Monday, November 22, 2010

How To Annoy Your Players: Villain Creation 2

Apologies for the tardiness. I got a little busy trying to finish some other writing tasks. I now have a sore throat and am coughing up an impressive amount of mucus, so... karma, I suppose?

Anyway, let's carry on.

As established in the previous post, all players are terrible and never deserve anything good ever. I run Encounters at a local game store so I know what I'm talking about.

So, now that you've decided on your epic villain and what kind of campaign this is, we need to do some of the details.

Goals

We kind of already covered this, but it's good to get down:

  • What the villain wants to accomplish
  • What's in his way and how he will deal with it
  • Whether any of the PCs have female relatives he could bang

You know, what the villain's doing when he's not trying to kill the PCs. Actually, put down "kill the PCs" as one of his goals too. He'll want to do that eventually anyway, and as the DM you "WIN" D&D if you wipe the party.

On the other hand, you could also have the villain manipulate the players. Here's what you do: Set the PCs on a quest. Once they are done, reveal that whatever the players did helped the villain. (You don't need to think of a reason why in advance.) If you want to say something like "You guys are going to feel so stupid" and smirk, that's your right as a DM."

Construct a list of "steps" the villain needs to go through. For example, Tooldouche (our wizard from the previous example) might:

  1. Establish his dominance over an orc tribe
  2. Raid towns for resources
  3. Bring some other orc tribes under his heel
  4. Construct a shrine to Libertina's panties
  5. Ally with some minor villains
  6. Have them infiltrate the kingdom and do stuff for him
  7. Kill the minor villains (if the PCs are fighting them, have him teleport in and out to do it)
  8. Seduce the party cleric's sister
  9. Take over a town in the kingdom as a base
  10. Kidnap Libertina
  11. Offer to make Libertina queen by his side
  12. Send the army in to take over the kingdom

As the adventure goes on, check off each step and declare the villain has accomplished it. (The first one probably happened before the campaign started). Have your PCs go on adventures related to as many of these steps as you can fit in, but remember: your villain should succeed regardless. Okay, they'll defeat him in the end - maybe - but first you need to tell the PCs the story of how they got to that point.

Also, if you let them screw up his plans, he (i.e. YOU) have to come up with a new one. Bugger that for a game of soldiers!

Resources

What does the villain have and what does he need?

This covers money, items, friends, property, sheep, etc. You don't need to write down the details yet; "he is very rich" will do instead of "he has exactly 100,322gp, 34sp, 23cp". Get down the basics of what he has, then move on to what he needs. If his goals don't cover getting them, rewrite his goals a little.

For example, Tooldouche doesn't have money because he spent it all in his backstory, but he does have a nice collection of magical items as well as the Douchonomicon, the powerful spellbook that got him all that magical power in the first place, a (reduced) collection of Libertina's old sweaty footwear, a pair of her panties, an army of orcs equipped with standard fighter gear, and a sweet hat.

What he needs is a bigger army with better equipment, so he can take over the kingdom.

That wasn't hard!

Remember, though, you should also keep track of what I like to call reactive resources. Basically, if Tooldouche is fighting the PCs and could really use something you didn't say he already has, for example a wand of counterspells or an cloak that resists the party's attacks, then just act like he already had it. If the PCs ask why it didn't come up before, tell them you didn't think it was important at the time.

M.O.

M.O., gentle reader, means "mode of operation", or how the villain acts. (Knowing lots of words like this is why I'm writing a blog and you're not.)

Does he have other people do the work for him, and the PCs mostly fight his minions while hearing tales of how awesome he is? Does he do it himself, and the PCs see the effects of his actions and get hints about how awesome he is as they progress? Does he have a public image as a benevolent, powerful figure, and all the NPCs tell tales of how awesome he is? Does he like to take breaks between adventures to bang the party wizard's mom, who tells the wizard how awesome he is... in bed?

Really, this part doesn't have to make perfect sense. Just do whatever works. As long as he looks really, really cool doing it.

Stats

Ah, the fun part. This is where you stat the villain they're going to fight.

I can't help you sheet him - that's your job - but here are some pointers:

  • Think about what level the PCs will be at the end of the campaign. Make him a challenge for PCs of that level. Some DMs like to have him stay roughly in the PC's level range and level as they do to make challenging encounters throughout the campaign, but that is way too much work. Anyway, who doesn't like having a level 30 character curb-stomp your level 5 PCs?
  • Pick abilities you think would be fun to use on the PCs. With so many splat books they can read these days, it's too much effort to tailor the encounter to the characters. They can handle it anyway, probably.
  • If the system allows save-or-dies, those are always fun for you!
  • He doesn't have to be limited by normal treasure guidelines, but remember to have his best magical items only work on him, or crumble into dust if the PCs get a hold of them. It works for drow!
  • Never be afraid to give the villain cool abilities that the PCs can't get. He IS pretty special, and the PCs should be made to know that. (Bonus points: Banning something for the PCs, like warforged or psionics, so it's unique to the villain.)
  • Don't be afraid to change any of these stats on the fly if you want to. Hell, leave a few feat slots blank and pretend he took whatever feat he needs. PCs would do it if they could, why not you?
I've decided to make Tooldouche a 17th-level wizard, since I only plan for this campaign to run until about 11/12th level. I'll pick all the save-or-dies - especially charming spells, I love those - teleports, and some homebrew spells that let him summon horny succubi groupies. I'll pick some metamagic feats, and a homebrew metamagic feat that removes the level cost of metamagic for him so I don't have to bother with that. Maybe some flashy spells like fireballs that can hit everyone; honestly, though, I might just search the PHB for whatever spell is useful at the time and say he prepared it.

I'm going to give him the standard wizard gear - ring of protection +6, bracers of armour +7, robe of the archmagi, staff of the magi, cool hat, scrying mirror to explain how he knows what the PCs are doing, and boots of spider climbing. The boots are there so the PCs have something when they loot him and the powerful items turn to dust so they can't abuse them. I'll give him other magical items as needed.

Telling a Story

Now that you've made your villain, you need to plan how to use it.

As you've probably already gathered, the villain is the star of the campaign, and you need to use him appropriately. A gentle touch works - make sure the villain is known, and the PCs know how great he is, but he doesn't have to beat up the PCs and gloat every session. Every second adventure, max. And that is pushing it a bit.

Don't have him gloat too much, because some jerk PC might try to attack him mid-sentence. (A contingency Delayed Blast Fireball might put them in their place, though!)

(I might write about monologuing later, actually! Stay tuned.)

This is only a discussion about villains, though, not how to tell your story, so details will have to wait. I do have one specific area left to cover, but first, a tip.

Characters in Heroic tier need to be railroaded - the characters don't belong to the players until Paragon tier.

In non-4E terms, this means that you're going to have to hold their hands until about 11th level, otherwise they'll probably get themselves killed or screw the story up. After that they can have a bit of leeway, though I'd still keep them on a leash where possible.

Escape Plans

So you're telling your awesome story, the game is going pretty well, and the villain is lording it over the PCs. You know, a bit of D&D fun. But then, trouble strikes - the paladin scores a lucky crit on a Smite Evil or some bullshit, and your villain might actually be defeated before he's supposed to.

You, my friend, need an escape plan.

Realistically, you should be able to have the villain get away any time you want. My favourite method is teleport spells, homebrewed as free actions and the like if you feel like it, but I've also successfully used:

  • Escape corridors which seal off or develop impenetrable walls of force behind the villain as he escapes.
  • Having the villain disappear behind a building or other object and disappear.
  • Fudge the stats. Have the villain gain as much HP as he needs to survive, and new abilities that let him incapacitate the PCs before walking away.
  • Say your villain dons a cloak or something that causes all spells and attacks to bounce harmlessly off it, even area spells and dispels, and walks away. If the players ask, make up an excuse for why he didn't have it already.
  • Did the PCs actually kill the villain? Rehearse this line: "Well, since you didn't actually check to make sure he was dead, he didn't die. Don't worry, it'll be totally awesome though."


And that's the basics.

With a little luck and a lot of effort, gentle reader, you too can run games as mondo as mine.



(P.S.: Oh yeah, I caved in and got a Twitter. I will let you know the minute I need to take a shit.)

Monday, November 1, 2010

How To Annoy Your Players: Villain Creation 1

Alright, back to completely serious DMing advice.

We're going to put down worldbuilding for now because I was tiring of it and go back to instructional guides and simple pieces, like that time I said Dark Sun sucked like an amorous vacuum cleaner, or that time I said completely true things about myself and made Planescape better, or that time I, that is, totally me and not some grognard, stated my opinions in a completely thought-through and not vaguely patronising way, or maybe that time I flipped my business like a bionic pancake over kender.

Specifically we're going to talk about villains.

First, let's establish something all DMs know deep in their heart of hearts, resonating deep within the vicinity of the left ventricle:

All players are basically the worst players ever.

Okay? Cool.


So. First, you should come up with a concept. I don't have much advice to give here. You can do this part on your own. Since we might need an example later, though, I am going to make up one now.

Our villain, let's call him Tooldouche, is a wizard. He leads a small army of orcs and would really, really like to burn the PCs' kingdom to the ground.

Good start? Sure, it's a good start. Now you need...

Motivation

Your players will want to know what your villain's motivation is. There are only two ways to do this: By not bothering, or by putting as much detail in as possible. Here is a bad example of a motivation:

Tooldouche had been rejected all his life. His teachers would mock him, his peers would bully him and his crushes would reject him. When he discovered a knack for arcane magic, this vaguely unlikeable nobody poured everything he had into mastering it and gaining acceptance as a master of the arcane. He became an archmage at only twenty-five, but when he was rejected during Mage Guild President elections, he snapped and roused an army of orcs to take over the kingdom and remake it in his image.

Sure, it covers the basics, but how are your PCs going to fully appreciate your efforts? How does this one paragraph justify you staying up until 3AM statting a really awesome high-level NPC to impress your players with as he kills their characters effortlessly?

It doesn't, what's how!

So here's what you do.

First, you can just not give him a motivation, which will make him even scarier. Like the Joker!

Tooldouche wants to destroy the kingdom because frankly he's kind of a dick.

The nice thing is that this gives you more time to decide what adventures the PCs will undertake to stop him, what they'll do and how he can teleport away if necessary.

The second way is to write a proper, epic backstory that suits your villain. If possible, have an NPC explain it in-depth at the nearest opportunity. If the players might get confused, bring a pamphlet.

Tooldouche was born Reginald T. Ooldouche twenty-five years ago in the town of Hootclaw, known for the owlbears which roam the nearby forests. He was a quiet, studious student who kept cats, collected stamps and had read every issue of WIZARDS! Magazine. Though he was smart, he was a shy boy, and his schoolmates would bully him mercilessly, just like Boris and his cronies bullied me at South West Sydney High all those years ago until I found out he had gotten a job as a pool cleaner on Facebook and emailed him a virus.

Tooldouche harboured a crush on Libertina, a young raven-haired maiden and a worhshipper of Valen, goddess of beauty. Libertina was beautiful, and had breasts so large Tooldouche could fit his head in one of her bra cups, and he was sure she had other good traits as well. He would often leave her roses, or love letters in her desk, or steal her shoes while she was in gym class and sniff them.

Then one day, disaster struck. First, Tooldouche was pushed down the stairs by a friend of the party fighter's who happened to go to the school which I will have to remember to tell him about in the pamphlet, and then Boris stole his favourite Pokemon card, the Charizard, and sold it to buy more cheeseburgers. Finally, his parents discovered his collection of Libertina's stolen shoes and socks.

Tooldouche was exposed. Libertina turned him down, and also she turned out to be dating Stacy, a cleric version of that cheating bitch from SESH. She did not let Tooldouche kiss her feet goodbye and she left for a church-run school. Tooldouche was the laughing stock of the school.

In his grief, Tooldouche locked himself in his father's attic and decided to kill himself. After realising he had locked himself in the attic without any means of killing himself, he rummaged around and tried to beat himself to death with one of his grandfather's books. Then he noticed it was an ancient tome of magic: the
Douchonomicon.

From that day, Tooldouche spent every moment of his free time secretly learning magic, occasionally taking heavy drags of that one stocking he had stolen from Libertina that was too large to properly masturbate into to remind him of why he was doing this, and by the time he graduated he was able to secretly destroy Boris' life like that shit-faced pool cleaner deserves.

He applied to the Arcane Order's magical university and was swiftly accepted, rising to receive the highest honor the Order could grant: the Order of the Order. The moment his graduation papers were in order, Tooldouche joined the Order and swiftly rose to a position which let him order the lesser mages of the Order. His orders were often quite demanding; perhaps this was the start of darkness for the orderly mage.

By age twenty five he was capable of casting all sorts of amazing spells, and had risen to the rank of archmage. As he rose, though, he encountered opposition: Archmage Yutube, an older man who was tipped to win the next Arcane Order President elections. The President was basically the emperor of wizards and could advise the King himself. Though Tooldouche felt that young blood was what was needed to guide this kingdom's future, and also he wanted to rub it in Stacy's bimbo face, and even though he poured all his money into a campaign to become the President, he had lost.

Who can say why? Maybe it was because you aren't supposed to campaign to be President, maybe it was because the citzens he gave speeches to were not Order members and therefore didn't get a vote. Maybe because his name was Tooldouche. Maybe, frankly, because he was kind of a dick.

Whatever happened, Tooldouche was devastated again. He fled to his tower with tears in his eyes, the laughing faces of the Order's inner circle as he tried to explain that there must have been a miscount because he had polled very well in most of the swing towns reminding him of the faces of his peers when he was caught rubbing Libertina's panties on his face as I was led out of the girl's locker room and suspended for a week and my dad sold my Nintendo.

Tooldouche decided he had had enough. Gathering all his possessions, he quit the Order and set off north, there to mass an army to take over the kingdom himself. After defeating an orc warlord in single combat by virtue of that fact that he was a wizard and could fly and throw fireballs while the warlord was a fighter and could basically swing an axe, he took control of the orcish armies and began a campaign of aggression against the kingdom's northern reaches.


Now that's a backstory.

Remember: You worked hard on this, so make sure your players fully understand and appreciate its every detail by having it come up a lot. Take a session or two to have them watch a movie about it, even, if you can work it in.


Anyway, once you've done that, you need a couple other things. One of them is...

Scope

You need to decide if the villain is going to affect a town, a nation, a world, the multiverse, whatever. A dude who is trying to blow up the planet is a bigger threat than, say, a dude who wants to kick your favourite uncle in the balls.

Here is the short version: He should mostly affect the PCs. Also, everyone who knows the PCs should talk about how powerful he is, to intimidate them. A good baseline for villain power and scope is that of the character you created to defeat him for the PCs. Maybe a little less than that, actually...



What are the rest? You think magic like this can happen in only one blog post? I am giving you the guide, the absolute best and one hundred frigging billion percent factual guide on making the most bitchtits villain in the history of balls, and you want it done in one blog post? You know what's going to happen instead? Screw you, that's what!

Part 2 later this week. We'll work out how Tooldouche is specifically going to fight the PCs and teleport away, what kind of stories the players will watch unfold in his wake and perhaps involve themselves in, and whether the orcs will wield katanas.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Worldbuilding: Evil Dwarf Jamboree

I might take a breather and write some non-worldbuilding posts for a bit after this one. First...

I was going through my emails recently. I like to keep emails from people who tell me my blog is great, because it makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside and regular praise doesn't do it for me any more. I don't even get hard. Normally I reply to them, but it turns out I missed one and it's starting to get awkward, so:

Chris Devlin, if you are still reading, thank you for the email you sent in April 2009! I really appreciate it. It has a "favourite" star in Google Mail and everything.

If you thought that was going off on a tangent, prepare to be AMAZED as I go off on more tangents than an absent-minded professor of mathematics at a geometry convention in Tangent, Florida:

The last post was on the need for jerks in the setting, and while I was bouncing around some ideas, I thought of something I was missing: Evil dwarves. I had the broad strokes of how dwarves work down, but that was about it. Since I actually use dwarves a lot in one of the games I run I thought I would work them out properly and make up a few dwarf nations.

What I had put down was not well-articulated. The important part was the dwarf's core philosophy, something called the "harmony of opposites", which was about how everything was supposed to be balanced by its counterpart. Good and evil, fire and water, Wendy's hot dogs and food, etc.

Naturally, since I hadn't explained it well, it made dwarves sound like weird True Neutral fanatics who thought "good" and "evil" were both crazy extremes. Not what I wanted.

So, I did what everyone who creates things in a D&D setting does when they're not busy telling people stealing from real life is cool and original, which is steal from real life. Two minutes later I had worked out what I kind of knew anyway: Turns out the dwarves are sort of half-assed Taoists. I might as well work with that - some vaguely related concepts, like the Golden Mean, fit them nicely too. They're not huge True Neutral fans, they just try to do everything in moderation.

I will have to avoid making them too much like Asian dwarves, though, because I do not want to just replace the terrible image of a dwarf with an awful Scottish accent chugging alcoholic beverages so hard he is practically pouring them down his massive beard with a similarly awful image of a dwarf with an awful Chinese accent and a long thin beard smoking opium through a gigantic pipe. Also, I can't imagine dwarves moving into Aldanath en masse to open laundromats.

Religion-wise, I was thinking of having it be a dualistic religion. Two gods, yin and yang and whatever. Or maybe one god. Or maybe one god that is also two gods, and screw with everyone's head. At this point, though, to go further with that I would want to research more and I think if I open another TVTropes/Wikipedia tab I will be here all week, so screw that for now.

So, nations. What would they be like?

Dwarves live underground and dig mines in a lot of settings; here, the underground would be an "extreme" environment because the opposite to the earth would probably be the sky and there isn't any down there. Maybe it's an aesthetic thing and they think that makes it a cool place to live; in that case, they'd probably live on mountains and things too, where there's more "sky" than "earth". Mountain dwarves would probably encounter humans more, too, depending on trade routes, so perhaps the common image of a dwarf is a philosophical mountain-dweller. Maybe one who still likes to get drunk, who knows.

So, we have some dwarf lands in mountain ranges, some underground... perhaps some out in the ocean? Who knows.

I could see them having a lot of monasteries and monks, too. (Remember when 2e neckbeards thought the 3e monk was going to be overpowered?) Those are easy to make into both heroes and antagonists, like that monk dude in Neverwinter Nights who I never picked to join my party because he was a creepy little fuckwhistle. Maybe too easy. I want something bigger.

So, evil dwarf land ideas off the top of my head:

Sky Jerks

The longer I write this the more I think "don't say duergar, don't say duergar, don't...", so let's avoid the little bastards and set these guys somewhere duergar wouldn't be: the sky! They could live on floating islands or a metropolis supported by balloons and blimps or something. After spending so much time looking down on everyone else (literally) they have decided it is their destiny to rule the lands below, and their flying city is armed with -

Hold on. This is the setting of Bioshock: Infinite.

Okay, new idea.

Wet Jerks

The ocean idea sounded cool! Perhaps instead of living underground some dwarves live underwater, in big domed underwater cities. What would they be like? Maybe instead of being expansionist they just want to be left alone, but are evil because they consider themselves unrestrained by the desires and morals of the outside world and delve into forbidden knowledge and -

Regular Bioshock. Okay, third time's the charm.

Jerk Fortress

Maybe dwarves don't have a unified nation. Maybe they just have a big dwarf territory, and any dwarf can build a little keep and claim a tract of land. Running it is a pain, since there's no government around to help them, but if they can fend off the local fish and establish a well-running fortress then they could start digging downward, looking for forbidden knowlege and -

No, wait.

I did this for my other, more steampunky setting in the area known as the Dorf Holds.

That was a practice attempt!

Two Cities

Maybe we can try the dualistic theme again instead of weird locations.

Say the dwarves have two metropolises, one underground and one above... actually, no, let's put both cities on the surface right next to each other, separted by a narrow road or a river or something. One side is benevolent and one is a bunch of jerkshoes, though I would probably make it a little unclear which is which. Maybe they can each have a different theme in their architecture and culture, too, like one side favours blue things and one side favours red. Something minor like that. Naturally, if they live right next to each other, they'd fight for control a lot, maybe send spies to collect intelligence on the other or something.

Finally!! An idea. I can go to bed now.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Worldbuilding: Jerklandia

I've decided to jump away from deities for a bit, because honestly those last two posts were just me posting ideas rather than actual polished product. They were alright for half-formed ideas, but I think I'll let them bake for a while and jump back to what caused me to write about deities in the first place: I was planning countries and cities for the setting and wanted to know what drove them.

So.

The reason I wanted evil deities in the first place is because, frankly, every setting needs at least one arsehole. It's not much of a game without challenge and opposition, and in D&D that usually comes in the form of someone to kill. Lots of someones, with any luck.

So, as I lay out an abridged map of the world, I should populate it with jerks.

But what kind of jerks, and where?

Jerks can take many forms. They could be moustache-twirlingly evil, flesh-eating cosmic horrors or just... well, jerks. I know plenty of people who proclaim loudly and proudly that they are trolls, foul-mouthed or just generally obnoxious on the Internet like they are expecting some kind of trophy, to various degrees of success, and I actually kind of like some of them.

(I may even have been that guy, earlier. I kind of remember casually trolling the Tao of D&D guy almost two years ago now over some post of his and then killing a few minutes by trolling one of his comments pages. A waste of time for everyone involved, probably, and so I will extend a sort-of apology by not getting the code for a link to his blog messed up this time. Hooray!)

I already have what I'd guess is the standard D&D fare as far as these things go: rogue tribes of orcs, goblins or whatever else is lying around, hidden cults that worship jerks and so on. What I could use more of are larger-scale threats: Countries with an outlook which would naturally oppose wherever the PCs come from.

So, nongood countries. They'd need government, religion (this is why I was thinking of evil deities), resources and a reason for existing wherever it is they exist in the first place. And, most importantly, some kind of theme. "These guys worship the Devil" is a little more exciting than "These guys star in a series of Youtube videos in which they are mean to people and are proud of it".

Let me use this space to jot down some different ways I could run a country of dickmugs:

Tool Casting [Metamagic]

Simply put, an evil magocracy. They don't necessarily have to dabble in necromancy, though they could be more open to it than others. They probably put power above anything else, look down on those who don't know them, and frequently dive into magics men were not meant to know, or preferably to know but not to fuck around with.

Off the top of my head, the first example that comes to mind is probably Thay.

The Necrocracy

Title stolen shamelessly from a TVTropes article which neatly explains the concept for me.

I kind of like the Real Life example though: North Korea's Eternal President, although he's just the normal kind of dead."

The Dicktator

Less about the country and more about the guy in charge. He's a villain, he wants to take over the world or something, and he happens to possess a respectably-sized nation with its own standing army. Is probably more likely to take over the world than the average jerk.

Has it always been like that, though? Did this guy sieze power and abuse a relatively benign country for his own ends or is it the kind of place that always was a pretty shitty place before he took over? Who knows.

Monster Island

Here be dragons! Or goblins. Or... Whatever it is, non-humans feature a lot here. Probably dragons, really. Any kind of dragon! Doesn't even have to be a chromatic dragon. Maybe a gold dragon!

This could just end up being the Necrocracy with non-undead, of course. Hmmm...

Soviet Orcia

A friend just suggested this. I have no idea what this would actually involve but it sounds awesome.

Honey Badgers

Maybe I shouldn't ask /tg/ for ideas.

The Church of Yog-Hadar, Democratic Party Edition

A theocracy. What kind of evil patron they would have I am not sure yet - maybe Zoxxoth, I hear that guy's church has a dental plan that will knock your socks off - but if I threw this in, it could be interesting. Off the top of my head, patron candidates include gods, demons, devils, yugoloths, demodands, hordlings, modrons, Far Realm weirdness, vestiges, Apomps the Three-Sided God, baernaloths, and 4th Edition oh snap!

Just A Different Outlook

They don't have to all be so evil they tie women to lightning rails. Maybe they're neutral-ish and just happen to be warlike. Maybe they're nice but practice slavery. Maybe they just don't see non-citizens (and by extension, everyone outside their borders) as having legal rights. Maybe they're non-humans with a legitimate claim to nearby human (or another nice people's) land.

Maybe they're just douchebags.

Nobody Here But Us Alignments

On the other hand, maybe they are evil and don't have a theme. Maybe they're not theocrats or mages or honey badgers. Maybe it is just a perfectly reasonable government which happens to be in the end of the alignment scale most PCs don't get to access.


Actually, this is making me feel like writing an actual post on villainy in general, but maybe I should put that on hold for a bit. Instead, next time I will see if I feel like actually using any of this.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Worldbuilding: It's Not Silly If It's Religion

I've stopped to think, I've trawled through all my notes looking for any deities I made up for specific purposes, stolen from both D&D and real-world religions in my quest to not be original, and consulted some friends. Let's do this!

The strange thing about tabletop deities is that they seem to have a lot more deities for "adventurer"-type stuff than, say, farming and fertility. It's out of necessity, of course: That is how D&D rolls. It's not Farmville d20, it is about going into dungeons, finding some dragons and killing them to death. It might just seem that way because the player needs to know which gods will approve of his habits of kicking down doors, entering the lairs of evil beings and stealing their shit, anyway.

But having a long list of deities who are mostly about "commoner" things like farming wheat, protecting children and prostitution is boring, I guess. I will actually try and include some of that later, really, but let's start with some evil deities I whipped up to see how they work:

Soapizdun, The Immaculate One
Alignment: Chaotic Evil
Domains: Destruction, Evil, Madness, Water

The Immaculate One was once known as Laundrethian, a minor deity of cleanliness and water humans would often say small prayers to as they did the washing. Laundrethian liked things to be extremely neat and tidy. One day he explored the dark realms beyond known reality - nobody is quite sure why, though as a deity he probably did it because he could - and vanished for a hundred years, returning as a twisted, evil mockery of his former self.

Soapizdun is an insane deity who wants everything to be as clean and neat as possible, devoid of any chaos or filth. As the usual culprit in any "dirtying" event is an intelligent being Soapizdun aims to ensure everything will stay clean forever the only way possible: The complete and total annihilation of all life in the multiverse.

In another world, the Immaculate One would be imprisoned by an alliance of deities and lie trapped in a prison realm somewhere, while insane cultists did strange things in strange temples and were stabbed in the head by adventurers trying to save the world. Unfortunately Soapizdun is already in self-imposed imprisonment, constantly cleaning and re-cleaning his own deific realm, and also it is theologically impossible to take him seriously. His followers are all insane and eventually kill themselves by scrubbing too hard.

Soapizdun appears as a handsome, extremely clean humanoid, constantly dripping water and clad in simple robes of pure white. He has tentacled arms and wears a set of trousers on his head. His holy symbol is a washboard.

Note: One of my players (let's call him Ferret) suggested this when I was trying to come up with evil deities. I am pretty sure he wasn't serious. Well, too bad. Also, I remember at least three settings which contained imprisoned evil deities and thought I would have one.

Yzzyx, the Dark Creative
Alignment: Neutral Evil
Domains: Creation, Darkness, Dream, Evil, Knowledge

Yzzyx is believed to have once been an oracle deity of a long-dead pantheon. As his brothers out, Yzzyx (if that was his name) decided to simply retire and spend his remaining days quietly contemplating the mysteries of the cosmos. After that... well, some say he just saw too much and became corrupted, while others believe that the original deity passed away quietly to wherever gods go and something crept into his dreams to take his place.

Whatever happened, the almost alien being now known as Yzzyx is a deity of nightmares and dark creativity. His flock are, mostly, monsters and extra-planar creatures, though a few bards Yzzyx has been working on in their sleep can be found across the land if you look hard enough. Unlike most evil deities, Yzzyx is not very active, and it is by choice: He is still content to meditate in his mysterious realm and contemplate unspeakable atrocities. Sometimes, his maddening dreams will touch the minds of artists and "inspire" them, and sometimes they will just spawn monsters of their own accord. Sometimes these monsters are said to emerge from the paintings of those he inspires, causing some to wonder if Yzzyx is inactive or just playing an extremely long-term game.

Yzzyx is portrayed as a handsome, bald man in golden robes, meditating with his hands on his knees and his eyes shut serenely. Around his head, a sickening purple void pulses around a single staring eye. His symbols are as varied as the creatures that revere him, but the most common variant is a spiral made from bristles.

Some old depictions also include a circle-within-a-box symbol on his forehead associated with two ancient deities from different dead civilisations - Dodoni, an oracle, and Boccaseus, a patron of cheesemakers. Mentioning this to a group of theologians is a great way to start an argument.

Note: Another pal of mine thought up the basics for this one, but I added a bunch of things. He did not like my suggestion that Yzzyx may be a sentient hunk of cheese left behind by Boccaseus, though.

Seokore, the Restless Lady
Alignment: Neutral Evil
Domains: Charm, Death, Earth, Knowledge

Seokore is one of quite a few lesser powers of death or the undead. She is the ruler of the Devamanteum, a mysterious realm associated with the deaths of gods and powerful extraplanar beings. From here Seokore watches over the remnants of these beings (though most think they actually end up on the Astral) and records their histories and secrets.

Seokore is not the original ruler of this realm. That was Thantis, an ancient lesser deity who used to guard the underworld realms. After being tasked to watch over the lone Devamanteum, Thantis grew bored and eventually kidnapped Seokore, then a minor deity of cats and leisure and daughter of an archon and the beauty goddess Valen, thinking he could get a wife and a pet at the same time. When Valen sent her strongest champion to retrieve her, Thantis made her eat some of the berries in his realm, claiming that anyone who ate food from the Devamanteum would be unable to return to the realm of the living.

Valen's champion declared that was the stupidest thing he had ever heard and broke Thantis' neck.

Since then Seokore has taken over the role, believing that if the Devamanteum were left unattended it might be plundered and the deities themselves would be in danger. Also, Thantis, who knew the secrets of the place better than anyone, could possibly use it to return to the world, and he would be extremely upset.

For now, Seokore watches over the Devamanteum, but she yearns to return to her mother's side and often leaves the place in the hands of her proxies while she visits the upper planes. Over time she has become depressed and sullen with the burden of her duty, though, and though she is glad her lazy daughter is out of her realm's basement and getting some experience, her mother is constantly searching for a way to free her.

Most of Seokore's followers are necromancers with some extraplanar heritage, though some just like her laid-back approach and lack of exposed rotting flesh. Though most of her followers are evil nowadays, she has a very small following of good-aligned people (who often worship Valen as well) who see it as their duty to remind the world of her goodness, much like Seokore makes sure the secrets of the dead are hidden but never forgotten.

Seokore normally appears as an attractive humanoid female with some cat features and long, dark hair, wrapped in tattered robes. Her appearance has been marred by sleepless yellow eyes and a sad expression, and she is usually drenched in cold water. Her symbol is a silver triangular mirror.

Note: Ex-patron of a player in one of my games, so here is a proper writeup. JUST FOR YOU, RAN.

Zoxxoth
Alignment: Neutral Evil
Domains: Death, Destruction, Evil, War

Zoxxoth is known by many names - The Heartless One, the Lord of Nightmares, the Black King, the Prince of Evil, the Eater of Hope, etc. Most of his names boil down to this: Zoxxoth is kind of a dick.

Lesser evil gods have tragic backstories, or at least a strange love of the evil deeds they commit. Not Zoxxoth. Zoxxoth was rotten to the core from the day he emerged from the void and every atrocity he commits is for one single reason: because he can. There is no point to seeking any deep meaning in Zoxxoth's teachings, which are seemingly designed to drive people to hopelessness and despair at a cold, uncaring universe. Zoxxoth is just a huge tool in every possible way.

Every one of Zoxxoth's followers, be they marauding barbarians or calculating aristocrats, is a douchebag. This would probably be a requirement if any deity actually used the word "douchebag". They believe that there is no point to anything that doesn't serve their own needs, and if they get their kicks from torture, rape and murder, then why not indulge themselves?

Zoxxoth has made an enemy of nearly every single other deity ever, but frankly he doesn't really give a shit.

Zoxxoth appears as a smooth, grey-skinned man reclining so hard in a black throne that he is sinking into it. He has an extra, longer set of arms in place of his legs and a gaping, bloody hole in his chest where a heart should be. His symbol is a human heart with a knife jammed into it.

Note: Sometimes you don't need a complicated evil god with a specific agenda or lofty goals or some kind of insanity. Sometimes you just need a tool.


Are these the deities I am looking for? Maybe. I am just throwing ideas out there right now. Hopefully some of them are alright and by the end of this I will take the good ideas and combine them into a cohesive whole. No lawful evil deities yet, but honestly I will probably do the usual and use the shit out of Asmodeus. That dude is a bro.

Oh, and I think I am going to ditch the "pantheons" idea for the most part and make nearly all the gods I describe universal - their faiths can be found in all sorts of countries and races. There will be lesser gods, of course, and a lot of regions might have their own lesser deities, but I really don't need to list all of them. Just the important ones will do.

Stay tuned, because I am going to try and get this done in, oh, let's say a week. That means posts!

To wrap up, I would like to present something I found in Wikipedia's article on Abbathor, dwarven god of greed, which may be the best thing I have ever read on Wikipedia:

The beard shirt of Dunforth

The legendary dwarf hero Dunforth wove his beard into a shirt, forsaking all other forms of armor. The dwarven god of battle, Clangeddin Silverbeard, was so impressed by this gesture that he invested Dunforth's beard with power, making it strong as chain mail. Abbathor conspired with Vergadain to trick Dunforth into gambling his beard away. Shamed as only a beardless dwarf can be, Dunforth tried to redeem himself by single-handedly exterminating an orc village. Though he slew thirty of his foes, the overwhelming number of orcs eventually felled the armorless Dunforth, and the beard shirt remains as part of Abbathor's hoard.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Worldbuilding: Deities


Heh.

Yeah, I know. Long story short, I was busy entering writing contests. Also, I don't have a scanner of my own any more, and I can't really be bothered wrangling through using someone else's, so screw it!

Pictureless interweb log time!

So, deities. They are a pain in the butt. I like having a lot of them, but I hate coming up with a lot of them and I don't want some kind of dumb bloated pantheon like Forgotten Realms or people who worship dinosaurs. (Have you ever tried to worship dinosaurs? There are so many dinosaurs and you better pay your respects to every one of them if you don't want to show up in the afterlife and run into an angry Eustreptospondylus or something who wants to put its foot so up your arse it'll step on your breakfast.)

So far I have devised a system that goes something like this:

  1. Unless I decide otherwise, all races have a large pantheon with at least several demigods, saints etc. in case I need something very specific, like a god of coats. I won't mention them much, though.
  2. Some deities will show up in several pantheons. This is partly for convenience, and partly because I can easily see this happening as people travel around. Humands respecting the dwarf god(s), elves liking human gods, countries with different cultures sharing some gods, etc.
  3. I will not have every member of a race worship the same pantheon. I find it hard to believe that you can have a bunch of humans who believe beehive hairdos are in led by a dude calling himself the Alchemist-King and a magocracy on the other far side of the continent who are basically the French with a fixation on robots, and then say they both worship Pelor or whatever. No, screw that.
  4. However, I will not give each specific area its own huge fleshed-out pantheon, and since there's going to be a lot of bleed going on it won't come up much anyway.

What ends up happening, at least in my games, is that everyone focuses on the "core" human pantheon and everything else gets a passing mention.

Actually, one particularly odd thing that happens is I never really fleshed out the evil gods. All the villains have been demons and things. I should do something about that.

For now, I think I'll list some of the deities I have and why I have them, and maybe some ones I'm thinking of making (or cribbing):

Eironeous, The Archpaladin

Alignment: Lawful Good

Symbol: A raised longsword crossing a lightning bolt

Domains: Glory, Good, Inquisition, Law, Nobility, War

Favoured Weapon: Longsword

Eironeous is the paladin's paladin. On a perfect day, his to-do list would go something like: 1) have breakfast 2) right some wrongs 3) find a demon 4) kick it's arse 5) fist-pump 6) go home and read a good book. Eironeous encourages his followers to do everything they can to make sure good and justice prevail, and also to punch evil in the face when necessary. If you can do both at the same time, that's even better.

Most of Eironeous' exploits (according to the Book of Eironeous, anyway) usually involve the titular ur-paladin encountering an evil being and then curb-stomping it in a variety of entertaining ways, like drop-kicking a pit fiend into the sky. He is a force to be reckoned with and feared if at all possible, and his followers like it that way. Speaking of, his followers are mostly paladins, but he counts clerics and warriors among his number as well. They make excellent watchmen, guards and diplomats, because Eironeous also teaches that there's a time and place for hostilities, and it comes after negotiations and mercy. He is a pretty honorable guy.

He is definitely not a manlier Heironeous with the H shaved off.

Why: Because I felt the setting needed a paladin god, and a certain other deity worked after I tweaked him a little. It has worked out fairly well, especially now that less of my current players insist that paladins were designed to be played by tools and "proper" paladins should be mentally retarded religious zealots and unplayable.

Iroth, God of Retribution

Alignment: Lawful Neutral

Symbol: Two gloves, one iron and one velvet, clutching a mace

Domains: Destruction, Law, Protection, Strength

Favoured Weapon: Mace

Iroth is complicated, but if you have a trouble worshipping a dude with two heads maybe you should look elsewhere.

On a related note, Iroth has two aspects. Both exact revenge and just punishment on those who transgress the law, and favour good over evil because the latter is more likely to do so; the trick is that one head tends to focus on rigidly following existing laws (both local law and Irothian law) and one tends to get angry a lot and take the law into his own hands. The important thing is that there's law somewhere in there, even if you're hitting people about the head with it.

Naturally, some clerics find it difficult to deal with this conflict of interest, but most agree that there's a time and place for both – specifically, the kinder law-abiding approach for lawful communities and the great big angry vigilante approach for lawless areas and, just sometimes, when nobody's looking.

Individual followers tend to focus on only one aspect. Normally the kinder Lawful Good version is the popular one, though the Lawful Neutral beast beneath is never far away. Clerics wear sweet robes (white on one side and red on the other) and flat caps.

Also, Iroth is normally depicted as being about six inches tall. Nobody is sure why.

Why: I think I came up with this little dude ages ago in high school when all my ideas were shit. I guess I thought it was funny. Actually, I still kind of like the little guy.

Paiia, the Sun Goddess

Alignment: Neutral Good

Symbol: She is a sun god, you will never guess

Domains: Good, Healing, Sun, probably some others

Favoured Weapon: Mace

Paiia is... okay, let me break this down for you really quick for once.

Paiia is basically Pelor, only a hot lady with four arms.

Why: Basically, I wanted to use Pelor as a sort of "standard" popular deity that everyone liked, but I didn't want to actually use the core gods, so I made a few changes. I might have stolen part of the name and arm thing from some three-eyed weirdo from Deities & Demigods, though I didn't use that part. I'm actually thinking of fleshing her out more, and I might in a later post.

While I'm here, whose fucking idea was it to make the Healing domain? It's nice and all, especially for fluff, but it's kind of useless considering every cleric worth his salt can cast Cures spontaneously anyway. Makes me sad. Oh well.

St. Vanis, Who Is Kind Of A Dick God of Valor

Alignment: Lawful Good

Symbol: Two swords crossing a shield

Domains: Good, Law, War, Protection, Nobility

Favoured Weapon: Mace (my, crushing skulls is popular, isn't it)

St. Vanis, supposedly a knight of Eironeous in ancient times sponsored by the big guy himself, is a god of wisdom and protection and general niceness. His followers do things in the name of other things, like truth and honor and justice.

Unfortunately a lot of his church is based on tradition, and so a lot of the clergy are set in their ways. A lot of them dislike new things, like that new-fangled music and children (especially ones on lawns). Some of the really old-fashioned also have a rather dated view of women as fragile things in need of protection.

On a related note, lately the church has gained a reputation for being out-of-touch and kind of a bunch of dicks. Certain high-ups in the church heirarchy proposing that various goddesses are really just demigods and suchlike doesn't help.

Most people are waiting for the old guard to shut up and die already so the new people with modern mindsets can come in and stop the church losing all the girls to Eironeous and ruining their sweet parties.

Of course, in a lot of places St. Vanis is respected and less radically conservative, but that isn't interesting now is it?

Why: Saw St. Cuthbert, decided to make a version that is a little more, er, "seperate" to the other paladin-ish deities by being kind of a dick. Not his fault though! He is still pretty cool. Also, yes, it was funny.

Valen, Goddess of Love

Alignment: Chaotic Good

Symbol: A red rose

Domains: Charm, Good, Luck, Protection

Favoured Weapon: Don't say mace, don't say maDagger

Valen is a goddess of love and beauty and creativity and things. I'm going to be honest here: Valen comes up a lot, but I never wrote down a lot of the specifics.

Also I have not been able to take her as seriously after one or two games featured the NPC Polyquet, a ghaele follower of Valen who spoke like a valley girl and said words like "Tubular!" and "Mondo!".

Why: Needed more deities that weren't lawful good.



Actually, looking back, it seems like the pantheons of my setting are quite overlooked. I haven't even written down much of the "core" human pantheon and I am missing evil gods because I tend to just make them demon lords instead. Oops.

A few players have been telling me I should look at Pathfinder and steal some things from there. Also, by players I mean player, and by player I mean Pathfinder fanboy. (I kid! ;)) I might poke around later for some deity ideas from other settings I like, anyway.

I might look into my own settings, even. I had a steampunk setting I ran a couple of games in, with deities that worked out pretty well - humans had a smaller, more fleshed-out pantheon based on the idea that all their gods had two aspects that were unrelated or didn't go together well, like "magic and physical strength" or "invention and entropy" or "the deep ocean and imperialism" or "racial discrimination and being handsome". Could steal a couple of them, if it's possible to steal from yourself.

Tell you what... I remember writing a bunch of terrible ideas for deities years ago in high school. Let me dig up my notes and sift through the chainmail bikinis and badly-drawn tits to see if I can find any gems.

Or, you know, something to laugh at.


For now, expect an update soon now that I no longer have to worry about pictures as often and I'm not rushing to try and post one before August finishes.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Worldbuilding: Aldanath


See this map?

This is a terrible map.

I drew this map of Aldanath in 2008 or so, and as I am ashamed of most things I wrote less than a year ago, this one annoys me. Look at it! That shit is way too square and those mountains make no sense. Plus it is clearly a terrible Photoshop job.

Aldanath is the setting of a game I am running right now, a "sequel" to an old campaign which started with my very first game. You can bet we're redrawing this business.

Here's a new, 2010 sketch. I kept the locations (except for Silmet, which I moved northward after vaguely recalling it used to be up there anyway) but gave everything a shape I felt was more realistic, and added some features:

That looks a bit better. We're not drawing masterpieces here, after all, just making a simple map. Now to give it some colour and pretty it up a bit:

I moved Kurazokl a little and shifted Paiia's Gate (twice, in fact, it was first moved to that second big bend in the river), then added the town of Hootclaw after a player made a joke while I was deciding what to do with Silmet.

And frankly I'm not sure that scale works. But whatever, let's describe this shit.

Aldanath
NG Monarchy

Aldanath is one of the oldest human countries and one of the few remaining human monarchies. It is predominantly human, but it has a decent population of other races - mostly gnomes and dwarves, though most of the other races (even drow) get representation.

Aldanath's main claim to fame is inventing the calendar system known as King's Reckoning, a popular method of tracking years for most humans. 0 KR is said to be the beginning of modern Aldanath, when the Placentus line of kings died out, but this is only partly true.

Aldanath was founded around -1000KR, and over the following centuries, royal families and rulers made a habit of altering official records and history to "improve" their own standing and "place in history", usually alongside resetting the calendar to make 0 KR the start of their rule. This, naturally, makes much of Aldaanian history a complete mess. (The Royal History Society's museum in Aldanath City still displays the very desk Calvin McLomb, the society's first Chief Wizard, made no less than seventy-five noticeable dents in, alongside the remains of the original chair he threw out of his third-story window.)

This practice ended with King Harolyne Placentus, who reset the calendar so 0 KR marked the start of his rule around 23 KR (23 KR after he reset it, that is, not the 23 KR that was there before). Placentus was assassinated in 24 KR (probably for unrelated reasons) and left no heir. The next King was Arthur Biraltaria, who banned the practice. The calendar hasn't changed since.

In the "present", it is around 950KR. Aldanath's recent history has been dominated by two wars with the lich Dominique (who is a man) in 935 and 945 KR. (The last one was covered in my first campaign.) Dominique has since been killed for good and the kingdom left to rebuild.

(Incidentally, Dominique was actually a split personality of the previous king, Richard the Kitten, created after a magical accident which left the King humorously crazy. Dominique was evicted from the King's body by the other personalities for being a jerk, at which point he possessed some corpse and tried to take the kingdom for himself. It is a long and silly story. Richard the Kitten abdicated fairly quickly on the advice of his family and the current ruler is his son, King Paul Biriani, who is extremely sane.)

Aldanath probably has a population of just under a million. Its main exports are weapons, armour, industry, ore, religion and people who really hate undead, and the main threats PCs face are undead, goblins, drow and demonic cults. Explored locations include:

  • Aldanath City: The capital of the kingdom. Population ~55,000. Site of the palace and the headquarters of many of the kingdom's guilds and churches. Relatively unaffected by the war, though the final stages where the lich advanced on the city in his floating mountain fortress armed with a giant magical laser did rattle them a bit. A lot of people in outlying villages and towns fled here, and the capital is suffering problems with poverty, crowding and crime.

  • Death Valley: This charmingly-named region in northwest Aldanath, enclosed by mountains, is full of "monstrous" humanoids. You can't throw a brick without hitting an orc or a goblin or something. Dominique's base was here, and the area is still considered highly dangerous. The area is still in turmoil after the events of the last war, if you care about orc/goblin/kobold politics.

  • Fortress of Light: The "mage capital" of the kingdom. Population ~30,000. The Fortress is the headquarters of the kingdom's mage guild, the Order of Light. It also sits by the pass to Death Valley, which is why the lich's goblin armies lay siege to the city before adventurers crippled its leadership. He probably should have picked a race more competent than freaking goblins.

  • Ironport: The main port of trade between Brellan and Aldanath, named for the walls of iron once erected around it courtesy of the Order of Light. Population ~20,000, after a population explosion caused by an influx of war refugees from the surrounding areas. The area beyond the walls is now a chaotic, crime-ridden sprawl of homes and slums which most of the kingdom's wanted criminals are probably hiding in by now.

  • Odessa: The largest town in the northwest region. Population 1,100. Got steamrolled by undead in a "side-campaign", though that campaign's PCs managed to hide most of the town underground and it is doing pretty okay.

  • Paiia's Gate A trade town and gateway to the east. Population 9,700. Paiia's Gate is named after the popular sun goddess and a pretty religious town. Many of its residents identify as citizens of other countries.

  • Silmet: A peaceful village near a lot of farmland, once the site of a dwarven mine. Its main exports so far have been NPCs.

  • Tanburgh: The "military capital" of the kingdom. Population ~25,000. Most of Aldanath's army (well, the high command) are here, roughly equidistant from every point the military considers important. Its inability to stop the undead/goblin/whatever armies rampaging through most of the north-west of the kingdom annoyed a lot of people, though. Former headquarters of the church of Iroth.

  • Foreshadow: New headquarters of the church of Iroth, goddess of knowledge. Foreshadow appeared in my latest campaign as a town ruined by the undead armies which the Irothians found and took over during their search for lost lore and magical secrets which could help the kingdom. To nobody's surprise, Foreshadow turned out to be built above some ancient ruins where the Irothians learned pact magic and began to train the modern age's first binders. (Well, the specifics were a surprise, but...)

  • Kurazokl: A large town of several thousand elves who live in a section of forest granted to them by Aldanath. They identify themselves as citizens of Czeras, despite moving far away from that forest kingdom for religious reasons. They tend to keep to themselves, but they have started to settle in other regions of Aldanath and influence its culture. Some sages speculate that they should be reclassified as "green elves". Other sages tell them to not be silly.

  • Mawb Duhr: A trade city of roughly 15,000 dwarves and outpost of the (or a?) dwarven kingdom, though its citizens have strong ties to Aldanath and sometimes identify as "Aldaanian dwarves". They lent a lot of support to the war effort, probably because they were threatened as well. Also known for its "Red Mesa" military research facility.

  • Eilistraee: An uncreatively-named town founded by the drow Zaraeviira da'Orzza, who escaped from the drow realms (currently in a state of heavy decline after too much time spent backstabbing each other) years ago and worked her way up to "rich new noble" status in the surface world. She is currently pursuing her dream of having a place in Aldanath "good" and refugee drow can call home by rebuilding the abandoned town of Hommet; the population is hilariously small, but growing. (My current PCs have land and a headquarters there after befriending Zarae and helping her via quests.)

  • Hootclaw: This village (town?) is named after the owlbear found in the region. Not much yet is known about this probably awesome town.

  • Leet Town: Leet Town is a port/fishing town, and it (and the adjacent Gumdrop Forest) were the setting of the first ever D&D game I ran started. I refuse to change the name ever.



So Yeah...

That's basically Aldanath as it stands.

I haven't named all the forests, rivers and lakes, because I am unsure what would be good names for them. I also haven't decided what lies on those new islands yet - new adventure hubs, perhaps? More towns? I know the west island probably has a lot of tunnels to Subterra (the Underdark), based on a few things that have come up in games, and there's a volcano around the south islands. (There used to be a particular city down there but it was a shamefully stupid idea and I have since removed it forever.)

Just in case, I will leave them open for now. I have a few ideas I could use in my current game.

Next time, I dunno, maybe a different country. Or deities!

Worldbuilding: Geogra-FFFFFFFFFF



Ugh, map time.

Maps are an important part of any setting to me. If things don't appear to make geographic or even meteorological sense, it can really get on my nerves. If you want, of course, you could just have every single area in your setting safely divided from each other via convenient and suspiciously box-like mountain ranges and cry "magic!", but that is a stupid way for dumb babies.

And it affects so much. Your location can affect everything - climate, exports, imports, trade, traffic, the kind of hats you get to wear, and most importantly, what kind of adventures you can have.

It's a little overwhelming to me, sometimes. I am never quite sure my extensive knowledge of geography and weather (obtained via Wikipedia, mostly) is good enough, and scale is always a problem for me. How big should this kingdom be in miles, and what sort of population would I be looking at? What the hell is a mile anyway? Damn Americans. What's a mile in English, huh?

But hey, I have a shiny degree and, more importantly, a stuffed bear named Professor Bearington to show that I at least have a modicum of intelligence, so let's go for it.

First Sketch: The Basics

The above "map" is an extremely rough sketch I did of my setting as it stands - it mostly concerns itself with regions that have actually been explored in games, and the rest are blank. To summarise:

The north-western continent is Lerioth, where most humans come from. The lower third or so is wedged between a mountain range and the coast, and this area is the cradle of human civilisation so far.

From left to right on Lerioth you have Brellan (a swampy gnome land, separated from Lerioth by a narrow sea), Aldanath (fairly standard fantasy kingdom), some other stuff (has been stated at various times to include a nation of druids and a Hollywood Ancient Greek-ish land called Epinoza, but nothing concrete), Genera (a generic (GET IT?) high-magic magocracy which also happens to be a floating island), Rayaleigh (very mountainous country, never decided exactly which part of Eastern Europe it was working off), dwarf land (a dwarven kingdom of unspecified size that covers above and below ground) and Czeras (forest land of the vanilla elves).

Northern Lerioth hasn't been touched on, though after I wrote "UMM" all over it in a previous map my players all decided there was a horde of Um Barbarians sweeping across it.

To the east, linked via the Iriscian Islands (islands, pirates, blah blah) sits Nhaudan, which is a stupid name now that I have grown out of my teens and removed the apostrophe. It is a little more exotic and has jungles and elves and whatnot.

The western edge is mostly inhabited by human settlers from Lerioth while the elves get dibs on the rest. There's Cabelaba (horribly generic standard fantasy kingdom I never did much with), Paladinia (lawful good theocracy with a silly name. Paladinia is actually the capital, someone suggested naming the region Aclerica), Merchant City (trade city run by people who like money), Jhaka (a peninsula of evil wizards) and, er, "elfland".

Taishiria is the usual Oriental Adventures-esque adventure area and the other one is a mysterious land of wastelands and dangerous creatures nobody has been to yet.

Second Sketch: Where To Start Over

I have to keep reminding myself that it's okay to dramatically change stuff. I fear retconning will annoy my players. Of course, I still have the old exercise book I originally sketched Lerioth in and it was a wildly different shape that included deserts, so it's not like I haven't changed it already.

I like the rough shape of the upper two continents, but the details of them keep bugging me.

  • How is mountainous Rayaleigh just kind of sitting there on the coast with some plains and forests on either side?

  • If the city-state of Jai-Kaldor is a trade city, shouldn't it have easy access to trade from Nhaudan as well?

  • Is there just one dwarven kingdom? How far does it go? What else is there in the mountains?

  • Why are there no deserts for easily-accessible desert adventures?

  • If southern Lerioth is a temperate climate, how far north can you get before it starts to get cold?

  • Can the Iriscian Islands really be a tropical island chain that far north, come to think of it? Wouldn't it have to be south of Lerioth?

  • Can Nhaudan's jungle environments exist "level" with Lerioth's temperate forests?

  • If Merchant City is just a city, Paladina and Jhaka's borders would be touching at most points. Given their outlooks, are they at war?

  • Why did I draw the continents as random blobs which have a vague relation to their actual shapes at best?

BECAUSE I'M LAZY, THAT'S WHY.

One problem that leaps out at me is that of environments - I'm not exactly certain what environments can exist where, and how I need to move things around to compensate.

My main problem, though, is just campaign prospects.

"Explored" Lerioth is mostly samey temperate environments. You have to go a damn long way to see a jungle, and there are no deserts to explore either. Also, there's not much "sideways" movement; mountain ranges mean that in both upper continents you are more or less moving along a "chain" of countries sitting there in a line, which strikes me as a little silly.

Well, it's time to move things around. I went ahead and scribbled on the sketch, marking places I can remove entirely with no consequence in red, things I can change drastically but would rather keep in yellow, and just left the ones I feel are fine as they are.

Aldanath has been used a lot - it was the setting of my first ever D&D game, in fact - so it stays. Jai-Kaldor is also fine, once I find somewhere to place it, and Jhaka, Merchant City and the Iriscian Islands are all fine as they are... well, now that I write this, maybe the Islands will get changed a lot, but screw re-opening that image.

Shifting Things Around

I will probably have to come back to this once I do more research to decide whether the environments I've described work in their locations, but for now...

First, Taishiria can go away. I'll move it elsewhere; Pathfinder apparently has it on the other side of the world, accessible via the north pole or something, but I mightn't move it that far. For now, though, I want to move the other continent down there - the mysterious one. That puts more terrain - mostly deserts - for me to play with near the major locations to start a campaign. I feel like the whole "mysterious continent of desert and jungles" thing has been done a million times before with people copying Africa, but I'll burn that bridge later.

Lerioth and Nhaudan can be moved closer together; the Iriscian Islands aren't that big. That makes the space between them more of a sea than an ocean. Apart from that, there's nothing I need to do right now.

Saving Things For Later

You might have noticed that large chunks of the map are blank. That is totally okay. It gives me a lot of room in case I have some ideas that don't fit into current locations, and this isn't a published setting anyway. (Not that it matters too much.)

Speaking of, I've heard that some settings took years to work into shape, anyway. I have no reason to pull a giant setting with as many detailed locations as established settings out of my ass just yet, and anyway most of those just get a page or two in some setting book and are then ignored in favour of writing adventures in the setting's handful of set-piece locations.

What I should be doing right now is focusing on the areas I've already come up with (and the areas I've decided I want to flesh out now, to a lesser extent), and adding more details. I want to get the most out of every space I've already filled, after all, and it might help me decide what to fill in the blank spots.

Zooming In

With that in mind, the prime campaign grounds are the south/east coasts of Lerioth and the western half of Nhaudan, and beyond those I should be fleshing out the dwarf and elf lands. If I sketch a slightly more accurate map of that region I get:

All right.

Rayaleigh makes more sense if I shift it upward into the mountain range, so it's getting shunted up in there. (It was never super important, anyway.) That leaves more room on Lerioth's south coast, and I think I should move Jai-Kaldor eastward so it has an easy route to Czeras and the shipping lines to Nhaudan. J-K actually has a satellite city, the town of Dragonport downriver which acts as a trade hub (and which I stole from DMG2, at least in name), so I can move Dragonport closer to the Islands and make it that connection J-K needs.

As for the rest, if I leave it as-is, that makes the map:

Rough locations for everything are circled in red. I noted that I've made room on the eastern tip, though frankly I'm not sure if that's not just more Czeras and I forgot to circle it. Hell, I could probably delete it.

I am getting a sneaking suspicion that it's going to become more inaccurate as time goes on, though. Those circles seem quite big, and I feel I can fit quite a lot of things between, say, Cabelaba and Paladinia or Paladinia and Jhaka. Maybe even whole countries. Also, Aldanath is definitely not that big compared to the rest of the continent. Besides, I might shift the Islands now, and that would change things a lot.

So, the space given to each particular country is shrinking, and I'm planning to add more detail to each of them too. Is it me, or is the outcome of this post that I gave myself more work?

Well, shit.

Oh, well. For now, I will detail the lands which my PCs are adventuring in right now, or have extensively travelled in the past, and then move on to the Deities and Demigods of this setting. The rest I'll fill in as time goes on, which by the looks of things might be months from now. Or more.

Next post will be on Aldanath. I am writing it as soon as I post this, in fact. Two posts in one day? Holy moly!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Worldbuilding: Races, Part 2



Sweet Turbo Christ it's cold down here right now. Damn you Northern Hemispherers and your mid-year summers.

I am back, anyway. One of these days I'll make a few posts in the space of a week and you guys will be like "woah! How did he do that?".

So anyway, races.

Standard Races?

We covered this last time. I said that I was going to use a few of the "standard" races and make them The Same But Different (TM) for now, and throw in some homebrew stuff. There's nothing wrong with familiarity, after all.

Subraces

Uuuuuuugh.

I mentioned briefly like two years ago that I really don't like subraces. So let me get this straight: humans are "renowned for their diversity and ambition", which means they get to swank around with their bonus feats and tool-making skills and survive anywhere, but when elves or dwarves or orcs or whatever give it a try they split off into a new taxonomic subdivision? What the hell? The only scientific explanation I can think of is that Lamarck was right, and that is causing Charles Darwin to spin in his grave and emit mutating radiation.

I don't hate subraces, it's just... why do we need so many? In a lot of cases the original race would do just fine in whereever they are without physically mutating. I guess they would after a long time, but still.

On a similar note, though, I should start introducing ethnicities. I've seen a few settings do this - keep the races simple but describe the different physical characteristics and cultures they develop in certain regions, usually by nation. For some reason it's mostly humans I see doing this.

Also, I could use some black people in my setting. JUST SAYING.

Homebrew

I kind of mentioned this last time, but I am not averse to just making up a bunch of stuff and throwing it in there when I feel like it, or even on request. If someone really likes, say, warforged, then what the hell, right? As long as it's not something messed up, like triple-breasted hermaphrodite elephant-men or kender or something.

With that in mind, I think I will leave the roster of races open to a little tinkering later. I don't even have a whole setting mapped out, so there's no reason not to include STAR GOBLINS or something if I feel like it.


Now...

I went and dug through the "old" notes for my setting which, admittedly, is easy because most of them are in my head. Actually it's just a list of what I remember settling on over the years, and a lot of it (thanks to my penchant for retconning) is at best a year old. Whatever, let's do this.

Human

Ah, humans. Always ambitious and flexible and blah de blah. This was always a little hard for me to jive with, though I can see it.

They are pretty much as they are in most other settings. I tend to give them a bit of a focus on religion - humans tend to be more influenced by their gods, and sustain larger pantheons compared to other races. They also have more clerics and paladins. That's fine with me, though I am thinking of de-emphasising that slightly, or at least playing it up a little in the other races so they don't all look like terrible atheists or something.

Dwarf

Two things that can fuck right off:

  1. Mining

  2. Alcohol

Well, okay, they are kind of still there. So far the dwarves (for reasons which change every time I mention this because the reasons I come up with are universally forgettable) tend to see the world in terms of a "harmony of opposites": fire water, air and earth, light and dark, etc. all balancing each other out to create a nice neutral place for people to live in.

This has been a little awkward for me to explain, though, since a lot of people assume that means the dwarves are all True Neutral, completely obsessed with that philosophy and have to go kick a puppy to "balance it out" every time they fight evil. This isn't the case for the same reason that being French doesn't make you prance around in a weird beret and eat baguettes while watching extremely weird high-class pornography.

They do tend to do things like try and see both sides of an argument, though. They also make lairs deep underground and high up on the slopes of mountains because they enjoy the asymmetry, though. Having a philosophical outlook based on duality and opposing extremes doesn't mean you have to tend toward the middle ground.

Other than that... dwarves are honest, hard-working, direct, fond of the outdoors (indoors counts if it's natural) and the art of creation, and a deep love of brewing and drink which many outsiders might mistake for rampant alcoholism, possibly because that is mostly true and who doesn't like bearded men getting hammered? It is a silly thing to niggle over. As long as they drop those goddamn accents I am fine with it.

Speaking of, since most of the dwarves I see are bearded dwarven men and I don't feel like doing the "derp women have beards" thing, so far I have written them as having a low number of females compared to males for whatever reason, and so dwarf women are allowed multiple husbands. Also, they are more inclined towards the arcane arts (so favoured class: wizard for the ladies) and style their hair like crazy since they do not have beards. I am not sure if putting a bunch of unusually influential wizard-hairdressers in there makes dwarves more interesting or if it seems that way, but I am fine with it for now.

Elf

While I am confident enough in my sexuality to use the hippy tree-hugging version of elves (I really should make a new post and explain my thoughts on this more clearly, but I may just have a penchant for hating anything I wrote more than a year ago and I think I covered the salient points anyway), I tweaked them a little until I liked them.

Most of the change was relocating elves, really. I dropped them on a different continent to the east, in the middle of a jungle, and also there were dinosaurs because I like dinosaurs. That naturally made them a little tougher.

Their past is a little all over the place, because I never got around to solidifying the different things I've said into a cohesive whole that actually makes sense. So far they have been stated to be immortal or at least live an extremely long time (but tend to get bored and either go exploring/planeswalking and never come back or undergo an elaborate, magical suicide ritual after thousands of years), to have had at least one advanced civilisation in the past (which was either decimated when the elves took a side in a war between dragons and archomentals or relied on being very high-magic and fell apart when the moon decided to cast Antimagic Cone at everyone, depending on what game you heard it in - maybe two civilisations?), and to have started aping human culture a little after being impressed by how well their allies are doing, though so far that has only seemed to happen in large elf cities in contact with humans or near human lands. Elf otaku?

I should probably bash those together and work out something that makes good sense. My main issue is that I am not exactly sure how to keep their history sensible while explaining why they are currently roughly equal with humans technologically. I don't want to do the whole "dying race whose time has passed" bit, though.

Oh, and just because some players wanted to play the usual elf, I picked up some elves again and dropped them back near human lands, in a relatively tranquil forest called Linde'taure (which is a stupid name I came up in my teens and intend to replace with something that doesn't have a turtlefucking apostrophe in it), where some elves split off to make their own country and do more "standard" elfy stuff. Also they live in giant mushrooms. They don't get to be their own subrace, though.

Gnome

You will never guess which way I went with this one.

So, gnomes like creativity. They don't care where it's directed. Studying arcana or divine magic is cool. Natural philosophy is also great, so there's your tinker gnomes if you want them. Art and music are also great, though, so you see a lot of bards.

The more noticeable things are the seemingly crazy ones, though, like the few floating cities they have hovering in their homeland. To be fair, their homeland is a swamp and smells like one.

There are a couple of bad things about the gnomes, though: One, they are secretive and see no reason not to be, especially about dangerous knowledge (if it's dangerous, hide it. If it's safe, use it!). Most of them just see things like a free press reckless and silly, but some take it further and actively hoard knowledge and inventions for themselves, and the primary gnome nation of Brellan tends to send out spies more often than necessary, worried what others - even their allies - are keeping from them. Two, the more intellectual (especially older) gnomes tend to go a little funny in the head sometimes, which is where most of their "wacky tinkers" come from. They are usually treated with pity. Sometimes they turn into mad scientists. Sucks to be them.

Oh yeah, and a game I ran once may or may not have implied that gnomes were actually refugees from another world in the same solar system, where they had an advanced civilisation before magically nuking most of it during a war and either retreating to Otherworld via portals or to other systems via spelljammers. If that is true, though, the gnomes aren't aware of their own past and their historians have failed to uncover the truth from the murky swamps of their homeland.

Also, by implied I mean the PCs found a portal back there, and it was filled with grues and beholders.

Halfling

I have barely used halflings, actually. I'm just not a fan. Why do I need a second (or third, if you count the dwarves) race of midgets? I have no idea what to do with them and have left them out almost entirely, though I have been considering just making them gnome gypsies or something.

Ruvoka

These are the first major homebrew race I threw in... Kind of. They are humanoids from the elemental planes, and have had wings. Kind of like elemental fey; their first name was actually the Faeri before I decided to stop using a shitty placeholder name and stole one from Planescape instead. Their history is tied to the archomentals in this setting and they haven't had much of a presence yet, possibly because their homelands are extraplanar.

They suit me find as background characters, though.

Other

I am running out of things to say about them all, so I'm just going through them all quickly as they come to me.

Drow still live in Subterra (the Underdark, more or less) and stay pretty faithful to usual depictions, though after reading a Forgotten Realms book which suggested that the favourite hobby of most drow is backstabbing other drow, I put their civilisation in decline due to all the backstabbing going on. Some drow in outlying communities have either turned to demonic patrons other than Lolth or turned away from the path of evil - mostly PCs, though there's a small subsection of surface drow in one of the human kingdoms and another group resides in a chaotic good mountain city called Drizzimatizz which is guarded by dual-wielding rangers.

Naga are an evil humanoid race here, which a few elements nicked from Warcraft (3, not World of, thank you very much). Watery, snake tails, may have been spawned by a marilith lord from some elves, generally hate people. Oh, and they can produce...

Sthein, which I stole from the Green Ronin book Bastards & Bloodlines. Basically, they are elf/naga crossbreeds which look like elves with snake tails and probably have a lot more daddy issues than half-orcs.

Half-elves are just kind of there I guess. Do these need much changing?

Goblins have shown up, as a bunch of green-skinned flat-headed little bastards who usually worship demons and serve as cannon fodder. They could use some expanding.

Orcs tend to run a little closer to the, er, "Blizzard" version described here, but apart from a pretty strong showing in one part of my setting which is mostly tropical islands and pirates they tend to serve as cannon fodder like the goblins. Could use some tweaking, but I'd like to do something that hasn't been done before. Or at least, not done in the exact same way.

Half-orcs might change a little depending on how the orcs are portrayed, though I never quite imagined them as being integral to a setting. Can probably leave as-is.

Kobolds are even more over the place than goblins, but they also have a powerful nation of their own. And by that I mean one particular magocracy in the setting lets the kobolds claim a small part of their territory as their own in exchange for cheap labor. Also, by nation, I mean town.

Gnolls are basically Yeenoghu-worshipping tribal cannon fodder for the lands closer to elf territory, though they have also been seen far away from it serving as backup cannon fodder for orcs, goblins and kobolds for some reason. Demon worship is starting to become a pattern for these Generically Evil Humanoids, but


There might be more, but frankly it's not coming to me right now. I am going to leave the "lesser", or at least less important, races for now so I can work them as needed later.

Next up I am not sure what to do. I was thinking of diving into pantheons, but I could also work out some geography stuff and insert nations and ethnicities. The latter seems more complicated, so why don't I skim the basics like a lazy asshole and post about that next?

See you soon, I hope!

Monday, May 31, 2010

Worldbuilding: Races, Part 1



New "art", you say?

Oh my.

Think of it as "making up" for the last month. You think you're clear, and then suddenly you need a new monitor and a new desk and you're graduating last Friday and you're getting a new high score in Nanaca Crash and I got a degree, by the way, but who reads this blog to hear about my life? I am actually slightly late but since that is because I was wrangling with the scanner I think I'll slip this in at the "end of the month".

I wasn't sure how to talk about races. My thoughts on them are kind of complicated. Eventually I decided to just dump my thoughts in one post and the actual races of this setting on the other once I make a few tweaks.

Okay, so.

I was introduced to D&D slowly. Originally I drifted onto the internet in my youth to find Nintendo 64 cheat codes, which led to posting on a Rareware forum, which... et cetera, et cetera. It's a complicated dance through forums and IRC servers and video games which nobody really cares about, and I will try to stick to the relevant parts.

At some point I made some friends who were into roleplaying, or at least a few friends who were into roleplaying and a few others who played along, and I joined in. Just freeform stuff, at this point, and I was terrible at making characters.

Most of the people involved were terrible, but I am pretty sure most of what I did was really, really terrible, so let's call it even.

I experimented with GMing a little, if you could call it that - I convinced the others to let me take the reins for a bit and ran some things in settings connected or related to the "setting" we normally ran with. I just wanted to try new things and experiment with new stuff, and wasn't in it for the long haul; I was still unsure whether I even wanted to GM in the first place. Only later would I discover D&D and my grim destiny the joys of DMing.

I used some of the characters I made in a webcomic during a period where I played around with webcomics and sprite comics (part of the winding path of personal growth I took through the internet involved the Bob and George community), a period which was terminated when I realised there are unnecessary thousands of the bloody things on the internet and most of them are either generic, terrible or both.

Eventually I got better, was introduced to D&D by some other friends, and almost immediately dived into DMing, which I was also terrible at. It took me a while to get the hang of it, partly because nobody I was playing with was any good at D&D.

I ran some games, and each game I ran was less terrible than the last until I reached a point where I could confidently say I am not a terrible GM. That's where the story ends, pretty much.

So, what does this mean?

Well, I love creativity. I like trying new things. I like variety. And settings are like webcomics - there are three million of the bloody things and they are almost all as interchangeable as the contents of a bucket of beige thumb tacks.

If you want to stand out from the crowd and make a game everyone will remember, a good way to do it is to make an engaging setting (if you're not using one already), and mixing up the race choices a bit is a good way to do it. Besides, it's fun.

On the other hand...

Well, what's the point? All the archetypes are there already, I want to make a setting I can throw anything from WotC's books into if I want, and there's such a thing as too much change. It's certainly not required to make an engaging setting and who the hell is going to remember your technicolour rainbow of humanoids with funny names spelled with punctuation in the middle?

Nobody, that's who.

The struggle between wanting to stay a little generic and wanting to experiment and try new things was easily solved, actually. Here is what I did:

I decided to use some of the standard races, tweak and change them a bit to make them a little different (this has Been Done (tm), but it's easier for players to remember) and added some homebrew races of my own.

Speaking of homebrew, I've been asked about adding races from other books or other people's homebrew ideas often. After some thought, I've decided it's okay IF:

  • The concept isn't retarded (e.g. "shota orcs", "an anthropomorphic version of that new mount in WoW that costs RL money", etc)
  • It's not a kender
  • The concept isn't broken
  • It's not a kender
  • It doesn't use rules I explicitly don't in the setting (e.g. incarnum)
  • The race isn't terribly written (mary sues, way too many details about what can be found in their trousers, etc.)
  • It can fit in the setting without large changes to the canon


The last is important, since the others come up very rarely. If I can insert a race without changing much - Warforged are particularly easy - it's in. Even races from other settings, with enough tweaking. I start to draw the line if the player wants his new elf subrace to have its own nation and customs, usually, but it depends on how much I like the idea.

I'm running even later so I'm going to come back ASAP with Otherworld's races, so far. Until then, please, drop a comment by with your thoughts on races and any races, "official" or homebrew, you particularly like.

Especially if they're not kender.