Friday, March 29, 2013

Aberrations - Part 2


(These refer the the western portion of this map.)

North and South Alor
Alor was an influential kingdom before the beholders took over. It still isn't united like it used to be but the city state of Micelburg has enough influence over the area that it probably won't be long before they decide they're worthy of calling themselves a kingdom again. The Alor region is very dragon friendly and intolerant of the Void. They were directly aided by the Council of Alucinor and still feel beholden to them. While respectful of the Old Faith, especially in the outlying regions, Micelburg itself has become much more urbane and commerce oriented. They profess to be practical in all things but they're successful enough to afford the luxury of driving out any eye-kin in the area. The city of Micelburg is a monument to independence as they have torn down all of the aberrant architecture and replaced it with a city of human and elven design.

Highland Heath
The highlands were lightly touched by the beholders as the population was low. The hills were a refuge for followers of the Old Faith and it is very strong in the villages here. Beholder eye-towers still dot the landscape in remote areas and the cities still make due with some large rounded doorways but much has been torn down and replaced with simple wooden structures for the time being.

A island of material element worshiping elves and humans with a high dragonborn population. Their stronghold is at Arbor Turris and houses the Council of Alucinor where the plans for the revolt were hatched. The people who live here are almost considered to be a breed unto themselves, haven taken in so much draconic teachings and power, and are referred to as Alucain. A monument called Sol Fala appeared here before the revolt and is said by the dragonborn to be a monument to their masters and proof that they belong in the land.

This area is mostly controlled by the city-state of Suthgeard. A rugged place at the border of civilization, the people of this region saw little help from the Alucain and suffered a great deal of loss during the revolt. The Suthgeardians take whatever help is available and use whatever they can get their hands on. The Old Faith is strong here and use of Void magic is tolerated, as are eye-kin. Suthgeard itself is still largely of aberrant design with humanoid touches - towers that originally had 10' round holes in the floor instead of staircases now have makeshift wooden stairs, massive 10' round doorways are nailed shut with smaller doors cut out of them.

The Iron Ring
The dwarves never fell to the beholders and held fast in their keep of Nurognurtz. When the revolt began they crossed the southern waste and gave aid to rebels in Middlond when the Alucain didn't. Now that the beholders are gone they have retreated back into their keeps, though now they have expanded out into what had once been the kingdom of Ridnath and use it as their bread basket. A caste system has evolved where miners, smiths and other more dwarfly professions are treated like lords over those who farm and work outside. The dwarves have never cared much for the Old Faith and practice their own form of elemental worship which they keep closely guarded.

Carrdun, Hargaldor and beyond
These lands are wild, frightening places where all sorts of abominations lurk. Many think the beholders retreated to this area. Other say it is simply the dumping grounds for their failed experiments. It might be both.

This area was completely destroyed during the beholders' last gasps. All the non-void residents of these places were killed and the buildings were terribly damaged. Strange aberrations wander about the ruins. It is not considered a safe place to be, but it may one day need to be reclaimed.

Lands to the East
Beyond Stanfolde are borderlands where few people lived to begin with. It is unknown what lies beyond. The dragonborn say that the people there who survived have also begun to rebuild under the tutelage of the dragons.. This has been confirmed by some travelers who have made the perilous journey back and forth. There are rumors that things are not so rosy, but travelers who have those tales to tell can never seem to be found after making their supposed claims.

Next time the conflicts and underground currents of the setting...

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Aberrations - Part 1

I have really sensitive eyes. Eye exams are a traumatic nightmare. Even thinking about eyes makes my own eyes water. Why the hell did I create a beholder setting?
All locations referenced are on the western portion of this map.


There are six elements and their respective planes - fire, earth, air, water, life and void.
Beholders are of the Void and Dragons are of the four material elements. The fey are of Life.
There is no pantheon of gods, only the "old faith" embodied in the worship of life and nature.
Elementalism, or dragon magic, calls upon the four material elements. One cannot practice void and draconic magic at the same time.


The campaign history begins with the domination of the "good" races (humans, elves, dwarves and halflings) by beholders. The eye tyrants forced them to see to their needs and to act as their playthings. The ultimate goal of the beholder empire was to eventually replace all life with Void. A whole new race was created, the eye-kin, as part of this attempt. Massive cities twisted in odd shapes to fit the variety of aberrant beholder forms were built along with towers and laboratories.

Only two places, the elven Isle of Alucinor and the dwarven Iron Ring, stood fast against the beholder's rule. When a massive war began in the east against an enemy powerful enough to level entire cities, these two bases acted a staging points in the revolt of the western lands. A new race of people claiming to have been sent to aid the revolt, the Dragonborn, were also useful in teaching the ways of the material elements and established a school on Alucinor. Between the onslaught in the east and the revolt in the west the beholders were forced to yield and flee to wherever they could hide.

Game Elements

Using the bried outline above we can suss out the following rule elements (3.5 edition D&D).
Humans, elves, dwarves and halflings each play their normal roles though the elves of Alucinor are very religious and the dwarves of the Iron Ring are survivalist bastards.
Dragonborn are welcomed in many places as saviors but some people are suspicious.
Eye-kin also rose up against the beholders and for that they aren't killed on sight. They have varying degrees of acceptance throughout the land.

Aberrations are everywhere, not only beholder-kin but their many horrid experiments breeding in the wild.
The Fey were annihilated when the beholders took over and the few survivors are now treated like lesser gods.
There are no real races of humanoids aside from the player races.
There are no angels or demons, only elementals.
Corporeal undead exist, but they are corpses filled with Void and positive/negative energy doesn't play a part.
Dragons... are mentioned later.

There isn't really divine or arcane magic per say so this is a chance to break out all the non-standard 3e classes:
Fighters and rogues exist because why wouldn't they?
Druids are the new clerics which means healing isn't as easy as before.
Neutral paladins (Avengers?), Rangers, Scouts and barbarians of course.
The Warlock and Hexblade can exist as willful channelers of Void magic. (I've got a invocation using Hexblade variant sitting around somewhere...)
The Dragon Shaman and Dragonfire Adept for some draconic goodness.
The Elementalist from Occult Lore for what the dragonborn teach.
The Minstrel (a magic song only bard I've got somewhere) and Skald (a warrior only bard).

These are the basic, brainstormed elements of the setting - the building blocks. The actual setting itself will continue in Part 2...

Aberrations - Introduction

The last setting was recent enough to exist in Evernote. Now I'm breaking out the notebooks.
Let's see - first is a few pages notes for a new Omega story. Not appropriate. Next is the massive Kill Your Gods game... I actually may convince our group to let me run that, assuming I'm ever allowed behind the screen again, so I'll hold off. Next is... beholder world!

Okay, a little background. Years and years ago I found a map of a little region that was called either Stanfolde or Middlond. It was just a single portion of the map I linked to. I found this map to be evocative of a story, one where all civilization beyond the river had fallen. A friend and I came up with a Diablo-like setting of with fallen kingdom, an army of demons and Lucifer's attempted return to the world. Probably the best campaign I've been involved in and it actually ended when it needed to. If I run out of non-used worlds to talk about I might post it.

Anyways, since the little piece of map we had was only a little piece, we had to wave away what was beyond it. What's to the east? An empire of wealth beyond your imagining. What's to the west? Another fabulous empire. The north? Hordes of barbarians. To the south? Halflngs. Cannibalistic halflings.

After the campaign was over Kristian Richards of Crooked Staff Productions posted more of the region that the map came from - about half of the area was done in the same style now. I immediately began thinking of more things to do with these new maps. One was to expand the Stanfolde campaign into a larger world, but that seemed a little boring.

I had just read a book on beholders - sadly I can't remember which one - that focused on them being of the Void. I drew some inspiration from that, combined it with the fallen empires feel of the maps and came up with what is below. In the larger scheme of things it probably isn't all that original but it was fun to come up with. In coming posts you may notice that this map sees a lot of work. In fact, assume any setting that doesn't specify a map to be using some form of this one. I love it that much. Kinda feel bad that none if it lines up with the intents of the original creator.

That's enough blabbing about stuff you probably don't care about. So much that'll make this an "introduction" post and start the actual setting separately. How do I write blog?

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

A Note on Systems

There are all sorts of opinions on rules, house rules and how they interact with the play style of a RPG. I know people who hate house rules and I am their bane (as I've discovered in the game I'm currently running.) I LOVE house rules - before 3rd edition D&D came out we were playing by what my friends called "Chad Edition". Combat was almost completely redone with Armor Values, fighting modes, initiative tracks instead of rounds and all sorts of other custom madness. I saw the Player's Option books as toolbox to build something that matched my vision. And 3rd edition along with all it's d20 additions was the grandest toolbox of them all.

Part of this is probably a symptom of having not played a lot of different game systems growing up. Up until college it was D&D of some form and DC Heroes with the occasional Marvel Heroes or Gama World. In college I expanded into the Storyteller system but didn't really mess around much outside of that. In short I had a very limited tool set to run games with.

One consequence of this is that when thinking up a game to run I didn't think to myself, "I want to run a game of 3rd edition D&D!". I thought, "I want to run a fantasy game in a world that feels like Diablo!" I then came up with the general setting, adapted the d20 rules to work with that vision, readjusted the setting to the limitations of the system, readjusted the system to fit things even more, etc. It was a laborious task, usually. This is probably why I have so many notes - lists of world notes followed by the needed adaptations to the system.

Sometimes the adaptation went the other way. A lot of my d20 settings come from seeing cool ideas that relate to each other across different products and trying to pull them together. Like taking all the shadow related d20 materials (Shadowcaster, Shadowdancer, Pnumbral Lord, that shadowy school in Bo9S) and tying them together in an organization. This was probably expressed the best way in a game I did run once where there were various guilds that determined which feats and prestige classes would be open to a character. Hell, even though I'll probably never use it I find myself expanding that world out to be even bigger and better now.

But all that is mostly for how I used to run games. As I noted, the things I write about in this blog are from old notebooks. Now if I actually want to get a game played I need to grab a system and just run it as it intends itself to be run. Start a game of Dungeonworld and just go with the flow like it says in the book. But I still enjoy the old way of doing things. I picked up the Radiance RPG purely because it incorporated a lot of the d20 house rules that I love but I have little desire to run it in the world or style it was probably meant to be used for. I think the game was meant for a more urban and civilized type of game. My first thought was to use it for a hexcrawl through abandoned steam and electro tech ruins.

I guess the point of this post is to let you know that there will be house rules as usually the world was imagined first and then I just used whatever tools I had available to bring it to life. I hope they don't make you cry.

In the Name of the Empire - Part 2


Heroic Tier
The heroic tier adventures would be focused on exploring the island and establishing various bases. Each region of the island would essentially be a single, large adventure with a primary theme and few possible threads throughout. There would be totally random encounters to be had by wandering through the zone along with encounters that are pointed to by the central theme of the area. As the players complete encounters in certain ways they get the option to set up certain "bases" for the different factions. Using the elf wood as an example again:
  • Completing the Thunder Cliff encounter and firing the cannons will affect the elves. They are ready to be forgiven by the gods and a Chapterhouse can be established. Also, they'll be friendly enough to establish a trading post for the Trade Guild.
  • The elves are dealing with a corruption in part of their woods - twisted, dying trees and such. It is coming from a gate to the Shadowfell. The Stone Circle wants it closed and will establish a Grove there if it is. The Tenebrous Cabal wants it kept open but needs some beasties cleaned out so they can establish a Sanctum.
  • If key elf outposts are eliminated, the Legion can move in and establish a Fort.
  • The elves' Tree of Life creates a zone of fey magic and is guarded by them jealously. The Imperial College would like to set up a Research Tower there to study it closer.
  • In addition are various lairs for forest dwelling beasts and some scouts from the Feywild.
Each base the PCs set up will provide them benefits later one. A trading outpost will get them better prices to sell stuff, forts will allow them to call on military aid or equipment, Chapterhouses will give them a place for healing and divine magic. And of course the more bases they set up for a certain faction, the more favors the faction are willing to grant them.
Paragon Tier
Once the final region has been claimed (most likely the central mountain that has the Seekrit Imperial Records) the PCs get some time to rest and enjoy the fruits of the labor. Then everything goes pear-shaped as the Feywild sort of drops down on the Island around them. The second part of the campaign is going back through the Feywild version of the island and using the settlements they've established to free it from King Oberon. If they don't, he'll use the island as a launching point to claim the Empire of Ammath like he did the old one

Epic Tier
Once the island is secured the PCs take the fight to Oberon in the Feywild version of the old empire.

(As you can tell, the first part is the most interesting part - the Paragon and Epic tiers could easily be changed or it could just end with Heroic.)


Unlike most of the ideas I'll post here, this one has next to no house rules. It would be straight-up 4th edition D&D. Instead there would be the extra system for handling overland exploration and the meta rules for establishing and benefiting from settlements. For whatever reason, 4th edition tends to make me want to shape the world to it rather than shape 4th edition to the world. It may be because it is the edition I'm least familiar with or perhaps because compared to other editions it is more of a complete game.

Final Thoughts

This game seems like it would be fun to run. It could consist of just good old fashioned exploration and adventuring but the existence of the factions and their goals would allow for more emergent gameplay to evolve. The exploration and "capstone" system (that's what I call establishing settlements in each area) give the metagame a sort of boardgame feel that seems to match 4th edition well. It also has a few definite ending points and goals so that the campaign doesn't just meander until it runs out of steam. (Though the first ending point is too far away for my regular group who like to switch games a few times a year. Hence a Game I'll Never Play.)

Friday, March 22, 2013

In the Name of the Empire - Part 1

The Pitch

"The Isle of Shalorand sits far to the west of the Empire of Ammath. It has never been exploited by the Empire due to its distance. However the settlements in the nearby island chains have grown steadily and are now stable enough to act as a launching point for an exploration of Shalorand. The time has come for the Empire to claim it as its own. You are the the official expeditionary team. Explore the island and claim it for the Empire!"

This campaign is how I imagine a true 4th Edition D&D sandbox should be - abstracted rules that govern a general freedom of movement and choice. The initial inspiration came from how Gabe from Penny Arcade handled overland travel in his game, especially the abstracted exploration rules combined with the idea of WoW-style zones. The computer game inspiration made me think of another layer of rules abstraction that could be added to the campaign to give it direction. Wouldn't it be cool if once an area was "cleared" the PCs could choose some sort of structure or other marker to set down for some bonuses and story progression? They clear the goblin woods and depending on how they handled things they could set up a fort, trading post, church or some other structure. That structure would then have an effect in later parts of the game. It was from these premises that I established as much as I have below.


The Empire

For this game, the home empire doesn't need a lot of detail. The most important thing about the empire are the factions within it that have a vested interest in the island and how it is developed. These factions consist of:
  • The Stone Circle who want to have as much of the island's nature preserved as possible.
  • The Imperial College who wants whatever arcane discoveries can be found.
  • The Trade Guild who are all about profit.
  • The Legion who want the island tamed and conquered.
  • The Chapterhouse who want the patrons of the empire evangelized.
  • The Tenebrous Cabal which has its own shadowy agenda.
Each of these factions play an important part in the metagame and later stages of the campaign.

The Island

The Island of Shalorand is shaped something like Vvardenfell in terms of "large island with a big volcano in the middle surrounded by varying terrain", but with less ash and wasteland. In play terms the island would be divided into various "zones" ala WoW that could be progressed in a circle around the central mountain until the scalable side was accessible. Some initial zones I imagined included the landing area of Stone Cove, a forest full of unfriendly elves, some lizardy swamps and steam gnome infested hills.

The secret of Shalorand is that for as much as it resembles an unexplored wilderness at first it is actually the eastern most outpost of a empire that once existed farther to the west. This empire was claimed and defeated by King Oberon of the Feywild who took what he wanted and left the rest to rot here on the Prime plane. The old empire had advanced to the point of gunpowder and a little steam so some of the ruins can get odd. 

For example, the previously mentioned surly elves believe they have been forsaken by the gods but a prophesy holds that when the Thunder Cliffs sound again that they will be forgiven. The Thunder Cliffs contain an old defensive structure overlooking the ocean and is filled with cannons. Firing the cannons can make it possible to establish a Church or Trade outpost in their lands.

Another of the secrets is that what remained of the old empire escaped Oberon by retreating into the Shadowfell and effectively became Shadar-kai. The Tenebrous Cabal is their attempt to help the Empire of Ammath when King Oberon comes for them. Their requests will seem weird and often not the type of things heroes would normally do ("You mean you want us to leave the gate with monsters pouring out OPEN?"). But then the next phases of the campaign kick in, doing their bidding will be surprisingly helpful.