Sunday, May 17, 2020

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


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?


  1. Interesting! You might actually want to go with MAR Barkers Empire of the Petal Throne rules, as they seem almost already tailored to what you are doing here. If nothing else it would be a good source for magic items - you would just have to change a few names and such. Anyway, this sounds like a really cool setting idea.

    The Avatar and Mutant situation is curious. It is almost as if the humans who come to Neverwhere eventually turn in to mutants or maybe their children become mutants. Why else would they be called "Mutant"?

    Looking forward to seeing more.

    1. Thanks sir! I love EPT, and I did think about it. Truthfully I don't know much about Neverwhere and I ad libbed a bit. I don't recall the name of the King who imprisoned Katherine but I kind of came up with something like the Avatar theory as a means of explaining his bizarre nature. I can't really tell if Neverwhere is an alternate dimension, a post apocalyptic world or another planet, and from what I've read I don't think it's ever explained. Have a good weekend!

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  6. On reading your blog post, I found myself doing an on the fly adaptation of Neverwhere to the Weird Tales races and classes of Fantastic Heroes and Witchery.

    Seems to be a perfect fit right down to the Earthling race and the Psychic class, if you want to lean into those mechanics.