Sunday, April 15, 2012

Random magic spears!

Today's random magic items. For a most underutilized category: the spear. Seriously, why does this weapon get so little love? It's awesome!

Poisoned spear that, upon spoken command, turns into a serpent. Said serpent is bound to the will of the wielder who last held the spear and spoke the words. There is no limit to the times it can transform. If slain in serpent form, the weapon is lost. However, every time it returns to weapon form, all wounds are healed.

Spear that treats all metals like water, passing through with naught but the splash of liquid steel.


Spear that when struck through shadow emerges from another.

Monday, April 2, 2012

The Kingdom

A while ago, I realized I ran most of my fantasy games like they were superhero games. I liked all my pcs to be superhuman badasses, I accepted that adventurers and the people and things they fought operated on an entirely different level from normal people and played with that. So, eventually, the realization dawned that I could just as well run my fantasy games using a superhero system. So I did! (Wild Talents, for the record).

And for the heck of it, I decided to make an appropriately super D&Desque fantasy setting to go with it. So, in case anyone cares, here it is!


I will probably run this on G+ at some point.



SOCIETY


Up until recently, the world was rather an uncivilized place, according to the new kingdom of the glorious emperor. No great kingdoms, no organized trade,shamanic savages and uncontrolled magic running amok. And then the glorious emperor showed up, uniting more and more people and land under his rule with diplomacy and violence until, 160 years ago, most of the continent was a part of the greater kingdom. It was further divided into various smaller fiefdoms and kingdoms and tracts of land owned by various men and women who had shown loyalty to the emperor, bought the rights to land they'd previously owed or simply conned, tricked, deceived and/or slept their way to it.

Now, the glorious inner kingdom is more or less undergoing massive urbanization. Lots of villagers and craftsmen are moving to it, trade guilds are popping up, legislation is in full effect, a set currency exchange value has been instituted and even a few banks have begun to emerge. And, above all, the glorious kingdom has instituted a great deal of bureaucracy, which works in strange and mysterious ways.

Politically
, the Kingdom is a cryptocracy, with the real face and identity of the emperor unknown to all but his trusted inner circle and servants. When he appears in public, he does so in a golden mask and full body covering, his whispered words conveyed by criers.

On the outskirts, things are moving slower. While the currency is still universal, few if any know what the hell a bank is and life is more or less going on like it always did. The influence and laws of the kingdom is less than total, and many villages, especially the ones close to the coast, follow the same laws they always did: their own.


Adventuring is, legally, outlawed. Previously a common practice, roaming the countryside slaying beasts for hot meals, saving maidens for coin and questing for gold and riches in the name of the lord was the career of choice for the divinely chosen, the magically gifted and the insanely brave. Outlawed as a "barbaric practice" by the emperor and his kingdom, adventuring in the inner kingdom is more or less gone, replaced by "Sentries" who need to buy letters of the sword from a centralized office, and the kingdom is owed sixth tenths of all wealth and items acquired by these mercenaries "In the line of protecting the king's lands". In short, you need to owe a license to loot and the Man takes 60% of all your stuff. Doing mercenary work without a Sentries license is penalized with stiff fines and the confiscation of all your unearned salvage in the name of the emperor.

Further from the core, the practice of adventuring is still in full swing. While technically illegal, few lords enforce it. Partially because they often find the need of their services and authorized Sentries are rare, so having a reputation for taking the loot of the unlicensed means few will venture into your country even if you send word. But mostly it's because the lack of proper law enforcement means that trying to enforce the Sentries law is gonna be you telling men who rip heads from shoulders with their bare hands and women whose hearts beat with thunder and lightning that they should give you all their hard earned pillage. As such, in the outer realms, the practice of Adventurers halls is still going strong, though they are no longer called such, due to laws forbidding their existence. In essence over-priced inns, they earn their more exuberant fees from having a reputation for being a place to hire adventurers, acting as a sort of unofficial hiring hall. Well that and plenty of dark, secluded tables, private rooms with soundproofing, stronger ales, sturdy furniture and close proximity to various weapon smiths, armourers and brothels. In fact, many of the more reputable ones have, if not their own staff of midnight ladies, a wall to wall entrance shared with the local brothel.

As a rule of thumb, an establishment can be identified as an Adventurers Hall by having a name like "The Shattered Spear" or "The Crushed Kobold" without actually having a word like "Inn" or "Pub" anywhere on its signs.


MAGIC


Arcane magic comes in three main forms.

Wizards intentionally study the practice of magic, using ancient tombs and the techniques within to alter their mind so as to attune themselves to patterns and the flows of the arcane. As such, most wizards are a bit funny in the head, as a result of all that magic running around their brain. They cast rigorously structured "spells" shared among one another with ancient texts and confusing words, using predefined structures to form arcane energy into specific forms, and are able to learn new ones as long as they have enough understanding of the workings of magic and enough "arcane flow" through their brain. (In rule terms, they buy the wizard school of powers)

The second form of magic is that of Sorcerers. Unlike wizards, sorcerers gain their powers either through birth, the exposure to various arcane artefacts or magical mishaps. Infused by arcane energies, their entire bodies become channelling rods of arcane energies. They, unlike wizards, simply channel and bend this energy to their wills on the fly, enabling them to cast spells however they wish. The downside of this is that the magic energy flowing through them degrades their body with use, and the lack of structure means they are often besieged by arcane flukes and surges of unpredictable magic. And, like wizards, their arcane nature means they too are warped into more alien mindsets. Sorcerers, in particular, seem vulnerable to wild, carefree personalities that thirst for excitement and adventure, and most tend to live short, spectacular lives before going out in a literal shower of sparks, fire and madness.


The third form is that of the artificer. Some learn the trade of the artificer, while others have a seemingly natural knack for it. Responsible for the creation of magic items and having an understanding of the inner workings and flow of magic, artificers really come in two forms. The first, and most common, is those who know a few tricks, often passed on from their parents, without knowing WHY these tricks work. A blacksmith that knows how to make metals that rarely break due to instructions passed down in his family is a perfect example of one. These artificers follow recipes, unaware of why what they're doing works how it works. These are relatively common, especially beyond the core, and it's not uncommon for a village to have a blacksmith or healer who knows a few arcane family tricks.

The second and more feared form is that of those who actually KNOW why it works. These artificers understand, either through learning or intuition, how the magic they use works. Unlike their lesser siblings, they are not bound to certain forms or expressions of their art, but are instead free to craft whatever they want, long as their knowledge allows them. Unfortunately, like with all magic, such knowledge has a tendency to warp their minds, and "true" artificers are infamous for having gained their arts in exchange for, if not their sanity, at the very least their common sense. They often wander outside the core, building evermore elaborately insane devices and testing them on ferocious beasts of the wild or, more commonly, fuelling their desire for more knowledge, more prototypes and more madness with the filthy lucre that is the adventurer's reward.

Magic, much like adventuring, is somewhat frowned upon in the kingdom. While originally banned altogether, the third emperor Solarius has seen its uses, and various forms of magic has slowly begun to be allowed. Wizards are legal, assuming they earn the right licenses ("earned" by hefty initial fees and a yearly renewal cost "For the work required") and don't do anything criminal. A wizard caught doing a crime always faces the maximum possible sentence. They are also required to offer their services according to a standardized charter for various spells and effects, and it's a true sign of the wealthy to afford a display of magic by a potent wizard. The outer rims, like always, has its fair share of wizards who couldn't care less about laws banning their knowledge. Considering these are beings who build giant towers and throw fire by snapping their fingers, attempts to enforce these laws in areas where the local militia is usually a man named Wentworth with a rusty spear have so far not been attempted.

Sorcerers, while not illegal, are required to be reported to and adopted by the state, whereupon they are taken away to specialized institutes that sees them trained and raised by the state in what is, all in all, rather nice conditions. Upon reaching maturity they are all enlisted to a specialized unit within the army known as the Sun Legions, a regiment composed entirely of "magical" creatures. On the outer rims, sorcerers are usually feared due to their unreliable gifts, and often shunned if not exiled entirely. Needless to say, most end up as adventurers, if only due to necessity.

Divine magic is far more accepted, and works by the virtue of incessant favour trading between a divine being and its chosen vassals. Most who become members of a god's flock does so willingly, with most major churches taking on those who are willing and considered worthy, who are then educated for a year in the nature of their god before being presented to their would-be lord in an annual ceremony that sees the god in question accept or reject those who stand before it. More unusually, a god will occasionally give its favour upon one who is NOT intentionally seeking its patronage. These occasions are rare and usually only occur on the rim, where institutionalized temples are less common and the potential for glory and worship to be earned in the god's name is much greater.

Cleric is usually a title given upon those who, while able to call upon gods, decide to spend their life healing the sick in temples and making peaceful pilgrimages across the rim. Paladins are the ones who strap on full-plate, pick up a sword and call down the wrath of their god for honour and glory.

The last form of magic is that of nature. Unlike arcane or divine, natural magic is often considered primitive by "civilized society", and wielders are feared in the outer rims and prosecuted in the core. In actuality, it's more primal than anything, and comes in a multitude of forms. Shamans are its most infamous wielders, men and women who are tied to the wilderness, able to command plants to rise, trees to walk and make animals do their bidding. The shed their skins in favour of other forms. But they are no wise watchers of the woods, no tree hugging philosophers espousing peace and communion with nature. No, shamans are savage things, animalistic, alien beings who sleep in trees, wear raw animal hide (and supposedly human skin, if rumours are to be believed) and run down prey and eat it raw. While most are as intelligent as any other human (or whatever race they may be) they all pay little heed to society's laws, though some are less savage than others. Nobody quite know how they come about. Some claim shamans are born to other shamans, while some claim they kidnap children in the night. Rumours speak of men who become mauled by animals in their beds, only to then have their graves desecrated in the night and their loved ones tormented by wolves that prowl outside their house at night or ravens that follow them on rainy days. Shamans in general are victims of incessant rumours and myths, which are particularly widespread at the rim. It's often claimed they sleep with animals, and it's not unusual for centaurs, minotaurs and other animalistic species to be referred to as "Shaman spawn" due to claims regarding their origin. Shamans still exist in the woods and wilderness, and the more social ones even adventure, though they often work to keep their true nature a secret.

However, nature magic comes in countless other forms, with shamans simply being its most well-known expression. Coastal towns often speak of the Stormwalkers, beings who live in tune with the storms that often plague the coasts. It is said that every beat of their heart is like the thunderclap of a brutal storm, every crack sending thunder crashing through their veins, and some even claim that they are the storms, their flesh nothing more than black clouds and dark waves weaved into human form. Then there is the mysterious hunters of the crescent lord, alternatively claimed to be animals in human form and men in the skin of beasts. They are spoken of in hushed whispers, and children are often warned that they come for those who misbehave. It is said that they can steal your skin and take your form, but that beneath lies nothing but living weapons of bone and sinew, the most perfect instrument of their dark lord’s thirst for savage bloodshed.

The Plague Kings are cursed by every farmer or innkeeper ever to fall prey to vermin. Said to be born when greedy men die of starvation or those who spread sickness among the healthy fall victim to their illness, Plague Kings are beings who carry vermin and disease within their flesh, nothing but hollow shells of skin that spew forth plague-ridden rats and ravenous swarms of locust.

Waveborn, meanwhile, are the mysterious beings worshipped by sailors everywhere. Claimed to be divinely beautiful, they are supposedly the chosen men and maidens of the lady of the sea. Said to swim the depths and bring the will of their mistress to ships. Apparently their wrath brings forth maelstroms that drag down the ships of those that displease the lady, while their kiss brings eternal life to those who honour their goddess.

Of course, countless more manifestation and creatures wield various forms of nature magic, because if nature is anything, its diverse.


GEOGRAPHY



The Kingdom as a whole is roughly the size of Australia, with the inner core being covered in craggy mountains and Mediterranean climate. This area is commonly referred to as the Core, and is home to the Capital of the glorious kingdom, which sits almost dead centre of the continent, nestled within a chain of mountains. It is surrounded by numerous other cities and kingdoms, interspersed with occasional farmland and a great many mining endeavours.

Further out, the climate begins to grow hotter, giving way to both forests and great rivers that turn the surrounding land incredibly fertile. Here, cities give way to towns, farming is one of the most common professions and the great amount of savage magical beasts, ancient fortresses, dark dungeons and darker hordes leads to the main area of activity for Sentinels, due to the kingdom having enough of a presence to enforce its rules without being able to bring overbearing military might down on its various problems.

Further out still, a bit over halfway to the coast, the rim appears. A more or less circular 300 meter drop of craggy, rocky cliffs interrupted only by the occasional angled canyon road creates a rather visible divide that has in time begun to serve as a political as well as physical barrier. Beyond the rim lies the outer rim, where the influence of the kingdom becomes increasingly rare, apart from the many outposts that watch and patrol the main trade roads. Here, Sentinels rarely bother to go, due to the stiff competition they face from the far, far more brutal adventurers that couldn't give a damn about licenses and first claim rights. Unlicensed wizards, wandering artificers, rampaging sorcerers and bandit hordes are common, and shamans and others of their ilk still lurk in deeper forests. Monsters often attack settlements, and the people of the smaller villages that dot the landscape quickly learn how to repel the most basic of beasts, with plenty of ghost towns left to tell the fate of those who don't. Cities once again appear, though these large, walled bastions of military might have little in common with the sparkling, clean cities of the core.

To the east and south, what is known as the golden shores appears. Once again giving way to golden beaches and significant, if concentrated, kingdom presence, the golden shores plays host to the large harbour city of Ankh, which serves as the main port for trade with the mysterious eastern lands, from which exotic wares is imported in vast quantities. To the west and north lies the dark coast, an area covered in marshes and swamps, inhabited by fishing villages and what many suspects is the strongest concentration of shamans on the mainland, to the point where some even are rumoured to stay in contact with local villages, trading them the aid of their forbidden magics in return for strong spirits and, according to darker rumours whispered by noble ladies speaking of the savagery of the outer rim, virgins both male and female. These shores are often plagued by raids from corsairs attacking from the Reapers field, any many adventurers make a more than comfortable living by working to ensure such raids fail.
The majority of shamans, along with many other nature magic users and races dwell on an island commonly referred to as Reapers field. Originally a large island off the dark coast, it earned its name due to the fact that the entire island was one big wasteland, devoid of life, growth or civilization. Before the rise of the glorious kingdom it was commonly used as a penal colony, with many of the more coastal towns simply deporting unwanted members to it via ship. Shamans, and others of their more savage ilk were the most common victims to this treatment. However, the practice experienced a massive surge roughly 20 years before the kingdom, when a massive wave of draught, bad weather and animal attacks saw death tolls rise and crop yield diminish. Shamans were blamed for it, and mobs were commonly formed to deport suspected or would-be shamans, and many smaller Lordships turned entire armies (and masses of hired adventurers) to the task of capturing or even just herding natural magic users towards the dark coast. Eventually, the majority of shamans had been driven onto Reapers field, at which point they were more or less left alone. The practice of exile to Reapers field was officially banned within years of the kingdom's arrival, but like most of its decrees, it holds little weight out in the rim.

Today, Reapers field is a single massive jungle/forest, a gigantic monument to the power of thousands of shamans working in unison. The entire island is covered in verdant, lush, savage growth, inhabited by the most ferocious of predator, cunning shamans and thousands of unknown beings only whispered of in horror. The island is surrounded by a massive makeshift floating city, composed of corsairs, pirates, criminals and raiders who've been driven to sea like the shamans once were.

Out in the sea, various aquatic races live undisturbed by the surface, with only the Sahuagin and the sea kin having any regular contact with land. The kin to trade their scavenged treasures and exotic sea-creature hides with the kingdom traders and then turn around and seduce their wives. The Sahuagin to perpetuate their mysterious religious war with the swamp dwelling lizardfolk and their halfbreed greenspawn bastard kin, clashing with one another where the swamp meets the sea and tainting the waters red as they break against one another for seemingly no other reason than carnage for the sheer bloody sake of it.

Off the north coast then lies a group of islands, with Reapers field nestled in the middle of this large stretch of tropical island keys. Recently, the kingdom has discovered that these islands are host to a plethora of valuable resources, including rare woods, rich veins of gold and wide fields of tobacco, cotton and exotic fruit. As such, attempts to colonize the islands have begun, with Reapers field quickly becoming a cancer in their plans. From Reapers field, the shamans and their piratical neighbours are constantly launching attacks not only on nearby islands, but ships going to and from the Eastern kingdoms, further hampering the kingdom's planned economies, and there are rumblings that the kingdom is soon to begin posting truly ample awards for the elimination of pirates. Itself not that unusual, since bounty work is commonly given to Sentinels in the inner core. No, what's causing the commotion is the rumour that such work will be exempt from license laws, meaning that the dark coast might very well start to attract even more unpleasant folk than it already does...


DEITIES


The shadow gods: While previously common on the outer rim, they have mostly fallen out of favour by the common man, though they're still regularly worshipped on the Dark Coast, especially by those in dangerous or old professions. Worshipping them is technically a crime, and quite a grievous one if caught doing it in the core. On the rim, being revealed as a worshipper is more likely to get one seen as a somewhat crazy old timing weirdo than a monster, though you'll not be making any friends. On the Dark Coast, actually talking about it is considered nothing more than particularly bad taste, akin to mentioning sexual details in casual conversation. Sure, everybody does it, but it's still not something you talk about.

The Wanderer: A nameless deity of cunning and deception, he holds the domain of artifice, chaos, deception and travel. A mysterious, travelling god said to wander the earth in a million disguises, he is the patron saint of thieves, con-men and adventurers. A trickster god, he is said to deceive those he meets, taking those foolish enough to fall for it for everything they got while rewarding those suspicious and cunning enough to see through his ruse. His domains include shadows, trickery, deception, lies and theft. His symbol is two parallel lines crossed with a sideways line.

Sarene, lady of the sea: The undisputed queen of storms and seas, she is the worshipped by most Dark Coast sailors. Cold and swift, her storms are said to aid those strong enough to use her savage winds while crushing the weak beneath the dark tides. Her domains are Storms, Seas, winter and destruction. Her symbol is a drowning hand reaching from the water.

Karnath, always referred to as the Crescent Lord: The god of predators, he is often associated with murder, theft and war. A vicious beast of a man that manifests on every crescent moon and prowls through the night looking for prey, it is believed that uttering his name draws his attention, and so he is always referred to by his title. His domains include death, war, nature, fear and night. His sign is a faceless wooden mask adorned with antler horns.

The Paragon lords: The shadow gods more virtuous reflections, they are the deities of choice in the core and among the stout and good hearted men and women everywhere. Worshipping them is also not a crime, which makes actual worship far less troublesome.

Kergan, the Wooden lord: A kind, good hearted god of life and nature, he is the patron of farmers everywhere. Said to walk the woods in summer, bringing light and life into it once more. He is also the god of fertility and childbirth, and his image is often hung above the beds of expecting mothers. His domains include Life, healing, nature, birth and growth. His symbol is a gnarled staff covered in growth.


Amaranth, The INFERNO OF JUSTICE!: A goddess of fire and justice, she is said to strike down the deserving and spare the righteous, leading to the cultural association of fire with law. Though just, she is without mercy for the guilty, and while her punishment is fair, it is meted out without compassion. Her domains include Fire, Justice, Law, fear and sunlight. Her symbol is a burning sword.

The Warden. A god of death, the warden is both faceless and genderless. It is compassionate but stern, kind but unyielding. It guards the underworld, seeing through the trapping and deceptions of life and assigning afterlives fitting to those who enter its domain. Criminals and evil men suffer unspeakable torments for time eternal, while the kind and the good enjoy paradise forever. Its domain includes death, rebirth, law, mercy, night and imprisonment.


CHARACTERS


Characters take the role either as licensed Sentinels arriving at the Dark Coast or unlicensed adventurers already there. Being a Sentinel means you're an outsider and get treated as such by the locals, but in exchange you will have legal rights to claim bounties and the respect of any kingdom officials or citizens come this way. Adventurers, meanwhile, are pretty much the opposite. You're unlicensed and thus a legal underdog if some Sentinel scum comes and tries to bully you off your share, but you know the coasts and you've got the respect of the dark coast and outer rim.

Characters can be tied to any one of the three magical sources, or simply be potent fighters able to go take on entire squads of trained soldiers. In the case of arcane magic, it's simply a matter of picking one of the three "classes" within, while divine magic users simply need to pick a deity. Nature magic users should work on themes, like one able to command storms or one who can speak to animals or command winter. Alternatively, you can elect to be a shaman or even a chosen one of Karnath.

In terms of race, the traditional races of elves, dwarves and hobbits, ehm, sorry, "Halflings" don't exist. Shaman spawn do, and come in a multitude of shapes and sizes, a few being established enough to have societies and realms all their own. If you want to be one, go ahead. If being one comes with powers and not just cool visuals, you buy them with your power pool, just like you do magical skills and superhuman abilities. A few more common ones include:

The seakin. Needle toothed humanoids with gills, swept back ears and black eyes, they live, as their name suggests, in the sea. They occasionally trade with villages and towns on the coast, usually with strange hides and beautiful pearls. They are known for their zeal for life, their disturbing laughter, alien beauty and lust for humans. The racial stereotype of seakin, which is rampant, paints them as hedonistic barbarians out to trade because they're lazy and seduce wives because they're horny. Most of the time, it seems rather accurate.

Lizardkin: Massive, amphibious reptilian humanoids, covered in heavy scales and armed with wicked claws. They dwell in the swamps of the dark coast, cold-blooded, vicious and seemingly utterly unwilling to deal with anything resembling civilization. All that most people know is that they're all deadly warriors and they all wade into sea to fight some senseless war with the Sahuagin.

Sahuagin: The seakins vicious brothers and the Lizardkins hated foe. Akin to sharks with legs, the Sahuagin are tireless, emotionless killers without remorse or compassion. Massive, unstoppable and without mercy, they occasionally conduct brutal raids on seaside villages and even towns, wielding primitive weapons of bone and strange, multi-pronged spears, slaying all they see and feasting on the bodies in the streets.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Random artificer ideas

I have a certain fondness for Eberron's artificers (far more than I have for the d20 rules system, alas, so if you know a good conversion to something lighter, do point me in that direction) and so, a few ideas I used once in a online game. No stats, alas, but who needs 'em? Math is easy!

Robe of artificer's artistic area: holds a fully functional, decently equipped, if somewhat messy, workshop. The simple constructs within can perform basic manufacturing without too much supervision. Also functions similar to a bag of holding.

Javelins of minor detonation: An endless array of javelins that explode on command, vanish after a minute if not detonated before the that time passes.

Stick around sticks: Wooden throwing darts that unfurl into a small mess of constricting vines and painful but non-lethal thorns.

Kinetic klay: vials of liquid that, upon being thrown, shatter and fill the immediate area with a viscious goop that violently redirects kinetic energy. Stepping on them sends you flying into the air. Can be used both for mobility and area annoyance.

Bombtastic bouncers: Heavily bouncing spheres, each that explodes when shattered or after 1D6 rounds. Unreliable, chaotic and excellent to throw into mobs.

Stinging smoke: Tear gas in a vial!

Shadow in a box: Thick, obfuscating smoke that can be thrown! STUPENDOUS!

Shimmer spheres: Reflective, mirror-like balls that when thrown reflects light to form highly complex, very bright and utterly distracting patterns until crushed underfoot.

Slick slippers: Wrist mounted sprayer that shoots a thick stream of extremely slippery liquid that dries within seconds. Can be used to create instant oil slicks under your enemies or for a rather stylish transportation.

Choker chains: Animated chains that emerge from the sleeves of the robe. Can be used as an animated whip to bind and entrap foes or just as raw utility chains for things like climbing.

Dumb dumbs: Small, metal beetles that are attached to the base of the neck of your foe, rendering them incurably stupid for a minute or so. Expect sudden demands of MOAH DAKKA!

Riveteer: A very large, very cumbersome turret that shoots thick metal stakes at disgusting velocities. Mounted in the robe, used by pulling off the robe and holding it up like a Torero. Prone to misfires, extreme inaccuracy and painful riccochets. Ammo takes time to manufacture, gun needs time to spin up and cool down. Works excellently as a response to cries of MOAH DAKKA!

Roving Roger: A construct in the form of a humanoid rabbit that begins to chatter wildly, bounce around erratically and all around make a nice distraction.

Sky steel: Collapsible metal wings that strap onto the back. Doesn't allow powered flight, but gives enough magically induced lift to allow for nice glides and safe landings. Combined with Kinetic klay and some slick slippers for a running start and decent distance can be achieved.

FlamB├ęThrower: A metal gauntlet that shoots bees. That are made of fire. My god.

Mug of many mysteries: A mug that contains whatever non-magical, alcoholic beverage of your choice. That never stops flowing. Ever. Not good for the desert, good for the pub. Better still when there is no pub.

Flask of finite truths: What you drink the morning after a night with the mug of many mysteries.

Seeking scarab: A small construct in the form of a golden (okay, dirty bronze. Alright, rusty copper!) scarab beetle. It can hold a small role of parchment, enough to scribble a few sentences on (if you really squeeze the letters together) and subsequently be ordered to seek out anybody the wielder knows, at which point it will take flight and use it's magic seeking to find said individual. Eventually. Unless it get losts, which happens.

Wind-up Walker: A camel made of cogs, gears and brass. It's very shiny. Please be kind, rewind.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Swamps part 1

I have a thing for swamps. They look awesome, for one thing, and possess a certain alien mystery to them that I love. Swamps are scary, dark places, where the wet, slick weirdness of the sea has crept into the hard reality of solid land. It's a place where that which we can't survive in has invaded that which we can. Yet it's not the sea, with it's unreachable depths and the semi-weightless nature of water. It's land, albeit with waist-deep water and unsafe footing you can't quite see and god knows what lurking in those shallow waters.

Swamps are, to our minds, stagnant, dead places. This isn't really true, swamps are as fertile as any other place, but the weird plants and the murky waters and cold mud tells our subconscious differently. And that makes them eerie places.

Eerie places filled with eerie things. Especially in fantasy. In D&D, swamps aren't just home to alligators and snakes, but lizardmen, shambling mounds and the undead corpses of the swamp's former victims, buried just beneath the surface of it's inscrutable waters. It's a scary place full of scary things out to kill you, and god knows what else lurking deep within it, in those places nobody ever goes.

And I think that makes swamps excellent places for adventures, especially those geared towards a bit of horror or mystery or just a little weirdness. They're a fusion of the known (land) with the unknown (sea) and that weird hybrid of a beast makes for a very cool place.

So what exactly can you do with swamps?

For one thing, as both a player and a DM, you can incorporate them into your characters. How does growing up or living around a swamp change a person? From the stench of stale water clinging to their clothes to the personal quirks and traits that come from living so close to a place filled with such alien dangers, it can be a good place to introduce some of the mannerism and quirks that often help shape fun, memorable characters. But it can also be used to a far more profound effect. With the druid, for example.

Swamp druids are an interesting breed, who's odd native terrain can lead to very different kind of druid from the traditional, tree-hugging neutralist. Swamps in particular embody the dispassionate cruelty of nature, with unseen, swift death lurking in the cold eyes of every reptile that stalk its waters. Imagine then the druids who would choose to dwell there, finding kinship with the cold-blooded reptiles and gnarled trees. While not necessarily evil, such a druid would most likely strike most as even more detached from humanity than most druids, having no doubt had little contact with the hunters and poachers that most druids have to deal with. They could very well be cold or seemingly dispassionate when it comes to others, or possess an unnerving world view that simply divides others into prey and predator. Or maybe they see the world from a more detached perspective, and value human lives no more than they do, say, the life of a toad or water strider?

Of course, while such things are fun to keep in mind while playing, visual or descriptive traits can often greatly help in conveying them to the rest of your group. So perhaps the druid wears the hide of alligators and other, stranger things instead of the fur and leather of other druids, or maybe they've eschewed clothes altogether, wrapped instead only in clinging algae and fetid growths, calling upon nature to form a suit of living armor around them when they need it. Perhaps they've adopted the mannerism or maybe even a few physical traits of traditional swamp animals, like scales, clammy, amphibian flesh or why not something more extreme, like fins or nictitating membranes? While there's no need for these traits to offer any game-related bonuses, their presence can greatly help enhance the oddness and disquieting nature of the swamp druid. And, if you wanna be really disgusting, have insects nest in their skin, botfly style.

Where other druids are accompanied by wolves, bears and hawks, a swamp druids animal companions would more likely be snakes, lizards, alligators and perhaps even frogs or disease carrying insects like mosquitoes (probably in swarms). Or why not that most foul of first level encounters, stirges?

Swamp druids are also probably more likely to come from lizardmen, seakin or bullywugs stock than the more traditional humanoid races like elves or humans, neither of which have a history of favoring the swamp as their territory of choice, though this is of course setting dependent, and you can change it up as you see fit. Still, crazy lizardfolk living in the swamp who control plants, talk to gators and are freakishly mutated and naked as they stride ominously from the swamp on misty morning? Works for me.