Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Musical inspiration

Music has a special place in my gaming-heart. Most of us have tried background music at the table, but I find that when it comes to putting together a world, the kind of music I listen to becomes a big part of the world. I though I might share a few of my favorite experiences with music and DnD, and I hope to hear about your experiences in the comments.

In-Game Music
When it comes to styles, Folk music is probably the easiest to incorporate directly into a game. The instruments and style haven't changed much from the Medieval setting of most games. Music with electronics or heavy guitars can be a little to jarring. I've been able to mine some great adventure hooks and storylines from ballads, legends, and sea-shanties. The music of Stan Rogers (RIP) is particularly excellent, I recommend checking this out for a taste of what could be added straight into a DnD game.

I've used both Stan's music and the work of Blackmore's Night directly in game. With enough material it makes for an interesting mechanic of giving quests. The players were working to resurrect a dead god of Music and Prophecy, so what better way for his lingering memories to guide the PC's than with his last disciple's songs?

World Building
When it comes to working on a setting, I often find myself turning to much heavier music. While Epic Metal might not be everyones cup of tea, I find that the themes presented of Hero's prevailing against armies and monsters really sets a good tone for designing the places your heroes will travel. For a high-adventure and Viking style tale it's hard to top groups such as Tyr or Falconer. Again, this is a more personal element to my style of prep, and your mileage will certainly vary.

Battle Planning
Planning a good encounter or fight is a big part of being the DM, what's a good story without some action? When trying to strike that balance between high-energy and challenging tactical battles, I find that music by groups such as Hammerfall (or Tyr again) can get me in the right mood. Faster music helps me keep in mind that the battle shouldn't be allowed to lag, and I make sure to keep possible slowdowns to a minimum.

These are some of the tricks I use when doing my prep-work for DnD, I hope someone finds them useful, let me know what you think. Are there any unusual rituals you use when prepping?

Friday, March 26, 2010

Creation Myth for Fourth Edition

When 4E was being designed, the writers made a point of leaving the history of the world vague and distant, allowing the GM to do with it as they wished. For my own world I wanted to shake up the beginning of time a little bit. Rather than a war between Primordials and Gods being the foundation of the world, I wanted a bit more mystery to it, and a story closer to more traditional creation myths. What follows is my best attempt to do just that.

How the World was Made

Ask a thousand men and you will get a thousand answers. No one can be sure exactly how the world came to be, yet none will be deterred from the search for truth. What follows is the best account which can be pieced together from the thousands of legends and scriptures which supposedly hold the story of creation.

The Ur-Gods (or Primordials as they are commonly known today) were the first to come to the Universe. It was they that shaped the world from the cosmos. It is thought that the astral sea existed long before they arrived, though for what purpose is unknown. The Ur-Gods are said to have entered the cosmos from elsewhere, they brought with them bits of other worlds, as only one of them could create from nothing. It was Uruk who became the provider of the other gods, for they wished to mold new things with the matter he would call. They built the world as it pleased them, and then took their leave.

It is thought that the Ur-Gods have left the world and the planes, but what has happened to them is unknown. It is known that there were left remnants of their power, and a few of these primordials were left imprisoned within the elemental chaos which supports the world. This was the creation of the Primordial Uruk, the place from which all matter was gleaned. The Elemental Chaos was made as a blessing, yet this creation was flawed, rough, and lacking beauty, it was the other Ur-Gods who gave meaning to the matter, and sculpted it into good things. The Primordials used this matter to shape the world as it is today.

The other Ur took what Uruk had summoned and used it to build a magnificent world. The earth was crafted by the great hands of Kig, and bathed in air by An. Before the first races were introduced, Nammu blessed the land with water pulled from Uruk's chaos. Once the land was made, the favored races of the Ur-gods were put upon it. The first creations were: The Dwarf Moradin, wise and patient. The Elf Corellon, beautiful and skilled. And Io the Dragon, strong and with powerful magic. 

For a time things were good, but it came that the races felt great fear and cold, as in this time Nilu had snuck upon the world. Nilu was a lesser god of the Ur, but he was the most subtle and dark. He cast a shadow in the lightless world, and created death as his gift. Seeing the fear in the people, Moradin, the first Dwarf, asked that the gods give them something to oppose the darkness and evil which threatened to engulf the fledgling creation. The first response was Ninu, twin to Nilu. In every way Nilu was dark, Ninu was bright, she gave the lands the power of birth, creating the well of souls, from which new living things could arise to oppose death. This well was filled with the tears of the Ur-Gods, Uruk contributing the most as his grief at not shaping the world was great.

Even with the well of souls and birth, the people of the land had difficulty, for who could teach these children? The first had been born with knowledge, but these new lives were blank. It was then that the Ur-God Utu gave his gift to the world, he took his great spear and swirled it through the primordial ring, as the gods lived upon Uruk's creation. The last element of Uruk's ring clung to the blade. His spear now burning bright with fire, was then cast at An, who's breast was pierced by the blade. The sun shown from this mighty conflagration, and An still burns today, gifting us with light to live by.

Uru had been considered the wisest of the Ur, yet they did not understand his actions. Some wished for war, while ohers wished to simply abandon their creation, it had been their sins that made it, let them trouble it no more. It was then that Uruk spoke for the first time since he had created the elements. He said to look upon the world. In their arguments the gods had turned away from arras, yet now they saw tribes, the children of their creations. On looking closer they discovered what Uruk had seen, a man had appeared, from where they did not know, yet he and the other races had come together and made a table at which they could speak and sit. This astounded the Ur, as they held the power to shape things so close, and to see it in their creations filled them with a satisfaction, their work was done, and with this they departed.

Before retreating to wherever they went, Nilu and Ninu each cut a part of their flesh and placed it into the world, while Ninu's flesh went to seed and grew the magnificence of life that became the wild lands of the Fey, Nilu's seed destroyed all that it touched, creating the blighted, dark, lands of shadow and death. An had given his life for the people of the world, so his wife Ina wished to remain as his counterpart, she could not approach his fiery body, and so she follows him diligently as the bright moon.

Several other minor primordials had yet to give any gifts to the races, and refused to leave. The greater Ur-Gods did not want to interfere further, so the Satu (ungifted) as they came to be called took residence deep within the elemental ring of Uruk, imprisoned there so as not to be a danger to the world, until such times as they are called to by the first-born children of the Ur. These Primordials slumber to this day, though there are some who would call upon their anger and use it to destroy the world the Ur-Gods made.

Has anyone else tried to do something similar with the "built-in" mythology of 4E? Or do most people tend to work from scratch? I would be interested to hear your thoughts and experiences in the comments.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The City of Veneline - Part 3

I had originally hoped to complete this portion of the Veneline series two weeks ago, but unfortunate circumstances arrived which prevented me from doing so. Well, without further delay, part 3 of the City of Bridges.

Breacan Mac Cahail
Breacan Mac Cahail is the owner and proprietor of Mac Cahail's restaurant. A native of Trathyr (or another northern land of your choice), he came here to escape the Midden wars and regain his former wealth. At one time he owned a large portion of the vineyards which lie upon the slopes of Veneterra. Breacan is very charming and courteous, especially with the noble women of Veneline. He is an expert on wines and while he maintains an air of nobility about him, Breacan often brings food to Veneline's homeless.

Janaolo is the Elven owner, and madam, of The House of Purple Silk. As such she is possibly one of the most powerful people in Veneline. Discretion is her game, and there is no safer place to whisper a secret than her establishment. Janaolo has a hand in every element of her business, picking each employee by hand, no matter how trivial the job. Of Janaolo's past, nothing is known, other than the whispers which surround the beautiful Elven matron.

Vincelli Demogeon
Vincelli is the current Droge of Veneline. His time in the position and as a member of the Ten has made him cynical and trusting of no one, yet his rule has been marked by a rare stability between the noble houses. Vincelli has a rare gift for balancing the wishes of many, and convincing others to accept compromise. However when decisiveness is needed Demogeon is hard and uncompromising with his decisions, he certainly has no shortage of enemies.

Racherd Dimenth
Master of the Venete Tam Consortium, this Halfling is a shrewd businessman. Racherd has hauled himself up by his bootstraps, and every coin in his pocket was hard earned. As of late some worry he has become too paranoid, especially with the arrival of a Dreadnought to bolster the consortium's naval presence.

Alrerich Ethn
Headmaster of the Collegium, Alrerich is a stern man who has balanced the needs of his school and responsibilities to the nobles for many years. More than once a noble house has tried to muscle him out for refusing to put up with their brat's antics.

Proprietor of The Rhemoraz Bar, Orde'lin is a bit of an enigma. No one could tell you exactly where he came from, beyond waving a hand to the north. The back wall of the main bar bears a massive black-metal harpoon which supposedly was used to slay the beast from which the establishment gets it's name.

Ciro Borducci 
One of the Ten, he has worked harder than most to achieve his position. A self-made noble family of only a few generations, the Borducci's have risen to power quickly, and there are a lot of folk who would be interested to know how he has done it.

A foreign soldier, he currently heads the soldiers in the service of Ciro Borducci. He has displayed remarkable tact in his position, as any grief he caused would inevitably be used against his master. That doesn't mean the man is without his vices, one vice in particular. Temethridan is a frequenter of several whore houses in the city, and it can only be a matter of time before his activities catch up with him.

Arod Rivach
A dissenter amongst the populous. Arod is yet to develop a large following, but he has spoken publicly about the lack of equality in the city, and his supporters are growing vocal themselves. There are many nobles throughout the city that would lift a drink to the man's disappearance, and perhaps even some coin.

Friday, February 26, 2010

The City of Veneline - Part 2

Last time we looked at the history and style to the city of bridges. Now followsh a smattering of interesting places and groups to throw into it. These locations can also be used in other places in your game world. 

Before continuing, first I must rectify an omission which was pointed out by seaofstarsrpg, the military and security forces of Veneline were absent in part 1.

Veneline's days as a major military power are behind her, but with such a powerful hold on the culture and economy of the land, it would be foolish for any one kingdom to attempt to capture the city without retaliation. The government does employ a small navy to patrol the lagoon and nearby waters. These ships supplement the often impressive private navies held by the more powerful merchant organizations. Venete Tam is the most visible of these, with their flagship Dreadnaught Bahadur considered possibly the most powerful vessel to sail the waves.

Veneline does not employ a traditional watch, as many other cities do. The leading Noble house in each ward is required to provide security for their holdings as well as those within their neighborhood. Each house's private guards tend to reflect the family in power, thus passing from one ward to the other could result in any number of interactions with the law enforcement. Longtime residents of Veneline can tell you the best paths to take through the city to avoid particularly malicious house guards. Most of the streets are safe, but the farther east you travel, the more cut-throat the noble's squabbles tend to be.

Notable Locales
The Harbor of the Green Drakes
The primary shipping point for locations on the mainland, this harbor is famous for the twin massive copper statues of Guard Drakes which line it's entrance. The Harbor also allows barges and smaller vessels to pass through the grand canal to the Eastern Docks.

Mac Cahail's
Mac Cahail's is a fine dining restaurant which lies near the Eastern Docks. It is a favorite restaurant of several noble families, and serves a wide variety of customers. The food is reasonably priced given it's foreign nature. Mac Cahail is originally from a northern country, and his accent has made him popular with some local youngsters.

The House of Purple Silk
This palatial complex caters to the needs and wants of a wealthy clientele, some have even called it paradise on earth, which irritates those evangelists who refer to it instead as a den of sin. The courtesans who work there are famed for their discretion and skill, thus it is a favorite location for political deals.

The Dead Noblemen
Bearing a darker name than it's pleasant atmosphere deserves, this tavern and inn serves as a welcome place for relaxed folk looking for simple food and a good story or two. They offer moderate accommodations, and have a good variety of food and drink from the many cultures which mix in Veneline.

The Old Battery
This island has only one bridge connecting it to the rest of the isles which compose Veneline (of which there are over a hundred). It once served as a military training ground for Dragonborn legionnaires. But now it's open paths and high towers serve a seedier sort. The single bridge allows the Thieves guild to control most traffic, while the proximity to East Dock allows them to move about by boat without being noticed.

Verasalle Shipyards
Veneline was once an Imperial power, visible no where else more than at the massive dockworks which occupies the eastern portion of the city. Massive dry docks and ship scaffolds surround the still pond which holds completed ships before they are put to sea. Most construction these days is by commission of private parties, though the Veneline Navy still keeps a small fleet of powerful vessels in case of threat from hostile kingdoms, or even worse the beasts of The Dragon's Maw.

The Rhemoraz Bar
A haven for the adventurous, this dangerous establishment is owned by a Shadar-kai by the title of Orde'lin (meaning Slayer of the High Beast in Shade). The structure is build like a bunker, and it's bouncers aren't known to go easy, or mind the sight of blood.

The Grand Collegium
This center of learning is renowned throughout Southern Arras, and is spoken of within any learned region. Paired with the Academy of Expression, these institutes ensure that those who can afford their services are well educated.

Basilica of Saint Melanon
This massive building was constructed in 1394, and is the largest religious building in Veneline. It is a magnificent golden structure which faces the Plaza of Lions, dedicated to Melanon's symol. This plaza also connects to the Droge Palace, which faces the Church.

Allsaints Cathedral
An open air, covered cathedral with devotion spaces reserved for hundreds of gods and saints. The walls are crafted from a series of arches, allowing patrons to come and go freely from devotions. The government commissioned the structure to keep the envangelicals off the common streets and relegated to a single location. This has resulted in an economic boom to the quarter where the Cathedral stands.

Fate's Temple
A temple devoted to The Lord, The Fate, and The Master, the three forces of Universal Law. Also houses all the dead of the city within massive catacombs.

The offices of The Venete Tam Consortium
One of the largest trade consortium in Arras (or your own world), Venete Tam currently holds the lions share of trade rights with the neighboring continent of Rethelm (if you are in a single-continent world this is equally effective as rights with another large kingdom).

Tensions and Rumors
Many folks in the streets whisper about why Venete Tam requires such a vessel as the Bahadur to patrol their shipping lanes. Such a ship is better build to besiege towns and sink fleets, or at least that's how the rumor goes

The Church of the Great Three is the primary religion of Itania and Greater Erchanon. As such Veneline must pay some amount of respect to the Religious leaders of The Church. This includes the Grand Archon, who oversees the faith of the Great Three under Lord Dv'emok. Veneline's religious freedoms has earned it the ire of many of the more orthodox faithful.

Racial animosity rears it's head within the gilded streets of Veneline. The Tiefling gangs and Dragonborn thugs in particular wage a nasty shadow-war, punctuating the common noble-son's brawls with bloody battles.

The nature of the Watch in Veneline has left many merchants feeling the pinch. If you don't hire guards of your own, it's unlikely the private soldiers of others are going to protect your wares. Less scrupulous individuals have made a point of pointing out just how valuable their services are, and not all the merchants are bowing down to extortion. Perhaps some intrepid adventurers can make a coin or two out of the trouble brewing.

A particular voice has been heard throughout the streets of Veneline more and more these days. Arod Rivach is a dissenter against the political control the Noble Houses have over the city, and what's worse is that he hasn't been done away with yet. Have The Nobles assassins failed or is there more at work here?

Next - Person's of interest within Veneline.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The City of Veneline - Part 1

Here I present a city which was created for a 4e campaign, inspired by Venice. It sits within my homebrew world, known as Arras, at the northern edge of an inland sea. The city was built in such a way that it should be possible to transpose it into any game world without a terrible amount of work. As-is it fits with the generic 4e history WOTC has outlined.


Population: 45,000
Primary Activity: Trade port
Imports: Food, Luxury Items
Exports: Art, Fine Wine

The Republic of Veneline sits along the northern coast of the Dragons Maw ocean. While The Republic technically contains a number of cities and communities, almost all references to it pertain to the city of bridges which is it's crowing jewel, and shares it's name. Veneline is famous for it's high culture, with wines grown in it's mainland vineyards selling for hundred to thousands of gold pieces.

Veneline lies on a group of islands within a large lagoon, which protects it's inhabitants from the larger predators of the Dragons Maw. The city proper lies upon four large groups of close islands which are connected by a number of bridges. A variety of other atolls and islands within the lagoon boast villages, huts, and other permanent dwellings. The Republic's mainland city is known as Veneterra, and services the large number of farms and vineyards which populate the slopes of the mainland.

Originally an Arkosian city, the fortresses which defend Veneline to the north and south were constructed to form a path for ships from the southern lands onto the northern section of Arras. During the ancient war, the fortresses and the populated islands were captured by Shea'Dath (a divinely-inspired nation). Shortly before Bael'Turath made it's pact, the remaining inhabitants declared independence, and gathered together a number of small coastal villages and local dwellers. Even during the hardest times, with folk abandoning cities for fear of bandits and monsters, Veneline was never truly barren. Over time the city developed as a primary point of trade for those ships which braved the Dragons Maw, or those which followed the in-land coast north. This opened trade with The Western Plains and The Midden-Realms (a grouping of small European kingdoms) to the Southern Lands.

Veneline and the surrounding lands became part of Erchanon, or 'The Kingdom of Light' as it often referred to itself,  in the early 1100's, and the region know known as Itania was made into a province. This lasted until 1329PT when the declining state of Erchanon's holdings allowed Veneline and several other cities to peacefully separate into the League of Itania. Though there were many in Erchanon who were angered, they could not hope to force Itania back into the fold militarily.

The League of Itania's dissolution as an imperial power in 1386 created the formal Republic of Veneline.

The political sphere of Veneline is rife with deals and intrigue. The city is run by it's noble families, who each have some amount of say in the goings-on in the city. The true political power resides within the Council of Ten, who are made up of elected members of the hundred+ noble houses. The Council elects it's own leader (Droge) but this position holds no more power than the other ten. The Heads of each noble house also act as a senate which advises the Ten.

There have been many accusations from the common folk and merchants that the Nobles do nothing for their plights, and indeed there have been rumblings of uprising in the past. Each time a prominent speaker attempts to go against the ruling class though, they have been the victim of strange accidents.

Having such a long history has led Veneline to sport a variety of architecture second to none. The ancient Draconian spires and foundations remain in places, often abutted with the gothic walls and buttresses from the Shea'Dathi period. More modern buildings tend to be two or three stories, made from brick and stone harvested from the mainland. Most materials are made from a yellowish clay, though nicer homes may sport white-washing or even expensive foreign facad's. Due to the age of the city, and the need to re-use older structures, it is not uncommon to see a repair crew on any number of buildings along a street.

Next - Places of Interest within Veneline, and Tensions within the City of Bridges.

Friday, February 19, 2010

D&D Mini's

I'm a cheap gamer... and not by choice. This means that I can rarely engage in any purchases which might be considered blingy, no matter how much I might want to. So I usually rely on gifts and careful spending to put together any game aids I might want. This has long kept me out of the realm of Miniatures, even though I have always wanted them for my games. So in this post I thought I might ramble on a bit about my experience jumping into cheap miniatures for D&D.

The best friend to any frugal gamer, bulk lot purchases on Ebay can net you figures for under 75 cents a piece if your lucky, far better than any individual seller. After picking up a few smaller boxes and receiving a 100-piece box as a gift, I have a few notes.

- Lots of repeats: The cheaper bulk boxes usually consist of the common's the seller can't get a good price for, so expect a lot of commons and poor sculpts... and tons of Gricks. This has been a boon for me, as I'm looking to put together a solid set of each monster type, even if they're lower quality repeats. Out of a 100-box, I got 8 elves in rough armor using scimitars... and no Orcs, so as always your mileage may vary.

- No PC's: This is not necessarily a rule, but as a general observation it seems true. Out of my most recent 100, I found just over a dozen which looked like they might work as PC's, ignoring duplicate wild elves. Another box of some 13 mini's yielded 2 promising figures. So as most people could guess, bulk purchase seems better suited for DM's providing monsters.

- Cheap: This one is so obvious I almost didn't put it it, but it is worth note. Any cons must be balanced against the cheapness of this method.

I don't have more than an order or two's experience with these, but I will be gaining more and more in the future.

- Shop Around: The above link is to MiniatureMarket, which has the largest selection I have found, but it is also worth looking at places such as TrollAndToad and Auggie's Games n Movies. Each site tends to have slightly different prices and stocks of miniatures, so it's worth it to see what your cost would be at each one.

- Cost/Exactitude: The biggest boon of individual buying is that you know exactly which miniature's you're getting, perfect for finding a particular NPC or PC you have been missing. But with this comes the downside of increased cost over random figures, especially for rare ones. The nicer and more unique figures (Dragonborn especially) tend to come with bigger price-tags.

Original Random Packs

Surprisingly, it is still possible to find older random booster boxes for sale, often for less than 10 dollars. This is best used if your not looking for anything in particular however, every once in a while you get a nice surprise in the box, just don't count on it. I have not had much luck with the few boxes I have cracked open, but that means that someone out there must be getting exactly what they wanted.

Anyways, these have been my experiences with D&D miniatures, anyone else out there have any really good tricks for putting together a collection.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Meaningful choices and rewards

How do you avoid gaming on rails?
This is a common question, and one I have asked myself far more times than I can keep track of. The answer I keep coming back to is this: Choices. Meaningful, world-impacting choices. The choices may be small, but anything which changes the world around the players will help break your game off those rails, and -at least seams to- increase player enjoyment.

I have been guilty of accidentally forcing my players down rails in the past, a habit I am trying to break. To this end I put together the example which will be presented next, and it seems to have worked out fairly well. In this case experimentation has payed off.

How to work choices into a game - Rewards
I recently was rewarded by seeing my players spend at least half an hour debating whether or not to accept a reward which they have been working towards for a few sessions.

The players have been helping out around a small border town for quite a bit of their heroic career. Now returning at Paragon tier, they have been asked to clear out the same keep they first adventured in. Having done that, they were offered the keep, and support as knights in the mayors service. This gift came with a caveat, their influence was likely to be used by the mayors political games throughout the region. So, was the chance to be landed knights worth the inevitable political requirements? Unfortunately we will have to wait until next session to know, nonetheless it was great to see real thought going into a game, and some mighty roleplaying on their part.

The first part was to use a non-monetary reward as the pivot point. While I have not tried it firsthand, it seems that the draw of gold is too ingrained into character power and level. Using the Keep allowed the players to look at it from their characters perspective, rather than their characters pocketbooks.

The second part was to tie it into an existing storyline, easier said than done. Since I had not planned this side-quest and related choice into the main storyline, it took some tinkering and liberal use of a hammer before i figured out how to do it. If the choice seemed arbitrary and capricious, i worried that my players would rebel or check out and simply go for power.

As it stands, and as the players saw it, the acceptance of the reward would result in the characters taking more of a stance in the political skirmishes surrounding the local cities and states. It also makes it harder for them to travel abroad at their whim, which is a very real concern I had not considered. This choice could very much affect the future tone of the campaign, and whether the players face coming danger as intrepid hero's, or as powerful guardians and leaders of men.

I personally can't wait until our next session, and seeing where the players choices take the game. Handing some story power over to the players has been hard, but I believe it will be more than worth it.