Sunday, December 31, 2017

Looking Ahead to 2018

Every once in a while, I find it helpful to take a step back and list out the things I've got cooking. It helps me prioritize, and gives my friends and fans a chance to see what might be coming. Of course, this isn't set in stone, especially the stuff out in the later part of the year, but it's the direction I'm planning on moving.

January: As previously announced. the Kickstarter for the new Castle of the Mad Archmage module starts tomorrow. In addition to the normal pdf version, there will also be an exclusive, 100-copy-only hand-made and signed hard copy. I'm pretty sure these will go quickly, so you might want to jump on it quickly. The Kickstarter goes live at noon Eastern time tomorrow.

In addition, I will be making available a series of extracts from the Adventures Dark and Deep Players Manual. These will be booklets on the Bard, Jester, Mystic, Savant, and Mountebank. Each will have the full class description and all the spells for that class. The idea is that if you're playing one of those classes, it'll be a handy reference to have at the table, so you won't have to wade through the entire Players Manual to find your spells. It'll also be good for people who just want to add a specific class or two to their 1E, LL, S&W, or other old-school game.

February-May: Work continues on finishing up the DM's Guide to Greyhawk 576. I'm getting the hang of converting 1E and 2E monsters to 5E. Once that's done, I'll start moving on to other areas of Oerik outside of the Flanaess. Zindia first, and the Baklunish Basin next. Of course, until Wizards of the Coast opens up Greyhawk on, it's all an academic exercise, but if they ever do, I'll be loaded for bear.

June-December: Now I'm getting pretty speculative. I've been thinking about a science fiction game for a long time. For some reason, most sci-fi games tend to be skill (or mutation!) based, rather than class based. What I'm thinking of is a sci-fi RPG based on the 1E/Adventures Dark and Deep system. So it would have races and classes, and an xp-buy skill system. It would also be generic, rather than being tied to a specific setting. Whether it would be a White Star-style space opera, or a Mutant Future-style post-apocalyptic game, remains to be seen.

Alternatively, I've also been itching to do a real hex-and-counter wargame based on the Battles of Hastings and Stamford Bridge, with the outcome of the one influencing the setup of the other. Loose too many troops at Stamford Bridge, and the English won't be able to take on the Normans at Hastings.

Time will tell.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

New Year's Eve's Gone By

When I was a kid growing up in New Jersey, naturally we watched television out of New York City. This was back in the 70's, when there were only three networks (2, 4, and 7) and three independent channels (5, 9, and 11).

But what I remember most about New Year's Eve wasn't the ball dropping on television, but rather the movies that were played. I have no idea why, but channels 5 and 11 always played either Yellow Submarine or 2001: A Space Odyssey.

I've decided to celebrate both my long-past youth and the holiday by watching both films this year on the eve of the new year. We had planned to have people over to celebrate, but bronchitis has swept through the house, and we'll have a small, cough-filled, family celebration this year.

With Chinese food. That's the other tradition. You always have Chinese food on New Year's Eve.

Happy New Year, everyone.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

More Castle of the Mad Archmage Coming in January

It is with great pleasure that I can announce a new expansion to the Castle of the Mad Archmage will Kickstart in January. But this is going to be something special.

On Level 5 of the castle dungeons*, there is a magical gate to a land of living music, where if the PCs enter,
"...they will be taken to a pocket universe where musical instruments are alive, all language is done by musical notes, and The King of Instruments, a magical sentient pipe organ whose sound serves as the Platonic Ideal for all earthly music, can be found."
This adventure is in the spirit of the classic modules Beyond the Magic Mirror and Dungeonland, with the PCs brought into a plot within the Land of Living Music, and then having to find a way home. It'll be for Adventures Dark and Deep, but that means it'll be compatible with almost all Old School games. I don't have a page count yet.

This will be a departure from my usual way of doing things in a very significant way.

This will include a hand-crafted, limited print edition of 100 signed and numbered copies. And once those hundred printed copies go, that'll be it. These will be true collector's items.

As usual, the money will go towards art and editing (and in this case printing).

Details to come on Kickstarter at the start of the new year. Watch this space!


* Level 5, Area 53, for those who are curious.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Greyhawk Monsters in 5E

Similar to my previous update about which gods were going to be represented in my Players Guide to Greyhawk 576, now that I'm in the home stretch of the DM's Guide, I thought it would be interesting to list out the various critters and creatures that are currently scheduled for inclusion. As always, the list is subject to change, and I'll keep this updated as I make progress by marking completed monsters with an asterisk.

To get to this list, I started with the monsters included in the Greyhawk Adventures hardcover, plus those in the Monstrous Compendium Greyhawk Appendix. Some came from adventure modules or Dragon magazine articles, a few were necessary because spells or magic items required them, a few came out of the old Minifigs Greyhawk miniatures line, and a few I included for the sake of completeness, to fill in gaps in the existing monster line-up, especially with some of the inner and outer planes.

Beetle, Death Watch*
Beetle, Slicer*
Brownie, Buckawn*
Brownie, Quickling*

Crypt Thing*
Dragon, Cloud*
Dragon, Greyhawk*
Dragon, Mist*
Dragonfly, Giant*
Dragonnel, Aquatic*
Dragonnel, Magnus*
Elemental, Time*
Elf, Valley*
Elf, Wild (Grugach)*
Giant, Forst (Voadkin)*
Gremlin, Fremlin*
Gremlin, Galltrit*
Grue, Elemental, Chaggrin*
Grue, Elemental, Harginn*
Grue, Elemental, Ildriss*
Grue, Elemental, Varrdig*
Hobgoblin, Norker*
Lich, Suel*
Mist Wolf*
Mite, Snyad*
Para-Elemental, Ice*
Para-Elemental, Magma*
Para-Elemental, Ooze*
Para-Elemental, Smoke*
Plant, Carnivorous, Kampfult*
Plant, Carnivorous, Giant Polyp*
Plant, Carnivorous, Vampire Cactus*
Quasi-Elemental, Ash*
Quasi-Elemental, Dust*
Quasi-Elemental, Lightning*
Quasi-Elemental, Mineral*
Quasi-Elemental, Radiance*
Quasi-Elemental, Salt*
Quasi-Elemental, Steam*
Quasi-Elemental, Vacuum*
Rat, Camprat*
Rat, Vapor Rat*
Shadow, Slow*
Sea Snail*
Sprite, Atomie*
Sprite, Grig*
Sprite, Sea*
Turtle, Giant Sea*
Turtle, Giant Snapping*
Vampiric Mist*
Wraith, Soul Beckoner*
Wraith, Swordwaith*
Zombie, Sea (Drowned One)*

Thursday, December 14, 2017

A Serious MCU Proposal - Ka-Zar and the Savage Land

With all the talk about the possibilities of the Fantastic Four and X-Men joining the Marvel Cinematic Universe (which possibilities I myself covered not too long ago), with the announcement today's announcement that the Disney-Fox deal is indeed going to happen, I thought I'd do a head-fake and make a proposal for a new MCU film that's completely under the radar. His first Marvel appearance was in an X-Men comic, but he's featured prominently in Avengers, Spider-Man, and his own title comics for decades.

I speak, of course, of Ka-Zar.

Although this Tarzan-inspired (to say the least) character is not very well known today, he's been around since the 1930's. He lives in a section of Antarctica called the Savage Land, which is lush and green, and home to dinosaurs, aliens, and a type of vibranium (the same metal that Captain America's shield is made of), so Klaw (the arms dealer in Age of Ultron we'll be seeing more of in Black Panther) is a frequent visitor. The skrulls have been known to be there, too, and we're going to be introduced to them in the upcoming Captain Marvel movie.

But what I think gives Ka-Zar and the Savage Land so much potential is the dinosaurs. Just look at the popularity of Jurassic Park/Jurassic World. Now imagine a film where Falcon is fighting pterodactyls, or the Hulk drops a T-rex with a single shot to the jaw, or Bucky-as-Cap runs through the jungle chased by a pack of velociraptors. It would be like having a Jurassic World/Avengers crossover without having to pay Universal for the name.

The technology has existed to do believable dinosaurs with CGI since 1993, and it's only gotten better. This could be a really fresh direction for the MCU, and something I think could really resonate with audiences. If there were any issues rights-wise with Ka-Zar (he did first appear in an X-Men comic book), those will be all gone now.

I want to see Iron Patriot fighting skrulls riding triceratops' in the City of the Sun God! And now it could happen.

Playtest Closed

Just a quick admin note - I've got more playtesters for my 5th Edition Greyhawk 576 project than I need. Way more. Response has been terrific, and I thank everyone. But for now, I'm closing the door on new playtest groups.

I'll still keep making updates on overall progress here. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

MCU Implications of a Disney-Fox Deal

With the news that Disney and Fox are very close to a deal, I thought it might be fun to speculate on the implications such a thing might have on the various Marvel movie and TV properties. For those who haven't been keeping up, Fox is looking to shed everything except their sports and news operations, so they can focus on them as a core product. That would entail losing their film and entertainment television divisions, among other things.

Assuming such a deal goes through, the most obvious implication for Marvel (which is owned by Disney) is that a huge chunk of their IP would return to the fold, as it were. The X-Men (including Deadpool and Wolverine), Magneto, Fantastic Four, Galactus, the Silver Surfer, Doctor Doom, Kang the Conquerer, Super Skrull, and other characters would suddenly be accessible to the MCU.

The easy part of this equation is the Fantastic Four, et al. Fox has tried to start up a Fantastic Four franchise twice now, and gone down in flames both times with movies that were frankly bad and which didn't "get" the characters at all. Since that's one of Marvel's undisputed strengths, and since there's no gravy train that would be interrupted by so doing, I think that's the low-hanging fruit here.

Heck, the timing would also be impeccable. Marvel is about to launch Phase Four (get it???), many of their powerhouse stars are no longer under contract (or are so expensive to get back that alternatives might be welcome), and they also have an ongoing history of weak villains. Having Doctor Doom, Kang the Conquerer, and Galactus as potential long-term bad guys would be very welcome. Plus, Captain Marvel next year is going to introduce the Skrulls as a villain (to go with the Kree that we've already seen in the movies and Agents of SHIELD). Having access to the "named" Skrull villains like the Super Skrull and the Skrull Empress would be handy.

So I say Phase Four will be the introduction of the Fantastic Four, with Doctor Doom and/or Galactus as the Big Bads to drive things throughout the phase, and possibly into Phase Five.

The X-Men, however, are a different story. Retconning the existing films into the MCU whole-cloth is out of the question. First off, the question casual audiences will ask is "where were the Avengers when Magneto took over the Statue of Liberty?" (among other things). There's a huge interconnected backstory in the X-Men movies, with time travel and all sorts of other shenanigans, and neither franchise mentions the others. So the only alternative would be to start fresh, shutting down the current series of films and TV shows and setting off from square one.

But that's a non-starter. That franchise has brought in over a billion adjusted dollars so far, and shows no signs of lessening. Why mess with that? There's no real pressing need to have mutants in the MCU (that's what the Inhumans are for, even if their solo TV show was a bit of a bomb, it would still be possible to jumpstart them with a film somewhere down the road, especially with the more cosmic stuff coming into view, and the centrality of the Kree in the Inhumans' backstory).

I say Disney would keep the X-Men franchise as-is, pumping out its own movies and shows, while at the same time being able to use individual mutants in the MCU as needed. Possibly rebranding them as Inhumans, or just calling them "enhanced" or "miracles" or whatever.

Either way, Disney needs to figure out a way to more tightly integrate their television and movie lines. Get Perlmutter out of the way, so we don't have any more debacles like Marvel's Inhumans. Especially with the massive amounts of work that Agents of SHIELD is doing to develop a backstory for the Kree and Inhumans, especially with Phase Four likely to be a lot more "cosmic" in focus, they need to make sure things stay in alignment. Perhaps even have a TV-to-film appearance. A little fan service never hurt anybody.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Thoughts on the Frost and Fire Giants (and Stone Giants, too!)

Following up on my musings about the connection between the Elder Elemental God and the Hill Giants in G1 Steading of the Hill Giant Chief, I would like to move on to the other two modules in the series.

The next one, G2 The Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl is going to be the shortest in terms of analysis. There's no direct connection to the Elder Elemental God anywhere in the place. That in itself is noteworthy, as there is in the other two. I would posit that the frost giants were brought in as allies after the hill giants, and possibly after the fire giants. The drow are definitely directly involved in advising the frost giants, however, as we are directly told that of false map in the lower level area 4A "Of course, this is a ruse, cleverly laid by those who motivate the giants..."

Those being Eclavdra and her drow, of course. So the drow are actively micro-managing the frost giants.

There is one line in G2 which is often overlooked, and which points to another missing part of this venerable and well-loved series. In the Background section, we read "...their most important mission, however, is to gather intelligence as to what or who is behind the unholy alliance of hill, stone, frost, and possibly other types of giants as well."

Note that it doesn't mention fire giants, but does mention stone giants!*

There are a few stone giants in the glacial rift, there to "see how well the frost giants are doing in their war on humankind." We also have representatives of the ogre-magi, who have signed a treaty with the frost giants (presumably to join the war), and apparently the frost giant jarl has only recently sworn fealty to the lord of the fire giants, as the latter's representatives bear a silver bear statue as a token of the frost giants' jarl's loyalty.

More grist for the mill of hill giant discontent, by the way. The frost giants are making things happen, getting new allies, and are cozening up to the fire giants, who are directly connected to the drow. There are some hill giant messengers here, but only to deliver a report on Nosnra's success to the frost and then fire giants. The hill giants could well be feeling they've been given the short end of the stick, as I speculated in the previous article.

Now let's move on to G3 Hall of the Fire Giant King, which I always viewed as the best of the series. This was the biggie of the series, with three levels, and costing a whopping $5.50, as opposed to $4.50 for the other two (if I recall correctly). It's also the most complex, with both drow and fire giants to contend with, amongst others. And, of course, it serves as the lead-in to the D1-3 series of modules.

First, the description of one of the scrolls in Snurre's council room specifically says it has "instructions for the King, telling him to gather forces of hill, stone, frost, and fire giants, along with whatever strength he can raise in ogres, ogre-magi, cloud giants, and any other creatures for an all-out attack ont he provinces to the east and northeast." It's from Eclavdra, and "promises powerful help from 'Drow'".

Remember that in 1978, the drow were just a footnote in the Monster Manual. But it's also interesting to see the stone giants included once again in the roster of those involved in the attacks. There are also stone giant engineers who have been working for Snurre, presumably to build out his underground lair.

Something else of interest is that no one is here to be convinced to join the giant/drow cause. All that work is apparently being delegated to the frost giants.

But the centerpiece of the adventure is the Temple of the Eye on the second level. This is the prototypical temple of the Elder Elemental God. The pillars radiate uneasiness ("simulate this by making players uneasy in whatever way you find best" - Gygax you magnificent sadist) or fear; the altar can invoke the Eye and thus cause death, insanity, aging, or other nastiness; and a tentacle can pull one or more unlucky slobs to their ineffable doom if the Elder Elemental God is summoned.

This is an encounter custom-made for the paranoid players in Gygax's campaign, rather than the bull-in-a-china-shop players in every other campaign outside of Arneson's. But it also hearkens back to the weird abandoned temple we saw in the Steading of the Hill Giant Chief. But here, it seems, one can actually summon the EEG, whereas there one can only summon a vague vision of a tentacle.

Side note - the ceiling in the Temple of the Eye is at least 50' high, so the ramp between levels 1 and 2 is either very long, or very steep, or both.

Side note the second - the inclusion of tentacle rods in the 5E DMG as magic items for drow seems a bit odd. I think they were included by someone who didn't realize that they were wielded by the very small faction of drow that were opposed to Lolth. Fair enough; many people don't realize Lolth isn't the big bad of the series.

A few things about the Temple of the Eye. First, it's in active use by both the fire giants and their servants and slaves, and the priests are drow. There are explicit areas of the temple for the giants and servants, and there is no mention of any giant priests.

Contrast that with the temple in G1, which is obviously not in use (because it's behind the rebel orc barricade), and has no mention of priests whatsoever (although recall that rubble-choked passage to the second level through the vestry).

I've got two brilliant theories here.

First and foremost, I think this can play very well into my idea about the weird abandoned temple in G1. As we've seen, that was a much lower-powered place, not fully capable of invoking the Elder Elemental God itself. Perhaps it's a function of physical size, or location (where the EEG is able to project itself onto Oerth might be subject to all sorts of unknowable restrictions based on non-Euclidean geometry), or something else.

But imagine this scenario. The hill giants stumble across the weird abandoned temple whilst clearing out the dungeon beneath the Steading. In so doing, they tickle the peripheral awareness of the EEG, making themselves known, but not able to be acted upon. The giants excavate further to the second level, and discover an entry to the drow underworld. This brings the Eilservs into the picture, directed by the EEG to this newly-activated hive of activity, and sets off the whole use-giants-to-gain-power-in-the-Vault plot.

But here's the kicker. The Eilservs, being ambitious, don't stop at hill giants, and as they move on to other giant races, they finally come upon the fire giants, who have access to a fully-functional temple that can invoke a portion of the Elder Elemental God, and the drow move in to control them through the cult. Not needing the shrine discovered by the hill giants, the entrance to the second level, and the potential back door into the underworld, is ordered sealed. The hill giants, kicked to the proverbial curb, are now useful only as cannon fodder and lackeys. Nosnra doesn't like that one bit, but can't do much about it. Still, it's a wedge that could, in theory, be used against the Eilservs.

Oh that sounds good. Really good.

But here's my second brilliant theory, and it revolves around why the fire giants' temple is called the Temple of the Eye.

There was a television show in the mid-70's called Kolchak the Night Stalker. It featured Darren McGavin as Karl Kolchack, a Chicago reporter who invariably stumbled across stories involving vampires, or aliens, or zombies, or what have you. There was one episode, titled The Energy Eater (link goes to the full episode!). It turns out that the monster is an ancient Indian bear god who is sleeping underneath a newly-constructed hospital. In one scene, a bunch of x-ray plates are scattered on the ground, and when put together to make a single image show an immense eye, proving that the creature exists.

An eye.

We already know that Gygax was influenced by this short-lived show (1974-1975), because he's on record saying that the reason rakshasas are vulnerable to blessed crossbow bolts is because that was a plot point in another episode of the series, Horror in the Heights.

I submit that different temples of the Elder Elemental God might be able to manifest different pieces of that weird entity. The one beneath the hall of the fire giants is a temple of the eye. There might be others elsewhere; a temple of the maw, a temple of the brain, etc. Just a thought, although it might admittedly take the idea too far. At the very least, I think it's entirely plausible that Gygax was influenced by the show to have the image of the disembodied eye in his own mind when putting this module together.


* There is already a module by RC Pinnell, titled G4 Sanctum of the Stone Giant Lord. It departs from the whole Elder Elemental God theme of G1 and G3, however, and is apparently part of a whole series that covers many giant types not mentioned in the original material. A review of it, or its sequels, is out of the scope of this article, but I present it for those who might be interested.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

The Elder Elemental God and the Hill Giants

One of the little things tucked away in the original Against the Giants modules (G1, G2, and G3) is the connection to the Elder Elemental God that runs throughout the first and last in the series. I'd like to tease out some of those connections and see where they lead, especially in the context of the other EEG references we see in Greyhawk.

Let's begin at the beginning, with G1 Steading of the Hill Giant Chief.  Specifically, the dungeon level, which we are told is "certainly superior to orcish work" and "old." There are areas (18, 22, 26, and 27) that are in the process of being cleared of rubble, with tools and the like in the latter two areas. Obviously the hill giants stumbled upon this dungeon complex and either built the Steading atop it intentionally, or discovered it after the Steading itself was complete. The latter does seem somewhat of a stretch, unless they were unconsciously guided by some force to do so.

The dungeon level is pretty extensive, and we're not told how much of it has been cleared, or how much was already clear when the giants took over. But the fact that there are still areas being cleared of tons of rubble, and that the whole is old, leads to the conclusion that the whole was a self-contained dungeon complex before the giants moved in upstairs. The fact that the ceilings are 20'-30' high, however, indicates that it was originally built for giant-sized creatures.

There are two very interesting items about the southeastern portion of the dungeon (the portion that is blocked off by rebel orc slaves, who've erected a wall of boulders to seal themselves off from their former masters). 

The first is the most obvious - there's an abandoned temple of the Elder Elemental God in area 17A. Although it's not specifically labeled as such (it's called the WEIRD ABANDONED TEMPLE), there's little question of it, although it seems to be long abandoned and only operating at partial power (compared to others we see). It has the same sort of insanity-inducing effects, and it is possible to invoke an image of "a writing amorphous form of sickly mauves and violets" with "formless members". 

Immediately adjacent to this temple is a VESTRY (?) (area 18). It's got "disgusting murals and bas-relief depictions of nasty things."That would square with the description we get of an EEG temple in G3 Hall of the Fire Giant King

But this also brings us to the second interesting thing about this part of the dungeon level. The vestry has "a flight of ridged, step-like stones slants steeply downwards toward the south, but this way is completely blocked by tons of stone blocks and rubble."

And that flight of stones leading down? It undoubtedly leads to the lower dungeon level.

Those of you familiar with the adventure module will at this point be swiftly reaching to your bookcases, in order to flip through the module and its maps. You will doubtless then come back to the computer and shout, what second dungeon level? There's nothing like that in the module!

Oh yes there is, dear summer child.

First, of course, there's area 18 that leads down to it. But there are is also a mention of it in area 21: "their main hunting ground is the series of caves beneath their own, the entrance to which is through the sink hole at the east edge of their lair. (The lizards feed upon the fungus and the fungus eaters.)". And yet again in area 23: "All carrion crawlers in the whole complex of caves and caverns come to this area from time to time to breed. ... these monsters will appear ... from the north or south along the stream or by one of the sink holes." There's also a sink hole in area 19, and while there's no mention of it in the text, it undoubtedly leads to the same level of caves and caverns.

So we have:
  • The dungeon level was here before the giants, and contains a temple to the Elder Elemental God
  • The giants have at least partially cleared the level, including the temple
  • There is a second dungeon level consisting of caves and caverns with undetailed fungus and fungus-eaters
  • The giants allowed the temple and all entrances to be walled off, and haven't bothered to unblock it
So the giants took the time to clear the temple, but left the staircase leading down choked with rubble. In addition, they haven't seemed to care that the orcs have cut off access to the temple, so it's not a place that is either in active use for worship by them, nor is it particularly of importance to them. Heck, it's entirely possible they're happy that the orcs sealed the place off. 

It's also possible that they intentionally threw that rubble in their to deliberately seal off the caves and caverns. While this is a fun theory, I tend to think it's not feasible, since the drow would undoubtedly have noticed that their access was cut off. 

What all this adds up to, in my opinion is that the giants either stumbled on (or were subconsciously guided to) the temple of the Elder Elemental God, and doing so somehow alerted the Eilservs (who were already worshiping the EEG). That was the impetus for the drow to incite the giants to their attacks, as mutual worshipers of the EEG. The fact that there's a sealed scroll from Eclavdra in the Steading, identified with the symbol of the Elder Elemental Eye, also speaks to that interpretation. 

It's also not impossible that the second dungeon level leads to the underworld passages of the drow, too. But when the drow reached out to the much more powerful fire giants, the hill giants felt slighted. Still under the thumb of their more powerful frost and fire giant allies, not to mention the drow, they might well have been happy to abandon the temple and see it sealed off, halting further efforts to unblock the access to the second dungeon level, with its potential connection to the underworld.

This adds another level to the intrigue going on; the hill giants (or at least Nosnra) are growing restless, feeling slighted at being displaced by Snurre and the fire giants. That's why they don't particularly care that the rebel orcs have cut off the temple of the Elder Elemental God, which would otherwise be a powerful connection to House Eilserv. 

It's noteworthy that although there are stone giants and a cloud giant in Nosnra's hall, there's no particular mention of them being there to be convinced to join the attacks, as we see in the frost and fire giant adventures. It almost like the hill giants were told to entertain these guests, but not trusted with trying to bring them into the cause. That's left to the fire and frost giants.

I think expanding the module to detail the second dungeon level, with its caves and caverns, and fungus and fungus eaters, would be worthwhile. Where does that passage in the vestry lead? What's under those sink holes? Is there a connection to the drow underworld, with drow troops and advisers there, waiting for the giants to clear the passage from the vestry, unaware that such efforts have been abandoned? 

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

5E Greyhawk Update - Players Guide Done


I posted about this on my FB and G+ pages, but for everyone else, I wanted to point out a milestone in my 5E Greyhawk project.

The Greyhawk 576 Players Guide is now complete.

That means all the thumbnail descriptions of countries, races, languages, classes, magic items, backgrounds, feats, spells, gods, and factions are done. Especially, this means that each of the 65 gods included in the book has their own divine domain for clerics, and many have unique spells. This is based on the concept, which goes back to 1st edition AD&D, that each deity's clerics have a unique set of features. I felt that the 5E divine domain system would be a perfect vehicle to bring that into the latest edition.

Of course, there might still be some tinkering here and there as I make progress on the DMs Guide and other things, but as of right now there are no holes in the Players Guide. It's currently clocking in at 341 pages, but obviously that's before editing, and layout, and art, and all that good stuff. But 341 pages of nothing-but-text (most of it single spaced) should give you an idea of the scope of the thing.

Speaking of the DMs Guide, it's by no means just getting started. Things like the history, calendar, weather, cosmology (which includes a brief description of Greyspace and the crystal sphere surrounding Oerth*), and wilderness area descrtipions sections are done.

That leaves nation-states and magic items, which are in progress, and monsters and notable NPCs, which have yet to be started.

So I'm moving onto those items now. But dang, it feels nice to have that huge piece done.

By the way, if you've got a 5E group playing in Greyhawk and would like to join the playtest, please drop me a line at You and your players will need to sign an NDA (since this is of course very unofficial and can't ever be released without WotC's blessing), but you'll get to see what's what and provide input.


* Yes! I mention Spelljammer! Even though it's just a roundabout mention, it's inherent to the setting, after all.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

November Campaign Design XIII - Wrapping Up

I started with this...
So this will likely be my final post in the National Campaign Creation Month (NaCaCrMo) series. I've gone from a quick map and a couple of notes on a piece of paper to a campaign setting I could run tomorrow.

There are maps both of the setting itself on a large scale, and a smaller zoom-in region for initial play. The three major powers are sufficiently sketched out, with interesting politics and personalities, to sustain me for years. There's also an added layer of religious tension, with a schism in one church, and a completely different religion for both of them to unite in loathing of.

There are NPCs with their own agendas, as well as power groups besides the political and religious figures. The whole is set up with a logical reason for the PCs to have limited knowledge of the area, as well as with a built-in "frontier" complete with ruined towns and cities. My self-imposed goal of having something radically different is fulfilled by having those ruins to replace the traditional
"gilded hole" dungeon.

I'm very pleased with the result.

...and ended up with this.
A note on my methodology. Quite a few people have asked how I got so much detail in those posts. The answer is that there's no real trick to it. I just wrote, and kept writing. I would start with the basic premise, think of something that made it unique, move on to the personalities behind the place, and gave them something to make them distinctive. Remembering what I had written in the past, I could then bounce those differences off one another to create the interactions between them, and that formed the basis for the political alliances and interactions. They're fairly commonplace tropes, when you strip them down - the rich widow, the inept ruler, the guy with a grudge against another - but put them all together and watch them bounce off one another.

All in all, this was a very fun exercise, and thanks also to the other folks who took on the same challenge. I never expected it, but please do post your results and progress in the comments here! Be sure to give links, so we can see what you came up with.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

November Campaign Design XII - Artanian Blood Magic

As noted previously, one thing I want to use to differentiate Artanian magic from the more standard type used by the colonists from Hanar-across-the-sea is its basis in blood sacrifice. This is thematically similar to Defiler magic in the Dark Sun setting, which consumes plant life in order to function. Artanian blood magic is similar, but uses the life force of animals and intelligent creatures to function.

Each magic-user spell has an Artanian equivalent, plus there will be some Artanian-only spells. There is a new spell, Read Artanian Magic, which is required for magic-users to be able to utilize such spells. Spell progression lists are the unchanged.

Artanian blood magic spells do not need to be memorized. They are read directly from the magic-user's spell book. There is no limit to the number of spells that can be cast each day, as long as the requisite hit dice of creatures are sacrificed to "fuel" the spell. All Artanian spells have a somatic component in addition to the normal components; this consists of the killing of a living animal or intelligent creature(s) at the climax of the spell.

The total number of hit dice of sacrificial offerings needed to cast a spell is given below. If the subject is docile, immobilized, or willing, then no roll to hit is required, neither is a roll for damage. If the subject is resisting, then a normal roll to hit is required and damage should be rolled as normal. If the subject is not slain by the hit, then the spell is on hold until the magic-user abandons it or kills the required number of creatures, to a maximum of 1 turn. Only 1 spell can be on hold in this fashion at a time. Creatures with an intelligence of 6 or greater count as their full hit point totals. Creatures with an intelligence of 5 or less count as half of their normal hit dice. Creatures must be slain with a sharp weapon; it is the spilling of the blood that is required, not simply death itself.

It is not necessary that the magic-user himself kill the sacrifice(s). If another does the killing, the victim must be within 10' of the caster at the time of death. For each creature being sacrificed (not each hit die), 1 segment is added to the casting time of the spell.

Spell Level
Level to Cast
Hit Dice Used
1 1 1-1 1 hp, 10'
2 3 1 2 hp, 10'
3 5 1+ 2 hp, 15'
4 7 2 3 hp, 15'
5 9 3 3 hp, 20'
6 11 4 4 hp, 20'
7 13 5 4 hp, 25'
8 15 6 4 hp, 25'
9 17 7 5 hp, 30'

Spell Level: The level of the spell being cast.

Level to Cast: The minimum experience level needed to cast the spell.

Hit Dice Used: The minimum hit dice needed to sacrifice to cast the spell. Assumes an INT of 6 or higher. Creatures with an INT of 5 or lower count as half. 

Damage: The amount of damage inflicted when the spell is cast, followed by the range. This damage will affect all creatures in the range given, friend or foe. A successful saving throw vs. magic indicates half damage (round up). The caster is similarly impacted, but gets no save.


Artanian blood magic scrolls function the same as their regular counterparts. However, creating such scrolls requires the same sacrifices as noted above for casting, in addition to any other special ingredients the ink requires.

Mixing and Matching

It is possible for a magic-user to use both Artanian spells and regular spells. Neither has an impact on the other, but if an Artanian spell is "on hold" pending the required hit dice worth of sacrifices, a regular spell will disrupt it. Similarly, a regular spell can only be used to slay an offering if the target is within 10' of the magic-user at the time the spell is cast, and only if blood is spilled (a fireball would not work, for instance, but a wizard blade would).


As can be seen, Artanian magic can lead to very powerful spells earlier than normal (usually an experience level sooner), and the ability to cast an unlimited number of spells per day drastically increases their utility. However, the logistics of having the required number of sacrificial offerings to hand makes this less useful in, for instance, an adventuring party, where supplies are usually scarce and the need for mobility limits the number of creatures that can be brought. It would work much better in a setting where the magic-user stays put and can have offerings brought to him; a wizard in his tower, for instance, or a court magician with the resources of a city or a whole realm at his disposal.

The need for the sacrifices to be intelligent creatures, or only be half useful, is another break on the system from a PC perspective. A clever player might bring a cartful of songbirds along (for instance), but doing so presents its own logistical challenges. It should also be remembered that the damage inflicted by the spell will potentially impact other creatures that have been brought along for the magic-user's use, not to mention the slow and steady wearing down of his own hit points as the spells are cast.

Once the true implications of this form of magic are discovered and become known, it might well start a "land rush" among the major colonial powers, as they seek to root out and explore additional Artanian ruins and tombs where spell books and other magical paraphernalia might be found. I envision a situation where the colonies know that there was something different about Artanian magic, but they don't have the key just yet. Maybe it's as easy as someone finding a Read Artanian Magic spell to open the floodgates. The infrastructure relating to mass sacrifices would be put down to some horrific cult or other, and the moralistic Holy Family church would certainly see that as a cause for the Artanian Empire's fall. Not that the truth is any better from a moral standpoint, but I love to throw the PCs off the scent with in-game information that turns out to be wrong. Nothing says everything their characters know to be true has to be so...

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

The Miracle of the Bones

I've been doing a lot of reading on Medieval witchcraft trials for a non-gaming project I'm working on, and over and over I see references to "the miracle of the bones" wherein an animal is killed and eaten, and then resurrected when its bones are placed in its skin, and the whole blessed. The details vary according to time and place, but that's the gist. There are obvious parallels to the Norse story of the resurrection of Thor's goats, of course.

In the course of my work on the Greyhawk deities, I decided to incorporate this myth into one of their stories. Merikka, Oeridian demigoddess of agriculture, first described in the excellent module N1 Against the Cult of the Reptile God and then largely forgotten except for a perfunctory entry in the Living Greyhawk Gazetteer (which annoyingly and in my opinion unjustifiably reversed several details that were explicitly mentioned in the module), seemed a perfect fit. There was very little written about her, and this would add a lot of color. Here's what I came up with for her:
In ancient times, there was a young woman named Merikka, an ordinary peasant girl on a farm. One day it came to pass that her village was raided by orcs, burned, and all its inhabitants put to death and eaten. All but one, that is, for her father returned from hunting in the nearby woods to find his life and family destroyed. Weeping inconsolably, he gathered up the charred and gnawed bones of his only daughter and placed them in the skin of the family work-horse, thinking to carry them off for a more decent burial than the death she received. 
As he reached the spot where she was to be buried, he set down the horse-skin and spoke wailing prayers of grief to Velnius, the god of the sky, wishing that simple farmers could just live their lives in peace and not bother anyone else, and digging the grave for his daughter as he did so. Suddenly he heard a horse’s whinny from behind him, and whirled around. There, before his startled eyes, was his own daughter, bright and beautiful and very much alive, along with the family horse. Both were apparently completely unharmed. 
Merikka smiled warmly at her father and spoke. “Your words of grief and simple desire for the safety of the farm have been heard, father. Thanks to you, I have been reborn, now a goddess, and I will try to keep the simple peace that is your due and the due of all farm-folk.” And with that she and the horse vanished, and her father became the first disciple of the goddess of agriculture. He lived a long and peaceful life thereafter, spreading the tale of his daughter’s rebirth.
- The Miracle of the Bones
If you're interested in the original sources, here are some links: Ecstasies by Carlo Ginzburg, Night Battles by Carlo Ginzburg, and The Shaman of Oberstdorf by Wolfgang Behringer.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

November Campaign Design XI - Merchants and Mercenaries

Now that the local area where the PCs are starting has been filled in a little more, I'd like to pull back out and take a look at some of the more macro bits of detail. Specifically, I'd like to look at the merchant houses and mercenary companies that were either brought here or established themselves here during the time of the settlement.


Several large mercantile concerns dominate Artania, importing finished goods from Hanar-across-the-sea, transporting raw materials from the interior to the ports, or moving goods within or between the colonies themselves. These are starting to enjoy great political power thanks to their economic position, and some are even rivaling the feudal lords in authority and prestige.

House Bourdaine. Based in Hanar, with a local headquarters in New Montrose, House Bourdaine is run by the Bourdaine family, which controls almost all of the sea traffic between New Valais and Hanar. Operating with a royal charter, and kicking back enormous sums to the crown to maintain its privileged status, House Bourdaine controls half of New Montrose, but its influence outside the city is small. Its symbol is a ship with a crown on the mainmast.

The Onjoi Company. Chartered by the Duke of New Valois, this company is an amalgam of several different families, and is chaired by the Comte d'Firstwater, who owns the rights to most of the river traffic on the Firstwater. They have expanded their operations to include trade across Lake Onjoi and up the Shining River, making them very powerful in New Valais. They are constantly pushing the weak Marquis d'Onjoi to expand into the interior. It operates by a ducal charter, and its symbol is a red hand and a silver scale.

House Greystark. Chartered by both the Duke of New Valois and the Earl of South Aedgaria, this house has found its niche in the expanding trade between Aedgaria and New Valois. It is headquartered in Dubton, and has an arrangement with House Bourdaine to only pass its trade through the port of New Montrose. This vexes the Earl, who wants very badly to see Port Westview expand its trade, but he is willing to accept lesser revenues for now. Their symbol is a fleece (a sheep being weighed).

House Ellenhame. Chartered by the Duke of Aedgaria, Ellenhame is contracted to expand trade into and out of Aedgaria's ports. It has been somewhat less than successful, due to a number of factors (some of which are not their fault, some of which are due to their own mis-management). They do very well collecting agricultural goods along the Long Road to ship through Port Westview, but find themselves at odds with House Greystark. Their symbol is a beehive.

House Grendine. Chartered by the Earl of North Aedgaria, this house is closely allied with the rulers of Norton, who form their chief supplier of precious metals and other products. Their leader holds the feudal rank of Viscount. It is unclear which party has the upper hand in the relationship, but the baroness Ursula is rarely taken advantage of by anyone. Their symbol is a scale atop a cloud.

The Lippegen Company. Chartered by the kings of Grott-Heimburg, this company has a stranglehold on most trade throughout Lippegen, and its managing director is said to be more powerful than the Herzog himself, and holds the royally bestowed title of Graf. The company is not ruled by any single family, but by a board of directors (located in Grot-Heimburg) which is made up of prominent families, including those of the kings, who have a 49% stake in the company by law. Their symbol is a heron wearing two crowns.

House Glott. Chartered by the Markgraf von Osttur, is incredibly poised to take a huge chunk of business away from the Lippegen Company, since they are based in Osttur and often manage to sneak prime opportunities out from under the nose of the local agents of the Company. Thusfar their activities have been little more than a nuisance, but a few more nuisances and the Company might decide to scratch the itch. Their symbol is a black tower.

In addition, there are other, smaller companies, with two or three based in each town. These I'm leaving for further expansion as needed to facilitate plots and adventures.


Few of the feudal lords in any of the three colonies have anything close to an army suitable for their full defense and the security of their people and borders. Because of this, they have brought mercenary companies from Hanar-across-the-sea to do the bulk of their fighting. The chief enemies of the colonies at the moment are native orc tribes, various monsters, and renegade deserter goblin/ hobgoblin/ bugbear troops. Only occasionally have the colonies gone to war against one another, and even then such encounters were swift and mercifully over quickly. The feudal lords are much more likely to engage in petty cross-border skirmishes and banditry, but this is normal and to be expected, even within the boundaries of a particular colony.

Most of the mercenaries brought over to New Valais and Lippegen are goblinoid troops, consisting of goblin foot-soldiers, hobgoblin and norker sergeants and officers, bugbear officers, and human captains. These were used extensively in the full-scale wars in Hanar-across-the-sea, but are somewhat overkill in Artanis, where there is no large-scale war and no set-piece battles to fight. Hence, there is a much higher level of desertion, with entire companies simply dissolving into the wilderness. Troop strengths given below do not include sergeants and officers.

It should be remembered that the goblin troops worship various demons and devils, despite the official distaste for such. It is tolerated because the troops fulfill their function; fodder in war. They do so privately, and never ostentatiously. It is something more of a concern in Lippegen than it is in New Valais, due to the difference in official faiths. 

The Bitter Embers are a force that has been in the employ of Valais for generations. Consisting of 600 heavy footmen armed with glaive and axe, they are a powerful battering ram. They are currently led by General Renauld Jil (F 11), grandson of the original commander of the force. They are currently stationed in Duchais, Chamlin, and Anleans, broken into several companies that patrol endlessly. Their unit insignia is a red torch, and morale is low.

The Risen Fist is a relatively new unit that was raised specifically to be used in New Valais. It consists of 300 archers and 200 skirmishers armed with sling and short sword. They are led by General Prince August Wegman (R 10), a disgraced former scion of a cadet member of the royal Heimburg family. They are well-suited to the guerrilla warfare practiced by the orcs in the wilderness, and are currently on loan to the Marquis d'Onjoi, who has them ranging up and down the Shining River region rooting out the several orc tribes ensconced there. Their unit insignia is a mailed fist, and morale is high.

The Steel Owls are a long-standing unit imported from Valais. They number some 400 wolf-riding cavalry, and are spread throughout the colony as scouts and reinforcements for the other troops there. They are led by General Prospero Vouchand (MU 10), who has protested about the scattering of his forces, but pay-and-a-half has kept his protests muted. Their unit insignia is a grey owl, and morale is high in areas where they are engaged against orc raiders, and medium where they are guarding sheep but paid well for doing little.

The Black Skulls are an ancient unit, one of the most decorated in the history of Grott-Heimburg. A well-balanced force consisting of 800 medium spear, 300 archers, and 200 wolf-riding cavalry, they are very well disciplined and have a much higher ratio of hobgoblin non-commissioned officers than most. They are led by General Gräfin Maria Bettendorf (A 12), and form the core of the mercenary strength of Lippegen. They are based in Zweistadt, and are constantly engaged in action in the Rojanois Mountains and the thick forests to the north. The Gräfin is fully enmeshed in the politics of Lippegen, and has her sights set on a permanent role in the feudal structure, although her own lands are back in Hanar. Their unit insignia is a black skull, and morale is high.

The Holy Orphans are a new unit, raised specifically for service in Lippegen. They consist of 400 spearmen, all of fairly low quality. They are led by Oberst Herr Hans Reichman (P 8), who is attempting to sway his goblin troops to the Church, with next to no success. He is certain that if he can demonstrate the righteousness of his religion through personal victory in combat in front of his men, that will be the breakthrough he needs, and in that quest he constantly throws himself into the thick of battle, taking risks that in all honesty are reckless. His troops are based in Osttur, and morale is medium.

The Laughing Hounds are so named because of their barking-laugh battle cry. They consist of 200 wolf-riding cavalry. Their leader is Oberst Josef Winter (F 14). He is a dedicated warrior and hardened fighter, unhappy that he and his troops are in the rear, assigned to policing duties in the western portion of the colony. Unit insignia is a red dog, and morale is low.

As noted earlier, there are no goblinoid mercenary troops in Aedgaria. All their military force consists of local militia and troops maintained by the feudal lords. To date, this has been sufficient, but if either Lippegen or New Valais decided to mount a full-scale invasion, Aedgaria's future would be quite uncertain. What is certain, is that reinforcements from Hanar could never arrive in time to prevent a rout.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

November Campaign Design X - Local Color

In the previous post in the series, I sketched out the small area the PCs will be operating in at the start of the campaign. Now I'd like to add a little more detail by laying out some encounters, both fixed and wandering. The stats below are for 1st edition AD&D, but they're very minimal and could be used with just about any OSR rules. Here is the map, now with encounter areas marked in red (you'll have to click to zoom to see the numbers):


  1. Hermit. A small wooden hut is home to Father Georg, a hermit in self-imposed exile, soured by the politics within the church (C7, 30 hp, AC 9 (but owns chainmail and shield for AC 3), align LG, usually unarmed but owns a mace +2; spells usually memorized bless x2, cure light wounds x2, purify food and drink, augury, chant, slow poison, speak with animals x2, create food and water, cure disease, prayer, cure serious wounds). He has only a few coins at any given time; whatever wealth he comes across he gives away to those few he encounters. He finds he vastly prefers the contemplative life, and gets along with the Spinebreaker orcs, who sometimes come to him for healing when their own shamans are unable to work the required miracles. He will be friendly towards visitors, but if they show up regularly, he will politely ask them to respect his desire for solitude. He knows where the three orc villages are at any given time, but will not share this information if he thinks it will be used to attack them.
  2. Bandits. A group of 35 bandits has made camp only a hundred yards off the road. They are taking advantage of the confusion caused by two contradictory boundary stones; they are in the disputed area claimed by both Jenstein and Greitzberg, and have agents in both towns stirring up feelings about the strip of land. Thus, neither will risk a full incursion to root out the bandits, lest the other take it as an attempt to seize the area by force. The bandits are led by Gregor Ostoff (F8, 55 hp, AC 5 (chainmail), battleaxe +1, ring of invisibility). His lieutenant is also his lover, Wulende (F7, 39 hp, AC 5 (chainmail), longsword, dagger +1). There are 6 second level fighters (AC 7 (leather + shield), armed with longsword), 20 1st level fighters (AC 7, (leather + shield) armed with longsword), and 15 1st level fighters (AC 8 (leather), armed with light crossbow and hand axe). They have amassed a small fortune including 7,000 sp, 950 gp, 6 pieces of jewelry, and two potions of healing. The majority of the treasure is buried in the woods where only Gregor and Wulende know, but the men have 20 sp and 3 gp each, out of the total.
  3. Hippogriffs. A family of about a dozen hippogriffs nests here in the crags of a steep rock face. They will often kill from the herds and flocks of Lirberg when they are set out in the hills to graze.
  4. Vampire Tomb. Here is the tomb of the vampire that originally turned the baron of Lirberg into the undead; an early Valaisian explorer named Jean Rochon, although he styles himself Sieur Rochon d'Montrose (hp 45, formerly a T9, so has all the relevant thief abilities in addition to his vampiric powers). The tomb is built into a natural cave, and consists of a pair of rooms. During the day the vampire is guarded by a pair of trolls who live in the outer chamber and who are completely under the vampire's thrall (32, 30 hp). He is quite urbane and gracious, and will not attack unless pressed. He has designs on the whole of the district, and although his plans in Lirberg were thwarted, he has learned to be more subtle and is looking for agents he can either charm or whose loyalty can be bought with the promise of wealth and power. 
  5. Goblins. A group of goblin mercenaries have deserted, and have set up a temporary camp on the banks of this river. They have no plan, and are being harried both by the orcs and by troops sent into the forested mountains to track them down. They are extremely suspicious of outsiders, given the fact that they are surrounded by enemies. The company of 32 (down from 60) spearmen is led by a bugbear hauptmann (captain) named Rogran (15 hp) armed with battleaxe and shield, and 3 hobgoblin feldwebel (sergeants - 9, 9, 8 hp) armed with morning stars. The goblins have 1d3 sp each, while Rogran has their remaining wealth in a chest in his tent (24 gp, 112 sp). At the moment Rogran is laying low, hoping for some opportunity to come their way to get them out of their current predicament. Orc attacks are regular occurrences. 
  6. Ruined Town. This is the ruined Artanian town, now left to rubble and overgrown with plants. This is a detailed encounter area that will have to be laid out in detail with its own map and key. Might not get to it in November, but designing specific encounter areas is out of scope for NaCaCrMo, so I'm not worried.
  7. Dryad Grove. A group of 4 dryads live here. They currently have a captive; Rolf Tardor (F5, 31 hp, AC 10, Align NG, unarmed). Rolf was a woodsman who dwelt in Jenstein and disappeared 2 years ago. He was presumed killed by the Spinebreaker orcs, and his wife has since remarried. Each dryad has 6 gp and the group collectively has 3 gems. 
  8. Hill Giants. A clan of 6 adult male hill giants dwells in a large cave here (hp 40, 36, 34, 34, 32, 30). There are also 2 females (treat as 6 HD ogres; hp 27, 26) and 2 young (older 6 HD, 28 hp; younger 4 HD, 16 hp). A pair of dire wolves act as pets and watchdogs (15 hp each). The giants occasionally raid Melheim, and have amassed 2,000 gp worth of supplies; 750 gp in furs, 250 gp in wine, 500 gp in copper ingots (weight 1000#), and the rest in coins - 300 gp, 2,000 sp, and 20,000 cp). They also have a longsword +1 that one of the giants uses as a dagger.
  9. Obelisk. This curious structure is incredibly ancient; it predates the Artanian civilization by thousands of years. It is made of granite, but has been worn down by the passage of time, so that the once-sharp inscriptions can barely be seen at all now. It radiates powerful magic, and if the right magical incantation is spoken, it will open up a gate to another plane. This spell can be found in the ruined town in encounter 6.
  10. Ettercaps. Although the Spiderwood is thick with monstrous spiders of all sizes, at the heart is a pair of ettercaps (25, 24 hp). Tangled in the webs and strangling nooses of their lair are 2 pieces of jewelry and a potion of heroism.
  11. Wereboars. A trio of wereboars lives in the heart of the Trotterwood (25, 23, 22 hp), who have a treasure of 2,200 sp and 870 gp, in addition to potions of hill giant control, fire breathing, and extra healing. The wereboars originally came from Sendenow, but they have adopted the boars and giant boars of the wood as their own family, and deeply resent the villagers and their regular hunts. There is another wereboar in the village whose existence has not been discovered, who gives them intelligence on the upcoming hunts, so they can warn the boars and sabotage the hunters. 
  12. Criosphinx. This creature (42 hp) is well-known to the villagers from Jenstein who take their granite down the river to the ford, where it is loaded onto carts bound for Osttur. He will often be seen on the banks of the river, and is of a friendly disposition. He will sometimes ask riddles of the boatmen as they travel downstream. He has an arrangement with the owners of the granite mines, who pay him a regular stipend for his protection and promise not to interfere with the shipments through his territory. He has grown fat and lazy, finding this infinitely easier than harassing each boat as it passes. He has amassed 900 gp so far, but the arrangement does work out well for all concerned, since he also chases off any bandits or other creatures that would interfere with his cozy arrangement.


Slate Mountains
  1. Orcs. A warband of the Spinebreaker orc tribe. 30 warriors armed with halberds, with 1 captain and 3 lieutenants (8 hp each) armed with battle axes and short bows. 
  2. Wolves. A pack of 1d6+6 wolves.
  3. Woodsmen. 1d6 woodsmen from the nearest human village (F2, AC 7 (studded leather + shield), patroling for orcs or other unusual activity.
  4. Brown bears. 1d4 brown bears plus 1d2 cubs.
  5. Giant snake. Giant constrictor snake will drop on a party member from the trees above (25 hp).
  6. Set encounter. The nearest creature from the encounter key above or a human village is met in the woods, on some mission. 
  1. Merchants. A small caravan of 1d6 carts is traveling towards the nearest village. 
  2. Farmer. A farmer is taking a load of foodstuff to the nearest village.
  3. Itinerant priests. A group of clerics (C5, C3 ,C3, C2) is on a mission to reinforce the faith within the district. The first time they are encountered, they come from Osttur and are relatively new. If re-encountered, they will be the same group; they will visit a village, stay at the local temple for a week or so, and organize a special service with the blessing of the local priest. They are led by Father Max, who has extreme views on the virtues of poverty.
  4. Margot the Magnificent. A wandering magic-user (MU6, 15 hp), Margot comes from Valais and sells her magical powers to the locals, as well as putting on shows for free at the local taverns. She makes a decent living this way, and is well-liked by most. She is accompanied by a pair of "assistants" (F3, 18, 17 hp, AC 7 (studded leather + shield), armed with spears and light crossbows). 
  5. Mr. Wurno. A wandering tinker (gnome, T8, 23 hp) who sells a huge variety of trinkets and gadgets from his overstuffed cart. He always seems to have exactly what a customer needs. He has been around for as long as anyone can remember.
  6. Patrol. A mounted patrol of local militia from the nearest village, led by one or two of their ritters, will ask the PCs their business. If they seem legitimate they will be allowed to pass, but if they are heavily armed without some sort of letter of marque or other authorization, they may be questioned more closely.
Note that encounters along the roads are meant to be repetitive. It should be very natural for the PCs to get to know most of the potential encounters in as small an area as the district. They should get used to seeing Father Max, Margot, etc. This can be used to the DM's advantage; if Mr. Wurno suddenly stops being seen on the road, it may lead them to investigate, leading to some adventure. These NPCs can also be used to further some plot down the road, if the DM has need of a spy or somesuch later on. As the game goes on, I might add others, to keep things fresh, but the continuity of familiar faces is important.

Plains (more than 1/2 mile from the road)
  1. Badgers. 1d4+1 badgers.
  2. Wild dogs. A pack of 4d4 wild dogs.
  3. Patrol. See the road encounter table above.
  4. Herd. Cattle or sheep from a nearby farm. A shepherd will be nearby.
  1. Giant spiders. 1d8 giant spiders.
  2. Huge spiders. 1d12 huge spiders.
  3. Large spiders. 2d10 large spiders.
  4. Ettercaps. 1 (50% chance) or both of the ettercaps from #10 above.
  1. Wild boar. 2d6 wild boar. 15% chance of being accompanied by 1 of the wereboars from #11.
  2. Giant boar. 2d4 giant boar.
  3. Wereboar. 1 (50% chance) or both of the wereboars from #11 above.

    Friday, November 17, 2017

    November Campaign Design IX - Campaign Map

    In the previous installment of this series, I laid out the starting scenario for the PCs. They will be starting in the area indicated by the box on the map below:

    For me, the maps are where things really come alive. I took the area on the large-scale map, and blew it up to a scale of 2 miles per inch. This allows me to show individual features like mountains, the extent of hills and forests, villages, minor rivers, tracks, and even individual farms. Here is my hand-drawn map of the area that will serve as my primary wilderness map when DMing:

    I haven't noted the locations of individual monsters yet. Since that's something that will change over time, I'll make a copy of this map and stock it with an initial load of creatures. As they get killed off or driven away, I'll gradually restock the place. Most of the monsters will be in the wooded mountains, of course, but the Spider Wood is an obvious haunt of giant spiders, and I have a vague idea that the Trotterwood would be a good place for giant boar and wereboars.

    There's also the ruins of the Artanian town at the northern edge of the map. As indicated in the last post, this is where the locals believe most of their troubles are emanating. They're partially right; there will certainly be some beasties in there. There's also an orc tribe in those woods, too; the Spinebreaker tribe, who worship Dispater, lord of the second plane of Hell. Their exact home is unknown, but they are known to have several villages throughout the mountains, as they are semi-nomadic. They cause no end of trouble to the settlers, and thwarting them would be a great service.

    The whole is known as the Greitzberg District.

    The eight villages in the District are mostly agricultural in nature, with the four on the plains surrounded by well-tended fields. Each is centered around a fortified manor house, and ruled by a baron. The exception is the village of Greitzberg, which is ruled by a Freiherr, which means he is not a vassal of the Markgraf in Osttur, and enjoys a great deal more independence than the other villages in the district. This causes no small amount of ill-feelings, as the barons are jealous of his independent status. All of the villagers have the right to appeal a baron's justice to the Markgraf, but the Freiherr's rulings in judicial matters cannot be appealed. Each baron maintains a number of ritters (knights) to lead the defense of the village.

    The mountain villages each have a small population of half-orcs, who are treated as second-class citizens. They are barely tolerated by the humans, but driven out by the orcs. On rare occasions, such half-orcs will return to the tribe after years of being raised in the human communities and treated so poorly. Such renegades assist the Spinebreakers in planning their raids.

    Lirberg is primarily a dairy cattle-herding village, ruled by Baron Ludwig Erchendag. He is married to the daughter of the Freiherr of Greitzberg, so the two are on good terms. Several years ago the previous baron was turned into a vampire, but was eventually destroyed and his manor house abandoned and sealed. Ever since then, however, there are said to be more unusual happenings in the vicinity than can easily be accounted for. Population 330, 2 ritters, 66 militia.

    Greitzberg is also a cattle-herding village, but supplements this with logging in the forest across the river. It is ruled by Freiherr Erwin Stadtler. His title comes from the fact that his village was founded prior to the Markgraf being granted his own title. The Markgraf thinks the world of him, however, and treats him like an honored guest whenever the Freiherr visits Osttur. The Markgraf will stay in Greitzberg on visits, and the two nobles will hunt together in the woods. Population 700, 4 ritters, 140 militia.

    Jenstein is a logging town, but also sports a stone quarry that provides high-quality blocks of granite to the rest of the district and Osttur. It is ruled by Baron Krieg Lustorf. There is a dispute between Jenstein and Greitzberg, however, on where exactly the border between the two lies. It turns out there are two boundary stones, a half-mile apart, each claiming to mark the border. A group of bandits has taken advantage of the confusion and sometimes strikes in the disputed zone. Population 400, 3 ritters, 80 militia.

    Melheim's economy is centered on a pair of copper mines nearby, worked by a sizeable force of hill dwarves. The ingots are difficult to transport, however, making full exploitation of the resource difficult. The village is ruled by Baron Karl Urfein. They recently built a palisade wall to protect the village against constant raids by the orcs. The baron is experimenting with embracing the half-orcs in his community, organizing them into a militia unit specifically to deal with orc raids. Its success is yet to be determined. Population 370, 2 ritters, 78 militia.

    Graufort is situated on a ford across the river, and is surrounded by extensive acres of farmland where mostly wheat and rye are grown. The current ruler is Baroness Ursula Megendorf, a young widow whose husband was killed in an orc raid. Graufort is also home to the largest temple of the Holy Family in the district, which gives the baron no little pride. Population 560, 4 ritters, 130 militia.

    Lunz is a small farming village ruled by baron Josef Kreiten. He himself is an accomplished magic-user, and hopes to start a school for the mystical arts in the village. He has attracted a few students already. Population 300, 2 ritters, 60 militia.

    Oeltorf is a small farming community ruled by Baroness Suzanne Woldkopf. She is an ancient matriarch of her clan, and the family or its relatives own half the farmland surrounding the village. She herself has 8 children, 23 grandchildren, and 7 great-grandchildren. It is said she has a touch of elven blood. Population 450, 3 ritters, 90 militia.

    Sendenow is another farming village that grows barley and rye predominately, but also has a strong tradition of hunting boar in the nearby Trotterwood. The ruler is Baron Baldur Reichbach. Being the furthest from the Slate Mountains, Senenow has the least problem with raids from the Spinebreaker orcs, but between the Spider Wood to the north and the Trotterwood to the west, there are other dangers that plague the village, and so he maintains three knights and still makes sure the village militia drills weekly. Population 500, 3 ritters, 100 militia.

    Wednesday, November 15, 2017

    November Campaign Design VIII - Fresh Off the Boat

    Part of the conceits of the Lost Artanis campaign setting is the idea that it so easily fits the "classic" campaign set-up, as a consciously inherent aspect of its design. That is, the PCs can literally enter the setting fresh off a ship from Hanar-Across-the-Sea, into a land they only have the vaguest knowledge of. Thus I don't have to worry about why the PCs don't already know a bunch of people (although I can still pull out the "someone you met on the ship" card if I need to introduce an NPC whom they can probably trust).

    However, details as to what they see when they step off that ship are lacking.

    First, I have to decide what the best landing point is. Do I want to start a party in Aedgaria, Lippegen, or New Valais? All have different opportunities for a band of adventurers. I choose Lippegen, specifically Osttur.

    The PCs arrive in the port at Durst, and then are taken by coach to Osttur in a week, where the promise of employment by petty landowners to the northeast of the town has drawn them. They are to serve as a force of warders to "supplement" the soldiery of the Markgraf and protect the settlers. In reality, the Markgraf's soldiers never venture more than twenty miles from the town gates, so they're on their own, along with several other similar bands of warders who act in semi-competition. To complicate matters, there is a ruined Artanian town in the woodlands, and it is thought that many of the creatures that are making life hard for the settlers are coming from there. After five years, they are to be rewarded with homesteads of their own, but it's a dangerous job, and few live or stick around long enough to collect that reward.

    Naturally, nothing says they all must come from the Dual Kingdom of Grott-Heimburg. The good folk of Lippegen are more than happy to get their employees from Valais, Wynnland, or elsewhere. Thus, if someone wants to play a ranger or a halfling, they have options that fit into this setup.

    Next step: some small-scale maps of the area the PCs will be operating in, Osttur itself, and the ruined Artanian town.

    The map is mostly unchanged, but I did add a few more
    Artanian ruins, including the one in the woods northeast
    of Osttur.

    Monday, November 13, 2017

    November Campaign Design VII - Lost Artanis

    I wanted to take some time to discuss the realm of Lost Artanis, which, although it no longer exists in the time-frame of the campaign, will still cast a very long shadow upon it. Artanis is a kingdom that covered the whole of the colonized area and beyond, which fell some 500 years ago due to circumstances which remain unknown. Not a single Artanian is known to have survived, and their cities and villages have fallen into ruin. At first I wanted to give the Artanians some sort of distinctive feature (like blue skin) but then I realized that might be unconsciously derivative of the green-skinned Viridians of the Judges Guild Wilderlands setting, and I shelved the idea. If I come up with something better, I'll certainly revisit it.

    Mountain ranges now have names, and ruins of Artanian
    ruined cities and towns are now marked. Many are underwater.

    As I mentioned before, I don't want this to be a dungeon-centered campaign, and thus I will not give into the temptation of having extensive underground regions of cities, buried cities, etc. These ruins are all above ground, overgrown with vegetation, open to the sky and the elements. There will still be monsters, and treasures, and the like to be found in the ruins, but the experience of exploring them will (hopefully) be quite different than a standard dungeon-crawl.

    As might have been obvious from some of the details I've given in the previous installments on the colonial governments, I also want to have the campaign have a large waterborne/underwater component. Thus did I mention communities of merfolk, sea elves, etc. that the land-based communities interacted with.

    Because of that, many of the largest cities of Artanis are now underwater, thanks to some unspecified natural disaster that caused the coast to sink, taking the cities with it. These are now haunted undersea ruins, and exploring them will present new challenges, as well as giving an opportunity to really work in the undersea races. Some sort of ubiquitous water-breathing magic or substance might be in order I'm thinking a special wine, made from sea-grapes, that provides the ability to breathe underwater for a specified period of time; downside, if you drink too much to make an extended journey, you suffer from the effects of intoxication.

    There are still ruins to be found in the interior, of course, and these will be as described above; large, spread-out ruins open to the sky, overgrown with greenery. Some structures might still have roofs after 500 years, but most will not. Orc tribes, wild elves, and goblinoid (goblins/ hobgoblins/ norkers/ bugbears) deserters from New Valais and Lippegen might take up residence, as will wild creatures and monsters.

    The biggest mystery to be solved is why Artanis fell in the first place. A plague is the most likely explanation, but I think something more mystical will end up being the true cause. Perhaps the population was all transformed into animals whose descendants live in the cities, or left via magical gateways through time and/or space. If so, the stage could be set for their triumphant return at some point. Which, naturally, would be something of a sticky wicket for the colonists.

    I also like the idea of Artanis being of a higher level of technology and magical knowledge than the colonists. I thought of making it some sort of steampunk or otherwise mechanical aesthetic, but it's so easy to let that slide into cliche and silliness that I demurred. Rather, Artanian magic operates along different lines than standard (A)D&D magic, in that it relies entirely on blood sacrifices to operate. That's similar to how magic works in the Dark Sun world (with its defilers and preservers), except that rather than destroying plant life and turning the countryside into a desert, Artanian Blood Magic destroys human/demihuman life and depopulates over the long run. That might also tie in to the fall of the realm.

    Acquiring knowledge of this new form of magic is of the highest priority to the guilds and schools of wizards back in Hanar and their nascent offspring among the three colonies. It will be much more powerful, relatively speaking, but since it inherently requires the spilling of blood, it will be much more difficult. Imagine a magic-user having to spend hit points to cast spells. Now imagine if that magic-user could use the blood of others to do so. At low levels, animals might suffice, but at higher levels, only intelligent creatures will do. For those of good alignment, his companions could volunteer to do so, and he could of course give of himself. For those of evil alignment, the question is somewhat easier to answer, as long as living victims are at hand...