Gamebook store

Friday 29 June 2018

Games people are playing

I haven't played it, so don't take this as an endorsement, but indie developer Panic Barn have announced a "post-Brexit Papers Please" called Not Tonight. Apparently they're expecting "a flurry of negative reviews". Well, all publicity is good publicity, so that's a better thing to hope for than the crashing silence Jamie and I got in response to Can You Brexit?

Probably the mistake we made is that we made our political gamebook (there's a very nice custom "character sheet" for it here, incidentally) fairly balanced. The media really aren't interested in something unless it gets them spitting with outrage. You can judge for yourself in this episode of the Brave New Words podcast from Starburst magazine. The presenters start the show with a trigger warning, if that's any guide.

Speaking of trigger warnings, the trailer above opens with footage of Nigel Farage. In my house that can provoke a reaction that scares cats and breaks crockery. But hey, your tolerance levels may be different.

Other interactive things I haven't played include Charlie Higson's stab at a Fighting Fantasy book, The Gates of Death. It's for younger kids than the original '80s FF fandom - or maybe kids are just kiddier these days. Anyway, apparently that means fewer gory/scary encounters and more pop culture references and bottom jokes. Try it on your kids and see what they think. You may first need to convince them it's not a Miss Marple mystery, though, judging by the cover design.

I'm told by Mark Lain, aka Malthus Dire, that his gamebook Destiny's Role is the first of a planned series. There is very little about it on the web, but from the Amazon product page I've gleaned that this book comprises four different adventures in different genres, including a noir-style private dick scenario. (That's dick as in detective, of course, not what it would mean in a Higson book.) Marco Arnaudo's video review below should give you an idea of what the adventures are like.

French company Celestory, who seem to be a European answer to Choice of Games, have announced a forthcoming academic book called Interactive Story which will be published in both Europe and the US around Christmas 2018..

And while we're doing a round-up of games and gamebooks, let me put in another plug for Martin Noutch's excellent Steam Highwayman, in part inspired by Keith Roberts' SF classic Pavane. The Highwayman is building up pressure for another outing, so if you're a Fabled Lands player and you're into steampunk, this is for you.

Friday 15 June 2018

"The Lone and Level Sands" (scenario)

Here’s a multi-system scenario for AD&D, Dragon Warriors and RuneQuest (for Questworld) by Oliver Johnson. It originally appeared in White Dwarf #48 (December 1983). I’ll save my comments till the end.
The scenario is for a party with (RQ) skills in the 40-50% region or (AD&D) 4th-5th level. It is based on the “Dealing With Demons” article. AD&D players should ideally also have White Dwarf 47, for the demonist character class.

The action begins in Tamary, a teeming depot town in the buffer zone between the stagnating, once-mighty Ancient Empire and the lands of the Invader Race from Glorantha. Players can start as either Invaders or Ancients. For AD&D ignore SIZ and substitute Wisdom for POW.
The two races deal with one another at a -3 CHA penalty. Optionally, the referee may allow non-human player characters; RQ – ogres, elves, dwarves and dragonewts are all possible, AD&D – any character race.

Note: All money in this scenario is given in RQ Lunars (eg 5L). AD&D players should treat Lunars as silver pieces. Dragon Warriors players should treat Lunars as florins. DW and AD&D players are advised to hire a sage for this adventure with History knowledge; RQ players should use the previous experience rules [Runequest Appendix H).

Players’ introduction
‘Be it known to you that in the earliest days the great families of the Ancient Race lived as nomad tribes in the desert lands west of where now stands the city of Sardonyx. The gods were high above them then, not yet ready to raise the Ancients to the heights of their power, and each tribe carried with it its totem spirit, guardian deities who intermediated between the tribes and the celestial powers which guided their lives. In later years, as the tribes unified into the Ancient Empire, built their mighty civilization and finally began the slow fall into the decadence they know today, these totem spirits became degraded into mere demons. Akresh, Tsienra, Eldyr and the others—now they seal bargains of eldritch power with those mighty enough to summon them, but once they were deities themselves and the greatest among them remember those days with anguish and rage at the infidelity of the Ancient Race.’
This scroll fragment from the Lankhor Mhy temple in Deliverance is shown to you by Astragard, a wandering sorcerer you met three days ago in the Lying Monkey bar in Tamary. He explains his plan: to travel south and enter the tomb of an Ancient noble called Utheron of the House of Raun. Utheron was a pure-blood descendant of the tribe that worshipped Akresh in prehistoric times, and Astragard hopes to loot his tomb of many treasures relating to Akresh’s powers.

You ask about your share? Astragard laughs and claps a meaty hand down on the table—‘All the gold you can carry! There is vast treasure for the taking, and in a few months we will all return to Tamary town wealthy men!’

You have a few days to buy whatever standard items you need at Astragard’s expense. One lunchtime you are joined by one of the wizened old men who seem ubiquitous in Tamary. ‘If you are the ones employed by Astragard,’ he says through toothless gums, ‘I have a parchment you may want. Only give me a few coins for it so I can buy some food for my old belly.’ After haggling he lets you have it for thirty Lunars and wanders off into the pressing crowd in search of wine and opiates.

The parchment is very, very old, written in Karangka, the language of the Ancient Race. You get it translated at a stall in the bazaar for six Lunars:
‘As I die, I leave a testament of my faithlessness. We built our master’s resting place in the desert west of the great city, I and the venerated Koram, chief architect of Lord Utheron of the House of Raum. Above it we set a likeness of She in the Sky, so that She might look down into the place’s depths. In the final chamber we put reverently the living statue of Thunder-in-the-Mountain—let not Lord Eldyr’s son find it! Koram and I it was who saw to it that our fellow builders slept the righteous sleep next to our lord. After Nepthe’s phial, Koram slit their throats—but none feigned, all were in the Pleasant Garden already. Climbing then to the top of the place we blocked forever the ascending way so none will ever disturb our master’s repose. We returned through the dreadful place of sacrificed bones, protected by our lord’s gift, the sign of Man, through the place of mirrors where the shadows yet kept at bay, held by the Lady’s light that we then shut out forever. With our sleeping friends we stood at last, our hearts beating fast as we thought on the journey to come, the phials in our trembling hands. “Drink now,” Koram said, “and let us lie forever over the gateway of death, my comrade”, and so saying drank his draught to the dregs. But a fatal stay fell on my hands and the phial fell from them as my dying friend watched me betray my lord’s faith. At last Koram slept in the Garden with our lord, but life in me still burned. I took a torch, my writing scrolls, and left that place. Yet by the demon whose eye I passed through I lost my way in the desert, parched by the Lady’s now-merciless eye. Pity my bones, dear friend, and bury them under the drifting sands...’
The translator will, for a further 4L, explain that the script is written in a style typical of about 1000 to 1500 years ago, and will suggest that the ‘great city’ is probably Sardonyx, capital of the Ancients, and the allusions to ‘Thunder-in-the- Mountain’ and ‘Lady in the Sky’ refer respectively to the demon lord Akresh and the Ancient goddess Cotalqueh.

Referee’s material
Utheron died 1200 years ago. He used his sorcerous and demonological powers to devise bindings to place on Akresh. He planned to use a holy relic of his ancestors to channel his powers against the demon lord and make himself invincible and immortal, but the relic was in the possession of Lord Eldyr’s half-human son (the man who now calls himself Astragard, widely known as the Black Serpent then), and Utheron’s agents recovered it too late.

Utheron died, then, and was buried. Astragard intended to loot the relic from the tomb at once, but then decided to leave it safely where it was while he searched the length and breadth of the land for the spells which would enable him to activate the relic’s power. At last, after twelve centuries of study and preparation for this moment, he believes himself ready. If he is correct, he has only to reach the holy relic, recite the arcane formulae, and the unimaginable powers of a demon lord will be his to command.


Spells: Protection 4, Demoralize, Detect Magic, Mobility, Spirit Binding, Speedart, Darkwall, Extinguish, Repair, Bladesharp 2;
Spells known by Keesha: Healing 4, Xenohealing 3, Dispel Magic 3, Invisibility, Mindspeech, Spirit Shield 2
Skills: Demonology 85%, Ritual of Summoning 95%, Ritual of Binding 95%, Cast Possession 85%, Draw Pentacle 95%, Climbing 75%, Hide Item 80%, Jumping 85%, Trap Set/Disarm 80%, Listen 80%, Spot Hidden 80%, Spot Trap 60%, Hide in Cover 70%, Move Quietly 70%, Oratory 80%, Evaluate Treasure 85%, Map Making 90%, numerous languages at 85%+, General Knowledge 85%
Items: Three doses of potency 10 blade venom; storage crystal POW 12; spell-resisting crystal POW 2; level 8 scorpion venom antidote; level 8 poison gas antidote; eucalyptus oil; acid potency 20 (for bargaining with sraim); miscellaneous components for summoning (three sets); talismans of possession for Engala and Tsienra; bastard sword of bluish metal with two uses of Teleportation each week; diadem with one use of Shield 2.
Bastard sword: (1d10 +1 +1d4) SR4, 75%, Parry 70%, points 30 (as hard as iron)
Small shield: Parry 75%, points 8/attack
Shortsword: (1d6 +1 +1d4) SR5, 75%, Parry 70%, points 20
Thrown dagger: (1d4 +1d2) SR1, 80%
Composite bow: (1d8 +1) SR1, 75%

Treasure: +1 padded armour; The Ring of Negation; eucalyptus oil; 2 doses of strong poison (for bargaining with sraim); miscellaneous components for summoning demons; possession talismans for Engala and Tsienra; +1 two-handed sword with a gem in the hilt that allows the wielder to Teleport (as the Mystic spell) once per day; The Key of the Dark Labyrinth; Crystal of Sraim Summoning (one use; automatically summons a sraim when shattered, with no need to match magical attack against its magical defence to summon it).
Notes: Astragard has special knowledge of history, language, theology, and myth. Given a few minutes to converse with someone, he can attempt to Enslave them at no Magic Point cost.

AD&D: 13th level Demonist
St 15; Int 17; Wis 18; Dex 16; Con 16; Ch 18
53 hit points; AC7
Spells: 1st: all; 2nd: Ward Element, Plane Source, Petition, Identify, Dust Warriors, Divination; 3rd: all; 4th: Cacodemon, Call Imps, Contact Other Plane, Spiritwrack; 5th: Charm Spirit (x2), Entrapping Pentagram; 6th: Contract, Great Summoning; 7th: Dismissal
Notes: Astragard has special knowledge of history, language and theology/ myth. Given a few minutes to converse with someone he can attempt to charm them (save at +3). His familiar, Keesha, is a demon cat about the size of a lynx. Keesha serves Astragard by virtue of the latter's demonic parentage, since normal demonists do not have familiars. Keesha has 10 HP (these do not add to his master's HP) and AC7; attacks 1-2/1-2/1-3, saves as a two dice monster, moves at 12". His focus is a +2 scimitar with the power to cast teleport twice a week. Astragard's diadem enables him to cast shield once a day. He has a one-use only Crystal of Sraim Summoning; when shattered a sraim is summoned. He also has a Potion of Healing with which to pay the sraim.

KEESHA (cat familiar)

Keesha is a demon cat about the size of a lynx. He serves Astragard by virtue of the latter’s demonic parentage; he is both larger and more powerful than the typical demonic familiar. He grants Astragard the same benefits as any other demonologist familiar. If he bites a victim and inflicts any damage, he can match his MAGICAL ATTACK against their MAGICAL DEFENCE. If successful, he drains 1d6 Intelligence from them; this recovers at the rate of 1 point per hour, but if the victim is reduced to 0 Intelligence he becomes unconscious.

AD&D: a demon cat about the size of a lynx

* * *

Astragard, the half-human son of the demonic Lord Eldyr and a mortal woman, is a tall young man of almost androgynous beauty, but can appear in a number of illusory guises, usually as a hearty, middle-aged sorcerer with a huge red beard. He has demonic good luck, making him immune to harm from gremlins and allowing him to re-roll one dice roll per day (though he must accept the result of the re-roll). He will not voluntarily handle silver (although it does not harm him); his true form is reflected in any silver mirror. He can see in the dark (DW: darksight). Lord Eldyr would react favourably to him if summoned but Astragard swore to his mother that he will never do this. Astragard is several thousand years old, and may be naturally immortal, in that he will not die of old age.

Astragard plans to go to Utheron’s tomb and there summon a sraim (see stats document) to locate the relic he seeks. Astute player-characters may realise from this that Astragard must once have owned the relic himself. He believes he can use the relic to bind Akresh.

RQ: he will use as little POW as possible during the adventure as he needs to keep at least 25 points to bind Akresh. This is because the relic, properly used, should multiply by 4 the effective value of POW channelled through it and negate Akresh’s resistance to binding. Astragard, sadly for himself, has miscalculated the magic formulae involved—the relic will only multiply his POW by 2, nowhere near enough to control Akresh. (DW and AD&D: it will not allow him to control Akresh.)

Creature stats
For the demons in this scenario, download the stat lists here. This document includes stats for Runequest, Dragon Warriors and AD&D.

The journey to the tomb
A week-long journey through a great flood plain leads to a 15m bluff with a narrow wadi snaking its way up to a plateau. An encounter should be rolled for now and once more before the adventurers reach the tomb complex
The plateau is the Wastes of Gizen with enormous sand dunes, some as much as 20-30m high. No tracks are visible; the sun beats down remorselessly. From now on the party will consume water rations at four times the normal rate—around two water-skins per person per day.

Note the party’s water supplies and if the water supply runs out, subtract the following per character per day for days without water:
DW: -2 Strength; –2d4 Health Points; –2 Intelligence A character reduced to 0 Strength or Intelligence by this will become unconscious. A character reduced to negative Strength or Intelligence will die.

The tomb complex
Two days’ journey into the wastes the characters come upon a broad pavement constructed of jagged stones. [Two days seems pretty quick to me. I expect Oliver was thinking of how far the tomb builders would realistically have gone into the desert, but it's not very dramatic, especially in light of the emphasis on carrying enough water. You decide. - DM] A few miles further on it disappears into the side of an enormous dune, with a gigantic head 15m up its side. To the right of the pavement lies a low ruined building surrounded by a ruined colonnade, disappearing into the dune.
A larger version of the tomb map can be downloaded here.

1. The oasis
To the left of the pavement is a shallow puddle of stagnant water surrounded by stunted palm trees. No recent footprints can be seen.

Encounters (only if water is taken from the oasis). Daytime: 25% Amorph (reroll every 15 minutes of game time). Night-time: 100% Amorph. For the amorph, see the stats document.

In the sludge underneath the water lie numerous human and animal bones. A thirty-minute search may uncover a silver sceptre worth 155L with curious arcane inlays that increase its antique value to about 500L. Because of the rotting corpses, treat the water as a Level 3 poison (DW: medium-strength poison). Anyone who drinks has a 10% chance of catching Wasting Fever (AD&D: typhoid).

2. The colossal head
The head is the tip of a 15m statue of the Goddess Cotalqueh. Only characters with General Knowledge at 40%+ will recognize her. (DW: characters with a scholarly background. AD&D: Sage, Ancient History.)

The climb up to the head because of the shifting sand is quite hazardous (RQ: -30% to Climbing ability; DW: Difficulty Factor 15; AD&D: non-thieves save vs Dex at -3). However, because of the cushioning effect of the sand, subtract 6 from falling damage.

The eyes (a type of sapphire, about 500L) of the statue glitter in the sunlight and can be prised out after about two hours’ labour. However, any weapon (unless magical) used to extract the eyes will be blunted (RQ: effect like a Dullblade spell; DW: -1 to Damage and Armour Bypass Roll; AD&D: -1 hit and damage). No light will reach room 14 if the eyes are removed, as they focus the sunlight.

3. The mortuary temple
The single entrance in the east wall leads to a vestibule, the floor of which is covered with drifts of sand and the imprints of many feet, some human and some of an odd cloven shape.

Encounters: 100% chance of a pazazu (see stats). It appears as an old hermit. Its orders when bound were: “Misdirect strangers and allow none to pass through the bronze double doors.” It may ask characters to bring it a drink from the oasis, and if they succeed it will be better disposed towards them—though it must follow its orders to the letter. If Astragard suspects it is a demon (give the PCs a chance to spot this first) he will try to banish it (AD&D: cast Dismissal). The pazuzu always keeps in the shadows, as its own shadow would reveal its true shape.

4. The open courtyard
The two double doors in the west wall are solid bronze. The northern door is embossed with a swirling pattern decorated with battling demonic bodies. The southerly one is embossed with a Death rune (DW and AD&D: a skull) and the sigil of the Ancient god Nebr (RQ: a Void rune – see below). Astragard will recognise these symbols. The doors are unlocked.

Behind the middle of the three wooden doors on the east wall lie two desiccated corpses in a state of perfect preservation, in leather armour, seemingly cut by a sword in several places (actually the pazuzu’s sword). They have swords, javelins, shields and about 20F scattered about. The pazuzu will try at all costs to stop the adventurers from entering this room, although it will let them in the other two (empty). Knowing that if the player-characters discover the corpses he is likely to be slain and his servitude finished, he has clawed a riddle in the Ancient tongue on the courtyard wall: ‘To find that which you desire seek out misfortune.’ It refers to the gremlin statue in 6, which the adventurers must pass to reach the tomb complex proper. The pool here is now dry.

5. Shrine to Nebr
Set into the south side is a 1.5m-high altar. In front of it is a large pewter plate with an offering of extremely desiccated meat. A thin layer of dust covers everything. There is script in an Ancient language etched into the plinth of the altar. “Lay yourself, o man, as a sacrifice on Nebr’s altar.”

The wall behind the altar is hollow (8) and is a cavity filled with a hermetically sealed gas cloud (RQ: potency 12; DW: strong poison; AD&D: -2 on saving throws). The cloud is quite viscous, and will only affect player-characters actually on the altar. Others will have time to move away. Survivors can move through 8.

6. The demon passage
Long and unlit. Five slits just wide enough for a large human to wriggle through stand about 2.5m up on the south wall. Behind each slit stands a statue of a demon associated with the tomb complex. They are the b’krath, the rult, the stalker, the gremlin, and Akresh himself. Behind the statues (other than the gremlin) a narrow passage leads to a tiny offering room in which gifts appropriate to each demon have been placed. There is no offering behind the gremlin’s statue; in fact, a corridor leads off to 7. None of these gifts are necessary for the binding of the demon; they are of merely ceremonial significance.

Statue gifts:
The b’krath: a gold-covered wooden figurine of a panther.
The rult: a skull made of mosaic tiles.
The stalker: a flute made from a human thigh-bone.
Akresh: plates of precious metals, worth 850L.

A large statue (3m high) stands at the end of the demon passageway of a warrior in ancient armour wielding a battle hammer over the body of a fallen foe. An inscription at its base (in Ancient Karangka) reads: The Lord Utheron of the House of Raum.

As the player-characters pass the gremlin statue a real gremlin (see stats document) will slip out of a concealed cubby hole at the back and follow them doggedly through the complex, keeping as well concealed as possible. Originally there were two gremlins, but one of them followed the hapless architect (whose death note the adventurers may possess,) and caused him to lose his way in the desert.

DW: The gremlin’s talisman allows the wearer to cast a Benight spell once per day with a magical attack of 13.

7. Corridor of the sleeping ones
Unlit with plain granite walls. The eight granite sarcophagi are open, with 3-4 desiccated corpses piled one upon another in each. Empty phials are littered around each sarcophagus, and each of the corpses’ throats has been cut. These are the builders’ graves mentioned in the players’ Karangka script.

A Spot Hidden at +25% (DW: character with the highest PERCEPTION score; AD&D: search for secret doors) will discover the hinged granite slab that leads to 9.

8. Hollow wall
Gas-filled cavity. See area 5 for effect.

9. Koram’s wraith
Here is a basalt sarcophagus with a phial of amber-coloured poison (RQ: potency 20; DW: strong; AD&D: -8 on saving throw). Inside is a corpse in magisterial robes, an empty phial in one hand, and an ornately covered dagger blackened with what appears to be dried blood in the other. Its throat has not been cut, and a horrible rictus grin is frozen on its desiccated face. Encounters: Koram’s wraith.

 AD&D: use standard wraith stats

Spot Hidden: The bottom of the sarcophagus is a granite slab that can be prised up to reveal a shaft leading 7m downwards into the darkness with room for only one average-sized humanoid at a time. A mouldered bit of rope hangs from a metal stanchion and disappears down to 10. If the old rope is used for the descent it will normally hold an unencumbered character of average size without breaking, but has a 5% chance of breaking for each SIZ or ENC point above 12. (DW: 15% chance for Armour Factor 4+; AD&D: 15% if AC6 or less.) Remember that the gremlin will alter the chance of falling if present.

10. Funeral corridor
The light of torches or lanterns will reveal bas-reliefs etched on the walls—a large funeral procession making its way towards a vast, truncated pyramid across a desert. Some mourners wear cloaks made of birds feathers, others masks that resemble the faces of desert creatures such as jackals and hyenas. Bas-reliefs further down the corridor depict various ceremonies being performed on a corpse by purple-robed figures. Over the corpse as if hovering in mid-air is depicted a squatting, rotund figure, its head surrounded by black clouds and thunderbolts; in each hand he holds the top of a mountain.

Characters with General Knowledge of at least 20% (DW: scholarly profession; AD&D: sage), or any Ancient Race character, will recognise the pyramid structure as a typical Ancient noble tomb and the purple-robed priests as priests of Nebr, the Ancient Race god of death. Characters with demonology skills 20%+ (DW: demonologists; AD&D: demonists) will recognise the mountain-shaking demon as Akresh.

Traps: a hidden Warding 2 spell (DW: Shadowbolt; AD&D: Glyph of Warding 1d10 damage) covers the width of the corridor near the Akresh relief.

11. The gallery of offerings
The arches off the central corridor lead to rough-hewn chambers where gems and precious metals glint in the torchlight. If any of the side chambers are entered, as the first character steps through an arch, translucent grey hands thrust down, out of the stone ceiling and into his skull. At the same moment, a terrible shriek will be heard which demoralizes everyone in hearing like a ghoul’s howl (DW: Weaken spell with MAG ATT 18; AD&D: save vs spells or be affected as per MU Fear spell).

The character attacked suffers the effect of a Sever Spirit attack (DW: a strength 8 Fright Attack; AD&D: save vs Death magic or die) after which the ghostly hands dissolve into thick acrid smoke. If still alive, the character must make a luck roll (DW: weak poison; AD&D: save vs paralysation) or be blinded by the fumes for 1d10 hours. Each treasure niche will have this effect only once, and a Dispel Magic 8 (DW or AD&D: Dispel Magic) will suppress the defence for two minutes. The side chamber contents are:

a. A mahogany figurine of Utheron on horseback, armed for war. Artistic merit but no intrinsic value.

b. A jewelled fan worth 200L. Anyone fanning themselves for more than one minute will enter a trance-like state for an hour. This trance is intended as a psychedelic diversion, typical of Ancient Race amusements, but is also quite refreshing and enables the character to regain POW at twice the normal rate (DW: recover 2d4 Magic Points; AD&D: recall spells in half the time).

c. A gold statue of Utheron hunting, worth 2000 Lunars.

d. An alabaster sceptre. Anyone holding this can cast Protection up to 4 points at half normal cost (AD&D: cast Minor Globe of Invulnerability once a day).

e. A bust of Utheron’s wife, Yashara, in blue marble streaked with white.

f. A bronze coffer with gold and gems worth 8000L.

g. A gold pectoral (worth 2500L) with a POW 8 storage crystal (DW: Ankh of Osiris; AD&D: Ring of Spell Storing) set into it.

h. A massive rosewood throne set with gems and silver inlays, total value of 12000L.

i. Fourteen grey candles set in a vortex pattern. When lit these summon one of Utheron’s ancestors back from the vortex of Nebr. Use the Daka Fal Summon Ancestor table. Ancestors friendly to Utheron will attack the party; others depart. (DW and AD&D: 40% chance of a hostile wight.) The candles lose this power if moved out of the pattern.

j. Utheron’s favourite bow, and a quiver with ten arrows. The bow is a Multimissile 3 matrix (DW: the arrows are all +2; AD&D: the bow is a +2 longbow).

k. A number of staves of office, apparently all solid gold but in fact merely wood covered in gold leaf.

l. A large shield with the Void Rune (Nebr’s symbol) inscribed on it. This gives the user a +5% Parry bonus (DW: +1 DEFENCE; AD&D: +1 shield).

m. A silver mask inlaid with sapphires and jet, worth 3500L

n. A large obsidian statue of Akresh, represented as a muscular and heavily armoured warrior.

o. A silver truncated pyramid about two feet high. This is hollow and when opened will be found to contain gold and gems worth 12000L.

p. An 3m tall statue of a bulbous, roughly humanoid warrior with spiked clubs in place of hands. There is no Sever Spirit/Fright Attack/death spell effect in this chamber, but the moment anyone enters the statue animates.


AD&D: treat as a caryatid column.

When there are no living creatures in the pit of the night demons (16), the statue will de-animate.

Exits: Through 12. If a Spot Hidden roll is made (AD&D: successful secret door search) at the east end of the gallery the character will notice that one of the granite blocks of the walls is slightly protuberant compared to the rest of the wall. If this is prised away, a low passageway can be seen leading to 14. There is also be a faint glimmer of light.

12. The false door
Like the other alcoves in 10, a Sever Spirit/Fright Attack/death spell will be made on anyone attempting to pass under the archway of this niche.

The characters see a small snake slither away through a crack in the far wall. This wall is of thin plaster, and if broken down leads to a 10m-long passageway. At the end is an ornate wooden portal with skull bas-reliefs carved into it. It surrounds double doors with life-size statuettes of strange cult priests protruding from them. They open inwards.

Spot Trap at -10% (AD&D: Find/Remove Traps at -10; non-thieves save vs Int at -4). Remember adjustments for the gremlin. When the first door is opened a complex pulley system within the first statue is activated, a slab of stone will drop down a slot behind the party in the north wall, and a cascade of loose pebbles will fall from an overhead shaft onto anyone in front of the double doors.

RQ: Anyone struck by the pebbles will take 1d8+2 damage. Also match the force of the cascade (STR 13) against the characters’ STR, and if that is failed the character has been swept down a steep passageway behind the doors to 13.

DW: The cascade sweeps down with Speed 12. Anyone struck by the pebbles takes 1d6+3 damage and must roll Strength or less on 3d6. If this roll is failed the character has been swept down a steep passageway behind the doors to 13. Two more rolls (this time rolling Strength or less on 4d6, or 5d6 for the last one) are allowed before the character is swept into a pit full of quicksand (13).

AD&D: Save vs paralysation with any Strength bonus as a plus. Two more rolls at -2 and -4 are allowed to avoid being swept into the quicksand at 13.

13. Quicksand pit
There is about 3m between the quicksand and the lip of the pit. A stalker hides here. It will not come forth until the party reach 21. The pit is about 10m across; on the other side of it an ascending passageway disappears into the darkness (see 21 and 22).

14. Summoning room
A glimmer of reddish light comes from an opening 7m up the north wall which is a shaft about 30cm square leading to the eye gems of the statue at 2. If these have been removed the light will be very dim. A thin layer of dust covers a chalked pentangle that encloses the marble plinth in here. On it is a brass hand-bell with sun symbols on it. It has no clapper inside it. Instead a precious gem lies underneath (1500L). If the eyes of the statue at 2 are still in place then the gem, if left on the plinth, will focus light down gallery 15, illuminating its entire length so it can be seen. A few specks of what appears to be gold dust may be seen to sparkle in the sunlight or from the light of torches.

This room was used to summon the b’krath that stalks 15. The summoner, however, nervous of failure, arranged some protection for himself through his light-focusing mechanism. The gold-dust on the floor is the remains of a supply the summoner had ready in case he had to strike a bargain.

15. The corridor of mirrors
The entire length is covered by wall-mirrors. Characters looking at their images will find them diminishing into infinite regress. It is frequently difficult to recognise oneself in the images; it is as if they were being subtly distorted. There is a slight downward gradient.

The door to 17 is made of wood and engraved with serpentine forms, some of them patterned as if in an ornate script. A mirror (2m × 2m) hangs over the door lintel reflecting the whole length of the corridor. It is made of enchanted silver (value 3000L) and will reflect Astragard’s true form – that is, if the other players notice in the confusion of the b’krath attack. It will also reveal such things as stolen items concealed on characters, any disguises they may have assumed, invisibility spells, etc. It is allied to the Truth Rune, which in Ancient myth is linked with the sky goddess Cotalqueh; this symbol is engraved on its back. The mirror will continue to reveal hidden secrets even if removed from its present location. The script on the door is in Karangka and reads: “The last resting place of Utheron and the Thunder in the Mountains. Beware lest men of deceit accompany you.”

Encounter: The b’krath (see stats document) at all times, but it will attack with less efficiency if corridor is lit by the prism in room 14.

Hidden Spots: One of the mirrors towards the end of the corridor swings in to reveal room 16.

16. Pit of the night demons
Just past the entrance is a 3m-wide marble platform. The rest of the room is a 4m-deep pit full of swirling mist, so that no pike, spear etc., can touch the bottom from the platform. The mists muffle the sound of anything thrown into them. Within the mists dwell minor spirits. Anyone immersed more than a foot into the mist will be subject to a 3d6 POW attack (DW: MAG ATT 17; AD&D: save v spells). If effective this causes 1-3 1d4 wounds (DW: 2d6; A&D: 1d12 damage) which appear as livid bruising under the character’s armour. The attacks will continue each round until the character leaves the mist.

Treasure: in a niche on the other side of the pit is some jewelled armour. It is black with a cobalt blue decoration and a three-pointed star symbol in sapphires on the chest. The helmet is missing. The armour fits a character of SIZ 12, provides 7-point protection to each location, and is only ENC 4. The largest sapphire set into the breast plate is a POW-resisting crystal (POW1). (DW: +2 plate armour, with the sapphire working as an Amulet of Sovereignty over Violence; AD&D: +2 armour, with the sapphire working as a 50% effective Ring of Spell Turning.)

This was Utheron’s famed Harmonic Armour. It is enchanted so that it follows the actions of whoever wears the matching helmet. Normally this meant that Utheron would wear the helmet and armour together, thus effectively augmenting his strength in combat because the armour follows the helmet-wearer’s actions with its own strength of 30 (DW: Strength 19, +2 to Armour Bypass Rolls and damage; AD&D: Str as storm giant). The helmet is on Utheron’s mummified body (room 23).

Jumping: because there is very little landing space at the other side of the pit, leaping across it is tricky. Make Jumping rolls to get across at -30% (remember the gremlin could increase this handicap even further). DW: roll under Reflexes on 2d10. AD&D: save vs Dex to get across, with extra -2 penalty for plate armour.

17. Room of the cobras
If the player-characters stop to listen, they will hear a pronounced hissing noise coming from this room before they enter it.

The steep flight of steps leads down into the low, false burial chamber intended to fool plunderers. A large unopened granite sarcophagus stands at the foot of the steps. Other steps lead upwards on the other side of the room to a wall painting.

The high ceiling is loosely raftered with cedarwood, and large areas of disturbed rafters are visible. The roof is supported by cedarwood pillars. Thousands of hissing snakes cover the floor, stairways, pillars and rafters.

The wall painting shows Utheron with his back to the chamber actually holding the sun in his right hand. A tracery of fire stretches over his head to his other hand. The sun in his right hand may possibly indicate the only other exit to the room, a movable granite block 6m up in the western wall. A heap of splintered wood lies in one corner of the room; this used to be the ladder to this door, but was smashed practically beyond recognition by Koram and his accomplice.

Encounters: small snakes with potency 1 venom. AD&D: save vs poison at +2.
Giant snakes hidden in the rafters will drop on anyone inspecting the sarcophagus. These have venom potency 4 (DW: strong poison; AD&D: save vs poison).

The sarcophagus holds the desiccated corpse of a man dressed in antique robes. He holds an idol in one hand. It is made of wood and depicts a squatting, malevolent-looking god or demon.

Naturally it will not deceive Astragard, who knows just what he is looking for. The idol will detect as strongly magical but is in fact useless.

18. The judgement room
The room is carpeted with human bones and skulls, in most places to a depth of nearly a metre. A throne stands in the middle of the west wall on the dais. Large bas-reliefs, apparently of Ancient gods, cover the walls on either side.

Encounter: A rult (see stats document) will manifest itself through the bones along with four skeletons with shortswords.

The rult’s orders were: “Kill any who enter this chamber after the tomb is sealed.” Whenever the rult teleports it appears to dissolve into a grey fog and merge with the body it is teleporting through.

The throne bears an inscription in Karangka script: “Let no one sit here but Utheron, who judges the people; death will come to the usurper.”

Spot Trap (AD&D: Find/Remove trap, thief only) reveals that the whole throne is in fact a trap. Anyone sitting on it will activate a catch which will swing it around activating a flight of javelins concealed at 19. There are six of these, each of which will strike a randomly determined party member in the line of flight with an attack of 50% on SR2 (DW: Speed 18; AD&D: attack as 6th level fighters). The mechanism operates silently and a replica throne with an identical inscription will appear in its place on the far wall. Springing the trap is the only way the player-characters can reach 19 from here.

19. Alcove
Small alcove with six empty (or full if the PCs approach from 13) arbalests on a frame. A cord attached to the throne runs back down the corridor.

20. Ceiling entrance
Concealed in the ceiling of this long corridor is the way up. It is a large granite slab, 5m above the floor, almost identical to the others that line the ceiling. (RQ: Spot Hidden at -25%; DW: the character with the highest PERCEPTION score will spot it; AD&D: secret doors at +1.)

21. Portcullis
This will be dropped by the gremlin at this point, trapping any PCs descending the corridor. He will also cast his Extinguish spell (DW: Benight; AD&D: Darkness talisman) to put out the party’s torches and lanterns. The portcullis itself is made out of incredibly hard stone and will require one man-week of chipping to break through. The stone to either side of it is softer and could be removed in 2-3 days.

Encounters: At some stage the stalker (see stats document) will rise out of the pit (13), though it will conceal itself from the party at first. The stalker’s orders were “Pursue any who loot the tomb and slay them individually, then return.” So it will attack survivors of the party after they have returned to Tamary and (they think) safety.

22. Ascending corridor
Bas-reliefs on the walls of this gallery depict a number of creatures—in progression; jaguars, snakes, spiders, eagles and scorpions. An enchantment causes anyone walking along the gallery to lose one point from, in turn, STR, CON, INT, POW and DEX (DW: Strength, Looks, Intelligence, Psychic Talent, and Reflexes; AD&D: substitute Wisdom for POW) as they pass each of the five creatures depicted. If the character walks up and down the gallery he/she will lose points each time. Depleted characteristics later recover at the rate of one point per hour. A Dispel Magic (RQ: 2 points) will suppress the gallery’s enchantment for two minutes, making it safe to traverse.

The passageway is blocked by a plaster wall. If this is pierced a large granite block will begin sliding down the corridor. Match its STR of 50 against the party’s STR. In DW, total the party’s Strength and they must roll under this on 12d6 to stop the block. In AD&D total the party’s Str and they must roll this as a percentage. If there are three failures by the party, the block is now moving so swiftly that it cannot be stopped. Do not forget to deduct further Strength if the party are forced back past the jaguar glyphs. The block will push any characters through 20. Anyone surviving the fall of 6m may be crushed (and instantly killed) by the block when it falls unless they evade it - RQ: luck roll; DW: Speed of 12; AD&D: save vs spells.

23. The burial chamber
A sarcophagus rests in the exact centre of the room. Ramps 4m across disappear into the darkness at the four cardinal points. They slope steeply upwards and have large round blocks lying at their ends. The sarcophagus lies open. In it lies a human skeleton with a jade sceptre in its right hand and wearing a helmet of black metal, like 17. A squat rock idol of a monstrous god/demon stands at the head of the sarcophagus. A Karangka inscription is etched into the side of the sarcophagus: “Stand firm even in the grip of death, O servitor of Akresh.” Anyone lifting the idol will cause the following to happen:

a. There will be a roar as if of distant thunder drawing swiftly near.

b. The blocks plugging the ramps will give way at exactly the same time and come hurtling down the ramps. Characters can attempt to evade them (RQ: Jumping roll required; DW: Speed 10; AD&D: save vs Dex) or else be crushed. Characters who remain firm will find themselves merely enclosed in a neat frame as the round blocks meet with a crash and come to rest in a cloud of dust. The blocks are about four feet high and can be vaulted easily. Sand will begin coursing down the ramps, and as soon as the sand clears from the top of the pyramid, sunlight (or starlight) will be shining into the tomb chamber through the holes left by the blocks in the outer casing.

c. Utheron’s skeleton will rise up as a mummy and attack with a horrible cry of rage.


AD&D: treat as a mummy.

Although retaining his former intelligence, Utheron does not retain full awareness of his condition. He will fight single-mindedly to destroy those who invade his tomb, and his primary aim will be to protect the sacred relic. He recognises Astragard (whom he knows as the Black Serpent) in any guise, and will treat him as the principal foe. (RQ: Utheron cannot regenerate POW and will not use battle magic.)

If Utheron is wearing the helmet for his harmonic armour (and he will be, unless the characters have removed it), then the character wearing the armour will immediately find the armour duplicating Utheron’s own movements with an effective STR of 30 (DW: Strength of 19; AD&D: as storm giant). The link between helmet and armour can be broken for two minutes with Dispel Magic 4 (DW and AD&D: Dispel Magic).

Treasure: an idol for summoning Akresh. This relic doubles a character’s chance of Summoning Akresh and, if properly used, negates the demon’s Resistance to Binding and multiplies by 4 any POW used in the binding. (DW: negates Akresh’s magical defence bonuses against summoning and binding, and reduces Akresh’s magical defence against the wielder by -2; AD&D: allows Akresh to be called by the demonist spell Great Summoning, negates his magic resistance and allows the user to command him.) Astragard has made some fatal miscalculations, though, in believing that the relic would enable him to easily bind the demon prince. It would in fact take centuries to master the formulae needed to operate the relic.

Exits: Four ramps give onto the dune covering the top of the pyramid.

* * *

Dungeon crawling is not what springs to mind when I think of Oliver’s games. They’re filled with vivid and varied scenes – a vampire caught in a thorn bush, survivors of a five-hundred-foot wave picking their way through a city smashed into the tidal flats, a coffin with eerily silent pallbearers being piped aboard the night train to Edinburgh.

The hallmark of his scenarios is a richly imagined world where the players have freedom to explore, resulting in an adventure that feels like a great movie or novel. You can never say that about a dungeon, which is one of the reasons I find them restrictive and boring. But back in the day we had to churn these things out for White Dwarf. The reason may have been the drive to sell metal miniatures. Yet TSR’s published scenarios back in the ‘80s were mostly dungeon-centred too. I guess most of the players had never had the opportunity to discover how a fully realized world (like Tekumel, say) allows for dimensions of play that make dungeons feel like a Hanna-Barbera cartoon.

Some other thoughts about this one… It was credited to both of us, but I did little more than add the creature stats. Oh, and it must have been me who suggested the name Gutheron of Org in homage to Michael Moorcock. That seems far too cheeky now, as well as being an act of literary vandalism if you haven’t already read “Kings in Darkness”, so I’ve changed it to Utheron in this version. Oliver’s interest in Egyptology shines through, but the bit I like best are the instructions given to each demon. Given that they will follow those to the letter you can have some fun there.

Anyway, this is the last of those old White Dwarf scenarios. No more are left to republish, but don’t despair – it just means that any scenarios you see on this blog from now on are going to be all-new material.

Friday 1 June 2018

A shared world

A couple of earlier posts told the story of how back in the early ‘80s I got together with a bunch of friends to cook up what nearly became an ongoing gamebook saga. Almost ten years later, in May 1992, some of those same people gathered to talk about devising a shared world. Present were:
…and me, of course. We set out that evening - almost exactly 26 years ago, good grief! - to design the framework for a fantasy world so that we could write stories in a shared setting. Here are the minutes of that meeting:

As we progressed it appeared we were heading for a 'realistic' setting in which mythic heroes and high fantasy could still be accommodated as far as possible.

[The first sign of a crack right there, if you ask me. What makes a fantasy setting interesting is the idiosyncratic focus of the creator. That 1% inspiration should come from one person. Others can share the 99% perspiration of turning some broad brushstrokes into a detailed picture. But the way we were doing it, we were headed towards “low fantasy with some high fantasy too”. More dog’s breakfast than gods of creativity! – DM]

We decided the first ten or so stories should be set in and around one city state which has a peculiar geographical location.

1) Religion

Some gods do exist but never obviously intervene in the lives of mere mortals. There are many other gods revered, some in the shape of historical heroes. These are not real in the sense of having power. Some are little-known cult deities worshipped by small sects.

The Empire is a theocracy, having one dominant god. The priests use this single religion as a tool to dominate all others. The God Emperor is both the secular and religious leader. The Empire attempts to proselytize, spreading its monotheistic beliefs to those on its borders before swallowing them up militarily. This is an oppressive religion, based on fear.

[I imagine I wasn’t at all averse to portraying religion as a tool of oppression, but will have been more dubious about the obvious plan to make the Empire “evil” and our city-state “good”. I didn’t come from a D&D background like some of the players, so to me that alignment approach to fantasy stinks of propaganda and I’d have been bound to subvert it in any stories I wrote for the setting. – DM]

2) Technology

There is no gunpowder and it is a pre-industrial early iron age world, which still includes some bronze age technologies.

The means of transport (reptilian? dinosaur? what about something like an ankylosaur, useful in battle because of it club tail, they could also be used as battering rams, crushing mud and wooden buildings like tanks.) is cold blooded and very sluggish unless warm. They can be ridden in a wooden mahout or a basket. It is sometimes necessary to warm them using fires to get them to 'start' in the morning. These beasts are important in battle. Because they move faster in very hot climes, yielding better communications, the Empire has enjoyed an advantage. They are never fast moving and messages are carried by runner. There are no horses.

[The idea of the principal riding beast being cold blooded, and the effect that would have on warfare, definitely came from me. I used it in my own campaign world of Medra. I didn’t see them as heavily armoured and slow – that sounds like it was borrowed from the chlen, the sole beast of burden in Tsolyanu. Not surprising, as most of us had been playing Tekumel for more than fifteen years by this point. – DM]

Ziggurats figure prominently.

[Odd – and possibly another unconscious swipe from Tekumel. Or is it just that the Bible has taught us to expect our evil empires to come with the trappings of Orientalist architecture? –DM]

Important buildings (palaces, temples, the amphitheatre where the demos meet, the trade exchange) are built of stone. Less important buildings are timber, then timber frame and adobe (not wattle-and-daub because those require horse or cow hair). Hovels and slums are simple mud brick affairs.

3) Climate

The Empire is hot, sub-tropical. It is centred just south of the tropics. The weather gets colder as you go further south.

[We reversed the globe, possibly inspired there by The Book of the New Sun or simple contrariness. The hot climate could have been another similarity with Tekumel – midsummer temperatures in Jakalla nudge 50° C – or simply because so much fantasy fiction is windswept, cold and muddy. – DM]

The city state area is warm Mediterranean in climate. The fault line, or volcanic ring of mountains, that currently contains the Empire would produce geographical quirks due to the layers of mist and molten magma lakes.

The barbarous lands could still be temperate, they are barbaric because the beasts of burden barely function there rather than because of extreme cold. But the further reaches could even be subarctic.

4) Geography

The Empire lies in the middle of the continent and is fringed by city states and perhaps some smaller kingdoms. Its southern border is the curved fault line caused by one tectonic plate slowly crashing into another. This has thrown up an arc of young, very high, and uneroded mountains. These old rocks have split and volcanic eruptions have added new peaks and mounds of ash. In addition where the crust is torn the molten magma has come to the surface, creating unusual conditions. Avalanches of snow reaching the lava have given rise to the layer of mists which hangs forever mysterious above the foothills.

Fault lines generally give rise to mountain ranges with one sharp face and the other more gently shelving to the plain. Is the sharp face of precipices facing north, hemming in the Empire?

[Oliver’s A-level in Geography will have come into play here. –DM]

In the centre of the fault line of mountains is an area where the two tectonic plates have not yet met, of much lower land. Our city state is a gap city, geographically sited to command the vital pass between the mountains.

The home city state is a trading centre acting as a conduit through the mountains from the southern lands of the barbarians and the lands of the city states to the empire.

We know of three other city states, one inside the empire, one more military minded than ours, and another port city on the nearest coast.

5) Social organization

Most cultures have slaves.

The Empire

See religion and elsewhere. The Empire would appear too powerful to be stopped by our city state but perhaps there are other potential problems on its many borders, diverting its resources.

The home city state

It is a fledgling democracy. All descendants of the original inhabitants of the city have the vote on every issue. They jealously guard their privilege as the founders of the city state. Prominent among the demos are (i) a few Patricians, heads of what were the noble families which probably still own many of the orchards and grain fields outside the city, and (ii) the Demagogues or rabble rousers. Oratory is an important skill and the styles used would be different for the two types.

[I like the potential for political tension, an idea that I suspect came from Jamie or Mark. It’s not clear whether the Demagogues – wrong word, I know – are descended from the original inhabitants, and therefore get a vote, or are agitating from the outside. No doubt that would have got worked out in the stories. –DM]

There are mercenaries for hire here and a distinct mercenary group.

As a wealthy trade centre the city state, with its advanced culture and great minds, has been a magnet for traders, craftsmen and others who have come to live there. Many of these are very rich, but are disenfranchised as only the offspring of the original inhabitants have the vote. These people who feel discriminated against under the current system might be suborned by the agents of the Empire.

How large is the population of this city state?

6) Sorcery

We agreed the incidence of magic should be fairly low so that the intrigues, military campaigns and human interaction don't become meaningless. Of course great magics might be explained away by the people.

Theomagy: Magic practiced by priests, usually in groups within temples. Particularly strong in the Empire. This magic typically takes some time to plan and execute but can be very powerful.

Philosopher mages: A few great minds casting their spells alone or teaching philosophy and sorcery together in their schools. They use the basic elements of magic. The search for a 'missing' element has become a part of their tradition. They are flexible in their approach and can use magic extemporaneously.

The barbarian races practice shamanic magic.

One of the philosopher mages thinks he is about to develop telepathy (Dave's idea).

[That notion was attributed to me but I have no idea why I thought it might prove interesting. Perhaps I meant the kind of telepathy that allows long-range communication, which certainly features as a very rare and somewhat unreliable resource in Medra. – DM]

Given the importance of the weather on the ubiquitous beasts of burden the importance of weather magic or perhaps weather prophesy would be significant.

7) The inhabitants

The inhabitants of the city states are either olive or coppery skinned.

The barbarians are white with red or light hair. The dominant race in the Empire are black. By making black people the most dominant culture we are reversing the norm.

[The people of both Tekumel and Medra are dark-skinned, so that was obviously comme il faut for our fantasy thinking at the time, and fair enough too. Those pale, red-haired barbarians were a bit of a cliché though! – DM]

There is an intelligent race of firedrakes living on the fault line in and near volcanoes. They soar on thermals above magma lakes. They are cold blooded and need heat to fly/glide and to think clearly. Away from the heat they become torpid and slow-witted. When hot they are capable of psionics. Humans don't think the firedrakes are intelligent.

[I remember Mark particularly liked this idea and was going to write a story about a human coming to realize that the firedrakes, normally encountered in their torpid state and therefore considered just animals, actually had a sophisticated civilization within the rim of the volcano. –DM]

8) History

The expanding Empire has prospered through a divide and rule foreign policy, better use of the warbeast/beast of burden, and unified religion and thought. The Empire has reached its natural borders and there is a head of pressure building up. Its expansionist economies need more subjects and slaves.

The northernmost city state, which lay inside the mountains, has been recently gobbled up by the Empire. "Look what happened to the northernmost city state,” warn the (correct) prophets of doom.

Our home city state has been recently, or is about to be, approached by the more military-minded state nearby to look to its defence and join an alliance.

The Empire is attempting to subvert the minds of the diverse people of our city state in preparation for taking it over. It will also be working to keep the city state diplomatically isolated.
* * *

As you will have realized, we never did anything else with our shared world. That was the only time we got together to discuss it. Sometimes an idea just fizzles out, and the only way you can see that is by spending a little time developing it. In this case I think there were just too many of us to create a coherent universe. Collaboration works fine in pairs (note that only a year or two after this meeting, Mark and I had devised Virtual Reality and Jamie and I came up with Fabled Lands) but with six people in the room – it’s not an ego thing, it’s just that you all want to go off in different directions and nothing gels. Or is it that groupthink distracts you from exploring those different directions? One or t'other.

Funnily enough, if the rights to do Tekumel novels had dropped into our laps, that’s what we’d all have spent the 1990s writing. Tekumel works because it’s the vision of one mind: Professor M A R Barker’s, which has then inspired others to expand upon it. Or look at how many authors can do interesting work in Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos universe, or in Mike Mignola’s Hellboy universe (a spin-off of the former, come to think of it). Or the biggest beast of all shared worlds ever, Stan Lee’s Marvel Universe.

What do you think about shared worlds? Any favourites? Or do you find that having multiple authors working in the same universe just creates a hopeless collision of styles? The earliest shared world I'm aware of is Charles Dickens's Mugby Junction, which is well worth a look: