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An OD&D (and AD&D) exodus through the eyes of a lifelong gamerMothshadehttp://www.blogger.com/profile/18417201456628056552noreply@blogger.comBlogger170125
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Blogger This For a Lark

Fri, 05/10/2019 - 15:29

Ten Reasons Why I Like Playing Halfling Characters
1.       No one asks you to be party leader.2.       In fact, everyone insists upon you not leading the party.3.       To be honest, no one wants you making decisions at all.4.       You can use almost any other party member as a mount.5.       No matter how much sugar or caffeine you consume, it’s all “role-playing.”6.       No need to pay attention since everyone either forgets you’re there or tells you what to do.7.       Quoting The Hobbit or LotR doesn’t get you yelled at for breaking character.8.       Sneaking, squeezing, or wriggling out of danger.9.       Traps designed for medium intruders. Halflings don’t get decapitated by scything blade traps.10.   Coming up with silly character names is expected, not derided.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

What's Old Can Be Renewed

Thu, 05/09/2019 - 20:16
One thing I really enjoy about the RPG thing is the creation of new settings or milieus. While Avremier is my primary lifelong work for gaming, I do have ideas and visions that just don't fit. Because of this, there are quite a few smaller setting projects in the works (Grayharrow and RedStaff are but two examples).

One of the fun things for me is populating these new settings. Once a distinct flavor has been established, I like to browse through classic bestiaries like the Monster Manual or Fiend Folio, with an eye toward how these old standards might differ or shine in this specific environment.

In Grayharrow, I looked at a lot of monsters with an "eldritch" feel and psionics in mind. For RedStaff, the focus is a variation of Southern Gothic Horror. Today, there is the Pseudo-Victorian tableau of decadent apocalypse called Violet Grimoire. Sorry - there's no titling for that yet. Giving myself a distinct and detailed setting concept allows for a new perspective when making decisions for development. By way of example, here are a few brief jottings from a scan of the Monster Manual.

Ankheg: Worker-type of a species that includes the Umber Hulk as a warrior-type. Banshee: Attached to established families of “true blood.” A sign of status and respectability. Ettin: Engineered to become elite guards or soldiers. More evolved and intelligent. Trained in weapon use. Fae Hound: A version of the Blink Dog, but far more menacing and large enough to ride. Possibly a version of the Enfield. Fungi, Ghost: Large, white morel-type mushrooms that can drift through the air for short distances. Similar to violet fungi, but their touch withers/ages. Fungi, Violet: Basis for an entire ecotype. Sometimes, the touch of violet fungus infects the victim, but not with rot. Violet patterns (like lichen) appear on the skin. Giant, Stonebear: At least one tribe of stone giants has embraced a form of lycanthropy to become werebear berserks.  Lycanthrope, Weretiger: Have formed a distinct race of tiger-featured humans. Controlled shifting. Society of castes. Retain golden-hued skin with striped markings in human form. Eyes do not change and are always catlike. They have a ruler called Lord or Lady Tiger (possibly similar to the Cat Lord). Merman: The only species in the setting has the traits of sharks, not fish. They are savage and deadly. 
And so-on.

I find that most of the details fall into place once a detailed environment has been created for them. And, not even a meticulously detailed environment. For the moment, the Violet Grimoire setting is defined thusly:

This will be an environment for black comedy and gallows humor. It is also a place for horror of all kinds, even a bit of Mythos horror. It is entirely possible that the entire project will be merged with RedStaff as an epic campaign arc or background plotline.
The setting centers upon the great city of Veriscine, which is the capital of the Imbraiac Regency. A city with a beautiful surface covering decay and darkness beneath. Power, intrigue, desire, betrayal, fear – there must be fear. Always an undercurrent of something terrible lurking just beneath the decadent surface. Of madness concealed behind a crumbling façade of urbane civility.
The Imbraiac Regency is a civilization in complacent decline. The arcane and alchemical arts have been at their peak for generations. Much of arcane science is pursued for the benefit of those that can afford it. Pleasure and longevity are the most worthy goals.
The gods were shown to be false and their idols cast down. Then, the horrors of the Unquiet Dark began to stir and turn their attentions upon the world. Mortalkind became prey for the ravening monsters from beyond. In desperation and ignorance, the people turned to nearly forgotten gods of ancient myth for deliverance and protection. Nine Gods of Order with comforting human forms. Nine Lords of Hell that play at being gods and prefer dominion in the mortal world over eternal war in the infernal regions. Diabolic overlords thriving upon worship while seeking true ascension to divinity. During their reign, humanity has suffered little from the predations of alien horrors, and the Nine have proven very effective governors. Better the devil you know.
Well, that's all from the Desk of Mothshade for today. More fun to come.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Where Credit is Due

Thu, 05/02/2019 - 00:32


I would like to officially thank David C. Sutherland III for the yalkhoi.
That was long overdue. By almost forty years. Though I first encountered the hobgoblin in the Moldvay edit of the Basic Rules, there were no illustrations to be found. Seriously? You provide illustrations of the White Ape, Sabre-Tooth Tiger, Killer Bee, Giant Lizard, Skeleton and Giant Spider? As if no one has an idea of what those look like! But you can’t be bothered to depict any of the goblinoids. I think the thoul would’ve been a good choice for a picture as well. Imagine my excitement when I found the Monster Manual.
So, hobgoblins were Asian. Huh. Neat! Hey – according to the Sutherland illustrations (two of them!), hobgoblins wore distinctly samurai-inspired armor into battle. You know who else had the same kind of look? The ogre mage (oni). And another Sutherland illustration, no-less. My wheels immediately started to spin. I liked the hobgoblin. The hobgoblin was (stat-wise) better than the orc (also illustrated by DCS). Orcs seemed like nothing more than hobgoblins with pig heads to me. It was at that point that I decided never to use orcs in my games – I was Team Hobgoblin right from the start. Once that was decided, my mind connected the hobgoblin and the ogre mage as the representatives of Asian culture in my fantasy setting.
Hobgoblins went through a few iterations during the development of the Avremier setting. There were essentially two castes, the samurai (noble) and the steppe-riders (commoners modeled after Mongols). Over the years, I merged the two castes, but split the hobgoblin into two distinct evolutionary paths. Replacing the half-orc PC race with the hobgoblin (yalkhoi), I developed the “monster” version of the hobgoblin (yarcha) as another branch. The ogre mage started as the overlords (shogun) of the hobgoblins, and slowly evolved into a higher evolutionary form to which an honorable yalkhoi might aspire.
All from a few David C. Sutherland III black-and-white line drawings. That’s what I call Old-School.

David A. Hill
Mothshade Concepts Editor
1 May 2019

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Future of Adventure

Sun, 04/21/2019 - 05:11
Some of this has been shared before. Still, people ask for details and release dates for adventures and modules for the Avremier setting. Progress is being made. For an idea of what to expect, here is my archival listing of most forthcoming projects. What follows is a collection of notes, placeholders, and tentative synopses. Inadequate apologies for the poor formatting.

Adventure Modules/Arcs for Development
·        Breathless Adventures: Today, there is a secret program within a certain Ministry that offers a “dark sanction” solution for the most extreme adventuring situations. These select groups of unliving agents are sent on the most dangerous missions into the least-hospitable environments. Legally, the Breathless are considered property of the Ministry. They are not alive, and they have accepted “employment” under strictly-defined conditions. One could view them as conscripts, or slaves, with no legal rights beyond what the Ministry grants them. Normally, when not actively on a mission, the Breathless are kept forcibly entombed or imprisoned within special vaults. 
·        Cataclysm of the Sky Crystals: As the light of dawn blushes into the morning sky, disturbing shapes are revealed. Gigantic crystal shards, each about 100’ high, float in place, all across the land. At noon, they all start to softly “hum” a single note. By sunset, countless crystalline beasts have emerged from underground lairs – each one joining in the resonant “hum.” That night, something changes – causing a wave of disharmony that spreads through every crystal and creature. Now, the first earthquakes start to rumble. The crystalline beasts are going berserk. Disaster is nigh.
·        Chateau Mothshade: Ahaunted half-ruin of crumbling stone and ominous silence. Who, or what, is Mothshade? 
·        Cold Light of Day, The: A powerful cabal of frost jotuns pool their knowledge and resources to turn the sun into a "cold star" that barely warms or illuminates the world - plunging everything into Fimbulwinter.
·        Conquests of the Dread Pharaoh: Mummified jackalwere that seems content to rule the empire he had in life – most of which is now empty desert. Spends his time and resources attempting to conquer a small river valley inhabited by jann and jann-blooded yalkhoi (hobgoblins). This valley represents the last of what the dread pharaoh claims as his own. 
·        Council of Toads: Collection of adventures and plot hooks for the town of Toad Crossing and surrounding environs.
·        Darkengap: A company of great and noble heroes defeated the titanic Glacial Wyrm and the creature’s frozen minions almost a generation ago. The accursed Age of Winter Darkness is finally ending and the ice is receding. Rising seas are swallowing the land with merciless rapidity. Savage thunderstorms sweep across the realm, raking the landscape with blinding talons of lightning. Swarms of hideous, alien monsters issue forth from the place of fearful legend known as Darkengap – once buried beneath glacial ice. The long-awaited spring is here – with a vengeance.
·        Dungeon of Illthrix: Beneath the House of Illthrix lie the private labs, workshops, and vaults where the Mad Artificer labored at his most infamous creations. Not so much his traps and cursed items, but truly arcane projects of baffling scope and purpose. Certain secrets have also been buried within the raised mound that supports the House of Illthrix. Secrets that may change the lives and perceptions of those adventurers that peek and pry into places perhaps better left alone.
·        Ether Age: It all starts with the nightmare fog. Seeping into dreams, distorting them into phantasmagorical horrors. The ethereal mists come from nowhere – and everywhere. Some are starting to live these nightmares while awake. Soon, there may be no escape. Omens and portents tell of more to come. The Heralds of the Swarm. The Harbingers of the World Weaver. What is the Swarm? Who, or what, is the World Weaver? How do we wake from the nightmare fog?
·       Fury of the Four Sisters: In the dense forest realm of Wilderwood can be found a quartet of jagged mountains known as the Four Sisters. Towering above the enormous trees, these peaks shrouded in eternal mist are said to have been home to the Witch Queens since time immemorial. Few are willing to brave the deadly miles of Wilderwood to visit the Sisters since the witches are not known for their kindness to strangers.
·        Ghosts of Chimerae House: Open with a murder mystery where the killer seems to be a ghost. The first victim is beloved Uncle Grevon - a noted planaturgist. Second, failed, victim is a woman come to collect and continue Grevon's research. 
·        Glacial Pyramid of the Storm Pharaoh: For centuries, the tales of "the tomb in the ice" brought explorers, historians, and treasure-seekers to the town of Harm's Way for a last stop on the journey north to the glacier. Now, the glacier is coming to Harm's Way, bringing the entombed Storm Pharaoh with it.The town of Harm's Way lies directly within the path of danger - again. Honestly, a name change may be in order. The suggestion will be added to the agenda of the next town meeting - assuming there is still a town in which to meet. In the meantime, the call for heroes has been sounded!If you’ve ever wanted to raid a classic pharaonic pyramid, but really hate sand and scorching heat, this might be the adventure for you!
·        Goblin Artifact Trilogy: Interconnected adventures featuring goblins with dangerous and powerful magic. The Goblin Grinder is an artifact discovered and modified by goblins into a horrible device that takes living creatures to grind out into small goblin-shaped flesh golems. One human = 2-3 goblin golems. The Jumping Jewels of Janxie Jat are the stones that allow the Dimmer Goblins to travel the planes. Janxie is a goblin term for “lucky.” Possibly the stones are six in number (maybe more). One blue and the others are green. Smooth on one side and faceted on the other. Blue stone controls the others. Powers of teleportation and plane travel. Also, planar acclimation. The Clatterdoomalion is a kit-bashed artifact engine that the goblins have little real control over. They just want to go down in history as the greatest goblin artificers ever. But, they made it better than they know and it is a real threat to the land. They got lost on the way to a great conclave of goblin makers and are now on a barely-controlled rampage across the realm.
·        Hell-Met by Moonlight: A whirlwind of dark planar energies howls through an open portal and tears through a nearby graveyard, animating bodies, and spinning across the land with a small army of undead.
·        Hot Cider, Cold Comfort: No available information at this time.
·        Hungering Dark, The: Talk is mostly of those who fell to the cave-in, but no blame is directed to those who operate the mine. Conditions were exceptionally good and the miners have always been well taken care of. Some of the older miners whisper of ghosts in the deeper shafts - most of which had been closed off because the ore had been depleted - but some claim it was because of some kind of curse. There are still miners that have not been found and efforts are being made around the clock to clear rubble and open more of the lower shafts - even wizards have been sent to assist...though hope is not running high. 
·        Last Dungeon, The: While you were kicking doors and taking names in your latest dungeon crawl, the rest of the world came to a sudden, and quiet, end. How did it happen? Can anything be done? Why are you, and this dungeon, the only things still here?
·        Last Gasp of Laudro Buogalei: No available information at this time.
The Laughing Menace of Archumn Hall: Beneath a ruined fortress, a former prison, lies a neglected warren of passages and chambers. From this ruin, according to local authorities, bizarre raids are being inflicted upon nearby settlements. Most of those authorities are now dead, or missing.What makes these raids "bizarre?""The raiders are mostly gnolls. But that's not the bizarre part. Every one of them has stark white fur, and giggle or cackle constantly like mad hyenas. Listening to the horrible noise has supposedly driven some people insane. Then, they start to laugh. They can't stop. They laugh and slobber and choke. Some of them die. Others go off with the gnoll raiders, laughing all the way. They never come back.""The gnolls come and take things. Some of the things are valuable or important, like jewels and food and weapons. Other things are just...things. A doll head, some soup spoons, a lady's feathered hat, a used hanky, an empty wine bottle, a rusted mouse trap - you get the idea. Or, maybe not. Who can say?""There's something else up in the ruins. Something pale and big and round that floats about. Sometimes you can hear it muttering, or singing, but decent words are difficult to make out because it's hard to get close enough. And there seem to be many different voices at once. The white gnolls kneel to the floating thing and give it stuff from their raids.""Animals have fled the hilltop and environs of the ruin. Even birds no longer fly over the place. My invisible friends say something bad is happening and something worse may be coming. They say you can help. Can you? Please?"
·        Marooned on Slumbering Serpent Atoll: PCs recruited to pilot bizarre magical submersible to recover a treasure from an old shipwreck. During the expedition, the ship that brought them is attacked and sunk, with only a few survivors. No sign of the cause of the destruction. The sailors claim there was a rumble, like thunder, then the ship broke apart. There is an island in the distance - the only land in sight.
·        Masks of the Violet Death: A popular and exclusive wine-tasting is interrupted by a masked madman that bursts into the room to hurl a bomb. The billowing cloud released by the device fill the room and the bomber escapes under cover and confusion. The cloud is permeated with spores that effectively poison all those who drank certain wines.The cloud will kill most of  the patrons in the tavern - but it will take time. A few victims die immediately - the rest will grow progressively more ill until they finally succumb. One patron drank a dose of antidote just before the attack - obviously anticipating the need. A small, empty flask is left behind for discovery.
·        Missing, Presumed Dead: Adventurers are disappearing. Sure, your lot tend to meet a gruesome end in some dark hole or forgotten ruin. But, this is different. Some vanish “on the job,” while others simply disappear from their room at the inn. None are ever seen again. Come to think of it – one of the members of your own adventuring group is overdue for the muster meeting to your next mission…
·       Nefugoro – Temple-Palace of the Golden Ape God: These sprawling ruins are almost more like a small city than a palace, a massive sprawl of carven stone built by the kamujin (ogre magi) of the past millennium. What became of the builders and their civilization, no one seems to know.The current ruler of the city is a particularly large and powerful bar-lgura demon. Resembling a huge, evil orangutan with glossy red-gold fur, this demon has set itself up as the deity of this region for many years. Summoned centuries ago for some forgotten purpose, the demon cannot leave the city and directs the activities of its crumbling domain from a gaudily restored throne room in the great temple at the heart of Nefugoro. Calling itself Naochli, this old and crafty demon has gathered followers and worshipers to suit its need and preferences. Monstrous and intelligent apes and ape-like creatures infest the region and other bar-lguras of normal might serve as Naochli’s lieutenants. The “ape god’s” Summon ability will only call the bar-lguras of Nefugoro to him, not a demon from another plane. The largest and most terrible servant of the “ape god” is a gigantic two-headed ape resembling a gorilla and a mandrill. It is as if King Kong and Demogorgon had produced offspring. This monster serves Naochli, but is not terribly intelligent and sometimes difficult to control. Yes – Nefugoro is like a demonic scene from The Jungle Book, with a fiendish King Louie in charge.
·        Nemesis Gathering: Portions of a treasure map come into the possession of a small number of adventurers, or to patrons of adventurers. Per the clues and instructions found on these pieces, the individual owners have gathered at a specific place and time to pursue the treasure. Once they have become acquainted, and assembled the full map, the group ventures forth on the first leg of the journey.
·        Not Carved in Stone: In recent years, there has been a niche market among the fashionably wealthy for "monster sculpture." Stone statues that are actually petrified victims of gorgons, acquired by adventurers, and sold as pricy curiosities. Business has been good. Many wealthy households and establishments boast one or more of these "statues." Now, today, these statues have started returning to their living state - coming to life without warning and wreaking havoc wherever they may be. As a problem created by adventurers, it must be solved by adventurers!
·        Paradise of the Orchid God: Along with a thriving industry of acquiring rare orchids for wealthy collectors at great risk and expense, there is a shady and even riskier market. Many fae will return to nature in some form when they die. Some will become a specific type of tree, while others may turn into a flowering shrub. Well, one type of sprite becomes an exquisite and unique species of orchid when it passes. Collectors have started clamoring for these flowers, despite their incredible rarity, the danger in procuring them, and the risk of angering the Faerie Realm. Being so rare, and considering the money involved, some very unscrupulous orchid-hunters have taken to hunting and killing this sprite for its transformative flower. These “Faerie Orchids” also begin to cause problems when taken into people’s homes. Once the Fae Lords get wind of this practice, a Second Harrowing may follow. The heroes must find and end the ring of corrupt orchid-hunters to avert disaster. Also, consider the wealth and power behind those who might oppose the heroes in their efforts. Let's hope they find an honorable and influential patron. 
The Phantom Executioner of Spiretop: This module, ST01, is the first of a series set within and around the troubled village of Spiretop. A killer leaves a trail of headless corpses, and not a single clue to follow. The victims are left lying in the open, their neatly-severed heads not far from the bodies. There are no signs of struggle, nor of the victims attempting to flee. Townsfolk fear to leave their homes after dark and local authorities are at a loss to solve the crimes, or to keep them from happening again. Spiretop has long been known for its eccentricities and a somewhat Gothic character, but this is the town’s first serial killer.
·        Pillar of Thunder: The party was recruited by Sebastani Crane, initially to find clues regarding his vanished father’s whereabouts. The trail of information led to the Crane ancestral home in southern Tivra, also revealing that ‘Crane’ was not the family’s true name. Tomorrow, your mentor is sending your group by ship to the southern coast of Canaea, a humid and windy place with a civilization somewhat less advanced than you are used to. Your destination is a natural rock formation at the bottom of a towering waterfall, worked by ancient hands into a temple, called the Pillar of Thunder.
Prisoner of the Iron Sanctum: No available information at this time.

·        The Rampant Rabbits of Duskfell Glebe: Large black rabbits seen near town, fearless and elusive. Small animals start to disappear – then, small children. A black rabbit is almost always seen leaving the scene of the disappearance. Finally, adult townspeople begin to vanish. Confront the rabbits – possibly finding their warren and discovering their true nature. Learn the fates of the lost victims.
·        Sanctum of Illthrix: Third in a trilogy exploring the mysteries and threats surrounding the villainous figure known as Illthrix. In this adventure, you will boldly go where no hero has gone before.
·        Shattered Dungeon: The residents of Three Corners were awakened by a mighty blast of sound that came from the craggy heights just beyond the edge of town. Emerging from their homes, the townsfolk gaped in wonder, and not a little fear, at the massive shapes that hung in the sky above.Not clouds, but huge formations of stone and earth. Enormous pieces of the lost dungeon complex rumored to lie beneath the crags themselves - blasted outward and floating impossibly over and around the town. Within some of the broken surfaces could be seen exposed passages and chambers. Ominous shapes moved about within, never exposing themselves to full view.How did the floating rubble get there? How long would it stay? Would it suddenly come plunging to earth? Would the horrible monsters that surely lurked within make their way down to terrorize the town? What could be done?
·        Shunned Catacombs of Night’s Embrace: Night's Embrace - infamous title of a necromancer that history records under no other name. Sealed away after death, this masked villain vowed to return and wreak vengeance upon those who ended his (her?) reign of terror almost forty years ago. All of those heroes are now dead, and eerie masked figures have started to appear at a distance to each of you - the heirs of those departed adventurers. Today, you have all been summoned to a collective reading of the wills of the dearly departed. Has vengeance been served? Will you be the next to fall?
Sunrise Mantle of the Cloud Tyrant: Recover the pelt of a ki-rin worn by an evil cloud giant as a trophy. The pelt can be used to restore the noble creature to life again.
  Tears of the Gorgon: A famous adventurer and explorer was turned to stone years ago, and became his own monument. No magic has been able to return him to flesh-and-blood. Experts say he can only be restored by the tears or saliva of the gorgon that transformed him. Authorities were content to leave the adventurer as-is, until learning he is the only person who knows the location of the lost relic that can save the realm from an unholy plague.  

They’ve taken Ruby!Beautiful, precious Ruby. The reward for her return will be generous – no questions asked. Please do not let her come to harm. 

The Unhallowing: That is what it would be called. When Achurael, patron deity of Shardfell, seduced and killed Iunae, patron deity of Northwold, that realm became an unhallowed land. Many who died in Northwold rose again as horrible undead monsters with a thirst for the blood of the living. At first, the Northwolder priests struggled valiantly to put the monsters down. Without the blessing of their fallen goddess, their efforts were largely in vain. In time, they appealed desperately for aid to the Sun Church of the eastern domain known as Brightmorn. Tragically, they had waited too long. A nation of vampires eventually rose to usurp the dominion of the living. Only the cleansing light of day served to keep the monsters from spreading far beyond the Northwold capital. Now, the realm of Brightmorn is under attack by those who would topple the power of the sun god and plunge the world into eternal night. The unhallowed rule the night. Will you walk in the light, or skulk in the darkness?·         Versus The Giants: Giants of various types have been causing upheavals in the lands of men and other civilized races bordering Undomni, raiding and pillaging in coordinated and baffling fashion. Their targets have, so far, been places of learning and museums or archival houses. While there have been brutal slayings of innocents, the deaths have been, for a mercy, minimal. The local lords agree that these huge marauders are looking for something, and with a common will. The same lords have gathered a party of the most courageous and capable adventurers in the region to investigate these odd incursions, stop the raiders, and recover that which was stolen. These adventurers must follow any trails left by the giants, learn who may be responsible for their organized action, and what their nefarious goal might be. Meanwhile, the lords bicker and gather their forces in preparation for a threat that may or may not come from any quarter at all. These local rulers are nervous and eager to find a clear target for their wrath - the heroes should pray that they do not become the focus for that wrath, should they fail. In the meantime, this year's winter seems to be deepening in all defiance of the welcome spring season so close at hand.
·        When the River God Started Vomiting Corpses: For generations, the mighty city-state has offered human sacrifices to propitiate and honor their patron River God. Now, the massive idol is spewing forth bodies from its gaping mouth - undead bodies that prey upon the living. The god himself is silent, and his priests were among the first to fall. Unless salvation comes to the city, the undead will outnumber the living before the flood season.
·        Whistling Ruins of Goat Hill:“The ruins sit atop the bare hill, moss blotching the crumbled walls like a disfiguring skin disease. Strangers often ask why we called the place the whistling ruins, until I bring them up on the windy days. Those holes in the walls aren't entirely random, you know. Lots of them were put there, angled just right. Some say by those who built the place so long ago, before the early settlers came. When the wind cuts across this hilltop out of the north and west, you can...well, here it comes, and you can hear for yourself. Eerie, isn't it? Like the music of the damned. Yeah, the wind goes almost as quick as it comes. Not a breath of air now to stir one hair on your head...but - the whistling --- it doesn't stop...but, it does get...closer...well, now - that's a first."
·        Wind of Bronze: The great Mystical Organ has been found in a hollow plateau and someone is using it to wreak havoc across the land. A brilliant, but somewhat unstable, composer (Hessic) has written his magnum opus in honor of the woman he loves (Eohari). This woman happens to be of noble birth and her father forbids this man to court her, not even allowing the composition to be played for her. This drives the young man over the edge and he seeks revenge. Researching the existence and location of the Mystical Organ, he finally succeeds in finding the artifact in the desert, and proceeds to play his composition. The Organ is ancient beyond reckoning and the composer knows that his music will be heard, even in the distant city. Unfortunately, the Organ has also fallen into disrepair and the young man’s playing calls up terrible forces that howl across the sands, directly to the city. At first, the composer cannot control the monsters of wind and song that he accidentally awakens, but learns to in time. To his horrified dismay, he finds that the creatures have caused the death of his beloved, but that her tyrannical father still lives. This begins a terrible war between the composer with his elemental servitors, and the nobleman with his armies. The armies that cross the desert to destroy the source of the invading monsters. Since the nobleman has become ruler of the entire region following the death of the last ruler, he brings the full might of the military to bear. The former ruler was also slain during one of the elemental attacks. Eventually, the battle comes down to an unfortunate fight between the deranged elementals of the Organ and the bound genies of the nobleman’s court wizards.The heroes must find a way to resolve the conflict with a minimal loss of life and honor.  Wondrous Workshop of Ungald the Unrequited: Then, there was the story of the artificer who went insane trying to perfect his horde of mechanical rust monsters. This, for posterity, is the only tale of Ungald the Unrequited, artificer and poet. Bullied by the thick-skulled scions of knights, and scorned by their joust circuit groupies, Ungald grew into a man more intimate with the workings of mechanisms and materials. In self-imposed isolation, Ungald turned his engineer's mind toward the crafting of devices that would improve the quality of life for all humanity. Far from the noise and unkindness of the town, the brilliant young man produced gadgets and machines to inspire wonder. Then, a local lord built a fine new jousting arena not two miles from Ungald's workshop. Young knights came from five counties to compete, their giggling groupies in tow. Their all-night victory parties made concentration upon delicate and arcane mechanisms impossible. The shouts of the unwashed spectators, the delighted squeals of the unsullied "maidens," the stench of manure, sweat, rust - and... Could the solution be so simple? All his torment ended in one brilliant stroke? Only time and toil would tell. Ungald's prototype rust monster managed to destroy most of his tools and raw materials before the artificer ended his own creation with acid. The next mechanical rust monster destroyed itself. So did the next four. One desperate creation nearly killed him for the iron in his blood. Who knew?!             In time, tales of escaped "rust golems" brought curious adventurers to the hidden workshop. Today, there are no such creatures known to exist. No one claims to know the fate of Ungald himself. In fact, there were none this chronicler could find that remembered his name.
The Worldseed Spore: One morning, a second moon seemed to appear in the sky. The collision of the colossal puffball fungus will cause widespread devastation, but not as much as might be expected. The plant is mostly hollow and not nearly as heavy as an object of similar size. The initial collision will rock the entire globe and cause widespread destruction at the point of impact. The outer shell of the spore will crumple easily when it strikes; immediately releasing a thick cloud of drifting fungal seeds that will pour across the world like a deadly, gritty fog. The spores themselves are not poisonous, nor immediately deadly in and of themselves, but they will choke and suffocate many living creatures caught in the initial release. These seeds anchor themselves to most surfaces and will generally start to sprout within one day of their arrival. A bewildering variety of fungus will erupt all at once, across the globe, turning the planet into a vast garden of pallid fecundity. Soon thereafter, sentient and monstrous types of fungal creatures will begin to appear across the land. These creatures seem to exist for the purpose of spreading the growth of the encroaching fungus, and to target possible resistance or saviors. Other forms of life are not tolerated on this new world and the planet will usually be transformed into an even larger worldspore within a month. The original worldseed spore will have crumbled to powdery rubble by the time this transformation is complete, but the creatures it has spawned will live on. Unless the Worldseed Spore can somehow be stopped.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Developing Cultures - The Grell in Grayharrow.

Sat, 04/06/2019 - 21:56
Avremier is not my only campaign setting. Grayharrow is the name of another RPG project. There's a free preview posted on DriveThruRPG. What follows is a peek at the development of the grell as a "major player" monster race for Grayharrow.

Why the grell? I mean, it came from the Fiend Folio, so it's gotta suck. Well, popular opinion has never been terribly popular with me, and maybe I'll craft another entry regarding my own opinion of the Fiend Folio (spoiler: I like it) - but, for today, we're doing the grell.

Why the grell? Because a main focus of the Grayharrow setting is psionics. *sound of needle skipping and dragging off the record* Psionics?! But - I hate psionics! Good for you on calling me out for that. Spot-on. I do hate psionics - in a traditional fantasy setting. I hate psionics as an option that I would be forced to include in my game just because one or more players think they're kewl. In its proper place, psionics can be super-kewl. Grayharrow is such a place.

So, why the grell? Well, its a big floating brain with tentacles. Grayharrow has kind-of a Mythos thing going on, so tentacles fit right in...so to speak - I mean, they do fit right in, but...ew.


I've always thought the grell had massive creep-factor potential. Floating creatures are always fun - so sneaky. Plus - brains and tentacles. Speaking of brains, our grell is related to the intellect devourer - another major player in the Grayharrow setting, for obvious reasons. While we're at it, let's add the "brain collector" to the family tree. Brraaaiiins. Oh - how about the Mi-Go?

Getting cluttered now. Where is this all leading, anyway? In a way, its leading to the Mind Flay-um - can't say that, can we? Someone owns that. But its, like, the ultimate psionic monster. In that case, we re-purpose the grell. We incorporate aspects of the brain collector and the mi-go. We make the grell psionic in much the same way as the Mind Flay-um...the Illithid? We give them similar tentacle attacks and habits. Maybe the beak needs to go. Maybe modify a couple of the tentacles to let the grell get to a victim's brain. Using variants, the grell can effectively replace the brain collector, mi-go, and illithid. The mi-go variant will be that which travels through interstellar space and inhabits other worlds. The more standard grell will be the terrestrial version, adapted to the campaign world. And, there's no reason why either couldn't store the brains taken from victims. So, now we just need to make some modifications.

The grell becomes psionic (akashic) - definitely. Now, it not only resembles a brain, but it also seeks to gather them. For what purpose? Food? Trophies? Knowledge? All three? Whatever suits the campaign. They have a mass of tentacles and it won't be hard to give them a couple designed to extract brains from living victims. Some appendages adapted to surgical work and finer manipulation. Getting rid of the beak allows us to create other orifices for various purposes. They can be hidden until needed. Giving them links to the intellect devourer and the mi-go, the grell can receive a bit of an armor upgrade in the form of a coral-like outer growth, or a chitinous exoskeleton (respectively). Not that their AC of 4 (same as the intellect devourer AND the mi-go) is anything to sneeze at.

For the Grayharrow setting, the grell needs to be fearsome, alien, and challenging. The original suits a dungeon setting well. Other systems and supplements have given us options for the species - just not exactly what I would like. The grell of Grayharrow will have physical aspects of coral, and of fungus. They will be able to handle a wide range of environments. You'll be able to find grell underwater, or in the void of space. They will be more intelligent, and organized. More dangerous. Functionally, the same creature as that found in the 1981 Fiend Folio, but now employed as the foundation for a more ambitious project.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Humble Beginnings

Sat, 03/30/2019 - 17:04
The first not-a-kid's-song I can remember learning the lyrics to was Longer, by Dan Fogelberg. Ignoring the bits about yucky love-and-stuff, the lyrics really spoke to me and sparked my imagination. Between that, and the animated version of The Hobbit, I was well on my way to starting the fantasy world that would become Avremier - a few years before discovering Dungeons & Dragons.

Longer - on YouTube

Longer spoke of moving the seasons as if that was something people could do (well, that's how I heard it). If you know how the seasonal cycle works in Avremier, you'll see the impetus. It mentioned "mountain cathedrals," which became dwarven citadels to my mind. And books, it talks about books. Deal sealed.

Afterwards, I delved into Norse myth. Dungeons & Dragons burst onto my life. The Last Unicorn hit the screens. I was reading every fantasy or sci-fi book I could get my hands on.

The avalanche could not be put back into the bottle.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Back in the Day

Thu, 03/28/2019 - 15:08
I've been D&Ding since around 1980.

I started with the Moldvay Basic Set. It was all new to me. The entire thing was a big invitation to create a world of my own and find others to explore it. Ditto, the Expert Set.

I've never run anything but my own setting.

Through the intervening years, there have been a great many settings, editions, supplements, and support material for the game. For the most part, I've kept pace - if not in actual gameplay. And, while I don't deride others for their preferences in D&Ding, I find that some are perfectly willing to belittle mine.

Since when is B/X D&D "a kid's game?" Or, "an introductory set of rules to learn the real game?" If I were going to get nasty about it, I would point out how much the current editions of the game (including Pathfinder) hold the player's hand and ease you out of the gate as a full-fledged hero ready to take on carefully balanced encounters set neatly in your path in proper order and time.

Sorry for the pause, I had a great big yawn sneak up on me.

I've played 3E. And 3.5. I've read 4E. I've played 5E. I've played Pathfinder - hell, I've written Pathfinder material for publication. I simply prefer AD&D, and those which came before. I'll play just about anything. I don't force my preferences on anyone - even though I am now considered an OSR publisher. Outdated Simplified Rules - amirite?! Yep. So Outdated. So Simplified. Not nearly enough Rules.

Yeah, I happen to enjoy the process of forging a hero through fire and unknown dangers. Not everyone does. Not everyone can handle being a Feat-less nobody with a hand-me-down sword and boundless curiosity. Not everyone can face challenges without having the solutions written on a character sheet in front of them. Not everyone wants to. Not everyone needs to.

With each edition came new approaches to gaming. Innovations. Shifts in "power" or "control." Keeping PCs alive. Allowing players to craft their PC the way they want. Never saying no. Never slowing or stopping the action. Not wasting time with "background stuff." Never failing.

During the rare instances where I game as a player, I tend to be tactical AF. I prefer to run what I call "problem-solvers" or "troubleshooters." This usually entails a thief-type or arcane spellcaster - preferably a mix of the two. That's just how I think. And I will scrape every bit of potential from those characters. Feats might not exist in "old-school" D&D, but they really do. If I want to take a point-blank shot in combat, I'll get into position and take the shot. The DM decides what happens.

And that's really the thing. Trust in the DM. With trust in the DM, you don't NEED all those pages of character sheet, cluttered with modifiers, feats, and special superpowers. As a DM, I am willing to do just about all of the work. As a player, you just need to be able to run your character. In an ideal world, the player should barely need to look at their character sheet. There should be few moments where the players need to pull themselves out of the game to look up a rule or modifier. At least, in MY ideal world.

My ideal world turned out to be Avremier - my lifelong campaign setting. At its heart, Avremier is an exercise in making the rules and structure of the game work in such a way that I can be happy. Why are humans the only ones allowed to advance in certain classes - or to such high levels? Why can't demihumans do the same? Why can't magic-users use swords? Gandalf did! What's the point of gnomes? They're just halfling-dwarves! And so on. Yes - those questions are addressed in Avremier. And, many of the rest.

Lots of people love D20 and Pathfinder and 5E. I get it. I did too. Today, I prefer the older stuff. I don't have to spend money and shelf-space to maintain the game. I can convert "new stuff" to "old stuff" in minutes. There's less math - I don't like math. I can focus more on the adventure. On the game. No, the later editions are not WRONG. They're just not right for me.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Pandemorphic Development

Thu, 03/14/2019 - 19:53
Yesterday's development for the Parateva supplement led to work on the Avremier version of the Aboleth. Those wacky Spacing Guild Navigators of my campaign setting.
Today has been an exploration of the classic Fiend Folio creature presented as a group, starting on page 80 and ending on page 83. Their name starts with an S, and ends with a D. They are Chaotic Neutral in alignment and hail from Limbo. They are the property of a large company responsible for a number of games. I shall not even whisper the name here. But, because I fear to utter the name, the Avremier setting will contain a number of creatures and concepts inspired or suggested by the original IP found on those hallowed Fiend Folio pages of yore.

Enter: the Pandemorph.

      The Avremier setting does not use the recognized planar structure of the classic fantasy RPG. There is no Limbo. There really isn't a Pandemonium, either. What the Avremier planar structure does have is Pandemorphium - a plane of chaos and change. One of the only native species to interact with creatures beyond their planar bounds is known as the Pandemorph. This creature is of a morphic structure that allows for spontaneous evolution and adaptation, but the base structure of a Pandemorph is that of a generally humanoid form with traits of frogs, toads, and salamanders. They tend to stand on two legs and they tend to be man-size or larger. They are usually colorful and demonstrative. They are certainly chaotic, but rarely evil. To the seasoned planar traveler, they are usually known as Chaos Hoppers.

The Pandemorph is a kind of "overspecies," with a near-infinite capacity for mutation and permutation. The "Chaos Hopper" is certainly not the only representative of such a changeable race. In fact, there is a more humanoid offshoot of the Pandemorph that can be found on Avremier. This is the Glorph, a small race of frog-toad-salamander humanoids that range through different colors throughout their development. They start with orange, then violet, chartreuse - transitioning to gray and black near the end of their cycle. Once they start losing their bright coloration, the glorph may be returning to Pandemorphium. Glorph PCs transition to different colors as they gain experience levels. They can even evolve out of the glorph cycle entirely to become true Pandemorphs at higher levels.

Development of the Pandemorph does not stop there. We have a more primitive and brutal form known as the Gruun. There are also powerful Lords and Elders of Pandemorphium. As more information is brought to light, it may even become obvious that the mutable Pandemorph is only one aspect of biological Chaos making its way throughout the Vastness of the planes.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Worlds Apart - The Aboleth in Avremier

Thu, 03/14/2019 - 19:19
In an effort to make this unsteady blog-thing more useful, I'd like to share more development notes and material. Because my current project is the Parateva supplement (the marshy delta region of Avremier that lies to the west of Dhavon), I've been clarifying and expanding a few related concepts. While some monsters are appealing to me, they don't always suit my vision of the Avremier setting. This inspires a great many variant monsters, or setting-specific analogues that aren't always recognizable from the source material. Though I enjoy creating entirely new monsters, giving a new twist to a classic favorite can be just as rewarding - and far less demanding.

Yesterday, the focus was on the aboleth. The Avremier version has some differences.

Aboleth # App AC Move” % Lair Treasure # Att Dmg/Att HD: 8 1-4 4 3/18 20% F 4 1-6/tentacle

This amphibious creature combines the physical features of fish, crustacean, and cephalopod into a single, nightmarish form. Its massive body is fish-like, but built more along horizontal lines within the carapace of a shrimp or lobster. The “face” is dominated by three black, slit-like eyes, set one above the other. Its manipulative appendages are four, powerful 10’ long tentacles that frame its head, much like a nautiloid. An aboleth is usually a mottled blue-black or green-black, with a lighter underbelly of pearly-gray.
The tentacles are used in combat, each striking for 1-6 damage and prompting a save vs. spells. A failed save results in the victim’s skin becoming a clear, slimy membrane in 2-5 rounds. The process can be reversed by a Cure Disease spell. Otherwise, the transformed skin membrane must be kept cool and damp or the victim suffers 1-12 damage per turn. The transformed skin can be restored with a Cure Serious Wounds spell.
Through intense concentration, the aboleth can create realistic illusions with audible and visual components. 3x/day, it can attempt to dominate a creature up to 30’ away. The victim saves vs. spells or falls under the control of the aboleth. The slave follows the aboleth’s telepathic commands, but will not fight for the monster. If separated by more than a mile, the enslaved creature can make another saving throw, once per day, to break the aboleth’s control. Otherwise, the victim can be freed by Remove Curse, Dispel Magic, or the death of the aboleth.
The aboleth can secrete a cloud of mucus up to 1’ from its submerged body. Creatures within the cloud must save vs. poison or inhale the cloudy suspension and lose the ability to breathe air. Suffocation occurs in 2-12 rounds when the victim tries to breathe air. The aboleth’s mucus is used to allow slaves to breathe water, as Potion of Water Breathing, for 1-3 hours. The mucus can be dissolved by soap or wine.       
Dwelling in hidden subterranean grottoes, the existence of these alien monsters is not generally known, though some individuals and organizations have studied and researched the aboleth as best as they could. What follows is an overview of these studies.
The aboleth comes to Avremier from another world – possibly another plane. Evidence suggests that these creatures once inhabited the world of Ouroboros, but it is not their place of origin. It is possible that the aboleth came to Avremier from an unrecorded Radial Plane, from a civilization countless centuries old. At least one other alien race claims that the aboleths were once a more humanoid species, but purposely evolved into their current form in pursuit of knowledge and the exploration of all reality. While the aboleth can supposedly “swim” the planes of their own volition, those found on Avremier are somehow trapped upon that world. As such, they are resentful of their plight, and hateful of most other living natives of their worldly prison.
Those aboleths trapped upon Avremier cannot enter the Ethereal or Astral Planes at will, but they are able to Dimension Dooronce every three rounds.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

From Idea to Concept

Mon, 01/28/2019 - 17:42
For me, Mothshade Concepts is all about ideas and putting them together to form milieus or worlds.

Because people have expressed interest in the process, I'd like to take one specific example that I'm working on right now, from initial idea germ - all the way to working published concept.

Consider with me, the Paratevan Snake Tree.

  1. Some time ago, while researching an entirely different concept, my mind presented to me the idea of a dryad with the natural ability to Turn Sticks to Snakes (like the cleric spell). Dryads being tree spirits, I liked the idea of them being able to do something interesting with bits of wood. Also, one would imagine they'd have the advantage of a steady supply of sticks.
  2. Recently, while compiling material for the next Avremier supplement (Parateva), I came across my notes for these snake-producing dryads. Seemed like a perfect fit for some of the snake-infested regions of the Great Delta.
  3. So, what kind of tree would suit such a dryad? I know there are "snake plants," but had never heard of a "snake tree." Well, this was my world, and a fantasy world at that, so I would make one!
  4. Using the actual Snake Plant (Sansevieria trifasciata) as reference, I simply turned the thing into a hardwood tree with clusters of snake plant leaves that are known for their attractive patterns. I'm kind of looking forward to illustrating this thing, actually.
  5. Real snake plants are known for their air-purifying qualities. I turned this into a property of the leaf juice to purify water. Also, the fibers of the real-world plant are used for making ropes and bowstrings. I kept that for the Avremier version - no adjustments necessary.
  6. So, now the marshy region of Parateva has a species of hardwood tree of its very own, with an accompanying dryad variant to defend it. Also, the tree produces valuable extracts and fibers that can profit those who harvest them. This would bring direct conflicts with resident dryads - unless some agreement could be reached.
  7. To my mind, this gives Parateva some realistic color and flavor, with very little actual work. Through word association, thematic considerations, and personal knowledge (we had snake plants at home when I was a child), I was able to add a few minutes of research to bring it all together for the campaign setting.

So, that's a simplified version of my typical creative process. I hope it was helpful or interesting to someone. Thank you for reading.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs