A couple of years ago, tabletop gaming luminary Robin D. Laws ran a hugely successful Kickstarter campaign for his DramaSystem game, and I was lucky enough to be asked to contribute a stretch goal reward. My “Series Pitch” (DramaSystem lingo for “campaign setting”) was called Pyrates (the “y” spelling makes it 20% more piratical), and I pitched it to Robin as “Firefly of the Caribbean.” Here’s a link to the blog post I wrote at the time.
Now, thanks to the Hillfolk Bundle of Holding, you can sample Hillfolk, Pyrates, and many more settings – and explore the innovative and inspiring design of DramaSystem – for a bargain price. Check out all the goodies here.
For my money, Robin is one of the very best designers working in tabletop RPGTs today. His ideas are always fresh and thought-provoking, and make for great games as well as pushing the art and craft of game design beyond the normal envelope. You won’t be disappointed.
Sometime last night, my blog reached 30,000 views. I know that’s not a lot of traffic by most standards – certainly it’s not as much as I would like – but it’s still a milestone. To commemorate it, here’s the story of this blog so far.
I started it in March 2011 with a post about my first videogame work in 1991, but it’s my posts about tabletop roleplaying games – and especially my memories of Games Workshop in the 80s – that have consistently proved the most popular.
My most popular post so far is the announcement that I was working on FFG’s new Enemy Within campaign for WFRP 3rd edition, which included a lot of memories and random thoughts about the original Enemy Within. That post still gets regular views today, and it accounts for almost 15% of the blog’s total visits. Next comes my rumination On the Economics of Tabletop RPGs, which is slowly but steadily catching up. After those two comes a large block of GW memories, and after them come the posts about my current work with Colonial Gothic, Kingdoms of Camelot: Battle for the North, Of Gods and Mortals, and various other games, as well as my work for Osprey Publishing (Note: only the top four books are mine: I don’t know how the Osprey web site’s search function found the others, but I don’t pretend to know that much about modeling).
Many visitors, understandably, come from the U.S., Britain, and other English-speaking countries, but almost half come from elsewhere in the world. Germany, France, and Poland seem to have a lot of WFRP fans, and the Scandinavian countries are not far behind. Most visitors find me via search engines: though it’s frustrating that so many search terms are encrypted, most of the ones I can see related to tabletop RPGs in general and WFRP in particular. Facebook, Google+ and Twitter have also led a lot of people to my blog, as have links in other people’s Warhammer and RPG blogs.
So there you have it. I’m very happy that my work for WFRP still interests people despite most of it being 25 or more years ago. That’s obviously what draws in the eyeballs, and I plan to add more GW memories and other Oldhammer-related material even as I continue to keep viewers up to date with what I’m currently working on, and other things that interest me. Although it’s clear that most visitors come for the Oldhammer, I hope that many people will find other things that interest and surprise them, and be moved to check out some of my more recent work.
Oh, and – tell your friends. Thanks.
Known in English as the Weeping Woman, La Llorona (pronounced “yo-RO-nah”) is a legend of Mexico and the Spanish Southwest. The Weeping Woman is a type of ghost or demon that can be encountered anywhere in New Spain. According to the TV series Sleepy Hollow, a sub-type is also found occasionally in the Thirteen Colonies.
This article explores the legend of La Llorona, looks into a few variations, and suggests a range of ways to use this legend in Colonial Gothic adventures.
Almost every Spanish-speaking population north of Mexico City has its own version of this tale. The details vary, but the ending is always the same.
Her name was Maria, she lived a long time ago, and she fell in love with a handsome ranchero. Because of him, she drowned her own children in a river.
Some say she killed them – and then herself – out of grief and rage when her ranchero abandoned her. Others say these children were from an earlier marriage, and she killed them so she could be free to marry again. According to a third version of the tale, her children drowned by accident when she left them alone to go to a dance with her new beau. All versions agree that her spirit cannot rest and she is cursed to spend eternity wandering and weeping, searching for her lost children along the banks of rivers and canals.
Ever since, people have seen a beautiful woman dressed in white walking beside rivers and canals at night, her hair disheveled and her eyes red from crying. Many have heard her weeping, and a brave few have gotten close enough to hear her sob “Ay, mis hijos!” – “Oh, my children!”
Some versions of the tale are darker still. It is said that bad luck will soon befall anyone who sees the Weeping Woman, or that she will steal, and even drown, any children she finds in the course of her wanderings.
It is not known whether the legend of La Llorona is based on an actual event. However, it is enticingly similar to both an Aztec legend and a story from the life of Hernan Cortez. It also evokes an even darker being from Mexican folklore.
La Malinche (also known as Malinali, Malintzin, and Doña Marina) was one of twenty women given to Cortez by the people of Tabasco in 1519. She served the Conquistador as a translator and advisor, eventually becoming his mistress and bearing his first son, whom he named Martín . She spoke Mayan as well as the Aztec language, Nahual, and helped Cortez form local alliances and head off potential rebellions. Cortez is reported to have said that after God, Doña Marina was the main reason for his success in Mexico. Contemporary Aztec records almost never depict Cortez without her by his side, and they sometimes show her alone, apparently acting on her own initiative and authority.
Unlike Disney’s Pocahontas, though, Doña Marina did not keep her European paramour. Cortez abandoned her to marry a good Spanish lady. While it is not recorded that she killed her children, and some sources claim she died in 1529, other sources hint that she did not suffer her abandonment meekly. In some later fiction she lives on as a vengeful resistance leader, and even as a vampire.
Cihuacoatl was an Aztec goddess, the most prominent of several patron deities of childbirth and motherhood. It has been said that the Aztecs honored a woman who died in childbirth as highly as a warrior who died in battle.
According to Mexican folklore, the goddess was seen shortly after Cortez appeared, weeping for the loss of her children – an omen of the fall of the Aztec empire at his hands.
Cihuacoatl had a son named Mixcoatl, who became a god of the hunt and the stars. She abandoned him at a crossroads, but regretted her decision and returned weeping, only to find a sacrificial knife where her son had been.
The spirits of women who died in childbirth serve Cihuacoatl. Known as civitateo (“divine women”) they haunt crossroads at night, steal children, and cause seizures and other illnesses.
Although these Aztec legends do not correspond exactly with the commonly-told story of La Llorona, it is easy to see how they may have influenced its development.
La Llorona can be many things, ranging from a tragic ghost to a vengeful goddess. Providing full Colonial Gothic statistics and rules for every conceivable variant would take an article far longer than this one. Instead, the following paragraphs suggest a range of possible approaches to creating a version of La Llorona that fits with the tone and magic level of the individual campaign.
The Colonial Gothic rulebook provides 2nd Edition rules for ghosts, and the Bestiary covers banshees. Either one would make a good basis for La Llorona, though the banshee’s Moan trait should be cut. For a more corporeal version, the GM might use the vampire from the rulebook (without any traits except for Night Vision and Undead) or the revenant from the Bestiary. Having selected the basic stats, the GM can then add traits as desired, to create his or her own vision of La Llorona.
The Weeping Ghost
When creating La Llorona as a ghost, the main decision to be made is how (or indeed, whether) the living can interact with her. At her most harmless she may be a spectral vision as insubstantial as smoke, to be laid to rest when the Heroes learn her sad tale, find her remains and those of her children, and give them a Catholic burial.
A more dangerous version may use mind-affecting magic of some kind to hypnotize children and send them walking glassy-eyed into the river – or to possess single mothers, especially those driven to the brink of despair by their circumstances, and force them to re-enact her crime. The lives of those she kills may be an offering to the angry spirits of her dead children, or she may simply be locked into an obsessive pattern of behavior, condemned to repeat it endlessly until she is stopped.
A solid, physically manifested version of La Llorona presents a different kind of threat. She has the inhuman strength of a lunatic and high grappling skills, which she uses to drown interfering mortals or simply break their necks. In a simple adventure, destroying her physical form stops her for good; for a longer and more challenging campaign thread, she simply comes back the following night, or month, until her tormented spirit is laid to rest by a Catholic priest or by Aztec-derived magic.
In a higher-powered campaign, La Llorona can be a vengeful manifestation of the goddess Cihuacoatl, imbued with all the terrible power that implies and determined to take the life of one Spanish or Anglo child for every Aztec who died at the hands of the Conquistadores. Alternatively she could be another Aztec deity, taking her own sacrifices since Catholicism replaced the bloody Aztec rites by which she was formerly appeased. In a Robert E. Howard-style horror story, she could be one of the last priestesses of such a terrible deity.
The GM has free rein in designing such a powerful entity. The legends of the civitateo give these creatures a shifting array of attributes including clawed hands and feet and the ability to wither limbs and cause fits and wasting diseases. One interpretation of these creatures may be found in my own Atlas of the Walking Dead, published by Eden Studios for their zombie survival RPG All Flesh Must Be Eaten.
In a low-magic or no-magic campaign, La Llorona may be entirely mortal – an 18th-century serial killer driven to madness by a life of abuse, or by the horror of having killed her own children to save them from an abusive father, or starvation, or some other threat. She may even believe that she has become La Llorona of the stories.
An encounter with La Llorona can enhance even a non-fantastic Colonial Gothic campaign. Rarity gives supernatural incidents – or incidents that merely seem to be supernatural – a greater impact in a non-magical setting.
Of course, the GM can always decide, in the best Scooby-Doo tradition, that the apparent haunting has a perfectly mundane cause: the “ghost” turns out to be a madwoman escaped from a local asylum, a kidnap victim leading into a mundane plot, or an attempt to play on a local legend to keep prying eyes away from a hidden gold strike or a planned robbery.
In a more fantastic campaign, La Llorona might be one of several types of restless dead, given an added authenticity by her ready-made backstory and her long history in the real world.
De Aragon, Ray John. The Legend of La Llorona. Santa Fe: Sunstone Press, 2006.
Beatty, Judith S. La Llorona: Encounters with the Weeping Woman. Santa Fe: Sunstone Press, 2004.
Davis, Graeme. Atlas of the Walking Dead. Loudonville: Eden Studios 2003.
Perez, Domino Renee. There Was a Woman: La Llorona from Folklore to Popular Culture. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2008.
“La Llorona,” Handbook of Texas http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/lxl01
“La Llorona – Weeping Woman of the Southwest” (3 pages), Legends of America http://www.legendsofamerica.com/gh-lallorona.html
TV and Video
The Crying Woman (Spanish La Llorona), dir. Ramón Peón , 1933.
Supernatural, Season 1 Episode 1, The CW (Warner Bros.), 2006.
Grimm, Season 2 Episode 9, Universal, 2012.
Sleepy Hollow, Season 2 Episode 5, Fox, 2014.
A lot has been written about the Enemy Within campaign for WFRP, and rather less has been written about the Doomstones campaign. But the Restless Dead campaign is almost forgotten.
This modest, 104-page hardback is not a common find on Ebay or elsewhere. It was never reprinted, although a good deal of its content wound up in Hogshead’s Apocrypha Now and Apocrypha 2. And much of that content was reprinted from White Dwarf.
Edited by Carl Sargent, the book falls into three parts. First is the Restless Dead campaign proper, which consists of seven adventures from WD. Carl expands my own On the Road (mentioned in an earlier post) to provide the campaign’s overarching storyline, and I think he did a pretty good job pulling together a bunch of unrelated adventures to make a reasonably coherent campaign.
Night of Blood and A Rough Night at the Three Feathers can also be found in Hogshead’s Apocrypha Now, and The Ritual and The Affair of the Hidden Jewel are reprinted in Apocrypha 2. The other two adventures, Eureka! and The Haunting Horror, have not been reprinted for 1st edition, although Plundered Vaults has a 2nd edition version of The Haunting Horror as well as A Rough Night at the Three Feathers.
and can only be found in this book. The Haunting Horror has been widely criticized as too deadly even for WFRP, while Eureka! features an array of wacky inventions, including hang-gliders and a submarine, which Hogshead chief James Wallis thought were a step too far. Each adventure is accompanied by a page of campaign notes from Carl, giving advice on how it can be used in either the Restless Dead campaign or the Enemy Within campaign.
Altogether, the Restless Dead campaign takes up 58 pages, or a little over half the book.
The second part of The Restless Dead consists of a single adventure for the Enemy Within campaign, specially written by Carl (with Derrick Norton) and
found nowhere else reprinted from WD98. Titled Grapes of Wrath (and known in the Studio as “Flying Death Skulls” for its defining encounter), it runs to 16 pages and features a crazed wizard terrorizing a peaceful village. It is reprinted with 2nd edition stats in Plundered Vaults.
Finally, there are 24 pages of optional rules. Jim and Phil’s Practice Makes Perfect takes a detailed look at career progression, while Hack and Slay! introduces some optional combat rules. New spells and magic items round out the rest of the book.
The Restless Dead is a curious little volume. It was put together in a hurry in 1989 with the intention of getting more WFRP material out at the lowest possible cost. The John Blanche cover art was re-used from the Skeleton Horde boxed set, a move that would be repeated in later WFRP books. But Carl’s editing and development of the Restless Dead campaign saves it from being just another miscellany like the Warhammer Companion and the two Apocryphas. First edition completists will probably want it for the bits and pieces that were never reprinted elsewhere, and while it doesn’t approach the heights of Power Behind the Throne, Grapes of Wrath is definitely one of Carl’s better adventures. There are some typically silly NPC names like Isolde Guderian, Seel Baldurich, and Knud Gropenfrotteur, and Carl claimed to have based Wuder Lechart, the village idiot, on GW’s lead graphic designer, Charlie Elliott.
While it is definitely a little brother to The Enemy Within and Doomstones, The Restless Dead doesn’t deserve to be entirely forgotten.
There was a miniature painting contest at Oldhammer 2014, and one of the winners was a beautifully painted Ambull miniature. That brought back some memories, and a recent Facebook post in the Oldhammer Community finally stirred me to action.
The Ambull miniature is pretty rare. The beast was created by Rick Priestley and can be found in the 1st edition Warhammer 40K rulebook along with quite a few other critters that were never used in WH40K army lists. As far as I can remember, it was the only one of these unaffiliated monsters to be made into a miniature. Since it didn’t have a home in any army list, I’m sure it didn’t sell well.
But that’s not the story I wanted to tell. I want to tell you about Compleat Encounters, and how an Ambull came to be featured in a WFRP adventure.
It was 1988, just over a year since WFRP and WH40K had been released. TSR UK’s Imagine magazine was gone by this time, but its former editor Paul Cockburn was now editing White Dwarf. One of Imagine’s many good points had been “Brief Encounters” – short, 1-2-page adventures showcasing a particular monster or situation – and Paul (or someone else in GW management) had the perfectly sensible idea of doing the same thing with short WFRP encounters in White Dwarf. They were called “Compleat Encounters.”
I loved the idea, all except for one thing. I wasn’t allowed to write any. Nor was anyone in the GW Design Studio. In a move that foreshadowed one of my greatest frustrations at GW, it was decided that all the work would be farmed out to external writers. We were to write briefs, but not encounters.
It’s already on record that I wanted every miniature in the Citadel catalogue to find a place in WFRP. As I set about churning out briefs (which, to be honest, took just as much time as if I’d written the encounters myself), I turned to the miniatures catalogue for inspiration. One of my early efforts featured a renowned sculptor who cheated using a cockatrice; it was written (by whom, I no longer remember) but as far as I know it was never published. I used another encounter brief to import the Ambull into the Warhammer Fantasy setting.
At the time, there was a lot of discussion within the Studio about the relationship between the Warhammer world and the WH40K universe. The Ruinous Powers of Chaos were active in both settings, so there had to be a link – but what was it? Was the Terra of WH40K actually a future version of the Warhammer world? Was the Warhammer world a remote feral world in some backwater of the WH40K universe, where degenerate members of the various WH40K races lived in ignorance of the galaxy and its greater conflicts? The question was never definitively answered, and in time it was forgotten altogether – but not before several photographs had been published showing a mix of Warhammer and WH40K miniatures on the same table.
Historically, I think this was probably a stopgap measure allowing players to bulk out WH40K forces with “feral world” Warhammer miniatures until the WH40K miniatures line could be expanded. Once that happened, the whole matter was quietly dropped. I don’t know. Still, it was against that background that I started combing through the bestiary section of the WH40K rulebook for more monsters to bring across to the Warhammer world and WFRP.
Of all the WH40K creatures I looked at, the Ambull struck me as being best suited to a fantasy world. I converted the stats for WFRP, came up with an idea for an adventure to showcase it, and wrote the brief.
The result can be seen in White Dwarf 108, written by Carl Sargent and titled “Terror in the Darkness”. I haven’t been able to find a scan of the original, but here’s a link to a fan-converted WFRP2 version. When I talked about this adventure at Oldhammer 2014, I wrongly said that I’d written it myself. I had completely forgotten about the Compleat Encounters and the time when WFRP staff writers weren’t allowed to write anything except briefs for freelancers.
A blog called Where the sea pours out has picked up on my earlier post about the short career of the Gnomes as a Warhammer race and made some very interesting observations about Gnomes in general. There is solid information about their origins in folklore and alchemy, and some thought-provoking comments about the way they have come to be depicted outside fantasy games and how that affects the way people think about Gnomes in games.
It’s worth reading, and in a previous post the writer promises to show us some of his collection of old Citadel and Grenadier Gnomes. I’m looking forward to that.
Gnomes have never been a big part of the Warhammer mythos, but they were in WFRP 1st edition, and in the first couple of editions of Warhammer itself. To celebrate the month of Gnomevember, here is a roundup of their brief history in Warhammer and WFRP.
Back in 1986, Citadel did have a few Gnome miniatures in its catalogue, so I included stats for them in the WFRP1 Bestiary. I’ve written before about how I tried to include stats for every miniature Citadel had ever made.
Gnomes weren’t included in the rulebook as a player race, even though they had been a PC race in D&D for some time. We were quite happy with Human, Dwarf, Elf, and Halfling. Even Halflings didn’t convince everyone, but at the time we felt they needed to be in the book: somehow, in the 80s, you just couldn’t have a fantasy RPG without Halflings. Since then the Halflings, too, have vanished from both Warhammer and WFRP. But back to Gnomes.
Phil Gallagher wrote “Out of the Garden” in White Dwarf 86 (reprinted in Hogshead’s Apocrypha Now), which gave Gnomes a culture and a place in the Warhammer world, as well as PC rules for WFRP, a patron deity, and a unique career of their own, the Gnome Jester.
The article also included a plethora of Gnome puns, possibly inspired by David Bowie’s novelty record The Laughing Gnome.
A gnome character starred in Carl Sargent’s Poirot-inspired adventure “With a Little Help from My Friends,” which was published in White Dwarf 105 and reprinted in the Warhammer Companion.
And that was it. Like Halflings, Gnomes just weren’t fearsome enough to make a good Warhammer force, and Citadel stopped making Gnome miniatures. Actually, I think they had already stopped by the time WFRP was published, but perhaps someone from the Oldhammer community can correct me if I’m wrong.
It didn’t help that these two articles were jokey even by WFRP1 standards: somehow we just couldn’t take Gnomes seriously enough to incorporate any grimdark horror along with the jokes. We probably thought it couldn’t be done, although some 20 years later my erstwhile colleague Keith Baker did a very good job with the Gnomes in his pulp-inspired Eberron setting for D&D.
Anyway, it was only a matter of time before Gnomes disappeared from WFRP as they had from Warhammer. By 2nd edition they were gone, and a Gnome thief in my adventure “A Rough Night at the Three Feathers” was changed to a Halfling for the 2nd edition reprint in Plundered Vaults.
But as with so many things, WFRP fans weren’t ready to let go of Gnomes. The Strike to Stun forums include various discussions of Gnomes, some with links to fan-created Gnome rules for WFRP2. And now, the final issue of the excellent Warpstone fanzine includes no less than three articles on Gnomes.
And appropriately enough it appeared this month: Gnomevember!