Sunday, May 17, 2020

"NEVERWHERE" Richard Corben's Den of Earth Setting As OD&D





Hello.

I have been thinking of running an online game over at Unseen Servant set in Neverwhere, from Richard Corben's Den of Earth series.

You may recall the Den segment in the 1981 Heavy Metal film, with Den being voiced by the awesome and missed John Candy.

So I was looking at systems and OD&D appears to be the best one for such a venture.

(Metamorphosis Alpha might also work with some alterations).

I have been mulling over how such a game might be run and I am sharing my thoughts and hoping for feedback. Here goes!

This writer’s only knowledge of this setting is from the Den of earth segment of the 1981 animated feature film Heavy Metal, and his few issues of Heavy Metal magazine which contain chapters of the Den serial.

Neverwhere appears to be another planet or dimension far from Earth where people from our world (and perhaps others) find themselves stranded after the fashion of John Carter’s transference to Mars in the ERB stories. As with John Carter, these travelers, once in Neverwhere, discover themselves in possession of fantastic physical prowess and capabilities in a body unlike the one they had on earth, although their mental capabilities appear unchanged.

Player characters in Neverwhere are of two kinds, human or mutants. There are no other races. Pure humans are not from Neverwhere, as we have said, but other worlds.




Mutants have no common appearance- they are humanoid in form but the larger part bear little resemblance to humans. There appears to be some wildly fluctuating DNA defect that causes a diversity of freakish appearances in them that seems to regard lineage (as to appearance) not at all for more than a generation or two. Very few have similar characteristics, although there appear to be general subsets of physical features.

Hence, there are blue furred, simian like specimens of herculean physique, short and stunted porcine faced figures with fangs and curled tusks, and even a few reptilian looking specimens.

Some mutants appear close to human appearance but with eyes or mouths suggestive of fish.

There is a minority of mutants which appear human in every respect. These are Avatars. They are not human but are mutants born with rare mental powers and self- regenerative abilities, and are regarded as Divine by other mutants. When a mutant female gives birth to an Avatar, the child is taken by a special order dedicated to the preservation and protection of these rare beings.

Although an Avatar looks human, the distinction between them and pure humans in Neverwhere is that Avatars are born with incredible mental powers which are regarded by the mutants as magical. These Avatars, if they survive, can develop these powers, as well as a unique regenerative ability, to levels of what seem near omnipotence.

Humans transported to Neverwhere by various cosmic means (such as magical meteorites) can never use magic and have no regenerative powers—they are purely mortal. But they possess strength, speed, reflexes and agility that far surpasses most of Neverwhere’s mutant population.

Neverwhere seems to be a world out of space and time. It is mostly low or no technology, with a culture and landscape like ancient Mesopotamia (or even perhaps Mars), but which divided by power struggles between Avatars and their mutant followers. Their cities are scattered and few, but some are quite majestic, and seem the product of the cultivated and powerful minds of the Avatars who guide their development. Vast areas of wildernesses filled with weird flora and fauna separate these cities, and everywhere are scattered mutant villages and settlements which would evoke to Earth visitors the ancient east.

In Neverwhere, there are many fantastic beasts, true monsters, some that hearken unto Earth’s own dinosaur age. There are great flying insects which are used as sky mounts by mutant warriors, and reptilian beasts which serve the same purpose upon the ground. There is a species of giant bats which are similarly used as war mounts in the air. Even many species of plants have mutated and become deadly carnivorous or poisonous menaces. The DM must cobble together his own monsters but many in OD&D are worthy to use with a little imaginative reinvention.



Truly, Neverwhere is a dangerous place, but one filled with glory and wonder. Some say it is a world of out balance in the cosmos, for though we have said it is a mostly non-technological world, from somewhere there come to this place weapons of the more advanced and scientific dimensions- guns and explosives.

Perhaps these are the preserved relics of a past technological age. Such armaments are utilized alongside medieval weapons by the mutants who battle in the service of the Avatars. Very few other technological implements are to be found in Neverwhere, as though some dark power takes the worst of what other technological dimensions have to offer, with none of the more beneficial and helpful technologies.

There is one dominant cult in Neverwhere, the cult of Ulu’h’tc (pronounced Oo-lah-Tek). This dark god seems to exist in many dimensions and planets, but here Ulu’h’tc is unrivaled by any other significant cult or religion, with the one exception of a peaceful, animistic belief held by a few remote mutant tribes. The leaders of these believers are an order of healers and seers whose god is the world itself. They are called The Druids. Their beliefs are considered a heresy to the followers of Ulu’h’tc and the Avatars are united only in their desire to see the Druids and their ways exterminated.

Of all Avatars in Neverwhere, none are as powerful as the Red Queen, a deathless beauty whose heart is cold and cruel, and the Boy King, a decadent and jaded fellow who longs to see the Red Queen die a slow and painful death. Other Avatars rule their own enclaves, and some are neutral in their aims, wishing only to maintain their own feudal power. There are solitary Avatars who seek only knowledge and wisdom. And there are despotic Avatars who would depose the Red Queen and the Boy King.

So much for the setting of Neverwhere. Let us look at integrating it with OD&D.

A player may choose one of the two races: Mutants, Humans and Avatars (also Mutant). With some changes, this version of Neverwhere uses the standard OD&D classes (with the inclusion of the Thief from the Greyhawk Supplement) but with class restrictions depending on the player’s chosen Race.

Ability scores are also handled differently, depending upon the character’s race. If a player desires to run a Druid (Cleric), which requires a minimum Wisdom score of 15, the DM may allow the player to roll different sets of ability scores and choose the set which meets this requirement.

Mutants may be Fighters or Thieves, unless they have a 15 or higher in Wisdom, in which case they can choose the Cleric(Druid) class.
Humans are either fighters or non-classed.

Avatars are restricted to being magic users.

A Human character does not roll all attributes but begins with a minimum score of 15 in Dexterity, Strength, Charisma and Constitution. They also get to roll a d6 and take the number rolled as extra points which they may divide between these three attributesas they will, with no attribute being higher than 18. As for Intelligence and Wisdom, they roll 3d6 and take whatever is rolled, no exceptions!

Avatars roll 3d6 for all attributes except Intelligence and Wisdom; they begin play with a perfect 18 in both Intelligence and Wisdom, owing to their powerful psychic strain.

Mutants are most often physically stronger but of low to average intelligence. They roll 3d6 for all attributes but have the following adjustments (no higher than 18 or lower than 3): +2 to Strength, +2 to Constitution, -3 to Wisdom, -3 To Intelligence, - 2 to Charisma. There are exceptional mutants; while rolling up a mutant character, there is a 25% chance that the penalties to Wisdom, Charisma, and Intelligence do NOT apply. In this instance, the mutant receives all bonuses to physical attributes and rolls 3d6 with no modifiers for Wisdom or Charisma and begin play with a set Intelligence of 15. Any Mutant character with a score of 15 or higher in Wisdom can play as a Druid.

As to how the character classes are played in Neverwhere, there are a few setting alterations. Fighters and Thieves are run normally, as per OD&D, with the exception that they may use guns. (See Guns Rules).

Magic Users do not use arcane forces in the sense that magic is understood in OD&D. As Avatars, their progression in "spells" is a result of burgeoning mental powers, even to the point of being able to alter physical laws. For game purposes, Avatars use the OD&D Magic User spell list- however, the names, uses and manifestations of these spells are changed descriptively to become mental powers.

Avatar Regeneration: Avatar characters can regenerate hit points. This power results in one h.p. per X.P. level being gained back during any melee round. However, this power only works for a living Avatar- if brought below 0 Hit Points an Avatar is dead, UNLESS above 9th Level, at which point, owing to the attainment of a special enlightenment that unlock new vistas of power, their regeneration powers begin to function as that of Trolls in OD&D but at 9 H.P. per round instead of 3, 10 at 10th level, and so on.

At 9th level, an Avatar also attracts 10-40 followers (d4x10) within 1d12 months and such a roll is made with each new level, for as their fame grows (immortality is surely a sign of deity!) so do those who seek a power to follow.

The means to destroy Avatars do exist, mainly through powerful relics or "spells", or, as some whisper, owing to a fabled scepter of power called the Loknar, which functions as a death ray to any Avatar but is said to disappear and reappear in Neverwhere at various ages or times owing to some strange fluctuation of the Ethereal Wind.

Clerics are called “Druids” in Neverwhere, because they draw their powers from the Planet itself. However, in game practice, they function as Clerics and use Cleric spells normally. They consider the earth to be a goddess and the sky and stars to be a god. They believe that innumerable spirits inhabit these elements and that it is from these spirits (like kami) that they draw their spells. They cannot use reverse clerical spells and have the same weapon restrictions of OD&D clerics. If the DM wishes, the spell list of Druids from the Eldritch Wizardry supplement may be used along with the Cleric spell list in OD&D.

Note: Avatars and Druids are not of necessity always enemies. Not all Avatars follow Ulu’h’tc. Thus it is possible that a party of adventurers may have an Avatar (Magic user) and Druid (Cleric) adventuring together.

Guns Rules:

Gun and explosive rules are in no way written here for realism but to facilitate quick use in the game.

There are 3 kinds of guns in Neverwhere, handguns, rifles, and machine guns.

Guns and explosives are rare in Neverwhere , and ammunition even more highly prized.

Their manufacture is unknown and how guns come to Neverwhere is a mystery.

Only Fighters and Thieves use guns (or explosives). To Hit Chances are based on level and A.C. and use the regular combat charts.

A handgun can hold 8 shots and fire at a rate of 2 shots per round (taking into account aiming). A to hit roll must be made for each shot. Damage is 1-8 per shot.

A rifle can hold 12 shots and fire at a rate of 2 shots per round with a +1 to hit for better aim. A to hit roll must be made for each shot. Damage is 1-8 per shot.

A machine gun holds many more bullets. It may be set on semi-auto and used as a rifle or fired as a fully automatic. The magazine capacity of a machine gun is 30. Machine Guns can be fired single shot like a rifle (-1 to hit)or using a Burst or Full Auto Spray.

Bursts: When a machine gun is fired in bursts, it depletes a third of a clip in a round (empty in 3 melee rounds) but only one normal to hit roll is made. If this hit succeeds, the target is hit by 1-4 rounds (d4) and must save vs. wands. Successful savings throw halves damage, otherwise full.

Full Auto Spray: This empties a clip in two rounds. To hit is at -3 as aiming is sporadic, but the target is hit by 2-8 rounds if successful and must save vs. wands to take half damage. Otherwise damage is full.

There are three kinds of explosives in Neverwhere: grenades, landmines and dynamite. They are even rarer than guns.

Grenades: Range of 50’. 20’ radius of explosion, if within 10’ damage is d20. At 20’away damage is d10 (shrapnel). Save vs. Wands for half damage. Roll to hit as with missile weapons in OD&D.

Landmines: Same as Grenades except there is no throwing range, it is a trap.

Dynamite: Can be used as a grenade or set as a charge. Double the damage of a grenade.

Note: I believe there should also be some chance of breaking of malfunction with guns and explosives but have not set made up a rule for this.

This so far is what I have come up with.

Magic items are a topic I have not yet considered, but I don't think potions should exist. How to have "non magical" magic swords and armor are a whole other thing to consider.

What do you think?

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

A Section of the Underworld Benteath Jakalla, Upon Tekumel; An Old School Empire of the Petal Throne Dungeon





GATES OF THE UNDEWORLD IN THE HIRILAKTE ARENA
An Empire of the Petal Throne Adventure for Characters of Level 1-3

This is a dungeon adventure for use with the 1975 TSR Empire of the Petal Throne rules.

The premise of this scenario is that a number of cellars below the Hirilakte Arena contain secret entrances to the Underworld. 


Player characters can learn of the existence of these entrances through any means of the DM’s choosing. They will also learn that the entrances are used variously by certain Change Temples (or tomb robbers!) and that the Temple factions who make use of them politely avoid using them at times in which other Temple factions do. In other words, the Change temples who utilize these paths use particular routes, and these are fastidiously avoided by the other factions, who have their own customary entrances. The holy days of each Temple faction are the usual days in which their priests make use of the gates to go on secret missions in the Underworld.

It is rumored that this level leads towards a series of other catacombs which terminate at a number of points beneath the Necropolis, mostly under certain notable tombs. The tunnels which lead out at the east end of the map lead in that direction, and thus to progressively more challenging levels, which are left for future maps.


If a party does go poking around below the arena cellars, they will find an entrance randomly by the DM’s roll of d100 dice.  01-25 Cellar A. 26-50 Cellar B. 51-75 Cellar C 76-100 Cellar D.


As player characters may come and go through these tunnels at divers times during a campaign, it is up the DM to update and repopulate this level as needed.


The DM is encouraged to revise them according to his own Tekumel if desired.

Map Note: The map lacks a legend, but the dimensions of each 10' space are marked out by pen dots should you wish to recreate the map on graph paper or a vinyl battle mat. A DM may add doors wherever desired.The larger black dots shown are typically to be read as pillars except for four pits which are designated as such in the room descriptions.


Cellar A: The secret door in this cellar which leads into the Underworld is primarily used by Sarku worshippers.

A1.  Dusty 30x30 chamber. Along the floor near each wall are set heavy iron rings in the floor and to these are chained the skeletons of six unfortunates who were left here to die.  If the room is searched nothing else is evident but make a secret doors check for each character to find a stone in the wall which is actually a covering. Behind it is a small compartment, long forgotten, wherein is hidden a scroll. The tube is trapped with a poison needle. The scroll is a Group 1 spell, the Hands of Kra the Mighty, written in Tsolyani.


A2. Empty 20x30 chamber.


A3.  A 20X70 great hall. In the North wall is an archway blocked by an iron portcullis. 6 Mrur stand guard here, undead warriors set here by priests of Sarku. They will halt anyone in the name of the Undying Worm and ask for “The word of passage”. The failure to give this results in attack by the Mrur. The portcullis is operated from chamber A5, but it can be forced by a combined strength of 200. There is no treasure here.

 M'rur AC 6 HD 1+3, Hit Points 10, 8, 11, 9, 10, 10  Move 6” 

A4. A passage way with a rusted and unused portcullis like that in A3 but inoperable. It can be forced by a combined strength of 200.

A5. In this room stands a mighty undead Shen, a Mrur. Upon the command of a priest of Sarku from 
 A3 he will turn a great wheel which raises and lowers the portcullis. If anyone forces the portcullis or comes in from the rooms north doorway, he will attack. He fights with a two handed sword. It is a sword of some value. 

Shen-Mrur AC 4, HD 3 Hit Points 20 Move 6”


Cellar B: The underworld entrance here is primarily used by the Hry’y sect.

B1. A long 30x40 hall with square pillars running along the north and south walls. At the east end of the hall before the wall is a squat and ugly stone statue depicting an aspect of Hyr’y, and clutching a jagged stone knife which is poised over a stylized writhing nude female victim. There is a 5’ trapdoor in front of the statue which looks like the floor. Should any character walk thereon, they must make a special saving throw to avoid it. Combine dexterity and intelligence, average them, and this is the percentile chance the character has of leaping clear of the falling trap door without falling down the chute which will deposit them in a great pit wherein is a lesser Dlaqo beetle which preys upon those fed to it via the trap door. In the pit there is a 25% chance of there being a recent set of human or non-human remains that have some treasure or magic item at hand, dice upon the tables for such items.

D'laqo AC 2 HD 3 Hit Points 20 Move 6”


B2. This odd shaped 40x50 chamber contains a large idol of Hyr’y similar to that in B1 but reaching the ceiling. It is against the north Wall. The walls are painted black, which appears recently repainted, with red painted depictions of demons and glyphs. If anyone examines the statue, make a secret door check; success means a tiny secret compartment is found and within are a scroll of 1 Group 2 spell, Invisibilty, written in Tsolyani. In the compartment is also a spare key to the gates in B3, as well as 3 sparkling jewels worth 100 Kaitars each. There is also a +2 dagger and a writ in Tsolyani that is an ambiguously worded summons (of uncertain authorship) for an assassin named Nissani which offers the jewels and dagger to “do what you know must be done when next you find this scroll.”  There are directions upon the scroll to a villa in far Usenanu. This can be worked into an adventure by the DM as he or she wishes later. There is a broken wheel that once operated the portcullis set in the western wall. There is a 5 in 6 chance when this room is entered that there will be corpses of foolish treasure seekers or other unfortunates and if this is so there will be 2-5 Kurgha feeding upon the remain. The Kurgah will attack any who interrupt their feast. 

Kurgah AC 6  HD 1 Hit points 5, 8, 6, 7, 8 Move 12”

B3. A 30x30 hall with square pillars along the east and west walls. Two portcullis gates bar both entrances to this room and they can only be opened by means of a key carried by one of the priests of Hyr’y or the one hidden in the idol in area B2.  They cannot be forced open as they are fairly secure. It is impossible to see into the chamber from outside because of a stone partition placed to limit viewing about three feet in front of each gate. Inside the room is some sort of meeting place. There is a long stone table and stone seats in the center of the room, a place for chaining prisoners on a pillar against the west wall. There is a desiccated human male corpse hanging on the chain, lips sewn shut and eyes removed. It looks to have been chewed upon. Hiding behind the pillars are also 3 Kurgah who were feasting on the corpse, and hid upon the noise of the party entering the room. They will attack if discovered hiding by a cursory search.  There is a treasure hidden under the head seat if moved- 1000 Kaitars in a small leather satchel.

Kurgah AC 6 HD 1 Hit Points 6, 6, 6 Move 12”

Cellar C: The underworld entrance here is in use by various travelers of the Underworld and not any particular sect. It is favored by tomb thieves and other intruders.

C1. A long 20x40 Hall with bricked up doors along the east wall which were sealed permanently in the Ditlana. There are carvings upon the wall of various deeds of the Emperor of the Petal Throne who was ruling at this period of Jakalla’s history. The DM should dice here upon the Random Encounters table for Level 1 to see who or what is encountered here. The DM must determine whether they have recently entered the Underworld or are preparing to leave it (50/50). For intelligent creatures the reaction table should be used.

C2. A 30’ circular domed chamber with a long dead ornate fountain in it’s center. If the debris that clogs it is searched, 20-50 Kaitar will be found(d4 +1 x 10).



Cellar D: This series of passages are frequented by Priests of Ksarul on their way to the further reaches of the Underworld

D1. This is a vast 30x50 hall set with many square pillars along the east and west walls. There are portals in the north and west walls. The entire room is painted in faded blue hues.  Hung over the door on the west wall is a giant stylized silver mask like those worn by Ksarul priests, and painted script warning not to pass further. There are 7 Q'ol here, who will attack anyone who tries to violate the hall. There is no treasure.

Q'ol AC 2 HD 1+1 Hitpoints 8, 6, 9, 5, 7, 6, 9  Move 6”

D2. This odd shaped room, roughly 20x20, is a grisly place. There is a pile of mummified and dried limbs and heads in the S.W. corner- and against the diagonal east wall are three stone tables with corpses laid upon them as if being sewn together from these parts but unfinished…a head sits unattached, a limb missing here and there, etc.  There are three tall earthen jars along the west wall which contain preserved organs. A small stone pedestal is here in the center of the room. If it is moved aside (a secret door check can find it), under it is a small hole with an Amulet of Power Over Undead which contains 2 charges. 

D3. A 30x40 chamber of congregation.  There is a long stone table and several stone seats. Overhead hangs a great candelabra by a chain. There is a 30% chance that the chamber will be in use by 2-3 Ksarul Priests and a guard of 2-5 warriors.

D4. An empty 30x20 chamber with torch sconces on the wall.

SUBLEVEL 1

S1-1. A steep 10’ staircase leads down from a small platform overlooking this 30x20 chamber with three circular pits in the floor. There is a portcullis gate in the doorway before the steps; though not locked, it is pinned shut from the outside by massive iron bars in locks, which can be easily removed from without but are obviously meant to keep something shut in. The pits drop away into deep, forbidding winding shafts of unworked stone. Over the pits are suspended chains attached to hoists by which victims are lowered and raised and there are a series of manacles on the east wall for holding prisoners. There is a gong set up against the west wall. There is a 15% chance of a prisoner being present, and near death, in a set of manacles. NPC of GM choice. If the gong is sounded, an Aqa’a, will appear within 1 Turn and emerge from the pit to devour anything it can find. Usually controlled by Eyes and fed victims by the Priests of Hry’y, it will enter the chamber and attack. If the gong is not sounded but a party remains in the sublevel for more than 2 Turns, the Aqa’a will appear anyway.

Aqa’a (Smaller)  AC 2 HD 6 Hit Points  30 Move 9” (Attacks with mouth until its first successful  hit, then it begins to swallow the victim-thereafter it does not bite until the victim is dead but will defend with its swinging tail which does 3 dice damage.)

S1-2. A 40x30 chamber with square pillars along the north and south walls. On the east and west walls are paintings in lurid colors of various horrid scenes of priests of Hry’y, depictions of the god, and scenes of people being devoured by great fanged worms.

S1-3. This 30x20 chamber is secured by a heavy wooden door, well oiled and maintained. It is set with chlen-hide bands and a magic seal. Upon the door is inscribed a complex incantation to open it which can be read by any priest or magic user but with a 35% chance of failure, as the intonations must be exact. If successful, the door opens as if pushed by an unseen hand. If not, a bolt of energy hurtles forth from the seal doing d6 +2 damage to all within 10’. There are 3 such bolts stored within the seal. The bolts will come forth if the door is struck or otherwise molested without the incantation. Once the seal is drained of its power the door can be battered down.  The chamber itself has magical seals upon the floor in a pentagon shape and a stone pedestal with a book upon it. Candle sconces are set in the walls as well as a shelf with a stone bowl full of incense. Upon the pedestal is a book which contains a spell of conjuration of a lesser demon type. It can be used by any level of evil priest or magic user. When the demon appears, it is very Hlyss-like in appearance. There is a 20% chance the demon will break control and attack, but modify this chance by taking into account the summoner’s Psychic Ability and adjusting the percentage accordingly. The demon can be instructed to come forth and attack one enemy of the summoner’s choosing. This task must be required within seven days or the demon is freed from obligation.  Within the seven days, the summoner has but to call the demon’s name and it will appear to obey a command of attack or can be sent forth remotely. However, there is a 10% chance each time the demon appears that the summoner will be driven insane for d6 days. The book is tied to the seal and if removed from the chamber, it bursts into flames and is destroyed. There is a treasure here, a chest filled with 750 Kaitars, and a +1 Evil Sword.

Lesser Demon AC 3 HD 3+6  Hit Points 30 Move 12”  Has the fear effect of a Hlyss, as well as the sting.  It disappears when killed, for only it’s physical form has been destroyed.

SUBLEVEL TWO

S2-1:  30x20 Chamber.  Against the west wall is a great cage of Chlen-hide.  It is closed with an iron lock. The cage holds three miserable looking Renyu, all bearing scars of torture, and there are iron implements hanging on the walls for this purpose.  A key hangs upon the wall by the chamber entrance. The Renyu are hungry and frightened.  If freed, two of the Renyu will latch onto the party and even fight with them, though they are at -2 on all rolls due to emaciation. One Renyu has been driven insane and hates the sight of humans so much that as soon as it is freed it will attack the nearest one and fight until dead.

Ren'yu  AC 4 HD 2 Hit Points  8, 10, 12 Move 12”

S2-2:  A 30X30 chamber with a locked chest.  It is trapped- if breached without a key (which is not present), a spore sack with poison gas will burst and affect anyone within 5’. Inside is a strange treasure: there are twelve incredibly life-like masks of middle and high clan personages in Jakalla. There is a 35% chance a character will recognize a mask. These are used to sow discord by the agents of the Temple by impersonating notable people so that spies and onlookers think they see people doing things and going places which harm reputation or mislead authorities.

S2-3: A 20X30 chamber with nothing of note except more lurid wall frescoes of Hry’y worship.

SUBLEVEL THREE

S3: A circular 30x30 split level chamber. A 30’ stair winds down from a platform overlooking the chamber.  It is of decrepit stonework and there is a 20% chance for each character going down the stair that a stone will remove and the character might fall- average dexterity and intelligence for a saving throw to avoid falling and taking a die of damage. There is a circular pit in the bottom of the chamber floor. The same chance of the stonework crumbling away applies to this pit’s edge and anyone within 10’ of it. The floor of the pit, a cave, is strewn with bones but also a gleaming Eye. If anyone enters or falls into the pit, they will be attacked by an N’gayu, Eater of Swords, which hides in the shadows of the pit. The Eye is an Excellent Ruby Eye, dropped by a victim of the pit beast.
N’gayu  AC 4  HD 4  Hit Points 19 Move 12”
S3-1:  This 30x20 room is filled with old wooden statues of the Five Tlomitlanyal and the Five  Tlokiriquayal.  They are dusty and their paint has faded but they are recognizable as depictions of the gods. They were once carried in processions.  The five Stability gods are along the north wall and the Change gods are aligned on the south wall opposite their counterparts. There is a stone in the center of the room with carved Tsolyani script which states, “Whisper a vow unto thy Lord or Lady, fulfil it, and thou shalt know.” There is magic at work here. If anyone takes up the challenge, they will immediately receive the effect of a Bless Spell for 3 Turns and if they should ever fulfil their vow they will gain +10% to a plea for Divine Intervention. If their plea fails, they shall still receive a vision or dream that will be of use to them.
S3-2:  A 20x30 chamber. There are 3 Khurga “Carrion Eaters in this chamber feeding on recent ill-fated treasure thieves. They will attack anyone who disturbs their grisly feast.
K’urgha AC 6  HD 1  Hit Points 6, 5, 8 Move 12”
S3-3: A treasure lies at the end of this passage. 1000 Kaitars, four gems worth 25 K. each, and a scroll with a Group 1 spell, Heal. There is also a +1 Sword of good alignment.
S3-4: This 20x30 chamber is a burial vault of four middle-clan warriors who once fought in the arena and died honorably. They lie in sarcophagi, one against each wall. Each is a M’rur and if their coffins are disturbed, they will awaken and fight. Each coffin has d100 Kaitars worth of treasure concealed within it. One of them has a scroll which is a deed to a house in Jakalla which now sits abandoned but untouched.
M’rur AC 6 HD 1+3 Hit Points 5, 7, 8, 6 Move 6”



                                                                  SUBLEVEL FOUR
 
S4-1: A 20x30 chamber at the bottom of a stair. Here is seen skeletons of vanquished warriors and, in the midst of them, a single blue orb which glows and pulsates from within its own radiant core. If anyone touches it, they will have an extradimensional encounter with Belkhanu  himself. He will greet them as he waves toward a black ship about to sail restless sea.  He will bid them answer a riddle or else board the black ship. His riddle: “A man lives once, then twice. His third life will endure as long as Tekumel  or as the span of breath of the Kri Fly. What does my riddle describe? You may have two answers.” The correct answer is that of man who lives, then bears a child, and after death is remembered by his deeds and family influence, glorious or inglorious. Any answer that approximates this will gain 1000 Experience Points and the character will remain among the living. If it is answered incorrectly the character gets a savings throw vs. Eyes. If they survive, they are shocked into senselessness for 2 Turns but revive thereafter. Failing the savings throw, the character dies and falls among the dead warriors! Note: Use private notes for this exchange as others may touch the orb. Only those who answer from their own mind receive the benefit.

S4-2: A 20x20 treasure vault.  There is a chest of 1000 Kaitars, a +1 sword, and a jade figurine bound with magic script which reads, in Engshvalyani writing, “Speak my name- Su’mayal.” If anyone speaks this name, a 1st Imperium warrior whose soul was bound by a curse to this figurine will possess the character who speaks it. The possession will not be hostile or dominant, and the character can freely commune telepathically with Su’mayal and will fight as a 3rd level warrior (or at one level above their current level for any warriors already so advanced) for as long as Su’mayal is within them. The spirit will then inhabit the first human who dies in the presence of the host, leaving their body to live in an empty one, and then leave. But before he does, he will leave a clue to a ruin of the first Imperium for a future adventure.


SUBLEVEL FIVE

S5-1: AA 30x30 chamber at the foot of a 20’ stair. There are frescoes painted in ghostly whites, grays and blacks of Sarku rites and skull faced priests on all the walls.  Against the west wall stands an altar. There are two braziers on either side, and on small stone table are a mixture of herbs and withered entrails, as well as fire lighting implements. On the altar is a skull, mouth open as in a scream, bits of stretched, cracked skin withered upon it. A tuft of black hair runs in a tendril from the skull. If the braziers are lit and the herbs and entrails tossed upon them, the eyes of the skull will illuminate and it will animate and speak with a ghastly voice. It will answer 1-3 questions put to it about Jakalla or any person in Jakalla. It will also warn the party not to plunder the teasures of Sarku, but to seek the Blessings of The Tomb-Life.
S5-2: This is a 30x30 natural circular cavern and in midst is a treasure trove with four warrior skeletons, in rusted 1st Imperium arms and armors, propped up on stakes in front of the treasure pile. They are only diversions- anyone entering will be attacked by a Biridlu. 956 Kaitars, 3 gems, and a +1 Shield is the treasure.

Bi'ridlu AC 3 HD 4+1 Hit Points 25 Move 6”/13”



GREAT AVENUE

This vast hall was, until the last Ditlana, a street of procession of victorious warriors on the holidays of Karakan. It still has the appearance of a street but it is strewn here and there with rubble and debris, including aged skeletal remains. The sides are lined with great pillars which meet in sturdy arches that hold up the peaked ceiling. At various intervals are seen arches and door ways but except for those areas noted on the map, all are bricked up, filled during Ditlana to help brace up the new construction that followed in the city above. Now, it is for all intents, a road to the catacombs underneath the Necropolis, mostly traveled by Change factions on dark missions. Occasionally Stability and military agents use the avenue in great secrecy, perhaps to spy or to seek artifacts.

Anytime players enter the avenue there is a 4 in 6 chance of an encounter from the Underworld Encounter Tables. The DM can decide exactly when and where an encounter occurs if it is indicated by the die.  Check every two turns thereafter. Randomly determine Temple affiliation of any priests or warriors with a d20. This will help determine the nature of the business of such parties in this Underworld. The Reaction Table should normally be consulted in such encounters, but Sarku, Hry'y and Ksarul worshipers encountered will be hostile upon discovering intruders in this domain.

If a random encounter roll is a 5, then a Shedra from the caverns is encountered anyway.

Only a 6 is “No Encounter.”

CAVERNS
This area is an extensive natural tunnel of immense proportions, and the sides of these caves are riddled with small holes through which emerge evil beings, namely Shedra. For each turn the party is in a cave there is a 30% likelihood that 1-4 Shedra will appear. Each time a Shedra or group of them is encountered, there is a normal likelihood for the monster type of treasure being found. 

H’ra Lair: This cavern is shunned by all the Shedra. Unholy blue fire burns upon  torches along the walls at the eastern end of the cavern, where a platform that is 30x30 may be ascended by stone steps. On the platform, at the utmost corner of the east wall, leans a great sarcophagus. Two braziers continually burn with a pale blue light on either side of the sarcophagus. The resting place can serve the DM as a diversion, as it contains the moldering bones of a bejeweled Ist Imperium noble,-- the H’ra  actuallylurks in the shadows of the cave and will attack as soon as the sarcophagus is discovered to be empty. Treasure, hidden behind the sarcophagus: 2000 Kaitars, a magical Metal Sword named V'ru, Lament of the Hyliss. ("V'ru" Intelligence 70. Alignment -Good, Ego Strong. +2 to hit and damage against  non-humans of evil alignment). It has a spell Protection from Evil. V'ru will not usually seek to dominate it's wielder, using subtlety instead to guide the owner into seeking out and destroying the Spawn of the Old Ones and their ilk.  It communicates telepathically with the owner. There is also an Amulet of the Good God. Finally, there is a Book. D'imlakih tlaS'sugayal "The Striking of the Hated S'su"

H’ra  AC 4 HD 7 Hit Points 35 Move 12”


Saturday, April 18, 2020

Fantastic City on a Strange Planet






 This is an illustration I did in 2012 while listening to Uriah Heep's Demons and Wizards LP over a period of three days..

The song "Rainbow Demon" on that album really seemed to open up a strange font of concepts and images as I sat and sketched, then traced in ink and then colored with pencils.

It is filtered here as my original copy is fairly beaten.

I am very happy with this image even though it's not high drawing, it seemed to take me away to a place far away and still does every time I look at it.

My favorite feature is the flutist- he sprang full formed from a place in my imagination and I could almost hear the music of his simple reed flute filling the bazaar amid the smells and sounds of the vendors and pedestrians. Edit: I also recall that he's a religious figure, a sort of traveling musician who lives a life on the road as a holy mendicant, a vow of poverty and the expression of the divine music through his flute.

There was a dash of Crowley in the robed figure, who is looking at his simpleton companion, a devil of sorts. Their insectoid companion might have had some Tekumel vibes to me at the time.

The girl is the only one I used a photo for, an...eh, not optimum rendering, I admit... of a lovely lass in a vintage magazine I had lying around.  I copied her free handed. The rest were all imagination.

The little creatures on the steps of the decadent temple entrance of a love and pleasure goddess seemed to me to be, as I drew them,  a common sight throughout out this ancient City. I felt like they were barely a step above rodents here to most, but for those who took the time to get to know them, they were mute empaths with healing abilities. They live in crooks and crannies and even the sewers and beg for food by day.

The original intent was that the amulet on the devil-figure was to match the sword belt adornment of the sell-sword girl in the alleyway. A hint of a shared path or common destiny. A soon-to-happen meeting.

I do know what the creatures in the cooking pot are named. They are Ooglots. Colorful rock lizards which, when cooked alive, are a popular delicacy. They are found everywhere in the bazaar. Poor things.

The centipede like creature crawling out from the blue skinned wizard's magical robes are also common, and they too are eaten by the very poor.

In the Temple entrance, a priestess and courtesan stands in the mist of purple smoke wearing a veil she will only remove for those who enter and make their offerings to the goddess and enjoy her blessings.

I admit to a bit of...." sympathy for the devil" ?  at the time. Maybe I felt like one a bit for various reasons. But I wanted him to look more like a poor fool and a pawn of fate than a truly bad guy.

It took me three days to finish the image, so the above reflections are from when I was drawing not, not any additions from my revisit.

It's only gaming related in the sense that I think it would be a glimpse into an awesome fantasy setting (but don't all DM's think that?).

I did write a short story inspired by the city in this image, and I have been trying to revise and edit it. It has the honor of being the only full story I have begun and finished.

Perhaps some day I can share it, maybe soon. It is named "The Death of Garjunga the Magistrate."

Anyway, I enjoyed drawing it and it makes me happy.

Cannabis may have been involved.


Sunday, April 12, 2020

Forgotten Sword, Sandal and Sorcery Fantasy- CONQUEST, 1983. A Gamer's Film Review by Xerxez




CONQUEST
1983
Director: Lucio Fulci
Producer: Giovanni Di Clemente
Soundtrack: Claudio Siminetti (of Goblin)
Starring
Andrea Occhipinti
Jorge Rivero
Conrado San Martin
Sabrina Saini
Violeta Cela



If you're looking for some inspiration for a new adventure or in designing a fantasy world setting for your games, or even just a new region in your existing setting for your players to explore...or if you simply want to watch a bare-breasted, big chested swords and sorcery movie for the sheer entertainment, then Lucio Fulci's Conquest from 1983 might be worth an hour and half of your time.

When we do a film review here at the Mazes, the purpose is to both comment upon the film and to use it to infuse your games with some fresh ideas that can make for great adventures for players. Therefore, after a brief synopsis, we will discuss both the background and key concepts of the film and then suggest game elements.

So, with that in mind, let's look at Conquest!
 


 
 Conquest begins with a hero named Illius, depicted in ethereal form, standing upon a beautiful rocky shore set against the wide sea, gathered with other ethereal figures, men and women, in dress of Greek style.

 An old man, his father, watches as maidens ritually dress Illius in leather armor- the old man then reminds Illius of a hero ancestor who once rid the world of evil creatures in ages past by using a bow, a bow of power that the Sun infused with arrows of magic light in the moment the ancient hero ran out of arrows and was near defeat. With the help of the Sun, the hero triumphed.

Illius, it seems, must now enter the mortal world as a test of his bravery and strength, and to help once again rid it of evil monsters, which have returned over the course of time. He is granted the magic bow and told that if he proves himself, the same power of the bow will aid him in a similar fashion. Illius promises not to fail and then boards a reed boat to voyage to the world of men.

What Illius finds when he lands is indeed a brutal world. 

There is no civilization to speak of- only a Neolithic culture of cave dwelling humans, hunter gatherers dressed in furs, and without any  laws, unlike the Platonic paradise from which Illius has come. These people live in fear and subjection under the rule of an undying Witch Queen named Ocron, a sorceress who has convinced these superstitious people that she commands the rising and setting of the sun. For this, she demands a tribute of the flesh of young men and women, in particular, their severed heads.

Ocron is aided in her dominance by an army of both willing human warriors and her loyal elite phalanx of Beast Men-- strange, intelligent shaggy warriors with the heads of wolves and superhuman strength and dexterity.

Ocron herself goes about wearing only a golden mask, a small spiked loin plate, and a serpent which is almost always entwined about her. She seems to use some power of her own primeval sexuality as much as her sorcery and cunning to bear rule over her terrified subjects and minions.




Illius meets up with an older warrior named Mace, who rescues him from an attack by Ocron's minions, not for any concern over the life of Illius but because Mace is regaled by his impressive bow, a weapon which is unfamiliar to his world.

Illius and Mace become traveling companions and Illius quickly learns that Mace has no love of any humans (except willing and nubile young women) but shares a deep affinity with animals of any kind. This affinity is later shown to be somewhat along the lines of a telepathy or empathy with animals which results in animals coming to the warrior's aid at times. 

Mace lives as a thief (one who does not hesitate to kill to take his living) and a carefree wanderer, a life he extols even as Illius tries to tell him the virtue of a land of laws of peace.

Illius and Mace form an unlikely friendship and take to the open road, but they are in constant peril because Ocron has leaned through dreams and visions that she can be killed by a faceless warrior from a distant land and so she has sent out her army of Wolf Men to hunt down the hero and bring him to her to kill, and to devour his "Temple of Secrets"- his brain.

There are are all sorts of adventures as Ocron's servants wreak havoc in the Lost World in the course of their evil mission, hunting the pair of heroes.

Mace is persuaded to guide Illius to the border of Ocron's dwellings but argues that since she does not bother him personally,  he does not bother her, and has no wish to fight the Witch Queen. Mace tires to persuade Illius to abandon any idea of killing Ocron and ending her evil reign. At one point, Illius is tempted to turn back. 

Courage prevails, though, and Illius and Mace press onward, battling many strange monsters and even a strange demon who is clad in powerful armor and a masked helmet. However, an ultimate destiny awaits both of them, and not one foreseen by any. 

In the end, Ocron will meet with the Faceless Warrior of her dreams and have a final confrontation to determine who shall be ruler of the Lost World! The end result is a film which I can best describe as if someone made a live action prequel to  the Bakshi/Frazetta animation film Fire and Ice with unrelated characters.

Thus is the plot and central characters of Conquest. If you read further in this review, there will be spoilers- be warned!




Lucio Fulcio was born in 1927 and entered film making in the early 50's after abandoning medical school to pursue his art interests.

He worked in several genres, including documentaries and comedies, but he is best known for his "giallo"works, mostly centered around zombies, cannibalism, murder and graphically depicted scenes of gore.

He is noted by cult fans and historians of Italian cinema for films like "Don't Torture a Duckling" (1971),  "City of the Living Dead" (1980) ,  and"The House by the Cemetery" (1981)", to name only a few. He also worked with Dario Argento in the 90's on "Wax Mask" (1996). He has quite a lengthy filmography, but was apparently surprised to learn that his films had a popular following among horror fans in the U.S. I've watched a handful of his movies and I like them as late night fare, even though I'm not much of a gore hound.

In the early 80's, a pretty good time for fantasy themed films, Luci accepted the offer of directing Conquest from Italian producer Giovanni Di Clemente.

It appears that Conquest was a story concept of Di Clemente's, and no less than three writers worked on a screenplay for it.

The movie was filmed at locations in Spain, Italy and Mexico, and by all appearances they had a tight budget. It was released in 1983 in Italy (as Conquest of the Lost World), and also in Spain and Mexico. The following year it would see release in the UK and the US. 

It did not do well at theaters, but it was not universally condemned by critics. I will not quote them here, but there seemed to be a general consensus that while it was highly derivative of more popular mainstream films like Conan and Beastmaster,  and had a somewhat low production value, it has a surprising ability to maintain interest, alongside many compelling fantasy elements, a few good acting performances, and other entertainment value. 

That's pretty much where it remains. While researching the movie online, I can't say that I saw much evidence online of any great cult following for Conquest on the order of Fulci's more noted works. It did see a video cassetter release in the mid 80's by Merlin Video.
As of this writing, the movie was posted ( in very poor quality) on Youtube, but can also be viewed on streaming services; I watched it on the streaming channel Full Moon, and it was slightly more quality there than what I have seen on Youtube. 

Now we shall leave the film itself and discuss it as gamer food. Once again, there are SPOILERS AHEAD! If you have not seen it first, I recommend you do as it has a few surprises up its sleeve. You are warned!





 What does Conquest have to offer to the thirsty Dungeon Master?



How about running a region or shore, perhaps arrived at by shipwreck, where the players encounter a Neolithic culture ruled by a Witch Queen like Ocron? Iron is scarce and a rare art in possession of only the With Queen's minions. Stone and wooden axes, spears, and nets are the most common weapons.

There are a number of monstrous races to be found in Conquest. 

1. Evil wolf headed shaggy humanoids who believe implicitly in the Witch Queen's solar control but would probably serve her anyway because they are sadistic and cruel. Let's call them THE VOG! Their normal means of dispatching special sacrificial victims is for five of them to pull a person apart limb from limb and and deliver the head to Ocron so she can split their skulls with a stone dagger and eat their brains out of the back of their heads, ostensibly to gain their  thoughts and memories as well as for snack value.

2. A strange race of beings who dwell on rocky shore lines and look like hairy white apes but are wrapped up in bizarre cobwebby or membranous coverings and shelter in crevices and cracks of the rocks. They seem to do the bidding of the Witch Queen and ensnare travelers. They have a warrior caste which captures people in nets and the usual fate of a worthy victim is to be tied to an X shaped cross  and pushed into the sea from a high cliff to drown, perhaps as an offering to a sea deity. I shall name this species THE KELPAR!

3. Strange plants which are hidden among swamp rushes that fire volleys of spiny arrows. These arrows are the size of barbecue skewers and when they strike they deliver an infectious poison which causes, in short order, fever, delirium and purulent boils and sores at the entry wounds which can kill within a day or two if not treated by magical or herbal remedies. Let's call them JAVELIN STALKS. And since the Javelin Stalks are so defensive, perhaps underneath them in the marshy terrain is some sort of sack or cluster which contains something of value or an embryonic mandrake shaped being who is born of such plants to develop into a creature of the DM's devising.

4. A race of cave dwelling shaggy humanoids that are troll sized, covered in thick black fur with claws like those of bears and having great round heads with bulbous luminescent eyes. They appear of low or animal intelligence but are incredibly agile for their size and possess a leaping ability. Let us call them GROLLS!

5. Undead swamp zombies-very reminiscent for me of the Tsoggu in Tekumel. Then again, they might have been something along the lines of the Swamp Thing, but smaller in size. These creatures sleep in the fetid waters of bogs  and rise from the mists to slay and feed upon unwary travelers.   We shall call them simply BOG DEMONS.

6. The nature of Ocron is unclear from this movie and it's vague plot, but the Witch Queen is unmasked at the end right before her demise, and it is clear that she is not human. Though her body is exquisite and would make a sinner of any saint, her head, once unmasked, looks like one might envision a lich face or perhaps some kind of reptilian headed race, or creatures with faces like the monster from Black Lagoon. Her golden mask of a woman's face was evidently her way of hiding from those around her what she was, and given her taste for brains, I was reminded of an Illithid by her.  Then again, she could have once been human and the loss of her face was the price she paid for near immortality and sorcery powers. She is able to use divination and spells of summoning and conjuration so whatever she is, she is definitely a magic user or possessed of psionic abilities. If she was a non human, I would call her a MINDEATER. Not hugely original, I know.

7. Zorah! Zorah is a spirit summoned by Ocron when all else fails her to help her defeat the Faceless Warrior. Zorah appears as a man but one unseen, as he is covered in some sort of plate mail from head to foot. He is masked,  so his exact physical nature is unknown, but what Ocron offers him for his service is her body and soul, forever. Zorah can fight as a warrior but also seems to command beings beyon the Witch Queen's control. When Mace and Illius are taken by the Grolls, and they succeed in killing Illius' physical form and deliver the head to the Vog, this is accepted by Ocron as a success of Zorah. Like any good demon, though, when this gambit fails to work, and things go badly for Ocron, he abandons her by simply de materializing. Fuckin' Zorah!

These are some of the settng and monster ideas that sprang to my mind from a few watched of Conquest.

There is also very much the Eternal Warrior theme going on in this film, and I am fairly certain that the producer Di Clemente, who is credited with the overall story, was massively influenced by Joseph Campell's "Hero with a Thousand Faces".

Here is told the tale of the Hero who leaves honor and safety to battle mankind's monsters (and himself) to deliver a boon to mankind, in this case, the magic bow that can slay monsters with arrows of the Sun. The arrows are of blue laser light instead of fiery orange or yellow, but it functions otherwise on the level of Hank's Bow from the 80's Dungeons and Dragons cartoon. You pull the string back and an arrow of light magically appears. The arrow, once fired, splits into numerous smaller arrows that fan out and hit evil monsters by the droves, apparently like a magic missle spell. Perhaps a Bow Of Magic Missles would be a worthy magic item!

However, the bow only works its magic when a hero decides to risk his life for the cause of good! Illius unlocked this power when he overcame his fear and returned to rescue Mace from the Kelpar and Mace, in turn, gained it's use when he overcame his own selfishness and confronted Ocron and her minions on behalf of mankind.

Although Illius dies physically, his soul is transferred into the body of Mace, making him a Two Souled Man. Thus the cynical, aged warrior is reborn after a fashion by his union with the soul of the Deathless Hero. Perhaps Illius is a demigod- there is the implication that he will regain some new form in the Blessed Isle from which he comes, and perhaps Mace will awaken in that place upon his own death. I think some of these Campbellian ideas were seeds of the story of Conquest, even if the film never succeeded in delivering them full formed.

Perhaps there can be an Isle in the DM's setting which is somewhat like the heights of Mt. Olympus, a dwelling place for ascended souls in some sort of Greek Nirvana. Since Illius invites Mace to return there with him at one point, it is implied that it can be physically accessed by the living in some fashion. I think I am spot on in my analysis of the shore of Illius as being some kind of Elysium, since A. People are shown to be ethereal there B. He opens the eyes of his own decapitated head when Ocron goes to munch his gray matter, something a mere human cannot do, and, C. His spirit lives on to communicate both with Mace mentally and with his family back on the mysterious shore.

As for Mace, throughout the film, he demonstrates a power and friendship with animals, both land based and aquatic, that are nearly like those of Dar, in the Beastmaster, except that he does not summon animal help- the animal world just seems to show up to aide Mace when he needs it most in some sort of return for his kindness and healing which he shows to beasts. He would be something on the level of a Warrior Druid- one without the slightest priestly or spell casting powers but having the Druid's usual affinity with animals, although there is nothing Celtic about the Lost World. It is much more Stone Age than that. Shoot, add some dinosaurs and you have a great setting for fun games.

One tidbit I found in researching the film is that Jorge Rivero, who plays Mace, was born in Mexico, is a lifelong bodybuilder and held a degree in Chemical Engineering before going into acting. He is still living at the time of this article, having been born in 1938! Good going Jorge!

Sabrina Saini, who plays Ocron the Witch Queen, is a number of B movies which also showcase her spunk and her undeniable womanly charms. Several are fantasy films, but Conquest manages to rise above most of them, even if it is no masterpiece. It is highly fun, exciting and memorable.

Well, hopefully I have stirred some interest in you to see this B-Movie of higher aspirations, and given you some seeds for adventure, monster or setting ideas.  

I highly recommend it to people who like Conan, Hawk the Slayer, Krull and other movies of this ilk.

Now go forth and game!