Thursday, September 10, 2015

My Character

Image Credit Dungeons and Drawings

Ivan Blackblade is a noble, grandson of Duke George Blackblade, famous dragonslayer. I try to emphasize three things when running this character.  

1. His devotion to the codes of law and a pre-chivalric noble code of conduct, in spite of his inherent wildness. Some men rest easy under laws; duty and obedience are their nature.  Ivan is a wild storm, controlled and tempered only through extreme acts of will.

2. His friendship and devotion to Trellin, tiefling bard and family friend. It's fun to have a strong connection to another PC.  Ivan and Trellin are childhood friends, and Ivan trusts Trellin implicitly and completely.  Ivan would sacrifice anything to keep Trellin safe.

3. His painting (this one is new).   My dnd group has a lot of artists in it, including me.  He carries a travel easel and ground oil paints, as well as a sketchbook and watercolors.  He especially like to paint natural scenes and sketches new plants or animals when he gets the chance.  Depending on how much leeway my group gives me for downtime, he might get into lepidoteria.

A quick story of how he got his druidic powers.

One day, while on a fox hunt, the fox he had cornered flickered into the shape of a woman, and in a burst of black feathers there was an ancient raven flying away.  Ivan followed all day, crashing through the underbrush and wearing down the creature as it shifted between various forms. Several times the role of hunter and hunted switched, with Ivan barely escaping a wolf's snapping jaws or a bear's wild fury.  It was exhilarating, the best hunt Ivan had taken part of in years.  At the end, he cornered the woman, now in human shape, at the edge of a rocky shore near a lake.  She was a thin, grey woman half lost in the gathering night.  She offered him gold, wealth beyond measure if he would release her.  Ivan refused, and stepped closer.  She offered him a crown, power over men and a kingship for his family.  He refused again.  He stepped closer, and she asked him what he wanted.  
"I don't want the hunt to ever end" he said.  
She smiled, sat down cross legged, and began to teach him Druidic

When Ivan staggered out of the woods two weeks later, his mind was filled with visions, and the whole thing seemed like a dream. The wolf shapes and deep caves, the circle of women and a great she-bear wearing antlers all blurred together in his mind.   Had he truly turned into a wolf, and howled with the woman at the full moon?  He wasn't able to shapeshift when he tried now.  The only thing he had was a harsh new language full of consonants and howls, and a clear memory of the woman's smiling parting threat. 

"Get strong now, young warg.  Take your easy prey where you can, and gather a pack.  I will find you again, and soon.  Next time, I will be the hunter, and you the prey."  

When he came back to his estate, news was waiting for him that his childhood friend, Trellin, had gone missing. His head still full of visions, he packed up and set out on the road to continue the hunt.   

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Hey guys, this is a guest post from my good friend and number one commenter Josh Lingerfelt.  I love the focus on making other races fundamentally alien.  I'll be talking about Race as Class an a method for grasping at that difference soon.  Enjoy this wonderful post!

Dwarven Slayers 

In making a setting it is important to think about what makes a race truly different.  Think about everyone you know or have ever heard of, that’s the breadth of humanity.  That’s one race, in order to make a race truly different they can’t be like all the people you can imagine.  Ideally a race shouldn’t just be a grouping of different stat blocks that help optimize your class, they should be functionally wired different.  Now it’s likely that an adventurer of any race is an outsider from their society, but think about how that alien society and alien brain chemistry changes your character and why it might drive them to do what they do.

One setting that does a tremendous job of making other races foreign is Warhammer Fantasy.  Like in the world Faerun, the world of Warhammer has dwarves that are master miners and craftsmen, who enjoy a good mug of ale and are greedy.  In Warhammer though they are quick to hold a grudge;, never forgiving and never forgetting, they write these grudges down in a great tome and passing them on from generation to generation.  They are also so greedy that they frequently choose death over losing their horde.   This brings us to the subject of pride and the role of the Slayer in Dwarven society (from the Warhammer Wiki):

“Dwarfs are above all very proud individuals and do not cope easily with failure or personal loss. Should a Dwarf suffer some terrible personal tragedy, he will be inconsolable. The loss of his family, his hoard, or failure to uphold a promise can seriously unhinge the mind of any Dwarf. Young Dwarfs forsaken in love often never recover from the blow to their pride. Whatever the cause, Dwarfs who have suffered what they perceive to be a serious loss of honor will often forsake the fellowship of their family and friends for a life of self-imposed exile.

Leaving their home stronghold as far behind as possible, they wander in the wilderness brooding on the misery of existence. Having broken with everything he holds dear, the Dwarf deliberately seeks death by hunting out and fighting large monsters and in death redeeming his honor in the eyes of the ancestor gods. These Dwarfs are called Slayers. They are stern and laconic individuals, not much given to talking about themselves, and they tend to be horribly scarred as a result of their encounters with Trolls, Giants, Dragons and other monsters.

To show their shame slayers shave their head bare except for a strip that runs down the middle of their head, then dye that strip and beard bright orange, while useing pig grease to stiffen it into a crest. In this way they honor Grimnir the patron god of slayers and the very first slayer. Their way of life invariably means that many achieve their ambition and are slain at the hands of whatever ferocious beast they have confronted. Others, the least successful ones in a sense, tend to survive either because they are the toughest, the fastest or most determined. This process of natural selection weeds out all those who do not have exceptional abilities, so you can be fairly sure that any Slayer you meet is exceptionally tough, violent, and psychopathically dangerous.

Slayers are a fascinating sub-cult of Dwarf society, and many famous Slayers have achieved deeds of exceptional valor. Younger Slayers often band together, sometimes under the tutelage of an older master, so that they can learn the arts of monster slaying. In times of war whole regiments - or bands - of Slayers appear out of the wilderness and join Dwarven Armies, which is a help more than welcome to most Dwarf Lords. Slayers spend as much time as possible improving their warrior skills. Although they seek death, their ancestors will not forgive a slayers shame if he or she does not fight as hard as possible. This duality in purpose means that every victory a slayer achieves is a failure of his or her trues purpose which is to die an honorable death and expunge the shame from his or her soul.”

That’s pretty bad ass.  Now that we have a very cool story flavor of our Dwarven Slayer, let’s translate that into some D&D we can actually use.

Step 1:  Choose Race: Pick your favorite Dwarf.  I’m going to make Drovar, a Mountain Dwarf.

Step 2: Come up with a story.  Drovar was a builder attached to a group of miners.  His primary job was determining if mines were safe and constructing supports as needed.  Drovar’s team found a very lucrative but unstable silver vein and after spending much time on the supports he gave the team the go-ahead to start mining.  The supports collapsed killing everyone but Drovar.

Drovar’s shame was so great that he felt he could return to his clan and his sole option left was to don the Mohawk of the Slayer.

Step 3: Choose a class.  You could try to do something clever, but it seems pretty clear that most if not all Slayers should be Barbarian. Depending on your backstory (and starting level) you might consider having levels in another class and then multiclassing into Barbarian, but you can also handle this by choosing an appropriate background.  Drovar will be a Barbarian through and

Now let’s look at the class options for Barbarian.  At lvl 3 we need to choose either

Berserker or Totem Warrior.  At first glance, this seems like an each choice (Berserker), but due to the way the mechanics for Frenzy work it takes dual-wielding off the table and I had imagined Drovar with an axe in one hand and a hammer in the other.  It’s actually not that hard to reskin Path of the Totem Warrior into Path of the Slayer.

Spirit Seeker: This feature has to go.  Our Slayer has no use for nor flavor for attuning with the natural world to have kinship with beasts.  We can instead give them Locate Animals or Plants and Detect Poison and Disease cast as rituals only.  This lets our Slayer find things to fight and avoid non-glorious death.

Totem Spirit: Rather than make a totem, you must become the part of the Slayer, adopt the orange Mohawk (or equivalent outward signs).    Your appearance may also alter to reflect the being you are becoming (your skin may appear to warp towards stone or your eyes may change color to reflect the chaos within).  Choose combat choices at lvls 3, 6, and 14.  I view the Bear as the Slayer who stands tall in the midst of battle daring all to attack, the Eagle as the dervish flitting about the battlefield killing any seeking respite, and the Wolf as the battlefield leader letting his rage lead his companions to victory.

Spirit Walker: This feature is probably ok, it lets our Slayer know the lay of the land and more importantly the existence of major baddies to fight.  I would push any player to keep it thematic to what use they are going with.

Step 4: Choose a background.  The general problem with all the backgrounds is that the features are generally not going to fit.  For instance, I had imagined Drovar as a Guild Artisan, but Guild Membership is not really appropriate for a Slayer.  As an alternative you can take the Slayer

Slayer: You have given up your past to embrace a glorious death in combat.  Other non-Slayer dwarves, while wary of you, will begrudgingly provide you with minimalist support assuming you either head on or aid them in a coming fight.  Slayer dwarves are glad to have you in their midst.  In non-dwarven society you are treated as having the “bad reputation” background.

The rest of character creation should follow naturally.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

20 Questions for Elam: Part 1

The classic 20 questions for a custom campaign setting, 5 at a time. 

The setting is called Elam.  It's a gonzo collection of city-states built on the wreckage of the modern world.  It's largely a mash-up/combination of Arnold's Centerra and the Anomalous Subsurface Environment, plus Sumerian mythology and some remixed Byzantium culture.

       1. What is the deal with my cleric's religion?
This is the deal.
Elam is flush with gods. Each city has a god, and the people of that city are the god's chosen people.  Worship of a particular divinity and tribal pride in your city-state/people are closely intertwined. Every city, grove, and field has gods, of various levels of potency. All of them are real, as in they are wandering around the earth somewhere, and while some are very powerful, they are not omnipotent or omniscient. They can be tricked and they can be killed.  Think Princess Mononoke, with boar and wolf gods living alongside great forest spirits. Their dictates and prescriptions are based on their own desires, far divorced from mortal concerns or morality.  For example, Enki, a god of freshwater, mischief, and beermaking is a great carp-man who lives in the northern river.  He comes to the ziggurnaut temple built on the shore to whisper secret beer recipes to his faithful, and he capsizes boats whose captains cannot answer his riddles. Any who call on his power might have their faith rewarded with miracles, but he requires human sacrifice to feed his hungry fish-daughters. Most other gods are a similarly mixed bag. Worship of a god is not connected in the minds of the populace with moral behavior.  Instead, clerics and holy folk are widely regarded as terrifying lords with inscrutable motives.


        2. Where can we go to buy standard equipment?

Quoting from ASE
 "No adventurer’s visit to Denethix (your starting town -ed.) is complete without a visit to the Bazaar Incomparable. This plaza is filled with the tents and stalls of innumerable vendors, selling anything and anyone imaginable. For the modern tomb looter, there is no place easier to unload ill-gotten grave goods and dangerous antiquities."


 3.  Where can we go to get platemail custom fitted for this monster I just befriended?

The Street of Industrious Efforts has many foundries and workshops that could handle a custom order.  Individual proprietorship shops have been driven out of business by these large conglomerates, so there are no named smiths.  You might also try talking with the Feasters, the town's police force.  They employ a variety of horrid mutants and monsters, so you may be able to work something out.


 4.   Who is the mightiest wizard in the land?

Abine of the Crimson Eye is the mightiest wizard by far.  She is esteemed as an Apellomancer, and her great tome holds many of the True Names.  35 years ago she created the elves, dwarves and halfings, releasing each race out onto the world in successive waves. She cares nothing for her abandoned children, and ruthlessly searches and researches for something unknown.  She often raids ancient ruins for forgotten knowledge in her giant mechanized robot (made in her likeness). 

       5. Who is the greatest warrior in the land?

This guy.

Tales of martial might and valor abound regarding Rickard the Lion, a barbarian chieftan in the Worthless North.  Starting 5 years ago, Rickard has converted his tribe to the worship of a new god, and now the diplomats who make it back alive report a flaming angel that never leaves his side. Rickard has been too busy subjugating and converting the other tribes of the Worthless North to care much about the current campaign world.  

Friday, August 14, 2015

Roll20 and 5th Edition

I would love to be able to buy modules, designed for 5th edition, that are essentially a pdf adventure text and a pre-constructed Roll20 campaign.  Maps would be already loaded into the different pages, with tokens.  The tokens would already be set to their correct hit points and have auras, etc.  Extra info could be in the pdf, or even written in the GM's layer on the map.  Looking at the current marketplace, there are some modules for sale that might be like this, but they are all 3.5 edition/Pathfinder.  I'm sure the reason there is no 5th edition material is IP.  After so many disastrous attempts by WOTC to build their own online platform, they would be smart to jump on the one that's already built for them, before it starts costing them players.

I was surprised to see no Lamentations of the Flame Princess material on there.  Maybe I just missed them. I've been looking for an excuse to go LOFP for a while, and high quality modules that are preloaded in the platform I use (instead of a book, which is really not helpful in terms of gamability/actual play sessions) would probably push me over.

Lastly, and this is the best case scenario, it would be best if there was a way for anyone to share the adventures they make and charge what you like.  There are so many brilliant GMs out there who have spent time on their maps and stories. Its a shame for that effort to go to waste. I'm sure IP concerns and preference for their own marketplace is keeping Roll20 from doing this.  Think of all the amazing art and maps and stories out there that I could be running.

Monday, August 3, 2015

The Songs of the Frog-Men

In the Mere of Dead Men, all wise travelers carry cotton balls and wax to stop up their ears.  At dusk, as the gas flats erupt and the Stranger begins to lurk at the edge of a campfire, one Frog-Man will climb as high as possible and begin to sing a froggy, croaking song.  All Frog-Men in the area will choose either to take up the song, or to furiously rip the initiator to shreds. It's not clear how they choose, as all the songs sound exactly the same to mammal ears.  Also, repeated exposure to the songs drive one irrevocably insane.  Short term exposure has the following effects, except on the insane, and Frog-Men. No save, but you might have time to stop up your ears once it starts if you move quick.  It's debated, although not widely, if the Frog-Men are naturally immune or have already been driven insane.  It's not widely debated because learned people who rather not spend time thinking about the unseemly, disgusting Frog-Men.

Songs of the Frog-Men Effects

Roll 1d6

1.  Target tries to get to the very bottom of the nearest body of water.  Once there, they bury themselves in mud and drown (presumably). They will attack anyone who tries to stop them.
2.  The target is convinced that all their companions and loved ones have been replaced by Frog-Men imposters.
3.  The target has magical knowledge of the nearest locations of Frog-Men tadpoles.  They run there, attacking anyone who tries to stop them.  Once they get there, they swallow as many tadpoles as possible into their lungs.
4.  Target's skin becomes transparent.  Permanent.
5.  Target seizes any instruments they can find, and runs off to play backup for the singing Frog-Men.
6.  The target becomes convinced that they are secretly a Frog-Man in disguise.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Factional/Fractional Change II


The Jewel of the North, The City of Skilled Hands
With 400 professional soldiers in its standing army, Neverwinter can muster by far the largest fighting force on the Sword Coast.   Neverwinter is still recovering from a plague that killed one in three citizens and brought industry to a standstill, but seems poised to reclaim its position as an economic powerhouse and regional leader.  Ambitious farmers and merchants make their way to the Jewel of the North, taking advantage of the unprecedented labor shortage.  They move north in huge caravans for protection.

Dagult Neverember, the Lord Protector of Neverwinter, is also the Open Lord of Waterdeep.  When the plague swept through Neverwinter, Lord Dagult invested much of his considerable fortune in evacuation and prevention measurements, personally hiring over 30 plague doctors to wear his insignia and minister to the afflicted.  He is well loved by the populace for these measures.  If it were it not for the actions of the Churches, it's likely that Lord Dagult would have been able to leverage his massive investments in the cities rising industry to become the richest and most powerful man on the Sword Coast.  Instead, he is barely clinging to life.

Someone has been poisoning Lord Dagult, and his best efforts to stop it have been totally ineffective. Who or whatever is poisoning him seem to be intent on crippling him and striking at his family. A large and impulsive man of action, Lord Dagult is not well suited to a shadow war, and his inability to protect himself and his family in the heart of his manor has shaken him.  After his daughter began vomiting constantly, he begged the Harpers for help.  So far the poisonings have abated, but the Harpers have not been able to locate the source.  Every day that goes by is another opportunity for the perpetrators to gain access again, and strike at one of the greatest members of the Lord's Alliance.   

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Factional/Fractional Change

The Five Churches of Tiamut are wreaking havoc across the Sword Coast, destabilizing communities,  disrupting economic activity, and forcing people to become refugees.  The Coast currently has a potent mix of regional politics and local millitias which preclude a unified response. This has emboldened the Churches, who rally ever greater numbers of chromatic dragons. The pontiff Severin plans ever bolder attacks on cities and towns. The Churches have not as yet followed their raids with permanent occupation or governance, but their attacks have had profound effects on the governments and institutions of the Sword Coast.  Dragons make everything worse, with few exceptions. This is a list of some of the affected groups, and how their trajectory will look if the heroes do nothing.


Crest of Daggerford

Pwyll Greatshout, the Duke of Daggerford, was killed in a Church attack on his city. The town was largely ruined, the outer gates melted and much of the town guard and millitia killed.  Greatshout was known as a capable military commander with a diplomatic touch.  Daggerford couldn't muster very many soldiers itself, but was known to have an outsize role in politics within the Lord's Alliance as a result of Greatshout's leadership.  His daughter and heir, Thalia Greatshout, was rescued from a burning building by Faelyn, an elf bounty hunter.  She is only seven, but her survival indicates the possibility for uninterrupted succession in Daggerford as it rebuilds, an invaluable advantage the Churches were eager to snuff out.

The Dwarves of the North

Tomb planning is becoming more important for dwarves as part of their legacy

 The dwarves of Mithral Hall, Citadel Felbarr and Citadel Adbar speak with one voice, a result of centuries of intermarriage and cultural homogeneity.

Dwarven birthrates were always low, but in the current campaign time a child has not been born to a dwarf mother in 27 years.   Around 6 years ago, dwarf women started disappearing into the rocky tunnels and crypts below their citadels with no explanation.  Those who remain are confused, scared, and feel betrayed by the gods.   Dwarf society is turning inward, and this notion haunts them: we shall be the last dwarves.  The stonespeakers seem to have become isolationist in response to draconic threat and are loathe to leave their northern homelands.  They fortify their citadels but are unwilling to commit troops elsewhere.  Their conservative tenancies remind them each dwarven life is precious, and cannot be wasted. Other races of the North are used to looking to the dwarves for leadership, and have been surprised to find them absent.

Are the dwarves truly sterile?  Rumors of 'stonechildren,' naked dwarven teenagers who emerge from the rock itself have so far been unsubstantiated.


Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Mutation Spell and table

The following spell, Mutation, is a homebrew, made by me for my HOTDQ game.  The Cobalt Claw, one of the five churches of Tiamut that make up the dragon cult, researched this spell in order to spread their vision of a world of exotomps, half-breeds, hybrids and mutants.  To be selected to undergo this spell is considered a great honor, and is mandatory for those seeking the position of Bishop. Only one of my players is capable of casting this atm, so I might make it on the Bard spell list as well as the sorcerer/wizard list.  Our bard has some interest in body horror and inherited traits/bloodlines.

Your crew after casting this spell

Third level transmutation [ritual]

Casting Time: One Minute
Range: Touch
Components: V, S
Duration Instantaneous, Permanent

You touch a creature and force wild magic into their DNA structure, creating a permanent mutation.  If the creature is unwilling, they make a Constitution Save against your spell save DC. On a success, they are unaffected by the spell.  If they fail the save, or are willing, roll a d10 and consult the chart below.  The effects of this spell can be reversed only by a Greater Restoration or Wish spell.  
1. Night Eye  One of the target's eyes swells to enormous proportion, stretching their head with it.  Huge Pupil is always dilated.  The target has perfect darkvision if they didn't have it already, but only out of that eye.  They are at disadvantage in bright light unless they wear an eyepatch.  
2. Extra Arm: The Target grows an extra arm from their chest.  The arm is sickly and weak, but can hold a dagger or potion.  1 extra dagger attack when they take the attack action, if armor is properly equipped with a hole in it.       
3. No Face.  Where the target's face was, there is now blank, featureless skin.  No mouth, eyes or nose.  The Target begins to suffocate and is blind.  
4. Stolen Shadow.  The target no longer casts a shadow or has a reflection.  You (the caster) may cast the spell Simulacrum once in your life for free (no spells slots, still takes an action), using this creature as the chosen target.
5. Instant Facial Hair.  Roll a d4, (d4): handlebar 'stache, ZZ Top beard, Zappa soul patch, evil twin black goatee.  Regrows if cut, no other facial hair will grow. Gender neutral.
6.  Radar/Sonar  The target grows huge bat ears and has blindsight out to 60 feet.
7.  Aquatic: The target grows functioning gills on the side of their neck.  If they do not immerse in water every day, suffer one level of exhaustion. 
8.  Albinism
9. 360 Vision:  The Target grows extra eyes sprouting out of the back and sides of the head.  If a short hairstyle is worn, they can see all around them in 360 degrees.  +1 to initiative and cannot be surprised if in the normal sensory range.  
 10. Instant Horrible Death

This guy was gonna be the Cobalt Cult/Mutation guy, but then the party murdered him

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Back to Genesis: Spontaneous Generation

Originally my next post was going to be an analysis of the communities on the Sword Coast as they are changed by the rise in Draconic Power.  I still plan to do that next, but Josh's comment got me thinking about my philosophy of monsters (see the first comment on the previous post).  I want to get away from a human-centric view of monsters.  By that I mean: Monsters that are inherently understandable by humans, who have very similar needs, wants or even biologies.

An example is goblins.  Most of the time (almost every time when I run them) goblins are little vermin type creatures that live in little hovels or abandonded castles in the wilderness. They are ugly and dirty, and maybe unfriendly to the players, but their needs are understandable.  They want food, shelter, warmth and whatever baubles or trinkets they can get.  They're mammals, they might have women and children. This humanises them to the players, which can lead to interesting moral choices.  I've certainly run this many times, and I think it's a good way to play.  But right now I'm thinking a different direction might be what's needed.

Goblins form in caves from the wicked thoughts of men.  They live in shadows, do not eat or sleep or drink, and their only goal is to torment the virtuous.  They will go to any length to piss in a cleric's milk.  They don't have egos or a sense of self, and always refer to themselves in the plural.  If you catch one by the arm you can make it tell you three truths, this is the only time they tell the truth.  They steal and lie and make up cruel nicknames for the PCs, not because they are choosing to be evil, but because these things are as natural as breathing for them.

Why do I want to take things in this direction?  I think it makes the world stranger.  It gives monsters weird compulsions or rules they have to follow, because they are storybook creatures.  It turns up the contrast, eliminatings some shades of grey, which is what I want right now.  It takes things outside the realm of human knowledge, creatures are motivated by obscure and nonsensical ideas, which exist outside the players and will continue without them.

I'm trying to justify why I'm choosing #3, it's not just "Dragons are Evil," it's that they are alien.  They are motivated by their own desires and code of draconic conduct that does not include humans.  They almost never bother to think about humans, the way you rarely bother to think about cows.  You might eat a humburger or wear a leather jacket, but the desires and hopes of the cows are far from your mind. Who cares? 

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Capital Flight in HOTQD, or, "Are there Economists in your world?"

I'm reading Capital by Thomas Piketty.  A very interesting book, the main thrust of which seems to be that we shouldn't be too attached to the high growth rates seen in the 50s and 60s in the USA.  That was a very unusual situation where the very rich captured a very small percentage of growth, as opposed to now where more and more of the gains from economic growth are benefiting the very rich. It isn't unusual, in fact he argues that throughout modern capitalism (starting in the Industrial Revolution) this has been the norm.  Only the traumatic shift in society resulting from two world wars gave us the temporary position of shared prosperity.  Now we are getting back to normal.  

The IMF recently released a report that stated income distribution matters for growth.  "If the income share of the top 20% increases, then GDP growth actually declines over the medium term, suggesting that the benefits do not trickle down.  In contrast, an increase in the income share of the bottom 20% is associated with higher GDP growth"

Who cares?  This this supposed to be a DnD blog.  You're right, invisible interlocutor.  But I think about these things a lot while writing campaigns.  My Breland campaign (set in the Eberron world and about rebelling against an unjust king) was underwritten by the idea of a rising merchant class and local labor councils challenging the hereditary nobility.  Before the players saw any evidence of evil acts by the king, they saw a nationwide labor strike, and learned about the ruling class from the perspectives of farmers who let their fields lie fallow.  I still like the idea that my DnD worlds are set before the Adam Smith equivalent, aka before economics is really considered as an economic discipline, so that it doesn't devolve into a market game.  I still want room for valor and dragonslaying and weird stuff.  Where does that weird stuff come and go from?  A consideration of economics helps me decide. 


I'll be taking over DMing our Horde of the Dragon Queen campaign next week.  Dragons are really interesting from a market perspective.  Obviously they depress investment in the area by increasing uncertainty.  Why should I expand my farm?  I might just attract the notice of the dragon, which would take all I own and burn my lands.  So in areas with dragons there are two options.  

Firstly, the humanoids create a strong government focused on making sure property rights are protected.  An aggressive military, men at arms and knights directly controlled by a lord and focused on dragonslaying, or at least keeping it at bay.  Highly nationalistic and xenophobic, the way that societies get when they have an ever present external foe.  See Spain in the Wars of Reconquista against the Moors.  A citizen's council with unchecked power that gives the dragon a  beautiful maiden every month also fits the bill.  This society has a lot of taboos based on contraceptives, virginity and selfishness, so that they can breed enough people to lose an extra each month (or year, or day) and still grow. That or they have a huge slave underclass to assume the burden of tribute. See the tribal society from Princess Mononoke.  A rough and patriarchal lot for the women. A Merchant's cartel that essentially pays a dragon tax, either in the form of direct tribute, or in hiring adventurers.  These people would have no other taxes the very idea of paying tribute leaves a bad taste in their mouth.  See the USA right after the war of independence, essentially ruled by a weaker version of the articles of confederation.   So even a government that can fend off the worst effects of a dragon is worse for it, more likely to be repressive, brutal and controlling.  

The other option is: the dragon wins.  After the stronger societies chase off or repel the dragon, it settles somewhere the natives will have a harder time getting rid of it.  Swamplands or Arid Mountains that prevent the kind of population densities required to form an effective governance.  And so Dragons lurk on the edge of civilization, ruling with fear and callous disregard for their subjects.  But it's worse than that.  Dragons are capital sponges.  In addition to their presence destabilizing the region and the threat of them taking things outside the rule of law and mentioned before, they physically take all the capital in a region and bring it to their lair and sit on it.  They'll take gold, jewelry, deeds, bills of credit, wooden carven statuettes to represent wealth.  Any portable store of capital will be quickly snatched up by the dragon, making efficient economies impossible.  Societies living under dragon's rule tend to be more equitable and smaller, as each person can only lend what they can remember. A mutual web of obligation and trust binds the communities together into a simple form of communism.  It almost sounds nice, except when your child freezes to death because you can't afford a wool coat.  And then a dragon eats you. 

A Dragon doesn't care if it's gold, only that it is a store of value for others

With the rise of dragons beginning in the Horde of the Dragon Queen, the dragons that do exist are getting more active and dangerous.  The societies that are meant to counteract them are going to get more disdainful of civil liberties, more violent and hateful.  The people living under dragon's rule will get eaten at an unsustainable rate.  But many societies on the sword coast aren't used to dealing with such an outsize threat, like the societies of Western Europe in the 1400s, they've always had border nations (Hungary) to deal with the dragon threat (Ottomans).  How will these previously equitable societies deal with the new and resurgent draconic presence?  Next Post I'll take a look at some changes you'll expect to see in civil societies on the sword coast (they are not good changes). 

Friday, June 12, 2015

You Forgot Your Floaties

There are only two sources of magic, Madness and Sadness.  Any class can have any source or combination of sources.  Your source is more than your external emotions or actions.  A Magic User's source is the armature over which other feelings hang and take shape.


Merlin and the great druids are motivated by madness, a sense of destiny that they force onto a meaningless and random world.  They have looked into the void that lies at the heart of all things and denied it.  There must be more.  Their belief gives them power over the world, since the world is something they created to cover their fear.  How could they not control it?  But every time they cast, every time they summon some impossibility, they are reminded that below their facade is empty air over an eternal drop.

Harry saw the void under the stairs, and denied it


Magic Man and some of the great bards are motivated by sadness, an abiding knowledge that dogs them.  The world is nothing, a phantom.  They looked into the void, and their illusions and denials died on their lips.  Then, the cruelest part. They had to continue living their life. It's easy to forget, in the tumult of everyday, what they know. They might find companionship or distraction desperately, not sure what it is they're running from.  When they are alone, when the songs have been sung and everyone else in in bed, their knowledge is waiting for them.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

The Binding of Isaac

I'm feeling really off my DnD game.  Not very imaginative?  I talked with Ben about no longer being an artist, transitioning to science, and he mentioned that I wasn't as weird. Which was a positive for him, I had been thinking of myself as not being as interesting.  It's true that weird and interesting are not always the same, but I'm certainly feeling drained/not as ready to pick up and run with weird stuff.  Maybe I need to run a short adventure to get my legs back under me.

I've been playing and watching a lot of The Binding of Issac: Rebirth

It's a game that takes randomly generated dungeons and items and builds an interesting rouguelike.  It takes a lot from DnD, as well as many other sources.  I could build or make something based on that, certainly the randomly generated dungeon has its benefits.  What I really like about it though, is the strong committment to Body Horror and Filth and Sacrifice and Religion.  I'd like to make an adventure that wasn't afraid to deal with these the way I'd like to.   

Thursday, March 12, 2015

4 encounters you'll only get if you're a 90's kid.

Ok not really.

Actually as winter is wrapping up, I thought I'd list some encounter ideas on that theme, before it's too late.

Next time your party is wandering through the Forbidden Ice Crags and the druid/ranger keeps asking if you're in the woods because their favored terrain is the woods but you've told them like a million times that you're on the tundra but then you describe some stunted trees in your flavor text and they decide that's basically a woods so they should get bonuses, they might be ready for one of these.

dammit olaf get the hell out of here

Roll 1d4, or 2d4 and they're fighting each other when you arrive
1.  Barbarians on dogsleds.  The barbarians are armed with obviously stolen lances, and all the adventurers are slowed due to the heavy snow unless they're on dog sled or wearing snowshoes or whatever. The sled gets slower for each dog they kill, until the barbarians just jump out and release the hounds (1 action) once they're pretty slowed.  The sled dogs fight as wolves, which actually makes these enemies MORE dangerous as they get hurt, which is great.
2. Avalanche Elemental While you're heading up a mountain or slope, your party gets slammed by an avalanche. Pretty bad, but hopefully you can dig everyone out and look for shelter.  Then you notice that the snow is heading back up the mountain.  Right above you. Uh oh.  Show your players a clear gradient on a battle map or i guess just describe it, the avalanche elementals can only attack people that are down slope from them.  They pack a wallop but move slowly, and sometimes have to spend a few turns positioning.  Your players should be terrified of getting caught.      
3. Mountaineer Zombies.  These zombies rise up out of the snow, dressed in anachronistic mountaineering clothing, hair all falling out and skin black with frostbite.  They look kind of like these guys
They're all tied together still and are obviously located right near some sharp crags and drops with scary rocks at the bottom.  If you push them off, watch out you don't get caught by the ropes.  Although they don't seem to want to fight at first, they just seem desperate for the PCs to set up camp and a fire.  Wait are we sure these guys are zombies? (some are though, and remember they're all tied together)
 4. Gnomish ??? and Goblins.  Some sort of old gnomish machine lies abandoned in the snow.  2d10+3 goblins are crawling all over it, ripping it apart, putting it back together (kind of) and loudly arguing.  The goblins look ridiculous with thick coats and big furry hats.  They'll aggressively defend their find, and they've got it working again.  Well, they've got the flamethrower part working.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Druid Magic

All of this is true, more or less.

Druid magic is not like other magic.  It's more than just wild and strange, because all magic is wild and strange.  Druid magic happens because you are blessed.  Blessed by what?

By these guys


Druids are the favorites of a culture of spirits.  Little sprites who live in old birdhouses, kind brownies who clean your hearth unseen.  Big Kami who relax in bathrobes with big Japanese letters, even though your game is set in quasi-Europe.  All of these creatures look like they just walked out of a Miyazaki movie.  They vary greatly in power, but for some reason they all view the druid as a special flower.  Like your favorite aunt or uncle who always gave you gifts, or your literal fairy godmother.

If you're not deathly afraid of this chick, you don't understand druids at all.

Druid magic is the most dangerous because it happens by wanting.  These spirits don't grant you power from afar, like a god does.  The spirits are there with the druid, they crowd around him/her/them, they come out of their hidey holes and spas and follow the druid in crowds of thousands.  People can't see them because they are stupid humans.  When a druid "casts a spell," it's more like they just want something to happen, and the kami see this and just all go do it.  They don't have infinite power, which is why druids can only do certain things, and they won't expend too much energy, which is why the druid can only cast so many times/day.

There are hundreds of these guys around your druid all times. They never help. 

As druids grow in power, they attract more kami followers, and can even start to see them out of the corner of their eye.  By the time they are archdruids, they can see the spirits everywhere.  Every single thing is anthropomorphized, like Howl's Moving Castle turned up to 11.  This is why druids care so much about stuff that normal people ignore, like trees and rocks.  To the druid, these trees and rocks have big cartoon googly eyes, plus personalities, hopes and dreams.  This is also why most archdruids are completely mad.    

Literal big cartoon googly eyes on EVERYTHING
So the next time a druid gives you an earful for skipping a stone in his/her/their lake, imagine how you would feel if someone picked up your friends and threw them in the water.

Also, the druid has a dozen of these huge shaggy guys at all times.  You can't see them, but they can sure see you.