Monday, June 28, 2010

Elves and Men

James of Grognardia posted his campaign's take on demihumans and how they are different than humans with different stats and an ego problem.

Below is my own take that we've used in our Greyhawk/Yggsburgh/Zagyg campaign. I surrendered to how players would play elves et al as humans with different stat bonuses, but wanted a rational for why demihuman communities and npcs would be different and separate from the mostly human setting, for tension to exist between isolationist elves and expansionist human nations.

Each player with an elf or gnome would get a copy of this although it is written from the elf perspective. If I was to rewrite it I would make it more concise. If DM prepared setting material is over a page you run risks of making the campaign for the DM's self indulgence and not about the player's actions. Players won't read or remember more than a page anyway. A player's advice to me some campaigns ago: 'you've got a great campaign, but you spend too much time on the details of each brick of the yellow brick road when we just want to get to the flying monkeys.' Humbling yet good advice.

Of Elves and Men

Long ago Corellon Larethian created the beings of grace that are the elves from mist beneath the crescent moon. We lived lives of beauty and truth, communion with the faerie and with the material world.

This magic of fey mists sustains us still. This connection with sylvan essence allows the elves to cross the bridge between the faerie world and the physical plane of mundanity.

Singular elves are not threatened by not sustaining their relationship with the faerie world. But the lifeblood, the grace magic, the fertility, of elven communities is endangered by too much corruption of mundanity. Elven communities and faerie forests must limit their contact with nonmagical beings such as humans (let alone filth of evil such as orcs) or risk losing their special quality and perhaps even face extinction.

Elves not within the world of faerie are still elves, but they may be sterile until they return. A few humans living peacefully within an elven forest may not threaten the magical bridge, but their presence may cause the fruit of wholly elven unions to be merely half-elven.

Yet Corellon's gift of life still returns like spring eternal. In remote forests, in sylvan settings outside the footprint of man, his grace descends in mist from the moon. New elven communities bring their grace onto the world in these places.

For this reason (and not mere prejudice or intolerance of lesser beings), elven communities have long protected their borders. A closely guarded secret, it has been determined that other fey demihumans, such as gnomes have a similar connection between this world and another. Halflings less so, as they breed prodigiously. Gnomes may spring forth from even the smallest deserted pretty hillock. But dwarves require isolated and dank caverns as special in their own way as the forests of the elves.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Adventure Log Post from the Wychwood

As I've posted before, I've been disappointed with how ordinary the Wychwood encounters seemed as depicted in the Yggsburgh hardback. I've tried to flavor it more with fey quality ala Midsummer Night's Dream.

For players in Yggsburgh, there is a one very big unstated spoiler from the Yggsburgh hardback. Nearly all the rest of the adventure is my own creation or my own import from other sources.

The players seemed to enjoy the puzzle solving and negotiation challenges that the evening entailed. Having had bad experiences on both sides of riddle situations, I picked a riddle that was hopefully easy to solve for the six players; the alternative would be that a party of level 2-4 would have to fight an ettin. They did have the idea from the ettin's size and description that they didn't really want to fight the ettin, but they had alternatives besides the riddle; getting the heads to argue and running away. Fighting was certainly a choice - one that surely would have resulted in more than one character death but they likely would have won in the end.

So, here follows a player's write up of their adventure to the Wychwood through a portal they found. DM comments in italics.

We epic adventurers, boldly, and with no fear in our hearts (Jane, Inara, Caelen, Threnody and Merchello trekked to Gaenoc's cave to explore a portal and get going on Caelen's geas

It's pronounced Gesh. On a previous adventure, Caelen, a cleric of Fharlanghn, was paralyzed by a gelatinous cube and alone in a dungeon. As Fharlanghn was the god of travel, the condition did seem to be an anathema to the god. So I allowed Caelen a roll to appeal to his diety (this being C&C, a wisdom check adding cleric level. I set a difficulty of 25 given the circumstances in the god's interest. Otherwise I think I would have required a natural 20 or something 30 or more. Still possible, but less likely. On the other hand, I do want to depict an adventurer's world that contains the arbitrariness and strangeness of magic and diety intervention rather then merely a predictable world in which magic is just a different, predictable, science.) Fharlanghan spoke to Caelen, offering a release in exchange for a geas in his service. Caelen accepted, and so I came up with the geas of mapping a set of portals that the party had found.

Upon approaching the cave, Jane called out greetings to Gaenoc, and they discovered him roasting chestnuts and drinking from an enormous bottle of booze! Gaenoc decided to share his chestnuts and booze with the group. Everyone who drank from it

Everyone who drank from it and failed their saving throw.

grew 20% and gained +1 to their strength! (Jane was the tallest halfling ever at 3'7"!). The booze was called Frapleschlager... or something. it was a Giant's drink.

Frobscottle :). The stuff also incurs outrageous farts of awful stench and force - enough to rocket a character up a few feet. They had to roll to fart at inopportune times for the day. Gaenoc is a guardian of the azure portal, a fey creature (somewhat like a brownie but with various spontaneous DM granted powers that can either aid or hinder the party.) He typically requires a gift for his 'gift' of using the portal.

After thanking Gaenoc, and giving him a bottle of really quite good Bourbon, we traversed the Emerald portal.

The Emerald portal popped us into the middle of the Wychwood, next to a dead yew tree. Merchello's raven, Lenore, flew up to look around and saw nothing but trees in every direction, and also an ominous looking bird circling off to the west slightly. Lenore was so scared of this bird that she shot back down and basically hid for the rest of the day.

A bit of foreshadowing of the zobo bird.

At that point, our good listeners heard some singing and prancing off to the West. There were some attempts to hide, but the rest of us decided to stand and meet our approaching singers. They turned out to be Faeries - the wee folk -

Sprites, they were

and they were hopping and singing and dancing but didn't really seem to be too happy about it. From their song (which I don't remember) it sounded like they were afraid of the bird, and that singing and dancing was the only way to get the bird to go away. They encouraged us to dance with them, but Oni (who was with Caelen, as was Hamwich) refused to dance. The bird was called the Zobo bird and was just a 6 inch tall little thing, but MAN did it pack a punch on Oni!

It had a big, sharp pointy beak.
"It'll do you a trick, mate."
Yes, the players caught the Holy Grail reference.

One shot and Oni was down for the count! Threnody then picked up Oni's unconscious form and started doing a 'weekend at bernie's' thing and dancing with him. We all then started prancing away from the dead tree for about half an hour, singing and dancing the whole way.

Cultural references abound. Hah. Sheesh, none of my old six player 3.5 group had seen Apocalypse Now or read Heart of Darkness.

Caelen came up with fabulous rhymes and song to try to pry information out of the Faeries. Turns out they were dancing to get away from the Zobo bird, but of course the Zobo bird was a minion of the Queen of the Wychwood, and just doing its job, which was to keep people around the dead yew tree happy, and turn that area back into a happy place, because right then it was a sad place. We found out later that the whole area had been a "sad place" and now they're down to just one dead yew tree which needs to become happy again.

Leave it to players to invent some meaning that the DM hadn't intended. That and how the sprites were sad to have to sing the Zobo bird song.

Caelen's improvised rhyming conversation with the sprites was a lot of fun but a great challenge to me as a DM. Next time, I'm going to have a resource like this as a cheat.

The sprites took the occasion to braid Oni's beard with beads.

Oni was a dour dwarf who hadn't wanted to do 'elf stuff' and dance and sing.

We left the company of the faeries and traveled North - they had left us on a path, and we just decided randomly to go north. We had some vague ideas of finding the squirrel king and maybe the queen of the Wychwood, and had been told to talk to trees and see if we find any that talk back...

We encountered a tree that talked to us in Led Zeppelin rhymes. His name was Rob... the plant... yah.

Ok, so sometimes I take the low road. :P
She omitted that to acquire Rob's help, they promised to plant his acorns in a sacred grove. They will be held to that promise or face consequences to be determined.

He introduced us to the Squirrel King Fatcheeks,

The Terror of Trees, The Aegis of Acorns, the King of the Squirrels, Fat Cheeks. Do bow, or curtsy, and show respect. This IS the King of the Squirrels.
Thanks to James at Grognardia for the inspiration from his King of the Cats.

who chatted with Inara with her gnomish fluency with burrowing creatures. We gave him a couple chestnuts and discovered that we were going the right way to go north to find a portal back.

The exchange was immortalized by Alyssa! Many thanks!

Inara owes Fat Cheeks a service. One day a squirrel in need will approach her.

We ended up encountering some horny frat boy Satyrs who... Well, the least said about that encounter the better, I recon. We got away after we gave them wine and reminding them of that and their obligation to let us go.

We traveled north again and encountered Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum - an ettin that generally lies and when the one lies the other has to lie, too. We ended up solving their riddle and taking the right hand path...

Two riddles, really. One riddle to learn the proper path (with the ettin lying game) and a second so the ettin wouldn't eat them. A future blog post will be resources for riddles.

Which led us to a tree with a green door and a faerie guardian. We danced with her and then went through the door and found ourselves back in the portal cavern. yay!

We next went through the golden gate.

It drops us in front of what we can only assume is a castle that is manned by orcs or the slavers or both. We barely made it out of there with our lives intact...

They were asked 'who do you work for?' and they answered 'the Yggsburgh patrol' so the players should take into consideration. One of the characters IS associated with Yggsburgh law inforcement; she's a homebrew lawful neutral variant of the paladin called an 'enforcer'. She answered all too quickly and changed a 'wary' reaction from some bandits to an immediate attack.

and yes, we did bravely turn our tails and flee.

We ended up going cross country and encountering wandering monsters and gnolls and... Well, going south and east we eventually found places that looked familiar (after like 6 days traveling) and made our way back to Yggsburgh.

Good thing they had a ranger as the trip back was absolutely something I did not want to hand wave. Random encounters plus trackers from the castle and counting of rations and water. The Menhir Hills are dangerous.

Two of those encounters were actually humanoids from the ruined castle trying to track them. The castle is a former outpost of the Suel Maure' family situated over an entrance to the Underdark. It's a possible second megadungeon to the campaign besides Castle Zagyg itself (which is run by the co-DM of the campaign.) Like Castle Z, this castle is quite approachable; various powers control portions of the ruins and the Underdark entrance is actually a trading conduit for slaves and such. They might discover this later from going through the portal with a bit more stealth and caution or they might pursue other hooks, including the slave trade that they've stumbled across.
Or, you know, they might not ever go back. They are the players after all.