Saturday, January 22, 2011, 2:35 PM
EPISODE ONE: Trackers (Level 1)
Kristy Eagar (Nirvani)
Adam Meyers (Oden)
Rachel Meyers (Gangris)
Jeff Whipple (Pollas)
DM: Graham Ward
Oden the half-elf bard gathered a group of unlikely bounty hunters and adventurers to form a tracking party through the wilderness of the Norlythe (including Pollas the heathfolk shooter, Gangris the goliath barbarian, and Nirvani the jhareth paladin).
Looking for a watercraft that could bear them to Maricuälatán, Pollas hinted that the gruff and ill-reputed captain of a whiskey boat make room for their party on his vessel bound to the native city-state. The captain, Shemosh Ilyori, chuckled and blew him off. Pollas decided to let the insult go in the interest of time.
Traveling along the River Gorrad for a day and a half, the party reached the coast of the Sea of Satherlaer, where at the head of the Gorrad, they took note of extensive flats which would be very useful as a place to moor ships.
Bearing eastward at the flats, the party followed the seacoast, then turned north along a swiftly flowing river with steadily rising banks. Not far along the river, they were halted by a stone outcropping that blocked their passage. Gangris and Pollas climbed the cliff and found a narrow path in the dense trees.
A whimsically failed attempt to hoist Oden's pack-pony up the cliff resulted in the fall and apparent death of the pony. Oden and Nirvani struggled for some time to get up the cliff, falling once and sustaining moderate damage.
At the path above, Pollas attacked an Anotros (priest of Silphenor), with a gruesome scar from a failed hanging and an armed escort (obviously foreign). The shooter was nearly killed after his first (very effective) gunfire when the chaos-priest strangled and whipped him until unconscious. Gangris came to his aid, and valiantly killed the mercenary escort, and drove the Anotros away in fear.
Oden and Nirvani reached the path in time to fight the enemy briefly before he fled. After a rest, some healing, and hoisting the party's baggage up the cliff, the trackers continued after the fleeing priest.
At the end of the first day of pursuit, it became clear that the priest's horse was successfully putting distance between them. After another full day of pursuit, the tracks left the road just as dusk began to settle. Deciding to continue on toward Maricuälatán, the party traveled the road until in the late morning they realized the sounds of a forest bird calling were actually human screams coming form somewhere ahead.
They found an obviously abandoned lodge in the woods not far off the road, where voices of spirits repeated a conversation between a whimpering voice and a growling voice referred to by the other as "Professor." The voices and evidence in the lodge pointed to the likelihood that a devil was resurrected in that place.
A spectral guardian appeared and fought the party away from the "sacred" ground, though it was subdued in time for a swift escape by the paladin's radiant power.
XP: 356 per PC
[2 Land Features Found (flats and cliff): 200 XP
Anotros and Mercenaries: 824 XP
Successful Cliff Scaling: 60 XP
Successful Tracking: 20 XP
Achieving Surprise: 20 XP
Spectral Guardian Partial Victory: 300 XP
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Saturday, January 22, 2011, 2:27 PM
This is going to be the Campaign Log for our current campaign, "Frontier." It's now a few months into the campaign, so I'll post the previous sessions first. We had some complications with players (including some dissenters, some part-timers, and some one-timers), so the PCs aren't extremely consistent until a few episodes in. We made it work, though.
Hope it's beneficial. Special thanks to Kristy Eagar, Mike Eagar, and Kent Lloyd for sticking it out with me and making everything so fun. Here's the pretext for the campaign.
In the pristine wilderness of The Norlythe region , tension is rising between the colonial forces of Trentsmund and the natives of Maricuälatán. The colonies have been in poor array since the orc raiders have begun to steel their winter stores and burn their crops. A supposed alliance between the orcs and Maricuälatans is whispered in every alley of Terratorumme. The influential Terratorumme University has employed several trackers to scout out the tribal holdings and continue to seek allies should a war begin. Add local religious assassinations and missing children to the bill, and you've got a region ripe for heroics, or for knavery.
Episode One: Trackers
Episode Two: The High Chief of Maricuälatán
Episode Three: The Devil's Spine
Episode Four: The Last Man
Episode Five: The New High Chief
Episode Six: The Enclave
Episode Seven: The Zombie Trail
Episode Eight: The Zombie Nest
Episode Nine: The Zombie Queens
Episode Ten: The Plantation
Episode Eleven: Tethaylaer
Episode Twelve: Rivals
Episode Thirteen: The Temple Bandits
Episode Fourteen: Bártami Dethar
Episode Fifteen: Breaking the Siege
Episode Sixteen: Tainted
Episode Seventeen: To Terratorumme
Episode Eighteen: Dead Men
Episode Nineteen: Battle on the Waterfront
Episode Twenty: Tethaylaer Unleashed
Episode Twenty-one: The Sacrificial City
Episode Twenty-two: The Arch-Devil's War
Episode Twenty-three: Antalumme Forsaken
Episode Twenty-four: Disturbed Graves
Episode Twenty-five: Enclave to Enclave
Episode Twenty-six: Den of the Star-dwellers
Episode Twenty-seven: Dreams
Episode Twenty-eight: Return to the Deeps
Episode Twenty-nine: The Fists of Madryth, Part One
Episode Thirty: The Fists of Madryth, Part Two
Episode Thirty-one: The Sideways City
Episode Thirty-two: An End to Madryth
Episode Thirty-three: Nahua
Episode Thirty-four: The Forgotten and the Dead
Episode Thirty-five: Reunion, Part One
Episode Thirty-six: Reunion, Part Two
Episode Thirty-seven: The Sign of the Panther
Episode Thirty-eight: The Chorrom's Mausoleum
Epilogue to the Norlythe
Episode Thirty-nine: The Heart of the World
Episode Forty: In Mount Fayrlin's Shadow
Epsiode Forty-one: Any Port in a Storm
Episode Forty-two: Thaeghunn's Call
Episode Forty-three: The Fall of Rochorral
Episode Forty-four: The Silverface Ripper
Episode Forty-five: Nightbringer
Episode Forty-six: Dirty Work
Episode Forty-seven: The Feast of Souls
Episode Forty-eight: Darkplane Descending
Episode Forty-nine: Tuluro Mine
Episode Fifty: Old Friends
Episode Fifty-one: Onfalcedhuitha
Episode Fifty-two: Isulimendril
Episode Fifty-three: The Madstone of Raddian Vane
Episode Fifty-four: Separate Paths
Episode Fifty-five: The Drowned Serpent
Episode Fifty-six: The Spirit Walk
Episode Fifty-seven: Maurathel's Song
Episode Fifty-eight: The Winterchild
Episode Fifty-nine: The Hiyorough
Episode Sixty: Carcatosh
Episode Sixty-one: The Eye of Sowm
Episode Sixty-two: Debate
Episode Sixty-three: Descent into Bruhdath
Episode Sixty-four: The Reckoning
Episode Sixty-five: The True Mother
Episode Sixty-six: Salvendum
Saturday, July 31, 2010, 12:05 AM
I had some really saddening news today. One of my good friends and former players, a brilliant roleplayer who's been exploring dungeons since 2nd edition's early years, quit D&D - for good. Naturally, I was really surprised, especially because it was right smack in the middle of a paragon tier campaign with an ingenius encounter designer DMing. Naturally, I wanted to know why (although I had suspicions formulated from my experience DMing with him). Here's what he said in the campaign's message board:
Now, really, telling me to bring to the game what I think is missing is very easily said but very hard to do. I really like the DnD universe, I really do, but I have disagreements with the philosophy of the game as it is currently designed.
- In the DM guide it states that the game is conceived as a sequence of encounters. That is my fundamental problem. Plot, story and character development takes a very secondary step and most of it happens off game time in these forums.
- Bringing that into the game is nigh on impossible when [the DM] is an "Instigator" both as a DM and player with very little patience for the non combat aspects of the game. Secondly, we all have very differente personalities and approaches to the game, it is not the case that we are all power gamers or actors, so there is always something that has to give. I feel playing DnD is like masturbating, satisfying, yes, but ultimately frustrating as you know it could be much better. But this is something very hard to change and of course I wouldn't even dream of telling people how to play.
- There is far too much emphasis on collaborative game play. Alignments matter sod all and there is no conflict between characters, it is at times very sickly sweet everybody getting along. Of course, I am not talking about stealing and backstabbing each other, but a bit of tension, explore other aspects of the game
- Paragon level or no paragon level, we are doing exactly the same things we did at the lower levels, go explore some dungeon, fight some monsters. Yeah, we have new powers, but intrinsically, it's all the same.
- So to sum up, I guess all I'm trying to say is that it is a bit monotonous, besides the fact I disagree with pretty much all the house rules and the notion of players wish lists.
Maybe I am totally off the park here, but those are my impressions.
Now, I don't defend everything he said. I understand where he's coming from though, because he and I both are about as far from a power gamer as you can get. It got me thinking, I mean really contemplating why I feel the way he does, but chose to stick it out. I pulled out some of my 2nd edition supplement guides, which I still use occasionally when designing story and characters.
The discovery I made surprised me. I was reading the Creative Campaigning guide, a thin, blue soft-cover volume that gives a load of ideas for changing up the game when it gets dull. I wish I had my friend's London address on hand. I'd overnight it to him. What I found in the book was seven solid chapters of roleplaying advice. Not advice on combat or character optimization, or even on encounter building. It was advice on how to play NPCs, how to structure stories, how to think outside the box. I knew after the first chapter that I had found the key to my friend's problem.
You see, he was acting like the people that blame God for the crimes and flaws of the imperfect people that believe in him. He was faulting the system for the sins of the mainstream players. 4th Edition admittedly placed a world of emphasis on combat and mechanics. That's part of its charm - the rules are more streamlined than any other edition before it. But as a result of this nearly single-sighted attention to stats, we the players have made it the be-all and end-all of our game.
Creative Campaigning isn't the only guidebook from 2nd Edition that gave reams of roleplaying advice. There were literally dozens of books like it, including The Complete Villains' Guide (a book providing extensive options and ideas for villainous NPCs), The Complete Handbook series (which gave players mounds of information for roleplaying the different classes), The Castlebuilding Guidebook (ideas for what sorts of strongholds would be appropriate for different personality types and power sources), The Worldbuilder's Guidebook (a goldmine for cultural, geographical, and stylistic options), and much much more.
Let's not forget that the impressive writers of those books still work on D&D, even though ownership has switched since the eighties. But they don't write that stuff anymore. Advice on roleplaying has been limited to a few small sections in the DMG. Did they stop caring about the roleplaying? Are they just hack-and-slashers these days? I don't think so.
Here's my theory: The old generation of D&Ders, those of us who were steeped in the no-miniatures, no-grid, no-limitations editions, have realized the benefit of the other, newer style (the miniature-crazy, grid-crazy, efficient and more argument-proof combat). We've focused on it for fifteen plus years now. But we (especially the vets who still design for WotC) retain the depth and freedom of the golden days (or rusted days, depending on your point of view). What the geniuses of the D&D team have failed to realize is that many of the players and DMs of this era never read those books, and therefore never learned the full beauty of out-of-combat roleplaying. So these youngens miss out because they're not taught.
I know this was my friend's problem. He'd been playing with a DM that loved to design combat encounters, at the expense of the other parts of the game. It drove him away because he didn't feel like there was enough story and roleplay to back up the action. He was playing the G.I. Joe version of D&D when he preferred Inception, if I can present the metaphor. It had become not an RPG, but a CPG - a Combat-Playing Game.
I wish we could leave behind the downsides to combat-heavy and roleplay-heavy games, and keep the great advantages both styles have to offer. Because they really do each give such a life and satisfaction to the game. My friend said D&D was no longer satisfying. I think he felt that way because he could tell the roleplay had taken the back seat, but I saw him play 4th Edition, and I know he enjoyed the combat too. The problem is combat is only half (if that) of the experience. We need to think outside the box, and train our youngens to roleplay like we did in the glory days.
That's why I still go back to my 2nd Edition books occasionally. I could never play 2nd Ed again, not after experiencing the detailed and streamlined combat of 4th Ed. But, if you ignore the crazy mechanics and focus on the story ideas, the dynamics, and (dare I say?) the artistry behind what we used to do, I think there's a lot more we can bring to the table.
This is my hopeful plea: Don't forget to really roleplay. Don't jump from combat to combat with only message board posts to link the fights. Take your time to build a real world, and a real story, and I promise your players will walk away more satisfied than they ever have been, because good mechanics plus good story equals RPG heaven. I'll do it in memory of my fallen friend.
Thursday, July 29, 2010, 1:20 AM
What is a world but a group of names? Hills, houses, hollows, havens, and every other object, geographical form, and non-tangible entity needs a name. We worry about keeping mechanical balance in the game world, and about keeping an interesting style or hook, but do we worry about consistent and deliberate naming? This post will go through the important points of naming and language in a homebrew setting.
Now, maybe you're designing a small one-off adventure, or maybe you're just not interested in keeping track of what root words mean what in the languages spoken by the inhabitants of your world. If it's not your cup of tea, that's fine. But consider for a moment what benefits lie in maintaining linguistic consistency. Much of the enjoyment of RPGs is getting lost in the story and in the world. That's what motivates us to dedicate twelve hours every saturday to this game. Nothing will aid in getting the players lost in your world more than keeping track of words, cultures, and histories (all three of which are tied together).
We all groan when we hear about the elf ranger named Chris, or the dragonborn cleric named Sol (spanish for "sun" for those who may not know). These are extremes. They not only lack creativity, they avoid it. But the biggest problem with names such as these is that they draw in cultural and linguistic baggage from our own world. If you're setting your campaign in Medieval Spain, then maybe it's good to name your character after the Sun. But if it's supposed to be a foreign fantasy world where they speak different languages, bringing a common Earthly language into the picture is dangerous for the intrigue of your homebrew world.
How to Avoid the Baggage
I'm a purist in this sense, so I'll allow you to roll your eyes at me if you choose. But I am die-hard about linguistic originality and consistency. So how do you get it? Here are seven solutions that I've used to great benefit in my own campaign settings.
1) CHOOSE A BASE LANGUAGE
Most of the time this will be Common. But if (as is the case in most of my settings) you want to give your players the sense that they're truly entering another world, don't make Common the cop-out. Maybe not everyone speaks Common. Maybe each section of the world has its own Common tongue (this was the case in our own world until the World Wars).
Whatever you decide, the base language should be approached as though translated directly to English. The perfect example of this method is J.R.R. Tolkien's Westron (the original language to be dubbed "Common"). He approached his writing as if he had translated the text from Westron as it was written by Bilbo, Frodo, and Sam. Thus, all of the Westron names use the true meanings transliterated into English.
For example, Weathertop was the name for Amon Sul in Westron. We can assume that since the hobbits and men of Eriador didn't actually speak English, that the name derived from the Westron words "weather" and "top." Tolkien combined them and made an English transliteration. This is standard for many of the names in the far west of Middle-earth (Proufoot, Bywater, the Old Forest, Mirkwood, Rivendell, the Misty Mountains, etc.). Other names (like Fangorn, Minas Tirith, Mithlond, Lebennin, Mordor, Imladris, and most others) come from Sindarin or Quenya (elvish).
This is suggested practice for D&D worlds. Make the Common tongue (or whatever language you want to be the Base Language) translate into English. Names can use the English equivalent of their root-words, like Marrig's Gate, or other such. This way, when your characters reach "foreign" lands, the words will begin to seem strange and new.
2) SPLIT YOUR WORLD INTO LINGUISTIC REGIONS
Language often follows race, but not always. Oftentimes, the languages of the world are governed by geographical proximity. If you decide early on which parts of the world speak which languages, you can create a high level of consistency when you go to name the places in those regions.
3) CHOOSE LINGUISTIC AND CULTURAL INFLUENCES
Before you start naming on the fly, think about how you want your players to imagine the places you name. If you want them to sound aboriginal, maybe choose a flavor that is more African or Native Australian. If you want them to sound Arabian, choose that as an influence. However you decide, make sure you have a plan.
4) IMITATE SMALL, NOT BIG
Don't copy entire names or several syllables from real Earth places unless you want to set the campaign in our own world. Don't name that enormous empire of engineers Romas. It's too close to the mark. But maybe you notice that a lot of latin words end in -us or -um. So take that and run with it. It's likely that your players will hear an NPC name or a city's name that ends in -us, and subconsciously (or consciously) imagine them in a toga or sandals. It's not wrong to use little pieces of familiar cultures or languages if you want to reflect a certain cultural style. Just don't call that river the Mississikki.
5) CREATE PATTERNS
As mentioned above, use little pieces borrowed from the familiar to create the unfamiliar. In addition, create little patterns of your own. Maybe the root word ending "-allus" means city, and lots of cities in the kingdom end in "-allus," because they have the designation "city" in their title. Make several root words or constructions (like feminine words ending in the letter "L," or the root word meaning "sword" always being translated as "talac"). Keep things consistent, but not deadlocked into a system. Even normal languages have lots and lots of exceptions to the rules. If you can effectively show patterns (like Galadriel "lady of light," and Gil-galad "starlight" in LOTR), you will draw your players deeper and deeper into your world. They'll be astounded by how well you've thought things out.
6) DIFFERING PRONUNCIATIONS
English and Spanish use the same alphabet, but there is a wealth of differing pronunciation between the two. In English, "th" is really common. It never appears in Spanish (unless you're from the actual country of Spain, and you're pronouncing a "soft z or c," like the word Barcelona, "Barthelona"). The long "A" sound in Spanish is somewhere halfway between the sound in "apple" and "always," but in English we have at least four different sounds made with the letter "A." Place names in your setting's world can be spelled similarly, but pronounced completely different. Maybe one languages pronounce the letter "J" hard, as in "journal," while another pronounces it like a "Y," and in "fjord." Consider the limitless options and make some interesting decisions.
7) USE LANGUAGE, SERIOUSLY
Don't take it for granted that the kobolds speak Common, or that the all-powerful necromancer speaks the same language as the PCs. Maybe their speech is broken, or they only talk in a foreign tongue that no one in the party can understand. Maybe the party is traveling in a foreign land and needs to hire a trustworthy translator. Maybe one of the PCs can be extraordinarily useful because they speak lots of languages. Use the concept of language as a challenge and as a bonus. Encourage your players to take language roleplay to the next level. After all, that's why it was originally put in. It makes the flavor and style of your world burst through the seams, if you plan it right.
Don't Be Afraid
Keep in mind that you can reskin and reimagine anything that appears in the Core Books. No one said you have to use the languages and scripts provided in the Player's Handbook (in fact I never do). If you're interested in language, go as far as you want. If you're not, at least put enough thought into it so that your players can recognize the names that sound like they're from that one kingdom, and differentiate them from the names from other parts of the world.
Wednesday, July 28, 2010, 1:14 AM
MAYBE I'M not the most qualified person to treat on what makes a good fantasy illustration, but I'm certainly not the least qualified. I'm getting a Bachelor Degree of Fine Arts after all.
There are a lot of illustrations in rulebooks and guidebooks for RPGs. D&D and its cousin systems put a lot of emphasis on illustration because the designers know that the illustrations are half of the book's appeal. That being said, its important to create a distinct visual quality in illustration. I see some great art pieces printed in the D&D rulebooks (and they've really improved since 1st and 2nd editions), but there are still straggling images that just don't cut it in my book.
So I decided to outline what I think are the five most important concepts for an illustrator to understand. Here goes.
I'm not going to bash on the ridiculous muscle-bound figures that constantly appear in D&D illustration, but I must say that changing it up does a lot of good. When every hero depicted has the same build, the illustrations begin to blend together. Making realistic or even scrawny-built heroes a part of the illustration goes a long way to create variety and interest in the characters.
Of course, at the most fundamental level proportion has to be spot on, or else your image looks awkward. I know you're supposed to be painting from the imagination, but get a model occasionally. Look at your own hand if you have to, but remember that straight-on views lack interesting composition.
This is an area in which I don't have a lot of compliments for the standard D&D illustrators. Stark lighting can create an amazing feel for an image, but it seems this is usually put on the back burner in favor of illustrations that show lots of cool action or environment. In my opinion, however, what you don't see is just as important as what you do. A well-placed shadow can add intrigue (sometimes insatiable intrigue, the best kind) to the subject of the illustration. Dramatic lighting makes a dramatic image. Movement and composition can only go so far.
I swear I've seen the same outfit on half the eladrin and high elves since 1st edition. Rethink cultural stereotypes, cultural influences, and historical periods. Some of the greatest fantasy art has strong cross-genre influence. Old west, nineteenth century, and aboriginal dress can be combined or overlapped. That's the beauty of fantasy.
4) Color Choice
Don't try to use every color on the wheel. Lighting effect color choice, and oftentimes it narrows it into two or three main colors. If a character is in a deep dungeon with only one harsh highlight, there are going to be a lot of grays and blues (or maybe grays and reds). Don't get caught up trying to make the elf's cloak contain thirty different colors. Go simple without oversimplifying, and make the colors significant. They should conjure emotion.
Make it interesting. Keep the viewer's attention for a few more moments by creating lots of subtext. There should be enough business in the picture to occupy at least five minutes of examination. If the eye is drawn back to the cover of a book every time its in your periphery, your going to pick it up a lot more. That's the power of illustration. You see a book you bought ten years ago, and you still love to examine the illustrations because they look cool. It has that much power over you.
IN CLOSING, I hope that WotC continues their emphasis on illustration, and that they keep raising the bar. The more attractive the books are, the more likely I am to buy them. The game itself is a mechanic. I get moved by the stories and the images, and I'm sure most of the gaming community is like me.