Saturday, 30 April 2011

Monster Post About the Bestiary

DHBoggs said . . .
It would be interesting to know more "behind the curtain" details about the setting and monsters. I mean some seem to be obvious adaptations of D&D monsters, others of various Arthurian and folklore origins, others like your Hrafnmenn more original. But it would be nice to know what comes from where in more instances.

It’s great to be asked for actual in depth info on stuff, so I’ll gladly oblige. Three websites have been invaluable when creating the Redwald Bestiary . . .
and most of all

Most of the Google searches for the bestiary led to Wikipedia. I also sometimes use Bosworth and Toller’s OE Dictionary.
The reason I mention the webpages is because there are three ways in which the Redwald monsters have been created.

1) I have an idea for a monster and then use the translator to find a good OE Name.

The Hrafnmenn that DHBoggs mentions were created that way. The original idea comes from some fiction I’m working on. It has nothing to do with Saxons (it’s middle-east bronze age swords and sorcery) and the Crowmen of that fiction are nothing like the Redwald Ravenmen except for the cloak of black feathers. In the fiction the crowmen are a shadowy organisation who are kind of scavengers in search of new things they can take apart, learn about, and add to the empires knowledge base. Nothing like the Hrafnmenn . . .

Hræfnmenn (Ravenmen)
Little is known of these vile creatures. Some believe them to be evil spirits; others say they are a Réðealingas cult of death wittas. Some say they glide down from the trees to feed, some say they burst up through earth straight from the underworld. They appear as men with skin as pale as the moon. They go naked save for a cloak of Raven feathers and a raven beaked helm that covers their face but not their mouth. They carry black bladed short swords curved like a raven’s beak. They appear after small battles and skirmishes to feast on the eyes of the dead. They only ever appear in threes. They ignore the living unless they are foolish enough to interfere with their feasting.

The Hræfnmenn: AC: 3 [16]; HD: 3+3; Attacks; 3 Raven blade (3 damage each hit); Special: Eye pluck counter; Move: 13; HDE/XP: 3/333.
If anyone attacking a Hræfnmenn rolls a 3 on their to-hit roll he immediately counters by plucking the attacker’s eye out reducing them to 3 Hit Points.

. . . not at all like the Crowmen. The theme of 3 in the stats just flowed from the idea that they came in threes, which is a very ‘big’ number in magic and mythology, especially Celtic mythology. I think the Hræfnmenn have a definite Celtic vibe.

2) I take monsters associated with Saxon and Celtic mythology and mess about with them.

There are certain monsters you just have to have in a Saxon based RPG. Trolls, Giants, Dragons, being the main three. When creating these I’m looking at some of the sources in the bibliography, but mostly I’m Googling ‘Anglo-Saxon monsters’, ‘Trolls’ or running them through the translator and seeing what comes up.

For example Niht Genga (Night goer) is a term used in Beowulf in reference to Grendel, but it is also more generally used term for any monster that goes about its grim business and night and has a strong association with Goblins so I used Niht Genga for the Goblins. To make them stand out a little from D&D Goblins I simply made them the opposite of what they are in D&D I made them scarce, a breed dwindling in numbers and power.

The Giants I had some fun with. One of the hard parts of using Anglo-Saxon mythology is that it’s basically the same as Norse Mythology (Woden/Odin) but with less detail and often overshadowed by the Norse version. However, when it comes to Giants we have a great tradition in the UK although not necessarily Anglo-Saxon. So all of Redwald’s Giants are British Giants. Some are just stories and folk law, but they’re all asociated with various places around the country. Some can still be found carved in the landscape; such as the Rude Man of Hlæw . . .

The Rude Man of Hlæw
The rude man of Hlæw haunts the burial mounds of Midlandseax. Twelve foot tall, and naked he is a strange and intimidating foe. His head is comparatively small for his body size and he wears a constant expression of shock; perhaps because his manhood is comparatively large for his body size and is in a constant state of excitement. Any man thus confronted must make a Saving Throw or run in fear (or perhaps shame). Strangely, the Rude Man’s nakedness doesn’t seem to scare women. He fights with a war club, his only possession.

The Rude Man of Hlæw: AC: 6 [13]; Hit Dice: 8+2; HP: 33; Attacks: 1 Club (2d6); Special: Induces fear in men (ST) ; Move: 12; HDE/XP: 9/1100 . . .

The trolls I simply used a spin on the more Tolkinesque version, rather than the Poul Anderson stringy green D&D types. I also made them a single family of Trolls. Dwindling numbers of near extinct monsters is a theme in Redwald that I did have in mind from the start.

There are few things straight out of, or inspired by Celtic mythology such as the Cauldron Born who are from the Mabinogion, and the Deorcynn which are deer-headed beastmen inspired by the Celtic god Cernunnos.

Of course it’s not always clear cut, for example the creation method for the Redwald Dragons uses method 2 and method 3 . . .

3) Find intriguing monster names in the Old English Translator, investigate (Google) and invent (make shit up).

Obviously Dragons are a mainstay of myth, but one of the glorious quirks of Old English is that it often has a ton of kennings, or poetic turns of phrase, or variations for one thing. So, when I put Dragon through the translator not only did I find the OE word for Dragon I also found a whole load of colourful names for Dragons. As I had already decided I wanted individual dragons this was a Boon. I simply took these colourful dragon names (Twilightflyer, Flamespewer, Earthdargon, etc.) and used the names as inspiration when creating the individual dragons.

I’ve been using the translator constantly since starting Redwald. I can set out to look up one word, and before I know it an hour has passed as one word leads to another, kind of like a wikiwalk. A lot of the monsters were stumbled on and sometimes it kind of works in the reverse of method two. I’d accidentally find something intriguing whilst messing about with the translator, such as the Naedercynn (snake tribe) and Spiderwhit (Spider Wight) then I’d Google that and see if there was anything interesting in the mythology associated with the intriguing name. Sometimes there was, such as with the Spider Wight and I could use that to create the monster. Other times such as with the Naedercynn I couldn’t find anything so made it all up.

Other times I’d take something like Wælwulfas (Slaughter Wolves) now the listing in the translator has them as Cannibal warriors in modern English, but Wæl is OE for Slaughter, and Wulf is obviously a wolf. So there’s a good chance that Slaughter Wolf is just a kenning for Vikings, but it might also point to cannibalism because wolves would often feast on the dead after battle, and Bosworth and Toller have a listing for cannibal warriors under the same name. Then there’s the Andreas OE poem that mentions Cannibals from a fanciful place called Mermedonia, and then there’s the 13th Warrior. So throw ‘em all in the pan, bring to the boil, simmer and season and . . .

Wælwulfas (Slaughter Wolves)
Legend tells that the cannibal warriors known as the Wælwulfas came to Rædwald from a far off land called Mermedonia, but any who survive contact with them know these eaters of the dead must be denizens of the underworld. They are a primitive and violent tribe of cannibals who migrate from place to place, seeking new caves to dwell in and civilised lands to raid. They dress themselves in wolf furs, cover their heads and faces with wolf heads, and even fight with wolf claw clubs all to give the impression that they are an inhuman beast, but any warrior who has stood against them and lived to tell the tale is able to confirm that it was ‘just a man’ he fought.

Wælwulfas: AC: 7[12]; HD: 1+1; Attacks: Wolf Claw Club 1d6; Special: Fear the Wolf; Saving Throw: 14; Move: 14; HDE/XP: 2/20.

The first time these fearsome warriors are encountered a saving throw must be made. If it is failed the victim is overcome with fear of such an unnatural foe and runs. This affect only works on those yet to realise the Wælwulfas are merely men . . .

. . .This method is hard to separate from method two, because obviously if the monsters are in OE they’re from the mythology to a certain extent. In much the same way method one and three are similar.

So that’s it. Anyone who want a closer look at the Bestiary can find it at Mike D’s Sword+1 blog. Mike was kind enough to do the layout and host the Bestiary for which I’m extremely grateful.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Other Stuff

I’m gearing up to write a longish post about the bestiary, but in the meantime the Z – is for Zinth post got me thinking about other stuff I’m interested in playing with when Redwald is done.

All the titles are working titles. . .

Tongue in cheek Post Apoc RPG where the players are part of a community that bases its culture on spectacularly bad Extruded Fantasy Product. All the characters are human, but short ugly dude are forced to live underground, grow beards, drink ‘ale’ and use axes. Anyone tall and pretty has to shave, grow their hair long, dye it blond, live in the forest and learn to use a bow. The rest get to be warriors, wizards, clerics, etc. Wizards have spells which are actually military ordinance, and Clerics use all sorts of non-military tech (like the silver box of death metal ear bleeding). Warriors get a bunch of randomly stupid household goods converted into arms and armour. The party have to baby sit a useless Lvl 0 Farm boy aka the chosen one and quest for the Twelfth Book of Zinth (which was never published).

Lords of Iron and Fire
This is a rules supplement and setting. It’s a generic low fantasy setting, in which the players are amongst the first generation of people to develop superpowers. So, yeah it’s a Heroes (the TV show) and low level D&D mash-up.

Spine world
This is a setting. It’s basically a planet where all the land mass forms a thin equatorial belt (or spine) around the planet and the rest is just sea. It’s all volcanic rainforest/jungle and islands. Player Races are small isolated tribes of humans (with fantasy analogues of various Polynesian cultures) the more numerous Lizard men (tribal Stone Age types and aloof high culture types) dwindling communities of laser lance wielding birdmen, and solitary panther men. There is also an NPC Mesoamerican style ziggurat culture of human slaves controlled by alien Sorcerer kings to provide a healthy supply of combative evil.
D&D India
A not at all well researched or historically correct D&D India setting. Could call it Thuggees & Fakirs. Beyond Elephant Headed clerics, and Monkey Men archers, I haven’t thought about it that much. But Indian mythology is a rich source of inspiration that should be great fun plunder for D&D.

B/X/Labyrinth Lord Sword & Sorcery Setting
I have a few ideas about re-skinning the B/X classes and adding a few other magic systems to fit a Sword & Sorcery setting I have in mind. Although I’ve also considered using the same setting for a BRP setting or a Savage Worlds Plot Point Setting.
T&T Samurai Setting
A setting inspired by two of my teenage obsessions: Shogun and Bushido. The evil Shogun and his consort on the verge of defeat unleashed a terrible magic that broke the walls between this world and the other world. Now he has an army of Bakemono and every time one his Samurai are struck down it rises to fight on beyond death. The player characters are all Ronin, Tengu sword saints, Kitsune Shugenja, wondering Budoka and Warrior Priests, and Ninja Kappa. The Bad guys are demons, Bakemono, samurai and zombie samurai. This is another setting I thought might work for a savage worlds plot point adventure.

Dungeon Bastards
This is an idea I had for a very basic (ha) Retro clone in the format of a Graphic novel. It’s tongue in cheek, wilfully dumb, and fun. However I can’t draw so until I find an artist insane enough to throw himself into a project like this I console myself by writing Dungeon Bastards fiction. I’m working on - Dungeon Bastards Book 1: In Search of the Not Known - and I’m having a blast.

I'd like to attempt a setting made entirely of random tables. The first of which would be a 1d4 roll to see which of the four maps the campaign would be set in.

EDIT: Keep Remembering stuff . . .

Princes, Rogues, Ogres, Goblins
Take King crimson's In the Court of the Crimson King, a handful of other  D&D lyric Prog Rock classics such as Tull's Broadsword and the Beast , a few posters and gatefold album covers by Roger Dean and Rodney Matthews mix that all up in my brain circa '87 when I was in my Carlos Castenanda/Aldlous Huxley/Dali/Fear and Loathing phase and voila there's one fucked up setting I'd love to write, run, and evenm play in.

Looking at the above list of possible projects I realise I need to work faster. Especially as I haven't finished Redwald

Saturday, 23 April 2011

A-Z Challlenge: S,T, U, V, W, X, Y, and Z but Mainly Z for Zinth

As I’ve mentioned, I’ve run out of steam and am a bit burnt out on the A-Z Challenge. Although, I must say I’ve enjoyed the whole experience. It was a lot of work, not only coming up with my own posts, but trying to read and comment on some of the other OSR A-Z challenges. Which was something I wanted to do because a) a lot of good stuff was being written and deserved comments, and b) lots of folks took the time to read and post on my A-Z comments.

Anyway, I won’t be finishing, but I will skip to end and top off the challenge with what was always going to be my Z post.

Zinth is one of the projects on my list of stuff I want to do when Redwald is finished. The full title is The Twelfth Book of Zinth: Fantasy Roleplaying in a World Gone Wrong. Here’s the imaginary back cover blurb . . .

On January the 7th, 1977 epic fantasy author Albert J.R. Sandal published the first book in what would become his magnum opus: The Twelve Books of Zinth. His story would span Twelve massive tomes telling the epic tale of the plucky farm boy Garic, raised by the wizard G’nark, and Garic’s part in the Prophecy of G’nadranax, his journey with a band of heroic companions as he quests for the Sword of Density, and his fight against the Evil Overlord Tu’Darc the Slayful, and his Legions of Awks, all set in Zinth; Sandal’s ‘unique’ fantasy world.

The majority of critics, and fantasy fans the world over, had decided that the Twelve Books of Zinth series were the worst, most derivative, and all round badly written Fantasy novels in the history of derivative badly written fantasy novels. Sales of books 1-3 were lower than hoped, sales of books 4-7 terrible, and sales of books 8-11 had dwindled so much and that by January the 7th, 1987  book 12 was cancelled by the publishers.

Even if reprints of book 11 fixed the typo that turned the Sword of Destiny in to the Sword of Density, and made all conversations about Garic’s ultimate Destiny laugh out loud funny, it was agreed that no amount of editing could save the Books of Zinth from their ultimate destiny: being pulped.

Albert J.R. Sandal was devastated.

He needn’t have worried.

On January 27th 1987 the world as we knew it ended . . .

. . . It is the 76th Year of Zinth, 76 Years since our small community found the first of the great tomes of knowledge written by blessed father Sandal. The wisdom and heroic deeds found within the pages of the Holy Books of Zinth have brought hope and strength to us and for now at least we are safe from the ravages of Awks, and we thrive. But alas none of our Garics' have ever returned with the Sword of Density. I and the council have agreed that a new quest is needed; our knowledge must be complete so next years’ chosen one and his companions will set out in search of the Twelfth Book of Zinth . . .

. . . The 77th Year of Zinth. It goes well. This years’ crop of Garics have been kept isolated on the farm, and know nothing beyond the digging of dung and the herding of cattle. Perfect preparation for the quest. We have already picked our G’Nark Gorefire. Of all this years’ wizards he showed the greatest mastery of the magical artefacts: the M61 Ball of Boom and the M1 Stick of Pointing Death. We have also selected our Garth Grimjack the warrior. His tongue has been severed to greater aid his strong and silent demeanour and I only hope the mighty blade of letter opening and his armour of bakeofoil will serve him well in his duty protecting the life of our chosen Garic. There are but a few more selections to be made: Gifford the Greedy the Roguish Thief, Gorfin Greatbeard the Dwarf, Glalgerrion the Goode the Elfin Archer, Geoffrey Greyrobe the Cleric of Gark, and Sheila the Warrior Princess.

When the final choices have been made Dale and his heroic companions will leave the city of Zinth and embark upon the ultimate quest: the Quest for the Twelfth Book of Zinth!

Thursday, 21 April 2011

A - Z Challenge: R - Running out of Steam

As the title says, I'm running out of steam and struggling to think of topics. This April A-Z Challenge is quite a tough one. I've pretty much said all I have to say about writing Redwald, and am now looking forward to gettimng back to actually writing Redwald. I'll prolly recharge my battries and try and get it done though and I have enjoyed it.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

A - Z Challenge: Q - Quick, not so much.

I don't work quickly and I've been hacking (sic) away at this for over a year now. The jobs needed to do to get the first draft finished are . . .

1) Shieldwall: Abstract Skirmish Rules for Warbands.
This is simple enough (well it is in my head, but maybe that's because I have a simple little brain!). Should be easy to write up. There's not much to it.

2) Finish the Bestiary.
There are a few more monsters to do, some animals, an entry on non combatants, but mostly it the write ups for Aelfcynn, Dwearogas, and Eorthwerod that need to be done. Easy enough just a case of getting down to it.

3) Mission Generator
I had an idea for this, but I think I forgot it. D'oh! I usually remember these things when I start to jot down notes, and brainstorm ideas. Basically were just talking about random tables, maybe a card draw. I think some of the Adventure Generators from various Savage Worlds Plot Point settings were my orginal inspiration.

4) An example Campaign/Kingdom set up.
Just a basic walk through of how I grow a campaign based on the paragraph of kingdom info and input from the players, etc.

5) Redwald Specific GM Advice.
Kind of a how-you-might-like-to-run-Redwald-but-are-in-no-way-being-told-you-must guide. Not looking forward to this.

6) Finishing Touches there are a few obvious things I've not touched on  like death and damage and what happens when HPs hit 0, other little bits like that.

I'll tick 'em off and report them here at this blog as I do them. See now I've said that I'll have to pull my finger out and get it done.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

A-Z Challenge: P - P is for Playtest

Playtest. Anyone able and willing to run one?  A blind playtest (where someone who isn't the author runs the game without any input other than the book) would be helpful. Geordie Racer did a short-lived, but never the less helpful playtest for which I'm grateful, but more playtests, from more folks, would be cool.

Monday, 18 April 2011

A - Z Challenge: O - O is For OD&D Saxon Rampage

I haven’t got much to say today other than I love the OSR. Love it. A ton of stuff has already been blogged about the OSR and I find it weird how some folk can get themselves into such a stew about some of it, and even actively hate the OSR. I won’t go over that because other blogs such as the excellent series of posts over at There's Dugneons Down Under covered it in depth.

What I like about the OSR is I get to enjoy D&D all over again. I was a second gen kid. I came to RPG’s with no wargaming or Sword & Sorcery pulp fiction background. I came in with a background in King Arthur, Jason and the Argonauts, Sinbad, the Water Margin, the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, 2000AD, Blake’s 7, Star Trek, and Star Wars. I took D&D, and all those other games, and played hero-centric epic high fantasy and space opera. That’s when we weren’t playing through the old TSR Modules that were totally unepic, but great fun.

Back then I didn’t even realise OD&D existed. I thought AD&D was the first edition, there was no internet, shit here in the UK I don’t think I even ever saw a copy of Dragon magazine (although we had our own White Dwarf and that rocked). So I never knew or heard, anything about the way the game was played in the very early days: megadungeons, sandbox campaigns, hirelings, and the high attrition rate of low level characters. The idea of avoiding monsters was completely alien to us back then, as was not cheating when you rolled your stats, or characters dying (hey we were snot nosed kids). That’s one of the reasons why I like Swords & Wizardry: White Box so much. The chance to play a familiar game in a totally different way.

I’ve been playing (well GMing I rarely play or want to) since 1980. I was a snot nosed second gen kid playing at the height of D&D’s early 80’s fad popularity. I played the hell out of T&T, B/X D&D, Runequest, Bushido, Traveller, WHFRP, and Golden Heroes from 80-86 and owned a ton of other games that were rarely played, but read over and over. I can honestly say the OSR, what’s happening now, although not as widely popular, is as exciting as those early days in the hobby. Different, but for me at least, just as much fun.

Saturday, 16 April 2011

A-Z Challenge: N – Nine Herb Charm

“A snake came crawling, it bit a man. Then Woden took nine glory-twigs, Smote the serpent so that it flew into nine parts. There apple brought this pass against poison, That she nevermore would enter her house.”

The Nine Herb Charm is a famous Old English poem (as far as OE poems go). You can read it in OE and translation here. It’s interesting and I could have used to base a system of Saxon healing magic, maybe even a Cleric/Priest class, but I decided not to go that way. Instead I gave it to the Wildling Wicce as a major healing magic. It can cure anything, poison, curse, disease, fatal wounds anything, but the Wicce can only do this nine times (and each time must pay a price).

What the Nine Herb Charm represents then, in the context of the A-Z Challenge, is that although different in feel, tone, and rules to D&D; Redwald is still D&D. Sometimes it serves the game better to ignore history, mythology, folklore, well-loved fantasy fiction, and any other influence and just use material the way you think works best for the game.  We can read history, Tolkien, and Beowulf, study mythology and folklore, but the game is the game and there should never be a situation where what is ‘historically correct’ or ‘established knowledge’ or worst of all sins ‘canon’ is allowed to get in the way of the game you and your group play at the table.

That’s why, compared to what you might think you’d find in an Anglo-Saxon Dark Ages RPG, there are things that are different, missing, randomly added, or even plain wrong found in Redwald.

Friday, 15 April 2011

A-Z Challenge: Morally Grey

I didn’t start Redwald with a Forge-type agenda, and it’s not a focused storytelling game with a set premise, but Redwald games will inevitably revolve around moral, or immoral, choices the players must make. A Redwald party of Wolfshead outlaws are after all the dark ages equivalent of a Special Forces team, or mafia crew. Either way their job is to cause mayhem and mischief, and decimate the ranks of their lord’s enemy

There aren’t really any good guys, and bad guys in Redwald just lots of people lusting after power. It’s a common enough set-up. The characters are flawed anti-heroes with a shady past in the employ of an ambitious patron they might not like and really shouldn’t trust.

Of course, you could play it straight if you wanted, the characters could be like a delta team in the employ of a ‘noble’ lord, only targeting the baddies. Personally I think that would be a bit dull, but you could do it that way.

Still, I doubt any OSR gamers will have problems with moral grey areas. I don’t think I’ve ever run, or played, in a D&D game where the players didn’t cut the throats of every Kobold caught in throes of magical slumber, or casually slaughtered any Orc foolish enough to get himself captured or surrender.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

A - Z Challenge: L - L is For Levels

"There are only three levels in Redwald . . .

Wulfeshéafod(Wolfshead)      0 -  3,999  XP
Hildewulf(Hero)              4,000 - 31,999  XP
Wulfdryhten(Wolflord)        32,000+ XP

The Wulfeshéafod

The Wolfshead has a past and is an experienced warrior, but has recently become útlagan (outlaw)and is new to life as a Wolfshead. They are outcasts and below even slaves in the eyes of society. Only service to a Thegn, and his name, protects them. Otherwise they'd be hunted throughout the land and forced to eke out a meagre and miserable living in the wildlands.

The Hildewulf
The Hero is someone who has started to gain respect, some renown, and perhaps is even feared by some. Though still technically an outlaw, they are respected as loyal warriors of the local Thegn. At some stage they're likely to come to the attention of their Thegn's Ealdorman, who may take them under his direct protection and command. If they sereve an ambitious Thegn, he’ll use them to make sure he becomes the Ealdorman they serve.

A Wulflord is someone who by cunning and force of arms has earned a place of respect in society, particularly the martial warrior culture. Although they will never quite lose that outlaw sheen, in the eyes of normal folk, any warrior will gladly serve alongside and even under a powerful Wolflord. At some stage their King may even have a need for their services. It is also possible that their service will put the Ealdorman they serve on the throne and make him their King.

This three level style is based on Dave Arneson’s, Veteran, Hero, and Superhero style from his Blackmoor campaign in the early days of the hobby. Often he wouldn’t even keep score of xp and would just decide when his players had done enough to advance a level. This is a method a Redwald Referee could also adopt. It would be equally simple to raise or lower the listed xp requirements to get the length of campaign and pace of advancement you want."

The above is an extract from the rules.
I’m pretty sure it was in one of James Mal’s Grognardia posts where I first read about Dave Arneson’s way of handling levels. Why some criticise Grognardia for his interest in the history of the hobby I don’t know. Personally I find it fascinating.

Anyway, the three levels are not merely about novelty. One of the major concepts of Redwald is that it is a mini-campaign setting; a short term diversion from the usual game. This is partly because I’m a game whore. I like to run a variety of systems, and settings. The other reason is because although not humourless, and definitely not ‘serious business ’ Redwald does have a darker and more straight-laced feel to the way I normally run things.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

A - Z Challenge: K - K is for Cyningas

Of course K is actually for Kings, but in Old English there is no Letter K and C is used instead and Kings in OE are Cyningas.

Saxon Kingship differs from the more familiar later Feudal set up which is most often seen in RPGs. Early Saxon kingships, wasn’t hereditary and wasn’t permanent. Kings were chosen by their peers, and ruled only as long as their kingship was deemed successful, which invariably meant successful in war. A king considered unskilled or even unlucky in war would be replaced.

Another noticeable difference is the concept of dual kingship. Kingdoms were often divided into two, with a king ruling each half of the kingdom, but nominally ruling the whole kingdom together. Very often these dual kings would be related, father and son, brothers, cousins, etc. This would cut down on rivalry (a little). Another common practice would be to pair a young king, with an older king; the older king guiding and advising the younger. This provided a certain amount of continuity when the younger king eventually became the senior king in a new partnership.

There is one other element of early Saxon kingship that is the most important in the context of Redwald, and that’s the fact that the assassination of kings seemed to be a national sport.

Seriously if you were in the kingly burial mound business you’d have plenty of work. A usurper would barely have the knife out of his predecessor's back, the crown on his head, and his arse on his throne before he’d be fending off the first attempt on his own life. Plenty of work for the player characters in other words.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

A-Z Challenge: J - Justice

In Earth’s late Saxon and Norse cultures, especially post Christianisation, there were plenty of codified laws and a system known as Wergild. Wergild is derived from OE were for man (as in werewolf) and geld for payment (as in the Danegeld) and is a system of blood money, with a variety of payments due the injured party for a variety of crimes. For instance killing a slave will cost you 60 shillings, a Ceorl 200 shillings, a Landless Thegn 600 shillings, and Thegn 1,200 shillings.  Which is all very interesting, but for Redwald I’ve gone with the older Blood feud, might is right, form of (in)justice as it’s a little more chaotic and offers more potential for trouble.

It’s very basic. The lord, whether he is Thegn, Ealdorman, or King keeps the peace. His word is law and he backs that law up with his sword. If you kill, injure, or insult someone they or their family will try to seek vengeance in the old fashioned and direct manner.
It’s not uncommon for a blood feud to run for generations, or escalate in to a very nasty conflict splitting entire communities. Of course trying to seek vengeance is the key here. If you’re a Ceorl a mere farmer, you’re unlikely to have much luck seeking vengeance against a Thegn or Ealdorman. Usually though it’s the local lord who ultimately puts an end to a blood feud. Either simply by warning all involved the bloodshed must end, or by taking sides and ending it by eliminating one of the factions. Not pretty, not fair, but hopefully lots of adventure fodder.

Monday, 11 April 2011

A-Z Challenge: I – Illustration

Well this is an on topic post. To my mind art and illustrations in RPGs are as important as the rules themselves. My first introduction to the hobby happened during a break between French and Double Maths (shudder) my friend Gareth asked if I wanted to play Tunnels & Trolls. What’s Tunnels & Trolls I asked? It's like the Hobbit but you get to be the hero says he. That statement alone was enough to make me flip my little lid, but then he whipped out ‘Sword for Hire’ and 3d6 . . .

That picture; the idea that I, obsessed with King Arthur, Greek Myths, and Tolkien, could be that guy: the warrior with shield and sword. In a game! Sold for life!
In those early years I can’t tell you much time, I spent flipping through T&T, D&D, Runequest, White Dwarf, and a host off RPGs, and supplements and daydreaming. Rules, modules, supplements, and articles gave me the tools to play. Art and illustrations gave me the inspiration.

In a fantasy unlimited budget scenario have ideas for how I’d like Redwald illustrated and what I want illustrated.  For the cover I don’t want art I want Graphics. Ideally a glossy black cover with the title text in gold or silver runic font and a simple graphic representation of the Sutton Hoo helmet that  features in the background of this blog.
For the interior art it has to be black-and-white line drawing. Preferably by a single artist. Something with the same dark feel as Les Evans work for Sorcerer and Sword. While I’m fantasising I’d also like as many of the examples from the rules illustrated and other action scenes, illos for each class archetype, and for as many of the Bestiary entries as possible.

Saturday, 9 April 2011

A – Z Challenge: H – Hræfnmenn

The Hræfnmenn are the first original monster I created for Redwald, since they’re not from D&D or Mythology. They also informed the way I went about stating up the other monsters. Having decided the Hræfnmenn always appear in threes; I made as many as their stats as possible relate to the number 3. I also gave them a special attack that had its own little sub-rule. I tried to carry that craziness over to the rest of monsters and gave as many of them as possible their own unique Special Attack.

Here they are . . .

Hræfnmenn (Ravenmen)

Little is known of these vile creatures. Some believe them to be evil spirits, others say they are a Réðealingas cult of death wittas. Some say they glide down from the trees to feed, some say they burst up through earth straight from the underworld. They appear as men with skin as pale as the moon. They go naked save for a cloak of Raven feathers and a raven beaked helm that covers their face but not their mouth. They carry black bladed short swords curved like a raven’s beak. They appear after small battles and skirmishes to feast on the eyes of the dead. They only ever appear in threes. They ignore the living unless they are foolish enough to interfere with their feasting.

The Hræfnmenn: AC: 3 [16]; HD: 3+3; Attacks; 3 Raven blade (3 damage each hit); Special: Eye pluck counter; Move: 13; HDE/XP: 3/333.

If anyone attacking a Hræfnmenn rolls a 3 on their to-hit roll it immediately counters by plucking the attacker’s eye out reducing them to 3 Hit Points.

Friday, 8 April 2011

A - Z Challenge: G - Game Design

I don’t consider what I’m doing with Redwald to be Game Design. I liken it more to the FPS Modding scene. For the non-gamers out there a FPS stands for First Person Shooter, a run and gun game. Modders take the source code from a game like Call of Duty then reskin the character models, weapons, and the background terrain so instead of a modern warfare game you might have Sci-Fi or Civil War characters, weapons and backgrounds for example. So although it plays more or less the same as the original it looks and feels different.
Personally, at this stage in the hobby, I think it’s rare for a game to be totally original. In fact there’s a strong argument to say that every RPG since 1974 is just a Mod of OD&D, and that was a Wargame Mod!

Thursday, 7 April 2011

A-Z Challenge: F – Fluff

When it comes to RPG writing there’s a not-so fine line between purple prose and bone dry instruction manual writing. Same goes for an ingratiating buddy-buddy tone or lofty academic superiority. Lurking beyond all that is the ever-present spectre, the worry that you might commit the sin of ‘RPG’ fiction. Part of the problem is that even after twenty-odd years of the hobby’s existence it’s still not clear what RPG writing is. I mean it’s not fiction, but it’s not exactly straight up non-fiction either.

For me the best RPG writing explains the rules clearly and inspires at the same time. It sends my imagination over the edge, gets me excited about the setting, the possibilities of the game. Most important of all it makes me want to play.

In writing Redwald I’ve tried to hit a tone that fits the setting, and I’ve tried to seed enough setting flavour to inspire, without going over the top. I’ve also tried my best to avoid canon. As a GM I find nothing can ruin a setting for me quicker than canon, and obsessive encyclopedic detail. That’s why, as best as I can, when adding historical, political, social, and mythological detail to the setting I’ve tried to a) spread it over the rules in small bite-sized bits and b) sometimes make it contradictory, or obviously untrue. Most of all I’ve tried to only make it a suggested or implied background. To give the referee choices and suggestions rather than fact and setting canon. For example take this entry from the bestiary for the Werewulf . . .

Little is known about these beast men, some believe they are trapped in the twisted form that is half-man, half-beast, others that they can change at will from man to beast, or to man-beast. Ancient Saga’s tell of warriors who transform when in a berserk rage, and other tales claim that they live their lives as normal men, but for once a month when the moon is full and they change into beasts.

The bestiary entries are peppered with geographical information such as in the Niht Genga entry . . .

There are now only three tribes remaining. One tribe lives deep in the wild forest on the border of Eastlund Seaxe but their numbers are few and they have thirty warriors at most. Another tribe lives in the marshes of Southlund Seaxe and are on the brink of destruction with only ten or so warriors left. The most numerous tribe live under the mountains of Westlund Seaxe and even though their warriors number in the hundreds, between the Dragons and Dweorgas that they share the mountains with and the powerful Westlund Seax nearby, their fate is as precarious as their less numerous kin.

. . . that I hope give the referee’s information they might find handy (where the players are likely to encounter Niht Genga), but isn’t set in stone, isn’t canon. A referee can always throw in a lost tribe of Night Genga somewhere else.
Another way I’ve tried to do this is with the magic items. Each one is associated with a myth, story, or a bit of history that if a referee wants can be used as setting background, but if they don’t like the details outlined then by the very nature of them being folk tales and myths means they’re easy to ignore because everyone knows it’s just a fairy tale. Either way, just because it’s written in the book doesn’t mean that’s how it happened in the history of your Redwald.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

A-Z Challenge: E – Eotenas

The Eotenas, the Giants, were one of the earliest entries in the Redwald Bestiary and one that helped settle the whole tone of the setting in my mind . . .
“There are six Giants in Rædwald when they are slain the Gígantmæog (Race of giants) will be no more.”
. . . It helped me decide there wouldn’t be an unlimited supply of monsters, and that major monsters, Giants, Dragons, Trolls, would be individuals. It also added a feeling to the setting that I think adds flavour. The monsters in Redwald are dwindling in numbers, hanging on to existence, eking out a life on the borders and in the wild places.  

Here’s one of the Eotenas . . .
The Thirskman

The Thirskman and his wife were content to live in peace, but when his wife left their homeland hills to swim in the river Deres, near the burg of Thirsk, the Fryd was summoned and out of fear they slew her. Mad with grief the Thirskman has taken up residence at the ford in the river Deres and slays all who seek to cross it. This has crippled trade between the towns of Deresford on the Geatish side of the river and Thirskburg on the Eastlundseax side.
The Thirskman: AC: 6 [13]; Hit Dice: 8+2; HP: 35 ; Attacks: 1 Boulder (2d6); Special: Hurls boulders ; Move: 12; HDE/XP: 9/1100.
The Thirskman hurls boulders from the river at anyone who approaches the ford (max range 200’) and then uses a boulder in melee. He has no riches, but the lords of Thirskburg and Deresford will be grateful to his slayers.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

A-Z Challenge: D – Dimhús & Dracan

I first encountered D&D in 1981. The Moldvay Basic Set. At first I wasn’t impressed. See my first exposure to RPGs had been Tunnels & Trolls. Flipping through the basic rules I found it a little dry in comparison, and much as I liked the cover, the rest of the artwork didn’t impress, spoiled as I was by the excellent work of Carver and Danforth. Plus, you know, just one sword, and the spell names. I mean I know it’s called basic, but does that mean the spell names had to be so dry and to the point. Nah. I’ll stick to T&T.

Then a friend in our T&T group got the Basic Boxed set for Christmas and asked me to run the module that came with it.  To this day running Keep on the Borderlands that first time is still one of my most evocative and fondly remembered gaming moments.

This post has nothing to do with Redwald. This post has everything to do with Redwald.

Monday, 4 April 2011

A-Z Challenge: C - Classes

When it came to classes for Redwald I wanted to keep close to the simple approach in OD&D/S&W: WB of Fighting-man, Magic-User, and Cleric. I also wanted to have classes unique to Redwald and each of the races and I knew I wouldn’t be using Clerics, neither would I add thieves.

Clerics were out because Redwald is low fantasy with low powered magic. So having gods bestowing their followers with miracles and magic wasn’t going to work. I didn’t add a Thief class because as dungeon delving wasn’t going to be a focus the utility aspect of the class wasn’t needed. As for the immoral light-fingered side of things, well as all the Player Characters are outlaws I figured that would be well covered without a separate class.
So Warriors and Wizards were in. I added Skirmishers, because I always felt the missile using warrior archetype seemed to be overlooked in D&D and most fantasy RPGs. Sure you can style a warrior as an archer or Peltast, but there weren’t many classes dedicated to the role. So skirmishers were added and I had my three classes: Warrior, Skirmisher, Wizards.
It occurred to me that there would be a world of difference between a Dwarf skirmisher and an Elf Skirmisher. I also thought it logical that each race would approach magic in a different way, warfare too possibly. Thinking about this led to me deciding to work up sub-classes for each race based on the basic archetypes of Warrior, Skirmisher, and Wizard.
I’ve posted most of the class write ups on various forums, and a few here so I’ll just finish this post with a brief overview of the Redwald classes . . .


Ælfcynn Wuduheald (Elven Woodgaurd)
The Elf warrior is a light spearman and an offensive fighter relying on speed and finesse. They get an AC bonus for a high Dex, and get multiple melee attacks per turn.
Dweorg Scildgebróðra (Dwarf Shieldbrother)
The Dwarf warrior is a defensive fighter and the most heavily armed of the warriors. His own weapons are designed for bypassing shields, and punching through chain they get level bonuses to Shield AC and a Con bonus to HP.
Scildmægden (Shieldmaiden)
The Saxon warrior is a balanced melee fighter who can apply class and attribute bonuses to either her Damage, To-hit roll, or AC, but must decide which at the start of each fight.
Réðealingas Beadurófa (Wildling Battlestrong)
The Wildling warrior use 2-handed weapons and gets ST and Level bonuses to the Damage they dish out,

Ælfcynn Scytta (Elfin Shooter)
The Elf skirmisher uses a longbow and is the most accurate of the missile fighters gaining to-hit bonuses from Dex and Level.

Dweorgas Déaþdælend (Dwarf Deathdealer)
The dwarf skirmisher is more of a one man artillery piece than a true skirmisher. He has a large and unwieldy contraption called the Stonepelter that has very slow rate of fire, but does a lot of damage. He also has pots of ‘dragon fire’ to lob at the enemy and can lob the peters stones by hand too. Their bonuses are based on Int for working out trajectory and mixing the dragon fire.

Sperebrógan (Spear Terror)
The human Skirmisher is the archetypal light skirmisher armed with a wattle shield, and a variety of javelins and throwing weapons. They gain to-hit bonuses from Dex and Dam bonuses from strength when using thrown weapons.

Réðealingas Bogamann (Wildling Bowman)
The wildling skirmisher has a very light bow, that doesn’t do a lot of damage, but has a high rate of fire. They also have access to a variety of drugged arrows.

Ælfcynn Gealdor Sangere (Elf Spellsinger)
The Elf Wizard has three types of magic at their disposal: Shape shifting, Forest magic, and the Glamour.

Dweorgas Wrydwebba (Dwarf Fateweaver)
The Dwarf Wizard has Rune magic. It’s an improvisational magic with the meaning of each rune used to alter reality or ‘weave fate’.

Scinnlæca (Shining One)
The human wizard is a necromancer summoning and binding phantoms enabling him to terrify and manipulate his enemies, or to use the power of the otherworld to destroy them.

Réðealingas Wicce (Wildling Witch Woman)
The wildling Wizard is a Witch able to create potions, poisons, venoms, and healing charms. She is also able to scry, torment enemies with the Mommet and thorn, and curse them. Her familiar is always ready to teach her more Witchcraft, but there is a price to pay.

Saturday, 2 April 2011

A-Z Challenge: B –To Beowulf or Not to Beowulf . . .

. . . that is the question I didn’t ask myself when starting Redwald. The only question I asked myself when I started this project was ‘should I write a low fantasy Dark Ages setting supplement for Swords & Wizardry?’

However, as the project progressed I at least inferred the question, and the answer was not to Beowulf. Early on I decided to have the characters be outlaws. The title Wolfshead is just so evocative, and the idea of the characters being outside the law fits the average D&D party, who if not exactly outlaws, are often a law unto themselves.
Recently, during playtest and in emails from people who have a copy of the playtest pdf, I’ve had head scratching questions along the lines of: 'Why isn’t there a human warrior with chain, sword, and shield as one of the character classes?'

The answer is simple enough. Redwald players aren’t heroes, they’re not Thegns, they’re not Ealdormen. They are not Beowulf. They aren’t even Churls in the Fryd. The players in Redwald are outlaw scum. How can that not be fun?

Now it's not that I went out of my way to be different, or contrary.I just figured there are plenty of settings and RPGs where you can play Saxon, Viking, Celtic, or Barbarian warrior including TSR D&D. I think that’s already covered.
Beyond that, Beowulf and his ilk are the archetypal Dark Age heroes. Beowulf, Kings, Ealdormen, Thegns, and the Fryd are the acceptable face of Redwald society. They’re the mainstream. The player characters are on the margins of that society. Which I think works well for D&D characters, especially OSR D&D.

So why isn’t Beowulf or the archetypal Dark Age warrior a character class in Redwald? Because Beowulf and his mates are Redwald's ‘Orcs’ and like all good Orcs they want your characters dead!

Friday, 1 April 2011

A-Z Challenge: A is For Elf!

The Ælfcynn in Redwald are not like Tolkien’s or the Álfar of Norse legend, nor are they like the Celtic Sihde. However, they are influenced by one of my favourite genres: Arthurian literature. In Mary Stewart’s excellent Merlin books and Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Mists of Avalon you’ll find the inspiration for Redwald’s Elfs.

Rather than being magical high elves they are portrayed as being the remnants of the Neolithic peoples that inhabited Briton, before the arrival of the Bronze Age, and later Iron Age cultures and peoples that pushed them out. There’s also a nod to this in Bernard Cornwell’s superb Warlord Trilogy where he has the superstitious Romano-Briton warriors collecting stone arrowheads, which they call Elf shot, for good luck.

It's a portrayal of the Elfs I like. In Redwald the Elfs, rather than being blue eyed, blond haired, tall willowy (and superior to your character), are savage Stone Age peoples. Neolithic hunter-gathers with black hair, brown eyes, nut-brown skin, armed with primitive stone weapons, and dressed in deer Hyde. They are masters of the woodland not out of choice, but because they have had to retreat into the forests to survive.
Names come in and out of fashion every other generation. Alf or Alfred has been out of fashion in the UK for a while now. For most Brits it’s a name that conjures up images  of old men with flat caps, whippets, and tobacco tins. A world away from the Hollywood pretty-boy Orlando Bloom’s Legolas, but Alf means Elf, and Alfred, the name of one the great(ha!)Saxon kings meant Elf wisdom.
One of the things I’ve enjoyed most about writing Redwald is learning about Old English. How could this strange foreign sounding language be the root of modern English? I didn’t know. All I knew was I loved the sound of it. I can’t say I understand it yet, I doubt I’m using it correctly most of the time, but I enjoying spending hours trying to track down (ie Google) meanings, nuances, and usage for OE words when I probably should be doing something more productive.

The Elves of Redwald are Ælfcynn; meaning Elf kind, or the Elf kin. In Old English you pronounce all the letters in a word. So the Saxons would have called the little garden pond fishers Guh-nomes. Actually they called them Swearðælfe, but you see what I mean. When two words are squished together like Æ (which I spend an inordinate amount of time cutting and pasting because I can’t remember what the ASCII code is), they’re pronounced in a squished together way. So as far as I can tell the OE pronunciation of Elf or Ælf is something like ‘aye-lf’ or Alf. So A is for Elf!