Why do I Master Games?

So, a few days ago, I posted an old review in response to a Creighton Broadhurst post.  That post led my best friend to suggest that I start a blog wherein I review old gaming material.  I started working on a post for this potential project.  While I was working on that blog post, I realized something…I don’t remember why I got started GMing.

Granted, it has been over 30 years, since I sat down and started GMing, but I do not remember the steps between my first experience playing D&D that Sunday afternoon in March at Davy’s house and sitting down at my parent’s kitchen table drawing Lungold…I mean, Mythgold.  I know that I must have played D&D more than that one time.  I had an Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Monster Manual that my parents gave me for Christmas.  So, what led me to wanting to create my first dungeon?  What led me to craft an overland map that led the PCs to Mythgold?  What set me on this path that I will not willingly leave?  I don’t remember.

I remember long hours of playing my cleric Gregor O’Dragon nee The Gaunt, but a fair number of those hours happened after I first ran Players through parts of Mythgold.  I remember being fascinated by the descriptions of the rooms in the module B1In Search of the Unknown.  I remember stealing ideas right out of that module for Mythgold.  I just don’t remember why I wanted to DM.

Our gaming group, in the early days, consisted of Davy McMillian, Michael McMillian (Davy’s cousin), Stephen Goff (my cousin), Clyde Smith(Davy’s friend), and Mark Inabinette (my cousin).  Davy started out as DM, because he had the books.  Shortly, thereafter, Davy and Clyde began taking turns at DMing.  I don’t remember what happened at most or any of those games, but it was during those early days that I must have begun to desire to sit on the other side of the DM’s Screen.

What if my memory is faulty?  What if I am wrong about which AD&D book my parents bought me for Christmas?  What if I started drawing Mythgold before I had any D&D books of my own?  It doesn’t really matter, because the truth of the thing is that I wanted to create.  I wanted to make a dungeon.  I wanted PCs and their Players to interact with the monsters that I had placed within it.  I just don’t know why?

Even if I do not remember why I started GMing, I know why I do it today.  I do it today, because I am a poor player.  I have a hard time sitting on the far side of the Game Master Screen and not think about how I would run the game different.  I enjoy creating.  I get a great joy spending time designing maps.  Working up NPC personalities gives me great satisfaction.  Writing secret cards helps me to think outside of the box and fuels further creativity.  Running games makes all the creative work I do worth the effort and time that goes into creating.  Being caught off guard by my Players and having to maintain composure, think on my feet, and give the illusion that I had everything already planned out gives me a thrill that outweighs the glory of creating.  Watching a story unfold, a story that I could not have crafted on my own, is like watching a flower bud open.  It is a thing of beauty.  Seeing Players getting caught up in the moment gives me energy to go deeper and draw forth more better encounters and adventures.  It helps me make my world a more real place, at least for a short while, than the rest of reality in which we dwell.

So, why do you Master Games, my Good Readers?  What draws you into the bright darkness that requires us to fill crannies full of goblins and sow the seeds of dragons?  Until next time, Game On!

 

P is for Procrastination

When I accepted the A to Z Challenge, I had high hopes.  I got four completed and had planned on writing “E is for Elethar,” “F is for Fun,” G is for Gregory,” “M is for Maps,” “S is for Shanor,” “X is for Xashthrapot” and “Z is for Zentlan.”  Alas, I was not successful and I know why, I procrastinated.

Every Game Master can, most likely, tell you of times when he or she, for no good reason, put off working on Game until it was nearly too late to run the game.  It is true that GMs procrastinate; “Never do today what you can put off till next week,” so quoted my mother.  The given fact that I procrastinate is not important.  What is important is the reasons why I procrastinate and how I deal with the causes of procrastination.

Procrastination is not simply not doing something that needs to be done; it is choosing to do something else, when one has time to do the needed thing.  It is sitting down a playing Sid Mier’s Civilization, instead of working on the A to Z Challenge.  So, why do I put off working on my game?  Some days, I am just worn out.  Work has taken its toll.  There is high drama being played out on the stage that is my home.  I’m sick.  On those days, I just want to do something that occupies my mind, but doesn’t require me to think.  I don’t really have anything I can do to deal with these situations, because they are external to my game.  Other times, I procrastinate, because I am unhappy with my game.  When this happens, I have a problem upon which I need to work.

When I am procrastinating because I am unhappy with my game, I usually find one of two causes.  Either I have devised a setting which doesn’t interest me or my players are making me miserable.  The latter problem is often caused by players who are uninterested in the setting which I am running or by players who get more enjoyment out of ruining the game for the GM or the other Players.  When this has happened in my games, the players in question were also my friends outside the Game, so I decided to focus on doing what I could to engage those players and focus on the things that make the Game fun for me.  It usually works and we all have a fairly good time.  Always focus on the positive and always remember the other Players.

When I procrastinate due to my lack of interest in my setting, I must figure out what I don’t like about my own campaign.  Sometimes discovering what I don’t like about my campaign is quite simple.  Other times, I spend hours or days trying to figure out what is wrong.  Either way, once I discover it, I begin to change the setting.  I don’t do it suddenly without warning, because that isn’t fair to my players, who have worked hard to make characters that fit the setting.  I start small and give the Players time to adjust their characters to fit the changes.  The few times that I made sudden and hardcore changes in my games, I had players rebel.  So, now, if I am unhappy running a gritty desert campaign and want to run a high fantasy Celtic campaign, I can start with dropping magic items from the style of campaign I want into my desert setting.  Then I start sending the PCs on short excursions into the net setting.  After a few trips into the Celtic setting, I craft longer adventures and attempt to give the PCs touchstones and hooks, so that my Players want to explore this world.  If I do it right, I’m running y preferred game of choice and my Players are caught up in the depth of my world and the story that we are creating  together.

Do you procrastinate?  Why?  What do you do return to active game work?  Until next time, Game On!

From Tree to Letter to Month (or How Does Gregory Make a Place Unique?

Some years back, Todd Jordan and I were discussing our game worlds and, in noting that each city or region of Rillmorn was unique, Todd said to me, “Your world is like Indiana Jones leafing through a tome of onionskin pages, while mine is like that guy who finds the singing frog.”  To this day, I am uncertain if Todd was trying to say that my games were more serious than his or that because I put more effort into attempting to make each area of Rilmorn distinct that it made my games feel more real.  Whatever he meant, I took it as a compliment and have continued to work hard and give each campaign site a special twist.  Something for my Players to hang on to and work with to give them a sense that this place is different from where the last campaign happened.

Iolta is much like my original continent Moytonia.  Moytonia was originally boiled out of Witch World, Middle Earth, and B1-In Search of the Unknown.  It was later spiced with the works of Katherine Kurtz, various issues of Dragon magazine, other modules and settings books, and finally a good dose of Player and PC creations.  Iolta uses many similar sources.  So, in an attempt to make Pellahm distinct from Kardon, Spellguard, and the Storm Kingdom, I am going to design a new calendar.

When I originally named the Months of the Year for Rilmorn, I decided to go with something different than January, February, etcetera or “Hot Month, “Growing Month,” and so on.  I chose the names for the twelve signs of the Western Astrologic Zodiac.  I did it as much to be different, as I did for it to be familiar.  I did not want my players to struggle with month names in addition to the other Rillmorn specific features: two suns, three moons, and such.  In addition to designing the months to keep track of the passage of time, I created four seasonal festivals for that would be nigh universal across Moytonia.

I have long had an interest in Celtic myth and history.  I remember writing a paper in my History of the English Language class at USM on druids and got to use the 1E Players Handbook as a reference.  Despite my interest and study, I did not know as much as I thought I did.  So when I picked Beltane, Lamas, Samhain, and Yule to the festivals and placed them on the vernal equinox, midsummer, autumnal equinox, and midwinter, I did not know that these were not events celebrated on the equinoxes and solstices nor did I realize that I had didn’t even get all the names right for the festivals that used.  Despite all that, the Four Feasts of the Year as celebrated by the druids of Rilmorn have become a deep part of the myth and lore of my world.  So, I am pleased to keep them, use them in Pellham, and add a lunar calendar to help with the verisimilitude of the setting.

I am basing my new lunar calendar on the Celtic Tree Calendar.  My sources for this are The Celtic Tree Oracle by Liz and Colin Murray and Celtic Tree Magic by Danu Forest.  While some dispute the historical validity of such a calendar, it is irrelevant for Rhillmoran.  Rhillmoran is not Earth and history and myth unfolded differently there than it did here.  The Druids of Iolta count the beginning of the Year on Samhain the first day of Beith or Birch.

The people of Pellham don’t use the largest of the moons (with its 38 day cycle) in their calendar, because legend holds that The Eldest Sister no longer watches Rhillmoran.  Her gaze is turned outward from world to watch for the return of Bazel, so that The Three Sisters may be ready do battle with him and prevent his return.  So, the Months are only 36 days long, since the two remaining moons have a 9 day cycle and 4 day cycle and they synchronize once every 36 days.  This will have little effect on my Players’ perceptions, but I hope to use the magical significance of each month’s tree to shade the adventures taken during those months and hopefully that will affect my Players’ perceptions.

So, dear readers, what do you do to make your settings distinct to your Players?

Game On!

Plots and Prophecies (or Gregory Learns Something About Running Modules)

We gamed our second session of the Pellham Campaign on December 6th and it went off without a hitch.  It was a joy to run and seemed to be a hit with my Players, too.  I got to run with my PCs goals and use ideas from the modules that I picked as the basis for this campaign.  In running this game, I may have discovered the best way for me to run modules.  It was great!

Two things came into play from the Players’ side of the table.  Firstly, I got to introduce part of James Andari’s work on The Prophecy.  Before James (Adran’s Player) had even seen a copy of the Prophecy, he came up with five ways the Prophecy could be fulfilled.  They are 1) Llywelyn could simply reappear, 2) Llywelyn could return through a blood relative, 3) Llywelyn could return in the form of someone who shared a similar history and ideology, 4) someone raised outside Pellham would come take the throne just as Llywelyn was and did, and 5)Llywelyn could be stored to “life” by a powerful druid or necromancer.  I used this framework to introduce a Claimant to the Throne.  Secondly, the “Sons”…I mean the “Soldiers of Anarchy,” took out their first target.  The SoA is a movement (started by Vadis Mal and Stone (played Brandon Mokofisi and Steven Goff, respectively) dedicated to freeing slaves and punishing slavers.  The Soldiers of Anarchy took on and eliminated their first target, a kidnapper and pimp named Joshua.  Cool things.

On the GM’s side of the table, I got to expound a bit on a landmark in the city of Widdershin (the Pillars of Nimra) and hint at a future plot line (Stephen, heir of Llywelyn).  I had a blast dropping new NPCs into the game, but I am still bad at giving them names (ergo: Thug and an unnamed dwarf).  I, also, discovered a few things that help me run canned adventures and this should be the bulk of my post.

Firstly, I need to look for modules and adventures that can be easily sandboxed.  Since C3: To Find a King was written as competition module, it comes in easily separated sections and each section details a completely different area.  I can place those sections where I need them in my setting and use them, when the Players reach them.  This gives me set pieces which I can build around.  Throne of Evil is a historical romance turned into a D&D game.  While the adventure itself is nothing more than a dungeon crawl with a single wilderness encounter and an espionage paint job, it is filled with historical backstory and little bits of lore scattered through the text.  By blending the backstory in Throne of Evil with the backstory of To Find a King, I can fill in blanks in both stories and use them to better fit into my world.

Secondly, using two or more canned adventures gives me a better way to foreshadow events and expand my Players’ view of the world.  In To Find a King, the PCs have to chase down “The Evil Party” who has bought their prize out from under them.  In the module, there is no reason given for why the Evil Party (while the NPCs have names, they are listed in the NPC section as “Evil Party”) wants the keys.  With the information from Throne of Evil, I could provide a reason.  My Players already didn’t care for Lord Mortimer, a member of the Sovereign Council, because of his sudden discovery of a lost heir of Llywelyn, but when they found Robert Mortimer’s seal upon Blackleaf, a member of the Evil Party, they knew he was a villain and are waiting for the day to give him pay back.

Thirdly, doing everything I can to make the module personal to the PCs and their Players gives it depth and allows for actions not covered in the modules.  Vadis was sold into slavery after his family was betrayed in a power grab in the city of Krell’s Gate.  Malcom Evinter, Lord Krell, was the one who betrayed Vadis Mal’s parents.  While Vadis believes his parents got what they deserved, he won’t trust Lord Krell.  The elf Blackleaf becomes Adran Blackleaf, childhood rival of Adran Silverleaf, thus a member of the Party has a reason to fight from the word “Go” or a chance to parley with a known “frenemy.”

Fourthly, by using the ideas of the various encounters instead of the written encounters, I can make these events seem more organic.  The encounter with Lord Krell is very complicated and involves delaying tactics and traps, but when I ran it, I used it as a roleplaying opportunity.  I kept all the pieces; I just used them for different tasks.  It really is all about stealing and adapting.

So, my readers, do you have any suggestions for me on this topic?

Game On!

From the Ashes of Past Campaigns

Back in the mid 1990s, I tried to run a non-Realmorin campaign.  It was going to be based in Celto-Nordic setting with Greco-Roman invaders as the sometimes allies/sometimes enemies.  I had made many lists of important persons, each list based around a culture or or location.  I had a Bard NPC, who was the lynch pin to the campaign plot.  I got to pull ideas and uses from my Chivalry and Sorcery books.  It was great!

It ended with the first game.  It was not as quick an ending as the “Thirty Minute Campaign” (If you really want to know about this one, comment and I’ll try to develop a decent post about it), but it ended quick enough.  The game ended when one of my Players got it in his head to kill off the Camber McGregor – the Bard that my plot hinged upon.  The game folded at that point, because I saw no way to move the game forward and it seemed obvious that my Players didn’t care for this campaign.  It was sad; I was really invested in that campaign setting. (2013.11.23)

Twenty Years Later – I can make use of the lists of NPCs that I created so long ago.  I don’t even remember the plot line of the original campaign, but that doesn’t matter.  What does matter is the setting.  Iolta and Thrain is a Celto-Nordic setting.  I’ve got my reclusive dwarven kingdom and my hidden elven realms.  Norn is Viking-central.  I am thrilled to have players invested in the setting and since I am not thrusting a plot upon them, I can fill in the Spaces of Setting and enjoy it as much as my Players enjoy playing in it.

Yea!

Do any of my fellow GMs have tales of getting to use things that they failed to use before?

Game On!

Plans of Mice and GMs

So, it has already begun…my Players are starting their own stories!  Yeah!  My best games come when I build the environment and my players move the action.  So, this may be really good.

Vadis Mal and Stone are spending money to find out which prostitution establishments treat their “employees” as free people and which ones use them as objects or slaves.  They plan on ending those that do the latter.  Adran is planning some divination events, but I haven’t gotten any e-mails from him, yet.

These two event-lines will surely take time away from anything that I have planned out and that is okay.  I realized that I set up this campaign, when I was still working under the 3E/4E “Campaign Arc” plan.  I don’t really like the campaign arcs.  I really need to work on my NPCs and settings and let the story build itself.  This is going to be a blast.

Here is a list of the NPCs in the Pellham Campaign.  (linked 2014.11.24)

So, fellow Game Masters, how do you experience Player initiative?

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!

Campaign Synopses

Bill Collins, a friend, suggested that I write back-of-book blurbs for my latest campaign Ideas.  I’m not happy with them all, but it was a good exercise and I hope that it makes my ideas more easy to digest.

Arkhosia

Others may call you dragonborn or dragonspawn, draconian or even half-dragon, but you know that you are Arkhosian. It matters not, whether you were born in the enclave growing among the ruined Fortress-State or you came to be part of the glorious work of Prince Vanik the Restorer, you are an Arkhosian and a citizen of the Fortress-State. Will you explore the still hidden depths of your home? Will you stand the walls and defend your home and family from those that would take what is rightfully yours? Will you seek to uncover the secrets of Arkhosia’s past or travel under Prince Vanik’s banner to parley with other nations of Dragons and Dragonkin? What is your destiny? What glory will you claim, as Arkhosia rises from the cold ashes of a forgotten past?

 

Davion

Davion is an isolated, coastal village grown up around the Old Tower and the New House added to it by the wizard Davion. It is your home. You fondly remember summer nights spent scaling ivy-covered walls to run along the rooflines and play “Hide and Sneak” with friends and family. No, you mean, you loved the cool autumn days spent sitting on benches in well kept courtyards discussing the basics of Wizardry with your parents. No, winter was your favorite time. You spent your time walking the snow-muddied, wagon-rutted roads of your village, hunting elk and bear with your parents, or drinking mead in the Long House at the center of town. Could have enjoyed spring anymore? You remember with great fondness, the first time you were allowed to into the Old Tower of the Temple that forms the heart of your village…Davion?

Your village changes. Some days it is a wizard’s dream village with orderly, intellectual citizens and spell component shops on every corner. Other times it is a frontier village with cold, gray skies and buildings made of rough hewn logs. Still on other days it is other places and only few seem to notice. You and your friends notice the changes, as do the mad people living on the edge of Davion. They claim that everyone is trapped in Davion and no one can leave. What will you do? Will you stay? Will you try to leave? Will you find out who, Davion imprisons? What secrets does your village hold and what will it do to keep them?

 

Pellham

Of all the kingdoms in Iolta or Thrain, none is more storied than Pellham. Other kingdoms may have longer histories, but not one has had more or greater heroes. No kingdom can boast of having more sacred sites than Pellham. There is not a single kingdom, not even Cumberland, has more Fey Crossings than Pellham. Pellham is a kingdom of adventure. Even now, it is caught in the middle of a Fulfilling Prophecy. The line of the ancient kings is to return and would-be heroes from around the Sea of Man are heading to Pellham to make their name and write their deeds upon glorious history. Will you do any less?

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!