Saturday, December 31, 2016

2016: A Year in Review for RPGs

2016 has been an interesting year; it's also not been a great one for many reasons. All the same, it's been a bumpy and wild ride. But what of table-top games? What new and interesting innovations have we seen so far, if any?

Lord of the Rings got the 5th Edition Treatment: Although there's only a Player's Guide, Cubicle 7 combined too wildly popular franchises within geekdom, an effective official stamp on campaigns many gamers have entertained throughout the years as the twin progenitors of fantasy fiction and role-playing games.

Delta Green got an update: Published not by Chaosium, but by Arc Dream Publishing, this 90s style X-Files blend of Lovecraftian horror took an interesting spin on a well-worn genre.

Exalted 3rd Edition released: After a long and worrysome KickStarter, Exalted hit virtual and store shelves to varying levels of appreciation.

7th Sea 2nd Edition produced one of the most successful crowdfunded works: At $1.3 million dollars, this is amazing even by general KickStarter standards. Many fans answered John Wick's call to once again delve into a world of romantic swashbuckling action.

Advent of the Chronicles of Darkness: Although the "core book" update got released in December 2015, the 2nd Edition of White Wolf/Onyx Path's New World of Darkness kicked into overdrive. From upgrades such as Mage the Awakening to entirely new lines like Beast the Primordial.

Godbound brought us playable divinities for old-school D&D: Kevin Crawford built up a good reputation within the OSR community for years, but 2016 was his most ambitious project to date. With mechanics both familiar yet surprisingly rules-lite and balanced, a campaign where players are part of a traveling pseudo-pantheon of rising gods graced the tabletops of many gamers as well as releasing top-quality artwork into the public domain.

Apocalypse World: Quite a lot of revised games this year, huh? Another heavy-hitter which spawned its own fanbase and a vibrant third party community, Apocalypse World came out with a 2nd Edition.

For a more fantasy-based milieu, Fellowship (an apocalypse world-derived game) came out in spring to critical acclaim among the system's fanbase.

Eclipse Phase gets the FATE treatment: Much like Shadowrun, Eclipse Phase is much beloved for its unique and innovative setting, yet the rules scared off more than a few interested viewers. As part of a successful KickStarter, Transhumanity's Fate came out to add a more rules-lite touch.

Quite a lot of high-profile works got released around this time. Although these are the most noticeable and renown, some honorable mentions go to Frog God Games' Bard's Gate (a metropolis set in their Lost Lands world with some tabletop gamer celebrity cameos), Swords & Wizardry Light (a minimalist 4-page treatment of the aforementioned RPG with over a thousand free downloads), Dark Obelisk: Berrincorte (a crazy 1,000 page Pathfinder adventure meant to be the first of a four-part series), and Onyx Path reviving the Scarred Lands setting for Pathfinder and 5th Edition D&D.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Merry Christmas!

I was busy all day spending time with family, and had a very enjoyable holiday. May your hearts be filled with warmth and those you love kept close.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Are we seeing an increase in Nordic-themed RPGs?

The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim received a Special Edition upgrade around late October this year. Funnily enough, the months leading up to that reignited my interest in the game but when the new version came out I did not touch it save for a few hours of experimenting. The truth of the matter was that not all of the old mods of the 2011 version were transferred or compatible, and the lack of Skyrim Script Extender or SkyUI support more or less killed any good reason to use the new version even though I got it for free.

About a month later, I saw a Pathfinder setting which combined two disparate elements of steampunk and Norse mythology into an interesting blend: Rhune, Dawn of Twilight. I'm still in the course of reading it, but it's quite a cool book. It has a strong sense of theme rather than trying for a "kitchen sink" approach, and core assumptions are built into the framework. For example, the Material Plane is not a globe, but rather the trunk of Yggdrasil the World Tree while the other planes of existence are its leaves, branches, roots, etc.

Then I was reminded of another book I got recently: the Northlands Saga by Frog God Games, which also released in its Complete version in early 2016. It was at this point I began noticing a pattern. After an illustrated book of the Poetic and Prose Eddas became a best silver seller on Drive-Thru RPG, this all but confirmed it.

Back in 2012, Cubicle 7 Entertainment released the stand-alone RPG Yggdrasil, a game set during a mythical Age of Vikings. Although Midgard by Kobold Press drew more upon Central and Eastern European themes, it did have its fair share of Nordic elements such as the world surrounded by a giant world-serpent eating its own tail.

Interest in Nordic themes is far from recent even in tabletop gaming. Going as far back as Deities & Demigods the Æsir–Vanir were described alongside the Greek and Egyptian pantheons, and quite a few campaign settings had their own pseudo-Scandinavian realms. But in regards to whole settings and sourcebooks there does seem to be a lot more Viking-related gaming material as of late. Part of me wonders how much this coincides with Skyrim's popularity (both the original 2011 and latest upgrade), and how much of it was just always there.

What are your thoughts? Feel free to let me know in the comments below!

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Sacrifices in Fantasy Games

For the past month and a half, I've been DMing a 5th Edition campaign set in Primeval Thule. One of the major differences from other settings out there is the emphasis on a pre-medieval, ancient feel in keeping with its pulp sword and sorcery inspirations. There were no churches, there were woodland groves and ziggurat temples. There were no plate-clad knights, instead there were barbarians and gladiators. Although there are still some standard fantasy trappings as part of the D&D ethos, Primeval Thule does a pretty good job of emulating a realm different than the Tolkienesque model.

We're at a point in the game where the PCs have enough loot and resources to begin establishing their own stronghold, complete with hired servants. I set about making a stronghold-building-in-progress set of house rules to provide some in-game boons for certain purchases. One of them was a sacrificial altar dedicated to the gods, upon which the PCs can give up some of their loot to be consumed in exchange for temporary benefits. The idea was a huge burning brazier whose fires could burn down even metal (because a Cleric Did It), but I left things to the imagination for when the players decided to obtain it.

Then I noticed something. A distinct lack of rules for sacrifices. Going even further, I could not find other examples in other Dungeons & Dragons books beyond a generic role-playing trope or the exclusive providence of evil deities.

A common cultural and religious practice in many real-world cultures is that of the sacrifice, or a material offering to the gods and spirits. Although the reasons and forms it took varied, the general intent was giving up a material possession in exchange for divine favor. While human sacrifice is generally the most iconic, animal sacrifice, the burning of a portion of harvest, and the casting of gold and jewelry into watery depths follow a similar intent of giving up something to entities beyond the mortal realm.

While it is reasonable that a devout PC can dedicate monster-slaying as honoring his god (a 'sacrifice' of a sort) or burn down a rival's house to placate vengeance spirits, the intent of these rules are sacrifice of a more formalized affair. Basically an elaborate ritual in a location, where a supplicant gives up something belonging to themselves in exchange for a boon.

5th Edition*

*I may type up rules for Pathfinder and Swords & Wizardry/Basic D&D in due time and if there's enough interest in the subject matter.

Sacrifices are conducted at a shrine, a place meant to honor a god (or gods). The shrine can come in many shapes and forms, but must be worth at least 1,500 gold pieces and cannot be portable or mobile. The shrine must be regularly maintained by a person proficient in Intelligence (Religion) or belong to a magical class whose spells come from the patron deity in question. Different deities might have different boons, but here are a few of the more common ones:

Burden-Bearer: Transfer an equivalent number of hit points worth of damage from someone else to yourself, or a single poison or disease, for 50 gp. This can result in the death of the person taking on the maladies if the effects are too great to bear.

Fortune: Gain inspiration (advantage on a single d20 roll of your choice) for 50 gp. This cannot be gained if you already have inspiration.

Insight: Gain a vision of something relevant to your immediate objectives for 50 gp.

Sanctuary: One or more parties drain a collective total of 25 hit points worth of damage as a blood offering (can come from an animal, captive, etc) at the shrine. For the next 3 days and 3 nights all participants must make a Charisma saving throw whenever they attempt to take violent action against another. If they fail, they find themselves physically unable to go through with the action, frozen in place.

Vengeance: Speak the name of a hated foe (or group of people who are sworn enemies of the deity), and gain +1d6 on your next attack roll against them for 50 gp.

Humanoid and Animal Sacrifices: Generally speaking, animals are treated as treasure for the purposes of sacrifice, using the mounts and trade goods entries under Equipment as guidelines. A single sheep is worth 2 gold pieces, whereas a mastiff is 25 gold, a riding horse 75, a cow 10, and so on and so forth.

Generally speaking, this makes the above amounts are rather costly for the lay worshiper: sacrifices are generally communal affairs, of weeks or month's worth of saving up enough money and raising choice cattle for when villagers and townsfolk really need the direct intervention of the divine.

As for sacrifices of humanoids and sapient beings, in most campaigns this is generally the province of evil deities and/or ones dedicated to battle and conflict (in the latter case, such sacrifices are restricted to prisoners of war). But regardless, deities only grant boons when a worthy subject is sacrificed. To count as worthy, the subject must have an equal or greater Challenge Rating to the person who seeks to beseech the gods. A 12th-level warlord can dedicate hapless peasants to death, but such displays are a trifling matter of no great consequence; far better to show respect and glory by capturing and felling a mighty adversary.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Wizard's Academy releases for the Pathfinder RPG

Available on Drive-Thru RPG, RPGNow, and Paizo.

Long-time followers of my blog know that I have a bit of a preference for schools of magic as a fantasy trope. Well yesterday I was delighted to discover a rather large Pathfinder sourcebook just got released. The fact it is written by the folks behind the much-beloved Spheres of Power sealed the deal for me.

I have not read the whole thing, but already it's hitting a lot of buttons. A central story revolving around investigating the headmaster's disappearance, a five-tier encounter framework using different sets of monsters in dungeon rooms depending on average party level, and expanded rules for school life which give consequences if the PCs sneak off too much at the expense of their studies (and vice versa if the mystery isn't solved in time).

Adding to this is the fact that the module is made with the Spheres in Power system in mind. It is a worthy alternative to the standard Vancian system of magic, where spellcasting is both more balanced and allows for a wide variety of character concepts. The contents are available as a free online wiki, and I've been running two campaigns with it. So far sphere-using PCs held up quite nicely in adventures. While this may be a turn-off to those who prefer standard Vancian magic, the self-contained nature of Wizard's Academy can make for a nice one-off to test out an unfamiliar system.

Overall, I like what I see so far, and this book has yet to disappoint me. I recommend checking it out if you're a fan of the magic school campaign style.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Slice of Life Elements in RPGs

Cover of Golden Sky Stories

A lot of times, RPGs have a strong focus on exploration and combat. Relationships and conflict which develop out of these tend to be a secondary element derived from the events which occur naturally from player character choices. Golden Sky Stories is one such RPG predicated on this, and Beyond the Wall's character generation and Hearth Fantasy-focused structure lend itself better towards strong bonds and characters your players will care about than yet another strange place with monsters and loot.

As time went on, I found myself to be more of a thespian Game Master. I still love dungeon-crawling and action-adventure and prefer combat-free sessions to be rare at best, but I found that some of the best campaigns I ran and participated in were the ones which were character-centric. Where I played with the PCs' backstories and peppered in moments of drama between the action scenes; ones with a large cast of recurring characters the PCs could develop a rapport with and play off of; ones set in a centralized location such as a city where locations became familiar features to visit and thus more incentive to fight for the home they grew to know and love.

The City-based Campaign

The Settlement of Cauldron from the Shackled City Adventure Path

I talked about this a bit in my previous blog post, but in addition to being an iconic element, cities are happening places full of thousands of individual stories and the people who live them. Entire neighborhoods with their own feel allow for a diversity of adventures, from crime-ridden slums to crowded bazaars. Another major feature of cities is that in addition for a place where adventurers retire and sell their hard-won treasure, it can plausibly hold all manner of entertainment. And most importantly, it allows the PCs to better connect with a realm and its people; having a favorite tavern or wizard's academy as a regular feature that carries from session to session instills a sense of familiarity with players.

When a dragon or invading army attacks, they will not be fighting on the mountaintops of some distant peak they never knew about until recently in the adventure. Nor will they be fighting in a featureless stretch of woodland whose flora and fauna is like to many others. It will be at the common crossing to that magic item shop whose owner's name and face is well-worn into the gaming table's minds. It will be in the residential wards of Old Kervara, where that sweet old lady lives who once helped out the PCs during that haunted house quest several sessions ago.

Lessens to be Learned: What this adds to slice of life moments in gaming is immense: the players are much more likely to care about the place, for it is in many ways their homes even if their PCs originated from far-flung lands. Everything, from local festivals to recurring faces, will take on a more personal touch when the streets, the faces in the crowd, and the local shops are familiar things with strong mental images in the player's minds and not just yet another new foreign location.

Festivals and Games

Millennial Fair from Chrono Trigger

From holidays to arena tournaments, fun and games are culturally universal. They have an in-built competitive spirit with a goal contestants strive for, and the promise of prizes and recognition can be an attractive quality.

Many video game RPGs have mini-games as a fun aside for variety beyond dungeon-crawling and monster-slaying. Some of the most well-known ones are collectible card games, such as Final Fantasy 8's Triple Triad or Witcher 3's Gwent. The joy of winning and collecting rare and powerful cards provides a sense of progression and accomplishment, keeping the game fresh as you visit new areas with new players. The Millennial Fair at the beginning of Chrono Trigger let you collect Silver Points for every game you won, trading them in for useful items.

There are so many different kind of competitive games that translating their rules into D&D format would be a blog post all its own. But I can recommend a certain sourcebook invaluable for this. ENWorld's Book of Tournaments, Fairs, and Taverns is filled to the brim with rules for everything from martial arts and magical competitions to the classics such as races (the competitive kind), card, dice, and drinking games. All of which are Open Game Content, for any of you self-publishers out there!

Example: Final Fantasy IX

It's not a table-top RPG, but there's a certain video near and dear to my heart which really shown me the benefits of slice of life elements. Although not as popular as 7 and 10, the ninth installment in the series is known for having some of the best writing and character development. At the beginning of Disc 3, the party headed back to the kingdom of Alexandria after a major battle at the Iifa Tree. Princess Garnet, one of the party members, is now queen after the passing of her mother in the conflict, and the main character Zidane feels depressed as he worries that this marks the end of their time together since she'll be too busy attending to matters of state.

The game's perspective changes to Vivi, a child mage, on the streets of Alexandria. While controlling him you can restock on new equipment and meet up with old friends to find out what's been happening since your departure for the Iifa Tree. The small events and scenarios around Alexandria also play important roles by having new party members such as Eiko and Amarant meet the ones who were left behind, such as Steiner and Freya, before the next big adventure. Even so, it's not all just dialogue and exposition; there are sidequests and minigames for one to do, such as a major card tournament in Treno which Zidane wishes to visit.

After the climax of the last Disc, Final Fantasy takes time to build back up, and after the Treno card tournament things go right back into the action when the dragon Bahamut attacks Alexandria. It does not linger too long on the slice of life aspects, and there's still a sense of player participation than just watching the plot flow.

As you can see, it packaged the above elements quite nicely: visiting familiar city locations along with a host of diversions and competitive games and tying character development into things. And when it comes time to pick things up, the good old-fashioned "dragon attacking the city" instills a sense of immediate danger to get back to the heroic action.

In Conclusion

I hope this blog post served a useful purpose to you, dear reader. Whether they be recurring elements or a fun one-off element, I hope that I gave folks both the interest in trying out slice of life tropes, as well as a useful springboard to how to best accomplish this.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

A List of City-Based Sourcebooks for D&D and Pathfinder

Ptolus: City by the Spire

My first Dungeons & Dragons campaign was a series of adventures contained in Dungeon Magazine which collectively came to be known as the Shackled City. It was a page-opener for me in many ways; in addition to being the first campaign dubbed an "adventure path" (Dragonlance preceded it by 18 years in concept), it was also the first one I ran to completion and the first stable group of gamers who stuck with me through high school and well into college. Over a decade's worth of fun memories.

As for the Shackled City itself, it centered around the aptly-named settlement of Cauldron, built within the inner ring of a dormant volcano home to a large central lake in the middle of a jungle. A foul cult dwelling within the halls of power and darkest depths alike sought to bring the city to ruin, and many of the adventures were connected in the growing awareness and eventual stopping of their plot.

Using a central area for a whole campaign was a clever one, as it allowed the GM to reuse familiar locations and NPCs to give a better connection to the area. While most adventure paths sought to replicate this feel, the often nomadic nature of most campaigns meant that players would venture from location to location to complete a task, only to pack up and head off to the next place. Dragonlance tried to tie in themes with recurring NPCs and a sense of history, but overall I found in my years of play that setting a campaign around a city leant itself to some of my best gaming sessions.

For that reason, I decided to compile a list of city-centric sourcebooks for the Dungeons & Dragons and Pathfinder role-playing games. I'm only including sourcebooks which focus largely on livable locations; megadungeons of ruined cities do not count, nor do adventures which take place in said cities but are more or less restricted to the confines of a single plot. If any of my fine readers have suggestions, or if I happened to miss a particular interesting metropolis, please let me know!

City-Based Sourcebooks

Lesserton & Mor (no longer on OneBookShelf)

Ptolus, Monte Cook's City by the Spire

Shackled City Adventure Path

Sharn, City of Towers

Shelzar, City of Sins

Sheoloth, City of the Drow

City of Stormreach

Vornheim, the Complete City Kit

City of Splendors, Waterdeep

World's Largest City

Zobeck Gazetteer

Friday, November 4, 2016

Dragons of Renewal DL3: Dragons of Hope

Skullcap from the 3rd Edition Dragonlance Campaign Setting

This portion of the Autumn Twilight segment of the Dragonlance Chronicles is an overland wilderness trek with a dungeon crawl at the end. The PCs having freed the prisoners of Pax Tharkas must trek south to safer lands, for the realms north are occupied by the Red Dragonarmy and the Qualinesti elves are evacuating their nation. There are several routes and locations for the PCs to visit, not all of which are linear or required. However, the dungeon of Skullcap is a necessity, for it contains a dwarven artifact which will earn the PCs safe passage into the kingdom of Thorbadin.

Refugee Micromanagement

There are about 800 refugees, 10% of which are capable in a fight if the Dragonarmies catch up to the group. Both the AD&D and 3rd Edition versions of the adventure provides rules for attrition rates, to see how well the refugees fare during their travels and how many are alive by the end. There are also Food Units representing supplies, which can be gained via random encounters or via the proper spells and skills depending on Edition.

Additionally, the refugees are divided into 5 broad factions: Abanasinian townsfolk who are not Seekers, the Seeker faithful of Haven and outlying lands, the indigenous Plainsfolk, a small number of converts to the true gods, and a few dozen unaffiliated folk ranging from merchants to sellswords not part of the Dragonarmies. Each faction has their own leader who all get together in a Council to determine major decisions by vote. The PCs are advisors and cannot vote, but can sway leaders in their favor or fail to via faux pas and poor decision-making.

The truth of the matter is that I found both rules to be rather cumbersome, especially the attrition rate rules which would be rolled and determined for every single night. Instead I boiled down major points to PC Background checks (as I ran this campaign in 13th Age) and choice encounters. I suggest doing the same, or picking up the mini-games which will be of most use to your particular play-style. Have PCs who enjoy making it through the skin of their teeth and define themselves with actions and not words? Consider using your favorite mass combat rules. Do the players seem eager to unite the disparate factions together with the inspiring words of Mishakal and the True Gods? Have them participate more in the council voting process.

Major Encounters

Going East: In both versions of the adventure, a fair amount of major encounters are on the western side of the map, if the PCs lead the refugees down the road to the east. For this reason it might be best to shift some of the encounters about so that the players don't miss a huge portion of the adventure's potential. I recommend keeping an even array; you still want the choice to matter. Perhaps the hill dwarf village is only on the western side, but Fizban's snow fort is on the eastern road. Both encounters provide their own advantages distinct enough to provide different benefits.

Finding Thorbadin: There are two areas which can alert the PCs to Thorbadin's existence and location. The first is the Neidar (Hill Dwarf) village (area 7) where their leader Zirkan can tell them of the nearest safe haven. The other is the Eye of Elar (area 25), a set of high-powered lens which point to a dwarven manuscript revealing the way to the dwarven kingdom's secret passage.

If the PCs end up missing both encounter locations or are likely to, it is recommend to provide other ways of slipping in the information. Perhaps an NPC such as Fizban or one of the faction leaders mentions an old dwarven tale of Skullcap and how it contains a relic which can act as a "key to Thorbadin," or perhaps a captured draconian spy mentions of finding worn trails seemingly leading underground.

Finding Food: Again, this is another micromangaged aspect. Each day without adequate food can really ramp things up (20% cumulative chance, 1d10 refugees die every time). It may sound odd, but the book says that it mostly effects the weak and ill among the populace anyways. There's enough food to feed the refugees for 4 days before they need to forage and hunt. Again this is not something I kept track of among all the other stuff to plan for during the game. Generally I'd recommend boiling things down to a couple appropriate rolls and checks, and provide bonuses and decreased losses if the PCs have competent backgrounds (military officer, druid, etc). Additionally, certain safe havens (Neidar village, Fizban's snow fort, the Hopeful Vale, etc) should be used to provide additional survival supplies as a sort of safe buffer.

Skullcap and the Route to Thorbadin

Scene from Percy Jackson Movies

As final Chapter of the Autumn saga revolves around the kingdom of Thorbadin and a race against time to gain the refugees a safe haven, it is imperative that the PCs learn of Thorbadin. Even more so, the nation infamously closed its doors even to their hill dwarf kinsmen, so unless the PCs have a very good offer such an attempt is a fool's errand. Which is how the Helm of Grallen comes into play. This legendary artifact contains the souls of famed dwarven leaders of times long past, stolen by the human wizard Fistandantilus during the Dwarfgate Wars. This, combined with his treachery against his former hill dwarf allies fighting for entry into the kingdom, provides an in-universe example of the traditional dwarven distrust of arcane spellcasters.

As a dungeon itself, there is not much to say. It is full of undead creatures such as wights and spectres, as well as a climactic battle against an iron fire-breathing hydra construct. Some minor variations include the altar room, which has a +3 vorpal longsword in AD&D, but a +1 ghost touch longsword in 3rd Edition. I prefer the latter option regardless of edition, for it can be a boon for the party fighter when going up against spectres and ghostly undead who cannot be touched otherwise. For those not in the know, a ghost touch weapon property allows said weapon to damage insubstantial enemies such as spectres as though they had material form.

I'll talk about the more eventful NPCs and encounters below:

Blaize: In keeping with each adventure featuring one of the signature breeds of dragon, Blaize is a brass dragon from the Dwarfgate Wars who's been trapped in a time-frozen bubble. He can be a source of good infromation on ancient history, but knows little if anything of why the metallic dragons did not get involved now that the chromatics are working with an invading army. He is willing to accompany the PCs, but abandons them shortly because a dragon tag-along would be rather powerful. In AD&D he accompanies the PCs until the shadow dragon fights, or Verminaard and Ember attack the refugees, or this Chapter ends. In the first two examples the enemies are occupied and flee, or chase Blaize down, effectively taking him out of the fray. In 3rd Edition he does not follow the PCs down the pit in Skullcap, being scared.

In both the book series and game supplements, Blaize's eventual fate is not expanded upon. It's implied that he lives among the refugees in human form, but being time-frozen he would be out of the loop of the metallic's non-aggression pact with the Dragonarmies. I have a more interesting element: Blaize being unaware of this, is quickly detected by the Dragon Empire's scryers on the lookout for interfering good dragons, and is ambushed sometime after he parts ways with the PCs. He is taken as a prisoner in the city of Sanction, where he can be later encountered during the final adventure of the Winter arc.

Whisper: The other dragon the PCs can meet in Skullcap is a shadow dragon, a unique breed who specializes in illusion and darkness-based magic. In the books he assumed that Raistlin was Fistandantilus returned, and in the 3rd Edition adventure he assumes the same for a PC with the Sage archetype or one who fits a magic-user role and will give some limited advice about the tomb to the PCs but otherwise not aid them directly. In AD&D he ambushes the PCs when/if they try to take the treasure in his lair.

In the AD&D game Whisper is rather powerful, but not harder than the other top-tier enemies in the adventure and weaker than Ember. However, in 3rd Edition he is extremely strong and will most likely result in a Total Party Kill barring some optimized builds or exploits.

Pyrohydra Construct: This was the most memorable part of the adventure. In addition to the unique status of an artificial beast who can breathe fire out of several heads, the encounter acts as a sort of "platformer boss" where a multi-layered section of invisible crystal provides both cover and an obstacle mobility. There are two hydras, one in the western section, one in the eastern section at a sort of fork in the road where whatever path the PCs take will encounter a hydra construct.

For my own game, I figured that an invisible maze would be hard to keep track of on the battlemat, so I had a visible yet still exciting set of catwalks and walkways the hydra was under and its breath and bites can destroy in weak sections. It allowed for a fun bit of tactical movement, as the players not only had to deal with the monster itself and taking cover but also adapting to cut-off routes and sudden drops to lower levels.

I also figure that such an encounter can lose a bit of its magic if players fight an identical hydra should they go back up through the other end of the dungeon. They will also have the advantage of awareness, which will take away some of the initial charm of the first battle. I'd personally have only one fire-breathing hydra construct in Skullcap, but it will show up in the route the PCs take.

In Conclusion

A survival-focused wilderness trek with a dungeon of unliving creatures to top things off, Dragons of Hope has a bit of variety going for it in comparison to the previous entries. The major things to watch out for are how keen your group would be on micromanagement and making sure that the PCs become aware of the Helm's necessity.

I realize it's been a while between posts, but hopefully I'll get up the next post to complete Dragonlance's Autumn saga!

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.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Weavebound: a Godbound Hack for the Forgotten Realms

Elminster Must Die cover art by Kekai Kotaki

The Forgotten Realms is a setting well-known for its high-octane action, where the battles of gods and archmages scour the surrounding land, a drow warrior without peer fights off hundreds of orcs by his lonesome, and elder evils such as illithid overlords and krakens plot the domination of the sunlit nations beneath the major metropolises of the world. It is a realm of high adventure and epic deeds.

Although a feature of many D&D games, the setting has been described as a high-powered world, sometimes to its detriment. While there are many adventures for more typical power levels in Faerûn, there is an appeal for the PCs to get the spotlight, when they can challenge Manshoon or Szass Tam directly, match wits and magic with Larloch the Netherese archmage, or challenge the god-dragon Tchazzar and put a stop to his reign of terror in Chessenta. Unfortunately, the level of power for such things in most Editions is either a.) nonexistant/capped below that point; b.) has really wonky math or unfinished rules, or c.) the amount of options at that level can overwhelm most DMs especially when magic is involved.

While reading Kevin Crawford's Godbound, it hit all the right points for this kind of game. It was high-power yet rules-lite, used a familiar framework of Basic D&D/OSR which can map well onto the Realms, and the province of using one's power and sway to change the world from villages to even entire nations via Dominion and Influence sits well in a game where you don't just feel like you're playing second fiddle to author favorites.

So then I thought, what about a setting hack? Use the Godbound rules to simulate epic heroes on the level of Elminster, Storm Silverhand, and even the deities who walked upon Faerûn during the Time of Troubles?

The Time of Troubles: the Premiere Era

Shadowdale: the Scouring of the Land by William O'Connor

The year 1358 was a time of chaos and uncertainty for the world of Toril. The evil gods Myrkul and Bane stole the Tablets of Fate, the divine inscriptions listing the portfolio of influence of every deity. When the leader of the gods Ao summoned the many pantheons to his side, he asked the guilty party to step forward. When nobody stepped forth, he punished them all by casting them into the Material Plane confined to their less power avatar forms. In spite of being mortal, the deities were still extraordinarily powerful, but did not possess the mastery of the portfolios they once had.

The PCs number among these gods. While Ao intends this harsh lesson to teach the deities to be grateful for the powers they had and to more personally connect with their worshipers in the mortal world, this may not necessarily be the case. Many deities are resentful and seek a way to gain back their former status, even including fighting and killing their now-mortal peers in hopes of absorbing their power. Others search for the Tablets of Fate as a way to earn repentance. Many go into hiding, fearful of their many enemies, while others use their still-mighty status to build influence as god-kings such as the red dragon Tchazzar.

Who are your fallen gods? And what shall they do in this Time of Troubles?

Adventure Hooks for Weavebound

Band of Brothers: The Godbound PCs are all members of the same pantheon, such as the elven Seldarine or the Mulhorandi pantheon. This is a good means of tying the party together, as they are all familiar with each other and can laser-focus their efforts on a single culture or region as an immediate motivation.

Deicide: Of greatest concern to the former immortals is the law of divine absorption. When a deity slays another deity, the killer assumes the conceptual influences of the murdered. A goddess of fire who kills a god of travel and the open road becomes a deity of both purview. While it can be a tempting draw to power, it is just as much a shield; a kindly, just deity would be loathe to absorb the essence of a god of hate and suffering.

Still, this does not present some from contemplating the unthinkable, of slaying a god. Cyric is the most famous example, but certain learned mortals and rival deities present a looming danger. Making a difference in the world and building up Dominion makes you a target for those who crave power.

Mechanics: Slaying a a fellow Godbound means that they can purchase one of their related Words for 1 point instead of 3 when gaining a level. Until then, they're still new and unused to this new domain of influence and must spend time mastering their new nature.

Generally speaking, the murder of a deity should be a momentous occasion, whether it's a PC or NPC. Either a mortal has ascended or an existing deity wields more metaphysical influence. Generally speaking most deities are aware of this rule and will usually find other ways to conquer and divert the plans of their rivals. For example, Lolth might threaten Corellon's Dominions and factions, making him less powerful and thus less able to challenge her will. Alternatively a Godbound beaten into submission by another might be imprisoned in a magical ward, a remote dungeon, or a similar location.

Basically, your PCs should feel free to rule openly if they so desire and it fits their character. Let them reap the joys of godhood, but also remind them that there are threats to all that they built.

Redemption: It's possible that the PCs might view retrieving the Tablets of Fate as their primary goal. There's no doubt it was stolen by one of their fellows, but who remains the question. In Forgotten Realms canon, it was Bane and Myrkul, but you can throw a twist in the mix by having a similar antagonistic deity do the deed. Shar is a good choice, as is Lolth, Ilsensine, Mask, Tiamat, and/or Loviatar.

Naturally, finding the Tablets should be a mighty feat spanning adventures. Even if the thief is not a God/dess of Deception or Secrets, they doubtlessly called in favors to place it in a realm beyond realms guarded by their most faithful and most powerful servants.

Adversaries for Weavebound

There's already plenty of existing Forgotten Realms material to draw on, so I won't repeat them here. However the world of Toril is full of threats worthy of challenging gods walking the earth.

Archmages: Elminster, Khelben Blackstaff, Larloch, Manshoon, Szass Tam, the list goes on. Masters of arcane power are the most commonly known characters of this setting aside from renegade drow.

The Eldritch stat block (p. 148) is perfect for the many mages of Faerûn, although one should not be tempted to make each one a 36 Hit Die Master Eldritch. Even a Greater Eldritch can do a good job of replicating many of the big names here, and the myriad rules for Low Magic and invocations do a good enough job of replicating common powers. If you own the Deluxe version of Godbound, there is advice for Converting Powers from Other Games (p. 235) and the Creating Mortal Heroes section talks about turning Vancian Casting into a talent (p. 193).

From Faiths & Pantheons

Bane & the Zhentarim: one of the two gods who hid away the Tablets of Fate, this mighty figure of tyranny is more than eager to make his mark on Faerûn, whether by acting through his agents in the Zhentarim or leading whole armies to conquer regions. Any PCs who start making their marks on the world will doubtlessly attract his attention. Bane tolerates no competition, and if he can kill a god with a portfolio he desires, so much the better.

Bane's stats should change during the course of the campaign. He should be strong enough to be a threat in straight combat for an entire pantheon of Godbound (Creating New Foes, p. 166), but climb in power as they do instead of remaining static. What should remain constant is his access to the Command, Might, and Sword Words, with powers dedicated to showing off his dominance and power such as Cutting the Crimson Road and The Soldier's Faithful Heart. He might gain the Wealth Word if the Zhentarim continues to grow unchallenged.


From 3rd Edition Dungeon Master's Guide

Cyric: Originally a mortal mercenary, the man known as Cyric obtained the legendary sword known as Godsbane which he used to kill Bhaal and become a true god. His path of destruction and deicide during the Time of Troubles made him one of the most powerful (and dangerous) entities of Faerûn.

Unlike Bane, Cyric is a more subtle, lonesome entity. Lusting after power, his desire is to kill as many deities as possible, absorbing their portfolios in the hopes of becoming the supreme divine entity of all reality.

Cyric's stats before godhood should be a Mortal Hero (p. 154) with the Walk Between the Rain (Alacrity), Contempt of Distance (Sword), and Thirsting Razor (Sword) gifts. When he slays Bhaal and then Leira, he becomes a full Godbound with the Death, Deception, and Sword Words.

Like Bane, he should grow in power as the PCs do, albeit with a wider variety of Words as he slays more deities.


Effort: 4 Creation Cost: 14 Dominion

Godsbane was the sword-form of Mask, God of Shadows and Thieves, during the Time of Troubles. Those who wielded it inevitably went mad, as the blade coaxed them to murder others to sustain on souls. Upon murdering a victim, the body is drained entirely of blood and the sword glows for a while with a reddish hue.

Keeper of the Grave (Lesser Gift): You learn exactly where every corpse, undead or fragment of remains are within 200 feet and their identity in life. You can tell exactly how they died as if you had observed their death personally. If you Commit Effort you have an invincible defense against lesser undead.

Deplete Health (Greater Gift): Commit Effort for the scene and choose a target. They sicken, falling to half their current hit dice or hit points, rounded up. Worthy foes get a Hardiness save to resist. The lost hit dice return at the scene’s end if the creature is not dead. This gift does not stack multiple times.

Mortals who wield the sword become increasingly psychotic, eager to slay others for the thrill of the kill. All but the strongest-willed mortals (or those with the aid of a deity) can resist this urge.

Dragon's Dogma Concept Art by Craig Mullins

Dragons: Albeit reclusive in modern times, the dragons of Toril are one of the oldest and most dangerous creatures. Many lair in well-defended caves and fortifications, usually supplicated less powerful races offering tribute in exchange for protection. A few dragons, such as the Moreume clan of the North and Tchazzar of Chessenta, rule entire communities.

Dragons can deal their damage as an area attack in the form of a breath weapon with a range of 60'. Said breath weapons vary widely in energy types, and they have an invincible defense against the type chosen for their breath weapon. Many dragons have fledgling knowledge in the magical arts and might have Adept of the Gate, while the older wyrms almost always know Adept of the Way, and the greatest can use Way of the Throne.

As for Tchazzar, he's no mere dragon, but a shard of Tiamat. He's a Great Wyrm with access to the Fire, Sorcery, and Wealth Words, and the ruler of his own country. With his wealth and peerless power and knowledge, he's more than a match for all but the mightiest pantheons of Godbound.

Great Wyrm
Hit Dice
+10 x2 attacks
+10 x2 attacks
Two automatic hits
1d10 claw/bite straight
1d12 claw/bite straight
1d12 claw/bite straight
60’ fly
60’ fly
120’ fly

Dungeon Magazine #24, cover artist unknown

Illithid: Also known as mind flayers for their primary means of sustenance, illithid are among the most powerful creatures of the Underdark. They seek to turn other races into mentally-dominated thralls for the betterment of their undercities.

All races of illithid are able to telepathically communicate with an intelligent being within 100'. Neothelid are gargantuan worms capable of tunneling through solid rock. Elder Brains, meanwhile, are the undisputed masters of the illithid. They possess access to the Knowledge Word and knows 2 or 3 lesser gifts from it.

Mind Flayer
Elder Brain
Hit Dice
+10 x2 attacks
Two automatic hits
1d8 psychic blast
1d12 crush straight
1d12 straight
60' burrow
60’ fly

The Natural Laws of Toril's Divinities

This is mostly flavor text, but covers generic rules for the divinities of Toril and thus common knowledge for the PCs.

The many gods and goddesses of the Forgotten Realms are Estelar, exemplars of chosen portfolios, just about anything which can exist in a tangential form or drives people as an ideal. They are either mortals elevated to such a status by Ao or allowed to allowed to be worshiped in the case of ones from foreign realms. They also derive power from the faith and worship of mortals, and the lack of devotion can be inimical to a deity's power, even leading to metaphysical death. Many are grouped into pantheons, usually with a common theme or relationship binding them together.

Deities can manifest in the Material Plane via the creation of an avatar, a less-powerful yet still mighty extension of their awareness. As of the Time of Troubles, every deity save Helm is stuck in avatar form. With time (and learning the Apotheosis Word) they can commune with worshipers, but their overall cosmic awareness is far less than it once was in their original forms.

Alternative Campaigns

Playing as fallen divinities during the Time of Troubles is a natural fit for a Godbound setting hack, but the high power level of the Forgotten Realms makes other campaign styles possible.

Defenders of the Weave: The PCs are all Chosen of Mystra, imbued with divine power by the Goddess of Magic and tasked with fighting evil and investigating disruptions in the Weave. Not all Chosen operate together, but they have a common patron and goals which inevitably draw them to the sight of trouble. Whether it's a maddened avatar of Shar creating a dead magic zone across a country or a Thayan tyrant building a doomsday device, you can guarantee that the Chosen of Mystra will be there!

Mechanics: All Chosen of Mystra are treated as Godbound with access to three Words, each representing a common magical tradition or pathway (such as Death for necromancers). They are immune to the ravages of age and can weaponize pure Weave energy into a bright form known as Silver Fire by Committing Effort. Silver Fire can be used as a ranged weapon out to 100 feet and counting as a magical weapon. It can destroy up to one foot of nonliving material per use.

Netheril's Last Breath: Wind the clocks back to the last years of the Empire of Netheril, It is hard to tell that their golden age is over: humans live in utopian sky-cities where every commoner is versed in low-magic to make their lives easier. There is little need for the magic of the gods, as innovations in spellcraft provide for most of the people's needs and the elite are well-removed from the strife and troubles of the world below.

Still, things stir to threaten humanity's greatest achievement and folly: the Phaerimm seek to wage war on the floating cities whose residual magic pollutes the earth below with devastating sorceries. Random mishaps in magic cause archmages to go into hiding or die at the hands of vicious rivals, resulting in political upheaval. Karsus, the greatest archmage to have ever lived, seeks to steal the mantle of godhood from Mystra herself, all to save the land he knows and loves.

The mood and theme of this campaign is impending doom. Like it or not, the face of Faerûn is going to be changed forever. The PCs might avert the worst of it, but it will take a lot of time, effort, Influence, and Dominion. Encouraging communities to swear off magic to avoid supernatural residue from afflicting the surface shall leave them open to attacks from rival city-states and vengeful phaerimm. Diverting unstable Weave energy to another location only shunts the problem elsewhere, creating a temporary reprieve which can come back back to haunt them with even worse troubles.

There is still opportunity for heroism. The PCs can be the leaders the people of Netheril, no, the world, needs. They can use their magic to shelter refugees and confound the phaerimm, or even call upon the "barbarous" low-land nations for aid who are long used to fighting the horrors of the world without magic. The PCs might even be traditional gods, less-powerful avatars stepping into the Material Plane before things get even worse to set things right.

Or they can be like so many of their peers and pick the remnants of Netheril's treasure and glory like vultures upon a carcass before fleeing to safer pastures. But even sorcerous looting is dangerous; you'll need to build safehouses to store your treasures, anti-scrying wards to evade the notice of the phaerimm and rival mages, and get past the defenses of rival city-states and outrun pursuit of those you betrayed.

Mechanics: The PCs are newly-appointed archmage rulers in one or more of the sky-cities. They are treated as Godbound who are free divinities (p. 19) with access to the Sorcery Word and two others of their choice. Dominion can be used to repair areas of unstable magic in the Weave or even divert them elsewhere, being treated as changing a Fact (p. 126 to 128).

Concluding Thoughts

I may contribute future articles to this campaign hack if there's enough interest. Given the size and scope of Ed Greenwood's shared world, I only scratched the surface of possibilities for a Godbound campaign. Still, I hope that I covered enough ground to spur people's imaginations and get the muse fired up.