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Nentir Vale 4E into Mystaraby Wuddy
When I started playing D&D in the late 80s/early 90s, Mystara was our setting of choice. We played Isle of Dread countless times, moved on to some of the Gazetteers and other adventures, and then became absolutely enthralled by Red Steel and the Princess Ark, secret dungeons with laser guns and trips to the moon. During all of this, we were around ten years old and didn't understand the difference between 1st, 2nd, and BECMI editions. Coming from the background I did, when I looked at the "AD&D 2nd Edition" on a cover I assumed that meant that it was the second edition of that book. So you could say that my understanding of the rules, not to mention the setting, was a little muddy.
I've been running games for a while now and decided to jump right into 4E when it was released. We've been adventuring in the Nentir Vale, and one of the things that struck me about that sandbox is that it could be dropped almost anywhere. A conversation on EN World recently made me remember all the Mystara stuff, and I decided that as of paragon level (11-20), I'm going to pull back the curtain from the Nentir Vale and reveal the rest of Mystara.
The folks I run for now have no experience with Mystara, but I've discussed the idea with them and they want to give it a try. I picked a location for the Nentir Vale in northeast Darokin, between Alfheim and Rockhome, which is described by GAZ11 as "a rocky, barren, harsh land that nobody wanted". The idea is that some of the dwarves, elves, Darokin and early hill-men of Karameikos did settle there ~300 years ago, but ~200 years ago when hobgoblins devastated the Nentir Vale region (I'm going to make them orcs for consistency), there were no more organized attempts to settle.
The Pandius site has been really helpful for summarizing the metaplots, making a time line, and finding maps. A lot of this stuff is new to me, and a lot of it feels new but must not be, since I seem to have borrowed heavily from it in the past.
Right now I have a pretty good idea of what I want to do. I'd like to get some opinions and ideas from people who have been in the deeper end of the Mystara pool, or just folks who've played a fun Mystara game and know what to emphasize. Here's the gist of it:
- Ancient History: The Beagle, from Mystara's ancient history, was attacked by a neogi ship hijacked by clockwork horrors. After the Rain of Fire, the clockwork horrors on board the Beagle became dormant.
- Clockwork Horrors: The neogi ship itself crashed on an asteroid. This was the meteor that hit Glantri (the time line here is fudged). Herr Rolf caught word of the strange mechanical creatures coming out of the crater and began to study them. His discoveries led to a renaissance in Glantri.
- Glantri is Steampunk:Modern Glantri is steampunk-flavored instead of magical. The darker elements of the second Glantri gazetteer are being kept for something that's more horror noir, and Victorian. Radiance has also been fudged- although it does drain the world's magic, it isn't in itself magical. The Nucleus of the Spheres is essentially a remote power plant for Glantri's steampunk progress.
- WotI Setting: As of 11th level, the PCs are going to be introduced to the events of Wrath of the Immortals. I paid quite a lot for the box and I cannot be talked out of running WotI. Although some of the stuff I want to use technically happens during or after WotI, I am moving the sequence of events around here. Right away they're going to head to Corran Keep, and Rheddrian will become their patron. I'm going to mostly replace phase II of the adventure by sending the PCs to various places around Mystara, and this is where I could use the most help.
- Multi-Gazetteer Adventure: I want the PCs to visit many locations in the Known World and Savage Coast for small adventure vignettes. Some places I have in mind are Ierendi, the Atruaghin Clans, Ylaruam, the Isle of Dread, the Savage Coast (no specific location yet), Hule or Sind, Hollow World, and the frickin' moon. I think the PCs will also want to visit Darokin and Karameikos on their own, because one PC will discover that she's descended from Darokin nobility (Hallonica house), and Karameikos has already been linked to the history of the Nentir Vale.
- The Princess Ark:I was thinking about also using the Princess Ark to get the PCs from place to place. Prince Haldemar and his crew are getting older and weary of adventure, but they still can't return home and are hunted by the enemies of Alphatia. I am not a huge fan of the crew, so it could work for the PCs to end up piloting the Princess Ark, but for a while at least I think Prince Haldemar would be a colorful source of information for the PCs.
- Immortals: Although I love the idea of immortals, we started the game with the core gods and I've instead opted to make the Nentir Vale gods into identities of Mystara's immortals (Pelor is Ixion, etc). I like the culture shock that can result from the religious PCs discovering that Pelor is also Ixion, a warrior god, and is wed to Valerias, who is also Sehanine, and the two of them belong to a council that sometimes sides with gods such as Bane, and it's all very complicated. Since there are many more immortals than there are core gods, some will just be new, particularly Benekander and Rad. But I don't really like the name Rad and intend to revert his name to Ettiene d'Ambreville- is there a good reason for keeping his name secret? It seems like it might have been a retcon, but since my players are unfamiliar with Mystara there is no danger of Ettiene d'Ambreville meaning anything to them.
- Shadow Elves are Drow: Even though I intend to keep most of the flavor of shadow elves, I'm going to make them drow and turn them a little meaner. I'm not that much of a drow fan, but one of my players is and we've already worked drow into the game. I've also nudged the time line here so that the invasion of Alfheim takes place simultaneously with phase I of WotI, because it works better with what we've already been doing.
So, where else can I go with all this over the next 20 levels?
This week, the PCs were introduced to the Known World by way of assassins from Glantri. During the defense of a keep, the assassins sprang an attack on a dwarven priest (Grundelmar, from the PoL setting) who was busy resurrecting an ally of the PCs. The party's paladin defeated both assassins, singlehandedly but not easily. The players seemed to like the steampunk weaponry that the Glantri used. After all the fighting, a map was recovered from one of the assassins. I showed them the map from the Grimoire book of the Glantri boxed set. It's hexless, hand drawn and has no scale at all, so it's perfect to provide a vague frame of reference for when Rheddrian asks them to visit Ierendi, for instance.
For the past while the PCs have been fighting trolls, doing a modified version of P1: King of the Trollhaunt Warrens, and we're nearing the end where the PCs fight the fomori. The PCs have decided to try to find the weapon or knowledge that was originally used to defeat the fomori in the area. I had one of their contacts send them to Corran Keep, the first adventure site for WotI, for this. They're going to find Rheddrian there for sure, but I'm not certain what they would find there to use against the fomori. Right now my idea is to change the release conditions of Rheddrian's shield so that the fomori leader can be trapped within it during the final battle. So the PCs will fight this fomori lord, draw him into the shield when he's weakened, and then Rheddrian will be freed. Then Rheddrian will do his hulking out and disappearing routine, and the PCs will complete another adventure between phase I and II, probably P2: Demon Queen's Enclave.
Good idea? Bad idea?
Tomorrow we start Corran Keep. Since the PCs are level 10 at this point, the mundane birds and spiders are not much of a threat. I plan to replace the sprackles with copper clockwork horrors (as minions), and the plopped area with a hazard that animates objects in the area. I think this will help establish that things are spontaneously coming to life around the energy from Rheddrian's shield. I'm even considering having one of the PCs' items spontaneously become an intelligent item, to really play it up.
There are already a bunch of elemental-spiced undead in 4E, so converting the lightning zombies is not much of a challenge. I think the level 6 chillborn zombies would work well for the common lightning zombies, and a flameborn zombie for Lord Kazakk. I could also give him a template or class to make him elite, any suggestions?
We got a late start this week, not too much happened. The PCs were transported to lakeside Silver Sierras by the River King, an acquaintance they made in a previous adventure (Wolfgang Baur's Wrath of the River King). The River King moves them around through submersion, so they don't yet know where they are. Although I would've liked to have run Fort Lakeside, I decided to take it out of the adventure because it's too early to drop the PCs into a Mystara town. I think we would have been sidetracked with questions about Glantri and the Known World at large.
Where Corran Keep sits, the PCs are currently very close to the meteor strike in the Silver Sierras. I went with Havard's idea that the clockwork horrors were unearthed from Beagle wreckage by the meteor. This happened a while back, and Glantri has since then harvested technology to power its own steampunk culture. The Glantri inadvertently awakened the clockwork horrors and decimated the small population they found, but they didn't scour all of them. Recent orc activity has exposed more of the wreckage, and another unit of surviving clockwork horrors was unearthed.
When the PCs arrived at Corran Keep, there were a dozen weary and battered copper clockwork horrors (a common worker caste) on the wall and in the courtyard. These clockwork horrors had come through the mountains, following the signal that's being emitted by Rheddrian's shield. The clockwork horrors didn't immediately attack, so the PCs did what any sensible person would do, they grabbed one up and stuffed it into a bag. If you're not familiar with clockwork horrors, this exact faux pas was what led to the neogi losing their home planet. The absconded clockwork horror put out a distress signal that immediately got the attention of every clockwork horror in the area. But the bag they stuffed it into was a bag of holding, which is an extradimensional space. I decided that the distress signal couldn't be heard through an extradimensional space, and the clockwork horrors calmed down. One of the PCs guessed that the horrors weren't smart enough to understand where their fellow had gone, which is true in a way!
I think if they leave the clockwork horror in the bag of holding for very long, it's going to start turning the coins in there into clockwork horror parts. Not ruining them, but making a nuisance of itself.
The PCs left the other clockwork horrors alone and barged into the front door of Corran Keep. The lightning zombies there stayed hidden for quite a long time as the PCs discussed things. I put a relief on one wall of the Hallonica coat of arms, making it a Hallonica outpost. One of the PCs is secretly an heiress of a forgotten Nentir Vale branch of Hallonica House, and this is the first time she's seen the coat of arms outside the context of dusty old family heirlooms. About this time, the zombies attacked, and we ended on a cliffhanger.
So, things I need to do before next week:
- Find some info on Hallonica House, AC 700-800, so I have information to give the heiress when she inevitably raids the Corran Keep library.
- Choose a fitting template for Lord Kazakk. I had him statted up this week just in case, and picked the warlord class template because it seemed like it would help Lord Kazakk lead from the rear. But the flavor seems a bit off, and warlords aren't really a good mix with allies that don't have AP nor healing surges.
- Pick an item that spontaneously achieves sentience in the Corran Keep energy. I don't want to trap the PCs with an item they feel like they can't sell, so I'm inclined to not make it a magic item. I've done a talking book in a previous game, and one of the PCs has an empathic sword (not really intelligent, more like a phylactery of faithfulness). Maybe a hat or a lantern?
This week, the PCs faced the first lightning zombie ambush from WotI. One of the zombies escaped and led them on a chase to the secret door that separates the mostly empty keep from Lord Kazakk's hidden sanctuary. We skipped the animated objects encounter that I was planning, because the PCs were uninterested in the apparently empty area.
The Hallonica House heiress PC was eager to loot the hall of records. I'm going to use the fanon history from Pandius combined with the history of the Corrans in WotI, and hint at the empire that Hallonica House still holds in Selenica.
Part 1 of WotI should be one more session, then we'll wrap up Trollhaunt Warrens over 2-3 sessions. After that I want to jump right into Mystara vignettes. I figure there'll be a stopover in Selenica. I want to divide the culture in Selenica between Darokin and Ylari, maybe two overlapping districts with distinct cultures that represent the two houses. I also want to populate the Ylaruam district with a lot of tieflings, based on an NPC from Nentir Vale's Fallcrest, "an expatriate noble from the south named Serim Selduzar." I'm not sure where the tieflings come from, but I'm thinking they are an underclass in Ylaruam, perhaps from efreet blood.
From Selenica the PCs will probably learn about the Heldannic plague, and go into Ylaruam for a short adventure based on the old module I9: Day of Al'Akbar to find a cure for the plague.
Although WotI says that the immortals are not responsible for the Heldannic plague, I think they would definitely try to exploit it! So once the PCs get ahold of the cup and talisman of Al'Akbar, the immortals are going to try to influence where the PCs take these relics and who they cure. This will be the first evidence of immortal tampering that the PCs find for Rheddrian.
This week, the PCs defeated Lord Kazakk and completed the intro to WotI. They discovered Rheddrian's shield, and I played up the strange energy that surrounds it by causing dust and unattended objects to scatter as it passes, and water to flow away from it. The lightning zombies recoil from it, and though it hasn't come up yet, the fey will hate it.
They had a one-sided conversation with Rheddrian where he used familiar terms to describe the crash of the Beagle and events leading up to the rain of fire. One of the PCs made a pretty high Insight check, and knew that Rheddrian was using different terms to tell a story that was essentially true. Unfortunately, this did make the PCs suspicious of Rheddrian, which I didn't really anticipate. Hopefully we can work around that, though.
One of the PCs asked Rheddrian what the danger is if the ship has already exploded. Good question! Rheddrian answered that the ship's guardians (the clockwork horrors) were tasked with repairing the ship and never stopped. I haven't decided whether Rheddrian is accurate about that, but it seems to fit fairly well with canon, and it gives the clockwork horrors a goal as antagonists.
From here we're going to end King of the Trollhaunt Warrens with a trip into the 4E feydark, and hopefully the PCs can be convinced to use Rheddrian's shield to imprison the fomori lord and free Rheddrian. After that Selenica will probably be their base of operations for a while.
I have a few vignettes figured out now. After the stopover in Ylaruam, the PCs' allies in Selenica will ask them to investigate the destruction of the world bridge in Atruaghin. To reach the plateau they will need an airship, and why not Haldemar and the Princess Ark? In Atruaghin, the clans will enlist them for a vision quest where I can use some of the kooky monsters and events from Native American legends with impunity. Folks on EN World have recommended a number of books and adventures to strengthen the weak Atruaghin gazetteer. I've ordered Northern Crown and Paizo's A History of Ashes adventure, between them it should be a lot of fun.
I've also thought about the moon thing, and I think a good way to get the PCs to matera is to have them on board the Princess Ark when Haldemar goes after a Heldannic ship, perhaps even Wulf himself, and the chase leads them outside the skyshield. Then on the moon they can have a confrontation with the Heldannic forces, inspired by Iron Sky.
I'm still thinking about good hooks for Sind, Ierendi, the Isle of Dread and the Savage Coast. For Hollow World, I want to use the Neathar for a dinosaur adventure definitely, and I might use another area if I can squeeze it in before the resolution of WotI.
One of my players has become interested in the areas outside the Nentir Vale, and after looking at the map asked if he could be descended from Thyatis. Sounds great! But, I never really read Dawn of the Emperors nor had much interest in Thyatis. So I have some research ahead of me if I want to work in a trip to the PC's homeland.
So, a few weeks have passed! Frankly it's taking a lot longer than I'd like to finish Trollhaunt and get to the Mystara stuff I wanted to feature. Last week, we were just finishing up Corran Keep, the intro to WotI. The PCs were essentially stranded at Lake Amsorak, and have yet to really encounter the Known World civilizations. After a bit of scenery they made contact with an undine and the River King transported them back home. I'm saving Rheddrian's release from the shield for the final fight of Trollhaunt.
The PCs' return home coincided with the arrival of the Alfheim elves in the Nentir Vale, where they're fleeing the shadow elf invasion. Almost all of this week was dedicated to dialog with the elves about their homeland and the state of Mystara. I think it's great that the players are interested in Mystara politics, but I don't want to get bogged down with it. Unfortunately, we hit a small snag: when the PCs learned about the shadow elves, several of them decided that their next adventure should be to liberate Alfheim. I tried to discourage this, because it's really not the adventure I want to run. This is partly my fault for making the shadow elves drow, which everyone knows are evil. Somehow I'm going to have to get them to ignore the situation in Alfheim.
I got ahold of a copy of Dawn of the Emperors for the Thyatis stuff, and I like it! I'll probably work Thyatis into the adventure rotation. This is what I have so far.
- Darokin: The PCs get to Selenica and make friends with either Hallonica House or Al-Azrad, and set up trade with their friends in the Nentir Vale. While they're in Selenica, the Heldannic plague hits the city. Although it doesn't get that far in WotI, I think it makes sense that the plague would travel along the trade routes of Darokin.
- Ylaruam: The PCs learn through a djinn about the cup and talisman of Al'Akbar, which can cure the plague. They cross the desert and have a short adventure in a tomb unearthed by a Ylari sorceress, then come back to save Selenica.
- Atruaghin Clans: Someone in Selenica encourages the PCs to take the cup and talisman along the trade routes to help the plague-afflicted areas of Darokin. The recent war has sunk a lot of airships and made flying them very dangerous, but someone has a favor to call in with Prince Haldemar. While flying through Darokin, they learn of the destruction of the World Elevator and stop in Atruaghin. The PCs take part in a vision quest to find the culprits.
After that I'm not sure where we'll go, but I want to use Hule/Sind, Ierendi, the Savage Coast, Neathar and Nithia in the Hollow World, possibly the Isle of Dread, the moon of matera, and finally Glantri for the conclusion of WotI.
I've also been thinking about giving the PCs the Princess Ark, and my idea is that the PCs could learn about the Glantri doomsday weapon and go to destroy it with Haldemar. When they get there, the weapon is powering up. Haldemar and the major crewmen stay on the weapon and sacrifice themselves to reduce its effect, leaving the Princess Ark in the care of the PCs. This might be a good segue into the epic tier of play. What do you think?
This week was mainly combats in the feydark, the feywild version of the underdark. I drew a little inspiration from the new 4E book Underdark, but there was something else in the book that grabbed my attention.
There's an idea in Underdark called Forest Monarchs. Forest Monarchs were once the great trees of the feywild, but they all died out and only their ghosts remain. Four of the trees are described, along with the effects of being in caverns that once housed their roots. I don't know about you, but to me the Forest Monarchs sound a lot like Alfheim's Trees of Life and their fate post-WotI. I think this is a pretty interesting idea when combined.
One example Forest Monarch is the Ivory Tree of Winter, which was part of an ancient custom of festival and dance tied to the season of winter. When the tree was killed by strangers (in this case, shadow elves/drow), the winter fey became angry and bitter. Long and frightful winters are said to be the revenge of the winter fey for the death of the tree and the absence of the yearly festival.
I'm imagining an adventure that starts when a freezing winter overtakes the Known World and persists into spring and summer. Widespread death and famine follows and the PCs must learn the reason for the winter, enter Aengmor and learn the fate of the Ivory Tree, and try to placate the winter fey to restore the seasons.
I don't know if I'll be able to use the idea, but I think it's really cool!
This week was, at last, our final encounter in the Trollhaunt Warrens. The PCs had to get the big bad fomori bloodied, then use Rheddrian's shield on him. When they did, the fomori was absorbed, Rheddrian appeared, and did his whole ascension to Immortality and disappearance. This changes the events in WotI just a bit, as Rheddrian won't be returning and then disappearing again. They'll see him again when he hires them to investigate Immortal tampering, once they have a taste for the Known World.
I think the next session will pick up with the PCs still looting the feydark treasury when several angels, each serving a different Immortal, appear to investigate the energy readings that the Immortals detected when Rheddrian ascended to his Immortal form of Benekander. Each angel will represent one of the Immortal factions in the WotI conflict: a fiery angel for Pelor/Ixion, a crow-winged angel for the Raven Queen/Hel, and either a pure energy angel with a face bearing only a single eye for Ioun/Rathanos, or a draconic angel for Ka/Bahamut.
The angels will poke around in search of this energy, and when they don't find anything they'll start asking the PCs questions. What the PCs report could have a huge impact on the events of WotI. If the PCs reveal too much, I plan to have a fight break out among the angels, so that only one will live to report back to its patron Immortal and give one faction the advantage of knowing Benekander exists.
After that, the PCs will skedaddle home, and their allies in the Nentir Vale will ask them to travel south to ask for aid against potential drow (shadow elf) attack from Aengmor. As they travel south, they'll come to the Darokin Road and then Selenica! Thus begins their real exposure to the Known World. I'm looking forward to it.
The three angels who arrived on the scene to investigate Rheddrian's ascension represented the three factions of WotI: Ioun/Rathanos for the Fellowship of the Star, Pelor/Ixion for the Ring of Fire, and The Raven Queen/Hel for the Brotherhood of Shadow. The PCs started talking to the angels, and they did tell everything, including the details of Rheddrian's ascension. Well, we couldn't have the angels reporting to their Immortals when this information is supposed to be secret, so a fight broke out between the angels. In the end, the last surviving angel (that of The Raven Queen) was slain by one of the PCs.
The PCs now know that there's a conflict among the Immortals, and based on some things the angel of Ioun/Rathanos said, they know it's one of tradition vs. progress.
They returned to home base in the Harken Wood, where the local baroness-slash-love-interest has asked them to travel south in search of allies against the possible threat of drow/shadow elf invasion from Aengmor. Next session, we will be dealing with the journey to Selenica and I will be laying out the city for them.
I'm not sure what to do about Fort Hobart. If they travel to Selenica they will definitely pass by it. In fact, they should probably be picked up by patrols into Orcland. But I don't want them to find Fort Hobart, decide they've found allies, and turn back home. The real adventure starts in Selenica. So I'll have to give them a reason to continue on.
In Selenica I'll be playing up the Darokin/Ylaruam dichotomy, Houses Hallonica and Al-Azrad, the progress of the Heldannic plague along trade lines, the wealth, and the melting pot of cultures. With luck, they will adopt Selenica as their home base.
Eventually they'll be approached by a frustrated djinn whose mate was captured and sealed away by a sorceress from Ylaruam. This sorceress was last seen in the desert searching for a tomb buried in the sand. Thus begins the Ylaruam vignette I had in mind, and the adventure that will end with the Cup and Talisman of Al'Akbar in the hands of the PCs.
eldersphinx, I was set to use your idea, even though it would have infuriated my players! But they ended up wanting to cut through Canolbarth to spy on the drow, so we didn't encounter Fort Hobart at all.
With the help of an illusion (a 10th level bard power, Veil), the PCs had a walk around a drow/shadow elf settlement a couple of weeks after the invasion. Since there are no specific settlements described for Aengmor, or even named aside from Rafielton, I borrowed another idea from Underdark.
This is based on the Sump, a location described in the Poor Wizard's Almanac as a huge mile-long gorge a thousand feet deep. I inserted a drow city called Maelbrathyr from Underdark, a city that sank in tiers after displeasing Torog. I changed some things around, so that the sinking was a product of the invasion and the drow/shadow elves are recent arrivals. I kept the Ruby Wizard as an ancient shadow elf hero, whose soul had been imprisoned by the elves and eladrin of Canolbarth. The shadow elves are now trying to restore him to flesh. If I need a figurehead of the shadow elves for the PCs to defeat later, I can see this character being useful.
While the PCs were disguised as shadow elves, I tried to portray them as Rafiel would see them, instead of the evil mother-murdering lunatics that typify drow. I'm not sure how well it'll go over, but drow are just goofy evil, I think I'm doing them a favor.
Eventually we did get to Darokin, although not to Selenica yet. I inserted a bit of my own experiences growing up in Kansas to the fields of Darokin: on the first morning they woke in the fields, a strong wind followed the sunrise and blew a flurry of grass seed across the plains, along with countless moths and beetles and grasshoppers. In come hundreds of sparrows and small birds to snatch insects on the wing, colliding with PCs, and between the roar of the windblown grass and the angry chirping, it's as violent as a tropical storm. One of the PCs said there was no way that was natural, and I got a kick out of that because it really does happen on a prairie like Kansas.
So we got to Darokin Road, and a conveniently placed caravan gave them their first taste of local flavor. Now they're en route, next week: Selenica! (for real this time)
PHB3 is out next month, and introduces psionics to 4E. Aside from the monk, the psionic classes have been a flop among my group, so I don't expect anyone to embrace psionics. But I have been thinking about psionics in Mystara anyway.
I vaguely remember a reference to psionics in Red Steel, but I can't find it in either of the boxed sets, maybe it was in a Dragon article?
My idea at this point is to make Sind the birthplace of psionics. During the reign of the chambahara, the Sindhi refined mental discipline in a secret effort to discover the chambahara among them. By AC 425, the chambahara had caught on and were planning to raid the Sindhi monasteries, before Ka stepped in to move half of Sind into the Hollow World.
In 451, the Maga Aditi who led the revolt against the chambahara was not a mage but the Known World's first powerful psionicist. Later, the Jadugerya caste is formed, which continues psionic traditions and fosters the growth of many monk-centric mystic orders.
This also seems like a great place to fit in kalashtar (from Eberron): Sindhi people who are host to benign creatures from the Nightmare Dimension, as part of a pact long ago to develop psionic powers against the chambahara. But as the number of kalashtar grow, the barriers to the Nightmare Dimension weaken, and sometimes creatures like malfera and diaboli appear in the Known World, typically around Sind.
This also opens the door to some inspiration from the underappreciated Eberron book, Secrets of Sarlona. Replace Eberron's Quori with Nightmare Dimension denizens, the Inspired with chambahara, and most of the sourcebook fits pretty well in psionic Sind. The Empire of Riedra could be scaled down and used for a remote part of Sind that the chambahara still rule with an iron grip.
Dark Sun 4E might even have some ideas for the more savage Great Waste and Hule, who knows? The Master as a psionic entity, passing from body to body over the years, might be a cool idea.
This week, we explored Selenica!
I love Selenica as a crossroads trade city, overseen by two trade houses of vastly different cultures. But since not too much is written about Selenica, I added some of my own ideas, and some fanon, to the mix.
As the PCs approached Selenica along the Darokin Road, I described a ship being built out on a cleared field, with no water for miles around. This was meant to be an airship. I see Darokin as being involved in the construction of airships, since they have a lot of prairie, a lot of wind, and a lot of money, not to mention access to exotic materials and allies who are preparing for war. I can see clearcut fields bearing shipyards all across Darokin, as they convert some of that excess arable land to what's currently in demand.
I described a Church of Ixion in Selenica, with a symbol that's essentially identical to Pelor's flaming mane, but instead of the face of Pelor, Ixion's symbol has the spokes of a wheel. The PCs were just completely unfazed by this, and the paladin of Pelor was oblivious. So in the market, I inserted a hot-blooded young priest of Ixion to confront the paladin about her heretical symbol. I know that Darokin has great religious tolerance as a whole, but I figure there's a few zealots in any environment. It seemed to be the push they needed to show some interest in Ixion vs. Pelor, but a couple of PCs correctly guessed that they're really the same Immortal. The paladin insisted that the brash, unpredictable Ixion is nothing like the fatherly, deliberate Pelor. It'll be interesting to see how this develops.
The Heldannic plague was present, but didn't dim the spirits of Selenica. I think as the PCs spend a few days there, the plague will really explode into an epidemic, and the PCs can be the heroes who recover the Cup and Talisman of Al'Akbar.
The presence of House Hallonica was impossible to ignore, and the heiress PC decided to try and use the house's connections to bring aid to the Nentir Vale. I had decided that the headquarters of House Hallonica rests atop a private library that demands expensive dues, but the doors are technically open. The library is maintained by Dafford Hallonica, from Aaron Nowack's Hallonica fanon.
I've also used Sarah Hallonica as the mayor, and intend to use the other characters as well. The PCs have yet to see Sarah Hallonica, but they've heard already that the heiress PC looks remarkably like a young Sarah.
The PCs wanted to use the library to retrace the heiress' lineage. This wasn't much help, since her ancestors are on record as being a dead end on the family tree. Although Dafford gave them free access to the archives after hearing the heiress' story, the PCs offered to donate the lost Hallonica records that they found at the WotI keep in exchange for membership to the library.
And I thought, this is a huge problem. Those records are the only proof the PC has of her birthright, and Hallonica has every incentive to burn them since they incriminate them of wartime dealings with the enemy.
But then I realized, that isn't how Hallonica does business. If someone from an unknown territory showed up claiming to be a branch of the Hallonica family, asking for military aid for a forgotten society, what would Hallonica do? I think they would send aid, they would become great friends with the Nentir Vale, and then they would reap all of the benefits of the area's previously untapped resources.
The problem that remains is that now the PCs don't have a reason to deal with Al-Azrad, and I was counting on that to give them a reason to visit Ylaruam. Any ideas there?
I like that idea. This week the PCs are going to meet Bertram to discuss the heiress' story, and her request for aid for the Nentir Vale. Bertram will ask to see some of the records, and as head of the house, I think Bertram is already aware of Hallonica's sordid history. When he sees the era of the records, he'll ask to see them all. Bertram, like Sarah, is a suppressor.
Dafford will lie and say they've been destroyed. To get rid of them, he'll give them back to the PCs in a false book, along with instructions to take it all to so-and-so in House Al-Azrad.
But I don't think I'll throw in any minor houses just yet, I don't want to give the PCs too much at once.
I've been working on my idea for the Ylaruam adventure. Still working with the djinni whose lover was enslaved by a sorceress, but the djinni has sent a Ylari villager to enlist aid. She sends him with instruction to "find the one who bears the face of Ixion," based on an old prophecy about one who will cure the ill and free the enslaved. Right now, in all of Darokin and maybe all of the Known World, the paladin PC is the only person whose symbol of Ixion/Pelor features a face.
So that busybody acolyte who harassed the PC earlier brings word back to the Temple of Ixion about the PC's heretical symbol, about the same time that word is spreading about this prophecy. The hunt is on to find the paladin!
The hook will lead them out into the desert, to the site of a ruined pre-Eternal Truth temple. After Al-Kalim, the old religions fell out of favor, the old Immortals lost worshippers, and temples that lost their power were looted and razed. Long ago, this had been a temple to Ixion. Now the site is considered cursed. The dungeon crawl is as follows:
An entrance to the secluded refuge still stands, sealed by a curtain of fire and guarded by two animated archer statues in the style of ancient Nithian hieroglyphics. Once the fighting starts, two giant scorpions are going to burrow up from the sand, because, giant scorpions!
Extinguishing the fire portal triggers a trap after 2 rounds. At the end of that time, an Indiana Jones-style boulder trap comes rolling down the hall. But since this is a temple of Ixion, the boulder is on fire. There are stats for a rolling boulder trap in DMG2, and one thing I love about them is that one of the trap countermeasures involves a character making an Athletics check to actually stop the boulder. I hope someone makes that DC 28 because that is just too cool.
Encounter 2/3 is a sand garden with two fazokl (wind goat) guardians. The sand pit holds an imprisoned desert ghost (from Creature Catalogue). The fazokl can shift 3 squares when damaged by a lightning attack, and the desert ghost has an aura that deals lightning damage, so the fazokl will be extremely mobile. When the desert ghost is slain, it reanimates 1 round later at its bloodied HP value, as a swarm of immature desert ghosts. The sand pit is also a hazard, PCs who stand in the sand will need to make saving throws or be slowed, immobilized, and finally grabbed as they sink down to their legs, waist, and chest.
Encounter 3/3 lies behind a living wall of scarabs. I've made the sorceress a lamia, because I really like what they did with the lamia in 4E and I can't remember ever using one before. This final encounter takes place in the temple vault, where an ancient priest horded the temple's wealth and became a grey philosopher (also from Creature Catalogue). The philosopher's malices are minions with an aura that penalizes saving throws, and the philosopher itself is passive except for a purely mental dominate attack every round. The -2 penalty from the malices make the "save ends" effects from the grey philosopher and lamia more dangerous.
Finally, in the treasure they'll find the djinni's captured lover, along with the Cup and Talisman of Al'Akbar. Whew!
I thought this would be a good place to introduce the unusual plutocracy, so Bertram told the PCs that in order to help, a vote would have to be passed, and the votes are held among citizens of Selenica worth at least 15,000 daro. I told them that there are a total of 75 votes, and they should expect 20 from House Hallonica, but realistically this is probably way off. The average home in Selenica is probably worth at least 15,000 daro, and there are something like 40,000 people living there. But, I want the PCs to be able to influence the vote by making friends and doing chores for people.
Teleportation in 4E is replaced by Stargate-like circles. If you know the code to a location, you can teleport there by ritual. The PCs were asking about one in Selenica, and I wasn't sure if there would be any- travel in Mystara is pretty important for trade, wouldn't teleportation circles change that? But I think if teleportation circles are only for people and their immediate possessions, it could work with Mystara. Another idea is to make teleportation circles a lost technology unique to Nentir Vale.
If there were one or more teleportation circles in Selenica, where would they be, and who would have the codes?
Thanks for the suggestions on how to handle teleportation circles, I can't believe I didn't say something sooner.
These past few weeks have been taken up with the dungeon crawl I laid out. We only play for a few hours a week, so it's a bit slow going. But the PCs have just come out of the lost temple with the Cup and Talisman of Al'Akbar. When they return to Selenica, they're going to be curing the Heldannic plague, enlisting help for the Nentir Vale, and then teaming up with Haldemar to bring the cure to the plague-ridden nations of the Known World. Exciting stuff!
In my scenario, Haldemar and the senior crew of the Princess Ark are getting on in age. Haldemar would like to return home and live out the last of his days in peace, but he and his crew are still exiled from Alphatia (is that canon? It's unclear to me; the Princess Ark story from 2006 has him still unwelcome in Alphatia, but the Almanacs disagree). But adventure is in his blood, and he'll take a liking to the PCs once he sees what trouble they get up to. I plan to have Haldemar take the PCs under his wing, and leave the possibility open for them to inherit the Princess Ark.
But I think, for Haldemar to be a likable character, he's going to have to stop spying on everybody invisibly and enslaving others with charm spells. That is not appropriate, Haldemar.
A lot happened this week! The PCs returned to Selenica with the djinn they helped. The plot hook was lifted from Al-Qadim's A Dozen and One Adventures, and as payment for their help the djinn now serves them for a year and a month. She's traveling with them disguised as a Ylari woman in diaphanous silks, in a not too subtle I Dream of Jeannie homage. I think she'll make a fun NPC.
When they walked into Selenica, the PCs were surrounded by an image of the wheel of Ixion that was created by the sun reflecting off the Talisman of Al'Akbar and the shadow of the paladin's fingers as she blocked the sun from her eyes. This miracle quickly elevated the paladin to saint status, and the priests of Ixion have been eager to help her with the cure to the Heldannic plague (one of the Cup/Talisman powers).
The PCs are starting to see how Pelor/Ixion is guiding their path, and how other Immortals may be as well.
While they waited for House Hallonica, Rheddrian (the engineer-turned-Immortal from the Beagle) sent them an anonymous message and arranged to meet. Rheddrian told them about about his research and the belief that the Immortals are responsible for the crazy events going on. The idea of going against the gods has some PCs conflicted and others thrilled- it's great for character development. They've been recruited to follow Rheddrian's leads and see what they can find. I'm going to ignore the adventure for a while and instead have the leads send them to the places I want to feature- mainly some of my favorite parts of Mystara, the ones I feel I can bring to life.
I had struggled with how to introduce Haldemar and the Princess Ark for a while, but during the game I had a sudden idea. I made Haldemar the go-between for House Hallonica and the Nentir Vale. It's a little below the Princess Ark, but I think Haldemar would want to see the newly discovered Nentir Vale. So we ended the session with the Princess Ark gliding down from the sky and Haldemar inviting them aboard. They'll have some time to get acquainted as they fly there and back.
I also picked up Hammerfast, the new 4E location book from WotC. It's a pretty slim book, really inexpensive, and details more of the Nentir Vale. There are a bunch of reviews by now, but I want to say that I was really thrilled with it. It's very much like the Mystara Gazetteers, although it's slimmer at 32 pages, and comparatively a pretty small area. But there's even a hex map of the area. It's full of rich culture, NPCs and plot hooks, and it continues to develop the Nentir Vale area.
Hammerfast seems in part inspired by the 3E Ghostwalk setting, so it doesn't mesh too well with Rockhome. I see Rockhome as lying just beyond Hammerfast, though, and Hammerfast as a gate to the dwarven lands.
Interestingly, the major villain is a leader of savage humanoids named Thar. In this product Thar is a dragonborn, but a champion of Gruumsh, the orc god. I'm not sure if the reference is intended or just accidental, but it would be so easy to insert the Thar of the Broken Lands into this role.
Unfortunately I don't have any plans to feature Rockhome or Hammerfast. But I love the book and I really hope they make more of them!
This week there was a lot of roleplaying with the crew of the Princess Ark, especially Haldemar, Talasar and Ashari. I think the Princess Ark stories were a big part of Mystara for me, and influenced me to pick up and start running Red Steel back in the day. So I'm a big fan and relished the opportunity to bring these characters across to players who've never heard of them before.
There wasn't really time to introduce some of the characters, but I plan to use Leo, Lady Abovombe, Nyanga, and Xerdon as well. A couple of the characters are undergoing changes to adapt them to 4E. Although I don't think it'll ever come up, I see Leo as an artificer and Lady Abovombe as a warden (based on her being a fighter in BECMI- kind of a bizarre choice if you ask me). I had bigger changes in store for Xerdon, by making him a swordmage and an eladrin. The eladrin in 4E have a much stronger connection to the fey realm, and Xerdon always seemed to be a kind of alien, unapproachable character to me.
The changes to Nyanga are even more. I decided he would make a fun goliath. Goliaths are a race that were introduced in 3.5, and they're not too popular, but they're basically towering mountain people (just under 8') with mottled skin, a reverence for the primal world and "daring that borders on foolhardiness". I think this suits Nyanga pretty well, and I think that Mystara could benefit from some more monstrous denizens. But then I love monsters.
The other change to Nyanga is to make him a battlemind. That's a new class from PHB3, which is the psionic defender. This was inspired by what Havard said before about psionics in the Yavdlom. Thanks Havard! While Nyanga is not really psionic at all, the theme of the battlemind is essentially "act first, think later". If any of you have played Planescape, the battlemind would be a great class to represent the Transcendent Order, the faction that believe thought only dilutes the purity of spontaneous action. This class captures Nyanga well for me. One of my players says that battleminds are terrible defenders, and if there's ever a need for Nyanga to sit in for a fight, it should be interesting to find out if he's right.
I've been reading and rereading Dawn of the Emperors to get a feel for Alphatia, to get a feel for the identity of the nation and how to present it. My players have shown a lot of interest in Alphatia and Glantri, and I thought they might ask Haldemar a lot of questions about Alphatia. What I take away from Alphatia is that it's decadent, thrilled with magic just for magic's sake, impractical and even dangerous. The emphasis on the individual means that Alphatians are very stylish but also selfish. When I look at the Council of 1,000 Wizards, what I see is a system of government that actively discourages cooperation. It's so impractical to get people to agree with you when 1,000 voices are weighing in, that you may as well not even consider what everyone else is thinking.
What I'm really in love with is the style. DotE says that Alphatians like face painting, and I had another idea to add to that. For affluent Alphatian women, I'm imagining bizarre, impractical, magically sculpted hairstyles. One woman's hair resembles a spiral shell that covers her eyes and curls around the back of her head. Another has hair that looks like a dragon with her head in its mouth. Another has a braided scorpion tail that rises over the back of her head and adds a foot and a half to her height, making doors a nuisance. For someone really powerful, animated hair that flows around her into the shapes of servants who do all of her menial tasks. Along the same lines, I could see excessively long nails being in fashion, as a statement that one's fingers are reserved for magic and not for physical labor.
For clothes, I wanted to stray from the spider silk in canon, because I think that's more of a drow/shadow elf thing. I want to replace that with some of the magical cloth that's been described in various D&D books. I'm going to have to flip through some books to remember what those were, but off the top of my head I remember a dark, diaphanous cloth made from shadow, and I think that was from Magic of Eberron.
I need my Alphatian characters to be a parade of bizarre fashion, so any ideas are welcome!
I'm looking ahead to the Atruaghin Clans vignette that should be on the agenda in 2-3 weeks. It looks like the PCs are going to do some traveling with the Princess Ark, and spend some time with those characters while helping to turn back the plague in Darokin. One plot hook or another will lead the Princess Ark up onto the Great Plateau.
Once they get there, I'm going to need to take the Princess Ark out of the picture for a while. I'm thinking that the rogue Alphatian wizards will trick a couple of thunderbirds (epic-level elite monsters in 4E) into attacking the Princess Ark. But the Princess Ark is a ship that could give Tiamat a black eye, so while that fight is going on, some Glantri steampunk saboteurs will sneak on board and do some serious damage.
The Princess Ark will be grounded in elk clan lands. I know it's kind of off course if the ship is arriving from Darokin, but I like the elk clan! I'll introduce one of the tribes, and the chief will recommend a vision quest for the PCs to commune with the Immortals and figure out what the heck is going on in Mystara.
In the spirit world, the PCs will be guided by a hsiao (from Wee Folk), then the trickster Coyote of Native American myth, and finally by Crow as a Mortal Identity of the Raven Queen. On the spirit side they'll meet a tribe of pooka (also from Wee Folk), because I love pooka.
I'm going to need about 3 combat encounters to fill out the vignette. I think using some tiger clan bad guys with weretigers among them would be a cool first encounter. For another one I want to have baykok, undead archers who're invisible to everyone except the person they attack. But that encounter is going to require more monsters, probably a soldier and some kind of elite. The last encounter will have the PCs defeating the rogue Alphatian wizards and their enslaved spirits of the land, then taking Atruaghin's Mystic Conveyor to the Hollow World. It's going to be really cool thanks to the ideas I got from you guys.
The Princess Ark took the PCs along Darokin Road. They spent a day each in Nemiston, Dolos, Wrasseldown, and Ansimont. I didn't want to dedicate too much time to any of those towns, so I just used the information out of the Darokin gazetteer. If I had more time to dedicate to the trip, I would definitely have checked out what others have done with those towns.
When the Princess Ark was heading to Darokin City itself for the major plague relief, I went ahead and sprang the meteor. I did have the meteor break up in the atmosphere, so Darokin was pelted with the meteor shower instead of being turned into a giant hole in the ground. I can do a couple of things at this point- I could change my backstory (which the PCs are not aware of) to remove the meteor strike from Glantri's history, and make this meteor the major one. Or I could keep the meteor strike from 30 years ago, and have a lot of scholarly research available for the PCs to find out what caused these meteors to hit Mystara. I'd like to hear anybody's thoughts on this.
The Princess Ark was badly damaged in the meteor shower and the resulting shockwave. At the end of the session, the PCs were just getting the Princess Ark stable in the air when a bunch of steampunk Glantri troops on rockets flew in to intercept. Next week will be a big battle on board the Princess Ark, and I will finally have a use for the Princess Ark poster maps out of the Champions of Mystara boxed set!
I've got the Glantri troops being led by my steampunk version of Jaggar von Drachenfels. I've added a bit to him and replaced his pegasus with a flight harness, inspired by the work of German engineer Otto Lilienthal, the Glider King. Drachenfels is essentially there to keep the senior crew occupied (Especially Haldemar, who is level 21), and let the PCs do the major fighting. Since Drachenfels will never land on the ship and the party's heavy hitter is melee only, I think I can establish Drachenfels as a villain without a great risk to him. But my players often surprise me, so it's possible Drachenfels will die.
The goal of this encounter is not to kill all the Glantri, but limit the amount of damage they can do. The PCs will have a certain amount of time, say 5 rounds, to fight the Glantri off and keep them out of the ship's interior. Whether they kill or force away the enemy, every Glantri soldier who makes it inside the ship will count against them. At the end of the time limit, the Princess Ark will run into a couple of thunderbirds who scatter the remaining Glantri, and then crash into the Atruaghin lands.
I have a skill challenge set up for the PCs to soften the Princess Ark's landing. The more Glantri get through to the ship interior, the shorter the skill challenge will be, and the fewer the rolls the PCs will have at the skill challenge. Depending on their successes, some of the Princess Ark crew may die. I haven't made a list yet, but the womanizer bard PC had a fling with Yeoman Ashari, and the other PCs have become friends with Haldemar, Talasar and Xerdon. Although I can't really put Haldemar on the chopping block, he could potentially lose Lady Abovombe. Losing Leo the engineer could also hinder the PCs in the future. I'll have to think about this stuff.
Two more additions to the steampunk Glantri rogues' gallery:
Prince Morphail Gorevitch-Woszlany
Archetype: Master of Mutants
A vampire of 300 years, dark master of Boldavia and a secret cabal of vampiric spawn, Morphail is the gothic necromancer prince. He has no allies among the Glantri, and prefers it that way.Glantri, Kingdom of Magic wrote:As a ruler, he remains cold, uncaring, and cruel. Not only does he hold no concern for the plight of his people, he has come to relish their suffering.Prince Morphail combines the arts of steamtech and necromancy into ghastly experiments. The bodies of elves and Flaemish and steampunk technology are combined into ever more nightmarish constructs that oversee the salt mines, keep the people obedient and even prowl the countryside uncontrolled.
A potentially interesting hook for Morphail is that his age as a vampire, and his location in Glantri, means that he could be the vampire who took Lillian from the old tower in WotI. Either Morphail or one of his entourage could be the Hallonica PC's ancestor. The adventure uses Lillian herself, late in the game, and it could be interesting to have the PC confront Morphail as well.
Princess Carnelia de Belcadiz y Fedorias
Archetype: The Lucky Scoundrel
A young and idealistic ruler, Carnelia takes to the politics of Glantri with enthusiasm. Her strong convictions and brash entourage have made her powerful enemies, but Carnelia and hers are untouchable.Principalities of Glantri wrote:[Belcadiz] elves are masters at using rapiers [...] Her favorite tactic is to frame nobles belonging to that House in order to weaken her foe at Parliament.Carnelia's use of steamtech is subtle and understated. Her constant companion is a small machine that conceals easily under her long hair, a battery called the possibility engine. The possibility engine produces an energy that collects possibilities from parallel worlds, and allows its wielder to bring one or more of those possibilities into this world. This ability allows Carnelia to stack impossible odds in her favor, but its power is limited. The possibility engine affects only a small area around Carnelia, and running the engine is a serious Radiance drain that Carnelia must be ever mindful of.
The possibility engine is based on a character in China Mieville's novel Perdido Street Station. In the story, Uther Doul wields a weapon called the possible sword, a weapon from a lost golden age powered by a battery of possibility energy. Doul can attack with the sword dozens of times with a single swing. At the end of the story, it's suggested that Uther Doul's powers over possibility extend beyond the weapon itself, and that several unlikely events in the story can be attributed to his presence. The possible sword and a bunch of other stuff from the world of Bas-Lag appeared in Dragon 352.
We got a late start this week and an early end. It was mostly taken up by the battle with Glantri rocketeers aboard the Princess Ark. The PCs were forced to split up to deal with the Glantri forces. It was a different sort of combat, where the goal was to stop Glantri from getting into the lower decks for 5 rounds. Each of the PCs held their own against a Glantri agent and several minions, and whenever a PC did too well, Drachenfels would drop a clockwork bomb (an autonomous alchemical item from Eberron Player's Guide) to throw a wrench into everything.
The PCs did amazingly well. Zero Glantri agents made it to the lower decks at the end of the five rounds, although most everybody was bloodied. This meant that they went into the skill challenge to keep the Princess Ark from hitting the plateau with zero failures counted against them. Unfortunately, once they started rolling skills they did really badly! They only made it to 4 successes, which was halfway between disaster and success. This meant that Talasar and Ashari were both hurt in the crash, and one PC's love interest was snatched up by a thunderbird.
The Princess Ark is now grounded, and as the PCs put out the fires they became aware of something watching them. Next time, we're going to get into the Elk Clan, and the PCs will have reason to travel to the spirit world for their surreal vision quest.
I've had to come up with a lot of new ideas for the Elk Clan and environs, since there just isn't much about them out there. I'll see if I can type up some of that over the weekend. Any cool ideas you folks can give me for the Elk Clan would really be welcome!
The Atruaghin Clans have been a lot of fun! The PCs left in search of the natives, both to help repair the Princess Ark and to find out where the thunderbirds may have taken the love interest. When the PCs discovered an Elk Clan village, they were told that the shamani can help one to find the thunderbirds. Unfortunately, all the shamani had gone on their sacred pilgrimage to Spindlehorn (an idea lifted from Paizo's A History Of Ashes adventure). The PCs were told of an exile who practices the shamani art in secret, and they left to find her.
The exile, Wenonah Tame Snake, is loosely based on the Lakota myth of the White Buffalo Woman. She told the PCs about the spirit world, and how to reach it. In order to pacify the spirits, the PCs would need to enter the spirit world in the forms of their spirit animals. One PC had an idea for her spirit animal, but for the rest I prescribed some animals that I thought fit the PC's personality and were a little unusual. They smoked some kinnikinnik, visualized their spirit animals and we were off to the spirit world.
For the spirit world, I borrowed heavily from Native American mythology, the 4E book Primal Power (pages 116-129, where it discusses spirits, the Dawn War and describes some named spirits), and the Creature Crucible book Tall Tales of the Wee Folk. We had a lot of fun with the PCs playing out their animal forms, and they met with the hsiao, who you may recall is one of the three proponents of the three factions from WotI: The Ring of Fire, the Fellowship of the Star and the Brotherhood of Shadow. Through the hsiao they learned of the key players in the Ring of Fire (Ixion/Pelor, Valerias/Sehanine, Ilsundal/Corellon, Alphatia/Erathis), and the promises those gods have made to the spirits in order to gather support. So far, the Ring of Fire sounds pretty good to the PCs, but they have yet to hear the other sides.
In logic typical of Native American myth, the hsiao suggested that since thunderbirds are part storm and water comes from storms, they should follow the water to find the thunderbirds. They went to find Always Falling, the spirit of rivers, who knows where the water goes. But Always Falling was being bullied by water archons, and the PCs needed to resume their mortal forms to fight those evil spirits. Unfortunately they had no idea how. So, enter Coyote, the shapechanger.
Coyote/Korotiku has just taken over the role of spirit guide, and he's been a blast to play. I have a lot of funny ideas for portraying Coyote next week, when they resume traveling together. I expect to portray Raven as more of a sarcastic, sassy trickster who you can't really feel sorry for whereas Coyote is more of a self-absorbed, childlike trickster who is nonetheless charming. Raven should appear in two weeks, just before the end of our Atruaghin Clans vignette.
I was thinking about inserting a dream when the PCs take their next extended rest, in order to foreshadow Atruaghin's Mystic Conveyor and impress on the PCs that they'll need to use it. In the dream, the PC who's searching for his love interest is flying through the night sky. It's fun at first, up until he realizes he's been carried by a thunderbird. The thunderbird takes him over a great yawning face of gold, the face of the Mystic Conveyor, and drops him in. He falls into the dark abyss, toward a distant speck of light. As the light grows, it becomes the love interest, reaching out from a sea of dark vipers. Just before he can take her hand, the PC awakens.
I may have Wenonah Tame Snake return as the PCs reach the Mystic Conveyor, just before they're attacked by Tiger Clan weretigers and warriors. In this idea, Wenonah will be pelted with arrows and the PCs will have the opportunity to save her, but they would need to take her with them in the Mystic Conveyor. This would mean an Elk Clan shaman (albeit an outcast) would be exposed to the Hollow World and some of Atruaghin's secrets. I may be mistaken, but I don't believe there's any precedent for that. It could have consequences for the future of the Atruaghin Clans, or it could not, if Wenonah takes a liking to the PCs and relocates somewhere closer to their home. In either case it would give me a reason to use the Atruaghin Clans again in the future, which I'd really like to do. What do you folks think? What would happen if word spread through the Clans about Atruaghin's conveyor to the Hollow World? About the Azcans?
We wrapped up the Atruaghin Clans vignette with the journey through the Mystic Conveyor into Hollow World. The Mystic Conveyor burst into an Azcan temple, interrupting a ritual sacrifice in front of about 50 Azcan minions. We had a pretty complex encounter going on that combined combat with a skill challenge. The PCs managed to escape into the jungle with all 3 of the Neathar captives, Wenonah Tame Snake, and the ranger PC's love interest. Now I need to get started on the Hollow World adventure in earnest!
Currently my idea is to ally the PCs with the Neathar, and get them to help capture some dinosaurs. The Neathar can then herd the dinosaurs into the Azcan city. I'm not sure why yet. I would also like to feature Nithia, but I'm not sure yet how to connect all these ideas. One possibility is that the Neathar have seen the cultists of Nithia doing test flights of the sun chariot John Biles proposed (Thanks John!), and the dinosaur attack is for a distraction so that the PCs can get through Azcan lands. But, the Azcans and Nithians are on completely different sides of the continent, that doesn't really make sense.
On the plate later: the Savage Coast, the Isle of Dread with some Lovecraftian flavor inspired by another thread, Ierendi, Sind, Heldannic knights on the moon, an endgame in Glantri that wraps up Wrath of the Immortals, and if we aren't at level 30 by then, a story arc with winter fey and one of the 4E primordials.
I like the mutated dinosaur eggs a lot. But I think it's too soon for another vision quest, so I may use that idea a different way. I also just remembered that Coyote mentioned to the PCs that the thunderbirds were taking prisoners because they were enslaved, and the PCs should free them. It was an idea I made up on the spot without any plans, but I think I can use it now.
Currently my idea is that the PCs are enlisted by the Neathar to push back encroaching Azcan with a dinosaur stampede, like you said. While wrangling dinosaurs, they recover some eggs, but when the eggs hatch they're corrupted Atzanteotl spawn that bite and then die. The Neathar can tell the PCs about Atzanteotl, god of the Azcans, and build on some of the hints I've been putting in (the PC's dream, snakeskin-clad savage drow in Rafielton, Azcan being all snaky). The Neathar know that a certain priest of Atzanteotl has a macguffin, say an emerald skull or something, that corrupts all things feathered and serpentine. Something like that. During the stampede, the PCs will have the opportunity to reach the priest and destroy the macguffin to free the thunderbirds.
From there, the thunderbirds don't have the ability to take the PCs out of Hollow World, but they know that the Nithians have been working on this sun chariot. Then I can both segue to Nithia and transport the PCs there via thunderbird, and it actually makes sense. I think!
This week the PCs navigated the jungle and led the Neathar home. I decided that one of the Neathar would be Zorena, the haughty princess from the Hollow World box. I don't plan to use the adventure Zorena is from, but I think she's kind of an interesting character, and should be entertaining during the dinosaur wrangling. I also find the idea of a stone age princess pretty funny.
One problem I encountered in 4E is that there are hardly any dinosaurs, and none of them are listed under "dinosaur". They're all bonehead pounders or spikenose chargers or something like that. This is the first time in the history of D&D that I haven't been bogged down in superfluous dinosaur stats, ironically just when I need a bunch of them. By amazing luck, the Monster Manual 3 book that was just published this week has more dinosaurs, but apparently they're all herbivores. What the heck? I guess I'm going to need to come up with stats for a tyrannosaurus, at the least.
One of the PCs decided to teach the Neathar some new things, so already they're going to encounter the Spell of Preservation. I think how it'll work is that the Neathar will wake up tomorrow and forget everything anachronistic that the PC taught them. This will be similar to something that happened to the PCs before, when a Nentir Vale NPC vanished from the memories of other people in the Nentir Vale, seemingly by divine intervention. And that made me stumble onto another idea:
What if the Nentir Vale is due to become the next inhabitant of Hollow World?
The Nentir Vale is in big trouble right now. It's a small, poorly defended area that could be obliterated by the shadow elves or the Glantri. If the Nentir Vale is attacked, the distinct culture that it's developed in isolation from the Known World will disappear. I can see Ka/Bahamut, Ixion/Pelor and the other Hollow World Immortals making preparations to relocate the Nentir Vale. They know its days are numbered. Ultimately, it's the actions of the PCs that will decide if Nentir Vale continues to exist in the Known World or disappears down the rabbit hole of obscurity.
I think this is a cool idea, what do you guys think?
I haven't posted in a while, huh? Did anybody else see the nagpa in MM3? That pretty much made my day!
It's been a few weeks. Two weeks ago, Zorena, Jewel of the Neathar, challenged the PCs to capture dinosaurs for the Neathar attack against the Azcan. Zorena has been gauging the merits of the PCs as mates, in her own cave-woman way, and the womanizer bard PC rose to the challenge. The other PCs could not turn down wrangling dinosaurs.
I used a couple of dinosaurs from John's compendium (thanks John!), the tri-horn behemoth from MM3 and the fang titan drake from MM2. The dinosaurs were a little over the PCs' power level, but they only had to get the dinosaurs to bloodied and intimidate them into surrender. Halfway through the fight the fang titan drake showed up to feed on the herbivores the PCs had subdued. What a jerk! This was a pretty tough battle, and two of the PCs lost consciousness at one point. Everyone seemed to enjoy it a lot.
Last week, the PCs took those dinosaurs to the Azcan city and fed them a psychedelic plant the Neathar call crazyweed. While they were admiring their work, the PCs saw the Azcan high priest calling for the thunderbirds with his emerald skull. They rushed to confront him!
If I didn't explain the emerald skull, it was a gift from Atzanteotl that corrupts all things feathered and scaled. The high priest has been using it to corrupt the feathered serpents and dinosaurs of the area to the side of entropy, and now he's trying to corrupt the thunderbirds as well. The thunderbirds have resisted entropy thus far, but they can't deny the high priest's commands.
We had a pretty fun skill challenge where the PCs had to navigate the panic-stricken Azcan city and track down the high priest. At the end, the PCs confronted the high priest. He was a solo monster with a bunch of snake- and prism-themed powers, using the errata for solo monsters that was released last week from WotC. With that errata, he was a really tough customer, but the PCs emerged victorious.
Once the PCs loot the vault of the Azcan high temple, they're going to need to win over the thunderbirds. There have been some long faces about teleportation not working in Hollow World, so I'm going to cut this vignette short and skip Nithia. A couple of players were disappointed, but the truth is I didn't have really strong ideas for Nithia, we were just going to explore the culture of a Nithian city a little bit and then have a pyramid dungeon crawl in search of pyramid power. At this point I'd rather dedicate the time to the Isle of Dread and Savage Coast, where the PCs will be able to utilize all their powers.
Next week: a surprise I've been squirming to unveil!
The PCs came up from the mud brick treasure vault of the high priest's ziggurat to find the thunderbirds raining destruction down on the Azcan city. Once they destroyed the emerald skull on the altar, one of the thunderbirds came to see what their intentions were. A very good Diplomacy roll of 35 meant that not only were the thunderbirds willing to take the PCs back home, they were willing to defer to the PCs on the fate of the Azcan city.
The PCs went back and forth about this for a while. Several folks changed their votes. Should the Azcan be spared? Is it possible for a civilization in Hollow World to turn over a new leaf, will any of this make a difference? Is it in fact possible to wipe out a civilization under the protection of the Hollow World Immortals? The PCs don't know yet that Atzanteotl is a corrupting influence, and the current state of the Azcan is an artificial one. But ultimately they decided to spare the Azcan.
One thing is clear, they've made a terrible enemy of Atzanteotl.
The thunderbirds flew the PCs back to the Neathar village to pick up a friend, and the Neathar threw them a rockin' cave-man party with improvised drums and dancing around blazing fires, it was a lot of fun. Later on Zorena brought together gifts from the village, flint weapons and tools, stitched hides, food, and that sort of thing. The sorceress PC claimed a wolf pup. It was great to have PCs interested in rewards that aren't magical or even worth anything, I think they really responded to the Neathar. Even though the chief Zorok proposed a feast for seven days, eventually the PCs had to leave. They said goodbye and rejoined the thunderbirds for the flight home.
While they were flying, one of the NPCs started freaking out and pointing, and urged the thunderbirds to land. When they did, the PCs found themselves in familiar territory. They were walking a path to one of the villages of the Nentir Vale, with the red sun of the Hollow World still overhead. The village was desolate and newly made, and the PCs knew what was happening. The Immortals have set aside a habitat for the next inhabitants of the Hollow World.
I have some exciting plans for the upcoming weeks. The PCs are going to emerge from Hollow World way up north, and touch down for a night within walking distance of the temple where the Hallonica heiress' vampire ancestor is running her false worship of Balthac. This ties things neatly back into the WotI plot and provides the PCs with a source of information on what the Radiance is and who controls it. But after they confront the vampire, Lillian, the PCs will be faced with a tough choice. If they let her live, they'll have a vampire preying on people up north. If they kill her, the Raven Queen will know everything that Lillian knew about the Radiance, and it may drastically change the Immortals' game.
After that, the PCs are going to infiltrate Glantri as spies and directly confront some of the Glantri rogues' gallery, to put a stop to the damaging Radiance drain that's been going on. It should be a blast!
Unfortunately the encounter with the vampire Lillian from WotI was wildly unpopular. What I wanted was a surreal, horror noire dialog with the Hallonica heiress PC's vampire ancestor, which could have possibly led to someone being seduced and developing vampiric qualities. I was also prepared for the PCs to simply attack, or for them to sympathize with Lillian and try to help. What happened instead was a total disaster.
The PCs did not like Lillian very much, particularly since they knew she was a vampire, but they did not seem to have the initiative to kill her. So after a bit of dialog, I brought in some shadar-kai agents of the Raven Queen to assassinate Lillian. Things went downhill very quickly as the paladin PC decided I was forcing him to kill innocent men to protect a vampire. So it became a race for the shadar-kai to just kill Lillian before the PCs did something they would blame me for, and that turned out to be a bad idea as well: it seemed as though the PCs' actions couldn't affect the outcome. Geez! It was the best I could do to end the encounter as soon and as amiably as possible and move on.
The PCs got enough information out of Lillian before the end to at least lend a point to the encounter. Another mistake was made when I uttered the line "Etienne d'Ambreville is Rad," because out of the peanut gallery comes "I always thought he was tubular myself." I knew I should have changed his name from Rad! Oh well, it was kind of funny, and I think the story can recover from it.
Between the Darokin plague, Glantri assassins in Nentir Vale, Drachenfels' rocketeer attack squad bringing down the Princess Ark, and now Etienne d'Ambreville apparently trying to drain the world's magic, the PCs are not big fans of Glantri. They are anxious to kick some Glantrian butt. But first we swung by the Nentir Vale to make sure it was still there after the copy they saw in Hollow World. Thankfully, it is still there and doing alright. The PCs received a welcome home and relaxed if only for a little while, and caught up with some friends they haven't seen for a while.
The womanizer bard PC has a shadow elf/drow girlfriend to whom he is entirely unfaithful, but keeps returning to. This NPC showed up to coyly warn the bard that if things continue as they are, Aengmar will be invading the Nentir Vale. But the bard shouldn't worry, she said, because he's now a drow in Rafiel/Lolth's eyes. The bard was puzzled, until the NPC reminded him of their last encounter when they did some wicked drugs and had some kind of trippy, befuddled experience. All of the little clues I've been giving seemed to come together then: the bard has been indoctrinated into the faith of Rafiel/Lolth, and the Demon Queen of Spiders has laid claim to him.
Although she wasn't exactly thrilled with his reaction, the NPC gifted the bard with his own soul crystal (from shadow elf canon). This item will be important later when the other PCs find themselves sicked from the Radiance in Glantri, and with a bit of cleverness they'll put together that the crystals protect the wearer from the effects of the Nucleus radiation.
Obviously I've strayed from canon here in that the crystals do not dissolve in sunlight. But since this change has been made to every other piece of drow equipment since 2E, I feel like it's a safe tweak to make.
Up next, the PCs will enter the principality of Belcadiz for a daring heist. Can the bard charm Princess Carnelia to pilfer her steam-powered possibility engine and stop the rapid Radiance drain Rheddrian has detected? Can the other PCs handle Carnelia's jealous court, unravel the mysteries of Glantri, and pick up the trail of Etienne d'Ambreville? Can I find a reasonable way to stop them from charging straight into Glantri City and ending the adventure way too early? Time will tell!
The idea of a potential alliance is a good one, but I've arranged it to come from Belcadiz as part of the heist storyline. The underlying problem is that the PCs will not trust Glantri. So this way, they can experience negotiation for an alliance and not feel gullible, because they're not the ones being played.
But we're going to have to wait about a month on the Belcadiz storyline, because one of the players we need for that one is going on his honeymoon! So for the next few weeks, we're going to tackle the ruin of Caurenze, Innocenti, and his ray gun. After that we will do Belcadiz, and at the conclusion, I had another idea for how to distract the PCs for a while.
Basically, at the end of the Belcadiz storyline, the Brotherhood of Shadow finally learns the secret of Rad and the Radiance. They use this information to really start a riot. The quarrel between the Immortals kicks into high gear, and Etienne launches the Glantri superweapon early. The Princess Ark receives word that Alphatia is in a desperate situation, and Haldemar and the others recruit the PCs to help. Once they get there, it becomes clear that it's a suicide mission. I will need some cues to let the PCs know that magic is failing, perhaps the Princess Ark falters in the air, spells flicker from time to time, magically healed wounds reopen. Haldemar and the senior crew of the Princess Ark will disembark and order the PCs to take the ship out over the ocean, where it could survive a crash (or if the PCs refuse to leave, the whole continent will start to sink and they'll have to return to the ship). This is the last anyone will see of Captain Haldemar and the brave senior crew of the Princess Ark- the ship is now under the PCs' command.
As a result of the superweapon, magic is temporarily drained from the entire world. The ship will be adrift, and naturally, it ends up at the Isle of Dread.
To simulate the time without magic, I want to start PCs off with class abilities and at-will powers only. A little later, as magic starts to return, they'll get their encounter powers, then daily powers, and finally paragon powers. During this time I'll figure out a reason for them to check out the Isle of Dread.
What do you guys think of this plan?
The PCs have enlisted the aid of a master seamstress to tailor Glantri garb for disguises. Part of the reason I like 4E is that you don't just look up the specific spell for what you want and bam, you're done. It's true that there are magics for disguising yourself and allies, but they aren't automatically accessible and they aren't perfect. When you can't just magic every problem away, I feel like it leads to more interesting interactions. But, others may disagree.
The Princess Ark is going to take the PCs close to Glantri, to the pioneer town of Rennydale in Darokin. From there they will travel with a trade caravan into Erewan and be on their own as they sneak into the waste to the west.
Besides being in the way geographically, Erewan is a good place to introduce the PCs to Glantri. The leaders of Erewan are pretty benign, independent from Glantri politics, and sympathetic to the world outside their borders. The trade from Darokin should be welcome, since Erewan is on hard times and their strongest allies in Canolbarth have been wiped out. I don't think Erewan would be too suspicious of a bunch of caravaneers. But they're not going to spend too much time in Erewan, just enough to establish a bit of Glantri.
Even before the steampunk, Glantri is often represented as misty. Kingdom of Magic says "Fog commonly cloaks the mountains and hills, obscuring entire principalities for days at a time". If you add to this the clouds of steampunk industry, much of Glantri is probably well smogged, especially around the edges of major settlements.
The Red River is a great feature. The books describe it as being red with mud, but I imagine it's also pretty polluted. Efforts in Erewan to grow forests on the Red River could be focused on cleansing the water. As the PCs get farther into Glantri, they'll see a stark contrast between Erewan's care for the environment and the other principalities.
Communication through the mists of Glantri is done through towers that relay patterns of light in a sort of Morse code. This idea comes partly from Terry Pratchett's book Going Postal, which just recently had a television movie on Sky One with really great visuals for the Clacks (as they're called).
Radio waves might not be beyond the level of technology in steampunk Glantri. But they're crude, filled with interference and strange noises caused by the Radiance, like ghosts on the line. If I decide to use radio devices, it could have a very Silent Hill feel, which I think is appropriate.
I also plan to use a lot of howling wolves and rats scurrying from every crevice as atmosphere. As soon as the PCs leave Erewan they will also start to suffer Radiance sickness. This sickness is discussed more in Shadow Elves than Glantri, but I think it should definitely be in Glantri as well. The natives of Glantri are immune, but visitors will begin to get sick. After an extended rest, everyone who isn't protected loses 1 healing surge and can't regain healing surges until they leave the Radiance. This effectively limits trips into Glantri to a week at best, and only a couple of days if there's intense combat. Currently the bard is the only one protected, via the soul crystal gifted by his shadow elf/drow girlfriend. Between the fog and inability to heal, my players might draw some comparisons between Glantri and Eberron's Mournlands, but why not?
In places the PCs will see the lights of Glantri skyships prowling the skies, scouring the ground with searchlights. I can see these ships being sent to search the Great Crater for survivors, and the PCs may have a couple of close brushes with them, before they get to witness the power of Innocenti di Malapietra's death ray when he neatly disintegrates one.
I couldn't find an example of a Glantri skyship in my Champions of Mystara box (I may have lost a card or two), but I think the best fit for steampunk Glantri would be a zeppelin. It's steam-powered, it's German, it's distinctive!
More to come in the weeks ahead on steampunk Glantri, and ideas are as always much appreciated!
I think it would work well, yes. The semaphore system is done with light, high above the ground. The patterns of light are what's used to communicate. I think it would penetrate the fog much like a lighthouse or headlight in fog.
I'll have to think about using a disease track. The problem there is that the PCs have the Cup and Talisman of Al'akbar to cure disease. Also, if a successful Endurance roll allows them to not suffer from Radiance sickness, they will probably not figure out that the crystal is a protection at all. They may just assume the bard rolled well enough.
What I might do is have the first encounter with Radiance sickness be an automatic loss of healing surges. Then later, when they return to Glantri a second time, I'll use the disease track and let folks roll to resist it. Maybe their bodies have adapted to resist the sickness like Glantri natives.
The radio waves thing is a little out there, isn't it? I probably won't use that. But one thing that always fascinated me is kinetic sculpture, especially ones that make sound. Here's an example of what I mean: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KWwGAXRXDuY
I think it would be cool/terrifying if Malapietra has a setup like that in his tower, maybe in some paranoid attempt to understand the ambient energies of the Radiance. It is less spooky of a concept in the D&D world, but it might lend some atmosphere.
I was thinking about monsters as well. Originally I was thinking humanoids from the tunnel to the Broken Lands, but there are also monsters summoned by Alphatia running around at this time, so I have an excuse to use demons too. And some of the Beagle's guardians may have awoken from the meteor strike. I had a look around Havard's Blackmoor site and some of the monsters might be cool to use in an encounter. In about a month's time we go from fighting dinosaurs to fighting robots! Since the Isle of Dread is coming up, can pirates be far behind?
I'd like to design 2, maybe 3 encounters with a small assortment of monsters. I would also like to use the vampiric rose in one. Vampires and werewolves are obviously iconic Glantri monsters, but I kind of doubt they would be wandering the lifeless ruins of Caurenze. What else?
I'm perfectly okay with the signal being vulnerable to eavesdropping, since it's mostly there to provide atmosphere. And maybe later the PCs can do a skill challenge to crack the code and intercept or alter Glantri messages.
That's a good point about missing healing surges adding an extra challenge to combat! I'll keep an eye on it.
Unfortunately I can't use anything from WoW. Two of my players are, uh, eager about WoW and it's a good day when we can get through a session without references to it. Personally, I hate WoW, my sister and several friends are addicted to it, I don't want to encourage that. But poison elementals or corrupted oozes, I'm sure I could safely use those. And this is a good place for them!
One thing that struck me as we were doing Glantri last week is how much of it is just me describing things to the players. I think our dynamic is a little out of whack with one of our regular players away for the month on vacation. But I also need to introduce some elements for them to interact with. I'm throwing in one of the Alphatian summoners for an encounter, for some possible dialog. I was considering a vampire to talk to, but then I remembered, our last noncombat encounter with a vampire was a complete train wreck.
I had another idea this afternoon, of a young man from further north whose true love had gone to Blackhill for work. After the meteor, he cashed in his chips and came to find her. But how has he survived? Maybe he's been captured by humanoids, and I could wrangle the PCs into fighting some gnolls or orcs in order to save him.
Clockwork horrors are now a must. I love the ability they have to duplicate themselves in combat.
I remember that character from Hellboy (I never read the comic book), and I think he would fit really well as an enforcer for Prince Morphail. Perhaps as the PCs get closer to that point, or if they make Morphail mad.
These last weeks the PCs entered Glantri through Erewan. They didn't spend much time there, but had some dialog with the elves about their situation and how they might be leaving Glantri. Overall for elves I'm trying to pull together the "leaving Middle Earth" theme, between Erewan, the elves of Alfheim, and Nentir Vale's Woodsingers all being scattered or pulling up roots from the Known World. The elves I'm going to break that tradition for are the Belcadiz.
The PCs crossed ruined Blackhill and Caurenze, and had a couple of encounters before the castle of Innocenti di Malapietra and his death ray (really a starship weapon salvaged from the Beagle). When they found him, Innocenti was disintegrating Glantri zeppelin search parties, rambling about how they were all out to get him and generally being nutty. One of the PCs asked to lose an arm as character development, and the death ray was a good opportunity to do that without feeling arbitrary. Innocenti threatened the PCs' home with the death ray, and the PCs were disabling it when it backfired, shearing off the unlucky PC's arm.
With a badly wounded comrade, no healing surges left, and little hope of rescue, the PCs wandered the fog of Glantri until they came to the clear, green fields of Belcadiz. I decided to introduce them to Belcadiz through Yolanda and Fernando de Casanegra at the Tower of Satolas. This either places Satolas on the west side of Belcadiz, or it means they wandered all the way through Belcadiz without realizing it, so it's not technically accurate.
I made Yolanda and and Fernando elves in their autumn years (elves don't live as long in 4E), and the land around the tower a villa and vineyard. Yolanda and Fernando were essentially a nice old couple that took the PCs in, tended to their wounds and gave them food and drink and a place to stay. But there is more to these characters according to canon.
Fernando is one of the few remaining members of the Brotherhood of the Radiance, and I decided that he was the one who built Princess Carnelia's possibility machine. If you didn't know, each of the Glantri princes has a key piece of steampunk technology, and Carnelia's is a machine that influences probability. The PCs overheard part of a conversation Fernando was having with the Brotherhood through his crystal sphere, and they know that Carnelia has a Radiance-draining device and she's using it irresponsibly.
Yolanda is also a witch, the closest thing Glantri has to spirituality. Since the two of them live privately, in wealth, able to pursue their own interests, I decided to tie Yolanda and Fernando to the Ten Thousand Fists of Khan, the Ethengarian priest-smuggling network. Their location right near the border makes this perfect. But how to get the PCs to reveal their divine patronage to Yolanda and Fernando? I decided to try to get them to use the Cup and Talisman of Al'Akbar. The maimed PC came down with a disease called red fever. But the paladin waited until Yolanda and Fernando were not around to administer the cure. Dang! But red fever is highly contagious, so the next day, Yolanda took ill.
So the paladin charitably drew another tincture of the Cup's disease-healing power, and we ended with the golden light of Pelor/Ixion filling the room and Fernando dropping a bottle of Satolas' finest.
I came up with a bunch of ideas for Belcadiz that I look forward to using. In order to capture the swashbuckling style, I want to use a subsystem called Panache that rewards PCs with reputation when they perform ever more extravagant feats of derring-do in front of witnesses. The larger the crowd, the better. Belcadiz obviously borrows from the Zorro mythos, even down to the masked vigilante Manuel of the Plains. The PCs have already heard stories of Manuel, and picked up on both the Zorro influence and the underlying pun (Manual of the Planes ). I definitely want to use Manuel- the masked vigilante who stands up for the peasants and humiliates corrupt officials is something that fits so well into D&D, I'm surprised we haven't seen it before.
While describing Manuel's adventures and his astonishing skill and luck, it made me think, what if Diego is using Carnelia's possibility machine when he dresses up as Manuel? He begs Carnelia for the machine for a while, and not wanting to lose another brother in a duel, she gives it to him. He hides it under a cape, and goes out to right a wrong with a luck that can't be believed- everything falls into place, there are no accidents, nobody is seriously hurt. Then he returns it to Carnelia and becomes Diego again.
I have a lot of stuff in mind for Belcadiz, I'll post more later.
Belcadiz has been a lot of fun. When I planned on using Belcadiz, I had no idea how much fanon material was out there for it. Early on I used Jennifer Guerra's awesome writeup for Princess Carnelia over at Pandius, and without realizing it that vision of Carnelia became so ingrained that I was later flipping through my books, trying to find something that was in fact out of Jennifer's ideas. Here's the page if you want to give it a read: http://pandius.com/princesa.html
The PCs are now visiting the palace and becoming overwhelmed with the politics of the Belcadiz family. All the different characters have been great to develop, especially Princess Carnelia, Dona Blanca, Don Diego, and Constable Carlo.
I've strayed from canon a bit more, and I'm sorry, I just can't help myself. Seeing the similar culture of the baronies of Torreon and Narvaez in the Savage Coast, I linked them both together with Belcadiz. In my version, Torreon and Narvaez were colonies of Belcadiz, and a lot of manpower was invested in the two distant colonies in the form of workers and mercenaries. In return, a lot of coin was shipped home, which helps to explain how Belcadiz grew so rich and decadent while having a weak military and little power at council.
At the time that Princess Carnelia became ruler of Belcadiz, Torreon and Narvaez seceded, and now Belcadiz would like the military might to retake its colonies. Glantri: Kingdom of Magic also says that Princess Carnelia's mother Leontina "retired to a convent" after her husband died. I thought this was pretty odd for a place that doesn't worship gods. At first I went under the assumption that the authors meant more of a nonreligious commune, but then Torreon is zealous in the service of Ixion. So events as I see them are that Leontina became religious after the death of her husband, Princess Carnelia came into power, and Leontina entered voluntary exile to Torreon just before the barony seceded from Belcadiz. This paints Princess Carnelia as very against religion, with rumor persisting that she cast out her own mother for worshipping Ixion. I think this provides some great tension, a later introduction for the PCs into the Red Steel setting, and something particularly interesting to our paladin of Ixion/Pelor.
Here are the major NPCs right now and how I'm using them.
Princess Carnelia: Jennifer Guerra's writeup for Carnelia was a great starting point. Carnelia also has the steam-powered possibility device, which she's been using to affect possibilities and stack impossible odds in her favor. But she's become addicted to it, and even uses it to enhance her public speaking, and when she's not using it she hesitates often for fear of doing or saying the wrong thing. Carnelia believes that her status as a beloved leader is mostly due to the effects of the possibility device and doing things perfectly. To preserve her illusion of perfection she guards herself from all but her most trusted confidants, and as a result leads a lonesome life. The entire Belcadiz storyline is actually the womanizer bard's epic quest to become a Thief of Legend by stealing the possibility engine in true Zorro fashion.
Lady Blanca: Blanca has been learning the ways of seduction from Lady Carmina and has set her sights on the party paladin as a good target for beguilement and manipulation. It remains to be seen whether the paladin will become Blanca's first lovestruck lackey or if Blanca will return the PC's affections. Blanca has invited the paladin to her room for tea, and there she will display some of her wokani training to give the paladin a tea reading. In the course of the tea reading Blanca will divine that the paladin is in fact a servant in the service of Pelor/Ixion. She may be sympathetic or try to blackmail the paladin depending on how things go. I haven't decided yet whether to scrap Blanca's canonical husband, Alejandro. I like the image of the bored scholar walking in on the two of them together, and saying in deadpan Ben Stein monotone "Wife, you drive me to madness." Buuut the whole paladin righteousness thing may make this more trouble than it's worth.
Constable Carlo: The authority within the town of New Alvar, a corrupt official, and the eternal enemy of the masked vigilante Manuel. Carlo employs the equally corrupt town guard, a retinue of bullies who kowtow to the rich elite and mostly ignore the plight of the poor masses. Carlo is directed by Lady Mayor Isobel, a non-canonical figurehead in New Alvar. After placing Lady Mayor Isobel I noticed just how many Isobels there are bounding around- Baronesa Isabel in Torreon, Dona Isabella de Montebello, and Ysabel de Fedorias, Carnelia's niece. At first I thought this was going to be a problem, but I'm thinking the confusion whenever someone brings up an Isobel would make a good running gag.
Diego: Diego is Carnelia's suave brother, a clever man who might have become prince of Belcadiz if not for his insatiable appetite for righting wrongs. Diego is Carnelia's closest confidant, next to her aunt Yolanda and uncle Fernando at Satolas. All three of them know the secret of the possibility machine- Fernando built the device, and Diego often borrows it to Carnelia's chagrin in order to dress up as the masked vigilante Manuel. Since their arrival the PCs have been adventuring in the shadow of Manuel, a folk hero regarded highly by the poor, and it should be interesting to see if the PCs figure out his secret identity.
For the dinner the PCs have been invited to, I'm placing four important visitors from other principalities.
Lady Natacha Datchenka: Morphail has been offering military aid to Belcadiz for a while now but the necromancer has been continually rejected. In the interest of moving in on Belcadiz and turning its royal family into obedient vampires, Morphail has sent Natacha to plead his case with a secret agenda of humiliating the Belcadiz military. The graceless pugilist is there to intimidate the standing army, start fights with officers, and leave Carnelia questioning whether she can defy Morphail. However, during a recent bully Natacha incurred the wrath of Manuel and suffered a scathing defeat. Now Natacha is itching for a fight she can win, fearful of what Morphail may do to her if she fails, and may act rashly.
Master Jakar Daron: Representative of the Corporation of Alchemists, Jakar has paid a visit in order to buy some of Belcadiz' fertile soil. The Corporation hopes to expand its cultivation of alchemical plants, especially poisonous ones. The Corporation has also been dealing with the drow/shadow elves of Aengmor very closely, which will be particularly interesting to the PCs since their neighborhood is always fearful of Aengmor invasion.
Agostino di Malapietra: The last remaining Malapietra thanks to the PCs, who slew Innocenti recently. Agostino stays in the palace while the Glantri council decides what to do with the blasted ruin of Caurenze, and whether the Malapietra will have a nobility to return to. Agostino has plied Carnelia for support with promises of supporting her with council votes in the future, something Carnelia is ravenous for. Agostino is a double-crossing scoundrel, of course, but complicating things is the fact that Agostino finds himself falling for the poisonous charms of the Belcadiz viper, Lady Carmina. The two of them together, a bloodthirsty manipulator with a ruthless, paranoid man, would be terrible.
Princess Carlotina Erewan: Carlotina comes from Belcadiz' hated neighbors to the south, Erewan. Desperate times have forced Carlotina to set aside past differences and plead with Belcadiz for aid. Surely, if the humanoid hordes are not stopped in Erewan, Belcadiz is next. However, Princess Carnelia is confident that Belcadiz will soon receive aid and refuses to help Erewan. Carlotina attends the dinner emotionless and detached, already resolved to leave Glantri with her people and follow the migration of the elves of Alfheim. The PCs may be sympathetic to Carlotina and try to help Erewan, but it's going to be very tricky to become allies with Belcadiz if they do.
This week the PCs sat down to a formal dinner in the palace with the Belcadiz royal family and their visitors from abroad. Everybody has been warming up to Belcadiz and my players seem to genuinely want to ally with Princess Carnelia rather than just getting close enough to steal the steamtech device. The way I see it this could go one of three ways:
Obviously the third option is going to be the most attractive, so I'm not going to hint that it exists. I think something like that should come down to player ingenuity.
- The PCs harden their hearts, steal the device and hightail it out of Belcadiz, never looking back.
- The PCs change their minds about stealing the device, maybe having second thoughts about trusting Rheddrian, and let Princess Carnelia continue to drain Radiance with it.
- The PCs sabotage the device or successfully convince Princess Carnelia not to use it, thereby both getting rid of it and remaining friends with Belcadiz.
The paladin of Pelor/Ixion and Lady Blanca have had a fling, but not before Lady Blanca divined the paladin's pious nature through a wokani tea reading. This could have gone several ways, but the paladin remained truthful and resolute in the face of discovery and I decided Lady Blanca would be sympathetic. This means the PCs have two allies in Glantri who know of their religious duplicity: Song-Ahn of the Ten Thousand Fists of Khan, and Lady Blanca. But while Song-Ahn is clever and experienced in deception, Lady Blanca is pretty new to the business. She may be more harm than help.
I decided to excise Alejandro as Lady Blanca's husband, since the relationship is probably going to be complicated enough as it is. Maybe Alejandro is arranged to marry Lady Blanca but they're not yet wed.
The womanizer bard has been wooing and serenading Princess Carnelia, ostensibly in order to get close enough to learn about the device, but also because this is generally what he does. Things will get complicated next week when Jaggar von Drachenfels pays a visit to the palace to discuss an alliance with Princess Carnelia that's very important to Belcadiz. Drachenfels is already an enemy of the PCs, having fought them on board the Princess Ark. But Drachenfels is a calculating man, and I think he would play it cool upon discovering the PCs. It's also great to have an impasse situation to develop a villain- too many of the WotC adventures are written with the villain locked safely away in a final room until the very end, and then there's no investment at all when the PCs do stove his head in.
In the interest of providing some action when one PC decided to wander the palace, I threw together a scene where Morphail's vampire envoy Natacha is holding the limp body of the infamous Belcadiz seductress Lady Carmina. We ended with Natacha becoming a bat and fleeing into the night. Lady Carmina may or may not have contracted the curse of vampirism, I'll have to get a read on my players and see how they react. If Carmina becomes a vampire, Morphail has just gained an invaluable pawn, and the PCs may have reason to enter Boldavia later on to slay Natacha and break the vampire's control over Carmina. But on the other hand, the last storyline we had with a vampire was pretty much a disaster. The paladin has made it clear how she feels about them. So this could be too awkward to run with.
Lastly, I've started with the Isle of Dread storyline we're going to have later on. The paladin PC has been searching for an old rival, who got ahold of the evil counterpart of her holy avenger, the twin blades that belonged to the sons of the emperor of Nerath (the 4E default setting's fallen empire). The rival fell under the evil sword's will and is going to lead the PCs deep into the heart of the Isle of Dread, to the caldera at the heart of the extinct kopru civilization, where one sword might best the other and see its hated counterpart melted to slag.
I'm loving the Lovecraftian horror others have used for the Isle of Dread, and I plan to use quite a bit of that. I've been thinking about an event where something innocuous and commonplace is suddenly terrifying, and this is what I came up with. All over the island, at this time of the eon, the trees and rocks and cliffs become thick with what seems to be drooping clusters of fungus. But the fungus is in fact the chrysalis of a planar insect- perhaps something from the nightmare dimension- that appears only briefly to transform and feast before scattering into the Sea of Dread and vanishing from this world.
The natives know what's coming but remain tight-lipped and close to home, ready to bar their doors. Runes and pictographs in the deep kopru ruins hint at scouring waves of butterfly creatures. The handful of small colonies and pirate outposts on the island are doomed.
These creatures are based on Lovecraft's mi-go, but I'm not enough of a Lovecraft reader to really do a direct reference justice. Any tips?