What’s under the hood?

Time to lift the lid and see what makes the engine purr.

Here’s a roundup of my latest in rpg writing.

Gnome Stew

I’ve posted two installments in the summertime world-building exercise.

The first, from June 29 was Draw In Those Nations, where we carve up our continent-sized map into  territories and countries. One of the lessons I wanted to impart comes from European history, which is that geographic features are from being the only reason for having a border. In fact, some boundaries are seemingly arbitrary, until you look at the context of the times they were established.

The second piece was Homeland from Aug. 6. Now we are focused solely on fleshing out a single nation, the one where our fantasy adventures will take place. I use the Nentir Vale from Dungeons and Dragons fourth edition as a solid example of how to create a realm of adventure, but to do so concisely. The descriptions for locations within the Nentir Vale take up only two and a half pages of the 4E Dungeon Master’s Guide, yet there is no shortage of adventure potential.

ENnie awards

Gnome Stew received its third straight gold medal Aug. 3 from the ENnie Awards, and for that, all thanks must go to loyal readers and fans. Thank you.

This year, the game mastering website was nominated in the category of Best Blog (sometimes the site is entered under Best Website). The lion’s share of the credit goes to our current gnome-in-chief, John Arcadian, a tarrasque-handler in more ways than one.  Like our founding editor, Martin Ralya, John has a strong vision for the site, which tries to reflects the diversity found in our community but also meet its expectation for solid information and table advice.

While on the ENnies, I wanted to share my enthusiasm that Elventower was awarded with a silver for Best Website. Derek Ruiz is a game designer and cartographer whose work really shines. His productivity is just amazing. Please visit his site and see for yourself.

Kobold Press

I’m really getting my adventure-writing chops tested with the Midgard Dungeon series. Special thanks to Scott Gable, who’s been my editor on this project.

Profahnter Water Station is a storm sewer pump station deep below Zobeck, the signature city in the Midgard Campaign Setting.  In keeping with the theme of Zobeck serving as the Crossroads of the setting, this underwater hub is a crossroads in the Cartways dungeons, a place where nefarious deals are done and mad experiments are conducted. Also keeping with the clank and steam aesthetic of Zobeck, there is a malfunctioning machine and clockwork guardians.

One thing I learned after publishing a couple of these was there is interest from readers in knowing what level of adventure they were written for. I’d omitted that information from the first two, presuming,  incorrectly it seems, that it needed to be specified. Either the monster’s printed challenge rating made it evident or that most GMs were like me, in that they take an adventure idea and adjust the monster stats as they play to fit the strength of the party at the table.  So, from here on out, these dungeons will include a power level.

I tried a different, more narrative approach with the July 27 piece, “Sunken Treasure” of Hammra Cistern.   This was my homage to the real-world historical site of Raqmu at Petra, Jordan, the trading city carved from the rock and whose Treasury building was featured prominently in many motion pictures, including “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” and “Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger.”  One of the most amazing things about Petra is that its founders, the Nabataeans, were skilled at harvesting water from the surrounding desert. Its an element I hope I captured for this adventure.



Love those Eberron baddies

Great villains make for great heroes. It’s almost cliche, to say it.

But in roleplaying games, it’s hard to have a recurring nemesis. In most fantasy worlds, there are no restraints on adventurers. When they meet a bad guy doing bad things, the solution is usually to finish them off.

The Black Knight has been slain. Time to ride off and find another Black Knight.

I think that’s one of the reasons the Eberron setting has appeal. It’s two-fisted adventure set against this morally murky pulp noir backdrop. The villains live in this shadowy world of grays. As such, it gives them room to operate — and the opportunity to reenter the player characters’ story.

My latest product for the DM’s Guild is Masterminds of Sharn. It’s a detailed look at one particular villain — Mindartis the half-elf archmage and his quest for immortality. Most of the product is devoted to three adventure scenarios. These are meant to challenge the PCs at various levels of advancement. The first is a Tier 1 adventure, “The Necklace of Death,” followed by the Tier 2 adventure “The Wheel of Pain,” and closing with the Tier 3 adventure “Lair of Mindartis.”

Yes, there is a conceit. Mindartis escapes at the end of the first two episodes so he can return and torment the players. As an archmage, he is more than a match for them at Tiers 1 and 2. By Tier 3, however, the power gap is greatly lessened.

Two other linking elements between the adventures, aside from Mindartis’ obsession, is the villain’s sidekick Crayleaf Tiller, a halfling spy/assassin, and the “damsel-in-distress” (for want of a better term) Jalinda Feathers, a halfling explorer recently returned from Xen’drik.  (Hey, just because you’re fearless in the face of jungle drow and cyclopean ruins, doesn’t mean you can navigate Sharn’s elevated and mean streets with the same level of confidence.)

The product also outlines seven other villains, each with a particular shtick. Thya the changeling is all about impersonation and subterfuge to gain power. Vitara Wylls is a cleric of the Silver Flame who has finds freedom in power by discarding her oaths. Gorsadon Amalvovich has thrown off the yoke of his Karnnath masters and is now a rogue operative in Sharn. Tower the Warforged is playing for time and gaining power in military circles. Marlesa Rhondel is a Cyran avenger who wants her nation restored — at any cost. Krisstov Marda is on a vendetta against anyone with a dragonmark. And Preddalon Korvandra will do anything to restore his title in dragonmarked inheritance.

If those last two join forces — watch out. Sharn could be due for a massive reconstruction project if their mad plans come to fruition.

Masterminds of Sharn was a fun project to assemble. Because of the noir aesthetic, Eberron’s a vibrant setting for adventure storytelling. And with its addition to the DM’s Guild, expect many more creators to be filling that space.  I’m looking forward to seeing what people come up with.