Friday, May 29, 2015

Creating a Campaign World pt.4 - The Megadungeon (Azag Mozu!)

Of course, every good campaign setting deserves a tentpole Megadungeon. For Atheon, I wanted my Megadungeon to tie in with the mythology of the setting.

Azag Mozu

On the northern edges of Atheon, at the feet of the Azar Mountains and past the ruins of Fallen Abydo, lies the Valley of Judgement, within which lies the great black heap of Azag Mozu. The origins of the place are lost to the mists of time, but it was said to have been a great black finger of stone, a thousand feet across and more than a mile high, that jutted up from the red earth like a dagger jutting from the back of a god. This is where the name Azag Mozu came from - "Obelisk of Death" in the Old Tongue of the Makers.

The texts on Azag Mozu still to be found in the labyrinthine libraries of Izkalal claim this Obelisk was anything but solid, referring to its insides as Mara Dootha, Kala Dootha, "the Thousand Halls of a Thousand Worlds". As Death touches all things and all worlds, so it is said her great Azag touched all things and all worlds as well.

A Dark and Troubled Time

For a long while, the Azag Mozu was a site of pilgrimage, and the faithful of many gods, not just Mozu, going to pay tribute at this marvel of supernatural wonder. But at some point, something awakened within Azag Mozu. Something dark, something the dreamed of conquest. Fell hordes of creatures, many never seen in this world, issued forth from unseen gates. First they ravaged the once great city of Abydo, the center of trade and power between the holy lands of the southern rivers and the trackless forest realms of the north. The city was crushed, hundreds of thousands died, and it is said one hundred and thirty thousand souls were marched off as slaves to disappear into the Azag, never to be seen again.

After this, the hordes began to move further south, into the fertile flood plains of what would become Atheon. In a rare show of unity, the heads of the Eight Temples met with the heads of the three great Houses of Sorcery, and all bowed the knee to the legendary warlord Haga Nurald, then only a young man just come into his prime. The host of Atheon fought back the horde, until at last a great battle raged across the Valley of Judgement to the very foot of the Azag.

It is said during this battle forces were unleashed that have never been seen in this world before or since. Gods and their angelic knights walked the earth in plain view of Men, and fought shoulder to shoulder with them against horrors from beyond the Walls of Night. Unheard of Sorceries shook the Valley of Judgement (indeed, it is said this battle is when the priests of the Eight first began their long mistrust of wizardry), and martial heroes of unmatched prowess matched blades with unholy warriors of diabolic aspect. Haga Nurald himself slew, singlehandedly, a massive Wyrm composed of fire and shadow.

At last, the tattered remnants of the horde fled, throwing the gates of the Azag closed behind them in their terror. Then the earth gave out a great rumble as the joined might of the gathered priests and wizards threw down the Obelisk of Death into a great heap of tumbled black stone. It is said dust hung over the valley for seven seasons before settling at last.

A Modern Curiousity

After being shunned for centuries, Azag Mozu has now begun to draw visitors once more. Some go, as in the past, to marvel at the sight of the heap, ruined as it is, or to give praise at this visible evidence of their gods' power. Others go out of curiosity, as Atheon's long peace has lent itself to the pursuit of scholarship and sciences. Still others go for less altruistic reasons - treasure is said to lie in the deep vaults beneath the heap, in subterranean halls that somehow survived the collapse of the Mozu.

And, it is whispered among the caravans that even now ply there ways northward, no few explorers have ventured into those halls never to be seen again...

In the next part, I'll take a look at the Megadungeon itself, its environs, and the tools I'm using to build it.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Warriors of the Red Planet 25% off!

If you've been waiting for a good deal to pick up your copy of Warriors of the Red Planet, Lulu is having a 25% off sale good through 4/30. Just enter the code APRILFLASH at check out.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

The Old-school roots of D&D 5E

Apparently its no coincidence people report their play experience of 5E D&D being very reminiscent of the 1981 B/X experience. According to a series of recent posts on lead designer Mike Mearl's Facebook page, the new edition saw its genesis in Moldvay's succinct (and my favorite) iteration of the game.

According to Mearls, "The Basic D&D mods answered the question in 2012 for me - what would I add to a very simple D&D ruleset to make myself happy?"

He goes on to give us a look at what his additions were, many of which will look familiar to those who participated in the earliest playtest versions of the new edition, "Here are the house rules I applied to the 1981 Basic D&D rules. Ran game, modded to get what I wanted."

He shares those initial rules with us here:

1981 House Rules

Ability Mods: We use the 3e/4e convention (+1 or -1 per 2 above/below 10)

Saving Throws: These are ability checks, DC determined by DM

Attacks: Ability check, plus a class based bonus
Fighter: +1 every odd level
Cleric/Thief: +1 at level 3, 6, 9, 12, 15, 18
Magic-User: No bonus

Thief Abilities: These work a bit differently.
Open Locks, Find or Remove Traps, Pick Pockets, Hide in Shadows are all things only thieves can do. Hide in shadows is literally that - hide in situations where other people can’t. The thief makes a check with a bonus equal to the % listed on page B8 divided by 5.
Move Silently, Climb Sheer Surfaces, Hear Noise are all things that anyone can try. The rogue has advantage when he tries any of them.

Advantage: Roll an extra d20, take the highest result. If you get advantage more than once, take an extra die.

Disadvantage: Roll an extra die, but take the lowest. If you have advantage, disadvantage zaps one die per instance of disadvantage.

Hit Points: Upgrade everyone by one die type, you get maximum hit points at level 1 + half your Constitution score.

Hit Dice: You can use your hit dice to heal. You get hit dice equal to your total HD, spend them when resting, each die gets a bonus equal to your Con modifier.

Dwarves: Increase class’s hit die by one size. Infravision 60 feet. Can use Find or Remove Traps in underground locations.

Elves: Can alternate between magic-user and any other class, have infravision 60 feet.

Halflings: Can Hide in Shadows as a thief, get a +2 bonus to AC, but use an HD one step smaller and can’t use two-handed weapons.

Humans: Gain a +1 bonus to any two stats, or +2 to one stat (maximum 18).

Weapons: d4, d6, d8, or d12, class access based on die size
Fighter: All
Cleric: d6, bludgeoning d8
Thief: d6

Magic-User: d4

It was funny to see the weapon damage by class house rule there at the bottom, as that's something that's been floating around the OSR for a while now (was that B/X Blackrazor's initially, I can't remember). I'll repeat my hope that some fan out there releases a home-made version of the D&D 5E Basic ruleset with all-Otus art. Good on Mearls for this insight, I can't think of a better heritage for a new edition!

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Hey, look!

A new Star Wars trailer has appeared, featuring some familiar faces...

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Lazy Blog Post - Erol Otus!

I can think of worse things to dedicate a blog post to than the Master of Green & Purple! Erol Otus, being the primary artist behind my first RPG ever, Moldvay's Basic set, literally imprinted on my mind for all time what D&D is "supposed to look like".

Otus never even dabbled in stereotypes - his fantasy creations are like something from the mind of a Derleth or a Lovecraft, fever dreams made real in lurid shades of green, purple, orange, and yellow. And yet each horned helm, oozing monster, and writhing-robed priestess felt so right, so completely at home for their milieu.

Here's hoping some dedicated fan puts together a scratch version of the new 5E basic rules with exclusively Otus art.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Creating a campaign world pt3 - Religion and Magic

Now that I have Atheon's pantheon sorted out, I want to take a look at how religion plays a part in the structure of the campaign setting. I want religion to really be the driving force in the setting, and since this is a fantasy setting, I can expand this from the spiritual realm into the magical one. With this in mind, as far as the majority of Atheon's populace is concerned (or indoctrinated), magic is a divine gift, and magic that comes from any other source (such as sorcery) must be Blasphemy.

Magic is Blasphemy!
This idea of magic being "legal" for only clerics can become a cornerstone of the setting. For Atheon, I decided there was a great uprising against Wizards a century ago, during which wizards, sorcerers, and druids were hunted down and either killed or exiled. The great wizard schools were torn down and burned. To this day, wizards exist in Atheon only by keeping a low profile, or by serving a powerful patron such as a local Prince or High Priest. Low-level PC wizards will need to be cautious about when and where they display their powers, lest they be dragged to the town square and have their limbs tied to camels driven in opposite directions.

The Great Old One
I mentioned in the last post there is a Ninth God. This is Goru Dara, Master of the Impenetrable Void. The god appears as a male or female body with a head composed of a blank space or star-filled void. The god holds a black staff which is said to unravel the material fabric of any object or creature with the slightest touch. Goru Dara is the source of Warlock magic in Atheon, and the religion's rising popularity and power is what precipitated the massacre of magic-users a century ago. Today, it is rumored the religion still exists, albeit in hiding, and its practitioners even now plot their return to power...

The Last Archmage
Depending upon whom you speak with, there is one rumored/known powerful survivor of the great massacre a century ago. This is Amhuuriad, the Last Archmage. Among those who practice magic in secret today, he is known as "the Betrayed", for it is said that he aided the Eight High Priests of Atheon in the destruction of the foul temples of Goru Dara, only to have the Eight turn on him and his fellow wizards. Amhuuriad alone nearly defeated the combined might of the Eight, but in the end he was forced to flee into the trackless wastelands out beyond the river valleys. It is said the immortal Archmage lurks the fringes of Atheon to this day, working quietly to restore his art to favor, and offering wisdom to heroes in times of need.

Alignment in Atheon
You may have noticed that while each deity received a description of his or her clergy, temples, and even material form, there was no discussion of alignment. It has long been a conceit of D&D that gods have alignments, and clerics of those gods adhere to those alignments strictly, or face consequences. Instead of this, I want the priests of Atheon to choose their own alignment just like anyone else - I'm hoping this will lead to a lot more story opportunities. Perhaps there are conflicts within the church as to how refugees from a neighboring kingdom should be treated, or intrigue as high-ranking priests of a temple try to outmaneuver or even murder their more virtuous counterparts. Clerics in this setting will need to focus on their god's domain rather than alignment in order to receive their god's favor.

Next time, we'll take a look at Atheon's Megadungeon, Azag Mozu. Because you knew there would be a Megadungeon, right?

Friday, April 3, 2015

Designing a campaign world - pt. 2: the Gods of Atheon

Religion, for me, can go either way in a campaign setting. In more Sword & Sorcery - flavored campaigns, I typically don't put a lot of emphasis on the gods, there are hundreds if not thousands of them in many such settings, but the trade-off of such profligate deities is a drastic lessening of their overall influence. For Atheon, I want them to play a much bigger role, part of the warp and weave of my setting's fabric.

Since I'm making the setting specifically for a (potential) future 5E campaign, I'm basing the gods on the eight domains D&D currently offers: Knowledge, Light, Life, Tempest, Nature, Trickery, War, and Death. There is a ninth god as well, but we'll discuss him later. So here's Atheon's pantheon of deities:

Izkalal (Knowledge) - Also known as the Master of Tomes and the Old Ibis, Izkalal appears as an old, bearded man clutching an Ibis-headed staff in one hand, and a bronze-covered tome in the other. He is the patron of learning, of libraries, and of the sciences. His priests practice fanatic austerity, and dress in simple white robes hemmed in runes of brass thread. There are no true formal temples to Izkalal, per se, though all the great libraries of Atheon possess a chapel in his honor.

Nabara (Life) - Also known as the All-Mother, or Mother of Mothers. She appears as a curvaceous woman of fertile age with angelic wings and bearing her holy golden sickle in one hand. She is the patron of Fertility, Food, and the flood and fall of Atheon's rivers. Her clergy is predominantly female, and wear diaphanous robes of white and silver gossamer. There is a militant wing of the clergy known as the "Arak-Nar" (or colloquially as Spear-Maidens). It is considered a great crime to harm or otherwise molest a priestess of Nabara, as the withdrawal of their favor can result in blights and starvation for entire regions. Her temples are great domes, built over natural springs when possible.

Sinma (Light) - Also known as Lord of the Sun, Nightslayer, and the Shining Man. He appears as a young golden-skinned man with golden wings. He holds a rod of pure light in one hand, and a golden circle in the other. Occasionally, he may appear as a golden eagle, or as a male sphinx. He is considered by some to be the brother of Nabara. His temples feature great amphitheaters open to the sky and ringed with monoliths that mark the movements of the sunrise and sunset year-round. His priests typically wear bronze scale and robes of blue and bronze, and each bears a branded symbol of the sun on his forehead.

Myli (Tempest) - Also known as Stormrider and Lady of Deep Waters. She appears as a green-skinned female with the lower body of a sea-serpent and holds a long-bladed spear. She is the patron of sea travel and succor from storms. Her temples are typically galleries of green or blue stone featuring a statue of Myli at one end in the center of a ceremonial pool or fountain. Her clergy wear scale mail chased in silver, and robes of pastel green and blues. They are typically shaved completely hairless, and many paint a series of runes on symbols on their flesh. Worship of Myli is, understandably, much more prevalent in the coastal regions of Atheon.

Saba (Nature) - Also known as the Summer King. He appears as a strong, bearded man wearing the hide of a bear. He carries a bow and a sheaf of arrows, which are said to give life or death at his whim, and he is flanked by a pair of great lions. He is said to take Nabara as his consort in Spring and Summer, and Myli in Autumn and Winter. Vines and blooms spring from the earth where he treads. His clergy has no real standard dress code, but all carry his symbol, a man's face surrounded by vines. He has no formal temples; his faithful gather a natural landmarks such as small forests, oddly shaped rock formations, and oases.

Eretu (Trickery) - Also known as the Laughing Prince, or Prince of Mysteries, Oathbreaker, Dreamwalker, and Lord of Grapes. He is the patron of dreams, wine and song, of revelry, of luck and of bravery. He appears as a lithe young man just out of boyhood, wearing only a loincloth and wreathed in grape vines. He carries a bag in one hand, and whatever tool he needs for his mischief may be conjured from the bag at whim. It is said all birds serve him and act as his messengers. His symbol is a crook-tipped rod of silver entwined with gold, and clergy bearing this rod are entitled to free room and board wherever they travel in Atheon. His temples are round galleries of stone, and these host an annual "Night of Masks", a popular festival in Atheon.

Ephus (War) - Also known as Prince of Blades, War-Crow, and Herald of Mozu. He is the patron of war, warriors, and victory in battle. His temples are marble galleries with red floors and black ceilings adorned in the bones of the faithful. Ephus appears as a powerfully built man in armor with a red cloak. He carries a spear in one hand and an axe in the other, and his face is always obscured by a full helm. His clergy celebrate battle as holy, and often serve as mercenary forces when the temple is need of funds.

Mozu (Death) - Also known as the Lady of Graves, Soultaker, and Mistress of Night. She appears as a beautiful woman with pitch-dark skin and white eyes, wrapped in a white shawl. She holds knife and one hand, and a scroll in the other, where it is said the fates of all men have been scribed. Her temples are typically underground galleries kept in near-complete darkness, and her clergy wear robes of black and ring their eyes and mouths in kohl.

Next time, we'll learn about the Ninth God, and the place of religion in the setting, as well as its relation to the nature and practice of magic.


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