Friday, October 31, 2014

10 Spooky Greyhawk Locations

With October and Halloween winding down let's have a look at some places in Greyhawk that are quite spooky - that is to say spookier than most adventure locations in the Flanaess. The Tomb of Horrors goes without saying so I'll go from there. In no particular order, enjoy!

1. C2, Ghost Tower of Inverness: For obvious reasons, this is always one of the first places that pops into my mind when I think haunted. Located in the Abbor Alz Hills, the object of this classic first edition module is for the numinous Soul Gem.

2. Dungeon of Bleeding Walls: This place just sounds nasty. Nominally set at map coordinates N3-64 in the Wastes, this dungeon is featured in the boxed set Iuz the Evil. It's a place of wererats, vampires and of course, acidic bleeding walls. Would you stay in a dungeon that was bleeding?

3. Necropolis of Unaagh: This eerie location set in the Bright Desert is from the sourcebook WGR3, Rary the Traitor. Unaagh is the ancient burial ground of the evil realm of Sulm, a place where virtually any kind of undead can be found and lording over all is the lich Drokkas who has aspirations to restore Sulm as an empire of death (watch out Rary!).

4. Saltmarsh: U1, The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh is one of those seminal works of Greyhawk that every DM should run for their players once in their life. The story unfolds in the haunted mansion of an evil alchemist. No spoilers for this secret site, you'll have to check it out yourself!

5. Gibbering Gate: Set in of all places the Barrens, one of my favorite scary Greyhawk locations is the underrated insane asylum, Gibbering Gate. Found in the source book Iuz the Evil, this citadel is run by the illusionist Jumper and includes many demons and undead, notably a balor who presides over the Court of Delirium. This is a good spot for a DM to stick high level PCs who offend the Old One because they might get out but not with their sanity intact.

6. Halmadar's Crypt: The 2E module Vecna Lives! is a high level study in the use of horror and overwhelming evil. The mood is set early on as the story begins at the crypt of Halmadar the Cruel in the Kron Hills. The fact the Circle of Eight is doing the investigation is your first clue this is a place normal folk shouldn't poke around in!

7. WG4, Forgotten Temple of Tharizdun: Lost amid the vast Yatil Mountains, there is no place on Oerth that best embodies the strange madness inducing themes of H.P. Lovecraft than WG4. What starts as a standard dungeon becomes quite harrowing the farther in your explore. This module is only for the bravest PCs and the most demented DMs.

8. The Caves of Deadly Shadows: Found in the 2E boxed set From the Ashes, this Yatil Mountain location set in hex R5-81, just sounds like a terrifying place to lure characters into. Besides the normal hazards of spelunking, there is your normal variety of undead shadows here as you would expect. But that's not all! The caves are also home to many other kinds of shadowy creatures, all ready to pounce on hapless heroes such as shadow dragons, skulks, nabassu and yes even the characters' own shadows. Yikes.

9. Maure Castle: The site of WG5, Mordenkainen's Fantastic Adventure, is in my opinion, easily more fearsome than its more well-known neighbor to the west, Castle Greyhawk. The denizens and dangers of this place, from the Great Iron Golem to wandering bodaks and the guardian demon Kerzit are unconventionally scattered so that foolish heroes may not expect trouble until it hits. Expanded upon in the pages of Dungeon Magazine (#112 and beyond), there is a creepy backstory to the Maure family that underlies the placement of every room and treasure in this megadungeon.

10. T1-4, Temple of Elemental Evil: Naturally this place is among the scariest locations in Greyhawk. The original cover of this module is easily the most frightening in all the game, if not D&D itself. Nestled in the wilderness near the good nation of Verbobonc, we've all heard the Temple's story and this place has been returned to on more than one occasion across the editions. Much like WG4, this module deals with evils so iconic and powerful it defies logic why any sane person would go into this place.

Monday, October 27, 2014

D&D Conversion Manual

This is an off-theme topic for today. Going through my piles of old D&D material I came across an interesting paperback document I bet not many people still possess, the D&D Conversion Manual by Skip Williams. More specifically this was the manual to help switch your 2E characters over to the then new 3E rules. I remember this booklet being a big deal. My group had played 2E for quite a long time and the rules to 3E were slowly being leaked in Dragon Magazine to drum up interest. I believe it worked, because the campaign we were in the middle of when the books hit the shelves was switched over to 3E thanks entirely to this document.

In 22 pages Skip made us forget about 2E, showing how exceptional strengths like 18/91% was now a more impressive sounding 22 strength. The manual broke us of THAC0 and we learned Armor Class now went up instead of down. There was also three new streamlined saving throws down from that old clunky five. All the nonweapon proficiencies we grew up with were repurposed into skills with ranks like Etiquette became Diplomacy, Mountaineering became Climb and Healing became well, Heal. Class names changed, spell names changed, magic item names changed. Then there was feats. Actually, those needed no converting from last edition cause it was completely new and shiny, but they were teased at to get your interest.

It wasn't long though before it before we realized it was too much work retrofitting our favorite PCs to the new edition and just rolled with a new Greyhawk campaign. The rest is history. By the way I am not panning 2E, it was extremely fun and lasted a long time and I would play it again if someone else ran it. What I am panning is 4th Edition. I can't remember, but did Wizards do a similar conversion document or marketing campaign for 4E? I doubt it, and if they did it certainly didn't work. With 5E however, I feel it has the same word of mouth appeal that 3E had, though as far as I know there is no conversion documents to support it either (though I'm sure smart minds are working on it). And though the ability to spread hype through magazines is gone, the 5E playtest packets, the convention rules previews, online sneak peeks and the release of the free PDF Basic Rules went a long way toward establishing that buzz in the game. That has to be a reason why I'm excited about 5E going forward.

That said, whatever edition you enjoy, go with it I say. I'm about to run a special Halloween session of the AD&D Ravenloft module using 3.5E. The module as written is perfect, but it's easier for me to convert to 3.5 rules on the fly now. I got Skip to thank for that.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Castle Greyhawk: Easy Decisions

Welcome back Greyhawk mavens! It's time to continue with the third chapter of our ongoing Castle Greyhawk graphic novel. Check out page four and see lead in dialogue by fantasist Scott Casper. On our site you can also check the archives and follow the entire Castle Greyhawk story from the very beginning.


Artist's Commentary: Ah it's a classic homage this installment. It's going to be interesting to see how a wizard-fighter heavy group navigates this chapter. This page is a prime example with poor Tenser being relegated to a task usually left to the more roguish types. Tenser does have climbing experience though, for those who remember chapter one's adventure in the big oak tree against giant centipedes!

I've been enjoying the lighting and mood of this story. Serten's continual light stone has been a minor artistic pleasure to me. You always hear about those magic baubles in home games (remember the old continual light coin in a tube trick?) but to see one rendered is fun.

One more thing. While the party searches the big statue, what is Murl and Mordy up to? I can't wait to see what sort of trouble this group gets into next time!

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Important People & Places of Greyhawk

Welcome back Greyhawk fanatics. On this busy weekend I haven't had much time to write or draw anything, so I decided to dig into my old campaign notes and see what crazy Greyhawkery I was creating 25 years ago. Back in my youth I used to take awesome notes and historical records of everything. I've grown lazy in my old age evidently. In my digging through timelines, hand-drawn maps and old character sheets I found a list I made of Important People & Places from my "Golden Age" of Greyhawk, the 1st Edition AD&D. The list below isn't complete, but perhaps some of these location names and NPCs will spark the imagination of some DMs out there. I cannot remember what hardly any of these concepts used to be or why they were so important back then, so feel free to use these ideas however you see fit.

Places
The Pits of Alcon (Bandit Kingdoms)
Nunora (pop 320)
Chinak (pop 3500)
White Yeti Tavern (Soull)
Cold Dagger Tavern (Vlekstaad)
Isle of Minatra (isle of great suncat)
Tenacotala Isle (Tezcaolan tribe)
Emerald Woods (apparently in the Bluff Hills)
People
General Hyelac of Schnai (F10)
Tundrahillekk (white dragon, Corusks)
Ongoyo (chief of Chinak village)
Hanblod the Owl
Baron Hurlock of Jotsplat
Hindar of Snadheim (Rng 2)
Zinian (evil sorceress)
Norrod (vampire master of worgs)
Bujhall the Slavemaster (Tusmit, F14)

Thursday, October 16, 2014

New Monster Manual and Demons

So I've been skimming the new Monster Manual this month and I have to say overall it's my favorite since the first MM in 3rd Edition. This book has just the right balance of fluff and crunch. The stat blocks seem to owe more to 4th Edition than prior iterations, but I have no complaints with the mechanics nor is this a review of that subject. The fluff is what I enjoy reading; and depraved as this may sound, as a Greyhawk fan I'm inevitably drawn to the section on Demons.

The manual entry provides several well-written sections on everything about demonkind from how they elevate in power to abyssal invasions and demonic amulets. Demon summoning and binding is covered, including the obligatory mention of my two favorite tomes, the Book of Vile Darkness and Demonomicon of Iggwilv.

Most of the time when monsters are converted to a new edition, their lore gets subtly expanded upon. The section on Demon Lords does a good job at concisely describing the major players of the Abyss such as Demogorgon, Orcus and Lolth. Then there's this bit bout Graz'zt which caught my eye:

"Rewards for Outsiders. Although most demon lords rise up from the vast and uncountable mobs of demons rampaging across the Abyss, the plane also rewards outsiders that conquer any of its infinite layers. The elven goddess Lolth became a demon lord after Corellon Larethian cast her into the Abyss for betraying elvenkind. Sages claim that the Dark Prince Graz'zt originated on some other plane before stealing his abyssal title from another long-forgotten demon lord."

Yes, evidently during last edition those wily sages expounded that Graz'zt might have been an arch-devil of Hell before leaving to take on the Abyss. That explains his more human-like appearance and demeanor. Graz'zt is one of those characters that has an abundance of backstory accumulated over the editions and novels. Graz'zt has a full family tree of demons and demigods and to think he started on a different plane is a development I like. I can only imagine the other lords hate Graz'zt and Lolth even more because of their migration.

The manual continues with sections on regular demons, bringing back the classic "type 1-6 " designations based upon strength. I also like this edition's demon entry because they've included Yochlol the rarely seen vile Handmaidens of Lolth. In addition I am pleased to see the Goristro featured again. This titanic demon got his AD&D start in Dragon Magazine then later only popped up in supplemental books, yet recently the Goristro is now a core book critter.

That's all for now. Happy gaming!

Monday, October 13, 2014

Castle Greyhawk: Let There Be Light

Thank you for returning loyal Greyhawk readers! I'm here to further promote the third chapter of our ongoing Castle Greyhawk graphic novel. Check out page three to read bonus exposition by the sagacious Scott Casper. Alternatively you can view the page HERE, courtesy of Maldin's Greyhawk. On our main site you can also check the archives and follow the entire story from the very start.


Artist's Commentary: I'm starting to like this chapter a lot. Not only is there a big cast of notable characters, but I've been artistically employing techniques I've refined from the beginning of this story to present. One such thing is lighting and shadows. The cave in this full page scene is not the busiest background I've drawn, but it's definitely the best and most shadows I've done to date. Practice makes perfect.

Astute readers will also notice the homage in the far corner of the cave. Perhaps we'll see more of that late on...

Thursday, October 9, 2014

5E White Plume Mountain Conversion Notes

As reported at ENWorld, there is a nifty free download by member Bumamgar that converts encounters, monsters and magic items from S2 White Plume Mountain to 5th Edition rules. It's not an overly long document which is good and the conversions of Blackrazor, Whelm and Wave are worth checking it out alone. For those DMs who are changing with the editions I'm sure this will be among the first of many such Greyhawk related resources to come.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Comic Rewind: Sureguard and Swiftdoom

One of my favorite things about Greyhawk's deity lore is Kelanen the hero-god of swordsmen and his two intelligent swords Sureguard and Swiftdoom. There is probably plenty of examples of intelligent weapons in fantasy literature and D&D in general, but does any character have TWO of them? Kelanen might not be so fortunate however as my comic from 2010 suggests. That's because intelligent items don't always have the same intent as their owner. Check it out and enjoy the puns!

p.s. be sure to read the annotations at the end of the comic.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Rations in 5th Edition

I can't believe how this topic even got started, but it was odd enough that I compulsively researched it for here. This week our Sunday gaming group was preparing to make new D&D characters, a task that has been done time and time again over decades. The DM for this new edition is not me, but my friend stated early on he wanted to use encumbrance rules. Thus began the frenzy to make weight under "encumbered". A lot of home games ignore encumbrance rules for expedience which is fine unless you consider the spirit of D&D has always been about trying to simulate the experience of delving a cave in full gear. That frenzy led to of all things, another glossed over item, rations. Apparently 5th Edition rations weigh too much. Let's compare!

To start, 5E lists "Rations (1/day)" as dry food, jerky, dry fruit, hard tack and nuts. I'd say that can be considered preserved food. For 5 sp you get 2 lbs of rations that is supposed to last a day. That would be 14 lbs for a week of food which according to my friends is ridiculous even for a simulated fantasy game. Let's start going back editions and see.

In 4th Edition (thank you D&DI subscription) Rations per day are pretty much the same cost, 5 sp but they weight only one lb. If this seems more reasonable that's because it was the standard for a long time.

Long lived 3rd Edition (and it's offspring Pathfinder) have a day of Rations at 5 sp and a weight of 1 lb. There is a notation in these OGL products that rations weigh a quarter of the listed amount when made for Small characters. So Halfling rations weight .25 lb.? This laughable notation was already called out as bunk by my friends. Fine for containers and clothing, but not food. Let's move on.

1st Edition (and perhaps 2E as well) handled rations slightly differently (as well as encumbrance). There was Standard Rations (unpreserved food) and Iron Rations (preserved food). My guess is "iron" was dropped in later editions and was the default ration. Standard rations for one day cost 8.5 sp (4.3 sp in today's exchange rate) and 28.5 coin weight. Coin or g.p. weight was the encumbrance system in early D&D and was an abstract of actual weight and bulkiness. 10 coins = 1 lb. Thus, standard rations weighed almost 3 lbs. That's the unpreserved stuff mind you.
Iron rations which is our focus, come in at 14.3 sp (7.1 sp) per day and weigh 10.7 coins, or a tad over 1 lb. Par for the course right?

And now to be complete, old red box Basic D&D used a similar coin weight system to AD&D. They too had Standard and Iron Rations. Interestingly, the descriptions say standard rations are good for throwing to monsters for a distraction. Never considered that. Anyhow, basic food is expensive. One day of Standard costs 7.1 sp and one day of Iron is a whopping 21.4 sp. Basic rules liked to be expedient with gear weights as they focused on treasure carrying. According to the rules, all an adventurers' miscellaneous gear and provisions (rope, spikes, sacks, wineskin, rations, etc.) weigh 80 coins, a measly 8 lbs! This of course could be chalked up to the fact its not bulky if stored and carried properly. Going by advanced rules, if you only carried a week of iron rations that would come out to about to 7 lbs. I'm sure rope and bars of metal weigh more than biscuits and dried meat, but hey that's why its basic rules.

Back to the present, why in the world did the 5E designers think rations needed to be upped to 2 lbs per day? I know weights probably fluctuate for all gear through-out D&D's history, but as you can see Rations had been fairly consistent until now. If encumbrance and food is diligently tracked in a campaign, carrying a week of food for these hapless adventurers becomes a very big deal. Is that small bag of gold more important than their next meal? Time to buy a mule.