Monday, March 27, 2017

GaryCon 2017 Recap

Well folks, I'm back and recovered from GaryCon and wow was it quite different than GenCon Indy. Different as in going back in time by 20 or 30 years. Here's a rundown on the weekend that I shared with my long time gaming best friend Jayson.

Wisconsin and Lake Geneva is gorgeous. I'm from southern Illinois so geographically Wisconsin isn't much different, but the city of Lake Geneva and the resort that GaryCon is held at is simply wonderful. I could do a whole blog just on the peripheral sights to see. Needless to say, if you go to GaryCon in the future, venture out to the Lake, explore, it's worth it.

Good friends, amazing artists. We had planned zero events for GaryCon and truly had zero idea what to expect. In two days though, we filled our entire schedule with invites to gaming, a panel and meals. We felt really appreciated being among a smaller, more intimate crowd. That said I definitely was there to meet some fellas from the Greyhawk community. My good friend and patron from the Canonfire! community, Kraftwerk was first to greet us (though our hockey rivalry would soon strain that relationship) and invite us to his game. Fellow Castle Greyhawk comic scribe, Scott Casper was there as well and we hung out for the game and then for a good part of the day in the Exhibition Hall and where we got to meet the legendary artist behind the World of Greyhawk map, Darlene herself. I don't need to tell any of you how great it was to meet her and have her sign one of my Greyhawk maps. It was even greater to spend the rest of the evening with her and Kraftwerk afterward! Not to be outdone, on Saturday we were invited by one of my favorite community friends, Allan Grohe of Blackblade Publishing to play in one of his "gygaxian" Castle Greyhawk dungeon crawls. More on the games in a bit.

One thing to note: when you walk into Gary Con there is a whole roster of gaming veterans and VIPs at every turn who freely mingle with the crowd. You can't get that as easily at a huge convention like GenCon. We sat in on a TSR panel which included Darlene and the likes of Larry Elmore, Bill Willingham, Jeff Easley, Jeff Dee, Steve Sullivan, Tom Wham, Diesel and Jeff Butler. The stories they told about working in the old offices at Lake Geneva, how they got hired, bagging on artists not present or honoring those passed away, was the highlight of the con. It was a different time for artists back then, they really taught each other a lot. Coming out of that I really felt like I was born in the wrong era.

Speaking of art. On the second floor in the historical gaming room (how this all got started), was an original art display of the likes you'll not see anywhere else. Among the best and most iconic pieces there was the paladin in hell illustration by Dave Sutherland from the 1E Players Handbook. Crazy good linework. This picture inspired me to run many encounters with demons of the lower planes.







Then there is Jeff Easley's sleeping vampire Drelzna from the Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth. Easley is usually known for his amazing full color cover paintings, but even his B&W interior art is inspiring. I had the privilege of seeing a new painting Mr. Easley did for the con, which I'm hoping you will all get to see in the coming year.
One more to show, is the full wrap-around painting for the cover of the 1E Dungeon Masters Guide also by Dave Sutherland. He wasn't the best artist of that era (my faves are Erol Otus and Dave Trampier) but this painting is among my favorite D&D works of art, so to see it in person was an honor if not eye opening on how art was done back in the day.




Greyhawk Gaming! So like I mentioned earlier me and Jayson (and his recurring female dwarf fighter) took part in three Greyhawk games over two days. We played in one Greyhawk in ten years of GenCon attendance. Just saying. Here's a quick overview of the adventures we had in Greyhawk:

Kill Markessa. Kraftwerk's mission was supposed to be simple. A powerful benefactor hires a fellowship of heroes to go into a lair and slay the infamous Slaver and vile surgeon Markessa. In two hours real time. A couple illusions and one orc room later, a chaotic melee broke out including misshapen trolls and guard dogs. We found and woke a Markessa duplicate only adding to the confusion. That we failed and the real Markessa got away is no surprise. There is always next time for Die Markessa, Die! I guess. What made this adventure extra special was our VIP guest, Luke Gygax! Now being able to say I gamed with a Gygax is definitely a feather in my cap for the rest of my life.

Diamonds in the Rough. Allan Grohe's Castle Greyhawk is heavily inspired by the original Gygax campaign and he runs it 1E style all the way. This scenario is a continuation of his larger ongoing convention exploration of the famous dungeon. It is a mapping nightmare too. It's been so long since I DMed a mega-dungeon that I forgot how careful and slow players go! After an hour of silent searching and geometry, our guards were down and no one saw the door shaped mimic coming! I love when I fall for D&D tropes. Needless to say things got intense when giant insects and demon Chasme started chasing our party. One intrepid player used a wish from his sword however and transported all into a room full of gems (and one certain artifact gem) belonging to a dazzling gem dragon. What ensued was much groveling and placating of the noble creature before we were allowed to leave (though my halfling sneaked a few gems out). Our wizard however bugged out too soon, escaping to an uncertain doom in the astral plane...

Upon Thy Head a Crown. I hope I got this title right. Our last game was ran by Kraftwerk again, involved several deceased, chosen proxies (yes the female dwarf, Marya was there again) of a variety of deities being sent into a series of rooms to test who is most worthy to gain the object at the end, with the prize being you are resurrected, thus lifting the station of their patron deity. It was a game of the gods. Each room had an elemental theme and required more than combat to cross, indeed it took a marvelous amount of thinking to get by the wind and water and icy environments when we all started with nothing but clothes and a signature weapon. Literally everything we came across or took from a slain foe was used in some way to get past the traps and hazards. It was fun and the end wrap up was nicely done leaving everyone happy and applauding our DM.

That's the run of it all. I could go into my haul or other stuff but we'll leave that to your imagination. I am so glad to have met a host of new gamers, many of which are Greyhawk fans, and many which I got to hang around multiple times. I hope to see you guys online, just drop me a line if you read this! Maybe I'll see you at another GaryCon soon!

Monday, March 20, 2017

GaryCon This Week

Hey Greyhawkers and old school gamers! This week (March 23-26) is Gary Con IX at Lake Geneva, WI. Being a life long gamer, it's sort of a pilgrimage to go for the first time. For the last decade or so I've been all about Gen Con Indy, but I never went to that convention back in the day when it was up north. I'm hoping to redeem myself for so many years of missed opportunities.

I have no idea what to expect at this smaller, local con, so I'm trusting on my friends in the Greyhawk community to shine a light on stuff to do since I have signed up for zero events so far (outside an invite to a personal game). Drop me an email mortellan(at)gmail.com if you'd like to say hi or have me come by your booth or just talk Greyhawk. I'll be the guy wearing a "World of Greyhawk" t-shirt, so see you there!

Monday, March 13, 2017

Best Brewers in Greyhawk?

Here is the results and commentary on my latest fun poll, who has the best brewers in the World of Greyhawk? The question is divided along racial and geographic lines as I surmised:

First, let's mention the outliers here. Coming in tied at last place with 3% I offered Krakenheim, capital of the Frost Barbarians for some nordic variety. Setting canon is mum on whether these viking analogs are big drinkers, but up in the Cold North they have to be drinking something other than walrus blood right? Also coming in with 3% of the vote is Gryrax. I chose the capital of the Principality of Ulek because it is nominally ruled by dwarves. Dwarves are historically famous for their brews and being a port city, I figured Gryrax would also be a good exporter of booze. I guess it was just me.

Speaking of dwarves, let's skip to the winner of this poll, Irongate at 44% of the vote. Irongate has alot going for it in brewing. It has a strong dwarven population (not to mention other small folk) being close to the Iron Hills. It too is a huge port city so they have the capacity to brew enough to export. Also. Irongate is a fortress that has withstood more than one siege in its time, so having good stores of alcohol is essential for morale and possibly combat. Lastly, Irongate was once featured in an article for Dragon #351. The city is a home to the plane hopping World Serpent Inn. That means Irongate has to have the Flanaess' most diverse collection of brews.

Tied for second is the Perrenland capital of Schwartzenbruin at 20%. I chose this place obviously for the Germanic analog. Perrenland is a mountainous home to proud mercenaries and adventurous demihumans, so it immediately conjures up images of festive halls in my mind. Also tied for second is the Free City of Greyhawk. This multi-cultural city was a no-brainer for the poll since there is a plethora of brew houses and bars in canon. One only needs to reference the City of Greyhawk boxed set to find info on the Guild of Ostlers and Brewers or randomly roll up a new brewery in Old City or Artisans Quarter.

To finish up, coming in with a surprising 6% of the vote is the largest Bandit Kingdom city, Rookroost. Much like Irongate, this city is a fortress and with it's own raucous bandit population, so certainly it's bound to have a good brews to keep them happy. Of course it's also plausible they steal all their brews from nearby Duchy of Tenh, Theocracy of the Pale or Shield Lands. Who knows? I'd have to ask some former Living Greyhawk folks to be certain. I checked the 2E adventure Fate of Istus, which has the most info on Rookroost and found a wealth of city material but no supporting brew facts. Darn!

One last tidbit. For those wanting some old school homebrew brew ideas for their Greyhawk campaign (and way back), go back in time to the Codex of Greyhawk website, archived over at the Wayback Machine! Enjoy!


Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Tales from the Yawning Portal Preview

In the latest issue of Dragon+ over at Wizards there is some preview articles and art concerning the upcoming classic module compilation, Tales from the Yawning Portal. Among other things in this issue, we get some preview pages of the familiar Tomb of Horrors backstory and where it fits in Greyhawk plus a retrospective on an original Dragotha article from Dragon #134. The best part is the new art attached to a few of our beloved classics:




The colorized map of White Plume Mountain is simply fantastic. I don't know if you've ever downloaded Dragon+ before, but at first I wasn't keen on yet another digital Dragon, yet lately their content is starting to get more interesting; albeit they are glorified advertisements. Next issue they promise more previews of Yawning Portal and a report on Garycon, which I will be attending. Can't wait!

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Blood Bowl in Greyhawk

My friends and I have recently got back into the sports groove with the newest edition of the boardgame/videogame Blood Bowl. Before I get too far have a peek at this old post I made about Greyhawk Rugby; that's what Blood Bowl should be all about: a mix of fantasy and modern sports. Below is a list of team names for a Greyhawk themed tweak of my inter-college Rugby League campaign, instead cast as a regional league more along the lines of the multi-racial Blood Bowl game.

Human: "Free City of Greyhawk Griffons"
The city has a lesser collegiate league still and their best athletes compete abroad. The Free City Arena is still the best venue to play in all the central lands.

Orc: "Blackthorn Bandits"
The Orcish Empire of the Pomarj likely has many teams, however this lair of humanoids in the Gnarley Forest is much closer to the action. Only the league keeps them relatively peaceful.

Dwarf: "Greysmere Anvils"
Greysmere is one of three dwarven teams out of the Abbor Alz Mountains.

Skaven: "Undercity Gnashers"
There is no Skaven race per se in Greyhawk so this is a team of vile wererats hailing from the sewers of Greyhawk.

High Elf: "Canryell Lances"
Celene may currently be isolationist but the fringes elven communities still have contact and interaction with other realms, including this one on the edge of the Wild Coast.

Bretonian: "Free City of Dyvers Bannermen"
Dyvers' rivalry with the Gem of the Flanaess continues in this league. Their history as the former capital of the Kingdom of Furyondy lives on in their team name.

Halfling: "Elmshire Slingers"
This very short and soft team is more interested in the festivities and post game meals than the game itself.

Goblin: "Harrgrek Grinders"
This group of goblins in the Cairn Hills gets out to compete just to show their orcish masters they can't be pushed around.

Chaos: "Mastryne Marauders"
This group of mysteriously mutated men have come out of the Wild Coast to bring the pain.

Amazon: "Hardby Brawlers" 
The Despotrix of Hardby has assembled the toughest, roughest women in the domain to be on her all-female squad.

Lizardmen: "Mistmarsh Maws"
Emerging from the swamp is an amazingly capable set of lizardmen athletes. Who knew they had talent?

Necromantic: "Inverness Souleaters"
This dreadful team just started showing up. The Ghost Tower continues to surprise.

Wood Elf: "Clan Meldarin Archers"
Another remote elven team from the Gnarley. They compete just because they don't want the high elves to get all the glory.

Undead: "Castle Greyhawk Deathless"
Apparently the famous ruins has issued out some skeletal players ready to compete, but who is the manager?

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Greyhawk: Arid Encounters

Today I'm brainstorming a different subject for my rambling development of the Dry Steppes and an associated megadungeon. I was looking at the regional encounter charts in the Glossography book of the World of Greyhawk setting boxed set and noticed the steppes are woefully boring.

Most entries for nations or geographical areas will have a list of typical races or creatures you'd already expect to find randomly, then the chart will end with half the results being "Use Standard Encounter Tables". This is fine because half the time you will see common things like men, dwarves and orcs. Only rarely do you bump into manticores or owlbears and stuff. The Wastelands section is no different except most of these areas have at least one distinctive entry.

For example, the Bright Desert:

01-15 Men, Dervishes
16-40 Men, Nomads
41-45 Men, Tribesmen
46-50 Pernicons
51-00 Use Standard Encounter Table

This is typical for these encounter charts; you will see lots of humans and occasionally a special critter, in this case the Pernicon, which is a very nasty giant grasshopper from Fiend Folio that latches onto you and drains fluids in the form of constitution points. Oh, by the way in their lair you can encounter 300-3000 of them! Not to digress, the other wastelands have critters too.

The Land of Black Ice has literally only one encounter before standard ones, the infamous Blue Bugbear. Not as scary as a pernicon but it's unique. Riftcanyon is also heavy of Men and Humanoids but it at least has a 3% chance for Ogres. The Sea of Dust is the best and most diverse. There is no "standard chart" for this desert. As a result you get more than just roving men. You get boring beetles, scorpions, snakes and spiders. It also has some of the nastiest Fiend Folio creatures like Osquips, Firenewts, Thoqqua, Jermlaine, Dune Stalkers and also yes, Pernicons.

The Dry Steppes entry however, has only one special creature on its list: Horses. Well that's wonderfully bland, unless your characters train animals. Now I realize the steppes aren't as dangerous and inhospitable as the Sea of Dust, but by trying to make a more fully realized wilderness encounter chart, I want to add a bit of color to make the Dry Steppes more distinctive than "where wild horses come from."

Drawing ideas from neighboring charts is a bit of help, but we are talking mountains at this point. Ull and the Plains of the Paynims is all nomads, the Crystalmists yields plenty of Giants or their kin, which we learn from Against the Giants, Greyhawk Wars and Liberation of Geoff, are more interested in bashing the fertile east. The south bordering Sulhaut Mountains are intriguing though. Demihumans (Dwarves? Gnomes? What?), Drow (night only), more Giants and Humanoids and the curious Pleistocine subchart. Talk about dangerous, you have to go through all that to get into the Sea of Dust! Most mountain critters aren't going to venture out on the steppes though, except as we've seen, Giants.

What if, the realms of the Sheldomar Valley rally and repelled all the giants so their only option is to raid westward? Plenty of horses to eat! Or perhaps something more sinister is afoot like the Drow are manipulating monster incursions into the nomad's territory. Or maybe all this list needs is a special monster from the Fiend Folio that hasn't been used already. Let's see...how about Clubneks? Giant, mutated, killer ostriches? Check mark!

I could go on forever, so that's enough for now. Thanks for reading.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Greyhawk Megadungeon Idea

Lately I've been musing over the need for some new megadungeons in Greyhawk. The ones we have are classic and have been revised, returned to and played out for the most part. My personal stab at this is a proposed megadungeon set in the Dry Steppes. The Dry Steppes is a remote, undeveloped area with ancient historical background. For my own amusement this hypothetical dungeon is also set very close to the southern border of Ull, a land that no one knows better than myself. Without further ado, I introduce Qabu Al-Imbraturi "The Vault of the Emperor".

Here is my very rough idea: 

The location of Qabu Al-Imbraturi was lost to memory since the Invoked Devastation ravaged the Baklunish Empire, thus ending their long war with the mutually annihilated Suloise Imperium. Nomads of the Dry Steppes had traveled in the shadow of this ruin for generations without ever knowing of its existence, until recently, when it appeared following a brief display of strange lights in the night sky. The upper ruins of this ancient edifice is carved into the side of a mountain while deep below, vast armories and arcane foundries are said to house the most destructive weapons ever crafted by the Baklunish. Sages speculate that escalating warfare upon the Fields of Padyr to the south and grim portents concerning the Suel Mages of Powerforced the Padishah to pour massive manpower and resources into the creation of the Vault. What mighty artifacts and relics were created here is unknown, but surely great elemental magics must be contained here; possibly a precursor to the infamous Rain of Colorless Fire.

At first the ruin's appearance was a curiosity for superstitious nomads; deemed either a holy site or a cursed domain. Before long the lure of treasure and magic attracted less scrupulous foreigners. Based out of the nearby town of Kester, teams of highly competitive explorers have begun to pierce the upper dungeon, after first contending with the natural dangers of the steppes. The full extent of Qabu Al-Imbraturi has yet to be determined due to vicious traps and ancient wards still in place. The lethality of the dungeon has led some parties to share their knowledge in order to make further progress. Despite the risk, it's only a matter of time before some bold, resourceful adventurers discover how to penetrate the deeper levels of the Vault of the Emperor.

(more to come?)