Thursday, February 28, 2013

Design Diary - 1 month

Here was what I was thinking about a year ago ... I've got a private blog to journal my notes on the campaign.

So what has happened in a month?

  • The Word doc is up to 140 pages of detail
  • The map has been re-done to use the hex numbers. What a mistake that was. 8 hours re-do it, including re-doing the Word doc.
  • Wandering monster tables by terrain. Then re-done wandering monster tables by specific terrain. So the Fey Wood is different from the forest in the Awin Rivery Valley.
  • Lots of integration of Tome of Horrors monsters, animals and plants, especially those wandering monster tables.
  • Increased addition of over-powered challenges, always with some built in advanced warning. 
  • Character background sheets for the two people who submitted them. Lots of hooks and even additional content was created from those. Can't wait for the other two.
  • Some skeletal creation of the competing folks "out there." Mostly competing goblin tribes, giants, the remnants of the cyclops civilization showing up, and the BBEG linked to these folks. I made a EL13 encounter, so I figured I've gone far enough in THAT direction. I now see how we could be playing at high levels. 
  • Need to make regional map of the whole island now. I think I've gone roughly half way across it, so I need to know what it looks like.
  • Discarded a lot of the advice from before: competing adventurers are mostly dead (or captured). Don't really need to advance the NPC story arcs. Not starting out with any sort of hook or adventure. The handouts have hooks. They just have to prioritize. 
  • Starting to worry about the details: the look and feel, not forgetting to describe the weather and the sounds, and having the tactical stuff like battlemats and random encounters ready to go. It's probably about done then.
  • Starting to worry about the older stuff I've written not being as good as the new, which shows how I've advanced in my sandbox thinking but also how I can lose interest in things.
  • Worried that 1st level characters could get creamed. Thinking that having backup characters is not such a bad thing.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Khartographia of Oracle Ismela of Erythrea

Thus I came to the island of red stone where the men of the north worshiped their gods of war, while I silently prayed to Athena for protection. While most of the towns were of Northmen, some Yan Ki remained, not entirely driven from their homes. This includes  one peculiar town, where the two races intermingled in the mud. Codaver it was called, a word in the Northmen tongue that referred to the smell of rotten fish, a smell that will invade your nose and permeate your clothes the first day you spend in this wretched place.

In Codaver I asked many questions of the cyclops, enduring much laughter as usual. When they were assured I cared little about visiting the Cyclops Head, as so many adventurers are wont to do, they relaxed and told me a tale over ale and their special dish, unfortunately a fermented, rotten fish.

The limestone cliffs held secrets, I was told over my putrid meal, including the tomb of a cyclops chieftain named Bonebreaker. This was supposedly from back in the times of early men, when the folk of this backwards island were advanced in their knowledge, but enslaved by the cyclops. Perhaps they gained their knowledge from the cyclops or perhaps, inconceivably, it was the other way around.  I made a notation on my map to where it supposedly is located, nestled in the curve of the hills.

In any case, my guide explained that Bonebreaker's tomb held treasures to be sure, but had powerful guardians both magical and mundane. The best engineers of the early people were brought in to build the tomb, and legend has it they were sealed inside after its construction, some foul ritual turning them into guardians from beyond the grave. 

I am almost certain that this Bonebreaker is Bonebreaker of Aparnisi, one of the Fabled Eight. This will be my ninth year looking for clues of the eight. Could such a backwards island as this be the location of the City of Abjuration?

If it is the same Bonebreaker, and really there could be dozens by that name, it will mean that within the tomb will be the Bearpelt of the Bonebreaker from the legendary Tales of Winter Night. The evil king in the story, as every first year historian knows, was lured out into the blizzard by the great white elk, but the king was able to find his way back to his beloved city unerringly by means of his magic bear pelt. Such children's stories.


Our initial attempts at the expedition was met with failure, first due to the theft of our equipment by these odd mud men, then last night our guide disappeared, his daughter near catatonic and senseless babbling of flying bird women. I will return in two months time with a contingent of warriors and proper tomb explorers and engage this expedition properly. Perhaps a month away will restore my sense of smell.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Letter from Crannog to Ravana


You have done well with your duties. Once you have made your final shipment, you may inform the maharaja that our debt is settled.

The final shipment of dryad poles will be enough to complete the project. Cessation of iron shipments caused the project to slow, so focus on finishing up your operation in the Fey Wood.

Consider a final strike against the elves. They have something I want. I am told they have a map in their library locating the Tomb of Bonebreaker. Within the tomb is rumored to be a spellbook with a map to Aparnisi. It may be the foothold I need to locate the first part of the rod.

Finally, although your debt is paid, consider another task for me. We have suffered an incursion of undead from a valley to your south, much as you describe against Tara. I believe it is from the same source as Bloody Erik and the hill army that has vexed you and Aillyn. 

I wish to understand who is responsible for this, and why they both attack and protect the Tarans. This incursion has taxed our resources.  There are many fine young ladies available to you if you complete this task.


Friday, February 22, 2013

The Scholarly Details

How Did The World Come To Be?

In the beginning, a race of evil beings, The Old Ones, inhabited the world. They brought much destruction on the creatures and early humans until the great goddess Danu intervened. She defeated The Old Ones and banished them to their alien realm. She left the world in the hands of a group of primordial sidhe, celestial elves tasked with keeping the doorways between worlds solidly closed. Some of these early sidhe ascended to godhead and form the pantheon called the Tuatha de Danaan. The sidhe nowadays perform the same tasks, although some are fallen, with motivations of their own.

What Is The Nature of The Gods?
The gods set up a system to leave the world in the hands of overseers, and are thus are not concerned with the day to day goings on of their worshipers. However, they also still possess human motivations, like lust and vengeance that find them meddling on occasion.

What Is The Source of Magic?
Magic is in the physics of the world, brought to the people by the god Math Mathonwy.

What Happens When You Die?
Upon death, you go to the underworld, ruled by the god Arawn. Resurrection is frowned on by Arawn, except for one day of the year, the celebration of Samhain. Reincarnation is the natural order of things, so bringing a PC back is alright using that method. Free willed undead are despised by Arawn, but unthinking undead (animated corpses) are not his concern.

What Cycles Or Events Define The Calendar?
Samhain, or the harvest festival (our late October), is the major event of the year. Beltane is the beginning of Summer, "a springtime festival of optimism" and marks the other end of the calendar (May). Bonfires mark purification and transition along with rituals to ward off otherworldly spirits. It's when livestock would be driven out to pasture (perhaps Samhain is when they come back in).

What Do You See When You Look At The Sky?
There's a single star like our sun, along with a primary moon. There is also a secondary moon, Arianna, on a wackier orbit that is known to affect the tides and mess with the height of the oceans. This moon was created by the moon goddess Arianrod while learning magic from Math Mathonwy. Those who are concerned with the seas do not concern themselves with Arianrod, instead looking to the clerics of the sea god, Manannan Mac Lir, who act as astronomers in helping to predict the activities of the rogue moon.

What Constitutes Cutting Edge Technology?
Celtic lamellar armor is pretty cutting edge and steal is abundant. There is no steam power, printing presses, firearms, clockwork mechanisms or readily accessible alchemical items. There is also no heavy armors in use, nor polearms, or exotic weapons from other cultures. Crossbows exist. Medicine is fairly well advanced thanks to the druids. Sanitation is vaguely understood and is another reason for towns rather than large cities.

Where Do Monsters Come From?
Like the world, they were always just there, with the gods and people coming later.

Which is Strongest: Magic, Gods or Nature?
Nature battles against the dangerous influences of Magic. Wizardry is a dangerous force in need of suppression to avoid past transgressions and future survival.

Luducus and Genoveva

Around 20 years ago ...

A young group of adventurers went out to conquer the enemies of Tara. It went well at first, but problems arose as romantic rivalries split the party.  Genoveva became involved with Blackthorn, but was eventually won over by the wise wizard Luducus. 

Sean, the youngest of the group and the ranger of the party, left to avoid the drama, and later started a family. His eldest was Tristan, who fell defending the walls of Tara from a zombie incursion. Sean has been missing for over a year now.
Luducus and Genoveva later married and had a girl, Marisil. They continued adventuring but tragedy struck fifteen years later. While adventuring with the party, Luducus encountered a rune covered door. The door contained an alien curse, perhaps a virus, that infected him and threatened to drive Luducus insane. 

With the help of the elf king Finrose, along with ancient dragon rituals discovered by Genoveva, a magical solution to the virus was found. A soul gem was used to trap the soul of a dread dragon to bring strength to Luducus’ mind. It also imbued Luducus with knowledge of powerful dragon magic, at the cost of changing his personality.
The ritual turned out to be more vile than the group imagined, as it tortured the dragon’s soul. The tension destroyed the group. Blackthorn foreswore civilization and left for the hills. Genoveva said she could no longer stay with Luducus. Luducus, oblivious to Genoveva, was busy maintaining his sanity while a dragon tried to take over his mind. Their teenage daughter, Marisel, fell for the elf king Finrose, and they left together. Finrose abdicated his throne and now lives to the south in sprawling tree house with Marisel and their two children. 
Now it is clear that Luducus is fading, his soul gem, a red ruby that glows with his vitality, pulses as Luducus expends his energy. Luducus and Genoveva have lost their daughter during all this, and there is a final wish Marisel visits her father one last time before he dies.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Fate of Tara History

World Overview
The world has experienced near destruction, due to the acts of powerful wizards who tapped into alien powers. The Old Ones were awakened and a great war took place between the forces of the world and alien invaders. There is not much left of civilization from this armageddon of a war, leaving ruins, perverse creatures and the powers of nature to reclaim civilized lands.
There are three main human civilizations that have survived in this part of the world: the Yan-Ki (Celts), the war-like Northmen (norse) in the north, and the peaceful, but clever traders, the Phoenicians in the south.

The sentient races were laid low and scattered to the winds, losing much of their culture and in many cases, reverting to more tribal ways of life. A conspiracy has emerged with a powerful sidhe on the island attempting to hinder humanity and keep it in its place. Tribes and villages are stunted and underdeveloped. It's for their own good, is the thinking. Another war with alien powers would likely leave nothing alive in this world.

Crannog, the fallen sidhe, along with his minions, keeps the local population in its place. Aillyn, a satyr sorcerer, keeps the town of Tara from expanding and exploring, as he lulls the population to sleep once a year and burns down their town. The population is terrified, afraid to explore outside their walls, to navigate and settle more towns on the large island of Redstone, named after the red sandstone found in abundance and used for building.

As the party explores threats to their town, they begin to see patterns emerge that point to a more sinister plot, an overarching cabal that rewards and instructs the malevolent creatures of Redstone to keep the humans in their place. Defeating this cabal may allow the Yan-Ki to thrive and explore, unleashing their cultural potential as great warriors and craftsmen. 
History of Redstone Island
The Early People lived in natural shelters on the island, hunted and fished for their food and used basic tools. These people lived in harmony with nature. Over tens of thousands of years, they grew to have powerful druids that rivaled the wizardry of more advanced civilizations. The Early People are responsible for many of the standing stones and megalithic monuments of the island. 
The Northmen came to the island next, sophisticated settlers and conquerors who created the original towns and cities of Redstone Island. They brought agricultural knowledge, especially how to grow crops on a larger scale and how to brew alcohol (the reasons for the crops). The Northmen were renowned for their magic and often took concepts and magical constructs of The Early People, like standing stones, and infused them with magic or integrated sites into their own tombs, holy places or rituals.
The Yan Ki Empire expanded during this time, along with The Northmen and The Phoenicians. Fierce economic competition led to fierce military rivalry and dangerous magical research to gain any and all advantages. At one point, all three empires were competing to open gates to other worlds to wield weapons to dominate over each other. The Northmen were the most sophisticated warriors. The Phoenicians were the most adept traders with the most wealth. The Yan Ki wielded the most powerful magic through their seers and warlocks.
This lead to The Dark Time, when humanity was at war with otherworldly beings. Rivalries were put aside, both between the three empires, and those of the forces of magic and nature. By the time these mind rending enemies were vanquished, sent back to their alien realm, all three empires were in ruins. Pockets of civilization remained, but most people left their broken, dysfunctional cities and set out to start over.
By this time The Northmen had retreated from Redstone Island to their northern homes, leaving Redstone for a new people to inhabit, The Yan Ki. However, rather than seeing a growing expansion of empire, like before, The Yan Ki were barely able to subsist on the land. Things had changed. Forces of nature, once an alley, now seemed intent on destroying them. The druids were indifferent to their plight, wishing them back to their fallen lands. Monsters attacked anyone intent on exploration and went as far as to ritually humiliate the community each year.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Court of Ravana

The party camped under the bridge, resting and also wondering if their enemies might appear in the forest clearing. The square surrounded the gallows, a crooked stone structure dedicated to Crom. Along the stone wall were valuable magical stones, inserted cleverly into the wall for some unknown purpose. A twist of each popped them out, but the party left them for now.

Sure enough, a group approached the square. A large, elephantine creature and two cyclops brought a young woman, a prostitute from town. She was docile and climbed the steps on her own, where the cyclops were about to place a noose around her neck.  The elephant creature examined the stones for a moment before they continued.

Before the noose was placed, however, the party emerged from the woods after sneaking up on their enemy. The verrik sorcerer cast Dispel Magic upon the woman. She blinked a couple time and shrieked, jumping off the small platform and landing hard on the ground.

The battle went on in earnest from there. The cyclops closed on the party, one nearly killing the large eidolon with a single blow of its giant great axe. The elephant creature attempted to charm the fighter, but without success.

The verrik fireballed the entire lot of them, killing the prostitute, who he deemed too late to save and badly injuring the cyclops and elephant creature.

The fighter bashed his shield into one of the cyclops, knocking him against the wall and onto the ground. The little halfling evoker cast Black Tentacles on the area, which grabbed the injured prone cyclops. The eidolon unleashed on the standing cyclops, disemboweling him with a flurry of blows. The cleric, always healing from the back, cured the eidolon of its grievous injuries.

Finally, the eidolon, now enlarged to huge size, stepped up and wailed on the elephant creature, finishing it off. As it died, it reverted into a different form, a well dressed, evil looking gnome like creature. The party knew of this creature to be Trikuta the rakshasa.

Celebrating their victory over the rakshasa, it slowly dawned on them that this was far too easy. Was this the rakshasa that impersonated them in town. Could there be two rakshasa?

They proceeded to probe the defenses of the fortress, and while showing off the severed head of Trikuta, the cyclops door guard yelled at them that "the master would not be pleased." The master?

Using Door Sight on the walls, the party looked in on the fortress. Then they pummeled the forlarren tower guards with ligtning bolts and fireballs until they retreated below. The eidolon then bashed at the towers until it made a large sized hole to squeeze through.

The enemy partied safely in their fortress, licking their wounds. Meanwhile, the party rested and did a more thorough search of the perimeter. The verrik, an expert tracker, found a cave that she believed might lead into the fortress.

Now it's an issue of how this battle will proceed.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Standing Stones

Legend: One day, the (now) god of magic, Math Mathonwy, agreed to take on a new student, despite his better judgment. Arianrod had a deep reserve of power, that if properly focused, could make her a wizard rivaling the power of Math himself. However, she had a cruel streak that worried Math, but he found her deeply attractive. What's the worst that could happen? Math taught her what he knew of magic, along with the dangers inherent with such power.

Arianrod was unstable, however, and a tad evil. For example, she once gave birth to two children and decided to love one and reject the other, just to see what would happen. She took what Math taught her and performed forbidden experiments, such as sacrificing sentient creatures for their mana. She loved the moon, and one such experiment involved creating a second moon, a reminder in the sky to everyone that she was a powerful wizard. Like Arianrod, this moon was dark and prone to random behavior.

The dark moon flew in an unstable orbit around the planet, throwing off tides, impeding travel and preventing teleportation magic from working properly. Many who tried to teleport during these early days died horrible deaths, until the source of the disruption was determined. Math was furious at Arianrod for disrupting teleportation, but mostly because he thought he had a shot at her. It turns out she was using him for his magical knowledge. Math cast out Arienrod, who finding Math's infatuation amusing, went on to cause havoc messing with the romantic destinies of men.

Math Mathonwy created the standing stones in response to Arianrod's actions, so he and his students could travel. He could not undo her creation, but he could counter it the best he could, for his own convenience. As for the tides that capsized countless ships and destroyed hundreds of settlements, he cared not. Let Manannan figure that one out. As you may have guessed, Math was kind of a dick.

It's believed the standing stones focus magic by compensating for the peculiar, difficult to predict, lunar variations  through astronomical tracking.

How they Work: Standing stones have three functions.

First, they enhance or augment something inherent in the environment. They're usually placed on planar conjunctions or ley lines. They can allow for planar travel to the plane on the conjunction or draw power from ley lines for other purposes. For example, they can be used to augment creativity, ward a region against certain enemies, or harness the power of the earth for a magical purpose.

Second, all standing stones can be used to teleport to another set of standing stones claimed by its caretaker. Once a set of stones is claimed, no force on the planet can retake the stones without the original caretakers permission or the death of the caretaker. A caretaker who is reincarnated or raised must reclaim the stones, possibly over the dead body of the new caretaker.

The exception to this is the primary power can be activated or deactivated through a high difficulty Spellcraft check (DC 35), while the caretaker is away.

Many druids control standing stones, with the stipulations that defeat in (non lethal) druidic combat requires they  relinquish the stones to the challenger. This is not a voluntary thing; it just happens upon their defeat.

Third, through a lengthy and expensive ritual, standing stones can be "networked" together to focus the power of standing stones for a particular purpose. This third use is inherent in every set of stones created by Math, but is rarely, if ever used.

Known Standing Stones

Blackthorn: You know of this, but it's controlled by Blackthorn the druid.
Tara: You have a makeshift teleportation circle in your headquarters in Tara.
Dead Gods: You're a caretaker, but the stones are unstable, requiring magic to stabilize them.