Thursday, July 26, 2012

Theme? What theme?!

On many of the blogs I stare at for 15 minutes and claim to read it has been said that D&D has a theme of adventurers who gain wealth and power by plundering the countryside for valuables and danger.

While I will certainly not dispute that this happens in an overwhelming majority of games, and to some extent in my own, I do contest that this style of play is somehow built into the D&D game.

In my experience, the rules for dungeons and dragons are a framework onto which players and DMs can weave their own scenarios. The theme of a game may be the fall of a nation, the danger of ancient knowledge, or anything, really.

One needs only to look at the fabled Appendix N and examine the themes explored in the material from which the game draws.

Will your players become more powerful? Most definitely. Will they gain fabulous wealth? Maybe. Will they seek out adventure? I hope so.

Wealth and power are tertiary, however, to the adventure. The great draw of any RPG is to see what happens next and to decide how your character reacts to it. Everything else is just fluff.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Players Meet World: The next

Almost all of the questing that's been done in my setting has happened within the borders of the centrally-located kingdom of Myralon. That being as it is, here's a quick guide to Myralonian politics and culture.

Myralon – Situated roughly in the center of Skovorod, Myralon is a rough and tumble society that greatly values personal freedom, glory, and honor. The capital of Myralon is also named Myralon, though natives simply refer to it as “The Capital”.

Myralon's political structure starts with the the common man. The common man is responsible for himself and his household. He is expected to learn a trade and fight in the army if necessary. Above the common man are the big land owners, distinguished by owning enough land that at least two other families live and work the property. There is no official title for big land owners, though, if they are rich enough to erect a keep or castle, the title of lord is customary.

Lords are responsible for the protection of their property and the people who live and work on it. It is not uncommon for lords, especially wealthy ones, to form alliances. It is equally common for blood feuds to break out that can last generations. Lords are free to tax the land they own, and indeed they must, as each lord owes a yearly tithe and tribute to the church and king, respectively. Wars are tolerated between lords so long as no one complains too loudly to the king, the war doesn't get too big, and Myralon itself is not currently at war with another country.

Above the lesser lords are the high lords, vassals chosen by the king himself. These high lords typically take the title of duke or baron or even prince (if the high lord in question has a good claim to the royal family). These high lords are responsible for the lesser lords and command their loyalty.
The king himself is usually descended through a patriarchal line, though there is no special significance to being a first born son, or even a son. The most fit child to rule will succeed the current ruler as the new monarch upon the abdication or death of the old. In cases where no successor has been named, civil war is always a possibility. Adding to the chance of civil war is the fact that no Myralonian royal family has ever declared a Divine Right of Kings, meaning that anyone who has enough balls and enough support from the lords and high lords can become king or queen.

Personal honor is of extreme importance in Myralonian society and is expected to be defended at all costs. Insulting someone's honor is a deadly serious act and duels are not uncommon. In fact, a good fist fight is considered the first step in solving most disputes. There is, however, a stigma attached to a person being seen as too eager to fight. Being overly anxious to indulge in violence can be seen as a sign that one is too stupid to find any other solution.

Myralonian law seeks first to respect the rights of the individual with the understanding that the individual will then do the honorable thing and respect the rights of the state.

Aristocratic Myralonians tend to favor robes and other comfortable garments with heads of families or other important persons wearing ceremonial breastplates often made of precious metals and encrusted with gems. Circlets, similarly decorated, are also popular. Fine fur is considered to be restricted to the royal family. Lower classed people wear whatever they can. Openly wearing arms and armor is accepted and is often a way for non-aristocrats to display their wealth and prowess.

Myralon's peacetime army consists of volunteers sworn to the service of a lord. This volunteer army is typically small and spends most of its time on guard or patrol duty. In times of war, lords are known, however, to conscript any able-bodied man into service. Female warriors are not unknown, however, it is considered “impolite” to conscript a woman.
The king's own army consists of the best warriors in the land who have proved themselves in battle. Known as the Myrmidons, these warriors are unquestionably the finest foot soldiers in Skovorod. There is more information on Myrmidons in the Complete Fighter's Handbook.

The Irevarian Church is big in Myralon, especially the Order of Saint Cuthbert. The influence of the church is comparable to that of the Catholic Church during the dark ages and Renaissance. A town is not considered a town unless it has some kind of shrine or chapel dedicated to the worship of Irevar. Worship of Irevar is the official state religion. However, one does not have to go far to find people worshiping as they please. In the capital, openly worshiping another god is frowned upon, usually by church “officials” wielding heavy clubs. Demi-humans, however, are often spared this harsh treatment, and a quick claim of a dwarf forebear somewhere down the line will usually grant sanctuary.

Magic is all but unknown in Myralon. The king and some other influential lords will have a court magician, but most folk will go there whole lives without seeing magic or a magical item. The royal family posses one or two such relics and nearly every lord and vassal has at least a +1 sword lying around, but anything of greater enchantment is considered to be an artifact from before The Consolidation (more on that later). 

Myralon consists of mostly humans, though, there is a good smattering of halflings, and a load of dwarves. Many dwarves immigrated to Myralon, especially in the north and most notably in the capital where five dwarven clans transplanted themselves and quickly assumed control of Myralon's financial institutions. It is rumored that these clans also absorbed the thieves' guild.

Myralon is based on Greco-Roman and Britanical culture.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Players Meet World

In an effort to exploit a source of ready-made content, I'll be posting information about my (mostly) original campaign setting.

This first post will cover the immortal beings that run around my universe. Most of them have been loving lifted from someone or something. Names have been (barely) changed more to represent changes in language over the passing of eons than anything else.

The Gods

Irevar – Lawful Good god of law and good. Personified as the chivalrous knight. He is the god of protection, justice, mercy, forgiveness, retribution, etc. Goodness and Lawfulness. He is seen as the protector of mankind, his sign is a white kite shield bordered in blue with a diagonal stripe running left to right. The faithful make the sign of Irevar by touching their left shoulder and dragging their finger tips diagonally across the body to the right hip. The Irevarian Church dominates human political structures on Skovorod. There are two separate sects, The Order of Saint Cuthbert and The Aesthetics of Saint Alain. The Order focuses on martial pursuits, the Aesthetics focus on acquiring sacred knowledge.

Setis – Neutral Evil god of the unseen. Patron of thieves and treasure hunters, or anyone or anything that wants to remain hidden or uncover anything that is hidden. Also trolls. Before the First Age, Setis was at war with Irevar. Towards the beginning of First Age, Setis was knocked the fuck out and slumbered underneath the sea until sometime in the Third Age when a group of adventurers awoke him. When Setis was cast down, his cult was forced out of Viroof (now Myralon). The cult founded the City of Setis in the Trollwash which slowly fell into ruin and is only now being repopulated. Setis' worshipers typically mob about in black leathers or robes and white wooden masks, with each other, that is. Outwardly, there are no signs or signals or sigils that Setis and his followers use to identify themselves.

Kali – Chaotic Neutral. Kali is death. Period. She is rumored to have cults scattered throughout Skovorod, but none of them operate openly. Her worshipers revere her as death in an elemental sense, without rhyme or reason. All her cult members are assassins and healers dealing and staving off death as their mistress demands. Paladins devoted to Kali, known as Death Dealers, will sometimes operate openly and are given a wide berth. Her sign is a bleached white skull.

The Windweaver – Chaotic Good. God of travelers and, of course, the fucking wind. The Windweaver started as the faith of the hobbits but soon gained a following where ever those sawed-off little runts roamed (and they roam fucking everywhere). The sky is the dominion of the Windweaver and so all things in the sky are typically under his sway. From weather, to birds, to songs, Windweaver gots it. Good times, good cheer, good travels, and good love'n are typically associated with the Windweaver, many invoke his name for good luck. His sign is the feather.

The All-Father – Lawful Neutral. Dwarven god. Chiefly concerned with order and industry. His sign is the hammer. Typically depicted as a giant dwarf. Laziness is seen as a mortal sin in the All-Father's eyes. Hard work, thriftiness, patience and endurance are the qualities that the All-Father advocates. To worshipers, suffering is good for the soul, and many a devotee will go about blacksmithing without gloves and fry bacon with their shirt off. This attitude tends to color the magic of dwarven clerics. A healing spell may involve "beating the wound away".

The Valor – Group of elven demi-gods that are worshiped together. There is at least one demi-god for almost every aspect of elven life. There are literally hundreds of the fuckers. Most elves have a few favorites that most directly influence their lives, in this way, each elf has a "private pantheon" of sorts.

Carpas – Warrior god of Gnomes. Has been mostly replaced by weird-ass gnomish machine cult. Priests of Carpas are few and far between. Those gnomes who still worship Carpas are usually of the lowest caste and seen as somewhat backwards by their peers. Legends hold that Carpas was once a living gnome who proved himself in combat and devoted his life to protecting his people. After his death, he was raised to godhood in order to continue watching over the gnomes.

The Old Faith – nature worship, usually practiced by humans. A hold over from the very beginning of mankind. More common than you might think, but most followers don't shout about it. Worshipers vary in alignment and all alignments except evil ones are welcomed. Most worshipers view nature it self as genderless, emotionless, neither fair nor fickle, completely neutral and seemingly random. Worshipers seek to understand nature and curry its favor, though some claim that such a thing is not possible. Priests of the Old Faith are the druids presented in the PHB.

 Murglork - True Neutral. Orcish god. In a sense, Murglork is the god of orcish superiority. It has no defined gender, and is simply seen as Orc Incarnate. Murglork's primary goal is the advancement of the oricsh race. Little is known about the god outside of the orcish shamans who perform Murglork's rights, and many suspect that the shamans themselves are acting on instinct.

There are many other divine/infernal beings that populate Orin. Most notably are Daemons. The term Daemon covers a wide variety of Bad Things that wish nothing but ill will to everything. From actual demonic creatures to forgotten Old Gods, Daemons are Bad Shit and want rip your tongue out through your ass.
In truth, the difference between "gods" and "daemons" is largely a somatic one. "Gods" are immortal beings who have an interest in mortals. "Daemons" may use mortals, but their ultimate goals do not include them.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

That lovin' feelin'

Both fighters in my D&D game have reached level five and recently acquired some fairly powerful magical items. Specifically, an invisibility ring and a ring of elemental control. I may have been over that before...


Very often, I focus on how if you shower your players with magical items, they become mundane. I designed a very low magic world where a +1 sword is a treasure, and though the warriors have collected a smattering of such weakly enchanted items, neither character has ever encountered (much less possessed) such powerful magic as the two rings they now possess.

The new magic has given each of them a sense of mystique. Besides being skilled fighting men, they now have unique arcane powers that set them apart from all the other sword jocks in the world. The fact that the average ding-dong can't walk into ye olde magic shop and buy an invisibility ring accentuates this and propels them into a realm of mythic figures.

As exciting as this is for the players, I believe it is more so for me as the DM as the characters are moving from regular jack offs into legends.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Adventures in homebrew

I might be playing in  an old friend's "Stupid Supers" campaign using his homebrew system.

While I'm not a veteran to his game system, I have played it before, and it ain't too shabby. The last time we ran a stupid supers game, I played the Kung-Fu Cowboy who was basically a 1950's cowboy paradigm with super kung-fu powers.

I'm more than happy to continue the tale of Kung-Fu Cowboy, but if we're rolling up new characters, I have a couple of ideas:

Soul Samurai - In keeping with my previously established theme, this would basically be Dolemite with a katana. Admittedly, I haven't put a lot of thought into this one, but the idea made me laugh.

Jeb Stankewitz AKA Landshark - Jeb is basically an anthropomorphic shark who is also a terrible redneck stereotype. His story is that he comes from another planet/alternate dimension where sharks and not apes became the dominate species and apes are on par with opossums.
One night, whilst attempting to convince his girlfriend to have sex with him on the trampoline, Jeb was abducted by aliens who performed experiments on him and then dropped him off on our earth. Besides having a giant shark head, Jeb is much stronger than your average redneck and able to burrow at an amazing speed, as all Landsharks do. He works at the local aquarium where he waves down cars while wearing a shark suit. Jeb likes to start each day with a big lip full of Beechnut and a frosty Bud Light. He is saving up to buy a truck.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

A man shouting alone in the woods is still shouting

By virtue of having a blog, I suppose I should blog.

I've been running another game with some friends, albeit sporadically. We're once and again tackling the Temple of Elemental Evil.

I'm going back to the temple because I have a sick desire to see it ransacked and it cuts down my required prep-work to the point where I only have to create original material when I feel like it.

This past week, one of the players couldn't make it to the game, so the remaining two decided to go side questin'.

I had two five room dungeons sitting on the back burner, so we set off for lands yet unseen. The players, (two fighters) ran through my two prepared dungeons in three or four hours and then decided to follow up on every rumor they heard. The rest of the game was pretty much off the top of my head, working from scant notes I scrawled during the game.

All in all, both fighters leveled up, found some interesting magical items, and killed their first dragon (A brown dragon hatchling).

This was all accomplished in about two months of game-time, during which we decided that the halfling thief was recovering from testicular torsion.

A side effect of all this side questing is that the players have made some good connections with some other factions out there in the world and have gained some very powerful magical items in a decidedly low-magic world.

Things should be back on track for the next game, and it looks like we'll be adding another player.

And so the wheel turns...