Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Collectanea Creaturae

I am definitely not a big fan of kickstarter-advertised products. I'd rather an author wrote his or her product, play-tested it, found a publisher, and made it available to us in dead tree format through our Favourite Local Gaming Shop.

However, I also know that 99% of rpg authors have a day job, and the 'normal' procedure above may not always work out for them. Thus, in spite of being fully aware of the harsh realities in the life of a non-professional rpg author (hey, I am one of them, after all), I still do avoid kickstarters because they're usually not delivered on time — If and when they are delivered: most of them seem not to be, if one is to believe all the stories that get mentioned here and there.

This having been said, I sprang to my credit card when I saw the kickstarter for Collectanea Creaturae by Travis Casey and Julian Stanley. Travis and Julian have consistently been posting excellent stuff over at the Monsters & Magic community on Google+ (I love their Alchemist sub-class), so a book of monsters for M&M by them was a no-brainer.

At the moment, the kickstarter is fully funded by the current level of pledges. However you may want to jump on the bandwagon, especially if you live across the pond— the $25 level of pledge gets you a dead tree version of the book rather than the PDF. Unfortunately I did not choose that particular level because of the extra cost of shipping to Europe ($20). Sigh.

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Armour Class Conversions

It used to be simple. There was only one rule set, and it had descending armour class (descending— why, oh why?)

Then the OSR came, and each rule set had its own way to compute armour class — and it was usually ascending. I am hence providing you a small table to convert from classic fantasy AC to the values used in my favourite OSR systems:

Monday, 30 September 2013

Hacking Death Frost Doom — A Compilation

I intend to run a "hacked" version of Death Frost Doom to make it suit my style of play and to customise it to my campaign world. I know several GMs have done a similar job before so I have started investigating on the 'net and found a lot of good input. I am certainly not going to use of all the following suggestions, especially since some of these ideas are mutually exclusive, but I think having them all in one place can be useful for future reference [I'm actually surprised no-one did this before].

Obviously, the following selection is CHOCK-FULL OF SPOILERS so please do not read it if you are going to be a player; that would definitely spoil your fun.

From the Dungeon of Signs:

1) Make the Crypt Map Less Linear – The actual crypts in Death Frost Doom are on a grid that shouts out “this is not the point of the adventure” – some looping sections, steps and oddly shaped rooms would help. This would also make mapping more interesting – and I think requiring the party to map would really help the end game rush as the adventurers attempt to find their way out. A map that provided a logical place to hold off the undead horde would be amusing as well, while it’s equally obvious that a party can’t hold off thousands of undead, some place with clear barricades and maybe a narrow causeway over a pit of even more undead would taunt players into trying and being forced to retreat.


4) Re-skin it All! – Perhaps a necessity for using Death Frost Doom for grognard OSR types. This adventure is easy to re-skin with all sorts of touches. Cultural glosses are the easiest. Viking style tombs shaped like dragon ships with knotwork and evil runes carved everywhere, Egypt flavoured dusty tombs beneath a graveyard of burning sand, a Qín Dynasty terracotta army (with non-historical skeletons inside of course) and monumental bronzes in Shāng style, or a perhaps a Meso-American gloss. All would be easy enough to add, and suggest ways to conceal the fact that this is Death Frost Doom from a group that is in the know. As a general idea I think a re-skinning Death Frost Doom to fit one’s own game world is important as the events at the end of the adventure will be campaign changing. Death Frost Doom’s best elements (the trapped doors and strange curses) can be slapped onto anything without losing any impact, so re-skinning makes a lot of sense.

5) Make the Undead more Interesting – When the party flees from the crypts and across the graveyard pursued by scrambling hordes of undead, it seems worthwhile to add a variety of strange dead to encounter. Yes there are child corpses and ghouls, but there isn’t much more here. It’s just boring “ewww a dead guy” – which in D&D is a monster that does not actually inspire fear or revulsion. A table of abominations (chanting lines of undead pilgrims stitched together like centipedes, ghost hounds, corpses with grafted on stone, animal or metal parts, spectral presences, scuttling skeletal hands etc, etc.) would be nice to help run the escape.

6) Change the “cult cabin” – There is much discussion within the module about an entire ancient evil nation, yet the cabin above ground is straight out of Evil Dead. This is a lovely homage to those haunted cabin movies, but really it doesn’t get with the underground shrine so well – unless one were to re-skin the whole shrine as some kind of hillbilly nightmare of crude mineshaft style construction and sacrificial victims in flour sack body bags. A cabin would be fine, but its accoutrements (while excellent) don’t really feel connected to the tombs below. It might be something as simple as making the cabin a new addition with some ancient stonework as its basis to give the idea that the evil but inconsequential cult that was run out by villagers a generation ago was connected to some kind of ancient evil. Anyway this connection would work better if it was more concrete as otherwise the descent into the tombs is a jarring switch.

From Necropraxis:

Necropraxis replaces the cabin with an abandoned tower. I will definitely use this modification.

From Fighting Fantasist:

Coopdevil suggests quite a critical hack by removing the susurrus-emitting monster and replacing it altogether with something else.


Now we have a wizened old immortal, perhaps one of the very first members of the cult back in Ye Olde Days. He sits in room 22 playing a bone flute. This can be heard everywhere in the dungeon that the original susurrus could. He has sat there since time immemorial playing his bone flute very badly, awaiting the day that a new Grandmaster of the cult will arrive and declare that is time for HELL TO VOMIT FORTH ITS FILTH. This has never happened in the past. But the eschatology of the cult says that it will one day. Maybe the Grandmaster doesn't know he's the Grandmaster. Maybe he was living the carefree life of a murder hobo dungeon bastard right up until the point where he made the music stop. Who knows? Duvan'Ku moves in mysterious ways.

If the PCs try to talk to him he will carry on playing his flute. Should they make moves to attack him he will stop, ask "Are you sure? Are you really sure?" and if they are sure he'll just shrug and let himself be hacked down (1hp which should shock and worry any player who thought that this was THE BIG END OF LAST LEVEL BOSS and was preparing accordingly).


Another tiny problem I have is that there is a chimney up from room 22 clearly intended to be an emergency exit from, basically, the shitstorm that the PCs have just caused. This is claimed to be difficult to find from the surface (i.e., you must use DM's fiat to stop them finding it or the scenario will be fucked) but as we know, what is intended purely as an exit sometimes get used as an entrance as well. The chimney is partly blocked by susurrus brambles but the scenario is quiet on what exactly it would take to clear this and what, if any, this effect would have upon the susurussy noise. It strikes me that this was put in more in hope than expectation that the PCs don't find it. A bit scruffy.

Also why would you have a secret door in room 22 that requires a human sacrifice to open (this is good), alongside another secret door that, err, doesn't require a human sacrifice to open and leads to exactly the same corridor? I would cut out the linking N/S 10' of tunnel that links room 23 to the likes of rooms 24, 25 etc. or have the ritual open both.

From Untimately:

The first problem I noticed was a number of "site only" magic items. By site only, I mean items that might cause problems in a long-running campaign, either because they are too powerful or might otherwise upset some aspect of game balance. I detest this practice. It reminds me of using thieves to steal magic items back from PCs. One room in the cabin has two examples of this (page 8 in the print copy). The first is a mirror that doesn't show chaotic (or evil) characters:

    The mirror looses its magic if it is moved, but will regain its power if replaced in this spot.

The second is a clock that can stop time:

    Removing the clock from the wall or damaging it in any way permanently removes its magic (even placing it back on the wall will not restore it).

There is not really any narrative grounding why either of these items work this way, and certainly nothing that the PCs could discover (without resorting to DM improvisation). If the mirror was used to detect spies, why would that only be useful in one location? If you're going to put something interesting into a module, and PCs are creative enough to liberate it, they should be able to use it. If it is of a nature that would be problematic in a campaign, then it should not be included at all. There are much better ways to handle this, such having a limited number of uses. Or, in the case of the mirror, why not have a pond, or a fountain, that only reflects lawful and neutral characters? How do you move a pond? And yet, the restriction does not feel contrived (it doesn't even feel like a restriction).

I plan to leave the mirror in, but it will work anywhere. The mirror itself will be a full size heavily gilded standing mirror, so it will be difficult to transport. This might end up becoming an interesting campaign item if the players are able to recover it. And it might also prompt me to think more about how alignment works in this particular campaign. I will probably just remove the magic properties from the clock. I need to think about this a bit more, because there may be ways that enterprising PCs could use the clock to forestall the the module endgame, and I don't think there is any need to make this module harder.

Tales of the Grotesque and the Dungeonesque didn't like the clock either. Here is the suggested solution:

What I find problematic about the clock, especially if it is adjusted forward, is that it effectively splits the party and creates a headache for the GM who now must run two adventures along two divergent time-lines.

My hack for this is simple: moving the hands on the clock causes the room to suddenly go dark... an outline of a door appears against a wall in fearful luminescence... and out of that unholy portal steps... THE CHRONO-CRONE!

Please refer to the original post for details on how to use this new creature with the adventure.

From A Dungeon Master's Tale:

The party never got to hear Zeke's warnings because they discovered him cold and stiff amongst his bed-things, such as they were.  He died of natural causes, however, so went in relative dignity.  They found his craftwork, and the animal skins and the nearby pile of guts and even some strange writing in the characters of the Duvan' Ku.   In this manner Zeke presented a puzzle to solve while still establishing the tone and beginning the building of tension.   No wild eyed prophecies of certain doom.  Just subtle hints at it.  Death suited him.

I also deep-sixed the entire Greater Tombs area including any mention or appearence of Cyris Maximus.   You might be saying to yourself, "Well hell, that changes everything then." and in a way I suppose you're right.  I felt like the entire encounter was not only unnecessary but actually detracted from what I considered to be a nearly perfectly constructed situation up until that point.
So instead of the greater tombs area and the danger awaiting them there a single secret door from area 22 led instead to an escape tunnel that led out the sheer side of the mountain.  The party with enough rope, enough balls and enough luck might make it out alive that way.

[Personal note: while I can understand this, I think the presence of Cyris can add heaps of role-playing potential to the adventure, see for instance James Maliszewski's play report here]

Also, TPK is all well and good for an OSR adventure, but sometimes crippling characters is more fun than killing them. Several blogs, comments, etc. have suggested inflicting random mut[il]ations instead of outright killing the characters.

Added on 1 October 2013: Death Frost Doom has also been covered by Claytonian JP on his Kill It With Fire! blog, with a beautiful isometric map:

and with also a flute-playing chap in lieu of the susurrus-emitting plant monster:
I still had a plant hanging down blocking the way to the giant skeleton room, but it does not susurrate. Instead, there is an ancient old man that ceaselessly pipes away on a flute in 21. He has an extra flute in his coat and will offer it while still playing. Any player that takes it up is cursed to play until a new flautist comes.

Added on 10 August 2014: Billy Goes to Mordor has added a roster of various undead monsters to add diversity to the undead horde.

Monday, 17 June 2013

the Bektaşis

This is a companion blog entry to the Janissary.

The Bektaşi Sufi order is a syncretic Sufi order that originated in Persia but is now firmly established in the Empire of the Crescent Moon. The order emphasises the esoteric aspects of the Way of the Crescent Moon; as a result, it is viewed with much suspicion (if not downright hatred and/or fear) by the average cleric and faithful of the Way of the Crescent Moon. As with other Sufi orders, the Bektaşis go through a secret initiation ceremony; once accepted, they must swear total obeisance to the leader of their tekke (fortified shrine), called the baba.

Hakikat, which means 'Truth', is an essential element in the esoteric teachings of the Bektaşi Sufi order. In gaming terms, Hakikat is the ability to see the Truth through God, e.g., invisible beings, illusions, etc. This is an action that requires a minor effect on a WIS action check.

Mârifetullâh, which means 'Knowledge', is the term used by the Bektaşis to describe the mystical intuitive knowledge reached through ecstatic experience rather than revealed or rationally acquired. In gaming terms, Mârifetullâh is the ability for the PC to get information about some unknown topic through a mystical trance. This is an action that requires a major effect on a WIS action check.

The Bektaşi Sufi order as a role-playing clerical cult:
Temple traits: Protect the order, Obey the baba
Worshippers' Alignment: Lawful Good, Lawful Neutral, Lawful Evil/Worshippers' Allegiance: Crescent Moon
Temple Weapon: Scimitar.
Spheres of Activity: Loyalty, Mysticism, War.
Powers: Hakikat (see above), Mârifetullâh (heroic scale, see above), Mind link with fellow brethren and with the baba (epic scale)
Holy Symbol: Open Holy Book.
Spells: Followers of the Bektaşi Sufi order favour spells that are useful in war (damage, protection), and knowledge-related spells.

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Monsters & Magic Is Out!

Monsters & Magic is available at last! For me it is the fantasy role-playing that bridges the gap between the 'Old' and 'New School' types of play — types of play that are complementary and not irreconcilable, by the way. I actually wonder why no-one had thought of such a system before.

The game is only available in PDF format on DriveThru at the moment, but again it's definitely the ruleset I recommend to everyone in the OSR movement, even if they prefer dead tree (the hardcopy version, by Chronicle City, should be available in August). I let the author, Sarah Newton, present her work:

Monsters & Magic is an “Old School Renaissance” fantasy role-playing game with a difference. Combining the atmosphere of classic fantasy games with modern RPG mechanics, it lets you use old school fantasy gaming material with little or no conversion [賈尼— basically: armour class and, in some cases, hit points] with a new and innovative set of rules [賈尼— this is actually the genius idea: it's a brand-new system, but it uses the well-known tropes of the most famous classic frp]. Battle giants, defeat dragons, explore deadly dungeons and mysterious wilderlands — and bring your favourite adventures, supplements, spellbooks, and bestiaries to brilliant new life!

This complete fantasy role-playing game features:

✠ the Effect Engine, a modular open-licence rules system
✠ action-packed adventure from 1st to 20th level and beyond
✠ rules for castles, kingdoms, guilds, and warships
Silvermoon, an introductory adventure for levels 1-4
✠ new rules for alignment, hazards, encounters, treasures, epic and mythic gaming, and more!

I have posted two blog entries with regards to Monsters & Magic: a new cult, and a new sub-class. You may have a look at them to get the gist of the system, plus there are almost 20 pages of preview on DriveThru.

Also, check out Sarah's great interview here, with a good view into her vision of the game, and a few hints at future products!

Friday, 31 May 2013

the Janissary – a new fighter sub-class for Monsters & Magic

Secondary Attribute
picture by yasinyayli from deviantArt


Starting Money

The Janissaries are an élite fighting order of the Empire of the Crescent Moon, largely influenced by the beliefs of the Bektaşi Sufi order. The Janissaries are gathered through the Knabenlese system, whereby children of True Faith families within the Empire of the Crescent Moon are taken from their family, converted to the Way of the Crescent Moon, and trained to become exceptional soldiers.
Every five years, the recruiters in charge of the Knabenlese system scour the lands far to the south of the Fair Kingdom for the strongest sons of the sultan's True Faith subjects. These boys, usually between the ages of 10 and 12, are then taken from their parents and given to Crescent Moon families of the region to learn their language, customs, and religion. These boys are then enrolled in Janissary training, supervised 24 hours a day, and subjected to severe discipline, amongst others: prohibition from growing a beard, from taking up any skill other than war, or marrying. The Janissaries are extremely well-disciplined (a rarity in the armies of the region).

You must be any lawful alignment and/or have the Way of the Crescent Moon allegiance; you lose your janissary status if you drift to a different alignment/allegiance, instead becoming a fighter. You only associate with like-minded characters, and may only work with unlike-minded characters for a very focused, single-purpose mission, quest, or adventure, and never in the employ of non-Crescent Moon patrons. You must evenly divide 90% of any treasure you receive or of any loot you find between the Janissary corps and the Bektaşi Sufi order, and you may only use the remaining 10% to buy military gear or military-related training.

Janissary Traits
Use Light and Medium Armour and Shields
Weapons Training: as fighter
Arquebus: you are the only fighters equipped with this firearm (1D10 damage instead of 1D8)
Enemy of the Infidels
Esprit de corps: you work better when surrounded by fellow janissaries
Personal hygiene: you have a reputation for personal hygiene, at a time when this is still an 'option'; a a result, you are less likely to contract maladies.

Janissary Advancements
✠ Pose as a True Faith fighter
Sniper: you double your DEX bonus when using the arquebus from a place where you cannot be seen
Lover (heroic scale): since you cannot marry, you may develop a deep homoerotic bond with a fellow janissary, who will do his utmost to protect you; this lover functions as a sidekick (q.v.)
Clerical Magic (epic scale): begin to acquire clerical spells as a 1st level cleric, increasing by 1 level per level thereafter
✠ Tekke (epic scale): establish and preside over a militarised Sufi shrine

Other Advancements
✠ Damage Focus stance
Fighting Lore: as fighter
Devotion To Deity: as cleric
Other Traits From Deity: as cleric
✠ Steady Aim stance

Janissary Character Sheets
Use the custom box to list special effects, clerical spells, and other advancements.

Tuesday, 14 May 2013


Back when The Dragon was the magazine for our hobby, I immensely enjoyed reading the whimsical Wormy comics, with its nice reversal of the roles (the hero is a dragon, and his buddies are all monsters) and cool attitude (smoking cigars and playing snooker were his top activities).
The whole Wormy run on The Dragon is now available from this web-site. Enjoy!

Thank you Imaginos for the link!

Thursday, 28 March 2013

Saint Elizabeth

St Elizabeth is by far the most popular female saint throughout the Fair Kingdom. Her name is the most popular given name across all classes— there is a big chance any woman your party meets will be called 'Elizabeth', irrespective of whether she's a humble peasant, a handmaid, or a noblewoman. The Blood Countess herself is called Elizabeth!

The historical Elizabeth was a 13th century princess of the Fair Kingdom, born in Pressburg, who was betrothed to a Landgrave of the Empire of the One Faith when she was 4 and he was 11. They married ten years later and had three children. Her husband departed to fight against the Empire of the Crescent Moon when she was pregnant with their third child, but he died on his way to war. After his death, Elizabeth left the court, made arrangements for the care of her children, and renounced the world to take care of the sick and the poor, until her death at the age of 24. She was canonised 4 years later, based on several miracles, the most famous of which is the miracle of the roses.

The legend of St Elizabeth's Miracle of the Roses
(from Wikipedia)
One day the young but pious St Elizabeth, in the company of one or more serving women, descends from her castle down to the village below the castle. She is carrying meat, eggs, and bread under her mantle. Supposedly she has taken items from the family dining table to distribute to the poor in the village, against the wishes of her family, who frown upon such behaviour. Halfway down, she unexpectedly meets her husband, who asks, upon seeing her bulk, what she is carrying. Embarrassed and speechless as she is, she does not know what to say. The Landgrave opens her mantle, and to his surprise (in some versions this takes place in the dead of winter) finds her carrying a bouquet of roses.

Pilgrimages to her grave drew as many people as those to Compostela, until they were halted by the New Wayers in 1539 by the forcible removal of St Elizabeth's relics.

St Elizabeth as a role-playing clerical cult:
Temple traits: Cure The Sick, Feed The Poor
Alignment: Lawful Good/Allegiance: Old Way
Temple Weapon: None.
Spheres of Activity: Charity, Chastity, Humility, Patience.
Power: Miracles of healing work at her grave in the church of the hospital she founded after becoming a widow.
Holy Symbol: Rose(s).
Spells: Clerics of St Elizabeth (they are all female) cannot cast any offensive spells or, more generally, any spells that may cause damage to the world.
Allied cults:
- allied with  the Third Order of St Francis
- allied with the Teutonic Order, which adopted St Elizabeth as its secondary patroness

A Seeress

Another beautiful panting by John William Waterhouse (1849-1917): The Crystal Ball (1902).

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Flashing Blades — News At Last

The following is almost taken verbatim from the Hill Cantons blog. Just in case you should've missed it. I think it's an important pierce of news, so sorry if you've already read this! Also this piece of news is (according to Hill Cantons) from the author of Flashing Blades himself, Mark Pettigrew.

"FGU already agrees that I [Mark Pettigrew] own the rights to Flashing Blades [this development is possibly a result of FGU's losing a case against the original authors of Villains & Vigilantes, which FGU was selling without the authors' consent, and without giving them any royalties!]. I'm even receiving (very small) royalties cheques again, after a 20-some year hiatus. I think I mentioned this before, but again, all of you are free to write, publish, etc. whatever you want for Flashing Blades without worrying about copyright. I'm happy that people are still enjoying the game."

Although it is centred on 17th century France, Flashing Blades is also a rules set I would recommend for running a Renaissance game, on top of LotFP (for a gloomer campaign setting), Renaissance (for a more realistic set of rules), and Monsters & Magic (my personal favourite at the moment).

Monday, 18 March 2013

Firearms in LotFP — Semi-Official Rule (of sorts)

Lamentations of the Flame Princess Weird Fantasy Role-Playing (aka LotFP) is an Old School Renaissance role-playing game whose mechanisms are derived from those of the world's most famous fantasy role-playing game.

Several tropes of said classic role-playing game, however, are given a markedly different treatment in LotFP. To me, the most saliently divergent elements (and the reasons I love this game) are:
1. Although LotFP doesn't provide a default campaign world, the published adventures emphasise a humanocentric setting, as opposed to one with Tolkienesque demi-humans.
2. The rules explicitly advocate a paucity of monsters (there isn't even a bestiary), as opposed to the well-known over-abundance of critters in other OSR role-playing games.
3. The game is exceptionally deadly to player characters.
4. There is a general Renaissance feeling about the published material (art & adventures), as opposed to a pseudo-mediæval one again in most other OSR role-playing games.

Now with regards to point No.4 above, if you say 'Renaissance' you're also saying black powder and firearms. Alas, nor the LotFP core books nor the published adventures contemplate any rules for firearms. I have hence asked James Edward Raggi IV on G+ to give me some guidelines. Not only did he provide some guidelines, but he's also allowed me to post them here!

So, with no further ado, here are James' guidelines:

1d8 damage, ignore 5 points of armour. Rate of fire once/combat.

As a further bonus, a link to the Firearms Fumbles table from the Dungeon of Signs blog.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Monsters & Magic — A New Old School RPG

Sarah Newton (well known for a zillion works, but especially for her Mindjammer novel and her Achtung! Cthulhu line of supplements) has been working since last year on a very innovative set of rules that will fill the gap between Old School and, er, new school (do they have a name?) role-playing games.

This new role-playing game is called Monsters & Magic, and I have been lucky enough to be involved in its play tests since the very beginning. I can guarantee that the system is terrific, very scalable, and that it will appeal to grognards and sophisticated gamers alike.

The extra bonus is that Sarah has striven to keep M&M backwards compatible with the most popular fantasy role-playing game, meaning that you will be able to re-use all the heaps of modules and supplements that you've been accumulating for years, as well as all the great stuff that the OSR movement is publishing these days.

M&M will be published by Sarah's own Mindjammer Press, and will be printed and distributed by Chronicle City [if I have understood the press release correctly].

An additional bonus is that M&M will feature great art (look at the gorgeous cover by Jason Juta!) and... British spelling!

Sunday, 3 March 2013

A Witch

click to enlarge
Very inspirational... Magic Circle (1886), by the talented Pre-Raphaelite painter John William Waterhouse!

Edit 16/10/2014− I am adding a link to a fan-made 13th Age character class called... THE WITCH!
While wizards use carefully studied symbology and an occult grammatical system to work magic, and sorcerers draw intuitively upon the icons' power and the magic hidden within their own blood, witches tread a different, less direct path to arcane mastery. True, they often study occult lore, and some even manage to learn a few wizard spells. True, it is not uncommon for a witch to have a magical birthright that sets her forth on her journey or an unexpected link to one or more of the icons. But the witch sees each of these systems and links as a mere tool — one in a much larger toolbox that is well worth exploring. Beyond these basic starting points, the witch looks for the magical connections that these methods share and that bind all things, and she calls upon those beings that understand such phenomena better than she does. She does not limit herself to one narrow system, but pragmatically accepts each gift of arcane learning that Fate and the other occult powers send her way.

In time, the witch learns many useful tricks — spells, of course, but also hexes. The latter can be used with greater frequency, by deferring the arcane cost to another time — or another being.  Most critically, by sensing the strands of Fate, she tries to work with them, instead of against them, taking the subtle path of least resistance to achieve her goals. Sadly, this may bring her to the attention of other beings that take an interest in Fate, as well as those exotic powers that she calls upon, from time to time, in pursuit of lore. For the witch, this is a small price to pay, to gain a deeper understanding of the most hidden workings of the universe.

Monday, 14 January 2013

Swiss Mercenaries

I have been reading the French translation of an interesting article published in Die Zeit about the history of Swiss mercenaries [Schweizer Söldner: Immer zu Diensten]. I understand the article itself is just a summary of a fully-fledged book written by Jost Auf der Maur and published by Echtzeit about this very topic, titled Söldner für Europa, Mehr als eine Schwyzer Familiengeschichte ('Soldiers for Europe, more than a Swiss family history').
Here are a few notes I've jotted down, for the enjoyment of those who like their mediaeval fantasy gritty!

Between the 13th and the 18th century, the Swiss served as mercenaries throughout Europe. They were notoriously thievish, carousing, and rubble rousing.

They were known to:
  • Use fat from their victims' bellies as shoeshine
  • Cut off their victims' feet with an axe
  • Eat their victims' heart
  • Put on their enemies' uniforms to dupe them
  • Kill their prisoners
  • Only use noms de guerre, like Pityless, Headhunter or The Terrible

A Swiss mercenary made £18 per month when a well-off farmer only earned about half this money, which explains why up to 25% of all Swiss were serving abroad as mercenaries at any given time.

Life as a mercenary was not all perks, though. Less than half of those who left returned, and these veterans were often maimed drunkards unable to lead a normal life in a peaceful country. The few lucky ones, however, who came back both healthy and rich helped Switzerland become the wealthy neutral country it is today.

Link: An interview with Jost Auf der Maur.