Calling upon the spirits #DnD #RPG

When the Heroes were beginning to settle into their new places in Nordheim Keep Viper was happy that space was reserved for a Sacred Grove. While he was not yet a full Shaman he knew that he could begin work on the space.

After his escape from the clutches of the Demons on the Abyss, he fell into the guise of the Hunter.  He would devote his energy to seeking out such creatures and destroying them. But the Snake is a patient hunter, waiting for its prey, setting traps.

Here in the depths of winter in the high mountains, Viper knew that there was little to be done within the sacred space. He made it a place of prayer. Constructed a worthy shrine. Made it a place of ceremony and worship.

Returning from their first foray against the invading Giants, Viper went to his shrine and began a ritual. But the spirit of the great Snake came to him. This ritual changed subtly and evolved. It became a summoning ritual, unlike any he had performed in some time. Waking up from his trance he felt that something had changed. Then he heard a soft hiss from above.

There on a bare tree branch was a creature he had not seen before. It was full of vibrant color, startling in this place and time. As he stared in wonder it uncoiled from the branch, unfurling colorful feather wings, and flew down to him. Without thinking he held out his arm, offering a perch as the creature came to a graceful landing, and wrapped itself around his arm, and peered at him.

“What manner of creature are you, to come to me in this sacred space and time?”

“I am a servant of the great Spirit. I come to serve you and guide you on your path. The Serpent has seen your actions and accepts this offering of land. I am to assist you as you improve it and grant more power to the Spirit.”

“What am I to call you?”

“You may call me Santanico.”

Viper accepted the gift of this new companion. The creature accompanied him as he worked on his potions and the land of the Grove. It accepted some gifts of magic that would make it safer in the battles to come. And they hunted in the snows and rocks, developing a sense of companionship and kinship.

Viper thanked the Spirit for this new companion. Truly a worthy successor to Fang, who now was enjoying and basking in the warmth of the great river to the south. It could easily serve as a second set of eyes and assist him in tracking as the hunts began again.

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A little fiction #MtG #Zendikar #DnD

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Gelzfreen peered out from the bushes at the edge of the cliff. The birds had been disturbed by something out there. He was not sure what had done it, he had not heard or sensed anything. He did his best to stay quiet and still. Here in the rainforest one had to be very careful.

He was out here on yet another search. The Falls had proven to be a rich hunting ground for artifacts. Last time he had come out here he had found an ancient scope of far-seeing. That had earned him some welcome shinies and a good sturdy set of climbing hooks, Kor made.

Ah, there was another of the mystic rocks. Old Sage Kazari named them Hedrons. Gelzfreen didn’t care what they were called, what he did know was that you usually found good stuff around them. Especially ones like this, that were part of the earth now. That meant they usually part of a larger structure. Digging out those structures almost always led to really good stuff.

He began to creep quietly out on the ledge to the rock. As he crept ever closer, through the high grass. He almost didn’t see the creature in the high branches of the yeltre tree. But his sense of smell warned him. He stopped, raised his spear, and took aim into the tree. And threw it true, catching the snapping Gnarlid in mid-leap as it sprang from the tree at him.

He leaped upon the creature and stabbed it in the throat. Finishing it off. Well then, if he could just find some trinket in the rocks around the stone this would be a great day indeed. 

One of the cool things about working from the established setting of the Magic plane of Zendikar for the game is that I can pull from a lot of material. I can use images for inspiration like this. And then I can use the creatures from the cards as more source material.

I am definitely looking forward to crafting this adventure. There is so much to work with.

 

Tales of the Serpent #Pathfinder #RPG

A serpent must first seek to live, and survive. There are times when it must hunt and kill. And there are times when it must hide, or obscure its true nature. A serpent is a creature of the world, a symbol of life, and a symbol of an ever-changing world. A serpent will shed skin as it grows, adopting a new skin and form.

These were the words that reverberated through the mind of Viper. Commandments and a way of life.

A serpent must first seek to live and survive. This meant that the first priority for Viper must be survival. This governed his early life, the fight just to survive. Thus, he became the hunter.

There are times when it must hunt and kill. Viper became a hunter and killer for the Count and the valley. Not a random killer, he was no assassin. But he was able and willing to kill to survive and those who threatened his home. For a snake is a hunter and killer to live and survive.

There are times when it must hide, or obscure its true nature. He learned the art of hiding, the ambush, and the quiet kill from a distance from the serpent. A serpent is not a fighter, a creature that relishes the engagement of tooth and claw. It will hide from superior foes. It will strike from ambush, surprising its enemies.

A creature of the world, a symbol of life. The serpent is a creature of the wild, it does not feed on carrion. It will only kill to eat and survive. And it does not condone those who kill for the simple purpose of killing. From this Viper learned his hatred of the Orcs, creatures that would kill just for sport, and the Undead, who defied the normal circle of life.

A serpent will shed skin as it grows, adopting a new skin and form. Life is change and growth. A serpent never stays the same, it grows, shedding skin and emerging new every time. Adopting this Viper now knew it was time for the shedding of skin. Time to emerge a new person and creature. There were still times when he would remain a creature of the earth and shadow. But his new form could also rise to the skies, in brilliant plumage, demonstrating the beauty of life in all of its forms. Continue reading “Tales of the Serpent #Pathfinder #RPG”

A new approach to the levels #DND #Pathfinder #RPG

I touched on this last week in my post about embracing the big actions of role playing, and teaching the kids to do the same. But the thought has been banging around in my head so I want to expand on it some more into its own post. The idea of levels corresponding to the points in a hero’s journey, specifically a comic book or action movie hero.

This came up when I mentioned that the boys characters were at the point where they had reached the end of the origin story movie, or series of comics, or the first book in a fantasy trilogy. In 5E terms that would translate to about 5th level. In Pathfinder, that would be 5th or 6th level depending on the class. That’s when you get a big jump in abilities. You get a new class power, or a Feat, or move into the next level of spells. However, if you measure abilities and powers this level is kind of a big deal. This is the point where the hero finally comes into their own and recognizes that they can do something, they are no longer just a target, victim, follower, they are now a force to be reckoned with. And often in the stories, this where they acquire their first dangerous adversary. Someone who has a real grudge against them for whatever reason.Now your character is a Hero.

But you are a limited hero, you are a big fish in a small pond. The next stage is when you get out of that small pond. Often discovering that there are a lot bigger fish out there in the world. So you have to start getting better. Refining your skills, pushing the limits of what you can do, researching new abilities. You probably have a big knock down drag out fight with your nemesis. And probably acquire new, bigger and more fearsome enemies. At the end of this stage, you are now a SuperHero. For D&D 5E this would be around 11th level. For Pathfinder, it is about the same, 11th or 12th level depending on the class.

You are at the point where your reputation has greatly expanded. You are at least nationally, if not world, renowned. Your enemies are now the rulers of organizations or countries. You can defeat large numbers of enemies without blinking an eye. Your exploits have caught the ear of the most powerful people. When someone comes for you, they don’t just pack a gun, they bring small nuclear devices. The fights that you engage in can destroy cities, whole populations can fear or revere you. It is harder to develop your abilities, it takes longer to upgrade, the resources you use become scarcer. At the end of this stage, you are not just a Superhero, you are an Icon. For D&D 5E this comes around 17th level. And for Pathfinder, it is again about the same.

At this point, things can start to get a little silly. Creatures from other Planes of existence or planets have heard of you and may come for you, as enemies or friends. Your actions shift entire populations. Some consider you a God and are not far from it. You don’t fight armies, you fight nations. I’m not going to put a level on this because in terms of the rules you have probably moved past the point of  counting levels anyway.

What I am trying to get at is that the stages of a player character over the course of a long-term campaign are similar to what you might see in movies or other fiction. Depending on how deep the game goes in character development you could almost equate what happens to the mythic Heroes Journey. But not many games get that complex. The important point to take away is getting players to realize what they have become. And for the GM to create adventures and encounters based on this.

An awakening threat #DnD #RPG #Fiction

The Knight strode confidently into the vale, but slowed his steps as he sensed something different in the air. The hidden valley felt very different today. The wards felt stronger, and the air itself felt thicker and sicker.  He slowed as one of the guardians blocked his path.

‘You have been summoned El Verde Muerto, to the presence of our Majesty. He commands your presence in his glade.’

‘He is awake? Why was I not given warning in my summons, I assumed I was to report to the Seneschal again.’

‘He just recently awoke, things have happened, powers have arisen, his senses awoke him.’

‘Then I had best make haste, if you would stop blocking my path.’

‘Of course Ser Knight, make your report, and I am certain I will see you soon.’

The knight moved on, deeper into the valley and the woods. No wonder the air smelled differently, and the wards were stronger. If his majesty had awoken, and sensed danger he would be making certain his lair was protected.

He eventually came to a place where a tall, foreboding and sick looking hedge blocked the way, except for a small archway. It’s height was designed so that all who entered would be bowing when they came into his Majesty’s presence.

‘Ah my Knight comes in answer to our summons. Please enter and take your place.’ The deep rumble almost made the ground shake, and the pool that surrounded his majesty smoked and let off even more acrid fumes.

‘I am at your command your majesty, as always at your service,’ And the Knight knelt before the presence of an enormous green dragon, the true green death, Mokrija.

‘Of course you are,’ the dragon chuckled, a ghastly sound. ‘I have been awoken by the use of many different magics in my land. Not only have the southern invaders begun to explore here, but other forces are at work. I have sensed an ancient magic at work in the plains to the west, awakening forces that have long been gone from this land. Deep in the caverns below us a portal has been opened, inviting dreadful forces of Chaos.’

‘But surely none of these forces threatens your might oh Great One?’

‘If I were to challenge them now on my own they would tremble before my might and perish of course.  But to challenge them I would have to make my presence known, and that would invite more adventurers from the south, possibly even armies come to take my land from me. And all of this would encourage some of my brethren to turn their eyes upon my land. Do you see the problem?’

‘Of course Great Lord, what would you have me do?’

‘For now monitor what is happening out on the plains. Send some of the Kobolds into the caverns to investigate this portal. I would encourage these forces to come into conflict with each other and weaken each other before I make my presence known. Send agents out on the plains, perhaps locate the lobos and urge them to attack whatever settlements they can find.’

‘Your wish is my command Great One’

Continue reading “An awakening threat #DnD #RPG #Fiction”

Preserving and extending life #DnD #RPG

‘To the east you must go. The spirits have come to me, and said that there is a place, recently uncovered ruins. And within those ruins you will find a way to another of our precious creches.’

Those were the words spoken by the ancient Shaman Xcratl, spiritual leader to the 5 tribes of the Lagarto. and so a group of Lagarto went, led by the Shaman Iztrola. He led a small group of Lagarto, and 4 Cierto Lagarto, as he was not certain of the Shamans words. But he led his people east, nearly to the foot of the Dragonwall mountains.

When they crested a small hill they saw a group of human soldiers arrayed at the base of a cliff. And lo, in the cliffside there were ruins, clearly ancient beyond reckoning, and constructed by the Ancestors. This time the Shaman was correct. But what were these humans doing here? Were these more of those odd southrons? And worse, were they desecrating the ancient places?

Iztrola arrayed his force and approached the ruins carefully. Waiting until they were in easy speaking range. He spoke to the Cierto Lagarto in the language of the Lagarto, told them to watch for trickery.

Rising from the ground, he spoke.

‘What are you doing in this place? Do you desecrate our ancient grounds? Leave now and your sins may be forgiven.’

The soldiers immediately snapped to attention, springing into a tight combat formation. One of them shouted words in a strange accent. And more of the soldiers came down from the cliff. It was now clear that these were not southron soldiers, they spoke differently, and wore very different armor and weapons.

One of those who came down, not a soldier based on his dress, uttered arcane words, and motioned to another one. That one, a tall, well built human in nicer armor stepped forward.

‘I am Centurion Gaius, of the Empire of the Sun, we are on our way south to investigate reports of more settlers there. We came upon these ruins, and managed to root out some gnolls and a basilisk. We know nothing of these grounds being sacred, but know that this land is claimed by the Empire.’

‘We know nothing of this Empire, nor do we recognize any claims on our ancient grounds. You say you are on the way south, it is best for you if you continue south and leave this place.’

‘I cannot leave this place in the hands of some monstrous filth, clear off beasts.’ With that the leader turned and assumed a position in the line with the rest of his soldiers.

Iztrola could not believe the effrontery of these upstart humans, they were worse than the southrons he had had dealings with. At least those did not call names, and acknowledged the truth of ancient claims. He turned and gestured, and the Lagarto began their attack.

It was a short, and brutal, fight. The humans, seeing that they were heavily outnumbered, and shocked by the strength of the Cierto Lagarto, executed a well done retreat and moved south. Iztrola chose to not let his people chase. Instead, once the area was cleared, ordered them to consolidate and fortify the area.

He climbed up into the ruins, and following the whispers of spirits he could hear only faintly, began to explore, seeking the creche. He ordered his assistant to send word back to Xcratl that yes, there were ruins, but it would be in the best interests of the people for them to send more troops to the area as he did not know if these strange soldiers would return.

Continue reading “Preserving and extending life #DnD #RPG”

The world keeps on going #DnD #RPG

Centurion Gaius walked purposefully into the office of his commander, Legate Palicamus.

“You wished to speak with me sir?” 

“Yes Centurion, come over to the map here.”

Gaius walked over to the map on the wall, noting that it was of the southern edge of the Burn, an area that had not been formally patrolled or controlled by the Empire in almost a century.

“See this here?” the Legate pointed to a symbol on the map.

“Yes sir, that appears to mark the settlement on Xandria.”

“I have a disturbing report from there. A human from another kingdom came there recently. Received food and supplies and then returned to the south where she came from. Said she was an explorer from the Kingdom of Tortuga.”

“But there were no human settlements south of the Dragonwall and the Desert sir. If I recall my history correctly the last Legate there, a Francis or something, had written reports from his own explorers that the land to the south held only a smattering of barbaric races.”

“Correct, Legate Franxier. But that was written over 2 hundred years ago. And before the Disaster and the Burn. As we have only recently begun resettling that area of the Burn no one knows what could lie farther south.”

“Shocking, where could they have come from?”

“That is also unknown. There are far too many unknowns here. Which is why I want you to take 2 contubernium and travel South to investigate. Pick up the strangers trail at Xandria and follow her south. You may take young Ripanus, and Proculius as well. And I imagine Senetio will accompany you as well.”

“Yes sir, I find that Senetio is extremely useful in thse types of operations. May I pick from the triarii for my men?”

“Yes, this type of mission might have need of that level of experience. I know this is not an ideal time for this kind of mission, so be sure to have decent supplies. I look forward to your report in, say, 6 months time?”

“Aye sir, Hail to the Emperor!”

With that Gaius turned about and left, making a mental list of which men he would take on this mission. They would need to be comfortable riding, and able to make the quick transition to foot in case of an engagement. No personal entanglements that would cause home sickness. Yes, he knew just the men who would work work for this.

Continue reading “The world keeps on going #DnD #RPG”

Ah, variety is truly a wonderful spice #Malazan #WoT #Furies

After finishing the Star Wars Battlefront book last week I dived into my library. Here’s the thing, I obtained some time ago a file that had a lot of ebooks, and most of them were fantasy and sci fi. So when I reach a point where I do not have a library book to read and am not actively working on a series I will go to that file. And last week, when I got my new iPad, I loaded a number of books on it from that library.

Some of them are books I have read one time (or more.) For instance I had been on my way of working through the Wheel of Time yet again. I really like that series, it is still probably my favorite of all time. And yet, oddly enough, it is probably one with the least amount of reference to traditional role playing worlds. Everyone is a human, with very little deviation even for geographic location. But slipping back into the series is like a good pair of jeans, it just fits right, is comfortable, and I know what to expect. And yet it is complex enough that I can still pick up on the occasional new piece or clue when I read it again.

I also loaded some books I had not read, from a writer I knew and respected. And after finishing the Star Wars book I gave on them a try. I read the book Furies of Calderon by Jim Butcher. I came away impressed. It did drag a little at pieces, maybe a little too complex for its own good. But it is a fascinating world that he created. I always like stuff with Roman influence, and this book has just enough of that to make it interesting. And there were enough surprises that it kept me on my toes. So yeah, a good read, and I do look forward to continuing the series. But not just yet. Because I decided that it was instead time to dive back into another familiar series.

That is the Book of Malazan. Perhaps one of the most complex and rich fantasy worlds I have ever encountered. Like Wheel of Time, it is not traditional RPG fantasy. There are no Elves, Dwarves, Orcs, etc. And so much of the series is about a terribly complex set of political and magical webs that it can be terribly confusing and easy to get lost. So it is not the easiest read. But man, is it good if you do get into it. The world building in this series puts pretty much everything else I have ever read to shame. There are layers, and layers and layers of stories woven together. An incredibly complex history. And a monstrously huge cast of characters, many of whom die (but not before telling a deep story first), or disappear for a book or two.

The point of all this is that I love variety in my books. Even if I am reading a lengthy series (trilogies are passe), I am willing to take a break from one and move over to another. And then of course I will gladly borrow from all of them when I need inspiration. Inspiration for a character, a story arc, or even campaign. They are all worth my time and attention. And it is a great life when I have all of these choices to work from.

Trying to get this imagination thing going #DnD #RPG @TheAngryGM

I have learned a lot in the last year and a half running a D&D game for the boys. If I had to pick the hardest thing though, I would pick the issue of imagination. It really is the biggest leap that anyone has to make when getting into Role playing games. And why role playing is not for everyone.

Today I was reading The Angry GM’s latest article. Which was a good analysis of the problems with using traps in modern D&D. His article goes into why traps, while seemingly cool and a good idea, are really just not all that great. And the following point brings me to my issue:

You want several layers of detail is the point. There should be a detail that warns that there COULD be a trap if they pay attention to the flavor text. And then you want another layer of detail that gives a more specific answer and makes it really easy to guess where the traps are. That layer of detail is the one the players have to ask about. They have to stop and purposely examine things. – See more at: http://theangrygm.com/traps-suck/#sthash.LtS5Vlaa.dpuf

First, I have to work really hard to just come up with encounters and a logical thread to use when connecting those encounters. Lately I have been working on improving my description of where the players are. And using more visual cues with miniatures etc. And trying to insert some descriptive cues into the combats so the players have a little more buy in and interest. The point is though, none of this comes naturally to me. I have to work on it, and what success I have here is hard earned. Which means that coming up with all the layers of detail that he describes is almost beyond my reach.

Second, I am running a game for 4 teenage boys. That means restlessness and a lack of attention are just natural things I have to cope with. And even with the aid of movies and television I am still missing a crucial element: a common imagination. The boys do not all have the same background as far as what pictures they might have in their imagination when I describe things or they encounter something new.

For an example I go back to when I was first playing Shadowrun. This was during the Second edition of the game. And pretty much everyone who was playing was sharing around the same books, game materials and novels. So everyone who was playing had a shared world to work with, when someone talked about an Ares Predator, or Aztechnology or Tir Taingire we all knew what they were talking about.

But except for certain cultural touch stones the boys boys do not have that. Jimmy might understand what I mean when I mention Bruenor Battlehammer, but the rest of the boys would just give me blank stares. Or if I even mention the geography in a different part of the country, I cannot talk about the swamps of Louisiana, or a midwest snow storm, because they just haven’t experienced those things.

All of that makes the job of description that much harder. It would be much easier if I was running a game for my adult friends. But that’s okay. Because I know that I am becoming a much better GM for all of this. It is like the story of the boy who gets stronger by lifting the calf every day until it becomes a full blown adult cow. When and if the time comes and I am running for a group with a more common active imagination all of these muscles I am developing with description will be like an Olympic weight lifters muscles.

Thinking beyond the expected #StarWars #RPG

I’ve been reading this book:

Battlefront_Twilight_Company_cover

To see more go here: Star Wars Battlefront Twilight Company

I am really enjoying this book. Got it from the library of course. But it does something that many of us are not used to when thinking of Star Wars. It completely goes away from the core characters, there are mentions of Luke and Leia, but they are just that, mentions in passing. There are no Jedi Knights running around with light sabers.

Instead it is a war novel, set in the Rebellion era. It most reminds me of the Warhammer 40K novels. It is gritty, violent, and very interesting. I really like it when stuff like this is released. It reminds me of the Clone Wars series (except for the proliferation of Jedi in the show.) The thing that I love about it is that it shows that there is a great big universe out there. I think that is important, especially if you think about role playing game settings.

It is all very well to tell the story of the heroes. Luke, Leia, Frodo, Aragorn, Gandalf, Bilbo are all interesting characters and their stories make for good fiction and thrilling movies. But what is happening elsewhere? That is the area I like to focus.

When you think about Star Wars, imagine a large galaxy, where faster than light travel exists, where thousands of non-human races exist. And imagine an Empire large enough to control most of that galaxy. An Empire rich enough in resources to create not one, but at last count 3 Death Moons. That’s a huge effort. And the logistics is kind of overwhelming when you think about it. That’s a lot to imagine. And then imagine all the stories that can happen in that universe.

One of my favorite fantasy series is the Malazan Book of the Fallen. And one of the things I like about it is the way it focuses on the stories of the grunts, who spend their time trying to figure out what their leaders are doing. I understand that in Middle Earth the main characters are the closest thing to grunts, because it is a world with a seemingly small population. But not every fantasy world has to be like that.

And that is an approach I like to take in coming up with my stories and the setting. Yes, there is a bigger world out there. And yes, the events in that bigger world will eventually impact the players. But not every player can be the Emperor killer. Not every group can find the great sword, staff, orb what have you, that spells doom for the Evil Big Bad Guy.

I prefer to tell the little stories. The players are the settlers on the frontier, just trying to scratch out a living. And maybe they will make some small contribution if there is a war. But not everyone gets to be the Hero who Saves the Day.

That’s what I mean by thinking beyond the expected. For every Knight with a +5 Holy Sword, there need to be a certain number of grunts sweeping out the trash, killing the goblins and orcs. Some campaigns are about the Heroic Journey. Mine are about survival and exploration.