Saturday, January 10, 2015

The Weight of Water: Part 1

In 2004 Morrigan Publishing put out a call for abstracts for new Talislanta books. I sent in as many as I could think of which, if I remember, consisted of two adventure ides and two sourcebook outlines; one for a Northern Regions and another for the Kang Empire. I was beaten to the Northern Regions (which turned out to be a break, because I love this book) and the Eastern Empire book never got beyond the note stage, but the two adventure ideas were accepted. A month later I was able to submit the first adventure; an low-level romp called The Weight of Water. In retrospect, it is railroady as hell, but I am still quite proud of it and it was hands down the funnest writing I've ever done. I even have have a file full of ideas for a sequel called 'The Glimmer of Glass' (set in and above the Sea of Glass) which I may revisit one day.

I also completed and submitted the second book, but it was never properly published as Morrigan Press soon folded (not unusual for small press, sadly). I'm still quite proud of the second book, which was a cross between an adventure and a sourcebook for the Thaecian Isle chain called Festival of the Bizarre, Inspired by some readings I had done some reading on game design and inspired by the Grand Theft Auto series of all things, I tried t make the Festival of the Bizarre a sandbox with as many adventure ideas as I could think of scrammed throughout the text. Its available through my site and (was available? link is there but it seem to be dead) on the official Talislanta page. I'll revisit FotB at a later date, but a quick skim through unfortunately reminded me that, oh boy did I ever rush that ending! 

Anyway, the real purpose of this post was to celebrate the artwork that accompanied The Weight of Water. I cannot begin to describe the sensation when I first saw the works done by Adam Black, who was nice enough to send them to me soon after he'd finished them. That he had perfectly encapsulated what I was trying to convey still blows me away. And then the book came out with an honest to zod P.D.Breeding Black cover! Copies of many of these still hang in my 'study' (read as: clutter room). 

Cover, by artist, PD Breeding Black
This pic shows Sunbeam, the Muse Queen of Astar in her royal procession into the city of Cymril. It will be her unfortunate assassination that is the inciting incident of the adventure.  

Rajan Death Priest, by Adam Black
Book inlay. This suitably creepy picture hints at who the true villains of the adventure will be. 

Guard Duty, by Adam Black
The players are pestered by Whisps while working as guards for the Procession of Kings.

Assassin, by Adam Black
The ultimate fate of poor Queen Sunbeam.

A Promise of Escape by Adam Black
I particularly like this image as it perfectly captured what I tried to describe in the text. A mysterious stranger offering the captured PCs a chance to escape.

Bartender, by Adam Black
Another favourite. A simple piece describing a mobile tavern-cart run by Pharesian Renegades deep in the Cyrmil Woods. 

Thursday, January 8, 2015


I had a whole post ready to go, but I didn't feel like talking about games today. The attack in Paris was an attack on writers and artists. It was an attack on ideas and as such it affects every creative community out there, including the OSR and roleplayers in general. It doesn't matter if you think that the articles and illustrations in the Charlie Hebdo magazine might have gone too far. What matters is that those people died because they saw that a fanatic cult* that worships death and destruction should not be exempt from satyr and ridicule. 

*I refuse to call it a religion or Islam out of respect for the millions of Muslims who are just as horrified at these barbarians are trying to doing in their name.

Monday, January 5, 2015 is back in business!

Peaceful Mandalan
Turns out it was a simple issue, easily rectified.

I really must preach the book of Talislanta more often. I forget how much I have loved this game over the years. Simple rules (one chart handles all actions), 100+ Playable Archetypes with dozens of original races (No ELVES!) set in a post-apocalyptic fantasy world directly inspired by Jack Vance's Dying Earth. It completely blew my mind as a teenager and was my gateway into the weird and gothic realms of Moorcock, Howard, Leiber, Ashton Smith, Burroughs, Wolfe and more!

The author and creator of the game, Stephan Michael Sechi has graciously allowed all of the works (almost all, a few books have not been scanned yet) to be turned into free PDFs. So, if you're a fan of esoteric rpgs, or are looking for something new to spice up your game, then you owe it to yourself to check these out.

And I'm not saying this just because I was lucky enough to write one of the official adventures.
Wild Jaka

NOTE: I have literally only just discovered this gallery. It contains dozens of images that were only in the French Edition. They illustrate the different archetypes and give an incredible example of the diversity of playable races in the game.
Noble Gryph
Below is a quick gallery. All works are copyright of their original artists. One pic NSFW.
A Danuvian Virago gets the drop on an Aamanian Knight. by Adam Black
Kang Warrior on his Strider. by, Nathan Rosario
Dhuna Witch. by, Nathan Rosario
 Thrall Huntress by, Nathan Rosario
A night in Zandir. From the French edition, of course.

A Simpler Time: 1983 TSR Catalogue

From: 2 Warps to Neptune
Lots more here.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Clark Aston Smith

The library where I work has a sizable pulp collection that I am eagerly devouring. Recently I have come across a collection of the works of Clark Aston Smith, a lesser known predecessor /contemporary of Howard and Lovecraft. I was aware of him before, but I had never sat down and read any of his works at length. Gross, gothic, strange, mythic and sexual, I must confess that I am now utterly hooked. Some of the story doesn't always hang together, but his imagery is spellbinding and a clear model for later writers like Moorcock,Leiber and Vance.

Luckily, much of his work has entered the public domain, so it it relatively easy to track down more of his work.
The Flower Woman

Speaking as a gamer, I cannot understand why no one has ever run an adventure based on The Maze of Maal Dweb is a cosmic shame. It makes the Tomb of Horrors look like a walk to the candy store.

A link to more Ashton Smith inspired work.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Shan Ya, The Madness Known as Talislanta

In 2013, some Talislanta fans attempted to jumpstart a fanzine that unfortunately, like most efforts of this type, never made it past first issue. What they did create was impressive and as a new year's present, they have released the finished issue. I was going to link to the official site, but it seems to be down. 
An Ahazu warrior caught in the grips of Shan Ya, the battle madness. A popular player class! 

Thursday, January 1, 2015

DIE Alone: On the Way to Crab Keep

I started running my DIE Alone Hero, Thakko through 'The Howling Tower', but after a near fatal encounter with a War Gnork, he was forced to withdraw in defeat. It wasn't so much the difficulty of the encounters as my unfamiliarity with Arduin's monsters that stopped the advance. I haven't been able to fully read through my copy of the The Arduin Grimoire and so I'm still not clear on what T'Cheem Battle Spyders or Skorpoons are, but they sound AWESOME. When I get a chance, Thakko (or some other brave soul) will return soon to the cursed tower.

As for Thakko, after his near fatal battle with the War Gnork (used all his Healing Leeches!), he returned bloodied and tired to the town of Onderdonk. For his efforts, he was nearly laughed out of town. Deciding to cut his losses, Thakko bought a mule and headed south towards the infamous Nether Regions, a vast, and once beautiful land that had been devastated by an ancient and inexplicable war.
There he knew was the town known as Crab Keep, a near-ruined bordertown that had been built a generation past by Lord Pubin Pthirus, a once brave adventurer who had saved a local village from an infestation of giant Macrab. In his delving days, he had amassed a fair amount of treasure and with it, Lord Pthirus built his keep around the village and named it in honour of his victory, even taking the crab as his royal sigil. He then set about trying to tame the surrounding wilds, but soon after an unfortunate encounter with an Umber Slug left him crippled and he was forced to close off his aspiring kingdom.

He has two children, a young son and a spoiled daughter who he hopes to soon marry off. In the meantime, he offers adventurers a chance to explore (and hopefully thin out many of the monsters, horrors and other strangeness) the surrounding Nether Region in the hopes of one day leaving something for his son to rule.

In truth, Crab Keep has little to offer, save safe walls and a warm inn (The Belle End, run by Belle herself), but it is a starting point into a strange and unpredictable region, filled with dangers, creatures and treasures beyond compare!

In real terms, I'm adapting 'Keep on the Borderlands' and adding a whole lotta weirdness,as well as using it as a location for further adventures (Palace of the Silver Princess and Slave Lords for instance). For my encounters tables, I wanted something with more of a Aston Smith/Lovecraft/Howard/Barsoom feel, and rather than re-invent the wheel I did a little digging and came across these beauties

Dark Corners of Role Playing
Sword and Stitchery

Both are most excellent blogs that I read with some regularity. Using their tables as a starting point, along with some old tools of my own that I found on an old drive, I think that it is time that Thakko began to branch out a bit!

-I am still compiling ideas for Monster Powers and how they work, but some Monsters will be classified as Warriors.
-I have introduced my idea of Heroes being 'Skilled'. Rather than muck about with Warriors being harder to hit etc, I have changed it so that Heroes are Skilled in Combat. Thieves are Skilled in thievery and Mages are Skilled in Magic. Skilled simply means that instead of messing about what what they can and cannot do, the dice result they need to succeed shifts slightly.
Easy: Roll 1-4
Medium: Roll 4-6
Hard: Roll 5-6
Impossible: Roll 6

This is how you make a map

With DIE Alone I've been traversing some of the old school dungeons, and I have to admit, as much fun as those modules are, the maps are absolute shite. Riddled with Secret doors that lead nowhere, strange dead end corridors, long stretches were very little happens, and puzzles specifically designed just to frustrate the party's mapper.
Arduin's Howling Tower, Level A., I believe they may have had stock in a Graph Paper company.
Seriously, a small girl can do better, and one has. At Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog, his daughter has posted her dungeon, which blows much of what I've seen completely out of the water. I genuinely want to explore this thing!