Thursday, January 14, 2010

Going (Up) to Hell? Cosmology

I was reading a very interesting post by Mike Mearls the other day about dropping the structure of the planes in favor of something more local. Read his post here,

Ok? good.

I think his reasons of course are sound and fit nicely with something I have wanted to do forever. When I first picked up that 1st Ed copy of Deities and Demigods I loved the Planes. It had so many interesting places and so many things to do. I got very attached to the Great Wheel cosmology that I began to evaluate fantasy and later horror on how closely it fit that model. Then I began to get lazy. Not in the sense that would not write, quite the opposite, I would come up with elaborate schemes to make things fit the model or not. Whether it needed to or not. Even in my AD&D Grand Opus Adventure the characters went to Hell to confront the evils that invaded their world there was still the Great Wheel. It worked, then, but now I feel it's limitations. Well along came 3rd Edition and suddenly the planes are mutable, changing and even expected to be different depending on how you look at them; 4E changes this even more.

Mike Mearls mentions in his blog that one of the issues of the planes being "out there" that they lose some of their value. History tells us that demons, devils and other bad things came from under-ground, or beyond that mountain or from across the sea; here there be monsters. Monsters come from "beyond the sky" in Lovecraft related fiction, which is fine for tentacle horrors, but devils at least are concerned with the same things humans are. Devils need to be close. They need to be something the common man, woman and child fears. Not just because they are evil, but because they are nearby.

Mike says move the Abyss to your world, I say move Hell.

Hell in 4e now seems to be a planet floating somewhere in the Astral Sea. This puts it on par with everything else, even Heaven. Now I am not a religious person, but doesn't Hell lose some of what makes it Hell if it just a planet with bad environmental conditions? They describe it as planet some 7,000 miles in diameter with the "layers" lower and lower subterranean continent sized caverns. Like Mearls, I say take all that and shove it inside your world. Drill down a few hundred miles and there is the entry way to Hell. Just like Dante described. What keeps the devils in? Same thing that keeps them there now, gates. Like the roach motel it is, it is easy to get, impossible to get out. Or nearly such. Of course the point between the Underdark and Abyss sharing a nature is sound, I think I can get the same thing with the Nine Hells really. In fact I might even make Lolth more like a devil (she is more devil like than demon like anyway) given her status as former Goddess, cast out and down. Sound familiar? It certainly fits with what Hell is supposed to be better, an underground dungeon for the damned. The Abyss is a maelstrom of evil and chaos, it fits better in the planes.
Of course this is not without issues. First, and the one that concerns multi-versal games the most, is that Hell inside a planet means that for every copy/twin/multiverse that planet is in there is a corresponding Hell. This might be fine really. I don't care for some of the changes made to some of the Arch Dukes in the last few books (3 & 4), but I can write that off as that is just the way things are in that universe. Which is something we all do anyway, I am just making it explicit. Of course the new 4e cosmology also gives us the Shadowfell and the Feywild, which I like, but if they are dark and twisted reflections of our own world then what about the Hell for those worlds? I say that their Hells are ours. That if you drill down in the Shadowfell you end up in the same Hell as if you did it in the Feywild or the campaign world.
Back in the day there was a great series of Dragon articles about the various Arch Dukes and Dukes of Hell. The article began with a bit of fiction about a Paladin (a holy warrior for good) marching on to Hell to defeat evil at the source. This scene works better today than it even did then with Devils now generally evil rather than exclusively "Lawful Evil". And it works better if the Paladin is marching to Hell, not paying a wizard for an Astral Projection spell.

Sure *where* it is physically located might mean little to PCs and DMs with access to magical means of travel, but the world should make sense to normal people too. What is there to fear about a creature, evil and immortal or not, if it takes a great amount of magic to get them here.

Gygax was a reader of Dante, Milton and of Ovid. These authors, as much as anything and maybe more so, shaped what we think of when we think of Hell. "Planet Hell" inside the Earth/World then fits very well with all these writers. More than a plane "out there" somewhere. Which does bring up an interesting point. Here is a quote from Milton's "Paradise Lost",

"Orcus and Ades, and the dreaded name Of Demogorgon."
— John Milton, Paradise Lost II. 966.

So. Lucifer is cast out of Heaven and down into Hell, he meets up with these demons in some…what, ante-chamber of Hell, a place where Chaos rules with Night. Sounds like the Abyss, but where is that again? I have often wanted to merge Hell and they Abyss into one place where demons are the masses of creatures and devil are the upper-class. If I put Hell inside my world (or the Abyss like Mearls) then do I have room for both? Do I need both? Are they the same thing with different names? Then there are other issues I have avoided because of the aforementioned laziness. Tiamat is described in myth as "chaos" and her body is destroyed to make the firmament of the Earth. But then she gets tossed into Hell? Sure, it fits the outcast god model, but Tiamat is chaos. Lilith is also cast out, but she wants order, her own order, but order all the same; at least that is how I read it. Grazzt looks like a Devil, but is a Demon or maybe he is not. And there is the bit from Milton. So what is a world builder to do? And where is this antechamber of Hell were Demogorgon and Orcus act as the Welcome Wagon for Lucifer and the cast out Angels, now Devils? Hell has the River Styx, where the souls of the dead are ferried across, but now the souls of the dead move through the Shadowfell. This makes me want to break out the WitchCraft RPG seprioths and see if I can't make it all work.

Well here is my stab at it. The Antechamber is of course the Underdark. It is hundreds of miles below the surface of the planet. Here in the deepest pit was where the fallen angels were cast. It is here that they meet the demons. There is a great battle, Orcus (then a dark god) is killed only to come back from the dead, Demogorgon has his head cleaved in half (to regrow as two heads) and Ades…well that was the last anyone heard of him. The devils (as they are now known) take the realm once controlled by demons. Once there though the devils discover that Hell is not the home of the demons, it was only the realm they could control this close to the world. The devils seal the opening to the Abyss, place Tiamat there to guard against demonic entry and the devils themselves descend lower into Hell. Physically the Abyss and Hell (and Tarterus and Pluton and Gehenna) are all the same place locked deep within the Earth in a area were the Prime Material, Shadowfell and Feywild all intersect. The nine layers controlled by the Arch Dukes and Devils is known as Hell. Everything else is simply "The Underworld". The conditions are, well Hellish, it is inside a planet afterall, but great and powerful magics keep the denizens alive, though it warps other magic and prevents them from escaping. The areas known as the Abyss are open and there is much fighting, the area known as Hell is gated. It is supposed to be a prison after all.

At the bottom there is a dark chasm who feeds into the elemental chaos. I like the description of the Abyss in the new Manual of the Planes, it makes it sound like a black hole in the Astral.

It needs some work to be sure. Demons, like Demogorgon, Orcus, Pazuzu and others have more interest in human affairs than the mindless hoards of demons because they are more devil like, and thus, more human like. Older demons such as Dagon are more elemental chaos. Even Tiamat now is more demonic than diabolic. This helps explain the Bloodwar a bit better, explains the similarity between demons and devils and why in popular parlance (in the world) they are often confused. It also helps explain why some seem to switch sides every now and then. Or simply put, devils are the cast out immortals of good that betrayed or otherwise became evil. Demons always were evil.

Of course I could keep the Abyss as is in 4th Ed. There are plenty of good reasons to keep it in the elemental chaos in the Astral. Demons are more elemental, more chaotic obviously and more alien. Of "demon" can just be a term to refer to anything that is evil that is not a devil. If I go that route then "Devils" would refer only to the Fallen and things like Ice Devils, Malebranche and the like are demons, just a different kind. After all, Succubi were demons and now they are devils, so it's not like there isn't precedent.
What does removing the demons and devils from the "outer planes" rob us of in D&D? Well, Planescape to a large degree would need to be rethought. To a lesser extent the nature of Tieflings will need to be changed, though maybe not. Typically to get to those outer planes takes characters of some power, so there is the build up to go to their home turf and fight that is now gone; ie. anyone can find the opening to Hell and stumble in.

OR maybe demons come the "Hells" of the Shadowfell and Feywild.

Of course there is one huge advantage of reshaping the planes. I can shape them in a way to work with either my 4th Ed game or my OSR/Basic game or even something like Ghosts of Albion.

That is the fun thing about fantasy cosmology, it can be a mutable as I need it to be.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Why I still enjoy the OSR

I was going through a bunch of my OSR books the other day.  Played around with converting (again!) my Family D&D night over to some unholy version of D&D Rules Cyclopedia and Basic Fantasy Role-Playing, but dropped that idea for some good reasons (if my kids are going to play D&D in other places then I should start them out with the rules that are most popular in their school). I do really like the idea of picking up a "Basic" game sometime.  I figure using the D&DRC and starting everyone out at 5th or 6th level is close to the experience they would have with D&D 4th Ed.

Don't get me wrong. I am really enjoying D&D 4, and yes it is entirely possible to have an "old school experience" with this game.  It is less (to me) about the rules and more about what you do with them.  Yeah I know there are plenty of people out there that will tell how "wrong" that is or I am, but who cares? I am having fun.

I was also reading over my Original Edition D&D books this past weekend.  They are fun to have and one day I will play that version again.   The White Box edition of Swords & Wizardry is getting a lot of noise out in OSR land now and that is cool.  Spellcraft & Swordplay though is still my favorite OSR book and that is not just because I am friends with Jason, but because it really works for me.  I like the "garage band" feel of it.

I hope the OSR does not loose any steam anytime soon.  It has been very cool watching this grow and prosper over the last year or so.  The messages boards and blog posts are still going strong so that is a good sign.  The books also keep going out and that is the best sign of all.

Friday, January 8, 2010

The Church of Lolth Ascendant

In the "Anything worth doing is worth doing in excess" category:  Some fluff for the D&D game.

There is a growing cult found among the elves of the world. Whispered in ears and it’s writings forbidden it is yet still gaining strong standing among elves, surface and drow alike, a simple, but heretical belief.

Lolth was betrayed.

The members of the Church of Lolth Ascendant firmly believe that Lolth, the Demon Queen of Spiders and Goddess of the Drow was in fact Araushnee, the Elven Goddess of Fate and Destiny. This is not in dispute. What is disputed however, are the events that lead Araushnee to become Lolth and what happened after.

Araushnee was born the same time as all the Elven Gods in the time just After Dawn. She was the most beautiful of all the Seldarine, her ebon skin glistened in the moonlight and looked like carved wood in the sun. Corellon said she was made out of piece of pure midnight and her hair reflected the light of the stars above. For this he gave her domain over the stars and secrets they keep. They say that the other Gods were jealous of her, but she did not see this, for Araushnee was born with the Sight. She could see the complicated strands of fate, understand the webs they could weave and make predictions.
It was these predictions that lead to her downfall.

Araushnee predicted that the peace of the elves would end in violent wars where elf battled “fearsome beasts” (orcs were not yet created), dwarfs and other elves. She was laughed at, but she knew her predictions were true. When the orcs were created and threatened elf territories the others still did not listen to her.

She saw the future Elf/Orc war and tried to warn Corellon. But he ignored her advice and was too busy dallying with the three goddess Sehanine Moonbow, Hanali Celanil and Aerdrie Faenya.

When the elves finally did respond Araushnee had another vision. She saw Corellon defeat Grummush and destroy the all of the orcs. But genocide was not enough for the victorious and bloodthirsty god. He attacked the dwarves and destroyed them, and then the gnomes, Halflings and finally humans. Araushnee saw a world in which only the Elves would remain and Corellon ruled all as a bloody tyrant. Arushnee loved Corellon, giving him two children, but did not want him to become a monster. She knew she had to stop him.

She turned to Sehanine Moonbow, the Goddess of Artisans, who she felt was a sister (despite her infidelity with her husband), to ask her for guidance. But Sehanine was jealous of Araushnee and her dominion of the night sky and of her place at Corellon’s side. She told Araushnee that the only way to protect the elves was to let the orcs know of their surprise raid. Araushnee agreed and left alone for Grummush’s lair. Sheanine remained behind in Arushnee’s home to wait out the battle.

Araushnee went to Grummush and told him of the surprise attack to happen and the strength of the elven forces. He commanded that she remain with him, she said no that it was her fate to die in the battle in the elvish fortress. This she had seen.

Araushnee returned saddened, but knowing that she had prevented Corellon from becoming an even greater monster than Grummush. She stood in readiness for battle with her kin and her children. She did not even notice that Sehanine was not with them. When the battle began the elvish forces were nearly overwhelmed. While they did fight the orcs back and achieve a victory, it was not the slaughter that Corellon was wanting. Orcs still lived, Grummush, wounded, still lived. Corellon raged, demanding to know who had betrayed them. Araushnee said nothing, still in shock over not dying in battle and wondering if her visions had been wrong. Then Sehanine returned, claiming she had been imprisoned by Araushnee, that she had discovered the Drow Queen’s plans to warn and join with Grummush.

Corellon confronted her asking if these claims were true. She admitted to telling Grummush, and that is all Corellon had heard. He went to strike her down but their son Vhaeraun stood in between them. Corellon struck him down instead. Now Araushnee grew enraged. She had sacrificed everything so that the elves could live and Corellon would remain a just ruler, but she was still the mother of this boy and no one, not even the First of the Seldarine, dared touch him in anger. Using all her own power she attacked her former lover. She knew his every move and was able to counteract his every attack and land her own instead. She would have succeeded in killing him had it not been for the lesser goddesses Sehanine Moonbow, Hanali Celanil and Aerdrie Faenya combining their power into one deity to defeat her.

With Araushnee defeated, broken and beyond everything else, despairing over the path Fate had lead her down. Corellon angered, cursed her, her form and her name. Cast her into the Abyss with her son and condemned all drow. He gave her powers to Sehanine Moonbow. He also cast out Eilistraee even though she had stood with her father.

Lolth, as she was now known, hid herself deep in the Abyss and wept.

The Worshippers of Araushnee

The lay worshipper of Araushnee is typically elven, though her voice finds an ear among half-elves and some humans. Her flock is typically younger than other new cults. It is believed that this is due to the fact that drow, once a feared nearly mythical boogeyman 20 years ago, are now more common of a sight. Even good Drow have been known to exist.

Tenants of Faith

Araushnee, now known as Lolth, was a member of the Elvish pantheon.
• She was unjustly banished and imprisoned in the Abyss.
• She wished for nothing more than to be reunited with her fellow elves. She forgives Corellon and even the goddesses Sehanine Moonbow, Hanali Celanil and Aerdrie Faenya. She wants them to welcome her back.
• The Drow are evil, but their evil is one that began with a lie and has been perpetuated by the Drow matriarchy.
• To achieve Arushnee’s reunification with the Seldarine, elven worshipers must achieve reunification with the Drow.
• Evils done in Lolth’s name are often the work of the evil Drow matriarchy, other demons, or even the Seldraine themselves.

Fourth Edition D&D

Lady of Fate, Banished Goddess, Queen of the Demonweb Pits
Unaligned Greater Goddess

Auaushnee, known to the world as Lolth, sits alone in the Demonweb Pits, the prison constructed for her by her former husband Corellon. She presides over Drow and spiders that mimic her ability to weave the stands of fate. Araushnee never answer summons, but communicates to her true followers in prophetic dreams and omens.

Araushnee does not make many demands on her worshippers, feeling that life is demanding enough. But she does hold all her worshipers to the following:
• Find your own fate and follow it.
• Honor Arsushnee not in words, but in deeds and actions.
• Seek to reunite that which has been sundered.

Worshipers: Drow, Dark and Star Pact Warlocks, Fortune Tellers, Diviners

New Feat: Web of Fate [Divinity]
Prerequisites: Channel Divinity class feature, must worship Araushnee (not Lolth).
Benefit: You can use the power of your deity to use web of fate.

Channel Divinity: Web of Fate Feat Power
The strands of fate play out before you like the silken threads of a spider. You may pluck a strand, altering fate in your favor.
Immediate Interrupt Close burst 10
Trigger: An ally in burst makes an attack roll or skill check
Target: One ally in burst
Effect: The target immediately rerolls the attack roll or skill check he or she just made, but must keep the second result, even if it is worse.
Special: You must take the Web of Fate feat to use this power.

Third Edition D&D 

Lady of Fate, Banished Goddess, Queen of the Demonweb Pits
Intermediate Deity
Symbol: A spider web or a drow woman holding a distaff
Home Plane: Demonweb Pits
Alignment: Chaotic Neutral
Portfolio: Drow, Fate, Chaos, Night, Stars
Worshipers: Drow, the oppressed, fortune tellers, those that seek redemption, witches
Cleric Alignment: CG, CN, CE
Domains: Fate*, Drow, Chaos, Darkness
Favored Weapon: Distaff (staff)

*Found in Complete Warrior

As the former Lady of Fate, Araushhnee was also responsible for the management of the Weave for elves. It is because of her weaving strands of the Weave into the fate of all elves. This is why Elves are the most magical race and it is something that all elves to this day still feel.

Araushnee rarely sends avatars to consult with worshipers preferring to communicate via prophetic dreams and omens. She does this since she feels as living creatures her worshippers need to choose their own fates.

Araushnee’s followers are guided to find their own fates and follow it. There will be signs for those that can read them and these signs will guide you. In the spirit of reunification the followers are encouraged to make whole things that have been broken apart. A typical tactic is a group of pilgrims from one elven community to another will ask for odd jobs to do fixing things. While the male members will work, the females will stay with the others to speak of another who wishes to mend. Fortune tellers and others that deal with reading the fates for a price also work in the Word for Araushnee.

Clergy and Temples
The Clergy of Araushnee tend to be young, spirited and have an absolute sense that what they are saying is in fact correct. They will often quote passages out of the Elven canon describing Araushnee’s betrayal and even produce so called “lost works” of Elven scholars that have been deemed to heretical for inclusion. While such works are in fact quite old what is lost to time is whether they were not included because they were heretical, or simply not true. Where they are open the Cult of Araushnee will preach their message of reunification with their Drow cousins and speak of “mending old wounds” both among the elves and among their gods. They firmly believe that if they can get enough worshippers the Seladrine will have to allow Araushnee’s return.
The lay worshipper of Araushnee is typically elven, though her voice finds an ear among half-elves and some humans. Her flock is typically younger than other new cults. It is believed that this is due to the fact that drow, once a feared nearly mythical boogeyman 20 years ago, are now more common of a sight. Even good Drow have been known to exist.
Temples are usually temporary affairs since the cult is tolerated at best and hunted at worse. A typical worship center for the Cult of Araushnee is outdoors in a woodland area (for elven sensibility) and usually at night (out of respect of the Goddess they revere). It is considered a good omen if there are spider webs found in a potential spot and a great omen if spiders spin their webs during the worship service. A sign that Araushnee is pleased.

Second Edition AD&D

Intermediate Power of the Abyss

PORTFOLIO: Fate, darkness, chaos, spiders, the drow race
ALIASES: Lolth, Lloth (Menzoberranzan and Uluitur), Megwandir, Moander, Zinzerena
DOMAIN NAME: 66th level/Lolth's Web (the Demonweb Pits)
FOES: Deep Duerra, Eilistraee, Ghaunadaur, Gruumsh, Ibrandul (dead), Kiaransaleen, Laduguer, Moander (dead), the Seldarine, Vhaeraun, Blibdoolpoolp, the Blood Queen, Diinkarazan, Diirinka, Great Mother, Gzemnid, Ilsensine, Ilxendren, Laogzed, Maanzecorian (dead), Psilofyr
SYMBOL: Female drow holding a distaff or a spider’s web

Specialty Priests
Fate Spinners

PRIME REQ.: Wisdom
MAJOR SPHERES: All, astral, animal, chaos, combat, divination, guardian, healing, protection, summoning, sun (reversed only)
MINOR SPHERES: Charm, creation, wards
REQ. PROFS: Etiquette, weaving
BONUS PROFS: Animal training (spiders), spellcraft

• Fate Spinners are allowed to and encouraged to multiclass.
• Fate Spinners are immune to all spider venoms.
• Fate Spinners can communicate with spiders of all kinds, and spiders never harm them in any way.
• At 2nd level, Fate Spinners can cast spider climb (as the 1st-level wizard spell) or spidereyes (as the Ist-level wizard spell found in Wizard's Spell Compendium, Volume 3 or the Ist-level priest spell in The Drow of the Underdark) once per day. If spider climb is cast, it does not prevent spell-casting so long as two limbs grip the surface being climbed, and light objects do not stick to the priest's hands and feet. Spidereyes allows the caster to see through the eyes of a single normal or giant arachnid within 60
yards, but it does not grant any control over the arachnid's movements or direction of gaze.
• At 5th level, Fate Spinners can cast dispel magic (as the 3rd-level priest spell) or web (as the 2nd-level wizard spell) twice per day.
• At 7th level, Fate Spinners can cast summon shadow (as the 5thlevel wizard spell) or spider summoning (as the 5th-level priest spell) twice per day.
• At 10th level, Fate Spinners can cast true seeing (as the 5th-level priest spell, but with twice the normal duration) or spiderform (as the 5th-level priest spell) twice per day.
• At 13th level, fate spinners can cast dream (as the 5th-level wizard spell) once per day.

Fate Spinners are allowed the same spells as are the Arachne if they are drow.

Araushnee in the Campaign

Forgotten Realms
Araushnee has the strongest presence in the Forgotten Realms world of Toril. Her cult, while not wide spread, does have some concentration in the more urban centers of the world where ideas can easily be shared and of course high among the elves. In particular the cult has gained a foothold among the students of the University in Silverymoon and on the streets of Waterdeep. In Silverymoon more humans are found among the cult’s members than anywhere else, though elves still outnumber the human cultists. In Waterdeep, Araushnee’s message is whispered from trader to trader and in the shops and in the fortune tellers’ stalls. A small temple(in truth a small shop) is maintained in the Field Ward. The Temple is in good standing with the city having paid all their dues and strictly adhering to all the laws. So despite complaints the city officials have no cause to throw them out.
It is from these two strongholds of faith that the cult has spread. Recently the cult has been spotted in Baldur’s Gate as Elven travelers have left other parts of the world to come here.

With little surprise the stronghold of faith for the worship of Araushnee lies in the City of Greyhawk itself. Once felt to be a minor esoteric cult grown out of the idle speculation of University students the cult has spread to many lands where there are elves. There are however more Drow in the Araushnee cult on Oerth than on Toril. Why this might be is unknown, but plannular scholars suspect it might be due to the lesser presence of other good-aligned Drow gods such as Eilistraee on Oerth.
Due to city laws there are no standing temples to Araushnee in the city and the members of the Oligarchy have spoken out about it.
Arushnee’s cult has taken longer to establish here than in other worlds since the events of the Temple of Elemental Evil are still within living memory.

D20 Modern – (Urban Arcana, Shadow Chasers, Dark*Matter)
The worship of Araushnee is open and widespread. Considered to be a neo-Pagan Goddess that has been “re-discovered” she is celebrated as a symbol of triumph (in particular female triumph) over adversity (in particular male adversity). She is revered both by humans and elves alike. Her popularity has grown since she was used as the “spokesperson” for the phenomenally successful “Lolth Fair – A Celebration of Women in Music” event of the previous decade.

Drow in power are less likely to follow Araushnee than those living in the streets or slums of the modern world. Though she has also found solid ground with the various feminist movements among the elves, they differ is feeling Araushnee should not have beg for forgiveness, but rather it is the other elven gods that should be asking for hers.

Witches of Arashnee

Given her status as a “rejected” or “outsider” goddess, the priesthoods of Araushnee could best be described as witches in the classical sense. They worship a god felt to be evil by all of those around. They could also be described as witches in the modern sense, worshipers of downtrodden and most misunderstood goddess.

1st and 2nd Edition, Complete Netbook of Witches
My suggestion of course would be to use my own “Complete Netbook of Witches and Warlocks”. It is a free netbook that is all over the internet now. Just Google it.

Witches of Arashnee are of an Eclectic or Faerie Tradition. Typically they will belong to a small coven of eight or less, eight being the primary number of significance for Arashnee’s cult.
The Gypsy Elves in this book are also among her worshipers and are one of the primary means for the spread of her cult.
Arashnee’s Witches have the following Occult Powers:
Lesser: Brew Truth Drug
Minor: Acquire Familiar (Spiders and Arachnids only)
Medial: Immune to Supernatural Fear
Greater: Fascination
Superior: Foretell Future

3rd Edition, Liber Mysterium, the Complete Book of Witches and Warlocks
While there are a number of d20 compatible witches on the market, I also suggest using my “Liber Mysterium” book on witches. Again, it is free and can be found with a Google search, most likely that same search that works above.

Witches of Arashnee are of an Eclectic or Faerie Tradition. Typically they will belong to a small coven of eight or less, eight being the primary number of significance for Arashnee’s cult.
Typically the Witches of Arashnee hail from Eclectic or Faerie (Kuruni) traditions, with most witches being human and elf respectively.
They have the following Occult Powers
Minor (7th Level): Fate’s Luck
Medial (13th Level): Dream, as per the 5th level Wizard spell.
Greater (19th Level): Foretell Future


A cool blog post I found about Lolth and Ereshkigal,
That Wikipedia thingy,
Forgotten Realms wiki,
Yet Another Fantasy Gamer Comic, Lolth is a semi-regular,

Thursday, January 7, 2010

More from Outlaw Press

So more Outlaw Press news. You might recal I talked about Outlaw Press and James Shipman stealing art and content from scores of people for his Tunels & Trolls publications. [1] [2] [3]

Well now I have heard from anothee one of the artists.  I have actually spoken to a few of them, many were shocked and saddened that their work had been stolen.  Let's be clear here; if this handful of people is correct then that means he has stolen at least from them. And theft it is. 
This new artist has asked if I can get more of the word out so more artists that have been affected can let their voice be heard, and to help prevent this from happening again.

I am only too happy to help.

-- Begin Included Message --

A small RPG Publisher (Outlaw Press, Inc. run by James L. Shipman II) that exclusively publishes Tunnels &Trolls RPG materials was accused of extensively using and publishing unlicensed art and text for profit by several artist and writers who own the copyright to the art and content in question. Some of the images used by this publisher are work-for-hire art copyrighted by big-name companies like Dreamworks, SKG; Games Workshop; Upper Deck/Blizzard; and Wizards of the Coast.

The discussion about the whole matter of this publisher using unlicensed art started on this thread at RPGNet: (which is now 101 pages long, and has been closed). The thread started when it was brought to the attention of an artist, Kevin Bracey, that he was wrongfully credited with the cover art of a product that had actually been created by Mauricio Herrera and used without permission. Kevin Bracey was, however, the creator of the original cover for the product, which was changed when the work was made available in PDF format by Outlaw Press, Inc.

After repeated unanswered communications sent to the publisher by the growing number of artists who recognized their work as being used without a license, mainly as covers for his products, his Lulu and DriveThruRPG stores were taken down with all the questionable products removed. The products were also removed from his own website for a while, but soon afterward were re-listed without showing the cover art--the most readily recognizable and easily identifiable circumstance of copyright infringement. Moreover, Outlaw Press, Inc. removed their e-mail address from their main site, although the publisher’s actual contact details can still be found here: and here:

After many more unanswered communications to the publisher, some from past contributors requesting the removal of their freely contributed material from his publications (Tori Berquist, Simon Lee Tranter, Ken St. Andre, Gianmatteo Tonci, and M. E. Volmar included) as a result of their outrage and to show solidarity with the affected artists, the matter was still unresolved and being ignored by the publisher who continued to sell--through his own website, Lulu's Amazon Markeplace and Amazon's CreateSpace--products that were no longer just suspect (on a grand scale) of copyright infringement, but whose permission by the contributing artists and writers to sell their materials had been rescinded.

Some artists, prompted by a lack of answer from Shipman, resorted to leaving notes of art theft on the Reviews section of the products listed on And eventually, all but 5 of the roughly 130 listed items were removed from the and Lulu’s Amazon Marketplace stores at the request of the art’s copyright owners who were left no choice but to contact Lulu and directly. Of the 5 remaining products (which can still be found here:, 2 still present covers with verified unlicensed art--“Troll's Blood & Old Delvers: Tunnels & Trolls Anthology” with Jon Hodgson’s art, and “Lizardmen In Red Water Bay: A Tunnels & Trolls Fanpostal Novel“ with Allen Palmer’s art.

So far, the list of artists that have confirmed the use of their unlicensed art featured on the covers of Outlaw Press, Inc. products (without counting the 10+ contributors who have so far rescinded Shipman’s permission to use their materials) is overwhelming and growing (with around 20 or so other artists who are being contacted to confirm if indeed their art has been used without permission). These 30+ artists, some whose 70+ pieces of unlicensed artwork is featured on several of the publisher's products (see PDF file), include:
  • J. P. Targete
  • Sylvain Despretz
  • Simon Dominic
  • Mauricio Herrera                              
  • Jon Hodgson
  • Daniel Horne                                      
  • Michal Ivan
  • John Shannon                                     
  • Bill Corbett
  • Martin McKeown
  • Mats Minnhagen
  • Ursula Vernon
  • Jeff Lee Johnson
  • Henning Janssen
  • Zoltan Boros and Gabor Szikszai
  • Jhoneil Centeno         
  • Johann Valentin Andree         
  • Bera Károly
  • Alan Lathwell
  • Ken Jeremiassen
  • Jan Patrik Kresny
  • Fredrik Rahmqvist
  • David Lightfoot
  • Allen Palmer
  • Alejandro Guitiérrez
  • Daniel Falck
  • Storn A. Cook
  • Norbert Vakulya
  • Thom Scott
  • Darrenn E. Canton
  • Tibor Szendrei
  • Goran Josic
  • Per Eriksson
  • Kory K.                                                
One of the artists, Daniel Falck, wrote about the situation in his own blog:
Others have also written about the matter at:
The publisher was also accused of reprinting and selling without the author's permission a magazine called "Mazes & Minotaurs," which is offered for free on the author’s website. The details of this accusation can be found here:

Moreover, most of the art identified by the artists as used without a license is art featured on the covers of this publisher’s products, meaning that a thorough examination of the interior art used on his publications is yet to be undertaken, and that more artwork could have been used without a license by this publisher and more artists may be in reality affected by his practices.

The requests to remove freely contributed art and content, and the cancellation of the license to publish Tunnels & Trolls materials made by the makers of the Tunnels & Trolls game, Ken St. Andre and Flying Buffalo, Inc., have so far been completely ignored, and nothing close to an apology or explanation has been offered by the publisher to anyone--although he has appeared as Shipy (also his nickname on --Ken St. Andre's Tunnels & Trolls website) here:, (post 162 and 168) mocking the requests and comments about his practices made by the RPG community.

At this point, the publisher claimed that his art was bought from an art broker called David Levine (or David Levin) from the United Kingdom, of whom no record exists anywhere on the Web and to whom Shipman claims to have paid around $2000 for all the art used in his publications. Still, after having been repeatedly informed of his use of unlicensed art, the publisher tried to sell the infringing print products through his own website and made no effort to recall or remove the publications from any of his other still active sales outlets.
Subsequently, after the posts were made by Shipy on the Trollbridge, the publisher's website: announced on its homepage:

“All this month we will be having a X-mas sale. That means most of our T&T prices will be listed for half price or cheaper. So if you are looking to buy something, this month will be the best time to do so.”

And went on to boast about the money he was making off products that still featured all the unlicensed art in question.

“We have lots of new T&T items planned for the coming year (Novels, Solos, T&T Supplements and even a T&T Battle Dice Game Ken St. Andre created). Our sales have continued to grow with the site statics breaking down as such; roughly 3,241 people visit here each day, with 1 in 122 people making a purchase of $50 or more. We are shipping world wide and we continue to expand.”

It is also of note that the publisher sells a magazine called “The Hobbit Hole,” although the word Hobbit and its use is copyrighted to the Tolkien Estate, and highly unlikely to have been licensed to an obscure independent publisher such as Outlaw Press, Inc. and/or James Shipman.

This week, and after having been contacted through e-mail by Shipman (who cited bogus publication rights and falsely claimed owning the copyrights to freely contributed materials whose copyrights were never given to him by the rightful copyright owners), Ken St. Andre terminated James Shipman membership at Trollhalla--St. Andre’s own Tunnels & Trolls fan club--after issuing the following statement:
“Because James Shipman has shown himself to be neither truthful nor courageous nor ethical, I declare that he cannot remain a member of Trollhalla any longer.”

Although the publisher’s website has now been down for a few days, he continues to sell his products on E-Bay under various user names including: jimship1, Hobbit_King, actionseller99 and selling4u2, using the PayPal account.

Still, a storefront for this publisher and most of his products (which still feature the unlicensed art) can be found by following the product links at the Noble Knights game store here:, although Noble Knight has listed the products as no longer in print and are probably just selling old stock.

Not only have the actions by James Shipman been damaging and disrespectful to many, including his contributors and the Tunnels & Trolls community, but his practices have muddied reputations, impacted artists and fans alike, and cast a bad shadow on the whole RPG community and on legitimate independent publishers. This situation needs to be exposed, if only in the hope of helping the affected artists and contributors who have been wronged by Shipman, and the RPG community and independent publishers alike.

-- End --

So yeah, the drama continues.  I am including this more or less as is since it is a good summary of the situation to date and also gives some more information.  This confirms things other artists have told me, so it is nice to have it all in one place.

I hope this all comes to an end soon and the artists get their due.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Ghosts of Albion: Corn Goblins

Corn Goblins

“I was in the Nebraska Territory once, lovely place really, nothing but fields of grain as far as the eye can see, but it is still wild out there. I was walking, couldn’t have been more than five or so minutes after dawn and I saw them running in the corn rows. They were really small, and really fast, but unmistakably fae. I followed them, though I suspected that like all other fae they would be long gone. To my surprise I saw them in a spot where the corn had been trampled down, maybe by some dog. They were no taller than pixies, but they didn’t have wings. Their hair was blonde, nearly white, their faces were wrinkled and hands were tannish I think; but they could have been dirty too. Their eyes were the brightest robin’s egg blue I have ever seen. Their clothes were simple, greens and browns. It was a little family. They looked at me and looked at them for many long seconds. They were so ugly that they were cute! Like an ugly puppy. There was a man, his wife I suppose, and two little ones. One was a baby and was sleeping sucking his (or her) thumb. Then the largest crow (a Rook – TS) I have ever seen landed and they climbed on a flew away.”
- From the Journal of Tamara Swift, as told to her by John Haversham, circa 1860

Name: Corn Goblins
Motivation: To live unbothered
Creature Type: Faerie
Attributes: Strength 2, Dexterity 3, Constitution 3, Intelligence 3, Perception 4, Willpower 2
Ability Scores: Muscle 10, Combat 9, Brains 12
Life Points: 30
Drama Points: 1
Special Abilities: Animal Empathy (Crows), Faerie, Reduced Size (freakishly small), Unattractive (1)

Name Score Damage Notes
Dodge 9 — Defence action
Grapple 11 — Resisted by Dodge
Punch 9 4 Bash

Corn Goblins are one of the very few of the faerie races encountered in former colonies (America). First the name is a misnomer, Corn Goblins are not goblins at all, but rather ugly faeries. They have some similar features to the Bendith Ý Mamau of the Welsh, but have not (so far) displayed any type of magic. Nor are they unpleasant like their Welsh cousins.

Corn Goblins though are named for their preferred habitat, the endless fields of corn and other grains that proliferate across the States. They rarely, if ever interact with humans but have been known to befriend crows and even use them as transports.

Very little is known about them but to date they have shown to be benign. The earliest recorded mention of a corn goblin like creature is from the records of the Salem Witch Trail. One girl described consulting with a “foule imp” that matched the corn goblin description given by Haversham and other American Occultists.

“I am quite convinced that we have them here in England as well, but the power of the Seelie Court is such that they remain hidden. They spend a great deal of time hiding in America as well from what I understand. Corn Goblins maybe related to the “little men” of the Hopi Indians, but my understanding of American geography tells me that these creatures are not in the same lands as the Hopi. If this is the case there may be more faerie races in the vast lands of the New World just waiting to be discovered.”
- Addendum, The Journal of Tamara Swift

Monday, January 4, 2010

I Have a Plan…

It's not a great plan, or even a well thought out one, but it is a plan. I am going to be taking my two sons (and now it seems, my wife) on a massive 4th Edition D&D campaign. Yes I know this will take years, but that is fine, I have those years. I am going to place it in my "Mystoerth" world.

Given my penchant for all things horror, I am going to set up the campaign to focus on the ascent of Orcus to godhood. Orcus is a great enemy to have. He is unrepentant evil, his minions are undead and he is full of rage, horror and violence and everything a good upstanding hero would want to stop.

I'd use some of the "new" mythology of Orcus and Raven Queen, plus a bit of my own. But not all would be railroaded plot-driven arcs. My oldest son loves to fight dragons so that would also be there. Plus I want to make this very, very relaxed. The unfolding meta-plot is my extra enjoyment, but I want to do it in such a way that we all have fun.

I am going to place it in my world's version of Glantri. Glantri is from Mystara and in that world was a Principality, now I have at as Theocratic Monarchy where the King is also the head of the Church of State. So basically, Fairy Tale England, or more to the point Fairy Tale Western Europe, since I also have influences of France and Italy here. The Princes are gone, defeated in a coup, but their lands remain ruled by nine dukes under the King. The Dukes are mostly the old family of the Princes, looking for a chance to reclaim power. So I have political intrigue if I want it, but I am going to be keeping my good and evil mostly easy to spot, at least in the beginning. The Dukes allow me to use older Glantri material, I just swap out the terms. Under the Dukes are various landed nobles, typically retired adventures, known as Barons and Counts. My thinking here is to give my boys all the full D&D experiences; so there are knights and dames, courts of intrigue and chivalry, and the way for brave adventurers to return home as heroes. Sure it is not "grim-dark" or even "points of light", but it can be part of the "oncoming darkness".

My world has a Blackmoor, a Desert, a Hyborea, not mention Greyhawk, Glantri and Kara-Tur all in one world. So, more than enough to keep me and my family busy for years to come really. Though there are only four of us, I might have to bring in some others, maybe some of their friends as well. This is one of the main reasons I am going with 4th Edition as opposed to say an older version (the D&D Rules Cyclopedia would be so awesome for this) or another game (like Ghosts of Albion). I am more likely to find others that play 4E than some other game AND it just makes the most sense really given all the tools for 4E out now.

Here is the "Hero Tier" to borrow a phrase. These will be local and be the Mystara flavor of the epic.
  • T1 The Village of Hommlet, levels 1-2. I do have the 4th Edition update for this.
  • B1 In Search of the Unknown, levels 1-3 (can run this one in my sleep)
  • B2 The Keep on the Borderlands, levels 1-3
  • B3 Palace of the Silver Princess, levels 1-3 (using bits from both the "Green" and "Orange" versions).
  • L1 The Secret of Bone Hill, levels 2-4
  • X1 The Ilse of Dread, levels 3-7
  • X2 Castle Amber, levels 3-6 (place it in the Shadowfell, which is the new Ravenloft anyway)
  • C2 The Ghost Tower of Inverness, levels 5-7. Though I won't run it as a tournament module and that is if I don't use it as a converted Doctor Who adventure.
  • I6 Ravenloft, levels 5-7. That is if I don't use it as a convert Ghosts of Albion adventure. Use some of the Ravenloft campaign/world setting stuff here too.
  • S2 White Plume Mountain, levels 5-10
  • I10 Ravenloft II, House on Gryphon Hill, levels 8-10 (maybe. They might be burned out on undead by this time.)
Now begins the "Paragon Tier" and I will start with the Gygaxian canon.
  • S4 The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth (with some of the info from the 3.5 update), levels 6-10
  • WG4 The Forgotten Temple of Tharizdun, levels 5-10
  • S1 Tomb of Horrors, levels 10-14 (though some of the instant kill traps changed, more skill challenges)
  • S3 Expedition to the Barrier Peaks, levels 8-12
  • G123, Against the Giants, levels 8-12
  • D12 Descent into the Depths of the Earth, levels 9-14
  • D3 Vault of the Drow, levels 10-14
  • Q1 Queen of the Demonweb Pits, levels 10-14
  • CM2 Death's Ride, levels 15-20. This sets up the next tier, or I could even make this the start of the next tier and keep the Epic levels nothing but Gygaxian Greyhawk. I like that idea.
I can also fit Gary's "Dungeon Land" and "The Land Beyond the Magic Mirror" adventures here as well to complete the Gygaxian saga. But I need to re-read those to be sure.

Now here would also be a good spot for the DA series Blackmoor adventures for made for the Expert D&D set, but there is a lot of high tech stuff mixed in with those. I might pick and choose things, but I think I am more likely to go with the newer d20 Blackmoor stuff.

The "Epic Tier" is harder, but here some ideas.
Some of the Master level modules (M2, M3 and M5 in particular) look like they would work well. Plus they have the Mystara high fantasy feel that some of the Greyhawk modules don't have.
Of course I would do the Bloodstone series here, just make them harder, maybe even pair them up with the Orcus related adventures for 4e (the new "E" series), though old H4 and new E3 cover a lot of the same ground. I would want to add some other planes adventures here too. So to follow my rule of thumb I should try to find at least 6 more adventures for this tier.
  • H1 Bloodstone Pass, levels 15+
  • H2 The Mines of Bloodstone, levels 16-18
  • H3 The Bloodstone Wars, levels 17-20
  • H4 The Throne of Bloodstone, levels 18-100
I could also do a sub-campaign in my desert area using:
  • B4 The Lost City, levels 1-3 (though I am using this one now in 3.5)
  • I3 Pharaoh, levels 5-7
  • I4 Oasis of the White Palm, levels 6-8
  • I5 Lost Tomb of Martek, levels 7-9
  • X4 Master of the Desert Nomads, levels 6-9
  • X5 Temple of Death, levels 6-10
  • I9 Day of Al'Akbar, level 8-10. Useful for the Cup and Talisman of Al'Akbar.
Now granted these levels are all for AD&D and Basic D&D and might not translate well into 4E. But I have a lot of tools at my disposal to help with that. I have a load of maps, a DDI subscription, monsters and even some third party stuff to make it all work. If I plan everything out correctly I can have them go up a level at the end of every adventure. I like that too. Also I can set up a titanic army of the undead using all the previous "bosses" from these adventures. So Strahd, Drenzula, Korbundar, Acerak, and more I know I am forgetting. Plus some GM PCs I'd love to try out that I know I'll never get to play in a 4th Ed game.

To borrow a Klingon quote, "It will be glorious!"

Sunday, January 3, 2010

My first new Game of 2010: BASH

Well had my regular GM and his family over the other night for New Year's Eve and I was introduced to BASH, Basic Action Super Heroes. It is a simple supers RPG that I am sure I am going to be playing more of in the near future. But what has impressed me the most are the number of conversions that the BASH fan community has already put together. I converted one of my M&M characters over to BASH fairly quickly. I have another character I am working on now that started out in BESM 3.0, re-done in M&M (as PL 5), then converted over to Marvel Super Heroes. It will be interesting to see if the BASH conversion goes over well.

The system is really simple, a good thing these days, and looks easy to learn. I also looks pretty flexible too. There are BASH Fantasy and BASH Sci-Fi games too, which I will need to check out.

Like most Supers games, well pretty much every game, I look at the magic first. So far the powers look very Champions or Mutants & Masterminds like, i.e. I choose the "Blast" power and call it "Arcane Blast". I plan to look at Fantasy BASH for more classical, ritualized spellcasting. Given my GM's preferences, I also expect we will be diving into Sci-Fi BASH at some point this year as well.
Since that seems to be the thing to do I'll post some conversions for BASH myself, after I have read it a bit more.

Other games I want to play in 2010:
  • D&D 3.x (running) – I want to finish up my oldest son's campaign to defeat Tiamat. The characters in this game will the mytho-historical figures of our next, 4e game.
  • D&D 4e (playing) – I have at least four 1st to 2nd level characters that I have started on various games and I want them to progress.
  • Doctor Who (running or playing) – I am going to convert my Ghosts of Albion adventure "Obsession" over to Doctor Who. Fitting really since one of its inspirations was the 4th Doctor's "The Talons of Weng-Chiang". I thought about doing it for Victoriana, but part of plot is somewhat contradictory in a world where everyone knows magic is real.
  • Witch Girls Adventures (running or playing) – I have a few things I am working on for myself that look like they would be a lot of fun.
Otherwise here is to some good gaming in 2010!