Creating an RPG Campaign Bible: Places – Part 6 Episode.066

Next on the list is probably going to be the most fun out of the entire campaign bible: important places and events.  This is where your world will shine the brightest.  You can put literally anything in your world.  Anything!  Don’t let your pop culture knowledge restrict your imagination.  Just because it was in Lord of the Rings doesn’t mean it has to be in your world.  Make orcs civilized instead of barbaric.  Give elves an evil twist to their nature by making them sadistic in sacrificial rituals.  Let the dwarves have industrial technology.  Provide dungeons with spectacular events like the walls, floor and ceiling suddenly breaking apart and floating in a void causing the players to jump along or fall to a lower level.  Bring life to your world by making the decisions you want to do.

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In Zatra, there are already tons of places to explore despite the fact that most people are living underground and sealed in the Chambers.  I want to make each region or location interesting and intriguing to the players by giving a little twist if possible.  The more typical and predictable the region is, the less likely they will want to explore it.


Important Places & Facts

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The Dwarven Chambers.  First designed in 1043 by a Dokaleer architect named Ludvig Shadowholm, Chambers are a complete ecosystem with the purpose of being entirely self-sufficient for living creatures within.  These structures are underground fortresses, chiseled and designed by only master craftsmen dwarves, and sealed off for protection.  The idea was to bring in only those who are not carrying the Touch disease in order to quarantine the healthy and keep the world from being wiped out.  There were originally 30 in total, but rumors have begun spreading that several have been discovered and breached.

Each Chamber has a secret one-way tunnel that leads to an underground cavern that’s connected to the surface.  The knowledge of its whereabouts and the trick to pass through it unscathed is only with the three dwarven kings and their 2 advisors within each of the 3 Dwarven Kingdoms.  These tunnels can only be used once as the last obstacle along the way causes a complete cave in.  Each of the 30 Chambers is governed by a Rystar, or knight, who is responsible for the wellbeing of those residing inside.  Generally communication between Chambers does not occur because of the danger of an outside source intercepting the message and, thus, discovering the location of either.  Only one of the 3 kings can give permission for a message to be sent by means of spells.

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Unhallowed Necropolis.  Formerly called Lut Gotain, it was once the shining jewel of the eastern coast of Zatra in the kingdom of Remes.  Strengthened by the advantageous geography of the land and sea, it remained untouched by enemies for centuries.  It was known to be the wealthiest and most powerful city along the East Coast.  So much so that an enormous vault was built high above the land, suspended by magic and tethered by thick, spell-bound chains.  Anyone passing within dozens of miles can visibly see the floating building waiting for someone to bravely climb the chains or find a means to lower it to the ground.  Lut Gotain was famed for the rich tobacco called mamiya used in meditational fires and smoking pipes.  Another well-known memory of the port city was the high vertical sails of their ships, some having masts over 300 feet tall.  These colossal sails were capable of producing speeds of up to 45 knots on the open sea, which allowed goods to be traded at an astonishing rate.

Sadly the only enemy that ever breached her walls brought her to ruins.  The accepted story is that a lone traveler from the far north brought the Touch unsuspectingly into the city without the guards checking.  Now the city of Unhallowed Necropolis is an extremely deadly location to venture, filled with hundreds of victims who fell to the curse.  It is peculiar, however, in that a rumor is known of a powerful person or creature that took control over the city and found a way to command the Touched to his bidding.  Some believe it is a member of Nub Sumat, but others believe it is another entity unrelated to Koz or his followers.

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Valashra. It stretches from east to west and divides the world into halves by its sheer size and range.  The mountain range Valashra was an unnatural phenomenon, created exceedingly quickly due to a massive explosion below the earth’s surface.  To this day, no one really knows for sure what caused the explosion, but for centuries it is wildly believed that a rare race of gnomes lives somewhere far, far below the surface.  Although some claim to have seen a gnome, most notably the dwarves as they dig forever deeper, there is no documented evidence that they exist.  Scholars believe that if there is a mystical race, they live much farther underground than the deepest the mountain dwarves have ever dug before.

The mountain range has an unusual feature that is found at either end:  a cave entrance.  While the duration has never been fully traveled, it is believed that the tunnel eventually leads from one coastline to the other.  A few tests have been conducted by sending glass bottles into one end and discovering it to exit on the other over a year later.  On one peculiar incident, the bottle was slightly tinted blue and had a piece of parchment containing unknown symbols that have yet to be deciphered.  Copies were made and placed in each of the 30 Chambers as well as several surface cities.  The original copy is on permanent display in Chamber 1 where King Wolvar Thunderharm resides.

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Ming Ki. Very little is known of the monk monastery.  Those unwelcomed attempting to locate it almost always finds their fate sealed before their eyes lay upon the fortress.  It is well hidden among the mountains high above in Valashra for mysterious reasons as no one knows why the monks require such isolated privacy.  Those who leave seem to already have their purpose determined, and none of them ever surrender any information about what went on during their training.  Some people believe the monks go through extremely torturous exercises, fasting for days while being burned or pierced.  The size of the complex is also only rumored.  Many scholars feel the fortress can hold hundreds of inhabitants, but being so high in the mountains, little in terms of vegetation can be grown.  So the mystery continues as to how they provide nourishment.  The only people who journey down from the mountains are the messengers, but they only recruit a new person without acquiring any goods.

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Ulopia.  One of the remaining surface cities in existence, Ulopia is protected by some of the world’s most powerful wizards.  Many of them formed the enclave over a century ago when it was clear the Touch was a global threat.  They were innovative with their spells, fusing and reforming new ones that far exceeded historical expectations.  A dome of energy was created over the entire city, giving off a light pink hue to those observing it from miles away.  The focal point comes from one of the most powerful hubs of multiple Leeways in Zatra, which was a fortunate coincidence to the founding location of Ulopia.  Unfortunately the dome comes at a price.  Within the dome, essentially no energy comes from the Leeways.  This includes all plant life as well as magic.  As a result, farmlands surround the dome.  The engineers of Ulopia designed fascinating structures that allow the fields to be elevated ten feet off the ground to help prevent dangerous creatures from harming the farmers as they work.  Water is drawn up and carried through aqueducts from within the dome to the surrounding countryside.  Still, patrols are on duty all hours of the day outside of the dome on an elevated, circular walkway that follows the circumference.

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K’leshima. Consider yourself lucky if you lay eyes upon the great floating fortress of K’leshima unless you are a sky elf.  This nearly impossibly accessible city slowly floats above the surface of Zatra as the wind blows.  Spiraled in the foundation of the city through solid rock are four massive iron chains tipped with anchors that are lowered to the ground below during troubling winds or storms.  The center point of the city is the citadel known as Malistima (Muh-lee-stemuh), a mighty building of deep historical purpose to the sky elves.    It is here that only the Sacred Nine are permitted to conduct elemental experiments and execute decisions that reflect all people of K’leshima.  Numerous smaller rock formations are tethered to the main portion of the city and hold smaller structures including windmills.  These are powered by the wind as the city travels across the country, fueling the city’s need for advanced technology: electricity.  There is no other race or person besides the sky elves that know how to produce or harness such power.  All believe it to be simply another form of magic as certain spells are capable of creating similar effects but for a brief moment.  Only in K’leshima will you find artificial illumination, and the city is a speechless, breathtaking sight at night as it explodes into a sea of lights that can be seen for hundreds of miles away.  Transportation between the floating islands is conducted either through floating wind- or electric-powered ships or bridges.  Ships ride on magnetic currents from the planet’s core and are capable of traveling up to 150 miles per day without recharging if powered by electricity.  Sailing vessels, on the other hand, are more common but extremely expensive and difficult to acquire.

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Keldia.  Covering a large portion of the southern lands is the bog of Keldia.  Despite the feeling of death and decay throughout, Keldia is home to the hill dwarves and plays a vital role in the ecosystem of Zatra.  The origin of Keldia stems from the hands of the Nub Sumat when Koz granted them the power of weather effects.  But the flooding that created the marsh fields resulted in very soft saturated soil that happens to be ideal conditions for peat moss.  Once cultivated, the peat can be used to produce numerous valuable resources such as luxury sealing wax, growth acceleration chemicals for farming, and the purification of water.  This crop grows for dozens of miles in every direction, giving the residents of the bog a lifetime of work.  The need to purify water came several centuries ago when a contamination directly resulting from a collecting of wizard spells reached a large portion of Zatra.  At the time, powerful Clerics were able to restore the tainted aquifers, but the duration was immensely long.  With the discovery of peat moss being used to purify groundwater, the process takes considerably less time and money.

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Northern Lands. The Northern Lands are not for the weak.  The region is a cold, dark formidable area covered in some areas with over a hundred feet of snow, plagued with white out blizzards that last for weeks, and riddled with extremely dangerous creatures.  Those who reside in the region are among the toughest in the world, capable of withstanding extremely dangerous temperatures and battling the most ferocious beasts.  All of the Northern Lands are covered with some snow or solid ice, and the majority has enough that tunnels are the only means of travel and survival.  These interlocking systems are carved by giant animals or by the humans who call it their home.  It is rumored that the Northern Lands was once home to a thriving civilization not of this world before the humans made the journey over Valashra and claim it for their own.  Any evidence of this ancient people has been buried deeply under the frozen ground.


I’ll cover an interesting section of the campaign bible in Part 7 with character and class origins.  I particularly enjoy this section because it adds a better reason in selecting your race and class during the creation process.  Instead of simply saying “I like playing dwarves and I like playing fighters, so I’m a dwarven fighter,” you can say “I really like the idea of coming from the frozen Northern Lands and being well adapted to survival as well as being a member of one of the barbarian tribes there.  I’ll play a dwarf from there, completely white skin and slightly bluish beard who is covered in tribal tattoos and carries a giant battleax as a fighter.”

Until next time, lie about your dice roll as much as you can get away with.  Thanks for stopping by.

Big Bad Bosses Episode.025

The five of you stand at the narrow ledge overlooking the room down below.  Through the colossal windows to your right is deep space speckled with starships.  Your attention is locked to the lone figure in the center of the room.  Although not looking directly at you, it is clear he knows you are present as his hands move to grip both pistols.  He speaks out a sarcastic welcome to you and challenges the lot to the final showdown for the access code embedded into his cranial chip.  Three of you forward flip down onto the main floor while the remaining two send shards of energy toward the enemy.  A few shots are fired from the dual wielding shooter, but the three of you on foot deftly deflect the beams through various means of your skills.  Upon him suddenly, you combine forces into multiple swirls of attack that bends the hand of time to your will, vanquishing your enemy…..rather simply.

Boss fights.  Final countdown.  It is so easy to throw random encounters at a party and not worry if they obliterate the monsters, but villains are a different story.  We as GMs seek to challenge our players and give them the thrill of a lifetime, but balancing a good fight is not always that easy.  I find many rule systems that offer suggestions on how difficult each creature is often underestimates the typical role player.  Regardless of whether they are the min/max, power-hungry type, even characters that I have played to which are given numerous flaws and disadvantages, often find themselves trumping creatures at the same level or slightly higher.  I find this truer as systems continue to “modernize” with the times, that is, they fit more to the way we think and play now as opposed to 20 or 30 years ago.

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And this is especially true with so-called “boss fights” and the way GMs select them out of our monster books.  Sometimes GMs will choose a single monster that is supposed to be a balance to a four-person party instead of numerous “easier” ones that won’t have a chance of doing damage to the party.  While this appears to be fine, it really doesn’t always work.  In fact, it is a bad idea.  Let’s use Pathfinder for an example although many other systems out there use other means to assign value to a monster (i.e. Hit Die).

Pathfinder assigns a Challenge Rating number with every monster they create.  This is a value that should be compared to the mean, or average, level of the party.  A CR 2 creature would theoretically work well against a party of 4 second level characters, right?  This isn’t the case.  When a monster is defeated (I’m still referring to Pathfinder), the experience points are divided by the number of participating party members.  This is true for the bulk of the systems dating back to the first editions of Dungeons & Dragons.  This is because that it was a joint effort and the experience point value for that monster would only be awarded to one person if they could vanquish the enemy on their own.  Does this mean that every monster could be tackled solo?  In theory yes depending on the system and build of character.  However, given the fact that you divide the reward among the players gives reason to believe that the enemy isn’t quite at the level of challenge originally thought to be.

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But this can be ridiculous and get out of hand quickly as you wouldn’t multiply the average party level by the number of party members and that’s the CR you should throw at them.  Four, 4th level players of Pathfinder should not be able to handle a CR 16 creature.  But throw a CR 4 creature at them, and five will get you ten they will take it down in a couple of rounds, perhaps with minimal damage even.

So how do you throw villains and bosses at players and expect them to have any kind of a challenge?  You have to distract them and keep them occupied.  Even if I am going to bring a colossal red dragon out of my mini’s box and put them against him, I am going to include a bunch of minor creatures that aid the dragon.  It doesn’t really matter if the creature you pick is listed as solitary.  Find some minor creatures or NPCs that can be used alongside them.  Back in 4th edition Dungeons & Dragons, they actually had a pretty good suggestion by the notion of adding “minions” to the lot of the system.  Essentially they are 1 hit point beings that can have generally whatever other stats you wish.  I often make either hard hitting minions, smart minions, or combat-skilled minions.  I make sure they have a decent chance to make contact on the players, but the trick is they all have just 1 hit point.  If players make their roll to hit, the creature automatically dies due to everyone being able to deal at least one point of damage automatically.  It allows for players to easily mow down them, but it takes up their actions to give the big bad guy time to bring out his nasty weapons or abilities.

Given this thought, I will often take monsters that are very high level straight out of a monster book, strip all but one of their abilities, knock them down to 1 hit point, and unleash the hounds.  You can just about pick any monster you wish with this method.  Medusas can be minions with the ability to still petrify, but they take only a single hit to kill.  Use a small handful of them while the players are battling something harder, and you have yourself a challenge.  Because they are considerably weaker by means of limited abilities and hit points, don’t award maximum experience points to the players.  Instead, consider for a moment that despite their ferocity, they are easy to kill targets.  So a percentage, say 25%, of their original experience points could suffice, if not fewer.  The final number would still be divided by the number of players.

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I remember one GM once used hit tallies instead of actual hit points for minions.  That is, it would take two hits regardless of the damage rolled in order to down the foe.  It is an alternative to having low hit point creatures and would force players to face them for an additional round.  It could bode well when you are faced with players who have multiple target or mass attack abilities.  The goal here is to buy time for your main creatures that you really want to work with.  Be creative with your minions.  Buff up goblins, strip down djinnis, or bring about three liches in front of an adult black dragon and see how the players react before realizing the liches go down quick and easily.  This way, their attention is diverted for the time being on numerous targets.  And don’t be afraid to throw in true cannon fodder for the hard-hitters of the group.  It can be satisfying for them to mow down 6 or 7 creatures in one attack, and it takes up his action.  You will find that using this method will prolong your BBG’s and allow you to have a little more fun while preventing the “oops, the villain’s already dead” moment.

Until next time, lie about your dice roll as much as you can get away with.  Thanks for stopping by.