Aug 29, 2015

Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Blackwater But Were Afraid to Ask

Here's the concise summary of everything your average adventurer needs to know about the Kingdom of Blackwater in 723AS:

They use a silver standard for coinage. Their main exports of interest to anyone else are cattle, horses, linen, dragonbone, magical toxic waste, ancient relics, gold, and murder hobos. You mainly want to steal the gold, relics, dragonbone and magical toxic waste. They speak Wyvish, as do the hippies (Upper Wyvs), weirdos (Lower Wyvs), conans (Ulthendish) and the folks in the factory city to the east (Marlechers) but they all sound silly when they do. Their government has nobles and stuff, but mainly exists to extract taxes. There`s two kings, one`s a lich, and they hate one another and are gearing up for a big war. They have good scientists, wizards and engineers, but they all leave to go get rich elsewhere, unless they`re evil and want the magical toxic waste for themselves. Everything's poor as hell and most people look like refugees from some Byzantine province (Armenia or Pontus or Trebizond). Summers are cool and dry, as are winters. Blackwater used to be run by the hippies and weirdos hundreds of years ago, until they summoned too many demons or something and went back to their island to be crazy by themselves.

Aug 27, 2015

The Treetombs Region and Map

This'll be the starting region for the campaign, near the town of Treetombs at the edge of the Deadwood Basin in the kingdom of Blackwater.

Alderspring (Pop. 1,250)
Points of Interest: Blood Keep (castle), Deepwater (village), Rightblood Ranch (ranch), Scrubthorn (village), the Sunstone (lighthouse)

Alderspring is cattle country. The sacred bulls slaughtered in temples across the Wolf Sea are calved in the great herds of red and silver-coated cattle in the uplands. Fuligin-robed Deadwalkers of the Dismal Land, wolf-robed Krovi tribunes and the sorcerer-overseers of the Low Wyvs can all be found lodged in Deepwater, despite direct orders from the New King forbidding Baron Alderspring to do commerce with them. The baron sells the cattle for cash in hand, and uses the money to pay mercenaries to keep the New King's men out of his business. He sells sacred cattle on the sly to the Old King to placate his undead warriors, though it's an open secret and only a matter of time before he's caught. He is plagued by cattle-rustlers and an unusually large number of wolves, both of which he blames on the baroness of Redcrossing. Rumours abound that the Low Wyvs are building a gate in the hills to directly transport the bulls home without the need of ships, though where they would get a sufficiently large supply of human bone to do so is anyone's guess.

The Cinder
Points of Interest: Baroness Redcrossing's Schola (shrine), the Boiling Sands (lair), the Bone Gate (landmark), the Cinder (Crater), the Corundrum Gate (landmark), the Hecatomb (lair), the Onyx Gate (landmark), the Reclusium of Arvil (tower), the Tomb of Justin IV (shrine/graveyard), the Weeping Tree Labyrinth (dungeon)

The site of the Catastrophe, where the Old King's attempt to attain divinity as an immortal lich released the Grey Death across what was once "Greenwood Basin". The air is pungent with befouled geomancy. Somewhere in the stone flats lays the circle of thirteen petrified sorcerers standing around the great crater. The Cinder has great nodes of the precious black serpentine created during the Catastrophe, and sorcerers are constantly hiring foolish adventurers to recover even a mere handful for use in their experiments. The Grey Death has mostly dissipated, but a few smoldering cracks still release gusts of it now and then. A few necromancers and witches linger in the area personally, as do various beasts twisted by the Grey Death into vicious monsters.

Deadwood Basin
Points of Interest: the Bastion of the Keen Ones (tower), the Burning Place (graveyard),  the Lair of Many-Headed Hythax (lair), the Mother's Tear (shrine), Hammerdell Keep (ruin), Lonely Keep (ruin), Oakbend (ruin), the Sleeping Hill (dungeon), Splitstone (ruin), the Trembling Ground (lair), Woodweir (ruin), the Wyvish Locus (landmark)

Deadwood Basin was once the country's breadbasket, densely populated with small villages and keeps. Since the Grey Death came nearly a century ago, the region has been unpopulated and almost nothing will grow there. The area is spotted with ruins from prior epochs - geomantic locuses from the Wyvish Synod, ruined keeps from the Weaver Kings, and buried remnants of the Dragontime. A few tribes of Bonewarped have come down off of Dead Dragon Mountain over the years, and survive by unknown means amongst the ruins. The Old King's hordes are mostly deployed holding ruins across Deadwood, though why he is focused on this instead of reconquering his kingdom is unclear to the living.

God's Eye (Pop. 1,000)
Points of Interest: Gib Hill (village), God's Eye Observatory (shrine), Marro's Grave (village), Tenbarrows (village)

The God's Eye Observatory will soon be the newest temple to the Divine Architect. Most of the villages and farms have sprung up in the past ten years from the construction, and the priests have purified the soil to the best of their abilities. The merchants in Treetombs have expressed an interest in the priests repeating the process in the barrens surrounding Treetombs, but the priests have refused to do so until they finish their temple. Controversially, the temple was built using black serpentine blocks for its foundation, making it a powerful geomantic node, but one that could easily become tainted without careful maintenance. The New King is a patron of the cult of the Divine Architect, and the new bishop has had to divert workers from finishing the temple to throwing up palisades and fortifications in case the Old King turns his attention from Deadwood Basin back to the coastal settlements.

Old Kingshall (Pop. 500)
Points of Interest: Beggar's Hill (village), Cattle Market (city ruin), the Eternal Keep (lair), the Fleeing Village (ruin), the Garden of Statues (lair), the Grain Market (city ruin), the Grey Palace (dungeon), Fatcoin Alley (city ruin) Kingshall College (city ruin), King's Lake (lake), the Late Seer's Village (ruin), Lord's Lane (city ruin), the Lost Man's Square (city ruin), the Man-Eater's Rest (lair), Old Markill (ruin), One-Girl Village (ruin), the Poor Quarter (city ruin), the Praying Village (ruin), the Sleepless Tree (lair), Smiths' Lane (city ruin), Stove's Waystation (village), the Tablet of the Grey Death (landmark), the Tomb of Theophora II (graveyard), the Vile Guard (tower), the Wailing Village (ruin), the Watchful Mother (shrine)

Once the capital of the kingdom of Blackwater, Kingshall is now a collection of petrified ruins haunted by the livind dead. The Old King attempted to ascend to lichdom a century ago, but the ritual went awry and released a magical force known as the "Grey Death" which spread across much of Deadwood Basin. It petrified thousands, killed thousands more, and created a vast wave of refugees whose settlement still determines the population distribution of Blackwater. Lingering traces of it in the earth have prevented the resettlement of Deadwood Basin. The Old King was thought dead, killed in the ritual, and a nephew ascended to the throne to rebuild Blackwater.

Two years ago, black-cloaked envoys went out across Deadwood Basin, announcing that the Old King's ritual had succeeded, and that he intended to return to his throne in Kingshall. His armies of wights and skeletons have mostly spent their time occupying the ruins across Deadwood Basin, and the nobility is split over whether to back him or the descendant of his nephew (now known as the "New King"). The coastal communities have yet to bear the brunt of his armies yet, but most expect it's only a matter of time.

Redcrossing (Pop. 2,000)
Points of Interest: Crowshine (lighthouse), Dunhill (village), Drybridge Keep (castle), Lair of the Lying Wolf (lair), Northcut (village), Redcrossing Ranch (ranch), Southcut (village)

Redcrossing mainly survives off selling produce and sheep to Treetombs. Drybridge Keep was built before the Catastrophe, but the barony is the result of a landgrab by the baroness' ancestors in the chaos immediately afterwards. The baroness of Redcrossing is a powerful sorceress of the Red and Bone Learning who keeps a schola with a handful of apprentices out closer to the Cinder. She pays handsomely for samples of black serpentine. Baron Alderspring blames her for the wolves that plague his herds, though no one knows what her motive might be. Redcrossing is the home base for the High Bailiff of the Stone Coast and his officials and mercenaries, and has become a strategically important site almost accidentally after the Old King declared his intentions. Redcrossing is nominally loyal to the New King due to the official presence, but sympathies amongst the peasantry are strongly in favour of the Old King.

Sharpwater (Pop. 3,000)
Points of Interest: Alderson's Ranch (ranch), Blade Valley (village), Burnt Barrows (ruin), David's Grave (village), Grass Hill (village), Kingshead (village), Pinebridge (village), Poplar Hill (village), Riverwatch (castle), Saltcliff (village), Storm's Sigh (shrine), West Reach (village), Whitebend (village), Wyvman's Rest (landmark)

Sharpwater is the most important barony in the area, both economically and militarily, but it hasn't yet declared for either king. Baron Sharpwater and the merchants of the port of Saltcliff were important local patrons of the God's Eye. He wouldn't want to see the temple razed, but his family was much more prominent in the days of the Old King, and the lich's envoys have promised him a return to greatness if he bends the knee. Popular sympathy is firmly with the New King, and he risks a revolt if he backs the wrong side. Sharpwater is home to the most prominent local shrine to the Unknowable Sea, and has two good ports, making it an important shortcut for merchants trying to avoid tolls on the Great Road and captains who want to avoid trouble at sea. The merchants of Saltcliff are the main rivals of the cartel that runs Treetombs, and they are always looking for ways to further impoverish the town.

Treetombs (Pop. 5,250)
Points of Interest: Blackstone (village), the Dragon's Stairs (landmark), Hulthar's Folly (ruin), the Oak Synod (graveyard), Treetombs (town)

Treetombs is still the economic hub of the region, despite its decline from the days before the Catastrophe, when it was a major city connecting Kingshall to its ports on the Stone Coast. The land surrounding the town is poisoned by the Grey Death, making farming difficult. Still, it survives partially due to its market charter, which negates the tolls and excises of anyone traveling to Treetombs along the Great Road. The town is run by a cartel of free merchants who unite only to crush opposition to their rule. They have bent the knee to the Old King, though he hasn't actually done more than send a small squadron of skeletal warriors into the hills around the town. Treetombs has small shrines to the Great Mother and Divine Architect, and most of the region's professionals and specialists call it home. It's also a popular place for exiles, bandits, mercenaries and ne'er-do-wells to lay low in, as the High Bailiff rarely comes to town. The town gets its name from the nearby (now petrified) Oak Synod, a graveyard from the days of the Wyvs, who entombed their magnates within the hollows of great oaks. The Old King's soldiers have recently begun cutting down the oaks to revive the bodies within, to great outcry from the residents of Treetombs.

Aug 22, 2015

The Wolf Sea Divine Cult Spell List

The list of spells available to each major cult in the Wolf Sea area. Each cult can teach members spells from the Common list, and then has six specialty spells + and an appropriate Otherworld Journey spell.

Full write-ups of the cults will follow at a later date.

Aug 21, 2015

Sorcery Spell Lists in the Wolf Sea

Here's a list of spells that the four sorcery schools in the Wolf Sea teach. The list of spells marked "Common" can be learnt by a wizard in any tradition. Barons of Hell are demons, Drowned Legions are masses of undead warriors and sailors who drowned, Undead Wyrms are self-explanatory, and Tulpa-Shoggoths are creatures made of protoplasmic dream-stuff.

You can also get a sense of the cosmology of the setting. Along with the living world, there's the Afterlife, Hell, and the Dreamworld. The Afterlife is where dead souls go, whether for good or ill. Hell is an alternate world, not where the wicked end up automatically, but rather an alien reality, and the Dreamworld is where the contents of dreams come from and go back to once the dream ends.

Aug 18, 2015

Battle Magic Spell Lists in the Wolf Sea

There are three battle magic skills in campaigns set in the Wolf Sea. Necromancy, taught by ancestor cults, psionics, taught by psionic dojos, and geomancy, taught by geomantic schools. You can learn all three, and they're widespread throughout the continent. Other battle magic spells exist, but as one-offs or specialties you have to search out and learn.

When you create a character, you pick one to start at POW x 3, and the other two start at POW. You can raise them by spending improvement points like any other skill.

Here's the spell list of battle magic spells (taken from Openquest 2):

Aug 15, 2015

Magic and Religion in the Wolf Sea

The small area of the hexcrawl continent I'm focused will be called "The Wolf Sea" just because it sounds kind of cool and so I don't have to keep on calling it "the western bay".

Anyhow, here's a map of how you learn magic in the Wolf Sea and surrounds. Blue squares are common institutions that teach battle magic. Red squares are schools of sorcery, orange squares are religions, and purple squares are shamanic groups. Each type of blue square has its own spell list of battle magic spells, while each religion and sorcery school does as well. Each shamanic school teaches you to manipulate certain kinds of spirits. All this stuff will get covered in the write-ups of each group.

The blue square are the starting positions for PCs on this diagram, unless you start as a priest or a sorcerer, in which case you start on an orange or red square as appropriate. The arrows indicate institutional access. So if you want to say, join the Sailors of the Dream Sea, you'd either better be an initiate of the Void Drowned or Unknowable Sea, or a member of a psionic dojo. The actual transitions can arise organically in game, they don't need specific rules covering them.

Here's a map that's somewhat messy, but covers the various churches operating in the Wolf Sea. It's colour-coded. Different bubbles of the same colour indicate independent church organisations.

Red - The Krovian Imperial Cult
Pink - The Idols of Hell
Orange - The Way of Peace
Yellow - The Divine Architect
Purple - The Ancient Dragons
Blue - The Unknowable Sea
Black - The Void Drowned
White - The Great Mother

From this you can see that the Void Drowned and the Idols of Hell are mostly marginal, except for that big city of devil-worshippers controlling the southern half of Wyvland. The Ancient Dragons are trucking along strong in the hinterlands, but are almost gone in the heavily settled areas except for a rump presence in the westernmost region of Blackwater, while the Unknowable Sea is fading in popularity except amongst port-towns. The Way of Peace is a missionary religion spreading itself over the sea, while the Divine Architect is mostly popular in the cities of Blackwater and Marlech. The Krovian Empire forbids all churches other than its own unified Imperial Cult and the cult of the Great Mother. The Great Mother is popular almost everywhere, but the church is fragmented.

Most of these religions will crop up elsewhere in the campaign setting, as will new ones, while a few will be specific to this area.

The Starting Map for Players

This'll be the starting map for the hexcrawl, more or less. I have a heavily marked up referee-only version with a lot more stuff on it (mostly dense networks of villages and castles too minor to note here, but also all the caves and dungeons). This area is about 1080km x 720km, covering an area about the size of Turkey, or about 20% larger than France, with four major polities and several minor ones at their periphery.

Also, Cole mentioned going down the language rabbit hole. Here's a diagram laying out the connections between languages. Purple language 1, as yet unnamed, is the dominant language in the area, but the Krovian Empire speaks blue language 5 (which will probably be named Krovian), and purple language 2's periphery is that dense forest in the north-east.

Aug 11, 2015

Maps of an Openquest Hexcrawl

I'm thinking my next campaign once Necrocarcerus finishes up will be to run an Openquest sandbox with a lot of hexcrawling. To that end, I've been preparing maps using Hexographer. The setting itself doesn't have a ton of detail. I'm holding off choosing names, feel, etc. for now until I have a numbered list of the various elements (languages, etc.) that I can flesh out. At last count there are 26 living languages, and somewhere around a hundred polities - almost as complex as Europe.

This is the continent it'll be taking place on. This map is using 30km / hex scale:

And this is the starting area, at 5km / hex scale. It's a "child map". This is the player-facing map (though they wouldn't start with it). I'll be filling in the referee-only material separately.

Labels will be forthcoming on both maps once I find a format I'm happy with. I've also got to populate the second map with GM-only locations, and then do some setting writing, both some large scale stuff and some detailed technical writing statting everything up.

Bonus maps!

I uploaded the continental map to Realtimeboard and did some doodling. Here's a sketch of the major polities and their areas of influence.

And this is a map marking out the linguistic boundaries of each region (the colours are meaningless, I just selected them for contrast and visibility):

Aug 3, 2015

Graphing Dungeon Connections

I'm going to show you how to use Realtimeboard to map a dungeon's connections.This is an introductory tutorial to graphing dungeons, rather than a depiction of the finished project.

This'll be useful whether you just want to pointcrawl, or whether you want to map a dungeon and need to figure out the relations between the spaces in it beforehand. This example from my Old Hua Danth dungeon in Necrocarcerus, which I ran using a Dyson Logos map. I'm thinking of distributing the module, which means I'll need to create a new map for it. But the dungeon was written with the connections from this map, so whatever I draw will need to preserve them.

For reference, the original maps I used are these two, which I grabbed off of Dyson's G+ and can't find a link to on Dyson's blog. I added the red numbers myself in MSPaint to key the place back when I ran it a few months ago. 

Step 1 is really simple. Use the sticky tool to make a bunch of stickies that are numbered with all the rooms in the dungeon.

Step 2 is to grab the link-arrow tool and start linking them. You click on one sticky, then the other. You don't need to sort your stickies out yet, the tool has no problem with intersections or crossovers.

When you're finished, you should have something that looks like this:

Step 3 is to sort them out. You'll need to do this manually, but basically pull any linear sequence of rooms that doesn't connect to the others into a straight line projecting off the larger mass of stickies, and then shift things around internally so you have as little crossover as possible. You'll end up with something like this.

Step 4 is to colour code the stickies and the link-arrows. You can mass select stickies by holding the shift-key, and you can theoretically do the same thing with link arrows, but I find it more difficult. Colour-coding helps visually distinguish the various sections of the dungeon and can convey other useful information to keep in mind.

The key I use for link-arrows is:

Red - Locked door
Orange - Stuck door
Green - Free door
Grey - No door
Purple - Secret door

You could use blue or yellow to indicate other types of connections, like magic barriers or teleporters or whatever.

Here, for the stickies, I used the following colour scheme. Linear paths that could be moved around get shaded purple.The secret path that flows under / between other rooms got shaded orange, since I can squeeze it in. The core rooms whose placement in the dungeon affects the placement of the rest got shaded yellow. Rooms with more than two connections, or rooms that connect to two or more yellow stickies, got shaded pink. 

If you're planning to create pointcrawls for dungeons, you can end at this point, though you might as well fill out the stickies with information about the individual rooms so that it's both map and key at the same time.

What I'm going to do is rotate all the stickies to give them a new orientation, while preserving the relations. This'll help make sure that when I'm drawing the new map, its look will be substantially different than Dyson's, and won't end up unintentionally influenced by his room forms and shapes.

What I suggest doing is generating all the rooms of one type at a time - all the yellows, then all the pinks, then all the purples. Fit the purple linear pathways into solid chunks or lines, and the pink rooms into clusters. I like to get a rough sense of how they're going to fit together here.

Next, I'm going to be using a variation of the "Dellorfano Protocol" to generate room sizes, starting with the purple and pink clusters.

Anything boring, like long one-square thin rooms, I'm going to turn into irregularly shaped rooms.

Next, I draw some larger black blocks representing the yellow stickies. I make sure the black blocks connect the same way the yellow stickies do to one another. I move the existing dungeon blocks over and attach them to the black block representing the appropriate yellow sticky. Red blocks, representing the pink connectors, will go on the connections between blocks, while purple ones will attach to a single block (most of the time). I try to make the black blocks large enough to attach a few coloured blocks, but not so large you can't set a sense of space. I also move purple and red blocks as close together as I can. You can number things in case it starts to get confusing.

From that point, you begin shuffling things around to compress them. The size and shape of the black blocks is totally flexible, so long as the attachment points are retained. You can also recategorise blocks - I shifted the colours and priorites of some of the blocks around as it became more apparent where they should fit. I also finished off by sketching in (admittedly crudely) the outline of the secret rooms.

From here, I'm ready to begin a freehand sketch, or I could keep fiddling with it. When transferring it to freehand, I'd add details to make it less square-looking with furnishings, cave-in rubble, altering the shape of some of the rooms further to fill in white space or more closely resemble their keyed function, etc. You can make the dungeon feel particularly convoluted by transforming the large black blocks into winding corridors with lots of dead ends, switchbacks, etc.