The Heptarchy

The Heptarchy is a pantheon led by the Lady Night and it is made up of Her, along with Her three sons known as the Perihelion and Her three daughters known as the Perilune. It is a very old religion, dating back to Atlan and before, and it is found wherever humankind fled after the fall of that realm.

Lady Night Herself is known as the Mother of Darkness, and holds sway over magic and mysteries of all sorts. She accepts the worship of any and all, unconcerned with alignment by either priest or worshipper and is distant, some would say uncaring, head of her family. Some say she is one of the Great Gods, hidden in a lesser form, but if this be true even Her priestesses known it not. She and Her priestess keep their counsel close, but when they share their thoughts it is generally a deep wisdom that shows both unlooked for compassion and the willingness to sacrifice all for the greater good. Her symbols include the Dark of the Moon, Jet, or an Orb (Domain: Knowledge/Trickery)

The Perihelion

The Orders of the Suns are made up of Sol Invictus and Helios Panoptes. The Orders are well organized and mutually supporting sects that are found in all civilized lands. They oppose evil and chaos and are often willing to ally themselves with groups like the Church of the Lords of Light or the Khemeti where they have both morals, ethics, and overall goals in common. Together, the brothers ride the Great Dragons of the Suns, and the faithful watch the sky for signs of their passage.

Sol Invictus, the Unconquered Sun, is first among leaders and warriors. He stands for all that is lawful and good, and tolerates nothing but the same in his priests and followers. He is favored by nobles and rulers across the Mortal Realms, as well as by common soldiers who pray for His blessing and protection combat. The symbol of Sol Invictus is a Golden Bladed Imperial Sun. (Domain: Light/War)

At His side stands His brother, Helios Panoptes, the All-Seeing Sun, truth-seeker and bringer-of-judgment. Truly neutral, Panoptes brings judgment based on what has happened, by whatever standard is asked – truth is his purview, not justice. His worshippers includes spellcasters, judges, lawyers, and kings who rule by wisdom rather than by strength of arms. The symbol of Helios Panoptes is the All-Seeing Eye within a Golden Sun. (Domain: Knowledge/Light)

They are both thwarted by Their brother, whom They curse whenever He appears, the Midnight Sun. The Masked One whose intrigue outmatches the strength of arm of His brother Invictus and whose deception can blind even His brother Panoptes. The Midnight Sun is served by thieves, spies, and diplomats and while very few who are good serve Him, many of His worshippers are neutral and even evil. The symbol of the Midnight Sun is a some variation of a Sun in Black or a Mask. (Domain: Trickery)

 The Perilune

The Mysteries of the Moon are made up of sects that worship the daughters of Lady Night, the Three Sisters; Mother of Pearl, Daughter of Bone, and Sister of Blood. These sects are more secretive than the Orders of the Suns, often concerned more with issues of hearth, home, and heart than with the more lofty political and social concerns of the Orders of the Suns. The Perilune are often willing to ally themselves not merely with the Perihelion, but with the Old Faith, and are friendly with the servants of the Lords Tarot. Like their brothers, the Three Sisters each ride one of the Great Dragons of the Moons, their passage marked by tides and weather.

The eldest of the daughters of Lady Night is known as Mother of Pearl. She holds sway over birth and rebirth, over the potential of the womb, and the cycles of life itself. Mothers everywhere swear by Her name and sacrifice pearls in times of need. Careful, considerate, compassionate, but also calculating Mother of Pearl attracts priestesses and followers who are Lawful in nature – She is less concerned with the morals of Her followers and more with the ethics. Her symbols include the Full Moon, Pearls, or a Chalice. (Domain: Life/Nature)

The middle daughter of Lady Night is known as Daughter of Bone. She is feared by all, unaligned and Neutral in all ways as are Her servants. Daughter of Bone holds sway over Death, of the body, the mind, the soul, and the spirit for She is final silence that comes to all things. Her worshippers are few and far between, but all pray to Her in their final moments. Her symbols include the Waning Moon, an Bone Knife, or a Skull (Domain: Death)

The youngest daughter of Lady Night is the Sister of Blood, She who rules over passion and fertility, and all those things that quicken the blood. Unlike Her sisters, She is Chaotic and Her followers are equally as unpredictable – often gathered together in bands of maenads and bacchae, even bands of berserking amazons fighting on the battlefields alongside men. Her symbols include Waxing Moon, a Spray of Blood, or a Labrys (Domain: War)


Game Mechanics Will Come in a Later Post

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The En Khoda Theos Kirk

Also known as the Cult of the Elements, or the Kirk (church) of the Four Great Elemental Dragons, the En Khoda Theos Kirk is the formal name for the religion or mystical philosophy that is focused individually upon the elements as they manifest through the Great Dragons of Earth, Fire, Water, and Air. It is the closest to formal worship or veneration or organized contemplation and study of the Great Gods (or at least a portion of them) that exists and is thought to be among the oldest of the organized religions, primarily practiced by the Dragonborn and the Warforged of the Iron Court but with a strong minority following of humans from Ith and Atlan. Human worship is loosely organized into a great congregation that is known as the Quatrefoil, while the Warforged have a highly organized and ruthlessly efficient organization known as the Svastika, that serves them as a state religion even if the analogy is a weak one.

There are five basic roles recognized within the religion of the En Khoda Theos Kirk; there are the Drakein (trans. “those who see clearly”), the common body of sworn and allied faithful who pursue the mysteries of the Great Dragons; the Maikoiran, the prophets; the Kenza, the warriors and champions, the Dorje, the priesthood; and the Vajra, the solitary warrior-mystics – all of whom are devoted to the Great Dragons. Unlike other religions there is no formal pursuit of a status beyond that of the Drakein, there is only the Call of the Great Dragons, and the trials and process of moving deeper within the faith can be terrifying. Similarly, there is no real organizing authority within the religion and for the various authorities both secular and religious this is also of the most frustrating parts of dealing with the En Khoda Theos Kirk. Strange as those outside of the religion find it, Dorje-led Kirks, Kenzan Fighting Orders, Vajran mystical fellowships, and Maikoiran secret societies all coexist and somehow manage to operate without much conflict – and this is the essence of the Quatrefoil, known also as the Dancing Kirk and the Union Stoicheion. For the Svastika, this is the state religion of the Iron Court, but again, more a philosophy than what most humans and other races think of as “religion”.

The Drakein are the gathering of the faithful in the greater congregation of the Kirk. While all of the Great Dragons are venerated, most faithful have one (or perhaps two) of the Great Dragons that are the most meaningful for them and that are granted the majority of their attention. The Drakein are taken from all walks of life – across social class and profession (Normal Worshippers).

The Maikoiran are the distinctly not a portion of the Dorje, the Kenza, or the Vajra – though many within those other groupings also followed this path for a time, or continue to follow it as a part of their service. They are dancing oracles, seers, and often tantrics who are viewed as touched by the Great Dragons, and are highly respected by the Drakein and others. The Maikoiran are organized into a bewildering series of secret societies and fellowships that provide support for themselves and Dancing Kirk as a whole (Bards, Clerics, Sorcerers, Warlocks).

The Kenza are the champions of the Dancing Kirk – lay brethren who are charged with the protection of the faithful and the guardianship of the various kirks and shrines. The Kenza are fierce and dedicated warriors who are associated with various fighting orders to whom they owe allegiance to. Common fighting orders include: The Thousand-Forged Dragons, The Storm Dancers, The Five-Fold Avalanche, and The Claws of the Dragons (Clerics, Fighters, Monks, Paladins, Rogues, Wizards).

Dorje serve the Great Dragons as a whole as part of the Quatrefoil, the Dancing Kirk. They serve as advisors and healers for their communities but only have formal authority within whatever kirk (temple) or vihara (monestary) they belong to. The two assemblages, kirk and vihara, are seen as distinctly different rules of conduct and behavior, but also as essentially co-equal and serving different purposes – kirks for the Quartrefoil and vihara for the individual Great Dragons. (Clerics).

Vajra are rare individuals who have sworn themselves and made alliance with one of the Great Elemental Dragons – they are essentially champions of that individual Great Dragon. They are often solitary in nature and wander looking for enlightenment and challenge, though a fair number tend to isolated shrines deep in the wilderness – a rare few even take up residence in an actual kirk and end up taking formal vows as a Dorje (Clerics, Monks, Paladins, Sorcerers, Warlocks, Wizards).

The Great Elemental Dragons

The Great Dragon of Earth and Metal: Also known as the Body Stoicheion, and often represents both stability and fertility.

  • Symbol / Color / Animal: Square or Rectangle / Brown / Stone Drake
  • Place of Worship: Underground or Stone-built Kirk or Vihara
  • Divine / Worshipper Alignment: True Neutral / Neutral (Any), Lawful (Any)
  • Common Manifestations: Finding a gem, a stone or gem shattering, earthquakes
  • Common Professions: Warriors, Smiths, Craftsmen, Midwives.

The Great Dragon of Air and Sky: Is known as the Breath Stoicheion, and represents the ideals of curiosity and intellect.

  • Symbol / Color / Animal: Downward Triangle / White / Storm Drake
  • Place of Worship: Open Air Kirk or Vihara
  • Divine/Worshipper Alignment: True Neutral / Neutral (Any), Chaotic (Any)
  • Common Manifestations: Whistling winds, still air, tornados
  • Common Professions: Sages, Sailors, Travelers, Wanderers.

The Great Dragon of Fire and Flames: Known as the Spirit Stoicheion, the Great Dragon of Fire represents both passion and consumption.

  • Symbol / Color / Animal: Upward Triangle / Red / Fire Drake
  • Place of Worship: Kirk or Vihara with Furnaces or Firepits
  • Divine / Worshipper Alignment: True Neutral / Neutral (Any), Chaotic (Any)
  • Common Manifestations: Fires flaring, fires dampening, explosions
  • Common Professions: Performers, Tantrics, Artists.

The Great Dragon of Water and Seas: Consider by the some the most fearsome, the Great Dragon of the Sea is also known as the Blood Stoicheion, and stands for both mystery and adaptability.

  • Symbol / Color / Animal : Circle / Blue / Sea Drake
  • Place of Worship: Kirk or Vihara with Springs, Pools, Fountains, etc.
  • Divine / Worshipper Alignment: True Neutral / Neutral (Any), Chaotic (Any)
  • Common Manifestations: Water going still, water running abnormally, whirlpools
  • Common Professions: Mages, Diplomats, Psychics.
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Session #9 – Travelling to Cragmaw Castle

So this session saw the addition of a couple we’ve known for a few years now as players. DGP created Jarvic, a human Dorje (cleric) of the En Khoda Theos Kirk, serving Great Dragon of the Air. He was fine in understanding that once Princes of the Apocalypse came out I might tweak the nature of the “Air Domain” I was creating on the fly here for him, but overall seemed pretty happy with his character and how it turned out (even if the stats were mostly very average). KS created Dagri, a Khazan (Half-Goblin) Barbarian after rolling two 18’s in her stats – ending up with a Strength of 20 and a Constitution of 19 for her 1st level character!

As an aside, names for the henchmen were also determined – Wrenn Tosscobble for Fonkin’s cousin the rogue, and Aneirin for the High Elf paladin that was now determined to protect and take care of Gwyneth.

So the party gathered themselves together to get ready to ravel to Cragmaw Castle and rescue their former employer Gundren Rockseer, discussed various rumors that they had come across while in Diamond Lake – the most troubling of which was that the mayor might very well be planning on attacking and wiping out a nearby “Twilight Monastery” with the help of his brother (a local mage), the sheriff, and some hired mercenaries. Devin was greatly troubled with this possibility and only agreed to leave without investigating further when the party agreed to return, post-rescue, and find out what was going on. He also sent a letter off via Navigator to his brother, informing of his fears and suspicions.

With that, the party set off, now nine-strong, travelling back across the hills, to assault Cragmaw Castle and rescue Gundren!

The first two days of travel went by without any trouble. But as they were relaxing at the end of the second day after dinner a group of four hill trolls stumbled across them and decided to attack. Now, neither side achieved surprise, and it was, for all intents, a stand up battle. Now, in my 1e game, hill trolls are somewhat nasty pieces of work – basically an Hill Giants with some bonuses. So, I treated these hill trolls the same – Hill Giants with the same bonuses. In three rounds they were all dead (the last being slain in a flurry of opportunity attacks when trying to flee) after some admittedly excellent rolls by the party. I can’t say that they trolls even rolled that badly, but the party was able to layer them with Disadvantage, plus give themselves Advantage, and over all the trolls only hit twice, and never even managed to drop anyone – even the 1st level characters.

It was really pretty amazing – Dagri critted one of the trolls at a crucial moment and killed it, and then also struck the killing blow on the last one as it fled. Rhys killed one that the melee fighters had been pounding on, while Gwyneth blasted one and slew it. I’m actually going to have to rethink trolls a bit in 5e I think, they are not nearly as scary as they should have been. They did have a nice flavor of having to be beaten upon greatly and I liked that, but they still went down a bit too easily for a group of this level. I also have to say that the party synergized roles and abilities very well, that is clearly what their success was due to, not “wimpy trolls”. I just have to rebalance them for a new edition and new mechanics.

Now, all that said, I still gave the group XP for five CR5 creatures – and this came out to 900 XP for everyone (half that for the henchmen). Jarvic and Dagri jumped to 3rd level in one fight, the henchmen both made it to 2nd level, and Gwyneth, Ilda, and Devin each made it to 4th level!

Dagri continued with amazing rolls, and rolled up maximum HP for both levels!

Everyone had fun, the new players enjoyed themselves immensely, and we’re all looking forward to the next game session – though MS (Devin) and MR (Fonkin & Wren) are going to miss. MS flies back in from Minsk the day before and will be dead-on-arrival, while MR has a prior engagement he can’t get out of.



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Waiting for 5e Content…

I really want the new Princes of the Apocalypse hardcover – not because I particularly care about running the adventure, but because I really want Clerical Domains and Arcane Traditions for the four elements. It’s kind of hard to run certain aspects of my game without them. Can’t really have much to do with the En Khoda Theos Kirk – the worship of the Great Elemental Dragons – for example. The Gensai (mechanically) have also had an important place in my game world, but more as “Dragon-marked” individuals rather than elemental equivalents to Tieflings and Aasimar.

Speaking of Dragonmarked, it was nice to see the Eberron piece for the February edition of Unearthed Arcana. I don’t really care about Dragonmarks, but Warforged and Changelings ended up in my gameworld after some significant “backstory” alteration.

The Warforged are the remnants of the Great Fleet of the Iron Court that fled Avalon and the Mortal Realms at the end of the Mad God’s War. Nobody is quite sure how they were “made” – as in are they essentially creatures that are the end result of having their entire bodies slowly replaced by magitech? Or are the souls “downloaded” into new, magitech bodies? Or are they truly a new form of life that the Iron Court has figured out how to create?

Changelings would be an analog to my “Lilim” from the Shadowlands (and actually long pre-dated Eberron, but it’s an easy touchstone for gamers to analogize to). Gender-shifting, shapeshifting, charismatic and seductive, the Lilim are said to be the most favored of the children of Lilith – though in the Mortal Realms that are called succubi and incubi depending upon their presenting gender. Favored as spies, tantrics, and entertainers the Lilim also make excellent thieves, assassins, and monks.

I expect I’ll get around to writing them up the same as I’ve done with the other races. I still want to do Half-Ogres and Half-Trolls, so now I’ll have to decide which come next!

Now, if they would just do something with Psionics… That is probably the one bit of “gaming mechanics” that I really want an official set of rules around because the potential to build something utterly incompatible is pretty high and I’d like to avoid that.

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The Society of Light – Part 6

Part 1     Part 2     Part 3     Part 4     Part 5

The rules for playing a Lightbringer of the Church of the Lords of Light are essentially the same but have some significant differences from the rules in the Player’s Handbook for playing a Cleric. In general, Lightbringers of the Church of the Lords of Life are expected to take the Light cantrip (Lightbringers who take the Light Domain get it as an extra Cantrip). All Clerics of the Church of the Lords of Light have proficiency in Longknife and Shortsword. Their training in Armor is dependent upon their type of Order, not on their specific Domain or the standard Cleric rules.

Minor Orders

Non-Cleric’s may choose to seek and hold Minor Orders, represented by the Magic Initiate Feat or the Ritual Caster Feat.

Orders Anchorite

Clerics who belong to these Orders do not have any additional training in either armor or weapons – instead they have Holy Aura that provides a bonus their Armor Class equal to their Wisdom Bonus plus their Proficiency Bonus. They may choose either the Light or the Knowledge Domain.

Orders Evangelion

Clerics who belong to these Orders are trained in the use of Light Armor and both Basic and Simple Weapons. They possess a Holy Aura that grants them a bonus to Armor Class equal to their Wisdom Bonus. They must choose the Light Domain.

Orders Martial

Clerics who belong to Orders Martial have training in Light, Medium, and Heavy Armor as well as with Simple and Martial Weapons. These may choose either the Light or War Domain. There are many Paladins and some Rangers who serve in the Orders Martial as well. Paladins are found throughout the Orders, while Rangers are found in limited number of places.

There are also two “Healing Orders” (that of Sc. Estor and Sc. Brigid) which use the Life Domain. They are treated as Orders Anchorite, they have the Healer Feat rather than skill in the use of Heavy Armor. Furthermore, when looking at the wider Society of Light, the rules may be more similar to the ones in the Player’s Handbook than those found here. Rumors persist of small, dedicated Orders than have very specific Domains that they use that fall outside the standard. Some of these verge on the heretical, others are simply obscure or highly select. An example would be a minor Order devoted to Lord Sc. Uriel that uses the Death Domain.

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Session #8 – Detour to Diamond Lake

So yesterday was the 8th session of the 5e D&D game – and it’s now starting to branch out into the “larger world” outside of Phandalin. After the small amount of recovery they needed from attack of the forest drake Venomfang outside of the ruins of Thundertree, the party decided that they needed to resupply and perhaps hire some mercenaries for the assault on Cragmaw Castle. Short of returning to the City this means that the nearby town of Diamond Lake was the optimal spot for this sort of thing.

So off the party went, taking the old royal road (now long without repair or upkeep since the fall of Thundertree) to Diamond Lake – a large mining town four days travel east that was profiting quite handily from the Tresendar’s mismanagement of their affairs. The travel was marked by the party stumbling over the lair of a Owlbear, which they dispatched after a short but particularly bloody battle that nearly saw the end of Fonkin until Devin dispatched the beast with a rapier thrust to the eye. The party was also attacked late one night by a small group of hobgoblins, nearly seeing the end of Gwyneth and Rhys both at the ends of their spears.

After a harder journey than they expected, the party arrived in Diamond Lake – a “hive of scum and villainy” if there was ever was one. After some discussion, the party ended up staying a week, while they recovered and decided what to do. While Devin continues to be focused on cleaning his families lands of bandits and goblins, the state of Thundertree with it’s undead and corrupted plants was quite a shock. Reluctantly he agreed to put off the attempt to cleanse the ruins.

After discussing the pricing, duties, and expectations of mercenaries there was the decision not to hire any as they likely couldn’t afford the sorts of mercenaries that they really wanted. Gwyneth and Fonkin both decided to look for henchmen rather than the party looking to hire mercenaries – or rather, as that was the metagame, they created secondary characters to use as henchmen and instead their characters were sought out for a couple of excellent reasons. Gwyneth was found, by an as yet unnamed High Elf Paladin, and Fonkin stumbled across a down-on-their luck and similarly unnamed cousin with skills as a Rogue. The two of them, as well as Ilda, stayed at the remarkably comfortable and agreeable Coachman’s Inn – Ilda arranging (as usual) to provide entertainment in exchange for a break on her stay (and keeping an ear to the ground for rumors and information).

Devin made a point of calling upon and staying with the Mayor, Lanod Neff, for the week and discovered just how venal and corrupt the man was and the true price of his family’s choices. Meanwhile Rhys was utterly unable to resist staying at the Emporium for the full week – and yet somehow managing to make as much money gambling as he spent on wine, women, and song. Between the two of them they were able to see the best and worst of Diamond Lake, which were found in the same place more often than not.

Lastly, Fonkin and Rhys both made enough experience from the session to barely push themselves over the edge to 4th level. While this “merely” granted Fonkin a stat advancement, it was meant that Rhys had finally reached 3rd level as fighter and took the Eldritch Knight archtype.

That’s all for now!


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Flavor Text

And Jeff has a great article on women, fashion, and the City State of the World Emperor

As crazy as it is, this is the sort of thing that great campaigns are made of. Weird, bizarre little bits of flavor text – often generated via the craziest of methods.

Come up with greetings, farewells , curses, and aphorisms that you can use to pepper your speech while in character – slang is also helpful for this.

Know, for instance that while being a prostitute (let alone a courtesan) is a perfectly respectable profession that being an actor is considered utterly debased because not only will they engage in sex acts for pay as a performance for crowds of people, they are known to engage in all sorts of bestiality and other perversion as part of tier performances.

Also know that “avach” is slang for someone who engages in bestiality (and major insult) while a “shevach” is someone who sleeps with demons (instant grounds for a duel).

Know that a “royal snare” is slang for a hanging, that the “Kistathian Dance” means impaling ala Vlad Tepes, and that “Fallen, Broken, and Bound” is the ultimate Church of the Lords of Light punishment (think of an upside down blood eagle).

Know that the “Mad God’s Crown” refers to someone who is power hungry or mad with power, while “wearing the Shadow King’s silks” means someone who is willing to sleep with anyone or anything to get what they want, and an “unsheathed sword” is someone devoted to art of combat itself rather than having allegiance to any particular person or organization.

Know that Wanderblades are solitary, generally highly skilled mercenaries, that Greyskirts are highly respected temple prostitutes, Grey Traders are fences and information brokers, that Blackblades are assassins.

Build up your world, make it living!



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Session #7 – The Ruins of Thundertree -SPOILERS

After their day and night of rest (which saw no additional encounters) the party continued down the old road to the ruins of Thundertree. The next two days of travel went almost completely without incident – but the incident that did occur was troubling to the party…

On the last day of travel, Devin (of all people!) was able to catch a glimpse of some figures watching them from afar. As the party milled about trying to decide what to do, and then sending Clint (Fonkin’s “assistant”) to scout over in that direction, they were flanked and then ambush from both sides by a small group of six Khazan (Half-Goblin) Redcaps.

A bit of explanation (again – maybe I should just write Goblins up and link?). In my game world I generally have “just” Goblins when it comes to that type of humanoid race. That said, I have Goblin Boggarts (small, immature Goblins – based on Goblins), Hobgoblins (larger, more mature and experienced Goblins – based on Orcs), Black Goblins (very large, sterile mules used as shock troops – some of which survive long enough to be consider Hobgoblins as well – based on Bugbears), and then there are the Redcaps (based on roughly Hobgoblins) who are the elite hunters and warriors.

Yes, ok, there are a some other humanoid races as well – but not in the same way that the plethora of evil humanoids dominates the canon D&D landscape.

In any case, the initial ambush went very well for the Redcaps – they hit everyone with arrows, dropping the Gwyneth (with two arrows in her). Unfortunately for them the party rallied quite quickly – Fonkin Slept the entire group on one side, and Ilda used Shatter on the other, and they were quickly dealt with by Rhys charging in with throwing daggers and shortswords. The use of a Healing Word by Ilda on Gwyneth quickly revived her, and searching the bodies revealed a “bounty” for Gwyneth marked by the drawing of a black spider. They also discovered that Redcaps have a fair amount of money on them, and even some magic (for all the good that it did them) – a Ring of Mind Shielding, a Ring of Jumping, and a D’lanni Stone of Misty Step. But the presence of a group of Khazan Redcaps, plus the bounty for Gwyneth, left the group with a number of misgivings. After a short rest, discussion, and use of their Healing Kits, the party then continued on to Thundertree looking for the druid that was supposed to help them find either Cragmaw Castle, Wave Echo Cave, or both.

Finally arriving in Thundertree as the shadows grew long, the party was first put off a bit by the sign warning of “plant monsters AND zombies” but decided to hole up in the high ground with the ruined tower and attached cottage….

…but barely made it into town, before the complete silence and lack of animal sounds freaked them out so badly that they decided to camp outside of town instead. Retreating they set up camp, decided on watches, and settled in for the night.

Only to have, a couple of hours into the first watch, two zombies wander into the camp and attack Devin (who was on watch with Clint). While the party roused relatively quickly after Devin yelled for everyone that they were under attack by zombies, the zombies proved relatively hard to put down – requiring a critical hit in one case, and a blown save in the other.

I have to say that I was quite happy with the new “Undead Fortitude” feature, very cool flavor that captures zombies pretty well.

As the party huddled up afterwards, making sure everyone was ok, and taking care of the bit of healing that was needed again, they were interrupted by a deeply sibilant  voice from the darkness inquiring as to their business in “my lands” (Devin thought, and then thought better of challenging that assertion), and if they were there to “pay tribute like the others” – quickly scanning the darkness reveals a large serpentine form, sixty or so feet from the camp.

Note: Forest Drakes in my game world can’t fly.

Ilda that Bard quickly engaged the creature in a dialogue (who was hoping to get the party to “deal with” the druid in some way, or at very least get close enough to use it’s breath weapon), looking for the opportunity to make a deal for their lives (and possibly the opportunity to return later for revenge) – all of which was cut short when Gwyneth unleashed the Fireball from her recently acquired D’Lanni Stone, having decided that she was wasn’t handing over all of her possessions to a Forest Drake, and the terms being discussed were untenable in any case and not likely to get better. Venomfang, the drake, failed it’s save and took the full brunt of an excellent damage roll – and then combat was engaged.

Evidently, the Fireball had shaken the drake badly. It rolled a horrible initiative (going last), and also missed Rhys who dived into the shadows and successfully stealthed into position for throwing daggers. Hitting with both (which also meant Backstab damage), the drake was stung badly, and while missed by the crossbow bolt from Devin, and unaffected by the Sleep spell from Fonkin, was further hurt by Scorching Bolts from Gwyneth, Clint shooting with his tiny longbow, and a Shatter spell from Ilda. It charged into the party, intending to make one pass as it ran away due to it’s wounds.

Unfortunately, it missed Devin, and while it hit Fonkin with a claw, it’s bite at Gwyneth was neatly turned aside by a Shield spell. The second round started with the party unloading on it again to the best of their abilities, striking true for the most part and bringing it nigh unto death, and with Ilda succeeding with a Dissonant Whispers that caused it to immediately flee in fear (which was lucky because it was certain to use it’s breath weapon on it’s next attack) – and then Gwyneth slew it with a barrage of pushed Magic Missiles.

There you go, toughest monster in the module, slain in two rounds (plus an initiating attack) by five third level adventurers who used nothing that wasn’t part of the module.

In any case, the druid they were looking for, Reidoth, showed up rather quickly – drawn by the sound and fury of the battle as Venomfang had been drawn by the noise of the battle with the zombies. Helping them that night, and then helping them recover the drake’s hoard – Reidoth agreed to both tell them how to find Cragmaw Castle as well as guide them to Wave Echo Cave when the time came.

And that is where we called it!

Some more observations:

  • As with everything else, I am sure to tweak undead (especially the lesser undead) at least a little bit. But I really like the flavor that Undead Fortitude gives them. It’s a very pleasant “OMG it won’t go down!” flavor that had the players had.
  • I suppose that it is not fair, but OMG – why, why, why are canon D&D dragons always so underpowered?
  • Bards rock! I may think of my 1E  bards fondly, but these bards kick some serious ass.
  • What is going to happen when the party (especially Gwyneth the Sorceress) hit’s 5th level? Third level spells are pretty spectacular when it comes to damage production.
  • Ho-hum, another underwhelming treasure hoard. BORING!
  • While I’ve started tracking Renown, I’m not quite sure what to do about organizations. I’ll figure something out, but it is about time to start handing out those “entry level positions” – sounds like the political game starts early in 5E.
  • Also giving Sanity and Honor a whirl – no use for Sanity yet, but the scores for Honor (equal to Charisma) we all agree are off. Have to figure something out.



Categories: Campaign, Game Play | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

About those Points of Darkness

So, three years ago I wrote about Points of Light and Points of Darkness as campaign styles. In running Lost Mine of Phandelver I’ve realized just how present I find the issue in the Starter Set as written (and, by assumption, within the 5E Forgotten Realms setting).

Many people have made the observation of how LMoP is set up like a Western – frontier mining town, bullying bandits, lost treasure mines, hostile natives, people to rescue from said hostile natives, etc. But there are problems in translating a “wild west” setting to both a somewhat generic fantasy Europe as well as the Forgotten Realms.

For one, just as simple size comparison, think about “Ye Merry Old England” and the time and trouble it took to travel around, as well as the concept of distance in that setting. Now understand that England is about the size of Illinois. On a standard hexmap sheet with each hex set at 30 miles (ala the old Greyhawk scale), it covers less than a quarter of a page.

The issues of scale between Europe and the societies that developed there and America simply cannot be understated. To this day I have had friends come visit from Europe who simply don’t get the sheer size and scope of the United States/North America until they get here. They fly into NYC and then talk about catching a train out to Chicago while they are in the States to have dinner (like you reasonably could, and do, in Great Britain)  and having to explain to them that that would be like taking the train to Berlin for dinner (from London). That the driving distance from New York to Chicago is roughly the longest distance between two points in the whole of the United Kingdom…

But I digress.

In LMOP I am supposed to believe that Thundertree is a day’s journey from Neverwinter (vying with Waterdeep for the status of the “New York” of the Forgotten Realms), maybe two if we want to be a stickler on terrain difficulty, and is still in the shape that it is. Similarly, that Phandalin, clearly three days from Neverwinter but is a hardscabble frontier town, and that this wonderful Forge of Spells was utterly and completely lost after the goblins trashed the countryside.

This makes no sense.

Just to support the population of Neverwinter (be it 20,000 or 5,000 inhabitants) the whole area would have to be cultivated – certainly based on the setting map provided. It’s the only non-forested areas around. A decent rule of thumb for modern agriculture in the United States is to assume 1 acre of land can feed one person for a year. There are 640 acres per square mile, so figure… lets say 8 square miles if it’s 5000 people in Neverwinter or 32 square miles of solid crops if it is 20,000 inhabitants.

Except of course that this doesn’t cover the food needed for all the people growing the food itself (same, 1 acre per person), nor does it cover space needed for grazing livestock (a very complicated question but, again, modern systems could safely call it 4 acres per cow, or 6ish sheep), nor does it cover the amount of land needed for proper crop rotation (either double it or increase it by a third), or…

About now is where I plug Pendragon for having the absolutely best domain level game out there in my opinion. Detailed where it is fun, abstracted where you need it to be. In that system (which is essentially supported in spirit if not the exact numbers by all my other research on this over the years) every town (or city) will have three, yes three, people living in small villages and hamlets around it for every one person living in that town (and manor). It’s also worth noting that a “small town” is between 120-360 people in size. A large town taps out at 1440 people, after which you are talking about small cities (which are no larger than 2400 people at most) and in a days travel you’d probably pass through a handful of these towns, plus their associated villages – and all of the knights and men-at-arms protecting them!

For another take on this, with equally as “that’s not what the Forgotten Realms looks like” numbers there is Medieval Demographics Made Easy by S. John Ross as well (and free!). In either case, there are still large amounts of “wasted space” simply because, well, that is what population density looked like.

The problem with making this a “Points of Light” setting is that the “wasted land” is “wasted” for a reason – it simply won’t support more people (that means goblins too!). Yes, it dangerous because of wolves and bears (and some level of fantasy analogues), even the odd bandit gang (or humanoid band) – but it’s mostly dangerous because of the lack of food, medical care if injured, and foul weather. Not to mention the risk of simply getting lost -it’s not romantic, or particularly heroic, but it has a fair sight  more verisimilitude.

I am kind of lost in my rant. I guess that I’m saying that if you want “Points of Light” then you really have to question your base assumptions on how urban populations are supported. Similarly, the “Sea of Darkness” isn’t there because of hordes of monsters it’s because it pretty much won’t support a population. Alternately, if it can for some reason support all those monsters, then civilization needs to be capable of protecting itself (certainly not the case in Phandalin).

Oh well, it’s late and I should get to bed.



Categories: Campaign Development, Game Design | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Run you clever boys…

So, via Trollsmyth I made my way to Strange Magic where I am once again convinced that something went seriously, seriously wrong with 3.0+ D&D, including the current 5E with it’s clearly misbegotten CR tables and encounter construction rules…

So, as might be imagined, yes – I used those tables (and might be again for that matter) and nobody complained. I never found there to be a problem with the characters know that there were “things out there” that were more powerful than they were. I should really post an old encounter table or two, simply to explain my style of DMing.

They found out by role-playing – looking for the well-worn sword hilt, or the stance that betrayed an experienced warrior, or a mage with a powerful aura, or the beggar with a couple too-many daggers on their person. Of course I have a game world where “politeness matters” and being seen or known as a dishonorable sort has significant social ramifications.

The game-play benefit of this is actually somewhat paradoxical, as is the whole of the 1E style of encounters. When encounters are built on a budget, it places the DM and the players in an actively adversarial stance towards each other. The DM is specifically matching things to combat the players at whatever level of deadliness that they have chosen. The players know this, and all negative results are either “bad rolls” or “the DM’s fault” because “they made the encounter too hard.” Plus there is the conscious or unconscious expectation that all encounters are “beatable” because they are all constructed using a scale that makes this implicit.

In a random encounter world, the players know that what they meet is a matter of luck. They also know that things “in the wild” are also likely to be in the same boat. In the Gygaxian Naturalism of 1E when you roll “goblins” you don’t meet a goblin, you meet large number of them – because they might be running into a dragon as well and would like to be prepared!

All in all, this also demanded DM’s and players that thrived on more than a diet of pabulum. You could simply have the PC’s encounter a dragon out in the wilderness (I’ve certainly done it), or you could have them run across signs of dragon, or have the dragon merely fly over head and give them the chance to hide. In the city, have the thieves flashing gang sign back and forth, or the mages noting the sigils on the auras of other spellcasters, the fighters can be aware of the local mercenary companies and their devices, or the names of the local duelists and bravos.

Again, this is dependent upon both the DM and the players being willing to role-play. The DM has to do something other than plop opponents down in front of the characters to kill, and the players have to be willing to do something other than killing everything that they interact with. It means that DM’s need to run NPC’s and monsters like something other than Daleks, and the players will have to make like the Doctor and learn how to “run like clever boys” and not simply stand and fight everything to the death because that death could easily be theirs!

I am very glad to see that 5E wants people to do this – but they are going to have a devil of a time weaning people off the CR nonsense that has invaded the game.




Categories: Campaign Development, Game Design | Tags: , , , , , | 4 Comments

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