Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Eastern Empire Emergence

I've been reading a ton about the Eastern Roman Empire recently.  A fascinating period of triumphs and losses.  An interesting time period to consider as inspiration for settings.  I'm imagining a powerful but faraway empire teetering between decline and territorial gains.  Largely concerned with fighting off distant enemies on the other side of the globe, and able to influence events in the campaign setting but not control them. We could picture them like the New California Republic in Fallout: New Vegas.

Also, interesting power dynamics are possible.  Oftentimes the ERE would go to war or launch raids against territories that were nominally theirs, or at least owed them fealty.

So to start introducing this idea, we can use a bog-standard traditional fantasy world, with kings, dukes, etc.  An expeditionary force from the Eastern Empire marches across the plains, their arms and armor of strange make, their customs and appearance alien. Their general Theodoric the Orc calls on various kings and dukes to remind them of oaths of fealty and suzerainty made years ago.  The kings are not happy to be reminded.

The force was meant to march west, receive the barbarous forces of their allies and subjects, and march northeast to open a new front in the ongoing war between the Empire and the Enemy.  However, the various dukes and kings are finding reasons to delay their entry into a costly foreign war. The glittering troops of the Empire have bogged down in a camp outside the capital, and as delays continue tensions are mounting. The army was meant to receive part of their pay as plunder, and the bored, underpaid soldiers are starting to eye the wealth and resources of the area. The kings are starting to wonder if this glittering Empire they've never seen ought to ruling over them.

The Empire's Camp

Located outside the Capital, this hastily arranged war camp was meant to be a temporary stop, but has developed into a small fortified compound as Empire engineers have plied their trade over several weeks. High earthen walls and spiked pits around the edge. Theodoric the Orc holds court in an elaborate tent in the middle.  He is an actual orc, adopted by a leading Empire family. He is steeped in Empire culture and tradition, and has risen to this high command due to his fastidious nature and battlefield acumen. Fervently religious, he is a follower of the Lord of Dawn, which weirds out a lot of the locals. While he is angry at the recalcitrance of the local lords, he has recently learned of a possible cause. A bastard half-brother of the emperor, Flavius Aspar, fled here quietly 2 years ago and has taken refuge among the lords.  He stirs them to rebellion. Theodoric is looking for local adventurers to track and find Flavius Aspar and bring him to the Emperor's justice.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Hollow Halls Generator

The idea of the party wandering through a secret passageway in the royal castle and scooping up quest seeds like crazy sounds fun to me.  I feel like you could use this with Red and Pleasant Lands quite well, but it should fit in any fantasy castle.

The passageway itself modulates in size and shape wildly, as it was built to fit into the changing architecture of the castle.  Every 10 mins of moving silently down the corridor, the party has another opportunity to eavesdrop or look in. 

What is the party looking through? 1d6

1. Portrait on the wall with eyeholes
2. One way mirror
3. Camera Obscura built unobtrusively into the wall
4. Small gap in the stone
5. Nothing, the party just hears voices through thin stone.
6. A Telescope set up through a small window and pointed at a nearby tower. The party can see the people talking but not hear them.

What is it? 1d6

1. Two guards are discussing rumors of a coup lead by the captain of the guard.  They are debating if they should join.
2. The prince/princess meeting with a secret lover.
3. A high ranking nobleman (with heavy gambling debts) and master of the mint are discussing a plan to adulterate the gold currency.
4. The ambitious court wizard's assistant murders the court wizard right then and there.
5. Manchurian Candidate.  The King is meeting with traditional enemies of the kingdom and has been in their pocket this whole time.
6. A secret meeting of influential Guildfolk and nobility plot to overthrow the king after his recent socialist and radical moves.

Complication 1d6

1.  Just as the conspiracy gets to the good stuff, a pair of young lovers looking for a secluded spot stumbles into the hollow walls the party is in.  The woman will scream if threatened, and the man is slightly drunk and wants to look cool. 
2. The party finds a notebook, cigarette butts and snacks.  Someone else is on this case and has been coming here to gather dirt.
3. A wandering mischievous ghost takes an interest in the party.
4. "Say, have the portrait's eyes always moved like that?" (Or equivalent)
5. The party cannot see one of the conspirators, but they are identifiable from a distinctive speech pattern.
6. Spider Attack. - Huge spiders live in the hollow walls.  Remember to be quiet!

Roll for monsters every 10 mins.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Clare's Criers (Harper Affiliated)

(Part of my series on building more specific sections of the WOTC 5E factions.  Read the previous section on the union-affiliated Order of the Gauntlet group here)

In the capital city, new ideas are spreading.  A strange fusion of traditional street performance and modern-day investigative journalism has taken the streets of the city by storm.  The Criers gather crowds with a distinctive three-note whistle. These entertainers and bards proceed to regale the crowd with salacious gossip and indecent puppetry woven together with shocking tales of civic corruption. No person is safe from their stories, and Boss Peet, a corrupt minister of the Council of Lords, is a frequent target.  The stories which form the basis for these plays have so far proven true, and the investigation into the Averroist Controversy has brought down several high ranking weaver's guildsmen.

The reaction by Boss Peet has been swift and harsh, but so far ineffective. The distinctive three-note whistle sets corrupt guardsmen running towards the source, which has lead to foolish young men whistling the tune wherever they go, sowing confusion.  The rising three-note sequence has been worked into popular songs and ballads, the better to thumb one's nose at the machine while retaining plausible deniability.

Clare's Criers are a motley mix of old school troubadours, idealistic young puppeteers, and one old, slightly demented king's jester who was forcibly retired.

The group could make a good addition to a city random encounter table, with the party encountering a full-blown expose in progress.  For inspiration on civic corruption for the tale, just pick up a newspaper.  The guards move in after a few mins.

1. Roland the Farter (demented ex-jester) tells the party of a secret entrance into the castle where they can wander through the hollow walls and secret passages, looking into various rooms via paintings with eyeholes cut out, one-way mirrors, and peepholes. The party scoops up hints and ideas on corruption in the court by the shovelful but must contend with the ancient spiders which have taken residence in the hollow walls.  Remeber the party must try to remain silent or nobles will send guards to check out the walls. Also, the coded language the nobles use to discuss their corrupt dealings could be a great chance to work in thieves cant.

2. An important selectperson election is approaching. The twelve elders on the town council are accepting bribes, but their vote is only as good as the most recent bidder.  The party is tipped off by verse in the Criers Pupper show as to which elders are on their side and which must be greased.  The party must traverse the city, fending off threats and competing bribes to the elders on their side, and attempting to contact and bribe the rest.

3. The board of United Coal has come to you in a tizzy.  The Criers are singing a new, fanciful play where Boss Peet and his allies verify fake stock papers for "Assembled Anthrocite," allowing a weak and stupid relative to seize control with Peet at his side.  They want this plan shut down.  If the party approaches the Criers for more info, they propose stopping the fake stock AND robbing United Coal blind. 

4. Volunteer firefighters in this city are arraigned by ethnic and regional ties, and function more like gangs.  They often brawl with one another while fires rage.  Rowland the Farter wants to travel the city and perform his play meant to shame the firefighters into cooperation.  He needs muscle to protect him from the vicious firefighting goons.  Questionable if his play is actually good or will just further enrage the firefighters, but if he survives the day he will reward them with knowledge of a secret dockhouse used by the mob to store easily stealable loot.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018


The yeti-dragon dwells in high mountains and eats color.  Stats as a rust monster but it corrodes/destroys color instead of metal. When it rolls max damage, hits the character's skin (assuming all characters are wearing armor/clothes) and drains color permanently from 
1. Eyes
2. Random Limb
3. Hair
4. Blood
5. Teeth (your teeth are now pearly white.  nice!)
6. Vomits color onto you.  Roll again and it is a random color. 

I'm gonna try to make a small drawing and write something about it every day in January (except the first obviously)  See you soon!

Monday, June 5, 2017

June 4th Play Report

I had a great first session running a game for my brother and some friends who aren't in my normal Sunday game.  I asked everyone to send me a quick description of their character and a play report, which Oscar stepped up to do (thanks!)  I'm waiting on the descriptions of the party members which I'll edit in later, but for now I'll include the awesome play report.

Party Members:

Borgnir Vikingsonn (Oscar)

Raised by a family of smiths who found him abandoned in a basket on the side of the road as a child, Borgnír has never learned who his original parents are or where he is from. The only clue he has to go on is a runic symbol he has had on his left arm since for as long as he can remember. As a young boy, he was often belittled for the mutation he was born with allowing him to extend and retract claws from his fingers.

Through his adolescent period, Borgnír found himself to be naturally gifted in the art of survival and tracking.

Up til now he has lived a life as a smithy and been a secretive follower of the trickster god Ellis, which entails that he always carry a small statue of the goddess with him.

Working as a smithy in Denethix allowed Borgnír to meet many interesting citizens who were patrons of his forge. He befriended an old scholarly mage from the Academy of Elevated Thought who informed him of a historical rumor that before the Wizards were in power, Vikings used to come up the river to Denethix and pillage the city and its citizens.

This newfound information granted Borgnír the curiosity and sense of adventure to venture out from the life he knew in Denethix in search of his true origins.

Natak the Dwarf (Mike)

Natak appears to be simultaneously 10 and 50 years old, suggested by a ghostly white beard and yellowing of the eyes complimenting the skin, albeit grey, of an infant.

As to personal history, Natak is a bit confused himself, having come to consciousness in what him now assumes to have been a lab, but at the time was perceived as a labyrinth of dark, cold rooms that were in pristine if barren condition. Natak still carries around the little plastic swipe card that he found rapped around his big toe that served as his escape key - opening several sets of labs doors to the outside world, though upon attempted re-entry refused to let him back in. With no historical memory beyond that point, Natak has taken to light mercenary and adventuring work in part because of this ability to shed all wounds given (thus far). Natak suspects that he must have had a prior life outside the lab, as from time to time situations will shake a bit of muscle memory "hey I know how to whistle", or non-memorial understanding "don't plug that in there" loose. Other than that, he is blank slate learning about the wasteland the hard way.

Natak will take an opportunity, if granted, to check out any similar labs or compounds that appear similar to his original point of origin for hints about his past.

<Edit in later>

Play Report (written by Oscar)

We managed to sneak into the Western Woods after the Thief shared rumors he had overheard of a nasty Orc living in the depths of these woods. We tracked the Orc on a long path leading us deeper into the dark forest which is known for its nefarious tribal-like inhabitants. Through quick thinking by the group, we decided to take an off-path from the trail and managed to avoid a myriad of traps set by some unknown people. Along the way we found a dead man stuck in a trap who curiously had a lot of male beauty products in his pack. Next to him in another trap was a rabid talking bear that charged at us in a furious rage. We managed to do some good damage to him before one of our party members charmed the bear into leaving us alone. As the bear walked away we continued down the tracks and ran into the terrifying Orc we had heard of.

He revved his chainsaw while charging at us. As each of us attacked this ravenous creature we underestimated the elusiveness of this Orc. He dodged attack after attack from all members of the party. However, after landing a few deafening attacks on the beast one of our party members decided to try to emphasize with the creature. We learned of its quest to collect 1000 human skulls and asked it to join us as we journeyed. Not long after the Orc deciding to join us, the Thief tried to get his slimy little hands of the Orc’s gear without him noticing. This did not end well for out party as the Orc quickly turned rabid again due to our treasonous actions towards it. At this point, the Orc was so wounded from the prior fight that a quick lightning bolt took care of him and he dropped dead towards the ground. The Thief now had his chance to loot his dead body and picked up his chainsaw and gold. Satisfied with our quest we headed back to town, Orc head in hand, to receive our reward for slaying this foul beast. The roads are once again safe due to the heroic actions of the party.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Meet your God

This is a lore post that contains spoilers.  If you're a player in any of games I would recommend not reading below the page break.  The part your characters would know is included here.

There is a distinction drawn in Denethix between being in the eye of the gods or being where the gods can't see you.  It's widely believed that gods see and judge everything we do in places where you can see the sky.  Behavior in outdoor marketplaces, open fields etc are generally held to a higher standard of godfearing-ness.  While being indoors or under a cloudy sky isn't total license to do as you please, it's held that gods have a more difficult time learning about our behavior when they can't see us. For this reason, temples are always constructed either as an open amphitheater or with a literal God's Eye within the building (a screen the gods can watch through.) Amphitheaters are usually considered more "old-school,"  and many of them date to periods where the state religion was the only one permitted.

Godkiller Rocket Orcs

I've discussed orcs in this setting before, but this is a larger write up on their culture, with goals and adventure hooks.


Orcs are recognized as the most spiritually attuned race, with each orc having a personal connection to at least one god in the heavens.  Unfortunately, this "personal connection" usually takes the form of radio transmissions beamed into their skulls from the god's star as it orbits the earth.  These radio transmissions reverberates among the orc's teeth and can produce anything from voices to an incessant series of numbers. Since their main interactions with the Gods are to be screamed at by them, orcs are generally considered to be hated by the gods. Orcs are highly aware of the location of their god's star in the sky, as the location influences the volume of the transmissions. Orcs are highly regarded as astronomers (the sane ones) and soothsayers (the insane ones).  Orcs are often held up as an example of the damaging effects of extreme religiosity.


Orcs live in the Worthless North, a place of cold winters, shattered settlements and howling void. One thing it has in abundance is spaceship parts.  A huge pile of second and thirdhand steel parts from previous civilizations is the seat of orcish civilization, and all orcs desire to have access to the Spaceship Graveyard.  They need access to the parts to build their own spaceships and go on crusades.

Orcish Crusades 

After years of infighting, tribal warfare and interminable theft/kidnapping of valuable spaceship parts/engineers, one tribe will have enough parts, know-how and rocket fuel to march to the Launch Pad and declare a crusade.  The crusading tribe will build and launch a rocket out of scrap, with the goal of flying into the heavens and killing a god.  Thirteen crusades have been launched so far, with three successful god-kills.  The kill usually takes the form of the spaceship crashing into a random god's star and destroying it, leaving the clerics and followers of that god bereft of spells, divine intervention and spiritual succor.  The orcs still on earth who had a connection to that god find that the voices in their heads are blessedly silent.  (This is why you will occasionally find a sane orc.)  The only exception is the Quiet God's Star, which was long ago reached by orcs yet still remains in the sky.  The First Crusade was lead by Orc-Pope Michael the Unloved against the star of Cyric, the God of Lies.

4 Quests

1. Two competing orcish commando forces are each attempting to kidnap a professor of Engineering from the Academy of Enlightened Thought.

2. A poorly constructed spaceship has crashed into Denethix, with dozens of half dead orcs and their engineer slaves sheltering in the wreckage.  The townsfolk want to kill everyone on board and sell the ship for scrap.  Representatives from the Academy want to kill most of the orcs, save the engineers and take the ship to study. The orcs want to pull their spaceship to the top of a nearby mountain and try a "gravity launch" (pushing it off the top and hoping the boosters are powerful enough to catch the ship before it hits the ground).  The engineers want to get out alive, hopefully without anyone knowing they were ever slaves.  Due to Denethix's complicated legal system, all four have the legal right to do what they desire.

3. An orcish priest dedicated to destroying a god the party hates invites them on a crusade to fly into heaven and kill that god.

4. Orcish regiments stole a large quantity of nuclear rocket fuel from the dinosaur clerics of the northern mountain.  They are moving it to the Worthless North via an ancient train.  The clerics hire the party to steal it back, giving them velociraptor mounts to accomplish their train heist.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

5 Campaign Ideas

Some of these would be easy to slot into any edition of DnD.  Some probably require a new game or at least heavily modified mechanics.

1) Polynesian style island chains.  Magic, war and culture are all heavily influenced by Polynesian mythos.  Party starts on a island, earns a boat by heroic deeds and then sails around the ocean discovering new islands and fighting evil spirits.

2) Toy Story: Wizard brings inanimate objects to life in order to find his glasses, which have been stolen.  The players are the objects, which are rolled up like normal characters but instead of a race they have properties based on their object.  What does it mean for scissors to have high strength?  What if a pencil has a high con? The players start with no inventory but themselves, and are small objects in a huge and dangerous wizard's tower.

3) Warring States Period. Mainland China split between warring kings, brilliant tacticians, and travelling schools of rival philosophers. The outlandish personalities of the period go very well in high fantasy.   Cao Cao, Liu Bei, and Sun Quan could be fantastic patrons, rivals and villains.  Start them off as guards to a legalism philosopher, put them in a warlord's court and start the assassinations!

4) Osmosis Jones: The players play as white blood cells (5 types, 5 classes), medicine or whatever else they can reasonably justify.  They travel around the body fighting infectious diseases and cancer cells. Everything is highly anthropomorphized and the terrain is three dimensional and dependent on blood vessel structure (capillaries give you more freedom of movement than you'd think).  

5) WWE:  Players are star pro wrestlers tasked with planning and executing thrilling, dramatic shows for their AMPED UP fans.  Half showmanship and planning, half real combats, all EXTREME.  Name your wrestler and their catch phrases/moves, execute a series of betrayals, team ups and rivalries to give the people a show.  Extra points for playing Stone Cold.  

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Terrain for Random Wilderness Encounters

Roll as many times as you like on Natural, Manmade and Magical Terrain tables.  Roll the d8 on the play mat and wherever it lands, that is where that terrain feature is. Also, roll once to determine a random quest elsewhere in Denethix, this encounter is connected to that quest somehow.


1. Beehive on Tree
2. Bear Den
3. Thorn Bushes
4. Thick Vines
5. River with Piranhas
6. Dead Tree (falls in random direction 2 rounds in)
7. Rocks with deadly snakes sunning themselves
8. Flock of crows

Hunting Platform


1. Elevated Hunting Platform
2. Deer Blind
3. Bear Traps with bait (for actually catching bears)
4. Wolf Pit
5. Famine Wall 
6. Encounter takes place adjacent to farmland (fence, livestock, angry farmer, etc)
7. Crumbling, ruined tower
8. Ancient Auditorium


1. Hate -Murder occurred here, auto crits if hit
2. Fey Circle - Get inside the circle
3. Eclipse - Halfway through battle, the sun starts to fade
4. Earthmotes
5. Broken Down War Machine
6. Un-detonated  Artillery
7. Ancient Flag from long ago battle still rallies ghosts
8. Straight up Ghost

Terrain that doesn't suck

One thing I really liked about 4th edition was its focus on terrain.  The combination of a high magic default setting and the intense focus on tactical combat was a very fertile ground for terrain.  I mostly map out combats with just a few lines these days, but every so often I'll create a huge setpiece in roll20.  My favorite types of terrain are actually live creatures, either humans or animals.

Crowds: The best terrain isn't rocks, it's people.  I don't put a person in each square and keep track of them, I just list a huge block as "CROWD," and it all moves together. Crowds are hard to push through (2x movement required), can run away from threats and trample folks, and have opportunities for social encounters mid combat.  If you want to hack folks to death or take hostages you can just snatch them out of the crowd. You can intimidate the crowd to form a path through, or to send them trampling over your enemies.  You can get them on your side and have them throw rocks and bottles.
What happens to all the people when initiative is rolled?  

Animals:  A classic example that I use all the time is your horses in a camp.  A 5 foot aura around the horses where if you enter, you're getting kicked. Consider a bear baiting pit with bear inside, or maybe the rocks over yonder have poisonous snakes within.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Dungeons and Dinosaurs

The dinosaur clerics up north have hollowed out their mountain and filled it with a complex series of oil wells, with pumps, pipes and control structures that are mostly scavenged from ancient ruins.  They use fracking to harvest vast supplies of oil needed to power their time machine.  Oil is a perfect fuel, as it can supply the mechanical and psychic power needed.

Oil, ancient compressed ferns, dinosaurs, trilobites and trees, remembers what it once was, and yearns to return to itself.  That vast longing is a source of fuel as surely as the complex hydrocarbons are. If not properly managed, that longing can also be an explosive, dangerous force.

There is a T-Rex ghost inside the mountain. It staggers between the ghostly world and our own, confused, betrayed and ravenous.  After months of rumors and attacks, the complex has been shut down, and requires adventures to put the T-Rex ghost to rest.

Pastor Ian asks the adventurers to delve into the mountain, slay the T-Rex and minimize damage to the archaic machinery. The dungeon is dirt simple in layout, but the description of the rooms should be a confusing haze of anachronisms.  The awakening of the oil means that ghosts of half remembered ferns, giant dragonflies, and trilobites flitter about anachronistic metal machined pipes and simple steam driven computers.

Pastor Ian gives them directions, so the party can go on a direct line through the three encounters and find the T-Rex den quickly.  They can also wander down unlighted corridors, roll on wandering monsters if they do.  The idea is that the actual dungeon layout is insanely complex and could be a megadungeon, but the party is there for a surgical strike.

First Room simply contains a weird piece of machinery that produces a high pitched noise that knocks humans (and demihumans) unconscious when within 30 feet (no save).  The first person in marching order sees the machinery first, then falls unconscious presumably.  They have to get past this machine or else take a long detour, remember Ian told them not to damage machinery.  

Second Room contains velociraptors, which emerge from caves holes in the wall and leap down on the party. Inside the bellies of the ghostly velociraptors is a ghost of a miner who was devoured before they shut it down. He asks the party to take the money off his corpse (nearby) and use it to pay his debt to the Bowery Boys, or else they will come after his family.  He also says the afterlife is horrible.

This thing is awesome

Third room has the T-rex, which, similar to the oil all mixed together, is more properly described as an amalgam of thousands of different creatures, with contrarily shifting skin boundaries and appendages.

Wandering Monsters
1) Minotaur
2) Ghostly Giant Insects  
3) Ghostly Triceratops
4) Ghostly Trilobites
5) Mind Flayer gone insane by psychic reverberations
6) Lost miners