Episodic Adventures and Then Some

So it’s been a while …

As I mentioned over on G+, my wife and I are expecting our first child this June, and her first trimester wasn’t the easiest going for her. Compound that with my new position at work (started in August) starting to ramp up and the result is a lack of blogging.

Continue reading “Episodic Adventures and Then Some”

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Hex Crawl Alphabet: D is for Dwarves

Viking Myke has some wonderful stuff

OK, we know that next hex over has a dwarven settlement of some sort in it. First off, what’s the general purpose of that settlement?

Dwarf Settlement Purpose (d6)
1-3: Mining
4-5: Military
6: Mercantile

Continue reading “Hex Crawl Alphabet: D is for Dwarves”

Hither came Conan… Part 2

Thoth Amon by Dave Simmons

Originally posted by Brianna Heine on the other (now defunct) version of this site.

First off let me apologize for posting this so late. I was sick last week and just didn’t have the capacity to focus on reading and writing.

Many readers of my previous post, understanding that I planned on tackling the topic of systems in this one, suggested a fair number of resources that might assist me in choosing an appropriate system. That being said I really didn’t have all that much time to read everything I wanted to get to. Instead I read reviews and forums on these games and did my best to get a working knowledge of them. It turns out that a lot of developers have already been influenced by the Hyborian Age.

Continue reading “Hither came Conan… Part 2”

Split River: The Word Around Town

deviantART by AlexTooth
In a previous play report, I mentioned that my DCC party is currently based out of the mining town of Split River. In the interest of summing things up before game night (and of having another post this week despite getting my ass kicked at work), here’s a list of knowledge, rumors, and gossip that the party has thus far picked up while hanging around town:
Continue reading “Split River: The Word Around Town”

Under a Dying Sun: Campaigns I’d Like to Run Blog Carnvial

RPGBlogCarnivalLogocopy1-227x300May’s RPG Blog Carnival theme, courtesy of Age of Ravens, is “Campaigns I’d Like to Run.” This is a topic any DM can easily write at length about — perhaps too easily due to the ever-present threat of campaign ADD. And like everyone else, I’ve always got a few ideas for games I’d like to run kicking around in the brain; some are just vague notions and some have some get more developed as they keep boiling back to the surface. This is the campaign I’m most often distracted by lately, and the one I think I’m most likely to run after my current game comes to a close.

Blistered Skin Beneath a Blood-Red Sky

Perhaps because of its Appendix N sword and sorcery vibe, DCC RPG seems like it would be an excellent fit for the Dark Sun campaign setting. Defiling magic can be easily integrated with the existing spellcasting system. Mighty deeds are surely the order of the day for vicious, desert roaming ex-slave gladiators. But I would also be applying a few tweaks to the setting as well to take out some aspects that I don’t really feel fit all that well.

The first area of revision would be the races. Gavin Norman of City of Iron has been doing some great stuff with Ix, his Dark Sun-inspired setting for Labyrinth Lord. In particular, this post on PC races really hits the mark for me. He reduces the race options down to humans, mul, half-giants, and halflings. Humans actually get two different race choices depending on whether they are city-dwellers or desert-dwellers, and halflings remain the feral wild-men of the surviving jungles. The mul and half-giants, however, are recast as “Mool” and “Brutes.” Instead of being half-races of the traditional D&D sort, they become wholly separate races that were created through ancient genetic manipulation to be slaves to the humans. Dwarves and elves are gone altogether. I would definitely be using this as the race mix in my DCC Dark Sun game.

The next thing to be changed would be the removal of the “elemental clerics” from the published setting. Clerics would all fill one of two roles — they are either templars in the service of a sorcerer king or they are druids working to preserve what little of The Green remains in the world. Tying into the second part, such clerics would be the only magical “preservers.” All wizards, regardless of morality or intention, would be “defilers,” as that is simply how their magic works. I guess they could try and plant some shrubs after they cast a spell, but that might be hard when you’ve reduced what passed for soil to lifeless ash.

Psionics remain something of a wild card in my conception of the campaign. I know there are a few systems out there for using psionics in OSR games, and I know that they really are appropriate for the style of setting that Dark Sun evokes. Still, I’m just not sure that I’d want them as prevalent as the published setting makes them or which particular system I’d use.

Other than that, I’d run the setting mostly as presented in the initial boxed set. None of that “Free City of Tyr” would be going down in my game, though, unless the players really set their minds to making it happen. Good luck fighting the sorcerer-king.

Brom, of course
Brom, of course

 

The Sky City of Luen-Shai

by me
by me

Beyond the Realm of 1,000 Valleys lies a vast desert wasteland; it is the grave of the once-mighty Kaizan-Luo Imperium. Only one stronghold of its former glory remains in the entire barren expanse, floating nearly 5,000 feet above the rocks and sand: Luen-Shai, the last Sky City, home to one million surviving denizens of the empire.

No achievement of Kaizan-Luo geomancy was greater than the creation of the ley line dynamos that once held aloft innumerable city-states. The geomancers of Luen-Shai have long since lost the secrets of creation, and strive only to maintain the engines preserving their city. Luen-Shai slowly traces its way across thousands of miles of wasteland (moving roughly one mile a day), following the paths of the ley lines beneath the earth. Endless rivers of arcane waste from the dynamos rain down in its wake. The resulting toxic landscape mixed with the potent magical energy of the ley lines has filled the desert below with hideous mutants and monsters, some of which take flight and have to be repelled from the city by massive cannons.

Within the city walls the high-born and wealthy enjoy a life of feasts and balls amid the ornate metal and glass towers, flitting from one party to the next in small short-range airships. In the slums and tunnels below, the filthy unkempt masses try to scrape by day-to-day. The two worlds are kept separate by the vigilant Raiden-Heishi, elaborate golems animated by enslaved lightning demons.

They look something like this.
They look something like this.

Somewhere in the bowels of the city the geomancers oversee the vast engines with assistance from hordes of strange servant creatures. Rumor has long held that the geomancers have secret ways of leaving and returning to the city to bring back slaves and magical artifacts from distant lands, but if this is so, the wizards keep their secrets well.

Saturday Morning Maps: Atgur Brutal, The Great Swamp

click for the bigness

Stretching for nearly 1,000 miles between the salty marshes at its ends, the Atgur Brutal (“Killer/Death of Men”) stands as a natural barrier between the Atgur Reach and the rest of the northern continent. For centuries Arethi merchants toiled to maintain marked, raised trade routes that would allow safe traversal of the swamp to the Reach, but in the 30 odd years since Iso Kharu’s Wrath the swamp has nearly erased these paths.

Countless creatures call the swamp their home, including intelligent beings such as bullywugs and lizard-men. By far the most dominant humanoid swamp dwellers are the rat-men, who once had a great city of their own in the depths of the swamp.

An Infinity of Infinities: If I Ruled the Multiverse D&D Next Blog Carnival

5ePlanes

From Rich Green’s intro post:

Imagine Mike Mearls has given you the job of coming up with the #dndnext cosmology. What would you keep from prior editions and what would you bin?

I was kindly invited to join in the blog carnival after my Planescape post; thanks Rafael! So, as to the question above, my answer to the question of what would I keep from previous editions is “very, very little.”

OK, that’s not entirely accurate. I’d still have demons, devils, elementals, fey, Sigil, and Spelljammers. There’s be plenty of other ideas carried over as well, I’m sure. But my framing of it all at a high level would be very different from previous editions. Instead of the classic “Great Wheel” model or the “World Axis” of 4th Edition (about which I honestly know very little), I would present a basic overview of the multiverse similar to the Snowflake/Bleed model of Warren Ellis’s Wildstorm comics.

Basically, there are an infinite number of universes, each of them infinite in itself but also connected by an equally infinite extradimensional space. Let’s say that extradimensional space is the Astral Plane or Astral Sea. It permeates all universes and also exists outside of them. Travelling the Astral Sea, most commonly by means of a Spelljamming ship, is how one can travel between any of these universes. Some universes are so similar in function and form that everyone has the same name and similar lives, save that all of the good guys have goatees and are evil. Some universes are incredibly alike in function, but not in form (the Forgotten Realms, Eberron, or Greyhawk).

But there are some universes that function in completely different ways, and sometimes these universes “bump” up against each other in the Astral Sea and stay that way for an unfathomably long time. If the beings from one of these universes are powerful enough relative to the beings in one of the others, then they are perceived as gods.

This super-macro view of reality would only be vaguely guessed at by the most mindblowingly brilliant sages in the most advanced of D&D settings. The view from the ground, so to speak, remains largely unchanged. Maybe in the Realms, the Great Wheel model dominates scholarly thought, whereas in Sigil the multiverse is seen as an infinite city. This brings me to another point, though — what does the cosmology of my “default” D&D setting look like?

I would actually use a pretty basic dualist approach, as that works quite well with the mythology-oriented functions of the rules (clerics, undead, etc.). There’s a Heaven blessed by the Divine Light, guarded by angels and attended to by saints and prophets. There’s a Hell damned by the Infernal Darkness, littered with imps and lorded over by demon and devil princes. There be a realm of Faerie/Feywild and something like the Shadowfell would exist, and it would be quite possible to wander into them by accident and not realize until it’s too late. The Shadowfell would be a sinister realm of heightened horror that appears much like the “normal” world, à la Ravenloft. The Underdark would have a bit more of a mythic underworld vibe. The most important thing is that it’s simple and lightweight; leave the heavy exploration of multiversal theory for the supplemental material.

Gods of the Age of Ruins, Part II

Continued from here, and with credits at the end. Happy Thanksgiving to all!

Photoshopped from an original image by Ingrid Taylar

Arcanus (Lord of Magic, Gatekeeper to Endless Realms) and Rukma (Lord of the Void, Sentinel of the Outer Dark)
The gods of the twin moons hold dominion over the arcane energies that infuse the world and allow the well-studied to manipulate magic. Arcanus is believed to be the source from which all magic emenates; he dwells at the crossroads of all places and is said to be able to open the way to an infinite number of other worlds. When the larger moon reaches apex, the invisible “ley lines” that infuse the earth create brilliant auroras in the sky above. From what little is known of the so-called “high elves” of Evenyore, they seem to revere Arcanus as a creator, since their emissaries have remarked that they “come from Arcanus.” Rukma is believed to keep magic in check, limiting to what end men can utilize its power and punishing those who fail to properly execute arcane formulae; he dwells at the edge of of places, keeping guard agains the alien powers that dwell in the black seas of Chaos beyond all knowing. It is said that the towering volcano in the northwest is a fragment of the smaller moon that fell to the earth, and that is why magic grow weaker as one moves to the heart of the surrounding badlands.

Vollund (The Heartless Storm, The Seething Maelstrom)
The name of Vollund is invoked in prayers of pleading pity, as all fear his boundless rage, yet without his rains nothing can grow. Even though the wood elves largely revere Iso Kharu, they believe themselves to be the children of the Heartless Storm; a great gathering storm at the edge of a forest is often an omen of wood elf raids. It is said venturing into ocean waters is a blasphemy in the eyes of Vollund, and that is why raging waves and gargantuan beasts destroy any boat that leaves the water of the rivers and enters the sea.

Typhostrum (The King Beyond the Bladed Winds, The Master of Dragons)
The immortal being that called itself Typhostrum dwelt in a palace of ice beyond the glacial sea of the east. From there it whispered into the dreams of the men dwelling in the eastern lands, and taught them the secrets of taming dragons that they might ride the beasts through the Bladed Winds and come to worship at its feet. With mastery over dragons and other fouler secrets of Typhostrum, the Dracatur Empire rose in the east, ever-threatening the lands to the west and defiling the villages of the Arcturun Hills. The might of the mutated serpent-priests and dragon riders of Dracatur reigned in fear for 1,000 years until a fateful day of reckoning now four decades past. The sky above Typhostrum’s palace opened, revealing a blinding brilliance, and the endless howling of the Bladed Winds ceased. For a moment, it was as if the whole world was still. And then a vast pillar of flame, said by some to resemble the shape of a bears paw, rained down upon the Master of Dragons, destroying its palace and killing the would-be god. Within days, the armies of Iso Kharu’s Wrath poured forth from the Arcuturn Hills and began their great crusade.

Credits

Iso Kharu …. Alex Rivera

Malroth …. Joe Salamone

The Virtuous Trinity …. Bob Krol

Arcanus & Rukma …. Mike Schmidt

Vollund …. Mike Goodman

Typhostrum …. Pierce Hacking

The Worlds of 2nd Ed: Planescape

My first encounter with a setting that wasn’t featured on the inside front cover of my PHB came in May 1995, a few days after my birthday. I had money to spend, so of course I headed to the mall to grab some CDs at Sam Goody and browse the FLGS. Sitting there on a shelf in the D&D section was something that looked like no D&D product I had ever seen — even the Dark Sun box set seemed more like familiar fantasy, given that 80s cartoons had their share of post-apocalyptic sword and sorcery. At first glance, Planescape looked like the bastard child of a D&D box and a Nine Inch Nails album cover. Given that I was freshly 16 and it was 1995, that meant I grabbed it and bought it without a second thought.

Planescape, for all that I loved it and frankly still do, certainly does reek of TSR desperately grabbing at the stylistic flourishes of 90s culture, both within and without the gaming world. There’s a certain proto-steampunk vibe to the City of Doors, and the Factions are essentially D&D’s version of World of Darkness Clans or Tribes.

Still, as silly and tacked-on as the D&D multiverse cosmology can sometimes feel, Planescape turned into something awesomely fun. These games were wild dashes across realities, full of colorful characters and and insane backdrops. Planescape is one of the few settings that I probably spent more time playing than running after 1994, so that may also be a factor in my fond recollection.

The other thing that Planescape seriously had going for it was Tony DiTerlizzi. His distinctive style combined with some Brian Froud-influenced design made the setting look like the most kickass Jim Henson movie never made. Any time I bought a Planescape book that wasn’t dominated by DiTerlizzi illustrations, I was severely disappointed. Fortunately, he did the bulk of the monster work, along with a good amount of work for Dragon Magazine and various other mid-90s TSR publications. To this day he remains one of my absolute favorite fantasy artists.

This will probably be the final post in this particular series, so here are my quick thoughts on the other TSR-published settings of AD&D 2nd Edition:

  • Spelljammer: A cool concept with some flaws in execution. The Planejammer site is a very cool take on the D&D multiverse philosophy.
  • Dragonlance: I read the first few books; I’m not a hater, but I’m not exactly a fan either. As far as the box set was concerned, I thought it was one of the worst presented products I had ever encountered.
  • Birthright: I’m more impressed now with the setting than I was at the time, though not so much for the world but the good design for domain-level play. The world is a bit cooler than I originally gave it credit for, though.
  • Kara-Tur, The Horde, and Maztica: None of these semi-independent settings that were added to the Forgotten Realms world hit the sweet spot of Al-Qadim, though I like the principal behind them all. Oriental Adventures for 3E and Legend of the Five Rings are much better takes on Asian fantasy. I still don’t know if I’ve seen a good Mesoamerican fantasy setting.
  • Greyhawk: Outside of the flavor of the setting present in spell names and the Book of Artifacts, I never actually played or read anything Greyhawk-related until the very late 90s, when WoTC did a few Greyhawk things during the dying days of 2E, and then did some 3E Greyhawk gaming when the new rules first dropped. Having read up a lot on the setting in the past couple years, I’m glad I never engaged with the 2nd Ed version, though I’ve been really tempted to purchase the original World of Greyhawk box (published when I was 15 months old) off of ebay. I’m holding off, though; $40-$50 for a D&D box I’d mostly just ogle doesn’t seem like the wisest investment.