Tuesday, February 24, 2015

On nature of Good and Evil in the Majestic Wilderlands

I haven't used alignment for a long time even back when ADnD 1st edition was still my primary fantasy RPG.

Recently the issue of good and evil came up in the last session, resulting in a major decision for one character.

What is good and evil? That is something each referee has to define. There is no right answer, my only firm recommendation is that there is answer and that it is consistent.

My personal choice is to make the issue a challenge. On one hand I don't use alignment. One consequence is that what is right and just depends on a character's point of view..  On the other absolute good and evil do exist. How can I have both in the Majestic Wilderlands?

The short answer is that when the Wilderlands absolute good was baked into the creation of Elves and Men. That it involves individuals achieving the purpose of their creation. Not in the sense of individual destiny but in achieving the potential that all sentient life have. This includes helping other achieve their potential. Absolute evil is the rejection of the above and the elevation of self above all other considerations or consequences taken to a terrible extreme. While ideal good exists it is rarely encountered due to imperfect choices made by deities and mortals exercising their free will. The difference between a deity and the a mortal is similar to the difference between an experienced parent to a young child. And like parents the various deities of the Majestic Wilderlands have developed different attitudes on how best to teach the mortals to achieve their potential.

The detailed answer is under the fold.


Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The storms clouds part over Phandalin

The session begins the morning after I exploded the situation in Phandalin+Peter V. Dell'Orto joins the group as a human priest of Mitra, Alb Irex. +Douglas Cole of Gaming Ballistic has a post up with his account of the session.

The Roster
  • Keyar Nailo (Dan McEntee) - an High Elven Archer seeking to keep the elven refuge of Losthain safe.
  • Vognur (Chris) - a warrior armed and ready to take his place in the world and to pursue the mystery of the box left to him by his family.
  • Sidwin the Sharp (Tim) - a native of the City-State, the human rogue senses opportunity in Phandelver and positioned himself to be hired as one of the caravan guards. 
  • Aevin Steelhand (Ken) a former solider who doesn't back down from anything looking to make his mark in the world now that he out of the Overlord's army.
  • Elder Carmina (Joshua Macy)  a human cleric of Mitra, the goddess of Justice and Honor, sent as a routine courier from the Archbishop of Modron to the temple in Tain.
  • Mark Bludiell (Douglas Cole)  a half-elven paladin of Veritas, the god of Truth and the High Lord, Originally from the mixed community of Ashenshaft in the Gnome Kingdom of Lightelf he has been wandering the northeast coast region for several years following the call of the High Lord. 
  • Alb Irex a human cleric of Mitra. A local itinerant priest providing religious services to rural manors and out of the way now caught up in the tumults of civil war.
In the old Redbrand Lair underneath Tresendar Manor
Early afternoon on the 2nd of Regal Serpent (1st month of autumn)

The mage steps into the crypt gesturing and chanting arcane words. Across the room Sidwin thinks "Oh shit." as he sees the mage completes the final gestures of the spell. A ball of fire begins to forms in the air. 

Sidwin shouts "Duck!" as he scrambles for the door. One of Nepthys threads of luck must be entwined with the rogue as he slams the door just before the fireball explodes. Despite the closed door, the ferocity of the flame leaks through the cracks and singes Vognur, Alb, and Mark. Despite the burn the party was spared the full burnt of the spell.

Sidwin's heart is chilled when he heard young Carp's screams from beyond the door. Opening the door he sees Alderleaf's 10 year son, whimpering on the crypt floor badly burned. 

Righteous anger raged through the rouge's mind. Sidwin was never what people would call a nice man. Nobody would call him religious. But seeing that boy on the floor with blackened skin smoldering burned away the callouses that built up over the years on his soul. With a yell he tore through the remnants of the web and charged. When he reached the other side of the crypt Sidwin leaps in the air and with a fury worthy of a storm crashed down on the mage. As the two fell to the floor, Sidwin's sword sliced through his opponent's throat and blood sprayed over him and the nearby minions of the mage.

Sidwin looked up at the three thugs around him and stabs his sword into the mage's heart. "Drop your swords" He said in a quiet voice. 

They quickly dropped their weapons and raised their hands up in surrender.

The depths of Dearthwood, several days ago.

"Rokore will go no further." The large orc warchief said to Pardan. "Neither will my ironhides." as he gestures toward the thicket of rhododendron bushes lying at the base of the slope.  "In there is death." Point up the slope, "Up there death. We stop here and will go no further." 

Pardan sighed, "I have told you, that I have come here under the protection of Pan Caulderax. You and your fellow tribesman will be safe, especially considering the magic I command." With a gesture, Pardan produces a small flame from his fingertip.

The orc chieftain looks slyly at Pardan. "You are magic-user, you bear token of black master. You don't need protection. You powerful enough."

Pardan blinked a few times and thought, "Great, I had to get a smart orc for a guide.". The mage spoke"Very well, my men and I will proceed on from here. By the will of the black master wait here for my return."

All the orcs began chuckling at this, the warchief answered Pardan, "You have until sun reaches there" he points to a position in the tree canopy. "Then we will leave."

Pardan looks irked. "Very well, but you best be here until then or the black master will know." Pardan turns to the seven men accompanying him. "Let's go." 

One of them steps forward. "Look we agreed to come with you on the order of Herone. If the orcs are worried about that place maybe you should go alone. We didn't sign up to provoke a dragon." 

Pardan stops and looks at the thug. The mage answers, "You know perhaps you should stay.". And before the thug could react sheets of flame erupt from Pardan's hands. The thug falls to the ground screaming and writhing. Pardan turns to the warchief, gesturing at the fallen thug, "If you need something for your pot tonight. You may have him.". Turning the remaining six. "Do any of you wish to stay?". 

The remaining thugs vigorously shook their head no and the group proceeded into the thicket.

In the Stonehill Inn, Phandalin, the morning of the 2nd of Regal Serpent.
The party wakes up and has breakfast courtesy of Innkeeper Toblin and the village. After about an hour of eating and small talk. Elder Gisele comes and tells the party that she leaving Phandalin to talk to the elders and reeves of the other nearby villages. She thanked Sidwin for giving her much to think about and informs him that after talking with the village council that this was the best thing to do. She introduces Elder Alb Irex to the group and explains that he is an itinerant priest of Mitra and arrived in Phandalin late last night. After the introductions she leaves and Elder Alb sits down and has breakfast.

The group debates their options through the morning. Among the raised questions was whether the revolution in City-State has ended with the bishops in control, how long before the Sheriff and the Overlord notices the loss of revenue from the miners and village, and what will Sildar Hallwinter being doing during all this. The various enterprises of Halia Thorton are discussed as well and whether Sir Varius of Highgarden will be doing something since he is apparently in her pay.

During this discussion, Linene Graywind of the Lionshield Coster enters the inn. An acerbic personality on her good days sparks immediately flew between her and Mark Bludiell. However she was quickly put in her place when Mark revealed he was a Paladin of the High Lord Veritas. During the run up to this confrontation she offered her support to the group's efforts to find a way out of Elder Gisele and village's impetuous declaration of support for the rebellion.

In the Stonehill Inn, Phandalin, noontime.
With breakfast long over the party is slowly working their way to a course of action when they were interrupted by Pip, innkeeper's son. "Tim... err Carp has fall... errr the Redbrands have returned beneath the manor and have captured Carp. We were exploring and they just appeared."

The group gathered their gear and quickly marched to Tresender Manor. Based on Pip's account the group decided to enter through the secret entrance in the forest rather than the basement entrance up in the hilltop ruins.

The party found themselves in the main cavern and as they made their way north heard voice of Carp pleading with several angry men. Vognur excitedly pulled out a map he drew but put the parchment away when he realized it was for Wind Echo Caves not the old Redbrand Lair.

With the voices coming from the northeast, the party moved into the northern storeroom. Sidwin made his way through the secret door and down the corridor. There he spotted the mage Pardan interrogating Carp along with four thugs with swords and crossbows. Deciding that it was best to act quickly he shoots one of the thug with short bow. The arrow plunges into the thug's kidney and his staggers backwards shocked by the pain.

Unfortunately for Sidwin and the party, the mage reacts quickly and with his wand fills the corridor and the doorway where Sidwin is at with webs. Pardan then ducks out of the crypt through its southern entrance. Sidwin manages to hit with another arrow on the same thug he hit earlier but lacking surprise it doesn't do nearly as much damage. The four thugs bring up their crossbow and three of them manage to sink bolts into Sidwin. Hindered by the webs, Sidwin is running out of options.

Vognur flails at the webs with his sword and doesn't achieve much progress until Lanar steps up with his torch. Vognur tells Carmina that there is a passage south that loops around, the priestess starts running down the cavern. Mark Bludiell raises his shield and attempts to run through the web and is immediately ensnared. 

The Pardan steps back into the crypt and with a word and gesture sends five magic missiles at Sidwin. However the rogue is no ordinary thief but a arcane trickster who has the shield spell memorizes. The mage is stunned when the bright shimmer of the spell stops his missiles and ducks back out of the crypt.

Sidwin yells "Your mage is powerless against me! What are you going to do?" Seeing this display of Sidwin's prowess the thugs take a final shot at Sidwin and run. Two of the bolts hit causing Sidwin to stagger. With multiple injuries and his lifeblood spilling out on the floor, darkness begins to encroach on his vision. 

Vognur tries to free Mark from the web with his swords but his efforts prove useless. Lanar is ready with his torch but uncertain to his course of action. He looks to Vognur for answers.

Carmina runs through the southern passage and sees a lighted room ahead with two thugs. Calling on Mitra, she unleashes the Scared Flames of the Red Maiden on the unsuspecting villain.

It was at this moment that Pardan steps back into the crypt and unleashes a fireball. Despite his injuries Sidwin reacts with superhuman speed and manages to shut the door (roll a natural 20 on his save). Greatly mitigating the damage of the spells (1/2 damage on a failed save, and 1/4 damage on a successful save).  But as recounted earlier his heart chilled when he heard Carp screams. 

One of the four thugs with Pardan manages to jump across the pit blocking the way to the entrances. At that moment Sidwin charges across the room and leaps on Pardan and with a single blows downs the mage. Mark Bludiell rushes into the room and interposes himself to shield Carp from any further attacks. Elder Alb reaches Carp and with the aid of Mitra and a Cure Wounds spell was able to fully heal Carp. 

With their leader dead and Sidwin standing on top of the mage looking like an bloody angel of vengenace the three thugs surrendered. The fourth ran down the hall yelling to warn the two thugs at the entrance. Carmina continues to duel the two remaining thugs calling down repeated strikes of Sacred Flame.

The thugs retreated leaving by the basement stairs of Tsendar Manor. Inspired Sidwin used a spell to give him the semblance of Pardan and proceeded to run after the thugs. Once outside, the three remaining thugs turned to Sidwin/Pardan asked what the plan was.

"Surrender is the only option." replied Sidwin/Pardan.

The thugs kneeled in surrender when the rest of the party caught up

The verge of Deathwood, one day ago

It was night and a fire was lit as twilight deepened. Seven men sit around flames eating their dinner. One of them is Pardan a well dressed mage, and other are thugs equipped with swords and crossbows.

Looking around at the six thugs, "We won't be heading back to Tain to report to Herone right away." Pardan spoke. "We need to take a detour to the ruins of Thundertree."

"Why that my lord?" asked one of thug "Is there anything special we need to prepare for?" He added quickly remember what happened a few days ago. 

"We need to keep out an eye out for druids." answered the mage looking sternly at the thug who questioned him. "They have taken an interest in Thundertree. It seems that Vermian, Mori's child, has taken up residence and we are tell the young dragon that his mother wants him to come home."

Another thug chuckled "Well I guess even dragons have mommy issues." Everybody laughed including Pardan.

After the laughter died down, Pardan continued, "We will stop to see Glasstaff in Phandalin to resupply and see if he has any information for Pan Caulderax on what the Black Spider is up too. So everybody get a good night's rest."

In the Stonehill Inn, Phandalin, late afternoon.

The group rereads the parchment Sidwin found on the dead mage. Everybody discusses who and what Pan Caulderax is. Mark Bludiell explains that this, not the civil war, is the reason he has been called her. He states that it is obvious that the dragon is going to attempt to take advantage of the war to gain more territory and power. 

After talking through dinner, the party decides that they lack enough information and that the best way is to obtain it is to head to Tain. But first see what Sir Varius of Highgarden is up too in case his planning to get a jump on the situation and attack Phandalin. While the knight could only muster at best a company of men (20 troops). Trained soldiers can defeat a far larger force if they are only village militia. 

Having formulated a plan the party retires for the night.

Commentary
Lassie! Timmy fell down a well! Yeah that is a discredited trope. In my defense what happened is exactly the type of situation that would occur with Pardan arriving and the characters of Pip and Carp being what they are. A pair of 10 year old boys known for getting in trouble.

One things I like to is establish cultures. Not always capital C culture like Western Europe, China, etc but little 'c' cultures like a neighborhood or a small town. In this particular case is the idea that the "bad" guys have their own little social network going on. I feel this makes them more than just stock villains to be beaten and forgotten. And for most of the bad guys I don't try to make them tragic or misunderstood. They are evil and are making the wrong choices that harm. Something that I hope th first vignette of Pardan illustrates. Even the evil overlord has a life in the Majestic Wilderlands.  In this case I thought it would be interesting to have Glasstaff be more than just the Black Spider's flunky. 

This intersection of events also introduces in the two remaining major plot threads. The idea that Dreathwood holds things of interest and reveals the threat behind the paladin's vision.

Now understand that I implement all of these "plots" as actions of specific NPCs. That while Divolic, Pan Caulderax, and others have their plots and schemes, they have to use their followers and supporters to see them through to fruition. Which means their plans get mixed up with their followers plans and result is never as a cut and dry as it appears at first glance. 

This is my secret in using "grand plots". Always to implement things through specific NPCs doing specific things as if they existed as flesh and blood people. 

For each NPC I ask myself, 

a) what they do for those they are loyal too
b) who else they are loyal too
c) what they want for themselves. 

I try not to get much more complex than that as I don't want to have to use a charting program to keep track of everything. Which is what would happen if you tried to make things as complex as they are in real life. For some NPCs, details get piled on due to PCs exploring logical connection or a character is used over multiple campaigns. But in general I start with the above three for any particular NPC.
Another trick I try to do is impose variety on myself. It not easy to see at the moment as we are only two session into this phase of the campaign. So far the most sympathetic characters have been the rebel villagers. All those in authority, except for Sildar Hallwinter, have been pretty unlikable.

However I try to have a mix of personality types on both sides. In the Gold Star Anime campaign, the characters have met Duke Divolic and he was not what the players expected for being a feared Myrmidon of Set. He was quite polite, almost unassuming. Although towards the end of the dinner, their evasiveness towards his offers caused the Duke to show a little of how he treats his enemies.
Enjoy your plundering expeditions, but understand the day is coming when you nwill eed to make a choice. And if you decide to go against me and what's mine,  I know who you are, what you have, who your friends are, and where you live.
Divolic continues
I have threatened you with nothing but the truth. As High Regent and a Duke of City-State I hold both authority and power. What I stated are the facts of the situation. And know that the line between the Overlord and the pretenders to his crown grows smaller. Soon it will be so thin that you will find your feet on one side or the other. I am giving you the opportunity to decide now before it is decided for you later.
Divolic not stupid and while devoted to Set has his Myrmidon realizes that the larger world is not painted in black and white. That much can be gain using the carrot first before wielding the stick.

Then there is Sir Varius, slovenly, stupid, and thinking little beyond of his own needs. The very flower of the Tharian Horselords.


The best summary of a paladin I have read (repost)

By the far the best gamable description of a paladin I seen was given by Elisabeth Moon in her Deed of Paksenarrion series. I was reminded of this because of a recent discussion with +Douglas Cole on the roleplaying of his paladin Mark Bludiell. It was a short discussion as we both agreed that Elisabeth Moon's interpretation was awesome and the way to go with this type of character.

Paraphrased From page 579 of the Trade Paperback the Deed of Paksenarrion.
Most think being a holy warrior means gaining vast arcane powers, that they would be nearly invincible against any foe. But truth is that while Paladin are skilled at fighting, that was the least of their abilities. A quest might involve no fighting at all, or a battle against beings no steel could pierce.

Above all paladins show that courage is possible. It is easy enough to find reasons to give in to evil. War is ugly as many know. But we do not argue that war is better than peace; paladin are not that stupid. It is not peace when cruelty reigns, when stronger men steal from farmers and craftmen., when the child can be enslaved, or the old thrown out to starve, and no one lifts a hand. That is not peace: that is conquest and evil.

Paladins do not start quarrels in peaceful lands, never display their skills to earn applause. But we are the sword of good defending the helpless and teaching by our example that one person can dare greater force to break evil's grasp on the innocent. Sometimes that can be done without fighting, without killing, and that is best.

But some evil needs direct attack, and paladins must be able to do it, and lead others in battle. Wonder why paladins are so likable? It is important, we come to a town, perhaps, where nothing has gone right for a dozen years. Perhaps there is a temple there and sometimes there is not. The people are frightened, and they have lost trust in each other, in themselves. We may lead them into danger, some will be killed or wounded. Why should they trust us?

Because we are likable, and other people will follow us willingly. And that's why we are more likely to choose a popular adept as a candidate rather than the best fighters.
To me this is best summary of a DnD style paladin I ever read and the basis for how I referee them.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Notes and comments on exploding Phandalin

The Lost Mine of Phandelver found in the 5e Starter Set is an excellent adventure and easily one of my top ten Dungeons and Dragons adventure of all time. But now it over with only a few loose ends not tied up as outlined in the previous post.

So what to do next?

I could design or re-purpose an existing purpose to make what I call an event adventure. like I do with the twice a month games at Gold Star Anime. Or I could just give the group a full dose of the Majestic Wilderlands.

One problem is that we would be starting in the middle of a campaign with established characters along with a total novice, Doug, and a relative newcomer Joshua. One thing I learned over the years that the best way to introduce newcomer to how I run the Majestic Wilderlands is to manipulate how they want to start out into a very basic straight forward situation.

This post is typical of how I start things out in a campaign. This one with two experienced characters +Tim Shorts+Dwayne Gillingham, and one novice +Ken H

With the J Squad at Gold Star Anime I can only play once or twice a month. So the campaign is more of a series of episodic adventures involving mega dungeons and killing thousands of orcs.

But you know what, fuck it. Both +Joshua Macy  and +Douglas Cole  are experienced roleplayers and published authors to boot. Douglas has plumbed the intricacies of grappling and totally revamped how it handled in GURPS. Joshua not only has played several sessions under me but also written not one but four RPGs that are highly evocative of their respective genres.

Pretty sure that they will be able to handle it.

I opted for a in media res introduction to their characters.

Also I proposed elements of their character background to them that would make them outsiders to the immediate region. This would make there out of game learning curve match their in-game learning curve. A variant of this was used by by M.A.R. Barker to introduce the details of his early Tekumel campaigns.

Now comes the part where I decide what to present and focus on. My view is that the Majestic Wilderlands is a living breathing world and I strive to present it such. However I don't have a use of a Holodeck or magical A.I. so I am forced to be selective about what to present. This is where the referee ingenuity gets pushed to the max in a a sandbox campaign.

You can't just present one aspect of the setting or its is little better than a railroad. You also need to work on things that are of potential interest to the players. This gets a little easier later as the campaign unfolds and the players develops plots, plans, and schemes involving their characters. However it is on  the referee to develop interesting things to start out with.

So with that in mind I fleshed out several items in my notes. I can't get into a whole lot of detail because this is the start of the campaign with many things left undiscovered.

  • The ongoing civil war in City-State
  • The orc infested Dearthwood and associated ruins i.e. dungeons
  • The dark storm of the paladin's vision that the factions of the civil war are ignoring.
For each I develop a timeline of events. This timeline is what would happen if the PCs did not exist. Furthermore it is only a plan, that gets altered in light of what the PCs do or don't do. For example the civil war timeline got a minor alteration to accounted for the fact that Elder Gisele is leaving Phandalin to talk to the surrounding village and possibly organize them. This resulted from the conversation that occurred between Sidwin, Carmina, and Gisele.

Not much happened in-game on the other two plot lines yet because only one game day passed last session. And likely the issues resulting of the civil war will be front and center.

The Civil War

By now I bet some of you are wondering about my warning about focusing on a single aspect of the setting and the fact that the first session started out with me putting the PCs right into the middle of it. 

First off some things no matters how you set it up is going to be loud, noisy, and at the center of attention the moment it occurs. A village rebelling is one those noisy events. The thing to remember it is plausible in the larger context of things. In this case it is barely over the line of plausibility. 

The focus of the first sessions has been getting through Phandelver and trying out 5e. While I set it in the Majestic Wilderlands it was with a light touch. However I did successfully established the following facts

  • Elder Gisele is a cleric of Mitra
  • Halia Thorton was a follower of Set
  • That the Tharian Horselords were the noble class i.e. Sir Varius of Highgarden
  • That Set and Mitra are rival religions.
  • That many of my details are based off of common fantasy stereotypes. 
In my opinion this was sufficient to allow the players to make informed choices for their characters. 

However the most important thing is that I established that I am willing to go with whatever the player decide even if it means a complete shift in what the campaign focuses on.

For example the Nomar campaign I ran a few years back had three major shifts in direction. Mercenary Band in the employ of a noble, Mercenary band in the employ of the Brotherhood of the Wyrm, to a group of friends building an inn in the wilderness.


So I prepared if the group walking into Phandalin, looking at the rebellion, say "Fuck it!" and continued down the road. 

The Forest of Dearthwood
Basically a big orc infested forest with dozens of elven ruins and other locales waiting to be explored. Along with a various groups attempting to clear it so it can be settled and domains carved out of it.

The Paladin's Vision
One trick to make a setting feel like a living breathing place is to have some diversity. While the civil war is the big noisy thing happening right now everybody's else life continues. Including what they are doing to realize their hopes, dreams, and goals. And apparently somebody's dreams is enough to have Veritas send a vision to one of his paladins.

Tim should have a lot of fun with this as this involve events that occurred in previous campaigns. Also it has been effected by what the PCs have done at different times over multiple campaigns. In a sense it is playtested and I seen how PCs react.

Other Stuff
All of the character have details that could spin the campaign in directions other than what I listed above. For example Sidwin, +Tim Shorts, character asked about returning to City-State. Vognur is a arcane knight developing his skills, Keyar is an elf passionate about restoring his people to glory.

I will keep you posted about how things develop.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

The playtesting of 5e is over, Phandalin explodes

Over the summery and into the fall I ran the Lost Mine of Phandelver for the group to get our feet wet with DnD 5e. The only major change I made was to set it in a region of the Majestic Wilderlands. In October the group successfully deal with the Black Spider and the denizens of Wind Echo Cave. The only goal they didn't achieve was the capture of Glasstaff who managed to escape despite his boss' demise.

Flash forward to February and  Ken of the Rusty Battle Axe is ready for a break. Joining us was +Douglas Cole of Gaming Ballistic along with +Joshua Macy  making up a new character to replace Ara, his elven wizard.

You can read Doug's account of the session in his post over on Gaming Ballistic.

Since we are no longer playtesting 5e. I decided to integrate the campaign fully into my Majestic Wilderlands.


The Roster
  • Keyar Nailo (Dan McEntee) - an High Elven Archer seeking to keep the elven refuge of Losthain safe.
  • Vognur (Chris) - a warrior armed and ready to take his place in the world and to pursue the mystery of the box left to him by his family.
  • Sidwin the Sharp (Tim) - a native of the City-State, the human rogue senses opportunity in Phandelver and positioned himself to be hired as one of the caravan guards. 
  • Aevin Steelhand (Ken) a former solider who doesn't back down from anything looking to make his mark in the world now that he out of the Overlord's army.
  • Elder Carmina (Joshua Macy)  a human cleric of Mitra, the goddess of Justice and Honor, sent as a routine courier from the Archbishop of Modron to the temple in Tain.
  • Mark Bludiell (Douglas Cole)  a half-elven paladin of Veritas, the god of Truth and the High Lord, Originally from the mixed community of Ashenshaft in the Gnome Kingdom of Lightelf he has been wandering the northeast coast region for several years following the call of the High Lord. 
The Hirelings
  • Lanar - a down on his luck miner who was hired as a torchbearer by the party.
  • Martha - with her debt to a unpleasant manor.
  • Mirna - wife of the slain woodcrafter, hired to manage the party latest acquisition the Sleepin Giant Tavern. 
General Note: In the Roman Catholic Church the most commonly used honorfic for a priest is father. In the Church of Mitra the equivalent is elder. 

Background
All hell has broken out in City-State. With the death of the Archbishop of Mitra, the goddess of justice and honor. The bishops have colluded with the Duke of Dearthmead (a believer in Mitra) to rebel against the underage Tharian Overlord of City-State and his High Regent Duke Divolic. Divolic is widely known to be a Myrmidon of Set and a major leader of the Church of Set. Mitra's traditional enemy.  Duke Divolic already has been fighting his rival Duke Draco-lindus for three years to keep him from overthrowing the Tharian Overlord.

The followers of Mitra are nearly a majority of the population of the territory controlled by City-State. Most are peasants and sharecroppers toiling under the Tharian Horselords.  To raise the forces they need the bishops and Duke of Dearthmead have sent out a call for them to rise up and overthrow their lords. To join in a holy cause to rid the land of the vile followers of the Dragon God Set.

One of those messengers reached Phandalin.

At Wind Echo Cave
The party emerges from the cave victorious. The killed the Black Spider, dealt with the doppelganger, and rescued one of Gundren Rockseeker's brother. The only loose end was that Glasstaff escaped.

On the Limerick Trail in the Troll Hills.
As night falls, Sildar Hallwinter leads a dozen miners to shelter in the wilderness northeast of Phandalin. As the group huddles around the fire, Hallwinter thinks back on the events that drove him and the miners into the wilderness.

Phandalin one day ago
Sildar heard the roar of a crowd outside in the square. He put down the account books that he been toiling on ever since magistrate Iarno Allbek decided to go rouge and play at being "Glasstaff". Sildar hoped that Vognur, Silwin and the rest their group were successful in capturing him and returning the Rockseers back alive.

Sildar walked out the door and saw a herald in the livery of the Church of Mitra standing with Elder Gisele, the local priestess of Mitra. The herald was delivering some news that was getting everybody excited. The more he listened the more he became concerned. The fool priests and bishops of Mitra have launched a revolution in City-State to overthrow the Overlord and the regents. The herald spoke openly of supporting the treason of Duke Draco-lindus, and what amounted to genocide against the follower of Set.

When Elder Gisele then started preaching about Halia Thorton and her unholy control over the miner, Sildar could only think, "Fuck! This is not going to end well.". He quickly returned to the town hall shouting for Reeve Westin. The fat "leader" of Phandalin was sitting in a plush chair eating apricots from a bowl.

"Get up Westin, a riot is about to break loose." yelled Sildar.

"Whaaa?" replied the reeve. "What going on?"

Sildar jerked Westin out of his chair. "Get out there now or Elder Gisele is going to led a mob to lynch Halia Thorton for being a worshiper of Set along with any miner that gets in their way. The fool bishops in City-State have declared their allegiance to the Dragon Overlord Draco-lindus and now issued a call to arms."

"How I am supposed to stop her?" Reeve Westin asked as he hurriedly wiped apricot juices off his hands.

"You are the damn reeve, act like it!" as Sildar shoved Westin out the door into the village square.

Running towards the miner exchange, he could hear Elder Gisele and Reeve Westin arguing. "Good", Sildar thought, "I may just have enough time."

Sildar tore through the Miner Exchange building looking for Halia Thorton. She was nowhere to be found although he managed to rouse up a dozen miners. Looking out the exchange door, he saw Reeve Westing being forced into the Town hall, escorted by several angry villagers. To the west he heard a women's shout and ugly sound of a mob.

"Wait here" he told the miners.

Making his way quietly across the village, he found Halia Thorton surrounded by three dozen angry villagers about to lynch her. However before he could decide what to do, Elder Gisele was there. He heard her proclaim that Halia Thorton was under arrest for being a follower of Set and that she was to be imprisoned until her trial. Then heard the priestess command the mob to make sure that the Miner Exchange was secure.

Quickly making his back to the Miners Exchange, Sildar gathered the miners around him.
"We need to go, it is not safe here for you. Halia Thorton has been arrested for being a follower of Set." The rest of the village is on their way to arrest all of you. The miner are started muttering angrily and pick up clubs.

"No time for that, we are outnumbered, we must flee into the Wilderness and then head to the Sheriff in Tain." Sildar said quickly. The group gathered what they could and left by the back entrance. Ten minutes later the village burst into an empty building.

Somewhere on the Limerick Trail in the Troll Hills
Mark Bludiell, a paladin of Veritas, and his travelling companion Karmina, a priestess of Mitra were on their way to Tain.

Throughout the summer Mark aided the Halflings of Limerick in hunting for a pack of Ankhegs tearing up local farms. Now that the harvest was starting to be brought in safely, he began to dream of a dark cloud hanging over the lands to the west. Of two armies warring underneath it oblivious to the storm building up overhead. It was time to leave.

Eldar Karmina reasons for travelling were much simpler. She was commanded by her superiors in Modron, deliver various packages and message to the temple of Mitra in Tain. Merely one of dozens of couriers used by the hierarchy to bind the church together. While a seemingly mundane task, it was an important one for a young women on the rise within the church. It allowed her to visit churches throughout the land, to get to know her fellow elder, and how the follower of the Red Maiden fared in other lands.

Elder Karmina needed an escort to safely cross the Troll Hills, Mark Bludiel happened to be going that way. The journey went well until a half day out from Phandalin when Mark heard the sound of battle.

On the Limerick Trail in the Troll Hills
After leaving the Wind Echo Cave in the morning, the party made their way down to Limerick Trial. Just before they were to get on the trail, Sidwn called a halt. There was a party of men 30 yards away on the other side of the trail. Sildar sneaked up and immediately spotted Sildar Hallwinter. Revealing himself, Sildar greeted Sidwin and the rest of the group enthusiastically.

After explaining the situation in Phandalin, the conversation was interrupted by a band of marauding orcs! Not noticing the party on the other side of the trails, the orcs went after the miners, and cut two of them down.

Image thanks to Doug at Gaming Ballistic

The two sides quickly engaged each other. Hearing the noise of battle, Mark Bludiell and Eldar Carmina rushed up the trail and joined in. At first the battle looked bad as miner after miner were being cut down by the orcs. Mark was almost crushed by a single blow of the Orc leader's morningstar and Aevin Steelhand was quickly surrounded by four wearing heavy armor.

However the two warrior were able to withstand the blows of the orcs. With the help of timely backstabs from Sidwin, Keyar's arrow shots, and Carminas spells the orc leader was downed. With the fall of their leader, the morale of the orcs broke and half of them ran. The remaining orcs were cut down. With a priestess of Mitra on hand, only two miners could not be saved.

On the Limerick Trail in the Troll Hills
Despite their gratitude at being saved there was considerable tension between Elder Karmina, the miners, and Sildar Hallwinter. Sildar and the Miner refused to return to Phandalin, insisting they need to push on to Tain. The group ultimately decided to send Gundren Rockseer and his brother to Phandalin with Mark Bludiell and Elder Carmina. The rest would escort Sildar and the Miners to the estate of Sir Various a local knight that the party has had dealing with in the past.

Phandalin (two hours later)
When Mark and Elder Carmina approached Phandalin the road into the village was blocked by a barricade guarded by two peasants wielding spears. Mark used the mantle of authority from his paladinhood to convince the guard to quickly let them pass. Tired and weary from travelling and combat, it wasn't that impressive. However it was just enough to convince the peasant guards to let them pass into the village.

There they met Elder Gisele. She was excited to see Elder Carmina but was soon a bit crestfallen when see realized that she was on a mission to Tain and not to organize Phandelver's role in the rebellion. The three retried to the Stonehill Inn where they secured Gundren and his brother some quaters to rest. Afterwards they talked about the situation as they eat awaiting the arrival the rest of the group.

Highgarden Manor
Sidwin, Keyar, Aevin Steelhand, Vognur, Sildar, and the miners arrived at the outskirts of Highgarden Manor. They were spotted coming in, and Sir Varius rode up to them looking as slovenly as he did at their last meeting. The Knight challenged them and was plainly not listening to their explanations and requests for refuge.  Then Sildar stepped up and showed the knight a token out of view of the rest of the group. Sildar could see enough to recognize that it was a symbol of authority carried by agents of the Black Lotus, the Overlord's secret police.

Immediately the knight's manner changed and he promised Sildar and the miners full assistant. Before leaving with the Miners, Sildar promised the group that he won't forget this. And while he was  only a "acting magistrate" he would do what he can to make sure they are recognized for the good deeds they have done.

A hour later and well out of earshot of anybody at the mnor, Sidwin the let the group know that Sildar was a member of the Black Lotus and that if his story about what happened at Phandalin was true there was trouble coming.

Phandalin (several hours later)
The group with Sidwin, Vognur, Aevin, Keynar, and Lanar the torchbearer finally made it back to Phandalins. The guards at the barricade recognized them and waved them through with a smile and a cheer. Outside of the Stonehill Inn they found another group of spear armed peasants roasting sausages and they also greeted the group with a cheer. The party went inside and were reunited with Mark and Elder Carmina.

From Elder Gisele they found that the Sleeping Giant tavern was still intact and that Maltida, Mirna, and Mirna's two children were safe. Elder Gisele left to leave the group to their dinner and soon the party fell into animated discussion over the situation. One thing that was obvious that Elder Gisele and the village elders that backed her were in way over their head.

It was decided that Halia Thorton needed to be investigated and with Elder Carmina taking the lead they when over to Elder Gisele quarters and asked to look at the leader of miner's guild papers. After several hours it was obvious that Halia was a devout member of the Church of Set. That she never concealed that fact. What wasn't as obviously is that she had a system going involving paying various local lords and magistrates for the criminals and outlaws they captured. Then she would send them to City-State to sell at a profit as slave. Sidwin also was able to compile a separate list of people that she was sending money too. A list that included Sir Various of Highgarden Manor.

As the group readied themselves to leave, Elder Gisele and Sidwin got into an animated discussion over the wisdom of what was going on. For the most part Elder Carmina supported the priestess positions. But there was no getting around Sidwin's points about how all quickly this happened. How there was little planning and that most of the villagers could not withstand trained soldiers. Elder Gisele then decided that in the morning she will talk to the village council and make haste to the other village to see what everybody else is up to and start to organize things for when troops arrive from the bishops in control of City-State. Sidwin look skeptical at the remark about troops arrived but with the evening being late decided not to press it.

The group retired to the Stone Giant tavern and bedded down for the night.

Next post will have commentary and notes..

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Back to Phandalin, Majestic Wilderlands and 5e

So I am on deck after we hit a natural pause point in the latest run with the Rusty BattleAx's Monteporte campaign. After conquering the final dungeon of the Phandelver campaign, Wind Echo Cave, what will our intrepid heroes be doing next?

For one thing, Glasstaff lives! We will see how much that complicates their lives.

Now that I have access to all the books, I am firming up the way I intend to run 5e in the future.

Sandboxes and Character Background
I try to run things as a sandbox where the players set the course of the campaign. The use of Phandelver was to get started with 5e while we were waiting for the other books to come out. Luckily Phandelver is pretty much a sandbox so it worked well with how I like to run things. But now the general course of the campaign depends on what you want to do with your characters. Don't worry about what I have prepared or not prepared just go what feel natural even it means a total change in direction.

It helps to have some ideas of what to do and where to go. To this end I am working on a summary and a recap that I will send to everybody. All the blog posts helped me remember what went down. Thanks to everybody for writing them. If you want feel free to flesh out your own backgrounds. For those not familiar with the Majestic Wilderlands, I use a lot of generic fantasy tropes. So use that to come with some ideas, let me know, and I will give you a choice of specifics. I am not overly worried about "balance" if it make sense in terms of the setting, I will work with you to make it work. Hopefully this result for each of you something interesting to pursue in the course of adventuring.

With that being said, there are things that happen that out of your control. Things and event that result from what other PCs did in past campaigns, plus plots I have set in motions. Like in real life these things can be ignored or dealt with. There are areas of the world where different circumstances hold sway. I will say that at the moment there are no events going on that effect the entirety of the Wilderlands. There are however major events going on that effect regions like the two separate civil wars in Viridistan and City-State. In fact in the eastern half of Viridistan (the part nearest City-State) the civil war has pretty wound down because of the campaign I ran with Tim, Dwayne, and Ken. While in City-State the violence of its civil war has been increasing.

So if you want to ignore them, there are option to do so. Plenty of NPCs in the Wilderlands do anyway. If you want to get involved there that path as well. Remember there are always options and I try to incorporate as many as I can in my roleplaying. If you think of one and it make sense as if you were really there as that character then likely I will go with it. You don't even have to spend a fate point or whimsy card.
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Some of the rules options I will be using.

Money
I use a silver base economy. All this means that the main coin is a silver penny equal to 1 silver piece. I denote the value in pennies as d. 10d mean ten pennies or ten silver pieces. There is 250 silver pennies in a pound of weight. There is a 1 oz gold coin called a Crown and it is worth 320d. 16 crowns equal a pound of weight. Rare coinage are a gold penny worth 20d and weight 250 to a pound. Typically they are found in old elven or dwarven treasure hoards. The vikings use a silver mark which is a 1 lb bar of silver worth 240d.

Slow Natural Healing (DMG 267)
Instead of regaining all your hit points you spend hit dice like on a short rest. However you still regain half your hit dice back as a result of your long rest. Makes long rest a tad less generous and the campaign little more gritty.

Lingering Injuries 
if you roll a death save of 5 or less (DMG page 272).
Note not all of these are permanent disfigurement.15% chance of a major disfigurement (lose of an eye, hand, etc), 15% chance of a scar. The rest is cured by the use of a healing spell. Note I am NOT using massive damage.

Attack Options: 
Climb on top of Bigger Creature, Disarm, Mark, Overrun, Shove Aside, Tumble. (DMG, page 271).
Stuff I would allows you guys to do anyway, just we now have mechanics that everybody can read up on.

Morale (DMG 273)
This for NPCs and monsters. I used something similar before but like the above now there is mechanics for everybody to read.

Experience Points 
I will award monster xp and milestone XP (DMG 261).

Milestones are personal and party oriented. I basically try to pay attention to what you guys are trying to do and when it seems you guys accomplish some goal individually or as a group I will award milestone XP. For example gaining the Sleeping Giant would have earned the party a minor milestone. Bagging Glasstaff in a future session would be a major milestone for the party.The better I understand what you are trying to accomplish as your character the more opportunities I will have to award milestones.

Chases
DMG (page 253)
I want try this when chases ensue. The Chase Card are too metagame at times like Whimsy cards so I want to see if this does any better. I may incorporate some of chase cards with this in the future.

Miniatures and Grids
I will be using the rules for miniatures, grids, and facing from page 250 to 252 as guidelines. No major change from what we been doing except now there are rules to reference. For example if you flank a target with an ally you both get advantage on your attack. The main difference will be from page 250 where the DMG has useful method to determine the difference between the different levels of cover.

Downtime Activities
Starting on page 127 of the DMG these are available for those who are interested. The party has ownership of the Sleeping Giant in Phandalin. For now I am going with crafting magic items on page 129 until I am ready to roll my own. My version will in general have lower prices.

Attunement
Per my Majestic Wilderlands Swords & Wizardry rules, two rings, two bracers, one hat, one belt, one cloak, one suit of armor, one medallion, two items grasped (one in each hand). . You can switch freely out of combat. In combat you can use your interaction for easily accessible items or take a Use and Object action.

While attunement is not required, spending a long rest to understand how to activate an item is with activated powers is. Requires a arcana check 15 or better to succeed. Items with inherent powers simply just work. If you get a +1 sword with fireball 1/day. You can use it a +1 sword until a long rest. Note that a character with a high arcana can figure out an item for another character. One item per character per long rest.

Training to Gain Levels
I am using Training gain levels on page 131. It is no where near as onerous as AD&D 1st edition it does force some amount of downtime. For 5th level it will be 20 days of upkeep and 400d. You do immediately gain any increase in proficiency bonus. The rest of your class abilities have to be trained.

Starting Characters.
This is for Doug and possibly Peter if he joins us.
You start halfway beyond 4th level at 4,600 xp.
Your starting money is 5,000d plus 1d10 x 250d. (1 d= 1sp)
You can buy a common magic item at 1,000d
You can buy a uncommon magic item at 5,000d

Buying and Selling Magic Items
I am the kind of DM that answer yes to magic shops in my campaign. Remember magic items is a luxury trade. The most valuable items are held for limited access auctions. Keep this in mind when you sell a rare items it may take a while to get the gold for it.

At present I will be using the 5e prices as is. I think they are too expensive compared to what I did in the past. But I haven't worked through adapting what I use for Swords & Wizardry.

Things that are lost

Dammit another map lost. I been running Majestic Wilderlands for 30 years. And sometimes a one is rolled and then papers or maps gets damaged, lost, torn, etc. 

I am to run a session continuing the Phandelver campaign next week and i had a badly drawn map of the major castle town in the area dating from the mid 80s.

It gone. 

The only saving grace is that i can remember it most distinct features, the town and castle is perched along a river gorge. But it sure would have been nice to have it and look at any notes I made..

Sigh. 

Below is a map from the same era. It is of Valon from Map 5 of the Wilderlands.