“When there's no more room in hell, the dead will walk the earth.”

-George A. Romero, Dawn of the Dead

Monday, February 27, 2017

The "Brains" Behind the Hommlet Trading Post

In the Temple of Elemental Evil Gygax wrote “If [the heroes] need more seasoning before continuing to the greater challenges, you may – and should – design and develop other adventures in the area”. The following is an entry in my series on Ultimate Greyhawk. Much like how comics and movies will reboot a franchise with a new take on an old concept, this is my personal re-imagining of the Greyhawk Campaign Setting beginning with the venerable town of Hommlet. 

The following location is numbered based on how it appears on the map of the village of Hommlet found in T1-4: The Temple of Elemental Evil. You can see the rest of the entries in the Ultimate Greyhawk sidebar of the blog.

13. The Trading Post
The obese and almost porcine Rannos Davl and the sickly thin “Greenteeth” Gremag run the trading post. Basic adventuring gear, horses, mules and a small supply of weapons and armor can be purchased here. Rare items need to be ordered from Verbobonc. 

Rannos Davl: Always looking for an angle to make some money. He is particularly interested in knowing about any dungeons with hidden treasures. He will send this info (for a cut of the take) onto a group of evil adventurers he frequently does business with. 

Gremag: A sociopathic serial killer. He tries to control the urges to kill. Not because he feels bad about what he does, but because he doesn’t want to get caught. Roughly once a month he will stalk and kill someone, ritually cutting out the person’s brains and eating them. He does this in a way, quite by accident, that has lead some to speculate that there may be a mindflayer on the loose nearby. In an interesting twist there really IS a mindflayer in the nearby vicinity who will hire (or manipulate) the heroes into killing Gremag to preserve its secrecy in the area. 

Both the groom Klaus and the guard Alina are in the town militia as well as spies for Rannos and Gremag. Klaus is a foul mouthed lazy punk with a serious drug problem. He does a piss poor job of caring for any of the animals sadly left in his care. Alina is not above using her considerable wiles to get ahead and to get what she wants (which is usually wealth of some kind). She will quickly betray anyone who puts their trust in her if it will profit her. She is quite competent with weapons and is not afraid to get into a scrap if need be.

Adventure Seed: The Mistress of Ravencrag

Some of what the Trading Post sells comes from the less identifiable loot stolen from caravans in the Viscounty. The evil traders are in league with a self styled a Bandit Queen named Freja. With the lure of easy riches,  bands of evil humanoids are being drawn slowly but surely to the Bandit Queen's banner. From Ravenscrag, a ruined fortress in located in the Kron Hills these bandits strike at gnomish villages and passing caravans. At this point the fortress could be taken by a stealthy band of adventurers or a well trained militia. However, left to it’s own devices the forces of Ravenscrag could become a serious threat to the Viscounty. Unknown to even the Bandit Queen, Ravenscrag was once a fortress dedicated to the Air Temple. Soon Emissaries from that Temple will come to court the favour of the Bandit Queen in an effort to swell the Air Temples power and recover cult relics hidden in the dungeons below. 

Sunday, February 26, 2017

The Horror in Hommlet

If they need more seasoning before continuing to the greater challenges, you may – and should – design and develop other adventures in the area” (Gygax et al. The Temple of Elemental Evil. 6).

I've been trying to get back into blogging on a regular basis. One of the projects that I started a while back was writing up stuff for use in a Temple of Elemental Evil campaign. I've long wanted to run this venerable module. Once I was able to free myself from the shackles of canon and accept that this would be my own version of ToEE I finally felt free to go crazy. I've already blogged about a number of locations in the town in the past and plan to write about a variety of other stuff that would be great in the campaign. 

One of the observations I've made about the T1-4 is that the town of Hommlet has way too many locations in it. Way more than any campaign could probably even use. Worst of all some offer absolutely no hint of what to do with them. While this is great empty space for a DM to fill in, it's also a lot of work to do. So I decided to try and brainstorm up little side quests, some of which are independent of the main plot that I thought would be fun to run. I've also in some cases changed things up from the original text in order to keep things fresh and interesting. Even if you're not using Hommlet, these seeds could be used with modification for a village in your own campaigns. For more info see the Ultimate Greyhawk sidebar to the top right of my blog.

12. The Barinov Farm
Lurgo, a giant of a farmer lives here with family. His son Bogdan (age 20) is just a large as his father, and both tower over Lurgo’s wife Misha and their six daughters: Nadya (age 19), Karina (age 21), Roksanna (age 17), Sabina (age 15), Agatha (age 14) and Daria (age 13). The eldest daughter Karina has a 5-month old baby boy named Yuri from an unknown father which may come up in town gossip from time to time. These folk are quite friendly and have been members of the town for as long as anyone can remember. They practice the Old Faith and Lurgo and his eldest three children are part of the militia, though now with Karina a mother she is less likely to leave on ant sort of mission beyond the town.  

Adventure Seed: Horror in Hommlet

The smiling and friendliness of the Barinov family is a façade, but it wasn’t always this way. In fact, it was the very open and hospitable nature of the family that lead to this present state of  forced happiness and attempting to mask the melancholy that envelops the family. 

Little less that a year and a half ago (more precisely 14 months ago), the family took in a stranger. At the time it was hard to believe that the pitiful and malnourished man named Varek could be a danger. But a danger he was. Taking pity the this wretch  lying in the road they took him in. Varek claimed that he was a down on his luck traveller. He left out the part about how he was a thief and a murder originally from Dyvers. 

One day having recovered much of his strength, Varek found Karina in the family barn alone. Overcome with lust he raped the young woman. her youngest sister, Daria discovering Varek attacking her, rushed to get her father. Lurgo and his son rushed in and in the heat of the moment killed Varek. That night the family fearful of the repercussions buried Varek’s body in the copse of woods between their farm and the Weavers House (Area 10). Later it was discovered that Karina had fallen pregnant. Ashamed of the blood on their hands, it almost seemed as if the family's faith in the Oerth Mother was speaking to them saying "a life for a life". Thus nine months later Yuri was born.

But that was not the end of Varek. By some unknown circumstance his vile soul of Varek found itself bound into a Scarecrow (5e MM p.268) in the Barinov’s corn field. In the next few days he will begin to murder the family members one by one and anyone who gets in his way. When the family is dead who will be the Varek’s next victim(s)? Will the heros get involved and help solve the mystery of the Horror in Hommlet?

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Rolling the Bones: The Ability Score Experiment

When I started my new D&D 5e campaign in January I had planned on having a session zero devoted to character generation. At the time it looked like I would only have 3 players, two of whom were brand new to RPGs.  I was happily surprised to discover that these two new players, on their own initiative, decided to make characters via our Facebook Messenger group. One of the players made the choice to make his character using a method I thought was really hard core. His method was Roll 3d6 six times to make two sets, choose the best one and place in order. My first impulse was to quash this and tell them to just use the rules outlined in the Player’s Handbook. But then I stopped and thought about it. I had a bunch of new players who were willing to make less powerful characters for the sake of the roleplaying opportunities that might arise from it.

This method was accepted by the group and worked fine. Before the second session started we had two new player’s join the group. These two players were very familiar with 5e and balked at the idea. Both of these players told me they had a hard time making characters. One player even told me he had thought of dropping out before even starting because of his frustration making the character he wanted. In the end that player did drop out due to scheduling issues. This was a shame because he really added to the group and the campaign as a whole.

I can attest that this method is frustrating and difficult. I had a hell of time making characters when I tested it out myself. The problem I’ve discovered is that players come to the game with the idea of a class they’re excited to play, and when the stats they roll up prevent them from effectively playing what they want it’s frustrating. I don't see this as a case of power gaming as much as it's a case of wanting to play a character that is competent. The current method means that they either have to play a sub par character, or choose a class that they don’t want to play. Both options are understandably unappealing. 

One of the unexpected advantages of playing at my local game store is that they keep sending me people interested in playing D&D. Thus, this week I have another batch of new players joining the group. Since we only have about two hours of play time it’s imperative that the players are ready to play as soon as everyone arrives. Therefore, people need to have their characters ready. Which brings me to my long winded point. In an effort to make the game more “interesting” I made the game more difficult and less appealing. If I had gone with character creation as per the book I could have just let players make the characters they wanted to play, increasing the fun, and allow new players join in without having to spend my time explaining the method and then frustrating them with its limitations. The evidence thus far has shown no obvious advantage to creating characters with this harsh method. If anything it has detracted from the game. 

As a busy person in real life I don’t want to spend my time vetting characters. I do however, want a sense of balance and fairness at the table. I’ve decided to end this “experiment”. Going forward we will be generating stats using the rules as written in the 5e PH. This provides an arbitrary environment in which everyone knows what to expect and lets people play the character’s they want to play.