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.


Projects – Whats done, whats begun

Early last week I finished a 5e update for G1: The Steading of the Hill Giant Chief.  I used the Dungeon 197 restructure as a basis, incorporated the lovely full size maps from Mike Schley, and rebuilt it targeted for 5e players at 8th or 9th level as a Fantasy Grounds module.  The players in my campaign are soon to be 6th level, so it will be a little while before they get to G1, but it is so easy and natural to include in the current story I am weaving, which is why I converted it.

I hadn’t finished G1 when I started on another conversion project.  I took on Judge’s Guild TARANTIS map 6 from the Wilderlands campaign setting and have a Fantasy Ground’s campaign map well underway.

Tarantis Wilderlands campaign map coming alive with data!  Map and data come from “Wilderlands of High Fantasy” by Necromancer Games 2005.

At this point, I’d use Fantasy Grounds even if it were not for online gaming.  It is an indispensable tool.  With the aid of Fantasy Grounds, this Tarantis map is so many times more useful to me – I can hover a mouse over a location (the pins) and get a little info, or I can click the pin and get the full entry for the point of interest.

The map comes alive with data…

I ran one Wilderlands campaign in the now hazy days of 1978 or 1979 – I got frustrated with how awkward and slow it was to get to information.  The map is on a 5-mile scale and you need to look things up quite frequently as a result.  It was a big pain and with some regret I moved on to other campaigns at a larger scale.  Well, Fantasy Ground totally destroys all of the disadvantages of the small map scale.  The map comes alive with data and I am already starting to look forward to running a campaign set in Bob Bledsaw’s Wilderlands.

As long as I was going completely insane with large scale projects, I took on another Judges Guild conversion.  As it turns out, Judges Guild published their third City State-style installment in the form of TARANTIS (JG1200).  I bought all of the Cities Products that Judges Guild released, but I did not get this one since I did not know it was a town.

A large Lawful-Evil city is contained within these pages

The overland map is not much use to me if I cannot present the crown jewel of the region which is, of course, the large city of Tarantis.  The city acts as an excellent base of operation, the city itself being an adventure hook inferno, with places and people hinting at things to do.

The city itself being an adventure hook inferno, with places and people hinting at things to do.

The primary problem with the city of Tarantis is that the digitally provided map is shit. I am not being mean – it was good back in the day, but that day was over 30 years ago and it could be cleaned up.  A lot.  Have a look:

Even zoomed in, these maps are a little hazy and indistinct. They used brown ink on tan paper, so the scans are understandably a bit weak

Because I am unhappy with the condition of the map, I have been working to convert the entire city into vector graphics.  Vector graphics are cool because they scale smoothly from small to insanely large sizes.  The most simple and obvious example of a vector graphic are the fonts that we use on computers – we size them, scale them, and tweak them all the time.  Having the city map in vector form will allow me to manipulate the graphics with ease.

So here is how the vector graphics overlay on the original map:

Same area as before, but now you can see the vector graphics overlaid on the page.

I am currently around 40% along in redrawing the city.  It is a big map, with a lot of details, many of which are often difficult to discern.  Here is a birds-eye view of the town:

The stronger, darker areas have the outlines of buildings done.  Fuzzy grey scale looks especially bad zoomed out this far.

What will I do with it once I have converted the details to vectors?  I will improve it.  It will be absolutely true to the original vision, but it will be much more pleasant and pleasing to work with.

Here are the results of about 20 minutes of tweaking and playing around:

Amazing what a little color and some shadowing can do!

Tegel Manor really set the standard for what was expected of a professional adventure map

I have now spent quite a bit of time on Bledsaw’s original map of Tarantis.  What he did was quite an achievement for the time frame.  And this is the end of his run, the last big city that Judges Guild would release.  Several years before Tarantis, another Judges Guild product named Tegel Manor really set the standard for what was expected of a professional adventure map.  Mr. Bledsaw’s materials still hold up today and they influenced a formative RPG industry.

I will share a Judges Guild story sometime in the near future.


Campaign Map – Initial Rough Draft

Back in December of 2015, I spent part of an afternoon with a pen and paper and sketched the outline a continent.  A few days later, I decided to run a campaign – but as soon as possible which meant using an existing campaign world. So I put the campaign map aside and concentrated entirely on how to get a campaign up and running as quickly as possible.

Now I have some breathing room, and I am back to where I started – with the outline of a continent or a super-sized island.  The need to create is overpowering most of my other pursuits.  Here is the continent outline:

Scanned image of a pen and pencil continent outline
Scanned image of a pen and pencil continent outline

The vague initial notion while sketching the outline was that this would be a world so dominated by large, nasty sea-going creatures that the only feasible naval activities would be in the shallower inner sea.  Nations would crowd around the smaller but far safer body of water and conduct trade, war, and it would be awash with the activity of the civilized races.

Needing mapping tools, I first purchased NBOS’ well regarded Fractal Mapper 8.  It is powerful enough and has a lot to recommend it.  I like a great deal it for dungeon mapping and battle-map creation, but I don’t care for the overland mapping.  It is too…fiddly for my needs.  You could (and I could and did) spend a lot of time re-sizing and positioning map imagery.

You can really blaze through world creation…

Then I looked at Hexographer and also bought it.  Hexographer is down and dirty, far less functional than Fractal Mapper, but so clearly focused on a singular task that it is both easier to use and far more goal orientated.  You can really blaze through world creation which, for my needs, is almost perfect.  I wanted to hash out the rough outline of the campaign map with the intent of coming back and drawing the entire map by hand from the diagram that Hexographer allows me to create. I’d have no problem GMing from the resultant Hexographer maps, but I’d greatly prefer to invest the time to create my own hand-drawn, highly emotive campaign map which will take a sizable investment in time and effort to create.

Here is what I’ve done in Hexographer:

Campaign map prototype
First prototype of a currently nameless campaign world

You will note that it has no river basins drawn, virtually no towns, roads, trails or national markings.  It will come – I need a little time to think on the lay of the land and how I want things to play out.  Rivers make natural borders which is why it requires more than a little time to hash-out where all of the races will be located.

I also did some checking and with a 36-mile hex, this landmass represents around 18-22% of an area the size of Australia.  Not that huge, but large enough for my needs.

I will add to this map and associated dialogue over the coming weeks and perhaps months.

A little preliminary campaign background info…

Humankind will be a young, low population race that relies heavily upon the good graces of the Elves.  The Elves, being out numbered by races that are hostile to them and having a poor reproduction rate, are more than happy to have the fast-breeding humans acting as a buffer against their enemies.

A social and political union of the Dwarf and Gnome will be the strongest non-evil force and neutrality will be well-represented.  Greed and avarice will mark their goals and they will not be the best of neighbors as a result.