Wednesday 29 September 2021

Sir Gawaine and the Green Knight

The Green Knight
This is not the original poem, it is an homage to the 14th century Middle English chivalric romance.
The original is lengthy, and in an older English than most of us can decipher. Tolkien did. And his can be purchased from Amazon. Or you could read it here:

Here is another translation:

Sir Gawaine and the Green Knight
By Yvor Winters

The head dropped clean; he rose and walked
Reptilian green the wrinkled throat,
Green as a bough of yew the beard;
He bent his head, and so I smote;
Then for a thought my vision cleared.

The head dropped clean; he rose and walked;
He fixed his fingers in the hair;
The head was unabashed and talked;
I understood what I must dare.

His flesh, cut down, arose and grew.
He bade me wait the season’s round,
And then, when he had strength anew,
To meet him on his native ground.

The year declined; and in his keep
I passed in joy a thriving yule;
And whether waking or in sleep,
I lived in riot like a fool.

Her beauty, lithe, unholy, pure...
He beat the woods to bring me meat.
His lady, like a forest vine,
Grew in my arms; the growth was sweet;
And yet what thoughtless force was mine!

By practice and conviction formed,
With ancient stubbornness ingrained,
Although her body clung and swarmed
My own identity remained.

Her beauty, lithe, unholy, pure,
Took shapes that I had never known;
And had I once been insecure,
Had grafted laurel in my bone.

And then, since I had kept the trust,
Had loved the lady, yet was true,
The knight withheld his giant thrust
And let me go with what I knew.

I left the green bark and the shade,
Where growth was rapid, thick, and still;
I found a road that men had made
And rested on a drying hill.

From, The Collected Poems of Yvor Winters (Swallow Press, 1978)

The Green Knight

The Art:


Saturday 25 September 2021

Thoughts on A5 Kill Marquessa!


“So new to him,' she muttered, 'so old to me; so strange to him, so familiar to me; so melancholy to both of us!”
― Charles Dickens, Great Expectations

A5 Kill Marquessa!
Of the infamous Flesh Traders, perhaps none was more fearsome than the twisted elven enchantress known simply as the Marquessa. Her unspeakable experiments that twisted the flesh and bones of the innocent into horrific abominations continue to fill the good folk of the land with dread, even now, fifteen years since the slavers ring was smashed by a band of legendary heroes and she was forced to flee into the night.
[A5 Kill Marquessa! - cover]

Sound thrilling?
It should. Could there be a viler villain in all of Greyhawk than Markessa? Unlikely. Iggwilv would surely give her a run for the title, but where Iggwilv might have consorted with demons, her main goal appears to be power and conquest.
Not so Markessa, or might I say, the Marquessa.

Hold on, you say! Marquessa? Who the deuce is Marquessa?
Could Marquessa be construed as Markessa? There are parallels. Indeed, inspiration. Unfortunately, a little thing called Intellectual Property stands in the way of calling A ROSE anything but a ROZE. Suffice it to say, while WotC may not be publishing new material in the Greyhawk setting, they have not opened up the IP to fan content on DMs Guild, either. Therefore, anyone who wishes to set their adventures in the venerable old setting will have to do a little slight of hand, if they want to sell the fruit of their labour. They could give it away free, legal under the fan content clause, but why then would they go through the trouble is producing EXPENSIVE physical product. To sell adventures, they have to do something called “shaving off the IP.” Change names, etc.
Maybe I shouldn’t be saying this, just in case WotC is reading this humble blog…. I suppose it doesn’t matter, seeing that those who do this have voiced what they do on online streams.
Getting back to Marquessa, what do we know about her? She’s beautiful.
She is a small female elf with ivory white skin, golden hair and an evil slant to her amber eyes. [A2 - 27]

And yeah, she's evil. Iggwilv doesn’t really measure up to Marquessa's kind of evil. Marquessa experiments on people. She’s a cross between Josef Mengele and Doctor Moreau. That puts Marquessa on a completely different plane of sinister depravity.
[What] catches the party’s attention are the two tables in the center of the room, from one of which rises a strange caricature of a man—long and thin, with a horribly deformed mouth and a long clawed arm. It emits a brutal croaking sound [A2 - 27]
The creature on the table was once a human slave, but is now a crazed experiment of Markessa. Markessa is chaotic evil and an agent of the Slave Lords and in charge of the running of this branch of the slaver operation. Markessa is also performing private experiments on some of the captured slaves in order to create the perfect slave. […] Unfortunately, most of her experiments have gone awry, for she operates without anesthesia and most of her experiments are driven insane by the pain. [A2 - 27]

Some were successful:
The party sees a female elf with ivory skin, golden hair and amber colored eyes. She is wearing studded leather armor and carrying a shortsword and throwing darts. She is seated at a work table writing on a length of parchment. [A2 - 33]
Actually she is one of Markessa's more successful experiments, a double who has been surgically and magically altered to look like Markessa, then brainwashed to obey Markessa's commands. [A2 - 33]
Why? So she can be in more than one place at a time, I suppose. Chris Pramas and Sean K. Reynolds puts this to great effect in their 1999 sequel to the Slavers series, Slavers.
When confronted by Markessa’s experiments, the PCs ought to be horrified, and desire to put an end to hem, and her.
I’ve suggested in prior posts that if the PCs manage to kill the real Markessa, the deceased ought to be one of her successful experiments. I will be so bold as to suggest that even the writers of the module, Harold Johnson and Tom Moldvay, intended Markessa to escape:
If things are going badly for her she will either cast her darkness spell and flee or she will pick up a flask off of a shelf and throw it down to smash on the floor. The contents of the flask will form a blue cloud of smoke, 10' radius, that cannot be seen through. Anyone caught in the smoke will find that it stings their eyes and blinds them for 1 round after they leave the cloud.
[A2 - 27]
Behind the fireplace on the east wall is a secret door opened by adjusting the flue with a poker. When the secret door is opened the wooden chandelier on the ceiling will come crashing to the floor to distract attention. The fireplace will then swing out into the room revealing the secret passage beyond it. This is Markessa's escape tunnel if she is pursued to her chambers. [A2 - 33]
Part way down the tunnel, Markessa's escape tunnel exits through a secret door in the west wall into this passage. The secret door looks like part of the stone wall and is opened by pushing up on a nearby rock outcropping. [A2 - 35]
The tunnel opens into a large natural cavern. In the southeast corner of the cavern are a number of black-skinned elves leading slaves who are carrying packs. [A2 - 35]

It was because she escaped that Markessa's depravities were able to continue in Slavers. Did Markessa survive the assault on Kalen Lekos in Slavers?
You bet your ass she did.
Markessa has a contingency spell cast upon herself that should she be reduced to 10 or fewer hit points, she will be teleported to the home of a charmed ally in Furyondy. [Slavers – 105]
Aside from that, she will fight smart. She wants to win. And she wants to survive. Wouldn’t you?
Markessa is incredibly intelligent and extremely wicked, and will use her spells to neutralize her opponents. If she thinks she’s outclassed, she’ll use her project image spell to harry people from afar (in addition to sending guards after them) and dimension door away if things look bad (failing that, her contingency spell should save her). [Slavers – 105]

All this matters if you’ve been playing the A series in sequence, and in a larger campaign.
You may have never played the original tournament modules.
But if you had, or if you wish to, the story need not end, or have ended, with Slavers. Our heroes might have chased the survivors down. And one or two might have slipped through their fingers.

Which brings me to A4 Kill Marquessa!
Even now, fifteen years later, the tales of her unspeakable experiments upon the flesh of the innocent fills the hearts of good folk with dread and brings spider-legs to climb the ladderwork of their spines.
Of those that cannot forget the nighmares found in Marquessa’s laboratories is Leander Hatgeld. [A5 - 1]
Leander Hatgeld is none other than Dread Delgeth of A2, one of the pre-generated characters of the A-series. A middling mage all those years ago, he has grown in skill, and in the intervening years, he has spent his life dealing with the aftermath of that epic struggle. [He] quickly discovered that [many of the Flesh Traders] survived and thirsted for revenge against those that had laid leaders low. [A5 – 1]
The Slavers tried to assassinate him for his efforts, a score of times. They failed. And those who tried died.
None of his fellow heroes that stood at his side during that final battle [in A4] had been so lucky, each one felled by blade, spell, or poisoned cup. [A5 – 1]

Hatgeld [Delgeth] fled to Divers [Dyvers] and from there, dedicated his life to tracking down those slavers who had managed to escape the fall.
Recently, Hatgeld has learned much regarding one of the most fearsome of all the Flesh Traders: The brilliant and depraved elven enchantress Marquessa. [A5 - 1]
He’s divined her fortresses, and even discerned a pattern to her movements.
He’s assembled the PCs to strike at her least defended fortification. Too, he is shrewd enough ensure that each one of these heroes has some personal score to settle with the Flesh Traders and their agents. [A5 - 1]

Sounds exciting.
Leander Hatgeld
There’s one flaw here that I can discern, why not go himself? He’s powerful. He’s capable. And he, if anyone, has a score to settle with Marquessa.
It’s a small issue, one easily resolved: Hatgeld has narrowed the possibilities to two within the time frame pinpointed. He and his team will strike the more difficult of the two. There, done. As I said, it’s a small bone of contention.
What can Hatgeld tell them about her lair? Little. It has defied scrying. So, how does he know about it then? Activity of her minions, outside and nearby, maybe?
Let’s not be too critical. This was Carlos Lising’s first kick at the can, and he was writing a tournament module, not a campaign set-up as Pramas and Reynolds were. If you wish to slip this into a long running Slavers campaign, you’ll have to do a little work, as would have been required to develop all the scenarios leading up to and around A1 through A4. There’s no denying that will be a lot of work. It will be; but therein lies the difference between running a one-shot tournament module and a long-running campaign.

There are two potential starts to the adventure. One for tournament play, the other for campaign play.
As one would expect, the PCs begin play at the fortress entrance in tournament play. Campaign play can begin in Diver [Dyvers], where they set out overland or by sea. Wilderness and Water Encounter Table are included.
In either case, a map was provided to the PCs, but not included, owing to the adventure being originally intended for convention tournament play. The text describing the surrounding terrain is vivid enough for the DM to create on with a little imagination.

The story begins at the fortress entrance.
A Wandering Monsters Encounter Table is provided for the fortress, but only intended for campaign play. That has always been the case for tournament play. NO wandering monsters. There’s little enough time to reach the end of the adventure in the allotted time as is, likely impossible if the party is stumbling across patrols, or their pets.

I won’t go into the particulars of the adventure.
It’s new, after all, published in 2016; and not mine to disclose.
What I will disclose is the adventure was penned for the OSRIC Reference and Index Compendium. It’s a close cousin to the AD&D ruleset, so if you have one, you won’t need the other.
It’s designed for 7th to 11th Level characters, and more difficult than the original tournament modules. It would have to be, wouldn’t it? It has been years since Marquessa was “defeated” in the Drachensgrab Hills and forced to flee. One ought to expect that she would have grown in skill and power, much as Hatgeld had. She’s not much more powerful than she was in Slavers, though. In Slavers, ten years had passed since the “final” confrontation at Suderham; and in that noble work, Markessa had advanced from a meager 5th level magic-user and 5th level fighter to a F12/M13; where in the five years that followed she has only risen to F13/M14. That seems realistic to me. It would take far longer to advance in levels and carry on her research.
Some might say that she exceeds level limitations. She does. Were she a PC, she’d have been limited to 5th level fighter (14 strength) and 9th level magic-user (16 intelligence) in AD&D 1e. She was still “legal” in A2. She is even “legal” in 2e: Fighter limit 12, magic-user limit 17 (15 +2, due to Intelligence). She is not legal in OSRIC: F5, M6; but she’s not a PC, is she? She’s an NPC; and NPCs have always been a little outside the rules, haven’t they?

As to the Pregens, they have a detailed backstory, much like those of A1 Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan had. Are they required? Not for a tournament; but those stories do add a little lore to the setting, if you are so inclined to use them. Much like the classic A series, the Lising sequel use the same pregens in each of his A adventures.
They include:
Our Heroes
Marya Hammerfist, 8th level Dwarf Female Fighter
Quenden Tasander, 6th level Elf Male Fighter / 6th level Magic-User
Sildan Enathwrel, 8th level Elf Male Magic-User
Ilsandre Sunshower, 6th level Gnome Female Illusionist / 6th level Thief
Jaran Braxx, 7th level Half-Elf Male Ranger
Telvas Thistlewine, 8th level Halfling Male Thief
Khâzratha Ironthews, 7th level Half-Orc Female Cleric
Lyandra Yrsanthi, 6th level Human Female Cleric / 6th level Magic-User
Merranen Eagleheart, 8th level Human Male Druid
Ravella Zaar, 8th level Human Female Illusionist
Brother Lyrwend, 8th level Human Male Monk
Kendrel Rilsheven, 7th level Human Male Paladin

12 Pregens. That seems a lot, more than in the average classic tournament module, in any event. I’ve never attended a convention, so that may be the number of seats around a convention table.

Storm Zothculb
Back to the adventure, and what I will disclose.
Needless to say, Marquessa is well protected. She was in A2, and she is now. There are guards, and guards do what they will: they patrol. She has a trusted lieutenant in Storm Zothculb (if that seems at all familiar, it might be that the 5th level thief Sturm Blucholtz of A1-4 Scourge of the Slavelords survived A1 Slave Pits of the Undercity, and has prospered under Marquessa, ever since {now 8th level Thief}).

Stealth is crucial.
The PCs should understand their fate if captured.
Marquessa’s reputation proceeds her.
If the party surrenders to the garrison, they will be disarmed and their magic items, and armor confiscated. Once the party members have been rendered harmless, Markessa will question them as to what they know of slaver activities, using all means available, including torture, if necessary. Once she has learned everything she can, Markessa will immediately kill all spell casters (if these can be identified) and sent the other party members to the dungeon [,] where it can be assumed that the mad cavelings will kill them for meat.  [A2 - 3]
She could have experimented on them, as well, a fate potentially worse than death, one might assume.
One should expect no less now.
The consequences of failure would be catastrophic. Not only would Marquessa become aware that the system she relies upon for her safety is compromised, but the Player Characters could well pay for their defeat with their lives. Perhaps worse, the enchantress would likely vanish from sight, never to be so easily be found again. Certainly, the good folk of the land would pay dearly, in such a case. [A5 - 1]

Her fortress strategy of A5 is essentially identical from that of A2:
Once a party of adventurers is detected inside the fortification complex, the guards will raise the alarm. This will generally be done by means of an alarm switch (with which every room is equipped) that sounds a great klaxon within the facility. If, for some reason, this switch fails to sound the alarm, the guards will voice a great hue and cry that is much more limited in effectiveness (only the rooms or halls on either side of the area in which this is raised will be alerted to trouble). Should the alarm switch be thrown, the entirety of the fortification will be alerted at the end of the turn in which it is sounded. If a shouted alarm is used, the fort will be alerted at the end of the turn following the one in which the characters are spotted.
Once the complex is alerted, guards in barracks will proceed to the area in which the alarm was thrown. Storm Zothculb (possibly accompanied by one or more of his pet giant weasels) will likewise speed to said area, if he yet lives. Marquessa will begin casting defensive spells upon herself and her bodyguard in anticipation of their approach. [A5 - 2]
No complains there on my part. Don’t mess with what works.

To disclose more would be unfair to both Carlos and to you.
Is this a good adventure? I think so. Is it a great adventure? Those who’ve played it loved it (Carlo’s games much sought after at conventions, I’ve heard), if that is any guide.
Is it worth the expenditure? I think so. I purchased it; and I think you should, too, especially if you are a fan of the Greyhawk setting. Few are creating new adventures for the setting, and it behoves those who wish to keep it “alive” to support those who write for it.

What do you get for your money, you ask?
The adventure hardcopy is staple bound, with glossy cover. The adventure is 10 pages in length of a total 40 pages. Marquessa is extensively detailed, and each PC is given 2 full pages, ideal as handouts. There is a page for tournament scoring, one for the Open Gaming License, and 2 for maps.
The bound maps are grey in colour, and look to be computer generated. They may have been rendered in colour, but they are B&W in the fold.
Carlos was kind enough to donate a digital copy for my review purpose (to which I am grateful), and that has B&W maps. I prefer these. I printed them, and doodled what was described in text for each room within them, to get a feel for what was there, how spacious or cramped they might be, and to better see how combat might play out in each. I do that, doodle. I’ve copied and printed every module map for the same purpose throughout the years, painstakingly drawing altars and pews, and desks and beds, and braziers with a fine-point pencil, adding descriptive passages and notes in the margins and spaces between. Those doodled and annotated pages are tucked into my physical copy of this module even now, and likely will remain there until I pass beyond the veil. What did I discover?  I can say with great certainty that nothing thicker than the consistency of water will drain from the refuge chutes of two rooms given their length of travel and depth of discharge (it’s a small complaint, maybe even trivial, but I am exhaustive in design, given what I do for a living). The rest holds up to scrutiny, and I’m finicky, as you can now well imagine.
All considered, it’s a good adventure, and worth the cost of admission should you deem it worthy of your consideration, and its potential place on your shelf.

I wish you luck.
Defeating Marquessa will not be easy. Honestly, the odds are in her favour that she’ll escape.
But that’s okay. Her escape paves the way for A6, and A7….

“...all evil, to crazy Ahab, were visibly personified, and made practically assailable in Moby Dick. He piled upon the whale’s white hump the sum of all the general rage and hate felt by his whole race from Adam down; and then, as if his chest had been a mortar, he burst his hot heart’s shell upon it.”
― Herman Melville, Moby-Dick or, the Whale

One must always give credit where credit is due. This piece is made possible primarily by the Imaginings of Gary Gygax and his Old Guard, Lenard Lakofka among them, and the new old guards, Carl Sargant, James Ward, Roger E. Moore. And Erik Mona, Gary Holian, Sean Reynolds, Frederick Weining. The list is interminable.
Very special thanks to Carlos Lising, without whose efforts, this piece could never have existed.

The Art:
Kill Marquessa! cover art, by Chet Minton, 2016
Markessa by mli13, originally published in A0-4 Against the Slavers, 2013
Markessa detail, by Bill Willingham (?), from A2 Secret of the Slavers Stockade, 1981
OSRIC cover, by Mark Ahmed, 2006
Orcs detail, by Jeff Dee, from A1 Slave Pits of the Undercity, 1980

2011A Dungeon Masters Guide, 1st Ed., 1979
2010, Players Handbook, 1st Ed, 1978
2160 Dungeon Masters Guide Revised, 2nd Ed., 1989/1995
2159, Players Handbook Revised, 2nd Ed., 1989/1995
OSRIC, 2006
9040 A2 Secret of the Slaver’s Stockade, 1981
11621 Slavers, 2000
A5 Kill Marquessa! casl Entertainment, 2016
A6 Die, Marquessa, Die! casl Entertainment, 2017
A7 Marquessa, Thy Name is Evil, casl Entertainment, 2018

Friday 17 September 2021

The Bandit Kingdoms Primer

You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy ."
—  Obi-Wan Kenobi

“Maybe there is a beast… maybe it's only us.”
― William Golding, Lord of the Flies

Winter is long. Life is short. So the saying goes in the Bandit Kingdoms. The Free Folk should know. Winter is long, and cold; the windblown sleet and snow is so icy it will turn your head around. What is more, the summers are dry, the soil is poor, and the growing season no longer than the bat of an eye. As to life; that depends, doesn’t it? Do you venture out in the dark of night? Can you keep your mouth shut? Do you love Iuz? Are you well connected?

It’s a wonder as many people live in these lands as they do. Or that any chose to come here in the first place. But there was silver in them thar hills, once. Or should I say, in them Rifts?  That’s what drew those first settlers, once the heathen Rovers were pressed north to make room for honest folk, and peace, progress, and empire. The Flan had never made proper use of the land, anyway. Not that it was much use: the soil was rocky, and little more than boulder clay; and what with the profusion of firs, it was acidic, too. It was barely tolerable to beans and taters, and hardly tolerable as pasture. But there was silver, and plenty of it, while it lasted. It’s no wonder the Flan didn’t even fight for it, much.
Some say there were those Flan who did, or sought to, even if they didn’t. Ur-Flan artisans, they say. Tall tales tell that the people of Veralos thought to use magic to dissuade the Aerdi from coming, that they implored an ancient and wizened prophet with talent in one Art or another to do the deed. There are those who even whisper that the doer was Keraptis, himself; but that’s neither here nor there. Those Aerdi scouts that did come said that they found an abandoned town on the edge of the Rift. It was ancient, they said, yet tables were laid, as though to sup, and the hung herbs still smelled fresh. Round the decay, nothing stirred, the only sound the rustling of the wind on the birch and poplar that hid it from sight. That’s no never mind, the Free Folk say. That was long ago. Just talk.
The Bandit Kingdoms
The Kingdom did come, and it lorded over these parts for centuries, put they paid it no heed. There was no profit in it, once the silver played out, some said. Folk took to raiding to make ends meet, usually against the “haves” to the south, and uppity Flan to the north, sometimes even into the Shield Lands if they were bold enough, or into the Hierarch’s demesnes, if they were brazened enough; but they weren’t above taking what came from the other kings and grafs and princes of the “Combination of Free Lords,” if they were too weak to hang on to what they thought theirs. That’s just the way of things here. You have to make ends meet, come what may, as they say.

So it remained until Iuz came.
Then everything changed. The Lords fell; or capitulated, if they knew what was good for them. Iuz’s Boneheart moved in. And the wheel turns.
Hail Iuz!
Be quick to “hail” when hailed, if you know what’s good for you. And trust no one. Not your friends. Not even your grandmare. After all, you never really know where another’s loyalties might lie, do you?

Adventures in the Bandit Kingdoms center on the political machinations of the various warlords and powerful merchants as they send adventurers to deal with pesky monsters, guard caravans of pilfered loot, hunt down betrayers, or wreak havoc on their enemies’ interests. Bizarre monsters from the Fellreev Forest and Rift Canyon must be dealt with. Beware the dragons in the Fellreev Forest (green), Rift Canyon (red), and White Plume Mountain (dracolich)!

The Combination of Free Lords

Suffering Iuz
The Combination of Free Lords, a.k.a. the Bandit Kingdoms, is comprised of roughly a dozen fiefdoms —  the inhabitants of which are almost all uniformly unpleasant to friends and foes alike. Surrounded by enemies, the local warlords band together to raid nearby nations. If your campaign is set pre-Greyhawk Wars, the local warlords often fight among themselves when not raiding. If your campaign is set after, the Bandit Kingdoms suffer Iuz’s occupation and yearn to break free of the evil demigod’s chains. In the Bandit Kingdoms, anyone powerful enough to raise a small army can rise to power…but not everyone can keep it.

Inspiration for campaigning in the Bandit Kingdoms can be found in the “Thieves’ World” anthologies, edited by Robert Lynn Asprin and Lynn Abbey; “The Black Company series,” by Glen Cook.
Inspiration may also be had from the AD&D 2nd Ed. accessory: “Lankhmar, City of Adventure” (TSR_2137)
Further inspiration can be had from “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich,” by William L. Shirer.

Country specific resources:
BDKR1: The Unofficial Living Greyhawk Bandit Kingdoms Summary, by Casey Brown.
Dragon Magazine, issue 56, “Protection circles and the like, plus news of the north central Flanaess”
Dragon Magazine, issue 63, “Where the bandits are”
Fate of Istus (details the city of Rookroost)
Iuz the Evil
The Greyhawk Folio, The Greyhawk setting boxed set, Greyhawk Adventures, Greyhawk Wars, From the Ashes Boxed Set, Living Greyhawk Gazetteer, Dragon magazine #52,55,57,63,205,253,293

Adventures in this country include:
S4 White Plume Mountain
Return to White Plume Mountain
A Slight Diversion, OJ#9, Redspan,
WG8, Fate of Istus, #1, Rookroost
WGS1 Five Shall Be One
Out of the Ashes, Dungeon #17
Age of Worms adventure path (Dungeon Magazine, issues 124 – 135)
The Spire of Long Shadows, Dungeon, #130
The Prince of Redhand, Dungeon, #131
The Library of Last Resort, Dungeon, #132
Kings of the Rift, Dungeon, #133
Into the Wormcrawl Fissure, Dungeon, #134
Dawn of a New Age, Dungeon, #135

Aquatic Adventures: The Artonsamay River, Lake Aqal, the Nyr Dyv
Badlands Adventures: Bluff Hills, Great Effluvlial Swamp, Rift Canyon and Rift Barrens, White Plume Mountain
City Adventures (post-wars): Alhaster (port town ruled by a Hextorite), Hallorn (overrun with undead), Riftcrag (populated by humanoids loyal to Iuz), Rookroost (largest city in the region and secretly ruled by a shapeshifting cambion), Stoink (run by thieves)
Forest Adventures: Fellreev Forest, Tangles Forest

Adventures in nearby areas include:
WG8, Fate of Istus, #2 Nyrond, #5 Pale
WGS2 Howl From the North
WGR5 Iuz the Evil
The Dancing Hut of Baba Yaga
Fright at Tristor, Theocracy of the Pale
Forge of Fury, Bone March
The Mud Sorcerer's Tomb, Dungeon #37, Bone March
Ex Keraptis Cum Amore, Dungeon #77, Burning Cliffs
Deep Freeze, Dungeon #83, Theocracy of the Pale
Armistice, Dungeon #84, Griff Mountains
The Sharm’s Dark Song, Dungeon #87
Glacier Seas, Dungeon #87
Beyond the Light of Reason, Dungeon #96, Tenh
Raiders of the Black Ice, Dungeon #115, Blackmoor
Ill Made Graves, Dungeon #133, Jotsplat & the Icy Sea
Tomb of Zhang the Horrific, by William Dvorak, Rovers of the Barrens.
C13 From His Cold, Dead Hands, by Carlos Lising, casl Entertainment, 2019, Jotsplat & the Icy Sea
C14 The Sanguine Labyrinth, by Carlos Lising, casl Entertainment, 2019, Burning Cliffs
C17 The Root of All Evil,  by Carlos Lising, casl Entertainment, 2019, Burning Cliffs
FB1 While on the Road to Cavrik's Cove, casl Entertainment, 2021, Ratik
Although later retconned into the Yeomanry, B1 Into the Unknown (in the monochrome edition) was originally suggested as located in Ratik, The Duchy of Tenh, or the Theocracy of the Pale. That would make either an ideal location for B2 Keep on the Borderlands, as well.

Pholtans from the Theocracy of the Pale to the east seek to break Dimre’s defenses.
The Tenha city of Redspan vies with Rookroost for control of the Artonsamay River’s northern traffic.
Nomadic barbarians of the Rovers of the Barrens dominate the wild plains to the north.
Devils stalk the Horned Society’s lands while paladins in the Holy Realm of the Shield Lands seek to curtail bandit and infernal invasions alike to the west.
County of Urnst shipping on the Nyr Dyv is often harassed by corsairs out of Alhaster.

Heroic campaigns are difficult to set in the Bandit Kingdoms. Paladins are generally run out of town by the local populace for being nosy do-gooders. In addition, there are few ancient dungeons to explore (except for Nerull’s Bane in the Fellreev Forest and Wormcrawl Fissure in the Rift Canyon).

Bandit Kingdoms:
chaotic neutral, chaotic evil; Flan, Baklunish, Oeridian, Common.
[Dragon #52 – 20]

Various claims to royal titles exist
Capital (largest city in strongest state): currently Rookroost (pop. 17,310)
Population: 95,000 +
Demi-humans: Few if any
Humanoids: Many
Resources: silver (mines in rift area)
[WOGA – 19]

After the War:
Ruler: none (Iuz)
Capital: largest city in strongest fiefdom, currently Rookroost (pop. 11,650)
[FTAA – 22]

Proper Name: (formerly) Combination of Free Lords; (now) Bandit Lands (within the Empire of Iuz)
Ruler: Various petty warlords and tyrants or Lesser Boneheart mages, all supposedly in service to Iuz
Government: Many loosely allied petty dictatorships, currently "administered" (often in name only) by occupying forces of Iuz
Capital: (formerly) The largest city in the strongest fiefdom, usually Rookroost
Resources: Silver (in Rift Canyon)
Population: 475,200—Human 79% (OFSb), Half-orc 9%, Halfling 5%, Elf 3%, Gnome 2%, Dwarf 1%, Half-elf 1%
Languages: Common, Orc, Halfling
Religions: Iuz (officially), but also Olidammara, Erythnul, Norebo, Hextor, orc pantheon, Nerull, Ralishaz, Kurell, Fharlanghn, Pholtus, Trithereon, Rudd, various goblinoid gods
[LGG – 25]

4. Abbarra;
9. Artonsamay, Duchy of the;
11. Dimre, Grand Theocracy of (independent);
16. Fellands;
3. Freehold, Mighty;
14. Greenkeep, Defenders of the;
17. Groskopf, Grand Clans of;
12. Johrase, Kingdom of;
13. Midlands, Stronghold of the;
8. Redhand, Principality of;
7. Reyhu, Great Lands of;
6. Rift, Men of the;
15. Rookroost, Free City of;
10. Stoink, Free City-State of;
5. Tangles, Earldom of the;
1. Warfields, Unified Bands of the;
2. Wormhall, Barony of
[Dragon #63 – 14]

Winter is Long, and Life is Short

One must always give credit where credit is due. This History is made possible primarily by the Imaginings of Gary Gygax and his Old Guard, Lenard Lakofka among them, and the new old guards, Carl Sargant, James Ward, Roger E. Moore. And Erik Mona, Gary Holian, Sean Reynolds, Frederick Weining. The list is exhaustive.
Special thanks to Jason Zavoda for his compiled index, “Greyhawkania,” an invaluable research tool.
This Primer has been expanded from the original “Touring the Bandit Kingdoms Postcard” on Canonfire! written by Casey Brown, and some passages from that scholarly work reside with this piece.

The Art:
Alhaster, from Dungeon #131, pg. 80, 2006
Assassinat de sigebert, ler Grande Chroniques de France (Bibliotheque Nationale de Fance, Paris), and The Unofficial Living Greyhawk Bandit Kingdoms Summary cover, 2012
WG8 Fate of Istus cover, by Daniel Horne, 1989
Bandit Kingdom heraldry, from the Greyhawk Folio, 1980
Bandit Kingdoms map, by Darlene, from Dragon #63, 1982

2011A Dungeon Masters Guide, 1st Ed., 1979
9025 World of Greyhawk Folio, 1981
1015 World of Greyhawk Boxed Set, 1983
2023 Greyhawk Adventures, 1989
1064 From the Ashes Boxed Set, 1992
9577 The Adventure Begins, 1998
9578 Player’s Guide to Greyhawk, 1998
11743 Living Greyhawk Gazetteer, 2000
Dragon Magazine
OJ Oerth Journal, appearing on Greyhawk Online
Living Greyhawk Journal
Greychrondex, Steven B. Wilson
Greyhawkania, Jason Zavoda
Anna B. Meyer’s Greyhawk Map

Friday 10 September 2021

Cinniúint Mc'ill'Oig

“The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.”
― W.B. Yeats

Cinniúint Mc'ill'Oig
A farmer's son, Cinniúint desired more than what appeared his due. Life in the foothills of the Rakers was tedious, at best; truth be told, he thought it a prison of drudgery and toil. He gazed out upon the flats below from his high, windswept perch, imagining he saw the distant coast, and dreamed of far-off lands, and deeds of daring-do and maidens fair, like those in the sagas Isin sang, and Riichi preserved on his parchments, tales of evil wizards and dragons that ruled frozen landscapes.

Why do you listen to such foolishness, Gurrda Mc’ill'Oig argued? They are nothing but lies, his father claimed. We Flan have always been as we are, he said. And: Be content with what bounty Beory hath bestowed on us.

But Cinniúint was anything but content. He was destined for better than a life of tilling soil and dirty fingernails, he believed. He had a quick and nimble mind. And he knew that his father was wrong about their people’s lot. Isin and Riichi had said those tales of ancient Flan heroes and villains were true, and Cinniúint believed them. He had seen Riichi’s parchments with his own eyes, even if he could not read them. They were old, near crumbling. Ancient, Riichi said; and Riichi should know; hadn’t the hedge wizard travelled to Marner and read the Aerdian histories that told those very same tales of Vecna and the Ur-Flan, and of the hero, Gethrun Shoiraine, who had delivered the Flan of fabled Tostencha from Keraptis’ tyranny?

He hounded the hedge wizard to teach him letters. But Riichi rebuffed him, knowing Gurrda’s mind. Cinniúint would not be dissuaded. The boy snuck into Riichi’s hut and found his books of alchemy, and somehow taught himself to read. And then recited what he had learned to the astonished Riichi. Riichi relented, reluctantly. He quickly discovered the boy's abilities surpassed his own, and sent word to the only true wizard he knew, who promptly arrived and took the boy away to Marner.

Young Cinniúint
Cinniúint was inducted into the Scholars of the Arcane, under whose rigorous tutelage he learned discipline. And there he remained until word arrived that the northern borderlands were being raided by the euroz, and that adventurers were being gathered to put an end to them. He asked the deans if he might be given leave to answer the call. They advised him against the enterprise. You are not ready, they said. He persisted. They relented.

Cinniúint travelled north, finding companions in need of a wizard once he arrived in the small town of Riverport: an elven and human rogue, two fledgling fighters, and an acolyte, each as bent on adventure as he. They set out into the Rakers, but instead of daring-do and maidens fair, they found danger and death in the ancient temple that had pressed a menagerie of evils to their design. Only three survived their adventure into those caves of chaos. Three Fools, they named themselves for their folly. And it was that name that they came to be known.

Never Again...

Cinniúint vowed he would never venture into the wilds so ill-prepared again. Who had built the red temple in the depths of the caverns where his companions fell, he wondered? They had kept silent about their aims and beliefs, fanatical they surely were, as they neither asked for, not gave, quarter or mercy. He returned to Marner and studied those ancient texts available there. Half-remembered names from his childhood flew off the pages: Tostencha, Skrellingshald. Vecna, Keraptis, and Acererak. Slerotin. Zellifar. Roghan and Zelligar. Merely mentioned in those tomes, he discovered more perusing weighty, dusty, tomes in Red Mord and Rel Astra and Rauxes. Clues led he and the other Fools, Jondhan Amar and Scáthú Urithi, into the Timberway and Loftwood forests, the Rakers and Griffs, and up and down the Grendep and Solnor coasts, raising ever more questions. He dove deeper, and learned the names of supposedly long-lost gods, The Elder Eye, and the Elemental God. They were far from dead, he discovered. And far from forgotten.

And then, one day, the deans called him into chamber. A son of a Fruztiian jarl, one Hradji Beartooth, had arrived with questions about fabled Skrellingshald.

They asked if Cinniúint might meet with him.

Skrellingshald, he asked? Did he say Skrellingshald?

"Apparently wizards poke their noses in everywhere!"
― J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

One must always give credit where credit is due. This piece is made possible primarily by the Imaginings of Gary Gygax and his Old Guard, Lenard Lakofka among them, and the new old guards, Carl Sargant, James Ward, Roger E. Moore. And Erik Mona, Gary Holian, Sean Reynolds, Frederick Weining. The list is interminable. 

The Art:
Umber Hulk Ambush, by Dean Kotz (?), from Into the Borderlands, pg. 334, Goodman Games, 2018

Wednesday 8 September 2021

The Dullahan


D is for Dullahan
We all know the legend of Sleepy Hollow, and Ichabod Crane and the Headless Horseman, immortalized by Disney, and fare for consumption every Halloween for as long as I can remember.

But where did it come from? From the worthy pen of Washington Irving. Here’s a link to his prose:

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving ( 

It’s far older than that eponymous tiny town in New York. It’s old indeed; Irish folklore old, in fact. The Dullahan is fey, and a particularly nasty one at that. Neither specifically male or female, this sinister spirit carries its grinning skull under its arm, cracking a whip fashioned from a human spine, riding unto its hapless victim, that can no more bar its approach than you can hold back the tide, All gates snap open, all locks yield to its approach, and in the end, like the grim reaper, it takes what is its due, the soul of he whose time has been writ. 

The Dullahan
Daniel McDonagh, December 29, 2006 

The entrance to C’Adder is guarded by a creature
Who rides a black unicorn, carrying his head in his hand,
His eyes watch all strangers, pilgrims of God
Who have been chased from their dwellings, robbed of their land.
The Dullahan rides his black unicorn all day and night
As Neir watches through terrified eyes,
His laughter she hears, trying to cover her ears,
Knowing, when he stops riding, a mortal will die.

The Dullahan
PenAllen, 2011

When The Dullahan Passes By
When the Dullahan passes by
black eyes glare with demonic spite.
He decides when you’ve got to die.
Unlikely you’ll live through the night.

Black eyes glare with demonic spite
while cracking a spine tingling whip.
Unlikely you’ll live through the night.
This ghoul won’t be given the slip.

While cracking a spine tingling whip
the coffin cart rattles and groans.
This ghoul won’t be given the slip.
Hear how the banshee shrieks and moans.

The coffin cart rattles and groans.
He decides when you’ve got to die.
Hear how the banshee shrieks and moans
when the Dullahan passes by.

The Dullahan (The Dark Man)
John F. McCullagh, November 1, 2014

The Dullahan Rides
He rides his black steed through the countryside
and whenever he stops a mortal man dies.
He's the Angel of Death and worthy of dread;
dressed all in black and lacking a head.
In his left hand is a spine that he'll use as a whip.

In his right hand a scythe that will cut to the quick.
If you chance to observe him you may be struck blind
and still think yourself lucky that he left you behind.
If he pulls on the reins and he finds you outdoors
Your heart will stop dead and will beat nevermore.

There are buckets of blood where the Dullahan rides.
On all Hallows Eve you had best be inside.

The Dullahan
Dustin Kasinecz, 2017

The end arrived upon a steed of twilight...
The road wailed through the weird,
as fear would rise from orchard to weald,
galloping nightmares in fecundity;
galloping nightmares in ferocity.

The door died on the hinge,
as locks would rust from Hell to home,
shivering in the cold decline;
shivering in the cold denial of time.

The end arrived upon a steed of twilight,
as death would reign from terror to trite,
encroaching lash of that human spine;
encroaching damnation of searching eyes.

The soul was gone,
perished with a call,
from the Dullahan.

All Poems are wholly owned by the Poets.

The Art: