Saturday, March 31, 2012

A to Z Blogging Challenge...

Well, I doubt I'll make it through the entire month, as I've got at least three occasions where I won't have internet access coming up. but I might as well try.

I haven't sat down and plotted out the topics for this month, but I've got vague ideas for certain letters, which I may reveal later.


A is for Anthropology & Archaeology

The call of the past is a loud call for some.  Even though the 'normal' folk, peasants and lords alike, shun the places of past civilisations and shelter from rumours of evil things that may be awakened, hidden traps and lonely deaths far from the warmth and safety of home, other people, desperate or driven by their own demons, willingly enter these places and often awaken, discover or die there.

Possibly Trampier - found at a WoTC blogsite..
Sometimes, however, they return, bearing sacks of coin, gems, ancient but strangely effective weapons and armour, and valuable objects d'art.  Also, at times, they may weigh down their bags and sacks with ancient undecipherable writings, inscriptions, and also items of no practical use.

These latter objects are keenly valued by the true historians and scholars, that seek to peer "through a glass darkly" to understand these ancient and lost civilisations.

Just like scholars in recent times, although Victorian explorers didn't (to the best of my knowledge) have to contend with undead creatures seeking their immediate death. [Whereas any ruined structure further than half a days walk from a large city in my games is considered suspect by players if it doesn't have at least half a dozen skeletons or zombies.]

Those who value ancient knowledge that isn't arcane or magical are rather under-represented in most games I have played. Even though, your average scholar in an RPG setting seems to have a more active and complete understanding of these precursor civilisations much more clearly than we do in modern times, despite being without modern tools or scientific method, methods of independent dating, machines for analysis and peer reviewed journals.

And I don't buy the whole 'magic did it'. I've never played in a game with the spells that can unveil the deep mysteries of the world (especially Wish), but I imagine that there are many secret groups that would rather the past stays secret and will go to extraordinary lengths to ensure so.

But even in the field of modern archaeology, there are many civilisations and languages that remain little known or even unknown.  Hence the interesting word of conspiracy theories.

Well, not an ancient ziggurat...
That aside, no-one should know exactly why (for example) the Great Lizardfolk Kingdom suddenly abandoned their mighty ziggurats at the height of their war with the Elves and migrated to the interior of the Southern Swamps.  There will be theories, with the official one taught at the Royal Mages Guild being rather boring (it got too cold for them), some alternate and more interesting, but rather outlandish ones (the Elves turned all the lizard's eggs to GOLD! Let's go get some...), and some only held by wizards in lonely forbidding towers.  The same wizards that have the spell/item/intelligence that the party needs, and they will assist IF the party descends to the lowest depths of the Ziggurat in the Black Swamps to take a brass rubbing of the altar in the sacrificial chambers...

So, giving past civilisations a history is encouraged, so there are common elements in the ruins of the same civilisation, and the players experience the difference between different civilisations.  And don't overthink it.  Just like sandbox play, where interaction between players and GM steer the world, it can steer the history as well - if a player comes up with a good reason why this Dwarven ruin has elements of Elven architecture,  maybe it's true, maybe it isn't.  Perhaps it doesn't matter, but finding out one way or the other eventually makes a world seem that little bit more real....

Adventurer Conqueror, Dragon Warrior...

So I bought the pdf version of Adventurer Conqueror King last night, as US$9.99 isn't as scary in foreign $ as it was when I was growing up.  And the things said about it were very very interesting. Unfortunately, any printed stuff (like the book) usually involves postage of about 50% of the price of the product, and 276 page books tend to be fairly hefty.

I've gotten back into RPGs through the revival  of the OSR D&D, and applied the concepts and ideas to Dragon Warriors, the system that I was introduced to roleplaying through, and find most familiar, mainly as I have several books worth of house rules I apply to it.  And it makes more sense to me than D&D, in any edition...

So I won't be using the D&D style character creation.  But the proficiencies, the campaign tables, the adventure sections and the treasure chapter will all be picked over in fine detail, and I think they will provide a firm background to my home campaign.  Especially the domain section, as nothing else I've tried has given something workable without PC's running different kingdoms.

I'll report back when I've looked it over, but for now, I've got three ruthless (or clueless) adventurers looking at the Dungeon Magazine Adventure "Bogged Down" (the only link I could find but it shows that there was hope on the paizo forums in 2006...).  Given in their last adventure, the group ended up killing a neutral necromancer and giving his eyeballs to the group that were supposed to be antagonists, I'm interested in how this tale of redemption plays out. Preferably badly - enemies are better campaign points than friends....

Friday, March 30, 2012

A Haunting we will go....

It's not even close to Halloween, but good ghost encounters should take place when no-one is expecting it, as clich├ęs are only entertaining when repeated endlessly, and then only for a bit...

In Dragon Magazine #252, Margaret Brown gives us 101 hauntings, with a wide variety of settings, plausibility, and usability, as there wasn't much of an internet to source things from in 1998.  Speaking of which, my searches for a link to something specific on the above document did deliver THIS - a Ravenloft Netbook of Haunted Sites, inspired by Ms Brown's work, dating from 1999.  I remember that sourcing anything called a 'netbook' contained it's own dangers, usually quality, but this looks just like it says on the tin, and it's only 300 kb pdf.

Anyway, based on the 101 hauntings, and various other thoughts, I've developed 9 that work for me in a low fantasy setting.  The correct way of 'solving' these hauntings is up to the GM - killing the ghost with a special weapon is one way, but I prefer the TV drama approach of work out what caused it, set it right, and watch the ghost wave you goodbye.  Or die a truly horrible, final death.  Depends what you want to achieve out of the encounter - Grimdark or My Little Pony?

Random Hauntings.

1. A lake or river where suspected witches/mages/psychic talents were thrown - the guilty ones survived and were killed in more entertaining ways.  Some nights (every, some, full moon, etc), drowned corpses grab passing boats and attempt to climb in.  The sailors are not keen on this.

Solve by - getting a corpse to shore; knocking down something of the witch-drowners; going underwater to see what's there.

2. Derelict shipwreck on a deserted point.  On nights of the full moon(s), the ship appears whole, with lights and the sounds of ... a party?

Solve by - entering the undead infested wreck and putting the captain's ghost to rest; finally deliver the cargo in the hold to it's owner; enter the ghost ship and prevent the events that led to the wreck.

3. A noble spirit (of light and goodness) haunts the graveyard since tomb robbers stole their jewellery/ family heirloom/enchanted sword.  This hauntings is upsetting good honest folk.

Solve by - regaining the object in question; convincing the undead haunting that material goods don't matter; discovering why their descendant stole the goods and framed an innocent bugler.

4. An ancient overgrown graveyard, where glowing balls of light dance through moonless nights.  Local legend holds they are the ghosts of children, still playing happily, even though small creatures that venture into the graveyard are found dead and stripped of flesh afterwards.

Solve by - leading the spirits Piper of Hamelin-like to the Cave to the Lands of the Dead; harvesting the magical power of the balls for a wizard that pays well; perform a ritual when the moons align.

5. Those riding past the deserted cemetery at night often feel one or more people on the back of their horse, but no-one can be seen.  Sometimes it freaks the horse out, and it runs all night, expiring at first light, miles from anywhere.  Other times, no effect other than terrifying the rider.

Solve by - finding out what tragedy occurred in the cemetery and resolving it; delivering the passenger to a ruined, equally isolated place of safety before first light; entering the cemetery at midnight to confront and banish the wraith.

6. A workman killed during the building or demolition of a building returns as a ghost each night, endlessly repeating the activities of that day, which is scary when the structure doesn't exist any more.

Solve by - retrieving the man's bones from the rubble pile they were cast into; uncovering historical financial misdeeds that led to the death (cheap materials, no safety, dangerous practises); gaining special (magical, spiritual,historical) tokens to safeguard the haunted structure.

7. A person drowned in a communal well.  Now, a dripping bedraggled figure climbs out of the well on foggy nights, and heads to one particular nearby room, which is always damp and cold.  Scares the daylights out of anyone in the room when it happens.

Solve by - descending into the strange dungeon at the base of the well to recover the body of the drowned; stay in the room for an entire night of haunting, breaking the curse; convince local authorities to fill in the well.

8. A thief killed, falling from a sheer wall. Now every night footsteps creep through the corridors of the building in question, as she tries to complete her mission.

Solve by - completing the mission and delivering the hidden note/gem/bone in the secret location to the thief's master (even if the master is now (un)dead); convincing the Thieves Guild to call off the mission, 50 years later; carving footholds in the wall so the spirit can escape.

9. The bell-ringer (hunchbacked or not, your choice) at a Temple falls from the belfry and is killed.  Now all the bells sound on the anniversary of this death, with no-one near the bells.

Solve by - discovering which of the bells is cursed and removing it; uncovering the conspiracy at the Temple, or amongst the Bell-ringers Guild; convincing the Temple's head priest to rebury the bell-ringers bones in the Temple grounds.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Araidien Deserts - 12 Places of Note

All of my larger scale maps have deserts in them, and even the smaller scale maps have serious deserts signposted, somewhere just off the map edge.

Deserts give us both the opportunity for all the good old RPG tropes - nomads, Egyptians, pyramids, mummies - and a blank canvas where all manner of oddities can exist, and, face it, party travel through an almost featureless landscape does have some advantages and some issues.
Here is a list I started quite a while ago, inspired by an old National Geographic documentary and added to when inspiration struck.  They are events, places, or oddities that may exist in the deserts.  Some have secrets or dangers, and they can be simple diversions to note while hurrying to accomplish another task, or be the starting point of something entirely new.

12 Places of Note, as recorded by Induwar of Khallis

1. A valley in a deserted wasteland, where green glowing liquid seeps from the ground and supports a forest of 3-5m high carbonate tubes that contain longer red feathered 'worms'.  These worms have their 'roots' in the ground, absorbing the liquid and jaws that catch the brightly coloured flying lizards that abound.

Reasonably safe for travellers, as wild beasts and civilised groups tend to avoid this area, but prolonged exposure to the liquid can cause mutations, and magic is very unstable in its presence.

Inspired by this

2. Shifting sandstorm that is the only entrance to The Jewelled City of Dreams.  Ancient and cursed, it sleeps for now, but undoubtedly holds perils, treasures and answers.

3. Shallow acid or alkaline lakes, where rare rainstorms drain into a basin with no outflow. The water evaporates, leaving behind thick expanses of salt on the edge, stretching for miles. The water is sickenly salty and burns if drunk. It can be an important place for nomad salt harvesting, or a nesting place for naturalised birds or flying lizards, which may be hunting, fleeing or have a cute baby stuck in the salts.

4. Giant pyramidal dunes of sand, difficult to travel over.  However, the base of one has a perfectly round 1.5m wide tunnel vanishing into it.  Inspection shows that it is lined with silk-like matting, and very sound.  The network of tunnels within the dunes can save days of hot and tiring walking, but the White Lady, the magically disguised spider-demon that creates these tunnels, may be encountered in her central lair.

5. A line of palm trees stretching into the distance in the flat sandy wasteland.  Standing every 100m or so apart, sometimes with a clump of two or three trees, but usually only one.  These mark an underground spring, and 5-10m of digging will reach mud.  The dates of the trees can stave off hunger and starvation, but be wary of the ferocious nomad lizard riders, who claim the trees as their own.

6. A small spring in a rocky wasteland.  No vegetation other than a small scrubby shrub, with large yam-like tubers.  These are the only food source for a very long way, and although they are indigestible when raw, when cooked they become delicious, nutritious and a potent hallucinogen.  Fun for everybody!

7. The Fata Morgana - a vision of Cyclopean ruins, a giant statue or a cliffside palace, floating mirage-like above the horizon.  What and where is this place, and what treasure does it hold, if it exists at all?  Perhaps the only path to reach this place is to climb into the mirage, as it exists out of time and space...

8. A sandy dunefield, with thousands of limestone pinnacles rising up to 5m high.  From a distance they resemble the ruins of a vast city but closer they are recognisable as bizarre but natural formations.  Some contain the dwelling places of small, goblin-like animals, that although uncivilised, can use powers of illusion to misdirect trespassers.  If that doesn't work, they fling their faeces at intruders.

9. A vast thicket of Saguaro like cacti with narrow animal paths the only sane entrance.  There are packrats, a surprising number of small birds and many venomous spiders, snakes and lizards infesting the forest, but it will probably be the half ruined tower jutting out of the centre of the forest that attracts the traveller.  This leads to an underground cavern made nearly impassable by the thickets of cacti roots reaching through to the subterranean water present.  Beware the fungi thickets and the clone farmers, but especially their master, who once inhabited the tower.

10. A vast meteor crater with a raised rim, some 2 km across and 250m deep, almost perfectly rounded.  There is an exploratory or abandoned Dwarven mine at the centre of the crater, and the remains of a ruined but strangely preserved city on the edge of the crater.  It clearly existed before the impact, but aside from the destruction of the part of the city where the crater is now, the rest is intact.

11. A number of straight sided stone monoliths, up to 500m high and flat-topped, rising from the arid gravel desert surface.  Many of these monoliths have lush green rainforests growing on top, with vines and ferns cascading down the top part of the walls.  Brightly coloured birds circle overhead.  Who or what created and sustains these amazing features? And how does one reach them? Did I mention the strong anti-magic field around them?

12. A series of large, complicated glyphs carved into sandstone walls or even scratched into the desert skin.  The largest is 10m high, and no sign of their meaning or origin remains.  Certain mages, steeped in ancient and bizarre lore, may recognise them as fragments of the arcane alphabet that all spells are written in, although they make no sense now.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Random Treasure Assortment #2

Well, I'm finally starting another campaign, as the last one started has suffered from lost character sheets - I assume they are somewhere with my copy of U1, but that's gone as well.  Given how full the house is, I'm not surprised...

This one involves the desert region on my Big World Map, and the characters rolled up so far are a Water Elementalist born into and raised by pirates; a Barbarian woman, from the Draakan Saltflats half a continent away; and a down-on-his-luck City Thief.  I've paired them with a Sorcerer NPC that was a PC in another not-quite started campaign for the first adventure...

Which will be "The Darkness Before Dawn", the introductory adventure from the reissued Dragon Warriors, but with a heavy dose of adaptation for the setting and my house rules.

Anyway, the other Royal Treasures for the Vault of Silent Wraiths...

11. The Orb of Tsaris - a golden orb ablaze with jewels, so big so it can be cupped in two hands.  It subtly conveys power and charisma to any holding, making them more open to their suggestions or orders.

12. The Jade Axe of the Storm Gods.  Make of that what you will, but it should involve a real fight to get hold of, and the Storm Gods will probably try and get it back.

13. A paper thin white jade teapot, set with star rubies.  Tea brewed in it, if carried out using the proper protocols, also heals 1-4 hp when drunk.  There are rumours of this teapot being used in the middle of battles, with all combatants taking care to avoid disrupting the ceremony.

14. The Empress's Ring.  Jade cabochon set with diamonds.  Gives any with it on their person (i.e. don't need to wear it) skills of diplomacy and secrecy.

15. A small book of jade sheets written with gold leaf, bound with gold wire.  It contains a unique spell or secret magics, but the owner will find they are the target of every thief, magic user and sage who also desires the book...

16. A Jade Dragon Statue, some 10m long.  A special wand and secret word is required to make it animate, where it will fly a reasonable number of passengers to any place known to the summoner.  Once only use per secret word.

17. A really good quality woollen wall tapestry hanging, of a vast battle or historical event.  Hidden in the detail is a map to the hidden Royal Treasury, including all the traps.

18. A collection of crystal and soapstone jars and bottles, all sealed.  Can contain magical, dangerous or beneficial remnants of ancient potions.

19. An ivory headdress, in the shape of an eagle.  The wings sweep down either side of the wearers ears, and the claws stick out the front, above the wearers eyes.  Gives powers of excellent sight, clear thinking, and amazing disco moves.

20. A matched set of six hand sized golden figurines of royal looking elves.  They separate at the waist, and contain coloured powders.  These will produce wondrous effects, explode or summon little known monsters when combined with liquids.

21. A brass, copper and silver astrolabe of a planetary system that is definitely not that of where-ever it is found.

The Seven Lakes, Part 1

So, was walking through a forest a few weekends ago, with summer finally trying to break through, and got a feeling about a new area for campaigning.  The feeling of sunlight through tall trees while walking a narrow path between a deep lake and a volcanic peak left something with me...

It's developed since then, with me attempting a map on the computer, rather than hand-drawn (it's a learning process), and deciding on a mash of the local landscape (volcanic lakes and forested mountains), the Ayleid Ruins from Oblivion, and a few other little ideas and inspirations.

The Seven Lakes are known far and wide across The Empire as a place of ethereal beauty and great danger, of volcanoes and lakes and ruins and a mighty cosmopolitan city. The truth is somewhat less impressive, but so few have travelled there and back to the Empire, that word of this never seems to take root.  And no-one likes undermining the wild stories and legends of the storytellers...

The City (Twin Streams, or Rotokawa in the local language) is reachable from the Empire to the West, across a vast plateau, formed from past volcanic ashfalls, but now grassed with copses of fast growing trees and occasional volcanic tors.  And to the North, a slightly narrower and muddier road follows river valleys, gorges and animal tracks, crossing three major rivers by ancient Dwarven bridges, to reach the sheltered coastal cities of the Storm Reach.  Traders, scholars and even occasional tourists flow along each of these to experience the charms of Rotokawa.

The City perches on the southern side of the largest and most Western lake, in a small caldera that shelters it from the constant winds, but also retains smoke, and gases from the copious geothermal fumaroles, geysers and streams.  The first impression of a traveller is of mud and water, and the low, almost water level huts of the native population clustered on the edge of the lake.  Soon, however, the roads become wooden walkways, with steaming warm water running beneath them, and close set square stone buildings huddle close together beside these.  There is no orientation or structure to the walkways that intermix with carved stone ledges, and the closeness and sameness of the buildings, and strangers are often lost.

Inside each building, shop or home, the utilitarian outside gives way to a riot of warm, rich colour and smells.  The many inns and hotels are all homely and welcoming, and one can be found for all persuasions and budgets.  Shops trade incense, crystals and cut gems and jewellery, or exotic fruit and fantastical fish (the fruit are grown in geothermally heated greenhouses, and the fish are caught by the native peoples from the depths of the Lake).  Alchemists brew, melt, combine and crush the rich local flora and fauna to provide the rich and the foolish with unique salves, ointments and potions, and local smiths forge copper, silver and quicksilver, and can treat iron and steel weapons and armours to avoid the corrosion the sulphurous air can cause.

The caldera walls contain the majority of the geothermal features, with small geysers feathering spray in most areas, and multicoloured seeps staining them various colours.  Several large, somewhat fortified estates perch outside the caldera, away from the heat, humidity and smell of the heated water, but they are at risk from local raiding goblins, and maintain met-at-arms at all times.

The native population are pale skinned, with little body hair and a mane of hair running down their neck, shaved over the ears.  They have slightly webbed fingers and toes, and live in circular reed walled huts over the lake waters, with a hole in the floor.  They call themselves the Sla-ho, but others refer to them simply as the Lake People.  They are comfortable in the water, and can hold their breath and dive for up to 5 minutes, far into the vent in the floor of the lake, gathering strange fish and molluscs, water plants and minerals under the waves.  Although forming close-knit family groups, away from the water they are surprisingly conversational and are good bargainers. Usually attired in loose fitting linen-like pants and sleeveless shifts, the Sla-ho never seem to leave the Lake surrounds, and none have ever expressed a desire to do so.  However, it is hard for others to identify a particular individual, as they all seem to possess the same general facial features and mannerisms.

Nagastani, from Oblivion
Travellers visit the City for a number of reasons, including the healing properties of the geothermal water baths and muds, the novelty of endless hot and warm water, the rare and novel herbs and materials of the local environments, the mix of Empire and Coastal trade goods, and, of course, the Ruins of the ancient peoples known as the Los Mehno, which attract by far the most desperate, violent and free-spending layers of society.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012


[Flash of lightning and evil sounding music]

Well, I've been busy this year, with work restructuring (the perils of a right wing government), my friend making lots of extra locations for Skyrim, Skyrin itself, and the new edition of Dwarf Fortress.

But I've managed to both find my long lost Dragon Warriors/ Adventure Path campaign notes and sheets.  Three Dragon Warrior characters being run through a slightly modified and converted (on the fly) "Age of Worms".  The series from Dungeon Magazine...

It was worth a shot, and the first adventure [The Whispering Cairn] was fun, with interesting NPCs, a ghost, the characters befriending the 'wrong' side, ancient mysteries and the killing of a necromancer.

The second one, "Three Faces of Evil" was not fun, as it consisted of three linear dungeon crawls, and as combat in DW is quite dangerous and healing is quite rare, it dragged on and made little sense.  That's where it ended, slogging through a grimlock infested gauntlet with low health points.

I've glanced at the later adventures, and they start to be infused with 3rd Ed. D&D silliness, where too many types of creatures appear and plot lines are stretched or left unfinished.  The setting I use is much lower fantasy and less heroic, so if we ever pick up that group of immoral treasure hunters, we may go back to one page dungeons

And recently, I've rolled up a Rolemaster character and am experimenting with the Combat Companion instead of Arms Law.  It's quicker and faster (less tables to flick through) but the 'armour by the piece' bit looks good. As I've played RM before, and we're going roll-lite (i.e. only roll dice when something dangerous/serious is happening) I'm finding it fun. 

Even though all I've done is have one battle against two goblins.  Rolling a natural 00 on the final critical was icing on the cake, and reminded my why I keep going back to this system, even if my 1st level ranger did have trouble extracting his sword from the goblin's skull...

I'd like to point out that I'm using Rolemaster Classic, as the RMSS 'revised' system seems, to me, to be adding extra skills and rolls for no reason.  I draw the line at the requirement for a three page character sheet.  But I know that some people draw the line at 6 attributes and find 10 too complicated.

I'll blog soon about the settings I'm considering, but there's a bit of work to do on each...