Retconing (or How to Get From Terah to Nibiru)

During my downtime from actively running a game, I have started to work on my settings and I have discovered something upsetting.  I have found better ideas for things, than those that I originally created or stole.  Now, what do I do?

During the Dark Time, after the glory of Second Edition was over and before the messianic arrive of Third Edition, I decided to run a campaign that was set on a world other than Rilmorn.  I had planned on using only modules and nothing else…No Gregory Created Stuff.  I failed, but I did end up with a fairly cool setting based of B2 Keep on the Borderlands and Return to Keep on the Borderlands.  The PCs started at and basecamped out of Kendal Keep, a keep on the borders of the Empire of Namoria.  I never named the world, because I didn’t need it.  Years and campaigns later, I would name it Terah.  Now, I want to change its name to Nibiru.  I never heard of Nibiru, until I was watching Scooby Doo! Mystery Incorporated.  Later, when I was rewatching Star Trek: Into Darkness, I noticed the opening sequence took place on the world of Nibiru.  Thus, my desire for the name change.

During the last game I ranin my Pellham campaign, I named an NPC Gabardine.  I knew that she was one of five “sisters” and I decided that three of the others would be named Fescue, DoTerra, and Cusped.  The fifth sister is to have an “E” name.  I later decided that DoTerra would be an alchemist and Cusped, a mage working with the Teeth of Dahlver-Nar.  Then, I decided I needed to have one sister that worked magic with plants and one that worked magic with cloth, but I’ve already got one name wrong…Gabardine is a florist.

What do I do?  I retcon!

I can’t retcon, because I believe this (I wrote this as a rebuttal in a debate about Lucas’ retooling of Star Wars.”

To alter a work once it is released to the public is be unfair to the audience, forever tweaking something prevents it audience from being able to fully connect with the work, because there are multiple versions and analogues of the work and any of them could be the true work.  I know how it feels to put something out there and then decide it is flawed.  Even though I presented it to two different audiences, I should not have changed the wording of my poem.  Now, there exist two quanta of the same work, but I have undermined the readers of the first version of the poem.  I have effectively told my first readers that what they got was crap.  It does not matter that there is very little to change in a two stanza poem, but it doesn’t matter.  It says that I put out bad stuff that I of which wasn’t proud.  Altering Star Wars is no different…

I can’t just change a draft and then run my campaign.  I’ve already put these events out to the public.  In days past, I told Mike Magee about the quintuplets born to a descendant of his character Gareth Eybender.  I never got to run those NPCs at that time, so years later when I found Ptolus, I could lift the name Danar and rename Janel the Herald’s oldest child without incident.  My two examples of Terah/Nibiru and Gabardine/Fescue are both events that have “been published.”  They are given events.

I see way to fix each of these problems.  With the Gabardine/Fescue event, I tell my plyers about my desired change and then if they agree with it, it changes.  The Terah/Nibiru change is a more of a cheat.  Not every culture calls the world upon which it dwells the same name.  Even on Rilmorn, where everyone does use the same name, each culture alters the spelling and sometimes the pronunciation.  So, Terah is the gnomes name for their former homeworld.  Everyone else gets to call it Nibiru and I get to steal the crazy that goes along with the story of Planet X.  Will I do them?

So, until we meet again, Game On!

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Namoria and Terah (or How I Failed at Modules Between Editions)

When I was working on a post about Retrocontinuity , I discovered that I could not find a post to which I wanted to link.  It turns out that I never finished or posted that particular post. Here it is.

In late 1999 AD, my Players and I finished up my latest campaign – the one where one PC was a werewolf, who didn’t know he was a werewolf and another PC was a midwife working to keep her vampiric step-father’s condition a secret and my Oriental Adventures campaign had never really gelled and taken off.  We were all psyched up for 3E, but we didn’t want to wait until August 2000 AD to play again.  I didn’t want to start a new campaign in Rilmorn that I would have to convert for the new edition, so I decided to take up an idea from Mike Magee.

Back in the 80’s, Mike suggested that, since I owed so many modules, I should run a game using only modules.  The idea was for me to run the modules as written; I wouldn’t create my own plot lines.  As we played through each module, I’d place any maps in the module contiguous to already existing maps, ignoring any anomalous terrain issues.  Thus, I’d create a mosaic world made up of Greyhawk, Forgotten Realms, and Krynn.  It was a cool idea, but since I had been running a continuing Game World in Rilmorn, I never took the time to try it.  The downtime between editions seemed like the perfect time to try it out.

I had B2 – Keep on the Borderlands and Return to the Keep on the Borderlands, so I decided to use that as the foundation for this campaign. I had two solid versions of a great sandbox-style game module, a copy of B1 – In Search of the Unknown (a site which was marked on the maps of both Keep on the Borderlands modules), and a group of self-directed players.  Once I dropped a few plot hooks in, this campaign should have rolled itself right out.  I flopped right out of the starting gate.

I just could not run a campaign ex nihilo.  I felt compelled to create an empire, so I could have borderlands into which I place the Keep.  So, I came up with the Namorian Empire.  Namoria was based on Rome with a strong Celtic influence.  I wrote up a historical timeline.  I designed a calendar with 12 months, each one named after one of the first twelve emperors.  I also went on to adjust some of the history written into the module about Kendal Keep (the name given to the Keep in Return to the Keep on the Borderlands). No matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t do it.

I use other modules and adventures, but rather than run them mosaic style, I tried to blend them into the campaign seamlessly.  It became a rather fun campaign, but personality issues and a storyline that got out of hand led to the demise of the Namori Campaign.

Skip to several campaigns later, we are well versed in using 3E and I am running my Sanderzani Campaign.  I am trying to add a bit of Lovecraftian horror to my store and quietly insert Yog-Sothoth into the background.  I, then, begin to attempt to draw the PCs across time and space.  I take modules, The Sunless Citadel by Bruce Coredell and The Standing Stone by John D. Rateliff (author of Return to the Keep on the Borderlands, by the way) and blended them and their maps to create an adventure for my gypsy band.  I tied it to the characters and adventurers of the previous campaign.  It went over well, but I never really got to reveal all the secrets I wove into that adventure setting.

But, my tale of woe doesn’t end there.  I got the D&D Next Play Test materials and attempted to run them for various Players.  I decided to put those materials into this world.  I ended up creating a weird map that was supposed to be changed as more play test materials came out. Unless the objects and places appearing on the map were labeled and oriented correctly, they didn’t actually exist.  Everything else on the on the map was in flux and subject to change.  I tied some of the adventures to the Isle of the Dreamers from my original Namori Campaign and would later use some of this material as background for my short-lived gnome campaign.  Now, I’m using this material and setting to expand on the Isle of the Dreamers.  It never ends.

Game On!

Reoccurring Themes (or Gregory, Don’t go There Again)

I’ve been working on where I expect or hope my Pellham campaign is going and I’ve found myself looking at some familiar territory.  There are types of stories that I like.  I like alternate dimensions stories.  I like time travel stories.  I like Faery stories.  I like to use them in my games, too.  I like them a lot.  In addition to ideas and themes for my games, these stories also connect to places in Rhillmoran; places I have used again and again.  My Pellham campaign has seeds of these stories it and they are leading me back to my favorite, but possibly overused, stories and places.  I wonder if I need to break away from my favorite stories.

Castle Timeless has been a staple of my games since the 1980s.  It has been a rare campaign that did not see at least one trip to Castle Timeless.  During the Giants in the Earth and the Tasque Elzeny campaigns, Castle Timeless got a makeover.  I’ve been thinking about using Castle Timeless, because of a few throw away lines and plot point in the backstory of C5: Llywelyn’s Bane.  It, also, doesn’t help that C2: The Ghost Tower of Inverness (one of the other modules slated for use in the Pellham campaign) has an often missed time travel component.  Going to Castle Timeless certainly places Pellham in Rhillmoran, but it opens up a whole can of wyrms in that it will tempt me to run a time travel mini campaign and I’ve done that time and time again.

Faery locales are going to be part of this campaign.  I’ve already placed Ardenmore in Adran Silverleaf’s back story.  So, how do I keep from retreading old ground?  My fey folk and fey realm should be different than they have been before.  This is going to be hard, since I like my fey to have a Celtic sensibility and Pellham is a Celtic-style setting.  It doesn’t help that I’ve got a “Hollow Hills opening on the Night of a Full Moon” idiom running with this, too.  I guess I’ll just have to turn these fey “up to 11” and go full bore with them.  Make them the Fey of the Fey and play it for all that it is worth.  They are capricious, enigmatic, and dangerous benefactors and patrons.  They are brave, valiant, and noble allies and villains.  Their plans and their beliefs are not easily understood by mere mortals, even if those mortals are their elven descendants and cousins.  It should be great fun, if I can play it right; I’ve misplayed this style of NPC multiple times before.

I don’t see how I can get away from alternate dimensions in this campaign.  If the PCs follow through the entire plot as devised by the modules, then they must enter an alternate dimension.  I’ve did a lot of development on this alternate dimension for a failed campaign (outside forces pulled Players away), so I may be able to make this work for me.  The provided storyline only has the PCs there for a relatively short time and the alternate dimension is completely unlike the rest of the setting, so this could easily work to my advantage.  I’ve got an “alien,” but not lethal environment into which the PCs can adventure.  It plots well and is part of the module collection, so if I use it and it alone, then I should not get caught up in a plane hopping campaign, which can really be fun.

Having covered my “big” flaws in the previous three paragraphs, I must now move on and discuss a harder drive in my gaming themes.  I want to connect this game to other games that I have run.  I’ve been thinking about placing a connection to the Shadowfell Road in Pellham or Inverness; this would open up a connection to Moytonia and I would be tempted to pull things from Barovia and the Walking Wood into Iolta and that might dilute this setting.  I really want to place a connection to Castle Timeless and I’ve already explained why that is a bad idea.  While I have not yet designed them, I know there are magical trees in Pellham and they could easily be connected to the Quan.  Even though this campaign takes place over a thousand years after Giants in the Earth and Tasque Elzeny, a connection to the Quaan would let me access Feldspar, E3 Trading Company, and Spellguard.  While a link on Thrain to the World of Terah would allow me to bring threats from the Caves of Chaos and possibly connect the PCs to the Isle of Celestia and the Dreamers, it would be bringing in alternate dimensions.

Want to know what reeks in all of this; writing out this post has given me a half dozen or more ideas that I now am interested in dropping into the Pellahm campaign.  What do you think I should do?

Game On!

Gaming the System

Sometimes I Play the Game and other times I Game the System.  I have been gaming long enough that I am not a big fan of “imposed motivations” being placed on a PC.  In Dungeons and Dragons 5E, there is a section in character creation where the Player is supposed to select a Personality Trait, an Ideal, a Bond, and a Flaw; there are tables of options from which the Player can choose or on which the Player can roll randomly.  There are rules and sidebars designed to help a Player create unique Personality Traits, Bonds, Goals, and Flaws, but the default assumption seems to be that when the Player chooses his or her PCs Background that he or she will take from the provided lists.  This is not an ideal situation for me, since the suggested options are designed to be as generic as possible and I am presently running a very specific (Gnome) campaign.  However, it has provided some neat insights for me.

Years ago, Jason Holmgren of Ironclaw explained to me how he felt rules not only provide the framework of game play, they also set the style of play.  I think he’s right in that supposition.  I’d even go so far as to say, “Rules, not only provide the framework needed for game play and the style of play, they also provide assumptions about the setting.”  For an example of this in D&D, check out my complaints about 3E and 4E (paragraphs 5 and 6).  While I do believe it is possible to tell whatever story one wishes to tell, regardless of the rules system, it takes effort to mold those stories into the assumptions the rules system places on the setting. (2014.10.04)

In my Gnome Campaign, Nicki and JR are playing forest gnomes.  Nicki’s character, Roywyn, is a druid (PHB pages 64-69) and JR’s PC, Gimble, is a ranger (PHB pages 89-93).  While the quick build suggestion for druid is Hermit, Nicki chose the Outlander background (PHB pages 136-137).  JR stuck with the suggested quick build background for the ranger class, which is Outlander.  In addition to the four categories of characteristics that a background provides, the Outlander background offers a table for Origin.  Nicki rolled Hunter/Gatherer and JR rolled Tribal Nomad.  JR’s roll for Origin, along with Nicki’s roll of “I am the last of my tribe, and it is up to me to ensure their names enter legend,” as her Bond caused me a bit of a problem when it came to my setting.  Gnomes in the literature are not tribal nomads.  They are hill dwelling, warren digging, settled folk.  This is reinforced in the 2E supplement The Complete Book of Gnomes and Halflings (I book that I got when a friend was giving away his collection, but tha I had never opened, until two weeks ago).  How am I to reconcile this? (2014.10.04)

I believe the basic presumption of D&D is that the game is going to be a multi-racial, multi-class, pseudo-European milieu.  Also, a GM is unlikely to get someone who wants to play a truly weird character: a gnomish ranger from a band of tribal nomadic little people or a halfling barbarian.  If the GM does, then he or she can use the basic assumptions of the setting to say that the halfling was found as a baby abandoned in the wild and raised among the Ice Marsh Barbarians who had a band of gnomes that lived among them or something similar.  I don’t have that option in my Gnome-centric Campaign. (2014.10.04)

So, I have to come up with a reason as to why there would be nomadic gnomes.  I have to use the rules to make the setting.  Are all forest gnomes from Terah nomads?  I don’t think so.  What if the nomad tribes (I really want to write it as gnomad tribes) from Terah were not just made up of forest gnomes?  What if they were a mix of gnomish subraces?  Why would they have such a society?  Roywyn is the last of her tribe?  Gimble only knows of one other member from his tribe, Papi?  What secrets does Papi, a rock gnome, know about the now lost nomads?  This is all a case of me trying to making sense of the results of the rules, as I see them.  Hopefully, I will make world sense out of rules sense and have a compelling setting and campaign. (2014.10.04)

Game On!

Fantasy Demographics

This post is pure indulgence on my part.  I truly expect anyone other than me to be completely bored with it.  This is a grid of all the players that I can remember and what races and how many of each race they played in my games.  This does not include any one off games or single appearances by a character in a larger campaign.  I’m sure I’ve missed players and characters and will add those as I recall them.

Key:

Di – Diavlin (desert dwelling fire race)

Dw – Dwarf

El – Elf

EH – Elf/Human Hybrid

Hu – Human

HK – Human/Kularin Hybrid

HO – Human/Orc Hybrid

Id – Idré (ocean dwelling water race)

Ku – Kularin (winged air race)

Or – Orc

Dr – Dragonborn (see 4E or 5E PHB)

Ha – Halfling

Sh – Shifter (see 4E PHB2)

Ti – Tiefling (see 4E or 5E PHB)

Sd – Shade (see 4E Heroes of Shadow)

Vr – Vryloka (see 4E Heroes of Shadow)

Gn – Gnome

C= – Total number of characters ran by that player

R= – Total number of each race played in my campaigns

GT – Grand Total

Player Di Dw El EH Hu HK HO Id Ku Or Dr Ha Sh Ti Sd Vr Gn C= GT
Adrian 1 1
Andy 2 2
Ben 2 2
Bob 1 1
Brandon 1 2 3
Charles 1 1
Chyenne 1 1
Christina 1 3 1  1  1  1 8
Clint 1 1
David 1 1
Davy 1 1
Eric 1 4 5
Hesselburg 1 1
Hil 1 3 4 1 9
James 1 1 4 1 6 2 1 16
Jane 3 1 4
JD 1 1
Jeff 2 2
John 1 1 2
John Paul 1 1
Ken 1 1 2
Kevin 1 1
Magee 1 3 1 5
Matt  1 1 2 3 1 1 9
Mechelle 1 1
Michael 1 1 2
Morgan 1 1
Nicki 1 1 2
Russ 2 2
Russell 1 1
Scheopf 1 1
Spencer 1 1
Stephen 1 1
Thom 1 1 2
Todd 1 1 2
Tom 1 3 4
Topher 1 1 2
Vicki 2 1 8 1 12
R= 5 6 19 13 52 2 1 3 3 1 1 1 1 2 1 1 2   114
GT 114

Of the 114 characters that I can recall being in my games, 52 were human.  The next largest demographic were elves at 19 individuals (This includes characters from an “Elf Only” campaign.  Does anyone else have a breakdown on race demographics in their games?

My friend Zachary Anderson @raidingparty.livejournal.com made his own grid of players and PC races. (2014.10.02)

I recently found Fluer du mal and he’s got a great site.  He has a list of Players and Characters from his games.  I really am interested to learn more about how his game world runs. (2014.10.02)

Game On!

Gnomes and Rillmorn

Here is where I talk about my dislike of gnomes.  Here is where I talk about designing fantasy races.  Now, I’m going to let Matt Harris and the rest of my readers know what decisions I’ve made about gnomes in my world of Rilmorn.

After much debate with myself, I have come to the following decisions about Gnomes in my campaign world, Rillmorn.  1. Gnomes are not historically native to Rillmorn.  2.  A single mixed community of gnomes exists on Rillmorn.  It is located near the town of Duvamil (The fact that the 5E PHB list “Duvamil” as a female gnomish name is coincidental.  Duvamil has existed in Rilmorn since 3E, when I ran my Sanderzani campaign.)  3. Gmomes are a clan of dwarves caught, enslaved, and experimented upon by Fomorians, giants from the Fey Realm.  4.  Gnomes have close ties to Elemental Earth and are somehow related to the elemental creatures Salamanders, Sylphs, and Undines; fire, air, and water, respectively.  Having made these decisions, I will now attempt to explain how I got to them. (2014.10.02)

Number 1 is simply based on the fact that from March 1980 A.D. until August 2014 A.D. there were no gnomes in Rillmorn.  I had never used them.  I never allowed them to be played.  There were no gnomes.

Number 2 is based on the background that I gave Christina and Nicki when they were creating their characters.  They are from the gnome warren Featherstone.  The warren of Featherstone was founded by refugees from the world of Terah, after the gnomes’ homelands were destroyed by the forces from the Caves of Chaos.  It is located northeast of Duvamil (a village known for being the intersection of the paths of Bazarene the Traveling City and forest giants’ tree city, The Walking Wood, and the site of great mill located on the Zagreb River – sometimes when a bag of flour or meal from this mill is opened, a large, 9” long dove feather is found in the bag). (2014.10.02)

Number 3 is based on the backstory of the dwarves and gnomes from 4E.  In 4E, dwarves were created by the gods.  Giants were created by the primordials and the titans.  The giants enslaved the dwarves for an uncounted age, before the race revolted and escaped.  In the Feywild, Fomorians (faery counterparts to the giants) enslaved the gnomes (fey versions of dwarves), until many of the gnomes escaped.  Since Rillmorn existed long before 4E and I had no history of the giants enslaving the dwarves, I ignored that backstory.  Now, for the gnomes, I have decided that gnomes were one of the clans of dwarves (there is recorded Rillmorn history for clans of dwarves that have become “sub-races”) and that they were enslaved by the Fomorians.  Uncounted generations of gnomes were the slaves, pets, and experimental subjects of the Formorians and over the ages, the gnomes changed from the dwarves they were to the gnomes they are today.  Eventually, the gnomes were freed when the Fomorians were forced to flee their enemies the Tuatha.  The freed gnomes spread out of the Fey Realm to uncounted worlds, but not Rillmorn…until now. (2014.10.02)

Number 4 is my desire to make gnomes decidedly different than dwarves.  Azer are fire dwarves.  They have strong elemental nature, so what makes them different than gnomes, who have a strong earth elemental nature.  Azer are not related to Paracelsus’ other three elemental types; gnomes are.

Now, we shall see how gnomes play out in my games.

Game On!

Gnomes: The Other Dwarves (or Gregory May Need to Let Go of Old Biases)

Long time Players in my games can tell you, “There are no gnomes on Rilmorn.”  That changes tonight.  Christina, my wife, long bothered by my anti-gnome stance, has convinced me to let her and Nicki, our daughter, play a gnome bard and a gnome druid, respectively.  With their eminent appearance in a Rilmorin campaign, it is time for me to delve into the anti-gnome history of my games.

In the 1500s A.D. the alchemist Paracelsus wrote about Gnomi.  He equated them with the Pygmæi of Greek legend and classified them as earth elementals.  I would not hear about them until 1976 A.D.  In 1976, Gnomes by Wil Huygen and Rien Poortvliet (illistrator) was published.  It spawned gnotebooks and other such fripperies and they annoyed me.  I was a pretentious junior high school student, who had a rod stuck up my spine.  The inundation of gnome-related items irritated me and by the time I found D&D, gnomes were persona non-grata.

1E gnomes were uninspiring; they didn’t even appear in the size comparison illustration on page 18 of the Player’s Handbook.  They were poor cousins of the dwarves and the writers of 1E knew it.  They decided to give them an upgrade…Tinker Gnomes!  (Loyal Readers may recall how I feel about that – 4th paragraph.)  They were a joke race, even more of a joke than gully dwarves.  This trend was only acerbated by the treatment given to Tinker Gnomes in Spelljammer.  I really loathed gnomes, by this point.

I will only say Gnomes in Warcraft added to my annoyance.

When I ran my doomed Namori Campaign set on the Word of Terah, I allowed a gnome NPC in there.  He was in Quasqueton and my Players thought he was a weird dwarf or a dwarf/halfling mix.

Dungeons and Dragons 3E did little to change my perception of gnomes.  Their change of making gnomes bards, instead of illusionists left me…meh, but I did enjoy Chris Perkins’ joke in the Shackled City Adventure Path about how the illusionist gnomes of Jzadirune caught a magical disease called the Vanishing.  Ebberon’s gnomes seemed okay, but by this point I did not care.

4E gave gnomes a dark backstory and initially pulled them from the ranks of Player Characters.  Yet, when Wizards of the Coast were promoting 4E with some cool animated shorts, the gnome was a joke again.

I never got to run my players through the D&D Next adventure Reclaiming Blingdenstone, but it was set on my game world of Terah and was all about the Deep Gnomes.  It would have been interesting to see how my players would have reacted to gnomes there.

5E seems to have settled for a fairly straight read on the race of gnomes.  Christina and Nicki are not Players who tend to go for slapstick or comic relief characters, so I expect them to play their characters as realistically as possible.  It may give me a new perspective on gnomes and change my feelings about them.

The background I’m working on for these gnomes is the idea that they are a mixed colony of rock gnomes, forest gnomes and deep gnomes from Terah.  They have fled the destruction of their homelands and crossed dimensions to start a new life on Rilmorn.  They live in Featherstone – a tiny, hidden, mining village nestled between the Zagreb River and the once ore-heavy Laudervai Hills near the Village of Duvamil.  Christina has suggested that the focus of the campaign could be on the flutes given to each PC by Christina’s PC’s late grandmother.  I think I can make this work.  This is looking good.

The Games Librarian has a post in response to this post of mine.  Go Enjoy It.  I did. (2014.09.10)

Game On!