Life and Death – Sorcerors

The presence of a villainous sorcerer is fundamental to a good  Swords and Sorcery tale.

While the setting of Life and Death, the post-magical apocalypse setting of The Shattered Lands, is very low magic in keeping with genre expectations, the bad, mad and downright dangerous to know are out in force as antagonists in the books collection of adventures.

Bilgen,  is very much your young unpleasant black magician in training. He’s very much modelled after obnoxious wanna be sorcerers I met in my real life student days. Petty smelly types who call other people “norms” or “mundanes” taking great pride in their knowledge of Magick without ever really doing much. Bilgen has a handful of spells that make him useful to the bandit chief, who also is deluded and thinks he’s a powerful Merchant Lord, and allows him to terrorise the local peasants.

Tel-Kar-Nath is the real deal.  He is a sorcerer who is fit to be the player character’s nemesis and is a worthy adversary.  He’s been a powerful court magician in a previous life whose machinations brought down reality, been imprisoned in hell for his crimes and is now back a monstrous thing with a psychotic personality.

Tel-Kar-Nath talks in a deep monotone about the joys of death. The finality of it all and the absolute power-mastery it brings. He is more than happy to demonstrate his power upon a hapless captive. However he does not attack the characters directly…

If they attack him, he uses his magic to evade and escape and his zombie followers to hold them off. He is more interested in playing the role of the enigmatic magical master than dealing with the characters, whom he believes are beneath him.

The King in Chains was once a sorcerer of immense reality blasting potential like Tel-Kar-Nath, but is now a husk of his former power. He has been brought back into being as an undead creature, by a ruthless Necromancer who uses him as a magical power source and channel for raising more Zombies. Even in this half-dead state there’s something that realises that this isn’t a good state of affairs and who knows what vengeance it will wreck if the player characters ever loosen those chains.

The Chained King by David M. Wright

The Chained King by David M. Wright

Life and Death is a collection of four adventures that make up a mini-epic tale of a struggle against the forces of Undeath in a world recovering from a magical apocalypse. It is a conversion of an existing OpenQuest adventure, for Crypts and Things and other Class/Level based Fantasy RPGs with all new art by David M.Wright (the artist who illustrated Crypts and Things in its entirety.  Its currently been worked on for a release later this month.

Previous Posts about Life and Death Zarth Edition

Life and Death Zarth Editon - cover by Jon Hodgson

Life and Death Zarth Editon – cover by Jon Hodgson

Life and Death – Zombies!

I freely admit that I have a thing for the Undead in the same way as some fantasy gamers have a big thing about orcs and other green skinned monsters.

Rather than splurge on the various Zombie RPGs that have come out since the 90s, I’ve always channeled my love of these undead through my own adventures.  My upcoming re-released Life and Death Zarth Edition, for Crypts and Things and other OSR RPGs, really is my fantasy tribute to the films of George A. Romoro.

This first Zombie is encountered in the second adventure of this four adventure collection. He is recently deceased, like the rest of the Zombies encountered in the old Sorcerer’s Tower that forms the basis of Dust of Eternity, and like a cruel joke his previous personality and some memories linger in his now dead body.  The Dust of Eternity is a low-level introductory adventure, but one I intended to show the principle of Monsters are People too even the Zombies who normally lack a personality. The inspirations came from the fact that I had recently been playing Bioshock – where in the the sunken city of Rapture its inhabitants have been turned into mockeries of their formerselves by the use of biogentics, yet still remember their former life and go around moaning and lamenting about the humanity and relationships they had lost.

Young Zombie by David M.Wright

The idea of a dead civilization that choked to death on its own evil practices thousands of years previously has always tickled my fancy. The third adventure Dead Pot Country explores this theme as the adventurers venture into dried up river valley and wander through the ruins of a once glorious civilization. A civilization that buried its dead in large pots in fields surrounding its main city…a practice that leads to minefield of danger when the undead inhabitants of said pot burials come back into the light of day.

Pot Burial Zombie by David M.Wright

I always liked the idea of Zombies as victims and embodiment of a viral plague, and this theme is played out in the final adventure, Life and Death, where the city of Miraz is in the grip of a plague whose victims are resurrected as shambling undead like the one pictured below. Miraz is in many ways is an ancient Mesopotamian city state complete with mudbrick houses and even a Ziggurat which is home to the God-Tyrant of the city.  The plague is symptomatic of the collapse of order that the city is undergoing when the adventurers arrive in the city. Not only has the Tyrant lost control of a third of his city to the plague, but his sons are at war with each other and a rebellion amoung the peasants is brewing.

Plague Zombie by David M.Wright

Life and Death Zarth Edition is currently in the final phases of production and is due out April/May this year.

From the Shroud #1 Contents

So here we go, hot on the heels of the main rule book comes this short, fun A5 zine, which is currently in layout.

This is the content’s list:

Achievements. A short system that sits alongside the experience system to reward characters for things they have done in their adventures, making them memorable events and useful benefits.

The Secret of Skull Hill. A short adventure of mystery and otherworldly delights featuring the schemes of an alien parasitic race and their attempts to reunite the body and soul of their host god.

By their Master’s Dark Command. The sad and short lives of Sorcerer’s apprentices revealed, and the useful things they become after death detailed.

Exotic Liquid Relief by Neil Shaw. Is your character bored with quaffing bog standard Blackmire’s Best whenever they need to regenerate 1d6 Hit Points? Well Neil Shaw provides details of a variety of brews to make your character’s life more varied and interesting.

Generic Life Events. This table is if you are overwhelmed by the sheer number of Life Event tables in the main rule book or simply after a OGL version you can base your own efforts off.

Useful Items of the Kindly Ones. Minor magical items left behind by the gods who used to care about Zarth.

Things to Find in Great Pots. A short random table for the harried Crypt Keeper for that inevitable moment when the players ask “so that pot you mentioned just now, what’s in it?”

Tea Party of Doom. A short encounter somewhere in the dark dismal woods with a crazy immortal Alchemist who has been playing with the psychoactive toads and their potential to provide tea.

Here’s the cover by David M. Wright

Crypts and Things goes to the Movies

Most of Crypts and Things literary, comic and gaming influences are listed in the bibliography in the book but here’s some of the films that  inspired me during the writing of the book.

Anything by Ray Harryhausen, especially Jason and The Argonauts. Don’t know about you but my skeletons are like this.

And The Golden Vogage of Sinbad for this ultimate ‘boss’ fight 🙂

Warlords of Atlantis, for all those lost cities under the ocean ruled by strange Sorcerer’s and their hybrid monsters.

Hammers’ ‘She’ for the ultimate of Sorceress ruling a lost city in the jungle vibe.

and while we are drifting off down the horror side, Clive Barker’s Hellraiser and Nightbreed provided me with lots of inspiration for the demonic Others of the game, and hey the Puzzle Box (along with Elric’s Stormbringer) is the epitome of a C&T magic item.

finally the inspiration for the ghostly netherworld of the Shroud comes from the film Nightwatch (which I saw before I read the excellent novels upon which it is based upon).

If you are wondering if there is a the connection between the leaders of Serpent Men, The Mara, and the Dr Who episodes Kinda/Snakedance this trailer for the DVD release should confirm it.

Fiendish Friday: The Dead God Ugsharak

Once upon a time in alien Other World there was a God called Ugsharak. As a deity that lived outside of time and space, he could be called upon to provide magical knowledge and power. Ugsharak was served by a race known as the Gizoni, who in return for blood sacrifice received potent black magic from the god.  When he took form in the world it was as a monstrous 30 foot tall giant skeleton whom the Gizoni called the “God Who Walks in Bone”.

Over a span of a thousand years the Gizoni home world weakened and became a desolation because of the constant need for blood for Ugsharak.  In response Ugsharak decided to leave, gathering his priesthood into his mouth and traveling to a new world to start the cycle of pain and suffering again.

Upon reaching the world of Zarth he materialised there in his physical form. However disaster awaited him. His body materialised in the earth, an element abhorrent to him, and he became trapped in rock up to his neck. His soul escaped to a place in the Shroud helped by a the Gizoni. In time the Gizoni priests, made a bridge via an ancient crystal Black Monolith not far from his body, which had now fossilised and with only the skull above the earth. Thus the legend of Skull Hill was born.

In time humans settled nearby, refugees from one of Zarth’s devastating wars. They were simple farmers and a superstitious lot. When they found the Black Monolith at the edge of their lands, they started leaving some of their crops as an offering at Harvest time. One day the Gizoni came out from behind it, as they had gated over from the Shroud to make sure the Zarth end of the portal was still intact as was their wont from time to time.  The locals prostrated themselves before these new gods and soon they were providing human sacrifices to the Gizoni at ‘Harvest Time’ who would take them to the slumbering Ugsharak in the Shroud.  Tragically though within a couple of generations the nearby human settlements were deserted due the strain put on their populations due to the annual sacrifices demanded by the Gizoni to reunite their god’s soul with its body. Not only was it tragic for the local humans, whose lands became the deserted Lonely Place, but for the Gizoni who were only a few sacrifices away from having enough stored magic reuniting their god’s soul with its body and freeing it from the hill.

To be continued in the “The Secret of Skull Hill”. An adventure in From the Shroud #1 eta December 2016.

Fiendish Friday: The Rise of the Serpent Men

From the upcoming Crypts & Things, I present the Serpentstory of the early rise and origin of Zarth’s Serpent Men.

The Rise of the Mara
The Serpent Men have their beginnings in a group of Lizard People known as the Mara. In Ancient times this small enclave of magicians was tasked with experimenting with powerful magics that dealt with the enhancement of the natural world around them, in a place far away from the main Lizard People nests for safety’s sake. Already remote and cut off they were further isolated when a magical disaster raised the waters around their nest-complex and broke the land into rough mountainous terrain. Once the survivors dusted themselves down and collectively rejected the idea that they were in any way shape or form responsible for the disaster, they found they had the ideal environment to carry on their questionable magical experiments. Without any moral restraint or condescending ethical disapproval from the rest of their race they quickly discovered Black Magic and became tainted by the use. Because they were few in number – developed Vivimancy to enhance their own genetics, taking a serpentine form and completing their separation from the Lizard People. Later they would further developed this blasphemous form of magic to twist and hybridise other creatures, leading to the creation of other servitor races. The Mara also found that the disaster, which they now saw as a blessing from the Dark Powers, had also opened many portals to hellish Other Worlds in theirbroken land. Contact with the Others, both Minor and Great, gave them access to more Black Magic.

When they started gradual expansion into the lands around their immediate sphere of influence employing the corruption of the Dark Arts this soon led them into conflict with the Lizard People.

Fiendish Friday: Dangerous Cities

Recently I wrote the City Adventure chapter of Crypts and Things Remastered, which centres on the Demonic Pirate city of Port Blackmire. I wrote it pretty much in a couple of intense sittings, and after completing it I reflected on where it had come from.

From the introduction to the chapter:

Magnificently vast ancient crumbling cities are such a staple of the Swords and Sorcery Genre that they become characters in their own right. They are the back drop to many a caper, such as magical heists, murder stories, clashes with dark robed cultists who have set up murderous shop just down the road from the character’s local tavern. With this in mind I present Port Blackmire, a city straight out of the British Grimdark tradition of the 1980s, of dangerous city states where all residences within the city walls are trapped to keep out not only the thieves but the dark things that prowl the streets, either openly or in human disguise, and the city’s ruler is the most evil thing in the city. A place where even the good pay tribute to the city’s vile old temples to keep misfortune from their door.

This is the playground for the characters, whether they are blowing their misbegotten gains in the taverns on grog or on some high stakes game of chance or earning some extra coin by locating missing persons or burgling some fool with more money than sense. Sometimes it’s the place where adventure comes straight at them, dragging them out of their comfy beds when they most need to rest up and heal from their last venture.
Welcome to Port Blackmire.

Much of the inspiration came from the Fighting Fantasy books of the 80s and their spritual descendants, the pages of White Dwarf Magazine and Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay First Edition.

Port Blacksand (City of Thieves) – was a principle inspiration, heck the name is a clue here 😉 Black Sand is the star of the Fighting Fantasy book City of Thieves, a character in its own right, a dangerous port controlled by a mysterious Pirate Captain Lord Azzur. The place is filled with traps and monsters, and is an active risk to the heros life.

Khare (Sorcery book 2:Cityport of Traps) – My memories of Khare are slightly less well defined, but it carried on the theme of the Dangerous City as a character in its own right. Here the traps of the title are set by the Lawful members of the city to stop their Chaotic neighbours from helping thierselves to their treasures.

Irilian (White Dwarf 42-47, Best of White Dwarf Scenarios III). This high medieval city state in decline is the star of a 3 issue mega scenario from the early days of White Dwarf. So much detail was crammed into it that they used a slightly smaller font to keep to the alloted page count. The city, orginally rich from the jem trade, is well past its best. Yet it has all the Guilds, Temples and monestries from its hayday. It’s state of social torpor makes it the target of attack from ancient evil, that is more an impersonal force in the tradition of Susan Cooper’s Dark is Rising Trilogy. In fact its the city and its institutions, possesed by this force, that is the opponent in the scenario.

Middenheim (Warhammer 1st Ed, City of Chaos). On the surface of it Middenheim is a massively bigger rerun of Irilian set in the Warhammer Fantasy Old World. Its a high medieval city undersiege by the forces of Chaos and the players must interact with the city’s instituions and power players to win the day. What makes Middenheim interesting is that it focuses on Politics as well as the nitty gritty of the city encounters.  That and the scale of the city, which magificiently sits atop a mountain with a flat top rising up from the forest floor.

Fiendish Friday: Come Visit Bloodstead and Die!

An excerpt from the upcoming Crypts and Things Remastered ( latest update on progress on kickstarter), which is part of the Crypt Keeper’s Secrets of the Contient of Terror chapter.

Blood Stead

The power base of the Sorceress Rula and her berserker followers. At first a  typical Wolf barbarian city , with long houses, drying fish nets, until you notice all the dead bodies hanging from masts, skulls and heads on stakes,  and red banners hanging above every building entrance.  Rula claims to be the Wolf Mother come to Zarth in a bloody form,”the Red Wolf Mother”, seeking to purge the unclean and destroy Khaos once and for all, but in reality in secret she and her followers are devotees of the Blood Throne.

Adventures

Sneak into the city and out again to rescue people taken as slaves in a recent Blood Berserker raid.

Two seasons ago a local Chief from Longren was killed by Blood Berserkers and his head taken by them. The characters are hired to regain the dead chief’s head ball, which is now being used as a drinking cup by the war leader of the Berserkers.

Find out what is really going on In the Temple of the Red Wolf Mother, so the priestesses of the Wolf Mother temple in Longren and Bulwulf can stop arguing amongst themselves and unite against Rula and her followers.

Notable events

Roll d20

1-8 One of the Berserkers, backed up with 2d6 of their mates, comes up to the characters and starts a fight.

9-14 A bone seller comes up to the characters and tries to sell them a dead body (“Its dead good its got a complete set of teeth, you can use it for offerings or hang it over your hall to drive off evil spirits”)

15-18 A Blood Priest asks the characters to causally go and murder someone (50% of being an errant Berserker who has threatened the Priest) saying that it will bring them great glory with Rula the Red Wolf Mother.

19-20 Rula appears in public to whip the population into a blood-letting frenzy, in advance of some great raid against the city’s enemies or a magical ceremony to summon a Greater Other.

Fiendish Friday: Queen of the Serpents

From the upcoming Crypts & Things Remastered, one of the Nemesis’ of the dying world of Zarth, from the Scourges of a Dying World chapter. Note this is an unproofed work in progress which may change before publication.

Siligra Queen of the Serpent People

While the Serpent Lords sleep, their concubine and Queen Siligra controls one of the remnants of Serpent society from the lost City of Tilcoa deep within the Jagmani Jungles. There she prepares for the day when the Serpent Lords awaken to retake what is theirs.

This ruined city full of columns and white stoned buildings, was once the capital of a human civilisation in ancient times, before a disguised Siligra and her followers arrived. Using all her charm and seductive abilities she quickly sowed descent amongst the various factions within the city, which led to a bloody civil war. After the dust settled she took control of the weakened survivors, who descendants over the years became a tribe of degenerate primitives who worship the Siligra as their blond and white skinned Goddess, knowing her only as “She who Should be Obeyed!”.

Siligra Queen of the Serpent People

Armour Class:0 Hit Dice:10 Hit Points:50 Attacks: Bite 1d8+Venom, 2 Claws 1d6, Tail 1d10 Special Rules:  Venomous bite (Test vs Luck or take 2d20 damage), Assume Human Form + Spells CR15 / XP 2900.

Silgra can cast the following spells once a day:

1st Level: Charm Person, Magic Missile, Hide Magic, Hex, Oppression,

2nd Level: Invisibility, Snake Charm, Web.

3rd Level: Dispel Magic, Fireball, Lightning Bolt, Suggestion.

4th Level: Cauldron of Blood, Charm Monster, Fear, Sticks to Snakes.

5th Level: Commune with Greater Others.

Modus Operandi:

Both Silgra and her Serpent Men followers appear as humans of a fair and noble countenance who rule the savage tribesmen that shelter in the shattered city.  They will initially seem friendly and sympathetic lulling the characters into a false sense of security. Then they will either be imprisoned by force, or be fall foul of Siligra’s charm Person spells.Only powerful magic can strip away Silgra’s Human form and reveal her true Serpent Nature.

Outside of the city Silgra maintains a network of agents both human and serpentine, who gather information and seek to control the human cities.

Servants:

  • Personal body guard of 10 Serpent Warriors who are never more than fifty foot away from her.
  • A cadre of 5 Serpent Priests.
  • At least 5 Serpent Scouts (the feared Black Assassins who strike down those who disobey).
  • A group of human cultists who worship the Serpent Queen, no less than 30 strong.
  • A tribe of primitives, degenerate descendants of the original inhabitants of Ticoa.

To top it off here’s preiview of David M.Wright’s Serpent Folk picture that will appear in the new rule book.

serpent-man-preview-dmwright

Fiendish Friday: New stretch goals for C&T Remastered

We are currently 65% towards the Stretch Goal of More Fiends on the Crypts and Things Remastered Kickstarter.

As promised here are some of the stretch goals if the Kickstarter continues to go up and up 🙂

NEW! Stretch Goal 2: The Haunted Lands (£5000)
Visit the mysterious village of Wimble on the edge of the Haunted Lands, then explore this small section of Weirdlands, inhabited by scheming witches, undead horrors and other sinister fiends best left alone. What is the secret of Windy Mildark’s Windmill? What happens if you touch the Black Stone Monolith that stands on the edge of Wimble? Are those White Pyramids I can see in the distance and who was Ef and why does he get a statue? All this awaits you in this example Weirdlands crawl.

If we reach this stretch goal I will write up this short Weirdlands adventure to show how you can run adventures beyond the crypt.

NEW! Stretch Goal 3: Port Blackmire (£5500)
“This is an ancient and vile city, ruled by the Pirate King Xanos. Corruption is rife, murder is common, and only Xanos’ blood chilling pacts with Demons keep the numerous gangs under his total control. It is surrounded by “The Black Mire”. This vast and festering swamp is choked with the ruins of a civilisation that predates even that of Myrindor. It is said the gods choked it with its own bile for some slight against them. It is home to pirates and gangs of cutthroats, who use the swamps to mount raids against the rest of the Free Territories.”

Every Swords and Sorcery setting needs a city, where adventurers can rest easy and squander their ill begotten gains between adventures, or perhaps get  dragged into unexpected capers in their home town. If we reach this goal, I will detail and map a living city that can be used for city based adventures and as somewhere for the adventurers to call home.