Friday, January 31, 2020

Welcome to the Grimdark Alternate Greyhawk Setting

In true Old-School fashion we are going to put together a fun game world by borrowing ideas from all over and layering them on top of the existing World of Greyhawk campaign setting.

Think Saberhagen, Howard, Lovecraft.

A little of Robert Jordan and George RR Martin.

I'm inspired by lots of artwork, too. Frazetta and Vallejo.

Warhammer Fantasy and the Old World. Blanchitsu!

Check out the CAMPAIGN BACKGROUND links in the sidebar for starting campaign details.

Get out your old AD&D rulebooks

In addition, we will be digging into some other OSR systems, like Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea, Eldritch Tales and more.

The campaign will begin in the Kingdom of Keoland in CY 571. You have just attended the Tocsin of Kelanen, the biggest annual fair in the County of Cryllor, and met some of the most interesting people...

Getting a Feel for the Setting

Wayne Rossi has written a brilliant analysis of the Original D&D setting, describing how it is truly howling wilderness and post-apocalyptic in it's sensibility.

From the Introduction:

On OD&D's Setting

The map from Avalon Hill's Outdoor Survival was the stated setting of original Dungeons & Dragons, and it's gotten a lot of love as a simple world for hexcrawling. If the hexes are 5 miles across, then it's about 175 miles by 180 miles - or 31,500 square miles, a heavily forested inland area that's around the size of South Carolina or the Czech Republic.

Here is the description of this world:
The so-called Wilderness really consists of unexplored land, cities and castles, not to mention the area immediately surrounding the castle (ruined or otherwise) which housed the dungeons.

If you actually read the wilderness description in OD&D volume 3: The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures, it turns out that the implied details of the setting are weird. Fighters in castles demand to be jousted, magic-users cast Geas and send them out after treasure, clerics demand a tithe or send the characters on a Quest.

But the real weirdness, and this was apparently confirmed in Gary Gygax's campaigns, is what is there when you start wandering about the wilderness. Mountains are haunted by cavemen and necromancers; deserts are home of nomads and dervishes. The "Optional" animal listings
turns swampland into the Mesozoic Era - rather than alligators and snakes it is full of tyrannosaurs and triceratops. Arid plains are Barsoomian, with banths, thoats, calots and the lot, while mountains are outright paleolithic, peopled by mammoths, titanotheres, mastodons, and sabre-tooth cats.

Gygax confirms this:

When I was using the pre-World of Greyhawk map for my world setting, the West Coast of North America was the Pleistocene region inhabited by savage cavemen and their contemporary fauna.

This makes the Outdoor Survival map a truly wild place. That huge desert towards the center? That's running with weird creatures of Mars - and maybe Tharks, Red Martians and so on. The mountains surrounding them are the home of cavemen who hunt sabre-toothed cats. The marsh castle is overflown by pterodactyls - does its lord ride around on a triceratops?

the Grimdark World of Greyhawk is a wild place, with more monsters than you might expect, and a lot fewer people. Or Peoples.

I recommend that you read the whole thing here. The OD&D Setting PDF

This should give a an idea of the tone of the setting that we are looking for. It's not the Renaissance with magic, there are no Steampunk Gnomes. There are no Elves at all. And because of the Cataclysm, there are spots where this dimension "wears thin" and the Fae Realm bleeds through. There are other places, cursed places, where the terrible weapons of the Ancients tore holes in Oerth, Space and Time.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

OSR, OD&D and Things that Never Ocurred to Me

About 6 years ago Wayne Rossi wrote a series of articles about Original D&D and what the rules and encounter tables implied about the world. Click that link for a PDF of the entire series.

I've seen similar articles on the same topic, from the same period, but none as thorough and detailed as this.

At the time I was very busy playing miniatures wargames, like WFB, 40k and Pulp Alley. I certainly didn't have the time or bandwidth to do anything like this! I'm glad he did.

This changes a bunch of my assumptions that I've been making about my revamp of the World of Greyhawk setting. I'm not going back to the drawing board, but some things that were foggy are now crystal clear!

Thank you Wayne!

Saturday, December 14, 2019

OSR 0-Level Apprentice Program

Dael Kingsmill has a great video about rules for squires on YouTube. I recommend watching it (as well as her other D&D chats, she’s got some super-creative ideas). I’ve taken her thoughts and elaborated on them a bit, in order to make a Squire program that feels a bit more Old School. This is also a more streamlined and generic concept for an Apprentice Program that should work for any character class.

Your DM will let you know exactly how and where the Apprentice arrives, looking for training, in a way that fits into the campaign. The Apprentice program usually includes young men and women about 13-15 years of age, possibly older depending on the campaign. These young people start off with juvenile Ability Scores of 11 across the board (unless the DM has a narrative purpose for increasing/decreasing one or more abilities).

The Apprentice will accompany the PC on any and all adventures, as an assistant, valet, and student. They are not able to join in any combat, barring extraordinary circumstances. The Player will direct the Apprentice’s activities during sessions, though the DM will control any Social Interactions with other NPCs.

The Apprentice will learn and develop their Skills and Abilities while the PC acts as a Mentor and teaches by example. Each time the PC earns a new level (2nd thru 5th), the Apprentice will also “level up”, benefiting from new skills and increased ability scores. The Apprentice will begin play as a 0-Level character, advancing to 1/8 - level, ¼ - level, ½ - level and finally First Level.

Training and Ability Score Modifications

There are three ‘tracks’ to the training program, Physical, Practical and Academic courses of study and training. Regardless of the character class of the Mentor, the Apprentice must follow all three ‘tracks’ in the course of their training. The Apprentice must complete each track at least once. When assigning increases to the Apprentice’s Ability Scores, keep in mind the Prime Requisites for the character class of the Mentor.

Physical Track: the Apprentice develops their Strength and Dexterity, focusing on drills and exercises of a physical nature. Add +2 to either Strength or Dexterity Ability score, add +1 to the other score, then add another +1 to one of the remaining four Ability Scores. During this period of training the Apprentice will gain skills such as using weapons and armor, building things with tools, and negotiating obstacles.

Practical Track: the Apprentice develops their Constitution and Charisma, focusing on assignments and exercises designed to develop maturity and confidence. Add +2 to either Constitution or Charisma Ability score, add +1 to the other score, then add another +1 to one of the other four Ability Scores. During this period of training the Apprentice will gain skills such as horseback riding, courtesy and protocol, traveling and resource management.

Academic Track: the Apprentice develops their Intelligence and Wisdom, focusing on reading, writing and metaphysical meditations of an intellectual nature. Add +2 to either Intelligence or Wisdom Ability score, add +1 to the other score, then add another +1 to one of the other four Ability Scores. During this period of training the Apprentice will gain skills such as sums and figures, history and natural philosophy.

As there are four training periods, the PC may choose which track to repeat for further, advanced training.

Apprentice Upkeep and Expenses 

During the entire duration of the apprenticeship the PC is responsible for the upkeep, clothing, equipment, room and board, and general well-being of the Apprentice. This is generally at a Modest to Comfortable level, at a cost of 30-60 GP per month. Your campaign or PC background may increase or decrease this amount, based on Social Class, religious obligations, weapons and armor, material components for spells, etc.

In addition, with changing conditions this expense may vary from month to month and level to level. Your DM will give you more accurate information.

Morale and Loyalty

How the Apprentice is treated in terms of upkeep and training will have an effect on their Morale and Loyalty. The DM will determine a starting score for both and keep them secret. At each new level the base Morale and Loyalty scores will be modified due to general treatment, upkeep, and quality of training (See AD&D DMG pp. 36-37, 67).

Unlike a Hireling or Henchman, an Apprentice has no expectation of pay, nor a share of treasure or loot. There is a contractual agreement that the Apprentice is receiving very valuable training from the PC. Of course, any gifts of gold or equipment will be much appreciated and have a positive impact on Loyalty and Morale. The DM should make a Loyalty check at each level-up, and in any other situations where an Apprentice’s Morale may be affected negatively (See Typical Loyalty Check Situations, AD&D DMG p. 36; Special Considerations, AD&D DMG p.37).

An Apprentice that is being poorly treated by their Liege and fails a Morale or Loyalty Check very well may run away, deserting the Liege. If the situation is dire enough, the erstwhile Apprentice may return to attempt to exact revenge upon their former Liege.


Upon completing their four courses of training the Apprentice will graduate as a First Level NPC in the character class of their Mentor. There should be an investiture ceremony of some sort, as this is an important moment in any young person’s life.

Upon graduation, the PC is obligated to send their protégé off into the world fully outfitted with weapons, armor, equipment (for example, a M-U Mentor would provide a new suit of clothes, a spell book, some material components and some coin. A letter of introduction to a friend or acquaintance can be helpful for the NPC Initiate to start to make their own way).

Afterward, the former Apprentice becomes a full NPC under the control of the DM. Typically these newly invested NPCs strike out on their own, to make their way in the world, possibly taking on another Page of their own as an Apprentice. The DM should make a note of the Loyalty score at the end of the apprenticeship, to guide communications and interactions in the future.

At this time the PC may take on another Apprentice, beginning the process all over again. In this case the 0-Level Apprentice ‘Levels-up’ as the PC gains XP, following the chart for Levels 1-5.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Visual Inspiration

I have grabbed some pics from around the interwebs to give players an idea about what I see in my mind's eye when I think about Grimdark Greyhawk...

I'll add more from time to time.

Death Dealer from Frazetta Girls on Facebook

Some Druids

You can also take a look at some stuff I've collected on Pinterest.

OSR Spell Failure Rules for Grimdark Greyhawk

Spell Failure Charts

When a spell fails it will likely have an adverse effect on the caster, and possibly on those around them…
These effects will also utilize the Sanity Rules

Roll a d20, subtract the Spell Level

Benign Corruption 

1 - or less - Roll on Minor Corruption chart
2 - Spell fails and is forgotten for remainder of session
3 - Caster and target exchange places
4 - Random monster is summoned (DM decides)
5 - Spell effect rebounds on caster (target is unaffected)
6 - Spell cannot be canceled at will by caster (or roll again if not applicable)
7 - Spell effect has 60' radius centered on caster (all within radius suffer the effect, including caster)
8 - Reverse spell effect strikes target (DM decides)
9 - All normal doors, secret doors, portcullises, etc. (including those locked or barred) within 60' of caster swing open
10 or more - PC takes 5 HP damage

On a roll of 2+ the PC loses 2 Sanity points

Minor Corruption

1 or less - Roll on Major Corruption chart
2 - Character develops horrid pustules on his face. These pustules do not heal and impose a -1 penalty to social charisma ability checks.
2 -  Character’s skin on one random portion of his body appears to melt. Like wax, it flows and reforms into odd puddles and shapes. This is an ongoing, constant motion that itches constantly and repulses others. Determine location randomly (1d6): (1) face; (2) arms; (3) legs; (4) torso; (5) hands; (6) feet.
3 - One of the character’s legs grows 1d3”. Character now walks with an odd gait. This also causes constant, chronic back pain.
4 - Eyes affected. Roll 1d4: (1) eyes glow with unearthly color; (2) eyes lose pigment, turn pink, gain light sensitivity (-1 to all rolls in daylight); (3) character gains infravision (sees heat signatures at range of 100’); (4) eyes become large and unblinking, like a reptile (with a nictating membrane)..
5 - Character develops painful lesions on his chest and legs and open sores on his hands and feet that require d4+1 weeks to heal.
6 - Ears mutate. Roll 1d5: (1) ears become pointed; (2) ears fall off (character still hears normally); (3) ears enlarge and look like an elephant’s, as big as your hand; (4) ears elongate and look like a donkey’s (character also gains braying laugh); (5) ears shrivel and fold back.
7 - Chills. Character shakes constantly and cannot remain quiet due to chattering teeth. -15% to Spell Casting roll
8 - Character’s facial appearance is permanently disfigured according to the magic that was summoned. If fire magic was used, his eyebrows are scorched and his skin glows red; if cold magic was used, his skin is pasty white and his lips are blue. If ambiguous magic was used, his appearance grows gaunt and he permanently loses 5 pounds.
9 - Character’s hair is suffused with dark energy. Roll 1d4: (1) hair turns bone white; (2) hair turns pitch black; (3) hair falls out completely; (4) hair sticks straight up.
10+ - Character passes out. He is unconscious for 1d6 hours or until awakened by vigorous means.

On a roll of 2+ the PC loses 3 Sanity Points
Save vs Death of suffer Paranoia.

Major Corruption
Below 1 - Roll on Greater corruption chart
1 - Febrile. Character slowly weakens over 1d4 months, suffering a -1 penalty to Strength for each month.
2 - A duplicate of the character’s face grows on his back. It looks just like his normal face. The eyes, nose, and mouth can be operated independently.
3 - Consumption. Character’s body feeds on its own mass. Character loses 2d10 pounds in one month and suffers a -1 penalty to Constitution.
4 - Corpulence. Character gains 6d12 pounds in one month. The weight gain imposes a -1 penalty to Dexterity, and the character’s speed is reduced by 5’.
5 - Character crackles with energy of a type associated with the spells he most commonly casts. The energy could manifest as flames, lightning, cold waves, etc.
6 - Character’s height changes by 1d20-10 inches. There is no change in weight; the character’s body grows thin and tall or short and fat.
7 - Demonic taint. Roll 1d3: (1) character’s fingers elongate into claws, and he gains an attack for 1d6 damage; (2) character’s eyes turn yellow, have vertical pupils, like a cat; (3) character’s legs become goat-like, with cloven hooves.
8 - Character’s tongue forks and his nostrils narrow to slits. The character is able to taste/smell with his tongue like a snake.
9 -  Small horns grow on the character’s forehead. This appears as a ridge-like, simian forehead for the first month; then buds for the second month; goat horns after the third month; and finally, bull horns after six months.
10+ Character’s skin changes to an unearthly shade. Roll 1d8: (1) albino; (2) pitch black; (3) clear; (4) shimmering quality; (5) deep blue; (6) malevolent yellow; (7) ashen and pallid; (8) texture and color of fishy scales; (9) thick bear-like fur; (10) reptilian scales.

On a roll of 2+ the PC loses 5 Sanity Points, 1 is lost permanently.
Save vs Death at -2 or suffer Paranoia.

Greater Corruption

Below 1 - The Character ceases to exist. DM fiat on how this happens. Maybe they simply wink out of existence, maybe they explode. 
1 - A sliver of soul energy is claimed by a demon lord. Character experiences unearthly pain, suffering 3d6 damage, a permanent -2 penalty to all ability scores, and a permanentl -2 penalty to Sanity.
2 - Decay. Character’s flesh falls off in zombie-like chunks. Character loses 1d4 hp per day. Only magical healing can stave off the decay.
3 - Character’s head becomes bestial in a painful overnight transformation. Roll 1d6: (1) snake; (2) goat; (3) bull; (4) rat; (5) insect; (6) fish.
4 - Character’s limbs are replaced by suckered tentacles. One limb is replaced at random each month for four months. At the end of four months, it is impossible to hide the character’s inhuman nature.
5 - Small tentacles grow around the character’s mouth and ears. The tentacles are maggot-sized at first, but grow at rate of 1” per month to a mature length of 12”.
6 - Third eye. Roll 1d4 for location: (1) middle of forehead; (2) palm of hand; (3) chest; (4) back of head.
7 - Fingers on one hand fuse while the thumb enlarges. After one week, the hand has transformed into a crab claw. Character gains a natural attack for 1d6 damage and can no longer grasp normal weapons and objects.
8 - Character grows a beak in place of his mouth. Transformation starts as a puckering of the lips that slowly turns into a full-fledged bird or squid beak over the next 1d12 months. Character gains a bite attack for 1d3 damage.
9 - Bodily transformation. Roll 1d6: (1) character grows scales across his entire body; (2) character grows gills; (3) character sprouts feathers; (4) character develops webbed toes and feet.
10+ Character grows a tail over 1d6 days. Roll 1d6: (1) scorpion tail that can attack for 1d4 damage plus poison (save or target loses 1d4 Str permanently); (2) scaly snake tail; (3) forked demon tail (grants +1 Dexterity); (4) fleshy tail ending in a useable third hand; (5) fused cartilaginous links ending in spiked stump that can attack for 1d6 damage; (6) bushy horse’s tail. 

On a roll of 2+ the PC loses 7 Sanity Points, 2 are lost permanently.
Save vs Death at -4 or suffer Paranoia.

Borrowed and modified from Adventures into Darkness

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Folk Wisdom and Character Knowledge

There are lots of things that characters know about their world that they don't even think about. Folksy sayings and stories from childhood that impart a truth or life lesson. Things that everyone knows and takes for granted, like "Spider webs help stop bleeding when wrapped over a cut or wound."

"Putting butter on a burn stops the swelling and blistering."
"Don't go to sleep with your head in direct moonlight, your dreams might make you crazy."

This post and a related Campaign Background page will be an attempt to collect these sayings and bits of wisdom as they come up.

Here is a webpage for Folk Remedies at Brownielocks.

If you have any to share, please do so in the Comments.

Monday, November 18, 2019

Standing Stones and Megalithic Structures

Standing Stones and Megaliths in Grimdark Greyhawk are usually artifacts of the pre-cataclysm world. They have been ascribed many magical powers and links to the Faerie Realm.