Archive for April, 2014

So I’m taking a little diversion this post from Exploration Age to talk about the theme of this month’s RPG Blog Carnival. That theme? GM binders.

Way, way, way back in the day when I was ten and playing The Fantasy Trip I used a marble composition notebook in which I wrote every whack campaign idea I had (many of which we’re never played). This included an entire campaign based off the James Bond movie The Man with the Golden Gun. The Man with the Golden Hand Crossbow (I was ten) was a rollicking tale and one of the first stories I ever ripped off completely. Here’s to you marble composition notebooks! May you hold young children’s campaigns, MASH games, dot-man wars, and secret crushes forever.

Behold! The secret-keeper and math-homework-tracker!

Google Drive

My gaming notes today are organized, but usually only in a way that would make sense to me. I’ll use my last campaign as an example. I ran a group of six PCs through a Fourth Edition Dungeons and Dragons Eberron game that lasted from levels one to thirty. The ideas for this campaign began where many today probably do – Google Drive.

A peak into my Google Drive folder for my Eberron campaign.

Why Google Drive? Well there’s a few reasons. First I work on my game in a lot of different places. At home on my laptop, on my phone in the train headed to work, and on my work computer during my lunch hour. With Drive being a cloud I can work on my home laptop, my phone, and my work computer without having to lug too much back and forth. I can easily output word docs, tables, PDFs, etc. to share with my players or print stuff out and bring it to games. Plus, 15GB is plenty of space for campaign notes.

In Google Drive I kept a bunch of different documents related to the Eberron game, but they mostly fit into these categories.

  1. Campaign Outline – A brief outline of where I think the campaign is going. This is so I can see how things are playing out, what the endgame might be, and what’s happening in the world beyond the scope of the party. I usually update thisdocument every few sessions. Here’s a look at my outline during ourepic tier of play (forgive any typos, remember, this was just for me).
    • Screen Shot 2014-04-28 at 2.57.18 PM

      Eberron is badass!

  2. Open Threads – Then I also have a list of open threads (and believe me there were PLENTY in this campaign). Here’s where I list all of the unresolved issues in the campaign. Stories from side quests, character backgrounds, secret dealings, and consequences reverberating from the party’s actions all go here. I leave this open while we play and jot down notes quickly. Anything that gets resolved I highlight in red.
    • Seriously, this is just a PIECE.

      Seriously, this is just a PIECE.

  3. Weekly Quest – This is where I kept detailed information about what would (might) happen during our weekly session. Monster stats, read aloud text, traps, NPC statistics, and general adventure information would go here. Here’s another taste.
    • Again, please forgive typos.

      Again, please forgive typos.

  4. Treasure – If you’ve ever played 4th edition, you know that there’s many a magic item to give out. If a player doesn’t have the right magic items the math for attacks and defense won’t work out. In this case I awarded over 150 magic items (not counting consumables like potions). It’s a lot to track along with gold and monetary rewards so I had a separate document for that.
    • I'll assume this only makes sense to 4e DMs, but here it is.

      I’ll assume this only makes sense to 4e DMs, but here it is.

So those documents help me track what the campaign is doing and where it’s going, and a tiny bit what’s in the past. However most of the past of this campaign was tracked if a different way – via gmail.

Gmail

I’ve tried using Obsidian Portal before, but unfortunately for as much as I loved it, getting my players to use it made taking a dog to the vet seem easy. Obsidian Portal and services like it are awesome, but they’re a ton of work as well and if my players aren’t into it then it’s not worth the effort.

My players do read emails. Going to a website and navigating for the answers you want requires more effort than opening and reading an email. Likewise typing an email is a lot less work than managing an Obsidian Portal account. So after each session I’d send an email with the following information – a list of the known quests and tasks they had committed to completing, a brief summary of what happened during the previous session, a list of who was wounded or diseased, a list of rewards gained during the previous session, and an updated quest wiki.

A sample of a recap email minus the wiki.

A sample of a recap email minus the wiki.

Our wiki was simple and tacked onto each email. It was divided into three categories – people, places, and organizations. Each was organized with alphabetical entries that had no more than two lines of description. I’d simply copy and paste the wiki from the previous recap email then add to it for the current email. It started small and was enormous by the end, but it was a helpful reference for the players and myself. They didn’t have to read it each week, but they knew it was there for them when they needed it. Plus, it was super easy for me.

And here's a very small piece of the wiki, but you get the idea.

And here’s a very small piece of the wiki, but you get the idea.

Roll20

I’ve already sung the praises of roll20.net, but this is where I kept all my maps for battle, which is super important in a Fourth Edition D&D game. I could archive maps I really loved and might use several times throughout the campaign (like the deck of the party’s airship or the temple which served as their home base).

If roll20 doesn’t turn you on, there’s a lot of other services like it. Recently I did a soon to be released podcast interview with Doug Davison of Fantasy Grounds. This product is badass and I highly recommend checking that out as well. The podcast will be released in two weeks, but until then check out their video.

The Future

Again, through my podcast, The Round Table, I recently learned about a new product for worldbuilding and campaign tracking called Realmworks. Right now this product is only available on PC, which stinks for us Mac users like me. However thanks to the podcast interview with Liz Theis (coming next week) I’ve learned Realmworks will one day be available through the web. When that day comes, I’ll be super excited to keep my GM notebook with that product. It’s full of tons of ways to make prep, worldbuilding, story-tracking, and on-the-fly note taking easy. Check out the video below to get more information about what Realmworks can do.

Until then, I’m working on outlining Exploration Age with, you guessed it, Google Drive!

A Postscript – Eberron Fiasco

Also, as a bonus in this blog post, I was going through my old notes and I found a Fiasco playset I created for Eberron. It was supposed to be used in the event I couldn’t make a session, but the players still wanted to play something. That never actually happened, but I think it a group could use this playset in a bunch of different ways. Maybe a way to kickoff a campaign or to create a story that somehow ties into an overall Eberron campaign. If you’re familiar with Eberron, the playset is meant to be set before The Mourning in the city of Making in the country of Cyre. Anyway, it’s super niche, but I thought I’d share since I never got to use it. So on the off-chance you love Eberron AND Fiasco, check it out in the link below. Let me know if you actually use it and how it goes! I’d love to know.

Eberron Fiasco – Making

If you like what you’re reading, please check out my podcast on The Tome Show, follow me on Twitter, tell your friends about the blog, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

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In a new episode of The Round Table I sit down with Greg Blair, Alex Basso, Andrew Kane, and Joe Lastowski to talk about the Legends and Lore and D&D Next Q&A articles about the fighter and the recent Live D&D Next Q&A which covered backgrounds amongst other topics. This podcast was recorded on April, 7, 2014.
Links:
If you like what you’re reading please follow me on Twitter, tell your friends, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

I’ve made a few passing references to the caste system of Bragonay in the past, but I’ve got a more fleshed out version to share. I’m pretty pumped about this. As I was writing it made me want to run a campaign with an entire party of Bragonian dwarves, which is a good sign to me. When it comes to gaming write what excites!

The Caste System

Know your role!

In Bragonay there is little hope of climbing the ladder of social status. Most dwarves are born into the caste system in the same position as their parents and they cannot hope to advance beyond their station. Dwarves live, marry, and have children within their own caste. Persons of higher castes have better quality of life, more money, more power, and their word is worth more than that of any with a lower station. Within the same caste the word of women is always worth more than men’s. The levels of the Bragonian caste system are, in order from most powerful to least, empress, warlords, nobles, soldiers, artisans, peasants, and slaves. In Bragonay only warforged can be slaves. The empress and warlords are all female, which means they can marry below their station, but only from the noble caste. Sons born from such a union are nobles, daughters are warlords. All members of Bragonian society must follow the rules of the caste, including the empress. If she breaks the caste, the warlord may vote to overrule and execute her. The only member of a caste who moves up due to a death is a warlord who becomes the empress when the previous empress has died. This warlord is the next of kin of the previous empress. All stations of Bragonay’s caste are assigned a clothing color. At all times a majority of the clothing they wear must be this color for easy identification.

  • Empress – Black
  • Warlords – Yellow
  • Nobles – Purple
  • Soldiers – Red
  • Artisans – Blue
  • Peasants – Green
  • Slaves – Orange

Warlords serve as councilors and enforcers for the empress. Nobles serve on councils which are in charge of various settlements and soldiers serve as their enforcers and lieutenants. Artisans could be any merchant or seller of wares or services. They are well-trained in their respective skills and valued by nobles for the money they bring into the region (which is of course, heavily taxed). Peasants could be many different things, farmers, street cleaners, messengers, etc. Yet the most popular job for peasants is easily miner, since metal working is the backbone of the Bragonian economy. The use of slaves is on the decline since the warforged uprising and Bragonay has ceased production of the humanoids (even though some warforged have figured out a way to build new members of their kind). Still many nobles and warlords have loyal slaves who work as servants and bodyguards. Laboring is mostly handled by the peasant class, but occasionally a warforged slave might be brought into a mine or field to fill a very dangerous, low-level position. Some of these slaves are well-treated and have no desire for freedom, but there are those who abhor their bonds and plot their escapes. Since the uprising crack team of dwarf artisans assembled by the empress herself has been working on a new breed of living construct to replace the warforged as slaves. What may happen to the remaining warforged slaves once these new constructs are complete is anyone’s guess.

The Caste Rules

There are two rules which are the hope of all those in the lower stations, except for slaves who can never leave their station. These rules apply to even the empress herself.

  1. A Bragonian within a higher caste may initiate a status trade with a Bragonian of a lower station.
  2. A Bragonian of higher caste may force a status trade upon two individuals of a lower station.

The Caste Game

As a result of the rules above, The citizens of Bragonay are often engaged in a dangerous and deceitful game involving blackmail and manipulation. The lower castes use methods of blackmail to manipulate their way up the ladder of the caste. Threats of violence are usually no good, since a dead dwarf cannot trade castes. As a result of this blackmail, dwarves within higher castes are usually either very secret about any illicit dealings or lifestyle choices in which they engage, or they are extremely open about these goings on. Still, there is always a caste to which one may advance for there must be someone trying to keep an affair quiet, covering up a murder, having gambling debts, or stealing from their boss. In some cases, desperate dwarves will turn to kidnapping a loved one, though most dwarves cannot be manipulated in this way. A higher caste is more difficult to replace than a child or spouse. Sometimes manipulation of a manner more subtle than blackmail is required. Faked romances and seduction are a favorite ploy of young Bragonians, as well as servants trying to form close friendships with their masters in hopes that they will receive a boost up the ladder. As a result the higher castes look to the lower castes for only labor and services. There is very little mingling otherwise. These games are not for the faint of heart. Murder, blackmail, kidnapping, lust, betrayal, and more play into the dangerous caste game of Bragonay.

The Caste Gods

The goddesses gave this lady magic pink fingers.

The religion of the Bragonian dwarves takes its cues from the caste system. This religion is referred to as Hierotheism. The polytheistic religion recognizes its goddesses organized into their own caste system. Each caste has its own priests lead prayer to their corresponding goddess. One may not pray to a goddess above his or her station and if caught doing so the penalty is death. Prayers to the goddesses below an individual’s station are acceptable, though not common. The empress is a special case. She has a goddess assigned to her caste of one and therefore is her own priestess. However, at the request of the empress only, a priest of the warlord caste may pray with the empress to her goddess. A ladder with seven rungs is the symbol used to represent Hierotheism. Each rung is a different color which corresponds with the clothes worn by a particular station. Here are the goddesses and their corresponding stations.

  • Caramey The goddess of the empress is usually depicted as a female dwarf standing next to a throne of adamantine, wearing a mithral crown. She wears a huge great sword, Order-Keeper, strapped across her back. Legends say the just goddess has never had need to draw her sword, for all the caste goddesses know their place in the hierarchy and do not stray out of line.
  • Meralla The warlord goddess is wise in the counsel she gives to Caramey. She suffers no foolishness and takes the lives of every Bragonian citizen as her personal responsibility. She wields a huge scythe, Head-Remover, which is used to bring swift justice to those who try to operate outside their castes.
  • Zelti The beautiful goddess of the noble caste is often depicted holding a bag of coin in one hand and a dirk, Secrets Released, in the other. She protects the personal property of nobles and grants them strength to make secrets public so they may save themselves from blackmail and corruption. Zelti also carries a scroll tube on her belt, which is where she writes down the sins of dwarf nobles. Her priests encourage dwarves make these sins public, again to help avoid blackmail.
  • Swarvune The goddess of soldiers and war is often depicted as the happiest of dwarves, smiling and reveling in battle. Her axe and shield, Judgement and Law, are always sharpened and polished, ready to defend the Bragonian people. She commands loyalty and respect from her worshippers as a commander would and asks that they lay down their lives in defense of the Bragonian way of life. It is said she dies for her people every night in a grand divine battle and is rewarded with new life for her sacrifice every day at dawn.
  • Shalleal The artisan goddess is said to have taught the shardminds to create the dwarves at Caramey’s order. She works at a forge using her great maul, Dragonbane. Her worshippers say she speaks little, for her work is of the utmost importance. Craft and labor are the be all, end all for Shalleal and she expects the same of her worshippers.
  • Berga The hearty goddess of peasants is depicted as a soot-covered miner wielding the pick axe, Servitor. Happily she supports the other goddesses, serving as a laborer and messenger. Likewise the other goddesses are grateful for Berga, for without her support they could not do their very important work.
  • Almahad The only male god in the Hierotheistic pantheon, and so low on the totem pole that the dwarves refer to all seven as simply, the goddesses. Still, like the others in the pantheon, Almahad serves his role well. He has always been depicted as a dwarf, for Bragonay used dwarf slaves before the warforged came along. He carries a club, Worthy Example, as his weapon, which is allowed to him by the other goddesses for his loyalty.

It is rumored that the weapons of the goddesses have equivalents on the material plane that were given to heroes fighting against the chromatic dragons. The rumors say these items were lost long ago, but if they are true, the items are still on Canus somewhere waiting to be discovered.

Adventurers and the Caste System

Bragonay’s caste system is a wonderful rabbit-hole down which adventurers may travel. They could receive word from an old dwarf friend because he or she is being blackmailed. They could be hired to dig up dirt on another dwarf’s rival. They could get caught in a dangerous game of deceit and have to determine who is a real ally and who is false. If one or more PCs is a Bragonian dwarf, the possibilities are truly endless. If you like what you’re reading, please check out my podcast on The Tome Show, follow me on Twitter, tell your friends about the blog, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

Four underground mega-cities make-up the nation of Quatus. Drow, duergar, and svirfneblin work together to fight a threat pressing upon their gates and looming large in the tunnels outside their cities. Constant stress and violence has taught Quatus’ citizens to be alert, proactive, and ready to strike. That same stress has also brought the citizens of Quatus together like nowhere else. No group of humanoids is more loyal to one another than the citizens of Quatus. They embody patriotism.

The Aberrant Threat

You never want to be this close to a mind flayer if you can avoid it.

Years ago, the aberrants of West Canus were driven deep underground by chromatic dragons and shardminds. Weakened and small in number, the aberrants hid and licked their wounds, growing their ranks and preparing to once again take Canus for themselves. During this time they took note of the ten glorious Underdark cities of the drow, duergar, and svirfneblin. These aberrants decide the surface world was no longer the place to make a home and instead set their sights on The Underdark. For thousands of years the rested and then struck with a fury against the ill prepared cities.

After years of war and struggle, and the loss of half their population when many war-weary drow and svirfneblin headed to the surface, the Underdark humanoids only have four fortified cities that have not fallen to the aberrants. The citizens of these cities know well the danger lurking just outside the gates.

Each city has only a few heavily guarded entry points. The only way to get to these points is via narrow tunnels with gates every fifty feet. The narrow tunnels and checkpoints bottleneck traffic into the cities. If an aberrant attack occurs the gates are slammed down isolating the incident. The folk trapped inside with the beasts are left to fend for themselves until crossbow wielding guards make an appearance and shoot at the monsters through the bars of the gate. Needless to say, waiting in line to get into a city is a tense experience.

Inside of a Quatus city, every citizen is armed. Though it is a rare occurrence, the aberrants will sometimes burrow through the floor, walls, or ceiling of a city and attack. Since all drow, duergar, and svirfneblin spend a decade or more in the military after coming of age, the populous is an accomplished army, ready for action. The people of Quatus are fiercely loyal to one another since they are all brothers and sisters in arms. The people of Quatus have more enemies than just the aberrants against whom to rally.

The Elf Punishment

Don’t mess with the drow. They have pets.

If fighting the aberrants is about survival, than fighting the elves is about vengeance. When the elves left the drow millennia ago an incurable divide formed between the two groups. Since then the drow have performed many violent surgical strikes against critical elf targets. The most infamous of these strikes being The Arachna War.

The Arachna War was a period of time which came after Quantian spies placed giant spider eggs all over Taliana. Eventually these eggs hatched releasing an army of huge vermin that terrorized Taliana’s population. Eventually, these spiders were mostly defeated with the help of The Arcane College, but some of these beasts still stalk Taliana’s forests.

Today, the tactics of the Quantians concerning the elves is to strike when they are least expected. Sometimes they strike large groups of elves at a joyous public gathering. Other times they may steal an object of importance or deface a monument. Sometimes they may assassinate an important target. They may poison wells or spread disease or hatch another scheme. Their goal concerning the elves is to make their existence on the surface so unbearable that they return to their brethren of The Underdark.

Government

Each of Quatus four cities is run by an all-powerful General King. Martial law is the only law in Quatus. The General Kings have officers answerable to them and communicate with the leaders of other cities daily through crystal balls and in-person meetings via teleportation circle. All General Kings are drow. Any major decisions involving Quatus they make together. They will only enact policy with a unanimous vote, so their talk and debates can take a long time.

For the most part the General Kings leave the day-to-day running of their cities to their officers and focus in the big picture – the war with the aberrants and the war with the elves.

Officers treat all non-military citizens as privates. They give orders which must be obeyed for security and survival. Very little is private in Quatus. The military has access to any documents, information, and history for which it asks its citizens. Those who do not comply are tortured and threatened as necessary. This is not often though, for the people of Quatus are Exploration Age’s most patriotic and are willing to give up privacy for security in a moment’s notice.

Life in Quatus

At least the view is decent!

Life in Quatus is full of extreme highs and lows. The drow believe every second they are alive is a moment to have joy and so they push those boundaries by partying hard and enjoying the fruits of life while they can. Duergar take tremendous pleasure in their work and crafts while deep gnomes get joy from time spent with family and friends. Still on any given day, a friend may fall in the tunnels or on a mission to the surface. Funerals are quick and constant in Quatus.

The folk of Quatus usually enjoy simple, hearty meals made up of various mushrooms, root vegetables, and underground varieties of pork or beef. Their art and architecture has a classical feel – beautiful marble statues, paintings, mosaics, monuments, and buildings stand as testaments to great heroes and those who have fallen in battle.

Quatus’ biggest export to the nations of the surface are precious gemstones. These are valuable because they are often components for vehicles and equipment that run on magic. Of course mining has its dangers in the tunnels, but for every miner there are two soldiers within the tunnels, ever vigilant for the aberrant threat. The gems are expensive, because trips to the surface are fraught with perils.

Likewise, travelers do make their way to Quatus, though not often. The citizens are naturally suspicious of outsiders and the journey from the surface is dangerous. Only the richest merchants can hire enough well-trained guards or afford the teleport to make it to Quatus alive. The military leaders of Quatus know some secret tunnels that can get them to surface quickly for performing raids on Taliana but they do not share them with anyone they don’t trust, as those tunnels could be used against them.

If you like what you’re reading, please check out my podcast on The Tome Show, follow me on Twitter, tell your friends about the blog, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

In a new episode of Round Table, I talk with Benjamin Loomes about Syrinscape, an awesome sound design app that creates unique ambient sounds and music tracks for your table. We talk about this really cool, much needed FREE product for any game table, Benjamin’s gaming background, and his famous gaming group The DiceStormers. There’s also some really cool announcements about the future of Syrinscape in this podcast, including a great partnership with Pathfinder. It’s a great chat featuring a great product for immersing your players further into the game. No, I’m not being paid to say that.

If you like what you’re reading please follow me on Twitter, tell your friends, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

These things are all over the place! Take a look at the map of Canus. Anything labeled orange is an aberrant ruin.

Anything in orange. Check it out!

Anything in orange. Check it out!

Much like the tribes in Verda, I want to make all of Exploration Age’s various ruins of its first inhabitants variable and easy to use on the fly. This means that everyone playing an Exploration Age game will have a slightly different experience which makes every campaign fun and unique. Take a look at this excerpt from the Exploration Age Campaign Setting and let me know what you think!

Aberrant Ruins

Though much of their culture and history remains mysterious, there is evidence abound that Canus was once ruled by aberrants. Even remote Glacius was once home to these bizarre creatures. Various ruined cities and settlements are now home to dangerous creatures, mind-bending dungeons, and fantastic technology. Items discovered exploring aberrant ruins led to the creation of airships, siege weapons, firearms, and the Jackrabbit.

Aberrant ruins make perfect homes for wild animals and monsters which has helped earn them a dangerous reputation. The well-designed architecture of the aberrants means many of their walls, ceilings, and tunnels are still standing millennia later, providing shelter for these creatures and bandits on the run. Certain types of aberrant ruins, such as military installations, research facilities, and prisons have traps which are still active or may even be home to millennia-old beasts waiting to be discovered. Despite the danger, strange and wonderful items found amongst the ruins attract archaeological digs, cultists, and adventurers both good and evil.

One interesting feature all aberrant ruins share is that their structures are built down into the ground, rather than high into the air. Since the aberrants main enemies were high-flying dragons, it was better for their defense to burrow into the ground, rather than build structures that towered into the sky. Sometimes the complexes could be many stories deep, like the apartment complexes that occur in ruined aberrant cities.

Below is a list of known aberrant ruins on the map of Canus.

  • Findalay
    • Aeranore
      • Alcar’ach – Mine
      • Dul’karash – Roll to determine function
      • Kalusare – Roll to determine function
      • Xal’tith – Roll to determine function
    • Bragonay
      • Bearick Tur – City
      • Jaxinoth – Roll to determine function
      • Vayvixtus – Roll to determine function
      • Xi’khu’litar – Roll to determine function
    • Marrial
      • Cara’maynor – Roll to determine function
      • Fera Dun – Prison
      • Hildar Mynktor – Roll to determine function
      • Xarut’ketch – Roll to determine function
    • Taliana
      • Belnogasth – Military Installation
      • Tela’machra – Roll to determine function
      • Zaru’tor – Roll to determine function
  • Glacius
    • Illfibratas – Roll to determine function
    • Olhydana – Research Facility
  • Parian
    • Allut’bru – Roll to determine function
    • Dul Gata – Roll to determine function
    • Feltabul – Roll to determine function
    • Hur’nura – Roll to determine function
    • Nara Goon – Roll to determine function
    • Viatur – Roll to determine function
    • Yulush – Roll to determine function
  • Verda
    • New Aeranore
      • Hul’zal – Roll to determine function
      • Shuzal – Roll to determine function
    • New Bragonay
      • Konda’con – Roll to determine function
      • Numor’ask – Roll to determine function
      • Orrathok – Roll to determine function
      • Wolturak – Roll to determine function
    • New Marrial
      • Gullal – Roll to determine function
      • Hivit’okur – Roll to determine function
      • Rosta’la – Roll to determine function
      • Vigun’kil – Roll to determine function
      • Xittar – Roll to determine function
    • New Parian
      • Arat’zhur – Roll to determine function
      • Cagre’mach – Roll to determine function
      • Eldkazhul – Roll to determine function
      • Noonishtar – Roll to determine function
      • Tunish’ibul – Roll to determine function
      • Xaxa’tactac – Roll to determine function
    • New Taliana
      • Kum’tar – Roll to determine function
      • Lurarara’gush – Roll to determine function
      • Murgadur – Roll to determine function
      • Tarongal – Roll to determine function
      • Uvalor-Merrith – Roll to determine function

PCs may come across unlisted aberrant ruins while exploring blank spots on the map of Canus, or they may come across one of the “Roll to determine function” ruins listed above. GMs may roll 1d20 on the table below to determine the function of the aberrant ruin or choose whatever makes the best story for their campaign.

d20 Ruin Function
1 – 9 Town
10 – 14 Military Installation
15 – 16 City
17 – 18 Mine
19 Research Facility
20 Prison 

Ruin Functions

  • Town These ruins were once small settlements of less than a thousand aberrants. It is mostly ruined dwellings and farms, though there could be a temple, shop, small laboratory, library, or inn here and there amongst the destroyed homes.
  • Military Installation The second most common structure the aberrants left behind. Since their war with the dragons lasted thousands of years, the aberrants built many, many forts, barracks, keeps, towers, castles, etc. The exact nature of the ruin is up to the GM. A military installation may have remnants of sleeping quarters, training rooms, guard posts, mess halls, holding cells, and even stables for more humanoid aberrants which might ride a mount (such as illithids). Unique aberrant weapon and defense technology can sometimes be found in these ruins, but beware the traps and constructs that may still be active here.
  • City Like the towns, aberrant cities are mainly dwellings. However, these dwellings go much deeper into the ground, as city aberrants had buildings similar to our real world apartment complexes. In addition, most aberrant cities were divided into neighborhoods based on race (e.g. beholders in one area, ettercaps in another). A city will usually have several shops, inns, guard houses, political structures, monuments, libraries, labs, temples, or anything else one might find in a place where huge groups of individuals live together.
  • Mine Aberrants mined iron for weapons, gems for magic and psionics, and precious metals for magic items and currency. The exact nature of the mine is up to the GM, but in the tunnels of one of these structures adventurers may find strange mining equipment, a vein of untapped ore, a passage to The Underdark, or things uncovered by the aberrants even they weren’t expecting. Aberrant mines are extremely dangerous and could be crawling with all sorts of monsters from dark mantles to undead aberrant miners.
  • Research Facility Aberrants spent thousands of years creating new technologies to fight the dragons. Their labs are amongst the most dangerous sites in all of Canus. Full of strange blueprints, prototype weapons, and bizarre defenses, these are the complexes many scholars and mages dream of seeing… and die within. Traps, dangerous living experiments, crazed constructs, and unstable inventions are just a few of the hazards that await those who trespass.
  • Prison During their thousands-of-years-long war with the dragons, the aberrants created a few massive structures to hold these beasts and their minions. Within these walls are smaller holding cells for the dragons’ shardmind and teifling allies, devious traps, dragon-sized torture devices, and enormous holding cells with enormous chains, enchanted to prevent those locked in them from using magic and breath weapon attacks. Today these ruins hold evidence of the ugliest parts of The Aberrant-Dragon War. As the aberrants began losing the war and pulled back from their prisons to defend their settlements, they killed the dragons and their allies who were imprisoned. Their remains can be found throughout the complexes. Undead beasts could roam the halls of these complexes, or perhaps, since they are immortal, a dragon or shardmind could have survived a prison’s purge and has been waiting for freedom for hundreds of thousands of years.

If you like what you’re reading, please check out my podcast on The Tome Show, follow me on Twitter, tell your friends about the blog, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

Hey all, I have a bit on an announcement to make. This is probably going to be a surprise to no one as I’ve mentioned or hinted this publicly a few times, but when I’m done building the world of Exploration Age, I’m going to put it out for everyone to enjoy. I’m still trying to determine a good price point for a PDF that has all of the world information a DM and players would need to get started. Essentially, I plan on releasing two products at first. One will be the campaign guide PDF that will include all the world info that’s public knowledge, and a few new tidbits of game information for your campaign (how much depends on the Wizards of the Coast OGL). The second product would be a list of DM secrets of Exploration Age that would reveal some hidden plots and pull back the curtain on a lot of the map’s blank spots.

Anyway, I really need your help. Let me know if this is something that would interest you as a consumer. Please take ten seconds and answer this poll about how much you would pay for a campaign guide PDF for Exploration Age. Please keep in mind the product would lack a lot of art, since I’m putting it out in my own. Also parts of the material would be taken from the blog posts that are already out there.

Cool! Thanks so much.

As part of this announcement I’ve decided to give you a sneak peek at an excerpt from the Campaign Guide. Take a look!

Rumors

First up is an explanation of all the rumor entries this book will have (and you’ll notice this blog already has plenty in past posts).

“You’ll notice a list of rumors associated with certain subjects in this book. These are simply unconfirmed whisperings known to all folk. It’s up the your GM which of these rumors, if any, are true. Hopefully they inspire you to do something totally cool and creative that is of your own design!”

Time

Then an explanation of the way time passes on Canus. I find it’s least confusing for folks to stick to around the same number of days and months per year as the real world calendar. Also I like the ten-day week from Forgotten Realms so I stole it! Thank you Ed Greenwood.

“On Canus, one year is 360 24-hour days. Every 30 days is a new month and there are 12 months in a year. The months in order are Sword, Mace, Axe, Spear, Arrow, Dagger, Hammer, Flail, Trident, Staff, Lance, and Pike. There are three ten-day weeks in a month. The days of the week in order are Helm, Shield, Gauntlet, Splint, Plate, Leather, Greaves, Scale, Chain, and Buckler . The calendar was actually established by warlords on Parian long ago, hence weapons and armor as naming conventions. The year begins with Winter and every three months a new season begins.”

Travel

Finally, here’s a bit about travel and a new and improved map of Canus after getting some feedback! Thanks for that. I’m listening so please keep commenting.

Hopfully a little easier to read and you'll notice larger poles and some errors corrected.

Hopfully a little easier to read and you’ll notice larger poles and some errors corrected.

“Canus is a world bigger than Earth. As a result getting from place to place can take some time. Luckily, there are all kinds of transportation that can help speed adventurers from quest to quest.

  • Roads Parian and Findalay’s roads are lined with magic speedy cobblestones installed by The Arcane College. These roads allow for fast travel between towns and cities when using special swifty boots, swifty horseshoes, and swifty wheels. The speed of the traveler is tripled when using these items along the special roads. Travel along these roads is safe, thanks to the swift speed. If PCs are traveling quickly along the road at tripled speed, there is no need to roll for random encounters, until they stop to rest. Of course the GM may always have encounters on the road if he or she so chooses.
  • Trails Certain terrain on the map is considered difficult terrain. Travelers move at half their speed through these areas which include jungle, forest, mountains, snow fields, frozen ocean, swamps, and marshes. Any travel along a trail through difficult terrain means travelers can move at normal speed.
  • Rail Line Bragonay may not have speedy cobblestones, but they do have The Jackrabbit. This underground railway travels at a speed of 100 miles per hour and doesn’t need to stop to rest. This breakneck speed allows for safe, quick travel between cities and towns in Bragonay.
  • Tunnels While not indicated on the map, all of Bragonay’s mountains and most areas of The Underdark are carved with tunnels. Tunnels allow for normal speed through mountainous and rocky areas, but every day spent underground traveling requires a successful DC 10 Wisdom (Survival) check. Failure of this check means travel in a random direction determined by the GM. A successful DC 10 Wisdom (Survival) can be made the next day to help get travelers back on track. This check may be made earlier if the travelers realize they are lost. Dwarves, drow, duergar, svirfneblin, and other underground-dwelling creatures cannot get lost underground.
  • Boats Canus is full of oceans, rivers, and lakes. Various boats, seen in the equipment section can tell you their various speeds.
  • Airships Airship travel is possible all over Parian and Findalay. There are airship docks in every above-ground city and town. Airships travel at an amazing 300 miles per hour and don’t need to stop and rest. However, every 3000 miles, an airship must stop for ten minutes and refuel. The refueling process requires a huge tower topped with a massive crystalline rod. The rods are then filled with arcane energy by mages once a year. All airships have an apparatus which allows them to connect to the rod and recharge. These towers have not been built on the sea, The Damned Lands, nor Verda yet, so airship travel is confined to the surface of Findalay and Parian.
  • Mounts There are a variety of special mounts available in Exploration Age. See the equipment section for information about travel speeds. Certain mounts can ignore specific types of difficult terrain.
  • Portals The Tiefling Spires of Verda, the four cities of Quatus, the palaces of Parian, and a few major cities in Findalay hold teleportation circles and linked portals that allow for fast travel for the most important citizens of Canus. Others may be given access to these portals if their cause is deemed worthy by those who control them or if the price is right.”

Also I’d really like to take a quick moment to ask you to share this blog around with your tabletop gaming friends if you dig what’s happening in these posts. Thanks so much!

If you like what you’re reading, please check out my podcast on The Tome Show, follow me on Twitter, tell your friends about the blog, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

The latest episode of my podcast is up!

Inspired by Advanced Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, a recently premiered episode of NBC’s Community, I sat down with Vegas LancasterRay FallonAndrew Kane, and Andrew Timmes to talk about the portrayal of D&D in the film Zero Charisma and in the television shows CommunityFreaks and Geeks, and The Big Bang Theory. This episode was recorded on March 23, 2014.

If you like what you’re reading please follow me on Twitter, tell your friends, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

All creatures are free. All masters must die.

This is the motto of Lifeforged, a group of bandit terrorists living in Bragonay’s deserts. Many who cross paths with these ruffian warforged believe they are no more than deranged highwaymen. But those with a deeper understanding of Bragonay’s history know the truth. Lifeforged have much more than gold on their minds.

The Creation of the Lifeforged

Like a big metal Batman. With an axe.

Not so long ago Bragonians created the warforged to be the lowest rung on the ladder of their strict caste system. For years these beings did everything they were told without complaint. They were the perfect slaves, serving in all capacities from butler to soldier.

However, years after their creation warforged began to do the unexpected, thinking and feeling for themselves. At first the Bragonians dwarves were happy about these surprises, for it meant the warforged could be proactive in their duties and take initiative without being told to do a task.

Things turned bad for the dwarves when some warforged tried blackmailing their masters for a position higher up in the caste system. The dwarves were shocked by these actions, their creations were unruly. These warforged who tried to do such things were considered rejects and dismantled.

When other warforged heard of this they began to take action. More tried blackmail to earn a higher caste position while others turned to outright violence or attempted to flee Bragonay. Marrial’s Masters of None became involved, secretly helping some slaves escape. The problem became so great that the Bragonian Empress at the time made a law stating no warforged could advance beyond the slave level of the caste system. This enraged the warforged and a nation-wide revolt began.

During this revolt, many warforged fled from Bragonay and were accepted as members of other societies. Others stayed loyal to their dwarf masters and a large group formed an army. Those soldiers found themselves in Bragonay’s deserts. This was the perfect place for warforged as the hot sun does not burn them or make them thirst as it would any fleshy foes. The living constructs in this army called themselves Lifeforged.

Out in the desert Lifeforged was safe. This was their terrain and they held all the advantages. The Lifeforged army grew too bold and moved from mounting surgical strikes and guerrilla attacks to a full scale march on Bragonay’s capital, Kerdabi. The Lifeforged believed their hour was at hand since most of the Bragonian armed forces were abroad at the time, trying to invade other countries as part of The Fourth Great War. The Bragonians got word of the attack and secretly pulled their armies back. It cost Bragonay the war, but allowed them to keep their country.

In the Battle of Kerdabi the dwarves decimated the Lifeforged ranks, taking no prisoners. Any warforged who had revolted were considered faulty machinery and destroyed. Some Lifeforged managed to escape. A sizable force of Lifeforged still roams the Bragonian deserts, planning attacks, growing their ranks, and seeking support where they can.

All of this violence is based on one fundamental disconnect – warforged see themselves as living beings, and many Bragonians see them as machines. That is true of some Bragonians to this day.

Goals of Lifeforged

Today Lifeforged operates as desert bandits, attacking caravans and stealing the goods for resale, but they are hoping to grow into something much greater than they ever were. Here is the Lifeforged plan:

  1. Gain Coin. The warforged do this by hijacking desert caravans as described above. If the caravans are Bragonian, and most of them are in The Wastes, Lifeforged will ransom any wealthy merchants back to their families, kill any dwarf soldiers, and liberate any warforged. Any foreign caravans that have their goods hijacked and are left with enough food and water to survive a journey back through The Wastes.
  2. Increase Ranks. Lifeforged lost many of its soldiers in the Battle of Kerdabi. However, it has been slowly and steadily regrowing. By recruiting warforged from raided caravans, using surgical strikes to liberate the enslaved, and blackmailing Bragonians into freeing their slaves, Lifeforged’s numbers are approaching full-blown army status once again. Of course, these freed warforge are always given a choice, join Lifeforged or spend their newfound liberty in any other way they like. The only answer which is unacceptable to Lifeforged soldiers is a return to slavery. Surprisingly though, this is the choice of some recently freed warforged who find themselves on the wrong end of a Lifeforged sword.
  3. Gain Allies. Free Aeranore has been known to run weapons to Lifeforged in exchange for coin. The Tiefling Spires in a rare public address welcoming Bragonay and Parian to Verda, condemned slavery. But the most direct support to Lifeforged comes from Masters of None. The Marrial-based organization sends all the aid they can, including soldiers who can be spared to help free any warforged. Lifeforged regularly sends appeals to other organizations and governments asking for aid and help, but because of their illegal bandit activity many refuse to help them.
  4. Free All Warforged. This is Lifeforged’s penultimate goal. They would see an end to slavery of their brethren by any means necessary. Right now that means resuming a full-scale war with Bragonay’s empire once they have the soldiers and coin. Until that time they will be killing what slavers they can, intimidating and blackmailing others who own slaves into giving up the practice, and slaying those warforged who hurt the cause by choosing to remain slaves.
  5. Free All Slaves. Once Lifeforged has freed Bragonay’s warforged, their next target is Parian. Parian practices slavery of all races, not just warforged, and their reign must also be stopped, by any means necessary.

You don’t own me!

Rumors

  • Several Bragonian inventors and smiths are working with Lifeforged. All of the dwarves’ superior weaponry is being assembled with secret weak spots that are known to Lifeforged and will be exploited in major battles.
  • Many warforged have migrated to Verda to begin a new life, but perhaps they have a more nefarious purpose. Some believe they are working with the tieflings to recover The Reckoning Spell and use it against the Bragonians.
  • Lifeforged is not at all what it seems. They are a group of warforged supremacists who believe constructs are superior to flesh humanoids. After they take Bragonay for themselves, the rest of Canus will follow.
  • The Empire of Bragonay is actually in league with Lifeforged. After The Fourth Great War Bargonay’s economy is suffering. Through Lifeforged, the empire is able to ease that pain and take what they need from merchants and get free handouts from Masters of None.

If you like what you’re reading, please check out my podcast on The Tome Show, follow me on Twitter, tell your friends about the blog, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

“It’s been a while,” the clergyman thinks as he gets out of bed and reaches for his prayer-book. It hasn’t held interest for him in years, but today, for some reason, he feels compelled to grab the book off its near-permanent location – the bedside table.

Also on the table sits a pile of gold and bank notes – extortion fees from the nobles he is blackmailing. The scheme is simple – the nobles come to the cleric to confess, a process during which he remains anonymous. The cleric makes a note of the noble’s sin and identity and then years later collects his money via blackmail, long after the noble has confessed.

Sighing, the clergyman opens his holy book to begin his prayers and he throat becomes dry. Cold sweat breaks out on his brow, his back, and under his arms. The pages of his prayer-book are defaced. Right over the text someone has painted a face with two large, black ears. Behind him a voice speaks.

“If only you hadn’t given up your prayers for the pursuit of wealth, you may have received our warning in time.” The cleric does not turn around. His face curls in terror and he can only let out a whimper followed by a sob.

“We cannot show mercy to those who cannot save themselves.”

“Please!” the cleric finally musters the strength to save between tears. It is not enough. Before he can say more, he looks down on the floor and sees the carpet stained with blood. His blood. Dripping from his own white robes and from the end of the blade sticking out of his stomach.

Dark Whispers is secret organization of Gnome Assassins operating in Aeranore. They seek to right anything they deem an injustice through intimidation and murder.

The Founding of Dark Whispers

‘Nuff said.

The gnomes fled Parian many millennia ago due to the violent persecution of their race at the hands of a human emperor. A mass exodus of humans and gnomes from Parian landed on Findalay and founded Aeranore. For thousands of years after that exodus, the gnomes and humans worked side by side building a better life in Aeranore.

Then Maldwyn the Mad King sat Aeranore’s throne. His paranoia and suspicious nature made him fear the gnomes’ ability with magic. Maldwyn ordered all gnomes be removed from The Council of Mages and then demanded every member of the race be rounded up and put into walled camps. Any who spoke out against the actions of Maldwyn were immediately put to death. The gnomes had few allies amongst each other, let alone from other races. However, a group of courageous gnomes rose up and decided to take action against Maldwyn. They became everything he feared, mastering illusion magic and stealth. One night, they infiltrated Maldwyn’s court, killed Maldwyn, and all of his advisors. The victims’ ears were blackened, for the gnomes had poisoned them via the ear canal while they slept soundly.

The king’s brother, Madrin, took the throne and immediately did away with the camps. He never searched for his brother’s assassins. Many believe the gnomes intimidated Madrin, explaining his actions and lack of retribution.

Since there was never a warrant issued for the arrest of the gnomes who killed Maldwyn, they remained free. The vowed to never again suffer injustice at hands of another race. Folks took to calling the clan of assassins Dark Whispers, a name taken from a poem written about The Night of Black Ears by, Namfadring Dazlittle, a famous gnome bard (whom may have been a member of Dark Whispers).

The Manifesto

This lady ain’t messin’ around.

Dark Whispers has set forth a code for dealing with those they deem unjust.

  • Those in power have no one to keep them in check; therefore we shall be the judge, jury, and executioners of those with power who oppress those without.
  • All people are flawed. Before they are delivered judgement, they must first be given a symbol which warns them they are giving into evil temptation and will soon be dealt justice if they cannot change their ways.
  • There are no third chances.
  • There will be no warning given to those who take action to intentionally harm the gnomish peoples as a whole. These are the worst kind of criminal and shall be dealt a swift justice. We cannot allow our race to risk suffering again.
  • Those in power hold many of the cards and only a preponderance of evidence is needed to convict them.
  • The word of the common folk is worth twice as much as that of nobles.

By these rules Dark Whispers deals out judgement.

Secrecy

No one knows the structure of Dark Whispers or how one joins the organization. Dark Whispers could be as small as ten gnomes or could have hundreds of members. To this day there is very little proof they exist. Copies of their manifesto can be found and occasionally a noble finds a face with two black ears on a piece of parchment of carved into his or her furniture, but this could be and most likely is someone playing a childish prank. It’s the Exploration Age equivalent of Bloody Mary in many people’s eyes.

Still occasionally one of those nobles who has received the sign does become a corpse. The nature of this organization and the tales surrounding it have become of great concern to Queen Icillia IV and her court.

Remember how David had a fox… I’ve got a pet too.

Dark Game

Queen Icillia IV has publicly expressed her own disgust with Dark Whispers, an organization she fully believes to be real. Though she speaks out against the organization, she has never received a mark of warning or threat otherwise, strengthening the belief for many that there is no Dark Whispers. Other argue that while Icillia rails against the organization, she has done nothing under-handed during her time as Queen of Aeranore and therefore Dark Whispers continues to let her live… for now.

Either way, the queen has launched her own investigation into Dark Whispers. Many say a dangerous game of imbedded spies and double agents has begun. Who is working for whom is unclear and loyalties are fluid. Of course, publicly, no one is really sure what’s happening, since the existence of Dark Whispers has yet to be confirmed.

There are a lot more pictures of badass gnomes on the internet than I thought.

More Rumors

Here are some other rumors about Dark Whispers:

  • The organization is currently run by a racist gnome supremacist who has plans to use Dark Whispers to eliminate all humans and other non-gnomes in Aeranore.
  • Dark Whispers is no longer exclusive to gnomes and the organization may contact all types of like-minded specialists to join.
  • Dark Whispers has grown beyond Aeranore and now has branches all over Canus.
  • Solving the plight of warforged slaves in Bragonay has become a primary focus of Dark Whispers.
  • Queen Icillia was assassinated by Dark Whispers long ago and has been replaced by a doppleganger in service to the organization.
  • There is no Dark Whispers. The rumors were started by Madrin, who actually desired the throne for himself. He murdered his brother and Maldwyn’s advisors. Since that time Aeranore’s Royalty has used Dark Whispers as a cover for a few assassinations.
  • The deep gnomes of The Underdark have their own branch of Dark Whispers known as The Lightbringers, but they are assassins for hire.

The idea here is that DMs can choose which of these rumors they want to be true or not about Dark Whispers. Or perhaps they could add their own and keep the players guessing!

If you like what you’re reading, please check out my podcast on The Tome Show, follow me on Twitter, tell your friends about the blog, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!