Sunday, March 29, 2009

Are you ready to go beyond the Sunrise Sea?

Goodman Games has announced the release date of Points of Light II: The Sunrise Sea here. It will be released in May.

The four lands presented in this edition of Points of Light are

  • The Golden Shores: A land in the midst of being colonized, where adventurers can encounter unknown cultures, old enemies, and battle a darkness that has haunted the land for millennia.
  • Amacui: A frontier land with only a single trading post representing the civilized world, but there are many ruins to explore and new civilizations to discover.
  • The Misty Isle: The greatest threat to exploration is not the natives or ‘things man is not meant to know,’ but enemies from the old world. Here in the Misty Isles, enemies from different realms and factions fight amid the jungles and islands.
  • Mazatl, the Realm of the Bat God: Rising from the vast Jungles of Zaracar is a massive shield volcano. Here the blood god, Azartac, lives in the city of Mazatl in the volcano’s caldera.
The theme of Points of Light I was about saving or expanding civilization. The theme of Points of Light II is exploration beyond the frontier of your campaign. I plundered history and myth to come up with four lands that are meant to be explored. This is not a rehash of Forgotten Realm's Maztica or an historical recreation. For example the culture of the natives of the Golden Shore are more like Mycanae Greek (Bronze Age) than Native Americans. The empire of Amacui is inspired by Ancient Assyria. Fans of pulp Swords & Sorcery will like the Misty Isles a lot. I think you find the volcano setting of Mazatl unique.

For those who followed the backstory of the first Points of Light, the Sunrise Sea gives you more information about the Grand Kingdom period. You will find out what happened to the Sarrath Faction from Borderland and Wildland and be introduced to a new human kingdom. Mazatl gives more details on blood god, Azeel, introduced in Wildland. Unlike the first Points of Light the four lands are set in the same "time" but are more diverse in their geography.

Again the background is an option, designed to allow people to combine the lands into a grand campaign if that their wish. The focus is still on writing lands that can just "drop" into your existing campaign.

The map sizes are slightly larger and have 27 columns and instead of 25. All the maps are full size unlike PoL I where Acheron was a half map. There are twice as many mini-maps. The monster stat block have been changed; instead of 5 HD it is now 5th Level, striker. With striker being the role/personality of the monster. This was done to broaden the appeal of the series to all editions of world's most popular RPG not just the older ones. The design, the writing, and feel of the lands are the same as PoL I.

Friday, March 27, 2009

What I intend to do about D&D's Endgame

Here Grognardia talks about the loss of D&D's Endgame. One of the reasons that made my Majestic Wilderlands so long lasting is because I never lost the endgame Grognardia talks about. My campaigns were always about the players making a mark on my world. About building that stronghold.

Over the years the concept expanded from literal stronghold building. I had a few do what it took to enter divine service to one of the Gods, some established whole realms after becomeing a ruler, guilds, even something as mundane as opening a potion shop was a big deal to one of my players. The past decade the trend has been to climb the ladder in one of the big organizations (temple, guild, royal court, etc) and achieve a position of power rather then build a castle in the wilderness.

Regardless of what the player choose in the end they were deeply satisfied because they made a difference. I continue to reward them by using the result of past characters action as the background for the next campaign

When I got into writing professionally and drawing maps professional. I was really focused on doing what it took to get the Majestic Wilderlands. More than just to see my personal campaign I knew that I could do something with the Majestic Wilderland that the other settings were missing and that was to offer a fun endgame.

However in 2003 I didn't have all of this expressed coherently. So much was wrapped in the idea of publishing the Majestic Wilderlands. It wasn't until I pitched Points of Light to Goodman Games that it all started to come together. Forced to look beyond both Bob's Wilderlands and mine I really had to think about what made a sandbox fun.

Aside from freedom to roam, easier prep, a well designed sandbox will have opportunities to for players to make my mark. So when Dwayne and I wrote up Wildlands, Borderlands, Southlands, and Acheron we made sure there were plenty of things players could do to alter the landscape.

Now having done that (and again with the upcoming Points of Light 2) I have to consider what is the next step. To me the answer is to get into the rules business. Give referees the support needed to run the endgame whether it is building a stronghold, estabilshing a dynasty, or just opening a potion shop. Then return to the sandbox of Points of Light, Wild North or Wilderlands to give things that the referees can use to drop in their games.

I am glad James talked about this at Grognardia as it reinforces the ideas I already have. I intend to restore the old endgame. In style.

Hopefully I will get a shot at publishing the Majestic Wilderlands as well. We will see.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

From the Attic: Gods of the Majestic Wilderlands

Gods of the Majestic Wilderlands

DANNU (DAN-NU) - The Mother of Mercy, Lady of the Green Earth, the Hearth Mother
Dannu is the goddess of mercy, love, home, and fields. Dannu is worshiped by peasants thourghout the Majestic Wilderlands. The church of Dannu works to bring aid and relief to the peasant when they suffer. The church of Dannu has special relationship with the church of Mitra . Together the two churches work to bring justice and peace to the Wilderlands. The church of Silvanus and Dannu cooperate on many matters.
SYMBOL: A Sheaf of Wheat on a Green Circle

HAMAKHIS (HA-MA-KISS) - The Deathlord, Lord of Undeath, The Final Judge
He is the god of death and judgment. All who die come to Hamakhis were they judged; those who fail dwell
forever in the City of Bones and the rest proceed to their god. Hamakhis is also able to grant to undeath to his followers.

Hamakhis has two types of sects; the first believing that if one make the proper sacrifices to Hamakhis and glorify his name, they will be granted the state of undeath, the second preaches about Hamakhis the Final Judge and warns people to be ready for him.
SYMBOL: A White Skull

KALI (KAA-LEE) - The Black Mother, The Death Crone, Lady of Illusions
Kali is the goddess of murder, and hatred. Her goals directly conflict with those of the goddess
Dannu. She revels in death and destruction. She sunders man and wife, takes the newborn from their mother, and brings famine and plague to the Wilderlands. Her followers are secreted in obscure caves, little alleys, and hidden valleys. The Claws of Kali are the most feared killers in the Majestic Wilderlands. The Claws support the main temples of Kalie. Also in many lands where temples are not able to be established, Kali is served by her
Blood Children, the Vampires and Werewolves. The Power of Blood makes them fearsome creatures of the night.

SYMBOL: The Kris Knife (Wavy Bladed Dagger)

MITRA (MI-TRA) -The Red Maiden, The Lady of the White Hand, Lady of Paladins
Mitra is the goddess of justice, war, and paladins. Mitra defends the helpless, and protects the weak from
those who desire to prey on them. There is great enmity between the church of Mitra and the church of Set. The Church of Mitra has a special relationship with the church of Dannu. Together the three churches work to bring justice to the Wilderlands.

SYMBOL: The White Hand on a Red Circle, The White Lion

NEPHTHYS (Nep-thee-is) - The Bargainer, The Golden Lady, The Queen of Opalescence
She is the goddess of wealth and pleasure; she is widely worshipped thorughout the Majestic Wilderlands by
merchants. Nephthy's followers believe that if one honors the Bargainer and indulges her pleasure, one will succeed in commerce. Her worship invariably involves orgies and sexual rites.

SYMBOL: Three Golden Coins

VERITAS (VEER-A-TAS) - The Craftsman, The Star Lord, The Father of Truth
Veritas is the god of crafts, artifice, and of creation. He is revered by the Dwarves. He is claimed to be the
eldest of the gods and the first to come to the Wilderlands. Veritas created the creatures of the earth and all of the children races. He established the First Covenant by which the Children Races were
taught and brought to glory. Veritas also established the Second Covenant by which the surviving gods of the Demon Wars agreed to rule the Wilderlands by faith.

SYMBOL: A silver chime with a golden hammer.

SET (SET) - The Serpant Lord, The Dragon, the Night Hunter
Set is the god of war, night, and evil. He is the conquerer, the emperor, and the dragon. He teaches the one
must strive for honor and glory. He also teaches that one must obey those above him and expect those below to obey.

SYMBOL: A serpent head on a black circle

SILVANUS (SIL-VAN-US) - The Forest King, The Dreamlord
Silvanus is the god of dreams, magic, and the forest. Silvanus is especially revered by the Elves. His worship
involves a lot of mysticism, simple but yet complex rituals, and magic. Among Humans his followers are known as Druids and the Rangers take Silvanus as their patron. Silvanus's followers work a lot with the church of Dannu.

SYMBOL: A Azure (Blue) Bowl

THOTH (THAWTH) - The Immortal Sage, The Bearer of the Lantern
Thoth is the god of knowledge. He is charged by Veritas with the keeping of the Second Covenant and the recording of all what transpire in the Wilderlands. His followers mainly follow the monastic life and collect books of lore. The church of Thoth also has an order that produces many fine jesters that entertain the courts of the Wilderlands.
SYMBOL: Lantern

THOR - The Lord of Icy Winds, Thunderer of the Gods.
Thor is the god of the wind, thunder, and war. He is the ultimate warrior, and the best at battle. His followers
live for battle, and continually strive to improve their skills and do great deeds. They believe that to die in battle is the only way to die properly.

SYMBOL: Hammer


Long ago I decide I wanted only a few major gods but have many names. The various Cultures view the ten gods through different lenses.

In the northwest in the lands influenced by the Elves Veritas, Silvanus, and Dannu are worshiped as the three major gods.

The Ghinorians consider themselves the chosen people of Mitra and view Set as a vile enemy.

The Sarnic people of Orchia and the Isle of Blest consider themselves the chosen people of Hamakhis.

In the Far South the Empire of Thule is ruled by a trioka consisting of the Emperor as leader of the army, the Church of Set, and Order of Set an order of Mages.

After the fall of the Ghinorian Empire the church of Mitra fell into decline in the old Ghinorian heartland in the south. The pantheon of invading Ioian Barbarians became the dominant religion. To the Ionian Thor was known as Mantriv the Monster Slayer and protector of the people. His wife Dannu cares for the lands so that the people can harvest their bounty. Advising the two is the wise Sage Thoth the Ibis Lord. Thier enemy is the Kali known as the Night Hag.

There are several other variations. I found that doing this allow me to add a dash of local color to the religous picture without overwhelming the players with obscure details.

The names I chosen were designed to be evocative of the diety. A new player hearing the name Set can rightly assume that he is an "evil" god. It can wait for later to discover what make my version of Set different. I do have alternative names for when I use them in my published projects.

For example in Points of Light Delaquain is Mitra, Sarrath is Set. Veritas survived unchanged because it is original name that I used. (it is latin for truth). Thoth I didn't change because I don't have a good alternative for his name. In Points of Light and Points of Light 2 Azeel and Azartec are alternative names for a male version of Kali.

I also do not like stats for dieties. I instead focus on the religons and the NPCs involved. The few one on one experiences with deities I alway try to role-play as deeply mystical. Few of my players leave those encounters unchanged.

The Wild North

For those of you with Fight On #3 and want a larger print of Map 19 or those who like Old School Maps. I offer the maps in two sizes, at cost, here at Cafepress. A couple have been sold already and I gotten nothing but good feedback.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

From the Attic: Majestic Wilderlands: Update #3

During my various campaigns I would release Updates. One or two page articles on some aspect of the Majestic Wilderlands. This is Update #3 about how people perceive the various cultures of the Wilderlands. There were 9 total before we started running theme campaigns (everyone a mage, a thief, etc). The setup for theme campaigns made the updates a bit redundant as the players immersed themselves in a small slice of the Wilderlands.


To better understand the various cultures in the Majestic Wilderlands I am presenting a series of quotes.


Gee those people from Sotur are sure the biggest busy bodies around, why every year you hear that someone from Sotur did this and did that. Not too long ago we had our third band of Soturites come to our village to slay the local wolf pack that was killing our sheeps. The first band did a fine job, but these others keep coming!
(Haldar in the Village of Finmark)


The City-State? Why it is the greatest city in the North, better than Sotur if I say so myself. Why City-State has it all; magic, goblins, merchant, pretty ladies, and wine especially the wine. If you want anything, anything at all go to the City-State especially during the Summer when they have the caravans come in. Why they have stuff from Sotur, the Skandians, the East, Viridstan, and the South. If you are ever there, go to the Green Goblin Inn the best in town.
(Lolan on the ship Golden Ospery)

Magic, and more Magic. The City-State has the last word on Magic, aside from Viridstan of course. If you want any charm, talismen, or curse. The City-State is where it is at.
(Marcus, apprentice mage)

City-State is now the greatest rival to the Lion of the North! The Overlord and his barbarian horde has over run our old allies along the Estuary. But by Mitra's hand we will aid our brothers along the Tharian Coast in resisting the mad ambitions of the Overlord. I call on every Adventurer's Company in Sotur to aid in riding the Wilderlands of the menace of the Overlord.
(A proclamation read by the paladin Haldanus the Visible Lord of Sotur after the fall of the Viridstan Empire)


It is great that Viridstan has fallen. Why it was the Paladin Endless Star himself that killed every last one of those green bastards. Now their slaves are squabbling over the pieces of the Empire. It was great day for the Wilderlands when Endless Star took Viridstan on.
(Yeoman Barris from Endless Star's birthplace Modron)

You should go to the Viridian Empire right now! Why ever since the Paladin Endless Star killed every one of the Viridians, all of their palaces are ripe for the taking. But watch out for their former human and goblin slaves. They are fighting like terriers over the scraps. Me and my lads are forming a band to go over there in two months.
(Tovard a mercenary from Sotur)


Elves, mmmm, never mess with Elves if you ask me. Do you know they do not need to eat like you and I, they live on magic. That is why every elf are better than the best human wizard.
(Gerron a woodsman north of City-State)

Elf?, spitting on the ground, who needs a stinking elf!
(Grumman, a orc from Dearthwood)

Elves are damn uppity if you ask me.
(Thoron a dwarf from Thunderhold, while holding Grumman head.)

All things shall become as dust, thus all things are be cherished and loved while their music plays their short tune.
(common Elven saying)


Greedy, SOB's I HATE HATE trading with them. This is my last trip to Thunderhold!
(The merchant Jarvis after returning with two sets of chainmail and four empty wagons.)

Never a more better friend, or a more terrible enemy.
(Lewellyn the Blue, Astrologer Royal to the Overlord of the City-State)

Dwarf? who needs a stinking dwarf!
(Grumman, a orc from Dearthmead just before Thoron's axe stroke)

To craft is the thing! To create is the highest achievement a Khuzan can hold. But woe to those whose life is destruction for they have the hatred of the Khuzdal.
(line from the Book of Stone)


Huh Halfings? I think they are cute.
(Dierella barmaid at the Green Goblin Inn in City-State)

Pests! Everyone of them a pest.
(Nolan, owner of the Green Goblin Inn in City-State)

A Elf, never far from his trees and bow
A Dwarf, never far from his gold and stone
A Gnome, never far from his pets and scrolls
A Halfling, never far from his fire and stew.
(Common Saying)

First we kill all the lawyers, starting with the Gnomes!
(A line in the The Merchant of Caelam a play by Willarn Shorehere.)

There got to be more animals in a Gnome's home than in the surrounding forest.
(Helon, ambassador to the Gnome Kingdom of Lightelf.)

To my heart are the Gnomes the closest of all save for my fellow brothers and sisters.
(Levsosal, Elven Prince of Irminsul.)

While we are in Gnome territory do not stray from the trail, do not hunt except with your sergeant's permission, and do not give gifts to any Gnome children. Any man violates these order will cause the entire caravan to be held responsible by the Gnomes and we will all suffer the punishment of their law!
(Master Levon, caravan master.)

Only when value is given for value taken does an action become meaningful.
(Common Gnome Saying.)


At this time Sotur was really Waterdeep.

The Green Goblin Inn was where most of players slept at when they went into City-State although they ate at the Seahawk Tavern. Their position on Regal Street funneled the players into those two establishments.

The Paladin Endless Star was a PC and got the final blow on the Emperor. And yes the fight was as tough as it sounded with the Emperor being a 28th level Magic-User and the Empress 26th Magic-User along with a raft of NPC in the low 20s and high teens. Basically the party played smart, in addition the Whitefire plot line was followed up and the Emperor and Empress didn't have all their magic items on them.

My elves are straight out of tolkein, end of story. Plus a little humor with Grumman the Orc.

My protrayal of Dwarves is pretty standard and nothing really shone about them until the late 90s when a PC played a dwarf named Zephrus Hammerguard. Somehow he took the standard tropes about dwarves and made them really cool.

Lewellyn is another one of those misspelling (Langwellan) that became canon in my Majestic Wilderlands.

Halflings are shire folks. Haven't done much with them. The two memorable Halflings were Zoldan the Battle Hobbit (along with his trusty friend He-Druid) circa 1983. And Toy of the duo Tinarretto (a elf) and Toy circa 1992. A very evil duo that literally cut a path across the Wilderlands.

Gnomes, my protrayal is an adaptation of the traditional Gnome and the Gnomes of the Deed of Paksenarrion by Elisabeth Moon. Moon's Gnomes are very legalistic, dispassionate, and do not believe in gift giving. Only a fair exchange of value will sastify them. Mine are soften a bit with their love of animals. You do not want to be caught trepassing Gnome Territory.

The Deed of Paksnarrion, The Legacy of Gird, and Lair's Oath are all very good books set in the same fantasy universe. I will warn you that the when you get to the village of Brewersbridge it will look very familar to old D&D hands.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009


Regardless of the rule system I use for my fantasy campaign I nearly always jettison the coinage system in favor of my own. It is nearly a direct copy of what Harn uses.

1 silver penny = 250 to 1 lb (a US dime sized coin)
1 gold crown = 320 silver penny = 16 to 1 lb (a US half dollar sized coin)

The following in theory "exists" but I don't use that often
1 silver mark = 240 silver penny = 1 1b (rounded it is really like .9 lbs) (this is a silver bar with a maker's mark stamped on it)
1 gold penny = 20 silver penny = 250 to 1 lb

Note that the pennies should be 256 to a lb but are round to make calculation easier. I handwave it as they are slightly debased compared to a 1lb of pure metal.

What I found that a system where you have a one common coin and one coin that is really large in relative value works better as far as giving the sense that treasure is valuable. The hordes of silver pennies are appreciated but it is the rare finds of gold crowns that make the players go oooo.

If you read anything on ancient coinage you will find trying to make heads and tails of it complicated. But as far as our game goes there are some basic principles you can use to make a coinage system of any arbitrary complexity.

The first thing is to remember that everything is based on weight. So your pennies can be 1/100 of a lb, your denarius 1/16 of a pound, and your groats 1/10 lb. The conversion factors flow from comparing the weights of the different coins. You may want to consider using drams instead of fractions of a lb. There are 256 drams in a 1 lb.

The second thing is the ratio of the value of silver to gold, along with the ratios of any base metals you are using (copper, bronze, etc). Historically Silver to Gold was about 20 to 1.

By knowing the weight of the coin, and the ratio of value from silver to gold. You can create a system of arbitrary complexity. I recommend that if you want to create a medieval feel to your coinage that you fractions of 12 or 16 instead of a decimal system.

Finally if you want to include debased currency just note the percentage loss. For example a silver penny from the Kingdom of Bythinia is worth 50% of a silver penny from the Empire of Argentum who still uses the full amount of silver in their coin.

Debased currency is the prime reason why trying to study anicent currency is so hard. One king may try to strike 20 drachmas from a lb of silver while a later king strikes 24, and further on the king starts striking 28 drachmas from a lb of silver. In each case mixing in base metals to keep the weight the same. Eventually the populace starts to wise up and begins to treat the new issues at a lesser value. Even they don't notice inflation will eventually kick causing prices to rise.

Monday, March 23, 2009

From the Attic: films and shows.

Some films and shows that influenced my early D&D.

Robin of Sherwood

I consider this the best Robin Hood of all times. Has the right blend of grittiness and mysticism. Even the second half with Jason Connery as Robin Hood was very good. It was also noted for the introduction of the Moor into the legend. Look for how the relationship between the Sheriff and Sir Guy changes between the first half of the series with Pread and the second half with Connery.

I will say that the new Robin Hood with Jonas Armstrong has grown on me. But still doesn't top Robin of Sherwood.


The golden standard of Arthurian films. This film is about the LEGEND and the capitals slam down in place throughout the film. While noted for the shiny plate mail it also has it gritty moments at the beginning and the end of the film. Look for wildman Lancelot at the end battle.
Nicol Williamson as Merlin is one of my all time favorite film wizards. Who doesn't love a guy hauling around a staff with a gas feed line attached to it. And how many of you memorized the Charm of Making.

The Land and King are indeed one.

Hawk the Slayer

Jack Palance makes a memorable turn this absolute cheesy yet fun fantasy movie. Legolas has nothing on the rapid fire action of Crow's bow. I am sure one reason Unearthed Arcana became popular because finally there was way to play Crow. (bow specialization). The movie wasn't a one man show as it brought together a diverse group to support Hawk's rescuing of the abbess from his evil brother Voltan. Very much in tune with the spirit of D&D which redeems it cheesiness.

The dragon was awesome, realistic, and kicks butt. Unlike the paltry dragons of AD&D this creature was a force of nature. The plot wasn't bad either and had a neat way of getting Ralph Richardson to the final confrontation.

If you going to go mystical and fantasy sometimes it best to go all out and Legend does that. The fact that it had a simple story was beside the point as it is a fairy tale in every sense of the word. The visuals and music score a home run for me. In my mind Tim Curry as the Lord of Darkness is the prototypical Evil Overlord.

One of the best films to illustrate the type of game I like to run is Ladyhawke. It is set in a mundane medieval world yet the story is powered by a epic premise. A curse uttered by a corrupt bishop has condemned a couple to live out their lives together yet apart. It helps that Matthew Broderick plays one of his better roles as the thief Mouse.


There were many other films that I watched, and somewhat enjoyed. But most seemed well ... lacking. After Robin of Sherwood and Excalibur it wasn't until the theatrical release of the Fellowship of the Ring that I watched a fantasy movie that was pitch perfect in every way.

Friday, March 20, 2009

From the Attic: The Majestic Wilderlands: The City-State of Warwick

Scum and Villains the lot of them. Bastard Sons of Sea Dogs and Horse Lovers they are a boil on the face of the Wilderlands.
- Lanarius of Clan Dolnar, Marshal of the City-State.

The City-State of Warwick is a human pirate city on the northern shore of the Padizan Peninsula. Formed from the fusion of four different cultures it is one of the most dynamic places in the Wilderlands. It dominates the Carolyn Peninsula to the east; ruthlessly exploiting it's inhabitants and resources for the gain of the Lords of the city. The rovers prey throughout the Winedark Sea, battling through the convoys of the Pokantril Merchants, and against their rivals the Vikings of the Skandians. Above they hate the Tharians Overlords of the City-State. With the aid of the old dragon Ancelgorn and dark god Set their revenge may be soon at hand.

After the end of the Crystal Wars a multi-racial expedition left the ruins of the Founders Empire to found a new home. A home that restored harmony between the races. Elves, Dwarves, Halflings, Gnomes, and Humans sailed to the northwest of the Padizan Peninsula.

After they landed they drove out the Orcs and carved out new realms. The Majestic Fastness of the Dwarves, the deep forest Silverwood for the Elves, the green hills of Limerick for the Halflings, the woods of Lightelf for the Gnomes, and the humans settled Merdain at the mouth of the Roglaroon Estuary, and Carolyn, the peninsula to the east of present day Warwick.

For nearly five thousand years the races lived in peace. Aside from the occasional expedition to quell the orcs little disturbed their peace until the Elessarians arrived. Having been heavily influence by the elves in their homeland of Dunador, there was little conflict between the newcomers and the older realms. Trade flourished and the winds of change were felt throughout both realms. When the Elessarian Civil wars began and their empire split, the disruption of trade, badly impacted the older realms. Tensions rose among former friends as each realm backed a different faction in the Civil War. In the end, war was averted but tight knit community of races was no more as each retreated behind their borders.

This proved fatal to the humans of Merdain and Carolyn when the Ghinorians arrived from across the Sea several hundred years later. Seeking new lands to rule, they came ashore and conquered the Merdain and founded the colony of Modron. Of the older realms only Carolyn came to Merdain's aid. In a few decades it also fell to the Ghinorians.

Although the Ghinorian conquered they were not tyrants. As long as their new subject accepted Mitra as their goddess they could become full citizen of the Ghinorian Empire. In Modron the Ghinorian and the native Merdain quickly assimilated. In Carolyn the war left bitter memories and the Carolyn continued to resist where they can. This continued even after the fall of the Ghinorian Empire and Modron became an independent principality.

A century later Modron joined with several other northern Ghinorian Colonies to found the Restored Ghinorian Empire. However unlike the original each member of the empire kept it's distinct identity and much of their independence. The empire became rife with factionalism and
was little more than words on paper. Then four hundred years ago the hammer of the Vikings fell.

The Skandians lived in the ice choked northern regions of the Wilderlands for hundred of years. Two hundred years ago in the 43rd century an expanding population was fast running out of land. Within a decade the Skadian exploded out their icy homeland, through the Iceblue Strait [1] to ravage the lands around the Winedark Sea. As first they came to raid and then to conquer. Valon, Tarsh, Ossary, Tarantis, Croy, and Warwick were established as Viking Kingdoms.

Sotur and the Restored Ghinorian Empire took the main brunt of the attack. Sotur founded the Merchant League of Pokrantril as a defensive alliance and within a few decades managed to stop the Vikings in the western Winedark Sea. In the east the Restored Empire did not fare so well.

The conquest of Kalnala, the nominal capital shattered the empire. The Viking renamed the city Tarantis and created a new kingdom out of the ashes of the Ghinorian Colony. The remaining colonies attempted to continue to fight. In the north Nome lost half of it's territory when Tarsh was sacked. Nomar was pushed way from it's coast when Ossary was founded. The islands of Croy and Brezal were conquered and settled by Skandians.

When the Carolyn Pennisula was first raided the Carolyn took advantage of the confusion and revolted. They founded a short lived kingdom that was conquered a decade later by a Skandian Warlord, Ivar the Boneless. Ivar settled on the village of Warwick as his seat as it possessed a natural harbor and a rocky headland that was easily fortified. From Warwick Ivar unleashed a new wave of Viking raids across the Winedark Sea irritating Sotur and the Merchant League of Pokrantril.

At that time there were several dispossessed Tharian Lords living on the Tharian. Mostly from the Duchy of Bernost, they attempted to revolt against the Overlord of City-State and lost. The League Council gave them funding and allowed them to recruit mercenaries provided they attack Ivar the Boneless. The Tharian Lords successfully undertook a difficult march over the Majestic Mountains and surprised Ivar with an attack from the land side of Warwick. The town and castle fell into the hands of the Tharian Lords.

The next several decades were spent conquering the rest of the Carolyn Peninsula and chasing down rough Skandian chiefs. But with the destruction of Ivar complete the League withdrew their support. Angered the Tharian Lords recruited from their Skandian Prisoners and turned to piracy themselves .

By time the Tharian Lords mastered the ways of the sea, the nations surrounding the Winedark sea have begun to recover and maintaining effective naval patrols. The Skandian Kingdoms were now interested in peace and have begun to quell the Vikings in their service. The result was that Warwick became a impoverished kingdom with little interest in dealing peacefully with outsiders.

In the ruins of the Majestic Fastness lies the lair of the dragon Ancelgorn. He has grown concerned with the rise of the Tharian Overlords of City-State and their alliance with the Dwarves of Thunderhold. The old dragon knows that the desire to return to the hall of their forefathers still burns in the hearts of the dwarves.

Taking advantage of the Warwick's poverty he has forged alliances with several of the Tharian Lords. He has encouraged them to listen to the words of the priests of Set and accept their aid. The dragon intends to use the Tharians of Warwick as the anvil on which to break Thunderhold. The Overlord of City-State has noticed the increased resources of Warwick and has sent agents of the Black Lotus to discover. The Border Warders of Thunderhold keep a close watch on the frontier.

[1] In the Majestic Wilderlands, the ocean gap on the northern edge of Valon doesn't lead to a bay but rather a strait to my Wilderland's version of the Arctic Sea.


I know this is a long post and violates the old page principle I talked about before. It does illustrate how important culture is in my version of the Wilderlands. My use of culture allows me to generate conflict and to me conflict means there is adventure for my players.

Ancelgorn's aid to the Tharian Lords is one of the main plots of my campaign. While it not featured in every campaign I ran, it played an important role in several. The history of the Lords of Warwick give them plausible motivations rather then coming across as cardboard villians twirling their mustaches.

Observant players can use this type of information either for personal gain, for the Lords of Warwick, or against them. While a lot been said about the dungeon, there another side of roleplaying involved in interacting with the setting and that means dealing with the people who live there. This experience is more enjoyable by players if the NPCs are given plausible motivations. The careful player can listen to everything going on and start to put together some of the deeper plots of the campaign. The Eureka! moment is always one to savor.

Each of the other elements of the history contribute to generate adventures for the players who deal with Warwick. In no particular order;

A Rebel Band of Carolyn Patriots need aid.
A old Ghinorian Family from Modron wishes to recover a family heirloom
The Black Lotus are recruiting agents to go into Warwick.
A Skandian Lord and his men has decided to go Viking and base out of Warwick.
A ruined academy on the Carolyn Peninsula possibly holds the fifth Book of the Prophecies of the Ararond, an elven sage of Silverwood.
Master Talkron of Thunderhold thinks descendants of his cousin have hidden themselves in a ancient Dwarven Hold in the mountain just to the south of Warwik

Thursday, March 19, 2009

More Gaming Accessories

Kelly Anne, my wife, has posted more hair sticks both dice related and traditional. Here are two

Like a sapphire-blue drop of ink dispersing in cool water, this stick weaves and swirls through the imagination. An ice-clear d20 die suffused with ribbons of blue is framed by antiqued silvery bead caps, topped by indigo Czech glass, seed beads, and a clear swarovski butterfly; all of this rests on a deep sapphire swarovski crystal, silvery findings, and a wood stick coated shimmery blue.

The hue of a shallow tropical bay frothed with surf, this stick could perhaps be the favored adornment of a mermaid in the Aerdi Sea. Capped by an oceanic-aqua cat's eye, the tidal-toned D20 die is held between sparkling aurora borealis swarovski crystals on a storm surf swirled silvery end cap. The stick is a smooth brown.

I should get her to write my treasure descriptions.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Majestic Wilderlands Vs Wilderlands of High Fantasy

So what is the story of my work on the Boxed Set, Wilderlands of High Fantasy, by Necromancer Games.

Several years ago there were several abortive attempt at reigniting Judges Guild, but Clark Peterson was the one to get all the people to together to work on the four JG product they released. He and Bill Webb love of Judge Guild and respect for Bob Bledsaw Sr work is what pushed them to create an amazing team of old and new fans.

During the runup on all this I was known as one of the guys who know the Wilderlands inside out. I performed the dreaded infodump and emailed all my notes on the Majestic Wilderlands to Clark. However I was not the only one . There were many others who worked with Bob Sr. And there was material that was never published that plugged many of the gaps founds in the published product.

It was rapidly becoming obvious to me that my Majestic Wilderlands was nothing like Bob Sr's notes. I rapidly ceased trying to advocate my vision of the Wilderland and started to listen to what Bob was saying along with everyone else. I got to contribute some entries to the player's guide notably some of the gods.

After the player's guide everybody was still feeling around on how to approach the the Boxed Set. It was obvious that a table of stats wasn't going to cut it. One of the things everybody kept mentioned was the ruins and islands. Unlike the villages, citadel, and lairs. These had a handful of sentance sketching an evocative location.

So I sliced out a section of Map 1 around Rorystone Road and showed how this can work for Villages and Citadel. Clark liked it, expanded the format to include geography, lairs, as well as ruins and islands.

I was assigned to do the Villages and Citadels of Map 1( City-State), Map 2 (Barbarian Altanis) and the upper part of Map 12 (Orchia). While I had only a 1/6 of maps I had over 1/3 of the villages in the Wilderlands 300+ entires.

I knew my Majestic Wilderlands wasn't a good fit. So I created a whole new Wilderlands based on Bob Sr's notes and guidelines given by Necromancer Games. I took the original stat tables and pretended I was new GM looking at this for the first time and wrote accordingly. The result was my section of the Wilderlands of High Fantasy.

Is there any thing of the Majestic Wilderlands in the recent release? There is some; the Ghinorian Successor Kingdoms, the expanded description of the Beggar's Guild in CSIO, some of the easter eggs I put into various entries. Of course there are strong similarities due to the common foundation but for the most it was a new take. One that I am particularly happy to have created.

Sometimes there are days I wish I could be running the boxed set Wilderlands. While I have 20 years in making the Majestic Wilderlands it never had the richness of detail that I put into the Boxed Set, the Wild North, or any of my Points of Light setting. I think it about needing to have a honest deadline in order to get the final details from out of my head onto paper.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Peering into my Crystal Ball

Over on Grognardia, Jim made me aware of an article on RPGs by Allen Varney of Paranoia fame. The article is concise, more useful as a conversation starter. It is both gloomy and upbeat. Allen mentions a lot of things, from 4e, to old school gaming, to Virtual Table top. Here are some things I think he missed.


Owning a kindle is simply a better way to read. In order to be of use for RPGs we need a version capable of handling a 8.5 by 11 screen with some color or great grayscale. Along with the price coming down. Preferably by half to the sub $150 range. I predict that within 5 to 8 years e book readers will start making major inroads into how we buy our books. When the first 8.5 by 11 reader gets under $300 we will be seeing them spread through our hobby.

Surface computing.

Where your table-top is a touchscreen. I think that once this become affordable it will open up a whole new form of gaming. The prices is going have to be near console level in order for widespread adoption. In addition the platform needs to be open enough to allow marginal activities (like ours) the chance to develop applications for it. It's main use will battleboard presentation and automation of rules. A possible application will be tagged miniatures. Think Heroclix but with a RFID chip that the surface computer can use.

Virtual Tabletop Software
Allen talks about this. My feeling on VTT software is that this is going to become ever more important to hobby. It near faithfully replicates sitting around the time along with a few advantages (effective fog of war). It not better mind you but when your old group scattered across a continent it really helps.

This is one area that Wizards dropped the ball in their digital initiative. They can still recover. If they do and create a decent VTT with access to thousands of players it will be a game changer for the hobby. Especially if they open support to games other than 4e. The network effect will explode interest in playing RPGs and have a shot at attracting a slice of the MMORPG base. And sales of 4e would probably go up as well.

Note how all these technologies don't replace what we do in Tabletop. They are not like MMORPGs where the DM is replaced by the game engine . Instead they merge in with some advantages and extra bells and whistles.

I see table-top RPGs supporting two different but reinforcing paths. One will be through the internet, relying mostly on VTT software. The other will be using e-books and surface computers to bring more options to the home game.

P.S. The "do you use miniatures" battle will still rage on but now it will be do use a surface or not. Both sides will be using e-book though.

Note: My day job is head programmer of a company that make software for creating and unfolding 3D shapes for metal cutting machine as well as controlling the machine themselves.

From the Attic: The Majestic Wilderlands: The Rise of Set

The rise of Set in City-State is the common thread across 20 years of campaigns.

This needs further explanation.

The hallmark of my early Wilderlands campaigns was "Players have an impact." I kept track of what players did, both major and minor, and used that as background for the next campaign. Most of my players got what I was doing and liked it.

However the mid 80s was the time of Dragonlance, time of me entering college, Watchmen, etc. Our hobby was becoming more sophisticated in how it approached plots and stuff. But the most important influence was me understanding history, culture, religion and perceiving how they interconnected.

There was a lot of good adventuring ideas to found. Intrigues, plots, and organizations that I can use to spice up my game and give more depth. What didn't want to do is run Dragonlance. By that I mean the railroaded plot found in the Dragonlance modules.

I ran Dragonlance, made an honest stab at trying to run a fun game. Except it wasn't that fun. This was my second college campaign and the players were soon asking to go back to the Wilderlands. That third campaign was the last campaign of AD&D I ever ran and one of the most fun. It resulted in some of the best role-playing I ever seen. Along with the fall of the Viridstan Empire when the paladin Endless Star killed the last Viridian Emperor on his throne.

Along with this I ran an equally fun campaign back home where Lord Divolic (Trained Killer), and Count Travlin (Boris the Bagger) entered the Wilderlands. This was my first "evil" campaign where Lord Divolic was a Myrmidon of Set. I always disliked the concept of a CE anti-paladin. To me the anti-paladin was LE sworn to uphold the tyrannical cause of their god as the LG paladin was sworn to uphold the good cause of his god. The CE gods had better things to do with their power rather than entrust it in maniacs with potently to become a rival.

By the end of the campaign Lord Divolic was Warden of the Southern March in service to the Overlord of City-State with Travlin owning extensive estates in the March. The wealth behind their power was gained when they literally ripped the Tomb of Horrors out of the earth.

The phrase "Rob! Can you read that again and more slowly?" is forever burned in my mind as I realized with horror of how much wealth I just gave these two characters. Let just say that the true wealth of the Tomb is not in the loose treasure lying on the floor. Those of you with copies of the original see if you want find what I am talking about. Note the Wizard remake for 3.X fixes this issue you have to look for it in the original.

Between 1985 and 1988 my Majestic Wilderlands underwent a drastic revision. I expanded the scale, redrew the maps, wrote down the half dozen timelines covering over 6,000 years of history. I had many of the same names, a few shared events but the Majestic Wilderlands had ceased becoming Bob Bledsaw's Wilderlands.

I decided to rationalize my older campaigns. Luckily my original notion of allowing players to have an impact made this easy to do. This because all my original campaign started with a handful of premises to get them started and from there it was me reacting to the player and the player reacting to me. I used modules that fit the locales they were going or what they were searching for.

Since I had one really fun "evil" campaign that revolved around Set, I decided Set was going to be the main antagonist. But I also had a bunch of other campaigns that had nothing to do with Set. So while the Rise of Set was the main idea there was other things that were going on too that were only related because they were in roughly the same locale and same time.

I took my box of notes (which I still have today) organized it and figured out my history up to the present day. And then I stopped. Because the rule of players being able to make their mark on my Wilderlands was still important. Instead I would record what happened the previous campaign. Add it to the background. And when a new campaign started I would jump the new campaign a year or so and say "OK this is what is happening now."

Over the last 20 years my Majestic Wilderlands has jumped mostly in two year increments. When I first used the new Majestic Wilderland the year was 4438 as the last AD&D game I ran ended in 4437. Then next series of campaigns (home and college) was 4440, then 4442, and so on up to the present of 4452. There were some bigger jumps for some of the longer campaigns, but most campaigns lasted in-game for a year or two.

Monday, March 16, 2009

From the Attic: The Majestic Wilderlands: The Tharian Clans

The Tharians are primarily clan based. They originated as horse nomads on the Sea of Grass far to the west. Over the centuries they migrated through the broad Thygamus River Valley (north of Viridstan) onto the open lands between City-State and Viridstan.

Each Tharian holds allegiance to his or her clan first and is sworn to obey the dictates of the High Chief of the clan. Each clan are subdivided into Septs which in turn are comprised of 4 to 5 extended families. Each Sept is led by a Chief, and the head of each family is called a Elder. Under the rule of the Tharian Overlords the title of High Chief is synonymous with Duke, Chief with Baron, and Elder with Lord.

When they were nomads, Tharians primarily herded cattle and raised horses. They developed horse-raising into a high art and are known as the finest in the Wilderlands. Every free Tharian must own a horse and have the means to upkeep it. When a Tharian comes of age his Elder presents him with a horse and welcomes him into the ranks of the warriors. A High Chief or Chief can recognize a particularity gifted warrior and with his Elder's permission grant the rank of Housecarl and welcome him into the personal service of the High Chief or Chief.

Under the Tharian Overlords the Housecarl rank is synonymous with that of a Knight. A recent innovation is that Knights of a Tharian Duke will call themselves a Knight Banner to distinguish themselves from those knights in the service of a Baron. This stems from the tradition of the High Chief as custodian of the Sacred Banner of the Clan.

Instead of becoming a warrior upon accepting a horse, a Tharian may become a Bondbuyer. The Bondbuyers are merchants. They go out and trade for what the Tharian clan cannot make for themselves. They also serve as diplomats between the clans often purchasing bonds of loyalty with a trade of horses hence the name Bondbuyer. Those Bondbuyers with great age or wisdom are called Master Bondbuyers.

Tharian females are allowed to choose either route on their majority. Even marriage doesn't mean that a Tharian women has to stop being a warrior or a bondbuyer. However when a Tharian women gives birth to a child that women has to take care of the child until the child's majority. The managment horse breeding of Tharian breeds is dominated by the women of the clan.

In the City-State the Tharians make up much of the nobility, and the least warrior is the social equivalent to a squire and the bondbuyers are consider to have equal rank with the merchants of the guilds.

The Lars is the community of one's clan's ancestors. The Tharians believe that Veritas or the High Lord, has created a Lars for each clan to give souls a place to reside in when they pass on to the hereafter. The Lars watches over the Clan and gives it aid and wisdom through the Mystics. Each Clan has it's Mystics and their Acolytes. The Mystic communes with the Lars and leads the Clans in ceremonies to show the proper respect to the Lars.


The clan based based structure of the Tharians is the only influence of the Mayfair version of the City-State. I was impressed with the production value of that boxed set however when I read it it was apparent that it was in no way the City-State of Judges Guild. It was one of the few gaming products that I ever returned to the store to exchange for another product. Later when it was on sale I bought it again as it was so cheap.

It did go into some of the cultures around the city-state and talked about clans and sept. I took that and what I knew of history and spun it off as the foundation of Tharian culture.

I am pretty sure that none of my player ever played a Tharian. They were pretty much always background, antagonists or outright bad guy. There were several instances where my players were immersed in their culture. Once where a player confronted a Tharian Duke over the right to be with his daughter. That incident lead to a fall of an entire kingdom and the rise of a new power in the Wilderlands.

Another occurred when the players badly underestimated the power of the Lars (they are not gods so how tough they can be?) One player got to see his magery literally ripped out of his body and thus losing the ability to cast spells. Since the campaign had nothing but mages that incident made it turn in an interesting direction where a new form of magic was discovered.

The most important role of the Tharian is that they are the tension that underlies my campaign's plot over the past 20 years. Due to a combination of events and having skilled leaders; they came leaders of one of powerful nations in the Wilderlands. Especially after the collapse of the Virdistan Empire in 4436. (The present in JG products is set at 4433).

Their origins as Horse Nomads has done little to prepare them for being rulers over subjects of much older and more sophisticated cultures (Elessarians, Ghinorians, Viridians, etc). Thanks to Lucius the Great they created a system of laws that has mostly worked for a century but the cracks are now appearing.

Their philosophies, religion, and legend don't have a lot of answers on how to deal with the issues they are facing in the present-day Wilderlands. Because of this and other tensions many Tharians have turned from the old ways and are searching for answers elsewhere. Some have become hedonistic and enjoy their new found wealth. But more and more turning to darker gods that claim to have the answers to their problems.

The most popular is the god Set the ancient enemy of the goddess Mitra the patron of the Ghinorian people. A thousand years ago the Setites were involved in the overthrow of the Ghinorian Empire. And now they see an opportunity to use the Tharians as the tool to finish off the remaning Ghinorian colonies that escaped.

The rise of Set in City-State is the common thread across 20 years of campaigns.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Wilderlands Demographics: Pastoral Cultures

I sat down with Harn Manor, Wikipedia, the Department of Agriculture website, and some other sources to crunch some numbers on Pastoral societies.

Herding animals is more productive than growing crops. But there are several catches. It is more labor intensive particularly if you are herding swine.

While different herd animals (cows, goats, sheep, etc) have useful secondary products (milk, fleece) nearly all your food value is going to come out of a annual slaughter just before winter/dry seasons. You are going to have to feed the remaining animals. If you are not growing crops that means you have to move to winter grounds.

If you live in areas of poor land quality (like the dry continental regions of Eurasia) you need a lot more acres and keep on the move.

Now the figures

Pastoral Agriculture (Cattle, Goat, Sheep)
1 sq mile will feed 500 people
1 sq mile will need 50 able bodied men to work at 100%

Pastoral Agriculture (Swine)
1 sq mile will feed 800 people
1 sq mile will need 100 able bodied men to work at 100%

Pastoral Agriculture (Warrior culture)
(every Able bodied man counts at least as a medium foot, light horse, or bowman)
1 sq mile will feed 60 people
1 sq mile will need 50 able bodied men to work at 100%

The slaughter rate for different livestock are 50% for cows, 66% for goats, 60% for sheep, and 90% for swine.

Friday, March 13, 2009

The First Living Campaign

The first Living Campaign was actually not the Forgotten Realm of the 1990's. It was Original D&D.

When D&D was ramping up in popularity it was common that players would take their characters from DM to DM. When the group of us was small we knew each other by reputation and if we knew that character X had some adventures in DM Y game we accepted the results in our game.

As Grognardia points out here, there wasn't as much "stuff" to worry about in the rules. If you were at all serious about DMing you quickly learned what were the problem areas and what was OK. So while each of us made some unique items and stuff we were all working out of the same small playbook. This made it feasible for players to jump from one campaign to another. You can see echoes of this time in the caller system and the fact that the rules talked about 10 to 20 players for a session.

But as everything grew the whole thing fell apart when players tried to bring characters into another game that came from a Monty Haul game. Soon there was just so many DMs we stopped being able to track who was who and the closed game became the norm. Remember at one time Dragon Magazine used to have listing of all the DMs in your area.

Despite AD&D's efforts at standardization it was the death knell for this type of play as there was so many new options that it was hard to reconcile characters between two arbitary campaigns. Given what we know now about the issues of running Living Campaign it doubtful it would survived even if rules remained at the same level of complexity.

Still I remember a glorious summer where I walked all over my hometown, carrying my box of books and tattered character sheet to play with and DM with different groups.

However with the Old School Renaissance this type of play could make a comeback. The type of players that cared for Monty Haul play have mostly gravitated to MMORPGs. It will be interesting to see if this form of gaming makes a return.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Wilderland Demographics

I originally posted this on the Necromancer Games Judges Guild forum in 2007

This info is taken from Triumphant Grand Tactical and Demographics found in Wilderlands of High Fantasy (old) and the Ready Ref Sheets

some definitions

1 able bodied men = 4 to 5 people or 1 household.
1 sq mile will feed 320 able bodied men
1 sq mile needs 30 able bodied men to utilize at 100%
1 5 mile hex has 13,856 acres
1 5 mile hex has 21.65 sq miles
1 5 mile hex has 625 .2 mile hexes
1 .2 mile hex has 22.17 acres
1 .2 mile hex has .035 sq miles
1 5 mile hex, with 100% utilization, can feed up to 6928 people.
1 5 mile hex will require 650 able bodied men to utilize at 100%

Note the book give 6400. This looks like a math error unless they are making note you are never going really get 100% utilization. If you want to do this then the max utilization is 80%.

1 .2 mile hex will feed 11.085 able bodied men
1 .2 mile hex will require 1.039 able bodied men

1 historical manor has 1500 acres
(includes a hamlet or village)
1 historical manor will need 70 able bodied men for labor
1 historical manor will feed 750 people.


640 acres to feed 1 able bodied nomad/hunter gatherer.
1 5 mile hex will feed 20 able bodied nomads (I rounded it)
30 .2 mile hexes will feed 1 able bodied nomad.

I use this as a guide to plot how large the settled areas of the map area. As for this being historically accurate it good enough for the games we play. It is generous on the amount of people that can be can supported by cultivation. Also remember that Judges Guild considers for every able bodied man there are 4 to 5 times number of people (children, elderly, invalid, etc).

The big oversight of this system is accounting for pastoral nomads (those who herd animals) which can get more out of a given set of acreage than hunter gatherers.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

From the Attic: The Majestic Wilderlands: The Tharian Coast

The Tharian Coast consists of eight independent clanholds of the Tharians; Finmark Smitten, Irungway, Greth, Havoic, Maskholm, Orlage, and Elixer.

During the Great Viridian the clan lords of the coast were among the many Tharians who swore fealty to Halius as Overlord of All Tharians. However when Halius died after the war was over, they along with the clans of the Duchy of Bernost, refused to swear to Lucius.

Lucius journeyed to the ancestral shrines of the Tharians in Thygamus and received a prophecy.
Assume the titles of your father and become Overlord of all Tharians. You are granted all the lands where Tharians dwell save for those lands given to the protectors of this shrine.

With prophecy in hand Lucius declared the clans outlaw and waged open war. He was successful in defeating the clans of Bernost. Facing imminent conquest the eight clans of the coast send an emissary to the City-State Sotur pleading for aid. The High Council of Sotur pledged aid along with support from the Merchant League of the Pokrantils. With the aid of Sotur and the League the clans of the coast were able to resist the forces of the Overlord Lucius. After several seasons of fruitless efforts Lucius agree to a truce while not conceding his claims.

In the hundred years since, the three Overlords that succeeded Lucius has continued to maintain their claim over the coastal clans. While open war has not broken out raids and counter raids occur several times during each decade.


War and conflicts has always been an important part of my campaigns. My current system relies on a combination of GURPS Mass Combat and a patische of various information found in the Harn Supplements particularly Battlelust and Shorkyne.

This is what a worksheet looks like when I do prep for a military campaign.

What I do is try to compute Knights Equivalents. A Knight Equivalent is a basic package of 5 men; A Knight (Heavy Horse), His Squire (Medium Horse), and 3 footmen (various). Generally 1,500 acres is enough to support 1 Knight's Equivalent. Then I break it down into availability by season, and breakout the different troop types. Finally the wage and support costs in silver pennies.

Note that in all my games I use a silver based system where 320 silver pennies (1/250th of a lb) = 1 gold crown (1/16 of lb).

This is a shorter version of the above where I am looking at the aggregate strength of the six of the eight coastal clans. Orlage and Maskholm are not included because they are effectively isolated from the rest of the coast.

With these figures in hand I can translate them in the Troop Strength numbers needed for GURPS Mass Combat and run any battles that are needed.

While originally based on Harn figures, I have since read enough of the original source material and done enough original work that I can turn this into a standlone product. While obviously I can't use GURPS Mass Combat I think I worked out a way to do some similar using the Original D&D rules. Of course if you want to be a real grognard you could use Chainmail or my all time favorite 1st edition Battlesystem. I really wish I had a PDF of this instead of the 2nd edition Battlesystem


Another interesting tidbit is that Sotur was traditionally the city-state in which I use one of the TSR's monster cities. The first to occupy this spot was Lankhmar then later Waterdeep. I did this because I viewed the Elphand Lands and rest of the Northeast of my Majestic Wilderlands as traditional D&D land. Waterdeep was an especially good fit for this.

To me traditional D&D land is a place where you had all kinds of races working together against various "bad" guys. That a lot of their successes came about from the actions of Adventuring parties trying to do the right thing. In the northeast when a village got in trouble they would almost expect some adventurer to show up in the nick of time to save the day.

To the rest of the Wilderlands viewed the Waterdhavian and the rest of the north as a bunch of meddling do-gooders. Often causing as much damage as they fixed. The sheer power of some of the northern adventuring parties keep many of the bordering nobles up at night.

For the most part this works for the northerners. Because of the heavy influence of the elves their culture is much more laid back as far as social conventions. Nobles are not part of the justice system. They are estate administrators and military leaders. Justice is handled by a separate group called the Trehaen (druids). Rouge adventurers are a problem but it is usually solved by, you guessed right, yet another adventuring party showing up and saving the day.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Yes there is an Unbridgeable Gap

Jeff Rients talks about an unbridgeable gap here which concerns this post about randomness in encounters.

The problem is that ANY roleplaying game that have masses of players in the same setting have to be fair. Fair in that players don't meet any less difficult or less easy encounter than any other group of players. So if a Doom of Lord Death module is being run for five groups of players; each will meet the same challenges with the outcome being based solely on how well the players play their characters. This is an issue that Living Table-top campaigns, Convention Tournaments, MMORPGs, and Live-action Roleplaying Games have to successfully address.

And it is totally antithetical how tradition table-top RPGs are run. Traditional games are run between a small group and a referee. By definition you can't standardized these type of games as each group of players and their referees are unique. If you try then the result in a watered down experience in which everyone quickly loses interest.

It OK to have these limitations in Living Table-top, etc. Part of the appeal of those games is that you are in a massive setting with a lot of players. To have that you have to have the limitations on encounters so they are fair.

I feel that too much of D&D has been influenced by trying to cater to the convention and living campaign crowd. AD&D originated in the Gygax's desire for a standard game and it has been extended to it's logical conclusion in 4e.

Now 4e can be run old school. The advice is there in the DMG, the tools are there. But focus is not there. Especially in the add-on products like adventures.

In some ways this is a problem limited to D&D. Because of it's dominance in the hobby it is the one RPG that can be counted on to be run in standardized formats. Based on my experience with Live-Action roleplaying ANY RPG can suffer from this given the same circumstances.

What should have happened is that D&D had a set of conventions rules and kept the core rulebooks focused on being a flexible toolkit for players and referees to run any game that their imagination allowed.

So there is indeed a unbridgeable gap.

Roles and roleplaying, this argument feels familiar

I posted about this post by Jim on LoFP earlier. On Sunday reading through some of the responses on my blog and his there was a nagging feeling of "I had this argument before."

Then it hit me, it is a variant of the older hack-n-slash vs roleplaying debate that been with the hobby from near the beginning. The reason the debate exists is that D&D is not monopoly or even Talisman. The idea that a character develops and grows in a game setting is built in from the get go. So it is important point to consider for RPGs as it what sets them apart from other types of games.

This is important to point out because in my experience treating your character like a bundle of stats makes the player more apt to treat it like a game not a roleplaying game. The roles that Jim talks about will go unfilled and result in a boring game for all.

For the roleplayers the hack-n-slasher treating D&D just as a game drove us crazy. Because roleplayers try to work towards some long term goal and more often than not they would screw it up with some crazy antic that does little than nab a few extra gold or some item.

It been my experience that having players provide some minimal background goes a long way to make the game interesting in the long run. Obviously for a classic dungeon o' death you are not going to invest anymore than a sentence or two.

But having that sentence or two will prove invaluable later on if the character continues to grow and survive. For no other reason that it makes the players think of his character as existing in an alternate world where there are consequences to their actions rather than just as a game pieces out to pile masses of gold and treasure.

If you combine this with the "Don't be a dick about it" rule then you find that even the most hard core hand-n-slash player can be brought around to think of his character as more than just a killing machine. It is important to remember this because everybody is having fun with their play style. What we have to work around is the fact that roleplaying games are a group activity so we need to find a middle ground rather than yelling "This is the one true way"

To be fair Jim in his post is more about getting back to basics. It is obvious that once his games get started they differ a lot from what everything thinks hack-n-slash games are.

P.S. If you haven't guessed I was firmly in the roleplaying camp.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Sample Background Part 2

This is an more elaborate background created because the player had a good idea about adding some detail to my setting, the Majestic Wilderlands. The two of us went back and forth and came up with this. With maps this came out to three pages.

Normally I try not to do this long however my Majestic Wilderlands has gone on so long that a fair percentage of the setting is the result of player action. When a new campaign comes along some of my players want to explore some interesting situations that were created because of what they did.

In the following example both Draco-lindus and Lord William Enderil were PCs. The campaign they were involved with lasted from around 1990 to about 1997 with a couple of major halts sprinkled through. The player who created William Enderil had a note about the Kempa his spy organization. Come 2007 and a new campaign he decides it would be interesting to play a Kempa Spy.

I thought it was a good idea. It meshed with some of the events I was planning on introducing. I also knew that it would flesh out a sketchy part of my setting and hopefully provide some interesting NPCs for later campaigns. So we created a longer than normal background.

The Kempa (The Faithful)
Spy Group setup by Lord William Enderil of Porttown. Currently focused on rooting out spies in the Duchy of New Caelam, hunting Mykalite loyalists in Antil, aiding Nomar rebels against Divolic, operating a spy network in the Duchy of the South, Lord Divolic’s domain, and providing security in City-State for Clan Draco and Clan Enderil clanhouses.

The Brotherhood of the Taig
A rival guild of mages to the Guild of Arcane Lore. Has two chapters the first located in the Taig within Dearthwood near City-State. The Second in the Tower of Magery located in Porttown on the Trident Gulf. Prominent members of the Tower of Magery are Master Barton, Master Veranon of Viridstan and Master Hedral.

The Duchy of New Caelam
Comprised of the southern half of the old Viridian province of Gormmorah and the western half of the Kingdom of Antil. It also has extensive overseas territories in the Desert Lands north of Lenap. Main settlements are Porttown, Actuan, and Antil. The Ducal seat is at the Castle of New Caelam 50 miles northeast of Porttown.

Hall of Clan Draco
This building houses visiting nobles and retainers of Clan Draco and its allies. This is a three story building on Ox-cart Road that has a basement and two sub basements one of which has a secret connection to the sewers of City-State.

The first floor is dominated by a lavish central hall that is used by Duke Draco-lindus and/or Lord William Enderil to entertain and hold meetings while they are visiting City-State. Off of the hall are the suites used by the two lords while staying in City-State along with living quarters for their top retainers. The two floor is dominated by offices and meeting rooms used by Lord Enderil’s retainers in their many mercantile dealings. The third floor houses the quarters of the live-in staff.

Seneschal Lamisso is in overall charge of the Hall’s Staff and supervises it maintenance. Once a notorious carouser he has since mellowed and now uses his knowledge of women and food in the service of Duke Draco-Lindus.

The basement contains storerooms for both mundane and exotic goods. It also acts as a warehouse for temporary storage of the goods that Clan Enderil trades in. There is a hidden inclined ramp leading up to Ox-Cart Road wide enough for a wagon to pass. The entrance of the ramp is normally covered by two doors faced with cobblestones.

The first sub basement house the quarters training rooms, and the meeting room of the local Kempa. Access to the first sub basement is via a hidden stairwell from the basement. There is room for about six kempa to stay here. The quarters of Neno the Black, the local Kempa chief is located here. He is only 20 years old and one of the original kempa adopted by Enderil. The kempa have various staff position to cover the reason they are here. The most common cover is that they are drovers that are used for high security deliveries. Neno’s cover position is that he is an accountant to Draco-lindus and William Enderil in charge of tracking any high value mundane or magic item.

The second sub basement is much smaller and is used mostly as storage for the kempa and as a connection to City-State’s sewer system. The door to the sewer is well hidden behind stonework. The corridor leading from the door is well guarded with mundane and magical traps.

The House and basements have been enchanted with the a variety of magical defenses to prevent teleports,scrys, and other long range magical attack.

Any member of the kempa traveling to City-State is given a series of pass phrases in order to report to Neno. Contact is made usually by delivering a package to Neno and making the correct series of pass-phrases. The packages is contain a carved wooden box with a red garnet inside.

Hall of Rhyl
Two building southward on Ox-Cart Road is the Hall of the Rhyl. This clan house is used by Duke Divolic and his Retainers while they are in City-State.

House of the Dragon (formally the Red Pearl Inn)
This inn is built in and around a giant skull of a Dragon Turtle. The first floor along with the taproom occupies the skull itself with the second floor built on top. The owner of the House of the Dragon is Lord William Enderil, a prosperous merchant lord and ally of Duke Draco-lindus. Lord Enderil bought the Red-Pearl Inn from its former owner Sylperi the Spellbinder a notorious prankster who still hangs out in the taproom. The skull of the Dragon Turtle came in through a portal opened by William Enderil while adventuring with Draco-Lindus in the swamps outside of Set’s Fortress on the Plane of Acheron. The Skull crushed Red Pearl Inn and the inn was rebuilt and renamed by William Enderil.

Cassandra the Innkeeper now manages the House of the Dragon for William Enderil with the help of her husband Tarkal the Barkeep, 6 cooks, 8 serving maids, and 10 chamber maids. Lavina, the daughter of the former belly-dancer Mariena, is a talented singer and dancer who leads a floor show that attracts crowds from throughout the wharf district. Calin Strong-Arm is Cassandra’s body guard and serves as the inn’s bouncer.

Like other taverns in the district the House of the Dragon attracts sailors and pirates, but it now has a clientele made up of former mercenaries that served with Duke Draco-Lindus. Minor merchants that deal with William Enderil make up a part of the overnight crowd.

Lord Enderil’s secret spy network, the Kempa, has recruited several of the maids to act as informants. Their handler is the cook, Casila, who regularly reports useful information back to the chief Kempa of city-state Neno the Black who is located on Ox-Cart Road in the Clan Hall of Draco. One of the serving maids is Anetta she has been prompted by Casila to work as a handler for other Kempa Agents. Currently she only has Sueve working for her. Sueve is a member of the seaman’s guild. He works on the barges on the Modron-City-State run. Mostly he been used as a courier between the Kempa of City-State and the Kempa of Modron. He mostly makes his deliveries to Tay Belon a Bonding Agent in Modron’s warehouse district.

The Inn doesn’t have a basement but it did have a small sewer main that dumped directly into the Estuary underneath the main wharf. During the rebuilding of the Inn this main was expanded and the sewage rerouted into a secondary pipe. There is now a small landing underneath the wharf that used by the Kempa to transfer people and goods from the Estuary into the City-State through the Inn.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Sample Background Part 1

Theory and advice, like my previous post is well and good but sometimes it helps to have concrete examples. The following is an example of the types of background that result from discussion between me and the players.

Remember this not just my work but a collaborative effort on the part of the player and myself.

This is typical of the one page backgrounds I write.

Background for Edward Albion

You were first apprenticed to Halfred of Goodnap. He took you in at the age of seven and gave you your first training in Thothian magic. After five years, at the age of twelve, Halfred took you to a secluded part of the woods.

Edward, you have been coming quite well in your studies of magic. I would like to complete your training but unfortunately I can't. Now you are a big lad, so we don't need any tears or such nonsense. I will place with you with Marfran, a friend of mine. He will complete your training and initiate you into the order.

But there is a more important matter I wish to speak of you. I am not a just a Thothian mage, but also a member of a band known as the Regulators. This is an important secret of mine that nobody must know of me or... you. I cannot stress this enough, if the Order of Thoth ever finds out that I was a member of the Regulators, they will hunt me down and all those I trained including you.

This is because since the days of Lucius the Great, the Regulators have supported the Overlords. We often go out and adventure, our interests and duties take us to many corners of the Wilderlands, but first and foremost we owe our loyalty to the Overlord of the City-State.

The Regulators started under Atrabilorin. He was a dwarf who ruled City-State over 300 years ago brought the city safely out of the fall of the Dragon Empire. For the next 100 years we served the City-State, protecting it from many danger. Finally over 200 years ago Salm-Lorin, a mage of our Order, rose and made himself tyrant. Seizing control of the Guild of Arcane-Lore, he used its mages to take control of the City-State and the lands around it. Outcast we dedicated ourselves to his overthrow.

Lucius and his father, the first Overlord Halius, were able to defeat Salm-Lorin and with our help bring him to justice. Unfortunately before we could imprison him, he escaped and killed himself by throwing himself off the highest tower of the Cryptic Citadel. Because of their just cause we pledged our loyalty to Halius, his son Lucius, and to Clan Bulwark.

We are a small band, numbering only several hands each generation. What we lack in number we make up in our skill and our dedication. From time to time we look for promising young folks and begin to train them. You Edward are one of those.

If you decide to pursue this path, you will be watched and tested from time to time. When you have grown enough in experience and wisdom you will be brought into the Regulators. Your first task will be to form a band of adventurers around that you know and trust. The other members will watch you from time to time to see how you are doing.

Plus after your initiation into the Order you will be given a medallion. The medallion is recognizable to any official of the Overlord and will aid you in your endeavors. Plus a enchantment will be laid on you that prevent any Mage from forcing the fact that you are a Regulator.

Remember, being a Regulator isn't about power or wealth but about doing a duty that few other can or will do. Bringing peace and justice to the Wilderlands. Use your wits and keep your eyes open you will find yourself going far.

Roles and roleplaying.

Jim at LotFP has a lot of good things to say. However today's post misses the point.

He makes the contention that the basic activity of RPG is playing a role. Where he stumble is giving this example and claiming everything is extra.

Fighting Man Level 1
ST 12, IN 8, WI 10, CN 9, DX 10, CH 9
That's your character and your role, right there.

Everything else is NOT extra. In fact if wasn't present people would have quickly get bored of D&D. As a hobby we are long past where the rule system alone is enough to sustain years of gaming. In fact it wasn't really true "Back in the day" either.

I am NOT advocating that creating a background, a personality, speaking in funny voices while creating a character is necessary. But in the best campaign there will come a point that your character does have a background, does have a personality (even it is a shadow of yours), and yes may even have acquired a funny voice.

This is a side effect of playing RPGs and arises out of the fact that character has continuity between sessions. Unlike a game of Dark Tower, Talisman and other boardgames a RPG character grows and develop.

You do have a choice of either front loading the process by making it a part of character creation or back loading it through play. There is also a problem where some advocates of front loaded characters sneer at those who just want to just roll and play.

Make no mistake, if you look at the classic long term campaigns from Blackmoor, Greyhawk to today. You will find that nearly all of them have a deep background arising out of what the players did. That the referee choose to build on the consequences of the player's actions and followed through to keep their interest engaged. Getting their interest and keeping it engaged is one of the primary keys to a fun long-term game.

I am keenly aware of the issue because I run sandbox games. While I feel this is important for just about any style of RPG play, it is critical to a successful sandbox game. The players come through the orc village in hex 1312 and kill everyone. Two game months later again they come through again.

As a referee you have to decide what were the consequences. Even if you decide there is none, your campaign now has a history and a background. The Orc Village in Hex 1312 is no more.

What makes OD&D good isn't the rules alone or the roles created by the classes. What make OD&D good is that that it gets out of the way when you need it out of the way. That you don't have to look up Rule 13.2.2 while trying to convince the Duke to give you more supplies for another go at the Majestic Fastness.

Friday, March 6, 2009

From the Attic: The Majestic Wilderlands Part 3

Continued from Part 1 and Part 2

This region of the Wilderlands was originally dominated by Orcs. About 6000 years ago a large group of demi-humans and allied humans migrated out of Northwest Wilderlands and settled from present day Warwick to Lightelf. They did not much further inland than where City-State stands leaving the rest to the Orcs. For this culture I took a lot from traditional D&D high fantasy of a multitude of race.

Two thousand years ago the Elessarians migrated from the west and invaded the inland regions. They drove the Orc out of the best lands. Most of the Orc tribe migrated south. While influenced by the Demi-humans they largely remained independent forming their own hybrid cultures. I took a lot from Celtic culture.

A thousand years ago the Ghinorian came and established several colonies conquering them from the earlier inhabitants and imposing the worship of Mitra. After the Empire fell the colonies went their separate ways.

For the last four hundreds the interior regions have been subjected to repeated waves invasion of Tharian barbarians. They are a horse people divided into clans. Currently they are dominant culture of much of the region.

City State of Invincible Overlord.

This was once a small Elessarian village of Briarwood. A thousand years ago the Ghinorians came and established the colony of Caelam driving out the inhabitants of Briarwood. When the Empire fell Caelam managed to retain it's independence from the other colonies notably Modron.

Despite Briarwood Caelam managed to forge alliances with the surrounding petty kingdoms of Elessarians. From this humble beginning the Prince of Caelam managed to unite the Elessarian Kingdoms into the Dragon Empire. The name comes from dragon riders of the Order of St Caelam a chivalric order of the Church of Mitra.

The initial push behind the Dragon Empire was the rise of the Third Empire of Viridstan. Despite their success at resisting the Viridians the Dragon Empire was torn by religous strife as extermists fought one another. Four hundred year ago the Tharian barbarians rode across the northwest frontier and shattered the empire.

Along with the calamitous Tharian invasion the Dragon Ancelgorn united the remnants of the Orcs and brought down the Dwarven Kingdom of the Majestic Fastness and the Elven Kingdom of Silverwood (Dearthwood). From the ruins of the Majestic Fastness the dwarf Atrabilorin arrived at Caelam and save the city from the town invasion. For this, Atrabilorin is known as the first Invincible Overlord.

During Atrabilorian reign the name Caelam fell into disuse and became known simply as the City-State. Atrabilorin used his position to gather the survivors of the fall of the Majestic Fastness and help them establish Thunderhold. In addition Atrabilorian create a loose alliance of the surviving towns between the Howling Hills and Dearthwood called the Alliance of Lords. The Rorystone Road was built to cement the alliance and to foster trade between Thunderhold and City-State. When Atrabilorin died he left the choice of his successor in the head of the Council of Aldermen. They decided to leave the position empty as nobody was felt worthy to fell the great Overlord's shoes.

For two hundred years City-State along with the Alliance of Lords were successful at keeping their freedom from the Tharians. During this time the Guild of Arcane Lore, a Mage's Guild, was established in City-State. The Iron Guard was established to acts as the core around which an Alliance army could be rallied. The presence of these two institutions was important in defeating the Tharian Lords of Bulwark and forcing them to join the Alliance of Lords.

Several decades later a mage named Salm-Lorin took advantage of disputes between the Guild of Arcane Lord and the Iron Guard to manuever the Council of Aldermen to appoint him the first Overlord of City-State since Atrabilorin. Nobody knows whether the charges were real or trumped up, he accused the Iron Guard of treason and was able to destroy it at the Battle of Darkfield. From this point on Salm-Lorin was known as the Tyrant and ruled with an iron hand.

During the conflict between Salm-Lorin and the Iron Guard both Thunderhold and the Tharians of Bulwark formed an alliance of their own to resist the Tyrant. During all this a new Viridian Emperor was crowned after assassinating his predecessor. When he took control of the Third Empire of Virdistan, the peace that existed along the frontier was shattered as Imperial Armies marched eastward into the Lands of the Tharians.

Halius, Lord of Bulwark was appointed Overlord of All Tharians and led the united armies of the Tharian Clans against the Viridstan. The Viridstan armies rarely lost but after a decade of war they had little to show for their efforts. Facing exhaustion and continued resistance by the Tharians, the Emperor agree to peace in exchange for a yearly tribute from the clans.

During the war Halius left Bulwark in the hands of his son Lucius. The Tyrant, Salm-Lorin, conspired with the Viridian Emperor to attack the Tharians. Lucius in conjunction with Thunderhold struck first. After a close victory won by Lucius, the former members of the Alliance of Lords rose up in rebellion against the Tyrant. The war ended when Salm-Lorin threw himself off the highest spire of the Cryptic Citadel while Lucius' forces poured into City-State.

A few short years later Halius died and Lucius was crowned Overlord of All Tharians and the City-State. More than a warrior, Lucius was a philosopher as well. He established the laws and institutions that govern City-State into the present day of the setting. His role as Overlord was to defend the clans , and act as arbiter in disputes between clans. The Senate was created to appoint his successor and act as the highest court in any dispute between him and the clans. He rebuilt the Rorystone Road and brought in neighboring realms as full members despite them not being Tharians. Notably the Ghinorians of Dearthmead lead by their Duke. When he died he was proclaimed Lucius the Great.

A hundred years later his descendants still rule as Overlord of All Tharians and the City-State. Their realm has expanded to dominate the region. Since the collapse of the Viridstan Empire into rival provinces and factions they are now the most powerful kingdom.

However it is a polygot realm uniting different cultures (Elessarian, Ghinorian, Tharian, Dwarven), and different religions (Mitra, Set, Lars) under one Overlord. Many Tharians feel that too much of the old ways are being lost. Many more feel the old ways don't have the answer to the problems they face today and have turned to other gods, like Set, for answers.

Not 30 years ago City-State convulsed in a city wide riot of the laborers and craftsmen protesting the onerous laws under which their livelihood was governed. The timely intervention of a charismatic priest of Hamakhis named Mong allowed the Overlord reach a equitable settlement and quell the riot. But many issues lie unresolved and the turmoil still seethes under the surface of the City-State.


The history of City-State is the fulcrum around which plots of my campaign are driven. There are many conflicts and conflicts provide adventures. Long ago I learn not to dump all this on my players. I have a condensed synopsis that I can include in a character background. Combined it rarely exceeds one page.

So what good is the history if the player isn't reading? It allows me to dress up dungeons and encounters. For example A manual on riding dragons written by Marshal Armtiage of the Order of St Caelam could be found in an old chest in a crumbling ruined fortress of the Iron Guard that is currently inhabited by a secret cult following Set. This allows me to give a sense that the players inhabit a world that existed before them and will continue to exist after they made their mark.

It appeals to players who like to poke around a setting. Some may just be focused on killing the cultists. Other want that manual. Others notice the tattered banners of the Iron Guard. wonder who they were and what treasure and secrets they had.

In my own campaign over twenty years have passed in-game. The issues I mentioned have exploded into conflict ripping apart City-State and the realm of the Overlords. I hope somebody to be able to publish this in addition to my other work. It would be interesting to hear how referees resolve this situation in their own games.

Continued in Part 4.