Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Encounter Critical: Notes from Vanth

Encounter Critical is a wonderful retro-RPG harking back to the heady days when ANYBODY could slap together a set of rules and create a game to their liking. It actually reminds me more of the "Arduin Grimoire" style of game than "Dungeons & Dragons", because of the gonzo, anything-can-be-shoved-in-here-somewhere philosophy. As a result, EC is a remarkable grab-bag of fantasy and science-fiction tropes  (like Lord of the Rings meets Battlestar Galactica).
The game (which is available for free from ), provides an intriguing little map of a planet, the Realm of Vanth, with some wonderfully evocative names (God City, Lair of the Sulduku Hierophants, The Slaver Kingdoms) that got the world-builder in me salivating.  There's also about a page of background which provides a rough description of this world. Other than this, there's really no description of any of the other places on the map.... which means, I can do whatever I want to with it!!!  
So that's what I'm doing, gradually: fleshing out Vanth, with an eye towards running some games in it.  Others have done this, as well; there's a wiki called the Lexicon of Vanth dedicated to this purpose, and it has some truly crazy-brilliant stuff on it. So check it out. You might also check out my Encounter Risical wiki at Obsidian Portal, which is where I'm getting this material. (The Risical refers to Risus: The ANYTHING RPG, the set of rules I'll probably be using.)
Meanwhile, I've been working on some player's notes, trying to give the players a hint of what might await them in each of the named locations on the map. It's a work-in-progress, so please let me know what you think.

Science vs. Sorcery in the Realm of Vanth with Risus: The Anything RPG!
Welcome to the land of Vanth! This document which you hold in your hands (or some other appendage) is the result of rigorous True Scientific Realism, in the tradition of the game Encounter Critical by messrs. Hank Riley and Jim Ireland. This author has not attempted to adapt this classic and seminal RolePlaying Game (RPG) into Risus game terms, which is both beyond the scope of this endeavor, and an exercise in futility. For those who decry such an effort, the decrier is referred to the original. Instead, he has utilized what remains of the original scientific source material, supplemented with anecdotal evidence and expert reconstructions, to produce an unbiased and objective work that presents this post-apocalyptic setting of Science and Sorcery in a pure Risus environment.
If this is your first experience with the world of the Riley/Ireland opus, count yourself “lucky” to have this opportunity to see it with new eyes!
Chariots of the Gods?
The history of interstellar contact with Vanth is discussed on p. 27 of Encounter Critical (Second Corrected Edition). Vanth is a planet in the Medieval Rim of the galaxy, where peculiar physical laws exist that allow the aboriginals to practic what is called, un-scientifically, “magic”. Under the guise of “angels” and “gods”, the Vulkin Star Empire operated a starport, called “God City” by the planetary inhabitants, in the harsh and forbidding North Mountains. Trade ensued for years until the crash of the interstellar navigation grid, cutting the starport off from all contact with the Empire. With the flow of imperial trade goods disrupted, the millions of stranded galactic citizens and traders were forced to venture out from their secure enclaves and make first-hand contact with the local cultures, pre-industrial but using so-called “magic”. Predictably, the impact of alien visitors on the natives (and vice versa) has been unpredictable.
Almost a dozen years later, who is the “typical” Vanthian, if such a being exists? Does he come from the distant stars or the soils of Vanth? Was he born on another planet, or is God City the only home he has ever known? Is she the forbidden love child of barbarian nobility and a chivalrous captain from beyond the stars? For every question of this sort, the answer is “Yes!”

God City
The former Vulkin trading port for Vanth. When the navigation grid for the local sector crashed eleven years ago, “millions” of interstellar travelers were stranded here. Eventually, when supplies began to run out, the survivos were forced to leave its confines to seek their fortunes.
The Icy Lake of Hori
These bone-chilling waters form a barrier to those who would approach God City from the southeast. Here dwell the Floemen, blue men who charge exorbitant fees to ferry travelers and their wares across the lake in craft carved from huge chunks of ice. Those who wish to avoid the highwaymen of the Great West Road must deal with the Floemen, or brave the dangers of the mountains to the north. But someone claims that the Floemen’s doom is nigh, thanks to secrets found in the bottomless depths of the lake itself. Are these the ravings of a madman, or does hidden power lurk beneath the realm of the Ice Boats of Hori?
North Mountains
The impenetrable mountains to the north of the realm of Vanth. From west to east are located God City, the Fissures of Death, Castle Crane, Castle Noth, the Iron Dwarf King’s realm, Angel Barrows, Hoarfrost Citadel, and the Pass of Death.
Castle Noth
When God City was a thriving spaceport and King Vafthergrint the Open-handed sat fast upon the throne, Castle Noth was a wealthy bastion thriving on the trade between the Vulkin trading post and the City of Blackhawk. Now that his young and peevish heir, Pippershot II, has taken his father’s place, evil times have befallen the lands where ale and gold flowed freely. S
Castle Crane
Known for the huge mechanical devices that dropped boulders upon besieging armies in ages past, agents of Castle Crane’s aging, heirless ruler, Prince Parchmort, slink forth on some mysterious quest. Is he bent on resurrecting past glories, or creating new ones?
Fissures of Death
Old Vanthian lore claim that these cracks into hell were closed up by heroes ages ago, but that Vulkin blundering reopened them. The Vulkins claim that the cracks were opened by groundquakes decades before they established God City. They deny the claims that awful monsters have been coming forth in greater numbers since the sector navigation grid went down, but why are sending more and more troops into these mountainous regions lately?
Hoarfrost Citadel
A centuries-old kingdom, with the hoard of a thousand conquests, is frozen beneath this blue-white glacier, a curse from the gods for its past atrocities. Now, however, the slow flow of the ice-river is uncovering thing that many would rather remain entombed. Has the power of the gods failed, unleashing the frozen dead of Hoarfrost, or has something else dared meddle in the domain of the damned?
The Iron Dwarf King’s Realm 
The Pass of Death
This ancient roadway is, to many, synonymous with “a foolish, agonizing death”. Said to be built by gods, giants, or dragons in eons past, the kingdoms of the North Mountains are ever vigilant for threats from the East (such as Darth Viraxis, the Zombie Princess, and the Klengon Colonies). Some say that it should be destroyed to block the path of invasion; others say that it could just as well be used to invade the realms of evil. What to the strange, abominable carvings along the walls of the pass mean? Are they a warning from the long-extinct creators, or a potent weapon waiting to be unleashed?
Angel Barrows
When the Vulkins still claimed to be “angels” and “messengers of the gods”, they dared venture onto the sacred grounds of a backward, warlike tribe. The trading expedition was slaughtered to the last individual, their caravan’s goods lost and cursed. Other Vulkins sealed off the entire region with a phasic barrier to preserve the secret of their true identities, leaving the tribe to perish on its sacred ground. After so many centuries, the force field still stands. What remains of the lost Vulkin treasures? Has the tribal holy ground retained its sanctity, or has the blood of natives and aliens tainted it beyond redemption?
City of Thunders 
The Isle of Blacksteel 
The Slaver Kingdoms 
Sea of Great Peril 
Empire of Darth Viraxis
Darth Viraxis FAQ
Klengon Colonies 
The Bleak Mountains 
Goblin Hill
Wonderlands (Funfair Nomads)
The Unknown Highway
The Forbidden Wastes 
Amazon and Wooky Freeholds 
The Steel Warlords
This region was sparsely populated coastal region before the sector navigation grid went silent. However, in just over a decade, the land has become a hotbed of industrial activity. Though living creatures have quickly disappeared from this area, streams of cyaborgs and robodroids march forth from the assembly lines to take their place. Automated fortresses ring the perimeter, while cyaborg tank units patrol for any living thing that dares intrude upon the realm of the Steel Warlords. The Amazon and Wookie Freeholds and the Ape Sultans are casting wary eyes upon their neighbor, dreading the advance of phasic might upon their jungle strongholds.
The Hidden Caves
Tales are told of a lost underground civilization, crypts stuffed with jewels and gold, diamonds the size of oxcarts (including the ox), and other treasures enough to drive a dwarf mad with greed. How anybody ever saw them in the first place is a mystery, for everyone freely admits that nobody has ever found the location of the Hidden Caves. Many have tried, much to their regret; even stoic Vulkin treasure-seekers have wept openly with frustration over this paradox. Major Mace Mattock, foul-mouthed Space Hero extraordinaire, says he has a foolproof scheme to solve this enigma at last - and he’s recruiting fools at top dollar to prove it!
The Shunned Towns
Among the many popular travel destinations of Vanth, the Shunned Towns are not among them. No outsider has visited them since before the Vulkins came to this world (and every wag claims a different reason for the enshunmant). Who would dare to break the age-old decree? Who would risk unknown censures, anonymous maledictions, and long-forgotten whammies to learn the potentially wallet-breaking truth of these towns’ dark secret—at no guarantee of life, limb, or dramatic purpose?
1001 Reasons to Shun the Shunned Towns
Dino Island
For the ultimate in big-game hunting, there’s no place like Dino Island. This is every hunter’s caveman fantasy on steroids—powerful, kill-you-dead illegal steroids. In fact, there are so many specimens of prehistoric megafauna and their phasically-charged kin that had the decency to go extinct on more civilizaed worlds, that the biggest mystery of all is the nature of the food source that keeps them all alive. (When questioned about this, a noted and notorious big-game hunter quipped, “They take turns eating each other.”) There are many other mysteries there, however, such as the ancient, bejeweled ruins buried beneath the enormous roots and creepers of the deadly jungle that grips the island in its fetid green tendrils; who could have carved out a civilization in such a lethal environment? And what treasures did such a hardy folk leave behind?
The Seven Mile Pillars of Paragorn 
The City of Blackhawk
The Zircon of the Mercenary Coast, Blackhawk’s history is writtenin its frenzy of architecture. Dozens of madmen, monarchs, and revolutionaries have tried to overwrite the legacies of their predecessors, burying whole layers of the city beneath newer, loftier structures. A large portion of the city’s economy derives from exploitation of the endless layers of the buried city by the convoluted, chaotic bureaucracy of guilds, temples, and brotherhoods that dominate city politics. Complicating matters is that the endless catacombs are still inhabited by creatures eager to protect their subterranean domain. Fortune favors the bold in Blackhawk… but even the beggars are bold in this city of dungeons!
The Limb Traders 
The Great Spineywood 
The Silent Glade 
The Deadly South Mountain 
The Horse Tamers
A race of intellectual horses, who train, herd, and sell a race of bestial humans. Many question, however, whether the humans are naturally bestial, or have somehow been robbed of their intelligence by artificial or supernatural means. Rumors persist that the herds of these equine fleshpeddlers contain many specimens with a pronounced resemblance to some missing politician or celebrity with too many enemies. Coincidence, or some bizarre form of revenge? Assassins are a silver piece a dozen in some parts of Vanth, but there are fates worse than death….
Salty Bay 
The Waepeta Sorcerer Palisade
The grim fortification that broods above the landscape is the least of this eldritch fortress’ defenses, for within this dark domain dwells the enigmatic Sorcerer. For decades, the only visitors to his vast, ruined pile have been at his whim and under his power. Some say that it was he who engineered the destruction of this sector’s navigation grid to seal off Vanth for his own purposes. Is he the the calculating master of every Vanthian’s fate, as some claim? Or is he a pitiful little man, hiding behind a crumbling facade of phantasm?
Eavestrough Faerie Haven
It’s been called the last refuge of the Faerie Folk, but something is not right in the land of the Wee Folk. Those who venture within bring back tales of flesh-hungry brambles, sadistic will-o-the-wisps, and doom-laden haunts; many such venturers do not return at all! King Pinkbottom Bellywiggle has withdrawn all diplomatic contact from neighboring realms, and rumors of a massive buildup of boggarts, hobgoblins, trows, redcaps, and other unseely types has been observed (often by travelers who have since had their eyes poked out by elf-darts). Has the Faerie Kingdom fallen prey to evil forces, or is the presence of aliens and their technology to blame for the Twilight of the Faeries?
Realm of the Hobling Emperor
The Curse of the Hobling Emperors
Great West Road 
The Phasic Swamp
Long used as a dumping ground for malfunctioning alien technology and phasic toxins, the Phasic Swamp has an even more ancient history as a sacrificial site of the darkest type. Rumored to be a portal to some blasphemous underworld, scores of criminals, princelings, priests, and anonymous wayfarers have met their fate in the tangled, fetid depths of this blighted bog. Since the Vulkins started using the swamp as a phasic waste dump, things have gotten even more interesting; documented rumors of phasic demons, magic-using radioactors, and cannibalistic wardoxy cults of the Mad Computer God. In addition, practically everything that dwells within the swamplands suffers dire mutations — which may actually be an improvement in the lives of the degenerate Swamp Folk who have made this squalid wilderness their home since time immemorial.
Plains of Parathax 
The Mercenary Coast
True to its name, the Mercenary Coast is indeed the single best place to recruit warriors-for-hire in all of Vanth. Many an adventurer has begun his (or her!) (or its!!) career flocking to the banner of a company of sellswords. Every type of combat is represented here, from arbalest and blunderbuss, to bonespears and eon blades, and everything in between. Surprisingly, there is little violence between the companies of doughty death-merchants, unless they are hired to do so; they follow the Code of the Mercenary, which discourages combat for non-mercantile reasons except for formal duels, tournaments, recreation, and sport.


Risus Monkey said...

I love your Encounter Critical stuff. I have a *serious* itch to run a game Encounter Risical (or even straight-up Encounter Critical), but I'm not sure when I'll get the chance.

Guy Hoyle said...

High praises, RM! This would work for straight-up EC just fine; most of what I've posted so far doesn't even have Risus stats, and it should be easy to come up with EC stats for whatever you need. Use whatever you need, whenever you get the chance.

Chris Creel said...

I very much like seeing all the different explainations of the map of the Might Land of Vanth. Your description of the Horse Tamers is very different from my version but now I'll have to borrow your idea of the place.

Guy Hoyle said...

I came up with the Horse Tamers to avoid the "traditional" image of horse nomads. I was also thinking about the intelligent horses and bestial humans from Gulliver's Travels (gasp! Classical reference in EC!). I probably need to turn the crank again so this isn't just a copy of that idea; I'd be interested in seeing where you take it.

Guy Hoyle said...

Update to the "Horse Tamers" entry:

The Horse Tamers
A race of intellectual horses, who train, herd, and sell a race of bestial humans. Many question, however, whether the humans are naturally bestial, or have somehow been robbed of their intelligence by artificial or supernatural means. Rumors persist that the herds of these equine fleshpeddlers contain many specimens with a pronounced resemblance to some missing politician or celebrity with too many enemies. Coincidence, or some bizarre form of revenge? Assassins are a silver piece a dozen in some parts of Vanth, but there are fates worse than death…