A Review: “Ghost of the Frost Giant King”

Disclaimer: Russell and Morgan Newquiest, two of the authors of this adventure, are friends of mine and the owners of Silver Empire publishing. They provided me with a free, PDF copy of this adventure for me to review.

Ghost of the Frost Giant King is less of an adventure and more of a mini campaign. Using the 3.5 Dungeons and Dragons rules system, Ghost of the Frost Giant King provides a great setting in which the heroes can adventure. Inspired by Nordic myths and stories the continent of Thrúdheim is filled with Monsters and NPCs that allow the Game Master to both evoke the feeling of the Norse Sagas and provide the Players with memorable fights and role playing encounters.

The main narrative of Ghost of the Frost Giant King involves the PCs transporting supplies to a beleaguered frontier town/military fort, but that journey may then lead them on a quest to find artifact out of legend. Scattered throughout the adventure are side quests. It is possible for the GM to run the adventure without them, but I think they really add to the tale and the setting.

There are 44 pages in the PDF version of Ghost of the Frost Giant King. Of those 44 pages, 30 are used for front and back covers, pre-generated PCs and their portraits, NPCs, monster entries, a “Paint-style” player’s handout, three maps, “legal stuff,” and the credits. That leaves 14 pages for the adventure and its attendant art. The Adventure to Support Material Ratio is a bit low for my tastes, but given that Ghost of the Frost Giant King is more of a mini-setting than a straight adventure, it works out well.

I only found two problems with is adventure. The first is the large number of “Read Out Loud” sections. While the “Read Out Loud” sections give the GM needed information, they are often long and wordy and I feel that Players will lose interest while the GM is reading it out. The other problem I have with Ghost of the Frost Giant King is the maps. There are multiple issues with the maps.

There are no tactical maps for use in combat. There is no scale on any of the maps. The only map for the Boss Fight is the map given to the PCs by an NPC (also, this is the only place in the adventure that lists the traps used to defend the boss’ lair). There are no maps for any of the villages or towns used in this adventure. Finally, the continent map doesn’t give the name of any of the cities, towns, or villages shown on the map; nor are any of the rivers, forests or mountains named.

Despite my quibbles, I feel that Ghost of the Frost Giant King is a great module. It gives a GM enough NPCs, settings, monsters, and political intrigue to either run a fairly straight forward adventure or to build a campaign on what is given. With all of this and a superb minor artifact that could spawn a whole slew of story threads all on its own, I rate Ghost of the Frost Giant King a 4 out of 5. It is a great piece of work.

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Sticks and Stones (or What Special Materials Have Appeared on Rilmorn)

D. over at Fluer du mal posted about the materials used to make magic items in his games. It got me thinking about the special materials that have appeared on Rilmorn.  Here is my post on those thoughts.

Way back in the day, I was seventeen and not nearly as well read or knowledgeable as I thought I was, but I knew enough about copyright and plagiarism that I didn’t want to do it.  Even back at the beginning I wanted to publish my game world, so I couldn’t use “mithril,” since that came from Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings.  Thus, I named my star silver metal argentyl.  Since those early days, other materials have made their way into my games, but argentyl is still the most likely to appear.

Ages ago, I read H. Warner Munn’s Merlin’s Godson and Merlin’s Ring and from it I got the impression that orichalcum was milky-gold in color, extremely strong, and had not magical properties, but magical affecting properties.  Thus, I introduced two forms of orichalcum into Rillmorn.  The first was simply swords made of an orichalcum and iron alloy that had “pluses to hit and damage,” but were not magical.  A +2 orichalcum blade would retain its attack and damage bonuses even if its wielder were in an anti-magic zone.  The second way in which orichalcum appeared was in the form of “spell breakers.”  Spell breakers were magical daggers that could be used to “kill” incoming spells.  If a spell breaker wielder had his weapon ready when a spell was cast, the wielder could make an attack roll against the spell’s armor class, if the wielder hit the AC in question the spell “broke.”  Spell breakers were useless in combat.  Spell breakers haven’t been seen since before my USM days and the last orichalcum blade to appear was the one found by Alkin du Fey Duncan and it was rumored to be a pure orichalcum (a +5 weapon) blade.

I do not remember when I came up with the idea of trollsilver, but it was wildly popular for several games.  Before there were spell foci in D&D, a spellcaster using an object made trollsilver to cast a spell could roll a d6 to see how the trollsilver empowered the spell.  On a 1 or 2, the duration of spell increased threefold.  On a 3 or 4, the range and area of effect increased three times.  On a 5 or 6, the “power” of the spell increased by three: IE – 6th level fireball would do 18 dice of damage instead of 6 dice.  Trollsilver faded into the background after a just a few adventures.

One of the rarest of all gemstones on Rilmorrin is the prismate.  Prismate is a gem forged stone.  Gem forging is a psionic/magical art that blends two or more precious or semiprecious stones into a single stone.  Prismates are made up of the dust of numerous gemstones and when completed each facet is a different color.  Only one magic item ever has ever been found with a prismate as part of it.  A flawed prismate was the pommel stone of the sword Policrom.  Prismates still appear occasionally in treasure hoards around the world.

While I’ve used other materials in Rimoranic history, but I think these are the best.  What materials have you created for your games?

Game On!

Slow Beginnings (or How do I Mix my Plot Lines and my PCs)

So, on Sunday, November 09, 2014, I ran the first game of my Iolta and Thrain campaign.  While it was not my first 5E game, it is still significant, because it is the first game in a campaign created using plot lines from a selection of modules.  I’m going to have an interesting time of mixing my planned plot lines with my PCs’ goals.  Let me attempt to explain my dilemma.

Provided Plot Lines (Taken From my Modules)

Restore the Monarchy – includes prophecies of reborn kings and pretenders trying to claim the throne

Get Help from the Druids – includes an overland journey and diplomacy

Defeat the Risen Evil – your standard stop Cthulhustyle story with ancient artifacts and dungeon crawls

These are all doable plot lines and would not require to much tinkering to build into a campaign arc, if I so chose.  Enter my PCs.

The Player Characters

Vadis Mal – male, human paladin – His family was betrayed in a power struggle and he was sold into the slave pits of Thulsa Set in Inverness.  During his time in the slave pits, Vadis was possessed by Spirit of Cernunnos and learned it was the Horned God’s will that all be free.  Vadis escaped; now, he and a fellow escapee have begun a campaign of punishing those who would enslave others (slavers, pimps, evil nobles, corrupt governments, etc).  (2014.11.14)

 

Stone – male, human barbarian – Captured as child, Stone was sold into slavery in Inverness.  He met Vadis in the slave pits of Thulsa Set and watched over him when the Spirit of Cernunnos came upon him.  When the revolt came, Stone fought alongside Vadis and now follows him in his quest to bring Vengeance upon those that would enslave others.

 

Ravah Rothardotter of Clan Uldra – female, dwarf fighter – Ravah was the last of four daughters born to Rothar Bloodaxe and his wife.  After her mother was killed in a fomori raid, Ravah was raised by her father alone.  He taught her to fight and named her his heir, since he had no sons.  Ravah served in the Dwarf Crown army and was recognized for her achievements; she reached the rank of sergeant before her father died.  While the clan elders recognized her as her father’s heir, they did it out of their respect for her father, not because they believed she was worthy.  Incensed, Ravah gave her holdings to her eldest nephew as a wedding gift and left the Dwarf Crown.  On her way out, she helped two escaped slaves flee Inverness; they were Vadis and Stone. (2014.11.14)

 

Winguard – male, elf/human bard – Found on the steps of the Brotherhood of Brie, Winguard was raised by the scholars and minstrels dwelling there.  He grew into a young man who believes that everyone should be responsible for his or her own fate.  Winguard seeks to establish a new political order based on one’s own personal responsibility.  He joined Vadis and Stone, after Vadis journeyed to Brie to find a bard to immortalize their campaign against the enslavers in song and verse and to promote the ideals of freedom. (2014.11.13)

 

Adran Silverleaf – male, elf wizard – Born and reared among the Shadow Crowns of Thrain, Adran came to Pellham 300 years ago to study the collected works of the Brotherhood of Brie.  He is beginning to master the arts of divination and is much intrigued by the Prophecy of Llywelyn’s return.  Adran left Brie before he was forced to choose a side as various groups debate the meaning of the Prophecy.  He is traveling with Winguard and the others for reasons that he has yet to reveal.  (2014.11.14)

So, here is what I done so far:

     1. Created or shifted game world elements to fit proposed backgrounds.

2. Couldn’t find my revised copy of the Prophecy of Brie and didn’t give my Players any info on it in game.

3. Added two new characters to the Sovereign Council.

4. Added monsters from a previous campaign to the swamp near the Mad Druid’s home.

5. Altered the personality of the Mad Druid.

6. Hand waved the knowledge of the “Hand of Loring” because I forgot to give the Prophecy of Llywelyn’s Return.

7. Created 3 dryad sisters, Oak Ash, and Thorn.

8. Added hell coin carrying fomori minions working for Thulsa Set which were sent after Vadis and Stone.  (2014.11.14)

So, now my question is, “How close do I hold to my provided plots and how much do I build on my Player’s plans?”  I expect I’ll do much more of the later and once again prove that I am poor at using modules.

Game On!

To Mod or Not to Mod (or Why Gregory is Bad at Running Modules)

The Games Librarian recently posted about a Game Master’s desire to revisit places in his or her games in which his or her Players invested their time and effort. This was in response to Admiral Ironbombs’ post about Player vs. Character Buy-in when running Adventure Paths or Modules. Both are good reads and I encourage you to check them out.  Mike Mearls of WotC talks about the new Starter Set for 5E and the emphasis they are putting on the included adventure in his Legend and Lore Column. Together, they really got me thinking about how I build and run Ryllmorrin and why I don’t use more Modules.

I have owned or borrowed an untold number of Adventure Modules, since I started gaming. I even ran a few of them.  Any decent Game Master will tell you that unless you are running a One Shot Game, adapt the Module you are running for your campaign.  I did that.  I used NPCs in my game to fit the roles presented in the Modules.  I used my cities and villages in place of the settings in the Adventures.  I did my best to fold them into the World of Rilmorn and make the Modules seem to be part of it.  Yet, I never seemed successful in running an Adventure that I didn’t design. Things always go wrong and I have to throw out the Adventure Module and improvise.  I think I know why I run modules so poorly and I’ll try to explain why over the next few paragraph.

When I began GMing, I possessed the Basic D&D blue book by Dr. Eric Holmes (just the book, not the rest of the boxed set), a borrowed Dungeon Masters Guide, a Monster Manual and the module B1 – In Search of the Unknown.  With that, I began building my campaign.  I did not have a lot of examples to use in my design process, so I made it up as I went along.

I’ve talked about my first games and Mythgold the Underground City of Wizards. When I first ran it, Mythgold was not a complete map. I would fill in the areas I thought I needed, leave the rest blank, and fill in more before the next session. I do not remember when my players decided to go off the map section I had completed and head into the unknown, but I’d bet it was fairly early on. I had to jump through some hoops to keep the game going.

When my players went off map, I would describe what the person making the map would need to know to continue the map (because making the map was a BIG part of D&D in the early days) and while they drew in the map section I had just described, I would pretend to check my notes and fill in what I had just described. Every time from that point on, when my players decided to talk among themselves, I’d draw a bit more on my map and make notes as to what was therein. I did everything I could to keep up the illusion that I had everything planned out and that my players couldn’t catch me off guard. I guess I did/do the same thing when I run Modules/Adventures.

I know I run a very sandbox-style of game and that may predicate my aversion to running Canned Adventures. I, also, have had a number of players, who want to “make the plot train jump the tracks.” They are the players that when presented with a plot hook of “Save the Princess and You’ll be Gifted with Titles and Lands by the King,” say “Why should we do that? We are adventurers and can claim lands and keeps from the monsters we defeat in the wilderness, so what else will you give us? Make it good or we might go help the kidnapper.” So, when these Players know there is a Module being run, they try to break out of the rails from the word “Go!” These are two things that make running Modules difficult for me.

Another thing that makes running Canned Adventures and Adventure paths difficult for me is the fact that sometimes I think what the Module says is supposed to happen is stupid or unfair. My latest complaint of this nature is with the 4E Adventure Revenge of the Giants.

 

SPOILER BEGINS (Highlight to see Spoiler)

On pages 154-155 of Revenge of the Giants, the Adventure sets up the ultimate fight between the drow priestess Lolestra, as she attempts to free the primordial Piranoth, and the Heroes.  There is way for the PCs to defeat Lolestra before she releases the primordial.  Here’s where I get upset, if the PCs defeat Lolestra, then her goddess Lolth steps in and frees the primordial, so the PCs then have to defeat the Primodial, too.

SPOILER ENDS

That is unfair. If the Players come up with a way to circumvent the Big Boss Fight, then they should be awarded the Experience Points for that fight for thinking outside the box or getting lucky and doing all the things they needed to do right to prevent the fight from happening.

In addition to “Rail Buster” Players, I’ve also had really good “Lateral Thinker” Players (sometimes, they are the same Player). I like it when my Players come up with ideas outside the box and I know good GMs always go beyond the Adventure Path or Module and let the unexpected idea work, because it is the good GMing thing to do. But what does a GM do, when the Players take such an idea to a logical conclusion? Admiral Ironbombs describes this exact scenario in his post. I understand why he did what he did, but when I encounter this problem, I leave the Path.  When I’m running a Module and my Players get caught up in a subplot or tangent, I rum with it. I use as much of the material in the Adventure as possible and fill in the gaps as I go. I guess the final answer, as to why I run Canned Adventures so poorly, is I’m more interested in what my players are doing, than I am in what the Adventure Path or Module is doing.

Tony Powers over at Epic Heroes is gearing up to run the Pathfinder Adventure Path Skulls and Shackles.  Here is his post about prep. (2014.07.21)

The GM Behind the Screen also has a post about players Riding Off The Rails. (2014.09.10)

 

Until next time, Game On!

Edition Wars (or OH, NO! Here We Go Again)

I’ve seen various people post about the announcement of 5E – Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition release dates.  Some are jaded and feel that it has all been done before.  Others are offering a depressed, but optimistic, hope that it will be good.  Various forums have people shouting for their favorite edition or bemoaning the idea that Wizards of the Coast are trying to get more money out of them.  I was going to keep quiet about the whole deal and do my best to ignore it.  I can’t.

Having played D&D starting with the Holmesian Blue Book version of Basic Dungeons and Dragons and played through each and every version of Advanced Dungeons and Dragons to date, including the playtest version DnD Next, I have an opinion on this subject.  I’m tired of the fighting.  That’s my opinion.

Edition Wars did not begin with 3E.  They began with Basic and Advanced.  There was enough demand for Basic Dungeons and Dragons that TSR built an entire product line around the Known World (what would become known as Mystara).  This happened right alongside Advanced Dungeons and Dragons.  People would meet up in game stores, at conventions, and, later, on online bulletin board systems to deride and attack the other side for selling out or being poor gamers.  This is not new.

The wars did not end with one’s preferred version of D&D.  People would fight over Role Playing vs. Roll Playing.  (Sound familiar?)  Munchkins were vilified by True Role Players.  Monty Haul Games were ridiculed as low brow, beer and pretzel games by those who believed themselves more sophisticated.  Gary Gygax even took umbrage against those who didn’t play Real Dungeons and Dragons (I talk about that article in this post).  It is all the same story: “Do it my way or hit the highway.”

It gets even uglier, when one considers other games by other companies.  “How could you play Runequest; it’s a D&D rip off?”  “Call of Cthulhu is just superior to any other RPG because it uses percentile dice and has a literary foundation.”  “How can you play Rolemaster?  It’s all tables.”  Go ahead pick a game and I’d feel comfortable betting that I can find a website that has proponents that feel that all other games are stupid.  I may be wrong, but I doubt it.

Grognards have always existed.  They were even present at the release of 2E.  A long time ago, I was given a small, typewritten, piece of paper that humorously and ironically described the transition from 1E to 2E.  It talked about the shift from Greyhawk to the Forgotten Realms.  It joked about the sudden change of paladins to cavaliers.  There were other sly observations about how the “new” D&D universe worked, but it ended with the very unkind idea that only stupid people would want Gary Gygax back in charge of D&D and that good, smart people would kill anyone who tried.  When it dawned on me that that type of thinking was fanaticism and the same ignorance espoused by those who didn’t want to change from their beloved edition to whatever new was coming out, I got rid of it.  I do not want to be one of those that promotes hate, even in what is meant to be a joke.  There will always be those who fear or hate change.  It is sad, but true.

To those who bemoan the fact that WotC is trying to make more money, I’ve only this to say, “Of course, they are; Wizards of the Coast is a business and if they don’t make money, they have to quit being a business!”  This is no different than Pazio selling Pathfinder or Monte Cook selling Numenera.  It is their job to make stuff for gamers to buy.  If you don’t want to support the people whose jobs it is to design, write, and publish games, game modules, and gaming supplements, then don’t buy the stuff they put out and quit trying to make those people that do buy their products feel bad for buying what they want to buy.

I doubt it happen, but I do wish the gaming community at large would grow up.  A new edition does not diminish your personal games in any way.  People playing with different styles of game play are not better or lesser than you and you do not need to “convert them to the true path of gaming.”  Maybe the newest edition on the block isn’t all that new in its concepts or game play.  Maybe it is a ploy to get people to buy more stuff.  Maybe it is better than anything that has gone before it.  In the end, it doesn’t matter.  If you don’t want it, don’t get it.  If you don’t like it, don’t do it.  Unless gaming is a virus and one needs to be inoculated to prevent the spread of disease, let it go and enjoy what you have.

DMing with Charisma posted a response to this post and I really like it.

I found A Brief History of the Edition Wars by Admiral Ironbombs on his site Logic is my Virgin Sacrifice to Reality.  Please check it out.

 

Until we meet again, Game On!

Davion

I do not use the game conceit of Ravenloft: Realm of Terror.  I do not find the idea of characters trapped in a mystical prison for the truly evil to be a campaign that I want to run or play.  Even if I don’t use the Ravenloft “world,” I still find lots of great material in the Ravenloft setting.  Taking parts of the source material and using them as set pieces can provide a sense of unease and terror within a campaign that is unexpected and filled with fun.

In my Tasque Elzeny campaign, I didn’t just use the source material as an adventure location.  I used it as the home base and setting of the campaign.  Unlike the original module I6: Ravenloft and the Ravenloft box set, the PCs were never trapped in the setting.  No darklord was ever trapped by Dark Powers in Barovia or Mordentshire.  Castle Ravenloft was to be an adventure site and maybe a home base for the PCs, if they reclaimed their “ancestral home.”  Most everything I took from the Ravenloft and Gothic Earth material was “sense data.”  It was information and fluff to evoke a Hammer Film vibe…a Vincent Price air…a Boris Karloff ambience.  Now, how would things be different, if I took the source material and kept as close to the game conceit as possible?

In the D&D 2E hardback Domains of Dread, there is a section on pocket domains, “…domains located within other domains.”  I am considering taking some pocket domains and combining them into a setting for a new campaign.  Three pocket domains stand out as pieces of this setting: Aggarath (from The Forgotten Terror”), the “House of Lament,” and “Davion” (both from Domains of Dread).

Aggarath appears in The Forgotten Terror – the sequel to Castle Spulzeer, a Forgotten Realms adventure module.  Aggarath is both a Domain of Dread and the pommel jewel of the dagger Aggarath.  Persons killed with Aggarath, find themselves trapped inside the domain Aggarath.  Aggarath is the prison realm of Chardath, the last of a depraved family.  Thanks to his poor rearing and an overly developed sense of revenge, Chardath allied himself to a lich and murdered his sister; now he dwells trapped in a dodecahedron-domain, wherein his memories and his fears are made manifest.  People slain by Aggarath have a chance to escape this domain.  They must gather 3 enchanted rubies and a silver key to open the portal out of Aggarath.  Aggarath reminds me of movies from the 1970s where a character is trapped in someone’s psychedelic nightmares and rushes around trying to escape.

The domain named the House of Lament is a strange one.  The House is both the domain and the demilord of the domain.  It began its existence as a bandit lord’s castle.  The bandit lord stole the daughter of another lord and entombed her in a tower wall of his castle to appease the gods and make his castle impervious to attack.  The woman’s horrific death wakened something that drove bandits mad or killed them.  The castle fell into ruins, except for the tower where the woman had been entombed.  Sometime later, a merchant added a new house to the still standing tower.  In time, the Spirit of the Tower or the deranged spirit of the woman killed the man and his family.  Now, anyone who stays too long in House of Lament is trapped, driven mad, and killed.  It is an Amityville Horror house.

Davion, the name of both the domain and its demilord, is my favorite Domain of Dread.  A wizard, desiring ever more power, accidently wished three adventurers into his body.  The combined power of these four being was such that they could actually control reality around them.  Depending upon which psyche was dominant at the time, their shared body and their surroundings changed to fit his or her reality.  Only Davion knew true situation and only Davion could use the powers and information of the others.  It drove him mad and to acts of great brutality to keep his new power.  Eventually, he is drawn into the Mists and given a domain.  The domain shifts appearance, as the each psyche takes control of the body.  Augustus the Mage lives in an orderly village filled to meet the needs of any wizard.  Boromar the Warrior transforms the area into a frontier town on a cold, clear day.  Narana the Priestess worships at a large temple in the center of a small town caressed with warm spring breezes.  Ruins of an earthquake aftermath fill the area, when Davion is master of his own body.  The personalities fade and surface without notice or warning, so the village and surrounding area are ever-changing world of madness.  The locals never seem to notice the changes, but it could easily mess with both Players and PCs senses of reality.

Now, what I may do is place Aggarath on Davion’s person and it is the only thing that will not change when the body shifts psyches.  The House of Lament will be in the center of town and while the tower will remain the same, the house attached to it will become a temple, a school, or a long house as the psyche of the demilord changes.  It would still have dark rumors spread about it, but the deaths caused by the house would be fewer and less obvious.  Finally, the town of Davion will be set on an isolated coast far from civilization.

In this setting, the PCs are among the few that notice the way their world changes.  They have heard rumors of madness and death about the House of Lament.  The area in which Davion is located will be geologically unstable; earthquakes are relatively common.  While the PCs know that there are five (yes, 5) different people who share the same body space, most of the villagers are only aware of one, whichever one is dominate at that time.  All of this knowledge would put the PCs at odds with the most of the village.  The PCs get to see the workings of the setting, but may not be able to do anything about it.

I’d make the Players create multiclass characters.  Magic items and otherwise mundane equipment may have shapeshifting properties.  Davion would be the big or maybe hidden villain for some, if not most, of the campaign.  He would be trying to absorb the PCs to increase his power.

What do you, Dear Readers, think?

Game On!

Iolta and Thrain

Rilmorn, as I conceived of the world, has three times the surface area of Earth, so it always seemed logical that there would be continents that were yet unaccounted.  I had hinted about another continent.  Robert Hegewood, a friend from college worked up an invader’s history for that unnamed continent.  I had long wanted an area that was deeply Celtic in tone. It appeared as Iolta and Thrain.

In early to mid 2013, a fellow member of Old School Gamers asked what people thought about the module Shadows of Evil.  I own it, Evil Ruins, and Throne of Evil; all works by Stephen Bourne.  I told the OSGers that I liked the book and planned on using it, Throne of Evil, C4: To Find a King, and C5: The Bane of Llywelyn as the basis for a new campaign.  Rhonda Hanyes Koti expressed an interest in the final product, so I told her that I would send her a link when I was done.

Around this time, Chris Perkins, in his DnD Online column: The Dungeon Master Experience, posted a link to his new campaign.  It had a flavor that I liked and the map was wonderful.  I stole it; flipped the map, renamed it, and called it mine.  (Yes, I contacted Mr. Perkins and told him about my conscription of his work.)  The rest of the information may be mined at a later date. (Updated link 2014.08.12)

I named the continents Iolta and Thrain and labeled the large island between them Avalian.  The name Iolta (pronounced  ee ole TUH) was taken from the legal acronym IOLTA (pronounced eye ole TUH) meaning Interest on Lawyer Trust Accounts.  Thrain is an old name for Wales.  Avalian is at alternate spelling of Avalon.

Now, that I had a continent, I needed a more detailed map of the campaign area.  I took the overland maps of the four modules I had mentioned plus Evil Ruins, Elven Banner, and N2: The Forest Oracle and began mashing them together in GIMP.   I had to fiddle with the scale on occasion, but for the most part it was a simple cut and paste.  I prettied up later and here is the link I sent Rhonda.

Now, that I had my maps, I needed a background for my game.  So, I took all my source material and my limited knowledge of Celtic myth and history and wrote out a History of Iolta and Thrian.  This document is way too long and covers too much to give to most Players, so I will have to chop things down to a minimum and focus the background for any Players in this campaign.  This is far more background than I ever build into most campaigns before they begin.  There is a great chance that the Players will never learn or have need of most of it.

That just left me with putting together a Gazetteer.  I had plenty of places taken from my many maps and so I filled out the information.  This was in many ways the most fun.  I got to lift histories and etymologies from  multiple sources and to editorialize about some locations.  It was really neat.

I’ve added some stuff, since I posted it on Live Journal and I’ve altered a good deal more.  It is a good example of planning too much before a game begins.  There is more information here than I ever had at the beginning of a campaign.  I’ve got multiple plots.  I’ve got loads of NPCs.  History is overwhelming.  I have huge numbers of sites for plot hooks.  It is overwhelming, but if I get to run this campaign, it will give me a Great Cauldron from which to pull ideas and plans.

When I wrote this yesterday, I failed to talk about what changes I have made in this setting since I posted it and what source materials that I am looking to use in this setting.  None of my games are ever created in a vacuum.  I am grateful for my sources and look forward to taking the original material and blending it to fit Rilmorin.  Every time, I read something or watch a movie or video or even listen to music, I can find something that leads me into new ideas for my game.  Since I posted the original Iolta and Thrain stuff back in June of 2013, I have done the following

  • Decided that the founders of The Dwarf Crown were survivors of a Aegol a dwarf kingdom from another world.  This comes from the book Kingdom of the Dwarves.
  • Decided to use a combination of profiles from Deities and Demigods, Dragon Issue 65, Legends and Lore, and Celtic Age to fill out the ranks of the Tuatha De Danu
  • Got out my Ironclaw books and decided to change the walls at the edges of Inverness and Warfield to the Wall of Calabria.  These walls, ancient and mountainous in scope, once marked the boundaries of Calabria.  Calabria, as a kingdom is long vanished, but its Great Houses with their animal standards and totems remain.
  • Added the city of Triskellian from Rinaldi: Supplement for Ironclaw to the map.  It was the capital of Calbria.
  • Changed a line in the descriptor of the Dwarves of the Dwarf Crown to read:  “Insular and slightly xenophobic, the Dwarves of the Dwarf Crown only deal with outsiders at specific trade moots and as members of small, but highly sought after mercenary bands.”  This change came about because my wife wished to play a dwarf in this campaign.

 I’ve done a lot of development on both continents, but where is the action to take place?  It should take place in Pellham (the most detailed area of the map) and Montforte (since one of plots comes from that area and is the location of a premade adventure site).  I may send the PCs into Inverness, since it is the location of the infamous Ghost Tower of Inverness.  Finally, the PCs may end up on Thrain.  The premade adventure that starts in Montforte ends on Thrian.  Anything else will be the work of the Players and their interests.

I’ve been gathering an Iolta and Thrain collection on LibraryThingPlease feel free to check it out (in the upper left corner of the screen, you will see a drop down menu under the name LibraryThing, go to Iolta and Thrain).

Game On!

Mea Culpa (or What do I Want in my Game)

On 4 April 2014, I post an entry about why I felt Dice Fudging was bad. It started a heated and acrimonious debate. I feel bad that my post was the sulfur and bat guano that started this fireball. Since that blog post went up the following things have happened:

All of this has led me to reexamine my game and how I run it. I asked myself several questions. Have I ever fudged dice? YES. Did fudging dice ever improve a particular encounter? YES. Did fudging Dice ever worsen an encounter? YES. Was there ever a time that I wished I had fudged dice? YES   Did my players ever know that I fudged dice? PROBABLY. Did my Players ever suspect that I fudged dive? YES. Did that knowledge or suspicion have an effect on my game? YES. Was the effect positive or negative? NEGATIVE.

I lost the trust of my players. They couldn’t never be certain that a lucky series of rolls was just a lucky series of rolls and not a grudge attack? Did Hil get randomly shot at by the drow sniper or was I still mad at him, because he got a wild hair and murdered an NPC on which I had worked too hard. Did the ettin really miss hitting James or did I fudge on his behalf because he is my best friend? Did I randomly roll on the 1E DMG magic items tables and get a +5 Holy Avenger for Christina or did I give it to her because she is my wife? They may have believed that it actually happened the way I said it rolled, but there was always a shadow of doubt.

I am not perfect. I try very hard to be completely fair to my Players, but life gets in the way. Some days, I get mad at a Player. Some days, I feel bad about hurting a particular Player. Some days, I want the background on which I worked so hard to shine. Not always; not even most of the time; but SOMETIMES, I fall down. My Players are smart, educated, empathetic people and they SUSPECT that I fall. Do your Players SUSPECT you of fudging your die rolls? If they do, you may not have their trust in the game. They play your game because they have fun, but they may not believe that you are fair.

Having admitted that I fudge dice and not always for the right reason, I now ask myself, “Gregory, why did you roll the die in the first place? What was the purpose of that die roll that I now want to fudge?”

I am not a slave to my dice nor to the Rules As Written (RAW). I discarded the rolling for Wandering Monsters back in First Edition (1E) AD&D, just as I discarded weapon speed and the one minute combat round. I choose when or if to roll a die to get a randomly determined result. I choose what table to roll against. I choose what monsters the PCs encounter.

What if, when I roll the die, it comes up an undesirable result? Why roll the die, if I am not going to use the result? Am I trying to give the illusion of fairness? Am I trying to shift the blame of my choices to Random Chance? Am I just trying to give my Players the facade of free will; pretending that I am not railroading them along the path of my desire to fulfill the Story Arc that have, so cleverly, devised? The answer to the question of why I rolled the die is this: I rolled the die to place a random element into the game, so that my Players and I could react to the result and create the next element in our shared Story.

I was trying to expound upon 3 reasons why I felt that fudging dice led to a less awesome game. If fudging dice improves the awesome in your game, then fudge. Do whatever makes your game better. I will.

Game On!

Blogs of Valor (or People With Whom I Agree)

Yesterday, I posted about Why One Should Not Fudge Dice in their Games.  That post has introduced me to two new bloggers Matt Harris and The Games Librarian.  They, both, have recently posted about DMs in the 21st century and Setting the World before Breaking it.  Both of these posts describe things that good Game Masters should think about in running their games.

Once again, I am going to direct you all to Monte Cook.  He boils down my entire post from yesterday into a single paragraph (the sixth one) in a larger post.

There is no single style of gaming, nor should there be.  I do not agree with everything in this post, but it covers the topic well.  Just as in the days of 1E, when people took sides on the Hack and Slash, Monty Haul, or Thinking Man’s Dungeon, people are still dividing themselves into camps and shouting, “My way is better!”  After D&D came out, Runequest, Arduin, and Rolemaster all followed.  Proponents of all those games touted their superiority to dumb, old D&D.  2E followed Advanced Dungeons & Dragons and grognards (me among them) came out against changes in “their” game.  3E, 4E, and DnD Next have all brought forces into the Edition Wars.  It’s time to live and let live, gamers.  Enjoy what you enjoy and let others do the same.  We do not have to do what others do, nor do they have to do what we do.  (Lord have mercy, I sound like I’m discussing Gay Marriage)  I do not have to be wrong for you to be right.

Blogs of Valor are really Sunshine Awards.  (2014.06.14)

Sorry, if I soap boxed; Game On!

With the Blood of Dragons

Dragonborn.  Half-dragons.  Draconians.  Cecrops.

This post was inspired by this Facebook thread.

I have long been fascinated by dragons and dragon/human mixes.  The image of Cecrops in Mythology by Edith Hamilton has stuck with me from the moment I saw it in Seventh Grade.  That image was the basis for “The Overlord,” a conquering despot who ruled over the City of Kardon for his liege, the seven-headed dragon Babylon.  Years before my players fought in the Dragon War (Yes, I had a dragon apocalypse, who hasn’t?), other PCs had to deal with Mandragora (pronounced MAN drag ore uh), which I based on an image from the third installment of “Dragonsword”, a secondary story in the back of The Warlord comic issue 54.  I crafted those on my own, but soon enough I was to discover other people’s versions of dragonmen.

Draconians are the redeeming feature of Dragonlance, which dropped on us the following evils: tinker gnomes, Raistlin, gully dwarves, the Knights of Solamnia, and kender, in order of greatest to least annoying.  I found the draconians fascinating.  They had cool powers and special effects when they died.  I happily yanked them into Rylmorn and used them as shock troops in the War of the Dragons (AKA the Dragon War).  I particularly enjoyed using aurak draconians to torment my players.  I was very happy when the Draconomicon: Metallic Dragons updated draconians for 4E .  Now, that Prince Vanik is restoring the Fortress State of Arkohsia and it’s already history that some draconians have pledged themselves to the service of Prince Vanik and defense of Arkohsia, I look forward to using them again.

Half-dragons…what can I really say.  They first appeared in Council of Wyrms setting for 2nd edition AD&D.  I was not impressed with the setting and really didn’t use much, if anyof it.  3E overused the idea of the half-dragon template.  I don’t think all dragons are interfertile with other living things.  Even if I accepted the idea that all dragons could interbreed with non-dragons, 3E just went too far with the concept.  I got really disgusted when I encountered a black dragon/tendriculos.  It’s a giant plant, people, a giant plant!  Next!

Even though I thought half dragons were overused in 3E, I did not let that stop me from creating a community of half-dragons in the Rilmoré Cluster campaign, my campaign set in a massive archipelago.  I got a great deal of personal amusement in crafting a monastery and surrounding community filled with half dragons.  One of my biggest personal jokes was a Zen pool that had six amber balls on its sandy bed.  If one was perceptive enough, one might notice that the balls had five-pointed stars on them.  The stars varied number from one to seven, missing only the four.  I’ve talked about running a campaign based around Arkohsia with all the PCs being dragon humanoids.  If I do run that campaign, the Monks of the Dragon may be an opposing group.

My wife is running a dragonborn, twin blade ranger in my present campaign.  She’s the one who is credited with starting Prince Vanik on his quest to restore the Fortress State.  Her character, Surana, traces her ancestry back to the children, guards, and servants of Zoë Dragonmaker and Alexsi Lungtai of Mythgold.  Surana’s ancestors were transformed into dragonborn by the use a powerful artifact, the Chalice of Dragons.  Surana’s mate, Kharus, is a blue dragonborn, whose ancestors born from the Black Egg.  There are small enclaves of chromatic dragonbborn in Sigil and Kharus is from the blue enclave.  The PCs have met the following dragonborn in the course of my 4E game: Sargon – black dragonborn dragon killer with a huge chip on his shoulder; Kitiara – blue dragonborn, owner of the tavern Wyrm’s Lair in Sigil and Kharus’ grandmother; Kharus – blue dragonborn, Surana’s mate and son of Sargon and the late Kahladnay; Prince Vanik – brown dragonborn from an unspecified and unnamed kingdom; Kuryon – blue dragonborn poet and Lawgiver of Ancient Arkhosia; and a couple unnamed red dragonborn purists who attacked Surana and Kharus because they were “mixing the colors.”  I’ve enjoyed the drgonborn in 4E.

If my plan for an Arkohsia campaign goes through, I look forward to the interactions between the half-dragon monks, the True Dragons of Dragon Isle, and the Scions of Arkohsia.  Will they find the Black Egg and the Chalice of Dragons?  Will they have to defend themselves against attacks by the True Dragons?  What will they learn from the Monks of the Dragon?  Until then, I shall Game On!