Saturday, February 20, 2010

Magic Item: Doomblade


Two-Handed Sword +2, User may re-roll the damage die and take the higher result, does not slow the user in combat (no initiative penalty), glows red on command (equivalent of a torch)

Doomblade is a massive black two-handed sword said to have been gifted to a mighty champion by the god of fate. There is a red line seemingly engraved in the center of the blade and this glows in battle with a baleful crimson light.

Sage Info: It was wielded for many years by Koros Thunderblade in his war against the hill giants of the Smoking Peaks. It became an heirloom of his short-lived kingdom but was lost when his keep was overrun by vengeful fire giants.

Picture courtesy of

The New Old Campaign Design - Part 3 - The Fiendish Plot Revealed

So, having been spurred by Jeff's real-world map idea, and going back and looking at my 4E Legendary Greyhawk notes, I have decided to nail down my Retro campaign to using a real-world map. That said, I originally had no intention of placing it in on Earth, I was just borrowing some convenient geography. If I want to put pyramids in Mongolia than I can do that because it isn't Mongolia, it just looks a lot like Mongolia. With pyramids.

Then I came across some old campaign notes where I wanted to put some sci-fi into an AD&D game. Picture a sci-fi universe where humans and mind flayers were at war. During one space battle, two ships are fighting, there's a misjump and both ships end up crashing on a habitable planet and originating the human and mind flayer races on the world where elves and dwarves etc already lived. The ship's main computer and an auxiliary power source and some fabrication facilities survived. Intelligent swords were living metal nanite-infused constructs linked back to the computer, some stone and metal golems were basically nanite-controlled robots, etc. Illithids were going to be the major bad guys of the campaign (a change from demons and drow). The climax of the campaign would be discovering that ship and the origin of humanity (and illithids) and then gearing up and wiping out the illithids (or not) and making the world safe for humanity (or not).

A lot of this was fueled by reading GURPS Ultra-Tech as I was thinking about a new campaign but I liked a lot of the ideas and they stuck with me for a long time. Reading Mutant Future last year got me in a post-apocalyptic mood for a while and the retro fest I've been having this year reminded me of the D&D-scifi connection.


I'm going to use a US-based real-world map for this campaign.

Just as I would use one for Mutant Future/Gamma World.

Guess which one represents the farthest future?

Yeah, I'm going that way. Instead of going backwards and making some kind of alternate distant past Hyboria West, I'm going forward a few thousand years after hell is unleashed and making D&D a super-post-apocalyptic game. After the radiation has largely died away, mutations have settled into mostly stable lines, and the tech has mostly run out of juice, a new world rises from the old*.

I'm leaning towards 3 regions right now

  1. Seattle - I already talked about this and I still like the geography of it. Call it the "Kingdoms of the West" campaign as several smaller states fight it out around the sound and the islands as the mountain of fire looms over all. Lots of woods for the elves, lots of mountains for orcs and giants, a good reason to have war galleys ramming sailing ships in the bays... looks pretty good to me.
  2. Great Lakes- Call it the "Five Seas Campaign". This has lots of interesting terrain too but not as many mountains. Lots of ruined Ancient cities to uncover though. Plus a lot of Gamma World time has been spent around here and I don't want to telegraph what's going on just yet. This might be good as a second old-school campaign or for when/if we go to AD&D or Hackmaster or some other slightly different system. it could eventually be linked to Seattle with an epic expedition to find the legendary "Great Sea" - some say it lies to the east, others say it lies to the west. One group of adventurers sets out to find out once and for all. (Then another party sets out the other way and you can have a whole other campaign going in the other direction)
  3. Pensacola-Mobile Bay-New Orleans - call this one the "Southern Kingdoms" campaign. I was thinking about Florida but I think it's too recognizable even on a small scale as the peninsula is just not that wide. So I reconsidered and thought this region looked interesting. Again, not a lot of mountains right close by but swamps can be very interesting too.
More tomorrow.

* Yeah, Thundarr. More Thundarr ain't a bad thing.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Magic Item: Wolftamer

I dislike generic magic items when running a campaign. The only way I was ever able to rationalize it was to say that back during the goblin wars the elves cranked out a lot of basic enchanted blades for use against evil magical creatures - basically +1 and glows near evil, something like that, and then call all +1 swords one of those.

I'm not doing that for this campaign. So, first in a series:


Sword +1 +3 vs. Lycanthropes

A black-hilted longsword with a wolf's head motif with quillons and pommel of silver. The wielder can press a button on the hilt and pop a silver spike from the pommel and use it as a dagger in close combat.

Sage Info: Wolftamer was used by the lawful hero Arador during the fight against an evil cult of werewolves about a hundred years ago. After the cleansing of Moonglade it was passed on to one of his henchman and was lost soon thereafter.

DM note: I typically put these kinds of items on an index card when the player discovers them. If you let someone else use the item, you hand them the card. Then there's no question who is wearing the ring of regeneration when the the dragon attacks. I'm going to get pictures for all of them this time around which I have not always done but it should be do-able.

Picture courtesy of general Edge via

The New Old Campaign Design - Part 2 Roots in Greyhawk and in 4th edition

Betcha didn't see that coming. This is going to get kind of long.

I can cite 3 major influences in the way I conceive a campaign world:

LOTR: One of the things that put the Lord of the Rings over the top for me was the extensive notes in the back dealing with history, culture, language, and family lines. That really made something special that existed beyond the story.

Conan: Robert E. Howard's notes on the migrations and history of his world (plus his notes on it's eventual fall) were also something that I have tried to emulate many many times over the years in my own campaign notes.

The Penguin Atlas of Ancient History: This is another major inspiration in that it shows maps of the Mediterranean and Europe as cultural groups move in, set up nations and empires, split up or are conquered, and disappear. I love this to the point that I have drawn up a map, photocopied it, and then drawn in my racial movements and the rise and fall of kingdoms over times. If I can find these I will post some of them.

These inspired me back when I was putting together the Iron Marches campaign years ago. It's my Fantasy Hero campaign world written up in the 90's. The freedom from the pre-set AD&D classes and levels after years of playing them was very refreshing and I thought it was a pretty thorough effort as far as maps, races, gods, and multiple magical traditions. It's all written up on paper of course (It predates widespread internet access), so it's not easily posted but one of these days I will put it all into electronic form.

So after that I had one extensively noted campaign world, plus a few other starter worlds with maps and a few pages of notes that I wrote specifically for AD&D, GURPS, and even Palladium Fantasy back in the 90's. Then 3rd edition came along after after spending most of 2nd edition playing in the Realms and in other systems I wanted to get back to Greyhawk for 3rd, and development on my homebrew worlds trickled to nothing.

Later, 4th edition came out and I got married, acquiring a few new potential players and a shiny new system all in the space of a few months. I thought that starting the kids off with the new system would let them avoid all the legacy clutter of the older versions that influences my thinking, plus it would give me an untainted view on the new game. We tried it and I didn't like the way things went, but I did put a lot of thought into a new campaign world - mostly because 4th edition has so many more classes and prestige classes, since the races are so different, and magic is so different, that Greyhawk as presented in the folio or either box set is clearly not suitable, and neither are most previously published campaign worlds. Then I had an idea...

We know much of Greyhawk's history, but we also know it's not always accurate. What if Oerth had "an age undreamed of" somewhere back before the modern history of the Flanaess was written? An age where the races we all know so well lived and died alongside other, largely forgotten races? An age when magic was more plentiful and worked in strange ways lost and forgotten centuries ago? When even the gods were different with some yet to ascend and others doomed to be destroyed in the intervening tide of years? Out of this line of thinking the Lost Empires campaign was born. More on that tomorrow.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Book Review 1 - Blood Angels Deus Encarmine

For a change of pace, a book review:

Blood Angels Deus Encarmine by James Swallow - 2004 Black Library Publications

Overview: There are a lot of books set in the Warhammer 40,000 universe. Most of them focus on the Space Marines. This book is the first one about the Blood Angels chapter of the Space Marines. The main character is a regular tactical marine and the story begins with him on garrison duty. Complications ensue and by the end of the book there appears to be a growing split in the ranks of the chapter. The main opponent is a unit of Word Bearer Chaos Marines and there is an Inquisitor involved in the proceedings too.

The Good: It's refreshing to read a tale about a Marine who is not the best ever, the chosen one, a new recruit, or a chapter master. This is mainly a tale about a regular grunt marine, at least it starts off that way.

It's also nice to see the Blood Angels getting some attention in the fiction line as they were one of the first chapters mentioned in the Warhammer 40,000 game.

Another nice item was that the marines do not automatically win simply by showing up - they spend a fair amount of the novel on their heels.

The Word Bearers are also nicely painted as corrupt, evil but having goals and motivations of their own.

The Bad: The book begins well enough focusing on Brother Rafen who is a tactical marine and the main character. Soon enough though, we are getting first person views from other marines, the leader of the enemy unit, an assistant to that leader, one of the evil marines, the captain of a marine strike cruiser, and an inquisitor! That's a lot of jumping around for a 250 page novel and it hurts the narrative flow when one character voices his plan for the next battle then we jump to a character wondering what that enemy is going to do in that battle, which is what we just read!

Also, there is absolutely nothing special about the alleged main character other than him being a space marine. At the end of the story he has doubts about the way things are going but he doesn't actually do anything with the doubts he has been expressing for most of the novel - in fact, he does commit one defiant act to try and make things right but then he throws in with the group he has doubts about! Contradictory? Yes! Even that isn't really a decision consciously made, it's mainly just him going along with it because he fears the consequences if he doesn't. As a character he is indecisive and just goes along with whatever is happening which makes for a not particularly interesting hero. You could almost make a case that this is supposed to be more of an everyman/regular guy's point of view take on the universe and the events of the novel but he is still a superhuman space marine - I don't think it's a strong argument to make.

Another issue is that the Blood Angels are mainly known for/distinguished by their tainted gene seed which basically turns them into vampires as they age. This is a huge, angsty angle for the Blood Angels chapter and while it does appear in the novel it is barely touched upon and seems somewhat bolted-on. There is a part of the story where the black rage and the death company figure into things but the rage is not pictured as the normal inevitable decline but it is artificially introduced by some magic potion used by one of the characters! I had a small problem with this as it is deviating from the background pretty significantly.

One oddity is that the Blood Angels have several interesting special characters that have been detailed over the years in the game and none of them appear in the novel except in a small "meanwhile back at the ranch" scene near the end of the book. This isn't necessarily bad but it is different from many other 40k novels. If the main character had been stronger this would not have been a problem but there is no one at the center of this novel and focusing on Captain Tycho or Corbulo could have been much more interesting.

The final issue I had with the book is that we end up with a lot of smart, experienced people making bad decisions - Rafen, Arkio, Inquisitor Stele, Sgt, Koris, even the Word Bearers. To get to where we are at the end of this novel, multiple stupid decisions have to be made. Some even have suspicions or wonder how something happened - which clearly indicates something is going on that they do not see or get - yet they go ahead and make a decision based on clearly flawed or incomplete information. It seems out of character each time it happens and it weakens the story considerably.

Final Comments: This is a very run-of-the-mill 40k novel. It's not harmful or bad in and of itself, but if it was my first 40k novel I would not be looking for more. There is nothing special about it and nothing that really ties it to the Blood Angels chapter - it could have been written about any chapter of marines. Plus, speaking as a DM and gamer c'mon - Vampire Space Marines fighting Evil Chaos Space Marines! It should be great, but they somehow manage to make this unexciting and bland.

Main Characters: Boring. Not essential to the plot

Supporting Characters: Interesting, probably the best part of the book

Plot: Complicated but weak (dependent on bad decisions by smart people) and not completely revealed in one book! Stay tuned for book 2 when you will finally find out what is actually going on!

Action Scenes: Adequate but unexciting. Very average.

Resolution: There is a small resolution for the main character at the end but it's clearly not the focus of the story, merely one step to getting there.

Overall: Very Disappointing

The New Old Campaign Design - Part 1

As I was thinking over how to set up my new campaign this post over at Jeff's Gameblog started some old rusty wheels turning in my head. Not so much for the "Oriental Adventures" angle but more for the "using a real place in a fantasy campaign" idea. I see multiple benefits from this approach:
  1. It ensures a "realistic" layout for your map, at least to start. Then you can modify the heck out of things like woods, swamps, and lakes as you see fit. generally I try to minimize the number of "It's Magic!" type features on a large-scale map - no deserts next to jungles next to arctic regions. I don't mind them on a small scale, but on a larger level I steer away from them.
  2. I think it adds another layer of discovery for the players if they can figure out where they "really" are.
  3. It lets you get familiar with a part of the world you may not know well on a local level. This is just a side benefit with no direct impact on the campaign but it makes it a little more interesting for me.
Right now I have three thoughts on where to set the new campaign.

  1. Japan - this is what is referenced in Jeff's blog and I kind of like the idea of a conventional D&D game using a map of Japan. There is enough interesting terrain there, plus if the PC's get into a traveling mood then we have the Asian landmass to explore including some interesting peninsulas and a good-sized desert - who says you can't have pyramids in Mongolia? That big bay/gulf just west of the Korean peninsula looks interesting too.
  2. Australia - The east or west coast could serve as a Euorpe/Hyboria/Flanaess analog with the interesting twist of your viking-style barbarians coming from the south - "Oh no the Southmen are coming". Plus there are several large islands and the various island chains nearby which could be turned into the fortresses of evil wizards or the lairs of dragons- maybe the Solomons become the Dragon Isles.
  3. Seattle/Vancouver Region - this is a little smaller scale than the other two but it is an interesting area geographically, plus it includes a volcano - always a plus. I am moderately familiar with the region from various Shadowrun campaigns but oddly enough a D&D game tends to cover a wider area than a typical Shadowrun game where characters may never leave the city. I have some other campaign ideas that might make this option the most interesting down the road.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Back to Basics

The boys have been asking when we're going to play D&D again so I have spent the last week thinking through a setting for the campaign. I've been heavily influenced by Jeff Reints' blog and the sandbox campaign ideas therein that I have gone back through his blog and read the whole thing from 2004 forward.
Lately I have had some of the same feelings that he was having a few years ago. Namely that even though I like a lot of the published gameworlds, Greyhawk, the Known World, etc. that at this point in my gaming life I really should be using my own creation, not someone else's.
So I have begun mapping out my own wilderness sandbox. I dug out some homemade maps I drew up on hex paper years ago and looked them over but I feel like I need a totally fresh start, so I am doing one from scratch. That said I am intrigued by the idea of using a real-world map (suitably modified) courtesy of google maps or something similar. Further reflection on this has led me to a decision to include one of my long time pet campaign ideas. I will share some details as it develops as I don't think the boys will be reading this blog.