Thursday, April 18, 2013

New AD&D Setting

An old friend of mine is starting up a new AD&D campaign, here are the initial thoughts:

General theme

This setting (as yet unnamed) is one that rethinks the hackneyed genre of D&D campaign settings. We have become used to a particular feel in campaign settings, ones where fantastic worlds increasingly look like our own. Fantasy cities are places where half-orcs rub shoulders with halflings in ways that we wish various cultures did in our world today (much less in a previous time). Heroes with glittering magical swords stroll peaceably in full plate mail through city streets, and magical spells are routinely cast in a shower of colored lights. Taking a cue also from computer RPGs, disposable monsters pop up in creepy settings to be dispatched over and over again.

But if we return to fantasy literature, none of this feels right. Tolkien is the inspiration for most of us who are fantasy fans – indeed, the Fellowship of the Ring feels like most adventuring parties. But we’ve lost some of the features that made Tolkien’s world breathe so well. Gandalf does not zap lightning bolts from his staff to get rid of the goblin menace. Frodo, Sam, and Bilbo rarely swing a sword. And magic items are rare, unique and special (swords are named and possess histories, and the One Ring…). Modern fantasy gets even less recognizable if we go back to old epics and folktales. We’ve lost the personal element in much of this new, World of Warcraft-influenced notion of fantasy gaming. I’d like to put a little more Beowulf into the mix and a little less 23rd-level Night Elf Ranger.

Here, I’ve designed a world that’s human-centric but with monsters and magic present behind the scenes. It’s one without a great deal of magic, meaning that when magic appears it should be powerful and influential. I take my inspiration from a number of sources: Dark Ages Europe (inc. Beowulf), pulp fantasy (inc. Conan, Lankhmar), as well as the general feel of the magical and fantastic in good modern fantasy (inc. Jonathan Strange).

In game terms, this is designed for a 2nd-edition AD&D setting, or perhaps a modified 3rd-edition. Races should be highly modified, classes might remain quite stable, although the magic system will undergo some changes.

Some ideas:
Low Magic: Self-evident. Does not mean “no magic,” but magic will be strange and unpredictable. NPC priests, wizards, et cetera will be few and far between. They will also vary quite wildly between people and cultures. Some mages, for instance, will use runes instead of texts. Some will eschew any written thing and rely upon memorized songs. Others use blood and bone, and still others have familiar spirits attached to them (“demons,” some might say) that grant them powers. Priests will likewise be malleable. Think “Ill Met in Lankhmar” or Conan for what I’m going for here. PC wizards and priests will continually find themselves searching for magical texts (runes / songs / incantations / shrines / holy artifacts) and should plan to only have access to a few spells (in other words, one’s spellbook is not going to have many entries). That said, PCs should find that magic immediately grants them power and attention from all around. Finally, magic is only rarely an amoral act. Certain paths and powers will have consequences for a person. In game terms, PC mages will still be based upon the Player’s Handbook, but PCs should expect new spells and alterations of previous ones. I will work with whoever plays a mage or priest to develop their character. Possible archetypes might include the classic mage-scholar, in search of ancient lore; a shaman from a barbarian tribe intent on learning the true names of things; a different sort of shaman making contracts and deals with local spirits, et cetera.

Stone Towns: The world is littered with these ruins, called by many different names in many different languages, but most of which translate into “Stone Towns.” These are the remnants of cities built by people (or human-sized beings) of old. They are generally dull, squarish, heavy structures made of impressively-crafted stone blocks that fit into each other precisely, without need for mortar. Often, they gain a bad reputation as being haunted, poisonous, or otherwise undesirable, although many modern cities are built on the remnants of Stone Towns. Some exist partially buried, and some have extensive underground complexes associated with them. Scholars (and those interested in magic) often make studies of or fund expeditions into larger Stone Towns.
Ger mythology claims that they are the spines of the Earth Dragon, a demonic figure with the power to transform people into monsters. As a rule, Ger claim to avoid Stone Towns, although the numbers of Ger in modern, living cities such as Khadat would argue that this rule is noticed more often in its breach than in its observance.

Dark Ages / Medieval Feel: Some conventions popular in fantasy are going to be scaled back.
Bearing arms (that is, things meant to kill other people – i.e. not hunting tools) is not allowed in many cities unless you are the particular man of a particular lord, or a mercenary company that’s trusted and recognized. Allowing just whoever into your city bearing deadly weapons is a sure way to get your city taken over from within. Those who do wear weapons and armor also wear colors, the colors of someone who is accountable for that person’s actions (generally a noble or merchant family). Now, this is not to say that everyone is unarmed in the city. People routinely smuggle their weapons over the wall (and under it), a quarterstaff might be a walking-stick (as might be an unstrung bow), and daggers and slings are common.
There are no signs posted onto the walls. Not everyone can read. Nobles probably can, as can merchants. Priests (of civilized religions) and mages certainly can. Those from religious orders that school children in an organized fashion can. But the vast majority of people get by without reading. One simply does not need to read in order to farm pigs. Most languages are unwritten, the exceptions being Geatish, Old Pskovite, Emeri, and Shan. A number of written dead languages exist, known only to scholars.
There is no Common Tongue. Geats speak Geatish, Emeri speak their own languages. Ger tribes speak a thousand different tongues. Instead of Common, PCs will speak the dominant tongue of the local game setting (e.g. a game set in Khadat will use Pskovite as “Common”) as well as that of their “native” people. Most people are bilingual, and lords often speak a different language from their subjects (the lords of Khadat speak Geatish, for instance).

Human-centric: Demi-humans, etc, might exist, but if they do 1) most people have never met one, and 2) they are sufficiently different from humans as to be not eligible for PC races. An elf, for instance, is immortal, spending centuries honing a particular craft. A dwarf is forged from stones at the heart of a mountain, born and reborn in stone and fire. Magic would come naturally to them in ways that it would not to humans. [Think: Jonathan Strange].

Specific to this game

Players will be human, although I believe the setting has sufficient variety in its human peoples of the world that this won’t be too dull. We will use 2nd-edition AD&D rules, although we can have a conversation beforehand about game systems. I’m willing to pull in elements of 3rd-ed if people want them (there are parts that I personally like, too), so long as the fluidity and ad-hoc nature of 2nd ed is maintained.

Fighters and thieves can come in unmodified from 2nd-ed. Spellcasters are welcome and shouldn’t require too much modification, but people wishing to play spellcasters should work with me to tailor their characters to the game world. In fact, having one spellcaster in search of ancient lore would make early game motivations pretty easy (“I wanna find book Z”).

The ideas I present here are not canon. They are just that – ideas. We can change them around if people have cool ideas (e.g. introduce a secret society of elves posing as humans, who are trying to bring back the Moon Goddess and take down the cult of the Sun, Amon), so long as the “feel” of the world is something that we still all like.

I suck at running structured games. Just ask T or B, who played my last attempt. So what I’m going to do here is begin with something very straightforward (“Go find X” or the like) in the hopes that you will get a feel for your characters along the way. As soon as you do, the game will move forward driven by your characters’ personal motivations and desires rather than an outside force.

I also will not be doing detailed maps, strategy, and the like the most recent game. I admire that stuff, but I just can’t get my head around it. So there’s gonna be a lot of house rules along the lines of: “You wanna shoot the bandit? He’s in the trees, about a hundred yards away. It’s a tough shot.”
“I want to do it”
“Ok. Uh, take a -4 on that because of the tree cover. He’s not actively taking cover, but there’s a lot of trees in the way.”
“I want to shoot him in the leg. We want him alive.”
“That’s a really tough shot, then. Take a -8 on your roll, then we’ll talk.”

Below, you can find all the setting materials. Basically, this game will be set in Khadat, a crumbling northern city, a kind of Venice-meets-Moscow, that lies on the edge of great Eastern trade routes. It’s a city ruled by the Geats (Scandinavians modeled after the old Hanseatic League) but populated by Pskovites (think Russians) and filled with the cultures and religions of the entire world (as befits a trade oasis). It’s also a town built on old, haunted ruins that burrow down into the earth. You can quickly leave Khadat and move on to other places, but that’s where you’ll start. The area around Khadat is populated by a lot of different kinds of nomads, including the warlike horsemen, the Ger, and the more peaceful mammoth-herding migrant Suomi.

If you’re trying to get a “feel” for characters, go watch Conan the Barbarian again. I like the mix of Central Asian, European, and Near Eastern in that movie. Things might be more “developed” than in Conan, but some feel remains. Other good films might be Mongol or go and read BeowulfJonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell is an influence, but that book belongs to a different time than I draw upon here. The computer game Thief is always a big influence on me, as is, of course and inevitably, Lovecraft, but specifically here you could also revisit “Ill Met in Lankhmar,” as Lankhmar, more than any other literary city, is what I imagine Khadat to be.

The World

The continent – I hesitate to give it a name, as every society has its own name for the land on which it lives – is surrounded on three sides by sea. To the north is a chill body of water, navigable in the summers but dangerous in the winter, with scattered mountainous islands. It is rich in natural resources but hostile in most other ways. To the west is a vast ocean. Some inhabitable islands exist within a few days’ sail, but beyond that there is sea, sea and more sea. And monsters. To the south is a peaceful, warm sea dominated by the galleys of great empires and just beyond that is a rocky coastline studded with populous cities. To the east lies another sea, one of grass. Fierce horsemen move across it, as do rich and heavily-armed caravans from the Shan kingdoms further east.

The people who live on the continent have an easy way of referring to the land. The West refers to the rolling hills and temperate forests of the lands that border the great ocean. This is a place of rich farmland, mild summers and damp winters. Moving east, away from the sea, the snows thicken and the forests grow darker. Life gets more tenuous. The East refers to the other edge of these black forests, where the chill northern sea meets the endless steppe.

North and South are less commonly used in the world, but we will do so here. To refer to those stony isles in the northern sea as a great region of the world would be to give them too much credit. And beyond them is only frozen waste where fire-drakes coil and steam. The term “South” is not used for the opposite reason. The empire of Emer, situated at the edge of the warm southern sea, is not a regional edge of the map, but rather the center of it. As such, it is referred to as “the Empire,” “the City,” or, in some tongues, “inside.”

But one accident of geography thwarts Emer’s claim to true centrality. While Emer sits at a place where trading galleys from the southern continent and the West must cross, to its east lies a vast desert. Shan caravans cannot cross it or choose not to, and with the beginnings of trade with the Shan, Emer finds itself challenged in trade for the first time since its height by the former barbarians of the northern sea.

The West

A few islands lie in the Western Ocean, most the remnants of great volcanoes. Emer attempted a mine in one of these, reportedly a site where adamantium was found, but this mine was lost some years ago (thought to fall victim to a fire-drake). Since the rise of the Geats in the North, Emer has not returned to the region.

The Western Ocean batters the coast of the continent, and the western coast is a scrubby land of hills and brush, ranging from tough, cold, rocky hills in the north to tough, warm, rocky hills in the south. But beyond these hills lies a fertile area crisscrossed by mountain ranges. Within these valleys are pockets of fertile farmland and light forests, fed by rivers that generally flow south, towards the Southern Sea.

To the east, this fertile land grows more and more overgrown. The forests grow thicker and darker and the farmland less and less. This is Pskov.

The East

Ink-black lakes, sharp, snow-crested mountains, and thick hemlock forests. This is the landscape of the East. To the north, the coastline of the Northern Sea provides the best farmland; south of here the forest and mountains stretch until the wine country of the Southern Sea. This area is known for its hostile terrain and fractured politics (see Pskov, below).

But further east, these forests peter out. Trees shrink and the landscape becomes dotted with grazing lands with herds of bison (and the dire wolves that prey on them). Eventually the trees only cling to the riverbanks. After this is the great Sea of Grass. The Sea ranges from tundra in the far north (hosting herds of mammoth) to lush grass east of Khadat, to the badlands of Scythia, and the dry desert east of Emer in which eventually all life gives out.

Beyond the Sea is the land of the Shan, about which only they can tell.

The North

In the far northwest of the world are islands capped by glaciers and volcanoes, making a landscape inhospitable to all but the fire-drakes that live there.  Eventually, these islands become more and more temperate, if no less mountainous, and here the Wild Geats live. As one moves east, the amount of arable land increases and the lands of the settled Geats rise, until the shore of the great Continent rises up at the city of Khadat. Here, the expanse of the sea gives way to an expanse of tundra and ice, where the Suomi mammoth herders live.

The South 
– With the exception of the Stone Towns, which litter every landscape, the South has the longest history of occupation in the continent. Every glen or valley seems to have the ruins of a town clinging to the side of it, where goats now graze. Beyond the mountains in Pskov, the South is dry but fertile, and its inhabitants grow olives and wine and live on the bounty of the Southern Sea. The South ranges from relatively wild scrubland in the West to more and more lush lands as one moves east. At the very easternmost point of the Southern Sea is the city of Emer and the starting point of the great desert that stretches past Emer (and on without end).

Amonism – Amon, the God of the Sun, is the dominant deity in the religious world of the continent. His symbol is a polished metal disc, preferably of gold. Previously, Amon was the chief god of a series of deities, but some new sects have grown up in recent years.
Emeri Amonism – [The Imperial Church] Emeri place Ayesha the Deathless (Empress of Emer) as the Daughter of Amon and aspect of his power on earth. All temples have her sigil (a lion’s head) in the center of Amon’s disc.
Geatish Amonism – [The New Church] Many Geats reject both the polytheism of their ancestors as well as of the Old Order in favor of placing Amon as a single god, dominant over all. They see Ayesha as an abomination and her church as heretical. Temples have a plain disc.
Pskovite Church – [The Old Order]. The polytheistic cult (with Amon at its head) is still dominant across much of the East. In this sect, Amon has two wives (the waxing and waning moon) and there are various gods and goddesses of hearths, forest, agriculture, etc. The Old Order sigil has a crescent moon above and below Amon’s disc.
Geatish Religion – The Wild Geats (and many Geats elsewhere) still follow the warrior-heroes of their ancestors: kings, heroes and slayers of monsters that fit within a long series of eddas and sagas. This worship is tolerated some places in Geatland and outlawed other places.
Tribal Religion – The various tribal groups in the continent have their own religious beliefs, which differ wildly from each other. Ger and Suomi tribes practice a form of shamanism, wherein a shaman sends his or her spirit out to communicate with other spirits of the sky and land. Desert-Dwellers have their own adaptations of Old Order beliefs, with new spirits and gods.
Shan Religion – Shan do not speak of their religion, but most Shan “priests” carry a document claiming to be from a long-dead Emperor (a dragon, they say) granting them the right of passage in any land. The power of this emperor still flows from this document, they say, through certain individuals.

In game terms, every religion has “priests” of one sort or another. The various forms of Amonism might be self-evident, but please work with me if you wish to play a follower of one of the other religions.


Most of the political systems in the world are monarchies of one sort or another, although with significant variations. In general, the Emeri dominate the southern part of the continent and various Geat factions dominate the northern part. The Emeri are unified under an empress, while the Geats have a loose federation of monarchies and merchant republics. In the West, there are a number of new kingdoms establishing themselves, and some of these have fallen under Emeri influence, others Geatish influence. In the East, these kingdoms become more scattered and less powerful, and owing to the harsher terrain, both Emeri and Geatish powers have chosen to largely ignore them.

Powers of the South
Emer: Emer lies at the center of most of the trade routes in the known world. It is one of a number of states that have grown on the shores of the Southern Sea for millennia. These have risen and fallen, and now Emer stands predominant. Its dependent cities extend for a short ways up into Scythia, down river valleys and oases to the east and south, and to some extent along the shores of the Southern Sea. Beyond these, however, is Emer’s real power. Through a network of alliances and vassals, Emer controls most of the lesser seafaring states on the Southern Sea. While those troops fighting directly for the city of Emer might be less in number than others, all of those that the Empress can marshal are the greatest army in the world. That is, unless the Shan are to be believed.
Emer is ruled by the Empress Ayesha the Deathless, who has been on the throne for nearly a hundred years. The city is largely her creation, having risen from a minor port town to what it is today over the course of her reign. Emer and its vassal states acknowledge her as a god, the manifestation of the sun (Amun) on earth. Her enforcers, the Manticora, are a group of warriors whose golden shields reflect the purity of their hearts and deeds.
[Think: Persia, Byzantium, Egypt]

Scythia: Less a power than a region. Scythia lies to the north of Emer and is the westernmost part of the Sea of Grass (although it is studded with some rivers and forests). It separates Pskovite lands (and the Geatish city of Khadat) from the Empire. It is inhabited by a few warlike tribes of horsemen of the sort that Emeri leaders call “jellyfish tribes:” once captured, they slip through your grasp. This has to do with their fluid and non-hierarchical societies, where chiefs are temporary and villages mobile. If a chief is captured by an Emeri or Geatish force, his followers reform under lesser chiefs, rendering this captive worthless politically.
Scythians are, for all intents and purposes, considered Ger peoples, although they speak a different language and have a different appearance.
[Think: Scythia, Huns]

Sardis: Emer’s rival on the Southern Sea claims the mantle of the next great Southern empire. Sardis is nothing if not ambitious, and its generals have a hunger for new technologies of war – five-reamed ships, courier-relay systems of rapid communication, etc. Yet for all their ambition, Sardis is small, clinging to the side of the southern continent on the rocky hills. They have a small collection of allies in the region.
Sardisians are considered Emeri for game purposes.
[Think: Carthage, Athens]

FayuumTobruk, Mezze: Vassals of Emer along the southern continent.
Corinth, Smyrna: Vassals of Emer on the northern shore of the Southern Sea.

Powers of the North
Geats: “Geat” is a term used to describe a seafaring people who inhabit the northern shore of the continent and the isles surrounding it. They are divided into city-states, most of which are monarchies. But even Geatish monarchies are not the hereditary institutions that they are elsewhere. Monarchs are elected by a council of nobles, burghers, guildsmen, and peasants (each councilmember in turn elected by its various groups). This allows for a fluid system which places a great deal of power with the respective guilds. In some places, the merchant guilds have staged something of a coup, and rule directly through a council of merchant families.
Geatish polities include:
Vaasa, under King Gustav, the most powerful of the Geatish states. Gustav rose into power ruthlessly, seizing, imprisoning, and sometimes killing rival families and councilmembers who disagreed with him. Thus, although Vaasa’s power steadily increases, Gustav’s reign is fraught by internal division.
Bothnia, under the Bothnian League. The Bothnians are a powerful group of merchant families that have a great deal of influence in the salt fish and naval supplies market. They are slow to adapt, however, and are aggressively attempting to corner the Shan trade. The League has trading outposts throughout Geatish lands and is well-received in most places (excepting Khadat).
Khadat, named for the old stone town (“Kadath”) upon which it was founded, is the easternmost of the Geatish cities. It is the end point for most Shan caravans, and the Khadathi League has just formed in an attempt to keep Shan trade away from the Bothnians. The two states are in an open trade war, although no one wants a real war.
Nordlund, under King Ragnar. A smaller state, and in the west. Occasionally vying with Vaasa, it sees Gustav’s expansionism but domestic weakness as its greatest asset.
Dunland, under King Jan. Dunland is a Western state that has come under Geatish influence.
[Think: Hanseatic League, Sweden]

Wild Geats: The raiders, “Havlingar” or “Villmenn” in Geatish, living at the edges of Geatish space are often Geats who have not embraced Amonite religion and rejected the rule of the “civilized” kings. They farm the stony shores of their islands at times, then set out to sea to raid Geatish, Pskovite, and Western cities when the crops fail. Geatish lords do not see them as a totality, rather, they will often make treaties and alliances with this or that warlord versus a rival.
City names: Fallstead, Rurik’s Hall, Wulfredstead
[Think: Viking]

Pskovite: Like “Geat,” “Pskovite” is a term that is used for a broad spectrum of peoples that are not politically united. These are the small kingdoms (of which Pskov is the largest) of the eastern forests, and possibly the most numerous of the peoples of the continent. These kingdoms range in size from having their centers in glorified manor houses to quite large towns.
City names: Livonia, Samogethia, Sembia, Viborg


The peoples of the world fall under several large groups. This is not how they would categorize themselves, but rather how outsiders might see them. Most people might refer to their religion or their kingdom of residence: the former is too broad a category and the latter too specific. Instead, an Emeri clerk records “Geat” when a prisoner from Vaasa comes to trial. This is what we will use instead of “race” in game terms.
Finally, rather than giving different groups different attribute bonuses, I give guidelines. Saying that Suomi ice nomads are ill-used to social niceties in non-Suomi society is often true, but making everyone who plays a Suomi take a -2 to their CHA scores is not quite fair. Instead, I have given general guidelines – the norms, from which PCs can deviate. However, I have given some small modifications, modifications which should apply not to the ethnic stock of a person, but to their background. Should a player wish to play an Emeri raised by Suomi, that character will for most purposes be considered a Suomi.

Desert-dweller – The people who live in the great deserts below the settled fringe of the Southern Sea and those living to the east of Emer share little blood in common. Yet what they lack in heritage they share in lifestyle. These are people who move daily, bringing their camels and horses from oasis to oasis. They live off of goats and sheep and pride storytelling above all else.
They speak their own tribal dialect, often unintelligible to any but their home tribe. Most speak Emeri as well.
They have learned to live with heat and a lack of water, and require less water than others. Additionally, they gain a +2 on heat-related saves OR a +2 on survival.
Many are accomplished storytellers, magicians or warriors. They often have higher CHA and CON, to the detriment of INT and WIS (lacking formal schooling, most are illiterate and often taken advantage of in the cities of Emer).
[Think: Bedouin, Pashtun]
Emeri – The residents of the Deathless Empire consider themselves to be the most civilized people in the world. This extends from the lowliest peasant or urchin to the Empress herself. Here, the term Emeri refers not only to those within the actual Empire, but also those in cities surrounding it (such as Emer’s bitter rival Sardis). While the monarch might be different, the general lifestyle is similar.
They speak Emeri.
Many are accomplished in social arts, gaining a +2 on Diplomacy rolls.
Access to education is the greatest in Emer than anywhere else, although cities are as a rule less healthy than other places. They often have higher CHA and INT while suffering STR and CON.
[Think: Greek, urban Arab]
– The Geats are those settled, merchantile peoples of the northern oceans
Geat, Wild
 – The residents of the scrubby uplands of the West, the Kurgans are proud, independent, and bitter about their domination by Geatish and Western powers. They occasionally raid lowland settlements or band together in war parties following a charismatic leader. They make their living from herding sheep and goats in the rocky hills. The Kurgish knife is renowned for its strength and sharpness, and every Kurgish male carries one.
Kurgans are quick of hand but hot-tempered. They often have higher DEX but suffer WIS. As most Kurgish children have been taught to fight, they gain +1 to hit / damage with small bladed weapons (short swords, daggers).
[Think: Greek, Italian]
Shan – Shan are secretive and few in number. They arrive via large caravans from the East and have set up small centers in Khadat, Emer, and Vaasa. Most are merchants, but there are some fortune-seekers who have come to the West. Shan tend to be well-educated, but ill-versed in social mores in the current continent (INT high, CHA low). They gain a +2 to Knowledge checks relating to Religion, History, and Magic. 
Suomi – 
The Ice Tribes of the northern Sea of Grass are herders of bison, mammoth, and reindeer. They move from place to place

Classes and Modifications:
Paladin: The classic paladin might exist as a holy knight in settled Geat or Western lands. But there is another variant in the South, the Manticore. These are heavily-armored warriors whose duty it is to ferret out opposition to the Empress and enforce her will. They must be of the Emeri faith, but may be of any regional background. Their abilities are focused around seeing through deception [e.g. detect lie], protection, and light. Instead of a paladin’s mount, their shields are their source of pride. As a Manticore increases in levels, his shield blazes with the light of Amun, the sun. Should a Manticore stray from the true path, the shield will become increasingly dingy, rusty, and eventually crumble to dust. For this reason, Manticora incessantly polish and maintain their shields – out of fear that they, somehow, somewhere, have committed an infraction.

Most evil in the world is caused by men. But this is not to say that monsters do not exist. They do, but they are rare and terrible. Most people have never seen such a thing, and those that have wish they haven’t. Where they exist, they are the objects of fear. They are largely individual, named creatures. One does not say “hags live in the swamp,” one says “Black Annis stalks the moors.” As such, their ecology doesn’t often make sense. Different peoples have different explanations about how monsters came about, but none of them posits these creatures as a separate race living, eating, and reproducing as people do. The Emeri talk of Typhon, the father of monsters, who sowed his children across the land. Geat mythology speaks of remnants of an older age that hide in the dark places of the world. Ger and Suomi people talk about transformation, about how rocks become dragons and people become trolls.
Certain trends persist. Monsters generally fear the light and crave the dark. They exist to destroy (as opposed to natural beings, who destroy, i.e. eat, in order to exist). A dragon might consume an entire city and then nothing for a hundred years, or Black Annis might take only a victim a year. They exist counter to the world of animals and humans. 
Fire Drake [Typhon, Dragon, Orm, Mangkon] – Dragons in this world are recognizable: burning reptiles with scales of steel and breath of fire. Some are named and can speak, and many are accomplished wizards. They haunt the edges of civilization and are few and far between, occasionally emerging to lay waste to entire cities.
In game terms, dragons shouldn’t be that different, although they should be more individualized than the highly categorized lists of dragons that we get in game manuals. Think about Tolkien’s Smaug versus the Dragonlance creatures.
The Dread Host [Chthonis, Goblin, Skraeling, Tengu] – The dark places of the world are sometimes infested with beings of a particularly evil bent. These are short, squat humanoid creatures, covered in dark hair and with luminescent orange eyes that allow them to see in the lightless caverns. They may vary from place to place and are called a thousand different names. In the warm plains of Scythia, they are perhaps the most feared. They inhabit dark caverns in great masses, and on certain nights around the new moon (or on particularly sinister holidays) emerge in vast hordes from the caves, moving across the landscape, terrorizing, devouring, and carrying off any who fall into their grasp. Scythian lore has it that their captives are slowly transformed into members of the Host, or that those seeing the Host on the move are sometimes compelled to join in.
In game terms, the Host should be a new take on the classic “goblin in a cave” model. They appear in overwhelming numbers, not in easily-dispatchable twos and threes. Even a high-level PC caught alone by the Host either at night in the open or underground would be in dire straits. Being more mystical creatures (e.g. no Host farmers, women, children), they are a more dangerous sort of thing than a classic goblin tribe. You cannot starve them out, cannot buy them off, and can only temporarily hold them at bay with torchlight (which is already flickering and dying…).
Their ability to draw others into them also presents another element. Their gibbers and howls feed the darker impulses of our nature. A warrior fighting them off, drenched in blood (and bloodlust) might lost his sanity and join in their destructive rampage. In game terms, a large enough mass of them might produce a confusion effect or, worse, something like a more powerful charm effect.
[Gibberling, Goblin, Grimlock]
Black Annis [Gorgon, Annis, Hag, Yamamba] – On the moors of Pskov, the peasants keep inside at night out of fear of Black Annis. She is taller than the tallest man and has teeth of iron. Most terrible, though, are her arms – long sinewy things tipped with iron claws. She prowls around the homesteads, sometimes killing sheep, sometimes shepherds, and, most dreadful of all, reaches her long arms through the windows to pick children from their beds.
This is a classic Northern European monster. Annis is English, and Grendel is as well (of a sort – the Geats were originally Scandianvian), but the Scandic troll would fit here also. As such it should not require much tweaking to fit here. But what I want to stress is that each hag is unique. Annis is Annis, Grendel is Grendel, Baba Yaga is Baba Yaga. Some are intelligent and magical (Baba Yaga, Grendel’s mother), some are strong and stupid (Grendel), some are cruel and cunning (Annis). They should be each named and specific to a place. They should also be terribly difficult to fight, and most of all should fight intelligently. They are not going to throw themselves at a well-armed party for no reason, and will not fight to the death when they can slink off, lick their wounds, and wait for the heroes to leave so they can resume their deprivations.
[Annis, Hag, Greenhag, Troll, Giant]

(this is what you get when you let an anthropologist run a game...)

No comments:

Post a Comment

New Year, New Character Day 22: Pendragon

  New Year, New Character   Day 22    Pendragon  Pendragon is a game where players take on the roles of knights in Arthurian Britain. That&#...