Sunday, December 25, 2016

Merry Christmas from the Borderlands!

Ho Ho Ho!
Back in Christmas '82, my artsy aunt gave me a big ol' box of colored pencils which I promptly put to use attempting to recreate Erol Otus's famous illustration of the ol' KEEP on the B'lands, above.  My rendition was pretty terrible--I'm a tepid draftsman on my best day, and adding color to the mix exacerbates my illustrative shortcomings twelvefold--but ever since then I've associated Erol Otus's famous drawing of the KEEP with the Yuletide season. Besides the experiential reasoning, that party of adventurers on the road elicit a feeling of homecoming for me. Perhaps they live in Tennessee and they're headin' for Pennsylvania and some homemade pumpkin pie.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Autumn at the Moathouse

View from the moathouse.

Back in October I spent a weekend in Hommlet with my family and took the time to hike out to the moathouse. It's not in good shape, just a weed-strewn pile of rubble at this point; even the giant frogs have abandoned the place. But the larch trees are still prevalent and were in full fall splendor so I snapped this photo from the crumbling remnants. I was standing on what would have been the bastion in the northeast corner looking out over the swamp.

Since a lot of you have been wondering about Gygax's affinity for larch trees--aka tamaracks--I thought I'd share this photo; the larches are the orange-ish trees beyond the cattails and reeds. Their fall color is typically more yellow than this in my experience, but I suspect that there's still a fair amount of elemental evil in the soil around there that's causing this coloration.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

The Loquaciosness of Hommlet

"Hey Coverdale, 'loved you in Whitesnake."

Last week my longtime nemesis Patrick of Renovating the Temple fame dared slander Hommlet, and called me out in so doing. You don't need me to tell me that the poor fellow is delusional, but he does raise a point about the verbosity of Gygaxian prose; or at least I think that was the point he was making. The dude can certainly veer to the prolix. As evidence check out the first three sentences from the background of T1:
"The Village of Hommlet--Hommlet as it is commonly called--is situated in the central part of the Flanaess, that portion of Eastern Oerik which is known and "civilized." The village (actually hamlet-sized, though local parlance distinguishes it with the term "village") is located some 10 or so leagues southeast of the town of Verbobonc. It is at a crossroads." --Gary Gygax, T1 Village of Hommlet
That's a whole lot of words--60 to be exact--for very little information.Compare it to the following sentence:
"The village of Hommlet is located at a crossroads some 10 leagues southeast of the town of Verbobonc in the central Flanaess."*  --Dicerod the NunChucker, This here blog.

Pretty much the same amount of information in 67% less words. And we pass the savings on to you, dear reader.
*Is Flanaess really spelled with two esses**? I've always spelled it with just one. 

**And how do you write out the plural of "s"?

That said, there is a certain genius in the way he divulges information in his dungeon write ups--or at least in V of H. Though he takes the time to describe the homes and occupations of everyone in the village, except on rare occasions he doesn't bother telling us the interconnections of the villagers though certainly such a small, isolated populace must be rife with cliques and extended families and the various rivalries and feuds that these sorts of groups tend to engender.

As I've mentioned before, he also fails to indicate any sort of social rift that might occur between the native, tree-hugging farmers and the yuppie, hat-wearing newcomers. Indeed, one gets the impression that the locals are glad to have their company. Sure, having a tailor in town is a boon--though his obsession with knives and crossbows is a little creepy (see below). And sure people probably feel safer with that castle going up on the hill than they did couped up in the Elder's pigsty. But you start to throw newfangled religions into the mix, noses are going to get bent out of shape. For evidence, see the Old Testament, Northern Ireland, the partition of India, Palestine, the Spanish Inquisition, etc.

As evidence of EGG's disdain for tying down the narrative of the village, he doesn't even bother telling us what the various evil cultists are up to beyond they're desire to monitor and disrupt the PC's endeavors. Rannos and crew are tasked with aiding "any and all evil creatures who come in Temple service," not too specific, eh? Furthermore, it's not made explicit whether any of the town-based cultists has any knowledge of Lareth or vice versa.

Likewise, we learn that Zert, 2nd level fighter who resides at the 'Wench, is "actually a spy for the temple" but has no agenda other than screwing with the PCs, regardless of whether they go to the moathouse or not. He doesn't know about the traders so obviously he isn't taking orders from them; at least not directly anyway--we are informed that they know about him. Presumably he doesn't know about the spy working on the castle either, as that dude reports to the Rannos crew. Is Zert aware of Lareth and his cronies under the moathouse? Is he aware of the moathouse at all? Or is he just a free radical tasked with sowing chaos wherever he deems it worthy of sowing?

Similarly, we don't know what the relationship is between the bandits up in the moathouse and Lareth's shock troops down in the basement. It seems catastrophically unlikely that Lareth would be unaware of the bandits's presence even if he (or she) isn't the smartest "dark hope" that Chaotic Evil could hope for. Do they work for him? Did they just wander on the scene or did he set them up in their sweet digs? Gary is mum on the topic.

Despite all that we don't know, we do know a lot of unique details that allow us to sew a tapestry of intrigue all our own. For instance,
  • The tailor, a frail man worthy of only 2 hit points, attacks as a 7th level fighter when firing a crossbow or throwing a knife. We can reasonably assume, therefore, that the door of his outhouse is riddled with knife-holes and that he can frequently be seen carrying his crossbow out to the woods for a little practice.
  • Calmert, officiant at the Temple of St. Cuthbert  "... is anxious to give a sum to the builders of the fortress under construction, and although it would seem otherwise, most of the miscellaneous money he collects for 'the church' from characters will go to wards building the castle." Does he have some secret knowledge of the ToEE's return that is spurring on this need to fund the castle? Or has Burne put some sort of geas or charm on him? Does he believe that Terjon and/or Y'dey might not approve of supporting the castle construction? What might that reason be?
  • Rannos Davl has a scarab with the letters "TZGY" inscribed on it which 1 in 5 sages will recognize as a "pass" of some kind used in the Temple of ED. What do the letters refer to? Remember, when this module came out in '79 no one had ever heard of Tsuggtmoy, and even if they had, there's no reason to assume that the two are connected. I mean, is it really all that wise to have an abbreviation of a demoness's name written on your secret hall pass?
  • Also, are we to believe that it is just a coincidence that Rufus also has a scarab?
  • When Rufus reaches 8th level (he's currently a 6th level Fighter) he has instructions to "return to Verbobonc for special service in the Viscount's behalf." What sort of service are we talking about here?
All these tidbits, and a few others, can be easily ignored or glossed over with banal explanations without influencing the outcome of the adventure in the least... or they can be used as the stepping off point of bizarre and elaborate conspiracies. That openness to interpretation is the genius of Hommlet, allowing the DM and players to use the details of the module more as signposts indicating where adventure may lie, but ultimately the players can cut across the landscape in whatever direction their imaginations took them. By the mid 80s, TSR's authors had learned to close these sorts of loopholes into tidy narratives that encouraged the PCs and DMs alike to stick to a narrowly defined course of adventure. Almost like a railroad.

I suspect that some of these loose ends and tidbits are the product of Hommlet's unique development as a module; as you'll recall, Gygax modulized Hommlet based on his experience running his chums through the adventure. This gives the module a degree of richness, as the NPCs have actually interacted with PCs; there's a history on which to base their personae. It makes for a very lush setting without handcuffing the DM or boring the reader with a static story line that they are expected to follow. Obviously, every group of players is going to make the module their own in some way, but no module encourages this sort of free-range action as well as Hommlet. With the possible exception of Restenford.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

4th Edition Hommlet: Bowdlerized for your viewing pleasure

So Reader Rick tells me that there's a 4th Edition D&D version of V. of Hommlet and he's hoping I'll rail into it for him. Since I'm pretty hard up for new material around here--as evidenced by my post-count for the year--I'm jumping all over it.

The Down Low
Hommlet? Is that you?
Back in 2009, the TSRs of the Coast sent out a revised-for-4th-edition-D&D Version of Hommlet to members of their D&D club. A few years later, that module was reproduced in Dungeon Magazine #212, which also happens to be the area code for Manhattan; coincidence? Anyway, thanks to Rick for helping me secure a review copy of the original, bookclub version of the module. 

Those unfamiliar with Gygax's original T1 may find this illustrated summary helpful, if not amusing.

Before we go any further, I'd like to point out that this is the closest I've ever come to a 4th ed. Big D product. My first impression: it looks an awful lot like Magic The Roleplaying Game. The statblocks are set up like a Magic the Gathering card what with the named attacks, the odd titles and creature types; "Zombie drake attacks with flying and lifelink!" That pretty much exhausts my knowledge of Magic the Gathering.

But I'm not here to review 4th Ed. Dung & Drag, I'm here to tear off a piece of Latter Day Hommlet and chew it up. So here we go...

General Impression
First, the artwork. The cover photo clearly was selected at random from a pile of fantasy clip art as it bears no resemblance whatsoever to Hommlet; maybe it's Minas Morghul? But later on there's a cool picture of a giant, bloated frog outside the moathouse, which, in my opinion, is the iconic encounter of this module; I fully approve. And there's Tramp's classic birds-eye view of the moathouse from the original, 'nuf said. The bookclub version also has extensive, large scale plans for the moathouse and other locations; these are not included with the Dragon Mag version.

Moathouse Roll Call: Giant Frog? Present.
The village description has been reduced to a few notable locations: the Inn, Temple of Pellor (who?), Trader's Establishment, etc., and denizens: mostly the occupants of the notable locations, while the rest of the town has been reduced to single word descriptions such as "Brewer," "Farmhouse," "Herder," etc. This contrasts sharply with Gary's original, wherein even the least significant locations in town got 10-15 lines of text describing, at the minimum, the structure, its occupants, their occupation, religious views, notable combat acumen, as well as the location and quantity of treasure they have inevitably stashed somewhere on their estate. Leaving out these details is going to make the DM's job a lot harder when the PCs decide to "clear out" the town rather than/after they've tired of the moathouse. Not showing a lot of foresight there, Wizards.

Over at the moathouse, the update is a fairly straight cover version of the original. The monsters have been updated for the current version of the game which is to be expected. And even though they failed to update the map of the dungeon level to make room for the last pair of zombies, they did at least get them all inside a cell. Sadly, the treasure is assigned in random "parcels" which apparently was a thing in 4th ed. D&D, no? I say sadly because the treasure in the original helps establish a link between the moathouse and the DMG sample dungeon, removing it isolates this version even further from the source material.

Since the greatest degree of variation appears, at first glance, to be in the village rather than the moathouse, that's where I'll focus for the remainder of this here review. Perhaps I'll delve into the moathouse some more in a future post. Anyway... 

The Village
Probably the most significant change in town can be found over at the Church of St. Cuthbert, now described thusly: 
"Ostensibly dedicated to Pelor, this temple welcomes worshipers of any good or lawful good deity."
That's right, Y'dey and Terjon no longer dispense the obtuse wisdom of St. Cuthbert. Rather, they labor at the temple of a deity who is made of toast so milquey that the clergy's primary job is apologizing to parishioners for running out of gluten free communion wafers. And since the villagers no longer get their 15 lines of infamy--and thus their religious affiliations are undeclared--none of them is required to attend his tepid temple. Hoser.

I know nothing about Pelor--I assume he's the patron of something incredibly insignificant like elbow-patch-less tweed jackets or low-VOC mayonnaise--and the module provides no insight into the values his cult adheres to other than their openness to non-adherers. Contrast this with T1 where Gygax lays the groundwork for the hardheaded and venal doctrine of Cuthbert--if you visit the Church of Cuddy, the clergy won't even acknowledge your existence until you toss a few gold pieces in the ol' collection basket. Hommlet sure seems a lot less interesting with Pallor around. Why did they change it? Did they lose the rights to Ol' Cuddy in the divorce? Did Pellor the Homogenized somehow mastermind a hostile corporate takeover?

Here's a summary of other changes from the original. Many are innocuous, others not so much, and some, dare I say it, might actually represent an improvement on the original.
  • Gary's pedantic and pointless distinction between villages and hamlets has been removed from the background. I admit, I've always found this trivial tidbit to be inordinately annoying but now that it's gone I miss it.
  • Spugnoir, 2nd level MU and resident of the Inn, has changed his name to Spugnois--which is too bad because that doesn't rhyme with Guy Noir. 
  • Furnok of Furd is now a dwarf.
  • Kobort the Moron and Turuko the Malcontent, roommates at the original Welcome Wench, have made their way to the cutting room floor in the updated version.
  • So has almost every other villager including the likes of Black Jay and the family of infidels with the bossy but attractive daughter that lived by the mill. 
  • The village elder is now a woman named Hesta. 
  • Calmert reprises his role as officiant at the temple but rather than secretly diverting church funds to the construction of Rufus & Burne's tower, now his point of interest is that he's hot for a barmaid over at the 'Wench. 
    • The PCs get bonus XPs if they pass a note to the barmaid during study hall on Calmert's behalf. This juvenile set up is in keeping with the church's change in denomination from St. Cuthbert of the Cudgel to Pelor the vacuous glow worm. 
    • There are maybe one or two other innocuous side quests such as this planted in town; it's all very reminiscent of 90s computer games.
  • Rufus and Byrne's castle is being funded by unnamed "royalty" rather the than the Viscount of V'bonc and the Arch C. of Veluna as in the original. Not very significant except perhaps in establishing that this Hommlet is only precariously linked to the World of Greyhawk.
  • There's a shrine to Avandra on the edge of town. Mysteriously, there is no priest or following for this deity in Hommlet. The Ostler at the 'Wench has his staff maintain the shrine, which I suspect is done more out of civic pride than devotion to Avandra, otherwise he'd tend to it himself, no? The shrine adds a bit of mystery, which I appreciate.
  • Dannos Ravl still has the TZGY scarab, but its significance is distinctly left to the DM--it is no longer necessarily a pass to the T of EE. Nor do 1 in 5 sages understand its significance.
  • Rannos Davl and Gremag are much more amiable characters than they were under EGG's regime, which is smart. In T1, Gary portrayed them as such unlikable dickheads that no one would ever bother to deal with them, which is not very good for business if you're a merchant trying to make a living and possibly even less good if you're a spy who's trying to gain the trust of the locals.
    • Aside: Rannos Davl is obviously another near-anagram for Dave L. Arneson--as you may recall, one of the giant chieftains in G1 was named "Nosnra." But the best I can make of Gremag is Mare Gg which could maybe possibly be an abbreviated pseudo-anagram for Mary Gygax, EGG's first wife. Or maybe it's "Gamer G," a reference to Gary himself? Or maybe it's just Gremag, a cool sounding name.
In Conclusion...
The whittling away of many (most) of the details in town certainly makes 4th ed Hommlet a less lush setting than the original, removing the nooks and crannies that crazed loons like me--and, if you've made it this far, likely you as well, dear reader--thrive on, sinking the talons of our imaginations into them, kneading and prodding until we've rendered a more fully formed image in our minds. But most people who've gone through T1 never put most of the village into play, so they're not likely to notice the lack of information--other than the demise of the cult of Cuthbert of course.

As an adventure for your gang to go through on the odd Friday night, does it suck compared to good ol' T1? That's not really my area of expertise but I would say that the new version is so close to the original in terms of actual action that any attempt to malign it on these lines would likely risk smearing Lord Gary's original as well. I think for 96.83% of people, this is likely a perfectly adequate rendition of a classic. Where it differs is in the softening of the details, and for me, and others who like to obsess over minutiae, the new version's glossiness is a strike against it.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Linguistics in the Flannaes: Oeridians are still from outer space

Over on Canonfire I found this cool article An Alternative Linguistic History of the Flanaess  written by someone identified only as Ullmaster [EDIT 12/21/16: Actually, Ullmaster is just the dude who uploaded the post, Joe Chevalier is the actual author of the piece.].  If you're a Greyhawk weirdo like me then you'll find that it's definitely worth your time.  Here's a highlight:
"I subscribe to the theory that they arrived on Oerth from another world, and brought their language with them." Ullmaster, An Alternative Linguistic History of the Flanaess
Anyone who remembers my bit on the Oeridians being extraterrestrials based on linguistic and spaceship crash-site evidence will think I've found my soulmate here, except that the "they" that the author is referring to in this case is the Olman people who occupy the jungles to the south of the Flannaes, not the Oeridians.  Ullmaster, offers no justification for why the Olman (Olmen?) might be from a galaxy far, far away, and yet by his very name he should know damn well that the Oeridians landed their starfleet in or near Ull some 1200 years ago. As the Oeridians are very secretive about their origins, it's only natural that Ullmaster--indubitably an Oeridian himself--is trying to deflect attention from UFO seekers to a point as far from Ull as possible.

To further demonstrate the lengths to which the Ullmaster is willing to go to mask Oeridia's true origin, s/he has this to say: 
"Oerid:  This people came from a land to the northwest of the Suel, in a coastal land ruled by dragons." 
Only by tacking the words "and unicorns" to the end of that sentence could it be made into a more blatant fabrication. We're on to you and your alien-people, Master of Ull.

All kidding aside, it is a pretty fascinating read wherein the author compares Greyhawkian languages to earthly ones. I highly recommend it.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Nortonian Greyhawk Part III: The Quag Keep Companion

No way did I think it would take an entire month to get around to this, but here it is September 1 and I still haven't put that friggin' map together. So I'm moving on without it. That's right, we're skipping the map and going straight to Part III of the Nortonian Greyhawk series: The Quag Keep Companion, my heavily researched reference guide to the Land of Greyhawk as depicted in Andre Norton's groundbreaking novel Quag Keep.

I intended to keep this thing a straight-up reference work, using only info gleaned from the book. But, alas, too many items were only mentioned by name with no further details given or inferences made, so I started applying a little of the ol' blogger's license. It made the thing a lot more fun to write though it'll be a bit more irritating for you to read.

Remind me to scan that friggin' map and I'll put it up soon.



Quag Keep Companion: A Guide to Nortonian Greyhawk

A note on abbreviations: I use two abbreviations prominently throughout this guide
  • CoG referring to the City of Greyhawk, and
  • LoG referring to the Land of Greyhawk, which encompasses the entire continent on which CoG resides.
And a note or five on page citation symbology:
  • Page numbers are given in parentheses following statements which are lifted directly from the text or can be reasonably inferred from it.  
  • Page numbers coincide with the first Tor trade paperback edition: May 2006.
  • Where a number sign (#) is given, the preceding statement is derived from the book, but the cataloger is just too damned lazy too look up the page number for you at the moment. 
  • Statements which are not followed immediately by a page citation are fabrications of the cataloger and should not be trusted.
  • Statements followed by the word (Map) are inferences made based on the Olde Thyme Map of Greyhawk (Figure 1), not the Darlene maps published by TSR in 1980. 
  • Other symbols are just there to sow chaos.
eg. the first entry below indicates that the word Blackmoor appears on pages 28 and 47 of my trade paperback edition of Quag Keep, the bit about it's location is based on the map, and the rest is just made up stuff.

Blackmoor (28,47) A barren land on the western shores of the Great Bay. (Map) Home to many peculiar locales including the Pinnacle of the Toad and other oddities.

Brethern A band of mercenary-adventurers responsible for armed incursion into some of the most notorious regions of LoG in search of legendary treasure hoards.

Castle of Kyark Citadel of the great wizard Kyark, built in the outskirts of the City of Greyhawk (CoG), the place is believed to induce madness in those who visit. (71) First built centuries ago, it is believed to be so enchanted that it has continued to build and reconfigure itself ever since, an ever-growing labyrinth of constantly changing chambers and corridors populated by an ongoing influx of monsters, tricks and traps; all of which keep adventurers returning time and again.

Dom A discipline of eldritch magic named after Dom, a mage of antiquity who developed much of the body of knowledge upon which the school is founded. It concerns itself primarily with the summoning and abjuring of demons and other beings of Chaos.

Druids Members of a “close knit, secretive fraternity” (p.23), often aligned with the dark forces of chaos, who have some ability to use magic. (#)

Dry Steppes Vast, arid plains on the western extreme of the Land of Greyhawk (LoG). What few watering places there are within the Steppes are considered the hereditary property of the Nomads of Lar. (#) See also Kalastro.

Elves A race of humans who have mastery over communication with all animals and birds (p. 21, 28). They are also possessed of Power Lore, a body of insight into the machinations of the world about which most humans are not capable of giving a damn. (51)

Faltforth the Sun Crown Deity of LoG mythology represented by the sun.(#)
Figure 1: Is this the map Gygax showed Norton?

Fane of Wings Ancient temple of unknown provenance. Noted for its unique architecture, it predates all current civilizations in LoG. (88)

Faraaz A land to the west of Greyhawk between Geofp and Verocunby. (Map)  It is comprised of loosely affiliated city states, each run by a “Holy Lord.” Also known as “Holy Lords of Faraz” or “Land of the Holy Lords.” They use copper coins in the shape of a cross, and half moon silver coinage.(52)

Fon du Ling One of the “Holy Lords” of Faraaz. An adventurer and collector of rare and fabulous animal species. He is rumored to have found and explored the secret Temple of Tung. (65)

Foreteeth of Gar An epithet (#) referring to the prominent mandibles of a minor deity with no small following in Narm. Also refers to two prominent peaks which stand guard at the headwaters of the unnamed river that separates the lands of Geofp and Narm.

Ganclang Lesser deity of LoG, noted for his (or her) brazen voice. (192)

Gar A deity heeded primarily by mountain tribes in Narm and Geofp. He is seen as a protector of the mountain people and is noted for having large tusks and for belching lightning from his mouth.

Gar-Eagle A very large bird that resides in mountain regions, roc.(#)

Geofp Region of Greyhawk in the foothills of the Western Mountains which separate the Sea of Dust form the fertile eastern lands. The Grand Duke rules the land as a stronghold of Chaos. And yes, there is a “p” on the end. Obviously it's a typo, but they were diligent in repeating it throughout the book, so it's now canon. (#)

Great Kingdom A realm to the north of Urnst along the southern shores of the Great Bay. (Map) It comprises five legendary cities which pre-date current history. (88) The lands of Blackmoor, Parth, and the Wild Coast have at times been considered a part of this realm, though citizens of those lands rarely acknowledge the sovereign. (𝞯)

Greyhawk, City of (CoG) A free city with no master where the struggle between Law and Chaos often plays out its drama.(#)

Griff Cat griffin (😼)

Han-gra-dan A wizard of legend, the “mightiest of Northern Adepts” lived a millennium ago or more. His scholarship in arcane knowledge is unsurpassed and artifacts of his creation are still highly sought after by wizards and sages alike.(#)

Harrowing of Ironnose Bardic saga regaling the epic battle between Lichis the Golden and Ironnose. (#)

Harvel's Axe, Sign of An inn of dubious reputation on the edge of the Thieves Quarter in CoG frequented by wereboars and druids. (#)

Hither Hills Hilly region to the north of Narm. (map) The tribesmen of these hills are known to be adepts of some renown though it is often said that they are descended from the intermixing of men and demons of chaos. (67)

Kalastro, Empire of Land of legend located in the area that is now the Dry Steppe. (#) Kalastro was a vast and powerful empire that fell to decadence and depravity before turning to Chaos entirely. In what has become known as the Plague of Fire, Lichis the Golden lead a flight of dragons over the land and scorched it to the barren waste that it remains to this day. (🙊)

Keoland The largely depopulated lands to the south and east of CoG. (71) Made up of dry plains in the south and west. (#)  Most of the remaining population of Keoland lives in a hilly region to the east of Greyhawk which is sometimes referred to as Keo Major when differentiating it from the dry plains to the southeast, aka Keo the Less. See Rieving of said land for more info.

Kyark Legendary wizard who built a stronghold on the outskirts of CoG. It is widely believed that  any who enter his stronghold will succumb to insanity or worse. (71) Nonetheless, adventurers flock to the stronghold in search of treasure and glory.

Landron of the Inner Light A deity who serves the forces of Law. His disciples are known to carry nought but a knife to defend themselves. (#)

Lar Region of land on the fringes of the Dry Steppes inhabited by warlike nomadic tribes who engage in raids on their neighbors for resources. Noted for their steeds, see Steppe Mounts. (#)

Liche A form of undead, much like a zombie but possessed of greater quickness and intellect. If severed into pieces, its parts will continue to fight on independently of each other.(#)

Lichis Legendary golden dragon who supported the side of Law through thousands of years of struggle with the forces of Chaos. Was the adversary of Ironnose in the legendary battle that became the subject of the “Harrowing of Ironnose.” Has retired form the world and no longer interacts with humankind. Resides in the Southern Moutains which divide the fertile east from the arid west. (#)

Loice, Mirror of This artifact of the great queen Loice is a flat stone of a shimmery, reflective rock that is said to have mystical properties. As with the Standard of King Everon, it is said to be lost in Troilan Swamp, though a group of mercenary adventurers known as the Brethern claimed to have acquired it in recent years.

Loice, Spectre of The ghostly embodiment of Loice, legendary queen of Troilan who reigned over the land before it sunk into a swamp, is said to rise from the mire and command its denizens in defence of her soggy domain should it be threatened by outsiders. (#)
Lyra Gems (65) Low quality gemstones that are often crafted into cheap jewelry and hawked in shoddy merchant stalls throughout the LoG.

Maritiz An island nation noted for its coinage made of mother of pearl and incised with the “fierce head of a sea serpent.”(52)

Narm (61) Region to the north of Geofp in the area labelled "Neron March" on the map.

Never-fail Shield Shields of legend purported to have magical powers. (65) Vendors of dubious reputation are known to offer counterfeits for sale to gullible adventurers. They originally were used by certain elite regiments of the lost Empire of Kalastro. They were round shields of light weight yet impregnable steel with a silver star in the center and could, in the hands of a skilled soldier, be thrown as a weapon and would return to the hand of the wielder.Very few of these are known to still exist. (♘)

Northern Bands Matriarchal society that inhabits the land of the far north. Its women are fierce warriors referred to alternately as amazons and Valkyrie. They are ruled by the High Horned Lady and fight under the banner of the Unicorn. During a time of famine some years ago a regiment of amazon warriors of the Northern Bands went south to offer their services as Mercenaries in order to provide for their starving families. In the employ of the Regor, Lord of Var, they were on hand for the Rieving of Keo the Less. Great numbers of these proud warriors were not merely killed but tortured, defiled, and dismembered in unimaginable fashion.(#)

Om The pattern which maps all human activity, no matter how insignificant such activity may seem. The pattern is invisible to men and their "earth-tied" senses. (217)

Oszarmen Desert nomads of indeterminate provenance. (209)

Outer Dark source of mystical powers available to adepts aligned with Chaos (23)

Parth Seafaring nation (178) located on a peninsula at the mouth of the Great Bay.

Paynim Nation in the northwest of WoG. (map) Wine from this region is widely regarded as among the best in LoG.

Plague of Fire A cataclysmic event that breathed forth from the from the Southern Mountains destroying the Kalastro Empire (192) in what is now the Dry Steppes (Map). Lichis the Golden lead a host of Dragons over the decadent Empire, burning and laying waste to its cities, which had turned to Chaos. (🎱)

Prim Lizard A lizard that appears to be made of stone.

Regor of Var🎰oubles a generation ago. Their names were added to the death toll during the Rieving of Keo the Less. (74) It is not known whether it was he who was responsible for calling down the Rieving or if the opposition took that tragic step or another party entirely, but it is certain that everyone involved met a grievously horrible end.🎯

Rieving of Keo the Less Described as “a treachery so black that it blotted the dark pages of Chaos's own accounting—death so hideous a man might retch out his guts if he thought too long upon it.” (#) This horrifying event took place during the wars that wracked the lands of Keo a generation ago. During the siege of Var, someone called upon a force so dark that the entire city was razed, everyone in the vicinity--including all inhabitants as well as the besieging army--was slaughtered, their tortured, twisted corpses were found in a fetid stinking heap.  Sounds bad, right? It effectively ended the uprising and left Keo as a derelict state. 🎳

Rockna the Brass Dragon residing in the Sea of Dust. Possibly aligned with Chaos. (207)

Salzak the Spirit Murderer A menacing demon who committed 96 sins, at least one of which was murdering souls. (35)

Sea of Dust A fatal trackless wilderness of fine dust so shifty it is impossible to walk on it without special equipment (49). Dunes of shifting dust sweep across this land much as waves of the ocean. An ancient civilization once plied these dunes on sailing vessels, the remains of which—along with their valuable cargoes are said to litter the “Sea.”(#)

Seven Swamps Homeland of the Lizardfolk and their reptilian steeds(#), this large Wetland complex lies between Faraaz and Geofp. See also Troilan Swamps.⚄

Sign of the Pea Stalk An inn and provisioner located in the City of Greyhawk. Noted for providing good value on merchandise to the adventuring class. (#)

Song of Far Wings Enchanted shanty which, when sung by a skillful bard, summons gar-eagles and/or other winged critters to the aid of the songster. (139, 143)

Song of Herckon Soul shredding tune played by expert bards which will temporarily reduce certain spirit forces to pools of quiescent liquid. (137-8)

Southern Mountains Mountain range which holds the Sea of Dust at bay from the LoG to the east. Inhabited by Lichis the Golden and other dragons.(#)

Standard of King Everon Banner of the afore-named monarch, last king of Troilan. Under this banner, Everon led his people against an invasion but was overwhelmed and met his end on the field of battle. At his death, the land of Troilan sank into a mire into which his banner was lost. Just as the meadows of Troilan sank into a dismal swamp, its people morphed into a lizardlike breed which holds drylanders with contempt. This item was captured by a group known as the "Brethern" [sic].

Stranger's Tower A prison tower in the CoG primarily occupied by drunks and brawlers.(66)

Steppe Mounts These light horses are bred by the Nomadic tribes of Lar on the fringes of the Dry Steppes. They are known for their endurance. They are trained to answer only to the call of one master. Strangers caught riding on a Steppe Mount by Laric nomads are likely to face serious sanctions. It is said that an elf or were-being can influence such steeds to allow someone other than their trained master to ride them. (59-62)

Sword of Seven Spells Enchanted sword (65) that reputedly allows the bearer to cast one of seven spells. Such a sword may once have existed but those on sale in the markets of Greyhawk are unexceptional frauds in every way.௹

Temple of the Frog Sacred temple believed to be at the heart of Troilan Swamps from whence malignant creatures are spawned. Few who have seen it have survived to tell of it. No one is known to have entered it and returned to pass on their tale. (221)

Temple of Tung Legendary temple believed to be filled with treasures of great value. (65) It is thought to be located in the Hither Hills. Many adventurers claim to have found it and made off with booty from its crypts. It is believed that doing so bears a horrendous curse.🌝

Thera “The Maned Lady” Lesser deity of the LoG, aligned against Chaos. The tribes of Lar are known to pay heed to her. (61)

Toad, Pinnacle of the Located in the northern reaches of LoG (107), perhaps in Blackmoor, the Pinnacle is an enormous, grotesque obelisk dedicated to the Toad God. It is said to mark the “navel the world” and the gateway to the realm of the greater beings. It is central to the worship of a malignant cult of festering chaos called the Fellowship of the Toad.

Toad, Fellowship of the A cult dedicated to the worship of the foul toad god. (107) Though their agents are hidden throughout lawful society, their territory is located in a fen on the northern fringe of Blackmoor. (𝞫)

Troilan Swamps A forested wetland that is home to several tribes of lizardfolk. (85) It lies between Geofp and Faraaz and is also known as the Seven Swamps.(Map)

Two Harpies A tavern in CoG noted for its inexpensive and potent fortified wine. It is a favorite watering hole of caravan guards (66), possibly due to its proximity to the municipal stables. The place is notorious for brawling. As such, the furniture is quite stout and fixed to the floor to prevent its use as weaponry. The cups, on the other hand, are cheap wooden affairs that break quite easily, providing a satisfying spray of splintered wood and cheap wine while causing relatively little damage. Patrons of this establishment often find overnight accommodations at the Strangers Tower.

Ulik (#) A mage of great power who spawned a discipline of magic that bears his name.

Urnst Province to the north of the free city of Greyhawk. Currently ruled by a Grand Duke. (47)

Var (#) A devastated city located on the arid plains of Lesser Keoland. It was razed during the Rieving of Keo the Less and remains a cursed and ruined place to this day.

Vold A river originating in the foothills of the Southern Mountains which flows northward from the plains of Keoland, eventually becoming a mighty river as tributaries feed into it. (77)

Wild Coast Coastal region over which Ironnose was at least partially harrowed by Lichis the Golden. (#)

Wine of Pardos Legendary tipple with healing properties. (192)

Yerocunby Land to the west of CoG. Other possible spellings include Yerocundy, Yerocanby, and Verocunby. (#)

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Nortonian Greyhawk Part I: Slogging through the quagmire so you don't have to

Lichis the Golden does not give a f**k
Back when Sir Allan Grodog posted his cool old time map of Olde Tyme Greyhawk several years ago my first thought was "huh, I wonder if this is the same map that Andre Norton used as the setting for Quag Keep?" Sure, Zenopus Archives pursued the same question here, but that didn't stop me from tracking down a copy of the 'Keep and giving it the stink eye yet again; this time with my academic cap firmly clapped on the ol' noggin'.*

For those of you unaware, back in the 70s famed fantasy author Andre Norton wrote a novel--the aforementioned Quag Keep--set in the world of Greyhawk. No map was included in the book, but it was quickly obvious that the world of Greyhawk presented by Norton differed greatly from the version Gygax published a few years later and, thus, Greyhawk enthusiasts such as yours truly have ignored it as a source of campaign information or inspiration ever since.

It also didn't help that the book just isn't a very compelling read. It's never clear what, if anything, is at stake, the villains are as disparate and disorganized as your typical wandering monster table might provide, and, although the adventurers do end up in a quag, there's no actual keep involved--this was a huge disappointment to me as a youth. Generally, the book feels a lot like one of those desultory gaming sessions where the DM sets you on some vague errand and throws a bunch of random encounters at you mostly because he hasn't got a proper adventure prepared for the evening. 

Anyway, the answer to my question up in the intro is that Norton's Greyhawk is a lot closer to the old Greyhawk map than the published version, including mention of features such as The Great Bay, The Island Duchy of Maritiz, and the Holy Lords of Faraz which were not in the final published version. And she may or may not have been taking license with such locales as the Hither Hills, the Nomads of Narm, and the Free Ships of Parth; all evocative names that may or may not have existed in Gygax's own version at the time.

Things you might be surprised to learn about Nortonian Greyhawk:
  1. Rather than Xagyg, some Wizard named Kyrak operates a madness-inducing stronghold just outside of the city of Greyhawk.
  2. There is no evidence to suggest the existence of the Nyr Dyv or any other large body of water in the environs of Greyhawk
  3. Directly south of Greyhawk is the Land of Keo, an unpopulated land of dry, open plains
  4. This land played host to a horrifying event known as "the Rieving of Keo the Less" wherein a clan of amazon warriors from the Northern Bands were slaughtered... or worse.
  5. The Great Kingdom and Blackmoor have been conflated into a single entity: The Great Kingdom of Blackmoor
  6. It is not known who built the 5 cities of the Great Kingdom, suggesting a civilization existed there long before the Overlord overlorded the place.
  7. The Holy Lords of Faraz--Possibly the precursor to those Cuthbert worshiping Velunians?--use cross shaped currency. 
  8. Lichis, a giant Gold dragon, took on and defeated The Great Demon Ironnose in a legendary battle that spanned half the continent.
  9. It's not too many steps, phonetically speaking, from "Ironnose" to "Iuz" right? Just drop the two n's and your pretty much there.
  10. There was once a civilization that lived on the Sea of Dust, traversing the shifting dunes on sailing vessels. Like a cross between Road Warrior and Waterworld.
  11. There is both a Pinnacle of the Toad and a Temple of the Frog
Coming up in Part II: I try to draw a map of what Nortonian Greyhawk might look like! Stay tuned.
* I have no academic credentials other than having attended college for more time than anyone reasonably should. Also, phrasing such as "clapped on the ol' noggin" suggests that I'm still under the Wodehousian influence brought on by reading The Salt Marsh Murders.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Sinister Source Material of Saltmarsh

Back in February, Commentor Darrell provided me with some intell on a literary precedent to module U1 Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh. The work in question is a murder mystery written by British author Gladys Mitchell titled, somewhat obviously, Saltmarsh Murders and published in 1932.

Despite the prevalence of murder and sex in this story--fear not, prudish readers, all the juicy stuff happens off stage--the novel has a definite Wodehousian feel to it. So much so that every time that tea was announced I more than half expected Aunt Dahlia or Gussy Fink-Nottle to be among the guests. The narrator, a slightly daft young curate (4th level cleric) living at the local vicarage, was clearly modeled after Bertie Wooster, though he's slightly less bungling. Although not without its comic moments the book has a darker edge than one typically associates with the great P.G.W.--what with the murdering and sex mentioned earlier. But what will prove most sinister to modern readers will be the implication that suspicion of miscegenation should be considered justifiable cause for murdering a pregnant woman. Yikes! That's a scary combination of misogyny and racism.

But you're not here for a book report, you're here to find out what bearing this novel had on the origins of the U1 module and, perhaps more importantly, can it be used as  a source for creating an actual town of Saltmarsh to fill in the one major deficiency in the original.

As Darrell pointed out, there are obvious similarities: the action takes place in a small town on the south coast of England called Saltmarsh, there's a house on a cliff overlooking a cove, a secret tunnel to the cove, a smuggling operation in the cove, even ships crew members using lanterns to signal to shore. (The narrator did not observe a shore-to-ship signal, sadly.) And that's pretty much where the similarities end. There are no ghosts, actual or suspected, threatening to haunt the house on the cliff, no lizardmen riding shotgun on the smuggler's ship, no one seeking the philosopher's stone. There aren't even any similarly named characters. Indeed, while U1 obviously borrowed some points from this tale, it is clearly not a modulization of the novel. There is a sequel--or several, Ms. Mitchell wrote some 60 murder mysteries spanning the bulk of the 20th century--but I haven't read it/them and cannot confirm the existence of an impending sahuaguin invasion.

But what I did find was further evidence that both versions of Saltmarsh were inspired by the town and/or environs of the actual town of Seaton, Devon [see Sinister Location of Saltmarsh].

The real smugglers cave is a bit harder to get to than U1 enthusiasts will expect.

For instance, just down the coast from Seaton is a cave in the cliffs that was used by smugglers in the 18th and 19th century to stash contraband, as is detailed in the memoirs of famed smuggler John Rattenbury. No doubt there are loads of smugglers caves along the cliffy coast of England, as it seems that inveigling un-taxed merchandise into the realm was considered the national pastime back then.* But this particular cave leads from the cove to a nearby quarry, such as the one adjacent to the smugglers house in the Saltmarsh Murders novel.  No doubt the cliffs of England are likewise riddled with quarries, but does this not give a slight bit of credence to the notion that Seaton of Devon was the inspiration for Saltmarsh?

Also of possible note, according to Google Maps there is a small hamlet called Vicarage just west of Seaton; was this little community perhaps the inspiration for placing the narrator of the tale in such a residence? Since 7 out of every 9 murder mysteries written by British authors in the first half of the 20th century take place in or somehow involve a vicarage, this seems unlikely. 

* Both the novel and what I've read about this Rattenbury character give the distinct impression that smuggling was a rather common activity on the south coast, practiced by a wide swath of society--more than a few clergymen got in on the action as well. This portrays the smugglers in a vastly different light than the murderous bastards under the haunted house and on the Sea Ghost in U1.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Olde Greyhawke Mappe

Great Kingdom Map, Gary Gygax, 1971, Territories of the Great Kingdom
Check out this early version of what would eventually become Gygax's World of G'hawk. Grodog sent me a link to it because, I suspect, he wanted the wingnut perspective on this thing. As you most likely recall, I ran a piece on the origins of the Oeridian people way back--seems like only yesterday, eh?

Anyway, my initial thought: See that valley in the mountains between Perunland and Neron March? Impact crater from the Oeridian mother ship, obviously.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Another Random Character Generator!

Random fodder for your amusement
I swear I'm not looking for these things, but here's another, even cooler random character generator created by the good folks over at Purple Sorcerer Games. It creates 0-level characters for DCC RPG in bulk, but with actual character sheets instead of just a row
of stats on a spreadsheet like some other computerized character generator we all know and loathe.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Random F**king Character Generation

Getting back to the random character business, I just found this sweet site created by Ryan (just Ryan) that fills in your randomly generated character's gaping lack of a backstory in one snappy, profane sentence. And I do mean profane; the site is called "Who the fuck is my fucking D&D character?" after all.

Nice work Ryan.

Friday, April 29, 2016

N1:Sinister Secret of the Reptile God

Anyone who's followed this blog with any regularity has probably already determined that it's about time I started ranting about a new (old) module. The more obsessive devotees amongst you have probably further determined that the next object of my modular obsession is 94.8% likely to be N1 Against the Reptile God by Douglas Niles. And you'd be correct, cuz this bad boy has all the key elements of a module I love: a prominent town encounter, published before 1984, and... well, who needs more than that?

Furthermore, you've most likely heard several of my countless retellings of the apocryphal anecdote--at least I assume it's apocryphal since I made it up--on the link between this module and U1 Sinister Secret of Salt Lake. The way I tell it, back in '81 the Honchos at TSR tasked 2 groups to come up with a town-centric module to be entitled Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh; whoever turned in their draft first would get it published. The UK team won the race--significantly, they left out the town component in their haste to cross the finish line--and thus walked away with the title, literally.

Thankfully, the Lake Geneva braintrust saw the merit in Mr. Niles belated submittal and decided to publish it as well, though with the less inspired title Against the Cult of the Reptile God. As consolation, N1 got cover art from the under-utilised Timothy Truman.

Despite this fabricated association with U1, I can't help but look at this module as a reinterpretation of the venerable T1 Hamlet of Villoge, a module which has been canonized on this very blog. Both modules involve evil cults infiltrating a small town as well as some nefarious doings in a nearby swamp. The prime difference between the two settings being how their respective evil cults manifest. While in T1 the cult is fairly inert within the Village--there are a few spies gathering info but to no known purpose other than protecting the secrecy of the cult--in N1 the cult has a clear cut agenda: forcibly recruit new "members" and collect "donations" to the cause. Likewise, the transformation of agrarian, druidic Hommlet via the influx of Cuthbert-worshipping tradesmen is brought to much more baleful focus in N1's village of Orlanes where the crop-goddess worshiping natives are being invasively transformed into malevolent, reptile-worshiping cultists.

One of the prevalent symptoms of conversion to the cult--besides disappearing for a fortnight and, upon your return, pretending that you never left and never mind that you used to have a wife and a few more kids, what are you getting at?--is that new cult members are typically no longer any good at their professions. Farmers who once ran tidy, prosperous farms now disinterestedly toil in overgrown fields while their barns and chicken coops fall into a state of decrepitude; the carpenter's inept handiwork is a mockery of his former artistry, etc. There are exceptions: the blacksmith is still able to skillfully work his forge, but he's a man deranged now; his temper so violent that the primary occupation of his grown sons is restraining him from sodomizing everyone who wanders onto his yard. Even so, there are red herrings here; some of the tradesmen in town who preside over dilapidated establishments are just inherently ill-kempt people who've yet to visit the swamp lair of the eponymous reptile god.

Which brings us to what might be the one weak spot of the module. While it's obvious that Senor Niles was going for an Invasion of the Bodysnatchers vibe here, it seems that he scoured the Monster Manuel for some appropriate being to induce the pod personae and settled on the Spirit naga. Not inherently a bad idea--especially when the naga has such a deliciously descriptive name as "Explictica Defilus"--except that this is supposed to be an intro dungeon for n00b PCs. The naga, coupled with the prevalence of troglodytes in the lair (2 HD, 3 attacks/round, revulsion odor causes weakness, chameleon like powers) are tough customers for a 1st level party. Unless your DM is a big ol' softy, you're gonna suffer serous casualties. But given the trust no one vibe of this module--and the post-golden age pub date--the village is not going to be the recruiting ground for reinforcements/replacement characters in the way Hommlet or Restenford are. Even the two characters who seem like they could be the most useful--a pair of elves hired by the mayor to investigate the goings-on in town--are prohibited by Module-Writer's Fiat from assisting the PCs.

Instead, to balance the naga's power, there's an old man named Ramne hangin' out in town who happens to be a 7th level MU and exists solely for the purpose of helping the par-tee. Not only will he put his arcane spell-power to use for them but he also offers up the services of his weasel familiar which can automatically lead the investigation to the cult's lair in the swamp. Although the author admonishes the DM to not let this become a case of Ramne and the Seven Dwarves, it seems like there coulda' been a better way.

Like maybe do away with the naga--and not just because it's too powerful for a first level party. The naga also doesn't fit the bill very well because its power is a permanent charm, not a soul-sucking mind controlling force. It's just too codified and bland for the creepiness that the cult emanates in Orlane. There's nothing about a charm, as defined in AD&D, that would cause the "converted" to lose interest in maintaining their farms, drive them to desecrate the holy texts of the divine being that they've dedicated their lives to worshiping, or several of the other things that happen in the module. I'm not criticizing the author for taking license with the charm, rather, I wish he'd taken it several steps further. Call the thing a "curse" rather than a charm and have some sort of customized creature or artifact doling out the madness from the marsh. Instead, we get a statted-out critter from the Monster Manny that every AD&D player worth his or her salt has already committed to memory. After the creepiness of the village, the dungeon really needs a special, heretofore unkown horror at the root of all this evil.

The Cult is actually kinda' tired.
Furthermore, the purpose of the cult is basically the same prosaic objective of every other cult in the history of cultiness: to take money from the blindly devoted. But since a side effect of the charm seems to be that the afflicted tend to lose interest in maintaining their previous livelihood, once you've been ensnared by the cult you're not really worth much as a source of funds anymore. So in order to make your monthly contribution you have to go out and recruit more cultists. Can you spell Pyramid Scheme? And there you have it: Explictica Defilus is nothing more than an Amway sales rep.