Saturday, 11 April 2015

From Threshold to the ruins by the lake

There are 'ruins' marked on the map of Threshold, or, at least, indicated as being off the map to the north, and arguably, by the lake-shore. For those who have access to the Known World Gazetteers, this is probably Castle Mystamere or something. I don't have access to them, so I've never incorporated that info into 'my' Grand Duchy. I've just bolted on stuff as necessary. There's a very detailed map of the region at the Vaults of Pandius site, but I know nothing of the majority of places noted on it.

The ruins near 'my' Threshold are a destroyed city that stood on the lakeside 50 or more years ago, at the time of an evil witch-queen who previously ruled these lands. She was defeated and killed (or, possibly, banished to some shadow-realm, no-one's very sure) by a young Halfling wizard and a good witch.

The Halfling wizard is a legend whose whereabouts are not known. But the retired Halfling adventurer who grows Wolfsbane in Threshold shares his family name of Ufgood, and if you ask around you can find out the Halfling's name is Ranon. Did I mention that the Halflings in these parts are known as Nelwyn (there are three kinds of Halfling in my campaign world - Hin, Kender and Nelwyn)? There used to be a small settlement of them downriver, and those that still live in the district tell crazy stories of how one of their number helped defeat the witch-queen. None of the humans believe it of course, they all know the witch-queen died in the battle that re-united the northern and southern halves of the Grand Duchy, that used to be known as Nockmaar and Galladoorn...

Anyway, the PCs are at it again. They've recruited two new members - Wiz Kalufa, a cleric from the Temple of the Mother in Threshold; and Josef, a thief who the party found tied up in the basement lair of the Snake-Cultists and their Bandit allies. They've cleared the tunnels under Beren's warehouse, by defeating the last Fire Beetle (they forgot to collect its glow-glands however so couldn't sell them to the Alchemists) and also killing three Bandits, as well as finding some of the loot and other goodies that the Bandits and Cultists had hidden down there - some +1 Leather Armour (which will look great on Josef if they ever work that out), a Wand (of Magic Detection), and a rather nice Ring (of Protection +1) - and they're frankly too grateful for the 20GPs Beren agreed to give them. Perhaps they need some real treasure.

Having finally run into the map-seller at the market, the PCs bought a map. An old one, to be sure, but it gave them the idea to go aventuring in the ruins north of town - even though (thanks to the Simple Weather Chart from The Clash of Spear on Shield) it was raining (lightly). Frankly, the Town Guard were glad to see the back of them. And what did they find in the ruins? Well, a few rolls on the Wandering Monster Charts, let me tell you! First up, a party of traders! Errm, presumably on their way to Threshold for the market. And for the number appearing... 1. So, a single trader wandering around the ruins. So, I decided the party encountered a single trader who was eating a late breakfast.

They chatted to him for a bit and made their way onwards. Next up, a party of ... Halflings. Damn that Wandering Monster table! 12 Halflings. Or, as they introduced themselves, Nelwyn. So the party joined them at their singing and dancing. Quickly deciding that a CHA roll would stand in for singing ability, Bjorn and Bromeen, the two Dwarves, attempted to join in with the Halflings' songs. Unfortunately, Bromeen has a CHA of 7 and Bjorn a CHA of 8. They're not very charismatic, and therefore they're not very goo at singing. "'Ere! You've got a 'orrible voice! Don't ever sing to anyone ever again Mister Dwarf!" as one of the Nelwyn said.

The dancing went a little better. Josef the Thief, who has the tolerably-good DEX of 12 (he really had terrible rolls, 12 is his highest stat), attempted to join in the dancing. Hey! A success! The Nelwyn were impressed and invited the party to sit and join them for a tale... the tale of the Wizard Ufgood who helped to defeat Bavmorda the witch-queen.

After a while, the party went on with the exploration. Hearing some screeching from behind some bushes, Josef crept forwards to take a look. Peering through the undergrowth, Josef saw some big white apes. Like, gorillas. Why? Well, tiring of the stupid results from the random monster tables, I consulted the list of prepared encounters I had. Hmm, acolytes, apes, bats, bandits, beetles... I hadn't gotten very far down the list I'll grant you, and the acolytes, bandits, bats and beetles had already been assigned to the cellars under Beren's warehouse. So apes it is then - six of them, approximately as powerful as Ogres.

Enter Wiz Kalufa. Taking a mace he had purloined during the clearing of Beren's cellars, he lobbed it over the bushes. For some reason, he had the idea that he could entice the apes out so that the Halflings would deal with them rather than getting the party to do it. But the apes didn't see where the mace had come from, they just picked it up. So Bjorn decided he would try a more direct method, of actually running into their midst and then running away again. The rest of the party, led by Wizard the cowardly Magic User, had already fled back towards the Nelwyn by this time. Bjorn gave chase, dressed in his plate-mail of course. The apes were in hot pursuit. As Bjorn was in plate mail, the apes were twice as fast as he was. They cought him, and ...a rum little encounter developed as the rest of the party attempted to grab Halflings and throw them towards the apes as a distraction. All of a sudden they were staring down a dozen Halfling archers. But Wizard, being diplomatic, talked everyone down and the party waited to see, with bated breath, what the gorillas would actually do with Bjorn. As I threw '12' for the reaction dice (as I hadn't decided yet what they actually wanted), they hauled him up in the air and carried him around on their shoulders for a bit. When Wiz (Kalufa, nor -ard) attempted to distract them with his rations, they dropped Bjorn and hauled Wiz onto their shoulders instead (somewhat luckily for the party, I threw 12 again for the apes' reaction).

That unfortunately was all we had time for that evening; if the party can get the apes to clear off long enough, they may find that there seems to have been some clandestine digging activity at the ruins of the city of Tir Asleen. If they do find such activity, it should let them into the secret of where 'the bad guys' have been trying to break into as-yet-uncleared cellars and undercrofts of the town. And perhaps, just perhaps, some monsters and treasures await...

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

DM maps and player maps

I've been thinking about maps this week. Not maps for me, but maps for the players. Handouts; treasure maps, maps they don't come across very often, maps of the continent or their planet, maps of other worlds that may or may not be accessible to them, maps of lairs or cities or citadels they may visit.

This was inspired by a post (really, just a wonderful list) over at Beyond the Black Gate (there are many inspiring posts over there to be fair). The table is a 'what's the stall at the market?' list.

I'd already decided that I was going to throw a little weirdness the party's way; the market-traders will include the denizens of 'the Itinerant Bazaar', a WotC 3.5Ed (I think) creation found round about here. I needed some other merchants; so I made 30 rolls on the table. Some would be locals bringing their wares (generally vegetables, booze of varying kinds, or wooden, leather and clay goods) and others would be the traders from the Itinerant Bazaar. So, a bunch of rolls to get the traders, and one of the stall-holders I rolled is a seller of maps.

The Itinerant Bazaar is basically a collection of teleporting merchants who travel around from world to world, plane to plane, trading and telling stories as they go. That's totally what my map-seller has been doing anyway. She has maps of the area round about - as it existed when the bazaar was last here, 50 or 60 years ago, when it was perhaps her grandparents who were running the stall - which may provide clues to possible adventures. She also has maps of star-empires, a desert planet in a galaxy far, far away, islands of pirates where iron is valued and gold scorned, a prosperous country of peaceful Halflings, a red planet where an accidental traveller from another land becomes a warlord by marrying a princess, and a world where a crazed albino prince talks to his black sword, among others. Somewhere, she may even have a map of a world carried by four elephants standing on the back of a giant turtle.

If they don't get my party's fingers itching (think of all the loot!) I really don't know what will.

Sunday, 5 April 2015

Cults part II

This is a follow-up to 'How do you run your cults?', in which I outline different ways of getting to grips with religion, from taking deities from history, to getting them from literary sources, to using 'Official' D&D deities, to making them up, and also whether keeping the same name or changing them around or just giving them titles is the order of the day; so whether one prays to Zeus or Mörnir or Vondar or the Sky God might not matter, if all of these things are functionally the same thing.

Of course, it could be that (either) Vondar (or the Sky God) is a laughing god who wields a spear and rides across the sky on the back of a blue dragon, singing songs, and his priests worship him in mountain caves where he brews storms with his laughter and singing. In other words, Vondar might not be like Zeus.

There's a sort of table that comes down to an axis in one direction - called 'nature' perhaps, or maybe 'powers' - with 'derived from sources' and 'made up' on it, and another - called 'name' - with 'derived from sources', 'made up' and 'title' on it. The example of Vondar above would get a 'made up' in both boxes, as both the name and theology of Vondar are different from Zeus. 'The Sky God' (who gets a check for 'Title' on the 'name' axis) could refer to a god like Zeus, or a god like Vondar. It would be perverse I feel to have a mythology of a dragon-riding god who brews storms by singing in mountain caves, and call him 'Zeus' though, unless I was planning on running a specifically Ancient Greek campaign, and wanted to show lots of different local theologies and legends for my gods (basically, each city or region having their own version of the gods).

Having looked at this excellent post on Beyond the Black Gate, in which Al simply puts down some features of the deities and cults in his campaign,I've been inspired to try to do the same with the gods of my campaign. Two of the gods of this area, Kos and Issek, come from the Nehwon mythos and I won't describe them here. One notable feature I suppose is that on reaching Second Level and actually gaining Clerical magic, in this campaign Clerics must take a weapon appropriate to their deity if there is one. This is, essentially, because it makes no sense to me that Clerics don't use their deity's 'sacred weapon'. So I've detailed the sacred weapons of the deities below and indicated when a Cleric needs to adopt one.

Isi (life & magic) also known as The Great Mother and the Queen of the Stars. She usually appears as a queenly woman of middle years with a sceptre in one hand. She presides over many aspects of fertility of plants, animals and people, and is also connected with stars and the sky. Any may join her clergy, who wear scarlet kilts. There is a temple of the Great Mother in most settlements, and often some of the other gods have only shrines inside her temples, particularly Rosh, Nefu and Resek (see below).

Rosh (oaths, vengeance) – also know as The Avenger. Rosh is the son of Isi, and oversees the giving of oaths, which are often sworn before his altars. He appears in his depictions as a powerfully-built bare-chested young man who wields a sword in one hand and a wand in the other. He wears a kilt of bright blue; his clerics, who can be male or female but are always human, wear similar kilts, but clad themselves in leather armour and wear helms in the shape of hawks, Rosh’s sacred animal. Clerics of Rosh at Second Level and above must only use normal swords as weapons.

Nefu (water and weather) – also known as the Lady of the Waters. Nefu is the consort of Rosh, and the sister or cousin of Resek. She presides over rivers and streams, springs, rain and all falling or flowing water; when angered, she summons thunderstorms. Both the fish and the lioness are sacred to her. Her clerics wear rusty-red leather armour and helms that resemble fish-scales. In cities, they are particularly concerned with the provision of fountains of clear water, which they call ‘the blessings of Nefu’.

Resek (light) – also known as the Lord of Light. Resek is regarded as being a close kinsman of Nefu; as such he, Nefu, Rosh (Nefu’s consort) and Isi (Rosh’s mother) are regarded as being closely-linked. In smaller settlements, their cults will often all be found in the same temples, generally a temple to Isi with several shrines of the other gods. Resek seeks out evil everywhere and turns his searching light on it. His clerics wear white tunics, and helms with hawk-feathers attached to them. He wields a halberd and a mace in battle, and his clerics must pick one of these weapons to use on reaching Second Level.

Tas (cats, the household) – also known as the Lady of Cats. She protects the household from the evil powers of the underworld, particularly represented by snakes and rats, and is also regarded as being a goddess of luck and plenty due to protecting the grain harvest. She appears as a beautiful bare-breasted young woman wearing a cat-mask or helm with cat-ears. Her clergy (who may be of any race or sex) wear similar helms and grey kilts, and encourage the killing of snakes whenever they can. In smaller settlements she may have a shrine in the temple of Isi rather than a temple of her own.

Huran (war) – also known as the Lord of War. Huran is the personification of the male warrior-ideal; he always appears as a very tall man, and wields a spear which flames with the light of the sun. He usually appears in his depictions armoured for war, and his clerics – who are always human males – wear leather armour and war-helms when they go forth from the temples, whether or not they are going to battle. From Second Level, clerics of Huran must use spears as weapons.

Ets (evil, the underworld, snakes) – also known as the Lord of Night. His cult is very secretive and will never share its temples with other gods of the pantheon. He is the implacable enemy of Rosh. Representations of the god show him with the scaly skin of a snake, which is a sacred animal to him. He uses a great black spear in combat. His clerics, who may be male or female and of any race, wear black helms and leather armour; his sign, a coiled serpent, is usually bright green and is prominent in his depictions and on the gear of his priests – when they are not hiding their true natures. Clerics of Second Level and above must use a spear as a weapon.

Alol (sun, archers, music) – also known as the Shining One. He is a complex deity with responsibility for the sun, music, archery and bears. He appears on all his depictions as a beautiful young man with a bow or carrying a harp. Sometimes he wears a bearskin around his shoulders, and in the stories of his cult can assume the form of a bear. His male priests wear gold or yellow tunics and leaf-crowns. They must use the bow as a weapon upon reaching Second Level. Alol is a fickle and jealous god; his clergy will not have friendly contact with any other cult. His temples usually stand in naturally-beautiful places such as by waterfalls or in groves.

Ras (war) – also known as the God of Battle and the Wolf-God. Ras is depicted as a powerfully-built older warrior, always wearing a helm, breastplate and crimson tunic. He is the lord of battle-lust, delighting in slaying. He carries both a sword and a spear; his clerics must pick one upon reaching Second Level and may from then only use that weapon. Non-humans may not join his clergy though they can make offerings to him before battle. Wolves are sacred to Ras and sometimes are trained to guard his temples. Like Alol, he is a jealous god and will not share his temples with others.

And now, with Orem-Thep added (I forgot about him as I was only looking at the temples in the PCs' town, and he doesn't have any temples)...

Orem-Thep (creation, benevolence) – also known as the Good Lord. Orem-Thep is, if the tellers of his tales be believed, the creator of the human race and the inventor of all civilised arts. He has no temples as such, but there are preachers who take to themselves an amber-coloured tunic and an iron ring as badges of his faith and preach his benevolence and wisdom, leading prayer-meetings in public places or at worshippers' houses. They also use a torch as a symbol of their devotion, signifying the illumination that Orem-Thep brings to the world through his benevolent wisdom. The cult of Orem-Thep hunts griffons whenever it can, as they hold them to be uniquely evil.