupman Myles himself, a panicked necromancer, who doesn't seem inclined to do anything other than fight the PCs.

Arlend Hyve is the next cultists; known as a scholar and historian who's lived in town for many years in a repurposed old church, he's actually also a master poisoner and murderer, who's explored the caverns immediately under his abode just a bit.  He's also panicked and is attempting to brew a poison that will kill the monster if it comes for him.  He also has four violet fungi (a very D&D-like "monster" living in his caves; he himself is a rogue.  Again; the module offers very little in terms of what to do with him other than kill him, same as Myre above.  They can also find evidence of some of the bodies Hyve has disposed of, including a missing guardsman.  He happens to have a sword on him that offers a bonus against aberrations, therefore, probably good for the final fight against the wayward spawn of Yog-Sothoth.

Waldur Crove is the final cultist, and he manages an insane asylum (of course) in town.  Crove actually has somewhat of a plan to deal with the oncoming spawn; feed it lunatics from the asylum to distract it while he binds it with a scroll and then grills it for whatever secrets they think it will tell them.  Here, the PCs will face big, beefy, lobotomized orderlies, and violent lunatics who have been the victims of Crove's heartless experiments for some length of time.  In order to reach the cultist, the PCs will have to run the gauntlet of lunatics left out as bait for the monster, and the orderlies who are there to keep them in place.  They aren't particularly fearsome combatants, but there are quite a few of them.  There's also a derro torturer in the dungeons underground, who is an ally of Crove's, and a morlock who's the same.  Crove also has a chaos beast from another past experiment buried in a sinkhole here (basically, a shoggoth, although lower in power, maybe, depending on how you interpret shoggoths in your game.)  Crove is lurking here too, and is the most powerful (by a small amount) of the cultists, a "mystic theurge" best interpreted in another system as a sorcerer or warlock of some sort.

The assumption is that the PCs confront and kill the remaining cultists, which keep the monster from sucking up their power.  The whole adventure is supposed to have a race against time vibe to it as they attempt to decipher the clues and kill the cultists before the monster does, who in the background will periodically be wrecking houses and whatnot as it looks for them.  There's a fair bit of discussion about how to tailor the interactions with the cultists, though, and the entire investigation overall, if you desire to make the module play out a bit differently, or the PCs dawdle, etc.  This monster is a CR 10 thing, usually beyond the capabilities of a 5th level standard party of D&D characters, but it suffers from 2 negative levels for each of the cultists that it hasn't killed and absorbed.  There isn't a specific place for confrontation here either, but it's assumed that it will barge in on the PCs at one of the locations listed above as they are dealing with the cultist associated with that location.

While the monster listed here represents Wilbur Whateley's monstrous brother, it does make reference to Wilbur Whateley type characters himself.

The last few pages of the module is a brief description of the town, some maps, etc.  This kind of stuff is always useful, no matter what, and there are just enough unique elements to make this town memorable.

This is an interesting module in that it doesn't really focus on monsters, with the exception, of course, of the main monster that looms in the background and offers the final showdown.  It's mostly a race against time to piece together clues and then confront human NPCs.  Although a few other monsters were thrown in to give the module some color (the ghoul, the derro, the morlock and the chaos beast), for the most part, they are all pretty classic monsters that either hail back to old school D&D, and they are in fact all based on fictional antecedents that precede even the 1st Edition D&D stats.  The spawn of Yog-Sothoth is the only unique monster, and by unique, of course, I mean that it's adapted directly from "The Dunwich Horror".

Although I don't have one per se in FANTASY HACK, by slapping invisibility on either a dark young of Shub-Niggurath or a shoggoth, I'd be there, so there's no reason why I should make one either were I to ever run or adopt this module.

In terms of how I'd run this, other than to note that I'd prefer a more organic grafting into an ongoing campaign than presented here, I think it's relatively well done as far as this type of product goes.  A few minor issues I'd probably modify, though—the siege of the asylum reads too much like a classic dungeon crawl; why is it that the PCs penetrate the "lair" of an NPC to find him (predictably) sitting in his sanctum waiting for them to arrive?  I think the race against time nature of the adventure is quite clever, but I prefer a more slow burn tension for horror style modules, at least until the very end.  The entire module (or at least two thirds of it) reads like the climax to the module.  And finally, I think the mayor and others are too proscriptive.  They need to say, if anything, look we need your help and you'll need to figure stuff out rather than, we need your help because we're understaffed, so I'm going to send you go to do something specifically that I or my closest agents should be doing.  That stretches credulity, even if it does, admittedly, make the module easier to run and easier to present.  Any good CoC scenario by default tends to involve the PCs flailing about for at least a little while as they try to piece together what exactly is going on.  Having NPCs tell them exactly where to go to find out exactly what's going on reduces the investigation aspect of it, which is a key and integral component to a good scenario of this type.

But those are, relatively speaking, pretty minor issues.

Friday, April 13, 2018

D0 Hollow's Last Hope Deconstructed

Since my CULT OF UNDEATH and ISLES OF TERROR projects were both successful in many ways, and yet not in others, I've decided to do something a little different going forward.  CULT OF UNDEATH took the Paizo Adventure Path Carrion Crown and deconstructed it, putting it back together again in a way I could play it and modified to fit into my personal setting.  For that first one, I found that I had hewed too closely to the original, which was problematic and difficult.  For ISLES OF TERROR, I tried to do it again with Serpent's Skull but divorce myself even more from the original structure.  In the end, I decided that rather than trying to rebuild these adventure paths into a new custom campaign that I could use based on the same (or similar) elements, that what was most successful about the project was just going through the books, talking at high level about what I think about them and how I would (or wouldn't) use the material myself, and then looting them for concepts to be converted from d20 (or Pathfinder) into FANTASY HACK.

So, this is the first post of this new paradigm, and I've given it the tag of PAIZO DECONSTRUCTED.  D0 Hollow's Last Hope is a standalone very early adventure from Paizo, and although it isn't part of an adventure path per se, it is loosely linked in the "D series" of modules that all take place in Darkmoon Vale, which also got a very early (albeit brief) setting supplement.  These are a little interesting, because they predate the standardization of formatting a little bit that Paizo became known for.  They certainly predate the release of Pathfinder, or even (if I remember correctly) the earliest version of the setting book.

D0 is a wilderness and dungeon adventure that's meant to be a prelude (although it came out later, so it's a prequel if you bought them in order) to D1: Crown of the Kobold King, which was Paizo's first big successful solo adventure, if I recall.  It takes place in a small frontier town nestled in a forested mountain valley supposedly run by "lumber barons" who can't be bothered to care that some kind of plague has entered the town.  The PCs, naturally, are meant to go into the woods and look for the ingredients to the Miracle Elixir that will cure them.  Sigh.  Paizo's location in the PNW and it's generally socialist vibe are both projected into the fantasy world.  But whatever, that kind of stuff is easily enough countered or changed.  A corrupt company town under the thumb of "lumber barrons" and a caricaturish "wise latina" archetype healer are almost beyond parody, but other than that, the idea of this frontier town with some woodlands to be explored nearby is certainly fine.  The set-up, though—I can do without.  I also dislike variations on "What? Timmy fell in the well?" adventures because they're cheesy and honestly kind of dumb even at the best of times, and saving poor villagers from having a bad cough (seriously; it says that the disease shouldn't be particularly deadly, except to the elderly, very young, and those who live in poor sanitary conditions.  Right there in the module background.) qualifies.

PART I: The Elusive Antidote.  Presumably the PCs will find their way to the hut of the local Wiccan wise woman (who's illustrated as black.  Or at least very brown) and find that there's quite the crowd of people wanting help there.  Curiously, after chatting with her, they're expected to go on a "gather the three-part McGuffins quest" even though pagan-witch lady herself doesn't have any confidence in the remedy!  (She does, however, think she might be able to make a fair bit of money off of it, and is willing, with some persuasion, to cut the PCs in.)

PART II: Darkmoon Vale. There's a little wilderness exploration, although rather modest, here.  After taking on hiking as a hobby, I've come to realize that travel time in D&D makes very little sense; but whatever.  This is mostly a bundle of potential random encounters, some of which add color but very little else (such as goat-like tracks from some two-legged goat-footed creature that appear and disappear again about 50 feet later.  Or an encounter with three "inexpert and slightly drunk human hunters" who are, at least, relatively friendly if inconsequential.)  The most challenging of these potential encounters is a couple of wolves.  I won't repeat them all here, but the color ones are fine, I suppose, if you don't overdo them, and nothing else listed there is anything I'd need.

A. Lumber Consortium Camp.  They go out of their way to make this ugly, surly, and whatnot, while describing the trees as "proud."  Sigh.  PNW Green Cultists; when they write modules.  The headman here can provide directions and a sketched map of the area, as well as put some pressure on the PCs—his nephew is one of the sick ones and if the PCs aren't back with a cure in time, he'll blame them (for reasons that make no sense.)

B. Bait. Here there's a fox in a trap that's whimpering, but it's really bait for a hobgoblin hunter and his "razorcrows" (hawk stats) who will fight the PCs.  They call the hobgoblin a poacher, but I'm not sure why—is it illegal for him to hunt here, or are just all "bad guy" hunters actually poachers?

C. The Forest Elder.  The Oldest tree in the forest, and one of the destinations the PCs have been seeking out to get a specific mold that only grows there, or something.  The adventure even gives us some background on how the tree was supposedly planted by this old druid guy, yadda-yadda-yadda.  It's all very Tolkienien, but how in the world or the PCs supposed to find that out?  Anyway, they'll get ambushed by a tatzylwurm (see below) here.

As an aside, there's also a sidebar on this page describing unique animals to the region.  This is all color, because the stats are copied from more familiar animals (a dunlied has the stats of a light horse, for example, and the firefoot fennec has the same stats as a dog.)  This isn't a bad idea, but it ends up usually being kind of superfluous, unless you've got some real hobbyist zoologists in your group.

D. The Hag-Haunted Hollow. The old witch's hut. Again, we're given a monologue that in spite of the rumors, the witch was really just a somewhat crotchety old woman, but how again are the PCs supposed to know that?  Anyway, she's long dead.  They can find one of the ingredients in her hut, but will most likely get tripped up by her animated cauldron, which will attack them to defend the hut and its contents.

PART III: The Ruined Monastery. Most of the rest of the module is dedicated to a small dungeon, which I'll summarize a bit more quickly because I dislike dungeons compared to wilderness exploration anyway. This is also a teaser of sorts, because this abandoned dwarfish monastery at the edge of the vale in the shadow of a mountain is the main focus of D1: Crown of the Kobold King, which is the next adventure.  But the PCs are meant to find what they're looking for on the surface level of this dungeon at least.  Depending on when they approach, the PCs might find a pair of wolves nearby.

The PCs will encounter some pretty typical 1st level dungeon crap here; a monstrous spider, a little trap and a kobold scout who hangs out on this level, some darkmantles (a very esoteric D&Dish monsters), a bat swarm, three dwarf skeletons, two more wolves, and of course, the "boss" of this level, a worg.  The worg might try and fool the PCs into thinking that he'd let them take the special dwarf mushrooms that they're looking for, but he won't, because he's a worg and he's bad.

Then the PCs rush back to town, Sonia Sotomayor makes up the potion, and the adventure is over (although it can be blended seamlessly, if desired, with the next one, which takes place in the underground levels of the dwarf monastery.  But I'm going to just present this one as written.

It's pretty straightforward, and actually kind of painfully cliche.  Just a quick "get started" module that will bring the PCs from 1st to 2nd level, and that's about it.  I suppose the adventure is fine, but personally, unless for some reason you're actually running it as is, I see little reason to mine it for much, because it's so cliche and obvious that you could just make this stuff up yourself without any problem.  It does include a few names (if you need that kind of thing; I prefer to have big name charts in languages that I've predetermined to use), a small regional map and the map of a small ruined monastery, which are straightforward and competently done, if nothing extraordinary or innovative.  It's not a bad little module, but unless you get it free (or at least really cheap) I'd probably pass.  There's dozens of similar things out there in Dungeon Magazine or elsewhere, or you could easily make this stuff up yourself.  It doesn't offer any ideas that are so interesting that most people won't stumble across them naturally anyway.

Finally, there's stats for the tatzylwurm, which is of course, a real creature of Swiss, German and Austrian folklore, but which is presented here as little different than my own previously mentioned snake-men—except a bit in terms of color and flavor.  Because of that, I won't bother making up new stats.

Friday Art Attack

I have no idea what to make of this picture except that it's really pretty interesting.  Which is sufficient, I think!

The title of the file has something to do with Abaddon, a demon mentioned prominently in the Book of Revelations, of course.  He doesn't look exactly like the DOTA 2 character, but maybe that's who it's supposed to be?  Either way, it's an interesting image of an interesting figure.

The "main world"; Absalom Station, from the Starfinder video game, corresponding to what's left of Golarion.

Wayne Reynolds' "Astral Stalker" from 3.5's Monster Manual III.  It's basically the D&D version of the Predator monster from the movies of the same name (get to da choppa!)

I really enjoyed WAR's wrap-around "murals" used as covers for various 3.5 era Eberron books.  Not all of them were ever released anywhere that I could see as digital hi-res art, and from the books themselves, they were often cut up and difficult to see because of the way the trade dress tried to be all fancy and stuff.  So, when you could get the full murals in reasonably high definition, it was nice.

A wannabe Conan fighting two of my favorite dinosaurs, Allosaurus fragilis from the Morrison Formation of late Jurassic Colorado, Utah, Montana, Wyoming, etc.

The same wannabe Conan facing off against a red-cloaked Grim Reaper.  I can't remember who the artist is for this series, but he's pretty interesting.  A discount Frank Frazetta, no doubt, but one good enough to be interesting.

The Eberron murals were hard to get a hold of, but for the most part, the Paizo ones are not (if nothing else, they can usually be extracted directly from the pdf files.  Unless you buy physical copies, of course.)  This is from the pseudo-reverse Monkey King go to Asia adventure path, needless to say.  Just as it looks like it would be.

Some Iron Kingdoms monster or other.  I really like the style of the Iron Kingdoms stuff, but it is very recognizable.

Another Starfinder piece of work, looking very much like it could belong to Star Wars, or heck, just about any other space opera, for that matter.

I decided for fun to start including one of my scenery images when I do this too.  It's not really "art" in the traditional sense, but I like them.  This is the Dillon Pinnacles in the Curecanti National Recreation Area, overlooking the Blue Mesa Reservoir.  A popular spot for boating and other activities, National Recreation Areas are not really for solitude seekers, as the name should imply,   This is actually quite close to where I went hiking last September in the West Elks Wilderness, as well as being quite close to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.  This shot was probably taken from the road (well, I'm sure they pulled into the shoulder, at least, and set up a nice camera) so it's hardly inaccessible.  It would be just on the south side of the reservoir near the Middle Bridge.  It reminds me a lot of the Castles Pinnacles or the Mill Creek cliffs, which I wanted to see (but ended up not, or at least not up very close) on my own last year.  It looks like I've got plenty of reason to go back.  If you cross the bridge from here, heading northeast, there's a trailhead and picnic area; the trail moves right up to the pinnacles themselves.  It's a little short, two-mile out and back, so easily done as a way to stretch your legs for an hour or so while driving through.

Here's a gramma and grandpa video of the hike, which is pretty laid back, but short enough.  She's wrong, though.  You could relatively easily hike to the top if you were so inclined, although of course, you'd have to route find yourself, because the trail doesn't take you there.  But you can certainly hike in places where there isn't a trail.  I've done it plenty, and with open country with low scrubs and bushes instead of trees, so you can easily see where you are the whole time, it's pretty easy.

Gramma might want to put some long pants on first, though, so she doesn't get her legs all scratched up.  From personal experience, I can vouch that bushwhacking in shorts is often not very fun.