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.