18 September 2023

Classic Fantasy Imperative now available!

Classic Fantasy is the Mythras version of classic (1970s and 1980s) “Dungeons & Dragons.” The “Imperative” version is a somewhat stripped-down version of CF – think “Basic” D&D rather than “Advanced” – but a complete game (i.e., it does not require the use of the Mythras core rules) and offered under the “ORC” License. 

If I weren’t currently focused on developing my “Ukrasia” setting for a future Against the Darkmaster campaign (and already playing in a Mythras campaign) I’d be sorely tempted to use CFI to run a classic adventure like B4: The Lost City.

Here’s the announcement from the folks at The Design Mechanism:
It's here...

Classic Fantasy Imperative introduces role-players to old-school dungeoneering and high adventure through the lens of the Mythras rule system. A complete game, with all you need for play (barring dice), Classic Fantasy Imperative provides full character creation, with four classes (Cleric, Fighter, Mage and Rogue), four separate cultures, and six races. Extensive rules are provided for Class optimization and Rank abilities, along with a comprehensive system of skills, innovative combat mechanics, and an extensive list of spells and magical effects. The book rounds out with sample monsters and enemies, and magic items. As it is based on the Mythras games system, Classic Fantasy Imperative is fully compatible with the Mythras range of games published by The Design Mechanism.

Classic Fantasy Imperative is a broad canvas intended for individual and third-party development. It is published under the ORC License, meaning that its Licensed Material content can be freely used and adapted, and even combined with other ORC Licensed systems. Developers are free to create their own variations, supplements, adventures and expansions, as long as they abide by the terms of the ORC license.

Classic Fantasy Imperative is available as a free, 155-page PDF with an accompanying Word file containing the entirety of the game text as a System Reference Document (SRD). The game is also available as a Print on Demand (POD) softcover book, priced at $29.99, from The Design Mechanism webstore and Lulu. A POD version will be available through DrivethruRPG in due course.

The Design Mechanism store



Don your armor, grasp your holy symbol, memorize your spells, and ensure you have all your lockpicking gear. Rumour has it that someone at the tavern is seeking adventurers for a special task, and your group may just fit the bill…
[The usual suspects…]

09 September 2023

Ukrasia: Planes and Deities

Here is another element of the setting that I'm currently working on, called Ukrasia (to be used in my forthcoming Against the Darkmaster campaign).


The world of Ukrasia exists on the ‘Mortal Plane.’ All known planes of existence are connected to each other by interplanar 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: 

The Tier Lands: 
  • Home of the Solar Court and other powers of Order.
  • Believed to be a range of perfectly symmetrical, impossibly beautiful mountains.
  • A place of Chaos, an endlessly changing maelstrom.
  • Regions of Flux are capable of being structured by the will of deities and greater powers. 
The Glade Lands
  • Home of the Glade Court and other greater powers of Nature, including the Beastlords. 
  • The strange, ever-changing dominion of the Greater Faerie and the Unseen Lords.
  • Some scholars claim that Faerie is actually part of The Glade Lands, namely, the wild “outer regions.”

The Underworld
  • A dark shadowy ‘mirror’ of the Mortal Plane.
  • The souls and sprits of the dead go here for a short period of time before migrating to their next stage. 
  • Some mortals (especially members of the Solar Church) believe that, if judged virtuous, they will go on to The Tier Lands, whereas the vicious will go to The Hells or Flux; others (followers of the “Old Faith”) believe that their righteous souls go on to the Glade Lands.
  • The Elves believe that, after a time in The Underworld, they are reborn in Faerie, shorn of most of their past memories and sorrows.
  • The Dwarves believe that their souls are reincarnated in the Mortal Plane (the more virtuous they were during their lives, the briefer their time spent in The Underworld).
  • “Restless” souls may dwell in The Underworld indefinitely or return to the Mortal Plane as undead (ghosts and the like). 
The Hells
  • The horrific sulphuric home of the orderly, hierarchical Devils. 
  • The souls of those who were especially terrible during their time on the Mortal Plane are believed to be reborn as lesser devils (some of whom may work their way “up” the infernal hierarchy over the ensuing centuries).

Other planes exist, but they are not widely known, and they exercise less influence on the affairs of Ukrasia.


Here is an overview of some of the gods worshipped by the mortal peoples of Ukrasia (many deities are not listed). The gods interfere very rarely in the affairs of mortals. Some individuals 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 destructive gods invariably endeavour to keep their religious commitments secret.

Adodhamair (Goddess of fire and destruction)
Symbol: grinning flame.
Worshippers are quite rare, but a dangerous cult is said to exist, spanning many mannish realms.

Erebus (God of primal darkness)
Symbol: a black circle.
Worshippers include orcs, trolls, and dragonspawn. 

Eriss (Goddess of strife and discord)
Symbol: swirling whirlpool of blood.
Worshippers include orcs, trolls, and human berserkers.

Zaroxi (Goddess of seduction, hedonism and lust)
Symbol: flowing wineskin.

Everekka (Pale Queen of the Mists)
Symbol: circle of stars on a black night sky.
Once the leader of the Night (Star) Elves during the latter part of the Era of the Elves, Everekka now rules a beautiful fastness formed by her formidable will. She continues to have many followers on Ukrasia, and indeed remains keenly interested in events there. It is believed that she plans to return one day in order to resume her war against humanity. 

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

The Infernal Court is openly worshipped only by certain ‘evil’ humanoids – e.g., Orcs, Trolls, and the like. In human lands, by contrast, worship of the Infernal Court and its devilish lords typically is prohibited, and punishable 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: The Glade lands. Ruler: The Green Lady)

The deities of the Glade Court are revered as a unified pantheon by the Northric and Vilkorith peoples (that is, most followers worship the pantheon as a whole, not individual deities). 
In realms where both the Solar Court and the Glade Court are worshipped, the followers of the latter are referred to as adherents of the “Old Faith.”

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 wanderers).
Symbol: full (hunter’s) pale moon.

Iron Man (God of mortality, natural death, and final judgement; enemy of the undead).
Symbol: iron scales of justice on a pale background.

Grey Warrior (God of war and bravery). 
Symbol: stylized spear and shield, or sword and shield (the shield is always grey).

White Witch (Goddess of herbs, lore, non-evil magic)
Symbol: white staff on a green leaf.

The Beastlords (“Lords” of Cats, Dogs, Eagles, Owls, Horses, etc.). 

Solar Court (Location: The Tier Lands. Ruler: Amithos)

The Solar Court was worshiped as a unified pantheon throughout the Rylindar Imperium. Once a single hierarchical church – often referred to as ‘the Solar Church’ or simply ‘the Church’ – it suffered a schism following the ascension of the Autarch towards the end of the First Age of Humanity. The portion of the Church located in the lands that resisted the Autarch became known as the “Church of the Free Sun.” In the part of the Church under the control of the Autarch, emphasis was placed on the worship of Ulrika, Vanimos, and Zerrick.

Amithos (God of the sun and justice; ruler of the Solar Court)
Symbol: sun (orange) with stylized rays.

Fiona (Goddess of community and healing)
Symbol: white rose.

Murth (God of trade and travel)
Symbol: golden boot on a blue or green background.

Ulrika (Goddess of war and strategy)
Symbol: crossed red swords in front of stylized map.

Vanimos (God of knowledge and secrets)
Symbol: stylized eye (looking directly ahead).

Zerrick (God of discipline and control)
Symbol: white fist holding a stylized mace or rod.  


31 August 2023

Moria Kickstarted x30

Not that the Free League needs any additional support for this – the project (at the time that I’m writing this) has exceeded its funding goal more than 30 times over – but since I’m a Middle-earth fan and write about it regularly here, I thought that I would mention the Moria Kickstarter.

The Free League is coming out with versions for both The One Ring (2nd edition) and The Lord of the Rings Roleplaying. The latter game (LoTR) is a revised version of Cubicle 7’s earlier Adventures in Middle-earth system. That system is based upon 5th edition D&D, but helpfully introduces many “Middle-earthy” elements from TOR – and thankfully replaces entirely 5e’s standard “rest” and magic systems (among other things).

The TOR 2e version is called Moria: Through the Doors of Durin, whereas the LotR version is called Moria: Shadow of Khazad Dûm. (For some reason, different names are applied to all the books in the TOR and LotR lines, even though the non-rules contents are identical, as far as I can tell.)

The One Ring 2e looks interesting. I have the core rules and the introductory box set. (I also have the LotR versions.) Going forward, though, I plan to stick simply with the LotR 5e line, so I’ll be getting Moria: Shadow of Khazad Dûm. I don’t have any deep system-related reason for doing so. It’s just a matter of familiarity and convenience. I ran a great campaign using AiME a few years ago, so I know the system reasonably well, and am happy to stick with it for my Middle-earth gaming. (At least when I’m not using Against the Darkmaster to run my old MERP stuff. Oddly, Moria is one of the few ICE Middle-earth books that I don’t have in my collection.)

The TOR 2e books do have better covers than the LotR books for some reason…

23 August 2023

Against the Witch-King: The Heroes

Almarian of Arnor

Kin: Dúnadan (“High Man”).
Culture: City – Fornost.
Vocation: Champion.
Level: 1.

Stats: Brawn +15; Swiftness +15; Fortitude +15; Wits 0; Wisdom +5; Bearing +15.
Hit Points: 65.
Magic Points: 3.
Move: 15 meters.

Special Traits (Kin): 
- Imposing (+15 to Charisma skill).
- Ancient Heirloom (major): Orcspite (ancient spear of Númenor).
- Loyal Companion (minor): Seerwing (goshawk).
Spell Lores: Commanding Presence, Chanting, Weapon Mastery

Motivation: Defend the North against Angmar.
Nature: Protective of the weak.
Allegiance: Loyal to Arnor.

Of clear Númenorean lineage, Almarian has made it her duty to protect the free folk of Arnor who seek to go about their routine lives untroubled by the Shadow. She is well travelled and versed in the local customs of Arnor’s scattered settlements, as well the more complex mores of her home city, Fornost.
Tall, as is the way of the people of Westernesse, she carries the spear Orcspite, gifted to her by her father, who carried it before. Orcspite has a long history stretching back to end of the reign of Ar-Pharazôn. It was used by the Faithful in the campaigns waged against the Shadow in both the north and south of Middle-earth following the destruction of Númenor. 

Almarian knows that the Witch-King seeks Orcspite’s destruction and has reasons to believe that His servants are actively hunting for it now that it has passed to her keeping. Knowing there are agents of the Witch-King abroad in Fornost, she decided to take to the wilds to protect both herself and her legacy. For this reason, she harbours an innate distrust of strangers.
Almarian’s constant companion is her trained goshawk, Seerwing. As well as being adept at hunting and retrieving small game, Seerwing is also a keen-eyed scout, and Alamarian routinely sends her ahead when approaching an unknown area.

Thindparv is Almarian’s mother’s brother. Nenereth and Thindparv were once very close, but drifted apart over the years – perhaps due to Thindparv’s studies. Almarian hates to see this gulf between two people she loves and wants to try to heal the rift somehow – hence her return to Fornost. She also hopes that Thindparv can tell her some of the abilities of Orcspite, as her father was slain by Angmarim before he could pass this information to her.


Arpet Swimming Bear

Kin: Lossoth (“Man”).
Culture: Arctic.
Vocation: Animist.
Level: 1

Stats: Brawn +10; Swiftness 0; Fortitude +10; Wits +5; Wisdom +25; Bearing +10.
Hit Points: 50.
Magic Points: 4.
Move: 15 meters

Special Traits (Kin):
- Specialization (+10 to any one skill).
- Healer’s Hands (minor): +10 to Healer skill and Nature (when searching for herbs).
- Shapechanger (major): can transform (when bruised or with drive point) into polar bear.
- Stormcrow (minor): visions of trouble (+5 to Wisdom).
Spell Lores: Chanting, Detections, Healing, Illusions, Movement of Nature.

Motivation: Find the stolen horn of Mulkan (holy artifact).
Nature: My actions may seem inexplicable at first, but their meaning will reveal in time.
Allegiance: I exhibit spiritual love for my Shaman, Emkla, but secretly my feelings are stronger and more personal.

The brothers Arpet and Doffa are from the village of Mulkan, which is one of the few permanent settlements of the Lossoth (who refer to themselves as the “Ystävät Talven” in their own tongue; the people of Mulkan and the southern coast of the Forochel are of the “Lumimiehet” tribe). At Mulkan the men of the Forodwaith interact with the few Arthedain, Rivermen, Dwarves of the Ered Luin, and Elves of Lindon who journey so far north. In return for ivory and pelts, the Lossoth obtain steel and iron tools and weapons, rare herbs, and other "southern" goods.

Arpet is the assistant shaman to Emkla, the head shaman of Mulkan. (Most Lossoth shamans are women – Arpet was accepted as one given his obvious talents, especially his ability to shift into the form of a polar bear, clearly a gift from the Vala Araw.) A year ago, a holy relic of the tribe – a giant Narwhale horn, said to have been obtained by the founder of the village (also named Mulkan) centuries ago and blessed by the Spirits of the North – was stolen. Months later, in a dream Arpet saw the horn in the possession of a strange diminutive people with hairy feet who lived in a massive, strange-looking tree (a tree not found anywhere near the Ice Bay). 

From the Arthedan trader Beleg, who visits Mulkan every season, the shaman learned of the sage Thindparv. This scholar perhaps can provide information about the strange people the shaman saw in his dream, including hopefully their location. Beleg, a friend of Thindparv, has written something called “a letter of introduction” for the Lossoth brothers, so that they might be welcomed in Fornost.


Doffa of Mulkan

Kin: Lossoth (“Man”).
Culture: Arctic.
Vocation: Rogue.
Level: 1

Stats: Brawn +10, Swiftness +15, Fortitude +5, Wits +15, Wisdom +20, Bearing 0.
Hit Points: 55.
Magic Points: 0.
Move: 15 meters

Special Traits (Kin):
- Specialization (+10 to any one skill).
- Lovable Rogue (Major): +5 to Wits. May confuse sentient beings once/session.
- Unbreakable Bond (Minor): +10 on rolls when helping Arpet.
- Stormcrow (Minor): visions of trouble for Arpet; +5 to Wisdom.
- Geared for Adventure (Minor): superior spear, lockpick.

Motivation: My visions of Arpet and the dangers he will face drive me to travel with and protect him.
Nature: I am prone to distraction by my curiosity for the sights and sounds of the world beyond home.
Allegiance: I will bring the wealth and comforts of the south to my people so we can stop living in poverty.

The brothers Arpet and Doffa are from the village of Mulkan, which is one of the few permanent settlements of the Lossoth (who refer to themselves as the “Ystävät Talven” in their own tongue; the people of Mulkan and the southern coast of the Forochel are of the “Lumimiehet” tribe). At Mulkan the men of the Forodwaith interact with the few Arthedain, Rivermen, Dwarves of the Ered Luin, and Elves of Lindon who journey so far north. In return for ivory and pelts, the Lossoth obtain steel and iron tools and weapons, rare herbs, and other "southern" goods.

Doffa is no scholar or shaman but has long been fascinated by the tales of the southern lands told by the traders who visit Mulkan. Excited for the opportunity to see these realms, he readily agreed to accompany his brother on his quest for the lost Narwhale horn.


Celebrin “the Swift”

Kin: Sinda (“Silver”) Elf.
Culture: Noble.
Vocation: Champion.
Level: 1.

Stats: Brawn +5, Swiftness +30, Fortitude +10, Wits +15, Wisdom +5, Bearing +25.
Hit Points: 50.
Magic Points: 7.
Move: 20 meters.

Special Traits (Kin):
- Keen Sense: night vision, +10 to Perception.
- Immortal: ageless, immune to disease, +10 vs cold.
- Light footed: unaffected by terrain (and counts ½ for camping).
- Shipwright: +20 to rolls involving ships and shipcraft.
- Fair and Wise: + 10 to Charisma and Song & Tales skills.

- Fleet footed: +5 to Move Rate; travel 1.5 normal distance on foot.
- Gifted: +5 to Swiftness.
- Heroic Bloodline: use ½ action to Inspire allies within 6 meters: 
        +10 to Willpower saves or +5 to attack and defence (for round).
Spell Lores: Elven Lore, Spell Song, Chanting, Commanding Presence, Heroic Defence, Weapon Master.

Motivation: Solve the mystery of his visions of a lost elf warrior.
Nature: Inquisitive (uncover ancient lore and artifacts).
Allegiance: Círdan and Lindon.

Celebrin belongs to a noble Sindarin family. His great-grandfather was among the Teleri who settled in Nevrast rather than cross the sea to Aman. In the second century of the sun (First Age), Celebrin’s great-grandfather relocated to the hidden city of Gondolin. Both Celebrin’s great-grandfather and great-grandmother were slain when Morgoth’s hordes conquered the city. His grandfather, however, escaped to Círdan’s people in Falas and then the Isle of Balar. Celebrin’s grandfather later followed Círdan to Lindon after the destruction of Beleriand. In the mid-Second Age, Celebrin’s grandfather fell to orcish hordes during the War of the Elves and Sauron (1700 S. A.). Celebrin’s father relocated to the elf-haven of Edhellond for the rest of the age, and took part in the War of the Last Alliance. Afterwards, Celebrin’s father returned with Círdan to Mithlond. There, in 1800 of the Third Age, Celebrin’s father wed his mother. Celebrin was born a century later, and so is quite young (64) for a Sinda Elf. 

Fascinated by his father’s tales of the great works created in Lindon and Eregion during the Second Age, Celebrin is keen to uncover the ancient lore and artifacts of the Sindar and Noldor of Eriador. 

However, Celebrin’s immediate reason for travelling east is less benign. For the past year has been plagued with a vision during his reveries. He sees a great blond elf warrior wandering through a thick mist, possibly underwater. The warrior calls out for help in both Quenya and Sindarin, but to no avail. After a few moments the vision disappears. No one in Lindon can understand what this vision means. Following Círdan’s advice, Celebrin is travelling to Arthedain, and then possibly Rivendell, to try to solve this mystery.

12 August 2023

Against the Witch-King – Adventure Index

I’ll be running an adventure or two (maybe more) of Against the Darkmaster (VsD) for one of my gaming groups, starting next week. This is the group that normally uses Mythras (we’ve gone through The Young Kingdoms, Mythic Britain, and Mythic Babylon campaigns in the past, and now are in the middle of an epic Beyond the Mountains of Madness campaign). So this will not be the “main game” of this group, but rather something to do when not everyone can make it or when the current GM (in this case Loz) would like a break. (I’m still developing the VsD campaign setting “Ukrasia” for my other group, and that campaign hopefully will start in a couple of months, once my Greyhawk campaign comes to a satisfying pause point.)

Anyhow, as I usually do with the campaigns that I run, I’ve created an “index” (really more of a “table of contents,” but whatever) with links to posts related to the Against the Witch-King adventures. Like my other “indexes,” I’ll update this as new relevant posts appear on my blog. 

[Some Nazgûl near Rivendell, by Angus McBride]

Campaign and Character Information 

Adventure Logs

  • Coming soon!

Other related posts

10 August 2023

Classic Fantasy Imperative coming soon

Above is the cover for the Design Mechanism’s forthcoming Classic Fantasy Imperative. (Classic Fantasy is a supplement for Mythras that gives the game a strong “first edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons” flavour, while retaining most of what makes Mythras a great system.) Classic Fantasy Imperative (CFI ) will be released under the “ORC” license, which was created in reaction to WotC’s (ultimately unsuccessful) attempt to change the OGL back in January.

Here is Loz’s description of the book (from this post):  

Classic Fantasy Imperative is actually pretty extensive. It's a complete rule-set, but we have redacted some classes, races, spells, and other things from Classic Fantasy to retain the utility of the core book (and the upcoming Unearthed Companion). However, CFI does take characters up to Rank 5, and offers a great deal of material to allow you to see and play the game to its full extent without necessarily needing the Unearthed Companion or the core rules. What you won't find in CFI are extended spell descriptions, monster stats, additional classes or races, and a great deal of cool extended material.

Classic Fantasy Imperative has two aims: introduce new players to Mythras and d100 gaming using familiar tropes and concepts from D&D and Pathfinder; and give third party creators a solid, comprehensive, open system to build their own games, and merge Classic Fantasy and Mythras material with other ORC-powered sources (like the fresh edition of BRP). In short, we're opening up Mythras, and starting that journey with Classic Fantasy. Mythras Imperative will also be licensed under ORC too, to ensure full consistency across our range. However, the core rules - Mythras Core, CF core, will not be ORC. If people want to license material found in our full rulebooks, we'll still have the Mythras Gateway to allow access in much the same way we do now (although we'll be relaxing some of the conditions).

If you have Classic Fantasy and Mythras already, you don't need CFI - however, there's still enough material in there to provide old hands with some additional, free information. It also makes a great intro for new players, so it'll be worth picking up. The SRD and PDF versions (the latter will receive layout treatment; the former will be a Word document) will be free, so no reason for you not to have a copy. 

I have Classic Fantasy and think it’s very cool. I’m definitely getting CFI when it comes out. If I wasn’t already playing in a Mythras campaign (as a player, I’ve participated primarily in Mythras campaigns over the past dozen years), I’d be tempted to use Classic Fantasy for my next campaign. 

08 August 2023

I am the Darkmaster

I’m slowly working on a setting for a forthcoming Against the Darkmaster (VsD) campaign. The world is called Ukrasia and my focus will be on a northern island called Amarrah.

One thing that I decided for the setting is to have three “Darkmasters” from three different Ages of the world. I want these Darkmasters to be opposed to each other, in addition to the “free peoples.” However, only the most recent Darkmaster is active in the world at the time of the campaign (the others nonetheless have numerous followers and agents causing trouble).

Another goal that I have for the setting is that I want to make room in the world and provide rationales for the core VsD peoples – “kins” in VsD terminology (“races” in old-school parlance) – and monsters. Among the playable kins, in addition to the usual humans (and ersatz Dúnedain, “High Men”), halflings, dwarves, elves, and orcs, there are “wild folk” (human-ish woodland folk that resemble, I think, the Woses of Middle-earth) and “firbolgs” (giant-ish people with ram horns). The firbolgs are quite interesting, in that they suffer from a “Doom” because they turned against their Darkmaster in the dim past. In addition to the playable kins, there are “Dragonspawn” (humanoid dragon folk) that also need to be explained.

In order to make a place for the firbolgs – and the VsD versions of giants as well – I decided that the first Darkmaster will be a “High Jarl” of the Giants (once masters of the most powerful civilization in the world). This High Jarl also created the dragonspawn to serve as soldiers in the Giants’ war against the Elves. I thought that it would be cool to evoke Norse mythology and call the High Jarl “Ymir.” When I was looking at the entry on Ymir at Wikipedia, though, I noticed that an alternative name for Ymir is “Bláinn” – remarkably close to my first name, “Blain”!

The spirit of Gygax seized me, and I thought that it would be fun to use my three names (first, middle, and last) as the basis for all three of Ukrasia’s Darkmasters (just as many of the important characters’ names within the World of Greyhawk are plays on “Gygax,” including the mad wizard “Zagyg” of the original Castle Greyhawk).

This is only an initial draft, but below are my current ideas for the three Darkmasters of Ukrasia

The Chained Colossus of the Deep

High-Jarl of the Giants, Bláinn (Ymir), “The Master of Dragons.”
Bláinn has been chained to the bottom of the ocean for ~15,000 years. (According to legend, the Colossus’s writhing causes storms and great waves.)
Coveted Artifact: The Crystal Rods (five keys for the five chains that bind him to the ocean floor).
Lieutenants: Dragons, the “Dragon Kings” (human sorcerers?), Greater Giants.
Minions: Dragonspawn, Evil Men, Lesser Giants.
Spies: Snakes, Dragonlings (evil ‘pseudo-dragons’).

The Pale Queen of the Mists

Over-Queen of the Night, Everekka the Beautiful. (Name modified from “Everett.”)
Former leader of the genocidal “Night” (Star) Elves during the “Era of the Elves.”
Has been ensconced in her enchanted fastness on the Plane of Flux for ~ 3,700 years (since her defeat at the end of the Elvish Era).
Coveted Artifact: Unknown (if any).
Lieutenants: Night (Star) Elves and Unseelie. 
Minions: Dwergar, Orcs, Trolls.
Spies: Boggarts, Owls.

The Lich Autarch

Former Autarch of the Rylindar Imperium (the “High Man” empire), N’veldar the Arch-Lich. (Name modified from “Neufeld.”)
Greatly weakened after the theft of his staff and subsequent defeat at the end of the “First Age of Humanity” (the Age’s 2,550th year). 
(Only recently has the Autarch re-emerged, after the first millennium of the Second Age of Humanity.)
Coveted Artifact: The Blackfire Staff (drinks the souls of those slain; rumoured to be the only weapon that can truly slay N’veldar).
Lieutenants: Dark Knights, Dark Mages, and Vampires.
Minions: Evil Men, Ghouls, Undead Thralls.
Spies: Gorcrows, Ravens, Bats. 

The Autarch's primary servant on the Island of Amarrah
The Prince of Rooks (who dwells within the Black Rookery in the northeastern reach of the isle). 
The Prince and his lieutenants ride giant rooks.

So that’s it for now. I’ll post more about Ukrasia and Amarrah as my work progresses. 

[Credits: The top image is from the Against the Darkmaster core book. The picture of Ymir is from the musician Danheim's song of the same name. The final two pictures are from Ralph Bakshi's The Lord of the Rings movie.]

28 July 2023

Gary Gygax Bench in Lake Geneva

I’m a bit late in noticing this, but a park bench in Lake Geneva (Wisconsin, not Switzerland) was dedicated to Gary Gygax on Thursday, 27th July (Gygax's birthday). In addition to the bench dedication, there was a proclamation by the mayor announcing “Gary Gygax Day.”

(Of course, as anyone who has read the AD&D Dungeon Master’s Guide can attest, a table perhaps would’ve been more appropriate than a bench [see Appendices]…)

More information at ENworld

16 July 2023

The Tomb of Serten and the Helm of Laga Vulin (Greyhawk campaign)


9.1 Back in Hommlet (Wealsun 21st – 23rd)

Our intrepid adventurers — Erik (the mountain dwarf fighter from the Lortmils), Althaea (the high elf wizard from the city of Tringlee), and the brothers Godric (the human rogue from the Barony of Shiboleth) and Cedric (the human cleric of St. Cuthbert) – have returned to Hommlet after spending several weeks in the gnomish town of Gneissvale. The party is accompanied by the gnome Zeno Zacklington and his assistant Berta. Zeno had acquired the village’s trading post from the party and plans to establish a branch of the great Zacklington trading empire in Hommlet.

While in the village, the party updates the Council on the party’s recent activities, as well as the threats posed by brigands and gnolls to the trade route between Hommlet and Gneissvale. The adventurers explain that the “flaming eye” symbol used by the dark denizens of the Moathouse, including the now deceased Lareth, is one employed by the followers of Iuz. However, Iuz could not have been involved with the original rise of the Temple of Elemental Evil a decade ago, as he was not active on Oerth during that time. Nonetheless, the Iuzians are implicated somehow in the re-emergence of the Temple as a threat to the region. The party also introduces Zeno and Berta to the Council. Godric speaks with Jaroo Ashstaff afterwards; the druid assures Godric that the Wood Elves are likely to remain at their camp for a couple more months. 

While relaxing at the Inn of the Welcome Wench, the party is approached again by Furnok the half-elven “treasure finder.” After chatting a bit, Cedric begins lecturing about St. Cuthbert and presses a pamphlet of Sayings of the Wise Foole into Furnok’s hand. Suddenly the half-elf is overcome with weariness and excuses himself for the evening. Althaea approaches the hulking warrior Kobort and the enigmatic Baklunish wanderer Turuko; she purchases a round of Umberdeep Ale for them all. Erik challenges the brutish human to an arm wrestle and is victorious. Kobort reveals that the two now have a “big job” but stops talking after a pointed glare from Turuko.

Over the next couple of days Erik orders some new shoes from Americ the leather-worker, while Cedric spends time at the Church of St. Cuthbert. Godric flirts with some local wenches and plays cards with Furnok. He notices that the half-elf scoundrel is using marked cards, but still plays three games in order to not let on that he aware of the other’s perfidy. Furnok and Althaea play a game of chess. Althaea loses the game – and a platinum coin that she wagered. Despite his charm and wit, the party declines the half-elf’s renewed offer to accompany them.

9.2. Another ambush north of Hommlet (Wealsun 24th – 25th)

Early on the 24th day of Wealsun the party heads north from Hommlet, seeking the Tomb of Serten, which the mage Burne told them is located at the northern edge of the Kron Hills, adjacent to the Emridy Meadows. After an uneventful day, the party camps for the night. As dawn approaches, and Cedric is on watch, someone appears behind the priest and mutters, “This is for Rannos Davl and Lareth!” A dagger is thrust into stunned cleric! The treacherous merchant and assassin Greemag pops into visibility at the same time, his hand wielding the bloodied weapon. The party is under attack!

The evil gnome who assaulted Erik back at the Moathouse appears, as do Kobort and Turuko. The gnome hurls a sphere of electricity at Cedric, but the orb bounces off his helmet and fizzles out. However, Cedric is knocked out by Koboart. Erik, Godric, and Althaea rouse themselves. Kobort’s head explodes from a blow delivered by Erik’s staff of striking. Godric casts “Sleep” and both the gnome and Turuko fall into a dark slumber – a slumber from which they never awake, thanks to some fast work by the rogue and dwarf. Althaea casts “levitation” on Greemag, which hurls him twenty feet into the air. She then blasts the assassin with some magic missiles. Cursing in rage and agony, Greemag consumes a potion which transforms him into a pseudo-dragon; he then rapidly flies away. The party worries that this will not be their last encounter with the iniquitous servant of Elemental Evil.   

Among the loot found on the dead gnome and two humans, the party finds three pouches of “Dust of Disappearance.” They find one empty pouch and infer that the magical Dust is why they were so easily ambushed by the would-be assassins.   

The party pulls the bodies to the side of the road and decides to return to Hommlet. On their way back, Godric spies a caravan approaching. Wary and weary, the party hides from the peaceful merchants before resuming their journey. As night falls, they arrive back in the village. The adventurers inform Canon Terjon of what happened to them before retiring to the inn for several rounds of Umberdeep Ale.

9.3 The journey to the Tome of Serten (Wealsun 26th – 28th; Richfest 1st – 2nd)

While shaken by their recent experience, the party is determined to travel to the Tomb of Serten in order to recover items usable by allies of St. Cuthbert in their struggle against the forces of Elemental Evil. 

As the party journeys north again, they spot a gryphon flying overhead. Althaea casts Invisibility on Vick the mule. Eventually the gryphon loses interest and flies away. 

Further along in their journey, on the 1st day of Richfest (Midsummer), the party encounters the druid Darr. They learn that Darr is a friend of Jaroo and a follower of Obad-Hai. The friendly druid shares some whisky (“water of life”) with the party, much to the delight of Erik, and warns them that undead sometimes rise from their resting places upon the battlefield of Emridy Meadows. The party shows the symbol of the “burning eye” to Darr, and tell him about their experiences with cultists, bandits, and so forth. Impressed, the druid gives the party a potion of healing before departing and wishing them “Gentle Rains.”

After parting ways with Darr, the party leaves the road and heads northeast towards the Tomb of Serten.

9.4 The Temple of Serten (Richfest 2nd)

By noon of the second day of Richfest the party reaches the location of the tomb. Upon a lonely hill stands a mighty, gnarled oak tree. Beneath the tree’s boughs sits a flat rock, upon which is engraved the symbol of St. Cuthbert. Cedric channels the divine grace of St. Cuthbert onto the symbol – and a huge stone tomb is revealed! It is clear that the creators of the tomb wanted it to be found by followers of the divine saint.

As the party approaches the tomb a booming voice declares: “I’m certain that you know my name, speak the same in order to gain.” Godric says, “the same!” but nothing happens. Amused, Cedric says, “Serten,” and the doors slide open. The party enters. There is an altar at the far end upon which lies a human figure, donned in plate armour, a shield, and wearing a helmet. On either side of the altar stand statues depicting human priests wielding cudgels. As the party approaches, the left statue says in a kind voice, “Powerful magic should not be forgotten in a hidden tomb, when it can be used against the rising tide of evil.” It then smiles and winks at Cedric!

Cedric discerns that the statue to the right of the altar is holding a real cudgel, one that emanates holy energy. He removes it and discovers that it is the “Cudgel of Serten” – a mighty weapon to be wielded by champions of St. Cuthbert. Cedric then turns to the altar, on which lies a young man wearing plate mail decorated with a starburst ray, one of the symbols of St. Cuthbert. The shield also bears this symbol. Cedric touches the man – and his hand passes through the body. It would appear that the young man is only an illusion, which explains why he still looks alive. The armour and shield, though, are quite real and blessed with mild enchantments. Cedric claims them in order to better serve St. Cuthbert. 

The helmet is none other than one of the legendary Helms of Laga Vulin. (Laga Vulin was a famous dwarven smith who created many items of power long ago.) Cedric passes the helm to Erik, as the dwarf has been seeking it ever since he was exiled from his clan in the Lortmil Mountains. According to legend, the helm cures the wearer of any poison, including the effects of alcohol. At last, Erik can drink as much as he would like without ever suffering a hangover the next day! Could his lifelong dream, his greatest desire, finally be realized?

Erik puts the helm on. Suddenly he feels quite … odd. He is overcome with a commitment to Law and Order. The dwarf finds himself disgusted by his past lack of willpower and wild nature. He is struck with a crushing sense of remorse at his wasted life. How could he have been so chaotic, so hedonistic? Erik sees the world through new eyes – decidedly Lawful eyes.

Has Erik gained a legendary helm … or has the helm gained a dwarf servant?

[Other posts about this campaign can be found here.]


The colour map of Hommlet is from here.

The Overland Map is from Goodman Games’ The Temple of Elemental Evil (book 1). Modifications are by me. 
The brown lines indicate roads. The green lines are forest boundaries. Hexes with green dots are forested areas. The light blue symbols are inns.
The dark blue dot is Serten’s Tomb. The dark green circle is the Wood Elf Camp. (Both are labelled.)

The picture of Obad-Hai is from Dragon #69 (1982).

The map of Serten’s Tomb is from Goodman Games’ version of The Temple of Elemental Evil. (I removed the numbers.) 

Once again, my adventure notes were helped greatly by those of one of my players (Mark K).

15 July 2023

The Laundry Files 2nd Edition is coming

It looks like Cubicle 7 is coming out with a second edition of their (now out-of-print) The Laundry Files RPG. (Flashback: here’s my post on the first edition from March 2010, including a brief note about the time I met author Charles Stross.)

Unlike the first edition, the new edition will not use the “d100” Basic Role-playing system (familiar from The Call of Cthulhu RPG). Instead, it will use something called “C7D6” – obviously a “d6” system of some sort. (Cubicle 7’s “clone” system for 5th edition Dungeons and Dragons currently goes by the codename “C7D20.”)

Over the years I’ve read the first six novels of Stross’s “The Laundry Files” series (as well as the stories, “The Concrete Jungle,” “Equoid,” and Overtime”). I last read one about five years ago (The Annihilation Score). Apparently, there are now thirteen novels in the series! Since I enjoyed (to varying degrees) the ones that I’ve read so far, so I hope eventually to read the others. 

The novels’ setting is a good one for a Mythos-themed RPG, I think, as the characters are agents working for the secret British government organization “Q-Division” (“The Laundry”), and hence charged with protecting the UK (and the world) from occult and Mythos threats. However, the novels contain a fair amount of dry humour, which I suspect may be difficult to translate into the game (probably best just to let any humour emerge organically in play).

I ran a fair amount of Call of Cthulhu back during “the teens,” including two short campaigns and a few one-shots (see here and here). My focus and interest have drifted away from Lovecraftian stuff in recent years, but perhaps they’ll drift back again in the future. In any case, I’ll definitely check out the new edition of The Laundry Files once it’s available. 

14 July 2023

The Unmagical Magic of 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons

Time for another “airing of grievances” with respect to 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons!

I previously complained about the way resting and healing work in 5e – as well as noting some options for ‘fixing’ these problems, including options from the 5e Dungeon Master’s Guide and the Into the Unknown 5e variant. (I suspect that 99% of 5e players either ignore or are ignorant of these options in the DMG. But it’s only fair to note that they are indeed there; the designers of 5e were not oblivious to the possibility that some groups might not like the default “cartoon superhero” mode of the 5e rules.)

My other big complaint about 5e D&D concerns the magic system. Magic, and spellcasting in particular, is laughably common and easy. Spellcasters can cast cantrips without end, as well as the “ritual” versions of spells, including ones like “Identify,” “Detect Magic,” and “Alarm.” Moreover, magic-users … er, wizards, recover a number of spells following a short rest (one hour in the standard 5e rules) thanks to their “Arcane Recovery” ability.

The upshot of this is a game in which spells are ridiculously common. In my experience, no magic item goes unidentified for more than a few minutes, characters communicate via magical iPhones (the “Message” cantrip), campsites are surrounded with “Alarm” spells (making it almost impossible for the party to ever be surprised, except for attacks from the air or from below), and so forth. I certainly don’t blame my players for using their characters’ spells in these ways – they’re making intelligent use of the resources available to them! I applaud their excellent playing of the game – it’s the game itself that annoys me.

Hence its spell system is another reason why 5e D&D does not resemble at all “old school” D&D or AD&D, wherein spells were a precious commodity (at least until characters were of very high level) and “short rests” did not exist. 

If I were to “fix” 5e D&D so that it had more of a classic feel, I would: 
  • Either eliminate cantrips altogether or allow them to be cast only a limited number of times per day (perhaps equal to the character’s proficiency bonus).
  • Require that spells with the “ritual tag” be cast as “rituals” (i.e., take 10 minutes to cast) and take up spell “slots” (so no endless casting of Alarm, Identify, etc.). 
I note (yet again) my positive experience with the Adventures in Middle-earth roleplaying game based upon 5e D&D (the second edition of which is called The Lord of the Rings RPG). That experience led me to have a high opinion of the 5e core mechanics. And I do think that the core of 5e can make for an excellent game. But the way in which 5e D&D handles rest, recovery, and spells – all elements entirely reworked by AiME/LotR – has made me conclude that I never want to run 5e D&D RAW again.

[Trampier's classic "Emirikol" picture from the 1e AD&D DMG]

[2023-08-01: Edited to add the reference to wizards’ “Arcane Recovery” ability in the third paragraph.]

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