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.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Interesting Places: Monuments of Ghiz

Deep within the Desert of Sighs, far beyond where the caravans trek, broods a demon-haunted ruin. Crowded with obelisks, broken and askew, the place radiates an unwholesome sense of despair. From the side it has the look of a giant skeletal hand, upturned and clenching as sands eternal run through its bony digits. Long shadows fall as the lonesomeness of day gives way to the chill of night and strange creatures stalk the sandy wastes.

It is said that the monuments are all that remain of ancient Llar, a desert-trading outpost from millennia past. Legends relate that the Hakusan, ancient invaders from the dim north, destroyed it during one of their many incursions. As the citadel convulsed in its death throes, the fabled sorcerers of Llar unleashed their final fury: the opening a gateway to the Nullity. The ensuing chaos saw everyone—the Hasukan and the sorcerers—destroyed by the demonic host. The citadel and its fate faded from memory, swallowed by the sands…

The obelisks that remain standing are covered in ancient glyphs, their edges worn smooth by the relentless pummeling of desert grit. The glyphs are of no known or recognizable language and all efforts at translation have been met with futility. As if the impenetrable nature of the glyphs weren't warning enough, the place bristles with unseen energy, causing the hairs on one's nape to prickle.

At the center of the ruin, just beneath the surface of the shifting sands, is a huge slab of stone, measuring over 50 feet from end to end. Every square inch of the slab’s surface is covered in yet more incomprehensible glyphs. The titanic slab radiates strongly with primeval magic and resists opening by normal means. It is unknown what is imprisoned beneath its unyielding bulk.

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, February 13, 2010

Voyage Into the Future

The first part of "the project" has been play tested. The players played smart and their characters fought hard. In the end, they won access to the Black Chamber of Crystal Skulls. Alas, the potent sorcery of the place ensnared them and they found their minds propelled 23,000,000 years into the future.

In time, the characters awoke to their new reality. They retained their memories, but found themselves in new, unfamiliar bodies. Emerging from vertical glass tubes, the characters stared in amazement at themselves: a motley crew consisting of two chitinous men, a high man, two low men, and three earthmen.

The earthmen are all fine representatives of pulp adventurers, right down to the ragged remnants of their clothing. Although the memories of the vessels are unknown to the characters, the players themselves are keenly aware that they have been through terrific experiences, including being sucked into a wormhole while parachuting and surviving a hectic storm while flying across the Bermuda Triangle in a Learjet.

The low men are stout and stand with poor posture. Their skin is bronze, and they have ruddy complexions and coarse features. As much as you might loathe the phrase, "noble savage," this is precisely what they are. They are hirsute and wear loose fitting tunics, leggings, and sandals.

The group's sole high man has bronze skin and refined, even noble, features. Interestingly, he happens to be completely hairless right down to his eyebrows. He wears a white, wrap-around kilt, felt cloak, and leather soled sandals laced up his calves. A mystic-looking tattoo surrounds his right eye, but its meaning is lost upon all.

The pair of chitinous men are clearly the most visually arresting of the bunch. They are unusually pale and emaciated bipedal insectoids standing seven feet tall! Their skin is a tough, semi translucent, bone-white horny material and forms a partial exoskeleton. They have no hair to speak of, although they do have some fuzz around their various joints. Their bug eyes are practically bulging out of their heads. These two have apparently engraved arabesques and sacred designs into their chitinous plates and filled the grooves with platinum. Because chitinous men have no lips they are unable to make the 'b' and 'p' sounds, leading to humorous statements such as, "Look! My 'ody is covered in 'latinum!"

The characters, while dressed, have no weapons, armor, or equipment of any sort. Other than their distinctive body decorations, the chitinous men are apparently nude. This doesn't seem to pose any problem, since no one knows how to tell a chitinous male from a chitinous female. The two characters aren't even sure as to the genders of their respective vessels. Speaking of gender, fully half of the characters' minds are encased in bodies of an opposing gender. Truly, these are interesting times for our adventurers.

The characters soon discover that they are all capable of speaking their respective native tongues as well as a "common tongue," which happens to be shared by all. Moreover, the characters have retained their respective class, level, and intelligence and wisdom scores. Everything else was rerolled due to their new bodies.

The party's spell casters remember previously memorized spells, but the magic-users are separated from their precious spell books. Praying, the clerics find their gods distant, resulting in access only to spells from the lower levels. With their resources thus constrained, the characters stand on the brink of their greatest adventure yet, for they are Marooned Across Space and Time.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Technology and Magic

Technology and magic are like chocolate and peanut butter to me. Mixing the two only makes them better. (Hello, Reese's!) Nonetheless, this is one of those topics that people have strong opinions about. It's like politics or religion in the real world, or vi versus Emacs in the UNIX world. You likely have an opinion already. Personally, I don't see a problem arming robots with +1 magic swords. Likewise, I don't have any issue with a sorcerer taking out said robots with a scroll of heap overflow.

Fairy Child: Where's Daddy? What's he doing?
Fairy: He is guarding our home, son.
Fairy: There has been a war, and this land is lost.
Fairy Child: Why can't we fight and win, Mommy?
Fairy: Because they have weapons and technology. We just have love.

Ralph Bakshi's Wizards has been a major influence when it comes to mixing technology and magic. More recently, I have rediscovered Richard Corben's planetary romance, Den. If Wizards set the stage, Den crystallized everything for me. I had to do something in a similar vein.

The science fantasy World of Yezmyr (not to be confused with its strictly sword & sorcery predecessor) is my latest experiment. It involves integrating D&D with Classic Traveller in a unified setting. Rejiggering magic and psionics so that they work together seamlessly across systems was a primary motivation. The solution turned out to be a lot easier than I had originally imagined. I'm going to take a cue from M.A.R. Barker and keep the details under wraps. It's enigmas like these that keep campaign settings interesting.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Leng Tch'e

Torture and slavery are extremely common on Yezmyr. The city-states of man practice many forms of torture, both in private and in public. When it comes to public exhibitions, however, nothing captures the imagination of the people like the slicing death of a thousand cuts.

The victim is tied to a great wooden frame, stained deeply by years of sustained bloodletting. Slowly, over a period of days, he is cut with knives. Opiates are administered when the pain becomes intolerable. The torturers see to it that the transgressor remains conscious throughout the process. He stares ecstatically into space, blissfully unaware that his internal organs are being removed. Through this ritual the victim is relieved of his life. His body, irreversibly defiled, crumples in ignominious death as his spirit passes on to the Nullity for eternal punishment.

The torturers in the City-States of the Sorcerer Kings are crueler than most. It is said that they lace their opiates with psi-drugs acquired from the minions of the sorcerer kings, themselves. These drugs have the effect of bringing extraplanar horrors into the mind of the victim while he is being subjected to the knife. The terror is said to be exquisite. Scrying parlors located throughout the gloomier districts of these cities sell access to the dying episodes. The experience is said to be "life changing."

If this post hasn't been disturbing enough, check out Naked City's exploration of Leng Tch'e. That is the sound of the Plaza of Souls on a creepy Sunday morning in the degenerate northern city of Keramis.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


Yesterday I cut a line dealing with the cold gulfs of interstellar space from my post about Yezmyr and its relation to the infinite latticework of planar realities. That act bothered me all day long, so I am following it up with a post about the the campaign world's relation to interstellar space. Whereas M.A.R. Barker's Tékumel is safely(?) sequestered within a pocket dimension, the World of Yezmyr openly hangs within the fabric of Known Space in the Classic Traveller universe.

The World of Yezmyr is located within Iakr Sector (known as Foreven Sector in the Imperium). Situated at the edge of the Zhodani Consulate, within Anika Subsector, Yezmyr is a claimed world. It is not, however, absorbed into the Consulate. It is classified as a Forbidden World (equivalent to an Imperial Red Zone), and access to it is strictly forbidden. It is possible that the system is host to a secret Consular research station.

Owing to Iakr Sector's backwater status, there is no permanent military blockade stationed at Yezmyr. The Zhodani Consulate does maintain an automated hunter-killer satellite array in system, however. Unauthorized vessels that enter the Yezmyr system will be tracked, engaged, and destroyed by these satellites.

Yezmyr (known to the Impirium as Yesmar's World) is the fourth planet of seven that orbit the star, Yrn. Yrn is an F-type main sequence star with a spectral classification of F5V. Although a yellow-white dwarf, Yrn has 1.4 times more mass, is nearly twice the diameter, and is 7.5 times more luminous than Earth's Sun. A single moon, Zeroun, orbits Yezmyr. Where Yrn is associated with life, Zeroun is associated with sorcery and death.

Name: Yezmyr
Hex: 0917
Stats: X840670-1
    Starport: None
    Planetary Size: Medium (12,878 kilometers in diameter)
    Atmosphere: Thin, Tainted (0.61 atmospheres)
    Hydrosphere: Desert World (2.5% surface water)
    Population: Moderate (1,000,000)
    Government: Balkanization (no central ruling authority exists)
    Law Level: No Law, no prohibitions
    Tech Level: Medieval (circa 600 AD)
Base Code: None
Trade Classifications: Desert World, Ice-Capped
Extended Stats: R 111
    Travel Zone: Red (severe danger)
    Population Multiplier: 1 → 1 × 10^6;
    Planetoid Belts: 1
    Gas Giants: 1
Allegiance Code: Zh (Zhodani Consulate)

Refer to the UWP entry on the Traveller Wiki for additional details on Yezmyr's profile.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

An Infinite Latticework of Planar Realities

I have never been a fan of EGG's arrangement of planes. They have always seemed overwrought to me. I find M.A.R. Barker's "infinite latticework" much more to my liking. I recently reread Flamesong and loved the seemingly random arrangement of planes. One misstep in the latticework and you can find yourself with some serious problems!

When designing the World of Yezmyr I decided to chuck EGG's 'classical' planes right out the window. Well, I did keep the Astral Plane, and the Prime Material Plane is pretty much the same as it ever was. Beyond that, however, I made liberal changes. For instance, I don't use the Ethereal Plane. Instead, one accesses other planes by following the appropriate path. Stepping in different places and crossing various 'lines' leads to different realities. In addition to not using the Ethereal Plane, I likewise don't support the concepts of the Positive and Negative energy planes, nor do I have much use for the Concordant Opposition.

Following the Astral Plane and the Prime Material Plane are the Plane of Shadow and the Nullity. The Plane of Shadow is my general purpose home for all manner of preternatural spookiness. It is associated with both the undead and negative energy in general. The Nullity, on the other hand, is where demons come from. (As an aside, none of the demons found in D&D exist in the cosmology of Yezmyr. My demons are all custom, but I'll save those details for a future series of posts.) In any case, if you were to ask me offhand what the Nullity is like, I'd tell you that it's like dereferencing a NULL pointer: therein lies only madness and death.

These planes are followed by an infinite procession of smaller planes and demi-planes. The idea is that I should be able to create these quickly and naturally, with each ideally suited for a specific adventure—or mini-adventure. In fact, I've done just that and created a score of planes for use in future 'unusual' adventures. In addition to custom creations, I have felt free to reference some of my favorite literary realms, including, among others, Jorge Luis Borges' Library of Babel and Brian Aldiss' Hothouse, Non-Stop, and Pile/Elip. That's the beauty of the infinite latticework: there's room for everything—even stuff I decide to like in the future. I'll never run out of room.

It is important to note that there is no 'engineered' organization to these planes. There is no overarching cosmological diagram. These planes simply exist and are multiply interconnected, and that is that. Looking deeply into the details is the province of starry-eyed sorcerers. Suffice it to say that those who are armed with the appropriate knowledge (and psi-drugs) will be able to go far in the dimensional web surrounding the World of Yezmyr. But as with M.A.R. Barker's infinite latticework, one must exercise great caution, for a single misstep can lead to imprisonment, among even worse fates.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Interesting Places: Lost Underground Galleries

Far below the sunlit surface is a world of dark and twisting caves. Within this world is a particularly dangerous delve known as the Lost Underground Galleries. These caves might exist by themselves or they might be part of a larger whole. They might even comprise a sinister sub-level situated off of the main core of an inordinately large dungeon complex. It's up to you to figure out how to place this locale within your campaign.

There are two ways into these galleries, each denoted on the map by a dotted circle. Where these access points lead is up to you. Perhaps they connect to the surface. Then again, they might lead to yet deeper caves—or even to the fabled caverns which are said to honeycomb the crust of the world.

Who or what dwells (or dwelled?) within these dark caverns? There has obviously been some sort of intelligence in this fell place due to the presence of several unusually large statues. Are the builders still here or did they move on centuries ago? Is anything crawling out of all those sinkholes? Where do they lead?

If you look closely you will note that there are a number of cysts and vaults that are inaccessible from the main series of caves. This is by design. Note that these cysts each have their own individual access points. Again, whether these access points lead upwards or downwards is up to you. Perhaps they all interconnect via some sort of arrangement of hidden passages. There are many possibilities.

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, February 1, 2010

Interesting Places: Broken Fang

In the foothills of the Witchfire Mountains lies a narrow, wooded ravine. A pitted track leads into its tangled expanse from the valleys below. Before the avalanche, it served as the main conduit to Howling Wolf Pass. But with the way now permanently closed by rock fall, man has quit the place. Long years passed and the watchtower that once protected the ravine fell to ruin. Today, the ravine is overgrown with vegetation. The ground slopes upward from the base of the ravine at a 25° angle and a fast moving stream cuts across the floor during the rainy season. The top of the ravine is choked with impassable rubble.

The ruined watchtower is located mid-way up the west side of the ravine. It is octagonal and stands 30 feet wide and 60 feet tall. Fashioned from large blocks of grayish blue stone, the tower is a shade of its former self. Its upper floors are completely collapsed and the structure is dangerously unsound. A single battered door provides entrance to the place, while numerous arrow loops and dim windows stare from above. No one knows what fate has befallen this place.

Inside, narrow spiral stairs connect the floors. The floor of the 4th level is rotten and its ceiling is open to the sky. The stairs ascending from this place are rubble-choked and impassible. Similarly, the stairs descending from the 1st level are obstructed by an impenetrable gloom. Where they lead is left up to you.

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.