Wednesday, June 26, 2013

4e Adventure Structure

My notebooks are in my office and my office is in the attic and the attic is a blazing inferno in this heat. I guess I could bring the notebooks down but I just don't feel like it. Instead I'm gonna play with adventure structure some more.

I never got into 4th edition D&D very much early on and it may have been all for the better. As I've begin turning my attention back to it I've discovered that WoTC didn't really get their crap together until the very end. This went for both balance and adventure writing. The few old 4e adventures that I had seen were pretty rail-roady. I'm not really surprised either - after reading the three core books my ideal of a proper 4e adventure was a total railroad with a few forks that resulted from skill challenges. It's something of a surprise and a shame since the 4e DMG was possibly the best written in terms of "this is how you run a game" that I've ever seen.

Anyways, adventure structure. The "new" adventures like The Slaying Stone and Madness and Gardmore Abbey were more like mini-sandboxes. You've got some objectives, you've got a location with a number of encounter sites and various factions to tie it all together and make it move. The "adventure" was a separate entity from the "encounters". Looking back on some of the things I've posted I can see a number of applications for this structure.

One of the most obvious is In the Name of the Empire. During the heroic tier each region would essentially be an adventure site full of encounters with each of the various factions providing quests and objectives.
Illen Shore, along with any number of "small town surrounded by adventure sites" settings that may be to come are also obvious choices. In many ways they are simply my own older versions of the Nentir Vale. The old monastery for the Followers of the Wind is probably the most blatant of the adventure locations.

Finally the Post-Apocalyptic Thing is almost explicitly designed with this in mind. The whole region is an adventure site where the PCs can wander around from place to place while unlocking new places to explore as the adventure advances. If I were to try and write something out that wasn't as ambitious as In the Name of the Empire I'd probably go with this.

So if I can't get to my notebooks next time I try to update look for an attempt to use this adventure structure on a previous setting.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Post Apocalyptic Thing

I had put this together for a sort of post-technology hex/dungeon crawl outline. It could work for post apocalypse or "there used to be advanced tech" fantasy settings. I believe this was intended for the "1600's explorers among electrotech ruins" Radiance game. Also seems fairly relevant after playing A Dark Room.

Each bolded location is essentially a small dungeon that often has sub levels. Lots of levels can't be accessed until other areas are accessed. Eventually four new campaigning areas are opened up - The Sky City, The Underdark, Beyond the Gate and Spaaaaacccccceeeeee!

The Keytower - Above ground. Open.
This tower is an old security station that holds the entrance keys for all the local facilities.

The Power Station - Above Ground. Keylocked.
A power station where batteries were charged. There is a small hand crank generator that can slowly charge up batteries. A larger generator that supplies power to the region is below ground.
Level P1 - Generator. Underground. Needs Generator codes. 
The Switch is here. It turns on the generator.

Skyfall - Above ground. Open.
A city that once flew in the clouds crashed to earth.
The Palace - Above ground. Need the Switch to be thrown.
Government codes here.

Military Base - Above Ground. Open.
There are some buildings still standing but there isn't much use there.
Level M1 - Armory. Needs keycard and a battery to access.
Ancient weapons are kept here.
Level M2 - Research lab.
Science codes are here. Has Generator access.

Biological Research Facility - Above ground. Open.
The above ground facility is plagued by mutants.
Some above ground buildings need a keycard and power.
Level B1 - Storage.
Level B2 - Labs. Needs Science codes. Has Generator access.
Level B3 - Menagerie. Has Warrens access.

Energy Research Facility - Above ground. Needs Science codes.
Level E1 - Control station. Generator codes are here.
Level E2 - Experimental power station. Needs Generator codes.

Launch Pad - Above ground. Open.
Above ground is mostly empty and bare.
Level 1 - Underground hangar. Needs Launch codes.

Engine Testing Labs - Underground. Accessed from Generator.
Level T1 - Control station. Launch codes here.
Level T2 - Testing area.

Trans-Dimensional Labs - Underground. Accessed from Generator.
Level D1 - Offices and math cubes.
Level D2 - Labs. Needs Government codes.
Level D3 - Local portals.
Level D4 - The Gate. Needs personal code. Has warrens access.

The Sky City - Several thousand feet above ground. Needs flight or portal to access.
Personal codes are here. This can be an all new adventure site destination.

The Warrens - Underground.
Leads to Underdark or other subterranean adventure destination.

Beyond the Gate
Leads to... somewhere.

The Voidship  - Underground. From the launchpad.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Choice of Mage

Looks like I was preparing a Mage: The Ascension game for new players. I'll update it to match more modern people, I think. I've always been fond of these "answer questions to determine your class" things when running through an RPG the first time. It allows the player to have their mechanical choices made for them in a meaningful way until they learn the system/world and can make those choices for themselves. In this case these questions are barely subtle. I've got one for determining which House PCs end up in for a more Harry Potterish Great School of Magic game somewhere...

Which subject would you rather take a class in?

  • Geology (Matter)
  • Electronics (Energy)
  • Biology (Life)
  • Psychology (Mind)
  • Statistics (Entropy)
  • History (Time)
  • Communications (Correspondence)
  • Folklore (Spirit)
  • Theology (Prime)
Where do you feel more at home?
  • In a workshop
  • In a thunderstorm
  • In a hospital
  • With your own thoughts
  • Exploring abandoned buildings
  • In a museum
  • On the phone
  • In the woods
  • In a church
With whom do you identify more?
  • Rock Biter
  • Albert Einstein
  • James Watson
  • Ivan Pavlov
  • Lee Harvey Oswald
  • HG Wells
  • Bill Gates
  • William Stukeley
  • The Dali Llama
What is your greatest weakness?
  • Obsession with the material
  • Strict adherence to formula
  • A quick temper
  • Over-analyzing a situation
  • Morbidity
  • Living in the past
  • Elitism
  • Not living in the "real" world enough
  • Close mindedness
You come across a man who has been shot to death. What do you do?
  • Examine the crime scene for evidence
  • Run away screaming
  • Study the effect of the bullets on the flesh
  • Try to understand the mind of the murderer
  • Be thankful the dead man can move on to his next life
  • Retrace the events of the murder
  • Trace the bullet back to the gun
  • Pray for the murderer to meet justice
  • Pray for the victim's soul

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Guys and Dolls

So I stole an idea from Hellblazer a long time ago and ran with it. One of my friends was so enamored of the concept that when we designed the Stanfolde setting we did it partially so that this adventure could be run. Ironically that campaign played out to the end and never went in a direction where this story would have fit.

I could definitely see this as an epic level 4e adventure. The only issue is that it works best in a world where there is a Heaven/Hell dichotomy. While it could work in a more generic world it may lose some of the impact.

Part 1 - The Stone Circle
The adventure begins with the PCs being asked to look into the local druid's grove, the Stone Circle. It is apparently the Grand Druid's personal grove and had been dealing with a lycanthopy outbreak in the area. Witnesses saw a large force of werebeasts heading towards the grove. Normally they would have expected the Grand Druid to send them running but things have gone worryingly quiet.

When the PCs arrive there are werebeasts of various types everywhere and lots of dead druids. The lycanthropes are wielding powerful divine magic items for some reason - it was apparently what gave them the edge for victory. Inside the Grand Druid's own abode is a force of werewolves trying to break down a warded door. Behind the door is a very frightened girl named Lilly, probably about six years old. She can open the door from the inside if the PCs can convince her. She's the only survivor of the attack.

Interlude 1 - Lilly
Lilly has a fanciful imagination. She says the nice men have been taking care of her for most of her life, but she has some memories of her mother and father. Her mother is a beautiful princess and is the one that left her with the nice men before being taken away by horrible monsters. Her father is also beautiful, has long blonde hair, blue eyes and fluffy white wings. Some bad men hurt him and made him go away. She has a note from her mother that says where to find her if she ever needs to - at Stonecrag Keep deep in the mountains.

High level characters will have all sorts of ways of getting information. However some of their more powerful effects will give odd results. The following are generalized responses if some sort of Commune ritual is cast:
L/G & L/N - The child must be destroyed.
N/G - Follow the good in your heart. We will say no more.
C/G - Reunite this poor child's family. Damn the hard asses.
N - Do as you wish. We are not interfering.
C/N - You've got who? Ha ha ha ha! This'll be good.
L/E & N/E - Interesting, want to make a trade?
C/E - ... we could care less.

Using various lore skills can fill in details about the Stone Circle - most importantly that it is considered neutral ground between the powers of Good and Evil. Lore about Stonecrag Keep reveals that it was once the seat of a powerful mountain kingdom but about four years ago its leaders made an ill-advised deal with some demons and the whole place was overrun. Now a marilith named Mairael rules in the king's place with her retinue of demons.

Before the PCs make a decisions they are approached by a man who calls himself Galriel. Lilly will immediately hide behind one of the PCs and whimper, "That's the man who hurt my daddy..." Galriel will demand that the PCs hand the girl over to him. He will quickly reveal that he is an angel and that the child is an abomination unto Heaven and must be destroyed. He'll refuse to go into any more detail. Hopefully the PCs will refuse. He'll give them one day to reconsider since they have been such forces for good in the world. This should also make it clear that if they want her kept safe then Lilly can't be left alone with anyone since she would be snatched up and killed by angels.

Part 2 - Stonecrag Keep
Stonecrag Keep is set into the side of a mountain with an aerial landing platform out front along with a long, winding trail up the mountain. The keep itself is fairly straightforward and inhabited with all sorts of demonic baddies. The trick is Lilly and how the PCs deal with having a six year old following them around inside a demon infested fortress. Lilly has innate energy resistance so that she'll survive almost all energy-based area attacks but if the PCs don't protect her from direct physical contact with something nasty... it's up to you if you can let her die.

The final chamber is the throne room full of demons and Mairael sitting on the throne with a succubus on either side of her. As soon as they enter the room Lilly will scream "Mommy!" and dash across the floor towards one of the succubi. Combat will begin with this - her mother will fight the demons to defend Lilly.

Interlude 2 - Mother and Daughter
Lilly's mother is a succubus named Luneelle, her father an angel named Elniel. Luneelle decided she would attempt the ultimate coup to gain some power and seduce an angel. She targeted Elniel, he responded... but she wasn't ready for the only type of love a being of pure goodness could give - true love. She found herself falling in love with him in return and against all odds became pregnant with his child. They tried to hide their affair and managed to keep it secret for three years, until Lilly was two. That was when the angels came. Elniel sacrificed himself so that Luneelle could flee to neutral ground where she could hide Lilly.

Elniel was slain and his immortal soul condemned to the city of Dis in Hell so that he couldn't return in angelic form. Luneelle took up with Mairael so that she could be relatively close to Lilly. Lilly was raised by the Grand Druid for the next four years. Now that the Grand Druid is dead she isn't sure where to go. She can shield them for a little while but only Elniel would know where they could be hidden from Heaven.

Part 3 - To Free an Angel
The third part is fairly straightforward - a raid on the prisons in the city of Dis in Hell to free an imprisoned angel. Okay, not that straightforward. Luneelle can get them there and get them out once they've got Elniel. Once he is free from Dis he will re-assume his angelic form. This will surprise him since it means the Powers the Be aren't necessarily the ones after him.

Finale - Knocking on Heaven's Door
Elniel will inform the PCs that he suspects Galriel is part of a separate faction of angels that are more hard-line lawful than good. He had heard rumors that such a group existed but since that could be considered against the will of the Powers That Be no one believed it. The best course of action to end this once and for all, he believes, is to go to Heaven itself and force a confrontation. He may lose his life for good but at least he may be able to buy Lilly peace. The PCs can come if they wish.

The Shatner
At the Gates of Heaven Elniel is taken into custody and put on trial much to Galriel's dismay. If the PCs are there they'll also be detained. If not they will be summoned to Heaven anyways in order to speak as witnesses.

What follows is a trial where Elniel has to defend himself. He'll profess his love and under pain of truth describe the love that Luneelle feels for him and Lilly. Galriel goes on about touching evil and crossing lines that should not be crossed. The PCs will also be called upon to testify. This is an opportunity for a player to channel Shatner and testify about the power of love to Heaven itself.

If the PCs don't Shatner it up (or fail a skill challenge depending on how you handle it) then it is decided that Elniel will be rendered mortal but allowed to live with his family in peace. If the PCs make a difference he will even be allowed to remain an angel. Either way Galriel is incensed.

War in Heaven
Galriel has had enough and gathers up a rebellion while the PCs are still around. This is massive angel on angel conflict and the PCs are caught up in the middle of it. It is their chance to go full epic, preferably with their actions deciding who wins the war in Heaven.

When the dust settles Galriel's faction will either be in charge (and the PCs will either be dead or hunted by angels for the rest of their lives) or banished to Hell to become a new set of demons. Elniel will return to the prime material plane to live out his life with his family, either as a human or an angel. The PCs will each be granted a boon by Heaven.

This is pretty much one big railroad but somewhere else I had notes on how to make things more open ended. Epic level characters are likely to have connections in powerful places so they be able to find places for Lilly to hide safely. They may decide to take other actions or not help at all at some points and that is also fine. This is meant to be an outline for something much bigger.

While typing this out I had also considered swapping the three family members genders just so that the problematic theme of "females seduce and destroy" inherent to succubi could be avoided. It doesn't really change all that much.

And yes, there is a good deal of juvenile, "fuck yeah fight the power!" underlying this. This is an OLD idea.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Mystara 1400

This one is Mystara lore heavy so I'll annotate in italics. This was mostly inspirational brainstorming - you can tell by the ordering from "setting" to "why is it like this?" to "what is interesting about this?". I think I was going for a Shannara vibe with this one.

New Selenica

A small woodcutting town on the border of the Freelands and the Empire. (I believe the Freelands refer to areas that used to be Darokin north of the Empire of Thyatis.) Mostly consists of Darokinians, some Thyatians. Ruled by old Darokinian nobility - the Caldwells. A community of loggers, woodcutters and carpenters who specialize in working with the twisted wood of the Elfwood. (The Elfwood refers to what was once Alfheim. During the Wrath of the Immortals it was twisted by the Shadow Elves who took over and renamed it Aengemor. We'll get to why there are no elves now later.) The houses and woodwork are twisted and intertwined making for bizarre looking structures. "The secret is to work with the wood, to follow it's natural shape. Let the wood inspire you, don't force the wood."

There is a small community that has formed to support the woodworkers and New Selenica has become a growing little town. The nearby Elfwood is also home and secret travelling route to the Dur, who have been declared outlaws by the Empire. (I think the Dur are supposed to be a combination of Traldaran Darine - the Mystaran Rom - and settled Urduks.)

On the border of the Freelands and the Empire is Fort Canobolas. It is one day's travel from New Selenica and the whole area is carefully watched for Dur and Freeman outlaws. The soldiers there are called the "Bordermen", but that name is reserved by the people for true warriors farther into Darokin's wilds.


During the Wrath of the Immortals Darokin was invaded by the Master of Hule. The forces were mostly Sindhi Urduks with the Master's own humanoids and elite Thrashers backing them up. As the war raged on much of Darokin was conquered by the Master's forces. However, with the destruction of the Nucleus of the Spheres, the Master's powers began to fade. His patron, Bozdogan, abandoned him. Eventually his own humanoid forces fragmented and the Urduks settled down. The master just disappeared.

(I'm using some custom Mystaran lore and war outcomes here. Additionally I changed then end of the Wrath of the Immortals. Instead of the Nucleus of the Spheres simply being redirected it was destroyed along with all magic. The Immortals themselves disappeared. So Mystara after Wrath of the Immortals of bereft of magic and gods.)

Magic seems to be creeping back into the lands in bits and pieces. A unicorn here, an elf conjuring a ball of light there. However the Master is also returning. Humanoids are stirring in the far west again and rumors of darker things are surfacing.

The truth is that the immortals are being reborn as mortals and magic is slowly returning. Whatever punishment the Old Ones had for the younger gods is mostly over and they are getting another chance to regain their power. There are some forces that don't want the old ways to begin anew, though...

The trickster god is making his bid to regain immortality by creating the false impression of the Master's return. Even if he can't muster up the power that the Master of old had and ravage the remains of civilization the mere threat of his return could throw the whole land into internal strife and warfare.

Just as Loki as been reborn so has Odin. He has been travelling the land trying to pin down exactly where Loki was resurfacing. Young and two eyed again, he still strikes an imposing figure. He wants the new world to find its own way and leave the past that brought so much destruction behind.

The d'Amberville Family
One of the next immortals to be reborn is Rad, the immortal who began all this trouble. He has similar beliefs to Odin but still believes that magic is the path for mortals to enlighten themselves. His bloodline is especially strong and the slow return of magic is favoring his decedents. The Empire claims all of d'Amberville's kin were slain in the Pogrom. (Apparently after the War there was a imperial Pogrom against any surviving magic users... who couldn't defend themselves because magic has ceased to exist.)


Not a lot to work with here but I really dig the idea of the immortals being reborn and struggling anew as mortals in their bid to reshape the world. What strikes me a being a cool idea now would be to have the players take on the roles of returning immortals - this would really fit the feel of a 4th edition game where the PCs are so far above anyone else in power levels. Some things that I know I was thinking at the time but didn't write down was that gunpowder, or at least redpowder from the Savage Coast, had taken a stronger hold and technology was increasing. Gnomes would be especially important. Conflicts could be between immortals vs. no immortals, magic vs. technology and freedom vs. security. 

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Landfall - Part 2

There are probably things I would rearrange in this setting if I were to try it out. However the possibility for exceedingly high levels of sci-fi Lovecraftian Tolkienesque fantasy gonzo would have to be kept in.

Valaran Republic
Dubbed "the great experiment", a group of Oans are trying to establish a nation where the locals are technologically advancing in a natural way instead of just handing them blasters. Currently it is a steam-powered republic. Consists mostly of hobbits, dwarves, Oans and Dogon.

The largest and most technologically advances city. Located in the center of the grounded fleets. It has become a clearinghouse metropolis of all races and techs amid massive grounded spaceships. A clan of elven hunters venture out from a small frigate and meetup with some Dogon on their hover-bikes. Each grounded ship is a community. Ruled by a city council that has representatives from each community.

The largest elven kingdom. Old school, uncompromising.

Glittering Mountains
The dwarfliest of the dwarves live here much like the elves live in Arbalorn.

A more progressive elven community. Accepts newcomers who want to stay and exchanges information.

The Towers
A wrecked Confederation battle group marks this land swarming with goblins and worse. Acts as a defensive barrier into Confederation lands.

A fully functional Federation outpost that watches the towers for signs of major activity.

Pride Plains
Many Kzinti have reverted to their tribal ways and now live as nomads beyond the Towers.

The Hive
Mountains near the Towers. Home to the Mi-Go and their goblin slaves (and other manufactured horrors). Seems Confederation allied but no one can be sure.

Independent city-state in and around a crashed Confederation battlecruiser. A hive of scum and villainy but also a fantastic place to trade and make shady deals. Many civilized goblins live here along with less scrupulous newcomers. The town is run by an unknown strongman who lets business go as it may but has his own motives.

Once home to the proudest and greatest clan of elves. Now they have taken to technology and gone underground leaving their old home as a zoo for their biological and mechanical creations.

Serrated Hills
Homeland of goblin-kind and many giants. Now being organized by Confederation loyalists.