"I wonder if that was from the pastrami rueben I had yesterday?"

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Illandria Campaign Lore: Kwalish, Greatest Inventor of our age

One can hardly make their way through the streets of any modern city without witnessing several of the great inventions of Kwalish, a great mechanist and a great arcanist whose accomplishments far dwarf those of any other inventor of our age.  Air dirigibles bring goods and passengers from remote settlements to the capital; our walls are guarded not only by stout men at arms with bow and arrow and pike, but also by troops armed with pistol, powder and musket; at night our streets are protected by constables outfitted with night goggles, repeating crossbows, sending stones; the list goes on an on.... 






While his inventions have made an enormous impact on the world around us, surprisingly little is known about his personal life.  He was born a locksmith's son in Y.L. 292 in the small village of Mundts.  As a boy he showed great aptitude for the trade, a bit too much aptitude for the liking of local law enforcement. When the boy was found one day working at picking the lock on the  community chest in the mayor's private chambers (his excuse being that he wanted to see if it needed repairing) he was given two choices:  3 weeks in the stocks or be branded with the sign of a thief.  The boy chose the former punishment, although he did not serve his full sentence by any means.  The sheriff found the stocks, his armory and his purse all empty the following morning.  The boy had vanished into the night.




Kwalish set off to seek his fortune in Y.L. 303.  He travelled north to Grand Marsh where he booked passage upriver to the Capital City, hoping to lose any pursuit in the crowded streets of that thriving metropolis.  He lived for a short time in a hovel a few blocks away from the dwelling of the eremite, Landis.  Landis had been a famous lecturer and a professor of Abjuration in the School of Arcane Arts in his younger days, but had retired from the public life long ago and sought to spend the remainder of his days in solitude with his books and his thoughts.  It was perhaps fate that brought Kwalish to the back door of the famous Abjurer very early one spring morning.  Landis later reported that when his alarm spell triggered and he saw the scrawny waif at his door, his first inclination was to let the wards trigger and incinerate the young upstart then and there.  But first with amazement and then fascination, Landis watched the boy set to work upon deciphering and then disabling the magical wards, one by one.  The boy was obviously too young to have had any formal training, and though he had missed the alarm spell, he showed a preternatural skill at perceiving and decoding magical glyphs.  Like tumblers for a lock, Kwalish could sequence them and even roughly disable them by scratching off just the right mark.  Rather than leave the boy to possibly perish with the slightest mistake, Landis opened his door swiftly and invited him in for breakfast.  Kwalish accepted and spent 4 years as an apprentice, during which time he learned to incorporate the magical and the mechanical.  Upon completing his apprenticeship, he left Landis' inner city keep more secure than he had found it and received a letter of recommendation for acceptance to the University in the school of his choosing.  Kwalish is believed to have had no further contact with Landis after the day he left.




Kwalish began attending University in the year Y.L. 307.  He was at first unaccustomed to the highly competitive atmosphere of academia, and he made no friends during his studies.  His masters reported he was only an average student but had a voracious appetite for knowledge.  He was frequently disciplined for attempting to access books off limits to first year students, and he asked questions incessantly about the lowest levels of the library which only tenured faculty were allowed to read.  It was at this time that he lost all his hair during a mishap with a locked door in a library.  Kwalish had apparently, finally, met his match with a lock he could not pick.  He then shifted his studies from magical locks to magical keys and eventually received his doctorate in the school of Transmutation in Y.L. 313.  His primary achievement was the Key of Kwalish, which was held at the University until Y.L. 320 when it was discovered the item held in the University Museum of Magical Artifacts was in fact, a non-magical fake.  Kwalish was sought for questioning but he had moved far to the West by this time to the city of Hartgestein.


It was in the western empire that Kwalish came into his own.  Blueprints for new designs flew off his desk.  His most profitable venture was selling the plans for firearms to the imperial army.  He could have rested on his laurels with this achievement alone, but he went on to invent the dirigible, which he also sold for military and commercial applications.  In 329 Y.L. the law finally caught up to him. Kwalish was arrested by special police for suspicion of theft of University property, but he was quickly pardoned by Emperor Spanks for outstanding contributions to society.  The Key was never located and never returned.


Retiring to the outskirts of Freidvale in 330 Y.L., he began laboring on his magnum opus, what would become known only as the Apparatus.  The device, when completed, would allow 5 men and a pilot to explore flora and fauna under the sea.  Breathing was enabled by a conduit that channeled air directly from the Elemental Plane of air, and the device could crawl like a crab or shoot backwards like a crawfish at high speeds.  It was also capable of floatation. Kwalish and his crew made a fateful 10 day voyage to the bottom of Lake See to seek the lost city ruins of Opsalathys.  They returned successfully, but Kwalish refused to expound on whether or not he reached the city ruins.


Tragedy struck soon after the expedition to Opsalathys.  Kwalish become ever more reclusive, and no further work was produced from the normally effusive creator for the next two years.  It is not known why Kwalish took his crew and the Apparatus into the bay at Freidvale in the winter of 332, but Kwalish, his apparatus and its crew were never heard from or seen again.  Some have postulated that a malfunction resulted in the death of all hands and the destruction of the device.  Some believe he became mentally unstable in his later years.  It has even been speculated that he found a great undersea paradise and his descendants live there still.  Many wizards and mechanists alike have searched the bay extensively for the marvelous Apparatus of Kwalish, but none have ever found it or its creator's remains.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Illandria Campaign Lore -- The Great Convulsion

In the final year of the reign of Emperor Lennox (Y.L. 42) the following question was posed to the Imperial court  of the Capital City:  If a priest cast Miracle and a wizard cast Wish at the same time, and each wished the other dead, which one would Nethys spare?  Would he slay them both?  Ignore them both?  Would the god of magic turn them both into chickens?


It is said that the elven traitor Yeltil first posed the question to the court jester who then posed the question to amuse his emperor.  Such an act of mischief is very in keeping with Yeltil's character.  He was known to have been jealous of the power wielded by N'gorak the Archmage and Elipsus the Priest of Nethys.  While all three had been instrumental in the defeat of the elven king, Seydar Moonkiller, the elven traitor Yeltil was the least trusted and esteemed of the three, both in terms of magical prowess and owing to the fact that if Yeltil could betray his own people, who was to say he might not one day betray the humans as well?  In any event, the seed that the traitor planted bore fruit.  At first the remark was met with universal laughter by all but Elipsus, who stated that 'Nethys would never turn his faithful one into a chicken.'  N'gorak stopped laughing for a moment, then retorted, 'And which of us is the faithful one?'  To which Elipsus then huffed and said that it 'ought to be obvious.'  'To be sure,' said N'gorak acerbically, 'Who better to represent the faith than one who filled my water jugs all day beneath the hot Illandrian sun.'  Elipsus' cheeks colored and allowed as how perhaps N'gorak needed so much watering owing to his choice long flowing dresses and a ridiculous hat.  N'gorak also colored and increasingly heated words were exchanged that are best not repeated here. 


To the credit of the two mighty spell casters, their disagreement did not come to blows that day, but both resolved to a compete in a duel.  Just as the jester had suggested, each would cast a single spell simultaneously, and Nethys would determine the winner by whichever spell prevailed.  Legend has it that Mount Gaul was settled upon for a battleground owning to it's remote location and it's relative lack of local flora and fauna.  Emperor Lennox protested, though he was waning in health at this time and most of the court deferred to the judgments of his son, Vladimir, the crown prince.  Prince Vladimir stated that only good would come of the competition, which would answer the question of supremacy of divine or arcane magic once and for all and would rid them of the inferior spell caster.  Prince Vladimir would soon become renown for favoring the advice of his Fool over all other councilors, despite the disastrous results of the spell duel.


The summer before the death of our beloved first emperor Lennox, the two spell casters gathered with a single witness atop Mount Gaul.  The air was hot and the wind was still on the mountain, as if in anticipation of what was to come.  The witness, a lackey of Yeltil's named Ilwe (no one much cared if an elf was injured or killed during the duel) explained the terms of the duel:  Each would prepare their spell but for the final command word and signal Ilwe when ready.  Ilwe would then raise his arm, and when it dropped, the two would unleash their spells -- Miracle for Elipsus, and Wish for N'gorak.


What precisely happened next is lost unto time, for none of the three could have survived the resulting blast that ripped apart the mountain top and rent lands asunder for hundreds of miles in every direction.  The results were calamitous to say the least.  The women of Ixonia emerged from the cataclysm unable to bear male children, and strange beasts from another time now walked their lands.  All the residents of the White Plains were turned to various forms of undead.  To the west and east of Mount Gaul, it's denizens were transformed into horrors and abominations, alive but deformed beyond all recognition, both sentient and beast alike.  The resulting carnage became known as the Great Convulsion, and none dare attempt to reach the top of Mount Gaul since.  It is rumored that the closer one approaches the site of the horrible conflict, the greater the chance of some mutation befalling the wanderer. 


There are those who claim to have reached the peak of Mount Gaul and returned intact, but their accounts do not agree and are dismissed as boasting or quackery.  Some say the wizard and priest are locked in an eternal duel atop the mountain, and neither will yield to the other.  Some have said that death awaits atop the mountain, and that every kind of beast can be found lying at the summit, all dead.  Some few claim to have found the final resting place of the three, a tomb that holds the remains of Ilwe, Elipsus and N'gorak.  Such a one who boasts of these tales has yet to produce a jot of proof.  Those who are sane do well to stay clear of the mountain and its deformed, cursed inhabitants.

Illandria Campaign Lore -- Emperor Trees

The elven cities of Sylvania are all built above ground in the trees, but the capital city itself is built upon the largest tree in all Illandria.  There were 15 such trees when Illandria was conquered by King Lennox, but now the capital city of Sylvania is fashioned amid the boughs of the last of the so-called emperor trees.  The rest were burned to the ground by ancient magics.  The exact means by which King Lennox and his traitorous elven advisor Yeltil destroyed the trees is lost to history and shrouded in mystery.  The eldest of the long lived elves are old enough to remember the event and may have lived through it in person, but they are remarkably tight lipped whenever human historians come asking questions. 


What is known is that the elven kingdom, estimated to have had some 20 million elves at the time of the invasion, were overwhelmed by the humans in little over 2 years time -- a remarkable feat and unparalleled in our present day, even with the advancements in technology made in relatively recent times largely by the inventor Kwalish


Official court documents state that the humans had superior numbers and superior spell casters.  Neither statement is adequate to explain how a tree miles in diameter could have been destroyed in a day's time.  Even several high level casters employing Wish spells or a cleric of sufficient power to request a Miracle would be hard pressed to reproduce the feat, and at the time of the invasion, King Lennox had only two -- the Grand Wizard N'gorak and Elipsus, High Priest of Nethys.  Now it is possible, given the unrivaled power of these two spell casters, that they had accessed to magic no longer available to even the brightest and most studious University graduate.  But there is not even a reference to the specific magic used by them to enact such terrible destruction.


The second assertion, that the humans had superior numbers, is verifiably false.  The First Imperial Census in 15 Y.L. put the human population of all settlements at a little over a million inhabitants.  Even allowing that there was significant attrition due to the war effort, this still meant that at the time of the initial invasion, elves would have outnumber the humans by 20 to 1.  Why such a bald faced lie exists in the official Imperial Archives is a mystery, one even more inexplicable than the assertion that superior magics were responsible for such overwhelming and lightning fast victories.


The true fate of the Emperor Trees may be lost to time and, perhaps, deliberate obfuscation.  What is known is that King Lennox is written about having expressed regret over the fate of the elves and their once-great cities in the archives of the Imperial Historians.  He knew there was little likelihood of a lasting peace between the two nations so long as the elves held a numerical advantage.  If such devastation was truly necessary is a question best left to philosophers and military strategists. 

Monday, September 26, 2016

Illandria Campaign Lore - Legend of The Lost City of Opsalathys

Opsalathys, as you may or may not know, was an elven city in the days before they were all conquered by King Lennox.  It was one of the very last of their cities to fall.  Unlike most other elven cities, the buildings were not constructed in the treetops of the forest.  Rather, it was made from bricks of mud and straw and built upon the banks of the Guyver River.  Elves had little need of the river for transport, as most of their major cities relied on teleportation between the emperor trees. 


So the Guyverian elves were viewed as the backward cousins of the more traditional elves who lived in the trees, both for their choice of homes and for their religious views.  They followed the practices of their forest-bound brethren by cutting no timber and building no fires (the bricks were all sun dried) but they favored Callistria in their worship over Erastil.  They tolerated the forest elves well enough, allowing them safe passage through their lands, but did not invite nor did they welcome any visitors or trade.  Further, instead of mounting griffons as aerial cavalry, they cultivated swarms of enormous wasps. 


Opsalathys was a singular development in the kingdom of Old Sylvania.  By the time the humans got about besieging the place, they were well practiced in the art of destroying the elven emperor tree colonies.  They had it down to a science, it is said.  While the particulars are lost to history, what is still known is that the emperor trees did not last long to imperial magical fire.  But Opsalathys was not a typical colony.  The wasp cavalry proved much faster and more difficult to kill than their griffon counterparts.  It has been said that more human lives were lost in the siege at Opsalathys than at any other battle during the war of elven subjugation.


Despite their valor, the elves were heavily outnumbered and could count on no support from other regions which had already fallen by this time.  It is unlikely that the independent Guyverians would have called upon Sylvania for help in any event, even if aid could have been had.  The killing stroke came when the eastern wall was breached by human sappers.  By morning, the burning wall would collapse and imperial troops would take the city.  Rather than face defeat, the elves of Opsalathys called upon their strange god, making a pact with her and Urgathoa alike.  They would sacrifice their lives in a mass ritual that profaned the ground with their own blood.  Each male soldier was charged with killing 10 women and children, who are said to have willingly lined up for the slaughter.  Then groups of soldiers drew lots, with 1 slaughtering the other ten.  This continued until the remaining soldier killed himself, breathing a curse to the human invaders and a prayer to Urgathoa and Callistria to honor their sacrifice.


When imperial troops entered the silent city, they found some 6000 elves, all dead.  The retinue that examined the city left in tears, some retching at the scene, some refusing to continue to serve.  A few court martials and hangings brought an end to any insubordination rather quickly.


Would that this were the end to the story.  It is said the army encamped around the city, making pits for mass graves.  They worked all day and were still not finished by nightfall.  Accounts vary as to what happened next.  It is said that the dead elves rose to wreak revenge on the imperial troops within the city limits, and those they killed also rose and killed their former comrades.  In the morning, over 3000 imperial troops had gone missing in the night, and horrible slaughter had followed horrible slaughter.  No trace of the bodies was ever found, and the place was shunned for 40 years by the living until completion of the Guyver dam, which flooded the plain and the city of Opsalathys.  It is said that King Lennox visited the city once years later during the daytime (this was before the completion of the dam) to leave some great treasure at its heart, but none who dared to look ever survived to claim the prize.  It is unknown whether the dead still walk in Opsalathys in their underwater graves.  It is hoped that now they rest in peace.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Do we really ever need another edition of Dungeons and Dragons?

I was moving my collection of 4th edition D&D books today and the title above occurred to me.

The answer for me is largely no, provisionally.  If I played with people who were willing to settle for an older edition of D&D and didn't ever have to play the new hotness, I would have zero need for a new edition.  I make my campaigns, modules, worlds, maps and player aids on my own.  And largely those ideas are transferable to any edition and any system.  Sure, all editions have their own quirks and flaws.  I guess, fundamentally, I have always seen D&D as a narrative-driven game, a story or back drop created by the DM but largely determined by the agency of the players and not by whatever mechanics you choose to employ.  It's a game of make believe, not a board game with a set of tactics and codifications.  It utilizes those things, but it shouldn't, in my opinion, at the expense of immersion.

That probably sounds like a contradiction to some, and probably people who have thought more deeply about the game could tell me where I'm wrong, but in my experience, players want a story that they are a part of, not just a sandbox to play in.  They want an overarching theme that binds all their adventures together.  The want clues dropped in Act I that pay off in Act I, sure, but I think (my players in my experience anyway) they also want clues that pay off at the very end of the campaign.

Now, I've played long enough that I know my style is not everyone's cup of tea.  I've played with players who want a narrative backdrop created just so they can demolish it.  I've played with players who just want to smash 'bad guys' and I've played with my share of murder hobos.  But in the end, the majority seemed to like a story going on, one that they could take part in, but one that could be independent of them if they so chose.  And if that's really the case, I think the game is more dependent on a DM's imagination, ability to dramatize and set the scene effective, and ability to improvise.

What the DM doesn't need is the expense of a new set of rules every 4 years or so.

A few of my players hated 4th edition.  I came at it largely from a DM's perspective and played as a player only briefly.  I get why many people split for Pathfinder or the OSR.  But to me, the creation of 5th edition was more market driven than any other edition previous to it.  Wizards was losing to Paizo.  People were dissatisfied with the new product. I wasn't.  I switched to Pathfinder because that's what the majority of my group wanted to play.  And I get that.  If I were to summarize the difference between Pathfinder and 4th, I would say it's the meta-game of character optimization that suffered in 4th.  And this was largely by design.  Wizards wanted to put an end to the 'linear fighter, exponential wizard' progression phenomenon.  And they succeeded, all too well it seems.  The problem was that this was a conundrum few of the existing fans of D&D wanted solved.

Now I have yet to play 5th edition, and I likely won't play it unless some upstart in my current group demands we shift.  And even then, I may just bow out.  I'm getting old.  I have a kid that will need to go to college someday (assuming western civ decides not to collapse for the next 18 years or so).  And heaven forbid, I may actually get to retire someday. And I ain't going to be able to take my pension in old editions of D&D or Pathfinder....

Saturday, September 24, 2016

A retraction

Brog (not Grog as I previously printed) would like it known that I have misspelled his name.  He would also like it known that he is not currently holding me at ax point and... what's that Brog?  No, this is just a draft.  No one will ever see this and know I'm being held hostage at the Old Cockatrice Inn on Oaken St....

The Pathfinder group, West Bend edition

The Pathfinder group met last Saturday for the first play session.  The group consists of Grog, the half-orc ranger, Karsh, the human fighter, Tanis, the human monk, and a human bard and half-elf cleric of Pharasma whose names I forget.  The met in the usual fashion, gathered at the Wounded Gull tavern in the small but thriving city of Freidvale, seccond largest city in the Glorious Human Empire.  After perusing the wanted posters, the group decided on going after a giant crab that had been menacing poor Himador Iago the lighthouse keeper at a small island within sight of the coast of Freidvale.  They also decided to disguise the half-elf's ears, since there was a bounty on elves as traitors in this region.

Another tavern-goer, a lithe-looking humanoid with it's features concealed by a mask made of shark-skin, was feeding pieces of meat to a rottweiler.  As the strange figure got up to leave, the dog walked over to the half-elf cleric, sat there wagging it's tail for a moment, then coughed up a wad of paper at the cleric's feet.  The note simply read, "Meet me at the corner of Division Street near the docks in 1 hour."

Tanis followed the odd figure out of the bar, noticing that they were not alone on the early morning streets.  Two figures were concealed on the rooftops across from the tavern, and Tanis could clearly see the crest of the Imperial guard on their gear.  One of the rooftop figures left to follow the Leather-faced tavern goer, while the other remained watching... Tanis.  A few moments later. The rottweiler joined his companion in the street.  The party convened and hastily decided to meet with whomever had written the note and left the tavern through the back alley with permission of the tavern keeper.

An hour later at Division Street, near the tavern called the Skinny Puppy, they found the dog waiting for them, tail wagging.  Grog was a bit miffed when the dog growled at him, but the half-elf was met with happy barks.  Soon, the mysterious leather-faced note giver from the Wounded Gull appeared.  He took off his mask to reveal the face of a young elven child, and he identified himself as Wren.  He said he knew the bar was watched, and that was why he didn't make direct contact with them.  He told the cleric that she needed registration papers, and that he knew of a friend who could produce them for her:  Pasqual the bookseller.  He gave them directions to the shop, then disappeared quickly down the alley.  The group decided they would first try to kill the crab, then get papers for the cleric at the next opportunity and hope they weren't stopped by imperial patrols in the meantime.

The seas were fair but it's denizens were not as the tiny skiff the PCs rode to the island was attacked by sharks almost immediately.  The jigsaw sharks in Freidvale bay were notorious for lunging out of the water to take a bite of fishermen trying to ply their trade.  Karsh and Grog made short work of the sharks, then continued on their way.

Negotiations were a bit rough with Mr. Iago, as Grog was somewhat hostile toward him and the bard rolled a one on diplomacy checks.  Still, it was agreed upon that the group would buy one of Himador's goats and stake it to a likely spot to increase the likelihood of the crab attacking at just their ambush spot.  The plan was agonized over in real time for about 30 minutes, and the battle lasted about 2.  Karsh took one swipe at the thing and severed a claw, and Tanis finished the crab off for good with some weirdly-named weapon I can't pronounce or spell.  Himador thanked the party and paid them a hefty bonus for the intact crab meat.

Safely back in Freidvale, the party set out to Pasqual's to see about getting papers for the cleric.  Pasqual did so, and proved to be a font of information on local goings on after little probing from the Bard, who had been wise enough to put ranks in knowledge local.  They learned that a series of murders that had been terrorizing Freidvale were only being perpetrated against Werbergians, a race from the far east known for their monastic traditions and prowess at martial arts.  The victims were all males in their 60's.  Each victim bore a black hand print on their chest, with multiple contusions and broken bones.  All the attacks were believed to have occurred at night, with no witnesses as of yet to any of the murders.  Armed with these leads, the group resolved to capture the Black Hand Murderer, and set about following the first elderly Werbergian male they saw on the street.

The session was concluded shortly after this, as it was approaching midnight real time, and all of us were (relatively) old, except, of course, my darling wife who remains eternally youthful.