Thursday, July 14, 2011

Blackmarsh: Now for Warlock

Well, I've had a week to re-write Rob Conley's Blackmarsh for use with the setting implied by the Warlock rules. The primary changes are that most references to elven rulers and the Blackmarsh Rangers now refer to the Church (i.e., The Temple of the Eternal Flame), while mentions of viz as a magical substance were eliminated entirely. I decided to leave the references to Thoth in place, treating him as a false god of a past age, only worshiped by those poor souls who have yet to be redeemed by the Church. There are also a few minor changes to creature and character stats to better reflect rules of the Warlock system, although these are easily to overlook for the most part, should you wish to use the revised setting with another system.

The resulting setting is somewhat reminiscent of a fantasy Crusader state, with the Church being the last line of defense against the forces of Chaos (e.g., barbarians, demons, undead, etc) in the region. I think it's a little bit different than your typical medieval fantasy setting by virtue of focusing on a monotheistic religion, rather than on a wide and varied pantheon of gods and churches. Indeed, in my head, the Church was modeled heavily on the Roman Catholic Church of our own Earth, specifically as it existed during the Crusades.

As I mentioned previously, I planned to drop this revised Blackmarsh onto the continent of Aurianne in TSR UK's Pelinore setting. After some thought, given the specific geography of Blackmarsh, the most proper place to locate the region on the continent of Aurianne appears to be the eastern coast, about midway down the coastline.

You can download Rob Conley's original Blackmarsh by following the link earlier in this post and you can download my revision for use with Warlock by clicking right here.

[Edit: After a few months away from the keyboard, I've gone back and looked at my Blackmarsh revision with a fresh set of eyes. A few more minor changes have been made, in keeping with the implied setting of Warlock.]

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Sidebar: Technical Difficulties

Blogger's Followers gadget is malfunctioning something awful, so I'm monitoring it closely. I figure that it's more a display of vanity than anything else, so I probably won't miss it much if I have to remove it. If you want to follow this blog and you can't find the button to do so, just do it the old-fashioned way and bookmark it in your browser!

Friday, July 8, 2011

In the beginning. . .

So, as I mentioned previously, when I first read Warlock, it just 'clicked' with me, pressing all of the right buttons for what I want in a fantasy game. Notably, Warlock fixed many of the problems that I had with OD&D (1974), leveling the playing field for all classes by implementing a new spell system for Magic Users (and other spell-using classes), introducing special abilities for fighters, and specialty clerics. I knew right away that I wanted to play it. I also knew right away that I wanted to remain true to the rules as written, using the implied setting elements therein (e.g., the religious orders detailed in the Clerics document). This presented a bit of a conundrum.

While I wanted to remain true to the Warlock rules as written and the implied setting therein, that implied setting information was the only setting information that I had access to. I didn't (and don't) have access to any documents detailing the actual setting for the ongoing Warlock campaigns at Caltech outside of what was implied in the rules. This meant that I had to either create a setting from scratch or modify an existing setting to accommodate the implied elements of the official Warlock world.

Now, I would have loved to create an entire setting from scratch. In fact, there's no real reason why I couldn't do it, save for this: I wanted to actually play Warlock sometime in the foreseeable future. I knew that this was something that probably wouldn't happen if I got invested in building a world from scratch. World building is, after all, a pretty time-consuming endeavor. I had done my fair share of it, but I didn't think that was what was called for in this particular instance. That meant I was going to be looking at published settings with an eye toward modifying them.

I started by looking at my old favorites of Greyhawk and Harn, but quickly ruled them out because they make far too many assumptions about gods, religion, and magic - all of which run contrary to the assumptions that Warlock makes about those things. I then took a long, hard, look at Pelinore, the old TSR UK setting that appeared in their Imagine magazine. Now, while Pelinore assumes a certain pantheon of gods, because of its piecemeal presentation it's pretty easy to say that the pantheon detailed in the pages of Imagine is unique to The Domains (e.g., Cerwyn, The City League, etc). Plus, TSR UK kindly saw fit to leave the continent of Aurianne completely undeveloped, making it a perfect place to situate the world of Warlock. So, it came to pass that I chose Pelinore as my planned Warlock setting. But that was really just the beginning of my work.

As I mention above, Aurianne was a completely undeveloped area of Pelinore which made it a perfect place to set my Warlock campaign - but it also meant that I had to develop that area of the setting. For reasons already mentioned, building an entire setting from scratch wasn't in the cards. For the same reasons, neither was developing an entire continent within a setting. This meant searching for more material to cannibalize. Luckily, my search was a fairly short one - Rob Conley had recently released the entirety of his excellent Blackmarsh mini-setting under the Open Game License. This meant considerably less work for me.

Blackmarsh, as a setting, focuses on a small region of a world otherwise left undefined within its pages (not unlike County Cerwyn in Imagine), making few assumptions about religion or magic - and those that it does make are relatively easy to dispense with. I needed to dump the bits about viz and the Blackmarsh Rangers (possibly replacing references to the latter with one of the fighting schools in Warlock), strike the few mentions of Thoth and Thor, and introduce the church hierarchy detailed in Warlock. This wouldn't take long and the end result would be a fairly robust area in which to begin my own Warlock campaign.

With my next entry, you'll see the fruits of that labor.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Warlock: What is it?

I know, the world already seems pretty crowded with D&D variants, but Warlock really does something for me. I've played Castles & Crusades, Swords & Wizardry, Labyrinth Lord, and a handful of other retro-clones, but none of them seemed to do it just right. Warlock does, at least for me. So, what is Warlock and why does it press my buttons?

Well, it's probably best to start off by telling you what Warlock isn't. Warlock isn't a clone of D&D - it's more an outgrowth of Original D&D (1974), building upon that system's assumptions and rules. Indeed, first published in 1975, Warlock has been around almost as long as D&D. It made its first appearance in The Spartan 'zine (Issue #9) as "Warlock: or How to Play D&D Without Playing D&D" and was later expanded and re-published by Balboa Games as "The Complete Warlock" - since that time it has been played and revised almost continuously.

The current version of the Warlock rules still shows its Original D&D roots, but it really differentiates itself in a few important ways (aside from obvious things like adding more classes). Notably, it replaces Vancian magic with a point-based spell casting system, introduces the concept of special abilities and fighting styles for fighters, and delivers a cleaned up weapon versus armor system (no doubt inspired by that in the Greyhawk supplement).

It's really an excellent old school affair. If you'd like to check it out, you'll need to join the Yahoo Group (there are also some proposed rule changes there in various stages of playtest). If you're a fan of OD&D (1974), Warlock is definitely worth a look. I recommend that you take a few minutes to check it out, if you haven't already.

Finally, If you hadn't already guessed, my own adventures with Warlock will form the basis for this blog. I'll be chronicling my own experiences with the system here, as well as posting actual play logs of my planned campaign. So, stay tuned for some old school goodness by way of Warlock.