Saturday, 27 February 2010

inns & taverns - the smoking bottle

The Smoking Bottle is a halfling tavern tucked into the side of a hill, signposted by a large clay lamp in the shape of a bottle supported by a brass frame.  The fire in the top of the bottle always burns, ensuring the lost and intoxicated can find respite.  Near the sign is a fenced off garden with three halfling sized arches festooned with rosemary, raspberries and white roses, at the end of which is a tall porch with some stone steps leading up to a pea green wooden door.  At the porch is a spry halfling gent of advanced years smoking a thin pipe and petting a dog larger than he is.  He usually has a mug of ale nearby.  He will ask if you are here for food, drink or smoke.  Depending on your answer and how you comport yourself, he will open the door for you.  This is a former sheriff and his loyal riding dog who know how to fight as a team if need be.

The Smoking Bottle is a family inn, staffed by fourteen halflings related to the grandfather on the door over many years. The familial resemblance is obvious and they work hard to make their guests welcome.  Inside are six circular chambers with arched ceilings that intersect to form a hexagonal shape, capacious and yet cosy.  A thick pale yellow moss covers the floor, springy underfoot it subsists on scraps of food, airborne moisture and mud tracked in by guests. It's stucco walls are scrupulously clean, decorated with painted tiles of landmarks and cameos of famous heroes in orange and white clay.  Mirrors carefully set into the ceiling reflect light and hide air holes.  The smell of cooking food and pipeweed fills the air and given the Bottle's popularity this will usually mean there's anything up to twenty-five halflings in here at any time, eating drinking and smoking - a bucolic vision of hospitality.

The centrepiece of the Smoking Bottle is an iron hearth with a large bottle-shaped oven.  A masterpiece of dwarven engineering, the hearth efficiently cooks using fragrant wood and charcoal and is tended with a firm but fair hand by three halfling matrons.  The southern wall of the Smoking Bottle is a crescent shaped bar with bottles stacked meticulously and no less than three barrels of brown ale set in place. Staff and customers move between the tables, hearth and bar according to need.  A number of shelves holding three jars are placed within easy halfling reach behind each long table.  Each jar contain pipeweed blends of varied strength for customer enjoyment and a wooden box for coin collection.  The pipeweed is complimentary if you'll eat the food - hickory-flavoured pork, roasted apples and vegetables, sweet pancakes and a pot pie of ham, rabbit, potatoes and herbs in a thick ale gravy.

The drink here is good, the brown ale nutty and refreshing without being too strong.  Yet the bottles show a keen appreciation of drink; amber barleywine, cordials of rosehip and lovage, raspberry cyser, a tart yet flavourful rosehip and raspberry aperitif wine and an unassuming brown jug that holds a herbal vodka served only to dwarves, gnomes and halflings as they have the constitution to deal with it - it's potent vodka and has a distinct floral scent.  Anyone else will become immediately drunk and risks temporarily losing their sight until they sober up.  A second measure makes speech erratic (20% chance of failure to communicate or gods forfend, cast a spell).  The third plunges them into unconsciousness for 1d6+4 hours.  The hangover is almost as bad and lasts twice as long.  Prices are about 15% higher than your typical establishment but the quality here forgives even this offence.

Behind the southern wall is a stair leading down to an expansive cellar that is very well stocked with beer and numerous bottles and barrels of the drinks found here.  Of particular note is something resembling an accident in an alchemist's lab - this is in fact a still for the herbal vodka which is only used when the year ends to make three jugs; this will usually last the entire year but supplies are available to make twice that if need be.

Thursday, 25 February 2010

darksea war: deep treason

In every war there are traitors.  Among races as cerebral and evil as the aboleth and illithid, treachery is instinctual and for some, betrayal of species is an expedient survival tactic. Though the rewards often include a painful death, those who pull it off have gained no small measure of infamy in the Underdark though whether life at any cost is worth it remains to be seen...

The aboleth view death as a failure, some succeed at any price.  Usligniq the Traitor surrendered  in return for it's life after the deaths of it's servitors and allies.  Now the overseer feasts on the remains of victims, treated like a living library by the illithids, confined to a brine tank dark with slime and attended by servitors. There have been numerous attempts to destroy it by poison and assassination. Yet Usligniq survives under the watchful eye of the illithid and dispenses secrets to them in return for a continued existence and the chance to enter reveries without the rivalry of it's fellow aboleth.  Usligniq is accompanied by an illithid mastermind and a clutch of servitors pandering to it's perverse whims, only four servitors are permitted by the illithid.

In a quest for power and understanding, some illithids mutate themselves with Far Realm energies. Khavqa was a curious mind flayer that learned healing then wizardry as the other illithids mocked it as an eccentric mutant obsessed with repairing thralls.  Yet over time Khavqa chose seclusion from it's fellows and eventually ate the brain of a dying aboleth slime mage.  The resulting insights allowed it to learn certain secrets for the small price of insanity and following certain rituals and practices is now something more and less than a mind flayer.  It justified it's practices by the maxim 'know your enemy'.

Now Khavqa hides inside concealing robes for it's eyes are dark and fishlike, it's arms now long raking tentacles capable of near-human dexterity, it's powerful legs and tail let it swim swiftly and naturally.  It's mind is erratic, yet in battle it's mutations, mental and magical powers make up for tactical deficiencies brought on by madness.  Yet more disturbing is the small army of mutant thralls Khavqa has, devoted to their master and showing signs of experimentation to adapt to the aboleth environment.  Khavqa plans on taking an abandoned lake-city and the aboleth have made overtures to the evolving creature that appear to be being reciprocated.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

avahana and the saltbones

The Saltbones was once fertile land surrounding a lake but fearsome battle magics shrivelled the land into a pale wasteland with nothing but salt and dead.  The sudden deaths of the hosts on the field meant a number of unquiet dead.  Those necromancers who need not worry about things like water or food can find a host of minions, from salt-crusted skeletons to rime wights. Those bothered by such gain a racking bloody cough until they know how to survive in such a place and the undead rarely allow rest.  Those dying in the Saltbones find  death is not the end that philosophers claim.

The nearest community is Avahana, a town of just over a thousand souls.  The buildings are red sandstone houses built around sheltered courtyards.  Their salt-crusted foundations blend with the salty topsoil, making them seem ghostly from a distance. The houses are well-built, almost fortified against attackers and the central courtyards house lush gardens planted in raised wooden beds above the salty soil.  The locals are reserved yet compassionate, their faith in the gods of life and the sun tried and tested by the Saltbones. It is a grave offence to abandon someone or fail to make sure they are safe.  The community is strong enough that if one house suffers misfortune, neighbours lend whatever aid they can.  Beds of cactus are planted around the town to provide defensive brakes against the undead.

Avahana is shaped like a figure eight, the eastern circle closest to the Saltbones has a temple at the centre, the temple is well-appointed yet works hard to protect the community.  Outsiders wishing to buy holy materials pay a premium rate (25% above the normal) and must prove themselves worthy customers.  The notable exception is if healing is required after a battle with undead from the Saltbones.  This is provided for half of the usual price and if the petitioner is a local or helps protect a local, payment is usually waived. Where the two circles intersect is the wealthiest part of town where the most valued houses are.  There is no tavern, visitors to Avahana are invited into a house by the locals and treated as family.  A salt bond operates, once the guest has tasted salt, neither they or the host may harm the other.

The west has a bustling marketplace where ingots of pure salt are traded with merchants in return for wares that cannot be purchased there. At the heart of the marketplace is a fortified smithy owned by a taciturn smith said to use magic in his work.  His ability to craft dull grey steel that does not rust and access to alchemical goods and useful minor items are held in awe.  As a result, his services are not cheap yet his forge is often active late into the night and his apprentices are wealthy in their own right.  Both centres work together to keep the status quo intact, for Avahana grows, launching forays into the Saltbones raised to purge the undead and to scout possible locations to mine salt from the former lake bed.  There salt of exceptional purity is found.  This salt is hard-won, the presence of digging traces attract undead and on the salt flats there are few places to hide.

Saturday, 20 February 2010

video jukebox campaign seeding

Over at Rocks Fall, Everyone Dies a cunning plan is afoot to take five individual music videos from YouTube, create a setting seed from each then stick all of them together into a campaign. 

DragonForce - Operation Ground and Pound.
Setting Seed: The wasteland is scoured by flying vessels raining down lightning on the land; setting fire to buildings and destroying anything that looks like it would blow up.  Amid the chaos of the wasteland bards compete against each other at the behest of strangely-familiar entities to earn ethereal praises.

Nightwish - Nemo

Setting Seed: On the edge of a subarctic fishing town, a lone woman appears, held up like a marionette by a murder of crows tethered to each wrist.  Those who approach see her death's head eyes and hear a voice cold enough to freeze hearts and a shadow that resembles a holy symbol.  She is an amnesiac apostate who has become undead, yet who tries to seek her lost identity and be laid to rest.

Nine Inch Nails - The Perfect Drug
Setting Seed: In an opulent manse, a dabbler in strange sciences succumbs to madness from taking an elixir that lets him see his dead son.  With vultures and strangely-garbed companions, he stalks the party with daggers made of icicles through frozen rooms, chases them through a garden maze to a rooftop battle finale. 

Rammstein - Sonne

Setting Seed: A demihuman mining community is dominated by a beautiful yet terrible enchantress with a drug habit.  The demihumans adore her and will resist attempts to oust her despite her ways.  Will the party  overthrow her tyranny despite their adoration of her?

Tenpole Tudor - Swords of A Thousand Men

Setting Seed: The party attend a noble court where a band of knights boast of their exploits and of the coming battle against an enemy.  They fully intend for the party to be allies on the battlefield - will the party join in the battle or will they decide which side they're fighting for?

All together now...
The party are invited to court and given the choice to fight in a glorious battle or risk accusations of cowardice from the court.  They're sent to investigate the mystery of a women held up like a puppet by a murder of crows, discovering she is undead they can either engage in combat or lay her to rest.  A reclusive sage has the answers they need but he is driven mad by the green drug that lets him see his dead son.  In his house the party learn of a dire threat to an allied realm where strange flying vessels destroy the land and that the vessels are coming towards their homeland.  News of his death must be brought to his sister, the owner of a mine run by demihumans who in her grief becomes a tyrannical addict who must be saved or overthrown. The only way to defeat them is to unite a band of bardic rivals, storm one of the vessels using an artifact found in the sage's house that flickers with lightning and banish the strange vessels to another world.

Music is a wonderful spur and the videos help establish a look and feel. What's on your playlist and what campaign can you come up with?

Thursday, 18 February 2010

the mouse cage

Not all wizards live ostentatious lives.  Some prefer study and contemplation, undisturbed by sword-swingers, thieves and temples.  Indifferent to temporal power or wealth, they value mystical lore over gold.  The Mouse Cage is such an order, named by a jester mocking their perceived cowardice and convict status.  The name has stuck and the wizards acknowledge it, turning mockery into distinction.  Founded in a city-state's prison, a disillusioned wizardess imprisoned for not serving her liege taught her arts to inmates tired of games of state.  In time, she helped overthrow the tyrant from her cell.  When freed, she claimed the prison as reward, turning it into a haven for wizards, keepers of lore and scribes.  It has declined every political overture and patron since it's inception. Though funding is has been erratic, the Mouse Cage retains a neutral stance.

Over time, the Mouse Cage sent members further afield, forming chapters in other city-states and even other nations.  The Mouse Cage stratified over time to form three ranks. The familials are scribes, scholars and negotiators who provide services to paying clients and working for the higher ranks. They are managed by the earthcoats who co-ordinate and represent familials from the local chapter house as well as selling potions and minor magic items for funds. They are co-ordinated by whitecoats, senior members who test the aspirants in wizardry and ritual and who in time may found their own chapter house. These learned individuals will use magic to steer the chapter house into maintaining it's neutrality. A number of whitecoats still bear the scars of imprisonment or persecution; those hunted by political players find the Mouse Cage an unexpected refuge and discreet source of information.

Requisites: To be accepted into the Mouse Cage, an aspirant needs Arcana, Diplomacy and Insight skills.  They must persuade an existing member of earthcoat rank to sponsor them, renounce loyalty to all lieges and titles, endure a night-long vigil in chains and show skill in wizardry and ritual before an member of whitecoat rank of the Mouse Cage.  Once this is done, each rank has it's own fee and attendance requirements. Failure to do so means the member loses their rank and benefits until they resume both attendance and payments.

Familial (the unseen servant)
The familial pays annually 10gp in coin or 30gp in goods (at resale value) useful to the Mouse Cage and must attend the local chapter house for two weeks a year. In return, they gain a +2 bonus to Diplomacy checks due to correspondence and training in negotiation with wizards and authority figures.  They may also learn these rituals: comprehend languages, detect secret doors, endure elements, make whole, secret page and silence but pay their full purchase cost. Their duties include acting as paid scribes, scholars and negotiators for wizards and private individuals as well as providing favours .

Earthcoat (the liveried servant)
The would-be earthcoat must renew their repudiation of allegiances, endure a three-night vigil in chains, show improved skill in wizardry and mastery of the familial rituals above before a whitecoat-ranked member and provide a ritual book containing all the familial rituals to them. On acceptance, they are given a grey-brown coat with stone buttons inscribed with mystic runes. This coat gives a +1 enhancement bonus to AC as long as the wearer refuses all allegiances and maintains their obligations. An earthcoat pays annually 100gp in coin or 300gp in goods (at resale value) useful to the Mouse Cage and must attend the local chapter house for one month without leaving every year.  They also gain a +2 bonus to Insight checks from training in negotiation between familials and their customers as well as spending time working on projects for the whitecoats.  They may also learn these rituals at full purchase cost: brew potion, enchant magic item, knock and sending.

Whitecoat (first among equals)
The would-be whitecoat must renew their repudiation of allegiances, endure a week-long vigil in chains, show mastery of the earthcoat rituals before three whitecoat-ranked members and provide a ritual book containing all the earthcoat rituals to them. On acceptance, their coat leaches colour and the buttons become white marble.  The coat now provides a +2 enhancement bonus to AC as long as the wearer refuses all allegiances and maintains their obligations.  A whitecoat pays annually 1000gp in coin or 3000gp in goods (at resale value) and must attend their local chapter house for three months without leaving every year or found their own. Their influence on a chapter house is significant, a whitecoat will typically be able to command the loyal services of familials and earthcoats alike.  They may learn these rituals at full purchase cost: detect object, linked portal, passwall and wizard's sight.

(inspired by

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

theme in the details and triangulation lists

"In war, victory
In peace, vigilance
In death, sacrifice"
     -- Grey Warden motto, Dragon Age: Origins.
A recent RoleplayingTips article about the virtues of Dragon Age as example of good game story technique made a salient point about theme.  Theme lives in the details.  Reality is not blatant, heavy-handed messages are contrived. Neither is entertaining or fun.  So how to do this well?  There is a risk of going overboard.  Character diamonds, location design, story arcs and beats as well as theme - plenty to keep track of.  Getting there requires work, particularly if your theme is complex.

Common elements of theme and story lets each reinforce the other. 

Enter the concept of triangulation lists - a bullet point list of relevant items.  Here, the list defines your theme.  To prevent information overload, keep it to three things.  Ensure characters have at least one attribute or wrinkle that will match or conflict with an item on the list.  Reveal it by action or dialogue and where it's relevant to a plot arc, let that attribute change.  These list items may modify an existing attribute (hypotaxis).  The darker side of war is a recurring theme in Dragon Age, difficult plot choices provide and remove allies and the Warden encounters orphans and grief-stricken characters.

Or an item may exist in parallel to the existing idea (parataxis) so the audience makes their own connection by fluff information   Audience agency is a virtue with interactive entertainment like RPGs and your audience will probably make connections you didn't realise were there. Sometimes it doesn't work how you've intended, even for David Gaider, author of Dragon Age: The Stolen Throne so don't worry.  Sense-checking helps avoid passive voice, echoes (repetitive mannerisms) or even worse unintended tropes.  Roll with the punches and rework the worst while remaining true to the character. The perfect is the enemy of the good here.

(thanks to Hannah at Chaotic Shiny and Vi Åker Jeep)

Saturday, 13 February 2010

inns & taverns - the glass leaves

Near a lively stream shaded by juniper and willow often frequented by gnomish shepherds, The Glass Leaves is a gnomish tavern beneath a tall maple tree decked with clay pots and red and green leaves of ornamental glass.  At the root of the tree is a short stair leading down, wide enough for two gnomes to walk abreast.   When the gnomes wish to hide, this is hidden by an illusion to become a large maple tree surrounded by nettle and brambles.  When things are safer, the area around the tree is bathed in shifting red and green light when the sun is at it's zenith.

Inside is cheery and warm, yet taller folk must stoop or regularly bump their heads.  Panels of wicker and painted mirror decorate the walls and provide numerous alcoves.  There are two main areas for patrons - the first is a taproom often crowded with gnomes eating, drinking and engaged in banter or games of skill and chance.  The second is a smoking lounge with a pit in the south wall for five musicians to play lyre, shawm, tiple and tambour.  Each table is built around a hookah with covered bowls for tobacco, molasses, mugwort or poppy straw for gnomes to eat, drink, smoke and do business.

These areas are separated by the bar.  Drinks served include a pale spruce ale, a black barleywine, golden maple liquor and a sweet genever.  He also serves a cloudy mint cordial to those who will not take alcohol or willowbark and spearmint tea to who are fatigued or showing signs of illness.  The food is exceptional, the kitchen uses a wide trench for an oven covered by stone tiles stacked so hot air flows evenly.  Typical fare includes boiled eggs, smoked mutton sausages, eel pie, gudgeon and leek stew, roast mutton with garlic and mushroom, maple drizzled pastries and spearmint cake. The house specialities are an exquisite lamprey and onion pastry and a slow-roasted lamb flavoured with herbs and truffles. 

There is a common room for up to a dozen gnome-sized guests to sleep in that is cosy yet noisy, sandwiched  between the kitchen and the bar.  Small candles containing soporific oils and herbal pillows help alleviate this, plunging guests into a deep, dreamless sleep.  Guests often wake groggy unless they've a dwarven constitution or until they've eaten something.  Those who enter trances instead of sleeping find the atmosphere cloying and not conducive to focus.  They often end up preferring to go outside and rest in the shade of the tree which if it's raining guarantees they'll get a little wet.

The landlord Gwyll has a light touch, a ready smile for anyone but dogmatic priests, blatant sadists or snakes.  A former apothecary and travelling bard, he enjoys brewing and moving between the boisterous taproom and the more cerebral smoking lounge.  Some of the herbs he tends around The Glass Leaves walk a fine line between naturally occuring and happy coincidence and he can rival a druid in his protectiveness of the land around his tavern.  His customers are shepherds, artisans, entertainers and makers of mischief and he would have it no other way, claiming he "...rather be kept on my toes than falling asleep."

Beneath the kitchen are staff quarters (a dozen gnomes plus Gwyll and his wife, the chief chef), glassblower's workshop, bakery, brewery, kiln and still.  Down here the air is warm and dry, fires vented through chimneys that filter the smoke through sand and gauze to trap sootblack and dry wood for burning.  These chimneys are disguised as rabbitholes yet no rabbit will go near them.  A faint smell of woodsmoke and occasional patch of low-lying smoky mist at night only adds to the mystery.

Thursday, 11 February 2010

57 channels

The announcement of GoogleBuzz (and it's current privacy flaw) got me thinking about how many methods of connection to other people we have.  Facebook, Twitter, GoogleWave, blogs, forums, newsgroups, journals, instant messenger, chat, SMS, even e-mail.  Add geodata (Foursquare), video telephony (Skype, GoogleChat) and you get a bewildering array of toys.

From a gaming perspective, these can provide multiple platforms to deliver games or stories on.  We can tailor our games to physical and virtual locations, overlaying them onto either so that people may discover what we have wrought. The proliferation of rules and tools now means you now have to focus on telling the story you want to tell in the way you want to tell it.

Once you beat the initial learning curve, your life is made easier.  Setting up a 4E game with MasterPlan is simplicity.  If you prefer Pathfinder, use the d20PFSRD and have at it.  Obsidian Portal gives you campaign wiki support for this and a whole lot of other games.  Heck if you can't find a local gaming group, keep in touch with RPTools, a preferred instant messenger/internet telephony client and a decent Internet connection.

Here's a thought for game designers - does your game need tools to make it easier to play and generate content for?  Even if you don't fancy the idea of being bound to a base rules set, system agnostic services exist in profusion - all it takes is someone to aggregate them so that you get an experience that engages with your audience.  Finding the right combination may take some planning yet the benefits are worth it. Be it's a design methodology, template or actual program, creating a good toolset gives you the opportunity to promote your game and get people playing it.

(with thanks to Christy Dena and Jeff Watson for getting me thinking, Chaos Grenade for the MasterPlan upgrade tip and Allen Varney for the warning about GoogleBuzz),

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

three things: pine cones

Pine Cone of Conflagration - This resinous pine cone is a weapon.  When the command word is spoken and it is hurled at a target (range increment of 10 feet) it explodes in a 3' diameter ball of fire doing 1d10+2 fire damage.  Those adjacent to the target must make Reflex saves (DC16) or take 1d4 fire damage.  The fire ignites combustible materials adjacent to the target.
Construction: Craft Wondrous Item, fire seeds.  
Market Cost:750gp.

Pine Cone of Hibernation - The owner of this pine cone finds they enjoy deep, refreshing sleep.  They regain double their level in hit points and enjoy 8 hours of relaxing sleep every night.  While asleep, the owner acts as if under a sleep spell, only roused by physical contact or injury and is immune to the nightmare spell or any magic or psionic effect attempting to disturb the mind while it sleeps. Nightmares caused by psychological trauma are equally banished.  Dreams sent by deities or similarly powerful entities are not subject to this effect.
Construction: Craft Wondrous Item, nightmare, sleep.
Market Cost: 1500gp.

Pine Cone of Neotenic Sorcery - The owner of this large pine cone gains arcane power; gaining sudden insight into using magic.  They gain the ability to cast spells as a 2nd-level sorcerer and the following spells.
0: dancing lights, daze, ghost sound, prestidigitation, resistance.
1: hypnotism, shield.
As a downside, they also grow increasingly childish.  The owner becomes easily distracted (-2 penalty on all rolls to perceive or sense something), weak-willed (-2 penalty to Will saves) and completely uninterested in activities involving their preferred gender.  Over time they grow attached to the pine cone so attempts to remove it from them are treated as if their favourite toy was being stolen and this is usually met with violence.
Construction: Craft Wondrous Item, reincarnation 
Market Cost: 10,000gp

bicentennial, man

Two hundred posts needs some kind of celebration.  I could go retrospective but it's been a learning process and there are recap posts already.  So let's see if this year's plans can survive contact with the blogosphere before reality gets it's licks in.  I understand they call this... prototyping.
  1. Publish something.  I've blogged about the tools, the theory and how certain design decisions make products what they are.  Now it's time to accept the Chatty Challenge and do something about it - seeing as inns & taverns are enjoyed most out of the original content, a fleshing out may be in order.   A fully worked up Rose Tower is likely to be the result.
  2. Attend a con.  Looking forward to Con-Quest in April.  I haven't attended a con in a very long time and think this would be a good chance to try some different things. 
  3. Demo a game somewhere.  Now on this I'm torn. Supernatural is the obvious choice for those new to RPGs.  3:16 just because it's rocking my world right now.  I might end up putting a Mutant Future bar-room brawl on here and see what people think - if it works, I'll demo it somewhere.
  4. Investigate more indie games.   I'm thinking about picking up Ribbon Drive and wondering if I can find enough Colonial Gothic to run something truly wicked.  I would go and get Mouse Guard but I have to get rid of some old stuff to make room on the shelves first...
Right, that's four things to aim for.  Let's see what happens next.

Saturday, 6 February 2010

weekend warrior: obios

Centaurs enjoy wine.

Obios however has raised this particular vice to artform and has experimented beyond that to most any form of alcohol.  He is known to, and avoided by other centaur ravagers as he's an unreasonable drunk.  Seldom seen awake during the morning, Obios has over time sunk into minor banditry, strongarm work and unpleasantness and seems to be content with where he is. 

He's quite amiable if you give him what he wants.  The problem is, faced with a drunken centaur armed with red eyes, sour breath and a body odour that combines the worst of horse and sot, most rational people shy away.  Obios senses this and is offended that he is being judged (unfairly) because he's a centaur.  This has caused more fights than a few, foes learn you don't blindside him and to watch outl.

Given his attraction to charismatic and beautiful people, he will often find himself getting into trouble with militias or guards over misunderstandings related to drink and has more than once been beguiled by a pretty face into doing things which have made him want to drink so he can forget what's happened... this tactic works for him but not for anyone else.

Thursday, 4 February 2010

ruins of shalemark

Shalemark was once a mining community nestled between two hills.  It cut from the dark clay and shale tiles of slate for roofing and writing.  Now there are no trees or hedges, only broken walls.  The hills are scarred by quarries, ruined roads and punctured by treacherous placer tunnels.  Many are flooded, any may collapse. The valley is now a bog.  Shalemark is half sunken, amid moss beds and pools strewn with pale lotus blooms.

Yet secretive gangs posing as masons visit the ruins.  The pale lotus can be made into a milky tincture, a potent euphoric that is addictive when abused.  The gangs harvest the flowers, fearful of discovery by other gangs and worse.  Some ruins are haunted by vengeful spirits of former town council members lynched by howling addicts.  Their bodies are preserved in the mire, awaiting consecrated burial.

At the centre of the ruins is a chapel dedicated to those who watched over Shalemark, the catacombs under the chapel hold grave goods.  Those who habitually rob the dead will find rich pickings but risk disease doing so.  The combination of dank, brackish water and pestilential air provide no problems for rats or other bone gnawing scavengers.

There is hidden wealth in Shalemark.  Caches were hidden by miners and tincture dealers in case of need and lie still unfound.  Caskets filled with coin or pots of tincture await discovery.  If the undead and gangs were cleared, an enterprising individual could find the remaining slate beds.  Doing so will sacrifice what remains of Shalemark to the bog.  Also these would not last more than a year, leaving only lotus blooms and swamp.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

keeping it simple

I've recently gained the raw awesome that is 3:16.  I was impressed by the ease that the mechanics simulated a war movie narrative and used character-driven events to steer action with the best flashback mechanics I've seen in any game. 

There's a grey box on page 15 applicable to any tabletop RPG - the best guide on how to play I've seen since I've started playing.  Sublime.  If you have any doubts about it - go get it.

This got me thinking about the bar to entry games have in terms of complexity.  Wizards announced the release of Red Box in September at DDXP which looks to introduce D&D for new players - glad to see there is a provision for solo gaming for those times when you might be on the road or away from the Internet (it does happen!).  Intrigued there will be additional powers, options and monsters for established players too.

At the same time, Martial Power 2 was announced - I'm now less optimistic about the logistics of running games away from home.  So that's core rules, core rules volume 2s, power books (arcane, divine, martial, primal) as of February 2010.  Ten A4 hardback books.  Difficult for a messenger bag or knapsack to carry - I haven't tried a rucksack yet - I suspect it may be the only way to roll without luggage or packing crate.

I haven't counted equipment (Adventurer's Vaults), general setting  (Manual of the Planes, Underdark), or monster books (Open Grave, Draconomicons).  Packing crate to transport, let alone use in actual play.  Even using just one specific setting and avoiding the general setting/monster books, it's a lot of shelf space to carry.  I'm sure the players won't mind.  Maybe if I got a mule...?

And there's the upcoming releases: Power books volume 2s, core rules volume 3s, another power book (and if it's popular, it's volume 2), softbacks for each race.  This of course says nothing of your need for a laptop for any DDI-related activities. You might want your notes or a module as well and I've seen plenty of games where a box or lever arch file was used for those. 

How long before some enterprising soul sells a pre-packaged D&D Bookshelf? Or someone has the bright idea of putting out the Core Rules (alone) on DVD in searchable format?  At this rate it may be the only way you can take your options with you.  Fortunately, Wizards also announced the D&D Rules Compendium.  A 300 page 9x6 reference manual to help steer us through the core rules.

With thanks to G. Dustin Snyder (@Wolfstar76) for saving me research time on Red Box.
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