Direbane is an abode to share artifacts, simulacra, histories, and other items of note related to ongoing years adventuring.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Fireworks Hailing Over Cube World

(Artist unknown, embellished from a t-shirt)
Sandy is how I enjoy my D&D campaigns. Roll some PCs then let things run amok. Ha, enough about me. What's up with Cube World...?

A month ago I wrote what I knew about new Cube World releases (table top RPG, not computer game), what that world appears is thus and what I saw as Cube World installments' significance to the hobby.

As a refresh, Cube World is the overall campaign setting that contains Vornheim: The Complete City Kit, Red and Pleasant Land, Maze of the Blue Medusa, and Frostbitten and Mutilated rpg supplements. It is literally a cube-shaped world with the campaign taking place on one of the six "faces" of the cube. However, "The entire planet is a hive of stone tunnels carved by long-dead civilizations."

Since new releases began last April began there have been roughly 200 pages of new campaign material published in 13 separate installments.

Couple things common to each installment:

1. These installments are MODULAR. You can just as easily drop them into your own campaign as run them in conjunction with a Cube World campaign. You can also break them up and reconfigure them to suit, and often suggestions are included how you might adjust elements for a one-shot or, conversely, an even larger adventure.

2. The adventures are ACTIVE. Meaning, stuff's happening independent to the adventuring party that reflects NPC and monster motivations; chains of circumstances to alter the tone, complexity, and/or nature of specific encounters depending on PC actions or lack thereof.

These are aspects of every installment and adventure by design, so you can expect being able to utilize all the material either within setting or out, and that adventures engage players from the outset with situations that demand decisions. Freewill? Of course... with consequences planned out for you ahead of time. (Fuck, Rush, there is a host of holy horrors pulling strings!)

Note Also: Maps and art are FULL COLOR with separate hi-res JPGs included. Many adventures include suggestions for running in the Weird Earth early modern Lamentations of the Flame Princess setting.

Perspective of a Cube World campaign from the new material:

You can check the link to peruse according your taste for individual characteristics of each installment. Below is my version of a topographical flyover lending an eye on how new pieces fit.

1. Still centered on Northern Continent, but further south.

(The fairy tales of Charles Perrault; Illustration by Harry Clarke; Harrap, 1922)

Vornheim and The Devoured Land are previous major regions detailed for Cube World's Northern Continent, both being north of the goblin empire Gaxen Kane. The largest area by far contributed from the new installments are to the Northern Continent land of Broceliande.

Broceliande is south to the horrible goblin empire of Gaxen Kane. Various nations of Broceliande, in particular the gray elves, have warred with the goblins since Cube World's primordial time. Broceliande is "unusually lovely and green, with tall castles, jousts, quests, wild forests, foxes, frogs and fae, elves in the north, halflings in the south, dwarves in mountains..."

Broceliande information is contained among several Cube World installments about seven kingdoms/baronies/duchies and discrete geographic regions, eight cities/towns, and six dungeon/adventure scenarios. Most all receive at least a half-page to a page of detail (much more for adventures), with major adventures there being political schemes and hidden dungeon treasures in the Duchy of Teeming, a siege to the eastern port city of Ortheque by Chaos Pirate warbands, warring mutant tribes from a spawning lake, rescuing treasure from a castle on the back of a mountain-sized giant, and two dungeons, one very dangerous and the other very mysterious, in the Barony of Eeping.

Lest you begin to consider Broceliande a region of mostly mere classic fantasy sorts, hidden areas are also occupied by strange psionically telekinetic/telepathic creatures: The Philosophers. An entire installment (#13) is dedicated to descriptions, environs, and four adventure encounters with this near-Lovecraftian species from another dimension.

2. Sea of Ignorance and Pain bits to the Scorpion Lands, "sailor's legend" of Drownesia, and hints of Southern Continent to points far east.

(The Adventures of Prince Ahmed, by Lotte Reiniger, 1922)

Should PCs take to water off the east coast of Broceliande upon the Sea of Ignorance and Pain, they'll find scattered islands and island-fortresses.

Traveling southward in the sea one installment (#4) provides an adventure encounter on Iguana Isle just off the Scorpion Lands on the north coast region of Cube World's Southern Continent. The island hosts a pirate queen's fortress, and the queen is in need of some "engineering" assistance obtaining a mysterious artifact lodged in the coral beds nearly 200 feet beneath the sea's surface.

Rumors heard at pirate island can help lead an adventuring party west to the jungle-thick collected islands of Drownesia, a mysterious land of dinosaur-riding dark elves. That same installment provides elements for the Drownesian island of Palafesh Opnow with two on-island adventure scenarios plus a megacorpse floating somewhere off the island's coast.

Should adventurers sail east from Iguana Isle another installment (#12) contains two islands with adventures that also hint to what lies on the Southern Continent mainland in those areas. PCs would likely first encounter the "sorcerer-tyrant and his monstrous pets" on The Isle of Massive Crustacians. Moving still further east might choose to become involved in a pair of rival sorcerers skirmishing over a powerful item come lodged beneath the midpoint of a thousand-foot bridge between their two isles in Peacock Isles.

There is another far east scenario for PCs to engage with maritime battles of an ancient wizard. The wizard possesses a terrible item used to take lands adjacent to Eight Demon River there as the wizard's own.

3. Nephilidia and the western sea.

(Photo by unknown)

If you happen to be running a campaign set around Vornheim (or just be keen on amphibious vampires), there is a sea west to the Northern Continent named, respectively at least in the sea's waters off the west coasts of Broceliande and Gaxen Kane, Goblin Sea or Sea of Dead Elves. Nephilidia, Eversinking Isle of seafrost and rime, is up in the cold northern waters of the western sea.

Nephilidia is home to Nephilidian Vampires, most preferring never to leave their half-drowned empire knee-deep in black and stagnant water. Another single location installment (#11), the adventure scenario includes random encounters for waters surrounding the island, an island map for overland encounters, tools for generating random dungeon ruins as needed, and The Last Palace of Queen Naxxala.

Nephidilia is, apart from encounters with The Philosophers, singly the most dangerous from these recent installments. A commensurate table of 1,000 Nephilidian magic items provides just rewards for survivors.

There is also one more island of note for the western sea from the installments, Isle of the Lava Trolls. The encounter has some nice terrain features that would provoke interesting exploration and combat, plus throwing the adventuring party on a volcanic isle in the middle of an icy sea. Ha, there's that.

4. Miscellany.

The installments do have a couple of scenarios related from the previous works. One is A Place of Garments horrific dress maker set in the kingdom from A Red and Pleasant Land. Another is Temple of the Mantis set near Vornheim that travels through a secret portal to the extradimensional place of the Mantis Cult. 

A special setting that may be used in a variety of places is Curated Destruction, a elvish library containing all knowledge and art deemed important by elves.

Likewise The Tracery along with echo chambers may be used as a strange and otherworldly means to link any dungeon sections, although a scenario involving heresy and lycanthropes is provided to draw PCs into the dungeon.

There are a number of items in the installments in addition to expanding the Cube World setting: Several particular d1000 treasure tables, book generators, useless book generators, and varied random dungeon tables along with a sample dungeon, Lair of the She Jackal, as example of randomly generated dungeon.


BUY THIS STUFF! Cube World installments have two things every dungeon master needs: Utility and surprise! These installments are dense because everything needed at the time fits on one or two pages with color-codes on the tables to move expeditiously to the information you need. 

The scenarios are varied and often with multiple decision trees such that I expect many of them with a tiny bit of re-skin you could run your same players through more than once without them catching on you're recycling. At minimum these are privately published ideas from a professional and award-winning author that your average gamer can't get at their FLGS.

Nearly all of the installments are just $5 each so you can afford to pick and choose to see how they run - either in your own game setting or that of a full-fledged Cube World.

Next up I am going to get a group to run through some of these, probably starting in Broceliande using our standard Advanced Labyrinth Lord. When that happens I can share play reports. Until then, ha, go easy, and if you can't go easy go as easy as you can.

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Legendary Lands of Arduin, Episode 3 (Home Brew)

A delve into the original gonzo DIY RPG setting of Arduin.

In this video, while working out new audio, I take an interlude to expose some of my personal Arduin home brew from a long ago campaign.

Note: I mention that each DM's scenario lasted for 3 sessions. Understand at this point in our gaming (late 1980s) our gang is mostly in our mid twenties, some are married, some with children, so we gamed probably once every month or two in Saturday night marathon sessions lasting 10-12 hours.

Also, I think now looking at the overland map that the party never made it across Moon Water to Bordertown. It looks like Black Bog is right on the way around Moon Water and that just happened to be where things ended up after my last session.

Arduin is a Registered Trademark of Emperors Choice Games & Miniatures

(Arduin home brew map...)

Sunday, May 3, 2020

Legendary Lands of Arduin, Episode 2 (Cosmology)

A delve into the original gonzo DIY RPG setting of Arduin.

In this video I examine information on cosmology of Dave Hargrave's Arduin campaign from the "World Book of Khaas: The Legendary Lands of Arduin."

Correction: When I mentioned David Hargrave's AKA "Dream Weaver" I also mentioned there is a class by that name. The class is correctly "Rune Weaver" and in the game's far distant history were "the first true men" who defeated the reptilian Kthoi.

Arduin is a Registered Trademark of Emperors Choice Games & Miniatures

(From Moons of Arduin by Thomas Grable)

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Legendary Lands of Arduin, Episode 1 (Published Materials)

First episode of a delve into the original DIY gonzo RPG setting of Arduin.

In this initial video I examine the different sourcebooks and rules versions for Arduin as a prelude to a multi-part review of "World Book of Khaas: The Legendary Lands of Arduin."

Apologies! The author of "White Roc Inn," "World of Khaas," and "Arduin Eternal" is Monty St. John. I repeatedly in the video misstated Monty's name as "Monty St. Jean" so sorry. Monty spent more than a decade keeping the Arduin fires burning!

One other note: Monty St. John also authored for Emperors Choice an unpublished "retro" version of Arduin, based on the grimoires, called "Arduin Bloody Arduin." So, rather than an earlier title for "Arduin Eternal," references I recalled to Arduin Bloody Arduin may have been to this different version. Many of the discussions were on Google+ which are not generally recoverable now and I am left with my fallible memory.

Jesus instead of speaking extemporaneously I should write a script... Village of Hommlet (1979) would have been the summer between my frosh and sophomore years of high school AND... I forgot we picked up Tegal Manor as our first Judges Guild. City State would have come along later probably summer of 1979.

(David Hargrave, Copyright 1983 by Different Worlds)

Saturday, April 25, 2020

So Are the Days of Our Lives

... Like sands through the hourglass. That is pretty funny because there was actually a time back in 1986(?) when Heidramor was in Chico at University and I did what I do when left to my own devices (Not working, kind-of-junior college, there was something else??? Oh year, tequila!)

I was living at home and started watching "Days of Our Lives" with my younger sister and a mess of her friends. Like every day. I thought that shit was FANTASTIC! It was heckuv like D&D, like these weird plot lines besides the obligatory love story were espionage, secret identities, a mysterious computer disk (the 1st time I saw a 3 1/2" inch floppy was on Days). Then there was a writers' strike, and the show continued with I don't know who doing the story and,,, well. That was that.

Anyhow, we started the next phase of our rotating DM campaign and I played a character for only the third or fourth time since 2004! Hazzah!!!

(My game map...)
Linksman did an excellent story with some mysterious ancient translations, hidden traps, violent monsters, and travels through time. Due to California's Covid-19 shelter-in-place we gamed on Discord for video and chat, and used Roll20 for maps.

My one critique is that we could have just used Discord and verballed the mapping, 'twernt nothing but straight-ass rooms - easy to visualize. Ha, having virtual game tokens actually made melee a tad more confusing because of folks forgetting to move their mini. Minor issue though, the game was a blast.  :~)

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Notes from the Underground: Zak Smith's Cube World, Installments #1, #2, and #3

Yea acutely conscious adventurers be bloodthirsty horribles infected unable to truly appreciate precious jewels and sublime artifacts without to suffer blood-soaked agony while smashing things. Spurred not by reason rather their desire.

So lie our way through space and time with elaborate vividness possessed judges only weep to flagellate perpetual and efficient lack of originality. 

“I want more life, fucker.”

My olde-homey-group-game game was steeped in Dave Hargrave's gonzo-DIY Arduin and the idea of "Multiverse" with 4,000 or so parallel universes discovered in the Arduin Nexus (so far). So our home games had no trouble bouncing campaigns and intra-campaign from any of our home brew settings to Hargrave's Arduin (Empcho is MIA, only used resellers) to Dave Arneson's Blackmoor First Fantasy Campaign (Only used resellers for FFC, can get Mystara or Zeitgeist versions) to even Cyberpunk and friggin' Star Trek.

The particular products Arduin Grimoire Trilogy and Blackmoor/First Fantasy Campaign are basically DIY campaign notes resulting from how parties in the author's home campaigns gamed and what the judges learned worked as a result of gaming in an actual, home campaign among friends - exactly the way RPGs are played by the rest of us. With ideas fleshed out informed from interactions with their friends (not employees or testers), Hargrave and Arneson educated us in an often gritty fashion, not merely what to play, but how we could play using their own campaigns as examples. And we did play.

40 years nothing similar to these early works has come along since, until now.

(Earth and cube with same volume, from Possibly Wrong)
Recent legal development (Note: 4/8/2020 statement/tweet by Paul Matijevic/ettin64 acknowledging "defamatory" statements that "...did not undertake any suitable fact check" contains brief description of abuse that may be triggering to some readers) being what it is, award winning game author and artist Zak Smith (D&D With Porn Stars, Vornheim: The Complete City Kit, A Red and Pleasant Land, Maze of the Blue Medusa with Patrick Stuart, Frostbitten and Mutilated) announced a decision to release the entire write ups for his game's campaign, "all the D&D," for Cube World.(*)

(* Not to be confused with the 2005 Radica Cube World electronic toy or Picroma Cube World video game released in 2013/alpha and 2019.)

What is Cube World?

1. Well first off we know (meaning me and the general public) everything Zak published for OSR D&D has a place in his home campaign:

On Vornheim Zak writes "These are our rules and tables and monsters and places. I wouldn’t want to spend all this time writing a book I couldn’t use." 

Of A Red and Pleasant Land "You can set an entire campaign in Voivodja or (and this is what I did) just have it occupy a spot on the campaign map in case your players want to go there..."

Maze of the Blue Medusa Zak put on his blog a Digital DM Screen that has a button for "Random Cube World Hex." This also provides a clue to the overall size of a campaign map. I fiddled about with the button and the largest number I came up with was hex 2020. Calculating the square root is about 50 (49.9444) and given Zak's penchant for 6-mile overland hex results in a square campaign map roughly 300 miles by 300 miles.

Zak in MotBM also references Nyctopolis, "... the annihilated capital of the Reptile Empire." In a blog post from July 2016 Zak indicates Suarians of Nyctopolis may become "Knights of Tittivila," the goddess of flesh and change. This religion is also found in Vornheim and "... operates out of ordinary buildings all over the continent." 

There is a history in MotBM that provides some details about the rise and fall of the "Reptile Empire" where also Vornheim mentions some traditions descended from "Reptile Men." It is easy to presume these details are related and Nyctopolis is out there somewhere.

Finally, Frostbitten and Mutilated has a bare campaign map roughly 340 miles north-south by 250 miles east-west with the city of Vornheim located toward the southern end and the "Devoured Lands" of Frostbitten and Mutilated located toward the northern. This map from F&M is likely the area of the main campaign map.(See MotBM note above) 

2. We know Zak's campaign takes place on Cube World, a cubic, hollowed-out gigadungeon, where different sides of the cube are essentially different regions of reality:

When Zak released Vornheim back around May 2011, he included this little tidbit paragraph at the bottom of the map key on page 3...

"The entire planet is a hive of stone tunnels carved by long-dead civilizations. Familiar landscape features – trees, grass, seas and oceans – form but a thin layer on top of this gigadungeon, and the ruins of nameless cities punch through the crust in every direction."

Later that same year in a September 2011 blog post Zak writes "I have long casually assumed that the world Vornheim is on is cube-shaped. I figured: the whole planet is artificial and made of solid dungeon beneath a thin layer of vegetation, so of course it's a cube."

Implications of a cube-shaped planet are "... because the atmosphere would still radiate outward in a sphere from the planet's core, the habitable areas would be limited to non-communicating separate circular zones on each face of the planet." (See image from Possibly Wrong above.)

(Both Vornheim and F&M reference a single, round moon, so perhaps with moon phase/eclipse math inhabitants might have discovered their planet is squared, not round, and thought to tunnel over to another side.)

The six faces of the world would also aptly develop together as environments of a quasi (i.e. non-traditional D&D) multiplanar system. "... (T)he best way to get to these other biospheres would be to go through the earth and come out the other side. Bam, you're in a new world or--literally--on another plane of existence. And that's why they're called planes."

What about Cube World Installments? (Not for players, some spoilers)

1. There are several hundreds pages of new and updated material Zak has decided to publish:

In a blog post this past April 8, Zak wrote he has over a hundred pages of material originally intended for Lamentations of the Flame Princess (including Violence in the Nympharium and Bards), hundreds of pages of new material such as hex locations, new monsters, weird religions, "... new rules, tools, creatures, classes, every country, every continent, from to Vornheim to the goblin kingdom of Gaxen Kane to Drownesia plus a vast megadungeon beneath. The whole Cube World."

Zak had not planned to publish any of this, but an unnamed DM asked Zak to write her a scenario involving a Tiger-King which Zak decided to sell and donate the first week of sales as a benefit. Zak wrote that positive experience "... maybe there are some people in the online RPG scene who aren't gullible psychopaths" motivated him to release all of it. "Everything. Nothing piecemeal."

The caveat is that the material isn't being presented according to "publisher quirks" of an LotFP or Satyr Press. It is Zak's art, maps, and words. Zak is taking time to write up his notes. But the appearance of the text thus far is nitty gritty if that matters to you.

2. The first set of installments are each separate sets (not linked between them):

Rules are LotFP and compatible with old versions of D&D like 1st edition AD&D and B/X, or OSR retroclones such as Labyrinth Lord and Swords & Wizardry (note: LotFP skills are used). Zak includes a very simple rule to modify encounters for 5th Edition D&D. And Zak helpfully provides variations for either LotFP early modern Europe or medieval fantasy settings.

Zak also includes notes with each installment suggesting alterations for each scenario to run piecemeal if necessary for your campaign. (If you aren't familiar with Zak's prior work, one hallmark is that it's modular.)

All of the scenarios contain new monsters and unique ways adventurers interact with the various environments.

Cube World #1: Castle Terravante, Vault of Omnilex, and Crypt of the Wretched is two linked scenarios and what Zak's home group is gaming right now. "A social-interaction clusterfuck involve shenanigans in a castle (a duke, a count, a scheming priest, a dark secret etc) and the rest about the dungeon beneath." The dungeon will be supplemented by a megadungeon, but not yet.

Cube World #2: The Inquisitor's Road, The Gray Fortress, The Echo Chambers (plus d100 potions with ingredients) has three distinct parts. "In the first scenario, the party heads through the wilderness to investigate a heresy at the behest of religious authorities, in the second section the party encounters an evil cult in a once-abandoned fortress, and the third section is a dungeon."

Cube World Installment #3: The Curated Destruction "is a semi-legendary library created by the elves to contain all useful knowledge and literary art." This scenario, in addition to tables of interesting books and tables of uninteresting books, has regional descriptions of the campaign world.

3. How does one purchase installments?

Zak has been selling installments for $5 and some pennies ($5.01 for #1, $5.02 for #2) except installment #3 is much longer and goes for $10.03. The text is PDF and maps hi-res JPGs.

The most punk, DIY, and underground way to buy these is to visit Zak's "Only Fans" pay porn site (no porn there, just RPG). Just a side note, I got hit with a bogus ransomware email threatening to send my contacts video captured from my webcam watching videos from the site and "self-pleasuring." Ha, bogus because I watched no videos and don't have a webcam.

If you don't mind missing Zak's message updates on "Only Fans" there is also a Venmo setup.

**** UPDATE 4/22/2020 - Updated blog post about what's out and how to get it.

What do I think?

I have enjoyed Zak's RPG work for a decade. On the installments, these are the wordsmith and art I grew accustomed to from Zak's blog and prior books. Not instructing you verbatim how a scenario should be run but rather where you might want to end up and a variety of thoughts on how to get you there.

Published campaign settings, however, are really no big thing, the difference here is this is Zak's personal campaign. Nothing matches the time, effort, and love for your players than what a game judge makes for the home group and setting you actually game in. Rarely for the rest of us are works available combining that personal effort with an award-winning author and an existing body of professionally published works. Jesus, I can only think of one predecessor: Dave Hargrave and Arduin.

Dave Hargrave was cut short at age 42 though, and most of his campaign notes, additional dungeons, maps, etc. are said to have likely ended up in a landfill. When a bit of interest in Arduin came up again during the early OSR, there was almost nothing written by Hargrave to add to the dozen or so Arduin works Hargrave published during his lifetime. That didn't stop Empcho from publishing an 800-page Arduin world book though, and a game map. The huge main difference is it wasn't Dave's voice in the words.

Ok Zak, please don't die, and I'll look forward to your vision for Cube World. Thanks!