Monday, July 28, 2014

[Wilderlands] Hyborian Gods of the Wilderlands [5/16/11]

In the beginning, the gods, demi-gods, and heroes of the City State of the Invincible Overlord and the Wilderlands were taken directly from Dungeons & Dragons Supplement IV: Gods, Demi-Gods, & Heroes, by Robert Kuntz and James Ward. Judges were directed in pretty much every case to refer to GDGH in just about every reference to a deity in the Guide to the City State and the later Revised Edition of the City State of the Invincible Overlord.

In addition to the classical deities and demi-gods of history, that tome included the mythic creatures from several literary sources, including Robert E. Howard’s Conan stories. Several of the gods of Thuria (the name of the continent whereon all Conan’s adventures took place) naturally made their way into the Wilderlands. The Blood-Stained God of the Orcs of the Purple Claw was among the first gods mentioned. Boomer Bronk, the cleric of Haghill in Initial Guidelines Book K revered Yezud the Spider God. Elsewhere, the mighty nature of the barbarian races, the nature of the relationship between Mitra and Set in Dark Tower, and the inclusion of Tsathoggus in the Shield Maidens of Sea Rune, indicate a strong Howardian influence in Judges Guild products in general and in the Wilderlands in particular.

Thus, it is not at all inappropriate to return to the gods of “Robert E. Howard’s Hyborea” section of GDGH for inspiration for further gods for inclusion in the Wilderlands. I think I’ll be adding them to my current Selisengard campaign…

CROM - Neutral
Crom is a fine, grim god for the savage tribesmen of Barbarian Altanis, for whom he is their paramount (though non-exclusive) deity. Being inspired by a god of the Irish, and in line with many later Conan pastiches, his clerics are druids; as he is most certainly of Neutral aspect, this fits pretty well, as does his “survival of the fittest” philosophy. Only men may be druids of Crom, thus the women of Altanis turned to the development of psychic abilities and formed the Protector caste. Too, druids of Crom are not much for protection of the clan or tribe, so the Protectors fill in a needed niche in a harsh world. In the current campaign, he is of course revered by mercenary Altanians, though there are few such in the region. Perhaps a few Tharbrians revere him, as a distant, more martial cousin of their gods…

MITRA - Lawful Good
Mitra is used to good effect in the original Modron town book from Judges Guild; with the advent of the Necromancer Wilderlands, his worship spread far and wide (though interestingly has no major presence in the City State). The GDGH choice of a sword of cold is an odd one; I think I’ll go with the more traditional fire association as used in the Necromancer Wilderlands, as well as the far more martial aspect. In addition to the center of worship in Modron, I have him being the patron deity of the Tharbarres clans of the northern Endless Desert; I also have him as an ally of Mycr in my campaign, so this is not as odd as it might seem. Temples to Mitra are rare, however, in the Falling Empire, and usually hidden, due to his association with Mycr.

SET - Lawful Evil
The Egyptian gods are the gods of the Ghinorians in my campaign, and through long ages of Ghinorian migration, trade, and proselytization, they are found throughout the Wilderlands. He was long ago the patron of Bukera, the founder of the Quizats Haterak faith of the Lenapashim of the Endless Desert; since their falling out his worship in the region is mostly limited to a cult found in the port cities from Dagonsharp to Lenap.

ASURA - Lawful Neutral
Howard’s Asura is essentially an analogue of Varuna, who in Vedic belief, is the counterpart and ally/twinned god of the Vedic Mitra, Varuna being a lawful sky god of the sun at night (the Cosmic Ocean, perhaps the Milky Way), opposed to Mitra being lawful sky god of the daylight and the solar disc. In Howard’s “Hour of the Dragon,” he is a god of illusion and reality, of seeking the reality beneath the illusion… an esoteric cult, to be sure. In my Wilderlands, Asura is a former cleric ascended to godhood under the patronage of Varuna, a god of the Telanghans, a southern people found far to the east in the Kingdom of Karak. Asura sought new followers among the peoples of the Wilderlands proper; today his cult in the Falling Empire is hidden in plain sight, under the guise of another temple… of this I will say no more, lest players in my campaign happen to read this…

TSATHOGGUS - Chaotic Evil
Tsathoggua/Tsathoggus never featured directly in any true Howard Conan story; he was found, sorta kinda, in one of the De Camp/Carter pastiches, “Conan the Buccaneer.” But he’s made an even bigger splash in the Wilderlands, where he is everyone’s favorite Demon God. In GDGH it is mentioned that he takes any opportunity he can get to animate one of his stone idols; a feature certainly to be used if any PCs raid a temple of the cult! Tsathoggus fits in nicely as one of the “monstrous demonic mystery cults” of the High Viridians, and is sure to make an appearance in the campaign!

Not to be confused with the Hindu (and Telanghan) god Hanuman, Hanuman the Accursed is a demonic being who has taken the name of the ancient and honored god in mockery of all that he represents. Born the son of a vanara ape-woman and a rakshasa king in distant Telanghata, Hanuman the Accursed eventually attained godhood around the same time as Asura, who was among his greatest enemies. Thus, wherever Asura sends his followers, Hanuman the Accursed seeks to send his own. This demonic god makes for another excellent “monstrous demonic mystery cult” of the High Viridians, and also fits in nicely as a cult among the Lenapashim.

YEZUD - Chaotic Evil
In the Conan tales, Yezud was actually the name of the city that worshipped the Spider-God (or Goddess); in the Conan comics, he/she/it was first named Omm, then later Zath after the name used in a De Camp pastiche. With Yezud of the Wilderlands, I’m going to say that today, the name Yezud is simply applied to the cult, rather than to the “god” itself, the exact Spider-God entity today being the largest, most ancient spider in the world. Another Wilderlands classic, the cult of Yezud was once upon a time far more widespread, until the Spider God allied with Set during a war between various deities and somehow managed to piss off Nephtlys. She and her followers soundly trounced the Spider God and almost permanently destroyed it. Today, its spirit lives on only through the expediency of inhabiting the largest, oldest male giant spider in the world; as sometimes this spider is not strong enough to hold all the deific power, other giant spiders of lesser though still great size often hold a portion of the deific power, and thus split the cult in many schisms based on the different avatars. Nephtlys has effectively locked the Spider-God out of the Spider-Goddess business, and thus taken over the most generative portion of the deific “portfolio.”

It should be noted that since the days when the Spider-God and Set were allies, they had a great falling out (as Set turned on the Spider-God, which led to his downfall), and so today, the Spider-God and his followers are among the greatest enemies of Set and his temple!

The clerics of Yezud are notable in that they have several special powers:

1) They can, at 1st level, memorize and cast the special 1st level summon spider spell; this spell creates a small black pearl-like object that can be kept until used, though it dissipates if not used within 24 hours. When thrown, or when handled by anyone other than a cleric or devotee of Yezud, the pearl opens up into the form of a giant spider, with 1 HD per level of the caster. If the spell is cast on a gem of at least 100 gp value per level of the spider, the pearl remains permanent, and can be used and reused until the spider is slain, after which nothing remains except black goo. Note that clerics of Nephtlys also have this spell, though only gain it as a 2nd level spell.

2) In addition to the 1st level summon spider spell, they also gain access to the following druid and wizard spells as cleric spells of the noted level: 2nd = spider climb; 3rd = web; 4th = envenom (reversed neutralize poison); 5th = animal growth (spiders only); 6th = insect plague; 7th = creeping doom; 8th = animal shapes (spider only); 9th = shapechange (spider only).

3) At 3rd level they gain a small giant spider as a familiar, as per the spell summon familiar. The cleric gains the ability to spider climb, as per the spell, once per day per three levels (once at 3rd, twice at 6th, etc) as per the spell cast by a wizard of the same level. The spider grows in size, one HD per level the cleric gains (though the cleric does not gain any hit points after the initial gaining of the familiar). If the spider dies, he cannot get another familiar for a year and a day, and when he does, the spider starts out again at 1st level. If the spider familiar ever gets to 11 HD, it becomes an avatar of Yezud, and thus requires the cleric to build for it an appropriate temple above a great cavern where it can raise its spawn.

4) Clerics and true devotees (i.e., those who can handle spider pearls safely) all adhere to a strict regimen of abstinence from alcohol and fornication; this is especially true of the temple virgins, who dance for the god on holy days!

5) Clerics of Yezud can use daggers.

Some say that a cult of Yezud is found in the Dankbark Forest, where they are led by man-like spiders…

The Blood Stained God is worshipped by many, not just the orcs of the Purple Claw! He/she/it takes many forms, though always some sort of metal idol of vile and martial nature, invariably covered in the blood of sacrifices. There’s not much to the faith other than sacrificing people to it in return for power; anything else considered important to each cult is pretty much at the whim of the current Evil High Priest, as long as it doesn’t get in the way of sacrifices. The Blood Stained God is perfectly happy for two of its own cults to fight… it has no preference for any type of blood, whether that of the innocent or that of its own followers. Often, the idol used as the center of cult worship is a defiled, debased idol of some goodly, lawful deity.

YAMA THE DAMNED - Chaotic Evil
Yama the Damned is another being not to be accused with the Indian (and Telanghan) god Yama, the Judge of the Dead, Yama the Damned is a mysterious demon god who seeks to further his worship through seeding the world with his own children. These Sons of Yama godlings are the Evil High Priests of their temples. Each such usually rules a temple-city or even kingdom, whether found hidden in a high mountain valley, a deep earth cavern, a jungle-cloaked island, or even a secret in the midst of the ancient dungeon ruins under a modern city. His children and their closest followers are granted clerical spells; his ruling child can actually animate the great stone idol of the demon god that stands at the heart of the temple-city. The size and power of the idol depends on the secular power of the ruling Evil High Priest. While most often found in the Kingdom of Karak, his children and followers are of many races, and can be found nearly anywhere… there is said to be a tribe of cavemen in the Pinnacle Mountains, who are said to live in the ruins of an ancient city, and are ruled by their godling Evil high Priest.

[Wilderlands] The Adventures of Edgy, Thud, and Scythe [9/18/12]

So this weekend (September 2012) I ran a Labyrinth Lord/AEC adventure for Alex, Andy, and Travis, my host's son and two of his friends. We had Edgy the Dwarf Cleric of Odin, Thud Thudson an Altanian Berserker Barbarian (a C&C/1E Unearthed Arcana adaptation), and Scythe the Dual-Knife Wielding Halfling Thief. They started out shipwrecked on the Skandik Shore en route to Southern Altania, some unknown miles north of...Ossary.

First they battled their former shipmates, whose souls were taken by Hel but whose bodies washed ashore next to them... and sought to drag them down to Hel's realm with them. Then, following a pair of raucous ravens, they traveled inland where they discovered a ruined temple of Loki, held by a mad priest and his berserker followers. They barely pulled their bacon out of that fire, and Thud took ability score damage from being "mostly dead" through an adaptation of the Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG death rules. They found the cultists run-down longhouse, complete with three flea-bitten horses. Here too they discovered a fine magical elven longsword (which Thud claimed) and a quiver of magical elven arrows (which Scythe claimed). The next morning they took off southwest, deciding to cross the peninsula on foot through howling wilderness... ah, youth!

First they investigated a barrow mound they saw from the ruined temple. After breching the broken entry stone (shattered during the potent magic used in desecrating the altar of Loki the previous night), they discovered it might well have been a Tomb of the Lords of Chaos, ancestors of Thud's people. This, and the ghouls that started climbing out of the inky black holes near the back of the chamber, convinced them to leave it alone...

Then, further down the trail, they discovered a second barrow, this one much more recent and definitely Skandik in origin. Totally into the idea of desecrating a Skandik grave, Thud pushed open the rock, and sent in Scythe to scout. What is it about halfling scouts that they need to always steal something? This time it was the silver-chased horn that Scythe found at the feet of the dead warrior, which rose as a draugr and sought to slay the interloper. Thud jumped into the barrow even as the stone mystically shut, and he and Scythe fought the creature until they brought it low. Scythe took the horn, while Thud claimed the fine silver goblet filled with coins and small gems. Edgy was uneasy about the whole thing, though there was no evidence that the warrior had been a follower of Odin; being a draug, even if he was, he was likely not in good graces, but still...

Next they came upon signs of a Skandik trapper settlement... while trying to avoid it they walked right into it. The Skandiks seemed unsure when the Altanian approached them speaking broken Common, but were reassured when they saw the cleric of Odin. The potentially deadly encounter turned into a friendly one, and they were able to buy much-needed rations before they continued on their journey. A subsequent encounter with the Skandik’s hunting friends also almost turned ugly, but Odin once again came to their aid, or so it seemed, when the Skandiks again noticed the cleric's presence.

They camped later that night near a spring, then early the next day discovered an abandoned village. There, in the tumble-down stables, they discovered five pegasi, which Thud miraculously befriended! Several scary missteps later, and the three were whisked into the air on the back of their new friends, the halfling screaming in horror as he held onto the bridle for dear life, his feet not reaching the stirrups by half.

High above the Pazidan they flew, south and west for the whole day. They avoided the town of Jarmoco when they saw the horrible Hell-Bridge Temple from a distance, and spent the evening near a babbling mountain brook several miles south. The next leg of their journey was uneventful until they approached evening and their landing, when the three of them were engulfed in a cloud of giggling pixies! They were babbling that they were seeking a hero they had been promised, and Thud puffed with pride until the pixies circled Scythe and declared him to be their hero!

Agreeing to assist the pixies in return for treasures "beyond mortal dreams," the trio spent a wonderful evening being entertained at the fey shee of the pixies, a fairy castle that either shrank the trio to pixie size or increase the pixies to human-size, they could not say... The next morning they were led by a guide to the Cavern of the Owlbear. Along the way they were attacked by a pack of wolves led by a worg, but this did not stop them in their quest, and they soon had some fine wolf pelts.

When they got to the cave, they found the beast was sleeping, and after much cajoling, Scythe was convinced to sneak in (using his elven boots) and slay the beast while it slept. With a double backstab and a critical hit, he brought the thing down to one hit point, upon which Thud stepped in and stole the kill!

They then discovered a stair, ancient and overgrown with flowstone, down into the depths. Against Scythe's advice ("we'll find a dragon, I know it!") the trio went down deep to ancient caverns, and there indeed, discovered a dragon... a sleeping ancient dragon-bot of the Dragon Lords, brought to creaking, squealing wakefulness by the trio arguing over what they should do. Fled they did, luckily, as the thing unleashed hellfire after them up the stairs, the barbarian and the dwarf getting singed in the rear as the thief screamed "I told you so! I told you so!"

Smelling of burnt human and dwarf, the trio returned to the shee, where the pixies feted them greatly. Scythe was given a potent magical dagger (+2/+3 versus humanoids) and a magical walnut to "open when you are in great danger." Thud received a potion most miraculous which restored him to his full strength. Edgy the Dwarf Cleric asked for nothing, not trusting the gifts of the fairy folk... and so the adventure came to a close, at least for the time being...

Oh... and Scythe the halfling? Totally pimping it with those pixie chicks...

[Wilderlands] Hex 2312, Town of Byrny [4/25/14]

In honor of the launch of the new Judges Guild Forums, I present you with the map for Hex 05-2312, the Town of Byrny, as featured in the Mines of Custalcon.


Click to embiggen

[Throwback Thursday] Tharbrian Horse-Lords or Up Harzburk! A Morguhn!

So every Thursday, more or less, I plan on posting about a product I published back in the AGP days, or products that I worked on as a freelancer, or perhaps reminisce about products that I didn't actually get to publish or work on but very much wanted to publish or work on. If I get the chance, I might even add a bit of something new… should time present itself. 
This time I want to talk about one of the unsung heroes of the AGP library, Wilderlands of High Adventure Player’s Guide #1: Tharbrian Horse-Lords. It was supposed to be the first in a series of player’s guide that covered the various cultural groups of the Wilderlands, providing all the information on a specific culture needed to fully immerse a character or adventure in the world of that culture. It included not only the “flavor text” information, but also useful crunchy bits, Castles & Crusades style, for players who liked that kind of thing.

It was one of my favorite books to write… sadly, for sales, not so good. Here’s the sales blurb:
Adventure Games Publishing presents the first in a series of cultural sourcebooks for the Wilderlands of High Adventure. Each installment of the Wilderlands of High Adventure Player's Guides includes a fully-detailed culture for players and judges to fully flesh out their Castles & Crusades adventures in the Wilderlands.

The first installment, Wilderlands of High Adventure Player's Guide #1: Tharbrian Horse-Lords details the culture and society of the northern horsemen of the Wilderlands. Tharbrians are renown throughout Viridistan, the Roglaras, and beyond as atavistic and savage horse nomads. They roam the north-western plains of the Wilderlands with impunity, recognizing no lord or master. They have brought down empires and extirpated whole civilizations. Herein you shall discover the secrets and truths about Tharbrian history and society, and details on their abilities and culture.

This 36-page book includes complete details on: History, Environment/Range, Appearance, Personality, Ethnic/Racial Affinities, Culture, Laws and Traditions, Religion, Social Structure, Organization, Gender and Family Relations, Animals, Diet, Technology, Clothing, Armor, Weapons, Combat, Treasure, Language, Names, Racial Traits and Abilities, and Glossary
AGP05501, 36-page digest booklet, $7.00 MSRP

Sadly, it didn't go over nearly as well as I’d hoped. I thought it was one of my better products; I certainly enjoyed writing it, but then, socio-cultural anthropology was always my thing. Really, I am a card-carrying anthropologist (card-carrying as in I have a degree in it and was a member of the anthropology honors society, etc.) But apparently, not everyone is as concerned with being immersed with the culture of their character as I am.

The choice of the Tharbrians as the first culture featured in the player’s guides was an easy one. After all, the Tharbrians can be found just about anywhere in the Wilderlands. Though they are native (that is, dominant) on the Plains of Lethe and the steppes west of that land, they wander far and wide across the whole of the region. So they could be found just about anywhere, making for an excellent “home base” for characters and a lovely foil for the Judge to use against the players when needed.

The Tharbrians featured prominently in the histories of the Wilderlands, long before I got my hands on them. They were the primary motivating force in Viridistan and the area around the City State; though rarely mentioned in the base products, their history was described in detail by Bryan Hinnen in the “Hanging Out in the City State” series of articles in Pegasus10-12. From that basic outline I added in details over the years. First, of course, they ended up being kinda-sorta Gaelic, as in my Wilderlands the common folk of the Roglaras, the Tharbriana, were kinda-sorta Celtic, as were the Altanians from which both races primarily descended (the Altanians, IMW, being a mix of the original Red Men of Mars as envisioned by Bob and the Cimmerians of Robert E. Howard).
To that Gallic-Nomadic base I added on historical and legendary elements from the Sarmatians, Tocharians, Goths, Huns, Alans, Turks, and Mongols as seemed to fit. For their pantheon I put together a mix of various Celtic gods, demigods, and heroes who naturally gravitated toward the nomadic tradition. And then I dropped in a big dollop of the Horseclans; I shook and stirred the cauldron and out popped the Tharbrians. Though of course it took time; the Tharbrians had been brewing for decades, through various campaigns and iterations. I dropped out all elements of the “Neo-Gothic Hun” (complete with spear-pointed pot helm and outrageous German accent) that had crept in there over the years from some point (“Fritz! They killed Fritz!”). 
What are the Horseclans, you ask? Well, the Horseclans are a culture in a post-apocalyptic series of novels by Robert Adams, the totality of which dramatically influenced my concept of fantasy and science-fictional worlds and cultures. In the Wilderlands it is what gave rise, over time, to the pseudo-Greek Viridian Empire and the very Horseclans-like Tharbrians. If you are at all into post-apocalypse science-fantasy fiction, and have a strong stomach for very violent, very un-politically correct fiction, you should definitely check the series out, if you can find it (Adams died years ago, and the books have languished since). The first 12 of the 18 books are quite good; after that point Adams diverges into Heinlein Syndrome and often goes way off course with lots of gratuitous sex and radical libertarian political screeds. Heck, it was even popular enough to license as a GURPS supplement once upon a time (GURPS Horseclans, which is excellent and absolutely required reading if you are a Horseclans fan).
I think perhaps in the case of this book, that the Horseclans influence, combined with the overly anthropological emphasis (it does read in places almost like an anthropological study or thesis), might have been a bit much. After all, there are five pages alone on laws and trials; and a page and a half dedicated simply to gender relations? Plus most of the Tharbrian terms introduced in the book, and the Tharbrian names, are Celtic names, often difficult enough to read, and then fractured Horseclans-style, and thus practically unreadable to any but a Horseclans fan. Not to mention the debased pseudo-Greek of the Viridians mentioned here and there.

Yeah… maybe a bit much. Obsessive, perhaps. But I enjoyed the hell out of writing it. And at least I resisted the temptation to go all in and include the intelligent saber-toothed cats I had in my Wilderlands as the allies of the Tharbrians…

Fortunately, though it is out of print in booklet format, it is still available through Judges Guild in PDF format:

[Throwback Thursday] Barbarians of the Wilderlands 1

So today’s Throwback Thursday was pretty much called out by the OSR itself, as the subject of the Barbarian class in AD&D has been of some issue of late, being discussed both at Tenkar’s Tavern and Greyhawk Grognard.

This is quite pertinent to a major booklet I wrote for the Wilderlands of High Adventure: Barbarians of the Wilderlands 1, which was essentially my attempt to re-create and adapt the Barbarian class presented by Gary in Unearthed Arcana for use with the Wilderlands in Castles & Crusades format. Like most, I had a love/hate relationship with the Barbarian as originally designed. Something always seemed a bit off about it; it did not fit my own personal notions of what a Barbarian class should be like, and it was some years before I understood why.

I grew up, like many, reading the 1966-1977 Lancer/Ace editions of Robert E. Howard’s Conan stories; you know these well, as they were graced by the work of Frank Frazetta, who influenced people’s concept of Conan’s appearance for all time. These are the 12-volume paperback series edited and expanded by L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter. I also sought out and read a number of the full-blown pastiche novels in the expanded series by various publishers, most notably by Tor from 1982 on…

Gary often mentioned the strong influence the Conan stories had on Dungeons & Dragons from the start; it would be fair to say, I think, that it was the sword and sorcery of Conan that had a greater influence on him than the high fantasy of Tolkien's Middle-earth, though even the Conan stories take a back seat to the picaresque tales of Jack Vance’s Dying Earth. Gary probably read the original Gnome Press compilations of Conan, the first collections of the stories originally released from 1950-1957; this was the first time they were compiled since they were published in Weird Tales from 1932 to 1936.

But strong the influences were, and yet, from the outset of the game, a “barbarian class” was nowhere to be seen. I think that this might come from recognition that, as adventurers go, Conan was quite unique. Though he was a barbarian, and quite proud of that origin, he was so much more than “just another barbarian.” By the end of his career, he was highly educated, perhaps the most well-traveled adventurer of his day, and has been so many more things than just a simple barbarian.

Conan was unique even among his own people. Though given to their black moods and melancholies, he rose above his grim-minded cousins and went into the wider world. Remember, no civilized person who had not spent time on the Cimmerian border ever mentioned having ever even seen a Cimmerian. Conan was not merely a barbarian, he was an aberration, and his career, though hardly unique (as we meet many adventurers in the Conan tales) was the broadest and deepest of its kind in its day, from a street-thief in Zamora to a king in Aquilonia.

Conan wasn't just some thick-skulled barbarian. Rather, Howard’s Conan wasn’t; he was something else, something unique, altogether. However what Conan, the literary character did was launch an entire genre of literature, the Sword & Sorcery genre, with a distinct sub-genre in emulation of Conan himself, the Barbarian Genre. This, I think, is where far more influence on the “Barbarian Class” came from; not Conan himself, but the other barbarians of pulp literature that later followed. As I, and I think many, missed out on these characters, the Barbarian class as presented in Unearthed Arcana always seemed a bit off… as it didn't really emulate Conan much at all, nor did it really intend to...

Dig deeper into Appendix N, and you will find the real fathers of the Barbarian class… Fafhrd of Lankhmar (1957, Fritz Leiber, published by Gnome Press, the second publishers of Conan stories); Thongor of Lemuria (1965, a Conan pastiche by Lin Carter, ere his work on Conan); Ganelon Silvermane of the Gondwane series (1974, again, Carter); and Kothar and Kyrik (1969 and 1975, respectively, both by Gardner Fox). And these are merely the barbarian characters who made the cut to both get published books (rather than mere stories in various magazines) and get mentioned in Appendix N.

Pulp fiction was rife in the late ’70s and early ’80s with stories with barbarian characters who had been inspired by Conan, and Gary had read, at the very least, many of the most prominent of them. I believe that it was these barbarian characters, rather than Conan himself, upon which Gary's Barbarian class was based. That, I believe, is why the Barbarian class never rang true with me, in relation to the Conan stories I had read. It was not until more recently that I was able to acquire the Kothar and Kyrik tales, and put all the materials therein in conjunction with what I knew about Fafhrd, Thongor, Ganelon, and the other barbarians of the later pulp era (notably Brak the Barbarian, by John Jakes, published first in 1968).

Suddenly, after reading these stories, the Barbarian class as Gary designed it made a whole lot more sense. It was never meant to emulate Conan; it was meant to emulate these other barbarians, inspired by what the readers and writers thought Conan was all about. These other barbarians are more like stripped-down versions of Conan, focusing on the caricature of the barbarian rather than the character of Conan himself, as of course each author had to develop his own character separate and distinct from that of the “original” barbarian.

So anyway, this realization came upon me long after I had published Barbarians of the Wilderlands I. In it, I developed the Barbarian class as I felt it should have been, if written for use with Castles & Crusades. It included many of the core elements that made Gary’s Barbarian distinctive, but also was designed more with emulation of Conan in mind, notably with the addition of the Versatility class ability, which allows the barbarian to adapt to the society and cultures around him as he travels about on adventures. In essence, I created a “Conan-style” barbarian and left the barbarian class as developed in Castles & Crusades (itself a development of the barbarian in Third Edition Dungeons & Dragons) as the more “generic barbarian,” or “savage warrior,” as I re-name the core C&C barbarian class in Barbarians of the Wilderlands I.

Here’s the sale’s blurb:

From beyond the Pale they stride. Grim, mighty-thewed, born on battlefields and raised amidst wolves and lions. A road of red ruin they wreak across the civilized lands. From the cold north, the burning wastes, the boundless plains, and the fetid jungles they come, finding civilization wanting, but wanting all that civilization can give... and whatever they can take...
 Barbarians of the Wilderlands 1 features an alternative barbarian class for Castles & Crusades; tips on how to work both the original barbarian class (renamed "savage warrior") and the barbarian in together in urban and rural civilizations; plus listing and details on the major barbarian nations of the Wilderlands. If you prefer a barbarian class based on classic pulp Sword & Sorcery themes, this is the class you have been looking for...
 The new barbarian class abilities include: Native Arms & Armor, Primal Rage, Resilience, Savage Glory, Sixth Sense, Tribal Abilities (Animal Handling, Armor Maker, Battle Cry, Berserkergang, Bowyer, Canoeing, Demon Slayer, Fast Movement, First Aid, Horsemanship, Horse Warrior, Jumping, Languages, Master Armor Maker, Master Bowyer, Master Weapon Smith, Runes, Running, Savage Horde, Savage Retainers, Scale, Seamanship, Signaling, Sound Imitation, Swimming, Weapon Smith, Wilderness Abilities, and Wizard Slayer), and Versatility.
 Versatility is the great ability of the barbarian, as it enables him to learn the skills and abilities he needs to operate, excel, and conquer in the decadent realms of civilization.
 The new barbarian class can be used with any Castles & Crusades campaign!
 Plus, this booklet also includes details on nine barbarian nations of the Wilderlands of High Adventure: Altanians, Amazons, Karakhans, Karzulun, Mgona, Moonrakers, Skandiks, Tharbrians, and Valonar.
AGP00251, 36-page digest booklet, $7.00 MSRP

I like to think I pretty much succeeded in my goal of creating a more Conan-esque barbarian class. It was certainly one of the more popular AGP product, both in PDF and print format, and is a “Copper Seller” on both DriveThruRPG and RPGNow.

The class itself, however, is less than half the book. The rest is taken up with details on the specific major barbarian peoples of the Wilderlands, brief two-page spreads detailing the history and origins, range, appearance, religion, tribal structure, terrain and climate, favored weapons, favored armor, specific tribal abilities, languages, and names of nine major barbarian nations. So there is a ton of information on the Wilderlands of High Adventure in the book, too. It was the brief write-ups that eventually inspired me to go all-in and write up a complete guide to the Tharbrians… which as I mentioned earlier, didn't sell quite as well.

Finally, I should note that the tome is called "Barbarians of the Wilderlands 1" as a second volume was in the works. That volume was to include the barbarian nations of Karak, to go with the map of Karak, and to include numerous important barbarian NPCs from around the Wilderlands. That volume was only ever partially completed ere I folded AGP. You can find some of the NPCs I wrote up in early posts on the Google+ fan site for the Wilderlands.

I also later went on to put together a Barbarian class for Labyrinth Lord and publish it on my personal blog; this one needs some more work on it, I think. Maybe I’ll finish it some day and combine it with some tribal write-ups for the Barbarians of the Olden Lands… hmmm…

[Throwback Thursday] Sorcerers of the Wilderlands

Today I’m reminiscing about writing Sorcerers of the Wilderlands; not quite a class-based expansion, not quite a spell-based splat book, and yet still not a monstrous manual, it included a little bit of all three. Sorcerers of the Wilderlands grew out of my infatuation with the classic demon-summoning wizard, a subject that for various reasons was mostly completely discarded from Dungeons & Dragons in the second and later editions.

This was, I feel, an unfortunate development in D&D, as I feel it distanced the game from its Sword & Sorcery roots. Demons and the sorcerers who summon them are a major factor in most classic Sword & Sorcery. Conan faced the demons of Thoth-Amon, Tsotha-lanti, and Zogar-Sag, as did the myriad knock-offs (especially Kothar and Kyrik, who faced demons in virtually every story); even the wizards of the Dying Earth summoned and faced countless such creatures (known as “sandestin,” usually), and the Balrog of Middle-earth was essentially a demon.

And of course, the ultimate BBG of Original D&D was none other than the Balrog. He got a good bit of back-up in Eldritch Wizardry, where they divided fiendish monsters into the classic demons and devils category. But then things took a turn away from the classic demon-summoning sorcerer. As the game developed from OD&D and D&D and AD&D, demons drifted away in favor of more High Fantasy, rather than Sword & Sorcery elements.

In D&D of course, they completely disappeared until Frank Mentzer brought them back in the Immortal-level Rules. They sputtered along in AD&D through the Fiend Folio and Monster Manual II; one can tell that Gary really loved demons, as foes at least, as he continued to add in more demons in his adventures and books. But of course, even he wasn’t so hot on the summoning and use of them, even by NPC wizards, as the spells to do so were all of very high level and highly dangerous.

And then of course we had the D&D Witch Hunts of the’80s, and TSR switched hands, and after that they dared not even call them demons anymore.

But me, I always loved demons, whether they were the small and easily slain kind, the sexy and tempting kind, or the big, ugly, and beat-down kind. I never felt that hordes of goblins, orcs, or even gnolls or bugbears were worthy foes for true heroes and great adventurers. Demons, the kind that nearly flayed the skin from Conan’s back; the sort that cavorted with the arch-wizards of the 21st Aeon; the hordes of such that assaulted Kothar and Kyrik and any of a number of nameless Conan-pastiches – these are true foes meant to die on the end of a hero’s blade.

Fortunately for me, Bob Bledsaw agreed. In fact, demons were a major factor in the wider world of the Wilderlands. Long ago, before I even dreamed of publishing my own Wilderlands under the AGP label, during one of our visits Bob and I had talked about the wider world of the Wilderlands. I remember he discussed the “demon empire” found to the south of the Wilderlands; it filled up the three maps to the south, he said. I, always eager to fill in the further ends of the map, immediately took out a sheet of paper, drew a tall rectangle inside which was a quickly-scribbled representation of the Wilderlands as I knew it (three maps wide, six maps tall), and then three small boxes below, each the size of a standard regional Wilderlands map.

“So,” I asked, “How does this fit?”

“No… no no no. Not three region maps. Three maps each the size of the Wilderlands,” he said.

I stared at him, dumbfounded.

I could not understand; if there was a vast demon empire that big, how on earth was the Wilderlands not overrun by demons? Bob said that it wasn't a single empire, no; the demon lands were divided into numerous empires, each fighting each other, and then each empire was often divided, the various demon lords fighting among each other over petty, foolish points of precedent and power. He then talked long and in detail about the demon society, how it was based on magical power and prowess indicated by one’s demonic features – so many horns, such defined hooves, skin coloration and so forth. He had an entire society he had developed for these demons.

I then asked him why there were no demons in the Wilderlands proper, if there were so many not so far away. He then informed me that I had apparently missed them, because there were plenty of them, especially female demons. I was quite confused, as I did not remember much in the way of female demons being noted in the books.

“Why yes, of course,” he said. “All those houris… those are female demons.”

I’d long before researched houris, way back when I first ran into them in the City State. I’d always figured that from the original religious sources and the context of the setting, the name was simply a replacement for doxy, harlot, or whore; but no, Bob had intended all “Houri” encounters to be with an actual demoness!

So yes, guys… every time your characters were hanging out with houris, you were cavorting with demons!

So some years later, when I finally got Bob to put pen to paper and draw the maps beyond the Wilderlands, I finally got to see the demon empires… and what empires! The Demon Empire proper, the Great Horned Empire, the Lesser Horned Empire, the Chaotic Horned Empire, and all the myriad sub-divisions and ever-competing, ever-warring petty kingdoms and realms.

Turned out that only the elite among the population were actually true, full-blooded demons; most of the residents of the empires were mortals, humans, demihumans, and humanoids long ago enslaved by the demons, who themselves had once been the slaves of the utterly alien and inimical Markabs. The middle-class consisted of the Demonbrood, those descended from mortals and demons; among these were the Houris, which were originally created by the Markabs as a sort of pleasure-demon, to be given to favored servants. Sort of like self-replicating pleasure-model replicants, after a fashion.

The demons one summoned, then, were in Bob’s original vision demons from these empires, summoned so that their masters could gain more mortal souls, and thus more power in the Demon Empires, and gain ever more power and influence in their homelands. Bob’s demons could be visited simply by traveling far enough to the south… if one was mad enough to do so…

Origins of the demons aside, I still wanted NPCs, and even player characters, to be able to summon and interact with demons as I had read of them in the various original sources. And so I concocted my version of sorcery… a kind of magic that, at the basic level, anyone could use in order to summon a Demon Lord. From there, though pacts and alliances, even a fool (and especially a fool) could gain power at the cost of his soul… and those steeped in magic and ancient grimoires could command amazing levels of sorcerous power.

And so, I wrote Sorcerers of the Wilderlands
Sorcerers of the Wilderlands details the demon-allied wizards, priests, warriors, and rogues of the Wilderlands. Sorcery, that special branch of magical might that can be gained only through pacts with demons, is dealt with in detail, including Dark Pacts, Petty Evils, Lesser Evils, Greater Evils, and in depth, sorcerous spells, including special summonings and curses.
 SPELLS: Curse of Choking Doom, Curse of Madness, Curse of the Evil Eye, Curse of the Grotesque, Curse of Rotting Death, Curse of Primal Chaos, Demonfire, Demonground, Demonic Eye, Greater Curse, Plague of Doom, Sacrifice, Soul Rend Curse, Summon Demon Lord, Summon Demon Swarm, Summon Demonic Simulacrum, Summon Greater Demon, Summon Least Demon, Summon Lesser Demon, Summon Nightmare Steed
 Also included are two new monsters: Demonic Simulacrum and Plague Bearer Demon, as well as a new magic item, the Potion of Plague.
 AGP00301, 28-page digest booklet, $6.00 MSRP

Unfortunately, for whatever reason, I never offered Sorcerers of the Wilderlands as a stand-along PDF. It was combined with Warrior-Mages of the Wilderlands, an early version of Monsters & Treasures of the Wilderlands, and a preview of the never-published Valley of the Dead Queens in the PDF version of the 2008 Wilderlands Jam, which turned out to be the last PDF product published by AGP.

[Holiday Post] Viking Feasts, Masquerades, and Spring Festivals

This weekend is, of course, a “holiday weekend,” a reason to celebrate, relax, have fun, and, if possible amidst all the food and fireworks, reflect on freedom. The term “holiday,” of course, derives from “Holy Day,” as in days ancient, even before the rise of Christianity, most such days were ascribed to be “holy” to this, that, or the other god, or for some generally religious reason.

In Europe during the Middle Ages, of course, almost every day was a “Holy Day” for someone, usually a saint’s Feast Day, to celebrate their ascension as a saint via martyrdom… or in many cases, the merging of an old Pagan god into Christianity via syncretism, blending the old ways into the new. And it wasn’t just in Europe, either; worldwide, virtually every society that attains a minimal level of specialization in labor eventually develops holidays, usually religious-based in origin, syncretizing various traditions, that later often become secularized, their origins completely or mostly forgotten.

But that is neither here nor there; the main point is that holidays, whatever their origins and apparent reasons, are an ancient, time-honored tradition. And that thought brought me back to some of the first holidays I ever read about in games...

Bob Bledsaw and Bill Owen included an even dozen holidays in the Commoner’s Calendar of the CityState of the Invincible Overlord; there are apt to be many more, as the list merely includes the “major festival” of each listed month. Most of these were taken from Celtic paganism – Imbolg, Beltene, Samhain, etc. – often wrongly attributed to various gods (the syncretism of the faiths of the Wilderlands at work, I’d say) – but a few were rather unique.

I originally discussed the Viking Feast of Odin and the Orgy of Consummation (aka the Feast of the Fenris Wolf) in Faiths of the City State:Forn Sidthr. Here’s a bit more expanded information on those and 10 new holidays for the Wilderlands. Note that you can readily use these with the Olden Lands, or Greyhawk, or any other campaign setting, merely by changing some of the names and situations…

Month of the Snow Leopard (January), dedicated to Odin (Supreme Norse God)

The Viking Feast is a three-day Yule-style New Year celebration, an excuse for drinking, feasting, and carousing in the depths of glacial cold. In Valonar lands, it is also a time for a warlord to give special gifts to members of his warband and other loyal followers.

In the City State it expanded among the population and evolved into a more general gift-giving celebration; along, of course, with plenty of drinking, feasting, and carousing. Since time out of memory parents (those who can afford it, of course) also give their children special gifts on the third day of the festival. The gifts are hidden around the home, and the children must look for them. It is claimed that these gifts were given to the children by the elves, or the gnomes, or the fairies, and that only obedient children get these gifts; if children have been disobedient during the year, they find only old chicken bones, rags, and sticks. If children were especially bad, the Bog Demon might come and drag them away with his dimwitted Bugbear friend, Bug the Goblin-Bear, to his smelly, wet lair, there to force them to labor or even to eat them!

The legend of gift-giving elves is ancient; some believe it originated when men first arrived in the region and had dealings with the elves of the Dearthwood. The Bog Demon legend is more recent, and has more to do with the Emperor of Viridistan than any other influence, for the description of the Bog Demon is little more than a hideous caricature of Armadad Bog, the All-Father and patron god of the Viridians, and the tendency of the Viridians to use goblins in their mass armies.

Month of the Howling Winds (February), dedicated to Modron (Goddess of Rivers)

As the City State stands on the Great River Roglaroon, the Mother of Rivers in the Roglaras and the home river of the River Goddess, Modron, this goddess has always held a special place in local’s hearts and minds. Since the days long before the City State was even founded, when the site was home to the twinned villages of By-Water and Water-Rat (the former home to halflings, the latter home to barbarian Tharbriana), there has been a Masquerade of the Maidens. Back in the olden days, when the world was colder, it was a celebration of the rotting of the ice on the Roglaroon. Maidens, dressed in diaphanous finery and wearing fancy masks, would go out onto the ice and dance, merrily and most vigorously. The first maiden to break through the ice into the cold water of the Roglaroon would be claimed by Modron herself for a year, and be her handmaiden, taught in all things of the river, river-magic, and beauty. The previous-year’s maiden would then return to her village and be an object of veneration until she married (always quite well).

The Roglaroon hasn’t frozen over that soundly in many a century, but the festival continues. Today the maidens – still dressed in diaphanous see-through finery and wearing gaudy, expensive masks – parade down By-Water and Water-Rat roads, the halfling (and other demihuman) maidens from the Grand Gate, the human maidens from the Gate of the Gods, all meeting before the doors to the Temple of the Sea God, where the city’s shrine to Modron is found. There they participate in several contests over the first day of the three-day festival. These contests include the Long Dance, the Mermaid Dive, the Fish Bake, the Crab Walk, and the Beauty Contest, one or more of the maidens being dropped after each contest. Many wagers are made at every stage, and violence can break out between clans, as the clans often have staked their reputation on the ability of their representative maiden.

The second day of the festival the remaining seven maidens must swim seven times widdershins around Old Temple Rock in the Roglaroon; if any of the swimmers are no longer truly maidens, they drown, or are spectacularly taken by Maelstrom, the Serpent of the Roglaroon. The first maiden to swim around seven times and return to shore is the winner. Unlike in the olden days, she is not taken by Modron, who has become somewhat of a recluse; instead she serves as the Temple Maiden, Modron’s avatar in the Temple of the Sea God, for the following year. She is given her crown, scepter, and orb by the out-going Temple Maiden, who is given a small stipend by the temple, and who, due to contacts made as the Temple Maiden, often becomes quite marriageable.

After the crowning, festivities continue as usual, with much drinking, feasting, and carousing. The third day of the festival is rather somber, as the first duty of the Temple Maiden is to lead the Ritual of the Drowned, praying for all those who died in the Roglaroon the previous year. Then the Great Fish Contest is held, with prizes going to the fishermen who catch the largest fish; second and third prize are in coin, but the first place winner gets to serve as the Deacon of the Shrine of Modron for a year (gaining thereby a percentage of all offerings).

Month of the Crocodile (March), dedicated to Brighid (Brigit, Goddess of Fire and Poetry)

This three-day festival was adopted from the Tharbriana, who still maintain their own ancient traditions in villages and hamlets throughout the Roglaras. In the City State, these traditions have evolved almost beyond recognition. While it is a heartfelt and mystical experience for the rural believers and the faithful followers of Brighid, for the citizens of the City State, it is mostly another reason to drink, feast, and carouse. It is considered a propitious time for declarations of love, marriage engagements and betrothals, and for the performance of marriage vows; secondarily it is also considered a good time to finalize and sign other contracts and to begin new careers, businesses, and ventures.

It is also a good time to be a candle-maker, as the various petty rituals of the three-day festival require the burning of many candles; the larger, more decorative, and fanciful the candles, the better the luck. Though the festival originally celebrated the Tharbriana goddess Brighid, it has been extended in the City State as a celebration of any vaguely maidenly female goddess of whatever cult; thus, worshipers at the Temple of Thoth and Temple Tempter invoke Isis the Maiden; those at the Temple of Odin pray to Idun; those at the temple of Harmakhis to Derketo; and so forth. On the first day the worshippers parade through the streets invoking the goddesses and carrying their great, burning candles; they then end in their shrines where they pray for good fortune for their new marriages (or for renewed good fortune for their existing ones).
On the second day any marriages to take place during the festival must happen before noon; some are quiet, private affairs, others are massive group weddings with many brides and grooms, often filling the Square of the Gods as the priests perform all the marriages all at once. Thereafter the streets are filled with revelers drinking, feasting, and carousing; spit-roasted milk-fed lamb is the primary meal. Beer is consumed in a fine, thin horn-shaped pottery goblet. After the groom consumes his last beer for the night, he must throw the goblet over his shoulder. If the horn does not shatter, the newly-wed couple will inevitably bear fruit within the next year. This tradition extends to all who participated in a ritual, with those not being married and successfully not shattering their cup believed to have good luck for the whole next year.

After all the drinking and eating is over, those still on their feet harry the newlyweds to their marriage chambers, where they seek to keep them awake for the entire night with much playing of music and other noise-making. The morning of the third day is generally quiet until noon, which is a time considered propitious to end marriages, contracts, and other endeavors. Many businesses close for the final time at noon on the third day; no few suicides occur at that time, as well. Many secret cults perform sacrifices at that time, as the power of ending a life at that time is considered to be tenfold that of any other. Many wagers are also settled, as bets are often placed on which candle will remain burning the longest in each different shrine; any winner of such a bet, however, who does not tithe 10% to the temple in question is considered cursed for the year.

To be continued...

[Throwback Thursday] 100 Street Vendors of the City State

AGP ended up going out with a bang and a whimper, all at once. My final product – though it certainly was not intended to be such when I was writing it – ended up being 100 Street Vendors of the City State. If I recall correctly, I started working on street vendors as I noticed that there was a gap… carts and vendors were noted as being in several places in the original City State, but few if any specific vendors were ever mentioned. That, plus a thorough reading of the “Open Market” section, a recent session where our party was offered rat on a stick, and fond memories of the classic children’s novel The Pushcart War, inspired me to write up some street vendors. It was merely going to be a list of 20 or so, included in what was supposed to be the second issue of Adventure Games Journal

Well, by now, most of you know that I can’t write 20 listings if I can go on to 30, or 50, or 100. And so over time it grew to 100 listings, filling gaps in shops and services that were missing in the CityState, or that needed some more interesting competition. A few, such as the Hot Tamale vendor, were inspired by notes in the Guide to the City State; others were inspired from literature, movies, or television shows. There are a lot of pop-culture references hidden in there, Easter-egg style. A few personal references, too, that only a few will ever understand.

As you may have noticed, most of the credits in our JMG products include my wife, Jodi, as a co-author or assistant. While I had turned to her for advice and inspiration on all the AGP products, 100 Street Vendors was the first of my products in which she should really get an assist line, if not co-author credit. She was invaluable when I was working on 100 Street Vendors, and I dare say it never would have been finished if not for her. I like to think that I wrote it for her, after a fashion; to this day, when we are bored and I'm not up for writing, we pull out her tattered copy (first printed copy, ever), roll up a street vendor, and start telling each other tales about him or her and their adventures in the City State.

The biggest difficulty was putting together the price lists for all the vendors; I scoured dozens of sources, historical and game, to find out what prices the goods and services offered might reasonably have cost. At first I thought I had put too much thought into the whole process; then, one session while using the vendors, my players showed their usual perspicacity and penurious natures when they actually started haggling over the price of some pipeweed... and these, heroes with several levels and plenty of loot. So yes, I guess it really kind of mattered, after all.

Sadly, even though 100 Street Vendors got plenty of reviews and good word of mouth, sales were dismal. So dismal, in fact, that it was the final nail in the coffin, and the swan song for AGP, which folded shortly after the release. Heck, I never even got around to taking a picture of the print booklet version for the Catablog, as so few had ever been printed…

Here’s the blurb…
 This 64-page booklet is the first expansion for the City State of the Invincible Overlord since the release of the Wraith Overlord: Terror Beneath the City State adventure in 1981. It includes 100 street vendors selling everything from rat-on-a-stick and pastries to used weapons and second-hand slaves. Each description includes the stats for the vendor, NPC details, descripton of the vendor's wagon or cart, price list of goods and services, cash box contents, NPC disposition, and one or more rumors.
Here is the complete list of vendors: Advertiser, Animal Trainer, Apothecary, Armor-by-the-Piece, Armor-Repair-While-You-Wait, Artist, Astrologer, Barber, Barber, Baskets, Bone carvings, Bookseller, Candles & Torches, Unholy Candles, Carpets, Charcoal & Firewood, Clothing (Boots & Bits), Clothing (Cloaks & Tunics), Clothing (Belts & Baldrics), Clothing (Exotic), Clothing (Furs), Clothing (Gloves), Clothing (Hats), Clothing (Hose & Pantaloons), Clothing (Masks), Clothing (Pants & Trews), Clothing (Shoes), Dancer, Dentist, Drink (Ale), Drink (Ale), Drink (Beer), Drink (Beer), Drink (Wine), Flowers, Food (Bread & Pastries), Food (Dried Meats), Food (Fresh Fish), Food (Fresh Fish), Food (Fresh Meats), Food (Fresh Meats), Food (Fresh Vegetables & Grains), Food (Fresh Vegetables & Preserves), Food (Hot Tamales), Food (Iced Treats), Food (Khalav Khalash), Food (Live Animals), Food (Pastries), Food (Pastries), Food (Trail Rations), Fortune Teller, Gambler, Gambler, Used Glassware, Dearthwood Guide, Harlots, Healer, Herbalist, Insect Trainer, Interpreter, Costume Jewelry, Quality Jewelry, Laborers, Lamps, Locksmith, Massages, Messengers, Moneychangers, Moneychanger, Musical Instruments, Oil, Peddler, Perfumes & Soaps, Pipeweed & Diversions, Pipeweed & Diversions, Pipeweed & Diversions, Poet, Potions Salves & Nostrums, Rags, Rope & Twine, Rugs & Tapestries, Sage, Scribe, Scribe, Slaves for Rent, Slaves for Sale, Spices, Magical Stones, Street Preacher of Loki, Street Preacher of Mycr, Tailor: Clothing-Repaired-While-You-Wait, Tattoo Artist, Tinker, Imported Tools, Torches, Clockwork Toys, Imported Weapons, Second-Hand & Surplus Weapons, Wigs, and Wood Carvings Also includes a complete index of vendors by usual streets, markets, and city quarters locations, random vendor tables by market and district, and guidelines for haggling with vendors and for transforming street vendors into full-fledged establishments in the City State. AGP06201, 64-page 5.5" x 8.5" digest booklet, $12.00 US MSRP
100 Street Vendors of the City State is still available in PDF format through Judges Guild.

[Throwback Thursday] Rhadamanthia and the World of the Wilderlands

The very first campaign setting I ever encountered was the “Continental Map” in the Expert module X1: Isle of Dread, with the snippet of the Grand Duchy of Karameikos in the Expert Rule Book. I thought it was very interesting and, in time, with the further development of the setting in the B and X Modules and the Gazetteer series, fell quite thoroughly in love with it. From the first I always was eager to see more of what the world, later called Mystara, had to offer, as there were always mysterious lands and realms just beyond the next border.

With the Wilderlands, which was the first campaign setting I actually ever played in, I wasn't merely interested in what lay beyond the original 18 maps; I was thoroughly obsessed with finding out! Sadly, unlike Mystara, which continued to be developed for years, the development and expansion of the Wilderlands ended abruptly with the closing of Judges Guild. And for a long time, all that fans had was speculation on what might have been, what could have been, what should have been. And then, finally, decades later, Bob Bledsaw re-appeared on the scene.

Then at conventions we’d hear heard wonderful tales of the lands beyond the Wilderlands, of the Great Glacier in the North, the Kingdom of Karak in the East, the Demon Empires in the South, and the Giant Kingdoms in the West. Being an inveterate cartographer, of course, I always requested, nay, demanded even, some sort of cartographic expansion of the Wilderlands and the lands thereabouts. It was not until later, after the Necromancer Games release and before I started up AGP, that I was able to convince Bob that there was a demand to see more of the world of the Wilderlands. Together we would work on taking the notes and ideas he had built up over the years and make them into something concrete.

One fine September, I started receiving simple envelopes packed with folded sheets of paper. Altogether nine envelopes containing 25 maps, each a standard-sized sheet of paper, the top half a hand-drawn map half the size of the Wilderlands, the other half filled with notes and details on the locations found on the map. For two weeks thereafter every day was like Christmas, wondering if a new map would show up in the mailbox. I still have the envelopes they were sent in; the ripped state indicates the excitement each held, and my foolishness in not handling the envelope carefully, lest I damage the maps. Fate was in my favor, though, and none were ever damaged. Each time I would open the envelope, pull out the maps and notes, and sit for hours pouring over them, the first person to see put in writing and map the hitherto unreleased ideas of the original creator of the City State and the Wilderlands.

Slowly, over time, I scanned and pieced together the maps while discussing and expanding the various elements with Bob in person, over the phone, and via e-mail. By the time we finally got the map in a position that felt fairly complete for the scale intended, I had already started AGP, and worked with Peter Bradley to take over from my primitive Paint-based scribbling and turn the map into something beautiful and useful. Unfortunately, Bob never lived to see the final version of the map; it was literally completed mere days before he passed away in 2008. I was, however, able to bring copies of the preliminary print to his family at his funeral.

With the work I did with Bob on the Rhadamanthia Map, I was able, to ensure that his vision of the wider world of the Wilderlands was not lost when he passed. One thing I learned while working with him was his great tendency toward puns and impish humor, a characteristic I have found endemic to the great designers. For example, one day while we were talking, I asked him about the Skullie Amazons in far-eastern Karak. I thought, naturally, that they perhaps worshiped skulls and wore skull-based clothing, etc. But no; he’d named them on a lark; he said that as they were “red-haired, smart, and dangerous,” he’d decided to name them in honor of Dana Scully, the character from the X-Files. I did my “We Are Not Amused” look at the phone, which did not help at all, and all he did was chuckle at me in amusement with my high-falootin’ assumptions about what was and was not fantasy.

It was a sense of amusement that pervades all his earlier work, if you look for it. One of my favorite bits in the entirety of the Guide to the City State is the tale told by Flustag the Cavalryman in the Lancer’s Club, “He also is fond of relating his encounter with barbarians in the frozen wastelands… tapped in a boxed canyon, two against 100; charged two against 100; cutting blindly until exhausted, two against 100... and finally winning, we all agreed… they were the meanest two barbarians we ever faced!”

That’s the kind of sense of humor that created the City State and the Wilderlands.

Thereafter, I went on to publish the companion tome for the Map of Rhadamanthia, the Guide to the World of the Wilderlands. Intended as an introduction to Rhadamanthia and the Wilderlands, it details 14 of the 15 Districts, each the size of the Wilderlands, and also details the Wilderlands proper, the central district, by breaking it down into its 18 Regions. In retrospect, a product completely at the other end of the spectrum from the original Wilderlands products, which provided the lowest-level of information and allowed the Judge to determine the great and campaign-spanning elements. But then, it was designed to showcase both what Bob had created and the direction I was going with my own version of the Wilderlands, the Wilderlands of High Adventure.

Of the material therein that pertains to Rhadamanthia and the wider lands around the Wilderlands, 90% is Bob’s work, with 10% my own additions, alterations, and interpretations. Any mistakes are my own.