In this video review I take a look at the Midderlands Expanded by MonkeyBlood Design.
It’s a warm day here in England, and in the third episode of the Podcast I’m talking a bit about what makes me want to keep reading an RPG.
In episode 2 of our podcast, Hannah has been reading my Midderlands books and talks briefly about what she likes in them:
In today’s session of Rose of Westhaven we’re trying out using an adaption of the LOTFP supplement Vagina’s are Magic, we’re not going the whole hog with the weird spells and such-like in there (since that would entail a massive alteration of the magic level of our campaign) but I’ve been discussing with one of my players using the VAM rules for casting.
Essentially a magic-user has a number of spell slots equal to their level, they can cast any of their spells using those slots with no problems whatsoever.
However, if the magic-user tries casting spells in addition to that number then they must make a miscast chance. There are other circumstances that can force a miscast roll such as if a magic-user has taken damage in the same round they cast a spell or is massively encumbered.
The slight issue we had was that the VAM 1D12 miscast table only has result for rolls 7-12, results from 1-6 are dependent on the individual spells (as listed in the VAM rulebook). Since we’re keeping the standard spells we don’t have individual charts for each spell and I’m not greatly desiring to write that number of tables, so instead I’ve just created entries for results 1-6 based on some ideas of my own and some D&D 5E house rules that one of my players (Dennis Bach) was kind enough to donate to me.
The table is added below:
If you want a PDF version of the table you can find it by clicking here.
I’m interested to see how this adaption of the VAM rules will work, hopefully it will add a little bit more versatility to the magic-user; if it goes well then I may consider adapating it to use for Clerics, but with an offended deity table instead of a miscast table.
VAM is copyright James Edward Raggi IV, no challenge is intended to any copyrights. If you’ve not yet got a copy of Vagina’s are Magic and you fancy experimenting with a weird magic system you can get a copy from http://www.lotfp.com/store/index.php?route=product/product&product_id=234.
I’m currently running an OSR game using the Lamentations of the Flame Princess rules, using the excellent Midderlands campaign setting created by Glynn Seal of Monkeyblood Design & Publishing (https://plus.google.com/+MonkeyblooddesignCoUk). In Lamentations there are three non-human race-classes available, Dwarves, Elves and Halflings, that aren’t covered in great detail in the Midderlands books, but that I wanted to be available to my players in our game.
Please note: This article is not an attempt to create a definitive version of the various fantasy races for use in the Midderlands, it’s just how I’ve adapted them for my game (trying to keep the weird-fantasy vibe of the Midderlands in mind throughout).
The various races in my game use the standard rules out of LOTFP (or the Midderlands Campaign books when it comes to various types of Goblins), the details below are simply additional set-dressing/flavour.
The Dwarves are a strange people of living stone who dwell in the northern Highlands of Scrotland, organised into Clans with strict, regimented hierarchies. It is believed that when humans first arrived in the Havenlands that Dwarves were much more widespread and taught the first humans the ways of working metal and smithing. Strict minded and traditional in their ways, the Dwarves were first pleased with the progress humans made and then worried by their experimentation and chaotic nature, gradually withdrawing more and more from the world until now only the north has Dwarves in large numbers.
Dwarves are shorter and stockier than humans, tending towards muscular physiques. Each of them has skin that resembles stone in colour and texture more than flesh and eyes that are pupilless vary in colour from ruby red to emerald green. Dwarven blood is thick, red and slow flowing, it takes far longer than human blood to dry, eventually transforming into a red powder like ground brick.
When a Dwarf is slain their flesh retains it’s stony texture and does not rot like the flesh of some other races, however it does crumble away over time (or if subjected to enough force) revealing the iron-like bones beneath.
The few remaining Dwarfholds are situated in the Highlands of Scrotland, clustered around the mighty Mount Nevis and the Great Northern Forests. Other races most often seek out the Dwarves when they are attempting to have mighty weapons or enchanted items forged, since the Dwarves are reputed to have secret methods of working stone and forging metal that are unknown to the other races. Items of Dwarven craftmanship tend to be hard-wearing and last for hundreds of years, although they are seldom decorative or beautiful in appearance.
Dwarves are organised into a strict caste-system, their caste is chosen at birth based on their parentage, Clan affiliation and–most importantly to the Dwarves–by the metal or stonethat their skin resembled. The system is organised into three tiers:
- Nobles: Nobles are the rarest of castes, only a handful of them being born every few years, they are the most mentally agile and creative members of the Dwarven race and have skin resembling precious metals or rare stones such as gold, silver, palladium, marble, basalt and platinum.
See the following wikipedia article for further details on precious metals.
- Warriors: Warriors are the second most common caste, they have good tactical minds and make excellent soldiers but they generally lack creativity, preferring to relay on ancient, tried-and-proven tactics. Warriors have skin resembling ferrous metals and more commonly found stone such as wrought iron, granite, limestone and steel.
See the following wikipedia article for further details on ferrous metals.
- Workers: The most common of the castes, workers generally spend their life performing repetitive tasks and drudgery for the day-to-day operations of their Clan, workers are proficient at their particular tasks but lack creativity or even the tactical minds of warriors, making them dull companions unless you are discussing their area of speciality. Workers have skin resembling base metals and very common stone such as iron, soapstone and tin.
See the following wikipedia article for further details on base metals.
It is forbidden to act outside the boundaries of your caste system within Dwarven society, although occasionally a Dwarf is born to a lower caste but with unexpected curiosity or intellect. This often leads to them getting in trouble with the Thanes who rule their Clan, resulting in many of them being banished to the lowlands for their trouble. Most Dwarves encountered outside of the Highlands are banished Dwarves.
Relations with Others
The Dwarves have cordial relations with their neighbours, often trading with them for items that are not available in their mountain homes. However, the days of Dwarves teaching humans forging techniques have long past, and they now guard their secrets jealously. Dwarves and Elves are often wary of each other since Dwarves are mostly of a fixed mindset whereas Elves tend to be more adaptable or changeable.
Dwarves seldom get along well with Goblins due to their tendency to infest abandoned Dwarfholds, although they enjoy the genial company of Halflings.
A strange and secretive race with a fey-touched air to them, the Elves are widely believed to have originated in the green lands of Emeraude. It has become common parlance in the Havenlands to describe those who perceive sprites, boggarts and the like as having Emeraude eyes. Wise in the ways of the wild, the Elves most often remain secreted in the most ancient of woodlands around the Havenlands, using magic and misdirection to prevent their hidden hollows and homes from being discovered. Wherever Elves dwell there is always the smell of flowers and summer.
Although Elves appear superficially similar to the other races of the Havenlands, they are actually more like living plants. Elven skin is an extremely pliable form of bark resembling Silver Birch and their blood is a thick clear sap with a light foral aroma to it. Elves do not age and die naturally, but when an Elf is very old he may feel the pull of the great sleep upon him; once this happens the Elves conduct a great cermony and the subject falls into a peaceful sleep, gradually taking root in the ground and becoming a mighty tree.
In the chest of an Elf is a glowing green gemstone known colloquially as an Elfheart, this remains after their death and is reputed to be a great boon to any magics dealing with the natural world. Of course, attempting to harvest these gems is a surefire way to anger any Elves you encounter, making them an extremely dangerous ingredient for magical workings.
It is rumoured that the ancient Ents who guard the deepest forests of Havenlands were once Elves.
There are actually two species of Elves in the Havenlands, both are extremely rare, but the most common are known as Summer Elves, they embody the seasons of Summer and Spring, caring for the natural world and seeking to preserve it.
Rare are the Winter Elves who embody the dark times of winter when nature seeks to conserve it’s resources and survive the coming cold. Winter Elves have night black shine and hair as white as snow, often living underground they are selfish and cruel. The Elfhearts of Winter Elves resemble black onyx or clear diamonds.
Elves are most often found in hidden communities within the deepest forests of the Havenlands, protected by magic and illusions. However, some of the younger Elves have grown curious about the world outside their leafy borders and have ventured further afield, interacting with the younger races.
Found mostly in the forested regions of the Oldenwale (or Fada Siar in their own tongue), the Elves are organised into Clans delineated by shared family bloodlines and heritage. Elven Clans are rules by the eldest and wisest of their number, although their leaders recognise that their society benefits from allowing younger members of the race venturing into the wider world and bringing new knowledge to their Clan when they return home and settle down after a couple of hundred years or so.
Relations with Others
Although the Elves technically owe no allegiance to Lady Owain–ruler of Oldenwale–they generally maintain a cautious peace with the people of the Oldenwale (although this has not alway been the case). Most of the Oldenwale Clans know to give the most ancient woodlands a wide berth and this satisfies the Elves who have no wish to claim other areas, although occasionally their are skirmishes when Clans attempt to log areas sacred to the Elves.
There are various races of Small or Weefolk (derogatory) scattered around the Havenlands, no-one is quite sure where they came from or if they have any relationship to each other, but it is clear from ancient Goman writings that–when the Gomans arrived in the Havenlands–there were already various types of Smallfolk already living simple pastoral lives there. This has lead some to conclude that they are the original inhabitants of the Havenlands, although their impact on written history has been minor.
There is little similarity in the appearance of the various Smallfolk, but they fall into two broad categories, Halflings (or Hobbits as they call themselves) and Goblins. Although the actual strict definition of the two categories is somewhat up for debate, in general if a Smallfolk is human-shaped and of human-like colouration they are Halflings, whereas if they have more bestial features and greenish or unusual skin colouration they are known as Goblins.
Smallfolk can be found scattered all over the Havenlands, Halflings tend to live anywhere that humans are located, rubbing shoulders easily–and working alongside–their human neighbours, often bartering their talents at storyteller, brewing and making pipeweed to make a living. Goblins are more marginalised and tend to dwell on the outskirts of larger human societies, in the cracks of urban centres or in isolated wilderness.
Halflings prize comfort and stability above most things and therefore look to settle down in places that are well defended by larger folk, living simple lives, getting on with their neighbours and making whatever living they can, younger Halflings occasionally get an urge to go out and explore the world and have adventures. There is much frowning from their elders and betters when this occurs.
The various Goblin races do not have much in the way of culture and tend to only exist in small family groups.
Relations with Others
Halflings maintain genial relations with most of the other races common in the Havenlands, whereas Goblins tend to be regarded as either a pest to ignore or a menace to be wiped out (depending on numbers and relative strength).
If you’re a player in my ROSE OF WESTHAVEN campaign, please stop reading now.
As some of you may be aware, I’ve contracted map fever whilst running my OSR Midderlands LOTFP campaign; one of the things we discussed in our session zero is that the players wanted to do plenty of dungeon-crawling during the campaign, so I started off drawing a few maps and reading online tutorials. I’m getting to point now where I’m really enjoying working out how the maps link together, to this end I decided to draw a sideview map showing the various elevations and locations of the different dungeon maps in the area around Porthcrawl (our game’s Homebase).
I’ve not got round to drawing a finished version yet but have roughed out the layout using Notepad.
As I’ve mentioned in my main campaign page, our Rose of Westhaven campaign is heavily influenced by Monkey Blood Design’s Midderlands OSR campaign setting and bestiary, I wanted to jot down some notes about how far that inspiration goes.
The Rose of Westhaven first started germinating as a campaign idea after I picked up a copy of Lamentations of the Flame Princess, the OSR game written by James Raggi. I’d steered clear of it previously because–every time I saw people talking about the game–they had either one or two reactions, it was either “Ewww, no, it’s obscene and weird” or people going “Yeah, it’s so metal and extreme, wooooo!”
The reality–as if often the case–was somewhere between the two, yes LotFP does have some artwork that’s risqué and a lot of the supplements tend to really ramp up the gruesomeness or the weird horror vibe (which I don’t mind TBH), but the actual corebook itself is a well written and tidy OSR game. Without getting into the system details, LotFP posits a fairly brutal version of old-school D&D with a streamlined skill system and a slightly darker background, more akin to the old WFRP than more traditional D&D. As someone who started roleplaying with Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay I found this style very appealing, the game also contains optional rules for blackpowder firearms, with many of the supplements being set in worlds that have a more renaissance vibe to them than the traditional pseudo-medieval worlds used in a lot of OSR games.
I’m a big fan of this book, so it didn’t take me long to start looking around for a group of players and thinking about what sort of campaign I would run with it, I’m lucky enough to have a group of people who were enthusiastic to give it a shot.
Creating the Campaign
Originally when I sat down, I had loads of ideas racing through my head so I grabbed my trusty notebook and jotted down a few things I definitely wanted to be in the world that I was designing:
- A slightly later time-period than normal.
- Black powder firearms.
- Some sort of large-scale conflict as a backdrop.
- A conflict between modern and ancient religions.
- A rationale for dungeon-crawling.
- A world with ancient mythology.
- The Mythos.
After taking a short while to look at this list and mull it over I decided that–whilst not impossible–creating all of this stuff from scratch was going to be a massive investment of time for a game whose lifespan was (at the time of creation) uncertain, I’ve seen lots of games where the GM has spent ages creating a world and the campaign itself never really gets of the ground or folds. Of course you can always recycle stuff and use it in other games, but I also didn’t want to have to be making loads of stuff up entirely on the fly.
I often find that–if I want to create a campaign but not make it up whole-cloth–taking inspiration from a film, a book series or the real-world can be a great shortcut. You just file the serial numbers off it, and it can serve as a great source of inspiration, and if you do have to make up something you can refer back to your source material for guidance. I decided to go for using a fantasy version of Great Britain and Ireland, since this gives me a wealth of folklore to draw on and is also quite familiar to myself, originally I decided to start the players on the coast (since I’d been reading Alas for the Awful Sea) near a small made-up village near the coat of Wales (originally referred to as Fada Siar in our campaign).
Research & Decisions
It was about this time that I started considering what sort of time period I wanted to run it in, since I’d already decided that I wanted to run the game in a slightly later time period than the standard medieval and wanted a background conflict, I started looking at the English Civil Wars and the Tudor Period. I decided to take inspiration from both of them, creating a setting torn apart by a conflict between staunch Royalists and freedom-loving Parliamentarians. Previously the countries had been ruled by a strong royal dynasty, but a leader amongst the common(er) folk had arisen and was leading a rebellion against the old ways.
I grabbed a number of books from local shops at this point and watched a number of BBC documentaries to supplement my historical knowledge (since I’m no history buff), and found that I was enjoying reading about history far more knowing I was going to be using the information to inspire a project rather than simply reciting them at school or similar.
Whilst creating the campaign I had noticed the kickstarter for Monkey Blood Design’s Midderlands campaign, I originally backed it because it was set in a fantasy version of the Midlands in England, which is where I live. When I received the book I was blown away by it (as you can no doubt tell from my review) and was surprised by just how neatly the material in the Midderlands book dovetailed with the game that we’d already established. I decided to start overtly using information and ideas from the Midderlands book in my campaign, after letting my players know I then started to move some of the campaign information (which had originally been in a PDF for the players) to this website (you can see it by clicking on the Rose of Westhaven link).
One of the potential issues with importing a lot of the Midderlands wholesale is that my characters began far to the south of the area that has been detailed thus far in the Midderlands book. Luckily Monkey Blood Design are releasing a second book for this setting soon (as of time of writing) that is going to expand the setting to cover the rest of Britain and Ireland, Glynn Seal was kind enough to send me a low-resolution copy of the map that will be in the second book so I have a vague idea what sort of stuff is going to be covered. However, if my players decide they want to go somewhere before I get my hands on the book then I’m just going to have to create a version of the area myself (taking inspiration from the real-life source material) and then either ignore or reconcile the “official” version when I get my hands on that sweet, sweet second book.
TBH although I’ve called this a potential issue, it’s not really much of a problem. A lot of our campaign was made up wholesale and then fitted around the stuff that I wanted to incorporate from the Midderlands campaign setting, for example my use of the Old Ones from the Cthulhu Mythos as pagan gods worshipped by some of the Fade Siar tribes. In-fact the name of the Welsh analogue in our campaign is a good example, when I originally created the setting I called it Fada Siar, meaning Far Land in the Elven tongue (I used a celtic online translator or something similar for this), but in the Midderlands campaign book it is called Oldenwale. It wasn’t difficult to say that Fada Siar is the Elven name for the country and that Oldenwale is the more commonly used human name. I’m pretty sure that if I continue taking inspiration from the real-world (as the writers of Midderlands obviously do) then I should be able to flex my setting to incorporate other stuff; however, if we do come across bits in the new book that can’t be used as they are then I’ll go with what we’ve already established in the campaign.
My players are already making noises about heading to the nearby Hexenmoor which–looking at the map and similarities of the name–would appear to be based largely on Exmoor (presumably with a magical twist), it’s pretty easy to find some of that areas folklore and customs online so if they get there before I’ve got the book then I’ll take inspiration from this and see where we end up. I’ve already warned them about a devilish beast that is believed to prowl the area.
JosIn-case anyone is planning to point it out, I’m aware that the featured image for this post in Frankenstein’s monster rather than Frankenstein himself 😉
Any of us who’ve created and ran a campaign world–whatever the game may be–you know that it can be an awful lot of work. Not only are you having to put in all the normal amounts of session prep, but you’re spending time between games creating mythologies, drawing maps, not to mention the work that goes in before the campaign even starts, creating the bedrock of the campaign setting so that your players have some idea what world they’ll be adventuring in. This isn’t to say the campaign creation can’t be fun, if–like me–you enjoy creating stories and seeing things scribbled on paper come to life in games, then you probably get a lot of enjoyment from campaign creation, it’s still a lot of work though.
So what can you do about it?
I think that one of the greatest mistakes that some GMs make–when it comes to campaign creation–is assuming that they have to create 100% of the campaign world from scratch. Nothing could be further from the truth. Whilst creating elements of your campaign whole-cloth can be very rewarding and satisfying, it also drastically increases the amount of time you’ll spend agonising over your campaign world notes. We all have non-game stuff going on in life competing for our limited free time, and sometimes it can be difficult to find the time to sit down and spend hours writing up whole swathes of a campaign world.
Now there are a few different approaches you could take to get around this:
- Just wing it
Don’t worry too much about your campaign world prep and just wing the details you need. This obviously cuts down your prep to pretty much nothing and can work, but only if you are confident in your improvisational skills and take copious notes (or have a really good memory), otherwise your liable to find yourself running into trouble as you forget details previously established in play.
- Use a pre-published campaign setting
This has the advantage that a lot of the work is done for you, but you’ll still have to read all of the campaign book and tweak it to fit your specific group. There’s also the potential issue of one of your players knowing the established setting better than you do.
- Frankenstein approach
In much the same way as Doctor Frankenstein created his monster from the stitched together body parts of different people, I suggest doing the same when creating your campaign. Don’t restrict yourself to just using a single campaign, take bits and pieces from different pre-published campaigns, adventure modules, etc, stitch them together and then fill in any cracks with your own creations. Using this method will create a campaign world that still feels like your campaign, but will save you having to create absolutely everything from scratch.
Example of the Frankenstein Approach
This approach is one that I’ve been moving towards since becoming more interested in OSR gaming, since a lot of those systems are broadly compatible it makes sense to beg, steal and borrow maps, pictures and text from the many and various different sources. Currently I’m using this approach for my Rose of Westhaven LOTFP campaign. When I began the campaign I started with the naïve assumption that I’d have enough time to detail every last little thing, health issues and other real-life factors quickly disabused be of this notion.
Here’s what I did
I definitely didn’t want to wrap up the game, because I was–and still am–having great fun running it and my players seem to really be enjoying it, but I also didn’t want to short-change them by presenting a wishy-washy, sketchy campaign world just because I didn’t have the time to develop it fully. In addition to the hand-drawn maps I’d created I had already started taking different maps from the internet to save me time.
For example: Porthcrawl Village, Salazaar’s Tower and the Church of Peaceful Repose in my campaign are all maps that I found online and then imported into Roll20, Google Image Search is your friend when it comes to finding maps. Even if you can’t find something 100% right for your game, locate something that is pretty near to what you want and then alter it, it’ll still save you a bucket-load of time.
A little while ago I backed a Kickstarter for the Midderlands OSR setting and bestiary, set in a fantasy version of Britain and Ireland, recently I started to notice how well this campaign setting dovetailed with the information that I’d already established for our campaign. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t a 100% match, but it was near enough that I could see how I could get a lot of material from the Midderlands and import it into my campaign without having to make too many alterations.
For example: Midderlands comes with a map containing a fantasy version of the Midlands in the UK, since this is on a larger scale than the map I’m currently using, it won’t be difficult–when we zoom out from our current campaign map–to incorporate it into the larger Midderlands world map. An expanded version of the map that shows the Midderlands version of Britain and Ireland is about to drop onto Kickstarter soon as part of a second book in the series, I’m planning to back that and use the maps from it for my campaign.
The book also contains a lot of folkloric information that has been adapted from real-world folklore and information, since it uses the same sources as my campaign setting it will be easy to incorporate, especially since our campaign takes place in a different time period to the default Midderlands campaign.
Advice for Using the Frankenstein Approach
There are a few things that are normally easy to incorporate into your campaign setting:
- Maps: There are loads of different maps and images available on the internet via Google Image Search, these are incredibly easy to drop into a game, just find a map that looks like a tower, town or whatever and then write your own key and details to go with it.
- Adventure Modules: Depending on your choice of genre and games the ease of using adventure modules may vary, however, there are plenty of generic adventure modules out there that could be re-skinned to use in your campaign, even modules that have specific game stats can be altered to work with your own campaign. Make some notes on the book and look up equivalent stats for your system of choice and then run with it.
- Pictures: A picture paints a thousand words, having an image of an NPC or an item found by your heroes can really help to provide visual impact for your game, again here Google Image Search is your friend, but you can also find suitable images in magazines and RPG products, even if they’re not perfect, as long as they give your players an idea then it’s a useful shortcut.
- Campaign details: It’s often harder to convert elements from a published campaign to incorporate into your own, depending on how much flexibility your existing ideas give you to add new stuff in or alter old details, this is why I prefer to paint the broad-strokes of a campaign world and only drill down to the detail as necessary, it gives me more wiggle-room when it comes to incorporating material from other sources.
Joseph Teller mentioned the important point that it is very possible when using this method to create a monstrosity whose flaws only become visible further down the line, I think this is a good point and certainly something to keep in mind when you’re stitching extra material into your campaign. Joseph says that–in his opinion this method only really works for shorter lived games–I think it’s certainly easier to pull off and requires less forethought with shorter games, but as long as you’re careful it shouldn’t be too much of a problem for a longer game IMO.
I have two great RPG loves in my life, one of these is the Fate RPG by Evil Hat Productions and the other is OSR gaming, something about the basic nature of OSR rules supplements really speaks to my style of gaming, I have numerous systems such as Basic Fantasy, Swords & Wizardry (core, White Box and complete), Lamentations of the Flame Princess and a few others. If you keep up with my social media then you’ll know that recently I back Midderlands, an OSR sandbox and mini-bestiary book set in a twisted version of the Midlands in the UK in the late middle-ages, as someone who actually lives in the real-world Midlands–and as a lover of OSR stuff–needless to say I was intrigued.
The book is designed principally for Swords & Wizardry, but should work with any OSR style game, personally I was thinking of breaking out my Lamentations of the Flame Princess book and running it using that; from the small amount of preview material I’ve seen the setting has elements that reminded me both of some of Lovecraft’s iconic odd settings (Innsmouth anyone?) and also cult game Fallen London, which has it’s own skewed take on urban Britain.
As of the time of writing the project needs another two and a half thousand pound (GBP) to reach it’s funding goal, with only three days remaining, personally I’m hoping to spread the love a bit and get some other people on board since I think this looks like an excellent book and deserves a chance to be published. So if you’re looking to scratch that weird OSR itch or you wants to take a journey through the odd places of a middle-England that never was, get yourself over to the kickstarter page and sign up now.