Happy New Year! I have made a rash resolution, to wit: my Alien Orifice campaign (you know, the one I’ve been banging on about for two and a half years) will debut before the end of February 2015.
I have a folder full of notes and maps. It’s time to pull things together into playable form and set some PCs loose on Inanna to explore, fight and
die horribly win treasure.
The inspirational sources for the campaign are three-fold, like so:
See if you can work out where these fellows fit in.
Intelligent avian aliens, they resemble humanoid birds. They are intensely curious, and many become adventurers and soldiers of fortune like humans. Bird-folk have all the abilities of a robber (of a level equal to the creature’s Hit Dice), minus the climbing ability (they can fly). They communicate telepathically among themselves but not with outsiders. Since they do not speak, communication with non-bird-folk consists of elementary sign language. Lots of pointing, in other words.
HD 2 (base); AC 5 ; AT 1 weapon (by weapon); MV 6 (flying 18); AL N.
I trust your Yuletide festivities passed merrily. Perhaps you overindulged. I understand; those roasted parsnips were irresistible. Fear not, dear bloated reader! A visit to Claw’s Carvery won’t add a single pound to your already grotesque bulk. For the Carvery is but a weightless electronic document compiling a few mini-adventures and other assorted bits (and indeed bobs) from this humble blog.
Mini-adventures! – Tomb of the Mantis Khan and Ynys Bach
Magic items! – Flute of the Forest and Prebasang’s Melancholy Marionette
Random tables! – Villainous cognomens and drifting vessels (expanded)
Old Norse gubbins! – Grim Aegir and duelling rules for Norse campaigns
OGL! – Everything is statted for the Swords & Wizardry Core Rules.
20+ pages of reheated giblets. You’re welcome!
I’ve been reading A Red & Pleasant Land and enjoying the gags in the bestiary chapter.
I also appreciate Zak’s reading/viewing/listening list (“Things to Read and Look At”, p. 27.) and his remarks regarding tone (“The Unreasonable”, p. 28). The mood of cock-eyed Carrollian logic, the Eastern European aesthetic and the recurring motifs of dreams, doubles, mirrors and topsy-turvy gravity-defying architectural space all put me in mind of the mysterious, oneiric films of the Quay Brothers, especially “The Comb” from 1990. Add this gem to your viewing list, right after Švankmajer.
… and it is red and pleasant.
Thank you, Jim of Finland. And thank you, Zacques des Sabatons. This book is every bit as classy and beautiful as we were led to believe.
Nanoblock stegosaur for scale, obviously.
If you want A Red & Pleasant Land for yourself, dear reader, then I suggest you get your skates on. As of this writing, there are fewer than 150 copies (from a print run of 3000) remaining in the LotFP store.
Now I’m off to read as much of the book as I can before I have to go to work.
I don’t use Trollsmyth’s popular Shields Shall be Splintered! house rule in my games. Not because there’s anything inherently wrong with it, but simply because my players gravitate towards magic-user and thief characters – hence, no shields. Anyway, while thinking about Old Norse roleplaying, I realised there was a perfect context for the rule, or a variant thereof.
In the Icelandic sagas, the concept of personal honour is of paramount importance as character motivator and driver of plot. Offences against a person’s honour may include such things as insults, slander, infringement on another’s property, or physical assault. The laws of the land are supposed to deal with such matters and the favoured outcome is some form of arbitration and, ultimately, reconciliation. Human nature being what it is, such a peaceful resolution is not always achieved, nor even desired by the participants in all cases, and a cycle of violence, once initiated, escalates into a blood feud. While this is disastrous for those involved, it makes for exciting narrative so it’s good news for the saga reader.
Before the start of the eleventh century when the practice was abolished, Iceland’s laws also allowed the wronged party to seek redress by challenging the offender to a duel. Two kinds of duel are mentioned in the sagas. The first, einvigi, refers to men meeting in single combat to settle a matter of honour, which may occur independently of third-party interference or adjudication. One example is the fight between Bjarni of Hof and the eponymous hero of The Tale of Thorstein Staff-Struck, in which the antagonists acquit themselves decently and honourably, neither man exploiting any unfair advantage over the other despite the absence of witnesses. The other, more formal type of duel is called hólmganga (“island-going”) and is conducted according to strict rules. The fullest account of these rules is given in Kormak’s Saga, which features several duelling scenes. In the guidelines that follow, I don’t try to incorporate all the details of the hólmganga ritual – which in any case differ from one text to the next – but rather to provide a playable model for Norse duelling in old-school games that captures some of the flavour of the literary sources.
[Note: For no other reason than that of brevity, I use the masculine pronoun throughout.]
If a character is challenged to a duel and declines to fight or fails to turn up at the specified time and place, then he loses honour and is diminished in the esteem of the local populace, including his retainers or other supporters. The Referee decides how this is made manifest in the campaign. I have seen attempts to introduce systems of “honour points” and the like, which might work well provided the bookkeeping isn’t too onerous. My preference would be a simple penalty on reaction/morale rolls. A penalty of -2 is certainly warranted for backing down in the face of a challenge. Naturally, if this method is chosen, the Referee should also be prepared to hand out bonuses to characters who attain significant honour by their deeds.
If the challenge is accepted, then a time and location must be mutually agreed by the participants. Two or three days are usually deemed sufficient for preparation. The participants must also agree on arms and armour. Shields are mandatory, even for characters who don’t normally use them. One-handed swords and battle axes are the most commonly used weapons. The participants need not both employ the same type of weapon.
The duel may take place on a small island suited to the purpose, but more often the hólm is metaphorical and artificial: a spread cloak, five ells square, pegged out on the ground. Beyond the outer edges of the cloak, a further space is defined by the placing of strings, or hazel-poles, to mark the outer perimeter of the duelling-ground. If a participant sets one foot outside the perimeter he is considered to be retreating; if he puts both feet outside he is running, and has forfeited the duel – and his honour, with consequences as described above.
When all is prepared, the duel begins. The participants enter the duelling-ground and take turns striking each other. At this point we depart from the abstract combat system common to old-school games and enter a more concrete, detailed mode, with characters trading individual blows. Don’t bother with combat rounds, especially not if yours are a minute long. Don’t roll for initiative; the challenged character goes first, while the challenger tries to defend himself with his shield. Since the latter is not trying to attack but only avoid damage, he is considered to be fighting defensively and gains a -2 bonus to AC. (Or use the rules for defensive fighting, if any, in your game system of choice.)
If the blow connects, the defending character may choose to sacrifice his shield to avoid sustaining any damage. (This can be automatically successful – my preference – or the Referee may require a successful saving throw.) Each participant is allowed three shields; if all three are destroyed, he must defend himself with his weapon. He still gains the -2 AC bonus for fighting defensively.
[Option: The participants may elect “seconds” to hold their shields for them, instead of holding their own. If the “second” belongs to a character class not normally able to use shields, then no AC bonus is granted, though the shield may still be used to avoid damage, as above. If all three allowed shields are destroyed, the “second” retires from the duelling-ground and the participant must use his weapon to parry, as described above.]
Whenever a participant sustains damage, there is a 2 in 6 chance (alternatively, a 10% chance per point of damage sustained) that his blood falls on the cloak. If this happens, the bleeding character may elect to retire from the duel by paying a ransom of three marks of silver (48 gp) to his opponent, who is then declared the victor. The loser suffers a diminution in personal honour as outlined above.
The duel continues, turn by turn, until one of the following conditions is met:
– One participant is killed or, for whatever reason, can no longer fight.
– One participant retreats or runs from the duelling-ground.
– One participant pays a ransom to retire from the duel.
– Both participants agree to stop fighting.
EXAMPLE OF COMBAT
Asmund has been challenged to a hólmganga by Bjorn, over a perceived insult. Both men are 4th-level fighters, wear leather armour and wield swords. At the appointed time, the duel begins.
As the challenged party, Asmund strikes first. He needs 13 to hit Bjorn’s AC 4 (leather + shield + defensive bonus). He rolls 2: a clumsy stroke, easily parried by Bjorn.
It is Bjorn’s turn to strike. He also needs to roll 13 or more. The roll is 6. Asmund parries.
Asmund rolls 4. Bjorn rolls 18, which is a hit unless Asmund sacrifices his shield – which he does, avoiding damage. Bjorn waits while Asmund drops the shattered shield and takes up another.
Asmund rolls 11. Better, but still not good enough to trouble Bjorn. Bjorn rolls 9.
Asmund rolls 19, and Bjorn sacrifices his shield. “That was a heavy blow,” he says. He takes up his second shield and strikes again, rolling 12.
Asmund rolls 7. Bjorn rolls 17 and Asmund, breathing hard, now takes up his third and last shield. “Things are not going as well as I expected,” he mutters grimly.
The unlucky Asmund rolls 3. Bjorn rolls 18. Asmund’s shield is splintered and now he must defend himself with his sword alone. His AC is now 5.
He swings at Bjorn and rolls 13. Bjorn sacrifices his second shield. Bjorn then aims a blow at Asmund, rolls 12 and hits, doing 4 points of damage. The Referee rolls to see if any drops of Asmund’s blood fall on the cloak. They do. There is murmuring among the spectators. Asmund glares at Bjorn, who still has a shield to spare, considers his options, and hurls his sword to the ground. “Luck is not on my side today,” he says, pays three marks of silver to release himself from the duel, and goes home in a foul mood. He will also have to pay Bjorn compensation for the original insult and suffer whatever penalty the Referee decides to impose on his reputation.
Finally, here are some situations that might lead to a duel in a Norse-flavoured campaign:
– An NPC claims that the PCs have stolen something.
– An NPC insults a PC or claims that the PC insulted him.
– The PCs have (knowingly or otherwise) killed the servants of a powerful and hot-tempered local chieftain. The chieftain demands compensation. If a large cash settlement is not immediately forthcoming, he challenges the best fighter in the party to a duel.
– In a heated theological debate, a Norse cleric challenges a cleric of another faith to a duel over Freyja’s honour.
– An arrogant professional dueller has demanded a farmer’s youngest (and favourite) daughter as his bride. Having refused, the old man faces a duel in three days. One of the PCs might volunteer to fight in his stead (assuming the dueller accepts this), especially if the farmer has something of value to give.
Kormak’s Saga, in Sagas of Warrior-Poets, Penguin, 2002.
The Tale of Thorstein Staff-Struck, in The Sagas of Icelanders: A Selection, Penguin, 2000.
Nothing short of astounding. I’m following events here: http://new.livestream.com/esa/cometlanding
A few months ago I wrote about using a lightly-modified version of the X-plorers RPG to run a “post-apocalyptic” campaign set on the planet Jorune in the immediate aftermath of the Human-Shanthic War. I also wrote the first part of a session report, and fully intended to write the rest. However, I didn’t keep proper notes during the game and, although I recall the general outline of what happened, the details are lost to me now.
Here, though, is the adventure. All you need to know is that a couple of months have passed since the war. A few dozen traumatised survivors of the East Basin research station (now a shattered ruin) eke out a humble existence in a camp in the forest. They know that there’s a shanthic structure some 30 kilometres north-west of their position. Volunteers with useful skills are required to investigate the structure and report any activity, shanthic or otherwise.
SHANTHIC SHRINE OF THE RED HARBINGER
Random Encounters in the Forest
The shrine is two days’ journey on foot from East Basin. Check once per day for an encounter (2 in 6 chance). If an encounter is indicated, roll 1d6:
1. Bear (1)
2. Scrade (1d3)
3. Tarro (2d6)
4. Tarro (2d6)
5. Weaches (2d6)
6. Wolves (1d6)
Random Encounters in the Shanthic Shrine
Check twice per hour (1 in 6 chance). If an encounter is indicated, it will be with 1d6 dark weaches.
Key to the Shrine
On the surface, the shrine consists of a plain stone building, approximately 9 metres (30 feet) across and hexagonal in plan with a multi-faceted dome-like structure for a roof. There is one doorless entrance. Inside, dry brown leaves rustle and crunch underfoot. A few small insect-like creatures scuttle about and spidery things (loosh) have constructed nests of coarse threads near the ceiling. These little creatures are mostly harmless but if the characters mess with them there is a 2 in 6 chance that something will bite back – THB +0; AT 1 bite (1 hp) – and a 1 in 6 chance that the bite is venomous – make a saving throw or be incapacitated (effectively paralysed) for 1d6 minutes.
From the floor of the building, stairs descend into darkness. Shanthas, like most creatures native to Jorune, use Tra-sense to apprehend their surroundings. They have no eyes and therefore do not require light. Humans, however, will require a light source of some kind in order to proceed.
1. Antechamber: Four-foot-high cylindrical stone pedestal in centre of room, carved with abstract patterns and with a small depression in the top. If a charged red crystal is placed in the depression, a sudden loud scraping sound is heard and segments of the stone floor of the northern passageway descend, forming stairs down to Room 1 on the lower level. The crystal remains charged. If it is removed, the stone steps rise to resume their former positions, sealing the lower level.
There are two small blackened crystalline objects on the floor. These are the remains of exploded evids. (See “dark weach” in Creatures, below.)
2. Bouncers: Anyone entering this chamber is attacked by evid security. Lying in the NE corner is a red crystal (see Objects, below).
Dark weaches (4): AC 12; HD 1; hp 6, 2, 2, 6; AT 1 sting (special); MV 1 (6); SPC Optional movement (fly); sting inflicts Brain Blast dysha; XP 29.
3. Strangers: Two ragged-looking humans and a thriddle are here. The thriddle accompanies the men under duress. Its trid-nodes are all a-quiver.
The bearded, haunted-looking man who calls himself Vagabond is a Scientist. He lost his wife and child in the shanthic assault on the colony sites. He distrusts all thriddle, believing that they aided the shanthas somehow, or – at the very least – that they know something they’re not telling. He wants to find out what that is. Referring to Bromo Ho-Hid, he says, “This creature will help us uncover the secrets of the shanthas. Or it will suffer.” Vagabond carries a laser pistol with a full power clip (equal to 10 power cells).
Vagabond: AC 10; HD 2; hp 6; THB +0; AT 1 laser pistol (1d6); ST 14+; MV 4; XP 30.
Kagemusha is a Soldier. He is as calm as his companion is twitchy, and has a slightly “spiritual” demeanour. He says, “The shanthas are warriors in the shadows. When they strike, they do so with stealth, with accuracy and without remorse. To protect ourselves, we must learn about them. To fight them, we must become like them. For the sake of what’s left of humanity, we too must become shadow warriors.” He wears leather armour, wields an antique sword from Earth and has one knife in his belt and another in his boot.
Kagemusha: AC 12; HD 2; hp 11; THB +2; AT 1 sword (1d6); ST 14+; MV 4; XP 30.
Bromo Ho-Hid is a youthful thriddle scholar. Kee was on a research expedition that was attacked by hungry wolves and, in the confusion, Bromo Ho-Hid became separated from kis fellows. Kee saw a camp fire and approached the two humans for assistance. They, however, had other ideas. Bromo Ho-Hid wants only to return home, and will be grateful for any assistance. Kee can explain the function of red crystals. Kee has a pouch containing some coditch cakes and a brynk-wood pipe but no giggit.
Bromo Ho-Hid, Thriddle: AC 10; HD 1; hp 2; THB +0; AT 1 kick (1d3); ST 18+; MV 4; XP 15.
4. Empty Chamber: That’s all it is.
1. Antechamber: Four-foot-high cylindrical stone pedestal in centre of room, carved with abstract patterns and with a small depression in the top. It functions identically to the pedestal in Room 1 on the upper level. Anyone trapped on the lower level without access to a red crystal is in trouble.
2. The Learning Zone: Triangular stone pedestal with vertical notches holding three sarceens (see Objects, below). A hidden compartment in the pedestal holds a small beagre-leather pouch containing three red crystals. The sarceens contain the following data:
- Primer on shanthic mythology and cosmology.
- Information about the nature of evids – and the methods of their construction, though this will be gibberish to anyone insensitive to isho, like humans.
- Contains what seems to be a vast, confusing catalogue of names and battles in the remote past. This is actually an epic “poem” – the shanthic equivalent of the Iliad, perhaps – but without an understanding of shanthic metrics, let alone the function of isho in their complex language, it is completely unintelligible and likely to induce a headache.
3. The Red Harbinger: Seven-foot-diameter stone globe on a short, cylindrical pedestal. Five red crystals are embedded in the globe’s surface, spaced equidistantly around its equator. Anyone touching a crystal receives a slight charge of Desti energy (1 point of damage) and a temporary increase of 1d6 points to his or her Presence attribute (18 maximum), lasting one hour. During this time, the character may notice glimpses of strange colours out of the corner of his or her eye. In particular, red cloud-like patterns seem to shift and glide over the surface of the stone globe.
If the crystals are pried from their sockets, they become normal charged red crystals.
4. Sholari in Shyee: Dessicated corpse of a shantha. This was the Ca-Desti sholari (“priest”) who maintained the shrine. He succumbed to shyee (“the isholess state”, i.e., death) when the deadly anti-shantha virus was released into the atmosphere by the human scientist Bomoveris. Around the shantha’s neck is an amulet of small carven stones studded with tiny crystals of various colours. This object wards off weaches – not dark weaches, but the regular bloodsucking kind. Lying beside the body is a shanthic blade – a sword made from the thailier (talon) of a corondon. Its lightness and exquisite balance grant a bonus of +2 to hit and +1 damage.
Standing guard over the body like a faithful hound is another evid.
Gotey (1): AC 15; HD 4; hp 11; THB +4; AT 1 tongue lash (1d6-1); ST 15+; MV 4; SPC Lightning Blast dysha; XP 180.
HERE ENDS THE SHANTHIC SHRINE OF THE RED HARBINGER
The colonists brought animals from Earth, including – for some reason – bears. Many have escaped into the wilderness. On Jorune, competition for the role of top predator is – literally – fierce. It is not certain that bears will survive for long.
AC 13; HD 4; THB +4; AT 2 claws (1d3), 1 bite (1d6); ST 15+; MV 4; SPC Maul for additional 1d6 damage if both claws hit; XP 180.
Not truly weaches (see below), nor even animals at all, dark weaches are evids – isho constructs made by shanthas to act as guardians for places or things. A dark weach does not suck blood but on a successful hit its proboscis delivers a Brain Blast dysha to the victim. It can sting up to 21 times before it needs to rest and recharge. When “killed” these evids release their isho in an explosive burst, inflicting 1d6 damage on anyone within 3 metres (10 feet). (Agility save for half damage.) All that remains is a blackened crystalline remnant of the evid’s isho core.
AC 12; HD 1; THB +1; AT 1 “sting” (special); ST 18+; MV 1 (6); SPC Optional movement (fly), “sting” inflicts Brain Blast dysha; XP 29.
Another sort of evid. This one looks like a dog-sized spider with a coiled tongue for a body. The “tongue” is 3 metres (10 feet) long, flexible and fast. Its sharp tip strikes like a dagger. A gotey is also capable of launching the Lightning Blast dysha up to 14 times before recharging. When reduced to 0 hit points, its isho explodes causing 4d6 damage to anyone within 3 metres (10 feet). (Agility save for half damage.)
AC 15; HD 4; THB +4; AT 1 tongue lash (1d6-1); ST 15+; MV 4; SPC Lightning Blast dysha; XP 180.
Oily, foul-smelling, five-foot-tall insectoid pests. They hang from trees and ambush prey. On the ground, they jump wildly about, attacking in a frenzy with their sharp, serrated forearms (called “sherrids”). The malodorous brown oil they secrete makes a good lubricant for weapons and other equipment.
AC 14; HD 1; THB +1; AT 1 sherrid (1d6); ST 18+; MV 4; SPC Surprise attack; XP 22.
Four-armed, two-legged creatures with prehensile tails, tarro live in the treetops in forested regions. They fill the ecological niche on Jorune that lemurs and monkeys occupy on Earth. There are many different species. The common tarro, described here, is omnivorous and obnoxious. Startled tarro may screech, emitting a deafening, high-pitched racket that alerts everything in the area to the presence of intruders. 50% of common tarro are capable of launching the Stiff dysha (up to four times per day). They like to steal shiny or tasty objects.
AC 10; HD 1; THB +1; AT 4 claws (1 hp), 1 bite (1d2); ST 18+; MV 3; SPC Screech, Stiff dysha; XP 22.
Short bipedal creatures that look like a cross between a plucked game bird and a fig. They are highly intelligent, ever-curious masters of lore and languages.
AC 10; HD 1; THB +0; AT 1 kick (1d3); ST 18+; MV 4; XP 15.
Eyeless flying creatures native to Jorune. Picture a cross between a bat, a leech and a mosquito. When a weach hits with its proboscis, it holds fast to its victim and starts sucking blood at a rate of 1d3 hit points per round.
AC 12; HD 1; THB +1; AT 1 bite (1d3); ST 18+; MV 1 (6); SPC Optional movement (fly), blood drain (1d3 hp/round); XP 29.
The colonists brought wolves too. I know, right? Anyway, those that survive have answered the call of the wild.
AC 12; HD 2; THB +2; AT 1 bite (1d6); ST 17+; MV 6; XP 30.
A blue orb that inflicts a sharp pain (1 point of damage) and disorientates the victim (-1 initiative for the next three rounds). The victim must also make a Physique saving throw or drop anything in his hands. Range is normally 9 metres (30 feet).
A red bolt of heat that causes searing pain and burns the victim for 1d3 points of damage. The name is something of a misnomer, since electricity is not involved. Range is 36 metres (120 feet).
Another red bolt, this dysha causes 1 point of damage and affects the victim’s muscular system, causing the arms and legs to jerk outwards from the torso to their fullest extent. Effectively, the victim performs an involuntary star-jump. If he fails a Physique saving throw, he drops anything he was holding. If he fails an Agility save, he falls to the ground. This dysha is potentially lethal to characters climbing walls or ropes, etc. Range is 36 metres (120 feet).
Charged crystals, about the size of a golf ball, have various properties, depending on the type of isho they contain. They can be activated only by characters with a Presence attribute score of 9 or greater. Red crystals can be used (once only) to launch a Lightning Blast dysha at any target within range. This requires concentration and a normal attack roll.
These shanthic devices look like Celtic torcs made from finely carved and polished stone. They are imbued with information. To access the data, which is held in isho form, one must hold the sarceen so that its ends lightly touch one’s temples – and concentrate. If the character correctly attunes her mind to the device (i.e., succeeds at a Presence saving throw) she gains the information in the sarceen. The process takes a minute or two.
I’m half-Scottish and half-Welsh. I was born in England and grew up in Scotland. I’ve lived and worked north and south of the border – “baith sides o’ the Tweed”, as Burns would say. Hell, I’ve even worked in the Houses of Parliament, lair of the loathed Westminster elite.
In a word – and for better or worse – I’m British.
I was going to try and write something about my intellectual and emotional struggles with the approaching referendum on Scottish independence. Other gamers have written cogent and thoughtful pieces on their blogs, and I am broadly sympathetic to their views:
But I’ve left it too late. The people of Scotland – a quite staggering 97% of the electorate has registered to vote – go to the polls tomorrow. (As I write this, it’s a little over seven hours until voting begins.) After agonising for ages, and getting depressed and angry about the conduct of the campaigns, I find myself on the eve of this momentous election in unexpectedly high spirits, and even able to appreciate a certain absurd humour in the notion of a referendum in which millions of people will vote either Yes or No. What’s next? Cats or Dogs? Heads or Tails? Come to think of it, since polls suggest the result will be horribly close, I suggest a coin-toss would be cheaper and a lot less hassle. Or indeed an OSR-approved random table. Roll 1d6:
1. Resounding yes
2. Yes, but…
3. No, but…
4. Categorical no
5. Devo max
6. Goblins (2d6)
See you on the other side, wherever that turns out to be.
Here’s a mini-dungeon I made for the inside of a birthday card. One of my objectives with this adventure was to present undead monsters that might not be immediately identified as such by the players. Don’t describe the mantis-undead as “zombies” or similar, but rather as large insectoid creatures with a fusty aroma, dusty grey-green carapaces and huge, inscrutable eyes. Yes, they’re in a tomb complex, but players of cleric characters should have at least a degree of doubt regarding their ability to “turn” these opponents.
The mantis-folk are based partly on D&D’s thri-kreen but also on Jorune’s scarmis – with a dash of Mongolian flavouring.