Monday, October 23, 2023

25 Hexes


A The small Monastery of the Sustained Wail lies here, where the monks specialize in candlemaking. The abbot wears a mask to disguised severe scars he sustained when he was a soldier. He is dead, though the remaining monks do not know that. Their library is impressive and contains useful books.

B The remains of a massive elven warship from the First Goblin War is unaccountably wrecked on a hillside here, overgrown with vines and old moss. It has been colonized by a clan of longhorned goats. Deep in the hold, swaddled in leather is an unfertilized dragon's egg, the size of a wild boar.

C Cabin containing 8 teenage girls. Despite their unbothered demeanor and having no weapons save a few rude kitchen implements, they claim to have been- (and indeed have been-) surviving deep in the woods on their own for years. They are werewolves. They will attempt to separate party members via guile before eating them.

D Bearded vultures pick at the carcass of a palfrey and the corpse of its rider in high grass here. It is the body of the masked abbot from the monastery in Hex A. His robes, mask, and emblems of office are unharmed.

E An idiot hill giant named Feldvarr lives in a fist-shaped rock formation halfway up a series of flecked cliffs. He does not know it, but the weapon he wields is the legendary 2-handed sword, Insinuator, which bears an inversion enchantment: the more protected the target, the more easily it is hit.

F Small hamlet of Thin Frocks subject to frequent attacks by strangely aggressive wolves. They're actually the werewolves from Hex C.

G A narrow, wedge-shaped and thickly-wooded hill at the confluence of two rivers, with a small 4-chambered cave system inside accessible only from the top. It would be an excellent defensive position if the surrounding area had any value which, at this time, it does not.

H Small lake with an inn and tax-collector's post on an island in the center reached by a small rowboat. The Inn of the Broken Buckle offers night-battered rum pudding, eggs in frosted lime oil, blackberry stout and threemelon brandy. In the hour after sunset patrons gamble on the number and kind of thrown-foodstuff wounds with which the tax collector will arrive.

J  There are rumors of an apple-throwing hobgoblin in the unusually large trees occupying an orchard here on a gentle slope surrounding an abandoned well, but skeptics suspect that sometimes apples just grow large and fall on people.

K Seerwell Loops, a monk from the monastery in Hex A was out selling candles when he spied the goblins soldiers at Hex L from a high bluff. He has abandoned his cart and now races back to the monastery to warn the abbot.

L Thirty-four goblin soldiers on foot under Harc Commander Slumgullion Rink, a 12th-level goblin fighter, are under orders from the King of All Goblins to stealthily investigate rumors of an unhatched dragon egg in this area, spurred by the recent discovery of a library of First War documents. Rink's current plan is to march up to Hex G and set up a base camp, then send his detachment of veterans (4th level fighters) out to investigate. 

M Here, a bend in the barely-moving river is choked with violet-colored water-lilies. A freshwater mermaid named Celine sits eating them. She is trying to figure out a way to get the trolls occupying the bridge at Hex N out of "her" river.

N A decaying stone aqueduct-bridge has recently been occupied by Omphalos Ubb, a whistling troll and an anti-intellectual. He eats any fish that can't answer his riddle and any man who can. The riddles are easy.

O Near an old field-wall and beneath layers of low-growing gorse lies the forgotten mausoleum of Lord Ordinans Narcysse, a hero of the Second Goblin War, and his family. Anyone eating the flowers fresh (including horses, who love the stuff) will be able to Speak With Dead for an hour--once. The late Clan Narcysse know the local geography and a lot about killing goblins. The are easily offended, however, and a little xenophobic. Anyone showing less than proper respect--especially anyone not from Broceliande--will cause Lord Narcyse to reanimate himself (he is a plate-clad skeleton with 8 HD) and spend the month "expelling invaders" (killing everyone he sees) until collapsing.

P The small hamlet of Conciere has a competent surgeon (can cure d4 hp per day) but labors under a curse lain upon it by Nynniva, the Winedrunk Witch who dwells in Hex T: all the children are really ugly. The parents of Conciere will lavish such gifts as they have on any who can lift the curse.

Q Niptuck the Fondler and Hodhaus van Dorn--4th level thief/rogue/specialist and 2nd level wizard/magic-user respectively--and sole survivors of a luckless adventuring party, seek any way out of this godforsaken wood. Their fellows were hoodwinked and devoured by the young werewolves in Hex C.

R A small fishing boat is tied to a post fifteen feet out into the river from the western bank. The water around the boat is only 5 feet deep but four poisonous watersnakes swim around it, concealed beneath the shoreweed and bladderwort.

S Sturgis the Cobbled (or kobold), a small goblin wearing an unconvincing human-skin disguise, carries a message to Omphalos Ubb at Hex N from the King of Southern Trolls, written in High Trollish. It instructs Ubb to offer all due aid and assistance to Harc Commander Rink (see Hex L) in his expedition but does not say what the object of that expedition is.

T In a perfectly-round cottage at the center of two concentric rings of perfectly round 5-foot moat separated by a perfectly round ring of garden lives Nynniva, The Winedrunk Witch. Leaping over the first moat causes a strong desire to head elsewhere in the forest and find wine, leaping over the second causes a strong desire to give it to the first woman you see. Stepping in the first moat (2 feet deep) causes Sleep and the second is infinitely deep and causes anyone touching the water to sink at 6 feet per round. Each effect only works once per victim every 24 hours.

U Three dwarfs busk outside the Inn of the Cat's Tail. They tumble and sing songs about ladies. The inn serves wheels of white cheddar, snowpeas on black rye, bad sherry and rhubarb wine. 

V Pildo the Incentivized grows powerful psychoactive mushrooms in his garden, a variety he calls Lesser Killdevil. The effect is identical to Harmony Gold plus a Confusion spell. He'll have d4 doses ready at any given time and will trade for useful goods or services.

W A pond, about 100' across, full of ornamental carp in carnival colors. One of them is a transformed wizard, Ontiir, who stocked the pond and once occupied the cottage nearby. He transformed himself to hide from bandits decades ago and cannot remember how to turn back.

X The large castle here seems, at first, as abandoned as the small town gathered at the base of its walls, but in truth it is still occupied by the mad Count Opulence, fifteen knights, and a shifting handful of concubines and party guests. He owns a giant black scorpion named Maldoror which he employs for impure purposes.

Y Nonna Meatspeech, a messenger from the Half-King of Broceliande astride a buttermilk rouncy rides to the home of Count Opulence in Hex X, to inform the decadent Count that goblins have been sighted in the area. He is the only lord in the area with enough troops to oppose them.

Z In the village of Milieux the burghers have placed a long-fingered marsh frog on trial for causing a recent flood which took the lives of four children and the only local goat. The frog is guilty.

Thursday, October 19, 2023

Picture Dungeon

"Niveau" just means level. "Grotte visible a maree basse" means the cave is visible from the water EDIT: low tide.

Blue S is a secret door.

I think the guy with the purple cape in 24 and 25 is the same guy, if you don't interfere.

The rest should be pretty self-explanatory.


















19, 20, 21





Monday, October 16, 2023

The Rotting Queen

So-named because pieces keep falling off her miniature
There she is, the Rotting Queen. Half-shadow elf, half-spider, ruling forgotten halls beneath Broceliande.

The majority of the ancient and terrified community of grey elves she has enslaved have not seen the sun in 300 years, they do nothing but bemoan their fate, obey her obscene commands, and occasionally notice body parts keep falling off her.

The actual spider-elves and Unseelie Fae consider her a grotesque, she makes them uneasy (do you know how fucked up you have to be to make the Unseelie Fae uneasy?), but they do not know her secret.

This is what "she" really looks like. The actual Queen died centuries ago, a small squirming daemonic parasite that inhabits her left eyes has been puppeting her husk since at least the end of the Malachite Era. It has absorbed her personality, believes itself to be the Queen, and will squirm off to find a new host if given half a chance.

It eats magic.

Her lonely realm looks like a Piranesi drawing lit by Richard Corben:

Traps and creatures down there will be:

40% Necromantic
40% Spider-themed
20% Weird magic like your arms slithers off and grows a tail and hates you.

She has a panther, and will you throw you in a pit with him if you become inconvenient.

Her halls are patrolled by Danse Macabre skeletons, who ensure, peace, order, obedience, and a constant eerie background music.

The halls are lit and irradiated by emanations from the Eldritch Fountain...
...which must be periodically fed the blood of high-level magic-users...
So expeditions outside the catacombs are regrettably necessary. For these purposes, the Queen relies on a cadre of hunter-necromancers... kidnap sorcerers and bring them back to her realm.

The actual process of extracting the magic from a wizard takes hours and involves a lot of hooks and chains and is completely excruciating, though one in ten wizards actually like it. They die happily in the octile embrace of the Rotting Queen.

The good news is they have to keep the wizard alive to do it, so there's usually just enough time to:
  1. Realize you lost your wizard and they aren't just dicking around in the library
  2. Find out from locals that they saw your pointy-hat friend being carried off by what looked from a distance like maybe some drunk friends in a reverse-Weekend-At-Bernies situation 
  3. Go oh, wait, zombies
  4. Find out the nearest source of zombies is the Rotting Queen's catacombs
  5. Mount a daring rescue
Now here's the kicker: since only the blood of high-level magic-users is useful to the Rotting Queen, The Rotting Queen is eager to make herself useful to low-level magic-users. She wants you to level up.

If you're out there with your party members, killing hill giants and robbing crypts and making a name for yourself, buying everybody drinks at the tavern with thousand year old coins, you may eventually get a knock on the door.

And if you follow the hooded and black-clad figure you find standing there, they will lead you down and down again to the Rotting Queen, who will be happy to help you--as the butcher is happy to see the spring lamb fed.

She will assume a pleasing form.

The tome you seek? She knows where it is.
The creature you must fight? She knows its weakness.
It's all going to be fine.

Thursday, October 12, 2023

Keith Giffen Is Dead And He Was Better Than Anybody

Keith Giffen died.

He has been sick for many years, so it's not a surprise but, still, I'm sad.

If you look him up, you'll notice in all the comic book news site eulogies, he's weirdly hard to summarize. They'll say he created this or that second-tier character or contributed to an influential run you may or may not have read on a comic book you may or may have not have heard of.

This is fitting--Keith's style, like his art and writing--is hard to pin down.

Here's the splash page of one of his comics:

Again: this is what they call the splash page --the big announcement page to get you excited.

Batman's face is in shadow, Robin's facing away and would be unrecognizable if this were a black-and-white comic, and it took me, a huge Giffen fan, like, minutes to realize that what's going on here is there's a blue-clad figure (Clayface) in a hat holding a knife up to stab Robin. 

This is everything they tell people not to do in illustrator school. And Giffen was great at it.

Nobody can use the traditional comic bro vocabulary to explain why his comics were so good.

He also just kept evolving. All of these are the same guy:

Defenders 50, from the beginning of his career
Legion of Super-Heroes #1 when Giffen was a fan-favorite
Dr Fate limited series, when he started getting weird
Near the end of his first Legion run
His soup-to-nuts creation The Heckler

Another later-career all-Keith joint, Trencher. Scroll back up to the Defenders and compare
Throughout his career, Giffen was dogged by accusations of copying other artists--but this misses the point. Giffen was mr anything-you-can-do-I-can-do-better. Or at least weirder. He was like the Ridley Scott of comics--Oh you made Barry Lyndon you say? Here's The Duellist. You made Dark Star? Here's Alien. Ben Hur? Fucking Gladiator. You made 2001? Star Wars? I made Blade Runner. 48 Hours? Thelma and Louise.

The early work--like that Defenders page at the top--owes a clear debt to Jack Kirby, but the dense, dark designs and schematic presentation are far too deadpan for Kirby. Keith caught a lot of slack around the time of that Dr Fate page for copying Argentine artist Jose Munoz--but Munoz had that loose, indie sensibility--he didn't have Giffen's full-color design sense. 

And what Giffen did with Munoz's style...
...he summons a bodiless mouth in mid-air to annihilate Batman with green vomit. Meanwhile, what's Munoz drawing? Some guys playing jazz?

I mean, if he's not going to use his style why not let Keith borrow it?

The next page down Giffen's starting to be influenced by Kevin Maguire...

...but whatever the fuck Colossal Boy's lonely shapechanging wife is doing to herself in panel two, Maguire would never. And that snap screwball-comedy transition to the angry-eye close-up? Pure Giffen.

A major reason Giffen's going to be hard to summarize is he did exactly the opposite of the conventional wisdom about what we're all supposed to like in comics.

If I was to try to summarize what that was, I'd say it was this sort of thing:
Ahhh, the podcasters sing, the storytelling. That story sure did get told. That robot definitely busted through that wall and Batman sure does look concerned about that explosion.

We're supposed to really like that. It's clear, it's accessible, it's emotional, it's simple, it's open, it's...meh.

Ever since Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics came out people have been talking like there's something to understand. Like: it's a fucking comic, dude. It's a form literally designed to be understood by schoolchildren. It's never hard to understand comics.

People praise comic artists so often by saying "the storytelling is so clear you don't even need to read the words to understand it, it leads the eye across the page".
Who cares? Giffen realized the eye would always get across the page sooner or later because there are panels and the page is a picture the person reading wants to look at because they bought the comic on purpose to look at it. Comics aren't rocket science.

Giffen went hard the other way. He made gorgeous patterns of color blocks and shapes on the page--and if they didn't tell the story all by themselves--oh right, there's word balloons.
What does it mean? Where is the story going? Who cares? Keith Giffen built comics as labyrinths of color, shape, continuity, reference, collage, image, jokes. They didn't invite you to understand, they didn't have epic character arcs of Campbellian heroics, they invited you to come get lost in the funhouse.

Keith Giffen's comics make you go "What the fuck is this?" and honestly--if you think how everybody who loves comics loves them because they picked up issue 456 of some random comic which was part 3 of a 6 part arc that got finished in some whole other series the next year by different people or loves them after finding some manga with a mythology that you have to get through 4 fanslations a Wiki and an anime to understand--that is what a lot of people want. They want to peel the arcana apart.

I loved Keith.

I hope someone picks up where he left off.