Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Very Silly

I was absolutely delighted to discover that Joesky had statted up and produced a very detailed description and ecology of the Woosie, based upon this little drawing I did at his request. Here is his description.

I'm working on elves and fanatics at the moment. Elves are going to be weird and a little creepy, as you'd expect from the kind of people who'd steal your child and replace it with one of their own.

Fanatics are how I am going to translate clerics. I like crusading zealots filled with divine inspiration to be wielding pitchforks and threshing flails, frothing at the mouth and pronouncing prophecies of doom. Religion in the Middle Ages wasn't always nice and I find traditional D&D bland pantheism to be far too tolerant.

Sunday, March 28, 2010


Disease is a big part of what makes the Dung Age conceptualisation of the Middle Ages such a rich vein of inspiration for me. The Forgotten Realms, where I played most of my teenage D&D, seemed to be an anodyne place, bereft of all the sickness, madness and brutality of the historical accounts of the mediaeval period I had read. I want to create a setting that is grimmer and darker and consequently much more fun.

Commonly encountered in the Vermin-pits of the Middenmurk, miasma is “bad air” that causes disease, a manifestation of pure corruption that issues forth from the Middenmurk to plague the unhappy world, bringing suffering and misery. Miasmata appear as hazy patches of air and as a sense of foreboding and the stench of decay, i.e. players should probably have some warning of their presence. They tend to drift along slowly on currents of foul air or lurk in particularly noisome areas.

Vitruvius on miasma, 1st Century AD;

"For when the morning breezes blow toward the town at sunrise, if they bring with them mist from marshes and, mingled with the mist, the poisonous breath of creatures of the marshes to be wafted into the bodies of the inhabitants, they will make the site unhealthy."

Fanatics (clerics) are able to cleanse miasma (as did Abaris the Hyperborean as mentioned in this Wikipedia article), doing so requires a turn undead check as against wights.

Having a nosegay of posies or marjoram will grant a character a +1 to their save.

Miasma Table

Roll 1d8 to determine what manner of contagion the miasma carries.

1. Ague: Fever, sweating, cramps, headache. Save vs. poison or lose 1d3 points of constitution per day and suffer -2 penalty to actions for 1d8 days, after which constitution returns at one point per day.

2. Dropsy: Swelling of the brain causing stupor and confusion. Save vs. poison or spell-casting and other tasks requiring concentration (such as finding secret doors) fail unless a wisdom check is successful. Duration: 2d6 days.

3. Flux: Diarrhoea, vomiting, cramps. Save vs. poison each day or lose a point of constitution. Three consecutive saves indicates recovery.

4. Grippe: Fever, mucus, lethargy. Save vs. poison or lose 1 point from intelligence, strength, constitution and charisma. Save again each day to recover.

5. Horrors: Hallucinations and shakes. Save vs. poison or lose 1d4 wisdom and dexterity. A wisdom check is necessary each time an action is attempted, failure indicates inability to perform task due to confusion. Duration: 1d6 days.

6. Palsy: Shakes and partial paralysis. Save vs. poison or lose 1d8 dexterity. Duration: 1d6 days.

7. Consumption: Coughing up blood, fatigue, fever. Save vs. poison or lose 1d3 points of strength and constitution per week unless subsequent save is made. Duration: 1d6 weeks.

8. Pox: Painful lesions, cramps, fever. Save vs. Poison or lose 1 hit point per day, and loss of 1d6 points of Charisma, one point of which is permanent. Duration: 2d8 days.

I'll figure a way of working them into some kind of encounter table at some stage.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Monsters for Joesky

The inimitable dungeon brawler, Joesky, requested that I draw the cruels and the woosies from the C.S. Lewis quote I posted recently. Being a generally agreeable fellow, and well-disposed toward Joesky because of his unparalleled awesomeness, I decided to do the drawings. Here are the results. A Cruel;

And a Woose;

I might stat 'em up for Labyrinth Lord one of these days.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

But such people!

A great crowd of people were standing all round the Stone Table and though the moon was shining many of them carried torches which burned with evil-looking red flames and black smoke. But such people! Ogres with monstrous teeth, and wolves, and bull-headed men; spirits of evil trees and poisonous plants; and other creatures whom I won't describe because if I did the grownups would probably not let you read this book - Cruels and Hags and Incubuses, Wraiths, Horrors, Efreets, Sprites, Orknies, Wooses, and Ettins. In fact here were all those who were on the Witch's side and whom the Wolf had summoned at her command. And right in the middle, standing by the Table, was the Witch herself.

Yes, I acknowledge how the condescending narrative asides C.S. Lewis uses grate upon my nerves now. But when I was eight this was the most exciting passage of prose I had ever encountered, that list of monsters inculcated in me a love of monsters that still abides. I have been collecting lists of monsters ever since and consider this blog to be, in part, a response to this very passage.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Horrors of The Vermin-Pits

Whatever world the Middenmurk exists within, it is the bad place, the source of nightmares. I envisage it as being a dungeon that was delved too deep and ruptured the boundary between the worlds so that a badness was unleashed. Things crept into the dungeon from elsewhere and were unleashed upon the world, harbingers of pestilence and death – demons from beyond the world.

It is important to me that there is nothing in the Middenmurk that is too familiar. Everything should be new and different, whether or not goblins and ogres and dragons exist in the campaign world (my default position is that they do not) down in the hole are other things, entities that do not have names and histories. I am aware that there is an extent to which I will be making a trade-off, sacrificing the preconceptions and assumptions associated with familiar icons of the genre in order to be able to take advantage of the shock of the new.

This particular angle arose for me from a couple of sources. James Maliszewski’s assertion (based on a passage from OSRIC) that the primary activity of D&D was exploration, and Philotomy Jurament’s characterisation of the dungeon as The Mythic Underworld. These things captured my imagination and led me on what is essentially an atavistic exercise. I am essentially trying to recapture that ephemeral essence of what was so enchanting to me about the game, and fantasy in general, when I was young. What was, and is, intriguing to me about dungeons is the mystery, they are perfect repositories for the projection of fears of the unknown, of darkness and predation.

I remember with fondness the exhilaration of being new to the hobby and encountering carrion crawlers and rust monsters for the first time. I intend to produce a set of random monster generators and other associated tables to generate novel content in an attempt to capture that sense of exhilaration.

One of the other concepts I’ve become intrigued by in old school play is the open world. All the DM needs to provide for the players at first level is a dungeon and a town or two and perhaps a rough concept of the world around, the world can grow to accommodate the actions of the players according to their actions. This intrigues me and appeals to me. The agency of the players in this respect is very important to the development of the world. In a similar sense, I hope to provide tools to allow the players and DM to collaboratively stock the world with elements which are brought to life and rendered significant by the interactions of PCs. Essentially, I hope to provide scope for emergent phenomena to spring forth from the interaction of complex systems. I don’t think this is anything new and believe it to be something that happens in normal play all the time. The unpredictability of setting PCs loose upon the world causes all manner of interesting shenanigans to happen. I do, however, intend to make the collaborative exploration of the unknown geography and inhabitants of a mythic underground foregrounded in this setting.

As a DM it’s nice to have all the elements prepared and ready to run so that the work is minimised. It can also be a lot of fun to have free rein to craft your world. I’m trying to tread that middle road between by preparing lots of nice tables for random generation or selection of content, a distinctive look and atmosphere and various other tools to make the process of crafting a grim-dark psychedelic hell-pit dungeon easy.


Vermin-pits are frequently found in upper levels of the Middenmurk, they are unwholesome places, filled with organic detritus and festering with disease. Many crawling, biting and stinging creatures lurk in these caves, having crept in from some dimension of creeping horrors. Tunnels are often natural caverns, the burrows of some enormous otherworldly thing, or if hewn by intelligent beings, long since overwhelmed by the swarms of extra-planar vermin that infest these accursed places.

Here is the prototype of the vermin generation tables, as with all of these tables it is suggested the DM generate the creatures ahead of time.

DM rolls for Special+Element+Form and also rolls for atmospherics if they can't think or somethink cool. e.g. (rolls) Invisible-Gloom-Toad, follows at a distance never coming close. Damn! That would be comical if it wasn't creepy. OK, it is comical.

Default No. Appearing is 2d6.


Roll d10

1. Flying: MV 150’ (50’) (360’ (120’) if already flying.
2. Leaping: Initiative Reach bonus in first round of combat
3. Chameleonic: Surprise on 1-4
4. Venomous: Save vs. poison or paralysed 1d4 turns (Save or Die if already poisonous)
5. Festering: Save vs. poison or contract disease (i.e. mummy rot)
6. Giant: Double hit dice and dmg
7. Armoured: + 3 AC bonus
8. Spitting: Corrosive drool 30’ range, 1d6 dmg
9. Invisible: -4 to hit
10. Hypnotic: Save vs. petrification or paralysed 1d6 rounds


Roll 1d10

1. Gristle: +3 hp
2. Chitin: +2 AC bonus
3. Cinder: extra fire attack 1d6 dmg/HD
4. Glow: thrice per day can project a concentrated flash that blinds for 1d4 turns
5. Fungus: when struck releases a cloud of spores 20’ radius save vs. poison or suffer confusion
6. Muck: Stinking aura, save vs. poison or lose 1d6 Strength for 10 rounds
7. Gloom: Darkness 15’ radius 1/day
8. Blight: save vs. poison or contract disease (treat as mummy rot)
9. Phase: If initiative is won, this creature attacks, then phases out before it is struck back
10. Lightning: extra lightning attack 1d6 dmg/HD 30’ range 3/day


Roll 1d12

1. Rat: AC: 7 MV: 90’ (30’) HD: ½ Att: 1 Dmg: 1d2 Morale: 5
2. Bat: AC: 5 MV: Fl 240’ (80’) HD: ½ Att 1 Dmg: 1d2 Morale: 5
3. Serpent AC 7 MV: 60’ (20’) HD: 1 Att: 1 Dmg: 1d2 + paralysing poison Morale:8
4. Beetle AC 5 MV: 60’ (20’) HD: 1 Att: 1 Dmg 1d4 Morale: 8
5. Spider AC: 8 MV: 90’ (30’) HD ½ Att:1 Dmg 1d3 + paralysing poison Special: Web 1/day as M-U spell Morale: 8
6. Ooze: AC 9 MV: 30’ (10’) HD 3 Att: 1 Dmg: 1d6 Morale: 12
7. Leech: AC 7 MV: 60’ (20’) HD: 1Att: 1 Dmg: 1d2 + 1d2 blood drain/rd until dead. Morale: 10
8. Fowl: AC 6 MV: 60 (20) Fl 240’ (80’) HD: ½ Dmg: 1d3
9. Toad: AC: 8 MV 60’ (20’) HD 2 Att: 1 Dmg:1d4 + Swallow small creatures on a 20. Morale: 7
10. Lizard: AC: 6 MV 90’ (30’) HD 1 Att:1 Dmg: 1d3 Morale: 7
11. Fly: AC: 4 MV 60’ (20’) Fl 240’ (80’) HD ½ Dmg: 1d3 Morale: 8
12. Swarm AC: 9 MV: 120’ (40’) HD:3 Att: special Dmg: 1d4/round 10’ radius Morale: 11


1. Smells of ozone, brimstone, blood, decay or ripe fruit
2. Is associated with half-heard eldritch whispering
3. Is albino white, blood red or sulphur yellow
4. Has striking metallic striations
5. Appears to dance weirdly
6. Pulsates unpleasantly
7. Is associated with apparently purposeful glyphic marks
8. Follows at a distance, never coming close
9. Has extra eyes that glitter with malice
10. Makes a hideous scratching/hissing/tearing/buzzing noise

The Vermin-pits need lots of extra tables for room contents, hazards, smells, textures, miasmas and treasure, of course. I expect to produce tables for Fell-warrens, Abyssal Deeps, Necropolises, Verdant Gulches and various other unpleasant domains of the Middenmurk.

Additionally, information about whatever world these creatures came from (e.g. cinder-world, phase-world, muck-world)would be cool.

Pictured is a festering-phase-serpent, a Grinzelwurm, poisonous, contagious and otherworldly, hisses horribly as it phases between worlds.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

What is the Middenmurk?

This is a project to produce a Megadungeon/Campaign Dungeon Setting for Labyrinth Lord. I intend to publish, probably as a free pdf, but for money if things go well, before the end of the year. I'm shooting for about 64-pages. There will be a few points of difference about this setting that will make it distinctive.

- It will all be lavishly illustrated by me. I'm not the greatest illustrator in the world, but neither am I the worst, I spent long enough at art school to be able to pump out some semi-competent stuff. My personal qualifications for rendering what is in my minds eye could not be better. Illustrating my own stuff should eliminate poor translation of my personal vision. Creating a distinctive grungy look for the Middenmurk is something I am passionate about.

-It will be distinctly Northern. Interesting coming from an Australian but I have a deep fascination with the visceral and fatalistic atmosphere that permeates the northern renaissance, as well as earlier Germanic sagas and latterday manifestations of the gothic. I really love and appreciate the gonzo-Orientalist weirdness of Planet Algol and various other thriving neo-old school (p'raps neoclassical is a good term after all) settings but I want to focus on some of the material that excited me when i was young. Warmammer, Fighting Fantasy and British fantasy in general has a rich vein of grime that always intrigued me. The Middenmurk will be gothic, but more Visigothic than Nightclub gothic, Dung-Age gothic with the bad teeth and realistic mud.

-It will be Weird. It will not have a list of monsters and treasure. I'm not even sure how much of the dungeon I really want to draw, what I want is to utilise random generation to produce things the players would not have any preconceptions about. I envisage the Middenmurk as the source of all that is wrong with the world, hell-on-earth, The Cacotopic Stain and The Great Blight and Utumno on ergot and datura. Unnamed Boschian entities will abound in the Middenmurk. PCs will have no knowledge of these creatures, will not know their powers and vulnerabilities and will be forced to fight these things in the hostile darkness with the rug of familiarity pulled from under their feet.

Another aspect of this point is that DMs will be empowered by the toolkit for creating stuff. The dungeon rooms and traps and treasures and creatures will be made internally consistent and given meaning by their creator. I have this idea that the players will give them names, that they will evolve significance and meaning out of the primordial soup of random generation in the environment of collaborative imagination.

-As I've said before it'll be all about the chaos of 3d6-in-order. Characters likely won't be glorious and pretty, theyll be ruffians, vagabonds, fanatics and hermits, outcast dwarfs, Rabelaisian halflings and sinister elves.

I'll be tempering the darkness of the setting with a helping of the carnivalesque. Bruder Pfortner will be be ever-present.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

3d6 in order

At the heart of my interest in the old-school-renaissance is the concept of characters rolled with 3d6 in order. There is a freedom in the surrendering to the whims of fate that 3d6 in order brings, letting the dice fall where they may, and imagining the hell out of it from that starting point.

When I was young and played 2nd edition AD&D, our Silver Age assumptions and diet of high fantasy led us to the assumption that a character rolled with 3d6-in-order was not going to be the legendary hero who would save the world from the evil threat while looking impressive and competent and cool.

Our assumption was that our characters and our adventures were going to resemble the models set out for us in those execrable TSR novels and the images that illustrated our game and the Boris Vallejo and Frank Frazetta posters that adorned our walls. There was a powerful force at play in the world we inhabited that declared "your characters must be brawny and lithe and attractive and well-liked". In order that our characters in some way resembled those icons of our culture we used various other means of generating ability scores. I seem to remeber the 2e PHB having a bunch of them, each more twinky than the last. I believe we were prone to using the twinkiest of all. It was a rare fighter indeed who didn't have percentile strength (what an odd conceit that was, it made sense back in the day, I guess).

The aesthetic style, then, dictates to some extent the mechanics of the game. This can be seen very clearly in the relationship between the imagery and the mechanics of later versions of the game. Illustrated characters all have that suave insouciance one sees in contemporary action films, where the protagonists strut and pose their way through hyper-stylised violent acts without apparent moral consequence. 4e chit-chat on the web centres around the construction of mechanically efficient characters, like in the pictures, like in the movies - characters whose stats make them hyper-capable machines.

3d6-in-order transports you into an entirely different world. Characters are not, can not be, emulations of gym-sculpted model-turned-actors or their kinetic caricatures in digital paintings. Characters become people. People who are sometimes stupid or weak or clumsy and are vulnerable. This vulnerability, this frailty, this lack of choreographed slickness makes old-school, for me, a far more appealing option.

The Middenmurk campaign dungeon setting will be made with the assumption that characters are going to be rolled up in the old school way. That was the thing that sparked the idea in the first place. Some of the characters will be frail and foolish and ill-favoured and yet still they will face dire peril, still sometimes they will succeed against all odds. Then their stories will be worth telling

Monday, March 15, 2010

Armed Combat

I have had some experience messing about with blunted weapons as a mediaeval re-enactor. I do not claim, by any means, to be an expert on the topic. There are a growing number of people dedicated to recreating European martial arts from original manuscripts and making interesting discoveries. I am not one of these people but I do have some experience and understanding of the dynamics of armed combat (or the simulation of such). Drawing from this experience I am able to make some assertions with confidence and better interpret the insights of others with far more experience than me regarding mediaeval armed combat.

When I was younger I thought D&D's armed combat was rubbish and had no resemblance to what real armed combat was about. I believed a lot of nonsense about two-headed battleaxes and extremely heavy swords, horned helmets and knights who couldn't get up when they fell over because of the weight of their armour.

In actual fact D&D, whether by accident or design, gets a lot of stuff right.

Armour class is a good example. I used to favour systems in which armour acts to reduce damage. In actual fact, armour tends to be tremendously effective at resisting blows. Plate armour is effectively sword-proof, it is virtually impossible to chop through it. Mail is also astonishingly difficult to chop through and, when combined as it usually is with a padded garment, resists arrows exceptionally well. The upshotof all this is that mediaeval warriors avoided striking at the armoured bits of their foes, it tended to be a fairly ineffective tactic, instead, blows were aimed at unarmoured parts of their foe and at chinks in the armour. Armour was effectively bypassed, rather than penetrated. I'm generalising here to an extent because some weapons and some blows could penetrate armour but as a general rule, armour makes you more difficult to hit rather than reducing the damage you sustain.

Hit Points is another conceit that I thought were terribly inaccurate. When I discovered games with body levels and wound penalties and critical hits I thought they were far more realistic and more fun. In fact, it is surprising how well hit points simulate reality. People tend to be okay, or at least functioning, even with terrible wounds, or they collapse and cannot do anything. In times of high adrenalin like deadly combat, human beings tend to ignore wounds. Individuals do not fight on from their knees, they fight on pure adrenalin or go down. Hit points make sense.

The one thing about the BECMI rules set that I do not like and will not use is the idea that two handed weapons are slow and therefore strike at the end of the round. A hangover from AD&D's weapon speed, it is precisely the opposite of what should happen. Real weapons were never slow. Reach is a very important factor in armed combat, weapons were not put on the end of long sticks for nothing. In a re-enactment simulated comabt situation (admittedly with a lot of safety regulations impairing the realism of the action but sufficiently realistic to investigate certain dynamics) attacking an individual or group of individuals armed with spears or other polearms (when you don't have one yourself and are armed with a sword and shield) requires you to parry, dodge, or otherwise defend against the pole weapons in order to close on your enemy. They get to attack first, every time.

My house rule answer to this is: In the first round of combat two handed weapons win initiative against one-handed weapons i.e. they strike in a different phase. Spears, used one-handed, count as two-handed weapons for the purpose of this rule. This is essentially just an inversion of the old BECMI rule.

This rule should make spears a more palatable option. They were, after all, the most common weapon on the mediaeval battlefield. And they were common for a reason.

Subsequent rounds of combat could mix things up a little more, a wise ruling in this case might be that, once a two-handed weapon wielder misses or is struck they lose their reach advantage.

In especially close combat, very short weapons gain the advantage. I would rule that once a short sword/dagger wielder strikes an opponent they are able to get in close and automatically win intiative in the next round.

This seems like it is getting too complicated, I am inclined to ignore the extras and just allow two-handed weapons a first-round-only automatic initiative win.

Similar rules should apply to larger-than-man-size monsters. I would rule that large monsters go in the same initiative phase as two-handed weapons.

I like the idea that this will encourage people to use not only spears, but all manner of polearms, the beautiful, deadly flowers of the mediaeval and renaissance battlefield. I could see how this might discourage shield use, I am thus inclined to increase shield's protective bonus to +2 instead of +1. I think this would be appropriate as shields are really a tremendous boon on the field and act to deflect more than 5-10% of potential wounds.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Devil's in the Details: Dwarfs

Yes Dwarfs! Unlike halflings, dwarfs have proliferated in a wide variety of different media and mutated into something resembling drunken Scotsmen with ridiculously short legs played for comic relief. I've decided to go for a different tack that honours some elements of their maggots-in-the-body-of-the-world-giant mythological origins at the same time as mixing in some dung-age mediaeval grittiness. A little bit of itinerant Ashkenazim, a little bit of circus carney and a little bit of character from a Tom Waits song is how my Dwarfs are going to be.

Many Dwarfs (d20 Thrice)

1. Go about turbanned and veiled, refusing to reveal their face to anyone not of dwarfish descent.
2. Have harsh, gravelly voices.
3. Are (1d2) 1. as tall as humans, but tend to stoop 2. As short as halflings, with outsized heads, hands and feet.
4. Have eyes that (1d2) 1. glow like coals when they are angry 2. Are dead white.
5. Mistrust everyone to the extent that they require blood-oaths, pacts and documentation to ensure fidelity before embarking on any mutual endeavour.
6. Have deeply poetic souls.
7. Are feared and distrusted by animals as if there was something unnatural about them.
8. Become obsessed with a single topic such that they are prone to talking about it whether others are interested or not.
9. Go into decline when thwarted, muttering and rocking and dealing out savage beatings.
10. Have thin scraggly beards (if male) or thinning hair (if female).
11. Have gnarled, bony fists.
12. Act like sly street-hustlers.
13. Dress in the colourful garb of an itinerant street performer.
14. Bury hoards of gold an secret caches and never dig them up.
15. Are zealous ancestor-worshippers and must spend one day a week muttering prayers over old bones.
16. Are very gaunt, all bone and sinew.
17. Have the brand of a thief burnt into their face.
18. Never laugh or smile, leer strangely or snort instead.
19. Smell of (1d4) 1. Brimstone 2. Iron 3. Fresh Earth 4. Wet Dog.
20. Are albino.

Some Dwarfs (d16, 1d3 times)

1. Consider themselves to be a kind of elf.
2. Speak the language of the hills, enabling them to predict the weather with 70% accuracy.
3. Have strange taloned feet, which they go to great lengths to conceal.
4. Use a crutch, even if they don't need to.
5. Are terrified of fish, won't eat it, and will not ever go in the water when there are likely to be fish around.
6. Are able to, once per day, hone a weapon to sufficient sharpness that it will do +1 damage in one encounter.
7. Consider themselves related to wrens, beavers and newts and will fight to protect them as for close family members
8. Have secret names, knowing a dwarf's secret name allows one to force them to reveal the whereabouts of their gold.
9. Practice usury and are banned from other professions.
10. Seek to replace as many teeth as possible with gold ones.
11. Have an ancient warcry which they shout before battle.
12. Practice sky burial with their own people.
13. Smoke thick black cigarillos.
14. Speak with thick slavic accents.
15. Harbour body vermin, causing them to scratch incessantly.
16. Have a persecution complex.

Common Travelling Gear (d16 thrice)

1. Blunderbuss.
2. Bundle of goods for market (d6) 1. furs 2. pots and pans 3. documents revealing shady dealings of local notaries 4. stolen silverware 5. high-grade steel ingots 6.
3. Hefty tome chronicling the woes of the dwarfish people.
4. Accounts book, ledger, writing paraphernalia.
5. Phylactery containing ancestral bone relic.
6. Musical Instrument (1d4) 1. tin whistle 2. tabor 3. cittern 4. serpent
7. Phrygian cap.
8. Hazel dowsing rod.
9. Journeyman's tool Kit for (1d4) 1. masonry 2. carpentry 3. leather-working 4. Blacksmithing.
10. Vial of deadly poison (aconite).
11. Shapeless dun-coloured smock.
12. Falchion and Buckler.
13. Kettle Hat .
14. Collection of self-penned love-poems.
15. Thick, knotty shortbow
16. Pouch of uncut gems.

Saturday, March 13, 2010


image by Ian Miller

25 words/phrases or less to describe the Middenmurk;

John Blanche, Ian Miller, Russ Nicholson, The Labyrinth, Ergotism, Gormenghast, 1347, Peasant's Crusade, Corsairs of the Second Ether, Bruder Pfortner, Brueghel, Bosch, The Dung Ages, pareidolia, Fighting Fantasy, Early Warhammer, bestiaries, Demons, Revelations, flagellants, tryptamines, Lovecraft, WWI, deathtraps, Chaos.

Devil's in the Details: Halflings

Ok so I'm jumping on the bandwagon led by Aaron Kesher and followed by a variety of talented others. I have an issue with halflings being a little twee and Tolkien-specific but I am going to include them in the Middenmurk because I want to have the basic trappings of BECMI D&D as a touchstone of familiarity against which all the weird psychedelic stuff can be contrasted.

Unlike the other races which have a fairly significant representation in fiction, computer games and other areas of culture, halflings are very D&D specific. Most of the words that have been devoted to halflings over the course of their existence has occurred within the covers of D&D supplements (as well as on the web, of course). Because of D&D, halflings have mutated from hobbitses to something more lean, mean and kewl. I like hobbitses, but, in keeping with old-school sensibilities and the psychedelic dung-age atmospherics I am trying to evoke, I have an idea of halflings as being small rustic embodiments of earthy human traits - honest, hearty, gluttonous and rude, like one of those buffoons in a Brueghel or Bosch painting.

Many Halflings (d20, thrice)

1. Do wear shoes, curly ones, ridiculously long.
2. Constantly make fum of humans and dwarfs for their clumsiness.
3. Have short-person syndrome and are all in-your-face about it.
4. Are very, very florid.
5. Eat upwards of nine meals a day at particular times with associated etiquette for each. "You can't have spatchcock with nuncheontide". Must purchase thrice normal quantity of provisions in order to keep up.
6. Are exaggeratedly steatopygous.
7. Whistle tunelessly all the time.
8. Have no inside voice.
9. Are rowdy and shadow-box imaginary foes.
10. Laugh for far too long when anything humorous occurs.
11. Regale others with tales of their ancestor's heroism and horticultural prowess.
12. Wear striped leggings.
13. Have bowl haircuts.
14. Are superstitious to a ludicrous extent, spending 1d3 turns each morning performing rituals to ensure success in the day's activities.
15. Smoke very large pipes.
16. Try to scare off enemies by rearing and plunging.
17. Dress like Landsknechts when they can afford to.
18. Often try to resolve conflicts with drinking sessions, including with hostile monsters.
19. Collect and hoard any and all items of even meagre value to sell later on.
20. Speak with west-country accents.

Some Halflings (d16, d3 times)

1. Celebrate some kind of religious festival almost every day and observe appropriate customs.
2. Pose as if for a trophy photo with every slain enemy.
3. Take credit for things they didn't do.
4. Run amok after battle, taking 1d4 turns to calm down.
5. Invent mocking names for everyone and everything around them.
6. Cheat at games.
7. Cry at the drop of a hat.
8. Strut around like a cock-of-the-walk whenever they have the slightest success.
9. Have a diet that makes them fart, burp, sneeze, cough and hiccup noisily and often (10% chance it will ruin sneaking attempts)
10. Show no fear.
11. Start fires as part of their combat strategy.
12. Always try to find a high perch from which to pelt missiles at enemies.
13. Sulk when slighted.
14. Attempt to recruit as many hirelings as possible, regardless of race, species or appropriateness.
15. Try to get opponents to surrender rather than kill them.
16. Are very inquisitive about elves.

Common Travelling gear (d16 thrice)

1. Hat with spoon in it in case of invitation to banquet.
2. Helmet shaped like a funnel.
3. Caltrops (2d10)
4. A book of thrilling tales.
5. 1d6 Maps of various degrees of usefulness.
6. Large and bulky set of pots and pans.
7. Satchel of medicinal herbs of dubious efficacy
8. 2d4 different knives, all wickedly sharp.
9. Set of bagpipes of unusual manufacture.
10. Liripipe hood
11. Several different grades of rope and string
12. Small keg of strong drink.
13. A variety of gambling accoutrements.
14. A large and bulky crossbow.
15. A wheelbarrow.
16. A sarcastic blackbird.

Kobolds, Elves, Slaves of Shkeen, Jann, Orcs, Gnomes

Friday, March 5, 2010

By the power of Greyskull

This stuff is great. I was a kid in the eighties and at just the right age to absolutely love He-Man. There is extent to which I have found a new fascination for it in the context of the science-fantasy New Wave component of the old school renaissance, typified by the endlessly inventive strangeness of Planet Algol.

The He-Man cartoon was a peculiar beastie, a mish-mash of elements, recognisably fantasy, but of a flavour very different from the C.S. Lewis, Tolkien and Folkloric stuff I was exposed to at the time. There is a vivid and effusive strangeness in the colour palette and weird chimerical hybrids of this world. As far as I can recall it was a world without a comprehensible internal consistency, it was mythic and surreal and did not need to make sense. It was gonzo.

The presence of gonzo is one of the defining characteristics of the OSR. The original source material from the seventies was imbued with an enthusiastic inclusiveness, everything that was cool and exciting in the way of sci-fi and fantasy tropes were included in an attempt to maximise fun potential. I, for one, like this approach. There is a kind of anti-elitist permissiveness at play here that makes for a richer, if more chaotic, experience.

I want to bottle some of this essence for my own personal use.
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A beginning (of sorts)

Here will be the receptacle into which I pour my ideas about gaming, illustration, aesthetics and various miscellany. I'm tentative about making the first steps, a few things need to be put in place before everthing can flow naturally and smoothly towards its destination, however, some steps need to be made.


This is going to be a blog wherein I chart the development of a campaign setting/megadungeon for Labyrinth Lord called the Middenmurk. Middenmurk is a word I came up with many years ago when I was a teenager as part of a rambling, incoherent and poorly documented world-building project. I cannot remember the particular phase of my life-long process of idly dreaming up fantasy worlds to which the Middenmurk began. I can, however remember that it was the Mordor of the setting, the realm of deadly doom and darkness. I intend to build on this trope, drawing from various mythic underworlds to make a setting that is not only playable and fun, but, most importantly, puts into a concrete and playable form some of the ideas that have been floating around in my head since about 1987.

Another significant strand of this project is the illustration component. I am going to produce a product entirely illustrated by me. I have been drawing for precisely the same amount of time I have been interested in fantasy, and have spent too many years of my life studying art and trying to be an artist when what I should have been pursuing was illustration. While I was at art school, drawing monsters was considered kitsch and immature, and ,being shy as I am, I avoided delving into the delicious depths of fantasy illustration. Art school taught me a lot of things, the most important of which is the overused and terribly dorky "be true to yourself". I'm going to enjoy the process of drawing monsters and heroes, I think I am capable of turning my capacity for imagining the grotesque into a revenue stream. This blog is a step in that direction.

Finally, the Old School Renaissance is a community of people with an attitude and an aesthetic that I can really appreciate. Like a coffee-shop full of jazz mavericks, the community is rich and enthusiastic and incomprehensible at times.

I've found a bandwagon onto which I can jump. It's nice to have made a start.