Monday, March 23, 2015

[Now Available] Demi-God Race for Labyrinth Lord

Well, here's a bit of something new...


This Demi-God race is provided for those seeking to run a campaign inspired by the struggles of demi-gods to live among mortals. Such are the tales of the Greek demi-gods from the Heroic Age, of the Iliad and Odyssey; of the descendants of Odin among the early Migration Era tales of the Germans and early Vikings; or the tales and legends of the great heroes of India such as the Mahabharata.

Note that the abilities of the demi-god are mostly balanced out by the fact that her divine parent's enemies, inherited along with her abilities, will often seek her out to destroy her or seduce her to their side. It should also only be used in a campaign where the Labyrinth Lord has the players roll 3d6 for ability scores, limiting accessibility to races appropriately.

Demi-God Race
By James Mishler and Jodi Moran-Mishler
JMG 00502
8 pages, 5 pages of Good Stuff
Pay What You Want!

[Mystara] Final Round of Q's Answered by Lawrence Schick

Lawrence Schick has been kind enough to answer one last round of questions on the Original Known World -- this time about his and Tom Moldvay's original campaign style as Dungeon Masters of the first campaigns set in the Original Known World. Though this is the last we will hear from him on this for the time being, I am sure he will be back with more fascinating information and insights when his schedule allows...

For more background, check out the earlier rounds of questions:




How lethal were your campaigns? Were you more into the narrative of the story, or into random adventure? What was your style like as a DM?

These things evolved over time; I think they followed an arc similar to that of many mid-1970s campaigns. At first we allowed players to play multiple characters at a time, as well as henchmen and hirelings, so a group going into a dungeon could be very large, maybe two dozen characters. So we WERE lethal: life was cheap, and rarely was a dead low-level character deemed worthwhile of the expense of a “Raise Dead.” But at first, the characters weren't much more than collections of stats, so it seemed appropriate.

Over time, as characters acquired history, personality, and nuance, and the game world gradually fleshed out, storytelling became more important. Combat and problem-solving were still supreme, but we began to take more care in setting the scene, in role-playing NPCs, in setting up situations where player characters, played well, could shine and make memories. We were beginning to try to use the tools of the game rules to evoke the kind of fantasy stories we loved.

Did you use prepared adventures, or were your adventures more along the lines of off the cuff sandbox runs?

Neither: both Tom and I carefully mapped out and prepared our adventures in advance. Not that we weren't willing to ad lib and extemporize, but it was always in the context of a prepared situation. I remember the first time someone brought G1: Steading of the Hill Giant Chief to one of our sessions. We looked at it in wonder. Really? Buy somebody else’s adventure? And at $5.00 for eight pages and a map folder? Madness. Clearly, that sort of thing would never be popular.

What kind of preparations did you make for each session?

Speaking for myself, I spent many hours planning things out. (Remember, I was a college student, and had the hours to spare.) I drew maps, statted out monsters and items, and created NPCs. As time went on, and the role-playing moved to the fore, the latter task grew in importance.

How many players were there per group? Did you allow multiple characters per player?

The number of players varied from one to eight. As I said, at first we allowed players to run two, three, or even four PCs at the same time. As certain PCs grew to prominence, the others sloughed away, until eventually we were down to one player, one character.

Did you use henchmen and hirelings, and if so, how were they treated by the player characters?

At first they were just unthinking meat-shields; eventually, they started growing personalities, and we made the players spend more time and effort managing them. Once the players were betrayed by their own hirelings a time or two, they became much more careful about who they picked to join them.

Did you focus on dungeons, wilderness, or cities, or a mix?

Dungeons at first, then wilderness on the way to a dungeon, then wilderness for its own sake, then we added in towns and cities—but the dungeons never went away. They were too much fun.

Were you more historically minded or did you allow for anachronisms?

As you’re well aware, the early days of D&D were pretty wide open. We didn't allow for anachronisms so much as wild crossovers of various fantasy genres. We delighted in confounding the players by throwing in creatures or characters that were completely unprecedented from previous adventures. Once they’d learned how to slay dragons, why keep sending them after dragons?

Were you serious or wahoo?

We were seriously wahoo.

What kind of mix of monsters, traps, and “specials” did you use in your adventures?

That varied a great deal: our dungeons tended to be themed, so it depended what kind of dungeon we’d lured the players into.

How did your literary influences work with your actual game play and campaign development?

That was where the aforementioned themed dungeons came into play: we would try to craft adventures that evoked the work of specific authors or sub-genres of fantasy. I still remember Tom’s first Lovecraftian dungeon. Horrific! At one point we just turned tail and ran for it.

What were your NPCs like? Did you work out a background for each, a full sheet of description, perhaps an index card, or were they just a name and line or two of text?

It depended on the importance of the NPC. We were wary of creating characters that would steal the PCs’ thunder, so I don’t think we ever went as far as a full sheet of description—at least, not until “Giants in the Earth.”

Coda

One thing Tom and I discussed more and more as our campaigns evolved was the collaborative nature emerging from RPGs. The more we got into storytelling, the more we noted that the game story wasn't complete without the contributions of the players. We spent more time thinking about how to draw them in, get them invested, make them actors rather than reactors. These were lessons I carried with me to TSR, and on after that into video and computer game design.



Monday, March 2, 2015

[Mystara] Another Round of Q's Answered by Lawrence Schick

Lawrence Schick has been gracious enough to answer even more questions about the Original Known World that eventually became the world of Mystara.

1) Did you use Gods, Demigods & Heroes for the gods of the Original Known World or did you work out your own gods and pantheons. If you created your own, do you remember any details?

Tom and I adopted and adapted it, essentially rewriting the entire supplement to suit the OKW. It filled 17 typescript pages, all of which survive. We made a list of 100 deities (so one could roll randomly at need), mostly drawn from GDH, but we added a few we thought were unfairly overlooked. As you’ll see from the second page I attached, our standard rules for gods varied in some significant ways from the GDH standard.

Lawrence has been kind enough to send on the first two sheets from the list he and Tom Moldvay developed. As usual, click to embiggen:



2) You mentioned an “ancient, pre-human civilization.” Do you recall any details about this? Related, do you recall if Tom Moldvay’s creation, the Carnifex of M3: Twilight Calling, were based on the Dragon Kings from Lin Carter’s Thongor series?

The pre-human civilizations were misty, with contradictory legends about them. Tom’s Carnifex were not based on Carter’s Dragon Kings, IIRC. (Neither of us thought very highly of the Thongor novels, though we admired Carter’s work as an editor.)

3) Where were the Mahars located? Related, based on module X1: Isle of Dread, I kind of assume that that was the “Lost Land” region. Were there other such regions?

One of the mountainous areas featured a “Valley of the Thunder Lizards” inspired by Burroughs’ Pellucidar that was ruled by the Mahars. To the best of my recollection this was in the mountains to the east of Darokin, at the headwaters of the Qeda River.

4) Here are my guesses for the cultures, based on the list from the “Languages” sheet and the list you included in the article on Black Gate: Thyatic: Greco-Roman Iasuli: Persia (and Arabs?) Gwynish: Welsh Heldann: Norse (and Balts?) Plirok: Aztec Xoph: Pharaonic Egypt Ethengar: Mongols Ethesti: Ottomans Here are the cultures I can’t quite figure out… Cezavy: Sounds like it should be Russo-Slavic, though such was not listed? Mnokkian: Turks or maybe Scyths, I would think… Glaini: The Dutch, descended from far-wandering Heldanns? Celok: Or are these the Balts? Not sure where the Han Chinese, the French, and the Mughals quite fit… maybe the Darokins are a mix of Heldann and Thyatic forming the Carolingian French?

Okay, let’s see if we can sort this out. The culture list in the Black Gate article was from memory, and doesn't give a one-to-one correspondence with the cultures that ended up in OKW. Here’s my best shot:

Norse = Heldann
Ancient Mediterranean (Greece/Rome) = Thyatis
Ottoman Empire = Ethesti
Mongolian = Ethengar Khanates
Aztec Mexico = Plirok (with Lovecraftian and Tekumel overtones)
Han China got relegated to another continent and forgotten
Celtic Wales = Gwynish
Pharaonic Egypt = Xoph
Hanseatic League Balts crossed with Armenians = Minrothad Guilds
Carolingian France = Glantri, but filtered through C.A. Smith’s Averoigne and Leiber’s Nehwon
Ancient Persia = Ylaruam
Moorish Arabs = Iasuli
Dutch Republic = Darokin
Mughal India = Akoros
Kievan Rus = Cezavy and Sclavak
Byzantine = Corunglain
Mnokki = Scythian / Eastern Turks
Barbary Pirates = Ierendi

5) A few bits and bobs on the map:

A) I have added a large area of plains between Sclavak and the forests of the Hagath. Does that seem right?

High steppes, really. Seems fine.

B) I have placed several different likely locations for the various Orc groups on the map. Are these appropriate? Were they that wide-spread?

They weren't as widespread as you show. Keep the Atruaghin Clans to the east and the Vanog Orcs to the east-central mountains.

C) Were the Malpheggi half-orcs? Similarly, were the Quastog half-elves or half-orcs or a mix of the three races?

The Malpheggi are piscine/human hybrids with the “Innsmouth Look” – there are subsurface colonies of Deep Ones (later brought into D&D as Kuo-Toa) in the Sea of Dread offshore from the Malpheggi Fens.

A note about the races in OKW: they’re much less hard-edged and distinct than in Middle-earth or World of Greyhawk. It’s better to think of them as tribes or ethnicities. All the breeds of humanoid mortals in OKW are inter-fertile, so wherever they’re adjacent there’s a fair amount of intermixing. If you self-identify as an elf, you’re an elf.

The Quastogs of Canolbarth Forest are a tribe suffering under a divine curse; I forget which deity they infuriated, but they were cursed such that most of their infants are stillborn. As a result the Quastog undertake grueling long-distance raids outside Canolbarth in order to abduct children—of any race. So the Quastog, originally Orcish, now look like anything and anybody.

(As an aside, the Quastog share the forest with the Canolbarth elves, but rarely interact with them; that tribe of elves specializes in misdirection magic, so a Quastog hunting party can walk right through an elven camp and not even notice it.)

D) Was there a White Plume Mountain near the city-state of Keraptis?

No, White Plume Mountain didn't exist until I decided to write a sample scenario to persuade TSR to hire me.

E) Were any other continents developed during the course of play?

No, this was plenty. Too much, even.

F) How many moons did the Original Known World have?

One: the Moon. It ruled the twisted lives of all lycanthropes.

G) Was it simply always known as "The Known World" even then, or did you have a different name for the setting?

We called it “The Known World.”

6) You mention that the Original Known World was used by several groups for many adventures between 1976 and 1979. Do you recall any stories or anecdotes from those adventures? Who were the other DMs, other than yourself and Tom Moldvay?

At this point, no, I can’t remember any names – only misty faces.

7) Trips to Mars and other weird realms were all the rage back in the day. Were such experienced by adventurers in the Original Known World?

It was more our practice to bring the aliens to the OKW, e.g., the Tharks.

8) Did you have any special house rules, such as different magic, different classes, multi-classing, critical hits, etc., that applied to the Original Known World?

We did: Tom and I tinkered with the OD&D rules quite a bit, and a few pages of that stuff has survived. I’ll just mention a few of our homebrew rules:

* We dumped all stat-modifications based on gender, e.g., female characters get -1 to strength (because smaller) and +1 to charisma (because cute). I mean, come on.
* We allowed multi-classing, and any race could play any class.
* We dumped racial level limits.
* We added a whole bunch of spells and monsters.

9) The influences from Howard, Lovecraft, and Smith are fairly obvious. But what, if any influence of Moorcock can be found in the Original Known World? Were the alignments of the OKW strongly in the Moorcock tradition?

We weren't all that big on alignment, actually—it seemed to us, even then, to be an oversimplification that was more restrictive than it was useful. Moorcock’s real influence on us was the example of his anti-heroes, which freed us up to put moral choices in the hands of the players, rather than hard-wiring the world into good vs. evil.

10) Where were your personal campaigns based in the Original Known World?

Both Tom and I ran campaigns based in the Republic of Darokin—that enabled players to advance characters in both campaigns simultaneously. Adventures tended to take the characters west into the lands around Lake Amsorak and the Shallow Sea.

11) The "Giants in the Earth" started out as an off-shoot of the Original Known World. Can you recall where some of these characters were based? Were they regarded as home-grown heroes or were they dimensional travelers even in the Original Known World?

When those characters showed up in our campaigns, they were always travelers who had come to the OKW from their world at the behest of some deity or mighty wizard. When their story in the OKW was finished, they usually returned to where they came from.

12) That said, were the cultures of the Original Known World their own, or were the original founders of these realms travelers from our world? In other words, was the Original Known World a parallel dimension/world or was it derived and descended, literally, from travelers from Earth? I’m sure more questions will arise from the answers from this round…

The OKW was its own place. For the sake of player familiarity it was designed to evoke cultures from our own history, but it stood on its own.

And here is the most recent iteration of the full-color Original Known World map. I am considering doing another version that adds the Real World cultural names of each nation... though that would make it a bit crowded... let me know if that might be valuable.


Wednesday, February 18, 2015

[Mystara] Lawrence Schick Answers Q's on the Original Known World

Lawrence Schick has finally gotten a chance to answer a few of the questions I put to him regarding the Original Known World as developed by him and Tom Moldvay. Here are the answers to those questions, plus a newly updated version of the Original Known World map.

1) Where are the homelands for the Dwarves, Elves, and Gnomes? Why no Halflings?
  • The Known World was predominantly populated by humans; the most common nonhuman race was the orcs. The races D&D later called “demihumans” were vestiges of an ancient pre-human world.
  • Elves build no cities and found no nations. They live in small settlements in wooded areas, away from humanity; some tribes are nomadic, migrating according to rules humans don’t understand. The largest concentration of elves is in the Canolbarth Forest.
  • Dwarves were once more numerous in the mountains, but now the Seven Strongholds have dwindled to one: Rockhome, high in the Altan Tepe mountains.
  • Gnomes may live almost anywhere, but they are elusive and keep to themselves. They are numerous only in the city-state of Gugonix, but even there they are outnumbered by humans.
  • Halflings are common in the Republic of Darokin the valley of the Qeda, and their realm of Axhonief constitutes one of the Principalities of Glantri.
2) Were Kzinti and Tharks considered playable races, and where were their homelands? One blogger suggests that Tom Moldvay developed the Rakasta from the Kzinti; do you recall if this is true?
  • In the Known World campaign, Kzinti were playable as PCs, but Tharks were not, as they were too weird.
  • Both were nomadic tribes, the Tharks on the Ethengar Steppes, the Kzinti on the Plains of Mnokki. Kzinti organized into mercenary companies that hired out across the western Known World, but the Tharks were barbarians who were enemies of anyone they met.
  • The Rakasta (introduced in Isle of Dread) were absolutely Tom Moldvay’s D&D version of the Kzinti. BTW, the Tabaxi from the Fiend Folio were my version of the Kzinti, to Tom and I got them into both D&D and AD&D
3) How close were the TSR Known World’s cultures and governments to the Original Known World’s? For example, was the Original Known World’s Glantri ruled by wizards?
  • They were mostly pretty close, since our Original Known World cultures largely had obvious Earth history equivalents. In Gorllewin the city-state of Glantri was ruled by wizards, but there were other Principalities that were not, such as the halfling state of Axhonief.
4) Do you recall the cultural equivalents of your human cultures? Some are fairly obvious, others a bit mysterious. Was the list derived from the army/culture list in Chainmail?
  • Definitely not derived from the army/culture list in Chainmail, as we didn’t see those rules until after we’d come up with our own list. Tell me which cultures you find mysterious and I’ll try to clear them up for you.
5) Are there more maps and/or information sheets you can reveal at this time?
  • This is everything I've got right now, but my friends in Akron might turn up some more, and seeing these have certainly triggered my recollections. Stay tuned…
So as you can see, the reply opens up even further questions... Did the ancient pre-human world include the predecessors of the Carnifex (my theory: the Carnifex were inspired by the Dragon Kings from Lin Carter's Thongar series). Are the Quastog of the Canolbarth half-elves or half-orcs or even further mixed? And I need to put together a list of my guesses for the cultures and their inspirations... And what about the history of the world? The heroes and villains, the events in the several campaigns that took place before Lawrence and Tom went to TSR? Was White Plume Mountain originally set in the Original Known World? So many questions...

This new version of the map takes into account the information on the other races and places them appropriately. I'm still not certain as to the wide-spread nature of the Orcs; that's another question I have for Lawrence. I've also re-calibrated the hex counts; note that the original map has a counting error in it, jumping from column 55 to 60, so rather than 100 columns of hexes there are actually only 96.


Sunday, February 8, 2015

[Mystara] The Original Known World

Lawrence Schick, one of the early designers of Dungeons & Dragons at TSR, has revealed some interesting maps that detail the Original Known World that he and Tom Moldvay used in their Kent, Ohio Dungeons & Dragons campaign. If the "Known World" sounds familiar, it is because it is the world that was used in the 1981 edition of Basic/Expert Dungeons & Dragons, revealed in the module X1: The Isle of Dread and detailed further in the Expert Set book (notably detailing the Grand Duchy of Karameikos). He has posted several maps and note sheets with this article on the Black Gate website.

Read that article first if you have not already read it; then come on back here and check out the maps.

It is not exactly the same world, but instead is obviously the progenitor of the Known World that eventually evolved into Mystara. When Tom Moldvay, David Cook, and the rest of the development team for B/X needed to use a world, they went back and borrowed from Moldvay and Schick's Original Known World. Many of the names and ideas survived; you can also see much of the TSR Known World geography owes its design to the Original Known World's eastern half.

So as usual, when I get excited about mapping stuff, especially when it comes to one of my favorite campaign settings, I kind of took the maps presented and ran with them...

In all cases, right click and open in another window for the best view. For larger versions of the maps or the original Hexographer files, you can e-mail me at jamesmishler@gmail.com.

First, here's Moldvay and Schick's Original Known World maps knitted together with annotations of location names:

Second, here's the Hexographer version of the Western Known World:

Third, here's the Hexographer version of the Eastern Known World:

And finally, here's both ends of the Original Known World knitted together...