Sunday, November 29, 2015

Ironlands Gazeteer

Short gazetteer on the campaign setting for my home game. It's basically Game of Thrones with some warhammer and birthright from tsr mixed together. I like politics and knights in my game, and don't mind some over-the-top warhammer-isms.

The Faith of the Three (AL: Law) - this is main faith of men, the faith in the Lord of Justice, the Lady of Mercy, and the Child of Redemption. In the days of the High Kings, this faith spread throughout all the lands of men, displacing older religions like supplication of the Gods of Stone and Tree (still worshipped by some northerners, barbarians, and elves). The Canons of the Faith, proclamations, speak to the need to live by a personal moral code to achieve the highest human purpose, which men (unlike elves and dwarves and so on) are uniquely able to access. Righteous acts are intrinsic rather than situational. The Faith is highly suspicious of magic-users and wizardry, considering many witches, which is often justified by the corruption and chaos unleashed by use of magic by wizards or faeries. The Faith also endorses the rulership of nobility as a force for stability. Questing knights are often blessed by the Lady to go forth and do acts of mercy, such as rescuing the weak and killing threats to the peasantry, but the Justice of the Lord can be harsh and unforgiving (although effective in killing menaces to humankind). The widespread blessings of the Faith are considered by scholars to have enabled the early High Kings to defeat the magic of the long-lived but slowly reproducing elves, who, while powerful with study, took far longer to master their magics than a believing knight or cleric required.

Religion and belief in general - religion corresponds with alignment of Law (The Faith of the Three), Neutrality (The Old Gods, of Stone and Tree), and Chaos (Ruinous powers). Law must obey rules or Canons of the Faith or can suffer curses, afflictions, and be susceptible to damnation. Neutrality requires placating the old gods, by appeasing the fey, spirits of the land, or suffer their wrath; no general moral behavior is required however, beyond generally being noticed by these cthonic gods of fate (who may also send challenges to characters and grant rewards for overcoming them). Chaos requires nothing, but is inherently corrupting, and the Faith of Law will abhor. Many wizards are lawful, but they are considered half-heretics and some experiments and ‘free-thinking’ will deny them the benefits of the Faith.

Shieldlands (House Bell) - House Bell is headed by Brandon Bells, with their great castle-town Bellstones, where a hundred church bells can be heard to ring. Lord Brandon's castellan, Sir Lucian, controls the gatetown of Blueford on the River Blue, which feeds the Great River, the Maesil. The Shieldlands traditionally guard the Great River valley of the heartlands from incursions from the north, typically beastmen, who come down from the Gorgon's Crown through the Bloody Vale. Faith in the Lady is strong in the Shieldlands.

Brandon Bell is allied with House Caster, his southeastern neighbor, through his new wife.

House Ascalon of Rosehall - a banner house of House Bell, House Ascalon is led by Lord Aedric Ascalon. His son Jean Ascalon took up to quest for the Lady in Mordheim, before that city was destroyed by a great meteor and invasion of beastmen from the Gorgon's Crown. Rosehall, the House's seat, is castle town guarding the Blue River in the Songwood (central Shieldlands). House Ascalon has a storied lineage of chivalrous knights, but Lord Aedric has but one child, his childless son, and so fears for his house's future.

Bloodvale - or the Bloody Vale, this valley has known a thousand battles between elves and men and dwarves and giants and goblins, and now beastmen brought forth by chaos and all the rest. An ancient dwarf delving, the Dwarrowdelve lies in the Stonecrowns that dominate the vale. A goblin king also makes the Bloody Vale home, sending troops from his 'castle' Markazor in the eastern Stonecrowns. Beyond the present maruaders and beastmen and goblins, the veil between living and dead is often thin here. Supposedly there is also a Shrine dedicated to a great healer, St. Tabitha, lost in the Bloody Vale, she unsuccessfully sought to bring peace to the land, but sometimes pilgrims pay her homage.

Ramsgate - this high castle dominates the pass through the Stonecrowns on the western border of the Dales. It is the hold of House Shearer, bannermen to House Harlaw of the Dales. The PCs went through Ramsgate and had to pay tolls for safe passage into the Bloodvale. House Shearer will send patrols through the Bloody Vale sometimes, and are known hardened knights.

The Dales - lands of House Harlaw, who bear ancient grudges against their more glamorous neighbors of House Bell. But Harlaw and their Dalesmen are tough folk of the hills, who have killed many a beastman herd or raider. The Harlaws respect the fellow border lords of the Marches, but seek vengeance against the Sielewode which abandoned the Dales in a war against the Gorgon, resulting the death of Harris Harlaw’s father, Harald Harlaw.

The Marches - ruled by House Wolfe, hard northerners, first granted land millennium ago by the elves in their war against the giants, so many worship Gods of Hill & Tree still. Ruled from the Tor, a mighty hilltop castle, with castles at Cold Harbor and Thunderhill (where Thurazor was). Banners: Wolves, House Crom (of Giantshead), House Oakhurst (Oakrest, Lord Ector), House Hawkwood (3 flying hawks) of Deephold, House Grey of Thunderhill (lightning), House Pike (lords of Cold Harbor, a blackfish, followers of the Drowned God). The Marches are at war with Tuarhieval and the Carrock.

The Carrock carved their lands from high hills of the northern Stonecrowns. Fierce and ambushy folk. Scion, Ser Caradon Carr, eloped with Enide Oakhurst, daughter of Ector Oakhurst. Lord Marc Carr wants to make peace for sake of pregnant Enide. A wedding has been arranged at the Carrock soon. 

The Gorgon's Crown - lands of the Gorgon, a mighty champion of Chaos who was a younger scion of the ancient family of the High Kings. He commands armies of beastmen and chaos knights from his iron fortress, Kal Saitherak, and is rumored to even have subdued ancient dragons as his minions.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Campaign Changes & D&D 5e Review

So we started a new campaign a few months back (August?). The Tolkienish North Kingdoms campaign has been set aside althought not totally shut down, but there was alot of cruft accumulated around the characters that was making it difficult for them to have fun, coherent adventures in some ways - one character was a king of a dwarf hold, the other characters his advisors. That was a cool set up, but I DM for like 6-9 people and taking subplots and politics is really hard with that many people. I introduced some overall challenges, and the PCs certainly still went adventuring. The one problem with so many players with high-level PCs, though, is that it takes awhile to do even 1 adventure - and if I introduce other hooks, they may jump on those and then lose interest in the main adventure - not in the sense of deciding to do something else, but all their preparations and plans and deeds leading up to the main adventure get forgotten week-to-week. Ah, such is the game, so that will always be a problem, just need to work on focusing and managing it better. What I really intend to do is make sure we keep playing the same world and same PCs so it's not so much an issue. There were alot of interruptions for these "main camapign" characters that were totally my fault - I wanted to tinker with the rules, went through several rules changes, and played several one-offs and so on, so I had kinda fucked with the continuity myself.

Before returning to that North Kingdoms campaign, we did a serious, like 6+ month, jaunt with D&D's new Fifth Edition. We started with the Beginner Box and then I quickly added the Player's Handbook rules. Lots of things are fun about 5th edition, and I think for groups of say, 4-5 players, I could handle it. The impressions that mirror my own best are probably at Hack & Slash blog and Natalie's thoughts here .Character creation is relatively easy, there's lots of stuff on the character sheet that accumulates as the PCs level, the characters are pretty "empowered," and the rules mostly get out of the way - roll high, sometimes roll 2 advantage/disadvantage - in a way that makes sense.  The monster rules are pretty fun too, and I liked alot of the stuff in the DMG.

BUT there were problems. First, from the player's perspective (and mind you, I play with friends who don't read the books or work on their characters except at the table) the class abilities were WAY too complicated. Like, one friend was playing a cleric, but all the channeling v. spell slots were confusing (frankly to both of us at first, until I reread the rules several times). Some of the powers were different just for the sake of being different, which was stupid - like Perserve Life heals a maximum of half your hp, but the cleric has exactly 23 hp to distribute daily and shit. This is some video game thinking that should be absolutely exorcised at a live-pen-paper RPG - simple clear abilities and spells that don't overlap (you don't need 3 different kinds of heal, just have more cure light wounds). I know people who enjoy 3e and Pathfinder and certain video game clamor for this shit, but that's because they spend too much thinking about RPG rules as a closed box instead of strong guidelines for narrating what your character does with friends around a table. In general, all the special spell schools and just gobs of spells for each class was also confusing to players - I couldn't remember what all of them did, so there ended up being alot of looking up shit or "why bother" casting a spell type shit that happened. I also didn't like how many spells I had to keep track of for NPCs and monsters.

The next issue was for me: bags and bags of hit points. Campbell at Hack & Slash has talked about this too - in terms of how higher level characters not only have so many but everyone starts just dishing out the damage.  For me, although I love its many virtues, D&D's main problem is that when characters get up there in HP-count the narrative fiction elements start to break down - human beings absorbing hits that would kill regular human beings (think 1HD humans and demihumans) 5-10 times over. When you think about the Lone Survivor SEAL dude and how much punishment he took without dying, I think there's an element of this (and in more fantasy and Arthurian fiction and our movie action heroes), so it's basically fine but I don't like it getting so out of whack. I also don't like how MMORPG-style level dependent it makes everything: it doesn't matter that a dragon is massive, it has only 100 hp, while a 10th level NPC "assassin" monster has 68 hp. I'll take older school set HD thank you very much, giants and kings with 10-14 HD please.

The other major effect that I really didn't like because of these giant HP bundles was that it really turned the direction of the game towards comic-book style fantasy superhero. Again, there's always a tendency in D&D towards this, but I think in basic D&D it's much tamped-down (see Lamentations of the Flame Princess!). PCs started killing flying adult dragons in pairs with ease, enemies had to be bigger and scarier and more magical and more shut down powered.  5th edition is great at handling this mechanically, lots of that was still fun, but I couldn't keep adventure plots and adventure hooks and the world setting alive and sensical unless we start moving to planar territory. That's great, but it's not the D&D game I wanted to run - which trends much more towards Warhammer or Game of Thrones in feel, even if fantastical.

So all this leads me to a future post which will discuss the homebrew rules based on Basic/Lamentations/Beyond the Wall/Blood & Treasure that I've been using.