Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Locations in the Southern Reaches - Theory, Part 1

A discussion explaining the background and my thinking on locations in my Southern Reaches campaign.

The Iron Hills
The Iron Keep
In a West Marches-style game, town is just the place where the PCs return to after each outing and where the map is. So when I started this, it was just “the Keep” on a hilly peninsula with an unnamed tavern in it. Near the end of the first session, with the players really understanding what the campaign is about (and after I had reminded them about the 40% markup on purchasing goods), one of the players suggested that the keep be a company town based on iron mines, allowing adventurers to work in the mines between outings for basically room and board.

I liked this idea. It explained why there was this outpost on the fringe of a continent and why there was not a push to expand the domain – the duke was solely interested in the profit from the mines and not spending money beyond that. It also suggested a name for the hills, the Iron Hills, which had no name up until then and did the same for the Keep, now the Iron Keep. It did have the downside of creating the “Iron Duke”, but that will do until I actually need to give him a name. The PCs will not be significant enough for him to notice until they reach 5th level or so or bring back a truly noteworthy haul.

As to Spider’s Bar, I had a list of random tavern names that I was going to use in my 4E game. As that game went back on the shelf until I find players for it, I saw no reason not to borrow from it for this game. “The Spider’s Bar” fit for several reasons, none of which I’m going to explore right now, but suffice to say, I have plans here. Naming the owner Spider was almost a no-brainer, but giving it some thought, I realized I needed him to be an elf. That would give him the lifespan necessary to have been active the last time adventurers were active here. He might even be one of them, now retired.

(Side note: I discovered that the players were not reading this site when Spider came up in conversation on FaceBook and they had no idea who he was. Live and learn.)

The Table-Map is an idea borrowed from the West Marches campaign and a darn useful tool, both in game and out. In game it provides a loose tie between the adventurers and a central repository for knowledge of the area. Out of game, allowing the players to mark up the hard copy with their own notes gives them a sense of investment in the campaign, plus a form of bragging rights and story-telling. The buy-in is well worth the effort of creating the map.

I lifted the name of this forest from Gabe at Penny Arcade (scroll down to find the photos). It is a wood, on the edge of the known area of the map. Edge + wood = Edgewood. Ta-da!

I did decide that this forest would have the more natural monsters for this terrain type. I put tigers as apex predators here and owlbears across the (unnamed) river in Eastern Edgewood for flavor difference. Considering decisions I’ve made about the Three Peaks Hills and the Tower of Raan (yes, I’m being cryptic), I think I should have reversed that. I’d do it now except the PCs were actually attacked by a tiger as a random encounter, establishing them in this part of the forest. I may jettison the owlbears for this forest and put them in a different one. In fact, that seems much more likely.

Drop-Off Tower
I wanted a tower in the forest as the first adventure location. I decided that this was the location that the previous adventuring group used to stash things when they were not ready to return to town. This made it a forward supply depot and loot stash for longer outings. It also made it something that would be specifically mentioned in a journal years later. A journal Agnes became privy to at some point and “borrowed” the relevant page, starting off this round of adventurers.

Having cleared out the above ground levels and rigged up new doors to keep the vermin out, the PCs have a sense that this is now theirs, which is cool. At some point I imagine they too will start stashing supplies here to support their longer excursions into the wilderness. Perhaps once they get a feeling for how large Under DOT is...

[More Next Week!]

Monday, April 26, 2010

Return to Under Drop-Off Tower

This session happened Friday, April 23, 2010.

Adventuring Group:
  • Armok Cursegazed (died)
  • Zog Ironskin (died)
  • Mog the Doomed (half-orc barbarian)
  • Sal Ty (elven wizard)
  • Agnes Sunbeard (dwarven rogue)
  • Tycho von Helmont (elven alchemist)
Gathering up some additional companions (for safety's sake), Agnes and Tycho headed back to Drop-Off Tower. After two hours travel on the trail to Edgewood, just inside the forest the group stumbled upon a giant scorpion at the woodcutter's camp. Literally. It caught Armok completely by surprise, killed him quickly, and attempted to drag off his remains for a meal. The rest of the party kept up the attacks with long bows, killing the creature before it could disappear into the woods with Armok's body. They buried Armok on site (after removing the two potions he was carrying and his armor) and headed back to the Iron Keep to see if they could find a replacement. In town they brought in Zog Ironskin, a very similar half-orc, but one whose name sounded more propitious.

The four adventurers headed out the next morning, trying a different route to their goal, marching past the grave of Jericho on the coast and then cutting into the forest. They made camp when the sun set and set watches. On Zog's watch, a tiger attacked, nearly dragging away Zog before the others had a chance to be awakened. By the time all of the sleeping adventurers were awake, Zog was dead with the tiger nearly untouched. The adventurer's grabbed Zog's pack and fled. [They used a resolve token to escape – the players have taken to saving one or two tokens at the end of a day for just such an occurrence.]

Somewhat demoralized, the adventurers returned to the Iron Keep again (Agnes refusing to enter Under Drop-Off Tower without at least four adventurers in the group). This time they hired Mog the Doomed (whose name they didn't even ask for until much later). They headed back out in the morning. After a little more than a day of traveling through the Edgewood (they got a little lost), the group arrived at Drop-Off Tower. Pleasantly, they found the doors they put up still in place and the interior clear of vermin.

Prying the barricade off the stairs down, the group entered Under DOT. [Yes, I'm getting tired of typing that out the long way.] Sal was able to identify the purple fungus as violet fungus, which can be dangerous if/when it grows stalks. The group chose to follow the mostly clear hallways to the northeast. Forcing open a fungus-covered door they previously ignored, they found a room clear of the fungus containing a clear, clean spring. They carefully removed any fungus that might have entered the room when they opened the door and resealed the room.

At the statue room, the adventurers investigated west, into the fungus covered area. They found another side room that was clear of the fungus, but with little of interest in it. Sal spots violet fungus stalks at the dim edge of their vision ahead and shot a lit arrow ahead to illuminate the area. The group spends time shooting all the stalks until they are no longer active. Investigating further, they found an alcove that is magically clear of the fungus. In the alcove is a statue of an elven woman wearing armor and holding a sword in her hand. There is a placard identifying the woman (in Old Elven, which only Sal was able to read) as Ilazki of the Cloud Forest. The sword and an amulet she was wearing were clearly separate items and detected as magic!

Sal removed the amulet and sword, breaking a finger off the statue while removing the sword. The group retreated to the Water Room to rest and let Sal re-memorize his spells. [Agnes and Tycho also level-up at this point.] The next morning, Sal returned to the statue and re-attached the finger with a mend spell. He then returned to the Water Room and cast identify on the sword and amulet, learning their properties. [The sword is a +1 long sword, the amulet an amulet of natural armor +1.]

Not wanting to go any deeper into the fungus covered area, the group headed north from the statue room. They found another large room mostly covered with fungus, which two rust monsters were eating on. Sensing a preferred food source, the rust monsters moved towards the adventurers. Quickly thinking, Mog pulled out his iron spikes and threw them in front of the rust monsters, distracting them. The rest of the party followed suite and retreated while the rust monsters went after the tasty, tasty iron.

Feeling that they were beginning to push their luck, the party decided to return to the Keep. Sealing up the stairs again, they left Drop-Off Tower. In addition to getting VERY lost in the forest, they shot down a giant stag beetle during the day and fended off a dire boar during the night. The next day they finally found their way out of the forest, appearing on the coast, and followed the edge of the forest west.

Just as the adventurers were rounding the western end of the forest, they spotted a flight of cockatrices. [Yes, a flight of eight cockatrices.] They wisely avoided them by cutting through the edge of the Edgewood [another resolve token spent]. They camped one last time on the plains between the Edgewood and the Iron Hills before making it back to town and splitting the loot.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Locations in the Southern Reaches

Doubly late, but out none-the-less.

This is the first listing of locations in my Southern Reaches campaign. This listing will be a bit sparse in location description for areas the players have yet to visit. As PCs go to places on the map, I'll flesh out the descriptions here as well as on the Obsidian Portal site.

Friday will be the first running of a new group of characters, if not all new players (Jericho's player will be introducing a new character). As a result, they will not know about the dungeons under Drop-Off Tower. I believe they will be exploring the Ruins...

The Iron Hills
Rusty-red from the iron in them, some of the largest deposits of iron were found in these hills and not much else. As a result, while money can be made here, it's not as lucrative as one might expect. The Iron Duke has title to the hills and the mines and makes a modest profit from the ore. Almost everyone living in the vicinity works at one of the several iron mines currently active in the hills. Iron from the mines is roughly smelted into 100 lb ingots for shipment across the sea and further purification.

The Iron Keep
Home to the Iron Duke and everyone working the iron mines. The Iron Keep is very much a Company Store, with a 40% markup in the cost of all goods. Twice a month ships sail from the port with semi-smelted iron pigs as the cargo. Ships carrying goods manufactured across the sea arrive during the off weeks and are reloaded with the iron pigs.

There is one inn in the keep that servers only adventurers: Spider’s Bar, owned and run by an elf named Spider. One of the tables in the common room has a rough map of the area carved into it. This map is periodically updated by returning adventurers.

A moderately sized forest to the east the Iron Keep. There are several dangerous animals in the forest and several kinds of giant insects. Giant ants, stag beetles, and scorpions have all been reported, along with assassin vines. Drop-Off Tower is located inside Edgewood at the head of the Old Road. Other things might hide or lurk in the woods.

Drop-Off Tower
Labeled "Drop-Off Tower (Treasure)" on the table-map in Spider's Bar, this somewhat ruined tower is the only landmark labeled in the Edgewood. It is known that the upper three and a half floors have been investigated and cleared recently. There is a new notation on the table-map indicating the tower "needs to be dug out".

The Ruins
On the table-map, out on the plains, in a small grouping of hills about a day and a half southwest of the Iron Keep, is the notation "Ruins".

The Cave
On the table-map, out on the plains, in a small grouping of hills two days south-southeast of the Iron Keep, is the map symbol indicating a cave.

Old Stones
On the table-map, out on the plains, about two days southwest of the Iron Keep, is a drawing of some standing stones, labeled "Old Stones".

3 peaks
On the table-map, in the hills south of the Edgewood, about two days east-southeast of the Iron Keep, are drawn three mountains, nearly on top of each other, labeled "3 Peaks".

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Today's posting will be delayed until tomorrow as I switch campaign gears. It will be the first set of location descriptions for my Southern Reaches campaign.

My apologies for the delay and see you tomorrow.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Campaign Switch: Bugbears for the Southern Reaches

Due to a lack of players for D&D 4E, I've shut down the Here Be Bugbears campaign. Really, it's as simple as that. Shame really, I liked running 4E.

At the same time, as I stated previously, I've started running a test in the Pathfinder RPG for a West Reaches campaign, which I am calling The Southern Reaches. I ran my test game back on the April 10 and the players were interested in continuing. I would have run it last Friday, but a 20-year high in pollen counts smacked down two of my players, so it was no go. No problem, gave me an evening to do some work on the campaign.

Saturday was supposed to be a meet-and-greet with some potential players for my Champions game. Didn't turn out that way for several reasons, but I did have enough players to run Southern Reaches again, and I did. We had our first PC death, just shy of second level. Lesson Learned: don't jump into the middle of a room of six morlocks (I'll go into details below).

I've also purchased an Ascended membership on Obsidian Portal for two reasons: able to set up more than two campaigns and access to forum creation. Communication between players is crucial for a West Reaches style game, both for keeping up player interest and the sharing of information. This last part is important as I'll run for whoever can organize a session and state where they want to explore, which means not everyone will be in every session and information could get lost or never learned. The unlimited number of campaigns means I can actually add the Southern Reaches as a separate campaign without deleting any of my other campaigns. Link is above and here.

So let's get to some adventure logs for the first two sessions.

Session 1: Following the Journal
The Adventurers:
Jericho Bladeraven – human fighter
Rupret Martynsson – human fighter
Agnes Sunbeard – dwarven rogue
Tycho von Helmont – elven alchemist
Su Bel – human cleric of Sarenae

The Adventure Log:
The adventurers arrived at the Iron Keep, home to the Iron Duke, whose lands comprise the Iron Hills, which contain the largest known deposits of iron. The adventurers were following text Agnes had found in an old journal indicating the existence of a tower deep in the Edgewood, a forest near to the Iron Keep. This tower was used as a depot for treasure and goods by an adventuring company three decades ago and might still contain treasure.

The adventurers made their way to The Spider's Bar (owned by a guy named Spider), the only place in the keep that serves adventurers instead of miners, and set up quarters there. In the common room, off to one side, they found a table with a map of the immediate area carved into the top. It indicated the location of a tower in the Edgewood with the notation "Drop-Off Tower (Treasure)". This greatly encouraged the adventurers as it matched up with the journal page and they made rough copies of the map for themselves.

The next day, the adventurers headed east, following the band of plains between the Edgewood and the sea. After a day of travel, they made camp on the edge of the forest at the point where they were planning on entering the forest. Near the end of Rupret's watch they were attacked by a giant stag beetle that wandered out of the forest. They manage to kill the beetle, but only after it nearly kills Jericho, trying to escape with his unconscious form. The next day the adventurers made their way through the forest, finding the tower they were searching for shortly after Noon.

The adventurers carefully searched the tower, and quite rightly. The first floor of the tower was home to a giant scorpion, which greatly wounded Agnes and nearly killed Jericho before the adventurers killed it. The second floor contained eight skeletons, apparently acting as guardians for the treasure on the next floor. Su Bel was able to quickly destroy the skeletons by channeling the divine power of Sarenae. Four locked and trapped chests were found in closets on the third floor. Agnes was able to disable two of them and avoid getting killed by the other two. In the chests were gold, an arcane spell book, healing potions, and some minor supplies. The fourth floor was open to the sky, water-damaged, and home to a lone gray ooze.

Having explored all of the floors above ground, and the stairs down being choked with rubble, the adventurers decided to head back to Iron Keep. Deciding to cut through the forest on the return trip, they ran afoul of an assassin vine and got slightly lost. They eventually made it back to the keep and split up the treasure amongst themselves, feeling well accomplished and with thoughts to return to the tower with digging equipment.

Session 2: Going Under Drop-Off Tower
The Adventurers:
Jericho Bladeraven – human fighter
Agnes Sunbeard – dwarven rogue
Tycho von Helmont – elven alchemist

The Adventure Log:
Tycho, having finally looked through the spell book, found three interesting margin notes:
  • "We first thought our tower was the Tower of Raan, but it is in the wrong place. Need to search the hills to the south."
  • "Still have not cracked the secret of the Illustrated Obelisk. Need to return to the Old Rocks for additional rubbings."
  • "I think the Caves ultimately lead to the Labyrinth of Qual. If so, will need to find a 'feathered key' to enter safely."

After purchasing digging equipment, Jericho, Agnes, and Tycho headed back out to Drop-Off Tower. They traveled through the forest for a full day (getting lost twice), arriving at the Old Road, where they made camp. The next day (after accidentally starting out the wrong way) the trio arrived back at the tower, finding some giant ants eating on the decayed remains of the scorpion.

Agnes suggested they take some of the doors up on the third floor down and install them at the entrance to keep at least the vermin out of the tower. Tycho and Jericho agreed and the three moved the doors. They spent the rest of the day cleaning out the debris in the stairs leading down under the tower, clearing the debris and reaching an open stretch by sundown. Rather than explore further immediately, the trio camped for the night, using spare doors to barricade the stairwell.

The next morning, the trio went down the stairs to explore. They found hallways covered in a strange purple fungus and some not so much. Being suspicious of the fungus, they followed the less covered hallways. At a crossroads, they found the edge of the fungus area, blocked off by a portcullis. Agnes and Jericho were able to force the portcullis open and the trio explored the "new" area.

Moving through some doors, the trio found what was obviously an ad hoc latrine (and smelled it). Tycho poked around in the feces, finding nothing of use. He did observe some foot prints that he was able to identify as morlocks foot prints – a nasty subterranean race. This was confirmed when checking beyond a secret door across the hall, beyond which were six very surprised morlocks.

Jericho waded in amongst the morlocks while Tycho threw in some bombs. Once the morlocks had recovered from their surprise, they crowded all in around Jericho and ripped him to shreds, dropping him quickly. Agnes pulled Jericho from the room into the hall (where he died) and Tycho slammed the door shut. Quickly searching Jericho's body for something useful, she found some tanglefoot bags and used them to temporarily seal the door. She and Tycho then packed Jericho's body back to the surface (to keep it from becoming food for the morlocks), barricading the stairwell.

They hiked north to the edge of the forest and buried Jericho's body with a view of the sea (but not his armor and gear). The next day they marched back to Iron Keep, arriving somewhat bedraggled and tired.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Introducing the World - Part 2 - Theory

Here is the theory and thoughts behind locations mentioned in last week's Introducing the World – Part 2.

Barony of the Mead
The name for this fiefdom was taken verbatim from a random generator as too good to pass up. Putting some thought into the name, I decided that, clearly, this is where most of the alcohol for Goldland Crossing would come from, which tells me what it needs to contain and look like. It must have at least one source of clean, pure water, bees (either local or imported from the Old World), and room to grow the necessary grains, herbs, and spices. With that kind of fertile soil, it would also likely grow vegetables and grains that can be consumed for food in quantity, making it the bread basket for the colony. Which, by the way, would provide not inconsequential political power for the Brewer's Guild.

Originally, I just noted that the Barony of the mead was adjacent to Goldland Crossing. My co-DM, when we were discussing the dwarven Fief of the Badger (which will appear later on this blog) suggested that the dwarves had diverted a river to get at some gold. I liked the idea. Looking at the rough map and where the Low Mountains were, I could see where a river SHOULD run, down to the Province of the Seven Unholy Ships (a haunted bay which, again, will be discussed later). Now if I assumed that river was diverted, it would now run east of the woods (haven't named these yet) instead of through them and dump into Otter's Bay. I was going to call it the New River, but quickly realized that was lame and the locals would attribute it to the dwarves and it became the Flathead River. The point where it flows over the cliff into Otter's Bay became Flathead Falls. Having a river right next to Goldland Crossing dictated exactly where the Barony of the Mead would go.

Now the Flathead River will be fairly muddy and full of silt. This will make it good for farming, but not distilling, so some additional streams were called for. I added those to the map and some hills for them to naturally flow out of. These became the Small Hills (because there are larger ones to southeast and southwest, across the plains).

As my co-DM pointed out, there was adventure opportunity here. Suddenly either the Flathead goes dry or the streams from the Small Hills go cloudy. Baron Mead needs adventurers to find the problem and fix it. Quickly. Did the Flathead get diverted again? Is there a problem at the dwarven dam and the river is no longer diverted? What under the Small Hills could be affecting the clarity of the streams?

Smoky Hands Barony
I played around with the name of this fiefdom, rearranging the word order and shortening it. I liked the image "smoky hands" invokes. It brought to mind the ancient profession of charcoal makers, whose hands would be smudged and smell of smoke.

Now in order for them to help the colony early on, they had to have a nearby source of timber to convert to charcoal. I had placed a forest to the southwest of Goldland Crossing, but had scripted it to be the Barony of the 50 Lances, which had only recently been claimed from humanoids. Clearly that wouldn't work. There is another, significant, forest east of Goldland Crossing, but it was going to be at least two days travel from the city, making it too far away. What to do?

Looking at the wind patterns the map implied (forests backed by hills and mountains to the south), I decided to add a small forest north of the Small Hills, along the coast, stretching from Otter's Bay to the river delta two day's travel east. Clearly the Small Hills cause some rainfall, so ecologically this worked. Plus, it put the Smoky Hands Barony close to Goldland Crossing, making it defensible early on. Done and done.

There should be the possibility of some politics later on between this barony and 50 Lances, which could sweep up the PCs once they get closer to Paragon Level. Maybe some monster hunting before then. It has adventure opportunities.

Royal Archer Country
This came out of the generator as "Tiny Royal Archer Country", which is very descriptive and invokes a small fief with a direct tie to a king. I dropped the "tiny" and decided this fiefdom was a retirement grant from the king to a loyal vassal. It needed to be relatively close as it would not have a large population of defenders in case of humanoid attack and needed a good view (because archers want clear lines of fire). As I had just created the Small Hills, I decided to place this fief along the southwestern edge, with a view across the plains south and southwest, making it an early warning point of invasion for Goldland Crossing.

Empty God Fief
How could I not use "Empty God's Fief"? I had a vision of an enormous statue that was hollow and now served as a place of safety with an interior wooden superstructure cobbled together by the inhabitants. I dropped the apostrophe as I'm not certain what kind of deity would be known as the Empty God and wasn't certain I wanted to. I originally placed this fief farther west on the map, actually drawing the partially buried, barrel-chested statue on the map, but once I placed the Candlestick Marches and Five Castles (which is hostile), I realized I needed to move the Empty God east, behind the defensive line that is the Candlestick Marches.

This should be an odd place for the PCs to stay on their way elsewhere. I might throw in something like a mysterious killer hiding in the dark wooden superstructure of the interior. A creepy and claustrophobic single-session adventure.

The Candlestick Marches
Ever seen a windmill park? Super tall towers with ginormous propellers turning at a speed that looks unnatural for something that large? Now melt off the generator part where the blades attach like they massively overheated and exploded or melted to slag. That's what the Candlestick Marches looks like, spread across a 60-mile, north-to-south stretch of plains from Otter's Bay to 50 Lances Wood (I may have just named those woods, right here). Were they windmills? Was it an electric fence to keep out giants? Was it a magical E.L.F. generator/array for communicating with one or more of the moons OR THINGS BEYOND SPACE AND TIME? Who knows – definitely none of the characters running around now.

This is an atmospheric location, reinforcing the campaign feeling that once great things were done here, but something went terribly wrong.

Five Castles
Originally "County of the Five Castles", I shortened it down to Five Castles as "county" implies more organization than exists. Goldland Crossing was now not the only set of castle ruins in the general area. I'm thinking that there will be bugbears, gnolls, and orcs here, fighting amongst themselves for control of the castles, but I haven't settled on anything yet. One of the castles might be on the bay and have skum (read: deep ones) secretly running it.

Normally the humanoids would more or less ignore Goldland Crossing (except for slaving runs or a need for politically safe raiding) and continue their own version of the cold war, but with 50 Lances Wood being cleared out, those refugees had to go somewhere, right? Now I see the refugees disrupting the balance in Five Castles in two different ways. First, they are going to be a new power bloc, possibly allying with one of the existing blocs and tipping the precarious balance that has existed here. Second, they are direct evidence that the colony at Goldland Crossing is expanding and this may convince the humanoids to set aside their differences and deal with these interlopers once and for all.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Thinking about Things Western Marches

Portions of this are cut-and-pasted from my other blog, Imperial Dispatches. I'm duplicating it here and then adding, as this is where I'm talking about things OSR-related.

If you read the April 9 post, I talk about possibly making it a Western Marches style game. I had a chance to try that out last Saturday with my Champions group using the Pathfinder RPG and have some more data points to consider.
  1. My 4E world, dangerous frontier though it is, is actually too settled to make this work the way it is supposed to. There is supposed to be ONE safe point (the town/city) and everything else is supposed to be wilderness with no really safe places to end a session but the town/city.
  2. The only adventurers are supposed to be the PCs - no NPC adventurers at all. Goldland Crossing is mostly populated with adventurers (active or failed), which is the direct opposite.
Now I can see an easy way to work around Point 1 - just adjust the scale, drop a few fiefs from the map, and go from their. But I like the world the way it is, really and Point 2 is the really killer. There is just no way for the PCs to be the only adventurers with the campaign background. Plus, I'm planning on setting up a competing adventuring group as frienemies. (Shh! Don't tell them.) So what I'm really saying is: my Goldland Crossing Campaign will not become a pure Western Reaches-style campaign, but I may borrow elements from it.

By the way, the player of the eponymous bugbear has dropped out of the group for personal (drama) reasons, so I've changed the name of the campaign Goldland Crossing Campaign from Here Be Bugbears. Le sigh.

Southern Reaches
So Saturday (April 10), I ran a Western Marches style game in the Pathfinder RPG, which I call my Southern Reaches campaign. I also included the Resolve Points system discussed by Penny Arcade (scroll down to Gabe's post). The resolve tokens do a good job of illustrating how far the PCs can travel in a day without invoking any cumbersome math to slow things down: move a hex=spend a token, run away=spend another token. I plan on querying the PA guys for details on what else they envisioned. If they answer, I'll share it here.

Putting a token on the map showing where the PCs are (or think they are) and making them move it does a good job of focusing their attention on where they're going and making decisions rather than passively waiting for the DM to tell them when they arrive at an encounter. Did I mention I drew out the table-map on a 2 ftx3 ft vinyl battlemap? I did. Made several things easier:
  1. All the players could clearly see the map.
  2. I could write cryptic descriptors in several places, big enough to be read.
  3. The players could annotate the map as well (which they did).
  4. Easy to keep track of while still being portable.
I also did something I haven't done in ages - rolled for random encounters. I created location-specific encounter tables to provide a feel for each area. Right now I have one for the Edgewood (BTW, Thank you to Gabe of PA for putting that on his map - I stole it.) and a different one for the plains. I still need to make one for the (unnamed) hills south of Edgewood, the area around 3 Peaks, and the Spiderwood (in case the players go there - it will have many giant spiders and spider-based monsters). There are two small clusters of hills on the map and I haven't decided if I want specific encounter tables for them, but I'm fairly certain I will create them - I know whats there.

(Ah! I just remembered to add cross-region entries to the encounter tables. Need to do that today while I'm thinking about it. In fact...done!)

My next step is to create a forum of some sort for players to log onto and plan future expeditions. I need to add some cryptic remarks in the spellbook they found (hinting at other adventure locales) and post a copy of the map they can clearly see online to whet their appetite. Part of the point is to get the players to decide where they want their characters to explore ahead of time so I know what to have ready and to keep them thinking about the game, increasing their buy-in and excitement. Plus, I can recruit new players and point them there to join in the discussions. I'm thinking of either getting an Ascended membership on Obsidian Portal, which allows me to set up forums for each campaign, or setting up something through Google Wave, which I have an account with but haven't had a reason to use. While Google Wave is free, Obsidian Portal has a built in wiki, which is very handy for preserving information about a campaign.

Then there is the issue of time. Right now I run the following:
  1. A monthly Hero System game on the 2nd Saturday of each month (either Champions, Fantasy Hero [no OP site yet due to hiatus], or Pulp Hero)
  2. A monthly Pathfinder game on the 4th Saturday of each month (Naze Valley Rangers)
  3. A weekly D&D 4E game on Fridays (theoretically - see other posts on this blog)
I also play in D&D Encounters on Wednesdays from 6:00-8:00 PM.

The question is "Do I have to drop one (or more) of these to fit in my Southern Reaches game and still stay married?"

Friday, April 9, 2010

No Game Today

Due to no positive RSVPs, my 4E game will not run this evening. We'll try again next week.

In the meantime, I've run across the Western Marches as a campaign style and I am very intrigued by it. It is very similar to what I was envisioning, but even more so. I going to give some thought to making that the implicit definition of the game, with the exception of game scheduling. My schedule as DM is limited, but I can set a specified time and run for whoever shows up. While I can do it, I can see 4E combat being time critical to making this work.

This bears some serious thinking about.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Introducing the World - Part 2

These are things I and my co-DM have developed for Bugbears for Breakfast and done some detail work on. More will follow.

Barony of the Mead
Across the Flathead River from Goldland Crossing, nestled up to the western edge of the Small Hills, is the Barony of the Mead. This fiefdom was granted to the Brewers' Guild, with the Guild Leader also being the Baron Mead. The barony consists of very fertile soil with several clear streams running through it, making it ideal for raising the crops necessary for brewing and distilling various forms of alcohol. In addition to grains, hops, and several other crops vital to the guild, the barony also raises food crops, making it the primary source for wheat and other vegetables for Goldland Crossing.

The coat of arms for this barony features a steel beer stein flanked by sheaves of grain on a green background.

Smoky Hands Barony
North of the Small Hills, along the coast of the Southern sea, lies a small forest, some 30 miles in length, which comprises the Smoky Hands Barony. This fiefdom was granted to a charcoal burner whose talents were critical in the establishment of Goldland Crossing. This barony still supplies the majority of cooking charcoal for Goldland Crossing, although the Barony of the 50 Lances is starting to cut into this business.

The coat of arms for this barony features two black hands on a field of white with a black, crenulated border.

Royal Archer Country
In the southwest edge of the Small Hills is the small fiefdom of Royal Archer Country. This fiefdom was granted to Harald Arrowstorm, once a military commander in the Old World, as a retirement benefit. Harald has established a small fortified manor house at the top of a hill and is in the process of building a wall around it. Harald has granted smaller portions of land to old comrade at arms from his time in the military, providing a core of disciplined fighting men to defend the fiefdom.

The coat of arms for this fiefdom is a silver cloud raining three arrows, on a field of blue.

Empty God Fief
Approximately 20 miles south of Goldland Crossing is the Empty God Fief. This fiefdom consists of an immense, partially buried, hollow statue and the lands immediately around it. The statue is buried to its waist, with its hands submerged in the dirt. The features are very weathered, making it all but impossible to identify anything but the race of the statue (human, probably). The original claimants accidentally discovered the statue was hollow when fighing some raiding humanoids and a mis-placed lightning bolt breeched the exterior. After winning the fight, they explored the interior and determined that there was plenty of space inside to build structures. They built wooden support structures inside the statue to provide living and storage space and applied for a fiefdom. Needing a strong defense point south of the city at that time, the Gate Guild recommended the fiefdom be granted and it was.

The coat of arms for this fiefdom is a white, half-buried human figure on a field of green.

The Candlestick Marches
Stretching south from the southwestern corner of Otter's Bay to the edge of the Muddy Woods, lie a series of tall, metallic structures. What ever purpose they once server is lost, along with the burned and melted tops of the towers. About half of the 30 structures are inhabited at this time, spread evenly along the length of the march. Those living in the towers are required to maintain a signal fire and heliograph to warn Goldland Crossing of any humanoid forces marching east from Five Castles.

The towers themselves are made of an unknown metal and are very resilient to damage and corrosion. The interior of each is able to hold 15 to 20 individuals. The populace includes farmers, retired military people, and an unusual number of spellcasters of various stripes. The current Warden of the Marches is Slean Lodinson, a retired military commander from the Old World.

Five Castles
Five Castles is an area over 40 miles west of Goldland Crossing, containing five ancient castles that are controlled (more or less) by various humanoid tribes. These tribes fight amongst themselves for sole control of the various castles and periodically send raids to Goldland Crossing for slaves and loot. The Gate Guild is concerned that if any one faction finally gains complete control over Five Castles, they will march east and attack Goldland Crossing in force.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Adventure Log – Session 1 – Setting Up Shop

Apologies for this being late - wedding anniversary and Easter on the same weekend really killed my writing time. Should not be an issue after this.

Dramatis Personae
Tor, Chosen of Kord – Male Halfling warlord
Mahest Dahl – Female Half-elven warlock (star pact)
Hanea – Female Bugbear warden
Cinder – Female Tiefling rogue

Having recently arrived in Goldland Crossing via the Moon Gate, the adventuring group known simply as "Here Be Bugbears" checked in at the Gate Guild offices. The adventurers were told to look around the Upper Docks area for an unclaimed building to claim as their own. Scouting around off the main thoroughfares, the group found a four-story building that seemed to meet their needs: there was a basement (per Hanea's request), the remaining tower provided a view of the stars (per Mahest's request), and there were rooms which did not leak (per everyone else's requests).

(DM's description of the building: "There is a set of stairs leading up to the first floor and a single tower (out of two) still standing. There appears to be a basement. From the outside, the first floor appears to be solid, the second floor looks like it is lightly damaged, the third floor is missing walls and floors, while the fourth floor is more suggested rather than actually present.")

Scouting out the interior of the building, the group immediately split up (yeah, rookie move). Mahest went up the stairs in the remaining tower to see if any of the interior floors were still good. She found all the wood-work ruined or burned, but the stone-work appeared to be solid. Cinder started investigating the rooms on the first floor while Hanea went down into the basement. Tor hung around in the main entry hall "just in case".

In one of the semi-isolated rooms on the first floor, Cinder found the remains of an old fight in the form of a multitude of dead bodies. As she started poking around, the bodies reanimated as two zombies and six decrepit skeletons. At exactly the same time, Hanea discovered a rat's nest in the basement and was attacked by a rat swarm, two dire rats, and three giant rats. Both Cinder and Hanea cried out what they had discovered and for help. Tor moved to help Cinder with what appeared to be the more immediate threat of undead. Mahest, oblivious to all of this, continued to check the upper floors of the tower.

On the first floor, Tor and Cinder ineffectively fought the zombies and skeletons, with Tor quickly getting bloodied. They decided to fall back, closing and holding doors to delay the undead advance. In the basement, Hanea was nearly overwhelmed by the rats and fled back up the stairs. Mahest, meanwhile, finally noticed her companions were making quite a racket and wondered what was going on. She wandered back down the stairs, just in time to see Hanea run across the ground floor landing, pursued by giant rats.

With the group (mostly) re-assembled, they concentrated on fighting the rats in the doorway to the tower (where all the stairs were). Cinder slid a dagger through the door handles to delay the zombies and skeletons and flung shuriken at the rats swarming over Hanea. Tor and Hanea fought and killed the rats in melee while Mahest (from up in the tower) rained eldritch blasts upon the rats. After some tense fighting, all the rats were eventually killed. Note: Cinder killed rats in the swarm every time she threw a shuriken, never hitting Hanea. Also, Tor was infected by one of the dire rats.

As the last rat died, the zombies finally started breaking through the doors Cinder was holding closed. The group of adventurers pushed aside the dead rats and retreated into the stair tower, pulling shut the very stout doors behind them. While the zombies pounded on the doors, the group took a short rest to catch their breath and prepare to fight the undead. When ready, the adventurers re-opened the doors and proceeded to slowly destroy the undead.

With the interior of the manor finally theirs, the adventurers burned the rat's nest in the basement and hauled the remains of the rats and the undead out of the manor. This seemed to draw the attention of a gang of goblins. The goblins started trying to shake down the adventurers, who were having nothing of it. In almost less time than it takes to tell, the adventurers attacked and killed almost all of the goblin shake-down gang – one was captured for questioning and one managed to run away and escape.

Wanting to face the goblin gang head on, the adventurers started questioning their captive and then scouting around the neighborhood, looking for the goblins' lair. Mahest and Tor were able to get the goblin captive to talk and Cinder was able to sort out the truths from the half-lies. Sadly, fortune went against the adventurers after that.

End of Session

DM's Commentary:
The party triggered two Level 1 encounters simultaneously by splitting up to search the manor. This started out looking bad as their dice were against them, but quick thinking on the PCs part to delay the undead by closing and blocking the doors let the PCs face one threat at a time.

The Level 2 encounter with the goblin shake-down gang took longer to get started than I thought it would. I think the players were hoping to intimidate the goblins into leaving, not knowing how powerful the goblin gang is in this neighborhood.

The skill challenge (tracking down the goblin lair) should have gone in favor of the PCs, but some bad rolls led to a failure. This means that instead of finding and ambushing the goblins, the PCs will be taking a more difficult route. I'm thinking a sewer crawl is in order as I'd rather not have the goblins ambush the PCs with overwhelming numbers. I might have a different gang notice the PCs and offer to help, for a price. We'll see.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Introducing the World – Part 1 Theory

My plan is to post a couple new areas and then follow them up with the thought process that went into creating each area. I may eventually tie the two together into a single post (especially once I have adventure summaries to post), but for the moment they are going to be separate posts. I was going to post this particular entry Monday, but after sleeping on it, I decided that the gap between work and theory would be too great. So here it is, on a Friday. Enjoy.

One of the main themes for the Found World is "something awesome and terrible happened here in the far past". The players will see evidence of immense power unleashed in the dim past and it should be spooky and intimidating, putting them on edge. Goldland Crossing and Otter's Barony start showing this theme to the players from Day 1.

Chartered Adventuring Companies
The traditional band of adventurers is a bit troublesome for a Medieval/Renaissance ruler to accept. Adventurers that last any length of time in their chosen profession can quickly become individually powerful and unless you have something for them to do, they have a tendency to find their own adventures, which might not be in the rulers best interests. There's nothing worse than having some adventurers turn up proof that you are up to something lucrative but unethical. Peasant uprisings are expensive to put down.

But! Send them out to a dangerous frontier with lots of treasure that has recently opened up and you can solve two problems at once. Charge them a fee to register for access and passage to where the treasure is with a hefty fee to return and they'll leave you alone. If they are successful, you get a large chunk of whatever they bring back and they are looking to settle down and retire, becoming taxable citizens. If they fail, they are either dead (and no longer a problem) or alive but poor with no easy way back, putting potential malcontents far, far away.

So that was the thinking behind charted adventuring companies. There are several other things they offer the DM. There is a pool of down-on-their-luck adventurers in the adventure area looking for work, providing an easy way to introduce new characters, replacement characters, hirelings, and followers. You have a reason to keep the PCs in the adventure area that is new, reducing your workload, especially when starting. You also have a way for player characters to retire and move off stage – they made enough to pay their Charter Fee and return to the Old World with their wealth. Finally, it is a good way to tie the starting characters together in a logical manner without tons of backstory. Think of gold prospecting groups during the Gold Rush in California and later in the Yukon.

Goldland Crossing
This was a little more direct. I had a list of fantasy place names (from Serendipity) and while looking them over I saw "Goldland Crossing". Hm. "Crossing" ties into the fact that this is where the Moon Gate dumps out and "Goldland" sounds like an easy stretch for a place being billed as the place to find gold and magic items just laying on the ground. Done and done. Put it in the ruins of an old walled city and I have a reasonably quick-started colony. Make the ruins much larger than the number of emigrants and we have a partially civilized/partially wild area for beginning PCs to adventure in without needing a lot of travel time. Plus, as the PCs level up, I can make the city grow to reflect this.

I've added details about the area around Goldland Crossing and the Moon Gates and the Gate Guild while discussing this with my co-DM, mostly as we talked about other areas. I'll highlight how things changed Goldland Crossing as I discuss those areas.

Otter's Barony
So with a name like Otter, I was thinking of a mellow guy with a tie to water. So where to put it? Word about the Found World only made it back to the Old World via ship, which would put the Moon Gate near water. As I wanted the theme of "something awesome and terrible happened here in the far past" for the campaign, this seemed like a good opportunity to add that element. Otter's Barony comprised Otter's Bay, the sunken ruins of a city that was next to what is now Goldland Crossing. It is clear that the city was sunken by unnatural means – the clearly delineated cliffs and even subsea floor underscore this.

The barony needs someplace for its people to live. The obvious answer was for the people of the barony to live in the parts of the ancient buildings that stick above the waters. In fact, this will become a running theme in locations for the campaign – the people arriving now are adapting the ruins of an ancient civilization for living space and defense. This will be seen when I talk about the Fief of the Empty God and the Candlestick Marches.

I think I need to change Otter III to Otter II in the write up for timeline purposes. It occurs to me that if too much time has passed, then the frontier vibe will be less believable for the players. I think 15-20 years will still be reasonable. I'd be interested in hearing what other think on the subject.

Posting Schedule

So the posting schedule I want to stick with here will be Monday and Wednesday, with an optional Friday posting. This is an experiment for me as my other blog (Imperial Dispatches on LiveJournal) was created mostly to get updates from an out-of-state friend's blog and so I post to that when I have something to say, which is to say sporadically. Here I want to be a bit more consistent. I'm even writing posts ahead of time rather than on the spot, late.

Fridays might end up being a miscellaneous posting day or a day of slacking, probably the latter in fact. Just wanted to be up front about it.