Prepping For Talomire: Part Two

“When last we met our heroes…”

In my last post I talked a bit about how my preparation for D&D games has changed and evolved over time. In this post I’d like to go a bit more in-depth with my latest campaign (Curse of Strahd notwithstanding), in my Talomire setting.

Context

Best to start off with exactly what I’m preparing for. With Talomire I’m aiming to run a few campaigns, with different parties, all in the same continuity. My folder needs to reflect that, and be built in a way that makes it easier for me to do that. I want these campaigns to be open ended sandboxes as well. I have a few plot threads in my head, in terms of what is going to be happening in the world around them (what the elves in the north are doing, what is happening in the frozen tundras of the very far north, and the political manoeuvring in the south), but it’s up to the players how they want to interact, or if they want to interact, with these events.

So, my folder needs to be easy to navigate, and have enough content to satisfy my players’ desires and actions, while not requiring me to write the backstory of every single NPC in every single tiny village…thankfully there are tools that allow me to do this, such as my DM screen. I’ll go into a bit of detail on each of these, culminating in the contents of the folder itself.

1 – The DM Screen

I love DM screens. I’ve always thought that the actions of the DM should be hidden, and that a good DM can gain the trust of their players without making each and every die roll public knowledge. I feel it adds mystique to the game; a lack of knowledge that is entirely accurate, and which I feel makes role playing easier and more dramatic. That said, the official screen from WotC is in no way suited to my style of DMing. 50%-75% of the screen is given over to things I either don’t use or need, things I already know, or things I regularly homebrew anyway. I tend to run a number of campaigns anyway, in different settings, so the information I’m likely to need from session to session is different, so a static screen is unlikely to be much use to me. For ages my screen was simply something to block my notes and my rolls from my players.

A few months back I decided to build my own screen. My first mock up was built using 3mm artist’s backing board, sandwiching sheets cut from a magnetic whiteboard. Thes panels were held together using a hinge made from duct tape, and reinforced using electrical tape. It wasn’t perfect, but it meant I could use magnets to attach print outs to my screen. All of a sudden I could have party trackers, region maps, initiative orders and even magic item cards on my screen, able to be switched out at a moment’s notice.

With my MkII build I adapted the original concept slightly. Still built from 3mm backing board, I cut out sections of the inner board to expose the whiteboard inner. Now I can write on that layer, take notes or jot initiative orders, as well as change all of that information whenever I need to. IMG_1543The white boards I used also came with pens and, more importantly, clips. I currently have three attached to my screen. One is currently surplus to requirement (although I do have a couple of ideas for it), and one holds my whiteboard pen. The third, though, allows me to switch out party trackers incredibly easily. I mounted thin plastic sheeting to the clip, which is large enough for four player-tracking sheets. The plan is to have one of these clips per party.

I also built a small, magnetic shelf to put visual aides on for my players…which is by far my favourite thing about this screen right now…

Untitled

The screen, eventually, is going to have five panels; one for party tracking, three with whiteboards exposed, and one similar to my original build; magnetic, but without the whiteboard exposed. The middle three are designed to be used for session specific things, with the final panel given over to rules I often forget.

2 – The Journal

Drunkens & Dragons introduced me to the concept of a DMs journal. This idea of a repository of information is literally what began Talomire. Instead of building concepts in my head, everything was thrown on paper and built on. Numerous dungeons, traps, financial and religious systems have been born in my journal, and are there now for me to call upon should I ever need them.

During sessions, my journal’s use is two-fold. It’s there for note taking, and remembering what has happened in sessions previously. It also contains ideas I haven’t fully fleshed out yet. If the players decide to travel north, they might run into the small coastal town of Falas Londé, or the ruined watchtower of Duvain Maegorod.IMG_1577

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A couple of dungeons I didn’t use in my last campaign.

The journal, therefore, is something I can plot campaign progress in, as well as reference things that I hadn’t committed to PDF yet, but that might fit nicely with where the party are headed.

3 – NPC Face Cards, Weapon Cards, and Other Handouts.

I’ve played about with a number of different concepts in my previous games, regarding combat, equipment and NPCs. My first campaign was completely theatre of the mind, for example, while in Curse of Strahd, I have experimented with using Index Card RPG and 2.5d terrain, both of which work nicely, but don’t give the feel I want from Talomire.

I found a couple of great resources on Drivethru RPG, which I feel can help me as a DM in NPC and item generation, while giving the players the visual aides I’m been looking for. The NPC deck and weapon cards are fantastic. My plan is to have a bundle of both behind my screen. If the players meet an NPC I haven’t planned, I can grab one of these cards and write the character’s name on, taking notes on the back. The same applies for the weapon cards, which can be handed to the player who owns it, creating a tactile sense of ownership of these weapons, and giving even mundane weapons a sense of importance in a world where magical weapons are incredibly rare.

 

4 – The Folder.

I use a standard sized, two ring, lever arch file, and I don’t use pockets (with the exception of character sheets and handouts). My folder is arranged into several sections, designed to allow me to skip to the parts I need easily. Broadly, they are arranged as follows:

  1. Locations
  2. Adventures & Sidequests
  3. Random Events
  4. Stores & Equipment
  5. Spare Adventures
  6. Spare Maps & Locations
  7. NPCs
  8. Rules

Each tab will then have a number of tabs within, so I can get to exactly the right place at the right time.

My locations tab is for areas I plan on using in my game. For example, I have maps and descriptions of North Tower, Low Briar, and other areas I created. I also have a few I lifted from other sources, such as the Village of Hommlet (the intro adventure to the original Temple of Elemental Evil), and one of Dyson‘s village maps for Briarwood, an area of my own that I haven’t had time to draw yet.

Adventures and sidequests is designed for adventures I know I am either going to run, or am likely to run. Here I’ll have my notes, for ease of access. Finished adventures will likely be put somewhere else when done, but I’m not sure about that yet.

Random events are the life and soul of a sandbox game, in my opinion. They make the world feel real and dynamic, so I make sure to have a number of different encounter tables and random event tables. The Dungeon Master’s Handbook volumes one and two are great for these.

Stores and equipment is something I loved about my Forgotten Realms folder. It shows the prices and availability of equipment in different types of location, adjusted for Talomire’s economy. Rather than  gp, cp, sp, etc, Talomire uses a version of medieval England’s currency. As such, all prices are adjusted to better suit that currency and economy (meaning full plate armour now costs the equivalent of around 19,000gp).

Spare adventures are simply adventures I can pull out at any time. The players decide they want to travel west, and they discover a small town at the base of the Spine mountains. I feel they need something to do, so I grab a spare adventure and throw the plot hook their way. I’ll then move that adventure into my ‘Adventures & Sidequests’ tab, and run it from there. Spare maps and locations is pretty much the same, but is filled with maps and locations I’ve drawn from other sources (mostly Dyson, who’s maps are mostly free, and absolutely amazing).

The NPCs tab is just somewhere I can hold my NPCs, and keeps notes on them, their goals, and what they’re up to when the players aren’t around.

Finally, the rules tab is where I keep all the non-standard rules I want to use. At the moment these are the Stonghold rules, the rules for dragons in the DCCRPG, rules for magical research from DCCRPG, and (Not So) Legendary Actions.

I also have a campaign calendar and a region map in the front of the folder so that I can mark new locations for future reference, as well as make sure important dates in the life of Talomire are observed, and time can be kept properly within the world.

Closing Thoughts.

None of this is really tested in it’s current iteration, but I’m very hopeful. Please, let me know what you think, and what you like to have prepared; I love to learn from other people and steal their ideas! When I start running my campaign(s) I’ll do an update with what has worked, and what has not.

Anyway, thanks for reading!

Prepping For Talomire: Part One

Dungeon Masters prepare their campaigns and their settings in a myriad of weird and wonderful ways, and usually flit between prep methods depending on their intent, or what they feel will work best. This post is going to break down how I’ve prepped in the past and how, specifically, I’m preparing my Talomire campaign setting.

Since getting back into D&D, just over two years ago (March 30th 2015 for those interested), I’ve run a total of four campaigns:

Eloch Loria

Eloch Loria was a world I created, based on a setting I created when I was still at school. The driving concept of Eloch Loria was that the world had been created millennia before for two powerful deities to fight in. After centuries they tired of their fight and created orcs and elves to fight each other in their stead. Eventually and extra-planar creature in the form of a blind beggar approached them both, offering them a way out of their eternal conflict. He took a large part of their power, and usurped them, created humans and dwarves to spread across the lands. A final, climactic battle saw an end to this creature, leaving the world open to god-like creatures, hungry for power. Over long years the world begins to die, and we pick up within years of its demise.

The campaign saw the players discover an ancient tiefling girl in the temple of a long forgotten god. They let her go free (as well as naked, and without food). The next time they saw her she was executed by a blind beggar, who ascended to become the creature who had tricked the Old Gods out of their powers. The arc developed into one which led them around the world, finding the Old Gods and killing creatures claiming to be gods. The finale was meant to set the players against Uktar (the blind beggar) himself. In an unwinnable  battle, the party would die to a man, coming to consciousness in a throne room, outside of time and space. They see the rise of Uktar, of his deceptions and his fall from grace. They summon the young creature that became Uktar, and decide whether or not to eliminate him from existence. They, now acting as gods, remake the dying Eloch Loria in their own image. The characters they create next, entering into the second age, live in the world the players have built, and are able to worship the characters they played during the first age.

This is a long (and kinda ‘pat-my-self-on-the-back-ey) way of saying…

“Eloch Loria was a narrative driven, mostly railroaded campaign where me and my friends learned how to DM and play both the Dungeons and the Dragons!”

There. I said it.

I prepared my sessions by typing out my notes on where I thought sessions would go, including complete stat blocks from enemies. I still have the documents lying around! Generally though, I made stuff up as I went along. Since the whole campaign was homebrew, I had a better idea of what was happening in my own head that I did on paper. This approach, I feel, has coloured my preparation ever since.

Omicron-Gamma-33f

I have loved the Warhammer 40,000 world since I was eight years old, so of course I ran a Fifth Edition game set in the Imperium of Man, using heavily homebrewed rules. It’s maybe the most fun I’ve ever had in D&D; I played a one off game with my best friend and his wife, and ended up playing the part of a planetary governor…flirting with my friend’s wife (with whom I am also good friends), who was trying to get information out of me.

The campaign was planned in my head, and I put a TONNE of work into handouts, character creation, and homebrew rules. The sessions were completely improvised though. Knowing the NPCs, and committing everything to memory I ran a game of intrigue and subterfuge off-the-cuff for 3-4 hours each Sunday night. IT WAS A BLAST! Rather than worrying about my notes, and plot progression, I simply gave the party orders, then asked them how they wanted to complete them. The result was incredible creativity and immersion on the players’ part, and some of the best fun I’ve ever had DMing.

Friday/Sunday Night D&D

Andy is a common factor in my D&D games. He was Varis Darkcloak, half-elven ranger, in Eloch Loria, and Krenn Attori, Imperial Interrogator and latent psyker, in Omicron-Gamma-33f. Andy found Critical Role (long after I’d seen it and ignored it…I wasn’t much of a Geek and Sundry fan at the time, so I assumed it was gonna be crap…), and waxed lyrical about it. By this point O-M-33f had petered out in the way games sadly have a tendency to do, and we were both hankering for some role playing goodness. We decided to throw open the gates and create a game where people could turn up as-and-when they wanted, enjoy a couple of sessions, and try out new characters. I stood up and DM’d, setting the game Faerûn, on the Sword Coast.

This game was big, pretty much from the off. By week four I had a party of nine people, and was running combat for a total of 15 characters (three of mine to bump up party numbers in previous weeks, and three NPCs). The setting was great though; I never knew Ed Greenwood’s world was so ridiculously in depth! My prep for these games began really simple. I had an idea to mess about with a zombie dragon, and have a pitched battle underground. I threw together some bits and bobs, stat blocks, very basic notes, stuff like that. After that my drunk tiefling friend got to try his hand at DMing (which was real cool. Soft furnishings. If you get that reference, then hello fellow Sunday night member!). The last arc I ran was the one which involved the most research, and the most prep. The idea started with the high elf quest giver in my friend’s sessions. I wanted to flesh the NPC out…so I made him a polymorph, spellcasting, adult blue dragon. I had the elf set up a number of situations to destabilise Waterdeep, culminating in an epic encounter with the stupendously powerful dragon; Kovash Vant, Demon of the Skies.

Unfortunately, as the group size rose, it became clear we were going to have to split the group. The campaign culminated in a cavern, with the party (now 11 people) fighting an illusionist masquerading as a two-headed dragon. It was epic, and was the first time a player died on my watch. It was fun. By the end of the campaign I’d discovered both the DM folder, and the DM journal. My folder had a full breakdown of Waterdeep, street by street, and a bunch of documents for equipment prices, adventure notes, NPC documents (with stat blocks and space for notes), and DM-handover documents which detailed each session and any potential plot points. It was everything I needed to run a game; I had notes on the story I wanted to tell, and the plot hooks and area maps to let the players do whatever they wanted. It was a great tool, and one I’ve loved building ever since. My journal was where my thoughts and theories were scrawled…and it’s where Talomire was born.

Talomire

Talomire is a culmination of two years of DMing. My folder is growing, my DM screen is built, and the handouts and tools I’m wanting to implement are coming together. But we’re already up to nearly 1300 words, so I’ll leave my folder breakdown for tomorrow…I’ll even have photos!

Till then, cheers, and have a great day!

DCC Magic in 5e

Drunkens and Dragons was the first place to put me onto Dungeon Crawl Classics, in particular, the DCC RPG rulebook. This 400+ page long monster is a love letter to the feel of AD&D, and is filled with incredible art and inspired ideas. One of these ideas is its incredible, and wildly intuitive, magic system.

Whereas D&D 5e’s magic system is what Gygax himself once described as:

“a spell point system whose record keeping would warm the heart of a monomaniacal statistics lover” (AD&D Players Handbook, pg 6,

an opinion that I am, much as I love D&D spellcasting, inclined to agree with. In a world where magic is so commonplace that cantrips are thrown around like petty novelties, such as the Forgotten Realms, the spell slot system works fine. But when I’m introducing a new player to the game (which is, blessedly, fairly regularly), explaining the spell slot system is a pain in my arse.

When I’m teaching new players, the first thing I tell them is that, while the character sheet is complicated, and full of numbers and jargon (I use this incredible sheet, which is even more intimidating than the official one), as long as they know where the basics are I can simply guide them to what they need to roll. This teaches them, through experience, how to play the game. I’ve found it works wonders; players get to roll dice and have fun, with me telling them which dice to roll and where on their sheet the appropriate information is, until finally I don’t need to anymore, after a few sessions or less. The huge bloody spanner in the works is magic.

One of my friends decided he wanted to play at the last minute. It was going to be his first time playing, and I didn’t have time to build him a character. What I did have was a dwarvish bard, designed for another friend who was unable to play. We handed him the character sheet, and went from there. During the session Tim had fun, and even did some great things, but he was unfulfilled by the character. He, in truth, didn’t understand the magic system, and who can blame him? As if learning the very basics of the game wasn’t enough, while also trying to role play for the first time, and trying to be immersed in the story, he also had to learn what eight spells did, and how spell slots worked. In the end he did what so many first time spellcasters do – he spammed one spell until it worked.

DCC offers something I’ve never experienced in D&D’s spells. There is uncertainty as to what they will do, and whether they will work. This might not sound great, but it really is. In order to cast a spell you roll a d20 and add certain modifiers. You compare that result to a chart, and that tells you what happens. Each spell is different, and has effects of increasing severity as the roll result gets higher. Now break that down; rather than making the new player learn another mechanic, on top of the d20 + mod mechanic which anchors the vast majority of 5e, you simply use what you’re already teaching them. On top of that, it makes each casting something to be attained! Rather than knowing the spell works, there’s a chance it might not, and worse, a chance it can go horribly wrong. Each success ends up feeling like an achievement, and the wizard gets to feel the same exhilaration the fighter feels when his blows find their mark.

All of this is amazing, but the thing I love most about the DCC system is the feeling of mystery. When I began adapting the DCC ruleset to 5e for my Talomire setting, the first change I made was to take away completed spell sheets from the players. A player’s physical spellbook is, then, not a sheet filled with spell names, but a physical booklet, with spell names, types, and empty charts below. Each spell must be cast in order to learn exactly what it does. You know to some degree that Magic Missile fires an arcane dart at your foes but, unless you’ve rolled a 28 before, you have no idea that it can fire 1d12+2 darts, each dealing 1d8+1 force damage! Imagine that! You cast magic missile as a first level wizard, and roll a natural 20. Add your +3 Int bonus and +2 prof bonus for 25, and a d6-1 for your critical success (let’s assume +3), and now you have a 28! The four goblins you’re facing explode in a shower of sparking bolts!

There are balancing issues, obviously. My way around this is to seriously limit the number of spells a caster can use. Some players may see this as a bad thing, but to my mind it simply reinforces the idea that this knowledge is not easily come by. You have to seek it out, rather than relying on the two extra spells you gain per level, or the six you start with. And each spell, even first level spells, has the opportunity to be useful at later levels.

You can find the VERY EARLY draft for my DCC ‘conversion’ HERE. Feel free to give it a try and let me know how you feel it works. I’ll be updating it a lot over the coming days, and then more as I begin my Talomire campaign proper. Please note that the document is my attempt to create the DCC system using existing 5e concepts and mechanics, and is not a conversion per se (as a general rule, though, I replaced ‘caster level’ with proficiency, and luck with the Int modifier. There’ll be issues in there, but they should iron themselves out in the long run.

Cheers,

Chris.

My First Kill.

I have DM’d various RPG systems (mostly of my own making) since I was 15 years old. I’ve DM’d for twenty three people, and thirty two characters. In thirteen years I shepherded those players and characters deathless through dungeon, swamp and pocket dimension. That is, until the last session I ran.

PC deaths are something I think I’ve always, subconsciously, avoided. I generally, in my life, avoid conflict, and the idea of having to tell someone that the character they’ve spent time building, levelling and fighting with is gone, possibly forever, horrifies me. I bring them to the cusp, hell I don’t even mind death saves, but they always get the better of that skull-faced, chess-loving, scythe wielding reaper of souls. But this, in itself, is an issue. I knew that no matter how difficult the fight, I’d always make sure the monsters lost. I’d fudge rolls, introduce NPCs, give the players an out of some sort. Fights ceased to be threatening. Now, maybe I’m alone in this, but I find that as the DM I’m as much a party of the party as the players. I may not participate in the planning, the combat (on their side anyway), or anything practical, but i share in their highs and their lows. I feel the same rush of adrenaline when a monster crits, or when a breath weapon DC is too high for half the party. Not confronting death in D&D began to suck away the vitality and the danger, and left combat beginning to feel hollow, for myself at least.

So, a little context. The party have had six months off pirating, looting or searching for ways to resurrect their companion animals from homeless wizards in the Castle Ward of Waterdeep. The Midsummer festival rolls around and the party go, separately. In the midst of the fun the Master Illusionist of Baldur’s Gate, Dexter Halebrakt, put on an uproarious show…which was quickly replaced with screaming as mothers discovered their children were now missing. The party were given a cryptic riddle by a dying soothsayer, and found their way into the Undermountain, on their way to Skullport.

Here I introduced my first gambit; the unwinnable fight.

My players were introduced to Aragauthos (who should sound familiar to anyone who has read Ed Greenwood’s classic ‘Ruins of the Undermountain), an ancient, though malnourished, blue dragon. Held there by the Mad Mage, she believed the only two ways to escape were to dispel the magic keeping her there, or to place 72 perfect human skulls on the throne in the cavern (this, of course, was a lie to to her by the Mage himself). All my players were level 5-7 (though there were nine of them turning up regularly), and had no chance. Their only option was to talk to the dragon and attempt to help it. Thankfully they managed to do this by casting a ritual form of dispel magic, then fluking the roll, setting the ancient Aragauthos on a path of revenge which would take her straight through Waterdeep itself. Their other option? Scattering very quickly and hoping some of them made it across the cavern to the river. It really was a TPK situation in 80% of the outcomes.

But, they survived. They annoyed a number of the Skulls of Skullport, met the 14th Skull, and killed NPCs designed to be their allies by keeping the leader stuck on the first floor fighting a 10ft tall goliath paladin who decided to knock the front of the house in. Oh, and they threw a 17 year old prostitute out of a window, killing her. They bumbled their way to their destination, and here we pick up the story. There are four players in particular we are interested in; Djakka, Rinko, Maljape, and Francis Ridge (better known as Fridge).

The party, after some searching, discovered the safe house belonging to the Reforged Ring, a slave trading organisation now controlled by the Ulitharid believed to have taken the children. Fridge approached the door and inspected it for traps. Finding nothing, he stepped back as Djakka, the colossal paladin tank of the group, stepped forward. Inside the door was a small, bizarre looking creature. It looked Fridge straight in the eye, and vanished. Immediately Fridge began to feel a burning, and wispy yellow flames began to seep from his eyes and fingertips, stealing the magic from the air around him, and hurting anyone who came too close. After some worry, and even more searching, the party found themselves in a very small basement, with Djakka (being 10ft tall and wearing bulky plate armour) stuck in the trapdoor down into the room. 

In an attempt to help him, the Dragonborn demolitionist set off the explosive trap in the floor, collapsing the ceiling onto an unconscious Djakka and Rinko ( the Yuan-Ti bard). The two rolled death save after death save while the party struggled to free themselves of the rubble. The cleric healer failed to extricate herself, and only ended up collapsing more rubble onto herself. Finally, by the time anyone was out and able to help, both Djakka and Rinko were dead, crushed and suffocated by the weight of the rocks.

Now, let me land here for a moment. This last event, the cave in, took place over two sessions, with the cave in ending one session, and the beginning of death saves beginning the second. I’d forgotten that Rinko was down, and so planned the next session in my mind thinking only one person needed to be stabilised. I planned difficult DCs for getting out and freeing them, only to find out that the effort would be twice as difficult as I’d imagined. Throw a natural 1 on Rinko’s save, and some other bad rolling, and we were left with two dead players fifteen minutes into a four hour session. Thankfully, the cleric had Revivify prepared, and so the two were brought back quickly, at the cost of the cleric’s only really useful spell slots. The party brushed themselves down, and moved on. Myself, I was amazed. Poor Jagoda, the player behind Rinko, had only had her character a week, and the look she gave me as Rinko’s death began to sink in told of a real pain. It was a sad, touching moment.

At this point we’ll skip ahead a bit (this post is already 1057 words long). The party have stumbled on a large cavern, as well as Dexter Halebrakt. He has turned himself into a illusory dragon, and the party fight it. A number of players went down, and the cleric (Mercy) spent most of her time casting healing spells at players rolling death saves. 

The party stare down a dragon!


In all the confusion, at the height of the battle, the Ulitharid appeared to watch his foes’ defeat. After a number of failed encounters with the monster, and with Spellfire now cascading from him, Fridge climbed, grappled the monster, and screamed the howl of the damned into it’s face.

The scene just a Fridge begins to climb to the top of the platform.


For anyone who has not read Ed Greenwood’s first Forgotten Realms novel, here is a description of Spellfire:

The Fire That Burns
It can lay low a dragon or heal a wounded warrior.
It is the most sought-after magical power in all Faerun.

Spellfire is magic, untamed. It consumes magic, and is fuelled by it. It also, if left unchecked, consumes the wielder. Fridge was dying, and he knew it. In his scream he unleashed his Spellfire and exploded, vaporising both himself and the Ulitharid. He flung the dragon, at this point beside him, from the platform they were all standing on. The platform vanished and Fridge’s two allies, Maljape and Djakka, fell to the rocks below. Djakka was knocked unconscious again, but Maljape was not so lucky.

Mercy arrived as the smoke cleared. Nothing was left of the platform, Fridge or the Ulitharid. Maljape lay dead, his gnomish body lying crooked against the sharp stones. Worse still, Mercy was left without sufficient magic to raise the poor man back to life. Stumbling, unsure of what to do, the religious members of the group, Mercy and the newly awakened and healed Djakka, simply prayed.

As an aside, Fridge’s sacrifice is one of the most incredible moments I’ve ever DM’d. It was cinematic, heartfelt, and likely saved a good few more deaths. Now, faced with another player death, I gave the players a final out; pray that your gods look favourably upon you. I had the cleric roll a d100, and gave him a 2.5% chance (rounded up) per religious party member assisting. He rolled, and the players held their breath. In the most wonderful, and lucky, way, Maljape was brought back to life by the power of distant gods.Had the prayer failed then yes, Waterdeep lies above and magic aplenty resides there. But with a blue dragon around, the chances of resurrection would not have been high. But I’d had my first taste of player death, and I was prepared to let it stand in this instance.

So there you have it; my very first player deaths. After none in thirteen years, I had four in one night. And it’s something that, while I will never deliberately seek a PC death, I’m not afraid of any more. It created the most memorable moments of the campaign (the dead prostitute, and a 10ft tall goliath breaking through both a door and the wall of the first floor not-withstanding). So, if you’ve ever been afraid to allow a character to die because they made a silly decision, or they weren’t prepared enough, or because things simply didn’t go their way? Fear not; so long as the time feels right, and you don’t feel it’s too harsh or damages the story, roll with it.

…So What’s Talomire Then?

In my last couple of blogs (and almost any Instagram post I’ve made in a while) I’ve mentioned something called Talomire. So…what is it?

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Talomire as it is at the moment – a work in progress.

Talomire is the first part of campaign setting I’m currently working on in my spare time, and hope to debut (both in my home game, and on DMs Guild) in the near future. Conceptually Talomire is a nation in low fantasy world, based around medieval England. It’s a country in which the church (known as the Verrum Ecclisia) is tremendously powerful, with a huge amount of sway over everyday life. The king is the supreme authority in the realm, his closest advisors taking his words and ensuring that they are enforced at a local level.

Humanity holds dominion, making up 89% of the population, and views itself as superior in every way. Other races are either driven to the outskirts of society, have left for their own, native, lands, or are treated as nothing more than livestock. Elves, for example, were once the rulers of the island until humanity invaded from the south around six hundred years before the present day. Now they live in isolation, or in the capital city in the south, hounded and mocked at best and hunted, tortured, then killed at worst. Gnomes are farmed as livestock, bred, milked and slaughtered to feed to upper echelon of Talomirian society. Everywhere in this place, racism and intolerance are the order of the day.

The idea for Talomire came out of listening to the biography of Gary Gygax, creator of D&D (which can be found here), and the stories of the game as it was played in the ’70s and ’80s. I started writing an AD&D style adventure, filled with classic enemies, and house ruled to enough to give a sense of danger and threat to even the most simple of fights. Out of this grew a dark, brooding world in which there are no good guys, only shades of grey. Finally, the Dungeon Crawl Classics magic rules are something I’ve wanted to put into my game for as long as I’ve known about them. This setting is one in which magic is seen as evil, and magic users are dangerous recluses for whom their ‘art’ is as dangerous to them as it is to others. My home-brewed DCC rules, classes, as well as updates on each facet of society, and each region, should follow in the next few weeks, along with a few short stories aimed at bringing certain NPCs, and the world as a whole, to life.

If you’re interested in knowing more, or being a part of the playtesting, hit me up! The more people I have contributing to this project, the better it will be in the end.

Cheers!

The Blue River Incident.

Ever since I first played D&D in my old geography classroom, horror has been a huge part of the game for me. The first bad guy I ever fought was a skeleton. I ventured away from the rest of the party in a dungeon, in the pitch black, with little idea of where I was or where my friends were…Blue River is my attempt to recreate that sense of tension, of knowing there is something going on, but not knowing what that thing is. If I could create a setting that was large enough to explore, yet contained enough to feel claustrophobic, and an enemy to be feared and pitied in equal measure, then I would have succeeded in my goals, and would be a very happy man.

My first draft of Blue River (which you can have a look at here – the map I used was almost completely identical to the Blue Water Inn from the Curse of Strahd (here). Guess where the name came from!) felt complete. My antagonist felt real to me, her motivations felt true, and the location felt vibrant and exciting; filled with secret passages and intrigue.

Now, for anyone who is interested in playing this adventure, please stop, forward this on to your DM, and skip ahead to the final paragragh. Spoilers this way lie.

The story centres on the Blue River Inn, an old establishment owned by the young Byrinson family in a small woodcutting village by the name of Harthwaite. The town lies on the Long Road running north from Waterdeep. The couple, Peter and Lyra, live with their small daughter Diana, running the inn and associated tavern. Tragically, Peter loses his life to illness, and years after that, now a young girl, Diana is killed in a tragic accident. Overcome with grief, Lyra unwittingly slips on some ice while mourning Diana, and is killed. The players take up the story a year later; the new owners are struggling to keep a once vibrant inn alive, the players the only living souls in the place aside from the barkeep. When the haunting begins they are left in the main hall with the, now dead, barkeep, and the knowledge that a spirit is now walking the halls of the building. As they explore the place they begin to piece together the story, until they finally approach the well where Lyra died. Here they must make the right moves, or risk their own deaths at the hands of the vengeful and despairing wraith.

When I finally ran the adventure as a one off for a smaller group, my players did what the best players always do…they made my story better than I could have imagined. They took the bare bones characters I handed them and led them through my house of horror, picking up on things I hadn’t even considered. I ran with it, adapting the story to fit their narrative, culminating in the party going to the well long before I thought they were ready. They were offering themselves up for a TPK, and I knew it. But them Liam, in an inspired piece of roleplay, pretended to be Klein, Lyra’s lover after the death of her husband. He gently took the ashes Lyra had wanted to scatter around Diana’s favourite flower patch, and placated the spirit in a beautiful display of love that I simply hadn’t expected. It was inspired, and, in my own context, hugely moving.

The weekend before I wrote this adventure my wife, who was pregnant at the time, started bleeding. We tried to put this down to a perfectly normal bleed that (for some reason) simply isn’t talked about or mentioned. Two days later it became very obvious this was not the case. Finally, on the Monday, we got to see our baby for the first time, four weeks after it’s heart had stopped beating. Blue River came out of this; the despair Lyra felt was my own, and the agony I saw in my wife, and so to have a player (who I can only imagine had no idea the personal significance of the act) end the adventure in such a beautiful manner is something I will publicly thank him for now.

In hindsight, months removed, there are improvements that can be made. The house was too small to truly encounter Lyra at random, and so she felt more like a cutscene than an enemy to avoid. The small girl who follows the party, I feel, doesn’t have enough clues to guide the players to her true identity, and the ones that exist are a little to obvious. The house itself simply needs to exist, rather than being the work of someone else (as great as that work is). So I have begun to rework the story, and to tie it into my own campaign setting; the world of Talomire. Today, the house was brought to life. No longer a simple tavern, Blue River is an estate, bought from a failing noble line by a merchant looking to settle down with his new wife. With larger grounds, more rooms, and a combination of wide open spaces and tight rooms, the map has textures it previously was missing. The story will remain largely the same, but will be expanded so that it can more easily brought to life.

Okay; it is now safe to read – all spoiler free from here-on-in.

Blue River is a labour of love, and the first adventure I feel is complete enough to even bother publishing a draft of. Please, feel free to run it yourselves, to send feedback and to let me know what you think. The huge amount of descriptive text (sorry DMs!) is more due to my own running of it, and wanting to fit in specific details. I hope to cut this down for the final release.

So thank you, I hope this entertained or helped you, and I hope you enjoy The Blue River Incident as much as I have enjoyed creating it.

A short treatise on world building…kinda…

World Building From The Off…

Note: I wrote this at 3am while watching Critical Role. I have no idea if this crap makes any sense. Good luck, all ye who enter…

When I started as a DM the first thing I wanted to do was build a world. Well, almost. In reality I wrote a whole set of rules based around the d20 system, THEN I built a world, but the genesis of the two were so inextricably linked that they may as well have been the same thing. My world (and rules set) were called Oracle, after the database software my dad works with. I drew up a map which to this day I am still proud of. I created history for each continent, and I decided which races lived where. For a fifteen year old with a month’s RPG experience, back in 2003, I was fairly happy.

Fast forward thirteen years and my idea of world building is both grander and more humble. As I type this I am surrounded by notes and journals detailing the customs, racial make up, fiscal system and religion of the nation of Talomire. Very loosely based on England around, and in the decades following, the Norman invasion, I want to create a world with depth, character, and history. The lesson I am learning, however, is that sometimes less is more. Take, for example, Ed Greenwood’s classic Undermountain. The first level is vast, a dungeon that, realistically, a party would never have to venture far from. Add to that levels two and three (and maybe the Wyllowwood for good measure) and you have a variety of climates, tropes, villains, traps, and so forth, to keep your players fascinated and rewarded. But while many of the rooms on each level are detailed to an astonishing degree (my personal favourite being the Cavern of the Throne, where the ancient blue dragon Aragauthos is imprisoned. She scared my party a bit!), whole swathes of the caverns are left ’empty’, and to great affect.

Less Is Sometimes More.

The Undermountain is a fantastic example of giving DMs enough material to provide flavour and plot hooks, while leaving great swathes of the cavern open for the very same DMs to build their own lore and plot hooks. This empty space allows for those crafting their stories inside the framework of the Undermountain to write their own legends, their own villains, plots and machinations. This is the fundamental part of world building, both as a writer and as a DM; your world is a framework, and needs to act as such. Just enough detail to form a cohesive, vibrant world, not so much as to cripple the creativity of players and DMs.

Starting Small.

I have run 5e adventures in two settings now, with a third on the way; Forgotten Realms, Talomire, and my first homebrew, Eloch Loria.

Eloch Loria is a grand world. With a history spanning ten millennia, nations, fiefdoms, people groups, and inter-racial attitudes and politics…writing a sourcebook is long and hard. But that didn’t grow up over night. Over the course of months the world grew from two villages, Meadowbrook and Dryntal, to a sprawling continent. It grew organically, and my players were a huge part of that. The Orc societies in the Daggercloak mountains are ENTIRELY thanks to Grom, the half-orc barbarian, and his backstory! There was space for the players to make the world their own, rather than a structure the players had to fit within. Beginning with a single village gives the space to do this, allowing both the world builder and his/her players to expand steadily outwards.

Concluding Thoughts.

I really don’t know. I’m learning how to build languages from scratch for the dwarvish and elvish communities living in Talomire. Maybe I’m not the best one to ask. I hope any of this made sense; expect future posts to be far more about what I’m working on or have beta rules for. Stick around, that’s the good stuff!