Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Flipping the Flanaess

It might actually work...
I was struggling with where some of the things in my Hyborean Greyhawk were placed. I started to futz around and thought "What would happen if I rotated the map?" And all of a sudden, it started working better.

Aerdy becomes a decadent, frozen kingdom. Maybe with kind of a fucked up Skyrim vibe. Hephamonaland ceases to be a jungle and becomes a subarctic woodland. It's where I was thinking of popping the Amazons. Instead of the typical tropical amazons, these almost become she-vikings. Interestingly, they are opposite the vikings on the map.  That might work.

I decided not to make Stygia the Scarlet Brotherhood. All this time, I had Ull staring at me. It was already Stygia. So it's Stygia now. I think instead of the Nazi Ninjas of TSR Canon, I might make the Scarlet Brotherhood a pirate brotherhood. Why not? Scarlet is just a particular type of red, and the Red Brotherhood is a perfectly established pirate organization in Howard's work.

Moving the Esquimaux up to what were the Sea Barons and Lendore Isles makes me think that in some cases, during the Long Nights, the sea freezes to a point where they raid the northern fringes of Aerdy on their war sleds.

Keoland becomes a more tropical land. I might look into what is written about Shem. I'll keep Nyrond and Furyondy as the more "Western" kingdoms.

Yeah, that cultures document I wrote before? I'm totally going to have to rewrite it.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Hyborean Dorakaa

I'd just like to point out that I likely won't be posting too regularly on here. I'm finishing up my last undergrad semester and trying to get Hyborean Greyhawk stuff written. That said, from time to time, when I have a little something, I'll post it. Here is a little something.

The first adventure I plan on running is called Escape from Dorakaa, and it will be for approximately 5th level Astonishing Swordsmen and Sorcerers of Hyperborea characters. After I run it a few times, I may tweak it out and make it a 1st level adventure. We'll see. I've set a May 1st deadline to have 20,000 words written on it. It'll be more of a sourcebook of my vision of Dorakaa than a traditional adventure, as escaping from the Slave Market will require ingenuity and I don't expect any group to do it the same way twice.

For those keeping track at home, I've also set an August 1st deadline for 160,000 words for a more generic Hyborean Greyhawk sourcebook. None of this will be for sale, since WotC owns the Greyhawk IP, but I can certainly share it for free.

Anyway, without further adieu:


The City of Bone is nothing like you’ve ever seen before. Many cities sprawl out in numerous directions with hundreds of shanties and structures creating a labyrinth of streets and alleys. Dorakaa does not sprawl. Dozens of enormous blue-black structures, linked by filthy streets and ramshackle bridges, erupt from the ruins of an ancient city. Among the new structures are overgrown ruins of green-stone buildings of an unknown ancient culture and the white stone streets of the ancient Hyboreans.

The most distinct feature of the city is the towering horned tower of Iuz and Iggwilv. Also known as The Great Fane of the Son and Mother, it is the main focus for the worship of Iuz (and, to a lesser degree, Iggwilv). Directly opposite The Great Fane, along the Skull Road, is the Palace of Iuz, an enormous ziggurat upon which Iuz’s Throne of Bone rests. Along the Skull Road are the manors of the many functionaries of the Cult of Iuz as well as the Old One’s demoniac orc generals. Also included is the great Arena of Dorakaa, where slaves are pitted against all manner of foes, from fellow slaves to unspeakable beasts. Near the Arena is the Slave Market, a large building with multiple slave blocks, allowing the free trade of those captured by the Old One’s minions. Nefarious actors from across the Flanaess, from Stygia to Araby, come to this market to trade in human flesh, many staying at the Slaver’s Hostel.

I've got quite a bit more than this written already (2,500 words), but sharing that would be telling! I will hopefully be looking for playtesters in May.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Cultures of Hyborean Greyhawk

In keeping with the spirit of Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea as well as other Sword and Sorcery influenced games (such as the Mongoose Conan d20 game and their Lankhmar supplements for Runequest, as well as the Conan modules for AD&D) the lack of demi-human options requires an increase in definition of the different human cultures compared to a lot of D&D-family games. One of the things I thought was interesting about the World of Greyhawk was the backstory of the different humans—the Suloise-Bakluni war leading to the Rain of Colorless Fire and the Invoked Devastation, the displacement of the local Flannae, and so on—at least compared to other games out there which either fixated on regions or nationalities, not races of humans.

I think I will follow AS&SH's lead in not assigning any mechanical bonuses or penalties to the different cultures. While the typical Kimmerian will be hardy, I want to avoid the pitfalls of some of the later “optimizable” editions of D&D where you were looked at funny if you tried to make a character whose race did not directly compliment the mechanical effects of class.

So, there are seven major cultural groups in Hyborean Greyhawk—The Amedi, the Bakluni, the Kelts, the Oeridians, the Picts, the Stygians, and the Vikings. Within each of these are different subgroups, which will be explained a little further. Some of these subgroups are even further stratified, based upon political divisions that lead to cultural differences.

Some scholars do not include the Amedi when cataloging the major cultures of the Flanaess. On almost every map, the Amedio Jungle and Lowlands are a small portion, isolated by land thanks to the Hellfurnaces. This reflect more the ignorance of the cartographers, as the Amedi people extend far to the south. Most denizens of the Flanaess encounter the Amedi through the many sailors encountered on ships and in dock wards across the continent. The Amedi vie with the Zingarans and Argossians of the eastern seas for the title of best sailors on the Flanaess.

Culturally, there are three subgroups of the Amedi. Island Amedi populate the islands off the coast of the Monmurg Principalities. They have mixed with the Keoish Kelts although the islands retain a strongly Amedi flair. Jungle Amedi are a fierce, tribal culture of warriors who have resisted all attempts by the Plains Amedi to “civilize” them. The Amedi of the Amedio Lowlands are a vibrant mercantile people, whose sailors are renowned throughout the Flanaess.

The Bakluni once held one of the most powerful empires history had ever known. It was only when the Stygians called down the Invoked Devastation upon the Baklunish Empire that they were scattered into their current state. The Afghuli remain in what was once the Baklunish Empire, now called Afghulistan, the Land of the Dry Steppes. Their ability to survive in more-than-austere conditions is legendary. The Arabyan people to the north believe themselves to be the true heirs to the Baklunish Empire. There are four different kinds of Arabyans. The Paynims are a collection of nomadic Arabyans who eschew the concepts of “civilization” which led to the eradication of the old empire. North of them, on the coast of the Dramidj Ocean, are the Northern Arabyans, with their many caliphates. They seek to reclaim the lost glories of the Baklunish Empire. To the east lies Ket, the gateway to the Bakluni West. Most travelers deal with the Ket Arabyans, who have allowed some of the foreign cultures to rub off on them. South of the Paynims lies the sinister land of Ull. A dark country of sorcerers and foul creatures, agents of Ull pursue inscrutable objectives in support of unspeakable masters and are the source of many of the negative stereotypes Easterners apply to the Arabyans. The final subgroup of Bakluni are the Esquimaux of the North. The Esquimaux are a tribal culture who survive hunting the mammoths of the northern tundra. Rumors abound that they know the secrets of the Land of Black Ice to the far north of the Burneal Forest—evil secrets.

Kelts are, without a doubt, the most populous people of the Flanaess. From the southwestern Keoish states to the Kimmerians of the north, Kelts are found far and wide throughout the land. As a result, they have the largest amount of subgroups.

Keoish Kelts settled in the Sheldomar Valley, pushing the native Picts out to the northeast. The King of Keoland ostensibly commands the fealty of all of the Keoishmen, but in reality Keoland sits alone along the Sheldomar, content to live out its delusions. To Keoland's north lie the Northern Marches and the Ulek States. The Marchers believe themselves to be the primary bastion of the Keltic People against the Bakluni of the West. In reality, they deal more with savage mountain-folk of the Lortmil Mountains and the Barrier Peaks, as well as the unruly forest tribes of the Bramblewood. The Ulekers have their hands full, dealing with raids from the Wild Kelts of the Wooly Bay. Quite often, the lords of the Ulek States fail to even offer token fealty to Keoland, feeling that they get little support for their tribute. To date, Keoland has not pressed the issue. To the west of Keoland lie the Mountain Counties. Giants, ape-men, and worse descend from the Crystalmist Mountains and the militant Mountaineers are there to defend Keoland from them. Finally, to the south lies the Monmurg Principalities. Monmurgers have mixed with the Island Amedi, although the mainland Principalities are decidely Keoish in nature.

The central portion of the Flanaess is held by the Velondi Kelts. The Velondi of Veluna are under the direction (some say oppression) of the Church of Mitra. Mitran priests the Flanaess over train at the religious centers throughout Veluna. The neighboring Furyondy stands watch against the Pictish Wilderness to its north, its border companies keeping the various raiders at bay from the civilized center of the Flanaess. The constant war with the Picts has created a new class of errant nobles, who the King of Furyondy has sent to carve a new land to the east out of the Pictish Wilderness. The Shield Landers are the rough-and-ready extension of this, looking to spread the word and civilization of Mitra to the savage Picts.

Finally, the less “civilized” Keltic cultures should be mentioned. The lands of the Wooly Bay are home to the Wild Kelts. Some say that it's the ill wind blowing across the bay from the Leng Desert that makes this land so untamable, but no one knows for sure. The Wild Kelts raid neighboring lands, attack shipping, and generally make a nuisance for everyone around them. It is only because they fight each other more than the outside world that they are not considered more of a threat. Far to the north, beyond the Pictish Wilderness lies Kimmeria. The Kimmerians are a strong and clannish race of warriors. The harshness of the north winds off the Icy Sea have forged men of steel.Challenging the Kelts for “civilized” supremacy on the Flanaess are the Oeridians. There are two main groups of Oeridians—The Aerdi people and the Nyrondese. The Aerdi once controlled a vast empire which reached as far as the Lortmil Mountains to the west. The remaining Great Kingdom is a decadent place, relying heavily on the labor of slaves and the occasional tribute from neighboring territories and the threat of intervention by its armies of foreign mercenaries. While the Sea Barons of Zingara trace their lineage to Aerdi, they are a more dynamic people, whose mercantile reach extends throughout the Solnor Ocean and even into the Azure Sea. To the south of the Great Kingdom lies The Iron League, a confederation of city-states whose loyalty to each other is only marginally greater than their shared resistance to the Overkings of Aerdi.

To the west of the Great Kingdom lies its former vassal state, Nyrond, who has become a power in and of itself. Of all of the major kingdoms of the Flanaess (Nyrond, in addition to Furyondy, Keoland, and the Great Kingdom), Nyrond is perhaps the most outwardly aggressive of the bunch, constantly challenging the Great Kingdom, as well as sponsoring expeditions into the Pictish Wilderness, the Bone March, and even the Leng Desert. To the west of Nyrond is Urnst, a buffer state which absorbs many of the Pictish and Leng retributions to Nyrondese incursions. The people of Urnst long to get out of the shadow of Nyrond, but have as yet been unable. Nestled in the bosom of The Rakers lies the last Nyrondese state—The Pale. Fanatic devotees of Mitra, The Pale seeks to spread the word of Mitra by sword and fire if need be. Nyrond does its best to focus The Pale's attention on the Picts, but there is an increasingly vocal population who feel that Nyrond and the Great Kingdom have turned too far from the true faith and must be returned to the fold.From Whystil Lake to the Griff Mountains, Picts, the original inhabitants (along with the Vikings) of the Flanaess war against Esquimaux, Kimmerians, Kelts, and Oeridians alike. For almost all of recorded history, the Picts were like those in the eastern Bandit Kingdoms—petty warlords, commanding a few hundred poorly equipped warriors at best and unable to sustain any truly threatening offensive. However, the rise of two cultures has changed the complexion of the Pictish Wilderness and many of the civilized nations are nervous. On the border of Furyondy, Pictish tribes have united under the banner of the Horned Society. Reports of deviltry abound and the increasingly coordinated and organized nature of the society's depredations has put the Furyondy borderers on the defensive. Opposite Whystil Lake from Furyondy is the even more troubling nation of Iuz. Purported to be the son of a succubus, this land's eponymous lord has allowed his mother's demonic allies to breed with the native tribes. These demon-blooded Picts, known as orcs, are a new, terrifying threat. Many believe it is only a matter of time before Iuz's orc horde comes for the civilized Flanaess.

Much like the Bakluni, the Stygians once commanded a vast empire in what is now the Sea of Dust. After they called down the Invoked Devastation upon the Baklunish Empire, the Bakluni responded with the Rain of Colorless Fire. The few surviving Stygians migrated across the Flanaess, settling upon the Tilvanot Peninsula to the southeast. The secluded cities of the Great Plateau are the homes to the last remaining Pureblood Stygians. They jealously guard their bloodlines as much as they hoard their ancient knowledge. Hawk-nosed Stygian “advisors” offer to share this lore in exchange for unspeakable concessions to courts throughout the Flanaess. Reasonable folk know no good ever comes from these deals, but those in power are seldom reasonable. To the east of the Tilvanot are the Argossian Islands and these Stygians, considered mongrels by the purebloods, have bred with the local Oeridians to create a seafaring power to rival the Zingarans. To the south of the Argossians lie the Hephamoni people. Through breeding and extermination, the Stygians have set up vast plantations managed by purebloods, but surviving on the backs of the slave Hephamoni.

The final major culture are, along with the Picts, natives of the Flanaess. From their northeastern mountain redoubts, Vikings sail forth from the Vikland Peninsula to harass Kimmeria and the Aerdi nations. In some cases the Stygian nations have tasted the fury of Northmen who have gone a-viking. The Northmen are organized into various clans, occasionally one of the Jarls will organize many clans under his banner, but this never lasts long. The only Viking civilization to move beyond clans into nationhood is Ratik. At one point, Ratik was the northernmost portion of the Aerdi Empire, but after the Great Undead Horde was unleashed within the Bone March, it was left isolated. Ratik has since taken the ferocity of the Viking culture and added some of the infrastructure and learning of the Oeridians and formed a rugged and hardy civilization which stands alone in an unforgiving wilderness.

There are some other cultures that deserve mention, those of the Inhumans. They generally keep to themselves, brooking no intrusions onto their territory and are possessed of magic and technology unheard of by any man. Atlanteans who have survived the destruction of their homeland, Atlantis, live on a series of islands between the Argossians and Zingarans. Provided no one intrudes on their land, they usually allow traffic to pass by in peace. Throught the mountains of the Flanaess, Dwarf ruins contain unfathomable clockwork technologies and considerable wealth. No one knows when the Dwarfs were extant, and any exploration of their remnants has shed little light on their culture. Of course, this could have something to do with the relative danger involved. Few who enter Dwarf ruins return and those who do are forever changed. Before mankind, the Hyboreans ruled over all. They refuse to explain why they have retreated to their secret fasts, Celene in the Keltic Wilds and the Valley of the Mage in the Crystalmists, and the appearance of a Hyborean is usually a portent of ill-omen.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Calendar of Hyborean Greyhawk

Ever since I first picked up the World of Greyhawk Boxed Set (I’d guess some time in the late 80s—I only got the Folio version late last year), I was enamored with its weather generation system. At least I was enamored with the thought of it. In practice it’s a little wonky. That said, it’s a degree of canon in how the climates of the Flanaess work. So it’s something to keep in mind for Hyborean Greyhawk.

Now, Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea has a really unique calendar, with a 13-year cycle with months of darkness in the winter and months of daylight in the summer.

I’ve crunched them together to come up with the Hyborean Greyhawk calendar.

Part One: Under The Hood (Methodology and Musings about the system I came up with)

My method was as follows: First, I calculated the number of hours of daylight in each month in the WoG Glossography calendar. Then, I came up with a scaled modification to those numbers coming from the AS&SH 13-year calendar to generate just how many hours of daylight each month had. Finally, I adjusted the average temperature of each month based upon how many hours of daylight it had deviated from the norm. That gave me a 156-month, 13-year chart of hours of daylight and average temperature.

The 13-Year Calendar, Coded for Climate
The attached picture is a visual representation of this data, which helped me wrap my head around it.  The cooler colors (purple and blue) are the winter months, the purple being the colder end of the winter spectrum. Likewise, the warmer colors (yellow and orange) are the summer months. The black and red months are the long night and long day periods, respectively, where the sun either doesn’t come up for months on end.

My other thought is that since there are two cycles going on, there should be two suns. Down the road, I’ll figure out the astrophysics behind all of this, and be able to have a coherent “here’s where each sun is” answer. I’m pretty good friends with the local astronomer at the college (he’s a soccer buddy now that I’m done taking classes with him and got a real chuckle out of how I explained how GURPS Space was the reason I passed his classes without effort…) so I might enlist his aid.

The other thing I have to keep in mind is that this calendar has considerable implications for life on Hyborean Greyhawk. Looking at the calendar, there are a few critical moments in the 13-year cycle—there is a span of 22 months from the ninth month of Year 12 to the sixth month of the following Year 1 in which the average temperature is below freezing. And even then there is only a two month window of temperate weather (average temperature 33-59 degrees) immediately preceding it. There is nine months of winter before that window. It makes the Year 11 harvest that much more important.

Before I can really move too much further on that, I need to figure out how precipitation is going to work. The Glossography system is just a little too… I dunno… weird for me. In a one week span, I had a heavy snowstorm leading into a tropical storm. While strange weather happens, the frequency of strange weather in the WoG Boxed Set is a little too frequent for my taste.

So, there is still work to be done on the system, but I do have a basic springboard to work with, even if the details will come later.

Part Two: The Basics of the Hyborean Greyhawk Calendar

As much as the arrogance of the degenerate (and some would say demon-ridden and inbred) Overkings of Aerdy insist that this is the middle of the 576th Common Year of the Great Kingdom of Aerdy, the more astute denizens of the Flanaess consider this to be the 8th Month of the Genesis Year of the Bear of the 468th Pelorian Cycle of Hyborean Years. The twin sons of Hyborea, the sphere upon which the Flanaess is located, are known as Pelor and Pholtus. These bloated, red suns make their presence known in varying intervals. The brighter of the two, Pholtus, rotates around Hyborea constantly, although as Hyborea moves through the Pelorian Cycle, Pholtus’s position is higher in the summer years and lower in the winter years, to the point where it is everpresent during the Long Days and completely absent during the Long Nights. Pelor, the duller of the suns, rotates around Hyborea every thirteen years (hence the name Pelorian Cycle), hanging low in the sky in the summer and never to be seen in the winter.

The twelve months of the year do not have names. Again, the Overkings would say otherwise, but many Flannae (the term for denizens of the Flanaess) wonder why you would call a month Fireseek when its average temperature is over sixty degrees in the middle quarter of the Pelorian Cycle. For the most part, the months are simply numbered. The years within the cycle, however, are much more readily named.

Part Three: The Calendar

If I make a full-blown supplement for Hyborean Greyhawk, there will be more information contained.  My notes certainly have more detail, but for the purposes of the blog at this point in time, I am simply going to break down the years by name and a broad characterization of the months they contain.

Here are the definitions for the monthly characterizations:
Long Night: The period of time which neither Pelor nor Pholtus appear. Cold and dark for months on end, the only comfort provided is that it is dry, so snowfall is rare in these months.
Deep Winter: Pelor is nowhere to be seen during these frigid months. Pholtus will typically show his face low in the sky for at most two to three hours a day. A warm day during these months is 0 degrees (F).
Winter: The Flannae winters are notoriously wet. Temperatures are usually between 5 degrees and freezing.
Temperate: You’ll see that the traditional spring and autumn designations aren’t really applicable here. These seasons are typically wet (although less so than the winter) and temperatures range from freezing to about sixty degrees.
Summer: Summers in Hyborean Greyhawk are hot and dry, although short, violent storms will punctuate the season. Temperatures range from sixty to ninety degrees.
High Summer: The High Summer is quite arid, and the sun is the sky for all but a handful of hours. Temperatures exceed ninety degrees during these months.
Long Day: Both suns shine during these periods. Six or seven months of perpetual sunlight bakes the ground, lowers lakes, and dries up streams.

The years are named in the format of “The Whatever Year of the Blahblah,” where Whatever is the more esoteric name for the year used by Sages, Wizards, Bards, and other milk-drinking weaklings. Most people refer to the year by the Blahblah designator.

The Pelorian Cycle of Hyborean Years
Year 1: The Genesis Year of the Bear
Long Night (2 months), Deep Winter (1 month), Winter (3 months), Temperate (2 months), Winter (3 months), Deep Winter (1 month).
(From here on out, you’ll just see a number after the characterization. I think you can figure it out.)
Year 2: The Renaissance Year of the Fish
Deep Winter (1), Winter (3), Temperate (5), Winter (3)
Year 3: The Vernal Equinox Year of the Wolf
Winter (3), Temperate (3), Summer (2), Temperate (3), Winter (1)
Year 4: The Tempest Year of the Hare
Winter (2), Temperate (2), Summer (5), Temperate (3)
Year 5: The Deluge Year of the Elk
Temperate (3), Summer (3), High Summer (3), Summer (2), Temperate (1)
Year 6: The High Summer Waxing Year of the Tiger
Temperate (3), Long Day (6), Summer (2), Temperate (1)
Year 7: The High Summer Waning Year of the Crab
Temperate (2), Long Day (7), Summer (2), Temperate (1)
Year 8: The Drought Year of the Eagle
Temperate (3), Summer (3), High Summer (1), Summer (3), Temperate (2)
Year 9: The Tranquility Year of the Whale
Temperate (4), Summer (5), Temperate (2), Winter (1)
Year 10: The Autumnal Equinox Year of the Aurochs
Winter (3), Temperate (3), Summer (2), Temperate (2), Winter (2)
Year 11: The Twilight Year of the Mammoth
Winter (4), Temperate (5), Winter (2), Deep Winter (1)
Year 12: The Coda Year of the Fox
Deep Winter (3), Winter (4), Temperate (2), Winter (1), Long Night (3)
Year 13: The Nightfall Year of the Bat

Oh, actually, one thing, the climate notes are based on a 45 degree latitude, since I plan on starting the game in Ratik.

Part Four: Final Thoughts on the Calendar

Some years are better than others. I’d say that eight of them aren’t horrible, having more temperate months than extreme months, the five that don’t meet this criteria are the Long Day and Night years. Down the road, I’ll do some research to add some verisimilitude to daily life based on this, but for now, this is what I’m rolling with.

Next up: What I am doing with the cultures.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Welcome to Hyborean Greyhawk!

I’ve been on an Astonishing Swordsmen &Sorcerers of Hyperborea kick ever since I picked it up during RPGNow’s GM Week Sale (Brought to my attention by +Erik Tenkar). It first caught my eye at the unveiling of the Gygax magazine at the Brooklyn Strategist, and hasn’t really left. It didn’t help that my wife found a dirt cheap copy of the Mongoose Conan RPG at a thrift store for dirt cheap. So, I’ve got AS&SH now and I’ve been reading it for about the last two weeks and I really, really dig it. It’s basically D&D houseruled the way I want it to be. That means it edges out Adventures Dark & Deep and Swords & Wizardry WhiteBox thanks to the minimal fiddling I’d have to do with it. Basically, anything I want to do with it is setting and fluff, not system.

So what do I want to do with it? Two words:

Hyborean Greyhawk.

I’ve made no secret of my love for Greyhawk. It’s pretty much what I look for and love in a D&D trope setting. The Old World of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, particularly the first edition version, has a pretty high place in my heart, but it still doesn’t compete with that original D&D setting. I’ve tried Forgotten Realms (and only really enjoy the Grey Box version, from the Avatar Crisis on, it just got too cartoony for me), Dragonlance, Ravenloft, and even third-party settings like the Judge’s Guild Wilderlands or Glorantha, but none of them ever really resonated the way Greyhawk did.

I probably never would have considered reconciling Greyhawk and a Hyborean style D&D game but for +Chris Kutalik's post on the Hill Cantons describing the “HowlingEmptiness of the World of Greyhawk.” While +Joseph Bloch (one of my go-to guys for all things Greyhawk as well as the author of the excellent Adventures Dark & Deep) disagreeswith Chris’s assessment, I did find the article “Population and Power Scales inGreyhawk” on Canonfire, which backs up Chris’s ideas and provides a neat map as an example of how it would look.

So, I decided to make Hyborean Greyhawk my new project. This blog will serve as the notebook of that project, which may or may not culminate in something downloadable.