Friday, March 22, 2013

Tekumel's Underworld and Demonland

       Scattered over Tekumel are innumerable half-buried, half-forgotten ruins. There are fragments dating back to the prehuman ages, when the Ssu and the Hlyss vied with one another for control; there are tunnels of melted rock and steel constructed during the days of man's first glory; there are jumbled heaps destroyed by the cataclysms which rent Tekumel when the planet was cast into outer dimensional darkness; there are catacombs and subterranean labyrinths dating from more recent empires, cities, temples, pyramids, and fortresses dedicated to the lost and unremembered gods of half a hundred kingdoms . Another factor is the custom of Ditlana, the ceremonial "renewing" of many cities every 500 years: cellars and foundations of an old city are filled in and roofed over, upper floors are razed, and then new and more splendid edifices are built upon this foundation. Such earlier buried habitations are now full of burrows and tunnels built by humans, half-humans, nonhumans, and the many parasites and predators of Tekumel who subsist upon man's leavings. Many earlier temples to the Gods of Tekumel - particularly those allied with "evil" - are still maintained in the Underworlds beneath the sprawling modern cities, and it is in these that many of the rich treasures of the ancients are preserved.
       Within the city precincts of Jakalla itself there are entrances to the "Underworld," for this is "the City Half as Old as the World," Princess of the River, Mistress of Cities. Outside of Jakalla lies the City of the Dead, where the Kings of the Bednallja Dynasty sleep the long black sleep secure in their mighty pyramids, guarded with care by the creations of the secret Priesthood of Ksarul. Treasures are to be found beneath these crumbling monuments, men say, and also a variety of hideous deaths at the hands of these undying guardians. "Sweet is the harbour, but Death is the ferryman," as the old Tsolyani proverb has it . . .
       There are many ruined cities, thus, throughout the lands of Tekumel. Taking just the terrain map showing Tsolyanu itself, there are the following to be explored:
·         Hex 2713: the Fortress of Hrugga, Mighty Warrior of the Gods
·         Hex 2813: the City of Ngala, where deadly Hrihayal waits for her demon lover
·         Hex 2831: the timeworn ruins of grim Ssuganar, first capital of the dreaded Ssu
·         Hex 2106: the half-submerged city of Engsvan hla Ganga, City of Wizards and Capital of the Golden Age
·         Hex 3607: the curious city of Hnakyal, where dwells He Who Has No Tail, the subject of many ancient and terrible legends
·         Hex 3503: the First Temple of Vimuhla, the Fire-God of the Ancients
·         Hex 4113: the Temple of hideous Sarku, Lord of Worms
·         Hex 5532: the City Beneath the Lake, capital of the extinct Webbed Ones
·         Hex 3530: the haunted capital of the Hlaka Kings, where no now Hlaka dares enter
·         Hex 6029: the walled ruins of the Mad City of Du'un.
       Aside from these, many inhabited cities of the human empires are underlaid with labyrinths as well: below the city of Fasiltum, City of the Chiming Skulls ; beneath corrupt and secret Purdimal, lost in its half-human rituals of evil; and beneath mighty Bey Sy herself, capital of the Empire of Tsolyanu, even though she was built only some 2,000 years past . Other lands have their comparable subterranean mazes and treasure troves, and there are many smaller caches and ruins here and there across the lands of Tekumel . It will be up to individual referees to develop these and introduce them to their players as opportunity arises .

I love this illustration, although I think Kent may have ruined it forever.

That's just about the most evocative half-page ever. I think I'll take this and madlib all the proper names I'm not too fond of, and use it otherwise word-for-word. "For what?" you might ask... Well, I've been spending the past few days pondering turning that Demonlord map into a little sandbox. I'll set it on the same planet as Outland, and probably still run it using DCC, but make a few tweaks to some things. I've likewise erased all the place names from the Demonlord map, so I can pop in some names I like better. I'm thinking an Eddison's Mercury meets Zothique meets Tekumel sort of thing. I'll call it Demonland, since centuries of war between men and demons over control of the land will be the underlying theme (and the cause for all those ruins to explore). For classes, I think I want to try to keep it to just Warrior/Wizard(Sorcerer?)/Thief and perhaps have Tieflings/Half-Demons as mostly-just-reskinned elves. Although I think I want to take the Eddison route of having most of the demon types cosmetically identical to men. This is weird for me, because I've never really gone the all-human route, and in fact I've always made fun of people who do that in their games. But as they say, "Don't knock it until you try it." I'm curious to see how my home group responds to this little experiment. Here is what I anticipate:

ME: "So everyone is humans, or you can be a half-demon but you still look like a human."
ONE OF THEM: "Can I be a xorn?"
ME: "..."
ME: "Aw sure, fuck it, why not."

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Oh DCC, You So Crazy!

So guess who wins in this fight:

Side A:
Cleric, 6th level
Warrior, 4th level
Halfling, 1st level


Side B:
A Motherfucking Pathfinder BEBILITH*

I put this monster in a dead-end in the dungeon, sort of like an optional thing that would likely take one or two guys out, become some sort of challenge to get the bodies out so they could hopefully be revived in time, and teach the players a lesson about attacking everything they find. Sure, I knew that if they really put their minds to it, they could defeat this guy, but I honestly didn't expect them to go through the trouble. Little did I know that the cleric would cast bless right before the room this monster lives in so they could have an easier time getting across the 15' chasm they had to cross, and get a high spell check that resulted in everyone getting a +9 to all their rolls for one turn. They knew that something horrible was in there since the door was basically in shreds already, but they wanted to take advantage of the opportunity, so they rushed right in and threw something (a rock I think) down the sinkhole into the abyssal cavern below where the thing lives. Up it comes, and the cleric readies his "Bolt from the Blue" (or whatever it's called) spell. He gets some crazy-ass roll and lights the fucker up with 6d12 damage right off the bat. The warrior gets a minor shot in, and the 1st-level halfling, not feeling very sure of himself, tosses a grub that he had found earlier and carefully collected in a flask (a rot grub, but the players didn't know). I secretly rolled a d4 to see how long it would take the rot grub to penetrate the monster and start jacking it up - 2 rounds. Then the bebilith gets its turn, and hits with all 3 attacks on the halfling. Just the damage from the bite was enough to take him down, plus he's afflicted with a terrible bebilith rot. New round, players win initiative. Cleric uses his big action die for another Bolt from the Blue, figuring the +9 will be good enough to allow him to safely use his smaller d14 action die for healing the halfling and preventing death in the one-round grace period the DCC rules offer a 1st-level PC. He makes another crazy roll and scores another 6d12 damage on the monster, causing a (what should be very easy) morale check. The monster fails the morale check and begins to retreat down into its hole. I give the two standing party members free parting shots, both of which amazingly hit the AC 22 beast. It has 2 hp at this point. The cleric heals up the halfling, and follows that up with neutralize disease/poison to get rid of the rot. Guess what happens next. The rot grub finds its mark, and the rest is history.

Un-fucking-believable! This monster is supposed to challenge four 10th-level Pathfinder PCs, and these three DCC scrubs kicked the shit out of it. It could have ended very differently of course, with the ground being covered with tears and broken sets of magical armor, but it didn't. It was awesome.

*I ran the monster with only two minor changes - I capped the attack bonus at +10, and treated its DR10/Good as DR10/Magic, since there are no good-aligned weapons in my game. It didn't matter anyways, since every attack it actually made landed, but I figured full disclosure was in order.

GaryCon V

So I just got done spending my Thursday, Friday, and Saturday up at GaryCon V. It just keeps getting better and better, but this year the hotel was busting at the seams with nerds, so my fear is that they will move it somewhere else. Sure, that somewhere else could end up being better, but I really like the venue they've been having it at, and I don't deal well with change. Anyhow, I digress.

So this was my third year there, and it was really cool to see so many people who I pretty much only know through the con. This was also the first year I bothered to register for any events beforehand, so I got to get into some really neat games. Here's the rundown:

On Thursday, I played Lost City of the Elders with Rob Kuntz. I could write volumes about this game alone. It was a really interesting and creative adventure. If you enjoy exploring a very unique setting, performing lots of tests to figure out how everyday things we take for granted work differently (such as gravity and time), while taking in the scenery and avoiding things that will annihilate you in the blink of an eye, you would love Rob's game. On top of it all, he has a pretty good sense of humor and is fun to be around. I can say with certainty that his game is not for everyone, but I enjoyed it very much. We all had a good laugh when everyone got teleported to this giant flaming black-hole-thing in a fiery-hot cavern, likely in space or something, and Rob said, "I hope you brought your asbestos suits!" What makes this funny is that I was playing this character, which had been pre-approved by Rob a few days beforehand. Apparently he just skimmed over it and didn't realize that I had asbestos armor and a blaster rifle.

On Friday I had two games, the first of which was Return to Ram's Horn Castle with Mike Mornard. I'll be perfectly honest, in the first five minutes I thought Mr. Mornard was sort of a dick. There are any number of feasible explanations for this first impression, but it's all academic, because once we hunkered down and got to playing, all that melted away and we had an awesome time. This was an old-fashioned dungeon crawl in stark contrast to the previous game I had played in. We rolled up characters 3d6 in order, 3d6 x 10 gold pieces, bought equipment and set out. No character sheets. Everyone just used little scratch pads or whatever was available - borrowing pencils from each other, passing around the single copy of Men & Magic I had brought with... it was glorious. I had never played in an OD&D game that hewed so closely to the rules as written. As far as I could tell, the only house rule that was in use was crits and fumbles. He even rolled wandering monsters on those shitty OD&D charts! Afterwards, Mike allowed me to take a photo of his dungeon map, which was originally drawn in the early to mid-seventies. I wish I could post it, but he asked that I not post it on the web, so I will honor his wishes. The only thing I will say is that there is a series of corridors that spells out the word "BARF". Sorry, but that's fucking awesome. It was amazing to me at this point that I was able to play in two games so starkly different, yet both very enjoyable. On the following night, I got the opportunity to buy Mike a beer and bullshit with him and another gentlemen for about an hour. I really love hearing stories, and no one can tell a story quite like a long-time gamer.

My Friday late game was Jakallan Underworld (EPT) with Victor Raymond. This was my first chance ever getting to play EPT, and it didn't disappoint. I guess there was a bit of a kerfuffle about our assigned table not being available, but we ended up at a different table in a quieter room, so I consider it a win. We started out naked and imprisoned by some weird death cult (there's a fancy Tekumel name for them, but I don't recall). One guy had an intelligent demon-sword that was able to make itself invisible, so at least we had that. Anyways, figuring how to get out of the place was really challenging, and I was still naked by the time the adventure was over. I "won" a copy of Professor Barker's Man of Gold, and I am very excited to read it. Honestly, I think one of the other players was just as deserving if not more so, so I think I'll mail it to him once I've read it. The game did get rather crazy, and many of us were spread out all over the place. I really did have that sinking feeling of "Oh shit we're totally fucked!" throughout the game, so Mr. Raymond gets big points for conveying the atmosphere. Afterwards, Victor shared stories with us about his many years of gaming. He is a very interesting fellow and has a lot to talk about, so if you are ever able to catch him at a con, I highly recommend signing up for one of his games.

My Saturday kicked off with a short seminar about Castle Greyhawk that was run by Paul Stormberg, Jeff Talanian, and Allan Grohe. This was a new thing they did this year at the con, and I hope to see more of these panels in the future. It was really interesting, even for someone like myself who isn't much of a Greyhawk nerd. My favorite thing about it was of course the many and varied stories that were shared about play in Greyhawk, anecdotes about Gary, and that sort of stuff.

My last scheduled game was to be DCC with Michael Curtis, but due to an unfortunate series of events, he was not able to run the game. As a consolation prize, we played some off-the-cuff DCC with Doug Kovacs, the DCC cover artist. This turned out to be a bat-shit crazy murderhobo game set in the streets of Punjar, where our objective was simply to commit a crime so that we could eat. The game featured a Dave Mustaine bartender, a Christopher Walken necromancer, a pick pockets roll that resulted in the acquisition and later consumption of illicit drugs, the attempted burglarization of a brothel, and an unprovoked backstabbing of a grossly overweight john that was in the midst of being serviced. This was a junior high D&D game on acid. I can take the lion's share of credit/blame for it turning out that way, but I do hope the other players had fun. I certainly did, but I could see certain straight-laced gamer types perhaps being a bit weirded out by the whole thing. It all ended in a betrayal by one of the PCs, followed shortly thereafter by a glorious battle in the upstairs hallway of the brothel, with the end result being a well-deserved TPK. It was sort of poetic.

Hi, I'm Dave Mustaine. Can I get you a beverage?

Finally, I played my last game, which was an event called The Tower of Gygax, where you are put in a dungeon for being a criminal of some sort and have to find your way out to gain your freedom, or die horribly while trying. There was a handful of young boys playing in this game - perhaps 10-13 or somewhere thereabouts - and they were doing shots of 5-hour energy and doing the math like, "I got 20 hours of energy!" There was definitely more profanity in this hour-long game than I had otherwise heard all weekend, so it was pretty hilarious. There was a dad there with his younger son (maybe 8?) as well, and I was amazed that he kept his wits about him throughout the whole thing. The place was full of guess-what-I'm-thinking challenges and Tomb of Horrors-style gotcha traps, but was enjoyable nonetheless. I ended up dying by going blindly into a portal because I didn't want to take a leap of faith into some cleric/paladin fire thingy, and that was the solution the room's key called for. Whatevs!

I could go on and on about the event, the fascinating (sometimes fascinatingly weird) people, the hilarious shit that happens, but it's getting late and I must get to bed. So here, have a few pictures at least.

GaryCon V Photo Album