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 greyhawkgrognard@gmail.com. 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...

    Saturday, November 11, 2017

    November Campaign Design VI - Aedgaria

    Following on the previous installment where I talk about the second of the three colonies in some detail, I'm rounding out Aedgaria in this post.

    Aedgaria is the last of the three colonies to be founded, by the kingdom of Wynnland. Because of this, they got the leftovers when it came to territory, and even had to split the colony into areas, North and South Aedgaria. It's still a feudal society, though, with his grace John II, Duke of Aedgaria as ruler under the king, far off to the west over the Stormsea. Beneath him are several earls and barons that administer the land.

    Aedgaria is almost entirely agricultural, with its relatively small population clustered around its towns and the roads that connect them. The one large-scale building project, the Long Road that connects Dubton with Port Westview in South Aedgaria, was personally paid for by a consortium of merchants who bankrupted themselves in the attempt, as the flow of goods from New Valais to the port never materialized. The duke, realizing the value of the road for the internal development of the colony, pays for its maintenance along with the earl of South Aedgaria.

    Where the other two colonies brought in goblins, hobgoblins, norkers, and bugbears to serve as mercenary troops, Aedgaria brought in halflings to till the soil and make the land bloom, and in that respect they have been very successful. Halfling and human settlements exist peacefully side-by-side or completely integrated. The military consists almost entirely of local militia that drills regularly, and consists of light infantry, slingers, and archers. Each noble maintains a small force at arms, of course, but they are limited in number compared to Lippegen's mercenary contingents.

    Each half of the colony is ruled by an earl. The south is governed by Thomas Westlake, Lord of South Aedgaria. He is an old codger, son of the original earl, with an enormous family who are involved in all aspects of administration of the colony, forming a mini-oligarchy. Most of the day-to-day duties are handled by his oldest sons, who are quite competent.

    Port Westview is the seat of ducal power, and the town itself falls within the duke's personal demesne. Intended to be the preeminent port in Artanis, it's turned out to be something of a disappointment on that score, serving Wynnland shipping, but little else. Large numbers of convicted criminals were shipped in to help build the port on the promise of freedom afterwards, but that has backfired. Desperate for traffic, the place has become something of a haven for smugglers from other lands to the west attempting to evade the tariffs and regulations imposed by Lippegen and New Valais. This, combined with a much larger-than-usual criminal element among the population, has led to a situation where several gangs compete for control of the city's criminal and other activities. The duke and his officials seem unconcerned with this, but the law abiding elements of the populace, numbering 8,000 total, is less than pleased.

    Ulfmore is the meat capital of Aedgaria. Flocks of sheep, herds of pigs and cattle, and other more exotic sources of meat are all found here in great abundance. There are more halflings here than humans, but the baron, Josef Royt, is actually of Sacarian stock; a tiny but proud land between Grott-Heimburg and Valais. His family was driven out after a pro-Grott-Heimburg coup, and his father found his way here, marrying into the baronial title. The town itself, with its population of some 7,000, is built on the ruins of an ancient Artanian city, and this gives it a very distinctive architectural style, as the ruins were used as a quarry for the new settlement.

    Dubton is on the border with New Valais, and quite a bit of trade takes place between the two colonies here. Baron Ulred Green is still stinging from his father's defeat by New Valais, in which the family estates on Green Island were lost, but most of the populace has long since forgotten the decades-old conflict. He has been quietly building up his personal forces, but it's unlikely he'll come anywhere close to the strength of the Valasian goblinoid mercenaries.

    The Islands of the Five Mists technically form their own barony, but the position is vacant and the duke seems to be in no hurry to fill the seat. The islands themselves are a merger of human villages and underwater settlements of tritons, mermen, locathah, and sea elves. The various races live in harmony, and fishing is the only industry of any note.

    The north is governed by Wallace Ford III, Lord of North Aedgaria. He is young, intelligent, and utterly depraved. Although he puts a genteel face on for public consumption, rumors swirl around the court about demon-worship, murders of lovers, and the like. He is married, and his young bride is sweet, innocent, and entirely silent regarding her husband's supposed peccadilloes.

    Uffberryton is the largest town in the north, with a population of 7,000 or so. The Earl's castle is some miles outside the town, which is under the Baron Frederick Regeld, but governed by a Lord Mayor. Between its position as a port, confluence of roads between the other baronies, and being at the gate of trade with Lippegen, it's a prosperous place, relatively speaking.

    Norton is mostly dedicated to fishing and whaling, although there are merfolk and locathah communities not too far offshore that provide some interesting opportunities for trade. One in particular is centered around an underwater gold mine, which provides some much-needed hard currency for the often-struggling Wynnland colony. The town has a population of 5,000, and there are many farmers in the surrounding countryside. The Baronness, Ursula Whitehouse, is a widow with a large fortune and a small family.

    Northgate is uniquely situated at the only opportunity for true expansion in the whole of Aedgaria, to the north. The barony also controls the hills and mountains in the northern portion of the duchy, and there are quite a few active mines and much prospecting that goes on. The enormous pine forests and mountains to the north tempt quite a few explorers, but few are heard from, as they are home to numerous monsters and giants. It has a population of 6,000.

    Friday, November 10, 2017

    Cavalier for 5th Edition

    Today is the hobby store release day for Xanathar's Guide to Everything, and apparently one of the things it includes is a cavalier martial archetype for the fighter class. It just so happens I also wrote up a cavalier martial archetype for my own Players Guide to Greyhawk 576, so I thought I'd share that here for comparison (I haven't seen the WotC book yet, because I pre-ordered it on Amazon, and apparently the hoi-polloi don't get the book for another couple of weeks).

    My version is based on the cavalier sub-class from the 1st edition Unearthed Arcana book. Wherever possible, I'm trying to go back to the 1st edition material for inspiration.


    Cavaliers are the quintessential “knights in shining armor” of the Flanaess. Dedicated to honor, prickly about the deference due to someone of their social standing, they are yet still the product of intense training that makes them among the deadliest warriors in the realm of horse born combat using heavy weapons and armor. No matter their alignment, cavaliers follow a code of chivalry that includes hospitality, honor, courtesy, bravery, and pride. As a rule, cavaliers will wear the heaviest armor available (even if such is not the most efficient, and magical bonuses are not counted), and will seek to attack the most powerful foe available to prove their bravery. Cavaliers never used ranged weapon attacks; such are considered dishonorable. Failure to observe these restrictions may result in forfeiture of half or full experience points and/or renown, at the discretion of the Dungeon Master. Those not in service to some lord, religious cause, or other figure of authority are considered “knights errant” and will have as a primary goal finding service with such a figure. 


    When you choose this archetype at 3rd level, you automatically gain advantage when using a lance, mace, or flail from horseback. You are also proficient in heavy armor, if you are not already. In addition, you can expect up to three day’s hospitality (food and lodging) from any other fighter with the cavalier archetype, and other characters who would recognize such feudal hospitality obligations as appropriate. You will have a coat of arms which will be flown on a pennant on the cavalier’s lance and/or held by a retainer as a battle flag. If this standard is lost, the cavalier will make every effort to recover it, or suffer a great loss of personal honor. 


    At 7th level, you will attract a group of retainers like that detailed in the Variant Noble: Knight background in the Player’s Handbook. If you have already chosen that background variant, your retainers will follow you into dungeon environments, once you reach this level, but will still expect to be protected and not put in the forefront of danger. 


    At 10th level, you always gain advantage when attacking from horseback. In addition, you are an excellent judge of horses in general, and can always pick the horse with the highest number of hit points from a group, when evaluating them (for instance, when picking one out of a herd to buy or ride). You can ride any ordinary mount without effort, and when attempting to ride special mounts (pegasi, hippogriffs, unicorns, etc.) you have advantage. Finally, you have proficiency in animal handling, when it comes to horses and horse-like creatures.

    Mastery at arms

    At 15th level, you can take an additional action each round to perform a melee attack. If you are wearing heavy armor when making this attack, you get advantage automatically. 


    At 18th level, you are automatically immune to magical fear. In addition, you gain advantage when making saving throw vs. any sort of mind-affecting magic or other effects.

    Thursday, November 9, 2017

    November Campaign Design V - Lippegen

    So last time I covered some details about New Valais, and now I'd like to put a little meat on the Lippegen bone. The map hasn't changed:

    Lippegen is my pseudo-Germany colony, linked back to the Dual Kingdom of Grott-Heimburg, with its Summer King and Winter King who swap roles at the equinoxes.

    I see Lippegen as the second colony founded, after New Valais, and its territory spans from the Uffberry River in the north down to the mountains south of the Southrun. This gives them an enormous frontier they can exploit, through the forest to the north as well as the valley to the southeast (in which they will inevitably run into conflict with New Valais as their efforts meet in the poorly-defined border area). The key to their expansion eastward is the town of Osttur, which commands a strategic gap in the mountains and serves as the gateway into the Shining River valley as well as its northern section.

    The whole is ruled by the Herzog of Lippegen, Oscar I. Founded some 80 years ago by the grandfather of the current ruler, and stocked with continuous shipments of new serfs, prisoners, and goblinoid mercenaries, the colony has been steadily built up. Oscar's father, Frederic, was especially aware of the importance of roads to the nascent colonial venture, and embarked on a great road-building program, linking all of the towns in the country. The road between Durst and Uffberryton in particular was a stroke of genius, as it provided an incentive for the North Aegarians to use Durst's port rather than develop their own, both stalling development and providing taxes and fees to Lippegen. He also established the frontier-town of Osttur, intended to open up the great valleys to the east to exploration and eventual settlement. Beneath the herzog are a number of grafs of various sorts.

    Durst is the largest settlement in Lippegen, ruled by Josef II, Graf von Durst. It is a thriving port-town, one of the main destinations for traffic from the west, as well as possessing a large fishing fleet. It has a population of more than 10,000, and the surrounding countryside is thickly settled with farmers, and the whole peaceful. The burggraf of the city, Ernst von Durst, plays a subtle game of politics, playing the herzog off against the graf, and ends up being the real power within the city itself, and in many cases far beyond the city. Finely drilled units of goblin soldiery with hobgoblin and bugbear officers protects the lands of the town from marauders and generally keep the peace. A small force of human Grott-Heimburgers is on hand to keep the mercenaries in their place.

    Stuttbad is on the official border with South Aedgaria, but there is little trade between the two, as there are no roads connecting them on the Aedgarian side. The primary industries here are fishing and trade with the sea elf and triton communities in the southern portion of Chivar Bay. The current Graf von Stuttbad, Erik II, is much more interested in his antiquarian and artistic endeavors - he has actually built a dedicated opera house in a struggling colonial town of 8,000 - than he is in effective governance, which he mostly leaves to the burggraf of the city, Prophero Musk, a hobgoblin of exceptional intelligence and ability. Stuttbad has more integration between the goblinoid soldiery and the civilian population than usual, and the people are gradually getting used to the idea of a hobgoblin among the petite aristocracy, as long as it doesn't start a trend.

    Zweistadt is a frontier town, ruled by the Markgräfin von Zweistadt, Corinna I. She is a young woman of exceptional ability and wealth, a first-generation immigrant from Grott-Heimburg and widow of the previous Markgraf. She is considered the most eligible widow in Lippegen (some say all of Artanis), as her territory is not only at the northeastern edge of Lippegen and thus poised to bring in wealth from the thickly forested lands beyond, but the hills and mountains surrounding the town are also home to very profitable mines, worked by a large contingent of imported dwarf and gnome labor. The markgräfin manages to navigate through the treacherous shoals of politics, all the while entertaining a host of would-be suitors and attending a never-ending cycle of balls, masquerades, and other social functions. And as she does so, her wealth increases daily, as does her power. It is rumored she has her eyes set on the handsome young son of the Graf himself, but that one is already pledged to another.

    Osttur is the bright hope for Lippegen, founded explicitly as a gateway to the rich valleys to the east and southeast, and aimed like a crossbow bolt at halting New Valaisian expansion in that quarter. The Markgraf von Osttur, Karl II, is energetic but unimaginative, and has a strategy that consists of little more than buying serfs in Grott-Heimburg and transferring them to small landowners to whom he grants land titles. Much of the time, however, those land titles are in name only, and the holders have never even set foot upon "their" land. The only thing that prevents his incompetence from coming out is the even greater incompetence of his New Valaisian counterpart, the Marquis d'Onjoi.

    Chivar Bay is home to three fairly large islands; the Anville, Welcome Island, and Gareth Isle. The Anville is so named because it regularly gets hammered by the hurricane-force storms coming off the Stormsea. The early Valaisian explorer Jon Borjeaux had a sense of humor. Both Welcome Island and Gareth Island are inhabited, and there are thriving co-existent communities ashore and underwater, with sea elves, tritons, and mermen aplenty.

    Wednesday, November 8, 2017

    Universal's Dark Universe

    Well, that didn't take long. News has come out that Universal's Dark Universe, which was supposed to be a shared universe with their various monster properties like Dracula and Frankenstein, has folded after just one (well, two, if you count Dracula Untold, which was in, and then out, of the Dark Universe) film, this year's awful Tom Cruise Mummy flick.

    I mused on the Universal monsterverse a few years ago, but I'd like to do so again.

    To my mind, the chief problem was the idea of taking a classic horror movie icon like the Mummy and putting it in a non-horror movie.

    2017's The Mummy was a high-budget action movie, with planes, and explosions, and Tom Cruise, and action, and chases, and spectacular special effects, and all the things that were suspiciously missing from almost all of the other Mummy movies that came before it. Even the excellent 1999 Mummy with Brendan Fraser, which was sort of a mix of action and horror, played up the horror more than the action most of the time. But the sequel inverted that formula, and suffered greatly as a result.

    My proposal is to make a shared Universal horror universe (I'll call it DU2) that is focused not on big-budget action flicks, but which is focused on medium-budget horror movies. Stop swinging for the fences, and concentrate on hitting singles and doubles, and you'll have a franchise that will be going for decades. Here are the guidelines I'd use.

    1. Make the films period pieces. Start them in the late 1870's, near the height of the Victorian age. Explorers are penetrating deepest, darkest Africa, science is advancing steadily but superstition is still rife, Bedlam is still in operation, surgery is still a gruesome thing, and Spiritualism and ceremonial magic are surging. H.G. Wells and Jules Verne are writing, and some of their stories could also be used as material. Jack the Ripper is only a decade away, but there's also Spring-Heeled Jack and other Victorian curiosities to work into the background. Doing so can accommodate all of the major monsters, while nicely avoiding high-tech cop-outs that modern films have to explain away.

    2. Start small, and build to crossovers. Have a Dracula movie set in Transylvania in 1878. Then Frankenstein in Bavaria in 1879. An expedition to Egypt uncovers the Mummy in 1880. Dracula arrives in London in 1881. Frankenstein and his former mentor Doctor Praetorius create a female monster in 1882. Stretch them out, again emphasizing horror and suspense over action and flashy special effects.

    3. Don't have a generic, all-encompassing "anti-monster society." Each film has their own protagonists and heroes, but there are crossovers with minor characters. Keep the early crossovers to minor characters; the same British police captain that we see in a Dracula movie set in London is also in the Invisible Man movie, or Doctor van Helsing is a correspondent of Doctor Jekyll, both being interested in the nature of the subconscious, but they don't get together until a few movies later. That sort of thing.

    4. Tie things together, especially in the early years, with a television show. Universal's House of Horrors would be episodic, centered on a trio of characters (a Spiritualist medium, a ceremonial magician (proto-Golden Dawn), and a former soldier from service in India) who encounter supernatural oddities across England and Europe, and help various people overcome them. Have the same minor characters we see in the films, show up here. But keep it centered on horror. This should be a creepy, tense, scary show, not "Supernatural by Gaslight." Ghosts, Satanic cults, monsters out of folklore; these should be the focus. They can hear about the big bads, but they don't encounter them, except second-hand.

    5. The payoff isn't a big, Avengers-like mash-up of all the players. It's the set-up of pairings between the monsters, and the subsequent mixing and matching of their adversaries. Dracula and the Mummy are excellent "organizer" type monsters, who might enlist others as minions, pawns, or partners in specific schemes, such as the Monster or the Wolfman. Others might get together due to mutual affinity; Dr. Jekyll and van Helsing are both scientists, as are Frankenstein and Griffin (the Invisible Man). There are also possibilities for neat inversions; the audience may know that Mr. Hyde is the same person as Dr. Jekyll, but van Helsing might not realize it, and it might become a plot complication as Hyde is in league with Dracula, while Jekyll is helping van Helsing.

    I really think that would work, and would keep the studio churning out films for a goodly while, as long as they were good in and of their own right, with strong characterization and a heavy emphasis on horror and suspense.  But what do I know? They'll crank out some standalone Frankenstein movie set in modern-day New York and have cloning or some crap, and lots of car chases. sigh

    Tuesday, November 7, 2017

    November Campaign Design IV - New Valais

    As mentioned in the previous installment, I've filled in a lot more detail in the eastern portion of the map, and added one large and one small lake, to give the terrain some interesting features. Here's what it looks like now (click to embiggen):

    The scale is 10 miles per hex, and bear in mind that this is not the final look and feel; the final will be using the Darlene-esque look I used in my Beyond the Flanaess maps a few years ago. The map is done using Hexographer Pro, by the way.

    I wanted to spend a little time considering the southernmost colony in the setting; New Valais. Named for the Kingdom of Valais far to the west across the Stormsea, I'm going for a medieval French vibe (hence the pseudo-French names).

    The Duchy of New Valais stretches from the Grey River in the west to Lake Onjoi in the east. The Grey River also forms a political boundary between South Aedgaria and Lippegen, but the boundary on the other side of the mountains, in the valley where the Shining River flows, has never been firmly defined. As Lippegen continues to expand southeast in the valley, they are bound to run into conflict with the Valaisians, who are also expanding in that area. The Three Moons Desert forms the southern boundary, so named because of the time it takes to travel from one end to the other, so legend has it.

    New Valais was the first colony founded, and thus the oldest. Valasian explorers were the first to arrive in Artanis once the Stormsea calmed (an event whose cause is unknown, and serves as a central mystery), allowing regular traffic across its surface. New Montrose serves as the capital and seat of the Dukedom. It is the largest settlement in Artanis, with a population of approximately 30,000.

    Underneath Duke Absolon III, there are four Marquis, each based in one of the large towns; Chamlin, Anleans, Duchance, and Onjoiville. The towns have populations of between 10,000 and 15,000 each, and an equal number of peasants live in the surrounding countryside, based in small villages. The whole duchy is based on feudal land-rights, with tenant serf-farmers making up the majority of the population outside the towns.

    The island chain known as the Breakers protects Chamlin and Anleans from the worst of the storms that still roll in from the Stormsea, and the coast is also connected by a fine road. No road connects Onjoiville to the rest of the Duchy, however; all traffic passes on the Firstwaterl; the river connecting Lake Onjoi and the Gulf of Morois. The Duke has granted exclusive rights to such traffic to a number of companies and families, and they guard their position (and incomes) jealously.

    Chamlin is the westernmost marche in the duchy, ruled by Lewis I, Marquis d'Chamlin. They uniquely enjoy a small amount of trade with South Aedgaria, via the road that connects Chamlin and Dubton. Although this gives the Chamliners a somewhat better impression of the Aedgarians, twenty years ago they did fight a short but violent war over possession of Green Island, which is particularly fertile, not to mention strategically placed. Chamlin won the conflict, a fact which some in Dubton have not forgotten. Chamlin's primary agricultural product is cattle and cheese. In fact, Chamlin cheese is particularly famed back home, and constitutes one of its chief high-value exports.

    Anleans is another coastal marche, with a thriving fishing industry as well as large amounts of cotton, ruled by Lothar, Marquis d'Anleans. Being the interior-most marche in the duchy, Anleans is also the most secure, with few raids from orc tribes to worry about. The marquis of Chamlin and Duchance grumble about being expected to carry all the burden for the defence of Anleans, but so far the fact that the marquis is married to the duke's second daughter has prevented any action. There are rumors that the duke is paid a special honorarium to maintain this arrangement.

    Duchance is situated in a hilly valley, and the marche extends up into the hills and mountains beyond. It is ruled by Roger, marquis d'Duchance. The land is excellent for grapes and wine, which is its chief export, but suffers badly from constant raids by orcish tribes (and their goblinoid allies, originally brought over as mercenaries by Valais, but many thousands have deserted).

    Onjoi is the easternmost marche, with the marquis' residence in Onjoiville, overseen by Welois, Marquis d'Onjoi. In theory, the marquis rules over all the lands within thirty miles of Lake Onjoi, as well as the entire Shining River valley. In reality, the only really secure settlements are on the southern end of the lake, and Lippegen is beginning to settle the valley en masse. Orcs and other threats have kept Onjoi from gaining true control over the lands he has been granted, and rumors in the court of both the duke nearby and the king across the Stormsea say that patience is growing thin among his superiors. Action to secure and pacify his lands is not only expected, but required, if he is to retain his position. This has made him understandably frantic to do just that.

    As mentioned before, religiously Valais and its colony follow the druidic faith. Since rangers use druid spells, they are implicitly associated with that faith. So, class-wise, there aren't going to be any Valasian paladins or clerics, but druids and rangers will come from here.

    Sunday, November 5, 2017

    November Campaign Design III - The Religion Question

    As mentioned in the previous post in this series, here's the trimmed-down map that only focuses on the northern, settled, parts of the continent (which I've christened "Lost Artanis"):

    The map has a scale of 10 miles per hex. The eastern areas definitely need some more detailing, and I might throw another large lake in there to break up the landmass and give things an interesting contour.

    I also realized I need names for the home countries of these colonies. New Valais is obvious, of course, with its people coming from Valais, and being beholden to the king of that nation. Aedgaria is a colony of the kingdom of Wynnland, a rather conventional, bucolic place; while Lippegen is a colony of the Dual Kingdom of Grott-Heimburg, with its two kings who swap out the duties of royalty as the seasons turn, with one being the Winter King and the other the Summer King.

    Regarding the question of religion, I've already decided I want Aedgaria to be a traditional cleric-based religion, and Valais will be drudical in nature. That still leaves the question of what to do with Lippegen. I could go with something completely new, or I could go with another clerical land, but with a different spin than Aedgaria. Since I already have one country that is completely different (Valais), I'm going to go with the option I think lends itself to the most dramatic possibilities, and say that Lippegen and Aedgaria share a religion, but that they are in schism, and thus each regards the other as heretical.

    This religious tension can flare up and be tamped down from time to time, with hostility increasing or decreasing as events unfold. It gives me another arrow in my quiver for making plot-advancing events come to life.  So what's the deal with this religion in crisis?

    The Church of the Holy Kin is based on the worship of the Holy Family, a trio of gods that is said to have created the world and who are related to one another. There are no evil deities, but demons, devils, daemons, and etc. take that role. The Holy Family consists of:

    Adar - Sky father, appears as a powerfully-built human male with the head of a lion. Neutral good. Greater god. God of the sky and weather, storms and the rain that quickens the fields. He is prayed to in most circumstances, especially for fair winds, gentle rains, and good weather. He is also god of craftsmen. A primordial being with no father or mother.

    Amara - Earth Mother, appears as a beautiful woman with the head of a falcon. Chaotic good. Greater goddess. Goddess of the earth, plants, animals, and agriculture. She is prayed to for bountiful crops and game, and also in childbirth and healing in general. A primordial being with no father or mother.

    Kest - The Joyous Warrior, appears as a prototypical knight in shining armor, with great eagle wings, or a beautiful young girl, scantily clad, with butterfly wings. Lawful good. Lesser god. God of war, victory, chivalry, and knighthood as well as sex, lust, food, drink, and pleasures of the flesh. S/he is prayed to for victory in battle. Child of Adar and Amara.

    Temples of the Church are dedicated to all three members of the Holy Family, as are clerics. The idea of a cleric dedicated to a single member of the Family is unknown. Clerics wear blue and white, and are as described in the Players Handbook. The religion is a moralistic one, embracing the tenets of Good, imported from a now-destroyed city-state of great splendor in the distant past. 

    There are, however, specialty clerics that arise in different places and cities, emphasizing particular aspects of life that are of particular interest to their faithful. Naturally, Lippegen and Aedgaria have their own, and some from Hanar (the home continent off to the west across the Stormsea) will have come themselves as settlers. No specialty clerics trained in Artanis will be anything other than Lippegen or Aegarian Order. Here are a few such orders of specialty clerics that could be found:

    Lippegen Order specialty clerics: AL LG, LN, NG; RA blue and white tunic and leggings with green and yellow trim; WPN longsword*, dagger, spear; SPL tracking as a ranger 2 levels lower; ADD burning hands, locate plants, slow poison, stoneskin, transmute rock to mud. The Lippegen Order evolved to be more aggressive and warlike, while at the same time gaining skills that are helpful in a new environment.

    Aedgarian Order specialty clerics: AL LG, NG, CG; RA blue and white tunic and leggings with red and white trim; WPN flail, battle axe, horseman's pick; SPL re-roll all 1's when curing wounds; ADD animal friendship, charm person or mammal, plant growth, animal summoning I, animal summoning II, commune with nature, anti-animal shell. Such clerics are well-suited to the rigors of life on an untamed continent. It is possible that a North Aedgarian and South Aedgarian order will emerge at some point, but it has not occurred yet.

    Lordain specialty clerics: AL any good; RA blue and white tunic with silver and blue trim; WPN dagger, knife, cutlass*; SPL predict weather 1/day at 1st level, gust of wind 2/day at 5th level, control weather 1/day at 14th level; ADD feather fall, fog cloud, call lightning, control winds. Lordain is one of the great seaports of Wynnland, and their clerics are used to serving aboard and helping ships and those that travel by water.

    Kreff specialty clerics: AL any good, RA blue and white tunic with gold and red trim; WPN longsword, lance*, horseman's flail; SPL +1 to hit when mounted, immune to fear at 3rd level; ADD flaming sphere, fireball, protection from evil 10' radius, wall of thorns. Kreff is a barony in Heimburg that has seen generations of warfare in the struggle between the Orthodox and Reformed churches. Their clerics serve on the front lines, encouraging paladins and their troops to greater deeds of action. They follow the Orthodox church, but a single decisive victory by the Reformed church forces would render them all but extinct.

    The nature of the schism within the Church is, on the surface, one of theological minutiae. The Orthodox church, to which Grott-Heimburg (and thus Lippegen) holds allegiance, believes that Kest can only be male or female at any given time, thus constantly shifting the balance of gender within the Holy Family. The Reformed church, to which Wynnland (and thus Aedgaria) is pledged, holds that Kest is at all times inherently both male and female, and thus there is always equality of gender within the Holy Family. There are other, minor, issues as well.

    But that is on the surface. The real root of the schism is political and economic. The Orthodox church is centralized, with a single Great High Priest who rules as priest-king over his own realm in Hanar and who has spiritual authority over the church organization in the various kingdoms that uphold it. The Reformed church, on the other hand, is very locally centered, with the highest level of authority at the level of an individual temple or shrine, or at most a town with three or four temples.

    Saturday, November 4, 2017

    Review: Thor Ragnarok (Spoiler Free)

    I saw Thor Ragnarok tonight in a mostly-filled theater with the new (to me, anyway) Dolby system installed. Supposed to have better sound and visuals. The sound was definitely more rumbly; the seats would shake when there were explosions or ships flying past, but I didn't notice anything particularly better about the viewability of the film. The power recliners were a definite plus, though. No 3D, no IMAX. Now on to the movie itself.

    Bottom line; this is easily the best of the Thor films, but that's a pretty low bar, as they're on the bottom end of the MCU films as a whole. A lot has been said about the level of humor in this film, and there are definitely a lot more jokes (sight gags as well as silly moments in general) to be had than in most Marvel films in general, save the Guardians of the Galaxy films.

    At first when I heard about the humor in the movie, I was afraid it would descend into farce, and had visions of using the phrase "the MCU has finally reached the level of Abbot and Costello Meet Loki" but my fears were unfounded. The humor is definitely stepped up, but it's well-done and adds to the film, rather than taking it down the Abbot-hole.

    Valkyrie from the comic books
    Hela (played by Kate Blanchett) is one of those rarities in the MCU - a villain whose motivations are relatively easy to understand and clearly defined. Unlike Malekith in Thor The Dark World, I might hasten to add. I won't go into too much detail, but they tie her story into that of the Valkyrie (played by Tessa Thompson) very nicely.

    Speaking of whom, I comfort myself that they never actually call her Brunhilde, as she is known in the comic books, so she is "one of the Valkyries" rather than "the heroine called Valkyrie, whose real name is Brunhilde, in the comic books" who is a leggy blonde, as one might expect someone named Brunhilde to be. Ahem.

    Jeff Goldblum's Grand Master is a treasure to behold, and he's just as quirky as his brother and fellow Elder of the Universe, The Collector, seen in Thor The Dark World and Guardians of the Galaxy.

    Hulk is the Big Guy in the room, and dominates the film's second act. He's more vocal than we've seen him before in an MCU film, but that's perfectly in line with his comic-book incarnation, where he speaks regularly. I found myself really liking the talking Hulk a lot more than the screaming-only Hulk we saw in the first two Avengers films (with one notable exception):

    There's a great call-back to this scene in the film, by the way, and it's brilliant. You won't see it coming, but you'll know it when you see it.

    What struck me overall about the film was the use of color throughout. From the opening title you know this is a film much more grounded in the MCU's Cosmic side, with its bright colors, asymmetrical designs, and weird angled line ornamentation that doesn't seem to serve any purpose, but which should be instantly recognizable by fans of Jack Kirby's work in the comics. Visually, this film establishes the use of color and crowded design as a hallmark of the Comic MCU definitively. Sakaar is what Asgard should have looked like (and Attilan from the Inhumans show on ABC, for that matter, but that's another story). The use of contemporary music also recalled GotG, but to a lesser degree.

    The pacing is also worth noting. The film runs longer than either of its predecessors (130 minutes) but it doesn't feel like it. When the final battle in the third act rolled around, I thought the movie still had a ways to go. It never feels rushed or bloated. Great pacing. Spider-Man Homecoming was similarly well-paced.

    It's far from a perfect movie, of course. They completely unnecessarily re-use a musical theme. Holding off until the end of the film would have had a lot more impact. Doing the same thing twice feels like they couldn't be bothered to find anything else (someone send the folks at Marvel Studios a bunch of Manowar CDs, pronto!). Once or twice a joke could have yielded to a straight line and provided greater impact. Meekly-voiced Korg became a one-trick pony. But these are relatively minor issues. There are none of the greater problems that plagued Dark World, for instance.

    On the whole, this is an entirely fun outing for the MCU. We see a side of the Cosmic universe we've not seen before, which broadens it immensely, setting things up for even greater things I'm sure when Captain Marvel hits theaters in 2019, and we get to see the Kree (again) and Skrulls (finally) in action, not to mention the inevitable Guardians of the Galaxy 3. This will surely be yet another hit for Marvel, and deservedly so. Its definitely in the top third of their catalog.