Archive for May, 2014

I’ve spoken quite a bit about the world beneath the world in Exploration Age. Now, I’m happy to present you with a work in progress map of what the known Underdark looks like.

Known Underdark in Exploration Age

Known Underdark in Exploration Age

And here it is overlayed on the map of the surface of Canus

And here it is overlaid on the map of the surface of Canus

As you can see, most of the world of The Underdark is unexplored. What dangers, wonders, and rewards lie miles below the surface of Canus waiting to be discovered?

Why Explore The Underdark?

Just like Venice.

The unexplored Underdark isn’t solid rock. It is a world beneath a world about which a fraction is known. Here are just a few reasons one might want to delve into the most dangerous place in Canus.

  • Trade Routes There may be some way to get from Parian to Findalay to Verda without using a ship. If these pathways and tunnels could be charted perhaps a railway similar to the Jackrabbit could be built for faster, cheaper transportation of goods.
  • Gem Mining All permanent magic items in Exploration Age require gems to focus their power. Beyond that, gems also have their normal uses as decorations and displays of wealth and beauty. Right now only a few mines are worked on the surface and in the fortified zones of Quatus. The discovery of a mine would spell profit for any who could hold it.
  • Precious Metals While more mines for precious metals like copper, silver, gold, mithral, and adamantine exist on the surface of Canus than gem mines, most of those mines are in Bragonay. The other countries of Canus would love to discover mines of their own to take power from the dwarves, while the dwarves themselves would love to increase their holdings on precious metals.
  • Aberrant Technology Many aberrant ruins dot the surface of Canus, and their exploration has led to the discovery of many wonderful modern technologies. Those ruins are hundreds of thousands of years old, so imagine what the aberrants may have in their Underdark cities now. The danger of a recon mission into an aberrant city is great, but the rewards could be limitless.
  • Threat Removal Under Parian and Findalay the aberrants roam unchecked, while The Sleeping Ones plot their revenge in their dreams beneath Verda. These are threats which could strike the surface of Canus in the future – so isn’t it better to strike now before the incursions begin?
  • Fresh Starts Dwarves in Bragonay seek to escape the caste. Drow do not share the patriotism of their brethren. Shifters are tired of wandering. These are just a few of the folk who might strike out into the unknown Underdark seeking a new life all about basic survival.
  • Discovery for Discovery’s Sake Sometimes a person needs to climb a mountain just because it’s there. The Underdark is rife with the unknown. There are new people to meet, civilizations to be uncovered, creatures to fight, and experiences to be had. The draw of the unknown has a powerful pull on some curious humanoids of Canus. Many academics would also argue that learning for learning’s sake is what separates people from animals.

Dangers Below

Was ever a creature more appropriately named than the roper?

The Underdark is teeming with dangers unlike any on Canus’ known surface.

  • Aberrants The Underdark beneath Findalay teems with all manner of aberrant creatures looking to take the lives of the folk of Quatus. These aberrants abhor most humanoids and fight with a belief that their home was taken from them unjustly. Any adventurers who cross paths with aberrants would be wise to strike first or run with all haste.
  • The Sleeping Ones Beneath Verda lie the ancient aberrant-devil hybrids known as morchia. Though these creatures are supposedly slumbering thanks to The Reckoning Spell, there are those who claim to have seen morchia moving about in excursions into Verda’s underground. Other rare expeditions into Verda’s Underdark have been lost only to turn up somewhere else deep underground later, killed in a ritualistic fashion.
  • Beasts There are plenty of creatures in The Underdark who have always lived there. These beasts are as natural to Underdark tunnels as a camel is to a desert. Beware them when adventuring below ground. That’s their turf.
  • Other Humanoids Orcs, kobolds, goblinoids, troglodytes, and more have been known to call an Underdark cavern home. They’ve also been known to call other humanoids dinner.
  • Collapses The tunnels of The Underdark are not always stable and as such have a way of collapsing. If certain weak tunnels suffer trauma such as mining, battle, or even heavy travel the reverberations from these activities could cause a collapse.
  • Traps In several places, the aberrants, the morchia, the folk of Quatus, or other humanoids may have erected traps for battles imminent or long forgotten. Adventurers would be wise to examine where they step.
  • Diseases The Underdark isn’t the kind of place in which one wants to catch a cold. Strange diseases could ruin an individual’s health and mind in ways unlike any other. Here are a few examples of Underdark diseases:
    • Mushroom Mind The mushrooms of The Underdark are generally harmless, but there are those that should be avoided. None more so than the green-spotted murder mushrooms. Breathing in the spores this fungi produces gives them a chance to attach to one’s brain. From there the mushrooms grow within a person’s skull, slowly reducing their mental and physical faculties. Victims of this disease eventually get green spots on their scalp similar to those on the murder mushrooms. If a creature breathes in the spores he or she should make a DC 12 Wisdom saving throw. If the creature fails, he or she contracts Mushroom Mind. During each extended rest roll 1d6 on the table below to determine what happens. The disease may be cure by a restoration spell. A second casting of the spell also restores any ability score damage.
      • d6 Effect
        1 Reduce victim’s strength score by 1d4
        2 Reduce victim’s dexterity score by 1d4
        3 Reduce victim’s constitution score by 1d4
        4 Reduce victim’s intelligence score by 1d4
        5 Reduce victim’s wisdom score by 1d4
        6 Reduce victim’s charisma score by 1d4
    • Slug Snot When adventurers sleep in the open Underdark at night, they would be wise to plug their noses. Brown slugs called drunkbugs are known to crawl into a sleeping victim’s nose and travel down their throat into their stomachs. These slugs attach themselves to the lining of the stomach and secret alcohol, thus intoxicating the victim. The victim also produces an excess of mucus which is colored brown, hence the name of the disease. If a drunkbug crawls into a person’s stomach, he or she must make a DC 11 Constitution saving throw or contract the disease. For the duration of the disease the target is intoxicated. Each extended rest, the target is allowed a new Constitution saving throw to try to vomit up the bug and cure the disease. A lesser restoration spell can also cure the disease.
    • Wasting Away This is the most horrifying disease The Underdark has to offer. There are special patches of phosphorescent, psionic mold which grow only in the deepest tunnels of The Underdark. Breathing in the spores of the mold can cause Wasting Away which causes its victims to age one year per day. A victim may not realize he or she is infected until several days go by, thus they have aged several years. When breathing in the psionic spores, a creature must make a DC 14 Wisdom saving throw or contract the disease. Once wasting away is contracted it can only be removed by a restoration spell and the aging process can only be reversed by a wish spell. Ageless creatures, such as elves, shardmind, drow, and warforged are immune to this disease.
    • Wiped Away This disease is caused by breathing in a magical mist which is created by The Void. Those who breathe in the mist must make a DC 13 Wisdom saving throw or contract Wiped Away. Wiped Away is a special disease which magically influences any person who has met or heard of the victim. Over the course of ten days, the victim begins to forget who he or she is – as do the people around the victim. By the end of the disease it is as if the person never lived and he or she literally phases out of existence. This disease may only be cured by a wish spell.
  • The Void Scholars believe that there is something beneath The Underdark called The Void. This space is actually no space at all. It is absolute nothingness. It has the absence of being. There are a few places in The Underdark which are open pits into The Void. Spending too much time near one of these pits can make a person’s outlook become nihilistic to the point of insanity. This can be seen in the troglodyte clans who worship The Void. They sacrifice victims by throwing them into the Void Pits. Many of the troglodytes seek to end the pointlessness of existence by finding a way to set The Void free and destroy Canus. Those who fall into The Void are never heard from again and cannot be raised from the dead… Suggesting perhaps that either their soul is destroyed or they are alive somewhere within The Void or somewhere else.

Interesting Underdark Sites

When traversing the world beneath the surface, there are many fantastic and awesome sights upon which to look. Here are a few.

  • Dragon Chambers When the dragons were born out of the crust of Canus, legend has it they sprung forth as fully formed adults. There are impressions of scales, horns, wings, and tails in the tunnels and chambers of The Underdark to support these claims. Some chambers even have the shape and appearance of a dragon’s body and those are the Dragon Chambers. Depending on the dragon birthed in the chamber, spells of a certain energy type may be stronger.
  • Softstone In Underdark badlands, one must be particularly careful about where he or she steps. There are patches of ground known as softstone, which can swallow a creature whole. These patches are actually holes in the ground, filled with a stoney liquid that is a colony of carnivorous mold. It is essentially a camouflaged quicksand which devours its victims while suffocating them.
  • Infinite Tunnels Some tunnels in The Underdark seemingly go on forever. Others do go on forever. Canny adventurers may discover they are traveling the same stretch of hallway over and over again. They have entered an infinite tunnel, one which loops a constant mile or less stretch. One end of the tunnel connects to the next. Infinite tunnels share another common feature – all have the remains of at least one dead humanoid. These anomalies are usually caused by the spirit of a person who died in the tunnel with unfinished business. The characters must find a way to speak with the spirit and either agree to help finish its business or destroy it to get out of the tunnel. Those who agree to take care of the spirit’s business have a year to do so. If they do not they will suffer a horrible curse which turns all water and food in their mouths to dust until they starve to death. This will happen whether or not the creature needs to eat and drink.
  • Bloody Grounds These semi-magical patches of stone have absorbed the blood of great battles which happened upon them. While standing on the Bloody Grounds a creature delivers a critical hit on an attack roll of 19 or 20.
  • Ice Slides The fastest way to get from one place to the next in The Underdark are the Ice Slides. Scholars believe these ice-coated tunnels were made when white dragons dug their way to the surface using their breath weapons. The ice has lasted ever since. Travelers can go down these tunnels very quickly by body-sliding, but they will probably want to be sure they know where the tunnel ends. Some are short and will only take a person a few hundred feet down and others go for miles into The Underdark. Traveling up an ice tunnel is a different matter entirely. Travelers can only move at half speed while making their way up an ice tunnel, and are subject to a DC 10 Dexterity (Acrobatics) check every hour. If they fail they make no progress on their journey that hour.
  • Underdark Ocean There is an underground ocean which seems to separate the West Canus Underdark from the East. The full size of this watery expanse has never been explored, for the darkness hides rocky stalagmites rising up from the depths. Not to mention the terrifying Underdark sea creatures waiting with hungry mouths for anything to eat. Dark krakens, deep crocodiles, aberrant merfolk, and more await unfortunate travelers. The dangers have made all attempts at scouting the Dark Ocean fail. There has not been an attempt to map it for nearly 500 years, when a drow explorer named Vasperio Dumasca set out to cross the yawning body of water. He and his crew were never heard from again, though they say if you stand on the coast you can hear their ship, Prime Voyager, ringing its bell. Others claim to have seen its ghostly visage far in the distance. At the bottom of the Dark Ocean’s freezing depths lie centuries old shipwrecks waiting to be discovered.

How’d I Do?

Let me know what you think! Is this Underdark dangerous enough? Is it different enough, but still recognizable? Does an underground ocean terrify you? I want to know what you think!

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!


A new episode of The Round Table podcast is up on The Tome Show’s site. This episode is about a great tool for worldbuilding called Realmworks from Lone Wolf Development. Liz Theis is on the Lone Wolf team and she tells us all about the new digital campaign management tool for players and GMs. This passion project was twenty years in the making for the developers and you’ll be glad you learned about it. It’s also just a great chat about worldbuilding and storytelling in general. This podcast was recorded on April 8, 2014. Check out the video below to learn more. This is a great product for any world builder, GM, or storyteller.

So check it out! No, they aren’t paying me. I’m just pumped this product exists.

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!

Guns. Man I have so many complicated feelings when I read that word, particularly when it comes to gaming. In a medieval fantasy setting, how does one create firearms that don’t do what firearms did in our real world – make other weapons obsolete.


And then this guy blows up in your face!

It seems like a popular way to make guns less attractive to adventurers and NPCs is to give them a drawback. Here are some of the more popular drawbacks I’ve seen:

  • Explosive I’ve seen a lot of firearms for systems with the caveat of roll a 1 when attacking with this weapon and it explodes dealing the wielder x amount of damage. That’s an interesting drawback! Makes using a firearm risky. However in order for this risk to be fun it needs to have the threat of actually happening. Rolling a 1 on a twenty-sided die occurs 5% of the time, which seems like a good amount of minimal risk, but at the same time I can’t think of ANYTHING that lasts long on the market that also has a 5% chance of fiery-explosion-in-your-faceville. Who would buy that?!?! And even worse, if you survive the malfunction, you have to go buy another one that has the same risk? Cutting those odds down would have to involve a trigger that then sets some more rolls into motion and that would then slow down play at the table. I’ve got to pass on this drawback for Exploration Age’s firearms.
  • Reload Times Well when you consider the real world this actually makes a ton of sense. Primitive guns took quite a while to reload. If you don’t believe me go watch some Revolutionary War reenactments. However, at the table this goes down one of two ways. One, you have one player who took the right feats, ability score increases, and sacrifices to be a great gun fighter who is at best useless every other round. This can severely hamper that person’s fun. Two, all your players carry a gun and use it as an encounter power and then drop the firearm and use other weapons. Either way, I think it’s still missing the mark for someone who wants to create a firearms using character.
  • No Magic This may actually be the worst drawback that is often involved when firearms make an appearance in a fantasy setting. They cannot be enchanted, because, ya know, in a world of squid-headed brain-eaters with mind powers and githyanki knights from the astral plane riding red dragons the thing that doesn’t make sense is a magic gun. That aside, this means most folks aren’t going to carry firearms around for the second half or more of their adventuring career. Regular gun or magic bow that increases you attack and damage bonuses while also possibly granting you a cool special ability and has a sweet name like Oathkeeper or Heartseeker? Not to mention, many high level creatures have damage resistances and immunities that cannot be pierced without a magic weapon, meaning bringing a gun to a dragon fight is a terrible idea. This drawback doesn’t make guns even with regular medieval weapons, it makes them the worst weapons around.
  • Expense This is usually a drawback added to one or more of the drawbacks above in a fantasy setting when firearms get involved. This does make some sense to me, the technology is newer and the weapons are more complex and require more sophistication in their design. Still it seems like an unfair way to punish someone for their character concept, especially if they’re buying a new weapon all the time because their gun just exploded. Plus when you really think about it many guns today are probably cheaper than swords, so I’m going to say that firearms have actually been around for a while and that accounts for their price being on par with other weapons.
  • Feat Tax In many settings a feat is required to use a firearm. This doesn’t make much sense to me since one of firearms advantages is that they are easier to use than most bows. Also, this prevents a character from using firearms until at least fourth level which means you can’t start out as a gunslinger. Going to have to say no.

What’s The Advantage?

A pet bear AND a gun? That’s cheating.

Why do we usually go through adding drawbacks to firearms in fantasy settings? Well, they often deal a lot more damage than other weapons, which, again, at first blush makes sense.

Ok, but, now let’s really think about it. In D&D hit points aren’t meant to simply represent the number of times a character can be stabbed with a sword or shot with an arrow before he or she kicks it. It’s a combination of that, plus stamina. So not every hit your character takes is a physical hit so to say. You’re being worn down for that final killing blow. I’m not sure why dodging a sword swing or crossbow bolt would waste anymore stamina than dodging a bullet.

Maybe some of you don’t agree with that Wizards of the Coast approved interpretation of hit points. In that case consider the following – if a PC could take say four or five sword hits or arrows without going down, why couldn’t he or she take four or five bullets? Let’s face it in the hands of a trained warrior a sword, bow, spear, trident, axe, hammer, or whatever is just as deadly as a gun. Likewise those not proficient with a sword or bow are just as likely to injure themselves or an unintended target as those not proficient with firearms.

Therefore I believe it is totally plausible that firearms in a D&D game would deal damage on par with other weapons. Maybe just a bit higher? If that’s the case then firearms don’t really need a drawback.

Which brings me to another point, I don’t think PCs who want their characters to use firearms are looking to deal more damage in the game. I believe they have a character concept involving firearms they think would be fun to play. They aren’t trying to break the game, just play an interesting character who uses a different kind of weapon.

Firearms in Exploration Age

So how about guns in Exploration Age, huh? Well, take a look at these charts and weapon descriptions I’ve been working on below and allow me to explain my thinking.

There are two types of firearms in Exploration Age. Those powered by gunpowder and those powered by aberrant magic. Take a look at the descriptions and table below to see what kinds of firearms you could have in your game.






Aberrant Revolver

50 gp

1d6 varies

5 lb.

Ammunition (range 80/320), light, see description

Aberrant Rifle

75 gp

1d8 varies

10 lb.

Ammunition (range 100/400), see description


75 gp

1d12 piercing

9 lb.

Ammunition (range 30/120), heavy, loading, two-handed


50 gp

1d8 piercing

8 lb.

Ammunition (range 15/60), heavy, loading, two-handed, see description


20 gp

1d6 piercing

4 lb.

Ammunition (range 20/80), loading, light

Aberrant Revolver Using technology discovered in the aberrant ruins, researchers at The Arcane College created a weapon capable of carrying eight pieces of ammunition. The gun can only take alchemical charges and depending on the ammunition it can deal fire, lightning, cold, or acid damage. Once an aberrant revolver has been fired eight times it needs to be reloaded using an action. An action may also be used to change out the type of ammunition in the aberrant revolver.

Aberrant Rifle Like the aberrant revolver, the aberrant rifle was also created by The Arcane College. This weapon packs more of a punch and can shoot further distances, though it is bulkier and requires two hands to use. The gun can only take elemental charges and depending on the ammunition it can deal fire, lightning, cold, or acid damage. Once an aberrant rifle has been fired eight times it needs to be reloaded using an action. An action may also be used to change out the type of ammunition in the aberrant rifle.

Blunderbuss  The blunderbuss is a firearm designed for close combat. Instead of bullets, a handful of pellets may be loaded into the gun. When pellets are loaded, the blunderbuss does not attack normally. Instead all creatures in a 15 foot cone must make a successful DC 14 dexterity saving throw or take 1d4 piercing damage.

Ammunition All firearms require ammunition to use. All bullets come with the appropriate amount of gunpowder needed to propel them from their weapons. The arquebus, blunderbuss, and pistol use bullets, the blunderbuss can use pellets, and the aberrant revolver and rifle take alchemical charges.




Alchemical Charges (20)


1 gp

2 lb.


1 gp

2 lb.


1 gp

2 lb.


1 gp

2 lb.

Bullets (20)

1 gp

2 lb.

Pellets (20 handfuls)

1 gp

2 lb.


So you can see, the arquebus, blunderbuss, and pistol are all primitive guns. They have the loading property, which means they can only be fired once per round, but do not take a full action to reload. The arquebus does more damage than a heavy crossbow, but sacrifices significant range to do, which feels realistic and not too overpowered nor like too much of a drawback. The pistol is the same deal when compared to the hand crossbow.

The crossbow information from the last D&D Next public playtest packet.

The crossbow information from the last D&D Next public playtest packet.

The blunderbuss is a special case as per it’s description. It has a very small range, but can be loaded with pellets, giving it a shotgun feel. This allows for a little more variety and another kind of feel a player wanting to play a gun-wielding PC might be after, though it is not overpowered since the spread option does only a little damage.

The aberrant guns take a different approach to firearms. This is a bit more sci-fi. I know, I know, don’t put your lasers in my fantasy, but hear me out! Exploration Age is already a world of airships, living constructs, and other strange magic technology. I think it makes sense that a world with a history so full of wars would have invested in a few weapons, especially with all this aberrant technology lying around, waiting to be discovered.

When it comes to distance and damage, you can see the aberrant revolver and rifle are just like the shortbow and longbow presented in the last public playtest packet for D&D Next. There are a few big differences when you look at descriptions of these items. The guns take an action to reload every 8 shots, that’s their disadvantage. Their big advantage is that they can do variable elemental damage types based on the ammunition with which they are loaded.

Screen Shot 2014-04-29 at 11.29.21 AM

Shortbow and longbow stats from the last D&D Next public playtest packet.

Also, take a look at the supplemental rule I’m adding to Exploration Age which allows the use of two light ranges weapons at once, so a character can use two pistols or two aberrant revolvers and have more a gunslinger feel during play if that’s what a player is after.

Ranged Two-Weapon Fighting When you are fighting with two light ranged weapons, you can attack twice when you take the attack option on your turn, attacking once with each weapon. You don’t add your ability modifier to the damage of the second attack, however. If you haven’t used your full move for the turn, you can move between attacks. And if you are wielding a light melee weapon in one hand instead of a light ranged weapon, your attack with that weapon is a melee attack.

This is based on the last public playtest packet’s melee two-weapon fighting rule.

The two-weapon fighting rules from the last D&D Next public playtest packet.

The two-weapon fighting rules from the last D&D Next public playtest packet.

So, how’d I do? Does this make sense or the guns too absurd in some way? Too little damage? Too much? Not enough drawbacks? Too many? I really want to know what you think!

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!