Showing posts with label as&sh. Show all posts
Showing posts with label as&sh. Show all posts

Monday, July 20, 2020

Monstrous Mondays: The Wendigo for NIGHT SHIFT, BX RPG and AS&SH

Modern Wendigo by skeletoninadress
The Wendigo has always been a favorite monster of mine.  

The Algonquin (and Illiniwek) people had great mythology and SO underutilized in games or novels.  One creature that I always was fascinated with was the Wendigo. The Wendigo has been seen a lot in horror fiction, especially with the rise in popularity of werewolves and zombies.  But they are still very interesting.  The most famous one of course is The Wendigo by Algernon Blackwood, followed by August Derleth's Ithaqua.

This is a creature that possesses humans under conditions of extreme cold and hunger and gets them to become cannibals.  Also, people that engaged in cannibalism were also at greater risk of possession.

The Wendigo is a spirit most times, unable to physically manifest in the world or interact with it.  That is until someone in a cold part of the world begins to despair and go hungry.  There are plenty of places in the world that are cold and these have hungry people, the Wendigo though chooses someone though that has or will resort to cannibalism to stay alive. Once this is done the Wendigo has access to the victim's heart. 

With their heart frozen the victim becomes the physical Wendigo.  They appear lean and gaunt, but taller; as if stretched out.  Their hands become claws with vile blue talons.  Their entire appearance becomes more feral.  They appear to be something akin to a ghoul or even a starving were-wolf mid-transformation.  They are constantly hungry, eating all the flesh they can, though they never eat their fill.  Eventually, the wendigo strains the host body too much and they die completely in a number of weeks.  Though there are rumors of giant wendigo, whose heads reach the clouds that are thousands of years old.

I included the Wendigo and the more powerful Wendigo Matron in my The Winter Witch for Swords & Wizardry.  Here it is for other games. 

No. Appearing: 1-2
AC: 3
Move: 45ft.
Hit Dice: 8
Special: 3 attacks (2 claws, bite) + Breath weapon, Enhanced Senses, Immunity to Cold, Immunity to Normal Weapons, Requires Blessed weapon to hit.
XP VALUE: 1,280

This creature shares a number of characteristics with were-creatures and undead. Ancient people believed that only a tribal shaman could bless a weapon that would kill both the host body and the wendigo spirit. 

The wendigo is completely immune to all cold-based attacks.  It attacks with its claws and bite and can emit a blast of freezing cold air up 3 times per day for 1d6+5 hp of damage (save for half).

Ordinary World: Wendigos are known to exist in the Ordinary World, but few even among the supernatural community have encountered them.  They are generally feared to be unpredictable and very, very dangerous.

Valhalla, AK:  Everyone in Valhalla "knows" that there are "wendigos" north of the town.  The locals though will point out that the creature everyone thinks is a wendigo is actually the wechuge ("way-chu-gay"). Someone can become a wechuge by breaking a tribal taboo or becoming too prideful. 
Some of the indigenous locals still remember tales from their grandparents and great-grandparents of the horrible winters of long ago where you could hear the howls of the wechuge/wendigo. 


Armor Class: 2     
No. Appearing: 0 / 1d3
Hit Dice: 8
Save As: F8
Movement: 150/50 
Attacks: 3 claw/claw/bite 
Damage: 1d6/1d6/1d8
Special Attacks: Breath weapon (cold) 1d8+5
Special Defense: Immune to cold-based attacks, immune to normal weapons, requires a blessed weapon to hit
Intelligence: 4 (devious cunning)
Morale: 11
Treasure Type: None
Alignment: Chaos
Experience: 1,750

This creature shares a number of characteristics with were-creatures and undead. Ancient people believed that only a tribal shaman/cleric could bless a weapon that would kill both the host body and the wendigo spirit. A cleric can turn one as a Special Undead. Once a person is infected with a wendigo they can not be cured.

The wendigo is completely immune to all cold-based attacks.  It attacks with its claws and bite and can emit a blast of freezing cold air up 3 times per day for 1d6+5 hp of damage (save for half).


No. Encountered: 0 (1d4)
Alignment: Chaotic Evil
Size: L
Movement: 50 
Dexterity: 12
Armour Class: 2
Hit Dice: 8
Attack Rate: 3/1 (claw / claw / bite) + breath weapon (cold) x3
Damage: 1d6 / 1d6 / 1d8 + 1d8+5
Special: Immune to cold-based attacks, immune to normal weapons, requires a blessed weapon to hit
Saving Throw: 12
Morale: 11
Experience Points: 1,000
Treasure Class: None

The wendigo are believed to have been first created by Ythaqqa.
They can be turned as undead type 13.

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Plays Well With Others: BASSH, Basic Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea

I love my Basic-era games, Holmes, B/X, and BECMI and their clones.
BUT I also love Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea.  The games are similar of course, drawing from the same sources, but there are also a few differences. 

Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea (AS&SH) is more closely aligned with "Advanced Era" D&D, but its feel for me has always been more OD&D, though over the last few years I have been treating it as another flavor of Basic.  

I have mentioned in the past that I see AS&SH as a good combination of B/X and AD&D rules.  Essentially it is what we were playing back in the early 80s.  Where I grew up it was not uncommon to come to a game where people would have an AD&D Monster Manual, a Holmes Basic book, and a Cook/Marsh Expert Book.  The rules we played by were also an equally eclectic mix.
AS&SH is like that. It favors the AD&D side more, but there are enough B/X influences that I smile to myself when I see them.

In fact, it works so well with Basic that I have featured AS&SH with other Basic-era books in previous "Plays Well With Others."
I find the game that useful and that inspiring.

Class Struggles: Which Each Game Offers
Originally this was going to be a Class Struggles post, but with the inclusion of the monsters below, I felt it had grown beyond just that.  

If Basic-era D&D lacks anything in my opinion it is class options. Yes. I know the classes are supposed to be archetypes to play anything.  A "Fighter" works for a Paladin, a Ranger, a Barbarian, a Knight, and so on.  But I like a little game mechanics with my flavor.  I also like to have choices.

AS&SH achieves this in a beautiful way that can be adopted by any Basic-era game, but in particular, ones that cleave closest to the original sources and of course Holmes, B/X and BECMI.

So we are going to go beyond the Basic Four (Cleric, Fighter, Magic-User, and Theif) here.  I'll talk about demi-humans in a bit.

In AS&SH we have our Basic Four; Fighter, Magician, Cleric, and Thief.  Each also gets a number of subclasses.  Fighters get  Barbarian, Berserker, Cataphract, Huntsman, Paladin, Ranger, and Warlock.  The Magician has the Cyromancer (a new favorite of mine), Illusionist, Necromancer, Pyromancer, and Witch (an old favorite of mine).  The Cleric has the Druid, Monk, Priest, Runegraver, and Shaman (see BECMI).  Finally, the Thief has the Assassin, Bard, Legerdemainist,  Purloiner, and the Scout.  Each subclass is very much like it's parent classes with some changes. Every class goes to the 12th level.

Looking over at the Basic side of things we have a few more choices.  Holmes, B/X, and BECMI all cover the Basic Four in more or less the same ways.  BECMI gives us the additions of Paladin, Avenger, Knight, Druid, Mystic, and the NPC/Monster classes of Shaman and Wicca/Wokani/Witch.

Advanced Labyrinth Lord gives us the Assassin, Druid, Illusionist, Monk, Paladin, Ranger in addition to the Basic Four.

Old-School Essentials' Advanced options give us the Acrobat, Assassin, Barbarian, Bard, Druid, Illusionist, Knight, Paladin, and Ranger.  It also gives us the new race-as-classes Drow, Duergar, Gnome, Half-elf, and Svirfneblin.

The B/X RPG from Pacesetter has the Druid, Monk, Necromancer, Paladin, and Ranger along with the Gnome and Half-elf.  (Yes, a review for this is coming)

AS&SH classes go to the 12th level.  Basic classes, at least B/X flavored ones, go to the 14th level.  I like the idea of splitting the difference and going to the 13th level. 

Additionally, AS&SH has different cultures of humans to provide more flavor to the human classes.

All the Basic-era books have demi-humans that AS&SH lacks. Lacks is a strong word, the game doesn't need demi-humans by design, but they are still fun to have.  Combining these gives us the best of all worlds! Kelt Elves? Dwarf Picts? Lemurian Gnomes?!  This could be a lot of fun.

Plus the mix of cultures in AS&SH is second only to mix found in BECMI Mystara in terms of "let's just throw it all in there!"

I might let people choose one of the Basic Four and stealing a page from D&D5 allow them at 2nd or 3rd level to take "sub-class."  I'll have to see what the various classes all get at first level vs 2nd and 3rd level.

Monsters! Monsters!
It's can't be denied that AS&SH has some great monsters.  Not only does it give us demons and devils (Basic-era is lacking on both) but also Lovecraftian horrors.  Sure, "At The Mountains of Madness" took place at the South Pole, who is to say there is not a similar outpost in the North? 

BECMI does talk about "The Old Ones" a lot and in the Core Rules is never very clear on who or what they are.  But it is not a stretch to think that those Old Ones and the Lovecraftian Old Ones have a connection.  

Oddly enough these things feel right at home in a Basic game.  If one goes back to the Masters and Immortals sets with the original idea that the Known World is our world millions of years ago this tracks nicely with some Lovecraftian mythology of our world.

I have talked about Demons in Basic/Mystara already, but AS&SH offers us "The Usual Suspects" and then some.  While Labyrinth Lord has always been good about opening the "Advanced" monsters to the Basic world, the monsters of AS&SH are of a different sort.

Maybe more so than the classes these require a bit more conversion.  Here is a monster we are all familiar with (and one I am doing something with later), drawing from the same sources to give us three or four different stat-blocks. 

Well. Not that different I guess. They are left to right, top to bottom, Advanced Labyrinth Lord, AS&SH, OSE, and B/X RPG.

AS&SH looks like a "best of" stats, combining features from both Basic and Advanced. Bite damage does a bit more on the average and the XP value is higher.  But nothing I am going to call game-breaking.

So the AS&SH monsters can be dropped pretty much "as is" into a Basic-era game. 

Anyone that plays these games should have no trouble with this really.

Putting it all Together and then Putting it in the North
It's settled then, AS&SH is part of my "Basic World" and where to put it is easy.
In the Known World of Mystara, there is already a Hyboria. It is one of the features of both D&D (Mystara) and AD&D (Hyperboria, Oerth) just as Blackmoor is (Mystara, Oerth). but Blackmoor is a topic for another day.

While none of the maps can be reconciled with each other to make one perfect Hyperboria, the concepts certainly can. This is something I have been considering since I first got the 1st Edition Boxed set.
I know that my family of witches, the Winters, come from the Hyperborean area.  Likely closer to more civilized areas, but not too civilized.  This became the basis for my Winter Witch book. 

BASSH is Born
So take what I love from AS&SH, mix in what I love from Basic and I have Basic Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea, or BASSH.  Yeah. This will be fun.

Monday, February 10, 2020

Monstrous Monday: Green Martians for AS&SH

No gaming for me this past weekend.  One game for Connor and two for Liam though, so I was left to my own devices.  Those devices were going over my Mōdiphiüs Star Trek and John Carter of Mars RPGs.  Both use the same 2d20 system, or close enough to make conversions and blending easy.   And Mōdiphiüs is also doing the new Dune RPG.   This has my desire to run an epic Space Opera up into hyperdrive.

BUT.  Let's be honest. There is no good way, thematically, to combine John Carter and Star Trek.  Their Mars' are too different.    The problem is, I love Mars.  Both in terms of fiction and back when I was studying to be an astrophysicist.   Scientific/realistic Mars would be great for a Trek game, especially with all the things going on on Mars in the new Picard series.  But what about my need for fantasy Mars?

I have talked about Clark Ashton Smith's Mars in relationship to BlackStar and my love of the various pulp games for Mars.  So I am not lacking in desire, or material, I just need a home game for it.  So this idea hit me over the weekend.

Why not Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Barsoom?

AS&SH is obviously more Clark Ashton Smith and less Edgar Rice Burroughs, but both are there.  While I enjoy the works of CAS much more, ERB's Barsoom captures my attention much more.  Besides, in a game I can mix and match as I please, especially in a game like AS&SH.

I am not planning, yet, to send any characters to Barsoom, but it makes perfect sense to bring some Martians to Hyperborea.

These Martians are designed for Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea (Compleat Second Edition) and heavily based on Warriors of the Red Planet (which you should get if you love everything Mars, like me.)

Martian Princess by Will Nichols
Martian, Green
No. Encountered: 1 (1d3)
Alignment: Neutral
Size: L
Movement: 40
Dexterity: 16
Armour Class: 5
Hit Dice: 4+4 to 6+6
Attack Rate: 4/1 (sword x4 or radium pistol x4)
Damage: 1d8 (×4) or 1d8 (x4)
Saving Throw: 14 to 12
Morale: 12
Experience Points: 400 to  850
Treasure Class:  Nil (see below)

Green Martians are tall, 8' tall, humanoids with green skin and four arms.  The males are bald and have huge tusks. The females are just as tall but appear more human.  Some even have ancestry related to the ancient Red Martians.  Many of the Martians found in Hyperborea are these Green with Red Martian blood to adapt better to the Hyperborean world.
It has been assumed that came here centuries ago and have been able to return to Barsoom.  Those sages in the know claim they are here as advanced scouts prior to a Martian invasion.

Green Martians are a warrior race and adapt to the weapons found in Hyperborea with ease.  Green Chieftans, the Jedaks, also wield radium pistols that fire a bolt of burning radium.  The range is the same as a crossbow.

Martians eschew armor of any kind and rely on their dexterity and natural toughness.  They also do not keep any treasure they find.  The exception are any weapons. They have a 20% chance of having a magical sword, short sword or dagger.  They do not use bows, but will have a 10% of having a magical crossbow.

I like this. Can't wait to give it a go.

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Classic Adventures Revisited: B1 In Search of the Unknown

I want to look back at some of my favorite classic adventures both from TSR and others.  I'll give a review, though most everyone knows what is in these adventures by now, I'll also talk about how I have used them in the past and I'll also talk about what other games I have used them with or would like too.  So there is a little bit of Plays Well With Others in this too.

Why do classic adventures? Easy, I love these adventures.  I have written hundreds of my own adventures, some I have even published, but these are the adventures that everyone knows and we all have a history with.

B1 In Search of the Unknown
In Search of the Unknown was not the first adventure ever created, it was not even the first TSR adventure ever created.  It was though one of the very first adventures I ever encountered and one of the first I ever ran.

This is my "go-to" adventure anytime I want to start up a new group or game.  It's a ritual for me, roll up characters and run them through the halls of the lost Castle of Quasqueton. I still have my copy that I bought all those years ago and it was also one of the first PDFs I purchased from WotC. I also have the DriveThruRPG Print on Demand copy and it is very nice.

It is one of those adventures I can run with zero prep time and each time I learn something new or remember something I forgot. This module is simple, easy to use and can be adapted to any campaign world and even any game. It is a perfect module for the Basic game.

The adventure is a great case of both teaching tool for learning DMs (we were all new to this once) and DIY Dungeon.  Some areas are detailed, but many are not, leaving room for the neophyte DM to record what monsters and treasure were in each room.  There are also a plethora of cliche spawning Dungeon tropes, that were just getting started here.  Magic mouths, one-way secret doors, a mysterious creator of the dungeon, or in this case, two, and strange magical artifacts.

This adventure was the perfect learning tool for me at the time since my own version of D&D was a mix of Holmes Basic and the AD&D Monster Manual.   This "Basic" introductory module was released before the Basic game, but it moves elegantly between Basic and Advanced that begs you to mix and match your rules systems.  Author Mike Carr even gives some guidelines on how to use this adventure with AD&D.

Note how the using this adventure with AD&D is absent from the later printings.

The module is pretty typical for the time. 32 pages of b/w art and text. Detached cover with blue maps printed on the inside of the cover. The first 6 pages are dedicated to running the adventure and how to run this one in particular.

I have used this adventure to start every new campaign I have ever run in D&D, regardless of the edition.  The dungeon crawl here is so primal that it calls out to you. A true In Search of the Unknown indeed.   The one thing I never did, however, was to investigate more about who Rogahn and Zelligar were and why they left their lair of Castle Quasquenton.

One thing that B1 did give me, in a roundabout way, was my very first witch NPC Marissia.  She is in the lower parts of Quasquenton and she is attempting to summon the spirit of her master Zelligar and her father Rogahn.

The adventure has stood the test of time and it is a great combination of flexible dungeon design.  Nearly anything can be put into this adventure to raise or lower the difficulty as needed.

DriveThruRPG and DMSGuild offer this as both a PDF and Print On Demand.

B1 Legacy of the Unknown
This adventure is billed as a "sequel" from Pacesetter Games & Simulations.  It furthers the mystery of Rogahn and Zelligar and what they were doing.  There is a druid in this adventure named "Melissia" which I thought was very fun and worked as some sort of relative (daughter may be) of my own "Marissia", a witch NPC I always included in my own runnings of B1 In Search of the Unknown.

You can get this adventure from DriveThruRPG (PDF only) or from Pacesetter's own store (Print and PDF). While overtly designed for AD&D1/OSRIC, it would be a great fit for Pacesetter's own BX RPG.  In fact, it might fit better.

Other Games / Plays Well With Others

Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition
The simplicity of B1 has made it an enduring adventure for over 40 years.  I have used it with every version of D&D I have ever played. But if you want everything at your fingertips for easy conversions I do recommend the Classic Modules Today conversion of B1 In Search of the Unknown.
Goodman Games also offers their Original Adventures Reincarnated, with B1 and it's various printings going into their Into the Borderlands Hardcover. It features the original printings of the original module as a complete 5th edition update.
There is also a set of maps that can be printed out or used with virtual tabletops.

B1 and Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea
Like many old-school adventures, one merely needs to turn up the horror aspect to give it a good run in Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea.  Though there is not much that needs to be done to change it.  There is a feeling that Rogahn and Zelligar were messing with the forces of chaos a little more than they should have been.  Make that Chaos now with a capital "C" and we are getting the adventure closer to what we might see in AS&SH.  The one thing that always struck me about Quasquenton is that it is all underground.  It's not a castle, not really, but a warren.  Eric Fabiaschi suggests that the complex had been built by one of the older Lovecraftian races and the adventurers Rogahn and Zelligar only found it later.  It seems to fit for me.
Also given that B1 is an odd admixture of proto-Basic D&D, OD&D, and AD&D, the feel is perfect for AS&SH.

B1 and Blue Rose
In this mix, the chaos elements run the other direction so to speak.  Here Rogahn and Zelligar stumble upon an element of Shadow while constructing their castle/lair.   Maybe it has something to do with what I call the "Chaos Stone", Room 45/XLV "Cavern of the Mystical Stone".  This is obviously some artifact of Shadow and it either drone Rogahn and Zelligar mad, killed them or caused them to kill each other, or destroyed them outright.  Maybe all the above.
When converting ANY D&D adventure to Blue Rose I take some points from Fantasy Age where I can. In particular the monsters.  Typically in Blue Rose, you would not see this concentration of monsters in one place, the Chaos Stone/Mystical Stone is drawing them near.   As Envoys of the Sovereign, it would the character's jobs to find out what is going on and how to stop it.   I would give more background to Rogahn and Zelligar and stat up Marrissia a little more.
While this is a good "first-level" adventure in D&D, the implication of Shadow here makes this a much more dangerous enterprise.

Step with care here Envoys. More than your life is at stake.

B1 and Army of Darkness
One of my favorite mixes, but not my top favorite (more on that one next time).  Army of Darkness allows for all sorts of crazy adventures.  For the same reasons that B1 works for Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea, it works for this.  So imagine this, you have a party of Primative Screwheads, they are out in the woods. It starts to rain.  They find an entrance to a cave and boom, suddenly it is horror movie shenanigans. Monsters chasing you, weird-ass artifacts and cultists who are somehow still alive from the Middle Ages.  Have at least one archeologist to talk about how insane this all is and then go monster hunting and maybe, just maybe stop the forces of Chaos from ruling the world.  Use Dungeons & Zombies as your guide to covert D&D to Cinematic Unisystem.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Adventures in Hyperborea

Hat tip to Jason Vey for sharing these with me.

So if I know ANYTHING at all about Conan, likely it came from Jason Vey. In addition to being a top rate game designer, he is a Master's level scholar on Robert E. Howard.  So when he shares something related to Conan, or Howard or realted topics, I pay attention.

This week he shared this with me, Adventures of the Hyborian Age. This is an older site with adventures for the Mongoose d20 Conan game.  Jason is using this material for his OD&D-based Conan game which sounds fantastic.

He shared with me something he knew I would love. A Conan-flavored conversion of one of my favorite adventures of all time, S4 The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth.

The new adventure has a more Hyborian feel to it and draws heavily from Conan lore, in particular, Red Nails.

HS4 The Lost Caverns of Acheron

The adventure is, at it's heart, the same as S4.  Save now it has been reskinned for the Hyborian Age and all the background has been changed.

Now maybe I have been reading a lot of Eric Fabiaschi of late (or always really) but this sounds like a PERFECT adventure for  Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea!

Eric has had a LOT to say about AS&SH (most of his blog) and S4 The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth.  In fact he pulls in a lot of Jason Vey's own game, Amazing Adventures into the conversations too.

In fact, I am very curious to hear what Eric has to say about this adventure. (EDITED: I talked to Eric before this post went up. He has played it using AS&SH. He also pointed out my next point.)

Now AS&SH only takes us to level 12.  This adventure is right up against that level limit and might even be a bit more than a party can deal with. I would alter this by having a larger party to be honest or carefully scaling the encounters.

Outside of the Hyborian skin the biggest change is the Witch-Queen Xaltana.  She essentially combines the characters of Iggwilv and Drelzna into one.

So instead of this:

We get this:

It actually works out quite well. In fact, Xaltana is much more interesting than Drelzna ever was. (Sorry D!)

Appropriately the adventure takes on a more Clark Ashton Smith feel to it.  This plays so well into the sequel WG4 The Forgotten Temple of Tharizdun. Which could in like fashion be reskinned as The Forgotten Temple of Thasaidon. Hmm. Maybe that is something to try; borrowing heavily from The Tomb-Spawn.

She would make a great Witch Queen!  More on that later.

Monday, March 4, 2019

Monstrous Monday: Snakes. Why did it have to be Snakes?

A little something different today for MM.  I want to talk about snake people.

Snake people, serpent folk, Ophidians, Yuan-ti whatever you want to call them they have been a staple of fiction and D&D since ... well likely forever.

They were common enough in the pages in the Conan that even as a casual reader of the pulps I had heard about them.  They have had a prominent focus in AD&D with the Yuan-ti; so much so that there are one of the very, very few monsters that are IP and Closed to the OGL.
So yeah, they come with some history.

I think it is also that snakes seem so loathsome to humans.  There is just something "evil" about them in our collective subconscious.   That makes them a great old-school threat.

Review: Serpentine - Oldskull Serpent Folk

Serpentine - Oldskull Serpent Folk from Oldskull, aka Kent David Kelly is a nice RPG for adding and using Serpent Folk, known as Serpentine here, in any old-school like game. The book is 41 pages with cover and OGL statement. Everything is 100% open minus the usual trade dress and some names.  The book is full color, but mostly public domain black and white art.
The purpose of this book is to bring together various mythos and stories together to present a cohesive whole narrative of a primordial race of serpent people.  In this respect, it works rather well.
History and Pre-History of the Serpent Folk. Drawing on the works of Dunsany, Lovecraft, Howard, and Smith Kelley weaves a history (or Hisssstory!) that combines the Hyborian Mythos and the Cthulhu Mythos, with other myths of the world added for good measure.  While overtly for the Oldskull world it can be added and modified as any game master needs.  One of the reasons it works so well here is that Kelley draws on some primordial myths and legends.  The same that influenced the authors of the stories being used.   Quotes from those authors are found throughout this book.
Up next we get a Serpent Folk Truename Generator.  A useful tool to help you name all those NPCs (or even PCs) you plan on using.  This is followed by Description or what your serpent folk looks like.  A section on Ability Minimums, Maximums and Modifiers is next. After that are sections on Behavior, XP modifiers, and views on Alignment.
There is a list of serpent folk deities from other myths.  It is a good list, but I have a few issues with some of the gods on it; for example Brigid. But the vast majority I see why they are there.  Mostly Serpent Folk are going to worship Yig and/or Tsathogga, though Set is a close runner up.
We get into a section now on Class Options for Serpent Folk. Most are going to fall into the various fighter classes and thief-related classes.  Also presented here is the new Soul Slaver class, which combines Cleric, Shaman, and Necromancer all in one serpent-related class.  It's a good class and it adds a lot of flavor to the Serpent Folk.  I might tweak it to be less Necromancer and more Shaman myself, but that is only personal bias, not a shortcoming of the class.  Basically, the class draws on the souls of the deceased to perform magical feats. There are spell lists, mostly from the classical B/X and Advanced sources.    They advance as Magic-Users, but have their own spell progression and, in a nice old-school touch, level titles.
There is also a section on Racial Powers serpent folk get and what kinds of snakes they are likely to summon.  This also included specail attacks and special limitations.
There is a nice section on how Serpent folk get along with Dragons (spoiler, they don't) that really sealed the deal for me.  I have been using various serpent-like races (Yuan-ti, Naga) as the ancient ancestral enemies of the Dragonfolk (Dragonborn) for years.
We end with a recomended reading list.
So for just $3 and a little over 40 pages this book packs a lot in.  There are so many cool ideas it is hard to figure out where I want to start with it.  I think that since Kelley tapped into some primal myths here that all gamers have an idea of these creatures, he just put it down in writing for us.

PWWO: Serpentine in Other Old-School Games

Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea has been my obsession over the last few weeks. Given the background of both AS&SH and Serpentine, it should really be no surprise then that I see the two of them working quite well together.  With the addition of Serpentine you can really "punch up" the stats for Sanke People in AS&SH. Already an interesting monster, now with this addition Snake People go from "just another monster" in the Bestiary section to potential Big Bad material.  Growing cult activity? Serpent People. More dinosaur sightings? Serpent People.  Increased slave trade? Yup. Serpent People.   Plus AS&SH and Oldskull Serpentine draw from exactly the same sources. They just rearrange things in a different order.  Both books feature Yig and owners of one book should find it to be of positive use when used with the other book.

Serpentine features the often used Clark Ashton Smith god, Tsathoggua.  Here he is considered to be a god of the Serpent People. AS&SH has the god Xathoqqua, which is the same god.  There are some differences in how they are portrayed in each book, but gods are supposed to be mutable.  Of course, the best source for Tsathogga (yet another spelling) is from the Frog Gods themselves in their Tome of Horror Complete.  Here he is presented as a demon, but that is perfect for me really. The same book (and the Tome of Horrors 4) have the Inphidians, which are their versions of the Yuan-ti, save Open for the OGL. Speaking of the Frog Gods, in their Monstrosities book feature Ophidians, a name I have also used in the past, as snake men.

The OSR games Blueholme and Adventurer Conqueror King System both have rules within their systems to allow Serpentine player characters. All you need really is the Serpentine book.

Union of the Snake: The Second Campaign

The heroes of the Second Campaign, my D&D 5e nod to old-school gaming, have already had their first encounter with the Yuan-ti.  They have encountered other snake-like creatures and reptiles worshiping snake gods, but everything is about to go into overdrive when they hit their desert-related adventures.

While the campaign is 5e based there is a lot of old-school influences in it.  I plan to take a bunch of the material above, put it in a blender then bury it in a desert for 3,000 years and see what comes up.
For me a lot of it is leading up to the ultimate confrontation with Demogorgon.
Borrowing from Advanced Labyrinth Lord I am using Demogorgon as the cult leader behind the snakes and snake men.  This fits in with my use of the blood apes as one of the three factions the worship Demogorgon; with human cultists and Ophidians/Snake Men/Serpent Folk being the other two.  The campaign will take a solid desert/Egyptian turn here soon.  I just need to figure out the Set-Apep-Yig-Demogorgon connection.

Of course, there will be creepy ass snake-men and cultists. All part of the alchemy of my past. Yes. My influeces for this are an forgotten Dirk Benedict horror movie and Duran Duran.  My game, my weird ass childhood.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Tanith, Iconic Witch for Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea

When Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea first edition came out I loved it.  At the time I was also doing a bunch of reading of what I was calling "Beyond Appendix N", or similar authors and time periods, but with much more of an occult bend to it all.  Not "real" occult, but pop-culture occult.  I wanted to get a good feel for what people were reading at the time D&D was created to really capture the idea of a "D&D Witch".
A lot of that reading would later go into the making of my Swords & Wizardry witch classes.
But AS&SH was never far from my physical and mental reaches.

A Witch Shall Be Born

With the idea of old witch families and dark occult secrets passed down generations I started putting together some ideas, overtly for a different project.
So back in 2014-5 I jotted this down in some notes:

The Winter family is very, very old. So old in fact that many people believe that the season was named for them. As their name implies their magic comes from the use and application of cold.
In this family, only women can become witches.  Once a girl in the family turns 13 her hair will turn white and this is the sign that she must travel north to train with the ancient Grandmother Winters.  The girls return to the family a year and a day later with the basic knowledge of their family witchcraft.  Once returned they will continue their training with other women in their family.  Each year they all congregate at a location determined by Grandmother Winters, usually one of the larger homes of the family.  The family gathers to begin their celebrations on the Winter Solstice, the height of their power.
The family is common in the northern, colder climes.  They own lots of land, but their homes tend to be more primitive than the local homes. Longhouses are most common. Women are almost exclusively witches, with the occasional priest or even wizard.  Men tend to be barbarians, warriors or occasional bard.  They are masters of survival in the cold.   Witches gain the Chill Touch spell for free.
Dark Secrets: The Winters Clan often are associated with darker, colder gods like Chernobog.  Their men are often accused of lycanthropy, mostly as werewolves.
Clan leader: Grandmother Winters
Current PC: Tanith Winters

Tanith Winters was born.

Tanith became my first AS&SH PC witch.  She never got past 2nd level since I tend to be the Gamer Master rather than the player.  Later I converted her to Swords & Wizardry and she became my first play-test Winter Witch.

I figure this is a good time to bring her home to Hyperborea.

The new Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea now has a Cyromancer class.  Something that I didn't have when I made Tanith.  To use the Winters family in AS&SH2 I would have some of the men, a rare few, become Cryomancers. Most would be Barbarians or Huntsmen.
Members of the Winters family tend to be shorter and smaller than other Hyperboreans. It has to lead to the pervasive rumor that they are in fact "Elf-folk" and not really human at all.

Yes. I named her for Tanith Lee.

Tanith Winters

Base Stats

Female Hyperborean Witch
Alignment: Neutral (but it is likely she will move towards Evil at some point)

Languages: Common, Hellenic (Hyperborean), Old Norse, Speak with the Dead, Speak with Nature Spirits
Size: M (Height: 5'2", 114lbs)
Move: 40
Saving Throw Modifiers: Transformation +2, Sorcery +2
Secondary Skill: Weaver (almost all Winters women begin as weavers)
God: Lunaqqua

ST 10 [+0 +0 2:6 2%]
DX 14 [+1 +0 3:6 8%]
CN 13 [+1 +0 80% 3:6 8%]
IN 16 [+1 75%]
WS 12 [+0]
CH 16 [+1 8 +1]

Snowy Owl Familiar ("Beira"): AL N; SZ S; MV 10 (Fly 80); DX 15; AC 7; HD 1/4 (hp 5); #AT 3/1 (claw, claw, bite); D 1/1/1; SV 17; ML 5; XP 11

Normal Gear
Winter robes, winter cloak, clothing, daggers (2), backpack, woolen blanket, chalk, ink and quill, polished steel mirror, incendiary oil, parchment (4), soft leather pouch (2), small sack (2), tinderbox, torches (2), wineskin (mead), writing stick, iron rations (one week), spellbook (contains all prepared spells), 1 gp, 5 sp

1st level Witch

Age: 14 (1 year and a day since training with Grandmother Winters)
AC: 9 (heavy cloak of winter)
HD: 1
hp: 5
FA: 0
CA: 1
#Attacks: 1/1
Damage: 1d4 (dagger), 1d4 (sling)
SV: 16
ML: 9
XP: 20

Speak with the dead; Speak with nature spirits; Brew Poison (once per month) Ingestible I; Brew Potion 1/month (a hallucinogen, a paralytic, or a soporific);  Read Magic; Read Scrolls; Scribe Scrolls; Familiar (Snowy owl);

First level (1+1): Sleep, Write Spell

Gear and Magic: Scroll (detect magic), wineskin (sapphire wine*),  amulet of undead turning (TA 3),

5th level Witch

Age: 19
AC: 4
HD: 5
hp: 19
FA: 2
CA: 5
#Attacks: 1/1
Damage: 1d4 (dagger), 1d4 (sling)
SV: 14
ML: 10
XP:  200

Speak with the dead; Speak with nature spirits; Brew Poison (once per month) Ingestible I, Ingestible II, Ingestible III; Brew Potion 2/month (a hallucinogen, a paralytic, or a soporific);  Read Magic; Read Scrolls; Scribe Scrolls; Familiar (Snowy owl); Brew Philtre 1/month; Dance of Beguilement; Effigy

First level ( 3+1): Charm Person, Shocking Grasp, Sleep, Write Spell
Second level (2+1): Darkness, Extrasensory Perception, Ray of Enfeeblement
Third level (1): Phantasm

Gear and Magic: Scroll (detect invisible), potion of healing, antidote, wand of freezing, ring of feather falling, amulet of undead turning (TA 3), Bead of Force, Defensive Bracers (AC 4)

9th level Witch

Age: 24
(add one point of Intelligence, IN 17, +one level 3 spell, 85% chance to learn)
Age: 19
AC: 4
HD: 9
hp: 35
FA: 4
CA: 9
#Attacks: 1/1
Damage: 1d4 (dagger), 1d4 (sling)
SV: 12
ML: 12
XP: 1,500

Speak with the dead; Speak with nature spirits; Brew Poison (once per month) Ingestible I, Ingestible II, Ingestible III, Ingestible IV, Ingestible V; Brew Potion 3/month (a hallucinogen, a paralytic, or a soporific);  Read Magic; Read Scrolls; Scribe Scrolls; Familiar (Snowy owl); Brew Philtre 1/month; Dance of Beguilement; Effigy; Witch's Apprentice

First level (5+1): Charm Person, Light, Scare, Shocking Grasp, Sleep, Write Spell
Second level (4+1): Darkness, Extrasensory Perception, Identify, Ray of Enfeeblement, Ungovernable Hideous Laughter
Third level (3+1): Continous Darkness, Slow, Phantasm, Wind Wall
Fourth level (2): Freeze Surface, Moonlight
Fifth level (1): Cause Lycanthropy

Gear and Magic: Scroll (detect magic), wineskin (sapphire wine*), sapphire necklace, platinum ring, potion of healing, wand of freezing, wand of lightning bolts, ring of feather falling, ring of warmness, amulet of undead turning (TA 3), Defensive Bracers (AC 4), Crystal Ball, Horn of Valhalla

*sapphire wine is made by the Winters family. It is very strong and used as a bartering item between northern clans.

Tanith Winters was born on a very auspicious night. It was midnight on the Winter Solstice during a full moon.  She was born with a full head of blonde hair and bright blue eyes.  So notable was her birth that Grandmother Winters herself came to southern lands (though still considered the north by most others) to see this new babe.  To everyone's delight, she proclaimed that she would train this child when she came of age (13) and to everyone's gasps she also promised babe to her own grandson for marriage.  The grandson, Azhrarn, was already as a teen a powerful Cryomancer and was considered to be one of the most handsome men produced by the Winters clan. He was also a notorious rake and already showing signs of the family curse of lycanthropy.

Tanith grew and learned witchcraft from one of the most powerful witches in the world.  While she grew in power and womanhood her cousin Azhran also grew in power, but also more evil.  After her intial training Tanith took up with a group of adventurers in an attempt to delay her fate.  She knows that it is only a matter of time before Azhrarn finds her. She hopes that she will also be powerful enough to face him on her own terms.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

PWWO: Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea

I got my Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea 2nd Edition book as part of the Kickstarter, so I have had it for a while now.  In the time I have been reading through it I came up with at least three (or four depending on my mood) completely separate games/campaigns I want to do with it and only one is the Default setting.

So let's talk a little about those while I see what I also have on my shelves to use.

Since it is an "Retro Clone" of sorts and an OSR game it naturally lends itself well to mixing an matching.  I mentioned in my review yesterday that I feel it is a good blend of both B/X D&D and AD&D.  Maybe leaning towards more to the AD&D side of the equation.

B/X D&D goes to 14th level, AS&SH goes to 12th.  So any adventure written for Basic or Expert D&D is in theory (and very much in practice) going to work for AS&SH.  I mean you will need to do something about the elves, dwarves, and halflings about.  But for the most part I make them Kelts and Picts respectively.  Sometimes I even throw in the odd elf or dwarf to keep things weird.  The feel of the two games is also very, very similar.  The four Basic human classes map exactly to the four main classes of AS&SH, with sub-classes essential being role-playing notes.

But you don't need to take my word for it alone.  Eric Fabiaschi over at Swords & Stitchery has been blogging about AS&SH for years.  In fact, he has been working through many of the classic TRS-era modules for use with AS&SH, both 1st and 2nd editions.
I read a lot about other's games online most times I think "wow, that looks fun!", sometimes I think "Er. OK, you do you, but I am happy WAY over here." But with Eric's I am most often going "Damn! Why didn't I think of that first!"

Speaking of which.

I recently ran Isle of Dread for my kids under 5e. It was fantastic, really. We had a great time and I got to relive some great moments of the adventure that I had back in the early 80s.  I could not help but think how awesome X1 would be with the AS&SH rules.  Go all pulp with dinosaurs, King Kong and creepy ass cults.
As you can imagine, Eric has covered this topic well on his blog too.  So instead of me trying to tell what you can do in a paragraph, check out his pages of ideas!

So I mentioned that I see AS&SH as good combination of B/X and AD&D rules.  Essentially it is what we were playing back in the early 80s.  Where I grew up it was not uncommon to come to a game where people would have an AD&D Monster Manual, a Holmes Basic book and a Cook/Marsh Expert Book.  The rules we played by were also an equally eclectic mix.
AS&SH is like that. It favors the AD&D side more, but there are enough B/X influences that I smile to myself when I see them.

Labyrinth Lord and Basic Fantasy are both implementations of the Basic D&D rules, but expanded out.  Lots of great stuff in both systems.  Basic Fantasy, in particular, has an absolute trove of materials usuable with the core rules and easily for use in AS&SH. 
The same is true for Blueholme, the Holmes-inspired clone. 
While all three have significant overlap in monsters, there are some unique ones in each that make for a fuller picture.  In particular Blueholme has a few good choices.

I mentioned Realms of Crawling Chaos before. Both of these books cover some of the same Lovecraftian beasties, RoCC gives a little more detail on how to run a Lovecraftian-style "D&D" game.   Hyperborea is not so much about horror, it's more Howardian, but there is no reason why it can't be.  This is a good place to start.

If Crawling Chaos is good, then Call of Cthulhu is even better.  Again all these books cover the same ground and feature similar themes.  The d20 CoC book does have a section on how heroic characters (aka D&D characters) would respond to these monsters, as opposed to the normal people of the CoC proper rules.  Grabbing a copy of CoC is good for ANY gamer in my mind but for the AS&SH gamer/gamer master there are some great ideas on how to play the Lovecraftian, and Smith, side of the game more. In truth, all monsters get a boost thematically speaking with a read through of CoC.

That is great and fun, but what if I want to up the Howardian or Pulpy aspects of the game? Well for me I wanted to run a Pellucidar-like game.

Hollow Earth adventures is a pulp-style game using the Ubiquity system, so system conversion is different, but the themes are 100% compatible with AS&SH.  What about the lands UNDER Hyperborea, are their Lizard People? Snake Cults?  Dinosaurs? OF COURSE there is! 

Amazing Adventures and many of the works of Jason Vey to be honest (including his Wasted Lands house setting) work great with AS&SH.  Again, not a direct translation, though the SIEGE system is easier to convert to AS&SH, but thematic.  I actually ran a playtest of the "Red God" adventure under the AS&SH (1st Ed) rules.

Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea is an amazingly flexible system and strikes all the notes that many games attempt.  I guess that's why the core book is 608 pages.

Mixing these I have decided that what really want to do is a Zothique game.  Based on all the Zothique tales from Clark Ashton Smith. 
There is an unofficial d20 supplement for Zothique that is good and can be easily converted to AS&SH.   Even James at Grognardia wanted to do a CAS game.

As I work on my game more with all the materials above I'll keep you all posted.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Review: Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea 2E

This one has been a long time in coming.

Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea (Compleat Second Edition)

This is the newest version of the AS&SH game and there are few notable differences between it and the first edition, but it is still the same fun game from Jeffrey Talanian and the sorcerers over at North Wind Adventures.

I will be reviewing both the PDF and the physical copy. I purchased these via the Kickstarter a while back so no review was expected or asked for.

Where to begin with this massive tome?  Well, let's talk about the book itself.  The book is massive at 622 pages.  The covers are full color and the interior art is a combination of mostly black & white with some new full-color pages; most to designate larger sections of the book.

Some of the art and text is held over from the First Edition, but since this book is designed as a replacement that's fine with me really.  It is more than that too.

AS&SH2e is a complete game. Everything you need except for dice is here.  There are player's sections and a game master section.  I will work through them all.

Volume I: Swordsmen & Sorcerers covers character creation. We have the same basic material we see in all games, what is an RPG, how to play, dice, how to generate stats and so on.  I gloss over it here because I know my readers know all of this but to a newcomer to the game these sections are written with a lot of clarity.  I do think that most people coming to this game will be coming from other RPGs, but this is still good material.  The bulk of this volume (over 120 pages) is devoted to classes.  We still have our Basic Four; Fighter, Magician, Cleric, and Theif.  Each also gets a number of subclasses.  Fighters get  Barbarian, Berserker, Cataphract, Paladin, Ranger, and Warlock with the addition of a new to this edition Huntsman.  The Magician has Illusionist, Necromancer, Pyromancer, and Witch. with the new to this edition Cyromancer (a new favorite of mine).  The Cleric has the Druid, Monk, Priest,  and Shaman and the new Runegraver.  Finally, the Thief has the Assassin, Bard, Legerdemainist, Scout and the new Purloiner.  Each subclass is very much like it's parent classes with some changes.  The classes look pretty well balanced. The new classes also feel right with the Cryomancer, Huntsman, and Runegraver falling into the "why didn't think of these in 1st ed, they are so obvious!" category.
Each class has a "Fighting Ability" and a "Magic Ability" which relates to attacks. So yes, even magicians can get a little better in combat as they go up in level.  It's a great little shorthand and works great.  So a 4th level Fighter has a fighting ability of 4. A 4th level magician still only has a fighting ability of 1 and a cleric 3 and thief 3.  Subclasses can and do vary.
AC is descending (like old school games), BUT with the Fighting Ability stat it could be converted to an ascending AC easily.
Races are dealt with next. They include Amazons, Atlanteans, Esquimaux, Hyperboreans, Ixians, Kelts, Kimmerians, Lemurians, Picts, and Vikings along with the catch-all "Common" race of man.  No elves or dwarves here. Alignment is a simpler affair of Lawful Good, Lawful Evil, Chaotic Good, Chaotic Evil and Neutral.
There are background skills and weapon skills. Also listed are some gods and plenty of equipment.

Volume II: Sorcery deals with all the spells of the various spellcasting classes. At a little over 80 pages, there are a lot of spells here.  Even more impressive when you consider that the highest level spell is only Sixth level.

Volume III: Adventure & Combat covers the next 60 or so pages of what is essentially the Player's section. It deals with combat in all its forms. So combat, mass combat, saves and conditions.  Siege combat, strongholds, waterborne adventures, and combat. A great collection really of some of the "Best of" ideas I have seen in many games, but it all works really nice here. It has been expanded on from the 1st edition.
Now there are some differences here between AS&SH and say "Normal" or "Standard" D&D.  There are things like group intitative, the Fighting Ability figures more in than actually level and others.  Please be sure to read this section carefully when running your first game.

Volume IV: Bestiary kicks off what is the Referee's section. Now it is no secret I love monster books so for the next 130 pages we get all sorts of monsters. The format is most similar to Basic or Labyrinth Lord, and it is full of the usual suspects with some Lovecraftian Horrors, and even remnants of alien and bygone ages. "Demons" are here, but no devils. I know NorthWind has a Player's book out now, but a Monster book would also be fantastic.  Thankfully nearly every Clone or OSR monster book can be used with this with minor tweaks.

Volume V: Treasure covers the next 50 or so pages. Among the magic items are things like Radium Pistols and other sc-fi artifacts. Very pulpy. It also includes some rules on scribing spell and protection scrolls. There is even a small section on Alchemy in Hyperborea. Very useful to have really.

Volume VI: Hyperborea Gazetteer is our last volume. It is a great bit that I can easily drop into my game. The lands are a pastiche of Howard, Vance, Lovecraft, and Smith.  If these names mean anything to you then you know, or have an idea, of what you are going to get here.  This section has been greatly expanded from the previous edition. Included here are the gods again and a little more on religion.  Basically you get the idea that gods are either something you swear by (or to) or get sacrificed to by crazy cultists.  So yeah, you know I am a fan.

Appendix A: Referee Advice is just that.  One page and straight to the point.
Appendix B: Weather in Hyperborea. You mean it does more than snow? Charts that help you figure out the temperature and conditions at any given time.  Also useful for other games.
Appendix C: Rogues Gallery. Some NPCs, or what I guess we could call the Iconics of AS&SH.  All are easily recognizable from the art in the book.  No iconic witch though...hmmm. All are listed at 1st, 5th and 9th levels.
Appendix D: Introductory Setting. This gives us the Town of Swampgate. It's a pretty robust setting with some adventure keyed in.

I have said it once, but I will repeat it here.  Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea is hands down one of my most favorite retro-clone/OSR/Old-School games.

For me, it is another example of striking the perfect balance between B/X D&D and AD&D1.  This one leans more towards the AD&D side of the spectrum, but the power level, the grit, the overall vibe is far more B/X.  THEN you add in material from Lovecraft, Howard and Clark Ashton Smith? Well, that is the perfect icing on the cake really.

Of course, it is nearly perfect out of the box, but it can also lend itself to so much more than what is given us to use between the covers.  I have run Zothique games and Pellucidar style ones as well where all of Hyperborea was either one continent in the far future or underground, inside hollow earth (respectively).

The book is as attractive as it is huge.
I really can't recommend this book and game enough. The new book is great and it will sit next my 1st Ed box rather nicely.

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