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I’ve scrubbed the old Blogroll, since most of the content I was linking to is either no longer being updated (thus I’m not really reading it), or is just gone entirely.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.

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D&D4E, Dark Sun

Getting back in the swing of things

So a little more than a week ago I tossed up a two paragraph post letting you all know I hadn’t died on my journey, and that I’d resume posting shortly. Apparently “shortly,” in Brian-speak, translates to “nine days.”

Before I move on to anything else, I want to throw out a major thank you to Glen, who managed to update my blog while also updating his own, and who moved an even farther distance not that long before I did. That there are still people coming here to read what’s being posted is something I credit entirely to him, and I’ve had a blast reading his posts – especially the one about Lorakin (who, as I recall, I eventually started locking in a box because he was driving me nuts). It is my fondest hope that in the future, when Glen’s nerd-dial finds itself turned back up to 10, he’ll remember this place fondly and come by to pay us a visit – regaling us with the occasional tale or point of view. Critical-Hits this place is not, but if he wants to blog about D&D and Dark Sun, he’ll always be free to borrow my soapbox.

Secondly, a couple of administrative announcements. First of all, I do intend to start blogging regularly again now that I’ve driven cross-country, flown the last leg of the journey, arrived at the home of my friends, and all-around begun to settle in. That said, I am also on the job hunt as well as preparing to resume my studies in September, so my goal is to update two-three times weekly. I will also be doing some work on the blog itself – we’re long overdue for some “About the Blog/Author/etc.” pages, and I plan on looking into options for sprucing the place up with custom CSS and design so it doesn’t look like every other WordPress-hosted rpg blog out there. But that’s in the future.

Thirdly and lastly, as I mentioned in my all-too-brief last post, I picked up the Dark Sun Campaign Setting shortly after returning to civilization. Since then, I’ve actually had time to sit down and read the thing and I intend to kick things off with a fairly in-depth look at things. Where I was right, where I was wrong, and what I think of the thing as a whole. In short, though? I liked it. A lot. Enough that I’ve gone out and procured copies of the Dark Sun Creature Catalog, the Desert of Athas Dungeon Tiles, and the introductory adventure Marauders of the Dune Sea. So, you know, I’m clearly a fan. I’m also tossing out my earlier stated plans, and have decided that my party of rookies will be cutting their teeth on chitin armor and obsidian spears. What this means for the World Workshop I’ll address sometime next week, I expect.

All in all, I’m feeling good, happy to be home, and looking forward to getting my nose back to the old blog grindstone. See you next time.

Nerdstalgia

Silvaaris, The Playwright

“AAARRGGGH” The giant roared as his club came swinging down.

Korizan dodged out of the way as he plunged his sword into the creature. The giant staggered back, it knew the end was near.

The giant swung again, this time knocking Korizan down with a crushing blow.

Korizan looked up, dazed. He rolled out of the way before the club could come crashing down on his head.

A loud crackled filled the air as a blue bolt of energy zipped into view. The giant let out a yelp in agony as it crashed down to the ground.

Korizan smiled, Lisus the mage save him yet again with a well placed evocation. The two nodded in appreciation for another battle won. The looked around the scene to find their missing companion. Had he fallen to the giant without them realizing it? Or was he up to his usual tricks?

Lisus looked behind a pile of rubble and saw Silvaaris with his notebook in hand.

“Just a second” Silvaaris said as he scribbled upon his pages.

“Mighty Silvaaris” he wrote down “delivers the death blow and saves Korizan and Lisus from the giants clutches”

“This is going to look great on stage!” he thought.

Character motivation is a bit of a funny thing. Maybe its because I have created so many PCs and NPCs over the years, but I find the usual “Dream of Glory”, “Looking for Money”, or “Out for Revenge”, character concepts to be rather dull at this point in my life. Surely there have to be reasons beyond fame, fortune, or vengeance out there to inspire the host of heroes that we all play. Yet far too often those very superficial and uninspiried tales fill the back-stories of our favourite PCs. Surely we can start coming up with something more interesting than that, right?

That’s were Silvaaris comes in for me. He had dreams of glory, but in a very different way. He never wanted to be known as the greatest hero in the land. Adventure, he thought, was a means to an end. Silvaaris was a bard that I created on time and remains my most favoured character that I’ve ever played, even if he did not last particularly long. He had great ambitions of fame and fortune, but not as a warrior, but as an actor and playwright.

Silvaaris had dreams of writing and performing in the greatest play of all time. It centred around a great adventurer embarking on fantastic voyages and performing heroic feats. However, the problem for Silvaaris was that he had no experience in this field and wanted to make his play as realistic as possible. As such, he decided to set off on a life of adventure and excitement in order to inspire his writings. The lead character in the story would also be named Silvaaris, but that was purely coincidental. It was a common name after all.

The first encounter that the group faced was a run-of-the-mill combat scene. A few goblins or something spring up and try to take on the party to no avail. I scribble down notes of the encounter, claiming (meta-game) to be the note-taker for the party, sinceo ne never knows what will be important later.

I write down the summary of the encounter as follows “Hundreds of golbins emerge. Party begins to panic. Silvaaris issues a commanding and profound speech to calm the party down. People struggle under the horde, but Silvaaris saves the day, single handedly slaying more goblins than he could count”.

Obviously, none of that happened. Silvaaris in fact had a strength of 8 and spent most of the encounter hiding, shotting his crossbow and signing to inspire. Hardly the stuff of legends, but that didn’t matter to Silvaaris, a little artistic freedom was necessary after all.

Sadly though, that evening while Silvaaris was on watch he heard a noise in the bushes. He went to investigate, only to discover a ghoul in the bushes. He rolled away and shot his crossbow (totally Matrix-style) before having the creature lunge at him and eventually tearing him apart.

When they searched my body, the DM forced me to hand over my notes. Which at that point had long filled a page, mostly with talk of how inferior they all were to the mighty Silvaaris. Needless to say the characters weren’t to pleased, but at least the players were.

I had great plans for the rest of Silvaaris adventuring career. I thought that the performance would have been a great role-playing opportunity, and I was really looking forward to getting him to begin method-acting in the middle of adventures. I really wanted to practice soliloquies at very inappropriate and potentially dangerous moments.

But alas, this one ended in a tragedy. It may not have been the story that Silvaaris wanted, but it most certainly is one worth telling.

Until next time,

G

Nerdstalgia

Lorakin, A Different Kind of Intelligent Sword

“I’m bored.  How much longer do we have to walk?” he asked again.

Korina grunted.  How much more did she have to put up with this?

“I’m bored.  Are we there yet? Do you think there will be any girls at our next stop?”

Thankfully she wasn’t his type.

“I’m HUNNGGGGRRRYYY” he continued.

Korina wondered what it was that he even ate.  She had annoying party members many times, but none like this.
“I want to fight something.  We haven’t done that in a while!”

“That’s it!” Korina exclaimed.  “It’s time for you to take a nap”

“But I’m not tire–“

As a general guideline I tend to steer clear of intelligent items. I don’t have any problem with them game-wise. Sure they can be powerful, but that’s fine with me. I just have a hard time playing one. I have a hard time seeing how something that a truly intelligent object would be so gung-ho to serve and protect whatever shmuck happens to find it. I mean, shouldn’t it have thoughts and feelings of its own? What if it was attached to its old owner, wouldn’t it hate the new one for killing it? What if it like the centuries of solitude inside the dragon cave and hated to be disturbed? Or consequently, what if being alone for so long drove it mad. How would the object react if its owner finds an upgrade and chooses that instead?

Also, and more pragmatically, an intelligent item always has to be on. It’s not like the bartender or prince, who you only need to know how to act for a short amount of time, the character always has this item. They can always ask for its thoughts and opinions, you always have to be ready to act and react according to the character that you create for it. I’ve always been worried that I would more or less get bored of the intelligent item and not want to pay as it anymore.

Now, this is all with one exception, Lorakin, the intelligent sword. But before I get into him, let me give you a bit of a backdrop. There were a few summers where I DMed Brian and Chris in a very laissez-faire style. Basically, those two had more or less separate agendas and I mostly just reacted, often they would be together, but occasionally they would spend days apart doing a variety of different zany adventures. I did very little prep work, considering how often we played. It remains to this day, my favourite campaign (actually two campaigns in consecutive years…but that is mostly because 3rd Edition came out between those year) that I’ve ever been a part of.

Because these two were constantly running around the area doing whatever the hell they pleased, I had to find ways to bring the two of them back together. Usually one of them would come across some zany scheme, and needing backup, they got the other one to come along. Lorakin, was just such a scheme.

I don’t remember exactly how Brian came across Lorakin, but he did. I think that the sword was locked in some vault, in a thieves den that Brian’s character had infiltrated, but I’m possibly wrong about that one. Anyway, that part of the story is not important. What matter is Lorakin himself.

Lorakin was not a traditional, snobby, heroic intelligent sword. In fact he was quite the opposite. He was obnoxious and horny. Yes, you read that correctly, Lorakin’s primary motivations were carnal in nature. I sort of based the character off of an NC-17 version of the Genie from Alladin. He kept yammering on and on about how long his last owner locked him in a trunk for talking too much, and he really had some needs that needed to be address.

Essentially this, but more pointy and innapropriate

He remembered seeing a lovely looking scimitar in the hands of some noble in the next town over. Brian’s character being a charlatan (that is both in profession, and as a Bard Kit) decided to go and relieve this noble of his scimitar, and as much else as he could find. This was just the nobleman who Chris was dealing with for one of his zany adventures. Ta da, problem solved.

Lorakin wasn’t particularly powerful (I think just a measly +1), or knowledgeable, but was particularly annoying, lecherous, and liked to get drunk. But really, if we all have had party members who behaved that way, why is it weird to have weapons act that way?

Until next time,

G

Nerdstalgia

Torjaran, The Rival

The party took a collective breath, they were finally there.  After what felt like months crawling through this dungeon, they have finally reached their goal.  All of the monsters had been vanquished, and all that stood between them and the great Sword of Silthorn was that door ahead.

Ragnor, the strongest and least injured of the bunch, reached forward with trepidation.  He felt the handle of the door around his hand; he was almost there.  Slowly the door creaked open.

In front of them was an all to familiar sight, and their hearts filled with rage.

There standing in front of them was their old rival, Torjaran inspecting the sword.

“Too late yet again” he said as he sheathed the sword and ran off.

I was DMing my cousins a long time ago in a game and I did the very typical plot-hook of an “Adventurer Challenge”. Orcs had been ravaging this town that they came across and so the Mayor tried to call upon all heroes to stop the bandits. There was some cash reward offered to the person who brought back the head of the orc leader. Obviously, I was getting my inspiration from every Gygax-inspired module that I had bought, but hey it was the mid-90s and a much simpler time.

But to make a twist on this, I introduce the PCs to a few extra groups trying to do the same thing. A few groups were pretty run of the mill, you know three to five characters with a mixture of classes and races. But one group was actually a party of one. One snobby character who did not really bother to talk to the PCs or anyone else.

As the PCs got close to the orc lair, they found one of the parties all killed with arrows in their back. They then got to the orc lair at the same time as another party. The two ended up finding the leader at about the same time and had to bargain (in mid-combat) that whoever struck the winning kill got to keep the head. This of course lead to an entertaining battle sequence where the PCs were trying to inflict light damage at first, hoping that the NPCs would soften them up for a few rounds before the party got the death kill.

The two parties were laughing over their battle, and giving well wishes as they returning to town (with the head firmly in control of my cousins), when disaster struck. Arrows began flying all over the place, full of sleep poison. It fell the members of the other party very quickly, and then slowly wore down my PCs enough. As the last one passed out they saw that solitary human, Torjaran, take the head of the orc chieftain.

As the PCs returned to town, this man was celebrated as a hero with parties going on in his honour, for he had stopped the orc threat all by himself, surely he must be a brave soul.

Several adventures later, I had the PCs run into him on an underwater adventure in a sunken ship (full of stale air). As the PCs were ready to kill him, a horde of Sea Trolls began crashing on the outside of the ship. Torjaran pulled out a magical sphere that he said would transport all of them back to the surface, so long as they allowed him to split the treasure in half (one for him, one for them). Seeing little choice, they grabbed what they could and beamed out. (By the way, I made up that magic sphere, I said that there were two matching spheres, and with the right command word it would teleport the two together, but it needed the power of at least two people to work it…really a magical item build for this ethical and character driven dilemma – which brings me to an important aside, never be afraid to stretch the rules or limits of a concept in exchange for a good story, that’s what you’ll remember the most).

Now, sadly the summer (and therefore the game) ended before I could complete the final installment on The Rival Trilogy of adventures. I was going to have him get promoted eventually the the King’s High Court, earning that position by slaying the vicious Green Dragon that had long tormented the countryside. After some investigation, the PCs would find that he had in fact aligned himself with the dragon, and was helping it raid a nearby kingdom instead. The Green Scale shield that Torjaran carried was in fact the scale of a Lizardman, but nobody knew any different. The King would obviously cast Torjaran from his court. Disgraced, he would seek vengeance on the PCs and they would of course defeat him in a very climactic battle.

While of course the PCs are exceptional people in the fantasy world, by no means should they be unique. Obviously there must be some other characters out there who posses a similar talent and thirst for adventure. Obviously not all of them would be as morally virtuous as your characters (hopefully) are. A rival villain only really works if he is several levels higher than the PCs (so that he can defeat them single-handedly at first), and he needs to win. Obviously he can’t win forever, but a few victories over the PCs can go a long way towards establishing motivation.

Remember, characters are used to getting what they want all the time, it’s fun to make them wait for it sometimes. So when you are finally ready to let go of The Rival as a villain, the victory will feel so much better. And after that rival is dead, you can always create another one. Or have him come back from the dead to seek vengeance…but that may be taking it a bit too far.

I hope you enjoyed meeting Torjaran, next time I’ll introduce you to Lorakin, a Different Kind of Intelligent Sword. Trust me, you’ll like this one…

Until next time,

G

Nerdstalgia

Colourful Characters – An Introduction

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As Brian stated a while ago, this blog is under (temporary) new management.  I am Glen, and I seem to be discussed a fair amount around these parts.  I do enjoy making an effort to read this blog, and not just because so many posts are about me, but also because Brian has always had some great insight into the game and has a wonderful imagination.  Oh yeah, and so many posts are about me.

I gave a fair amount of thought (read:   four to seven minutes on the toilet) as to what I would post here in Brian’s absence.  I thought about posting about Dark Sun, but I do have some hesitations about it.  Most of the games I ran on Athas were pretty early in my DMing days, and many of the adventures weren’t exactly cutting edge or new.  I love the setting and the concept, but to be perfectly honest, it never fully inspired me as a DM.  Now I don’t mean that as an insult at all.  I really don’t think that I have ever been truly and fully inspired by any campaign setting.  Dragon Lance, seemed to set in stone,  Forgotten Realms seemed too generic, and Ravenloft never quite gave me the jolt that I needed.  I think that I need a world unto my own.  A canvas to cover with my nerdy ambitions.

This is one of the reasons that I jumped so eagerly at joining Brian for our little side project, ahem…FuckedWorld (his title, not mine).  I love to create things of my own.  But Brian and I different in our approaches to world design.  He is very good at created broad, sweeping worlds with long tumultuous histories, and tomes of legends and lore for this new fictional place.  My style on the other hand is much simpler.  I figure out the place that I want to set the first dozen or so adventures, and build around that.

Wow…I just re-read what I’ve written so far, and I’m really starting to veer off topic.  I guess Brian’s tangential writing style is contagious.

Anyway, because I tend to think small in my campaign designing, I think that I am very good at creating something as a DM, recurring characters.  I tend to be pretty good at inventing entertaining and engaging characters that the PCs bump into time and time again.  I think that this is a very important step in building an interesting and interactive game world.  They also provide excellent motivation and hooks for adventures.  PCs are far more likely to jump to the aid of an elderly man that has sheltered them time and time again, than some randomly generated innkeeper.

So I have prepared to introduce you to four friends of mine in the coming days.  Sure they may be fictional, but that doesn’t stop them from being awesome.  They are an adventuring rival, a different kind of intelligent sword, an egotistical playwright, and a gnome who has had his sanity blown away to the wind.  All of these characters have been used in a campaign by me at one point or another (one in three separate campaigns actually).  They have all been a great pleasure to know over the years, and I hope that you enjoy their company in the coming days as well, and perhaps get to know them in a fantasy world near you.

Until next time,

G

FuckedWorld

FuckedWorld – Core Assumptions

Since I first introduced you all to the concept of FuckedWorld, Glen has posted his own initial thoughts over on his blog, and the emails have been both fast and furious between myself and the G-Unit (there you go you stupid fucker, I finally used the nickname you gave yourself when we were teenagers – never let it be said I don’t love you, man). I’m going to explain the FuckedWorld methodology in brief, before I cut to the meat of today’s article.

Our method is, appropriately, fucked. We do the work by email, sometimes sending a couple mails back and forth in a single day. It’s turn based – he says something, then I say something. We seem to have, thusfar, managed to keep each statement to a couple of short paragraphs. Each article will be centered around a single topic (with the person who didn’t pick the topic getting “first say”), and we’ll go back and forth until we feel we’ve established what needs establishing – the whole thing is likely to come out like more of a discussion than a polished article, which is good: I think it provides an interesting window into setting creation and collaboration.

We agreed that the first topic should be the nine core assumptions of the D&D game (as presented on page 150 of the Dungeon Master’s Guide). We flipped a coin, randomly giving each of us “authority” over different assumptions, just to get that really fucked feeling that we want for FuckedWorld. So, without further ado, I present to you our debut piece.

The World Is a Fantastic Place (Cointoss: Glen)

Glen says: I’m so glad that I got this one, because it’s central to pretty much my entire concept for this world.  The planet is in fact the prison for a living deity at the centre.  How is that not fantastic?  Also, the remains of the many long dead gods are strewn about the world.  In my head these can take on all sorts of different shapes and sizes depending on who they come from, for example a piece of the former god of combat may take the form of a sword.  In my idea, these can provide different powers or knowledge to the inhabitants of the world.  Acquiring these should serve as motivation for heroes and villains alike.

Brian says: While the concept of “the world is a god” is cool, I have to be honest – I’m more enamored of your concept of God Shards that have been cast down the the surface of the “prison” (i.e. the world). One has to assume that a fragment of a god, torn from his/her body during the violent throes of death, is going to be one fucked up…whatever it is. I just think its important to highlight that while the god shards can provide power, motivation, and information for every benevolent god shard out there, there’s probably three that are confused or crazed. I’d also suggest that the more power/awareness a shard has, the larger it is – thus that sword you mention is a powerful artifact, but truly formidable shards are the sort of immovable things temples and shrines get built around.

Glen says: Not sure about that, because if the big ones were all powerful, then they would have been more likely to have been found.  I like the “good things come in small packages” idea for these, and could be very unpredictable.  Although to have mountains or lakes as very powerful God Shards sounds great.  I do love the idea of the crazed shards, or shards that could be too powerful for mere mortals to handle.  Perhaps a profile for the fallen gods would be needed to have some sort of standard process for the powers/punishments that they bestow on the people who find them.

The World Is Ancient (Cointoss: Glen)

Glen says: As I said, civilizations have existed for thousands of years.  The empires of the past could easily be explained by saying that the first races to rule where the first ones to start to exist, after their God Shard fell to the surface of the planet.  I like the idea of there being an ancient empire that was the first race to discover arcane magic.  They held power across the globe for centuries before the arcane secrets were stolen and shared across the other races who rebelled against them, creating the balance we now see.

While my first instinct would be to have this race be humans, that doesn’t seem fantastic enough.  So let’s go all in with the fantasy theme here.  The world used to be run by Dragons until recently.

Brian says: Let me respond with a counter-proposals. Absolutely, I agree with your “not humans” idea – both because you’re right, it isn’t fantastic enough, and because it jibes nicely with my whole “civilized races on the run” concept. Instead of dragons, what about efreet? I suggest them for two reasons, one conceptual and one pragmatic. From a concept standpoint, dragons are always the secret arcane beings in the background – think Dark Sun or Dragonlance. Efreet are magical, cruel, powerful, and not nearly so omnipresent in fantasy. From a pragmatic standpoint, efreet are size large – dragons range from size large to size gargantuan. If you want to set an adventure in the ruined city of that old empire, I think it works better if its a little closer to the characters’ size – gargantuan cities with doors the size of a house are only a novelty once.

The specifics of which race are the “ancient ones” aside, I like this idea that the oldest race one ruled uncontested until its unique advantage (magic) escaped from its clutches. Somewhat off topic, but germane if magic was the principal edge in the old empire – where do you see psionics fitting in?

Glen says: Sold on the Efreet!!!!  They fit it perfectly.  Especially because they would be the perfect race to have Magical Steamships, which they used to dominate the entire globe.  Eventually one of the other races found a God Shard that gave birth to the other Genies, the Djin, Dao, and Marid who helped steal the powers of magic from the Efreet, and a massive rebellion took place against the overlords.  However, after they pushed the Efreet back to the far corners of the earth, they began infighting and shattered their front against them, instead carving their own kingdoms, which exist to this day.

As for Psionics, I like the idea of it being just discovered before the game starts.  Like all of a sudden a few days ago, Psionics were “turned on” which is set to be a game changer in the world.  I kind of wanted this to be done for magic, but it changes a lot of the game.

The World Is Mysterious (Cointoss: Brian)

Brian says: No longer the case – though there certainly are bastions of ignorance left in the world, many of the mysteries of the land have been solved by the diligent work of explorers, cartographers, scholars and academics. I like the notion that many of these mysteries were solved during the days of the mightiest nations – nations which have now fallen, but their secrets are readily available from the learned men who still know them.

Glen says: I can buy this one for sure.  Especially when it comes in with the God Shards.  I mean if the knowledge of the gods is potentially available, who is to say that it hasn’t been found by someone or another?  One change I would like to make though, is that knowledge has been by and large kept into the hands of the elite.  While it is possible for most people to know something, it is not incredibly common, probably because the civilized races are “on the run” so most people don’t have time to study and what not.  The reason I make this suggestion is actually very pragmatic in nature.  I think for gameplay reasons, it is easy to have a lot of the world shrouded in mystery to the PCs.  It limits the amount of pre-story that you need to say as a DM, and it’s way more fun to have the secrets of the world explained in character so the players will have some connection to it.  So yeah, lots of information is readily available for those that have the time not being killed to access it.

Brian says: Absolutely agreed – when I said that “the world is mysterious” is no longer the case, I was talking in a broad strokes, top-down fashion. The secrets of existence, the laws of how the world (and, I suppose, the greater cosmology) have been discovered by some of the people of the world – but absolutely, leave the potential for the PCs to be kept in the dark. We could even go so far as to say that the so-called “civilized” races were, for some reason, the ones left out of the wisdom of the god shards – which would help explain the supremacy of “monsters.”

Monsters Are Everywhere (Cointoss: Brian)

Brian says: I’ve got to say I’m pretty stoked to have wound up with this assumption because it, along with assumption six (“the civilized races band together”) allows me to really invert a traditional trope. Monsters are everywhere, but not in the traditional hiding places – certainly some monsters prowl the countryside, but for the most part there is little danger in the wild. Instead, the monsters rule mighty nations – kingdoms of trolls or orcs, mightier than any elven or human nation. The dungeons of this world are not ruins or underground temples, but are instead the military camps or fortified towns of monster-ruled nations.

Glen says: Cool!  I always wondered why there were so few monster empires in the world.  There’s occasionally a token orc or goblin kingdom, but nothing other than that.  Sure they are evil and conniving, but I’m sure they can band together long enough, especially under the lead of a strongman.  Now the obvious question is, how do these monster kingdoms interact with one another and with the nations of elves and humans?  I mean, do they live in uneasy peace or in a constant state of war?

For some reason a Kingdom of Troll slavers inspires me a bit.  They conquered old lands of elves, dwarves, and orc, and use them as labour.  As they routinely run out of fodder, they make frequent raids on nearby towns, but so far have proven to not be stopped.  Trying to end this threat could be the basis for several adventures or hell, a whole campaign.

Brian says: I’d say most of the monster kingdoms exist in a state of uneasy peace with one another, while their attitude toward the player races is one of somewhat uglier hostility. The notion of a troll kingdom that has a particularly nasty attitude toward slavery (i.e. they like it) is one I like also. Trolls, in virtually every edition of D&D that I can think of, always have regeneration – and it occurs to me that they just might not be able to comprehend the notion that other people can’t regrow limbs – not because they’re stupid, its more like a sort of culture shock. Combined with the fact that they probably aren’t super-concerned with the well-being of their slaves to begin with, and you’ve got a recipe for consistent slave raids.

Adventurers Are Exceptional (Cointoss: Glen)

Glen says: This to me is the most important and non-negotiable of all of these assumptions.  Changing any of the other assumptions can make the setting more memorable or fun, but this one is crucial for enjoyment of the game to me.  If I wanted to be another face in the crowd, I’d stick to real life thank you very much.

Brian says: Another possibility is that adventurers are not exceptional – but that the death of adventurers is even less exceptional. If the player races (if monsters have civilizations we can’t keep calling PHB races the “civilized races” now can we?) are declining, maybe the only reason they don’t exist entirely in slavery or history is that there are a lot of adventurers fighting the good fight. Sort of a bloody, brutal fighting retreat from the brink of obscurity and extinction. I’m hardly married to this concept, but it’s a thought.

Glen says: Hmmm…I’m not certain to be honest.  I think I like the grim nature of our world, and to have the PCs serve as “the only hope” adds some excitement and urgency to the campaign.

The Civilized Races Band Together (Cointoss: Brian)

Brian says: To be perfectly honest, they fucking well should have. If they had, then maybe the kingdoms of humans or dwarves would rival those of the monsters who now rule the majority of the known world. As it stands, the racial prejudices (I’d prefer to avoid the tiresome elf v. dwarf stereotype and find more interesting sources of racial intolerance, quite frankly) of the “civilized” (read that: PHB1) races are what continue to keep them divided – and what assure the supremacy of their enemies, the “uncivilized” (read that: Monster Manual) races.

Glen says: I like this idea of all of the races hating one another.  However, it does create some sort of problem for creating a campaign.  Do you want to have a party consisting of all one race, or rather have them constantly have to deal with not liking one another?  It could make for some challenging role playing.  I think that the other races should hate one another, but perhaps there is one small town on the edge of civilization (i.e. getting raided by the Trolls) that they are forced to band together a bit, and that’s where the campaign is set, to avoid the odd challenge of setting up a multiracial party in a world of hatred.

Brian says: I’ve given this a lot of thought – both why do the player races hate one another, how do we make mixed-race parties a functional reality, and (this one’s slightly off-topic) what separates the “player races” and the “monster races” – as we’ve already established that the monsters are just as “civilized” as the player races. Off the top of my head, concepts for mixed-race parties include: the ever-popular “you’re all slaves of the trolls, so you hate one another but too bad” method, “your town on the edge of civilization” method, or the simple but effective “yeah your people hate one another, but its an alliance of convenience because extinction is way inconvenient” method. I think the important this is that, as a rule, the races dislike one another – and certainly, single-race parties are a viable approach, but I’m more interested in the notion of the mixed-race party coming to town, only to be told that “we don’t serve dwarves here!”

Magic Is Not Everyday, but it Is Natural (Cointoss: Brian)

Brian says: I don’t really have a good reason for this, but that’s sort of what this whole project is about in the first place – I always lean toward low-magic, preferring characters rely on their own skills and wits than some mystical deus ex machina. For that reason, and that reason alone, I think I want us to go high-magic. I don’t really have anything specific in mind, just a commonness to magic that allows it to fill a role traditionally occupied by science – by way of an example, imagine a steam engine based on summoning both a fire elemental and a water elemental in small, enclosed space. The Hobbled Griffin could very well run on such “technology.”

Glen says: I have always been enamored with the idea of magical sci-fi!  I think it is really cool and far to under-exploited in fantasy.  The problem though is creating rules for things like steam ships and what have you.  Although I suppose that it existed way back in Alphatia in Mystara, so it could work here with some tweaking.

I think that the technology should be common enough to add fantasy to the world (i.e. magical street lamps, steam ships, and the like) but not end up stealing the show.  I like the dark vibe we have with dead gods, and humanity on the run.  We don’t want to clutter the setting too much with extra noise.  Still though it can add a lot of flavour to the setting, and that’s exciting.

Brian says: One of the simplest methods of preventing “technology” from running amok, in my opinion, is to add a few changes to the way magical items and permanent effects come into existence. I don’t know exactly how we’d go about it, but I’m thinking we use the defiler-method – apply some sort of cost to magic, so it doesn’t go overboard. For example, the Hobbled Griffon’s “engine” was modeled after the older Spelljamming helms – except instead of needing a magic individual to sit in the chair and pilot it effortlessly, instead a slave is strapped down and his life-energy is slowly sucked out of him for “fuel.” Simpler effects (a +3 longsword, and whatnot) may not come with such an ugly cost (or maybe they do, who knows), but massive magical engines or other devices do – that alone should keep the skies from getting too full.

Gods and Primordials Shaped the World (Cointoss: Glen)

Glen says: This is pretty much crucial to my entire concept of this world.  The Planet is a god, stuck in an age-old prison and is possibly dying.  She was put there for trying to sit out the God War.  All of the other gods are dead, but their spirits have helped to shape the world, and continue to do so.

On another thought, since there was nothing but nothingness before the planet was created, I will need to explain the presence of heavenly bodies.  The stars at night, are of course distant bright God Shards with special powers.  This to me, means that they should be glimmering a variety of different colours.  Also, by a bit of abstraction, I think that means that there is no divide between the space and the atmosphere, so a powerful enough flier could fly straight to the stars..  I think that there should be no moons in the sky, although I’m not set on that just in case there are some moon related think (like Lycanthropes) that would be too difficult to change for a minor thing.  Lastly, the sun is in fact a nameless casualty of the god war.  That’s right, the source of life is in fact a dead god burning for eternity.

Brian says: First of all, I love the notion that the sun is the corpse of a god, forever ablaze after a fateful battle with a fiery primordial. That’s just cool shit. I’m perfectly open to a moonless world (I think we can work around the Lycanthropy problem pretty easily), and the idea that the starry sky is actually the cosmic equivalent of Flander’s Fields strikes me as delightfully morbid. While I can get into the lack of a separation between the atmosphere and outer space, I think we need to work out some sort of explanation for why travel to the stars isn’t a common thing. While I think the potential is cool, I don’t think we want to create a new Spelljammer that focuses specifically on that.

Glen says: Yeah I was thinking about the interstellar travel thing, but we can just say that they are incredibly far away, and there is nowhere else to land.  It could make for some cool epic level adventures, building a flying ship to go all the way to land on the sun and so on.  I think that a small thing about the stars that could add flavour is that they are constantly floating around.  This sounds small, but it does mean that there will be no constellations, which makes it harder to navigate long voyages across the oceans.  I’m sure it would still be possible, but getting lost has far more reality in this situation I think, adding to the dangers of our world.

Gods Are Distant (Cointoss: Glen)

Glen says: I take this to mean in a spiritual sense, since a planet god is pretty much as close as you can get to your deity.  The inhabitants of the world, don’t even know HER name, and are never really in communication with HER.  Different sects worship different concepts, or aspects of HER personality.  For example, there is a movement that worships that idea that she is dying, and one that worships her life giving aspects and so on.

Brian says: One possible notion is that the only beings with any avenue of communication with the imprisoned god are the god shards themselves, effectively turning these disembodied remnants of what used to be into prophets of a sort. I also want to be sure we’re on the same page – my read, from what you’ve written, is that the imprisoned god (I’m thinking of allusion-style names, like the Mistress of Shackles, but something that sounds less like a nightclub dominatrix) is the only being capable of granting divine (i.e. paladin/cleric/etc.) classes their abilities. God shards can, and probably do, provide guidance and insight, but clerics could theoretically abandon the teaching of their order’s shard and continue to be a functional cleric. That opens up a lot of possibilities surrounding the concepts of losing faith, turning from your god, etc.

Glen says: Mistress of Shackles is so going to be my new on-line handle!!!!  Errr…maybe not.

And yeah, I wanted to have one god who grants all the powers, but the clerics are of different concepts about their god.  It makes it sort of like the factions from Planescape, but a bit more focused and functional.  I’m not certain of what would happen if a cleric abandons their order and goes rogue.  Perhaps the orders can have central, holy, temples that are conduits to the core of the world.  Like, the Temple of the Order of Death could be in the middle of an inhospitable desert, while the Order of Magic could be floating on a cloud.  If a cleric abandons that order they lose that orders powers (domains, or whatever the hell you call them now), but can pledge allegiance to a new one if need be.  It makes religions a bit more regional, but does add Holy Cities to the game, which could make for some pretty fantastic locations to visit.

Conclusion

Brian says: Alright man, I think we’ve got a pretty good start on our hands. Some crazy concepts, and a few ideas that have serious crazy potential. Since the coin tosses gave you five out of the nine assumptions, I’m going to pick the topic of our next article. Of course knowing us, the topic we start with probably won’t have much to do with the topic we end on. Next time we’ll be starting out on the Efreet. You have anything else you want to say to put this puppy to bed?

Glen says: I’m happy with the way things are going. I want to think about the Efreet thing before posting, it all looks good.