If ever there was a prepackaged, ready to play setting that fits into the sword & sanity mold it would have to be Freeport. Take a pirate infested seaport that is brisling with street level intrigue, add in a huge portion of swashbuckling sword & sorcery action-adventure, and top it all off with a generous smattering of insidious Lovecraftian overtones, and you have the makings of a mind-blastingly fun game!

Green Ronin Publishing has done a bang-up job of supporting this game line. What started as some of the earliest d20 based modules on the market, Freeport has evolved into a rich setting that now supports other game systems, including Savage Worlds, True20 and most recently Castles & Crusades. A Pirates Guide to Freeport and Cults of Freeport are examples of “setting only” source books Green Ronin has released with no game specific rules included, so they can be used in conjunction with any game system desired.

Freeport might not be as grim in tone as some sword & sorcery settings, and has a flavor that reminds me a lot of Lankhmar. The heroes that adventure in Freeport will be as quick with a quip as they are with a blade, and have a very live-fast-and-die-young attitude. As for the material, the writing is strong, and the adventures are challenging as well as fun. The races and classes are straight from the pages of Dungeons & Dragons, with a few added for flavor. The foes are imported from Lovecraft country – serpent people, ghouls, cultists, etc. This is at its most basic form Call of Cthulhu adventures, powered by 3rd edition D&D.

In future posts I will be reviewing several Freeport releases. In the mean time anyone who has not checked out Freeport I encourage you to do so as soon as possible.


"The Lovecraftian Mythos In Dungeons & Dragons" (The Dragon, issue #12)

There is an old article in issue #12 of The Dragon that is of interest to our discussion on sword & sanity gaming. The article was written by Rob Kuntz, and titled “The Lovecraftian Mythos In Dungeons & Dragons.” The introduction explains that the intention of the article is to present the Great Old Ones, as well as various other entities found in the Cthulhu Mythos, in D&D terms, and is laid out in a way to be compatible with Dungeons & Dragons supplement IV “Gods, Demi-Gods & Heroes.”

What follows is a series of entries for the Great Old Ones: Azathoth (Creator of the Universe), Cthulhu, Hastur the Unspeakable (Him Who Is Not To Be Names), Nyarlathotep (the Crawling Chaos, the Messenger of the Gods), Shub-Niggurath (Black Goat of the Woods with a Thousand Young), Cthuga (Lord of Fire), Ithaqua (Lord of the Air, Windwalker), Yig (Supreme God of Serpents) and Yog Sothoth (the Key and Guardian of the Gate). There is a writeup for the Necronomicon by Abdul Alhazred, as well as the Elder Sign. The article ends with a quick selection of “Inhuman and Partly Human Races of the Cthulhu Mythos.” These include: Byakhee, the Deep Ones, the Great Race, the Old Ones, the Mi-Go (the Fungi from Yuggoth, the Abominable Snow Men) and finally the Shaggoths (sic, Shoggoths).

My first introduction to the Mythos in a gaming context was through the AD&D (Special Reference Work) Deities & Demigods Cyclopedia, which was published in 1980. This edition included a whole chapter on the Cthulhu Mythos, richly illustrated by Erol Otus. Later editions of this work would not include this section of the book due to copyright infringement. What is interesting is that the Dragon article detailed above outdates Deities by at least a couple of years.

Obviously, the Great Old Ones are not meant to ever be challenged in combat, so why was it necessary to document these entities in D&D terms? This is a question that has no logical answer, but it is still interesting to see the write-ups, and how they are interpreted in game terms.

Note to Gamers Old & New

When posting gaming articles I will assume the reader has a working knowledge of roleplaying games (RPGs). For those who have stumbled upon this blog and would like to learn more about RPGs please refer to this article. My overall gaming philosophy and approach to the hobby is summed up very well in Matt Finch’s A Quick Primer for Old School Gaming, which I encourage everyone to read.

Also, I should mention the majority of the gaming articles and supplemental materials offered here will be written for
Castles & Crusades (C&C). There are several reasons for this. I like the game because it is heavily influenced by both editions of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (AD&D), and it can be house ruled with extreme ease. Also, I find that C&C breaches the gap between old school and new school Dungeons & Dragons very well, allowing you to pick and choose materials from either classic era D&D, or from the newer Open Game License (OGL) products. This means the materials I release can be used with just about any version of D&D with little conversion effort.

As stated in a previous post
, unless otherwise noted, the gaming materials are presented here as Open Game Content under Open Game License (OGL).


A Gamer's Life

Roleplaying games have been an almost constant interest of mine since I was eleven years old. The very first RPG I ever owned was the Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set, which my mother bought for me in 1980. I remember seeing the beautiful cover art painted by Erol Otus, and I was actually giddy with the possibilities of what that little box had in store for me. Things progressed (well, my mom would say digressed) from there, with the purchase of the D&D Expert Set, and a few years later the hardback Advanced Dungeons & Dragons books.

The next big RPG milestone for me came in the form of
Call of Cthulhu (CoC). I think that game more than any other opened me up to the bigger picture of what was actually possible in gaming. No longer was I confined to dungeon crawls, and dragon slaying. I now had the real world as a backdrop, and oh what a strange, dark world it was. The problem was finding other gamers who shared my enthusiasm for CoC. Just as the work of H.P. Lovecraft is an acquired taste for some, so is the game that it inspired. Not to mention the fact that some people never got used to how deadly the setting was. Gone were the trappings of heroic fantasy, making the gamer actually think and reason their way out of deadly situations. I found the game to be challenging as well as innovative.

It was not long until I was introduced to superhero gaming via
Villains & Vigilantes. Comic books had long been an obsession of mine, so I was instantly hooked in. Being able to create a character with superpowers was very appealing to a young teen who felt powerless in his life, and it would be this style of gaming that would dominate the last couple of years of my high school career.

AD&D Second Edition was published shortly before I left for my first year of college, which turned out to be a very slow period of gaming for me. This came as a huge disappointment, because I had already established in my mind what gaming in college would be like. I can remember watching the movie Mazes & Monsters, and despite whatever agenda was actually behind the film, it gave me false hope. Believe it or not, my mom had me watch this movie specifically to scare me away from gaming. Sorry mom, it actually had the exact opposite effect on me. In my mind I could not wait to get to college, meet a handful of likeminded people and start gaming in earnest. I was convinced that college would introduce me to a level gameplay that was mature and immersive. I imagined it reaching almost ritualistic levels, with candles and a certain level of ceremony. Man, was I ever wrong. The few times I tried to game at college was a disaster. We were more worried about guzzling beer than telling stories. Well, beer was involved, so it wasn't a complete waste of time...

It would not be until I reached my early twenties that I found another gaming group, and I entered the most productive and consistent (read obsessive) period of my gaming career. Every person in that group was single, worked a first shift job, did not have a care in the world, and we were all obsessed with role-playing games. Though we were from all levels of the social structure (jocks, punks, geeks, etc.) we got along amazingly well. There were weeks that we gamed every night of the week. We played either
AD&D Second Edition, or the occasional game of Chill (Mayfair Games edition). Still to this day it is hard for me not to look back on those years with a sense of nostalgia, but as with all great things, this golden age of gaming came to an end. People got married, moved away and perhaps even got a bit burned out. The group slowly split, never to reunite at a gaming table.

What followed was a long hiatus from pen & paper role-playing. That is not to say that I did not still collect, read and think about games. The exact opposite is the truth. This gaming exile that I suffered was not by choice. The problem was a lack of committed people to game with. It seemed that all the connections I had made in the local gaming arena had dried up, and disappeared. So, I did what any respectable gamer would do. In my time of need I turned to another seductress –- massive multiplayer online roleplaying games! This is a subject that deserves a dissertation in its own right, so I will leave that for a later date...

That brings me to my current gaming group. This is the group I can see myself still gaming with when I am an old man (OK, no comments from all you whipper-snappers). We are a small band of gamers, but we have similar tastes, and a genuine respect for each other. We have tried our hands at several of the many game systems that are available now, and have had good times doing so. It is nice to know that a person can bring a game to the table, and everyone is willing to give it the time and attention it deserves. I would say the main goal of our group, especially since we do not have the time to play like we did when we were younger, is to have a high level of quality gameplay over a large quantity of gaming sessions.

One observation I have made in recent years is the saturation of roleplaying products on the market. In a way I am very excited over this, because there is more of a selection of rulesets and settings than there ever has been before. The result of this has been a kind of gaming dichotomy in the quality of products available. Competition breeds innovation, but saturation breeds mediocrity, so on the one hand we are seeing the release of very cutting edge games, and on the other hand there has been an avalanche of games that should have never been published. This is where the internet comes into play as a tool to investigate possible games and new products, as well as a place to discuss gaming in general.

So there it is -- a very quick overview of my life as a roleplayer. Some people collect coins or stamps. Some like to build models, or setup elaborate train sets. I like to play roleplaying games. Not many people can say they have had a hobby that they have been passionate about for 29 years, but I can. I have reached a point where I do not look at this hobby as "just a game". I believe roleplaying games have the potential to transcend the game table, and become an art form. Having said that, I do not ever want to reach a point where the game is no longer fun. As long as I am challenged as a gamer, and I surround myself with people who give the game the respect it deserves, I doubt I will ever lose interest or stop having fun. For those reading who have never tried roleplaying I urge you to take up the hobby very soon. Who knows, it may change your life, as it did mine so many long years ago.

Games of choice (in order by name):

Sword & Sorcery, Sword & Planet, Sword & Sandal, and now… Sword & Sanity

In my lifetime I have read a great number of fantasy stories and books, but I must admit that my favorite genre of fantasy is sword & sorcery. The furious action, high adventure, exotic locations, lurid sexual overtones, dark supernatural elements and grim heroes in these stories have always satisfied me like no other form of literature. I would say this statement is only challenged by my love of the cosmic horror genre, specifically the school inspired by the Mythos of H.P. Lovecraft, or what "the Old Gent of Providence" would have called, "Yog-Sothothery." There are many writers who have written sword & sorcery fiction, as well as Mythos inspired horror stories, and some have even blended the two. Robert E. Howard, Richard L. Tierney and Brian Lumley are names that readily come to mind of writers who have successfully merged the two genres.

Interestingly enough these genres have also intersected in another area I am most interested in –- roleplaying games. The first roleplaying game (RPG) I ever played was
Dungeons & Dragons, and a few years later I branched off to Call of Cthulhu. I have gone on to play a great many other RPGs over the years, but it seems like I keep coming back to the “big two”. Both games bring such a sense of nostalgia. I imagine I will always have a special place in my heart for both of them.

I have been doing a lot of thinking about the sword & sorcery genre, and how it can relate to the Cthulhu Mythos. In essence these two types of fiction are diametrically opposed. The heroes you find in sword & sorcery fiction are individuals that test their mettle against whatever foe steps across their path, and they always live to fight another day. In the stories of H.P. Lovecraft there really are no heroes in the truest sense of the word. In these eldritch tales men are but the buzzing of flies to the creatures they face, and have no chance of surviving these encounters. The world views presented in each type of story could not be more different. The challenge then becomes presenting a story (or in this case a game) that has both elements of sword & sorcery, as well as a good dose of Yog-Sothothery, without compromising either genre.

So what do we call this bastard child of sword & sorcery, and the Cthulhu Mythos? Dark fantasy seems adequate enough, but is too general to fit the bill. Eldritch fantasy seems to fit better, but still seems to general. Subgenres of sword & sorcery are sword & planet, and sword & sandal. Just hearing these genre names instantly alerts the reader as to what kind of story is being told. In keeping with the obvious pattern I propose
sword & sanity.

In future posts I will focus on articles dealing with sword & sorcery gaming and literature blended with the eldritch influence of Cthulhiana and Yog-Sothothery. I hope to share gaming materials, as well as news, reviews and personal views on the subject matter.

Open Game License (OGL)

All Open Game Content on Swords Against the Outer Dark will be clearly marked as such and linked to this license:

Open Game Content may only be Used under and in terms of the Open Game License Version 1.0a (OGL).

This entire work is designated as Open Game Content under the OGL, with the exception of the trademarks “Swords Against the Outer Dark,” “Sword & Sanity,” and “Where Sword & Sorcery Gaming Meets Cthulhiana and Yog-Sothothery”. These trademarks, and the Trade Dress of this work (font, layout, style of artwork, etc.) are reserved as Product Identity.


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Castles & Crusades Freeport Companion, © 2008, Green Ronin Publishing, LLC; Author Robert J. Schwalb.

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