Friday, November 10, 2017

"The fact that you can just randomly encounter a Longship filled with Vikings is pretty awesome."

Every week I google "zylarthen" to see if anyone has written a new review or whatever of Seven Voyages of Zylarthen, my OD&D neo-clone. After I gave the game it's somewhat distinctive name, I quickly discovered that one of the benefits is that it's pretty easy to google using just the last part. With "zylarthen" you generally find the game and only the game - the small exception being various characters in obscure fantasy or science-fiction stories (I think there might be at least three) named "Zylar" who occasionally then do something.

UPDATE: Actually, the "advantage" might not be so great as all that, I just googled "swords & wizardry" (without the quotation marks) using my Private Browser function for references in the last seven days. The only hits I came up with were to that game. I was somewhat surprised at this.

In any case, it's not like I often find a long review by some luminary. More often than not it's board or chat room traffic. Often it's by "Anonymous." Indeed, for all I know, "Anonymous" is always the same guy. The comment is often enthusiastic - "Hey, have you played Seven Voyages of Zylarthen? It does X better than any system that I know!" - but sadly, the comment is often left hanging as people go back to discussing Molvay Basic or whatever. Such is life, for me and Anonymous, I guess.

If you're reading this, Anonymous (or group of Anonymities), thanks again. I sincerely mean that.

Today, I found this comment on 4chan:
Anyone else absolutely love the gm sided stuff to 7 Voyages of Zylarthen, the Hex Crawl resources, the great random encounter tables. The fact that you can just randomly encounter a Longship filled with Vikings is pretty awesome.
Probably going to use alot of it's stuff on a project in the near future. It just seems more traditonal and folkloric compared to most other products of it's nature.
Well, even though the comment just hung there (or sank like a lead balloon), I'll take it to the bank. Or perhaps more accurately, I'll take it into my heart.

I'd like to think it gets the vibe of the game, especially as portrayed in Volume 4: The Campaign, precisely right. If you're in Fresh Water or Coastal terrain, a positive Wandering Monster check has a 1 in 20 chance of yielding Vikings (who will probably be in a longship). That's right, actual Vikings. Here's the description from Volume 2: Book of Monsters:
VIKINGS: Hit Dice: 1. Armor Class: 6. Move: 12/15. Alignment: Neutrality. Languages: Type I. Number Appearing: 1-4 longships, manned by 20-80 men each. % In Lair: 15%. Treasure: Class 1, plus 1-6 S.P. ea. Description: These warriors will always be found either on the water or within a few miles of their anchored or beached longships. However, the ships may easily traverse shallow rivers, and thus, Viking raiding parties may be encountered far inland. Each ship will have a Standard Bearer of 2nd-3rd level and a Chieftain of 4th-6th level—the latter usually armored in mail. In turn a squadron of multiple boats will be led by a High-Chieftain of 7th-9th levels. There is a 15% cumulative chance per boat that there will be 3-30 Berserkers, and a 25% cumulative chance that a Priest of Odin will accompany the entire force. Despite their fierce reputation, Vikings are generally intelligent and cultured as well as reasonable and honorable, at least in their fashion. Missiles: die 1-3 = none, die 4 = axe, die 5 = spear, die 6 = bow.
Note my rejection of anti-Viking prejudice - "Despite their fierce reputation, Vikings are generally intelligent and cultured as well as reasonable and honorable, at least in their fashion." - After they kill you, they'll probably write a saga about it.

Or look at it this way: It beats leeches.

Now, of course, many OSR games have this sort of wild side to them. That isn't the right word. I suppose "gonzo" might be better, although it carries sort of a taint, and also doesn't get it quite right either. At least the Vikings aren't wearing clown masks. Then again...

Indeed, Vikings appeared multiple times in the original 1974 edition of Dungeons & Dragons (which is why I chose them for Zylarthen) but then quickly fell out as the system and franchise took a more naturalistic turn.

And it's not all about Vikings. What I tried to do in The Campaign was to create a mechanism or give referees ideas and tables for creating a mechanism to design a vibrant and "real" wilderness, if you will, teeming with whatever the referee thought would be fun and cool, as well as giving the players interesting challenges and problems.

And again, Zylarthen is not unique at all in this. Any OSR or OD&D-like system that has the space to go into detail on this sort or thing does this, or at least should do it. If I did it adequately or even half as well as it was done in The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures, that would make me happy.

The Wilderness Encounter tables for Zylarthen were designed to be somewhat tippy. In Coastal terrain, the expected suspects - Vikings, Buccaneers, Lizard Men Giant Crabs, Harpies - each have a 1 in 20 chance of occurring. But if you roll a 14-20, you go to some other table - Flyers, Humanoids, Men, Other Monsters, etc. - which in turn might lead you to yet another table. It's possible you'll run into Cyborgs or a lone Druid on a raft or even a god or goddess. There's even a 1 in 5760 chance you'll encounter a Black Pudding in your coastal wanderings. I'd love to see what a good referee might do with that.

As for Zylarthen being "more traditonal and folkloric," I'd like to think that's true to an extent, but again, I simply went back to the sources. As I discussed here, every monster in Zylarthen is taken from, or are expansions on something from the 1974 or 1975 texts. It was all there right from the beginning.

What's old can be new again!


  1. Nice post. The point Mr/Ms Anonymous cited is a good one. Lots of fun stuff on those encounter charts.

  2. If the life of an adventurer follows the arc of adventurer-conqueror-king, then no culture or group better exemplified this than the Vikings. I think it's a marvelous idea and maybe I would even make it more common to encounter them.

    In 1066, Harold (Viking) battled Cnut (Viking) and then have to book it down to the south end of his kingdom to battle William (Viking). It was Vikings all around!