The Raven and the Spider

I didn’t listen to myself and so I decided to join some old friends in a D&D campaign. I’ve known some of these folks for over a dozen years. How could I decline when they decided to run City of the Spider Queen?

So after getting some original ideas for my next character, I originally planned to play a

CONDESCENDING HALF-ELF WARLOCK FROM A SECRET ORDER OF MONKS WHO DOESN’T BELIEVE IN HYGIENE

Raven Queen (Ever After High)
Not this one.

Or, at least the first parts, minus the hygiene bit. And since this campaign didn’t have to abide by AL rules, I started looking at some of the Unearthed Arcana playtest material, including the Raven Queen warlock patron. Unfortunately, it turns out that at this point in the timeline, the Raven Queen is not yet a thing (we all get hit by the bus that is Forgotten Realms lore). This made me sad because I did a bunch of reading on the plane and now I think I’m in love with the Raven Queen. (Not my warlock – me.)

Anyway, this isn’t something I’d ask the GM to handwave, since apparently her ascension is related to Lolth’s own arc. So it’s back to finding a new patron, or even new character concept.

We have a cleric, paladin, rogue/warlock, and a bard (I think – might be missing someone). While I realize we don’t have to put composition together the way you would for some types of campaigns or (say) a WoW raid, I also like finding ways to support everyone else and be the guy that helps and supports the party by providing the last piece of the puzzle. I’m not married to any particular character concept other than “help the group be awesome”.

I went back to the character concept generator:

BLUNT ELF FIGHTER FROM THE RAT CATCHERS GUILD WHO SEARCHES ENDLESSLY FOR THEIR KIDNAPPED CHILD

FUSSY ELF RANGER FROM A SECLUDED FOREST VILLAGE WHO HAS A SERIOUS WEAPONS FETISH

GLOOMY ELF RANGER FROM A ENCHANTED FOREST LOGGING COMPANY WHO WANTS TO PROVE THEY’RE NO LONGER THAT GOOFY KID

Merging these together, I think something like a gloomy wood elf ranger from a secluded forest village who searches endlessly for their kidnapped child. (Again, that last bit may vary significantly if it turns out that’s actually what the worst Mary Sue character in D&D is about…) That also creates the perfect situation to try out the new revised Ranger including the Deep Stalker archetype. I presume that the new book Xanathar’s Guide to Everything will include the final version of this, so that may require adjustments in a few months.

Generating a campaign setting: Motivation

Forgotten Realms v3 campaign settingD&D Fifth Edition appears to use the Forgotten Realms as the default setting. For me, however, FR just comes with too much baggage: an intricate history, many novels of existing lore, and the sense that this world already has its heroes. Players will tend to see the world through their own lenses after playing through so many other games in that universe. Since Wizards of the Coast clearly has all sorts of copyrights and trademarks around this world, we can’t publish much in terms of derivative work.

I recently sponsored two different campaign setting books on Kickstarter, Southlands by Kobold Press and Karthun by Exploding Rogue Studios. Neither should arrive for quite some time. The target dates are in May and November 2015, respectively.

So what campaign setting should I use for a Microlite20 campaign? I started developing for the as-yet-unlaunched Madness of Iliasha campaign to fill this hole, but this calls for something simpler. A plane of existence with no surface world has lots of implications that need a bit more thought. The work I’ve done thus far can still find application, though, by connecting to another more typical setting in the future as an underworld in sort of a “hollow earth” model.

Dwarf Fortress World Generation ScreenOne of my favorite games ever, Dwarf Fortress references lots of common fantasy tropes and does a fantastically detailed job of world generation. In fact, most of the creatures not procedurally generated already exist in the d20 SRD. Many of them even have simplified Microlite20 versions already! This allows me to spend my time filling in or adusting remaining details with other tools instead.

The next post in this series will discuss how to get started in using DF as a campaign setting tool and some of the lessons I’ve learned so far.

Review: Scenes of Chance

I just received my shipment of Scenes of Chance from Twizz Entertainment via Kickstarter.

This system-neutral supplement basically consists of a deck of cards, where each card is about twice the size of a traditional playing card. Each card has several icons printed on it. I choose a card with an appropriate scene (say, an underground cavern) and reference the icons. Each of the icons corresponds to a reference card with 20 options. Either roll a d20 or pick something that catches my interest, then repeat for each icon on the card. All the cards have at least two versions with different icons except the ship. I chalk that one up to a simple packaging error, but I didn’t mind because two of the cards have iconless versions and of course nothing prevents me from deciding on my own which reference cards to use.

As an example, if I use a card for an underground cavern card that closely resembles how I envision the Underdark, there are icons for Cave, Mountain, and Oddity. When I roll d20 on each of them, this time I get:

Cave: A puzzle of fallen rubble blocks the travelers’ way
Mountain:
A hibernating Yeti camouflaged in the snow is startled awake
Oddity:
 The mad ranting of a thousand voices blows in the wind

In the case of Mountain, I will probably modify the monster slightly to fit my campaign. Maybe I’ll use a Fomorian instead of the Yeti. Rule 0 applies everywhere!

Twisted groveI really love the paintings on the cards. Many have eye-catching little details, like the cave under the island castle or the fossil in one of the caves. The construction feels sturdy and professional; these cards should last a long time.

Twizz Entertainment did a fine job with this and I look forward to seeing what happens with their next project, a collectible card game called Summoners.

Madness of Iliasha: Campaign Concept

Underdark artAs previously noted, I have begun work on a fresh campaign. Using the working title Madness of Iliasha, I have included elements from the Underdark and Deepholm. This means a fully underground world with no concept of a “surface”, filled with mind flayers and aboleths and fungi and stone elementals.

I intend to run it more or less “old school”, which (for me) means:

  1. Lots of generated elements rather than individually crafted
  2. Deadly for adventurers (player characters)
  3. Less concern about encounter balance and more about fitting a theme
  4. Players and GM shaping the world together
  5. Emergent narrative through gameplay and interaction
  6. Sandbox exploration of the world via hexcrawl
  7. Hexes for “outdoors”, squares for “indoors”

However, I am adjusting a few other elements from the old days, particularly turning the fantastic racism and sexism way down. We can imagine subterranean cities in worlds suffused with magic, so we should be able to imagine universes where your actions, not your ethnicity and gender, play a larger role in determining your identity and reputation. In fact, I have united all the “humanoid” races (humans, elves, dwarves, halflings, and gnomes) so that they are just different flavors of “human”. Some individuals may hold racist opinions and even take actions based on those, but in general the societies are not organized along those lines. Conflict still exists, naturally. But rather than base it on “race”, instead we have factions competing for resources. These power struggles won’t always impact the adventurers, of course, particularly at low levels. But they will progress on their own and bring the world to life, very similar to Dungeon World fronts.

I still have lots of planning infrastructure to build. Because much of the world will come from random generators, for example, I have started gathering from other sources, hacking them to fit, and in some cases building from scratch. Each region has:

  • Hex map (6-mile scale) for exploration
  • Random encounter tables for the different terrain types (e.g. fungal forest versus crystalline fields)
  • Points of interest (e.g. significant monsters, cities, mines, dungeons) with a few sentences each.
  • Initial quest hooks

Right now most of the first region, Ositrailum, already exists. I haven’t yet completed customizing the randomly-generated map to a nicer-looking one, because presentation counts. The terrain-based random encounter tables will come next, plus a few special events I will make available throughout the region. Dungeons will mostly come from the gorgeous work of other mappers like Dyson plus occasional randomly generated maps. Donjon has my favorite dungeon generator but I will end up customizing heavily based on material from other sourcebooks.

While I won’t actually launch until my Lost Mine of Phandelver campaign concludes, Madness of Iliasha excites me tremendously for 2015.