Tuesday, April 28, 2015

DM's Notebook: Meet the Party

Warning: This blog post is a behind the DM screen journal for my campaign set in a homebrewed campaign setting. If you are participating in this campaign and read further than this your character's life is forfeit. You have been warned.

This campaign has been going on in one for or another for a couple of years now, ever since the 5e playtest. So what do you as a reader need to know coming into the campaign?
  1. The setting is a quasi-medieval fantasy world, but gunpowder weapons do exist, specifically single shot pistols and old-timey grenades. A few lawmen carry six-shooters.
  2. Every 1000 years the barriers that protect the Material Plane from the Infernal and Celestial Planes weakens. During this time the deities turn mortal and fight each other for domains. The last campaign took place during this time.
  3. The Campaign is done online, so most of combat and interactions are done in the "Theater of the Mind" style.

Current World Overview

It has been over a hundred years since the world nearly ended. In the wake of the battles between the Divines and Damned the world was reshaped. The ocean receded and land long since lost has returned. In a bid for power several countries were conquered by dragons and thus began the Dragon War. An uneasy truce was created, but it can only last for so long before the dragons do battle yet again.

Meet the Party

Paladin Jourmond Dal(Connor)
Half-Elf, Paladin, La
wful Neutral

Paladin of the Divine of War, Duo, this man has set his eyes on becoming an Assassin in the City-State of San. His deity is one of my previous player's characters who was one of the last guild assassins left when the previous campaign ended.

My plan right now is to let the assassin's guild to eventually show themselves to the party in some way. That way he can get a feel for them before 

Ranger Nym(Liz)
Half-Elf, Hunter Ranger, Chaotic Neutral

Nym was the product of the love between two star crossed lovers who worshipped different deities. After her father died, Nym was exiled from her tribe due to her ability to use magic. When she tried to return she found out that the tribe was wiped out by giants and has been on a quest for vengeance ever since.

I've already started introducing elements of this story in the campaign sessions.There are some elements that I have carried over from my previous campaign.

Nicolai "Scar" Ironscale(Travis)
Black Dragonborn, Barbarian, Lawful Evil

Barbarians known as the Iron Circle killed his family and he was kept as a slave. Eventually he used his intellect to convince the Iron Circle that he was more useful as a soldier. When the moment was right he helped start a coupe resulting in him taking over, naming himself leader in the process. Eventually disgruntled people under his rule tried to have him killed and he was forced into exile. Now he is looking for a way to return.

This storyline gives me a bit of troubles with the idea of how my world works, but I accept the challenge. A few locations on the map I've made haven't been flushed out. Adding an antagonistic new nation to take on the party will be interesting to say the least.

Sawyer(Steve) Red Dragonborn, Eldritch Knight, Neutral Evil

From the volcano city Vula, Sawyer's family were allied with Inferno, the Red Dragon that created their race. In order to prove himself to his family that he can be a great warrior he has decided to go on a quest to prove himself.

Most open of the four storylines, which makes it the most challenging to work with. Though storylines about warriors gaining a name for themselves is a classic tale going all the way back to Beowulf.


This party is going to be something to watch out for. The world of Celestine might not be ready for them and they might not for it, but it cannot be said that they won't leave their mark on it.

See you next time where we'll talk about the Broken Hammer Arsonists.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

World Building: Working in Realism

So I recently started up a new campaign set in a setting that I've built over the course of three years and spanning two other campaigns. This campaign has changed a lot since its inception, starting out as an incursion from the infernal realm to the apocalypse. Before I didn't do much preparation with the setting, but now I've gotten a bit more inspired. Today I will be going over what I did to create the city states of my world.

This might be a bit overkill, but sometimes its necessary to do research.


The world of Celestine has gone through a major upheaval in the last 150 years. Many of the original cities and villages have since been destroyed or abandoned. Out of the three original political powers from my previous campaign only one still exists and it is a shadow of its former self.

Instead of having giant kingdoms like I originally had most of the political powers are now City-States with most of them having little interaction with each other. The reason for this is that no City-State should require trade with another in order to survive.

For my example City-State I am going to focus on Elv, the City of Canals. If it isn't apparent this city is based on Venice.

Building Rome in a Day

Do not search how long did it take to build Rome, the result is about one million days (over 2000 years).

A better indicator might be what the Dungeon Master's Guide says on page 128 in the section "Building a Stronghold". Building a palace or castle will take roughly 3 years in my game world. Building a City-State shouldn't be too much longer than that.

The city of Elv was established as a trading outpost on a lagoon. After several years of good business the trading outpost built itself into a center of trade for the region. Elv wasn't built in a day, but it was built in several decades.


Realistic populations are hard to gauge, historical references to famous City-States range from 60,000 to 100,000. While I would prefer to use real world numbers I found that the Dungeon Master's Guide also had an answer, up to 25,000. I prefer the 25,000 number myself even if it isn't realistic it does seem a lot more reasonable when trying to maintain a city.

Elv has around 23,000 people, with numbers inflating and deflating due to economic and seasonal changes.

To Battle!

In Warhammer 40,000 and several other fictional universes seem to have a trouble with scale of military conflicts. For reference I used Writing-World.com's article on keeping Fantasy armies realistically sized. I used a simple equation, 7% of the total population of the city could be drafted into the army without too much risk to destroying the city's economy.

With this in mind there are about 1610 people maximum could be deployed in the Elv military, we'll say that 800 are typically kept during peace time. Looking to the Player's Handbook a poor lifestyle requires 2 sp to maintain per day. So to keep this military strength would require 2000 sp per day. Which would cost around 64,000 gp per year to keep the military at this strength for the city. That seems a bit reasonable. I would like to pay the military enough for a modest lifestyle, but that would have been 300,000 gp per year. A possible way to mitigate this is with indentured servants and slaves.


Building a world is tough business. Its not necessary to go this in depth, but this does help me keep track of how big the world is. Feel free to take these tidbits to your campaign:
  • Cities aren't built in a day, but the can be in several years.
  • Population of cities should be sustainable.
  • Keep army sizes sustainable as well. An army should rarely reach more than 7% of the total population.
As always post any comments, questions, and critiques below.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Dark Sunday: Bring on the Drakes

Long ago in Athas, the Dragons were killed or just disappeared. I don't believe that there was ever a definitive take on what actually did occur in the past to leave the Dragon of Tyr as the last dragon, if in name only. When 4th edition tackled dragons in the actual Dark Sun universe though they gave us drakes, dragon's less intelligent cousins. Before Dark Sun most of the drakes tended to be glorified guard dogs. Then came the elemental drakes.

The drake creation rules are simple:

  • Take a Dragon stat-line.
  • Remove flight speed, unless Air.
  • Remove Language.
  • Remove breath weapon.
  • Dial down the intelligence and charisma, up strength and dexterity.
Drakes don't have breath weapons instead they can manipulate the area around them. So where a fire dragon might breath fire a fire drake would blight the land they walk on with flames and cover their bodies in flame.

Water Drake, lives in the already few oases
 Water Drake:
One might find a water drake in an oasis, but only the drake. Typically the entire wildlife will be fodder for the drake.
Along with the instructions above, take a white dragon and replace breath weapon with an aura attack 10ft around its huge size. This aura is a zone of boiling or chilling water that it can excrete so considered Fire and Cold damage depending on attack.
Air Drake, one of the few species that can fly
Air Drake:
Drakes seldom flie those that do are known as Air Drakes. They climb to the top of ridges and palisades ready to pounce upon unwitting passers.
-CrunchStart with the instructions above, take a blue dragon and replace its breath weapon with an aura attack similar to the water drake. This aura is a zone of fog or push of strong wind. So fog would act as concealment against ranged attacks. Strong wind would act as a large push to get rid of melee attackers.

Enjoy the drake creating. These are just a set of homebrew guidelines not associated with Wizards of the Coast, feel free to change as you see fit.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Dark Sunday: Kalak's Death and D&D Novels

This weekend I participated in a Malifaux tournament so today's Dark Sunday will be more about finding inspiration for your Dark Sun games. But instead I leave you with the pictures from 2nd and 4th edition showing how Sorcerer-King Kalak died.

Kalak really likes those green and blue leggings. - 2nd Edition

Anyone who has read the Troy Denning Dark Sun novels will know that Kalak was the leader of Tyr. In his growing madness he put his entire City-State in danger for his lust for power.

Kalak, this is why you stay outside of threat range.

There haven't been to many books in recent memory set in Dark Sun. For 4th Edition there was Death Mark, City Under the Sand, and the critically panned Under the Crimson Sun. I've only read the first two books and both are standalone novels that take place immediately after the first novel in the Troy Denning series. 

Death Mark was the second Dark Sun Novel I read and was more of a show off piece for Tyr. There are Templars still loyal to Kalak, Veiled Alliance take a bit more of a role, and how grand scale conflict in Tyr can be. One character's perspective takes place as part of a war party heading to retake Tyr for a would-be Sorcerer-King.

City Under the Sand takes place in the City-State of Nibenay which reveals a lot about Sorcerer-King Nibenay and his family. It probably shows how best to setup a party in Dark Sun. Players are forced to help the King, Templar politics screw over everything, and the dangers of the wastes.

If you can take away one thing from these novels though it is this, it doesn't matter how it ends its the journey that matters. As I continue reading more and more RPG novels this becomes more and more apparent.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Dark Sunday: Travelling through the Desert

Dungeons and Dragons likes to present itself with two basic concepts Dragons and Dungeons. One thing I can say about Athas is that you do not need a dungeon to run it. Well technically neither does D&D, but that is a bit besides the point.

While running Dark Sun I found that travel was a necessity for the game. Getting from point A to B should actually matter as opposed to just happening instantaneously. That is why whenever the players were travelling I always had something prepared for them on the road. Typically this was a group of raiders or an exotic local, but most of the time these played in to a major part of the storylines.

4th Edition Map of Athas
Possible Story Hooks while in the Desert:
  • Bounty Hunters looking for a particular party member.
  • The remains of travellers long dead whose possessions may be more than meets the eye.
  • A shrine to an ancient elemental looking to destroy a rival.
  • A village destroyed by a creature that isn't too far behind.
For instance, when my players decided to flee the city of Balic they were already being pursued by the son of a noble they had killed. While fleeing across the desert they came across the full might of the Gulg army looking to attack Tyr while it was having its revolution. These were not merely sidequests these storylines involved all of the players and made them forget they were hundreds of miles away from reaching their goal. Typically I like to let my players stew for a bit before they encounter a new enemy. They'll first find the remains of those who crossed its path, either get a warning from the survivors or try to scavenge for clues before it comes back.

Dark Sun is meant to be tough and deadly, where players do not know if they will make it to see the next sun rise. So I ask that you make travel meaningful don't just handwave it away. It took my players over 4 months out of game to get halfway to Tyr and they were itching to complete the journey.

Think about the last time your party travelled across vast expanses. Did you zip through it or was it an open air dungeon waiting for them to explore?

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Dark Sunday: The Temple of Air

This session idea was original used in my 2011-2012 Dark Sun Campaign. The setup for my players was that there were some Templars from Gulg who were planning on binding a powerful Air Elemental to their will. This temple is relatively small compared to most dungeons, consisting of only three rooms, but it has depth involving the features of the dungeon.

The temple is a gigantic tower about 100 feet tall, at its top the elemental that it was built for lies asleep. On Athas there are no gods and the closest thing that comes close is the worship of powerful entities, such as elementals and some Sorcerer Kings.

The Prayer Room

Entering through the large stone doors you find yourselves standing on a solid stone floor, before you lays a large pit with small stone pillars enough for one person to stand. At the opposite end there is an altar sitting on an outcropping from the wall. Another stone doorway behind it. Three men in robes stand by the altar, swords at the ready.


The room was created for common prayer, so often I'd see temples filled with needless deathtraps and other hazards not normally in a temple. The room is meant to have one person on each stone pillar to pray as such the fall from a pillar is only 10 feet so enough to do damage, but not to kill someone outright. The priests or priestesses would convey ceremonies at the altar, no the temple is in disuse.


Creatures can jump from platform to platform relatively easily though I required athletics checks to jump across. The enemies in the dungeon were simply reskinned soldiers and gave them the ability to hover. This works out better in 5th Edition because movement can be broken down to include an action while performing the movement. So an enemy could hover from one space, attack a player, and then return to an unoccupied space. Players could do the same thing if they had access to a flight spell. Aside from that I added abilities that allowed pushes, so if a player was pushed off the edge of a stone pillar they would have to make a dex save to stop from falling.

The Tower

In the room, the floor is covered in sharpened bamboo pikes, four ropes lead from the floor to a hole in the ceiling 100ft up. 


The room is a simple chamber to weed out the unholy from visiting the Elemental. The Priests would climb up to the roof of the tower this way. Air elementals that inhabited the tower would buffet those who were not of the temple, causing them to fall to their deaths.


This was originally a skill challenge where the players would have to hold on every 30ft of movement or be buffeted by errant air elementals that had taken up resident. So making athletics checks or acrobatics checks to jump from rope to rope while trying to climb up. My players were smart and decided to break the bamboo at the base of the tower to lessen the damage if they happened to fall. This was to their detriment later on however.

The Summit

Before you lies a nimbus laying above the towerer, There is a large altar at the edge of the tower, but no railings for support. The Templar is chanting an evil spell as the nimbus begins to grow darker and darker.


This area was meant to allow the priests and priestesses to communicate with the elemental. As such they believed their faith protected them from falling off the sides or through the center hole in the level. This also allowed for them to perform executions of the unworthy if it was necessary. Typically they would challenge a fallen priest to climb to the top of the tower, if they survived they would be allowed to plead their case to the elemental directly, if the elemental felt they were lying or unworthy it would buffet them off the tower.

In my player's final encounter they actually managed to push a Mul Gladiator down the central hole. He survived unknown to them, if they left the bamboo pikes he would definitely have died.


This was a major boss encounter, the players had to deal with Templars trying to bind the elemental to their will and several soldiers that were to keep the templars safe while binding the elemental. If the Templar is harmed I performed a concentration saving throw to make sure the spell was not disrupted. After five turns the spell would be complete and the templar would win. 

The end result of this dungeon was a failure by my players. No one died, but when the Elemental was bound to the Templar he used its magic to fly off the top of the tower and attack a nearby village. He chose flight as his mission was to recover the magical power to help the Gulg army, and fighting the players would put that power at risk of being taken away from him.

Hope this was an informative post. Any comments, suggestions, or critiques are welcomed. I left this post generally vague so it could be used in any system. If anyone wants specifics such as DCs or Enemy statlines, feel free to voice your opinion and I may change my style later on.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Dark Sunday: Eyes of the Ally

Dark Sundays are where I show off homebrew ideas for the Dungeons and Dragons' Dark Sun campaign setting. 
Eyes of the Ally, image from Trinket Geek.


Masters of the Way were known for their ingenious ways of utilizing Psionicly resonate crystals. One such master was an accomplished bowman, his skills were legendary, but he for saw a problem if his Patron was asked to meet a contact alone. 

So he created two necklaces. One worn by his patron and one by him. He could see through his patrons eyes and always hit those threatening him no matter the range or obstructions.


These are wondrous objects that are rare to see on Athas. The two gems are indistinguishable from one another except that one is open and the other is closed. 

Once per charge, the person wearing the open eye is considered the point of origin for one non-magic ranged attack action by the person wearing the closed eye. No matter what type of weapon is used the damage is considered psychic. No spell effects can be sent through the eye(i.e. Magic Missile, Silence, Polymorph, Ensnaring Strike). If the weapon is a magical weapon this restriction is ignored for magical enchantments already built in to the weapon.(i.e. Arrow of Slaying).

As a bonus action without expending any charges, the person wearing the closed eye can see everything that the person wearing the open eye can see. This does not extend to hearing, touch, taste, or smell.

A spell that can scry or find a person when used on someone wearing this will show the location of both wearers.

1d8 charges per day. It may regain charges even if it has reached 0.

Ways to Introduce:

  • A patron is looking to have some protection on a deal where he was told to bring no bodyguards. He will wear the open eye during the meeting. A kidnapping or assassination attempt could occur.
  • Out in the wilderness the party finds a man who looks to have been shot by arrows. He is wearing the necklace of the open eye. An unknown enemy has the closed eye. If a party member decides to wear the necklace it is possible for this enemy to gain beneficial knowledge or find the location of targets.
So what do you guys think? Please post any critiques in the comment section below.