Prep work for Halloween

My gaming group’s normal night for adventure is Tuesday.  This year Halloween falls on a Monday night and I decided to see if my players were interested in having a special creepy gaming session and just about all of them are eager.

Earlier this week I had decided to become a dedicated Savage and start using Savage Worlds for much of my roleplaying needs.  As a result, I started looking around for a Savage Worlds one-off horror module.  The one that best fit my needs was “Last Rites of the Black Guard” which is also available for d20 system.

Unfortunately, it is not available for Fantasy Grounds and the screen shot below shows you where I am at in the conversion:

sw_last_ritesLast Rites starts with a request for help from a desperate single mother whose daughter has been touched by occult forces.  The players respond to the plea and start investigating at her home, but the trail will lead to far stranger places.

The module reads well and seems to be a good one – it started 12 to Midnight off and they eventually became an imprint under Pinnacle.  ETU (East Texas University) is an example of their work and they created the Pinebox, Texas, setting.  It isn’t on rails and provides a lot of information in a fairly open way.

If it has any flaws, it is perhaps the timeline.  The adventure starts at 7pm and none of the occult activity starts until midnight.  Five hours is a long time to hang out, so I will probably start it at 8pm and ‘steal’ 30 minutes while the woman helps her daughter to go to sleep.  Besides, getting people separated from one another is always a good ploy…

There is also a person that is going to break into a neighboring home and I don’t care for how it is handled.  There are notice rolls to see them drive by, another to see that the license plate is unusual.  Blah!  I am going to casually mention that they see a neighbor returning home and pull into the garage (they are breaking in by using a device to cause the door openers to start).  Later on, they’ll learn that the neighbor died and was rather notorious.  If they realize that the dead neighbor should not be driving, good for them, but there will be no rolling for clues.

Finally, I will take a pass on the provided quick-start characters.  There are only 4 and they seem to all link back to ETU – explaining ETU when I have 3 or 4 hours total is not going to happen.

I’ve got quite a few hours of work yet to finish the conversion – I’d better stop talking about it and get back to doing it!  The creepy part of this for me – when I run it, it will be my first time GMing Savage Worlds and hopefully my system knowledge is up to the task.



I’ve taken a few months of downtime, but I’m back and ready to keep on RPGing.

It is unfortunate and more than a little bit odd, but I just went through a lengthy run of deaths, wakes, and burials that involved grandparents, an aunt, a best friend which was entirely unexpected, and even a pet dog of 12 years.  My heart wasn’t in communications, so my updates here stopped for a bit.

On the role playing front, I am starting to look towards my next campaign as the current campaign should finish out by the end of November.  I’ve picked up Barbarians of Lemuria and Savage Worlds, both rule sets for Fantasy Grounds, and I am busy parsing the rules.  Savage Worlds is likely to get the nod since the appeal of a multi-genre spanning system is hard to resist.

As for D&D 5e, I still like it, but there are some cracks, big and small, that I’ve started to notice.  Some of these are probably true of any system.  Anyhow, I do not like how rest allows a party to load-up and smash down an encounter – then retreat back for a lovely nap to power back up.  I’ve utilized some consequences (like villains fleeing or preparing), but the problem is still there.  I am also generally unhappy with the formula approach to encounters – the average of hit points being used, the power level calculations, and the ratings of difficulty.  It all ends up a bit…bland.  Too over-thought and under-wrought, it does too much to cheat cruel fate and the spectre of death is more like the spectator of death, watching harmlessly, almost forgotten.

I can remember the first campaign I played in.  I was third level – and everyone else was first level because everyone else had died not once, but several times.  I had 9 hit points and ran like a craven coward from almost every fight because I would drop with 2 hits.  I was a thief and the group scout, leading the way deeper into the merciless dungeon – and running back to the party when I was detected.  That game seems very distant to what I am DMing now.  I understand that it is more fun not to have your character killed – but it certainly isn’t as thrilling or rewarding to level up.

Tarantis Update – Colorization pt 1

First week of colorization
First week of colorization

I’ve spent much of my time this week experimenting with appearances and I have slowly advanced the colorization on the map of Tarantis.

If you are wondering what that ugly tan or yellow-brown is to the south side of the map, that is the undercoat for the grassy areas.  Having a unifying color is important and a nice friendly warm color seemed like a good choice.  Quite a bit of the color peeks through the green, grassy areas, but you aren’t likely to notice it very much.

Anyhow, I just wanted to keep a record of my progress.


Project Benchmark – Tarantis B&W line work concludes

I’ve now done about as much black and white line work as is needed and I feel pretty good about the project so far.  The goal was to use modern tools to give Tarantis a gentle facelift.  I am trying to honor the original authors and artists vision while using modern tools to do the things I feel like they would have done had they had access to the tools available 30+ years later.

Black and white vector line version of Tarantis – easy on the eyes

In terms of change, I’ve taken the time and made the effort to make the alignment of walls, buildings, and structures feel more humanized.  The original map is very much on a grid and I’ve done a lot to take this version off of the grid – while being close enough to the original to be easily recognizable.

The only place that I’ve take a great deal of liberties is in the dock area of the map.  I’ve replaced the massive sea-wall with towers that can raise chains to act as barriers and I’ve added a man-made island to shield the port.  The wharves themselves have been restructured to look more realistic and more functional.  I worry that I’ve overstepped a bit in this area, but the docks and the walls really enforced that clunky, blocky feeling that I was working to eliminate.

Along the way, I repaired a couple of errors that were probably caused by transport or storage.  One of the gates had fallen apart and was missing one side (which had landed in one of the nearby temples).  I repaired the gate and better aligned the palace so the entry chamber was aligned and balanced.  I also discovered a temple that was missing – I did not replace it, but I did remove the misplaced building from the map.

So What’s Next?

My intent is to move to color now, which probably means that I need to set the scale to about 200% of what will be actually be used, and then lay in the detail.  The line work is all in vector format, so scaling it almost any size is possible.

I will create a player map that will feature rooftops – in short, the bulk of the town will be concealed, with the inner-workings of buildings the realm of the GM.  It will try to render the town so the map is pleasing.  If I have time, I will also try to build ‘business signs’ for many of the places in Tarantis.

The GM’s map will be as per usual – with the revealed interiors.  I will color code it so the town can be navigated partially by color.  I realize that using color isn’t entirely wise since not everyone sees the world the same way, but it will not be the only method to navigate the maps – it will still have the text labels just like always.

Speaking of text labels, I will not post a large scale map with text.  This isn’t my intellectual property and once words get involved, it clearly enters the domain of copyright protection.  If you search around this blog, you will find that I am very respectful of the work of others and have paid for or self-created almost all of the art seen here. In so much that a labeled map might be all a given GM needs to use the material, I will not provide it because it isn’t mine to give.

Color is something that I am really picky about and it might take several starts and stops before I find the look that I am hoping to achieve.  I am more accomplished with color in real media (acrylic and pastel are my strengths), so getting happy with my new digital tools might take a bit of time.

I also will be creating a Fantasy Grounds module once I get a finished map (the player’s map is ideal for a digital key – the GM’s map will be keyed to show the signs I mentioned earlier).  I am very capable with Fantasy Grounds, and this will be a grind due to the sheer number of entries – but easy enough.

Once I am happy with Tarantis, I’ll be moving on to creating my own cities.  This has been a great learning opportunity – rebuilding Tarantis room by room, building by building, and street by street has been enlightening and has given me a lot of insight into the sheer amount of work and effort each one of Judge’s Guild’s city products were to create.


Severing Magical Ties

If a mage goes mad with power and starts terrorizing the citizens with lightening bolts and other powerful spells, what can be done to stop the mage?  Well, the obvious answer is to put the mage to death.  But what if the mage is more subversive – using his powers to glean information, for instance, and then using that information to further his goals?  He’s not harming anyone – at least not directly – and what can be done now?

The concept of a process which removes the ability of magic user to cast spells is occasionally mentioned or used in fantasy fiction.  It is usually done to protect the world from a corrupt mage, but sometimes it is done to control or otherwise limit those that have a ‘dangerous’ power.

The process invariably has a name that sounds somewhat dreadful.  A ‘silencing’ or ‘stilling’ – perhaps a ‘quelling’ or a ‘quenching’ – a process that permanently prevents a caster from drawing upon the source of magic.

How to deal with a insane mage?
How to deal with a insane mage?

A process that permanently prevents a caster from drawing upon the source of magic

How the actual process works depends entirely upon you.  Perhaps it takes a ritual and the involvement of a handful of the other casters.  Maybe it is controlled by the gods and a gathering of high priests from various orders?  Perhaps it only requires a very special poison, one which gives the caster the choice between death or being forever cut-off from magic. The specifics are up to you.

It can be easily blended into your campaign – a mission to capture a mad mage so he can be stilled while sparing him his life could be challenging.  Perhaps a player has been a bit wild in his castings and learns that orders for his silencing have been issued – that the academy of mages has judged him and will cut him off from magic in order to save the academy further embarrassments.

Implementing a background or lore for this doesn’t take a great deal of work and is another little way to make your campaign special.  And having a background for a warrior or thief of having been a quelled mage would just be pretty cool and would open the door to a lot of potential tales.


This article is a part of a series on how to customize your campaign without really doing too much laborious work.  Each article outlines an idea or a series of related ideas or concepts, each of which when fully considered and blended into your campaign will help to make it unique and more fully realized. 

Tarantis update – planning major deviations from the original vision

I’ve taken about a month away from this project.  My daughter graduated and a week later jetted off to Russia to complete her language studies in St. Petersburg.  And my weekly campaign was languishing and needed quite a bit of attention – so I’ve had little time to spare.  But I am still working on Tarantis.

One of my biggest dislikes about the original Tarantis map is that the huge sea wall that surrounded the wharf area of town seemed immense and frankly unbelievable.  I know, it is a fantasy world, but just the staff and continued maintenance on the largely submerged wall would realize such limited benefits that it did not make economical sense – never mind the original difficulty in constructing such a thing.

The original wharf area and the surrounding wall

It is also very blocky and clearly on a grid, being hyper naturally straight.  No question that this is a lawful town!

I decided to re-envision the the defenses.  Conceptually, the entire wharf area is artificial.  The harbor was dredged out and the soils were heaped creating a protective island.  The protective island was then carpeted with jagged rock and stone to prevent it from eroding.  Meanwhile, pilings were hammered in, stones submerged, and a series of towers were constructed around the docks.  These towers are normally unmanned and contain magically powered gears that pull lengthy runs of immense iron chains taut – and these chains prevent ships and large submerged objects from entering the protected harbor.  Finally, a large manned tower is located on the isle, a twin to that guarding the palace, a place where aerial mounts are housed and catapults and the like are manned to fight any seaborne threat.

The walls have been replaced with a tower system that features runs of chains to block boats and the like

I am not 100% sure that I want to do this, so I am pausing and letting this sink in.

I have also been exploring tools to colorize the town and bought Clip Studio Paint because it could import the vector files produced by my ancient version of Adobe Illustrator.  Unfortunately, it is a one-way trip – CSP can import the data, but it is not good about output that Illustrator can use.  Still, I may use it anyhow since I don’t care how Illustrator has to internally convert all the vectors into a mass shape before it can be used to colorize the map – at least with CSP I still have vector groups and pieces and it is a very mature, capable piece of software.


Magic Portals and their operation

Magic portals to distant locations are uncommon in magic settings, but the concept is a well known one.  They seem to be heavily utilized in Faerun (Forgotten Realms), and I will talk a bit about that implementation.

magic_circleMagic portals in Faerun require a password to activate (like the original magic wands) and everything and everyone inside the magic circle are transported to a linked circle.  There seems to be a 1:1 relationship between circles and while it is not specified or said, there is probably a limit to the number of times a circle can be activated (daily or weekly, perhaps).  There is also a suggestion that the linking can be ‘re-tuned’ – so perhaps you could retrain the destination if you had the right information.

Magic portals could be more complex.  I designed the portal system in my current campaign to work so that the outer ring could be directed to a particular ‘address’ and you could spend the daily charge attempting to go there, but portals can be locked or set to only accept visitors during a narrowly specified time.  Most portals also spin the outer ring randomly after their use, so the address last used is lost.

Another tact for a magic portal is that of an enduring interconnecting wormhole between two places.  The wormhole might be open constantly or it might open briefly under the right astrological circumstances.  How it appears could differ – an inky, shifting blackness when a door is opened, or perhaps touching or using something causes that person to disappear and reappear at the destination.  These types of places would be as much about one’s knowledge of them as one’s ability to reach them, being perhaps part of the powerful remains of an ancient civilization.

One could also introduce a ‘Terminator’ factor to the travel and prevent metal and inorganic materials from making the trip.  This would be especially disagreeable to most parties – they’d probably rather walk the length of a continent rather than forgo the use of their treasured magic items.

More rarely, magic portals are used as traps, typically transporting the ‘victim’ deeper into a dungeon, but they could just as easily send them to a different plane of existence.

I generally prefer to go without magic portals or, if I do use them, I will go with the rare remnant of an dead civilization.  The ability for factions to create portals would be a primary weapon of war, allowing troops to ignore walls and distance.

I know that high-magic settings demand such things, but I still chafe at the difference between how they are used in the game versus how I believe that they would actually be utilized – as a tool of war.  Wow, sounds like a good idea for a campaign high-level over-arching plot…

This article is a part of a series on how to customize your campaign without really doing too much laborious work.  Each article outlines an idea or a series of related ideas or concepts, each of which when fully considered and blended into your campaign will help to make it unique and more fully realized. 

Enchanting as a campaign element

This article is a part of a series on how to customize your campaign without really doing too much laborious work.  Each article outlines an idea or a series of related ideas or concepts, each of which when fully considered and blended into your campaign will help to make it unique and more fully realized. 

D&D and most gaming systems that I’ve had experience with do not really address most of the specifics of how enchanting works.  The system provides a list of material components, a cost of construction, and the amount of time it takes for someone capable to craft the magic item.  Kinda of bland, kinda boring, and very, very vague.

What details or information am I talking about without getting too specific?  What can be added without creating a lot of work?

3Let us consider, then.  Is magic in an enchanted item like compressed air?  Does it take a more powerful compressor (a higher level crafter) to jam more magic stuff into the item being made?  So a +1 sword might be easier while a +3 sword takes a more powerful and skilled enchanter to add enough magic to make it stronger?  It is a reasonable explanation, and it can lend itself to ideas such as items being over-enchanted, over-inflated if you will – and prone to catastrophic failure.

Is magic in an enchanted item like compressed air?

An alternative to this would be that there are more powerful magic elements that take a more capable caster to control.  Still vague, but it might infer that there are common, more easily managed powers that can be infused to create more common magic items.  As a created item become more powerful, perhaps the sources infusable magic become increasing rare or more difficult to obtain and control.  Since magic weapons go from +1 to +5, it is not hard to visualize 5 different unique magic essences, each one increasingly more challenging to gather and to bend to the will of the enchanter.

I also like the concept of spirits being bound – willingly bound, preferably, through a challenge or a sacrifice – to give magic items particular properties. This in turn would allow the weapons themselves to be bound to an individual and end up with a very involved creation process – good stuff for rewards.  Anyhow, this isn’t generic enough and would take a lot of work to fully form, but striking someone with my Howling Sword of the North (which was made with the spirit of a friendly frost wolf) sounds pretty cool.

Maybe you can spark an entire campaign off of how magic items are made

Adding structure to how enchanted items come to be created might add more flavor and personality to your campaign.  It also might help you create content branded to your view of how magic exists.  And if you can give some logic to how enchanting magic items work, you can also give it a story, a background, and maybe you can spark an entire campaign off of how magic items are made.

Some questions you might ask yourself are:

  • Is magic unlimited?
  • If magic isn’t unlimited, can it be horded or controlled?
  • If it is limited, it is regional or limited to the current plane of existence?
  • Are magic weapons powered from a different energy than holy weapons and other gifts from the gods? (I will touch on this in more detail in another post.)

The deeper you develop systems like this, the more unique your campaign becomes and deeper the pool of inspiration you’ll have to draw upon when creating a story that only you can tell.


The Importance of Realism

I tend to buy adventure modules and source books just because I want to see how the author(s) tackle problems.  Some of them, such as “The Cerulean Seas” campaign setting by Alluria tackle some really complex problems – in this case, such as buoyancy and depth – and the resulting document can be informative while providing keen examples of solving problems in a solid fantasy gaming fashion.

But a bit too often authors needlessly introduce unnecessary challenges to reality.  I will give you two examples.

I recently purchased a module because I needed something to cover me for just 3 game hours because I hadn’t created anything for my weekly game.  So I bought a module that happened to be the correct level and it was structured loosely enough so that I could adjust it to integrate fairly well into my campaign.  I should have been ready in like a quarter the time – I ‘d just have to read it.

And then I noticed that a portion the pirate-themed adventure featured a 170 foot pirate ship.  I don’t know if you know much about wooden ships, but I assure you that this is a honking huge wooden ship.  Not impossibly huge, but it would be an impressive wooden ship in any era.  My bullshit detectors were starting to spin-up.

Next I discovered that this behemoth of a ship was ‘crewed’ by 5 pirates that would sail the ship to intercept and engage any ship piloted by the party.  I am not saying that it would be bs_meterimpossible to sail a ship with just 5 people, but it would be very challenging just to sail the ship, much less engage another fully crewed vessel while attempting to control a 170′ mammoth.  The BS detector was now sounding loud and clear – DUH – DUH – DUH!

No one wants to have a realism discussion instead of gaming

Once your inner BS detector is sounding off, it is a problem – your disbelief is no longer suspended and you start to scrutinize everything else.  Just handing something that set off your BS detector to your players without sanitizing it can result in them having a similar “that’s a load” moment and a couple of those can create problems.  No one wants to have a realism discussion instead of gaming.

And mistakes of this nature aren’t limited to 3rd party publishers.  While reading a fairly recent (i.e. 5e) WoTC adventure document, I encountered a brief description of a young mother and her sextuplets.   Yeah, it was tossed in the middle of an adventure just that casually, hastily used to illustrate the generosity of this woman who was also caring for adoptive children.  Six suckling infants and still such a charitable soul that she is adopting non-human children! So noble!  So…unlikely.

There have been less than 200 cases of sextuplets since the 1800s

It took me like 5 minutes on Google to learn that there have been less than 200 cases of sextuplets since the 1800s.  And the success rate for the infants is low until recent times and it is still quite common to lose all of the infants.

As a player, I would have investigated the woman to see if she were following a goddess of fertility or if she’d actually been bedded by a god.  And if the DM seemed surprised that I was asking such oddly prying questions, my vote of confidence in the entire scenario would almost certainly be suspended and that dreaded reality talk about how things really work would have started.

Yes, I realize that we’re playing a game and that it should not be very realistic – it is, after all, rather abstract.  But neither should it flaunt ignorance or outrageous stupidity – unless that is the actual intent, to make players question or to dig deeper into something that is clearly, and obviously…wrong.

Neither should it flaunt ignorance or outrageous stupidity

Adding needless color text that creates disbelief, conceiving scenarios requiring some scant knowledge without doing any amount of reasonable research, or simply introducing something on the edge of believably that does nothing to advance the adventure are foolish, easily avoidable mistakes that reflect poorly upon the editors – the quality control people – first and foremost since they accepted the ‘work’ without pushing back or doing due diligence.


Tavern Name Generator

I have seen a lot of random tavern name generators through the years and have never really been happy with one.  I mean, paper is inherently limited and most of the online versions seem to be dutifully copied from paper sources or don’t seem varied enough.

So I decided to give it a go with an electronic tavern name generator powered by NBOS’s Inspiration Pad Pro 3.0.  Here are 25 randomly generated names:

  1. The Howling Parson Taproom
  2. The Forest’s Tavern
  3. The Eclipse’s Barroom
  4. The Able Lass’s Pub
  5. The Blustering Pub
  6. The Zinc Brew Haus
  7. The Amicable Sailor’s Pub
  8. The Tenne Magus’s Brew Shop
  9. The Mighty Alehouse
  10. The Bizarre Griffon Brew Lodge
  11. The Swaying Tavern
  12. The Ravenous Sibyl Beer Lodge
  13. The Druid’s Spoon Alehouse
  14. The Trident’s Barroom
  15. The Brawler’s Beer Lodge
  16. The Ancestor’s Flagon Alehouse
  17. The Living Tavern
  18. The Bishop’s Plate Alehouse
  19. The August Tavern
  20. The Wizard’s Stein Pub
  21. The Cunning Taproom
  22. The Spike’s Tavern
  23. The Swaying Creator Pub
  24. The Greedy Beholder Pub
  25. The Snowy Alehouse


firebottleIt is tweaked toward providing tavern-specific results (steins and mugs and such being common) and is loaded with common fantasy adjectives and nouns.  By my own runs of 25 results, it tends to produce 4+ very good names and 2+ names that might cause a smile or chuckle.

You can download the generator file right here – and have fun with it!  If you’ve not used Inspiration Pad Pro before, you’ve been missing something!  And it doesn’t cost a dime.