30 October 2009

Chaosium's 'Classic Fantasy'

I've long admired Chaosium's "Basic Roleplaying" system. During my most active role-playing years as a teen, such games as Call of Cthulhu, Hawkmoon, and Runequest (2nd edition) were among the games that were part of our regular rotation (although, I have to confess, they saw far less 'game time' than AD&D and, later, MERP and Rolemaster). I especially enjoyed playing a 'D&D-ized' version of Runequest, which involved the core book and some optional rules from the magazine White Dwarf (from back in the days when WD published articles on a variety of different RPGs, before it became a catalogue for Warhammer minis).

While I haven't played BRP in many years, I've always admired its intuitive yet nuanced mechanics. A revised and expanded version of BRP was published recently, and I had been meaning to pick it up for many months now.

Since Chaosium is having a sale until November 1, I finally have been prompted to make this long-neglected purchase. Further prompting me, is the release of a 'D&D-ized' version of the BRP rules called 'Classic Fantasy,' which brings to mind the White Dwarf-RQII variant that I enjoyed greatly so many years ago.

29 October 2009

Favourite Quote from Knockspell #3

"The Society for Optimalised Objectivism, a conspiracy overseeing the Market of Uugen, is dedicated to upholding absolutely free market forces within their sphere of influence. They worship an ancient star vampire residing in a crystal globe; the “high priestess”, An-Raydn, enjoys good relations with the Supreme High Bursator of Fedafuce, the venerable Grenspanios (now living in a distant city state)."

~ Gabor Lux, "The City of Vultures," Knockspell #3, p. 34.

27 October 2009

Black Blade Publishing takes on S&W and Knockspell

Mythmere has been tormenting the more obsessive fans of Swords & Wizardry (including yours truly) for weeks now with vague intimations of a significant publishing and distribution deal for S&W and Knockspell magazine. Finally, dear readers, the agony of the wait is over, with this major announcement (from here):

Black Blade Publishing to become Exclusive Publisher of the Swords & Wizardry Core Rules and Knockspell Magazine

October 27, 2009 – Mythmere Games, developer and publisher of the ENnie-award winning Swords & Wizardry fantasy role-playing game, is pleased to announce an exclusive agreement with Black Blade Publishing to publish the Swords & Wizardry Core Rules and Knockspell magazine, and to lead the charge to get Swords & Wizardry into retail distribution. The first print releases under this agreement will be a softcover version of the 124-page Swords & Wizardry Core Rulebook and Knockspell #3.

Working with Studio 2 Publishing as its distribution partner, Black Blade Publishing expects the Swords & Wizardry Core Rulebook to start hitting the shelves of brick and mortar game stores by February of 2010. In addition, the in-print version of the Swords & Wizardry Core Rulebook will be available for purchase directly from Black Blade Publishing or through select retailers by late-October, 2009.

Electronic copies of the Swords & Wizardry Core Rulebook will be available immediately directly from Black Blade Publishing, and will be available very soon directly from Studio 2 Publishing, DrivethruRPG, RPGNow and YourGamesNow.

Print versions of Knockspell #3 are available for purchase directly from Black Blade Publishing, and issue #4 may be distributed to stores around February of 2010, at the same time as the core rules.

“The Swords & Wizardry fantasy role-playing game is about a lot more than a return to the way these games used to be played. Swords & Wizardry unapologetically throws off 30 years of re-imagining and so-called ‘fixing’ of the original rules, returning to the wonder and mystery of “free-form” fantasy gaming without complicated rules and long rulebooks. Black Blade Publishing is very excited to be publishing the key Swords & Wizardry titles from Mythmere Games. The quality of new products being introduced in the old school gaming community is amazing, and we are really excited to be a part of it.” -- Jon Hershberger, co-founder of Black Blade Publishing

Founded in 2008 by Matthew J. Finch, Mythmere Games is best known for the Swords & Wizardry fantasy role-playing game, the award-winning retro-clone of the original 1974 edition of the world’s most popular fantasy game. For additional information, visit http://www.swordsandwizardry.com.

Formed in 2009 by Jon Hershberger and Allan Grohe, Black Blade Publishing will begin publishing the Swords & Wizardry Core Rulebook in October 2009 under license from Mythmere Games. For additional information, visit http://www.black-blade-publishing.com.

Studio 2 Publishing has been serving the games hobby industry since 2004, serving game designers and publishers as a sales and marketing organization as well as providing fulfillment and inventory management services. For additional information, visit http://www.studio2publishing.com."

It sounds like a great arrangement, and I look forward to the future success of S&W and Knockspell!

Say, speaking of Knockspell, issue 3 is now available. I'll have a few comments on it tomorrow (time permitting).

18 October 2009

Failed Saving Throw versus 'Real Life'

Here I am trying to interact civilly with a couple of undergraduate students. ;)

More seriously, I just wanted to mention that I'm still around, but my current teaching responsibilities have prevented me from thinking about, much less blogging about, RPGs over the past couple of weeks. Hopefully things will lighten up somewhat in the near future.

07 October 2009

Ilmahal Index

For the sake of convenience, here are links to my various posts on my campaign setting ‘Ilmahal.’ Like my ‘house rules’ index, I will update this index as I post more information on Ilmahal.

1. Ilmahal Overview and Map

2. Ilmahal Cosmology (of the planes and the gods)

3. The Roll of Years (Ilmahal timeline)

4. Duchy of Briz and Map (revised version)

5. Earldom of Ysfael Map

06 October 2009

The Duchy of Briz: Overview and Map (revised & expanded)

Island Overview

The Duchy encompasses a medium sized island (roughly 80 miles north to south, and 40 miles east to west), off the eastern coast of the Island of Ilmahal. The northern third of the island is dominated by a grim and menacing woodland called the Maelvorn Forest. Beyond the forest, on the northeastern corner of the island, are the wild highlands called the Storm Ridges. The southern part of the island consists of fertile farmlands and river valleys, although sparsely settled rocky hills dominate the eastern and western coastlands.

The island – called ‘Brohn’ in the ancient Morghain tongue – was inhabited by a peaceful, if primitive, Morghain clan for many centuries. It eventually was conquered by Aphorian legions some twelve centuries ago. The island was abandoned by most human folk approximately four centuries ago, when the Aphorian Imperium withdrew its legions from Ilmahal. Much of the island was overrun subsequently by disorganized bands of humanoid savages. These bands settled in the abandoned Aphorian villages and forts that dotted the island, and fought amongst each other in a disorganized fashion for many years.

Approximately 225 years ago, a troop of mercenaries and adventurers led by the renowned warrior Flavius Briz landed in the ruined southern port of Irylond. Briz and his followers subsequently re-conquered the southern part of the island, slaying thousands of humanoids and driving the remainder into the dark Maelvorn Forest to the north, or the Storm Bridges beyond. Flavius Briz then declared himself duke of the island, renamed the port Irylond after himself (now simply ‘Briz’), encouraged the resettlement of the farmlands, and established three guard towers to protect the southern island against future humanoid incursions. Over the subsequent decades, a number of freemen from southern Ilmahal, tempted by the prospect of establishing their own farms and businesses, settled in the duchy, contributing to its wealth and stability.

Most of the duchy’s human population live in the southern part of the island. The one exception is the fishing town of White Cove, which is considered part of the Duchy. The present Duke of Briz is Duke Aelig Briz II. A small number of furtive Waldleuti (diminutive forest folk) dwell in the southern Highland Forest.

The nine towns of the Duchy:

1. Briz. (Formerly called ‘Irylond.’) The capital and only sizable town in the duchy, Briz is a moderately cosmopolitan cultural and economic centre, and hence the only place where representatives of other lands, and even other races, have permanent trading bases.

The imposing tower of Duke Aelig Briz II can be found on a small island attached to the town by a grey stone bridge. The ‘Red Raven Inn’ is large and rowdy establishment, frequented by rogues, mercenaries, adventurers, and other dubious sorts. The ‘Black Sail Tavern’ is rumoured to be the headquarters of the local thieves’ guild; they are said to led by the beautiful Amarrah Evensong, and run a brisk smuggling operation. An order of scholars, ‘The Grey Order,’ has a college in the town. In addition to educating the sons of the petty aristocrats of the Duchy, the Grey Order has been known to hire adventurers to obtain rare items (lost relics, strange herbs, and so forth) for their esoteric researches.

Some of the ruins of the ancient Aphorian town ‘Irylond’ are said to persist partially intact, hidden beneath the bustling port, allegedly holding lost treasures, forgotten lore, and dark eldritch horrors.

2. Solan. A fishing village on the southwestern coast of the island. A number of ancient Morghain cairns can be found to the southeast of the village, many of which are rumoured to be haunted by restless spirits. Treasure hunters sometimes venture into the cairns. They rarely return, and those that do generally wish to say nothing of their experiences in the hidden mounds of the dead.

3. Riagad. A fishing village on the eastern coast. A couple of small copper mines in the nearby hills provide additional revenue for the town. Riagad has a reputation for being dull.

4. Ninian. Another fishing village on the eastern coast. Sometimes called ‘Old Foggy’ because of the cool mists that perpetually form off the coastal hills. The village is ruled by a mayor, Sir Bran ‘the Melancholy,’ who is an ex-adventurer. An important lighthouse lies a few miles to the northeast of the village. A strange blue fire burns from the lighthouse’s brazier at all times. Only the lighthouse’s keeper, the taciturn Carthedon, knows the secret of the blue flame. The village’s only inn, ‘The Drunken Herring,’ is known throughout the realm as a welcoming and lively place.

5. Juvad. A trading village surrounded by a number of grain farms. The ale and lager served by ‘The Golden Grain’ – owned and run by garrulous Liam ‘Gutboy’ Brewson – are famous throughout the duchy. A reclusive mage named Neveldar ‘the Blue’ lives in a mansion just outside of the town. His diminutive servant Roderick obtains supplies and news for his master, as the mage never leaves his manor. A faint blue mist emanates from the bricks of Neveldar’s manor at all times. Strangely, as far as the villagers can tell, the mage has not aged a day since constructing and entering his manor some forty years ago!

6. Envel. A prosaic rural backwater, Envel is surrounded by farmland. In addition to grain, some farmers near Envel grow an unusual crop – pumpkins. The pumpkin ale sold by the tavern ‘The Goblin’s Nose’ is famous not only throughout Briz, but in lands further away. The owner of The Goblin’s Nose, Zethar ‘Orange-thumb,’ is a wealthy man, thanks to the money he has made by exporting his ale.

7. Maugan. A small town located in the coastal highlands. It supports a few nearby silver mines. Some of the abandoned mines are said to be haunted.

8. Pereg. A highland town surrounded by farms to the east, and a large temple devoted to Amithos (the sun god) and the Solar Court to the west. Many religious subjects of the duchy make pilgrimages to the temple. It is well known for its potent whiskey (‘Pereg’s tears’), which is somewhat popular with the temple’s clergy.

9. White Cove. The second largest town in the Duchy, White Cove dominates a small rocky island to the north of the dreaded Storm Ridges. The tower of the powerful wizard Ulfor – a friend of the Dukes of Briz – overlooks the town. Ulfor is the formal ruler of the island, holding the title of ‘baron,’ although he typically delegates responsibility for day-to-day affairs to White Cove’s mayor, Sir Aidan. Ulfor has dwelt in his tower for over a century, and is widely believed to be the most powerful wizard not only in the Duchy of Briz, but in the surrounding areas as well. Rumours claim that he is either half-fey or half-demon. Ulfor has been known to pay adventurers great amounts of money for the retrieval of rare substances and items (lost artifacts, exotic herbs, rare gems, parts of magical beasts, and the like).

Legends suggest that beneath the town of White Cove there exists a vast complex of natural caverns that were once inhabited by a depraved cult of worshippers of the Crab God. Even today, the occasional disappearance of a townsperson is blamed on the black ‘Cult of the Crab.’

10. Three imposing guard towers stand at the southern border of the Maelvorn Forest to limit humanoid incursions into the civilized lands of the south.

Other areas of note:

Gentle Ridges. A small range of rolling coastal hills that contain a few copper mines, most now abandoned. Some ancient Morghain ruins can be found in hidden vales throughout the Ridges.

Highland Forest. A small forest made up of a mix of deciduous and coniferous trees. A number of small Waldleuti settlements are scattered throughout the forest. The Waldleuti avoid contact with most outsiders. Some ancient haunted Morghain barrows are said to exist in the wooded hills.

Maelvorn Forest. A dark and gloomy forest, the Maelvorn dominates the northern part of the island. Many tribes of humanoids live scattered throughout the woods, fighting amongst each other, and occasionally raiding south into the rich farmlands of the Duchy. More dangerous and powerful creatures are rumoured to dwell deeper within the forest, including a sleepy but powerful emerald drake. Legend suggests that some ancient and beautiful – but deadly – non-human (perhaps even pre-human) ruins can be found near the murky Lake Vorn in the centre of the forest.

Misty Hills. As their name suggests, these hills typically are covered in mist formed by moisture blown in from the Murcha Sea. Some ogres are known to dwell within the caves that dot the hills. They occasionally raid nearby settlements. Sir Bran, mayor of Ninian, has offered a bounty of one hundred gold coins for the scalp of every ogre brought to him.

Off the coast of the Misty Hills lie five forested islands. As far as anyone knows, they are uninhabited by intelligent creatures, although it is believed that the ruins of an ancient Aphorian order of sages – the ‘Amber Savants’ – can be found somewhere on one of the islands.

Western Highlands. An imposing range of rocky hills that dominates the western coast of the island. A number of ancient Morghain cairns can be found throughout the highlands. The cairns are said to be filled with treasure, but haunted by terrible, restless spirits. Local tales speak of an ancient Aphorian monastery somewhere within the northern hills, concealed by mystical means.

Storm Ridges. An unpleasant, broken land, with little vegetation, the Storm Ridges primarily consist of reddish and black rocky hills. Sailors and fishermen regularly report seeing a mysterious, ancient purple tower on one of the highest hills on the northern part of the ridges, near the Maelvorn Forest. No one who has investigated the tower has ever returned.

Swamp of Norg. A fetid marsh covered in a perpetual miasma of malevolence. According to legend, the swamp was created many centuries ago following a great battle between a demon frog lord named Norg and a great Morghain hero named Cadifor Manus. A tribe of lizard men and a band of depraved frog people are said to dwell in the swamp. Sailors have reported seeing mysterious barges leaving the swamp in recent years.


This is a revised and expanded version of my description of the Duchy of Briz (the original description can be found here). In addition to providing more details on the various towns, regions, and NPCs of the Duchy, this version gives much more information on the kinds of possible adventures that can take place in the Duchy's different areas.

I've submitted this version of the Duchy of Briz to Fight On! magazine (along with some notes on adapting the Duchy to one's own campaign world, which I've left out of this post). Further edits may be necessary, of course, but hopefully nothing of substance will be changed.

This is the version of the Duchy of Briz that I used for my summer Swords & Wizardry campaign. I plan to post a summary of that campaign at some point in the near future.

04 October 2009

Ilmahal Cosmology


The world of Ilden exists on the ‘Mortal Plane.’ All known planes of existence are connected to each other by trans-planar conduits known as ‘ethereal strands.’ The more ethereal strands that connect two planes, the more those planes interact. Ethereal strands may be created, strengthened, weakened, or destroyed over time. Ethereal strands terminate in ‘portals’ or ‘gates’ on the planes to which they are attached.

It is generally known that many ethereal strands connect the Mortal Plane to the following planes: Godsland (home of the Solar and Glade courts of deities); Flux (a place of chaos and change, allegedly the home of many demons and a few wild gods); Faerie (the strange, ever changing dominion of the Seelie and Unseelie Courts, and the ancient homeland of the Alfar peoples); and the Nine Hells (the home of the devils, ruled over with an iron fist by the dark god Asmodeus). Other planes exist, but they are not known widely, and they exercise less influence on the affairs of Ilden.


Here is brief summary of some of the main gods worshipped by the human peoples of Ilmahal (many deities are not listed). The gods interfere rarely in the affairs of mortals. Some humans choose to worship no gods at all, seeing them simply as flawed but more powerful versions of themselves. Such individuals generally keep their lack of piety to themselves, however, in order to avoid persecution.

The Court of Chaos (Location: Flux. Ruler: None)

The ‘Court of Chaos’ refers to a loose association of deities and demon lords who dwell within scattered demesnes throughout the wild and constantly changing plane of Flux. The worship of Chaotic deities is prohibited in most civilized lands. Followers of such vile gods invariably endeavour to keep their religious devotions secret.

Adodhamair (Goddess of fire and destruction)

Symbol: grinning flame.

Worshippers are rare, except for berserkers and mangrim (especially the pirates of Fiachna).

Zaroxi (Goddess of seduction, hedonism and lust)

Symbol: flowing wineskin.

Infernal Court (Location: Nine Hells. Ruler: Asmodeus)

The Infernal Court is openly worshipped by most ‘evil’ humanoids – e.g., Forgrim (orcs), Goblinoids, and the like. In human lands, by contrast, worship of the Infernal Court and its devilish deities typically is prohibited, and punished with death.

Asmodeus (God of domination and evil)

Symbols: many, including (a) bleeding pentagram; (b) ram’s head; and (c) rod. Others are less well known.

Glade Court (Location: Godsland. Ruler: The Green Lady)

The deities of the Glade Court are revered as a unified pantheon by the Morghain peoples of northern Ilmahal (that is, most followers worship the pantheon as a whole, not individual deities). Some Arsilonians in southern Ilmahal also revere the Glade Court, but they generally do not do so publicly, as such worship is frowned upon by the Church of the Solar Court.

Green Lady (Goddess of agriculture, nature, and beauty; ruler of the Glade Court).

Symbol: green circle.

Azure Mistress (Goddess of the sea)

Symbol: stylized blue wave.

Pale Hunter (God of hunters and warriors)

Symbol: full (hunter’s) moon

Iron Man (God of mortality, natural death, and final judgement; enemy of the undead)

Symbol: iron scales of justice

Solar Court (Location: Godsland. Ruler: Amithos)

The Solar Court was worshiped as a unified pantheon throughout the Aphorian Imperium. A single hierarchical church – often referred to as ‘the Solar Church’ or simply ‘the Church’ – governed the religious lives of all citizens of the Imperium. Following the collapse of the Imperium, a fragment of the Solar Church survived in southern Ilmahal, where it retains its social and religious pre-eminence.

Amithos (God of the sun and justice; ruler of the Solar Court)

Symbol: sun (orange).

Fiona (Goddess of community and healing)

Symbol: white rose.

Murth (God of trade and travel)

Symbol: golden boot.

Vanimos (God of knowledge and secrets)

Symbol: stylized eye (looking directly ahead).

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I'm a Canadian political philosopher who lives primarily in Toronto but teaches in Milwaukee (sometimes in person, sometimes online).