D is for…

…Divlos, the continent where my desert campaign takes place?  …Dwarf, one of the Seven Races of Marn?  …Draakrill, the house that I have been designing for the last 30 years?  No.  People, I am Gregory.  D can only stand for one thing: Dragon!  I could just link to a previous post and call this topic covered, but that would be disingenuous.  So, here we go.

Fairy tales are more than true — not because they tell us dragons exist, but because they tell us dragons can be beaten. — G. K. Chesterton, as quoted in Coraline (2004) by Neil Gaiman, epigraph.

Of course, dragons exist and can be beaten.  Ask Ray and Mike about the seven-headed dragon Babylon.  Christina, James, Hil, and Matt could tell you about the death of Menethesis, an argentyl dragon.  John, Thom, and Mike most likely remember the sea dragon that they slew and then turned its corpse into a boat.  Let us not forget that Charonus Eybender and the House of Wild Geese slew Tel-Mordin the Feared, not once, but twice.  Dragons can be beaten and they are, but not all dragons on Rilmorn are to be fought.

Some dragons exist as plot hooks or background.  Rick, Mike, and Thom might remember Dhivanara, the Dragon of the Purple Sands.  She was a dragon whose body was made up of time elementals and other chronally charged entities and she aged time-creatures were escaping from her form.  Dhivanara charged the party with traveling to the lair of Chronepsis, the Dragon of Fate, and steal her life glass and hide it in Castle Timeless, so that she would cease aging.  Chronpesis appeared multiple times in the Spellguard campaign.  Christina, James, Hil, and Matt may remember him watching the Battle of the Fall of Spellguard during their jaunt into the past.  Maybe they recall the time, Chronepsis appeared after Ghul tried to break the Past Scrying Brazier of the Kron by forcing it to look to the future?  If not either of those times, surely one of them will recall when they had to save Dhivara from the chronal assassins, so she could lay the egg in Spellguard that hatched the triple form of Chronepsis.  Both of these dragons are vastly powerful, but neither of them threatened the heroes, nor gave them great treasures.  Dhivanara always acted as a plot hook.  While Chronepsis did interact with the PCs, he was ultimately window dressing…a reminder that there are stronger and stranger things than the PCs out there.

Some dragons are NPCs.  Prince Vanik of Arkohsia is an orium dragon that appears to the world as a brown dragonborn.  He plays the same role as duke or a queen in a more standard fantasy roleplaying setting; he’s just personally stronger and more powerful than your average ruler.  While Gareth Eybender, Belvar Duerar, and Feldspar von Quan, all began as standard Player Characters, they are now silver dragons and NPCs in my game.  They will no doubt appear in future games.  Dragons, as NPCs, give me characters that live for millennia, but do not have a hominid perspective.  Even those dragons that began as marn soon begin to take on different goals and perspectives than their original races.  Dragons make for alien allies and inscrutable foes.

The Age of Dragons has come and gone on Rilnorn and, now, the world is in the Age of Wyrms.  Ancient, often forgotten, beasts are stirring.  Pieces are being moved in The Great Game and even great adventurers may be no more than pawns in Games that Dragons Play. What dragons do you remember fondly from your days at the Gaming Table, dear readers?  Until next time, Game On!

Advertisements

Curses! Foiled Again! (or Gregory Should Quit Rereading Modules)

Gripe!  Gripe!  Whine!  Whine!

I been rereading some of my old modules and have discovered a GREAT way to blend C2: The Ghost Tower of Inverness with UK4: When a Star Falls and blend it with the Galen and Cataclysm event from the established history of Rhillmoran.  Hellfire and Brimstone!  I may end up in Castle Timeless after all. (2014.12.23)

Another great and terrible thing about all of this is that I can use the NPCs to expand out the people in Brie and place an established, back story NPC into a role in The Ghost Tower of Inverness.

I may have finally learned how to use modules after 30+ years of gaming!

Game On!

Post Script: It occurred to me that I need to give credit where credit is due about this post.  If D. from “Flower of Sickness” had not commented and suggested I see about adapting U1: The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh, then I wouldn’t have been looking through old modules.  Thus it is my pleasure to curse him and thank him for helping me expand and  improve my game.  If you have not checked out Fluer du mal, please do so; he’s got a really good blog. (2014.12.23)

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!

The Last Hurrah

E3 is officially retired.

The threat posed by the Giants in the Earth is abated.  Feldspar divides his time between wandering the multiverse, seeking more Trees of Power to link to the Quan, and his Primal Forest home.  Surana has completed the restoration of Castle Timeless and defeated Linden; she now rules as the Chronarch of the Castle.  Belvar has transformed the Black Manor in Quan from a staging area for monsters seeking the destruction of all hominid species to an interdimensional trade moot.   Ghul has returned to the Nine Hells to continue his rise to power in the Infernal Hierarchy.  Aktara,once the Far Realm Breach was closed, found that her patron, Ulban, had stripped her of her Star Pact  powers.  Undaunted, Aktara retires to Arkosia to allow the ancient dragon soul within her to manifest.

The End.

These are the final fates of the Members of E3, but it was not the end of the Giants in the Earth campaign.

The last game began with a bang.  We started the game in the middle of a fight.  I told the players to drop half their hit points, half of their healing surges, and half of their encounter powers.  My brother-in-law and nephew could not make it, but Hil and my daughter Nicki could; so Blackwood (my nephew’s PC) accepted help from the Book of Vile Darkness and he and Vondal were sucked up a vortex that spit out Ghul (Hil’s PC) and Aktara (Nicki’s PC).  They defeat the yochlol and headed on toward the first of “giants” Titan.

It was nice to have Ghul and Aktara back in the party, since they filled out the roster of the original members of E3.  The party made it through three difficult fights and one not as difficult skill challenge and won the day.  We epilogued the big threads still unresolved (Belvar was freed of the Verdis implant and not consumed by his ring Al-Bari.  Surana defeated Linden and merged the Centre of Time and Castle Timeless.  Feldspar traveled to Divlos and Thegnland and connected the trees of the Land beyond the Wind and Azenwrath to the Quan.  E3 Trading Company continued to turn a profit and Spellguard grew into a prosperous city-state.) and ended the campaign.  It was a fun night.

Christina and I got to talking about the campaign and we believe that the campaign may have begun in March or at the latest April of 2009.  It started as a game for Surana, Beryl (my daughter Lisa’s PC), and Aktara in the city of Refuge.  They played three or four sessions before the others arrived.  Lisa dropped out of the game before the rest of the crew that would become infamous as the E3 Trading Company appeared on the scene.  So, I ran this campaign for five years.  It was Christina’s first full campaign.  She had never played a character from newbie adventurer to legendary hero.  Ending the game carried a special weight for her.  I have found a similar weight in my soul.

I write out secrets on index cards for things in my world.  I got this idea from Ray Winnigar’s “Dungeoncraft” articles.  Everything that I create gets a secret that the PCs may or may not find out.  Each time the party finds out a secret, I give them the index card.  After the game, we compared their stack against all undiscovered secrets from previous campaigns, the Tasque Elzeny campaign, and the ones they never learned in this campaign.  Their stack was bigger.  They encountered and learned more about Rilmorin than I have left to reveal at this time.  Wow.

I’ve got more ideas and campaign plans, but building a new campaign seems more daunting in some undefinable way, than it did before and I do not know why.  This is not my first rodeo.  I ran the “War of the Dragons;” I set up and set down the final battles with the Overlord and Babylon.  “Berbalang, Tabok, and the Fairies” ran for a number of years and ended epicly (with two epilogue sessions).  My four 3E campaigns rose and fell in a grand fashion and after each of those I was not heavy in my soul.  What was different about this campaign?

I don’t know what makes this campaign’s end different.  What I do know is that the repercussions from this campaign will echo through many of my games to come.  Castle Timeless, the Quan, and Spellguard are going to be sites to which PCs will adventure.  Aktara will show up as the “Only Tiefling in Arkosia.”  Surana is the Chronarch, she will play the role of Nimsûl and guide PCs to Castle Timeless.  Ghul is a Prince of Hell (or a lich or a Spellscarred Savant) and will surely reappear as gadfly or villain.  Belvar and Feldspar are both dragons and I love throwing in dragons.  The Giants in the Earth will provide hooks and stories for years to come.

Maybe the heaviness at this particular ending comes from what is going on outside game.  One friend is moving away, but will be back for his wedding.  One friend is looking to buy a house with his S.O.  One friend is dealing with a a great and profound grief.  My daughter will be a mother in five months.  Also, this is my last 4E game; from this point forward all games are going to be DnD Next playtest rules.  Are extra-game events making this ending more profound?

I hate leaving this post on a hanging note, but I don’t have any answers.  If any of you out there do, please offer me some ideas.  Until next time, GAME ON!

GM’s Day 2014

On March 4, 2008 CE, E. Gary Gygax, one of  cofounders Dungeons and Dragons passed away.  In the years since his passing, the day of his death has become known as GM’s Day or Game Master’s Day.  (I may be incorrect on the origins of GM’s Day.)  Many gamers choose to run special or retro-style games in Gary’s honor.  Game outlets often offer special deals.  I’m going to post about my Big 4E game and plan on starting a DnD Next game, tonight, with my wife and younger daughter.

The “Giants in the Earth” game went off well.  We had to cut in the middle and plan on finishing it on Saturday, March 16, 20014.  The two groups blended smoothly.  I gave the party a glimpse of the Qalibar and its “black hole sun.”  Qalibar is remains of a worlds that were devastated by the Paradox Wars.  (I lifted both Qalibar and the Partadox Wars from game I read, but do not own.  I’d like to find this game and buy it, but my Google-Fu is very poor.)

They encountered Linden, Mistress of Time at the Centre of Time.  They declined her offer to help them navigate the Infinite Paths that lead off from the Centre of Time and used their own powers to get where they needed to go and do what they needed to do.  I got to show them the remains of Spellguard, as it hurtled backwards through Time and the Elemental Chaos – the Body Luminous.  From there, they retrieved the Ivory Pine of Sestus, after fighting past a pack of white slaadi and a lone black slaad.

They used the Infinite Paths to collect the Seed of the Dreaming Tree and they chose to not awaken the rust dragon, sleeping in the hollow interior of the tree.

They returned to the Centre of Time to make their way to Galen’s Tomb hidden beneath Sceptre Tower in Spellguard.  There, they fought two Galens.  One was corporeal, while the other was an insubstantial phane.  During their fight, the dragon Dhivanara appeared and cried for help.  She was laying her, now hatching egg, and being attacked by Time Killers (Linden’s Temporal Assassins).  The PCs prevailed and Chonepsis was born, all three of him.  One time-jumped to the Past.  A second one jumped to the Future, leaving a third one to introduce himself as Chronepsis and ask for a gate key of 100 platinum coins to use to pass through the Living Gate.

While Chronepsis was returning to his lair, E3 Plus painted the lintel of Galen’s Tomb with his blood and went to Castle Timeless.  There they found their way to the Key to Time and retrieved their ship, Enterprise, and collected the Holly-Oak of Melikki from Oseric Magnis of Laurant.  After all the trees were collected, Bollenboch, the figurehead and dragon bonded with the Enterprise took the crew to Occiptus and collected Eldwar’s consort, Iomaudra.  Once the “team” was complete, Bollenboch plane shifted to the Inner World.

Game Paused.

It went well.  Fights were long and I got bored on occasion, but the players were on the top of their game and I could not have asked for a better or more attentive group.  I’m hoping the final encounters will be as engaging and rewarding.

Until next time, Game On!

Traveling Through the Fire Which Burns All Things

Greg Bilsland does it. Chris Perkins does it. I do it and I bet others do it, too. We all use time travel in our D&D games. I’ve dropped time gates and chronosarians into games. I lifted “time-tripping” locations like the “Caves of History” from Egg of the Phoenix and the castle of the Darklord Tristan ApBlanc from Castles Forlorn to great effect in my games. I even ran a limited time travel campaign. It has been fun.

I really don’t know when I first began to drop time travel into my games. Bob Brown helped me design a number of rooms in Castle Timeless. Dragon #65 gave me a great article on time lords. Ken Crosby and I had many discussions about time, time travel, and the relationship between space and time; we both agreed “Time is not the 4th dimension.” All of these events have very specific images to which I connect and while I am sure that they are listed in objective chronological order, I am not sure which one marks the true entrance of time travel into Rilmorn.

Maybe it doesn’t matter; maybe time travel hasn’t begun in Rilmorn. What if the first time traveler hasn’t been born? What if all of the time travel and time travel related information that I have gathered on my game world is all post-cursors to an event yet to happen?

I am sure that I have forgotten some of the time travel that has happened in my games, because I have used it so much. Even if I have, I do have some great memories of time travel events in my games.

I credited Ken Crosby as playing the first chronosarian (time lord from Dragon #65), but Shaefer, his kularin (winged hominid) character, was an illusionist, not a chronosarian. Shaefer enjoyed using time manipulation magic items. He was the first PC in my games to find the Time Glass. Shaefer was delighted to find the time gate in his kingdom of the High Reaches and happily led the rest of the party into the future. He researched the summoning of time elementals and proved the existence of thought elementals. He summoned one of each and placed them as opponents in the Eternal Chess Game. The elementals named Frayin and Theron still exist (even after the Great Cataclysm). They are now bound together in a magical sphere floating above Moon Tower in Spellguard. They are still playing their chess game, they’ve just got new pieces. I hope Ken would be pleased.

James Burkett played the first chronosarian PC in my games. He ran Galen Ringold. I put a series of “time” adventures in this campaign to engage Galen in the story. James had to miss a number of games due to his work schedule and every time he wasn’t there, it seemed like another party member caused a temporal disaster. Amira rewrote the entirety of the players’ history, starting with their first adventure and created a cross-time duplicate of Galen. Shev broke a temporal artifact and duplicated the party; Galen’s duplicate remained, while the other duplicates were absorbed into the originals or returned to their reality. As the number of Galenns increased, the more desperate Galen Ringold became to restore the “Original Timeline.” Galen, ultimately, left the party, formed the Council of Galens, and embarked upon a plan to use the collected life energy of the world to turn back time to stop Amira. He became a supervillain who may or may not have caused the Great Cataclysm that destroyed all life on the planet. Thanks, James.

Long before Doctor Who did it, I had a Time War. Many years ago, I stole the name Castle Timeless from Roger Zelazny’s book, The Changing Land and created a time-themed dungeon. Nimsûl, Guardian of Time, was my NPC which acted as the catalyst to send adventurers to Castle Timeless. I ran multiple groups through Castle Timeless. Ronnie Cooley, a person I knew from my Hattiesburg/USM days, shared with me his time-themed campaign, The Center of Time. He showed me the character sheet of Linden, Mistress of Time, the PC that took over the Center of Time from the mad Master of Time, which his PCs were tasked to slay. Suddenly, I saw a conflict between the two temporal realities. Linden desired Castle Timeless and the title of Chronarch. Galen’s attempt to restore history may have been the opening Linden needed to strike. It may have been the event that allowed Linden to discover the existence of Castle Timeless. It may have been the final blow that brought about the Fall of the Castle. We may never know, but Castle Timeless in now a broken ruin and Linden rules “All of Time.” The Great War is done. (2014.10.02)

Present Games:
Tasque Elzeny is, now, traversing Castle Timeless to find the Key to Time, so they can get home, after being displaced in the ancient past.

Surana (Christina’s dragonborn ranger) has taken up a quest to restore Castle Timeless. Right now E3 is traveling from the ruins of Castle Timeless to the Centre of Time to discover what they can. We’ll see what happens.

If all goes to plan, I’ll, soon, introduce the Weir of Kandalon, from Chronomancer, into Rilmorn’s history. I hope it will soon take a place of prominence alongside the Talisman of Senroth and the Clock of Ages.

Until Next…Time?
Game On!