Sunday 24 February 2013

Ix: Campaign Map

To accompany my introductory material about the nature, history and factions of the world of Ix, I've worked up a large-scale campaign map.

It shows all the desert cities, the major oases and trade roads, and some ruins and wilderness areas.

Click for bigness.

Tuesday 19 February 2013

Ix: Player Character Races

Some more player info on the Dark Sun / Dune inspired campaign setting I'm working on.

I've taken a slightly non-traditional approach regarding race and class in removing level limits from the demi-human races. To compensate I've done two things:
  1. Reduced the benefits of being demi-human -- no attribute bonuses.
  2. Given plain humans some benefits of their own (player-selected attribute bonuses).
On balance I think that the mechanical benefits of being a plain human outweigh those of the other races. I guess this will, together with the ability requirements of demi-humans, mean that there will be more human characters than demi-humans -- a desirable side-effect for me.

Note that I've decided to hold off  with Thri-kreen as a PC race. I was on the edge with that, but in the end decided they're cooler as monsters.


City Dwellers
Ability Scores: no minimums or maximums

The citizens of the free cities and oases of Ix are the most numerous inhabitants of the world, as well as the most common people who take up adventuring lives.
They are a lean, tall race, similar to the people of north Africa.

City dweller adventurers gain a +1 bonus to two of their ability scores, chosen by the player at character creation. (Note that no score may be raised above 18.)

Ability Scores: CON 10 (min)

Sandestine are a culture of humans who have adapted to life in the deep desert. Physically they are similar to other humans, but are distinguished by their wiry hair and blue eyes.

Sandestine have a clan-based society, and live primarily in secret underground settlements in the desert, where they are rumoured to have vast stores of water. Naturally these settlements are fanatically guarded, and non-Sandestine are forbidden to ever enter.

Sandestine are sometimes encountered in cities, or working as scouts or caravan guards.

Due to their genetic adaptation to the desert, Sandestine gain a +4 bonus to saving throws vs dehydration. They also gain a +1 bonus to rolls to forage or hunt in the desert.

Sandestine gain a +1 bonus to one ability score, chosen by the player at character creation.

Sandestine manufacture desert clothing known as “osmosis suits”, which gather and purify the water evaporated from the body by means of a series of membranes derived from the skins and organs of desert creatures. Such suits are very valuable, and are only very rarely given to non-Sandestine.

Slave Races
The sorcerer kings of old mastered advanced magic of genetic manipulation in order to breed races of servants, designed to fulfil a specific purpose. Legends tell of a wide range of bizarre races resulting from these experiments, but only two have reproduced and survived to the present day. Both are still commonly regarded as sub-races, and treated as such, often being used as slaves.
Due to their breeding, both slave races have a natural resistance to magic, and cannot be magic-users.

Ability Scores: STR 10 (min), CON 12 (min), INT 12 (max), CHA 14 (max)

Mool are a stunted race bred for their endurance and ability to work under extreme conditions. They are completely hairless, thickly muscled, and average around 4 to 5 feet in height. All Mool are hermaphrodites, able to both bear and sire children.

Mool tend to be of a taciturn, stubborn and obsessive nature. Their movement rate is never faster than 9, and never slower than 6, unless carrying maximum weight.

Due to their genetic constitution, Mool gain bonuses to certain saving throws: +4 vs poisons, +2 vs paralysis, +4 vs magic, +2 vs dehydration.

Ability Scores: STR 16 (min), CON 12 (min), DEX 14 (max), INT 14 (max)

Originally bred as guards, Brutes are a race of of semi-giants, towering over most humans. They are on average 9 to 10 feet tall, and possess great strength. Brutes are an all-male race, and have a built-in lifespan of exactly 55 years. They reproduce by a strange asexual means whereby a maggot-like foetus which lies dormant in a special organ in the abdomen awakes at the moment of the Brute's death. The foetus consumes the body of its “father” and enters a cocoon state, emerging as a Brute infant after 6 months.

Despite their name, Brutes are not especially disposed to violence. Indeed, the “gentle giant” stereotype is more often applicable. Their breeding brought out patience, self-reliance and loyalty in them. As such, most Brutes are Lawful in alignment.

Brutes gain the following saving throw bonuses: +4 vs paralysis, +2 vs death, +2 vs magic.

Due to their great size, Brutes can wield two-handed weapons in one hand and can carry 50% more than the normal encumbrance limits. They must also pay 25% extra for armour.

Wild Races

Ability Scores: STR 14 (max), CON 9 (min), DEX 9 (min)

Halflings are a diminutive race who dwell in the toxic jungles of Ix. They are thin and wiry, with long, wild black hair and ebony skin. The origin of this race is unknown, although some believe them to be a product of the sorcerer kings' genetic experiments.

Halflings live in savage tribal societies ruled by shamans, and often practice ritual sacrifice, head-hunting, anthropophagy and cannibalism. Strangers who wander in the jungles of the halflings are seldom seen again.

Halfling adventurers are rare, but can sometimes be encountered in the cities of men.

Halflings have an uncanny ability to disappear in the wilderness. In bushes or other outdoor cover, halflings can hide with 90% ability. They can also hide in shadows or behind other forms of cover when underground in labyrinths or caverns on a roll of 1-2 on 1d6, but they must be silent and motionless. They have keen coordination that grants them +1 on any missile attacks. Because they are so small, halflings have a lower armour class (-2) when attacked by creatures greater than human sized.

Due to their small size, halflings cannot use large or two-handed weapons, including bastard swords, long swords, long bows and heavy crossbows. Otherwise the weapons they can use are determined by their class.

Halflings gain a +4 bonus to saving throws against poison, due to their race's resistance to the toxic environment in which they live.

Sunday 17 February 2013

Ix -- World of the Dying Sun: Part 3

The final instalment of background information for my future campaign, this chunk talks about the main cultural factions on Ix. Including part 1 (nature) and part 2 (history), this now comes to a total of three sides of A5 (yes, I'm laying this out in booklet format). This feels to me like a manageable amount of information for players to read, and enough to give lots of flavour for the world.

Note that, following yesterday's revelation about the name Zyklon (thanks to those who pointed that out!), the God-Emperor of Ix has been subtly renamed to Zyklor.

Also note that the reference below to the Sisters of Mercy is deliberate.


The God-Emperor and the Templars
The desert cities are ruled by the Templars, with a Hierophant as the regent of each. The ranks of the Templars act as priesthood, police, military and judges – maintaining order with an unwavering precision and a cold brutality.

The Tear of God (also simply known as “Tear”) is ruled by the Arch-Hierophant, under the divine guidance of the God-Emperor Zyklor. Zyklor himself remains abstruse – dwelling in the vast Palace of Radiance upon the plateau of Tear.

The Sisters of Mercy
Founded by the semi-mythical Sister Jadeth, the Sisters of Mercy are a secretive sect of ancient origin who study the sciences of the psyche. While the Sisterhood is allied to the God-Emperor, their private purposes remain an area of speculation. Members of the Sisterhood are found in the employ of many noble houses, as their psychic training produces advisers and diplomats of great talent. The Sisterhood is also rumoured to possess subtle devices of a strange psionic technology, the secrets of which only they know.

The Sandestine
While most of humanity lives in the desert cities, some tribes remain who wander the barren dunes of the desert. Collectively they are known as Sandestine. They have their own language and culture, and while they are notionally allied to the God-Emperor, their loyalty is often seen to be only to their own kind.

The Slavers' Guild
Slavery is a common fact of life in the desert cities of Ix, and is a cornerstone of the economy. The Slavers' Guild rules the high roads between the cities, policing against bandits and incursions of abominations from the deep desert. In essence this means that it is impossible to travel the roads of Ix without the cooperation of the Guild of Slavers – thus all mercantile houses are in their sway. It is, of course, always possible to travel through the pathless dunes of the desert, bypassing the slave-roads, but this brings its own hazards.

The Prismatic Order
Rumours in recent times have spoken of a sect of anarchists which is directly opposed to the iron rule of the Templars. Their membership and true purpose are unknown, but it is said that they harbour escaped slaves and are attempting to build an underground army. It is suspected that some hidden power lies behind the so-called Prismatic Order.

Shamanic Cults
Despite the divine rule of the God-Emperor, the general populace are free to perform whatever religious observances they wish – a sign of the absolute security the Templars have in their rule. Thus a diversity of cults flourishes, many led by oracles or shamans who can communicate with spirits of nature and the dead. Some cults even occasionally begin to worship the demon idols of old, but these are watched carefully by the Templars, and are mercilessly crushed if they appear to be gaining in power.

The Imperial Academy of Sorcerers
Since the reign of the God-Emperor, the practice of sorcery has been conducted solely through the officially sanctioned Imperial Academy. The ancient magicks of life and death are studied anew, but are kept under the watchful eye of the Templars. Sorcery is generally regarded with suspicion, but some noble houses make use of the services of the Imperial Academy. Most magic-users are initially trained by the Academy or one of its affiliates.

Saturday 16 February 2013

Ix -- World of the Dying Sun: Part 2

Continuing from yesterday's post about the nature of my work-in-progress campaign setting, here's my current players' introduction to the world's history.

(Next up will be part 3: Factions.)


The Sorcerer Kings
The most ancient of records tell of an era when the desert cities were ruled by the cruel grasp of the sorcerer kings – wizards of inhuman arcane power. Each city was held sway to the whims of its ego-maniacal ruler, and wars raged for centuries as the sorcerer kings tried in vain to conquer each others' dominions. Many hideous creatures and warped sub-races were bred by the genetic magic of the sorcerer kings, and these monstrosities were pitted against each other in the ever escalating wars.

The Last War
There came a final battle, as the monstrous forces of the armies of five cities were arrayed on the plains of Goth, and the skies were rended by shuddering blasts of eldritch energy. Too zealous were the sorcerer kings in their lust for power and domination, and the arcane forces which were unleashed could not be controlled. The sorcerer kings were destroyed by their own might, and took the rest of mankind with them – the desert was razed by toxic magic and civilisation fell into ruins.

The Dark Age and the Demon Lords
After some centuries, the scattered remnants of humanity began to form into tribes, marking the first steps on the road to a new civilisation. In these desperate times, men took up the worship of ancient entities, deifying beings which had previously been called demons. It was at this time, with the wandering tribes of men under the sway of these demon lords, that the world began to darken. The sun became swollen and red, night was not always followed by day, an endless gloom arose in the north, and twisted spirits of shadow emerged from the darkness.

The Coming of Zyklon
In these dark times, prophecies whispered of a saviour – a man who would come to unify the tribes of mankind and bring a new order to the world. He was known as Zyklon (“the caustic light”), and came from the tribe of Dugpa. Under the leadership of Zyklon, the tribe of Dugpa discovered and rebuilt the ruined city of Mexicarn, fortifying it and beginning a campaign to bring all of humanity under one rule.

The Templars and the God-Slaying
Proving the truth of the prophecies, the loyal followers of Zyklon were blessed with miraculous powers. They became known as the Templars, and formed great armies. With the righteous light of their lord behind them, they crusaded against all opposition, dethroning and debasing the idols, demons and false gods which dominated the tribes of men. The holy wars of unification lasted for over a century, during which time Zyklon himself did not age.

The Coronation of the God-Emperor
When the last desert tribes swore fealty to Zyklon, he was crowned as Emperor of the desert. On the eve of his coronation, torrents of water cascaded from the sky, and every living person knew him to be their God. The city of Mexicarn was renamed as the Tear of God, and the dying Hayyem tree of the city was rejuvenated.

The Continuing Darkness
Despite the unification of the desert cities under the rule of the undying God-Emperor, darkness still encroaches upon the world. Doctrine tells that only when all men are free from domination by false gods will the sun become bright once more, and the gloom be lifted. To the south of the desert, on the edge of the steaming toxic jungles lie cities where men are slaves to demonic entities. The Templars wage war against these heathen realms, to bring about an end to the darkness and a new era of light.

Friday 15 February 2013

Ix -- World of the Dying Sun

As I mentioned in my last post, I'm starting to prepare for a new Labyrinth Lord campaign which will be (very loosely) based on the old TSR setting Dark Sun. I say it's based on Dark Sun, as I've not read the books for that setting since about 20 years ago, so really this new campaign is going to be based on my impressions and memories of Dark Sun, rather than being set on Athas, per se. There's also going to be a healthy subtext of Frank Herbert's Dune mixed in there.

Firstly I've been working on a few bits and pieces for the rules of the campaign: primarily new races, new classes (like the aforementioned Infiltrator), and rules for psionics (including psionic classes). This work is more or less done now.

Secondly I've started writing some introductory material for the setting. I'm hoping to keep this pretty brief, as I know most players (myself included!) have little interest in reading vast tracts of invented world history and so on. I'm aiming for a page or two of A4, maximum, just providing some essential facts about the world and how it's different to "standard D&D".

Here's the first section of what I've come up with so far, about the nature of the world, which is called Ix, by the way. Yeah, I said there was going to be some Dune influence ;)


Ix is a world of extreme and punishing climactic conditions, consisting primarily of barren desert and radioactive jungle. Not a single drop of rain falls on Ix – all water is brought up from deep underground reserves. Metal is also scarce, and is thus a highly prized resource.

The most numerous inhabitants of Ix are reptiles, insects and birds, whose biology has allowed them to adapt to the harsh conditions. Mankind is the dominant intelligent species, although travellers tell of other sentient beings in the deep desert.

Aside from humans, the only mammals on Ix are goats, cats and rats, and these are only found where humans dwell.

The Desert and the City-States
At the centre of the world of Ix lies a vast region of open desert dotted with enclaves of civilisation. Human settlements are always founded around a source of water – from small trading outposts around oases where water emerges from the earth, up to the majesty of the great city-states founded around the monumental Hayyem trees, whose vast root systems draw water to the surface, producing fertile land.

Life in the open desert is hard, as water is so scarce. The desert sands are also home to malicious mutant creatures who prey upon wanderers.

The Toxic Jungles
To the south of the desert, at the extent of human civilisation, lies an impenetrable stretch of jungle. Although this is by far the most fertile region of Ix, its flora, fauna and environmental conditions are all toxic to humans. Evil beings are said to dwell in the jungles of Ix.

None know what, if anything, lies beyond the toxic jungles.

The Encroaching Dark
The north of Ix is covered by a supernatural darkness. The area, which is believed to have been inhabited in ancient times, is now shunned by all. Twisted beings of shadow emerge from the darkness to haunt mankind.

The Shadow World
Parallel to the world of light and matter lies is a plane of immaterial darkness known as the shadow world. Sages and magicians study this other realm, and speak of a plane of ether which maintains the separation of the worlds of light and shadow. It is from the ether which magical energy is drawn and formed into spells.

The shadow world is inhabited by beings formed of pure of darkness who sometimes venture into the ether and the world of light. These beings, when encountered in the world of light, are inimical to life.

Sunday 10 February 2013

The Infiltrator -- A New Class for Labyrinth Lord

It's a perennial favourite activity of mine (and many other DMs) to mess around with the thief class in D&D. (Well, ok, it's a perennial favourite activity to mess around with any and all classes in D&D, but today I'm talking about the thief.) People have a lot of various beefs (beeves?) with the class. My personal beef is that I like to stick with four core classes but that I want to mix in the extra abilities of the assassin, bard, thief-acrobat, and anything else that comes to mind, to produce a single unified "dodgy person who does sneaky stuff" type class.

Previous  thoughts along these lines: here, here & here.

I'm building up to run a Dark Sun inspired campaign with Labyrinth Lord, and have in mind that it'll involve lots of sneaky infiltration and subterfuge, so it seemed like high time to revisit the "dodgy person who does sneaky stuff" class.

Here's my latest take on it. (Note the inclusion of freely distributable percentage points -- a nod towards AD&D 2e. I'm planning on adding a few other 2e type features to the campaign, weapon proficiencies, for instance.)

The rest of this post is designated Open Gaming Content according to the Open Gaming License.

Requirements: None
Prime Requisite: DEX
Hit Dice: 1d4

Those adventurers who live by stealth, deception and wits are known as infiltrators. Some infiltrators are self-made, having learned their trade in the back-alleys and marketplaces of the great cities, while others are members of guilds and have studied under master thieves, spies, scouts and assassins.

Infiltrators use the thief experience, saving throw and attack tables, and are able to use leather or studded leather armour, all one-handed weapons and light missile weapons (all except longbow and heavy crossbow).

They have a number of skills unique to this class, which advance as the character increases in level. A 1st level infiltrator begins with a 0% chance of success in all skills, but gains 100 percentage points to distribute as he wishes between them. At each subsequent level he gains a further 20 percentage points to improve his skills. No skill may be increased beyond 98%.

Acrobatics: This skill can be used to perform feats of acrobatics such as leaping, vaulting, flipping, balance, and so on. The Labyrinth Lord may specify a penalty to the roll for extraordinarily difficult feats. An infiltrator may also use this skill to reduce falling damage by half.

Assassination: When performing an attack by surprise (either during a surprise round of combat, or due to use of hide in shadows or move silently), the character has a chance of being able to instantly kill his victim. If the attack succeeds, a percentage roll is made against the character's skill with assassination. If the roll succeeds, the victim must save versus death or die immediately. If the save succeeds, the attack causes double normal damage (which may in turn be enough to kill the victim). Note that for an assassination to succeed, the infiltrator must be able to attack a weak point of the victim (the throat or heart, for instance) – certain situations or targets may make this impossible, at the Labyrinth Lord's discretion (for example, undead creatures generally lack any such weak points).

Climb walls: Infiltrators are skilled climbers, and never need to make rolls to climb under normal circumstance (ladders, ropes, trees, etc). This skill enables the character to climb vertical surfaces with only small handholds, such as brick walls or cliffs. The skill check may be penalised due to exact conditions (slipperiness, darkness, etc).

Decipher script: The infiltrator is skilled at cracking coded messages, or deciphering small fragments of text written in foreign languages, such as may be found on treasure maps. This skill may also be used at a -10% penalty to attempt to cast spells from magic-user scrolls. In this case failure indicates a misfire of the spell.

Disguise: All characters may at times attempt to disguise themselves, with success determined by the Labyrinth Lord. This skill gives the infiltrator a backup roll if the Labyrinth Lord determines that a disguise is ineffective. A successful roll means that the character goes unnoticed.

Find/disable mechanisms: Characters of any class can search for hidden mechanisms to activate traps or secret doors, having a 1 in 6 chance of success. An infiltrator also gains a percentage roll with this skill. With the appropriate tools, this skill can additionally be used to disable or bypass small mechanisms such as sprung-needle traps or locks. Using this skill takes one turn.

Hear noise: All characters can listen at doors to detect sounds beyond, having a 1 in 6 chance of success. An infiltrator with this skill gains the normal 1 in 6 roll in addition to a percentage roll with this skill. Using this skill takes one turn.

Hide in shadows: Infiltrators are masters of concealment, and do not need to roll to hide under normal circumstances (behind statues, screens, undergrowth, etc). They can use this skill to attempt to hide when no cover is available beyond deep shadows. The character always thinks he is successful.

Move silently: Infiltrators are experts at creeping quietly, and do not need to make any roll to sneak under circumstances where absolute silence is not required (for example in a noisy environment). A successful roll with this skill means that the infiltrator is able to move unnoticed in situations where the slightest sound would give his presence away. The character always thinks he is successful.

Pick pockets: This skill can be used to artfully extract small objects from the possession of others.

Poison lore:
An infiltrator can use this skill to detect and identify poisons (on weapons, in food, etc), and to create them. Each type of poison (q.v.) is rated with a difficulty to detect or manufacture, which is applied as a penalty to the skill roll.

Friday 8 February 2013

B/X vs Labyrinth Lord

Inspired by the release of the Basic/Expert rules at, there's been a bit of discussion going around about "is this the death of Labyrinth Lord / the OSR?".

Well, I'm not about to launch into some philosophical post about the OSR movement. Suffice to say, I feel that the availability of another OSR style game (the original B/X in this case) will only increase the number of people playing old-school style games.

No, I wanted to point out a very beneficial point of Labyrinth Lord over B/X: organisation. It's an argument which is often brought up in relation to clones vs the original editions, but it's actually rather difficult to point that finger at B/X, which is, in my opinion, impeccably laid out, not to mention having a beautiful concision, which obviously aids its readability.

I only came to realise that Labyrinth Lord still has one up on B/X when I gleefully started chopping up the PDFs I'd bought from I wonder how many other people tried this too -- what most of us have never dared do with the real books? What I discovered is that, despite the urging to do so in the introduction of the Expert rule book, it's actually not easy to make a decent rearrangement / combination of the two rule books into a cohesive whole. What you end up with is something like this:
  • Section 1: Basic
  • Section 1: Expert
  • Section 2: Basic
  • Section 2: Expert
Which is sort of ok, but not really what one is looking for. So, in terms of having a unified rule book, Labyrinth Lord wins hands down.

I guess this is why the BECMI Rules Cyclopedia is so popular as well. I'm not really a fan of the CMI parts of BECMI, but I can definitely see the appeal of an all-in-one combined rule book.

Tuesday 5 February 2013

Cook/Marsh D&D Expert Set Available as PDF!

I believe for the first time ever, the 1981 Cook/Marsh D&D Expert set is now for sale as a PDF at! I already have the physical boxed set, but am very excited to get it as a PDF too.

What I'm especially looking forward to is making a compiled version of the Basic and Expert rules in one document, with the pages inter-mixed. This was what was suggested in the introduction to the Expert set, but I (and I'm sure many or most others) never had the heart to take a pair of scissors to our beloved D&D books! It'll be interesting to see how well it works as a combined book. All going well, I'll be printing out my own B/X player's book and DM's book :)

Monday 4 February 2013

Adventure Submissions...

...are being sought for the Psychedelic Fantasies line!

After Alexey's Beneath the Ruins, and my Within the Radiant Dome, Geoffrey is looking for more weird / psychedelic old-school D&D adventures.

I'm not trying to be some kind of Psychedelic Fantasies marketing department... the reason I post this is that I want more weird / psychedelic old-school D&D adventures as well!

In case you've not seen it, there are details at this thread on the OD&D forum.

Go on, you know you want to!

Sunday 3 February 2013

House Rule: Specialist Knowledge

"All characters begin with the common tongue and their alignment language. Some classes grant further languages, and characters with high intelligence receive additional languages. Additional languages can be chosen at the Labyrinth Lord’s discretion. In general, any races or monsters capable of language have their own language." -- Labyrinth Lord p.14

This post isn't about alignment languages. In every campaign I've ever run I just ignore those.* No, it's about those additional languages gained from having an above-average INT score.

In general, I tend to ignore the issue of languages in the game altogether -- not out of any theory or moral principle, it just tends to end up that way. I suppose one reason for this is that I rarely use any of the standard monstrous races. Another reason is that I simply can't be bothered with it -- it's generally much more fun (for me) if players can just talk to the stuff they encounter. A matter of taste, of course.

But anyway, I've recently instigated a small house rule which is (I think) simple, elegant and effective, and which I wanted to share.

This is it:

"In place of an extra language, a character with high INT can choose an area of special knowledge or academic training."

This can be whatever the player wants (with the LL's approval, of course). Things like: alchemy, medicine, herbalism, history, fine arts, ancient technology, astronomy, philosophy, etc.

There is no specific rules mechanic tied to these areas of specialist knowledge, they are simply used in situations of improvisational ruling to determine what a character might know. In this sense they work similarly to "secondary skills" (in AD&D / AEC), but have a more intellectual / academic bent.

* Does anyone ever use alignment languages? I've contemplated coming up with an in-game explanation for them, but have never got around to running a campaign with such ideas in place.

Saturday 2 February 2013

Within the Radiant Dome -- Review!

I just came across a very positive review (auto-translated from the original Swedish) of my adventure module Within the Radiant Dome, published in Geoffrey McKinney's Psychedelic Fantasies line.

Thanks to Jonas for writing it!