Monday, February 23, 2009

Shadow's Apex Part 19: Regional Map (Just the Landforms)

The first map of the campaign setting (found here or here) showed a fairly small area of land, just enough space to show the three towns close enough to reach in a few days' travel of the starting point of the campaign. This weekend I put together a "zoomed out" map with hexmapper. In the coming days, I'll be adding details to the map.

Version One (With Grid)
 
Version Two (Gridless)


Click for larger images.

By the end of the week, I'll have named the major landforms as well as added notes on the population breakdown of different areas.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Shadow's Apex Part 18: Continents & Geography (Human Geography)

Now that we have a working list of races present in the region, we need to identify relationships that might exist between them. These relationships will help form the political landscape of the region and inspire plot hooks for future adventures. Several sets of potential allies and enemies seem obvious, but lets go into just a little more detail about each race.
  • The PC races maintain a fairly steady peace with one another, although there should be exceptions. Perhaps there exists a pirate city similar to Luskan in the area? We already have the assassins' guild in Garrotten to stir things up. Maybe the elves are hiding something deep in their forests and turn hostile to anyone who comes to close to the secret.
  • The aarakocra and kenku are in a constant war over territory and resources in the mountains.
  • Dragonborn have fought a nation of orcs, orogs, and ogre magi to a standstill and now reinforce fortified positions knowing that they cannot push any further. Perhaps the dragonborn are frustrated that the other goodly races did not send any (or just not enough) aid in the conflict.
  • Gnolls are the elves' primary competition for the woodlands.
  • Goblins and gully dwarves are both peoples without homes. Members of either race can be found in the ghettos, ruins, and even sewers of other races. They fight each other over "resources" that the other races have cast aside.
  • The lizard men are reclusive and only interact with those who dare to enter their marshlands. Few do, because the lizard men have a reputation for eating other humanoids. Whether or not this reputation is deserved might be uncovered by the PCs at some point during the campaign.
  • The minotaurs are also reclusive, inhabiting a thickly forested valley in the nearby mountain range. They are an enlightened race of warriors who send their adolescents out to travel the world for several years before they are recognized as adults.
With this much detail established, it is time to begin working on a more detailed map of the region!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Shadow's Apex Part 17: Continents & Geography (Human Geography)

Last time, I rolled randomly on the race tables in the World Builder's Guidebook to see where the dice would fall. I have mixed feelings about the results, so I'm going to change some things around until I am pleased with the racial makeup of the campaign setting.

First things first, a region whose two dominant races are orcs and gnolls is bound to be far too savage for the setting I've envisioned. I certainly don't mind them being present, but making up for half of the region's population is a little much. If I knock them off of the top spot, I'll need two other races to rise up and fill their positions. The human race is an easy choice. Another traditional PC race would make sense on top as well, except that I don't necessarily want to just make the easiest choice. For now, I'm going to put elves in that position but I'm making a mental note to reevaluate that decision later on in the process.

The next thing I need to address is that there are some PC races aren't represented yet. For the dwarves, this is simply because the rolls didn't fall there. Tieflings and dragonborn aren't even on the tables. I know that I want dwarves and dragonborn to be at least minor forces in the region. Tieflings, on the other hand, I think I'd rather see as a minority (even moreso than usual). I can't think of any other races off the top of my head that need to be there, so I'll just work with what I've got so far.

Next, I want to make some cuts. Some of these races just don't interest me at all. Grells, for example, just don't do anything for me. They're first on the chopping block. Thri-kreens and doppelgangers will get the axe as well. Although doppelgangers are interesting, I don't want a large enough population of them to make the entire region paranoid. In those three slots will go dwarves, dragonborn, and gully dwarves. Yes, gully dwarves. My favorite character ever was a gully dwarf. But I digress... I'll share that story at a later time.

After some cutting, inserting, and rearranging, this is what we have so far for the surface:

Dominant Races:
Orcs Humans
Gnolls Elves

Major Races:
Humans Orcs
Halflings
Aaracokra
Gith

Minor Races:
Minotaurs
Ogre Mage
Kenku
Lizard Men
Orogs
Arcane Slaveholders
Goblins
Doppelgangers Dwarves
Thri-Kreen Dragonborn
Grells Gully Dwarves
Elves Gnolls

I'm looking over the list now and wondering why I didn't eliminate the gith. Sure, they're cool, but they just don't fit. I'll put eladrin in their place, since I have separate slots for dwarves and gully dwarves. So at last, we have the final list:


Dominant Races:
Humans
Elves

Major Races:
Orcs
Halflings
Aaracokra
Eladrin

Minor Races:
Minotaurs
Ogre Mage
Kenku
Lizard Men
Orogs
Arcane Slaveholders
Goblins
Dwarves
Dragonborn
Gully Dwarves
Gnolls

Now that the list has been refined, I can look into some of the relationships between these different races. Hopefully I'll have the time to write that part up by tomorrow.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Shadow's Apex Part 16: Continents & Geography (Human Geography)

The second half of chapter three might very well be my favorite part of the World Builder's Guidebook, even if the title is a misnomer (there are far too many intelligent races in D&D to call it "Human Geography"). This section includes tables to help brainstorm (or randomly generate, in case of brain fart) what races inhabit a region and how they interact on a broad scale. Just for craps & giggles, I'm going to roll everything randomly and let the dice fall where they may. Then I'll modify the results as needed to fit my vision for the setting.

First, the book calls for rolls to establish how many dominant, major, and minor races. A few quick rolls gives me 2 dominant races, 4 major races, and 11 minor races.

Dominant Races:
Orcs
Gnolls

Major Races:
Humans
Halflings
Aaracokra
Gith

Minor Races:
Minotaurs
Ogre Mage
Kenku
Lizard Men
Orogs
Arcane Slaveholders
Goblins
Doppleganger
Thri-Kreen
Grells
Elves

Next, we take a look at marine races because of how much water is in the southeast region, where the campaign will begin. I rolled low for the number of marine races, which is fine by me as I don't foresee using much of this as more than just backstory.

Dominant
Sahuagin

Major
Tako
Ixitxachitl

Minor
Aquatic Elf

Finally, a few rolls on the subterranean races chart will finish the process.

Dominant
Drow

Major
Mind Flayers
Duergar
Grimlock

Minor
Derro
Kuo-Toa

Hmmmmmmm... I can see already that I'm going to have to make some changes, but I may decided to keep some of the stranger rolls just to give the setting some unique flavor. Check back tomorrow to see who makes the cut.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Shadow's Apex Part 15: Continents & Geography (Physical Geography)

Last time, we added tectonic plates and some basic wind currents to the world map of Vidarr. If we were following the process of the World Builder's Guidebook perfectly, today would consist of placing mountains and hilly regions on the map using the fault lines as guides. However, since we started with a map that already shows mountain ranges, we can completely skip the first part of chapter three and move into climate and terrain types of the places our heroes will spend the majority of their time.

Finally, we zoom into the regional map. Back in the fall, I created a map of the immediate region around Verge, the town in which the heroes will begin their careers. Now I need to find a location on the world map in which the map I made a while back will fit. We'll say that Verge is located somewhere on the coastline that is highlighted here (you may have to enlarge the image to see the red box clearly):
Next, I choose dominant climate and terrain. The climate should probably be subtropical, as it lies just north of the equator. Thus it will be warm for the majority of the year and winters will not be terribly cold except at high elevations. For terrain, however, no choice is really needed because much of it has already been laid out for me by the fractal mapping software. The towns are on or near the coastline of an inland sea, and although there is a fair amount of grassland and light forest within a hundred miles or so of the coast, the dominant terrain of the region as a whole is domineering mass of mountains northwest of Verge. In fact because they are such a dominant feature, those mountains need a name that stands out. No good names are forthcoming at the moment, though, so I'll keep it in mind for a later update.

Next time, we'll move on to human geography.


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Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Shadow's Apex Part 14: Planetology (Seismology, Tectonics, & Climatology)

This time, we look at plate tectonics and weather systems. In other words, where would natural disasters strike Vidarr? I'm not sure how much of this I would ever use in a game, as the disasters in my campaigns tend not to be very natural at all. They're usually caused by evil cults trying to upset the day to day lives of goodly folks. However, knowing the locations of volcanoes might very well come in handy. The fire giants need to live somewhere, right? I'm not going to go into nearly as much detail as the World Builder's Guidebook recommends, but dropping a few currents and fault lines here and there won't take too much time. There might be a better way to do this, but for familiarity's sake, I inserted the world map into a PowerPoint and added arrows and such for the following images.

A few plates:
 
A few major wind currents:
 
Although this might prove useless in the future, it took all of 15 minutes to throw together. And while it isn't scientific at all, it will work. Perhaps this will lead to some inspiration down the road somewhere.

Tomorrow, we'll look in more detail at the region in which the campaign will begin.
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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Shadow's Apex Part 13: Planetology (Shape, Size, & Water)

Last time, we looked at the first chapter of the World Builder's Guidebook, reviewing a little of what I've already established as the direction of the campaign and fleshing out a few theme related details. The first section of chapter two takes about the broadest perspective possible in designing a campaign setting: deciding the size and shape of the whole planet. As I said earlier, this doesn't seem very useful to me at the moment, but I'll run with it anyway and see what happens.

Shape and Size
First, the shape. If I rolled on the table, I could end up with all kinds of shapes (sphere, cylinder, polyhedron, plane, etc). Although none of this is likely to matter anytime soon, we'll just arbitrarily say that the world is spherical.  Next is size. I'm going to assume that the planet is roughly the size of Earth. The chapter makes note of how large Earth is and how one will never need a planet so large for a roleplaying game because there is no way the characters will explore all of it. Bullhockey, I say. More space only means more options, so Earth size Vidarr will be, 8000 miles in diameter.

Hydrography
This section should help guide me in figuring out how much of the planet is covered in water and how to create a rough sketch of the world based on how much water there is. No, thank you. Instead of going through all this trouble, I believe I'll skip this step and randomly generate a world map through a fractal mapping program. My personal favorite is Planet Editor, which can be found here. Even with my personal void of knowledge on fractal mapping programs, I was able to generate the following world map in just a few clicks. I first clicked randomize, then generate, then scrunched up my nose at the landforms it gave me, then repeated the process and was very pleased with this result:

 
 This, I can work with.

I haven't yet finished chapter two, but today's work is going to have to be cut short. Looking ahead to the rest of the book, I doubt that I'll finish any of the other chapters in a single post like I did last time. We shall see. Next time we'll look at seismic activity and the climate.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Shadow's Apex Part 12: Rekindled Creativity

Not since November have I added anything to the Shadow's Apex campaign setting. I'm not sure if it was the lack of spare brainpower during "Christmas + exams + new students" time of year or the fact that we've played so much science fiction and so little fantasy lately. Either way, my interest in world building plummeted for a while. It has only been in the last few weeks, with the stoppage of our Rifts game and the beginning of a new D&D campaign, that my writer's block has been lifted and my creativity restored. Note: It might also have something to do with reading The Hobbit with my Brit Lit students or the rediscovery of an old 2nd edition D&D favorite.

Just recently, I stumbled upon a source of inspiration that I forgot I even owned, the World Builder's Guidebook. This book has provided me countless campaign setting ideas in the past and was the first time I ever remember really thinking about building a world of my own, as my first experiences playing were with my father, who used the old Greyhawk map (though I'm not sure he used any of the actual setting information) and the first campaign I ever ran was set in the Forgotten Realms.

Flipping back through this book for the first time in years, I've decided to go through the book step by step to further develop Vidarr, the setting for my still-in-development Shadow's Apex campaign.

For those who weren't in the loop last fall when I began this little project, you may want to check out the Shadow's Apex Campaign wiki and/or the previous Shadow's Apex blog posts. However, as this and the following few posts will briefly hit the highlights of what has already been written, it certainly isn't necessary to go back.

Chapter One

The beginning of the World Builder's Guidebook brings up various different approaches to building a campaign setting (macroscopic, microscopic, sociological, historical, etc). The creation of Vidarr has thus far been microscopic, focusing first on a very small geographical region, but it has some strong elements of the situation-based approach because I already know that at some point in the campaign one of the villains will attempt to merge the prime material plane with the Shadowfell. 

Next is the world hook. The book provides a good list of hooks for inspiration and a little elaboration on each one. Because I have envisioned Vidarr as a world on the brink of destruction, I think the "dying world" hook is the best to begin with, as the PCs uncover hints of a coming apocalypse in their early (heroic tier) adventures. The villain's plans will finally begin to come to fruition during the paragon tier and the PCs will be welcome to interact with the changes as they see fit. In other words, I really don't care whether or not they try to stop the prophecy from occurring. Then, as the campaign progresses, the epic tier will be defined by either a post-apocalyptic hook (as the characters deal with the consequences of the prime material and Shadowfell merging) or an extraplanar hook (in which the characters who saved the world from destruction are called upon to follow the villain to his home in the Shadowfell to end his madness once and for all).


For now, a rough outline for the campaign looks something like this:
I don't want to go into too much detail beyond the heroic tier because I don't want to waste too much time preparing for something that will likely change over time, but I would expect the characters to spend the majority of their careers in the epic tier attempting to accomplish one of the following:
  • Establishing a safe haven for themselves in the new world (if the villain succeeded and they don't mind the results)
  • Reversing the process and restoring the world to its previous state (if the villain succeeded and the don't like the results)
  • Tracking the villain after his escape to destroy him (if the villain's plan was thwarted but he wasn't killed)
  • Defending the world from a second onslaught (if they thwarted the villain's plan but decide not to pursue him)
Any of the above scenarios are fine with me, and it is very likely that my players will inspire something else when the time comes. Only time will tell.


Next time, I'll dig into chapter two for climate and geography.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

4E for the Wifey

My wife has been trying to force me to attend a "Clue" party in the near future. In this type of party, each person picks up a persona and the game of Clue is somehow acted out in such a way that by the end of the party you know the murderer. I don't know exactly how it works... but it sounds a lot like live action role playing. In hopes of dissuading her, I tried to explain how she was plunging us both into the world of LARPing and I showed her a clip from Mama's Boy to emphasize the path she was starting down.



It didn't work. In the end, I agreed... on one condition. "If you force me to be a LARPer, you have to play D&D once for every LARP-party you make me attend." I don't think she liked it too much, but she conceded. It isn't that she hates gaming. She plays Magic: The Gathering with us pretty consistently and she's becoming more and more a Wii nerd every day. Its that she claims she has no creativity or imagination. How do you argue against that?

Now I'm stuck trying to figure out the best way to introduce her to the game. I know I'll use 4th edition (because the goal is getting her interested enough to play with the rest of the group and that's what we've been using lately). I'll probably use pregenerated characters (go Character Builder!). Beyond that I'm undecided. Perhaps a pretty linear dungeon with a few monsters, a few traps, and a simple skill challenge?

In any case, I've got some time to ponder because the "Clue" party doesn't look like it will happen too soon. For now, I just want the community's opinion.

Have you ever attempted to get your non-D&D (but gamer-friendly) significant other into D&D? What was successful? What failed miserably? Any funny stories?

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

A Brief Character History: Moro Dwor

In Eric's Campaign (which I recently took over and will soon hand over to Matt... confusing, I know), I'm playing a dwarf named Moro Dwor. He's a multiclass warlock/cleric, a combination that I felt I could utilize to make the best use of the dwarf race's two ability bonuses, and that would make for an interesting story. And after some thought, I came up with the following:

                Moro idolized his father for many years as a child.  He saw his father rise in reputation and social status among the clerics of Moradin.  He saw the prestige that his father earned as a part of the organization.  Though he knew the notion was foolish, he envied his father’s accomplishments and wished to emulate them before attaining the age or experience that his father possessed.  Still, notions were only notions, and the lessons he had been taught were deeply ingrained in his mind. 
At night, voices beckoned him to accept power.  He needn’t do anything but accept it and it would be his.  He could be respected and powerful just like his father.  Moro knew better, knew that there would be strings attached, knew that respect could only truly be gained through duty and loyalty to his clan, knew that the power offered to him was only a substitute for his true desires. 
But eventually, the whispered promises began to eat away at his resolve.  Impatience gnawed at him.  Only the resilience granted to him by his dwarven heritage kept him from giving in to the nightly temptations.  But eventually even those with the strongest willpower can be cracked.  Moro is a perfect example.  When his clan’s stronghold fell under attack, the frequency and urgency of the whispers increased, offering him the means to save his people from certain destruction.
The opportunity to become a hero was too tempting to resist and Moro finally accepted the offer.  He fought valiantly in the final battle and his people were saved, but as soon as the fight ended and he saw his father’s face, he knew his intentions had backfired.  He was indeed a key player in that battle, but his presence was not necessary for the dwarves to win the day.  Instead, he had drawn attention to himself with his blasts of eldritch energy that so clearly contrasted the bursts of radiance with which the clerics of Moradin fought.
His newfound power was not linked to Moradin.  It was something else, something unnatural, something unsettling to his father and to the other clerics.  “Consorting with evil spirits” was the charge that soon resulted in Moro’s exile, but even though his family rejected him, Moradin has not deemed him a lost cause yet.  He can still call on Moradin for healing, and perhaps as he proves his worth on the road, Moradin will forgive his transgressions and empower him with the means to achieve what his father did: power, prestige, and respect within the dwarven community.

Primary inspiration for this character's history: Elaine Cunningham's Liriel Baenre

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Export Character Builder Sheets to PDF Format

I was fiddling around with Character Builder the other day and trying to figure out how to export my character sheets to pdf form so I could post them online. Since there isn't currently an option to do so within the program itself, I thought I'd pass along a tip that I found in a comment over at Pen and Paper Portal.

Want your character sheets in PDF format? Just download a PDF printer like this one.

Thanks to Jon's comment, I can now share our character sheets even with folks who haven't downloaded the Character Builder program.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Taking Over Eric's Campaign (sort of...)

My brother and I discussed running the campaign he started a few weeks ago with rotating DMs, but I hadn't expected to take over so soon. I'm the only one in the group with any DMing experience and I had been itching for the chance to actually play, but putting the yoke entirely on his shoulders was probably not the best way for him to start out.  So when it came time to pick up where we left off, he handed the reins to me instead of continuing.

When last we played, we concluded the session by fighting a bunch of zombies and skeletons that were guarding a large sarcophagus.  Sure enough, when we opened the sarcophagus, we found the dead mage still holding tight to his staff even in death's slumber. Without thinking of the consequences, we began looting the room, and when our wizard Mendartis tried to take the staff the mage's spirit awakened and attacked.  We defeated the specter pretty handily, but instead of disappearing as we expected, he regained his composure and began to speak.

He told us of his imprisonment, mind control which he can break for short periods of time, and an imprisoned soul in a gem in the sarcophagus. The gem needed only to be broken for the soul to be released, so the party broke it and were joined by a new addition to the party, Marc the firesoul genasi swordmage (Eric's PC, now that he's not DMing). Note: I'll push Eric to fill in more of his character history soon. Then he suggested that we search for his former master in hopes of learning more about the source of this mind controlling and undead generating.

Thus, we searched and found his home, an extravagant one floor mansion in the wilderness. Something, however, seemed wrong. The area was silent. Not even the sounds of nature could be heard. A knock on the front door caused the door to slowly creak open, seemingly on its own, revealing an open room with two rows of columns. Unfortunately for the party, skeletal guardians were hiding behind columns at strategic locations, and Rantrix (our minotaur fighter) found himself surrounded as he led the group into the room.

But the fight was over quickly and only Rantrix suffered any real wounds. We paused for a short rest before continuing deeper into the mansion, wondering if the same undead foes had beaten us here or if the mage's master was the source of the problem himself.
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