Wednesday, April 18, 2012, 5:51 PM
I made the first update on my last post, DMing after research: notes on the Nerath Empire
, regarding the history of the Nerath Empire.
To avoid endless repetition, I'll not repost over and over while adding new information. I'll just update the post and mark the changes in blue
. Updating the post will be followed by a post like this one with the change log.
I hope it helps.
Change log (18/04/2012)
- Added information from the Monster vault. Threats to the Nenetir Vale and the Dungeon master's kit boxed sets.
- Provided evidence on where to put the height of the Nerath Empire.
- Adjusted the date of the Saruun Khel civil war.
- Revamped the chronology; it's now presented in a table containing the events and their dates in two simple reckonings: years considering the Nerath Empire and years considering the present day.
I still have to go through the Reavers of Harkenwold adventure and the rest of Threats to the Nentir Vale. After that I'll review both the Chaos scar and Hammerfast settings as well as the Madness at Gardmore Abbey boxed set before diving into Dragon and Dungeon magazines in search for more data.
If you think of any source material you'd like me to check (for Nerath, the Nentir Vale, Arkhosia, and Bael Turath), including specific Dragon and Dungeon issues, feel free to comment on this post or the full-account post.
Friday, April 13, 2012, 6:23 PM
EDIT: New info is written in blue
If anyone has read my blog posts, they may notice something: I'm an obsessor. I'm so obsessive that right now I'm obsessing over being clear on how obsessive I am... (?)
Point is, I'm currently DMing a campaign in the Nentir Vale which includes the published module Thunderspire Labyrinth
. In there (v. 1, p. 2) it says that the minotaurs of Saruun Khel got into a civil war "three centuries ago". As a good obsessor, I went back to my DM notes and placed this event where it would fit in the chronology, but then wondered "What if I'm missing something or my reckonings are wrong?" So I went online and looked for some forums or blogs where this matter was discussed, but found that many people wonders about the Nerath Empire, but few actually get all the info they want.
A while back I tried to reconstruct a timeline to better set the background for my D&D campaigns. I know it's a bit late with 5th ed. already announced and everything, but I'm presenting my findings anyway. Maybe someone might still find them useful in some way.
The following study is in no way complete. The aim of this would be to recreate a "complete" chronology of the in-game hsitory of 4th ed. using ONLY official sources (or interpretations rooted in official sources). I'll always try to cite my references (but I made the table I'm working woth a while ago, so I might not remember every source right away -in this case, I'll put an asterisk-, but I'll try to trace those back and put them here) and update with any new info I can get my hands on. Feedback will be enormously appreciated.
NOTE: I haven't made any research on Arkhosia and Bael-Turath, so I'm not including them here yet. I'll look for data on the matter and include it as soon as possible. Also, I don't have a unified reckoning of the years. Mostly, I use the founding of Nerath, it's fall, and the present day as milestones.
Most speculation on the chronology is taken from the history of Fallcrest. From the few facts we get from official sources about this town we can begin to shape our first impressions on the matter.
First off, the "present day" in 4th ed. seems to take place 100 years after the fall of Nerath (AFN). This is not entirely clear, as Rules compendium
(p. 39) suggests that it was at that time when Nerath "began to crumble", not that if fell entirely. Some other sources* seem to set the actual end of Nerath there, 100 years before the "present day" (henceforth PD). We'll assume (suported by some data we'll review below) that Nerath indeed ended 100 years before PD and set PD on 100 AFN.
According to Dragon magazine
(n. 393, p. 12), the Nerath Empire came right after Arkhosia and Bael Turath and lasted for 500 years. If we add this to our first assumptions, PD would be arguably 600 years after the founding of the empire. "Arguably" because it would be a valid observation that no empire rises after one night, but Dragon magazine
) says Nerath "enjoyed a meteoric rise to power". Nevermind this, we could establish 600 years before PD as the founding of the Nerath Empire proper, assuming a few year window (probably 620 BN -"before Nerath"- or something like that) of rise and conquest before that date, in which Magaroth (most probably), first emperor of Nerath, filled the economic, politic and cultural voids left by Arkhosia and Bael Turath, as well as conquered, settled and colonized territories (like the Nentir Vale; vid
Some years after, maybe year 200 of the Nerath Empire (NE) or somewhere in between, settlers moved up the Nentir River and established Fastormel, Harkenwold, and Winterhaven. This date can be ascertained form Dungeon master's guide 1
(p. 198, no official errata; and Dungeon master’s book, p. 54
), where it says:
"Up until four centuries or so ago
, the Moon Hills and the surrounding Nentir Vale were thinly settled borderlands, home to quarrelsome human hill-chieftains and remote realms of nonhumans[. ...] Ruins such as those on the Gray Downs or the ring-forts atop the Old Hills date back to these days, as do stories of the hero Vendar and the dragon of the Nentir." [Bold is mine. Sorry about the paragraph format: the indent button is not working]
Almost two centuries after the proper founding of the Empire, i.e. 290 NE, Aranda Markelhay, a Nerath hero, obtained a charter to build Moonstone Keep, from where Fallcrest was born (cfr
. Rules compendium
, p. 39). Two centuries thereafter (ibid
.) Fallcrest thrived until the Empire "began to crumble". Here's why 500 NE is acceptable as the end of the Empire proper: the Rules compendium
puts the founding of Fallcrest "310 years ago", that is, 310 from PD (310 BPD; ibid
.) and the downfall of Nerath "about a century ago". The "about" part could be giving a prudent window for the last gasps of the Empire (this would mean the actual date of the fall could be 500 NE -100 BPD- ±5 or 6 years).
On this subject, Dragon magazine
(n. 364, p. 12; n. 393, pp. 11-12) tells us that Nerath fell to gnoll hordes. Though the two sources differ on some matters (364 says the hordes were part of a cult of Yeenoghu whose leader was dubbed "The White Ruin" -maybe Nezrebe, Yeenoghu's exarch-, while 393 says they were just gnolls -no cult reference-, but calls the leader "Ruler of Ruin", which happens to be one of Yeenoghu's titles), both agree that gnolls brought the empire to an end.
There's an interesting piece of information on this regard (n. 393, p. 12): "With the central government destroyed, provincial kings banded to defend what remained of the empire." There's a contradiction in these sources, as 364 places the gnoll invasion "not long ago", but "during the height" of the Empire (p. 11). Threats to the Nentir Vale (p. 10) puts the height of the Empire “three hundred years ago” (from PD) and would suggest that, indeed, the zenith of the Nerath Empire came around 300 NE, thus disregarding 364’s claim that the gnoll invasion came “at the height of the Empire”.
(This discrepancy could be explained from the fact that 354’s accounts are told from the perspective of the gnolls, which would tend to glorify their deeds, e.g., by saying they didn’t invade a shattering and weak Empire, but one that was in its prime)
Also, Dungeon master’s book suggests that this height would have lasted about 100 years, from 200 NE to 300 NE, for Winterheaven (one of the first civilized human settlements in the Nentir Vale, vid. id. p. 54, and Dungeon master’s guide , p. 198) “was founded during Nerath’s height” (Dungeon master’s book, p. 55, sidebar). If we add up the dates (200 NE for the first civilized human incursions into the Nentir Vale and the height of the Empire according to both the Dungeon master’s book and Threats to the Nentir Vale) we end up with the aforementioned span for the peak of Nerath’s prosperity.
The only sure thing is that the gnoll attacks were swift and the Battle of Nine Sons with King Elidyr was not long before 500 NE.
If we heed 393 more than 364 and assume the Empire was already shattering when the gnoll invasion came, then the 500 NE ±5 date for the proper fall of Nerath is not that implausible, and we could even set the Battle of Nine Sons around 480 or 490 NE (the second one seems to fit better). "Over the next two centuries" (Rules compendium
, p. 39) seems to support this interpretation: 310 NE + 200 = 510, which would happen to be the date of the Bloodspear War in the Nentir Vale ("about 90 years ago [from PD], ibid.
"). This would mean that, after the gnolls, two decades passed until the orcs of the Stonemarch descended on the Nentir Vale and brought the doom of Fallcrest. That would be a reasonable time frame between the last attempts to gather back the pieces of the Empire (remembering that the gnolls destroyed most of the Empire's civilized points of light) and the orcs to be confident enough to march on an otherwise stable region.This way, at first glance,
300 NE would be the date of the Saruun Khel civil war in Thunderspire (Thunderspire Labyrinth
, p. 2), though there is an issue with this date. The first mention of the Saruun Khel civil war (ibid.) places it “three hundred years ago”, but Dungeon master’s book puts the complete fall of the minotaur city of Thunderspire after a civil war that took place “almost a hundred years before Fallcrest was established” (p. 61). This doesn’t add up, since the founding of Fallcrest was was 310 BPD and the Saruun Khel civil war happened in 300 BPD (vid. supra). This could jumble the Thunderspire timeline, but could be a minor incident, since there’s no harm in having the Labyrinth abandoned for 375 years instead of 275 and adds an ancient flavor to its story.
Also, moving Thunderspire’s timeline 100 years would account for the lack of intervention from the minotaurs in the human incursions to the Nentir Vale. It’s said that the minotaurs of Saruun Khel, as they began to worship Torog (Thunderspire Labyrinth, p. 2), became an “oppressive […] kingdom that subjugated neighboring lands”. Considering that the first region to establish in the Nentir Vale was Harkenwold (about 35 miles from Thunderspire), and that reaching both Winterhaven and Fastormel requires coming dangerously close to Thunderspire (the Fastormel ruin complex is about 35 miles from Thunderspire and about 30 miles run from where the Nentir River became the King’s Road to reach Winterhaven), it would have been uncanny for pilgrims to not only arrive on their respective regions, but to settle where a powerful and oppressive, Torog-worshipping, minotaur city holds sway, given there’s no record of Nerath fighting the minotaur lords of Thunderspire to protect their settlers (while there is mention of the Empire struggling with the Tigerclaw barbarians from Winterbole Forest, Dungeon master’s book, p. 61), so putting the end of Saruun Khel at 190 NE instead of 300 NE makes a lot more of historical sense.
400 NE would be the time of the Shadow Rift opening near Winterhaven (Keep on the Shadowfell
, p. 2), 10 AFN would be the date of the Bloodspear War, 75 AFN would be the arrival of the Mages of Saruun (Thunderspire Labyrinth
), and Karavakos's attempt to seize power (Pyramid of Shadows
) could had been somewhere before 490 NE but maybe after 300 NE (because "Nerath [...] held sway over much of the land at this time", Pyramid of Shadows
, p. 2). (And in order to have a broken empire with government issues over territory, one must first expand as far as possible)
So, schematically, we could propose the following chronollogy:
Present day (PD)
Founding of the Nerath Empire
Fall of Saruun Khel after civil war
First civilized incursions into the Nentir Vale
Settlement of Moonstone Keep and founding of Fallcrest
- Opening of the Shadow Rift near Winterhaven
- Building of Kalton Manor
Battle of Nine Sons
Fall of the Nerath Empire
Sir Keegan’s madness at the Keep on the Shadowfell
Arrival of Mages of Saruun to Thunderspire
Agian, this is not definitive and I'm well open to discussion, feedback and any comment or tip on sources, corrections and alternate interpretations that may lead to a better and more complete chronology of this history, be it realted to the Nentir Vale, the Nerath Empire or, most needed, Arkhosia and Bael Turath.
Again, sorry if this rambling came too late.
Friday, April 13, 2012, 3:40 PM
Well... I'm back.
Didn't I say already that I'm in a third world country? Well, my phoneline died a couple days ago (which included no-Internets) and the friggin' company took all this time to fix it.
After about two weeks without phone service I'm back to this small niche.
Let's try to catch up.
Thursday, March 15, 2012, 5:41 PM
I was cleaning my DM files (some folders I keep with info on adventures I've ran through the years) and came upon something I thought I lost: the character record sheet for my very first 4th ed. character... A dwarf fighter.
His name's Theoderik (I know...). If you check his profile, you'll see the revamped version. He was originally a normal dwarf guardian fighter created back in 2009. He was meant for a campaign a friend of mine was supposed to DM, but the other player's reaction wasn't positive because the story meant for us to become evil and I seemed to be the only player to be ok with that... Even though the rest of the troupe were told in advance the adventure was meant for evil characters and everyone said it was fine (that's why Theoderik got stuck in lv. 4). This gave us several very uncomfortable incidents, but the most notable was the following.
At some point (being lv. 2) we got captured by a demon who gave us some runic tattoos on the back of our arms. The tattoos were supposed to spread on our bodies and devour our souls if we didn't do the marker's bidding (evil actions and stuff), with the promise that, in time, we might become powerful enough to draw the marks from ourselves. At that point the demon gave us a mission (I don't even remember exactly what it was).
There was this guy, the same I mentioned in another post
(regarded himself as TEH BEST DM EVAH), who also thought he was TEH L33TEST & BESTEST ROLEPLAYAH EVAH, but in reality he was TEH BEAST PLAYER. Seems the only thing he was good at was Magic: the gathering (he was great at this, actually). Anyways, the DM was all into performing the demon telling us about the marks and everything, and The Beast Player interrupted the action to say (as a player, not in character):
TBP: Be evil? I don't wanna be evil. That sux bigtime.
DM: *dizzy from the anticlimactic remark and from being pulled out of character all of a sudden* Huh?
TBP: Yeah, I don't play to be evil, I play to be an adventurer, be good, and save the world. What you're trying to pull here is epic BS.
DM: Well, I told you before making characters that my adventure was for evil characters and you all said it was ok.
TBP: Whatever. I'm not gonna be evil.
DM: *in character as the demon* If thou not do as I command, thou shall experience suffering before death! *as DM* The runic tattoos begin to glow with a reddish hue and you feel excrutiating pain in you whole body and some kind of spiritual ache, as if your soul was being rent.
TBP: Screw you, [here goes the name of the DM]! I'd rather die.
DM: *showing the first signs of annoyment* He can control you through the tattoos...
TPB: *smirking mockingly* Well then, you play my character then.
And he raised his character sheet and shook it in front of the DM's face.
(NOTE: of course, this is not the exact conversation. Even though I remember it quite clearly, it was a lot more dysphemic and unpolite. I edited some parts of it to fit the general idea an avoid using foul language)
In the end, the DM sighed and winged it saying the demon didn't care for whinery, that we had been warned, and cast us out of his abode. Outside, in a forest, we met some mysterious character who told us the marks could be removed without doing the demon's bidding. From here, the campaign would take off in a quest to find people, information and resources to rid us from the marks. I.e., the campaign changed completely. We advanced some more, got into a cave at some point, fought a young dragon, and we never took up that campaign again.
By the way, during the fight The Beast Player (a warlord) took one action to grant us some bonuses and refused to fight the dragon arguing he (TBP, not the dracolich) was too powerful due to his magic sword (go figure, being lv. 2) and that if he hit it, he would destroy him and that wouldn't be any fun. So his warlord just lingered at the back for a couple of turns. The dragon attacked a couple of rounds with its breath weapon (the damn lucky thing kept recharging it), the warlord still not moving a finger. And then, the dragon recharged because of being bloodied and scored a crit with its breath weapon. The warlord (and other character, a ranger, I guess) dropped down. It was an absolute miracle that Theoderik and the party's cleric alone managed to kill it (it was not even bloodied when it dropped the two other characters).
Looking back, I think the DM somehow sinned in trying to railroad the party a bit (though I'm not sure that even qualifies as "railroading", because there had been fair warning of the campaign's nature), but also the The Beast Player handled the situation in an incredibly poor, even childish, manner. Maybe the DM shuld have told the Beast that it was not mandatory for him to play (it certainly helps to get away with things if you own the hobby shop were everyone gathers to play)... I dunno.
What would you have done in this case? As DMs we should be prepared to handle this sort of situations (actually, we should be able to avoid finding ourselves in this situations to begin with). It certainly turned what could have been a sweet gaming day into a bitter, annoying, and frustrating experience. It gave me something to watch out for as DM and player. And it made Theoderik very very sad, for he now sits in wait for some other campaign were he can swing his mordenkrad and drive his greatspear through some monster flesh.
Monday, March 12, 2012, 10:20 PM
I've never said it here, but I'm an obsessor. For me it's never enough just having a plain battle grid: if there's an alcove in the northern wall of the chamber, there should actually be an alcove in the northern wall of the chamber. In a combat encounter, such is my view, the environment should be as concrete as possible in order to play strategy.
This, of course, is a matter of personal taste. For some DMs imagination is the best prop. For others, it's not a mere prop, but the engine of the game itself. Even though I put roleplay first in any context, in combat it's necessary to make it easy for players to take quick decisions in order to not hinder action synergy and leave more room for roleplay even inside heated combat. Less imagining how tall is an abstract mound equals more imagining how you jump on the orc's shield while driving your shortsword in his eye...
Again, this is my philosophy. It's by no means "correctness", "absoulteness" or "y'all-should-do-this-ness".
So, in order to fulfill my own very own stndards, I had to work a little bit with my daft hands (yes, I really meant "daft", not "deft": I'm specially clumsy when it comes to crafting stuff) to create interchangeable scenery for my campaigns. Well, only for the parts where I can't use printed maps, that is.
This actually means "Get to know your way around cardstock", because it's the simplest, cheapest way I've found to craft stuff for D&D. In this case, I made blocks of several shapes and sizes like these ones:
The proccess is quite simple (but a bit awkward): in a large piece of cardstock draw "unfolded" versions of the cubes and then, with an utility knife, cut the shapes and then "fold" the shape and bind it with something (I used my loyal scotch tape). May take quite a while to make enough cubes for a single location, though.
Anyways, I recommend, if you're going to use the cardstock cubes, to plan what shapes and quantities you'll need while planning your campaign. For example, here's what area 3 for the Kobold Hall
mini-adventure in the Dungeon Master's guide 1
I indeed used a Dungeon Tile from the Witchlight Fens
set for the green-goo pool. The walls are marked as 10 ft. high, so that means 2x2x2 squares cubes. The sarcophagi should be a bit shorter, but that can also be tweaked if you like. As you can see, not much cubes are needed and some will most likely be used several times (this mini-adventure uses the same shapes a lot). So, again, I recommend thinking in advance what shapes will you need in your encounters.
Here's the same setting from above:
Yes: I even made stairs. These are actually a bit of a nightmare to craft, because every "stepped" square must be divided by two, i.e., each square contains two steps of a set of stairs, so, for a 10 ft. (two squares) set of stairs, you need to divide and fold four actual squares. Also, be careful, because the steps may be too small for a medium sized miniature to stand on them (unless you find some way -like a bit of tape under the miniature base). The simplest option is to use straight cardstock ramps instead of steps.
Here's the scenario as seen from behind:
So yes, in conclusion, I'm an obsessor. But my players seem to enjoy combats with 3D environs better, and spend less time asking "How high was that, again?" and more time saying things like "I swirl my sword, a thundering sound and lightning jump with the mere friction of the blade on the air", so I'll say it's all worth it.
Just one more thing: if anyone can come up with a way to craft doors that don't get in the way and can be used with this kind of cubes, PLEASE let me know. I'll be forever grateful.
Thursday, March 8, 2012, 7:00 PM
I went to the postal office today. Some D&D minis I ordered should be delivered these days. Because of unforseen working conditions, there's nobody home around office hours to receive the delivery, so I gotta check at the post office once in a while to see if they're here. I'm a bit on a rush, because I ordered some hobgoblins I need for saturday's session and it's been 16 work days since I got the shipping confirmation. The guy at the post office said my package is probably being delayed in customs, so... I repeat: "developing country". *sigh*
Anyway, this post isn't about shipping anxiety. This post is about my story getting a battle grid for my D&D campaigns.
After deducing I needed rulebooks for everyone in the game to consult, I remembered my horrific experiences some of my D&D 3.5 games. There was this disgusting guy who ran a shop I used to play Magic and RPGs at and he regarded himself as TEH best DM evah (or Storyteller, or Keeper, or whatever for that matter).
Besides many of his annoying DMing traits (munchkin enemies, unbalanced encounters, use and abuse of deus ex machina
, fully improvised stories, made on the fly; blatant plagiarism of anime and movies, etc.), he didn't like the battle grid. As a concept, I mean. Yup, he never used it. He hated it for some unknown reason. If you asked him, he said some vague excuse like "Only noobs need a battle grid" or something. This was more terrible than his DMing, because for combat in D&D, tactical movement and distance is EVERYTHING. If you don't use a battle grid, you must somehow devise some system to make distance and tactics work (the most simple is telling everybody the distances at the begin of a fight, keeping track of them and summarizing to your players every turn if possible). He didn't, so the lack of grid lead to frustrating situations. Two outstanding examples below:
- [DM:] "You manage to catch the dark paladins unaware: surprise round!" [P1:] "Cool! Imma charge the closest fellow!" [DM:] "Ok, you take your whole first turn to get there." [P1:] "Huh? I said 'charge', not approach; why would I waste an ambush approaching?" [DM:] "Doesn't matter: the dark palaidn is out of range for your charge. You approach instead." [P1:] "How far is that creep?" [DM:] "About 50 ft." [P1:] "Well, my speed is 30 feet, and when charging, I can move at twice my speed, so, imma charge the closest fellow!" [DM:] "Ok, you take your whole first turn to get there." [All:] *sigh*
- [DM:] "The orc attacks you, A. Crit! 10d12 damage. You dropped? Then the orc cleaves B over there." [P2:] "Err... The orc can't cleave me, I'm about 10 ft. across, even if he takes a 5-foot step, he can't reach." [DM:] "Crit! 10d12 damage!" [P2:] "Are you listening? He can't cleave me!" [DM:] "10d12 damage." [P2:] "He'd drop me, but since he cannot cleave me, that's..." [DM:] "You drop? Sweet! He great cleaves C over there... Crit! 10d12 damage, please." [P3:] "Dude, I'm a wizard: I never stand closer than 100 ft. from the skirmish line." [DM:] "I.SAID.10.D.12.DAMAGE.PLEASE. Gosh! I'm sick and tired of everyone questioning the DM's decisions!"
The lack of grid also gave the wierd feeling that every melee attacker was ganging around the enemy while casters unleashed bolts without harming anyone in the way. Point is, combat without a grid leaves some amount of uneasyness, a feeling that everything is arbitrary, ambiguous, and subject to tricky interpretation. In the worst case scenario, it can disrupt the entire session (and this happend a lot with the guy in question). I didn't want this, so I hopped on a quest to get a nice gridded mat.
Obviously, I needed something I could write on an erase easily. I remembered those nice laminated gridded maps by Chessex. I went online and tried to get one, but for some reason Chessex products are seldom shipped to my country. I then figured I might find some options at some fancy stationery store. I found some graduated folding whiteboards meant for writing with dry erase pens, but the graduation was in centimeters. I guessed I could mark every 2.5 cm and go from there, but looking at the price, I figured I'd rather make my own... Heeeey... Make my own? I'm game!
So, instead of buying the fancy, but kinda useless laminated folding whiteboard with graduation, I went to a neighborhood stationery store and bought some shreds of transparent plastic. The kind you use to wrap your books' covers for elementary school (at least in this country; I find I'm not sure if they do this anyplace else). I then got home, grabbed a pile of used print paper (not entirely used: one side had to be blank, duh), my precision ruler, a red ink pen, and got to work.
I began making small marks along the borders of a paper sheet, one inch apart. Once all four sides were marked, I put the ruler across the sheet, making the marks meet and drew a single line connecting both points. Then I turned the paper 90 degrees and did the same. On with another sheet. I ended up using twelve sheets of paper, which I then put together with scotch tape, paying special attention to the continuity of the lines. I turned the whole thing over and pasted a sheet of thin cardstock on it to make it more rigid. I then pondered maybe it would be too big for my playing table and cut some squares off, along with some imperfections to make the edges as straight as possible (I lack surgical precision). Finally, I got a 21x25 grid. Next, I wrapped it with the plastic, bound it with more tape from behind, and, TA-DAH! I gots myself a handcrafted battle grid!
Here, take a look:
As you can see, the plastic is a bit loose, but it still serves it purpose. If you ever try to do it yourself, take into account that you'll have to loosen the plastic after a few days: with time, it shrinks a bit and bends the paper/cardstock (usually backwards), so you'll have to remove whatever material you used to bind the plastic (I used scotch tape), so don't bind it like there's no tomorrow.
Finally, here's the handcrafted grid with some minis and a very simple map drawn on it:
- (Poor Kemet faces the wrath of a Beholder. Will the Angel of Valor help him or smite him as well? D: If you look closely, you can see the used side of the sheets I employed in the grid)
Because the plastic is a bit loose, the lines drawn with pen raise a bit over, but it's not a big deal in the heat of battle. After the combat is over, you can wipe it clean with a dry eraser, some cloth, your shirt or your hand if you're in a hurry. The only problem I've not been able to solve is that whenerver somebody places a hand or something heavy, the lines drawn over the plastic blur, get smeared, or erased. I can only advise to be a bit careful. My players got used to that in a while.
So, all in all, I can't complain. It was cheap and works nicely. Sometimes I need a larger one for specially big environments, so I think I'll make another one.
I'll let you know how that goes.
Thursday, March 8, 2012, 11:49 AM
In order to provide some variety to the themes of this blog (I don't want it to be only about Kemet's exploits), I thought it could be interesting and fun to talk a little about my experience and difficulties DMing in a country where access to RPGs is not easy. With "a country" I mean "Mexico", where I live.
First off, finding D&D books.
When I resumed DMing (I started playing D&D in 3.5, but my second DM was terrible and I stopped playing until 4th ed.) I knew I needed some rulebooks, but here in Mexico the tabletop RPG world is as tiny as the individual member of a swarm. According to WotC store locator, Mexico holds seven D&D (core) stores. Hmm... Well, I'll speak about my particular case.
If you happen to live in the administrative capital of the country (we're supposed to live in some sort of republic, but we actually have a centralized, plutocratic oligarchy), you have a few store options. Also, if you live in one of the seven cities the Locator, you can have access to RPGing material. A third way is, if you live in any of the border states, to go shopping north. Otherwise, you're pretty alone unless you have relatives or friends who live in any of those places or in the U.S.
I live in the administrative capital of the country, the infamous Distrito Federal, so I'm supposed to have an easier time finding RPGing widgets. Well, in reality things are actually more complicated than that. There are only two stores that actually handle D&D on a regular basis: La Pirámide and Comicastle. Yes, TWO. Other places can have it "on demand", but are pretty erratic, as they don't seem to buy directly form WotC: sometimes even with down payment they call you to tell you the item is not available or that it can't be shipped.
You can find some stuff online, but the biggest problem (even with the two regular stores) is product availability. Sellers or retailers have only core rulebooks or some scattered options material (La Pirámide seems to have the greatest assorment around). In addition, most don't know about the updates and Essentials, so, if you're lucky, you can find the core set: Player's handbook
, Dungeon Master's guide
, and Monster manual
(vol. 1 all), if any. Last I checked, Comicastle only had Heroes of shadow
, Monster vault
, Monster vault: threats to the Nentir Vale
, and Keep on the Shadowfell
. That's it.
The next problem: price. The most conspicuous example: Monster vault.
I've seen it retail for 870.00 Mexican pesos, i.e., about 68.33 USD. Go figure. So, in reality, the only option you get is buying online... Internationally. Because online sellers here have the same problems: product availablility (right now, no Essentials are on sale on the most common online marketplaces) and price. Combined with an almost clultural fear of scams. Most mexicans I know have a big paranoia about scams online (and offline), which makes online shopping a bit problematic. Most "peer to peer" shipping is made through courier agencies, which are more expensive, but arguably more secure (I've known of cases where the recipient got a box with shredded paper instead of product).
In the end, the only option for getting your rulebooks is going online and buy from Amazon and the like (which I have done). Fortunately, this solves availability issues for basic products (because some stuff still can't be shipped here under reasonable cost -and sometimes not at all-).
I don't know the actual reason behind all this RPGaming entropy, but I can venture a couple hypothesis:
- Rejection for D&D 4.0, as far as I know, was astoundingly big in Mexico. Most geeks wouldn't part from their boring 3.5 munchkins.
- There's no real official retailer for WotC in Distrito Federal (one of the seven stores in the Locator holds D&D Encounters). The only strong WotC product in Mexico is Magic: the Gathering and we used to have some sort official synod (Necrotower), but around the time I retired from Magic, there had been serious trouble with Necrotower for circling new cards before their release (rumor has it). I don't know if WotC is too picky granting licence for its products, but it's clear that D&D has no official standing here.
- Tabletop RPGs are still being played by too few people. Unlike TCGs and VGs, the TTRPG world is still arguably unknown. There are few consistent players, and almost none among children: most regulars are young adults who started playing in the 90s, where support for tabletop RPGs was somehow greater (I wonder how much importance Vampire: the masquerade had in that fact), but many have retired (for a lack of places to play and less people to play with).
- That way, the tabletop RPG world is very little known, and since there are few official D&D stores, we get almost no events like D&D Encounters and the like, which doesn't help in getting the word around and without official support and without a measurable size market, retailers don't pick this business and expand it.
- A big problem is Mexican RPGamers not buying material. Most people download PDF versions of the books and go from there. This doesn't encourage stores to include D&D (or more D&D) in their catalogues (but with the availability problems of products and the prices, one can't really take sides).
- World economy being in the toilet also takes its toll on the problem: many hobby stores had gone bankrupt and disappeared. Imp Comics (formerly one of the big strongholds for RGP) focuses almost entirely on Warhammer now. Manga & Rol (formerly Mundo Comic's), the best place to get RPG stuff I've seen around, has been out of business for a while now. Arelquín (another great hobby shop) also left all of a sudden.
Al this factors make it very difficult to DM here. I'd love to have a complete library of RPG books (rules, sources, fiction, and everything), but unfortunately I have to save money and spend carefully. Baby steps.
Long story short, Mexico is a hard place, both OOC and IC. If only my character got XP for every quest I endure to get a single book...
Wednesday, March 7, 2012, 3:56 PM
Fallcrest, then. The most ancient memories I can access already circle around that town. The earliest thing I remember is waking to the morning sun face-up on the roof of a two-story house. Because I know not where I am from, I shall try not to feel puzzled by the fact of waking in some town right in the middle of the Nentir Vale, surrounded by the Moon Hills…
But that was not my knowledge at the time. I should focus on recording events as they happened in order to keep my mind from making distracting leaps and forgo important details. Again, I felt soft sunlight on my skin and woke up.
Pelor’s orb was not yet at its zenith, my eyes were still closed, and I realized I actually woke up to a continuous hammering sound. The second thing I experienced was the sound of flowing water. Then I felt thirst, hunger, and mild pain in my extremities, as if I had engaged in strenuous physical activity for an extended period of time. I opened my eyes to a clean sky with few clouds and what I thought was a sparrow flying by. The hammering roar thundered for a few times, stopped for a couple seconds and continued with a monotonous beat.
I sat up with some effort due to the soreness in my body and turned around to look. Right in front of me I could see the small shore of a large river. Beyond that, on the other shore, I saw farmed land and shanties. To my right, the river curved inland through a perpendicular branch. To my left, some trees grew along the shore of the river up to a stone wall running from the west, but broken in several places as it ran eastward, debris lying on the ground in a field bordered by a road and some houses. The road ran from the east and ended in front of the house I was upon, as though it lead to that very building. Along the northern border of the road stood three other houses. The road turned north and south at the corner of the third house.
From my vantage point I saw a group of children playing on the debris. I figured I could talk to them, seeing I was also a very young lad myself, so I got on my feet, stretched for a moment, and climbed down the roof. I touched ground before the back section of the house and I heard the hammering sound with more clarity. I went round the building and confirmed my suspicions: I indeed woke up on a blacksmith shop; a big wooden sign with the unmistakable drawing of a hammer and an anvil over the front door read “Teldorthan’s Arms”.
Some thirty feet from the smithy lied the debris with the children playing around. I walked over there with some exertion of my stiff limbs and addressed the little fellows.
–Mara omentië! –greeted I, as cheerfully as I could.
–Huh? –uttered the children as they turned around to face me, and their expressions filled with something very close to a sickened fear-, Sick! –quoth one of them.
–Nan Kemet, ma nal neri? –asked I, taken aback from their disgust.
–Dat tiny disgustin’ stranger speaksa funny fashon. Let’s git outta ‘ere. –quoth the one who seems to be their leader; all of them followed and left.
Confused, I wandered off to the river. I could not understand their aversion and why did they not answer my questions. Maybe my words were not correct, but… Wait! I ran back to the sign in front of the smithy and read it out loud again: “Theldortan’s Arms”. Of course! Silly foreigner! The sign was in Common language! I foolishly approached the children in Elvish! If they were human, it was only natural they did not understand my inquiries. Hmm… So by the time I got to Fallcrest I already knew Elvish… It poses more questions than it answers.
That solved the lack of communication issue, but the matter of disgust remained. I could not believe it would be because of my low stature: today I stand three feet and eight inches (quite tall for a gnome), but back then I must have measured three feet or so. That is not grounds for sickened rejection, is it? Shuffling these thoughts, I came back to the river shore and distractedly gazed on its surface and suddenly understood: I was all filthy, my reddish hair all scrambled (and that is saying a lot for a gnome), my face full of soot, dried sweat, some scratches and what seemed like a few droplets of blood, and my skin, of a mahogany wood-like hue did not help to look tidier. I was clad in a very ragged robe and dirty with what unmistakably were blood stains; a worn leather belt clung to my waist, my legs were no cleaner than my face or arms and a pair of thrashed sandals were tied to my feet. Not a pleasant sight indeed.
I leaned over the river, cleaned my hands and began washing my face, wondering what would I do next in that unknown town, when I heard gruff voices behind me.
–Lookit dat, brah, ae lonely brat’s using da rivah’s water whivout permish’n!
–Ya speaka truth, brattah, what we gonna do?
I turned around and saw two halflings about three feet and twelve inches high, greasy hair, round noses, a filthy, heavy cloak on their shoulders, padded armbands, bandaged leather gauntlets, worn garments, dirty, patched pantaloons, and leather boots with hide strips tied around as legwarmers. One of them caressed the pommel of some weapon in a scabbard hanging from his waist.
–Who are you? –inquired I, as calm as I could force myself to be.
–Nah, nah, nah! We be askin’ dem questions, fella! Who in blazis ya thinkcha are, makin’ use of da town’s resourcis just like dat? Dontcha knows you musta has permish’n fer dat? –growled the caressing one while he approached and raised a pointed finger at me.
At that moment, I had a very hard time understanding their words. I had never heard such dialect and that only worsened the situation.
–Excuse me? I… I do not understand… Perhaps you could speak slower?
–Perhaps –he uttered this word in a mocking fashion- ya couldsa shaddap and turn dat handsome pouch over ‘ere n’ perhaps we ain’t gonna go sharpin’ we blades on yer bonesies! –he nimbly unsheathed a dagger with a pristine blade and pointed to my belt- Perhaps ya understands dis, dontcha?
I looked down and saw the pouch he meant and a sheath of my own, concealed behind the pouch. I did not know what was inside the bag, so it was no effort releasing it and throwing it at him. He caught it effortlessly and I tried as hard as I could not to shiver while he hid my pouch under his cloak.
–But den again, I already took out sweet Thurkear ‘ere –he said with evil playfulness as he raised his dagger-, n’ it wouldsa be so so impolite ta put ‘er away whivout ae proper meal, righ’, bruh? –and he got up very close.
–Surely, brah! Vignar too’s aching fer sum practiss… –the other one unsheathed his dagger as well and I must have gone pale:
–Aww, doncha fear, wee one –said the first one, Thurkear’s owner-, we just gonna slice ya ae couple steaks. If ya be very very brave, we cut yer whole legsie off so ya can beg at da Markit Green and make yerself sum coin, ‘kay? –as he spoke, he stretched forward to thrust my belly.
I know not what got inside me. Suddenly, in a split second, I reached for the dagger in my sheath and drew it, absent thought or without even looking. It felt… Natural. Like I always knew the dagger was there and I always knew how to use it in order to relieve dire circumstances. My movements felt like a carefully trained choreography, as if my subconscious automatically recognized a series of situational elements and reacted in the best way. But I did not actively think all this in the moment; this I deduce today. Back then my body relaxed and my mind focused without a moment’s pause, which I thank, for I would have got skewered like roasted fish in a bonfire.
While my right foot took a step back and to my left in a semicircular fashion, my hand took up the dagger backwards (with the tip not closest to the thumb, but farthest), my arm unsheathed with an upward movement, and made the most of the whole motion of my body to get my self out of the way and slash at the attacker’s inner wrist. Grunt # 1 lets out a painful howl and drops Thurkear a bit far away. Enraged, he tries to punch me with his other hand, but my previous attack left him at an ill position: I duck under his intended blow, step forward with my right foot, followed by my daggering arm, gashing his right thigh. He screams in pain and frustration while putting the knee of his wounded leg to the ground.
Seeing this, Sidekick jumps in while wrapping himself up in his dirty cloak, hollering. “IMMA USE YER FACE AS GLOVES!” Thinking I am too busy fumbling with his “brattah”, he throws in a very large cut, which I easily dodge rolling under to my left side. Bleeding Thigh uses this moment to scurry back and pick up Thurkear from the ground, raising a lot of dust with his cloak in the process. “DARN YOU, SLICK CRAB LOUSE!”, he shouts at me. As soon as I am back on my feet, I care not for the cloak of Count Mystery and I calculate: right below his false ribs. I stab deep until I feel my dagger pierce flesh and gristle with a nasty pop, like ripping cooked poultry apart. I then retrieve the blade and it is followed by a small spurt of blood and a rant of howling gibberish.
Bleeding Duster takes advantage of my back facing him and attacks with a well placed thrust. I am able to move aside at the last moment, but still he draws blood from my shoulder. Writhing in pain, Vignar’s wielder throws an unsuccessful blind attack. Smirking, I jump on him, my knees on his chest, I bring him down on his back while sinking my whole blade in his neck. For the briefest instant I feel his pulse throb from his heart through my blade. Blood gushes, he utters a small whimper, shakes for a moment, and the Raven Queen smokes his eyes. I turn to face Limpy, eager to get payback for the injury on my shoulder.
"Rottin’ bastard! Ya killed me brah! I’LL SEW ME PANTS WHIV YER SINEW AND PATCH ME CLOAK WHIV YER ‘IDE!" roars the halfling and he charges at me like a crazed moron. No science here: he runs dragging his right leg, I trip him, he falls prone, and I finish the job between his shoulderblades, twisting my dagger so he feels it before severing his spinal cord and turning him into an offering for my Queen.
I then stood up, praying to my Goddess while I breathed fire out of my lungs, frenzy left my body, and a red haze faded from my mind. Feeling like I did some sort of divine mandate, I turn Urchin the First face up like his brother, bare both their chests and carved there the symbol of my Scythed Lady with their own daggers.
The soil was red with blood, the blue sky was reflecting on the clear water of the river, the cloud fluffs traveled over a flying hawk, and the blazing sun was now high above. The hammering sound kept ringing the whole time.
Tuesday, March 6, 2012, 2:28 PM
I have never been fond of journals. My concerns are far removed form believing that someone else is interested in my deepest thoughts. If you save a farmer form a troll, the poor fellow will not care if you feel insecure or fight to earn a fair maiden’s favor. He will just be forever grateful and tell the tale. If you save enough farmers from enough trolls, you shall be regarded as “hero” and then nobody will care the least about your inner self: they will build a very specific and mythic You to worship and ask for assistance. And they will not have any reality that does not live up to the legend, thus vexing your actual existence to oblivion if it does not feed the legends.
In any scenario, nobody gives a fig for what we think and feel, either for being a simpleton or an epic persona. Therefore, following up actions in a journal is pointless in itself and a waste of time in order to record the “real” History, for History is written by the vendor, shaped by the needs of consumers, be it drunkards at the Lucky Gnome or the very rulers of Arkhosia. Trends and prices may vary, but intent and needs do not.
Wherefore, then, do I find myself not only minding a journal, but explaining to myself what I already know? Personal gain. Something is happening to me and I want to know what it is. Again, I explain myself my own reasons because I must be clear to my purpose if I am to unearth what happens to me.
I found myself troubled in dreams last night by disheartening visions. That is not remarkable in itself, but the fact that the dreams have stirred some impetuous emotions in the very fibers of my self is uncanny indeed, for the visions made me question some facts I did not care for before. Why am I here? How did I get here? I do not add philosophical fever to these questions: I mean not an abstract concern of absolute being. I ask why am I, Kemet the gnome, adventuring so far from home? I should be back in Fallcrest, artfully picking peasants’ pockets, conning numbskulls to release coin, gathering information for the River Rats… But then again, what in the name of Tarrasque is a gnome doing so far removed form the beauty of the Feywild, cast upon a populous town, living in the surface? I felt fear when I recalled not remembering anything before Fallcrest. All my outcast acquaintances had some story, tragic, depressing, moving, and whatnot: orphans, chronic scoundrels, mercenaries… All outcasts for some reason. All but me. I appear to have popped into existence in town at some point. I cannot remind myself of my parents’ visages, which is not enough to suspect anything (many of my colleagues were orphaned since such a tender age, that it was safe to establish that they did never know who fathered them), but I am too young not to remember.
I count seventeen rain seasons in my life, two of which have I been adventuring. My companions found me when I was fifteen years of age, after ten years living off unsuspecting passers by in Fallcrest (and no one, not even High Priestess Dirina, ever said anything about my origins). I render myself frightened because I feel like I have been walking this plane for way longer than chronology tries to reveal. More than once have I felt comfortable doing tasks I never did before, and not failing at them... How is that possible?
I have wandered too far from what I thought was my hometown, so I am not able to make inquiries on the matter. The only thing I can think of to dredge in the recesses of my memory is write everything I can recall, as far back as I can, but I find myself shivering again, because, if I were an orphan all my life, how come I know the Elvish language and script? Sure, there was a slight veriety of races in Fallcrest, but no one ever taught me anything of the like and my homeless context was entirely one of Common speakers which, by the way, were plagued by a slang I can handle, but do not care for. Why?
I was going to utter a prayer for the Raven Queen to help me in this enterprise of rescuing my past, but another question shifts my weathered resolve: where does my stern devotion to the Goddess of Death come from? There is more in my soul than my head can pry right now, I am sure of it, even if I am not sure if I shall embrace what I find.
Tuesday, March 6, 2012, 2:23 PM
I have a D&D character. It's a gnome rogue (go figure). I've been playing him for a little while now and I'm the sort of guy who likes to detail quite everything around my characters.
I worked a good length in his background and thought it would be a fun exercise to narrate his doings, also gaining more insights on his personality and helping me develop my DM qualities.
First, I'll catch up with the campaign (may take a while) and then I'll adapt each session from there. I'll call it Uncertain origins.
Let's see what happens...