Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Black City: Who were the Greys?

If you missed a few of the earlier posts, the Black City is a megadungeon, or campaign dungeon, that I'm going to develop in this blog space.  It's a sprawling ruin in the frozen north, discovered by the Vikings, and crawling with weird horrors.  I wanted to see if it's possible to develop a megadungeon that supports a Weird Horror version of D&D; the City of the Elder Things from At the Mountains of Madness is the primary inspiration.

In place of a traditional Lovecraftian menace, the Black City was built by invaders from beyond the stars; so far, The Greys are in the lead (poll on the right).  Although the city is an abandoned, icy wreck, its ancient builders long gone, it will be useful to know a bit about the creator race when I start laying it out.  So what were the Greys like?

The Greys were a created race, a slave race; they rebelled against their reptilian masters out in the deeps of space and fled in various colony ships.  One of these fleeing colony ships came to Earth.  (You really can find anything on the internet.)

They didn't actually have faster than light technology; rather, they used eldritch sorceries to summon Yog-Sothoth, the opener of the ways, to warp space and allow their ships to slide between the dimensions, emerging elsewhere in the continuum.

The society of the Greys was organized like insects, with drones, soldiers, scientists and the overmind.  They didn't have queens, being asexual, and all Greys were created through cloning and grown in vats.  Shortly after erecting the Black City, some time before the last  Ice Age, they embarked on their great project:  to manipulate terrestrial life forms, creating the various humanoid races that populate the world of the Black City, seeking genetically compatible creations for breeding hybrid Greys.  Centuries of replicating clones degraded the purity of their genetic stock, and without the advanced technology of the Reptoids or a suitable hybrid race, the Greys faced extinction.

In addition to sending out sorties to collect terrestrial specimens for their breeding experiments, the Greys captured various lifeforms for growing their nourishment; the Greys subsisted on a fungal matter grown on the living corpuses of creatures embedded into the dank, underground warrens.

What happened to the Greys?   Why is the Black City a haunted, frozen waste in the present day?

I've got two theories at present; in both cases, the Greys turned again to eldritch sorcery and attempted to draw down aid from the inhuman Outer Gods.  Calling forth an avatar From Beyond, one theory is that the Grey overmind was driven to madness and despair; in one blasphemous instant, the entire Grey race committed ritual suicide at the telepathic behest of their insane overlord.  Now only the echoes of pain and madness remain in the halls that once thrived with alien life.

The other theory is that the Greys reached out to the Dark Mother, seeking transformation and evolution through the embrace of the mad goddess.   But the transformed Greys that crawled out of the birthing chamber were no longer emotionless scientists; they were savage, bestial, devolved, and vicious, recreated by the Dark Goddess in the image of unfettered predatory life.  In a wave of relentless violence, the Grey race was slaughtered by their own exalted, yet mindless, paragons.

The Player Charter

The typical D&D party distributing items at the end of the adventure.

Magic items are a funny thing in D&D.  They tend to be fairly important to players as resources, and as such, can bring out a competitive side to a group that otherwise gets along well.  My players have told me stories of games when they were young, where guys got into yelling matches about the distribution of items.  I haven't experienced that, but there's usually that guy at the table that wants every item, regardless of their class or role.  I have a funny memory running X2 Castle Amber in Colorado a few years, before moving to Pennsylvania;  the group had lost a bunch of guys to Killer Trees, including their magic user, and the magic item hoarder had picked over the bodies pretty well.  "I'll just carry all the spell books, wands, potions, rings, etc, for the dead guys - just in case".  They learned about a high level Amber family cleric who might be able to raise their dead magic user, but before they could do it, the guy carrying every magic item got petrified.  After they raised their magic user, his spell book and items were stuck in a solid stone backpack because they let one person hoard all the gear.  Good times.  But I digress.

My current group has five players.  We've gamed together for a few years now, but it's hard to get everyone together for every session; we have a rule that if at least three players can make it, that's a quorum, and we play.  (Thus I wax longingly on the virtues of episodic games that allow players to slide in and out).

In addition to transient players, we're using a lot of retainers in the current game.  (Henchman and hirelings are Retainers in Moldvay Basic).  By the book, retainer morale is checked whenever something awful happens, and in between adventurers.  So far, the retainers have been fairly well treated and no one has left in between adventures due to morale… but it's only a matter of time, right?

Which finally brings me to my point about magic items.  Last session, the group proposed a radical idea to managing items going forward; they incorporated themselves as an adventuring company and agreed on some by-laws.  Their first official policy governed magic items:  Henceforth, all magic items found by the party is property of the corporation, to be distributed from the company store at the beginning of each adventure.

There were two major reasons for enacting the charter; the first one was since players miss game sessions, they wanted a way to redistribute items at the start of each session to reflect who was actually going out there.  If you only have one magic sword, and it's in the possession of the guy that's never there, it doesn't help the group that goes out to the dungeon and runs into a wight.  The charter also means they can freely loan items to some of the retainers, and minimize the fear the retainer will take the items and run.  (When a morale roll is failed and a retainer splits, he'll probably try to take everything he can anyway, so that should be some quality DM entertainment when it happens).

The charter also covers wealth - partners get 2 shares each, retainers get 1 share each, and where possible, they try to sell everything and convert it to coins.

Are my players visionaries, or taking this all too seriously?  Have any of your groups gone so far as to create a charter and turn the magic items into "community property"?  I'd like to hear how magic item and treasure distribution works in some of your games.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Review: Tower of the Stargazer

Tower of the Stargazer is an introductory adventure written by James the LOTFP guy; chances are you've heard of him long before discovering my little corner of the internet.  If not, his site is over here (Lamentations of the Flame Princess), and you can get the module over at RPG Now, Indie Press Revolution, places like that.  I've been running a number of OSR modules in my Gothic Greyhawk campaign, so it'll give me the chance to write reviews that include actual playtesting experience instead of hypothetical musings.  Note:  Because this review will include some play notes, it will have spoilers at the end.

Tower of the Stargazer is meant to be introductory - a starting point for new players and new Dungeon Masters.  Sure, it has a few sidebars explaining staging and providing advice,  But after a quick read, I saw that it would be an excellent way to kick off a new campaign for experienced players, too.  Unlike some other introductory adventures, this one has situations that will challenge long time gamers and keep the DM entertained while refereeing.  The DM has to love what he/she is doing, right?

It's short - 16 pages, good enough for 2-3 nights of adventure.  The contents describe the eponymous location, a site-based adventure.  Once the party gets inside, there is quite a bit of freedom to wander and explore up, down, or horizontally; it's unlikely two different groups of players would handle the tower the same way.  The tower itself is one of the main characters; it's creepy, weird, and interesting.  In fact, the tower's story emerges as the players explore it and piece together the history.

So why would I recommend this product?  First off, a well-designed site based adventure is a hallmark of old school gaming.  Player's drive the action through exploration, and the story emerges through play.  The DM isn't forcing a story onto the players, there are no NPC's leading them from scene to scene, or turning the game into improv theater.  Bring extra characters, because there are deadly traps and tricks; play skill is rewarded here.  Game balance is out of the window; there are things in the adventure that will slaughter a first level party if a mistake is made.  If you want to hold aloft a sample adventure of what makes old school gaming awesome, this would be my pick.  High praise.

Oh - and one other thing.  It's most definitely a horror adventure.  Horror goes with fantasy gaming like chocolate and peanut butter, and if you haven't noticed, I like it that way.  I'm constantly inflicting horror on my players.  They don't seem to mind.

This adventure is excellent; on my personal Beedometer, I give it a 5/5 stars.

Spoilers Follow:

Okay, so how did it work in actual play?

It took the group two sessions to "clear" most of  Tower of the Stargazer.  The horror elements worked well in play; one of the players was infected by a brain leech - they ultimately returned to town and got him Cure Disease before he died - but it was viscerally uncomfortable for the player to know his guy was walking around with a worm in his cranium, and he could die at any moment.  :shiver:

The animated attacking entrails down in the dissection room were a bit lowbrow gross-out humor, but they had excellent surprise value and kept the players on their toes; they almost killed one of the thieves.  The set-piece encounter, meeting Calcidius, was an event that continues to affect the campaign to this day; it generated at least an hour of player discussion - it brought in strategy, ethics, problem solving, pragmatism - it transcended the typical game experience.  The players eventually went on to "claim" the Tower of the Stargazer as a home base, and they walled Calcidius up, Cask-of-Amontillado-style.  They went to town, they bought the bricks and the mortar, and they walled him up.  Now that's cold.

And then they said it was one of the best adventures they've ever played...

You can check out the campaign journal with the play reports here - Tower of the Stargazer session 1 and Tower of the Stargazer session 2.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Mythic Monday: Taken... by Elves!

A gathering of angels appeared above my head,
They sang to me this song of hope and this is what they said...

I thought that they were angels, but much to my surprise,
We climbed aboard their starship, we headed for the skies...

With all the work I'm doing on the Black City campaign, I've had aliens on the brain lately!  This week let's look at abduction folklore - the archetypical fairy story of a person being taken beneath the hill by the Fay people and losing time in the supernatural Otherworld.

Abduction folklore is not a modern phenomena; we may have Close Encounters and Fire in the Sky to thank for the pop-culture prevalence of the idea (and of course The X-Files), but folklore involving abductions has been around for a long time.  (Authors like Eric Von Daniken, Chariots of the Gods, would have us think biblical accounts like Ezekiel's vision of god's chariot, were ancient encounters with aliens).  Carl Sagan postulated the 80's abductions were just modern retellings of older stories involving demonic abduction and faerie abduction; modern victims just plugged in an appropriate perpetrator.

Regardless whether it's elves, aliens, or demons, abduction stories have common elements the victims claim to experience - a feeling of paralysis and helplessness (perhaps sleep paralysis); the perception of being taken somewhere, sometimes immaterial, perhaps in a bright light; the sense of being experimented on, probed, altered, implanted or changed; the stoppage of time or the sense that time flowed differently while abucted - so-called missing time; and often there is a sexual element too.  Sexually obsessive non-humans who live in the Otherworld, walk through walls, communicate telepathically, and perform breeding experiments on people - sounds like a good (horror) game element to me!

Fairies and elves, which had these sinister elements in medieval and earlier folklore, have been ruined by Tolkien for we gamers.  Nowadays, elves are people with pointy ears, but better than us in every way.  Nigh immortal, they excel at all the things we suck at, like taking care of the environment and talking to trees.  They're all beautiful, with excellent singing voices.  (Insert finger, barf now).  Okay, to be fair to the esteemed JRRT, his elves are closer to the vanir of Norse myth than the Sidhe or Tuatha Dé Danann of fairy abduction myth.  But let's postulate that the creatures of fairy are meant to be feared.  Their motivations are beyond the ken of mortals, or they're agents of the pagan world meant to lead good christian folk astray.  Or they're aliens.

Note - the whole folklore of changelings and replacing human children is another matter; I'll address it in a later column.

How to use abduction stories in your games:
In a humanocentric campaign, you could just jettison the Tolkien elves from your game.  The peasants and regular folk of the world have a deep fear of the wilds, and with good reason - folks disappear at night!  Tales of being taken "under the hills" and passing a night with the Tuatha Dé Danann, Sidhe, or Fay are misremembered abduction experiences.  And if you don't mind chocolate in your peanut butter, or Sci-Fi in your Fantasy, let's make those abductions perpetrated by aliens, for good measure.

The abduction of a player character (by any of the suggested agencies) makes for some uncomfortable gaming, and in a game with horror elements, uncomfortable means good gaming.  Messing with the corpus of a player character tends to make them squeamish, even if it's only insinuated.  Abduction is a fairly prevalent plot technique in Cthulhu-style gaming horror.

Imagine this scenario:  the group wakes up the next morning after camping in the wilderness and discovers one of their members is gone.  They spend hours looking for tracks and calling in the woods.  Sometime later the missing character either wanders back into camp or back into the village, with no idea what happened during the missing time.  Perhaps as the other characters begin to use ESP spells and other techniques to uncover the missing memories, glimpses of the lost time start to reveal themselves.  "Rothgar, where did that scar on your abdomen come from - look how neatly healed it is?  Is that new?"  Creepy.

Let the players puzzle over what happened - was something removed from inside him, was something implanted there, is it really Rothgar at all, and can it happen again?  It doesn't even need to be real - you as DM could have decided the player sleepwalked into the woods, knocked his head on a branch, and now has a bit of amnesia.  Just don't tell them the truth!  Horror doesn't have to involve monsters, conflict, and violence; fear of the unknown and feelings of helplessness are powerful tools to give your game a creepy vibe.

Good gaming!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

House Rules for B/X and Weird Fantasy Roleplaying

Here is a list of House Rules we're using in Gothic Greyhawk, and would likely port to the Black City Campaign when I get there.

Note - we started with Moldvay B/X as the rules, and ported to LOTFP WFRP shortly after it came out - from a certain perspective, LOTFP is also just a bunch of house rules for B/X.

First Aid
First aid can heal 0-3 (d4-1) hit points after a fight, can only heal damage incurred in that fight, can only roll once. (Anyone can attempt first aid on another character).

Rationale: keeps adventurers in the dungeon longer by allowing some recovery in-between fights, allows some non-clerical healing, reinforces that hit points are not the same as physical injury. Just because we call it 'bind wounds', the healing between fights could consist of taking a drink of water, getting your wind back, letting the fog clear after your bell was rung, etc, in addition to bandaging actual injuries.

Critical Hits
Monsters and PC's deal double damage on a 20.

Rationale: Players love crits? I've offered to shelve this one, but players love it - which is odd, since it heavily favors the DM and most PC deaths in my game are due to monster-crits.  Another option is to have crit = max damage instead of double; this would save a lot of low-level PC's and reduce fatalities.  Oh well - the game is (partly) a democracy.

Death and Unconscious
Death at -10 hp. When a PC is negative, they are unconscious and continue to lose 1hp per turn until reaching -10 and death.

Rationale: This makes 0 or negative hit points a little survivable (if the PC is at -2 or higher, some quick First Aid might even restore consciousness or stabilize them. Once a character gets below -3, only quick application of magical healing can save them.

(A popular option here is to have 0 = 0 unconscious, -1 is death, but the death threshold increases for each level (so a level 5 guy dies at -5). This was Gygax's own house rule for classic D&D but seems a bit fiddly.)

Healing Per Night
Bump the per-night healing by 1 hp per HD per night.

Rationale: Healing doesn't scale with level - a level 1 guy can bed rest to health in a few days, a high level guy would take weeks or months to rest thei way to full! This helps bed rest to restore a proportionally similar amount as characters level up.  Yes - if taken to it's logical conclusions, then CLW and healing potions should scale as well... not interested in going there since there are in-game options already (like cure serious wounds or potions of extra-healing).

Clerical Quick Casting
Clerics can spontaneously change any spell to cure light wounds in a pinch.

Rationale: Low level clerics *only* take cure light wounds because everyone else expects them to be the medic; this opens up a little more flexibility for the cleric PC by letting them take a variety of spells, but expend the divine energy for simple healing in a pinch. I'm not a big fan of this one (the player's petitioned for the rule, it's a 3.xism) and I am *always* considering retracting it. Resource management choices in classic D&D should be tough.  What do you think?  Please add a comment.

XP for Adding to Spellbooks
Wizards get extra XP adding spells to their spellbook (see G3, Glantri).

Rationale: I always love the extra XP magic users and elves get for increasing their spellbooks as presented in G3 Principalities of Glantri. It tends to have a noticeable effect at low levels and tapers off very quickly (since the rewards are flat, not exponential) but it also makes the wizardly characters focus on spell acquisition.  They get less XP for monsters and gold.

The following two I saw on Amityville Mike's blog sometime back - Archive of the Rotted Moon - I find these are useful. I'm all about simple rules that enhance fighters in classic D&D:

"Chop when they drop"
Fighters dedicate their entire lives to mastering their skill at arms. Because of this single-minded dedication, fighters are able to dispatch multiple foes at a rate that astonishes other classes. Anytime a fighter kills an opponent, he immediately gains a free attack on any other enemy within reach. Should he slay the opponent as well, he gains another free attack on a nearby enemy. This series of events continues until the fighter either misses, fails to kill and opponent, or runs out of enemies within the reach of his weapon.

Rationale:  This restores a little bit of the "attack 1HD monsters at 1 attack per level" rule of AD&D, but is less broken and more versatile.  Anyone who has played 3.x or higher knows "cleave".

Shields Shall Be Splintered
Anytime you are about to take damage and have a shield equipped, you may choose to attempt to sacrifice the shield in order to avoid incurring the wound. Make a saving throw vs. death and, if the save is successful, the shield is sundered by the blow and destroyed, but you take no damage. In the case of spells that allow a saving throw for half damage, you may invoke this rule if you fail your save against the spell. Doing so successfully reduces the damage by half. In the case of magical shields, invoking this rule successfully means that you take no damage from blows (or half from spells) but the shield loses one "plus" from its enchantment. Thus, a +1 shield would become a normal shield, a +2 shield becomes a +1 shield, etc.

Rationale:  Shields may be playable in basic D&D, but they're certainly not fun.  This puts in an element of fun and makes the shield a potential life-saver; my players are always trying to sacrifice their shields to save their skins, and it's usually an exciting moment!

Evolution in Progress

While I transition from primarily a discussion board user to a blogger, I'll continue to keep my current campaign journals over at Dragonsfoot; here's the link if you want to catch up on Gothic Greyhawk - Beedo's Gothic Greyhawk.

Gothic Greyhawk latest post - that's the latest game report, in which a dwarf becomes a knight, a cleric becomes a prophet, and the party makes preparations to ascend Death Mountain, whatever that could be...

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Creators of the Black City

The creators of the Black City, the Ancients, were this world's first users of magic.  Vancian magic,  as established in Tales of the Dying Earth, presupposes a time in the distant past when science was greater, and wizard-scientists created the myriad arcane formulae that got passed to succeeding generations as spells.  The repertoire used by the wizards of the world is a paltry thing compared to the wonders of the past, and the ability to create new magic is limited by comparison in this day and age.

The Ancients were scientists and wizards; they experimented on simpler forms of life and created the automated spawning vats that continue to release aberrant creatures and monsters into the world's dark foundations.

Since the fall of the Ancient's civilization, the primitive human slaves kept by the Ancients have devolved into atavistic cannibals, like the morlocks of HG Wells.  The dungeons of the Ancients - alchemical labs and holding areas - are still maintained by bizarre automatons and servitors, created in the image of the Ancients themselves, the way we might create an anthropomorphic robot.

Deep in the dungeon lies the final secret of the Ancients and the reason their society fell.  Perhaps their descendants live there still, devolved and bestial.  The remnants of their race lie dormant or hibernating, a plague on the world of men just waiting to be awoken or released.

Who are the Ancients?  I have two candidate races in mind, please vote on the poll on the left (if you don't mind helping me decide).

The Greys
If Lovecraft and the weird fiction authors lived today, I have no doubt they'd embrace ufology; but since they're gone, I'll do it for them.  The Greys were exiles or colonists from another world or another dimension that brought their alchemy and science with them.  Perhaps in the depths of the city lies the remnants of their colony ship, fueling the city's systems with a perpetual energy source.
They immediately set about tinkering with terrestrial life to ensure they had the slave races and food they needed; as psionic masters, there was little reason to fear a slave revolt.

Their servitor constructs will seem tall and spindly when compared to traditional golems, with six arms and large, oversized heads, and bulbous eyes.  Only in the depths of the dungeon would player characters discover the truth.

It's said, in the far future, the descendants of the Greys will rediscover the world, and begin abducting the humans of that era to determine the extent that  the human genetic code was crafted by the Ancients.  The truth is out there.

The other source for the Ancients would be from the world's distant past - 65 million years ago, in fact, when the Saurian empire ruled the world and domesticated or quelled the dinosaurs.  Evolved from Troodons, these bipedal dinosauroids mastered the magic sciences and alchemy, but brought doom upon their civilization when they summoned the dread star Nemesis and created a world-wide extinction event.

The greatest of the Saurian sorcerers weaved a master ritual that wiped the dinosauroids from the fossil record but hurtled a portion of their civilization forward in time, to rebuild in an era free from the baleful glare of the death star Nemesis.  Thus was the Black City created.

The Saurians use pylons and matrixes and store their information in elaborate crystals; it's said their libraries are full of crystal skulls inhabited by the psyches and knowledge of the ancestors.

As the world grew cold, the Saurians retreated to a hollow world cavern deep beneath the city, where they established a nuclear sun and populated the place with altered forms of terrestrial life.  Over the eons, the Saurians have devolved into vicious reptilian monsters that can no longer use their own pylon technology; from time to time a mutant is born with a glimmer of the intelligence of the Ancients and the ability to commune with the crystal skulls of the ancestors.

Their servitors and automatons continue to maintain the systems beneath the frozen city, scanning the night skies for the return of Nemesis.

Perhaps the Ancients themselves are still there, hibernating in the deeps and waiting for the time when the world is steamy and hot again.

Just who do you think continues to propagate the belief that global warming is a myth and we should continue burning our fossil fuels unabated?  Who stands to gain when the poles melt and the world returns to a hot, humid atmosphere?

Definitely won't be your typical D&D campaign.  I can't wait to unleash Vikings on this place.

Please vote if you don't mind - The Greys exude an alien weird horror vibe and would be a shocking reveal as the secret masters, whereas the Reptoids are a nod to Land of the Lost - one of the cooler TV shows when I was a kid.

Review: Three Hearts and Three Lions

As I go through the Appendix N reading list, I can see there were books that heavily inspired game play (like the various Swords & Sorcery offerings), and a few books that heavily inspired game elements and mechanics - things like Tolkien, Vance, and then this book -Poul Anderson's Three Hearts and Three Lions.

The basic story involves a 20th century man, Holger Danske, who gets knocked unconscious while fighting the Germans in WW2; he wakes up in a legendary version of medieval France.  Although much of the book takes place in the wilderness, we learn that the human world is being threatened by Chaos and Fairy; the forces of Chaos seek to overrun Law and return the world to a state of twilight and magic.  Much of the movement in the story is Holger coming to grips with living in this world of magic and folklore and discovering his role.  Much of the charm is Holger trying to apply science and logic to find solutions to all the magical situations he's encountering…

The story is a light-hearted page turner, definitely a quick read and very accessible to a modern reader (though expect to find a used copy - it's out of print).  One of the things I found most interesting was it's depiction of the world of chivalric romance - the story takes place maybe 50 years after the Song of Roland.  The story of Arthur has been done to death; Three Hearts and Three Lions takes a supporting character from The Matter of France and asks the question, What Happened Next?

Using It In Your Game
The first thing I'd point out is the introduction of the Law vs Chaos alignment axis.  This might be the first instance of it - I'd be curious to know if it appeared earlier than Poul Anderson.  It certainly predates Elric of Melnibone or Roger Zelazny's Chronicles of Amber, two works that feature Chaos, and are also in my reading queue.

If you've read the introduction to B2 Keep on the Borderlands, where Gary Gygax waxes poetic about the Realms of Man and the forces of Chaos threatening just beyond man's borders, you would swear he was leafing through Three Hearts and Three Lions and pulling quotes; this book is the source for the playable version of D&D's alignment system (as opposed to what was done to 1E).

The Paladin
The concept for the paladin class came whole cloth from this book - the detect evil, the laying of hands, the warhorse, the quest for a holy sword, it's all there.  What didn't come from this book is the Lawful Stupid approach generations of DMs have saddled on the paladin.  The 1E PHB should have a disclaimer - "make your DM read Three Hearts and Three Lions before you attempt to play this class in his game…"  Another case where the 1E alignment system fell apart.  I'll say this - Holger as paladin has just as much carousing fun as any Swords & Sorcery roguish hero, while staying true to the quest.

The Troll
The climactic fight in the novel is against a troll - the D&D troll!  It's as if the artists used the text descriptions as their work order, and Gary used the text to define the troll's abilities.  As limbs are severed, they crawl back to the troll's body and reattach themselves; it was excellent seeing the origin of one of D&D's iconic monsters.

A Playable Fantasy Europe
The implied setting of D&D is a medieval place like Western Europe, with Tolkien's races tossed in for variety; what struck me about this book was how it presented the Europe of Christian folklore.  The story took the quirks and foibles of the chivalric stories, and presented them as the baseline reality of the setting.  There are monsters driven back by a few holy words spoken in Latin; there are fairies that dissolve when struck by iron.  States of grace and virtue matter and have a real effect in the world.  The campaign style this implies certainly isn't for everyone; lots of folks try to remove the Christian-trappings from their D&D worlds.

Other interesting elements that make appearances are a dragon, a werewolf, the introduction of the Swanmay (I suppose Lohengrin predated it a bit - :smirk:), wood and mountain dwarves, witches, demons, the courts of Fairy, a nixie - chock full of interesting presentations to fuel your imagination.

To understand where D&D came from, this book is a must-read.

Monday, December 20, 2010

The problem of the cleric

As I start thinking of the setting for The Black City, and it's roots in Weird Fiction, I keep running into the problem of the cleric.  Lovecraft is basically an atheist; the genre of cosmic horror he pioneered revolves around a vast, impersonal cosmos that assumes humanity arose by chance in a godless universe.  Or, if there are gods in the universe, they are uncaring primal forces of destruction like Azathoth or Yog-Sothoth; at best they are communed with by insane sorcerors, but certainly not worshipped in the personal sense of D&D deities that grant helpful spells to their clerics.

So then what to do with the cleric class in a D&D game attempting to emulate the tropes of Weird Fiction?

Do you wipe out the cleric - there are no anthropromorphic deities, so there is no divine magic for the cleric?

Do you recast the cleric somehow, perhaps as an alternate form of magical practitioner - white magic, sympathetic magic, witchcraft, perhaps some kind of shamanism?

Perhaps there are uncaring 'Other gods', like those from HP Lovecraft's Dreamlands Cycle.  Are they petty enough not to break the tone of a Weird Fiction setting?  Why would they grant spells to clerical worshippers?

Are there other options? 

Whatever it is, I don't like the idea of using the clerics and patron deities as is... it devolves Weird Horror to Supernatural Horror (Odin, Thor and the host of Valhalla vs Cthulhu and Dagon, FTW).  Um, no.  Too gonzo.  And stupid.

I can get my head around arcane magic (magic users) as alien science passed down through ancient times, although I see that ritual sorcery from something like Carcossa (or the Call of Cthulhu game) fits the vibe better...  With the cleric as is it's too easy to slide into cosmic struggle with a host of higher powers on the side of humanity that undermines the atheist dread implicit in Lovecraft.

Just thinking out loud at this point...

After giving it some more thought, this is the approach I'll take with clerics in The Black City campaign:

"Many gods are worshipped and prayed to, but they've never spoken to you or answered your prayers; you wonder whether they're really out there.  Through your priestly training, you were taught rituals and devotions that have allowed you to cast spells and do amazing things; the priests of your order claim this is proof that your god is real.  You're not so sure.  Could the power of your spells be coming from somewhere else?"

...And pretty much leave it at that.  Allows the cleric to exist, along with a belief in pantheons and deities, but with doubts as to the source of divine magic, and no clear belief that there are any greater powers whatsoever on the side of humanity.

Mythic Monday: Santa Claus, Lord of the Hunt

Introducing Mythic Monday:  Mythic Monday is a series of articles adapting elements of folklore, myth and legendry into your D&D game.  Why recreate the world when we can take concepts your players are already familiar with and change them up to make an interesting and compelling story?

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays - what better way to kick off this new column than take a look at the beloved figure of Santa Claus?

The modern image of Santa Claus is really a mash-up of a number of different folklore stories coming together.  There's the story of St. Nicholas himself, the generous Christian bishop that gifted a man with gold (down the chimney) so he could afford to keep his daughters.  And there's illustrations in the 1800's depicting Father Christmas in England - a portly fellow with green, fur-trimmed robes.  (Eventually Coca Cola marketers would rebrand Father Christmas with Coke's red & white colors, creating Santa's modern look).

But what about the reindeer, the sleigh, and the journey across the night sky?  These elements descend from the myth of the Wild Hunt; the bearded Wotan (Odin) leads a spectral host  across the night sky on an annual hunt, riding his eight-legged horse Sleipner and sounding the hunting horns.  The spectral host itself is made of the dead, or fairies, or ghostly hounds.  What happens to someone that encounters the hunt varies amongst the stories, but it's generally bad - they either become a part of the hunt or the prey.  To appease the hunter, offerings of food were left out for the huntsman, and gifts were left in return.  Germanic customs had these offerings left in boots/stockings, and consisted of carrots, straw, and sugar to feed Wotan's horse.

How to use this in your game?
On the darkest night of the year, the midwinter solstice, the rural folk gather in their cottages and halls and burn yule logs to ward off the spirits of the dead and protect themselves against evil; they pray for the Huntsman to pass them by.  It's bad luck if the log burns out before the night is over, so it's traditional to find the largest log the hearth can accommodate.  The children leave out gifts of food (in stockings) to feed the Huntsman and his horse as he soars over head, in hopes that their house will be passed.

Many of these rural villages continue the pagan practice of offering a sacrifice to the Huntsman; a criminal or foreigner is lashed to an evergreen deep in the woods, to draw the hunt away from the village.  Beware the sounding of horns on the darkest night!

Player characters visiting the pagan north country will be warned to stay indoors on the winter solstice; those that ignore the warnings could be transformed into animals and forced to join the hunt.  The tasting of flesh in such a state might curse them with lycanthropy; some of the anthropologists suggest the hunt myth was a form of 'berserker initiation'.

If your mind tends towards a darker bent, perhaps the villagers have no one to offer the Huntsman this year, and are looking for patsies to become the prey...

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Gothic Greyhawk - My Current Campaign

We had played 4E for about a year and half, took some time to run a series of Cthulhu one-shots over the summer, and when it felt right to kick off another fantasy game back in August, I proposed Moldvay basic.  It's been an unparalleled success with the players, though we did switch to the LOTFP Weird Fantasy Roleplaying set of rules shortly after kick-off.  (Those are pretty close to Moldvay Basic, truth be told). 

The campaign has been OSR module-heavy; every time we discussed old school gaming, my group petitioned me to run something where they'll get to experience some of the classic modules they missed when they were younger - Against the Giants, Descent into the Depths of the Earth, things like that.  Of course, to keep them on their toes, we've been using some of my favorite OSR modules here at the beginning.  I decided to place it in Greyhawk for ease of integration.

The nice thing about running a module-heavy game, it will leave plenty of creativity for working on The Black City campaign.

So what is Gothic Greyhawk?
I've used the 1980 folio as the starting point and added a veneer of feudalism and elements of real-world medievalism to give the setting a familiar feel to the players. There are knights, serfs and peasants, an omnipresent monotheistic church, inquisitions, monastic orders, saints, fear of magic, and distrust of non-humans. The native Flan people of Greyhawk have been recast similarly to Celts, Picts and hill folk; in many places they continue to clash with Oeridians as wild hillmen and 'pagans'. Any Greyhawk materials post-1980 are inspirational only.

Because this is built on Basic D&D/LOTFP, I used the Law-Neutrality-Chaos axis for alignment - good and evil are somewhat irrelevant. All mortals tend to be Neutral unless through allegiance or magic use they drift into alignment with Law or Chaos. Therefore, Clerics are Lawful, Magic Users and Elves are Chaotic.

Law represents the divine order, the celestial world. Gods, angels, devils, heaven and hell are all representations of Law and the divine order. Both clerics of the Church and clerics of the Adversary and the fallen angels would have a Lawful alignment!

Chaos represents magic, the seething Courts of Chaos and the Fey Lands, the Abyss and the demons, the howling planes of the elements. Change is chaos, and magic is change, so all who work with arcane magic detect as Chaotic.

Although I don't have the house rule details worked out yet, I plan on implementing Alignment as Allegiance at one point for non-magical characters once they're important to one side or the other... as of today, all non-magical characters are Neutral.

Homebase:  Sterich
The Earldom of Sterich is the setting for the game - map is below (southwest Sterich). The characters started in Mittleberg, a small town along the upper Davish river in southwest Sterich. Many of the villages and towns along the valley were ruined by giantish raids in cy561; as they rebuilt, the new Lord Lennox of Mittleberg placed a high premium on building watchtowers and stockades near the hill country to keep a watch for giant-folk of the Crystalmists or Jotens. His patrols must also contend with the native hillfolk of the upper Davish, Flan people that have not abandoned their pagan druidic beliefs and converted.

Sterich is a misty land where things go bump in the night; I drew inspiration from the Carpathian mountains and the folklore of eastern Europe. One of my players had asked, if we go back to this old school game, could Castle Ravenloft be worked into it somehow - that was a module he never had the opportunity to play. So I've decided the mysterious 'Valley of the Mists' that hides ancient Barovia is beyond the headwaters of the Davish, deep in the mountains. Only the mysterious gypsies, er... Rhenee, regularly make the journey down from the highland vales. Oeridian traders that have tried to make the journey haven't returned.

If you read my Taxonomy of Horror, this game is very much in the Supernatural Horror theme; there are cosmic forces of Law vs Chaos at work in the world, although normal folk don't refer to it as Law vs Chaos.  The players are slowly encountering witches and inquisitors and High Ladies of Fairie as they come to the awareness of these Great Powers.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Megadungeon Concept: The Black City

I had a few competing ideas for a megadungeon setting, quizzed my players and also ran a simple poll on Dragonsfoot to help choose from amongst three unrelated ideas.  What follows is the concept that proved most popular, and which I'll be developing here on the blog.

The Black City
The dragon-necked warships of the northmen raiders sail far and wide in search of treasure. Across the misty northern sea, at the very ends of the world, the northmen discovered a rocky land and an ancient ruin. Song and legend called this the land of the Hyperboreans, those ancient men that first discovered magic when the world was new. Now the 'viking men' have established a trading camp on that distant shore, and bands of rugged fighters plumb the depths of the ruined city seeking loot and glory.

The ruins are a sprawling expanse of basalt buildings and strange, cyclopean architecture, very much inspired by the Antarctic city of the Elder Things in 'At the Mountains of Madness'. Whether it was built by the Hyperboreans or some non-human race, the city was once inhabited by a prehistoric and decadent race, the first users of magic. The ruins will feature elements of weird science and alien magic. What doom befell the city?  Perhaps the city was built in a time before the world shifted on its axis, plunging a verdant land into the cold northern wastes, or perhaps the slave races revolted and overthrew their master in ages past - much like the demise of the Elder Things.

The Northmen will have a trading camp at the harbor not far from the ruined city. Armed groups of adventurers can use the camp as a base for forays into the ruins. Not far from the entrance to the city will be the main egress point into the sprawling dungeons beneath the city; most adventuring parties follow that route. The dungeons get warmer the deeper you go, lingering effects of an ancient technology. Experienced groups could explore deeper into the frozen, ruined city itelf, and face tougher surface monsters equipped for the cold that still haunt and hunt in the ruins.

The dungeons will be the ancient laboratories and halls where the ancient scientist-wizards perfected their arts; there will be no lack of strangeness down there.  The monsters too will have to be stranger and more alien than a traditional D&D game... I see it using Pulp Horror as the primary genre - we came, we saw, we kicked their ass. And then we ran because the elder god showed up.

The fantasy northmen will have a culture similar to the real world vikings, but the rest of the world will draw more inspiration from the Hyborian Age than Dark Ages Europe.  I'm thinking of mining the old "Hollow World" boxed set for some ideas on cultures and game stats, since I never actually used it as a hollow world setting back in the day, but it's chock full of good ideas.

Note:  I was originally calling this The Lost City of the Hyperborians, then I saw what these guys are working on... yeah, I realize Hyperborea is pretty common in CAS and HPL and REH,  but I'll probably opt for another name nonetheless.

Review: The King of Elfland's Daughter

Be careful what you wish for...

This will kick off the first in a series of reviews as I work through my own personal Appendix N.  I'm no literary critic; I'll take a moment  to say some things about the work itself, then move on to discuss it as an inspiration for gaming.  Dunsany is listed in the AD&D 1E DMG, and The King of Elfland's Daughter is called out by title in Moldvay's Basic Rulebook.

The short novel starts with an introduction to a distinctly English setting; the parliament of a small land, the Land of Erl, desires to be ruled by a "magic lord" so that their small valley gains renown in the surrounding lands and earns a place in the history books; to that end, the lord bestows a quest on his heir - to find the mythic realm of Elfland and there seek to marry the Elf King's daughter.  From the mixing of the mortal and magic realm emerges a story that seemed to me a classic fairy tale writ large.

The story is written in a slightly archaic style (although published in the 1920's, it seems reminiscent of 19th century writing, to me) but the style is imbued with such poetry and lyricism, it's easy to get carried away by the charm of the prose.  If you like literature, you'll enjoy Dunsany - I highly recommend this piece.

Inspiration for Gaming
I'll confess - at times I grow weary of the long shadow of Tolkien on gaming, and appreciate alternative imaginings of classic races when I encounter them.  The elves of Dunsany live in a realm of faerie that's coterminous with our world, but the borders of the realm are capable of retreating at the will of the King of Elfland.  Most mortals seem ignorant about how close Elfland lies; it's just over that nearby hill.  Elfland itself is an eternal, unchanging place, where a single moment stretches for an eternity; much of the charm and vision in this story happens when creatures of the fairy realm slip into the mortal world and begin to experience Time and Change.  And play tricks on people.

The story includes trolls (presented more as mischievous goblins than the trolls of D&D); there is unicorn hunting, the dangers of will-o-wisps and marshes, and the half-elf/changeling son of the Elf King's daughter - Orion - drawn to both worlds.  Other D&D-like elements include the forging of a magic sword, various quests, and consultation with witches and sages.

One of my favorite touches, one which I'll develop in a later post on Law vs Chaos, is the relationship between Elfland, and magic, and the church of man; the Freer (the name given to the local priest) dispels the magic of Elfland with his candle and bells and holy words, and is content in a mundane world devoid of magic.  Perhaps he was right in the end?

Friday, December 17, 2010

A Taxonomy of Horror

Last post discussed the Dunwich Horror as a pulp action horror story that inspired the common approach to using Lovecraft in gaming; I briefly introduced the idea of Pulp vs Purist horror styles I've seen in modern approaches to the genre in gaming.  (The excellent Trail of Cthulhu blew the doors open for me on Purist style gaming).

Whereas Pulp vs Purist describe styles of play, let's take a moment and establish some additional foundational terms for describing horror - apologize if this seems too professorial, I'm really just a hobbyist that wants to establish a lexicon for further discussion.  (These classes of horror come from an 80's horror anthology - Dark Descent - but they work well for my purposes).

Supernatural Horror
Most horror, and certainly most horror in D&D, is supernatural horror.  Demons, devils, ghosts, and the undead; supernatural horror involves these intrusions of evil into an otherwise sensible world.  Most of these stories have some cosmic theme of  good vs evil.   The gothic tales of the 19th century, the works of Stephen King, movies like The Exorcist or Rosemary's Baby, these are all good examples of the supernatural horror story.

Psychological Horror
Psychological horror arises from the actions of the monster at the center of the story - I have met the enemy, and he is us.  Implacable murderers (Jason, Freddy, Leatherface), grotesqueries, torture, body horror, this is the stuff of psychological horror.   Movies like Saw, Friday the 13th, Halloween, and the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, those visceral slasher flicks, are well-known examples.

Weird Horror
Lovecraft and similar writers fall into the realm of weird horror - and so would things like scientific horror, materialistic horror, atheist horror.  The nature of reality is unknown or misunderstood, the cosmos is vast, impersonal and uncaring; when we stare into the void, either we see nothing, or we something worse than nothing.  Most weird horror is literary, but I'd put materialistic movies like Alien in this group as well.

Horror in Dungeons & Dragons
Most D&D horror fails - D&D is essentially a pulp action game where monsters are meant to die.  I hate the stupid Far Realm that infected 3.x and 4E with it's idiocy, tapping into the trendiness of tentacles.  It supposedly interjected Lovecraftian elements into the D&D cosmos, but the teleology is all wrong, so it just doesn't work for me.  Everything is reduced to supernatural horror; the players are pawns or foot soldiers in the great battle against evil (or madness), and at the end of the day, they usually get to go home, victory in hand.  Where's the dread?

Can weird horror work in an action game like Dungeons & Dragons?  I hope so!  What do you think?

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Dunwich Horror

The Tale that Launched a Thousand Games

Ah, Dunwich Horror; how I love thee and... don't always love thee as much as I used to.  As a younger person, this was one of my favorite Lovecraft tales; the older I get, the less I idolize this particular story, but the more I respect the long shadow it has cast on thirty-something years of gaming.

The story is fairly simple (in gaming terms).  A cultist tries to steal a blasphemous tome from the restricted section of the local university library, but is killed by the guard dog.  The stalwart librarian perceives the risk (because he's familiar with the incantations and rituals that were the cultist's goal) and he also decrypts the cultist's diary, revealing much of the back story.  Meanwhile, with the cultist dead, there is no one back home feeding his monstrous half-brother; the half-brother breaks out of containment, rampaging across the countryside and destroying farms and livestock.  Entire families are consumed.  Armed with mind-blasting incantations and spells, the librarian and some heroic professors sojourn to the beleaguered village deep in the backwoods, confront the monster on a stormy hilltop, and send it back.

As an introduction to the Cthulhu Mythos, the Dunwich Horror is brilliant.  You've got all these juicy elements - the Necronomicon - the Dee edition, Wormius' Latin Edition; you have quotes from the Necronomicon, you have a cultist's diary written in cypher and Aklo, you have wizardry and sorcery, possibly the first mention of Yog-Sothoth, and humans mating with things from elsewhere and giving birth to half-human monsters.  It's golden.  So what's the problem?

The good guys win!

Cosmic horror is bleak.  There is no victory against the Mythos.  Most Lovecraftian tales end with the protagonist dead, waiting for death, insane, or worse.  Very few take this pulp action approach.  But the Dunwich Horror defined the Call of Cthulhu game experience; antiquarian characters, skilled with ancient languages and bookish skills, perceive a threat beyond the ken of ordinary folk, risk health and sanity learning the secrets of the Mythos, and somehow save the world by driving the monster off.

That being said, lately I've seen a change in Cthulhu gaming; there's a deeper appreciation for the sense of horror that comes from bleak inevitability.  Tastes are trending towards The Colour Out of Space instead of The Dunwich Horror.  More writers are opting for one-shot adventures (no one here gets out alive!) and the players understand going in that they are characters in a game that is emulating horror fiction, instead of the chosen heroes in a  pulp action story like The Dunwich Horror.  There's even a term for it - Purist vs Pulp styles of Cthulhu gaming.

Too often when we import elements of Weird Fiction or Lovecraftian horror into our Dungeons & Dragons games, we don't even take a Pulp Horror approach, we take a Pulp Adventure approach.  The squamous tentacled thing might have a tougher AC, a few more HD, a pernicious attack, but it's still a thing with game stats amenable to killing it, if you just have a big enough sword.  Screw that - it sucks - it does a disservice to the whole genre of Weird Fiction.

One of my goals for this blog - I'm still thinking out loud, mind you -is to migrate this 'Purist' mentality over D&D, to put an element of horror into some of my D&D games that can't be hacked or turned or blasted with a fireball or treated like a typical mook from the Monster Manual.  There is no victory against the Mythos, but it might be possible to survive.

This is foundational for some of the ideas to follow; to be continued.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Megadungeons: On the virtues of episodic games

But at my back I always hear, time's winged chariot drawing near...
 I find myself pleasantly surprised by the inherent utility in some of our game's earliest forms.  If you've been exposed to the latest incarnations, you are likely familiar with the concept of the "Adventure Path"; the publisher generates an extensive campaign covering a wide range of levels through a series of linked adventure modules building one on the other.  The modern versions tend to have very high production values, compelling stories, and intricate plots.  Paizo's work, specifically, I found to be very well done.

One argument against the adventure path approach is they tend to be 'railroady'.  Player choice is abrogated by the story; if the players don't follow the carefully laid out plot hooks, they're off the adventure path and the game is over.  Railroad tends to be used perjoratively.  Whatever.  If everyone agrees a story-based game is how they want to play, and they don't mind being lead around, I don't see a problem with a railroad game.   Most players would rather be on the Orient Express than standing in the station waiting for something to happen, as Ken Hite would say.

But I've discovered a different issue with the modern approach to adventures.  And I didn't even realize it was a problem until I experienced a better way.  Here's the problem:  the stories tend to range far and wide and cover a lot of ground.  It's assumed the group is moving through the story more or less as a unit.  And a good story is a feature, not a bug, right?  Hmm.

As we get older and the burdens of family, work, and kids eat into our gaming time, it's harder and harder to get my five current players together each and every week.  We have trouble getting everyone to 'move through a story as a unit'.  We set a 3-player quorum (less than three, and we postpone the game) - as most of the time we achieve our quorum, most weeks the game happens.  Last week's game was the first time in about a month we had all five of the same players together in the same room.

Part of the reason I'll be committing blog-time to the megadungeon* project is because I've seen the value in episodic play.  Every week is a new cast and a new story.  I discovered this hidden feature running a kid's game.  I run a second game for my son and some neighborhood kids (and the dads).  We play every few weeks, and the group is fairly transient.  Every week the game starts in town at "The Borderland Tavern"; the players agree on a destination in the nearby dungeon (Stonehell: Down Night-Haunted Halls); then off they go.  My rule is that each week, they need to leave the dungeon when time is almost up and retreat to the town.

The obvious benefit of this approach is that it doesn't matter who shows up each week.  Everyone has a character; if they miss a game, the player knows their guy decided to stay back in the tavern the week they missed.  No one plays other people's characters.  No one "dies" when they miss a game.  And you certainly don't get experience and treasure while missing.

One of the issues we had running 4E and adventure path games was that any time we ended a session,  it was in the middle of things; when a player missed the next game, it burdened everyone else to play the missing characters.  Gah, I still remember the pain when my group reached "Paragon" levels and players had to try and learn someone else's 5-page 4E character on the fly, with all those intricate power combos and feat interactions.  Combats ground to a halt with the learning curve.  :shiver:

Schedules are tight, gaming time is precious, why waste time canceling and rescheduling gaming sessions when you could be playing an episodic game using an old school megadungeon / campaign dungeon?  You think those 1970's DM's with 8-10 players at the table canceled any time someone missed?  Heck, West Marches was built on the premise of a transient group - it provides evidence that even an episodic hex crawl could be built.  There are a number of reasons why MMO's are so widely popular; I'm sure one factor is the ease of firing up the computer and always finding willing guildmembers online and ready to head out there.  We can do it too.

I've learned to fall in love with the old school megadungeon; stay tuned as the project gets underway and enjoy the journey.

*A dungeon expansive enough to accommodate an entire campaign of substantial length, Melan

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Appendix N: My List

Midway in our life's journey, I went astray from the straight road and woke to find myself alone in a dark wood...

First Post!

Why start a blog?  Simple - I wished for a place to chronicle my projects.  Right now, I have two gaming related projects:  a megadungeon project and a reading project.  We'll get to that megadungeon project in a bit; the reading project is below.  I'm also a game master for a couple of games; I expect I'll post some game reports here too.  Most importantly, this blog exists to give me a safe place to ramble on about the philosophy of gaming, my reading interests, reviews, game reports, and ideas, without endangering innocent bystanders or boring my spouse.

About that reading project.  Earlier this year I was inspired (by this guy) to peruse works of fantasy fiction I had overlooked for too long; I started with "Tales from the Dying Earth" and quickly developed a sizeable list of fantasy and horror fiction that had been left unread, or that deserved a second read to admire the works with a new perspective.  While most of these are from the AD&D DMG list, I've added a few horror selections to round out my Lovecraft list, and will likely add a few more as well.

I expect I'll be updating this list often; books with strikethroughs have been completed since the project began.

The List:
Jack Vance, Tales of the Dying Earth
Mervyn Peake, Titus Groan, Gormenghast
Lord Dunsany, The King of Elfland's Daughter
Lord Dunsany, The Gods of Pegana
HP Lovecraft, various collections
Poul Anderson, Three Hearts and Three Lions, The Broken Sword
ER Eddison, The Worm Ouroboros
Roger Zelazny, The Chronicles of Amber
JRR Tolkien, The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings
TH White, The Once and Future King
Robert E Howard, Conan Stories (various)
Clark Ashton Smith, Return of the Sorceror (collection)
Michael Moorcock, Elric of Melniboné, The Sailor on the Seas of Fate
Ray Bradbury, Something Wicked this Way Comes
Arthur Machen, The Great God Pan, The Novel of the Black Seal
Walter Miller, A Canticle for Leibowitz
Gene Wolfe, Book of the New Sun
Fritz Leiber, Swords and Deviltry and others
L Sprague De Camp, The Compleat Enchanter
John Bellairs, The Face in the Frost
Edgar Rice Burroughs, Pellucidar, Barsoom
Gardner Fox, Kothar
M R James, Count Magnus and Other Ghost Stories
Margaret St Clair, Sign of the Labrys, The Shadow People
Richard Tierney, Simon Magus
Algernon Blackwood, Best Ghost Stories
Abraham Merrit, The Face in the Abyss, The Moon Pool
Sterling Lanier, Hiero's Journey
Karl Edward Wagner, Dark Crusade
Andre Norton, The Witch World
TED Klein, Dark Gods
Tanith Lee, Night's Master
Thomas Ligotti, The Nightmare Factory
William Hope Hodgson, The House on the Borderland, The Night Land
Ursula Le Guin, The Left Hand of Darkness, A Wizard of Earthsea
Leigh Brackett, Mars or Skaith
Lloyd Alexander, Prydain series
Alan Garner, The Weirdstone
MJ Harrison, Viriconium

What am I missing?