Sub-Appalachia: A Wellman-Shaver Mashup Campaign Setting

One of my favorite creative exercises is the genre mashup. Taking two genres and throwing them together was how I began development of both my Southfarthing Confidential halfling police procedural and Spear! Fang! Raygun! campaigns.

Recently, I started reading two pulp writers who I’d missed out on completely over the years: Manly Wade Wellman and Richard Sharpe Shaver. Needless to say, Wellman is the superior writer (who also received recent treatment in the RPG world with the Dungeon Crawl Classics box set The Chained Coffin by Michael Curtis), but Shaver’s schizophrenic subterranean world remains quite vivid and fascinating despite his unfortunate prose style. Both writers are clearly inspirations for various D&Disms with Shaver’s derro and Wellman’s inclusion in the 1st ed. DMG‘s Appendix N, so it seems only natural to take their works and combine them to create a novel, weird, sub-Appalachian campaign setting.

I do not necessarily have plans to run this, but I’ve laid out a basic premise and design for the setting.

First, I’d go with a heavily modified Shudder Mountains setting, from The Chained Coffin, for the above-ground environment since Michael Curtis has done all the Wellman-side work for us. No reason to not put to use such an excellent resource. The first change I want to make is to take the Shudder Mountains and transplant them to Appalachia. Which state, for right now, isn’t important, but going with Richard Sharpe Shaver it might be fun to place them somewhere vaguely in North Eastern Arkansas (which I know the Appalachian Mountains don’t technically reach, but the idea is the same).

Time period-wise, taking a queue from Manly Wade Wellman, my setting exists during the 1930s to ’50s. The medieval setting for the Shudder Mountains has always felt off, anyway, so this shouldn’t be a problem. If you’ve read Wellman, or early Cormac McCarthy, you’re already familiar with the sort of archaisms that seem to go hand-in-hand with Appalachian literature set during this period. The rural quality of the Shudder Mountains will force PCs to use technology, such as cars and telephones, sparingly, but I really, really like the idea of the occasional anachronistic contrast between backwoods primitivism and the encroachment of the wider world. (Somebody should play a census-taker, no doubt.) An equipment list for this setting would look really interesting.

Shudder Mountains

This is my favorite DCC map. It goes above and beyond as a hex-map it to evoke the rural, backwoods feel of the Shudder Mountains.

Now for the weird (or, well, the weirder). Undoubtedly, as an Appalachian-inspired setting requires, the Shudder Mountains are likely riddled with incredible and extensive cave systems. Perfect for a Shaver Mystery underworld.

These caverns will be rife with bizarre technologies and lifeforms. Alien beings of the ancient world creep through the hollows to kidnap human beings for who knows what. Honestly, I haven’t read enough Shaver yet to fully explore the possibilities here, but I can imagine some of the scenarios in which PCs may become embroiled.

  • The two largest clans in the Shudder Mountains, the Jizzups and McSquees, are about to start a’feudin’ because somebody’s something somethinged somebody’s somethin-or-‘nother.  You know, the usual reasons… At least on the surface. But in reality, the clans’ patriarchs are being controlled by ray-machines controlled by malevolent beings who live within a ruined city deep within Mt. Hookbur. Due to clan alliances, this feud threatens to throw all the hollows into bloodshed. Do the PCs pick sides? Are they allied with one clan over the other? Or are they members of rival clans who’ve figured something ain’t right about this feud and seek to get to the bottom of it?
  • Strange motley-colored lights have been witnessed rising from Dead Man’s Hollow. Every night the lights have been seen, all the hounds in the surrounding hollows vanish quietly in the dark, seen heading toward the source of the lights. The next day they return, but there’s something different in their eyes. The hounds now watch their masters carefully, as if possessing new intelligence.
  • A strange object, shaped like a bullet and built of a spongy red substance, has emerged from a swamp near the Old Piney Woods. Local children appear fascinated by the object, gathering there during the day to wade quietly around it in the water, enormous idiot smiles on their faces. At home, the children have become serene, pleasant, and cherub-like, which is quite a change from the usual hellion qualities of the young ‘uns of the Shudder Mountain.
  • Miss Tippy Parrup’s new bairn is blue. The infant appears otherwise normal; it’s got the right number of limbs, fingers, toes, and eyes. The mid-wife who delivered it says, as far as she’s concerned, there’s nothing out of the ordinary. Blue people aren’t unheard of in the Shudder Mountains. Now, it is a bit odd that Miss Tippy claims to be a virgin and had shown no signs of pregnancy until a week before the bairn emerged. Then there’s the fact that the bairn, at a month old, speaks an odd, complex language that is clearly too articulate to be the babbling of a fresh babe, but all is fine. All is fine.

I’m sure there are many, many more rumors/plots/hooks to be developed for this setting. It would be a really great setting to watch emerge through gameplay.  Share any ideas you might have. What other mashups would make interesting settings?


Compiled Spear! Fang! Raygun! Posts

As some may know, I’ve created a second blog for my ongoing Spear! Fang! Raygun! campaign/project so everything could be found in a single location, but this also runs the risk of readers of this blog missing out on the action.

So, I’ll be regularly updating a list of Spear! Fang! Raygun! posts on this blog for those of you interested in that project.


Barbaric, Pantless Atlanteans

Barbaric, Pantless Sons of the Giant Sexy Cave Amazons


Goolaag (Octopoid Slavers in Spear! Fang! Raygun!)

Red Pygmy Tyrannosaurs (Low-level Antagonists for Spear! Fang! Raygun!)

Setting Information

Welcome to the Forlorn Plateau: History & Myth, Part One

House Rules

Luck Rules

Barbaric, Pantless Atlantean Village Generator

That’s it for now. I’ll update again next month.



Winds and Worlds

Sinbad ship

As I recently posted on (the now terminal) G+, I’ve been toying with a new campaign idea–unfortunately one among many that I’ll likely never have the opportunity to run–based upon the Ray Harryhausen Sinbad films of the 50s-70s with a dash of Borges, Jack Vance, and Hill Cantons thrown in for taste that I’m calling The Sea Beyond Beyond. But a necessary element for getting this right would involve mapping not only the Sea itself but the prevailing winds and currents the PCs would follow in their exploration. Before we get into that, though, here’s the campaign concept itself writ-general:

Continue reading

This is Spear! Fang! Raygun!

(This is a post from my new blog Spear! Fang! Raygun!)

Spear! Fang! Raygun! is my RPG sandbox-style of swords, sorcery, super-science, dinosaurs, and heavy metal. It’s also my special snowflake of a campaign setting, born of amalgamating late ’60s  Hanna-Barbera cartoons, such as The HerculoidsSpace GhostBirdman, The Galaxy Trio, and Mighty Mightor), with a dash of Land of the Lost; the multiplex evolutionary path of the Barbarian Hero trope across Sword & Sorcery, from Conan to He-Man, Cohen to Korgoth, and Fafhrd to Thundarr, among others; and a smattering of all sorts of things that fill my brain, from the psychedelic to the quasi-mathematical.

My goal in creating Spear! Fang! Raygun! was to pull away from the bland Tolkienisms of standard fantasy RPG fair while keeping the spirit of the “old school” mode of play. Some might consider it a bit on the “gonzo” side of things, and while it may seem absurd to some degree, Spear! Fang! Raygun! is an inherently consistent, unironic world. In tone, it is neither glib nor “meta”; Spear! Fang! Raygun! is campy, but not cheesy. After 20 years of playing (mostly DMing), I decided it was high time to create a setting that felt authentically mine, built from the sources that most inspired me, and one that was, above all else, fun to play.

If all of this sounds right up your alley, then I think you’ll agree.

Over the next few months, or possibly years, I will be posting free-to-access setting information for Spear! Fang! Raygun! with the first post providing overview of the Forlorn Plateau, the campaign’s continent-sized sandbox, closely followed by rules for playing the setting’s primary, human race/species: the Barbaric, Pantless Atlanteans. I’m hoping to provide these content-filled posts twice a month with some WIP info scattered between.

I’ve been running Spear! Fang! Raygun! for over year with my home group, and after saving their fellow Barbaric, Pantless tribesmen from the clutches of Goolaag (subterranean octopoids) slavers in the Inflamed Badlands, retrieving that holy relic of Castle Grimskull known as Crom!’s Riddlebox, entering into said Riddlebox, which turned out to be a tesseract prison for servants of the Null Titans, being transported to 1980s NYC as it came under attack from a kaiju, returning to the Forlorn Plateau (their home dimension) just in time to take part in the final battle of barbarian civil war, then carousing for a few months before Castle Grimskull itself is taken by robotic collectors in service of a mysterious being known as the preserver, pursuing the bots into the Grand Hyperborean Upland where they take part in a training montage at the Golden Dome Dojo while… Well, you get the picture.

We’ve been having the time of our gaming lives. I hope you will, too.

And here’s the crew from my campaign:


From left to right: Myrn (shaman of Crom!), Cleavehilda (a giant sexy cave amazon), Frax! the Taller (ranger of the Tyrannokiller tribe), Rok (giant pillbug companion), Borgoth (a riddlespeaker’s assistant from Castle Grimskull), Darkaar (Goolaag assassin), Gruul (monk of the Golden Dome Dojo), and Fly Stargroove (dimensional transient from the Funkiverse)

(Additionally, this project would’ve never seen the light of day, as publishable content or homebrewed campaign setting, without the abundant influence provided by the writing, campaigns, and artwork of Do-It-Yourself RPG creators like Jason Sholtis, James West, Dyson Logos, Chris Kutalik, Jeff Call, and Trey Causey, as well as the Dungeon Crawl Classics game, which changed how I approached my games entirely. I will have probably, liberally and questionably appropriated more than a few ideas from them over the course of putting this all together, so I thank them and apologize greatly.)


Hex-map of the Grand Hyperborean Upland

For the past 15 months, I’ve been running a campaign I call Spear! Fang! Raygun! which is basically a dreamscape where I’ve taken all my childhood/teenage love for The HerculoidsSpace GhostThundarr the Barbarian (who gets way more attention than the other two in today’s RPG community), He-Man, and Conan and all his imitators and shoved them through my adult brain to grant the campaign a consistent tone and aesthetic.

So far, it’s coming along great, and I hope to be posting A LOT about it in the coming months as I dredge up the focus necessary to put together a small ‘zine of content.

In the meantime, I’ve been working on maps for the setting along with a lot of homebrewed content. For a while, I was using David Sell’s “Pocket Dimensions” for all of my hex-maps in the campaign, but overuse has worn them out, so I’ve started a project of redrawing, at a slightly larger scale, all of the maps for the campaign.

In each of the 6-mile hexes in the map below I’ve drawn, or at least attempted to draw, the major feature to be discovered therein. How my campaign’s sandbox works is that each of these maps represents a region, which forms a 36-mile hex of the larger map. As is unusual for me, I’ve not actually drawn a detailed, representational map of the whole campaign setting, which in this case is a small dimension called the Forlorn Plateau (more info coming in a later post).

Anyway, here’s the map and below is a key, and you’re free to use this for whatever, non-commercial purposes you want:

Grand Hyperborean Upland.jpg


  1. Impossible Peaks
  2. Incredible Peaks
  3. Impossible Peaks
  4. The Steps of No Pity for the Weak
  5. Empty Tundra
  6. Hot Springs and Geysers
  7. Improbable Peaks
  8. Impossible Hyperborean Peaks
  9. Incredible Peaks
  10. Empty Tundra
  11. Empty Tundra
  12. Empty Tundra along the shores of the Lake of Tombs
  13. “Tomb” of Moork!
  14. Impersonal Peaks
  15. Hyperborean Tors
  16. Hot Springs & Geysers
  17. Cacti Forest of Fthuggai
  18. Fungal Shores of the Lake of Tombs
  19. The Lake of Tombs
  20. Fossilized Coleopteran Army
  21. Improbable Hyperborean Peaks
  22. White Pylon
  23. Cacti Forest of Fthuggai
  24. Empty Tundra/Shores of the Lake of Tombs
  25. Glacier
  26. Impassable Hyperborean Tors
  27. Golden Dome Dojo
  28. Cacti Forest of Fthuggai
  29. Lost City of the Hyperboreans/insectoid civilization
  30. Impossible Hyperborean Peaks
  31. Glacier-bound Menagerie of the Preserver
  32. Global Locus of Omniscience Access Brain (GLOAB) Facility
  33. Improbable Hyperborean Peaks
  34. Impossible Peaks
  35. Impossible Hyperborean Peaks



Req. Con 14
Prime Constitution
Hit Die 6 hit points per level
Attack As a fighter
Saves As a dwarf, +1 versus heat and cold effects; +3 versus radiation; immunity to poison; immune to stun and blind attacks as a result of attacking the senses

Kill! Kill! Kill! Built to fight in the brutal proxy wars of the Ancients, Murderbots are relics of a more civilized age. Every Murderbot, possibly a thousand or more years old, is a paragon of Atomic Age aesthetic and know-how, and they are also completely insane, at least for a machine designed to eradicate organic life. While all Murderbots are born to kill, within every model has emerged a unique personality  (a flaw of their neural processors) that allows them to generally get along with others. Couple this with a stylish, Googie design to help them stand out among the dreary rabble of the apocalypse in their wasteland chic, and Murderbots are unstoppable.

(For the purposes of being turned by a technopriest, Murderbots are Class D robots.)

Level Experience Title Hit Points
1 0 Killbot 6
2 3,001 Roboslayer 12
3 6,001 Autoslayer 18
4 12,001 Mechanokiller 24
5 24,001 Terminator 30
6 48,001 Ex-terminator 36
7 96,001 Kill-o-drone 42
8 192,001 Warmachine 48
9 492,001 Murderbot! 54
10 892,001 Doom of All

Organic Life



Metal Skin – Murderbots are encased in what had been state-of-the-art  plasteel, giving them an Armor Class of 3. This plasteel can be reinforced by someone trained in robotics, or just able to use a welder or hammer or screws.

Components – Murderbots may choose three class 1 mutations; or one class 1 mutations and one class 2 mutation; or one class 3. The Murderbot may replace “components” if they scavenge the necessary tech. The formula for replacing components is 1 for 1, so to add a class 3 component, three class 1’s or a class 1 and class 2 must be removed. The Murderbot cannot replace any aspect of its Robotype (see below) as that is part of its essential design.

Healing – Magical healing heals robots because it’s magic, but robots do not heal naturally. Instead, they require maintenance from someone familiar with robotics.

Random Access PTSD – Possibly a thousand years old, the neural networks and heuristic processes of Murderbots function in a state of perpetual decline. As they increase in level, Murderbots have the potential of short circuiting and going berserk during combat after their first kill, as their combat heuristic randomly accesses traumatic battles of the past for tactical computation. Each round, the Murderbot must make a technology roll to use an executive override of their functions and return to normal; others may attempt, as well, by jacking into the Murderbot’s neural processor, if they dare get close enough.

Lvl. Chance of Short Circuit

1-3)      2-in-12
4-6)      3-in-12
7-9)      4-in-12
10)       5-in-12

Robotype – By the end of the civilized age, the mass-production of Murderbots was such that as one fell on the Neo-Atomic Age battlefields, another was ready to take its place. So Muderbots come in a variety of forms, with the means of locomotion, neural processing, and murdering varying between models. When creating a Murderbot, roll for robotype in each column on the table below to determine its type. Beware, many of these come with drawbacks.

Locomotion (1d6) Neural Processor (1d8) Means of  Murder (1d6)
1 Treads: +2 Con, -1 Dex; +4 against being knocked prone; trouble with stairs Brain in Jar: +/-2 Int depending on quality of brain, need fresh one per month; side effect of additional knowledge/powers from brain may occur Buzzsaw Hands: two atks, 1d8 dmg each; however buzzsaws… is your hands
2 Bipedal: +1 Dex; you get around as easily as a human; -2 against being knocked prone; Kill Quota: To function, must kill # of living beings per week per level; +1 atk/dmg per kill for rest of day Gamma Beam: single telescoping eye fires gamma pulse in 30 ft. cone, class 3 radiation, twice per day; 1-in-6 gets stuck, fires in random direction
3 Armadillidiidaeiform; roll up in a ball; 1d8 collision dmg; children love you; difficulty stopping and turning over Preset Kill Limit: humanitarian killing machine; once killing 10d20, shut down permanently; driven by destiny; +4 saves versus Death Gout o’ Flame: breathe fire in 20 ft. line 2d6 dmg; consumes 1 gal. petroleum; tank holds 3 gal.
4 Hov-a-round: hover between ~1-5 ft. over solid ground; sputters out at inopportune times (Luck check) Quantum Braided Tesseracts: top of the line brain; +4 Int; 2-in-6 to get hints from DM 1/day; prone to pathological, destructive ennui (see GM for details) Clamps: amazing grip; +2 Str; can crush nearly anything no more than 6” in width; love to clamp things
5 Spidery Legs: can climb any surface at 20’; sense movement w/in 60’; -4 reaction mod for creeping people out Captured Transdimensional Entity: alien sentience gives -2 Cha; intense desire to escape this reality; may cast out consciousness as arcane eye 1/day Plasma Cannon in Chest: 4d6 blast, range 30’, width 10’; overheats on 3-in-6, shutting you down for 1d4 turns
6 Rubber to the Road, Baby: you’re on wheels, or… well, one wheel; excellent balance, when moving, anyway; -1 Dex; spd 80’/rd.; stops on a dime Jury-rigged: some assembly and duct tape required; -2 Int; impossible to hack; +5% short circuit chance Rocket Fists: fists can be fired by rocket; 1d8 dmg; range 60’; 1 rd. for return/reattachment; hands function at range can be controlled, fly spd 40’
7 Laws of Robotics: cannot harm humans; determine human-ness of beings in disguise on a 3-in-6; +3 atk/dmg against mutants
8 Destructor, Eater of Worlds: You are DESTRUCTOR!!!!; severe delusions of grandiosity  from sentient virus “Destructor”; if
“plugged” into another Murderbot! or cyborg (if no neural component, conect to robo body part instead) within one turn of death, may transfer consciousness (save vs. death on the victim’s part)


Gelman (class)

This class is for my Doom Lords of the Atomic Underworld campaign. It was adapted from a class of the same name by Jeff Call, with his permission.


Req. Con 9
Prime Constitution
Hit Die d10
Attack As a cleric
Saves As a dwarf


Art by Jeff Call

The origins of the Gelmen are a mystery to even the most erudite scholars of SuperScience and Sorcery. While some claim they are undead, a last desperate attempt by the Ancients to achieve immortality, others believe Gelmen were spawned via abiogensis from some puddle of irradiated slime or biowaste. Whatever the truth, Gelmen have no culture, no towns, no religion, and no language of their own, speaking dialects of other languages known collectively as “Blorpish.”

Each Gelman appears as a blue dishwashing liquid-colored, man-shaped gelatin with a human skull floating about within its neckless head protrusion, and while variations in body-shape are common, they are always human-like: two arms, two legs, a head. At a glance, other species have a difficult , if not impossible, time telling one Gelman apart from another, but once you get to know one it’s clear they have distinct personalities, though all Gelmen share a pathologically positive attitude and are generally high on life. As such, no one can stand them. In fact, they are so abundantly positive it unnerves other living beings.

They are almost universally reviled, a fate which Gelmen accept with their usual pathological look-on-the-bright-side-at-least-we-have-each-other  attitude. If they were simply undead, it’d be one thing, most say, but why do they have to be so damn happy all the time? Having no communities of their own and only needing to absorb nutrients via their permeable membranes (many Gelman are seen with various organic bits of “food” floating around in their bodies being slowly digested over a period of several weeks, depending on the size of the meal), Gelmen are mostly found scrounging about in ruins or in ghettos in the wasteland cities exclusively around the Deathlands of Alb.

Level Experience Title Hit dice
1 0 Gelman 1d10
2 2,501 Gelman 2d10
3 5,001 Gelman 3d10
4 10,001 Gelman 4d10
5 20,001 Gelman 5d10
6 40,001 Gelman 6d10
7 80,001 Gelman 7d10
8 120,001 Gelman 8d10
9 240,001 Still a Gelman 9d10
10 480,001 Gelman 10d10


Vaguely Amorphous – While Gelmen retain a vaguely humanoid shape by default (think of it as a psychological Jell-O mold), they may temporarily shape their bodies into other conceivable shapes in order to squeeze through holes (so long as their skull can fit through), hide behind oddly-shaped objects, or elongate themselves Stretch Armstrong-style. (This ability is open to interpretation by player and GM.)

Gelatinous Physiology – Being that they’re basically made of Jell-O, Gelmen cannot wear armor of any sort, but fortunately they are extraordinarily resilient. They take only half damage from falling and blunt weapons and are immune to Backstabbing  and Critical Hits. Against projectile weapons, such as laser blasts or arrows, as a reaction, Gelmen get a 1-in-6 chance to create a hole in their bodies for the shot to harmlessly pass through. Additionally, they may store items within their bodies, though doing so subjects the items to their paralytic digestive protoplasm (any item stored in such a way must pass a saving throw per day or be damaged, after three days the item is disintegrated).

Paralytic Digestive Protoplasm – Gelmen may coat their weapons in their own protoplasm to add a paralytic poison to their attacks (save vs. Paralysis if hit or be paralyzed for 1d3 rds.); doing so, however, may destroy the weapon, which must make a saving throw every time this is done. Failure means the weapon has been corroded, giving it a -1 penalty to hit and to damage. Additionally, enemies who attack Gelmen with their natural weapons must make a save versus paralysis or be paralyzed for 1d3 rds.

Pathologically Bubbling Positivity – Nothing, absolutely nothing, seems to bring a Gelman down. Something about their sticky, viscid existence just makes them optimistic. As such, a Gelman can pop back from apparently any setback, healing at twice the rate as a human and receiving double the amount of magical healing from spells.