Saturday, October 22, 2016

Larius Firetongue's School of Sorcery is out!

Cover Art by Eric Lofgren

Six months ago this book was an assembly of notes in Microsoft Word. Even two years ago it was an idea I had; aside from Redhurst Academy of Magic for Dungeons & Dragons 3.5, gaming sourcebook dedicated to magic school adventures and settings where rather rare. Sure you had city-based sourcebooks make mention of a mage's college here and there, but they were but one piece of the setting, one page in a much larger tome. Having grown up on Harry Potter and influenced by
school-based Japanese anime and manga, it seemed odd to me that such a popular and ripe subgenre was going more or less unexploited in the D&D and OSR fandoms.

As the largest book I've published yet, it is hard to describe the feelings going through me now that it is fully finished. For the last 3 days I spent 5 to 6 hours on average in Adobe InDesign, motivated by a newfound burst of energy now that I was nearing completion. As soon as I scanned the book for error-checking and made a prototype PDF which by all accounts worked, the tiredness rushed over me suddenly like a tidal wave. But within that exhaustion I felt satisfaction, happiness at a job well done. The happiness one gets at the end of a long and winding road, and as they look back they see that all their hard work led them here.

Thus the creation of this sourcebook. Larius Firetongue's School of Sorcery is a 100-page sourcebook full of new rules and setting material optimized for campaigns where the PCs are apprentices at a magical academy and all the crazy shenanigans which can only occur from spell-slinging adolescents and grimoires full of forbidden knowledge. It was made with Swords & Wizardry in mind, but can be a useful toolbox for other Original and Basic D&D style retroclones. Even if the magic school campaign does not appeal to you, the book is filled with options sure to please any fan of spellcasters from new spells, a cantrip subsystem, turning books into a new form of treasure capable of teaching readers new and interesting abilities, and the like.

It's available for sale on Drive-Thru RPG and RPGNow, and the product contains bookmarks and is watermark-free.

If this sounds interesting to you, or if you know of a gamer friend who would like this, feel free to take a look and share. I hope my work brings as much fun to your gaming table as I did writing it. But this isn't going to be my only magic-school sourcebook! I am hard at work on an adventure path for Pathfinder and 5th Edition, along with some other work projects. As they're still in the idea stage I'm afraid that I can't share much information about them as of now, but hopefully you'll be tided over with this latest offering.

To all my fellow fantasy academia enthusiasts, I wish you good luck and good gaming!

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Dragons of Renewal DL 2: Dragons of Flame

Artwork by Jeff Easley

The following chapter has a lot more revisions of mine than the last one, and for good reason. As one of the early adventures most gamers will be experienced with if they got through Xak Tsaroth, this module is infamous for railroading and contrived encounters. It still has quite a few highlights, and with some work it can be made into a great, epic adventure. However, as Dragonlance is very much in the "save the world from the evil empire" vein, I'm making the assumption that the PCs will have incentive to be altruistic and a reason to save people. If not, perhaps a patron or two (such as the Speaker of the Sun in Qualinesti) can persuade them with rewards.


The Red Dragonarmies made their move and took over much of Abanasinia while the PCs were dungeon-delving for the Disks of Mishakal. Burned and slaughtered nomad villages, besieged cities, and even overt draconian patrols riding on a red dragon! Regardless, the adventure points the PCs back to Solace. After getting captured and imprisoned by Fewmaster Toede's forces, they and several others are put into a prison transport on the way towards Pax Tharkas. A guerrilla force of Qualinesti elves led by Gilthanas assault the caravan, and the freed PCs have the opportunity to fight back their captors and help the others escape.

Following Gilthanas' forces back to the elven capital, the PCs interact with the elves and learn of the ancient Istaran ruins of Pax Tharkas where captured people are being held, and of a secret way inside. Toede's draconians manage to infiltrate Qualinost and kidnap Laurana, the elven princess.

The PCs infiltrate Pax Tharkas, and as they free the prisoners Verminaard, Red Dragon Highlord, and his dragon companion Ember attempt to slaughter the escapees. The pair are stopped by Flamestrike, a half-blind red dragon who held a motherly affection towards the child prisoners. She's able to buy the PCs time, only to die offscreen later.

Things to Change/Look Out For

Oh boy, where to begin? Inevitable PC capture? A climax where a red dragon steals the show only for her sacrifice to go unseen? A superfluous "kidnap the princess" where freeing hundreds of prisoners should be incentive enough? Well, let's start chronologically:

Travel back to Solace: So the PCs have some freedom to go around, although it's inevitable that they may hear of Pax Tharkas. Gilthanas might meet the PCs either at Solace in disguise, or fighting a group of trolls near Pax Tharkas should the party deign to go there before Solace. He wishes to go back to town to reunite with some of his comrades there, although this is not necessary: if it seems like the PCs are more interested in continuing to Pax Tharkas, have Gilthanas tell them of how prisoners are being taken there, and knows of the latest transport.

Infinite Draconian Respawn: You might be wondering how capture of the PCs is ensured in this part. Well when the party goes back to the Inn of the Last Home, Tika fills them in on how the town was besieged by a flying dragon who burned down most of the trees and how Seeker soldiers were slaughtered by the 'dragonmen.' Then some draconian soldiers burst in and make a scene, where Tika intervenes. If the PCs defeat them, Toede shows up with more soldiers to place them all under arrest. Any draconians killed or knocked out are replaced by more soldiers coming in from outside; it's assumed that the Inn is surrounded by a legion.

This is dumb; when I ran this scenario years ago in Pathfinder, the PCs were more than capable of escape via mount and fly spells, things the draconians didn't have access to. There's also the fact that the PCs might immediately go for killing Toede as the leader, which would make him no longer a recurring villain.

Keep the draconian bullies, keep the surrounded inn. However, allow the PCs to make a daring escape out of the Inn. Let Solace occupants such as Otik Sandath, Theros Ironfield, and Gilthanas' elves come to their aid with misdirections, horses, and the like. Their interference will get the townsfolk imprisoned later on, possibly allowing the PCs to feel indebted to rescue them and anger at the Dragonarmy's tyranny.

Hearing of their exploits if successful, Gilthanas will track down the party and tell them the Dragonarmy's plot, as defined above. He'll ask if they wish to help assault a prison transport.

Prison Transport: If captured, the PCs have opportunities to interact with their fellow prisoners along the way. Typically this is expected to take place over the course of three days along the way, but if it would help speed things up you can have all the important NPC prisoners taken at once or before the caravan begins moving. During this time, one of the prisoners might have a secret message from Gilthanas, warning of an impending raid; said prisoner might have also smuggled a small useful item, such as a set of lockpicks or a few spell components to aid the PCs in the escape attempt.

When the assault happens, allow the PCs to escape or coordinate strategy depending on whether they're imprisoned or fighting alongside the guerrillas. Doubtlessly several NPCs will be gravely injured in the fight; allow this time for the prophet/cleric PC to show off their newly-learned healing spells and show the folk that the Gods of Good have returned to Krynn.

The PCs might not be able to free everyone; Gilthanas might advise retreating. They might get only a few freed prisoners, with the rest bound for Pax Tharkas.

City of the Elves: Not much has to be changed here. The PCs should have some free time to explore the city; a glorious, beautiful city in the forest with near-unrivaled magical lore makes for a good resting point and place to sell off loot and perhaps buy some consumable magical items.

Regarding Laurana's kidnapping, it can be more or less excised. The prospect of an evil empire shipping off hundreds, if not thousands, of people to forced labor in Pax Tharkas should be enough incentive for the PCs to act. Even more so if one or more NPCs from Solace are captured. But if you do keep it in, it might be best to keep Toede out of the encounter (don't overplay him too much) and have the infiltrators just be draconians and let the PCs have a chance at thwarting the escape.

Eben Shatterstone and Allied NPCs: Eben is a Dragonarmy double-agent who attempts to win the party's trust by being seen assaulted by 8 baaz draconians. He'll wait until Chapter 4 before overtly revealing his hand, but before then he'll try walking among the PCs and using the opportunity to subtly sabotage their efforts if possible.

There's already quite a few NPC allies in this adventure, so Eben's role is more or less unimportant if it ever gets too many to keep track of. It can be hard portraying a double agent for a long period of time, given the presence of zone of truth and other such spells. In my own campaign, I had him posing as a Knight of Solamnia who reveals the weakness in the fortress' chain mechanism as a way of ensuring initial trust.

It's likely that Tika and Gilthanas are added as PC options in this chapter as well. If your players are like mine and prefer taking care of things themselves, Tika can either hold back or help Gilthanas lead a distraction to help the PCs better infiltrate the fortress. They might meet up again with the refugees at the end of the Chapter should you wish them to have a continued story presence.

Dungeon-Delving: This dungeon is separated into two parts: Sla-Mori the hidden elven passage, and Pax Tharkas proper. Not much has to be said for the former, other than placing the sword Wymslayer in a later location if the PCs seem about to miss it. It's one of the more iconic weapons in the Dragonlance Chronicles.

The Dragons Duo: As for Pax Tharkas, there's a few things to keep in mind. One, the two dragons Flamestrike and Ember are very, very powerful; they both can easily wipe out a whole party at this level. Although it's unlikely that Ember and Verminaard will directly encounter the PCs, Flamestrike might get in a lucky strike or two if she realizes that the children are "being taken from her." Don't encourage a direct fight; at best let her get in a lucky strike (or breath weapon if using 1e/OSR rules), but get stuck as she can't get into the fortress' halls too small for her size.

The Weakest Link: Pax Tharkas' major gate is supported a huge chain network. If broken, it will send an avalanche of rocks to fill the central courtyard, delaying the Dragonarmies' advance in Chapter 3 by about a week. This is a major advantage, and helps send the complex into disarray for the PCs and prisoners to escape. However, it's broken if a small-sized PC climbs up the chain in Sla-Mori and gets spotted by Ember in a peeping hole overlooking the Highlord's chamber. This is rather unintuitive and done by random chance; the PCs might not even know its tactical advantage. I still like the collapsing chain avalanche as a plot point, so there's other ways to incorporate it.

One is to have the PCs overhear soldiers or engineers talking, find some architectural notes, or simply having the right skill set or backstory ("hey Grolk, aren't you a master dwarven artisan?") to spot the weakness. I had Eben Shatterstone reveal this weakness, and had one of Pax Tharkas' towers hold a winch mechanism for the chain which can be sabotaged. Of course it was guarded heavily, adding a challenge of its own.

Prisoner's Dilemma: As Chapter 3 hinges on the prisoners being a huge plot element in ensuring their safe transport south, the adventure has a nice way of reuniting them together. The women and children are kept in the fortress itself, while the men are forced to work in the mines on the other side. The men don't dare rebel while their loved ones are kept hostage; Verminaard and Ember make their debut once the women are confirmed safe (probably by being brought there), but the fact of the matter is that the secret entrance to Sla-Mori is almost right by the women and children's cells. Why not escape that way?

Well first off are practical reasons: the passage is quite narrow, so getting all of them through will take some time. And then the alarm will sound unless the PCs took out every single person in the complex with stealth (highly unlikely). Second is that there's nothing waiting for them in Abanasinia. The only known safe havens are Thorbadin to the south. Suggesting escape south before the PCs assault the fortress (such as by Gilthanas, who says that the southern lands are surprisingly draconian-free) is a good idea. There's also the fact that the Qualinesti elves plan on mass evacuation, so trying to take the prisoners back that way will be a fool's errand and likely arrive too late.

Perhaps Eben, Gilthanas, or an allied NPC looking over the women and children while the PCs contact the men come forth, warning of Dragonarmy reinforcements to the north. Or maybe the chain was broken, damaging Sla-Mori's passages.

Yes I realize that the above is rail-roading a bit, but if it's made to feel rare and not too blatant it can work.

Dragon Battle! Shortly after the male prisoners rebel and reunite with the women and children, Verminaard will come riding in on Ember; after a villainous speech of how he's going to kill everyone (including the children!) only for Flamestrike to arrive.

Now, the idea of two big-ass dragons fighting, and of one normally thought of as Always Chaotic Evil earning redemption through valiant sacrifice is a cool idea.

The problem is that it's resolved as the video game equivalent of a non-interactive cutscene as the PCs lead the refugees away. And her death isn't even onscreen!

Thus, here's my presented solution:

Let the players control Flamestrike as though she were a PC.

Let them all make her choices by committee. Get Pax Tharkas' remaining forces to converge on the escaping prisoners as the two dragons and Dragon Highlord battle in the skies. The PCs can help out on the ground, while Flamestrike distracts Verminaard.

When I did this with 13th Age, I simplified the dragon battle with opposed d20 rolls and a small list of maneuvers that could grant situational bonuses to PC actions. A breath weapon do area of effect damage to ground-bound enemies, knocking Ember into a cliff can trigger an avalanche, etc. This allows for a sense of dramatic climax while letting the players control an honest-to-God dragon!

Flamestrike's death can be onscreen, but should be meaningful in showing off Verminaard's power. Perhaps have him leap onto her with a mace strike, uttering the words "midnight" and fully blinding her as Ember goes in for the kill. This shows off the BBEG's signature attack to the players, who can keep it in mind in the future while giving them one more incentive to take revenge on him.

In Conclusion

Overall, Dragons of Flame requires a lot more work. But it can still be shaped into a badass series of gaming sessions and a good means of allowing real heroism on the PCs' part (whereas in Chapter 1 they mostly dungeon-delved). Next time we'll be covering Chapter 3, Dragons of Hope!

Monday, September 19, 2016

Dragons of Renewal: DL1 Dragons of Despair

Image by Clyde Caldwell

It's been a while since my last update. Nearly a year, in fact. A variety of factors came into play, for a while I was running the original Dragonlance Chronicles adapted for the 13th Age ruleset. As of last Saturday (September 17th), my players ended the campaign and saved Krynn from evil. It last a good 7 to 8 months, all with players I consider good friends, and plenty of DMing notes to spare for adaption into blog posts. Now would be a perfect time to delve back into things, and what better way than looking at the adventure that started it all?


Dragons of Despair opens up with the PCs venturing to the quiet burg of Solace to reunite at the Inn of the Last Home. While there they get hints of dark tidings, from the Seeker movement on the search for a Blue Crystal Staff to goblins being hired to search for it. The crux of the module is that the cleric/prophet PC begins play with this treasured artifact, which she obtained from the ruins of Xak Tsaroth before Dragonarmy forces moved in and forced her to flee. The PCs can gain information sources from various places on the goings-on in the land of Abanasinia lately, from Inn patrons to visiting the Lordcity of Haven. But all in all, the crux of the adventure is to get to Xak Tsaroth and find the Discs of Mishakal and help bring knowledge of the True Gods to Krynn. While in the dungeon, the PCs descend a multi-level flooded ruins and fight a black dragon guarding the Discs and a bunch of other treasure?

Things to Change/Look Out For

The module suggests the PCs coming back to Solace in separate groups, each with their own encounters along the way to tell the rest of the party that things are not alright. This may or may not be a good idea depending on your party makeup and how your players feel about sitting around doing nothing while their fellows participate in several pieces of combat.

Fewmaster Toede is a Dragonarmy flunky and recurring villain who ends up promoted several times simply due to his superiors kicking the bucket. He's an overweight, cowardly, and arrogant fool with little redeeming qualities who the PCs will meet several times during the Dragonlance Chronicles. One of the possible first encounters with him has him ordering hobgoblin lackeys to attack the party. Depending on how your players feel about recurring villains, it's entirely possible that Toede will get killed in this encounter, even if on a horse (ranged attacks and spells can be a game-changer). If the GM wants to keep Toede around, perhaps have his presence be near the edges: seeing him as a boisterous bully in Solace demanding families tell him of the Blue Crystal Staff, or if escaping from a Seeker patrol amidst the linked trees of Solace seeing Toede off in the distance barking orders.

The Initial Hook: It's assumed that the Cleric/Prophet PC with the Blue Crystal Staff was already at Xak Tsaroth. That PC could be a great way to get the rest of the party into going to the dungeon. However, the main hook provided is having a mysterious old man in the Inn of the Last Home tell them to take the artifact there as part of a great destiny. This may be a bit cliche and overt for many groups. Another way is to have rumors that evil's afoot off to the east, that a strange army of monsters now inhabits a set of old Istaran ruins in the swamps to the east.

Pax Tharkas Rumors: The Dragonarmies do not have an overt presence in Abanasinia yet, instead having draconian minions go about in concealing robes and acting through intermediaries such as Toede. Even so, they're transporting slaves and prisoners of war to a fortress to the south. A refugee first tells the PCs in overland encounter 38 (AD&D version), telling him the specifics. Do not do this; although he tells the PCs to not head south and go to Xak Tsaroth first, it's likely that the PCs are heroic in nature as Dragonlance doesn't work well with evil-aligned protagonists. Hearing of this may cause them to go south as a first priority, bypassing the Discs of Mishakal.

Instead keep the hints of slavery as a background element; a friend of a friend claiming that their cousin went missing one day in Haven, or that a certain nomadic Plains tribe wasn't seen in their usual location route in the autumn months.

Xak Tsaroth Dungeon Crawl: There are many rooms with low numbers of baaz draconians. Fighting them one after another can get tedious after a while due to low enemy variety. This is going to be a common theme in Dragons of Renewal, but cutting out extraneous encounters (especially ones where the enemies are little better than easily-defeated mooks) can help speed things up and allow for focus on the more interesting encounters.

Interesting encounters in Xak Tsaroth include: a Huge Spider in a cellar in the Upper Levels (51a in AD&D, UXT21 in 3.5), swarm of poisonous snakes in Dance on the Wall (59b or UXT39), exposition talks among some draconians in Assembly and Mess Hall (64d and 64h/LXT8 and LXT 12), bozak draconian's high priest office (has spellcasting ability, 70h/LXT41), and of course the black dragon Khisanth/Onyx in the bottom room, the Court of Balance!

Overall, there isn't as much things to change in this adventure plotwise, at least in comparison to the following adventure Dragons of Flame. The PCs have quite a bit of places to explore, both in Xak Tsaroth and overland.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Why the Mediterranean is a great place to draw inspiration from for fantasy games

Two of my most-viewed articles are advice columns for deriving inspiration from Ancient Greece and the Byzantine Empire as fantasy counterpart cultures. For a long time I've been looking past Western Europe-style settings and folklore for new and interesting material, and found Byzantium's legacy neat enough to base an entire campaign around.

But beyond these two civilizations, the wider Mediterranean has plenty of material. This post is a snapshot of bits and pieces of things I've found in my amateur research.

The Cradle of Empires, A Melting Pot

Ancient Greece and Rome, the Byzantines, the Ottomans, Egyptian dynasties, Babylonia, Persia...countless renowned civilizations touched its waters, their legacies still standing in the forms of pyramids and architectural wonders. And perhaps more familiar to gamers, southern France and Spain touched its borders as well, and even the non-native Mongol Empire reached its eastern extremities as they sacked the Middle East.

Related to the previous entry, the diversity of civilizations in the Mediterranean provide a prime opportunity for taking fantasy counterpart cultures while retaining an authentic atmosphere. Arabian Nights-style fantasy, glorious pseudo-Roman metropolises, pyramids housing undead lords, feuding merchant houses in Vencian city-states, Slavic-style Balkan villages, and all the monsters and folklore of such cultures would make for a populous and interesting world for fantasy gaming.

Additionally, the sea as a central location would allow for the GM to let the PCs traverse uneventfully from one realm to another instead of worrying about buffer states and or glossing over the intervening lands ("no no, in order to get to the Sultanate of Kremdora you'll need to traverse the Dragonlands first, and that's if you manage to make it out of the Dire Desert, and then we can have adventures there").

Mobile War Altars

The Carrocio, or war altar, was an iconic possession of medieval Italian cities. Its use was to boost morale, displaying the city's coat of arms as priests gave sermons and trumpeters encouraged soldiers to battle. Each Carrocio was the pride and joy of its people, and for the enemy to seize it was considered a major defeat no matter the eventual outcome.

How can this be adopted for fantasy gaming? Perhaps the Carrocio has magic powers, capable of boosting bardic music and divine spells as long as the person standing upon it gives a good performance or sermon. Extending the range of such abilities to many soldiers would make this a coveted prize for any army, thus explaining their high priority.

Armor-breaking Swords and Damascus Steel

The flyssa is a sword which was popular in use among the Berber (Amazigh) tribes of North Africa. The blade was specifically designed to break open chainmail armor, a common means of defense in that region of the world.

Additionally, the city of Damascus in what is now modern-day Syria was known for its namesake Damascus Steel. This material was used in the creation of distinctive swords notable for aesthetic patterns similar in design to flowing water. The secrets of their creation died with the artisans, and to this day modern engineers can only theorize as to the techniques used. All the same, its high quality gave rise to many legends, such as the ability to cleanly cut through a rifle barrel and finely split a strand of hair.

In fantasy gaming, flyssa swords might provide a bonus for the purposes of sundering armor, a technique normally reserved for maces and other blunt weapons. A secret society of artisans using Damascus-style Steel might be able to create unique magical swords.

A Turkish Subterranean City

Derinkuyu was a multi-level underground city in the ancient world capable of holding as many as 20,000 people within its confines. Not only could the front gates be closed off via stone doors, each level was capable of cutting itself off from the above levels in a similar manner. Schools, stables, cellars, chapels, and other urban accommodations were believed to be present. The city was used for protecting the populace from invaders several times during the Byzantine reign.

I might expand further on the region, including specific entries for fantasy counterpart cultures such as Egypt, Mongol armies, the Balkan Mountains, and others once I do enough research. All the same, I hope I wet your whistle in the potential the Mediterranean has for fantasy RPGs!

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Larius Firetongue's School of Sorcery: First Draft is Done!

Little Witch Academia 2 Art

Pack your adventuring gear and spell component pouches, for magic school's just around the corner for the OSR!

One hundred and six pages. 36,619 words. All in MicroSoft Word, and I figure it's going to be even bigger once I add in page backgrounds and artwork! Even though it's still in development, this is my biggest piece of work yet and most of the tasks remaining involve the help of others. Fortunately I have plenty of stock art to fill the book's interior, but in terms of editing, cover art, and maps, those still need to be done and people hired. I can't predict when this will all be finished, but I'm confident in saying that we're nearing the finish line.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Kickstarter Project Throne of Night inspires letter-writing campaign

Comprehensive article I wrote on Throne of Night in general.

Paizo post suggesting letter-writing to KickStarter staff.

Comment section updates.

Derek Blakely/Kevin Video was one of the most optimistic and hopeful of Throne of Night's backers. But everyone has their breaking point, and apparently when the project owner Gary McBride logged back in to back 2 more projects with no contact or update, that was the final straw. He encouraged fellow backers to contact KickStarter staff with the appropriate forms and to let them know the problems.

This started something, as many further posts in the Paizo thread were responses of people following suit. As of this posting, several hours ago Derek said that he got a response from KickStarter staff, who said that they'd contact Gary McBride got grew concerned that nobody else was able to get in contact with him.

Although I wonder why something like this didn't happen earlier with contacting KickStarter, it is interesting in that I haven't often heard of similar tactics done for other vaporware and failed crowdfunding projects in the tabletop fandom. Either way it's interesting to see, and I wonder if it will have an impact on future projects.

Monday, July 18, 2016

D&D 5th Adventures now on OneBookShelf as Fantasy Grounds supplements

While browsing through the newest releases of Drive-Thru RPG's online catalog, I noticed that several prominent adventures and the three core rulebooks for 5th Edition are now available for sale as Fantasy Grounds expansions produced by SmiteWorks.

I can imagine that many Fantasy Grounds players are excited by this. Hopefully this means that the rulebooks and adventures themselves will be for sale in PDF format soon for us non-Fantasy Grounds gamers.