Monday 25 February 2013

Dungeon 211: Glitterdust

This morning my latest Dungeon offering went live: a strange little adventure called 'Glitterdust', which is designed for a party comprised entirely of pixies. I had a tremendous amount of fun writing this, and it's great to see Wizards of the Coast experimenting with such oddball concepts. Hopefully you'll get the chance to run it too - we played it as a one-shot for playtesting, and it made for an interesting change of pace from our normal campaign.

I'd originally intended the adventure to be dark and mysterious throughout, much like Pan's Labyrinth, but it actually ended up much closer to a Disney movie - featuring talking animals, a bumbling human adventurer, and a wicked hag. This spirit is certainly reflected in the maps they did for the adventure, which have a pleasing cartoon style.

Let me know if you like it!

Thursday 21 February 2013

I is for Ixitxachitl

"Now what did I tell you about eating blowfish?" 

The supposedly-terrifying "Demon Rays" use slaves to tunnel out labyrinthine underwater cities in the coral. They're small, basically the size of a normal ray, with a poisonous barb on their tail, just like a stingray. In fact, they are stingrays. But with fangs and a silly name. You can get vampire ixitxachitl too, which seems like a slightly desperate addition to make them scarier. Best of all, we're told that for every 50 ixitxachitl there will also be a high priest and two guardians, all with Type U treasure ("magical items that can be used without hands"). Imagine that - a stingray wearing a gold chain. Or a cloak.

The Monster Manual helpfully informs us it's pronounced "ish-it-SHACH-itl", "icks-it-ZACH-it-ul", or "icks-it-zuh-chit-ul", which is basically an admission that you should say it however you damn please. Doesn't matter now though, as some bright spark eventually realised that ixitxachitl fulfil the same role as aboleths, and ditched them from the game.

Wednesday 20 February 2013

Maps of the Drowned Kingdoms 3: The Pinnacles of Song

Dare you scale the windswept Pinnacles of Song?
So we needed a monk to test out all of the classes in D&D Next. I've never been big on monks; in fact, I don't think any of my previous campaigns actually supported them. Coming up with a monastic order for Drowned Kingdoms was going to be something new for me.

If I have any advice on campaign building, it's to draw inspiration from real life. History books are an obvious source to mine, but you can glean a lot just by listening to the news, browsing the internet, or flicking through back issues of magazines like National Geographic. Start thinking consciously about adapting real-life stories to your games, and it's amazing what you'll find. Give those stories a fantastic tweak, and you'll often end up with something truly original.

The idea of a monastery carved into a sheer rock face is hardly new - in fact, the internet is crammed with awesome pictures of them. However, I couldn't resist, as nothing says "monk" better than a precarious mountain sanctuary. This wasn't my only inspiration for the Pinnacles of Song though: somewhat surprisingly, most of it came from a short news story about the use of satellite dishes in Iran. It turns out that satellite TV is illegal under the regime, yet over half the residents still own dishes. The police swoop in and tear them down, a few people get fined, and then the residents wire them up again. Best of all, most people aren't using them to listen to foreign news or tune into pirate political broadcasts - they're using them to watch Turkish soap operas, comedy shows, or American serials dubbed into Persian. You know: basic feel-good entertainment. It was this story that gave me the idea for the Song Monks.

The wood elves of the Kithweald lived in harmony with the Four Storms - the untamed, magical winds that rumble over the seas of Diluvia. Looking out over their forest was like gazing over the rolling waves, the song of its shuddering leaves matching the endless rise and fall of the tide. It's said the elves learned to whisper on these winds, casting their voices for miles in a primal tongue that only they could hear.  
For centuries the giants had left the Kithweald alone. When they finally came, they took hundreds of captives, loading them onto their longboats and stealing them away to serve as their slaves. Lost and afraid, far from home, the captives listened to the winds but could no longer hear the song of their countrymen. The giants told them they had burned their forest, and put their people to the sword. But they were liars. When the spring winds finally blew, the elves heard the distant voices of their people, and though they couldn't talk back, they could listen - a secret that kept them warm through all the dark days of their slavery. Now, whenever the spring wind blows, they are reminded that their people are still out there. 
In time the cruel giants were overthrown, and kinder masters took over. Freed from the shackles of slavery, the elves went in search of their lost homeland, but were scattered even further by the Four Storms. Today they gather at the Pinnacles of Song to listen to the voices of their lost kinsmen - the songs, laughter, and whispered secrets of a life beyond their grasp. The winds moan weirdly as they sweep over the pinnacles' warped surfaces, amplifying the voices better than any other place. Those bold enough to live a life of hardship here can train as a song monk: contemplative warriors who seek mastery over the Four Storms. The monks learn to channel the winds over their bodies, tapping its power to perform amazing feats of physical mastery. The most powerful can even bend the spring wind to their will, tuning into its song at any time.
Every year, one of these adepts is dispatched in search of their lost homeland, guided by the Spring song. To date, none have found their way through the storms.  

Monday 18 February 2013

H is for Huecuva

Who'd have thought that priests cursed by their god to wander the world as undead could be so cute? Huecuvas first appeared in the original Fiend Folio, and have since shown up in every edition of the game bar fourth. When a paladin fails his vows, or a priest commits an act of heresy, their god can curse them to come back as a huecuva (pretty harsh, if you ask me).

The monster's original entry comes from a magazine called "Underworld Oracle" (check the old-school pictures!), where they appeared in a Mesoamerican-themed adventure called the Forests of Yurupari.  "Huecuvu" are indeed part of South American myth: a type of plague spirit that can choose to appear in a variety of ghastly forms. Though the original adventure kept the monster's shapeshifting powers, these were ditched for later incarnations. Not so for their plague-tainted touch, which started out as yellow fever in the original adventure, changed to "acute cardiovascular-renal disease" in the Fiend Folio, and ended up as plain old "Heucuva Blight" in 3rd Edition.

Why would a good god curse its own worshipers to spread deadly diseases? It doesn't make much sense (unless it's to keep their other clerics busy!), yet I kind of like it. I prefer my gods terrible and unfathomable, rather than benign and predictable.    

Thursday 14 February 2013

Drowned Kingdoms Gazetteer 1: Pickbill

Lots of odd little ideas have emerged as we've been mapping Drowned Kingdoms: thoughts about characters, customs, creatures - even sports. I'm going to try and capture some of these here on the blog as the weeks go by, starting with this cantankerous little fellow - the pickbill.

When I drew the Fathomdeep map, Stacey asked what birds were nesting on the giant trident. I didn't have an answer, so she came up with this creature. It's not a monster, and it doesn't come with an adventure hook - but I think stuff like this adds valuable flavour to my world. I'm reminded of my favourite RPG world book - Titan, the Fighting Fantasy World - which featured all sorts of wonderful cultural details, from orcish campfire songs through to starcharts of the heavens. These are the details that cement your world in the imagination of your players.

So let's hope this blog series can provide something similar!

These large seabirds have toughened pick-shaped bills and powerful clawed feet. They use the points of their bills to crack open barnacles and shellfish, allowing them to gobble up the tasty meat inside. Combs of fibrous 'teeth' span the front of the bill, allowing them to filter plankton from the water. 
Pickbills are clumsy flyers but agile swimmers. They live in large waterside colonies, but are extremely territorial over their own patches. As a species they are found all over southern Diluvia, nesting in sheer cliff-faces or abandoned seaside ruins.  
It's not advisable to eat a pickbill as their meat is extremely tough and salty, and can leave you with a nasty case of food poisoning. Some sailors view them as good-luck charms, as in bad weather their long, honking calls can be used to guide vessels towards (or away from) land. 

Wednesday 13 February 2013

Maps of the Drowned Kingdoms 2: Salvation

Welcome to Salvation, sailor!
The port of Salvation nestles in the towering ruins of an abandoned storm giant temple. Those who live here swear fealty to the stone giants of Haggard Rock.
Population: 823 (60% human, 25% dwarf, 15% other). Humans residents are typically shopkeepers or tradesmen. Dwarves belong to the jewellers' guild, and rotate in shifts between here and the Fathomdeep mining platform.
Government: Salvation is ruled by the Tulán, corrupted half-giant governor to the thane of Haggard Rock. His masters rarely visit, so the mariners' guild keep him in a state of drunken revelry - allowing them to get on with the business of running the town.  Mikkel Shar is the current guild head; youngest ever to be appointed his station. While the Tulán is rarely seen beyond the walls of Fort Orison, Mikkel Shar is a well-respected face around town.
Inns and Taverns: The three-storied "Merrymeet Inn" slumps atop a fallen pillar near the docks, and is most popular among visitors. Locals prefer the raucous "Scrambler's Alehouse" on the quayside, or the dusky "Hanged Monkey Tavern". All three are cheaply priced, with plenty of rooms to spare.  
Supplies: The guilds haven't gripped Salvation as they have in the larger cities. The mariners' and jewelers' guilds both hold offices in town, but all other business is unrestricted. Independent fishmongers, craftsmen and blacksmiths ply their trade from windows along the boardwalk, while visiting merchants sell direct from the decks of their ships.  
Temples: Though Salvation has no temples, most dwellings have makeshift shrines to one or more of the main pantheonic gods. Townsfolk arrange their own communal worship, gathering at different houses to sing and pray.   
Laws and Customs: A cadre of twenty guardsmen uphold the laws of the town, which are pretty simple: don't steal, beat or cheat. Relaxed trade laws mean even pirates and smugglers are tolerated, so long as they don't break the rules. If they do, the community is quick to rally against them.     

Friday 8 February 2013

Badger Badger Badger

The Beastly Badger is hungry, and YOU'RE on the menu.

Wizards of the Coast has a pretty cool art competition going on at the moment to tie in with the relaunch of Against the Slave Lords. Anyone can enter - all you have to do is submit a black and white picture of a character or scene from one of the adventures and then enter it via their Facebook page. This is Stacey's entry - the "Beastly Badger" from Dungeons of the Slave Lords. Once the submission period is up (this Sunday I think) Wizards will select up to sixty winners and publish them in the adventure! Facebook users can also vote for a fan favourite, which is guaranteed a place!

So - get yourself over to their Facebook page and give the badger a vote! It'll make our day!