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An OD&D (and AD&D) exodus through the eyes of a lifelong gamerMothshadehttp://www.blogger.com/profile/18417201456628056552noreply@blogger.comBlogger189125
Updated: 1 week 1 day ago

Let's Gel

Wed, 07/24/2019 - 20:00
One of the most contrived and ridiculous D&D monsters of all-time is the Gelatinous Cube. A nearly-invisible mass of slime that just happens to be exactly the same size and volume as those ridiculous 10' x 10' dungeon corridors.

Those opening sentences do not reflect my own opinions. They are the edited and condensed views of quite a few op-ed pieces I've seen on this wondrous Internet of ours.

This is another example of, in my opinion, the disservice done to our beloved hobby by overwrought rulebooks that strive to tell players exactly how their game should be played. Yes - that's my opinion. Filling up an entire page with exposition that explains just how to include a monster, along with the actions said monster should probably take in combat - well, at what point can we just dispense with the DM?

While I acknowledge that many players want or even need all these rules and guidelines, it does make for more bloated and expensive rulebooks, bigger learning curves, drawn-out and rules-heavy gaming sessions, and tons of wasted space. Do we need an entire (5E) page for the Piercer? Do the (5E) monster illustrations really need to fill half a page? I've found that a lot of players and DMs prefer not to use something that they don't like or understand in the rulebooks. And, of course, the premise of the game actively encourages this. I've even met some folks that do without the classic dungeon environment entirely because it's just too silly to them. That's fair.

And I'm not insisting that the older editions are "better" than the new editions. 
Just so we're clear.

For myself, I prefer to actually treat what I read or see in a D&D book as guidelines - all of it. By way of example, let's take the Gelatinous Cube. This is a classic D&D monster. How do I know? It appears in the first release of the game in 1974/1975, and in every core monster book from 1E thru 5E. Still, people make sarcastic comments about the thing. How does it even kill people? How slow or dumb do you have to be to get caught by one? Well - that depends on the DM.

First - the 'Cube is not a hunter. It's a scavenger. It isn't chasing you down. The 'Cube is almost invisible in its natural state. This means that a lot of its prey comes to the 'Cube. You're strolling (or fleeing) down a corridor and - SPLOOP! And, that's just in default mode. If the DM really wants to 'Cube a PC, there are plenty of ways. Dead-end corridor - and a 'Cube glops its way into the other end, blocking your only escape route. You fall into a 10' x 10' x 10' pit...and...heeeeeeeere comes a 'Cube - just the right size to *PLOP*. Let's not even bother with slides or teleporters. It's like dissolving adventurers in a barrel full of acid.

What follows is MY version of the Gelatinous Cube for MY setting. Your turgidity may vary.

The Gelatinous Cube is an amorphous mass of transparent protoplasm. Being amorphous, it can change shape without much effort at all. When the 'Cube is 10' x 10' x 10', it is typically filling the empty available space around it. Otherwise, the creature can be a sphere, a pyramid, a torus, a giant puddle, a shapeless mass - or just about any other simple form that suits its immediate needs or environs. Somewhere near the center of the gelatinous form is a kind of "cognitive center" or "brain."

But, the Gelatinous Cube is non-intelligent. That is true - but the Slithering Tracker isn't.
The 2E entry - since it has a nice illustration.
Oh, look - another transparent, paralyzing monster made of jelly. But, this one is smaller, faster, and smarter. Still, my mind likes to connect and share things. Sometimes, the whole can be more interesting (and deadly) than the sum of its parts.

Consider the Slithering Tracker as the "brains" of the Gelatinous Cube. However, the 'Tracker is often out and about - hunting. During these times, the 'Cube is its usual mindless, scavenging self. On the rare occasion that the 'Tracker is part of the 'Cube, the 'Cube is treated as a smarter monster - but the 'Tracker is usually easier to see because it has recently fed on blood. The Gelatinous Cube becomes a two-part monster with an increased threat potential.

Were I inclined to accept text and illustrations at face value, the setting of Avremier probably wouldn't even exist - and I sure wouldn't be creating these fun monster variants. Maybe most players aren't used to DMs that innovate. I can understand that. It's not necessary for an enjoyable game. But, the attraction of D&D for myself is the spaces between the rules, stats, and pictures. That's what I strive to fill.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Of chests — and floors — and ceiling-attacks

Wed, 07/24/2019 - 01:04
We often eat with our eyes first. That adage seems to apply to RPG monsters as well. Sometimes, no matter how deadly or inspiring a monster entry is - that all-important illustration can make-or-break even the most ancient of dragons or the most influential of demon lords. Some monsters have even been defined by their illustrations through the years. The mimic can change its shape to look like just about any dungeon feature or furnishing. But, those early illustrations of belligerent  treasure chests have fixed that image into just about everyone's minds.

After browsing enough poorly-researched "Worst/Dumbest Monsters in D&D" articles, I feel confident in this presumption. I've even seen blogs where the question is posed: "how does a mimic move?" The premise is that a killer treasure chest just doesn't have any obvious means of locomotion.

Personally, I've never had a party encounter a mimic in the form of a treasure chest. A wardrobe, sarcophagus, door, or gargoyle statue - yes. Even though it is specifically detailed in the Monster Manual entry, the mimic is still seen today as a "mouthy treasure chest monster." Though, to be honest, I do love the imagery of it. Still, I tend to lay the blame for this on the 2nd Edition Monstrous Manual.
One thing that turned me off from 2E was the tendency to explain and define everything. For me, all this accomplished was an increased word count and decreased interest. Suddenly, every monster entry had to fill at least an entire page. Personally, I don't feel that giant sea urchins deserve an entire page - barely a mention, actually.

Anyway, it seems to be the imagery that counts. Text is entirely negotiable. The mimic attacks with a lashing pseudopod. It doesn't even bite. Still, this is the current vision of the mimic - the tongue must be the pseudopod.
Again - I do like the imagery. I just sense some disconnect between the later editions of the game that expend so much effort in detailing every aspect of the adventure, only to have so much fall through the cracks. People who ask how a mimic moves don't seem to be paying much attention. Maybe the word, "amorphous" is too obscure for the casual reader. But, now, in 5th Edition - the mimic does have a bite attack! An acidic bite attack! The toothy maw became so popular that the game itself adapted.

Through the years, I've noticed that certain types of monster will get a bad rap. Some players seem to have issues with "surprise monsters." Those creatures that blend in with the dungeon and let you just walk into their hidden clutches. Kinda makes you feel dumb sometimes. Seems unfair. Never mind that this happens in nature all the time. These monsters just get under their skin and simply aren't realistic. You know - like the rest of the typical realistic D&D world. The idea of creatures specifically evolved to thrive in a ludicrous habitat like a typical dungeon is simply untenable, for some reason.


Monsters like the mimic. The lurker above. The trapper. Hey - I can see the point. These are very specific adaptations. Though, I mostly see the logic hand-waved to the machinations of mad wizards that create wacky monsters for fun and profit. That's never been my thing. For my own setting, I've made the mimic, lurker above, and trapper one-and-the-same monster. Yep. The mimic can look like anything of stone or wood. A chest, a ceiling, a floor. It has adhesive. It is amorphous. Seriously - why bother with three separate entries for the same kind of tricky, camouflaged, shapeshifting, ambush monster?

Along the same lines, come back next time for a little chat about the nifty relationship (in my setting) between the gelatinous cube and the slithering tracker.



Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Consider This - Slaying the Big Bad.

Mon, 07/08/2019 - 17:35
An epic adventure or campaign often culminates in a massive battle between the heroes and the main villain of the story. Fun and satisfying. Straightforward and expected.

What happens when someone kills a demigod, demon prince, or arch-devil? Permanently.

Well, some points to consider might be along the lines of:
  • Power vacuum needing to be filled. Possibly by a powerful lieutenant or rival.
  • An imbalance in the cosmic order. Perhaps this entity truly embodied one or more traits that are now no longer represented in the universe. You've destroyed the Demon Prince of Evil Sawhorses and now evil sawhorses are disappearing from Creation itself. Is this a good thing? Or, even worse, you killed the Demigod of Low Interest Rates.
  • From bad to worse. Bet you didn't know that arch-devil you took out was the guardian of the Gate of Inescapable Horror - keeper of the lock that kept a nameless world-devouring monster from entering our dimension. Now that the guardian of the Gate is gone... 
Honestly, there are lots of possibilities. But, there have been moments in my own campaign where I wanted more immediate, or intimate, results.

You dealt the final blow to the demigodlike villain of the campaign! What are you gonna do next?! Wait - let's not get ahead of ourselves. Are we treating the Dark Lord of Glitter and Fingernail Clippings as just another fallen foe? Sure - we could do that. But, that's not really my style.

Let's address that particular phrase: "...dealt the final blow..." The DM is free to spread the love around, but the character that laid the villain low should receive the best/worst of what is to come. Where does all the power held by the demigod/demonlord/hellduke go? For my money, most of it will go back to the source - or go nowhere at all. Depends on the circumstances and direction of the campaign. But, some of it will go to the slayer - who will probably never be the same again.
  • What was the slain foe known for? Being a powerful warrior? A crafty tactician? A domineering presence? Increase one or more ability scores of the villain's slayer accordingly. To the PC that dealt Asmodeus the killing blow, raise that guy's Charisma - at the very least.
  • While you're at it - add some HD to the character. Give them a permanent HP boost.
  • It won't all be good. Make the PC toss a saving throw die. Failure indicates an alignment shift toward that of the slain villain's. Eventually, the hero's physical appearance could start to change as well.
  • Transfer one or more powers from the villain to the PC. Not necessarily under the character's full control, but definitely something distinctive and disturbing.
  • With all this power, it is definitely reasonable to increase the PC's lifespan.
  • Give the PC dreams or flashes of "divine inspiration." Harbingers of changes to come. Glimpses of the true workings of reality. Premonitions of danger from divine rivals.
  • Did the slain entity have followers or worshipers? Will any of that devotion transfer to the slayer of their deity? Or, will they seek to punish the PC that took away the object of their devotion?
If the campaign is to continue beyond the death of the big bad, it might be fun to have the hero of the hour be the catalyst through which evil continues. The PC might be able to harness the power for good. The PC might fall to a rival. The PC may succumb to evil. The PC could somehow destroy the dark energies within - thus eliminating the threat for all time. In any case, the player gets a truly epic struggle to play. It also gives all the players something to think about as they strive to be the hero that puts down the next great evil.

Consequences. Do we play them?








Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

OCD&D

Sun, 07/07/2019 - 15:51
Having studied or tried every edition of D&D (including Pathfinder), I find myself exhausted by the later super-crunchy rule sets. For me, at least, they stifle creativity and dampen enthusiasm.

So many different ways to tell a player what their character can and cannot do at any given time during a game. Personally, I don't want to be browsing my character sheet in search of my next action in the middle of an encounter. I also don't want to be planning my brand-new 1st level character's entire career out to 20th level while I'm wading through skills and feats.

My anxiety and OCD really don't like those systems. D&D was a dream come true for me. A game of creativity. An area where I could shine. At least, that was how it would be at first.

I'm told (in no uncertain terms) that the countless class options, race options, skills, feats, and advantages allow for more creativity and individuality. It is possible I will never truly agree with this. I feel all of that simply offers more and more tiny pigeonholes in which to stuff a character. I guess I just don't need to be told every single little thing my character can and should be able to do. It's probably because I have always been a DM far more than a player. I'm used to a minimum level of trust in my ability to make decisions and come up with solutions to problems.

My wife did not grow up playing D&D - despite spending her childhood not terribly far from Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. By the time she met me and got dragged into playing the game, we were using the D20 System of rules. She learned D&D by possibly the most unnecessarily complex means necessary. It turned her off a bit to running characters that used magic - as that was a rules-heavy option with a lot of choices to be made. Still, she created characters and ran them in my campaigns. She only really learned the rules that applied to her own character. I honestly couldn't blame her for that. The Player's Handbook is essentially a colorful textbook with more pages than strictly necessary. During the game, my wife would come up with practical solutions to in-game problems. It warmed my heart to see her play the game.

The party comes to an ancient rope bridge spanning a bottomless chasm. They start to carefully cross the bridge. From the far side, a rust monster comes into view. Smelling the tasty metal worn and carried by the party - the rust monster starts across the bridge. Panic ensues.


My wife is running a fighting character that happens to be wearing non-metallic armor and wielding non-metallic weapons. She rushes forward and grapples with the rust monster, lifts it up, and carries it to the far end of the bridge - where she dumps a pile of disposable metal items like iron spikes and extra daggers for the creature to eat. Thus distracted, the monster allows the rest of the group to pass.
No, she didn't have Animal Handling. She didn't have some kind of specialized wrestling feat. She just saw the problem and came up with a logical solution. And it worked. Had she stopped to consult her character sheet, things would probably have gone very differently - but not necessarily in a good way. There was nothing on her character sheet to prompt the very simple reaction that she employed to such good measure. Certainly not the Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom-inspired plan the rest of the party had been about to settle upon. Rust monsters have no hands with which to grip - how could this possibly fail?


I'm not a cranky grognard lamenting the destruction of my beloved game. I'll play your fancy, newfangled fantasy games. I've run my campaign using 3.0, 3.5, and 3.75 edition rules. For the most part, it went well. I don't begrudge players their preferred editions of the game - though I have had plenty of forward-thinking gamers tell me how wrong I am for preferring older editions. I just don't agree that D20 is the best. And, I definitely feel it tends to stifle creativity by defining everything in terms of modifiers and challenge levels. I didn't get excited about D&D for the math - I'm in it for the adventure. I'm also not one to cut a rope to spite my face.

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.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Gorbelization

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.







Kobolds-then-goblins-then-hobgoblins/orcs-then-bugbears-then-ogres...





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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Building Avremier - Part Five: Sophistication

Sat, 06/08/2019 - 18:09
Continuing from Part Four...

Blackmoor. Tekumel. Shannara. Urth. Pern. Elfquest. Kane. Sunset Warrior. True Game. Lord of Light. Books of Swords. Dying Earth. City of Bones. Many more...

For some reason, me-as-a-teen really enjoyed the concept of science fiction disguised as fantasy. I loved reading fantasy novels, only to eventually discover the truth beneath the surface. I'm not talking about people from modern times suddenly finding themselves in a fantasy setting. I mean a fantasy world built upon a science fiction foundation.

"But, David, you didn't do that with Avremier. That's a traditional fantasy setting."

Again, I make myself laugh.

Avremier is certainly presented as a fantasy setting. Avremier has always been run as a fantasy setting. Avremier can always be run as a fantasy setting. Avremier is actually a science-fantasy setting. And, not just in small doses - I'm talking about huge dollops of crazy tech.

Back in the 80s, the concept was still fresh to me. A lot of writers were doing it, but most of them were done so well that each one seemed a revelation. I was tired of every author trying to be the next Tolkien or R.E. Howard. I was so lucky to have access to so many books. Robert Aspirin and Piers Anthony helped teach me the possibilities of humorous fantasy. de Lint showed me how traditional folklore could be adapted to new stories that retained the feel of the original but introduced a fresh taste. Zelazny stretched my awareness out in so many directions. Wolfe showed me the potential of language and imagination. McKillip gave me magical worlds that left room for my own adventures. Le Guin took me to places shaped by something other than Eurocentric tropes.

But, the "a-ha!" moments of learning the truth behind the fantasy curtain stayed with me. Every time I realized something magical was actually something technological. Every moment where it was revealed a god was actually something (or someone) else entirely. Whenever magic was revealed as extremely advanced science. Sometimes, the author would even present science and magic as ongoing cycles in their setting. Some worlds were old enough to experience ages of magic, followed by ages of technology, followed by another age of magic - and so forth. I found that to be a rather exciting concept as well.


Still, after all the influences and examples, the core concept of Avremier came from another place entirely. To be honest, I can't really pinpoint a specific origin. It might have been the evolution of my own beliefs and interests focused through the lens of countless books and stories. I doubt I'm the first, or only, person to come up with such a premise. Though, I never really came across the same thing being done by someone else. Not saying it hasn't happened - just that I've missed out.

In the next installment, I'll explain that premise.

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Building Avremier - Part Four: Diversification

Sat, 06/08/2019 - 15:20
Continuing from Part Three...

During high school, I was reading every fantasy or sci-fi novel I could get my hands on. Drawing had been my primary form of expression - mostly sketches of persons, places, or things in my campaign world. It was in high school that I was assured that I also wrote well. Up to that point, I wasn't really putting much effort into crafting plots or stories for my game. It was mostly just dungeons linked by some overland scenarios. I had created a world for adventures, but not for much else.

It seemed time to give my big, messy creation a sense of purpose. While I've compiled a few versions of my own Appendix N, there were a few select works that pushed me forward in creativity.

Sherri S. Tepper's True Game novels.  For the cover art (James Christensen and Kinuko Craft), the characters, the world-building, and the hidden details and history.

The art of Christensen inspired me in other ways. Fantasy could be colorful and even whimsical. Details could have deeper meaning - not just to add layers. I was starting to gain a deeper appreciation for symbolism.

Frog and OgreAnd, there were so many different ways a fairly common mythic/folkloric creature could be represented or designed (Frog and Ogre).

Flight of the Fablemaker






Bold new ways of getting players to the adventure (Flight of the Fablemaker). Yes, flying ships became a definite thing for my campaign.
College of Magical Knowledge



Unique sites and structures offered for more than just breaking into and exploring for monetary gain (College of Magical Knowledge).








But, the writing affected me most deeply. Not only the shape and flavor of the setting - which was quite unique and captivating, but also the REASONS for why things were the way they were. I won't spoil the surprises for anyone that might be inspired to find these books, but I will say that Avremier became much better for the experience.

In the next installment, I'll discuss how and why Avremier became a Science-Fantasy setting.
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Getting to Know - the Bugbear

Fri, 06/07/2019 - 19:02
Perhaps this will be a regular series. No promises.

One of the hallmarks of the Avremier setting (and its offshoots) is monster variants. Or, at least, monsters with origins and details that differ from, or flesh out, the official entries or stat blocks. In fact, just about every monster found in Avremier is different in some way - to better fit it into the setting.

Some of the differences are cosmetic, or subtle. Not everything needs an entirely new coat of paint. Some of the changes might be surprising for some...such as goblins being dark fae, or sphinxes encompassing a broad creature type that includes manticores, lamias, lammasus, and shedus.

For no particular reason, this series will start with the bugbear. Sometimes, there will be full monster descriptions and/or stat blocks. This time, there will just be a sharing of the official archive notes for the Bugbear in the Avremier setting.



·        Bugbear: Known variously as the Wildegoblin, Wodegoblin, or Diregoblin, the bugbear is a stealthy figure found often on the border between the wilderness and civilization. In Avremier, it is not too unusual to see a bugbear hunter/trapper shambling into a small town for  supplies and trade. There are bugbear rangers, druids, barbarians, hunters, trappers, guides, and assassins. They are exceptional trackers. Some bugbears may emit a pungent musk when roused, causing fear in those nearby. Lycanthropy among bugbears will produce werecavebears or wereworgs, almost exclusively. A typical bugbear has exceptionally large hands and feet, helping it to walk more silently, cross soft or snowy terrain, and even wield weapons that are one category larger as if normal size. Their keen senses of hearing and smell make bugbears difficult to surprise, and allow them to notice nearby hidden or invisible creatures. They can see in the dark up to 60’. Some bugbears may have a monk-like unarmed strike attack. Not all bugbears are Evil, but they will mostly be of Chaotic alignment, and are hardly ever Lawful. There is a particularly cruel and ancient religion or cult that worships a demonic figure strongly resembling the Krampus. These cultists often wear hideous wooden masks, and carry birch rods or lashes of chain or leather as symbolic weapons. A bugbear defeated alive by another in combat will usually have a notch taken out of its ear as a badge of shame. 
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Building Avremier - Part Three: Cupellation

Fri, 06/07/2019 - 18:42
Continuing from Part Two...

Having lost my original "world map," I was already poised to launch Campaign Setting 2.0. Honestly, I was maturing in my world-building and storytelling. Time had been spent play-testing the world I'd built so far. Things were starting to come together. My next move was to prioritize and condense. Not necessarily to start from scratch, but to build only on what I'd established already - using only my own ideas.

One of the influences on the development of Avremier was (as I've already mentioned) The Riddle-Master of Hed trilogy by Patricia A. McKillip. Not everyone has the same experience with reading the trilogy as I did - and that is to be expected. It is possible I got more out of the stories than many others. It spoke very strongly to my imagination at the time. So did the rather sparse map:

The size and flavor of this setting appealed greatly to teenaged me. Actually, they still do. Large enough to encompass a variety of cultures and adventures, but small enough to feel intimate and manageable. These were important points for me - along with not retreading well-worn cultures and fantasy tropes.

Much as I loved Tolkien, during the 80s and early 90s, I was hard-pressed to find a fantasy novel that didn't compare to Lord of the Rings or Middle Earth on the cover. That was the bar, and I was tired of that bar. Writers that were brilliantly blazing new trails in fantasy were being compared to Tolkien. It seemed lazy and just a little insulting. Tolkien was Tolkien - couldn't the rest of us function somewhere beyond his shadow?

I was determined to try. After all, I'd seen and experienced many fantasy worlds. I knew what I liked. I knew what inspired me. I knew what I'd seen too much of.  The things others had done before me - and done better than I probably could. A lot of time was spent setting aside the bits of culture and myth that just didn't fit my vision - such as it was. I confess I laughed a little as I typed "my vision." I'm the kind of person that usually has no easy answer when asked what my favorite something is. My favorite song changes depending on my mood or how recently I've heard it. My favorite food changes almost from hour to hour. My favorite color is green - but a bluer shade, not a yellow-green...or, is it purple - a bluer shade, not a reddish purple...unless we count black as a color...but, sometimes I really like copper. That's kind of how Avremier developed. That's why I laugh.

In the next part, I'll share more influences and choices that helped shape the setting as a whole.


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Building Avremier - Part Two: Evolution

Mon, 06/03/2019 - 16:14
Continuing from Part One...

That first sprawling campaign setting map was a beautifully-hideous thing. No, I don't still have it - wish I did. As I recall, one of my "friends" at the time stole it. That map was my personal Cartography classroom.

Not surprisingly, I suppose, there was a time when I spent almost 17 years working for a mapping company. I can honestly say it was never my intention - but, it did happen. And I did learn a lot about modern mapping - some of which I do apply to my work today.

Anyway, that first map was a Frankensteinian concoction of my own crazy vision, supplemented with maps stolen from my favorite fantasy novels. There was a time when I would shop for new books by turning to the first few pages and looking for a map.

Ah...Melnibone.
When I found maps that interested me, I would take portions of those maps that fit the one I was drawing and drop them in - partially or fully, depending on compatibility. Sometimes, I'd even keep the names. During this time, I wasn't learning much about realistic mapping, but I was discovering what made such maps evocative or exciting.
The world of Karl Edward Wagner's Kane.
To be honest, this map didn't last long. I don't think I was even too upset when it was stolen - except that some bastard had stolen my work. I was ready to move on to better representations of my imaginary world. Ready to begin drawing maps that were entirely my own. I had been running games in my world for a couple of years and had a lot of ideas regarding what had been working well, and what had not. I was also getting into a groove of what sort of names and linguistic influences I was going with. Plus - I had received the gift of a big pad of graph paper!
First thing I did was draw a lobster - yeah, I'm that guy.
I will admit, drawing a map on graph paper made me feel like I had reached an entirely new level of development. I felt almost professional at age 14. Along with the graph paper, I had acquired some very nice pencils, pens, and drafting templates. It was time to get serious. While my first map was just a frantic effort to get coastlines and borders in place, this new map started out with the main city of my game and worked outward from there. I was going to design a world of my own - with a sensible sense of scale!

This was about the time I decided that detail and verisimilitude were more important than huge tracts of weird-looking land. I'll talk about that in totally unnecessary detail next time.
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Building Avremier - Part One: Genesis

Sat, 06/01/2019 - 15:48
In the past few years, I've had people ask about the origins and evolution of the Avremier setting - much to my surprise and delight. I've been developing the easy answer, but - much like the initial five published supplements, that just doesn't really even begin to cover it. So, I will attempt to fully answer those questions here. Warning: there will be lots to read.

Sometime during 1982, I found and purchased the Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set. This, and the followup Expert Set, launched the initial creation of Avremier. Of course, it wasn't called Avremier at the time - but that's not important to this narrative.

I've always loved maps - especially fantasy maps. I was drawing my own fantasy worlds long before discovering D&D. Greek and Norse mythology probably started it all. Then, there was the book that changed me forever - The Hobbit. 

 Especially THIS map:

Oh, I sat and stared at this map for hours. I loved that every tree had been drawn. That map of Wilderland generated imaginary adventures for me that could have covered an average RPG campaign. It's possible that this was the time where I decided working on a smaller scale was better for me. More on that later. I was stumbling my way through the creation of an entire fantasy world of my very own.


Then, there was the map of Lonely Mountain. Essentially, a treasure map. Sure, I had read Treasure Island, and delighted in the map therein. But, this was a fantasy treasure map. With runes - and a dragon.

My grandfather worked in the Mapping Department at the Pentagon. He took my copy of The Fellowship of the Ring to work one day and copied the map of Middle Earth for me. Not only that, but he enlarged it and printed it out on a big piece of paper. At the time, this was a big deal to me. This was before everyone had access to commercial scanners and printers. In the early 80s, I just about lost my little mind. But, the experience also led me to start taking fantasy novels to my parents' places of work to use their copiers. For a brief time, the map of my D&D campaign world was an amalgam of hand-drawn original mapping - and piecemeal copies of maps from my favorite fantasy novels. I'll explain where this led in the next installment.
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Fri, 05/10/2019 - 15:29

Ten Reasons Why I Like Playing Halfling Characters
1.       No one asks you to be party leader.2.       In fact, everyone insists upon you not leading the party.3.       To be honest, no one wants you making decisions at all.4.       You can use almost any other party member as a mount.5.       No matter how much sugar or caffeine you consume, it’s all “role-playing.”6.       No need to pay attention since everyone either forgets you’re there or tells you what to do.7.       Quoting The Hobbit or LotR doesn’t get you yelled at for breaking character.8.       Sneaking, squeezing, or wriggling out of danger.9.       Traps designed for medium intruders. Halflings don’t get decapitated by scything blade traps.10.   Coming up with silly character names is expected, not derided.

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