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An OD&D (and AD&D) exodus through the eyes of a lifelong gamerMothshadehttp://www.blogger.com/profile/18417201456628056552noreply@blogger.comBlogger201125
Updated: 5 days 14 hours ago

Into 2020

Sat, 02/08/2020 - 16:30

Totally missed January. Just washed over me and left everything dirtier in passing.

Now - February.

Still working on stuff. All of it - to some extent. Oof.

Sadly, I seem to be having the most fun with a non-Avremier project. That's inconvenient. Focus-focus-focus.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Grayharrowing Adventures

Wed, 12/25/2019 - 06:13

Design & Development
Because a few people have actually asked some questions, and because I do benefit from examining my own creative process, I’d like to share some notes and observations for a campaign setting built from the ground-up. Avremier has been building for nearly forty years and I actually struggle to recall many of the earliest details. Grayharrow was started within the last few years – though its origins do lie in an earlier iteration of Avremier (from the mid-1980s). Very little from that Grayharrow survives to this project, but those small kernels are very important.
Project History
Vythakhar was an unused realm in the first iteration of what is now the Avremier setting. It was a place of strange magic and an atmosphere I could only describe as, “eldritch.” It was a weird place created by a very young me, and none of my players ever reached it. Maybe a shadowy reflection of Melniboné. When I set out to bring Avremier “to the masses,” I found that Vythakhar just didn’t fit my current vision of the setting. So, rather than attempt to force a triangular peg into a round hole, I decided to create an Avremier spinoff, of sorts. Not that Vythakhar is part of Avremier. It is just a mini-setting that takes much of its flavor and detail from the early days of Avremier’s development. Like an archaeological site recently unearthed for study and possible appreciation. What you have here is Vythakhar placed within a more suitable setting, developed by a more mature and experienced me. It is my hope that both have aged well.
So – that’s where Grayharrow comes from. An exotic kingdom that never saw use in my game, poised at the edge of a hand-drawn map that no longer exists. The players just never travelled that far. Possibly for the best. Recently, when I dusted off some of my notes from the 80s and 90s, Vythakhar and its environs came fully to my attention after years of neglect. The timing seemed right, because I immediately began brainstorming a new campaign setting. But, I was no longer a kid living at home, with hours and hours to spare in the building of another sprawling and detailed fantasy world. I’d have to exercise some restraint – something I’m rarely good at when it comes to creative endeavors.
Guidelines and Ground Rules
This was not going to be a project that would grow and develop at a leisurely pace after extensive playtesting. I had set out to build a fantasy world with boundaries and some measure of focus. I would have an overall genius loci, in the form of a fallen deity that left behind titanic skeletal remains. The initial visual was very appealing to me – creating a landscape around a massive skeleton. In fact, this dominant physical feature would help define the true scope of the setting. With a bit of number-crunching and mathematical reckoning (not my personal strengths) I determined that the divine remains would be about 38 miles long. So, Vythakhar would have to be at least that size. And, I just had to place Imharra, the main city of the setting, directly into the palm of one dead hand. Nothing less would do. Also, the skull would be one of the most important features of the setting. The place where the mind of the departed deity would reside. A crucial focal point for the intended flavor and subtext of the campaign world – psionics.
Those who know me are aware that I generally exclude psionics from my own game and campaign setting. Still, over the years, I have come up with psionics-based ideas that seem fun to me. Grayharrow gives me an environment suited to those ideas. A showcase, of sorts. A psionic lich-king with an exposed crystallized brain, served by lawful-neutral psionic paladin enforcers, with leashed crystalline intellect devourers as hunting hounds. Clans of psionically-endowed grell totake the place of a certain type of octopoid-headed humanoid known for psionicallytenderizing and physically devouring the brains of its victims. Hidden domains of mad duergar. Isolated orders of psionic monks. Psionics that originated within the brain of the Dead God – emanating outward into the surrounding realms. I wanted a source that I could isolate and control – just in case.

Imports & Recycling
Honestly, I have a lot of ideas that just don’t suit my existing settings. Tons of stuff that don’t really fit within the established framework of Avremier. Concepts that aren’t funny enough for Duckin’ & Braggin’. That’s how the ‘Color-Titledsettingscame about. Each one embodies a distinct atmosphere or flavor that I’d like to explore in-depth.  Grayharrow’s signature flavor is something I sometimes struggle to describe in simple terms. It is built upon a solid foundation of psionic-based science-fantasy, with a pseudo-Victorian veneer. Not quite Steampunk. Gothic Gaslight, but not always traditional Gothic. There are a few strong literary influences, but I don’t really want to dwell on them. I’ve taken them in different directions and woven them into something more my own. There are other Avremier concepts that have been transplanted fully into Grayharrow – the pivotal city of Imharra being one. Then, there are concepts that were introduced in Avremier, but taken to different levels and in other directions for Grayharrow. Gargoyles, sphinxes, paladins, monks, arcane magic, nonhuman PC races, nonhuman domains, psionics-aided combat, other dimensions, undead, psidead, and more. Just a lot of standards or trappings that I wanted to twist or repurpose into something I found engaging.
Culture, Myth, History & Folklore
Quite a few real-world cultures manage to inspire and flavor the creation of my fantasy civilizations or concepts, but not always to their fullest extent. I’m not interested in creating a fantasy version of Egypt, Greece, Scandinavia, or China – but I do like to take bits and pieces of the look or feel of older cultures for a foundation or framework. I like to give players something they can recognize, but not necessarily something they’ve seen before. I’m not re-creating cultures for use in my game. This is true of Grayharrow even more, perhaps, than Avremier.  
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Mothshade Underworld - Part Three

Mon, 12/23/2019 - 21:03

Continued from previous entry.

Naming Names: Just to immerse myself a little in the ambiance of the place, I’ve been jotting down some names for rooms and encounter areas. Descriptive bookmarks designed to prompt my weary mind when it comes time to assign and describe these places. In some cases, the names are evocative of the atmosphere of the area. In other cases, the name may give some hint as to the nature of any danger or reward to be had. On any official map or floorplan, these are the assigned designations.
·         Stormsong Hall·         The Angled Hall·         The Black Solarium·         The Bloody Cubiculum·         The Broken Gallery·         The Clockwork Ballroom·         The Cursed Cloister·         The Crystalline Atrium·         The Hall of Scroll Columns·         The Haunted Apodyterium·         The Indigo Sleeping Porch·         The Ivory Vestibule·         The Ivy-Bound Cryptoporticus·         The Jasmine Boudoir·         The Lost Attic·         The Mossy Den·         The Old Inglenook·         The Owl Parlor·         The Scorched Counting-House·         The Sealed Library·         The Shield Wall·         The Silent Antechamber·         The Silver Scriptorium·         The Stygian Undercroft·         The Sunken Calderium·         The Wasp Loft·         The Waterfall Rotunda·         The Willow Cloakroom

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Mothshade Underworld - Part Two

Fri, 12/06/2019 - 21:57
Continued from previous entry.

Location: Somewhere near the shared border region between the Marchlands, Mauvolg, Undomni, and the Pearl Principalities. Far from the centers of human civilization, but still in the middle of the action. The closest human village will be about 30 miles away – a good day’s walk. It may be a Volgate village. It may be a Marchlands village. I want it to be out-of-the-way, but not inaccessible. Would prefer to have something of a “home base” for the PCs – but have no need for them to be TOO comfy and secure. Besides, the village will be a little odd.
Base Town: Have yet to decide which town this will be, specifically. I do have a list of unused names and choosing one will be easy enough. But, I don’t want the town to be an entirely safe haven. It will have opportunities for adventure in itself. It will be a frontier town where strangers come through and surprises can come at you from the wild. The people will be tough, independent, and wary. The place will be a bit of a melting pot of races and nationalities. Always an opportunity for good times and bad times.
The Ruin: Somewhere between the base town and the Chateau, there will be a ruin. Probably the remains of whatever fortified residence the first human ruler of the place had built. Some march lord that didn’t quite make it. Self-proclaimed human government didn’t go over well beyond the bounds of Dhavon and Mauvolg – not until the March Lords came to an agreement with the giants of Undomni. Even then, there were no human rulers – only guardians and caretakers. The ruin will offer at least one entrance to the Outer Ring of the Dungeons.
Outer Dungeons: Part of the dungeon complex will not be affiliated with Mothshade, but it will intrude upon one region of the Mothshade Underworld. The architectural and ecological differences will be striking enough to recognize immediately. These ‘Outer Dungeons’ will consist of abandoned cellars, lost vaults, an actual dungeon of cells and tortures, part of a collapsed mine, a kobold warren, an abandoned and accursed goblin fane, and a planar pocket intrusion left over from the Planewrack.
Planar Pockets: The Planewrack caused untold damage to all of reality. It’s possible that we will never know the full extent, or be able to repair it. Still, it is possible to come across a tiny piece of a planar realm beyond this one – piercing our own, and become wedged in tight. One moment, you’re skulking down a dark dungeon corridor – then you find yourself in what seems like a natural cavern hollowed out of a huge amethyst geode – orbiting a writhing green star. If you turn around quickly enough, you might be able to return to the dungeon corridor.


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Mothshade Underworld - Part One-Point-Five

Thu, 12/05/2019 - 21:21

Continued from the previous entry.

Chateau Mothshade
A modest castle-like structure of Gothic aspect, Chateau Mothshade stands upon an elevated stone stack at the end of a narrow promontory that juts out into a crater lake. Why? Because I like it. That’s probably where I would live if I had the means. The isolation appeals to me. I like water, but not salt water. The stone stack will contain a couple of dungeon levels, while the rest will lie beneath the lake – possibly even some within the walls of the crater. The idea of a half-ring dungeon sounds fun to me. There will be a village or small town within 30 miles.
Mothshade Himself
As a figure that exists in the setting, Mothshade has never made a known appearance. Meaning, the name has never been mentioned in-game and the character has never appeared to adventurers. Mothshade has never been identified as a patron or villain. In truth, he’s never been identified at all. The intent is to leave him as an enigma in the background. I’ve been building up secret details of an NPC named Mothshade for years – leaving little hints and clues here and there. He was always intended to be a focal figure, but not during the campaigns I’ve run to-date.
Moth? Shade?
We can agree that Mothshade will have a Moth-y motif. It’s the Shade part that remains to be defined. Is he a ghost or wraith or spectre? Is he shadowy? Honestly, even I don’t know for certain. Until now, I’ve not had much reason to consider the possibilities. In the end, there’s always the possibility that mothshade is just a name. Will I need to decide these details to create the dungeon? Will Mothshade’s true nature shape the tone or outlook of the project? Is the Mothshade name important to the player? I still don’t know. It might be fun to find out together.
Toning Up
I do want this thing to have at least one or two overall tones. I like the Shady bit. I even like the Moth-y bit. Putting them together in an underlying theme is an obvious way to go – at least for the Chateau, or a dungeon level. Maybe things get Shadier as we get closer to Mothshade himself. Perhaps the Moth motif will be more pronounced in proximity. Maybe I’ll research the properties of moths in folklore and myth. Maybe I’ll create my own. What does the Moth mean to me? After all, I am Mothshade.
Mind Tempests
This project promises to be a conflict between the excitement of creating “my dungeon” and the demands of necessity. Yes – this is intended as a ‘classic’ dungeon environment, with all the wackiness and suspension of disbelief that implies. No – I probably won’t be able to allow myself free rein over the content and presentation. This isn’t 1974, and I’m not trying to make it so. This is an homage, not a remake. Lots of ideas – sense of structure – worthwhile product. Those will be among my internal talking points.
Funhouse Dungeons
I do love a thought-provoking dungeon. I like to engage the player as well as the character. I’m not out to defeat or destroy the PCs. I am out to challenge then and to subvert their expectations. I’m more White Plume Mountain than Tomb of Horrors – but I’ll cheerfully throw a little Horror at the heroes. Death is easy – respect is hard. Besides, I do like themes. I like a sense of structure, even if it isn’t obvious. I like for the players to feel they’re working toward something – for them to feel accomplished.
Numbers Game
Need to decide on sizes and risks. Numbers of rooms per level – in the Chateau and in the dungeons. For that matter, the number of dungeon levels. How many entrances and exits? Difficulty of the challenges of each level – things like XP values. My OCD will allow nothing to slip through the cracks. My anxiety will make demands of its own. It has to add-up, at least on paper. To build this beast, I will need a sense of order – just a sense. Not TOO much. No need to just draw a bunch of dungeon maps and string them together. This is MY dungeon, after all.
Building Up
Will this project go like the plotting of a novel? Yeah – probably. The beginning and end promise to be clear and solid in my mind. It’s that misty-mazey bit in the middle that has to do the heavy lifting along the way. Plots and subplots. Many stories, but not too many storylines. Like a collection of short stories with a connecting plot or theme. Set some achievable, and smaller, goals along the way. Offer choices and possibilities. Be creative. Be generous. Be dedicated. Be sensible. Be clever. Be original. Be myself.
The sample dungeon from the Holmes Basic rulebook.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Back in the Saddle - no apologies

Thu, 12/05/2019 - 02:14

Explain Myself
For various reasons, I am known far and wide as Mothshade. It is the online name I first chose for myself – and it stuck. I communicated and shared under the Mothshade name. My work as Mothshade came to be known by many as good work. For me, Mothshade is now as close to a brand name as I am likely to get. Chateau Mothshade began as an online chat group focusing upon my projects and interests – mostly in the RPG community. Over time, Chateau Mothshade became the framework for a location in my own campaign setting.
The Chateau
Smaller than a castle – bigger than a house. The idea of a chateau as the focal point for this dungeon project appeals to me. There are many Castles and Towers. Not so many Chateaus. For me, a chateau implies something more accessible – more intimate. Still grand. It must be grand. It must serve as a proper monument to the dungeon beneath. But, I don’t necessarily need an entire castle. Some of it will be empty. Some of it will be inhabited. Some of it will have fallen into ruin. Appropriately so, since it largely symbolizes my own mind.
The Underworld
The first RPG publications focused a great deal upon the idea of the ‘dungeon environment’ as a kind of Underworld to be explored by adventurers. Entire campaigns could be spent daring the challenges and threats of this subterranean realm. At the time, the dungeon conveyed an almost mythic quality – not something that welcomed rational explanation or strict verisimilitude. A virtual gameboard for fantasy adventure games, where the squares were concealed beneath a veneer of heroic adventure questing.
Mothshade Underworld
This project is very much about The Underworld and Wilderness Adventures presented to the gaming community from the very start. The dungeon is the setting. The world above is the welcome mat. Chateau Mothshade is the gateway. I am creating this for myself, though I am well-aware that there are others who may appreciate the effort. This can be for them too. I want the Chateau to be a welcoming place. I want it to be memorable. I want it to be challenging. Lives may be spent here. Hopefully, not in vain.
The Dungeon
There may be themes. And plots. And story arcs. And ecologies. And civilizations. There may even be a fleeting sense of style. Above all, there will be dungeons. Dungeons with monsters, creatures, people, curiosities, oddities, traps, tricks, treasures, stuff, junk, rubbish, artifacts, relics, thrills, spills, chills, death, amusements, wonder, despair, hope, and madness. Overall, there will be things of interest to me. Not just a maze of passages and rooms where you kick in the door, murder everyone on the other side, claim the loot – and repeat. Not just.
Disclaim Myself
I barely had the chance to experience the roots of this game. Even though I was exposed to the hobby at an early age – it wasn’t early enough. The Basic and Expert Sets were my Gateway to Adventure. It wasn’t long before everyone I knew had “graduated” to the Advanced game. I went along, but retained a deep affection for my Basic and Expert boxed sets. Still, those earliest books did come into my collection. They were all read with as much wide-eyed wonder as I could muster with adult eyes clouded by later editions of the game.
The N-Word
Nostalgia. It seems to be the first accusation thrown at those who prefer the earlier structure and feel of the game. At first, it almost offended me. I wasn’t sure how true it was. Now, I’m totally at peace with the idea. Certain editions of the game inspire me. Reading those older books. The layout, the artwork, the writing, the simplicity. Such valiant attempts at giving the reader a working framework for boundless imagination and invention. The introduction to a wondrous shared experience. Call me nostalgic. These editions of the game make me happy.
The Inspiration
As I write this, I am inspired to create my dream-megadungeon. This is not a promise. Not a contract of any kind. I may or may not be able to cobble my desires and intentions into a workable product. It’s possible I won’t have the time. I might lose focus – or heart. The scope and scale of the thing may defeat me. It might just be a bad idea from the start. It is not my intention to waste anyone’s time with this – including my own. What I will do is share my progress with those who care to follow. For as long as progress is made.

Sample dungeon level cross-section from The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Bloggery of a Semi-Retired Publishing Madman

Fri, 07/05/2019 - 17:28
Early this year (2019), I voluntarily left the workplace to stay at home to do stuff.
The idea was to support my wife in developing her own business so she could follow me out of the daily grind and work from home. I'd be taking care of the cats and the household. Running errands. Doing chores. Preparing meals. Oh - and run my own home publishing business.
Then, I kind of imploded.
It was a gigantic life change. People thought I was genuinely retired - so they thought to help me occupy all my newfound free time by helping them with stuff.
Also, things happened. Money became really tight - then, too tight.

No, this is not meant to be a self-serving sob story. This is a response to recent queries - and, possibly, a cautionary tale for those who might follow after.

Suddenly, I had so much more time - right? Right. Suddenly, our four cats realized they had someone to tend to their every whim 24-7. Cats are aloof? Perhaps. Our cats are needy and demanding as human toddlers - and twice as destructive.
My able assistant - Miranda.
So much more time. Time for a never-ending avalanche of chores. So much needing to be cleaned, organized, trashed, fixed, and maintained. This was my first tour as a househusband. I was not good at it. I'm still not - but I am a little less-awful. Oh - my business. I almost forgot!

That moment where you know all the stuff you don't really know. Sure, I'd self-published a half-dozen Avremier booklets. That was eeeeeeeasy. Publishing for mass consumption - that is HARD (for me). Learning new software. Learning new techniques. Doing things like an actual professional. The horror. The sheer, brain-shuddering horror of it all. My anxiety screamed. My OCD choked. My depression - well...never mind that for now.

Yeah, I was writing. I was even drawing - in fits and starts...mostly fits. I couldn't focus on one project for much longer than a day at a time. I was trying to justify the hours spent working on my own projects. I wasn't selling them yet. There was no money coming in from my efforts. I was falling behind. I was letting my wife and feline dependents down. I was failing. All of this was being constantly shouted into my brain by my anxiety. Kicking my OCD into maximum overdrive as I struggled frantically to fix EVERYthing. As for my depression - well...you probably don't wanna know.

Now - July. More than half a year into this exercise. Things might be stabilizing. I never  assume. Anxiety won't let me. Not unless finances look genuinely solid to me. I've got ducks lined up. I've got projects languishing in a state of near-completion. I've got personal deadlines to meet. I've got stuff to publish. Otherwise, I need to admit defeat and hit the eject button.

I don't wanna hit the eject button.


Wed, 06/26/2019 - 00:56
Fiend Folio – Tome of Frequent Rants and Much-Maligned
During the past almost-forty years, I’ve learned that I’m not exactly the typical D&D user.I’ve never DMed a module. I’ve never set an adventure in another setting besides my own. Every book or supplement I own is used as reference. Sometimes, as a source of inspiration. So many players like to say “Make the game your own,” or, “The rules are just guidelines.” Agreed. But, I tend to take those observations very much more to heart than most.
So many of the monster entries in the Fiend Folio really suck. Sure. I can say the same for the Monster Manual II. Hell – I can bust on quite a few of the original Monster Manual entries as well. But, what is the point? So many of these monsters were created for use in a very specific fantasy game environment. If you’re playing a game where much of the action takes place in a grossly unrealistic “dungeon” environment, then why disparage monsters created to complement that environment? That might be another blog entry entirely. I’m here to talk about the damn Gorbel.
In Avremier, some kobold tribes found deep underground cultivate fungus as a food staple. One in particular is a big, reddish, globular specimen that grows from a pair of extremely tough stalks. The pinkish flesh inside makes for a delightful meal. In time, the fungus passes through the more viable stage of its life cycle, and is no longer edible. The outer skin grows thick and leathery – or rubbery. The reddish hue becomes more pronounced, almost as a visible warning. Rhizome stalks sprout along the upper circumference of the spherical body. An aperture opens near the bottom to slowly release spores that have built up within. The inside of the fungus fills with a spore-laden gas that can cause vivid and pleasant hallucinations when inhaled. Some kobolds like to climb inside, curl up snugly, and take a relaxing little hallucinogenic “trip.” Sometimes, the “trip” goes bad and the kobold tears off on a brief and addled rampage. This is known as “going gorbel.”
So – the Gorbel in Avremier is an LSD-tripping kobold in a crazy leather mushroom suit. Much less ridiculous than the original, I know.
The kobold wakes up from its hallucinogenic reverie and tries to act out something it sees in a lucid dream. The kobold’s little legs and feet find their way into the twin stalks of the fungus – which break off, and it’s off to the races! Hopped-up on goofy-gas, the kobold is immune to blunt damage – like impacts and falls, which it just bounces back from and then goes off on its merry way. The kobold’s arms have nowhere to go. They stay inside. So, all damage inflicted by the gorbeling kobold is through the jagged stem-feet. Piercing the fungus causes it to burst outward – leaving the kobold inside a calm epicenter, totally unharmed and wearing a great big smile.Some kobold tribes send gorbeling kobolds out into battle as somewhat unreliable, but surprisingly effective, shock troops. And, yes – the Gorbel is related to the Gas Spore, which is related to the Beholder (in Avremier). All those creatures are fungus-based (in Avremier).

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Fragmentation Parade

Tue, 06/25/2019 - 16:24

Sometime around 1982: The Moldvay Basic Set of D&D comes into my possession. Work on what would eventually become the Avremier Campaign Setting begins almost immediately.
Late-90s: I wanna do a funny campaign setting or game. My mind obsesses over the idea of what would become Duckin’ & Braggin’. Sword & Farcery becomes a genre for my project development.
Y2K: With the release of the D20 3E rule set, I set aside my long-running D&D campaign to try my hand at a new setting – Pelagena. Due to – reasons, the game falls apart and Pelagena is mothballed, but eventually becomes integrated into Avremier as select bits and pieces.
Circa 2004: Development begins on a new setting called Avremier. While this one eventually falls through, many of the core concepts, along with the name, are retained for the project going forward.
Sometime between 2004 and 2010: Taking my notes for regions of Avremier that never saw use, I set aside these areas for future consideration. They never seem right for inclusion in the “final” incarnation of the “official” Avremier setting. Thus, they languish in development Limbo.
2008: D&D 4E is released and I swear off the brand entirely. I have enough books and materials to keep me going for the rest of my life. Not long after, Pathfinder rears its shiny new head.
Circa 2010: I embrace Pathfinder as my rule set of choice. An attempt to compile and edit Avremier to share, using Pathfinder rules, is launched – to frustrating failure. Too crunchy for me at the time. Still too crunchy for me today. I'm also trying to be an author.
Not long after 2010: In a fit of depression, I dive back into development of Duckin’ & Braggin’. It seems easier and more fun. At least, less frustrating. I am wrong, as the focus and direction for the project still eludes me. Back to Avremier.
2012: This is a hazy period for me. I lose my mind entirely and decide to go back to formula. I started with the BX rules, so that’s where I should start. Right? Nope. I go back even further…no – further still. I manage to acquire copies of all the original booklets from 1974-1976. Naturally, Wizbro decides to release a retro set of booklets in 2013. Screw it – I get that too. I never played this edition of the game, but I’m gonna learn it. I am now a historian. I wanna know where it all came from.
Early 2015: D&D 5E is released. I decide to give it a chance. It isn’t bad. But, I’m already in the throes of a nostalgic fit. I set 5E aside for now.
2016: Start of the Avremier Project. I want some nifty little booklets of my own setting – for myself. I want to see if I can write, compile, edit, layout, illustrate, print, and publish these things all by myself. I’m neck-deep in madness now.
2018: It’s done. Avremier is a thing. Mothshade Concepts is a fledgling thing. My mind implodes and I descend to new subterranean dungeon levels of insanity.
2019: What have I done?! Well, whatever it is, I need to figure out how to make it work. I need to become Mothshade Concepts. But, there are SO MANY projects. I’ve devoted my mind, body, and soul to Avremier these past few years and it’s taking a toll. Oh, look – Duckin’ & Braggin’! Wait – I’ve finally figured out just how I want to approach developing D&B! Buuuuuuut…I have a few ideas for some entirely new D&D campaign settings. Remember those early, unused regions of Avremier I set aside – yeah, me too. Now I have RedStaff, Grayharrow, and Violet Grimoire to contend with. New stuff to develop! My brain loves that! I’m doomed.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Getting to Know - the Lords of the Crypt

Mon, 06/24/2019 - 17:50

The Abronti: For generations, a family of wealth and influence, with an ancestry tainted by bloodborne illness and dramatic madness. Through the years, the more troublesome members would find themselves spirited off to distant monasteries, undertaking extended expeditions, or admitted to quiet sanitariums. Eventually, the family name was overtaken by tragedy and illness – passing entirely with the demise of the unmarried and childless Cauvage Abronti. With no legal heirs, the bulk of the remaining family fortune passed into trust with an organization known as the Vault Foundation. In time, out of respect for its greatest benefactor, the organization became the Abronti Trust. The exact details of the setup and administration of this venture are very complicated.
Dark Inquest: With the Abronti family extinct, and no one to protest the instigation of questionable legal proceedings, the opportunists and scavengers came out from beneath various rocks to lay their dubious claims. For the better part of two years, the legal representatives of the departed Abronti family held the line against every covetous siege. Then, the departed family elders, led by Cauvage Abronti, stepped forward into the light to reclaim their own. To their credit, the Abronti elders had arranged for a letter of introduction to be delivered to the office of their solicitor before making their reappearance. At the time, the letter was thought to have been a joke in poor taste.
Vault Cabal: The Abrontis were dead to begin with. Yet, in death, their wealth and influence had only grown. Through the loyal diligence and faithful competence of servants, representatives, caretakers, employees, and officials, the Abronti family had quietly carried on. Debts were paid, properties maintained, investments managed, and secrets kept. So many secrets. One of which, apparently, being that of immortality – of a sort. For the Abrontis were most certainly dead. Of this there was no doubt. And the dead could not lay claim to the property and title of the living. Well, not until passage of the Open Crypt Act of 332. Pretty impressive what money, influence, and careful estate planning can accomplish.
The Crypt: Much of this backstory and setting detail came about while pondering the nature and purpose of the Crypt Thing. While I understand a lot of the complaints about the Fiend Folio, it was an exciting surprise on the shelf of my local B. Dalton bookseller. Nothing against the life-altering work of Gary Gygax, but I was ready for something different after the Monster Manual. Let’s face it – more than half the entries in that book weren’t exactly unknown to a kid versed in fantasy and mythology. More often than not, the fiends within this folio were new to me. Even then, I was getting a feel for the artists of the day. Opening the Fiend Folio those first few times, I was welcomed by a few familiar favorites. Of course, there were tons of illustrations jarring to my untrained eye. In short, I didn’t like a lot of them. Many failed to capture or inspire my imagination. One that succeeded more than admirably was found on page 21, under the entry of Crypt Thing. Not the simple mug shot next to the stat block – the glorious portrait at the center of the second column.

The Thing: I know I’ve said it before, but that Russ Nicholson illustration of the Crypt Thing and…lone adventurer that made his saving throw? Bodyguard? Master? Admirer? Cultist? I didn’t know – but it got me thinking. Could the Crypt Thing be part of something greater? Something besides a creepy dungeon inconvenience? I mean, they weren’t undead – and they were implied to take some sort of perverse pleasure in messing with hapless adventurers. Yet, it had a Neutral alignment. No chaotic whim. No inherent malice. Though skeletal, there was no indication of unlife. No mention of the usual immunities given to animated dead things (well, it could only be hit be magical weapons – but that’s true of a lot of critters). No claim to construct status. Was I supposed to assume this creature was somehow alive?
The Spark: I’ve seen a lot of unfavorable Fiend Folio reviews. And, yes – I get it. Now, I’m not going to say that all those naysayers have limited imaginations…but –
Personally, I don’t really use many of the Fiend Folio entries with their Fiend Factory settings. For me, they are sources of inspiration more than immutable stat blocks and static flavor text to be cut-and-pasted right into my setting. But then, I’m the guy that finds all the countless Demon and Devil entries in both Monster Manuals to be kind of tedious and a bit of a waste of space – especially in the MM2. I wasn’t disturbed by Demons and Devils in my RPG in the 80s – I was bored by them. But, that’s another blog entry entirely.
The Crypt Thing. Not undead. Well, even back then we pretty much ignored that bit. We just figured it couldn’t be turned as long as it sat in its chair as a guardian. That was it’s only purpose, after all. Roger Musson’s written description implied a few options and left some intriguing wiggle room. 100% chance to be encountered In Lair (“at least, none have been encountered elsewhere”). Oh, Roger – you delightful tease. The Crypt Thing may speak – and it will lie! Those companions of yours that vanished – they were destroyed. You wanna be next? You feeling lucky? Not all Crypt Things even teleport their victims – we have “aberrant” versions that paralyze and invisibilize them instead. Variant monsters mentioned right in the description of the original monster entry. That was my jam!
Variance: Did I call the Crypt Thing a guardian before? Oops. That was presumptuous of me. The Fiend Folio entry never mentions that. It has a lair – we presumed it had to be guarding something. Honestly, I’ve used the Thing as nothing more than a nuisance encounter at the end of a dead-end passage. But, I do have a tendency to modify and adapt monsters for my own setting. Now, the original entry never specifies that the Thing is not undead – it just never mentions that it is. I mean – it’s a robed skeleton. Okay – “A pale, solitary skeletal being…” Come on. Pale? Sure – bones tend to be kind of pale. Skeletal? Like – skeletally thin? Nope. Doesn’t even have eyes in its empty sockets, according to both illustrations.Second Coming: 2E AD&D gave us the updated Crypt Thing in the Monstrous Manual – instituting some of our assumptions and alterations in the process. Oh, and a much less interesting illustration. If this had been my introduction to the monster, I doubt I’d be writing all this nonsense today. Still, this later entry clarified the undead status of the Crypt Thing. It gave us a bit of an origin and purpose: raised or created by spell to protect the bodies of those laid to rest. We also get verification that it cannot be turned in its own lair. The range of clothing choices increases from only brown robes to a more fashionable black. Oh – and the eye sockets gleam with nifty red pinpoints of light. Doesn’t really do much for me. 2E AD&D didn’t inspire me much more than 1E, to be honest. I usually preferred my own embellishments and adaptations.
Clothes Maketh the Thing: Brown robes. Black robes. I’d been considering the robes long before the Monstrous Manual came into my grasp. My campaign had introduced a villain shrouded in a voluminous cloak of woven spiderweb. The cloak was a powerful artifact that gave the villain much of his necromantic power. Well – that’s what the players believed. Truthfully, the villain wore what looked like a spider earring – and this was the actual villain. An alien spider that wove a cloak and controlled the mind of its victim to further its own goals while no one suspected the innocuous piece of jewelry hidden within the hood of the cloak. Also, I really liked the monster known as the Cloaker. These potential details generated the idea of making the Crypt Thing’s robes the actual monster, instead of the skeleton.
Cryptic Things: The Crypt Thing is among the least of an undead society resulting from the explorations and machinations of the Abronti elders. Robed in unassuming brown, these creatures form a base caste of servitor undead. Common belief places the members of the inner circle of the original cabal in the roles of Crypt Dooms, the most powerful of these creatures and the keepers of the bindings over all the rest. The society of the crypt is centered on arcane bindings and control of the shadowy unlife of its members. Robed in gray, the Crypt Warder oversees and maintains the Crypt Things. The black-robed Crypt Doom holds the source and sharing of the animating power behind the Crypt Things and the rest. The Abronti elders themselves wear robes of deepest violet and are known as Crypt Lords.
Things to Do: With an established hierarchy of status and power, the Abronti organization could focus on their important goals. At the top of the list was immortality, followed closely by gaining power enough to maintain that immortality indefinitely.
There is much more to explore - including the secret journey of the Abronti elders from death to undeath, the true nature of the Crypt Thing (and the others), and specific stats/details of each creature type. These revelations (and more) will be compiled and shared.
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Where Did That Come From? (Burrwode)

Wed, 06/19/2019 - 18:33

Catalyst: Wanting an extensive region of “dark and haunted forest,” I was reminded of the Monster Manual 2 entry of the Barkburr. A bizarre woodland plant-creature that creates trees, or other woodland creatures, out of intruders seemed just the thing. Especially since I don’t want to rely on the Fae for this. Besides, I’d always kind of skimmed over the Barkburr entry in the past. Seems like fun now.
Brainstorming: “Barkburrs are a form of animated plant that arise spontaneously within a wood or forest in order to defend it. They are anatomically similar to limpets…” Okay – for the Avremier setting, and my own specific wants for this little project, some changes need to be made.
First, has anyone ever illustrated one? A woody limpet-looking thing. I can get behind that. Except, my mind runs immediately in two directions: fungus and snail. I’m imagining a kind of snail with a woody, fungus-looking shell – something like shelf or tinder fungus. And, much as I really like the snail image, I can’t seem to get the vision of scurrying plantlife out of my mind – possibly because of the Basidirond illustration on the opposite page.
So, I’m thinking a two-pronged approach: limpet-snail and scurrying fungus. The snail form will reflect the original Barkburr entry, while the Basidirond entry will serve as a foundation for the scurrier. One creates a transformative effect through injected poison, while the other releases airborne spores.
Development (Snail): This creature really is a kind of gastropod – not a plant. It is camouflaged to look like a plant and will not be recognized as anything else as long as it remains immobile on a tree or log. When injecting poison it uses a rasping radula, or tongue-like appendage. In homage to its exterior camouflage, we’ll call this creature a Tinderfoot Snail. Like the Barkburr, the Tinderfoot Snail initially turns its victims into trees. The options for the final form will be different.
Development (Scurrier): Like a Basidirond, only smaller. Closer to 3’-4’ tall. It’s spores do have tiny barbs – like a burr. Except, their effects are not hallucinatory – they are transformative, like the Barkburr. This creature will be called the Burrspore Scurrier. They are nimble and fast, but can only employ their spore clouds when standing still. Instead of orange, these creatures will be distinguished by shades of blue and green.
https://www.deviantart.com/eluviel/art/Treant-324122136 Ecology: Though both of these creatures lignify their victims and turn them into trees, only the final forms of the Tinderfoot Snail include animal options. The Scurrier will create plant-forms only. Barkburr Treants can be found anywhere in the Burrwode as forest defenders and as carriers of Tinderfoot Snails. 
Death Watch Beetles are common hazards. The eastern reaches of Burrwode are home to at least one small tribe of Firbolg Giants. A monster fitting the description of a Shadow Dragon has been sighted near the center lake. A number of Buckawns call Burrwode home. Also, a goblin-like figure known as the Splinter King sits upon a throne carved from the base of a lightning-struck tree, ruling over a contentious tribe of goblins and redcaps – though rumors claim the goblin king is actually a Boggart.
Landscape: At the approximate heart of Burrwode is a lake with a trio of small islands.  The bulk of the forest consists of gloomy tree groups clustered around low hills and connected by brush and bracken. Sometimes, out of nowhere, a traveler might stumble upon a meadow or glade. Neither the Snails nor Scurriers frequent these open areas. There are a number of streams winding through Burrwode, and some of the land by the central lake can be marshy after a heavy rain. Then, the Will-o-the-Wisps come out to play.
Locale: The region known as Burrwode lies in the wild marchlands between Dhavon and Undomni.
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Building Avremier - Part Seven: Collaboration

Tue, 06/18/2019 - 18:25
Continuing from Part Six...

The Lord of the Rings and other Eurofantasy provided an extensive foundation upon which to build a setting. I was going in different directions for my own world, and it was important that my players were on board for the adventure. Toward that end, I would listen to their questions and concerns as they made and ran player characters.

Q. Why were Humans the pinnacle of the adventuring community? Why could they advance in every class without limit?
A. Because humans invented and established adventuring as a career and lifestyle. Non-human races had only recently expressed any interest or inclination in risking their lives in the occasional pursuit of riches or glory.

1974 - When EVERYone wore a beard.
Q. Why were there no non-human clerics?
A. Because there were no non-human gods. Humanity brought its deities with them to this new world. Non-human races did not worship gods.

Q. Why were humans essentially in charge when they had shorter lifespans and no natural advantages to compete with non-human races?
A. In Avremier - they aren't. Humans simply have more need for secure settlements and extensive civilizations.

Even then, the races of Avremier looked nothing like this.And so-on...

Answers like these helped shape the setting. Humans were aliens. Dwarves, elves, gnomes, and halflings were native races with most of their roots in the Faerie realm. Some of them adapted in part to human culture in an effort to better interact and coexist with their new neighbors. The setting was still humanocentric in that humans were the ones dedicated to adventuring - but not so much that other races were reduced to second-class citizens or convenient caricatures.

With the end of the Wars of the Harrowing, humanity was limited in part to extensive "reservations" of land. The surrounding wilderness was ancient and inimical to humankind. Other races had their own settlements, but set pretty far from those of humans - and often in climes that humans found difficult to endure. Thus, did the realm take shape - with humans in the relatively safe spaces, and the other races in their outside places.

Not that some of those other races didn't mingle a little. Halflings, especially, seemed to enjoy dabbling in human culture. Dwarves were pretty friendly and accepting. Even most of the elves stopped killing humans on sight after a few decades of uneasy peace. I wanted the non-human races to FEEL non-human. Players could run their characters however they wished, but the dwarves, elves, gnomes, and halflings of Avremier were certainly not just selected human attributes taken to extremes. For humans, there has yet to be a true Industrial Age - their civilization seems firmly set in the Adventuring Age.

After this, so many other aspects and details of the setting seemed to fall into place.
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Getting to Know - the Myriad Host

Tue, 06/11/2019 - 17:08
The first two entries in this series explored the possibilities of some common humanoid (goblinoid) monsters in the game - as adapted for the Avremier setting. This time, let's take a look at a small group of monsters that I've given a common biological background and development.

The ankheg:

The remorhaz:

The umber hulk (PI):
What do these creatures have in common? Well, the first two just seem to go together in my mind when I look at the illustrations. As for the third, well...I happen to prefer the later look of the critter:
That makes more sense. Three monsters based upon insects or arthropods. In an early Avremier campaign, I had a major villain that was breeding and taming monsters for use as laborers and soldiers. This villain was the source of what ended up being called the Ulentohksa (Myriad Host). They created a gigantic hive beneath the main villain's lair that served as a rather creepy dungeon environment.

Ankhegs became a worker caste. They would also be used as gatherers. In a pinch, the ankheg made a fine soldier.


The remorhaz was an elite warrior and hunter type. Harder to control, but fierce and effective. Yes - the setting was in a northern clime. The ankheg adapted just fine and served well as an outrider and scout to the south.

The umber hulk (umbulc in Avremier) was carefully engineered to be an elite warrior and colony director. Of comparable structure, but superior intellect and utility.
With this structure, it stands to reason that there must be an Ulentohska Queen somewhere. A truly terrifying and gigantic monster, hidden away - producing more and more monsters for the Myriad Host. In my mind, I tend to imagine a remorhaz crossed with:
Yeah - go ahead and watch out for that sucker in a future adventure.
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Building Avremier - Part Six: Colonization

Mon, 06/10/2019 - 16:04
Continuing from Part Five...

Having nothing against Fantasy Eurasia as a concept, I chose to hie myself West for inspiration. It seemed the road-less-traveled at the time. It felt like the Land of the Free, since no one else was really building there - as far as I knew. At the time, I just wanted to explore a New World.

The Premise: what if colonists came to the New World, clashed with the indigenous peoples they found there, escalated the conflict into full-scale war - and lost.

I imagined humans coming to this entirely new land (for - reasons) and encountering the natives, which happened to be Fae. These first humans were grudgingly welcomed, but not yet trusted. Seeming primitive and ignorant to the human leadership, the Fae were treated much like children. Eventually, things went pear-shaped and descended into conflict. The Fae (being Fae) had deceived the humans far more than the humans had tried to deceive them. Also, the Fae had the native Elementals of the land on their side. In time, the land itself rose up against the invaders. It was how I imagined the colonization of America - if the Native Americans had the spirits of nature to fight for them. Still, the resulting conflict was terrible for both sides and Nature itself was forced to intervene. In the end, the humans lost the war. Robert Holdstock's Mythago Wood stories helped set the tone, if not the stage. Once that premise was set, I was free to improvise and fill in the gaps. That required some attention to the landscape - something I'd neglected in my drawings. Maps were one thing, but actual landscapes were evocative in an entirely different way. Enter: Rodney Matthews.

At just the right time in my development, the bold and fantastical landscapes of Rodney Matthews burst into my life. So many possibilities. So much fun.
The gloves were off. My eyes were open wide. I was ready to push the limits of verisimilitude. I wanted to craft a world in my image.

I wanted to give my players encounters that would be memorable - not just for the challenging monsters and glorious rewards, but also for the stunning settings and immersive environments.

Some of the best writing advice I'd received was to "show - not just tell." Take that to heart? Yes I did. I wanted players to feel like they were a part of this world.

So, I listened. And I watched. I encouraged them to question everything. I encouraged them to try anything. I took all of that and incorporated it into my setting framework. A metagaming scaffolding of sorts. Inspired by the players and developed by the DM - to the benefit of all.

I'll explain in the next installment.
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Getting to Know - the Goblin

Sat, 06/08/2019 - 19:26
Continuing the new feature, here is the second entry.

Goblins in Avremier have almost always been a type of dark fae. Maybe it's part of my exposure to so much myth and folklore. I just got bored with the idea of a progression of humanoid sword-fodder designed to fill easy little encounters for up-and-coming heroes.


Maybe it was my lack of interest in big wars between Good and Evil. It could've been my aversion to the concept of dark-and-nasty versions of the heroic races. Whatever the reason - I always felt goblins deserved better than just dark reflections of gnomes or dwarves. Besides, most of the books I'd read about faeries and the faerie realm included goblins as part of the Unseelie Host. In Avremier, those are the Ilfae.

In the 80s, there seemed to be a constant struggle for the DM to keep providing new and exciting encounters for players who would pick up and read every new book, supplement, or magazine they could. That's when I really started to create my own stuff. Sure, most of us loved creating new monsters. I did that as well. But, I was just as excited by the idea of taking existing monsters and giving them an Avremier twist. The player would be much more surprised by something that seemed familiar, but subverted expectations, than by a creature that was entirely unrecognizable.

Anyway, here are some of my archival notes on goblins in Avremier. As a little bonus, a stat block for the Gutter Goblin is also included.

Goblins are dark fae (ilfae) - a throwback to grimmer times. Fallen fae that like to pretend they are still noble and fair. False wings, wigs, mica dust, body paint. They may breed with other fae and qualify as fae for the purpose of magical effects and racial affinities.

      While most are still evil, they are definitely not as simple as the standard goblin. They are dark and vicious creatures that delight in the downfall of bigger folk – even other goblinoids. Males are able to grow hair on their chins, but not really anywhere else on their faces. Leaders may attempt to grow a scraggly little beard as a sign of status. Quick and agile. Flanking (swarming) and backstabbing bonuses. Slender and flexible, squeeze through small openings and excellent acrobats/contortionists. Colorationvery much in the range of slate and shale. Secrete natural oils to become slippery. Goblins are immune to all lycanthropy – except wererat.       Most goblins have a fascination with toys. This includes any interesting weapon, complex device, shiny trinket, intricate bit of craft, or an actual children’s plaything. It is not unusual for a goblin warrior to have a favorite knife and a favorite doll. Have a knack for devices and gadgets - even for magic items. Goblin clans that pursue the assassin arts and monastic disciplines, some with levels of illusionist.       One goblin clan allies with death dogs instead of worgs. Clan that rides giant bats or cave crickets. Harvest paralyzing carrion crawler venom for use on weapons. Trained “guard mimics.” Goblin balloon harness – flying goblins! Warrior sect of lake-dwelling or swamp-dwelling goblins that require potential members to personally kill a giant snapping turtle and fashion a shield from its shell as a rite of passage.  A group of goblins is called a deceit – a deceit of goblins.        One goblin chieftain has convinced local ogres they are long-lost relations that should co-exist in harmony. The ogres take immediately to their "little cousins" and welcome them to the family. Now, the goblins have dedicated ogre defenders while the chieftain enjoys a truly elite personal guard. This alliance has made the goblins particularly bold and savage.      

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