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Oct. 24th, 2008

I'm going to Charlotte this weekend; a friend is having a bonfire party tonight and then we're going to the rennaisance fair tomorrow. Most of the people coming are old college gaming buddies, so there's a chance we might get a little D&D in, but nothing's set in stone. Hell, its a lot more likely that we'll all log onto WoW in the same room. I really hope the mood strikes us to play D&D, though, because I've not yet had a chance to play 4e with these guys. So far, I've heard mixed reviews from them, but then, they don't play very often, and I hope a game with me at the helm can really bring them on board. After all, I spent 4+ years playing with these guys on a weekly basis, so I think I know what they expect from a D&D game. Hopefully when WOTC finally releases the character creator and online game table I can convince these guys to sign up for D&D Insider so we can start an online campaign. Of course, that might cut into our WoW time, but hey, I'd take D&D over Warcraft any day.
I've been thinking about gnomes a lot lately, because, well, I apparently have too much time to think. Anyway, I've been specifically been thinking about gnomes in 4th edition, and how they should it into my campaign. In the past I was not a fan of the gnome, simply because it did nothing to satisfy me. It wasn't as woodsy and magical as an elf, came up short to dwarves as the subterranean race, and lost to halfling in the plucky little guy department. And yet, gnomes continued to be cast as elf/dwarf/halflings, with a penchant for magic, technology, or nature, depending on who you ask.

In 4th edition, WOTC tried to narrow down the role of the gnome, dropping the baggage from Dragonlance and other settings and really trying to establish a unique personality for the diminutive race. What they eventually gave us were shy and elusive fey with a talent for illusions and a penchant for trickery. See, I like that, but I find myself wanting more than just stats in the back of the MM. I know that gnomes are going to be in the PHB2 later next year, so the object of my desire for a full-fledged gnome PC write-up seems to be on the horizon. In the meantime, though, how do I make gnomes fit into my campaign setting without having them become the poor cousin to the other races?

Let's start by considering what a gnome really is, at least by my reckoning. I'll just make a list of the traits I consider to be "gnomish": elusive, illusionist, fey, inventive, magical, curious, mischievous, intelligent, subterranean, secretive.

Okay, let's see what we have here. Based on this list, I'd say I have at least three separate ideas about what a gnome is: the "tinker gnome", the forest gnome, and the deep gnome.

First, let's establish a history common to all gnomes. In my campaign, the fey first came to the material plane long ago, when the borders between the two worlds first became thin enough to cross over. Gnomes first migrated to the material plane at this time as well. Now that we have that settled, let's look at the three gnomes listed above and how they fit into the world today.

Tinker Gnomes: Tinker gnomes, or, more commonly, just "gnomes", are what most humans would think of when they pictured a gnome. These gnomes are the descendants of those fey who assimilated with the "Big Folk". They live in human cities, study magic in eladrin enclaves, and forge magical works alongside dwarven runesmiths. They are highly thoughtful and intelligent, with an aptitude for arcane magic that is matched only by their insatiable curiosity. These traits often lead gnomes to experiment with magical applications to more mundane studies, such as architecture, engineering, and alchemy. The most noticeable development from works such as these are the airships employed by the gnomish artificers guild. Gnomes are a secretive people, however, and they jealously guard the secrets of their airships, along with scores of other marvels of magic yet to be unveiled.

Forest Gnomes: Shy and elusive, the forest gnomes are the most in tune with their fey heritage. Their dwell in pristine forests and other wild places, their villages so cleverly concealed (sometimes magically) that the Big Folk could stride right through them and never see anything more that a forest glade. Like all gnomes, forest gnomes are prone to mischief, and will often use their natural powers of invisibility and their knack for illusions to play pranks upon travellers. They have a strong bond with the flora and fauna of the forest, and will often share their homes with animals, not as pets, but as trusted friends. Because of their connection to the natural world, many forest gnomes become druids, but some forge fey pacts and become warlocks.

Deep Gnomes: The deep gnomes, or Svirfneblin as they call themselves, are descendants of gnomes who escaped fomorian slavery and came to the material plane via portals in the feywild's underdark. At home in the deep caverns of the natural world, the svirfnebli are masterful miners and jewelcrafters. Like their surface brethren, they are secretive, elusive, and shy, but when your closest neighbors are drow and mind flayers, this is a matter of survival, not merely a personality quirk. They usually have good relations with their dwarf neighbors, both as allies for mutual defense and as friends united by their love of working stone and jewels.

I like this so far. Obviously, the most original subtype are the "tinker" gnomes. I'd like to use them in an adventure, maybe even one set on an airship. That could be fun. I also like the idea of a gnomish artificer's guild. Maybe an adventure could center around the PC's being hired by a jealous wizard's guild to infiltrate the gnomes' Artificer's Guildhouse and retrieve some valuable information, all the while battling golems, homunculi, and other automatons of gnomish manufacture.

Actually, there's a chance that I may be playing D&D with some friends in Charlotte this weekend, and one of those guys loves gnomes. Maybe I'll write up that adventure, just in case...
This session was interesting for a few reasons. First, there's the fact that two of our members were unable to play, which actually worked out because one of those PC's was killed last time, and the other seems, well, incapacitated (see below). Second, their absence left me with three PC's and a series of encounters designed for about 5 PC's, so I had to do some on-the-fly encounter rebuilding, which was extremely quick and easy. Third, the missing PC's allowed me to spotlight two NPC monsters that have been following the party around. This created an interesting party dynamic with the sycophantic Broketail taking Maylor's lead while Meika's guard drake Saionji made a decent defender in his own right. Anyway, on to the recap.

Last time, the party barely managed to survive being caught between the spirit of an ancient sorceress and an angry black dragon after Krayden (Eladrin Ranger) touched the Darksbane Crown and got possessed. The fight ended with Krayden bound and unconscious, Fiona (Human Fighter) dead by acid breath, Maylor (Dragonborn Warlord), Ariadne (Tiefling Warlock), and Broketail (Kobold Skirmisher and Maylor's new sidekick) raiding the dragon's hoard, while Meika (Human Mage), having narrowly escaped sharing Fiona's fate, watched as the now-possessed dragon soared off into the distance, the Darksbane Crown clutched firmly in its talons.

No sooner had Meika caught her breath and began to emerge from her hiding place did she hear the sounds of harsh voices speaking in the now easily recognizable goblin tongue. Coming down the ridge from the castle were a trio of hobgoblins. The one in the lead was a white-haired, battle-scarred veteran who carried an arrow knocked in his longbow, while the other two were carrying longswords and shields. They were obviously tracking the party from the castle down to the grotto below, where Meika had just come from. She did her best to hide and prayed that they wouldn't see her.

Meanwhile, Ariadne and Maylor had finished grabbing the gold and items from the dragon's hoard and were making their way out of the underwater cave with the unconscious Krayden in tow. Upon reaching the water's edge, they quickly mounted on Maylor's horse and rode after Meika, hoping she had escaped the dragon.

Meanwhile, the hobgoblins had spotted meika hiding in the forest. The lead hobgoblin loosed an arrow and dealt her a nasty wound, but she responded in kind with a ranged spell assault. Fortunately for her, Maylor and Ariadne came riding in right at that moment. Maylor tackled the hobgoblin ranger with a flying leap from his horse, while Ariadne took the reins and began blasting one of the other hobgobins with her Eldritch Blast. Even Broketail got in on the action, using combat advantage to sneak attack the hobgoblin soldiers before retreating into hiding.

As Meika and Ariadne blasted the hobgoblin soldiers with ranged spells, Maylor and the ranger had begun a fast-paced duel, pitting the dragonborn's brute strength against the hobgoblin's agility and precision. Once Maylor's Dragonborn frenzy kicked in, however, the ranger was soon outmatched. Once his comrades were slain he attempted to escape but was cut down by Meika's Chill Strike, literally freezing him in his tracks. While looting the hobgoblins, Ariadne found a great item on the ranger: an Obsidian Steed figurine of wondrous power. Convenient, since last time her horse was melted by a black dragon.

Returning to town, the party flopped wearily into bed, but not before Maylor reported their disastrous foray into the dragon's cave to faher Zaius, the village priest. Father Zaius told Maylor that a representative of the Order of the Silver Star was coming to the village to collect the remains of Dauven, the dead priest whose journal had sent them on their quest to find the Darksbane Crown, and that he may be able to help them complete their quest. After agreeing to go back to the dungeon and deal with some unfinished business (like these damn goblins. I'll be glad when I can use some different humanoids :P), Maylor returned to the inn and got some sleep.

The next day, the party prepared for yet another foray into Stormwing Keep. Krayden was either under the effect of some magical whammy, perhaps an aftereffect from being possessed, or Maylor just hit him really, really hard. Or both. Either way, he remained unconscious, so they left him in his room at the inn. Filling out the party were Broketail, whom Maylor was grooming to be a warrior (or "monster with class levels" in metagame speech), and Saionji, Meika's pet guard drake. Their first order of business: use the black iron key they found a few session ago to opent that vault door. Sure enough, the vault held a wealth of magical items up for grabs, and predictably enough, they were guarded. The guards in this case were Iron Defenders clockwork canine homunculi with a mouth full of razor sharp, steel teeth. The PC's dealth with these threats easily enough, and Saionji's damage boost when within 10 feet of an ally really made him quite the bodyguard for Meika. Meika's player, meanwhile, finally seems to be getting the hang of action points, using Thunderwave to blast an iron defender adjacent to his buddy and then catching both of them in a Scorching Burst. Soon the homunculi were smashed into scrap metal and the PC's were free to pillage the goods.

We had to end there; I was a little unsatisfied only making it through two encounters, but at least they are back in the dungeon, and next time it can be a straight-up dungeon crawl that just might see them through the rest of Stormwing Keep. I can't say I haven't enjoyed this dungeon, but I am eager to move the story in a new direction. I have no idea if my missing players will make it next time, so it looks like I'lll be DM'ing fast and loose with the encounter design again, and honestly, sometimes that's the most fun.

'Til next time, folks.
I got the latest World of Warcraft patch last night, which updates WoW content for the release of the Wrath of the Lich King Expansion. Among the new content is the Barber Shop, where your character can go to get a new hairstyle, hair color, and facial hair, along with other race-specific bells and whistles. I have to admit, I played with this thing for nearly an hour, putting all my characters through a turn in the barber's chair and trying out some new looks. Ultimately I just gave my BE paladin a pony tail and slapped some stubble onto my orc warrior. This really shouldn't have been the most exciting thing I did on WoW last night, but I have to admit I really like customization, and the ability to go back and re-customize my characters is a big wad of fun for me. One of the big changes (some would say nerfs) is to retribution paladins. It was late and I didn't have the energy last night, but maybe tonight I'll check out the changes to my ret pally in depth. I glanced at them last night, but I figured, "meh, I'll deal with it later."

Ooh, 12 o'clock! Lunchtime!

Tiiiiiiiime is on my side...

Back before the release of 4th edition, I made many, many posts fleshing out fluff information for my campaign, since I was between D&D campaigns and desperately jonesing for my favorite creative outlet. I posted several iterations of a timeline for my campaign, which was revised and re-revised both here and on various Word documents that clutter my PC to this day. I have finally come to the conclusion that a full-fledged timeline is not what I'm looking for. Rather, I want to document what went before in my campaign in very broad strokes. For more recent events, a full fledged timeline seems appropriate and useful, but trying to establish a timeline for some 30,000 years of history like in Grand History of the Realms is just beyond the scope of my campaign setting, frankly. Hell, a "History of Eberron" book wouldn't even have the kind of meat that FR does.

So, with that in mind, I have divided the history of my campaign setting into broad "eras" spanning thousands of years. It helps me to define what came before, while at the same time leaving endless opportunity for new material. These eras can be broken down thusly:

The Dawn Age: The world is young and tumultuous, and primordial creatures vie for control of the world with all manner of natural beasts. The dragons are the uncontested masters of the world, and the giants are their sole rivals. Global climatic change leads to drastic drops in temperature. As food becomes scarce, many dragons enter a millenia-long torpor. With the dragons in their long sleep, the giants seize their opportunity for conquest.

The Age of Ice: The frost giants seize control of the frozen world and build vast empires of ice. Other giant races build kingdoms of their own in the few temperate regions. The primitive forebears of humans and halflings struggle to survive in this harsh and unforgiving world. As the world's climate stabilizes, glaciers begin to recede and the domains of the frost giants are diminished. As the ice vanishes, new creatures from other worlds begin to explore the material plane.

Dawn of the Elder Races: The borders between this world and the feywild are opened for the first time, and the fey migrate to Taloran. The dwarves, having lived deep in the earth for thousands of years, first migrate to the surface of the world. The elves begin to colonize Taloran. The newly arrived dwarves are conquered and enlslaved by the giants. The dragons stir from their long torpor and awaken to a world not their own. Primitive humans worship these dragons as gods, and in turn the dragons transform them into the first dragonborn. With their loyal dragonborn vassals, the dragons build vast nations for themselves, which soon come into conflict with the giants. A thousand years of war destroys both the dragon nations and the giant empires. The dwarves overthrow their masters and escape bondage. The stage is set for the rise of the elder races.

Dominion of the Elder Races: With the giants and dragons no longer masters of the world, the elves build vast kingdoms in the unspoiled forests of Taloran. Free from slavery, the dwarves build kingdoms of their own both above and below the earth. Humans roam the plains as hunter-gatherers, and halfings explore the world's rivers. At the height of their power, elfkind is divided as the drow betray their kin. War between the elves and the children of Lolth lasts for thousands of years before the dark elves are banished to the underdark. Their kingdoms destroyed by war, the remaining elves split into the races of high elves and wood elves. Many high elves return to the feywild and become known as eladrin. The dwarves, meanwhile, had delved too greedily and too deep, and they awoke terrible beings from beyond. Portals to the far realm were inadvertently opened, and terrible, aberrant things vomited forth into this world. After generations of war with these aberrations, not to mention the drow, giants, and orcs, the mighty empires of the dwarves were reduced to scatttered kingdoms in the mountains of the world. With the conflicts of past ages now over, the stage was set for human dominion.

The Rise and Fall of Man: Mankind masters agriculture and becomes civilized. Through contact with the other common races, their knowledge of magic and craftwork increase significantly. They use these tools to build kingdoms, then vast empires, and finally their prowess in the arcane arts becomes so great that mankind creates a vast, magical empire that dominates the face of the known world. All the common races live together in an age of unparalleled prosperity. Such an age could never last, however. Greedy magelords, seeking to master new magic, make pacts with infernal beings and become the first tieflings. These diabolical warlocks make war on their fellows, and the empire was embroiled in a war the likes of which the world had never seen. Armies of fiends clashed with archmages raining magical destruction from astride dragon mounts. Terrible spells were unleashed that destroyed entire cities in a single night. Finally, such horrible power was invoked that the very world was nearly destroyed. Using forbidden magic, a ball of fire from the sky was invoked, destroying the empire and killing billions. Though the common races survived, an age of darkness and travail awaited them.

The Age of Darkness The world had become a dark and dangerous place. The fiends and undead servants which once served the tieflings were now free to prey on the remains of a broken world, and survival was the only law that held any sway. The union of the common races was sundered. Human barbarians from the farthest corners of the empire swept down upon the remains of the magelords' shattered domain and plundered what was left of it. The elves withdrew to their decimated forest retreats and citadels, and the dwarves retreated to their mountain strongholds to rebuild, leaving humanity to its own devices. Slowly, the world healed from the grievous wounds inflicted upon it. Fiends were banished, undead were vanquished, and the races of the world began to rebuild.

The Age of Empires: As the dark days waned, the humans who had claimed the ruins of the magelords' empire began to build empires of their own. City-states blossomed into kingdoms such as Kavor, Nasharr, Simpur, and Tarsus. The elves built a kingdom for themselves in the forest of Irador, while the dwarves secluded themselves in their fortresses and clanholds, mining the riches of the earth and crafting fantastic works of stone and metal. The halflings plied the waterways of the world as traders and explorers. Not all of these new human empires would last, however. The Empire of Nasharr died along with its god-kings, and the Kingdom of Tarsus was overthrown by a conspiracy of diabolical cultists. Though the Kavoran Empire was able to hold its territory through naked force, its was overwhelmed by a horde of savage humanoids led by the deposed general Araxis. Though Araxis sacked Kavor, the evil warlord was slain by the hero Caladorus, who became the first emperor of the Caladoran Dynasty. He moved his court to the new capital of Caladore, and the Caladoran Empire was born.

The Caladoran Empire: The Caladoran Empire would last for over 900 years and expand its borders throughout the face of Taloran. The empire would absorb the fallen nation of Nasharr, liberate the kingdom of Tarsus from the clutches of an infernal theocracy, and conquer the kingdom of Simpur. It takes a great leader to hold such a vast empire together, and unfortunately, later emperors lacked the strength and will of Caladorus. With his dying breath, the last emperor declared that the empire would be divided. Thus ended the last great empire.

Modern Age: The sundered empire was divided into numerous independent nations. The emperor's oldest son became ruler of the kingdom of Caladore. His younger brother became king of Kavor, while the youngest heir would become the Archduke of Roland. Nasharr remained a desert wasteland ruled by nomadic tribesmen, while Simpur was once again a kingdom unto itself. The city-state of Sendoria became a powerful mercantile nation, and the mysterious Iron Overlord took control of the city of Tyr Rennar, capital of Tarsus.

Recent Events: These are some of the major events that have occurred since the fall of the Caladoran Empire in the year 930 CR (Caladoran Reckoning). The current year is 1187 CR.
1031 - The god Malechor was released from his ancient prison, bound on destroying the world. A group of heroes managed to slay him using an ancient artifact known as the Godhammer.
1033 - The mad necromancer Argus Killgrave used an artifact from the empire of the magelords to lay waste to much of western Simpur. Though the power of the ritual destroyed him, he was reborn as a lich, and began transforming the blasted ruins of Simpur into a realm of the walking dead.
1039 Andre Kulick, one of the heroes who destroyed Malechor, becomes King of Caladore.
1042 - The lich-king Argus Killgrave defeats the archmage Aric Dragonheart in a duel and takes the artifact known as the Eye of Orphos from him, intent on corrupting it and becoming a living god. The forces of Caladore and their allies march against the armies of the lich-king. During the final battle, Aric Dragonheart sacrifices himself in order to purify the Eye of Orphos, destroying the lich-king. Aric and the Eye become one with Orphos, god of magic, and the laws of magic change. Magic-users throughout the world struggle to re-learn the arcane arts.
1043 - The eladrin return from the Feywild and invite their kin to come and study under them so that they might re-master the Art. Many high elves take what has become known as the Great Retreat and vanish into the Feywild.
1080 - King Andre dies with no male heirs. His grandson, the Duke of Roland, is named king, and the Duchy of Roland becomes part of Caladore.
1137 - The high elves, now calling themselves eladrin, return to Taloran from the feywild to share their knowledge of the Art.
I was recently accused of making my D&D campaign too convoluted. I personally disagree, but I am willing to listen to constructive criticism. In the interest of fairness, let's examine a brief overview of the campaign so far:

The PC's came to the quiet farming village of Brambleshire, nestled in the borderlands between the savage barbarian nations to the north and the civilized human kingdom of Caladore. They soon become aware of suspicious activity amongst the savage humanoid population, including daring midnight raids and highway robbery by goblins and kobolds, respectively, who have traditionally only been nuisancces in the region. Conflict with the diminuitive humanoids soon leads to clues...and more questions. The goblins are being paid in gold to raid for supplies, gold from the far-away city of Tyr Rennar. Why? The Kobolds are kidnapping people to sacrifice to the black dragon who dwells beneath a nearby lake. Why has this begun only now?

Soon the PC's are asked to discover the fate of a scholarly priest who went missing recently. Upon finding his remains, they discover his journal, which has detailed notes about an artifact called the Darksbane Crown, an item that can possess whomever touches it. After the village priest casts a speak with dead spell, the priest tells them that the crown must lie in the ruins of nearby Stormwing Keep, a border fortress that was destroyed some 100 years ago. The party promises the dead priest that they will finish his mission to find the dangerous artifact.

Meanwhile, certain party members have befriended a little girl named Serena who possesses unique abilities. She is sensitive to psychic impressions, and she recieves visions that leave her physically weakened. She claims that there are restless spirits in the castle ruins that trouble her dreams. These physically taxing visions are having an adverse affect on her health. The party resolves to get to the bottom of this.

So, setting off for Stormwing Keep, the party soon discovers the ghosts that Serena mentioned, and they managed to make contact with one of them. This ghost related her sad tale, how she had been possessed by the Darksbane Crown, which ultimately led to her murder at the hands of her own husband, who in turn set fire to the castle in his throes of grief. She tells them that her husbands spirit is dangerous and violent to the living, but he will listen to them if they present a token - her wedding ring, lost long ago in the ruins.

Delving into the dungeons below, they encounter many goblins, all of which have coins from Tyr Rennar on their person. They also rescue Broketail, a kobold prisoner who tells them the full story: the kobolds and goblins both lived in the ruins and feuded for control of them. One day, a hobgoblin warlock and his retinue of hobgoblin mercenaries appeared through a magic portal and recruited the goblins for a special mission. They were searching for the Darksbane Crown. Soon the reinforced goblins routed the kobolds, who fled to the caves below, and from there to nearby lake, where they began making sacrifices to the black dragon Gloomfang in order to curry favor with the beast. The goblins, meanwhile, began searching the ruins for the crown.

Broketail led them to the chamber of Gogmurt, chief of the goblin tribe that lived in the ruins. Among his possessions they found the ring they sought. Returning to the ghosts, they managed to make contact with the other spirit and convince him to pass on to the afterlife with his wife's spirit. As they departed, they told the party that the crown they seek lies in the hoard of the dragon Gloomfang, whose lair is actually in the caves beneath the castle. Returning to Brambleshire, they discovered that Serena had made a full recovery once the ghosts had passed on.

The next day, the party decided to go and investigate the ruins some more. Upon arrival, they came into conflict with a squad of goblins who were searching for an escaped kobold prisoner. After the battle, Broketail, who had been hiding nearby all along, met up with the party again. After questioning a captured hobgoblin officer, they discovered that the goblins were close to finding the crown, they were just waiting for the dragon to leave its lair. Knowing that time was of the essence but wishing to circumvent the goblins in the dungeons below, they questioned broketail about alternate routes to the dragon's lair. Broketail confirmed that a secret underwater entrance could befound near the lake.

Swimming through the submerged tunnel into a partially water-filled cave, the party soon discovered the dragon's hoard unguarded...for the moment. Krayden, the eladrin ranger, hastily grabbed the crown and was immediately possessed. When the party tried to apprehend him, the possessing spirit used magic to stop them, charming and dominating they party into fighting each other. Soon the commotion attracted the dragon's attention, and things only got worse. Fiona, the human fighter, died at the hands of the dragon's breath weapon during the battle. Ultimately the battle ended as the spirit left Krayden, possessed the dragon, and flew away with the crown clutched in its jaws.

...and that's how we ended the last session. I know this looks like a lot, but bear in mind that this is the entirety of the campaign from 1st-3rd level, and these events happened over the course of weeks of real-world time. Honestly I don't think this is convoluted at all. Even though there were some side-quests (Serena and the ghosts, for example), the party's main goals have been, and still are:

1. Find the Darksbane Crown and return it to the dead priest's order.

and

2. Discover why this mysterious goblin warlock wants the crown.

Simple, no? I think so. But, I suppose I'll still put it to a vote next time to see if I need to "trim the fat" on this campaign. I think the majority of the players are happy with the story so far, so I don't foresee any major changes needing to be made.

'Till next time, folks.

Marvel made me squee...

I've been neglecting comics for a few weeks now, but yesterday I finally found my way back to my neighborhood comic book shop to catch up on Amazing Spider Man and Secret Invasion. At this point couldn't everybody at Marvel just go home and let Bendis run the joint? I mean, seriously! Everything that's happened in EVERY main-continuity book Bendis has written in the last two years or more (and that's a lot) has been part of an elaborate setup to Secret Invasion. That means that even before Civil War, Bendis was laying the framework for Secret Invasion and cackling like a sadistic puppet master (I assume). There's talk of Bendis putting together a new team of Avengers when this is all over featuring the Big Three: Thor, Iron Man, and Captain America (James Barnes). Dude. Needless to say, Secret Invasion is fantastic, and it just keeps getting better. Issue #6 ended with two enormous splash pages as marvel's best finally take it to the skrull invaders for real. I squee'd. It made me squee.

Over in ASM, ol' Stormin' Norman Osborn has brought the Thunderbolts in to catch Spidey, and I have to say, Osborn has really blossomed from a cackling, pumpkin-bomb-tossing antagonist to a full blown villainous mastermind. I've liked him as Peter's nemesis for a long time. Under the pen of Warren Ellis over in Thunderbolts, he's really been showcased not as a jerk in a goblin costume, but as a dangerous sociopath with a god complex, and that portrayal has really stuck. Seriously, for me Norman Osborn has become one of those villains like the Joker, where you go, "Aw no way man, that guy's crazy. Can't I just go fight the Wrecking Crew?" Oh yeah, also, Martin Li/Negative Man seems to have inadvertently transformed Eddie Brock into an "Anti-venom", complete with a negative black-on-white symbiote (or something), and next issue showcases a battle between him and Mac Gargan/Venom. I'd love to see this story conclude with Brock becoming Venom again, but I'm not holding my breath.

Finally, over in The Incredible Hercules (heh, can't believe they stuck with that title) it seems that the amazons have had enough of Hypollyta pining over Hercules, so they've bumped her off and her daughter Artume is in charge now. Their first order of business: sex up Amadeus Cho. Now, I know that the idea of forced mating with scores of beautiful amazons sounds good on paper, but let's not forget, Amazons kill their lovers after coitus. So Cho might die, but he'll have a smile on his face. So Herc and Namora have to save Amadeus from a small army of uzi-toting amazons who look like they've been shopping at Hot Topic. Oh yeah, and Namor is pissed because Herc's been putting it to his cousin Namora. It is made primarily of awesome, and all delivered with the same tongue-in-cheek sense of humor that the series has become famous for. Now, some of you out there might be saying, "This is just a rip-off of Amazons Attack!" Let me just point out that most DC fans like to pretend Amazons Attack never happened, while this story arc in Hercules is, as I have previously stated, made of awesome.

'Nuff said (I've always wanted to do that :P)

The Monster List

I've been working on an interesting project. It's really more of an exercise in creative thinking than anything else, but so far its produced a few great ideas. What I've done is create a MS Word document with a listing for every monster category in the 4e MM. One by one, I go down the list, and for each entry I have to put something, anything, unique about that creature in my campaign setting. What it has done is provoke interesting thought and allowed me to flesh out creatures that for a while have been carbon-copies of monsters from any other setting. If I learned anything from Pathfinder, its never be afraid to do new things with monsters. Hopefully when I'm done I'll have some interesting new ideas to share here, and torment my players with, of course.

Sep. 26th, 2008

Dungeoncraft has consistently been one of the most useful columns in Dungeon magazine, and even in its current bastard digital format, it continues to please. This month's installment is about the "idea file", a place to organize the many creative ideas you develop when plotting out a campaign so that you can cultivate the ones that are pertinent to your current game and safely store ones that can be used for future games. In the spirit of this exercise, allow me to share a couple of ideas that may or may not find a place in my current campaign.

The Savage Island of Talona
Late in the lifespan of 3rd edition, I ran a series of games (not quite a full fledged campaign) with a group of my college buddies. We get together every few months or so and play a good 4-5 hour session, despite being scattered across the southeast (and Connecticut), usually during a holiday that brings us all back to North Carolina. Anyway, I set these adventures on a large tropical island, newly colonized by the city-state of Sendoria in order to harvest its bounty of gold, jewels, spices, and all manner of exotic goods. The PC's were basically tasked with protecting the fledgling colony from the depredations of the many dangerous inhabitants of the island, which included voracious dinosaurs, bloodthirsty giants, yuan-ti cultists, and a mysterious tribe of savage drow who had long ago abandoned the worship of Lolth for an ancient bat-god.

Since the launch of 4th edition, the timeline of my campaign has shifted 150 years. During this time, the tiny Talona colony has grown into a bustling port city, daily shipping out all manner of exotic goods. Enticed by the promise of a new land, various nomadic clans of dragonborn have migrated to the island and built the first new dragonborn city in millenia, nestled in the caldera of an extinct volcano on the southern tip of the island. Though civilization blooms, the land remains as savage and perilous as before. Over the years the yuan-ti have subverted some of the human colonists into snaketongue cultists who worship their ophidian masters in ruined temples deep in the jungles. The drow bat-riders have grown tired of the humans encroaching on their homeland and growing fat on stolen riches, yet they still skirt the knife's edge of open war. The dragonborn vie for dominance over their new kingdom with savage giants and all manner of monsters, and deep in the darkest heart of the jungle, dark forces that were meant to stay buried forever strain against their bonds, waiting for the opportunity to escape.

Return to Ravensport
My last 3rd edition campaign focused on helping a deposed and exiled prince from an island kingdom regain his throne and defeat the powerful criminal syndicate that had taken over his home, the city of Ravensport, as well as unraveling the mystery of the island's mysterious fey guardian, a mystical beast known as the Ravenhart. In the end, prince Aldric was made the new king, and he took one of the PC's, the elf sorceress Freya, as his queen.

In a return to Ravensport campaign, I'd want to further explore the island itself and its mysterious fey connections, in addition to intrigue within the city. The current king (grandson of Freya and Aldric), struggles to control the nobles under rule, many of whom resent the king for his fey blood. The people of ravensport have a history of piracy and sea-raiding, and more and more desperate people have turned to their ancestor's illicit ways, threatening to envelop Ravensport in the criminal activities that once ruled it. Deep in the forests of the island, elf druids commune with the many powerful spirits that call it home, while maintaining their guard against the fearful and superstitious humans. A return to Ravensport campaign would focus on helping the king deal with the threats of scheming nobles, self-styled pirate kings, and superstitious humans who threaten to upset the powerful fey spirits who rule the land.
Something that players and DM's alike sometimes fail to remember is that adventurers, by their very nature, are risk-takers. Even the most cautious, metagaming, search-for-traps-every-five-feet sort of party has still made the decision to leave their normal lives behind for the chance at fame, fortune, and adventure. This game session reminded us all how taking risks can be rewarding and disastrous at the same time, and how one decision can take the campaign in a startling new direction.

It started with the party waking up from a night at the inn, having just returned from their first successful foray into the dungeon. After buying a few essentials, the decision was made to return to the dungeon and finish their mission: find the Darksbane Crown. So the party once again left the village of Brambleshire, made the 11-mile trek through Briarwood forest, and found themselves once more in the ruins of Stormwing Keep. While making their way through the ruins, heading towards the dungeon entrance in the old tower, they became aware of several harsh, guttural voices around the bend. Sending Krayden (Eladrin Ranger) ahead to scout, he spied a group of goblinoids - two hobgoblins and four goblins - searching the area for signs of the intruders that just the night before had slain so many of their comrades, as well as the kobold prisoner they released.

Before Krayden could report what he saw, the goblins spotted him crouching behind a pile of rubble, and combat was on. Maylor (Dragonborn Warlord) and Fiona (Human Fighter) took the fight to the two hobgoblins, while Ariadne (Tiefling Warlock), Meika (Human Wizard), and Krayden all took cover behind some pillars and began firing at the goblin archers. As the party gained the upper hand over the goblins, a crude spear soared through the air to skewer a goblin archer through the chest. The party turned an saw that Broketail, the kobold they rescued, had joined the fray. Soon only the hobgoblin commander was left, and Maylor and Krayden quickly subdued him.

Taking him prisoner, they successfully interrogated him. They learned that the dungeons below held at least another 20 goblins, and at least as many skeletons and zombies that Magrak the goblin shaman had raised. They all answer to Skarash, the hobgoblin warlock that hired them for this job. They haven't found the crown yet; they are currently searching for a back way into the dragon's lair, and they believe that an underwater tunnel leads into the lair from nearby Dragonsmere Grotto. After they had all the information, Fiona promptly executed the prisoner.

Broketail corroborated the goblins' theory of an underwater tunnel, explaining that it is Gloomfang's primary entrance to her lair. After a brief deliberation, the party decided that it would be a waste of time and resources to hack their way through a dungeon full of goblins and undead when they had the opportunity to sneak in and take the crown from the dragon's lair.

The party quickly left the ruins and made their way to Dragonsmere Grotto. There, they discovered the tunnel about 20 feet below the water's surface, which then sloped gradually upward for another 100 feet before opening up into a partially filled underwater cave. The next chamber, much larger than the first, was a great pool of brackish water, a small island in its center. Hundreds of gold and silver coins were piled about, along with various other treasures. There was another passage that led deeper into the caves on a ledge about 15 feet up, but the party decided to act now while the dragon was away, rather than explore further. They began sifting through the treasure in a hasty search for the Darksbane Crown.

Unfortunately, it was Krayden who found it, and for reasons known only to him, he decided to keep it a secret. As soon as he touched it, however, the sorceress's spirit inside took over his body. The rest of the party watched in horror as he placed the crown on his head, an obvious slave to its power. They tried to subdue him, but the possessing spirit overwhelmed them with her magical power. She hurled Meika into the brackish water with telekinesis, charmed Fiona, and dominated Ariadne. As Ariadne began blasting Maylor with her eldritch blast, Fiona moved to the side of her new master, eager to protect her. Meika swam to the shore and cast sleep on the whole group, hoping to put an end to the fighting before someone got hurt. The spell put everyone but Maylor and Fiona into a magical slumber. She then used mage hand to grab the crown and place it into her bag. Maylor attempted a coup de gras on the possessed Krayden, believing death to be the only way to remove the possessing spirit, but the charmed Fiona intercepted the blow herself, taking massive damage. Just when it seemed things couldn't get any worse, the dragon showed up.

Roaring with fury at the sight of these intruders, the dragon leapt from the 15 ft. ledge to the island below and loosed her acid breath on Maylor and Fiona. Fiona, already badly bloodied by Maylor's failed coup de gras, was slain by the corrosive spray, melting her down to a pile of smoldering bones and melted organs. Meika, believing that the most important thing was to finish the mission, retreated down the underwater tunnel with the crown. At about that same time, the possessed Krayden awoke to see an axe-wielding dragonborn looming overhead. The sorceress sent him flying into the water with a blast of telekinesis and got to her feet, only to find herself face-to-face with an angry black dragon. Before, the dragon could devour her, however, she managed to dominate the beast, mounted her, and commanded her to get her to safety. As the dragon moved towards the underwater tunnel, Ariadne awoke. Knowing that they had to buy Meika as much time as possible, she cast curse of the dark dream on the sorceress, causing her to leap off of the dragon's back in fear. Flailing about in the water, she shouted a new command to her dominated pet: "fetch me my crown!" the dragon took off down the tunnel just as Maylor brought the flat of his blade down on the possessed Krayden's head, knocking him unconscious.

Meanwhile, Meika had made it to Dragonsmere Grotto and mounted Ariadne's horse just as the dragon leapt from the water and took wing. Spurring her mount into a gallop, she made for the forest, hoping the tree cover would protect her from the dragon. Gloomfang crashed through the branches, sinking her claws and fangs into the horse's flanks. The horse kicked free and made a panicked dash for safety, but the dragon unleashed it's breath weapon, melting the poor creature. Meika was missed by the spray and quickly scrambled for a place to hide. The dragon searched through the horse's remains and soon found the crown in a half-melted saddle bag. She delicately grabbed the platinum crown between her teeth.

At that exact moment, the possessing spirit left Krayden's body and flew out of the cave, through the forest, through the crown, and into the dragon's body. Fearing the worst, Meika dared to peek out from her hiding place just in time to see the dragon take to the air and soar away towards the southwest. The session ended with one PC dead, one PC bound and unconscious, one very happy kobold NPC raiding a dragon's hoard, and one quest item soaring away in the clutches of a possessed black dragon. Next session promises to be very interesting.

Next time: Who knows?