Friday, March 27, 2009

Winding Down and Setting Design as a Hobby

The bulk of the rule modifications and setting material is more or less complete. As a writer it I think it is important to know when to 'call it', and move on to the next step. One of the reasons I am using the B/X ruleset is because it is unrestraining and well suited to an open-ended world. I do not want to over develop it. It should be loose guidelines of what is where with a lot of sandbox material to play in as the players go. Anything further would be diminishing returns I would think, since the players have a good chance to never see it. As of right now I am fairly happy with the amount of material that is done and it should be an ample amount to rake fresh characters over the proverbial coals.

That said, the posts here will likely dwindle greatly as I concentrate on the fairly dry tasks of assembling the mess I've created in the past three months. This will include a lot of rewriting, organizing, editing and smashing it all together to form a single book 'Valley of Blue Snails'. A one stop rules/campaign setting, hopefully ready to go by the May Iraq deployment date. None of this process will be very interesting to share so I will not do so. I may do a few new articles (the two remaining great seasons, a cleric write up) but they should be uncommon at this point. Hopefully in MayI will simply post the PDF when its ready and stick a fork in it in this construction project.

Thereafter this blog will highlight the actual campaign as it goes and I will fill future setting details as the player(s) stumble across strange lands, high adventure, and butter supple loins.

I have a few notes in reflection, notably regarding setting design as a hobby:

I suppose part of the reason that I have worked on Valley of Blue Snails is that it is a hobby in of itself. It is not all preparation for a campaign, although that was definitely a motivating factor to get some actual work done (ie Iraq deployment date). It is quite possible that I will spend far, far more time doing the labor and toil than actually playing the game. Granted I hope this is not necessarily the case; but it is foreseeable that the setting sees very limited play for one reason or another. There is war going on after all.

I won't belabor the point since I don't want to give the wrong impression that I think this would be some horrible thing. I'm having fun designing my little maps and trivial lore. I'm sure I will use the better bits in whatever I run or play in. Even if I don't it was fun to write them and generally explore some ideas that I've been mulling over.

In retrospect I would change a few things from the get-go and move towards a more open approach to setting design. Preconceived notions seem to stifle creativity and I am surely caught up in that mix to some extent. I started from the ground up (B/X rules, 4 races) instead of the top down (And then there was light, what else is out there?). I should have taken the top down approach as I am sure I would have arrived at some more interesting conclusions rather than dipping into my prior gaming repertoire to fill in the blanks.

The closest thing that comes to mind in treating the actual game design as its own hobby is probably Traveler. DMs and players for that matter almost certainly spent far more time generating characters, ships, worlds, systems and so forth than actually playing. Traveler summed it up as so:
  • The Solitaire Game: One player undertakes some journey or adventure alone. He or she handles the effects of the rules as the situation progresses. [...] In addition, there are many aspects ideally suited to solitaire consideration. A single player can spend time generating characters, designing starships, generating worlds and subsectors, planning situations, and mapping out ideas to use in later group scenarios.
Note that this is reflected as its own game rather than simple preparation. And it is, I would recommend it to almost anyone with interest in D&D, old and new, or any general role-playing. Get to it and don't dilly-dally around. I know I would be interested and inspired with setting material that other people come up with who are more creative and talented than I.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

A few NPCs

Locations and NPCs I prefer to dole out in small allotments rather than attempting to do them all at once or do them on the fly. A few that may make an appearance.

Miviel, the Hands of Twin Cinders - A well known Sheriff known for his lust and remarkable fighting style with a dagger in each hand.

The Dweller in the Pit - Unfathomably ugly Dwarf that lives in the Miasma Pit of Klormb. He is said to be 1000 years old.

Romine, the Shield of Lime - A half-man half-bear who honorably carried out the will of Selecuid. Ostracized by most civilizations.

The Selfish Braggart Hothir - Well known warrior with an endless assortment of tall tales, some of them perhaps true.

Juilio, the Fleecing Shadow - Middle aged woman, thief and killer. Follows a strange cult in reverence to the Great Rot.

Coycoy, the Resting Magi - Wizard from distant lands who makes him home on the Plateau of Gnaeun. The Halfling women keep a wide berth from his citadel.

Twice Born Reguln - Renowned prophet and miracle worker. Said to raise the dead and died himself, only to return to his faith to serve once more.

Larnis the Clipper - Lecherous old man but remarkably skilled pickpocket.

Seilnoon of the Moons Edge - A lone Elf maid who sit near a lake during full moons. It is said she can be several place at once.

Gluberlane the Carnal - Grotesquely fat giant with insatiable thirsts for all carnal things. Endlessly seeking for exotic and forbidden pleasures.

Thrymil, the Settled King - Dwarf King dwelling among the Halfling of Neorn as their Lord.

Brother Cabil Douern - Elf brother struggling with his kin over the leadership in the Pearpines. His bastard brother lacks a claim for the throne but is far more popular.

Brother Vesper Douern - Bastard brother to Cabil, and romantic warrior. One of the few Elf men driven by passion, and has the heart of legions of Elf warrior women.

The Staring Child - Prophetic Halfling child who never blinks with a powerful Oculus. Said to see the future in perfect clarity.

Kaetlin, of Three Lodges - Dwarf maid who bludgeoned a Halfling Sheriff to death with an ale stien. Now an unwilling Dwarf folk-hero whom the Halflings resent.

Pereglorg, the Wizard Archeon - Powerful Wizard-Lord who dwells in the Shedding Peaks. A race of long-furred Muskrats serve him loyally.

Ulfius, the Fasting Knight - Viciously cruel and skilled knight known for his hatred in all things fey.

Kessel the Napper - Named for her propensity to rest with the abnormally large sheep-hounds, Kessel is known well as a hound trainer and breeder.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Mageai and Sea of Boulders

Southwest of Orobia is a pitted vale stretching the distance from the Orobian highlands to the western gulf. This span is over 100 miles in length and is known as the Caustic Plains or the Sea of Boulders. It is an inhospitable place that is laden with round boulders of all sizes, ranging from the size of a small house to a pebble. This creates a virtual maze of crags, canyons, pitfalls and other broken hazards. Sulfurous plumes seep into the landscape and create a perpetual low hanging fog near ones feet and a damn caustic footing. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the Sea of Boulders is the dark sheet of thick glass it is apparently sitting upon. Under the fog, under the boulders, and under the sand an endless sheet of thick smoky glass sits sturdy and ageless. In some places where the terrain can be cleared the glass can be seen clearly; meters thick, dark, swirling, with movement underneath, and seemingly unbreakable.

The terrain of the Sea of Boulders is free from grasses, shrubs or other low hanging plants. Spindly tree do reach up in some areas with foliage attached only to the very top. The most noticeable creatures are the Rock Tossers, bipedal tusked behemoths which move boulders in search of smaller creatures to devour. They do so by leveraging their tusks against the ground and boulder and shifting it weight while their flabby trunk reaches under to grab any morsels.

Smaller creatures have also adapted to the sulfurous fog and call the plains their home. Most are poisonous to eat or even touch. Swarms of putrid toads, lithe fog-snakes, boulder morays, sticky yellow slugs, furred flight-less birds and a plethora of other strange beings eek out a defiant existence. Lichens, molds and yellow toadstools often grow under boulders or in the damp crags. Few humanoids travel within but it is known that a few oasis are cast into the deeper areas of the plains, usually in large sinkholes with fresh water at the bottom.

One of these is Mageai, a small Dwarf village in a particularly large sinkhole. The sulfurous fog seep into the sinkhole but apparently is drained down into the crevasses. Water leaks from the side of the sinkhole and makes the appearance of constant light rain on the bottom. No more than 100 Dwarves dwell here and they are a paranoid and primitive lot suck in the age of bronze and copper. They will trade with peaceful travelers but it is difficult to attain their trust and most are not allowed to come inside their sinkhole home.

The Dwarves know of the thick glass that lay under the Sea of Boulders and say that another world lay beyond it. They believe it is taboo to travel under the glass but are well aware of several entrances, one of which is their own sinkhole home where the crevasse reach under the glass. The Dwarves also know of a handful of other breaks in the deep reaches of the Sea of Boulders, although they do not speak of such information and often intentionally hide these entrances. Once the Dwarves fully trust a visitor, that visitor is assumed to be a part of the village and is obliged to all manner of strange traditions, rituals and knowledge. Those who betray their trust are quickly exiled to the world under the glass and usually never heard from again.

What lay under the glass is a matter of speculation. No reliable accounts exist and no known explorers have returned from such a journey. It can only be said that glass extends throughout the Sea of Boulders and perhaps beyond under the mountains and under the sea as well.

This is loosely based upon the Moeraki Boulders. I had a distinct sense of deja'vu when I wrote this up. I looked over previous articles to see if repeated any ideas but did not see any. Hopefully I did not do so. I generally am prolific enough that I often forget what I previously wrote leading to the occasional contradictions. I suppose that is what editing is for when I eventually put the thing together.

Monday, March 23, 2009


Journal of Khazrel Nakhu “Journey to the Cities Afar” 32’s93


“Let me be clear about one thing before I bedraggle my readers through the loathsome pits of skulduggery. When I speak of Thieves I do not use the term loosely to anyone finds their ways gravitating towards crime rather than honest toil. Wither it encompass offenses such as burglary, embezzlement, larceny, looting, robbery, mugging, trespassing, shoplifting, intrusion, deception, and criminal conversion (though consider a bad pun to be a theft of my time). Such folk that willfully act out such things are often the most wretched of people with few redeeming qualities. Whatever motivation they have, most sorts lack any sort of prosperity in their life, driven by petty impulses, and many are short lived.”

“And then there is an entirely other sort, which is the Thief. One that perhaps walked the same trails of these criminals, but is something more than them. I have met many folk who were skilled in many things. I once knew a manling archer who used his bow so often and was so skillfully, watching him pluck a bow was nothing short of magical. The speed, delivery, and accuracy was a singular fluid motion of perfection. Some Thieves are of this ilk and are far removed from their lecherous criminal brethren. It is these folk that I both admire and fear, and I dug deep into my reserves of bravery to learn more of them in my travels.”

“It is no coincidence that I sought the Thieves in the city of Astrumdantalas, the Opal of the World, the great Free City. I used nearly every connection that I had to see the cities inner workings and perhaps gain an unhealthy amount of knowledge within. I surmise that many of the most skilled Thieves come here to find a measure of prosperity and camaraderie that they could not find else where. It is no secret that the city operated with a number of guilds, councils and merchant troupes. I can only image what I do not know about the city. Astrumdantalas is one of the few places where such men openly organize and are in fact a both balancing power and an important tool for the Scryers Guild.”

“Once they knew of my interests, I was invited to a sect known as Eight Aerlin which is a member of the larger collective Thieves Guild. I was most respectful and forthright about my writings and I think they appreciated the boldness. Among them met many unassuming folk who could pass easily for a baker, a farmer, a clothier, a charcoal burner and so forth. All highly skilled Thieves and single minded professionals. It was here that I learned that this sect operates as a part of the Thieves Guild but separate as far as organization and operations. From what I gathered there is no single ‘Thieves Guild’, but rather it is a vague term for a collection of professionals, similar to any craftsmen guild. Sects come and go, unworthy upstarts are quickly snuffed out, and most true sects are well aware of boundaries, politics, and rivals. They are similar to large families and control territory. “

“Unlike petty criminal organizations, they rarely vie with one another over territory as it is usually passed on from generation to generation, from city to city and realm to realm. Astrumdantalas itself is merely the fulcrum for the organization; a place to find new talent, resolve disputes, find jobs, and otherwise organize. I was told that one of the most difficult things for a sect to accomplish is finding new skilled members. I suppose this is why so many make the pilgrimage to Astrumdantalas. While I was not privy to where Eight Aerlin operated originally, I did learn that it had a dozen members, most of whom where human, and that they operated in conjunction with the Scryers Guild.”

“The two seem to have a symbiotic relationship. The Scyers Guild trades in all kinds of knowledge, and the Thieves Guild attains particular bits that they need. In turn the nobles and great lords cultivate the Scyers information for an assortment of needs; from predicting the future, to usurping a rival’s throne. By no means is this the Thieves Guild only source of revenue, but it is usually one that they tend to nurture and not sully for petty reasons.”

“Just about all manner of folk could employ a Thief for a variety of reasons, and Thieves themselves cover the full gambit of demeanor and personalities. Some will only steal from wealthy Halfling Merchants, others still will merely track and follow important peoples. Others are heartless killers who will snap a child’s neck without a second thought. All have desired talents and ones price is purely on the behest of the Thieves reputation, thus most Thieves rarely back out on a deal or sully their name. Even law enforcement will seek out skilled Thieves if they are particularly befuddled, as Thieves have a knack at unusual means to accomplish their goals.”

"Not all Thieves are guilded. Most novice Thieves must earn a name for themselves to rise above common rabble. Fame can come from many ends, but only those who have a measure of honor, even a twisted one, would be approached. Lone Thieves who are not guilded are not unheard of, but are a distinct minority. Guild sects do not like competition from solo Thieves and will often push them out or worse. Still, many solo Thieves exist, either has loners, exiles, eccentric individuals, or merely filling a vacuum where no Thief sect exists. Solo Thieves often have it much harder than guilders. The Guild often provides means to escape the law or at least reduce penalties in most areas if a Thief is inadvertently caught. Guilders usually pay dues but it is often far more lucrative than a solo Thief could be. Also the Guild tends to watch out for itself in times of trouble."

"Still, it is a hard life and few Thieves reach a measure of wealth where they can quit the business and go honest. There is always the next job, the next mark and the next rush of pilfering a noble’s riches. Many Thieves find a sad fate at a guardsman’s blade or cross harsh words with the wrong master Thief. The politics of the Guild can likewise take its toll in exasperating struggles for contracts, pouching talent or even stealing from each other. With this in mind it is no wonder that some of the most talented Thieves seek more direct and tangible goals by adventuring in times of struggle."

The Scryers Guild is a bit like a Bene Gesserit think tank, minus the transhuman powers. The Thieves are their main means of getting hard information since they don't have the skill to do so themselves. I had a hard time justifying a Thief Guild, especially ones that span cities and realms, so it seems a good of a reason as any. Over all I think the Thief is pretty true to B/X and I didn't want to make the lore too specific where they are almost a different class. I may eventually rename the Scryers Guild, the Thieves Guild to something more setting specific. For now its a literary place holder.

I wanted to include some Spy vs Spy elements into the Thief class (hence the pic) but found it surprisingly hard to do without forcing PCs into one guild or another. I think I will use this element, but just on the RPing side of things rather than a setting level with forced conflict. I think rival Thieves would be good story elements so they would attempt to out-do each other, sabotage each other, kill each other off and so forth.

Quick Update

We have had some major web incursions at my work and I am having to manually clean up some malicious code. Time consuming to say the least. Hopefully by Wednesday it will be straightened out and I can think about some more articles here.

Friday, March 20, 2009


Here are the two pieces I spoke of yesterday. The first is The Molluetuesk (click to enlarge). This was done using a Micron pen and some pointillism. I like pointillism since you can use the same pen for the entire sketch and I suck at traditional shading (as you will see below). I originally planned to use pencil to draw some natural cave stalactites and stalagmites to see how the critter could blend in. I opted against it because pencil smears too easily and I didn't want to overly obscure the Molluetuesk. I may submit this one to the Erol Otus art contest. I would feel honored just knowing he saw one of my pieces.

This next one is practically a colleague. It uses pointillism, crosshatch, scribble-sketch, brush ink and whatever else I could think of. This is what I think approaching Throxia would look like (Otter's game, Thool). I don't like this one nearly as much but it is really a mandatory sketch since I need to get back into practice somehow.

I will probably try to do some pen and ink art work in the future since I enjoy it and have let it go for far too long.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Molluetuesk Effect

I've been a bit busy recently will endless meetings at my work, a job interview and some more pen art work. I picked up a sketch pad, micron pens, and some bottle india ink - the first time in many years I purchased art supplies. Really buying the supplies is a high of its own, as nothing is quite as promising to me as a empty book of really nice graph paper or a nice clean sketch pad. It is almost a shame to sully them with my meager scratchings. Good art supplies more so, simply because I could never afford the higher quality stuff as a kid. I distinctly remember doing Studio Art AP projects in high school on empty brown grocery bags. Not that there is anything wrong with that, brown-bag sketches had a unique quality to them, but its nice to have some options.

Anyhow I will post a few sketches tomorrow when I have access to a scanner. One is of the Molluetuesk, which is my favorite home-brew critter that I've done recently. Not necessarily because its particularly clever, but because it has single handedly brought three groups to their knees - even though these parties have conquered far more insidious critters.

  • 8 – The north section of this cave is the home of the Molluetuesk, which appears as a tranquil pool of water with several small fish swimming inside. The pool is faintly radiant and is lined with stalactites and stalagmites. Should a PC disturb the pool the Molluetuesk will attack relentlessly. If the PCs are 15’ or further back and somehow disturb the pool, the mouth will snap shut and the creature will slowly ‘reset’, ignoring the party.

  • A passageway is in the South East section of the cave which vaguely reeks of sweet cooking smells, like heated fruit.

  • In the refuse under the Molluetuesk a Shield +1 sits along with the bones of its previous owner.

  • Molluetuesk – hd 3 hp 18 ac 5 att: bite 1d6, on max dmg swallow whole.
  • Very large cave-lurking beast that looks similar to a huge horseshoe crab, which opens itself up into a cavernous opening. Its ‘mouth’ very closely resembles an iridescent tranquil pool of water with some small fish in it, stalactites and stalagmites lining the sides above and below (teeth). Should the pool be disturbed, the ‘mouth’ will snap shut.
'Swallow whole' is intentionally vague to suit the DMs lethality. I had it do an automatic d6 per round until the critter is slain. Bad yes, but hardly save or die. I really have no idea why the groups I've ran have nearly gotten TPK'd from this thing; especially considering the stirge-breathing dragon is so, so much worse and they kick the crap out of that thing. I guess some critters are just bad luck.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Seat of the Soul

Philosophy interests me and I like to integrate a bit of it into Valley of Blue Snails where I can. Admittedly I am probably doing a poor job but I have made the attempt to offer themes with a philosophical slant. Some examples:

  • Elves and Descartes dualism. The males are heavily slanted towards the mind, introverted thought and consciousness. The females far more into the body and bringing things into motions. Two must interact, yet find it an abstract affair where they just don't share the same context. The conflict here is between body and mind.

  • Another would be Dwarves and naturalism. The Dwarves see everything as a machine. The mind being no exception, it is just a machine that they do not fully understand. The 'saints' of Dwarf-kind are the very knowledge whitebeards who do understand the brain as a machine (so they think) and can replicate consciousness into machinery. Ala Golems and their ilk. Spirituality is waning with the Dwarf culture but so is their society. Some Dwarves believe this is no coincidence and perhaps spirituality is not something to be ignored. Anyhow you have some conflict between spirituality and naturalism here.

  • The Oculus is based upon 'effortless action' in Taoism. Abilities through the Oculus are actions that are more like yielding to natural force rather than forcing an action into being. It takes great effort to swing a heavy broad sword, but using the Oculus powers is easier than watching water flow down a stream. I am not sure if I captured that well in the original articles at all, so perhaps it needs a rewrite. The Oculus is intended to be a very natural thing, an effect of the Great Seasons (Estaoculus) and operates far differently than magic, battle and divine types of conflict. All who have the Oculus have their own personal struggles on how to harmonize their ability with the rest of the natural world. This should include PCs as well.

Halflings like wise have a dilemma with seeing the future and the problems with changing it. Humans are more based upon the pull and tug of civilization vs nature. On a broader level I suppose Valley of Blue Snails operates with very symmetrical themes. The major theme is seasons; four seasons which effect all races drastically. Great Season are the major events in the campaign. The seasons dictate prosperity, society and basic survival. I've thought about making the Great Season much more common, as in one after the other rather than years apart. They need not necessarily be in the order of spring - summer - fall - winter, but I think it would be interesting to have seasons that were random in order, years long, and having drastic effect as I've spoke of before (fall, spring).

Still, it feels like something is missing to bring it all together. Some harmony to link it up and bring a greater sense of a singular campaign rather than a mish-mash of ideas. I suppose a mish-mash is not all bad, Greyhawk and Wilderlands are definitely that. It still nags me though, like a constant reminder that I forgot something.

Astrumdantalas – The Opal of the World

Astrumdantalas is one of the few human cities that can pre-date itself before the time of Lodoga and when the Emperors walked the world. Elves say with certainty the city was founded by the Bard Deledago and his troupe of performers. It was originally intended to be a small trading post at a river fork between the Banshar Krush, the eastern seas, and the Elf Village of Six Stars. It was promoted heavily by Deledago as a free city, with no taxation, little police, and open to all who come in peace.

Within two generations Astrumdantalas had a population of several thousand, a functional port on both rivers, and rife bands of thieves, brigands, beggars, merchants and vagrants. All races participated in the growth of the city and even today there is no definitive minority or outsider race. Astrumdantalas has been sacked and burned to the ground innumerable times but it continues to be rebuilt over the ruins of the old. This has in effect created layers of previous half-destroyed dwellings that were further built upon or buried. Those newer buildings were likewise built upon when they start to crumble, or at the very least torn down and wrought anew. These under-structures are a labyrinth of ruins and passages that maze their way down fifty, sixty or more feet under the cities current roads and buildings. One would assume that these pits would be best avoided or only used by the most loathsome of folk, but on the contrary, the wealthy and powerful dwell underneath while the vagrants and beggars take hearth to the filthy streets above.

The Bardic colleges controlled what little law lay within Astrumdantalas for many years. Over time they simply lacked sufficient numbers and the proper ruthlessness to maintain power. The Bardic colleges still exist but hold little power beyond their well-financed dormitories. Astrumdantalas technically has no law, no police, and no civil services at all. It is kept from falling into complete anarchy by several powerful merchants, pirates, thieves, beggars, craftsmen and the Scryers guild. All of these have the mutual interest to keep Astrumdantalas thriving as a tax free haven to ply their trades. Ownership is held only by word of mouth and sword in hand. Permanent citizens known exactly who owns what and why, and this is referred to as Reeveless Law – that is a sort of common law that all are expected to abide by, or face vigilantism. A hand shake with some spit and blood in it is the proper means to barter ownership of something like a building or docking rights. Simply slaying the previous owner and taking what he owns will only get one mobbed by the cities hardened residence.

Reeveless Law caters heavily towards the current powerful patrons of the city. Naturally nothing is outright taxed, but protection payments for visitors, inspection fees, and writs for services are all collected by the dock-lords and merchant captains. This law changes from district to district, and in particular when one travels into the deeps of the city. Older sections of the city have stone walls to delineate them from the rabble and are generally more upscale with sewage drains and fresh water wells. The shack towns beyond the stone walls host the worst of the vagrants and few travel within for anything wholesome. The worst criminals, killers, and sociopaths make their way into these shack towns when they wish to escape the law of more proper realms.

The under-levels Astrumdantalas are situated under and between the two rivers and are of two distinct types - maintained and unmaintained. Unmaintained sections are considered to be uninhabitable and consist of sewers, caves, rubbled ruins and areas that are too damp to build. The Maintained sections are considered to be richest and most lavish dwellings within Astrumdantalas. Rich merchant lords and guilders will form their own private maze of under-dwellings with the finest goods and services that one may come across. These individual mazes are linked through a variety of smaller passages to the huge internal cistern called The Bards Bazaar. The cistern is long since dry and its ceilings rise thirty feet above the floor and the cistern itself stretches over a half a mile in length. Dwarves crafted it long ago and many Dwarven noble lords still make a vacation home that connects to the grand cistern.

The Bards Bazaar is the open market for the opulent and well connected. No permanent residence are allowed within the cistern so the floors are clean and trades come from all over the world to set up a shop for the daylight hours. Of all in the cities in the world, none can compete with Astrumdantalas and The Bards Bazaar for the sheer variety and quality of good it attracts. Bizarre races who come peacefully are welcome to trade within, and few are denied entry if they pay the proper guilder fees. The finest slaves, weapons, narcotics, cloth, grains, brews and crafted products of the world can usually be found within. The cistern is one of the few places with armed guards that are neutral in their loyalty and traders come to the bazaar only if they are invited by one of the local merchant of guilders.

Several smaller and far less impressive markets operate on streets of Astrumdantalas. These are seldom more than brigands selling their goods, but often quality goods can be had at barging prices. Barter is more common than exchange of coins, and the demand of certain goods changed from day to day or even hour by hour. Very powerful and important travelers will often stop at Astrumdantalas and pay nearly anything for their hearts desire. A flock of pygmy parrots may trade for a bowl of porridge one day, then a sack full of gems the next. Fortune tellers, card readers, bone scryers, and just about any Halfling are in high demand because of this.

Huge profits can be had at a moments notice if the proper information is known. One of the most powerful guilds in Astrumdantalas is the Scryers Guild because of this. Other guilds and powerful nobles will pay dearly for their services, and they often pay with favors rather than gold. This has thrust the Scryers Guild into a fulcrum role of information collection and leaking. The Scryers Guild is not limited Astrumdantalas. Many of their agents are sent to hot spots all over the known world to collect information. It is said the Scryers guild knows many secrets, including the nature and time of the next Great Season. Naturally lords of all races and demeanors find great interest in this secretive guild.

The Scryers Guild works in conjunction with the Bards Guild the Thieves Guild for their information collection. This is usually a one sided affair where the Scryers pay the Bards and Thieves for a certain collection of information, goods, or people. The pay is usually exorbinate and the best and most skilled Bards and Thieves are guilded. To a lesser extent beggars, vagrants, pirates and mercenaries are also used, but usually in less important roles for the Scryers Guild. Astrumdantalas is the nerve center of their operation so it is natural that most talent folk in those skills make the pilgrimage.

Smaller sects, cults, and guilds also make Astrumdantalas their home. As long as they do not molest the citizens and guilds, they are usually left to their own workings free from lordly scrutiny or moral restrictions. There are far too many to list but one of note is the little known, but powerful Indolesmanus. The Indolesmanus scours the world for children with the Oculus in their bloodline or child prodigies. It is unknown who their leader is, but it is clear who over he or they are, they operate a well funded orphanage in Astrumdantalas for these children. The children are said to be instructed with the finest tutors and skill masters, and honed into hyper-intelligent masters of many disciplines. Those who have been encountered are sociopathic killers, extremely intelligent, and highly dangerous to those in their way. No Indolesmanus agent has been captured alive, and few have been bested.

This is somewhat of a parody on the City of Greyhawk with a bit of Lankmar thrown in. I expect Astrumdantalas to act as a good travel-by location to find some bits of information that would otherwise be unavailable. Information for a heafty price of course.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Thoolish Art

I did some pen art for Otter today for his upcoming Thool webzine. I did six, here is one (click to enlarge).

The agenda this week for VoBS, Thieves. I will talk about the class, the lore and their place in Valley of Blue Snails. Also a cities of thieves that will be somewhat of a City of Greyhawk parody - a free city gone too far where the thief and beggars took over. One of the locations therein will be an orphanage that seeks out child prodigies to mold into evil-geniuses.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Multi-Classes Revisited

I will be changing a few of the multi-class titles though I'm a bit mixed on what direction to take it. The titles are similar to normal class titles (Veteran, Cutpurse, Wizard, etc) in that they are mostly for fluff with perhaps a minor ability to adhere the two classes better. I'm deciding on wither to make it very setting specific or use more intuitive titles.

Example, a Fighter-Cleric would be a Paladin. Pretty intuitive. Setting specific would be something like a Dwarven Fighter-Cleric would be a Whitebeard. Not so intuitive but perhaps a better choice since this sort of multi-class fluff is well outside of the realm of B/X anyhow. The main problem is the setting specifics titles would indeed be rather specific, slanting towards race with specific classes.

I've been reading up a bit on what Gygax had in mind for 2nd edition AD&D and here are the classes that seemed to be included Cavalier, Barbarian, Acrobat, Mountebank, Savant, Mystic, and Jester. The first three were in Unearthed Arcana of course. Savant and Mystic seem fairly similar, both being based on divination (a DMs nightmare). The Jester is not really for me, but I am sure some others would get some use out of it. Bards were to be revamped, Monk would removed and put into Oriental Adventures. The one that interested me the most is the Mountebank because I never heard of it, and because it seems fairly interesting.

The Mountebank is a bit of a a skilled liar, heavy with slight of hand and verbal trickery. They would depend a lot on speed, theatrics and disguise. From what I read Gygax had them in mind as primarily a Thief with a bit of Illusionist and Fighter. Judging by Unearthed Arcana they probably would have had a plethora of specialized abilities, their own theify skills and probably their own spell list too. Naturally I won't get that far into since this is B/X, but I will add the title to for a PC who fits the bill.

Monk I will probably remove and replace with Mystic or perhaps something else. This will be the 'Fighter-Mage' although I am not sure how the mechanics will go. This one is a bit tough because of the balance. I may allow any weapon but still disallow armor for spell casting, or something of the like. Bishop I do not care for overly, but I will probably leave it in as a homage to Wizardry. If that is the case then I will need to develop a strong clergy that would at least resemble something abbots, bishops and whatnot would be involved with. Stratogineer is just a placeholder name but I have yet to think of replacement. I do want a Dwarf title somewhere that will involve mechanical things.

The rest I will probably leave in and stick a fork in it. At the moment it will look something like this.

Fighter/Cleric - Paladin
Fighter/Mage - Mystic
Fighter/Thief - Ranger
Mage/Cleric - Bishop
Mage/Thief - Illusionist
Cleric/Thief - Assassin
Fighter/Thief/Mage - Mountebank
Elf (T/M/C) - Druid
Dwarf (F/M/T) - Stratogineer
Halfling (F/M/T) - Sheriff
Human (F/M/T/C)- Bard

Paladin - Zealous and self-righteous, the Paladin smites his foes with the holy might and clarity
of purpose. Valorous and bold, the Paladin is is both a slave and a master of his Lawful nature.
Req : Lawful, Charisma 12
Abilities : Paladins may re-roll a failed save throw once.

Mystic - Mystic warrior who study with forbidden masters and ancient warschools occasionally return more than they once were. Unpredictable and aloof, Monks are both rare and unsettling, never quite at home away from the isolated training grounds they left.
Req: Wisdom 12
Abilities: Mystics may use any weapon and still cast spells.

Ranger - Often seen as well trained brigands, Rangers are masters of the wilderness, striding with ease where others loose their footing.
Req: Int 12
Abilities: Ranger may use ranged weapons for their backstab ability.

Bishop - Unbeholden to the influence of the traditional Clergy, Bishops wander the lands setting their own holy agenda collecting lore and reason in the world.
Req: Non-Neutral
Abilities: Bishops may attempt to identify the nature of magical or supernatural effects; this includes items, spells, phenomena, as well as flora and fauna.

Illusionist - Pragmatic tricksters who use magic and shadows to beguile both friends and foes. They are both the joker and the joked upon, as 'true' Wizards discount their petty ways as demeaning.
Req: Non-Lawful
Abilities: May cast spells listed with a * on their Magic User spells list (Illusionist spells).

Assassin - A super human fighting machine, the assassin is gifted as a spy, a saboteur and a killer. Universally loathed and desired, assassins walk a fine line between life and death.
Req : Non-Lawful, Strength 12
Ability: Victims of a successful Assassin backstab must make a save throw vs Death or immediately die.

Mountebank - Charlatan skilled with his hands as well as a his rhetoric; the Mountebank is a liar, a thief, and trickster. They use speed, theatrics and disguise to accomplish what a mere blade can not .
Req: Charisma 12, Dexterity 12
Abilities: If a Mountebank hold the attention of a humanoid(s) for more than 1 turn, he may Confuse them (as spell).

Druid - Druids are the keepers of natural lore and the order of the seasons. Compelled to travel to see the world, Druids yearn to wander the years in a new location every day.
Req: Wis 14
Ability: Druids can change their shape to any animal their size or smaller.

Stratogineer - Powerful and possessive, the Stratogineer of the deep workshops hold the might of sway of the cog, gears and steam at thier grasp. Bowing to no one man but to the power of the mechanical alone, Stratogineers tread heavily upon the world in their bronze-tubed boots.
Req: Int 14
Ability: Stratogineers can mechanically replicate any spell they know with mechanical devices.

Sheriff- The Halfling Sheriff is prophet, divining the future and setting upon the world to correct and thwart the horrors set in his mind's vision. Ultimately a protector of the Halfling people and the world, the Sheriff takes upon the role of prophet and corrector.
Req: Wis 14
Ability: Sheriffs presence may be called upon at will, once per day.

Bard - Both whimsical entertainer and traveling sage, Bards use dance and music to soothe those around them. Known as true polymaths, Bards seems to have knowledge in just about everything.
Req: Cha 14
Ability: Any intelligent creature listening to the Bards song for a turn or longer will be inflicted by a Charm as the spell if the bard so wishes. Save throw applies.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Vaunderfel - The Great Spring

I initially laid out the history of the Great Seasons to look something like this:

24 year - 7 year Spring (Sapphiron) - 22 years - 4 year Winter (Hibernel) - 28 years - 6 year Autumn (Leafenfel) - 33 years - 9 year Summer (Estaoculus - the summer of eyes) - 32 years - 4 year Spring (Sinchola) - 41 years - 3 year Spring (Vaunderfel) - 21 years - 4 year Autumn (The Great Rot) - 31 years - present year

I am fine with this and have no plans to change it. I have talked already about The Great Rot and plan to write an article about each of the types of great season, using the most recent examples since they would be most pertinent to the game’s lore. Certainly some of the long ago Great Season would be considerably more severe, but for the most part these would be dreadful folk-lore.

Vaunderfel, Estaoculus, and Hibernel will be on the agenda. I will save Hibernel for last since it should be the 'best' one. By best I mean desiccated frozen zombies hunting the living like 28 Days Later sort of best – and that was a mild Great Winter. A severe one would practically be a mass extinction. Estaoculus is the most relevant to the setting since it beget the Oculus traits within the races. Vaunderfel is also very relevant as it represents a great rebirth, change and a time of prosperity that catapulted humanoids out of the deep wilds. And so, onto Vaunderfel:


One of the themes of Valley of Blue Snails is that of seasons. I like the cyclic elements and the occasions where this cyclic nature is disrupted. The endless seasons are probably the most important disruptions that pop up, and it is a generational event which all other things seem trivial. Halfling prescience is purely based upon predicting Great Seasons (everything else is just a side effect), the Elves physically and mentally change with them, the Dwarves build around them, and the Human are more or less a victim of whatever hits them.

Vaunderfel was the great spring that occurred around fifty years ago. The major effects of the Vaunderfel included a huge generational boom, a prolific flourishing of life, and a fulcrum for rebirth and change. This was amplified by the fact that the previous Great Season was Sinchola, another great spring. The two together lifted the humanoids into true civilization and prosperity.

Before - Prior to Sinchola it was a long period of civil warfare among the civilized races. Things were much more tribal, isolated, xenophobic and all-together sullen. Sinchola started to change this, and the Vaunderfel spurred the changes that wrought a level of prosperity for a time. During the autumn of 40’s89 the Halflings predict a Great Season, although they can not distinguish which it will be. Harvest is already completed and most races flounder around in hording resources. The winter in 41’s89 is particularly harsh and does not appear to be ending as thick blankets of snow are rife. Panic quickly grips most civilizations as preparations were wholly inadequate. Luckily spring quickly erupts into the fourth month of the year.

One – Spring ends winter with a vengeance and trees begin to bloom with snow still on the ground. All senses are far more intense than usual; color seems brighter, sounds are vibrant, fire burns hotter and creativity is rampant. The weather takes on temperate and mild tone that lasts for three years. Animals quickly come out of their winter holes and plant life flourishes very quickly. The first year is often remembered as The Lust, as the desire to procreate becomes overwhelming for nearly all species. Despite numerous problems with perpetual heat has on civilized society, it is generally a peaceful and serene time. Inter-species mating, once taboo, becomes a burning urge and all civilized races interbreed to some extent. This period lasts for well over 6 months and eventually causes a huge population boom among all living things.

Year Two – Sensations further intensify and creativity reaches a pinnacle; some of the greatest works of art are crafted during this time. The new generation is born and all children born at his time are healthy and vigorous. Inter-racial breeding produces offspring that otherwise would be impossible, creating hybrid races that were previously unheard of. Plant life accelerates in growth; trees bud flowers, bloom, grow fruit within a month during the Vaunderfel. Fruit that hits the ground sprouts almost immediately grows at an accelerated rate and propagates more. New forests and jungles appear in a matter of months. Strange animal hybrids run rampant through the wilds and many new species are wrought into the world. Resources seem endless and diseases vanish.

Year Three – Sensations are almost painful to experience. Colors seem to glow, fire quickly burns out of control, sound is deafening, and creativity is so rampant that it is impossible to focus. Some animals and plants that existed before the Vaunderfel grow to enormous sizes. Some plants take on a sentient quality that allows them to communicate to some extent, and in some cases move. Stranger and stranger hybrid races begin to crop up with bizarre mutations; bear-like creatures with snail shells and ram-head, dragons with crab shells and taloned limbs and so forth. This creates new species and also mutated versions of existing ones. This is not limited to animals and plants, but also to humanoids and strange children are being born carrying the traits of several races.

Year Four – Vaunderfel lasts for only two months into it’s forth year. During this brief period some of those who were long dead rise again, reborn out of the earth. All undead ceases to exist, either overtaken by the forces of life, or wrought with living flesh once again. Wounds heal instantly, animals age in reverse and it is nearly impossible to die. Most living things remember this time like a dream, only vague events and blinding sensations.

Afterwards – Vaunderfel ends in the third month of 1’s90 and summer takes hold. The ecosystem changed drastically with many new races. The new and old races begin to compete as resources begin to wane. Most hybrids and mutants succumb to the drastic change in their environment though a few prosper. The civilized races hold some disdain over the hybrid children and many are outright slain. Others are tolerated to a small degree assuming that they are not obviously aberrant. Many of the behemoth creatures survive in isolated pockets along with their sentient plant counterparts. Several pockets of the Vaunderfel still exist, and the Valley of Blue Snails can be considered one of these.

I initially had no inclination to include Half-Elves and like but this will be as good of a reason as many. These half-races will be a small minority at under 1% of the total humanoid population however. Any race can be a half-race. Half-Dwarf, Half-Marggot? Sure, why the hell not. Most of the more unholy combination would have been killed by now but they are not entirely unheard of. Most of these are not known as a specific race, but simply as an aberration to most of society. The Vaunderfel also offers a good origin to giant critter species as well as your monster-plants.

Ultimately I am thinking all races originated in one great spring or another. Call it Valley of Blue Snails evolution. Eventually older races would be out-competed and new ones will fill the void. This is gradual though as most new races do not have what it takes. Large changes would occur when a great spring follows a great winter, the largest voids would be available then. Those still alive who experienced the Vaunderfel would remember it like a grand dream, although a very vivid one. Reality did not work quite the same, particularly near the end of Vaunderfel.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Derogatory and Colloquial Names

I am actually rather fond of racism, bigotry and general ignorant types of hate in my writing. Its a wondrous motivator that will make people do brash and strange things, and its a bit silly to ignore that sort of flavor in a fantasy RPG. Here he are some derogatory and colloquial names that would pop up here and again.

Halfling - Peck (my favorite, and the only good thing to come of Willow), Bigge, Hakkaches (Elf term meaning hack cheese), Fillecun or Wydecunthe (very derogatory Dwarf term towards a halfling female, best not described), Yrento (meaning iron-toe or hard-ass)

Elf - Brekelaunce (broken-lance), Mooner (many of their ritual are at night), Winesipper, Pichachas (very derogatory), Aydunken (Dwarf term, meaning acts like a drunk), Strokelady (very derogatory Halfling term, meaning an elf women who will never get any), Smalbyhind (Dwarf term for elf women of small assets)

Dwarf - Cogger, Hooder (many dwarves wear hooded garments), Mudape (very derogatory), Brekaldoun (all breaks down), Fayrandgode (elf term describing a very ugly dwarf), Turnhound (even hounds turn away)

Human - Windsfirst (essentially calling them cowards), Booster, Eyegone (blind to all but what they want to see), Gobyweye (Dwarf term, meaning get out of the way dumbass), Haldebytheheved (Elf term, basically meaning /facepalm)

- Swetemouth (a liar), Horsmongere (thief by the words of law), Vnderegge (out of his freaking mind), Nobscoiner (Nobles who mark gold coins to give to beggar, coins which are punishable by death to actually spend)

Commoners - Gidye (mad vagrant), Reedcruut (diseased), muck-dweller, inheffelde (one who knows toil), tauth (elf term, meaning without home), Orechinnio (dwarf term, meaning one who trades anything for ore)

Use some of these terms would be grounds for a duel to the death. Others are fairly light hearted.
I think I had far too much fun writing that..

Tome of Lost Ideas

I had a decent idea late night but unfortunately I put too much hope in that I would actually remember it. More unfortunate is that it was a good idea, at least I thought it was a good idea at the time. and even more so is that I have a nice moleskin notepad right on my desk to dot down such things but I was simply too lazy to dot it down since I am usually good about recalling such things.

Well, I had a job phone interview the following morning so I suppose my mind was elsewhere. If I recall it I shall post it here in haste. I the mean time consider this post the tome of lost ideas and hopefully a lesson learned..

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Women of Valley of Blue Snails

I've been meaning to talk briefly about gender in Valley of Blue Snails but never seem to get around to it. Gender stations of the historical medieval days were not very interesting, so I suppose that is why most Sword and Sorcery devolves into something completely not based upon reality. I am inclined to agree since half of all fantasy written in the past 150 years is motivated by getting laid one form or another. Gold, sure, sounds good. Power, yeah that cool too. Debauchery with the twenty nubile Elf maids of Anacor - yeah, screw gold and power, I'm there.

And so, I try to place women in as many different elements as possible since they are as fine of story elements and adventure seed as anything. Not to mention they can make PCs do things they would ordinary not even consider.

Off hand these are the primary themes of the core races:

Elf - Women are the primary forces of action within the Elven community. Males are lethargic and self interested. Women are brash, passionate and tend to act first and think later. I think of the men as a group a lazy gay dudes with a bunch of lusty straight women watching them 24/7. This is not the case I assure you, but its the sort of social tension I want to be present. So present, that it motivates almost everything the women do while the apathetic men barely take notice.

Halfling - On first glance Halfling women appear to be on equal terms with their male counterparts. However different communities take drastic swings towards one direction or the other. The Halfling maids of Gnaeun kill most males. Other communities enslave their females, or females of other races for one reason or another. Both extremes are considered odd to Halflings, but not truly aberrant as one may think. Slavery is another theme of of the Halflings although I am not sure how omnipresent this will be yet.

Dwarf - Dwarves I initially imagined as a hyper intelligent group with the appearance of squat Mongoleans. Their women have mostly been in the background, as most Dwarven women appear to be in D&D, but I really should include them more. I may make them the stern proctors, instructors and the like. Perhaps drill sergeant types and masochistic dominatrices. Also with your incredibly intelligent types mixed in, but socially awkward. Hot librarian types too (okay, well maybe not so hot).

Human - Two strands here, the nobles and the non-nobles. The non-nobles will be rife with drudgery, oppression and daily toil. Nobles will be more along the lines of your helpless females ignorant of peril and responsibility. A seldom few would tread outside of these themes, but those that do would quickly become folk lore.

Non-human women would run the full gambit. Water dryads would just as easily serve a savior for life in any way she could as she would be to lure a man to a watery grave. Most non-human women I would likewise make unpredictable, dangerous, and seldom what one expects. Surely they would be no less dangerous than their male counterparts, and in fact more so since they lull and seduce as part of their arsenal. Mythology is full of such creatures so there is no lack of source material here. In all respects they would be alien in their thought and mind with motives that no mortal would fathom.

Superstitions among the collective women of the world would revolve around fertility, family, nature and safety. Most of female-only traditions and rituals would revolve around one of those aspects. This is nearly universal and many such rituals and traditions pass between races and are recognizable between them. Bring a gift of a bowl of milk with stewed acorns to a group of Marggots and it would probably be more effective than carrying a white flag. I listed some of these superstions earlier. No doubt darker rituals of sacrifice and pain inflicted upon males is common, although rare. The Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser books are full of cold and vindictive women who do just that. Interesting stuff and I am sure to put it in some adventures when the need arises.

Microlite 74

I ran across these rules on a blog which linked a blog which linked a blog - Microlite 74.

From the author's page:

"Microlite74, like its parent game, Microlite20, is a trimmed-down, sub-miniature version of the Primary Fantasy SRD rules that has been designed to be quick and easy to play. The goal of Microlite74, however, is to recreate the style and feel of that very first ("0e") fantasy roleplaying game published back in 1974. If you are at all familiar with any game based on the 3.5 edition of the Primary Fantasy SRD, you will find Microlite74 easy to play and easy to run as a GM, but with an extra helping of "old school" flavor.

While Microlite74 is designed as an introduction to "old school" play for players more familiar with modern rules systems based on the Primary Fantasy SRD, it is a rules-lite OGL based game system that old school grognards – especially those who cut their gamer teeth on "0e" – should find equally enjoyable. It is also easy to modify with your own house rules or rules drawn from your favorite edition of the world’s most popular fantasy roleplaying game."

Oddly enough I do not care for most open rule sets, even though I am hypocritical enough to write my own. I think they are mostly just a book of glorified house-rules done for self indulgence. Other people obviously think otherwise as it seems many of these open systems are becoming fairly popular. Anyhow, this compilation of rules hit a cord with me, mostly because of the brevity it illustrated with spells, monsters, and the like. It is interesting how minimal you can go and still have it very recognizable as D&D.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Cave Quarry of the Chalk-Dwellers

Here is a quick sample adventure using the Chalk-Dweller Quarry I talked about below. You can download it here or just enlarge the image. I like the idea of a 1-page adventures, map included, and shall toy with more adventures as time goes on. The one-pagers have a a very OD&D feel since they are rules light and have plenty of room for sandbox DMing. Map + text took about 90 minutes to complete, so it is pretty easy to get several of these done.

Here is a clear version of the text

1 - A loathsome Ruhk Dwells here with 2 egg. It is thankfully deaf and has poor eye sight. The Skeleton of a huge tusked-snake makes up the border of the nest.
(1): AC: 4 HD: 12 AT: bite +9 (6d8).
2 - Near the eggs a host of Chalk-Crabs click about, each the size of a fist. The entrance to the under quarry is easily visible.
3 - Blocks of chalk in perfect squares are strewn about. Six Chalk-Dwellers are tapping the stone.
CHALK-DWELLER (6): AC: 8 HD: 2 AT: weapon +2 (1d8) S: Dust cloud (Save vs Breath or -2 to all rolls for encounter).
4 - Skeletal remains of a large Rukh. Among the debris are the offerings from the Chalk-Dwellers including salt, bluish chalk, jade (85gp), lapis (55gp) and ten staves of chalk that burn blue light when lit (acts a torch).
5 - Lot of grinding here with Chalk-Dwellers smoothing their stone. The entire area is saturated with chalk dust.
CHALK-DWELLER (10): AC: 8 HD: 2 AT: weapon +2 (1d8) S: Dust cloud (Save vs Breath or -2 to all rolls for encounter).
6 - A pile of debris left over from the chalk. Silver ore is visable, well over a ton of it (value 2200gp), but only recognizable by a Dwarf or one skilled in mining or smelting.
7 - A Chalk-Dweller overseer is here conversing with Myconids about trade. A pile of smooth blue chalk lay in the chamber corner. The Myconids do not engage unless attacked or the chalk is molested. Should anyone go down the eastern side of the river it will head towards the great Chalk-Dweller city (DMs discretion).
CHALK-DWELLER Lord (1): AC: 6 HD: 4 AT: weapon +4 (1d8+2) S: Dust cloud (Save vs Breath or -2 to all rolls for encounter).
MYCONID (8): AC: 5 HD: 2 AT: weapon +1 (1d8) S: Hallucination (Save vs Poison or as Confusion spell).
8 - Barricades block off this area from the east. Three Chalk-Dweller corpses lay within, torn to shreds and a battle was clearly fought here.
9 - A half-dead Ruhk is here, newly hatched, sikly and wounded. An impromptu nest is here made from Chalk-Dweller corpses.
RUKH (1): AC: 6 HD: 12(24hp) AT: bite +9 (3d8).
10 - Two boats lay along side of a underground river. The boats are well kept with oars and poles. The river is slow moving. Crates of live chalk-crabs lay in the boats along with rope, sacks of salt and blue chalk sticks.
11 -
A natural pool ends on the western bank of the river where many fish live. A silver stave is driven into the western wall (Staff +1, Detects Magic on command). A Wraith of a long dead mage haunts this corner, a dreadful spirit of woe.
WRAITH (1): AC: 5 HD: 5 AT: touch +4 (1d6) S:Undead, Immune to non-magic weapons, Drains +1d10 hp on hit
12 - Natural crystals fill this cave like a geode, and chiming sounds can be heard. On the west side of the river a chalk bowl of offerings lays near the river. Silver ore, salt, chalk-crabs and a Dagger +2 lay within. A mated pair of Cave Fishers dwell in the upper reaches and will attack anything moving beyond the bowl.
CAVE FISHER (2): AC: 5 HD: 4 AT: bite +2 (2d8) S:Adhesion Line (Hit attached a line to PC and pulls them in at 30' per round).

Seed (lvls 3-4): My the grace of his Lordship Berhnel of the Fort Aspire you have been commanded to aid the Wizard in the Tower of Resting Leaves. Tournel, Elven Magic-User apprentice in the tower seeks your aid to locate his master, the Wizard Therdones. His master was last known to be collecting rare blue chalk in the chalk quarry. Returning his master, or his silver-staff if he is dead, would be his desire. Should his master be known to be dead, it would cause a dire vacuum of power with in the area of Fort Aspire. In return for your aid, the apprentice will give each Magic-User in the group a spell from his masters book (if he is dead), or 250 gold to other members. They are to seek the council of his Lordship Berhnel afterward.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Ruhk Eggs of the Chalk Quarry

High cliff walls cascade down the western edge of the Plateau of Gnaeun into a reservoir of chalk quarries. These ancient quarries were once home to a benign race of albino chalk-caked dwellers whose name has long since been forgotten. These dwellers quarried lightly within the cliff walls and traded their fine chalk for amenities which they desired. They had unfortunately attracted a flock of Ruhks which took it upon themselves to nest in the quarry and feed upon the inhabitant who had no where to flee but deeper into their shallow caves.

The Ruhks found the chalk-dwellers to be a scrumptious meal and hunted them vigorously when they sought a delicacy. The dweller did strike back however, digging deeper caves and drawing the Ruhks into their domain, caking their feathers with chalk dusk as they feasted. Over a period of years the Ruhks were able to fly less and less because of the debilitating dust. Those Ruhks that remained eventually became non-fliers and tore out the majority of their feather so that they may more easily slip into the chalk caverns and hunt their favorite meals.

This battle continued for decades and descendants of the chalk dwellers carved out a marbled labyrinth of passages, huge and small behind the cliff face. They are no longer an easy meals for the featherless Ruhks which chase them clumsily through the quarry and into their caves. Both the dwellers and the Ruhks have adapted considerably and each picks up a new vicious tactic to deal with the other ever few years.

The chalk dwellers have large silvery eyes and a thin humanoid body which is perpetually caked with chalk dust. Their face has a small mouth and no ears or nose. They have carved large caverns over the years and they are now fearful creatures, timid and quick to beset upon interlopers. They raise chalk-crabs in the depths and consider food from elsewhere to be delicacies, including humanoids. They have a small city that clings onto a ceiling of a huge cavern like a barnacle. It is vaguely chandelier like and contains hundreds of the chalk dwellers.

The Ruhks are mostly featherless and appear diseased to some extent. Their flesh has cancerous sores, their eyes are heavily cataracted and they are a desiccated version of their former selves, although still huge at 40 feet or longer in length. The Ruhks nest in the open quarry and have circular patterns of large bones and skulls all over the area. The Ruhks are far from simple minded and have adopted the primitive customs of the chalk dwellers out of instinct. The Ruhks guttural crow even sounds like a tortured chalk dweller. There are around twenty Ruhks total which nest in the quarry and hunt within the cave and the surrounding area. They lumber awkwardly after prey and quickly tear it to pieces. There are few creatures they do not consider food and most beings in the surrounding area are adept at hiding from the loathsome things.

The Ruhks build nests in a mockery of the chalk dweller abodes. Layered like building with nodes that vaguely look like windows and doors. They lay their eggs in these nests which are usually sickly, thin and sopping with yellowish drippings. A layer of chalk-crabs quickly envelops the eggs to feed upon the nutrients but also hardens and protects the eggs. The chicks however are sickly and twisted things and few survive beyond a few days. Enough do survive to perpetuate the Ruhks of the chalk quarry however.

* Ruhk Egg is of course from MtG, and Rukh is the persian name and precursor to Roc. Those clever designers from Arabian Nights.. Rukh I will use as an apex predatory that perhaps only dragons would have a hope to take one down. I would surmise their great stature is from the fruit of the World Tree, so perhaps some races worship them as semi-divine. The ones above are twisted versions of their wholesome cousins and are greatly feared rather than worshipped.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

XP and the Solo Player

D&D never was a particularly elegant game for just one player/one DM. There is a word for PCs who take on daring heroics against impossible odds, and that word is dead. It is pretty reliant on the DM to cater heavily towards encounters that have some sort of back door, a lot of diplomacy, allow for stealth, and the like. Otherwise a bad series of die rolling will end the campaign and its back to square one. The one player party take a lot of punishment when luck does not go their way as opposed to a large party which as a whole is nigh indestructible.

Anyhow, there is no single solution so I am taking a multitude of smaller changes as opposed to making huge changes that would not longer make the game D&D. These include a slight buffs for PCs, removal of save or die scenarios, ease of npc inclusion (including animals), and in general a campaign leaning towards story-driven scenarios rather than hack n slash. XP is also included since the default B/X xp will have wonky results with little xp in fair fight but huge boosts for treasure hauls.

For XP I've always liked a method described in 3.0, which is a level gained every 14 encounters. In my 3.x campaigns I use this method purely since it simplifies things. 'Encounter' is not necessarily combat, it could be any relevant scene that has a chance of success, failure or moving the plot along in a major way. I think I will use something similar for Valley of Blue Snails since it should work with one player just as well as a group. Also it won't overly emphasis combat, since a solo player should be pretty damn cautious about unneeded battles. To cater to the B/X curve I will tweak the by-encounter xp gain:

Level 1 - 8 encounters
Level 2 - 10 encounters
Level 3 - 12 encounters
Level 4 - 14 encounters
+1 encounter per-level beyond that

General role-playing and trying wonky stuff will qualify as a encounter. If we happen to spend 4 pages of a thread to buy a bronze-longsword from a particularly hagglesome merchant, so be it. That shall count as an encounter so long as I am rolling for something. As for how this method compares to normal XP gains, I suppose it depends on the DM. I would say this is roughly about right in the games I had - but then again I tend to avoid the sprawling dungeon crawls and opted for more scenario driven games. Ala, Assassin's Knot as opposed to Keep on the Borderlands.

So lets say about 2 pages on a thread per 'encounter' give or take, by the above method to get to level 10 that is around 260 pages. I would say that is about right actually and definitely doable in a years time. If we are ambitious and double that, that would be around the level 'limit' of 15 (not counting dual classing). I doubt that would happen but you never know. This assumes we do a bulletin board thread type of play (I am leaning towards this now).

As a side note, I'm a big fan of crpgs, old and new, so it is a bit odd that I will kill 10,000 Furbogs in WoW over and over and over, yet repetitious combat in a table top is dull for me. Who knows. One mmo that rewarded things by encounter, similar to above is Age of Conan. The start of the game is heavily story driven and differs quite a bit between the classes you play. An assassin likes to stealth, barbarians like to kick in the door, mages like to .. do magic, and so forth. Also you get plenty of xp from replacing the virgin blood with whores blood during a dark ritual as you would from any major combat quest. Nothing wrong with either element, apples and oranges. Too bad Age of Conan went seriously down hill after the starter Tortage story.

edit: speaking of solo adventures..

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Ability Checks and Save Throws

Something that is not explicitly in B/X are ability checks and Save Throws for mundane things. I am just noting it down here so I remember to put in the rules specifically, as I have a habit of just making assumptions that folks would know these things. I use both prolifically and plan to do in Valley of Blue Snails.

Ability Checks will cover actions which the PC intitated. Save Throws will cover events that occur to the PCs that are out of their control.

Abilities checks will be used for actions which have a moderate chance of failure. These are usually actions the PCs have initiated intentionally in most cases. Want to mop your floor? no check needed. Want to climb a fence before the guard dogs get you? check needed. This will cover the crazy things PCs try to do, as well skills that the PC may know. I see no need for alist of skills in the game since ability checks and PCs background should cover it all. Probably anyone who is reading this will know how to perform an ability check but let me spell it out just in case.

Roll 1d20. If the number is equal too or less than the abilities that is being tested, the action is considered a success. For example, lifting a iron gate would require a strength check. Recalling the linage of a local lord would require a Intelligence check. Charming a reeve who is questioning you about a weapon that is not peace-bonded will require a Charisma check (and role-playing of couse). And so on and so forth.

These can rolls can be modified based on the difficulty, or the roll will simply not be allowed if the DM deems it impossible. Modifiers would not go beyond +4 to -4, and honestly I don't bother to use them much. A natural 1 or natural 20 I deem as dismal failure or great success.

Save Throws I use for mundane things that are usually out of the PCs control. If they are tossed in freezing water I may allow a Save vs Petrification to see how well they react. If a bar tender tosses a PC out of a window, I may allow a Save vs Wands to avoid damage. Attempting to out drink the town drunk would require a Save vs Poison, etc. Really its just another random event to see how the PCs luck is going. I like it because unexpected things can happen and the story is not so driven by the DM and fate get a hand in there too.

Save Throws can likewise be modified to +4 to -4. Save throws are more difficult to succeed, especially at the early levels. So it is important to keep in mind of the reprecutions of failing a saves, because it will probably happen. If this mechanic is used routinely the PC should notice they are noticeable getting more 'heroic' as they level up.

Otter mentioned in Tunnels and Trolls that PCs get experience when they make a succesful Ability Check or Save Thrown. I like this idea and will probably use it since it promotes trying stuff. I will talk about that more tomorrow however when I devote some time to XP.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The Fey Triumvirate

As related to the article below, this is group of three races I shall be using as highly misunderstood do-gooders. For one reason or another they think that the four core PC races are antithesis of all things they hold dear. While normally peaceful, they will ultimately go well out of their way to thwart the plans and machinations of what they perceive are greatly evil acts – ie, anything the Elves, Dwarves, Halfling and Humans are up too.

The Fey Triumvirate

The Fey Triumvirate is highly attuned to with the spirits that inhabit the deep wilds. They co-exist with them as an every day part of life as opposed to mere superstition and fear of other humanoids. Most of their realms are in the distant northwest, far beyond the border of Kabdoria. This area is passed the Sands of Shells, a desert that was once an old sea bed. The Sands of Shells is high dangerous will high fluxuations of temperate between day and night, and loathsome creatures that dwell in the fossilized shells; dessicated slugs, enormous dried sea sponges, giant brine-fleas, land urchins, and coral morays to name a few.

The Elves speak of time when the Fey were far more numerous and reach further south, but they were pushed back in a series of brutal culling by Elves, Dwarves, Men and Halflings alike. This occurred mostly as a reaction to misunderstanding, but it is a common belief that these creatures are primitive, evil and generally up to no good. They are usually attacked on sight for said reasons, and they often respond in kind after years of butchery.

The Fey Triumvirate once held as many as nine races but only three remain; Marggots, Gnomes and Fionn. The three races do not dwell together, but they do work towards a common good. It would not be uncommon for the three races to band together to thwart a common threat. Any intruders passing beyond the Sands of Shells would be likely to see The Fey Triumvirate working in intelligent and highly organized warfare.

The Fey Triumvirate sees the ways of the humanoids as unnatural. They view them and fearful creatures that do not understand the spirits and inadvertently create malefic spirits. This is correct in some respects, although some ignorance on the part of The Fey Triumvirate fails to understand some of the greater good that the humanoids accomplish. The Fey Triumvirate merely sees the humanoids to south as an scourge upon the world, causing woe where every tread. Furthermore they are well aware that their territory has slowly diminished over the centuries and are now in desperation to seek a reprisal. Who can say what this is, but it is sure that they seek a way to harm their enemies.

Marggot (AC 3 or 10, shell HD 1 Att 1, weapon Save F1 Moral 4)

Marggots are hunched and diminutive humanoids that live in large shells that they find. They have slick olive skin, goat ears, large eyes and a parrot-like beak. Marggot shells usually originate from the Sands of Shells but any large shell would do. Turtle shells, hard gourds, a bronze helmet, and so forth. Marggots instinctively hide inside their shell when fearful, even if they know it does them no good. They are a skittish and fearful creatures out of years of being brutalized. Their years of torments have made them vicious when over powering an enemy, biting with sharp beaks and stabbing with thin stilettos.

Gnome (AC 8 HD 1 Att 1, weapon Save F1 Moral 11)

Commonly called Shrub Gnomes, these diminutive humanoids dwell in lowland shrubs in dwellings of moss, lichens and field stones. They are playful pranksters and full of mirth when in their own communities. Their peaceful demeanor is very different in unwelcome encounters however. Shrub Gnomes will amass in a group of rabid frothing limbs and mouths and over run their foes. This berserking rage consumes their consciousness until they utterly slay their foes. Afterward they seem to have little recollection as to what transpired. Shrub Gnomes worship a being known as 'The Toad that Nods'.

Fionn (AC 6 HD 1hp Att 1, weapon Save F1 Moral 9)

Fionn are sometimes known as a ‘quarterling’ due to their slight resemblance to Halflings and small size. This is misleading since they are quite different up close. Fionn are roughly the size of a large doll, hairy and rarely wear clothing. They use hands and feet equally well when manipulating objects and communicate by tapping on surfaces with their hard nails. Fionn are arboreal creatures and find themselves more at home in the heights than on the ground. Fionn are known to use toucans and other large-beaked birds as mounts. The female of their species is very slight, have hairless bodies and delicate wings. The females are very rare and are known as queens.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Unintentional Chaos?

One of my favorite settings is WFRP. It is such a grim place with great enemies, we have used the setting and rules several times for several campaigns. In fact right now I am playing in a good Dark Heresy game, which is pretty much WFRP with bolters. One of the reoccurring themes in the setting is the 'great enemy' which is Chaos. The four primal chaos powers are ruinous forces, destructive and unrelenting things that threaten all things civilized. The only thing that holds them in check is their internal fighting. On occasion they unite for a short while to cause a potential cataclysm.

When I wrote the article this morning about Loksos, I noticed some similarities between the four PC races in Valley of Blue Snails and Chaos. An excerpt:

Many nobles bring men at arms to the event, although it is generally frowned upon. Luckily no overt warfare has occurred in Nifflaer but it is not uncommon for the Prince of Loksos to dismiss troupes who are overly heated. Jests, wagers and contests can lead to heated arguments and these are usually solved in melee, or simply resolve the matter elsewhere. In one such occasion the Dwarf white-beard Fisiul boasted that the Dwarves in his workshop thwarted a Marggot attack and claimed over one thousand Marggot ears in one night, an act impossible to overcome. Not be outdone, the Halfling Sheriff Tibil rallied his men along with the great Bohtan lords and the Elfish Village of Three Winds¹, and sacked the Margott realm of Cvefler. They utterly decimated its population. Over ten thousand ears were collected in one night and it is said to this day that Margott’s are mostly an earless race now, and a damn skittish one at that.

It can indeed be frighteningly powerful what can occur when the four races act as one, and few things could ultimately challenge them united. Such unity soon breaks apart when cultural, moral and ethical divisions begin to make their appearance. Eventually they would war among each other if they stayed in such close proximity, but thankfully each race desires distance from the others.

If perchance the poor sods known as Margotts are actually good creatures, simply misunderstood most of the time, then the four PC races are acting pretty damn near in the same way Chaos would. Thinking about it more I took a look at the races as compaired to the four ruinous powers:

Slanessh - Inverted god seeking pleasure.
Fairly similar to reveling Elves.
Khorn - Extroverted god, seeking violence.
Humans Obviously.
Tzeech - God of change, plans and evolving.
Halflings are a close fit, definitely seeking change with their own agenda.
Nurgle - God of plague and diseases and decay.
Okay, Dwarves are not very similar here other than being a decedant decaying race.

Purely unintentional I assure you, and I thought it was just humorous that my subconscious perhaps put things into that light. Anyhow I may actively cultivate the setting so that the four primary races may be thought of as the 'great enemies' by some smaller, weaker and misunderstood races. I think it would be an interesting twist, and if nothing else a nod to WFRP.

The Lightless Day of Loksos

The Lightless Day of Loksos occurs once every two or three years in the middle of summer. The name derived from the ancient term Lok’aosis which means ‘the day without season’. It occurs regularly every two years for six years then every three years for a two year period. This day is easily recognizable as it occurs in the middle of summer but has the rain of spring, the chill of winter, and the gale of autumn. It is also usually accompanied by an eclipse that last for the entire day.

Most races in Valley of Blue Snails have some sort of traditional rituals to perform on this day. For the likes of the civilized races it is a great conglomeration to meet in the highlands of Nifflaer. It is here where the great nobles of all the races meet in fellowship, tournament, and diplomacy. This is where they attempt to work passed racial conflicts, diplomacy and some sort of unity of civilization. It rarely achieves such lofty heights, but in truth it is one of the rare times that the great powers of the four races meet and speak with one another.

Commoners are usually not permitted unless they have a special merit to make an appearance. Nobles are invited but are warned not to bring men at arm (most do anyhow). The location is Nifflaer, just north of Kabdoria and it is said to be the navel of the world. Spirits and foul powers indeed avoid the place and a general serenity can also be felt here. No race or realm can claim the place as its own, as it is universally named neutral ground.

Once every few decades a fifth or sixth race will make an appearance Loksos. During the Great Rot, it was the Myconids who came, made circular rings of fungus, and then simply left. Before that, the palm-sized cricket men of Yithnai made an appearance but seemed distinctly out of place, and did not return the follow Loksos. Elves record all Loksos events and speak of days where long forgotten races joined in the festivities regularly.

In the heyday of the Ladoga Empire the Emperor himself attended it was a grand event rife with tournaments of melee, livestock, jousting, archery, craftsmanship and just about anything else that nobles entertain. It has lost is glory in recent years but is still the premier tournament for Ladoga nobles. Halfling, Dwarf and Elf are also obligated to steady their hand at such events although they mostly prefer dance, food and hole-digging contests. The best trained animals are also brought to these events and they compete with one another and exchanged among the races. Some trade is prevalent but strict merchants are generally not welcome.

The Lord of the Loksos shifts by race every time it occurs. The individual race then chooses a master of ceremony who will carry out the rituals of the event. This person is usually named simply ‘Prince of Loksos’ which is a great honor but at a great cost of wealth to themselves personally. The Emperor of Ladoga sponsored it on more than one occasion but recently a mishmash of Lords have taken the honor. Any arbitration of disputes will fall upon their shoulders, and that need rises often. Loksos itself is only one day, but the festivities usually last five days, two before and two after. Some will stay longer but are generally advised not to do so and any events are not sanctioned afterward.

Many nobles bring men at arms to the event, although it is generally frowned upon. Luckily no overt warfare has occurred in Nifflaer but it is not uncommon for the Prince of Loksos to dismiss troupes who are overly heated. Jests, wagers and contests can lead to heated arguments and these are usually solved in melee, or simply resolve the matter elsewhere. In one such occasion the Dwarf white-beard Fisiul boasted that the Dwarves in his workshop thwarted a Marggot attack and claimed over one thousand Marggot ears in one night, an act impossible to overcome. Not be outdone, the Halfling Sheriff Tibil rallied his men along with the great Bohtan lords and the Elfish Village of Three Winds¹, and sacked the Margott realm of Cvefler. They utterly decimated its population. Over ten thousand ears were collected in one night and it is said to this day that Margott’s are mostly an earless race now, and a damn skittish one at that.

It can indeed be frighteningly powerful what can occur when the four races act as one, and few things could ultimately challenge them united. Such unity soon breaks apart when cultural, moral and ethical divisions begin to make their appearance. Eventually they would war among each other if they stayed in such close proximity, but thankfully each race desires distance from the others.

Notable Loksos events:

Loksos 18’s90, Seleuicid, Emperor of Ladoga, slew the Elven Lord Thyraes in a duel carried out well outside of Nifflaer. The gaunt and sadistic Elf was as old as memory and was known to be one of the best swordsmen of his day. How the young Emperor defeated him or why the duel occurred in the first place is speculation. Many Elves were greatful of the demise of Thyraes but grew wary of the Emperor who bested him.

Loksos 20’s89, Lucor, Champion of the Infallible, won the joust and melee riding a Tapir given to him by the Elf Lord Chaesmael as a jest. The Tapir could not handle the weight of armor so Lucor wore none and used a bamboo lance. To honor him the Elf Lord Chaesmael uses a Tapir as a mount to this day.

Loksos 06’s87, Vaersis the Younger, a genius Elf who studied with the Dwarven engineers of Presamaesto, moved an island. She managed to move the island of Yuenil off of the coast of Kabdoria to a more suitable location several miles away. She did this to impress a prospective mate, a minor noble Elf Paeniv, who did not even bother to attend her demonstration. Vaersis is alive today, and still pining for the apathetic man who barely notices her attentions.

Loksos 12’s73, an Elf raised among men calling himself ‘The Grinning Knight’ challenged and slew the Emperor of Ladoga, Fevabemaer in a joust. He fled shortly thereafter disappearing into lore, and it is said he went mad in the deep wilds. Since this time jousts were carried out with heavily blunted lanced with thick armor.

Loksos 08’s70, the ancient white-beard smith Kebia and his prodigal Halfling student Shindo wrought 15 weapons during the Loksos. The weapon were forged from old stone, metals that fell from the sky, and cooled in the waters during the Sinchola, the life-water during the endless season of spring. The weapons were given out to the victors of the tournaments and are among the most legendary items known, each imbued with the might to steal the experiences of those they smite.

Loksos 15’s62, the Walking Stone decimated the race of water Nerieds. Only those who attended the Loksos survived.

¹ The Village of Three Winds is widely known to be a band of Elves to be best avoided. Other Elves even avoid them, hesitantly naming them killers of the unseen shadows. Other races know them as psychopathic killers who revel in delight at the suffering of others.