Wednesday, May 20, 2015

More on Completionism

(Whoa, two posts in one month, when was the last time I pulled that off?)

I don't expect this will be a very lengthy post, just an addendum to what I had to say in February about feeling the need to have everything I  want present and accounted for. Much as this previously led me to spend a great deal of time and stress attempting to get the exact system I wanted, it also tends to haunt my creative process when it comes to creating settings or planning out adventures or campaigns. A place for everything and everything in its place is a fine ethos when it comes to tidying up the house, but when it comes to worldbuilding it is somewhat trickier-- it's fine to utilize it, but sometimes that place has to be well off from the path the adventure is likely to follow.

Let us take the Eberron campaign setting as an example, mainly because it consigns some very popular elements off to certain corners of the world, well away from the continent where most of the "main" action takes place. As obvious as it might seem, an Eberron campaign will probably not involve a lot of giants and dragons, unless one goes out of one's way to allow for trips to Xen'Drik and Argonessen. Something focused on the internal politics of the five nations doesn't generally need them-- and that's perfectly alright, more than that, it's something that one needs to learn and internalize to DM Eberron well. This does not only apply to published settings, of course-- it's okay for things to be out there in your campaign world that the players may never see, may never even hear directly about.

I guess what I'm getting at is that an important skill in GMing, and one I struggle to master, is restraint in the name of focus. This is important in general, but especially so when one is building from the bottom upwards-- a barony or province in the Tiny Bickering Fiefdoms does not need to contain the whole of your Monster Manual, just enough variety to keep things interesting. This is something that to the mind that has already internalized it seems obvious, but something I think it benefits us all to hear now and again.

Friday, May 8, 2015

In which a background is described: The Refugee


You've seen the worst the world has to offer and survived. You lost your home, you lost almost all your possessions, and you probably lost somebody, or a lot of somebodies, along the way, too. What stayed behind? Who will you never see again? Something took your old life away from you, and that something has made you brave, crazy, or desperate enough to turn adventurer.

Skill proficiencies: Survival, Insight

Tool proficiencies: One vehicle or artisan's tool of your choice

Language proficiencies: One of your choice

Equipment: A moth-eaten blanket given in charity, a precious reminder of the home you've lost, a small knife, five GP you've suffered to scrimp together, and the clothes on your back

Ordeal: Something happened that caused a lot of people, including you, to be displaced. Choose a disaster or tragedy, or roll on the table below to define the trouble that plagued your homeland.

  1. Plague or epidemic 
  2. Famine/drought
  3. War, invasion, or civil war
  4. Natural disaster (hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunami, etc.)
  5. Supernatural disaster (Demons or undead overran the land, magical cataclysm destroyed/sank your homeland, the tarrasque awoke and devastated the kingdom, etc.)
  6. Political crisis or genocide

Feature: Object of pity

You've long since learned to give up pride if it means having food and a warm place to sleep. Provided you don't make yourself a threat or a nuisance, you can always find enough people moved by the story of your suffering to allow you to maintain lodgings and food of a meager or poor standard for you and your companions-- and maybe even a modest or comfortable standard for a night or two-- in exchange for minor tasks (for instance, help around the home for a generous peasant family, or attending religious services for a temple or mission.) In addition, as word gets out of your terrible ordeal, strangers in a place you've been living a while may show you a certain level of sympathy.


1) I never, ever let anything go to waste.
2) I've seen and done terrible things to stay alive. I don't want to talk about them.
3) My trust comes justifiably slowly but it is built to last.
4) Experiencing lean times has made me relish the good life all the more when I can get it.
5) I have no interest in thinking too much about my former life, it's all dead and in the past now.
6) Losing everything has strengthened my religious convictions.
7) I don't want to lose anyone else, I lost too many people already.
8) I still haven't cried, but I'm not ready to smile yet either.


1) Nihilism: Chance will have its way with all of us, better to accept it and try to adapt than try to impose order where none exists. (Chaotic)
2) Faith: Even if I can't see it, there is some greater cosmic plan and what I've been through was a necessary step (Lawful)
3) Resentment: The world has been unfair to me, why should I be fair to anyone else? (Evil)
4) Drive: I've always had to struggle and fight, and it's made me strong. (Neutral)
5) Strength: I know what it's like to have no one else to depend on, therefore I will make sure I am someone on whom others can depend. (Good)
6) Hope: I saw the worst the world could show me and I survived. It can only get better for me from here. (Any)


1) I know that the one I love is still alive out there.
2) My mother was taken from me on that day, but I hope we will see each other again.
3) When I crossed the border and I was hungry, the farmer I met slaughtered his only pig to ensure that I would get the best meal he could provide me.
4) We never met before it all happened, but escaping together made me and another survivor as close as family.
5) Exhausted and on the edge of death, I met an itinerant priest who rescued me and helped me make it across the border. One day I'll repay him for saving my life.
6) So far as I know, only one other member of my family made it out. We're all each other has now.


1) I hold the world responsible for not doing more to save us.
2) What happened was a terrible tragedy... and I'm pretty sure we all know who were really responsible for it.
3) If you'd seen what I've seen, you'd never trust anybody either.
4) I used to be rich and powerful, maybe even a noble. I'm disgusted by myself and what I've been reduced to.
5) I may accept your charity, but I'll resent both you and myself for needing to.
6) I've turned to terrible vices to cover up my grief.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Completionism: Or how 5e's release schedule saved my life

I'm something of an obsessive-compulsive when it comes to D&D-- I want the game to feel complete, like nothing is missing or unaccounted for, like it's all thought through.

Sometimes this works for me. Sometimes it compels me to pull at threads and I get a fun, insightful article that gives me (and hopefully you) a greater appreciation for the game, or an interesting new way of handling things. Other times it just causes a lot of trouble and stress for me as suddenly it occurs to me that I overlooked something, and now its absence gnaws at me and leaves me dissatisfied.

This, as a matter of fact, is why I haven't really followed the OSR too closely since my big hiatus. I spent long nights cribbing from every blog post, retroclone, zine, and supplement out there-- and occasionally from the WOTC editions that formed the bulk of my background-- until I lost sight of the simplicity and fun of the game and developed a veritable Frankenstein's monster of house rules, custom classes, and edge cases, every bit as bulky and inaccessible as late-period 3.5 or tax law.

Enter 5th edition. A new D&D, compatible enough to be familiar, or even to reuse old material when necessary, but different enough from TSR!D&D to not allow for direct porting, containing very nearly everything I expect D&D to include in its toolkit, it gave me an opportunity to cast off all the cruft I let myself accumulate-- the cruft I would have had to make a significant effort to stop myself accumulating. It was a breath of fresh air.

There was, during the fall, an expectation that this Elemental Evil/Princes of the Apocalypse campaign they're now preparing to launch would include a supplement, an "Adventurer's Handbook." Whether this was the actual plan and they changed their minds or the whole thing was just misguided speculation isn't for me to know, but either way there's no Adventuer's Handbook planned, either for Elemental Evil or for any future offerings, and there never will be. For the foreseeable future, 5e is just those three books.

Of course there will in all likelihood be new options for Elemental Evil, in all likelihood released through the web (and the monthly Unearthed Arcana column as well, of course.) But the ethos of 5e has so far been very-core focused, so I expect they will not be too many or too sweeping and I also expect they will be treated in a more optional fashion than supplemental rules have been in the past. As such I do not feel the same pressure to keep up with them as I did when I played 3.x and 4e. And furthermore since I feel like I don't have anything vital to my conception of D&D missing, only things I might like, I don't feel the same pressure to incorporate additional options that fell outside of the traditional OSR purview that I felt from about 2011 onwards.

For the first time in a long time, I don't feel like I'm having to extensively kitbash or run the Red Queen's race to get the game I need. Instead, I have everything I need and am being presented with an occasional spate of extras if the mood should strike me.

Now if only I can start feeling ready to accept a little vagueness when I'm worldbuilding...

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The Great Karameikos Campaign

Over at RPGnet, the inestimably clever Blacky the Blackball and NPCDave have been doing a retrospective of each Mystara/Known World setting product in turn. Reading it has helped me to gain a new appreciation for a setting I've traditionally been somewhat ambivalent about. Today Dave posted the writeup for the AD&D2e Karameikos: Kingdom of Adventure box set, largely focusing (logically, since obviously much of the rest of the information is similar) on the changes that did-- and occasionally inexplicably didn't-- happen during the 12 in-setting years that passed between Karameikos's previous iteration in the GAZ series. There's actually quite a bit, from Karameikos seceding from Thyatis to the disappearance of Alphatia. Either way, it was eventful enough, as were some of his remarks on the smaller details of the setting that seemingly stagnated during that time, that it got my mind moving a little.

One of the most beloved RPG supplements of all time is Pendragon's The Great Pendragon Campaign, a massive volume largely concerned with detailing the events of the 8 decades between Uther's rise to power and the end of Camelot. The sense of grand, sweeping, momentous history happening with the players right in the thick of events is a big reason why the Campaign is so beloved. Although not quite as grand, either in scope or in scale, as the entirety of the Matter of Britain, those dozen years offer no shortage of interesting times. Why, indeed, could one not create a similar detailed project about Karameikos, perhaps taking more or less inspiration from some of the BECMI modules set in the region?

I dunno, just something I've been thinking about the last few hours. Maybe it'll go somewhere. Maybe not. I should probably take this to the Piazza or Vaults of Pandius or something, surely it'll either fire the imaginations of the community or drag out the obsessive lore-experts to shout me down and point out exactly how and why it's utterly misbegotten.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Maybe the rivers of the Thunder Rift make more sense than I gave them credit for?

Over at the Piazza (and right here on this blog as well), some feedback on my rant about the fluvial system of everyone's favorite micro-setting reached me that I thought was particularly interesting. Maybe these things were more thought-out than I initially assumed they were, or maybe it's just a happy accident that they seem to hold up to surface analysis. Either way, it put me in a good mood. Here's the comment itself reposted for the convenience of those of you who don't follow links.

Possible ret-cons or reinterpretations:

• Change the flow of the southern rivers. They now empty into Lake Melinir. We can’t really tell the slope of that SE canyon/channel from eyeballing the map. 
• Where does Lake Melinir drain? It drains into a subterranean river system that leads into cavernous realm connected to the Rift. Thunder Rift’s Underark, if you will. 
• The Gloomfens, as you note, may be whacky due to magic origins. But why not Wizardspire, too? Does the stream in fact flow uphill in contravention of the laws of nature? That would be pretty trippy. These two sites, Gloomfens and Wizardspire, have linked histories, of course. The Wizard-Warrior feud, magical curses thrown down.
• Option two Wizardspire- Somebody left the tap water one when the assassins wiped out the magic-users. That’s not ONE stream flowing uphill and then down, but TWO streams flowing downhill from two windows/spouts/gutters on the hidden side of the spire. 

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Seven Cosmic Rumors

Might as well try to write something.

  • Illithids once had an empire that spanned worlds. Why have they degenerated and devolved into a handful of enclaves deep within the earth? Because the dead god on which the Githyanki built their astral capital is Ilsensine, their patron. What the Githyanki don't know is that sooner or later Ilsensine is going to stop playing possum.
  • It's easier to get to the Astral Plane from the elemental planes of water and air than the planes of fire and earth. Water and Air elementals are known to brag about this in mixed company.
  • It's said that there's one location in the world that is a natural gate to each outer plane. Mount Celestia is a particularly tall mountain range on which an order of Lawful Good monks live forever in pursuit of spiritual alignment, the Abyss is a massive gorge shrouded in scalding-hot steam and noxious vapors, Mechanus is an elaborate space station that has sat in orbit since time beyond memory, and so on and so forth. Regardless, all are hopelessly remote and it would be a fool's errand to try to journey to them... unless one were a great hero.
  • The best way to get to the Moon is by ethereal travel. Somehow it manages to be the one part of the Ethereal that's really scenic. The moon itself is ethereal stone and exists equally in both planes.
  • Ilepho, a gnome philosopher, once wrote that the Feywild and the Shadowfell are not separate planes unto themselves, but that the material plane, like many outer planes, has overlapping layers (if you must know, he compared it to a Spanakopita). His half-sister Argia the Elder disagreed, she wrote that the Feywild is the ancient, mythic past and the Shadowfell is the aftermath of some future catastrophe yet to be seen. Their disagreement culminated into a duel to the death.
  • The stars are roughly divided (in increasing order of frequency) between being the distant suns of other worlds, holes in the dome of the sky through which the radiance of distant planes leaks, the eyes of unfathomable entities that coolly and enviously regard the earth, and ordinary rocks with Continual Light spells cast upon them that slipped the surly bonds of earth to float in the sky. Depending on who you ask, this list might be in a different order.
  • There used to be other elemental planes. No one has seen them in centuries.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

And here I am, three months later.

Don't worry, it hasn't been anything too horrible. But when my depression and stress claw at my life, gaming in general is the first thing to give and this blog in particular suffers as my creative juices slow to a crawl and what inspiration does come gets constantly second-guessed. It's no way to live, but we all keep trying like fools. Now that all three core books for 5e are out, and hopefully, I'll be getting for Christmas, maybe I'll get the chance to flex my gaming muscle a little more... But by saying that I've probably jinxed it.

I have been gaming a little, in a Forgotten Realms campaign over at the BFRPG forums. I may have mentioned that earlier this year. But it's been a big help to me. It's given me a little bit of creative outlet, and my pair of halflings in that game has been a much-needed opportunity to spread my wings a little bit.

That's the paradox of depression, isn't it? It sucks all the joy out of doing things, but then if you actually knuckle down and do them it turns out to not be so bad after all. This blog is probably the same way. If I got back in the swing of things I bet it'd come as naturally as anything.