Category Archives: Game Design

THE LANTERN OF LORNOLN AND AD HOC ADVENTURE/CAMPAIGN/GAME DEVELOPMENT

THE LANTERN OF LORNOLN AND AD HOC ADVENTURE/CAMPAIGN/GAME DEVELOPMENT

As a DM I am practicing a new gaming technique with my players which I am calling Ad Hoc Development. I plan to write up a more detailed paper and post on the idea later on but for now I am posting this briefer synopsis here because of the fact that my players don’t visit here and won’t see it. They don’t even know this place exists.

Actually this is a very old technique for me (and for others as well I am sure) for it goes back to the time I was a teenager and used to do something similar as a DM. The idea is very simple. I simply watch what the players are doing, the problems they encounter in game, and then modify the adventure, campaign, or game on an ad hoc basis as events progress to offer them possible, yet not obvious or easy or expected solutions to the dilemmas that lay beyond their current capabilities to resolve. It is somewhat similar to the idea of a literary or mythological Deus Ex Machina/Machinae, but the idea is not to “save them from disaster” but to offer them an unexpected and useful possible solution to their in-game problems. Problems they don’t have the resources or abilities to yet solve for themselves.

The technique works in this way. First I observe what they are most having problems doing, then as they proceed through the adventure/campaign, etc. I simply provide some unusual device, creature, companion (man-at-arms, etc.), artifact, magic item, clue, etc. which should, if thoroughly investigated and experimented with (and that is the real key), allow them to resolve their current set of difficulties.

To that end I simply observed my new group of players as they explored the Sunless/Sunken Citadel. (The first adventure they are playing and decided that one of the very first things they needed was, obviously, light.) But rather than using the adventure as written, and I have kept the skeleton of the adventure intact, I simply greatly modified it and rather than preparing a large list of gear and magical items and devices they would need to find I simply give them things (usually buried in trash or debris or collapsed areas, on monster corpses, in modified treasure hoards, found in pit traps, or in other less expected places) that they will find useful.

One of the very first items I gave them was the Lantern of Lornoln. (Lornoln is what the original citadel was called in my new world before it sank and was destroyed, the name meaning “Light of the Mountains,” for it was the frontiers outpost or citadel at the foothills range of the Nol-Ilthic Mountain Range.)

Anyway they found the Lantern, which they now call the Lantern of Lornoln or just “the Light” for it looks like it is an old rectangular 4 sided (6 with top and bottom) lantern with sides made of glass or crystal and with a body made of brass.

Their first clue upon taking it that it was no ordinary lantern was how light it felt. Like it was made entirely of glass (or in modern terms even of plastic). So it was obviously not made of brass. Also the glass or crystal sides were entirely transparent and unblemished and unsullied or smudged, even in the debris, and this “glass” is extremely hard.

Instead of a wick or a place for oil the very bottom is covered in glyphs they cannot read and the wick is replaced by a single piece of brass like metal (a small metal rod about an inch and half tall and about one quarter of an inch in diameter). They experimented by sliding one of the glass panes back and then trying to pull or twist the metal bar (you could twist it until it clicked) at which time it lit and produced lumens equivalent to 6 torches in a sixty foot range but within a thirty foot range it is almost as if one is standing in broad daylight. The lantern also has a suppressive and frightening effect upon creatures that fear light or prefer the darkness. That is the only thing they experimented with as far as the lantern is concerned, because they were eager to explore the rest of the ruins of the citadel and night had not yet set in.

The lamp also has other functions which they must explore to discover.

1. The wick will burn, without producing any heat for eight hours straight and then it will extinguish itself for another four hours. This is the same functional procedure for all of the other “wick functions.”

Had they continued to turn the wick they would have discovered:

2. an infrared function in which the lantern is completely black or dark but will illuminate any living creature up to a distance of 120 feet as if they are aglow in an infra-red sheath, though the creatures so displayed are unaware they are lighted by the lamp.

3. an ultraviolet function which will softly illuminate an area of 20 feet in a purplish-blue haze and will illuminate anything hidden that can be seen by ultraviolet light.

4. a setting that will illuminate secret doors and passages, even through solid rock, up to a ten foot radius.

5. a secret setting can be gotten from the wick by clicking it down. That is the “night-light setting.” When people sleep within the radius of the night light (20 feet) they may have strange dreams and portents of nearby dangers or of near-time future events. If they are awake and in the area of the night-light then they can see creatures approaching from a distance of up to 120 feet but the night light makes those within the area of the (soft and almost ultraviolet like) glow appear much smaller than they really are and displaced (as if they are several feet from their real positions). This makes it hard for others to target the lantern users at night.

If they take some of the “glass panes out” (and these are made of magical, transparent crystals, not glass) and turn them around to face the other direction then these functions can be had out of the lantern:

6. the regular light can be focused out of just one pane as if a flashlight were being used to illuminate objects out to a distance of 100 meters and this beam can be seen from three miles away (on flat, open terrains).

7. one of the panes will allow anything illuminated by regular light to be examined as if under a low-powered microscope (60 times magnification).

8. one of the panes, when flipped, acts as a silvered mirror, can sometimes be used to see other people’s thoughts and true motives, and also has effects upon the undead and deceitful.

9 one of the panes, flipped, acts as a strobe light (if the regular light function is used) and can disorient another or make them nauseous. This works even on magical and highly intelligent and even psychic creatures.

The Lantern of Lornoln is, in fact, a Minor Artifact, though the party doesn’t know this yet, they simply think it a “magical light or lamp”

I created it ad hoc or on the spot as something for them to find (then developed it more later on as I thought about who might have created it and why and how it ended up where it did). I will reveal none of the various functions of the lantern to my players, only they can find these out through experimentation and/or research done by others. It is possible they will never discover all of the functions, or even that I will discover other functions as time goes along (in the game).

This is part of my ad hoc system. Even I may discover new functions for these things as time goes along. Plus I will encourage all of my players to devise their own possible uses for things (normal, magical, or miraculous things).

That too will be part of my ad hoc system – unique DM/GM and player innovations. Or put another way, rather than trying to pre-develop or prepare or preplan all aspects of an adventure, campaign, or game I am going to start leaving as many things as possible open to on the spot and ad hoc invention and creation as I can possibly and reasonably accommodate. See where that kind of experimentation leads.

(Of course some things will still have to be preplanned: certain items and magical devices created specifically for certain characters, particular heirlooms, legacies, etc. But as far as many and possibly even most treasures, artifacts, devices, items, and even creatures and NPCs I’m going to play those “by ear” – so to speak.)

Some of the other Ad Hoc creations I indulged in that first evening of play (Sunday) included:

A. There was a room supposed to be inhabited by two mephits (according to the module). I instead used it to allow the escape of a very unique (psychaec even) Homunculous (which is attempting to become the familiar of the party Sorcerer).

B. There was supposed to have bene a werewolf (I’ll describe the actual adventure in another place), but it actually was a Wolf-Hound who is in fact secretly a kind of unique chimera who has become the Animal Companion and protector of the party Druid. It can actively communicate with the Druid through dreams and visions.

C. There was a supposed to have been a set of magical crystals used to entrap mephits, I instead turned it into a magical crystal that creates “powdered water.” (Called Aqua Pulvis.) The party is aware it does something to water but don’t know yet what. It actually uses an alchemical alembic like device to reduce water to a powder which when then later remixed with clean water, or wine, will produce Aqua Vita. Once the user has drunk the powdered solution or suspension of Aqua Vitae then they will not need to consume any liquids again for seven days, nor will they lose liquids by sweat, urination, or by any other means. They will reach a perfect state of fluid homeostasis within their own bodies.

Some of the ideas I already have for future ad hoc items or treasures they find (based on my previous observations of the characters and my players) are: i. honeyed lepsis, ii. sthenetic or sthenotic tablets (tabula sthenae – like the Aqua Pulva an alchemical preparation), iii. A blessing pouch, and iv. a special magical notebook for research that automatically inscribes itself with clues and hints about how to locate information on various subjects of interest. Which I may call the Librum Incognita.

Of course I will not pre-develop these ideas at this point but attempt to let their capabilities sort of grow organically out of game events.

By the way I am also thinking of applying this principle to my novels and fictional writings as well. Not seeking to predevelop items and plot points but letting them shift on an ad hoc and unpredictable and unplanned basis.

As a matter of fact I should apply this same idea as a method for developing my own Real World Inventions. After all inventing with the intent of producing technologies and tools that are multi-functionally capable is one of the basic tenets of my personal approach to inventing.

So I will do that as well…

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PSIONICS IN D&D 5E

PSIONICS IN D&D 5E

Do any of you guys play psionics in D&D 5E?

If so then what do you think of things like the Mystic, or do you handle it entirely differently? My group will start playing soon and I’m thinking of either giving one character psionic powers (because of exposure to supernatural magics).

In other words entirely doing away with the idea of psionics being a “class” or “profession” and instead returning to the AD&D idea of it being a sort of rare mutation.

Also I’m thinking of doing away with the parallel powers (which is nothing more than sorcererous magical powers by another name) of psionic “classes” and concentrating heavily upon the subconscious, visions, dreams, forewarnings, integrated senses, synesthesia, intuitions, and psychological and mental combat and combats of the “Will.”

And of having certain places (the cleft of the oracle at Delphi), and certain substances, and certain techniques (fasting, going without sleep, entering trance states, sensory deprivation, prayer, etc.) modifying, augmenting, suppressing, or altering how psionic abilities work.

But I’d be interested in hearing how you do it, and how that works out for you.

ESSAYS IN GAME DESIGN – Essay Three: Where Has All The Magic Gone?

ESSAYS IN GAME DESIGN

Essay Three: Where Has All The Magic Gone?

Why don’t they make Magic Items like they used to?

I was looking through my AD&D books tonight and noticed how versatile and multi-functional so many of the magic items were.

They were powerful, and they were odd, and fascinating, and most important of all a lot of them could do all kinds of things.

By comparison so many of the magic items of more recent editions are bland, plain, uninspired, and uninspiring. It’s like using a piece of technology from the eighties or something. The items are overly specialized, technical, usually limited to one specific function, top-heavy in design and capabilities. A drag to own and use and usually good only for specific encounter types.

Older magic items were magical. They had so many functions they seemed like a modern mini-computer/cell phone/PDA/wristwatch/GPS/tricorder all in one. Impressive and extremely useful. Versatile. Fluid. A joy to own and use, employable in a wide range of circumstances. They were the Renaissance Men of Miracles, the Polymaths of Magic. And in addition most were mysterious. You had to figure them out as you went along. They could always have extra, hidden potential that you’d never know about til you screwed around with just the right thing and accidentally tripped some concealed latch. And you had Artifacts, and Incredible Devices, and Relics, with strange legends and ancient lore surrounding them. They weren’t just treasure types, they were items of real magic.

(In a purely imaginative sense, of course, but then again freeing the imagination, and being able to free the imagination, is a type of magic. Being enslaved to limited, prescribed, and proscribed function, technique, or technology is not magic. It is in many ways the very opposite of magic.)

We need to get back to that in modern fantasy games.

It made fantasy gaming fun instead of a technical exercise in weaponry calibres and target types.

Magic should have some, “Boy, now you’re really gonna see something!” to it, instead of “how many rounds ya got in that wand and what is the total count of damage points inflicted by it? I’m trying to calculate exactly how long this combat will last.”

Also,  magic used to be truly weird and fantastically dangerous.  To everyone including the Wizard employing it. Nowadays, and far too often it is merely a form of binary technology, on/off. And very rare is it for it to ever even fail.

So, where has all the magic gone?

It’s basically gone to hell with the idea that magic is about power shots and ammo counts rather than about mystery and wonder.

Somebody needs to dig some real magic up out of the grave and see if they can put a resurrection spell on it…

Endnote: I actually tend to think, that as far as game design goes, and even as regards gameplay to a certain extent, that the situation of “magicless magic” has actually improved considerably. Especially as regards Dungeons and Dragons and many of the related fantasy type games and role playing games. However, and against this general state of “magical improvement” has come the counter-tendency to reduce magic to a mere secondary or substitute form of technology as is far too often the case in literature, films, and video games. So I posted this essay anyway to remind game designers (even video game designers), DMs and GMS, and even players that they can be pursuing, even demanding real magic in their games, and by that I mean weird, strange, truly dangerous, multi-functional, and unpredictable magic that is anything but yet another substitute, secondary, or typical human technology. 

 

ESSAYS ON GAME DESIGN: To Hell With Balance

ESSAYS ON GAME DESIGN

Essay Two: To Hell With Balance

I’m gonna say something that might shock some of you guys. Then again, maybe not.

Balance, go to the Devil, and burn in hell. And while there sip septic tea with him til you’re really needed again. And chances are it won’t be often. But whatever the case, don’t call me, I’ll call you.

I’m working on a fantasy Role Playing Game, I’m not designing an algorithm, doing covalence equations, or writing a computer program to calculate a moonshot at apogee.

So sometimes in-game my players get their noses busted and spleens ruptured by a dragon that in real life they couldn’t ever easily kill. Not with bow-sticks and knives and harsh words anyways. Good, it’ll teach em a lesson about danger and risk and what it actually costs people.

And sometimes they’ll whip out their Horn of Resounding and bring down the walls of Jericho, or slay a few giants with the Jawbone of an ass. Good, sometimes you catch a miracle in midair, deserved or undeserved. Sometimes you get the bear, and sometimes he gets you. That’s life.

But in any case, as far as the game goes, the player is fascinated, interested, intrigued, involved, worried, anxious, and maybe even occasionally excited again. Perhaps shocked and ecstatic from time to time too, just to boot.

Balance, he ain’t my god. I don’t owe him any real sacrifices. He’s more like the grey-skinned Graeæ sisters than bright Apollo. Only one eye to see with, a lot of double talk, the bite of a one-toothed wonder – and in the end, disaster, not glory. You can’t trust Balance to point the way to the future, cause he’s more consumed with his own reflection in the mirror than with anything remotely heroic happening. Static, stale, sterile, sluggish, and simple-minded. A dotard of dullness. No poetry of soul, just an arrested arithmetic of tedium. More Echo and Narcissus, more Sound and Fury, than Thunder and Lightning.

I liked the original version of D&D. I like the 4th Edition, at least many things about it. But I see now that this pernicious idea of “balance” that crept in like the Serpent at Eve in Paradise, balance as an end in itself, especially in a fantasy game of all things, is more assassins’ poison than golden Ambrosia. If I have to kill wonder and potential just to achieve balance, then I have to kill fantasy just to achieve boredom. Thank you modern RPG Fantasy Game Theory of Balance, but I think you’d be happier working as a stock-boy in the warehouse of modern mediocrity, than a gate-keeper to the temples at Mount Olympus.

So Balance, my fine feathered fowl of gutless acquittal, go to hell and burn awhile. Maybe you’ll cook into a decent potpie.

Invention is as invention does. So, I’m gonna start designing fantasy games and adventures again, even D&D ones, where magic happens, miracles save the day, monsters are dangerous and feral, the voice of God rumbles across the sky, kingdoms topple, heroes struggle, players say, “Now that’s what I’m talking ‘bout!” and imaginations catch fire.

Balance can burn in his own oven… and stew in his own juices.

 

TODAY I LEVELED UP

LEVELING UP

Today I leveled Up. Several years ago I began directly applying the various gaming and wargaming techniques I have practiced most of my life directly to my “Real Life,” – to improve my character, nature, abilities, and to help me with my overall human accomplishments.

Part of my TSS (Transferable Skill Systems) and GPAD  (Games of Personal advancement and Development) Program.

Lately I have improved that system.

Today I made another Rise in my Accomplishments. Or, put in simplistic gaming terms I leveled up in Real Life.

This is basically my System and how I use it to advance myself (and those around me, like my wife and children).

ACCOMPLISHMENTS: (Rising or Leveling Up)

PROGRESSION – a minor accomplishment such as; making a ten pound increase in weight lifting routine, cutting time off of a sprint, climbing higher, faster, and farther, winning a sparring match (boxing, sword fighting, staff fighting, etc.), winning a game, minor increase in income, starting small business, play with children, make sketch or drawing or map, exploration and travel, attending a concert, play, or film, spending more time with family and friends, adding to my personal library, completing and submitting more work, writing more poems, songs, articles, and short stories, completing a chapter in a novel, designing a robot or artefact or machine, Vadding a new complex, local and state travel, clear land and do landscaping, do maintenance, buy new equipment and gear, undertaking important research, pleasant talk with a stranger successful training completed, learn new skill or technique helping someone, giving first aid, breeding spiders or small creatures of improvements, saving a wild animal’s life, etc.

ADVANCEMENT – a substantial accomplishment such as; doubling capacity or productivity, meeting a moderate income advancement goal, successful new investment, making business profitable, securing capital or funding or investors, finishing a book, epic poem, or song album, building a working invention prototype, painting, play by myself, assisting a charity project or making a generous donation to charity, having a nice and productive vacation, learning to read and/or write a new language, writing a major paper or developing a promising theory, making an important discovery, developing new fans and followers, finding clues to help resolve a case, a successful interview or interrogation, reading a book in a foreign/new language, regional or national travel, developing a new code or cryptological method, successful testing completed, master new skill or technique, renovate current home and estate, buy new properties, major or new purchase, successful infiltration, make new friend, treating an injury or disease, breeding a better, more intelligent, more capable, healthier animal, improving my own health (sthenicism), saving an pet’s life, etc.

ACHIEVEMENT – completing or resolving an important, major, or vital accomplishment or set of accomplishments such as; establishing my start-up(s) as a successful and profitable enterprise, taking company or corporation public, establishing or building a new church, writing a major work in a foreign or new language, selling a novel or major work, establishing a new industry based on my inventions, a successful archaeological expedition, discovering new artefacts and relics and ruins, helping to break an Organized Criminal Gang, resolving a major crime or violent crime, thwarting a terrorist attack, publishing a book or selling a major invention, album, musical composition, script, or piece of artwork, proving one of my theories, forming and funding a private army to fight terrorism, conducting a successful and crucial scientific experiment, major expedition, expanding PIIN network and making new Allies, create new system or technique successful counter-espionage, travel and exploration by sea or air, international travel, build new estate, a major philanthropic endeavor, becoming a billionaire, increasing my own longevity, adopting a child, curing a disease, saving a person or persons live(s),etc.

I have two systems I use for advancement. One is a sort of experience scorning system for each kind of activity. The other is a time completion system in which I can earn more or different kinds of experience for doing things within a certain critical timeframe.

Minor Accomplishments, such as Progressions score far less than Major Accomplishments such as Achievements. Of course.

I Rise, Advance, or “Level-Up” by meeting my “Accomplishment Goals” or by accumulating enough experience to Rise to the next “Level” (though I don’t really think of it in those terms, I think of it more in terms of level of expertise or objectives completed).

My goal at this point in my life is to make at least four or more Progressions every week, two or more Advancements every one month to three months, and at complete at least one major Achievement every three months to six months (depending upon the nature of the intended Accomplishment and how difficult it is).

So far I’m doing pretty good and I now tend to rise an a fairly regular and consistent basis.

Have a good day folks.

ARCHIVES AND HELP


Writing Your First Adventure
Part 1 of 6



If you are ready to design your first RPG adventure, or learn how to improve the adventures you’ve already got, you’ve come to the right place. The “Adventure Builder” will cover all the bases, from hooks to background to traps and treasures.

This time out, we’ll cover the foundation you need to build a great adventure. It’s not the background, the stat blocks, or even the main villain. It’s monster selection, and figuring out the size and style of the adventure.

How Big is Your Design?

A common rule of thumb among the Wizards of the Coast design staff is that a typical group of adventurers will level up after about 13 successful encounters of the party’s encounter level (EL). That’s a great number to work from, especially if you want to design a large adventure that spans multiple levels.

In an adventure with dozens of encounters, the party will level up half-way through. Since the party will be tougher and more capable from that point on, the adventure you’ve planned for them needs too scale up as well. It’s better to scale up the second half of the adventure appropriately, but if you don’t want the PCs to level up midway through your epic you can prevent it by keeping your number of encounters small or by lowering their EL (to reduce the XP per encounter).

At the same time, just because you map an encounter doesn’t mean that it will be played. Some areas are never explored, after all, and not every encounter leads to combat (some are resolved or defeated through stealth, magic, bribery, or roleplaying). So if you do want the PCs to level up after your adventure then you’ll need more than 13 party-level encounters to provide enough options and fallbacks if the party doesn’t follow the expected path.

So, not too many encounters and not too few. As a general idea, you want to prepare about 20 to 25 encounters for your party per level of advancement. If you prefer mostly lower EL encounters, perhaps closer to 25 to 30. If you run marathon play sessions every weekend, you might want to prepare 40 to 50 encounters ahead of time, and assume the second half will be at a higher level. If you run short game sessions, you’ll want to make sure that the adventure breaks into small sections of 3 or 4 encounters with a satisfying conclusion to each.

Now you know how many encounters you should prepare. What should be in those encounters? And what mistakes should you watch out for?

Common design mistakes

There are four fairly common errors in beginning adventure design. When I worked on Dungeon magazine I saw them constantly, and the errors haven’t changed.

1) too much useless backstory
2) slow starts
3) random encounters
4) too many encounters

Each of these is easy to fix. Here’s how you do it.

Simple Backstory: Most DMs and designers hate to hear it, but much of the time lavished on history and background is wasted energy. Players never find out who dug the tomb, how the wizard was betrayed by her apprentice, or why the assassin guild changed sides and disappeared. Working on backstory doesn’t improve the gameplay experience for anyone but the bards and scholars obsessed with legends or lore. Unless it connects directly to action in the current timeframe (and the PCs have a way of learning it), skip the involved history. Save that for sourcebooks.

This is not to say cut it all. Details of which faction can be turned against another, which guard might take a bribe, or what the villain ultimately plans to do if the party doesn’t stop him are all appropriate. Make sure your backstory is recent and relevant; avoid anything that starts “Thousands of years ago…”

Start the Action Quickly: When players arrive at the game, they are looking to roll some dice. You can start the action immediately and draw the players away from pizza and other distractions by giving them what they want: a short, simple combat encounter to start off the game. Ideally, the encounter is pitched at an encounter level (EL) no more than one level above or below the party’s level.

The best of the “start in midstream” kick-offs are aimed at all the PCs when they are together, and raise questions that lead the party to the adventure hook. For instance, the party might see raiders attacking an inn where they had planned to spend the night — survivors of the attack tell the party about the black knight who leads them. Or a teleporting extraplanar threat might appear during broad daylight and accuse a cleric of breaking his vows — and threaten to sacrifice his corrupt church elders to a greater power. Where these encounters go ultimately isn’t the most important thing: they can be a little tangential to the plot, as long as they get the party thinking of the right sort of threat.

I’ll discuss this in more detail next time in “Adventure Hooks.”.

Don’t Be Random: Time is precious, so be careful how many tangents and red herrings you include in your design. In particular, random encounters might be fun, or can be useful to get a dawdling party going, or to work off that frustration players sometimes get where they just need to have their characters kill something, but they don’t usually make your adventure any better. If they are tied into the core adventure, then they shouldn’t be random at all; those clues should be built in to the design. If they aren’t tied in to the adventure core, then you are just wasting game time on an encounter that doesn’t advance the mission or the story goals for you or your players.

Trim Excess Encounters: If you create too many encounters and you don’t play every day, players forget what their mission was, or start to lose hope of making progress. They wind up grinding through so many nuisance encounters that they lose sight of the important clues, or they don’t talk to the important NPC, or they don’t search the critical room for documents — because they are too busy grinding through combats. If the encounters are just there to fill up space on a map, they might as well be random. Leave some rooms empty to speed up play.

Encounter Selection: Fitting Together a Cast

The real challenge is balancing encounters to present a variety of challenges for every member of the party. The adventure, after all, is a chance for the heroes to triumph over opposition (or fail miserably and go home).

Selecting for a Coherent Look and Feel

Story, setting, and immersion are all easier to pull off if your monsters fit a theme. That theme might be “united tribes of humanoids” or it might be “desert raiders”, but either way it cuts out many choices. Avoid the kitchen sink approach of just taking creatures that match the party level. Instead, make good use of the EL chart in the Dungeon Master’s Guide (page 49) to create encounters of small groups, pairs of monsters, and single creatures.

In particular, consider linked encounters for your cast. A guard dog or a sentry might be a much lower EL encounter from a combat perspective — but if the party fails to use a silence spell or a sneak attack to take it out quickly then it could make later encounters more difficult.

Balancing by EL and by Class

The Dungeon Master’s Guide offers direct advice on how many easy, challenging, very difficult, and overwhelming encounters a typical adventure should contain (see page 49). Hint: not many overwhelming encounters.

While this breakdown is good advice, it’s not complete. You’ll want to be sure that your 20 or 25 encounters include encounter variety by class as well as by EL. That is, make sure to include each of the following types of encounters, to give every class and every player a chance to shine.

1) Two Skill Encounters: These are creatures or obstacles that can be defeated by stealth or skill, such as guards, castle walls, cliffs, informants, or low-hp creatures that can fall to a single sneak attack.

2) Four Pure Combats: You need some no-negotiation, straight-up combats that play to the fighter classes. Think orcs, wolves, ogres, giants — or dragons. Consider tactics first here: ambushes, charge, bull-rush, something to make it more than just attack rolls and damage rolls.

3) Two Magical Challenges: Include two magical challenges that require a knock, a fireball, or whatever other strengths your arcane spellcasters have. They might be lore-based challenges, such as knowing the weaknesses of an extraplanar creature, or they might require the use of Concentration or Spellcraft to manipulate a magical object or unravel a mysterious warding.

4) One Divine Challenge: The divine caster in the party is more than just a medic, so give him or her something to do with at least one undead turning, Knowledge (Religion), or nature-knowledge encounter (if your divine caster is a druid).

5) One Puzzle or Trap: This could be as simple as finding the key to a tough lock, deciphering an ancient script, or finding a secret door with Search, but you should include traps and puzzles for your party to solve. If the party doesn’t have a rogue in it, use Knowledge skill checks as a substitute.

6) Two Roleplaying Encounters: Social skills play an important part of the game too, and bards don’t like to just sit and do their stuff in the background. Provide at least two roleplaying encounters that can be defeated by the right social skills, bribes, exchange of services, or clever conversation. Examples include a scholar with a clue that the party needs to bypass some defenses or wardings, or a devil who will ally with them against a common foe.

7) One Mook Encounter: This should be against foes of at least 2 CR less than the party, and ideally 3 or 4 less. Think kobolds, bandits, skeletons, wild animals, or any other group of many foes that play to Cleave and area-effect spells. It’s fun to see heroes cutting a swath through hordes of foes.

8) One Polder: “Polder” is a Dutch word describing land reclaimed from the sea, but here it’s a more general term. As described in detail in Dungeon 135, polders are safe havens for adventurers, places where the party can regain strength. Think Rivendell in Lord of the Rings. Your polder could be a xenophobic elven tree city, a magical rope that generates rope trick spells as a charged item, a bound archon who wards a treasure, or a dwarven merchant caravan. If the party wishes, they can heal up to full strength and level up.

9) One Bigger Fish: To keep the blood flowing, you should have one overwhelming encounter that the party can’t handle without serious risk of a total party kill. This could turn into a roleplaying bit of Diplomacy, a chase, or a stealth challenge, depending on how the party handles it — but they should see that not every encounter in every adventure should be fought.

10) Big Finish: A grand finale encounter with all the trimmings: villain, minions, and a room or terrain that provides interesting combat options.

That list of recommended encounter types covers 17 encounters out of the 20 to 25 in your adventure, but you could easily double up on any of those categories. For example, if you know that the players like intense combat you could set up the remaining encounters as pure combats. If you know that your arcane caster is itching for a magical duel — or that the rogue will always try reconnaissance first — prepare those kinds of encounters.

Tailoring an adventure to show the heroes in the best light means more fun for everyone. Making an adventure that plays to the party’s weakness might be fun for you, but will only frustrate your players. Don’t take away their spells, sneak attacks, or combat items very often — those are the tools of heroism and the key to fun. Instead, give those strong points a challenge and a chance to shine.

To further tailor an adventure, consider some special encounter types if you have, say, a mounted knight, an archer, a monk, or a paladin in the group.

1) A mounted encounter
2) A ranged attack encounter
3) A chase (see Dungeon Master’s Guide II page 57 for chase rules), either hunting or being pursued.
4) A single-combat encounter or challenge from an honorable foe
5) Another class-specific encounter, such as one that requires bardic song, barbarian tracking, or fighting a ranger’s favored enemy.

Conclusion

Adventures work if they are fun and easy to play, and give every kind of hero a chance to shine in different encounter styles. The most important part of design isn’t the details of a stat block, but the type and variety of opponents and encounters.

About the Author

Wolfgang Baur is the author of dozens of adventures, from the “Kingdom of the Ghouls” and “Gathering of Winds” in Dungeon magazine to upcoming releases from Wizards of the Coast. He offers custom-tailored adventures and professional advice to patrons of the Open Design blog.

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MYTHS OF THE SCOTTISH, IRISH, CELTS, AND THE NORSE

Been away awhile busy at other things. Slowly kicking back in.

Here’s something interesting I found in the meantime. Good source for gamers. Good source for writers.

MYTHS OF THE SCOTTISH, IRISH, CELTS, AND THE NORSE

MIDDLE-EARTH ROLE PLAY

 

The Adventures in Middle-earth Player’s Guide from Cubicle 7 Entertainment is probably the one gaming supplement that role-players have waited the longest for. With this book, the Dungeons & Dragons game is united with the Middle-earth of J.R.R. Tolkien’s writing for the first time, officially. It only took 42 years.

Yes, there have been Middle-earth role-playing games already. Iron Crown published Middle-earth Role Playing in the 80s and 90s. Cubicle 7 Entertainment also currently publishes The One Ring Roleplaying Game. Despite the great influence that Tolkien exerted over D&D, the two streams never officially crossed before now.

Now D&D players and DMs can officially delve into Middle-earth and interact with the character’s of Tolkien’s fiction. At least partially, for now. The Player’s Guide is exactly what it says on the tin, and it contains everything that players would need to create characters native to Middle-earth, along with the basics of adventuring in that world. Creatures, characters from the books and a deeper look into the setting itself are for a further book (or books).

For decades, the concepts that many consider to be traditional fantasy, or more to the truth D&D fantasy, have been evolving in this cooking pot of tabletop games, video games and tie-in media, and now we are getting to see the raw materials for the stew getting thrown back into the pot.

I recommend the Adventures in Middle-earth Player’s Guide for people wanting to bring a more authentic Middle-earth experience into their D&D games, but I think that they might be surprised by some of the directions of the book. It is not without flaws, and I will try to address some of those as I go.

First off, the art in this book is wonderful. From the samples of the cultures of Middle-earth to the landscapes of Middle-earth to the “None Shall Pass!” Gandalf illustration on the book’s cover, the Adventures in Middle-Earth Player’s Guide has some great art in it. If, for some strange reason, you have never seen a Lord of the Rings or Hobbit movie, the art in this book will give you plenty of visual cues as to what Middle-earth would look like. This is great art. Few people do brooding landscapes as well as Jon Hodgson.

The new classes in this book are very interesting, and they bring to the foreground some of the genre conventions of Tolkien’s works.
The Slayer is the barbaric warrior type from the less civilized lands. The Scholar is knowledgeable about the world, and a healer. The Treasure Hunter is a burglar. Wanderers are travelers who wander the roads and forests of the land. Warriors are hardy and disciplined fighters. Wardens are guardians and protectors who inspire as well as protect.

Each class has archetypes that allow for specialization and differentiation, should you have more than one representative of a class in your party of characters. The niches, while they can be thinner among the fighting classes, are well defined enough so that each class can stand out among a group of characters, and have things to do.

Instead of races, like in baseline D&D, the Adventures in Middle-earth Player’s Guide instead uses cultures. When you have a handful of non-human “races,” and then a bunch of different regional ways to say “human,” going the cultural route makes sense mechanically. In this book there are eleven cultures covering dwarves, the various regional types of humans, hobbits and the elves. Each has their own traits, suggestions for names, bonus equipment and other things. For the non-human cultures there are also “racial” abilities. Each culture also has a type, which figures into the types of equipment that starting characters would have access to.

The Adventures in Middle-earth Player’s Guide also adds virtues that help to reinforce the Middle-earth feel, and to give some additional mechanical support to cultures. Basically these are renamed feats and are broken out by the various cultures of Middle-earth. They also go a long way towards helping to differentiate different characters of the same classes. How a Barding approaches being a Warrior and a Man of Bree does that are different, and their virtues can help mechanically add those flavors.

Tolkien is held up as one of the exemplars of epic, high fantasy, but the tone that much of this book is of a darker and dirtier style of fantasy than that of the D&D style of fantasy that the game has perpetuated over the years. The Slayer and Treasure Hunter classes would be as at home in a game inspired by Howard or Leiber as they would be in a game set in Middle-earth. Other rules, such as Corruption and Shadow Weaknesses reinforce the dark fantasy feel of the book.
The Shadow over Middle-earth is growing, and encounters with it, and its allies, can cause corruption to those who are trying to fight against it. This can lead to interesting character development issues, but it can also mean a loss of player agency when Corruption can take a character out of play entirely.

The things that I didn’t like are fewer than the things that I liked in this book. I’m not a big fan of the Journeys rules. I think that these rules, and some elements of the Corruption rules, take away player agency, and the Journeys rules place more emphasis on random rolls than the actions of the characters. I wouldn’t see myself using these rules, only because the handful of handful of dice rolls made at the beginning of the journey would have too much of an impact of things that would happen at the journey’s end. Moreso than the actual actions of the characters during the journey. I’m not a fan of taking control out of the hands of the gaming group, and neither are the people with whom I tend to game. I know that, in an actual journey, a bad event at the start of things can color what happens for the rest of the journey, but there should still be a chance to overcome. For a game that pushes the idea that the characters are heroes, not being able to overcome the environment would make me wonder if the characters could have any chance of overcoming the growing threats of the Shadow.

Honestly, outside of the occasional wandering monster, I am not a huge fan of using a lot of random tables to shape play anyway because the results tend to be inconsistent and can, at worse, poke holes in the suspension of disbelief of those playing. Journeys and travel are an important element of Tolkien’s works, but they are typically the parts which appeal to me the least, so excising them shouldn’t be that hard.

Whether you want to play a game of Tolkien inspired fantasy, or your games go for something a bit darker, there will be things that you can use from the Adventures in Middle-earth Player’s Guide. There is plenty to bring new directions to D&D games that are looking for an influx of creativity.

Mechanically, the material in the Adventures in Middle-earth Player’s Guide is tightly integrated and on point. The more indie design idea that the function of rules should inform the form of the game influenced this book a good deal. The various mechanical pieces from cultures to virtues to classes all work together to enforce the feel of the game’s setting, and to make it a part of the rules of the game. This book is the product of designers and a publisher who know what they are doing and are working to elevate the design of their games. Once the physical version of the book is out, it should become an integral part of the D&D sections of any fantasy gamer’s gaming collection.

I am glad that Wizards of the Coast wised up with the fifth edition of Dungeons & Dragons and went back to the less restrictive OGL of the third edition game. We are definitely getting an explosion of creativity in support for this edition of D&D that we didn’t previously receive, with the last edition. While the D&D game itself seems more interested in replaying the past, because of the OGL we get books like the Adventures in Middle-earth Player’s Guide that are willing to look at the core elements of the D&D game while still making something that is bold and new. Hopefully the third party creativity that we see in books like the Adventures in Middle-earth Player’s Guide and other works like those being published by companies like Kobold Press will inspire the base of D&D development to push for new and exciting directions for the game.

I am eager to see what Cubicle 7 Entertainment does next in their Adventures in Middle-earth line, and where they take the game next. The Adventures in Middle-earth Player’s Guide is a grand slam from a publisher at the top of their game.

Read more: http://www.enworld.org/forum/content.php?3568-Take-Your-D-D-Adventures-Into-The-Realms-Of-Middle-earth#.WBKC4jXQfct#ixzz4OKQku6Ub

IN EVERY “FIRST ENCOUNTER” UNCERTAINTY IS ALWAYS THE ESSENTIAL ELEMENT OF TRUE DANGER

What I like best about what is implied in this book (hinted at but not much developed in the article) is the idea that you may have competing descriptions of various monsters. Which might very well mean that you have various (interpretive) versions of the same monster, which of course, in and of itself, implies that a monster might be this or might be that, or might even be neither or both in any given milieu or setting.

Which would be a very Game of Thrones, Martinesque version of a monster, sure enough, though if you’ve ever read the Silmarillion (or even just the Hobbit) you know that Tolkien really invented the technique of presenting competing and unclear/unreliable versions of history and myth, at least as far as modern fantasy is concerned. The larger idea, of course, stretches all the way back to the Greeks ( and beyond into prehistory and oral cultures) who had several very different and even competing versions of various prodigies and monsters depending upon the author, the source, the time period, the regional geography/telling, and the nature of the myth itself.

As a matter of fact this is something I have often done in my own game designs and in my own fictional writings going back to when I was a kid, but it is extremely gratifying to hear that the idea is possibly being explored in core material books of D&D and possibly for other RPGs as well.

Because what this means, if taken to its logical conclusion, is that even if players have access to the Monster Manual then that does not mean that they are in possession of concrete and reliable information regarding what any given monster’s true nature, behavior, or even physiology and capabilities might be.

Since I have designed and redesigned famous/standardized D&D monsters in this way since I first became a Dungeon Master back in my teens I know precisely how effective this technique can be (as well as how valuable it makes rumor and field investigation and intel-gathering as a capability of classes like Rangers, Rogues, Bards, and Wizards) in designing and developing a truly exciting game and a truly disturbing method of “encountering monsters.” (Potentially, in some ways at least, every single encounter of a monster can b a “first encounter,” even if you have already encountered the same species dozens of times before.)

When every encounter (or at least a large number of them) are built upon rumor, possibility, and analytical interpretation of conflicting reports rather than upon reliable information and hard, verifiable data then Monsters become far, far more dangerous than they ever were before.

So I am very glad to see Core-Designers possibly adopting the same position.

As a matter of fact I’ve written several essays on that very subject.

Such as these as just two examples:

Crawling Into Oblivion

The Blood of Uncanny Monsters

 

_________________________

Dungeons & Dragons is changing how it makes books

“We live in a post Game of Thrones world.”

The venerable Dungeons & Dragons franchise, the granddaddy of the modern role-playing game, is now in its 5th edition. And, to hear publisher Wizards of the Coast tell it, the sourcebooks are selling like hot cakes. More people than ever before are discovering the magic of rolling dice and telling stories with their friends, and lapsed fans are returning in droves.

For lead designer Mike Mearls, that’s created a bit of a problem. How do you keep the source material fresh for a 42-year old franchise? And, when you’re in the business of selling books, how do you make the next one more interesting than the last?

Consider a pillar of the franchise, the sourcebook known as the Monster Manual. The first, titled simply Monster Manual, was published in 1977. Since then there have been 18 iterations, some for different editions of the game with different rulesets, others with slightly different snippets of lore. But, through the decades, it’s always been roughly the same thing: An alphabetical list of monsters.

“I have this kind of personal philosophy for managing the product line,” Mearls said last month in Renton, Washington. “I don’t want to duplicate any product that’s come before. I think that if people have seen it, then it’s not really new and it’s not really exciting.”

The first Monster Manual, circa 1977.

This time around, he and his team have decided to do something a little bit different. Their next take on the Monster Manual will be called Volo’s Guide to Monsters and, for the first time, it will have a lot more character to it.

“It’s risky,” Mearls said. “In the end, it’s still a giant book full of monsters. No one would argue with that. But I just think that if that’s all the Monster Manual is, then we’re selling ourselves short. So the idea was, the kind of genesis of it, was that want to do something that’s more story oriented.”

Volo’s Guide will have a narrator — two actually. One will be Volothamp Geddarm, an over-the-top, braggadocious explorer. The other will be Elminster, the wise Sage of Shadowdale. And the two will often be at odds with one another. Their differing accounts will be scattered throughout the book, and take the shape of comments scribbled in the margin.

WIZARDS OF THE COAST WANTS THEIR SOURCEBOOKS TO BE FUN TO READ.

Put simply, the goal is to create a book that high-level players and dungeon masters will enjoy reading. The goal, in the end, is to inspire new stories at the table, not simply reinforce the lore of the Forgotten Realms and ram storylines down player’s throats.

“I have this pet phrase I use,” Mearls said. “I like to say that we’re living in a post Game of Thrones world. Fantasy has changed.

“If you look at science fiction follows, I think an arc that fantasy is following now. In the 50’s, science fiction was very iconic, and at least in movies, very much templated. You had the flying saucer, or the rocket ship, you had either the aliens who were clearly monsters — like the guy in the deep sea diving helmet wearing the gorilla coming to eat people or whatever. Or they were people in funny outfits who were very inscrutable and so much more advanced that we were, and that was your pantheon.”

Later, as science fiction entered the ‘60s and the ‘70s, it began to be entrusted with more serious themes and dealt with issues of change in modern culture as a whole.

“So you have this new wave of science fiction coming through and science fiction grows up,” Mearls said. “It became Alien — a horror movie in outer space. It becomes Soylent Green, which is kind of like this social commentary on science fiction. It’s Rollerball, right? This entire thing about what’s it really mean to have free will, and can there really be freedom in a technological society? But it’s still science fiction.”

THE FANTASY GENRE IS GROWING UP.

Mearls sees Game of Thrones as evidence of the same kind of evolution in the fantasy genre, and it’s his hope that Volo’s Guide can become a new kind of sourcebook to help bring about new kinds of stories.

So what’s inside? I’ve had an advanced digital copy for a few weeks now and I’m pretty impressed at what I’ve found.

The first third of the book is a series of deep dives on specific species of monsters. How specific? Mearls and his team lavish nearly 14 full two-column pages on beholders alone, exploring every aspect of their nature both in and out of combat.

Most of the information is great fodder for dungeon masters. How do you roleplay a beholder? How do you speak like a giant? What does their four-tier caste system contribute to goblin society? What does a gnoll chant to keep his spirits up while on the hunt? What is the lifecycle of a mind flayer?

Well, actually, I’ll let Volo himself handle that last one.

Ever wondered what a hag is most likely to drive off the used car lot, or fancied a careful examination of the kobold pantheon? It’s all in there, and something is going to light a fire in your mind and bring a richer, more memorable experience to the table.

The second third of the book might be my favorite. I’m not able to share much, but suffice it to say that with Volo’s Guide both dungeon masters and players will be able to bring new races to the table, both as player and non-player characters. That includes rules for goblins, orcs and even something called a “firbolg.”

The final third contains rules for 96 monsters that are new to fifth edition, including the Gauth and the Mindwitness.

All told, Wizards of the Coast sent over six pages to share with our readers. We’ll include the final three below.

The very last section of the book features a great add-on. It’s a nice little appendix that includes a handful of fully detailed stock NPCs. It makes the entire package a fantastic resource for dungeon masters, turning a pretty standard sourcebook into a self-contained toolkit capable of spawning dozens of different dungeons — or sparking entire campaigns — without very much prep work at all.

To create it, Mearls says his team has had to take a long hard look at Dungeons & Dragons’ oldest and most iconic creatures. Their goal was to explain them to a degree that’s never been canonically attempted before in one place.

“If you take a look at something like a mind flayer,” Mearls said, “it has that sort of ‘50s science fiction feel. It’s the creepy monster that lives under the bed and eats your brain by the end of story. But I think with a 21st century approach, you can say, ‘Well, who is the mind flayer.’ And it sounds funny, but then you start getting into it. What’s with this guy eating brains?

“Dungeons & Dragons was very much developed with this almost scientific mindset,” Mearls said. “What’s the biology of the mind flayer? But no one asked about its feelings. But when you think about, it the game tells me that mind flayer has an 18 intelligence. The highest intelligence a human can achieve, that’s their average. Literally, they walk in the room and they are the smartest being there. They are smarter than every human they’ve ever ate. So talking to us is like meeting dogs, for them. What’s that got to be like?”

Mearls says that, if the book is successful, he intends for his team to handle more of their upcoming sourcebooks in a similar way.

Volo’s Guide to Monsters will be available at your friendly local game store on Nov. 15. You can also find it on Amazon. It’s also the first Dungeons & Dragons product to have a collectible, alternate cover which you can see here Babykayak.

 

DRAGON AND THIEF

The Dragon and the Thief

Do your PCs spend a lot of time in taverns drinking and gambling? Do you want to role-play the games perhaps as a change of pace or as a prelude to a cracking barroom brawl?

 

The dragon and the Thief is a perfect game for PCs to play when relaxing in their favourite tavern. They can play it among themselves or try to win coins from the locals. Unlike some gambling games, a single round of Dragon and the Thief can go on for some time, but large amounts of money are rarely won or lost as each player usually only puts down or picks up one coin at a time.

A game of Dragon and the Thief is a great way to introduce new NPCs – either normal locals, rival adventurers, thieves, rivals or even potential employers. A game of Dragon and the Thief is also the perfect backdrop for some impromptu information gathering.

How to Play

To play, Dragon and the Thief, each player needs two six‐sided dice and a game board. The game is best played with three or more players.

Game Board by Matt Morrow

Game Board by Matt Morrow

Start: Before play begins, the players must decide what denomination of coin (copper, silver, gold or platinum) to wager. All players start by placing a coin of the relevant value on the number 7.

Who Goes First: The players all roll their dice. The player with the lowest score goes first. Thereafter, play passes to the left.

Playing: Each player rolls his dice. The result determines the player’s action:

  • 2 (The Thief): The player takes all the coins except those on number seven (The Hoard).
  • 3, 5, 6, 8, 9, 10 or 11: The player checks the number for a coin. If a coin is there, the player takes it. If there is no coin the player puts one down on that number.
  • 4: The player does nothing.
  • 7 (The Hoard): The player puts a new coin on that number.
  • 12 (The Dragon): The player takes all the coins on the board.

Play continues as long as the participants want to play; players can join or drop out at any time.

Get it Free

This is an extract from a Raging Swan Press product released as a special Christmas gift. It’s still available as a free download and contains several different printable game boards along with lists of players and in-game events designed to spice up the PCs’ gambling session. You can grab a copy at RPGNow or DriveThruRPG. Get your copy today!

 

THE MAKERS

The Makers 

CONDITION CARDS

https://www.facebook.com/groups/513044925567142/permalink/528730707331897/

THE WYRDROAD

THE WYRDROAD

By the way, I’ve mentioned this before but I have a new Facebook Gaming page up. It reflects the interests of this blog and you are welcome to go there and join and then participate and make your own posts.

Here is the Address: Wyrdroad

WYRDROAD

I have established a new Facebook Gaming Group.

I haven’t had much time to build up the membership yet because I’ve been busy but I have tried to build up some interesting content. The primary interest of the group is gaming, but like this blog it will cover history, archeology, warfare, science, technology, fantasy and science fiction, literature, pop culture, comics, etc.

You’re welcome to visit and to join. Just hit the links provided.

WYRDROAD

 

NornsOld4

CAERKARA – DESIGN OF THINGS TO COME

In keeping with what I said over the weekend about beginning to once again post my own Works (as per this Post) here is my entry for Design of Things to Come, though it is one day early due to later work week scheduling conflicts.

Also I have now corrected all my former entries in The Other World so that they now properly show in that category, as they should. Later I will begin reposting my Essays on Gaming and Game Design.

So here you go, the Introduction to The Caerkara, or The Expeditionary Force

 

________________________________________

 

Introduction to The Caerkara

When the Eldeven folk began to realize that monsters were being accidentally created through the use of Elturgy (Arcane Magic) they began to track down and capture many of these monsters and isolate them in various places where they could be studied and hopefully cured. However the alterations caused by exposure to (especially) high level Elturgy seemed irreversible.

Eventually the Eldevens also realized that Elturgy itself seemed to be “mutating” some of their own kind, as well as other creatures, into monsters, or the Caladeem. Many at the Court of Samarkand came to understand that some of these monsters were completely rogue and out of control and could not be held or captured, that once transformed certain monsters would have to be killed due to their new and vicious nature. The Eldevens in Samarkand formed secret teams of “monster hunters” that traveled throughout the Known World (and sometimes to places in their world beyond their explored knowledge) to capture or kill monsters. At the same time the Samareül began a project that lasted for many decades that attempted to “repair” elturgy so that it no longer created monsters. But the deterioration only seemed to increase and worsen and no means was discovered to return Elturgy to a reliably benign state of operation.

Some monster hunter teams soon discovered that monsters were disappearing right before capture. The reason was a mystery until it was discovered that these monsters were fleeing to another world, through means unknown. The Samareül put his best Sages and Elturgists upon the problem and eventually the Drüidect was discovered, which allowed travel between their world and Terra, though the means by which “the Weirding Road” operates is still a mystery.

The Samareül formed a secret and elite team of Monster Hunters to go to Terra and either recover or kill the monsters that had escaped to that world. While there agents of this team met human beings and discovered human ideas about religion as well as information about Miracles (Thaumaturgy). When this team returned home and reported on their findings the Samareül decided that these events were not coincidental at all but fated, and that Thaumaturgy, God, and religion might just be the long sought answer to either repairing or replacing the troubled nature of Elturgy.

Since then the Samareül has been carefully studying humans, their society, religion, thaumaturgy, God, and other related matters. He has sent his elite Expeditionary Team into Terra on numerous occasions. Ostensibly it is the job of this team to hunt down and capture or kill the escaped monsters from their world, but secretly this team also studies humans, religion, thaumaturgy, etc. and gather intelligence to return to the Samareül for further study and research. This secret team or Expeditionary Force is called the Caerkara. Over the course of their expeditions to Terra they have spent much time in the Byzantine Empire (where many of the odd events affecting both worlds, as well as the escaped monsters, seem to tend to congregate) and humans have become aware of their existence, though not their true nature and point of origin. They have also become uneasy allies on occasion with the Basilegate, and as a result of this interaction a relationship has developed between the Court at Constantinople and the Court at Samarkand.

JUST TO LET YOU KNOW

I will soon be returning to blogging and posting about my own game worlds and milieus, my novels (in this case regarding my fantasy/mythological, my sci-fi, and detective novels mostly), my essays on gaming, the games I have designed and written, TSS scenarios, GPADs, my start-ups that are game related, my Vadding expeditions and urban exploration, and all of my other personal creations, enterprises, and Work.

Recently I have been much too busy with both business and personal matters to post about my own creations. But things have calmed now and that’s about to change.

So from now on I will be posting at least once a week about my own creations and designs. This I will do mostly on the weekends, but if you are a follower of this blog then you will know as soon as it happens.

Have a good weekend folks.

GRAVEYARD ENCOUNTERS

10 Graveyard Encounters

A collection of graveyard encounters, adventure seeds, and half-baked thoughts…

1. The group stumbles upon a cemetery with tombstones a quarter of the standard size. Engraved on the tombstones are names like Kitty, Tiger, Max, etc. Half the grave soil has been disturbed as if something dug its way out. A meow can be heard in the distance as dozens of undead cats prowl the perimeter of their resting ground.

2. There are numerous mausoleums spread throughout the graveyard. Each one has four gargoyles leering at each of its roof corners. Anyone who crosses the shadow of any of the perched gargoyles will have the shadow come alive and attack. Once slain that gargoyle will no longer cast a shadow.

3. You encounter an elderly man who is digging up a grave. If questioned he tells you that he recently had a dream where his dead wife was calling for him to rescue her.

4. A young girl scream pierces through the cemetery. She is running frantically and crying for help. She and her partner came to the cemetery to make out when decaying arms rose up from the ground and dragged her lover beneath the surface. All that remains is a broken picnic basket, a shredded blanket, and a used sheepskin.

5. You cross paths with a half dozen gravediggers. Their cart is filled with dozens of bodies. Half of them deceased, the other half clinging to life. They tell you the other half will be dead soon enough and there is no point in waiting for the inevitable.

6. As you pass by a gravestone you hear scratching and clawing coming from the ground. The soil begins to break apart and you faintly hear mumbling asking for assistance. A few moments later a ghoulish man in victorian dress and a top hat pull himself out. He believes he is awfully late for a dinner engagement and ask your were Wilson Pub is.

7. A cemetery with a hundred gravestones and 12′ tall memorial plinth in the center. Once a living being enters the cemetery the dead begin to rise from their graves. Wave upon wave of zombies attack. Once a zombie is slain it will reanimate 1 hour later. The plinth in the center of the cemetery has the name of every person buried here. Only by crossing out their names will they stay dead.

8. You stumble upon a gravestone with a square glass in the center of it. Next to the glass are two dials. With the right combination on the dials or a successful disable trap check you are able to speak with the person who’s grave this belongs to. Their image will appear in the square glass and will gladly answer questions.

9. You enter into a graveyard and suddenly realize that the exit is no longer there. As far as the eye can see appears to be an endless rows of tombstones. You quickly realize that all gravestones bear the same name. Only by putting that soul to rest can you escape this distorted reality.

10. In a long abandoned cemetery you meet a farmer planting seeds on the burial plots. He claims that the dead are wonderful fertilizer and the crop yield has remnants of their past memories.

FORE AND AFT, PORT AND STARBOARD

Useful for a wide range of Naval Adventures and Campaigns.

June 23, 2016

Mark S. Cookman

     This is another post following our nautical theme and it includes one of my oldest tables. The table is a simple one and is honestly little more than a nautical vocabulary list, but it was the result of a hard won lesson. My hope is to help novice GM’s learn this lesson in a less painful manner than I did. Let me tell you a story.

     It is the late ’80’s and I am in college. I have a job and am a full time (15 credit hours) student of organic chemistry with a B average. For some reason, I believe that I can also have a social life and maintain this status (BTW, I could NOT.) so I also play various RPG’s. Currently, I am the GM for a game of Flashing Blades, for which I had prepared a murder mystery in a roadhouse type of adventure. Because I was an inexperienced GM, I allowed the PC’s, a group of rich and powerful French nobles, to purchase a ship and set sail away from my adventure.

     At the time though, I thought that I was in control of things. I believed that I could just adapt the adventure to occur on the boat during its trip to the New World. At the time, I didn’t want to make my players unhappy by telling them no. It was a dreadful mistake. The copious notes that I had on the roadhouse and its occupants were now basically garbage. I could salvage some names and other stuff, but that was it. I wasn’t going to say, “I’m sorry guys, but I just don’t really have anything prepared.” The group seemed excited to be on a boat, so I thought I could just go with the flow. The adventure went wrong from the very beginning because I wasn’t able to just say, “The ship will take at least a day to prepare to sail. You will need to spend the night in the inn.”

     It was truly a disaster of a gaming session. I knew less than half of what I needed to know to run a good adventure. I knew the name of the murder victims and how they were killed. I knew who (what actually because it was a shape-shifting demon) the murderer was and how the PC’s had to kill it. I did not, however, have a map of a ship (or even a good idea of what places there were on a ship), nor did I know what crew positions the murdered people filled. When the players began to ask completely reasonable questions, I couldn’t answer them at all. I had spent 3 hours earlier in the week preparing for the roadhouse adventure and yet our session fell apart because I wasn’t prepared to answer some simple questions about the setting, which was now a ship. The group was forgiving, but I had let them down. I started learning things about ships for our next session and today’s list comes from some of that research. Here are 20 Positions on a Ship Besides the Captain. Happy Gaming!

  1. Quartermaster

  2. Sailmaster

  3. Navigator

  4. Bosun

  5. Gunnery Master

  6. Carpenter

  7. Gunner

  8. Common Sailor

  9. Cook

  10. Loblolly Boy

  11. Cabin Boy

  12. Powder Monkey

  13. Shanty Man

  14. The Lookout

  15. First Mate

  16. Officer of the Watch

  17. Ship’s Pilot

  18. Coxswain

  19. Sailmaker

  20. Cartographer

OUT OF THE MOUTHS OF BABES – ALL THING

Very, very nice… from Ed

My 6-Year-Old Designed A Dungeon, And It’s Terrifying

Well met, adventurers! Today I am going to do something you have not seen me do before. Something bizarre and unexpected. I am going to gush about my kid. I had meant to write this prior to Father’s Day weekend, but things here at BardCo have become somewhat hectic, what with school letting out for the summer, sports programs beginning, and new multimedia ventures coming to fruition. Suffice to say, this is a little late, but still retains much of its potency.

There are two things you should know about me. The first is that I am a fan of the old Gygaxian dungeon crawls of yore, with its pitfalls and terrors beyond reckoning. They were punishments disguised as fun, and damn it if he didn’t accomplish both. Never have I had so much fun being rent asunder or crushed to death, or boiled alive, or having my soul torn out or… well, you get the picture.

The second thing your should know about me is that my young son has a strong desire to play D&D or Pathfinder. He can’t decide which cover art is cooler. He likes to play with the minis I have on hand, set up my terrain, draw maps on my dry erase flip mat, and tell a story. Sometimes he even asks to use my dungeon master screen for reasons that are unknown but undoubtedly sinister.

If was a few months ago that he asked me if he could “Make a dungeon” for my weekly group.  I gave a wry chuckle and found myself filled with something I believe to be a mix of pride and amusement. I gave him the go-ahead, handed him a Monster Manual and a Bestiary, a couple magic markers, and a boat load of minis, and he went about his dark work. What he created still gives me pause. It would have been an act of pure cruelty and insidious design.

And it was good.

I’ve given the map he gave me the digital upgrade, as the only remaining picture I have of it (aside from the one seared into my mind’s eye), is blurry as all-get-the-funk-out. I will detail each room of this two level horror show.

The Tomb Of Xandarr, The Cruel
 The first thing you may note about the “Tomb” is that it is a little oddly shaped. The triangles, rectangles, squares, and ovals (all shapes easily recognizable to a Kindergartener) that are connected together by a series of strangely-shaped hallways. But when you really take a look at it, a couple things become apparent.
First, the rooms aren’t the typical square rooms we’re used to in dungeons, leading someone who has no idea the whole thing was designed by a 6-year-old to believe that the entire complex was created by a madman with some issues. The rooms are chaotic, adhering to no symmetry or even consistency. There is no sense of familiarity between rooms since they vary in size and shape with each new chamber. This puts characters on the defensive, never knowing what each room might hold. Granted, this should be the normal state of mind for every character going into a dungeon.
Secondly, those hallways. If you are playing with players who get paranoid easily, these halls are nightmares. Bizarre angles and narrow passages make for an almost claustrophobic setting. Without realizing it, my wee geekling is playing a psychological game with the players, putting them through their paces and tearing away any semblance of peace.
Now, let’s get into Level 1
Section 1 – Orc Encampment: “A crooked and jagged hallway of jutting stones zigs and zags its way toward a mostly rectangular chamber. Grunts from the eastern wall signal that the room is occupied. Half a dozen burly orcs rise from a sitting position gripping cruel axes.”
The dungeon begins with a pretty straight forward fight between the characters and a band of orcs camping in the room. I say camping because that is what my son explicitly said they were doing. In my “Game Master must justify everything” brain, I reasoned the orcs were about to enter the dungeon and made camp in this empty and defensible first room to regain their strength for the path ahead.
For most characters who enter this room, this battle should be a breeze. Since I figure the average party should be about level 8 to take on the bulk of the dungeon, six orcs is a pittance. Still, with good tactics and focused fire, the orcs could still pose a problem, especially if the retreat down the hall in the north end of the room, which would bottleneck the players.
Section 2 – The Pit of Mummies: “This oval, domed, stone chamber is mostly empty. The walls are bare and there are not sconces for torches. The only thing of import seems to be a single, simple stone sarcophagus sitting in the center of the room. Small cracks run the length of the dust-covered floor like a spider web.”
Most dungeons will place their boss at the end. My 6-year-old says “To hell with conformity” and sticks that sonnova bitch in room 2! But he was not content with a simple boss fight. No. He wanted a boss fight with a trap. He wanted a boss fight in a trap! The stone sarcophagus sits in the center of a fragile circle. If a character spends more than two rounds on the surface of the circle, if two stand on it at once, or if two characters pass over it one at a time, the floor will give way into a 40-foot free fall onto a spiked floor. That’s a little rough, especially considering on top of the spikes you are also taking bludgeoning damage from the falling rocks.
But wait! There’s more!
Once the sarcophagus breaks after the fall, it reanimates the mummy lord within. This is Xandarr, and he doesn’t take kindly to being woken up. When I asked my progeny what kind of magic spells he had, he simply said, “Ones that make characters fall down so when they fall down they fall on spikes.”
That’s actually kind of evil. So, here is the scenario. If the floor collapses (because the encounter is actually entirely avoidable), any poor bastards that find themselves on the floor need to make dexterity or reflex saving throws. Anyone that screws the pooch ends up at the bottom of a 40-foot deep pit of spikes fighting a mummy lord that can put them back on those spikes with a wave of his hand.
 “Are you my mummy?”
Did I mention the second mummy down here? Oh yeah. Impaled on one of the spikes is yet another mummy. Granted, this is just your run of the mill mummy, but damn! That just ups the chances of the poor characters stuck in the pit to get a fun case of mummy rot (still sounds like an STD).
What’s more, the rest of the characters would be stuck up above, trying to find something to attach  a rope to, of which there is nothing. Melee characters would either have to traverse the rope and hope the mummy lord isn’t leveling spells at them or jump and deal with the spiky goodness. Those that choose the rope are looking at a 2-3 round commitment since the  average climb speed is 15-feet, and the pit is more than twice that.
The walls of the pit are flat and smooth (not to mention round, so no corners to shimmy up), making climbing out without assistance a virtual nightmare as far as difficulty is concerned (and failure meaning another trip to spike town).
On the plus side, the mummy lord is carrying an amulet that can make your skin as tough as stone, so hooray for loot. On the downside, the mummy lord is wearing said amulet, and would be foolish not to use it.
Evil, evil child.
 “There is nothing more precious than the laughter of a child.”
Section 3 – Trapped Hallway: “The door opens to a 25-foot long hallway. The hallway stretches off into a straight line, but there seems to be a five-foot deep, 10-foot long recess on the eastern side. Seven stone tiles make up the floor, each emitting a clicking sound when stepped upon. A stone door stands at the far end of the hall.”
My kid loves Minecraft. Moreover, he loves pressure plates and making them do things. This is a simple hallway, but a very complicated hallway at the same time. Immediately, a canny rogue is going to realize that every single inch of floor is a pressure plate. This makes the rogue’s job so much more difficult. Not to mention that recess. What is that? What even is that? Is it a trap?
Oddly enough, no. It’s just the shape of the hall. The mean part comes when an unfortunate character stands in front of the door leading out of the hall. Should they fail to disarm the trap, or if they step on the pressure plate before the door, that entire 10-foot section of wall on the eastern side of the door springs forward and crushes anyone standing there.
 “Holy broken bones, Batman!”
It’s sort of a fake-out. A trap fake out. The recess screams “look at me!” when it’s the stationary wall that is the killer aspect here. I am both proud and afraid on the kiddo.
Section 4 – Go Ahead. Touch It: “This triangular room is lit with a pair of torches on the northeastern and northwestern  walls. The torches burn with a sickly blue flame that casts the chamber in a ghostly light. A small pedestal stands at the apex of the triangle. Atop it rests a smooth violet jewel that size of a child’s fist. There is a pair of stone doors on the eastern wall.”
“What’s in this room?” I asked my son as he drew the funny triangle.
“A stone.” he replied matter-of-factly, “It’s purple. If you touch it it automatically steals your soul.” he continued, drawing a tiny stone in the room.
That’s right, the ultimate game of “I dare you to touch it.” The danger in this room is easily bypassed. Just walk on out. But that gem. That gem is likely to get someone into trouble. Let’ss face it, we all know that one player that can’t talk past a shiny red button without pressing it. Even if the button had a “Do not touch the red button” sign hanging over it, they would still have to push it, just to know what happens. Hell, more than one of us has been that character at one point or another.
“Touch not, lest ye be touched.”
The punishment for greed or curiosity is the loss of your soul. No save. Yeah, I made sure to ask him about that, but he insisted that it was automatic.
I asked, “Why?”
“Because they touched it.”
Can’t argue with that.
Section 5 – Dragonfire Pass: “This curved hallway has intricate carvings of dragons set into the stone walls. The doorways on the west and south are carved into the shape of dragon’s jaws. A strange and pungent odor fills the air here, leaving a sort of haze. The ground is wet, with a shimmering purple film seeping in between tiles and cracks.”
When I told my son about a dungeon I’d created where a bunch of kobolds lit everyone on fire with flammable liquid on the floor (such are out dinner conversations), his eyes grew wide and he couldn’t help but tell his grandmother, and anyone else who would listen. It was, I think, cool to him.
So cool, in fact, that he wanted to do something like it in his dungeon. The hall, as he told me, had dragon heads near the doors. The center of the hall marks the trigger for a burning hands spell to erupt from the dragon heads on both ends, and set the oil-soaked floor ablaze.
  “It’s a disco inferno.”
Sweet. Simple. Barbeque characters. Even if they didn’t get a soul stolen, the hall can easily become a serious pain in the ass, especially for those bringing up the rear. What’s worse is that the door at the end of the hall is locked. How good is your rogue? Picking a lock while burning to death good?
Section 6 – Treasure Room: “The door opens revealing a large rectangular room with heaps of gold coins and overflowing chests of treasure. The room is lit by torches in each corner. The flickering firelight dances upon each glinting bobble. An iron door stands against the south wall.”
Treasure! Who doesn’t love treasure? And there are piles of it here. Coins, gems, magic weapons, and armor. Everything an adventurer could want. But apparently, I have raised the kind of child that doesn’t let anything come too easily. I blame years of telling him to clean his room.
Something lives in the piles of treasure. Well, lives may not be the word. A pair of dread wraiths haul ass out of the coins like a demonically possessed Scrooge McDuck. Dread Wraiths, as I am sure you know, are not kind creatures. My son equally so. With a plethora of enemies at his disposal, he hand picked the wraiths because, of course, they looked cool.
 “Rule of cool.”
Section 7 – The False Exit: “The iron door opens to a long hallway with a simple wooden door at the end. Hanging over the door is a small sign that says ‘EXIT’. The walls of this hall are bare.”
The characters beat the bad guys, got the treasure, and managed to live. Now it is time to get out and  enjoy the spoils. Except, this isn’t an actual entrance. That wooden door leads to nothing. The hall, on the other hand, does lead somewhere, and it’s nowhere good.
The hall, according to my spawn, is like a seesaw. If more than one character heads to the door, the weight will tilt the entire floor, effectively turning the hall into a massive chute. A chute to where?
Well… Nightmareville, basically.
Room 8 – Arena With Two WHATS?!: “The chute leads to what looks like a large arena with a dirt floor. Empty seats encircle the arena, void of spectators. Two large creatures hover above the ground. They have massive, fanged mouths with a sickeningly huge, singular eye. A number of stocks jut from this monstrous floating head, each with an eye of its own.”
 “Eye see what you did there.”
 I had to ask him three times to be sure. He was sure. Not only had he taken the notion of escape from the players, he pitted them up against not one, but two beholders, or as he called it, “The monster on the front of the book.”
“No. Just no.”
The fight is pretty straightforward, or at least as straightforward as a fight with two beholders can be. All the characters need to do is defeat them and they can get out. According to my son, the door only opens when both are dead.
I don’t think everyone will be getting out of this one alive.
“Kids these days.”
There we are. Short, simple, brutal. I should be making some comment about child-like innocence, but honestly, after that… I think he might be pure evil.
The kid has a promising future as a Game Master.
Roll well, my friends,

+Ed The Bard 

UNUSUAL BEGINNINGS TO ADVENTURES, CAMPAIGNS, AND QUESTS

UNUSUAL BEGINNINGS TO ADVENTURES, CAMPAIGNS, AND QUESTS

Below are to be found descriptions and entries I have created regarding unusual ways to begin Adventures, Campaigns, and Quests for various kinds of Role Playing and Tabletop Games.

Though they could also be used as the basis and genesis of other types of games as well, for example LARPS and Alternative Reality games.

I intend to provide beginning scenarios for various types and genres of games: Contemporary, Detective, Fantasy, Historical, Horror, Science Fiction, and Wargames. To name a few.

I will make such posts on every occasion I have the free time to develop them. Also these scenarios will be different from the scenarios I have developed specifically for my own Setting and World. Those will be listed separately under the Category – The Other World

Feel free to take the names of places and characters mentioned in these scenarios (or even the basic structures of the scenarios) and alter them to fit your own gaming worlds or situations. These are, of course, merely suggestions. I describe these scenarios to give DMs and GMs far better, more original and more unique methods of starting games than, “your party meets in a tavern,” or “you all hear a rumor.”

So modify and use these beginning scenarios as you will. They are meant to stimulate original situations and your imaginations, not to dictate terms and conditions.

Tonight I will begin with Four Fantasy Scenarios for beginning adventures or campaigns: Infiltration of the Fertilands, The Secret Missionaries, The Sky From Long Ago, and The Long Road to Disaster.

 

FANTASY

 

Infiltration of the Fertilands – The Senate of Alaria has decided to clear an area of land 7 and ½ leagues north of the city-state (an area called the Losharian fertilands) to provide timber and resources for a proclaimed public works building project, and to establish a new frontier’s garrison and outpost for the city to ward off raiding attacks by local barbarians. However three separate surveying teams and their armed recon in force escorts (at least for the second and third attempts) have disappeared when sent to the location.

The Senate has decided to send an expeditionary force of 1500 men to investigate and clear the area of potential hostiles, but before they can vote on the measure or dispatch the forces the chief architect in charge of the new building program approaches your party and asks you to undertake the task of infiltrating the target area in secret, to see if you can discover the cause of the disappearance of the previous teams. You are charged with secrecy in your mission (you can discuss it with no one) and if you are successful the architect not only promises that you will be richly rewarded in pay but that the Senate will award you tax free lands on which you may establish estates and villas of your own. He also hints at the possibility of awards (Champion of the City), public acclaim, and possibly even junior seats on the Senate.

However since the mission would be kept entirely confidential he can offer you no initial assistance other than to provide you with information on how to find the Losharian fertilands.

But he does offer you two pieces of advice. First, do not drink the waters of the fertiland even if it is rainwater which falls during a storm. And secondly, watch the rivers, creeks, waterways, and marshes at all times. They may hide dangerous enemies and hidden perils.

 

The Secret Missionaries – Your party is called to the Great Temple of the Sacred Hierophants after nightfall one evening. The Church of Adaltorn, the Last Hierophant, in the city of Ramara Passea has decided upon a missionary program of expansion Eastwards. They wish to convert the rich, independent merchant cities east of the river Venwaldros, which they feel would be very open to their doctrine. However to the south of the narrow strip of unclaimed no-man’s land of the Venwaldros lies the fierce (and some say cannibalistic) barbarian tribes of the Colmar Confederacy, and to the north of the river in this unclaimed area lies the Imperial outposts of the Srechalt. All of which are hostile to both the Church and to Ramara Passea. This narrow strip of land and the thin thread of the Venwaldros which passes through it is called Reedbrake (for its high and musical reeds, which go silent when anything passes through them)) and it is the only safe passage from Ramara Passea to the East.

The church has sent scouting teams of monks and priests along the river which have either had to turn back after being attacked or were simply lost, their true fates unknown.

The church is willing to produce an indulgence in the names of each of your party (meaning you will be free from both local taxes and tithes for a period of ten years), to pay you a stipend for three years, to Bless each member of your party, and to secure you Writs of Absolute Non-Hindrance from the city fathers if you can help them find a safe passage through the Reedbrake so that their monks and priests may travel securely and unmolested from Ramara Passea to the eastern merchant cities. They will also equip your expedition and provide you with river-craft, a barbarian scout (a recent convert) familiar with the Colmar, and three warrior monks as servants and men at arms to assist you.

 

The Sky From Long Ago – The retired Sage Geirwovan (rumored to have once been the famous Wizard Taleorstir) has sent every member of your party a formal and very decorative invitation to visit his mansion six miles from the outskirts of the Ulorian borderlands.

When you accept and reach your destination you are shown to the Sage’s Tower and observatory where the ancient and bent Geirwovan greets you warmly and feeds and shelters your entire party. After a late dinner and entertainment by a very talented female bard (whom Geirwovan identifies as his personal Bard, the Lady Yurliel) you are ushered back to the Sage’s Tower where Geirwovan accompanies you to the roof. Briefly after sunset (far too soon after sunset) the entire sky is afire with stars but of very unusual constellations that you have never before seen. Some of these constellations seem to come alive, take on weird and fantastical shapes of creatures you have never seen before, and to move about and even battle one another. Stars flare and flash, changing colors or becoming briefly too bright to look upon. The moon rings like a giant gong. The tower itself seems to shake. Comets flash across the sky and explode by impacting one another. Then the entire sky goes absolutely black and a few moments after that returns to normal, as it would appear on any other cloudless and moonless night shortly after nightfall.

Geirwovan then takes you back into the tower where each of you feels weird and uncanny, as if you have just witnessed something unnatural, supernatural, and/or very spectacular and unnerving.

Geirwovan makes no comment and ignores all questions to explain and instead spreads out a series of complex maps upon an antique drafting table and begins to explain how rewarding it would be and how much you would all benefit by reaching a particular destination. One he repeatedly shows on the different maps. (The maps are also all filled with odd glyphs and scripts and indicated locales you have never heard of or seen mentioned before.)

Then Geirwovan tells you of the fabulous riches, both mundane and magical, that can be found at that destination though he will not describe the particulars nor disclose any details about what else may lay at the destination. He tells you that if you will go to that location then you will understand what he means and that you will understand what you saw in the sky. He asks only two things: 1. that when you arrive you do what is appropriate, and 2. return to him all that you find so that he may examine it and then he will keep only one article, a small silver coin of unremarkable design. You may keep all else that you find and there will also be another reward awaiting you upon completion of your expedition. If you agree then he will hand you one of the maps which he says will guide you unerringly to your destination but that you must never venture from the route it dictates for the map is untrustworthy otherwise and you may find yourselves lost in such a way that you will be unable to return. He also offers to allow you to take his bard Yurliel with you if you so wish.

 

The Long Road to Disaster – The Lord of Merchants and Commander of the Merchants at Arms have called your party to the Tent of Foreign Prizes in the Agora of Kroipos to discuss an urgent matter. They explain to you that they have recently (within the past year) opened up a new trade route to the Far South, through the desert of Samorah, that they call the Elidian Road. (Elidia being what some rumors declare to be a semi-mythical and legendary city of peculiar and unique wealth located in the Far South.)

Within the past six months no fewer than four separate and well-armed caravan trains have been ambushed and destroyed or lost. By what the Commander describes as a well-organized, large, ruthless band of experienced brigands, raiders, and thieves.

Searchers and follow up teams have only recovered small bits of debris or valueless remains from the ambushed caravans and the losses to merchants in the area have been sunstantial and heavy indeed. Armed scouting parties sent by the city have discovered nothing and have been of almost no help.

Only three survivors have escaped thus far, two from one caravan (the first attacked) and one from the second caravan. No other survivors have surfaced or are accounted for.

Both the Lord of Merchants and the Commander of Arms ask if you will entertain shadowing the next caravan to be dispatched along the Elidian Road to see if you can discover who is responsible for these raids and possibly help save the caravan from being plundered and destroyed. If not can you then follow the attackers to discover their identities and base of operations so that a military force can be dispatched to kill them all.

Neither wants you to be part of the armed military and merchant force of the caravan so that if the attackers arrive in overwhelming force you may survive and bring back invaluable Intel on the parties responsible. They only want you shadowing the caravan unless it is obvious you could actually safely protect and rescue the caravan if it is attacked. Both Merchants promise you will be richly rewarded for your efforts. Though neither will describe precisely how or in what form.

After the meeting the Commander of the Merchant at Arms leaves but the Lord of Merchants pulls your party aside in confidence and tells you that his nephew will be accompanying this caravan in order that he may be trained in commerce. As is the custom at his age. This being his Voyage of Initiation. The boy has instructions that if the caravan is attacked he is to flee to the safety of your group or if necessary you are to rescue him and flee after discovering what you can of the enemy. He promises to reward you separately for this action and he tells you that aside from his nephew and the head merchant of the caravan no one in the group will even know of your existence or that you shadow the train. So he says it is imperative that the caravan not discover your presence either. You must also never mention this side deal involving his nephew. Especially not to the Commander at Arms, who would consider such actions cowardly and dishonorable.

He also tells you that he has personally interviewed the three survivors of the previous attacks. One is now dead of unknown reasons, one is in a long sleep from which they will not awaken (coma), and one appears to be mad. But before these things happened the survivors described weird things occurring during the attacks and despite the Commander’s opinions to the contrary the Lord of Merchants is not at all convinced this is the work of brigands or caravan raiders. In fact he says that he does not believe any raiders are involved at all. But he will not elaborate on his suspicions.

He will only say that he once read a passage in a book in the Far South that said that long ago the skies were poisoned by an unknown creature so that ghosts and dead men rained upon the living.

 

Also, feel free to suggest your own ideas in the comments below, or tell me if you’d like to see Beginning Scenarios for certain types of games,  particular subject matters, or for specific gaming genres.

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