Tuesday, October 11, 2022

Legends of Law: Von Hoff

 Wampus Country has had its share of heroes, both in antiquity and in the modern era, but perhaps none is held up as the flower of knighthood quite as much as the crusading paladin known as Von Hoff.

During the last days of the Peacock Throne, as that great empire and its rivals all crumbled into smaller, warring kingdoms, Von Hoff made his name as a swordsman and scion of Law.  It is said he began his career as a healer and hospitaller but soon took to errant deeds, plunging himself into those lawless border regions and taking on subhumans, trolls, criminal syndicates, and the like with equal glee.  His famous steed was an immense black tiger, gifted to him by the Lost Gods of the Sixty-Sixth Path (who were less Lost in those days, we imagine).  This red-eyed beast, more intelligent than most men, served as Von Hoff's battle-companion for many years; they say the tiger could leap incredible distances.

At some point, Von Hoff departed from the blasted Painlands and resettled in what is today Trident Bay.  There he built a watchtower and recruited a retinue of crimson-cloaked heroes to watch over the bay.  Again, an entire region was kept safe due to Von Hoff's vigilance.  Von Hoff and his Watch staved off more than one incursion of hostile fish-men and crab-men; the paladin himself was awarded an enchanted trident by some deity of the sea.  Legend tells us that this legendary trident - today known to sorcerers as Tempest-tide- holds within it a fragment of Von Hoff's mind, and perhaps his musical talent as well.  The weapon is held, alongside others of similar puissance, within Old Man Hut-Tep's lethal museum deep underneath the mountain peak called Smokestack Lightning.

Von Hoff's resting-place is unknown; some have suggested it is deep within an eerie tower - perhaps his original watchtower - which rises from the sea every seven years, off the coast in Trident Bay.  Local tales offer the possibility that, should the fish-men once again rise to attack the dry lands, Von Hoff himself will climb out of his tomb to repel them.

Monday, October 3, 2022

Cosmic Connections

 My fellow wizards, adventuring-frontiersmen, and priests of suitable repute - we have gathered here today in this dubious saloon to cogitate.  To place together our mighty brains, and come up with a solution, a path, a strategy to confront that which is ailing our beloved Wampus Country.

As you all well know, for several years now, fell things have been on the rise.

Nine years past, the deviltry of Hell and its cruel representatives here - that nefarious association known as the Web - attempted to secure the so-called Egg of the Phoenix.  Thankfully, they were foiled. [1]

Eight years ago, the archdevil Fyvee invaded our realm with his retinue of fashionably evil spawn.  Praise the petty gods, he was mostly repulsed. [2]

Since that time, we have not been so lucky.  The unearthing of the Eye of the Leviathan has brought woe to the land.  Evil stirs.  Dark shadows grow long - and bold.  Chaotic creatures not seen since cave paintings gallop across the land.  [3]

In Snollygoster Swamp, the pig-men beat war drums and sing the songs of their god, Porcus.  They have been so bold as to murder and kidnap some of the elders of the frog folk.  [4] There are rumors that even now, they capture and tame snollygosters as beasts of war, awaiting a signal from beyond.

North, in the Snowdeeps, civil war continues among the giant tribes.  That ongoing conflict has occasionally spilled into our own green lands, with destruction in its wake. [5]

Our sources in the east report an army, gathered across the desert, has marched nearly to the edge of the Badlands, and may soon be upon us in Thistlemarch and River-Town, if it so wishes.  At the head of this army, they say, stands a mysterious dark magician. [6]

And now, the seers and augurists paint a bleak picture.  Many of them see the same sorts of images - a war in the heavens, a black blade, a feathered serpent.  We do not yet know what it means.  But we must presume we are on the brink of a very dark age here in Wampus Country.

A very dark age indeed.

This kind of thing is going on constantly.


1.  It's true, in 2013 the Rat-House Bastards and some allies played through an adaptation of the module Egg of the Phoenix.  The artifact itself was given to witches for disposal.  Where it now sits...no PCs know.

2. It's true!  In 2014 an archdevil and his warbands pierced the Midnight Sea and arrived in Wampus Country.  Thankfully only a handful of tieflings survived the incursion and subsequent battles.

3. Also true.  The Company of the Black Pearl marched around Wampus Country with an artifact that increased and attracted Evil Stuff for several years.  Lots of goat-men on the rise, and chaotic minotaurs to boot.  Rumblings about a dark Hoofed God.

4. Super true.  Happened during a Wampus Country session run at Hoffcon; luckily the PCs managed to rescue the frogfolk priestess Big Mama Mumu from the clutches of the porcs.

5. Certainly true.  The Critter Gitters in 2021 dealt with some of the fallout of a giant power struggle caused by something the Rat-House Bastards did in 2012.

6. Truly true.  The Critter Gitters watched the beginnings of this army form over a year ago but did not intercede at the time.

Sunday, September 18, 2022

ERB and Not ERB

 Typically when people first read Edgar Rice Burroughs, it's the big three - Tarzan, John Carter, and maybe Pellucidar.  These are the best-known Burroughs for good reason, but there are some second-tier books I've read recently that I really enjoyed.  There are also plenty of homages, continuations, and pastiche that might be worth looking at as well.  Below, a few I've recently digested.

A ton of well-described fight scenes in this one.

The Monster Men (1913).  Burroughs' take on Frankenstein/Moreau - maybe - set in the South Pacific. It has monstrous created men, steaming jungles, and pirates!  I listened to this on Librivox and enjoyed it greatly.  Once I'd finished, I found myself wondering why this one hadn't been adapted to the screen.

A nice counterpoint to see how ERB does Carter that isn't Carter (if you've never read Carson or Innes, I guess).  Look, it has cannibal centaurs, that should sell itself.

Now that I've read the tales within, I have quibbles about this cover, but you can't beat an action cover that makes you want to read the book.

The Moon Maid & The Moon Men (1922...but some parts earlier...).   Burroughs stitched together a sword-and-planet adventure, a political tale previously rejected by editors, and an adventuresome part three conclusion into a solid thrillogy.  The first part, The Moon Maid, is the most Burroughsian at first blush due to the exotic location and classic tropes, but the three parts together actually feature a lot of Burroughs staples.  Good action throughout, including some fairly big battles.  I strongly recommend these.

Time's Last Gift.  I enjoy Philip Jose Farmer for the most part, and he has his share of pastiche characters.  "Spoilers" about this novel are all over the internet for you to read on your own if you wish, but suffice it to say there are Burroughs ties within.  A story of time-traveling researchers in the Magdalenian period, Time's Last Gift was a pretty breezy read, with some good drama and action.

It's not as "yass queen slay" as you might think.

Dejah Thoris.  Dynamite Comics.  The John Carter comics from Dynamite are kind of all over the map.  Warlord of Mars is a workmanlike retelling of several of the novels; the most recent series, John Carter of Mars, is just plain ugly.  In-between these, Dynamite published a 37-issue run of Dejah Thoris, featuring the princess' pulpy adventures prior to John Carter's arrival - and I really enjoyed this comic.  Nice art, enjoyable adventures, recurring villains and themes that tie the whole run together.  The second DJ series, and the limited series, aren't as good.  A little more detail on this comic here in my Twitter thread.

Airships versus giant laser colossus.  Come on, people, this is dope.

Tuesday, September 6, 2022

D&D Comics, part one: the 5e era

Dragon vs Giant action from Frost Giant's Fury

 Various publishers have had the rights to Dungeons & Dragons in comic book form over the years.  As I read (or in some cases, re-read) through these volumes, I'll summarize my recommendations here on the blog.

Here's the bottom line: the D&D comics from IDW are a mixed bag at best.

While some runs are good adventure comics, others are a mess - featuring disappointing writing, sub-par art, or both.  The "Baldur's Gate" series of mini-series occasionally has some highlights but is burdened by its product-of-the-year tie-in nature, and the insufferable "comedy" of Minsc & Boo.  The lead characters in that run who are not Minsc do tend to grow over time and get more interesting.

None of these are "run out and get it!" recommendations, but sometimes you find TPBs marked down, or single-issues in bargain bins.

At The Spine of the World

At The Spine Of The World.  I liked this Icewind Dale mini-series - the art is nice, the story is well-presented.  Bonus points for being self-contained and having precisely zero Minsc in it.

Frost Giant's Fury

Infernal Tides


Frost Giant's Fury.  Best of the Minsc & Boo series as far as sword-and-sorcery action.

Infernal Tides.  One of the better Minsc & Boo outings.

Mindbreaker.  Minsc & Boo vs mind flayers.

Mindbreaker ties in with the Baldur's Gate 3 vidya game 


Legends of Baldur's Gate.  The start of our current troubles - the beginning of the Minsc saga.

Shadows of the Vampire.  Minsc & Boo in Ravenloft.  I note that one of the main characters gets a consequence in this run, but they have failed to pull the trigger on that obvious consequence 25 issues later.

Evil At Baldur's Gate. More Minsc & Boo.  So much investment in this series!

A Darkened Wish.  An ambitious story jammed incautiously into five issues of dubious art.

Actual action shot of a dragonborn from A Darkened Wish. 

Ravenloft: Orphan of Agony Isle.   Set in the reimagined 5e Ravenloft, this one's about Viktra Mordenheim, the brilliant scientist and abusive weirdo, as well as the girl she's experimenting on, and Viktra's former lover Elise (the monster).  The art is very 2022, and the pacing tells me the writer wants this story to be a slow-burn mystery and maybe a dysfunctional love triangle.  Unfortunately it's burning so slowly I can't possibly care about the characters.  Things look up a tad in issue #3 as Elise arrives, but I can't promise I'm going to finish this one.

Orphan of Agony Isle

Tuesday, August 30, 2022

Gunsi versus the B-Series

 Gunsi the Squirrel, my son's fighter, pushed through a good bit of adventure during the lockdown and post-lockdown period.  Since we were running a single PC, I was using lower-level published TSR-era material as a skeleton to challenge a fifth-, then sixth-level 5e PC.  Gunsi has been searching for his missing sister for some time in the campaign, and he wanted to follow rumors about a squirrel city in the Lumberlands.  In order to get to the Lumberlands most directly, Gunsi elected to travel through the region known as Three Rivers.

Check out what I can do to water with but a wave of my hand!  Isn't it WEIRD?

Along the road, Gunsi teamed up with another PC, Juniper Muffington (thief, spy, girl-of-the-camp) in an attempt to recover the missing Jade Hare statuette.  They didn't get very far in their exploration of the dungeon -- they both blew their stealth and got jammed up by a mess of goblins.  Licking their (considerable) wounds, Juniper and Gunsi noped out of that dungeon and never went back.  The Mad Warlock Abu-Ghabar eventually took the enchanted statue back to his Master in the east.

Gunsi continued on into Three Rivers, arriving at the fortress-town of Ironwrack.  As a sympathetic hero type, the squirrel got mixed up with some revolutionaries trying to overthrow the master of the fortress, who de facto ruled the countryside and controlled the road.  Gunsi agreed to sneak into Ironwrack and steal a possibly-enchanted jewel, but he wanted some help (those goblin-scars were still fresh).  I generated some rebels for him to choose from as a henchman, and soon Gunsi was on his way, accompanied by milquetoast cleric Martholomew Rambleshart.  Sneaking into the fortress by underground means, Gunsi did manage to secure the Eye, but unfortunately poor Marty was killed.  The mystic eye was delivered to the rebels, and Gunsi continued his journey deeper into Three Rivers.

As he traveled, Gunsi came to see that Three Rivers had a goblin problem.  He experienced a raid on a ranch, chased down some warbands, tangled with the local evil slaver faction, and so forth.  Multiple sessions of this.  Gunsi was doing fine and earning some xp but I think he was getting tired of making ends meet doing goblin stuff.  Finally he had enough money saved to hire some mercenaries to support him as he goes upriver to tackle the Goblin King.  A successful assault (and on New Year's Eve, no less), although Gunsi did not investigate the lower levels of the place - it was enough to slay the Goblin King.  Gunsi took his winnings and kitted up for the long wilderness travel to the Lumberlands...

Night's Dark Terror is awesome and I wish I'd used more of it in play.

During this period I fielded material from The Jade Hare, B10 Night's Dark Terror, and DDA3 Eye of Traldar.  I had DDA4 The Dymrak Dread ready for a session as well, but never used it.  It was a twofold experiment, both the one-on-one adventuring, and seeding a single map with content from several thematically-related modules.  

Results to note for the campaign:

* The Mad Warlock takes the possibly-powerful Jade Hare to his Master in the desert, possibly increasing the Master's power.  (The Critter Gitters group would later tangle with the Master's forces in the east).

* A certain hidden city in Night's Dark Terror remains undiscovered.

* The goblin activity in Three Rivers was put down; should take several years for the goblins there to rebuild their numbers.

* Those in Three Rivers who would like to see the Lord of Ironwrack deposed have been encouraged and empowered.

Principles to pay attention to:

* PCs can and do fail.  They fail, they give up, they run away.  This is proper.

* PCs can get bored of what's in front of them.  When they want to walk away from it, LET THEM.

* Things that happen in your campaign must have consequences, even if the PCs who triggered the consequence never see it.

Friday, August 26, 2022

Beacon of the Lizard King

This post contains spoilers for TSR-era modules. 

Today's post is a little bit about dismembering published adventures and stitching them together.  There's plenty of discussion out there about whether modules are worth using, and if so, how best to use them.  Do you run them straight?  Re-skin most of it?  Or cannibalize it for parts?  In today's example, we're somewhere between ghoulishly stealing parts and a Frankenstein re-skinning.  

I was running 5e for some folks and wanted to steal liberally from a TSR-era adventure, so I was looking at the I-series modules.  There's this bit of overlap that intrigued me...  I2 Tomb of the Lizard King gives us the vampire lizardman Sakatha.  I7 Baltron's Beacon happens to have a (quite alive) lizard chieftain, Yiss, raising an army in the swamp.  Both NPCs have pet dragons.  What if they were the same dude?  Couldn't I just replace Yiss with Sakatha, and put all this stuff on the same map?  Answer: yes.

AH YISS it ya boi comin' at ya with the latest swamp nonsense, pound that like button

First thing I did was dub the vampire lizard emperor Ah Yiss.  There's the stupid joke there (I envisioned players saying AWWWW YISS!) but the sound pattern of the joke name also suggested a pseudo-Mayan thing, so that's what I went with for the lizardfolk here.  I kept the lizard king's pan lung dragon mount from Beacon, because why wouldn't you?  So we have Ah Yiss and his rising forces out in the swamp surrounding his tomb, plop that on the map.  The only thing we're using from Tomb is the swamp and the tomb - we're ignoring all the intro stuff in that module.

Now we take a look at Baltron's Beacon and see it's about a ruined keep where various parts of the complex are held by (competing) nasties, and the PCs are expected to investigate the newly-lit eponymous beacon.  Easy-peasy.  Plop the keep on the map over here.  Be ready with appropriate NPCs who can offer information about the place or steer the PCs into the great swamp.

Game-time came around, and for the initial session I had only three PCs present:

Blitz Donner, thunder priest

Gunsi the Squirrel, sellsword

Lini the Tortle, swamp warrior (new PC)

Just as you would've done, I made sure new PC Lini had knowledge of the area - a way to get info download to the group but also tie the new PC right into things.  Lini's band of tortles had been recently displaced from the swamp as the lizardfolk got frisky (following Ah Yiss waking up).  Now Blitz and Gunsi had arrived in this small swamp-adjacent village that was overrun by expatriate tortles.  Tensions weren't too bad yet, but clearly the situation was untenable.  When the PCs also heard about the lighting of the strange beacon in the swamp, they knew the whole thing was chock full of xp, and resolved to head into the swamp with Lini as their local guide.  I was thrilled that we had avoided the hamfisted "please go do this" sections of both modules.  It seems like multiple pages are wasted on these vanilla expository bits in every otherwise-raidable module.

The guys tromp through the swamp - I think there was a wilderness encounter, can't remember - and make it to the keep relatively unmolested.  They scout around and decide to attempt to go in from the TOP of the thing, I think in part because this is 5e and 2/3 of the group can levitate or whatever.  That caper brings them face-to-face with this guy, his bugbear pals, and his pet hieracosphinx:

There is nearly a skirmish, then there is a parley, and next thing you know the PCs are begrudging allies (frenemies?) of Antarcus Giantbane.  He spares them and dispatches them back into the swamp to scout for other warbands and report back to him - since he's lightly allied with the lizards and, as a 9th-level fighter, knows this keep is inevitably going to be the only defensible position if and when stuff goes down.  The PCs agree to do the scouting and depart.  Never to return.

I mean "never to return" twofold there - first because the PCs agreed they were going to burn this guy and were not going to even pretend to work for him, and second because these PCs never got together again.  At the end of the session, they were trudging back toward the village, with minimal xp and essentially no treasure.  COVID hysteria hit and people stopped seeing one another, so that was the last in-person game for that group, which did not successfully slide online.

Sometimes a fallen ranger pays a little too much attention to his sphinx

But time marches on, and the campaign exists outside of one playgroup, so we have to look at what happened next.  That's my job as the DM, to keep the world moving even when players aren't putting their grubby paws all over it.

Gunsi the Squirrel got on the road and headed toward the region called Three Rivers, on his way toward the Lumberlands.  We know this because Gunsi's player is my son, so COVID didn't stop him interacting with the campaign.  He had a teamup with another PC and then a series of solo adventures in Three Rivers which we may talk about another time.  Today, Gunsi is sitting in the town of Squeamish, in the Lumberlands.

Blitz and Lini haven't played again, so I have to presume, absent player actions, they stayed somewhere near that whole swamp nonsense.  The more important question is, what's going on two years later with Ah Yiss the vampire, his dragon steed, and his lizardman army?  Fantastic question.  I should've run it at the time, and didn't.  I know now I could've - should've - run a sweet big battle at the keep between some defenders (or the villagers) and the lizards.  I'm sure I have wargamer pals who would've happily adjudicated that for me.  But now, two years later, I think I need to just weave from whole cloth based on what was likely to happen.

There's this:

Absent the intervention of PCs or some other regional power, it seems inevitable to me that the risen Ah Yiss, with his lizard horde and assorted evil non-lizard allies, would control the great swamp pretty completely.  Perhaps Antacus advises him, and also Leptor (the 9th-level wizard from Beacon), and Ah Yiss still has those brigands from Tomb in his employ.  This alliance may even control the demonic blackflame in the keep.  And potentially they have a good number of magical items as well - not just arms and armor, but assorted potions and things.  With two years to consolidate, it's a safe bet that Ah Yiss rules the area, and is now ready to consider expansion, or reach out for further allies.  Worth noting that this swamp is up north on the map, and is not Snollygoster Swamp, so (for now) Ah Yiss doesn't have any dinosaurs to command.

Looks like trouble for certain parts of Wampus Country.  And Ah Yiss isn't the only nefarious army-builder on the map...

Monday, August 15, 2022

Colony of Death (and Rabbits)

 If you haven't checked out the new online rpg store in town, Big Geek Emporium, you should.  It's early days but this is a good time to stress-test the place and investigate products from small presses with which you may not be familiar.  And some you know - I uploaded some Wampus Country pdfs up there as well.  I picked up some stuff at the Emporium last night, including Colony of Death (which I already had somewhere) - so I want to tell you a bit about these adventures.

Colony of Death, by Mark Hess, is a mini-setting for Lamentations of the Flame Princess that brings the action to 17th-century colonial Maryland.  As a Maryland native who went to college at St. Mary's, I'm already partial to the gimmick.  But, bias aside, Hess does a good job here of giving us an interesting basic setup - the colony, a hexmap to populate, and random encounter tables that reflect the time period but also inject suitable weirdness.  There are also several short adventures, or adventure setups.

The first adventure in the collection has the PCs dealing with a mystery and a serial killer (we did say LotFP), but importantly one of the likely rewards for dealing with the issue is a land grant.  This kind of setup is imperative to getting the PCs thinking of themselves as movers and shakers rather than murderhobos - once they own some farmland upriver, they'll have a homebase, something to invest in, something to defend, and they're going to really start giving a damn about what goes on in the colony.  Other adventure setups feature Pennsylvania Dutch-style hex magic and the conflict between two magical critters, some awful Viking relics, and of course a good old-fashioned witch-burning.  There is a short appendix about the contemporary tobacco industry which you're going to want to have the players read once they set up some tobacco farms on their land!  A supplemental page that comes with the book (and is PWYW elsewhere) details a new sorcerous foe, the buffalo shaman.

The Doom That Came To Chapman Farm is a full adventure for Colony of Death - if you're running CoD, go ahead and pick this one up as well, but you could run this adventure transplanted to your game quite easily.  The adventure is all about a descendant of magician John Dee who comes to the colony and immediately gets in over his head with magic he hasn't mastered.  Now you have this demonically-possessed axe-murderer holed up in the Chapmans' house, with hostages.  Oh, and there's something awful in the barn.  Nicely illustrated in black and white, this adventure brings the weird and would make a pretty good con one-shot to boot.

Unrelated to Colony of Death is Rise of the Lagomorphs, the cover of which sells itself ably with the medieval illustration of a giant rabbit decapitating a man with an immense sword.  In this LotFP adventure - set in England but easily repositioned to Maryland in my opinion - something bizarre is mutating the local rabbits.  They become legion, then they become big and intelligent, and then...  The whole thing moves fast, the rabbits are aggressive dog-sized specimens one day, and man-sized and intelligent soon after.  Run this thing like a horror movie and I think you'll get your payoff.  The PCs will do battle with the newly-uplifted army of rabbits, led by their charismatic king...  this one could be a con session as well if you paced it right.  Definitely memorable.