Strolen\s Citadel content. 
Terrain Features
Locations  (Other)   (Any)
esaquam's comment on 2008-01-20 12:53 PM
28* A relatively recent slip fault: The ground has shifted a noticeable amount, from several centimeters to several meters. Trails, roads, fence lines have been repaired to handle the jog; streambeds have realigned, etc.

29* A recent landslide has exposed a fossil.

30* Ruins of a castle/monastery on a local prominence. (No current storyline significance.)

31* An old forest fire site: Burn-scarred tree trunks, some dead snags and lots of noticeably younger, smaller growth than has been seen for the last several days travel.

32* From a high vantage point, a distant column of smoke from an ongoing forest fire (beware that your players will go off to investigate).

33* A village that uses an unusual roofing material or dominant color nearly exclusively: E.g., iridescent green tile roofs, or vivid goldenrod-colored walls. Explanation is nothing other than local resource or custom.

34* A small, elaborately eroded pocket canyon.

35* An isolated serpentine rock wall that appears to separate nothing and have no obvious purpose (check out Andy Goldsworthy's environmental sculptures for a dozen more such ideas). Go to Comment
The Elves of Zetacron
Lifeforms  (Intelligent Species)   (Other)
esaquam's comment on 2005-12-10 11:43 AM
Excellent thread! I love the descriptions and justifications. Besides the elves, the implications of the Greco-Roman notion of gods as fallible beings with divine powers is beautifully done here.

Question about the logic of the situation: Are the elves extremely long-lived, near immortal? If so, you will eventually have a population problem. The rapidly reproducing Sea Elves are apparently losing a significant number every year, so over any significant time period, the Wood Elves are going to overflow the Arden Woods. You didn't mention whether the Wood Elves reproduced at all, but given Gaia's 'perfection' of nature, it may be that they would be even more fecund than the Sea Elves? The other races (and maybe the other gods?) are going to be none too happy as Gaia's drones grow to legions of legions.

If the elves are to be very long-lived, then you might consider going the other way: The Sea Elves reproduce far less often in order to dedicate all their energies and resources to preventing any additional losses. Either strategy works: Have 9 on the assumption that you eventually lose most, or have one on the assumption that you can then prevent the loss of any. You need not change anything else about their lack of emotional attachment or communal child-rearing. Very low reproduction would also allow female PC's and NPC's more latitude in adventuring.

On the other hand, it also might lead to strong gender-based roles: Most navigators and traders would likely be male (more readily expendable in order to obtain needed materials), females would be home guards and possibly dominate politics (you don't have to make them weak or subservient, just socially organized along best survival odds). But that's not necessary, given the Orders of the Mind and Fist.

But all in all, very good stuff, svincent - Thank you! Go to Comment
Running Tactical Scenes at Lightning Speeds with Many Players
Articles  (Rules and Advice)   (Game Mastering)
esaquam's comment on 2005-11-26 09:59 AM
Excellent advice, MoonHunter! Nothing much here I would disagree with, but a bugbear that afflicted my games for years was keeping the initiative order: The summoned critter or the delayed action inevitably got missed and led to wasted time on questions and rework.

The method of tracking initiative that works for me is to put the ID of each combat participant on a separate card (business card, 3x5 or whatever) - only the ID, and one card for every combatant. I add cards for familiars, animals, spell effects and other things that must occur on a particular initiative count - again just the minimal name. All the other info stays on the 'magic board'* as described. I find that the initiative itself is too dynamic to track with a number on the board: It inevitably leads to missing things, as described above. Just put the cards in the right order, run them in order, and then when somebody delays or waits, etc, move their card to the appropriate place in the deck. Include a card for "End of Turn", to do a quick reprise of the overall action so PC's can ready their next actions, while the GM handles common end-of-turn bookkeeping. It works well for me.

As a separate hint, the ID mentioned above is something specific to each game, but I do like to use miniatures or counters on a scale battle-board to help make physical relationships clearer. My miniatures are all permanantly labeled with a short letter/number code on the base, and that is the ID used for all the NPCs, monsters, etc. Typically I create cards with the matching codes in advance. For the planned set scenes, I can pencil in the NPC name or monster type as well, and reuse the cards for multiple encounters. This greatly reduces the setup time of an encounter, and keeps subsequent "which goblin was that" confusion to an absolute minimum.

And finally, buy lots of dice of various colors so every player rolls every contingency in one roll. Apropos for the system, e.g.:
Black d20 is base To-Hit
Red d20 is Crit Hit/Fumble die
Black dX is base damage
2 red dX are crit damage
2 green d6 are sneak attack damage, &c.
Always roll all those dice at once for that weapon, and report only the final results after all necessary calculations. Have each player list it all in detail for each type of attack on their character sheet and refuse to accept missed die rolls: "You forgot the Flame Tongue damage die? Too bad, better add it by next round!" One evening of practice will have all the players up to speed and it becomes completely natural. Dice are (relatively) cheap, and saving a few minutes of "Oh, I may have a crit... Yep, that means I need to roll a ..." on nearly every encounter is worth the $20. (Think how much you've spent on all those books you no longer use...)

Thanks again for a great thread! Hope this was useful addition.

* I like the magic board mechanism described better than what I currently use, and will gratefully steal it - Thanks! Go to Comment
The Nekron: A New Take on Drow
Lifeforms  (Intelligent Species)   (Underground)
esaquam's comment on 2005-11-18 12:06 PM

What do they eat? Farming and aquaculture are rather out of the question lacking in the sort of light required to grow plants, and with no plant life


Cop out: It's a fantasy world.

More creative: Create a non-photosynthetic ecology. Earth has sulpher-binding bacteria near super-heated deep ocean vents that form the basis of an ecology of sheet algaes, giant tube worms, crustaceans and fish - no light, except for some bioluminescence. Do the same thing underground.

Start with slime growing on hot underground pools, organisms (fungi) that bind the slime, critters that eat the organisms, things that grow "leaves" to capture air-born nutrients on larger surface areas, animals that feed on the leaves, predators that feed on the leaf-eaters, bioluminescence to cast a nice eerie glow over it all. The further from the source of nutrients, the rarer and more "desert-like" the flora and more ambulatory the fauna. Add flood-cycles and modest eruptions to create a local "weather system" that could even be cyclic (think 'Old Faithful', but on a longer cycle).

Large, very weird and outrageously smelly (to terrestial noses) "farms" could develop along with "irrigation" and so on as Nekron agriculture takes hold. The Nekron toss their waste back into the hot pools as fertilizer. They can also have a pharmacology ('Rust wort cures burns'), breed for increased yields, and have herds of leaf-eaters to provide meat, bone, hide, milk/cheese or whatever. And lap-squoggles with glossy tongues and distinguished pedigrees.

Or something like that. Go to Comment
The Sons of Charshaf
Society/ Organizations  (Criminal/Espionage)   (Regional)
esaquam's comment on 2005-11-16 11:24 AM
uhm, they've just unleashed six kinds of plague and wiped out the entire surrounding population!?! Well, it would give a whole new urgency to "Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer" - since then they would die, too, in any assassination attempt. Go to Comment
The Ruin
Plots  (Discovery)   (Single-Storyline)
esaquam's comment on 2005-04-16 09:22 AM
Backstory is good, but... this lengthy elaboration sits over a plot that consists of:
- Two kids get trapped in an illusory maze by a demon that feeds off their terror and confusion;
- A ghost and a shaman provide the PC's enough info and (optionally) minor magic to get them to the kids, and now the PC's are caught in the illusory maze;
- The PC's can use "any reasonably intelligent escape plan" to get out, but destroying the demon "is impossible" (by fiat).

Problems:
- Most of the color detail is irrelevant, and I'm not even sure how the PC's would learn it: There are some great roll-playing opportunities here, but they don't repay the time and effort with a correspondingly rich set of PC options;
- If played fairly, Orin is almost certainly going to end up dead, and I wouldn't give good odds on Derry;
- After all the front-side detail, the demon itself is shallow/hollow/devoid of any character at all!?! It has a tiny repertoire of actions (vaguely disquieting presence, confusing but fairly harmless illusions, modest suggestions), and absolutely no arc. This empty presence annoys the PC's for a while, then they leave. Fini.
- Most players are going to be severely frustrated, and likely spend much time fruitlessly searching for the "missing link" that allows some better resolution - and find the ending terribly anti-climatic.

But the voting clearly says I'm the one who is off-base, c'est la vie... Go to Comment
Lost Artifact
Plots  (Hired)   (Side-Quest)
esaquam's comment on 2004-10-31 06:47 PM
Pretty much agree with the content (not necessarily the tone) of what others said: Rough, needs hook, needs some telling details.

First, on detail - Don't confuse lots of detail with the telling detail. Lots of mundane detail won't actually help, it will just take up space. You need a few critical details, often tailored to your current PCs, that will allow the players to grasp the situation and their possible roles.

For example, if you have a PC with Art Appreciation, you might make the bottle interesting: "Oh, that's pre-Meduin - quite rare, because Dreanor was more or less obliterated three centuries ago, and this looks like a Priest-class double-ungent jar that would have been in use then. See, the top opens normally, but the bottom is hidden... oh, what's this?" That immediately creates context in the PC world (and makes the players happy that they took weird proficiencies).

Next, why a fishing boat? I'll guess that this is your explanation of why this has not been discovered previously - but unless your campaign is dominated by Fate or similar, the player response is likely to be "So what?" Scras is right that the apparently random discovery may or may not be important to your PCs.

Another suggestion, if you have mostly mercenary PC's who might not volunteer to "Save the World", would be to divide the information into two parts. First, give them a reasonably likely map to a gemstone in some foreign temple - get them motivated to go get it for personal gain. However, the journey turns into something very weird: Chaos monsters, etc., and maybe some bizarre effects on the PC's themselves, and chaos increases (but not yet dangerously so) as they near the gem. It's only when they get to the hiding place that they get the rest of the story - and discover that they won't be able to escape to spend their loot, because if chaos has gotten this far, it's not going to let them out.

In truth, I don't think you need to dwell too much more on plot (assuming your group is happy with a good dungeon crawl), but rather on some effects that set this apart and make it memorable. Develop the Chaos affects, the ghosts of the war (can some be made allies? - more potential plot!), and the setting, and go for it.

Hope this helps. Go to Comment
The Spike of Fate
Items  (Wand/Staff/ Arcane)   (Campaign Defining)
esaquam's comment on 2004-11-02 11:43 PM
The paragraph about Magical Properties is pretty much incomprehensible, and to the extent that I can understand it, unplayable. Or rather, it is likely one of the more frustrating objects imaginable: You can see the very near future, but it's completely determined and unalterable? Why look?

As to playability: How can you let a player see one minute into the future, declare what her actions would be in that future so as not to allow any change to her actions, and then manage to continue the game so that that future actually unfolds, while still allowing *any* unscripted choices? You would more or less have to play through the future vision (minus a minute of assumed action?!?), and then what - rewind and play the intervening minute such that everything and everyone is set up correctly for what was foreseen?!? No, I don't think so.

This might be an interesting item in a book, or film variant of "Momento", but *if* I've read it roughly correctly, I don't see how it could be made to work in a game. Go to Comment
Cowpoke
Items  (Ranged Weapons)   (Heroic)
esaquam's comment on 2004-10-12 11:56 PM
I love it as an item, I really do, but I don't think it is playable.

Think about it: If it never works, who would try to use in extremis? (OK, maybe it is only my players that forget everything in their packs when under duress...) Conversely, if anybody did try it in the appropriate circumstances and thus figured out how it worked and described its unique power, then it would never work for anyone who heard the description - and it's certainly the kind of story that would get around!

oy vey, I feel like I'm kicking a cute puppy...

Never mind, forget what I said - I love it! Go to Comment
The Coast Is Not Clear
Plots  (Nature)   (Single-Storyline)
esaquam's comment on 2004-10-12 11:11 PM
Please do comment - even if only to say it's hackneyed, or unplayable, or whatever. It's a working draft - I'm asking for criticism to help me improve!

thank you! Go to Comment
The Coast Is Not Clear
Plots  (Nature)   (Single-Storyline)
esaquam's comment on 2004-10-31 05:40 PM
Thank you all. I had gathered that bad plots got several responses (sometimes rather vicious), extraordinarily good and/or original plots get several comments, and those in the middle get few comments. Of course, if the point of the review is improvement, we ought to be doing just the opposite. ;-)

My own take on this is that it should work well as a subplot in developing a broader politically-motivated setting. It's not much on it's own, but it is decently structured: Opening fireworks, then some background explanation that actually seems to work, then some decent role-playing opportunities. I just don't know what would happen once the pirate ship is discovered: The PC's might flee for home and cause a war, or try sabotage - and likely get themselves jailed or killed.

This plot never came to fruition in my campaign - the party quite literally self-destructed while following the Zellin up the coast, and we reset to a different set of PC's in a different part of the world to minimize the fallout. Two years later, my players started asking "whatever happened with the pirates". Sigh. Go to Comment
The Sands of Fury
Items  (Other)   (Magical)
esaquam's comment on 2004-10-12 11:37 PM
You wrote a beautiful description. Core idea is pretty good, too.

I have to agree that "minor artifact" and "one shot" don't really seem to jibe. Scale down the power (a good lightning or rain storm is plenty, without massive destruction - and might even have many more interesting uses), and make it a creatable object, and I think it's a winner (and still very powerful).

I'm also confused by the title, "Sands of Fury" -- there's no sand! I have to admit, my first thought was hourglass -> sand -> timed sandstorm (feel free to take the credit if you can use it). Go to Comment
Beneath the Willow
Plots  (Duty)   (Single-Storyline)
esaquam's comment on 2004-09-30 06:25 AM
Cool. Pleasantly melancholy. Great opportunity for some prepared role-playing: Anything from a full bardic lament with bagpipe to Sam Gamgee's impromptu poem for Gandalf.

You could also make this the denoument of a prior adventure in which said NPC had played a major role in helping the PC's, but been mortally wounded - not killed outright, but removed from the action so the PC's will finish that adventure on their own. They return in triumph to hear the dying request.

Variation on "It's Religion Stupid": The hero cannot enter the valley until some incomplete deed is done or some past misdeed undone. The Valley will guard the body for a specific length of time while the PC's attend to that quest (so we don't have a farce of hauling a rotting corpse over hill and dale).

Also, there's no need to make the attendants anything that the PC's can attack - for me, at least, the option that the PC's could fight their way to a resolution in the Valley itself detracts from the mood. The Spirit of the Valley could set them on a twisting path that always puts the Valley just over the next rise, or be an invisible force that allows the PC's but not the body to enter, etc., and then the party needs to figure out the explanation of that. Go to Comment
Remembrance of Things Past
Plots  (Duty)   (Single-Storyline)
esaquam's comment on 2004-09-19 11:59 PM
hmmm, now how do I clean up the formatting: Quoted dialog, contractions, possessive pronouns?

Test "Quote", it's too hard to read... Go to Comment
Remembrance of Things Past
Plots  (Duty)   (Single-Storyline)
esaquam's comment on 2004-09-20 12:30 AM
Moonhunter,
Thanks for the pointers (I do have Strunk & White within reach ;-).
I was actually referring to the edit-tool with my previous comment. It seemed to be escaping (prepending a '') to all the quotes. Said she, "It's a distractin' mess." ;-) I edited this on Word, and probably got all kinds of special characters by accident (so sue me, I'm an old Unix-head and think the world is plaintext ;-). Go to Comment
The Omen of Fire
Plots  (Discovery)   (Multi-Storyline)
esaquam's comment on 2004-09-13 07:32 PM
Great idea, and I do like it as is!

Why leave the PC's earthbound with a modern interpretation of a comet? Let it be Zrgnax' Chariot of Doom or whatever, and let the mayhem begin. Then send the PC's off to deal with it as the first part of the plot - good transitory change of venue, wierd physical distortions, bizarre magical effects, etc, for a few sessions.

Ah, and so They Save The World! Or do they?

The threat in the sky may be gone, but it will be a long time before it's forgotten, and now the PC's must deal with a new social order. How did their fief, friends and fortunes fare? Some did well (or made out well by doing ill?), some did ill (or suffered ill for doing right?)? Surprising alliances, and unexplained enmities? Some gone missing, and none will say where? Let them discover the rippling after-effects of the social upheaval, which happened despite (because of?) their Grand Adventure. How different the world they return to is, of course, enough to drive a whole campaign.

Could they ever "return it to normal", if they wanted to? Go to Comment
Imuricum
Items  (Materials)   (Non-Magical)
esaquam's comment on 2004-09-20 10:04 PM
Make bracelets, armbands or chokers: Drench them in the blood of your enemies, then put them on your favorite shock troops (including captured enemies). Spread stories of the magical boost to ferocity, and soak them in blood for a long, long time - then your enemies will wear them as trophies if they kill your shock troops... Go to Comment
To Die For Love
Plots  (Hired)   (Single-Storyline)
esaquam's comment on 2004-09-20 09:30 PM
Sick. Twisted. Bizarre... I've gotta find a way to use this!

Bravo! Go to Comment
Hail to the Queen
Plots  (Discovery)   (Single-Storyline)
esaquam's comment on 2004-09-25 02:09 PM
I like this kind thing: Information that is more-or-less useless but very dangerous to the PC's. It adds color and depth to a world, although this one is a bit cliched (think "Scarlet Pimpernel", etc). It also allows for several small subplots in an ongoing campaign: Inquisitors searching for something unrelated suddenly become an unexpected threat; Demands for demonstrations of loyalty, for example, the PC's must do something equally incriminating, else they won't be allowed to wander freely; Of course, the blackmailer plot described in the original post.

Drawbacks to the plot: If it is too involved/challenging/long-running, the players could end up annoyed rather than amused, or fail to recognize the implications of the situation until they have done something disastrous, like making public declarations. PC's trying to blackmail the Queen/king is easily handled as a planned encounter, but the PC's could do a lot of other things that should get them dead and worse. But mostly, in this kind of twist, the players may work very hard to end up with an ambivalent denoument, at best. It takes a bit of finesse to say "Congrats! And you're so screwed..." without coming across as thumbing your nose at your players. Go to Comment
Galley Slaves
Plots  (Duty)   (Encounter)
esaquam's comment on 2004-09-19 10:54 PM
No offense, but there is no plot here; it's only a transitional scene. There is nothing the PC's have done, or could do, to affect any of this. Looking for weapons is a red herring (sorry, seemed appropriate to the setting ;-)) - ANY excuse that puts the PC's near the docks is sufficient, and completely incidental to the shanghai. Then they wake up chained to the oars. Their only choice of action is to row or not.

There could be a number of plots starting here: Interaction with the captain could lead to an offer to trade PC skills and knowledge for freedom, or maybe join the crew; slave uprising or mutiny could leave the PC's potentially running the boat; and, of course, arriving at a foreign port could be the start of all sorts of plot lines.

Full disclaimer: Having been a PC in this scene (twice!), it's one that just leaves the players to shrug and wait for the DM to do something else. Go to Comment
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