Monday, October 23, 2017

OSR Commentary On The Assasin's Webs Of 'B6 The Veiled Society' By David 'Zeb' Cook For Your Old School Campaigns

"The widow insists there are demons in her house. She hears them at night in her root cellar, and now they call out to her. But she is old and nervous and her mind often plays tricks on her.
Two men, their heads fully sheathed in large, black hoods, dig quickly in the darkness of the cellar. The hole grows deeper as their shovels bite into the earth. "This will teach those meddlers their place," the shorter, slim figure says haltingly.

"But don't you see the advantage?" snaps the tall man. "They will fear us now. They will fear for their lives."
Grunting, they heave a sailcloth bundle into the hole. As it falls, a woman's hand dangles lifelessly form the folds.
Who is the woman? Why will her death trigger riots and unrest in the city of Specularum? And the assassins: Are they Torenescu, Radu, or Vorloi? Or, curse of curses, the Veiled Society?"

I've been thinking today about B6 'The Veiled Society' By David 'Zeb' Cook & its  placement within a Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea Second edition Hyperborean campaign. Yeah I know its supposedly only going to fit in Hyperborea when its set in Specularum, the capitol of the Grand Duchy of Karameikos. So what if we gut the module & turn the city of Specularum into Khormarium. The PC's are going to find themselves in a three sided triangle war with the the Veiled Society. The adventure is a bit rail roadie & somewhat melodramatic in places but this is truly an urban adventure. Everything in B6 The Veil Society needs to be punched up for a Swords & Sorcery adventure. Because B6 is an event driven adventure it needs a bit more action to act as glue between events. I've run The Veiled Society as an assassin driven adventure & made the  Vorloi, Radu, and Torenescu families Atlantian royal survival families in
Khormarium & played out several assassination plots twisted around these families of infamous kings, rogues and black wizards playing amid the ruins of once great nations. I would take B6 in a more Clark Ashton Smith direction making Khormarium the playground of assassins & thieves guilds. Take one part Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet & mix liberally with Sword & Sorcery elements. But there's a bit of extra seasoning to add. 

I was watching the original film production of The Phantom of the Opera from 1925; part of the focus on the film was the urban, and underworld aspect of the film that reminded me of B6. The pulpy elements of the film are a bit melodramatic but its the mysterious nature of the Veiled Society that has plenty of room for DYI elements. In fact a rather interesting bit was suggested by a friend of mine last night. Could a mysterious lich like being actually be behind the events of B6? Someone with a similar origin point to 'Phantom'? It was this bit from Wiki that got me thinking; "he is an escapee from Devil's Island and an expert in "the Black Arts". Could the Phantom be molded into a Sword & Sorcery lich operating, manipulating, and playing everyone in the module?
Who better to head up the  assassin's guilds & be manipulating the families of the 'Veiled Society'  from the shadows.

Khormarium's population would be closer to 60,000 then the usual 5,000 from the original module. This is more in keeping with the Bruce Heard TSR Gazetteer products estimates & makes far more sense for an urban pulp Sword & Sorcery tale. The underworld of
Khormarium would be a massive and rather ruinous affair with the original city being built on top of by the humans who took over the capital. At the heart of the adventure is the
a struggle between the city's three major families (the Vorloi, Radu, and Torenescu) each of which is using the dungeons, ruins, etc. under the city to further their own ends. This brings up the 1943 Claude Rains Phantom of the Opera  poster which really brought this idea home last night.

B6 could be used to create killers & assassins murdering each other in the ruins of a crumbling empire while a fiend manipulates the whole affair from the shadows in a sick game of chess with real people. The
Veiled Society has spies everywhere so this becomes a three tiered game of spy vs spy with adventurers caught in the war unaware of their position. Their decisions have dire consequences & real costs.

Khormarium could be like Rome in the 6th century with parts of it abandoned & hundreds of tombs, vaults, etc. all holding treasures, demons, etc. that these families have been fighting over. There has to be more modivation for the PC's to become involved in the events of B6. This is an adventure that could lead to a far more extended campaign if used correctly. With a bit of work on the DM's part B6 The Veiled Society could be molded into a pulpy urban Sword & Sorcery adventure with some real edge to it. Just more Halloween fodder for your old school games.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

1d7 Random Dangerous Alien & Weird Damned Souls Table For Your Old School Campaigns

There are echoes of ancient lost souls & civilizations that exist on the fringes of the world, places that no man can or should visit but adventurers & outlaws frequently trespass. These are alien places left over from from things & beings who have passed beyond the turn of the wheel. These beings have lost themselves to the darkness of time. Those who dally with such sites risk the anger of ancient gods & alien soul guardians
"Now as the twilight's doubtful interval
Closes with night's accomplished certainty,
A wizard wind goes crying eerily,
And on the wold misshapen shadows crawl,
Miming the trees, whose voices climb and fall,
Imploring, in Sabbatic ecstacy,
The sky where vapor-mounted phantoms flee
From the scythed moon impendent over all.

Twin veils of covering cloud and silence, thrown
Across the movement and the sound of things,
Make blank the night, till in the broken west
The moon's ensanguined blade awhile is shown....
The night grows whole again....The shadows rest,
Gathered beneath a greater shadow's wings."

The Eldritch Dark  (1912)  by Clark Ashton Smith

Those who dare to cross in to the bounds of such places risk not only life & limb but their very existence & souls. Things from across space & time feel on the foolish, the unwary, and the stupid. Those adventurers who die in places caught between life, death, & the Outer Darkness become worse monsters. Beings whose very existence is one of damnation & unending horror.

Anyone coming into contact with undead monsters such as these risk a curse of highly dangerous circumstance. Often this curse can take the form of an unending looping hell of repeating time in which the victim repeats their own actions that lead to their demise. The undead spirits and demonic entities that create such circumstances place their victims in these weird looping limbos to feed off of the very soul stuffs of their victims. Some victims can escape with a save vs death to realize the cold hell they find themselves in.

These cold dead Hells are near the Outer Darkness where thousands of souls are trapped within 'weird time', this strange time exists outside of the normal flow of time crossing into the boundries of the 'real' at certain key points. Undead and alien ghosts often make their homes here feeding off the strange occult energies that such places produce. There are often strange & wily treasures in such places worth from 30,000 to 60,000 gold pieces to the right collectors of such occult & esoteric wares. But beware for many of these items are cursed and very dangerous.

Where mandrakes, crying from the moonless fen,
Told how a witch, with eyes of owl or bat,
Found, and each root maleficently fat
Pulled for her waiting cauldron, on my ken
Upstole, escaping to the world of men,
A vapor as of some infernal vat;
Across the stars it clomb, and caught thereat
As if their bright regard to veil again.

Despite the web, methought they knew, appalled,
The stealthier weft in which all sound was still. . . .
Then sprang, as if the night found breath anew
A wind whereby the stars were disenthralled. . . .
Far off, I heard the cry of frustrate ill,
A witch that wailed above her curdled brew.
Averted Malefice  (1912)  by Clark Ashton Smith

Here then are seven damned souls of horrid and dangerously cursed aspect caught in the cold limbos and weird circumstances outside of the normal & the weird. These spirits are often level drainers who feed on the souls of those who blunder into such fringe areas.

1d7 Random Dangerous Alien & Weird Damned Souls Table 

  1. An ancient Amazon adventress that once crossed the bounds between her god's temple & Hell. She was caught in the wrath of her goddess for loving one of the temple priests. Now 10,000 years later she is a phantom that haunts the ancient temple grounds seeking revenge on the living. 
  2. An ancient wizard of high power was turned into a wraith of incredible power by his Lovecraftian god for murdering the god's son. The wraith is called 'Old Red Eyes' and sits outside of time hunting the souls of those who die by its power that has cursed the area. It has a treasure worth 70,000 gold pieces. 
  3. An ancient mariner from a lost world was wrecked upon the grounds of this place thousands of years ago. Now he's back as a time lost ghost able to level drain the youth and vitality of anyone who blunders into its turf. The monster has a treasure of sizable wealth and incredible aspect worth 80,000 gold pieces. 
  4. This ancient horror that was a man has forgotten its original purpose and identity. The thing is now nothing but an ancient damned soul that takes the form of ancient ghost that will eat the souls of the young. The thing has a diamond worth 50,000 gold pieces to lure in the living. 
  5. An ancient astral parasite that has taken on aspects of ancient Amazon princess that lived a thousand years ago. The thing sucks the will to live from the living. 
  6. This ancient power seeks the key part of itself lost for over seven thousand years. It was once a powerful lich but now its a mere shadow of itself. Its power is restored when it drains the soul of one pure of heart. This horror often seeks heroes and mad men as victims, its treasure is worth 50,000 gold pieces. 
  7. An ancient echo of a former god now fallen down to the lowest point as demonic ghost that drains souls of all vital energies. This thing now has the form of an ancient warrior princess & her memories but the thing is so alien that it often shape shifts after feeding or performing powerful black magick ceremonies.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Osr Commentary - Rumbles From The Caves of Chaos - B2 The Keep On The Borderlands As Old School Sword & Sorcery Campaign

" The PC's are based at a keep & investigate a nearby series of caves that are filled with a variety of  Chaos  monsters.The Cult of Chaos has been on the move! ""The Keep on the Borderlands is a Dungeons & Dragons module by Gary Gygax, first printed in December 1979. In it, player characters are based at a keep and investigate a nearby series of caves that are filled with a variety of monsters. It was designed to be used with the Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set, and was included in the 1979–1982 editions of the Basic Set. It was designed for people new to Dungeons & Dragons."

This is the classic D&D module!  The wide open full "sandbox" nature of the setting makes it suitable to drop into almost any campaign and especially Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerer of Hyperborea second edition. The keep is a perfect venue for PC's  for characters to base themselves in before setting out to explore the Caves of Chaos!


" (H]e described a sort of pool with a margin of mud that was marled with obscene offal; and in the pool a grayish, horrid mass that nearly choked it from rim to rim... Here, it seemed, was the ultimate source of all miscreation and abomination. For the gray mass quobbed and quivered, and swelled perpetually; and from it, in manifold fission, were spawned the anatomies that crept away on every side through the grotto. There were things like bodiless legs or arms that flailed in the slime, or heads that rolled, or floundering bellies with fishes' fins; and all manner of things malformed and monstrous, that grew in size as they departed from the neighborhood of Abhoth. And those that swam not swiftly ashore when they fell into the pool from Abhoth, were devoured by mouths that gaped in the parent bulk.
Clark Ashton Smith, The Seven Geases"

Forget little villages of humanoids, these forces are fully formed and birthed out into the world ready to take down Hyperborea at a moment's notice. The cult of the elemental evil religion is insidious because of the way that it spreads its power from village to village through the lowest ranks. The spreading of it has enabled the consolidation of power. This rise of power centers around the humanoids of B2. I think that there might be demonic influence from behind the scenes.

B1 can be the jump off point to really excel a campaign into legendary status where heroes are being hunted by the forces of darkness leading back into the adventure arch of the Temple of Elemental Evil. The forces are beginning to swell again as rank after rank is filled by vast numbers of humanoids. The caves of Chaos is the key to really bringing home the fact that the whole area is rife with agents and fifth columnists.

All in all this set up and adventure arch is perfectly timed to bring even the strongest players to their knees. Betrayal, background maneuvering, double dealing, assassinations, etc. are all a part of B2 Keep on the Borderlands. The adventure that you cut your teeth on is now a puzzle piece in an ever expanding Sword & Sorcery campaign waiting to happen!

'The Klystron Relays Affair' - Actual Halloween OSR Play Event -

Tonight wasn't your typical Astonishing Swordmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea game session; instead everyone played a space ranger (read fighter) for a great Halloween game when my friend Steve blew into town on a Thursday night.

During tonight's adventure within Tegel Manor I had a party of adventurers in what they thought was a standard '30's pulpy science fiction romp. Nothing could be farther then the truth as our adventurers entered the haunted halls with simple blasters drawn! Yes that's right it was a quick Halloween themed game with our heroes drawn through a worm hole into the haunted halls of my version of Tegel Manor!

Our heroes managed to escape death at the hands of two spectres & a bunch of wraiths in a pantry of the house. They went looking for a set of klystron relays for their ether ship and barely managed to dodge a vampire's advances and attack. The vampire claimed two members of the good ship USS Monroe before being chased off by zeta ray blasts.

The party managed to get to one set of  klystron relays from the laboratories within the manor that belonged to an alchemist who had a set of the relays which he had traded some alchemically made gold for. The party had to fight their way past a group of serpent men who were going to raid the lab for certain herbal chemicals. The resulting fire fight destroyed or set on fire at least two rooms before being doused by a handy spell scroll. Most of the party of adventurers made it back to the wormhole gate & back to the USS Monroe with little effort. But not all of them made it through. Four of the away team were left behind and faced down a nasty surprise.
After the smoke break I unleashed my second nasty surprise a stone cold killer from the free Neoplastic Press's Night of the Slashers OSR rpg . Earlier in the day I had generated a strange faceless killer from the dice drop & minimalist rules of the game in about ten minutes.

'The Samhain man' took out two PC's with silver plated hooked short swords & managed to get himself eaten my a man eating plant in the solarium. But he came back after 7 rounds for more punishment. Bits & pieces of the killer kept dropping off because of repeated blaster fire but he kept coming until the party found his strange puzzle box shaped relic that returned his vengeful spirit to Hell.
 'The Samhain man' has a special pair of relic short sword weapons called 'Moonbeam' & 'Cold Gaze' both of these blades are magical weapons of +2 enchantment. They are made of solid steel etched & plated with silver. Should they be lost from the killer's hands they will teleport back to him in two rounds. They are thirsty blades & anyone picking up must make a save vs spells roll or be inflicted with a murderous blood lust & berserk rage. In this state the wielder of the blades gains a +1 to all melee attacks. 
The PC's made it back to the Monroe and survived the evening but another party of fools errm adventurers has to face the vengeful spirit of  'The Samhain man' on Saturday night!

Thursday, October 19, 2017

OSR Commentary - Dark Albion As Clark Ashton Smith Science Fantasy Campaign

So Rpg Pundit talked about using his Dark Albion books for a complete Science Fiction campaign & mixing it with White Star. Yeah I don't think so, sorry Pundit I think that White Star is far more 'Star Wars' then 'the Dune like' complexities of Dark Albion. And no I don't think 40K is even a remotely good vehicle for this style of campaign. 'Dark Albion's' take on Chaos is far more nuanced & far less of the nihilist double bladed sword approach that the 40K universe takes. So put it in park as I take you on a far weirder tour of another epoch of  a Weird Tales style campaign with a side angle of Clark Ashton Smith's Zothique , Dark Albion, & Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea Second Edition. Now bare in mind that the following is a thought exercise. Your going to need both Dark Albion & Cults of Chaos for this because they work very well with AS&SH first & second edition.

When we begin looking into Zothique through the letters of Clark Ashton Smith there's an interesting clue.
Clark Ashton Smith himself described the Zothique cycle in a letter to L. Sprague de Camp, dated November 3, 1953: "Zothique, vaguely suggested by Theosophic theories about past and future continents, is the last inhabited continent of earth. The continents of our present cycle have sunken, perhaps several times. Some have remained submerged; others have re-risen, partially, and re-arranged themselves. Zothique, as I conceive it, comprises Asia Minor, Arabia, Persia, India, parts of northern and eastern Africa, and much of the Indonesian archipelago. A new Australia exists somewhere to the south. To the west, there are only a few known islands, such as Naat, in which the black cannibals survive. To the north, are immense unexplored deserts; to the east, an immense unvoyaged sea. The peoples are mainly of Aryan or Semitic descent; but there is a negro kingdom (Ilcar) in the north-west; and scattered blacks are found throughout the other countries, mainly in palace-harems. In the southern islands survive vestiges of Indonesian or Malayan races. The science and machinery of our present civilization have long been forgotten, together with our present religions. But many gods are worshipped; and sorcery and demonism prevail again as in ancient days. Oars and sails alone are used by mariners. There are no fire-arms—only the bows, arrows, swords, javelins, etc. of antiquity. The chief language spoken (of which I have provided examples in an unpublished drama) is based on Indo-European roots and is highly inflected, like Sanskrit, Greek and Latin."

This campaign is going to be a prequel to the events & stories of Zothique in keeping with the Theosophic theories about past and future cycles of history. Now imagine if you will that in the chaos following Hyperborea leaving for space as mankind is cast into ruins. Feudalism comes back into vague as the ruling style of government & the old gods return. Sorcery and demonism prevail again in the disasters that follow. Think less 'Thundarr The Barbarian' and far more classic CAS. Mankind barely hangs on to the secrets of gunpowder as sword play & feudal warfare becomes the order of the day. What was France has fallen to the toad god and its demonic ilk. The Unconquered Sun shows brightly on the face of his chosen and what was England's history is a mix of Rome Empire ancestor & history worship. Fashions of the past are in vogue and Albion is barely hanging on. Couple this with the fact that the Elves of Dark Albion are crawling from their caves & round hills to claim  humans as their own through cults and whatnot. All of the while undermining the empire from within.

Artifacts & relics of bygone eras are worth a king's ransom & adventurers are risking everything in the caverns, caves, and ruins for anything of the so called 'golden ages of mankind'.  The countrysides & deserts are rife with cults of Chaos & decedent goings on as magick with a 'K' creeps back into the world. Inquisitors are busy as sin trying to root out the frog god's cells & the Deep Ones infiltration of the ports & trade routes.

Don't get rid of the gun powder or siege weapons  because its needed to face down some of the horrors that have been seen out at sea.  This is a time of ruin & kings as an Empire here teeters on the brink of down fall under a bloated red sun!
Real world history events here play out just as they would lock stock and social tiers.

To flip this campaign concept further on its ear this could take place thousands of years before the events of Zothique at the height of the Hyperborean empire. The Hyperboreans are on the wane & the humans are beginning to flex their muscles in government & trade again. Cults of Elven worshipers are undermining the Hyperboreans rule with heretical cults offering an alternative as a Dune like dizzying array of characters play feudal chess with the governments. At the edge of the empires inhuman things are creeping in as demon worship threatens everything even remotely human. France threatens to invade as cells of frog cultists and worse act as 'fifth columnists throughout the countryside with inquisitors and adventurers trying to ferret them out.

Ancient monsters such as vampires, lamia, etc. which haven't been seen for two thousand years now rule empires of barbarians towards what was once Russia & Romania. They're sweet offers of alliance & worse are warned about in the highest levels of the court. Meanwhile there are rumors of fragments of Hyperborea that the astrologers have seen in the skies. Inquisitors descend upon royal cells as demons whisper sweet nothings of advise to druids in sacred groves and many others in throne rooms across what was Europe.
Forget not using Dark Albion rule book your going to need it due to several factors:
1. Even lower level PC's are going to have an effect on the world setting around them 
2. The magic & occult of Dark Albion doesn't really impact AS&SH's magic system in fact in some respects it enhances it. 
3. Alchemy could play a great deal in the setting. DM's are going to have to divide out how and where its impact might greatly be felt.
4. Gunpowder isn't going to make all that much difference to game play and in a world where fire balls can be used might be a detriment of epic proportions. 
5. Dungeon masters should take a look at Clark Ashton Smith's Averoigne story cycles for some possible inspirations & adventures to crossover with this campaign.
6. DM's should use the artifacts & relics of AS&SH sparingly because they can literally change the course of the Rose War. 

7. CAS's cycles of science fantasy lend them well to having this style of campaign perhaps being a place where AS&SH adventurers might visit or die? 

Of course all of this is simply a thought exercise to see how far the Dark Albion setting can be taken along with my love of Clark Ashton Smith's literary work. Not to mention my love the new Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea second edition which lots of people are gushing about these days.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

1d7 Random Dire Encounters With The Undead Table For Your Old School Campaigns

"In relating the circumstances which have led to my confinement within this refuge for the demented, I am aware that my present position will create a natural doubt of the authenticity of my narrative. It is an unfortunate fact that the bulk of humanity is too limited in its mental vision to weigh with patience and intelligence those isolated phenomena, seen and felt only by a psychologically sensitive few, which lie outside its common experience. Men of broader intellect know that there is no sharp distinction betwixt the real and the unreal; that all things appear as they do only by virtue of the delicate individual physical and mental media through which we are made conscious of them; but the prosaic materialism of the majority condemns as madness the flashes of super-sight which penetrate the common veil of obvious empiricism."
HP Lovecraft
"The Tomb" - Written Jun 1917; first published in The Vagrant, No. 14 (March 1922)

There are those whose adventures cross the boundaries between realms of life & death. Those who are half way become a menace to all life. These beings are more monster in spirit then thought or deed. This makes them all the more dangerous. For theirs is a hunger that no mortal flesh can satisfy instead they hunger for the souls of human kind. That spark of life & youth is what they long for and they will do anything to satisfy that hunger which can never be. Adventurers, outlaws, & fools who cross the boundaries of life & death often encounter those who have crossed into this strange place of existence.

"There now ensued a series of incidents which transported me to the opposite extremes of ecstasy and horror; incidents which I tremble to recall and dare not seek to interpret."

HP Lovecraft

These are spirits caught between life & the cold dead Hells of the Outer Darkness. These spirits are dangerous in the extreme and should be viewed with extreme caution. There are often treasures or artifacts that these spirits might be bound to worth at least several thousand gold pieces. Many of these undead scum are level drainers or worse. These beings are often former adventurers who have become trapped in the reality rending horrors of the Outer Darkness.
1d7 Random Dire Encounters With The Undead Table 
  1. A former Hyperborean traveler has run afoul of the most dire of liches. This being is a now a dangerous wight and consciously hunts those who cross into its demi plane domain. It often collects the valuables of its victims having about 6000 gold pieces within its lair. 
  2. An Amazonin princess has subcombed to a round of ghoul plague and now hunts her former students. She loves to silently kill and eat her victims. She has a price of 20000 gold pieces on her head in two different realities. 
  3. This being is a former cavern explorer who was caught in a strange pan dimensional gate accident. Now she hunts the caves and caverns of mankind. When she catches a victim she skins the fool. She uses ancient black magick to shape shift into her victims & then take on their lives. 
  4. A black pool of goo is actually a level draining monster. She chooses  her victims due to acts of kindness and tries to murder them. She is only partially a part of this reality and is actually a ghost of very dangerous aspect. 
  5. Shadow demon whose former soul was freed in a raid by a group of adventurers. She now stalks specific adventurers in order to them down for her dark masters. She has all of the terrible wraith of her demonic patrons & she hasn't left single coin or the treasure behind . 
  6. A pit demon consumed the face of a former Hyperborean noblemen and now is the terrible tyrant of the myths & legends of the former royals She has stashed over 60,000 gold pieces in loot and treasure.
  7. This former Hyperborean prince is now a lich of dangerous aspect and loves to kill those that cross his path. He loves to hunt those who use magick and cunning to evade the tricks and traps of the old monsters. This being loves the hunt more then anything plus he can use super science technology and relics to even the odds with his prey.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Clark Ashton Smith's Zothique As Old School Campaign Destination

"the sun no longer shone with the whiteness of its prime, but was dim and tarnished as if with a vapor of blood. New stars without number had declared themselves in the heavens, and the shadows of the infinite had drawn closer. And out of the shadows, the older gods had returned to man…. And the elder demons had also returned, battering on the fumes of evil sacrifices, and fostering again the primordial sorceries."

Clark Ashton Smith

The Zothique stories are some of my favorite Clark Ashton Smith pieces that I've read over the years. The dead outnumber the living & adventurers are not as much in evidence. Yet I keep finding myself wondering if there are connections between the demonic planar scum that feed on the bones of the Earth during the time of Zothique & the alien entities of C.L. Moore's North West Smith space stories.

  Yet somehow I'm left with the gut feeling that 'Zothique' exists as an alternative Earth location  or adjunct location to Hyperborea within my own 'Old Solar System' campaign. If Hyperborea is waning under the Hellish eye of  Cykranosh ( Saturn ) then Zothique is one step away in another dimension or an alternative time line. 

Smith tells his tales with a gusto of vocabulary & vividness of a fever dream  that takes the reader on a delirious journey into his far future world. I'm often left feeling that there's far more going on below the surface of these tales, the irony & cruelty is both enticing & frustrating. I've written about Io being perhaps the Hyperboreans weapons testing facility within my home campaign. 
Yet the far future happenings of 'Isle of the Torturers' shows the mirroring cycles of events from 'The Silver Death’ — on the city of Yoros to the shadow of death from the ghastly events in the  city of Zul-Bha-Sair in the story “The Charnel God”
The dread sorcerer Namirrha of the story "The Dark Eidolon" is exactly the sort of wizard that might be socializing  with the sorcerers & wizards of Jack Vance's Dying Earth series.

“The Dark Eidolon”

Completed December 1932. First published in Weird Tales, January 1935.

Yet I mentioned C.L. Moore's North West Smith at the beginning of this blog post. So what does he have to do with this? Well, many of the pseudo demonic horrors that Moore's hero fights might be far more at home in Zothique then simply the planets of the solar system. Everything in these stories goes in cycles including mankind's ascend & extinction. Death & entropy are central themes laced with irony within the Zothique cycle. This same theme plays itself out within C.L. Moore's & Leigh Brackett's solar system stories. Zothique is one of the most dangerous places in the multiverse because of the excursions of 'otherness' from the 'Outer Blackness'. Wizards have been empire building for countless centuries here.

Gnome press dust jacket for North West Smith

So could the central government of 'Old Earth' (is there such a thing as its only two minutes to midnight when the 'Stars Come Right'?) know about Zothique? Not only do they, there's possibly a twenty to fifty thousand gold piece reward for such artifacts from the crypts & vaults of the setting. Because of monsters such as the ones found in CAS's 'Weaver In The Vault' & 'The Tomb Spawn' we are left with the feeling that very few with collect such a reward. The noses of the Leigh Brackett's Terran Exploitations Company & the Earth government or Terran authorities are going to be investigating any artifacts & relics by 'top men' in their fields. After which all of these artifacts are going to be consigned to a secret warehouse some place.

Warehouse from Raiders of the Lost Ark 1981

We know that Hyperborea of Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea second edition fame is the far future of an Earth. But could there have been a Hyperborean people on Zothique which experienced the Silver Death? The answer is a resounding yes! Ulua, the daughter of the king of Tasuun, from The Witchcraft Of Ulua By CAS is one whose description perfectly fits a Hyperborean sorceress of the highest orders & they are not someone to be trifled with.
"During his first month in Miraab, Amalzain heard much of the Princess Ulua, sole daughter of Famorgh and Queen Lunalia; but since the women of the royal family seldom attended the banquets or appeared in public, he did not see her. The huge and shadowy palace, however, was filled with whispers concerning her amours. Ulua, he was told, had inherited the sorceries of her mother Lunalia, whose dark, luxurious beauty, so often sung by bewitched poets, was now fallen to a haggish decrepitude. The lovers of Ulua were innumerable, and she often procured their passion or insured their fidelity by other charms than those of her person. Though little taller than a child, she was exquisitely formed and endowed with the loveliness of some female demon that might haunt the slumbers of youth. She was feared by many and her ill will was deemed a dangerous thing. Famorgh, no less blind to her sins and witcheries than he had been to those of Lunalia, indulged her in all ways and denied her nothing."
So perhaps the 'Silver Death' caused the 'Hyperboreans' of Zothique to build vast vaults just as they had in Hyperborea. And those vaults became their tombs. There are thousands of undead or worse waiting below the sands of Zothique. But could the 'Silver Death' or 'Green Death'  have been a milady of the soul rather then simply one of the flesh? There are eerie parallels with the movie 1985 film Life Force with its alien space vampires. The comet swings around Earth depositing the 'Silver Death' plague upon  on the city of Yoros as well as perhaps Hyperborea.
What other horrors await adventurers out in the Asteroid Belt as the Boreas Winds blow through? Zothique could well become more tomb then 'world of adventure' for your party's 'heroes'

'The Derelict' from '85's film Life Force.

Adventurers journeying to Zothique are going to have to be high level, prepared for a wide variety of undead, necromanctic magick, and far worse. There are few reasons why I'd position Zothique as an adventure destination:
  1. The setting works on its own and has a richly detailed setting primed & perfect for an old school Sword & Sorcery campaign. 
  2. There are literally thousands of potential dungeon & adventure locations. 
  3. Perfect as destination for Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea second edition's higher PC levels. 
  4. There are plenty of chances for necrotic adventures with high level undead such as liches, vampires, and more. 
  5. Demons, demons, demons, the setting is rife with extraplanar demons. 
  6. Perfect store house for foul and degenerate magicks of all types.
  7. Locations are alien enough to be molded into adventure settings for popular AD&D first edition or B/X D&D adventure modules. 
  8. The weird & strange seem right around the corner. 
  9. A world setting with a definitely history with lots of holes perfect for the DM to squeeze in their own DYI D&D creations with lots of epochs of undefined time periods & empires. 
  10. The perfect setting for all of those crazy Fiend Folio Advanced Dungeons & Dragons first edition monsters.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

OSR Commentary On The Lovecraftian Aspects Of B1 In Search of The Unknown By Mike Carr For Your Old School Campaigns

" In Search of the Unknown is a module for the Dungeons & Dragons roleplaying game, designed for use with the Basic Set of rules. It was written by game designer Mike Carr and was first published in 1979 by TSR, Inc. The module details a hidden complex known as the Caverns of Quasqueton. Reviewers considered it a good quality introduction to the game that was written in the so-called dungeon crawl style, where the primary goal of the players is the exploration of a dangerous labyrinth to battle monsters and obtain treasure."

Mike Carr rolled out a classic module in the form of B1 In Search of the Unknown, there are flawed classics and this is one em.

"Many years ago two wealthy adventurers, Roghan the Fearless and Zelligar the Unknown, built a hidden complex known as the Caverns of Quasqueton. From this base, they conducted their affairs away from the prying eyes of civilization. While of questionable ethical standing, the two drove back a barbarian invasion and gained the support of locals. Eventually, they gathered their own army and went on an expedition against said enemies, where they met their demise."

I have run 'B1 In Search of  The Unknown'  way too many times to count. I dusted it off because of looking into the Sword & Sorcery rough & ready aspect of B1. I've talked about B1 many times & run it way back in January of this past year.
So when you begin to look at Roghan the Fearless and Zelligar the Unknown, then you begin to see the tale of two adventurers who were resisting the Hyperboreans in the 'Old Solar system' setting. Then the Green Death came along & killed off the adventurers and their crew. Now the reason why I chose the old version of B1 to look into is because of the conversion guidelines that were included to convert from Basic D&D to Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 1st edition.

"When B1 was released, Basic D&D was not yet its own rule system, but rather an introductory set of rules that was intended to lead players on to the original D&D game or the AD&D game. The closeness of the Basic and Advanced lines in those days is revealed in B1's earliest printings, by the inclusion of a short section that explains how to convert the adventure to AD&D. That section was removed by the time the third printing appeared in 1979, and was the last attempt to overlap the two lines."Roghan the Fearless and Zelligar the Unknown must have been generals & local powers in their own right. The Caverns of Quasqueton lay completely unfinished at the time that the Green Death struck Hyperobrea. What were they searching for? My guess is that they were specifically searching for weaponry  or artifacts left behind by one of the numerous prehuman races. Down in the lower unfinished levels are some
of the pre-filled rooms which include a museum, an arena, and grand cavern all of which points to incredible construction possibly started by others before our two adventurers moved in and took over. Many of the monsters & other residents that moved in speak of laboratories & other underground facilities. Lizardmen, troglodytes, fishmen all point to some very high level Lovecraftian race connections in the Caverns of  Quasqueton.

Fishman Jason Sholtis

So what's really going on here at
the Caverns of  Quasqueton? I believe that during the Hyperborean occupation & height of their power came across an outpost in Underborea belonging to the Great Race of Yith. "Roghan the Fearless and Zelligar the Unknown" came across this knowledge during their exploration of the region & began to exploit it to gain power towards the end of their adventuring career. That is until the Green Death turned their plans to death. Where exactly does the Green Death come from? Well,"The Isle of the Torturers" appeared in Weird Tales, March 1933  & it was not a part of the Hyperborean cycle but Clark Ashton Smith's Zothique tales.  The tale speaks of a cosmic cycle of the 'Silver Death' visiting the inhabitants of Zothique from a comet.

Could the Great Race of Yith have been experimenting to avoid dying by the strange plague of the Green Death in
the Caverns of  Quasqueton? I think so. Given their precognition abilities and time travel connections from HP Lovecraft's 'The Shadow Out of Time' its easy to see them doing everything in their power to avoid being killed by the strange powder from the sky. "Dire was the Silver Death; and none knew the secret of its contagion or the cure. Swift as the desert wind, it came into Yoros from the devastated realm of Tasuun, overtaking the very messengers who ran by night to give warning of its nearness. Those who were smitten felt an icy, freezing cold, an instant rigor, as if the outermost gulf had breathed upon them. Their faces and bodies whitened strangely, gleaming with a wan luster, and became stiff as long-dead corpses, all in an interim of minutes.

In the streets of Silpon and Siloar, and in Faraad, the capital of Yoros, the plague passed like an eery, glittering light from countenance to countenance under the golden lamps; and the victims fell where they were stricken; and the deathly brightness remained upon them."

Isle of the Torturers Clark Ashton Smith. 

It all fits, the laboratories, the isolated adventure location, a vast array of experimental subjects/slaves, the lonely quasi mining operation, & more. All of it points to a vast machine of an operation going on within  the Caverns of  Quasqueton. Because of the DYI Dungeons & Dragons aspect of B1 In Search of the Unknown its very easy to slip it into a campaign even under the radar of experienced players. B1 still makes an excellent choice for a campaign stepping stone even today. Even though its flawed B1 has many excellent resources
Keep em rolling.