Saturday, January 28, 2017

Manscorpion / The Crater of Termination: 20 Questions

Okay, Manscorpion hits us up again with some more about his new campaign setting. The more stuff he sends me, the more I want to play in this world. It's too bad he moved away, as it's going to be really difficult now.
20 questions for The Crater of Termination

1 - What is the deal with my cleric’s religion? The only viable religions for clerics (read: the ones in which worship grants spells) are the cults of the various Lovecraftian entities (not that anyone in this world thinks about them in those terms, but that’s the most economical way to describe them), the main ones in Xish being the Cult of the Devouring Star (worships Null), the Confessors of the Drowned (worships Mahelgog, the Mouth of Time), and the Church of the Stone That Wept (worships Akrillug, the Basilisk). Those from other islands (especially wildermen) may worship Bone Jackson, the Goat-god. Regardless of specific deity, there are risks associated with communicating with such entities – haven’t quite worked out the mechanical details, but if I manage to incorporate a sanity system like I mentioned before, then most likely this risk will take Clerics making Sanity rolls every morning when they receive their prayers.

2 - Where can we go to buy standard equipment? The Cult of the Devouring Star has most basic adventuring supplies, including torches and rations, and some weapons, available for list price (or cheaper, they’re open to bargaining) at their temple just outside the Crater. They will, however, refuse to sell to anyone who’s made it back out of the Crater more than a couple of times. A wider range of equipment, slightly more expensive but without any strings attached, is available in the port city of Gilk, about a week’s ride west of the Crater.

3 - Where can we go to get platemail custom fitted for this monster I just befriended? Gilk would be the nearest place. There are only one or two blacksmiths skilled enough to do such work, one of them being King Antoine’s personal armorer. It’s expensive, anywhere from 5 to 20 times list price, depending on the exact specifications.

4 - Who is the mightiest wizard in the land? Amnar Zunn, the necromancer, though it has been decades since anyone reported seeing him; presumably, he has not left his tower in the Dretch Wastes (on the southern tip of the island, technically still within the domain of Xish, not that even the King would dare to name him, aloud, one of his subjects). Some even whisper that he no longer lives, though none of the few brave enough to travel to confirm this have returned to tell one way or the other. In his absence, Malister Kemp, the Court Wizard of King Antoine, is probably the most powerful, and it is an open secret that he, not the drunken fool of a king, is the real political force in the kingdom (for whatever that’s worth).

5 - Who is the greatest warrior in the land? Once, King Antoine, but those days are long past. Hajar the Eviscerator, one of the three Bandit-Kings of Xish, probably has the best claim to this title, at least on that island. Of the other islands, tales abound in Xish of the battle prowess of Gremm, Grand Chieftain of the World-Scar Tribe of wildermen – as well as that of Gremm’s arch-foe, the goat-man War Crier, Half-Moon Cur.

6 - Who is the richest person in the land? Amnar Zunn, or so it is rumoured. With more certainty, it is said that the three Bandit-Kings, between them, possess many times the riches contained in the Royal Treasury.

7 - Where can we go to get some magical healing? The priests in the Cult temple will happily provide this, and free of charge to boot, but as with equipment above, their goodwill begins to sour toward those who don’t seem to be dying in the Crater like they’re supposed to.

8 - Where can we get cures for the following conditions: poison, disease, curse, level drain, lycanthropy, polymorph, alignment change, death, undeath? Poison, disease, and curse can be handled by the priests in the Cult temple, though not for free, and again subject to the same biases against repeated Crater-survivors. Level drain and lycanthropy can only be treated by those mystics or priests well-schooled in the lore of the undead and were-creatures, respectively – some of these may be found in Gilk, or in one of those mysterious towers or manor houses which one occasionally sees up on a cliff or jutting up out of a dark, dense forest. Polymorph and alignment change can be handled by the more erudite priests of the Church of the Stone That Wept. The Confessors of the Drowned, unlike their apocalypse-cult counterparts in the Cult of the Devouring Star, see the curing of such conditions as antithetical to ushering the inevitable annihilation of all life and matter, and don’t offer such services.

9 - Is there a magic guild my magic-user belongs to or that I can join in order to get more spells? Magic is a matter of the pursuit of forbidden, secret knowledge – an activity which does not, by nature, lend itself to sharing. Most magic-users have learned the basics of their craft from either a master sorcerer or an otherworldly entity with whom or which some bargain was struck (always something of great personal cost to the apprentice, though in the end most feel to have gotten the better end of the deal), or, in rarer cases, self-taught through sheer tenacity with books and materials acquired in one way or another. The bottom line is this: magic requires knowledge which cannot, for the most part, be obtained through conventional means. This explains why magic-users even bother to go out adventuring in the first place; that which they need to unravel greater mysteries and attain greater power is, more likely than not, out there somewhere in the secret parts of the world.

10 - Where can I find an alchemist, sage, or other expert NPC? Gilk would be the first place to start looking, if only for someone who could point one in the right direction. More often than not, such individuals are loners and hermits with a penchant for out-of-the-way places, and finding them (let alone convincing them to help) may be an adventure in itself. Beings with such knowledge might also be found within the Crater, and may even be convinced to share that knowledge, though the costs may well be steeper than mere coin.

11 - Where can I hire mercenaries? A few such types hang around the Cult temple at the Crater, which the Cult tolerates because the availability of strong hirelings encourages weaker groups or individuals to make the descent into the Crater. A wider selection can be found in Gilk, though some won’t accept the job for any amount of pay once the words “Crater of Termination” are uttered.

12 - Is there any place on the map where swords are illegal, magic is outlawed or any other notable hassles from Johnny Law? The presence and force of law anywhere except within the Royal Capital is weak, though sometimes certain sergeants or sheriffs take it upon themselves to crack down. Gilk is not one of those places, however. That said, regular folk, especially in the country, fear and hate sorcery, and more than a few fledgling magic users have found themselves on the wrong end of a mob and, ultimately, of a burning stake or a noose.

13 - Which way to the nearest tavern? The Cult of the Devouring Star allows prospective Crater-delvers the use of their dining facilities, with wine and modest meals free of charge. Mercenaries can usually be found here. In Gilk, taverns outnumber most other businesses.

14 - What monsters are terrorizing the countryside sufficiently that if I kill them I will become famous? On the land, bandits are the biggest threat; coming to a guard-barracks with the head of one of the three Bandit-Kings would probably do the trick. On the ocean, it’s a different story: a gargantuan sea-snake, held by many to be the spawn of Mahelgog (itself said to inhabit the far ocean to the West) sometimes roams the waters near Gilk, making every sea voyage a gamble with death. Slaying this creature would surely make one’s name and possibly even kickstart the kingdom’s economy (by making the port much more viable as such again), but would also earn the enmity of Mahelgog’s followers.

15 - Are there any wars brewing I could go fight? There are no other kingdoms for Xish to war with. There are always wars going on between various tribes and factions on the other islands, mostly between tribes of wildermen and goat-men with designs on the same territory.

16 - How about gladiatorial arenas complete with hard-won glory and fabulous cash prizes? Things like this go on in Gilk all the time. If you want it on a truly grand and decadent scale, though, you have to travel to the Royal Palace.

17 - Are there any secret societies with sinister agendas I could join and/or fight? Any of the various cults, apocalyptic or not. There are also cults and other groups with no name, whose purposes are their own – but you don’t go looking for those. If they want you as a member, they’ll come to you.

18 - What is there to eat around here? Food is scarce all across Xish, and is thus 2-3 times list price in most places. In the Crater, who knows?

19 - Any legendary lost treasures I could be looking for? The strange relics and precious items which have been pulled from the Crater are the stuff of more recent legend, though there are no reliably concrete tales of any specific item. Tales are also told of the many wondrous objects contained in the tower of Amnar Zunn. Some even claim that great treasure, and many items of power, are to be found in the dungeons underneath the Royal Palace, so well-hidden that even King Antoine hasn’t found them.

20 - Where is the nearest dragon or other monster with Type H treasure? Surely within the Crater, if anywhere. Successfully raiding the fortress of one of the Bandit-Kings would probably also net one such a haul – “successfully” being the key word.


Now listen to this as you trudge across the blasted wastes of Xish! I'm really tired, I hope I haven't missed anything on this post.


Sunday, January 22, 2017

Enter the Manscorpion / The Crater of Termination: Premise

This is the first (hopefully of many) guest post by my friend N. Manscorpion. I have been gaming with this dude for almost a decade now, and he always has a cool idea happening. In recent years I've turned him on to Clark Ashton Smith, black and death metal, and the OSR, so I'll go ahead and take a tiny bit of credit for the wild shit that might follow:

The Crater of Termination

These are the last days of the Earth. All land but a handful of islands, called simply “The Chain” by their inhabitants, has long since been swallowed by the sea. The scientific, cultural, and social achievements of humanity are long gone – not even a memory, for the past has become shrouded and dark. The world is, as in millennia gone by, one of magic and steel.

Only one of the old kingdoms remains, crumbling under the weight of its own indifferent decadence. It is called Xish, and the order within its supposed borders, constituted by the largest island of the Chain, is scarcely more than that without. The Royal Army is employed almost solely in the scattered cities and towns, to stave off the inevitable revolt of the starving, frightened populace. Most of the realm is an untamed, unguarded wilderness. Bandits and goat-men make travel outside of a select few regions a death sentence for all but the most hardy and resourceful.

Unsurprisingly for such times, apocalyptic doom faiths have proliferated. The most (in)famous of these is the Cult of the Devouring Star, and not just for being somehow even more death-obsessed than its rivals – they also control the Crater of Termination.

This vast hole in the ground, about a week’s ride from Gilk, Xish’s sole operative port, is claimed by the cult to have been made by the fiery arm of Null, the star that they worship. It leads to a vast underground complex which they claim was built in the first days of the Earth, by its first inhabitants, beings birthed in the very heart of Null itself. The star has revealed this place, surely hidden for millennia, as a boon to its followers. For all those who enter receive two gifts: the first being a glimpse of the world as it is beyond narrow human constraints, a flash of the terrible secret face of the cosmos; the second, and greatest, being certain death. In its unknowable caprice, Null has sometimes willed it that certain individuals or groups actually emerge from the Crater, laden with treasures, strange relics, and tales of bizarre locales and unfathomable creatures. But in the end it is all the same, for such people inevitably return to the depths – and none, so far as anyone can recall, have ever emerged a second time.

Cult membership is always up when one of these rare survivor-groups surfaces, and such is the case recently, as only a few weeks prior a so-called adventuring company, made up largely of barbarians and wildermen from other islands, emerged several months after months after entering, with a spectacular haul that has temporarily stimulated Gilk’s sluggish economy. Several other adventuring parties have entered, and it is rumoured more are on their way, from within Xish and elsewhere. The Cult does not begrudge such people joining their faith insincerely for a chance to plunder the treasures of the Crater, and indeed they even happily sell them equipment and resources from their temple just outside – for they know that, whatever reasons men claim for venturing into the depths, in their hearts they go because they desire Null’s precious gifts, their reception of which is ordained for them the moment their feet pass the threshold.


"As you can see, the basic idea is your standard weird fiction inspired old school megadungeon setting. The particular flavours of weird fiction which I’m mostly heavily cribbing from are: (1) the Zothique stories of Clark Ashton Smith (which I have my gracious host to thank for hipping me to a couple of years ago); and (2) H.P. Lovecraft at his more cosmological and mythology-creating, especially stories like “At the Mountains of Madness” and “The Shadow Out of Time,” as well as, to a lesser extent, his Dream Cycle stuff.

Major themes which emerge from these starting points are: a kind of end-of-days decadence and fatalism; human insignificance in the face of unfathomably vast cosmic etcetera; and the insanity and dread brought about by the encounter with the unknown. Nothing particularly groundbreaking as far as this kind of thing goes, but I feel like there are avenues to explore with these themes within the context of what seem to me to be the two implicit themes or premises of old-school D&D: the exploration of strange, otherworldly environments; and the nihilistic subsumption of all other possible values or motivations to the accumulation of wealth, either for its own sake or for its utility in gaining more wealth. Don’t get me wrong, I think both of those are fun in their own right, but I like the idea of a setting that works to amplify those implicit themes.

I’ve been mostly been thinking in terms of setting at this point, and not mechanics, but I’m leaning toward doing this thing in OD&D, just the three main booklets (in their slightly cleaned-up, re-released form as a single document), with house rules (mostly for things like race, and I’m pondering some sort of sanity system.

Unlike my gracious host here, I’m relatively new to this old-school D&D thing (again, something I have him to thank for getting me to look into), so developing this thing will undoubtedly be a learning experience (my previous attempt at DMing an old-school megadungeon, in Labyrinth Lord, resulted in mixed success). Here’s hoping it’s not terrible!"


Here's a little jammer I thought appropriate for this: