Friday, May 1, 2009

Edgy Commentary About The Forgotten Realms

Baby's First RPG

With a slight Dragon Quest prelude, my roleplaying teeth were cut on the 2e Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting boxed set. It was and is a terrible setting. There were a few things I liked. The adventure portion was all right. It had exploration, infiltration, weird shit, and best of all, an evil plan to foil. The pictures of NPCs were very shi-shi, too.

An Exercise In Bland, Derivative Drivel

Unfortunately, it also acclimated the player to the bland, derivative Realms setting. Beyond the cheesy, instantly cliched characters, the indecisively vast pantheon, and the novel-cum-game profit model, it committed an unforgivable sin. It failed to convince me, even at age thirteen, that there was really a place where the players could be heroes. As best I could tell, the big guys had it under control.

And the big guys, oy. It felt like there was some kind of weird adventurer class struggle going on. Elminster would make cameos in published modules so you could brush shoulders with people that actually matter in the campaign world. Never mind that Elminster is the most obvious fantasy character cliche in existence. And never mind that the character it ripped off was pretty tepid, too. If Gandalf was a stately nod toward Merlin, then Elminster is a burning paper bag left on Gandalf's front porch.

Worse and Worse

Since then, the situation has worsened. Campaign settings don't update well. Every edition, the Realms has had some lame catastrophe occur to justify whatever changes the game designers would make, and more schlock would get plastered onto the earlier layers of schlock. The Time of Troubles was like a bad Neil Gaiman novel, and the more recent 4e moon magic crap is even worse. Just another excuse to showcase novels about drow and half-dragons, cat people and dinosaur people. Give it a rest, dudes.

I have played in other peoples' well-meaning attempts to run Realms campaigns. They have been festooned with chaotic good drow, thinly veiled attempts on the part of the DMs to insert their own characters into the Realms metaplot, and otherwise were complete let-downs. This is less a commentary on the Realms, than a commentary on the kind of people that the Realms attracts.


Part of the problem with the Realms is that they don't have a unifying theme. Or if they do, I'm completely mystified about what it could be. Dark Sun had ecological and liberty-related themes. Planescape had philosophical struggle. Even Spelljammer had exploration. If I had to sum up the theme of the Realms in a few words, and I had to use words with more than four letters, I'd probably call it "excess by design."

The sole joy for me to find in the Realms is pushing the envelope and misusing the setting to scandalize people that actually like it. A good example: Dark-skinned elves that murder and attack the surface? Well let me tell you, my Sun Elf knew just how to deal with that sort of criminal. I got to roleplay a lynching!

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Old Campaigns: Brython Map

I've been too busy to post, so I thought I would upload this old campaign map that I made. It was printed on colored stationary so that the minor color differences wouldn't show at all. The villains of the setting were a circle of knights that has betrayed an Arthuresque figure. Their coats of arms are visible on the map, indicating what areas they controlled.

The campaign features bandit knights, Tamlin, a Christianity cognate sweeping away pagan religions from a fantastic British isles, St. Brandon, and a really cool dragon that deserves its own update. The monsters on the map are taken from the Carta Marina, a 16th-century ancient map of northwestern Europe that should be required viewing for all d&d players. I would draw your attention in particular to the creature near the bottom of my version of the map: it's a 16th-century cartographer's version of a whale!

Monday, April 27, 2009

Two convincingly immoral organizations

I find many of the evil organizations in rpgs to be one-dimensional and cliche, so I tried to write a couple that were a little more complicated.

The Jackals
These religious devotees wear shrouds stolen from corpses and rub their bodies with cremation ash. They hold that good and evil are really the same thing. Indeed, they believe that all things are one.

By ritually embracing pollution in the form of cannibalism, they are revealing the illusory nature of the social taboos against it and, by extension, all other taboos and moral categorizations. They seek power and, when they obtain it, seek to find even more power, because they believe that the accumulation of enough power will allow them to escape birth and rebirth on the outer planes as petitioners.

The order does not fear the afterlife because they believe that, since all things are one, the various lower planes and upper planes are really the same place, and torment is the same as pleasure.

The Cult of Great Worm

A religion that venerates a temporal deity, these cultists cultivate mulberry forests and wear ceremonial garbs of the finest silk. Their deity is a vast, nearly immobile, man-devouring worm that the cult believes will pupate into a great deity once it has been fed enough.

Eons ago a great deity -the cultists would say the greatest deity- perished, and Great Worm spawned in the rotting, divine cadaver. Back then, it was as small as a man. Immortal and invulnerable, it remained until men were created, and fed upon them. Eventually, it grew too large to hunt for itself, but did not starve to death nor diminish in size.

Centuries later, a tribe of men began to worship it and draw power from it, despite its apparent lack of intelligence or acknowledgement of this worship. In gratitude for these gifts, the tribe would feed its enemies to Great Worm, who would not eat any food save the flesh of men. This tribe was the ancestor of the current-day order.

Great Worm is now so large that his slightest movement causes tremors in the earth, and still he has not spun a cocoon, nor pupated. He resides amidst a vast mulberry forest, his maw opening and closing, dripping filthy poison. One of these days, the cult maintains, he will finally be sated, and spin a vast cocoon of fine silk. What will emerge from that cocoon, nobody can say.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Hungry Idol

Unrelated to my ongoing collaboration with Tim about urban monsters, I present this:

Hungry Idol (construct)
A stone idol to a false deity can sometimes become animate by the power of the blood sacrificed to it. This stone idol leaks blood from its maw as it seeks to fill its endless hunger.

Init +4
Speed 4
HP 85
AC 17
F +10 R +4 W+4

Bite or Slam +10
Dmg 1d8 (claw), 1d12 (bite)
-Any creature hit by the claw attack must Fort DC 18 or fall prone.
-Any creature hit by the bite attack must Will DC 18 or be unable to attack or use a touch spell against the hungry idol while adjacent to it, for one hour. A victim of this power may still use a reach weapon to attack it. This is a fear-based, mind effect.

Bloodlust: If any PC is reduced to 0 hp or less by the hungry idol's bite attack, it immediately heals 30 damage.

Resistances/Immunities: The hungry idol enjoys DR 5 and energy resistance 10 against acid, cold, electricity, and fire. It lacks a biology and has only the most rudimentary mind and so is immune to physiological or mind effects.