December 27, 2011

Give Them Something to Aspire To

One of the best things about epic/high level play (in any system) is the ability to become one of the movers and shakers of their world. The character’s decisions begin to have a visible and persistent effect on the world around them.  The rest of the world starts to look to them for leadership (or fear if they are chaotic/evil enough). The characters become heads of wizard’s circles, kings of nations, high-priests of religious sects and leaders of thieves’ guilds. Even if they make no choices in regards to ruling an organization, they still become the greatest mage, fiercest fighter, most pious cleric and craftiest rogue the world has ever seen.

But now the question is, how to judge when a character can be considered the “best in the world”. Is vanquishing the ancient, evil dragon enough? Defeating a god? Those are singular achievements wherein the characters can feel good about themselves. However, true pre-eminence comes from acknowledgment by their peers. Characters become the best in the world when everyone else says they are.

And this is where organizations come in. If there are organizations within the world that are touted as the being the best in the world, then player character involvement with these organizations will highlight their place in the pecking order of the world.
Or that’s the theory. The mage can not become the head of the nation’s Wizard’s Circle unless there is a Wizard’s Circle to become the head of. Likewise a nation to rule, religious order to head or thieves’ guild to run. In order for a character to become the head of such an organization there first has to be such an organization in existence. Thus it is a good idea to create these organizations at the start of a campaign.

Take a look at your player characters and do some guesswork as to what they would like to aspire to. And then place such an organization into your world. Even if they end up deciding not to head up the organization you had planned for them, the organization is still of use. It can be used as a catalyst for showing everyone the epicness of the player characters by providing adversaries for them to vanquish.

As an example, if you have a mage in your group you could create an organization called the Arcanum. This group would be known as a society made up of the greatest mages in the world. In the early part of the character’s career he may simply aspire to join the group. Once that is accomplished he can start to move his way up the ranks until he becomes its head after some great deed. It would be a sign to the players and to the in-character world that the character is now an important person in the world.

And what if the player has no interest in the Arcanum? Then, as the player character starts to reach the epic levels, he will find himself at odds with the Arcanum and they will end up sending their best to challenge the player character. And after the character defeats the best the Arcanum sent against him, he can similarly declare himself the best mage of the world.

While organizations are the best target for a character to aspire to, they are not required. Sometimes NPC individuals can work the same. If you have set up a single NPC as the best in the world then defeating that person can be enough. A couple examples of this are Elminster from Forgotten Realms or the Dragon from Dark Sun.

The point here is to set up something as the “best in the world” so that when the players defeat/replace them it is a clear sign that they are now the “best in the world”. Player characters can not aspire to greatness unless there is something to show they have accomplished this task. And to do this they need something to aspire to.

December 26, 2011

Wanted: 25

This is another in the series of "wanted" posters that can be found within a campaign setting.

-A fellow adventurer has been lost in a dungeon crawl. Can the characters rescue him or will they be forced to fight his undead form? Or is he not really missing, but rather has forsaken his heroic ways for a life of evil? Only a dungeon crawl can answer these questions.

December 20, 2011

Pinewood - A Village

This is Pinewood, a lumber community of 50 people.  It was the starting place of my The Children campaign.  It is basic but could be used for any fairly generic village. Feel free to use it as you wish; it could come in handy if you need a village on the fly.
A couple of notes about my write-up. Families are named for the father of the house.  The number within the parenthesis is the age of the person. While I do not make specific mention of it, you can assume the two oldest are a married couple and the rest are their children. You should be able to click on the map to bring up a larger version of it.


Type: Village
Population: 50
Notes: This is primarily a foresting community on the outskirts of Dunwood. All goods are shipped down to the town of Crossroads, which lies 40 miles away, once a month.  It is out of the way and sees virtually no visitors.  The closest other settlement is Woodport, another foresting village 20 miles to the southeast. 

Erlien(62), Truda(57)
Erlien is the oldest man in the village, but he still works as a woodcutter.  He is getting slower and less active, but the village still respects his work.

Father Johann
Father Johann(42)
Father Johann is the priest of the Church of the Uni.  He is adamant that his faith is the correct one, but follows the policy of allowing other faiths. [The Church of the Uni believes that there is only one god and that all other gods are just a manifestation or aspect of that one god. As such, the church allows for the worship of other gods as they view it still being a worship of the one god. Feel free to make Father Johann a priest of a god of your own pantheon.]

Gottheim(34), Kirsta(36), Heinz(18), Katrina(14)
Gottheim is what would be called the village blacksmith.  He has limited knowledge of metalworking, mostly in regard to axes and saws.  He can also do a little bit more, like shoeing a horse, but the work is shoddy at best.  He only blacksmiths when it is required and spends the rest of the time woodcutting.

Hann(37), Anna(36), Amilia(17), Vanea(15)
Hann is the nominal leader of the village, but only because he actually knows how to read and is willing to do the job.  Mostly he is just a good woodcutter.

Heinhardt(48), Hannilla(42), Rhonea(24)
Heinhardt is a steady woodcutter.  As for Rhonea, the family has lost hope of her ever finding a man willing to marry her.

Jetta(38), Georgina(32), Rhon(7), Krist(6), Thudra(4), Luna(2), Dien(1)
Jetta is the best woodsman within the village.  All the youngsters within the village are trained by Jetta at one time or another.

Max(20), Kiertilla(17)
Max is the eldest son of Hann.  Just last year he was married and built his own home.  He is the future of the village and it is in good hands.

Ostad(41), Rhondea(38), Than(19), Karl(18), Alheim(16), Truda(10), Kriston(7), Lotte(5)
Ostad owns the Inn of the Osprey, as well as the Stables.  Ostad has been able to quit the woodcutting livelihood and concentrate on his business ventures.  There isn’t much of a market for an inn or stables, but currently he has plenty of money coming in.  Rhondea, his wife, is pregnant again, though some feel she is too old to be carrying this child and fear it will be lost.

Otto is a farmer.  He grows a wide variety of vegetables and grains for the village. He is the only regular source of food, but even so it would not be enough without the supplies bought in Crossroads.

Ruprecht(52), Hannra(27), Karea(6), Mhars(4)
Ruprecht is the only villager not born here. He was once an adventurer, but retired long ago.  While he has some money he now embraces the life of a woodcutter. 

Tana(34), Willa(28), Erik(11), Dierhard(9), Bernrich(8)
A woodcutter.  During his spare time Tana makes furniture, specifically rocking chairs.  The few chairs he makes during the year are sent along when the lumber is taken to Crossroads. 

Van(23), Marilla(24), Frank(1)
A woodcutter.  Frank was born with a deformed left arm and since the birth the parents have become withdrawn from village social activities.

Walther(21), Rhon(12), Uwe(11)
Walther’s main responsibility in the village is to transport the monthly delivery of wood to Crossroads.  Several of the villagers assist him and the trip usually takes 3 days to complete.  When not making the monthly trip Walther spends his time taking the cut wood out of Dunwood and getting it ready for transportation.

Wilhold(25), Kirstilla(18)
Wilhold is the son of Heinhardt.  He is a competent woodcutter.  Kirstilla is expecting their first child.

Luthor is a very powerful mage.  He has taken it upon himself to educate some of the children in the village.  He has done much for the village including providing a steady water well and other benefits.  As for his past nothing is known.

December 19, 2011

Wanted: 24

This is another in the series of "wanted" posters that can be found within a campaign setting.

-If the military is recruiting groups of civilian adventurers to do some scouting, it can only mean a couple of things. One is that they deem it too dangerous for "regular" scouts, two that they may not want to be associated with the scouting missions and want plausible deniability. Either way, these could be some exciting scouting missions into enemy territory, perhaps for a potential attack into another country or to head off an invasion. Will the military allow the group to live after their usefulness is done and they have gained some knowledge of what is going on? Only the DM can decide that.

December 16, 2011

How to write an EPIC! adventure (Deja Vu)

There has been some talk lately about how to make and run Epic adventures. A lot of these points can be used for every edition or game system. Of course, most of these discussions have been on the mechanical side of the issue; how to balance the numbers to make it feel epic, how to make it so the monsters are not pushovers. However, there has not been a lot of talk about what goes into the story part of an Epic adventure, how to build the feeling of EPIC!

All too often DMs simply throw bigger monsters at the characters and call it EPIC! More hit points and damage dealing does not make EPIC! Sometimes the DM will put the characters in exotic locations and call it EPIC! Simply going to another plane is not enough to make it EPIC! Sure these things are part of being EPIC! but it’s a matter of magnitude. There are a few things to remember if you want to build truly EPIC! adventures.

-Make it Big. Players don’t fight a Roc - They fight the biggest bird on the planet, one that blocks out the sun when it flies nearby. One that nests on the highest mountain of the world. Everything is the biggest it can be. The monsters are bigger than anything else the characters have fought before. They go to the highest and deepest places in the world. Go Big!

-Make it Unique. The characters will do things no one has ever done before and no one will ever be able to do again. They will kill the one and only King of Rocs and after they do that, no one else will ever be able to do it again, because it will be dead. No one on the world has ever scaled the highest mountain on the world, but the characters will. Sure, others might be able to do it after the characters do it, but the characters will forever and always be the first to have done it.

-Make the Stakes Big. What the characters can win or, and perhaps more importantly, what they can lose are both big in scope. They don’t get a magic item as a reward; they get Doomsinger, the Apocalyptic Sword, as a reward. The characters do not save villages from kobolds, they save worlds from alien invasions. If the characters fail in their quest worlds die, millions of people are lost.

By keeping these concepts in mind you can easily adapt other adventures into something EPIC! Have an old module sitting around where the party must defend a village from raids by infiltrating an orc cave and killing the hobgoblin chieftain? Take the adventure and EPIC! size it! Instead of saving a village, they are saving the Last Bastion of Magic from the Hordes of Demon-Orcs who are trying to steal the last of the magic in the world. Instead of infiltrating an orc cave, they are assaulting the Iron Citadel of Magma at the core of the planet. Instead of killing a hobgoblin chieftain, they are killing the Spirit of the World itself which has been corrupted by Orcus.

The underlying concept here is to take everything to an extreme. Do this and you will be able to design awesome EPIC! adventures. Also capitalizing everything helps…and exclamation marks!

December 13, 2011

Messing with Resurrection

In most fantasy worlds there is a method of resurrecting the dead. The methods used are fairly straight forward. Here are some alternate ways to handle the concept of death, specifically after-death, the resurrection of characters. Note that these are world/campaign changing concepts; as such, incorporating these ideas is something that should be decided during world creation.

When a person is raised from the dead they lose their original body/race. Instead they are always raised into a new form/race. A DM can take a look at earlier editions of D&D for random reincarnation tables or can look at a 4E reincarnation ritual I did in an earlier article.
Legend: The gods keep the original mortal form as servants while the soul of the character is given a new form.

Animal Companion
Almost everyone in the world has a non-combat animal companion. When a person dies his soul goes into his animal companion. From there the person can be raised from the dead as per normal. The only real problem is when a person loses his animal companion; in this case a soul passes on without any chance of future resurrection.
Legend: There have always been mortal ties with the animal/spirit world. This is another way they are bound together.

When any sentient being dies, they rise as an undead. These undead however, are free-willed as they are not created through necromancy. However, they are susceptible to beings that can control undead.
Legend: Long ago a god created the Planar Shield which prevents souls from passing on to the Outer Planes. Thus souls are forced to remain in their bodies as undead.

When a resurrection is cast upon a person’s mortal body, the character must fight a spirit being on the spirit plane. Failure in this fight could mean the resurrection fails or that the character comes back to life with reduced stats.
Legend: The gods do not like the souls in their possession being taken from their realms. This is their attempt to prevent this.

This is not a new idea; it has been mentioned before on the blog-o-sphere. The concept is simply that when a person is resurrected someone else in the world dies. This is a random choice and rarely, if ever, would come into play from a character's viewpoint. However, the concept may cause some moral dilemmas for the characters to work with.
Legend: There are a finite number of souls allowed in the world and a cosmic balance must be maintained.

December 12, 2011

Wanted: 23

This is another in the series of "wanted" posters that can be found within a campaign setting.

-Is he a harmful villain or only a seducer of other men's wives and daughters? Is this reward because he has harmed someone's person or just their pride? What will the characters do if he comes to them for aid?

December 6, 2011

4E and Game Empowerment

The subtitle to this article could easily have been How the DDI Character Builder is Ruining 4E. While there is some more ammunition for the 4E haters out there and this article can be construed as some 4E bashing, I first want to say that I really do love 4E. The things it has brought to the gaming table, such as exciting and dynamic combats, ease of adventure creation and the ability for the party to work together, far outweigh its negative aspects. That being said, there is some implementation of 4E, specifically the Character Builder that is driving people away from 4E and diminishing the game.

A couple of definitions for ‘Empower’ are… 
- to give power or authority to; authorize, especially by legal or official means.
- the giving of an ability; enablement or permission.”

December 5, 2011

Wanted: 22

This is another in the series of "wanted" posters that can be found within a campaign setting.

-A magical warhammer. Could it be something more? An artifact of ancient lore? Some research may reveal there is more to this item than it at first appears. And what use will it be put to by those who are offering the reward?