Maps, Maps, and More Maps (or Art or Artifact?)

So, I wrote a Live Journal post with nearly the same title in January of 2014 and bragged about my map of the continent of Moytonia.  I’ve made or was given multiple maps over the years.  I really enjoy maps.  As I mentioned a while ago, I wanted to build up my map collection (Item #2).  This campaign is giving me just that.  I’ve got 6 major cities and towns on the Bazarene Circuit to map out.  There is a monastery and a halfling village to work on.  If the PCs want to explore beyond the Bazarene Circuit, I have maps for Constantina, Barovia, and Neverwinter.  I am working on a map for Majipor.  This is a good time for maps and me.

I like maps that Players can make their own.  I like maps that have Player notes on them.  It gives the Players a sense of ownership of the campaign.  My first map was the map to Mythgold; you can see the marks the players made on it as they figured out how long it would take them to travel from the edge of civilization to Mythgold and where they should and should not camp.  My pre-GIMP versions of Moytonia had many marks put upon them by my Players.  Kingdoms were drawn in.  Islands named.  It made Rillmorn more than I could have done on my own.

I will use the map of Neverwinter that came with the campaign setting, but I will not be able to let my Players mark it up, because it more art than artifact.  I cannot reproduce the Neverwinter map and if my Players spill something on try to mark which house is the mage spy’s house and which house is the cleric spy’s house that map will be ruined.

In my newest campaign, I had originally planned on making a single copy of each map and show it to my Players, as needed.  I fully expected them to mark it and turn it into something that I could use in later games.  My wife convinced me to make multiple copies of the maps of Duvamil and of the larger area in which the game is set for each of my Players.  This lets each one of them mark his or her the way he or she wants.

So, here are the maps so far…

Northwest Moytonia – This map is a combination of a section of my big Moytonia map and a map I created for my Sanderzani Campaign.  I will be focusing on the towns and cities on the Bazarene Circuit, but I hope to make or steal maps for all the areas marked there.

Duvamil – Since I first ran the Sanderzani campaign in 2004 and 2005, I have had the town of Duvamil marked on multiple maps.  I have sent PCs to Duvamil multiple times, but I never had a map for it…until now.  Using GIMP, I took pieces from the maps of Red Larch from Princes of the Apocolypse, Brindol, Greenest from random image sites, and the Village of Orlane from N1 Against the Cult of Reptile God.  It has a patchwork quality to it and I am good with that.  Yes, there is a lot of blank space on the map.  The map only shows the largest of structures in Duvamil and none of those marked items have names.  I am bad at naming things and won’t give places names or, sometimes, even purposes until the PCs go looking for a specific person or place.

Heppra – This is my latest creation is.  It is two maps of Hamunaptra from Green Ronin’s Mythic Vistas series mixed with other elements using GIMP.  This one is being numbered, so I can give Christina a copy of the key, since Heppra is the home town of her Character, Shery-kem.  It is a work in progress.

Maps do not have to be perfect.  They have to be usable.  They have to be touchstones to the Reality in the Game.  These maps of mine are examples of that.  What do your maps look like?  Are the pristine or damaged?  Are they more art or more artifacts?

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!

The Shadowfell Road

What became the Shadowfell Road campaign or the Tasque Elzeny campaign started as the Scions of Ravenloft campaign.  I had planned it as a story arc campaign with the PCs as residents of the Village of Barovia.  The PCs are all descendants of the heroes that slew Strahd von Zarovich and claimed his castle as their home base.  I used the original 1E modules Castle Ravenloft and Ravenloft II: The House on Gryphon Hill and the 3E book Expedition to Castle Ravenloft as the basis for my setting.  I blended the maps and placed the Village of Barovia on the northwest corner of Moytonia.  I lifted places and names from Domains of Dread and A guide to Transylvania to create my own little fantasy version of Eastern Europe.  The PCs were going to explore the world and ultimately learn why their ancestors (grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the original heroes) fled their ancestral home.

The PCs saved the River Witch from a pack of wolves.  They cleansed her house of the ghost of her apprentice.  They retrieved an item lost in ruins of Clearmoon Tower and had a run in with a wolfwere that would plague the Party for several levels.  They explored a crypt that lead to the Necroverse.  They saved Baba Zelena (grandmother of one of the PCs ).  All was going well, but the Players grew restless and decided they wanted to be Sanderzani.

The background for Elzeny (my wife’s PC) included the fact that she had been a member of a Sanderzani Tasque (a traveling family group), but she left the Tasque when it came through Barovia, because her destiny lay there.  Well, Christina and my other players became more interested in the idea of being Sanderzani and hitting the road, than the Ravenloft story arc. So, they designed a varda (the Sanderzani version of a Gypsy Vardo) and headed to the next nearest village.

I created the gypsy-styled Sanderzani back in college under 1E rules.  Other than a few reoccurring NPCs, not much came of the Sanderzani until 3E.  I ran a Sanderzani campaign in the late 2000s and had to expound upon the nature of the Rilmorn Gypsies.  I had players that wanted to play different races and since I had just completed an elf-only campaign, I really didn’t want to limit the Players’ choices again.  Thus the Sanderzani became the People of the True Name.

To be a Sanderzan, one had to be “Born to Tasque.”  One had to have three adults within the Tasque willing to share his or her True Name with the Seeker.  Any adult of any race could become a Sanderzan, if they could find three people willing to perform the Ritual of the True Name (an idea I took from Monte Cook’s Arcana Unearthed) with him or her.  This worked great until 4E.

For 4E, we used the online Character Builder to level and advance the PCs.  The Character Builder doesn’t have the Sanderzani and their soul kin rituals.  The Builder, however, did have the Vistani and the Vistani Heritage feats.  Those feats were tied to blood, not to naming rituals.  So, I had to make a decision about what to do.  I decided that there was a Sanderzani Tasque called Tasque Vistani.  Unlike other Tasqes, Tasque Vistani was a Tasque of Blood, not a Tasque of Word.  Thus the Vistani entered into the mythology and history of Rilmorn.

About the time Tasque Elzeny (each Tasque is named for its first captain) hit the road, I got a copy of the Neverwinter Campaign Setting.  In the back of the book is a section on a road that weaves through the Shadowfell and connects Thay to Evernight (the shadow reflection of Neverwinter) and many places in-between.  I decided to use the Shadowfell Road and link The House on Gryphon Hill to my version of Evernight/Neverwinter.  I got the idea that if Tasque Elzeny could gain the deed to a place and had a member of the Tasque living there, then that place would become a stop on the Shadowfell Road.  Tasque Elzeny could expand the Shadowfell Road as they explored the world.

Since that day, Tasque Elzeny has spent their time extending and defending the Shadowfell Road.  The Players could not care less about Castle Ravenloft.  I find plot hooks at a drop of a hat, now.  They’ve crossed dwarf lords in Dwarmarrik.  They’ve fought vampires in the Garden of Graves.  They’ve parleyed with efreeti in the City of Brass.  They have befriended a lich and created an intelligent zombie to act as guardian of a mausoleum.  They have crafted a dream drug and sell it through their connections to E3 Trading.  It is no longer a true Ravenloft style campaign, but it is a lot of fun.

Game On!

“But, That’s Not DnD!”

Rilmorn is a D&D world.  It started as a dungeon with a wilderness map.  In time, I added a city map, then came the BIG continent map.  I stole gods and pantheons from history, mythology, and Dragon Magazine.  I lifted names and words out of Tolkien’s Silmarillion (“Rilmorn” translates into “Bright Darkness”).  Witch World and Gwynedd were the bones upon which I applied the flesh of Rilmorn.  For many years, I ran a pseudo-medieval, Euro-styled, fantasy game.  Yet, even in those early days, I couldn’t help but stretch the boundaries of my world; it got more extreme.

Dungeons and Dragons was originally about exploring underground labyrinths and strongholds, while battling monsters.  I was fairly standard and followed those guidelines, when I first began, but I wanted more for my game.  Dungeons and cities existed in places with cultivated and wild lands.  I built very a basic ecology to explain what the bigger monsters fed upon.  I tried to build societies in which the PCs could interact.  I attempted to provide my players with the illusion of a living world in which they could suspend their disbelief while we played our D&D games.

Because I knew that I didn’t have all the answers on how to do such things, (Truth be told I did not even know that that was what I was doing) I took from other sources to make what I hoped was a better game.  I added names for magic weapons and items from the role playing game Bushido.  I dropped the Gamma World module Legion of Gold into one game.  I used magic effects tables from Man, Myth, and Magic.  I loved the Middle Earth Role Playing Critical and Fumble tables.  Some of it worked, some didn’t.  Then I began to let my players design things both in-character and out-of-character.

Suddenly, I had monster teleportals hidden in caves under my main city of Kardon.  Some of my PCs were humans mixed with giant blood.  I got a square lake on my main continent, Moytonia, when my ideas of world building clashed too much with a friend’s ideas.  An PC elf rolled up a merchant family empire from tables  in Oriental Adventures.  PCs began running around with World War II style guns, after we played The Keep from Mayfair Games.  A pro-psionic PC founded a psionic monastery and warrior order, built massive weapons using psionic power, and established a culture that was pro-psionics and anti-magics–all of which led to the Wolf Wars that redefined the nature of my world.

Years have passed. My PCs have been vikings born in a world, whose dangers have included cities of robots, undead kingdoms, and tribes of wolfmen.  Others have been desert dwelling heroes, who fought against weapons left over from the Wolf Wars and defeated a version of Acererak that was attempting to meld the heroes reality with one that would have given Acererak nigh unlimited power.  Still others were an all elven musical band that defeated an invasion from the Far Realm.  Now, I have PCs that have gone from simple adventurers exploring ruins and getting gold to merchant lords traveling the world in a flying,  steam-powered ship, while attempting to continue building the city that they founded and restoring a mystical wood hidden in another dimension.  Other PCs have decided to become gypsies and are enhancing a magical network that allows them speedy travel from one place to another.

Deviating from the D&D Standard, sure has given me a fun world.  Game On!