Sunday, April 9, 2017

Towards my upcoming Curse of Strahd campaign

I intend to start DMing Curse of Strahd (an official D&D 5E campaign) for my group in a month or two. Thus, I have ample time to prep.

The first thing I wanted to figure out was how to get them together and bring them to the Death House.

They will start in a normal D&D world. Possibly the Forgotten Realms. They all happen to be passengers on a riverboat traveling an infrequently traveled river. The boat has other passengers as well - possibly even a higher level Wizard and his bodyguard.

On the second day of their voyage, the weather turns uncharacteristically bad - cold, wet, and foggy. The next morning, they find themselves floating in thick fog. The navigator says that her compass went crazy, but they should still be moving down the river and the weather should get better soon.

That night, ghouls attack the boat out of the shallow river water - led by two ghasts. The PCs sleep in the common area, which is the aft of the boat which is covered by a canvas canopy against rain. They will have to fight a gang of ghouls and one ghast who attack their area. Other passengers in their area (civilian NPCs) will get slaughtered before the PCs could respond.

When they start getting the upper hand in the battle, they will hear and see an explosion from the forward part of the boat - the cabin where the crew and the better-paying passengers stay. Apparently, the wizard panicked and tried to get rid of ghouls who cornered him - and miscalculated the effects of his fireball. The boat catches fire and the players have to finish off a few charred ghouls who escaped the blaze.

Soon after the PCs win the fight, heavy rain begins to pour, soon developing into a storm. This puts out the fire, but not before it causes the canvas, as well as the cabin's roof, to collapse. The ship is leaking badly from battle damage and will soon sink to the river bottom. It offers little shelter from the rainstorm.

If the PCs search the boat, they can gather some supplies, possibly a few minor magic items and potions once possessed by the now-dead wizard. They might also pick up a few NPC survivors - all non-combatant civilians.

Now they have to find a shelter from the rain - which means going ashore and into the surrounding woods. However, the trees offer little refuge from the storm.

Eventually, they wander and reach a lone house in the fog - the Death House. In my version of the adventure, the PCs will not encounter the "children" outside but rather enter the House in search of shelter and get trapped; then they will meet the "children" and the adventure will commence...

Saturday, April 8, 2017

These Stars Are Ours! now available in Print-on-Demand!

I am thrilled to announce that Stellagama Publishing's sci-fi setting book for the Cepheus Engine/2D6 OGL SciFi, These Stars Are Ours! is now available in Print-on-Demand. Currently, we offer a hardcover option, but soon - hopefully within a week - we will also have a softcover option available.

Order it HERE!

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Who's who in the Isenvale March

Here are the high-level NPCs and monsters I have in mind for the Isenvale March campaign. Note that these are faction leaders; some are dungeon level-bosses. Most creatures in this mini-setting are much lower in level and power.

Humans of Oathbridge
Castellan Edmund of Oathbridge, the local ruler, is a level 4 Fighter. He is a capable warrior, but he 22 years old and a mere five years on the throne and is not a good ruler, even though he does try to manage his manor fairly. The matters of state do not come as easy to this young man as warfare does. He prefers to spend his time hunting or sparring rather than deal with the boring and difficult burden of managing his domain. Instead, he lets Gregory, his manipulative majordomo, and court wizard, run things. Lawful.

Gregory of Zabreba, the Castellan's majordomo, and court wizard, is a level 4 Mage. Older and far more experienced than Castellan Edmund, he Oathbridge's actual ruler. This manipulative politician used his keen knowledge of the archaic and often contradictory law of the dying Empire to install Edmund on the manor's throne instead of his older, smarter sister Rowena, when their father died. This way he could get the power into his hands and also insert his fingers into the manor's coffers. He acts as a tyrant in any way he can get away with without coming into conflict with Edmund. He is Neutral, but the Aboleth is now working on further corrupting this corrupt courtier and turning him Chaotic.

Armand the Quick, Oathbridge's chief criminal, is a level 4 Thief, leading a gang of 16 thieves, himself included. His income includes all sorts of petty village crime, burglary in this valley and the surrounding areas, some gambling at the Snoring Dwarf tavern, and other mischief - and also waylaying travelers on the road, in collaboration with the Bandit Queen. He is not an evil man; he is in for the gold. The Bandit Queen is powerful and working with her pays off, so Armand works with her for the time being. He knows very well, though, that if he will be uncareful, he will hang once she takes the throne. Neutral.

Father Frederick, Priest of the Invincible Sun and Oathbridge's religious authority, is a level 3 Cleric. He is a very old, very devout man who has served in his holy post for the past fifty years. He has the villagers' respect but is well-known for being very careful and reserved with magical aid; he does not use his spells lightly and will reject such offer and the accompanying tithe if he suspects that this will serve a questionable purpose. Lawful.

The Bandit Queen is a legendary figure of peasant folklore. Stories about her surfaced a mere few years ago, but now she is a central figure in tall tales and rumor-mongering. She fights, or so the peasant story goes, to overthrow the tyranny of Edmund and Zabreba and institute justice in Oathbridge. "Justice" usually means, in such stories, a major reduction of the extortion taxes levied by Gregory, as well as hanging this rascal and his bully of a Sherriff, Boris. Some even say that she will give serfs their freedom and turn everyone into freeholders. In reality, she is Rowena, Castellan Edmund's older sister. This woman, at the age of 31, is a level 5 Explorer. She is smart, and she also believes that the end always justifies the means and can be quite ruthless. Enraged that her young and inept brother Edmund got the throne, she is determined to take what is hers by the force of arms. For this, she is gathering an army of bandits and rebels to eventually assault Oathbridge, takes its fort, and overthrow her brother. Once enthroned, she will rule with an even hand, but also with an iron fist. Lawful.

Humans of Spirngmound
Abbess Ingrid of Springmound, a level 5 Cleric of Sol Invictus, is the de-facto ruler of the Springmound domain. When she was a young nun, Castellan Ivar of Springmound died on a battlefield of the earlier Imperial troubles with his two sons, leaving no issue. His widow, Lady Castellan Irina of Springmound, ruled for another decade. When Lady Irina died two dozen years ago with no clear heir, the manor fell into disuse, its men-at-arms and servants scattering to find better jobs in other places. The newly-appointed Abbess Ingrid was the only person of authority and power to whom the Springmound villagers could turn in time of need. She is also an ambitious ruler with a desire to become Isenvale's Rectoress - and even rise further in the Church hierarchy. Lawful.

Templar Inessa of Springmound, Abbess Ingrid's mailed fist, is a level 4 Fighter. This seemingly non-impressive woman of short stature is as lethal as a serpent with her spear and legend said that she once stared down a raging bear. Her formal task is to protect the Abbey. Her actual role is enforcing the Law in Springmound - which she does in merciless strictness and a unit of disciplined men-at-arms. The Abbess, a skilled ruler who maintains a much more merciful image, keeps the Templar on a short leash but makes it clear that she will unleash Inessa on any criminal, Chaotic heretic, or threat to the Abbes' power. Lawful.

Humans of Swornwell
Tribune Richard of Isenvale, the March's ruler, is a level 7 Fighter. He is a good but weary man well past his prime. An excellent horseman in his youth, he is now occupied by the affairs of state. The latter are grim. His superiors in the Imperial interior demand ever-greater taxes and military forces for their internecine wars. Thus, he has to balance between his loyalty to the dying Empire and the needs of his own domain. Locally, the Blooded Maw Orcs continually threaten Isenvale and are too powerful for the Tribune's forces to defeat; instead, Richard tries to contain this threat and hold it at bay. Bandits and less-organized monsters are also a constant concern.

Rector Sigmund of Isenvale, a level 6 Cleric, is the March's spiritual authority. This once-ambitious young man was an adventuring Cleric, until he got shot in his leg by an Orcish archer and he settled down to replace Isenvale's old Rector who died of old age. While a more senior cleric healed his shattered knee with a powerful spell, such powerful magic was not without a cost. A connoisseur of fine wine to begin with, this brush with mortality hurled the Rector into the depth of a wine glass. His divine authority is great, but so is his tendency for drunkenness. Abbess Ingrid knows of this habit of her superior and plans to utilize it to have him ousted from his position - so that she could become a Rectoress by herself. Rector Sigmund is strictly Lawful but usually drunk.

Nicolai the Serpent, a level 6 Assassin, is head of Swornwell's criminal syndicate. This born and bred conspirator murdered his way up the old thieves' guild hierarchy to place himself on its head. A sadistic man, he does not only kill to further his end but also for the pleasure of taking a human life. Recently, the Deep God's emissaries began grooming this master criminal into their ally in Swornwell, with the intention of eventually assassinating the Tribune and installing their own puppet in his place. Chaotic.

Humans of the Wilderness
Mother Larissa. Art by Hannah "Gecko" Saunders
Mother Larissa, the Forest Witch, is a level 5 Cleric of the ancient nature-goddess Marzanna. Peasants whisper dark stories about Mother Larissa, such as that she can turn insolent people into toads (which is correct - she has such a spell in her repertoire), or that she performs blood-rites deep in the woods. There is a certain streak of malice in this old woman, especially when angered, but she is not a villain. Despite her ominous reputation, villagers often consult with her, as she sells effective potions and salves. She also casts magic on behalf of any who pays her with little questions asked, unlike the clergymen of Sol Invictus. Even the Swamp Lizardmen respect her, as they know her power very well; they occasionally trade with her as well. She has an enormous number of toads and frogs in and around her garden and has domesticated a giant toad as a guard animal. Neutral.

Swamp Lizardmen
Bleeding Talon, the Lizard Chief, is at 6+2 HD. He is a huge, fat lizardman who rules the Swamp like his ancestors did from time immemorial. He occasionally leads his warriors to raid human settlements or ambush caravans, but for the most part, he is content to stay in his village, eat fish, and mate with as many females as possible. Primitive and savage, but not evil or sadistic. Wants to get rid of the Lizard Cult. Neutral.

Burning Eye, the Lizard Shaman, is at 4+1 HD with level 3 Clerical abilities. He is as savage as his king, but wiser. He leads the lizardman religious activity - worship of totems and idols in the swamp. He knows the value of magical items and will hoard any such item he can get his claws on. Harbors burning hatred for the Lizard Cult. Neutral.

The Deep God
The most powerful creature is the nameless Aboleth itself - an 8+2 HD monstrosity, bigger and nastier than the average Aboleth, and also capable of dark sorcery as a 7th level Mage. Also capable of magical research, potion creation, and magical item creation - perfect for rewarding underlings and enticing other people to serve this fish-god. It is, of course, Chaotic and very intelligent. Its goal is to spread its dark influence across the land, gain power, and control as many minions as possible.

Lizard Cult
The Lizard Pontifex, who has long abandoned his lizardman name, is at 5+3 HD with level 5 Mage abilities. Rapidly evolved by Aboleth alchemical methods, he is a genius in lizardman terms (around INT 12). He built the Lizard Cult into a force to be reckoned with, equipped with advanced equipment looted from humans and organized into an effective military unit. He sacrifices captives to his God by throwing them down the well (which goes down into the Aboleth's lake). He is currently at war with the Goblins and Swamp Lizardmen. Communes with his God telepathically and receives gifts through his Emissaries (the Skum). Chaotic

"Tyrannus" is a monster - a 6+1 HD giant lizardman alchemically manipulated by the Aboleth. He is the cult's champion; as dumb as a rock but as tough as a mountain. Easily controlled by the much smarter Pontifex. His bite is venomous, and he wields a massive warhammer looted from the Dwarven ruins; the Dwarves built this weapon for two-handed use, but such a huge reptiloid can hold both it and a massive iron shield. Chaotic.

Orcs
Orgun the Orc Chief is at 5+1 HD, a massive old orc scarred by years of fighting for dominance against a wide variety of rivals, orcs and otherwise. He has been leading the Blooded Maw Orcs for over a decade. In that time, he built them from a regional nuisance into a dire threat to Isenvale. His greatest ambition is to take Swornwell itself. For this, he has been breeding and training his nine warbands and building weapons. The recent rise in power of the Orc Sorcerer Raznak only bolsters his plans. The orc threat is the number one reason why Tribune Richard of Isenvale cannot spare much of his soldiers to provide aid to his vassals, as this force stands guard against the Orcs. Ogrun is Chaotic.

Raznak the Orc Sorcerer, at 1+1 HD was once a petty witch doctor. However, messengers from the mysterious Deep God have taught him much in the Arcane and he has the abilities of a level 4 Mage. He secretly plots to depose the Orc Chief Orgun and turn the Blooded Maw Orcs into an instrument of his dread god. He is smarter than most orcs and even exceeds his Chief in wickedness, and has also acquired several minor magical items from the Aboleth. Chaotic.

Goblins
The Goblin King Burguk is at 4 HD - stronger than most goblin chieftains. He used to terrorize the countryside with his goblin warbands, but now the Lizard Cult has inflicted a painful toll on the goblins - only two Warbands remain. Wants to stuff his face and belly with cakes and humanoid flesh all day, as all goblin kings do, but first he has to get rid of the Lizard Cult. Chaotic.

The Goblin Shaman Nazal is at 1+1 HD, but has level 3 Clerical abilities. He wishes to sacrifice captives to the dark goblin spirits, but before that, he wants to rid the goblin tribe of the Lizard Cult threat. He will begrudgingly agree to parlay even with non-Chaotic characters if that furthers the end of combatting the Lizard Cult. Chaotic.

The Goblin Witch Urinn is at 1 HD, but has Mage abilities at level 5. She is smarter and meaner than other goblins - and even literate - and has interest in magical research. She will torture captured spellcasters to learn Arcane secrets, but will also trade in magical items and lore with strong characters she knows she could not subdue. Chaotic.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Isenvale March

Isenvale March and its Environs. 1 Hex = 6 Miles.
My Vault and Valley mini-campaign idea takes place in the Isenvale March, a remote frontier domain at the edge of an Empire. The March looks impressive on a map but is sparsely populated and economically underdeveloped in practice. Furthermore, the constant threat of monstrous raids and banditry hangs over the heads of the hardy Isenvalers. Naturally, such remoteness opens up opportunities for ambitious adventurers eager to carve out their own realm. Isenvale is rich in high-grade iron ore and has potentially highly fertile soil. However, in the long years since the Dwarves retreated from the valley, the Swamp expanded to claim many of its best lands and the forests swallowed up other arable fields. The peasantry, working hard enough to subsist in these inhospitable lands, lack the means to improve their own land, and so do their rulers. The same goes to the mines. Long ago, skilled Dwarven miners and engineers produced a wealth of iron out of these hills, smelting the ore in the grand furnace at the Vault. Good iron deposits still remain in the mountains. However, current-day mining is primitive and the local miners only produce small amounts of poorly-smelted iron.

Isenvale belongs to a crumbling Empire. I will leave its details vague so that any prospective Judge can adapt it to her own campaign world. It is sufficient to note here that the Empire is weak and torn by internal conflict and economic decline. Optimistic scholars predict that it will survive for another century, at most; more realistic ones do not believe that it will hold for even a decade. As the bulk of Imperial military and political forces concentrate in the struggle for the Imperial heartlands, frontier lords are de-facto independent rulers even if de-jure they are loyal subjects of whoever sits on the Imperial throne.

Tribune Richard of Isenvale rules his domain from his castle at Swornwell. He is an aging Lawful level 7 Fighter, a good but weary man well past his prime. An excellent horseman in his youth, he is now occupied by the affairs of state. The latter are grim. His superiors in the Imperial interior demand ever-greater taxes and military forces for their internecine wars. Thus, he has to balance between his loyalty to the dying Empire and the needs of his own domain. Locally, the Blooded Maw Orcs continually threaten Isenvale and are too powerful for the Tribune's forces to defeat; instead, Richard tries to contain this threat and hold it at bay. Bandits and less-organized monsters are also a constant concern.

The entire March has a population of 980 families. Of these, 150 live the Barony of Oathbridge, 200 in the Barony of Springmound, 80 scattered in the less-populated parts of the March which are only nominally claimed by the Tribune or either Castellan, and 550 in the Tribune's own fertile and better-defended domain around Swornwell itself.

The village of Swornwell with its 150 resident families is almost twice the size of Oathbridge or Springmound. It is, however, a hub of the frontier and thus has a Class-V market despite its small size. Springmound village has 90 families and Oathbridge village a mere 80. Both are also Class-VI Markets.