Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Lost City of Eridu (Early Temple Period)

Up until 50,000 years before the present day of my new world campaign, the landscape of the new world was considerably different.  A basalt ridge left behind from a volcanic eruption and lava flow in the distant past divided the drainage basin of the jungle roughly in half, and what are now the two main tributaries of the Zamonas were separate rivers, the Maita to the north and the Ilyapa to the south.  The Maita fed into an immense coastal swamp, while the Ilyapa snaked through the southern hills before going underground and flowing through a series of lava tubes to the coast.

50,000 years ago a great rock demon of tremendous power was drawn forth from under the highest volcano in the range by a powerful sorcerer.  This was in the time of heroes when many men had great powers that rivaled the gods.  Still, Asag was nearly invulnerable to magic and harbored a great hatred for it and he boiled the blood of the sorcerer with his presence, killing him instantly.  The sorcerer's name has been lost but all the cultures of the jungle basin remember when Asag came smashing through the basalt ridge almost all the way to the coast, exploding it in a shower of lava as he went.  Much of the northern swamps were covered in a lava flow and a good portion of the central jungle burned. When Asag's wrath began to cool in the surface air he returned to his kingdom under the mountain, and the Maita and Ilyapa rivers flooded the wreckage left behind and formed a new river, the Zamonas.  The entire jungle basin was now drained by this one great river.

One of the earliest city states (~30,000 YA) to arise in the region was Eridu, situated along the banks of the Zamonas where it flowed nearest the southern hills.  The patron deity of Eridu was Marduk the Sun, whose avatar had been persuaded to reside in a large gold statue and led the Eriduan people to many military victories.  The priesthood of Marduk in Eridu grew extremely wealthy and influential, and many of the religious traditions that characterize the early temple period  first arose in Eridu, including the proliferation of many specialist priest types.  Priests for the purification of the temple (masmasu), priests to appease the wrath of the gods with song and music (kalu), female singers (naru), male singers (zammeru), swordbearers (nas patri), masters of divination (baru), penitents (sa'ilu), priests for individual purification against demons and magicians (asipu) and the supervising or watchman priests (sesgallu) who served as mouthpieces of the God-statue - these and other specialized aspects of the priesthood that arose in Eridu soon spread to the other fledgling city-states and the early temple period proper (25,000-20,000 YA) starts with the adoption of the stepped-pyramid or ziggurat as home of a patron god-statue in all of the city-states of the coastal region.
Typical early temple period ziggurat: god's house in blue at the top
 holding the god statue inhabited by the patron deity's avatar  (25,000 - 20,000 YA)

The demise of Eridu came about in the middle of the early temple period, around 22,000 YA.  Eridu was left literally high and dry when the Zamonas  changed course and formed a new path to the sea hundreds of miles to the north.  Not long after, Asag was summoned to the surface world again by a powerful sorcerer who dangled himself and his arcane energy as bait in an attempt to use Asag against an amassed army.  Asag laid waste to the greater part of the jungle basin, annihilating all life in his path.  A delegation of sesgallu priests from all the affected city-states met to take action against Asag, and it was decided that Asag must be summoned and bound with divine energy to prevent him from ever raging across the jungle again (Asag's magic resistance only working against arcane magics).  The priesthood of Marduk from Eridu saw an opportunity to stay relevant and offered Marduk's assistance to bind Asag inside the metal pyramid of the sun in Eridu.  This proposal was accepted, and with the power of Marduk and his consort Sarpanitu the moon goddess, Asag was summoned and bound without loss of life.

Unfortunately for Eridu, Asag proved incredibly powerful once he had gathered himself and Marduk and Sarpanitu had to devote all their power to keeping him restrained.  Marduk's golden statue no longer strode at the head of the Eriduan army.  The name of Marduk no longer kept evil spirits and demons at bay in the night.  The people of Eridu revolted against the priesthood, accusing the sesgallu of betraying Marduk by forcing him to summon and bind Asag.  The priesthood stayed behind in the ceremonial complexes while the people of Eridu migrated to the coast.  Some people of Eridu married with the tribes of the southern jungle; men of these lines kept alive the secret cults of Eridu while women of these lines have passed on memory of Sarpanitu and still access the sacred moon grottos underneath the temple of the moon to conduct ceremonies in her honor.

The bulk of the people of Eridu made their way north along the coast toward the new mouth of the Zamonas where they had been promised land to farm near the emerging city state of Siss-Anor.  Shortly before the Zamonas changed course, the old fishing city of Anor-Anor had been sacked by foreign invaders called the Siss, led by sorcerer kings.  A new city known as Siss-Anor was built on the rocky outcropping above the ruins of the old city.  When the river changed course it flowed right up to the basalt outcropping of Siss-Anor, instantly making the city a new power in the region. When the people of Eridu neared Siss-Anor they were ambushed by a Siss army.  All the men of Eridu were killed and the women and children taken as slaves to work the fields.  Siss-Anor grew wealthy on the backs of Eriduan labor.  The women of Eridu in Siss-Anor also kept alive the knowledge of the moon cult through the ages.

After hundreds of years the priesthood eventually died out and the old city of Eridu and the sacred complex of the pyramids of the Sun and Moon were completely abandoned.  Marduk and Sarpanitu continued to bind Asag in the metal pyramid, locked in an eternal struggle.

Toward the end of the middle temple period, a sorcerer discovered that Asag was still bound under old Eridu and attempted to draw him forth.  The sorcerer was killed by cultists of Sharur, one of the old cults of Eridu still kept alive in the southern jungle, but the magic he had already set in motion made the metal temple of the sun glow so brightly it lit the night sky of the jungle like daylight.  A delegation of priests from the city states was called together and they summoned a landslide from the south hills that buried the old city and its pyramids.  All the way to the end of the late temple period (up to 10,000 YA) each city state offered a tribute of warriors and priests to guard the site against trespassers.  This tradition did not survive the upheaval that marked the beginning of the modern temple era, when the Siss gods of Siss-Anor replaced the old gods throughout the region and all the old temples were destroyed.  The cult of Sharur still persists and watches the site, and the moon cult of Sarpanitu is still active, the grottoes of the moon accessed through a larger cave network that they are connected to by a submerged passage.

Friday, April 18, 2014

The Archaeology of Minoan Crete (Maps + d87 Random Runes Chart!)

The Archaeology of Minoan Crete

by Reynold Higgins

I bought this $2.25 hardcover at the St. Vincent's thrift store and this bad boy is a treasure trove.  It could be shipped to you by the wizards at Amazon for around $5.50 total.  There is a short summary of what has been learned through archaeological excavations at each site, but the floorplans and reconstruction views are the real gems.  87 characters in Linear B script are also given with their phonetic values where known, so if you have a d87 time to break it out (scroll to the bottom for the d87 random runes chart). The book also had an interesting but much too short section on the sacred caves of Crete (no maps / surveys there unfortunately).  I would just go to Wikipedia for each of the site names listed below for more up to date information than the book can provide, but it is extremely difficult to find quality high-res floorplans let alone isometric restoration views online.  Enjoy some scans!

Early Tomb (floor plan, front view, overhead side reconstruction view)

Palace at Phaestos (overhead reconstruction view)

Palace at Phaestos Floorplan

Palace at Knossos (artist's reconstruction)

Palace at Knossos Floorplan

Villa and Village at Ayia Triada

Palace at Mallia (overhead reconstruction view)

Palace at Mallia Floorplan

Palace at Zakro Floorplan

Linear B Script (d87 Random Rune Chart)

Friday, April 4, 2014

Never Split the Party

There is an old maxim in D&D: Never split the party.  You usually hear this from the player perspective, in the context of survival advice.  Just like a horror movie, as soon as you wander away from the party you are going to be the first corpse.  United we stand, divided we are strangled by measles whilst taking a shit.  Keep the magic users in the middle.  Hi diddle diddle.

Of course there is a meta game reason to not split the party as well - the game runs smoothly when all the PCs are in one location, but  as soon as they separate, the DM has to run each group through its actions separately and track time for each group.   Temporal anomalies are a very real problem that you run into when you split the party - Bill and Ted spent eight excellent hours sleeping in the inn before going to the future, but in the meantime Beavis lit Butthead's fart on fire and burned down the inn.   Usually a handwave back in time is enough to fix these sort of problems (umm, actually Bill and Ted, you guys didn't sleep through the night, you were awakened in the middle of the night to panicked commotion in the hallway and the smell of smoke, so what would you have done then?).  If all the party members are each doing their own thing, at a certain point it would make more sense to stop playing as a group and start playing a bunch of interconnected one on one campaigns.  Which actually sounds pretty cool, but it isn't really D&D as most of us understand it to be - a group experience.

I personally have no problem with splitting the party as a player or DM.  The players in my new world campaign have made a lot of the traditional problems with party splitting obsolete anyway.   All the PCs have a permanent telepathic link of unlimited range (this was created about two years real time into the campaign using the telepathic energy technology of the alien spacecraft that Tilia found on the moon) and can teleport to each other's side or back to the hovercraft as a minor action (they found a bunch of matched teleportal coins, pairs of matched gold coins that when activated open a portal between the two coins - each PC carries a coin linked to a coin carried by another PC, and each PC has a coin linked to a coin on the hovercraft, as well as coins to some other locations that the PCs have sprinkled around the campaign landscape).

While this solves many of the traditional problems of splitting the party, we have found ways to split the party into a more psychedelic fractal gamescape than I could have possibly imagined when this campaign began.   For starters, we have been exploring the idea of splitting your consciousness into multiple copies for quite some time.  I actually first introduced the concept in my (now defunct) Mutant Future game* when the PCs learned that a recurring villain, Julius Corple, had made multiple copies of his consciousness that inhabited a "space" called shadow, the "place" that energy "goes" when it flickers in and out of existence (although shadow is not a space or a place, and exists outside of time as perceived in the PCs universe, and energy particles don't so much travel through shadow as become it). Julius Corples' shadow consciousnesses could create seemingly magical effects by manipulating the way energy was structured in the Mutant Future reality, changing its form in shadow, outside of time.  I have a unified theory of magical physics that I use in all my games regardless of system, and I allow exploration into and manipulation of magical physics outside of the normal D&D structure of spells, ritual magic and powers.  My new world campaign is run using 4e rules, but of course shadow lies outside of the realm of 4e rules.

Fast forward to the present, four years into the campaign, and the last few sessions have been a "never split the party" purist's nightmare.  One of the three main PCs did not even play at all last session, even though his player was in attendance and running two NPCs!  Here is an outline of how the party was split up going into the beginning of last Tuesday's session:

Tilia A:  Underneath the ruins of lost Eridu, between the first dungeon level of the temple of the moon complex and the surface, earthswimming with Hammer back toward the sacred lake to get a badly needed full heal from the holy waters (*not* psychically connected to the party's healer Beautiful Bob, who intentionally severed the link before going to sleep) .

Tilia B: [not active this session] surfing through deep shadow, retaining sanity because she is merged with a shadow dragon, in the middle of a subjectively centuries long mindfuck of a trip through the multiverses as the shadow dragon rides potential energy connections [note - Tilia split herself in two and Tilia B has already rejoined with Tilia A in Tilia A's timeline, but Tilia B is still an active game PC that we will revisit in future sessions to explore more about the nature of deep shadow and the way that energy is connected through the multiverses]

Hammer:  Earthswimming with Tilia back toward the sacred lake to get a badly needed full heal from the holy waters (*not* psychically connected to Beautiful Bob, who intentionally severed the link before going to sleep).  Hammer is a barbarian.  He doesn't split himself up.  Can he split something else up with his axe?

Beautiful Bob A: [not active this session] Hundreds of miles away in a cave in the swamp north of Siss Anor, in the middle of the horrific nightmares that are a withdrawal symptom of the psychotropic plants he consumed to aid in a ritual several sessions earlier.  A Nur-Kubi shaman (kind of like a reptilian praying mantis anteater psychic vampire,  the first sentient race released into the world by the snake man scientists) is siphoning off and feeding on the negative energy.  Bob A intentionally severed his psychic link with Tilia, Hammer, Nur-Kubi, Zanninum, Beautiful Bob ∞ Beautiful Bob C before going to sleep, worried that the psychic energy that might be released in his nightmares could damage them (Bob A was supercharged with nightmare energy, having taken on the nightmares of the four million plus souls trapped in Mother Mind three sessions back).  The session before last we advanced Bob A through several nightmare skill challenges, representing two full REM cycles of sleep, so we began last session needing to advance Tilia A and Hammer about 3-4 hours through game time before Bob woke up from his nightmares and re-established his psychic link with Hammer and Tilia.

Nur-Kubi the Cambion/FAKE Beautiful Bob [NPC controlled by Beautiful Bob's player, no psychic link to Tilia or Hammer]  Guest bedroom in Lady Mirriam's compound, the old temple of the moon in the ruins of old Eridu.  Nur-Kubi is assuming the appearance and demeanor of Beatiful Bob per Bob's commands.  Nur-Kubi begins the session fifteen minutes in time behind Tilia A, Hammer and Zaninum.  Lady Mirriam made a show of dismissing her handmaidens to the courtyard to watch out for any soldiers still angered by the party's actions of the day before (another story) and has shown Nur-Kubi/FAKE Beautiful Bob where her bedroom was and made it known that she would like him to visit her.  Nur-Kubi is waiting a few minutes after his companions have settled into their adjoining rooms before strolling down the hallway. Nur-Kubi is behind Tilia and Hammer in time because the session before last, Tilia earthwalked through the floor of her bedroom and encountered some cultists of the Nameless One in the first dungeon level below and got in a fight.  Hammer teleported to her side and they eventually killed the three lower level weretoad cultists and their higher level vampire leader, but not before sustaining serious wounds, expending a lot of powers and advancing their timeline past Nur-Kubi's.

Zaninum the Cambion  [NPC controlled by Beautiful Bob's player , no psychic link to Tilia or Hammer]  Just been spotted by the guards stationed around Lady Mirriam's compound (the old temple of the moon), was trying to stealthily make his way toward the sacred lake for a badly needed full heal after nearly being killed by an intelligent talking mace that could transform into a winged lion that he found last time while skulking around the ruins of old Eridu.

Curious George the hovercaft [NPC intelligent magical item hovercraft created by the party in dimension X using materials from that dimension] Circling high above the jungle, keeping an eye on things.  Psychically connected to Tilia and Hammer (and usually to Beautiful Bob but not currently until Bob wakes up from his nightmares).

Beautiful Bob B [not active this session] surfing through deep shadow, retaining sanity because he is merged with a shadow dragon, in the middle of a subjectively centuries long mindfuck of a trip through the multiverses as the shadow dragon rides potential energy connections [note - Bob split himself in two and Bob B has already rejoined with Bob A in Bob A's timeline, but Bob B is still an active game PC that we will revisit in future sessions to explore more about the nature of deep shadow and the way that energy is connected through the multiverses - also Bob B is connected to Beautiful Bob  and Beautiful Bob C]

Beautiful Bob  [not active this session] Beautiful Bob split his consciousness up into a near infinite number four sessions ago in a shared dream with Maricanchi, an NPC dreamer from the future. Maricanchi will be an extraordinarily powerful dreamer and split into a near infinite number to show Bob the dreams of the past, present and future inhabitants of the campaign world simultaneously.  [note - I gave Beautiful Bob's player an at will power called The Eternal Moment which allows Beautiful Bob A to connect with the infinite dreaming consciousnesses and learn more about the dreams shown to him by Maricanchi whenever he wants during play.  The only answers that he can get are what the people in the past and future are dreaming, not necessarily the reality of what is happening in the waking world in the past or future]

Beautiful Bob C [not active this session]  In the far future of the campaign world.  One of the many Beautiful Bob ∞ dream consciousnesses has traveled inside the Dream Machine that Maricanchi and his triplet brothers are hooked up to in the future.  The Dream Machine is a complicated piece of magic future technology that is somehow using the dreams of the three triplets to alter reality.  Beautiful Bob C has managed to retain his consciousness while leaving the dream world and taking the form of a single particle of energy inside the dream machine.  Two sessions ago Beautiful Bob C managed to break free of the regular energy routing inside the machine and did not go where the machine was sending his particle, instead choosing to explore the circuitry of the machine on his own terms  [note - we will definitely come back to what Beautiful Bob C is up to inside the dream machine because the dream machine is directly connected to the mind of Manu Jablitu, the technomancer lich who the party would probably consider to be the main bad guy of the campaign at this point over the snake men]

* all three of the current players in my new world campaign were also players in my Mutant Future game.  Those two games ran concurrently for quite some time and PCs from the Mutant Future game even briefly looked through a portal into my new world campaign but did not choose to go through it.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Cave Maps

I usually just steal maps from other sources and repurpose them when I am doing DM prepwork.  I do enjoy drawing  my own maps but it is relatively time consuming and I honestly don't have enough time as it is to prepare for my biweekly session, and what time I do have I don't want to spend mapping.   I found some nice cave maps today on the interwebs.  One is an awesome hand drawn map of the Colossal Cave Adventure (Adventure), a text-based cave exploration game that was one of the first computer games I ever played, on a Kaypro computer no less :)  This map brought back some memories of my own attempts to map out the collosal cave.  I never did finish the adventure myself, but I used my incomplete maps when I was a teenage DM.  This is a great map for RPG purposes because it has a name for every room and often some images associated with it, so you could pretty much wing an adventure with this map.  The second map is a two part map of Mercer Caverns in California.  It shows an overhead view of the cavern and a side view, and it is a great reminder of how caverns are three dimensional spaces.

Colossal Cave Adventure Map

Mercer Caverns Map

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