Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Vordhea, Dargheba, and the Downfall of the Gods

In ages long past, when the world was already old and dust had settled on the ruins of the first great civilizations, a war was being fought, as it had been for eons and eons on countless worlds and even in the womb of the universe. A war between two ultimate wills. A war between Light, and Darkness.

The legions of Light marched over twisted, shadowy creatures and into the depths of the fiery daemon realm, slaying devils and dark beasts in the name of their holy Gods. The daemon horde pushed them back, shrouded in darkness and unholy magic, a terrifying force to behold before the whips of their evil masters. But the Gods, both Dark and Light, were all evil, replenishing their armies by calling on the common people of the mortal realm to do their bidding, falsely promising entry into the afterlife as reward. The deities of Light and Darkness ravaged the land, vying for control over mortal souls. For thousands of years the battle raged, neither side gaining a true advantage. It was like this on many worlds in the universe. But the mortals of Vordhea would not let it be so on theirs.

So distracted were the gods with their game of war, and so much power did they give to the mortal champions of Light and Darkness on Vordhea in the form of magical abilities and artifacts, that they were blindsided and easily overwhelmed when their armies joined forces and turned against them. Their warlords rose up and knocked the Gods from their pedestal, daemon and human alike fighting side by side. They imprisoned the Gods on the ruined mortal plane, taking the realm of the Gods for themselves. In a fury, the Gods unleashed their full might against the mortals, but they had made their soldiers too powerful. Their combined strength deflected the raw energy of the Gods, utterly shattering the mortal plane and crippling their supernal masters.

The mortal plane became Dargheba, the Shard World, Land of the Dying Gods - dozens of tortured land masses drifting in a writhing black abyss. The air crackles with magical residue and time flows in strange patterns. The Gods reside there, deranged shadows of their former selves. Mortals live in the realm of the gods now, in lush Vordhea. There, Dark and Light manifest themselves in shades of grey, not so unalike, and not every daemon is without compassion, not every human or demihuman to be trusted. The world is as they desired to make it - free from the tyranny of the Gods, and they will not allow any being, divine or otherwise, to determine the fate of their existence. They are the weavers of their own destiny now, one of the only free worlds in all of the endless void.

Elric of Melnibone: $18!

I have spent the last 10 years buying brand new editions of every book I wanted. I would be damned if I would buy a used book, something someone else's grubby hands were all over. Until recently.

Having discovered the liberating Old School Renaissance (OSR) has changed me, for the better. Suddenly, instead of feeling the need to rush out and buy supplement X for the newest edition of Awesome New RPG Y, I was content skimming through old PDF's and the wealth of knowledge available within the OSR blogging community. I found my imagination stirred by old Frazetta art and retro fantasy novel covers. And now I am living joyously in the past.

As a young gamer, I was never exposed to OD&D. It was around well before my time. My dad and his buddies were playing AD&D when I was a kid, and I was always completely fascinated by what they were talking about - wizards, swords, giants, dragons! But alas, too young to play, my dad told me.

So I ended up discovering D&D for the first time with 3rd edition. I never quite felt at home, but I would never have considered playing an older, "outdated" version. Now, 10 odd years later, I have finally discovered the freedom that is old school gaming. I have been eagerly drinking in every retro and old school source of inspiration I can find. Which, after a long introduction, brings me to the subject of this post. Books!

A few weeks ago I ventured out to a used book store for the first time ever (I am deeply shamed). I couldn't believe how cheap everything was. I picked up a copy of Conan the Warrior, and a little seed of wonder bloomed up inside me. I had heard a lot about Michael Moorcock and Elric of Melnibone, and having always been a fan of the weirder side of fantasy, I scoured the shelf for any sign of his work - alas, there was none.

Today, I stopped back in on a whim and went back to the fantasy & sci-fi shelf. What's this? A book by Michael Moorcock, though not part of the Elric series. Cool, I told myself. Then I looked over and my eyes settled upon a towering mound of Moorcock books. I quickly opened the first Elric one I found, figured out which books were in the series, and promptly grabbed the whole set. Despite my efforts, I couldn't find the second and third books in the same silver edition as the others. Oh, well. The whole series came to a mere $18!

I am really looking forward to delving into this world I've heard so much about. As a curious side note, my cat has a strange fixation with the books. He keeps knocking them off of the shelf and vigorously pawing at them. Needless to say, I've put them into hiding for now, until I finish Conan the Warrior! 

Thursday, 23 June 2011

L&T Session One

Day 1 

During a hot summer's day in Suntha, the dockside is thrown into upheaval as a rogue ship barrels towards the wall. Despite the wild gestures and shouted warnings from the Red Cloaks, the tatter-sailed vessel plows into the dock, ripping up the cobblestone street in the process. Citizens flee in terror, but soon after, Red Cloaks secure and rope off the ship. A curious pirate, Edward Morgan, who's father may be the very pirate who Master Morgan's Spiced Rum is named after, overhears the Red Cloaks say that the ship is devoid of crew, and approaches the moored craft. After being deterred by the Red Cloaks, he sneaks around to the other side, but not before being noticed by a short greasy man slinking in the shadow of the buildings. Edward Morgan uses his trusty grappling hook to climb aboard the vessel and slips below decks. The greasy man, a town scoundrel by the name of Gremond, scrambles  onto the roof of a nearby building, seeking a better view of the ship's deck.

Meanwhile, the town drunk, a once great serpenteer by the name of Sturloch, makes his rounds about the market, stumbling and cursing as people throw copper coins at him in pity. One of the Red Cloaks who recognizes Sturloch (which is all of them) prods him with a booted toe and suggests the old serpenteer do something useful and help the nearby merchant struggling to lift her wares. Grumbling, he obliges. It is during this work of lifting crates and barrels that he notices the marking on the ship's sail, identifying it as The Fang of the Deep, a famous and rival serpenteering vessel not seen for some twenty years. He remembers details about the ship leading to ancient and incredible treasures.

Close by, a tall blonde witch (though no one knows she's a witch) known as Vara to the local tavern populace, watches a crazed merchant lady steal a poor drunk's only copper coins, and approaches to inform him.

On board The Fang of the Deep, Edward Morgan discovers a strange glowing green door, extremely hot to the touch. As he pokes the door with a ten-foot pole, it presently lights on fire just as Gremond pokes his head in from above deck with a wide, unsettling grin on his face, having found Edward's grappling hook and used it to climb aboard, stowing it in his pack afterward. After a short, confused exchange between the two and a small amount of time spent examining the glowing door, Edward and Gremond are discovered by the Red Cloaks. Gremond attempts to flee below deck, but Edward grabs him and threatens, "Not with my grappling hook!"

Back in the street, now shirtless for some reason, Sturloch decides that it's time to head back to his idyllic beachside shack, when he hears a commotion coming from The Fang of the Deep. He looks up to see two shady looking men roughly escorted from the deck. "Not without my hat!" the less greasy one yells. A hat comes flying from an unknown thrower on board the ship and smacks the man in the face. "Thank you!"

Having remembered the name of the ship and its promise of untold riches, Sturloch approaches the guards to offer his information, only to have them laugh in his face. Edward, intrigued by Sturloch's talk of treasure, inquires about the ship. Gremond is also lured by the promise of wealth and eaves drops on the conversation. The witch Vara witnesses the three men arguing over something and moves in for a closer look, discovering that the group plans to hunt down a set of lost artifacts that are apparently needed to activate the navigation system that will lead the ship to the treasure. She offers her services as a cook and maid on the expedition, and the men accept. The four of them head to the tavern to discuss their plans over a drink. The night gets messy, and just as Sturloch invites Edward back to his shack, the tavern owner suggests the party "borrow" a rowboat from the docks.

Shortly after midnight, following a seductive bribe by Vara for a discounted rowboat, the group casts off by the light of the moon in search of the first artifact, which purportedly lies in an ancient palace on Nefk's western coast. About an hour later, rowing west along the coast of Nefk, Gremond lures a group of aquatic serpent creatures to the ship with crumbs of hard bread. The creatures attack, and after a brief struggle, scatter back into the sea when Edward fires his pistol into the water.

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Class Origins: Fighting Men of the Ruby Isles

In the Ruby Isles, men with swords come in many flavours, from pirates to hunters to the personal body guards of wealthy merchants. Here are some island-themed Fighter variants for my Lions & Thieves S&W campaign.


Feared and hated by merchants, loved by women and brigands, these charming scoundrels are notoriously well muscled sea-faring thieves. They roam the Ruby Isles, relieving unwary vessels of their treasure and eluding the grasping Arm of the North by making berth in secret caves and hidden bays.    

Prerequisite Ability: None.
Prerequisite Alignment: Chaotic.
Special Weapon: Fighter starts with a cutlass (1d4) and pistol (1d6+1; 1-in-6 chance to malfunction [see chart]). 
Sea Legs: Fighter receives a +2 bonus to-hit when fighting on the deck of a ship. 
Ante Up: Fighter can make a combined attack for both cutlass and pistol for 2d4+1 damage once per encounter.

Pistol Malfunction Chart (2d6)
2. Fires in random direction
3-6. Fires in 1d2 turns
7. Doesn't fire
8-11. Ball falls out (must reload)
12. Explodes (1d4 damage to wielder)


Mercenaries are hired swords skilled in a chosen weapon. Merchants are their main employers, but trading caravels and serpenteering ships occasionally bring them on as extra muscle for particularly risky voyages. To a mercenary, it doesn't matter who they work for, just as long as they pay is good.

Prerequisite Ability: None.
Discount: Mercenaries accumulate credit and can buy standard weapons and ammunition at half price. 
Best Friend: Choose 1 weapon to receive a permanent +1 to-hit with; the mercenary must spend a full week training to transfer the bonus to a new weapon.
On the Job: +1 to-hit when employed/under contract.

Body Guard

Loyal and stoic, body guards protect their charges with stolid fierceness. They serve as personal protectors for wealthy merchants, nobles, tavern bouncers, or guards for the Ruby Consortium. They are experts at keeping others from harm. 

Prerequisite Ability: Con 13+ 
Protector: AC is better by 1 point when defending an ally. 
Defend: Fighter can take a hit for an adjacent ally once per encounter.
Disarm: 1-in-6 chance to disarm an attacking enemy once per encounter.


Hunters provide food for the towns and tribes of the Ruby Isles. They gather hides and bones from jungle beasts for craftsmen to work into fine armor, weapons and clothing. Most of the hunter's day is spent wandering the wilds, hard on the trail of their quarry.

Prerequisite Ability: Wisdom 12+
Tracking: 4-in-6 chance to pick up any trail outside; 2-in-6 in a dungeon. 
Good Eye: +1 to-hit with missile weapons. 
Survivalist: Fighter can spend 1d3 hours foraging/hunting for food and water.


With their grim, bloodstained vessels, the serpenteers ride the waves in search of monstrous sea serpents for glory and riches. Serpenteers are easily the wealthiest of the professions in the Ruby Isles, but their careers are also the most dangerous. As such, these warrior sailors must be rugged and vigilant, strong enough to withstand the bitter grog, wield the heavy harpoons used to impale the giant creatures and drag them back to port. 

Prerequisite Ability: Str 13+ 
Serpent Pike: This heavy, forked harpoon has a thick rope attached to the butt and can be used to drag targets back to the wielder. (1d8+1 melee; 1d6+1 missile, firing rate is 1/2 [1 turn to drag it back]; 1-in-6 chance to get lodged in target for 1d4 rounds). 
Big Fish: +1 to-hit vs. aquatic or reptilian creatures. 
Rosy: Saving throw is better by 1 point if imbibing liquor.

Enlisted Man

The soldiers of the North Country have garrisons spread out all over the Ruby Isles. The expedition has been dubbed the Arm of the North, and each man receives a basic training course which prepares them for hand-to-hand combat in the steaming jungles. The Arm brings in fresh recruits every week for their garrison on the islands of Nefk, and Gixf where they are fighting against a mysterious new enemy.   

Prerequisite Ability: None.
Military Training: AC is better by 1 point if adjacent to an ally. 
Resourceful: Free melee attack for 1d4 damage once per encounter.


The Elves of Ydlon keep a small but elite force of guardians who watch the coasts of their island for invading enemies. Because the island is shrouded in a magical, obscuring mist, the threat of invasion is low, but the Elves have not forgotten the black sorcerers of Tzeejg, ever vigilant in case they rise again and use their magic to find and destroy Ydlon.

Prerequisite Race: Elf
Prerequisite Ability: Dex 13+
Watchful: If the Fighter spends 1 turn observing an enemy, AC is better by 1 point against that target.  
Ydlon Boomerang: 1d6+1 missile damage; returns when thrown. 
Disciplined: Saving throw is better by 1 point if the Fighter spends 1d3 hours each day to clean and polish her armour.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Ruby Isles: Suntha

Nestled in a quiet cove on Nefk's southwestern coast lies the small port town of Suntha. The narrow inlet is surrounded on three sides by steep, jungle covered hills, protected from the harsh wind and weather spit out by the violent Sea of Tongues. The northeastern face is the highest, contrived mainly of flat rock, glistening from the dozen or so trickling streams that plummet from the towering summit. About halfway down the rock face, a jutting ledge is home to a massive, somewhat wrecked ship. Those wondering just how it got there are free to ask the owner, who dubbed it The Sepent's Luck, now the most popular tavern in Suntha. A narrow switchback leads up to it from the shallow pools below.

The bustling dockside is always heaped with ships, mostly merchant caravels and the grim, bloodstained vessels of the serpenteers, rugged men and women who make their livings hunting sea serpents and selling the hides and teeth. The deadly beasts are a constant threat to sailors traversing the waters near Nefk and some deeper bodies beyond. Some of the smaller serpents occasionally appear in Suntha's cove, but are usually dispatched by the many serpenteers guaranteed to be in port at any one time. A few have caused considerable damage to ships and buildings alike, though, taken by surprise.

Suntha is a hub for merchants and traders in the Ruby Isles. Independent stalls are set up in the less busy part of town for those merchants who are not members of the Ruby Consortium, while members have access to more prime ground near the docks. The Consortium monitors and manages all trade within the Ruby Isles, and most of the islands' port towns are run by one of their Princes. Any merchant who wants to sell their goods must acquire a Traders License from the Office of the Ruby Consortium, located in the northwestern part of Suntha.

Access to the mist-shrouded jungle hills beyond Suntha is limited to a series of caves within the cove's high rock face. Any trails end about halfway up, and those brave or foolish enough to venture into the heart of the jungle must navigate the winding tunnels, which are mostly unexplored. The main way is generally lit with bracketed torches to lead travelers safely through, but sometimes, strange, nameless things emerge from the darkness and snuff out the lights, lying in wait for unwary travelers.

Most people in Suntha have never seen a Dwarf and Elves are extremely reclusive, keeping close to their fabled home, the lost isle of Ydlon. Halflings are more common, with many of them sailing down with Humans from the North Country for the weather and the juicy tropical fruits.

Each year at midsummer, a great race is held for the brave and foolish, a ship race that takes the contenders around the entirety of Nefk. There are longer, safer routes, and more deadly shortcuts. Vessels must beware of the giant rocs at the northeastern edge of the island, which can snap a ship's mast in half like a twig and sweep sailors away to the hungry hatchlings waiting at their cliff nests.

Ever since the men of the North Country settled the island, there has been fear of those they displaced for the land. They arrived in a time of war, coming upon a massive battle between two awesome foes. The Elves of Ydlon, steeped in mystic secrets and ethereal grace, against the twisted Tzeejg, a deadly race of shape-shifting snake men. With their forces weakened from battling the Elves, the Tzeejg were powerless to stop the men of the North Country from conquering their lands, even with their black sorcery. They were slain by the score, retreated and vanished from the face of Nefk. The remnants of their gilded cities stand like watchful sentinels all over the island. The Elves retired to their island home of Ydlon.

There are whispers that the Tzeejg will rise again, that they brew powerful magic and muster their serpentine forces, that they are even now among the people of Suntha, using their shape-shifting powers to disguise themselves and weave a cloak of deceit and lies over the town.