Saturday, December 31, 2011

New Year's Eve

Everything I've got to say about New Year's is pretty depressing. So I'm just going to say thanks for reading the blog, stay safe whatever you're doing tonight, and I hope that next year is better for all of us. Peace to you all.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Hanar's Glass Menagerie

Hanar the Sculptor, also known as Hanar the Mad and Hanar the Lost, was a dwarf sculptor that lived about two hundred years ago. He spent most of his life in Northgate and perfected the art of sculpting stone and crystal using traditional tools there. He carved a series of masterworks in the stone walls of a small, secluded valley near Northgate and then left the settlement to travel and study the works of other sculptors. He was gone for over a decade.

When he returned, he settled in the valley rather than return to Northgate. He built a sturdy stone house near a stream and started working on his menagerie. Hanar claimed that he had spent time with an elfin master sculptor, learning their methods of sculpting crystal using song and resonance. He claimed that he had not only perfected their art but improved it, allowing his sculptures to live and move.

Whether his claims were true or not, Hanar spent the rest of his days secluded in the valley, creating beautiful crystal sculptures of all manner of wildlife. The sculptures were inanimate but perfect in every detail.

A few decades later, a party of elves found Hanar dead in his valley. His body was lying just outside his house next to a stunning sculpture of a unicorn. The elves interred his body in a crystal casket where they had found it.

Since Hanar's death, visitors to the valley have reported a variety of strange phenomena. The wind often causes the statues to hum, creating an eerie natural song near the cabin. Some claim to see the spirit of the sculptor singing to the crystal sculptures scattered around the valley. Others claim that when the moon or stars are right that the menagerie can move about the valley and gather around the casket of their maker in homage to his skills. Rumor also has it that if anyone disturbs Hanar's body, the unicorn will animate and defend its creator.

The dwarves of Northgate stay away from the valley entirely. They believe that the place is haunted and cursed, that any dwarf that spends the night near Hanar's house will be driven mad by the old sculptor's spirit. A few elfin sculptors come to the valley occasionally to pay homage to Hanar, but they are quick to leave the valley when they do.

Hanar's valley is in hex 07-02 on the Coastlands map, just north of Northgate.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Bob's Game of Adventuring

This post and the comment by drsamsara got me thinking about writing my own retro clone. There are certainly a lot of rules I would love to change, and I have some ideas for different things to rework to make my game different. And besides, Bob's Game of Adventuring has a nice ring to it.

Truthfully, I have no desire or delusions about writing my own retro-clone rule set. I am perfectly happy plinking away at my own little tweaks and ideas for reworking Labyrinth Lord and other already-produced rule sets. Reworking the core just to add my own bits of flavor seems a bit too egotistical for me and a bit redundant. LL, especially with the addition of Advanced Edition Companion, has all the base rules I need to run the game I want.

I know there are plenty of people out there that love seeing alternate rule sets and different interpretations. Great! I like to look at different rules to see if anything strikes my fancy that I can steal and tweak for use in a game. But that doesn't give me a compelling drive to write my own set of rules.

If you want to write your own set of rules, go for it. If you post it for free, I may even take a look and steal some ideas from you. I doubt that anything new will become my go-to system is place of LL, though. Any new game is fighting 33 years of personal experience with that system, and I'm pretty attached to it. To paraphrase (at the risk of sounding blasphemous), as for me and my house, we will serve the Labyrinth Lord.

That said, I am always anxious to see what other people are creating as far as characters, story lines, adventures, locations, monsters, magic items, and so on. If you have modular content that I can use in my game (with or without conversion) or look at and use as a springboard for ideas, that's even better to me than trying to create a new rule set. I can add these things to my game much easier than I can learn a new system to do what LL/D&D already does so well.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Friday, December 23, 2011

Beastmen in the Coastlands

Kobolds, orcs, gnolls, minotaurs, some ogres, and many other humanoids in the Coastlands are not actually distinct species per se. They are all beastmen, humanoids that have characteristics of both animals and men because of the warping effects of chaotic magical energy. Humans, dwarves, and halflings in the region have given different names to particular tribes, based on the physical characteristics most common to the particular group of beastmen, but these distinctions are artificial at best. Some tribes pick up on these names and adopt them, calling themselves orcs, kobolds, and so on.

Beastmen may have a variety of animal-like features including tusks, horns, coarse hair or fur, hooves instead of feet, tails, and more. The number and variety of these features is endless and completely variable from individual to individual. A typical beastman will have 2-5 bestial features. Beastmen typically congregate with others that show similar characteristics, a tendency that has contributed to the normal human assumption that these creatures are actually several separate races.

All beastmen can interbreed with each other, and some can interbreed with humans, goblin-kin, halflings, elves, and dwarves as well. When beastmen breed with each other, they produce other beastmen. The exact characteristics of the offspring may be similar to their parents, but they have as likely a chance of being completely different. Typically the closer the two parents' characteristics resemble each other, the more likely the offspring will be similar. Still, mutations abound among them.

When they breed with other races, they most often produce other beastmen as offspring. Some of the offspring of beastmen and humans bear a fairly close resemblance to their human parent and lack severely bestial features. They may have small tusks, simian proportions, or even tiny horns, but for the most part they do not stand out too much from humans. These crossbreeds are generally known as half-orcs or half-ogres among humans. There are some half-orcs with parents other than human, but they are exceptionally rare. Demi-humans in the Coastlands are more likely to kill such creatures or expose them at birth, rather than raise them into their communities.

What most other races call kobolds are small, halfling-sized beastmen that tend to have characteristics similar to dogs, goats, or rats. They typically have pinched, canine or rat-like snouts and small goat-like horns that protrude from their foreheads. They often have tails. Many kobolds have cloven hooves similar to a goat as well. Because of their small size, these beastmen often band together out of necessity. They often welcome the outcasts and castoffs of other tribes.

Kobolds frequently prey on isolated settlements or small groups of travelers They are opportunists who quickly recognize when they face a strong opponent, mainly from extensive experience being bullied by their larger fellows. They are vicious fighters, but they re cowards at heart who will run as soon as they are outmatched.

Orcs are mostly human-sized or slightly larger. The most common orcs have boar-like characteristics, including long, piggish snouts and sharp tusks. Other orcs have simian qualities, including longer torsos relative to their legs, long, dangling arms, and broad features. Some tribes contain orcs of both varieties, but this is rare.

Orcs typically organize themselves into strong warbands composed of small fighting groups. Each fighting group will be led by a leader. The leader with the strongest group is typically the leader of the warband as a whole. Within this organization, though, all of the leaders constantly fight for supremacy unless a stronger, non-orc leader is present. Orcs are the most likely of the beastmen types to identify themselves using adopted human nomenclature.

What humans call gnolls are tall, canine beastmen that resemble hyenas, jackals, or wolves. Because of their size, these beastmen are stronger and favor two-handed weaons like polearms. They tend to be somewhat rarer than other beastmen and form smaller tribes.

Minotaurs are the some of the largest of the beastmen. Most minotaurs have humanoid bodies, cloven hooves, and a bull-like head. Minotaurs are normally found alone or in small groups of a half dozen or less.

Other beastmen this size with different bestial traits are typically called either ogres or beastlords. The former tend to be less bestial than the latter. Both often have curving, ram-like horns, long claws, and heavy hooves. They are normally found alone or as leaders of other, smaller beastmen.

Some beastmen, especially those that have interbred from members of many different tribes or that reside near strong emanations of chaotic energy, have an overwhelming number of mutations and bestial traits. They may have mismatched, missing or extra eyes or limbs, mutable features, or non-mammalian characteristics like scales or feathers, tentacles, pincers, or insect-like carapaces. Humans that are familiar with these creatures call them mongrelmen.

All beastmen use weapons and armor appropriate to their size and ability. Some beastmen do not have human-like hands, instead having clawed paws, pincers, tentacles or other mutations. These creatures will attack with their natural weapons if possible.

Because of their affiliation with chaotic magical energy, these creatures are adept at using magic of all kinds as long as they have the intelligence and aptitude for studying and learning to cast spells. Fortunately for the civilized races, the patience and dedication needed for this is very rare among the beastmen, so they do not have many spell casters among their tribes. They are all fascinated by magic and willingly serve chaotic spell casters, though. They will only serve other non-beastmen if these leaders demonstrate that they have superior strength.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

I'm excited to see The Hobbit

The Hobbit is one of the first books of fantasy literature that I read, and it was largely responsible for getting me started into gaming as well. If I had not followed Bilbo on that mad adventure, I might never have been excited to dive into the Caves of Chaos or any of the other fantastic places I've been in the last thirty-five years.
When I saw the Lord of the Rings movies, I was pleased and excited to see how Peter Jackson brought the novels to life, even with the editorial changes he made to make them fit his vision on film. After seeing this trailer, I am even more excited to see The Hobbit. I literally got chills up my spine when the dwarves started singing!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Goblin-kin in the Coastlands

I've been thinking a bit about monsters in the new world, specifically humanoids. I want some of them to stay basically in line with traditional D&D canon, but I think I'm going to change a few of them up a bit. Goblins, hobgoblins, bugbears, will probably stay fairly close to what everybody expects. Ogres and giants will probably stay fairly close as well. Gnolls will get a few changes. Kobolds and orcs are probably going to change quite a bit. I'll deal with the reptilians, amphibians, and avians separately later.

For now, here's the information on goblin-kin.
 
Goblins, hobgoblins, and bugbears in the Coastlands appear to be related, if not the exact same species. Goblins are the smallest, weakest, and most disorganized. Hobgoblins are larger, organized, and militaristic, but they are still goblins of a sort. Finally, bugbears are larger still, but more prone to individualism and barbarity. All goblin-kin have wiry black or brown hair, skin tones of green or brown, sharp features, and large pointed ears.

Goblins in the Coastlands are mean in every sense of that word. They are cunning in their own limited way, but will generally only attack an armed party if they outnumber them or think they have some other tactical advantage. They have a dark sense of humor and take every advantage to play deadly tricks on their enemies. They usually arm themselves with whatever they have at hand, modifying their weapons and armor with spikes, barbs, and other deadly additions. They form tribes, but constantly fight amongst themselves to get ahead. They are about four feet tall and typically thin and spindly.

Hobgoblins are fiercely militaristic. Their entire society is based on the idea of waging war. They are the favored non-human troops of conquerors and regularly work as mercenaries. They view most other races as frivolous and soft. They have a strict martial code and respect other warriors but nobody else. Hobgoblins bully goblins and attempt to enforce discipline on them whenever possible. Hobgoblins are as tall as humans and heavily built.

Bugbears are as individualistic as hobgoblins are regimented. They see life as a contest of survival and domination, and they seek to win that contest by whatever means necessary. They are excellent survivors, hunters, trackers, and warriors. They have incredible strength. They are also masters of stealth and use their cunning to gain the advantage of surprise whenever possible. Bugbears rarely associate with other goblin-kin. When they associate with goblins, they bully their weaker cousins and typically demand tribute from them. They respect the military capability of hobgoblins. Rarely a solitary bugbear will serve as a scout or specialist for a hobgoblin tribe. Bugbears typically stand taller than an average human, often approaching seven feet. They are normally heavily muscled and hairier than other goblin-kin.

All goblin-kin are actively chaotic. They often ally themselves with chaotic powers, spirits, or rulers. They have no appreciation for civilization and respect strength and power above all else. They appear to have some affinity for crude technology, and they are able to work metal and stone to some degree. They often take members of other intelligent races as slaves, preferring to use slave labor over working themselves.

Goblin-kin are able to use some magic. Most tribes will have a shaman or priest dedicated to a chaotic power or spirit. A few tribes have magic-users of limited power, but these are very rare.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Hex templates for world building

With the end of the year coming, I've been trying to catch up on projects and get some things ready for next year. One of the big things is making some detail maps for my new world. To do that, I built a template to use with Hexographer.

As I said in my previous post about the world building, the hexes on the painted map are ten miles from side to side. If I use the medium hexes on the template for the hexes on the painted map, each small hex on the template works out to two miles across. That's more than enough detail for basic hex crawling.

If I use the largest outlined hex on the template for one of the hexes on the painted map, that means the medium-sized hexes on the template are two miles across, and the smallest hexes on the template are four tenths of a mile (704 yards or 2112 feet) across. That's probably a lot more detail than I will ever need, but it allows me to drill down and get more detailed if I want to later. It might also be useful if I ever do anything that involves lots of tactical maneuvers.

Regardless of which way I go with it, here are the templates for your own use in Hexographer and png formats. Do a right click, save as (or whatever the equivalent is on your kind of computer) to download them.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Thinking about pie

Today I decided to clean out the fridge a bit, and realized that I had most of the makings for some sweet potato pies. So, I made a quick trip to the store and bought a couple of pie shells, some pecans, and some more eggs, and tonight I made some pies. Sweet potato pie is typical for the southern US, but not necessarily prevalent elsewhere.* It's one of my favorites, though, and I don't make it nearly often enough.

This got me thinking about how much food and cooking ties into defining particular regions and cultures.

One great example is the role of food and dietary laws in religion. The way food is prepared, what is permitted for consumption, and even what foods may be eaten together help define the people of Israel in the Bible. The specific laws that are given for the people of Israel separate them from their neighbors, marking them out in a very fundamental way as God's people. The same is true with Islam, Hinduism, and other religions. The things they are permitted to eat help to define who followers of these religions are.

Every region of the world has its own unique diet and culinary specialties, often depending on what is plentiful in the region. Sometimes, though, something could become a delicacy in a particular place just because of its rarity. Look at the role of spices in world history for a great example of this.

Fantasy authors occassionally use food and spices to highlight the cultural identity of particular people or places. J.R.R. Tolkien and George R.R. Martin are the two best examples that come immediately to mind, but there have been plenty of others. In both of their works, they use food to distinguish particular regions or people, as well as particular classes. Compare the descriptions in Martin's books of the fare at the Inn at the Crossroads and the fare at the nobles' tables in Kings Landing.

I'm sure that someone will correct me as soon as I post this, but I don't recall any gaming products that really recognize and use food as such a distinctive and distinguishing characteristic. I remember in some of the old Forgotten Realms products there would be occassional mentions of food or spices, but I don't recall them having any particular import in defining the culture or regional identity of the place or people being described.

So I'm thinking that I need to start looking at food and seeing how to incorporate it into my games as a way of separating and distinguishing particular people and places.

* Except for Indiana, proving my theory that Indiana is the northernmost southern state in the US.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

The New World

I finally finished painting my new world map and all of the mines, ruins, castles, and settlements! If you click on the little picture, it should open a larger version.

As I mentioned before, the map is made from a couple of sets of Mighty Empires tiles from Games Workshop, along with a few of the extra river tiles that were included with White Dwarf when ME was released. I arranged the tiles and then glued them to a large cork bulletin board with Liquid Nails. I primed it with a black spray and painted it with craft acrylics.

I numbered the hexes using Gimp. They are numbered with the following format: [column number]-[row number]. You'll notice that the numbering for the first column starts with hex 01-02. I did this to maintain consistency in the rows reading across the map.

Each hex is 10 miles from side to side. That makes the whole map about 90 miles north to south and about 120 miles west to east, overall a little over 1000 square miles. The settlements and details are not necessarily accurately placed or sized.

I'm going to develop this hex by hex, incorporating some elements from things that I've used before and adding new ideas as they come to me. I probably won't adhere to a specific system for developing things. The only thing I can say at this point is that I want to focus less on realism and naturalism and bring in a lot more fantasy elements. I want this world to be more magical and spectacular.

I plan to use a lot of different sources for inspiration, but I am especially leaning on fantasy and science fiction art that has been produced over the last fifty years. I'll be drawing on everything from old Yes and Asia album covers to Frazetta and Vallejo paintings to Deviant Art drawings and sketches to Magic cards. If it strikes my fancy and gives me an idea, I'm going to use it.

For the moment I'm calling this the Coastlands. I may change the name to something more unusual later. We'll see.