Thursday, November 27, 2014

Dun Kells: An Introduction

Here is my introductory "five paragraph essay" for my Dun Kells campaign:

It is the dawn of the sixth age of the world and “Middle Earth” (Mitgaard) has now fallen to mere “earth” in almost all regions. The free and rational races continue their losing battle against the forces of Chaos while the church spreads its gospel of a universal Law not derived from earth but heaven. The “Eldar” have long since departed to the uttermost West and now only dark elves lurk in wooded glens dispersed in shadows, barely and listlessly maintaining a mere handful of far-flung woodland realms. The dwarves too now feel the urge to seek their promised slumber at the roots of the ancient mountains but some still wander, trade and maintain their hidden vaults. “Hobbits” now live by wits and in hiding.

The Forests of Dun Kells form a vast wilderness that separates the eastern and western kingdoms and grand duchies of Christendom. Dun Kells is situated somewhere in an imaginary and vast temperate continental European region. To the west the shattered and scattered lines that claim descent from Charles the Great maintain their Lawful estates of Christendom and the lonely isles of Logres maintain their memory of the long departed Once and Future King. Far to the east the various Slavic tribes have only recently adopted the new religion and its Law. Further east lie unknown mystical and barbarian lands. To the direct south lies much of the remains of the various empires that once ruled the great Middle Sea. Finally, to the north lies the mighty icy sea. Beyond that sea are lands of barbarian pirate-people, the “Northmen,” or Vikings with their neutral and chaotic gods.

The transformation from the fourth to fifth age of this world occurred with the calling of one man and the people-group he would sire to be the representatives of the Law of heaven on earth. In the wake of this election, all other men fell into the darkness of pagan ways. The clarity of this election blurred the once simple lines between a vague recognition of the great powers and the abuse of magic under the cult of darkness. So all religion fell under the thrall of evil, though with little real knowledge or power with genuine affect. In the wake of this transformation, the spawn of Mater Chaos increased on the face of earth, and an age of the monstrous began to rise. Great heroes held her spawn at bay, Nimrod, Hercules, Jason, Beowulf. But the safety of the world demanded the dawning of a new age.

In the darkest night of the fifth age, the sixth age was born when messengers from heaven proclaimed to the elect the birth on earth of the King of Heaven. This King would draw all nations to himself in a universal Law. All who swore allegiance became heralds of this good news. The spreading of this Dawn would follow the lines of these heralds – and at the time of this campaign, the world is still turning into this new Light. The shadow of the dark night of men slowly recedes wherever the good news of this Universal King’s reign is announced and accepted. In the wake of this great transformation, the free and rational races of the earth must choose how they will align themselves for the King’s Last Battle. Those who choose the King are Lawful. Those who decline the call may no longer remain “Neutral,” for the battle line has been drawn. They become the denizens of Chaos. In the face of the rise of the church, the King’s people on earth, the unholy ones – demons and undead – have risen up, increasing their powers through shear number in their vain attempt at a fighting chance at the Last Battle.

In this dawning age, kingdoms war to claim a single Empire of Law. Heroes establish wilderness realms to bring Law and civilization. Even lowly rabble take destiny in their own hands, reclaiming antiquities and gaining fame in dungeons deep and caverns old. Will you bring law and order out of chaos and loss, or at least die trying? “Fight on!”

The above forms the current "Introduction" to my legendaria companion document.

I have put out an invitation to some folks I trust to "get it," and hope to run the first campaign dungeon for first level characters this December! Fight on!

Campaign Setting: Dun Kells

This is an update on my ever-developing "fantasy Christendom" wargames campaign: "Dun Kells."

I've been working on house rules sense last Christmas when I got the collectors edition of Original Dungeons and Dragons from my wife as her present to me.

Here is the introduction to the house rules document, which is almost complete:


Use this campaign-specific “house rules” document in conjunction with the first published rules for fantastic medieval wargames campaigns (0e), especially the first three (3) “little brown books” (LLBs), and follow their precedent for making rulings. Jimm Johnson’s Planet Eris House Rules provides an example of a similar document and may resolve missed or over-looked details. Alexander Marcis’ Adventure Conqueror King System (the ACKS) inspires much that is different from 0e in these rules, especially rules regarding the building, keeping and administration of realms in later phases of play. Other documents generally recognized and played as part of the “Old School Renaissance” fairly contribute to the rulings of this campaign.


These campaign specific rules seek to do three things: to engage a legendarium of a fantastical medieval Christendom, to build into the mechanic reward for more heroic, “high fantasy” play-style and to build more obviously into the core rules the conquering, building, ruling and keeping, not only of strongholds, but their concomitant realms as home-bases for more large-scale wargamming. There are three basic phases of game-play and these three basic phases loosely correspond to about every three levels (lvls) of character advancement:

·      Adventuring: to build fame and fortune in order to
·      Conquer: by claiming, clearing land, and establishing strongholds in order to
·      Rule: a realm as a base of attack and defense, and for the accrual of wealth necessary, for larger-scale fantastical medieval wargamming

In pursuit of these ends, this document supersedes much of the first of the three “LLBs” and more than half of the following rules are dedicated to that task. The referee will still need to make extensive use of the later two “LLBs” or their simulacra.

And here is the "forward" to my now growing "world bible," or "campaign setting description," the so-called "fluff," or, what I would rather call the guide to its "legendaria:"

Dun Kells names a wargames campaign set in a fantastical medieval Christendom. The published rules, additions and modifications are designed not so much as a “retro-clone,” but as a “retro-supplement” to the original edition of the first published rules for fantastical medieval wargames campaigns. So, just as that game had several supplements that still relied upon the core three digests, so too the rules for Dun Kells do not stand alone but require the same three, or their “retro-clones” and simulacra. In this document I provide a description of the “campaign world” for which I designed those rule additions and modifications.

Original edition rules were designed for a medieval-fantasy campaign. The original setting construed “medieval,” as anything “pre-“ or even simply “non-“ modern, including, e.g., the fantastic worlds of Howard, Vance, etc. It deliberately skewed the Christian context of the medieval world of our western history, except, perhaps, the “cleric” class. The rules and this legendarium for Dun Kells attempt to provide the “mechanics” and setting for a more obviously fantastical medieval Christendom, while avoiding the twin-shoals of a forced, one-to-one allegory on the one hand, or any possible disrespect on the other. This is not an easy task, and I must, of course, leave it to the individual reader to determine how well I have achieved these goals.

The great benefit, I hope, is that some of the more obvious features of our own inherited medieval past and its diverse and varying legendaria will become available as features of play. Achieving this end requires the game to engage and reward what has come to be called “high fantasty,” as opposed to the more “low fantasy,” “swords and sorcery,” of the original rules and setting. One important part of this engagement and rewarding, therefore, is building in more obviously something assumed in the original rules and setting, but fairly side-lined in the later development of role-playing games in general: the so called “end game,” where characters build, maintain and battle with their own realms and kingdoms.

Dun Kells engages the legendaria of the Christian “dark ages” triangulated between J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis and the “Three Matters” (that is to say, Arthurian Legend, the Carolinian Cycle and the medieval reception of classical myth and legend) that they interpreted and reimagined. Imagine back a kind of dark ages where Merlin from Lewis’ That Hideous Strength roams around with paladins and archbishops, knocking on Grendals' skulls and getting into all sorts of trouble. Project forward from Tolkien’s alternative history. Then add just a bit of the ballads of Robin Hood and some of the Brothers Grimm. So, to get the “feel” of Dun Kells, imagine King Arthur and Beowulf meet in a post- “Middle Earth” Christendom. Magic is waning, the church is waxing, but they are not necessarily at war. King Arthur consults with both the Archbishop and Merlin, etc.

I name it "Dun Kells" after the German word for "dark," (dunkel). I wanted it to have a vaguely but not trendily "celtic" sound (Kells) and I wanted to wave in the direction of the Grimm brothers' fantastical "Black Forest," and, of course, that legendary haunt of fantastical campaigns, “Blackmoor.”

Golden Dragon

This is just a follow up on my adventure: Emancipation of the Golden Dragon. (Spoiler Alert just in case you ever want me to run this for you!)

I have run four sessions of this adventure with my local group. Session five is coming up! They have managed to clear about a level per session. So it really seems to be working out nicely. Here is the hook provided on the Meetup site:
A chance encounter with golden dragons is unpredictable at best, but these two want to recruit your party. Appearing in human form, they explain that one of their own has been captured by Mormadock, an evil wizard. The Dungeon of Mormadock is a twisted living laboratory where exotic monsters are housed and harvested in wicked experiments and bizarre alchemical research. The evil wizard is bent upon chaotic domination and he believes he holds the key!
But he needs one more ingredient to perfect his formula: he must harvest the dragon parts of a living Golden Dragon. He has captured one, but it wisely refuses to take dragon form and allow such harvesting. It is ancient, strong in its own magic, and therefore highly resistant to the wizard's ordinary magic. Mormadock is therefore off on dimensional explorations in order to find what he needs to force the golden dragon to his will.
Now, the other two golden dragons explain, is the time to mount a daring rescue. The wizard is absent, but his dungeon is active and garrisoned. It will take a carefuly planned attack by a crack team of seasoned dungeoneers. Are you the right ones for this mission?
It was a lot of fun putting together. I imagined each of the six dragons in 0e as the center piece of each level of a six-level dungeon (with some side red herrings, e.g., one seeming "level" is really just the lair of a mighty purple worm! (Rad!)).

Each dragon moves up the scale of age and HD, so, e.g., the white dragon is very young, up to the golden dragon himself, being ancient. Each dragon's lair is carefully maintained by the evil Wizard himself, providing, as much as possible, the "native" environment of the particular dragon. So, e.g., the white dragon resides in an ice house. The red dragon resides in a cavern full of artificial hills, etc. Each level has a particular intelligent race serving as its keepers, e.g., evil magic users, clerics, goblins, giants, etc.

With this hook I managed to employ just about every type of monster available in 0e. It was tough to design, and, well, perhaps a bit artificial in the end. I know I will change some things and make them better if I run it again.

But it was and is fun! Fight on!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Maps and plans from my children

"Preparation for the campaign: The referee bears the entire burden here, but if care and thought are used, the reward will more than repay him." (M&M p. 5)

"At any time a player/character wishes he may select a portion of land (or a city lot) upon which to build his castle, tower, or whatever . . . Each player who builds should draw an extra set of plans and specifics for the referee." (U&WA p. 20).