Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Finally, a little actual play, with a new setting thrown in...

So, got together with a few of the old crowd, and played the introduction of what may be a new campaign.

Set in the Kingdom of Kendarthen Valley, or the Old Fairy Lands, which may be the setting I've done the most work on, but not posted anything about. Yet.

It's an isolated valley, and a bit of a sandbox, too. Mountains to the north, west and east, with only a long, dry pass through to the deserts further east. To the south is the one route linking the Southern Cities, but it passes through swamp, moor and wasteland.  It was first settled by humans 1022 years ago,when the first king, the warlord and explorer Kendarthen arrived, with his mercenary company. He assisted the already present Fey kingdom in their battle against the minions of the Skull King, and then, when the battle was won, turned on his allies and forced them into the Shadow Realms. His people, refugees and displaced humans, settled the lands.

He was lost on the third anniversary of the Fey withdrawal, when, while alone at his newly completed castle in the King's Forest, the surrounding vegetation sprouted huge toxic thorns and enveloped the building. None have entered the castle since, and although not confirmed dead, the name of the king is used as a warning to children of the risks of consorting with the Fey.

Since then, the Royal Line continued, despite enough accidents, disasters and misfortunes to cause whispers of a curse to surface. However, three generations ago the Royal Family were crossing the lake next to the Capital, Senaris, when an unseasonable gale blew up, capsizing the royal barge. The bodies of all the royal family except one were found over the next week. As the only body not discovered was that of a 6-month old baby, it was assumed that he could not have survived.

The Castellans, the hereditary keepers of the castle in Senaris, assumed the rulership as a temporary measure, but are still caretaker rulers to this day. In the Great Hall, the royal thrones stand empty on their dais, and the Regent presides from a simple chair placed on the lowest step, wearing no ornamentation, only black leather.

Away from Senaris, there are four Duchies - Darkstone, Moonstone, White Jade and Ghostwind, each with their own resources, risks and politics, as well as various Fey and magical effects and locations.

Our play took place in the north-eastern Duchy, White Jade, named after the river and the beautiful stone mined and quarried at its headwaters. The Duke is a dark, foreboding man, tall and lean, who leads a fractious and divided family in vicious political manoeuvring with the other factions and families of the Province. It makes Game of Thrones look homely and settled, as although there is little open violence, the plots and betrayals, coupled with the various mages and mystics that each would-be player employs, can kill as easily as a dagger.

White jade, as great stone blocks for building, or delicate intricate carvings for decoration or jewellery, copper and iron ingots, root vegetables and orchard fruits, and snake leather are the mainstay exports to the other Duchies.

The main points of interest are; to the west, the White Jade and Moonstone Rivers form the main boundary, flowing down through several lakes to Senaris; to the north, the Red Fox Mountains; to the east, a very long way to the isolated coastal cities of the Desert of Legions, across almost a months journey of goblin infested wasteland and semi-desert; and to the south, the low range of eroded canyons, badlands and pinnacles called the Snake Badlands, then the haunted ruins on the shores of the Shadow Lake.

But our three travellers are in the northern lands, east of the White Jade, in the series of villages and towns on the trade route south of the mines. We have Imaghan, nephew of the Duke, but very removed from Court or politics, a ranger/barbarian, and Fey-touched already; Tamailus, a Knight and past hereditary defender of a recently destroyed border tower, now following Imaghan on his mission; and Sarialin, an apprentice mage the two warriors assisted to escape from his master, or, more specifically, the depredations of his fellow apprentices.

They (well, Imaghan) has been guided and fed subtle ideas by Malrous, his uncle's (the Duke) chief ranger and (secretly) chief intelligence agent, concerning outside threats to the Realm - goblins, rogue sorcerers, witch covens, foreign spies, magical curses and prophecies, etc. As you can see, Ralph Finnes from Camelot cuts the right foreboding and ruthless figure for this subtle manipulation.

But, as first level characters, nothing too strenuous to start. Malrous suggested the party travel to the town of Nehem, an important copper and iron smelting centre. Two days short of their destination, travelling safely along the patrolled main road, they stopped at the village of Dhath (population ~90) for the night.

Talking to the surprisingly young and intelligent owner of the only general goods store, they found a mission worthy of a few days straying. Kereth, the owner and proprietor of the store since her grandfather passed away three years ago, is about the same age as the three youths (early twenties, I guess). Her ward, a brain addled boy named Sreth, has disappeared again. He is at none of his normal hides, and Kereth thinks he may have stayed into one of the three local ruins, that all locals avoid due to their fell reputations. Thinking of both finally testing their steel and wits, and impressing a young merchant, they agreed, setting out an hour after dawn the next morning.

Heading two hours walk east of the town, the boys soon found Ghar's Farrow, a strange name for a small series of crypts of the ancient pre-Fey humans that occupied the land millennia ago. Built into the wall of a red sandstone cliff, they soon descended the steps into the crypts.

They explored a partially flooded room, but found only destroyed, empty sarcophagi. They found a spear trap in the corridor. The first two passed over it, but the mage, going last, noticed the click of the pressure plate depressing. He stopped and called out, leading the other two to stop, so Tamailus was in the way. Forewarned, though, he managed to partially parry it, and only took one health point damage.

The tomb to the left, past the trap, contained a wrinkled and mummified body behind a glowing blue dome. There was also a ghoul on a ledge behind the door, but fire and steel slew it with no serious (or infected) wounds. As the ghoul died, the mummy rose and presented all three with a vision of ... well, something they can't remember now, but it involved things being opened and fire and ice...

Leaving the mummy undisturbed, they returned past the trap, remembering not to set it off again, and turned left again at the next intersection, found a room piled with rubble and junk, with a stone throne in a clearing. After dealing, with some difficulty, with the mass of giant rats that assaulted them upon entry, Sarialin was the only one to sit in the throne, and he found a secret catch that he immediately triggered. A low door opened in the back of the throne, and a skeleton rolled out. It stayed dead, thankfully, and Sarialin determined it was likely a woman's skeleton, and relieved it of two rings from its right hand.

Taking the other branch, they stumbled over a low step into a tidy room, with only a small coffer and an open sarcophagus present. They were not surprised when the tall, dessicated warrior rose, with ornate bronze mail and spear. The fight was rather epic, with the warriors being over-matched until they separated and started flanking the undead. Even the mage planted a mighty blow to the head with his wooden staff, but was then hit straight back for the loss of 2/3 of his total health. Finally Imaghan buried his hand axe in its head, shattering both in the process.

The coffer contained 20 strange, heavy silver coins, and Imaghan claimed the spear. The mail vest was too heavy and damaged to take, and they left it on the body when they burnt it.

So, one four-room dungeon cleared, damage taken and dished out by all, but boy not found. Two more ruins to check, and someone should check out the rings...

River sloth is robbing your bags...

A family or clan of strange goblin-like creatures roam a shaded and forested stretch of the Ne-Ban River, in the southern reaches of the Empire, where jungle takes over from temperate forest.  This stretch would be little travelled, if it were not for constant rumours of the Golden Treasures of the Third Dynasty of the Kyghan secreted somewhere in the eroding spires and citadels clustered above the vast waterfalls named The Tears of the Princess Almesha (by the Imperial Loyalists) and Dead Hag Falls by all others.  These falls are only reachable by boat up the Ne-Ban, as no roads cut through the thick, boggy growth for at least fifty kilometres in any direction.

Every decade or so the chance find of a jewelled diadem or platinum pectoral amongst the dangerously narrow, rubble filled galleries or walkways that are constantly washed by the spray of the waterfalls, sets off another rush of Imperial Tax Collectors, treasure seekers, mages (for what reasons, only they know) and other scoundrels of the Empire and surrounding Realms.

Although they do not know it, as they rent, hire, buy or steal boats and barges, and use slaves, hired sailors or strange magics to speed them upriver against the changeable currents, their most dangerous challenge (at least, from a financial viewpoint) comes even before they hear the falls.

After they pass several days of boulder-strewn rapids in a deep, narrow canyon, boats reach a secluded section of river.  Here, most parties rest in exhaustion, at least, those that didn't drown, get crushed under shifting house-sized boulders or trapped in the nets of the water fey.  Usually at night, but sooner if all are sleeping or distracted, the inhabitants of these waters slowly and quietly slip on board and head straight for the luggage.

Using razor sharp claws, they slice and slit packs and bags, seemingly searching exclusively for ornaments, jewellery and potions, which they drink, adorn themselves, or attempt to wear, as the case may be.  If discovered, they dive over the edge and swim away to their beaver-like underwater lodge, or, if unable to, can strike out with their razor sharp claws.

If spoken to, they seem to understand simple common, although they do not speak. They gesture accordingly, and can be bargained with, taking potions, especially those of healing or effective against poison or disease, in exchange for either items stolen and worn (usually from the bargainer) or simple directions to the network of caves that give access to the Upper Falls.

If tolerated or dealt with non-violently (or destructively, given the use of base magics amongst these sorts of travellers) the Ne-Ban Goblins are a comic annoyance.  If harmed, however, they can make the life of intruders into their waters very difficult, puncturing boats, stealing weapons and magical implements, and their nimbleness and inherent magic resistance assists with this.

 The true reason for the need for healing magics is the (natural) poor health of their young, who do not grow fur or learn to swim until their 5th year, leaving them subject to many of the pests and diseases of the lodge.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Seven Lakes, Part 2

Busy renovating the bathroom of our first house - when we moved in, we knew it had to happen, as the shower not working and the salmon pinky/orange & pale blue colours made it difficult to love.

But at we prepare to paint it all tomorrow (so the electrican can connect the lights and I can go biking in the weekend) here's something I found lurking in my drafts, following on, presumably, from an earlier post on the Seven Lakes region. It didn't get much use, but here's some flotsam from the streets of the city;

Things you might find on the streets of Rotogawa;

1. A rabble of goblins, wearing cast-offs and heavily modified human clothing, often with metal coins sewn into it.  These are usually found at the few major intersections, and they will politely (for a goblin) inquire if they can assist passers by with luggage, directions or running errands.  The price is always "a coin".  Any metal, make or design.  In fact, due to their protective value when sewn into clothing, copper and iron coins are more highly sought than gold or silver.

 The goblins of the Lake have been well and truly seduced by civilisation.  Their dirt warrens run alongside the garbage pile, of which the goblins revel in reclaiming and recycling any and all items discarded by other inhabitants.  They are even more docile and stupid than normal goblins too, which can generally be attributed to the brewings of Ezenal Thrump, a human Alchemist of little skill.  He has a large vat in his yard, though, which is fed by an ingenious rainwater collection pipe.  Into this, he piles all the dead vermin, cut hair, and venomous fungi he can collect.  The foetid, rank product is drained from the base of the vat into small clay flasks, that he sells (under the cover of darkness) to any goblin with a silver or richer coin.  If drunk by a human, it would induce unconsciousness, permanent nausea, and a dimming of all metal facilities.  Apparently, it does the same to goblins, but they enjoy the sensation.

2. Town Guards.  The most visible two are Tial and Shem, both born and raised locally, although their deep copper skin marks them as having family origins in the far side of the Empire.  Tial is slightly taller than average, well muscled but carrying some fat, with messy black hair and pretensions of facial hair. Shem is half a foot shorter and the same broader across the shoulders, and is much woollier.  They are scruffy, disreputable and streetsmart, and can take all the usual issues of the City in their stride.  Anything else is usually dealt with by them both disappearing to a local bar, and returning 15 minutes later, well liquored and ready to face anything.  They are usually on night shift, having annoyed their Captain, and will gladly spend their free, and working, time associating with sell-swords, hedge wizards, and thieves.

3. Hanazor Machin, a representative example of the local class of Alchemists.  Originally from one of the Islands in the Storm Reach, he arrived here 10 years ago on the trail of a fungus that could replace the need for honey in healing salves.  He found, instead, coloured clay that added extra potency to enhancement potions, frog eggs that altered the eater's voice, and a vast collection of mosses and ferns that he is still experimenting on.  For any alchemist in the City, roll a few times on a random potion chart and use modified versions of these as their unique 'specialities'.

Hanazor also found a local wife in the form of a younger daughter of an exiled Empire family, and now spends a lot of time exploring the local area, avoiding family feuding and complaining about historical actions.  He has located a cave below the surface of one of the smaller lakes, which leads to an airfilled chamber that contains an armoured skeleton sitting on a rock throne, holding a gleaming two-handed sword. Although he visits often to catch the larva of a particular mayfly (essential for a complicated and expensive light-green cordial that allows the drinker an untroubled nights sleep, regardless of curses, hauntings, or disease), he is terrified of disturbing the dead warrior.  He also has an agreement with a few goblins, to lead obviously rich travellers to his small but efficient shop. This has led to a few problems in the past, given the mental state of the average local goblin...

Average Gleaner
4. Gleaners; a viable profession in this area, at least for those who dislike normal work but thrive on danger, carefulness and risk (i.e those that would be petty thieves in most other cities).  As the community is rather close-knit, and the penalty of being caught stealing is having your hands cut off and being handed to the Lake Folk for their sacrifices to the Lake Gods, alternate options to get rich quick were sought.

The ruins of the Los Mehno produce little rich and exotic treasure without an equivalent amount of danger and effort, and these men and women possess little talent or stomach for hard, risky work. However, they have found that following along behind groups of armed treasure seekers as they spring or disarm traps, slay (or are slain by) undead or golem  guardians and solve tricky magical puzzles can produce some rewards to the cautious.

 The broken pottery vases containing a few coppers, chipped pewter plates, dented armour, strange bones or even tattooed skin cut from the hide of undead goblins that lurk in some sections. These are passed over by tomb robbers and treasure hunters, but can be stuffed (quietly) into a sack, and carried back, to sell to alchemists, tourists, minor gentry and the like, for a few coppers.

Occasionally something more exotic, expensive, or downright dangerous can be 'gleaned'. One example is the time Grazos the Mute, somewhat hopeless at everything in life except running away from things, discovered, in a little travelled and dusty chamber, a secret room. It was bare, except for the skeleton of a slain Swordswoman from the South, and a headless skeleton holding a glowing wand made of some crystal. Of course, a beggar, carrying a wand that fired glowing bolts at random, pursued by both the corpse of the Swordswoman and the skeleton (carrying it's elongated head under it's arm), caused a commotion or two, and even five years on, is a favoured tale in some of the less formal taverns.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Magic, or at least one part of it...

Been pondering a few parts of PG games that I've avoided for a long time...

Material components for magic spells is one that I've never really cared for - not starting off in D&D, when I did come across it (at the AD&D stage) the (possibly optional) things you needed to cast spells were complicated and also rather humorous. And it makes for rather insane book-keeping too. Except if you're in a computer game... I assume now most people either hand waved it or ignored it completely, which is rather a bad sign for something explaining how magic might work.

I'm also rather lazy and enjoy it when players design parts of the campaign. At least, when I ask them to, and within certain constraints - in my experience, players concepts for my games tend to revolve around their characters material possessions and attractiveness to NPCs of the opposite sex.

And, based on a concept from the Wizard of Firetop Mountain, I have come up with an idea that I will test, soonish.

Rumours concerning the titular wizard suggested that his power came from a deck of cards, or gloves, or a spell book. But only one was true, and I get the feeling that was only true if you decided to take a certain action which was almost cheating (hint - burn the deck of cards - but if it was the basis of all his magical power, why leave it lying around where the hero can grab it?).

Putting all these random thoughts together, here's a brief list of things that may be required for magic to be ... expressed?

- Spoken words/phrases
- Material components - specialised and separate for each spell type
- Items of power - your staff, wand, glove, sock puppet...
- Somatic - funky hand movements
- Singing
- Dancing - think shamanic magical concepts
- Natural forces - sun/moonlight, water, fire, soil, rock, etc.
- Draining life - yours, or others (a la Dark Sun)
- Runes - big, solid things carved on stone tablets you have to either visit or cart around, or something you carve on the spot.
- Ley lines or big conduits of energy under the ground. Very immovable.

So there's a lot of concepts - I will add more as I uncover more off-beat interweb sites and pulp fantasy novels - but that will do as a start.

You've rolled up a new character, decided that a spell caster of some type will suit it well, and ask me. I pass you the list, and tell you to pick two of them, but make them not too difficult to do together. And that is how you will cast spells.

Simple is somatic and verbal, and we can all imagine a mage speaking the rhymes and waving his arms around. It does leave you subject to either being bound or silenced, though, which is a drawback. Longer sequences for more powerful spells.

Rune and an item (staff); cast the spells by drawing runes on the ground with your staff. Really easy if there's sand or snow, a trifle more challenging if you're on sheer rock (unless you have a steel spike on the staff), and impossible if you're floating in the air.

Material components and a natural force - say fire. This is more challenging to picture; try small, loose bound linen bundles containing powders that must be cast into a fire, magma, etc and consumed. The bundles can be abstracted a bit - say each spell requires a different mix, which takes one hour per spell level to prepare with the right tools and ingredients. And the ingredients are reasonably to acquire at low levels, and at high levels there is one challenging ingredient, along with several more common ones. Make the challenging ingredient thematic too - a wind spell needs a griffin's feather, a 'kill everyone with fire' spell needs a dragon's scale (but only a red one will do).

If we changed the above to material components and earth, you have to bury the bundles to cast the spell. But you can pre-bury the resin balls you make, and 'cast' the spell instantly providing you remember the place.

And of course, singing and dancing! The powerful magic of the Unearthly Bee-Gees is feared and respected in the Tropical North Eastern Isles. But they are a little weird up there...

That's all. Some combinations are nasty and won't be fun, others too easy. As in all things, moderation...

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Random Post

So, I've gone through all my RPG papers in the wardrobe, and found my printed copy of An Echo Resounding. With the important pages up to page 39 (setting up a campaign area) missing, as they are sitting, somewhere, with the stuff I was working on when we moved. That only leaves the shed, and there are dark things buried there. Like my wife's excess baking equipment...

And so the post today is of some very random notes. Amongst a pile of loose papers (mostly single photocopied pages from old Dragon magazines and sourcebooks) I found a handwritten page (my handwriting - no disturbing horror stories, yet) with two things, possible related, possibly not.

I think the first one was prep for an adventure I was planning, but never actually ran. Perhaps one day.

Idea 1 - Evil Dark Lord has kidnapped the Princess of the Elven City, and demands an artifact of great potential power (and destruction) for her life. He holds her in his great castle, which towers over a desolate hillside. There is a single record of a knight who entered this castle some 50 years ago, through secret underground corridors, but it is likely that they were found and trapped following this escapade. A suicide mission, but any boon will be granted by the Elven King. And boy, can Elves grant boons.

I think I was going to use this to sell the adventure to the players. They were either rather powerful or somewhat gung-ho.

Idea 2 - Bounty Hunters Mission

1. Sent to help party member
2. Sent to kill party member
3. Guarding a treasure
4. Has heard of party's mission and will assist for 10% share
5. Sent to capture party member
6 Sent by wizard to inform party of location of magic item.

I have no idea how this fits in to the mission, unless there are bounty hunters on the wandering monster list. On the other hand, having roaming NPCs with randomly determined agendas sounds like something useful.

Perhaps I'll work on it...

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Two thoughts...

Well, EVERYTHING I usually do on this computer is updating or reinstalling this evening, and that fits in well with my plan to makes posts more often than monthly.

Two things that have sprung to mind;

1. THIS.  Dwarf, Vampire, Dinosaur. The natural world is far more amazing than anything we can imagine, and this is definitely a cute little, vampiritic beast that shall be a real pain in some isolated areas.
My version will be slightly larger than the fossil version - about large dog size, some 60 cm (2 ft) high at the shoulder, mostly walking on all fours. It's covered liberally in spines - long, flexible but sharp and penetrating spines, and it has large, slicing canines for eating plants, carrion and any small animals it can catch. Larger targets are gently bitten, and a reasonable amount of blood is sucked out through the bottom hollow teeth. They are nocturnal.

Not aggressive, unless you're wounded and there's a lot of them, but they are curious and a sleeping human body is a prime target for a little drinking. And even if they only get into the party's food supply, who's going to throw out an excited toothed porcupine-like thing?

Stat them like slightly weaker wolves, but remember the spines, the stealth, the bloodsucking and the general creepiness of these beasts. Waking up to something like that standing next to your bed, with your blood staining it's jaw...

2. For Hernshire, I'm working on the towns. I've worked out the towns on the western side of the river are vaguely English, or at least more normal medieval fantasy like. They are likely the settled descendants of an invading force a millennia or so ago. On the eastern side, a more Celtic-French-Nordic flavour, with a bit more variety and strange (to outsiders) customs, and a lot more inter-family feuding, cattle rustling and general nuisance making.

The smaller eastern city has a Prince. No one quite remembers what he (or she, on occasion) is actually Prince of, as there is a Board of Guildmasters who make financial and relationship decisions, and none of the surrounding lands recognise the Prince as their ruler. They are considered important for some ceremonial reason, but no-one is really sure exactly what it is. Most likely a remnant of a time when a strong ruler was needed, for as long as anyone living can remember, the line of Princes have lived in an ornate, but somewhat draughty and run-down stone villa near the main park, and they are given a small stipend so that they can live and employ a small staff to maintain them. Each successive Prince has seemed slightly blander than the one before, and they have long sunk from public regard, though of more as a kindly but senile old gentleman than anything else

Interestingly, the other main city maintains the Prince's Summer Palace, a slightly smaller but brighter stone building in much the same condition as their other home. It is maintained by a married couple who are paid (little) by the City's treasury, so they commonly sublet rooms or run some business from the premises. Should the Prince ever decide to visit (an event occurring on average, once a decade), a troop of guards will escort him southward, the Palace will be cleaned and unauthorised uses and inhabitants evicted, and the Prince will mooch around a different city before deciding to head back.

No real reason for this, but a Prince of little public importance and most probably a big, important secret one seems appropriate.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

The new setting, again...

Although we are slowly getting furniture for the new house, it's much smaller than our last flat, so a lot of stuff, including most of my RPG papers, are somewhere in boxes in the garage.

This has caused a little problem, as when I want to look up something, I know it's an hour long job to uncover it, and I'll probably be distracted along the way with something else I find that's equally interesting. And the new job involves a lot more travel, and the inspiration levels are suffering as a result. Still....

Anyhow, I'm working on a small scale 'starting' area, where I can test out various rule settings and blood up new characters until they decide to venture out somewhere more exciting. The first map I drew went though the washing machine in a pocket, and my recreation a few days ago is a little more defined, I think.

The ideas of the last post (August???) still stand, this area being a crossroads between places far more fantastic, inviting and dangerous. There are still many dangers and risks here, though, but they are not so apparent and require far more digging to uncover.  Most of the adventure hooks are minor, and character and NPC connections will be more important, hopefully. Here's the map of a place I have decided to call Hernshire.

No doubt, if you can read it, you are interested in the details of the Grel Swamp, the Ghostwood, and the Ruins of Tharl, but they don't exist quite yet, and may not until someone wanders into them. For today, I give you the concepts of the places off the map - the shinier, more exciting and more fabulous places the young PC's will want to head to, once they are confident enough.

These places are, from the writing near the top left, heading clockwise;

The Storm Cities

Walled cities of wondrous architecture that lie atop rocky crags and desolate islands in a rocky archipelago, they are ruled one and all by mighty sorcerers and master wizards, who constantly war and battle through elemental storms, trade embargoes and astoundingly brilliant spy networks. The cities are large, remarkably cosmopolitan and busy, with diverse populations.  This little corner of the world has the fantasy setting cranked a little higher than other parts.

The Empire of Tarmis

This is the Empire on the Plateau to the North I referred to last post, but now the Empire has moved off map, and the plateau is more famed for the haunted ruins of Tharl, and the dozens of  abandoned castles, towers and watchtowers that dot the southern plateau.

Tarmis is the Empire of Soldiers in Black Armour that Steal Babies. A dark religion that involves some human sacrifice, an underclass of slaves, and mighty and pointless architectural efforts, it is where the PC's go under cover, to infiltrate and assassinate or rescue someone or something. But any daring deeds accomplished here may direct the Empress's attention towards the wilds of Hernshire...

A place for dark and depraved ideas...

The City of Bones

The road that leads east along the base of the plateau takes one to the City of Bones, a high walled city surrounded by waving wheat fields, worked by starved slaves guarded by armed skeletons. The ruler is an undead creature, the bones of a past ruler that rose to overthrow his depraved descendant, and then decided to stay and do a proper job of things. The populace is reasonably content, secure and well policed by the steel armoured skeletal guards that patrol the streets day and night. The streets are clean and free of beggars and thieves, as these, and other law breakers are either enslaved or killed and their clean bones reused as another guard.

It's a clean, safe, sterile and over controlled environment, and trade is constant, although outsiders who offend an inhabitant may go missing... Any PC's will find themselves skirting the shadows, contacting the resistance and finding out the necromantic secrets of the rulers...

The Peasant Cities

Almost due east, these cities occupy a fertile basin surrounded by mountains. About 120 years ago, the peasants revolted and executed all the nobles and their advisers, and quite a few others. Many onlookers, traders and nearby nobles, waited for the cities to fall and order to crumble. Strangely, this lack of nobles hasn't hurt them much, and the population has become more egalitarian since then. They rule through a strange system of representation, and food and goods are abundant and high quality.

They do have a lack of bloodthirsty, armed individualists, though, which causes concern when goblins, trolls and wolves gather in the depth of winter. That's when the PC's come in useful, as the cities hire scouts and raiders to monitor and disrupt any powers that arise in the surrounding mountains.

The Jewelled Islands

Travelling to the south-south-west, along the coastline, brings one eventually to an archipelago of small, steep cliffed islands, all with scenic pastoral white walled villages nesting in green, lush pastures. Happy people with strange, multiple horned goat-sheep type herd animals, they seem content. Especially as each island appears to have a secret source of gems, and excel in the craft of cutting, polishing and mounting them on jewellery, arms and armour. Each island only produces a single type of gemstone, and their crafters have a distinct style of ornamentation. Many rich and vain nobles (and PC's) will chance the voyage to get their favoured items inset with these gems.

The Desert Kingdoms (and Inshilbad)

To the west, past the hills littered with barrows, ruins, ancient battle sites and towers of countless armies and conquerors, lie the sunbaked sands and rocks of the Endless Desert. Within this lie many small kingdoms of robed, isolationist warriors and mystics, that shun outsiders. They compete and jostle for control of oases and underground watercourses, but never through bloodshed. It takes a lot for foreigners to be admitted to this culture, and if so, leaving is out of the question.

The City of Inshilbad, however, is similar, but a lot closer, and has almost none of the resistance to outsiders of their cousins. It is a strange place, however. High walls of pink granite shelter a people that wear white robes fringed with feathers, and white featureless masks in public. They are alternately outgoing and friendly, and withdrawn and depressed, which confuses visitors but is a part of the 'life's rich pageant' that these people believe in.

Study up on your surrealist painters and ideas, as dealing with this city is like stepping into a Dali painting, as their personalities and magic reflect a strange concept of reality. A place to throw the weird and bizarre at any PCs.

That's it - hopefully more on what's actually IN the map next time, and an idea of what I'm going to do with it. I think throwing ACK's system at it might help things...

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Not dead, again, and mini-setting ideas.

Nope, not dead.

Work moved me to a new city, and we've bought our first house. A little smaller than we're used to, but there's a good sized garden, and I'm sort of lost in the whole getting used to owning a house and all the things that are needed to settle in - well, actually, we own 20.1%, the balance being the bank's, but that's nothing to worry about right now.

Most of my RPG notes and books are still in boxes, as we don't have enough bookcases anymore. Still, I'm taking the opportunity to finally get through The Books of the South, a Black Company volume I picked up last year. I do like Glen Cook's writing - gritty and more about what's there in front of the characters, rather than the 'long game'. That style of writing is okay in some series, but the number of fantasy novels these days that don't actually bother explaining what the protagonists are seeing, feeling or hearing during scenes that cry out for some description is somewhat startling.

I also like Elizabeth Moon's Deed of Paksenarrion series, at least the first couple, as it's immediate, without epic good/evil staring you in the face at each page.

Also been listening to Harbour Lights, a 1995 album by a New Zealand Celtic Fusion band called Rua, who made 4-5 albums then disbanded in 2001. It's both Celtic and NZ sounding, which is interesting.

This has got me thinking about a new mini-setting, small in scale and immediate to the players - no nameless NPCs - everyone has a name and a connection, including the bandits (one you recognise, from the village of Knockbridge; his family sold vegetables at the monthly markets...) and death has a real impact.

Drew a map on the back of a receipt with four or so large towns, a number of 'sites', and large Empires off the map in most directions. The area actually on the map is a small sort-of kingdom, with a hereditary Prince, ignored by most, scheming Barons below him, annual formal subjugation by an empire from the Plateau to the North, and a number of ill-defined power groups; the Red Knights and the Vermilion Order, both independent fighting forces; the Mages, recovering from almost complete annihilation by the Goblins, and their infamous Slug Riders; and the haunted Barrow Hills to the West. The map seems to have made its way through the washing machine, but the ideas it sparked are developing. Play should be nasty and brutish and death, quick and common. Game of Thrones crossed with Blackadder...

Semi-feudal setup, with fighters starting as Squires, and needing to prove that they own land sufficient to support the ability to campaign in order to be knighted, with this causing layers of obligation and politicking. Some may stay squires for decades, others leap quickly into the upper reaches of society.

Mages are only trained at The Tower of Obscurance in the main town, Malcarth. Each year, 16 children, showing talent and with wealthy benefactors, around the age of 10-12, are admitted into the dark gates of the Tower. They are treated as servants at first, learning cleaning, cooking, sewing anad other useful, menial skills. The dark arts are taught slowly at first, with caution and safeguards, but incidents do happen. Ten years later, classes of eight Journeymages are released, and assigned to various Barons, Lords or insitutions. The remainder have succumbed to various misfortunes, ritualised tests and fey tidings over the course of their apprenticeship.

Basically it's a tired little corner of the world that has been conquered by marauding armies passing through over much of the past two millennia. Because of this, burials and barrow mounds of many different cultures exist, and ruins dot the wilderness that has reclaimed much of the land. Not many people, only one big city, and that's on the Western edge of the map and sufficiently remote and foreign that travelling there is an adventure in itself.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Kopesh - Hall of Heavy Hitters #2

So An Echo Resounding takes your simple map and gets you to add things to make it more dimensional.

The Hall of Infamy is one of the great ideas, meaning that various tiers of opponents can be established at the start, and foreshadowed from early levels - introducing a NEW ultimate evil at each level that no-one had ever heard of can't really be done all that often.

I've found that my style of DMing doesn't have too many 'real' evil opponents out there, and pragmatism and politics can make unlikely bedfellows. So my Hall is actually of the major power groups present, even if most of these are likely to be opponents.

I've covered the top two last post; here's the second tier down.

The Dragon Lord of the Khosh

The Khosh Marshes hold many forgotten ruins, dark mysteries, enchantments and oddities. There are many power groups manoeuvring for power and territory, heedless of the few human intrusions into the vast greenness.

Of these, the one with the greatest attention on human activities is the Dragon Lord. Perhaps an actual dragon, perhaps a creature with dragon blood or spirit, or something of reptilian tendencies birthed from the mists, no human has seen it. The only knowledge of it comes from the mutterings of insane goblins found wandering the coastal marshes, and strange tattoos found on both Lizard People raiders on the eastern marshes and wild elves of the western fringes, that speak of draconian influences in Ancient Proto-Elven runes.

Needless to say, it uses deep scrying magics and winged lizards and goblins as spies and minions, and may at times capture small bands of explorers in the depths of it's realm, and return them with mental blocks and changed loyalties. It is physically powerful, but its abilities of misdirection, illusion and psychological terrorism are its greatest weapons.

The Black Prince of Orlam

The Free City of Orlam is the gateway to the Coastal Cities of the Mainland, and is, and has always been, ruled by the Jedula Clan. The city is open for trade both day and night, and as taxes are reasonable, laws permissive and commercial enterprises encouraged, a sizeable black market has developed. Thieves, smugglers, mercenaries and mages are common inhabitants, and the black garbed City Guard are easily bribed, but can be harsh and intimidating. They, and a network of spies, including the Thieves Guild, answer to and provide a constant flow of information to Mordul Jedula, the playboy ruler of the City, known as the Black Prince.

He rules the city well, quietly dealing with trouble makers and miscreants and keeping firmly aware of the flow of events and feelings in the streets. He sits in the middle of this information web, like a nimble but poisonous spider. However, he also respects honour, respect and good humour, even if he cannot afford these in his current role.

Ekkar the Worm, Goblin Warlord

The lands south of the Yar River are fertile, open, green and infested with goblins. Ordinarily this would be no problem for humans, with soldiers and mercenaries to beat them back, but in this case, the civilisations bordering the area are in no position to mount a campaign of force, and the goblins have a very cunning warlord.

Ekkar is a strange goblin, possibly with some fey blood somewhere in his ancestry, but he has organised the forces of many, many, many goblins (even the brightest goblin can't count above about 80) into a bizarre but effective force. He was raised by Ogres, but betrayed them to goblin forces some 60 years ago, and rose from a suspect slave to outright leader in a matter of a decade. He is a master tactician, speaks five languages and has slain and eaten over a dozen goblin challengers. The eating part is not a normal aspect of these formal challenges, but has made others more circumspect in their challenges. He usually sits on his throne of skulls in a ruined mountain fortress, directing raiding parties through the use of an ancient magical table that shows a 3D view of the land, including little flashing red and green circles for various forces. Dressed in armour made from the skin of the Land Wyrm he slew (and ate the heart of) many years ago (and gained his name), and platform shoes, he is bound to intimidate any PC's brought before him...

The Elves of the Sailith

Nasty xenophobic, bloodthirsty, violent and insular, they are also elegant, gracile and dressed in shiny clothing, mostly blue and silver. They will shoot first, hog tie those who are unarmed, and show no distaste for slaying those who fought. Some say that individually they can be urbane and courteous, but their sense of honour does not allow them to spare trespassers.

 None dispute that they are allowed to deal with trespassers as they wish, it's just that they claim most of the area as 'their' land, despite the wishes of others (like those who live there). Fortunately, they are not enough in number to venture across the Var, but those south of it, especially towards the Sailith Woods, must watch for any sign of them. This is usually an arrow to the throat...

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Khosh Swamp Map

So the name of the setting keeps switching from Kopesh to Khosh - think I'll make that different culture's names for the same place.  Anyway, here's my map;

Not up to most standards, and my handwriting is terrible, but I'm suitably proud of it. (Larger image here)

Using the Echo Resounding campaign design approach (pages 9 to 28), there are now Cities (the bigger circles), Towns (smaller circles), Ruins (a black R with a number), Lairs (black X with number) and Resources (red number). Each of these has one or more short descriptions added, from Fishing to the short paragraph about the Ebon Mages (X22)

The tables in the book give suitable table options for the type of each, although they require a good amount of DM fiddling (my d12 seems to have developed a 4 addiction, which would give me far too many bandit camps) and knowing more or less what kind of things you want to produce at the start gives you a direction to steer the randomness in.

The Hall of Infamy is more a Hall of Heavy Hitters, as some are not exactly evil, but could make good enemies. Also, as the area is way bigger than recommended, I've doubled the number at each level.

Epic Level Bad Guys

These are the legendary bogeymen that mothers scare their children with, and the subject of whispered tales late at night around safe, warm campfires. Each is (or will probably be) an enemy of Epic proportions should any players reach the high levels.

The Black Stalker - Maro Darkhand, Khomesh Hunter.

The Black Stalkers are the legendary captains of the nameless Necromancer that was finally overthrown and imprisoned in an alternate dimension during the final years of the reign of the First Empire. They were all mighty heroes that were betrayed, tricked or surrendered to the Necromancer's power. Think Ringwraiths, but fully physical and no elves. They are from the initial setup of this campaign, where I needed independent big bad guys for some reason.

Maro was a Prince of the native peoples of this area some 4,500 years ago. Strong and lithe, he was a mighty and feared hunter that killed through both battle and assassination. Failing to assassinate the Necromancer, he was enslaved and converted, and, in the millennia since his master was chained, has recently taken to dwelling in a Black Tower in a ruined city (the large B centre top). He stalks the mountaintops, killing lone travellers and wearing their skins, but if enraged or tempted, could devastate a small city single-handedly.  Has befriended some snow dwelling Ogres that carry out tasks too minor for his attention.

The Breath Stealer

Honestly, I'm still not sure what this actually it. The name inspired by this Magic Card, but aside from this Evil dwelling in a famous underground dungeon, there's little information. Perhaps delvers may wake this sleeping abomination and the world will discover the meaning of the name.

Nest instalment, the lower two levels of Infamy.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Kopesh Marshes Campaign Setting

So, inspired by In Like Flynn, and his use of the An Echo Resounding sourcebook, I've taken a similar approach to the corner of my big, partially sketched out campaign world for the PCs to explore if they survive the current castle raid.

It's in the south-west of the main campaign land, with a Kingdom (Celise) formed by a people fleeing an Ancient Evil from the north-east of the main campaign land a few hundred years ago, the lands of the Drakkan Barbarians, a cheerful and honest people, with bloody tendencies, and the Dread Kopesh Marshes, home of many interesting things.

That description was all I had before this endeavour, along with a portion of a map some 5 cm wide. Thanks to the process in the Echo book, and the marvels of printing at 400% magnification, I have a map and a series of locations that gives the area issues, complexities and hooks that I never knew existed.

Here's the basic ideas I had, pre-embellishment;

The Stable Empire - That's Celise, for which I have a reasonable history, stolen from a previous campaign setting. There's Machiavellian Politics, the Queen's Spy Network, who are ruthless and efficient in combating both the Blood Cultists and any perceived faults of the King's Guard, and a number of shunned areas of monsters and Ancient Ruins.

The Innocent Savages - The Drakkan have supplied the odd PC in the past - tall, blond, tanned, muscles, with a general good-natured humour that remains even when busting skulls. Their traditional land, between a towering mountain range and the coast, is rich in herbal and sorcerous produce, but they object to strangers coming in and stealing their stuff.

The Dark Swamp - The Kopesh, home of both good and evil, each equally dangerous to the unprepared. There's a town of sorts, where the outcasts, rangers, hermits, swamp lovers and strange mages all live, surrounded by the foetid green waters and heaps of herbal goods and nasty ruins...

The Dour Highlanders - not really faux-Scottish, but upstream of the Kopesh is the Yar River, and the northern side is occupied by the smoky hamlets of Pelidoth, whose populace herds goats, burns peat, cuts timber and scowls at passers-by.  

The Lush Wasteland - south of the Yar, the savannah and scattered forest clumps are green, well watered, and littered with the bones of would-be settlers. Mainly on account of the goblin warbands, xenophobic elves and undead infested ruins.

The Coastal Cities - almost peripheral to this map, they form the escape to the north, along the coastline of the Pale Sea. Each independent, some trade havens, some Ports of Thieves, each potentially deadly. That's where the big markets and serious thieves guilds are...

The updated and investigated locations later...

Friday, June 15, 2012

Character theft...

So my hotmail account is no more, due to it being hijacked, and the team at hotmail wanting my credit card details before looking at unblocking it. Which is usually what the spammers say, too.

So that spurred me into finally getting a Gmail account, which seems harmless, although wresting control of this blog from the hotmail to the gmail account was long and interesting, and, judging from online comments, all my pictures from posts before this might vanish in time.

We'll see.

Anyway, this has given me a few brief ideas about the PCs being replaced or impersonated while they are away looting a dungeon or two.

Imagine when they get back, and find that they suddenly have overdrawn accounts at their favourite shops and services, have offended, or, worse, 'borrowed' items or money from acquaintances, or even have apparently been involved in carousing endeavours. In this case, all repercussions fall on the returning heroes but none of the benefits.

And their good (or not so good) names are besmirched until they find and extract confessions or coin from the perpetrators, or set about looting and raiding to pay back the amount borrowed, as hard, cold cash can usually make up for other misdemeanours. Except for marriage...

Who might carry out this amusing character assassination?

1. A PC's evil twin, either known or unknown to the PC.
2. An illusionist that the PCs have ticked off in the past, by slaying his or her master or apprentice, looting their tower, or killing their mooks.
3. Doppelgangers on a strange and unexplained mission.
4. The PCs themselves, from a few years in the future. They returned to have some fun at their own (past selves) expense, because the future is not fun at all.
5. The Shadow Dragon Assassins, who specialise in humiliating rather than killing targets.
6. Ghosts or spirits associated with the party, who can do a good impersonation at night.
7. Neighbourhood youths, who are wearing the armour or clothes the party upgraded from during their last shopping spree. This is childhood fun, and killing or beating the children will not endear anyone to the local population.
8. A bard and his friends. Looks nothing like the party, but he's such a good talker and has such wonderful compliments...
9. The local shopkeepers have decided to exploit the party, as they can obviously afford it. But there are so many red herrings to chase.
10. All the dead party members have risen and started carousing, causing issues and misunderstandings. Forget the tavern burning down - try explaining to the Mayor's daughter how her new beau was killed by decapitation 6 months ago.
11. Demons. Always demons. Make the PCs do unnatural and strange actions to prove to the townsfolk that they are not demons themselves.
12. The party's prime Nemesis is toying with them, or trying to distract them while stealing the MacGuffin or something.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The Isle of Miseleth

Also known as the Black Island, on account of the dark, basaltic cliffs that girt the shores, and also the many freeswords, pirates and sorcerers that are rumoured to inhabit it.

It is the only sizeable island in the northern reaches of The Painted Sea, where cargo and war ships sail east, west and north between the dunelands of the Ghisan Alliance, the Bronze Cities of the Arid Lands, and the opulent jungle setting of Port Oorth, and despite the reputation, it is used as a port by many captains.

It is walled almost entirely by black basaltic cliffs, some glassy and others arranged in strange hexagonal formations. The only breaks large enough for a cargo ship are the main Southern Bay and a smaller, hidden Northern Inlet.

The Southern Bay has a deep channel reaching to the shore along its western flank, with the rest of the wide bay occupied by hundreds of islets and partially submerged rocks. The City, which has either the same name as the island, or perhaps no name, is a ramshackle affair; a sprawling maze of wooden buildings, narrow cobbled streets and short bridges that covers the narrow gravelly coastal strip and the lower flanks of the mountain that encloses the Bay, and spills onto the islets and rocks of the bay. Almost all the buildings are constructed of driftwood, planks and beams from shipwrecks or the bones and tusks of sea beasts, but are stable enough to stand the occasional winter gale.

It was built by a band of pirates, on top of ancient ruins, some 400 years ago, and even though they vanished from recorded history shortly after, others migrated to the settlement, some for trade, some for isolation, some fleeing persecution or justice, and it grew haphazardly, with no absolute rulers or written laws. This has invested the City with somewhat of a survival of the fittest mentality.

Any item, goods or service may be found here, but the more expensive or depraved items or experiences will require extensive investigations or contacts. It is also popular for any number of activities that would be illegal in other lands, and many stolen and illicit goods and substances flow though the Island's docks. It is, however, a safe harbour in the changeable waters of the Painted Sea, and the complex tidal flows caused by the eight moons, the docking fee is negotiable, and the streets are surprisingly safe.

Many powerful mages, alchemists and warriors reside here, as there is less of a chance of random interruptions, strange habits are not judged, and most physical wants can be obtained for coin or magic.

The current de-facto Mayor is Tilarmar the Docklord, head of the Dockworkers Guild. He has the power to stem the flow of goods through the City, and is also a smart, likeable man with a disarming manner. He has also managed to keep the other factions in the City at each other's throats, so they can only communicate through him. He has a son who has strayed and joined a band of minor brigands who lair near the Island's northeast corner. He is concerned about the boy, and wishes him back safely.

Underneath the more landward extents of the City are a series of caverns that many buildings adjoin, some treating one or more as a basement level. They are littered with ruined buildings of the Ancients, with many mosaics or carvings of that age lining the caverns.  Many of these are occupied, and used for storage of dangerous or suspicious goods, as lodgings for secretive or poor folk, or as bases for the small, ever-present bands of beggars, thieves or worse.

Some of these caverns lead through secret doors into the Undervaults of the Ancients, an extensive but mostly collapsed and ruined network of smooth tunnels. Of the few remaining areas, one is a series of small rooms devoted to the musical pursuits of the Ancients, with arcane instruments that produce an unsettling series of high clicks or low, almost subaudiable droning. Very unsettling to the unprepared. One other section of uncollapsed tunnels holds strange tools that may have been armour or weapons, but the exact effect and how to produce it is completely unknown. There is a market for them as ornaments for the rich and greedy.

The Northern Bay is hidden from view by a rock wall that hides the entrance until the ship is mere metres away from dashing on the cliffs, but a fast left turn brings the vessel into a small but sheltered inlet. From here, a narrow track leads up to the top of the cliff, with three smallish sea caves halfway up. The low temperate jungle of the Island is dense at the top of the cliff, with a rough cut track leading into the interior. Although it is a two day walk to the City, some extremely dangerous or rare cargoes are transported this way, regardless of brigands, spiders or packs of crimson furred apes.

Friday, June 8, 2012

The Demon-Queen of Dharijor

So, spent a this week night with friends, eating curry and watching the Queen's 60th Jubilee Concert.  We are not committed royalists, but seeing increasingly aged singers from past decades get wheeled out for a few hits was entertaining.

If you've followed any of the media around it, you'll know that Grace Jones made a big impression.  Especially when you consider she's 64 years old. And rather mad, but in a nice way...

It would be amiss not to us THIS for inspiration.

Hence, any PCs in my campaign that head to the far southern lands, across the Pale Sea, past the land of the Neogi Slavemasters, where the Tharsk Tribes defend their lands to the death, and the Plains of Tarkesh, may find the mysterious realm of Dharijor.

All that has been known about this land, to both me and my players, is that the occasional tall, limber, muscular androgynous warrior of impressive skill, with ebon skin and hair, and strange fish-like helms, will roam the known lands, seeking work as a mercenary or fighter for not insignificant amounts of gold. They speak little of their home lands, except its name, and give no information about whether they have been exiled, sent on a mission, escaped or are seeking their own fortune. None work for more than two years in any one location or for one employer, and they are known to vanish from public view for long occasions, making determining anything about them difficult.

What has been pieced together from long years of investigation, rumours from lost or mad sailors, and the garbled stories of escaped slaves and other travellers from the south, is a strange story. Dharijor is a fair and green realm, with the Theocracy of Tarkesh to the north, the mighty mountain range called the Peaks of the Dead to the south, and vast forests to the east and west. It is cut off from the sea by a Tarkesh city, but twisting tunnels pass through the mountains to the Singing Desert beyond.

The realm is civilised, and all citizens work hard from dawn to dusk, building, processing, transporting goods and farming. Each has their place and profession, and none will leave their allotted tasks unfinished or be satisfied with sloppy craftsmanship. One traveller, Marlesse Frogfriend, who escaped the realm magically, said it reminded her of the endeavours of ants.

Aside from providing a somewhat higher quality of life for all citizens than anywhere else on this world, some of the effort is directed to building onto a vast, white walled Tower that looms over the central plains. It houses enough people to be a city, and is ruled by the Demon-Queen, whom all are devoted to, despite her benign madness and her need to eat the heart of a virgin daily.

What is not known to any outsiders, and very few inhabitants, is that the industriousness was established by an ancient demon who discovered the land and its sparse population over a thousand years ago. It cloned the strongest and most obedient of the tribespeople, and infused them with a need to work for the good of their ruler (i.e. the demon). This need manifests as a subconscious group mind, where the pressure of the thoughts of many can overwhelm the random thoughts of rebellion or escape. All worked to provide the demon with comforts, slaves and sacrifices.

640 years ago, somehow a small group of the demon's most trusted guards turned on it and attempted to slay it. Although seven of the elite warriors were slain, one managed to pierce the demon's hearts and so banished it. In doing so, she absorbed the earthly essence of the demon, and a fair degree of its power.

This has made her immortal, and ordained her as the ruler of the realm. Slowly the industry of the land has changed to reflect her wishes and views (less sacrifices and more free will) but she is bound by the demon nature of her power (hence the need to consume hearts) and her people are constrained by the fact that their nature and civilisation were designed to support their immortal ruler.

She is mad, but aside from speaking at, rather than to people, laughing at nothing, seeing imaginary servants and not understanding no, it does not affect her at all. She is also still a fearsome warrior and her falchion is coated with acidic demon bile. Visitors to the realm are escorted to the central tower, where they will await an audience with the Queen. They may be executed without warning, treated to an exquisite dinner, quizzed or even tasked to entertain the Queen with stories or riddles. Any who manage to capture the attention of the Queen may temporarily restore some sanity, and she will task them with a Gonzo quest to help her people break their indenture. This will involve dimension crossing, time travelling and playing with God-like figures. Good luck.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Combat in Dragon Warriors, 1985...

This is the cartoon from the 1985 Dragon Warriors gamebook and RP system. It's across two pages, so read each page down, then diagonally across. A surprising number of rules were 'demonstrated' by Sir Balin, including falling, pit traps, and firing arrows at goblins in the distance in the dark...

Admittedly, most long term players have altered these simple and elegant rules slightly - shields, variable damage, splitting defence, but the fundamental basis is there, and it didn't involve THACO or any arcane charts.

Kheldaria Part 2, Provinces

So I've introduced the central 'empire' in my campaign world, here, but this is a little too light to form a framework, or skeleton for actually running adventures in.

And in a few brief moments of great inspiration, I jotted down some ideas for each province, or Duchy of the land. Just enough to give a basis for geography, settlement patterns and dominant economics, that can be expanded on when players get close.

Kheldaria's lands are fertile and temperate, and agriculture has been continuous for millennia, with the Provinces of Task, Corst and Tarath famed for their expansive grainfields and fruit orchards. Casten and Lormon are more associated with vegetable farming and livestock. Forests and wetlands still abound, with some guarded by noble decree for hunting or as a preserve, and others forsaken and feared as monster rich wilderness areas. With the Great Plague just over 300 years ago, much formerly farmed lands were depopulated and villages abandoned, and the wilds have reclaimed what they once owned...

There is a map, but it's hand-drawn, in pencil, mostly, and has so many annotations and scribbles from past groups, it makes little sense ot anyone else. Maybe one day... 



Formerly the Capital, under the previous royal line, this area is dominated by the junction of the  Brythyn and Khelari Rivers, and city with the same name as the Province on the northern point where they meet. The Brythyn river is navigable up to the current Capital, Tarath, and most trade between the Empire and Southern Lands passes here, as the Kalari River is the major waterway defining the eastern edge of the Kheldarian Basin. The province extends from the City to the wide sloping plain on the banks of the Brythyn River, which is partitioned into many small, well defended holdings and manor houses, where high value animals and plants are cultivated. Keywords; Rich; Politics; Secrets.


A fertile and well watered flat land to the east and north of Brythyn that is dominated by farming. In summer, vast quantities of grain float up and down the Kalari River. Discrete areas of grapevine also allow the production of famed sweet wine wines. Although there are numerous towns and villages dotted through the landscape, wild forests, scrublands and moors hold many abandoned villages and keeps, and some of these are hideouts for bandits or worse. Keywords; Rural; Ruins; Wine


A drier province, Helvain is west of Corst and bordered to the east by the Kalari River as it swings to the north.  It is known for herding and livestock, with the eastern caravan route cutting north-south across the plains. It also contains quality horse stables, and vast herds of cattle and antelope raised for meat and hide. Helvain leather is famous and the leatherworkers of the town of Stalish are famous for their intricate and hard wearing works. Mining also occurs, with rich green emeralds extracted from the southern reaches of the Howling Hills. The rest of these hills are shunned, though, with strange lights and frightening howls reported regularly. Keywords; Cattle; Caravans; Haunted


Known mostly for the production of vegetables, herbs and peat and coal from the swampy moorlands, Lormon is north of Helvain and a lot damper. Thunder Pass is the main route across the Titan Mountain Range that separates Kheldaria from the eastern coastal cities, and many caravans and travellers pass through this province. As a result, the people are quite friendly, and there are many inns and hostels on the main highway. However, there are also many villages scattered through the woods and swamps, joined only by tenuous trails across the wilderness, where strangers are often lost. Keywords; Herbs; Swamps; Cults


Situated along the northern border of Kheldaria, just to the west of the Free City of Gesdyn, City of the Vampire Lord, which overlooks the lake of the same name, Tordath is known for its military forces, and the open warfare that erupts between nobles on occasion. Bordering Gesdyn, and the clan holdings of the Carodin, the Horse Lords, and even the frozen tundra of the northern lands of Komesh, the people of this province have a long history of martial tradition. Tordath armour and blades are dependable and strong, forged from Lormon coal and Ironholm ore, and are favoured throughout the Empire and beyond. There is also a large honey industry, and potions and salves for healing are made and exported. The population is robust, healthy and somewhat argumentative. Keywords; Battles; Industry; Guards


This expansive golden sandstone city towers over the surrounding grain and cornfields, in almost the dead centre of Kheldaria. The Duke rules with an iron hand, and the many travellers and traders that pass through will see the many indentured serfs toiling in the fields in the hot sun. Most of the land based trade of the Empire passes through here, and all goods can be brought and sold in the many shops in the ancient catacombs below the city. A great amount of politicking and economic manoeuvring occurs in the upper reaches of the city as well. Keywords; Guards; Money; Power


The newest province, awarded this status under the current royal line around 100 years ago, Casten occupies the northwestern corner of the Empire. It is growing in population and settlement, with industries such as furs, wool and timber exported to the rest of the Empire, and several new villages and towns being established in wilderness areas. This industry avoids the legendary Forest of Arkodan to the north, with its strange and forbidding reputation. Keywords; Young; Wilderness; Growing


The current Capital of the Empire, and seat of the Royal Family. It consists of fertile cropland, many bustling towns and Griffin Valley, sacred to the Royal Line. The Royal Court, and the centralised political power of the Realm is based here, along with much of the specialised and technical industry and foreign influence in the land. Keywords; Real Power; Politics; Sophistication

So far, two groups have adventured around Helvain, and one ended up travelling to the Eastern Coastal Cities and then looping around the north to end up in some intrigue in Tordath, before settling in Brythyn. The other headed south and were lost in Elven ruins, never seen again. The current group in far to the west of the Empire, but is headed in that direction.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Random Update...

Poor neglected blog....

Being transferred for work, to a larger city about 2 hours drive away. More traffic, more expensive, but having to go over each weekend to look for a house to rent/buy. Still, lucky to have a job the way things are going...

But change is not always bad, and I'm sure things will work out, somehow...

Live Play – Three Strangers Campaign.

So managed to fit in half an adventure last week. Doesn’t happen all that often with all the pressures of middle life, but it went surprisingly well.

Dramatis personae

Kaz-hel, Northern Vulzar Barbarian, from a race famed for brutal combat, slave taking and ritual sacrifice. He was betrayed, captured, escaped and lived with plains nomads for a year, making his way southward to the Long Lake. Pale skin, white hair, and tall and strong, but think wiry tendons rather than Conan-like muscles.

Thomas, Woodsman/Explorer, from a small rural kingdom to the south west. Was learning to be a trader through the villages, until his father died and the village herbalist stole his true love. Took to wandering, and ended up with these guys.

Kalastra, Exotic sorceress from the Ghisan Lands, where fire elementals are worshipped and family is more important than law. She is the hope of her noble but impoverished clan and is searching the northern lands for power and treasure.

And the Dwarven NPC henchman, Ersk, rescued from goblin captivity by Kalastra a few adventures ago, he has gained two fighter levels and is devoted to his rescuer. 

All 3rd level at the start of this adventure, except Ersk, on 2nd.

They have been in a few missions around the Long Lake area, including the first adventure and a half of the Age of Worms adventure path. This finished when we all decided that the second adventure was too long, combat heavy and boring, so now they are travelling again.

Note – this is using Dragon Warriors rules, which are surprisingly similar to the intent and feel of OD&D.

Key differences – roll LOW to hit, rather than high; there are not many HPs to go around, so be careful; I’m using variable weapon rules, and, combined with the lack of HPs, combat can be harsh. Also, sorcerers have a pool of magic points and a list of six spells per level to choose to cast.

I’m also trying on old Dungeon Magazine adventures for ideas, although the majority require stripping back to the chassis and rebuilding to fit my system and my world.

Anyway, travelling east from the City of Mortweg, the band stopped off to weather a storm at a mid sized village, and ended up slaying a mummy, restoring a noble lineage and beating down the bad guys (“Bogged Down”, Dungeon #103).

Then onto the City of the Invincible Overlord, where they stocked up, and a barkeep recommended that they travel west then north, along lesser roads rather than the main highway to the northwest. This led then to a quiet country inn, where a cleric begged for their help…

This instalment started when I picked up Elexa's Endeavours (Dungeon #53). A cleric has returned from the Crusades and found her old uncle, alone in his keep, has, along with the keep, been captured by a band of bandits, each of whom has a reasonably detailed background and personality.

In the adventure the bandits have found the scroll that seals the keep up with an Impermeable Shield Spell, and the party must cross the forest to seek the help of a wizard named Jarrow, the uncle’s friend, to get in.

I’ve decided, in limiting functional magic, that instead of the scroll, etc, the keep is just really well secured, and they need to see the wizard about a secret entrance.

Having scouted out the keep (from a distance), they took the advice of Elexa, and headed to the forest they must cross to the wizard's tower.

Getting to the forest, they are confronted by a Chevaller, whom I have decided is one of an order of rangers in this part of the world, who hunt and destroy werewolves. This one, Sebastion, was searching out a local lair of the beasts, and, after determining through various means the party were not lycanthopes, hinted (rather directly) that the gift of enchanted arrows would allow him to aid them.

So Thomas parts with half a dozen elven arrows – magical, but one can never trust elves... and Seb leads them on a disused path through the dark woods. Except when they encounter a line of four werewolves pretending to be lost monks. Seb sees through this immediately, and starts firing arrows, and when the party get the idea (fangs, hair, etc) the battle starts.

It went well – Thomas took a scratch, Ersk lost most of his health with one blow from the leader, and things were looking dangerous until Kalastra cast 'Command' on one of the last two remaining werewolves and although it was slain, it distracted the lead werewolf long enough to kill it the next round.

Then, pausing only long enough to bind wounds and cast a heal spell on Ersk, they tracked the pack to its lair and once again engaged battle – this time relying on ranged missile and magic fire at first. The gold found in the lair was split with Seb, and he led them the rest of the way to the wizard's tower.

And, sitting on the roof, was a rather large, angry, wyvern, with 67 hit points (more than the entire party) and scales like plate armour. Battle was fierce, with the barbarian not being able to land a hit, and Ersk handing out useful damage. Eventually Kalastra's fire spells and Thomas's other quiver of magic arrows turned the tide, along with the wyvern spreading it's hits around rather than focussing on one target.

Under the wyvern was the remnants of Jarrow, the wizard. Only a foot and a hand. Turned out the wyvern had taken him by surprise, and eaten him, thus making their quest that little bit harder.

Fortunately, when entering the tower (through the use of a 'Portal' spell – I think it works the same as 'Knock' in D&D) Ersk's googles of finding allowed him to discover the secret room with the staircase leading to Jarrow's bedroom. Once up there, they spiked the door and settled down to recover from the battles.

Looking at the rest of the adventure, there is a LOT of combat, with every room in this tower containing guardians. I'm going to cull a lot of them, as I do find D&D a bit too combat heavy for my tastes.

Until next time...

Monday, May 21, 2012

Four rather average NPCs

I'm not sure that RPGs have enough average, down-on-their-luck fellow adventurers, drinking companions and collogues to swap stories of daring and disappointment with.

These are not companions to venture into dungeons with. These are the familiar barflys or members of other adventuring bands, that the PCs encounter on occasion, and swap tales of dungeons plundered, or fled from in horror, as they down pint after pint of foul smelling village ale inbetween more dangerous pursuits.

Here's four of them.  I've had them jotted down on a scrap of notepaper for a long time - I think I was reading a rather twinky NPC list from a Forgotten Realms sourcebook, and I noticed that none of them moved in the same circles as my players...

Without further ado;

Quirn the Landless

A mid-level fighter and wanderer, experienced in fighting bandits and living off the land, if needs be. Rather happy-go-lucky, robust and sturdy in a fight, and trusting of other decent seeming sellswords and hedge mages. Usually found in a tavern, either close to broke, or on the path of a dodgy Get Rich Quick scheme. Always survives, most often with just enough coin to maintain his current station in life.

Wears grey wyvern skin armour (fits as heavy leather, protects as a mail shirt), and wields a +1 elven sword and matching dagger. Also has a crossbow and the ugliest horned helmet you've ever seen. Ask him about the armour - it's a good story, and he'll buy the first round while telling it.

Prince Morton

The dispossessed minor heir of a tiny, isolated mountain range that no-one has ever heard of. Competent with both healing and fire magics, he maintains a good natured noble air despite his hand-to-mouth lifestyle and less than charming companions. He is distracted and diffuse, and addresses all with noble speech, from real nobility to charmless goblin slaves, which makes him a welcome rarity in many dark and dangerous locales.  Treated almost as a lucky mascot by his current companions.

Wears smooth, shiny black leather boots and matching belt, ornate white shirt and velvet cape (always clean and pressed in the morning, despite the previous days endeavours), with a succession of different circlets or crowns, which gives him an unusual appearance in the average village inn. Wields various daggers, wands, amulets and magical rings that he produces from a wide range of unseen pockets.

She'al Redhands

A block-like fighter and brawler from Southern lands, with mid length dirty blond hair and a huge laugh. She eats and drinks huge amounts, and can drink most men and a fair number of dwarves under the table. Despite this, she is unusually intelligent and insightful, and her sharp wits make her rather dangerous fun when drinking. Any carousing in her company requires double the amount of gold intended to be spent, and results in double experience gained for your gold (therefore FOUR times the planned experience) and double of any repercussions of the night. This can result in burning down the tavern. Twice. That takes skill. Or having two different affairs with two different married partners in one night. Possibly at the same time.

She wears a mail and metal scale vest, leather bandoleers with twin dwarven shortswords, and a back-slung short hafted battleaxe, with a small buckler.

Tarneth the Silent

A tall, gaunt, dark-haired ranger-fighter. Quiet and still, with a vaguely unsettling air, and speaks in single word sentences. Very observant and competent with traps and secret doors, both finding and disarming/opening.  He is said to have been jovial and gregarious until a certain dungeon experience, that he never speaks of, and no other survived.

Wears dark leather armour, with a silver belt buckle, and a dark hooded cloak. Carries a thin curved eastern sword that gives off a chill mist when drawn, and causes watchers to turn their eyes away. Also wears a crystal teardrop pendant, that contains the image of a beautiful but unearthly elven maiden.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

T is for Treasure Troves...

So I didn't finish the A to Z this year (must start planning early in 2013...) but I've got a few ideas that fit into where I left off.

And T was originally going to be taxes, but turned into treaure troves while I was writing. Oh, well.

The standard coin in my realms is the silver piece, and I'm playing with the idea that it's about equivalent to $100 these days, in terms of it's worth. So your normal peasant deals in copper and iron pieces and bits, and barters a lot.

A good tradesman, or a soldier on active duty, gets 1 SP/day as one days normal pay (the soldier's doesn't count for their food, which is usually taken out of it by a well-meaning officer). And a normal delivery mission that only armed adventurers can accomplish, with a few random encounters, might pay 5 GP each, providing the client stands to make much more money out of it.

This money poorness means that the average looted, buried or discovered treasure is worth a lot more than in other settings, and there are a number of shifty and avaricious nobles that consider that anything found on, within or even near their lands belongs, rightfully, to them. That's the problem with any feudal setting...

Treasure troves have their own legal and financial ramifications in real life. Where they can be guarded by magic, goblins, undead and worse, it gets even more complicated... These are reasonably common, both in terms of coins and gems looted from dungeons, and chests buried by rich or endangered people, as there are really no banks or banking structure, except for the rare money changer who will safeguard your precious coins for a small monthly fee...

To prevent any peasant who find a buried chest of coins from going AWOL, and to give armed strangers a reason to brave undead strewn tombs to liberate cold hard cash, there is a legal code in Kheldaria that most of the smaller surrounding kingdoms roughly apply as well.

For found treasure troves that have clear ownership (anything from jewellery known to have been stolen recently to several hundred year old remains bearing the Kordalh family seal), it is returned to the rightful owner, if they can be found within one year. The finder, if they found it legally, is entitled to 10% of the total assessed worth of the treasure, as is the Crown. If no owner is found, it defaults to the Crown, who happens to be the nearest Baron or Duke.

For treasure liberated on civilised lands that is unowned, half goes to the liberator and half to the land owner, with the Crown taking 50% of the total at the start in finders taxes. If the land is owned by the Crown (e.g. common grazing land, forests claimed by a noble, etc) it gets 75% of the total. Usually an armed group braving the bandits lair will negotiate a payment for undertaking the task in the knowledge that some or most of their loot will be claimed by the Lord that hired them.

For valuable loot claimed from Wilderness, or Areas of Astounding Danger (such as your local megadungeon), where the Crown is not in control, and can't really pretend that it is, the Crown can claim 20%(when you set foot back in civilisation). Justified as paying for said civilisation.

Note that this is only for large hauls. Not the 10 GP found in a werewolf's lair, or worn jewellery.  But if you limp back into town with a donkey burdened down with chests, or have a sack bulging with jewels and silver candlesticks, the guards will want to know where you got it from, and will summon a tax collector to properly assess it.

Also, it's a relatively low magic setting, so magical gems, robes, etc are judged based on their apparent cost, unless one fires off while the tax collector is watching...

Scandinavian Tax Collectors - probably on the left...
And because you can't catch every tomb robber and looter before they spend, bury or gamble away the loot, there is the seasonal arms tax - 1 jade piece (worth 2.5 SP) per large weapon, 1 SP per dagger and shield, and armour from 1 SP for leather to 1 GP for full plate. Mages pay a set fee of 5 SP, as no-one will rummage around in their backpack for fear of a curse or worse. When this is levied, a receipt will be provided, and it prevents any further taxing (of this type) until the next season. And beware - although this receipt is valid throughout all Kheldaria, most smaller kingdoms that mirror the taxes do not recognise each others receipts. So travellers of a martial bent may find themselves taxed multiple times during a voyage.

Hiding one's loot or possessions before entering the city or passing the guard tower may seem attractive, but there is a reasonable chance that someone may find or steal it, and laying claim to items of worth that have obviously been hidden to avoid taxes is legally frowned upon.