Old World, New Players

I’ve been thinking about this for a while.  I’ve been running D&D in the same game world since 1980.  I’m proud of my maps (Thank you, John Hesselberg and Thom Thetford).  I’m proud of the history that has gone into making Rillmorn what it is today, both the stuff my Players did in-game and what I did in building background.  I am proud of it all, even the parts where it didn’t work or where I acted poorly, but that is a whole lot of stuff and me Players can get overwhelmed with it.  It becomes even harder when you have established players alongside newbies.  How does one do it?  How does a Game Master share the depth and grandeur of his or her world and not scare new Players away?

Are my new Players already gamers or are they true Babes in the Gaming Woods?  If they are already gamers and they have played my favorite game system before, then I start small.  (This is based on the idea of starting a new campaign, not bringing new Players into an existing and ongoing game.)  I don’t drop them into Spellguard with all of its complex politics and vast number of detailed NPCs.  I start them off in a small town on the edge of “The Action.”  I give them the very basics about Rilmorn and go from there.  In my most recent campaign Duvamil (it is based around the riverside town of Duvamil), I started my PCs into a few decades old village founded by gnomish refugees from Terah, another world.  They have seen the big map of the area and have been told that Rillmorn has 2 suns, 3 moons, 9 day weeks, 26 hour days, and 38 day months.  They know Bazarene the Moving City (effectively an aircraft carrier on a hovercraft) and the Walking Wood (a nomadic tree city of forest giants) cross paths in Duvamil.  That’s it.  Everything else, they are leaning as we play.

Christina, my wife, knows a bit more about the area, since her dragonborn ranger Surana was with E3 when they explored the Tower of Spells.  What she knows will be used more as legends than anything else, since the previous campaign’s actions should have little to no effect on the current game.  Nicki, my daughter, has played a bit in Rillmorn, but not enough to have deep knowledge of the world.  Finally, JR, Nicki’s friend, has never played in one of my games before, but has played a little bit of D&D 3.5.  So, everything I drop into this game can be brand new information to the Players, as well as, the PCs.

If I had true newbies, I’d have to decide if I was going to hand them the Player’s Handbook or the Player’s D&D Basic Rules that I downloaded off the web.  I’d most likely go with the web download.  It has 4 basic options and 4 basic classes, the essence, if you will, of D&D. However, his review says 5E is really a good fit for new players.  Also, if I had true newbies, I would put them in a more traditional D&D setting…maybe something like the Keep on the Borderlands.

My true problem is that I have so much that I want to reveal to my Players:  the secrets and history of the Tower of Spells, the various hidden cities and enclaves about Duvamil, and all of the stuff that I swiped from Monte Cook and other 3E sources and seeded around this area of Rilmorn.  Alas, I can’t; not yet.  Some of this may be revealed in game play, but I don’t know yet if it will.  I have to focus my creative energies on building solid plots and interesting NPCs that advance the stories for these PCs.  What has gone before is the bedrock on which I can build, but unless the Players and PCs dig, I may be the only one to ever know it and that is okay.  Maybe it will come up in a later campaign.

TL:DR New Players in an Old World?  Start small and keep your focus and maybe there will be time enough later for all the big stuff.

Game On!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Game On!

The Last Hurrah

E3 is officially retired.

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

The End.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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