Wednesday, November 16, 2016

The Salacious Salon of Sxiploi

An excerpt from the upcoming What Ho, Frog Demons (fourth book in the Slumbering Ursine Dunes series) for your amusement, a little stylish sub-level inside the Temple overlooking the Hot Hell in which you can employ the Top Ten Books of Hell list (along with some other guiding boxes in the text to help with the demonic repartee.

Room 10. Cloakroom. Blixr, a sickly thin frog-demonette with flaccid urine-yellow skin and a loose-fitting (but immaculate) white uniform fronted with golden braid sits on a tall stool here behind a counter. In a terse, heavily-accented croak she ask for cloaks or other outerwear, producing from a slit in her wane neck an obsidian token in exchange for the article of clothing. A delicate cape made from ocular-bat wing membrane (worth 150 gold pieces) and a heavy ermine coat with thick shoulder pads and inexplicable rows of cast iron barbs (worth 500 gold pieces) hang on a rack behind her. The demonette will only attack if the cloak rack is disturbed.

Blixr [AC: 5, HD: 2, Hp: 9, Attk: 2, claws 1d4]

Room 11. Moist Towelette Room. Two large white-steel covered buffet trays sit here on a gleaming, polished marble counter. Two cans of magic sterno (low open flame burns for 24 hours before running out) sit below the trays warming neatly-folded moist towelettes. A small sign scrawled in menstrual blood states “take one and only one and refresh.”

Taking more than one has no consequence.

Room 12. Salon. The salon is decorated in the clean, crisp lines of Late Hell Modernist style: bare, polished rock floor with light thin metal gas burners (mounted on the wall for illumination) and a long airy window on the southern wall emitting red light. Through the glass panel (which overlooks interdimensionally the Hot Hell), a massive pillar of fire can be seen arching up from a plain of volcanic glass littered with styrofoam cups. A low, black wood coffee table has three tiny artfully-arranged delicate bowls containing decorative ebon black, pale green and blood-red pearls (worth 2,000 gold pieces each) and a platter of giant fly thoraxes wrapped in lammasu bacon.

Lounging on three low, sleek hobbit-skin couches are three Type B frog demons, Kanvmp, Hilrtnoc and Vasescltz, debating and discussing the political dimensions of soul-juice derivative markets (they vary in the difference of regulation of said financial instruments) and Hot Hell literary trends with their host, Sxiploi, a severed donkey head resting on a velvet cushion. The demons will react to apparent sharp points by the mute and long deceased head. The debate is punctuated frequently by droll, cutting gossip about local Marlinko human notables.

The demons will not immediately attack but will demand that party member participate in their conversation. Failure to provide more than two real-time minutes of interesting conversation (or attempts to steal the table bowls or otherwise be a boor) will bore the demons enough to fight, otherwise they will let the party come and go with no fuss.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

The Hill Cantons in Its Bottom-Up Infancy

The Hill Cantons campaign is eight years old this week (the blog following later). Happy Birthday, you don't look a session over 400. In another eight years it's going to get off its ass, go get a driver license and take a miserable job stocking groceries to earn its damn keep, mister. 

Now that the HC has a published life--and worms its way into the most unlikely of some of your weirdo world spots--looking through the old maps and notes the incredibly modest, bounded and radically bottom up nature of the campaign at its get go hits me like a brick. Running a weekly game—plus publishing—over eight years of mostly just-in-time production creates so many layers and layers stacking upwards that looking at the first seems alien.

Take this. This is the original players map. The original play area was a tiny space, a mere 20-by-20 mile area—what is now known as Ostrovo Canton (north of Marlinko Canton and one of 32 current regional maps). The map was hexless and vector based with an intentionally slower “exploration” movement.
Click on me for thy detail
It was small geographically, but it was dense as hell.

In two manic pre-launch weeks (what a difference having kids make) I drew up around 30 illustrations, cross-sections and site maps (here are some samples). I cut corners by only stocking half of the first level of the two big tentpole dungeons with 4-7 mapped levels and loads of micro-dungeons.

And then I threw in a heap of other people's work (something I completely stopped doing that I sometimes regret). That un-named castle in the woods to the north? That's Castle Amber. And looky there, there is Sham Bowman's gonzo-erffic Dismal Depths. And yes that is that Bone Hill.  Later replaced by Lumash the bone tower with a reskinned Silent Hall (Major Xhom!) from Stonehell.
The Hall of the Mountain King
(Now the Faux-Mead Hall of the Ancient Hyperboreans)

Upper Works
A piece of the Undercity below Muth. Recycled not just once, but an egregious twice as part of the Jakalla Underworld and Kezmarok's undercity. Shameful. 
To prep for holes and to break up travel, I brainstormed a list of 12 “floating sites.” If I rolled a 2 on an encounter check on a d6 I would then roll a d12 (crossing of entries) and blam the party would encounter a tower of homicidal, foot-chopping landsknechts or a small seedy tavern run by a crow-footed hill-witch. I still use this method to this day, constantly replenishing the pages of the same tattered spiral notebook.

Equally keeping with the equally radical and then fashionable West Marches concept there were zero hooks, no NPC quest givers, no plots, no campaign news and town (and off-map civilization) boring places much akin to a suburban cul de sac life. Religion was just fakey cakes Catholic Church (Sun Lord), some goddess heretics akin to Mormon feminists and totally undefinied “pagans”.

Monsters pretty much were “what's in my miniatures collection”--with reskinning to make them occassionally quite weird. Ghuls and ghost minotaurs because I only had time to prime the figures. The Eld originally just being “mysterious veiled, red robed humanoids with spears” based on my large collection of El Cid-era Andalusians (only becoming the Eld when James Mal started writing about Dwimmermount play sessions).

There was no real world setting either, just a vague idea of two human never-to-be-visited core domains and a vague idea that this was culturally late 15th century Bohemia as imagined by an acid-riddled Jack Vance—with sleestaks, Howardian kozaks and Cthluhu shit.

The only NPC interaction and motivation was “here's a map you inherited, nothing happens here, go explore.” Yeah, yeah I've written extensively about how quickly all of those things evolved away no need to go on, grandpa. But, man,  from little acorns do big oaks grow.  

Monday, November 14, 2016

A New Overking, the End of Crowdfunding and All Things

[So-called real world news: The OSR Bundle of Holding, the super-sale that includes humble Misty Isles of the Eld among some of the best and brightest of our scene, ends in a day's time.  The Operation Unfathomable Kickstarter has ended with a whopping $21k end (if you missed and still want to back stay tuned to the page BackerKit will allow you do so).]

And now the News from the Hill Cantons...
It is over. The Lords Temporal have met and decided on our next Overking. In a shocking upset for both the favored Steeplejacker and Lisping Norker candidates, Uberduke Heimlic of Popradu and Under-Prince Yohann-Pavol Legitimus, Wildgraf Bodegast, youngest brother of the departed monarch and head of the Grimbibber will don the deo-fox robes and lich-garland crown of state. 

Assuming the name Radulf II, the new Overking has promised an aggressive rollout of the hitherto opaque and secretive program An End to All Things. Keeping to long tradition all of the losing candidates have been smothered with velvet pillows—with the notable exception of Koza the Regimental Goat who is said to have fled his stall in the Black Army barn last night.

Dead first in our dear new Overking's local appointments is the new Cantonal Viceroy, Ropucha Rigygtzenacht, former Surveyor-Lord of Canton Departments Both Hilly and Forested (and reputedly dead). The self-described “frog demon nationalist” has announced that the first 200 days in in office will include plans to deflate the supply of electrum pieces, “feed half the poor to the rest of the poor”, free sexual access of the upper nobility to the livestock of the commons (an obvious pandering to the defeated Steeplejackers) and the construction of a massive White Ziggurat just outside Marlinko. 


In Marlinko still literally up and arms about the War Bear March on Pohansko—and hotbed of “Kozer” activity—the cantonal Rada has met in emergency session to reportedly (and incredibly) consider “Marlexit,” a secession from the Overkingdom proper. Meanwhile several dungeons, both new and restocked, still remain free to loot, pillage and die ignominiously and forgotten in.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Frog Demons Finishing Up the Dunes Series

Just as we close out the Op U Kickstarter (oh yeah by the by Misty Isles of the Eld and a heap of A-side OSR work is on super sale at the Bundle of Holding), we started down the last phase of the Dunes series. I finally, finally passed over the draft manuscript to the distracted hands of my editors the fourth and last adventure What Ho, Frog Demons. While it's not the 100+ page monster of the Misty Isles, at 30 pages and growing it's still a lot more than the 12-16 page product of micro-dungeons we promised.

After a good deal of insomnia agonizing about whether it all hung together as well as its sequels I think I am getting to the place about feeling good about what's rolling off the line. The master of font and trade-dress mimicry magic of Trey Causey working with a lovely anuran illustration from Luka Rejec (another brother from another mother) have us already good to go with this great little homage/satire cover--very fitting for the terribly misguided mix of Wodehouse, gonzo D&D and cosmic horror satire that's the theme for this one.

Basically beyond my usual quirky meandering sections, you get two quite different, but ballpark theme-linked small-scale adventures that have been specifically designed to be either wholly slottable in most home campaigns or run alongside the hooks and chaos index of Fever-Dreaming Marlinko, Misty Isles and the Dunes.

On one hand you have the low-level trap-hell dungeon of the Frog Demon Temple with its wandering squads of booby-trap laying frog-demonettes, gratuitous deadliness and hell-spawned literary salon on one side and on the other the building tongue-in-cheek horror of the Manor of the Beet God, with a rising Infection Index dynamically changing the nature of the site as the players chose to explore or ignore the mounting menace and mystery.

Let's see if it works.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Bloody Pohansko: When Strongholds Go Bad

One of the great pleasures of an eight-year campaign mostly driven by so-called bottom-up world building (really like gender more of a fluid spectrum thing) is that there is a periodic filling in of the blank spots on the map.

I had really intended the War Bear march on Pohansko as a set up for some solo matrix wargaming on my end, but some of the long time players jumped in with wanting their characters to march along. I do love every once in a while posing open-ended grand scenarios in which I have no idea exactly how the players are going to tackle it or what the outcome will be, so ka-blamo a simple map and battle roster becomes a whole new campaign area.

Here are the particulars for you folks at home:

What's Happening?
Pinc the Petulant, king-let and spiritual head of the Insufferable Path of Disproportionate Grievance has imprisoned a company of 20 war-bear cadets in lieu of paying back wages (and into their woefully underfunded dental fund). The war-bears sit polearm-deprived and deeply despondent in the dungeons of Pohansko, a tiny micro-kingdom and fortified trade town in the wilds south east from the Cantons.

Medved, master of Slumbering Ursine Dunes and all things bear, has called the general muster for all warbears. In solidarity (and applied needling from the Guild of Condotierre, Linkboys, Roustabouts, and Stevedores) the Rada of Marlinko Canton has sanctioned the formation of a volunteer company complete with battle-wagon train.
What are the Forces Involved?
Three uncoordinated columns of war-bears are converging on Pohansko. The columns are all led by stubborn het-bears and that fact coupled with Medved's utter disdain for details means that there is no real strategy other than “angrily march there and fuck shit up.”

The fast-moving Vanguard Column of 90 young war-bears is led by the magnificently gruff and spirited Commodore (purely an honorific and ironic title) Chlupatý Hýždě. Second Column of 120 seasoned bears and a small number of allies is led by the cautious master of dogged defense Ald-Hetbear Stary Bote and is lagging 1-3 days behind the van. The Third Column composed of 180 warbears and the bulk of the human allies (and battle wagons) and of is led by the up and coming star in war-bear soldiery Snout-Captain Nová Lák and is averaging roughly a week behind the vanguard.

Stranding against them are the faux-barbarian war-bands of Pohansko. Exact numbers are unknown (but likely to run anywhere from 500-1,000 strong) but well-known to all is their bizarre martial adornment in exaggareted Bronze-Age-ish war gear (complete with cow-hide shields and engorged, impractical bronze shoulder pads) and division into doctrinally -incoherent warrior societies handed down by the first adventurer king Pohan. Pinc himself is said to have fell arcane powers that can send even the most placid and content of hruz heads into a snarling rage over the most wee of issues.

What Are Operational Conditions Like?
The weather has finally turned autumn nippy in the southern Hill Cantons. Periodic chilly thunderstorms roll in from Stormchild's breath over the Persimmon Sea.

The road east past the incestuous backhills shithole Bad Rajetz is barely a road, more a high place made up of the shattered backbone of an old stone Hyperborean highway surrounded by a sea of mud.
The road runs through terrain much akin to Pohansko proper: craggy rocky ridgelines punctuated by cedar-breaks and vine brambles (and the occasional old beech and gnome-pine stand).

What Do We Know about Pohansko?
Well I will tell you all about that benighted place and its public secrets tomorrow, champ.

But now a song from the solidarizing citizens of Marlinko
The Wagons of Ursine Emancipation
With the battle wagons, and greater,
Speeds the hairy liberators,
Onward cheered by hosannas,
And the waving of yellow banners.
Roll it along! Roll it along!
Spread your banners,
While bearlings shout hosannas.

Ursine eman-cip-ation
Cannot rest on human foundations
And the fields of Pohan's magician
Bears but a crop of perdition
Pull up the fields! Pull up the fields!
Ursine eman-cip-ation
Cannot rest on human foundations.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Pan-Dungeonism, War-Bears on the War-Path and the Odious Uplands

I'm rather enjoying my real world news mixing with my fantasy world news (you can judge which is which) so expect this to be a semi-regular post here on the blog.

In things Hydra Cooperative related, Operation Unfathomable's Kickstarter has been launched and is trucking along. The first stretch goal is hit which means the Odious Uplands, an entire already-written book-length wilderness supplement is a go. Strange Stars OSR is at the proofing stage and I continue to attempt to push through that last bit of writing of What Ho, Frog Demons (the fourth and last of the Dunes series).
And Now the News of the Hill Cantons...
The fact-finding mission of self-styled Son of Mulmak, advocate of pan-dungeonism, is rumored to have met fierce resistance in the upper levels of the Mountain Hall of the Hyperboreans. An anonymous source in the Guild of Condotierre, Linkboys and Stevedores says that the party ran into unexpected new residents calling themselves the Servants of the Antagonist, Ha-Vul the Great Restocker.

The seemingly interminable election of the new Overking drags on with the 27 lord-electors continuing to bicker and maneuver and the powerless majority to debate and riot. A crowd of bystanders in Marlinko's Tomb-Plaza rescued a local Worker of Wood member who attempted to gouge out his eyes with an auger while simultaneously hanging himself on a self-made gibbet. The man was heard screaming repeatedly “please Sun Lord, just make it stop!”, an apparent reference to the length of the campaign season.

For the first time since the Green Rye Uprising, Medved, hirsute divine Master of the Dunes, has called the muster for all leveled war-bears. Under pretext of rough behavior, Pinc the Petulant, despicable petty tyrant of the pocket kingdom of Pohansko, has imprisoned a score of war-bears in his foulest dungeons allegedly to avoid paying back wages. Hosts of bearlings have been seen marching east and south through Marlinko Canton mustard banner unfurled with a new ballad on their hairy lips.

In the gaol cell I sit,
Thinking glaive-guisarme, of you,
And our bright slumbering home so far away,
And the tears drip my snout
'Spite of all that I can do,
Tho' I try to cheer my comrades and grunt hurray.

Brump! Brump! Brump!
The war-bears are mar-chin'
Cheer up cubs here we come!
And beneath the starry paw
We shall smell the blessed honey again
In the free dunes of Medved's sandy home.

In the battle's van we stood
When their horsey charge they made
And they swept us off
A hundred bearlings or more
But before they reached our phalanx
They were beaten back, dismayed
And we heard the roar of victory o'er and o'er

Brump! Brump! Brump!
The war-bears are mar-chin'
Cheer up cubs here we come!
And beneath the starry paw
We shall smell the blessed honey again
In the free dunes of Medved's sandy home.