Sunday, 29 May 2016

Seascapes, myths and the Thyato-centric view of the world

I didn't know about the 'Sea of O'SR' project when I wrote the first of my 'Fortunate Isles' posts and invited other people to contribute - if I had known, I'd probably have just added my input to the Sea of O'SR. The basic motivation (though not necessarily the execution) seems very similar. It's a shame that the Sea of O'SR didn't attract more entries - I think it was a great idea! I now want to play a whole Legend of Zelda: Windwaker/Odyssey-style campaign where the PCs visit loads of islands.

A particularly lovely version of the Zelda: Wind Waker map from

Odyssey map from here:
A big chunk of the mythology and history of my version of Mystara is derived from Greek myth. Several analogues of Greek gods exist in the Thyatian-Minrothad-Karameikos area. A giant minotaur lived  in a maze under the city of Minrothad, until it was slain by the Duke of Kerendas, who resembles Theseus in many ways (and I'm considering calling minotaurs 'minrotaurs' in this campaign); a young nobleman exiled from Tel Akbir has sailed to the ends of the earth to bring back a powerful healing artefact from a distant city-state; the Emperor of Thyatis is on the point of declaring war on Ierendi, using as an excuse the fact that the son of the King of Ierendi has kidnapped the wife of his brother, the Duke of Biazzan (she went willingly, the real cause of the war is the campaign of piracy that Ierendi has been unofficially conducting on Thyatian and Minrothadi shipping - and I'm sure, at the end of the war, a clever Duke from an insignificant Thyatian island will find it very hard to get home).

In short, in my campaign-world, the northern part of the Sea of Dread and the sea to the east of Thyatis, Ylaruam and the northern kingdoms are the Mediterranean and Black Sea - only they run the other way round: Greece is in the south-east, but the lands of the 'west' (Gorgons/Medusae, Sirens and Circe) are north-east, and those of the 'east' (Troy, Colchis, Persia) are to the west. Clear? Probably not...

Maybe I need to do a map like Ptolemy's
Ptolemy's map from here
or even the the reconstruction of Herodotus's world-view  - only it would be the world as seen from the Imperial capital. Or is that what the Mystara map is? Accurate for Thyatis, Ylaruam and the immediate islands, more and more speculative as we get further from the Imperial City? That could be fun, if when they get to the northlands the players find they look like northern Harn or the map from the Thomas Covenant books...

Thursday, 12 May 2016

Who was it who was asking about destroying their campaign?

A while ago, I was reading on someone's blog a post about what it would take to (potentially) destroy the campaign-world. I can't now remember who it was, unfortunately, but it did get me thinking. Then, after thinking, I did nothing about it for ages, but I've now decided to dust down this post and put out.

Obviously, the idea of the DM just delivering an apocalypse and the PCs watching helplessly is a nonsensical one. The PCs must have some agency in all of this. So, I took the question to be about the sparking of a series of events that would, without the PCs' intervention, potentially lead to the destruction of the world.

There could be many reasons for this. A colossal being (ur-dragon, star-god, whatever) might be awakening at the centre of the world and the PCs need to put it back to sleep (or kill it). A crazed cult may be trying to melt all the ice and flood the whole world for stupid and/or nefarious purposes (or is that just too preposterous?). But, partly because I'm a big fan of the Zelda games on Nintendo, I went with imagining a D&D spin on the classic Evil-Moon-Crashing-Down-and-Killing-Everyone plot as used in Majora's Mask.

The Moon is falling
If you do nothing, the World will soon be destroyed

In three months a cataclysm will engulf the World as the Moon crashes into it, and 90% of all animal life will die within 1 week of that event
Either evil moon-beings are deliberately manoeuvring the Moon closer to the World in order to destroy it on the whim of their Mad God, or conspirators on the World are attempting to lure the Moon closer to make it crash into the World for broadly similar reasons

Courses of action:
1 – military – fit out a mission in ‘space ships’ to go to the Moon and stop the Moon-beings’ evil plan – wreck their bases, kill their Priest-Kings, destroy their diabolical Dark Energy engines etc, or find the (presumably well-hidden, far away, on the other side of the world/inside a volcano/in the Hollow World etc) sites where the Moon-worshippers in this World are trying to attract the Moon;
2 – magical/alchemical – find out what will repel the Moon and build it as a giant Moon-guard;
a)      Repulsion – find the opposite of ‘Moon’ and collect/manufacture it to push the Moon away (the PCs can discover that the opposite of ‘Moon’, alchemically, is ‘Blackfire’– Moon is silvery, lightweight, brittle and flying, Blackfire is dark, heavy, sludgy and seeping underground: ‘Moon’ equals 40% Air, 30% Earth, 20% Water and 10% Fire, so the opposite is 40% Fire,  30% Water, 20% Earth and 10% Air);
b)      Balance – perhaps there is too much Blackfire on Earth, and the Moon is being drawn to it to balance it out, so it is necessary to destroy some/a lot of Blackfire – perhaps it’s even ‘Black Pudding’ and the world is becoming infested
3 – religious/folkloric – consult the oldest myths (or Elves or Dragons) to find out if and when the Moon (-god/dess) came to the World, and how they were chased/persuaded away – then try it again

Who will be opposing the PCs:
1 – Moon-deity cults – some evil (ie they want the World destroyed, as above), others merely obstructive (it is, quite literally, their deity’s ‘time to shine’ and they’re blowed if they’re going to let some crazy adventurers stop the glorious arrival of their Benevolent Moon-Master/Mistress who would no way harm anyone, especially Believers);
2 – Lycanthropes – they’re all getting more powerful and they aren’t going to want to go back to the situation before (this might be a good way in, the PCs may over the course of some months start encountering unusually-powerful lycanthropes giving them the first clues that there’s something wrong with the moon, which will require a longer time-frame, eg 6-9 months);
3 – perhaps some rather stoical Elves who think that the Moon is rather groovy and anyway, who cares if metric kilotonnes of humans die, they’re vermin: as long as the Elves survive that’s all fine;
4 – general Chaotic/apocalyptic cults who think that the destruction will be good;
5 – maybe some Druids, for similar reasons to the Elves – wipe out the stain of civilisation and start again;
6 – some aquatic monsters (Lizardmen, Mermen, Sahaugin etc) who may figure it’s mostly the air-breathers who are going to suffer, and might actually like higher tides.

Who doesn't believe it:
1 – Rulers (who would rather not have panicked populations);
2 – Sages (who insist that it’s all happened before and it’s perfectly natural, the Moon will merely pass close to the World, silver will become more easily-available as it bubbles to the surface in sympathy, and more girl-babies will be born for a few months, but that’s all);
3 – people in general (who don’t want to worry about stuff they can’t do anything about: “Yer, well, them Wizards down at the Omniversity, they won’t let it ‘appen will they? Them’n’the High Theolect’ll sort it out, you’ll see”/”St Nogburga will preserve us, all we have to do is eat our shrews and pray a lot”).

Who will help:
1 – Alchemists (who may prove useful and earn the gratitude of Princes for once);
2 – non-Lunar cults (who quickly get sick of the Moon-mad devotees smugly proclaiming the superiority of their deities/get worried by the flocks of believers converting to Moon-cults);
3 – some military types who might be happy to launch a war with another world.

They were my notes for the idea. Perhaps if I run out of other inspiration I can start to weave some of this into it. The idea that the PCs become aware of unusual lycanthrope activity and this leads them to the conclusion that the moon is falling is one I like. I'm sure I can introduce this to my PCs at some point in the future.

It also got me thinking about how I could take the game to another world. The idea of travelling to the Moon got me thinking about the kinds of beasts that might be there, and how it might be an opportunity to use some of the monsters that don't get much love that are nestled in my rule-books and through the pages of old White Dwarfs.

Which in turn led me to consider making a list of all the monsters I have stats for and which ones actually get used... and that's when I abandoned this post first time around. That's a pretty mammoth job, going through the monster lists in Basic and Expert and Companion and 50 or more WDs of Fiend Factory (old monster showcase in WD that led ultimately to the Fiend Folio), and all the scenarios for ones that introduce new monsters, and any official scenarios that introduce new monsters like B4 and X1, and any subsequent materials I've picked up from the OSR to make a master-list... then going through again and checking which of them are actually used in all those adventuring locations and finding the ones that aren't to populate the Moon. Too big a job at the moment. One thing I do have however is an old WD scenario based on War of the Worlds that might provide a way in... and I can try and re-skin some monsters: I can re-skin Sabre-Toothed Tigers to be big fast white 6-legged moon-lizards or something. I can also start making a list of monsters that I know don't appear in any existing scenarios - Fiend Factory has loads that are only going to appear if I make them, so maybe I can make them appear on the Moon.

All that aside, another thing that made me lose interest was that there's a problem with the alchemy as well, The opposite of 'Air' in classical alchemy is 'Earth'; so another way to slice the alchemical cake (opposite of 40A-30E-20W-10F) would be 40E-30A-20F-10W. But this doesn't actually produce something opposite to 'Moon' (more or less, equal to silver). It's something heavier and shinier than 'Moon' that doesn't influence the tides as much. Platinum maybe.

Perhaps the problem is that 40/30 along one axis and 20/10 along the other doesn't work. Maybe the axes need to be balanced, in that both axes must add up to 50. Is the moon 'mostly' airy, or earthbound? Obviously, as it lives in the sky, it's mostly airy, so maybe 40/10 Air/Earth is a better split. Then, is it mostly shiny, or does it mostly attract water? I'd say, it is mostly shiny, but it's tricky in that it hides, and it still seriously affects water, so maybe 30/20 Fire/Water is a good split. In which case, the opposite is 40% Earth, 30% Water, 20% Fire and 10% Air. So something sludgy, and a bit burny. Could still be Black Pudding, I suppose.

Pretty sure I can source some moon-maps for a wilderness (I might use the one below, actually a map of Mars from 1830 I think) and perhaps I can get some weird architecture for locations... then map out a lunar hex-crawl for the party.

Just google 'beer mars map' and this poops up

Ah well. Someday, some of this might find its way into my campaign.

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Random thoughts about Clerics

Using DDG

The myths that the players know are real. There was (or is) a 10-year war between Heroic Kingdoms. An Adventurer-turned-King was engaged in an epic struggle with a Legendary Monster. The Emperor really does command the Sun. Omens predict unlikely outcomes for orphaned children. Touching the Rainbow takes you to the Plane of Legends. There is a Monster in that Cave.

Regional powers of gods

Only gods worshipped in that area are powerful because reasons (psychic power, spirits of the land etc); journeying far decreases Clerical power (is this curtailed from the top or the bottom? Do high-level spells fail and only simple magic remain, or vice versa?). DDG lists Greater, Lesser and Demi-Gods; if Demigods are local deities, Lesser Gods are revered through regions, and the worship of Greater Gods spans … continents? This would imply that it is the upper reaches that would be lost due to distance (lack of contact with local cult power-centre).

Clerics must take care that proper devotions are made to sustain their own powers, especially when far from home. Conversely, at their home Temple their power would be greatly increased (perhaps only in the Temple they Build Themselves).

Greater/Lesser/Demi- Godhood related to number of major temples; level of grantable Clerical spells is therefore also related to number of temples. This means, spreading the word of your god/dess will help to increase their power, and ultimately the Cleric's too.

Technologist as analogue of Cleric

Maybe ‘Scientist’?

Re-skin all Clerical abilities as Scientific Skills (healing/first aid, synthesising food and water etc).

Turning – against Robotic or Electrical Effect Zones; robots and computer security systems instead of undead – Holy Symbol is…

… hang on isn’t this Dr Who? If so, are we talking about Dungeons and ... Daleks?

Oh, that’s an interesting point. If the players live in a universe where Dr Who happens (semi-divine high-level clerics wandering about trying to ‘right’ stuff) that implies that the people who do that will come after the party. Because if the average party = Dr Who (as in, the parties are the 'heroes' in world-historic terms, not just in their own narrative), then the universe is in trouble.