Posts Tagged ‘dwarf’

You may have already read about the dwarven gods of Exploration Age and their religion, Hierotheism. Well each of the seven dwarf gods wields a unique weapon. Today I’d like to show you an excerpt from the Exploration Age Campaign Guide about those weapons… well not the weapons of the dwarven gods, but rather their copies which exist on Canus.

That’s right, the Exploration Age magic item preview continues today with a look at these artifacts. After covering wondrous items, weapons, armor, rings, rods, staffs, wands, and bioarcane items, this was clearly the next thing to show off. Once all of these magic items have been shown revealed and reviewed by the public (that’s you!), I’ll add them to the Free Game Resources section of the site.

Say hello to the weapons of the dwarven gods and enjoy the excerpt below!

Tools of Order

Weapons (varies), artifacts (requires attunement)

Hierotheist priestesses preach that the goddesses of the caste created copies of their weapons for seven mighty warriors to rise up against the chromatic dragons. These weapons, the Tools of Order, had the laws of the caste system eventually used in Bragonay engraved into them. The seven dwarf warriors were the leaders of their stations and enforced the divine will of their goddesses. While the weapons were lost in the war with the dragons, their laws remain in place today. Many dwarfs spend centuries hunting for any clue of the Tools of Order.

Some outside the Heirotheist religion claim these weapons are not divine at all but rather made by powerful shardmind mages. In fact these naysayers claim that the dwarves refused to rise up with the shardminds against the chromatic dragons so the crystalline beings created the Tools of Order to appeal to the dwarves’ piety. They say it is the shardminds themselves who hid these weapons so the dwarves would never know of their deception. These sacrilegious claims have only made seekers of the Tools of Order all the more desperate to find the weapons of their gods.

Each of the Tools of Order is a magic weapon which grants a +3 bonus to attack and damage rolls made with it. When you score a critical hit with one of these weapons roll the attack’s damage dice three times and add it together with any relevant modifiers. Each of the Tools of Order also functions as a ring of evasion, defender, and dragonslayer.

If a non-lawful or non-dwarf creature attempts to attune one of the weapons, it must make a DC 15 Charisma saving throw. On a failed save this creature takes 8d6 psychic damage taking only have damage on a successful one. The creature must repeat this saving throw anytime it attacks with the weapon.

Random Properties. Each of the Tools of Order has the following random properties:

  • 2 minor beneficial properties
  • 1 major beneficial property
  • 1 minor detrimental property

Dominate Person. While holding one of these weapons you can cast dominate person (save DC 18). Once you have cast the spell you cannot cast it again until next dawn.

Strength of the Caste. If 2 or more of the Tools of Order are within 100 feet of one another, each wielder gains an additional +1 bonus to damage and initiative rolls for every other weapon within range.

Destroying the Tools. The only way to destroy the Tools of Order is by freezing them in the coldest part of the Nine Hells and then breaking them against the hardest stone in the Plane of Earth.

Order-Keeper

This greatsword is forged of adamantine and has diamonds shaped into Dwarish runes along the center of the blade. Its engraved hilt of gold depicts a mighty army of dwarves working together to slay an ancient red dragon. It is made in the likeness of the weapon wielded by Caramey, the Heirotheist goddess of the empress caste.

Increased Strength. While wielding this weapon your Strength score increases by 2, to a maximum of 24.

Resist Fire. While wielding this weapon you resist fire damage.

Head-Remover

This sickle’s blade is made of pure emerald. Its ebony wood shaft is marked with silver Dwarish runes on one side and plated with gold depiction of an army of dwarves removing the head of an ancient blue dragon on the other. It is made in the likeness of the weapon wielded by Meralla, the Heirotheist goddess of the warlord caste.

Increased Constitution. While wielding this weapon your Constitution score increases by 2, to a maximum of 24.

Resist Lightning. While wielding this weapon you resist lightning damage.

Secrets Released

This dagger is made entirely of obsidian and embedded with small sapphire Dwarish runes on the blade. Its gold-plated hilt depicts a noble family of dwarves executing a bound ancient green dragon. It is made in the likeness of the weapon wielded by Zelti, the Heirotheist goddess of the noble caste.

Increased Charisma. While wielding this weapon your Charisma score increases by 2, to a maximum of 24.

Resist Poison. While wielding this weapon you resist poison damage. If you are a dwarf, you are immune to poison damage while wielding this weapon.

Judgement

This adamantine battleaxe is adorned with ruby Dwarish runes. Its gold haft depicts a lone dwarf hero standing victorious over the bodies of several dead green dragons. It is made in the likeness of the weapon wielded by Swarvune, the Heirotheist goddess of the warrior caste.

Increased Strength. While wielding this weapon your Strength score increases by 2, to a maximum of 24.

Resist Poison. While wielding this weapon you resist poison damage. If you are a dwarf, you are immune to poison damage while wielding this weapon.

Dragonsbane

This oversized maul is adorned with Dwarish runes of pearl along its marble head. Its gold haft depicts a hail of arrows taking down an ancient black dragon in flight. It is made in the likeness of the weapon wielded by Shalleal, the Heirotheist goddess of the artisan caste.

Increased Intelligence. While wielding this weapon your Intelligence score increases by 2, to a maximum of 24.

Resist Acid. While wielding this weapon you resist acid damage.

Servitor

This war pick’s head is made of pure ruby carved with Dwarish runes. Its gold haft depicts a group of villagers defeating an ancient white dragon in combat. It is made in the likeness of the weapon wielded by Berga, the Heirotheist goddess of the peasant caste.

Increased Wisdom. While wielding this weapon your Wisdom score increases by 2, to a maximum of 24.

Resist Cold. While wielding this weapon you resist cold damage.

Worthy Example

This simple club is carved of oak and inlaid with diamond Dwarish runes around its head. An image of a dwarf slave bowing to another is carved into its wood. It is made in the likeness of the weapon wielded by Almahad, the Heirotheist god of the slave caste.

Increased Wisdom. While wielding this weapon your Wisdom score increases by 2, to a maximum of 24.

Resist Fire. While wielding this weapon you resist fire damage.

Feedback Please!

Your feedback has been so helpful in designing these magic items. Please continue to leave comments and let me know what you think!

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

On Thursday last week I wrote a post about the nature and game mechanics of aasimar in Exploration Age. In that post I hinted briefly that deva PCs would be available to my players as well. This was not the first time I mentioned deva – they also made an appearance in a post I wrote about the multiverse in Exploration Age. So now, let’s get a little more in-depth with the deva as a PC race in Exploration Age.

The Eternal War

Reborn and ready for war.

No one is sure which came first – the demonic rakshasa or the angelic deva. Both claim to have given rise to the other. It certainly is a chicken and egg situation. A deva who lives an evil life will be reborn as a rakshasa and a rakshasa may defy its nature, live a life of selflessness and charity, and be reborn a deva. These two races, who are so connected, also hate one another. Both will stop at nothing to see their enemy’s complete obliteration. Of course each race’s immortality makes that nigh impossible, unless all deva are reborn as rakshasa or visa versa.

Deva live on the plane of Biatopia, fighting a never-ending was with the rakshasa as both races are eternally reborn. Deva have bards who sing at the top of their voices in battles. These bards focus on songs of selfless heroic deeds and the value of good. It is the hope of the deva forces these songs will change the hearts of the rakshasa before their deaths in battle and bring the demonic beings back as one of the good guys. This tactic rarely works, but it is only one method the deva use to convert their foes. Many defeated rakshasa are taken as prisoners of the deva, confined to small, anti-magic cells, where they are shackled. The deva then engage the rakshasa in a sort of conditioning to try and make them see the light. This tactic seems to have some success, but the rakshasa actually seem to be slowly winning the war.

The rakshasa tactic is very straight forward. They commit acts of atrocious evil against the deva and try to make the deva retaliate in kind. The eternal war has broken the spirit of many deva and some are pushed over the edge when rakshasa openly torture their friends.

Some deva (and rakshasa) are so weary of The Eternal War and so these renegades have left Biatopia in hopes of seeking a better life on the Material Plane.

Deva Religion

Most deva believe their immortal souls are actually a piece of a soul of one true creator god who they call Zaxa. Their religion is known as Zaxism and they believe this god was benevolent. It is said when Zaxa created the multiverse, the effort tore his soul asunder into many small pieces. These pieces fell into Biatopia and became the deva. As deva lived their lives, those who were wicked were reborn as rakshasa. Zaxists believe if they can convert all rakshasa to deva they can enact a ritual in which they will sacrifice themselves and restore Zaxa to existence.

Zaxists are told that Zaxa’s heart survived the creation of the multiverse and was forged by a deva master craftsman into a hammer. This hammer, Zaxa’s Heart, is said to be able to remove both deva and rakshasa who are slain by it from existence. Those laid low by the hammer will not be reborn. If this is true, there is no way to know. Zaxa’s Heart was lost long ago in a battle during The Eternal War. Ranmar, the first deva to wield the hammer was captured by the rakshasa in battle before he got to use it. Before his capture he teleported the weapon away to an unknown location. Ranmar has not been heard from for thousands of years.

Deva as PCs

Just checking out my orb. Like ya do.

Many deva worry that they are forsaking the cause of their people when they head to Canus seeking a life of adventure and leave the front lines of The Eternal War. Biatopia’s deva citizens are warned that this act alone is selfish enough to fate them to a rakshasa rebirth. Though many now know truth is much more complicated.

Some deva adventure so they might experience new worlds and cultures. Others leave Biatopia in the hopes of actually accomplishing something in the multiverse as opposed to fighting a desperate, never-ending war. Then there are those who strike out on their own for a greedy purpose. They don’t wish to be part of The Eternal War any longer because they don’t enjoy working with a group and want to live a life at the expense of others. These devas often feel they are owed something for their service and are usually the ones reborn as rakshasa in Biatopia when they die.

A deva’s life on Canus is one of discoveries both wondrous and disappointing. The variety of experiences and the moments of life’s pure joy astound and delight most deva, while the cruelty of non-demonic humanoids disgusts them. Deva often find themselves fighting a different sort of never-ending war, against the cruelty of civilized humanoid races. This can make some deva jaded, broken, and world-weary. Too many lifetimes with such cruelty has turned more than one deva toward alcoholism and orange spice addiction.

For other adventuring deva, this is not their first lifetime on Canus. They have been in the Material Plane and other places in the multiverse for as far back as they might remember. These deva usually have a pleasant outlook on the world and sometimes travel with the ancestors of people with whom they adventured lifetimes ago.

A deva adventurer might be a wizard traveling the multiverse in search of the origin of magic, a cleric searching the Material Plane for rakshasa to kill, a barbarian tired of The Eternal War and hoping to do some real good in Canus, or anything you dream.

Deva Traits

Ability Score Increase. Your Intelligence score increases by 1, your Wisdom score by 2.

Age. Devas are born as humans and have an immortal life span. They do not die of old age, but can be killed by disease or by wounds.

Alignment. Most devas tend toward good alignment. They may have been first made that way, and now lifetime after lifetime has taught them that being virtuous to others has its own reward. Many deva are also lawful. They follow their own codes of conduct so they don’t slip into a wicked life and return as the thing they hate most.

Size. Deva range from 6 to 6-and-a-half feet tall and weigh as much as humans do. Your size is Medium.

Speed. Your base walking speed is 30 feet.

Astral Resistance. You have resistance to necrotic and radiant damage.

Cantrip. You know one cantrip of your choice from the cleric spell list. Wisdom is your spellcasting ability score for it.

Memory of a Thousand Lifetimes. When you make an attack roll, saving throw, or ability check and dislike the result, you can roll 1d10 and add it to the result. You must complete a short rest before you can use this ability again.

Worldly Knowledge. You have proficiency in the History skill.

Languages. You can speak, read, and write Celestial and Common.

The End… Or Is It?

You know what? You guys are awesome. Thank you for reading, sharing, and commenting on my blog. Last week was my most successful week ever and that is thanks to you all.

Since you have been so awesome, I actually want to share a few more of the game mechanic I created for some more D&D races which won’t be in the player’s handbook. Say hello to the mul, shardmind, and thri-kreen. You can read more about these races in Exploration Age in my previous post Stealing Races.

Mul Traits

This guy is pumped to be here.

Ability Score Increase. Your Strength score increases by 2, your Constitution score by 1.

Age. Muls mature a few years before humans, and have a slightly shorter lifespan.

Alignment. Muls usually to keep to themselves and not get too involved in the matters of others, so they tend to be more neutral rather than good or evil. They run the gamut with respect to law and chaos. Some lawful muls have personal codes which guide their adventuring, while chaotic muls live life without caring what others may think of them.

Size. Mul range from 5 to a little over 5-and-a-half feet tall. Your size is Medium.

Darkvision. Thanks to your dwarven heritage, you have superior vision in dark and dim conditions. You can see in dim light within 30 feet of you as if it were bright light, and in darkness as if it were dim light. You can’t discern color in darkness, only shades of gray.

Speed. Your base walking speed is 30 feet.

Dwarven Toughness. Your hit point maximum increases by 1, and it increases by 1 every time you gain a level.

Incredible Resolve. You can end any incapacitated, paralyzed, or stunned condition effecting you on the start of your turn. You must complete a short rest before you can use this ability again.

Mul Vitality. You gain an extra hit die.

Tireless. You have advantage on saving throws and ability checks against increasing your exhaustion level.

Languages. You can speak, read, and write Common and Dwarven.

Shardmind Traits

Fancy!

Ability Score Increase. Your Intelligence score increases by 2, your Wisdom score by 1.

Age. Shardmind are forged as fully-formed adults and have an immortal lifespan.

Alignment. Shardminds tend toward neutrality on both the good and evil scale and the law and chaos scale.

Size. Shardminds are the same height as and slightly heavier then humans. Your size is Medium.

Speed. Your base walking speed is 30 feet.

Construct Rest. Instead of sleeping, you enter a sleep‐like state. You need to remain in it for only 4 hours each day. You do not dream; instead, you are fully aware of your surroundings and notice approaching enemies and other events as normal. After resting this way, you gain the same benefits a human does from 8 hours of sleep.

Crystalline Mind. You have resistance against psychic damage.

Living Construct. Even though you were constructed, you are a humanoid. You are immune to disease. You do not need to eat or breathe, but you can ingest food and drink if you wish.

Shard Swarm. As an action, your body breaks apart and moves 15 feet and reforms. This movement does not provoke opportunity attacks. Every creature adjacent to you before you move must make a Dexterity saving throw (DC 8 + your Intelligence modifier + proficiency). Creatures who fail the saving throw take 1d10 piercing damage. You must rest before you can use this ability again.

Telepathy. You can communicate telepathically with any creature within 60 feet of you that understands a language.

Languages. You can speak, read, and write Common and one other language of your choice.

Thri-kreen Traits

Look, Ma! Four hands!

Ability Score Increase. Your Dexterity score increases by 2, your Wisdom score by 1.

Age. Thri-kreen have short life spans. They mature around five years of age, and only live about 30 years.

Alignment. Many thri-kreen are lawful neutral. They are loyal to their friends and tribe, but suspicious of those they do not know well.

Size. Thri-kreen are usually around 7 feet tall and weigh between 400 and 500 pounds. Your size is Medium.

Darkvision. You have superior vision in dark and dim conditions. You can see in dim light within 60 feet of you as if it were bright light, and in darkness as if it were dim light. You can’t discern color in darkness, only shades of gray.

Speed. Your base walking speed is 35 feet.

Multiple Arms. Thri-kreen have two large arms and two smaller arms. Your large arms function as a human’s normally do, and the smaller arms can be used to wield light weapons in combat. As a bonus action, you may use your thri-kreen claw attack or attack with a light weapon wielded by of the smaller arms. You do not add your ability modifier to the damage of this bonus action attack.

Natural Jumper. Whenever you make a Strength (athletics) check to jump, you have advantage. In addition, you are always considered to have moved at least 10 feet on foot whenever you jump, even if you have not (in other words, you always jump as if you had a running start). You can long jump a number of feet equal to 5 + your Strength score and high jump a number of feet equal to 5 + your Strength modifier.

Thri-kreen Claws. Thri-kreen have claws. These natural attacks count as light, finesse melee weapons which deals 1d6 piercing damage. All thri-kreen are proficient with their claws.

Torpor. Instead of sleeping, you enter a state of torpor. You need to remain in it for only 4 hours each day. You are fully aware of your surroundings and notice approaching enemies and other events as normal when you are in this state. After resting this way, you gain the same benefits a human does from 8 hours of sleep.

Languages. You can speak, read, and write Common and Thri-kreen.

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

Hey guys! A brand spanking new episode of my podcast, The Round Table, is up on The Tome Show’s website.

In this in-depth analysis of the character creation rules in the brand spanking new edition of FREE Basic D&D, I chat with Rudy Basso, Vegas Lancaster, and Alex Basso as we dissect Part I of the downloadable pdf. Spoiler alert: we love it. Discussions of Parts II and III goodness to come in the future. This podcast was recorded on July 6, 2014. If you like Vegas, check out his improv troupe in Philadelphia, PA – The N Crowd.

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!

I’ve said a few times before that my players prefer a world that feels more real and that means a place where morality isn’t usually black and white. In the real world, it seems most governments, organizations, religions, and cultures are not perfectly good or evil. Often, this is because people are usually not purely motivated by the desire to be good or evil. They have other desires that are motivating their actions. Tradition, prosperity, and self-preservation are all motivators that can drive one’s actions. The morality of those actions are in the eye of the beholder. The most interesting antagonists usually are not evil for evil’s sake, but have another force motivating them. Similarly this applies to protagonists and good. Think of these examples in pop culture.

  • In Les Miserables, Javert is so dedicated to the law of the land that he doesn’t care about Jean Valjean’s moral character.
  • In The Punisher comic book series, Frank Castle seeks to give criminals a taste of their own medicine by mercilessly murdering them. He is both a damned criminal and savior.
  • In Game of Thrones, most of the characters without the last name Stark (and some with that last name) perform questionable actions in the pursuit of their goals. Several people believe themselves best suited to the throne for the sake of Westros, but only one of them may wear the crown and thus leading to violent and ugly actions on everyone’s part. (I’m trying intentionally to be spoiler free.)

Defining Gray

When we talk about morality being gray, it’s not usually a matter of half the time an entity is good and half the time that same entity is bad. A Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde situation isn’t relatable or sympathetic for most players. Often a world that is morally gray puts entities into situations in which there is no clear cut good or evil choice. Perhaps some are a shade darker or a lighter, but most cannot point to another and say with 100% confidence, “Well clearly, you should have done this instead.”

For instance, in Bragonay, the warforged were built as slaves for the dwarves. Bragonay has an entire economy who’s foundation is placed on the backs of these beings whom the dwarves created for just that purpose. However, these beings are completely sentient and turn out to be people in their own right, many of whom do not want to be enslaved. The dwarves are in a tricky spot. Freeing the warforged might be the morally right thing to do in many people’s eyes, but the dwarves will lose much and risk their country falling apart if they do free all these beings. The choice isn’t so easy, especially since, in many of the dwarves eyes, this is what the warforged were built to do. If not for their slavery and use to Bragonay, they would never exist in the first place.

Bragonay also recently tried to conquer all of Findalay, because they feel that Aeranore, Taliana, and Marrial were taken from them. Some might say the dwarves are correct. They settled all of Findalay first and welcomed the other races to their lands. As these other beings began to expand and took more and more of Findalay for themselves, the dwarves felt as if their hospitality had been taken advantage. So they retaliated and war began. The other nations united and defeated Bragonay, carving out pieces of the continent for themselves. To this day, that stings for the dwarves and they have tried multiple times to take back Findalay for themselves.

So to be a Bragonaian dwarf does not necessarily mean being a power-hungry slaver. Nor does it necessarily mean being on a crusade to take back the lands that were once Bragonaian. It could mean one or the other or both or none. It might mean being proud of one’s heritage and defending the choices of the dwarves while fostering a grudge towards Findalay’s other nations. Or perhaps a dwarf is more progressive and wishes to see the end of Bragonay’s slavery and a true peace within Findalay. All of these beings can be found within Canus and therefore the world is deeper and more complex. An argument could be made to support the actions of any of these people, though you or I may personally not agree.

That’s just Bragonay. Questionable actions in desperate time have been committed all over Canus. Fearing the end of their farming exports as other nations began to produce more food, Taliana poisoned the crops of other nations secretly, forcing them to buy from their people. The Metallic Dragons feared the aberrants, so they opened a portal to The Nine Hells and released a horde of devils upon the land. In response to a mad king’s purging Aeranore of gnomes, a group of gnomish wizards forms an organization of deadly assigns to kill the king and all his servants, who continues operating even after the success of their mission. Two rival guilds of mercenaries fear the other stealing work and resources and begin a bloody gang war. These are the kinds of events that make up the history in Exploration Age. They have lasting repercussions and give the world layers where the characters can take a stance.

A Pinch of Black and a Dash of White

In a fantasy world, it often helps to have a few entities that are, at least, trying to do the right thing, as well as to have some forces motivated purely by selfish, destructive desires. The small white spots in the world make PCs feel like they are in a world worth saving. Likewise, a dark force that can unite two entities with a strained and complex relationship is also a good thing to have on hand. Two parties who don’t trust one another working together for the greater good can be a very rich story indeed.

The goodly folk are the little people. Kindly farmers, halfling vigilantes, another party of adventurers, a waitress in a tavern, etc. Rarely are these good guys all together in some type of organization and they never makeup an entire army. This keeps the interactions with good people on a more intimate scale and it helps the PCs believe there is something worth fighting for. Since there is no army of purely good guys, they’d need to take up that standard, should that be the road they choose to take. Perhaps they will laugh at the kind farmer and thief with a heart of gold, call them naive, murder them, and take their loot. That is the other extreme certainly, but their interactions with these people could fall anywhere on that spectrum. Either way, these good guys have a purpose – to show the PCs there are people other than themselves worth fighting for.

In Exploration Age, I’ve tried not to overload the world with dark entities, and I’ve let them be in stasis mode at the start of the campaign, so that I can use them as little or as much as I want. Here’s some examples.

  • The Tarrasque, a terrible, iconic D&D engine of destruction, was defeated and imprisoned in a mountain by minotaurs on Verda 400 years ago. The minotaurs built a city atop this mountain and serve as guardians, should the Tarrasque ever be released.
  • In Taliana, a lich tried to take over the nation with the help of a cabal of werewolves known as The Brotherhood of the Moon. Though she was defeated, her phylactery was never found and the Brotherhood of the Moon still operates within the country’s borders.
  • A group of brain controlling parasites, the mystuak, seek to conquer every living being in the land and make Canus their new home.

Let the Players Decide for Themselves

When it comes to the actions of the players, I’ll let them decide for themselves if they want to be pure good, pure evil, or gray. However, because of the nature of Exploration Age, they will be placed in situations where the choices aren’t easy. That’s part of the fun of the world. Maybe a PC is being forced by a government to cooperate because a family member has been imprisoned and the PC’s service is a chance to reduce that family member’s prison sentence. Maybe the party seeks to overthrow a slaver, but that slaver has a family of ten mouths to feed, and freeing his slaves may actually result in a violent riot, since the slaves themselves have a psychotic, rebellious leader.

The important thing as a DM to remember is that a decision does not always have to be one thing or the other. That’s the beauty of D&D. Characters may do anything they might in the real world – there isn’t computer code telling them they only have two dialogue options. Always be prepared for your players to try to manipulate a situation to their advantage. Just remember all actions have consequences, and sometimes those consequences cannot be foreseen. That’s what makes a rich, complex, gray world.

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This weekend I sat down to make the timeline of major events in Exploration Age that lead up to the time of play. I found that I still had a lot of thinking to do. Mainly, how did Canus and the folk of Exploration Age go from literally nothing to being what they are now?

I don’t necessarily have to describe how the world came to be, since medieval fantasy RPGs are somewhat based on our own world’s actual past. Back in the day those folks weren’t sure how our world came to be (though they did have theories, but that’s another post). However, I do need to describe how the beings that populate Canus came to be where they are now. History is very important. Big actions have big repercussions that are felt for long periods of time. For instance…

  • During prohibition of alcohol, the American gangsters are born and continue to operate even after it becomes legal to drink again.
  • During WWII Germany invades the Soviet Union. After WWII, Berlin is occupied by the Soviets until 1990.
  • The Americas are discovered and a whole bunch of countries rush to colonize.

You get the idea. My point is – the actions being taken that greatly affect the folk of Canus are those which deserve to be written down on the timeline. The players are not going to care to read every little detail of when a specific plant came into being or care when a local organization of farmhands was formed. I only put that kind of thing in if I know it’s going to be important to the plot. The rest of the stuff, can be big, broad strokes to give your players the idea of the history of a people or government or culture, etc. Most of the time, these will be actions taken by a specific group or individual. The only time pure nature makes it on the timeline is for something really crazy – like a meteor causing the end of the dinosaurs, an earthquake swallowing a city, or ice covering the planet.

Remember that, in general, you care more about the history of the world than your players do. “Why do the warforged hate the dwarves?” they might ask. “Because they kept them as slaves,” you reply. For some adventures and for most players that will more than suffice.

Starting the Timeline

Before I began the timeline, I had to figure out how old Canus is, or at least how far back its significant history begins. Since I want the world to be frame by the Findalayan point of view, I decided that it’s been 700 years since Findalay’s Founding (FF), when all nations of Findalay officially recognized each other. Before that, Aeranore, Bragonay, Marrial, and Taliana all came into existence, but they constantly at war with one another. For thousands of years! So when they decided to put down the sword and begin trading, that was a big enough event for them to begin counting the years. Now that’s not to say there haven’t been disputes and wars in those 700 years, but each nation is now officially recognized by the others.

However, more important than those 700 years are the years which came before. Those years, Before Findalay (BF) have had a huge influence on what happens in the world today. So I wanted to go back and in broad strokes think about the world and how each nation of people got its start. How each race came to be and what actions led to where they are. And of course, since this is a fantasy setting, I wanted to make sure there was plenty of magical flavor to all of it, since that’s what we love.

Before Dwarves, Elves, and Humans

So before our PC races made it onto the scene there were great forces walking the earth, just like in the real world there were dinosaurs before us. I wanted Canus to do something different for originality’s sake, so I decided the first beings to populate its surface were aberrant creatures. Beholders, illithids, umber hulks – all the bizarro creatures that normally live underground, well their ancestors lived on the surface of Canus.

Just some mind flayers hanging out, thinking about their ancestors.

I like the idea of picturing these creatures’ surface-dwelling ancestors. I like thinking about what their great civilizations might leave behind. This gives us a way to spread similar, but mysterious ruins all over Canus. It also gives the aberrants a reason to abhor surface dwellers once they are driven underground (more on that below). That’s my first beat on the timeline and it has a bunch of question marks next to it, because no one sure how far back the aberrant civilizations go.

Now, I don’t know about you, but my dragons are pretty important to me. They’re old and mystical and have been around almost since the beginning. More importantly to me, chromatic and metallic dragons are part of the material world. Think about it, dragons have all this magic at their disposal and for the most part they choose to stay in the material world. They must really like it there. I decided that on Canus, dragons are drawn to staying in the material plane because they are literally part of the world. The first dragons were incubated in Canus’ core and birthed out of the ground. For whatever reason, the metallic dragons ended up in Verda and the chromatic dragons ended up in Parian and Findalay.

So the aberrants are doing their thing when suddenly the first dragons hatch from beneath the ground. The dragons think to themselves, “It’s time for us, baby. These crazy-looking dudes got to go.” War that rages for years with neither side having a clear victory. So second timeline beat – dragons hatch from the earth and war begins. This is around 500,000 BF. Broad strokes.

You didn’t know I was down here, didja? DIDJA?

Now, when the dragons hatched from the ground, the spaces and tunnels their bodies made became The Underdark. The chromatic dragons bled for their efforts, lacking the finer scales of their metallic kin, and their blood became the drow race. This is also part of the second beat.

Third beat on the timeline comes when the dragons gain their advantage around 300,000 BF. The chromatic dragons create a new race to aid them – the giants. With the help of the giants they destroy many of the aberrants and drive the rest into The Underdark. Meanwhile in Verda, the metallics have a different plan and open a portal to the Nine Hells calling forth devils to kill the aberrants. This only half works, as some of the devils create alliances with the aberrants, creating a horrifying half-fiend, half-aberrant race who eventually become The Sleeping Ones. In the fourth beat on our timeline, around 100,000 BF the devils who remain on Verda and side with the metallic dragons eventually evolve into the tieflings.

The pattern here with the beats is that they get closer together and more specific as they continue. More significant history exists closer to the time of the game. In-game there would also be better historical records for more recent events.

The PC Races

So you can see above where tiefling and drow came from, but we still have a bunch of races to define here. I’ll give you the bullet points for each.

  • Eventually, the giants get tired of their chromatic dragon oppressors and create the dwarves and gnomes to help them rise up. Their bloody revolution is not so successful and dragons and giants, now few in number are scattered across Parian and Findalay. Some gnomes and dwarves retreat to The Underdark and become duergar and svirfneblin. Some stay on the surface and begin to found their own civilizations.
  • The aberrants regroup for thousands of years in The Underdark and then invade the kingdoms of the drow. After a few thousand years of war, some drow grow tired of the war and retreat to the surface. These drow evolve into elves, the drow left behind feel betrayed and the hatred begins.
  • When the elves retreat to the surface some of the svirfneblin come with them, who evolve yet again over the course of time into halflings. So halflings and gnomes are related in this campaign.
  • Metallic dragons create the dragonborn race to help populate Verda, but the their allies, the tieflings become jealous and so the dragonborn are sent away on ships and eventually come to land in present day Marrial.
  • In a cycle of slave creation learned from their masters, the dwarves create the warforged.

I’m a big fan of evolution apparently.

It’s obvious there are some races I’m choosing to leave out of this list. I think the only races that need a big explanation are the ones that have their heritage impacted by their creation and evolution. Orcs, minotaurs, etc. formed organically over time and scientific evolutionary processes. Or magic if you like. Or divine intervention. Their origins are not as important as their actions, which do end up on Exploration Age’s timeline.

Human might be the most obvious race missing from the list, but that’s because I think the big questions of why are we here and how did we get here are part of the human experience. I think it will make the humans of this world feel natural and relatable to sort of just appear without fanfare one day and through survival, suffering, and hard work build a civilization.

Action!

So once the races are established the timeline gets pretty interesting. The Bragonay dwarves have all of Findalay under their control and then the other races begin trying to take their land in a crazy struggle that has alliances forming and breaking everywhere. In the midst of it all, earthquakes, plagues, inventions, magic, and the like happen. Meanwhile on Verda the half-fiend, half-aberrant problem persists with a host of other failures and successes on the part of its people. There’s some big events that lead up to the time of play, like the discovery of Verda that I’m excited to share in the future.

Looks like the world is coming together! I’ll probably divide the timeline up into different ages such as Aberrant Age, Draconic Age, etc. and have the time period of play be known as… you guessed it. Exploration Age.

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My last post got me psyched to start fleshing out this world in more detail. There’s two gameplay guidelines I want to have in my world to help make it feel full and complete.

  1. Every country should have enough ideas for adventure that a party could spend an entire campaign (levels 1 – 20) within its borders and not be bored or run out of quests to discover.
  2. Every country should be interconnected to the rest of the world in enough interesting and complex ways that a party could spend an entire campaign (levels 1 – 20) running all over the world in way that’s not-forced and organic to the story.

This way if my players want to have an entire campaign where my party is helping warforged ex-slaves organize a rebellion in Bragonay and getting into the nitty-gritty details of the caste system they can do that. They can experience an intimate story with some epic challenges even if they stay local to one area the entire time. Or if they want to experience every corner of the world as they battle evil cults in Verda while trying to recover artifacts spread all over the world for a mercenary guild, we can create a story that’s massive and sprawling, but feels just as compelling and intimate as a localized campaign.

Brainstorming Rules

All this is to say you need ideas and lots of them to make compelling, intimate stories and tie places together. There’s no better way for me to generate ideas than to sit down and brainstorm. It’s old-fashioned, but it really works. My incredible day job, working as a television promo writer/producer, involves brainstorming creative ideas every single day. Here’s a few basic rules I like to follow when throwing out ideas.

  • Every idea is worth writing down. This is the brainstorming golden rule. Even if it’s “every dwarf should own a spirit monkey.” When you have those more far-out ideas, get them down, out of your head, and see what other ideas they lead to. Let the trail of ideas take you to crazy places and worry about editing yourself later. Brainstorms are all about idea generation. Quantity is king. Write down all your ideas and there’s bound to be at least a little gold in the pan.
  • Go down the rabbit holes. Some ideas in brainstorms are short and that’s cool. If you simply write, “ancient city swallowed by sand,” that could be it. Maybe you haven’t fleshed out the idea and you just want that as a starting point. But if you there is something more there that excites you, write it all down. So that idea might become, “ancient city swallowed by sand after evil cult performed a ritual to kick up the desert winds.”
  • When possible, have a partner or team. Collaboration during brainstorm can build huge ideas you never would have come up with on your own. Remember to build off each other’s ideas and when you think something is cool or interesting, say so. Don’t shoot ideas down and apply the brainstorming golden rule to others’ ideas as well as your own. Let someone finish a thought before you say, “Yes, and…” to build on his or her idea. You can get caught up in how cool something is and want to jump in before he or she has completed the thought.

The Process

So I got together with my player and life-long friend Andrew to generate some ideas about Bragonay. I picked Bragonay simply because I was excited to work on it and already had a few ideas I wanted to bounce around. Since we both have day jobs, we did the brainstorm using gchat. This was great because not only did it mean we could walk away to do work and come back to the brainstorm more easily, it also means there is a record of our entire conversation saved within my email now. Andrew is a good choice, because he offered to help, I’m already very comfortable kicking around insane ideas with him, we’ve been playing D&D together for more than ten years, and he’s got an academic background in classical studies. Andrew is able to think of a lot of real world allegories for our ideas.

We began by going over what we knew about Bragonay. I had made a list of some specific categories for which I wanted ideas.

  • Caste structure
  • Government
  • Culture
  • Religion
  • Adventure sites
  • Foreign Affairs

When we began to wane in one category, I’d keep the momentum going forward by switching to the next. It didn’t matter if we were in one category and had an idea for another we’d done or hadn’t discussed yet. The whole idea is for everyone to be comfortable. If you’re comfortable your best ideas will come forward. By keeping the train rolling and accepting every idea that comes up, all involved will feel at home sharing.

Results are in

So after about an hour or serious brainstorming, Andrew and I generated a little over 18 pages in Google Docs of gchat. I’d put all the ideas in this post, but it’d be overwhelming. Instead let me give you some of the highlights. This is the stuff I am most excited. Please note, these ideas are by no means complete or final, just the seed of something that I’ll have to grow into the world.

  • The dwarves of Bragonay live in a strict matriarchal caste system, however one can climb through this caste system by switching stations with a dwarf above him or her in an official process initiated by the person of the higher station. This station switch may also be ordered by a dwarf of a station higher than the two dwarfs who are switching. Thus dwarves play out their games trying to blackmail and backstab one another into switching stations.
  • Bragonay’s recent attempt to conquer Findalay ended 100 years ago when their warforged slaves rebelled. Bragonay might have succeeded had they not had to quell the uprising, which destroyed parts of Bragonay’s settlements. The dwarves are recovering and rebuilding, but their economy has taken a huge hit as the other Findalayan nations are wary of trade with Bragonay.
  • Violent warforged rebels live in the desert, attacking caravans and plotting acts of terrorism.
  • Bragonay’s empress has clan chieftains who report to her. Each clan has a specific industries for which they are in charge such as weapon making, armor forging, warforged creation, farming, herding, etc.
  • As Bragonay races to claim lands in Verda, they find they have the least amount of resources to dedicate to that cause of any other Findalayan nation, since their war has impoverished the nation.
  • In an attempted to magically terraform the desert to grow more crops, a village of venerable artisans was swallowed by violent, sentient plants. The plants now covet the artisans’ greatest creations and have scattered them deep within their insane jungle.

That’s just a few of the ideas. You can see how many of them are interconnected or built off one another, thanks to our established brainstorming rules. We went off on some long tangents at some points and at others discussed ideas for the world beyond Bragonay (all of which I’ve written down). More cool stuff to come just from that one hour of gchat.

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