Showing posts with label 1st ed. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 1st ed. Show all posts

Thursday, November 3, 2022

The Isles of Avalon

The Isles of Avalon
One of the reasons I do the long projects here like 100 Days of Halloween or BECMI Month or even shorter week-long deep dives into topics is to take a topic and explore it as deeply as I can. Some topics just need longer to figure out than a one-off blog post. Another reason is to recharge my creative batteries.

So I am fresh off October and last night I feverishly got nearly 10,000 words into a project. Nothing I am ready for the public eye yet, but it felt good to be full of such raw creativity again.

Another little project that grew out my October is this idea of The Isles of Avalon. In truth, it has been there ever since I first picked up Clark Ashton Smith and thought I needed an Empire of Necromancers. But it was rereading my Complete Book of Necromancers and the Avalon Hill game Wizards that the idea became something I want to pursue in depth. 

I do not have all the details yet, but I do know the following.

It is an Archipelago of Islands

There is one large island, the main one, and many smaller islands around it / near it. Right now my mental model is something like the Hawaiian Islands only not tropical. I need some cold places, so another model are the British Isles. Since I am re-reading Tolkien's Unfinished Tales I can't help but add some Númenor into my mental mix.

It is Old

This place needs to have risen to its height ages ago and now fallen into decay. There are still people here and still living their lives, and there are still wizards galore here. But one of the consequences of this is the islands still feel like they are in some sort of lost past. For me to get this feeling I want everything to look like 1970s art. More specifically I am thinking something along the lines of the album art Roger Dean used to do for Yes and Uriah Heep. In fact, those two groups, in particular, would also provide the soundtrack for this endeavor.  This is not the NWOBHM of the 80s I typically do. This needs to sound and feel different to me. 

Another feeling I want is not just that this place is old, but nature has reclaimed it. So there are, or more to point were, mighty citadels here that are now abandoned and nature has moved back in. What strange magics are here? Are there wizards still sleeping in long-forgotten chambers? Do the experiments of long-dead necromancers still haunt the dungeons?  Again with the Yes album cover idea I want this place to look beautiful and feel dangerous. 

It is Advanced D&D

I am pretty well-known for my love for Basic-era D&D. B/X is my jam.  BUT I want a 1970s feel here, and B/X and BECMI are quintessentially 80s.  Now I could very easily merge this with my "1979 Campaign Idea." Indeed, parts of that plan work well in this one, in particular using Warlocks & Warriors as an add-on to module B1.

Though I won't rule out using something like Advanced Labyrinth Lord or Old-School Essentials Advanced.  Especially since I have some new OSE-Advanced books coming from the last Kickstarter and there is a Labyrinth Lord 2nd Edition on the way.

Mix and Match

As usual, I am going to look for existing material to use with it and hopefully things that were published before 1980.  

Again why use other stuff when I can easily create my own? Simple I enjoy doing it. I like to see what pieces I can put together from various other products. That way it feels familiar and new all at the same time. 

I already have a few things in mind I will adapt for this and I am going to have fun doing it. So let's put on some Yes and come with me to these islands and let's visit for a while. 

Thursday, October 13, 2022

This Old Dragon: Issue #75

Dragon Magazine #75
Something special for the scariest of months this week. I normally grab a random Dragon magazine out of this old box and review it here. This (and next) I am doing something different.  This one actually sits on my shelves with a few other rare Dragons because I consult them often.  So let us go back to July 1983. I am 14 years old and playing AD&D pretty much all the time. The Police dominate the airwaves with "Every Breath You Take" from the wildly successful album Synchronicity (which also introduced me to the writings of Carl Jung) and "Return of the Jedi" the last of the Star Wars trilogy for decades is still running in my local theatre (I saw it 78 times).  On the shelves, it is Dragon Magazine #75 and this is This Old Dragon.

Anyone familiar with this issue will know why I am doing a One-Two punch of issues #75 and #76. Yes, it is because of the fantastic Devil and Nine Hells information included by the prolific Ed Greenwood.

But let's do this issue right. 

A day at the beach is this whimsical cover celebrating Summer. Looks like it was made by Jack Crane. I am not familiar with the name, but the style is familiar. 

Kim Mohan's Editorial covers just that, Summer.

Letters get into the problems with play-by-mail games and some observations about a recent review of Champions. There is praise for the Piercer article (praise I agree with) and some concerns about the Cavalier class. I am sure that will all be sorted out before long.

Nice big ad for the James Bond 007 game. I was at a game auction recently and there was a lot of James Bond material going for some really high prices. I have always enjoyed the Bond movies and consider myself a fan, but I have never played this.

Our first article from our issue MVP. Ecology of the Mimic covers these irritating creatures. It is just a page, but Ed manages to pack a punch into few words.  Since I have (had) multiple copies of this issue, the water-damaged one gets sacrificed and added to my Monstrous Compendium.

And that is how you trap a mimic

We get right to the meat here with Gary Gygax in the odd role of "opening act" to Ed Greenwood. New Denizens of Devildom is this month's From the Sorcerer's Scroll and it gives us a look into what sort of devils we will get for the Monster Manual II. Six pages with 13 new devils. These will all appear in the MMII, but having this as some sort of Monster Manual 1.5 is still pleasing to me. 

Up next is one of my all-time favorites. The Nine Hells, Part 1 by Ed Greenwood. It left such an impact on me that I have always set up my worlds with Demons more interested in Oerthand Greyhawk with devils more interested in Toril and the Forgotten Realms. I mean I am on the first page and Ed is hitting me with so much here. What are the Realms? How can I get a copy of Dragon #64 on a paperboy's pay? Even today they pact a punch.  How much? I went right to the text just now and completely failed to mention the fantastic Larry Elmore art for this! So do we get? Fifteen pages. Five layers of Hell, Avernus to Stygia. And a total of 23 new devils are listed by layer. Ed did his homework and there are many names familiar to anyone that has read old medieval demonologies. The trick as always is figuring out who is a demon, who is a devil and who is a god.  Bist for example seems to be related to Bast. Nergal was a Babylonian god,  Lilis is a riff on Lilith, and others are names that appear in demonologies. There are things written here that you can still find in D&D books printed in the last couple of years for the latest system. 

After that everything will seem a bit tame. Or will it?

Roger Moore gives us some new Gamma World monsters in Mutants, Men(?), and Machines. Gamma World 1st Ed monsters were close enough to Basic D&D to make conversion easy. Though the only one I ever recall using is the Hydragen, or the mutant diamond-backed rattlesnake, and the Nitrodjinn (cute).

Lew Pulsipher is up with Beyond the Rule Book which has style tips for good GMing. 10 Procedure tips (things you can do) and 10 style tips (how you do them). The advice is solid and can still be used today.

Nice ad for Star Trek II The Wrath of Khan miniatures. I would have freaked out to have seen today's 3D printers then.

The USS Protector

Before Dungeon Magazine Dragon would have adventures and sometimes adventure contests. Here is one that won first place by Bob Waldbauer. Can Seapoint Be Saved? is an adventure for 4 to 8 characters of 4th to 7th level. It is a sea port and ocean/sea based adventure. Which is cool because I lack adventures of this type. I never read it because it was a potential adventure to be used for a possible ocean-based adventure we were going to do but never got to 4th level. I still think about it every so often.  

Clyde Heaton is up with an article that always fills me with all sorts of curiosity and wonder. Even Orcish is Logical covers how to create an orcish language.  Ever since I read Lord of the Rings I have be fascinated with ConLangs or constructed languages. I have toyed with the idea in theory, but never in practice. I don't have those kinds of skills. This article makes me think I could at least do the basics. I remember reading this one and some of the words were familiar. 

The prolific Katherine Kerr is up next with our next language lesson, All Games Need Names. Hers is a much longer overview of languages and how they are made. Hers comes from the point of view of a novelist and storyteller, the same as Tolkien in purpose, but not exactly in practice.  Could I make a language with both of these articles? Maybe. I don't know enough about the process to even know what I don't know. But I would like to try. 

Great ad for some Atari 400/800 software. I always liked the Atari 400/800 computers, but it was the 1200 series that I really wanted. 

Figure Feature: Humanoids covers humans in words and pictures.

A bunch of reviews are up. Ken Rolston is back with a review on the Runequest Companion in Companion Fill the Glorantha GapVisit The Solomani Rim a review by Tony Watson covers Traveller supplement 10.

Mike Lowery treats us with Tales Stranger than Fantasy or reviews of Mazes and Monsters and Hobgoblin, two fairly notorious fiction books about the dangerous world of Fantasy Roleplaying games. I have been meaning to read them both someday but there is always something else, something better on my pile to read. 

UK Revisited: Games Fair 83 is a report from Gary Gygax.

SF/Gaming Convention Calendar covers the game convention scene of the summer of 1983 including a nice big ad for Gen Con XVI.

Two page ad for Asgard miniatures. 

Three pages of What's New! with Phil and Dixie. Three pages of Wormy.

And tucked away, hiding in the back is five pages of Snarf Quest #1.

Pardon the pun, but this is a HELL of an issue. Even ignoring the new content from Gary. And the material from Ed. We still have two fun sections on languages, an adventure, AND the very first Snarf Quest.

I mean really. This was PRIME Dragon Magazine years. 

Next week we go back to Hell.

Dragon Magazine issues #75 and #76


Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Mail Call: D&D in Miniature

Oh good another Mail Call Tuesday!  They say great things come in small packages, so let's see what these small packages have for me today?

Little D&D and Mini Me

Up first I finally decided to do myself in Mini form from HeroForge.  So here is DM Tim in 25 mm scale. Complete with a laptop, a stack of books, and my always-present giant ass mug of coffee.  The only detail missing is the pencil behind my right ear.

Mini TimMini TimMini Tim

I didn't care for their sneakers options so I am wearing my Gen X-mandated Doc Martens with yellow laces. 

Might need to use this as "The Editor" in my Weirdly World News games.

I also grabbed my next to last 21st Century miniature reprint of the AD&D 1st Edition hardcovers.  And this one is from the personal collection of Heidi Gygax.

Dragonlance Adventures

Dragonlance Adventures

Mini AD&D Books

Now I am just a Dungeoneers Survival Guide away from completing my set of the mini AD&D hardcover books.  Though I doubt it will have the pedigree of my Dragonlance book.


Thursday, September 22, 2022

Sucker for a Slipcase

Maybe it goes back to my first set of the Lords of the Rings books, but I am a sucker for a slipcase for my books. I was in my office and I was noticing that many of my books are getting bleached out due to the fluorescent lights I have.  I turned the spines to the back, not a great solution, which got me to notice all my slipcases for other books.

Slipcases

This got me thinking about my AD&D 1st Ed collection and how they seem to be getting the worse of it all. So I went on a search for some slipcases that would fit my AD&D books, in particular my oldest ones, and "fit" them thematically. 

Searching for custom ones was not very helpful since most places that make them custom-made expect you to order a bunch of them.  There are binder ones too, but nothing that I really liked.

Once again, eBay provides.

Back in the 1980s the RPGA made slipcases for Dragon and Polyhedron magazines. I found one on eBay that was only slightly more expensive than a binder slipcase.

RPGA Slipcase

I can fit in my second printing of the PHB, DMG, D&DG, and my softcover PHB and MM from Games Workshop. There was enough room to slip in my DM's screen too.  I can justify grabbing this since I actually had joined the RPGA during its last days

PHB

Softcover MM & PHB

Deities & Demigods

Signed by actual demigods!

You can see why I want those protected.

The only problem is that the double slipcase is taller than my shelves!  I am going to need an oversized bookcase or make room on my desk for my oversized books.

But at least now they are protected.

I still would like to find a custom one for some other books, in particular, my 1st and 2nd Edition reprints.

1st and 2nd Ed reprints


Thursday, September 8, 2022

In Search of Nocticula

I want to introduce what I hope will be a new semi-regular feature here at the ole' Other Side.  

"In Search of" will delve into odd, esoteric topics from my games in search of their origins and their relationship to myths, legends or even just a good story.  The obvious tribute to the old 70s-80s TV series "In Search of..." featuring Leonard Nimoy.  I am going to go back and retag some posts with this new "In Search of" label since this is not really a new idea for me.  My hope here is this takes the place of "One Man's God" in my rotations of posts.

Nocticula

Let us start my first In Search of looking for a demon who captured my attention back in the 1980s.

Back in the Monster Manual II days, we were treated to a long list of demons that were also powerful members of the abyssal Hordes. These included a few demon lords (L) and oddly enough some that were tagged as being female (F).  It seems odd to call that out now, but this was the 1980s.  

But that is not why I am posting today.  I was cleaning up some minis the other days and noticed one in particular.  Maybe because I have been thinking of various monsters and monster books I decided to go back to an old search.

Who Is Nocticula: Part 1 History

Nocticula

This is the mini and an entry in question.

Originally she was obviously some sort of demon related to the night.  She is not listed as a "Lord" so we assume she must be of higher rank along with Lolth and Zuggtmoy. 

Obviously, the name caught my attention then as it does now.  Though there is almost nothing about her in any products outside of the MMII. 

She does get name-dropped in the 1981 made-for-TV horror movie Midnight Offerings. When I saw it back in 2019 I wondered at the time if Gygax/TSR got the name from the movie. Though now it seems likely the name came from various occult books from the 1970s.

It would not be until the 1990s that I would run across her again.  

My first encounter with her was during the Netbook craze of the Pre-OGL Internet.  While many people were still blissfully unaware of what the Internet could do AD&D players were on LISTSERVs on Bitnet sharing "Netbooks."  These fan mad creations often lacked any sort of editorial control, art, or often even playtesting. But they made up for all of that in pure enthusiasm.  If you were lucky you found one that had been formatted like a "real book" in Microsoft Word 2.0.  One such book was "The Complete Netbook of Demons and their Relatives." This ancient and dusty tome was full of new demons.  It was a great little treasure, to be honest.  It did have an entry for Nocticula and Socothbenoth (I'll get to why that is important later).  Their entries were:

Nocticula(F)-a patron of witches. Could only find one reference on her.
...
Socothbenoth-Another female (harem) like deity turned into a male demon.

Mastering Witchcraft: A Practical Guide for Witches, Warlocks, and Covens
That obviously had my attention. So I was already doing deep dive research into witches at this point for my "Netbook of Witches and Warlocks" so I added her name as one to be on the lookout for.  Now keep in mind that at this time people were very, very wary of being sued by TSR for any copyright violations.  So I had no real plans to use Nocticula in my books, I was just curious about her.

In my reading, I came across "Mastering Witchcraft: A Practical Guide for Witches, Warlocks, and Covens" by Paul Huson, 1970.  Nocticula is mentioned many times. Likely as a "dark aspect" of Hecate or Habondia (or Habundia). That name is not in my "Dictionary of Classical Mythology" by J.E. Zimmerman. Huson adds that Noctiula is "Ruler of the Dead and Warden of the Tower Adamantine" and she walks at night.  He also claims that the title of "Nocticula" meaning "little night" comes from the 12th century.

I do have to admit that the paperback cover of Mastering Witchcraft makes for a good depiction of Nocticula. 

Gerald Gardner, the father of modern Wicca, even mentions her in his "Witchcraft Today" (1954). He also associates her with the figure of Bensozia. I guess that removes the fear of copyright issues, but I was still hesitant to use her preferring to come up with my own.

While all this is going on I got a copy of Dungeon #5 and found the adventure with Shami-Amourae, the demon queen of Succubi. She, along with Nocticula and Malcanthet have all been contenders for the title "Queen of the Succubi."

This bit didn't last long really and with the publication of Green Ronin's Armies of the Abyss and later the Book of Fiends we get a new look on Nocticula. 

Nocticula and Socothbenoth
Part 2: Green Ronin & The d20 Years

Green Ronin brought Nocticula into the new Millennium with the various fiend books. Chris Pramas had worked on a few Planescape and devil-related books for Wizards of the Coast in the waning years of TSR.  So he was in a great position to bring all of that knowledge to Green Ronin during the d20 boom.  Armies of the Abyss (2002) covered demons and introduced us to a new Nocticula. Or rather, gave us Nocticula since so little detail had really been published about her so far.  (Note. I am coming back to the Armies of the Abyss later in this series.)

Here she is demon lady of night yes, but also of women, dark fey, the natural world, psychotropic drugs, and earthly sensuality.  Known as the Princess of Moonlight she revels in all things pleasurable, earthly, and chaotic. She very much is the patroness of "living deliciously."  The description of her followers can only be described as "witches."

She has a twin brother, Socothbenoth, the demon lord of perversion, with whom she has an incestuous relationship with. Socothbenoth is basically the mind of Aleister Crowley in the body of Lord Byron and the sexual appetites of both.

I have used him before as a witch's patron based on the movies Byleth: The Demon of Incest (1972) and Il Sesso Della Strega (1973).

She only gets a mention in Fiendish Codex I: Hordes of the Abyss, a little more than what she got in the MMII nearly 20 years prior.  She gets the title "The Undeniable" and her concerns are "Night" and she makes her realm on the 72nd layer of the Abyss called Darklight.

Part 3: Pathfinder

Our Queen of the Night fares better in her Pathfinder version where she is a major Demon Lord.  Her history is largely that of what was seen in the Green Ronin books. Indeed all of that is kept to the extent the OGL will allow. However, she is taken further in Pathfinder when she is given the ability to kill other demon lords. This gives her a connection to assassins.  

Here she appeared in a number of Pathfinder products, in particular the Book of the Damned, which covered the demons and devils of the Pathfinder game.

Nocticula for Pathfinder

At some point, she grew tired of killing demon lords and sought out redemption as the Goddess of Artists. I am not sure I completely like this idea, but hey Pathfinder can do what they like really.

Now to be fair, Pathfinder added a ton of material to Nocticula, and a lot of it is good. I could easily use any amount of it, to be honest.  

Part 4: Nocticula in my World

I have a lot of great information and details. But not all of them are great for my games. So. How can I rebuild Nocticula for my games and in particular my War of the Witch Queens campaign?

Part of her background is she was one of the first Succubi. That's fine and all, but I feel there is a tendency to make a female demon a type of succubus. Sure I get it and her background supports it to a degree, but it feels lazy to me. I mean there are SO MANY "first" Succubi. There is MalcanthetShami-AmouraeXinivrae, and Lynkhab. Do we need Nocticula to be a succubus? Not really.

I do like keeping Socothbenoth as her brother/lover. I like keeping them both as being fairly depraved as well. They are demons after all.  I even like the assassin idea from later Pathfinder books. Given her name I would like to get back to her association to the night and things of the night. In some ways the evil counterpart to my Nox.

In this, Nocticula is the demon lord of Night. She is honored by witches, warlocks, prostitutes, and assassins. Anyone committing an evil act at night will say a benediction to Nocticula. She is the daughter of Nox by Camazotz, the demon lord of bats and vampires (or maybe Orcus?). She is the twin sister to and lover of the demon lord Socothbenoth (the demon lord of perversion). 

Given that her first "D&D" appearance was in the Monster Manual II from 1983, I would draw on sources from 1982 and before for my influences on her. 

Obviously, I would need to write her up for AD&D 1st Edition.  I would use some of her Pathfinder details (what is allowed under the OGL) and go back to the earliest ideas about her. 

--

Nocticula
NOCTICULA 

FREQUENCY:  Unique (Very Rare)
NO.  APPEARING:  1 
ARMOR CLASS: -2
MOVE: 18" / 24" (MC: C)
HIT DICE:  13+39 (97 hp)
%  IN  LAIR:  0%
TREASURE  TYPE:  Q (x10), U
NO.  OF  ATTACKS:  2
DAMAGE/ATTACK:  Whip 1d6+1d4 (fire) (x2)
SPECIAL  ATTACKS:  Witch spells
SPECIAL  DEFENSES: +2  or  better weapon to hit
MAGIC  RESISTANCE:  25%
INTELLIGENCE:  Genius
ALIGNMENT:  Chaotic Evil
SIZE:  M  (6')
PSIONIC ABILITY:  See below
LEVEL/X.P. VALUE: IX/8250 +  18/hp (9,996 xp)

Nocticula is the Demon Lady of the Night. Witches, warlocks, assassins, and all those who make illicit trades or bargains under the cover of darkness are her followers. She hears their prayers when none of the gods will. She is also the patron of creatures of the night like vampires, shadow creatures, and even alu-demons and succubi.

She will always appear as a very attractive member of the gender and species the observer prefers. In a mixed company, she will attempt to provide as many attractive qualities as she can.  She can do this via a limited form of telepathic awareness that is not quite ESP.  It is a subtle power, like many of her gifts, and can only be blocked by magic or psionic ability specifically designed to do so. It also gives her the ability to speak any language known.

Nocticula is a lover, but also a capable fighter. She wields a whip of fire that she can attack with twice per round. The whip will do 1d6 points of damage and the fire an additional 1d4.  She can cast spells as a Mara Witch of the 13th level. 

She also has the following spell-like powers.

  • At will: Detect Good (Law), Detect Invisible, Detect Magic, Darkness 10' Radius, Glamour, Telekinesis (250 lbs / 25,000 GP weight), Tongues.
  • 3 times per day: Astral Projection, Charm Monster/Person, Read languages, Read magic, Shape change, Teleport without Error, Trap the Soul.
  • 1 time per day: Gate, Polymorph any object.

Like all demons, she is affected by acid, iron weapons, magic missiles, and poison, (full).  Cold, electricity, fire (dragon, magical), and gas (half). She has 25% magic resistance, but this does not apply 

She has wings, but these can be hidden away. Despite her appearances and appetites, she is not a succubus or any sort of Lilim. She does have many succubi attendants and servants.  Her preferred servants though are humans and some elves and fae. She may gate in 1d6 Succubi or 1d8 alu-demons to aid her. These are from her personal retinue and not easily replaced. She can also summon 2d8 shadow demons to do her bidding. Either of these can be done once per day (1/day). She can compel any vampire she encounters (as a charm-like ability they are not immune to) to do her bidding, but she can't summon vampires.

Rumors of her always appearing nude when summoned were created by clerics and scholars who rarely left their scriptoriums. However, to approach her in her layer in the Abyss one must be completely unclothed. This includes armor and weapons. 

Relationships

Nocticula has the best relationship with her brother and lover Socobenoth, the Demon Lord of Perversion. It is a good relationship as far as two chaotic evil demons can have.  She respects Lilith, the Demon Queen as the two are fine as long as they remain out of each other's business. Her rivalry with, and enmity of, Malcanthet is legendary. Equally so is her distaste of the demon Lord Graz'zt but none remember how this all began. Her relationship with Camazotz is one of pure hatred and each hates the other's claim as the demonic patron of vampires.  A hatred she does not extend to Lilith or even Orcus, whom she refers to as "Grandfather." Whether this is an acknowledgment of paternity or an honorific is unknown.  Orcus also extends this recognition to Nocticula. 

Unknown to most, Nocticula is an assassin of demon lords and even a minor god. She has discovered that when she kills them she can take on their powers. She successfully assassinated Vyriavaxus, the former demon lord of shadows. Now shadow demons begrudgingly show her patronage.  Presently Nocticula sits and carefully plans her next kill.

--

Looking forward to seeing what I can do next in my new In Search Of feature.

--

Links

Thursday, September 1, 2022

Review: Swords of Cthulhu

Swords of Cthulhu
Nice mail call last week and I got my copy of Swords of Cthulhu from BRW Games / Joesph Bloch. As always BRW fulfills its Kickstarters in record speed. 

There is a lot to unpack here so lets get to it.

Swords of Cthulhu

For this review and deep dive, I am going to focus on the PDF and Print on Demand, I got from DriveThruRPGvia backing the Kickstarter.

The book is set up much like all the Adventures Dark and Deep books for "1st Edition."  This includes his Book of Lost Beasts and Book of Lost Lore.  One might wonder why this isn't the "The Book of Lost Cthulhu."

The book has the "1st Ed" Orange spine and layout and is a proper 128 pages. If the goal here is to feel like a book that would have been in your book bag in 1986 then I would say it was a success.  

Like the BRW's previous "Books of" this one is for 1st Edition AD&D but no mention of that game is found here. There are oblique references to it, but nothing say to the level we saw in Mayfair's AD&D products of the 80s and early 90s.  Though like those previous two books there is no OGL and no Open Gaming content.  So here are my thoughts on that. One, it doesn't affect the game playability of this book. Two, given that much of the Lovecraftian mythos are in the public domain this feels like a slight really, I mean using essentially IP for free but not giving something back. And three, there is so much of this already in the public domain AND released as Open under the OGL from other publishers it my all be a moot point.  Still I am sure some OSRIC, Advanced Labyrinth Lord, or Old School Essentials Advanced might want to do some Lovecraftian-style adventures for "1st Ed." and this would have helped.

BRW 1st Edition Books

But enough of that. Let's get into what is in the book.

If you are familiar with AD&D 1st Ed, any part of the mythos, and/or BRW's Adventures Dark and Deep books then you could likely predict with a high degree of certainty of what is in this book.  This is not a bad thing.

The Scholar
The spiritual godfather here is the Unearthed Arcana. The book gives us new races; the Deep One Hybrid and the Degenerate.  These feel like they are right out of Lovecraft books, though I would argue that both races have issues moving outside of their realms. Deep One Hybrids away from water and Dagon for example.

We get level limits for the new races with old classes and old races with new classes (not introduced just yet).

The new classes are the Cultist and the Scholar.  The cultist gets different abilities depending on which cult they are in.  Scholars are a "split class" starting out as Magic-users and then switching over to scholars. If you have the Book of Lost Lore then you can split class with the Savant. I would even argue that the Cleric would be a good choice if the cleric has a high Intelligence. 

The is a Skill system, the same found in the Book of Lost Lore, and this recaps some of that and expands it. While again overtly for 1st Edition it could work anywhere, also it can be ignored for folks that do not want to use skills for their games. 

Up next are spells. In the Cthulhu mythos books and tomes of occult lore and knowledge never lead to good things. These spells are part of that yes, but this is also an "AD&D" game and not "Call of Cthulhu" magic serves a different purpose here.  We get about 36 pages of spells. There is even an optional rule for human sacrifice that fits the tenor of the tales well.

There is a section on running a "Lovecraftian" game along with the tropes found in an AD&D game.  These have been covered elsewhere, but this version fits this tome well.  In particular how to mix demons in with the Lovecraftian mythos creatures. Something I have covered in my own One Man's God

You can't do the Lovecraftian mythos and not deal with sanity. Now. I am going to be honest. The overwhelming majority of RPGs get sanity and insanity completely wrong. I say this a game designer and as someone with degrees in psychology (BA, MS, Ph.D.) and who spent years working as a Qualified Mental Health Professional for the State of Illinois who specialized in treating schizophrenics.  How does this book do? This one introduces a new saving throw versus Insanity. Not a bad solution really. I will point out that "Insane" is largely a legal definition. "Madness" would be a better term of choice here. 

Sanity in Swords of Cthulhu

The definitions and descriptions used for the various modes of insanity (keeping with the book) are fine. We are not trying to emulate the DSM here. Though "Schizoid" is off. What is described there is more of a compulsion disorder. The Mulitple Personality one is always going to be problematic and I personally would drop the occurrence to more like 1 or 2%; even 3% is too high. I would re-do it as something akin to a "fractured" personality.  It is a usable system, but it lacks the integration of the SAN system of Call of Cthulhu. Though this is understandable.  Side note: I always look for "dementia praecox" in the list of insanities. When I see that and it is used properly I know the developer did their homework. It is not here and I had hoped it would be.

Up next we get to what is really one of the big reasons people want a book like this.  The monsters.

Monsters in Swords of Cthulhu

There are about 30 monsters here in AD&D 1st Edition format. If you use nothing else in this book then this is pretty fun stuff. The art is good and works well here.

This is followed naturally by the magic items. Plenty of books and tomes to terrify players and delight GMs. Yes, the Necronomicon is here.

Ah. Now we get to the stars of the show. The main course of this seven-course meal. The gods.  

Gods in Swords of Cthulhu

All the usual suspects are here and the format is familiar to anyone that has read the Deities & Demigods.  IF playability is your largest concern then yes this book WILL replace the 144-page Deities & Demigods for you. No more having to lurk on eBay or hope for that rare score at Goodwill.  The stats are not exactly the same, nor should they be, but they are what I think many would expect them to be. 

We end with an Appendix of suggested reading (a must really) and lists of random tables.

The PDF is currently $9.95 and the hardcover is $24.95.  Perfectly within the price I would expect for this.

Now before I render my final judgment on this one a few more things.

I don't think it is unreasonable to ask "What does this book have that others do not?" For starters, it is developed specifically for AD&D 1st ed. I will point out that we do have plenty of other books, games, and resources that also do this for other OSR games and their relatives as well. Conversion is a matter of personal taste.

Briefly here are the main Lovecraftian/Cthulhu Mythos-related games/products I pulled from my shelves for this and how they compare. I am going to focus largely on the monsters and gods since that is the most common element. 

Table of Cthulhu

In most cases, I am restricting myself to the "Core" Mythos creatures and the ones I really like.  Some names are different, but I will try to go with the common names. 

Of Gods  DDG  SoC  RoCC  ASSH  CoC d20  SP CM5  WSH
 Cthulhu  Y  Y  Y  Y  Y  Y  
 Abhoth      Y      Y  
 Atlach-Nacha      Y      Y  
 Azathoth  Y  Y  Y  Y  Y  Y  
 Chaugnar Faugn          Y  Y  
 Cthuga  Y        Y  Y  
 Dagon    Y  Y    Y  Y  
 Ghatanothoa    Y          
 Hastur  Y   Y      Y  Y  
 Hydra    Y  Y    Y  Y  
 Ithaqua  Y      Y  Y  Y  
 Mordiggian          Y    
 Nodens          Y    
 Nyarlathotep  Y  Y  Y    Y  Y  
 Shub-Niggurath  Y  Y  Y    Y  Y  
 Shudde M'ell          Y    
 Tsathoggua    Y  Y    Y  Y  
 Yig    Y      Y  Y  
 Yog-Sothoth   Y  Y  Y    Y  Y  
               
  & Monsters              
 Ape, Devil      Y  Y      
 Bhole    Y        Y  
 Beings of Ib      Y      Y  
 Bokrug      Y      Y  
 Byakhee  Y        Y  Y  Y
 Cave Beast      Y        
 Colour Out of Space      Y  Y    Y  
 Crawling Reptile      Y        
 Cthonian / Spawn of Cthulhu    Y      Y  Y  Y
 Deep One   Y  Y  Y  Y  Y  Y  Y
 Deep One Hybrid    Y    Y  Y  Y  Y
 Dhole          Y  Y  Y
 Dimensional Shambler          Y  Y  Y
 Flame Creature / Fire Vampire  Y        Y  Y  Y
 Flying Polyp    Y      Y  Y  Y
 Ghast      Y  Y    Y  
 Ghoul      Y  Y  Y  Y  
 Great Race of Yith  Y  Y  Y  Y  Y  Y  Y
 Gnop-Keh          Y  Y  Y
 Gug    Y        Y  Y
 Haunter in the Dark    Y  Y      Y  Y
 Hound of Tindalos    Y  Y    Y  Y  
 Man of Leng    Y  Y  Y    Y  
 Mi-Go / Fugi from Yuggoth  Y  Y  Y  Y  Y  Y  Y
 Moon Thing    Y  Y      Y  Y
 Night Beast      Y        
 Night Gaunt    Y  Y  Y  Y    
 Primordial One / Elder Thing  Y  Y  Y  Y  Y  Y  Y
 Rat Thing          Y    
 Serpent People      Y  Y  Y  Y  
 Shantak    Y  Y      Y  Y
 Shoggoth  Y  Y  Y  Y  Y  Y  Y
 Spider of Leng    Y      Y  Y  Y
 Tcho-tcho          Y  Y  
 Young of Shub-Niggurath    Y  Y    Y  Y  
 Voormis      Y  Y      
 White Ape      Y  Y      
 Y'm-bhi    Y        
 Zoog    Y  Y      Y  
               
 Open Content  No      No  No  Yes  No  Yes  Yes

It looks like Swords of Cthulhu fares pretty well, to be honest. No one book has everything. Now comparing anything to Deities & Demigods is a touch unfair since space in the D&DG was limited.  Likewise comparing to Sandy Petersen's Cthulhu Mythos for 5th Edition (or Pathfinder) is also unfair for the opposite reason; it has so much and few people have written or said as much about the Cthulhu Mythos as much as Petersen has.

Swords of Cthulhu and the Deities & Demigods

But comparing Swords of Cthulhu to say Realms of Crawling Chaos or Hyperborea is appropriate.

Realms of Crawling Chaos

These two books complement each other well. While there is a very, very slight difference in underlying system assumptions each one offers something the other lacks in terms of gods and monsters.

Swords of Cthulhu in the Realms of Crawling Chaos

Hyperborea

Formerly Astonishing Swordsmen and Sorcerers of Hyperborea, this game is closer to AD&D than it is to Basic D&D and the tone of the world fits well. Where Hyperborea stands out in the inclusion of and the predominance of Howard and Ashton-Smith mythos as they relate to the Lovecraft ones.  So lots of the same monsters and gods, but more Clark Ashton Smith.  While Swords of Cthulhu gives advice on how to integrate the mythos into your "AD&D" world, Hyperborea gives us a world where they are integrated. What is the difference? In Hyperborea "sanity" is not really an issue since the mortals here already know of the gods and these creatures.  Still, Hyperborea is not everyone's cup of tea.

Swords of Cthulhu and Astonishing Swordsmen and Sorcerers of Hyperborea

I would argue that the combination of the three would give you the best Mythos game. Or maybe it would give *me* the best mythos game since I tend to lean into more Clark Ashton Smith tales than H.P. Lovecraft's alone.

Conclusion

Swords of Cthulhu is a great addition to the already crowded field of Mythos-related RPG books. No one book seems to have everything, and maybe that is fine really. If your game is AD&D 1st Edition and you want something a bit more than just what you get from the Deities & Demigods then this is your book.

If you play a lot of OSR games including their spiritual ancestors and you like the mythos, then this is also a fine book, but check with my table here to be sure you are getting what you want.  

For things like "which is better 'Swords of Cthulhu' or 'Realms of Crawling Chaos'" it is a draw. Both do what they are supposed to do well.  Both are good resources. SoC looks a bit better on the shelf next to all my AD&D books, but likewise, RoCC looks good on my Basic-era OSR shelf.

I vacillate on whether we have too many mythos-related RPG titles to thinking one more book won't hurt.  Currently, the word "Cthulhu" produces over 5,450 titles on DriveThruRPG. So there is a market.

Swords of CthulhuSwords of Cthulhu

With so many choices you need to decide what fits well for your games. Swords of Cthulhu is a great choice but it is hardly the only choice. 

Monday, June 20, 2022

Monstrous Mondays: Die Hüne

David faces Goliath in this 1888 lithograph by Osmar Schindler
Today I want to delve a bit more into an idea I had been playing around with a little while ago, the combined pantheon of Greek and Norse mythos into a Roman-Norse syncretism. Both groups have many common features, but one that sticks out is the use of a race of giants that predate the gods that represent the forces of chaos.

In my syncretized myths these creatures are called Die Hüne, (plural. Singular: Der Hüne).  This is what I said about them before:

Die Hüne are the Titans and the Giants of both myths. Primordial beings of great power that the gods defeated but still trouble them. In this myth, the Gods fought Die Hüne and brought order out of chaos. These are not just giants and titans, these creatures are the demons of this mythology.

In my mind, they are something of a combination of giant, elemental, and demon. The Gigantes of Greek myth (not AD&D) were more monstrous creatures.  The jötunn of Norse myth likewise were more demonic. As time goes on these titans and jötunn become more and more human-looking till we have something like the giants of D&D. 

My goal with Der Hüne is to get back to those older, more monstrous giants. Given that this mythology is half-Roman, these people will have been familiar with some of the tales of Goliath, the Anakim, and others from Jewish mythology.  So maybe some of those tales entered into their thinking.

Here is how they will be used in my various D&D/OSR/FRPG games.

The giants Fafner and Fasolt seize Freyja in Arthur Rackham's illustration of Richard Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen.
Erde Hüne

These creatures are also known as Earth Giants.  They are the forebearers of the Hill, Mountain, and Stone giants as well as ogres.  They stand 12 ft tall and are said to have bones made of stone.

These creatures are Chaotic Evil and have the most dealings with humans. While some certainly are stupid brutes, others are sufficiently intelligent and sophisticated enough to lead human armies. They have a taste for human flesh; both in the culinary and carnal appetites. There are some very tall, very evil humans that can trace their ancestry to one of these creatures.  We get the word "Hun" from "Hüne."

Note: These take the role of the "evil giants in the bibles and other tales" giants like the Anakim.  Though I covered some of this ground with Gog and Magog. I had Gog and Magog as a type of Balor or Baalor in my games.  Maybe I could turn up the demonic influences on them and make Gog and Magog the named Erde Hüne.  Balor are also 12' tall.  The myths about Gog and Magog certainly have them more human-looking. This would also bring them closer to the Ogre idea I originally had.  Worth thinking over to be sure and it would give me the demonic influences I want. 

I think just to be "that guy" I am going to make them 13' tall.

Meer Hüne

These giants are found in the oceans to the far north. They are related to the Frost and Sea giants. They are not the progenitors of these creatures but are the offspring of the Rime Jötunn along with the Frost Giants. Sea Giants are the offspring of the Meer Hüne.  

These creatures avoid humans but are no less evil. They have been known to wreck ships where they keep all the treasure and eat the humans aboard. In my myths, they would also be the forebearers of the Viking raiders that would swoop down and raid the villages of these people. 

Note: On Earth, these giants populate the North Sea, the Baltic Sea, and the Norwegian Sea. In my desire to have my cake and eat it too I would picture these guys looking like the stereotypical Vikings. Including "Hägar the Horrible" horned helmets, though no idea how they make such helms. 

Feuer Hüne

These creatures are made of pure living fire.  They are the generation after the Inferno Jötunn and the "older brothers" to the Fire Giants.

Note: Right now these creatures are not significantly different enough from either the Fire Giants or the Inferno Jötunn to merit another distinct monster entry.  

Äther Hüne

These creatures are massive with some towering as high as 36 feet tall. It is said their bones are made of clouds and their muscles are made of storms.  They are the progenitors of the Cloud, Storm, and Fog giants. 

Note: This is my "Jack and the Beanstalk" Giant (though in truth an evil Cloud Giant covers that readily). 

Though anytime I work on giants this image comes to mind.

giants

This image comes from the Creationist idea that there were giants in biblical times. This speculation all grows out of Genesis 6:4 "There were giants in the earth in those days", meaning the fallen angels or Nephelim or whatever.  I spent a lot of time talking about this on my old Atheism blog, The Freedom of Nonbelief

Here is how I use that image above.  These are closer to AD&D heights than D&D 5e. 

  1. Human
  2. Stone Giant
  3. Troll
  4. Ogre
  5. Hill Giant / Erde Hüne
  6. Fire Giant
  7. Frost Giant
  8. Cloud Giant
  9. Storm Giant

There. That is far more useful. 

How do I work through the Square-Cube Law?  Magic!

Of all these creatures I think I will develop the Erde Hüne (Earth Giants) and the Meer Hüne (Sea Giants) more. Fire and Frost are already covered well in the various jötunn of Norse myths. The progenitors of the Storm and Cloud Giants I think are also handled well by the Greek myths.