Thursday, July 29, 2010

Throwing Away The Monster Manual?

Good Morning:

Have you ever wanted to throw out your Monster Manual and just start over with a whole slew of new monsters? As I write up creatures for Stellar Quest and my Madlands Campaign, I find that the thought races through my mind with greater frequency. Once I start gaming in the Madlands, this urge shall pass. However, it does spark within me the thought of "What If?"

In many ways, playing in a game with a whole new selection of monsters to encounter would probably be too much for some players. Some people just aren't comfortable with new things, and prefer the old stand-by encounters with orcs, skeletons and dragons rather than the more unusual hyrknoff, orthans and trylun. There's a familiarity and comfort that comes from using the tried and true creatures from our gaming past. Players share a common experience that helps create an underlying foundation upon which an individual encounter is built. Starting over with new monsters means that the carpet has been pulled out from under them; there are no preconceptions to draw upon. That potentially makes it more difficult for players to invest creatively into a new setting, and that could cause them to lose interest in the game before the game can develop its own inertia and move forward as a viable campaign.

However, it is entirely possible to run a game with all new monsters. For example, a few years back, I ran a planetary romance game on a world of my own creation (using Grim Tales, an excellent D20 variant system by Bad Axe Games). All of the creatures on the world of Samardan were brand new, creatures I'd created specifically for the setting. Truth be told, most of the encounters dealt with sentient races, so I avoided a lot of the "lack of foundation" issues by turning the game toward social conflict and exploration. Still, it was a lot of fun for me to watch a world unfold with new challenges and new creatures. It took me in a direction as a GM that I hadn't gone in quite a while, and the resulting game was very satisfying to me. It was hard to find players to join us, but those that did really got into the setting and the adventures we created.

If you are going to introduce an entirely new ecology for your next campaign world, with either limited or no connection to creatures from common D&D experiences, I would suggest that you build into it somewhat slowly, introducing only a few new elements with each adventure. I'd also suggest that your first adventure be rather NPC-heavy, because players already know how social interaction works with NPCs, and so it gives them a foundation upon which to build as you add these new elements. As a final suggestion, I'd mention that it helps a lot if you already have at least a small handful of creatures available when you begin to introduce this ecology so that you can add them to your world detail and such (as part of tavern names or local heraldry, that kind of thing), to allow for a greater sense of verisimilitude.

Should you undertake such a challenge? I would definitely say "Yes," if you feel up to it. I personally found the experience very rewarding. However, don't just jump in without considering the impact this will have on your game first. Hopefully this post has given you something to think about in those regards, even if you are just adding new monsters from that shiny new monster book you picked up last week to your well-established game world. Players sometimes don't handle change well, but when they do, the rewards are well worth the effort.

Hope This Helps,

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

A Replacement For The Drow...

Good Afternoon, All:

I have always disliked the drow as a villainous race, primarily because they are yet another elven race. I've always felt that a humanoid race should remain the same, despite their culture. After all, humans are still human, with capacities within the same basic parameters of one another, regardless of skin color or place of origin. I figured that I didn't need umpteen species of elf and only one variant of human to choose from. It just didn't make sense to me.

It occurred to me today that I have the perfect replacement for the drow from the Hammersong's Legacy Campaign Setting, the Kelshan. By placing the Kelshani in the underworld, you can tie in to the social conventions many American are raised with. "The Devil dwells in Hell, and Hell lies in the depths of the earth below us." That kind of imagery can be pulled on for powerful effect in a game, if I as a Referee can manage it. The devilish appearance of the Kelshani would also contribute to this underlying imagery, giving the illusion of depth by pulling on these social conventions. Plus, given their write-up, they already worship the King of Demons anyway, so you can still use a lot of the old drow adventure concepts with a minor amount of reskinning anyway.

I may have to do a little rewriting on Hammersong's Legacy to accomodate this change, because the more I think about it, the more I like it. What do you think?

With Regards,

Monday, July 26, 2010

Stellar Quest: Warp Drives...

Good Morning, All:

In the Stellar Quest game, I have decided to use warp drives for faster-than-light travel.

Warp Drive
Warp drives allow a starship to travel quickly through interstellar space by warping space around the vessel, allowing it to move faster-than-light while staying in our universe. A warp drive's rating indicates the number of parsecs the ship can cross per week of travel.

While this may seem slow compared to the television series that inspires Stellar Quest, the numbers match well for calculations based on warp speeds under the Okuda formula. Here's a chart of rough equivalencies comparing Stellar Quest and Star Trek warp speeds.

SQ WarpST Warp

In the original Star Trek television series, the Federation "speed limit" is ST Warp 5. From that, we can determine that the maximum warp drive allowed for civilian starships in the Stellar Quest default setting would be SQ Warp 1. Given that the PCs should be the ones whipping around the galaxy, restricting non-military types to Warp 1 works for me.

The Enterprise itself cruised at ST Warp 6, and could reasonably attain ST Warp 8 in emergencies (and occasionally higher, as several episodes gave testimony to). That translates to SQ Warp 2 for cruising speeds in the Stellar Quest default setting, and SQ Warp 6 for emergencies. That works well for my purposes.

My biggest problem with the formulas given on the Warp Speed FAQ is that of subspace radio. When I run the numbers, I find that it takes a little over twenty minutes per parsec for a message to travel across interstellar space. That's pretty fast, but doesn't allow for near-instantaneous communication at the level demonstrated in the original series. However, it does lend itself well to the occasional episode where the time delay for communicating with Star Fleet took hours or occasionally days. I'm still trying to decide what to do, but I'm leaning toward instantaneous communication, or possibly coming up with a formula where the time lag increase exponentially over distance.

What are your thoughts?

With Regards,

Friday, July 23, 2010

Swords & Wizardry Monsters: Three Random Critters...

Good Evening, All:

Today my mind went blank in regards to a subject for today's post, so I turned my eye towards random generators. This time, I started with a series of random monster descriptions, and created the following creatures inspired by those results. Even the names are randomly generated. Still, I hope the results prove to be useful in your campaigns. I definitely intend to use them myself.

A fierce predator on the ethereal plane, the dolugon appears as a large ghostly lion. Prides of 5d4 dolugons tend to inhabit abandoned ruins, feasting on a healthy diet of lost souls and wandering spirits. When disturbed by living creatures, however, the dolugon is quick to attack, hoping to slay the mortal shell and release the soul within, so that it may feast on a fresh meal. The claws of a dolugon are extremely sharp, and leave ice behind when they strike, inflicting an additional 1d6 hitpoints of cold damage with each successful strike. With the ability to become ethereal at will, the dulogon can pass through physical boundaries such as walls and doors, and cannot attack nor be hit except when facing ethereal opponents. When the dulogon is corporeal, it only suffers half damage from non-magical weapons.

Dolugon: AC 4 [15]; HD 8; Atk: two claws (1d8, plus 1d6 cold damage); ST: 8; SP: ethereal (cannot attack or be attacked when facing physical opponents), suffer half damage from non-magical weapons; MV: 15; CL 11; XP 1,700.

The heliodra is a fey creature resembling a winged, barkskinned humanoid root. Travelling the plains, the heliodra often attacks intruders from hiding with a volley of thorns. Having no effective melee capacity, the heliodra avoids close combat and flees if pressed. If pursued through vegetation, once every 1d4 rounds the heliodra can cause the local flora up to 80' away to wrap, twist and entwine around creatures in a 40' diameter area or those entering the designated area over the next turn, holding them fast and causing them to become immobile; those who make a successful saving throw may move at half their normal movement through the entangled area.

Heliodra: AC 7 [12]; HD 2; Atk: volley of thorns (1d4, range increment 10’); ST: 16; SP: entangle; MV: 6, fly 18; CL 5; XP 240.

Common to many temperate climates, the ostrich-like ursumoth is a stubborn beast. The ursumoth tracks its prey by scent, until it has closed in and is ready to attack. Fearless, the ursumoth will attack any creature smaller than it, bashing its foe with its bony skull before biting into its foe's flesh with its venomous beak. Those who are bitten must make a successful saving throw or suffer an additional 1d6 points of poison damage.

Ursumoth: AC 6 [13]; HD 4; Atk: head bash (1d6), bite (1d4 plus poison); ST: 13; SP: poisonous bite; MV: 12; CL 5; XP 240.


Wednesday, July 21, 2010

New Contest For Free Pathfinder Stuff...

Good Evening, All:

Here's a quick post to let you know about a new contest over at Troll In The Corner, giving away a few set of Pathfinder books and PDFs. Please go check it out! Even if you don't like to play Pathfinder as is, I understand that the Gamemaster's Guide is the best that's ever been written.

Hope This Helps,

Kolderon's Folly: Nine Notable Locations...

Good Afternoon, All:

In continuing to develop Kolderon's Folly for the Madlands Campaign, I offer the following nine sites as notable locations in and around the township. As promised, I am massaging this data to fit the setting as presented in the soon-to-be-released Hammersong's Legacy campaign setting, so please feel free to use this to supplement your own campaigns.

Altarstone of Terantha's Kiss
A circle of seven stones surrounding a large, flat central stone, this sacred site was consecrated by followers of Terantha after the central stone was struck by lightning seven times in succession. An artathi priestess, Wellspring of the Moon, presides over the site half an hour's walk from Kolderon's Folly itself.

Dotar Manor
The stone walls of the recently constructed residence for the new Lord rise from a nearby hilltop, overlooking the village of Kolderon's Folly. During times of trouble, the Lord Parth Dotar intends to protect as many of the civilians from Kolderon's Folly as he can within the walls of his stronghold. The highest tower within the grounds serves as Lord Dotar's personal aerie, where he keeps a small selection of flutrells and other flying mounts.

Faire Grounds
Lord Dotar has set aside a large meadow beyond the palisade as the site for a regional faire and tournament during the late spring and again in mid-autumn. During the remainder of the year, mercenaries and other visitors to Kolderon's Folly utilize the site for camping. While it's not as comfortable as Mama Ampora's, it's also a lot cheaper, too, which makes it appealing to a money-conscious traveller. The Lord charges a mere two copper pence a night for the privilege of camping on his lands.

Hungry Banth Tavern
A decent tavern with a good reputation, the Hungry Banth Tavern provides quality food and drink in a rustic yet refined environment. Two back rooms are available for parties requiring discretion or privacy. The Hungry Banth does not provide lodging, but the innkeep, Master Sarkian, frequently negotiates lodging with local households for a small price.

Journeyman's Herbarium
A small herbal shop owned by Sena Polandra, High Magus Kolderon's former apprentice, the Journeyman's Herbarium is known locally for its salves, ointments and tinctures. In addition to herbal medicines, Mistress Polandra sells a limited variety of minor potions and scrolls. Every Windsday evening, the Journeyman's Herbarium sponsors a warboard tournament for those interested in the game of tactics and strategy.

Mama Ampora's Guesthouse
A less formal inn and restaurant, Mama Ampora's provides room and board for the less rowdy elements. Mama Ampora's is a small place, with only ten rooms to rent, and these are frequently occupied by merchant caravan masters and the occasional adventurer. Most nobles stay with the Lord Dotar, while most travelling commoners camp on the Faire Grounds outside of town. Mama Ampora is a small, outgoing woman, who maintains peace in her house with the aid of her two adopted sons, the giantkin twins Jandoris and Galthoris.

Panian's Hall
Master Yerst Panian of the Circle of Mithril maintains a training hall for paying members of the mercenary guild, where they may maintain their warskill through training and study. In addition, officers of member mercenary bands are invited to stay at the hall itself rather than book rooms at Mama Ampora's or camp among the commoners on the Faire Grounds. Merchants in need of quality protection often check first in Panian's Hall before seeking guards elsewhere in town.

Shrine of the Emerald Flame
This shrine is devoted to the worship of the patron godling of strength and battle, Cerberos. Mighty Myung, a hyrknoff High Priest of Cerberos, tends to be a jovial soul, yet is always eager to resolve any conflict with force. Like the rest of the glaive-wielding Priests of Cerberos, Mighty Myung can be quite hot-headed when provoked.

Tower of Kolderon
Once the home and laboratory of High Magus Kolderon, this wizard's tower remained abandoned until a year ago, when Master Ritualist Haj Thoran of the Mage-Librarians of Lorak, came to Kolderon's Folly and set about reclaiming Kolderon's lore for his arcane order. Now, Master Thoran serves Lord Dotar and the community as a sage and advisor on all matters of a supernatural nature.


Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Stellar Quest: The Romanni...

Good Morning, All:

This is the final post of the antagonistic forces of the default Stellar Quest setting, the Romanni. Based on a mixture of the worst (and untrue) stereotypes of Romany gypsies of Earth and the Orion Pirates of Star Trek, the Romanni of Stellar Quest are the wandering raiders of the setting.

The Romanni

The Romanni are a blue-skinned humanoid species whose planet of origin is unknown, but which is theorized to lie somewhere in the unsettled territories to coreward of the Confederation of United Worlds. Diverse slave traders, the Romanni typically lead nomadic lives, travelling from one slave market to the next, gathering slaves from unsuspecting worlds and isolated vessels as they go. In addition to slavery, the Romanni are involved in a number of criminal activities, including the kidnapping and selling of Stellar Patrol crew members, assassinations, protection rackets, smuggling, and piracy. The largest of the Romanni clans form the backbone of the most powerful crime syndicate of the known universe, the Romanni Cartel.

Romanni are known for their distinctive blue skin, which ranges in coloration from a light turquoise to a deep midnight blue, depending on the age and dietary habits of the individual. Romanni males are typically hairless and, on average, taller and more muscular than an average Terran male. Romanni females are very animalistic in nature, known for their extreme carnal appetites and their innate skill of seduction. These females are aided by their ability to secrete powerful pheromones that engender an accelerated metabolism in the opposite sex of many species, raising adrenaline production to dangerous levels which causes aggression and, ultimately, a form of delusion. Its most significant effect is to make these males susceptible to suggestion. The pheromones' effects are cumulative; the longer exposed, the more pronounced are the results. Among females other species, the pheromones simply trigger negative reactions and headaches. The stoic, logical Eridanites are immune to the effects of Romanni pheromones.


Monday, July 19, 2010

The Madlands Campaign: Kolderon's Folly

Good Morning, All:

Realizing that my Madlands Campaign starts up in three weeks, I thought I'd work a little on the starting "base" for the adventurers that will join the game. Toward that end, I created the township of Kolderon's Folly. As you can tell from reading the stats below, Kolderon's Folly was designed to promote or encourage adventure opportunities.

Kolderon's Folly (Kingdom of Genadros)

When the High Magus Kolderon first obtained his fief in the mountainous regions south and east of Genadros, he dreamed of creating a haven for scholars and loreseekers. The lands were rough, the times hard, and sadly, Kolderon never achieved the haven he sought to create. Upon the old mage's death, the Majister passed the land to Lord Parth Dotar. Lord Dotar quickly renamed the village Kolderon's Folly, and has been working actively to build up a strong mining and timber industry in the surrounding territories.

Population: 900. The population of Kolderon's Folly is predominately Human, although a minority of the population include Duar, Hyrknoff, Giantkin and Artathi that have become absorbed into the local culture.

Government: Feudal Lordship. The village of Kolderon's Folly is considered the fief of the Lord Parth Dotar, who received the land for services rendered to the Most Honorable Majister, Lord-Sovereign of Genodras. The Majister has made no secret of his desire for Lord Dotar to prosper monetarily, and thus increase the Majister's treasury through taxation.

Defense: The Lord's recently completed new mansion, Dotar Manor, overlooks the township from a nearby hilltop. While Kolderon's Folly is protected by a wooden palisade, Dotar Manor has stone walls and enough space to provide some protection to a majority of the village's population. In addition, Lord Dotar can field just under a hundred well-trained swordsman without tapping into the local militia, which numbers over one hundred eighty men.

Commerce: In recent days, Kolderon's Folly has become known locally for its timber production and local mining efforts. Much of the agricultural needs of Kolderon's Folly are met through food and grain imports, although a small but thriving sheep market provides meat and wool.

Organizations: While no organizations are based out of the village of Kolderon's Folly, the Mage-Librarians of Lorak maintain the previously abandoned Tower of Kolderon under the administrations of Master Ritualist Haj Thoran. Given the high number of mercenaries that pass through the area serving as caravan guards, the Circle of Mithril maintains a feast hall and training grounds for their members.

To start with the basics, there will likely be an established element in the community that still feels that there is some value to the original goals for Kolderon's Haven, which could come into conflict with the new lord of the region. In addition, pressure from the Majister of Genadros should put Lord Dotar in the unenviable position of having to generate taxes. This should create some tension as well.

The trade caravans bringing food into the area, as well as those bearing timber and ore heading out, give me a lot of opportunities for story hooks, as the players could end up protecting or raiding these caravans at various points in their adventuring career. The mercenaries that accompany such caravans provides both background material and adventuring opportunities for martial characters.

As I know that one of my players is interested in pursuing rituals with his next character concept, and since a number of my big plot ideas use a ritual MacGuffin, the presence of Master Thoran and the Tower of Kolderon offer some good plot hooks. Besides, who doesn't need a good sage from time to time?

I've decided to add a "half-ogre"-inspired Giantkin as a racial option, probably based somewhat on the giant PC race from Monte Cook's Arcana Unearthed or the goliath and half-giant PC races from D&D, given that there are a lot of giants in this mountainous region. Besides, I love playing large races, and this time around, my world gets to reflect that a little.

There are other opportunities that I have not listed in the write-up, of course. There's a small dungeon in the mountains nearby, that the PCs are likely to learn about after their first adventure. There's a few political machinations going on, and the seeds of one of my major plotlines can be found in this small village. I'm looking forward to seeing how things unfold, and what the players decide to do as the world unfolds before them.


Saturday, July 17, 2010

Stellar Quest: The Felinoid Artathi...

Good Afternoon, All:

For the fifth installment of our series on the enemy species of the default Stellar Quest setting, I offer the following blurb on the leonine Artathi, who are inspired by the Kzinti of the animated Star Trek series and the Aslan of Traveller. You may recognize them from my Madlands Campaign info, as well. May as well not waste good work, right?

The Artathi

The Artathi are large, carnivorous felinoid beings from the Artathi Pride Worlds, a moderately sized cluster of worlds located to spinward and coreward of the Confederation of United Worlds, and coreward of the Cronosian Empire. A very territorial species, the Artathi fiercely defend their worlds from any and all trespassers. The Artathi had a history of conflict with Terra, as the two species fought a series of interstellar wars between them during the early stages of space exploration. As the Artathi continue to prosper, population pressure has forced the cat-like race to expand the borders of the Pride Worlds, bringing them into increased conflict with other interstellar governments.

Standing just over two meters tall, Arthathi resemble a humanoid lion in appearance, covered with a thin tawny coat and displaying leonine facial features. Descended from predators, the Artathi have excellent night vision, with functional claws that make even an unarmed Artathi a very dangerous opponent. As a species, the Artathi are organized into competitive clans, possess a strict code of honor and maintain very strict gender roles. Their strong sense of territoriality and intolerance has created the perception of the Artathi as a prejudiced, war-like species that live by pride and conquest.

I have one more article to share on the antagonists of the Stellar Quest setting, the blue-skinned Rromani, and then I can move on to other elements of the setting.


Thursday, July 15, 2010

Stellar Quest: The Psychic Celerans...

Good Afternoon, All:

The fourth of our Stellar Quest enemies are the psychic Celerans, who are inspired by the Romulans of Star Trek, with a little sprinkle of Zhodani and Vulcan mixed in, in terms of their psionic powers. Since I didn't cover those abilities with the Vulcan-equivalents, I figure their misplaced brethren should reap the benefit of that decision. In your own campaigns, of course, you are welcome to change such details as you see fit.

The Celerans

An offshoot of the Eridanite species, the Celerans left their homeworld during the days of early Eridanite space exploration. Driven by philosophical differences that embrace intense emotions rather than suppress them, the Celerans travelled far from the world of their birth before settling on the planet Celera. Since then, they have forged an interstellar government now known as the Celeran Dynasty. The Celeran Dynasty is located to trailing and rimward of the Confederation of United Worlds, and shares borders with the Confederation as well as the Magellan Ascendancy and the Hadron Hegemony.

Like Eridanites, the Celerans have pointed ears, upswept eyebrows, copper-based blood, and typically dark or black hair. Celerans are typically more emotional than the stoic Eridanites, to the point of being described as very violent, and are extremely motivated by honor and protocol. In addition, Celerans are known for their well-developed psionic abilities, using their talents to gain or enforce an advantage where possible. Technologically speaking, Celerans are considered on par with their neighboring races, although their warp drive technology does lag somewhat behind that of the Confederation. However, the Celeran ships of the line are known for their cloaking technology, allowing them to attack from a position of surprise more often than not.


Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Flynn's Accumulated 4E Combat Changes...

Good Morning, All:

Recently, I'd heard that the latest Monster Manual for 4E, MM3, increased the base damage that monsters deal with their attacks. Being the curious sort, I looked at the numbers and felt that the effort was pretty good, but not quite as far as I would go. Having completed an analysis of Swords & Wizardry damage by hit dice a few months back, I decided to take the same approach and create my own 4E damage table. I also spent a few minutes exercising my Google Fu, and came up with a few other adjustments to make 4E combat proceed more quickly. (4E's slow combat resolution is one of my biggest gripes abou the system.) I then pulled all that research together to come up with the following rules. Rather than let this sit languidly on my desktop and go unused, I've decided to put my notes here on my blog in the hopes that someone else may also find them useful. If I ever do run a 4E game of my own, my players should know that these are the rules I'll be using.

Flynn's Accumulated 4E Combat Changes

Adjust Monster Hitpoints
All monster HPs are halved.

Adjust Monster Damage
The following damage table is designed to shift the damage that monsters deal into a range that leads to quicker combat resolution. While a monster's damage goes up, the reduction in their hitpoints reduces the number of attacks that land (because they die sooner), which in turn results in roughly equivalent damage being dealt to the PCs by the end of the encounter.

Table: 4E Damage By Level

Note: Each damage column should be used as follows.
  • Column A damage should be used for Minions.
  • Column B damage should be used for normal Multiple Targets damage.
  • Column C damage should be used for normal Single Target damage.
  • Column D damage should be used for a Brute's Single Target damage, or for limited Recharge (5-6) powers.
  • Column E damage should be used for limited Recharge (6)/Bloodied/Encounter/Death powers, or for a Brute's limited powers.

Additional Abilities For Solos

Solo creatures also receive the following bonus abilities:

Antihero (Free action)
When dazed, this creature instead loses its next minor action and grants combat advantage. When stunned, this creature instead loses its next standard action and grants combat advantage.

While this creature is marked, it gains a +2 bonus to attack rolls and a +5 (or +10 if it’s a level 21+ monster) bonus to damage rolls against the creature that marked it.

Hope This Helps,

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Stellar Quest: The Militaristic Cronosians...

Good Evening:

Continuing on our trend of reviewing the enemies of the default setting for the Stellar Quest game, I come to the warrior race inspired by the Klingons of Star Trek, the Cronosians:

The Cronosians
The Cronosians are a highly aggressive humanoid species originating from the planet Cronos. Several centuries ago, these warriors forged the Cronosian Empire, a prominent interstellar government to spinward and rimward of the Confederation of United Worlds. Cronosians are aggressive to all of their neighbors, including the Magellan Ascendancy, the Artathi Pride Worlds and the Confederation of United Worlds.

The Cronosian race are humanoids that stand on average at 1.6 to 1.9 meters in height, with bronze skin and dark hair often worn braided. While externally somewhat similar to Humans, Cronosians are larger and stronger than typical humans but have a much reduced tolerance of cold temperatures. Cronosian society is divided into castes, dominated by the warrior caste. Although Cronosians are often seen as brutish, scheming and murderous, these traits are simply the external manifestations of a spiritual path devoted to the exultation of war and honor. Cronosians, as a whole, prefer direct action to diplomacy or more cerebral efforts.


Sunday, July 11, 2010

Stellar Quest: The Reptilian Hadrons...

Good Evening, All:

Tonight, I continue to expand on the enemy races of the Stellar Quest default setting with the reptilian Hadrons, who are inspired by the Gorn from the Star Trek universe. Please feel free to review the following and let me know what you think.

The Hadron

The Hadron are humanoid reptiles from the Hadron Hegemony, a powerful empire located coreward of the Celeran Dynasty, and bordering the Confederation of United Worlds as well. They are mutually antagonistic with the Celerans, and maintain an uneasy pact of non-interference with the Confederation at this time.

The Hadron are an ectothermic, reptilian species with a thick green integument and an average height of approximately two meters. As a species, they tend to be many times stronger than most humanoids, possessing greater stamina, but are less agile and move more slowly. Like most ectothermic species, the Hadron prefer warmer temperatures, and do not handle temperature variance as well as endothermic creatures. Their ears are simple holes on the sides of their skulls, while their mouths boast an impressive array of sharp teeth and their hands and feet possess vicious claws. Hadron eyes are silvery and faceted, much like the compound eyes of insects. Some Humans underestimate the Hadron because of an opinion that all reptiles are less intelligent than mammals. This is unwise, as the Hadron are at least as intelligent as Humans.

Stellar Quest: The Enigmatic Magellans...

Good Evening:

As the first installment in the descriptions of the Confederation's enemies, I offer the following entry on the Magellans. Inspired by the Tholians of the Star Trek universe, the Magellans provide GMs with the opportunity to introduce an occasional complication into the Five Year Mission, particularly if it involved fluctuations in the fabric of space or the timeline. I hope you find the following of interest:

The Magellans

An enigmatic species, the Magellans are an extremely xenophobic, non-humanoid hermaphroditic silicon-based race. They are not native to this galaxy, originating in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a satellite galaxy of our own Milky Way. The Magellan Ascendancy in the Milky Way is a remnant of the once-mighty Magellan Dominion, an empire that once ruled a large extent of their native galaxy. When one of their subject races rebelled against them, most of the Magellan masters were slain. Some of the few Magellans that survived fled across intergalactic space in large generational vessels to this galaxy. Upon arriving, the Magellans laid claim to a star cluster within Cronosian territory rimward of Confederation space. The Magellans have fiercely defended their enclave, repelling all Cronosian attempts to retake it. Frequently, this ferocity in the defense of their enclave has translated into belligerence against the Confederation, when the Magellans feel threatened by the much larger interstellar government.

Non-humanoid in form, Magellans have centaur-like crystalline bodies with two arms and eight legs, as well as both male and female reproductive organs. They dwell in an environment of extreme heat by human standards. Should a Magellan's environment even approach temperatures considered endurable by unprotected humans, they are likely to die, shattering into tiny crystalline shards. Magellans have little tolerance for deception, and are insistent on punctuality.

The Magellans appear to actively explore the science of inter-spatial rifts and time travel. Magellans often engage in missions to capture highly advanced technology, ostensibly to use the technology to further their own mysterious agenda.


Friday, July 09, 2010

GM Mentoring: Stealing Your Campaign World, One Element At A Time...

Good Evening:

Today, I received the Blackmoor bundle from, which included two 3E books and a 4E book, all focused on this ancient realm of adventure and nostalgia. I've never played in Blackmoor, and were it not for the OSR, I wouldn't even have any interest in learning about it. Now that I have the books, though, I look forward to seeing what I can pick up about the setting itself.

I like to collect settings. I have probably ten different fantasy campaign settings, if not more, on my gaming shelves, including many of the popular and common ones: Greyhawk, Forgotten Realms, Kingdom of Kalamar, Dawnforge, Scarred Lands, Krynn, Athas, Majestic Wilderlands, World of Onn, the Diamond Throne, the Role-Aids' Demons Campaign Setting and so on. I don't have Eberron, but that's because I didn't find anything in the announcements of it that pulled at my interests. Blackmoor now joins the list.

As a tinkerer and a Game Master, I have no qualms about stealing ideas and inspiration from multiple sources. Given that the core gaming experience of Old School adventuring is the dungeon that didn't always have to make sense, with disparate neighbors next door to one another sometimes without rhyme or reason, there's no shame in doing the same with your own campaign world. You can be particular bold in stealing the ideas you like best, and use the names as they appear in the original setting. Alternately, you can be somewhat slick about it, change the names to protect the innocent, and put them in your game world. Even if it doesn't start off making sense, over time, you or your players will come up with reasons for these elements to come together. You will explore that interaction over the course of numerous adventures, and when all is said and done, the end result will blend together in a most unusual and personal manner. In essence, you will synthesize this amalgam of ideas and inspiration into a unique and distinctive whole, particularly if you are okay with changing the details from the original source to meet your own needs as your campaign evolves.

For example, perhaps you like the concept of half-giants from Dark Sun's Athas, so you take the overall concept, tailor the game mechanics to reflect your setting, and make a place for them inside your game. Perhaps the concept of the Red Wizards of Thay intrigues you. If so, you could tailor them to your setting, calling the the Emerald Magelords of Arn, and create embassies in various surrounding regions as the Magelords attempt to spread their influence. Maybe you like the Moathouse from the T1 module, and so you bring it over almost whole cloth from Greyhawk into your own world. You might build a pantheon for your world from the deities of four or five different and disparate campaigns, simply because you like the flavor of each priesthood. The possibilities are endless.

Whatever you come up with, so long as it is fun for you and for your players, is perfectly okay. In fact, even if your entire campaign is stolen piecemeal from multiple other settings, the end result becomes yours, and takes on a life all its own. For the working GM operating under a time crunch, there's absolutely no shame at all in pulling together this kind of world. It can help with addressing Gamer ADD, since you can explore the exciting elements of new game worlds within your own campaign framework, and add to your creation with other ideas and other settings as the players explore and expand their adventuring possibilities.

So, how many of you have done this? Or barring that, how many have played in campaign worlds like this? What was your experience like?

With Regards,

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Gen Con 2010 And Me...

Good Evening, All:

I've been asked by a number of people, many of whom have played in my Gen Con scenarios in the past, whether or not I'll be at Gen Con this year. For those that have read my blog, the arrival of my daughter Zoe puts me in a position where I cannot attend the Con. Much as I would like to go, I want to be here at home more. This will be the first Gen Con I've missed since I started attending ten years ago, but I definitely intend to be back next year, and I'll be running games to boot.

Sadly, I haven't heard a lot about releases being made at Gen Con this year. In the past, I've been very active in compiling lists of special releases and new product releases at Gen Con, but this year, since I wasn't going, I haven't done the footwork. Still, I can't even find a thread on ENWorld about any cool stuff coming out this year at the Con.

I understand that Goodman Games won't even be there, and I'm not sure who else will not be able to make it. The economy has hit a lot of people pretty hard, including publishers. I wonder who else won't be making it...

Perhaps it is a Good Thing(tm) that I won't be at Gen Con this year. Every good Con still occasionally has a bad year. Perhaps, given everything that is going on, this is one of those years for Gen Con. Next year, however, will be better. I'm sure of it! After all, I'll be heading back next year. ;)

Still, I look forward to any news you guys have to share about your experiences there. And if you know about any new releases or special products, feel free to let me know. Even if I can't make it, I am still interested in hearing what's going on.

With Regards,

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Stellar Quest: The Assumed Setting...

Good Evening, All:

In pursuit of creating an assumed setting for Stellar Quest, I started with the following generalization. This brief overview provides some explanation for ancient relics that offer great plot devices, and begins to describe the political situation around which the setting is based. This overview is not complete, but hopefully is the start of a simple yet useful section that will make it into the final rules for Stellar Quest:

Hundreds of thousands of years ago, an ancient humanoid civilization known to modern historians as the Progenitors passed through this region of space. In the process of settling many of the local habitable worlds, the Progenitors seeded these worlds with genetic material that would eventually lead to the humanoids that inhabit the worlds of this region. Very few remnants of the Progenitor civilization has survived to the modern day, and fewer of those artifacts still function, but those that do are noted for the apparent ease by which these relics violate our current understanding of physics.

As humanity evolved on Terra, rising from the anarchy of a primitive tribal existence on a slow rise to civilization, other species on distant worlds also evolved, albeit at different rates. Some species advanced more quickly than others, expanding from their homeworld to neighboring stars, only to collapse like a flash in the night. In some cases, these races would conquer and dominate other worlds, while other species would merely observe and rarely intervene with more slowly developing races. In time, however, some races would emerge as the dominant species of the region. Among them are the stoic Eridanites, the honorable Procyans, and the stubborn Cygnans, as well as the adaptable Terrans. In recent centuries, these neighbors have bonded together into an interstellar political alliance known as the Confederation of United Worlds. The Confederation is protected by an interstellar naval force known as the Stellar Patrol.

Beyond the local interstellar neighborhood, other races have emerged in their own regards, most of whom are antagonistic to the Confederation. These enemies include the reptilian Hadrons, the militaristic Cronosians, the felinoid Artathi, the blue-skinned Rromani marauders, the psychic Celerans and the enigmatic Magellans.

Any input you might have would be greatly appreciated.

With Regards,

Monday, July 05, 2010

An Organization For Your Game: Weavers of Fate...

Good Afternoon, All:

In watching the movie Wanted this weekend, I was inspired by the Fraternity to create a new organization for my game. In the past, my primary assassin's guild tended to have the same flavor with each campaign, but now I have a new idea that will make the next campaign's assassin's guild more interesting. Or at least I hope so.

Weavers of Fate
An assassin's guild devoted to an unknown goddess, the Weavers of Fate consider the Immaculate Assassination a sacred duty that honors their mysterious patron. Unlike other assassin guilds, clients may only petition the Weavers to consider their target by donating to the local temple-guildhall. After a divination conducted at the new moon, if a target is approved, the Weavers spend the next moon working to slay the target. Once the task is complete, the client is expected to make a larger donation. Failing to honor the Weavers' work with a follow-up donation often places the client on the list of approved targets for the following moon.
Headquarters: While each major city along the boundaries of the Madlands house a temple to the Weavers of Fate, the largest actually overlooks the Sovereign Chasm where it stands alone, looking out over the lands where divine blood spilled. This great temple is known as the Temple of Blood's Prophecy.
Members: The exact membership of the Weavers of Fate is unrecorded, but some sages estimate that there are over five hundred assassins in the order of divine assassins. It is said that recruits are chosen through mystical divination, but over half the membership hold hereditary positions passed down through their family lineages.
Organization: While little is known about the Weavers and their internal structure, the Blood Prophet is often acknowledged as the order's public and presumably internal leader as well. Weavers tend to work alone or in small teams.
Goals: The Weavers of Fate follow the dictates of their mysterious patron, as given through divination and interpreted by the Blood Prophet. The order has no organized resistance, but many nobles and notable figures seek to prevent the assassins from succeeding at their work.
Symbol: The symbol of the Weavers of Fate is that of a bloody loom. A square of crimson cloth is often left on the Weavers' victims, and it is considered good fortune to offer tribute to the Weavers wrapped in a Cloth of Fate.


Friday, July 02, 2010

On Predators and One Shots...

Good Morning, All:

I am quite excited about the new Predators movie that is coming out later this month. Essentially an alien/sci-fi version of the novel The Most Dangerous Game, by Richard Connell, this movie looks like it's going to be awesome. Even if it blows chunks, though, I'm sure to go see it. I do my best to support sci-fi movies and TV series whenever I can. If nothing else, I'll look at creating a One Shot adventure based on the plot for some night when we want to game but don't have a quorum of gamers in the main campaign setting available. (I like those little one-offs, as they offer us a change of pace when the whole group can't get together to game.)

As a Game Master, I have a house rule about attendance. If one person from the group can't make the game, we go on and just play around their absence (unless a unanimous vote says we do otherwise, of course.) If we are missing two players, though, I typically run a One Shot for the evening, unless the players decide not to get together that evening. If we are missing three players or more, then I don't run a game that night. Seeing as how I run a table of five players, that means we get to game so long as we have more than half the usual number of players, which works out well for us. Losing two people cuts too deeply into the flow of the game, based on our prior experience, and thus the rule for One Shots on those nights came about.

I like to think of these One Shot Nights as a sort of Iron GM moment. While the players build characters in under half an hour, I get to create a scenario of the genre we've all agreed on, using elements that each player has contributed as suggestions towards the content of the scenario. I find that this challenges me, and helps me stay on my toes for when I run Convention games, since players are notorious for taking games in unintended directions. We almost always have fun. (Okay, there was this one near-TPK in a sci-fi scenario, but other than that...)

Sometimes, though, I work up a specific scenario that I'd like to run, and if they are interested, we try that out instead. Perhaps Predators might lead to something like that. More often, I use these kind of One Shots to introduce players to new published settings and sometimes new genres. Savage Worlds has been very good for that, as the rules are easily adaptable to multiple genres right out of the box, so to speak, and characters are very easy to create. If the guys take more than twenty minutes to build a character, they're thinking too hard about it. I imagine that Swords & Wizardry would be the same, or any of the retro-clones (I know that MyD20 Lite is that easy, as I wrote it with that goal in mind). However, the group tends not to want to learn new rules systems, and so we generally stick with Savage Worlds these days.

And now, I have a question for the readers: Do you guys occasionally play One Shots when your group's attendance is low? How do you handle such occasions? Is it planned out well in advance, or more of a spur-of-the-moment thing? Do you like the results you get? How could they be better?

With Regards,

Thursday, July 01, 2010

The Madlands Campaign: Brainstorming On The First Adventure...

Good Morning, All:

I've started thinking about the first adventure I want to run in the Madlands Campaign, which will help establish the setting and provide future opportunities for campaign expansion. Toward that end, I started looking at the basics in Old School module design. Using the twelve touchstones of Old School modules post, I have started the brainstorming process that hopefully leads to a strong starting adventure.

I know that I do not want to start with a formal dungeon site, but I still want a good adventure locale. I figure that a dungeon so close to the starting village would probably already be explored, so I'm looking at a small cave system. A set of natural caverns gives me a number of options for some great environmental considerations, such as ledges, slippery slopes, underground rivers and cave formations that can act as cover.

For the baseline creatures, I'm figuring that I'll probably use either simple humanoids (goblins, kobolds or orcs) or human bandits. Other creatures that I'll consider are probably giant insects or some of the low-level monsters I've posted previously.

Given that there's usually one encounter that must be resolved by means other than combat in an Old School module, I'm thinking that I may put a tharkanth in a relatively isolated area of the caverns, to see how the players handle a beast that is obviously more powerful than they are.

I'll definitely have to include some kind of obstacle that challenges players to think rather than rely on die rolls, but I have no idea what it is as yet. I'm sure it'll involve the three-dimensional nature of the cavern system, though. This will likely be a trap or puzzle of some sort.

I’m not sure what to do about the “permanent effect via random chart” encounter that is one of the touchstones of an Old School module, but I’ll eventually come up with something. Perhaps I’ll include a pool that has been tainted by gods’ blood.

Obviously, one of the treasure items will have to be a cursed item, to incorporate that element into the game and provide motivation to seek out spellcasters of greater mastery and talent, thus opening more potential plot hooks.

The “false climax” situation should be easy enough to set up, and will presumably based around the main treasure trove of the adventure. Some of the treasure will be quite large and thus difficult to transport. This implies that the bandits will have some transport, or had it at some point in time, so I’ll need to include some kind of stables in the cavern complex.

The twisty nature of natural caverns, plus a possible stint through an underground river, should add the disorienting effect that will make mapping difficult.

Finally, I have a wonderful thought for an encounter that makes absolutely no logical sense within the context of the adventure, so I can look forward to how the players attempt to explain it. That will likely lead to at least one more plot hook for future adventures, I’m sure.

Given that this is a lower level adventure, I need at least one encounter with the undead to allow for the priestly types to do their thing. I’ll also want at least one situation where a non-combat special ability can resolve it easily, and one or two that are easily resolved by magic. One or more of the encounters should be aimed at resolution through negotiation rather than combat.

Okay, that’s all I’m willing to talk about as I brainstorm, simply to avoid giving too much detail away to any curious participants. However, any thoughts, suggestions or other commentary would be greatly appreciated.

With Regards,