Monday, March 2, 2015

Reviewing The Order: 1886 - Why it's one of the best games almost no one will like

I've been playing The Order: 1886 for a while now (I am roughly 5-6 hours in, around Chapter X, so I have about eight more chapters to go, I think). Before I go any further let me clear up some general misconceptions of the game:

1. Despite the marketing for this game it is not "Gears of War with werewolves." In fact werewolves are only a partial element of the broader story. The GoW comparison...at least for the combat segments, is spot on however (but see below).

2. It is definitely steampunk. Such exquisitely crafted steampunk that it has single-handedly changed my interest in the genre from one of mild loathing to genuine interest in pursuing more info on.

3. It's storyline is actually really well done.* If someone tells you otherwise, take note that their opinions on things like story cannot be trusted. If they say "the story is great but it's all cutscenes and the game has very limited player agency," know that you can trust that person's sense of judgement.


Anyway, if you've read any media on the game you can tell that most people seem to hate the game for various reasons, top three being it's got too many cutscenes, it's too short (assume 8-10 hours for a normal average player**), or it's got too much story and not enough gameplay (one person I read equated it to a Telltale game and I wouldn't say they're too far off in that respect).

However, a few people absolutely love it, especially for the staggering attention to detail the game puts into its world and story and how it weds the two together. I'm closer to this category, but I really do think The Order: 1886 deserves some of its criticism as a game, and here's why:

The Order: 1886 doesn't really know how to actually be a game most of the time, because its developers were too busy crafting an amazing story that they wanted to go a very specific direction. Paper and pencil RPGers know what this is called: it's railroading. In computer games railroads, or rather "on-rails" means you are always going in one direction toward one goal; there's no deviation from the path. In fact a majority of AAA games these days (and many budget titles) are actually on-rails, but they've learned to disguise this fact very well. The Order is no different in this regard. A better term for this is "player agency," which is how much choice the player has in what's going on. Player agency is a big deal in this era of open-world sandbox titles like Assassin's Creed, Saint's Row, Infamous, GTA V and Watchdogs. Going from any of those to a game where your choices can be as limiting as "hit square to not be knifed....okay you didn't hit square fast enough, try again until you do" is damned frustrating.

The Order only has three elements to its structure:

1. Story scenes, which occasionally start to blend with player-controlled events through QTEs (quick time events). I hate QTEs and this is one of the reasons I am annoyed with the game even though I'd rank its story A+++ and it's gunplay a solid A-. There's nothing wrong with the cutscenes in and of themselves...it's like watching an amazing movie with great actors in the best steampunk film ever. It only fails when held up in terms of volume to the other two game play styles below. Because there is a LOT of story in this game.

2. Exploration scenes, where you move methodically through the environment, occasionally finding interesting objects which you can pick up and study in slavish details with very realistic movements. This part is very immersive if you go along with it, and I am frankly amazed at the time and effort spent in rendering some of the items you can find. It shows that they were trying to go for an immersive story which was backed by its environment....and it does work, except for the part about how while moving through these environments you only ever end up going in the same direction, and a lot of players...especially players who bought this game thinking it's a steampunk Gears of War.....will be pissed at the fact that they are forced to walk through this stuff. The tempo of these sequences only works if you're a player who wants to meticulously explore these environments as you go from point A to point B. It doesn't work so well if you don't want to do that....but the game forces you to walk through it all anyway.

Gears of War had this element in its gameplay, too. It was when Marcus Phoenix was walking along talking in his radio. GoW used these moments to preface each action sequence with a 30 second monologue between characters to explain why you were going to be shooting stuff in half a minute, and had to move from A to B. The Order essentially does it for the same reason, but over several minutes sometimes. If you're busy going "wow, I want to read this newspaper and listen to that phongraphic recording" then it works for you. If you could care less.....then you're gonna be pissed.

3. The third and final gameplay element is the run and gun segments, which are tried-and-true cover-based third person shooting, a style of play that has been honed to an art. I can't say much more than that it is very smooth, although so far as of Chapter X there are moments where I wish they'd stop hurling crazed mercenaries for the East India Company at me for a minute like they were suicidal locusts from GoW. Also, I keep feeling like some of the targeting is a bit off when aiming at a guy behind cover with a bit of his body exposed. There are shots that don't work even when they look like they should. Other than that....this part is fine.

So I don't really know who The Order: 1886 was targeting. Fans of story-rich RPGs, Telltale Games and Visual Novels will love element 1 (the story bits). Fans of immersive environments and exploration for it own sake will enjoy item #2 although in truth I don't think they give us enough of this to make it feel like more than a glorified depiction of how well they can render objects and photographs in the game engine (it's very good). And for #3, the part that they marketed to, it's fun but not enough on its own merits...the first two pieces of exploration and story need to appeal.

So they made a game for me, basically....but I don't think I'm that huge of an audience, and judging by the reaction (minding that I'd only pay attention to people who admit to having actually played it....it's shocking how many people out there are trashing the game based on hearsay or from watching a Twitch recording) I'd have to say that if The Order: 1886 has a future, it's going to end up unfortunately looking a lot more like what the general audience wants.

I inevitably look forward to The Order: 1887 now with 200% more multiplayer and an open world London that you parkour through looking for exotic collectibles in exchange for achievements. If I'm lucky they will include a special loyalist edition that lets you cut out the crap and get to the story. That, or they could just make a movie. I'd be down with that.



*You know that common complaint that people have when playing Battlefield 4's or Call of Duty's single player campaigns? The one where they admit they have no fucking clue what's going on or why they are going through a given level? That doesn't happen here. You are so involved with the story in The Order that it takes an almost concerted effort at not paying attention or a medical condition affecting attention to be confused about what's going on in this game. 

**I'm not sure if the length of time is really an issue. It takes me about 8 hours to finish the original Gears of War, for example....but yes, GoW doesn't have 2-3 hours of cutscenes so there is that. On the other hand I've played and finished GoW four times and I am still not 100% sure what the plot was, whereas I will not soon forget the amazing story in The Order. So....YMMV.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

D&D 5E Saturday Creature Factory: Animate Collectors


Animate Collector                    
Medium construct, Lawful Neutral
Armor Class 16 (natural armor)       
Hit Points 22 (3D8+9)        
Speed 30 ft
STR 13 (+1); DEX 12 (+1); CON 16 (+3); INT 16 (+3); WIS 10 (+0); CH 6 (-2)          
Damage Resistances fire
Damage Immunity poison, disease
Senses dark vision 60 ft., passive perception 10
Languages Espanean, Old Mythric, Logos, Tradespeak
Challenge 1/2 (100 XP)

Living Construct. The animate collector is a living construct, and does not need to eat, breathe or sleep, though an animate with spell casting ability will need to meditate. Animates are immune to poison. Living contructs do have an animating spirit, however, and intelligence. As such they are not resistant to mind altering effects,
Lightning Slowness. Animates are reduced to half moving speed for one round when struck by lightning, and in that round they cannot take bonus actions or reactions.
Elemental Imbuement (fire): animates may imbue themselves with resistance to one elemental type. The sample worker drone is imbued with fire.

Actions
Fist melee weapon attack; +3 to hit, reach 5 ft, one target, hit 3 (1D4+1) bludgeoning damage
Shortsword melee weapon attack; +3 to hit, reach 5 ft, one target, hit 5 (1D6+1) slashing damage
Fire Spray ranged area attack; +3 to hit, reach 15 ft, three targets in cone range, hit 9 (2D8) fire damage, reflex save DC 13 for half.

Reactions

Armor Up. Animate collectors can “seal” their armor in reaction to an attack that they are aware of. The target gains disadvantage on the attack. This attack can be performed against any incoming strike the animate is aware of until the animate actually takes damage, at which time it is no longer able to effectively armor up until it repairs itself.

   Animate collectors are the most human looking of the sentient golems, usually appearing as lavishly decorated humanoids with etched skin made of bronze, gold, wood and ceramic plates. Their bodies are composed of a curious mixture of clay, plastic-like substances, woolen material and these black strands of an unknown carbon-like substance that radiates elemental heat.

   Collectors really don’t like to fight, although they are equipped for it if necessary. Their primary function is to observe, record, and learn about the many cultures of Chirak, and if forced to confrontation the animate will seek only to defend and avoid hurting others. Not all animates are like this, however. Some rogue collectors, or animates from the Black Dome seem to look down on organic biological beings as less than worthy, and show an utter disdain for the lives of others. Such collectors are often found in league with the Arcanists, seeking out lost and forbidden secrets for exploitation.

   In other worlds collectors would rise from any relic civilization where sentient golems or constructs were created. For example in Pergerron collectors may have existed in the era of the Saric Empire and, like Gear Maidens, may have served their elven creators, and now wait to be found and reactivated in the rubble of old cities. Some may be active now in enlightened corners of the world like Phantomax. 

   Rules for playing animates as a character race option are here.


Friday, February 27, 2015

Lands of Pergerron: Amaskar "Blacktooth" Saelyndin (half-orc monk folk hero)



Amaskar “Blacktooth” Saelyndin


Amaskar was the bastard son of Kalabar Drethos, warlock-king of Mt. Gol. His mother was the elven sorceress Ayetha, but she died shortly after childbirth and he was given to her sister and kin to be raised. He was taken with the Saelyndin clan to Caluum where a healthy elvish district resides to be raised in a more cosmopolitan city than the Sybariti elves could offer in the forest. Amaskar became obsessed with the Monastery of Greatwater where the warrior-monks of Kalar resided, and petitioned for entry. He is an avid student. During a visit to the north Amaskar was instrumental in saving a village from the Behir of Gataz, and so his life as a local folk hero began.

Recently Amaskar fell in with a group of malfeasant rogues and tomb robbers, seeking to aid them in a quest to find a dragon. He was badly wounded and left in the swamp, believed dead. A kindly lizardfolk shaman named Sis’thik found and nurtured him back to health.

Race: half-orc male; Class: Monk, Level : 2; XP: 300
Alignment:  chaotic  good            Background: folk hero
Half orc of Sybariti elvish mix and orcish blood of Mt. Gol; grew up in Caluum’s elvish district

STR 12   DEX 15  CON 13 INT 10   WIS 15  CHA 10 
HD 2D8+2; HPs 15;  AC 14
Saves: Str +4, Dex +4
Languages: Anansic (common), orcish, elvish
Skills: Animal Handling +4, Athletics +4, Acrobatics +4, Intimidation +2, Survival +4
Tool Proficiencies: Scribner’s Artisan Tools
Racial Features: darkvision 60 feet, menacing, relentless endurance, savage attacks (+1 dice crit)
Monk Traits: unarmored defense (AC=10+Dex+Wis), martial arts (1D4; finesse option, bonus strike), unarmored movement (speed 40 feet unarmored)
Folk Hero Trait: rustic hospitality, defining event (stood alone against the Behir of Gataz)
Ki Points: 2; Ki Save DC 12
Ki Features:
Flurry of Blows (Cost 1 ki; get 2 unarmed strikes after an attack action)
Patient Defense (cost 1 ki; take dodge action as a bonus action on your turn)
Step of the Wind (Cost 1 ki; get disengage or dash as bonus action on your turn; jump distance doubled)

Armor:  none    
Melee Weapons: shortsword (+4 attack, 1D6+2 damage); fist (+4 attack, 1D4+2 damage)
Ranged Weapon: shortbow (+4 attack, 1D6+2 piercing, range 80/320)

Equipment: explorer’s pack, quiver with 20 arrows, scribner’s toolset, shovel, iron pot, common clothes,belt pouch, 10 GP
Trinket: a bag of orc bone fragments (remnants of his orcish clan)   

Personality Trait: Judges people by actions, not words
Ideal: Freedom!
Bond: protects those who cannot protect themselves   
Flaw: the warlord of Mt. Goal has it out for Amaskar (might be a blood relation…)

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Subterranean Press Humble Bundle

I have to mention this one, not just because I bought it, but because it's frankly a really nice collection of all the Subterranean Press releases in digital format (epub, mobi and pdf). The bundle includes works from Joe Lansdale (if you haven't read Joe Lansdale go shoot yourself and then come back as a zombie cowboy), Caitlin Kiernan, Cherie Priest, Dan Simmons, Connie Willis, the late Jack Vance (whom all should experience), Robert McCammon (another horror great), Clive Barker, Tim Powers (Powers remains one of my top ten author influences on my perception of what constitutes good fiction, period), and Thomas Ligotti (a contemporary edition of Lovecraft, I have always felt). Harlan Ellison. Joe Scalzi.  There are more, but seriously, this is already an amazing list.

Right now for $15.00 (as of 2/25/15) you get 22 tomes. That is a lot of good reading for less than a buck apiece.

I can vouch for Joe Lansdale's work. I can assure you Vance is amazing. I have the greatest respect for Ligotti. The rest is going to be largely new to me (even the Tim Powers books which include a return to the Anubis Gates universe and Salvage and Demolition, which I had not heard of before now), but there's some seriously good pedigree here.

There are roughly 6 1/2 days left on this deal as of 2/25/15 so go check it out.

Lands of Pergerron: Cynderis Elator, human ranger beastmaster outcast


Cynderis Elator


Cynderis is an outcast of the Hadumari Elator tribe, after she went on a walkabout and experienced visions she believes were given to her by the Primordial Sambador, bonding with her axe beak companion that she named Cutter. She rejected the tribe’s beliefes in Skurn and Vornen and was cast out for her heretical beliefs. She now hunts those who would stand against the return of Sambador.

After she was cast out, Cynderis was joined by her half-brother Astos, who himself was accused of thievery and scheduled to be sacrificed to the beast gods. She freed him and they stole away in the night. Eventually the siblings made their way to the Silver Coast, where Cynderis began to ply her skills as tracker and hunter for coin, but Astos fell in with a bad crowd and joined a Thassaric witch on a mad quest to uncover ancient relics of the Elemental Demons. When Astos disappeared, she went looking for him. 

Race: Human female;  Class: Ranger  (beast master); Level : 3; XP: 900
Alignment: Neutral Good; Background: Outlander (outcast)
Ranger of Hadumari, the Beast Lands

STR 14   DEX 16  CON 12 INT 10   WIS 12  CHA 10
HD 3D10+3; HPs 27; AC 15
Saves: Strength +4, Dexterity +5
Languages: Hadumari, Anansis (common), orcish
Skills: Animal Handling +3, Athletics +4, Insight +3, Nature +3, Perception +3, Survival +3
Tool Proficiencies: flute proficiency
Feats: Sharpshooter (no disadv. at long range; ignore ½ and ¾ cover, may take -5 to hit for +10 dmg)
Ranger Traits: Favored Enemy (monstrosities), Natural Explorer (grassland), Fighting Style (archery; +2 ranged bonus), Spellcasting, Archetype (beast master), Primeval Awareness
Beast Master Traits: beast companion (axe beak named Cutter)
Outlander Trait: wanderer
Spells Slots:                       Level 1- 3
Spell Save DC: 11; Spell Attack Modifier: +3
Spells Known:
Level 1: Cure Wounds, Ensnaring Strike, Hunter’s Mark

Armor: Studded Leather (AC 12+Dex)   
Melee Weapons: Scimitar (+5 to hit, 1D6+3 slashing; finesse, light), dagger (+5 to hit, 1D4+3 damage)
Ranged Weapon: longbow (+7 to hit, 1D8+3 damage, range 150/600, heavy two-handed)

Equipment: adventurer’s gear, horse, saddle bags, blanket, quiver, 50 arrows, staff, hunting trap, claw trophy, traveler’s clothes, belt, 10 GP
Trinket: a fan that when unfolded depicts a sleeping rakshasa

Personality Trait: Exiled from the Elator tribe for rejecting the beast gods and following Sambador
Ideal: the greater good
Bond: the will of the earth, the visions of Sambador direct her to destroy the heretics of the modern era
Flaw: the strong will survive and the weak will perish

Cutter (Axe Beak Companion)
AC 13, HP 23, Speed 50 ft; passive Perception 10
Str 14 (+2), Dex 12 (+1), Con 12 (+1), Int 2 (-4), Wis 10 (0), Cha 5 (-3)
Beak attack – melee +6 to hit, damage 1D8+4 slashing


Monday, February 23, 2015

Wolfenstein: The New Order - review revisited


Last year I talked a bit about why I gave up on Wolfenstein: The New Order on the PS4. The rationalization (and tell me you haven't done this before) was that I was a bit tired of the game, it's alt-history Nazi theme and the fact that it seemed to be coasting on the borders of reality in a genre that flagrantly violates such borders in weird ways, anyway.

Actually, it turns out I was just stuck. I was in that horrid prison level (level 4) and couldn't get out of there. Cut forward about eight months and I've played a metric ton of Destiny, a great deal of it at high end heroic/epic levels. Now Wolfenstein feels like a piece of cake....I cut through the trouble level and everything after it yesterday. All done. Even that jackass Deathshead and his unstoppable flaming walker of doom.

Oh yeah, spoilers ahead.

Anyway, I played and finished Wolfenstein on the "Fergus" reality and quite enjoyed it. There's a problem with the game worth mentioning: it uses static save points, and those sometimes are spaced just far enough apart that it really feels like they are deliberately forcing you to restart certain key sections and suffer through a lot of repetition to get to the point where you died before...only to die again. I think it took me 2 hours at the end to get through about 20 minutes of content, to be honest (oh, thanks GameFAQs and all your contributors for existing!)

I sincerely hope we have a sequel in which you finally
get your just desserts, Evil Nazi Lady From Hell
So, some post-game observations:

I still think they needed an explanation on how Blaskzowski retained his physique while he was semi-comatose for fourteen years in Berlin. 

I really wish they had alluded to something which suggested or explained the alternate reality of Wolfenstein in the context of prior games. They had the mad woman resistance fighter with her mathematical obsession of probabilities....and she briefly tantalized us with the possibility someone might imply that there is in fact something horribly wrong with the "future present" of the New Order, but any chance of a revelation is apparently going to rest in the future of the franchise.

Did the Nazis really invent artificial gravity for their Moon bases? 

Did I just play a game in which an ancient cabal of Jewish super scientists over the milennia effectively created the first suit of Mjolnir Spartan Armor? Speaking of which, kudos to the devs for not falling to temptation and letting Blaskzowski wear the suit.

Outside of that, the game was almost fatalistically determined to craft one of the best "Nazis win" crapsack worlds ever, one where you might actually imagine a zombie apocalypse world would be less depressing. Kudos on that....I really am looking forward to a sequel now.

Wolfenstein: where our Nazis are 200% more evil than the next game's




Frog God Fever Continues: Quests of Doom I and II up for pre-order now

Frog God fever continues, this time with Quest of Doom volumes I and II for D&D 5th edition here. Of course Fifth Edition Foes is up as well....and remember, you get both the print and PDF when you order the physical copy, a pretty good deal! Shipping in the States is very reasonable, too.

As I understand it, each of these books contains an adaptation of the modules from another tome of the same name that was written for Pathfinder and S&W. Naturally I hope they sell lots of copies, prompting them to adapt other Frog God/Necromancer tomes to Fifth Edition.



Note to my regulars: try not to read these if you get them, I plan on running these modules, mkay? And if you do read them, try hard to pretend like you didn't or Cthulhu will eat you.

Lands of Pergerron: The City of Ambashan on the Silver Coast


The Silver Coast: The City of Ambashan


Ambashan

Ruled by the half-elf Lord Dathain Kalumses latest regent of his royal line, Ambashan is a client state of Haggain, though in all other respects Kalumses is seen as a king by local standards. Ambashan maintains a great deal of autonomy, and is even relied on by Haggain’s King Kataelroth to enforce control of the Silver Coast northward through the region of Caruum; in this regard, as Ambashan is a client state of Haggain, so then is Caruum a client-state of Ambashan.

Ambushan is a powerful city-state in its own right, with a local population of nearly 20,000 it is second only to Haggain in size (which is itself nearly 40,000 in population). It has an ethnic center of high elves who are descended from the old Ihanefir houses, who now call themselves the Sindanyir (elvish for Elves of the Silver). While elves have remained a minority population in most cities, the royal line of Dathain Kalumses was intermixed with elven blood some time ago; Kalumses himself is a century old due to his half-elven nature. This has also had the side effect of making elves and half-elves a significant minority in Ambushan.

As a coastal port Ambushan fares well, receiving ships year-round from far and wide. Local fish markets propagate like wild along the docks, and the city seems to thrive on seafood and shellfish as a staple. Ambushan is known for its exotic dyes used in clothing, which are culled from the local mussels and clams. Inland the farmable terrain is prosperous, and the entire coast is a series of graded tiers along the low hills, covered in wheat product, tubers, grapes and various nuts. Ambashan’s greatest export is its comestibles.

Physically the city of Ambashan is an architectural marvel for the Anansic people who colonized the region; it is a marvel of design for its age. Some of the buildings of Ambashan are much, much older than many suspect, however. The city itself was built on the ruins of an older elvish city called Fyrutheil, once the southern Capitol of the old Saric province. Fyruthiel, according to historical tablets from the era, was prosperous until roughly year 50 of the Rule of Man, when the old ruling elven houses agreed to migrate to the Ihanefir Mountains as they followed their leader of that era, Coriathis. It is said an ancient Coriathis still rules those houses in the subterranean realm of Caeoloth beneath the mountains.

When the city was annexed by the Dreaming Empire a dozen elven houses swore fealty to the Emperor Sakan’Dazar, and were allowed to remain. The fascination for elves among the men of the old empire was such that the earliest product of elven and human union started in that era, and the city itself was largely kept intact, the men of that age greatly admiring the elvish architecture. It wasn’t until the year 415, which marked the end of the empire and the rise of the Anansic conquerors in the region, that the city fell. The men of Anansis were not as fond of elves, but they recognized that the Sindanyir houses had bred with the local men and were quick to swear fealty to the Anansic warlord Katum-Harran who claimed the city as his own. For this reason they were spared.

In the subsequent five centuries the elvish houses have learned to live with the Anansic invaders, and those humans are regarded even today as “invaders” by the elves though they make such comments only among their own. The population of Ambashan is now a strong mix of the old imperial bloodlines that did not retreat to Thassar, the Saganyir elves, the half-elven descended bloodlines and the pureblood Anansic clans. It is possible this could have been a volatile mix if not for one quirk of the historical tale: when Katum-Harran invaded the city, he took an elven wife named Siona for his bride. All of Harran’s lineage up to the present lord Kalumses are half-elven as a result, and it was established as tradition that the regent of the city must take a half-elven or pure elven wife (or husband).

Five centuries after conquering Ambashan Lord Harran is long dead, his great memorial and tomb in the center of the city. His wife Siona lives on, though she is said to have retreated to the Island of Menhapur in the Shanhavael Isles, where she remains isolated with a select number of her elven kin and a contingent of Ambashani soldiers who are stationed at the keep on the island. Her descendants have made it a tradition to visit her on occasion for advice, and curiosly she is known now as the Oracle of Abia, and is believed to receive visions and portents of the future from the Enkanneth goddess.

Invasion of the Beast Cults

In the city of Ambashan a plague of the beast cults has risen. The Beast Cults of Hadumari are usually found far to the north, but an enclave has infiltrated the region, for two purposes: first, the cult seeks to set up a base for trade in the region with other beast cults located in Mesutin to the south. Second, the cult lord, a Jackalwere priest named Savache, has discovered an ancient map indicating that there was once a strong temple and cult to the Enkanneth god Skuurn in the region, a cult which was given great prominence in the old days of the Dreaming Empire. He has taken a contingent of true believers, including human, jackalwere, gnoll and minotaur priests and infiltrated the old catacombs and tunnels beneath the city (which were built long ago in the era of the Empire of Sar) and now seeks to find this temple. Meanwhile, the bloodlust of the Beast Gods must be sated, and he continues to sacrifice hapless citizens kidnapped from the city streets to the gods Skuurn and Vornen. He has received some aid from the elven house Uderastei, which itself maintains a mystery cult and temple in the catacombs to the goddesss Medrea, said to be the wife of Vornen. They believe that the arrival of the beast cult is a sign that Medrea will soon rise to prominence and oust Abia as the local civic deity.


The Marriage of Dathain Kalumses

The regent is soon to be wed, and it is causing a riot in the streets. Six months ago Kalumses returned from a journey south to the Mesutin port city of Angar. While there he met the enigmatic southern elf-queen Seridreisa, the ruler of the Elvish polities of the south called the Isunnei. As it turns out, something interesting happened: Kalumses and Seridreisa fell in love, and decided to marry. From a political standpoint this is a serious coup, as it means that the polity of Isunnei, long exclusively holding fealty to the Mesutin Empire, will now be politically aligned with Ambashan and Anansis. There are several forces at work to make this stop, even as Seridreisa arrives to marry Kalumses, leaving Isunnei in the hands of her own regent back home, her son Madavar Krei. The risks include:

The Ire of House Atheryn: elven lord Zashain of this house had been working for years to groom his half-elven daughter Merisia to be the betrothed queen-to-be of the regent, and prior to his journey south all looked like it was destined to happen. With the plan for Kalumses to wed on his 100th birthday, it looked as if all was well, and suddenly this Mesutin elf of the south has brought everything crashing down around Zashain’s head. He’s not a moral elf by any means, and is already considering hiring assassins of the Guild of the Black Court to assassinate her. Merisia is not so jealous (and even slightly relieved) and may seek out adventurers to help stop her father from committing an act that will bring ruin to her house.

The Menace of Mesutin: while the city-states of Anansis welcome any opening that gives them power in Mesutin, the Imperial rule of Mesutin is not so pleased. The current emperor Ovidas Halambor III will not tolerate such a union even though ostensibly the Isunnei elves are their own polity of rule and are considered merely a client state to the Empire. He leaves it to his agents to resolve the matter in the most bloodless way possible that does not spark a war; the spymaster Harvaid and his dragonborn agent Koars will take a small fleet north, with the intent of intercepting Issunei’s own fleet of ships carrying Seridreisa to her marriage. His goal: to force the queen to marry one of the emperor’s cousins, a young fop named Morgainos.

It is possible that word of this intended betrothal gets out and Morgainos may beseech allies in the form of the adventurers to interdict and stop this forced marriage; indeed he’s not only not the marrying sort, he’s interested in quite the opposite and would much rather pursue Seridreisa’s own son Madavar Krei.

It is also possible that the kidnapping happens as planned, and the adventurers are among those recruited by the regent Kalumses himself to find and rescue Serdreisa before she is forced to wed the Mesutin noble.

A third possibility for the most direct action would have Kalumses himself sending the adventurers south to meet Seridreisa at the beginning of her journey, as guides and bodyguards, to insure she arrive safely. Some intrigue might rise when the elven fleet stops at the Island of Menhapur so that the queen may consult with Lady Siona on the portents of her marriage. Perhaps while there she learns that the portents of the marriage are curious: Siona will state that three great deeds must be done to insure peace and prosperity between Kalumses and Seridreisa in their marriage. One deed would be to quell the ancient beasts of the land (stop the Beast God cult from rising).

A second deed would be to seek the favor of the First King by offering a prayer before his tomb: Lady Siona must journey to  the Tomb of Katum-Harran, located conveniently on a remote island in the Shanhavael Isles, but one which is monster-infested and lost to human control. The third portent requires that she mend peace with her father, something which confuses Seridreisa as she knows only that her father journeyed to the Outworld centuries ago when she was a little girl, and fails to understand the proper meaning.

In fact, her father (Arios) did leave for the Outworld long ago, because it turns out he forsook his own soul to the Unseelie King Malador in exchange for his daughter. Seridreisa was never informed of this, though a conversation with her elder seneschal and advisor Keillith reveals the truth: Arios could not bear children, and he and his wife (her mother, who she was told passed away not long after her birth) desperately wanted a daughter. Seridreisa was the result, but it took Arios petitioning The Lord of the Unseelie himself for this blessing.

At this point there is the possibility of a protracted campaign in planar adventuring, will lead to the revelation that on the Island of Menhapur there is a Summoning Circle which allows one to migrate into the dominions of the Outworld (the planes). The circle leads directly to the vast desertlands of the Outworld itself, where the Primordials once roamed and are now trapped by the spells and prisons forged by the Enkanneth. From there one may find the Forest of Lost Spirits which itself is a gateway to the Arboreal Kingdoms of the Fey. In this dominion the adventurers may yet discover the mystery of Seridreisa’s father Arios, and how he has now served for centuries as a dark knight of the Unseelie King Malador.

Or, they could find that the summoning stone allows them to contact and bring him, albeit momentarily, back to the mortal realm, allowing a father/daughter reunion. Either way, the reunion (whether after a long journey in the planes or via a quick shortcut) will reveal something important: Arios, though he loves his daughter, did not sell his soul to Malador to insure he and his wife gave birth to a daughter. No…she was stolen from Malador by Arios, and Malador took Arios in exchange for keeping his own daughter. Seridreisa is actually of unseelie eladrin blood!

This complication can lead to a myriad variety of plot complications. She’s not a blood heir to her own realm of Isunnei. It means her marriage might not be regarded as so strong. Her own son is half-unseelie eladrin and half true elf, so he may have a legitimate claim to remain in power, but her heritage now makes her suspect. She will feel compelled to be honest, but a cover-up might make more political sense. Revealing this fact to any agent of Mesutin may prompt them to call off any forced marriage to the Emperor’s cousin, but they will also want to spread word to sabotage the marriage to Regent Kalumses.

It’s a messy situation, in other words.

Here’s a suggested timeline of events for this proposed campaign:

Start: adventurers are sent by Kalumses south, to shores of southern Isunnei to collect his bride. Journey takes 6 weeks, and starts in early Spring. He provides them with his fastest longship, the Morning Dawn, with a crew of 40 sailors and 120 hardy oarsmen/soldiers.

At 6 Weeks: adventurers brave the Amber Sea and arrive in Isunnei to the south, to meet the fleet of eleven elvish long ships prepared to sail north.

At 9 weeks: the Mesutin fleet led by Harvaid, Koars and Morgainos intercept the elven fleet, and a tense risk of engagement ensues.
At 11 weeks: assuming everything continues as planned, fleet arrives at Menhapur Island and they spend ten days visiting the Oracle of Abia, learning of the three portents that must be fulfilled.

Between 12-13+ weeks: adventurers protect and aid the queen as they seek out the tomb of the First King, then back to the Circle of Summoning. The “quelling of the beast gods” cannot be done until the fleet arrives in Ambashan.

Weeks 13+???: If the extended “journey through Outworld to the Arboral Kingdom of Malador” is used, indeterminate amount of time taken, though only hours may pass in the mortal world. Quicker “we summon Arios and learn of the bad news about queen’s lineage” takes a day.


Weeks 14+: Another week of sailing brings fleet to Ambashan. How this plays out depends heavily on player decisions and influence of the NPCs, but the default is that the queen informs the regent of her true lineage, and he decides he doesn’t really care and that as far as Anansic law is concerned she is the legitimate ruler of Isannei and he will give her all the men she needs to enforce her rule in the south if needed. This of course sounds like a call to war, and the spymaster from Mesutin will do what he can to cause sedition in the ranks. Meanwhile, as the marriage will go forward, the PCs need to then track down the beast cults and put a stop to them.


Saturday, February 21, 2015

D&D 5E Saturday Creature Factory: Gear Maidens in 5E revisited (for the last time!)

I'm going to try and post a new monster for D&D 5E every Saturday. Today however I'm going to revisit the Gear Maiden one more time, using the DMG monster building guidelines to fine-tune my prior effort, which was last seen in November 2014. Interestingly by the DMG the Gear Maiden as presented is a CR 3 creature (using the formula for comapring defense and attack averages and adjusting for immunities). Here goes:




Gear Maidens
CR 3 (700 XP)
Medium Humanoid Construct, chaotic neutral (usually)
Initiative +1
DEFENSE
AC 18 (natural; equivalent to plate)
HP39 (6D8+12)
Immunities: poison, disease, necrotic, psychic, mind-affecting spells and enchantments
Resistances: cold (plus reduces movement by 30 feet for one round), bludgeoning, slashing or piercing weapons that are not magical or made of adamantine.
OFFENSE
Speed 30 feet
Multiattack-the gear maiden attacks twice with its blade arms.
Melee Attack-retractable blade arms; +6 to hit (reach 5 ft; one target); Hit: 1D8+4 slashing; Special: critical strike on a 19-20; may retract or extend blades as a bonus action once per round.
Statistics
STR 16 (+3), DEX 10 (0), CON 17 (+3), INT 13 (+1); WIS 9 (-1), CHA 11 (0) 
Saves: Constitution +5
Languages: usually an ancient dialect (old Saric) plus common
Senses: Perception +3 (passive 13)
Terrain: any ruins
TRAITS
Construct-does not breath, eat or sleep.
Lighting Attack Reaction - Special: lightning damage heals gear maidens for the amount of damage rolled (instead of dealing damage).
Cold Damage – Special: cold damage is resisted, but reduced the gear maiden’s total movement by 30 feet for the round.

Gear maidens are an unusual construct sometimes found in the ancient ruins of Pergerron. Each gear maiden has the appearance of a suit of armor or a mannequin made to look like a woman comprised of complex clockwork moving parts. Most of the gear maidens appear to be one of three types: jackal-headed, elvish-looking, and on rare occasion smooth, featureless faces with a mirror of silver where eyes, nose and mouth would be located.

Gear maidens may have served some other purpose in the ancient past, constructs designed for amusement, or to serve as guards perhaps. Today they are relics which haunt the ancient ruins, acting erratically and without purpose. When a gear maiden (or group of such) is encountered roll to see what their pattern of behavior is (D10):

1-4 - the gear maidens function as if the ruin around them is still alive; they prop skeletal remains up on chairs, serving them empty platters of food while serving long-dried bottles of wine. They will grow antagonistic to anyone who tries to point out the absurdity of their actions or the deathly nature of those they "serve."

5-7 - the gear maidens are mad, and appear to have suffered some sort of mania, which they may call "malfunctioning" to those who can prompt them to speak coherently. These are deadly, usually attacking randomly before fleeing, only to circle back later and strike again.

8-9 - some may be found which are coherent, usually hunting for parts. These gear maidens salvage relics of lore and preserve them, as if enshrining the lost civilizations of old Sar and other empires of the past. They are not above cutting down maddened versions of their own to salvage parts to repair themselves.

10 - Occasionally a cunning and vengeful gear maiden will be found. These are the deadliest, for they remember the fall of the old empires, and the destruction of those they served. They will seek to hunt down and exterminate all humans and demi-humans they come across, and will do so with great cunning and relish.

Aside from the retractable blades (about as long as a short sword, but much sharper) gear maidens have the traits of other constructs, and are immune to any gaseous or poison attacks, as well as any attacks that affect life force (necrotic damage, for example). They are also immune to mind-affecting spells, for their magical artificial brains cannot comprehend or react to the magical influence of the mind. Lighting damage heals them. Cold damage deals 1/2 damage to them but they are slowed by 20 feet of movement for 1 round after being subject to the cold-damaging attack (until the end of their next turn).

An entrepreneurial fighter with some weapon-smithing skills could extract the arm blades of a destroyed gear maiden to find that they can serve as the ingredient for enchanted short swords of amazing quality (+1 short swords).


Friday, February 20, 2015

Lands of Pergerron: the Lich Aruman

Back to Pergerron: Aruman is an ancient lich who has been both trapped within and protected by the Vosjin Wood. His schemes are far-reaching, however, and he promises profane occult lore to those who will do his vile bidding...


The Many Schemes of Aruman

Aruman is an ancient lich, once a man, who bears a great grudge against the city of Samaskar and the ruling king Damadis who betrayed him two centuries ago. Aruman’s key personality elements include a habit of never telling the same story the same way twice, never displaying remorse or regret, and strongly believing in the principles of the plague god of the undead Pulsragal, whom he personally ventured into the Outworld to find, in order to achieve his immortality.

He is at mortal odds with the Lich Xamorthas, whom Aruman once studied under and stole the requisite spells from to commune with Pulsragal. Two centuries ago, when King Damadis and Queen Aspara were feuding, Damadis consorted with the lich Xamorthas for aid, and in exchange all Xamorthas asked was that Damadis hand over Aruman. At the time Aruman was a venerable servant of the king, an agent of the court and a newly formed lich of great power; his betrayal of Xamorthas had been discovered at last.

Damadis did indeed hand over Aruman to Xamorthas, or attempted to. Aruman was able to escape, and was chased into the deeps of the haunted Vosjin Wood. Some claimed that not even Xamorthas and his hunters could find Aruman within the mysterious woods, but the truth is they did: the lich’s warriors tossed Aruman down a natural cistern after dismembering him. There, Aruman lay wounded but not dead due to his immortality as a lich, and he discovered a portal to the Outworld, which exposed the majesty of the hidden mountain of Sambador at the heart of the woods. Aruman petitioned dark spirits within to restore him, in exchange for insuring that Sambador’s temple be restored.

Today, Aruman dwells in a small villa built over the cistern and cavern he found which allowed for passage into the Outworld. He has continued his magical studies for two centuries, and has learned much in this time. The forest never allows him escape, for Lamia Queen Sukagras dislike him, but the two spirits of the wood-the White Stag and the Black Rook-have taken a liking to him.


Without an ability to leave the Vosjin Wood, Aruman must act through third parties to seek out new magic, discover ancient lore, and gain revenge upon the descendants of King Damadis. He ultimately seeks to escape the woods and gain revenge upon Xamorthas as well, but that is revenge he personally wishes to exact.

Aruman's hut
Ancient Tomes of Pergerron

Both of these books, or copies therof, are in the possession of Aruman:

The Tupsimatti Grimoire

This ancient tome is a treatise on the origins of the primordials, the rise of the elves in ancient Sar and the origins of the mysterious power that is the quintessence, the fifth element, of magic. Those who read it will find that the book is nearly endless; every month of study will reveal the following:

In Magic World it reveals 1D3-1 new spells, and allow the reader a chance to improve his or her Intelligence or Power scores (only one, and once a month).

In D&D 5E it reveals 1D3-1 new spells to the user each month of levels 1D10 (where 0 is a cantrip). The book can be used to swap out one prepared spell during a short rest with another from the book.


The Tome of Grol’Magog

This potent ancient tome contains the teachings of the outworld Demon Prophet Grol’Magog and includes a detailed discussion of the City of Chains where the ancient demon sorcerer dwelt. It provides planar gate magic, summoning magic, and names thirteen of Grol’Magog’s enemies’ true names. It contains dozens of useful spells, but the reader who learns it all risks madness and possession by Grol’Magog himself, who has imbued a portion of his demon spirit within the tome.

In Magic World, the user risks possession by Grol’Magog when reading the book (INT 21, POW 27; a resistance roll of POW vs. POW that leads to failure means the malevolent spirit is in possession of the sorcerer; this conflict may be rolled once per day after 8 hours of sleep, and each time the victim is possessed the spirit steals 1 POW from him or her). If the reader successfully fights off the spirit then one new spell is revealed and learned.

In D&D 5E, the spirit will take possession (similar to a ghost) which requires a DC 17 Charisma save to resist. Failure means the spirit retains total control of the reader for one day and a new save may be made after a long rest (yes, the spirit may intentionally deprive the victim of sleep to stay in control). A successful save means one new spell of choice (or random at the DM’s discretion) is revealed which the reader may then study and add to his or her spellbook. After the first time the reader is possessed, future saves are made with disadvantage.