Ocanthus, Illustrated

A couple of years ago, Wizards of the Coast released a book entitled Manual of the Planes which described all manner of “other worlds” in the Dungeons & Dragons multiverse. For some unknown reason, I tucked away a memory of the description of Ocanthus, a layer of the plane of Acheron and thought it to be particularly gruesome. I don’t know why it stuck with me, but it did. Here is an excerpt of the description, quoted from the book:

The fourth layer of Acheron is lightless but filled with fast-flying, razor-thin shards. Some shards are little more than needles, while others are miles wide. The largest shards have their own objective gravity like the cubes of the upper layers, as well as a breathable if icy cold atmosphere. The constant blizzard of bladelike shards makes Ocanthus inimical to creatures and objects alike.

The shards are black ice, frozen into thin layers. Their collisions break them into progressively smaller shards, and eventually into needles and then dust. The shards all originate from a single source: the night-black boundary of Ocanthus, a sheet of infinite, magically charged black ice.

By sheer dumb coincidence, I stumbled upon a nearly perfect visual illustration of the plane in the form of an online game. I find it both intriguing and horrifying at the same time. So far, I’ve succeeded in dodging 354 shards in one game.

Navy, Kuwait

Received the following letter:

Hi Charles,
I wrote just to thank you for sending the care package. I really appreciate what you have done. It really means a lot to me and the rest of the guys. We thank you and salute you in your efforts to enrich our lives in our duty serving abroad. Thank you and God bless.



McWoD Delivers

About a year ago, I heard that veteran game designer, Monte Cook, would be writing his own version of White Wolf Games Studio’s World of Darkness setting. Mr. Cook is renowned for being one of the authors of the 3rd Edition of Dungeons & Dragons and owner of the very successful Malhavoc Press. As a fan of Monte’s work and of the World of Darkness, I was intrigued. I later discovered the project would be set in the World of Darkness setting but use the d20 rules. Because my players seem to favor d20, this really piqued my interest.

I purchased the PDF version of Monte Cook’s World of Darkness (or McWoD for short) from DriveThruRPG yesterday. Wow, just wow. It is a fantastic blend of d20, d20 Modern and Storytelling System that is easy to pick up and understand. Character creation is a snap; anyone who has played any of the d20 games can being playing this in a very, very short amount of time.

What is truly spectacular about the product is the creative twist on the old World of Darkness. Rather than running with the thousands of years of history the supernatural creatures in normal WoD possess, Monte made the appearance of supernatural creatures in the world a brand new occurance in McWoD. Basically, some Cthulu-esqe entities (known as the Iconnu) attempted to enter our reality in full, but failed. Instead, the attempt caused an explosion of supernatural energy that wiped out central USA and spread waves of nightmarish energy across the globe. The intrusion failed because of a number of humans, known as Awakened, whose subconscious powers were able to hold the barrier between worlds. Now, the Iconnu have sent their spiritual agents into the world to destroy the Awakened and bring the barrier crashing down. Their main agents consist of:

  • Vampires – The Iconnu brought forth the most evil, twisted souls of dead humans that ever existed and forced them into the bodies of living (and often innocent) people. The result killed the body and suffused it with the supernatural strength and power of the vampire. Like most traditional vampires, they drink blood, avoid sunlight, etc. However, they have a huge twist; there are two souls locked in the body. Some vampires are completely controlled by their “evil” soul, some by their “normal” soul, and some have a blend of both or even completely split personalities!
  • Werewolves – Where vampires are a fusion of a dead soul and a living soul, werewolves are the fusion of a primitive, primal spirit with a living soul. The result is a total meld of personalities into one body, with the bestial nature of the spirit mostly dominant. Werewolves are wild, dangerous creatures capable of tremendous destruction.
  • Demons – Not the traditional “devil” that immediately comes to mind, demons are spirit creatures brought forth from some unknown dimension. They are not merged with a living soul; instead, they have the power to take the shape of any human they wish and change that shape on a whim. The result is a powerful spirit entity that can hide anywhere! That little girl on the swing, the cop coming to your rescue, or the taxi driver picking you up could be a disguised demon waiting to rip you to shreds!

Players can be members of these three races; not all are loyal to the Iconnu. For example, sometimes the “wrong” soul is dominant in a vampire, or a werewolf puts its destructive urges to use against evil. Even a demon can change sides. Perhaps the allure of having a physical body is better than where it came from, and it is not interested in the Iconnu destroying this world. If these three options weren’t enough, there are two other options available:

  • Awakened – These are the humans who had the latent ability to hold reality together against the Iconnu. Thus, they are the target for most of the vampires, werewolves and demons out there. They have some supernatural talents and can really be the focus of many stories. If all the Awakened die, reality comes crashing down.
  • Mages – When the Iconnu backlash occured, mystical energy washed over the world. Suddenly, magic actually began working! Now, shapers of magic walk the world trying to learn new ways to unleash their talents. They are really the wild cards, because they have no ties to the Iconnu, nor are they targetted by them. Thus, a mage could be working for either side in this hidden war.

Antagonists in the game are regular humans (thus, a similarity to d20 Modern), one of the five “supernaturals” described above, or even more exotic monsters. Due to the Nightmare Wave, many bizarre creatures can be found in the world. The most bizarre are in places near the central US where the devastation was the worst. Most any d20 monster imaginable could crop up there. Further away things like ghosts and other undead, bizarre plants, giant insects and other sterotypical horror creatures could easily fit into the campaign.

The way the story is written, it allows the Iconnu intrusion to play as much or as little into the campaign as you want. It can be the entire focus, with players trying to protect Awakened and destroy minions of the Iconnu, or it can be way in the background. This allows for a post-apocalypse style of gaming all the up to a modern horror, depending on where you base your game in relation to the central US. I think that flexibility alone makes McWoD have huge appeal. You could easily replicate the feel of the TV show Supernatural with these rules. If you want more extreme, you can sway more toward the Mad Max feel.

All-in-all, I think McWoD is a brilliant adaptation of WoD. I think it is a niche market; most of your WoD purists are going to avoid it. However, it is a really good way to expose the d20 gamer market to an exciting and rich setting. After reading through it, all I could really say about is summed up in my first thoughts, “good stuff.”

Age of Worms Adventure Path – Game Session 50

Game summary for August 23, 2007; present characters included Ashkor (lizardfolk barbarian/battle sorcerer/dragon disciple/fighter), Iapetus Hasur (hu-charad giant rogue/vigilante), Jimiath “Jimmy” Firespark (halfling rogue/spellwarp sniper/wizard), Lady Aridarye Phylund Brokengulf (human aristocrat/harbinger/ranger cohort), Lyrin Sinbal (simian incantatrix/warmage), Morak Beardfist (shield dwarf fighter/rage cleric), Syvarius Strongbow (moon elf archer-ranger), Taravin Truesilver (human gray guard/paladin of honor), and Thoril Songsteel (human thug).

Almost immediately after defeating the corrupted angels and eladrin, another pair of doors burst open, and three swords of Kyuss led by a wormcaller attacked. Jimiath unleashed a wall of fire to hem in the undead and slow their advance. The flames proved particularly effective against the dead flesh and did slow the advance. Much to the chagrin of the Mercenaries, as the swords of Kyuss emerged from the flames, they revealed a horrific power. Channeling the dark, negative energy of their god, the swords dropped invocations of the worm on the clustered party members. These explosive bursts of fell energy tore into the heroes but actually healed the burned flesh of the undead. Within moments, the monsters healed the damage they took from the fire as well as the mighty blows landed by the Mercenaries’ frontline.

The barrage of negative energy proved too much for Aridarye and Jimiath to withstand, dropping both of them. A quick-thinking Morak cast a spell that revived Jimiath, but another invocation of the worm tore into the paladin, Taravin. His body could not stand the shock of the blast, and he was hurtled into oblivion. Ashkor and Iapetus held the front line while Syvarius blasted away with arrows. Thoril was rocked back on his heels and forced to fall back to recover. All the while, Morak Beardfist ran to and fro conjuring forth the healing blessings of Moradin. As things seemed most bleak, Lyrin unleashed the mightiest fireball he had ever cast, destroying two of the undead outright and weakening another significantly. Soon, the party proved victorious.

Staggered by their losses and depleted resources, the team barred themselves into the torture chamber to recover. Their slain allies were called back from the dead by the power of Moradin. The next morning, they gingerly crept out and began their exploration again.

The team experienced a vision in the library and saw the man they believe to be Kyuss studying some worn and pitted bronze disks under the tutelage of the six-armed insect creature. A deeper vision revealed the Netherese depiction of Jergal inscribing the disks while they were new.

Later, the team explored the outside of the Spire and flew to the top to investigate. Ashkor received another vision wherein he saw a trapezoid-like black monolith atop the Spire with some kind of figure raging within. Suddenly, a massive red dragon flew up, snatched the monolith and ripped it from its moorings. As Ashkor watched, the dragon and monolith faded into the distance as the beast flew North.

Age of Worms Adventure Path – Game Session 49

Game summary for August 16, 2007; present characters included Ashkor (lizardfolk barbarian/battle sorcerer/dragon disciple/fighter), Frank Urthadar (human evoker/sorcerer/ultimate magus), Iapetus Hasur (hu-charad giant rogue/vigilante), Lady Aridarye Phylund Brokengulf (human aristocrat/harbinger/ranger cohort), Lyrin Sinbal (simian incantatrix/warmage), Morak Beardfist (shield dwarf fighter/rage cleric), Syvarius Strongbow (moon elf archer-ranger), Taravin Truesilver (human gray guard/paladin of honor), and Thoril Songsteel (human thug).

The Mercenaries moved up the stairs into the ziggurat and were assaulted by two eviscerator beetles and a Kyuss knight. The undead monsters tore into Iapetus, causing him to retreat by flying and turning invisible. After a few moments of intense fighting, including a flurry of smites from Taravin, the undead were destroyed. Realizing they were weakened by their fight with the trolls earlier in the day and the brutal attack from the undead, the team pulled back and made camp in the jungle.

The next day, the team returned to the ziggurat and entered the central chamber. As they investigated a gaping hole in the floor, a flood of creatures spilled into the room, causing a riot of violence and carnage. A pair of angels of the worm, their arms turned to flaming swords and their feathery wings dripping worms, spearheaded the attack, followed closely by swarms of Kyuss worms. A worm-drenched ghaele eladrin entered the battle and used destruction to annihilate Frank. Seeing his ally destroyed, Lyrin fired back with a disintegrate, which completely eliminated the eladrin. The Mercenaries then finished off the remaining foes with stunning efficiency. As the last of the worms wriggled and died, another vision overtook the team.

Again the party sees a man they believe to be Kyuss. This time, the man is wearing robes and accepting a golden box from a six-armed rotting insect creature. He opens the box and extracts a single Kyuss worm with a pair of tongs. Taravin saw an even deeper vision, revealing a two-armed insect creature looking down on the proceedings holding an identical box. The paladin believes this matches an ancient Netherese depiction of Jergal, Seneschal of the Dead.

Ashkor used some of the remaining minutes of the fly spell Frank had cast to go 80 feet into the vapor-filed central hole. He then returned to the temple proper and the team investigated a side room the enemies had burst from. They discovered it to be an abandoned torture room with rusting equipment which Taravin quickly pocketed. Now the Mercenaries face a serious problem. Swarms of Kyuss worms cover the ground between the ziggurat and the obsidian ring, and Frank was the one who could make the party fly. If they leave the temple to recover, they may be unable to return; however, if they stay, they may be too weak to continue.

Age of Worms Adventure Path – Game Session 48

Game summary for August 9, 2007; present characters included Ashkor (lizardfolk barbarian/battle sorcerer/dragon disciple/fighter), Frank Urthadar (human evoker/sorcerer/ultimate magus), Iapetus Hasur (hu-charad giant rogue/vigilante), Lady Aridarye Phylund Brokengulf (human aristocrat/harbinger/ranger cohort), Lyrin Sinbal (simian incantatrix/warmage), Morak Beardfist (shield dwarf fighter/rage cleric), Syvarius Strongbow (moon elf archer-ranger), Taravin Truesilver (human gray guard/paladin of honor), and Thoril Songsteel (human thug).

Some of the Mercenaries opted to drink from the Fountain of Fortune’s Folly, while Taravin and Lyrin abstained. Ashkor’s drink produced greater strength, but his left arm withered into uselessness. Frank’s physical frailty amplified even further, but his force of personality greatly rose, making his sorcerous talents even more impressive. Iapetus discovered new insight and understanding with an increased intellect, but he found himself unable to naturally heal injury and resistant to magical healing. Lady Aridarye’s physical resistance to damage decreased, but her sharp mind became more able to repel mental influence. The dwarven cleric, Morak Beardfist, found his reaction times greatly slowed, but his profound wisdom deepened, making him a divine caster of phenominal strength. Syvarious found much of his physical wealth turning to vapor, but his fluid grace to avoid damage amplified. Finally, Thoril’s body surged with new strength, but his reaction times declined.

After their preparations, Malchor Harpell revealed a magical painting that looks in on Kuluth-Mar. Unfortunately, the party had no means to transport themselves magically to the city. Malchor used a powerful spell to send them to the city, and Morak was prepared to use word of recall to get back home later. Once within Kuluth-Mar, a vision filled their minds. They saw the jungle city in its heyday filled with humans bowing before a bethroned man. The chant of “Kyuss” roared from the crowd as the black-armored man stared out across the throng.

The Mercenaries set out cutting a swath through the overgrowth toward the Spire of Long Shadows. Before long, a trio of trolls assaulted the team. The Mercenaries had little difficulty bringing them down and burning their bodies. The most resistance was encountered by the female troll druid who entangled the group.

Finally, the Mercenaries arrived at an obsidian ring rising 30 feet high with the draconic inscription of “Kyuss Forever Bound” around the rim. Syvarious and Thoril flew up to the top and looked out at the ziggurat and rising Spire about 100 feet from the inside of the ring. They noticed a worm-covered figure walking on the ziggurat. The creature seemed to notice them and quickly went inside.

Now, the Mercenaries are all flying at high speed from the obsidian wall toward the ziggurat. What horrors await?

PlemCon III Results

Saturday, August 4th, was a celebration of 5 years of our gaming group getting together to play role-playing games. I dubbed this event PlemCon III. Several friends came over to participate in a gaming event that started at 11:00 a.m. and lasted until a little after 7:00 p.m.

The first game used the Dungeons & Dragons 3.5 Edition rules with a Masters of the Universe setting. We had a good time having the Heroic Warriors such as Ram-Man, Teela, Man-at-Arms and Fisto brawl it out with Evil Warriors like Stinkor, Skeletor, Clawful, Evil Lyn, Tri-Klops, Trapjaw and Two-Bad! The setup was a variation of capture the flag, which turned out in the end to be a little less exciting than was hoped. I think a good time was still had, but the game went downhill toward the end.

Things picked up with the second game session, though! We played an adventure called Road Trip of the Damned using the Unisystem rules from All Flesh Must Be Eaten. The players fought a horde of zombies (including zombie cows) in the sleepy town of Wherewith, Alabama. The group did a good job finding weapons, including baseball bats, tire irons, flashlights, shotguns and even a rifle. Several zombies met a second death at their hands, and one of the characters turned into a zombie. Most of the group seemed to escape on a motorboat across Lake Martin only to be executed by the military later on. The handful of characters who had not been bitten were able to get away and live to party another day.

Lock Up the Dungeon

When I first read about it, it seemed so far away… in a few months, the last print issue of Dungeon magazine would ship. Where the time went, I know not, but this afternoon, for the last time, I opened the mailbox to find that final issue waiting. I have enjoyed the pages of Dungeon since I was about 11. Every issue has brought excitement and anticipation as I flip through the pages reading the adventure ideas of some of the most creative people to ever play Dungeons & Dragons. Soon, the “online model” of Dungeon will premiere, but the nostolgia is gone.

And so tonight, as the last page was read, and the cover closed, I could hear the lock and key click as the Dungeon locked for the final time. Our near twenty years of adventure come, as all things must, to an end.

Age of Worms Adventure Path – Game Session 47

Game summary for August 2, 2007; present characters included Ashkor (lizardfolk barbarian/battle sorcerer/dragon disciple/fighter), Frank Urthadar (human evoker/sorcerer/ultimate magus), Iapetus Hasur (hu-charad giant rogue/vigilante), Lady Aridarye Phylund Brokengulf (human aristocrat/harbinger/ranger cohort), Lyrin Sinbal (simian incantatrix/warmage), Morak Beardfist (shield dwarf fighter/rage cleric), Syvarius Strongbow (moon elf archer-ranger), Taravin Truesilver (human gray guard/paladin of honor), and Thoril Songsteel (human thug).

While awaiting the return of Malchor Harpell, the party relaxed in the Gilded Horseshoe. Cymria came by and informed them that Malchor would see them that night in his Twilight Tower. Frank, Aridarye and Morak engaged in a day of heavy drinking in the meantime. The Mercenaries headed out of town toward the tower when night fell.

Not far from town, a group of two barbed devils and four bone devils accosted the party demanding they turn over their fragment of the Shattered Scepter of Calim. Naturally, the Mercenaries refused and drove the devils back into Hell with a brutal fight. Several of the party members were badly weakened by the bone devil poison, but there were no casualties among the Mercenaries.

When the party spoke to Malchor about the attack, he asked to see the fragment. After verifying the authenticity of the item, the archmage retrieved a number of power magic items from his vaults. He offered to trade the Mercenaries these items of power in return for the fragment. They agreed after deciding the fragment would be safer locked away in the vault of an archmage.

The powerful Harpell went on to talk about the origins of Kyuss in the far-off city of Kuluth-Mar in the jungles of Chult. His one-time companion, Balakarde made several trips years ago to the ruins of the city and found it still contained the Spire of Long Shadows where he believed Kyuss ascended to godhood. Kyuss’ power seems to have receeded from the city, although it still teems with the remnants of his followers. Balakarde was unable to penetrate into the Spire and disappeared after leaving some of his notes with Malchor.

It is Malchor’s belief that there are important secrets to find in Kuluth-Mar, perhaps in the Spire of Long Shadows. The party now prepares for an expedition to the ancient city. Before they set out, Malchor has offered them the opportunity to drink from the Fountain of Fortune’s Folly, a powerful relic that grants both a permanent boon and bane. Will any of the Mercenaries partake? Will the choice really result in fortune, or is the use of the device pure folly?