Friday, June 28, 2013

The Demon Verge Map

Here is the map I've created (using the free version of Hexographer) for my campaign inspired by Demonlord.

It's been stocked and keyed according to the guidelines laid out in Sine Nomine Publishing's An Echo, Resounding, a Labyrinth Lord-compatible resource that I've found extremely useful. It's a relatively simple take on the D&D "endgame" of domain management and warfare that tells GMs how to create a sandbox in easily digestible "baby steps", which is more my speed than Adventurer Conqueror King, an excellent game that packs in more economic detail than I will likely need, and which I honestly don't feel smart enough to run. After trying and failing to run a big megadungeon-based campaign, baby steps are what I need right now.

The western side of the map -- the now-weakened Duchy of D'Ansor, the Principality of Timur, and the Barony of Barthek -- is where the players will start the campaign, which is why there's a lot more detail there. (I'm calling this area "the Demon Verge", as it represents the far eastern reaches of human civilization, bordering on the Demons' empire.) If the players end up deciding to travel to the more hostile central regions, or even the Demon-ruled province of Nisshar, I will have to generate some lairs, ruins, and resources for those areas as well.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Advanced Loin-Girding

As a corollary to my doing away with weapon restrictions in old-style D&D, I'd like to suggest limiting plate armor to the fighter and dwarf classes. I know I'm not the first to think of this, but I quite like the idea. It has a few advantages, I think:

It gives a couple of classes that sometimes feel lackluster a bit of a leg up. Some will disagree that they need it, which is fair enough, but if you're using my aforementioned house rules on weapons, they open up the use of magic swords to non-fighters, which means you might want to give the grunts a bit of their edge back.

It puts an elegant Armor Class scheme for the "core four" into place, as pointed out by Brendan S:
  • Magic-user, no armor, AC 9
  • Thief, light armor, AC 7
  • Cleric, medium armor, AC 5
  • Fighter, heavy armor, AC 3
It makes the armored spellcaster classes (the elf and cleric) slightly less powerful, which suits me fine.

It avoids the "halfling hovertank" bug/feature that cropped up in the NYC Red Box B/X D&D campaign I played in (and, by extension, Labyrinth Lord). By the book in B/X, halflings can wear any armor and still receive their AC bonus versus larger opponents, which makes an agile halfling almost unhittable when engaged with typical dungeon denizens.

It makes fighters (and dwarves) look different from the other classes, which I think is nifty. If it's in plate armor and over four and a half feet tall, it's a fighter.

And if somebody complains that chain doesn't look as cool, do a Google image search for some Angus McBride artwork.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Where There's A Whip

Doing a re-read of the Demonlord rulebook, I noticed something interesting about the Dwarves.

There are neutral factions in the Demonlord wargame with whom either the good guys or the bad guys can attempt to make alliances. One of these is the Dwarven Kingdom of Ula. As I mentioned last week, when either player tries to ally with Ula, there is an equal chance of either the Dwarf King or "the Balron character" (oh, early 80s fantasy games and your wacky "I don't want to get sued by the Tolkien estate" hijinks) being in control. If it's the Balron, he can send Trolls and "slave miners" to help you out. But if it's the Dwarf King, he can send Dwarf units... and slave miners.

So it's not like it's just that the Balron is a bad dude and he's enslaved some miners. The Dwarf King does that shit too. Nobody else in the game has units described as slaves -- not even the Demonlord.

Now, I don't how you feel about slavery, but to me, that pretty much means that the Dwarves are assholes.

Also, the fact that it's "Dwarf units" and "slave miner units" strongly implies that the slaves aren't dwarves. Well, that certainly puts a different spin on the usual "humans, halflings, elves and dwarves are all basically buds" vanilla fantasy setup. I had already figured out that the Dwarves were probably not among the "semi-human allies" noted in the rulebook's introductory prose, but that pretty much clinches it.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Digging Into Demonlord

You want exegesis of obscure gaming texts? You got it.

Right now I'm working up a campaign backdrop based on the old Heritage USA/Dwarfstar Games minigame Demonlord. I've been a fan of its Charles Vess cover artwork for years, and since I discovered that it's available for free download courtesy of Reaper Miniatures, I've started revamping its lovely hexmap for my own uses. (More on that another time.) Here's a little blurb I threw together on Google+ to describe my approach:

"The latest conflict between the Demonlord's armies and the alliance of Hosar ended in a stalemate that would better be described as a mutual loss, partly due to both sides' inability to rally the neutral factions -- the Ancients, Lyung, the Altu'han cragsmen, and the forest barbarians -- in any meaningful way. 

With its failure to convincingly defeat the infernal powers of the southeastern steppe, the Hosarite religion has lost much of its sway over the people, and cults both old and new, wondrous and terrible, are re-emerging. Petty princes and bandits rise up in the place of lords disgraced or slain during the war. Monsters and vile warlocks once pressed into the Demonlord's service are now unleashed to do as they will. Into this vacuum come the player characters, looking to establish a new power in the lands where Hosar stumbled."

Thus, my setting might be described as post-Demonlord. Today, I'm combing the rules pamphlet for Demonlord for setting information. The opening text contains some interesting information about "the demon domains":

 "On Narth, once called the “continent of man”, the origins of the Demons are obscure. Some say a wizard’s summoning went out of control. Others suggest that the Demons themselves opened a magical gateway, still extent at the gate of Tor’zem, the Demonlord Capital. A few philosophers even believe that the Demons are a natural race, like humans or dwarves, except the Demons became stronger than others.

...Demons are now the power on Narth, and each Demonlord rules his own province under the Emperor. Although Demons are a tiny minority, through their great power, magic, and capacity for evil they act as captains, administrators, and governors of many lesser races such as half-men, demi-men, goblins, orcs, and other manish races of darkness."

We're told that the continent is called Narth, there are multiple Demonlords ruled by a single Emperor, and Demon provinces are not crawling with Demons, just ruled by them. The word "Demon" is consistently capitalized throughout the text, as is "Troll". "Dwarf" is also capitalized everywhere except in the first mention ("dwarves"). Oddly, none of the other races get the fancy capitalization.

I'm going to have fun figuring out what "half-men" and "demi-men" are. I also get to figure out what "other manish [sic] races of darkness" means. The use of "other" implies that all the ones mentioned thus far (including goblins and orcs) are also "manish". (Hmm... the word "human" is also not capitalized. Maybe if you're "manish" you're not a proper noun.)

"But here, humans and semi-human allies resist them, banding together under the influence of Hosar, a sun-god cult."

So, humans have "semi-human allies". You might assume that the Dwarves would be one of these, but that's unlikely to be the intent here, since in the game, either the humans or the Demons are able to strike an alliance with the Kingdom of Ula, the Dwarf region. (There's also a 50% chance that the Kingdom "is ruled by the Balron character and has the Trolls... and two slave miner... units". I guess the Dwarves dug too deeply.) So it's not the Dwarves. Who, then? Elves? Halflings? Something else?

Also, the phrasing here is interesting. It's likely that it's simply clunky grammar, but reading this literally, "Hosar" is the name of the cult, not necessarily the "sun-god" it worships. Subsequent references I've found thus far also consistently refer to either "the Hosar alliance" or "the alliance of Hosar". I'm not sure if this is worth exploring, but I did find it worthy of comment.

(Oh yeah, the blog is back.)