Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Inspiration: Narth

Art by Charles Vess

Narth was once known as the “continent of man,” but man's place has been usurped by demons.  Narth is the setting of Demonlord, a 1981 hex-and-counter game from the Heritage USA Dwarfstar line.  According to the flavor text, “Although Demons are a tiny minority, through their great power, magic, and capacity for evil they act as captains, administrators, and governors of many lesser races such as half-men, demi-men, goblins, orcs, and other manish races of darkness.”  The action of the game occurs in the province of Nisshar.  One player controls the forces of the eponymous Demonlord; the other player controls the “Alliance of Hosar, a sun-god cult.” So we have a standard, Manichaean conflict, sun-worshipping “humans and their semi-human allies” fighting against the tyranny of the Demonlord.

The designer of Demonlord is Arnold Hendrick.  (Another of his games, Knights and Magick, is available at Lulu.)  Demonlord itself is available as a free, authorized download.  Shown below is the game's board; a colorful map rendered by David Helber.  On the map, each hex “represents one league (3 to 4 miles).”  Also included are 154 counters representing military units of “about 500 troops” each (including such forces as Pegasus Troopers and Dragon Riders), characters and entourages (including such personalities as the Lord of Erush and the Baron of Barthek), and spells (like 'Forcemarch' and 'Darkness').

Variety in the conflict scenario is provided through several means.  Players have some choice regarding the initial placement of units and spell assignment is random.  In the game there are several 'neutrals' that players can attempt to recruit as allies:

Duchy of Altu'han:  Mountain realm of the cragsmen
Ancients:  Remnants of the lizard-people
Principality of Lyung:  Including the nearly impregnable fortress of the Sorcerer Cloud Prince
Great Woods Barbarians:  Warrior tribes of the forest
The Kingdom of Ula:  The inhabitants of the Mines of Ula are not determined until the are first encountered in any given game.  There's an equal chance of finding either the “Balron” (see below), Trolls, and slave miners, or the Dwarf King, Dwarves, and slave miners.  Either way, you get slave miners – so it's all good.

Either side can also “attempt in invoke certain special demi-gods and spirits.”  The demon side can invoke the pit fiend of Yorgash, a “shaman,” and – at the Temple of Ninnghiz – a random assortment of units including rock men, gargoyles, and a worm lord.  The Hosar side can invoke the “Light Spirit” and the West Wizard.  The side allied with the Ancients can invoke “the Old One character.”  The side allied with the Great Woods Warriors can invoke either the Beast God or the Forest Spirit (equal chance of either).

Additionally, by sacrificing potential victory points, either side can request reinforcements.  The actual reinforcements are selected randomly.  Demon reinforcements come from the Inner Kingdom and include axe goblins and a great dragon.  Hosar reinforcements are mercenary forces and include such mundane units as lancers and crossbowmen.

In the context of a role-playing game, player characters could be Hosar operatives; perhaps on a diplomatic mission to secure an alliance, perhaps urgently acquiring the necessary paraphernalia for an invocation, perhaps rescuing prisoners of war.  The adventure possibilities are myriad.

1 comment:

  1. I bought this as a kid when it came out and still have my copy. I was pretty captivated by all the special units and neutral factions, like the Ancients and hill tribes. Definitely more interesting than a lot of RPG fantasy worlds.