See, as our old RPG group withered due to player attrition and apathy, Amy and I happened to attend "Queenfest"--a party devoted to appreciating the music of the band Queen--thrown by one of our old college gaming buddies. This year it was at the house of a friend of his, and that friend lives in St. Louis. With his wife and their daughter, who has just turned 12.
So I'm now running a D&D (well, Swords and Wizardry) game with them and Amy...and (and here's the moral-corrupting part) Amy and I just gave Alex, for her birthday, copies of the first edition PH, MM, and DMG. "Here, kid. Here's something incredibly addictive. Never did *me* any harm!"
So that game:
It's set in Zak Smith's Vornheim. But the nice thing about Vornheim is, it's a city toolkit more than it is a city. So my Vornheim is way different than the D&D With Pornstars Vornheim.
It shares some features: the verticality, the important buildings built like grasping hands, the Cathedral and the Palace, with the square with the Well and the Wyvern in between them. It's on the River of Unfathomable Despair (Vornheim clearly needs some real estate agents for the nomenclature).
But beyond that....
So, let's see.
Street addresses are where you are on the street, counting up from where the street first leaves a bigger street more toward the river, and the number after the address increases from ground level. Posh is higher up. So, "6 Ironstar Way 1524", where Lady Stiella Görbler lives, is very posh indeed. Her tailor, Unvelt Ohn, is at 443 Toad Street 26: the garment district, but a pretty good spot.
Across the river is Goblintown. The human was sent to find out why many elves are disappearing to Vornheim, never to be heard from again. One of the elves came because the opportunities for scholarship were that much greater; one came because he can't marry his betrothed until he's a Person Of Importance in the Church Of Vorn; and the last one came because she was kicked out of her tribe for practicing black magic.
Which is another thing: I've gone the Lankhmar route, where clerical magic is white, and sorcerous magic is black, and all black magic basically involves making pacts with various demonic entities. Low-level spells are really no big deal. But once you start being able to cast heavy-duty spells, there's going to be a lot on the line.
We already have three competing religions: the Church Of Vorn, about which the acolyte's a little disillusioned now that he's come to the Big City and sees how wealth-driven and corrupt it is (my Church of Vorn? Catholicism with a cosmetic makeover; no celibacy and no male-only priesthood, though), the Titivillians, about which my players know nothing other than she's the demon-goddess of fleshly pleasures and scribal errors, and Our Lady Of The Thorns, responsible for the Thornbabies (Zak calls them Thornchildren, but I thought Babies was creepier), worshipped by one of the three elves in the party, and kinda-sorta based on The Lady Of Pain from Planescape, in that even her worshippers would really, really rather never meet her. She's a beautiful and very severe goddess. Druids--who, if we meet any in this game, are going to be my Scary-Ass Dead-Eyed Killer Druids--dig her.
We know that Görbler is a major benefactress of the greenhouse which serves as the cathedral of Our Lady Of The Thorns, down by the river (I'm playing it like the Gardens in Wolfe's _Shadow of the Torturer_, if that helps you place it). When my group was in there paying their respects, she came in, left an offering on the altar, and began taking cuttings from the poison garden. She took a shine to the innocent young cleric of Vorn (name: Palalladin, played by Amy, my wife) and has invited him and his elvish retinue to her dinner party (which is the subject of the next session).
The group also--since Palalladin decided to make a little coin shriving people in a bar--has found out about Zorlac's library, since they talked to someone who took a lot of money for stealing his master's copy of _The Clutching Cow_ and delivering it to Maarten Tull.
And in my Vornheim, the group has:
a) gone to Ohn's tailor shop, and gotten a quote of 450 gp for suitable clothing for the party. Which might as well be a million
b) gone to the secondhand shops and found three lemon-yellow satin Snuggies for the retinue, and a red zoot suit for Palalladin, and a half-elf tailor who will alter them for the party. They're just renting the suit, and Palalladin's longbow is the collateral for it.
c) paid a visit to Zorlac, who understood immediately what services the group was offering, in terms of book acquisition from the recalcitrant, and has opined that he sure could use a copy of "Anatomy of the Goblinoid Races", which was written by a Goblin scholar at the University within Gaxen Kane. Since the poor benighted goblins don't have the printing press, no more than a dozen copies are known to exist, and all else being equal, he'd like one of the five manskin-bound presentation copies, thank you.
d) Found that Görbler has been a widow for about ten years, and is known for i) taking a succession of younger, handsome lovers, who never last long, and ii) throws extravagant, themed dinner parties. One was entirely in utter darkness, for instance (Eshrigel was invited, although the players don't know this, and enjoyed a party where she could go maskless), and another one had all the guests given water breathing spells and was a fourteen-course dinner served and eaten underwater.
So play has currently broken off the afternoon before Görbler's party. After that (whatever may happen), the group is planning to try to attach themselves to a diplomatic mission to Gaxen Kane to get access to a book they can steal.
See, the goblins in *my* Vornheim...well, they don't walk on the ceiling. But there's a good reason that the way they talk sounds very backwards to humans. In short, the entire metaphorical structure of their society is based on the idea that down is good and up is bad (and if pressed, I intend to say that their language is like Latin or German where the verb goes at the end, as opposed to Common, which is pretty much English). Almost all of Gaxen Kane is belowground; the aboveground watchtowers are what you get sentenced to when you've really pooched your military career. The goblins in Vornheim? Really troubled sorts. Calling someone a "low-down dirty rat" is a high compliment in Goblin. The earth is the nurturing womb of the Goblin races (this may, or may not, be a metaphor), so dirty is holy. Rats burrow and dig and are sacred animals. Low-down speaks for itself. And the goblins consider all stone and metals rightfully theirs. The surface dwellers have those nasty-ass trees--why do they have to steal stone and metal from the Goblinish folk to build their buildings and make their tools? (If you're detecting some Baum Nomes here, yeah, you're totally right).
Vornheim and Gaxen Kane are at peace, though kind of hostile. Each has an embassy in the other. Vornish diplomats hate it there--in fact, most of the recent ones have been clergy of Titivilla, being punished for their heretical faith. But Vornheim buys mushroom wine, dried fungus, and spider silk from the Goblin Lands, and the Goblins import wooden furniture, textiles, and some grain from the human world. Walking--well, stooping at best, and crawling much of the time--in Gaxen Kane, for your typical adventuring party, is about as hazardous as, in our world, for your basic suburbanite to saunter carefree around North St. Louis or Detroit. It's not instant death, but the odds are good that, pretty soon, something unpleasant is likely to happen to you. To be fair, that's pretty much also exactly what happens if you're a goblin in Vornheim, and you wander out of your ghetto alone.
So far, we're having fun...but we've played two entire sessions with zero combats, which has been kind of weird for me.
[EDIT] Oh dear, he said, in some consternation. Prompted by a niggling little voice at the back of my head, I got down _GURPS: Goblins_--a volume for which I have playtest credit--from the shelf.
It appears that we are not actually playing D&D (or even S&W). Rather, we are playing _GURPS: Goblins_ with a variant ruleset.