The Stars Come Right for 4th Edition D&D

I just wanted to take a minute to share something I ran across this afternoon. Goodman Games has released a creature supplement for 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons called Critter Cache: Lovecraftian Bestiary. As you can tell from the title this supplement introduces game write-ups for various Lovecraftian horrors for the newest edition of D&D. I have not actually seen this product yet, but it seems to offer an impressive array of creatures, and I would be very interested in seeing how 4E handles the Cthulhu Mythos.

Product blurb:
DMs, are your monsters lacking that certain something that makes them more than just another rung in the ol’ XP ladder? Do you want your players to be wide-eyed with terror and whisper, “what the hell is that?”, when you introduce a new monster to the game? Then look no further! The newest offering from Blackdirge Publishing and Goodman Games allows you to harness the raving lunacy of H.P. Lovecraft’s tales of terror and the supernatural for your Fourth Edition Dungeons & Dragons game. That’s right; Critter Cache: Lovecraftian Bestiary brings the squishy, squamous goodness of Lovecraftian monsters to your game table.

So dispense with the mundane kobolds, goblins, and orcs, and populate your next dungeon with elder things and shoggoths. Or, the next time your PCs set sail, have them bump into a slime-coated island covered with ancient ruins where giant, Cyclopean vaults just wait to be opened…

Critter Cache: Lovecraftian Bestiary is 40 pages of new 4E material, and features over 30 of your favorite Lovecraftian critters, including everyone’s favorite, tentacular Great Old One:
  • Color out of Space: Color out of Space
  • Cthulhu: Cthulhu, Star Spawn of Cthulhu
  • Dagon: Dagon
  • Deep One: Deep One Hybrid, Deep One Hybrid Elder, Deep One Priest of Cthulhu, Deep One Raider, Deep One Leviathan
  • Elder Thing: Elder Thing, Elder Thing Lifecrafter, Protoshoggoth
  • Flying Polyp: Flying Polyp
  • Ghoul, Lovecraftian: Ghoul Burrow King, Ghoul Coffin Cracker, Ghoul Grubber, Ghoul Gnawer
  • Great Race of Yith: Yithian Lightning Guard, Yithian Mindshifter, Yithian Temporal Master
  • Gug: Gug Priest of the Old Ones, Gug Sentry, Gug Slayer
  • Mi-Go: Mi-Go Guard, Mi-Go Scout, Mi-Go Surgeon
  • Nightgaunt: Nightgaunt, Nightgaunt Chosen of Nodens
  • Shantak: Shantak
  • Shoggoth: Greater Shoggoth, Shoggoth


[Dark Corners of High Adventure] Viking Age Orkney and Northern Scotland (Addendum Part II)

A common theme among Orkney legend is the phenomenon of vanishing islands. Mysterious islands are said to rise unexpectedly from the sea or from a mist, and then disappear just as suddenly as they appeared. It is also clear from the legends that these islands were not stationary, and could reveal themselves in various unexpected locations.

The most famous of the vanishing islands of Orkney is Hildaland, which is said to be one of the two homes that the Finfolk would migrate between. The second of these being Finfolkheem, their ancestral home, which is located at the bottom of the sea. Hildaland, meaning “hidden land”, served as a summer retreat for the Finfolk. Using dark sorcery they would keep the island hidden from mortal men who might wander too close.

Much like Finfolkheem and Hildaland, R’lyeh is a sunken undersea city which is built upon an island that rises from the sea from time to time. R’lyeh serves as the resting place for dead Cthulhu, who “waits dreaming”. When the stars are right R’lyeh rises from the ocean floor allowing Cthulhu to also rise up, and from death-like slumber he emerges from his tomb to bring doom upon the earth. R'lyeh's location varies from one location to another (just as Hildaland), depending on the weird tale and writer. Just as the Cthulhu Mythos and Norse mythology seem to run parallel in many areas, so too does R’lyeh and the vanishing islands of Orkney.

Vanishing Islands in your Game
Using these elements is a great way to insert a Lovecraftian flavor into your game, and it can also serve as a way to make an end-run around the history books. Who’s to say that the Orkneys did not have a number of other islands located within the archipelago that vanished from the landscape as well as history? These are the hiding places of the mysterious and forbidden. Home to creatures that time forgot, and races that history never recorded. These islands are waiting to be discovered and their dark secrets uncovered.


Roleplaying With Tarot Cards

Everway is one of those games I look back on and wish I had taken more seriously. I have never actually had an opportunity to play Everway, but I have always been intrigued by it. I am not sure why I have never taken the plunge and bought the game. It could have a lot to do with how much it cost when it was released, and also my overall attitude toward collectible card games in general. Also, I am not sure how receptive some of my past gaming groups would have been to Everway.

Lately, I have been thinking more and more about how the tarot deck can be used as a storytelling tool, and how that can translate into roleplaying mechanics. If I understand correctly, Everway used a fortune deck, which was heavily influenced by the tarot. I also see that Mage: The Awakening has a tarot deck, and there are rules for using the cards as a storytelling tool. And I believe Alluvia is another game that used the tarot, but honestly I know almost nothing about the game. I can't even find a working link on Google to learn more about it.

This time I am turning to my readers for answers and advice. Below is a short list of questions. Do not feel you are limited by these questions at all. If you have something to share, please do. Even if you think that using the tarot as a rolepaying tool is a terrible idea, I want to hear about it. Thanks!

My questions:
  1. I would like to hear from other gamers who have had experience using the tarot (or fortune deck) as a storytelling device for their games. (How well does it work? Is this a style of game you use often? etc.)
  2. If someone has used the Mage deck I would like to hear how the game mechanics work, and how well they translate to a roleplaying game?
  3. Does using the tarot in this manner lend itself to other gaming genres other than fantasy? For example, how well would it lend itself to a horror game, like Call of Cthulhu?


Conan Movie Character List

Moviehole has posted a listing of characters from the forthcoming Conan movie, which begins filming in February. The list is quite long, with included concept writeups for each character. It even has a few Picts listed as supporting characters, so that is a big plus in my book. The article also mentions that producers are not nessesarily looking to cast a "name" to portray Conan. All we can do now is pray to Crom for a great movie! 

Here are a handful of entries that caught my eye:

[CONAN] He's in his 20s to early 30s, Caucasian, powerfully built, broad-shouldered, sun browned skin lined with scars. Piercing blue eyes and square-cut black mane, tall. He is a savage killer that has matured into the refinement his father tried to teach him when he was young. Conan is very smart, almost inhumanly strong, and very cunning. His entire life, from the moment of his birth, has been shaped by violence. Being the last of his tribe and having to watch his father die a cruel death, he is determined avenge his peoples slaughter by killing all those who led the attack on the Cimmerians, including the all-powerful Khalar Singh. He is prepared to die in order to accomplish his goal. What Conan did not expect, was to find a reason to live… LEAD
[CORIN] He's in his 30s to 40s, Caucasian, powerfully built, intelligent, graceful, master swordsman, skilled blacksmith, de facto leader of Cimmerians and Conan's father. He resolves to answer the terrible request of his dying wife and cuts Conan out of her so she can see him. He then shoulders the burden of raising Conan, which proves to be daunting given the boy's savage nature. Corin teaches his son the meaning of the sword: a hot blade must be cooled and tempered. When Khalar finally corners him and tortures him to death, he shows no regret nor pain, hiding his concern for his son's safety from the eyes of the enemy. SUPPORTING
[REMO] He's in his 30s, any ethnicity, thin, feral, misshapen, a mysterious warrior of dark magic who travels by shadow and surprises men with a quick death. He leads a band of tracking Shadow Scouts under Khalar Singh's employ. He can be immensely fast and devious, his soul as twisted as his body. SUPPORTING
[PICT] He's in his 30s, any ethnicity or dark-complexioned Caucasian ("pict" is Latin for "painted one") the fourth in the band of Pict Savages. He survives Conan's onslaught and brings Khalar Singh to where the Cimmerians camp. He is promised the heads of his enemies.
[YOUNG CONAN] Caucasian, tough and wiry, scary violent. At ten, he insists on joining the teenage boys entering their rites into becoming warriors. When four Picts cross his path and kill one of the boys, Conan unleashes a savagery that goes too far for a warrior. His father takes him aside and personally trains him. His father teaches him what makes a good sword but he has still much to learn what makes a good swordsman. When the Cimmerians are attacked by Khalar Singh and his mercenaries, Conan is the only survivor, the last of the Cimmerians. SUPPORTING

[Dark Corners of High Adventure] Viking Age Orkney and Northern Scotland (Addendum Part I)

Earlier this week I posted an article that discussed the similarities in Norse mythology and the Cthulhu Mythos. Since that time I have had some additional thoughts I wanted to share. I am sure there will be more to add to the subject, so I am calling this "Addendum I".

Just a few additional notes on possible connections between Norse Mythology and the Cthulhu Mythos:
Ginnungagap: in Norse mythology this is the primordial void or chaos from which creation sprang from. Obviously a connection can be made here between Ginnungagap and Azathoth. In the Cthulhu Mythos Azathoth is the "Primal Chaos", and is said to have given birth to the universe.
Tsathoggua / Hyperborea: from the pen of Clark Ashton Smith comes the Hyperborean Cycle, a series of weird tales that take place in ancient pre-historic lands of Hyperborea. These stories are a great example of how sword & sorcery adventure can be blended with cosmic horror. Smith made it very clear that Greenland is the modern day location of Hyperborea, and for our purposes this is perfect, for the Vikings would eventually settle in Greenland sometime around 1000 AD.
Now not only do we have a link between the Norse and Cthulhu, we can now assume that the Viking settlers would at some point come under the insidious influence of "King Toad" himself and that the remnants of his ancient lair Mount Voormithadreth (and all of the Hyperborean ruins for that matter) lay hiding somewhere in the wilds of Greenland.
Atlach-Nacha: another Old One that inhabits the caverns of Mount Voormithadreth. Described as a monstrous spider with an almost human-like head, Atlach-Nacha is said to spin a web that somehow bridges the gap between our world and the Dreamlands. Surely if the Norse settlers would learn of the dark presence of Tsathoggua they will also learn of Atlach-Nacha as well. Having this connection allows for an interesting path into the Dreamlands to be introduced in your game...
Yhoundeh: is a mysterious Hyperborean "elk goddess", who is named as the wife of Nyarlathotep in the Parchments of Pnom. Little is known about her, other than she was a protector of nature, and her followers began an inquisition against the cult of Tsathoggua. It was during this inquisition that the sorcerer Eibon (author of the blasphemous tome Book of Eibon) was persecuted, and subsequently fled to Saturn to escape his own demise. Since we have already drawn a correlation between Loki and Nyarlathotep we can assume that in a roundabout way Yhoundeh could be associated with Sigyn (Loki's wife) by those involved with a Loki cult.


[The Lovecraftian Collector] Blood Will Have Its Season (Update)

Back in July I posted about a new collection of Lovecraftian tales by Joe Pulver, called Blood Will Have Its Season. The book has received a lot of great press, and many respected writers in the Lovecraft community have praised Joe for his writing ability, as well as his vision. I wanted to do a quick followup to direct those interested to a few reviews of the book. 

Check 'em out:

Mortis Rex

There is a new movie that is in production called Mortis Rex that looks to have some serious sword & sanity potential. Directed and written by Peter Briggs (screenwritter for the first Hellboy movie), Mortis Rex is being dubbed a horror-thriller, and promises to deliver lots of Roman on Lovecraftian beast action!

From the website:
"MORTIS REX" is an Ancient Rome monster movie. In 123 AD, a disgraced Roman war hero is sent to defend a Roman garrison stationed in remote Scotland from a spate of mysterious killings. The hero reclaims his rightful warrior status by uniting with the local Druids and vanquishing a terrifying supernatural beast.
A terrifying, fantastical action movie in the vein of BROTHERHOOD OF THE WOLF.


[Dark Corners of High Adventure] Viking Age Orkney and Northern Scotland

There was a time when history was split between the Dark Ages and the Middle Ages; when the pagan religions still had a place in the world, before their inevitable downfall to Christianity. People still believed that monstrous races roamed the hills and swam the seas. They believed magic was something to fear, and other worlds lay beyond our own in the thick shrouded mists that formed just on the edge reality. This was the age of the noble barbarian. The age of the Northmen who gripped the world in fear, and brought it to bear as cunning tradesmen, fearless mariners and savage warriors. Men who dared sail toward the edge of the world, and lived to share their sagas of discovery. This was the Viking Age!

If the above paragraph does not seize your imagination, and scream out as a setting that has limitless sword & sorcery potential, then I am afraid you have landed on the wrong blog, and should perhaps seek another. If however, you are like me, then you realize that the Viking Age offers a tremendous amount of opportunity to bring sword & sorcery adventure tinged with eldritch cosmic horror to the game table, in a genre that I call sword & sanity.

This article will illustrate how history, real world mythology and the Lovecraftian myth-cycle can intersect if you look close enough. I assume the reader has a working knowledge of both the Cthulhu Mythos and Norse mythology. The purpose of this article is not to serve as a history lesson on the Viking Age, but to present a group of observations on a specific place, during a specific historical age, which is the Orkney Island and northern Scotland during the Viking Age. I will need to present some minimal historical information to begin with, just to lay the initial groundwork. I would suggest using Wikipedia to obtain additional historical materials on the time period and the places discussed. I will also provide a series of links to reading materials at the end of this article, for those interested.

The Orkney Islands
The Orkneys are a series of around 70 islands off the northern coast of Scotland. In 875 AD Norway claimed this archipelago, naming it Orkneyjar, which meant “the seal islands” in Old Norse. They in turn used the islands as a strategic location for a base of operations for their raiding and buccaneering expeditions. Orkney and northern Scotland were ruled by a series of jarls (Norse earls), who reported directly to the king of Norway.

It is speculated that the claiming of these lands was initially a bloody affair, but soon turned amicable, as Norse settlers lived among, and in many cases, married into the tribes of Picts and Scots who inhabited the Orkneys and northern Scotland. The culmination of the Norse and the Scots tribes would produce a language that is now extinct, known as Norn. History tells us that the mysterious race of Picts would soon disappear after the arrival of the Northmen, as they were absorbed by other invading tribes, which as a whole would come to be known as the Scots.

The Picts
If we are to believe historians, the tribes of the Picts, who ruled over the north-eastern regions of the British Isles for over five hundred years, were slowly absorbed into invading Gaelic tribes, with the combination eventually being called the Scots. The reasoning behind this assumption is sound and is most likely very true. But as with all history that is considered “hazy” we can manipulate and bend it to our own needs…

It is widely believed the Picts were a tribal people that had very strong shamanic connections with the spirit world. Taking this into consideration, and also looking at it from a gaming point of view, we can cast on the disappearance of the Pictish people a more mysterious light. What if, just as in Robert Howard’s writings, the Picts were a race of people that were extremely hard to extinguish? They were able to survive cataclysm and adversity, somehow reemerging from one age to another, and reestablishing their place in history time and time again. In Howard’s timeline the Picts had survived the collapse of Atlantis, and later brought about the end of the Hyborian Age. What if we follow this same line of thinking, and consider for a moment that the Picts may not have been bred out by other tribes, but they chose to fade out of history all together.

Using this line of thinking we can reimagine the disappearance of the Picts in a number of ways:
Exodus Beyond the Veil: this is perhaps the most fantastic of all the proposed reimaginings, and as such may not fit into some low-magic games. The basic Idea is that the Picts used their knowledge of sacred sites and their command over the spirit realm to slip from this world into another. Lovecraft often used the idea of extradimensional beings and parallel worlds in his writings, so this hypothesis lends itself well to the Cthulhu Mythos. In Norse cosmology there are nine worlds, including the world of men, which is Midgard (middle earth). Another of the nine worlds is Niflheim, which is the land of ice and mist, is considered to be the Norse spirit realm, and could very well be the land into which the Pictish tribes fled.
Relocated to Forgotten Islands: the Picts lived and traveled the lands of northern Scotland and Orkney for centuries before the Vikings ever landed on their shores. It is not beyond the realm of possibility to presume that they were privy to secrets locales that were never discovered or charted by the northern invaders. Orkney legend speaks of lost islands that would mysteriously rise from the waves, while others that would sink into the sea never to be seen again. For game purposes, it can be assumed that the Picts fled to a series of uncharted islands and established new colonies for themselves.
Tainted Bloodline: lastly, we can take the hypothesis of the Picts being absorbed into other invading tribes, and add a darker spin. Just as in Lovecraft’s stories, in Orkney legend there was a race of beings (see the Finfolk below) who lived in the ocean and enjoyed copulating with unsuspecting humans. What if the Picts not only were absorbed into invading tribal populations, but also many were absorbed into the Finfolk population as well. Going further with this line of thinking, then the question must be asked if the Picts willingly gave themselves to this insidious take over, or were they tricked into submission through dark sorcery?
It would be impossible to discuss Norse mythology along side the Cthulhu Mythos without taking a closer look at the pantheon of gods from each myth-cycle, and finding areas in which they overlap. Once I started looking at the two it became clear that the similarities were many, and they were not forced. Both myth-cycles meshed together effortlessly, and to my delight offered a lot of great gaming material.
Nyarlathotep / Loki: a shape shifting trickster whose destiny is to herald in the end of the world… sound familiar? It is obvious that Loki and Nyarlathotep are interchangeable, and for our gaming purposes it is encouraged. Do not hesitate to have Loki be at the center of chaos and confusion, just as Nyarlathotep often is. Even if you never actually have him make an appearance in the game world it would be easy to still introduce his chaos mongering nature into the story. There is no actual proof that Loki had a cult during antiquity, but this is something that is easily adjusted for gaming purposes. If Loki cannot make an appearance then surly his cult can act in his stead.
Odin: the All Father, and master of the runes. Odin was also something of a trickster himself, and learned the art of shape changing from Loki. Though Odin was king of Asgard it cannot be assumed that he was a wholly benevolent being – on the contrary. Odin wielded dark magic, and resorted to necromancy. In grand occult tradition, Odin sacrificed himself on the World Tree and he rose from the dead illuminated with arcane knowledge. His lust for forbidden knowledge is well documented, and should be used accordingly. Odin followers would also lust for this forbidden knowledge, and his cult would go to great lengths to obtain it. Once they had mastery over dark arcane forces it would be hard for them to control the desire not to see it in use…
Jörmungandr: the World Serpent, son of Loki, which lies at the bottom of the ocean and sleeps till the time it will rise to help destroy the world. This being is so monstrously huge that it encircles the world, and can still swallow its own tail. It is said that when Jörmungandr releases his tail it will usher forth Ragnarök, and the world as we know it will end. A correlation between Jörmungandr and Cthulhu is easy to see, so it would be an easy thing to make them interchangeable in many ways. Being the son of Loki also provides some interesting possibilities as well, as his cult would hold this being in high regard, and possibly venerate it as a god itself.
Nodens: Nodens has made an appearance in a couple of Lovecraft’s stories, and by comparison to other entities in the Cthulhu Mythos Nodens seems almost like a benevolent figure through his actions. It should also be mentioned that Nodens is the arch rival to Nyarlathotep.
The Romans brought the worship of Nodens with them when they conquered the British Isles, and the Celts would have referred to him as Nuada or Nudd “of the Silver Hand”, due to the fact that he had a missing hand which was replaced by a magical one. In Norse mythology it was Tyr whose hand (arm) was lost, but not in combat as Nuadda, but it was bitten off by Fenris the wolf, who also happens to be a son of Loki.
Another interesting point that has been suggested about Nodens is that he was associated with the Greek god Pan, hence his appearance in Arthur Machen’s weird tale, The Great God Pan. Scholars have put forth that the Greek word “pan” means “all”, so they speculate that by associating Nodens with Pan was not to say that he as a goat legged nature deity, but they theorize that he was an “all god”. This would essentially make him Zeus, Poseidon and Pluto all wrapped up into one god. Inscriptions found at Roman sacred sites dedicated to Nodens seem to verify this theory.
If Nodens can be associated with Zeus, Poseidon and Pluto all at the same time, then it can be speculated that the Norse invaders would have made the same associations, and saw within him aspects of Thor, Njord (Norse god of the oceans) and Hel (daughter of Loki, queen of the underworld). Also, Nodens was seen as the master of the hunt, and in Norse mythology Odin (Wōden to the Anglo-Saxons) was the master of the Wild Hunt.
Cthulhu: in "The Call of Cthulhu" H.P. Lovecraft provides an obvious connection between the Norse people and the cult of Cthulhu when it describes a tribe of “degenerate Eskimos” on the west coast of Greenland. This tribe practiced dark bloodthirsty rites, and even had in its possession a hideous bas-relief of Cthulhu himself. It is thought that Norse / Icelandic Vikings did not discover Greenland until the 10th century, but this can easily be altered to fit the timeline of your game. Who’s to say that an expedition from Norway was not blown way off course, and happened upon this tribe of Eskimos much earlier than history records, and in doing so was exposed to the cult practices of the Great Old One?
Ithaqua: the Wind-Walker who prowls the Arctic wastes. The northern parts of Norway, Sweden and Finland are within what is considered the Arctic Circle, so it is easy to see how these lands would come under the dominion of Ithaqua. He is described as a giant with glowing red eyes. This description could also be given to a typical Norse ice giant. In Norse mythology Ymir was the first being to be formed from the primeval chaos known as Ginnungagap (Azathoth...?), and he was the father of the ice giants. For game purposes we should consider Ithaqua and Ymir one and the same. Those travelling into the deep north should pay homage to the Wind-Walker by offering up sacrifices, or risk bringing his icy wrath down upon them.
By the time the Vikings invaded there were Christian monasteries and churches already established in northern Scotland. For centuries the old pagan ways and the Christian church lived side by side, and in many cases the peasantry practiced both religions.

Orkney was formally Christianized in 995, and jarl Sigurd the Stout was ordered to be baptized, or face “fire and steel”. It is interesting to note that he was the son of a known witch, and carried a magical raven emblazoned banner into battle. The old ways did not die easily…

Creatures from the Outer Dark
Here is a quick selection of possible foes that can be introduced into a Viking Age sword & sanity game:
Draug: the draug were undead creatures from Norse mythology. It is said they linger in the graves of dead warriors, and are extremely hard to kill. There are tales of draug rising again to attack, even after being decapitated. There is a type of draug that lives in the sea, and is associated with fallen sailors.
Finfolk: in Orkney folklore there is a race of shapeshifters who live in the sea, and are powerful dark sorcerers. Their home is called Finfolkheem, which lies at the bottom of the ocean. During the warm months of the year the Finfolk emerge from their watery home to abduct humans. Driven by carnal lust, the men (Finmen) and women (Finwife) take their captives, and force them to become their mates. Legend says if the Finfolk breed with each other their beauty and sorcerous powers are lost forever.
Jötnar: giants from Norse mythology. It can be assumed that the size of these giants has diminished quite a bit from those of the ancient tales. Obviously, the placement of these creatures will need to be far from human eyes, and in extremely remote locations.
Orm: the Norse referred to their dragons as orm, or sometimes wyrm. They were legless and wingless creatures of huge proportions that could take flight, and spit forth clouds of flame, acid and poison. An interesting tie in here is that Ithaqua is served by a race of beings that have been described as "dragon-like".
Trow: this is an Orkney version of a troll, and should be treated as such on all accounts. They are a devious race, only travel at night, live underground in earth mounds and some say they have a fondness for music.
Suggested Reading


[Review] Taint and Sanity – RuneQuest Edition

Taint and Sanity – RuneQuest Edition is an Open Game License product published by OtherWorld Creations for use with RuneQuest (Mongoose Edition). The object of this supplement is simple enough: to introduce rules on how to handle Taint and Sanity when using the RuneQuest ruleset. Does it accomplish this goal? Yes it does, and I feel it does so with rules that can be implemented seamlessly and effortlessly into a new or even an existing campaign.

What is Taint? Here is what the supplement tells us:
Some places and items are so evil or filled with Chaos that exposure to them marks, or taints, a character in a very real and difficult-to-cleanse way. Taint is evil. It is a corruption so deep it warps the very plane of reality. A weapon used to slaughter thousands of innocents, a forest grown on land soaked in the blood of an evil deity, a book bound in the flesh of an archfiend for his own horrible purposes, and the presence of an evil deity are all sources of taint. Then, of course, there are rings…
We have all seen this before. Taint is a well established troupe in fantasy gaming, even if it is not specifically named so in the rules we are familiar with. It is the bread and butter of fantasy literature, and it can be the linchpin for entire sagas that are told on the page, or at the game table.

In Taint and Sanity – RuneQuest Edition taint is handled much like a disease or a poison, and rightly so. Its effects are cumulative, and can quickly whittle away at an exposed character if the proper Resilience saves are not rolled. With each failed Resilience save a character’s Taint score is raised by 1. As the exposure takes its toll, a character will suffer physical ailments, and can even die from its effects. 

The rules go on to explain how to cleanse a person or place of Taint by using spells or performing good deeds. A useful list of possible side effects from exposure to Taint is provided, and there are even alternate rules for varying styles of games. And for the black of heart, there are rules provided for those retched characters who decide to embrace the darkness, and pledge themselves to the service of the source of the Taint.

Taint and Sanity – RuneQuest Edition also provides an alternate set of rules for handling a character’s mental health. These rules introduce Sanity as a characteristic, which has the unfortunate potential to deteriorate as characters encounter monsters, are exposed to forbidden knowledge, witness evil or violent acts, or even when casting spells. 

The rules cover all the basic things you would expect: starting Sanity, maximum Sanity score, the loss of Sanity, regaining Sanity and also the effects of shock. There are several handy charts that help determine the effects of insanity and phobias. The rules also offer quite a bit of advice on treating insanity, mental therapy, restoring Sanity through magic, alchemical treatments and drug use. If you have played Call of Cthulhu then you already have a fairly good grasp on some of the rules that are presented.

Overall Impressions
Substance: 4 out of 5 – (above average) the rules presented are meaty, with some being ported directly over from Call of Cthulhu.

Style: 3 out of 5 – (average) nothing particularly special about the artwork, and the editing seems to be thorough.

As a gamer who loves to blend sword & sorcery with eldritch horror I can say Taint and Sanity – RuneQuest Edition is a must have. If you are using RuneQuest (or really any of the games in the D100 family), and are running a sword & sanity campaign you must get your hands on this supplement. OtherWorld Creations has a demo up, so swing by and take a look.

"At the Mountains of Madness" Audio Recording by MorganScorpion

As I am busy preparing a new article for Swords Against the Outer Dark I thought it would be fun to share a series of audio recordings of H.P. Lovecraft's "At the Mountains of Madness", read and recorded by a Facebook acquaintance of mine named Julia Morgan (MorganScorpion). I have grown to know her as a dedicated Lovecraft fan, and found her readings of his work to be exceptional. If you agree and want to hear more I would suggest following her on Twitter, as she posts her updates there regularly.
"At the Mountains of Madness", by H.P. Lovecraft, read by MorganScorpion 

(Part 1)

(Part 2)

(Part 3)

(Parts 4 and 5)

(Parts 6 and 7)

(Parts 8 and 9)

(Parts 10, 11 and 12)


Where did I put that blog? Oh, there it is!

Well, after an extended hiatus I feel it is time to start dedicating myself to maintaining this blog again. It has been some time since I posted anything, but I am back now and I plan to begin posting again regularly. I have spent the better part of today giving the place a needed face lift, and with a fresh coat of paint comes a fresh start. I need to tie together some loose ends, like kicking off the Dark Corners of Adventure articles I had promised, so that is next on the agenda... I mean it this time!  :-)


[Dark Corners of high Adventure] Introduction

A series of posts I have planned will be tagged Dark Corners of High Adventure, and with this series I plan to share setting and adventure ideas that will help illustrate what the sword & sanity genre means to me. These settings will range from the historical to the fantastic, but they will all have the potential to blend high adventure sword & sorcery with Lovecraftian cosmic horror. There will be no game mechanics discussed in these posts, but I might suggest a few game systems that I feel are appropriate for the setting or adventure being discussed.

Just as a teaser, the first setting I will present will be the Orkney Isles in and around 999 AD. This is a setting I have had brewing for a few years now. Though this is a historical setting the Viking Age offers much in the way of magic, mystery and Lovecraftian mayhem. I should have this posted in the next few days.



With a renewed interest in the D100 system (RuneQuest / Basic Rolepaying / Call of Cthulhu / Stormbringer) I happened upon a new variant on the old equation. It is a game called OpenQuest, and so far I am loving everything I am reading. The game is published by D101 Games, and it blends everything I like from various versions and editions of the D100 system to produce an excellent retro-clone of the RuneQuest / BRP system. I plan to playtest this game very soon.

From the website:
A complete and easy to play Fantasy Roleplaying game, with monsters, magic and exotic locales. OpenQuest uses the classic D100 rules mechanic, which uses percentages to express the chance of success or failure.

Open Quest is based on the Mongoose RuneQuest SRD (MRQ SRD), with ideas from previous editions of Chaosium’s RuneQuest and Stormbringer 5th, mixed in with some common sense house rulings from the author’s twenty years of experience with the D100 system.

OpenQuest is OPEN!
Everything in the core OpenQuest rule book, except the illustrations by Simon Bray, is open gaming content under the Open Gaming Licence.

This means that you can use all or part of the book to produce your own games, rules, adventures even for commercial release as long as you include the Open Gaming Licence included in the back of the book.

The Winds of Change are Ablowin'

It has been several days since I last posted anything new on the blog. I see even though I have neglected my duties as a blogger I have still picked up a few new followers. This is a good sign, and I thank everyone for reading.

I must admit that part of my lack of new material being posted is because of system burnout. Another part is because I am knee deep in another project that I hope to reveal very soon, and it is taking up quite a bit of my time. In a way I have reached a kind of gaming crossroads so to speak. In short I have decided it is time to switch to another gaming system.

Currently I am using Castes & Crusades to run my game, and most of the materials I have presented here have been designed for C&C. The problem is the amount of work I have had to do to make the system fit my needs. All in all I feel I have done more in the way of system rebuilding than I have preparing adventures. This is where the burnout comes in. At first I had a lot of fun tweaking C&C to have a truer sword & sorcery feel. But in retrospect I think I have been trying to shoehorn the system into places it doesn't like to go.

I chose C&C initially because it is a great game, and it is a rules-lite system that captures the old school feel perfectly. It is also extremely easy to houserule, which I knew I would have to do. I knew I wanted to run a serious sword & sorcery game, and I knew if I used C&C it would take a bit of work to pull off. Another option I was looking at was using the Mongoose edition of RuneQuest, but my players voiced a desire for me to run the game with C&C, and that is the only reason I chose it in the end.

Systemwise RuneQuest would have been a better choice, as it already has a strong sword & sorcery flavor built into the system. It is deadly as hell, and the combat has a brutality that is required for the genre. Also, the Lovecraftian elements I wanted to bring in would have been ported over from Call of Cthulhu with almost no effort. As I am typing this it seems like it was a no brainer to use RuneQuest after all.

That brings me to the purpose of this post. I have decided to take a break from Castles & Crusades, and focus my attention on the D100 family of games (RuneQuest / Basic Roleplaying / Stormbringer / Call of Cthulhu) for now. I am still dedicated to the Old School Renaissance, and intend to remain so. I am also dedicated to producing Open Game License materials, and Mongoose RuneQuest allows me to do so, since it uses the same OGL Wizards of the Coast used for D20 products.

Perhaps some of the Chaosium nostalgia posts over at Grognardia helped remind me of my initial desire to use RuneQuest enhanced with bits a pieces from BRP and CoC. Perhaps it is just the right time. Either way I am sure I will keep C&C close at hand, as I will always love that game in many ways. Right now this feels like the right move. Time will tell...


H.P. Lovecraft's Birthday

If he were still alive H.P. Lovecraft would have been 119 today. I raise a cup of space mead in celebration!

Howard Phillips Lovecraft
August 20, 1890 – March 15, 1937


Forgotten Books

I wanted to share an invaluable resource I have been using for research lately. It is a website called Forgotten Books, and there you will find a veritable treasure trove of classic literature and reference books that can be accessed and read for free, or if you like you can buy the books for very reasonable prices. As a game master / storyteller / world builder this kind of online library is invaluable. The occult titles this site has available are very extensive, as well as those under folklore and mythology. Forgotten Books has something for everyone.

From the website:

Welcome to! From here you can read thousands of books FREE online (100% viewable) and purchase the books you like as high-quality paperbacks at wholesale prices.

We specialize in historical writings, this includes works such as: classical fiction, philosophy, science, religion, folklore, mythology and sacred texts, in addition to secret and esoteric subjects, such as: occult, freemasonry, alchemy, hermetic and ancient knowledge. Fiction and non-fiction books.

It is our mission to find hidden knowledge and preserve lost knowledge, from antiquity to the present day, and make this information freely available to the world. If you like any of our books, they are all for sale on for little over the cost of the printing. Please take a look.


[HackMaster] Kenzer & Co. Gen Con Interview

One of the coolest games I have bought in recent history is HackMaster Basic. I have to say I really love this game. It does a great job of reenvisioning the original HackMaster system, while maintaining its old school Advanced Dungeons & Dragons roots. The game designers have managed to add solid new game mechanics throughout the product without bogging the game down in any way. And the fact that they got Erol Otus to paint the cover is reason enough alone to buy this game.

Earlier editions of HackMaster put me off a bit with some of the jokes and dumb comedy that were embedded into the products. I had a hard time imagining the original HackMaster powering a serious campaign because of this. Well, those worries are completely gone with the new edition. Kenzer & Co. have moved away from the less than serious approach, dialed the comedy down several notches and have produced a great fantasy roleplaying game. With a few tweaks here and there I could easily see myself using the new HackMaster rules to power the sword & sanity campaign I am currently running. Now if only they would slap an Open Game License on HackMaster I would be a happy camper...

As for the system, I would put HackMaster Basic somewhere between Advanced Dungeons & Dragons and RuneQuest or Basic Roleplaying. There are things about the new system that remind me of both of these great games.

For those wanting to learn even more about HackMaster Basic take a look at a recent interview Kenzer & Co. did at Gen Con 2009:


Dark Sun for 4th Edition D&D

Well, it looks like Wizards of the Coast has announced Dark Sun as the next big campaign setting for 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons. Though I am not currently playing 4th Edition I think this is excellent news. Read here to find out more.

Dark Sun was originally published by TSR for 2nd Edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, and it was unlike any other product they had ever released. It was a setting that was years ahead of its time, and sadly Dark Sun never drew in the audience it deserved back in the day. Since then it has gained a cult following, and it looks like Wizards has recognized its potential.

For the uninitiated, Dark Sun was a brutal post-apocalyptic fantasy setting where magic had ravaged the world of Athas, leaving it a desert planet; the gods were dead and steel was more precious than life itself. The setting was deadly and grim as hell, and in my opinion the closest to a true sword & planet / sword & sandal / sword & sorcery setting ever officially released for D&D. I mention all three genres because I feel Dark Sun in its own way captured all of them beautiful. Dark Sun also represented a genre of science-fantasy that can be classified as "Dying Earth", which has its roots in the writings of Clark Ashton Smith, Jack Vance, Gene Wolfe and others.

If you are tired of the same ol' same ol' in your fantasy gaming I would highly recommend Dark Sun as a setting that will offer "different" in spades. Even if 4th Edition D&D is not your cup of tea do not allow that to stop you from seeking out Dark Sun products released for earlier editions of the worlds most popular fantasy game. Scour eBay and online used gaming shops like Noble Knight Games for copies of the original release of Dark Sun. You will not be disappointed.


Be Back Very Soon

Due to internet connectivity issues I have not been able to post updates to Swords Against the Outer Dark these past few days. Also, I am out of town for the weekend, so I am afraid it will be Monday before I will have anything new to share. Bear with me, and I promise some good stuff coming next week.


Solomon Kane Bootleg Comic-Con Trailer

If ever there was a soldier who took up arms against the Outer Dark it was Solomon Kane. This Puritan swordsman was created by Robert E. Howard, and he has become almost as iconic as Howard’s other famous sword & sorcery hero Conan. In many ways I actually prefer the Solomon Kane stories over those written about Conan. This is mainly due to Kane’s dark and sullen demeanor, the time period in which his adventures took place and the dark gothic atmosphere of the tales.

I have been following the production of the Solomon Kane movie since its announcement in 2006, and so far there has been very little information out on the net as to when it will be released. Well the silence has broken, and a new trailer was previewed at Comic-Con ’09. Perhaps this means the movie will soon see the light of day.

Trailer Addict has a bootleg copy of the trailer:

[Interview] James M. Ward

Troll Lords Games has an upcoming product called TAINTED LANDS, which is a fantasy horror roleplaying game written by James M. Ward for Castles & Crusades. TAINTED LANDS will be released in box-set form as a stand-alone Siege Engine product, and promises horror rules and a supernatural rulebook. I am sure I’m not alone in my excitement for this product, and what it can bring to the table for horror fueled sword & sorcery gaming.

The designer and writer of TAINTED LANDS is none other than James M. Ward of TSR fame. To my delight, Jim has agreed to answer a few questions for Swords Against the Outer Dark about TAINTED LANDS, as well as his career with TSR and Troll Lord Games. So without further ado…


Many gamers who have played Dungeons & Dragons for as many years as I have remember your work from back in the early days of TSR. I found a bit of your background information on Wikipedia, but I am sure there are those like myself who would like to know more. How and when did you find yourself taking up the hobby of role-playing games?

JMW: I met Gary Gygax in 1974 when the 1,000 brown box sets of D&D were first printed up. He told me he had a game where I could play Conan the barbarian and fight the forces of Set and I was hooked. He and Brian Blume taught be how to play the game on Gary’s side porch and I’ve enjoyed the game every since.

Seeing your credentials as a writer, game designer, and storyteller, I can't help but wonder if you found yourself naturally gravitating toward the role of game master early on when you entered into the hobby?

JMW: It took me months and months to figure out how to use the dice in the game. Once I did, I found myself drawing up my own crude dungeons. However, running games as the Dungeon Master was daunting in the company of Gary Gygax, Rob Kuntz, and Ernie Gygax. I started running games for Rob and Ernie, but they always said I gave out too much treasure. That’s where I first earned by nickname of Monty Haul. When I started writing the science fiction role-playing game METAMORPHOSIS ALPHA Gary joined in the fun and I learned how to run a balanced game.

Do you remember the first adventure you ran (or played in), and can you share a few quick details that you can remember from that game?

JMW: I remember every minute of that game. We were play testing Kong Island and I was a first level wizard. I had a light spell and I went with a group of fifth level characters. We were exploring a native village at dawn. I made the stupid mistake of casting a light spell in a large, dark thatch hut. The twenty native warriors boiled out of the hut and killed me as I stupidly stood there. Lucky for me Ernie Gygax had a wish spell and wished many of the dead party back alive.

How quickly did you find yourself writing your own game materials and adventures?

JMW: There were few people acting as DMs in those days. Gary encouraged everyone to write up their own things. Gary Gygax and his entire family got in the swing of things one way or another and I’m proud to be friends with the kids to this day.

Do you still find time to enjoy gaming, and do you have a regular gaming group?

JMW: I do a lot of play testing now. I have a group that plays every Friday. I also get some old hands like Tom Wham and Brian Blume to test my latest inventions.

If so, what game are you playing, are you running the game and can you share a few details of the game itself?

JMW: As I write this, I’m playing a board game called PANZER GENERAL it’s a card and board game based on an Ubisoft computer online game. I’m getting it ready for Gen Con that happens next week. Lately I’ve been making my living writing product for Troll Lord games. I manage the CRUSADER, a monthly magazine of theirs. At Gen Con this year, my hardbound book OF GODS & MONSTERS and my box set, TAINTED LANDS will be presented to the public for the first time.


Can you share how you came to work with TSR?

JMW: I was playing games with Gary and the TSR crew and in 1975, I went to begin a teaching career at West Grant High School. As I moved I told Gary any time he could afford my teaching salary (at that time $9,500), I would happily come and work for him. During Christmas and Thanksgiving, I would come down to Lake Geneva and game with Gary. While I was teaching, I wrote GODS, DEMIGODS & HEROES, and DEITIES & DEMIGODS. I also helped proof read the first AD&D Players Handbook and the Dungeon Master’s Guide. Finally, in 1980, they could afford my $13,800 salary and I moved back to my home town of Elkhorn and started working for TSR.

One of my favorite products for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons was DEITIES & DEMIGODS. As most can guess, the main reason for this is because it included the Cthulhu Mythos, but I also particularly loved the entries for the Nehwon, Melnibonéan, Norse and Arthurian Mythos as well. Other than the AD&D Players Handbook, DEITIES was the rulebook I spent the most time reading. I am curious what your involvement was with this book?

JMW: I wrote almost all the entries for DEITIES & DEMIGODS. I would pass over written pantheons to Gary and he would tell me if this or that god was too tough. It was an early work and I did lots of things far differently in the OF GODS & MONSTERS hardbound.

Wikipedia has you credited for the creation of the nonhuman deities in DEITIES & DEMIGODS. Can you share which of the mythos presented can be credited to you, or was the writing of DEITIES more of a collaborative effort? Did you write the entries for the Cthulhu Mythos?

JMW: I wrote all the entries you mentioned: Nehwon, Melnibonéan, Norse, and Arthurian. Rob Kuntz wrote the Finnish mythos and I did the rest. There were lots of debates about the work on the editorial end and things changed along the way, but I’m proud to have authored the work.

You also helped write Gods, Demi-Gods & Heroes (Supplement IV) for the original edition of D&D, and if memory serves, there was an entry for Hyborian gods and heroes in that book. I am curious why those entries from the Robert E. Howard Mythos were not carried over into Deities & Demigods for AD&D?

JMW: I submitted an outline for the hardbound and there just wasn’t room in the larger work for the Conan material. We had planned on doing a second volume, but there just never seemed time to get that one done.

Troll Lord Games

With Troll Lord Games you have written a whole slew of new Illusionist spells for the fourth printing of the Castles & Crusades Players Handbook, published TOWERS OF ADVENTURE and now the upcoming releases TAINTED LANDS and OF GODS & MONSTERS. Can you take a moment to explain your involvement with the Trolls, and how you came to work for them?

JMW: Gary Gygax was kind enough to suggest I take over the Managing Editor duties for CRUSADER magazine. It wasn’t coming out that often and everyone at Troll Lords wanted the magazine to become a strong marketing arm of the company. The magazine started coming out more often and Steve Chenault and I would talk about product that might sell well for the company that I could design. I’m pleased to say that I have always delivered my designs ahead of schedule and with a professionalism that Steve has found refreshing.

Is there a future product you are working on that you would be willing to talk about, and possibly give us a glimpse into?

JMW: I have to say no to this one. I have several projects suggested to Troll Lords, but they wouldn’t want the news to leak out so that someone else could copy the idea.

TAINTED LANDS / Castles & Crusades

I see that both horror rules and a supernatural rulebook are listed as part of content for the TAINTED LANDS box set. Can you elaborate on what rules we can expect to see included that will help run a horror themed fantasy game? Are there any new classes, spells or monsters included in these rules, and if so can you give us a few preview details?

JMW: There are four new character classes; there is a good slug of spells the Castle Keeper knows to use with Nonplayer characters, but the player characters will have to learn by bargaining for them; there are lots of new magic items; and there is only one way to escape the TAINTED LANDS.

What about rules for handling terror and mental stability?

JMW: I have played a lot of horror games and I’ve never liked the mental stability rules in any of them. I give lessons in the referee’s guide on how to run horror and I hope they are enough to bring out the fun horror theme.

Are these an extension of the Castles & Crusades rules, and as such can be used in any C&C game?

JMW: Absolutely, the TAINTED LANDS fits into the Siege Engine and C&C rules in every detail. There is even a set of quick start C&C rules in the box set.

I have read some internet chatter that states that TAINTED LANDS is a particularly deadly setting as compared to a standard C&C game. Is this a true statement? If so, can you elaborate as to why?

JMW: Life is extremely dangerous in the TAINTED LANDS. There are lots of things to support the player characters, but they have to be found.

What are the future plans for TAINTED LANDS? Can we expect to see additional materials released to supplement the core box set?

JMW: The Troll Lord people want to see how the game does before they commit to lots more product. I did get them to agree to a TAINTED MONSTERS & TAINTED TREASURE monster and treasure book. If the game is popular, there will be adventures and other products, I’m sure.

With the TOWERS OF ADVENTURE box set you provided more of a toolbox for game masters to pull from to help create the adventures they wanted to create for whatever campaign they happened to be running at the time. TAINTED LANDS sounds less generic and more campaign based. Can you share some details about the setting, and a bit of the back-story?

JMW: Portals begin appearing in the lands and kingdoms of humans, orcs, dwarves, and elves. If characters aren’t cautious, they are sucked into these portals, never to be seen again. There are fantastically valuable gems on these portals, but stealing them, makes the portals immune to all forms of attack. Once in the TAINTED LANDS characters focus on escaping. They soon discover that there are seven lichs’ that need to be destroyed before they can leave the lands. A dense fog surrounds the TAINTED LANDS and entering this fog is highly dangerous. Bad news for the world includes the fact that the fog grows out and eventually envelops the portals that have appeared in every land. What’s a poor character to do?

Obviously, TAINTED LANDS is a horror themed fantasy campaign. I am curious if there was something that inspired you to write this particular game, and why you chose a horror theme for the setting?

JMW: I debated long and hard about the genre to present TAINTED LANDS in, and there were lots of choices. I finally decided the fantasy Middle Ages was the best because that was the time all of the normal C&C players knew best. If the game is successful at all, I certainly want to do a Wild West, Modern Day, and Science Fiction version of the game.
Sales was the primary motivator for the writing of that book. I’ve talked to Steve Chenault many times about doing Siege Engine sets that appeal to different factions of the role-playing audience. Horror has great appeal to all ages of gamers and it was a natural first start.

In my current game, I tend to look to the triumvirate of weird tales writers for inspiration -- H.P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard and Clark Ashton Smith. Are there any particular writers you found inspirational when writing and designing TAINTED LANDS?

JMW: I actually went to the Hollywood movies for inspiration. Hollywood has been doing horror since the very beginning of silent pictures. I made lots of notes on delivering horror to an audience. It was important to me to never have players say, “Yeah right,” when they encountered horrific role-playing scenes. The TAINTED LANDS is designed to teach the Castle Keeper how to present horror as the movies present horror. I’m really looking forward to the response to the game because the C&C fans have no problem telling an author if they have done a good job or not.

Everyone knows that zombies make everything better. Can we expect to see a lot of zombie killing action in TAINTED LANDS?

JMW: Undead are very important to the story line in TAINTED LANDS. Naturally, I had to put my own brand on those zombies. Characters will find the TAINTED LANDS version to be highly intelligent and very fast. There is even a class of Ultra Undead, much like BOSS monsters in arcade games that should present interesting times to the player characters.

Is there any advice you can give game masters who are running horror themed games when it comes to building an atmosphere of terror and dread in their game?

JMW: To my way of thinking, it’s vital to try hard to not kill the player characters. You want them nervous, afraid of every shadow, and thinking about just giving up. However, in that effort there will be times when a Castle Keeper’s players feeling they are being cheated and the game is unfair. I try to counter this last feeling, by giving them superior magic items and spells. I want them saying, “Wow, I have this great new sword and shield. Nothing can stand before me and live.” Then I present encounters where the creature is totally resistant to the new weapon.

Thanks for your time Jim.