Thursday, March 29, 2012


The Fenrecz Campaign came to be after reading Vornheim and being inspired to try my hand at large-city adventuring, ably assisted by the charts in that marvelous book. Things worked out reasonably well, with the geography (both actual and metaphysical) developing over the course of play sessions, taking my sketched out frameworks and providing some muscle and sinew to fill in the gaps. Some things fell by the wayside that I'd like to work back in at some point (for one, The Warrens as an especially haunted area -- I have the beginnings of a relatively complex Ghost Encounters table that I'd like to get done sometime soon); however, the experience that I've gained from these adventures have made we wonder about starting NPCs in a large city right off the bat.

I say this because one aspect of playing in Fenrecz was that it was really difficult to get the players out of the city -- in fact, I never managed it all, despite numerous hooks that led outside of the city walls. Now, it should be mentioned that this isn't necessarily bad in that if a party really wants to stay entirely within a city the entire time, they should be allowed to in the sense that a true sandbox game goes where player decisions take it and no further. On the other hand, it does lead to one major difficulty, which was that the players were stuck between the city being familiar and alien.

Since the campaign had only ever taken place inside this giant city, it felt unnatural for the players to be newcomers to it, even if that were most of their character backgrounds. This was exacerbated by one of the players asking for a background that would have placed him in the city previously -- so we had a theoretical knowledge imbalance and a practical lack of imbalance that felt like it shouldn't be even as it made logical sense.

Now, I'm sure that a more experienced or more skilled DM could have dealt with this in an elegant fashion. With our group, it wound up making sessions awkward as the players weren't sure to what degree they should be familiar with the city -- the solution, it seems to me, is to start a campaign off in a hamlet or such, a smaller settlement outside of the core cities of the surrounding area. This way, the players can still have a game that centers around a big city -- they just have to make the decision to travel there first. And, in theory, a party would be just as likely to go for dungeon- or wilderness-based adventures, without the draw of a city with conceivably everything they could desire contained within (and, probably just as importantly, full of inns and other "safe" places that are always within easy reach).

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Campaign World Thought Experiment

Per noism's post over at his place, I rolled up five random monsters from the Labyrinth Lord game and then envisioned a campaign world where those monsters are the dominant intelligent races.

My building blocks:

Bats, Giant

The game world is a medium-to-small continent running from east to west -- imagine South America from Argentina to Tierra del Fuego rotated 90 degrees clockwise. The vast majority of the land is grasslands/steppes, roamed by the Hobgoblins and their Khans. Nomadic horse-riders with few fixed cities, they drive great herds of lifestock from grazing to grazing land while setting up extensive tent-encampments. When they're not engaging in various wars of succession, they raid...

...the walled and many-domed cities of the gnomes. Naturally magically proficient, the gnomes have used their abilities to create complex stone cities lorded over by the gnomish aristocracy. These small and dense fort-cities, filled with constantly-backstabbing guilds, are mostly located near the coasts of this land, all of the construction being done by golems and other magically-created constructs as well as partially by...

...a slave race of goblins, who also serve as the main agricultural workers for the gnomish cities, with golems as their overseers, and who populate the slum tenements in the cities themselves. There are a small amount of free goblins, both those who live in the cities as adventurers and in scattered wilderness communities, most of which are in remote and inaccessible locations, hidden away from their mounted cousins, although their proximity to the great northern mountain range leads to conflicts with...

...the clans of the wolf-men, whose jarls chafe under the leadership of their King, grown old and infirm. The refocusing on internal politics means that the gnomish cities and hobgoblin tent encampments have been largely free of the raiding parties that swirl down from the craggy peaks like vicious snowstorms. Most wolf-men are hunters. Those wondering what machinations are taking place in the wolf longhouses and hill-forts would be best advised to seek the knowledge of...

...the bat-men, whose great underground settlements are not easily found and whose wizards surpass even the greatest gnomes in knowledge of the secrets of this world, many which lie in the lightless caverns the bat-men frequent. Aside from groups living in the great caves of the northern mountains, there are rockier sections of the grasslands where the bat-men are said to spill forth like a great geyser at twilight from their cave entrances, their scouts scouring the land for anything foolish enough to be seen moving.

So. Hobgoblins = steppe hordes; Gnomes = magic-based nobility; Goblins = slaves/underclass; Wolf-men = Viking/Germanic clans that leave woods full of skeletons hung from the trees; Bat-men = mysterious underground race, nocturnal scourge of large areas, know the most secrets/forbidden knowledge.

I think all of the races should be playable in a red-box race-as-class system, with Gnomes and Bat-men being natural magic-users, Wolf-men and Hobgoblins as fighting men and Goblins fitting into the rogue niche. I'm not entirely happy with Goblins, as they don't fit into either the crazed maniac goblins of the Warhammer universe or the fey/stealin' babies fairy-tale creatures that I generally like to have them as; however, they do work best as the Short, Nasty and Brutish creatures of this world -- also worth noting that there's no "pleasant race" here, the Gnomes are probably the closest; I envision them more as the entitled gentry, interested more in embarrassing their rival at the next society do and creating various golem-like creatures to dominate their slaves -- any playable Gnome would probably be a trader's son or somebody on the lowest possible rung of Gnome society.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Storm Tower

The Storm Tower is one remnant of the long-gone civilizations of the past, people far more advanced than live today and whose creations lie scattered across the wilderness areas of the world in various states of decay. In this case, the Storm Tower is a nearly-intact tower whose top is always surrounded by a swirling, lightning-filled storm cloud (hence the name). Standing in the middle of a large surrounding pit (into which, if light allows, you can see, sometimes making out large support beams/connecting tunnels coming off of the main tower and into the earth) of indeterminate depth and fashioned out of a coruscating orange and red metal that is impervious to damage, the Tower has become the home base for its self-styled Lord.

Albrecht of the Peaks was a fairly successful dwarven trader working the relatively safe roads between the Snow Peak fortress and Fenrecz when he woke one chill morning with a idea burning bright. Gathering a group of toughs and ne'erdowells, he cleared out the bandit- and monster-infested lower levels of the Storm Tower and set up shop in the cavernous main hall that lies across the deceptively thin bridge running from the edge of the pit to the Tower itself.

The main income from this venture came from those seeking fame and fortune in the Tower -- now such parties of adventurers would have to pay a small fee to enter into the Tower and an additional fee to gain entrance to either the higher levels above those Albrecht had cleared out (or a smaller fee to head into the depths of the Tower). In return, Albrecht offered a safe area where the adventurers could camp out on the floor or pay a few coins to stay in the recently built Lightning and Gold Inn. With additions of a blacksmith and a leatherworker and others following them, a small-ish town has been set up inside the Tower, with the level above it taken up with Albrecht's court and the level below as the dungeons for this community, now policed by Albrecht's original hired fighting men, who make a decent living on the side by hiring themselves out to parties eager for extra muscle or somebody with previous knowledge of the Tower both above and below.

Rumors, Allegations and Adventure-style Hiring Practices

- The staff at the Buggering Bear will let slip at some point about the disappearance of Ol' Rom, who used to clean up around the place. Further questioning will lead to the employees and regulars clamming up unless they start to trust an individual and have a chance to talk to them alone (will happen easier if they've had a few on the party as well). Then they will reveal that Ol' Rom was taken away by the Lord after he was heard to be spreading rumors about the Lord's men capturing a dwarf who had come up from below.

Indeed, both Ol' Rom and a mysterious dwarf are being held in the Lord's dungeons. Nobody's paying much mind to Ol' Rom; however, the dwarf is constantly being visited by the Lord personally, along with his Torturer.

- The Five Aces, a six-person strong adventuring band, lurks in the level above Albrecht's offices. They will not attack anybody on first entering the Tower's upper levels, instead they will observe the party in secret and will have various alarms/traps set after the party moves further upward in the hope of setting an ambush when the party returns.

- The Diviner Osios had laid camp in the main hall of the Tower, waiting for a group brave enough to sign on with him. He wishes to attain one of the many lightning rods that can be seen on the outside of the tower nearer the storm clouds. There are plentiful entrances and staircases that can be observed from the ground; however, no-one has ever been observed traversing them...

Friday, March 2, 2012

Quick Little Adventure: The Marker Ghost

I remember reading sometime recently about how there was a specific type of Norse ghost who was a landowner who had moved the marker stones while alive and after their death, they were cursed to try and move the stones back to their original location. I can't find the original article anymore, hell, that's not going to stop me from making a Quick Little Adventure idea out of it.

The adventurers are moving through a relatively small rurual community, built up enough where land has passed down through generations and is scarce/valuable enough where it's become a standard to mark the boundaries of these lands with small standing stones.

Usually this is a pretty sleepy community aside from occasional bar fights, bandit raids and goblin child-snatchings; however, recently there's been a series of murders involving people traveling after dark in what is usually a pretty safe area. A fairly nototrious enfant terrible of one of the local noblemen has been jailed under suspicions of the murders.

Because of the various problems associated with frontier justice in rural communities dominated by a handful of rival families, the idea of having the visiting adventurers act as investigators/judges is attractive to all parties (except perhaps for the adventurers), especially if the group is associated with a regional power or has a cleric of a well-respected church as a member.

Shortly after the party agrees to investiage/adjudicate (if they choose to, of course), another person will be found murdered. This will cause a hubbub and possibly a full-on melee as rival clans clash over whether this exonerates the prisoner or whether this is just an attempt by his clan to clear his name. Things should escalate to out of control unless the party intervenes.

Careful investigation should reveal that the valley where all the victims have been found is split by the border between two of the largest and most ornery clans in the area and that there has been plenty of conflict over where exactly the border is.

Traveling the valley at night in a group will not reveal anything -- the ghost is ashamed of its crime and will avoid large groups, instead waiting to find groups of one or two, then accosting them to help move the land marker. All of the victims to date have refused as doing so as a great taboo (it can turn into a ghost, for one) and thus have been strangled. If the players manage to produce bait for the ghost, they can either attack when it reveals itself or help it move the stone (which should prove fairly difficult) -- when the stone has been moved, the ghost will move on from this mortal coil, although not immediately and it will try and take its secret to the next world by attacking those that helped it (it'll dissipate within a certain time period, is how I would do it).

About the Victims

If you want to use a traditional D&D ghost, the victims should probably be found horribly aged and ravaged (which may be attributed to the shock of being attacked rather than instantly interpreted by locals as ghost-sign). I personally prefer that the victims be found dead of strangulation, with heavy bruising on the neck (indicating somebody incredibly strong).