Saturday, 24 February 2018

Introducing Fortressmaze, the evolving dungeon project


It's coming up to nine years of Trollish Delver so I wanted to do something to celebrate. I'm kicking off a new blog project that may one day make it into print - an evolving megadungeon called Fortressmaze. This is basically an open source dungeon and I'll be asking you guys to get involved in its creation - from its history and internal geography to its inhabitants. I want Fortressmaze to become this living, breathing entity that can be plugged into your OSR game, with stats created for Swords & Wizardry.

What we currently know about Fortressmaze

- it's a structure that has yet to be mapped beyond the first ten floors. There are theories that it spans for hundreds, if not thousands of miles

- some magical scholars believe a dungeon of such magnitude is able to break through into other planes of existence

- there are villages and cities contained within, with their own governments and factions, mostly run by monstrous humanoids

- it has entrances around the world, and perhaps on other worlds

- the prevailing theory is that it was forged by a god to protect something of extreme value, perhaps something that could cause a paradigm shift

Look out for future Fortressmaze updates and polls on Google Plus to help create this massive dungeon.


Thursday, 22 February 2018

The Gath of Burl


The Gath of Burl were spoken to life by the Ochre Wizards from words shaped like white string. They are human in appearance, with yellowed eyes and bat-like ears and their voices are like the ancient songs sung by dwellers of underworld.

The Gath of Burl are twenty in number, and none have yet perished. When they sleep, they slumber between the words of magical tomes. In the morning they lick the dust from old shelves and hum the somber melody of Yoharneth-Lahai, the god of little dreams and fancies.

Starting specialisms:
- Magical texts (Wits)
- Hearing (Wits)
- Singing (Ego)


Starting equipment:
- 1d6 shards
- Tome of Threading
- Marble eye

Ability:
Bookwalker - Gath can disappear into the pages of a book, where they can live quite happily and age at half the normal pace. While in a book they can completely read it in 10 minutes.





Wednesday, 21 February 2018

Blazing Sands campaign diary #1: Pretty racist


We've just concluded the first session of the new Pathfinder campaign I'm running called Blazing Sands. You can find background information here, but it's in the style of Arabian Nights.

The action kicked off with our heroes: Amir (Human Lore Warden), Younis (Elf Arcane Illusionist) and Razeem (Human Shaman) were on patrol in the spice district of the Grand Bazaar, when they came across a group of thugs racially attacking an orcish merchant. Words didn't seem to be working - the thugs were headstrong - so it came to a short scuffle which ended with two unconscious, one dead and two best up and surrendering.

After being carted back to the cells the PCs reported to Harun, the Sultan. Shortly after, an old man in rags burst in carrying a sandstone tablet with strange text on it. The man changed his visage to be Vizier Shar, who had been given the tablet by a desperate man who was apparently murdered by a dark spirit moments later. Younis determined that the stone was probably a couple of centuries old, but decided to find a scholar of ancient history for more information, taking a charcoal rubbing rather than the actual stone. At the Al Bidar college they found Daniel, who excitedly revealed it was written in Minean, a language not spoken for 3000 years. He said he needed a few days to translate.

The PCs continued their patrol, focusing on the meat district where the orcs often gathered. After some investigation, they found rumours that thugs had been attacking orcs, elves and halflings because they were emboldened by the apparent revel group The Black Viper.

On returning to the palace, they met with the jailer Maxima, a bloke built like a bear, who had been brutally interrogating the arrested thugs. He revealed a possible location of a Black Viper meeting place - Rhazza's opium den. They went and decided to disguise as civilians, and Younis as a human using illusion. The plan was to go in and act like racists in order to attract the attention of any Black Viper members. After insulting Rhazza, the half elf, they bought a room in the den and waited, the shaman sending out his scorpion, Anubis (who I gave a Birmingham accent, much to the dislike of the player) to scope the place out. Younis started to stumble into rooms, throwing around slurs like 'filthblood' to try and guage reactions from the humans there. This didn't exactly work out, as the session ended with Rhazza and a retinue of guards appearing in the tent.


Monday, 19 February 2018

The state of Quill in 2018


Quill: a letter-writing roleplaying game for a single player had a great 2017, winning an Indie RPG Award for best free game and growing with new supplements and contracts for translations.

I wanted to give a state of play for the game and what's coming in the future. 

Official supplements

- Quill: Love Letters - exactly what it says on the tin. Scenarios themed around love.

- Quill: Shadow and Ink - a Lovecraftian campaign about an evil family legacy. 

- Quill: White Box - brings Quill into a fantasy world. Create a class and go on adventures.

Third party supplements

- Quill: Coal and Parchment - based on Derek Kamal's Homes universe. 

- Quill Quest: The Warlord's Downfall - a campaign where you must recruit adventurers to save your kingdom. Written by Tim Snider of Cryptworld fame.

The future

For the time being, I'm not planning any new supplements until maybe Q4 due to another gaming obligation, but that's not to say that Quill will be dormant. There will be a printed German version out potentially this year, and I'll be creating an official printed English version. 

There's a really interesting project going on behind the scenes designed for an educational setting based on US political history, but I'll say no more on that for the moment. 

Thanks to everyone who has downloaded and donated to Quill. I never thought that it would become as popular as it has done, with the original game a platinum seller on Drivethrurpg.

Sunday, 18 February 2018

Quill: White Box - Mesmerist


Mesmerist are masters of mind magic, able to change their appearance at will. They cast spells to charm and enchant others to come around to their way of thinking. When it comes to writing letters, they are able to pour some of their charm magic into the ink for a favourable response.

Penmanship: Poor
Language: Average
Heart: Good

Class Ability


Mesmerise: For one paragraph you gain +3 on all rolls. 

Quill: White Box is a new ruleset for use with the Quill solo letter-writing roleplaying game, allowing the player to take on the role of an adventurer in a fantasy realm. 

Saturday, 17 February 2018

Iron Maiden: Guardians of the Shatterverse (USR hack)


This isn't official, just me noodling around in the Maiden-verse. You'll need the USR rules to play. I'll specifically be using the rules in Tequendria, which is essentially USR 3.0 due to the focus on balance and progression. Players of Legacy of the Beast will recognise a few similarities, but I wanted to alter the story.

Guardians of the Shatterverse

The setting

In the Iron Maiden RPG players take on an aspect of Eddie, Iron Maiden's perennial ghoulish mascot, as they travel the multiverse hunting down evil in all its forms. Time and Space has been fractured by an evil force called The Gloam an the universe is now called the Shatterverse. The Gloam's dark tendrils have woven their way into the shards of the Shatterverse, poisoning time and space. However, there are those powerful enough to stand against the Gloam and travel through the Shatterverse - they are the Eternals. Eddie is an Eternal who, when the universe was fractured, split into his individual aspects from all space and time. Oh, Eddie can be female too.

Now the Aspects of Eddie are coming together to defeat the Gloam and remake the universe once more.

Each shard represents a time and place in the history of the world. These include:

- The battlefields of WW1
- Ancient Egypt
- Medieval Britain
- Ancient Rome
- Cyberpunk future

But you can basically set it anywhere you want.

Character classes (Aspects of Eddie)

The Pharoah
When the lifegiver dies all around is laid waste. And in my last hour I'm a slave to the power of death. The Pharoah is the mighty ruler of Egypt, with the power of the gods themselves.

Starting specialisms: Born ruler (Ego 2), Tactics (Wits 2), Religious (Wits 2)
Equipment: Rod (melee d6), robes, ankh
Special ability: Mighty leader - once per day the Pharoah can boost the spirits of allies within 50ft. Each ally gain +2 to all attack rolls for 1d6 minutes.

The Trooper
You fire your musket but I'll run you through. The Trooper is a hardened soldier of the Crimean War.

Starting specialisms: Survival (Wits 2), Athletic (Action 2), Riding (Action 2)
Equipment: Musket with bayonet (ranged and melee d6), uniform, Union Flag.

Special ability: War cry - Once per combat the Trooper gains a +2 to damage for one round.

The Cyborg
Caught somewhere in time, the cyborg hails from the far future.

Starting specialisms: Technology (Wits 2), Translation (Wits 2), Piloting (Action 2)
Equipment: Laser pistol (ranged d6+1), lifeform scanner, Communicator

Special ability: Scanner - the cyborg can use its scanner to detect a number of sentient lifeforms within 100ft, even through walls and floors.

The Reaper
Cloaked in black and carrying a scythe, the Reaper is your one way ticket to the underworld.

Starting specialisms: Terrifying (Ego 2), Stealthy (Action 2), Persuasive (Ego 2)
Equipment: Scythe (melee d6), black cloak

Special ability: Dance of Death - once per combat The Reaper forces one target to dance for one round. They take a -2 to defence and cannot move from their spot.

The Shaman
Holding the heart of his latest sacrifice, the shaman divines his powers from the spirit realm.

Starting specialisms: Herbalist (Wits 2), Magic lore (Wits 2), Entrance (Ego 2)
Equipment: Skull staff (melee d6), Book of Souls, herbs

Special ability: Talk with Spirits - once per day the shaman can talk with a spirit for 5 minutes to heal yourself and up to four allies 2d6 hits.

Equipment

You'll be dealing with futuristic weapons along with medieval ones, so like anything USR I've not gone for realism. Small weapons are d6 damage, medium d6+1, large d8 and special weapons have d8+1. Being able to use certain weapons depends on your Action. D6 action can use small or medium, d8 action can use small, medium and large and d10 can use all including special. Armour comes in similar flavours: light is +1, medium +2 and heavy +3. Shields are +1.

Wait a minute, damage is assigned to weapons?

Yep, better download Tequendria. Winners of combat roll their damage die now. Half level is added to attacks too. Nifty.

Scream for me tokens

At character creation players get 3 Scream for Me tokens. These replenish when they level up. Spend a token to do one of the following:

- gain 2d6+2 Hits
- automatically hit in your next attack
- if an enemy damaged you, negate the damage

When using them, you can optionally do a Bruce Dickinson scream.

Shatterverse travel

Eddies can travel between worlds (shards). It takes 10 minutes to create a portal and the name of the shard must be spoken into the portal in order to activate it. Some names are known and others are secret. Travel is immediate. Some quests in the game will require players trying to uncover the name of the next shard.

The nature of The Gloam

The Gloam is evil incarnate. It is a primordial entity that was once part of the Eternals, but was cast away into the abyss at the beginning of time. It has emerged from the darkness to seek it's vengeance on the Eternals by remaking the universe in its own way.

The Gloam creates evil beings and can even possess the good.











Friday, 16 February 2018

Campaign diary: introduction to Bal Jala


I'm back in the GM seat after about a year, about to kick off a new Pathfinder campaign based on Arabian fantasy. Unlike my previous long games, this one's designed to last around two months - so one concentrated adventure with PCs beginning at level six.

Bal Jala is, of course, the jewel of the Sumerland. A ridiculously lavish and architecturally brilliant city of white stone and golden minarets sitting beneath an azure sky and by the river Kish. Because I'm cribbing heavily from Al-Qadim, the streets are awash with all kinds of races (no dwarves though - too hot). Elves, orcs, goblins and humans, among others, live and work side-by-side in relative harmony. The city is governed by the Sultan Harun, a recent instatement as far as sultans go after the passing of his father Abir seven years ago. Harun, a wiry middle-aged man with a kind demeanour and a relaxed style of ruling, has proven popular among the majority of Bal Jalans for his progressive taxation laws and re-opening of spice trade routes with the Ivory City to the north. The last day of Mihla has even come to be known as Yawm Harun, or Harun’s Day. 

Of course, not all in the sultanate support Harun’s methods. Rebel groups have cropped up in and around the city - most of whom are disorganised thugs who like to cause problems for the Sultan’s Wasi, the city guard. However there have been signs that some are becoming a more organised menace following the murders of two prominent nobles - an elf and an orc. Harun has ordered further investigations into these and similar crimes, discovering the organisation’s name: The Black Viper.

Harun is advised by his most trusted Vizier Shar, who was his father’s right-hand man in the past. Shar isn’t one to be meddled with, being a shrewd politician from a line of great scholars. He is, however, a supporter of Harun and lover of his city, even going so far as disguising himself as a common peasant to mingle with the people in the marketplace, embracing the experience of ordinary folk. 

So that's an intro to Bal Jala and my new campaign. I'll be updating weekly to talk a bit about what's happened in that week's session. 



Thursday, 15 February 2018

Feats for In Darkest Warrens


When creating your character, you may choose one of the following feats, taking note of any prerequisites. At level 3 you can select another feat.

Sticky fingers
When attempting to pick a pocket, gain +2 to the roll.

Disguise
You can disguise yourself as another humanoid race or another gender. Once per day you can test Person to disguise yourself. If you are successful, you can disguise yourself for up to 7 hours. If you are disguising yourself as another race the test is difficult.

Master appraiser
You know the estimated value of an item by studying it for 10 minutes.

Trapfinder
Gain +1 to rolls when trying to search for traps.

Advanced trapfinder
Prerequisite: Trapfinder
Gain +2 to rolls when trying to search for traps.

Animal tamer
You have an affinity with animals. You gain +1 to rolls when trying to calm a wild animal. 

Adept caster
Prerequisite: magic user
Gain an extra use of one of your spells per day.

Shadow walker
When you blend into the shadows you become almost invisible. When moving in shadow you are counted as invisible. Attacks against you have a 50% chance of failing. Once you attack from shadow you can be seen until you move to another location within shadow.

Inspiring
You can spend 3 minutes per day giving an inspirational speech relating to one attribute. For the next hour, those witnessing the speech gain +1 to all tests involving that attribute.

Dual weilder
You do not receive a penalty for using a second melee weapon.

Bloodlust
You may take a -1 to attack and +1 to wound damage.

Treasure hunter
The value of treasure you find is increased by 10%

Armour proficiency
Gain an extra +1 wound benefit to armour.

Advanced armour proficiency
Prerequisite: armour proficiency
Gain an extra +2 wound benefit to armour.

Knowing the winds
You intrinsically know what the weather will be like in the next 24 hours.

Poison immunity
You do not receive adverse effects from poison.

Tinkerer
You are able to fix objects with the right materials. Test Mind to try to fix an object. Every test counts as a day of attempting to fix the object and it can be attempted multiple times. You require materials of a value equal to 25% of the object's market value.

Streetwise
When trying to gather information in a town or city, gain +1 to the roll. 



The War for the Crown brings political intrigue to Pathfinder


It's funny that I never talk about Pathfinder here, despite it being the main game my group has played for around four years. I started cold to the game, finding it needlessly complex (ok, I still do) but since then it's grown on me like some parasitic game moss. Sure, I still prefer lighter fare, my particular D&D flavour being S&W and LotFP but I still have a place in my callous heart for Pathfinder.

So here we have the announcement of a new adventure path, of which there are at least ten billion now. Ok, so this one is 127 but still, lots of adventure paths. I'm not exactly a fan of them to be honest. I started my first campaign by cribbing stuff from Rise of the Runelords, but after a few sessions used my own homebrew adventure. Despite my dislike of running premade modules, The War for the Crown sounds different enough to intrigue me.

The gist is that there's a conspiracy in Taldor, a big old city in the Inner Sea, where a bunch of nobles and senators are trying to avert some kind of disaster. The Emperor is having none of this so has a load of them assassinated. Apparently then the emperor falls and the players have to save the heir from being sliced up real good.

Cue the Game of Thrones theme music, being the only thing I know about Game of Thrones, having read one book and watched one season. I've heard it's popular and has incest and wolves.

Roght, so this sounds like pretty cool political intrigue, which is a taste I like and you can buy the physical edition of Crownfall, the first adventure, from the Paizo website that, frankly, needs a good overhaul.

Will I purchase? Maybe. As I say, I don't like to run games from the book - the last one I did was Storm King's Thunder and it wasn't great - but HELL do I like to steal stuff from them. If  there's a good premise and characters, I'll be happy to rip them off for a future campaign. This is why there needs to be more setting books a la Dark Veins and Red and Pleasant Land. They contain that chunky meat stuff that's good for growing girls and boys DMs.


Wednesday, 14 February 2018

The Treeps of the Broog Marshes


I've not written about Tequendria in a while, so I thought it was about time.

The Broog Marshes of Mondath are only whispered of in stories told by the cunning bog people who scribe their prayers in mud to Mosahn, the bird of doom. Only three wary adventurers have set foot in the foggy abyss of the Marshes, yet only one returned with darkness in her eyes, not a sound leaving her lips for ten years.

The Broog Marshes are alive and malignant, plotting against the beauty of the emerald forests and rolling fields, where children play hoops in the spring and all are glad. The adventurer eventually spoke of the Treeps, the haunting guardians of the Marshes - half man, half tree, gnarled and sinister with eyes of crawling dung beetles and smiles like knife wounds. They stand as tall as oaks, walking slowly and humming a song that even the gods detest. They feast on the numerous beasts of the marsh, such as the Hut Hut boar and the Droop Bird, whose eggs are poison to the Treeps.

The adventurer, through fearful breaths, spoke of their whispers that would put the ears of man into a deep slumber. In that deep sleep, their prey would be hung from great branches high above the ground and left to be devoured by the Oog Flies, for the bones of man are sweet to the taste of the Treep.

Treep
Lvl. 8
Type: Monster
Action: d10, Wits: d8, Ego: d6
Hits: 7d8 (28)
Attack: d10+4 (Swipe d8) or Whisper (see special rule)
Defence: d10+4
Specialisms: Camouflage (Action 4), Darksight (Wits 2), Great strength (Action 2)
Special rule: The Treep may attack with a whisper three times per combat. 1d6 targets within 20ft must test wits (hard). If unsuccessful, the target falls into a slumber in 1d3 rounds. They only awaken if harmed.
Treasure: Treep bark (3000 shards), Treep sap (+4 to Action tests for 12 hours).

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

New tech for Wired Neon Cities


Nullifier: this module can be attached to an android unit to power it down. Once attached to any part of the android, it takes a second to completely power down. The android may make a difficult nimble test (-1) to avoid being powered down. The android is powered down for 48 hours or until the nullifier is removed.

Holo companion: a ping pong ball sized metal sphere that projects a full 3 dimensional hologram of a human AI who can interact verbally with others, but cannot interact physically. The owner can customise the appearance when the companion is first booted. The companion has access to GlowNet.

Shardgun: two handed rifle that fires three spinning razor discs, doing 2 wounds on a hit. On a hit, the target must test brawn. If they are unsuccessful they begin to bleed, taking 1 wound per round for d3 rounds. Available only through the black market.

Purifier: a long red cup. When any water is poured in the filtration system automatically purifies it.

Red Rose: a bracelet that emits a fine spray that makes people more amenable to you. The spray stays on you for 30 minutes and one cylinder has 5 uses. In this time, gain an extra die when you test Person and take the highest result.

Thought scope: a small telescope that scans a person's thoughts if they are within 5ft. The process takes 10 seconds. Emotions and images can be read.  

Wired Neon Cities is a minimalist cyberpunk roleplaying game set in the futuristic 80s. 

Thursday, 8 February 2018

5 new magic items for Quill White Box


Quill of the Nethermancer: this black quill gleams gold in the moonlight. Activating the quill summons four netherfairies to do your bidding. You may unsummon a fairy to gain an extra die on any roll. Fairies remain around until unsummoned. The quill has two activations before it can no longer be activated. 400gp

Recharge Stone: a purple gemstone that emanates power. Using it returns all the uses of a single magic item. Cannot be used on other recharge stones. One use. 250gp

Ring of Fortune: a silver ring with a ruby inset. Add 50% to the value of treasure received. 3 uses. 300gp

Radiant Signet Ring: this ring is used to make a mark in a wax seal. It glows white when used. Use at the end of a letter to gain 2 points. 3 uses. 450gp

Demonbind Quill: the first time you use this red quill you bind yourself to a demon. Activating it gives you 5 points. When activated you must lose an item. If you have no items, the demon takes you to the hell dimension.

Top image: Magic the Gathering/ Wizards of the Coast.


Wednesday, 7 February 2018

How to convert published adventures to Quill: White Box scenarios


The Quill: White Box book contains scenarios to get you well on your way to adventure, but there's more you can do once you've completed those. I want to talk about how to turn those published modules for other fantasy games into Quill letters.

Your objective is determined by the module

Do you have to free a village from a spellplague? Kill an undead giant? Whatever the objective is, this also feeds into your letter's objective. In most adventures you will have been hired by someone, so the idea is that you're relaying information back to them with your letters. Even if you're in the bowels of a dungeon, you're given a magical raven that delivers your letters. You need to tell them how far away you are from achieving your goal, theories you have about the dungeon/story and what has happened in that section.

Split the module into manageable sections

Most modules will be cut into parts, whether it's a wilderness section or new dungeon level. Take each logical part of the module and read through it. It doesn't matter if you know things you're not supposed to know, this will offer flavour and inspiration for your letters. If I have a dungeon, I'll split it by level. Or if it's a huge dungeon, I'll split into segments. The number of segments is important to determining your final score. You must have at least 5 sections in an adventure. The more sections, the more treasure, but also the more chance of dying.

Sections become your ink pots

For each section, create an ink pot of ten words using the words in that section. Nouns work well for this, particularly monster names, traps and items. Remember to have an inferior version of the word and superior version. So if I saw a beholder in one room, I might have eye monster/beholder as one word in the ink pot.

Score yourself after each section

So now we know a section is one letter. You will be scoring as you go, so score yourself after a section. The scores are:

5 or less: you have fallen afoul of something in the section. Lose either one item, or if you can't you perish.

6-9: you have scraped through and find 2d6gp

10+: you have told your tale of bravery well. Find 2d6gp x [section number]

Calculate your final score

If the majority of your scores were 5 or less, you have failed. Lose all items. If you cannot, you die.

If the majority of your scores were 6-9 or there was no majority, you have scraped through. Gain 1d6x[final section number] gp.

If the majority of your scores are 10+, you have had great success. Gain 3d6x[final section number]gp.

Monday, 5 February 2018

Quill: White Box - Warlock


A magic-user who pulls magic not from dusty tomes and yellowed scrolls, but from a pact made with the hellgods themselves is known as a Warlock. They wield a primal power, but walk a fine line between sanity and lunacy.

Warlocks in Quill: White Box are temperamental and often quite mad. They know that once their time has come their soul will be bound to the demon they made an agreement with, so they make every word count.

Penmanship: Poor
Language: Average
Heart: Good

Class Ability

Demonic Pact: At the beginning of the letter you may choose one attribute and roll two  dice. The highest result you roll is the automatic result for any test using that attribute in this letter. This cannot be re-rolled.

Brunnar the Mighty: Chapter II


When Brunnar opened his eyes he twisted and violently coughed up water onto the snow. He heard a familiar voice and felt a hand on his shoulder. Standing over him the blurry vision of Jotun came into view, who smiled, kissed the hammer-shaped talisman around his neck and thanked the gods. "It looks like the gods have seen fit to spare you, old friend," boomed Jotun, grinning. Brunnar sat up wearily and grasped his friend on the shoulder, laughing shakily. 
"I thought you had gone to the underworld," croaked Brunnar, his eyes gleaming at the sight of his comrade. "Should have known the underworld couldn't hold the likes of you." The two of them laughed, but the bitter wind wasn't letting up, so Jotun advised they find shelter for the night. It soon became clear that despite the experience the two broad-shouldered men had in the icy wilds, they couldn't be sure how far away their village was and how long it would take them to get there. 

Several hours had past in the blackest night Brunnar had experienced. The shivering wing hummed over the grey mountains which loomed to the west, a place that Brunnar knew to be the home of dread spirits in waiting for flesh. He prayed to Kaleetha, goddess of good fortune, that both he and his companion return safely to the village where his beautiful wife Freja would be waiting with open arms and soft lips. A nerve-shattering howl rang out in the dark and Jotun stopped dead in his tracks. "Wolves are abroad this night," he said in a hushed voice. Brunnar felt his back and realised with relief that his axe was still firmly strapped on. Through the cold and aching he had not noticed the weight of Northwind but he was glad to have it. 
"Then we shall have furs to keep us warm," said Brunnar with a grin. They continued their journey, though they knew not where they were going save for Jotun occasionally pointing out the brightest star in the sky. Soon the oppressive mountains were at their backs as Jotun guided the two of them further into the wasteland. 

A roar echoed in the darkness. Three hulking wolves crept out of the shadows, their backs hunched menacingly and rows of jagged teeth on full display. They were gargantuan beasts, twice the size of a normal wolf. "Doomwolves," whispered Jotun. He drew his blade though he feared that he could see little in the darkness. Brunner unlatched Northwind from his back and grasped the hand tightly. The wolves snapped their jaws and rumbled, closing ever in on the warriors. One leaped at Brunnar like a lightening flash, but his axe connected with its skull, throwing viscera onto the crisp snow. The wolf went limp, half of its head missing. "Come on then you dogs," cried Brunnar, "Come and greet the mighty Northwind." In the space of a heartbeat a second wolf pounced at Jotun, knocking the blade from his hand and pinning him with its mighty paws. The beast gnashed at him in a fiery rage while Jotun struggled to keep its mouth away from his throat. Brunnar swung Northwind in a brutal arc, catching the wolf on its flank and wounding it severely. Before he could land the killing blow he felt himself being forced to the ground, turning to see the ferocious muzzle of the third monstrous wolf. He thrust his axe hilt into the creature's maw  to prevent it from biting and looked back at Jotun, who, despite the wounds Brunnar had inflicted, was still being assaulted. Suddenly, Brunnar heard a loud yelp and craned his neck to see a massive pile of bloodied fur beside his friend. The wolf who was frantically trying to rend Brunnar's face was then tossed to the side in a cloud of blood. Something had killed them. Then Brunnar realised who their unlikely saviour was. A white bear towered over the dead wolf, its giant paws caked in blood. It turned to face the men, who gathered themselves in preparation for what was to come. The bear roared loud enough to bring down the mountains  and reared up, eyes fixed on its prey.

Sunday, 4 February 2018

Brunnar the Mighty: Chapter I


Brunnar the Mighty is my first pulp story in the science fantasy tradition. Follow the entire story through the blog.

The blizzard wind blasted against the chapped skin of a hulking figure clothed in tattered bear furs, grasping in his massive hands a great axe he called Northwind. It had been three days since the rune warrior Brunnar had caught glimpse of a soul, though in his exhaustion there had been times when he thought he had spotted three figures hovering in the distance. He had surmised that these figures were not those of his living kin, but ghostly ancestors watching his plight through the vast snowy wastes of northern Krun. Ancestors only appeared to those who were nearing the end of their journey in this mortal realm, but even with this thought in his mind the goliath trudged onwards determined that this say wouldn't be his last. 

Four days ago Brunnar had every reason to be joyful. After a particularly fruitful raid on the Ytuk tribe, of whom his own Gortan tribe were sworn enemies, he and his companions spent their time on their return home aboard the longboat feasting, dancing and drinking wine. Brunnar and his lifelong friend Jotun traded stories of their childhood and tales of their many gods, chugging back their wineskins with laughter in their eyes. Jotun was a fierce warrior with dark skin and eyes like ice pools. The tattoos that adorned his body told the story of his ancestors, just like all adults men and women of the Gortan tribe. Despite Brunnar being two years Jotun's senior, he looked up to his friend as a wise and cunning man with a good heart.

Later that night a violet wind pummeled the longboat, sending icy waves thrashing over the sides. The men were tossed around like ragdolls, many cursing the Ytuk who they decided had cast an enchantment on the sea that night. In the frozen blackness the boat broke under the weight of a terrible wave, fractured in two pieces sending warriors to their depths in that damned abyss. Brunnar managed to keep his head above water as he clung onto a floating plank but he could not see his friend. He called Jotun's name through the chaotic din, but there came no response. He saw two shadowy figures close by bobbing in the water like buoys and heard the cries of his men. Before Brunnar could swim closer he felt the full force of another wave crash into his body, sending him into a spiral. He felt himself slipping down, down into the depths to meet the sea gods and merfolk of his mother's tales. He could see nothing now apart from the black void and could do nothing for his muscles were frozen. His mind went back to his wife and daughter waiting back home and the cooked stew that would be bubbling in the pot. He lost all sense of time as he drifted. His time had finally come. 

Saturday, 3 February 2018

Why I love old books (and 10 recommendations)


If someone were to ask me what my literary jam was, I'd answer pre-1970s horror, sci-fi and fantasy. More specifically, that sweet spot between the late 1800s and mid 1900s - the pulps.

For me this was the pinnacle of high adventure and horror experimentation, where science had not yet uncovered the atmosphere on Venus, so authors were free to set their stories on these alien worlds. These were the days of giants known and unknown at their time - Burroughs, Lovecraft, Howard, Machen, Poe, Carter, James, Ashton-Smith, Dunsany, Chambers, Hodgson. These authors became the cornerstones of genre fiction, paving the way towards the pop culture of today - from Sherlock to Star Wars, Alien to True Detective. The weight of these texts altered the future, in only ways the most significant creatives can do.

While I do read more contemporary authors, I always find myself cleansing the palette with the short stories of Algernon Blackwood, or the sublime Jack Vance. When I'm down I lose myself in The Tower of the Elephant, or cross the Mountains of Madness themselves to pick myself back up. The escapism older stories offer is something quite special and only achieved irregularly in contemporary fiction (Philip Pullman is a modern master of escapism - I highly recommend his latest book, La Belle Sauvage).

This isn't to say that I don't recognize the problematic aspects of these stories. Female characters with agency are few and far between, most of them relegated to list interests or not in the picture at all. Races other than Caucasian are usually treated either harshly or with novelty, with some authors being more xenophobic than others (looking at you, Lovecraft). This all makes some stories difficult to swallow and can taint an otherwise thrilling read. I don't suggest that any reader ignore these problems, nor do I think we should cast them out wholesale because of these issues as they can force us to reflect on our own values. It's good to be critical of otherwise fine work.

This brings me to the final part - recommendations. This isn't a definitive list, but instead I've noted some of my favourite authors and stories to keep you entertained.


The Pit and the Pendulum by Edgar Allan Poe

Those who may not have read Poe beyond The Raven might believe him to be a 'safe' horror writer. After all, how can stories written so long ago still strike fear into our hearts a century later? But Poe is a master of terror and his work is every bit as fresh and frightening as it was back in the day. The Pit and the Pendulum is a claustrophobic tale that stuck in my gut long after reading it. In this story of a Spanish Inquisition torture victim, Poe manipulates the senses to evoke a horrific scenario - so much so that you'll feel like you're right there in the dark with him.


The King in Yellow by Robert W Chambers

Chambers is my favourite writer of weird fiction and it's a shame he didn't stick with it. The King in Yellow is a collection of short stories, four of which are tied to what we now call the Carcosa mythos. The common thread running through these stories is a play called The King in Yellow, which, after reading the second act, breaks people's minds. The universe Chambers creates with the sinister yellow signs, the dim city of Carcosa, lake Hali and the titular monarch, is cruel and terrifying, and a big influence on Lovecraft. Essential reading for those interested in weird horror. Read them all.


The Fortress Unvanquishable Save for Sacnoth by Lord Dunsany

Without Dunsany we may have never had Tolkien, that's how important he was to the fantasy genre. Dunsany's prose are lush and musical, making his melancholic dreamlike stories of fantasy a joy to read. The Fortress Unvanquishable is arguably the first sword and sorcery story ever. In it, a young hero must face trials, defeat an iron dragon to forge a sword to face down an evil wizard in his tower to stop nightmares from plaguing his village. Absolutely stunning.


The Tower of the Elephant by Robert E Howard

If Dunsany started the sword and sorcery genre, Howard perfected it and The Tower of the Elephant is a masterclass. Conan has discovered that hidden away in the tower of an evil sorceror is a jewel called the Heart of the Elephant, so he decides to steal it. This is heart-pounding adventure at its best, with giant spiders, a prince of thieves, lions, and a pretty great ending.


The Willows by Algernon Blackwood

Even Lovecraft himself said that in The Willows Blackwood had crafted the perfect weird fiction story and I have to agree. This is plodding, creeping terror at its best. Two travellers canoe up the Danube and find themselves in the heart of a tale of cosmic terror where the trees themselves create an oppressive atmosphere and where strange things are occurring. Unsettling and unforgettable - one of the greatest horror stories ever told.


The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

At last, a female author! Published in 1892, The Yellow Wallpaper is a psychological horror story about the wife of a physician who, after a hysterical episode, is forbidden from working. They rent a mansion, where she spends her time in a room with bars on the window, covered in yellow wallpaper. After lack of stimulation she begins to lose her mind, believing there is a woman living in the wallpaper. This culminates is a creepy as hell ending.


Dagon by H.P Lovecraft

This is the shortest story on the list and one readers will probably have already read, but for me this is distilled Lovecraft. A sailor finds himself on a once-sunken island containing an obelisk that tells a tale of strange fish people and their awful god. Then the massive creature emerges and scares the shit out of him. The ending, after awaking in hospital is one of my favourites from Lovecraft.


A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs

Knowing my readers, I'd imagine a fair few have already read this, but as the pinnacle in sword and planet stories, it's worth a re-read. John Carter, a soldier in the civil war, finds himself wounded in a cave and is visited by a mysterious creature and transported to Mars (or Barsoom), which hosts a semi-medieval feudal society of warring aliens. It's a story of fast-paced action - gladiatorial combat, treachery, battling white apes, romance - this has it all. So much better than the Disney flick.


The Novel of the Black Seal by Arthur Machen

Tentacles. Check. Ancient forgotten creatures. Check. A strange child who isn't what he seems. Check. Those might sound like the themes behind a Lovecraft story, but Machen did it all first with The Novel of the Black Seal. Deep in the Welsh hills hides a race of strange creatures with their own language and the story sees the protagonist slowly uncovering the nature of these beings as well as a strange boy. Lovecraft borrowed heavily from this story, particularly with The Shadow over Innsmouth, The Dunwich Horror and At the Mountains of Madness.


The Dying Earth by Jack Vance

I can't choose a single story from The Dying Earth, so read them all. Each story revolves around our world thousands of years in the future where the sun is at the end of its lifespan. Stories are loosely connected, revolving around magic (yep, this is where Vancian magic comes from in D&D). The plots and characters are nuts, dealing with miniature wizards and people with names like Chun the Unavoidable. But seriously, these stories are awesome, especially for roleplaying fans.






Friday, 2 February 2018

Thuruun - people of the wyrm


Under the red sun where the black mount spears the sky and golden eagles screech their dusk hymns, the people of the wyrm work. Neither fully human nor fully dragon, the people of the wyrm possess the rugged bodies of man with the scaly necks and heads of lizards. Black, gold, white, scarlet and azure these beings cloak themselves in, their lush scales commanding attention from even the most haughty of nobles.

By the eyes of the moon they take flight, riding solemn winds over the shadow realm. The day walkers call them Thuruun and they are venerated by those with sense, for the Thuruun leave great emerald eggs in village greens each solstice as a gift to their followers. Their flight is accompanied by the sound of flutes playing songs lost in time, which the gods once sang in the fair fields below. 

The Thuruun are the greatest of magicians whose magic emanates from the magma within the black mount. Monthly they must sup on the magma in the communion of the wyrm and fill their bellies with heat. Once at full vigour they write annual runes in their cavernous homesteads so that should a wandering daywalker, curious and adventurous, came upon their homes, it would be as if naught was there. 

In the old days of darkness the Thuruun took up arms against the treacherous god Kom who would destroy all dragonkind. For seventy years they cast runes on their mighty foe, gouged him with obsidian spears of Theth and sliced him with scimitars of the Four Sands. When Kom fell there was great rejoicing, but a decision was made by the Thuruun to never pick up arms again, for too much blood had been shed. To this day the Thuruun elders in their ancient wisdom do not allow weapons and in peace they live. Those who forsake their elders and leave the black mount in search of adventure and treasure are labelled Skaff and are not heeded or seen.