Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Dungeon Crawl Cthulhu

One thing I want to do in my hypothetical upcoming DCC game is include lots of Mythos elements. I have all these cool figures from the Doom That Came to Atlantic City board game, and its a good way to make it weirder and different than normal D&D. Granted I won't be trying to play it as dark and horror-themed as a Lovecraft story, more like dabbling in it like a Conan or Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser story.

So I dug out my Cthulhu Dark Ages stuff (I got it online years ago before it was actually released as a book) and took some notes. Here's what I have:

The Otherworld is composed of the mists that reside between the spheres. Outside of normal reality disembodied spirits dwell, from ghosts to nature spirits to demons of ideas. Nothing there has material form, and isn't "real" in the sense we know it. Its a dreamland, a place of ideas and nightmares, not a parallel reality.

Ultimately the Otherworld is managed by Yog-Sothoth, but its ways are mysterious to mortals and it often has avatars like The Grey Wanderer. The Grey Wanderer is an Odin-like figure, patron of travellers, bards, and bandits alike. He can call wolf spirits to possess his followers, creating berserkers.

Elves are spirits from the Otherworld who have taken a material form to enter our realm (like the Fair Folk in Exalted). They have a dreamlike appearance and may manifest hints at their spiritual nature.

The Otherworld is ultimately a thing of Chaos, never a part of the material realm. It is a source of much magic.

Shub-Niggurath is a nature goddess. I really don't want this to be an "evil nature goddess" thing, but more like, "if you could grasp the totality of her you would go insane, just like any godly thing". She is the mother of orcs and goblins, as well as darker fae, slimes, and mutant plants and animals. Worshipped by Neutral Druids as a giver of life and death.

Cthulhu is an ancient enemy of man, so in a way comparable to Satan (the adversary). His cults will be standard "sacrifices and bonfires". He is connected to Deep Ones, which I've always wanted to highlight in a game. They're also comparable to Celtic fomorians, especially as presented in Slaine.

Dragons are cthulhu-spawn. Ancient beings, poisonous and hateful towards humans. I have 4 different green dragon figures I want to use as specific dragons in the setting. One will be named Corpsegrinder, because dragons are depicted as living underground and eating the dead.

Giants are "children of earth and sky", meaning part human and part supernatural. Every giant will have a connection to something more powerful. They used to be great in number, but are almost gone from the world now.

Nyarlathotep is the shapeshifting trickster god, like Loki. He sows chaos, begets monsters, and guides witches. He might be simply The Black Man.

Tsathogguah is another rare Mythos entity that seems to want to interact with mortals. He is patron to sorcerors, and if I use the Portal Under the Stairs intro adventure he will be the alien force that helped the ancient wizard.

Appendix N

Appendix N was a list of suggested reading in the AD&D Dungeon Master's Guide. Its Gary Gygax's list of stories, novels, and authors that inspired Dungeons and Dragons.

Its interesting that overall its much more Sword and Sorcery than high fantasy, more pulp than epic, more Conan than Lord of the Rings. Gygax claimed that he only pushed so many Tolkien elements into the game to appeal to a larger fan base. That's arguable, its also possible he was bitter at Tolkien's estate for making him change names (Ent to treant, hobbit to halfling, Balrog to Balor, etc.). Regardless, there's a LOT more going on in D&D than just Lord of the Rings ripoffs.

Appendix N is the inspiration for Dungeon Crawl Classics, an attempt to put more weirdness into fantasy. As someone who likes D&D but is sick of a lot of the tropes, this appeals to me.

Anyway, there's this awesome series on Tor.com where two guys are reading and commenting on authors from Appendix N: Advanced Readings in Dungeons & Dragons. There's some really interesting analysis on what parts of these stories made it into D&D, both from Gygax's direct influence and their impression on players as the game grew.

Related there's an article about Orcs that touches on some thoughts about racism in Tolkien that have been bumping around in my head (short version: its complicated, and I think its in the spirit of the author to talk about it).

Sunday, January 25, 2015

I've seen the errors of my ways, and realize I've been too nice

A while back I reviewed the beta release of Dungeon Crawl Classics, and my initial impression was that there were too many things I wanted to house rule to justify running it. Well, now I want to run it.

I kept reading play reports on Power Shift's blog, and the game sounded awesome. I picked up several adventures and they read like classic Sword and Sorcery, very dark and very weird. A local store had the rulebook, and I flipped through that and the new 5E DMG at the same time. The DMG has lots of cool stuff, but a lot of it is just collections of cool stuff from other editions. Its also less than half the size for more price, and its not a complete game like DCC.

Some thoughts on the classes, in comparison to my initial revue:

  • I was wary of Clerics in a Sword & Sorcery setting (where the gods are supposed to be indifferent), but I like how they're tied into the Law vs Chaos alignment thing that comes up in adventures like Intrigue at the Court of Chaos. I would play Law as an organized Church that champions humanity against the supernatural. Chaos is a scattershot of cults to the Old Ones and demons (including Cthulhu, no way he's Neutral). Neutral is pagan gods, the dual life/death of nature.
  • I love that Clerics heal their own alignment the best and risk disapproval (an actual game mechanic) for healing opposing alignments.
  • Warriors are still awesome. I may house rule the "luck modifier to favored weapon" thing, but its not as bad as I thought at first. Your modifier doesn't change as your score is spent, and not everyone has a luck bonus anyway. Still, I would think a lucky warrior would have a bonus to Armor Class, not one weapon.
  • Thieves are cooler, their skills are bonuses, not percentile anymore. And the bonuses change with alignment! Getting to spend Luck easier definitely fits the class.
  • Wizards have lots of flavor but have lots more to keep track of. I think the Patron thing has potential but needs a different implementation, like a unique spell for each patron. 
  • I'm also thinking of writing up a Witch, Spellsinger, and Scinnlea for the Raewald setting.
  • Elves should have some cool flavor, I could use the random table from Dragon Warriors for inspiration. And I don't think Patrons should be so strongly linked to them right off hand.
  • Dwarves and Halflings are ok, I'd like to see some better flavor, but that could be worked out with a player.
Now that I know I want to play, I have to decide on a setting. Two things I really want from this campaign: 1) It has to be compelling. I want the game to be something myself and the players are excited about. 2) I want the players to have agency. Their decisions have to matter, I don't want to just lead them through an adventure path.

I have a few DCC adventures I've bought, plus the two in the back of the book. I could spread these across a map and let the players explore them sandbox style, with links between them. I would also want to include a few NPC groups who could affect the players and be affected in return, so they can make plans and act on them. I have a few ideas for a setting (twilight forest, shadowlands, volcano-heated tropical valley) that I could start with. 

I also could run Qelong, or "fantasy Vietnam". Its definitely dark enough, and its a sandbox to explore. I have a Mesopotamia setting I've never gotten to do much with, again an exploration mini-setting. Neither of these settings have a lot of NPCs to interact with, and would require some work to fit in the adventures I have. 

I like having options but need to cut down exactly what I want and make decisions.