D is for…

…Divlos, the continent where my desert campaign takes place?  …Dwarf, one of the Seven Races of Marn?  …Draakrill, the house that I have been designing for the last 30 years?  No.  People, I am Gregory.  D can only stand for one thing: Dragon!  I could just link to a previous post and call this topic covered, but that would be disingenuous.  So, here we go.

Fairy tales are more than true — not because they tell us dragons exist, but because they tell us dragons can be beaten. — G. K. Chesterton, as quoted in Coraline (2004) by Neil Gaiman, epigraph.

Of course, dragons exist and can be beaten.  Ask Ray and Mike about the seven-headed dragon Babylon.  Christina, James, Hil, and Matt could tell you about the death of Menethesis, an argentyl dragon.  John, Thom, and Mike most likely remember the sea dragon that they slew and then turned its corpse into a boat.  Let us not forget that Charonus Eybender and the House of Wild Geese slew Tel-Mordin the Feared, not once, but twice.  Dragons can be beaten and they are, but not all dragons on Rilmorn are to be fought.

Some dragons exist as plot hooks or background.  Rick, Mike, and Thom might remember Dhivanara, the Dragon of the Purple Sands.  She was a dragon whose body was made up of time elementals and other chronally charged entities and she aged time-creatures were escaping from her form.  Dhivanara charged the party with traveling to the lair of Chronepsis, the Dragon of Fate, and steal her life glass and hide it in Castle Timeless, so that she would cease aging.  Chronpesis appeared multiple times in the Spellguard campaign.  Christina, James, Hil, and Matt may remember him watching the Battle of the Fall of Spellguard during their jaunt into the past.  Maybe they recall the time, Chronepsis appeared after Ghul tried to break the Past Scrying Brazier of the Kron by forcing it to look to the future?  If not either of those times, surely one of them will recall when they had to save Dhivara from the chronal assassins, so she could lay the egg in Spellguard that hatched the triple form of Chronepsis.  Both of these dragons are vastly powerful, but neither of them threatened the heroes, nor gave them great treasures.  Dhivanara always acted as a plot hook.  While Chronepsis did interact with the PCs, he was ultimately window dressing…a reminder that there are stronger and stranger things than the PCs out there.

Some dragons are NPCs.  Prince Vanik of Arkohsia is an orium dragon that appears to the world as a brown dragonborn.  He plays the same role as duke or a queen in a more standard fantasy roleplaying setting; he’s just personally stronger and more powerful than your average ruler.  While Gareth Eybender, Belvar Duerar, and Feldspar von Quan, all began as standard Player Characters, they are now silver dragons and NPCs in my game.  They will no doubt appear in future games.  Dragons, as NPCs, give me characters that live for millennia, but do not have a hominid perspective.  Even those dragons that began as marn soon begin to take on different goals and perspectives than their original races.  Dragons make for alien allies and inscrutable foes.

The Age of Dragons has come and gone on Rilnorn and, now, the world is in the Age of Wyrms.  Ancient, often forgotten, beasts are stirring.  Pieces are being moved in The Great Game and even great adventurers may be no more than pawns in Games that Dragons Play. What dragons do you remember fondly from your days at the Gaming Table, dear readers?  Until next time, Game On!

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A is for Aries

As I have mentioned before, I think that I originally named the months of the Rimoric Calendar after the twelve signs of Western Astrology, so that the month names were both familiar and exotic.  Whether that is true or not is irrelevant.  What is relevant is the idea that 1 Aries 1 Age of Silver is first date of recorded history for Rilmorin.  It represents the beginning of timekeeping in my games.

Timekeeping in a role playing game can be a thankless job.  How many days does it take to travel to the next dungeon?  How long will it take for the mage to make a magic item?  How many weeks are the PCs sidelined, because they are trapped in snowed-in village?  Does it really matter when the dragon laid it eggs?  Since RPGing is a game of imagination, why even worry about keeping track of the days, weeks, and years.  Gary Gygax, in the 1E DMG (PP 37-8), explains the importance of keeping time in a campaign and offers up a system for doing so.  I do not necessarily agree with all of Mr. Gygax’s ideas on how to keep time flowing in a campaign, but I do agree with him that if you are running a campaign, then you need to have a system in place to keep track of time.

Wandering through the corridors of my memory, I have come to this conclusion: I may have begun playing D&D and running games in 1979, but I did not start running a campaign until I was running a regular game at the Mount Pleasant United Methodist Church parsonage with Andy Cotten, Brad Corner, Rick Harris, Russell Badders, and Thom Thetford.  I had other gaming groups and they had serial and connected adventures, but it was not until Thom wrote down a timeline of one of our game sessions and used the actual dates on the Gregorian calendar that I named the months and started keeping timelines, chronologies, and histories for my games.  Oh, how things have grown since then.

1 Aries, the Vernal Equinox, is the beginning of each year according to the learned on the continent of Moytonia.  It is the time when the old is put away and the new is presented for all the world to see.  It is also the time of renewal and growth.  If one is not putting away the old, then one must take the old and reinvigorate it; the month of Aries represents that process.  I feel this idea is symbolic of what is happening in and on Rilmoryn.  I have two newborn campaigns in play right now, Pellham and Zentlan.  Neither of them will use the Calendar System of Moytonia, so old things must be put away.  Yet, both of them will see the same skies and stars and will be subject to the same celestial forces, so the old must be renewed.

By Western Astrological count, in the Northern Hemisphere of Earth, today is the 12th day of Aries.  The Vernal Equinox has come and gone and the next full moon is Saturday, April 4, 2015, thus the festival of Easter is only 3 days away, all times and ideas of rebirth and renewal.  Things are changing in the world in which I live.  My granddaughters are growing.  I am seeking more money and better hours for my employment.  I’ve got lots of work to do in my games and I need to work on my fiction and my reviews.  So, I ask my readers and myself in what ways will you and I renew the worlds and games in which we live and play?

Game On!

Zentlan (or Gregory Builds Another Campaign Setting)

It has occurred to me that I write about devising campaign settings more than any other topic.  There are two probable reasons for campaign creation to be my favored writing material: 1) It is easier to write about than other parts of the game or 2) It is a part of D&D I enjoy more than other parts.  I don’t know the answer, but I do recognize that in other games (video, tabletop rpgs, etc.), I am the builder personality.  I like to create things that will last and, as a side note, Players in my games have noted that I often focus game play on Players that are working in builder mode when in Rylmoran.  Thus, once again into the Breach of Creation, I go.

One of the great things about GMing for 30+ years is that I have lots of material for building settings.  I have collected thousands of pages of published adventures, modules, campaign settings, and game systems.  I have tens of thousands of hours of actually game play and in-game creation from which to draw.  I am using both of these resources in crating Zentlan.  Different continents on Rylmoran have different environmental effects and sometimes even different “magic levels” or arcane phenomena or prohibitions and beacuse of that I can make use of my resources and create very different spaces all on the same world.  So, with this in mind, I now turn to Zentlan.

In the late 1980s, a group of PCs ended up in an unnamed city on an unnamed island had to deal with the Zentlar, the local population whose law enforcement used men with crystal wands that summoned acid rain and women who used crystal to track criminal offenders.  I have no recollection or record of what the PCs were doing there or how they escaped, but I do know that that city and those people stayed in my mind and when Thom, Christina, and I decided to try a long distance Skype game, the Zentlar finally found a place to settle: Zentlan.  The unnamed city became Dhavanarra AKA Zen Port and was placed on a small island just north of Zentland.  Other Zentlar cities would be found on the mainland.

So, Thom drew out the continental outline and I began to fill it in.  I had recently picked up the book Primal Power and in it was a section on “savage” regions of the world that could be homelands for primal characters (4E druids, shamans, wardens, etc.).  I decided to place all of those areas in Zentlan.  Zentlan was to be a “hotbed” elemental activity and origin site of the genasi, elemental humanoids.

We had a neat environment, but we needed it be populated.  I had already placed the Zentlar on Zentland and I know villages and tribes of genasi lived in the elemental biomes, but I wanted more.  Thus, I added the A’Thara.  The A’Thara are an ethnic group of people of human and diavlin ancestry (See the Seven Races of Marn).  The A’Thara fled Divlos during the Wars of the Sorcerer Monarchs and built a thriving empire on Zentlan.  An empire that fell after repeated conflicts with the Zentlar; only loosely allied cities remain.

Now, it came time to place cities on the map.  I had decided that the Zentlar are psionic based society that shapes the environment to fit their circular cites and that sounded like the Reidrans and Kalashtar from Ebberon to me, thus I began pilfering names from that section of the Ebberon Campaign Guide.  The A’Thara cities would be less uniform names and I had a great resource to use for the campaign base, Punjar: The Tarnished Jewel.  I picked up Punjar: The Tarnished Jewel at Free RPG day in 2008 and had never had a chance to use it.  With that final addition the basic population centers were in place, though there are still unnamed cities marked on the map.

I had old cites, fallen empires, elemental biomes, and psionic societies, what else did I need or want.  I needed a villain.  I wanted something weird.  I filled both desires with two Feyspires right out of Ebberon: Taer Syraen: the Winter Citadel and Taer Lian Doresh: the Fortress of Fading Dreams.  Taer Syraen got dropped whole cloth from the Ebberon Campaign Guide to the center of the Frostfell, while Taer Lian Doresh got renamed Shae Lorlyndra and placed in the Wrathwood.  I finished off my need for the weird by adding an even older fallen empire: the Olman from Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan to the mix and dropping one of the most intriguing features (at least to me) of the old Greyhawk Gazetteer, Nyr Dyv – Lake of Unknown Depths onto the Zentlan canvas.

All of this was done for the aborted Skype campaign, but I grabbed it all and decided to use it for Christina, Clint, and Spencer.  They provided me with a half-elf druid, a dragonborn warlock, and a tiefling ranger.  We developed some background for each of them and I dropped them in media res into the conflict with Lord Doresh.  Thus is overly long explanation of how I crafted my campaign setting of Zentlan.

Until we meet again, Game On!

Inner World

On Saturday, March 15, 2014, I will begin what should be the last session of my Giants in the Earth campaign.  It will take place in the Inner World of Rilmorn.  I’ve done very little design on the Inner World over the years.  Thom and Mike helped me set out the parameters of the Inner World: 1) it is a world set on the interior of the Rylmorn, 2) it has a single, brownish star at its center, and 3) it is more “science powered,” than “magic powered”.  Ken, as Shae’Fer, encountered the Asianesque, jade dragon Shou Lung, when Shae’Fer was stranded in the Inner World.  Ken would be the person most active in the Inner World.  He, as his character, took volunteers from his homeland and placed them in stasis, so that they could repopulate and restore the world, if there was ever a Worldwide Disaster.  Later, Shae’Fer would hide a bunch of lich-related artifacts in the brown dwarf star at the center of the world, in a failed attempt to keep them out of Evil’s hands.  Recently, I decided that three, ancient, colony ships from alternate Earths had crashed inside Rillmorrin.  Each ship was run by an intelligent super computer named after a giant from that Earth’s myth or history.  That is everything I’ve done on the design of the Inner World.

The Inner World of Rilmorn is inspired by Pellucidar from Edgar Rice Burroughs and Skartaris from Mike Grell.  It was to be a place seeded with ancient monsters and super science.  I never built such a place.  It has always been a hazy, unformed realm that I could reference in metaphor and allusion.

The Brown Dwarf reigns above the Giants in the Earth,” is probably my favorite quote dropped by a “mad prophet” in my games.

So, what do I have in place in the Inner World?

  • A brown dwarf microstar that illuminates the lands and oceans of a hollow world
  • A realm where science is more effective than magic
  • 3 ancient, super computers in the remains of their spacecraft
    • Colossus comes from an Earth where American English and Celtic Christianity are the language and faith of the majority of the populace
    • Goliath is from a world where the Akkadian Empire remained a world power and their faith is that of the Sumerian and Babylonian peoples
    • Titan knew a world wherein the Greeks dominated culture worldwide
  • An ancient language based on the percentage of survivors of the total number of colonists; created and shared by the 3 AIs – Orthoni is 60% English, 30% Greek, and 10% Akkadian
  • A magical/runic alphabet called Dymetri that when written precisely produces magical effects
  • Dinosaurs
  • Kularin (winged folk) in stasis
  • Dragons
  • Dragons corrupted by Far Realm energies

Having all of this still unmapped and uncodified has left me in a quandary.  Should I use Numenera as my Inner World setting?  I was going to say, “Yes, since it appeared, serendipitously, the day before my last game” but I got to thinking about so many other ways I can use the setting.  Now, I don’t know what I’m going to do, but I’ll have a plan by next Saturday.  Anybody got any suggestions?

Oh, by the way, this weekend 7-9 March 2014 is CoastCon XXXVII.

Game On!

Beginnings and Endings

On Wednesday, February 26 in the Year of Our Lord 2014

Happy Fiftieth Birthday to Me!

When I started playing Dungeons and Dragons, on that rainy, Sunday afternoon in March (which I’ve referenced so many times already) so many years ago, I never imagined that I’d end up with a library of 132 (if I counted correctly) hardcover books, numerous softcover books, hundreds of pre-packaged adventures, and reams of hand-drawn or photocopied maps.  I, also, never imagined that I would be still playing this game 35 or 34 years later.  It has been amazing.

I’ve traveled a long way, since those early days.  Rilmorn has been named and mapped.  I’ve had friends craft maps for me (Special Shout Out to Thom Thetford and John Hesselberg!).  The solar system in which it resides is defined in broad strokes.  TSR is gone.  Tens of thousands of words have been written about its history.  I have written blog posts as a traveler in Ryllmorrin.  Wizards of the Coast are set to release the fifth edition (DnD Next) this summer.  I’ve ran games in Rilmorn in at least fourteen cities in three states for an uncounted number of people.  I’ve a blog about gaming and designing Rillmorinn.  So far, I’ve had a series of world-spanning wars and two cataclysms (The Great Cataclysm and The Great War) to account for edition changes; this coming Saturday, I’ll be wrapping up the campaign that is paving the way from 4E to DnD Next, as part of my 50th birthday party.  It has been a long path, but I’m glad I traveled it. (2015.04.16)

Saturday, March 1, 2014 around 1 Post Meridian, Eastern Standard Time, we will begin the last game in my Giants in the Earth campaign.  The players will be trying to prevent three super computers from opening portals to the Far Realm and thereby destroying the world.  They are also going to have to save the dragon Dhivanara of the Purple Sands, as she gives birth.  All of this is tied up with the restoration of Castle Timeless and the Quan.

Way back in the 80s, I gave two friends of mine the opportunity to choose and define two parts of Rilmorn.  Mike and Thom chose to fill out the Seven Races of Marn and to give parameters to Inner World of Rylmorn.   Rillmorn is shaped like Skartaris with openings at both poles.  Three colonization crafts (that bore humans from other Earths which ultimately seeded humanity on Rilmorin) are crashed on the inner surface of the world.

Each of those ancient crafts (now, mostly buried and brutally scavenged) was controlled by a super computer.  Colossus, Goliath, and Titan still exist and are active.  Their AIs warped by millennia of neglect and magic, these super computers seek First and Final Theorems and in their despair are attempting to open gates to realms beyond mortal comprehension.

E3 and their allies cannot use standard adventurer logic and “Kill the Giants in the Earth.”  Destroying the super computers will not stop the Far Realm from ripping into the universe; the millennia of spells cast by the Giants themselves have already cracked the fabric of reality.  E3 Plus must “ground the giants” by planting magical/holy trees in the right spots.  After the trees are planted, they must be quickly aged, so the roots can intertwine with the system.  Once that has happened, each tree must be magically bound to the Quan – A mystical realm already restored by E3 member Feldspar von Quan.  All the while this is going on; yochlol demons and vile dragons will be attacking to stop the heroes, since they want reality to shatter.

Because I ran too subtle a plot, my players missed that Iomaudra the Iron Dryad, whom they saved several games ago, has the power to magically increase the age of a tree, when she sheds her blood upon it.  They may need to get her from Occipitus to complete their quest.

In addition to everything else, Dhivanara will seek out Surana.  Dhivanara is about to give birth to Chronepsis, the Triple Dragon of Fate.  E3 encountered Chronepsis during their “World Tour,” when they took their magical, steam-powered airship on an extended trading mission.  Dhivanara is being attacked by servants of Linden the Mistress of the Centre of Time, who sees Chronepsis as a threat to her dominion over time.

E3 also has to gather the three saplings before they can begin the saving process.  They need the Holy-Oak of Meliki (the only surviving cutting of the Holy-Oak in on Laurant in the Rilmoré Cluster), the Dreaming Tree of the Sleeping Gods (the seed of Dreaming Tree grew out of a magical working and vanished hundreds of years ago), and the Ivory Pine (Feldspar has a seedling of the Ivory Pine, but they need a sapling; the dryad Amarantha has one, but E3 doesn’t know where she is).

This is to what my gaming has led me: an epic, convoluted final showdown with the fate of the world on the line.  Isn’t that the way of all D&D?  It is going to be a great party and I’m going to enjoy it all!

Then it’s on my way to DnD Next!

GAME ON!