A to Z: R is for RATS!

R is for Rats!

Does anyone else remember the movie, “Ben,” with theme song sung by a very young Michael Jackson? Jackson was still black and still had a nose at that time, which made his involvement in a movie about telepathic killer rats all the more ironic since I remember seeing pictures of human corpses who had apparently been nibbled on by rats (the rats often eat the noses first — was Jackson’s future noselessness predicted by his involvement with the Ben theme song?).

If you don’t know, ‘Ben” was a movie from the 1970s and a sequel to a movie called ‘Willard.’ I barely remember the Willard movie… but I recall that ‘Ben’ was a film about a boy who had a pet rat he named ‘Ben.’ Ben was also a super intelligent telepathic rat who could control swarms of other rats. Scenes from the film included actors covered in fake blood thrashing around among tame rats who were probably trying to lick the peanut butter off of the actor’s bodies as stage hands off camera threw rats at them.
In Aldeboran, there are several kinds of rats. The houses, ships and barns of humankind are home to Norway rats, brown rats, black rats and other mundane vermin.

Of slightly greater concern are the ‘trench rats.’ These are bigger, bolder and more agressive than ordinary rats and tend to attack in swarms, making ‘rat catcher’ a full time job in the major cities like Eord.

Of slightly greater concern than trench rats are the ‘dungeon rats’ or ‘giant rats’ or ‘Sumatran rats.’ These are the big, hairy fuckers that have 1d4 hit points and who wander up and down the corridors of most dungeons. They serve as food for goblins and adventurers who forgot their iron rations… and dead goblins and dead adventurers often serve as food for Sumatran rats… ah, the circle of life. Why people on the world of Aldeboran refer to ‘Sumatran rats’ as ‘Sumatran’ when there is no Sumatra on this world is a mystery that the sages cannot answer. Similarly, there are ‘french cut’ green beans, ‘french fries’ and ‘french kissing’ in Aldeboran, but there is no ‘France.’ Go figure.

Mutant varieties, including albinos, have been encountered and the albino variety are sought after for their valuable pelts. Even more worrisome than the Sumatran Rats (which are bad enough, really), are the really fucking big rats. Some call these “Really Fucking Big Rats” or “Monster Rats” or “R.o.T.S.” (Rats of Tremendous Size). These can range in size up to 8-10 feet from nose to tail. The larger ones can bite a man’s hand off at the wrist. Do not fuck with them.

Rumors also persist of rats who have been altered or magically enhanced or mutated (or perhaps just blessed by the gods) and may have human-like intellect and build enormous ‘shadow cities’ beneath the earth where they have kings of their own and plot one day to conquer the surface dwellers, but this really must be nonsense. That just does not seem remotely plausible!

from Ben:

A young Michael Jackson wearing a terrifying pair of pants sings the theme song (warning: pablum alert!):

A to Z: Q is for Quasqueton

Q is for Quasqueton, hideout of Zelligar and Roghan. It has a mushroom garden, lots of containers with random contents, a room of magic pools, some traps and everything else a dungeon needs. One of my early experiences of D&D involved exploring Quasqueton as a player — I still remember how much we hated the magic mouths which would yell threats at us whenever we walked down the front hall, thus usually summoning wandering monsters which would attack us before we got anywhere and forcing us to return to town to replace all of our comrades who had been killed by the wandering monsters.

I completed an illustration a while ago (as of yet still unpublished) where one of the characters in the picture is drawing a map… and guess what dungeon the map resembles?

I can assure you that Quasqueton is jammed in somewhere in Aldeboran (I am not sure exactly where, but it is in there).

I also loved this adventure for the lists of characters in the back witht heir goofy names. For decades I used them as NPCs/hirelings. “Presto the Elf,” “Webberan of the Great North,” “Glom the Mighty,” “Eggo of the Holy Brotherhood” and “Philgo” have all made guest appearances in my games over the years.

Quasqueton is also the name of a small town in Iowa (just a guess here, but I’m betting that author Mike Carr took the name for “Quasqueton the Dungeon” from “Quasqueton the Town” and not vice-versa).

A to Z: P is for Priests

I’ve mentioned before that a large number of the deities for Aldeboran are stolen directly from “The Church of the Subgenius” (and thus will prevent me from ever legally publishing a ‘canon’ version of this world). Others are taken from mythology, other source books, etc., and still others have been included simply to satisfy some urge or include a reference to some other item or allow me to include an NPC or a published adventure.

For example, if I were to want to include Jacquay’s “Dark Tower” adventure, I would toss Set and Mitra into the mix. Of course, references to the Cthulhu Mythos would be scattered about so I could take advantage of Goblinoid Game’s excellent “Realms of Crawling Chaos” book. And since players who read Conan would want to say, “Crom!” I better have Crom in there as well… The more the merrier!

I’m also not above placing references to ‘real world’ religions and belief systems. I’ve considered (but not yet used) a cult of people who preach that “dragons don’t exist” because one of their holy books has a passage that could be interpreted as saying so… so if a dragon attacks the village, the priest has anyone who dares mention the “dragon problem” burned at the stake as a heretic. They have statues of four saints in their churches — one who covers his eyes, one who covers his ears, one who covers his mouth and the last one holds shut his nose… “Don’t be fooled by the heretics who would have you believe in dragons my people… the good book says they don’t exist… (blast of flame from dragons mouth hits the priest) aiiiighhhh! There are no dragons… there are no dragons…

Ironically, if the players destroy or drive off the dragon, they will not be rewarded and will instead be deemed ‘heretics’ if they mention the deed.

One of my Aldeboran favorites is the hermaphroditic god Dormammu and his/her Sister/Brother Ummamarod. Both gods are often confused, but Dormammu is male/female and evil while Ummamarod is female/male and good.

I’d love to steal a page out of the book of Rotted Moon and/or PoleandRope and come up with custom spell lists for each god. including a ‘sleep’ type spell for priests of Hypnos, the god of sleep and dreams, for example… I did some custom ‘domain’ lists for 3e but I don’t know how that helps me (yet) since I really don’t want to DM d20/3e. As of this writing, I’m leaning towards Labyrinth Lord and/or OD&D, either with a pack of house rules.

Those who don’t know me might assume that, given the nature in which I portray religion and priests in this post that I am an atheist or a cynic or something similar. I will admit a distatse for organized religions… mostly due to how so many of the people who belong to organized religions behave, especially those who parade their faith in public (like Lynn Westmoreland from Georgia’s 8th District who wants The Ten Commandments displayed in the State Capitol even though, when Stephen Colbert asked him to name a single commandment, he failed). Didn’t Jesus have some pretty harsh words for those who made great show of the outward signs of faith without honoring the commitments in their hearts?

A to Z: O is for Oom Ambar in Thule

Today is brought to you by the letter O. (unfortunately, today is REALLY the 7th and I am writing this ahead of time and will probably get confused, but there you have it). O is the first letter of “Oom Ambar” (sometimes spelled “Oom Ambarr”; I am notoriously inconsistent in my Aldeboran notes). Oom Ambar (however I spell it) is in Thule. If you have been keeping up with my Aldeboran geography posts, you may know that Thule is east of The Vales, Eord, The Sinking lands, etc. Or you may not know that because I may not have mentioned it. First a word about my process (or lack of) in creating Aldeboran. I have a binder with a lot of paper jammed in it. Every once in a while I get an idea (often by sketching) which I then hopefully remember to jam into my binder (a lot of them are also just floating around my place getting stepped on and wrinkled or are here and there in various sketch and notebooks). The binder is really pretty full so I am going to half to figure something out eventually. That’s really it. Some things are more detailed than others. So here is a map of Thule and Ghent and part of Velar. Velar is one of those places about which ‘not much is known’ mostly because I haven’t made anything up yet.Thule’s inhabitants are (primarily) of 4 castes (each caste being mostly segregated by race, although humans occupy 2 of the castes). At the top are “The Lords of Oom.” There are very few Lords of Oom and they dwell in an underground city deep beneath their capital of Oom Ambar. They almost never visit the surface (most common Thulians have never seen a Lord) and are physically weak but capable of all sorts of miracles through their psychic powers (and possibly the use of ancient technological artifacts). They consider all other Thulians to be no more than cattle (although they might place The Priests in ‘useful trained dog’ category). The priests look like “Humans from the distant future” as envisioned by the authors of one of the pamphlets that they had in the SRA in my grade school.* Below the Lords are the priests of Oom. These are selected from the general population at birth if they have certain talents of the mind that make them useful in carrying out the wishes of the Lords of Oom on the surface. They can hear and communicate with the Lords of Oom via thought. Although physically weak (their mind disciplines and the drugs they take to increase their psychic abilities take a toll), they are a bit more durable than the Lords themselves. Guards and other commoners with special talents are frequently ‘honorary’ members of this caste because of their usefulness to the Priests in carrying out the wishes of The Lords. At the bottom of the caste system is ‘everyone else.’ Most Thulians live in virtual slavery and any individual who shows any sign of talent or ambition is either destroyed or recruited intot the priesthood, the guards, etc. A caste by themselves are The Moorlocks. These creatures dwell in the tunnels beneath the city and are permitted to feed on the general population to keep their numbers in check and maintain the proper state of fear that makes the general population so compliant. Oom Ambar is the capital located in the caldera of an extinct volcano. A single maze-like tunnel (as well as some secret and dangerous trails over the lip of the caldera) give access to the city inside. From my sketch of the entrance tunnel, it appears that the gate to the maze is guarded by a golem with what looks like a big dick… but, not to worry, it is just a loin cloth. *”SRA” was a learning tool for US kids in the 1970s. It was a big box of little color coded booklets where you selected a booklet, read it and answered ‘comprehension’ questions at the end. If you got a certain number right, you were allowed to check that one off your list and read another from the same color. Once you finished all the pamphlets of the same color, you were allowed to graduate to a different, more difficult color. The essays were usually about history or common knowledge — I remember an SRA about “The Cardiff Giant” fondly. One of them was about “The people of the future” whom, the SRA author said, would have machines to do all their work for them so they would have gigantic heads and little shriveled bodies… just like H.G. Well’s story of The Time Machine. This blogger can tell you more about SRAs.

A to Z: N is for Nibblott

Nibblott was/is a small village, similar in scale to Greyhawk’s more famous Hommlett. I think it first appeared in one of my adventures back in 1980 or so… and, since then has been recycled by me and reappeared elsewhere. Nibblott was home of the famous “Stumble Inn” where many player characters met and rested. It is ruled by the infamous Baron Kragy and his even more famous cousin, Ogar Thinwhistle. When Nibblott was in Blackmoor, the above coats of arms were used for some of the towns. From left to right, they were (in order) Temple of the Frog, Vestfold, Glendower, Blackmoor, Svenny, Nibblot and Coot. Nibblot was also in Aldeboran, as witnessed by this early map:

A to Z: M is for Monster Manual

Back in 1978 or so, I first acquired the ‘Monster Manual.’ It soon became (and remains) one of my favorite books. By the standards of today, it might be considered a pretty primitive effort. No color illustrations, no online updates or errata or discussion groups, etc. The interior illustrations are black and white. Some of the drawings look pretty amateurish. Many of the monsters are downright silly. Plus the book leaves all sorts of questions unanswered. For example, it says that the touch of the tendrils of the violet fungi will rot your flesh, but fails to say what having ‘rotted flesh’ means for your character. Despite the flaws, this remains my favorite monster book. Maybe I love it because it was the first book like this that I owned (although The Glass Harmonica Lexicon is somewhat similar and I had that book as well around the same time). Maybe I love it because we had so much fun with it. Maybe I love it because I spent so much time turning the pages and reading the descriptions and wondering at these fantastic creatures. I don’t know, but I think it remains one of my favorite books.

A to Z: K is for Khunmar!

Today is brought to you by the letter K.

Khunmar (as in “Mines of Khunmar,”) starts with the letter K. Khunmar is my magnum opus, my megadungeon, my Castle Greyhawk, my Castle Blackmoor, my Stonehell, my Castle of the Mad Archmage

The fellow at right has discovered why you should ‘go’ outside rather than dump a load in Khunmar.

I am definitely repeating myself here, but, in case you did not know, Khunmar is a big-ass dungeon drawn on graph paper, sheets of notebook paper, etc. I started it in the 80s, kept adding to it over the years and now it remains, a testament to the fact that for much of my teenage years I did not have a life. Fastforward a few decades. I found the binder in my parent’s attic. “I still have this?” I took the maps with me and scanned them, then wrote out brief outlines of each level and put them together in a pdf that I released for free over the series of tubes we call the internets.

Since there were around 8 levels (each level occupies an average of 2-5 sheets of graph paper) and lots of side and sub levels, the low res document was about 6 mb in size. People liked it.

Geoffrey wrote me and said how much he liked the dungeon and offered to type up my handwritten notes. Every few weeks I would scan a couple pages of my chickenscratch and email it off to him and he would patiently puzzle out what I had written 20+ years ago and type it. I think it took him a year or even two to finish that thankless, Herculean labor. Then a publisher (I’m not sure if I should refer to them by name so I will err on the side of caution) expressed interest in publishing it. For one or two years we exchanged emails but nothing happened. Somewhat frustrated but with no malice, I finally wrote to them and said I thought they should either commit or I would pull the project and try to do it on my own. They expressed regrets but indicated they were more interested in another megadungeon that wasn’t Khunmar, so, to my regret, we parted company.

This leaves me where I am now. Every six months or so I blog about “this is the year I will finish and publish Khunmar!” and then another six months go by before I work on it again… but, now that it is such a huge undertaking and 100% on my shoulders, I find myself a bit overwhelmed and undersupplied with time to give Khunmar it’s due. So I am somewhat leery of making any promises at this point other than to say that although not much progress has been made since my last post on the subject, I have every intention of finishing Khunmar… I just don’t know when.

A to Z: J is for Jermlaine

J is for Jermlaine!

Jermlaine are little evil bastards, that, as far as I know, first appeared in Gygax’s ‘D1’ adventure, “Descent into the Depths of the Earth.” At least that is where they first came to my attention. Unfortunately, they never got the play time they probably deserved. They are tiny, evil little things… maybe about a foot tall. They live in caves and passages and wait for clueless adventures to come trudging along. When the idiotic big folk stumble into a Jermlaine ambush, they find the tiny creatures are sabotaging their gear, stealing their stuff, tripping them with cords, setting their hair on fire, etc. There is something fun and brilliant about attacking players with tiny, sneaky nasty little creatures that will always employ hit and run and sabotage. The ‘jermlaine’ always reminded me of the monsters from a 1973 television movie called “Don’t be afraid of the Dark.” I saw that movie when I was a kid… and it scared the bejeezus out of me… the “Jermlaine” in the movie are tiny, evil, pointy-headed people who live in the walls and enjoy tormenting the woman who inherits the house where the Jermlaine live. I think they even killed someone and were always setting traps and then disappearing whenever anyone other than the woman they were torturing came around so they all thought she was going crazy. Since it was made in 1973, they didn’t have CGI to do the special effects, so, if I remember right, they would shoot actors in evil ‘Jermalaine’ costumes with giant props (like huge scissors that the Jermlaine might use as a weapon) and then cut that in with the regular sized actors interacting with the normal size props. Both the ‘jermlaine’ and the actors who portrayed the humans seldom appeared in the same shot together; they had to tell more of the story through cutting and implied relationships through editing. I don’t think the little creatures in the film were ever given a name, so ‘Jermlaine’ is probably Gygax’s invention, but I feel certain the inspiration for the creature (right down to the pointy head) was borrowed from the TV film. I found the trailer for the original film on You Tube:

Guillermo (sp?) Del Toro is remaking “Don’t be afraid of the Dark.” Normally I have a reflexive hatred of remakes, but I love Del Toro’s work so I’ll try to keep an open mind and look forward to it:

A to Z Blogging Challenge: Why am I one letter off?

Every day I log into my blogger account and see the posts from the blogs that I have subscribed to. Like too many of my fellow bloggists, I have gotten sucked into the A to Z blogging challenge deal. Unfortunately, every day I look at the headlines and everyone else seems to be on the letter I did the day before… either they are too fast or I am too slow… I don’t know. Should I skip a day? Awww, fuck it. I’ll just claim that I am ‘ahead of the curve.’ I’m actually cheating at the A to Z blogging challenge. Right now I have finished my post for ‘the letter P’ and placed it in the queue where the Blogger software will plop it online on the proper day, making it look like I just wrote the thing. Don’t tell anyone. Some fellow bloggers have been grousing about the tedium of the blogging challenge… and I am starting to feel that. There have been more than a few entries that I ‘phoned in’ (like today’s “I is for initiative”). But it’s a kind of fun challenge so I think I’ll stick it out… and there may end up being a few gems in there.

A to Z: I is for Initiative

I = Initiative. “Who strikes the first blow?” There are two different rules I am thinking of using (leaning towards option 2):

Option 1: At the start of each round, one dice is rolled for the players and one dice is rolled for the referee’s creatures. Ties can be re-rolled or may just indicate that each action occurs simultaneously. Whichever side gets the higher score goes first. The players can resolve their actions in whatever order seems appropriate (perhaps starting with the character who has the highest dexterity, then the second highest, etc.). The referee resolves the monster attacks in whatever order seems appropriate. After everyone has had a chance to perform an action, the round ends and a new round is begun.

Option 2: 1 dice is rolled for each individual character and/or each monster type (thus the DM might roll one dice for all of the orcs and another dice for all of the ogres if orcs and ogres were attacking together). One starts at the highest score and counts down to the lowest, resolving all actions in order. The type of dice used is based on the creatures dexterity; average monsters and creatures might use a d6, faster ones use a d8 or d12 and slower ones use a d4.