Saturday, October 31, 2009

Arandish Arcana Part I of III – Early History

Arcane and Divine Magic in Ara

Divine magic is assumed to have been around since the earliest days, for humans have always worshiped deities and received healing and other powers from them.  Witches and shamans still practice their own form of tribal clerical magic (see “Tribal Spell Casters,” DMG p. 40) in many remote regions of Ara, and clerics loyal to a wide variety of Arandish and non-Arandish gods proliferate throughout the Lands of Ara.  There is one specialist class of cleric found in Ara, the Sword-Cleric of Frey, which will be described in a forthcoming post.

The origin of Arcane magic in the Arandish region, on the other hand, can be historically pinpointed to one key event: the emergence of arcane powers amongst the Aldors, a tribe of ancient Noffel, in Old Calendar year 294 (see this previous post).  Although the Aldors themselves widely believed their magical abilities came to them through the will of Aldor, Goddess of the Wood, the Aldors’ ability to use magical powers not specifically granted via prayer frightened the other tribes of Noffel, and in time the Aldors migrated from the southern human lands to the northern forests now called Aldoria.  The Aldors have subsequently come to be called elves.

Awra, Arlon, Arlanni
The Noffellians who exiled the Aldors from Noffel were not to be rid of Arcane magic so easily, for around Old Calendar year 2219, a young-seeming woman named Awra came before the Noffellian council of elders and demonstrated that she could generate light spontaneously by speaking a few words aloud.  The members of the Noffellian council were amazed, and took Awra to be an unknowing descendant of the Aldors, though Sawith, Learned Scribe of Kaladar, has recently proven that that lineage is unlikely.  Apparently the council took no action against Awra at this time, and let her return home.

Awra lived most of her early life deep in the Great Western Swamp, and after her initial visit to the Noffellian council, she returned to the Swamp to increase control of her powers and to develop many of the magical arts we know today.  Sixty-five years later, by Old Calendar year 2284, Awra’s presence and activities in the swamp came to the attention of the Noffellian Senate; by this date she was probably over one hundred years old, and she had taken on Arlon and Arel as her two principal apprentices.

As was documented in a previous post, in 2288, escaping persecution by fundamentalist Noffellians, Awra departed Ara on the ship Tarandis, making landfall on the forested island of Suhl in 2289.  During and after Awra’s departure, anti-arcane sentiments and laws ran at an all-time high pitch in Noffel, prompting Awra’s apprentice Arlon to move out of the vicinity of the Great Western Swamp to the north.  It is believed, due to a later entry from Arlon’s journal, that Awra’s other principal apprentice, Arel, remained in the Great Western Swamp to develop and teach her own style of magic-use called White Path, an arcane art now considered lost.

By Old Calendar year 2331, Arlon resurfaced in northern Ara and began teaching the arcane arts, establishing formal schools of magic in Telengard and Achelon by 2342.  Arlon and his associates taught magical theory, spellcasting (magic-using), enchantment, and the basic principles of summoning.  By 2378, Arlon, satisfied that his schools were running well, left them in the hands of his students and retreated into the northern mountains to further his study of summoning and other esoteric arts.

Back in the Great Western Swamp, early in the year 2426, Arel gave birth to her son by Arlon—a son conceived during a visit of Arel’s to the House of Arlon between 2420 and 2425.  When this son was born, Arlon came to Arel’s dwelling in the Swamp and together they named the child Arlanni.  Once he was old enough, Arlanni began learning the Arcane arts from his mother Arel, whom he stayed with in the Swamp.  Arlon returned to the northern mountains

The Old War
The Old War between Telengard and Achelon started in 3002 as powerful magic-users who had learned their craft from Arlon struggled for magical dominion over northern Ara.  This was to be the most destructive and protracted war in Arandish history; it would last over ninety-seven years, from 3002 until  3100.  In 3098, a small group of  Telengardian magicians, led by a magic-user named Sarkon, set forth to find Arlon in the northern mountains, hoping that the great teacher will be able to help put and end to the war.  Sarkon and comapny found Arlon, and together they returned to the south.  It is believed that Arlon sent word to Arel, requesting her aid as well.  By 3100, with the help of Arel, Arlanni, and Arel’s White Path magicians, Arlon and Sarkon were able to subdue the most powerful Telengardian and Achelonian necromancers and summoners, imprisoning them in a magical tower of Arlon’s creation.  This black tower, called Mornlyn, is rumored to exist in a hidden location in central Achelon to this day.

Having neutralized the ringleaders of the Old War, Arlon established the White Council in 3101, to instill order into the practice of the arcane magical arts in Ara.  Furthermore, at this same time, the New (or Arlonian) Calendar was begun, signifying that the era when atrocities like those of the Old War might occur had passed.  After the establisment of the Council system, Arlon and Arel, the last living apprentices of Awra, set forth on their Last Wanderings.  They are thought to have journeyed together over the northern passes into Novellan, never to be seen again in Ara.

Arlon’s Council system regulates human arcane magic use throughout the Lands of Ara to this day.  Magic-users and enchanters are permitted to join the Council and use magic openly and legitimately in Ara (except perhaps in Noffel), while the Dark arts, including necromancy and shadrach, are outlawed completely (see forthcoming post on forbidden magics).  The original White Council consisted of eight magic-users (including Arlanni) and six enchanters, with Sarkon of Telengard as First Councilman.  In New Calendar Year 610, Sarkon of Telengard died or vanished (the historical records are unclear which), and Arlanni took over as First Councilman of the Arandish White Council, a position he holds to this day. 

Next installment: The Council System of Ara!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Vampires – Ara’s Dark Masters

As I revealed in a previous post, vampires have always scared me a great deal, and I think of them as extremely powerful, evil, and cunning foes.  So in the Lands of Ara, with very few exceptions, vampires are the most powerful and dreaded evil creatures to be found in the region. 

Arandish vampires are in fact ancient necromantic magic-users and/or chaotic clerics who participated in the centuries-past Old War between Achelon and Telengard.  At the end of the Old War, these necromancers were imprisoned in the Spire of Mornlyn by Arlon the Wise and Sarkon of Telengard.  Unfortunately, the imprisoned wizards figured out how to preserve themselves forever as evil undead beings, and subsequently escaped imprisonment in Mornlyn to roam Ara by night as vampires, seeking dire vengeance upon humankind.

Thus Arandish vampires are really more akin to liches from AD&D (see Monster Manual p. 61): ancient, incredibly powerful evil sorcerers turned undead by force of their own will.  In terms of game statistics, I treat an Arandish vampire like a hybrid of a D&D vampire and a D&D lich. 

Arandish Vampire (Undead Necromancer)
# Encountered: 1 (1)
Alignment: chaotic
Move: 120’ (40’), Fly: 180’ (60’)
AC: 1
HD: 11+
Attacks: 1 touch (see below)
Damage: 1d10, drain life energy
Save: F9
Morale: 11
Hoard Class: XVII
XP: 9200+

Arandish vampires borrow from D&D liches the following characteristics and special abilities:

Arandish vampires never have less than 11 HD.

Arandish vampires are at least 18th Level magic-users and/or clerics (often both).

Arandish vampires cause fear in all beings of 5th Level (or 5 HD) and lower.

The following spells / attack forms have no effect on Arandish vampires: charm, sleep, enfeeblement, polymorph, cold, electricity, insanity or death spells/symbols.

Besides these enhancements, Arandish vampires otherwise behave as standard D&D vampires (see Labyrinth Lord pp. 101), with the same aversions to garlic, running water, etc.

I may use the standard D&D vampire (see Labyrinth Lord pp. 101) for select purposes, like when characters and other beings get bitten and turned vampiric – a kind of lesser vampire type always enslaved to a Vampire master.  But those will be relatively rare, as Arandish vampires are particularly megalomaniacal and do not tend to create much vampire spawn with whom they must share feeding grounds – they prefer lesser, non-vampiric undead minions and servants.

Available Classes in my Arandish Campaign – Update!

Like many old-school gamers, I like to pick and choose what I borrow from various sources, inevitably hybridizing and combining various rules conventions, spells, and creatures to end up with a distinct and unique set of campaign house rules.  Given the time period during which I entered the RPG’ing hobby it should come as no surprise that my “comfort zone” for preferred rules sets are the Holmes / Cook / Moldvay boxed sets as well as first edition AD&D.  Thus, as I have been adapting the various unique races and classes that should exist on Ara into D&D terms, I find I cobble together stuff from Labyrinth Lord (the Moldvay/Cook retro-clone rules system I have happily committed to for this campaign) the original AD&D manuals (thanks to Carl for extended-loaning me the Player’s Handbook!) as well as various inspirations and tidbits from the old-school blogging community (thanks especially to Grognardia, Ancient Vaults and Eldritch Secrets, and Beyond the Black Gate) and Brave Halfling Games.  I am excited by much of the new stuff I’ve found (I love those Brave Halfling rangers, for example) yet I can see that am quickly drifting away from any fidelity to a single set of rules or rules publications—why did I ever think it would be otherwise?  On the plus-side, this is just further evidence of how well all the pre-2nd Edition D&D publications fit together—I am able to poach a few classes and spells from AD&D, graft them onto my Labyrinth Lord rules, and it all works out and feels right to me (I never played 2e and cannot comment on its compatibility with 1st edition).  But all this "borrowing," customization, and hybridization means I will need to keep a number of different books and online resources on hand when I play!

Which leads to my recent revelation: that I am immensely looking forward to Goblinoid Games’ Advanced Edition Companion, due out later this year.  I have a feeling that if that supplement lives up to my expectations, it may well solve my organizational problem by giving me many of the additional character class options and expanded spell lists I need to translate Ara into LL terms, all under one cover!  We will see; but be forewarned, then, that as usual, any of the information I am about to give you is subject to change, pending the arrival of that publication and/or any other rules discoveries or innovations I might make or create in the next couple of months. 

That said, it is time to issue a somewhat definitive statement about the extant character classes in Ara.  Some of these, like all the rodian classes, I have previously discussed; where I have made changes, the information in this post supersedes all previous posts about available PC classes.  Furthermore, as you will see, I am for the first time herein revealing the divine magic practitioner classes that exist on Ara; I do not yet have full class descriptions for many of these (e.g., Elementalists) and, as I said, a few of these may shift yet again once I get my greedy hands on that Advanced Edition Companion, but this will at least give you a broad overview of what I am planning.

So here, for now, are the extant classes in my Arandish campaign, listed by race:


Fighter, Cleric, Magic-User (as per Labyrinth Lord)

Noffellian Sword-Cleric (a special type of undead-fighting Noffellian cleric to be described in a forthcoming post)

Fire Elementalist, Earth Elementalist, Wind Elementalist, Water Elementalist, Cold Elementalist (five cleric sub-classes, all to be described in forthcoming posts)

Druid (as per Player’s Handbook): a rare PC type in Ara, since Druids are nature-lovers and tend to live reclusively in the wilds, eschewing civilization and human company.

Assassin (as per Player’s Handbook): another rare, but permitted, PC type in Ara.

Thief: I am officially switching from the Grognardia version (thereby superseding class information given on this post and an NPC on this one) to the Beyond the Black Gate version.

The Arandish Ranger comes in two variants, both found in Brave Halfling’s Delving Deeper: Ranger: (1) the giant-fighter (With Damage Bonus), presumed to be a northerner or from the eastern mountains, and (2) the scout (With Additional Skills) from anywhere in Ara but especially prevalent in the wilderness areas of Achelon and the Western Lands, and around the Great Western Swamp.  

I may in the future use the Grognardia version of the ranger for Telengardian Roughriders and/or Achelonian monster-hunters, if I develop those types as PC classes.


Duellist, Rogue [Beyond the Black Gate Thief], Illusionist (as per PH)


Dwarf (as per Labyrinth Lord)


I’m just so taken with James M’s use of Goblins as PCs that I am tempted to allow it in Ara.  But not just anywhere; probably only in the northeastern mountains, in campaigns centering on (or at least originating in) Telengard or possibly Delzar.  Well, okay, I suppose that if Goblins exist as PCs in Ara at all, then a few must live in the Free City of Kaladar and at least one must be a member of Hokka’s crew.

What does this list exclude from AD&D?
NO Paladin, Bard, Monk, or Halfling – these do not exist in Ara
NO Elf  -- though elves exist as an NPC race in the Lands of Ara.

Lands of Ara copyright and OGL Notice

The Lands of Ara campaign setting copyright 2009, 2010, 2011 Lands of Ara Enterprises. The Lands of Ara™ is a trademark of Lands of Ara Enterprises.  Authors (unless otherwise specified): Carter Soles and Spawn of Endra.

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Saturday, October 24, 2009

Internet Connection Blues

Due to some technical problems with my home internet connection, plus a very busy week on the academic job market, not much new content will be posted on Carter's Cartopia this week.  However, I will be back in action as of October 30th, with more Arandish madness to come, including The Coming of Cryonax!!


Great Western Swamp - Monsters

A Blaag.

As a continuation of my previous post on The Great Western Swamp, here are the gaming stats for some more exciting NPCs and deadly monsters who inhabit the notorious Swamp.  The first two entries are for Rogath, a fairly well-known Ranger from The Western Lands, and Rabbit-Head, a guide from Marsh Town; please note in this connection that I have recently decided to go with the two Ranger options outlined in Brave Halfling’s Delving Deeper: Ranger, a superb product I highly recommend.  [See also James Maliszewski’s review of DD: Ranger.]

Rogath the Swamp-Ranger

Ranger (With Damage Bonus) Level 3
Sex: male
Alignment: neutral (balance)
STR 14, DEX 11, CON 14, INT 10, WIS 13, CHA 9
HP: 16
AC: 5
Weapons: Long Sword, Short bow
Armor: chain mail (base AC 5)

Rogath originally hails from Noffel, which is probably why he favors the long sword as a primary weapon.  Rogath’s current “home” is actually Tradefair, the largest city of The Western Lands, but he is not there very much; he prefers to wander the Swamp.  In case this isn't already obvious, his giant- and humanoid-fighting abilities extend to Swamp Trolls.

Rabbit-Head, an erratic yet surprisingly effective Swamp Guide
Ranger (With Additional Skills) Level 4
Sex: male
Alignment: chaotic
STR 12, DEX 16, CON 12, INT 11, WIS 14, CHA 8
HP: 13
AC: 5
Weapons: skinning knife (treat as dagger)
Armor: leather (base AC 7)

Rabbit-Head is a relatively young, severely mentally unbalanced, yet exceptionally talented swamp guide who mainly operates out of Marsh Town (Sluggerton).  Rabbit-Head is not much interested in money, and prefers to barter for his services, demanding unique trinkets, treasures and services as payment for his Swamp guide work.  Due to his unstable personality, Rabbit-Head has on occasion abandoned clients in the middle of the Swamp, and has even once or twice sold them out to brigands, but he is not so much conniving as whimsical, and more often than not he can be trusted to complete the guiding and scouting jobs he contracts for.  Rabbit-Head’s greatest weakness as a hireling may be his penchant for pickpocketing his clients while they sleep, something he does more for fun than strictly for gain.  Rabbit-Head is a physical coward and will typically try to avoid confrontation or combat at all costs, but, as a result of his cowardice, he is very good at evading indigenous Swamp aggressors, a benefit he passes on to parties he travels with (see +1 bonus to Encounter Table Rolls mentioned in the previous post).  All in all, Rabbit-Head is considered one of the best Swamp guides to be found in Sluggerton, and he therefore maintains a busy schedule.   

Next, a few key new monsters that dwell in the Great Western Swamp: the frog-like Blaag, the man-eating Swamp Tiger and, in case you missed it in my post about Arandish Trolls, the dreaded Swamp Troll. 


# Encountered: 1d8 (3d12)
Alignment: chaotic
Move: 120’ (40’), Swim: 150’ (50’)
AC: 5
HD: 2
Attacks: 3 (2 claw, 1 bite)
Damage: 1d4 / 1d4 / 1d6
Save: F2
Morale: 8
Hoard Class: XXII
XP: 29

Named, perhaps, for the guttural sound they make when attacking, the blaag are small, frog-like humanoids with razor-sharp teeth and a taste for human flesh.  They will go after food (preferably humans and their brethren) voraciously and without any thought of retreat.  They are usually encountered in groups of 3-36.  Their principle weakness is their method of attack, a lunging bite (they can leap up to 20’) that only allows each blaag to attack every other turn, albeit at a +1 to hit.  Blaag are speedy swimmers and will use water to their defensive advantage, diving to retreat and surfacing to leap and attack. 

A deadly Swamp Tiger named Roscoe.

Swamp Tiger

# Encountered: 0 (1d3)
Alignment: neutral
Move: 150’ (50’), Swim: 90’ (30’)
AC: 6
HD: 6
Attacks: 3 (2 claws, 1 bite)
Damage: 1d6 / 1d6 / 2d6
Save: F3
Morale: 9
Hoard Class: VI
XP: 320

Swamp Tigers are very similar to typical tigers, except that, perhaps uniquely among the big cats, they do not mind water.  Swamp Tigers prefer land, and are excellent tree climbers, but will swim short distances to reach prey or escape death.  All swamp tigers have a taste for human blood and prefer to hunt humans over any other prey.

Swamp Troll
# Encountered: 0 (1d4)
Alignment: chaotic
Move: 90’ (30’), Swim: 180’ (60’)
AC: 4
HD: 9 + 3
Attacks: 3 (2 claw, 1 bite) or 1 trample
Damage: 1d8 / 1d8 / 1d12 / 3d8 (trample)
Save: F9
Morale: 8
Hoard Class: XIV
XP: 1700

The most dreaded of all trolls, the gigantic swamp troll inhabits the Great Western Swamp (which I will describe in detail in a future post).  The swamp troll lies in wait for prey, its leathery, muck-encrusted back sticking out of the water like a small island.  When something gets close enough, the troll rises to its full height of 16 feet, striking with terrible, 3-foot claws.  A swamp troll knows little fear, and will not hesitate to attack small boats and other swamp-going craft.  Swamp trolls are nomadic, going where the hunting is good.  They are excellent swimmers, and if forced to flee will dive into the swamp-water and swim away from danger.  Swamp trolls are amphibious and can hold their breath underwater for very long periods.  Swamp trolls have all the same regenerative abilities, and susceptibilities to acid and fire, as other trolls do (see Labyrinth Lord p. 100).

And lastly, here is a Monster Encounter Table for the Great Western Swamp.  (Generic “marsh” or “swamp” encounter tables can be used if you prefer a wider variety of monsters).  Remember that The Great Western Swamp is so notorious for being difficult to navigate that even skilled scouts and rangers from other regions have difficulty finding their way.  Thus local scouts and barge captains who specialize in traversing the Great Western Swamp get a +1 bonus to any scouting / tracking activity in the Swamp, and also add a +1 modifier to rolls on this Encounter Table.

Great Western Swamp Encounter Table
roll d20

Swamp Troll (see above)
Black Dragon
Carnivorous Beetle
Babbler (see Fiend Folio p. 13)
Giant Bat
Giant Killer Bee
Giant Toad
Blaag (see above)
Swamp Tiger (see above)
Giant Rat
Thork (see Fiend Folio p. 88)
Fugitive Magic-User*
Vendetta Seeker (vs. the guide)**

* 2% chance of encountering the apparition of Awra (see forthcoming post); in all other cases, it is a typical magic-user (level 1-6, rolled randomly) fleeing from Noffellian authorities.

** This can be any type of monster or NPC that the guide or barge captain has wronged / made enemies with in the past.  The creature will attack the guide as well as the party indiscriminately.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Lands of Ara - The Great Western Swamp

The Great Western Swamp is an immense swamp region that covers most of the southwestern fourth of the Arandish continent.  It borders the Kingdom of Noffel, The Western Lands, and even the southern frontier of Aldoria near Nurna, the Elven Great Lake.

The Swamp is largely untamed and unexplored, and is infested with hostile monsters.  It is so vast that a great many merchants, travelers, and adventurers have become lost there, and brigands, criminals, and arcane magicians fleeing persecution in Noffel have been known to deliberately lose themselves and hide out there.  While there are many civilized settlements that immediately surround the Swamp—Swampsedge in Noffel, Castle Morko in The Western Lands—there are very few villages or towns actually in the swamp, Marsh Town being the notable exception.

The Great Western Swamp is so notorious for being difficult to navigate that even skilled scouts and rangers from other regions have difficulty finding their way: the base chance for a party becoming lost in the Swamp (without a local guide) is 60% (see Labyrinth Lord p. 46).  In this the locals have an advantage: scouts and barge captains who specialize in traversing the Great Western Swamp reduce the chance of getting lost to 50%, get a +1 bonus to any scouting / tracking activity in the Swamp, and also add a +1 modifier to Monster Encounter Table rolls (see forthcoming post).

As for trade and barge travel in the Great Western Swamp, there are “established” barge routes between Swampsedge and Marsh Town, and some barge captains claim to have established relatively safe routes from Marsh Town all the way through the Swamp to the Arandish west coast.  But the prevalence of swamp trolls, blaag, and other aggressively dangerous swamp denizens (see forthcoming post) have made any truly safe passage of the swamps a near impossibility.  However, with the oceangoing sailing routes around the southern horn of the Komar Peninsula taking almost twice as long as the Swamp passage, many merchants and traders still prefer the risks of the Swamp to the loss of time and other risks of the ocean route. 

Swampsedge marks the western frontier of the Kingdom of Noffel, and is essentially a port city from whence many swamp traders depart west on barges into the depths of the Swamp.  There is lively trade through here, both legal and illegal, and the town is chock full of guides and barge captains willing to take adventurers west or north.    

Marsh Town (called Sluggerton by many locals) lies approximately three hundred miles (twelve 24-mile hexes) west of Swampsedge, and is built upon wooden docks, much like Lake Town in The Hobbit.  The Oligarchs of Marsh Town (a governing body made up of seven wealthy merchants, lesser nobles, and the like) retain a small garrison of skilled archers and fighters to keep swamp trolls and brigands at bay; but piracy, theft, and black marketeering are fairly rampant in Marsh Town.  Of course, this makes Marsh Town the ideal place in which to “fence” and/or purchase stolen goods—Skeleton Pete is the guy to know in Marsh Town if you are seeking these black-market services.  However, as I mentioned in a previous post, there are other (perhaps lesser) black marketeers to deal with if no party member can forge a connection to Skeleton Pete, such as Ork-Ork, a half-elven man with a right club foot who is a part time fishmonger, part-time fence.  Other notable personages in Marsh Town (not including barge captains; see below) include a powerful but eccentric Enchanter known as Old Man Fish-Penis, and a young, mentally unbalanced, but exceptionally talented swamp guide named Rabbit-Head.

Swamp Barges: Many swampgoing craft are quite small, and can be treated as common rafts from the Watercraft Table (Labyrinth Lord p. 57).  However, most of the serious operators in the Great Western Swamp use larger swamp barges that require a crew of ten to row and navigate, including an experienced barge captain who knows his/her way through the treacherous swampways.  These larger swamp barges have the same characteristics as a river boat from the Labyrinth Lord Watercraft Table. 

Great Western Swamp barge captains (that is, those who command a small crew aboard a proper swamp barge) are skilled like sailors but must be hired at a the higher “navigator” hireling rate (see LL 48).  Most barge captains also have some combat ability, fighting as first or second level fighters (referee’s discretion).  There are a few semi-famous barge captains and scouts in the region of the Great Western Swamp; here are gaming stats for a representative few of these:   

Sunna Garfield, Noffellian barge captain
Human Fighter Level 2
Sex: female
Alignment: neutral (balance)
STR 13, DEX 14, CON 13, INT 10, WIS 11, CHA 12
HP: 11
AC: 5
Weapons: Long Sword, Short bow
Armor: studded leather (base AC 6)

Sunna Garfield is probably the best-known and most prosperous barge captain running between Sluggerton (Marsh Town) and The Western Lands.  In addition to her own barge, she also owns controlling interest in two other barges running between Swampsedge and Marsh Town, and sometimes makes that run herself for particularly important / expensive shipments or clients.  Her operation is largely legitimate, though like almost all Swamp runners, Garfield will haul black-market goods or passengers for the right price.  She is a gruff Noffellian traditionalist, however, and will have no truck with wizards.  If she suspects a character is a magic-user or rodian illusionist, she will not transport or do business with that individual.

Marko Halfdagger, or “Captain Marko”
Human Thief Level 1
Sex: male
Alignment: neutral
STR 10, DEX 15, CON 14, INT 10, WIS 10, CHA 9
HP: 4
AC: 6
Weapons: short sword, dagger
Armor: leather (base AC 7)

“Captain Marko” is probably a better thief than he is a barge captain, but he has the advantage of being cheap: he charges only 100 gp / month for his barge and services.  Marko is wanted for thievery in Swampsedge, and therefore sticks to Marsh Town, The Western Lands, and (occasionally) the West Coast. 

Karn Borasukian, rodian barge captain
Rodian Duellist Level 2
Sex: male
Alignment: neutral
STR 9, DEX 18, CON 13, INT 9, WIS 12, CHA 14
HP: 8
AC: 3
Weapons: duelling rapier (treat as short sword), dagger, light crossbow
Armor: studded leather (base AC 6)

Karn Borasukian’s barging operation is based in the west coast city of New Port, making runs to Marsh Town and even Swampsedge on occasion.  He primarily likes to deal with other rodians, but will transport paying customers of non-rodian races so long as they do not insult or slight Borasukian or rodians generally.  Borasukian has a very high opinion of himself and charges a slightly higher fee (200 gp / month) for his services then do many other black marketeering barge captains.  But he has an excellent track record for evading both the law and aggressive swamp monsters. 

More yet to come on the Great Western Swamp, including Rogath the Swamp-Ranger!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Noffel – Warrior Culture

Pronunciation guide: Noffel [NAW-ful], Noffelian [naw-FELL-ee-yun]

As one might glean from reading Noffel’s early history,  Noffel’s economy is based upon iron mining, fishing, and sea trading, and its culture centers upon its fishing villages and its proud military/warrior tradition.  Noffellians are most renowned throughout the Lands of Ara for their prowess at fishing and sailing, and their deadliness with the long sword.

As was noted in a previous post on the Lands of Ara, Noffel is by far the oldest Arandish kingdom, having originated as a tribal fishing culture whose people worshipped Zapar, god of the waters, Minar, god of copper, Aldor, goddess of the wood, and Frey, god of the mountains (plus various local tribal gods now lost to history).  In present-day Noffel, Aldor and Minar have been forgotten, but Frey is still widely worshipped and is held to be the principal deity of the Noffellians; Noffellian clerics all follow Frey.  Fisherfolk and sailors still pay their respects to Zapar as well, though there is no formal temple to Zapar in the king’s city of Highgate.  Awra, who is called “the arch-sorceress” or simply “the witch” in most areas of Noffel, is despised by almost all Noffellians. 

In present-day Noffel, there is a mandatory one-year military term for all Noffellian youths of all genders, and nearly everyone in the kingdom is exposed to sword use long before reaching adventuring age.  Though the rare Noffellian has strayed from tradition and turned to the ways of magic, there is no official teaching or practicing of arcane magic anywhere in the kingdom of Noffel, and arcane magic use is looked down upon by most Noffellians.  Some towns and regions in Noffel even have explicit laws forbidding magic use, under threat of permanent exile.  The only thing more despised in Noffel than an arcane magic practitioner is a draft-dodger.

Given its culture, most Noffellian adventurers end up as fighters or rangers of some sort, and usually swordspersons.  Some Noffellian families, especially those with a military history or ties to the Noffellian High Guard, encourage or demand that their youth, to confirm their passage into adulthood, perform what is called a “Sword Quest,” a dangerous mission designed to prove the quester’s worthiness to take up the family sword.  These quests can be of any sort, from heroic rescue missions to monster-hunting quests. . . whatever the referee might wish or concoct.  Family and community politics can be involved in this, too: maybe a young sword-quester is sent on a mission as a favor to Uncle Leebort in the High Guard, or to make good on some past debt the quester’s father owes to an old war buddy.  Sometimes sword-questers find themselves naively caught up in some intricate web of deceit and treachery, wherein their own family members have been manipulated into sending the quester on a suicide mission or a quest that is not at all what it seems.  The perceptive reader will note that Noffellian Sword Quests make GREAT 1st-level adventure hooks; whenever a player says s/he wants to roll up a Noffellian swordsperson, I start thinking about possible Sword Quests and I swiftly interview the player about whether his/her Noffellian character’s family might demand a Quest and if so, what general form it might possibly take.

Note that Noffellian Sword Quests are named both (1) for the tradition of passing down the “family sword”—either a purely ceremonial item and/or an actual combat long sword previously belonging to a warrior family member or mentor—to the successful quester, and (2) as a reference to the Legend of the Crimson Blades, which tells of thirteen Noffellian swords cursed and turned blood-red by the arch-sorceress Awra, a figure much despised in Noffel.  During a particular period of Noffellian history (and still in rare cases to this day), Sword Quests were actually missions to find one of the lost “Fifty Swords” and/or the thirteen Crimson Blades.  I will return to the subject of the Crimson Blades in a future post. 

Politically, Noffel is ruled by a king, but also has a Senate with power of approval over the succession of Noffellian kings—an innovation introduced to Noffellian government in Old Calendar Year 2229 by Ormin, adviser to King Tandar the Beloved.  The Noffellian seat of government, including both the King’s Palace and the Senate Hall, is in Highgate, a beautifully kept city nestled in the hills where the King’s Ford River forks, becoming the King’s Ford River and the Blint River.  Highgate also houses the King’s Place of Judgment, which is the highest court in Noffel, and the famed Keep of the Noffellian High Guard.  The High Guard is one of the most effective and feared military organizations in Ara.  The High Guard is made up almost exclusively of Noffellians; some Blintians are also permitted to join, but no one of any other nationality or kingdom would ever be allowed in.  Despite this exclusivity, or perhaps because of it, the Noffellian High Guard retains the best longsword users in Noffel and probably in all the Lands of Ara.  The High Guard is typically presumed to be fanatically loyal to the king, and its main function is to protect the king and his city.  Referees wishing to set a campaign in Noffel could easily brew up some political tensions /conflicts / mutinies between the Noffellian king and the Captain of the High Guard.  I also sometimes use the High Guard as a kind of Noffellian FBI, sending its soldiers and agents to places throughout Noffel to investigate wrongdoings and clamp down on violent crime inside Noffel’s borders.

Some of the most famous historical Noffellians include King Tarandis, the First King of Noffel; Silverblade the Stout-Hearted, the first and greatest of the Noffellian crusaders against the undead; and, of course, in our present era, Hokka the Sailor

Noffel is a great place for launching missions to the southern (and largely unexplored) Komar Peninsula, the rodian island of Suhl, the Free City of Kaladar, and/or the Great Western Swamp, which lies to the north and west of Noffel.  As a referee, I like how Noffel’s culture and law mess with magic-users’ ability to practice their magic openly; wizards traveling to/through Noffel are usually advised by friendly NPCs to conceal their class.  In my own campaigns, I have used Noffel mostly as a place to be passed through; the only Noffellian city any of my parties have spent much time is is Jakama.  In fact, strangely, I have never even had an adventure party so much as set foot in the Noffellian capitol city of Highgate; though the existence of the seat of Noffellian government and the Keep of the High Guard have always been implied in my campaigns, the city did not even have a name until I named it a few weeks ago!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Pilfering from modules and elsewhere

As James Raggi IV has written, “I challenge the role-playing blogosphere to name the primary influences in your personal game, so we get a flavor not of what set of rules you decide to use, but what kind of game people can expect to play with you! Minimum five. No maximum. Plus include what people might assume influences you that you actually reject.”

Agreed.  I accept the challenge; my five top influences:

1.  D&D Modules, especially S1: Tomb of Horrors and B2: The Keep on the Borderlands.  The Keep is part of my earliest RPG’ing DNA: it is the first module I ever played or refereed.  I still use it obliquely to this day: along with certain other module maps (including S2: White Plume Mountain and “Trollstone Caverns” from the T&T Rules manual) I often appropriate the maps from The Keep on the Borderlands to use in a stock-it-myself fashion—especially the maps inside the book of the keep itself and the area around the Caves of Chaos.  Gygax’s Tomb of Horrors I utterly love and, should a group of characters ever become powerful enough, mark my words, I will send them there.  I have only ever run Tomb of Horrors once—and not to its full conclusion—yet I always await my chance, not because I am a “party killer” type but because I think this module is the ultimate test of a role-playing group’s inventiveness, skill, and gaming intelligence.  I therefore assume that Acererak’s Tomb exists in every campaign setting I ever run, that through the Demi-Lich’s malevolent power, the Tomb is theoretically present in multiple campaign dimensions simultaneously.  It is always out there waiting in the Swamp until some party is brave enough and prepared enough to go find it.

2.  James Bond films.  Epic, intricate plots with lots of secret doors, hidden rooms and huge underground/underwater lairs populated by megalomaniacal arch-villains and their minions and flunkies.  Hmm, sounds a lot like a D&D dungeon. . .   I watched the hell out of these movies when I was a kid and I still love them, up though the Brosnan era anyway.  The kind of larger-than-life quality of the Bond films is appealing to me as a referee.

3.  Tolkien, especially Moria and everything in The Hobbit.  Okay, there may also be a tiny bit of Minas Tirith’s DNA in Ara’s Free City of Kaladar (along with a healthy dose of the bazaar on Deva from Robert Asprin’s Myth Adventures series).  But I really think The Hobbit has been one of the most influential books on how I view heroic fantasy and how I referee.  When I picture a hobgoblin, it is The Hobbit’s hobgoblins I see.  Its motley (if well-pedigreed) group of self-righteous, thieving dwarves single-handedly taking on a killer dragon is a scenario ripe for D&D appropriation, not to mention The Battle of Five Armies, which no doubt led to my penchant for huge, epic land battles at the climax of my campaigns.  Of the three books of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Fellowship of the Ring has always been my favorite, and the Mines of Moria are pretty much the scariest and most inspiring fantasy adventure locale I have ever read about.

4.  Ray Harryhausen films:  While I LOVE the films of John Carpenter, I don’t know if they have had much direct influence on my game, except possibly The Fog.  But Harryhausen’s wonderful stop-motion animation work in such films as Jason and the Argonauts, The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad, and Clash of the Titans absolutely inspired how I think about and visualize epic fantasy and my FRPG campaigns.  Not only do I love these Greek-myth-inspired tales for Harryhausen’s awesome animated creatures, but for their stories as well: there is as much battling of wits as physical combat, many puzzles to solve and lots of poetic justice.  Hurrah!

5.  Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Barsoom Books, esp. The Gods of Mars.  Tars Tarkas rules!  I was very young when I read these books (seventh grade) so I cannot claim to remember much in the way of specific plot details, but these stories almost completely define “science fantasy” for me, a beautiful blending of sci-fi and fantasy elements.  Roger Zelazny’s Chronicles of Amber were a later influence for me along this line. 

And three influences I Hate to admit to:

1.  Star Wars.  It is entirely probable that my obsession with swamps ties back to Yoda’s creepy swamp planet, Dagobah.  Not to mention Mos Eisley Cantina, the standard against which all subsequent “wretched hives of scum and villainy” would be judged, and surely a prototype for the seedy, black-market, backwoods towns that abound in my campaign world(s). 

2.  The Fiend Folio: I love the Brits, and while I admit this may qualify as a weakness in the case of the Fiend Folio, I have always rather enjoyed this tome and particularly some of its illustrations—see the full-pager on p. 60, or the depiction of the skeleton warrior on p. 79, or the githyanki (a personal favorite monster) on the cover.  Granted, many of the monsters within are useless, and I would not actually use a great many of the monsters listed in the Folio myself, but nevertheless I really love and do use a select few, especially the firetoad, the hook horror, the needleman, the elemental princes of evil, the Githyanki, and the iron cobra.

3.  Monty Python and the Quest for the Holy Grail.  Here I particularly refer to the Black Knight fight scene, for the extreme volume and distance of the blood spurts once the Black Knight starts getting dismembered.  Combat results in my campaigns are always quite bloody and graphic, especially when a party foe is killed; blood and internal organs spurt intensely and far.  As one former player put it, my campaigns seem to take place in “high-pressure worlds” where everybody’s blood and internal organs are under a lot of pressure, so as to shoot out really far once pierced in combat. 

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Trolls of Ara

Like James Maliszewski, I've always been a big fan of the look of D&D's trolls, which is why I am keeping them in my Arandish Labyrinth Lord campaign.  However, when Ara was originally conceived for Crimson Blades of Ara, it included a few different varieties of trolls, of which the classic D&D troll (which we dubbed the “hill troll”) was but one comparatively weak variety.  Thus I now present statistics for the three major types of troll to be encountered in the Lands of Ara: the hill troll, the even more vicious and deadly rock troll, and the huge, amphibious swamp troll.

Hill Troll
# Encountered: 1d8 (1d8)
Alignment: chaotic
Move: 120’ (40’)
AC: 4
HD: 6 + 3
Attacks: 3 (2 claw, 1 bite)
Damage: 1d6 / 1d6 / 1d10
Save: F6
Morale: 10
Hoard Class: XIX
XP: 680

The Arandish Hill Troll is identical to the standard D&D troll; see Labyrinth Lord p. 100.  It can be found anywhere in Ara.

Rock Troll
# Encountered: 1d6 (1d6)
Alignment: chaotic
Move: 120’ (40’)
AC: 3 (rocky hide)
HD: 8 + 3
Attacks: 3 (2 claw, 1 bite)
Damage: 1d8 / 1d8 / 1d10
Save: F8
Morale: 11
Hoard Class: XIX
XP: 1060

Dwelling in the eastern mountain ranges as well as the Frey Mountains of northern Noffel, the deadly rock troll is rarely seen and greatly feared.  It loves the thrill of the hunt, and has been known to toy with its victims before devouring them.  A rock troll has very keen senses and is difficult to surprise.  As was mentioned in the previous historical account of the Zapars, rock trolls have a hard, rocky hide that gives them a lower AC (AC 3) than their other trollish cousins.  In addition to their tougher hide and slightly larger size (a typical adult rock troll stands 10’ tall), rock trolls possess all the same regenerative abilities, and susceptibilities to acid and fire, as hill trolls do (see Labyrinth Lord p. 100).  Rock trolls are often found in deep dungeon levels.

Swamp Troll
# Encountered: 0 (1d4)
Alignment: chaotic
Move: 90’ (30’), Swim: 180’ (60’)
AC: 4
HD: 9 + 3
Attacks: 3 (2 claw, 1 bite) or 1 trample
Damage: 1d8 / 1d8 / 1d12 / 3d8 (trample)
Save: F9
Morale: 8
Hoard Class: XIV
XP: 1700

The most dreaded of all trolls, the gigantic swamp troll inhabits the Great Western Swamp (which I will describe in detail in a future post).  The swamp troll lies in wait for prey, its leathery, muck-encrusted back sticking out of the water like a small island.  When something gets close enough, the troll rises to its full height of 16 feet, striking with terrible, 3-foot claws.  A swamp troll knows little fear, and will not hesitate to attack small boats and other swamp-going craft.  Swamp trolls are nomadic, going where the hunting is good.  They are excellent swimmers, and if forced to flee will dive into the swamp-water and swim away from danger.  Swamp trolls are amphibious and can hold their breath underwater for very long periods.  Swamp trolls have all the same regenerative abilities, and susceptibilities to acid and fire, as hill and rock trolls do (for details see Labyrinth Lord p. 100).

Noffel - Hokka and Some of His Crew

Hokka [pronounced HAWK-uh] is the famous Noffelian captain of the vessel Sea Scorpion, a man and ship whose exploits are already legendary in Ara. 

My most definitive memory of Hokka took place during the aforementioned “Hotel Kaladarian” campaign refereed by Scott Peoples, Hokka’s creator.  The party was in a Noffellian seaport, seeking to book passage to hunt down a huge sea serpent that was terrorizing the Bay of Noffel.  Hokka agreed to take us out to the serpent’s known feeding area, and when the serpent attacked the ship, Hokka eagerly joined in and raised his cutlass against the huge monster.  During the height of the fray, Hokka was seen dangling from a rope high on his own ship’s mast, swinging his cutlass at the attacking sea serpent while simultaneously shouting curses and, using his off-hand to hold himself, taking a piss on the giant creature as well.  That moment veritably defines Hokka: fearless, hard-drinking, adventure-seeking, and seemingly impervious to death. 

Equally proficient with the Noffellian longsword and the Suhlian cutlass, Hokka makes a deadly opponent in melee combat.  He is seemingly fearless, and is well-known for yelling insults and jibes at his foes while fighting.  His courage and apparent indestructibility help him confer a morale bonus of +2 upon anyone fighting alongside him.

Hokka can be wounded, even swept out to sea from time to time, but should never be outright killed, unless his death is used as part of an incredibly world-changing, cathartic, climactic battle in a large-scale campaign.  Hokka is a more or less permanent fixture of Ara, the ultimate ally to befriend and share seagoing adventures with.  Hokka and his crew, being fearless adventure-seekers, are almost always willing to transport adventure parties for a cash fee or fair trade.

Hokka’s ship, the Sea Scorpion, is a small galley with the following stats: 90-person crew complement, Cargo Capacity 2,000 lbs., AC 8, Structural HP 100 (see Labyrinth Lord p. 57).  Since Captain Hokka prefers to keep his ship at sea (and earning money) as much as possible, and due to the often illegal nature of the work Hokka accepts, I am not certain if Hokka and the Sea Scorpion have a stable “home port,” but if they do, it is Jakama.  (In fact, I believe Jakama is where my party first met Hokka during Scott Peoples’ “Hotel Kaladarian” campaign.)  While Hokka can be found and hired out of any port on the Bay of Noffel or the Arandish West Coast, he is far more likely to be found in the Noffellian seaside city of Jakama than anywhere else.

Due to his thirst for dangerous adventure, Hokka has a tendency to lose ships from time to time; the last time I used Hokka in a campaign he claimed to be on his seventh ship, having survived the sinking of six previous Sea Scorpions.  In any case, Hokka is legendary for surviving the destruction of his vessels and any new ship he acquires is immediately renamed the Sea Scorpion

Hokka is a legend amongst most Noffellians and seafaring folk, and since almost everybody loves and/or fears him, he has few direct enemies.  Some tight-assed coastal mayors or governors may have it out for Hokka for his black marketeering, but Hokka usually (barely) eludes legal trouble to sail again for the unknown!

I think the reason I have kept Hokka and the Sea Scorpion around for so long is that I like to have a ready-made and fun way to get character adventure parties out to sea or across the sea to new adventure areas.  Hokka certainly does NOT show up in every single campaign I run; but pretty much every time a party goes to sea, it is with Hokka.  In this connection, please note that Hokka is an ocean-going sailor, NOT a swamp-barge or riverboat captain.  He is proud of his Noffellian heritage and mostly sails the Bay of Noffel and the Arandish West Coast, including Suhl as well as the riverway up to the Free City of Kaladar.  He could be persuaded to sail across the Algar Sea to the Duchy of Galen but has only rarely done so before, and possesses little knowledge of the Duchy or its denizens.

Hokka’s gaming statistics follow – please remember that I am using the Arandish Alignment system, which is a direct steal of the Dwimmermount Alignment System

Hokka, Seafarer Captain (see Labyrinth Lord p. 48)
Human Fighter Level 12
Sex: male
Alignment: neutral
STR 15, DEX 14, CON 17, INT 10, WIS 13, CHA 16
HP: 66
AC: 5
Weapons: cutlass (treat as scimitar), dagger
Armor: Studded Leather (base AC 6)

Next, vital statistics for some of Captain Hokka’s key crew members.  Hokka sails at all times with one of the best crews to be found in the south Arandish seas.  Over half of his crew is made up of Suhlian rodians, joined also by a goodly number of Noffelian humans.  Here I provide detailed profiles for only a few possible / representative crew members.  Hokka’s crew members, while overall quite loyal to their legendary captain, also evince a fairly high killed-in-action rate due to the extremely dangerous missions Hokka routinely accepts.  Therefore, referees using Hokka should feel free to flesh out their own Sea Scorpion crews, even changing the crews (in minor ways or substantively) from appearance to appearance of Hokka.

Again, remember that for all the following entries I am using the Arandish Alignment System.)

Felda Barris
Human Fighter Level 9
Sex: female
Alignment: lawful
STR 16, DEX 16, CON 16, INT 14, WIS 12, CHA 13
HP: 54
AC: 3
Weapons: Long Sword, Dagger, Short bow, mace
Armor: chain mail (base AC 5)

Felda Barris, Noffellian warrior, is Hokka’s First Mate, acting as chief of security and crew drill instructor onboard the Sea Scorpion.  Prior to joining Hokka’s crew, Barris was a soldier in the Noffellian High Guard for many years; it is rumored that she was dismissed from the High Guard for insubordination, but no one in Hokka’s crew would ever mention this in her presence, since she would beat the crap out of them for saying it.  Chief Barris, as the crew calls her, is fiercely loyal to Hokka and is one of his main personal and professional confidantes, but she does not fraternize much with the rest of the crew and is rarely friendly toward ship’s passengers.  In other words, excepting her friendship with Hokka, she is primarily a disciplined loner.  Hokka usually leaves Barris in charge anytime he is off the Sea Scorpion.

Zigg and Higbar Karibekian, rodian brothers:

Rodian Duellist Level 6
Sex: male
Alignment: neutral
STR 14, DEX 15, CON 14, INT 9, WIS 12, CHA 11
HP: 24
AC: 5
Weapons: cutlass (treat as scimitar), dagger, light crossbow
Armor:  studded leather (base AC 6)

Rodian Duellist Level 5
Sex: male
Alignment: neutral (balance)
STR 11, DEX 16, CON 12, INT 10, WIS 13, CHA 12
HP: 18
AC: 4
Weapons: duelling rapier (treat as short sword), dagger, light crossbow
Armor: studded leather (base AC 6)

Besides Hokka himself, the most consistent elements of my Sea Scorpion crew have been  Zigg and Higbar Karibekian (of the famous generations-old seafaring family, pronounced CARE-uh-BEEK-ee-an), two rodian brothers who constantly bicker and compete as a way of demonstrating their love for each other.  Zigg and Higbar are always debating who is better with the cutlass, or at any other endeavor for that matter.  Neither brother will admit of any fault or wrongdoing to the other, and each works very hard to one-up his brother whenever possible.  The  Karibekian brothers are, if you’ll forgive the reference, the Legolas and Gimli of the Sea Scorpion.

In actual fact, the elder Karibekian brother, Zigg, is stronger and a more skilled fighter than his brother; and Higbar, faster and nimbler, is a more natural sailor and crossbowman.  But both brothers are formidable melee combatants and often serve Hokka as key boarding party members.  (Of course, never one to miss an opportunity for combat, Hokka leads all his own boarding parties.)

Human Fighter Level 7
Sex: male
Alignment: neutral
STR 18, DEX 15, CON 16, INT 7, WIS 10, CHA 8
HP: 50
AC: 5
Weapons: Bastard Sword, Dagger
Armor: studded leather (base AC 6)

By contrast with the Karibekian brothers, Barnacle-Head is a relatively new member of Hokka’s crew – I have only used him once, in my most recent Arandish campaign.  A large and muscular Noffellian human, Barnacle-Head is retained largely for his fighting abilities and raw stamina.  Barnacle-Head may not be the intellectually sharpest member of the Sea Scorpion crew, but he knows sailing, he is incredibly effective under pressure, and he obeys Hokka unflinchingly.  Barnacle-Head acts as Rowing Master when the Sea Scorpion is under oar.  In combat, he is almost always seen near Hokka or directly at his captain’s side; Barnacle-Head would probably be considered Hokka’s bodyguard, if the idea of Hokka needing a bodyguard weren’t so inherently ridiculous.

Saladari Xaelar
Rodian Illusionist Level 6
Sex: female
Alignment: neutral
STR 8, DEX 16, CON 10, INT 16, WIS 11, CHA 9
HP: 15
AC: 7
Weapons: dagger
Armor: none (base AC 9)
Spells (1st): Color Spray, Hypnotism, Wall of Fog, Detect Invisibility
Spells (2nd): Fog Cloud, Invisibility, Magic Mouth
Spells (3rd): Fear

Saladari Xaelar [pronounced ZAY-lar] is the latest in a long line of rodian Illusionists to emerge from her family, and is believed to have connections very high up in the hierarchy of the Black Cloister.  Xaelar serves as the Navigator of the Sea Scorpion.  Secretive and introverted, she has nevertheless become one of the boisterous Captain Hokka’s closest confidantes—for while in matters of crew conduct and discipline Hokka clearly relies primarily upon Felda Barris, when it comes to ship navigation, overall operational strategies, cargo profit margins, and general “life coaching,” it is Saladari Xaelar to whom he turns.  It is probably largely due to Xaelar and her (highly secretive) obligations to the Black Cloister that Hokka ensures the Sea Scorpion makes port in Suhl at least once every few months.  (Though the Karibekian brothers, Zigg and Higbar, have many relatives there as well, including a great-uncle who owns a tavern.)

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Alignment in Ara

The available alignment options in the Lands of Ara, which I am directly borrowing descriptions of from James Maliszewski’s Dwimmermount campaign, are as follows:

Chaotic: Inimical to civilization and possibly reality itself – the alignment of demons, Faerie, and the insane.

Neutral: Apathetic and/or unconcerned with the battle between cosmic forces.

Neutral (Balance): The philosophical stance that a balance between Chaos and Law is necessary for the well-being of the cosmos.

Lawful (Good): The philosophical stance that civilization exists to foster the common good.

Lawful: The philosophical stance that civilization, regardless of how it is organized, is preferable to other alternatives.

Lawful (Evil): The philosophical stance that civilization exists to allow the strong to lord it over the weak.

Unwavering fixtures of all my FRPG campaigns

As I have been lately revisiting my gaming past, and especially as I have reviewed old campaign materials from various phases of my game-mastering career, I have noticed certain trends and tendencies in my world-creation preferences.  Although my refereeing experience extends across D&D, AD&D, D&D 3.5e, Tunnels and Trolls, Traveller, Shadowrun, a game of my own co-design called Crimson Blades of Ara, and no doubt a few others I am forgetting, nevertheless there are certain stock characters, key events, and recurring motifs that reappear with great regularity in nearly all my campaigns.  Since I am offering a campaign world / backdrop, I thought it might be fun to share some of the recurring features that seem to make their way into virtually every FRPG campaign I have ever run. 

A Crashed Alien Spaceship – Of course the big inspiration here is Expedition to the Barrier Peaks,  but the reason I nearly always throw a crashed spaceship somewhere into my fantasy RPG campaigns is because I have always loved that fantasy / sci-fi generic blurring found in fiction like Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Barsoom books and Roger Zelazny’s Chronicles of Amber.  So with me, there are always aliens (or at least inter-dimensional beings) involved at some stage in nearly every FRPG campaign.  In time, I will document a few ideas I have about specific alien ship crashes and extraterrestrial incursions into the Lands of Ara, including deploying robots like this in such scenarios.

Funny Names For Places And People – I try to make my key villains and party allies fairly serious / believable in tone, but most of my smaller supporting-cast NPCs have ridiculous and/or obscene names, for example, Barnacle-Head (at least he’s a sailor!) or, in Marsh Town (called by many locals Sluggerton), there is Ork-Ork, a half-elven man with a right club foot who is a part time fishmonger, part-time fence. Also from Sluggerton is a powerful but eccentric Enchanter simply known as Old Man Fish-Penis; the best swamp guide in Sluggerton is a young fellow named Rabbit-Head.  I also love ridiculous or sexually suggestive place-names, like Snotream Harbor, Barfington (home of the popular tavern the Aroused Barracuda), and Bull-Licker Terrace (home of an important wise woman / sorceress named the Witch of Bull-Licker Terrace). 

Hokka the Sailor – No campaign of mine (certainly no Arandish campaign) would be complete without Hokka the Sailor, the fearless, hard-drinking, adventure-seeking, and seemingly indestructible Noffellian sea captain / black marketeer.  Of course, I must give credit where credit is due and state that I did not invent Hokka – he is in fact the creation of Scott Peoples, a key playtester of Crimson Blades of Ara and referee of the “Hotel Kaladarian” campaign, wherein we first met Hokka in a Noffellian seaport.  It is from that original campaign of Scott’s that my fondest memory of Hokka emerges: we were in search of a fearsome giant sea serpent, and had hired Hokka to take us out to the serpent’s known feeding area.  The sea serpent appeared and attacked the ship, and during the height of the fray, Hokka, dangling from a rope high on his own ship’s mast, was swinging his cutlass at the attacking sea serpent while simultaneously shouting curses and, using his off-hand to hold himself, taking a piss on the giant creature – that is Hokka at his best.  In my campaigns, Hokka has never been killed – for me, such a thing is unthinkable.  Hokka is a constant.  Hokka and his crew, being fearless adventure-seekers, are almost always willing to transport adventure parties for a cash fee or fair trade.  In a forthcoming post I will provide more gaming-specific details about Hokka and his crew. 

A Mad Hermit . . . or two . . . or three  -- This is a “borrow” from the first adventure I ever played or refereed, D&D Module B2 The Keep on the Borderlands, wherein there is a mad hermit described simply as “a solitary hermit” who “has haunted this area of the forest, becoming progressively wilder and crazier and more dangerous.”  I love this.  Wild, mad, and dangerous recluses are about my favorite NPCs to play, so they are always lurking around in my campaigns.  My mad hermits usually know a good deal of the truth of what is going on in the area, almost to an oracular degree at times, but the way in which they reveal it is deliberately disjointed, obfuscating, and often laced with tons of obscene non-sequiturs and strange haggling.

Vampires as the ultimate Arch-Villains – I have always been quite terrified of vampires, a phobia I trace back to the 1970s TV mini-series Salems’ Lot and the very Max Schreck-ian vampire that James Mason works alongside in that program.  So when Dave and I were creating Ara, I made sure that with the possible exception of very ancient dragons, vampires would be more or less the most powerful evil creatures in Ara.  I still hold that as a cornerstone of the conception of Ara: vampires are very powerful there and should in fact be the most dreaded villains in the region.  In Ara, vampires are actually ancient magic-users who practiced evil arts and were imprisoned forever in Mount Mornlyn after the Old War (I will cover these events in greater detail in a forthcoming post about the exploits of Arlon, the best-known apprentice of creator-sorceress Awra).  Except, of course, that some of the most powerful and evil of these imprisoned wizards figured out how to make themselves undead, subsequently escaped Mornlyn, and now terrorize Ara from secret strongholds throughout the lands.  In a way, Arandish vampires are really more akin to Liches (and Demi-Liches!) from AD&D: ancient and incredibly powerful evil sorcerers gone undead.  I will give stats for a few typical Arandish vampires in a forthcoming post.

Valley of the Dinosaurs – I love dinos, though I actually think it is a bit incongruous and silly to place them in a medieval fantasy setting.  Yet I cannot resist doing so again and again. To resolve this crisis, I always put my campaign dinos in a remote valley “that time forgot” or posit them as the experiment of some bizarre wizard or summoner.  I make the appearance of dinosaurs a weird exception, NOT as creatures widely distributed throughout Ara.  But they are the “exception” that I almost always work in because I love dinosaurs so much.

The “Scumbrella” Spell – Scumbrella is a 1st-Level magic-user spell that is cast upon a single mundane umbrella.  The next time that umbrella is opened, it dumps sewage and filth all over the person(s) underneath it.  This is a “practical joke” spell with very little direct combat application – maybe I would call the person scummed by a Scumbrella surprised for one round – but it seems like the kind of spell I would certainly write if I were a magic-user and that I imagine would be quite popular amongst other spellcasters as well.  What’s a little harmless fun?

The Fun of Oracular Dice

I expect that MUTANT LORD CARL will probably cover this too (he has promised to!) but I wanted to briefly mention what a great time I had tonight at the regular Friday Mutant Future game session, particularly because we seemed to have some pretty oracular dice tonight.  There were some well-timed good rolls by myself and the party, but just as many flubbed ones, by party and Mutant Lord alike, that really appropriately fit the scenarios we were in.  Carl will fill in details on the Mutagenic Substance blog, but as usual, GROGNARDIA offers some good thoughts on the power and pleasures of randomness, a key element of old-school games that seems to have been largely drummed out of newer "point-buy" based and "balanced" rules systems.  Here is a key quote on why true randomness, as represented by die rolling, is FUN:

"There's something powerfully primal about tossing dice and waiting to see the numbers they reveal.  [. . .]  [The] real heart of this particular matter [is] the embrace of events beyond your control as an integral part of the gaming experience. This includes players and referees alike, it should be noted."