Gaming Terrain Spotlight

Today I wanted to pay homage to a gaming terrain master, Duane Clark.  I’ve had the pleasure of speaking with Duane personally about his work, but talking about his pieces won’t do them the justice they deserve. Each piece he creates is not only finely detailed, down to the last twig or blade of grass, but made to tell a story.  His pieces truly are a work of art and I felt they needed to be shared with our community.

For starters, check out this piece:

Swamp Pond 2

Look how beautifully constructed it is!  From the large decrepit trees jutting out of the muck ridden pond, down to the lily pads carelessly floating on the surface of the water.  And the skeleton in the center, what’s his story?

Here’s a closer look at the center of this piece:

Spooky Swamp Pond

I find myself drowning in the perfection and realism of this piece.  The detail is just AMAZING.  Everything looks like it just belongs there, meticulously placed exactly where it was meant to be to provide the maximum effect.

Here are some more pictures of Duane’s work:

Wooden Pond and Bridge

The damaged wooden bridge over this pond, is spot on.

Fall Lake

I not only loves the fall leaves in this piece, but how the ground around the small pool looks moist to the touch, even though we know it’s not.  It’s that level of detail that makes Duane’s work so fantastic.  Look at how perfectly placed the scattered dirt and the stray pieces of grass are.

Forest 1

Forest 2

This piece I find extraordinary.  From the dry, fallen leaves on the ground, to the white spume of the water as it goes over the rocks in the river.  Even the moss on the rocks next to the river bed or the vines growing up the side of the tree show how much heart Duane puts into each of his pieces.

Here are a couple more great pieces that Duane’s created.  His specialties are buildings and woodland scenery.

Ritual Stone

 

 

Wizards Tower

As you can see, Duane, who has surprisingly only been doing this since 2015, is already a master in the art, creating highly detailed pieces, each with its own story to tell.  If you are interested in seeing more of his work or would like to commission a piece, you can contact him on his website, Evolved Creations or you can check out his Facebook page as well here:   Bits & Pieces.

Thanks!

Jinx

About jinx_the_bard

Longtime Dungeon Master, tabletop and video gamer. Been playing D&D and Shadowrun on and off most recently. Ran a post apocalyptic, paragon, 4th edition D&D campaign for a couple years. Running a 5th edition campaign now called "The Fall of Astia". Enjoy Borderlands 1, 2 and even the Pre-sequel (which I tend to play with fellow author Ness), Fallout 3 and 4, Bioshock and Skyrim. (Games this good never get boring) I also indulge in Magic The Gathering, mostly in the Legacy and Modern formats. Please feel free to contact me at dungeonmaster.bm@gmail.com for any questions, thoughts or things you'd like to see featured on our site.

The Importance, As a Player, in Writing Post-Game Session Recaps

During the series of Fourth Edition Dungeons & Dragons campaigns I played with fellow authors Jinx, Ness, and our other friends, one of the most valuable tasks we were asked to do was write our own post-game session recaps. For the Upheaval campaign (which we’ve written about several times on 3-Sided Die), we were asked by Jinx, our Dungeon Master, to write these recaps in the voice of our characters. I can’t stress enough how important these were to the richness of our campaign.

Medieval Scribe

“Medieval Scribe,” accessed at “The Middle Ages Online” website, hosted by Louisiana State University

First and foremost, doing the recaps helps everyone remember what happened. While the DM builds the story, its locations, and its inhabitants, it can be a hefty challenge for them to recall all the actions and deviations that occurred in each game. Also, our group only got the chance to meet in person every six to eight weeks, so having a record of what happened in the last session gave us more time to play the active encounter instead of slogging through the “when we last left our heroes” prologue.

Second, it gave us a creative outlet to deepen and express the personalities, beliefs, and motivations of our characters. I was able to take the decisions I made in each session and flesh out how those actions either validated my character’s convictions or questioned them. Putting those feelings in writing gave Jinx new insight into how our characters were seeing and experiencing the world and allowed him to craft changes to the campaign. We could see the changes we made to the world as a result of what we chose to do in each session, rather than having to stick to the rails of a more inflexible campaign.

Third, it gave our group a unique way to work together in character. Everyone has that moment at the start of a campaign where the group simply assumes that their characters either all know each other or have zero concerns or inhibitions about working together for a goal that probably wouldn’t matter to each of them in the same way in a real situation. What ended up happening with the Upheaval campaign was almost a fan fiction: one of us would write the first recap, and then another member would talk about their character’s perspective of the same events. These stories threaded together a neat “side story” that we wouldn’t normally think of while slogging through combat. Also, our particular group didn’t have super-strong role-playing or story-telling talents, so having the time after each game to think about what transpired and plotting out the motivations behind them worked really well to keep the story alive.

Lastly, the recaps helped with world-building. Further into our campaign, our write-ups began to include memories or thoughts the characters had about their past or others they encountered during the session. Perhaps it was a place one of us had visited earlier in our adventuring lives, or, in the case of Lu, my deva swordmage, one of her past lives. As with character motivations, this gave Jinx more food for thought as he created our next objectives and challenges.

For Upheaval, Jinx awarded us bonuses and benefits for supplying the write-ups. He chose a “party points” method, where the recaps, especially ones that deftly explored a character’s thoughts and decisions, added points to a pool that we could all share. These points could be used to either re-roll a skill check or attack, convince a non-player character, or give the entire party a initiative or healing bonus. The more points we accrued with our recaps, the more heroic actions we could take in the next session.

I had a great deal of fun writing about Lu and how she saw the world, and would enjoy doing so again for any future campaigns in which I played.

About brightmatrix

brightmatrix is a long-time casual gamer. His gaming journey has included Magic: the Gathering, the first, second, and fourth edition Dungeons & Dragons, and the first wave White Wolf games from the late 90s. If you are a denizen of the Twitterverse, you can read his posts on Magic, web development, puns, and other shenanigans at @brightmatrix.

Choices and What We Make of Them

NewHyrule

Image of Hyrule from the new footage by Nintendo, don’t remember where I got the pic sorry.

“We all make choices, but in the end our choices make us.” – Andrew Ryan

Free choice is one of the newer buzzwords from the last generation of systems but it really has been around for a very long time. True, choices are more player driven than ever before but the idea has been around from gaming’s earliest systems. The original Legend of Zelda was as close to an open world game as most early Playstation games, the concept of beings able to choose which direction to go in was never really an option in earlier games. In those games you mostly followed a linear level until completion or you player a handful of levels, on slightly varying, until the game became to difficult to beat. Zelda for me, as an early gamer was a whole different concept. I could go in whichever direction I wished, true I was gated at some points, but mostly because I would have gotten killed if I wandered too far into Hyrule’s more difficult areas. The important thing was this changed my game experience from a friends, I may have gone left to find my first shop, where he went right and found the edges of the level. We might encounter different monsters and at least begin our adventure with our own experiences. Leaving players to choose the direction of their adventure has been one of the hallmarks of the series and still to this day is one of its most enjoyed aspects, the sense of adventure.

As games move to new systems they allow for more freedom for the game creators to allow the player to craft their adventure or at least to adjust their characters to the worlds around them. A big g step for me was The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, which as s D&D guy, it gave me the freedom to play a variety of races and job classes, even allowing me to create one of my own. It gave me the freedom to play the game my way. Bethesda (creators of The Elder Scrolls) then followed it up much later with Skyrim (I know they did Fallout 3 in between I’ll get to that) which went much further in the ideas of player choice. Gone were the days of choosing primary skill sets and lesser ones, Skyrim says simply said, whatever you do you’ll do better. It allowed players to level skills that they used as they used them. If you wanted to be better at casting illusion spells cast illusion spells a lot, if you wore light armor a lot you’ll level up your light armor skill. This had a profound affect on my gaming as I was no longer afraid of choosing skills l would never use or creating a essential broken character. Grand Theft Auto: San Andres had an interesting system of choice as well, it affected your main character CJ. If you ate a lot of food dreamed “bad” for him (fast food) and didn’t work out he would gain weight and would lose endurance, speed, and stamina, but if he worked out at the gym he could get more muscular and his melee damage increased as well as his endurance and stamina. CJ’s clothing, hair style and tattoo choices also had an effect on his attractiveness. Aside from the main character you could choose to follow the law or do pretty much whatever you wanted in the confines of what the game allowed. Grand Theft Auto 3 opened up the concept of the “sandbox” or open world game as we think of it today, a world in which the player can choose to ignore the storyline of the game and cause mayhem or just drive around. The Saints Row series took this idea even further and allowed for the customizing of the main character, any gender, race, physical body type, you name it they allow and encourage it. Dragon Age and Mass Effect allow for character customization as well but what I find most interesting is they encourage romantic interaction between the player character and NPCs that the main character travels with, deepening the bond between player and game.

This leads to one of the more recent moves in gaming which is the moral choice. I really found this one to be a choice I never really expected to have in my games. The most powerful and earliest choice that affected me was dealing with the Little Sisters in Bioshock. We, as gamers, have really only had one choice when dealing with most NPCs, we killed some and not others. We kill the monsters and not the villagers, as an example, but we never have been given the reasoning of why or how will we feel about it. Bioshock asked are we going to choose to save a little girl to help her (with the promise of benefits later) or sacrifice the child to empower ourselves now. Of course the game itself did not make the choice easier as Dr. Tenenbaum begged us to save them, as Atlus insisted that we kill them to harvest the Adam slugs. If we decide to “buy” into these worlds do we buy into the choices we make? I can’t help but think we could. I’ve played Bioshock a half dozen times and still have never harvested a single slug. I always save the Little Sisters. Fallout 3 (told you I’d get here) gave us meter by which we could track our choices, but never try to influence us on our choices and truly you could save the whole of humanity or be a true monster based solely on you acted toward the NPCs and how you handled different encounters. Fable too gives us moral choices as how we our choices affect the town in which we live. If we side with evil Bowerstone gives way to poverty and depression, while good choices give us a flourishing city. The choices we make, make the world around us.

I quickly what to mention Minecraft as it really is the truest version of a creative experience. There is barely a “story” to be had (especially in the earliest versions). The whole experience is based on player choice. You create your own story based on what you choose to do in the game. The only real limit is your creativity and the limit of the game itself, and I’m not even sure of that to be honest.

So where do we go from here? The future looks bright. With games like Minecraft selling off the shelves and the world eagerly awaiting the next Fallout announcement I predict that player driven choices I games will not only continue but flourish with the newest generation of games like Shadow of Mordor playing heavily on how you choose your encounters and take on the Warchiefs to which powers you upgrade first are starting off strong. No Man’s Sky for the PS4 will soon give us a whole universe to explore where we get to choose where to go, who to go with, and how long we want to be there. It truly looks like an incredible experience, driven by the player. Ken Levine, creator of Bioshock, and his team have been working on a game where it is story driven by the players decision. He calls it “narrative Legos” as it has a base but the players choices build onto the world and affect many aspects of the game. I for one can’t wait to see and play it.

Thanks for reading. Please comment if you so choose. Question of the post! How does choice affect your playing style? I love it and Jinx knows this, will spend minutes choosing colors and heads for my Borderlands characters. Do you think about it or is it such a part of the game now you barely notice it? Let me know, I’m interested to hear what you think.

Thanks again, hope you enjoyed it.

Ness

About Ness

As a chaotic good nerd I try to be as well rounded as possible, from video games, comics, tabletop RPGs, anime, and cartoons I try to fit it all in. Although I enjoy all of it, video games have always dominated the majority of my time and attention. My plan for here is not to write previews or reviews but to talk about how I relate to the games I play. Hopefully we can all play along.

20 Question For Shadowrun To Develop Characters – my character’s answer

sru_sro_header_city_1600_01_1

Image taken from the Shadowrun website. Good old city sprawl.

I’m taking a bit of a break from a gaming post to talk a little bit about fleshing out characters. As I’ve mentioned before I’m a role player and LOVE getting into the minds and souls of the characters I create and play. Currently I’m enjoying a series of Shadowrun games GMed by a friend, currently I’m playing a female magic adept gunslinger named Zune Helhar. Within one of the newest books, Run Faster is a 20 question section, to assist players get to know their character. This I could not pass up. Granted it’s not a insane as Jinx’s 100+ questioner for his last D&D game (Upheaval, which he has talked about on this site in length). I loved that one and I really enjoyed this one, so naturally I thought I would share it with you.

Shadowrun 20 Questions

1. What is the character’s gender?
She is female, pretty much standard. She is an elf, born to human parents. She is strait, although generally she cut herself off from interest in any romantic relationships.
2. What is the character’s physical size?
Zune is average for an elf of her age. She is fit and works out regularly in both strength and flexibility. She was a gymnast in her youth and works to retain the skills she learned. She is more muscular then she may appear, given her style of dress, without being to muscular to inhibit her flexibility
3. What is the color of the character’s hair, eyes, and skin?
Zune was born as an adept elf and one reflection of this was in her eyes, even at birth. No one is sure if it’s the elf blood or the magi that flows within her or even both but her eyes are a brilliant shade of indigo. Her hair is naturally a golden red and usually kept long with various braids and hair accessories to highlight the unique color. That was in her childhood, now though after everything that happened to her she keeps it dyed black with 2 streaks of indigo in it. Gone also is the length as she keeps it short, not much pas the back of her neck. Her skin is very fair and pale. In her youth she would burn easily so she kept it well protected, in recent years her more nocturnal lifestyle keeps it similar in shade.
4. What is the character’s general appearance?
In Zune’s youth she dressed to accent her elvish qualities, clad in greens, light brown, and yellows. The outfits commonly were dresses, skirts, jeans, simple shirts, all reflecting elvish designs and writings. She nearly always wore sneakers. Currently, she wears nearly all black, although all her clothes are accented with fiber optic colors held only in indigo. Her clothing style is more function now, with armor jackets and armored clothes, usually leather or a similar style fitted tight to her body, with the exception of the jackets. Also she always wears boots. To peers and classmates from her past might not even recognize her now. Being that Zune is an elf she is considered by most to be beautiful. She could never admit to seeing it. She sees herself still as the broken little girl hiding in a cabinet, crying. She has a haunting beautiful gaze with her indigo eyes and an air that you can look but never touch. She tends to be quiet and reserved until the fighting starts then she’s the center of attention because of her physical beauty and cold look as she’s firing her pistols.
5. Where was the character born?
Zune was born and raised just outside of Seattle in one of the very few exclusive rich suburbs. She was a child of privilege for most of her youth, but after everything changed she moved into Seattle and currently lives in the Elvin District, a little too close, for her liking, to the Orc Underground.
6. What is your character’s age?
Zune is currently 28 years old, although being an elf she appears younger the she is. Her appearance is of a young 20 year old, this tends to lead to people making assumptions about her that she will occasionally use to her advantage.

7. What was the character’s family like?
Zune’s family was killed by an assassination group called “Kill Streak.” This was a fundamental change in her entire world. Her father was a scientist and her mother an investor, they worked together for many years, fell in love, married, and had Zune. They were incredibly accepting of her being born an elf. Her father would immerse her in elvin culture and her mother had tutors teach her to speak fluent elvin, even learning some herself. She wanted for nothing. She did well in school and in gymnastics, much to her parents’ pride. When they were killed it destroyed the Zune that she was and gave rise to the Zune we see now.
8. Has the character begun her own family?
She has no current plans to start a family. She has put all her life and any potential life on hold until she has killed every member of “Kill Streak.” There may be a chance when that happens but until then she put all thoughts into focus on getting her revenge.
9. Where or how was the character educated?
Zune was educated until high school in a privately funded, non corporate, rich private school where she excelled, especially thanks to her photographic memory. After her parents were killed she disappeared into the Seattle sprawl. She used the money she took from her parents account to survive the first few years in near seclusion. Later she was taken in and trained by a former Troll mercenary called One-Shot Wartooth. Her education from him helped turn her from the broken child to the Zune we know now. He trained her in firearms, using her adept powers, and surviving in the world she now belonged.
10. Has the character done anything else for a living?
Zune’s only life mission is to eliminate the former members of “Kill Streak” that has been her focus since 16 years old. She has no interest in anything else. Her family’s fortune has provided her the ability to do nothing else. Sadly, vengeance doesn’t pay well so after the money started running out she had to find a job that fit her new abilities.
11. What are the character’s political and religious beliefs?
She hasn’t thought about politics since school had them follow the presidential race to study it for Social Studies. Her beliefs about politics are simply that they are owned by corporations and are bought and sold just like any other commodity. Her religious beliefs are somewhat different, the closest thing to her thoughts are that she is she believes something is out there but it has little to no effect on her. She fears if she thinks about it too much it would force her to see that whatever it is let her parents get taken away from her.
12. What is the character’s moral code?
Zune really has a loose moral code. It’s pretty much defined as, she doesn’t shoot children. Aside from that if anyone draws a weapon on her she feels little to no compassion about putting a bullet into them. She generally believes they choose that course of action and they must deal with the penalties of that. People who were not involved in a shootout, she will avoid brining them into it, but if they do she does not feel it’s her job to save or protect them. This is life in the Seattle sprawl, only the strong survive.
13. Does the character have any goals?
Her only goal in the past 10 or so years is the elimination of “Kill Streak,” everything else in her life it to support that single goal. She is still as angry as she was back then, she cannot move past it. The only plans she has past that is to move from Seattle to Tir Tairngire and disappear and reinvent herself again, but that’s as far as she has planned.
14. Why does the character run the shadows?
As Zune grew older and lived on her own she used her parent’s dwindling fortune to support her life and her goals. That money is now almost gone so she has had to find a source of income. Her only skill set now parallel the skills a successful Shadowrunner needs, so the fit was natural. She runs to support her revenge focused life.
15. What is the character’s personality?
Once Zune was a happy, fun elf girl who was full of life and potential, that’s all different now. For years she was optimistic and fun and a joy to be around. Her friends loved her and she them, her whole life rose before her like a brilliant sunrise. After losing her parents Zune now angry, all the time, she is short on patience and has little interest in the lives of others. She still keeps her connection two old friends close to her and is incredible important to her. For all of her beauty her personality can be a hindrance to find love and new friendship. She seems cold and indifferent to people she newly meets. She is very slow to trust but once trusted she will go to the end for her friends and companions. Fitting into her personality she bears three distinct tattoos on her back, one on her left is an angel’s wing with the word Mother written in elvish, on her right a digital wing with the word “Father” also in elvish, finally across her shoulders, again in elvish is “Revenge Solves Everything.” (This is a nod to my love of Dishonored.)
16. What special qualities does the character posses?
Zune was born a magic adept, gifting her with a variety of special qualities, such as mystic armor, enhanced reflexes, a heightened combat sense, and others. Aside from those, she is an incredibly quick healer and has a photographic memory. She can speak fluent elvish as well as English. Zune is incredible fast when it comes to gun slinging, she may even be as fast, or faster, then a computer controlled pop-up weapon. She can also drive.
17. Are there certain things the character just cannot do?
There are things that Zune has a hard time with or cannot do, for example she has a difficult time dealing with computers, she can easily navigate her comlink, but anything that requires real computer skill she not only cannot handle, she generally won’t even try. She cannot harm children, as a woman whose life was irreparably damaged in her childhood she has a certain fixation on protecting and watching over children, especially girls, who she over identifies with. She can sometimes have trouble dealing with social situations, as someone who was raised rich but then removed from that life she is stuck in how she, in her teens, should act in fancy, or high society settings.
18. What does your character hate?
Zune hates all members of “Kill Streak” as well as the house worker who let them in. She has killed some of them, but she still feels anger toward them. She is also not stupid enough to believe that any of it was their idea, they had a corporate backer, they too are on her Kill List. She is the kind of girl who will burn down the whole corp to get to a few certain people. She has a strong distrust for more people, especially corporate. She also has a strange anger at herself for not being able to do something to save her parents, she knows she couldn’t but the feeling is still there.
19. What does the character love?
There are a few things Zune loves. She still loves her parents, even though they have been separated from her for a long time. She loves One-Shot Wartooth and his wife who took her in when she needed someone most. She also loves her two best friends (Lin Woo and Angel) who have stood by her side since her childhood. She also has a love for whatever gun is strapped to her side.
20. What is the character’s name?
Her full name is Zune Artasia Helhar. She still goes by her given name. The name she is starting to develop on the street is Zune the Reaper. Still some refer to The Reaper, but are unaware it’s her. (She leaves writings written in blood at the site of a “Kill Streak” elimination, mostly about reaping what they have sown.) She has a SIN, because her parents were members of high society and therefore registered to the national SIN. Interestingly after her parents were killed Zune disappeared, people and the press assumed the killers kidnapped her and were waiting for a ransom, but it never came so they assumed the killers couldn’t deal with her or take the heat of the investigation so they killed Zune. As of now when she get fingerprinted or anything similar her SIN comes up as her being dead. Usually she tells people it’s a clerical error and she’s working on it. The Helhar name hold nothing financially but it does still carry some weight, especially within the science circles.

I hope you enjoyed a little venture into the mind and history of my Shadowrun character. She’s quickly becoming a favorite to play. Let me know what you thought.

So here it is my question of the post, I always like to include one, so how much time do you spend not jut building a character but fleshing them out and filling in all the blanks about them. Do you power game and are done or do you create whole histories for them?

Hope you enjoyed,

Ness

About Ness

As a chaotic good nerd I try to be as well rounded as possible, from video games, comics, tabletop RPGs, anime, and cartoons I try to fit it all in. Although I enjoy all of it, video games have always dominated the majority of my time and attention. My plan for here is not to write previews or reviews but to talk about how I relate to the games I play. Hopefully we can all play along.

Tick Tock – A Dungeons & Dragon Campaign Idea

CLOCK

Found this beautiful skeleton clock here.  I thought a skeleton clock made the most sense…you’ll see why shortly.

Recently I was trying to come up with something a little different to start off a new Dungeons & Dragons Campaign I plan on running in the next year and what I came up with hopefully fit the bill.  It’s a campaign where the players start off in a world where they just found out (Day 1 of the campaign) that they are going to die.  Here is what I put together:

You weren’t ready to hear those words; is anyone ever REALLY ready?

Like a raging wildfire, messengers traveled with due haste to all corners of the land, spreading the word…

The end of the world is coming.

The pieced together stories say a ship bearing trade goods had set sail for the island of Marcos, home of the kingdom Essaria.  As the ship grew closer to the island and rounded some large rock formations jutting out of the water, the crew spotted something very, very wrong. Now in perfect view of what should have been the castle, but instead the crew looked upon a dark, twisted, unholy and demonic necropolis in its place. Black and purple vines writhed up and down the walls, moving with an unnatural grace. Gargoyles numbered in the thousands, lining the crenelations and dark walls  seemingly as if they were manning the battlements; a well disciplined and ever ready army.

There didn’t seem any need however, as the entire structure was surrounded by a deadly, permeable red mist. The deadly part became evident as a flying seagull, attempting to find purchase on the upper tiers of the castle after no doubt a long flight over the open seas, entered the mist; its body immediately starting to convulse as every bone in its fragile body was broken instantaneously. The body fell, crumpled in a heap of indiscernible mass at the base of the castle, lost among the rocks below.

Galleons by the hundreds lined the docks, each ship filled to the brim with thousands upon thousands of dead bodies stacked like cords of wood. As the trade ship continued its course and passed the first galleon, a shiver ran down the captain’s spine when the first dead body, the one on top of the stack just…sat up. As if prompted by the first, other corpses started to slowly rise…and not before long, a low groan started to emanate, louder and louder as if in warning or protest.

The captain immediately and deftly turned his ship about, urging his crew as IF it was even needed, lest they all succumb to Davey Jones locker. The captain, his eyes never leaving the castle, waited, for something to happen, something that would swarm or devour them from the depths of the seas…but by true fate, it never came.

His eyes suddenly focused on a lone, pale figure, who stepped out onto one of the nearby crenelations and smiled. His hair was as black as oil, his eyes glowed a nefarious red. The captain, in sudden realization, that the only reason he was leaving this place, was because this creature ALLOWED it. He shivered again, while urging his crew on, lest the pale creature change his mind.

Once the captain returned to the seaport docks of his home, Woodbank, he quickly met with the local authorities and told them what he saw. The authorities, some of which have known the captain most of their lives, took him for his word and spread the news to the neighboring cities.

Sadly most took it as the tales of a bunch of drunken pirates and didn’t make any move to investigate it further or gather their defenses…until it was too late. They didn’t have much time anyway….

The very next day, hundreds of galleons were seen sailing toward the seaport of Woodbank. While the authorities may have known of the possible threat, they were by no means prepared for what was to come. A sea of undead landed on the Woodbank coast, including some that jumped out early as if in anticipation, rising out of the murky waters, with surprising determination on their dead, unthinking faces; skeletons with bones a glossy black were later found to be as hard as metal as swords and axes bounced harmlessly off their shielded bones. Ghouls and Wraiths, Wights and Zombies, completely decimated the seaport, killing each and every man, woman and child. All those that were killed are rumored to have risen up, to add more soldiers to the now ever-growing undead regime. The undead, have mercilessly continued their destruction…the sea itself continues to birth a never ending tide of undead, the ships constantly arriving and overflowing with death.  In just 5 days, 15 towns, villages and a couple larger cities have been completely wiped out, with rumors of no survivors.

The local sages say that the entire world will be destroyed in a little over a year.

Tick Tock

Andrey-Martyniuk-clocks4

This wood carved clock was found here.

So basically, i was giving my PC’s an approximate 1 year left to live at MOST, unless they were able to find a way to stop the imminent death before them.

Logistically, the undead horde is currently overcoming one hex on the map each DAY. The direction is randomly rolled at the beginning of each day, so it is possible that the horde could come straight towards the towns the PC’s currently inhabit, cutting down the time of their life by as much as 80%. I also thought that since the towns would be defending, it made sense to roll a d20 defense roll for each hex (as long as there was a major town, city or castle there, to see if they could hold off the horde. If a 20 is rolled, they are able to slow down the horde for one day. The next day, if they don’t roll a 20, the hex and those towns within, will be decimated.) Keep in mind, I will not be showing the players which hexes have been taken over. It is up to them to figure out a way to determine that.

Every single hour will be tracked, which means getting a good night’s rest means 1/3 of the PC’s day was freely given to the undead to reap destruction on the land. The undead don’t need to eat, rest or sleep…so they are attacking around the clock. This system is meant for the PCs to use only what resources are necessary and not be wasteful of those good night’s sleep or short rests.  The campaign is meant to challenge the players in a whole different way, constantly looking over their shoulder, wondering which way the horde is coming…not knowing if they are just beyond the mountains or hills ahead. The PCs will know the general direction that they are coming from and know approximately how far away they could be at the beginning of the campaign, but once we start playing, they’ll be in the dark.

This is a game that will be mainly based on survival, but also in the characters reaching their true potential as quickly as possible, in hopes of stopping the horde and saving the world.  The longer the PCs take, the more of their world will be reduced to rubble, but at the same time, they need time to grow more powerful in hopes that they CAN stop the horde.  Finding that balance will be tricky.

I’m hoping the biggest confusion will come at the beginning.  What do they do now?  How can these 1st level characters transcend into powerful beings and save the world?  Where do they even begin?

Hopefully, it will be a mind boggling and new experience for my players.  Still have a lot of work I need to do on it, but it’s a start.

Let me know what you think and and advice on how to make it even more interesting!

Jinx

About jinx_the_bard

Longtime Dungeon Master, tabletop and video gamer. Been playing D&D and Shadowrun on and off most recently. Ran a post apocalyptic, paragon, 4th edition D&D campaign for a couple years. Running a 5th edition campaign now called "The Fall of Astia". Enjoy Borderlands 1, 2 and even the Pre-sequel (which I tend to play with fellow author Ness), Fallout 3 and 4, Bioshock and Skyrim. (Games this good never get boring) I also indulge in Magic The Gathering, mostly in the Legacy and Modern formats. Please feel free to contact me at dungeonmaster.bm@gmail.com for any questions, thoughts or things you'd like to see featured on our site.

Zail Hakken, my Drow Rogue/Sorceress

Zail

(Image from the Dungeons & Dragons webpage)

I’m taking a quick break from video games this week to talk a little about D&D. You’ve seen the epic multiple posts from Jinx about his D&D campaign Upheaval as well as BrightMatrix character (Lu the Deva Cleric/Swordmage) that he ran in said campaign, so today I thought I would share my character with you, and her name is Zail.

Now the original concept came after BrightMatrix and I ran our outrageously successful pair of his Kobold/Barbarian Rex Regulus Rex and my Goblin/Cleric Throck Bonesmasher. The characters were fun and we realized we play off each other very well and it would fun to create characters that were created to work together or at least complement each other in the game. Our original thoughts were to have two D&D version of “80s valley girls,” which sadly didn’t work out since Jinx changed the world from standard fantasy to Upheaval we had to revamp them into something more serious. (Luckily for our gaming group, we would have annoyed the hell out of everyone.) Anyway, Lu went on to become the beacon of hope for the world while my character Zail went to become the realist of the pair. BrightMatrix and I talk long about the characters, how they got along, which powers we would choose, how the met, why they were friends, and so on. One of the great joy of creating her was to be able to work on the background and story with a friend and bond the characters together similar to our friendship.

I tend to be a role-player more than any other type of player when it come to table top gaming so where Jinx focuses on powers and so forth I focus on the character’s background and choose powers, traits, and items that fit into the character’s story. Zail is no different, that’s not to say she can’t hold her own, by all means my little Drow is quite the bad ass in combat but that’s not the focus for me, it’s creating a character that is believable and has a sense of place in the world. So with that in mine here is Zail background. I really enjoy creating background for all my characters, it’s a bit long as I give them a full life story, but also realized this one of my shorter ones. I hope you enjoy it.
Zail Hakken was born Xune Helhar, to a Matron Mother in a large Underkark Drow city. While still an infant her house was attacked by both the house directly above and directly below, in the social ranking of Drow society. She was kidnapped by the house above. Xune’s house survived and she was taken out of the city by the remaining members of the higher house and sold as quickly as possible t a trade caravan. That is all she would know of her life with her birth family. She spent most of her formative years with various trade caravans. She would stay with one for a while then be sold off for goods or gold, always with the promise as a future servant. She learned many thing s at this young age, reading, writing, and not to hold onto lasting friendships as they would always either leave her or she would be forced to leave them. Eventually, she was sold to a surface trader who took her away from the comforting darkness and to the surface of the world and to the sun. Initially she hated the sun and the daytime; it burned her eyes and reminded her of how exposed she was without a stone ceiling. Although, for how much she loathed the sun and the day, she loved night, the bright glowing moon, and the millions of stars. Finally though she would find one place she would call home or at least a place to live.
Sadly, she ended up being sold to a thief’s guild called The Carnival of Thieves, where she served in near slavery. For the nine years she was bound to her servitude, never leaving the guild hall, never seeing the moon and the disliked sun. Only now through windows did she see the free people walking by, even her bedroom was no more than a closet with a mattress. For the most part she was rarely acknowledge by the guild members, who saw her more as a thing then a person and the other servants were afraid of her, even as a child they feared the Drow. The guild knew not her name so they simply called her Drow, she also had no memory of her life in the Underdark so she assumed it was just her name. All life seemed to her was work and she worked and watched, always watched. For years she observed the thieves at work and at play and she began to learn, to move in silence, to the basics of sword play, and a base understanding of lock picking. She was never formally taught but just through years of observation she began to understand. When the guild fared well she had little concern for her most basic needs, but in the times when the guild found little work those needs became harder to come by as it was after eight years that the guild fell on rough times and she was simply not provided enough to eat, she more than others as she was at the bottom of pecking order, even below the other servants. She started putting the skill she spend years observing to the test, she began stealing food. All were aware that food was going missing but no one knew who the culprit was, even those on watch saw nothing in the night, complete darkness. It was at this time the guild most experienced and auspicious member returned from a long mission, Ryder Hakken was back. He would come and go over the years, never staying long and only having a passing view of the Drow servant. Ryder was requested to stand watch to find the thief. After a few nights he realized the darkness that crept into the store room was not natural, and it was Drow using one of her gifts, her Cloud of Darkness to avoid detection. He confronted her about the stealing; she did not deny it and stood tall prepared for her punishment. He was impressed with her fearlessness, her strong will, and her ability to steal from a thieves guild under their own roof for years and never get caught. After sending her to bed he began thinking, by morning he made his decision he would take her. The very next day he bought her from the guild and would make her his protégé. That day she walked out of the guild hall for the first time in nine years and would never look back, she was walking toward her new life.
The first order of business was her name, Ryder hated that she called herself Drow and had to explain why she needed a new name for her new life. He told her that Drow was not her name but what she was, as he was a human and an elf was an elf, she was a Drow. He asked her to choose her own name, she thought for a while finally she chose a name she crafted herself, her very own name that was hers and hers alone, Zail. From that day forth Ryder and everyone else called her Zail. She and Ryder moved out of the old city to a larger city called Safe Haven, Ryder owned a small house within the city walls. It was a fairly large trade city mostly surrounded by the Crescent Wood, a forest that had grown in the shape of a crescent moon. There she spent the first year with Ryder training in thievery, moving ins silence, from shadow to shadow, she learned lock picking, wall scaling, pick pocketing, and breaking and unlocking traps. Over and over, day after day she learned and studied. Ryder was always impressed with her progress; she seemed born for the work. After spending so much time together Zail felt comfortable sharing a secret she hid from everyone for years, she could use magic. She didn’t know why or how but when stressed and pushed she could call magic to her as if it was bubbling insider her. She told no one for fear of how the guild would react and treat her. Soon after Ryder sent a letter to a friend who he had helped a long time ago who had sworn to help him one day. He received a letter a few weeks later that appeared out of thin air, he was coming. Until that day would come Zail would work on her thieving lessons.
Finally, on a bright night under a full moon a man appeared at the door, except it was not a human, it was in fact a Drow, and not just any Drow a Wizard named Karcillus. Zail was naturally excited to meet one of her own kind, she had no memory of any other and while Karcillus was kind to her he warned that much of their race were evil to the core, they would kill her and Ryder if ever they found that he was raising her. He told her one thing about the Drow, if you ever see one…run. For the next year Karcillus trained her in the ways of the arcane. Ryder would come and go as work came or as he needed, knowing that Karcillus would take good care of her. Soon into her teaching Karcillus realized he could not teacher her with books of spells and wands or orbs, she needed them not. She was not in fact a wizard, nor was she an invoker, her magic seemed to flow within her very blood, she was a sorceress. He put away his books and implements she could not wield and began from a whole different perspective. He taught her to call up her power from within. After months of teaching she could call her power at will and the dagger that Ryder had given as self protection served her as he taught her how to wield them as implements to focus her power. Although she could not control the type of magic she called (as she was still a child in the world of the Drow) she could now call it at will. With the teaching of the arcane he also explained to her what it meant to be a Drow, the gifts of her race that others did not posses. He taught her the she was never really sleeping but was in fact in a state of trance, she learned how to increase her Cloud of Darkness, and how to levitate, this came to Karcillus as worrisome, for only a Drow noble could levitate. He put that out of his mind for the time being as he focused on teaching her. One evening the three ate, as Ryder had returned that day, Karcillus mentioned to Zail that if she desired he could teach her to call a familiar. Her eyes went wide, she leapt out of her chair and began screaming and running around, Karcillus was in shock, Ryder just laughed and explained that meant, yes. The next day under his guidance Zail began the spell, at first…nothing. Zail began to lose faith that she had failed, then suddenly a small wisp of smoke tumble into existence at the center of the table and began to grow. The wisp soon grew into a small cloud that began to take shape, first legs, a tail, then a head, even ears, still it appeared as a cloud until two eyes opened from the still forming head, they eyes opened and stared at Zail they were a deep lavender, just like hers. The smoke settled into the form of a black cat that matched Zail for it was small and lean with its lavender eyes. It purred and lazily walked over and brushed up against Zail, leaving a small wisp of smoke on her. Zail was in love, never before had she had a pet, much less one that was such a reflection of her, Karcillus told her she must name it. Karcillus and Ryder game some suggestions that both Zail and her new familiar disagreed with, finally it came to Zail, the perfect name, one that she herself had carried. She named her cat familiar Drow, the cat agreed. Zail and Drow had a strong connection from the start; she seemed to understand the cat, which informed her it was in fact a female spirit, as the cat seemed to understand Zail. Sadly, a week or so later Karcillus had to leave to return to the mage guild he had taken leave of. Ryder thanked him and Zail hugged him, he never believed he would ever be hugged by a member of his own race, he was pleased at the way Ryder was raising her. He told him as much when he said Ryder should be proud he had a fine daughter. Zail looked at Ryder; he agreed he had a wonderful daughter. From that day on Ryder always called Zail his daughter and to her he was always her father. Before disappearing Karcillus had given them an unexpected gift, that of family.
The next two years of Zail’s life were dedicated to one single focus, battle. She had a formative understanding on fighting but Ryder expanded that exponentially. She learned the exquisite art of melee fighting utilizing her short sword. She bonded with it so much that she could utilize it to call her arcane powers. She began tying in all he had taught her about stealth, precision movement and surprise striking into an affective and deadly fighting style. Ryder also taught her in the use of daggers as both melee and throwing weapons, her accuracy was deadly. She began integrating her natural Drow born abilities as well, become a force to be reckoned with inside her Cloud of Darkness. As the first year passed the training continued but Ryder started taking her with him on missions where she gained real life experiences and was able to put all she had been trained for to the test, meaning stealing (or liberating as she calls it) items from their owners. She soon began earning a reputation for herself as Ryder’s daughter. That year was the happiest she had known in her life, she had a family in Ryder and close friend in Drow, a home, and a job that she both loved and was exceptional at. She hoped it would last forever, she would soon learn just how wrong that hope was.
No one knew it but the time of The Cleansing was upon the world. Most would believe the gods had abandoned them as volcanoes, earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes reeked havoc all throughout the lands. Safe Haven was not spared. The city was hit hard, a great earthquake, seemed centered on the city began ripping it apart. Ryder was away on a high paying mission and Zail was walking home from the market, wearing her favorite pink gown the sparkled in the sun, when the earth shook and the street she just left splintered. She raced for home, into the house she went and grabber her Handy Haversack, which contained all her gear. A trick Ryder had taught her was to keep all her “work gear” in one bag that way it’s easy to make a quick getaway. She moved her bed and moved the two loose boards that opened up to Ryder’s secret basement he used to smuggle items he took. It was also prepared in case he himself had to hide as it well stocked with food and water. She quickly changed in the basement, putting her last gown away, deep into her pack wondering if she would ever wear it again. For over a week she remained in the hidden basement, rationing the food as best she could. When all the violence seem to subside she tried to leave through the trap door, but it would not budge so she back in the basement she move the hidden door reveling the secret passageway to the Crescent Wood. Ryder had installed this as a quick escape route in case he needed to leave the city in a hurry. Now it was her means to escape whatever was happening above. She sent Drow down the passage ahead of her knowing that nothing could really “kill” her, if she was destroyed Zail would wait a day or so and call her back from the Astral Plain. She was in luck the tunnel was intact, small parts had collapsed but not enough to block her from escaping. She crawled down the long passageway always awaiting an aftershock but finally made it to the end of the tunnel and up the rope ladder leading to the wood. As she exited through the hollowed tree stump what she found drew not just the words from her but her very breath. She fell to her knees and wept for the destruction of the world she knew. The Crescent Wood were gone, burned to the ground and what little was left was still ablaze. From the near center of the forest she could see what was left of Safe Haven. Most of the town was simply gone, swallowed in a great fissure in the earth, what was still there, a small piece of the outer wall and only a couple of building, were also ablaze the rest was flattened. She knew all she had known and all she owned were gone. She stood for most of the day trying to come to grips with what happened, she went to the town to look for survivors but found no one, at least alive. She left the only place she really called home for the first time and the last. The next couple of months were a blur, after her supplies ran out she began foraging for food, hunting when she could, stealing when she couldn’t. She slept when she had to in caves, broken building, in trees, anywhere she could feel safe. The world had been turned upside down she now felt safest during the day as the night now contained monsters she had never seen before, as the Shadowfell leaked into the mortal world. She believed Ryder and Karcillus were still alive if anyone was it was them, all she had to do was find them, her dad was first on her list, but until then she had to focus on surviving each day. Zail felt it was simply herself and Drow, alone, against the world. That too would prove to be very wrong.

Well there it is, Zail’s background, if you are interested comment below and I can give a more game based explanation of her powers, feats, perks, and all the “business” end of D&D. Thanks for reading, I might indulge in a little more D&D posts in the future.

As I always like to leave with a question for everyone, here is this post’s. What kind of play are you? I always see myself as a role-player, I like to do voices and act out what my character is doing. Are you a power gamer (like Jinx) or an explorer? Are you here for the storyline or the snacks and Mountain Dew?

About Ness

As a chaotic good nerd I try to be as well rounded as possible, from video games, comics, tabletop RPGs, anime, and cartoons I try to fit it all in. Although I enjoy all of it, video games have always dominated the majority of my time and attention. My plan for here is not to write previews or reviews but to talk about how I relate to the games I play. Hopefully we can all play along.

A picture is worth a thousand words: Mistmire

Mistmire

As I mentioned in one of my original posts, “In case you were wondering“, this is perhaps one of my favorite topics.  My personal goal is to write a 1000 word story, based off the picture I’ve posted above.   For me, it’s an invitation to inspiration and creativity and I hope it ends up being the same for you. I sincerely enjoy writing….for me, it’s a great outlet, stress reliever and something I absolutely love to do. I hope you enjoy the story.

The beautiful artwork was found here.

Mistmire – A Forgotten Dream

I’ll never forgot the day we were swallowed into the earth…our lives, forever changed.

We were just a couple of adventurers on the road to Meadowbrook, a village nestled deep in a valley, not far from the Windshear peak mountains.  It was just the two of us, Devlin and I, but we had many years of experience backing us up.  Devlin was as sneaky as he was skilled in the way of magic, easily falling into the title of trickster.  And I, Maxwell Oerlius the 3rd, on the other hand was skilled in the art of warfare and healing magic.  We were a good team, one that complimented each other well.

It was late afternoon and we still had a good full day’s journey left, so we decided to take it easy and stop for the night, after we spotted a solitary farmhouse situated next to a large stream.  We hoped that the owner would be willing to set us up for the night in his barn, as our travels forced us upon rocky terrain that left our feet hurting something fierce.  After knocking a couple times on the front door without answer, we decided to wander about the grounds looking for anyone that might live there.

That’s when we found something most strange.  A giant mound; no more like an anthill, was situated right behind the southeast of the barn.  It was massive, almost as big as the barn itself, hidden only by the angle of our arrival.  It was late and we were tired, so decided it was best left until morning.

We opened the barn door, and set up camp in one of the larger empty stalls on the end.  The animals stirred at our arrival, but settled down quickly enough, allowing us to bed down early so we could get a fresh start at the anthill tomorrow morning.

In the middle of the night, the screeching bleating sound of one of the sheep launched both Devlin and I out of bed.  Standing there, a sheep firmly in it’s mandibles, was what we had feared…a GIANT ant.  We must have left the barn door ajar, as it was obviously where the ant came in, considering half its body was still outside the barn.  Its head was the size of a elephant, with a body to match and it’s mandibles, as long and curved as giant scimitars!  As it was retreating with its prize, in hopes of saving the sheep’s life and some of the farm owners livelihood, I grabbed my mace and landed a heavy blow against its carapace.  For a second it seemed as if I’d done some damage to it, as it backed itself out quickly and scurried dextrously down the hole, however the sheep was still in its grasp and gone.  We closed the barn door, calmed ourselves down and bedded down for the rest of the night….this time in shifts.

We woke up a little later the next morning and started our descent.  The anthill was found to be more treacherous than we originally thought, not only because of the looming threat of the giant ants that inhabited it, but because of the tunnels themselves.  Ants, able to climb and cling to just about anything, have no problem making vertical tunnels, which to us, were giant pits to navigate down and into.  Once far enough inside, we had to burn torches in order to see.  We traveled for hours, each step taking us deeper and deeper into the unknown.  As we descended, we could see that tracks of the unusually large ants were everywhere, but strangely, we had yet to encounter a single one.

It wasn’t until another two hours went by before one of the horizontal tunnels opened up considerably into a larger cavern.  There, laying in large heap in the center of the room, was a pile of the giant dead ants.  Well more like a pile of ant body parts, as there were only a few that were still fully intact.  Near the bottom, was the dead and strangely emaciated body of the sheep, looking like it insides were completely sucked dry.  We went to investigate a little further and found a huge hole in the back of the sheep.

We drew our weapons immediately, not wanting to be easy prey to whatever killed the ants and the sheep.

We circled around the massive pile slowly, keeping as silent and steady as we could.  One of the ant heads, apparently not fully settled, rolled down the mound towards us and nearly scared us half to death.

We continued to circle around and when we got to the back of the pile, we noticed another hole on the west wall leading out.  We all decided, with a nod to each other, to check it out.  We got to the entrance and took a peek through and what we saw we will never forget.  The hole opened up into what seemed like another world.  The cavern opened up to a thousand times its size, hosting a view that took our breath away in its enormity.  Th gigantic cavern seemed to have its own sky, with clouds clinging to giant stalagmite rocks that jutted out in all directions.  The rocks were strangely lush, with green vegetation heartily growing on all manners of the rocks.  Strange vines even connected the towering peaks in some places, growing vastly throughout the cavern.

Down a rubble strewn hill in front of us, was a dark, yet majestic lake, with craggy rocks projecting out of the water, like the teeth in a monstrous maw.  The water was clear, but the dark rocks below gave it a feeling of murkiness not really there.  The air was cooler here, a slight breeze wafting through and a cool rainy like mist tickled our face.

In every adventurer, there is an explorer; someone looking for something that no one else has found or just exploring the majesty of the world around them.  This was one of those hidden gems, something that is only found once in a lifetime if you’re lucky.  It was a find that just needed to be taken in, for as long as possible.  Sadly, it didn’t last long at all.

In every adventurer, there is also his sense of danger.   He can just feel that something is about to happen, even in a place that portrays peace and tranquility in its simplicity.  That’s when Devlin saw the water start to ripple.  It wasn’t long before it began rippling in numerous places, getting closer and closer to the edge of the water where we stood.  We started to back up, ready to make our way back into the ants carved out tunnels, when we were stopped in our tracks.  The thick vines, that seemed to coat the cavern sprang up out of the water with lightning speed.  Poor Maxwell, was cut open before he even had a chance to react, the vines slicing through his stomach, emptying it before he could scream.  A larger, more rotund vine shot out of the water and slammed into the hole that was now Maxwell’s stomach.  You could see it sucking all the internal organs, blood and tissue right out of him, the large chunks visibly moving down the vine’s would be throat.

Devlin, quickly casting a spell that most likely saved his life, turned himself invisible with a few quick gestures and zigzagged up the rocky slope, heading back to the tunnels.  The vines, seemingly fooled by the lack of their other prey, started to vibrate.  Skin, if you could call it that, on the outside of the vine started to flap in the wind, as if something was being drawn in and in a split second, Devlin realized it was trying to find him by scent.

He quickly raced through the cavern entrance, past the ants and through the tunnel.  He looked back, only for a second, to see the vines creeping into the tunnel behind him.  At this point, he let loose a volley of fire that torched the vines at the entrance.  A high pitched gurgling could be heard, seemingly from the lake, and the vines retreated back out of the cave.

Devlin was experienced though, and knew that he couldn’t hang around here for long, as the vines wouldn’t likely give up on their new prey.  He rushed up the rope that he and Maxwell had left behind, in case they needed a quick escape from the ants and ascended the tunnels as quickly as possible.  Two long hours went by, running and scrambling through the maze of tunnels.  When he finally emerged from the anthill, he collapsed on the ground, his heart racing…POUNDING.  He closed his eyes, taking deep breaths to calm himself down and relax his body, telling himself that he was finally safe now.  There was no way the vines were long enough to stretch through the entire tunnel system. He was finally safe.  As his eyes were closed, he sent a small prayer out to Maxwell…his eyes starting to tear.

It came as a complete surprise when the vines sprang out of the anthill, picked him up and started to suffocate him like a boa constrictor, all in one quick swoop.  The monster, now fully emerged from the tunnels was a mass of writhing vine like tentacles.  The last thing Devlin saw, was the orb of daylight getting smaller and smaller, fading away as he was dragged back down into the deep, dark abyss…that was mistmire.

I’d love to see how this picture inspired you and what you’ve come up with in your short story.  Please share!

Jinx

About jinx_the_bard

Longtime Dungeon Master, tabletop and video gamer. Been playing D&D and Shadowrun on and off most recently. Ran a post apocalyptic, paragon, 4th edition D&D campaign for a couple years. Running a 5th edition campaign now called "The Fall of Astia". Enjoy Borderlands 1, 2 and even the Pre-sequel (which I tend to play with fellow author Ness), Fallout 3 and 4, Bioshock and Skyrim. (Games this good never get boring) I also indulge in Magic The Gathering, mostly in the Legacy and Modern formats. Please feel free to contact me at dungeonmaster.bm@gmail.com for any questions, thoughts or things you'd like to see featured on our site.

Upheaval Encounter – Meeting the “Fell”

wight.png

(This was the best picture I could find that closely resembles “The Fell”. Belongs to WOTC)

In my last post “Vertigo“, I described the layout and general function of the small town that the players were starting in, leading up to the beginning of the first encounter, in my dystopia themed campaign.  In this article, I’m going to discuss the first encounter, what I hoped to accomplish in it, what worked and what didn’t.

Encounter Setup

One of the most important pieces of this encounter was the safety of Vertigo’s citizens.  So, using my own version of a 4th Edition D&D rules for a Skill Challenge, this is what I came up with:

Currently, there are 17 people within the bar at this late evening time, including the bartender and his waitress, but not including the # of PC’s.  Obviously the main point of  this skill challenge was to protect as many of the NPC’s as possible, getting them to safety.  I wanted each player able to contribute to the cause, so all skills were available for use, as long as the player was able to come up with a viable argument for its use and depending on the time spent on the action, determined how much of a player’s turn was used.

The reason why this was my own version of a skill challenge, was that the failures didn’t come from failed skill checks, it came from NPC’s that died.  I set it up so that the PC’s needed to keep at least 13 of the NPC’s alive, or fail the challenge, which meant a failure rate of “4”.  That also meant that successes weren’t determined based on their passing skill checks either, they just allowed the PC’s help in keeping the NPC’s alive.

In addition, I had some notes for myself, which included:

  • The Fallen, when faced with a choice between an NPC or a PC, are smart enough to attack the obvious threat first, which would be the PC.
  • NPC’s had an AC of 10 and if they were hit at all, they died.
  • The tavern is currently in complete darkness.

I also tried to put together some of the difficulty class checks.  Keep in mind this is for a paragon campaign and while not all skills are represented, I allowed any skill that made sense, given a fair argument, but here are a couple I jotted down:

Acrobatics: DC22:  (i.e. Maybe tumble in front of a patron in order to move them out of harms way, but taking the blow instead)

Dungeoneering: DC23:  (i.e. Possibly learn of a way to bring down the rock over the tunnel, to stem the flow of monsters.)

Intimidate:  DC22:   (i.e. Intimidate the NPC to move to a certain location, or to taunt a monster away from an NPC)

Diplomacy: DC22:  (i.e. Coax an NPC to move out the way or hide, help another NPC, etc.)

Bluff : DC24:  (i.e. Feint with a creature to draw them away or move them in a different direction, bluff a PC to get them to move.)

Perception:  DC22/24:  (i.e. PC might see an opening for an NPC to move or a PC to take a specific action)

Insight: DC24:   (i.e. PC anticipates enemy movement, tactics, etc.)

Streetwise: DC22:   (i.e. Navigation through bar, cubby holes for hiding, store rooms, knowing the bar in and out.)

Stealth: DC26:  (i.e. help NPC’s hide or PC finds way to conceal them/keep them hidden.)

I also wanted to give them a bonus, dependent on how many of the NPC’s were saved from harm.  If the players managed to keep 15+ of the NPC’s safe, they would get a +1 morale bonus to all rolls, through the next encounter.

Here’s what happened:

The giant wight/ghoul type creatures, called the “Fell” or “Fallen”, started coming through the burrowed tunnel in the west wall of the tavern.  Maybe 4 of them got in (there were still 20 or so more behind them).   First, the artificer had thrown some sort of alchemical flare on the ground to give some light to the group, as well as to denote where the exit was and to deter the creatures, but then the Goliath Seeker, Orilio stopped them in their tracks.

Orilio managed to keep them bottle-necked in the tunnel, by casting a spell of swarming bats, creating a “Slow” area effect.  If you know 4th Edition, you know how utterly annoying status effects can be and when placed tactically, can be a huge obstacle to overcome, especially in this case, since he was able to sustain the spell indefinitely.  Since there were 6 or so players, along with all the tables and chairs, only 4 creatures were able to enter the room, as the creatures in the tunnel had nowhere to physically go.  It didn’t help that the Goliath seeker was also a net specialist, who continually slowed the creatures and in some cases knocked them prone.

So in hindsight, I would have either made the tunnel bigger or given the creatures a surprise round to empty into the tavern, (which I probably should have done anyway) in order for this encounter to have been more of a threat.  It ended up turning into a pounding contest, with the players piling on the monkey and bringing them down much easier than I anticipated.  Plus, with the sheer number of creatures, it ended up being a long drawn out battle, which is something I both wanted and didn’t want.  I wanted it to be long and drawn out, but with the PC’s taking considerable damage and utilizing most of their resources, to inspire fear and terror in their characters, the whole point of this campaign.  What I didn’t want was them to monotonously pound the creatures away, that became a rinse and repeat exercise.  While it wasn’t as bad as that, the PC’s, though faced with a challenge 3 levels higher than their own, tactically contained the creatures and mercilessly butchered them.  A teachable moment for me as a DM.

In the end, only one of the NPC’s died, who just couldn’t get away fast enough from the initial onslaught of the Fell.  The fire ended up spreading in the tavern, due to the immense amount of alcohol that continously found its way to the now sticky, wooden floor from depressed patrons who all have lost hope in the will to live.

The PC’s ended up forming a water bucket brigade after the fight and were eventually able to put the fire out. On the way out to get the water buckets though, they found about a dozen more Fell, dead, outside  the tavern entrance.  They would later find out that no one in the town did the slaying…another mystery.

When they got to the buckets, they noticed that they had freshly cut holes in them, obvious sabotage.  One of the PC’s had the great idea to take 2 buckets, putting one in the other, where the hole in the top one met with the side of bottom, allowing it to become an intact bucket.

With all said and done, I had left the PC’s with a lot of questions, which is something I like to do for all my campaigns, to inspire and provoke thinking.

Anyways, the questions that arose were some of the obvious ones:  Who were The Fell and why did they attack Vertigo?  Where does the tunnel lead and will there be more coming?  Vertigo is in danger, what do they do next?  Who sabotaged the holes in the buckets?  What was the wind that blew through, extinguishing all the lights?  Who better to tell you, than the players themselves.  Here is the recap of Orilio.

Orilio the Goliath Seeker – Recap: (by Nathan Ophardt)

“Fools. I am surrounded by fools, and incompetents. Who builds a defensible burrow underground, lines it with flammable material, and then only gives themselves one means of escape? It’s as if they were inviting tragedy. For their sake, its fortunate that they had heroes around to protect them.

Beasts of the Shadowfell invaded our little slice of “safety and civilization” in Vertigo. What brings them here? There are so few places with any semblance of life left, how did these creatures find it? Did they follow me, from the rift in the mountains?

What feeble respite we may find from the numbing terror of this life was torn from us, yet again. Thanks to Trey’s hard work, we could enjoy cool beer in the tavern at Vertigo. But somehow, the Shadowfell found us, and burrowed through the heart of the mountain to attack us from where we were safest. Bursting through the walls of our drinking hole, the dark creatures of the Shadowfell brought with them a foul wind, extinguishing light like they extinguished hope. My allies reacted quickly; Trey threw out an alchemical flare to allow us to see, I hurled a table across the entrance to provide a safe path for people to flee, while others encouraged the bar denizens to flee to the back, away from the fight. The beasts showed their own lack of intelligence by attacking on only one front. A simple spell surrounded them in bats, and kept them pinned down where we could assault them with impunity. That, and my net kept the creatures pinned down, while our warriors charged into the fray to keep the enemy from spreading out, and the remainder of us prowled at the edge of my winged swarm, butchering whatever made it that far.

The fire proved to be as much of a challenge as the beasts. With the last of them dead, the inferno was an impassible barrier to most. Hoping to find enough water outside, I charged through and was followed by several of my companions. We found more chaos outside, corpses and damaged water buckets, but with quick thinking and quick action, we put out the fire and allowed the civilians to escape.

We are faced with a difficult situation in Vertigo. We have a small band of true survivors, surrounded by a horde of people who lived through the Cataclysm through sheer luck, and don’t have the sense to flee from ravening monsters without prompting from someone strong enough to issue commands. At the same time, our little utopia treats us all the same, and those of us with skills and knowledge above the norm spend our days mucking out the tavern and carrying water buckets along with the rest of the field hands to “earn our keep”. Is it time for someone to step up and organize this little corner of the world, and divide our limited resources and manpower in a more intelligent way? Is my time better spent tending the vegetable garden or hunting down sources of danger? I’m just a simple boy from the mountains, with no skill at leading others, but hopefully we can organize ourselves a little better, before something more dangerous comes along.”

In the coming weeks, you will also hear the recaps from two more of my players in the campaign, who are also my 2 co-authors of this site, Brightmatrix and Ness.  Once we hear those recaps, I’ll continue on with the story of my campaign and how it unfolded.

Hope you’re enjoying it!

Jinx

About jinx_the_bard

Longtime Dungeon Master, tabletop and video gamer. Been playing D&D and Shadowrun on and off most recently. Ran a post apocalyptic, paragon, 4th edition D&D campaign for a couple years. Running a 5th edition campaign now called "The Fall of Astia". Enjoy Borderlands 1, 2 and even the Pre-sequel (which I tend to play with fellow author Ness), Fallout 3 and 4, Bioshock and Skyrim. (Games this good never get boring) I also indulge in Magic The Gathering, mostly in the Legacy and Modern formats. Please feel free to contact me at dungeonmaster.bm@gmail.com for any questions, thoughts or things you'd like to see featured on our site.

Vertigo

Vertigo-1Found this at deviantart.

In last week’s article found here, I talked about my dystopia themed paragon campaign that my players and I decided to embark on.  I took a lot of time formulating ideas in my head of the twisted world and what could/would be found by the players.  I wanted them to have a sliver of a home base, though something very unprotected and weak.  I was hoping to give them a little security, right before I snatched it right out from under them, to really give a sense that there is nothing secure in the world they live in.

Their home base, was a town at the base of an inverted mountain, the peak of which was driven two-thirds of its height, straight down into a dense wooded quagmire.  A mountain that is a daily reminder that the world has forever changed.  I decided an appropriate name of the town, would be Vertigo, due to the unsteadiness of this world, as well as the feeling one might succumb to when looking up from the base of the town, up to the bottom of the inverted mountain.

The impact, when the mountain hit the quagmire, was so intense that the surrounding 5 miles of land at the epicenter of the collision, was driven fifty feet down and out, creating a depressed valley.

The town of Vertigo was built with purpose, constructed on the south side of the mountain, so that it would make the most of the little sun it receives. It also provides a fairly defensible position with the mountain at its back and overhead, the rough terrain of the swamp and the additional shelter of the thousands of surrounding broken, scarred and twisted trees provide.  The makeshift town consists of a small network of caves carved into the middle of the mountain. It is not without its dangers though; cave-ins and large pieces of the mountain continuously break off, killing more than a few of its inhabitants.

Inside the caves are for the most part, the bare essentials.  The small caves are used as improvised residences; a larger one has been carved out for the tavern/inn, used as the local gathering place, as well as small caves carved out for shops.  The town consists of maybe 100 people and they are tightly cramped within the caves.  Many are living together in large groups, having to stagger sleeping times, because not everyone can physically fit in the caves at the same time. New caves are being worked on each day, but are done carefully, so as not to have them collapse in on themselves.

Most of the drinking water comes from a small waterfall, which is one of many that collects on top of the mountain, runs down its sides (or straight down in some cases) and into the land below. Vertigo was specifically built near one of the larger waterfalls; a well was constructed to capture the water in its descent and is used by all of Vertigo’s residents for drinking, bathing and cleaning.

The large wooden stockade fence was constructed by using the surrounding broken lumber of the forest; it stands almost 30 feet high and is constantly being tended to, with the continuous bombardment of debris breaking off of the mountain above. Within the stockade fence, the land has been built up; utilizing the dirt carved out of the mountain, they fortify the fence posts and provide firm farmland to grow crops on. There are two sets of front gates, one at the bottom and top of an incline that leads down, out and into the swamp.  Also wooden buckets hanging from each of the large wooden stakes of the stockade fence, are an additional means to collect rain water.

The tavern is where most people call home in Vertigo. It’s where everyone congregates after a long day, not wanting to be in the cramped spaces of their meager homes. The barkeep, a human man by the name of Rory Goodfellow, has, through great tolls, taken upon himself the task of re-creating a pre-dystopian tavern inside the cave. With the help of the community and their leader, a dwarf by the name of Thorin Woodcrafter, he has carved out the 1st and 2nd floors of the tavern, fixing the tavern with wood built from the inside, putting walls, floors, ceilings and a bar, in order to give it the feeling of what once was. The second floor is built as an inn, but is housing a large number of the community, including Rory, Thorin and Corsica, the barmaid. It’s not entirely completed yet, but has made some great progress. Only a small area on the west wall is left to complete.

The general culture of the people in Vertigo, is that all work is to help the betterment of the community, under a general purpose and through the direction of Thorin Woodcrafter.  For instance:

  • To make sure the town remains safe
  • That crops are continuously being tended to
  • Caves are being carefully carved into the mountain
  • Keeping watch for invaders
  • Generally just doing whatever needs to be done at any given time.

In doing so, they receive food (in limited portions) and drink (as much as they’d like) and a place to sleep at night. The sleeping conditions are tough for most, as of right now, not enough caves have been carved out to allow each family their own living space, so sometimes they sleep in shifts, in order to accommodate this issue.

Those with special skills, like healing, weapon-smithing and what not, do what they do best, helping out with other tasks, when their services are not required.

Everyone also has to take turns venturing out into the wilderness, usually under the protection of Thorin, to gather needed materials (wood, stone and metal, if it can be found), however there are some that are more adept at doing so and end up helping more often, taking the shifts of the weaker community members.

This is how I started the campaign, with the following narrative:

It’s been about two years since the gods brought their wrath on this world, tearing it asunder.  The world nothing more than a bleak, broken, empty shell of what it once was.   Civilization has all but crumbled. Great empires are nothing but whispers on a tempest wind. The world… is in complete CHAOS.

No one truly knows how many survived the upheaval, but one thing is certain…people are few and far between. Venturing outside only when they must, they are a generally frightened, lost and depressed people. The apathy, the anger…and the utter hopelessness has taken hold deep within all.

Even the sky is in constant turmoil… changing from its gloomy and brooding shade of gray only to suddenly unleash a freak acid rain downpour or an icy blizzard. The air itself always feels alive, buzzing, like the calm before a storm. Every once in a while, the sun tries to peek through and penetrate the murkiness…giving only the slightest glimmer of hope to those who so desperately need it.

The world is in a very dark place and is in need of something…ANYTHING to look forward to.

Since I wanted the players to get their feet wet quickly (and to drive home the insecurity of the land), this is what happened next:

Your paths have led you all to Vertigo. Currently, it is fairly late in the evening and you all are relaxing in the tavern, the only public place to really be.  It’s crowded tonight, which isn’t that surprising, considering the nerve-wracking thunderstorm and pouring rain that is shaking the mountain with its ferocity; nobody wants to be alone tonight.  A fire dances in the make-shift fireplace, the wind from the storm able to reach its tendrils deep inside the mountain itself and tease it. The barkeeper chats up a couple of men at the bar, while the one waitress, Corsica, keeps herself busy by swiftly and deftly taking care of the patrons who so desperately need a drink this evening.

SUDDENLY, from inside of the inn, a portion of the west wall comes crashing down!  As the dirt and debris settles…a 9 ft. tall creature steps out and into the inn, with a wicked looking smirk on its face. It has long, greasy, black hair and filthy claws that extend at least 6 inches out from its fingertips. Its skin glistens with a thin sheen of slime, easily visible on its elongated nose. Its skin thick and tough, like gray leather, barely covered by tattered clothing.  Small, deep-set beady eyes look around the room with hunger…the bright yellow orbs denoting feral viciousness, but also understanding. Two more creatures enter behind the first, though smaller in stature, through what looks like a makeshift tunnel.

The thunder outside, seems to crackle and rage even louder; a huge gust of wind howls in fury, blowing through the caves with unnatural speed & force. The warm fire and the candles perched atop the wall sconces, all go out at once, leaving you in complete…. and utter….darkness.  INITIATIVE!

In next week’s article, I’ll go over the specifics of the encounter from a DM’s point of view, as well as to allow my co-authors Bright-matrix and Ness to provide their recaps of the first battle!  If you want to get some information on Bright-matrix’s character, you can find it in his earlier post, here.

Look forward to hearing your thoughts thus far!

Thanks,

Jinx

About jinx_the_bard

Longtime Dungeon Master, tabletop and video gamer. Been playing D&D and Shadowrun on and off most recently. Ran a post apocalyptic, paragon, 4th edition D&D campaign for a couple years. Running a 5th edition campaign now called "The Fall of Astia". Enjoy Borderlands 1, 2 and even the Pre-sequel (which I tend to play with fellow author Ness), Fallout 3 and 4, Bioshock and Skyrim. (Games this good never get boring) I also indulge in Magic The Gathering, mostly in the Legacy and Modern formats. Please feel free to contact me at dungeonmaster.bm@gmail.com for any questions, thoughts or things you'd like to see featured on our site.

Upheaval – The Dystopian Campaign

images

Love this picture.  Found it here.

So about 3 – 4 years ago, I was running a 4th edition Dungeons & Dragons campaign set in a pretty standard medieval/tolkien-esque fantasy.  It was a good campaign, with what I hope had lots of intrigue, character development and conflict, as well as an interesting story.  My players seemed to be deeply vested in their characters as well as the campaign, so I didn’t want to mix things up too much, but after about a couple years or so of running it, I wanted something new to mess with.

So I posed the question to my players, asking them what they felt about trying a completely new campaign.  While they were interested in the previous campaign and their longstanding characters, the response was overwhelmingly positive, even when I mentioned that I was thinking of running a dystopia themed campaign.  I thought there would be a little push back, given the harsh conditions of the environment, but everyone was excited to try something fresh and new.  (My group is awesome)

The enthusiasm really skyrocketed when one of my players, Jarod, (who also co-DM’s with me so I can get some play time in), says…let’s make it a PARAGON campaign.  Since our group only gets to game once a month if we are lucky (though we do make a whole day out of it), our previous campaign never got much further then 6th level, even with frequency of play bonuses to experience points, so that an increase in level didn’t happen once a year.  So the idea that they would be able to start off with paragon level characters, not only made sense (as only the strong willed would survive in such a war ravaged land), but allowed them to build new  and POWERFUL characters.

So thus began the highly enjoyable process of working with my players in their efforts of making new characters, especially since they would have a relatively substantial background, given their experience starting point.  Not surprisingly, two of the four players that really took their characters by the reins and delved into their past with detailed backgrounds,  were both of my co-authors of this blog, Brightmatrix and Ness.  Brightmatrix posted his character’s background not long ago, which you can read here.

The group consisted of a deva swordmage/cleric, a drow rogue/sorcerer, a human artificer/alchemist/ritualist, a goliath seeker, a minotaur barbarian and a dwarven shield fighter.  It was a strange mix and I wasn’t sure how well it would work out.  Anyways, with the character portion now done, all I just had to come up with a campaign that would do the dystopia theme justice.

Destroyed City

Found this beauty here.

So after much thought, this is what i put together as my campaign handout:

Legends say that the gods have forsaken us…that they no longer want to deal with the mediocrity and boredom that comes from watching the races of man continuously squabble for scraps of meaningless power. Nations constantly rise and fall, from generation to generation, with never a true notion of peaceful finality.

Knowing the races of man only followed the examples of the gods themselves, it was time for a change. The gods needed to leave, in order for man to set right the disease that they’ve become. The gods wouldn’t make it easy though; if the races of man wanted to live, they needed to fight for their survival…their last chance at hope. So the gods decided to “cleanse” the people.

It started off real slow; the races of man thinking it nothing more than an earthquake or possibly a far off volcanic eruption…but it continued to get stronger… and stronger…and STRONGER.

The cataclysm showed the TRUE power of the gods. Entire cities were hurled like leaves in a tempest; lakes and oceans were completely drained, becoming nothing more than bottomless pits, fissures split open, far and wide, swallowing up towns and villages whole; entire continents shifted, ripping themselves apart; Mountains were up-rooted with ease as if newly sprouted saplings and flung in fury…one even landing upside down, its peak piercing the earth a mile deep.

It seemed as if no one could possibly survive such a catastrophe…

But some did.

The strife and turmoil left deep wounds in those that survived, turning them into a vicious, visceral and tainted being.

The surface got hit the hardest, having no shelter from the above ground calamities and so the denizens of the Underdark saw this as their opportunity… and have begun to surface, taking what they believe was always rightfully theirs.

The Fell, now so overpopulated with lost souls and the dead from the cleansing, has burst open; the binding torn, which kept this world and the Fell apart. In essence, the two worlds have fused and become one; a twisted, infected and foul world….

Not only have the inhabitants of the fell found their way through the gaping holes of the tear, but the feelings of fear, despair, apathy, hopelessness and madness have as well.

Safe locations are few and far between and those that truly think themselves safe are either delusional or sick with madness.

The world is nothing as it once was. Families and generations have been ripped apart or lost entirely. The world is in a wanting state of restoration and renewal, but mostly…is encompassed in darkness.

The legends say that the gods have forsaken us… but those legends have only been told for 2 years.

What I wanted to accomplish:

Personally, one of the most interesting and attractive things to me as a player, really in any RPG setting,  is the joy of exploration.  Exploration of the story itself, of all the characters in the group or the NPC’s, the exploration of the world that someone else has created, as well as the journey of exploration to understand my own characters motivations and goals.  This is something I wanted to give my players.

Since the world is nothing like it once was before, everything has to be “re-explored” in some form or fashion.  The town that was next door could just as easily been swallowed into a fissure, hurled miles away, buried by tons of rock or debris, in complete shambles or perfectly untouched, by the grace of the gods.  I did this specifically in order to not only allow the PC’s to have limited knowledge, but so that I could encourage the exploration of the new landscape and to foster discussion, survival tactics, questions and thoughts about the world.

I also wanted them to help shape the world through their backgrounds.  When a city name came up in their backgrounds, I would add it to the list and put together a background for it.  They might have an idea of where their home or city was, but it most likely isn’t there now and it doesn’t help that the players don’t even know WHERE they are now in comparison.  So it was meant to create angst, by not having little or any information to work with, but also the encouragement and pleasure of exploring a new world, where there are little expectations of what they will find in their journey.

What I really loved about this method, was that I didn’t have to create an entire world at once, I just took their current location, created a bunch of locations in a 25 – 50 mile radius and allow the PC’s to explore at their pace and on their own time.  It may not seem like much, but with all roads destroyed and numerous dangers, there is no expeditious way to travel.

I also had to make sure I could get the feeling of hopelessness and despair effectively to the players, not only of the world, but for their characters as well.

Going forward, I plan on talking more in depth as to how I’ve done this, recapping and talking about some more of the characters in this campaign, as well as how it’s moved along thus far.

I would love to hear your feedback, whether it’s a DM providing advice or thoughts, players reactions to how they would handle being in a dystopia themed world, or even just some general thoughts or questions.

Jinx

About jinx_the_bard

Longtime Dungeon Master, tabletop and video gamer. Been playing D&D and Shadowrun on and off most recently. Ran a post apocalyptic, paragon, 4th edition D&D campaign for a couple years. Running a 5th edition campaign now called "The Fall of Astia". Enjoy Borderlands 1, 2 and even the Pre-sequel (which I tend to play with fellow author Ness), Fallout 3 and 4, Bioshock and Skyrim. (Games this good never get boring) I also indulge in Magic The Gathering, mostly in the Legacy and Modern formats. Please feel free to contact me at dungeonmaster.bm@gmail.com for any questions, thoughts or things you'd like to see featured on our site.