A Year in Review

 

So, on 12 December 2015, my 2 year blogging anniversary came and went without as much as a whimper.  2015 has not been a good year for me, as far a gaming goes.  Ever since the ending of the “Giants in the Earth,” my attempts at running a campaign have gone poorly.

My “Shadowfell Road” campaign died a malingering death of extended inaction.  My “Pellham” campaign (with all the great modules that I combined) couldn’t continue, due to my players’ extra-game commitments.  My Zentlan campaign is not dead, but it stuck on an extended hiatus…I have hope that after the holidays that it will be back.  My blogging has been spotty, at best.  I haven’t finished the corrections for my StatBonus.com submission.  I haven’t completed my review of Morgan Newquist’s story, The Blacksmith and the Ice Elves.  All in all, I haven’t gotten my game back.  Even my fiction writing has suffered.  All of this has been pinned on the backdrop of my friend Ed’s death.  He did not win his fight with cancer, but left this world with his pride and dignity intact.

I miss gaming.  I miss my friends, both those living and those beyond.  I miss my creative spark and I want better things to come.  With only five days left till Christmas, followed by a trip to visit family and friends in Mississippi, it is unlikely that I will post on my blog again this year.  I just wish I could feel better about this post and be more positive in this missive to my readers.  Alas, I cannot.  May the year’s end find you, my readers in better light.

I am struggling, but I haven’t given up.  Please dear readers and friends, Game On, until we meet again.

 

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Reoccurring Themes (or Gregory, Don’t go There Again)

I’ve been working on where I expect or hope my Pellham campaign is going and I’ve found myself looking at some familiar territory.  There are types of stories that I like.  I like alternate dimensions stories.  I like time travel stories.  I like Faery stories.  I like to use them in my games, too.  I like them a lot.  In addition to ideas and themes for my games, these stories also connect to places in Rhillmoran; places I have used again and again.  My Pellham campaign has seeds of these stories it and they are leading me back to my favorite, but possibly overused, stories and places.  I wonder if I need to break away from my favorite stories.

Castle Timeless has been a staple of my games since the 1980s.  It has been a rare campaign that did not see at least one trip to Castle Timeless.  During the Giants in the Earth and the Tasque Elzeny campaigns, Castle Timeless got a makeover.  I’ve been thinking about using Castle Timeless, because of a few throw away lines and plot point in the backstory of C5: Llywelyn’s Bane.  It, also, doesn’t help that C2: The Ghost Tower of Inverness (one of the other modules slated for use in the Pellham campaign) has an often missed time travel component.  Going to Castle Timeless certainly places Pellham in Rhillmoran, but it opens up a whole can of wyrms in that it will tempt me to run a time travel mini campaign and I’ve done that time and time again.

Faery locales are going to be part of this campaign.  I’ve already placed Ardenmore in Adran Silverleaf’s back story.  So, how do I keep from retreading old ground?  My fey folk and fey realm should be different than they have been before.  This is going to be hard, since I like my fey to have a Celtic sensibility and Pellham is a Celtic-style setting.  It doesn’t help that I’ve got a “Hollow Hills opening on the Night of a Full Moon” idiom running with this, too.  I guess I’ll just have to turn these fey “up to 11” and go full bore with them.  Make them the Fey of the Fey and play it for all that it is worth.  They are capricious, enigmatic, and dangerous benefactors and patrons.  They are brave, valiant, and noble allies and villains.  Their plans and their beliefs are not easily understood by mere mortals, even if those mortals are their elven descendants and cousins.  It should be great fun, if I can play it right; I’ve misplayed this style of NPC multiple times before.

I don’t see how I can get away from alternate dimensions in this campaign.  If the PCs follow through the entire plot as devised by the modules, then they must enter an alternate dimension.  I’ve did a lot of development on this alternate dimension for a failed campaign (outside forces pulled Players away), so I may be able to make this work for me.  The provided storyline only has the PCs there for a relatively short time and the alternate dimension is completely unlike the rest of the setting, so this could easily work to my advantage.  I’ve got an “alien,” but not lethal environment into which the PCs can adventure.  It plots well and is part of the module collection, so if I use it and it alone, then I should not get caught up in a plane hopping campaign, which can really be fun.

Having covered my “big” flaws in the previous three paragraphs, I must now move on and discuss a harder drive in my gaming themes.  I want to connect this game to other games that I have run.  I’ve been thinking about placing a connection to the Shadowfell Road in Pellham or Inverness; this would open up a connection to Moytonia and I would be tempted to pull things from Barovia and the Walking Wood into Iolta and that might dilute this setting.  I really want to place a connection to Castle Timeless and I’ve already explained why that is a bad idea.  While I have not yet designed them, I know there are magical trees in Pellham and they could easily be connected to the Quan.  Even though this campaign takes place over a thousand years after Giants in the Earth and Tasque Elzeny, a connection to the Quaan would let me access Feldspar, E3 Trading Company, and Spellguard.  While a link on Thrain to the World of Terah would allow me to bring threats from the Caves of Chaos and possibly connect the PCs to the Isle of Celestia and the Dreamers, it would be bringing in alternate dimensions.

Want to know what reeks in all of this; writing out this post has given me a half dozen or more ideas that I now am interested in dropping into the Pellahm campaign.  What do you think I should do?

Game On!

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!

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!

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!

Two Score Years Ago…

Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson brought forth a new way to play make-believe.  It was called Dungeons and Dragons!

Jon Peterson says that the best guess for the release of Dungeon and Dragons is late January and the last Sunday in January 2014 is the day we can celebrate the 40th anniversary of the release of D&D.  So, I did.  I celebrated the same way I do approximately every 2 weeks; I invited family and friends into my home to play D&D.  My Saturday group (Tasque Elzeny) consists of Christina (my wife), Spencer (my brother-in-law) and Clint (Spencer’s eldest child).  We are playing DnD Next.  My Sunday group (E3 Trading Company) holds my wife, Christina, and friends: James, Hil, and Matt; we are near the end of my Big 4E campaign: Giants in the Earth!  And now, I present to you my view of D&D:

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Tasque Elzeny

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E3 Trading Company

Yes, I still use my 1st Edition DM Screens.

I encountered out a few other people’s experiences with D&D.  Feel free to check out what Monte Cook, Mary Hamilton, Kobold Press, and RPG Geek have to say on the subject.  Like many people on the net, I, too, have gained great friendships through D&D.  I got to introduce friends to D&D.  My first days in D&D were, of course, among friends.  Without friends and players, I could not run a game, but that is not the best thing I get out of D&D.

I get to create.  I get to build.  I get to be every non PC in the multiverse.  I get to share in an interactive story crafted between my players and me.  I get to mess with maps.  I get to drop challenges into my games and watch amazing people completely bypass them by thinking of things of which I never conceived.  I get to play with languages.  I get to have fun.

Thank you, each and everyone on my players, past, present, and future.

Cross posting this on my Live Journal.