Elfquest musings

In researching Alternate Elves  I found out that all of the Elfquest comics are free on the official website.

If you haven’t read the series give it a shot.  There is a long out of print rpg by Chaosium using BRP.  It had a boxed set and three supplements (although if I understand correctly a later hardback included the companion supplement’s material).  The most interesting supplement, Sea Elves, included the tribe long before they appeared in the comic (I’m not sure if they were invented originally for the RPG or not).

Monday Pointers: Less the Fool Edition

D4:You Don’t Need a Hex to Crawl
Ix provides a hex less crawl through the Kingdom of Ignorance in Northwestern Glorantha. It’s designed for the Doomquest micro-RQ hack in Fight On! issue 11. This really strikes me for a couple of reasons. First, it’s Glorantha, a setting I’ve loved since first owning RQ2 back in 1980. Second, like a lot of OSR oriented people I love collections of charts that I can use to GM on the fly. Third, I like how he has it set-up in terms of what the hexless means. I’m not sure if this is original to these posts or even Ix but it’s new to me. I think it could adapt really well to the Tuesday night D&D4 campaign whose focus is shifting after the TPK-1 in early March.

D6:The Best Things in Gaming Are Free
Well, maybe not all of them. Still, as this list of free material for Labyrinth Lord shows you could arguably have a life-time RPG hobby and only buy dice, pencils, and paper. While it won’t stop me from buying stuff it’s good to have a reminder that our hobby is one that doesn’t take much money (or space given this is all electronic).

D8:End Times for The B/X Companion
No, it’s not going away because of WotC lawyers but more mundane end of a printing press. Actually, Blackrazor has the 3rd printing ready and lets us know it’ll be the last saddle stitched (and maybe last period). If, like me, you’ve been tardy in ordering one times a wasting so get it now. Also, once this sells out he’ll start work on the PDF version so, if you’re waiting for PDF, buy a hard copy.

D10:The One Reboot I Enjoyed
Matt stumbles upon what is really happening to many OSR types in this post. I know, after reading it, it’s what happened to me. When I first saw Basic Fantasy Roleplaying it did that to me. In fact, this blog is the reaction to the process that began with that discovery along with James Raggi IV’s 101 Days of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (which despite being a couple of years old at that time I hadn’t read until then due to his posting later about finding players with flyers).

D12:Deluxe Megadungeon on the Horizon
I know Castle of the Archmage can be had free but this looks well worth it.

D13:I’ve Gotten Over 40 XP and Leveled Up
I’d like to thank everyone who has followed me as I’m now A Thinker

Buried Treasures: Hellpits of Nightfang

If I was going to give a new Dungeon Master of any edition of D&D, yes even 4th edition, a module to say “hey, here’s how it is done” I have to admit it wouldn’t be from TSR. In fact, it wouldn’t even be a D&D module but a Runequest one. I’d hand him Hellpits of Nightfang by Paul Jaquays and published by The Judges Guild. Fortunately it is available as a PDF for under $3.


Hellpits of Nightfang details a three limestone sinkholes as well as the caves and tombs attached to them. The pits are the home of a pair of vampires, a pack of wolves and other assorted creatures. It has fifteen numbered locations. They are all named as well for added character. While the entire module is thirty-six pages long much of that is white spaced with lines for notes. Major characters (the two vampires and one wolf) each take about a page for stat blocks with note space while minor creatures run as many as five to a page. A very brief history of the two vampires as well as a hero’s tomb in the sinkholes is provided.

What makes Hellpits of Nightfang an ideal model for a new Dungeon Master? First, it is a quintessential location adventure. It has absolutely no plot. In fact, I can summarize the entire background in four sentences. Nightfang is a vampire so old his real name is forgotten even by local villagers. In life he was a priest of a death cult and sacrifices his victims to his god meaning he rarely creates vampires. The one exception was the ugly daughter of a local farmer he has turned and who is now his companion. The sinkholes also include the tomb of a local hero that floods now that the climate is wetter. That’s it. The only mention of anything beyond the pits is a local populace including at one farmer now short an ugly daughter. It is a prime example of creating something and let the player’s action define the story.

Second, Jaquays uses a standard format used previously in Snakepipe Hollow. It creates a much more open feeling than many TSR modules from the same time period. It demonstrates the difference between designed set pieces and more dynamic locations. While some might object to the amount of detail of this key format for a beginner I think adopting this format would be a huge help. It is a prime example of expert created rules that might stifle experts forced to use them but that provide a marked advantage for beginners.

Finally, the adventure has some interesting set pieces. Without giving too much away Nightfang has some interesting items and ways of using them you might not consider. The flooded tomb has a very interesting pool. There are also some interesting traps of a type I’ve yet to see in many OSR discussions.

All in all, this is an excellent adventure. While a classic location adventure it provides a lot of contrast to many modules. It is small enough to wrap your head around the whole thing and see how it is put together. I think it is an excellent first adventures for a new dungeon master, especially of the old school.

Runequest Appendix N

I just noticed something last night. I was thinking about posting the Runequest reading list from the appendices. As soon as I sat down I noticed that it is N. Bibliography. That’s right, RQ maintained the tradition of putting reading material in Appendix N. For general interest and comparison here it is.

[Appendix] N. Bibliography

Bibby, George. 4000 Years Ago – check your library for other titles as well; anything by Bibby is recommended.

Byfield, Barbarbara N. The Book of Weird (formerly The Glass Harmonica) – a delightfully-written and illustrated encyclopedia of things fantastical.

Coles, John. Archeology by Experiment – excellent description of the practical side of archeology, easily relatable to FRP games.

Conally, Peter. The Greek Armies, The Roman Army, and Enemies of Rome – three educational picture books of incredible detail and content.

Draeger, Donn F. and Smith, Robert W. Asian Fighting Arts – an excellent survey of what it really takes to master a weapon.

Foote, Peter(ed.) The Saga of Grettir the Strong – on version of the making of a hero, direct from the Age of Heroes of Iceland.

Funcken, Lillane and Fred. Arms and Uniforms: Ancient Egypt to the 18th Century – first-class illustrated book of historical costumes and weapons.

Howard, Robert E. Conan (and others) – the archetypical noble and savage barbarian written with muscle and guts; his notes have been finished with less gusto by other writers as well.

Keegan, John. The Face of Battle – the descriptions in this book are a must for anyone wanting to know some truth in grisly detail about ancient and medieval warfare.

Leiber, Fritz. Swords in the Mist (and others) – a basic source of modern fantasy; the stories about Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser are classics.

Magnusson, Magnus (ed.). Njal’s Saga – an excellent look at a Dark Ages culture, and some rousing fighting besides.

Malory, Thomas. Le Morte d’Arthur – more information on heroic actions, though of a limited cult. Useful too for inspiration on possible event for FRP.

Moorcock, Michael. Elric (and others) – a basic source of modern fantasy.

Smith, Clark Ashton. Hyperborea (and others) – more standards of fantasy fiction, which everyone should at least taste.

Stone, George Cameron. A Glossary of the Constuction, Decoration, and Use of Arms and Armor – heavy emphasis on Japanese fighting gear, but worth it anyway.

Sturlasson, Snorri. King Harald’s Saga – a superb epic tale by Iceland’s most famous saga writer, proving you do not need fantasy to create a legend.

Tolkien, J. R. R. Lord of the Rings – a modern fantasy classic. Tolkien is rightfully accorded as the Master of fantasy, and if you have not yet read LotR, please do yourself a favor. Of his other works, see also The Silmarilion – notes of the Master compiled posthumously by his son, Christopher. These are a chronicle of the earlier ages of Middle Earth.

Chivalry & Sorcery; Bunnies & Burrows; Flash Gordon & the Warriors of Mongo; Starships & Spacemen – all from Fantasy Games Unlimited, PO Box 182, Roslyn NY 11576.

Empire of the Petal Throne; Knights of the Round Table; Space Patrol; Superhero 2044 – all from Gamescience (Lou Zocchi & Associates), 1956 Pass Rd., Gulfport MS 39501.

Advanced D&D; Dungeons & Dragons; Gamma World; Metamorphosis Alpha; Star Probe; Star Empires – all from TSR Hobbies, Inc., PO Box 756, Lake Geneva WI 53147.

Bushido; Space Quest – Tyr Gamemakers Ltd., PO Box 414, Arlington VA 22210.

The Fantasy Trip (included Wizard and Melee) – Metagaming, PO Box 15346, Austin TX 78761.

Tunnels & Trolls; Monsters! Monsters!; Starfaring – all from Flying Buffal, Inc., PO Box 1467, Scottsdale AZ 85252.

Traveller; En Garde! – Game Designers’ Workshop, 203 North St., Normal IL 61761.

Legacy – Legacy Press, 217 Harmon Rd., Camden MI 49232.

Arduin Grimoire; Welcome to Skull Tower; Runes of Doom – all from James E. Mathis, 2428 Ellsworth (102), Berkeley CA 94704.

Star Trek – Heritage Models, Inc., 9840 Monroe Dr. (Bldg. 106), Dallas TX 75220.

The Society for Creative Anachronism. Write to Society of Creative Anachronism, Inc., Office of the Registry, PO Box 594, Concord, Calif. 94522

Write for prices to Lou Zocchi & Associates, 1956 Pass Rd. Gulfport MS 39501,or see you local hobby or game store.


When contrasting it to the DMG the following stand out:

  • The presence of a lot of non-fiction.
  • The fiction on this list is present on the DMG.
  • The addition of commentary
  • That this list is specific works for all authors
  • The pointers to other games (more about this below)
  • The presence of DIY history in two places
  • The presence of non-modern texts in the form of sagas.

The presence of other games I think is very telling for two reasons. One, it indicates this work is a product of a period when the hobby was one of associates and friends not rival businesses becoming an industry. Second, it provides a context not only for the stories the designers wanted to tell but the games they knew. It is an interesting addition to the context of the game looking back 30 years later.

Names on a Map

One of the more interesting things in looking back at Runequest 2 (RQ) (the Chaosium version, not the new Mongoose one) is how much difference 30 years have made in what is considered a setting. When it was published RQ was considered unique in that it was specific to a setting. While Empire of the Petal Throne predates it for some reason the fact that it had a setting hadn’t registered. I suspect that as TSR’s other RPG it wasn’t considered a major player. Another might be the tight relationship between the system, especially the magic system, and the world. Regardless of why, RQ was seen as a breakthrough game in this respect, as well as others.

From the time I got my first copy of RQ I have been enamored of that world, Glorantha. For someone whose fantasy exposure was Tolkien, Narina, Earthsea, and D&D up until that time it was a revelation. I had always been interested in the ancient world, especially Sumer, and here was an RPG that embraced the Bronze age over the Iron age. Here was a world where gods and myths were an integral part of playing instead of at best a nudge to behave good to get your cure spells. Finally, here was a game that was about going places and doing things instead of looting dungeons.

When I fast forward twenty-five years from that first copy of RQ it’s amazing how different it is. At that point I found a used copy of RQ2 at my FLGS and I bought it. I had the Avalon Hill edition by that point as well as all the Avalon Hill supplements. I’d never had the originals from Chaosium due to lack of money and lack of interest among people I played with. In fact, the only RQ I got to play more than one shots was a Harn game. Getting that copy of RQ2 blew my mind. Maybe three pages of strictly setting material are in the book. There are about another 10 or 15 integrated in the rules in the form of cults, the prior experience appendix, and two maps.

As I prepare for my Big Rubble centered game starting Monday it is those maps that are interesting. On facing pages in the appendices the left/west one covers Dragon Pass and parts of Tarsh, Estrola, and The Holy Country. The right/east one covers Prax and the southern Shadow Dance mountains. Pavis is at the east side of Prax along the River of Cradles which marks its eastern boundary (or not). There are some great place names on the map. Beyond Pavis are five other cities: Laca, Adari, Castle of Lead, Barbarian Town, and Corflu. There are five marked ruins beyond The Big Rubble: Hender’s Ruins, Monkey Ruins, Old, and Winter Ruins. Five named oasises are on the map. Ten named regions are listed. The length of the gazetter for this map is zero. There isn’t one. These maps were included without any explanation.

If you go through the text you have some hints. Pavis Outside the Walls is settled in 1575 according to the one page timeline in the introduction. The map merely lists Pavis so what that means the entry means is open to interpretation. The timeline also mentions the fall of Pavis (just Pavis) to the Lunar Empire. The City of Lead and its surrounding region Dagori Inkarth are mentioned in a paragrah of the Kyger Litor cult write-up. The same write-up also notes cult Rune Lords must ritually consume large amounts of vegetable matter then paranthetically remarks “Elves are considered vegetable matter”. The Rune Lord note is as long as the geographic note.

If you had the contemporary board game Nomand Gods some of these items might be detailed. I played it once a couple of years before I got a copy of RQ. Later products would explain the various Pavis locations (Pavis and The Big Rubble from Chaosium and River of Cradles from Avalon Hill), Sun Dome Temple (Pavis and Avalon Hill’s Sun Country), parts of the Long Dry (Borderlands and AH’s Shadows on the Borderlands), Corflu (Pavis), and Dagori Inkath (Trollpak). As an adult I’ve collected these (except Nomand Gods but they cover the eastern and northern edges at most. They also disagree with that first map, as well. For example, New Pavis on the original map is east of the river aand southeast of the old city. In the boxed sets it is along the north west wall across the river.

For me this is liberating. One of the knocks against Glorantha as a world that it shares with Tekumel and Jorune among others, is it is so detailed that you can’t play it. While there is some truth to this the fact remains that I have very little to go on for a Prax game. I don’t have places described to any degree. Even the supplements leave dangling ends such as where does the Pavis road terminate in the west. If you just take RQ2 you are roughly in the same place, in terms of setting, as someone who has a white box, the four supplements, and a copy of the Outdoor Survival map. The setting is less generic but still almost completely implied. The only part more detailed is the mythology and some cults, but the latter are tied to the rules and the three offered cults provide about the same amount of usuable material as the sample dungeon in the white box.

I’ve taken some notes from the published products I have and I’ll be using Pavis and The Big Rubble quite extensively. The later is mostly empty space for the gamemaster to fill. The rubble of Old Pavis is the largest enclosed space in the world at its time, has nearly twice the populace of the new city and is represented by seven adventures. I will certainly take advantage of other materials, especially the extensive cult write-ups.

The fact remains, however, that in the end I have a bare outline. I have something that is arguably the best of both worlds for a sandbox. I have the openness of an DIY outline without the “white space panic” that a full DIY would create. I’m looking forward to finally being able to say one of the most common sayings of the old Runequest and Glorantha mailing lists “in my Glorantha”.

Because all Glorantha is, for now, is names on a map.

Buried Treasures: Big Rubble, The Deadly City

The BIG RUBBLE is the perfect hunting ground for both prospective and veteran adventurers. From the relative safety of the frontier town of New Pavis, exploration parties may venture forth into the Rubble to once again tap the treasures and magics buried in its ruins. They will be aided and hindered by the guards and bureaucrats of the occupying Lunar empire.

Recently there was considerable discussion in the OSR about the ability to publish a mega-dungeon. Some, such as James Maliszewski over at Grognarda, didn’t think it could be done. Other disagreed including Michael Curtis over at The Society of Torch, Pole and Rope who published his Stonehell soon after. One constant in all the discussion, however, was the conclusion the attempts at publishing one of the classic mega-dungeons like Blackmoor or Greyhawk had all failed. While that might be true at least one early structure that should qualify as a mega-dungeon did see the light of day. In fact, it had two published boxed sets cover it and the associated city which still garner high prices on eBay and were reprinted as one massive book in the 1990s. That mega-dungeon is the Big Rubble, the ruins of the city of Old Pavis in Glorantha.

For those who are wondering why you have never heard of Pavis or The Big Rubble along side the Slaver, Giants, and Drow modules the answer is simplicity and fate. Pavis: Gateway to Adventure and Big Rubble: The Deadly City were published not by TSR but by Chaosium. They are not for D&D but for Runequest. I find it ironic that the game that in its day was considered the anti-D&D published the most successful mega-dungeon of the period. Both boxed sets were among a series of supplements, mostly boxed sets but some booklets, that represented the golden age of Runequest and, in my mind, of Glorantha as a game setting. Anyone interested in early campaign styles that started to add loose plotting to great sandbox settings should look at most of these sets.

What is the Big Rubble? It is a the ruins of two cities the later of which was about sacked about 400 years earlier. The first city was founded about 900 years before the supplement begins by a culture of evil magicians to capture magical cradles carrying giant babies to the sea to join in the battles of Glorantha’s mythological age. It only lasted twenty or so years before being destroyed by a giant and his allies who included a minor god. They built the towering walls (80 feet plus in height) of Old Pavis to use as a fortification. About thirty years later a man named Pavis, whose city was sacked by the same minor god’s followers, lead a giant, faceless statue and some nomads to take the fortifications. After the battle the statue was used to build the interior buildings. Pavis himself would later become the city’s patron deity but the city would be sacked by trolls around 400 years after its founding.

A game master opening the Big Rubble boxed set could look forward to “thousands of acres of ruin and destruction now remain, full of robbers, outcasts, and inhuman monsters.” To get an idea of the scale consider the image to the left superimposing both the old (larger) and new (smaller) city on modern London (the original source has one imposed on Manhattan as well). The white area outlines medieval London contrast. No attempt was made to detail all of this area. Instead a 48 page “Rubble Guide” details some highlights of the area. Nine scenarios detail such a maze-like canal built for seemingly no purpose to a troll town hiding a magical artifact and everything in between. Plenty of notes are provided to help the game master build his own sections of the city. Finally, some forms used by officials in the new city to control exit from the rubble to the new city are included.

So, you can publish what amounts to a mega-dungeon. You can especially publish an adventurous, mostly above ground, one rooted in unique mythology. You can even create one of our hobby’s forgotten masterpieces in the process.