Monday, 16 October 2017

The Gong Farmer's Almanac 2017 Vol 4

The 2017 Gongfarmer’s Almanac Volume 4: Pandemonium Setting: Dark Seas, was written by Paul Wolfe. Artwork is by Doug Kovacs, Marc Radle, Mez Toons, Paul Wolfe and Old Book Illustrations. The publisher is the Gongfarmer's Local #282.

Unlike previous years' Gongfarmer's Almanacs, five volumes of the 2017 edition have an overarching theme - the roiling, ever-changing plane of Pandemonium.

"Awash in the roiling seas of phlogiston, home to alien horrors and unknown powers, the ever-changing lands of Pandemonium remain a mystery to even the most powerful of wizards and sorcerers. Few explorers choose to travel the chaos-way, and even fewer return. To most, Pandemonium is a myth, an impossible place where the land and sky are all mutable, where the land itself can be an ally or foe, and where a powerful will can transform reality." - Harley Stroh

This volume describes a single campaign setting, only nominal linked to Pandemonium. Apart from the excellent Zine Indexes by Jon Hershberger, I believe that this is the first Gongfarmer's Almanac volume produced that is the work of a single author. The material is described as a "DCC rip of Sunless Sea".

For those of us, including myself, not familiar with Sunless Sea, the author describes the setting thus:

"Far beneath a shattered world lies an underground ocean of unfathomable depths in perpetual night and crawling with ancient beasts. You are not heroes – you are sailors on a wine-dark sea, chasing the secrets of the past scribbled on ancient pages or scattered across a thousand fragments and running from the constant threat of madness. Captains of iron steamships cut across the Undersea armed with powerful carbide lamps, deck guns, and other weapons to ward off the night, as well as the creatures and pirates that lurk there. Beings of Stone, Salt, and Storm aid or hinder you, or laugh as your vessel sinks below the black waves. Out there somewhere – in the ports, ruins and wilds that cling to small rocky islands – are the formulae that could save humanity. Or doom them to lives of gibbering insanity."

This volume covers:

Optional Character Generation: Characters start penniless, only gain XP by learning and disclosing secrets, and choose allegiances to Salt, Stone, or Storm for alignment. You will need to read Appendix C to understand exactly how character generation has changed, though, and frankly should read all of the appendixes before proceeding with the adventure.

Betrayal at the Admiralty: A 0-level funnel for Dark Seas. Characters begin play press-ganged into service, but quickly assume greater responsibility on the steamship Queen’s Sword. Secrets lurk in every cranny of the ship and on every darkened rock that clings to uncertainty. Will the characters find out who threatens the Admiralty and Londonia’s sovereignty?

Judges are warned to dive into the appendixes of this volume before tackling the adventure. The adventure is flavorful, though, and does an excellent job of evoking the feel of the setting.

Locations on the Undersea: Short, evocative descriptions of places PCs may visit, with both a judge's and a players' hexmap. Paul Wolfe has done a very good job providing the flavor of each area, as well as the details that will allow a good judge to bring it to life. XP in Dark Seas works via secrets, so the author gives you plenty of examples!

Appendix M: NPCs or...So, What's the Mystery?: This appendix is really part of the adventure, but the Crime and Motive portion may be useful for judges crafting future mysteries.

Appendx C: Creating Characters: The author writes "Character creation for the Dark Seas campaign is generally the same as any DCC RPG game", but there are enough differences that this should have been a section before the adventure. Certainly, the judge will need to understand and communicate the changes to his players.

All PCs start with a contact and an initial secret ("something that the character knows that drives them to seek out more dangerous knowledge"), which replace the typical Lucky roll (birth augur) from the Dungeon Crawl Classics core rulebook. Race is separated from class, and saving throws change. While the changes to saves are mostly cosmetic, the ability to choose the highest of two stats to modify saves and the inclusion of a Terror save are significant.

Appendix S: Steamships: "Though 0-level characters start out as simple crew — often attempting to survive their first mission to uncover secrets for someone more powerful than they — upon gaining 1st level, the party receives its own steamship." 

The rules for steamships are simple, intuitive, and evocative. Importantly, terror plays a part in these rules, as does resource management, and these two elements influence each other. Eventually, someone is going to put together a naval guide for Dungeon Crawl Classics, and hopefully elements from this issue, as well as Tales From the Fallen Empire and Crawl! #11 are considered.

Appendix W&E: Weapons & Equipment: "Dark Seas is set in a fantasy Victorian/Lovecraftian post-apocalyptic place where society has retreated underground to a vast, unfathomable sea. Equip accordingly." The inclusion of Heavy damage, and fairly extensive tables for goods and cargo, are definitely welcome.

"Some targets such as ships, giant creatures, and the like, can only be damaged by heavy damage. If a character or other relatively normal-sized creature is struck by a weapon that deals heavy damage, the damage dice are trebled. Normal firearms may harm creatures that can only be injured by heavy damage — each 10 points of normal damage deals 1 point of damage to a giant sea creature. Ships and other vehicles may not be harmed by normal firearms."

The issue is rounded off with a Sample Steamship sheet, and two pages of "two-up" Dark Seas character sheets, suitable for 0-level play. Having one of these pages be a regular Dark Seas character sheet would have been ideal, but the way the pages lay in the print spread allows you to photocopy any number of four-character sheets for an introductory funnel.

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Wednesday, 11 October 2017

The Gong Farmer's Almanac 2017 Vol 3


The 2017 Gongfarmer’s Almanac Volume 3: Pandemonium Locations, Part 2, was written by Steven Bean, Hector Cruz, Danny Prescott, Richard Rush, and Nick Serluco. Artwork is by Doug Kovacs, Marc Radle, Clayton Williams, and William McAusland. Cartography is by Steven Bean, Marc Bruner, Hector Cruz, Michael Jones, and Harley Stroh. The publisher is the Gongfarmer's Local #282.

Unlike previous years' Gongfarmer's Almanacs, five volumes of the 2017 edition have an overarching theme - the roiling, ever-changing plane of Pandemonium.

"Awash in the roiling seas of phlogiston, home to alien horrors and unknown powers, the ever-changing lands of Pandemonium remain a mystery to even the most powerful of wizards and sorcerers. Few explorers choose to travel the chaos-way, and even fewer return. To most, Pandemonium is a myth, an impossible place where the land and sky are all mutable, where the land itself can be an ally or foe, and where a powerful will can transform reality." - Harley Stroh

This volume describes more of the hexes of Pandemonium. Let's look inside.

The Quagmire of Endless Malice: Written by Steven Bean as "A Pandemonium Hex for 5-6 PCs of Levels 3-5", this has the distinction of being the only hex explicitly designed for a specific character level. The Quagmire has links to both Ahriman and Azi Dahaka, affixing it to the corpus of core DCC. The author also supplies a relatively unique experience (as of this writing) in DCC adventures - the chance to command a military force. Simple rules are provided, which could surely be used for other large-scale battles as well.

The Swamp of the Oboline: This hex, by Richard Rush, offers the "humid jungle swamps of the oboline are the dank and miserable home to Harikag, alleged to be a fecund avatar of the World-tree, and the two godlings Manateecuhtli and Quetzalcoautwalrus and their interminable, pointless conflict about which limp saplings growing in this forlorn place is actually Harikag." Information on the two godlings is found in Volume 5.This hex is a combination of squick and whimsy.

The Burnished Court: "The Burnished Court is both an entity and a location, being the physical nexus of the inquisitive chaotic immortal known as the Meniscus." Author Danny Prescott creates a prismatic mirror world, and gives a partial patron write-up for the Meniscus, including both invoke patron and Patron Taint results. The location stands out by being very different from the other Pandemonium hexes in this year's Gongfarmer's Almanac.

The Ichor Pits: A crater of sunken ichor pits, fiends, and un-dead creatures, by Nick Serluco, this hex is ruled by Ostorax the Gravehand. There is a magic sword, Valorsbane, which requires divine intervention or taking Ostorax as a patron to obtain. Unfortunately, patron information is not included....perhaps in 2018?

The Lost Tower of Talos: Finally, Hector Cruz introduces a hex which was once the realm of the Bleak Cabal, a group of wizards and clerics who worship Talos. Now it is a realm of "chaotic magic, spirits, strange creatures, and echoing chants" that emanate from the Lost Tower. With giant mushrooms, eerie lighting effects, and wandering spirits, the Lost Tower is also the home of a specific treasure hoard - it is nice that there is not only a reason why the PCs may wish to escape this hex, but also a reason why they may want to seek it out.

The sample hexes provided in the first three volumes of the 2017 edition of the Gongfarmer's Almanac whet the appetite for more. Given the infinite potential of Pandemonium, I hope to see more hexes in future years, both in the Almanac and elsewhere. Great work by everyone!

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Tuesday, 10 October 2017

The Gong Farmer's Almanac 2017 Vol 2

The 2017 Gongfarmer’s Almanac Volume 2: Pandemonium Locations, Part I, was written by Marc Bruner, Jeff Goad, Keith Nelson, SGT Dave, Dan Steeby, and Harley Stroh. Artwork is by Doug Kovacs, Marc Radle, Patrick Regan, Clayton Williams, and William McAusland. Cartography is by Alden Bruner, Marc Bruner, Bobby Jackson, SGT Dave, and Shyloh Wideman. The publisher is the Gongfarmer's Local #282.

Unlike previous years' Gongfarmer's Almanacs, five volumes of the 2017 edition have an overarching theme - the roiling, ever-changing plane of Pandemonium.

"Awash in the roiling seas of phlogiston, home to alien horrors and unknown powers, the ever-changing lands of Pandemonium remain a mystery to even the most powerful of wizards and sorcerers. Few explorers choose to travel the chaos-way, and even fewer return. To most, Pandemonium is a myth, an impossible place where the land and sky are all mutable, where the land itself can be an ally or foe, and where a powerful will can transform reality." - Harley Stroh

This volume describes some of the hexes of Pandemonium. Let's look inside.

The Big Rock Candy Mountains: If, like me, you enjoyed O Brother, Where Art Thou?, you might be expecting a different description of the Big Rock Candy Mountains! In Pandemonium, this is a form of Candyland where children become sugar thralls (or worse). Monsters resemble well-known children's games and confectionery treats, but author Jeff Goad displays a wickedly twisted sense of humor, and doesn't leave it at that. This hex could easily be used in conjunction with Faerie Tales From Unlit Shores, Perils of the Cinder Claws, or Lamentations of the Gingerbread Princess.

The Big Festering Giant: Perhaps you think BFG stands for Big Friendly Giant? Perhaps not to be outdone by Jeff Goad in twisting childhood memories author Keith Nelson introduces the Big Festering Giant, a colossal near-corpse that you can squick about inside. This is actually a lovingly rendered text of a rather unlovely subject, and includes the rather interesting Among the Mite-Goblins on the Shores of Lake Urine: An Introductory Encounter to the BFG.

Monsters of the Big Festering Giant: Keith Nelson also includes "a brief selection of the mundane and bizarre inhabitants and active perils of the creature colloquially known as the Big Festering Giant, or BFG." A full dozen monsters are listed, some with varieties thereunto. Here are some encounters I worked on, which might also be usable in the BFG.

The Black Iron Citadel: Dan Steeby offers a scorched desert cavernscape, dominated by a "massive structure with the shape of a colossal humanoid form, seemingly crouching in a pitiful, cowering position, with massive arms thrown over its tusked face as in a final ward against its doom." This is the Black Iron Citadel, ruled by the demon prince Pazuzu. PCs may also meet his "supremely bored and petulant" daughter, Lilitu.

The Boreal Wastes: This hex, by Harley Stroh, with additional material by Marc Bruner, is exactly what it sounds like: a vast icy wasteland with enormous ice ridges and ruins half-buried in the snow and ice. Most of the hexes thus far have been based on twisted childhood themes or hellscapes, so the Boreal Wastes come as a nice change. I am left wondering whether some of this material was unused from the beginning of Journey to the Center of √Āereth?

The Carousel of Doom:  This hex, "a mutated carnival of insanity, guilt, and agony" also deals with childhood themes. It also includes platypus cultists and marsupial face huggers, so a good time is sure to be had by all. If your players visit this hex of Pandemonium, be sure to thank SGT Dave, the writer, for delving into the Ruins of Make-believe.

The Forest of Nedra: Finally, Marc Bruner offers "A shadow land of grey twilight" existing "between states of reality, filled with objects both half-formed and those seemingly etched into the fabric of creation itself." A faerie-based hex, this has a Dark River that strongly reminds me of the enchanted stream through Mirkwood in The Hobbit. A portal could easily link this hex to Goblins of the Faerie Woods or the Goblin Market in Creeping Beauties of the Wood. Or both.

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The Gong Farmer's Almanac 2017 Vol 1

The 2017 Gongfarmer’s Almanac Volume 1: Welcome to Pandemonium was written by Julian Bernick, Marc Bruner, Keith Garrett, Gwendolyn Harper, Tony Hogard, and Harley Stroh. Artwork is by Doug Kovacs, Marc Radle, SGT Dave, Clayton Williams, William McAusland, David Lewis Johns and Jeff Brown, with thanks to Kevin Crawford, Sine Nomine Publishing, and Mantis image. Cartography is by Gwendolyn Harper, Jon Hershberger, Harley Stroh, and Shyloh Wideman. The publisher is the Gongfarmer's Local #282.

Unlike previous years' Gongfarmer's Almanacs, five volumes of the 2017 edition have an overarching theme - the roiling, ever-changing plane of Pandemonium.

"Awash in the roiling seas of phlogiston, home to alien horrors and unknown powers, the ever-changing lands of Pandemonium remain a mystery to even the most powerful of wizards and sorcerers. Few explorers choose to travel the chaos-way, and even fewer return. To most, Pandemonium is a myth, an impossible place where the land and sky are all mutable, where the land itself can be an ally or foe, and where a powerful will can transform reality." - Harley Stroh

Let's look inside.

Welcome to Pandemonium: Author Harley Stroh provides the basics of Pandemonium, including why someone might want to travel there and what one might encounter. "Our world is not alone. Rather there are hundreds, no thousands, of other realities, each home to people and powers like our own. These planes and demi-planes are all connected by an ever-shifting sea of the mutable chaos-material known as phlogiston, and when – like a wave casting foam droplets from the sea – these take brief material form, it gives birth to the lands of Pandemonium."

There are things worth recovering from various areas in Pandemonium, but travel requires passing through one or more "hexes" to reach any given location, where a "hex" denotes a world in miniature, which can be of any size at all.

There is also a chance of encountering deadlands, where entropy is enervating all within the hex, or new lands, which are freshly born from the raw material of Pandemonium.

Locations and Encounters of Pandemonium: Marc Bruner provides a random encounter table for the hexes included in this year's Gongfarmer's Almanac, and a random encounter table for Pandemonium.

The remainder of the volume is given over to describing some of the hexes of Pandemonium.

Abyss of Automatons: Keith A. Garrett supplies a Hell for robots and their ilk, which would provide a good transition between Mutant Crawl Classics (or Crawling Under a Broken Moon) and more standard Dungeon Crawl Classics fare. This is also a great location to include any robot (or near robot) you fancy from the media of your choice: Daleks, Terminators, C-3PX, or an R2 unit with a bad motivator.....

Helljammers of the Crashed Plains: Julian Bernick brings the Crawljammer universe into Pandemonium with a visit to the Crucial Observatory of the Voidlings. These are beings who tried to bind the powers of Hell to their will, and failed miserably, creating a Pandemonium hex which is inhabited by demon-saur war-machines (which may, perhaps, end up in the Abyss of Automatons when destroyed) and the voidlings, who travel using soulburners - flying skiffs powered by souls of ritually sacrificed beings.

Hunting Preserve of the Cambion Queen: Another hellscape, brought to you by Gwendolyn Harper. Tamarah Pandoramicum, the Cambion Queen, hunts "those who have displeased her, as well as those they bring here from other worlds" across a wasteland of howling winds and monstrous hoodoos, where "all smells sweet but charred". If you were hoping for a plethora of well-developed demons, the author has provided!

Labyrinth of the Elder Minotaur: Finally, Tony Hogard provides a vast Primal Labyrinth that is not another version of Hell! Or, actually, perhaps it is. Here the Elder Minotaur dwells, and, although "the abandoned treasures of a thousand lost explorers" may be found in its darkened halls, so too can the bones of many an explorer.

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Monday, 9 October 2017

The Cities Zorathi Issue 1

The Cities Zorathi Issue 1, Fall 2017, was written by Duncan McPhedran, with art by Alex Mayo, Claytonian, and Duncan McPhedran. It was published by Zorathan City State Press.

This zine focuses on a campaign setting for Dungeon Crawl Classics - the three Cities of Zorathi. There are three of these cities. In order of their age, they are Crone Zorathus, Dame Zorathus, and Lassie Zorathus. This issue gives an overview, and offers a focus on Crone Zorathus.

Let's look inside.

Introduction: Exactly what it says on the tin.

The Cities Zorathi: A brief overview of the cities, including some notes on history, organization, and culture.

Factions of the Cities Zorathi: Organizations and their interests are part of the urban landscape, and vital to making a city-based campaign come alive for its participants. Seven factions are briefly described, with more information given about the Council of Trade and Industry and The Inclusion League. Even if you don't intend on using the campaign materials herein, this article should spark ideas for your own game.

Zorathan Coinage: The common currency of the Cities Zorathi.

Common Wares in Zorathan Markets: This article gives prices using the Zorathi coinage. Most of the items reproduce those found in the DCC core rules, but there are a few items PCs may want that are not otherwise covered. Be aware that, if not using the Zorathan campaign setting, you will need to convert these prices back to standard coinage.

Crone Zorathus, the Old City: Enough information to have a useful overview of the oldest of the Cities Zorathi. This includes information on power groups, geography, architecture, holidays, and so on. This is a good example of how information of this type may be succinctly provided.

Locations: The Mental Haberdashery: Not your typical hat shop. There are 36 possibilities for the effects a hat might have, most of them are negative, and the hats are not cheap.

The Zorathites: The author provides a d30 chart containing name, occupation, condition/quirk, plot hook, and "stuff" that they might have on them. This is the sort of chart that is useful in almost any game, and is certainly useful in an urban sandbox setting.

The Ram of Light: This is the full patron write-up for the Ram of Light, once a mighty god named Ramat who has since fallen on hard times. There is only one patron spell, and spellburn is brutal. One wonders if this Ramat has any relationship to the old god that The Ruins of Ramat are named for.

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