Sunday, November 15, 2015

[Perilous Lands] Interview with playtester Winchell Chung

Delving deep into the origins of Powers & Perils and the Perilous Lands has one great difficulty – the designer, Richard Snider, passed away in 2009, leaving the “one true source” of information forever out of touch. Fortunately, however, (most) games are not designed in a vacuum, especially games published by major publishers, such as the Avalon Hill Game Company. And thus, as with most such games, Powers & Perils and Perilous Lands have a list of playtesters…

Of the multitude of playtesters listed, one name leapt out – that of Winchell Chung, as both a playtester and artist for the entire series of four products. For the uninitiated, Winchell is best known as “The Ogre Guy,” as in, the guy who designed the iconic style of the Ogre – the gargantuan cybernetic tank used in Steve Jackson’s microgame, Ogre. And Winchell is still active in the gaming community.

Fortunately, Winchell was very kind to answer my many questions concerning his work on Powers & Perils and Perilous Lands in a series of e-mails back and forth…

“I got started in gaming around 1975, when I saw an ad in ANALOG science fiction magazine for a game called Stellar Conquest by Metagaming Concepts,” Winchell wrote. “From there I went on to play GDW’s Triplanetary and SPI’s Star Force Alpha Centauri. From Lou Zocchi’s catalog I got my first role-playing game – TSR’s Empire of the Petal Throne.

When I was a little boy I had a copy of Avalon Hill’s Tactics II, but that doesn’t count since I only played it about twice…”

It was a small, small world among gamers even back then, in what is often known as the “Garage Industry” era. And while gamers didn’t have Internet forums, they often communicated with publishers through other means, such as through magazine letters or direct letters via snail mail – though in Winchell’s case, the communication that brought him his first publishing opportunity was quite accidental…

“While I was still in high school, I subscribed to Metagaming’s magazine The Space Gamer. Just for fun, I doodled some spaceships on my subscription letter. Metagaming was so hard-up for art that they published the doodles in the next issue and asked for more. Later I was offered commissions for artwork in their microgames, including Ogre.”

After earning his eternal 15-minutes of fame by designing the iconic form of the Ogre, Winchell went on to work in the real world, in computing, but still had the bug to work in the games industry. That’s when he noticed that the Avalon Hill Game Company was local…

“I rented a TRS-80 microcomputer for a week, and wrote a computer game for it. The game was a glorified BASIC Star Trek, with ASCII asterisk for stars and letters for starships. I had an innovative way to allocate energy between movement, offense, and defense.

The game impressed Avalon Hill enough that I got hired for their Microcomputer Game department, programming Atari 800 computers.”

While Winchell’s main interests were in computer games and wargames, he also played role-playing games. Thus, when word passed around Avalon Hill that they were looking for playtesters for a new role-playing game, Winchell signed up. It turned out that, among the several RPGs that were in the works at Avalon Hill at the time (the others including RuneQuest III, Tom Moldvay’s Lords of Creation, and James Bond 007 through Avalon Hill’s imprint, Victory Games), the game Winchell went on to playtest was Powers & Perils in the Perilous Lands, with the designer himself, Richard Snider, as game master.

“Of all my memories of the playtest, the worst was trying to read all the rulebooks in a single afternoon, cramming for the first playtest session. Since this was playtesting, we were expected to learn the game by reading the rulebooks, not by being coached by the game master, Richard Snider. He would answer questions, though. He had an encyclopedic knowledge of gaming in general and RPGs in particular.

“He never spoke about how he plotted the campaign, as game master he was giving a performance, and like a stage magician he never revealed how he did a trick. He only had a few notes, but he performed as if he had reams of prepared notes. I think he had lots of notes, but they were *memorized*. He knew how it all went together and all the details, all at his fingertips inside his brain.

“Richard Snider had a keen mind, and used it to totally control the game.

“He was somewhat precise – one of the things I kept tripping over in the game was ‘experience’ and ‘expertise’. They were distinct metrics, but in my mind they seemed to overlap quite a bit.

“As a game master, he was quite good at delivering the lines of various non-player characters in various voices and with various mannerisms. As the evil demigod Slidranth, he delivered his lines with a cold haughty demeanor. As the guard dog being spoken to via a ‘communicate with animals’ spell, he delivered in a dorky, simpleminded, scatterbrained manner.”

Slidranth makes his offer (Perilous Lands Site Book p. 20) by Winchell Chung

Of course, the main focus of a playtest group is always on the rules, and how they work in play, rather than theory. While there were a lot of rules in Powers & Perils, the playtest group worked hard to break them…

“The general reaction of the play-test group was that we really liked the system. It certainly had plenty of detail. The game system ran fairly smoothly once we got the hang of it. There was a lot of flipping through the rulebooks, however.

“The only thing that I was worried about was it seemed just a little too crunchy, keeping track of a little too much detail, given the small effect it had on one’s character. It was nowhere near as bad as Advanced Squad Leader, but it did have tendencies in that direction. Generating a character was a quite involved process.

“It was also odd the way the various skills had different scales, some were 1-10 while others were 1-100.

“As playtesters we were required to give our input at the end of each game session. As far as I can tell the game ended up pretty much the way Richard Snider first designed it. All I know for sure is that none of my suggestions were worthy of being acted upon.”

One of the most interesting developments out of the playtest was how the actions of certain characters in the playtest had an effect on the development of the published version of Perilous Lands, the campaign setting developed for Power & Perils.

“One of the other playtesters, David Kuijt, had their character father a child who turned out to be the current incarnation of the dreaded demigod Slidranth aka the ‘Highwayman on the Road to Death.’ If any of the characters died, as their soul moved on to the afterlife, Slidranth would appear as a giant pair of eyes. Slidranth would say ‘here’s the deal: you pledge me your fealty and I’ll bring you back to life.’

David’s character refused to be intimidated by anything, and was fond of treating Slidranth as his wayward boy, instead of a powerful demigod who could squish him like a bug. ‘Hey, Sliddy? How’s it going?’ he would ask…

The concept behind Slidranth I found impressive, a cut above standard Dungeons & Dragons boss monsters…”

David Kujit’s character was, as it turns out, none other than Vlad Stonehand, an iconic character from the Powers & Perils rules set, a major figure in current events in the Perilous Lands, and a featured character in Snider’s article, “Weapons Masters of the Perilous Lands,” (Heroes Vol. 1 No. 3). Therein he is described as being the world’s grand master in the use of the bastard sword.

“We did a campaign-style series of adventures during the playtest. My character was always in hot water, due to my insistence on playing a magic-user character while we adventured in a land where magic-users were considered to be demons who should be immediately burnt at the stake.

“Al ‘Albrecht’ Hess played a character who could speak to animals. Our group was on a mission to swipe a specific item from a mansion guarded by watchdogs. Albrecht told us he had a plan.

“Albrecht walks up to the dogs, carrying a load of meat. As the dogs prepare to start barking he says (in dog language) ‘Hey guys! How goes it? Gee I have a problem. I’ve got this load of meat that nobody wants. Do you know of any lucky dogs around here who could use a meat dinner?’

“Dogs start to frantically yip ‘ME! ME!’

“Albrecht tells them to pipe down, and gives them the meat. He goes into the mansion and swipes the item. Unfortunately, these are dishonest dogs, they do not STAY bought.

“Dogs look up ‘Good meat! Chomp chomp! Hey, what are you doing? Are You Stealing Something?!?? THIEF! THIEF!!’

“Our characters barely made it out of there with their lives…

“I remember another time when Albrecht (whose character was Chaotic) tried using his speak-to-animals spell to talk to some kind of flying snake (I forget, maybe a fire snake). Unfortunately the animal was Lawful, so all it would say was ‘Oooh, you bad! You bad-bad!’

“Later we were trying to convince some villagers (who were Lawful) to help us. Albrecht started to look nervously around. We asked him why, and he said ‘The last thing we need now is that blasted snake landing on my shoulder and telling all the villagers 'He's Bad! Bad-bad-bad-Bad!’”

The playtest group was, to all appearances, a typical role-playing game group – part serious, part not-so-serious…

“I don't think Richard minded, because he was focused on playtesting the game system. He was there to wring out the bugs; our wacky style was superfluous. He could make the world as serious as he wanted, since he was writing the world book all by himself.

“We were not ‘Monty Python’ wacky; we did strive to stay in character. It’s just that we could not resist doing any (in-character) humor.

“When David Kuijt called Slidranth ‘Sliddy,’ he didn't call Slidranth something out of character like, ‘you bargain-basement Sauron.’ He was trying to play Vlad Stonehand in character, but showing Slidranth that he was not afraid.

“When Vlad said that, Richard (playing the Slidranth NPC) played along. He gave Vlad an uplifted eyebrow, and tsk-tsked Vlad as if thinking, ‘Ah, my silly overly brave father, it is going to be a pity when I have to eat his soul...’”

Richard Snider was one of the earliest players in Dave Arneson’s Blackmoor Campaign; he went on to work with Arneson on Judges Guild’s First Fantasy Campaign supplement that detailed the original Blackmoor Campaign, and later worked with Arneson on the Adventures in Fantasy RPG, published originally by Excalibre and later by Arneson’s own publishing company, Adventure Games.

From Richard Snider’s experience in Arneson’s Blackmoor Campaign, I’d always assumed that the extensive level of detail he provided of the Perilous Lands, notably the various military forces, naval forces, income, and so forth, was designed to enable the classic “end game” of early fantasy campaigns. This “end game” being, of course, the goal of characters, once they rise to a certain level of ability, to forge their own kingdoms or take over existing kingdoms and build their own empires. Unfortunately, Winchell does not recall any mention of such an “end game” being part of Snider’s goals for the Perilous Lands

“I do not remember him saying anything about characters becoming rulers of the kingdoms. But he did want to ensure that the various nations and tribes were actually different from each other, instead of being Generic Nation #1, Generic Nation #2 and so on. He wanted to produce an impressive useful product for game masters, not some flimsy useless item just to pad out the product line.”

Nor, unfortunately, is there any known record, written or verbal, of Snider’s literary inspirations for Perilous Lands

“He never mentioned any of that when I was around,” Winchell wrote. “He did not want his work to appear to be derivative of anything; it was all to be original from him.”

Winchell says his fondest memory of working on Powers & Perils, Perilous Lands, the Book of Tables supplement, and the Tower of the Dead adventure module, was working on the art for the rulebooks.

“For me, working on the art, it was mostly the same-old same-old. You were given a written description of the required illustration, general dimensions, and a deadline. And there were a lot of pieces… the Barbarian Warriors and Civilized Peoples pieces at the end of the Culture Book in Perilous Lands? I drew every single one of them. Took me forever….

“Most of the reviewers really liked James Talbot’s illustrations, but hated the work from all the other artists (including me). There was a stink when somebody noticed that one of the other artists was plagiarizing from Frank Frazetta’s work for the Powers & Perils illustrations. She got fired for that…

“The cover of the Perilous Lands boxed set was originally a bit spicier. The woman was topless – totally topless. But cooler heads prevailed. The Powers That Be hesitated a minute, then said, ‘Uh-uh,’ and sent it back to have a bikini top painted on…”

Today, Winchell mostly plays boardgames, wargames, and computer games. He manages his website, the WeirdWorld of Winchell Chung, wherein can be found links to his various interests, including the 3-D Star Charts and Atomic Rocket sub-sites that are dedicated to assisting science-fiction gamers, writers, and other aficionados in maintaining scientific realism in their games and stories.

Of the other playtesters, almost nothing is known. If anyone has a lead on any of these playtesters, please let me know; I’d love to get more information on the Powers & Perils and Perilous Lands playtests!

David “Vlad Stonehand” Kuijt*%&
Al “Albrecht” Hess*&
John Huff*&
Charles Kibler
Ron Hall*
Winchell Chung*&
Dan Coggins*&
Martha Larkins
Larry McCauley
Jeff Sussman
Rorik Rorikson
Tom Murphy
Jeff Suzman**
Al Roireau**
Bill Peschel**%
“…and a multitude of others”

* Playtested both Powers & Perils and Perilous Lands
** Playtested only Perilous Lands
% Edited Perilous Lands
& Playtested Tower of the Dead

I also would like to do a full feature article on the art of Powers & Perils and Perilous Lands. Here is a list of artists from the products:

Powers & Perils
Jim Talbot (Box Cover and Booklet Covers)
Stephanie Czech
Paul Dame
Winchell Chung
Bob Haynes
Charles Kibler
Ed “ECM” Morris

Perilous Lands
Jim Talbot (Box Cover)
Winchell Chung
Michael Creager
Bob Haynes (Color Maps)
Unknown (Interior Maps)

Tower of the Dead
Richard Barber (Box Cover)
Mike Creager
Winchell Chung
Bob Haynes

Book of Tables
Roger Norton
Winchell Chung
Michael Creager
Jim Talbot

This piece by Winchell Chung (Book of Tables p. 17) depicts game designer Richard Snider climbing a tower...

[Perilous Lands] Humans of the Northeastern Sea of Tears Region

There are three main civilized human cultural groups in the region spread out among several states: La’Cedi, Thalibans, and Donarans. There are four minor groups: Basati, Caldans, Climans, and Shazir. The barbarian groups (Fierazi, Kazi, and Zen’da) are dealt with in the description of their regions (to follow later). Note that all civilized peoples have access to plate mail, though of course, wear only as much armor as they can afford.

LA’CEDI subcultures include the Ced (includes Nerid), the peoples of the Confederacy (Aratad, Eured, Rhozad), the E’lici, and the Salaqi (includes Chirosi, Salaqi of Shiben, and Ticasi); they are descended from a patchwork mix of sea-faring colonists of a variety of southern and eastern peoples from the shores of the Sea of Tears who colonized the region (from the Wild Forest to the River Zara), who subsequently mixed with the native Basati (and to a much, much lesser extent, the Elves of Elysium). They later mixed with the Thalibans during the two centuries of Thaliban rule (ca. 1700 to 1500 years ago). It was the attempt of the then recently-converted Thalibans of the Thaliban Empire 1500 centuries ago to force the conversion of the ancestors of the La’Cedi to Law that caused Ced a’Caran to lead his revolt and found the Empire of Ced. The Ced tend to be harsh, boorish, and arrogant; conversely, they are also honorable, honest, and truthful, though personal survival is more important than honor for all but the elite. The Nerid, on the other hand, are a nation of pirates and thieves; being pragmatic, tenacious, and yet malleable when the price is right, they are also suave, calculating, and unpredictable. La’Cedi of the Confederacy are hard, uncompromising, and militant; they are slow to befriend, quick to hate, live for vengeance, and have raised the practice of vendetta to an art. E’lici are strange, known for their patience and tolerance, stoic and yet kind; they are dedicated to freedom, moral conduct, religious devotion, and love of family. Salaqi, natively being obstinate, stubborn, traditional, and proud, after centuries of being horribly and viciously oppressed by the Donarans (to an extent that even in this cruel world, most other peoples feel the Donarans are perverse in their treatment of the Salaqi), have become conniving, treacherous, and cruel to outsiders who they cannot trust; with family and friends, they are dependable, honest, and courageous. The various La’Cedi peoples speak dialects of the La’Cedi tongue. Their culture is essentially Gallo-Roman; the people of E’lici and Salaqi more Gallic, the people of Ced, Nerid, and the Confederacy more Roman.
Religion: The disparate peoples of the region originally worshiped a mix of the Elder Gods, especially the Children of Danaan, the Elemental Gods, the Court of Dionysius, and the Court of Hecate; most La’Cedi people continue to revere the gods of their ancestors, respect the Sidh and the Dwarves (especially E’lici and Salaqi), and loathe Kotothi forces. In the case of the E’lici and Salaqi, this is in the face of strong resentment and oppression by the Lawful-aligned Donarans. The Chirosi are devout followers of the Court of Dionysius; the Ced nobility prefer Nuada, Morrigan, Finvarra, and Donel (the Elder Gods of War), while other classes revere Elder Gods more in line with their labors; the E’lici have a particular reverence of Domiel, Girra, and Dionysius; the Nerid are even more diverse than the Ced; the Salaqi revere Manannan, Morrigan, and Epona; and the Ticasi are the odd-men out, with a reverence for Law, though all “goodly” religions are welcome.
Appearance: La’Cedi of Ced, Nerid, and the Confederacy have dark hair, brown eyes, and olive complexions; they average 5’7” tall with light build, and tend to be dexterous and agile. Many of the hill-folk of the Confederacy have a strong Basati streak, though it manifests only in height, build, and temperament. E’lici and Salaqi are a bit taller and heavier built, and lighter-skinned, eyed, and haired (redheads and even blondes not being unknown), due to intermixing with the Basati and Elves in the early days of the settlement of the region.
Favored Weapons: Ced favor javelins, pikes and short swords; men of the Confederacy prefer slings, spears, and long swords; E’lici and Salaqi prefer daggers, spears, and long swords.

THALIBAN subcultures include the Marentians, Portans, the barbaric Thabans, Thalibans, and Zarunese. The original Thalibans were descended from local autochthonous tribes, cousins of the Bhamoti and Rizeeli to the south, who, over long centuries and millennia, were conquered by and assimilated waves of Zen’da invaders. They were merged into the modern Thaliban type in the pre-Imperial consolidation era of Thaliba, though with regular influx of Zen’da blood pre and post-empire through invasion and trade. Marentians are aggressive, quick to anger, tenacious and violent when angered, and loyal to those who earn their loyalty; they also can be hospitable, compassionate, and generous. Portans are amorally pragmatic, cold and calculating; they are malleable as the situation requires, capable of being loquaciously toadying or stone-cold killers, as needful. Thaban tribesmen are paranoid, defensive, and hostile; suspicious of all strangers, especially civilized peoples. Among their own, Thabans are kind, generous, and trusting; stranger are hunted down and killed, mercifully and quickly if they have not offended, slowly and painfully if they have cause grief. Thaliban toll-takers (the only Thalibans outsiders ever meet) are universally haughty, arrogant, condescending, and greedy; they tend to be cowardly, but if Thaliban blood is spilt, they are implacable in hunting down the murderous sub-human scum. Zarunese are freedom-loving libertarians; they hate government and oppression, being strong believers in individual freedom; however, they also work together very well when threatened, placing their trust in an elected Dictator during times of war. They are isolationist, but friendly; miserly, but help those in need; kind and peaceful, but merciless when their freedom is threatened. Thalibans speak various local dialects of the Thaliban tongue. Their culture is essentially Greco-Roman; the Thabans essentially being barbarized Romans, Goth-style.
Religion: The Thalibans were converted to the way of Law more than 1500 years ago by missionaries from the Empire del’Nord; they primarily revere the Court of the Converted, including Ashur, Inanna, and Vahagn. The Thalibans dissolved their empire almost 700 years ago, when the Imperial Court converted to the worship of a southern mystery cult (a branch of Bhamotism dedicated to Sabbathiel of the Court of Metatron). The Thabans have a shamanic-style faith dedicated to Law (primarily dedicated to Vahagn), while the Zarunese and Portans are wary of religion but tolerant of those who cleave to religion… as long as they keep it to themselves.
Appearance: Thalibans and Thabans tend to be tall, men averaging 5’8” with a light build, dark hair, gray eyes, fair skin, high cheekbones, and aquiline noses. Zarunese are shorter and darker-skinned and have strong La’Cedi bloodlines (especially in the west), while Marentians are taller and leaner, with strong and recent Zen’da infusion. Portans are mutts, mixing all the various races found on the Sea of Tears and beyond.
Favored Weapons: Marentians and Zarunese prefer spears, broad swords, and long swords; Marentians have a strong chivalrous tradition, their knights favoring lances, maces, and scimitars. Portans use clubs, daggers, and short swords. Thalibans wield crossbows, polearms, and long swords. The barbaric Thabans wield long bows, spears, and long swords, and wear soft leather armor and wooden bucklers (eschewing heavier armor as too “civilized” and thus taboo).

DONARANS are a mix of Zen’da and La’Cedi (especially E’lici and Salaqi) with a dash of Thaliban. They originated as a cult among the Bra’mani founded by Xalan Horse-Brother. The cult revered and followed Don, the “Son of the Moon,” who arrived in Bra’mani lands riding the tail of a comet 315 years ago (785 SA). The pan-tribal cult grew in power and was forced out of the Western Steppes and into the Nameless Forest in 810 as the “Don Host;” they slowly made their way through Zarun, the Empire of Ced, and Salaq, ending up in E’lici. After 35 years as brigands and mercenaries in broken bands in E’lici, the Host reformed, and conquered E’lici. They went on to conquer Salaq, unite with Xian, annex Ticasi, Chiros, and Shiben, and today threaten Caldo, the Confederacy, and the Empire of Ced. Donarans, though honorable and moral (within the strictures of the Temples of Law), are a cruel and violent people; three centuries has not soothed the savage streak of barbarism in their souls or their culture. Wealth and power are the central goals of most Donaran lives; tempered by the teachings of Law, they try to gain wealth and power through legal and moral means. Many fail at this, however, especially the elite and noble classes, who are known for cruelty, sadism, and deceit. Common Donarans are readily bribable, as long as the actions for which they are being bribed are not heretical or harmful to friends or family (though even these limits have their price). Donarans speak Donaran, a dialect of Zen’dali and closely related to Thaliban. Donarans are essentially Normans, especially as portrayed in the Robin Hood tales (with the Salaqi taking the part of the oppressed Saxons).
Religion: Early in the days of the cult, following the lead of Don and Xalan (both under the influence of Marentian missionaries) they adopted the ways of Law, particularly the Court of the Converted (Ashur, Enki, Inanna, and etc.). They loathe Chaos (especially the gods of Clima), detest the Kotothi, and fear and hate the Sidh. That the Salaqi were allied with the Sidh and Clima, and fielded powers and creatures of Sidh and Chaotic sort against them during the conquest is a major factor in the vicious hatred the Donarans hold for that people.
Appearance: Relatively pure Donarans (of strongest Zen’da blood) are even taller than Thalibans at 5’9” average, with muscular builds (rather than the lean build of their ancestors); they are dark-haired, with blue or hazel eyes, and fair or pale-skinned (with tendency to tan deeply with freckles). Most “Donarans” are actually of Zarunese or La’Cedi blood (especially E’lici and Salaqi), due to centuries of wife-stealing from the lands the Don Host passed through and settled in, and the modern continuance of that through the keeping of slave concubines.
Favored Weapons: Donarans prefer short bows, maces, and long swords; they have a strong chivalrous tradition, their knights favoring lances, maces, and bastard swords.

BASATI are descended from an early people who lived in the west, in the Kolar Peninsula, long ere the arrival of the Kolari. They settled the lands between the Sea of Tears and the Elder Mountains when the Sidh and Kotothi were alone in these lands, and humans were all but unknown. The Sidh saved their ancestors from extermination by the Firbolg and allowed them to settle in these lands. While the ancestors of the La’Cedi conquered the lowlands, the Basati continued to hold the highlands, or eventually regained their independence, notably in Iravoy and Xian, where the Basati still rule. Basati blood flows in the veins of the La’Cedi, especially among the E’lici and Salaqi and among the hill-folk of the Confederacy. Basati are a clannish people; they have a great love for their families, extended families, and clans, and with these and their trusted friends they are kind and understanding; they are distrustful and suspicious of outsiders. The eastern Basati (the Irava and related clans) are quick to anger, easy to provoke, enigmatic, and noted for fierce tempers; their western cousins of Xian are much more patient, and slow to anger, but like the Irava, are deadly, fierce, and virtually berserk in battle when finally angered. Basati are proud, love to take risks and gamble, and have a deep love for life and their land; the quickest way to anger a Basati other than to threaten his family is to threaten his land. Basati culture is essentially an extension of the Kolari-Goidan-Fomorian-Shandar-type, i.e. Celt-Iberian-Basque-Berber.
Religion: The Basati all revere Sarameya (God of Balance, Protector of Heroes, Patron of Shepherds, Lord of Fraud and Theft, etc.) and the Elder God Dionysius and his court (Bacchus, Ceres, Bes, and Pan); in Xian, where Dwarves are not uncommon, Gaea, Goibniu, and Dvalinn are also much revered. The Children of Danaan are respected, but not worshipped, in honor of the ancient alliance with the Fey and the Elves. The Basati loathe Kototh and all his creations.
Appearance: Basati are 5’8” tall on the average with a robust build; the women tend to be buxom with wide hips and an hourglass figure, while men tend toward heavy-boned barrel-shaped stockiness. They have pale to fair skin, red hair, and green eyes.
Favored Weapons: Basati prefer axes, short bows, and spears; they eschew plate armor, it being heavy for their hilly lands and difficult to climb in, preferring soft leather or chain or scale mail shirts, a pot helm, and a light shield.
Image: Basati woman being kidnapped by a troll of the Elder Mountains.

CALDANS are descended primarily from the two Kazi clans who initially settled the Caldan plateau; they have since mixed with other Kazi and Basati, and to a lesser extent with La’Cedi, Fierazi, Dirllar, and Djani (mostly marriages of alliance for trading purposes). They speak Caldan, a dialect of the Kazi tongue, though much evolved and with many Basati loan-words. Caldans are loyal to their families, their clans, and their nation; some might say to an obsessive level. As long as these are not threatened, Caldans are kind, friendly, and even generous. They engage in all manner of physical sports, gambling, and troll-baiting. Caldans are essentially land-based Dutch traders, with a Scots-Highlander attitude.
Religion: Caldans worship their ancestors; out of respect for (and hope for) their dead, they respect the Gods of the Dead, notably Morrigan.
Appearance: Caldans usually stand 5’7” and have a medium to lean build. Most are blondes or redheads, with naturally pale but usually tan skin and light blue or green eyes. Due to intermixing, other physical types are not unknown. Physical differences mean little to Caldans; if blood is blood, even if only a drop runs in common through each other’s veins.
Favored Weapons: Caldans prefer to wield javelins, pikes, and short swords; those who travel the roads on horseback often wield Kazi weapons, including dagger, composite bow, and long sword. On foot they wear the heaviest armor they can afford; on horseback they prefer to ride Kazi style, wearing leather or scale mail with bucklers and leather helmets.

CLIMANS are descended from the same drift of peoples from the southlands that led to the formation of the La’Cedi; however, most of the later settlers were of distinctly Rogizini type, and so modern Climans are much like the Rogizini of the south. Prior to the rise of the Dark Temples, Climans were a free-dealing and open culture dedicated to piracy and trade. Today their culture is dedicated to the Dark Temples, the Immortal Ghova and the Priestesses, and their idea of an Empire of the Sea of Tears. Climans obey and fear their rulers; they dare not hate or loathe them, but they need not love them. As the Immortal Ghova and her priestesses rule the Dark Temples and the land, so too do women rule the household in Clima. However, while men are merely second-class citizens in Clima, they still have room for advancement (usually in the navy). Punishments are severe, up to and including death by crucifixion. Climans speak Climan, a dialect of Rogizini; each city and small island has its own distinct accent, noticeable only to native speakers. Climans are essentially Minoan-Phoenician in style, complete with strange dark cults and far-ranging sea-rovers bent on conquest and trade.
Religion: Climan life revolves around religion, particularly the worship of the Court of Sammael (and the other Lords of Hell, though the Court of Lilith plays little role in Clima); Aeshma Daeva (plus his mother Lyssa, his consort Astaroth, and his son Meresin); and Tiamat (plus her consort Apsu, their son Kingu, and Kingu’s wife Tiella). Between the three temples there are at least two festival days per (six-day) week; Climan life revolves around these ecstatic, orgiastic, exuberant, violent, and perverse rituals and revels. Other days of the week Climans are stoic and fatalistic, untrusting of foreigners and shy to strangers.
Appearance: Climans stand 5’6” tall on average, with a median to thin build. They have dark brown skin, dark brown to black hair, and brown or amber eyes. No few Climans exhibit the taint of demonic blood, as demons are summoned to participate in the numerous festivals of the Dark Temples.
Favored Weapons: Climans prefer to wield slings, spears, and maces; being a sea-faring folk, they rarely wear heavy armor, preferring cloth or leather, and generally eschewing shields.

SHAZIR OF SHIBEN have a long and storied history, being descended from Rogizini pirates who fled their home on the Island of Shazizan and found sanctuary with the Salaqi more than 700 years ago. Thousands of Shazi settled in Shiben, then a wasteland border province between Salaq and Ced. Since that time, the Shazir have been the most loyal of subjects of the Salaqi crown, even today when Salaq groans under the heel of the Donarans. Though they are great allies of the Salaqi, they never mixed with them, or other locals, and so today though their culture is much evolved, and similar in many respects to the Salaqi, they are ethnically distinct. Shazir are boisterous, exuberant, and violent; they love fiercely and hate deeply, never forgetting or forgiving. They are friendly, generous, kind, and loyal to those who have earned their friendship; implacable devils to those who have earned their enmity. They speak Shazir, a dialect of Rogizini, that has borrowed much from Salaqi and Ced. As for RW equivalents… imagine the Welsh, if the Welsh were Arabs, and were allied with the Saxons against the Normans…
Religion: The Shazir abandoned their old gods, who had abandoned them when the Rogizini took Shazizan. They have since adopted the worship of the local Elder Gods, especially Morrigan, Ull, and Donel; they also revere Gaea, Goibniu, and Dvalinn due to the many mines in the region. Shazir sailors and pirates, who mostly operate out of Ticasi, Chiros, and Nerid, generally revere Manannan. Though nervous around the Sidh, they honor them for the alliance they once had with their Salaqi saviors; they honor the Dwarves as the Children of Goibniu.
Appearance: Shazir stand 5’8” tall on average, with a lean if muscular build. They have dark, swarthy skin, black or brown hair, and brown or amber eyes. The uninitiated might mistake them for Rogizini or Climan, which would earn one a dagger to the belly in impolite company.
Favored Weapons: Shazir favor short bows, daggers, and scimitars; though they have been mostly land-based for centuries, they have never gotten over the pirate’s fear of heavy armor, and thus usually wear only cloth or leather armor, or rarely scale mail, and eschew the use of shields or helmets.

Note: The material herein is derived from the original materials by Richard Snider, with additions and some changes by myself, notably the combination of the Xian and Irava into the singular Basati peoples (intimated in the text). I've also changed around a few details here and there, notably in religions (modified both by later work of Snider and my own ideas)...

Saturday, November 7, 2015

[Unsung Worlds] Richard Snider's Perilous Lands

I'm going to start off a series of posts about unsung worlds with the posting of my latest Hexographer map, the Northeastern Sea of Tears region of the Perilous Lands.

Perilous Lands was the campaign setting for Richard Snider's Powers & Perils RPG, published by Avalon Hill in 1983 (the campaign setting box was published in 1984). Discussion about the system might follow, but I want to concentrate mostly on the setting, and how it can be used today as an excellent sword and sorcery style campaign setting for Labyrinth Lord and other retro-clone systems.

For the moment, I'm going to simply post the map I made of what I consider the core adventuring region of the Perilous Lands. While there are literally countless adventures to be had in the Perilous Lands, I view this region as the " Known World of the Perilous Lands," and much like the Known World of Mystara, an entire campaign can be set in this region and never need to leave...

But more on all that later. The hex scale of the original maps was set at 20 miles per hex; for my own campaigns, I often used it at 24 miles. Now I will be using it at 25 miles per hex, which for most maps of similar regions, I find to be superior for many reasons, most notably for ease of breaking the map down into child maps of 5-mile hexes or into single hex maps of 25 one-mile hex sort...

As usual, click to embiggen...

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

First Level Death Spell!

   The door was locked and bolted, but it swung silently open and Xaltotun stood before them, calm, tranquil, stroking his patriarchal beard; but the lambent lights of Hell flickered in his eyes.
   “I have taught you too much,” he said calmly, pointing a finger like an index of doom at Orastes. And before any could move, he had cast a handful of dust on the floor near the feet of the priest, who stood like a man turned to marble. It flamed, smoldered; a blue serpentine of smoke rose and swayed upward about Orastes in a slender spiral. And when it had arisen above his shoulders it curled about his neck with a whipping suddenness like the stroke of a snake. Orastes’ scream was choked to a gurgle. His hands flew to his neck, his eyes were distended, his tongue protruded. The smoke was like a blue rope about his neck; then it faded and was gone, and Orastes slumped to the floor a dead man.
-- Hour of the Dragon, Robert E. Howard 

So you want to pump up the magic-user class?

How about a 1st level Death Spell!

Herein I am using Labyrinth Lord stats and descriptions…

Think about it. Magic Missile is a 1st level spell. It has a range of 150’, deals 1d6+1 hit points of damage (average 4.5), and always hits its target. That’s powerful enough to kill most 0-level Normal Men and even powerful enough to kill most 1st level characters and 1 HD monsters.

Death Spell is a 6th level spell (can be used as early as 11th level). It has a range of 240’ and kills 4d8 HD of creatures of 8 HD or less (essentially, Name Level characters are immune), though all the targets get a saving throw versus Death.

Poisons… all characters of all levels fear poison, as all characters of all levels can still be slain by the same simple poison…

So let’s just up the ante a little bit, and give everyone a reason to fear magic-users… because no one fears low-level magic-users once they have reached 5th level (no more sleep effects on you, right).

Try this on for size…

Death Spell
Level: 1
Duration: Instant
Range: 40’ plus 20’ per level

When this spell is cast a ray of black, coruscating energy emits from the caster’s finger, directed at a single target within range. The target must then make a saving throw versus Death; failure indicates instant death. If the target is of a higher level or hit dice than the level of the caster, the target gets a +4 bonus to their saving throw. If the saving throw succeeds, and the target is of higher level or hit dice, nothing happens. If the target is of equal or lower level or hit dice, the target suffers 1d6 points of damage plus 1 point of damage per level of the caster.

The appearance of the spell can vary from caster to caster, though once a magic-user learns the spell it will always have the same appearance (d10):

1. Arc of Black Lightning
2. Sickly Purple Ray
3. Coiling Indigo Tendril of Smoke
4. Flash of Blue Flames
5. Whip of Green Energy
6. Staccato Bursts of Yellow Beams
7. Scintillating Orange Beam
8. Scorching Red Ray
9. Blinding White Flash of Light
10. Invisible

If you want to limit the use of this spell, have each casting require the use of a material component, such as black lotus, or demon ichor, or some other such material rare and expensive (say, 1,000 gp per casting). Or perhaps the magic-user must craft a special wand to use as a focus, costing 1,000 gp; without the wand, the caster cannot cast the spell.

   Bellatrix laughed, the same exhilarated laugh her cousin Sirius had given as he toppled backward through the veil, and suddenly Harry knew what was going to happen before it did.
   Molly’s curse soared beneath Bellatrix’s outstretched arm and hit her squarely in the chest, directly over her heart.
   Bellatrix’s gloating smile froze, her eyes seemed to bulge: For the tiniest space of time she knew what had happened, and then she toppled, and the watching crowd roared, and Voldemort screamed.
-- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, J.K. Rowling

Monday, October 12, 2015

[Review] These Goblins Won't Kill Themselves

These Goblins Won’t Kill Themselves
For 3-6 adventurers of low to moderate levels of experience
By Christopher Clark (Inner City, Fuzzy Heroes, My First LARP)
Art by Dave Peterson (interior) and Lloyd Metcalf (cover)
34 pages, $6.00 PDF, $14.95 POD SC

TL; DR: These Goblins Won’t Kill Themselves (TGWKT) is a fun, one-shot dungeon delving adventure in the classic, humorous style reminiscent of the early days of fantasy gaming. If you liked Keep on the Borderlands and the April issues of Dragon, this is right up your alley…

In Short: TGWKT is a fantasy adventure module written in a classical style; that is to say, it deals with a fairly standard type of adventure (Seek the Treasures Lost in the Bad Guys Lair), and to this it adds a heaping helping of another classic element – humor. TGWKT isn’t anything new – it evokes the same style of adventure classic in TSR modules in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, down to Gygaxian naturalism, flavor text, puns, and in-jokes. But for this reviewer, that is very much a feature, not a bug. Much like In Search of the Unknown, Keep on the Borderlands, and Horror on the Hill, it is a light dungeon crawl adventure, suitable for play in one to three sessions. So if that is what you are into, it will be right up your alley.

The Look: TGWKT evokes the classic look; most of the interior art by Dave Peterson would be at home in any classic OSR style adventure. The art mostly depicts scenes and characters in the module, so you can print those separately to show to your players. The maps are simple, but well done and utilitarian. The font is simple and easy to read. Flavor text is in bold. Like many of the old modules, it’s not fancy, but it works, and unlike a lot of modern works, it won’t kill your printer cartridge to print it up to have a paper copy at the table.

The Feel: TGWKT definitely falls within the “classic punster” or “tongue-in-cheek” style of adventure; the fact that it is the first in a series of adventures taking place in the “Lands of Igpay” should give anyone reading the cover fair warning of the style of play expected. It feels like something one would find as an insert in a classic April issue of Dragon Magazine. However, while the adventure certainly works well with the humor style of play, if that’s not your thing, the core elements can also be used with a more heroic style of play with minimal work. Minus the humorous elements, TGWKT fall solidly in the “heroic fantasy” style of play, with a dash of Faerie style (as Igpay is a “land apart” from the character’s normal homeland).

The System: TGWKT uses a generic system, much like the various Eldritch Enterprises adventure modules that Clark has published with Frank Mentzer, Jim Ward, and Tim Kask. This is really a non-issue; most of the monsters can simply be lifted from whatever system you are using by simply looking for the monster name or a similar type in your core rules. A little conversion might be needed on the fly, but even for an inexperienced game master, the conversion needed is minimal.

The Adventure: The characters, removed from their own natal lands, somehow end up in the Land of Igpay, a fairy-tale land where the Elves have been at odds with the Goblins over an unfortunate misunderstanding. Elven heroes put a stop to the Goblin War some time ago, but now the Goblins are back, and the Elves today have no defenses, being pacifists. Thus they offer their treasures to the adventurers if they will go into the Goblin caves and rout out the enemy, or at least, return to the Elves their lost weapons of power so that the Elves can once again defend themselves. After a short wilderness trek, the adventurers must delve into the lair of the goblins, where several fearsome tricks and traps await, in addition to the martial menace of the goblins. There is also a lead-in to the sequel, though this can be ignored if the game master simply wants to run the adventure as a one-shot.

Some of the traps in the module are outright lethal… which again, to this reviewer is a feature, not a bug. So if you do not like the “Save or Die” style of gaming (or worse, the “No Save and Die” style), you might need to tone down a few things.

NB: Back when TGWKT was originally released, Inner City Games Designs sent me a complementary copy of the PDF to review. As they have now released the sequel Why Are We Here? These Things Are Already Dead! I was reminded of TGWKT and went to find it to finally write the review… and discovered that at some point in the previous year, I had lost it in a purge of my computer. So I went and bought a copy of the PDF in order to review it.

5 out of 5 stars