World Workshop

Core Assumptions, Redux

I’m getting ready to run my first 5th Edition game pretty soon, and you know what that means – time to sink an unknowable number of hours into creating a homebrew setting! And since it was the most popular segment here, in the days when I used to update, I figured I might as well bring the World Workshop back from the grave!

A Magical Medieval Society: Western Europe, Second Edition
Possibly the best “non-core” rolepalying book I’ve ever bought, in 25 years of gaming.

In addition to the 5e DMG, I’m using another resource: A Magical Medieval Society, Second Edition by Expeditious Retreat Press. I cannot recommend this book enough if you’re into world-building. I’ll probably write a whole post about it sometime, but suffice to say if you want your setting to really feel legitimate, especially in the context of social norms, politics, and demographics? This is the book for you. And, while it’s technically a 3rd Edition product, it’s practically system agnostic – at least all the best parts are.

Okay, core assumptions! The 5th Edition DMG presents five of them, so lets sink our teeth right in:

  • Gods Oversee the World: Yes and no. As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve never exactly been thrilled by this one. Having the gods taking too direct a hand in world events just cheapens the activity of mortals (at least from my perspective). The end result, for me, is a world with less nuance and potential for moral complexity. So, to that end, this one is a qualified “sort of.” I’ll be writing a whole post about gods and religion at some point, but the short version is that a person’s god (or gods) are mostly social and cultural – and the gods are distant enough that no one can prove, one way or another that one theory is “right.” Divine classes still exist, and they still worship gods for their power/spells.
  • Much of the World is Untamed: Another yes and no. Much of the world is untamed, but much of it is tamed as well. Rather than go for the traditional “points of light” concept I’m going for “beacons of light” instead. True nations do exist, carving civilized societies from the wilderness. But beyond those borders, there is an untamed world filled with horrors and incomprehensible dangers. I’ll talk more about those dangers below, under “Conflict.”
  • The World is Ancient: Yup. I loves me some history. I loved putting links to Arkhosia and Bael Turath into my 4e campaign, and I fully intend to do something similar here. I have a few ideas, but nothing too concrete yet.
  • Conflict Shapes the World’s History: Absolutely. Now conflict, as I’m defining it, comes in three different flavors – civilized, savage, and monstrous. While not a hard rule, where the conflict happens is typically the deciding factor. Civilized conflict happens inside the kingdom’s borders (e.g. a civil war), savage conflict happens on or near the borders (e.g. an orcish raid), and monstrous conflict trends to be found out in the wilderness (e.g. a clutch of wyverns). These things do cross over, but the point is that when a monstrous conflict happens in a civilized area? The people there don’t know what to do or how to handle it – which is where adventurers come in.
  • The World is Magical: Another qualified “yes.” I’m not running a low-magic game – magic items are a thing, as are wizards and sorcerers and everything else. But, at the same time, magic is going to be more rare than the typical setting, at least in the kingdom the campaign’s going to be set in. That’s for a handful of reasons – the main one among them is the legacy of a pretty devastating war with a much more magically-inclined nation that I’m sure I’ll talk about later. In short, players can still play magic-using classes without restriction – but magic items will be A) rarer and thus B) not for sale. I’m really going to push my players toward magical research – if you want a flame tongue you’re going to have go adventuring to find out how to make it yourself.

Lastly, before I wrap this thing up, I think a name is called for. I already know that I’m mostly going to be focusing on one specific kingdom for the campaign – other, bordering nations will be important but adventures probably won’t be taking place in them (but who knows how that’ll actually work out). So, for now the working title of this setting is the Grand Duchy of Timaeus.

Next time we’ll look at the Grand Duchy in a little more detail. Not quite “completely mapped out” detail, but we’ll look at how it functions and a bit of its history.

Administrative

Changes

You might have noticed a few changes around here in the last day or so. I’ve rolled out a new look and I think that I’m mostly finished tinkering with it, though I’m sure there’ll be some little changes here and there as time goes on. There’s a new About the Author page up, actually giving some details about who I am as well as – and this is the main attraction – a couple pictures of my dog.

I’ve scrubbed the old Blogroll, since most of the content I was linking to is either no longer being updated (thus I’m not really reading it), or is just gone entirely. In its place I’ve put up a more generic “Stuff I Follow” list of things I check out. Blogs, podcasts, webcomics – whatever I’m following, like the title says.

I also dropped the list of Dark Sun-specific links because this page has kind of outgrown that. A little. Well, maybe not – I’m still planning to gush about Dark Sun as time permits. But, honestly, if you’re here for Dark Sun stuff? You probably already know about athas.org – but if you don’t? Go to athas.org.

Anyone else remember this thing?
Anyone else remember this thing?

I’ll be launching two new series of articles, with a third one planned (that I’m not quite ready to talk about just yet). Well, launching one new series, and re-launching one old series to be more accurate. On the new front, I’m getting ready to start my first 5th Edition campaign, so I think I’ll be writing about that. I’m not at all sure how its going to work, but there’s enough interesting stuff going on there that I’m sure I won’t have much trouble finding something to write about. As far as the old series? I’m going to be doing a new World Workshop, as I create a new setting for that campaign to take place in. A warning for mapping enthusiasts – I probably won’t be doing another in-depth Photoshop tutorial this time around. Just not enough time. You’ll have to hit up the Cartographer’s Guild for your fix.

Oh! And Shameless Plugs are probably also gonna get some love, on days I feel like blogging but don’t really feel like thinking.

So that’s it for changes, at least as far I can think of. I’m sure there’ll be more coming down the pipe one of these days.

Administrative

From the Ashes!

Is anyone still following this thing? Anyone? The spambots aren’t even trying to breach the gates these days, so I imagine the answer to that is a solid no.

Which, to be honest? Is fair. It has been just shy of 1,240 days since my last update. Which is a bloody long time for anyone to pay attention to anything without any signs of life.

The RPG world has gone on without me piping up to make comments no one asked for, which ought to surprise absolutely no one. Last I posted 4th Edition was in full swing – well now 5th Edition has come out, and it’s phenomenal. I’m getting ready to run my first 5e game in the coming weeks. But there’s more than just that:

  • Monte Cook’s Numenera has blown my mind, both with its streamlined and simplistic core mechanic and its innovative way of incorporating DM fuckery (which they call a “GM intrusion”) into the system.
  • Related to that, the team behind the best CRPG of all time – Planescape: Torment – kickedstarted a “spiritual sequel” called Torment: Tides of Numenera. I am a backer, and am crazy excited about this game. Every screen shot and update makes me practical jump in place.
  • I discovered the Dark Souls series, which I absolutely love. I spent a long time trying to explain to some of my newer players why I wanted to run a darker, grittier, more challenging game – and failing to make them understand why I thought hard = fun. Now I wish I’d just gotten them to play this.
  • Darkest Dungeon came out, which is just phenomenal. Basically, a Dark Souls-esque philosophy brought to the adventuring party dungeon crawl. With lots of Lovecraft thrown in for awesomeness and madness! This also led me to Torchbearer the tabletop system the game is based on. Both are fantastic. (Edit: I apparently got this wrong; these games are similar in theme but otherwise not related to one another.)
  • And the 2nd Edition of the new World of Darkness has started launching. Vampire the Requiem 2e and Werewolf the Forsaken 2e are both out, with others (such as Mage, Promethean, and Changeling) coming out in the future. I haven’t finished Werewolf (it just came out), but my impression is the same as of Vampire: mostly impressed, a few minor gripes. I’ll do a post or two about these sometime in the future.

I have no idea how often I’ll be posting. That’s on the short-list of things I need to think about, and you can expect my next post – whenever it drops – to touch on that.

D&D4E

Reskinning Shadowfell: Sir Keegan

As I said last time, I got started on my current D&D campaign by running Keep on the Shadowfell – the first official 4th Edition D&D adventure released by Wizards of the Coast. They’ve since released a PDF version for free, which makes commenting on the changes I’ve made super-easy as you all can follow along if you’re so inclined. Today we’ll be looking at pages 42-43, Area 8: Sir Keegan’s Tomb. My own rewritten version can be found here.

A detailed examination – and spoilers – after the jump. Continue reading

Administrative

Still Alive

Just a quick note to say no, I haven’t disappeared again. However, I agreed to help my best friend re-do the roof on his garage. I probably should have waited until after that project was complete before relaunching this blog, but I didn’t think it would eat up so much time. Every day has been 8 hours work, then 7 hours roofing – the days that weren’t were pretty much spent sleeping and recovering. There will be new content posted tomorrow morning, which will also be the last day I spent working with ladders and tiles.

My apologies to anyone who may be following.

D&D4E

The Chain Made Whole

When I previously mentioned the end of Balic Rising, I alluded to the fact that the loss of three out of five players wasn’t the entire story behind my decision to close the door on that campaign. I had more than three people who weren’t in the game that wanted to be if a spot opened up – we absolutely could have kept going.

The reasons I decided to stop, then, was mainly that I didn’t want to run a Dark Sun game any longer. Which is sort of a strange thing to say, on my gaming blog that started as a Dark Sun blog, with its Dark Sun-themed title. And it’s nothing against DS4e – I said it was an excellent product, and I absolutely meant it.

The problem is that Dark Sun -both mechanically and thematically – is not good for beginners. It led to a set of circumstances in which I was growing increasingly dissatisfied with the game I was running.

None of my five players in the Balic Rising campaign had played 4th edition before, and I hadn’t run it previously. One had never played D&D before, one hadn’t played since the 90’s, one since the early 2000’s, and two had previously played once before.

Thematically, I love Dark Sun because it breaks all of the familiar fantasy tropes. It inverts expectations, and leaves you stunned by how strange and alien things are. But when you’re busy trying to learn the fundamentals of how the game system works, you don’t necessarily notice those expectations being suborned. And if you’re brand-new, you don’t realize that tropes are being broken because you’re not invested in those concepts.

The end result was that I kept throwing stuff out to amaze, and it didn’t, and I found that frustrating. Not because of a problem with my players, or the source material – but because I chose to use the wrong source material with the wrong audience. Dark Sun was always for experienced D&D groups back in the day, and I’d say it still is in the modern edition.

Mechanically, meanwhile, the problem was that there’s a lot of extra stuff. Psionics function differently that other classes, which made learning more complicated for a couple of our players. Character themes add an additional layer of complexity that is awesome – but not for someone who’s still learning the basics.

So, when I decided to end the campaign I knew two things – I wanted to run another one and that it wasn’t going to be Dark Sun. I was also so buried that I didn’t want to have to do much in the way of work, because I just didn’t have the time to put into it. So I decided to go simple – I’d run Keep on the Shadowfell, set in the Nentir Vale (the “default” D&D setting).

Based on the size of it, I expected to finish school before needing to develop any additional material for my group, buying me time while also giving me something to do. That’s not exactly how things worked out – the later addition of a sixth party member meant I had to rejigger things to maintain challenge and keep the party progressing – but mostly things went according to plan.

The party is now on the cusp of hitting level 7, and things have been going really well. I’m looking forward to discussing some of the things I’ve been doing in the campaign – both in terms of storytelling and design.

Administrative

State of the City-State

352 days. That’s the length of the delay between my most recent post on this blog, and the one before it. While not the longest lapse in blog updates I’ve ever seen, it’s still pretty significant – especially since that last post was me explaining how I intended to put my nose back to the grindstone after a 74 day lapse.

So, what happened? I’m going to gloss over it quickly because I don’t want to get hung up on what’s already happened – I’d rather focus on what’s going to happening from here on out.

So firstly, I was previously buried under schoolwork and regular work – and any extra time was being squeezed into actually managing, writing, and preparing for my weekly campaign, Balic Rising. That left me with very little time for blogging about it.

The second was that my then-girlfriend (who I’ve mentioned previously) and I split up in January. It was the opposite of good times, and blogging was pretty low on my priority list for quite awhile.

Thirdly, was the end of the Balic Rising campaign – including my ex, we lost two other members (one to a new, conflicting work schedule and my brother who moved out of province). With the party’s roster dropping from five to two, it was decided that scrapping the entire venture made more sense than trying to keep going mid-campaign.

There were other reasons for that decision too, that I’ll probably get into in a future post.

Now, present day: I’m finished with school, my work situation is much better (no more weekends or midnight shifts for me), giving me a fair amount of free time. I’m running a new campaign, The Chain Made Whole, which I kick-started sometime in January (or maybe early February).

I’m looking forward to getting back to blogging – I plan on updating once or twice a week, from here on out.

Good to be back. Sorry for my long absence, to anyone out there still listening.