Monday, October 20, 2014

New to Rivertown

Yesterday was the inaugural session of my 5th edition Land of Azurth campaign. Kully Keenstep (Jim, bard), Kairon (Eric, tiefling sorcerer), Waylon (Tug, frox thief), Dagmar (Andrea, dwarf cleric), and Berekose (Bob, fighter) all happen to arrive on the same keelboat, Berta Mae. After stopping an extortion attempt by river rats (the mostly human kind), the five draw the attention of Mayor Yrrol Gladhand.

Gladhand gets them put at the top of the list of audiences with the Clockwork Princess, Viola, and also gets them rooms at the Dove Inn. He wants them to get in the Princess's good graces, and then report to him and the City Council on things that might be of financial interest. Not knowing what else to do, the group agrees.

The next morning, they take the ferry over to Mechanicstown, the collection of laboratories around Castle Machina. The gnome guards usher them into the audience chamber, where a pre-occupied Princess soon enters. She agrees to help them with their various requests, but asks them to perform a simple task for her first: take a small velvet bag to a man in the third level beneath the castle. She shows them on a map where to go but warns them against going any place else, lest they run afoul of the tribes of Looms. None of them known what Looms are, but they are assumed to be quite dangerous based on the context.

After perform the ritual they are given, the Lift rumbles downward to "L3." They make their way down the hallway, but right before the doorway, Waylon and Erekose notice a glistening: a gelatinous cube blocks the way! The group goes around to another entrance. This one is blocked by old furniture, but it's easily movable. All the while, they hear the sounds of chanting and ritual, but they never see what they assume to be the Looms.

Through the grimy window of the laboratory, they can see a pale, flickering light. They enter and find a path amid the old laboratory and alchemical equipment. They can hear strange, distorted voices. They come upon the source of the light: an odd large, magnifying glass-like lens, and a man-shaped thing of metal looking into it. The metal shape turns toward them.

A voice emerges from a grating in its chest, and it asks if the group brought "them." They hand the bag over, and it dumps the contents on the table--tiny, metal pieces. It turns back to the lens and says: "we can renew our game."

Dagmar sees inside the round, glass opening in the thing's body to see a motionless old man with tubes stuck in him.

The group returns to the surface, where the Princess agrees to look into the things they asked about, and gives them a few leads.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Tales of the Weird and Fantastic

Just in time for Halloween, Pulp Mill Press has released a second volume of Libram Mysterium edited by Sean Robson, this one subtitled Tales of the Weird and Fantastic. While the first volume was Sword and Sorcery tales, this one focuses on horror and macabre in the pulp vein. I haven't read this one yet, but I'm looking forward to checking it out.

It's available for the Kindle and most other electronic formats.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Azurthite Bestiary: Death Dwarf

Death Dwarfs are repulsive creatures inimical to all other life. When the Anti-Sun was invoked by the Gloom Elves' ancient spell, the Death Dwarfs followed it into Azurth and made their home in the subazurthian depths. They hate all life, but respect power, after a fashion. The have no allies; only enemies and masters.

Death Dwarfs speak a strange, backwards sounding language, which can be crudely interpreted if a Subazurthian listener views the Death Dwarf in a mirror as they are speaking. Death Dwarfs can understand Undercommon fully well. Their eyes glow in darkness, but are blackest voids in even dim light. Their blood is equally black and mildly caustic. They subsist on a diet of corrosive minerals and poisonous ore.

In a rage, Death Dwarfs can release their anti-energy and swell to a monstrous size, like some funhouse mirror negative image.

Death Dwarfs are the Land of Azurth version of Duergar. They are statted the same, but have the following regional effects around their lairs:

  • Plant life sickens and dies, adult animals weaken, and their progeny are born deformed within 1000 ft.
  • Food brought into a liar becomes rancid within a day and water becomes poisoned.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Three Rivertown Criminals

Honest Jon
If you need something illegal, not quite legal, or just not something to be inquired about in polite company, then Honest Jon may well be of assistance to you. He also specializes in finding a buyers for items of complicated provenance. All for a fee, naturally.

Calico Bonny
She is the Queen of the Floating World, and her palace is the only true ship among it's ramshackle flotilla, the Queen Azura. Bonny is never seen (though she is rumored to have met the Princess), but conducts her business through a succession of lissome girls all called "Fleur." No new gambling barge or pleasure boat opens without her approval. And the Queen always gets her tithe.

Art by Dan Norton
Mapache "Cleanhands" Took 
There is no "raccoon thieves' guild" in Rivertown. The very notion is absurd. Even if there were (which of course, there most certainly is not), it's ringleader and mastermind wouldn't be a shabby, gentleman of the road like our Mapache Took. Ridiculous. Completely ridiculous.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Wednesday Comics: Strangers in the Night

"Strangers in the Night"
Artesia #3 (March 1999) Story & Art by Mark Smylie

Synopsis: Night falls over the battlefield and something strange is in the air. Artesia tells her troops that the door to the underworld has been opened; it is not their goddess Djara and her companions, but the Wild Hunt that roams this night. She tells the warriors to stay close to the ghost heads--heads of the fallen placed on stakes--tonight: One ghost will ward against another.

Artesia rides out to warn the scavengers they've seen among the fallen.

She finds they are not human but hathaz-ghul. They can't be harmed by mere iron, but Artesia's rune-inscribed sword is something different. She's only just defeated them and finished off her dying horse, when she feels it coming. She runs for the ghost wards, but:

She boldly tells the master of the Wild Hunt that he has one night given to him by Yhera, and this is not it.

But Artesia has already chosen sides.

Her spirits rebuke the Master of the Hunt to be gone. Artesia has been claimed by another. "Ah, the heart of war, After so long." the huntsman says. "I am glad."

He departs, leaving Artesia to wonder who it is that can banish the Wild Hunt. Then, she's distracted by the cry of the dying Dymas. He explains that he had to change sides because his king told him to. He would never side with the Knights of Agall and the other outlanders, though. He worries that the death guides have not come, that the souls of he and his men will be lost.

Artesia reassures when that they will keep the vigil for his journey. Their prayers will give his soul 7 days to find their way. Then, they come. And Dymas sees them.

Artesia says her prayers to Geniche, goddess of the Underworld. Though she is afraid, she looks the goddess in the face:

Artesia flinches from the bright light, and then the goddess is gone--along with the souls of the dying.

Her troops find her their in the morning. They tell her three outlanders slipped by the pickets last night. Artesia sees the ones they speak of approaching. They say they have come to the highlands to find a woman: a woman captain, once a king's concubine. A woman born in the lowlands, but come to the Highlands. A witch like her mother.

Artesia embraces her brother, Stjepan.

Things to Notice:
  • With his recitation of the rumors about her, Stjepan relates a lot of Artesia's backstory.
The Wild Hunt, which appears in this issue, is a well-known European myth, with the Master of the Hutn varying, depending on the culture. The corpse-consuming hathaz-ghul are inspired by the Arabic ghul (ghoul).

Monday, October 13, 2014

Yanth Cartography

The map above by Gus L of The Dungeon of Signs is of the Country of Yanth in the Land of Azurth. Gus has faithfully reproduced the style of the Orrey Blundur, Royal Cartographer to King Cyan of Azurth. As is custom following the Bichromatic Compromise, the Country of Yanth is colored yellow. Mundy was a practitioner of artistic cartography, favoring a aesthetically pleasing arrangement of feature over accurate representation. The geography of Azurth has never been quite as settled as it is in other lands, so this is perhaps not as great a failing as it might seem.

Blundur is rumored to have disappeared into a trap street he inserted into a map of the Sapphire City the week before, then subsequently discovered in the real world.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Slumbering Ursine Dunes

The Kickstarter for Slumbering Ursine Dunes will be coming to an end on October 14, so if you haven't got in on it yet, time is drawing nigh. I've been a backer since the day the Kickstarter began. While I'm sometimes iffy about rpg kickstarters (their track record isn't great), I know any reader of the Hill Cantons blog knows that Chris has been a critic of kickstarters in the past, and he and the Hydra Collect have done everything right with this one--like having the product actually mostly finished before starting the kickstarter.

Now knowing the guys involved and having played in the Hill Cantons G+ campaign in the past, I do not pretend any review I would give of Dunes would be entirely object. (If you're looking for probably a more objective one than mine, Gus L has given us one.) I can tell you while I like it and why I think it exemplifies what is good about DIY gaming products, in general.

First off, Dunes takes place in Chris's very flavorful and original campaign world, the Hill Cantons. The Cantons is one of those rich, long-running D&D that most of us wish we had, but don't have the discipline to pull off. The Hill Cantons is pulp fantasy setting, less Howard or Lovecraft, and more Vance and Leiber, infused with a strong Slavic flavor. It manages to avoid the "learning curve" problem associated with settings like Tekumel or Glorantha, while managing to be distinct from the Forgotten Realms also-rans. Dunes mixes bear gods and alien technology and makes it all fit together with a large amount of wit.

If that weren't enough, it's written in such away that it's easy to tweak or remove the Hill Cantons elements (great as they are) so that you can make it your own. Anthony (Straits of Anian) Picaro is adapting it to his fantasy Pacific Northwest (and that's going to be available through the Kickstarter to backers at some levels). I think I'm going to use it as the basis of my annual Weird Adventures Yule Special. It's going to be the inspiration and framework for a tale of combining Father Yule, Ruthenian Bear Folk, and the aftermath of the Weird Adventures version of the Tunguska event. It's robust enough to be what works best for you campaign.

So back it, already! The Kickstarter ends Wednesday.