Friday, 20 May 2022

The Arvorians of Norwold


Image by JackWangLei, source 

Arvorians are an ancient humanoid race that were around from before the age of Blackmoor. They are nearly always chaotic in alignment and worship dark powers from beyond the known ranks of the "normal" Immortals.  

As Non Player Characters

There are 2 classes of Arvorians, the Eldritch Crusaders and the Arcane Knights. Both can use any armour, shield and weapon as a fighter, but while the Crusaders cast spells from the clerical list, the Arcane Knights cast spells from the Magic User list. Thus the Arcane Knights are similar to elves in their combat abilities (fighter/magic users in AD&D terms) while the Eldritch Crusaders are closer to AD&D fighter/clerics. The table below applies to both Arvorian classes although for the Crusaders the column for 8th level spells should be ignored (cleric spells only go up to 7th level). As they are intended as NPCs, no XP requirements are given (though the XP progression for elves would be suitable for the first 10 levels). 

All Arvorians have infravision to 60'. They can all Read Magic at will as if it were a natural language and Detect Magic once per turn.
Unlike other editions of D&D, B/X does not have racial adjustments to ability scores. But if they are used, Arvorians would get +2 to Intelligence but -2 to Constitution. They are an extremely clever and magically talented race, but they are decadent and their bodies are not as robust as those of younger races. 

Eldritch Crusaders can use any magic item that either fighters or clerics  can use, while Arcane Knights can use any magic item that a fighter or a magic user can use. 


Arvorians are slim like elves and pale, often to the point of albinism. They have very pale, often white skin and pale blonde or white hair, and pink or blue eyes. They have almost no facial or body hair. They appear ageless, and can live for up to 500 years. They are often very vain, and want to look good, even when bringing chaos and destruction. Arvorians are from a decadent civilization and always dress well. Even their armour looks elegant. 

Image by shuo liu, source

Culture and History

 Arvorians worship entities from beyond normal time and space that are quite different from the known Immortals of Mystara known as the Great Old Ones. The Great Old Ones are inscrutable, with inhuman, incomprehensible motives - some Arvorians have theorised that while some Immortals drawn on the Sphere of Entropy, the Great Old Ones are born of it. But they sent certain servants to Mystara to act as intermediaries to deal with these curious, upstart mortal arvorians. These servants were known as Scions of the Outer Dark, and although they were as alien as their Great Old One masters these scions could communicate with and grant assistance to their Arvorian followers. These Scions of the Outer Dark often took physical form as avatars - some appeared as Arvorians, hiding their true natures, while other scions were far less discrete and their appearance is the stuff of nightmares even for those who have faced liches and beholders. It is said that the avatar of E'hillit could drive a mortal to insanity at a glance, and although it could have taken a less shocking form, it did not care to. 

Arvorians have been around for millennia and were contemporaries of Blackmoor when it was at the height of its technological power and splendour. But the attitudes of the two civilizations were very different and there was an intense rivalry that bordered on hatred. This was partly because of their different sources of power - the Blackmoorians used a combination of magic and technology, while the Arvorians worshipped and were assisted by things of ineffable darkness and horror. 

A century before the cataclysm a strike force of powerful wizards, clerics and fighters from Blackmoor equipped with the greatest technological weapons magically travelled to Arvoria and in a series of battles they imprisoned the Scions of the Outer Darkness in dimensions beyond normal time and space. The Arvorians were filled with outrage but were powerless to retaliate. 

When the Great Rain of Fire struck Blackmoor in 3000BC, Arvoria was severely damaged but not entirely destroyed. The axis of Mystara shifted and Arvoria, which had previously enjoyed a temperate climate, suddenly found the weather getting much colder. What was the nation of Arvoria is now the Norwold region of Brun. The Arvorians blamed the Blackmoorians for this global disaster. Since the Blackmoorians themselves were destroyed, the Arvorians turned to surviving humans and demihumans for vengeance. 

These days the Arvorians live in underground cities and dungeons beneath the surface of Norwold. They are a long-lived, patient race and they know how to pass strategies and long-term plans from one generation to the next. Their overall plan is to open up the dimensional prisons that hold their alien masters and allow the Scions of the Outer Dark to roam free on Mystara. The Scions may be imprisoned but they can still communicate in dreams and can still grant clerical spells to Arvorian Eldritch Crusaders. The Arvorians are convinced that when they have freed the Scions of the Outer Dark they will forge a new Arvorian Empire through blood and magic that will push aside all the other mortal races, including the hated humans. Then they will have their long-awaited vengeance and become the ultimate civilization on Mystara. Whether the Scions of the Outer Dark intend to stick to this plan is another matter. 

There are also some Arvorians who have ascended to immortality, usually sponsored by a Great Old One based on a Scion's recommendation. Such Arvorian immortals are nearly always Chaotic (and hence Chaos Princes) and draw on the Sphere of Entropy. These offer a more relatable and understandable patron than the Scions of the Outer Dark who were never mortal and are often utterly alien in thought, deed and appearance. 

Arvorians are contemptuous of other races. Nonetheless they can still find uses for them, particularly chaotic humanoids such as orcs, goblins and gnolls. As such these tribal humanoids are often found as the bottom caste of Arvorian society, acting as footsoldiers, servants and menial labour. Chaotic humans have their uses as well, and the Arvorians will often encourage the Cult of Chaos as a useful pool of servants and allies, though they view the cultists as far beneath them and utterly expendable, barely better than the orcs and gnolls.

Image by Alexandr Komarov, source

Thursday, 12 May 2022

Dwarf Strongholds

Image by andreasrocha, source

Scattered throughout the dwarven kingdom of Rockhome and also found in nearby lands such as Ylaruam, Karameikos and Darokin, dwarves have set up fortified homes in mountainous regions across the Known World. Many of these are small enough not to be marked by cartographers - their populations typically stay below 1000 which is the demarcation point between a village and a town. 

Structure and Architecture 

How much is above or below ground? This varies, as does the architectural style. Most dwarf strongholds will have some of both - a visible part above ground which may be like a human fortified town or village, or perhaps a fortress with towers, curtain walls and a keep. The entrance to the underground part is sometimes large enough that carts pulled by mules and donkeys can get through with trade goods and supplies. Other times it may be narrow enough for a single dwarf to block it - useful if under attack. These entrances are often trapped or at least offer tactical advantages for the defenders such as murder holes, firing ports from side chambers and perhaps a pit with a drawbridge. How much of the stronghold is underground will vary, but most dwarf strongholds are around 1/4 above ground, 3/4 below. There are of course some where the surface structure is minimal - perhaps a fortified gate set into the mountainside.  In terms of building style some dwarf strongholds will be simple, while others, typically of the wealthier families, will have fine carvings, imported stone and bronze and brass fittings, looking quite baroque. Some may feel small and claustrophobic, while others will have great vaulted ceilings supported by pillars like medieval cathedrals. 


Most strongholds are owned and inhabited by a single dwarf family. The leader of this extended family is a dwarf of considerable renown and often of great fighting prowess - stronghold chiefs are expected to be the military leaders and champions of their families. Such chiefs are usually referred to as Dotars, particularly if their strongholds have fewer than 1000 dwarves. If the stronghold holds 1000 or more  inhabitants, the chief is entitled to sit in the Senate of Rockhome in Dengar as a Senator (Krey). If a chief becomes old and infirm he may well step down and hand over to his heir - abdication is considered far more honorable than trying to lead when ineffective. Sometimes a Dotar will make the political and judicial decisions but leave military matters to the captain of the stronghold's forces, who is then referred to as the Evedar. As is the nature of dwarves, rightful authority is respected and although there may be disagreements about how things are done, coups and hostile takeovers are very rare, and only happen when something has gone very wrong indeed.  

In terms of relations with the King in Dengar, most strongholds within Rockhome are loyal. Even those that are mostly independent offer nominal fealty. Open rebellion is very rare, and usually invites exclusion and economic sanctions rather than direct military action. There are dwarf strongholds beyond Rockhome's official borders, including in Karameikos (particularly the Altan Tepes but also the Black Peaks), Ylaruam and Darokin. These strongholds often feel torn, or at least keeping a delicate balance, between political allegiance to the realm they are actually in, and cultural and spiritual belonging to their dwarven homeland of Rockhome.  If these other nations went to war against Rockhome these expatriate strongholds would have to decide who to support - and many would support Rockhome. 

In terms of the seven great clans, a dwarf stronghold will usually identify itself with one of these (Buhrodar, Everast, Hurwarf, Skarrad, Syrklist, Torkrest or Wyrwarf), typically based on the lineage from which the resident family is from. There are a few strongholds that refuse to declare their clan allegiance and instead consider themselves clan-neutral. 

Image by JKRootssource


Dwarf Strongholds typically have a standing force of about 1/10th of their population, so a stronghold with 800 dwarves will have a force of 80 professional dwarf soldiers (2nd level dwarf warriors). However, in the event of an attack about 1/3rd of the population can pick up weapons and join in the defence of their home (1st level dwarf warriors). Any stronghold worth its name will be in a constant state of preparedness for a possible attack, usually by hated goblins or orcs, with guards at their posts, ammunition and supplies stockpiled and all inhabitants knowing what to do if the alarm should be raised. Dwarves are the undisputed masters of defending strongholds.

Dwarves rarely launch military expeditions beyond their strongholds - being caught in the open can prove disastrous as the dwarves of Tarrag Duun found out to their cost. However, when the kingdom of Rockhome is threatened by a major invasion, a stronghold chief will often send a contingent to join the national army - typically this is half of their professional soldiers plus any plucky young dwarves wanting to join on an adventure and earn some glory. So the stronghold with 800 dwarves may send 40 professional soldiers and perhaps 20 eager volunteers to join the King's army.  Loyalty to the king is a factor here, as are any immediate threats to the stronghold that may mean a chief keeps his forces at home. 

Trade and Industry 

Mining and metalwork is the heart of dwarven industry, and many strongholds start off as mines that then expand to become towns and fortresses as well. However, even the toughest of dwarves cannot eat metal, so every stronghold needs to have a supply of food. This can be grown in the valleys below the stronghold, or imported from further afield. There are some that have taken agriculture underground and turned it into fungiculture - mushrooms and toadstools grown in dark damp caverns become their staple food. Although not always tasty, such fungiculture will make a stronghold quite self-sufficient. Beyond food, strongholds will generally need to trade with other communities, both dwarven and other races, for supplies and materials they cannot create themselves. Popular materials include leather, cloth, wood and metals (even if the stronghold is also a mine, it usually mines only one metal such as iron, and will need to trade for other metals such as gold, copper or lead). Pack animals, livestock, wines and spirits, weapons and tools are all useful. Of course, this trade requires reliable travel to and from the stronghold, and dwarves will vigorously patrol their necessary trade routes, protecting them from bandits and monsters, as well as clearing landslides and mending bridges across chasms.  

Culture and Religion

Most strongholds will have a few dwarf clerics, typically 1 in 200 dwarves. Even the smaller strongholds with less than 100 members may have a dwarf cleric visiting or on loan from a larger community. There are a few strongholds that are not interested in clerics or religion at all - such "secular" strongholds will need to find other ways of healing and curing the sick. Others (particularly those loyal to clan Buhrodar) may swing the other way and have more than their fair share of clerics (perhaps 1 for every 50 dwarves) who may prove unduly influential on the chief and his advisors and lieutenants.

Strongholds are typically self-sufficient in terms of entertainment, and each one will have some talented dwarves who can play instruments, sing ballads or tell epic tales of ancient dwarven heroes. The visual arts are usually based around sculpture rather than drawing or painting, and dwarf homes with disposable income may have a bust of a revered family member sitting on a pedestal. Travelling bands of dwarf entertainers may visit, putting on shows of theatre, harmonic singing and occasionally juggling and acrobatics for a few days before moving on to the next audience. 

The dates of importance mentioned in the Gazetteer are generally observed by each stronghold, though different strongholds and families will put different emphasis on different dates and perhaps observe them in slightly different ways. 

Role in Adventures

  • The stronghold may be under attack. Although this is usually orcs and goblins, it could be something more unusual such as giants, a dragon or giant vermin. 
  • The stronghold may have turned hostile, either against the rest of Rockhome or against someone else who is not normally an enemy. The adventurers are asked to assist with negotiations and perhaps investigate why the change in attitude.
  • The stronghold is a safe base for adventurers to investigate a nearby dungeon. Although the dwarves will expect fair payment for food, lodgings and healing, a successful adventurer will have plenty of loot to pay with. 
  • There is something wrong inside the stronghold that needs investigating. A murder, a theft, evidence of a Cult of Chaos. Perhaps this is the work of evil dwarves (though rare they do exist) or perhaps something else has infiltrated the stronghold (doppelgangers can easily imitate dwarves). Werebeasts are nearly always human but there might be variants that affect dwarves (were-badgers?) 
  • Nobody has heard from the stronghold for several weeks and surrounding communities are worried. The adventurers are asked to investigate. 
  • The stronghold has been abandoned for some time after some disaster (military attack? plague?) but now dwarves want to reclaim the stronghold, and they have asked the adventurers to assist in clearing out any monsters. 

Image by IvanLaliashvilisource

Saturday, 7 May 2022

My Overview of Rockhome

Illustration by Clyde Caldwell, source

The Kingdom of the dwarves is right in the middle of the Known World and shares borders with many other nations, including Darokin, Ylaruam, the Northern Reaches (Soderfjord Jarldoms and Vestland) and the Ethengar Khanate. Yet strangely enough not many adventures are set in it. A few possible reasons spring to mind:

Dwarves, the predominant race, only have 1 character class according to the core rules. Both Gaz6: The Dwarves of Rockhome and I have added the Dwarf Cleric class, which are similar to each other. Which one you choose is up to you as a group. But even so, 2 classes does not offer quite as many NPCs and possibilites as the basic 4 for humans (fighter, cleric, thief and magic-user). So dwarves could seem all a bit samey. And the absence, or at least rarity, of arcane magic  reduces possibilities in that area. 

Rockhome is fairly stable politically. There are no rivals to the throne, no major rebellions and no imminent invasions. 

There is no mentions of ancient civilizations within its borders. There is no equivalent of Nithia or the Lizardmen of Mogreth that Ylaruam has, or the Traldar of Karameikos. 

But there are good reasons why the dwarves of Rockhome could be hosts to lots of adventures:

Lots of external enemies. The obvious ones are the humanoids - the orcs, goblins, trolls, ogres and the like, some of whom have established footholds within the borders of Rockhome. Although Rockhome does not share a direct border with the Broken Lands, they are not so far away and humanoids can move through the Orclands of north-eastern Darokin with impunity. But there are other enemies. Glantri may not consider itself a true enemy, more like ruthless investigators, but the dwarves of Rockhome view them as threats to be dealt with. The Ethengar Khanate raids the dwarves because, well, that's just what they do. The Elves of Alfheim are perpetual rivals with the dwarves, and goading each other seems to be a common hobby, almost a sport. 

The many connections to other civilized nations means opportunities for trade, diplomacy and espionage, including some that are quite far away, such as Thyatis, Alphatia, Karameikos and Ierendi. All of them would like to benefit from Rockhome's mineral wealth. 

Lots of borderlands. It is no coincidence that a lot of Rockhome's population is centred around the two lakes Stahl and Klintest. This is where the agriculture is and where trade and travel is easier. That leaves a lot of land area, predominantly mountains and near the national borders, with not much  marked on the map. And as any good DM knows, just because an official map doesn't have anything marked on it, it doesn't mean the DM can't put anything there. Humanoid tribes are the obvious choices but there are many less obvious ones, including monstrous lairs, independent human realms and perhaps dwarves who have lost contact with the rest of the kingdom. Blank areas on the map are simply empty canvases for DMs to do their own doodles and perhaps a real piece of art. 

Dwarves are excavators of epic dungeons. The name of the game is Dungeons and Dragons, and dwarves are very talented at carving out homes, strongholds, mines, workshops and so much more into the deep earth. Although the dwarves hold onto many of these underground structures (such as Lower Dengar), there are others that have been abandoned or the dwarves have been driven out. My own contribution to this is Tarrag Duun in Karameikos, but you can bet your last d20 that there are more like that dotted around the borderlands of Rockhome. Tarrag Duun itself was inspired by Tolkein's Mines of Moria and the kingdom of Erebor based within the Lonely Mountain, both created by Tolkein's dwarves. The Mines of Moria are, in a way, the Ur-dungeon, the prototype on which so many other dungeons have been based. 

Dwarves have their own magic. Although they do not have magic-users, dwarves have access to means and ways of creating their own enchanted weapons, armour and other magic items. And their clerics, although in some ways similar to human clerics, could well be given access to powers and spells their human counterparts are not aware of. Dwarves can achieve immortality and become saints, exalted or even chaos princes. And despite what the gazetteer says, Kagyar is quite capable of sponsoring heroic dwarves he considers worthy of immortality. This means there are ascended dwarf saints with their own clerics and sects that I intend to look at in a later post. 

Dwarf History is long. This ties in to the excavating dungeons and perhaps also the discovery of dwarven magic items. 2,800 years have passed since Kagyar created the first dwarves (1800 BC) and a lot of things have happened since then, even within the relatively stable land of Rockhome. Towns, fortresses and family lineages have risen and fallen. Battles have been fought, plots schemed and occasionally thwarted, works of art created and perhaps lost, other nations have been traded with, fended off and negotiated with.   

In short, there are a lot of adventures to be had in Rockhome, and I intend to write about some of them in this blog. 

Monday, 2 May 2022

My ideas about Norwold

Norwold was introduced in CM1: Test of the Warlords, the first adventure module written with the Companion Rules in mind. Being further north than the "classic" Known World, it has a cooler, subarctic climate and borders on true arctic wastelands to the north. Since one important aspect introduced in the Companion Rules was PCs building and managing dominions, there was a certain expectation (and indeed encouragement) that PCs should try to set up their own strongholds and fiefdoms in this region. This was complicated that the two great empires of Mystara, Thyatis and Alphatia, both wanted to rule this region and its resources, and PCs could ally themselves and their dominions to one of these great nations. 

Illustration by Clyde Caldwell, source

My ideas about Norwold

As my basic map, I am starting with this magnificent piece of cartography by Robin (6inchnails on Deviant Art) though I expect I will add my own stuff to it. 

Map by Robin/6inchnails: source

The wildlife in this region is dominated by iconic creatures of the Ice Ages, including woolly mammoths, woolly rhinos, sabertooth tigers, cave bears and dire wolves. Mammoth steppe and tundra make up wide stretches of the wilderness. As this is D&D, there are quite a few magical monsters as well as natural animals, including white dragons, frost giants, winter wolves and arctic variants of established monsters including the all-white arctic griffon and the dread arctic chimera (with the heads of a white dragon, musk ox and polar bear instead of the usual red dragon, lion and goat). 

So my ideas include this region being not just for characters of Companion level (15th-25th)  but also Basic and Expert (1st-14th). I reckon if the DM is sensible about what encounters the PCs run into, the Norwold region could be the setting for an entire campaign. There are plenty of humanoid and human tribes to keep low level characters occupied, including familiar goblins, ogres, bugbears and the less common quaggoths and taer. Neanderthals have made parts of Norwold their hunting territory. 

The competition between the Thyatians and the Alphatians brings its own adventures, particularly if the PCs take sides, even if they don't yet have their own dominions or strongholds. Direct warfare, trade disputes, diplomacy towards native allies and espionage all benefit from the skills that adventurers can bring. The Alphatians are primarily based in Alpha, on a peninsula jutting into the Great Bay of Norwold. Oceansend used to be a Thyatian possession but is now independent, with only cultural ties to Thyatis. Landfall has experienced both Thyatian and Alphatian influence but is now in the grip of the criminal gangs. 

The Heldannic Knights are another national faction that can make its presence felt in the south of Norwold. Aggressive, territorial and capable of both great nobility and terrible brutality, I envision them as similar to the Teutonic Knights of northeastern medieval Europe, launching their own crusades against what they consider the inferior pagan tribes. Although they might be cautious where the two great empires of Alphatia and Thyatis are concerned, they are certainly not cowed into submission.  

Although in the normal course of wilderness adventures the weather is usually not serious enough to count as a threat, in Norwold the weather and seasons can be deadly, particularly winter and blizzards. Rules for frostbite, hypothermia and similar cold-weather effects should be considered by the DM and any sensible PC. Starvation and the ability to start camp fires become serious issues. Norwold is no place for the weak or unprepared. 

Finally there are the Arvorians, a truly ancient race not that different from elves. Their civilization was  contemporary of ancient Blackmoor. But while Blackmoor dabbled with science, the Arvorians turned to darker, more malevolent powers from other planes of existence. If the Blackmoor civilization was D&D meets Star Trek, the Arvorians were D&D meets Call of Cthulhu. And despite the cataclysm that destroyed Blackmoor and changed the globe, they have not entirely died out. Deep beneath their shattered ruins scattered across the north of Norwold there are surviving Arvorians and they still follow their evil and chaotic powers of darkness. Even worse, they seek to summon and unleash their alien patrons on an unsuspecting Mystara. The Arvorians have also lured various chaotic humans including Chaos cultists into their plans, with the promise of destroying the forces of Law and Order. Just as chaotic cultists can use orcs and goblins as pawns to further their games, so to the Arvorians manipulate and encourage the human forces of Chaos to act on their behalf, and thus on behalf of powerful beings that seek to inflict damnation and destruction across the whole of Mystara. 

Sunday, 17 April 2022

The Lizardmen of Mogreth

In the village of Kirkuk there is the Well of the Faithful Prophet that supplies water to the village animals, which draws water from an underground grotto. There are many tombs of ancient lizardmen dotted around the grotto - the ones above ground have already been disturbed and those undead lizardmen have been destroyed, usually in  brutal combat with human tomb-robbers.  

What is officially said in Gaz2: Emirates of Ylaruam (p.49):

"Lizardmen Undead: Not strictly speaking NPCs, but these monsters are bad news if they start shambling out of the grotto and terrorizing villagers. The zombies are a nuisance, but the sanctuary's staff should be able to handle them. Undead lizard clerics and wizards are another matter; unless mid- or high-level magical support is available, the smartest move might be to evacuate the village, use delaying and containment tactics and wait for reinforcements.

The lizardman race itself is ancient beyond imagining - their tombs having been buried by ice sheets 4000 years ago while the Blackmoor World was in its infancy. Their descendants still survive in parts of the D&D World, though they have descended into savagery. 

When awakened from the sleep of death the lizardmen are bewildered by what they find. Their swampy homeland has disappeared and been replaced by a desert populated with horrible mammals in a mockery of lizardman form. They find they are not really alive but only sustained by ancient magics, reawakened only to preserve the sanctuary of their tomb. 

The lizardmen might respond in a number of ways to their reawakening:

  • Perhaps they are more than content to return to the slumber of the grave, once the sanctity of their tomb is re-established
  • Perhaps they struggle instinctively to destroy the alien world they discover
  • Perhaps the undead lizardman clerics and sorcerers imagine they can re-establish a race of lizardmen with their Lizardskin bed."
This is the first official description of what is now known as the Mogreth civilization. The original culture no longer exists in its old form but it is not truly extinct. The original Mogreth culture was based around the Nithian river basin (what is now Ylaruam) but had outposts further away in modern Thyatis, Northern Reaches and Rockhome. 

There were various castes of different species in my version of Mogreth culture. 
  • The Serpent Men were the leaders
  • The Gatormen and Lizard Kings were the battle champions
  • The Lizardfolk were the commoners and the most numerous
  • The Kobolds and Humans were the peasant slaves

I am going to change the timeline a bit here. Although the quote from Gaz2 says that 

The lizardman race itself is ancient beyond imagining - their tombs having been buried by ice sheets 4000 years ago while the Blackmoor World was in its infancy. Their descendants still survive in parts of the D&D World, though they have descended into savagery. 

Since the current year is 1000AC (when the gazetteers are set), this means the ice sheets came in 3000BC, which is actually when the legendary Great Rain of Fire ended the Blackmoor civilization (not when Blackmoor started) and caused massive climactic upheavals. As far as this campaign is concerned, the Mogreth Empire rose about 9000 years ago (8000 BC) and fell into decline in 3900BC when humans from the Blackmoor civilization encouraged the enslaved humans of Mogreth to rise up against their reptilian masters. These humans would later form the Nithian empire. 

When the Blackmoor civilization destroyed itself with the Great Rain of Fire, a brief ice age that covered the land in snow and ice for a century destroyed all the Mogreth inhabitants that remained - their reptilian bodies could not cope with the cold. Those that did not die had fled south towards the Serpent Peninsula and other warmer climes. The native humans also either moved south or died, though after the ice and snow had retreated they returned to their homeland, now free of living lizardfolk overlords. Although the human Nithians eventually overthrew their Mogreth masters, the Mogreth influence lived on in two powerful evil deities of the Nithian pantheon - the brutish crocodile god Sobek and the more cunning and insidious serpent god Apep, both closely allied with the forces of Chaos, entropy and death. Worship or ignorance of these two deities generally influenced the alignment of the lizardmen - without Apep or Sobek the lizardmen would drift towards neutrality, merely content to look after themselves rather than being footsoldiers of Chaos. It was often the serpent men, gator men and lizard kings who encouraged or demanded their followers join them in worshipping chaotic deities that pulled those lizardman tribes into chaotic behaviour. 

Although Mogreth society in the Nithian river valley collapsed, there were surviving lizardfolk who battled across southern Brun until they found themselves in the jungles of the Serpent Peninsula, in between the two human cultures of Yavdlom on Thanegia Island and Ulimwengu to the north. They have established new strongholds there and have been rebuilding their strength, and are now challenging Yavdlom for control of the inland sea of Dkiki Mamazzi, attacking coastal human settlements such as Quagmire. These lizardmen of the Serpent Peninsula have some distant awareness of their history, but it has become distorted into myth and legend. 

Smaller groups of lizardfolk have also found new homes in smaller swamps and marshes such as the Malpheggi swamp in southern Darokin, but these are primitive and degenerate, with no memory or written history of their glory days nor any means of recapturing their former greatness. 

The most accurate records of what Mogreth was actually like now lie underneath the sands of Ylaruam, sometimes directly underneath the cursed ruins of ancient Nithia or under living Ylari settlements (such as Kirkuk). In north-central Ylaruam there are known to be three sets of Mogreth ruins near Deraan, known as Akha-Sstalzhat, Akil and Ithkesp respectively. There are also Mogreth ruins deep below Cinsa-Men-Noo, underneath the layer of ancient Nithian remains, and the Shaddranath Silver Mine, originally started by Mogreth but taken over by various other cultures over the centuries. 

Monday, 11 April 2022

Notorious Renegades of Vlaad


Image by FerdinandLadera, source

I described in a previous post how this campaign's version of Ierendi has been changed quite a bit, with a number of the lesser islands becoming effectively independent pirate ports. One of these is Vlaad, on  Fletcher Island, fairly close to the Five Shires on the mainland of Brun. 

Vlaad has a population of 20,000 (upgraded from the gazetteer's 1,100) and is a busy port city. All sorts of business, both legitimate and shady, takes place here. It is a rowdy, chaotic place, not suited for the quiet or timid, with merchants and street traders hawking their wares, drunks stumbling out of taverns, sailors looking to replenish their ships' supplies, gangs of teenagers running around trying to mob the occasional market stall, and plenty of criminals of all sorts. There is no proper city guard to maintain law and order, though there are mercenary companies based here hired by merchants to keep their assets and stock safe. 

Like many cities there are colourful and weird characters at different strata of society, from the gutters to the palaces. The most infamous of these include:

Garrazol the Furious (human male, 19th level fighter, align Chaotic, Str 17, Int 11, Wis 10, Dex 13, Con 14, Cha 14) is a pirate originally from Darokin. His violent temper has got him into trouble many times, but his skill with a blade and his loyal men means that the trouble usually ends with the other person dying. He initially started out as a merchant trader in the Darokin port of Athenos but after several arguments with rival traders ended bloodily and with the Darokin authorities wanting him for manslaughter, he abandoned his homeland and legitimate trade, and threw his lot in with the pirates of Ierendi. Once his blood is up he rarely takes prisoners, and his ship, the Dreadrider (named after the Sea of Dread) strikes fear into all who know of her. He is feared and respected by his crew, though not loved as he has a tendency to kill anyone who disagrees with him - he sees any back-talk as a challenge to his authority. 
Appearance: Garrazol is a tall, burly man (6'3", 220lb) with black hair, big dark eyebrows and black beard and is 47 years old. He wears chain mail made of Neptunium and wields a magical scimitar, and often wears a black leather tricorn hat. His voice is deep and can reach a terrible volume when he is angered (which is quite often). 

Jerrillia Raveneye (elf female, 10th level spellsword (fighter/mage), align Chaotic), Str 13, Int 17, Wis 15, Dex 10, Con 12, Cha 13) is a calm, measured sociopath. She is fascinated by magic and biology, and collects many spells and books that involve magically transforming or enhancing life functions. This would be academic except that she has no qualms investigating how these spells affect innocent passers-by. She has left Alfheim after being caught experimenting on captured human peasants. She now lives in Vlaad, mainly earning a living as a mage for hire, but her house on the outskirts of town has a basement of horrors. 
Appearance: Jerrillia is typical elf maiden with golden-blonde hair and pale flawless skin. She is short and slim (5'0", 95lb). She rarely wears armour (though she does have a suit of chain mail in her closet) but she often wears her magical shortsword and dagger on her belt, as well as a wand tucked into the same belt. She usually wears clothes typical of a well-to-do lady of court but she has a blood-spattered white overcoat for when things get messy.  

Turgon Menhir (human male, 16th level fighter, align Neutral, Str 15, Int 12, Wis 14, Dex 10, Con 17, Cha 17) is the captain in chief of the Grey Halberds, a company of 250 mercenary fighters based in Vlaad. He is often hired by various groups, factions and powerful individuals to protect their assets or lives, or attack others. He is primarily a business man - as long as the client pays and knows what the limits of the company are, Turgon will stick to the contract. Turgon is a native Ierendian and  has been a mercenary all his adult life, rising up through the ranks. He is strangely fond of Vlaad, and although he is not blind to its many faults and dangers he will not deliberately act against it. He and his Grey Halberds are often the closest Vlaad has to a proper city watch. 
Appearance: Turgon is a large man (200lb, 6'3") and approaching middle age (45 years old). He has short iron-grey hair and full mustache. He is usually in his officer's armour (Banded armour +2) and tabard with the company emblem (black halberd head against a light grey background) and carries around his magic sword Ironslicer (normal sword +3, cast Bless 1/day). Turgon nearly always maintains a dispassionate, calm and calculating demeanour - only rarely do his emotions get the better of him.  

Nelth Varangus (human male, 15th level thief, align Chaotic, Str 14, Int 16, Wis 12, Dex 18, Con 10, Cha 17) is the leader of the Sail Street Syndicate, an organised gang of thieves and other criminals based in Sail Street, the heart of Vlaad's artisan and workshop district. Nelth is a gangster and a crime lord who rules by fear. Although he does not kill for fun, he has a low threshold for violence, mainly to send messages to those who witness or hear of his brutality - the people who pay for his "protection", rival gangs and occasionally his own underlings. Nelth owns and runs several disreputable taverns on or near Sail Street, including some that also act as brothels and gambling houses. His gang includes at least 20 thieves, 15 fighters and 3 mages of varying level - they all help protect the Sail Street Syndicate's properties as well as carrying out jobs, usually sanctioned by Nelth himself. 
Appearance: Nelth is tall and thin (6'3", 120lb) and now getting old (63 years old). He has silver-grey hair he keeps in a ponytail and his face is clean-shaven to show off several scars from fights in his youth. He usually wears close-fitting leather armour underneath loose-fitting merchants' garb, and will often act as a respectable businessman. He has an aura of menace and steely resolve that others find intimidating. 

Baronia the Shackler (human female, 14th level MU, align Chaotic, Str 7, Int 18, Wis 12, Dex 13, Con 9, Cha 9) runs a slave-trading outfit based in Vlaad. She is a cruel and heartless woman who seems to enjoy her chosen profession. She only occasionally organises expeditions to enslave people - much of the time she just buys, transports and sells on to the end-user. She has often bought slaves from Vladivar Cariolis and his ship the Ocean Manticore and then sold them on to Thyatis. She has a manor house on the outskirts of Vlaad with a large walled compound patrolled by a company of hobgoblin mercenaries, though her senior henchmen are all humans. She keeps her slave-trading relatively low-key and out of sight of most townsfolk, as some do not approve of it, and officially it is illegal in Ierendi. 
Appearance: Baronia has long blonde hair and is quite elegant (5'7" tall, 105lb) but always has a look of cruel disdain on her face, and rarely acts pleasantly. She wears the dresses of a lady of high status, but with a belt bedecked with daggers, wands and spell components. She often wears jewelry, though most of it is somehow enchanted (including a Ring of Spell Storing, a Ring of Levitation and an Amulet of ESP)

Tallagelle of Slagovich (human female, 14th level Cleric, align Chaotic, Str 13, Int 12, Wis 17, Dex 10, Con 16, Cha 16) is a trader of various wares and goods, including foodstuffs, metals, crafted items and anything else she can transport in her ship. Unbeknownst to most she is also the Cult of Chaos' top agent and cultist within Vlaad and possibly all of Ierendi. Every few months she sails back around the Serpent Peninsula to Slagovich not only to trade but also to consult with her superiors in the Hagiocracy of Hule. She has established a small but fervent cult within Vlaad with at least 50 dedicated followers of Chaos. She keeps this discrete - Vlaad may be a rough and lawless city but most inhabitants draw the line at worshipping Chaos. Tallagelle is a zealous follower of Chaos but she is also a competent merchant and is always on the lookout for a good deal if it does not compromise her main vocation. She owns several warehouses in Vlaad's dock district, underneath one of which is her cult's hideout and secret chapel. 
Appearance: Tallagelle is 53 years old, 160lb and 5'5" tall. She has tanned skin and dark hair streaked with grey pulled back into a ponytail. She often appears calm - she is inscrutable and has become good at hiding her emotions. Although she rarely shows it, her left forearm has a tattoo of the eight-pointed star of Chaos while her right arm has a tattoo of a grinning demon. She usually wears a chain mail shirt and simple helmet over her town clothes (with long sleeves), with a warhammer on her belt - she explains she has been robbed and attacked several times and does not want to be unprepared. She will often have an unholy symbol of  Chaos on a chain around her neck underneath her blouse. 

Tuesday, 29 March 2022

Experience, Motivation and Murder-Hobos

Art by Dave Trampier, source

Allow me to deviate from my usual additions and suggestions for Mystara. I feel the need to write down some ideas that have been fermenting in my head. Note that these ideas are not entirely original to me - they have been inspired (and maybe explained better) by other, more eloquent bloggers. 

So what motivates adventurers? Why do they bother getting out of bed in the morning and heading to the dungeon for a day of violence and near-death experiences? Generally this is a matter of acquiring more power, principally in levels of experience. To gain levels as a character you need to gain experience points. How do you do that? 

According the the B/X rules there are 2 main sources of XP: monsters and treasure. Treasure is expected to make up the bulk of XP awards, and I have created adventures on this blog (both the more recent Scenarios and also the older Dungeons of the Month) with a ratio of 1 monster XP : 3 treasure XP. This may seem stingy, but DMs using my adventures are always welcome to increase the treasure amounts as they see fit. 

3E and 5E D&D don't offer XP for finding treasure. In both games XP is expected to come from a combination of defeating monsters and completing story goals. 

The idea of quest or story-based XP tentatively emerged in later 1st Edition AD&D material and was formalised in 2nd Edition AD&D. This started out as XP for rescuing prisoners as if they had been defeated by the PCs (so a party of PCs would get more XP for rescuing a high level NPC than a 0-level peasant). It has now become a matter of "Award the PCs 1000xp each if they return the stolen crown to the king". 

The 3E DMG suggests awarding XP for successfully resolving non-combat encounters, such as evading or neutralising traps, solving tricks & puzzles, and successfully negotiating with NPCs. In B/X the assumption is that these are not goals in themselves but merely obstacles (sometimes metaphorical, sometimes very physical) in the the path to gaining treasure. Successfully getting through a trap-based encounter means that the PCs are another step closer to their real goal - treasure and the XP that comes with it. This shows to me that B/X rewards are more about the end goal rather than how the PCs get there.  

XP can also be awarded for things like good roleplaying, though this is associated with later editions. Although not stated in the B/X rules, these are up to individual DMs. Although not suggested in D&D, some games (particularly MMORPGs) reward PCs with XP for exploring their world and visiting regions for the first time. 

1st Edition AD&D also had the idea of gaining XP for finding magic items. 2nd Edition AD&D changed this to gaining XP for creating magic items. 3rd Edition D&D completely flipped this around with requiring XP to be spent to create magic items, but also had a thriving magic item economy where PCs could often buy the weapons or armour they could afford  - an alternative reason for gathering lots of money. 

In my games magic items neither give nor require XP. Magic items can be seen as a form of power that is not linked to XP or levels. Interestingly, unlike MMORPGs, magic items in D&D generally do not have character level requirements (though some do have class requirements). A 0-level normal human can use many magic items if they know how to wield them. Acquiring magic items can be a powerful motive in itself. Although many items are distributed as part of treasure hoards along with coins, gems and the like, it is possible that a character will set out on an adventure with the goal of acquiring a famous magic item for their own personal use. S2: White Plume Mountain is a classic example of this. 

Here's something I was vaguely aware of but it took other bloggers to clarify  it. The behaviour of PCs is heavily influenced by how XP is awarded. They will generally behave in a way that gets the most XP according to their assessment of risk vs reward

If most of their XP comes from treasure then they will become avaricious treasure hunters, looting tombs, dragon hoards, and possibly merchant caravans and town banks. The DM may wish to adjudicate what sort of treasure gives XP and whether robbing peasants of their copper coins will help PCs gain levels. 

Although not part of the B/X rules, some groups have house rules where PCs can convert gold into XP only if it is spent on training - usually with a willing NPC of at least 2 levels higher and the same character class as the PC. The duration is typically 1 week per PC level. Although I personally like this idea (it makes becoming better at fighting, casting spells or turning undead more plausible than just looting a dragons' hoard and hey presto the wizard can now cast more spells), I don't expect other groups to use it. 

There are other reasons for gathering loot besides XP - you can buy stuff with it. Purely B/X campaigns will find that once the PCs have a ship, horses, wagons and the like they start to run out of useful things in the equipment lists to spend money on. But beyond the B/X rules there are 2 major expenses - firstly in the Companion Rules there are details about being granted land and building one's own stronghold. Creating and maintaining a castle or temple with all its soldiers, hirelings and servants will be expensive. Secondly as alluded to above in 3E D&D it is possible to buy magic items if the right marketplace can be found. Both of these (strongholds and magic items) are reasons to get as much loot as possible from dungeons and monster lairs. Forward-looking PCs may well start saving for these quite early on in their careers. 

If they get most of their XP from killing monsters, then that is what they will seek out. This seems to be the expected norm in 3E and 5E.  Note that rules in different editions say that XP is awarded for defeating monsters, not necessarily slaying them. This means capturing and subduing generally counts, while avoiding or sneaking past is up to DM discretion (personally I don't think that counts as "defeating" because the monster is still a threat if encountered again). 

It helps here if the DM clarifies whether 0-level normal humans count as monsters (they may be only 5xp each but killing a whole village could be worth 1000xp if the DM allows it). DMs are well within their authority to say that killing friendly folk and livestock does not give any XP awards. This reduces the likelihood of the infamous murder-hobos running around the fantasy countryside behaving worse than bandits or orcs. If the PCs still persist with this then the players concerned may be less interested in acquiring levels & XP and more involved in a deranged power fantasy. I've seen it happen - It's not pretty.

If they get most of their XP from quests and heroic achievements then that is what they will do (though perhaps sticking to the letter rather than the spirit of the completion). In 3E it is suggested that story-based XP awards do not exceed XP for defeating monsters, while 5E seems much more vague. It does remind me of MMORPGs like World of Warcraft where characters keep picking up and completing quests and have a list of currently active quests - to-do lists with XP rewards every time one is ticked off. Personally I do not have any problems with XP awards for completing quests as long as DMs are sensible about it. I think the one thing I do raise my eyebrow at is the idea of "once the party reaches this stage of the story/campaign, they all automatically go up 1 level". It just seems lazy, both in terms of adventure design (the next chapter in the mega-adventure is for the next level so lets just increase everyone up 1 level so they can get on with it) and also the gaming experience, feeling entitled to gain a level without regards to earning XP. If I was DMing that sort of adventure, I would not automatically award levels, but I would provide side quests and mini-dungeons as opportunities to earn the required XP so that they have properly gained sufficient XP and therefore levels to take on the next part of the campaign.    

XP for role-playing can result in either interesting or annoying attempts to play their characters outside of combat. Sometimes it is entertaining, other times horribly forced. 

I was thinking about motivations for protagonists in the stories that inspired D&D. Bilbo Baggins, Conan the Barbarian, Cugel the Clever, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser and many more heroes of Appendix N were all mostly motivated by money and treasure, and so this is what the creators of D&D (particularly Gary Gygax) expected. 

But others had other goals. Frodo Baggins setting off on his epic quest to destroy the One Ring was motivated by trying to save his world. Elric of Melnibone may have enjoyed treasure but was caught up in the wars between Law and Chaos. Drizzt Do'Urden (once he reached the surface world) was often helping his friends around Icewind Dale. The Companions of the Lance were engaged in epic quests to save the world of Krynn from the evil Dragon Armies. Turjan the Magician was interested in knowledge, particularly of arcane matters. 

Finally I think alignment should play a part here. I'm not sure which should come first when creating a character, alignment or motivation but I certainly think they inform each other. In the 3-alignment system of B/X D&D, I can well imagine lawful characters being more willing to go on epic quests to save the kingdom, while neutral characters are more interested in personal power and wealth. Chaotic characters are usually similar to neutral ones in motivation but are more likely to become the infamous murder-hobos that are the worst sort of chaotic characters - they have far less restraint or scruples as to how they acquire money and power. 

So what is the right way of doing this? Honestly my opinion is whatever works for your group. Different players and DMs will have different ideas and hopefully each group will find a combination of the above that they are comfortable with. I'm not going to lay down any rules or strong opinions (apart from automatically gaining levels....).  Although by the book B/X offers only treasure and monster XP, D&D is a game that is wide open to modifications and additions. 

Friday, 25 March 2022

Adventures and Dungeons around Cinsa-Men-Noo

Based on original map by Thorfinn Tait, source
The town of Cinsa-Men-Noo, in the western part of the Emirate of Nithia, northern Ylaruam, is close to a number of places adventurers may be interested in exploring, and is well-suited as a base from which expeditions can be launched. Adventures within the town are certainly possible, with traders, the local garrison, the local thieves, adventurers, rival religions and the like all rubbing shoulders in a small town.

Then there are the ruins underneath the town, which is built on top of the old Nithian settlement of Cinz-Amen. Crypts, cellars, passageways and the like buried for over a thousand years still contain the possessions and the bodies of the ancient Nithians themselves (both dead and undead), as well as numerous vermin. Dealing with these when they are encountered by construction workers and the like is one way of introducing the ancient Nithians to novice adventurers. 

The Ruins of Allaktos are described here. They sit among the dry rocky cliffs of the escarpment where the Great Salt Basin meets the Northern Highlands of Nithia. 

The Shrine of the Dervishes is a spiritual centre for the dervishes of Ylaruam. It is a simple village and stronghold set against the escarpment of where the desert meets the hills. It is not exactly home to the dervishes because they are nomadic, but they view this as a holy place and will visit when in need of guidance, meditation or  discussing matters with their fellow dervishes. As well as the desert druids themselves there are also bands of fanatical nomadic fighters, the Followers of the Dervishes. These are sometimes mistakenly called dervishes themselves. These  Followers of the Dervishes both protect the druidic dervishes themselves and also carry out missions and tasks ordained by the dervishes. 

The Pleasure Palace of Kithannis is described here

The Citadel of the Bleeding Blade is the headquarters of the dreaded Holy Killers of the Eternal Secret

The Temple of Thanoth-Ra is an ancient Nithian temple complex, with about 10 actual temples and numerous dwellings, storerooms, mastaba tombs, offices and workshops within the complex. It dates back to the same time as Allaktos but is mostly above ground whereas Allaktos is much more of an underground dungeon. It has only recently been discovered by dwarven prospectors and has not been plundered yet. But there are those who warn against such rash greed - these Nithian sites are often cursed and nobody now knows what sort of deities were worshipped, or what guardians remain to watch over the Temple of Thanoth-Ra. 

Shaddranath Silver Mine is ancient, at least as old as the ancient Nithian Empire, and some sages speculate it may go back to the Mogreth lizardmen. It is very extensive, with many chambers, passageways, shafts and junctions going miles underground. Yet it keeps yielding enough silver for it to be worthwhile. The really odd thing is that new silver veins sometimes appear in old chambers and faces that were supposedly exhausted - it is as if the silver keeps growing back. A company of 70 dwarves currently holds the entrance and upper levels and will send weekly caravans of pack mules with silver to Cinsa-Men-Noo. But the lower levels are not claimed by civilized folk and are far more dangerous. Yet the temptation to explore further and deeper is strong, especially since those dwarven explorers who have survived the deepest levels believe they have seen veins of Mithril in the walls. 

Ya'argrakk, the Fortress of the Gnolls, is still very much in use by gnolls and their kobold slaves. Gnolls are not very good at recording history, but it seems that this was originally a Nithian border fort that was then taken over and improved by a mad mage. Gnolls took over about 100 years ago and they have held onto it ever since. The surface structures are quite impressive though not in good repair - one can only speculate what underground levels may be like. Ylari scouts who have returned to tell their tales say that about 900 gnolls and perhaps the same number of kobolds live there, including leaders, shamans and specialist troops, including hyaenodon riders who charge into battle on giant prehistoric hyenas. What nobody outside the fortress knows is that the gnolls are coordinated and assisted by a small cabal of 20 hutaakans, all of whom have strong clerical powers. The gnolls are ostensibly led by the gnoll king Rathnaguul but the hutaakans are the power behind the throne. 

Image by postapodcast, source

The Mogreth Sites date back to even before the rise of Nithian civilization when a culture of reptilian humanoids dominated the area when it was lush and verdant. These were predominantly an advanced form of lizardman, though their mages and leaders were serpentine. The Mogreth ruins near Cinsa-Men-Noo are mainly towards the west, and include Ithkesp, Akil and Akha-Sstalazhat. However, known to very few still alive, Cinz-Amen, the Nithian city that Cinsa-Men-Noo is built on, is itself built on top of primordial Mogreth ruins. No living human has ventured that for into the dungeons and returned to tell the tale. 

Beyond these major sites there are other forms of adventure:

Humanoid tribes, including gnolls, kobolds and ogres, live in the Nithian hills, preying on isolated farmsteads and unwary travellers. Prospectors, traders and missionary clerics could all ask adventurers for protection as they go on their various journeys. Some of the gnolls will have set out from Ya'argrakk but others are based in smaller lairs dotted around the hills. 

Desert Rakastas are sometimes seen wandering the wastes. They are dressed in a way similar to human desert nomads, and are distinct from other rakastas by their slender builds, long limbs and cheetah-like markings, with golden-yellow fur with black spots and distinctive "tear marks" from the inner corner of their eyes down to their mouths. Although generally shy and reclusive around humans and demihumans, they can be fierce if provoked. Even worse are rumours that some desert rakastas have been seduced by the forces of Chaos and have become man-eaters, preying on travellers in the wastelands.  

The Nithian folk are not the most friendly or outward-looking of humans. Banditry, worship of ancient Nithian idols and even the worship of Chaos all occur among them. Outsiders and even government officials need to be careful when dealing with them. Even dervishes are cautious around Nithians, and some will only travel here with a squad of the Followers of the Dervishes. They are only barely part of the Emirates.

Centaurs dwell in the hills - They have respect for the dervishes and their followers, but contempt for the greedier, less honourable humans found in towns and cities. The Tharaddi tribe is the biggest and strongest with 60 members - their warriors prefer skirmish tactics using shortbows to harass slower opponents while using their speed to keep a safe distance. Most of the time they just avoid civilized humans but occasionally they retaliate if they feel wronged, or even ask for help when facing a threat they cannot handle by themselves.

There are stories of a floating castle on a massive cloud island that moves around northern Ylaruam. It is believed to be inhabited by a trio of cloud giants who have also come to an agreement with a band of djinn. The djinn share the castle, and in return assist the cloud giants. It is also believed that one of the giants occasionally uses a giant-sized Censer of Air Elemental control so there is often at least 1 (12HD) air elemental on the cloud island as well. 

There are known to be at least 6 blue dragons around western Nithia and in the nearby mountains. One of these is the large blue male Razzlask the Magnificent. He has kept his lair well-hidden as a precaution against thieves and adventurers wanting to make a name for themselves. He is a spell-caster and will often fly around with an invisibility spell active. He does not often resort to violence, but may demand tribute in the form of gold and livestock. He has even visited Cinsa-Men-Noo to exact vengeance on a trio of human adventurers who had slain his mate - he slew each of the three but killed no townsfolk or soldiers, and then explained to terrified townsfolk why he had killed these adventurers, and that he had no grudge against the rest of them, and then he turned invisible and flew off. 

Monday, 21 March 2022

The Pleasure Palace of Kithannis

Image by Mohammed Noureddini, source

In the baking dry foothills of the Emirate of Nithia among the rocky cliffs there is a palace, a hidden retreat for sheiks, beys, emirs and their closest friends and lovers. The Pleasure Palace of Kithannis was created over a hundred years ago by Sheik Kithannis Al'Deraani, a local ruler who paid lip-service to the Eternal Truth but was actually put off by the constant emphasis on moral rectitude, temperance and chastity. So Kithannis maintained his upright appearance while at his main palace in Tel Al Kebir but could let his hair (and various items of clothing) down when at this pleasure palace he created. He also invited trusted friends including fellow nobles of Ylaruam and soon it became an open secret among courts of the various Emirs. 

In the palace are harem chambers, often occupied by beautiful women, bed chambers, swimming pools, feasting halls and kitchens, as well as rooms with art, books, scrolls and musical instruments. Kithannis took a broad view of pleasure, and considered a well-cooked meal or a hilarious jester just as part of his pleasure palace as the more obvious pleasures of the flesh in the harem. He often brought bands of musicians along to play for him and his guests. There is a room converted to a gallery that holds pictures by the Alphatian artist Derrisari who used magical illusions to either make pictures seem three-dimensional or even moving (though in a short, preset pattern, like a magical GIF). Although food needs to be brought in from outside, there is a well in the central courtyard that brings fresh water. The well is extremely deep, and it connects to an ancient subterranean river. This keeps the guests and the courtyard garden watered. 

One thing that Kithannis excluded was religion. There are no shrines, religious books or holy symbols here - this palace was built as an escape from what Kithannis saw as oppressive bossiness of religion. Some say he may have been influenced by his stay in Glantri.  However, he was no lover of violence or sadism, and he did not want people hurting others, so the pleasure palace is patrolled by 4 amber golems in the form of huge leopards. There is believed to be a silver and ruby rod that enables the wielder to command the golems, but even without specific instructions the golems will approach and try to intervene if someone is hurting someone else, using lethal force as a last resort. 

These days the palace is run by an enterprising wizard, Tar'Shaan Al'meria (human female, 14th level MU, Neutral). She hires all but the basements out to noblemen for parties or personal rest and recreation. The basements are her own domain - no visitors allowed. Although she never lets on, she now has the rod that commands the amber golems. She also has a number of human staff for housekeeping, cooking and gardening. None of them are armed or armoured - they leave the guarding to the golems. 

As well as its primary role as somewhere for the rich and noble to relax and enjoy themselves, the palace has also become something of a neutral meeting place where important matters can be discussed away from the prying eyes of courtiers and functionaries. Trade deals, peace treaties, arranged marriages and the like have all been hammered out here, and the presence of the amber golems makes assassinations unlikely. There is a story of a nobleman who hired a mage to summon an invisible stalker to slay a guest staying at the palace. Amber golems can see invisible things, and the invisible stalker was intercepted and destroyed by the golems - the first the guests knew about it was two of the golems pawing at something invisible that was shrieking like the desert wind. At the request of the guest, Kithannis used the rod to order one of the golems to find and kill the mage that summoned the stalker (the intended victim knew who the summoner was). It did so, returning a few weeks later with the body of the mage in its amber jaws. 

Although the pleasure palace does not contain a great deal of coins, it has many luxury and artistic items that could be valuable on the market. The amber golems are also instructed to stop anyone from taking any of these items off the premises - only the wielder of the silver and ruby rod can overrule this instruction. Furthermore the current owner, Tar'Shaan, has a spell given to her by a grateful Alphatian mage, Greater Locate Object (6th level MU spell), which functions much like the 2nd level spell but with a range of 10 miles per level. If she knows an item is missing from the palace, she can generally track it down quickly and deal with the thief. 

Thursday, 17 March 2022

Holy Killers of the Eternal Secret



 These are a combination of Islamic Assassins and the Medjai (chaps from Brendan Frasier's Mummy movies who were determined to keep Imhotep and Hamunaptura a secret). They are devotees of the Eternal Truth who are fanatical about keeping Nithia as secret as possible. They are a variant of thieves and prefer mundane skills to magical illusion to stay hidden until they strike. 

Founded long before the rise of Al-Kadim and the spread of the Eternal Truth, they are the most dedicated opponents of ancient Nithia and anyone who tries to bring ancient Nithia back to Mystara. The Holy Killers' most common targets are treasure hunters seeking to unearth forbidden Nithian artefacts to sell to unscrupulous dealers, both native Ylari and those from other nations looking to make their fortune. However, a sinister new enemy has emerged, Nithian cultists intent on resurrecting their destroyed religion.

The Holy Killers' current base is a fortress high in the hills near the border mountains where they train and receive their orders, known as the Citadel of the Bleeding Blade, referred to by members as "the Citadel" . They are led by the mysterious Old Man of the Hills, a cleric of considerable power and charisma who  can convince recruits of the importance and sincerity of the mission so well that many become willing to die for his cause. These recruits come from the urchins, orphans and unwanted children of slaves in the various towns and cities around the Emirates, offered food, shelter, purpose in life and maybe excitement and adventure. 

There are those who have drifted away from the true faith, and now sell their skills to the highest bidder. The holy killers might be in the service of the greater good but they have very marketable skills, and being motivated by the prophet can easily turn into profit motive. Some of these are loners but in Ylaruam city itself there is a shadowy group of them calling themselves the Guild of Assassins. They are even more paranoid and ruthless than the holy killer of the Eternal Secret, and have the dreaded mantra "Nothing is True, Everything is Permitted". 

The Bead of Oblivion only affects a 24-mile hex outside Surra-Man-Raa. This is only a small part of the Emirate of Nithia. Anyone approaching Nithia from another direction (such as Cinsa-Man-Noo or Ylaruam City) won't be anywhere near the bead. The Order of the Holy Killers are aware of the Bead of Oblivion's effect (if not the bead itself), and most stay away from the area outside Surra-Man-Raa. Even if they do enter it (either knowingly to chase a target or accidentally), they only forget about Nithia, not that they are members of the sect and what their target is (though they may magically forget why they are hunting the target). They can always be re-educated as necessary once back at their base. In fact, some of them may not even need to be told the details about ancient Nithia, just that tomb-robbing in the hills of Nithia is a crime against Al-Kalim and the immortals because it risks unleashing terrible evils.

The Holy Killers of the Eternal Truth are a backup if the tomb-robbing intruders avoid the area of effect of the Bead of Oblivion. Immortals may send supernatural agents to cause certain followers to forget about Nithia. But the Holy Killers are a more thorough, less gentle way of dealing with those who have avoided the Bead of Oblivion. And they believe they are doing the work of the Immortals and of Al-Kalim (which they are, in a bloody sort of way).

Game Rules

For these holy killers I am going with the AD&D version of Backstabbing (from 1E AD&D PHB):

Back stabbing is the striking of a blow from behind, be it with club, dagger, or sword. The damage done per hit is twice normal for the weapon used per four experience levels of the thief, i.e. double damage at levels 1-4, triple at 5-8, quadruple at levels 9-12, and quintuple at levels 13-16. Note that striking by surprise from behind also increases the hit probability by 20% (+4 on the thief’s “to hit” die roll).

Holy Killers like B/X thieves can use any type of weapon. But they can only backstab while using a normal sword, shortsword or dagger as their back stabbing technique involves thrusting the blade between certain ribs, which cannot be done with axes, maces or clubs. Backstabbing against non-humanoids (such as animals, magical beasts, constructs and undead) only does double damage as anatomy is not the same. 

Holy killers can and sometimes do use poison, either ingested or insinuated on a blade, though they do not get any special bonuses when using it.  

Holy killers of the Eternal Secret can use most of the standard thief skills. However, they have swapped the thief's ability to find and disarm traps with the new ability to disguise themselves. This is not the same as impersonating a specific individual. but can either be used to look like a specific job, role or the like, such as a palace guard, a merchant or a housewife (base 10% + 3% per level) or simply not appear as the holy killer normally does, so that those who know the holy killer's face are less likely to recognise him (base 15%, +5% per level). Situational adjustments may be applied by the DM (e.g. if in a crowd the holy killer might get a bonus, if being stopped and questioned by a sergeant of the town watch there may be a penalty. Similarly time spent practicing a role and observing those he tries to imitate will give a bonus (noticing how palace guards salute and march, or the accents people in a particular town use).

Ostensibly Holy Killers can be any alignment though most are neutral - they may be killers but they target those who they believe are threats or deserve to die. Some however are chaotic, and enjoy killing too much. These are more likely to abandon the order and join the guild of assassins. 

Image by Zvonimir Grbasic (source)