Why “Gnolgi”?

Firstly: I’m a 30-something white dude living in the middle of leafy Surrey, UK. I’ve lived round here all my life. Go a few miles north and you’re in London, where you’ll find more cultures and creeds living together than practically anywhere else in the world. A few miles south, and you’re more likely to see a hedgehog than a black person. I say this to clarify I’m no expert on the delicate matter of diversity in modern tabletop games.

Since some of my earliest PDFs, there’s been an indigenous race of gnomes. Refugee survivors from the northern mountains, fleeing some catastrophe of their own design. Technical savants, obstructive bureaucrats, and inventive little buggers. I know I’ve gotten a lot of good play out of including them, and I’m not the only one.

Mono-race cultures lie fondly (?) at the heart of the kind of old-school tabletop fantasy games Dungeon World seeks to emulate. At the same time, Dungeon World’s minimal setting, PbTA ruleset and story game sensibilities all encourage player improvisation in a way other games don’t. This can be a bit of a paradox!

So as I’ve been planning the print release of the Mirkasa Chronicles, I’ve been thinking about what it means to include ‘gnomes’ in my games, in all their tinkering, stolen-from-warcraft glory.

We have the native Mirkasans. There’s nothing stopping a PC from rolling a new character and saying they’re from Mirkasa – in fact, I’d encourage it. So we can infer Mirkasans can be human, elf, dwarf, halfling, or any ‘race’ option from the Dungeon World character classes. Mirkasa isn’t a race, it’s a culture – the result of multiple races and creeds living together and reaching consensus over decades of diplomacy, etc. By comparison, the gnomes seem rather two-dimensional.

So for future adventures I’ve redefined the gnomes as ‘the gnolgi’ – an underground culture of peoples who lived below Gnolgorroth mountain. It’s a subtle change, but an important one. The factors I’ve defined previously can still apply – skilled with technology, potent wordsmiths, refugees from their home. Physical factors, too – they tend towards shorter stature, wider eyes and paler skin. (Maybe a stretch, but justifiable as a result of centuries underground.) An individual gnolgi might display some of these traits, or none of them. As a people, they might all be human, or a mix of races living together. (You could have a gnolgi elf, or a gnolgi dwarf.) Perhaps the word ‘gnome’ is still relevant, but an insult; an insensitive shorthand that oversimplifies centuries of cultural development.

Maybe this is relevant to your games, maybe not. When I run a game, I want a space where all my players can feel welcome and have fun. That means not being too political, but also providing an opportunity for situations outside of my humble experience. Where I live, that means working extra-hard when it comes to race and culture.

If you’re reading one of my adventures, I’m willing to bet you’ll get what an average gnolgi is all about as easily as you would a gnome. But a definition of a race can be a limiting factor (“all gnomes are technical savants, because Warcraft said so.”) For better or worse, that’s what we’re used to in popular culture. I hope that won’t be the same when you introduce the gnolgi.

On the Nation of Mirkasa

Mirkasa is a cold, bleak place. A jagged mountain range dominates the northern coast. The isolated islands beyond are almost impossible to reach, being surrounded by vicious seas and dangerous whirlpools; but it is said the island of Jakabol, birthplace of the giants, can be found there.

The northern range is capped by Gnolgorroth, one of the tallest mountains in the world. An entire culture, the Gnolgi, once lived below this peak. A mysterious calamity – rumoured to be of the Gnolgi’s own making – drove them onto the surface, where they have re-settled with their surface-dwelling neighbours. The two cultures have had much to offer one another, and Mirkasa as a whole has prospered; but only the most naive would believe the two peoples exist peacefully.

The western coast is largely mountainous, with few places of safe harbour. Across the western sea lies the rival nation of Chalcedon, whose etheric sciences are a close competitor for the gnolgi’s elektrik technology. Although the two nations have a peace agreement, the Chalcedoni have a reputation for aggressive expansion. Recently, the Chalcedoni lost a costly war with the god-things of the Green Scar for magical power and resources. Although this has left the Chalcedoni as a whole weakened, it has also made them more desperate to retain fresh resources across the world.

The majority of Mirkasa’s larger settlements run along it’s gentle eastern coast. The capital, Nosjad, is a thriving trade town that has seen much expansion in the last few decades. Nosjad is in competition with the desert city of Umberto for control of the East-West trading routes. Although Umberto has existed for longer, it is further from the sea and less accommodating of airships – two facts the architects and gnolgi engineers of Nosjad have capitalised on.

From east to west the geography shifts from rolling farmland to thick forest. Despite increased logging activity, woods still cover about three quarters of Mirkasa. Often, these are broken by isolated mountains that can provide an steady stream of metals, salts, and other underground resources. The forests themselves are dangerous places, infested by heretics, witchfolk, and beastmen. “Colder than a Mirkasan’s welcome” is a popular phrase; but given the ‘neighbours’ a Mirkasan farmer has to contend with, it is hardly a surprising one!

Templar citadels are a common sight. There is one in every settlement, even the smallest of hamlets, as well as independent cathedrals nestled away from civilisation. The templar residents of each citadel are responsible for their people’s physical and spiritual well-being. Each is a small fortress in it’s own right, able to defend and equip the townsfolk in times of war. A town’s templar guardian is equal parts vicar, judge and magistrate – their authority has no equal, save another templar.

Mirkasa borders the Iron Deserts of Umberto to the south. Past Nosjad, the leagues of dense forest give way entirely to warmer, sandier scrubland. Farming potential is good here, and many an adventurer has retired here to start a homestead of their own. However, both Mirkasa and Umberto claim sovereignty over the hinterlands, and brushfire skirmishes are all too common. Many a would-be settler has found their humble farmland churned into a bloodstained battlefield, fought over by Mirkasan and Umbertoan alike.

A Clerkenwell Carol

So it’s a bit after Christmas… but if you’re still tucking into Turkey and enjoying the holiday season, you could do worse than have a go with this stocking filler, designed for all good OSR or Dungeon-Crawler titles! Ho ho ho!

…Wow. That came out a lot more sales-pitchy than I expected. In all seriousness, I had a blast playtesting this one last week. If you’re not too zonked out from the holiday season, I hope you will too!

God Save us… Every One.

Download A CLERKENWELL CAROL

Azulgunds Bane

Years ago, Azulgund was lost to Goldbane Greasetooth and his greenskin hordes. Its people were forced to abandon the city. In their wake, the elf ranger Khulorien “volunteered” to plumb the depths in their name, claiming he would return with Greasetooth’s head or not at all. Of course, only the most naive believed Khulorien – an egotist and rogue, even for a ranger – was doing this for honour!

I’ve taken a step away from my usual content this month, finding inspiration in the good old fantasy tales of yore – that age-old conflict between the short and stout, and the tall and fair. Dwarves and Elves! Who will win this ancient battle? (Another month, another new format. I think my layout game is improving, though – what do you think?)

I had fun writing these two! I’ve been on a major Warhammer kick lately, there’s superglue and acrylic paint all over my desk again for the first time in years. (Sigmar preserve me, I even picked up Shadow of the Horned rat again.) As I was saying on G+, while it’s a bit heavy-handed the dwarf/elf conflict can lead to some entertaining interpersonal conflict. Which side do you choose?

I also tidied up the quick-start rules, dropping a few unnecessary references. A new version of Last Breath has also been included, intended to be a little softer on new players.

Enjoy!

By Beard and Ear and Azulgunds Bane

Need more?

If you’re keen for more elf and dwarf adventures, why not grab Kheluz-Gund and The Castle’s the Key as well?

Warrens of Odokar

“There were twelve of us, at first. They got Leland, his wound wouldn’t stop bleeding. He kept keening, like a dying pig. Swarund put him out of his misery, but his wailing was enough to signal more. They came from the dark. They howled like dogs and smelled of copper. I would swear the one that got my leg used to be our lighter-boy. Now I sit and wait. When the wind blows, I hear their distant howls. I will not be kept waiting long, I think.”

Download the Warrens of Odokar!

This adventure isn’t particularly linked to any other – I wrote it in order to ‘take a break’ from my previously established canon. It’s kind of interesting how my go-to place for ‘non-canon’ stuff is deep underground, with dwarves and spiders and such. Anyway, I had a good time playing through this last night – I hope you enjoy it too!

The Founding of Mirkasa

The giants were dead, victims of their own barbaric hungers. In time, the men of the northern mountains uncovered their legacy. They used their spells and relics to raise the dead, corrupt the living and bind the souls of free men. So began the reign of the Kang Admi, the first necromancers, whose very name is a byword for unspeakable sin.

The lady Mirka was the daughter of a mountain farmer, born into servitude during the heyday of the necromancer’s dread reign. It’s not known why their magic did not work on her. Strength of faith? Natural immunity? Or a skill, self taught and hard earned through years of oppression? Whatever the source, when she came of age she learned to share her power with her tribe. They became known as the first templars of Mirka, and with each victory, more of the undead were scourged from the land.

Though the thirteen-year campaign was a victory, the final cost was high. The necromancers had been destroyed, their relics and spells broken; but only a fraction of the original templars remained. Mirka herself was last seen leading her best warriors into battle, charging into the foul lair of the final necromancer. A day later, the entire lair collapsed upon itself. Not a soul emerged.

Mirka’s Grave

Though the region was searched for weeks, Mirka’s remains were never recovered. To this day, some believe she lived on; continuing her righteous crusade against the forces of evil. The truth of her disappearance is only revealed to templars who have completed their training; thus, it is the first task of the acolytes to travel the world in search of their saint.

Kursk

A quaint farmstead of wood and old iron, surrounded by rotting wheat. You might come here investigating strange tales of witches up to no good, or the cursed wheat getting up at night and terrorising the neighbourhood.

Download the PDF or read on…

Where is it?

The hinterland region of Mirkasa, a few leagues north of the Umberto border. From Nosjad city, you’d travel for about a week through a dozen or more backwoods and villages, until the cold forests give way to rolling farmland. From the Malachite mines, you’d have to cross the breadth of the Iron wastes and likely contend with one or more Templars once you crossed the border.

What’s actually happened?

A witch hiding in the region has cursed the old Kursk farmstead so that every 7th seed – whether planted in the ground or a woman’s belly – will grow fast, foul, and cruel. There’s a few possible suspects as to who the witch (or witches) are. The Kursks are your typical backwater farming family; they’ve got a few dubious secrets, but it seems they’re just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Meet the Family

Waldegund Kursk is the oldest member of the family and something of a matron. She’s built like a brick house and a keen shot with a crossbow; she served with the Mirkasan arbalists in her youth. She mostly keeps to herself, relying on her son to take care of the day-to-day work. She ignores her daughter where possible, or treats her with scorn when she can’t. She hasn’t seen the wise woman of the fields since Lhamia’s birth, but blames her for the current crisis (and any other failings of her family to boot.)

She misses her late husband dearly, and his death is a grim reminder of her own mortality. She wants to keep her family together and safe, even after she’s gone.

Solitary, Intelligent, 12 hp 2 armour, 1d10 damage near; Moves: protect a family member, nail a target from fifty paces, stare death in the face

If Waldegund is a witch, then she actually wants to live forever with her dead husband and gains the moves raise the dead, imperfectly. The curse is the ‘imperfect’ aspect of her initial attempts. Unless stopped, the curse will spread rampantly while Waldegund and her whole family will live on, in a manner of speaking, right in the middle of it.

Benedict “Benny” Kursk was found dead in the fields six months ago, apparently of natural causes. His loss has been felt keenly by the family, some of whom are coping better than others. His body is buried in a fresh plot by the family shrine. He doesn’t really want anything, because he’s dead, but if someone pulls his soul back from the dead all he’ll want is to return to the grave.

Henri Kursk is Benny and Waldegund’s twenty-one year old son, and the only one still on the farm. With his father’s death, “he’s the man of the house” – but he’s struggling to keep the farm running. Truth be told, he’d sooner sell it, but deep down he wants to make his parents proud, and keeping the farm going is the only way he can see himself doing that.

Solitary, Intelligent, 10 hp 1 armour, 1d8 damage close; Moves: see to the duties in the farm, hide behind his mother’s skirts, display an unexpected act of bravery

Lhamia Marie-Rose (nee Kursk) left the farm about a decade ago with a travelling bard from Chalcedon. The marriage lasted all of ten months, but while abroad she found a new calling in the priesthood of Mareth. Recently, her visions showed the doom of her family line, prompting her return home. But there’s no love lost between her and her mother and ultimately she only wants to witness death first hand.

Solitary, Intelligent, 10 hp, 1d8 damage close; Moves: cure light wounds, ease someone’s passing, learn something from the dead, conduct last rites

As part of the duties of her faith, she is tasked with gathering the secrets of the dead. Where this requires magic, she’ll prefer to do this in secret. Any secrets she does learn, she’ll write on a scrap of paper and send back to the church by raven.

If she is a witch, she actually wants to claim the secrets of life eternal instead. In this case, she’ll keep all the scraps of paper with her, stuffed in her robes and pinned to her sleeves. The curse is only the start of her research – if allowed to continue, or conduct it on more people, it will be very bad news.

Mizra’im is an old druid and wise woman from Umberto; bone white hair, skin like old leather. She’s lived in the hills for longer than anyone can remember and helped bring Henri and Lhamia into the world. She’s rarely seen without Anais, her lizard familar. She’s trusted locally, but any templar would regard her ‘wise ways’ with a lot of suspicion. Although kindly, she knows her way with a skinning knife and more than a few poisons too. Ultimately though, she wants to live out her days in peace.

Solitary, Intelligent, 8 hp, 2d6 damage close; Moves: cast a complex healing ritual, invigorate or poison with a drug, offer cryptic advice, see things through her familiar’s eyes

If Mizra’im is the witch, she actually wants revenge against the Mirkasan people for massacring her family when she was a child. Anyone she helped bring into the world (certainly Henri and Lhamia, and a 5-in-6 chance of anyone else thirty or younger raised in the area too) is cursed, and will spread the curse to their children too…

Who’s the witch?

Choose, or pick at random who the witch is before the game begins (between Waldegund, Lhamia or Mizra’im.)

Stakes

  • Who’ll survive the curse?
  • If she escapes, what mayhem will the witch cause next?
  • Will the curse spread beyond the farm?

Questions

  • Who’s the witch?
  • What other secrets are the Kursks hiding?
  • What can they give you as a reward?

Rewards

  • Honour and more from the templars, in return for a known witches’ head
  • The spirits of the Kursk family, who know more than they’re letting on
  • The matron’s old battleaxe, only used for wood for years, but destined for greater
  • The druid’s fetishes, which could be used for powerful magic
  • The priest’s wards, powerful tools in the hands of the devoted

Areas

The “Matron’s Guardhouse”

A small, pretty cottage on the edge of the farmstead near the road. Waldegund built it herself shortly after her marriage, for when she needed some space away from the family. While her husband was alive she didn’t use it much; now, she’s hardly anywhere else. There’s a simple pantry, a glass-walled study filled with flowers and a warm study. Mounted on the study wall is Waldegund’s old crossbow, still loaded with a single silver bolt. Spread throughout are several awards and accolades from her time in the army, as well as reminders (pretty stones, a painting or two and other mementoes) of her husband.

If Waldegund’s a witch, hidden under the papers will be a necromantic spell or two detailing how to raise the dead.

The Homestead

A well-built family ranch. Henri is the only occupant, living in his childhood room. The master bedroom is vacant, as Waldegund tends to doze in her ‘guardhouse’ instead. Lhamia’s room has been turned out and has nothing of her former life, so she continues to live in her caravan.

A smaller pasture holds two cows – Svenja and Moo – and a clutch of chickens. Henri takes care of them and himself with what little fresh food he has left.

If Lhamia’s a witch, then Moo – her childhood favourite – will be dead. (Lhamia will pretend to be sad about this, and might even accuse her mother of killing her favourite cow out of spite.)

The Rotting Fields

Two acres of waist-high wheat, green and rotting but somehow still standing. The whole area smells terrible, sweet and sickly like day-old vomit. The ground is slimy and treacherous, though the family insists there’s not been a good rain for a week. You swear you hear rustling all around you, even when you’re standing still. If the crops are cut down, by the next day more rotten wheat will have grown in its place.

If you explore the fields at night, the crops will twine together into shambling humanoid things that want to turn you into fertiliser.

Crop-things: Horde, Organised, Construct, 3 hp, 1d6 damage close; Moves: pull themselves together, emit a cloud of poison (reach, ignores armour), spread the virulence further

The Family Shrine

A simple cenotaph of stone and iron, dedicated to the last few generations of Kursks. Inspection of the statue will confirm only Benny is actually buried here; the others all died in one or another of the countless Umberto/Mirkasan border conflicts.

Some Kursk ancestors are Adelai, Travis, Mischa, Benoit, Angelica and Carsten. Carsten Kursk was a famed templar, and war hero of Mirkasa. If you petition the Kursk ancestors for aid, roll+WIS. On a 10+ a spirit answers, and offers what advice or blessing it can. On a 7-9 the spirit offers no aid now, but its blessing when the Kursk estate is safe. On a miss, mark experience and you learn the ancestors spirits have started to become corrupted…

The Priest’s Caravan

Set up as far from the guardhouse as possible. Lhamia has (or had, see below) a sturdy horse called Brutus. The caravan smells of lavender, and is stocked with texts dedicated to Mareth and plentiful travelling supplies. An untuned guitar that once belonged to Lhamia’s ex hangs on one wall, worth a pretty penny to someone.

If Mizra’im’s the witch, Brutus will be missing (drawn away in the night to stop Lhamia escaping the families fate.) What’s left of Brutus will be found in the fields some time later, likely intertwined with an attacking crop-thing.

The Druid’s Shack

A few miles south of the farm, nestled in a verdant swamp. (Think Shrek’s house from the first movie.) The house used to be a two-storey affair, but the lower half apparently sunk into the muck a long time ago. The remaining bedrooms have long since been converted; a balcony window serves as a front door.

If Mizra’im isn’t the witch, the rot will have already begun to take hold on the edges of the swamp. If the crop-things aren’t kept in check, progressively higher numbers of them will assault her home every night.

When the crop-things attack the shack at night, start a countdown (draw six boxes, filling in the first.) Roll Mizra’im’s damage; if she scores less than 6, she fails to drive them off significantly – fill in another box. When all the boxes are filled in, her home is fully corrupted.