D&December 2017 – W3D3 – Forests & Wilds

Whether it’s elven homelands, mystical forests of dreams, wild tracts or cursed domains of evil, forests play a big part of fantasy worlds. Most fantasy worlds are reminiscent of magical midevil Europe in the nature and flow. There are great cities and small towns, each surrounded by some area of farmlands. But all the areas in between are typically forests and wilds.

For adventurers, there is only so much that can be accomplished in a city. Sure, there may be sewers full of monsters, corrupt governments, evil guilds of assassins or the occasional aberration like Undermountain beneath Waterdeep or the Necropolis in Wati. But for the most part what they have to offer is fairly limited in nature.

Forests and other wild areas, on the contrary, offer an unlimited venue of opportunity for adventurers. Abandoned ruins, wizard’s towers, dinosaurs, dungeons, caves, tombs, creatures great and small are all there for the adventurer brave enough to venture forth.

The Typical Exchange

Adventurer: So, what monsters creep from this forest and terrorize your village?
Farmer 1: Uh, no monsters, sir. Just some birds and rabbits eating our crops is all.
Adventurer: Vicious, man eating rabbits?
Farmer 1: Um… no.
Farmer 2: Well, there was that deer last month. Nearly impaled old man Telven with its antlers.
Adventurer: AH, HA! I shall slay the foul beast! (runs off into the forest)
Farmer 1: Wait…. oh… well…

So don’t sit around on your rears, waiting for adventure to come to you. You’ve got to go out and grasp it by the throat. Show it who’s boss! Go forth and kill that vicious deer!

D&December 2017 – W3D2 – Underdark – Time For The Drow To Go

The Underdark is a dark and dismal place, full of creatures good and evil, though mostly evil. Mindflayers and drow are among the worst of the worst, but by no means all that dwells therein. A couple of years ago we completed a run through the City of the Spider Queen module. The module was a lot of fun for me as it gave me the chance to bring back my wizard Endeleban. It was also a chance to perhaps redeem himself a little bit from the path towards evil he had trod as originally transitioned from PC to NPC.

The Problem with the Drow

While I didn’t consider it at the time, a couple of podcasts I’ve heard and posts I’ve read since then have caused me to reflect a bit on the status of the drow in Dungeons & Dragons. It brought to light in my mind a problem that receives far too little attention in D&D culture. There is a feeling by many outside the D&D culture (and some within) that the existence of the drow causes others to perceive gamers as racist. This is a controversial topic and I’m trying to tread lightly here.

I realize the drow have been around since the early days of D&D and have played the major villain role in many modules and stories. But their existence as a dark skinned race of outcasts who are, with a sole exception name Drizzt, universally evil is something that it’s time for Hasbro and Wizards to take action on. Regardless of their original purpose and how they were originally conceived, their very existence reflects poorly on gamer culture.

D&D, and RPGs in general, have always served as a place where all could get together and have fun together. Our culture has always been one of inclusion, rather than exclusion. For the most part we invited all to join us because many of us, being nerds and geeks, have long experience being the ones on the outside looking in. We’re not without our faults. It’s taken a while for some to be accepting of others, but in general I feel we’ve always been a supportive and open group.

But from time to time we’ve had to make some radical adjustments in gamer culture to address certain failings. One obvious example still in the stages of growing pains is the portrayal of women in video games. It’s taken time, but the culture is shifting and better role models are coming to the forefront.

Time for Change

I’m not a particularly eloquent speaker and there are others who could make this point far better than I can. But it’s time for Dungeons and Dragons to take a step for growth. It’s time for a radical change surrounding the drow. We have something which is clearly holding back a segment of our population. We are a culture of inclusion and we need to do this.

It’s time for Hasbro and Wizards of the Coast to make this change. Make a formal statement that in an effort to be more inclusive you are removing a potentially offensive element from the game and officially remove the drow from game in entirety. I have no doubt some will be upset by such a change, but they’ll get over it. Or they’ll leave. While that would be unfortunate, sometimes a small number must be offended for the greater good.

Whether you agree with me or not, there can be no doubt that the drow are offensive to some. This is a documented fact. It’s time to do something about it. It’s time to grow.

D&December 2017 – W3D1 – Feywild/Shadowfell

The Feywild and the Shadowfell are two parts of D&D that we really haven’t delved into much in our campaigns. We’ve had some dealings with faeries and nymphs and dryads, but never any kind of extended campaign dealing with them.

I wasn’t really sure what the interest in such things was. They always seemed more annoying than anything. Whenever they were introduced into an adventure, they seemed forced and didn’t really fit. That is, until I started reading the Dresden Files novels.

The way that Jim Butcher presented the realm of the fey finally brought interest to me. The way that they interacted with other creatures and realms in those books actually makes the fey interesting to me. It gives them a character and style I couldn’t get into before that.

The Shadowfell, or Plane of Shadow, is the more interesting of these two to me. The idea of a twisted reflection of the Prime filled with the undead and other creatures always seemed like a lot of fun. Add in a bit of Shar intrigue and there’s no end of fun there.

D&December 2017 – W2D7 – Oddities – The World Serpent Inn

This is a really tough one. The fantasy universe is full of oddities of various types and sources. In creatures we have strange beings such as the were-mole and aboleth. In magic items we have things like the belt of gender change. The list of odd planar locations seems to have no end. But there is one oddity that has endlessly fascinated me since I first came across it: The World Serpent Inn.

About the Inn

There is a TV trope referred to as the “Inn Between Worlds“. This is a place that wanders from place to place. A building that appears and disappears, seemingly at random. It serves as a portal between worlds and in one variety or another is often used as a means of crossing over between realities. The World Serpent Inn is the D&D equivalent of it.

It’s been around since the days of AD&D and received a big treatise in Dragon Magazine #351 (which I still have around somewhere). The Inn can be used by travelers to easily get from Krynn to Greyhawk to Faerun or to just about any plane that exists in the D&D cosmology.

There’s a large common room that changes from time to time. Numerous passageways filled with doors. Some of the doors lead to rooms and some of them lead to various otherworldly destinations and times. The passageways and doors are not fixed constants, either. They seem to change at random, appearing and disappearing and changing where they lead.

The Dragon magazine article detailed a number of cool side quests and adventure hooks that could be undertaken from the Inn. One example was a door that leads to Istar just days before the gods of Krynn blasted it into oblivion.

My Usage

The Inn is something that I’ve co-opted for my own purposes within the Wyrmfang Chronicles. In my usage, the Inn has a new co-owner, Aeduin(my cleric of the Smoking Eye from the Shackled City adventure path). He has given it a permanent home on the plane that he now controls, Occipitus. Much remains the same, but there are a few notable differences.

The bartenders who work behind the bar are three medusae, sisters that he rescued from somewhere. Neither he nor they talk about the where or how of it. New patrons may wary at first, but the sisters never turn anyone to stone unless they are causing problems. They are, in effect, the bouncers.

Another change is that there are many more hallways and doors than there were previously. Aeduin has turned the Inn and the plane of Occipitus it now resides in, into a place of neutrality where friends and enemies may come to negotiate, discuss, or just drink together. Fighting is strictly prohibited. One may see elves from Silvanesti seated around a table with those from Evereska. Or mind flayers and githyanki negotiating over some piece of the Ethereal. Even the occasional avatar or demi-god may drop by for a drink or two.

Red Dragon Inn by Fish032 - source: DeviantArt
Red Dragon Inn by Fish032 – source: DeviantArt

D&December 2017 – W2D6 – Spooky/Undead – The Lich

I’ve mentioned before that my favorite undead was the bodak. Read my various posts about Thelisn to see why. So I’m going to take this time to talk about my least favorite undead, the lich. Like dragons, liches are an overused trope in Dungeons & Dragons. They seem to be the go-to creature type any time someone needs a major bad guy for a module or story. It’s gotten to be tired.

From Acererak to Kiaransalee to Vecna to Zhengyi and all of the others in between, there is just an endless array of liches throughout the D&D universe of products. They never seem to stop. Even the latest product, Tomb of Annihilation, is about Acererak. It’s yet another foray against a lich bad guy.

I think the only bad guys more over used would be the “evil wizard” trope. Why do wizards get such a bad wrap? They’re just trying to expand their understanding of the forces of the universe. And isn’t expanded knowledge a good thing? So next time you come across an evil wizard, thank them for their efforts.

All this does have one benefit, however. It makes DMs and players really appreciate when someone comes up with a creative bad guy to be the big boss at the end of a module. I guess that’s not a bad thing.

D&December 2017 – W2D4 – Celestial/Demonic – Fallen Angels

Celestials are a strange piece of D&D/Pathfinder. They are a necessary group, serving as the compass opposite to devils and demons. Sometimes they serve to provide context or boxed text to the characters. And lesser celestials can be summoned for a few rounds to fight in combat for your cleric. Aside from that, however, they seem to provide only one other value proposition to game play. And that’s when they fall.

So many modules and campaigns seem to have fallen angels as a key opponent or story driver. At times it almost seems that PCs face off against fallen angels as often as they do devils or demons. But they aren’t even always foes. Search the web for “D&D fallen angel” and you will find all kinds of templates and rules that people have created to turn fallen angels into PCs they can play in game.

The theme of the fallen angel seeking redemption for their crimes is a common one. I’d even say it’s become so common in gaming, literature and media as to achieve trope status. There’s just something that resonates with that theme in each of us. And I can see why. It’s a very human feeling to want to make up for past mistakes and the fallen angel falls right into that niche.

Playing one as a PC gives you a chance to play that out in game. But even when it’s an opponent who is the fallen angel, it’s often that the PC’s will want to find a way to redeem them rather than kill them. For example, when we played through the Shackled City adventure path, on Occipitus there is a fallen angel who is the guardian of the Test of the Smoking Eye. I remember, playing as Aeduin, that I wanted to try and find a way to find redemption for that guardian. As I recall, we did not succeed in that endeavor. But it was the first instinct to do so rather than kill them. Perhaps, if I’d played it differently, the result might be different.

D&December 2017 – W2D3 – Abyssal/Fey

I may have mentioned once or twice that I hate fey. They’re nothing more than an annoyance. As for abyssal creatures, my favorite is probably the glabrezu demon. There’s just something about a half demon, half crab that can cast spells that is oddly amusing and appealing at the same time.

Another part of it is the experience that my bard turned cleric had on Occipitus during the Shackled City adventure path. We had some fun interactions with a glabrezu, among other demons.

D&December 2017 – W2D2 – Too Many Dragons

I discussed previously my favorite draconic creatures so I won’t repeat that information here. Instead, I’ll take this time to discuss something I don’t like about dragons. There are just way too many types of dragons.

In the beginning… the “dragons” part of dungeons and dragons referred to two basic types. There were the chromatic dragons (bad guys) and the metallic dragons (good guys). That was it. And even the metallic dragons didn’t come along until the Greyhawk set a little later that year. Sure, there were a couple of near dragons like the pseudo and the dragonne, but those didn’t really count as dragons.

Nowadays, between 5e and Pathfinder, you have so many types of dragons you can’t keep them all straight. In addition to the chromatics and metallics, now we have the planars, the deeps, the gems, the mists, the skeletals, the songs, the esoterics, the imperials, the outers, the primals, the minerals, the humours, the sins and virtues, the abominations, the thaumaturgics, the fangs, the vishaps, the various drakes and wyrms, and on and on and on. And that doesn’t even include all the “related” creatures.

Enough, already. Just stop. Let the dragons be. Stop trying to enhance the “Dragons” part of “Dungeons & Dragons”. There is enough.

WorldBuilder – General Timeline

The history of the new world can be divided into two phases. There is the time of the great exploration. For thousands of years after the continent was discovered, travelers came across the sea from the other three continents, each settling lands according to their people. Smaller kingdoms come and go, but four great kingdoms prevail in the east, west, south and center of the continent.

The second phase comes after a great disaster that laid waste to the entire continent. Mountain ranges raised up around the center, cutting off access to the inner half of the continent. New islands raised up all around the outside. New kingdoms arose among the survivors that have stood to this day.

The Great Kingdoms of the Past

The southern kingdom was elven, the eastern kingdom was primarily human, the western kingdom was a mix of human, halfling and gnomish, and the central kingdom was primarily dwarven and orcish.

Wars came and went between the main kingdoms, and loyalties of the smaller kingdoms shifted over time as such things do. This was also a time when the pantheons of the gods were as full as typical for a fantasy world.

For thousands of years this was the status quo. Then things changed. It was the clerics who noticed it first, of course. One by one gods began to go suddenly silent, never to be heard from again. As each went silent, the power of their clerics faded over the next few years and their faith’s collapsed.

The War

It was perhaps 30 years after the gods started going silent that only a dozen or so of them remained. At that point the peoples of the world finally learned that a great civil war was raging across the heavens and the gods were dying in battle with each other. This was when the great kingdoms began to collapse.

In the decades that followed, distrust between the followers of each faith caused the borders of the kingdoms to slowly disintegrate. Over that time several more of the gods died. As each god died, the loyalties of their followers would shift among the the remaining gods.

When only 6 remained, they gathered all their remaining forces for one final battle in the heavens. The battle raged for years and the peoples of the world waiting with trepidation for the result and see what remains. Then came the moment that the new gods struck.

The cause of the civil war was never revealed to the peoples of the world but there are those who believe that (usually quietly to themselves) that the new gods instigated it in order to seize control of this world.

The New Land

An unfortunate side effect of the final battle was a cataclysm that laid waste and fractured the continent. The entire geography changed. All the remaining existing kingdoms ceased to exist. Almost all contact with the inner continent is now hidden behind nearly impassible mountain ranges. This cataclysm of the new world caused tidal waves that decimated the coastlines of the other three continents. With virtually every port and shipyard destroyed on all four continents, the new world was cut off the old for centuries.

As the survivors began to rebuild their lives, racial divides mostly ceased to exist as survival became the sole concern for all. A few survivors from the interior migrated to the coasts, bringing stories of destruction and hordes of strange creatures.

With this destruction, the people knew that their last few gods were gone. However, there soon came among the survivors new clerics, speaking of three new gods.

Today

Over the 1000 years since the cataclysm, new civilizations have arisen. Three great kingdoms now occupy the eastern, western and southern lands. Contact and trade with the old world has been reestablished. From time to time, explorers and settlers venture into the interior of the continent, but no settlements ever survive more than a few years.

The culture is dominated by the three new gods. They tolerate no other faiths to any great extent. From time to time some try to revive worship of one of the older gods or some other god from another world. Whenever they gain any traction, however, the three call a “great purge” and the followers of these would be usurpers are killed or converted back to the true faiths.

These are days of high adventure. While great cities exist throughout the outer lands, much remains unexplored, even in the outer kingdoms. Those few who have survived venturing into the interior bring tales of ruins and strange creatures. Perhaps a few brave adventurers have what it takes to explore it.