Friday, December 23, 2011

Legends and Lies

Pages six and seven of the Isle of the Unknown give us a bunch of legends and rumors. You can get a lot of mileage out of that d30 table, but why stop at d30? Here's an ongoing list that anyone can add to, in the grand Gorgonmilk tradition. Play along if you dare.
D100 legends and rumors about the Isle of the Unknown


1-30. refer to Isle of the Unknown, pages 6-7.
31. The Fire Wizard in hex 1807 and the Ice Wizard in 0807 were once steadfast allies, but the seductive enchantress in hex 1915 came between them.
32. The Aardvark Men in 1213 plot against the gardener in 1212.
33. The Giant Frog in 2203 is the true King of the Island. The man who sits upon the throne in 2409 is an imposter.
34. The old man in the secluded glen in hex 0611 was living on the Isle when the Romans arrived.
35. The statue in 0902 bears a vague familial resemblance to the crone in hex 1002.
36. The little girl wandering through hex 0406 once won a debate against the parliament of owls in hex 1511, thus gaining her clairvoyance.
37. On the night of the new moon, a coven dedicated to the goddess Hecate performs esoteric rights in the ruined temple in 0615.
38. In the town in hex 1814, no man may kill a cat.
39. The cup in the cave in hex 0313 is the True Grail, stolen from Templars and brought to the Isle by the Invisible Knight, Sir Garlen. Sir Garlen's son still holds the family castle in hex 0710.
40. The pelts of the Bat Men in hex 1413 are prized by an assassin’s guild based out of the city in 2409, and fetch exorbitant sums in the Night Market.
41. A recent crime wave plagues the City in Hex 2409. People all round town are reporting the loss of small items from their homes.  Many of these items are without value and there seems to be no connection apart from their small size.
42. A drunk in the Temple Ward of the city in hex 2409 swears that common rats are building something in the Old City.
43. The ruined temple in the Old City was once dedicated to the goddess Hecate.
44. The Diabolic High Priest in 1507 has growing influence among the decadent upper class in the City in hex 2409
45. A healer in the City in hex 2409 will pay 200gp for a sample of the slime exuded by the cave bear in hex 1216. He believes it will help him find a cure for a beloved noble afflicted with the Raggi Bump.
46. A man at a tavern called the Green Manalishi in the most unsavory neighborhood of the City in hex 2409 is a devotee of Tsathogguah, and he and his associates will pay 500gp for the live capture of the beast in hex 1710, which they believe to be an incarnation of a Hyberborean Elk Goddess.
47. It is said that no questions are asked by the merchants of the Night Market in the City in hex 2409.
48. A 4th level fighting man jailed by the City Watch in hex 2409 claims to be from the future.
49. A group of five unscrupulous Fighting Men (3rd level) will perform any deed, no matter how vile. You'll find them drinking in the Night Market in hex 2409.
50. The holy sisters of the convent on the hillside above the City in hex 2409 are vampires.
51. Every red bird on the Isle can speak the common tongue.
52. An aesthete in the town in hex 0903 asserts that the same hand carved every statue on the Isle.
53. The Alchemist (hex 1006) believes the leaves of the aspen in hex 0708 could multiply the efficacy of his potion.
54. It is said that Judas Iscariot hung himself from the tree in hex 2015.
55. The pit in hex 1205 is a gateway to the Mythic Underworld.
56. The many sorcerous denizens of the Isle are the last survivors of a race that inhabited the Isle before the Romans wiped them out.
57. A suicide cult believes that the entire Isle is merely the dream of a man named Geoffrey who lives in hex 0812, and all who die upon it wake up safely in another world.
58. Three ghostly sailors, adrift in a rowboat in hex 2415, will answer three questions about the Isle in exchange for a bottle of rum.
59. A small shrine in hex 1705 houses the head of John the Baptist.
60. No wound suffered in a certain meadow in hex 0513 will prove fatal, no matter how grievous, but the effect lasts only as long as the wounded remains there.

61. Heartbreakingly beautiful piping can be heard near the river in hex 1812
62.  Those who spend the night under the boughs of the single, gnarled tree on the lonely hill report hearing a sound not unlike an infant crying in the night. (Trey
63. In a small clearing, a thin man with an unsettlingly wide and unchanging grin sits at a table set up to play a game of drafts. He waits for a challenger. (Trey)
64. The strange creatures living on the Island are descended from the menagerie of a Lemurian prince. 
65. The strange creatures living on the Island are the result of Space Alien technology. 
66. A Mother Box in hex 2114 longs to be reunited with the Father Box in hex 1404.
67. The Subhuman tribes of the Island are said to be gathering in the mountains in hexes 0808, 0908, 1008, and 0909, though no man can say why.
68. An albino Megatherium in hex 1313 will teach magic to anyone willing to swear a sacred vow of nonviolence. 
69. A masked, weaponless fighting man who wanders the hexes near 2012 will teach the deadly art Robot Fighting to anyone who can pin him.
70. Those deemed worthy may enter the Chaos Monastery in hex 2010. The seven monks therein are sworn enemies of the monks in hex 1109.
71. A fiendish T-Rex is decimating the mammoth herds in hexes surrounding 1202.
72. The caverns beneath the Island are said to contain ancient Hyperborian machinery. 
73. A dungeon in hex 1507 contains a rich horde. Among the items is a helm, which allows the wearer to scry the immediate surroundings of every magic statue on the Island. 
74. A troop of Lemurs in hex 2107 are said to be good at repairing ancient machinery.
75. The cats of the town in hex 1814 always know when someone’s lying.
76. Hex 1108 contains a massive computer facility. The machines are still operational, though no one knows their purpose.
77. A sea cave in hex 1002 is filled with Hag Jelly. Beware the crone on the tiny island 300’ from the shore.
78. When moonlight strikes the columns in hex 1104, an Astral Gate appears.
79. Fragments chipped from the obelisk in hex 1007 are a powerful reagent valued by Alchemists.
80. The flowers of the meadow in hex 0909 contain powerful intoxicants prized by merchants.
81. 36 of the statues in hex 1308 are covered by lichen used in the preparation of the Plutonian Drug.
82. The bizarre mushroom in hex 1613 is wanted for crimes committed against fungus kind. The Myconid Council in hex 1713 will pay handsomely for its capture.
83. A Druidess near the pines in hex 1804 is a Dark Yoga instructor.
84. The four crystals in hex 2004 contain the Four Aspects of the Dark Lord.
85. A child recently born in the town in hex 1809 is said to be the next incarnation of (D8: 1. Christ, 2. Satan, 3. Thor 4. The Crawling Chaos, 5. The Golden Child, 6. Elvis, 7. Clark Ashton Smith, 8. UltraVishnu.)
86. The human workers digging in hex 2007 are looking for a crystal crown which _when placed atop the head of any humanoid statue- will magically transmute it into a creature of flesh and bone. The effect remains only as long as the crown is worn, and it also works on those petrified by Medusas.
87. A coven of Medusas live near the ruined temple in hex 0615
88. Barbarians have recently begun arriving on the Island’s southern shore. They claim that a great calamity has befallen the lands beyond the sea.
89. Atlantean ruins rise from the waves in hex 0304 when Aldebaran looms.
90. Three mummy scientists live in a quaint country manor in hex 0904


Wizard Club

What’s the deal with all these wizards? There sure are a lot of ensorcellating types on the Isle, 43 in all. There are 15 clerics and 28 wizards written up, with levels ranging from 2-11. Only a few are above Name level and most are in the 4-8 HD range.

There are two things I really like about these NPCs. The first is their non-standard powers. Pretty much all these dudes have at least one ability your players wont have encountered before. Another thing is the vaguely zodiacal connotations of the illustrated (beautifully I might add) NPCs. There seems to be a wizard for each sign of the zodiac, which implies some kind of mystical association or cabal.

What draws them all to the Isle? The sheer number of magical states on the Isle point to a sorcerous precursor culture, which many wizards would want to study. Or perhaps they’re drawn there by some mystical property of the Island itself. Of course, the weird monsters might also be there for the same reason. I’m trying to avoid the standard “A Wizard did it” explanation for all these randomly-esoterically-generated lifeforms, but a sorcerous Isle of Dr. Unknown is an admittedly attractive idea. I also thought about some kind of mystical Dharma Initiative, but implying that they’re all there for the same reason seems like a missed opportunity. The motives for these wizards should be as varied as they are inscrutable. Plus, wizards are pretty much guaranteed to have rockstar egos, so you know a lot of these dudes don't get along very well. Don't even get me started on the kind of arguments the Fire Wizard from hex 1807 and the Ice Wizard from Hex 0807 get into.

Another random idea: If the Isle exists in some analog of the real world, perhaps the wizards have been driven there by outside forces. A formal crusade against arcane magic could have been a backroom deal at the Council of Vienne.

The Raggi Bump

Jim LotFP gave the Wizard a shout-out and my followers doubled almost immediately. That’s the Raggi Bump* in action, folks. Thanks Jim!

Okay, back to the Isle.

Step One: Assume It’s All True. I find that creativity blossoms within constraints. So far, my only guideline for the Isle of the Unknown is that I’m going to assume that everything in the book is fact. I’m not going to write anything that directly contradicts what is said.

I’m finding that I’m most interested in the numerous real-world references found in the book. The default descriptions of the Isle are a mountainous, wooded isle with flora, fauna, and societies resembling that found in Auvergne circa 1311 A.D. The many ruins that dot the Isle are Roman circa 200 A.D. (Note: these details are very unobtrusive, so it's easy to dress these descriptions in any aesthetic trappings you want, from Polynesian to Lemurian and everything in between). I like the idea of a historical D&D setting, though. It’s something I’ve always thought about but have never attempted, and reading the session reports from Jeff’s Surfeit of Lampreys games has definitely poured kerosene on that particular mental fire. So “A magical Island in 1311 A.D.” is good enough for an elevator-pitch-in-progress.

My original plan was to make the Isle a phantom island in the Mediterranean Sea. But at 35,000 square miles it’s bigger than Corsica and Sardinia combined. So that’s gonna be hard to miss. Fortunately, I’m totally cool with saying “It’s a magic island. Deal with it.”

So we have a magic island that may or may not be in the Mediterranean Sea (or perhaps it’s somehow accessible through the Mediterranean Sea). It was once the site of a Roman colony (who seemed to have a bizarre infatuation with enchanting their statues), and is currently home to a (possibly stranded) chapter of the Knights Hospitaller. It’s also filled to the brim with weird-ass monsters who may or may not be related to the many, many wizardly types who dwell there.


*note, The Raggi Bump is a great name for a magical disease. Anyone who consumes a fish taken from the waters of the bay on Hex 1002 must save vs. Poison. Failure indicates that a second, tiny head will begin to grow in a randomly determined body part within 2-4 weeks. The head learns to speak three days after it appears, and its constant, lunatic ravings haunt the afflicted until the Bump is removed through surgical means.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Choose Your Own Adventure

The Isle of the Unknown is an unapologetically old school setting. Each 86-mile hex of the island's 35,000 square miles offers a point of interest, be it an encounter, a magical statue, a magic using npc, or a town. It’s not the sort of thing you sit down and use out of the box. In fact at first glance it appears to be a nearly random assortment of encounters ranging from the mysterious (teleporting cave mouths and time traveling statues, to the wild (the muscular duck-man in my previous post), to the downright weird (the bilocated Cleric described in the very first hex). But a careful read of the descriptions shows a connectivity that hints at a setting rather than forces one upon you. People in one hex are suspicious of something in another hex, or an item gained in one hex can be used in conjunction with something found elsewhere.

This lack of specific backstory can be frustrating to some referees. Don't blame them, blame the way the presentation of setting has changed over the past 20 or so years. It requires a certain form of bravery for a referee to actually surrender himself to the idea of a setting that builds organically rather than one that you memorize. But if you believe, as I do, that the best games are collaborations, then there is much to love about the Isle of the Unknown.

I’m looking at the Isle as a collaborative partner, riffing off the book rather than bending the book to my will. I’m going in blind to see what I find. So, these posts aren’t intended to be a review of the book, but rather a document of what I’ll be doing with the book. My hope is that my Isle will be very different from your Isle. The text practically necessitates that, and that’s one of the surest signs of a truly great gaming product.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Getting to know the Isle of the Unknown

Hex 2412 of Isle of the Unknown, Geoffrey Mckinney's crazy-as-hell new hexcrawl sandbox, contains a 6' tall duck-man (with, if the illustration is to be trusted, very nice abs). Killing the duck-man opens a gate to the Demiplane of Ducks, thus finally providing an in-game rationale for torturing my players with Howard the Duck  bits. I bet the Demiplane of Ducks even has its own Demiplane of Dread, where Count Strahd of Ravenloft becomes Count Duckula of Duckuloft.

Now, you probably wouldn't do that. But you could do that. And that is awesome.

Thank you, Geoffrey.