Monday, October 18, 2010

15 Games in 15 minutes Meme

Taking a cue from Jeff Grubb, here are fifteen games, in no particular order, that influenced the hell out of me and will always be with me:
  1. D&D in all its various incarnations
  2. Gamma World
  3. Metamorphosis Alpha
  4. Diablo I & II
  5. Skyrealms of Jorune
  6. Empire of the Petal Throne
  7. Traveller
  8. Twilight 2000
  9. Call of Cthulhu
  10. Aftermath!
  11. The Mechanoid Invasion
  12. Palladium Fantasy Role-Playing Game
  13. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles & Other Strangeness
  14. Wizardry
  15. Top Secret
Although this list is oriented towards pen & paper RPGs, I definitely count myself a video game enthusiast. (I would have stuck Ultima II & III on the list if I had more room. The same goes for The Morrow Project.)

Thursday, October 14, 2010

RPG Art: Tegel Manor

Lately, I've been sprucing up the Calific office, hanging things that inspire me. One of my favorite haunted ruins from yesteryear is Judges Guild's Tegel Manor. There are so many things that I love about this product. Whatever you may think about Judges Guild, they definitely had a major impact on the hobby.

Recently, Bob Bledsaw's original map of Tegel Manor was reproduced and sold through Cafe Press by none other than Bob, Jr. I picked one up and had it framed. The result just came in and it's quite nice looking.


Whenever I see this I will definitely gravitate towards thinking about complex arrangements of rooms, rich detail, and color. What really piques my interest about this map is the quantity of information packed into it. Aside from the room labels, themselves, there are suggestive images, written details of sounds and other dressing, use of various colors, and so forth. It would be an interesting experiment to eschew the key and run the whole adventure from just the map (with a suitable collection of beasties, of course).

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

More Russ Nicholson Art

Russ Nicholson has put up a new post where he relates some of the events from the Mon du Jeu convention that recently happened in Paris. He shares some pictures that, for various reasons, didn't make it into his presentation. Among the pictures are this blog's banner and the back cover illustration for MAROONED ACROSS SPACE AND TIME. Depicted is a band of ragtag adventurers, including a chitinous man, fighting off the hostile advance of a mutant strangler. Good times!

What's extra cool to me is that the picture immediately following is a reworking of the Githyanki and Githzerai, originally made famous in the Fiend Folio. The denizens of Yezmyr are in good company, to be sure.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Interesting Places: Day of the Otyugh

This is my final take on the Otyugh Trough.


I like this version the best. I've totally lost the contemporary "over-Photoshopped" look, accentuated the hand drawn nature, and simplified visual interpretation. The muck is easy to see, there are no grid lines where you don't need them, etc. At this point I am done with this subject, but I will continue to experiment with this style.

The Fine Print: I am sharing this map under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike license. If you follow that link you will be able to read about the conditions that apply to this work. In a nutshell: (a) you can't use it commercially, (b) you must attribute it to me, and (c) you must share any derivative works that you create.

Interesting Places: Otyugh Trough Redux

I'm not one for the "dungeon tile" look championed by producers of the 3E/4E eras, nor am I down with "excessive Photoshop." I hear a lot of "I like hand drawn maps," and I can appreciate that. At the same time, however, there's a lot of awful hand drawn maps out there. (And lest you think I'm sitting on some sort of high horse, I too have drawn any number of awful maps.)

I got no comments on the recent Otyugh Trough post, which is too bad, because I was hoping to get some discussion of sewer maps going. There are a lot of really crappy sewer maps out there. (Bad pun intended.) HUGE RUINED PILE recently posted a sewer map from a 3rd party producer that, while curvaceous, was way too bland looking. (Not so humble opinion alert.) That map served as my (negative) inspiration to draw up the Otyugh Trough.

I tried to go for a cross between old and new with the Otyugh Trough map. It was hand drawn, but I used Photoshop to add detail. In addition, on that particular map I experimented with a texture fill to represent the nasty, swirling muck. Maybe that doesn't work so well? As an experiment, I am posting a less refined version. This is how it looked before I used any fills or textures. Now you can actually see where I used the brush along the periphery of the walls.


This version reminds me somewhat of the maps of the dungeons beneath Tegel Manor. Specifically, the fine detail of the terraced ledges. In the previous rendition they were lost amidst the textured muck. Now they are clear as rows of sharp teeth. The peripheral brush strokes remind me of Mythmere's map of the first level of Tomb of the Iron God. Although less "contemporary" looking, this map excites my eye much more than the previous. The only thing I am really left wondering about is whether I should fill in the interior earth areas or not. Should I let the grid extend outside of the tunnels and chambers or not? Opinions? Also, I tend to back my maps with black instead of "no repro blue." Does anyone really give a damn? I mean, really? Just wondering…

The Fine Print: I am sharing this map under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike license. If you follow that link you will be able to read about the conditions that apply to this work. In a nutshell: (a) you can't use it commercially, (b) you must attribute it to me, and (c) you must share any derivative works that you create.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

A New Publishing Endeavor

Russ Nicholson put up a nice post on his blog yesterday that mentioned an email exchange we had recently. In addition to being uproariously funny, it reminded me that I hadn't launched the new Calific™ website. Well, the cat's out of the bag now. I kicked the site screaming into the world a few hours ago and I'm terrifically excited about it.

Calific™ is my new gaming company. Its focus is on science fantasy, one of my chief loves. I've been sick to death of elves, dwarfs, and hobbits for the longest time. I want to mix things up. To that end, I'm aiming to channel some serious Brian Aldiss and Richard Corben. It's high time that the fringe got some fresh exposure. I'm going to start with some modules.

There are tons of adventures out there in the world, but to this day I've not found the breed of science fantasy module that I crave. Calific™ will start by changing that. An initial series of three modules is planned, starting with Y1 MAROONED ACROSS SPACE AND TIME. I'll spare you the details, as you can read about it at the company's website.

There's still a metric ton of work to be done before Y1 sees the light of day. The good news is that 90% of the art assignments are in. The bad news is that I'm not finished with the writing. Moreover, there are still the matters of editing, layout, and printing to be dealt with. If all that's not crazy enough, we've only just begun to scratch the surface with play testing. There really is a ton of stuff to do. Luckily, I've got lots of help.

I'll speak more on this endeavor in due course. For now, I want to keep my energies focused on the work at hand. That necessarily means continuing with the light posting schedule. I do plan to keep posting on this blog, however. The Creative Commons maps, while they may be few and far between, are definitely not going away. I love sharing my experiments with you.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Interesting Places: Otyugh Trough

Deep within the bowels of the City of Splendor, in the sub-sewers beneath the Domain of the Demon Rats, is the Otyugh Trough. So named because of the many otyugh that dwell within, this is a nightmarish place. The upper sewers from the city drain here through a complex network of miasmic tunnels. The air is befouled by noxious fumes wafting from the rivers of offal and muck that ooze throughout. These tunnels are extremely dangerous. If the vile creatures inhabiting the bubbling waste don't do you in, the horrible diseases you will catch most certainly will. And where there is solid ground, it is covered with refuse and garbage from ages past. In addition to ferocious otyugh, slimes and molds are a common threat.


This particular map was fun to draw. Some points, in no particular order:

✸ Although you probably can't tell, this was my first experiment with the PITT big brush. I've had one for a while, but I didn't know how I should use it. Well, I said screw it and drew this map. Although I'm not using it to its potential, I am at least cured of my trepidation.

✸ I listened to Dark Angel the entire time I drew, which was a welcome blast from the past. (GENE HOGLAAAAAAAN!)

✸ Otyugh are 8 feet wide. so they might not be able to comfortably make it down all of the gnarly corridors of this place.

✸ I believe those stairs in the southwest mark the beginning of the Thousand Steps, which ultimately wind their way to a lesser traveled area of the Domain of the Demon Rats (which I plan to eventually detail).

All the rest is to be determined by your imagination.

The Fine Print: I am sharing this map under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike license. If you follow that link you will be able to read about the conditions that apply to this work. In a nutshell: (a) you can't use it commercially, (b) you must attribute it to me, and (c) you must share any derivative works that you create.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

An Update to the Death Ray

Welcome to the new look of the blog. Check out the killer picture by Russ Nicholson. I love the detail in this image. Just look at those alien reliefs on the wall through the archway. And of course, the EHP wasting that pesky adventurer with the sickly purple death ray is de rigueur.

Russ has been working with me on projects for Calific, my new gaming company. The company's web site will launch next week. I'll post more about this later.

System Change

I can't seem to stick with any particular set of rules for very long. The current campaign started out with OD&D, got house ruled, and eventually sidelined for a heavily modified Holmes, which I named Holmes YX. Now I've gone and switched to Swords & Wizardry Core Rules. There are a lot of reasons behind this move. Publicly, I'll just say that now there's a vehicle for making available some of those YX rules I spent so much time developing.

I've also been doing a fair amount of work designing a new pantheon of deities for an update to the Yezmyr campaign. I'm quite pleased with the results thus far, and that really gives me pause, I had dropped clerics from play earlier in the year. Now I am reconsidering that move. Primarily, there is the fact that three of my players really run with the strange gods I tend to create. Why should I take that away from them. Moreover, S&W Core supports clerics and I really want to keep my S&W Core support full and clean.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Dyerevshpil

I'm swamped with writing tasks at the moment, so here's another old map from the pile. This one is a medieval Russian fantasy map of the environs of Dyerevshpil (which should translate to "Woodspire"), a covenant of magi located deep within the heart of Kievan Rus'.


We gamed with this map back in 1993. An acquaintance who was studying Russian at the time provided me with all the translations for the place names. I've since lost the original list of place names and associated translations. It matters not, as you don't need to be able to read Russian to understand the threat of this map. There are undoubtedly trolls, dragons, hostile villagers, monks, and witches depicted thereupon. (And for the record, I didn't once think of Baba Yaga while working on this particular map.)

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Eyrie of Eirik the Elder

Copyright © 2010, Ramsey Dow. All Rights Reserved.

Here's a map I drew maybe eighteen years ago. It's the tower of an old spell caster of mine, Eirik the Elder. Eirik specialized in controlling the winds.


What's most interesting to me about this map is that I can really see the level of influence Terry K. Amthor had on me in earlier years. No doubt it was all those wonderful Middle Earth adventures put out by Iron Crown Enterprises back in the day. Those things were filled with TKA's maps. I didn't play MERP all that much, but I sure read the hell out of all those old ICE adventures. In any case, I still really enjoy this style of map. It draws a stark contrast to the curtain wall approach employed by the upper level geomorphs of TSR.

Looking at this map I realize that I never actually keyed it up. Alas, most of the details regarding the place have been lost to the vestiges of time. Still, seeing this again after so many years makes me want to redraw it and key it up, this time perhaps as the tower of some fell wizard.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Thursday, July 22, 2010

LotFP Weird Fantasy RPG pics posted on Dragonsfoot

Jim Raggi mailed out comp copies of his new RPG earlier this week and they have begun to land. A gamer in Scotland received a copy and posted a number of pictures in a thread on Dragonsfoot. Of all the pictures posted, my favorite is of the wilderness map I drew:


This map is from the Weird New World module included in the boxed set. At 24 miles to the hex, it covers quite an area.

It literally took days to draw and color this map. There were two back-to-back all-nighters involved because of the scope of the work and the inflexible deadline. Afterward, my right hand ached for several days. Nevertheless, I'm quite pleased with how this map turned out. It is big, detailed, and vibrant.

Update: Additional pictures of my maps for Weird Fantasy Role-Playing can be seen here and here.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Interesting Places: Dismal Catacombs

I know I've been M.I.A. for a while now. During my time away from the blog I've been busy doing maps for James Raggi's new Weird Fantasy Role-Playing Game and its attendant adventures. Now that I've had a couple of days to relax, I felt like it was time to get back in the swing of things. I blew off some steam and cranked this sucker out this evening.


What is this place? I don't know—you tell me. Perhaps it is the lair of an extended family of Fomorian giants. The place could be magically windy, with all manner of strange flying creatures inhabiting its odd passages. Alternately, you could make each square represent 100 feet, transforming the place into an ancient draconian burial system.

This could be a hunting grounds, periodically swept by organized predators from both above and below. Along similar lines, perhaps these are halls of blood and carnage, where rival humanoid factions come together to fight in an ages old conflict. It could also be a long-forgotten magical forge gone awry, haunted by scores of autonomous dancing blades.

If none of the aforementioned ideas are to your liking then you could get even more extreme. Consider flooding the entire level, requiring intrepid adventurers to be in possession of magical air breathing equipment should they want to explore it. Personally, however, I like to imagine that this place is nothing more than one of the deeper levels of The Tombs.

Some notes:
  • There are no less than ten passages leading off-map. Moreover, there is at least one set of stairs and multiple shafts and sinkholes—all leading who knows where. Thus, this map makes an excellent candidate for a junction. You can never really have enough junctions in your megadungeon.
  • There are quite a few long corridors throughout. These might be covered with hideous glyphs, or they might be choked with mold and other filth.
  • See that huge round chamber? What if it is not a chamber, but rather an enormous shaft descending for a half mile? See that small, inaccessible cave in the southwest? Perhaps it, too, is a shaft. Better yet, it is a cyst or geode.
I was doubly inspired while drawing this map. First, it was definitely influenced by the Parisian Catacombs. I watched a segment on that very subject in a documentary on urban exploration earlier in the week. In addition, while drawing I kept thinking of a particularly classic D&D picture. Perhaps you know the one I am talking about: that fantastic DAT illustration of the magic mouth at the top of the stairway descending into infinite darkness. Inspirational stuff!

Enjoy! There will be more in the same vein in the future.

The Fine Print: I am sharing this map under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike license. If you follow that link you will be able to read about the conditions that apply to this work. In a nutshell: (a) you can't use it commercially, (b) you must attribute it to me, and (c) you must share any derivative works that you create.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Interesting Places: Hall of Fiery Death

We were fugitives to a man, escaped slaves. While crossing the eastern Aurora Badlands our caravan had the misfortune of disturbing a large nest of Tlaké beetles. Those flesh-eating insects swarmed the caravan, consuming flesh in rapturous delight. Only a few of us survived. We fled deeper into that sun-drenched wasteland. We would have surely died had it not been for Old Whitan's discovery of the cave. Damn that cave! We got so lost within its depths that to this day I still don't know fer how long we were down there. It musta been weeks. But I'm not complaining, see, 'cause we were free, and there was plenty of water.

Startin' out, the cave was easy to navigate. We made good time as we passed through a number of huge caverns. Eventually, ease gave way to vertical drops, perilously narrow passages, and raging torrents. Our pace slowed to a crawl. It was a hellish place, I tell you. It was very nearly always wet and everyone was constantly on edge. The oppressive darkness was beginning to take a toll on us all.

After yet another treacherous descent, we emerged into a ragged tunnel. The way ahead was lit by a dim reddish glow. That's when Old Whitan went batshit and took off, runnin' straight into that glow. I remember it like it was yesterday. He was a hootin' and hollerin' like a crazed one! We ran after him, but were too late. The reddish glow came from a swift, open-faced lava flow. Old Whitan musta lost his footing, as he fell straight on in. He didn't get much of a chance to scream. Sometimes the darkness will make a man go crazy, know?

Anyways, the lava flow provided much needed light and we were mighty pleased by it. Lookin' around, it was apparent this place had received a chiselin' hand. The walls, although rough, had obviously been tooled and rose up in a great curved arch. Who woulda thunk to discover something like this so deep within a cave? We kept moving.


Eventually we emerged into a vast chamber. It musta been a hundred feet long, if not a day. Huge pillars of rock rose into the darkness above. This place was definitely fashioned by some intelligence. The very rock of the place was old and seemed to be decaying, turning into chalky, white dust. And the floor… it was a mess of metal bits, bones, and other strange scraps. There was a very unwholesome feel to this place.

Chills went down all our spines when the whirring and clacking sounds started up. At first we were scared and confused, but all became clear. We were beset by man-machines of death. They were corrupt, decayed beyond years, and belching foul smoke and acid. There was nowhere to run. The men were butchered and mauled by those death machines. I only escaped because I twisted my ankle and fell headlong into a sinkhole. Luckily, I broke no bones and managed to crawl off into sweet darkness. In time I managed to win back freedom from the darkness. That was a long time ago.

The Fine Print: I am sharing this map under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike license. If you follow that link you will be able to read about the conditions that apply to this work. In a nutshell: (a) you can't use it commercially, (b) you must attribute it to me, and (c) you must share any derivative works that you create.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Where's Yesmar?

I haven't abandoned this blog, I've just been inordinately busy as of late:
  • I bought a new house.
  • Z and I got moved in and squared away in record time.
  • I created two home offices this time: the usual one for security consulting and one for the new RPG business.
  • The future mother-in-law came for a visit.
  • I'm exiting the freelance cartography business with a bang, doing all the maps for the next several LotFP releases: Hammers of the God, Tower of the Stargazer, and the LotFP Weird Fantasy Role-Playing boxed set.
So yeah, it's been busy around here. The LotFP work is winding down this week and I've got a couple of new posts in development. Expect something later this week.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Friday, April 2, 2010

Interesting Places: Forgotten Chambers

A series of crumbling chambers, lost deep beneath the surface, awaiting your key.


This will be the last map for a while, as I need to get some projects completed. I'll be back later.

Edit: I left out a door on the previously posted map. I've corrected it in this map. I've also added a fifth sarcophagus because you can never have enough sarcophagi. <grin/>

The Fine Print: I am sharing this map under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike license. If you follow that link you will be able to read about the conditions that apply to this work. In a nutshell: (a) you can't use it commercially, (b) you must attribute it to me, and (c) you must share any derivative works that you create.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Interesting Places: Secrets

There's no interesting history for today's map. It's simply the result of a five-minute doodle I made the other day. (Isn't it amazing how technology can be used to clean up a hasty sketch?) What I like about this map is that it is easy to navigate between the three exits. To get just about anywhere else requires detecting one or more secret doors, yielding plenty of places to hide things…


In one area there is a 20-foot square obsidian cube surrounded by twenty skeletons. I am sure that they will animate and menace the player characters in Ray Harryhausen fashion. How and when, of course, is up to you. Do they animate on the approach? Perhaps, when a daft character touches the cube? I really have no idea—you figure it out.

In another area is a pool of blood. It's on the ceiling, not the floor. The player characters will probably notice it by the periodic dripping of blood. The statue in the room is looking up and has its hands thrust into the crimson pool. What's the deal with this pool? More importantly, what is living in it?

So many questions, O creative DM.

The Fine Print: I am sharing this map under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike license. If you follow that link you will be able to read about the conditions that apply to this work. In a nutshell: (a) you can't use it commercially, (b) you must attribute it to me, and (c) you must share any derivative works that you create.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Interesting Places: Temple of the Ratgod

Deep beneath the Citadel of the Sorcerer-King, in dungeons long forgotten, lies the Temple of the Ratgod. Sequestered behind hidden doors are the temple chambers. The whole area is ruined, with walls and ceiling looking like they might collapse at any moment. The place is strewn with great piles of refuse. Rot grubs and disease are a continual danger in this dismal place.


The Ratgod is ever-hungry for sacrifice. His slavering minions swarm the labyrinthine dungeons, skittering as they search for fresh victims. Those unlucky enough to be captured are brought back to the hidden temple where they are flayed alive, their skin cured and used for temple writings. Their flesh is shared by all in a sumptuous carnivorous feast, and their bones cast aside into blackened pits, forgotten by all but the marrow-sucking Tlaké beetles. They, too, shall have their feast.

The Fine Print: I am sharing this map under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike license. If you follow that link you will be able to read about the conditions that apply to this work. In a nutshell: (a) you can't use it commercially, (b) you must attribute it to me, and (c) you must share any derivative works that you create.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Interesting Places: Death Descent

At long last you have found a means to access the lower levels! The secret door opens upon a great hall, its floor comprised of broad steps descending into the gloom. Possibly fashioned for giants, these steps have risers that are two or three feet high—quite unsuitable for the likes of your legs. The steps themselves are fashioned from great slabs of sandstone. They are decorated with naturally occurring bands of earthly tones.

Great columns, haphazardly placed, rise into the shadows. None of these columns are alike. Each is carved in a chaotic mess of reliefs of skulls and body parts and cryptic symbols, none of which have any apparent meaning. Curiouser are the deep sluiceways which bisect the steps, disappearing into the murkiness beyond the extent of your torches. The further you descend, the more you begin to take notice of the russet splotches staining the steps. You have a bad feeling about this…


Your descent is interrupted by a loud clanging to the rear! Whirling, you realize that a portcullis has dropped behind you, barring the way. Turning back around, you are greeted by a volley of flechettes. Screams arise as some of your companions drop. The sound of stone grating upon stone startles you. You quickly note that the walls to the left and right have shifted, revealing yawning black portals.

After what seems like long moments, two hulking forms emerge. You are flanked by enormous bronze golems. Their maddening gaze glows like the hot fires of hell. Then they are upon you, their fists flying in a flurry of crushing blows. Another rain of flechettes descends upon you. Then another. As you lay on the ground, crimson gushing between clenched fingers, you realize the purpose of the sluiceways.

The Fine Print: I am sharing this map under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike license. If you follow that link you will be able to read about the conditions that apply to this work. In a nutshell: (a) you can't use it commercially, (b) you must attribute it to me, and (c) you must share any derivative works that you create.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Interesting Places: Moldy Halls

It's been a while since I posted a map. Blame Gary Con II. In any case, I've got a huge mapping project ahead of me and I'm still not happy with my current style. This map is another one of my experiments, drawn in an attempt to evolve to something more appealing. I like it better than the previous experiment. It's closer to the look that I'm after. Frankly, I'm sick of clinical-looking maps, hence the rough edges evident on this map.


The Moldy Halls are ancient, lost deep within some labyrinthine delve, far beneath the sunlit world. Their original purpose is unknown. Today they form the home to a vast colony of purple mold. How this mold came to be is unknown. It covers everything in the areas where it has taken hold, growing over stone, debris, and refuse alike. The nature of this unusual colony of mold is left to the discerning dungeon master. Some points of interest:
  • There is a teleporter in an alcove in the room just north of the map compass. Where does this lead to?
  • There is a statue in the large, oddly-shaped chamber that is free of mold. Why? Is there something magical going on here?
  • The pools in the same chamber are choked with floating chunks of mold. They are clearly unsafe to drink or otherwise frolic in.
  • The spiral stairs leading to a lower level are choked with purple mold. How much of the lower expanse has been colonized by this mold?
  • Why are some corridors and rooms lined—but not choked—with mold? What force is keeping the colony at bay? Alternatively, was it destroyed in the past and only now beginning to reclaim the lost area?
  • Is there anything unusual about that spring on the eastern side of the map?
  • Where does that secret passage in the southwest corner of the map lead to?
The Fine Print: I am sharing this map under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike license. If you follow that link you will be able to read about the conditions that apply to this work. In a nutshell: (a) you can't use it commercially, (b) you must attribute it to me, and (c) you must share any derivative works that you create.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Dangerous Journeys Redux?

After TSR, Gary Gygax created Dangerous Journeys. As a system, Dangerous Journeys addressed many issues with AD&D. Whereas AD&D's mechanics were based on rules imported from wargaming, Dangerous Journeys was designed to enable the telling of stories. Unfortunately, the game was sued into oblivion by TSR before it ever had a chance to take off.


Dangerous Journeys enjoys a small, faithful following today. I got a chance to see some of the key players playing Dangerous Journeys at Gary Con II. See that fat, black binder on the table? It contains the rules for Unhallowed, the never published supernatural expansion to Dangerous Journeys. There are interesting rumors surrounding the current fate of Dangerous Journeys. Although it's too early to say anything else, I've got my fingers crossed.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Black Box with Frank Mentzer

While sitting around waiting for a Gamma World game to materialize, Frank Mentzer asked if I'd like to check out a game. Now I'm a sucker for games, so I was like, "Yeah!" Frank proceeded to explain the rules of Black Box, a board game released by Parker Brothers in 1978.


According to Frank, Parker Brothers released the game at Gen Con instead of directly to the mass market because it is a 'head game.' As it turned out, only some gamers are into head games, so Black Box wasn't a huge success.

Frank has a real knack for explaining rules and I picked up the game fairly quickly. In a nutshell, the game has a black box with 32 ports. Within the black box are situated four atoms, placed by one player. (Of course, these atoms are not actually placed on the board; rather, they are marked on a sheet.) The other player spends his time firing lasers into the black box through the ports. The results of these shots are indicated by placing various markers along the sides of the black box. It's not really all that complicated. We played a couple of times. Here's what the board looked like when Frank finally identified the locations of the atoms I had placed:


Of all the board games I have played, this one really stimulated me mentally. I'm definitely going to track down a copy. In addition, I wonder what a 3D expansion would play like? Better yet, how about a 4D version where atoms shift in and out of phase? Madness!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Wasted by a Wolfoid

Saturday night was the highlight of Gary Con II for me. Z and I got to sit at Jim Ward's table for a game of Metamorphosis Alpha. In all, there were fourteen players. It was quite the experience watching Jim run the game. His refereeing style was commanding and he kept the action hot for the entire four-hour session.

I loved how he said up front that player characters with names longer than one syllable had a higher chance of dying. Everyone thus selected one-syllable names—except for that one guy that purposefully chose a two-syllable name. (As a result, he lost his Luck Charge immediately.) I named my character, "Arl." Jim looked me square and asked, "Arrr-rrrrrl?" I was like, "No! One syllable: Arrrrl." "Arrrrr-rrrrrrllllll." "Nonono! Arrrrrrl." This interplay persisted throughout the session. Brilliant.


Just behind us raged the battle of the moathouse. I would have taken more pictures of that event, but I was busy exploring The Warden. The game was hilarious—death and dismemberment were altogether too common. In truth, we were foolish players, touching irradiated things (ahem, purple grass) that would better have been left alone. We also did other stupid things involving barrels of explosive liquid, laser gun wielding androids, disintegration chambers, and more. The crazy antics of the game actually reminded me of Paranoia somewhat, although without the luxury of clones.

Jim would oftentimes veer off into a short side story about one the characters, explaining how they had come to possess some sort of item (usually footwear) or shard of knowledge. He would also frequently make editorial comments regarding various character statistics. For example,"What's your radiation resistance?" "19" "That's a verrrry good radiation resistance. You should be proud of that score." This sort of exchange indicated that the character was getting irradiated. Lovely.

The game was brutal and ended up in a 14-player TPK. Everyone didn't die at once, of course, but the first kill did occur about three minutes into the game. I managed to survive for three hours before my character bought it. I violated a primary rule: don't engage in combat unnecessarily. I threw my "bone" spear at a wolfoid instead of attempting to parley. I missed and it subsequently fragged me with a grenade. I mused to Jim that I hoped it was the mutation-inducing kind of grenade. In true form, Jim replied, "Wouldn't it be nice to mutate? That'd be the cool thing." Then he held out his hand and took my character sheet.

I'd like to take this opportunity to brag on Z. I introduced her to role playing games just one year ago. Now, at her very first con, she outlived me by forty-five minutes at Jim Ward's table. She was second to last to die. Outstanding. I couldn't be more pleased.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Woe vs. Weal: Chaos Wins Again!

Gary Con II is over and I had a lot of fun. People are starting to post pictures of the con. Instead of posting the same sorts of pictures as everyone else, I'll instead share some snaps I made of the moathouse.

This, of course, is the infamous battle at the moathouse, played at various Lake Geneva, WI, gatherings. The battle is played out by the Forces of Woe and Weal using the Chainmail rules.

I always like looking at the less common approach. In this particular case, we have the uncool side of the moathouse. (Apologies for the glare from the far windows; it snowed the morning I took these initial pictures.)


Looking in on the moathouse we can see the Forces of Woe getting ready for the coming battle.


Here's a closeup of the chaos leadership.


Here are the Forces of Weal in pre-game disarray—a fateful forshadowing?


On Saturday night the Forces of Weal engaged the chaos-held fortification. The fight was underway.


While it may look like the Forces of Woe took a beating, in truth, they kicked Weal's collective ass.


According to Paul Stormberg, this is the third year running that chaos won. Let's hear it for chaos!


I spoke with one of the chaos players and he said the game started at about 5:30 and ran until about half past midnight. Twenty-one turns elapsed, taking about 20 minutes each. He said that it was a close game and that Weal could have won up until the last three turns.


I picked up a nice copy of Chainmail this weekend. I'm seriously considering getting in on this action next year. The question is, which side will I support? Woe or Weal? Sacking the moathouse looks like an awful lot of fun as evidenced by some of these pictures.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Howling Emptiness

The latest issue of Fight On! is upon us. I'm pleased to report that it contains an adventure by yours truly. Somewhat tongue-in-cheek, it is named The Howling Emptiness. It's a wilderness hex crawl through a deadly desert environment—I hope you brought some extra water!


It's strictly a sword & sorcery affair—there are no phasic swords or blaster pistols to be had. Nevertheless, it should be a fun romp. I showed an early draft to Erol Otus and he made some suggestions which made it into the final version. Fitting for the Erol Otus issue of Fight On!, don't you think? <grin/>

Support Fight On! and pick up issue #8. It's a good cause, don't you know!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

More on Holmes YX

I'm still futzing around with Holmes YX. This time I am considering wholesale changes to several areas, including armor & armor class, experience points, and alignment. Of these, I'm simply going to drop alignment. It serves no purpose for me or my players and seems artificial in any case. I'm also considering mechanics for spell success (based on spell complexity) and spell countering. Why shouldn't that evil sorcerer be able to put those magic missiles right back in your face? Finally, I'm going to be dropping Holmes from the name since these rules no longer resemble anything remotely approaching Holmes Basic. Why false advertise? <grin/>

In other news, I've been reading Gary Rudolph's excellent Missúm mass combat rules for Tékumel. There are tons of mass combat systems out there, but this one is cool because it's compact, has interesting rule selections, and, hello, it was created for Tékumel back in the day. (Actually, Missúm is the second set of mass combat rules for Tékumel—it came out the year after TSR's Legions of the Petal Throne.) Anyway, it's proving to be quite the interesting read and is really firing me up in the inspiration department.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Inspiration for the World of Yezmyr

Sometimes what you are not influenced by is interesting. I've long been a fan of weird fiction, but in creating Yezmyr I have purposefully eschewed HPL and CAS. I like bubbly pools of tentacular madness as much as anyone else, but I'm tired of it—like I'm tired of Tolkien. Yezmyr demands fresh horrors! (For what it's worth, if I were going to focus on horror, I'd look to Thomas Ligotti for inspiration.)

Similarly, I have a deep and abiding love of sword and sorcery fiction. REH's Conan yarns effectively created the genre. However, I'm tired of Conan. I prefer the revelations of ancient ruins in those stories. There's nothing like an ominous ruin to chill the blood. In any case, swords and spells alone just don't cut it for me any more. I want space, technology, chaos, and madness. I need it all.

The underpinnings of the World of Yezmyr owe an extreme debt of gratitude to a handful of talented writers and illustrators: Arthur C. Clarke, A.E. van Vogt, Rudy Rucker, Ray Kurzweil, Brian Aldiss, Harlan Ellison, Russ Nicholson, and Richard Corben. You should check out the work of each and every one of these people.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

I Love My Players

What's the first thing the thief wants to do after having his mind propelled 23,000,000 years into the future?


Precisely.

Happy Birthday World of Yezmyr


One year ago today six of us got together and started the World of Yezmyr D&D campaign. Back then the crew set out to explore the foreboding ruins of Alak Chutak. The game was strictly sword & sorcery. Today, the crew has grown to eight and the campaign has switched to a science fantasy focus. Oh yeah, and they've managed to get themselves marooned 23,000,000 years into the future. Good times.

Happy birthday, World of Yezmyr.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Playtest Session 4

Every session I run with my crew reminds me of why I largely gave up computer gaming. Computer games lack the uproarious levity of a roomful of brains. To wit, three amusing events from today's play testing session:

I had decided that the native language spoken by Earth Men was Terran. My players decided otherwise. The language of the Earth Men is actually called Murrican.

The player characters are a motley assortment of low men, high men, earth men, and chitinous men. Of course the pair of seven-foot tall chitinous men stick out like sore thumbs. The humans have taken to referring to them as chits (pronounced, 'kites'). Racism comes to the World of Yezmyr.

Have any of your players ever killed shriekers… and then asked what they taste like? I was nonplussed. Bemt the Cringer then proceeded to tear off a chunk from the purple and white mushroom and started eating. I was like, ehrm… I quickly grabbed my random hallucination tables and started rolling. As it turned out, the hallucinogenic alkaloids of the psychoactive shriekers were quite potent. Bemt was tripping within minutes, and before long he was running around like a PMSing cat. Candela cast hold person on him and the rest of the crew tied him up. Bemt tripped for two days straight. That's what happens when you eat shriekers.

Interesting Places: Chamber of Slime

I was in an experimental mood this evening and decided to try out some new techniques. I'm not sold on them, but I had fun—and I think the end result is at least interesting.


There's no fluffy descriptive text for you today, alas. All of my writing energies are focused on "The Project," which continues at a good pace. The fourth play test session happens later today. I'm excited because the players have finally made it to "the good stuff."

The Fine Print: I am sharing this map under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike license. If you follow that link you will be able to read about the conditions that apply to this work. In a nutshell: (a) you can't use it commercially, (b) you must attribute it to me, and (c) you must share any derivative works that you create.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

You Know You Love It

More loving derision from our friends at Something Awful: WTF, D&D?! - The Original Dungeons & Dragons. Go read it. Love it.

Ziqquratu Ziyaret: A Cross-Section

Copyright © 2010, Ramsey Dow. All Rights Reserved.

Today, I present a partial cross-section of Ziqquratu Ziyaret. This map depicts the long and arduous route to the Treacherous Heart and the Vaults of Cryptic Gloom. Therein lies Ruined Shibolaanth, the dead city of the therapsidians. Woe be to those who venture to this accursed place.


Please note that this map is exceptionally incomplete. Not depicted are virtually miles upon miles of unlit passages, broad halls, and cavernous vaults. One could spend a lifetime exploring the labyrinthine ways of Ziqquratu Ziyaret. Alas, it would most likely be a short lifetime, for the fauna of this place are particularly unwholesome.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Goodbye Spell Books

A part of the excitement of Holmes YX is that the magic isn't Vancian any more. In Yezmyr sorcerers don't use spell books. The very environment is deeply imbued with the essence of magic. Sorcerers bring forth magical effects through complex vocalizations and gestures. (There are no material spell components.) Spells are learned behavior, passed on through a long standing oral tradition between master and apprentice. While it is possible that a given sorcerer will make notes of an arcane nature, one does not learn the process of tying shoes by reading a treatise. No, spells are taught.

Scrolls are also a relic of the past on Yezmyr. Vancian systems use scrolls as a means of finding spells as treasure items. Moreover, these systems use scrolls as enablers: they provide for the invoking of spells which the caster either does not know or does not have memorized. Holmes YX uses a spell point system for sorcery. Spells are not memorized. Instead, they are invoked directly from the magical fabric of reality. This takes time, however, especially as spells become more complex. In order to counter this, sorcerers developed spell containers.

Spell containers are magical devices that are capable of holding live spells. These devices come in a near endless variety of forms—from gems and rings to daggers and swords. In addition to spell containment, some of these items also function as spell point adders or even multipliers. Most containers can be used only by sorcerers, but there are some that can be used by anyone. This latter class serves dutifully as 'scrolls of protection.' A layman can utter the command word and make the necessary gestures in order to invoke the protective magic imbued within the container. Such general purpose spell containers are always 'used up' once invoked.

Spell containers are very powerful items in the hands of a capable sorcerer. In effect, they are reusable scrolls. Containers can store a preset number of spell points worth of live magic, varying from container to container. The storing of spells is equivalent to casting, so spell points are subtracted from the caster's pool while he is loading up the container. When cast, the contained spells go off instantaneously. Moreover, casting contained spells does not draw from the caster's spell point reserve. Lesser spell containers are used up after several (or even one) use, depending on the quality of the container. Greater spell containers can be reused indefinitely.

Stored spells may also be 'consumed.' Instead of casting the spell, it is transferred directly into the sorcerer's mind. A contained spell used in this manner is effectively learned, making this an alternate means of spell acquisition. This process is still subject to the rule governing the chance to know a given spell, however. If the consumer is not capable of knowing the spell, then the spell will remain in a contained state.

It is with this move that I make the final blows against Vancian magic in my campaign. Magic in the World of Yezmyr is now its own thing. I am excited to see how this unfolds in play.

Ziqquratu Ziyaret

Copyright © 2010, Ramsey Dow. All Rights Reserved.
 
The western part of the Pillar of Shagraath is dominated by the dusty Plains of Sahak, where ferocious pit lions prey upon the weak. Within this desolate wasteland broods the black pile of rock known as Ziqquratu Ziyaret.


The approach is littered with obelisks decorated with reliefs and inscriptions in Zhasuu. The reliefs depict orgies of reptilian sex and death. The inscriptions recount the conquests and glories of the fallen empire of the reptilians. The place gives off an air of great antiquity, and at the same time, one of dread.

Broad avenues of steps ascend to platforms where yawning black portals lead to the pile's interior. Within lies a seemingly endless array of unlit vaults and passageways. Deep within the cryptic gloom lies a dead city. According to the Tablets of Urutau, the place is haunted by the degenerate remnants of the once great therapsidians. The tablets also speak of a nexus of gateways located deep within that lead to the manifold dimensions.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Stocking Tables and Probabilities

I was rereading Metamorphosis Alpha the other day (the 1976 version, in case you were wondering) and I came across a little table in the "Distribution of Monsters (Mutations) and Treasure" section. It was a simple stocking table, requiring a roll of 1d6 in order to determine the contents of a given room/chamber/area.

I've been spending a lot of time running probabilities over at AnyDice 2 lately. As such, Ward's probabilities looked a little sketchy to me. The table had 4 entries, giving two entries at 33.34% and two at 16.67%. I suppose that's fine, but I could see it having a little more granularity. Here's my take on Ward's table:

d10 Stocking Table
1-5 monster only
6-7 monster and small treasure
8-9 monster and good treasure
10 very strong monster and good treasure

Fifty-fifty seems like good odds for there being any sort of treasure at all. Of course, this particular table discounts the possibility of treasures occurring without monsters. In my estimation that's not really a bad thing.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

MPK, or: I Love My Players

I'm slammed writing at the moment, so forgive the quick post this morning. I'll try and wrangle up some longer content soon. In the meantime, enjoy this little snippet…

One of my players said something to me in private a couple of weeks ago that still has me grinning. I'm paraphrasing, but he said something along the lines of, "I'm not worried about a TPK. I'm worried about an MPK." I was like, "What's an MPK?" He replied, "Most of the Party Killed."

That's a new acronym for the books.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Interesting Places: The Tombs

I'm channeling some sort of mutant combination of Richard Corben and Vaughn Bodé today…


Out in the Aurora Badlands, beyond the safety of civilization, is a great pillar of igneous rock. Thrust high into the colorful sky, this place is known only as The Tombs. It is an ancient burial site, abandoned for millennia. Riddled with twisty catacombs and secret burial vaults, the Tombs are said to be the province of the undead. Sane men won't set foot anywhere near the place.

The Tombs are said to glow with a spectral light in the dark hours. It is unknown whether this is due to the unhallowed nature of the place or some weird source of radiation. In any case, The Tombs are located in the middle of radioactive badlands. Caution must be exercised in the approach, for in addition to radiation and inclement weather, this region is beset by countless irradiated horrors.

Dungeon Masters take note: this place is one of those sprawling dungeon complexes you often read about. It has been carved out, layer upon layer, over long ages. Its network of charnel vaults and catacombs, constructed without rhyme or reason, twists deep into the pillar of rock.


This is but one "level" of The Tombs. Hundreds of similar areas are situated throughout the pillar. This particular area is accessible only by a series of portals located on a ledge 730 feet above the ground on the pillar's southern face. There are no doors in this place, although some ways are blocked, either by bars or pits. Who or what is interned within is up to you. Whatever it is, I expect that it is grotesque in the extreme. GOOD LORD! *CHOKE*

The Fine Print: I am sharing this map under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike license. If you follow that link you will be able to read about the conditions that apply to this work. In a nutshell: (a) you can't use it commercially, (b) you must attribute it to me, and (c) you must share any derivative works that you create.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Holmes YX

My gaming group has been playing OD&D for the past year. The experience has been fun, but not as cohesive as I desire. As a DM I've 'smoothed out' more wrinkles this year than I care to admit. I understand that is part of the job, but for once I'd like the system to match and work with my conceptions. The campaign is currently undergoing a transformation from sword & sorcery into science fantasy due in no small part to the current play testing effort. As such, this is the best possible time for me to revisit system choice.

Even though OD&D is rules light compared to later editions, it still has too much stuff that I don't want and not enough stuff that I do want. As a group, we're all familiar with classic D&D, so the replacement system must remain in that vein. However, the mechanics need to be light and cohesive. I love AD&D, but it's got way too many knobs. I am not partial to Moldvay/Cook, and anything after 1982 is a non-starter. That leaves Holmes.

I have fond memories of Holmes Basic. It's what I started with back in 1977. It's like comfortable shoes. Make no mistake, however. This choice was not made out of misplaced feelings of nostalgia. I needed a cohesive, light base from which to remix, and Holmes provided that in spades. After looking at all the Holmes expansions out there (Meepo's and Delve's, among others) I decided that I'd rather have a go at it myself. While there was nothing specifically wrong with any of the expansions I looked at, none won me over. In the end, it was simply a matter of personal taste.

Four months later, Holmes YX is nearing completion. Calling this an expansion is somewhat of a misnomer. What I really did was apply Microsoft's Embrace & Extend strategy (leaving out the bit about extermination). The end result is neither Holmes Basic nor OD&D. It's really a bastard, mutant creation of my own devising—but it's still D&D. I am not trying to appeal to anyone. This is my set of rules and it is shamelessly geared towards the variety of science fantasy gaming that I am interested in. Its utility lies in the fact that it is mated at the hip/brain with the new World of Yezmyr.

Following are some highlights of the system. There's probably something in here to piss off just about everyone in this insular community of ours. In no particular order:
  • Only humans exist, but there are six types for variety. (Well okay, Chitinous Men aren't really humans.)
  • I ditched the Wisdom attribute.
  • I added the Radiation Resistance attribute from Metamorphosis Alpha.
  • I'm using attribute bonuses as per Supplement I.
  • Magic-Users and Clerics have been transformed into Sorcerers.
  • I'm keeping Fighting-Men, but ditching Thieves, Paladins, etc.
  • Progression has been expanded to a soft limit of 14th level for both classes. (I'm looking back to OD&D 3LBB and Supplement I for guidance.)
  • The character creation section has been reorganized.
  • I merged in some supplementary material from the various editions of B1 In Search of the Unknown.
  • I'm using the threefold alignment system.
  • Undead cannot be turned.
  • Initiative is based on a d10 roll, the result indicating which 6-second segment your attack occurs in.
  • All weapons strike once per round.
  • I'm using variable weapon damage as per Supplement I.
  • Sorcerers have greatly expanded spell lists.
  • Magic missiles don't require a roll "to hit."
  • I am including some monsters from OD&D (specifically from M&T and Supplement I).
  • I am including some of the "new monsters" from The Strategic Review.
  • I am including random Demon generation from The Dragon, but with a number of refinements.
  • I am including details on the Carnivorous Ape, Giant Beetle, Groaning Spirit, Hell Hound, Giant Leech, Lich, Lion, Brown Mold, Yellow Mold, Ogre Mage, Rot Grub, Giant Scorpion, Violet Fungi, Yeti, Wind Walker, and varieties of Wolves from the Monster Manual.
  • I created over 50 new monsters specific to the World of Yezmyr.
  • I left out countless "traditional" monsters that I felt were either boring, played out, or simply didn't fit the new world as conceptualized.
  • Dragons are all Eastern-style.
  • I replaced the toned down dragon subdual rules with the original subdual rules from OD&D.
  • I am including most of the new magical items from The Strategic Review.
  • I am including some (but not all) of the magic items from OD&D (cherry-picked from the 3LBB and supplements).
  • I added the tables for creating artifacts from EW, but no artifacts themselves—I'll create those later.
  • I jettisoned Vancian magic, opting for spell point mechanics instead.
  • I replaced the muddled psionic rules from Eldritch Wizardry with rules from Classic Traveller.
  • I am using the disease rules from Supplement II along with a handful of diseases unique to the World of Yezmyr.
  • I am using mutation rules inspired by Planet Algol, although greatly expanded.
  • I am using a fusion of radiation rules from Metamorphosis Alpha and Gamma World, 1st ed.
  • I am using weapon types and damage from AD&D, 1st ed., along with strength and dexterity requirements from Planet Algol.
So there you have it. HOLMES YX. Fighting-Men and Sorcerers. 147 spells. 185 monsters. Weird gods, spaceships, and radiation. It's D&D. No, it's Metamorphosis Alpha. No, it's Traveller. No. It's all of those, combined. Sounds good to me. Carry on!

For those of you wondering, I am not releasing this. This rules compilation is a walking copyright violation. In any case, the world does not need yet another D&D clone. We've got umpteen too many of those already. This is quite simply my science fantasy D&D remix. It's weird, streamlined, and compatible with Classic Traveller FTW!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

100% Tolkien Free

This is one of those "flogging a dead horse" topics, but I want to write something about it regardless. It's no secret that I do like some Tolkien. The Hobbit, for instance, is a perennial favorite. Other works by Tolkien leave me cold. It's an opinion, so take it or leave it. You can argue that EGG & D&D were not influenced by Tolkien, saying that everyone robbed from the same mythologies, but then you have things like Balrogs.

My appreciation of The Hobbit aside, I'm not really keen on using Tolkien's material in my own world. As a matter of fact, I'm bored to tears of orcs, goblins, ents, dwarves, hobbits, balrogs, and the like. Haven't we been experiencing this stuff pretty much continually for our entire lives? I need a vacation from this stuff. That's why I'm happy to say that the World of Yezmyr is 100% Tolkien free.


Yes, it's true. There are no elves, or dwarves, or hobbits. There are no orcs, goblins, ents, or balrogs. There are dragons, but they are eastern worms, not western drakes, and hence not really like Tolkien's dragons. (Secretly, I was tempted to allow a little GW influence and have space orcs armed with plasma bolters, but I thought better of it in the end.)

Now, instead of traditional tropes, I am spending more time conceptualizing the myriad alien horrors that stalk the dusty surface of Yezmyr. The creatures are more horrific and, because they are new, more interesting to myself and the players. Truth be told, I should have made this move a long, long time ago.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Level Titles are Dumb or: I'm a 4th level Thermador?

I'm back with a short opinion piece. I'm hard at work on "the project," which I'll discuss sometime in the future. In the meantime, I want to talk about level titles. I loathe level titles. They're a hodge podge of names, oftentimes only tenuously related. I'm not sure what EGG was thinking when he created them. Personally, I think he was having fun with the thesaurus.

I've never used level titles when I've been a player. What am I going to do? I could say something like, "Don't mess with me—I'm a bad ass thaumaturgist!" However, that just sounds silly to me. As a player I frequently found myself wanting to possess either a title from a previous level or something altogether different.

Level titles do not work for me as a DM, either. I've never really used level titles in the games I've run. It seems that the canonical usage would be something along the lines of, "You are beset upon by footpads. They club you and abscond with all your stuff! Muahahaha!" I've never done that. I prefer to call a spade a spade.

So what good are level titles, then? I suppose they give you something to look forward to. That seems artificial, though. Why not simply adjust your thinking as your character gains levels, expanding the persona as you go? "I just made a level! Now I am a Raucous Warrior! Beware, scoundrels!" That seems a lot more interesting to me—both as a player and as a DM. Be creative. It's your character/game/whatever.

I've dispensed with level titles in the World of Yezmyr campaign. In my game people are normals, fighting-men, or sorcerers. It is fine if a character—player or otherwise—wants to add some color through the use of titles and so forth. I encourage that sort of creativity. A character is free to be whatever they want to be. Gone are the days of pigeon holed titles based on accrued XP. Good bye level titles—and good riddance!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Medallion of the Priests of Achlatea

Copyright © 2009, Ramsey Dow. All Rights Reserved.

Known as "The Eyes of Achlatea," this medallion is worn by the priests of the spider god. It is fashioned from six oval discs connected by a fine, silver chain. The discs are metal, the rims a wide band of silver with the center obsidian. Wearing this necklace confers enhanced senses: 1) sight — larger area of perception, range, and detail; 2) sound — greater range, finer sensitivity; and 3) touch — can feel vibrations much more distinctly. These enhanced senses combine to reduce the likelihood of the wearer being surprised to 1 in 6 while worn.


This item is cursed by Achlatea so that the user will slowly go mad—the enhanced senses are perceived as if by a spider. This seriously messes with human minds. There is a base 5% chance of insanity + 1d4% per week. These percentages are cumulative, so it is not unreasonable to expect a 9-21% chance of going permanently insane after use for a month. Once a player character goes insane, they will immediately attain non-player status. Their madness will compel them to slink away in the dark to find a secluded place, where they will commit suicide. From their remains will be born a thousand spiders.

The item is cold to the touch—not vastly so, just a few degrees less than one might expect such an object to be in present environmental conditions. Under drastic conditions (such as in rain or a snow storm) it is next to impossible to note the object's coolness.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Interesting Places: The Junction

I'm swamped writing, so this is a simple post. I drew this map several months ago. For various reasons I dropped the project it was associated with. You might find it useful, so I am adding it to the Interesting Places series. There's no interesting history for you this time. This is simply a dungeon area that wants to be keyed and explored.

This map is called "The Junction" because it connects various parts of a larger dungeon complex together. This would be a good place for some competing factions to come together for a fight. Alternately, this might be the 'back route' through a humanoid controlled area, so sneaking might be the order of the day. It's really up to you to decide what the nature of this place is. Figuring out where all those off-shoots lead should be terrifically fun.


There's no legend for this map, but it should be fairly easy to read. Here's a list of things visible: stalagmites (with x's), stalactites (with dots), stairs up, stairs down, doors, double doors, secret doors, secret trapdoors, subfloor passages, rubble, statues, columns, circular pits, water, terraces, burial niches with skeletal remains, and sinkholes. Oh yeah, I almost forgot the brazier in the room with the secret trapdoor. That's it. (By the way, those aren't false or one-way doors in front of the rubble—those are actual doors, but they are fully blocked by the rubble.)

The Fine Print: I am sharing this map under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike license. If you follow that link you will be able to read about the conditions that apply to this work. In a nutshell: (a) you can't use it commercially, (b) you must attribute it to me, and (c) you must share any derivative works that you create.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Elf Storage

While we were walking around downtown Seattle this weekend, Z took this photo:


Got too many elves? No problem!

Friday, February 19, 2010

The Many Tongues of Yezmyr (Part 3 of 3)

Copyright © 2010, Ramsey Dow. All Rights Reserved.

This is the third and final post in which I detail the languages I use in the World of Yezmyr, my science fantasy setting. The language family I will be discussing today is that of the unusual languages. The World of Yezmyr has its fair share of unusual and esoteric languages. Some of these come from Yezmyr, itself, while others originate on other worlds and planes of existence.

Cyclopean: This was the language spoken by the titans before their downfall eons ago. Although not spoken by anyone on Yezmyr, there are ancient sealed tombs that contain writing in this tongue. It is also possible that a number of titans survive in the outer planes. If encountered, they would likely speak this tongue.

Dead: Countless dead languages can be found within the ruins that litter the surface of Yezmyr. Dead scripts are almost a dime a dozen. Perhaps the most "famous" is the indecipherable geometric script of the long dead Precursors. No one has ever managed to put these glyphs into any sort of coherent context. Some sages argue that their language is meaningless, while others claim it is the tongue of madness.

Extraplanar: There are as many extraplanar languages as there are beings from hailing from the far planes. Their varieties and forms are nearly endless.

Null: Only the terrible creatures of the Nullity speak this dark and evil language. It is the primary tongue of demons.

Offworld: There are innumerable extraterrestrial races (who presumably visit Yezmyr in order to "take samples"). Their languages are many and varied. Some are pronounceable by human vocal chords, while others are not.

Ph'nglui: This is the tongue of the Ichthyans, a blasphemous race of advanced fish men that dwell deep within the subterranean vaults of water that lace the crust of Yezmyr.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Many Tongues of Yezmyr (Part 2 of 3)

Copyright © 2010, Ramsey Dow. All Rights Reserved.

This is the second post of three in which I detail the languages I use in the World of Yezmyr, my science fantasy setting. The language family I will be discussing today is that of the monsters. This family is comprised of all the various languages spoken by sentient monsters throughout Yezmyr.

Balachakan: Interestingly, both djinn and efreet share this language, although they do have distinct dialects. The language is simultaneously singsong and guttural. Its script is spidery in appearance.

Brahak: This is the language of the hrusk. It is loud and violent, even when whispered. It has no written form.

Buryaam: This is the esoteric language of dopplegangers. Little is known about it, for dopplegangers of Yezmyr hide their existence. The written form resembles Hittite cuneiform.

Chaktai: Ogres and ogre magi speak this harsh tongue. Its written form is simple and consists of intricately aligned gouges.

Ghu'ur: This is the language of trolls. Although its written form consists of simple glyph combinations, its spoken form is unusually rich and expressive.

Go'at: Although it simply sounds like the bleating of goats, this is the language of the goat men. It has no written form.

Hraksang: Although repulsive creatures, the language of the troglodytes is surprisingly beautiful. Its written form consists of fluid glyphs, flowing from top to bottom.

Ilquan: This is the language of medusas. Its written form is serpentine like their hair.

Khalka: This is the language of the gargoyles. It is harsh and and spoken in screechlike tones.

Kharana: This is the mewling tongue of the khar'ool. Its written form consists of complex sequences of circles and scratches, occasionally punctuated by dots.

Khitzai: The language of the rat men sounds like squeaks and looks like the gnawing marks found upon chewed bones.

Nikudhari: This is the tongue of the vampires. It has a sinister timbre. Its written form consists of sharp, angular glyphs that make use of a number of peculiar diacriticals.

Olmon: This is the strange tongue of the amorphos. It sounds like a droning monotony. It has verbal and mental components. Although non-psionic humans cannot master the mental component, its verbal components can be mastered with study. This language has no written form.

Ornaathian: This is the language of the ornaath. It consists of sequences of gentle, high-pitched neighs punctuated by hoof stamping. It has no written form.

Shas'rhaksa: This is the obscure language of the rakshasas. Spoken in harsh whispering tones, it sounds evil. Its glyphs appear as if constructed by claw marks.

Siril: This is the language of dragon-kind. It sounds strangely similar to the chirping of birds. Its runic script is both complex and beautiful.

S'ss: This is the hissing tongue of the serpent men. Its written form consists of coil-shaped glyphs punctuated by triangular forms.

Yaakhu: This is the howling tongue of the hyena men. It has no written form.

Zhasuu: This is the primitive language of the therapsids. It sounds like guttural hissing and is obviously not meant for human vocal chords. Its written form consists of sequences of primitive, geometric glyphs.

Zx'kath: This is the obscene, screeching language of the winged blighters. Its written form consists of vertical sequences of angular glyphs that read from the bottom up.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Many Tongues of Yezmyr (Part 1 of 3)

Copyright © 2010, Ramsey Dow. All Rights Reserved.

The World of Yezmyr is one of many tongues, both living and dead. This is the first post of three in which I will detail the languages I use in my science fantasy setting.

One of the things I've appreciated in immersive worlds, such as Middle Earth and Tékumel is the lavish attention paid to language. Now I'm no philologist, so there won't be any actual language development from me, but I certainly can fake it. To that end I have detailed the three basic language families extant on the world: the "native" tongues of mankind, the monster languages, and languages which are esoteric or otherwise unusual. These families each contain a number of related languages.

I don't get very detailed with any of these languages, nor do I make up grammars or vocabularies or the like. I simply make sure that I know the name of the language, who speaks it, whether it has a written form or not, and a handful of interesting observations about it—color, if you will. It's the latter item that will help jog my memory down the road when player characters find themselves confronted with strange glyphs and I've got to make up something on the spot.

All humans know the "common tongue," the trade language spoken by mankind throughout the known world. All other monsters that can speak have their own language. Some monsters can even speak common, although this is far from the norm. As per usual, characters have a capacity to learn additional languages based on their intelligence score.

The first language family I will discuss is the "native" family. This family consists of the eight languages of mankind. Although not all of these languages originate from humanity, all of these tongues are associated with the lawful civilizations of men.

Adhari: This is the guttural speech of the Low Men. It is a fairly simple language. It has no written standard, although a common orthography has been devised for use among the various tribes.

Chitin: This is the strange clicking and tapping language spoken by the Chitinous Men. Humans have a very difficult time speaking this tongue, as it was clearly not created for use with human vocal chords—or bodies. Moreover, its written form is obscenely complex. Most have difficulty grasping the language it its totality. Nevertheless, with patience and study, it is possible to master enough of the rhythms of this language to be able to communicate with Chitinous Men in their native tongue. Hand clickers are frequently employed to simulate tapping on chitinous plates.

Common: This language is both simple to learn and politically neutral. It is the language of trade used throughout the city-states of mankind. It is used by nearly everyone capable of speech. A percentage of monsters have mastered and are capable of using the Common Tongue of Mankind.

Dwovish: This is the language of the High Men of Dwo. It is guttural and resembles Hochdeutsch in both sound and construction. It is a very precise tongue. Nouns with many syllables are constructed to give exact meaning to concepts. Its written form consists of a succinct family of glyphs that can be used to construct any spoken concept or idea.

Mengwese: This is the language of the High Men of Mengwu. It sounds like Mandarin Chinese and is written in vertical sequences of glyphs, reading from top to bottom. Like Chinese, Mengwese has a bewildering array of glyphs representing concepts. Complex ideas and concepts are related by constructing sequences of glyphs that build upon one another.

Mutie: Not so much a language as a cant, this is the universal slang of mutants. Although many mutants are able to communicate telepathically, some lack the proper faculties and must resort to vocalized speech. Thieves along the borders of the various wastelands frequently speak a pidgin form of Mutie for 'trade' purposes.

Synth: This 'language' is actually a high-frequency communications protocol employed by synthetics for purposes of data communication. The sounds of this language occur above 20,000 Hz and are thus imperceptible to most humans, although some young people sense the sounds. In addition to vocalization, this language can also be spoken as packets across networks, both wired and wireless.

Murrican: This is the language of the Earth Men. It is standard American English. Its written form uses the Latin alphabet. It sounds just like it does on Stargate SG-1.