Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Phoenician Buildings

An artists work-in-progress of Phoenician architecture based on various bits of information.

Friday, November 21, 2008

New Options

The new Martial Power is looking pretty good, so feel free to integrate some of that content into your character build. It's useful for rogues, fighters, rangers, and warlords.

The Forgotten Realms Players Guide has the swordmage and the warlock dark pact, which I think would work well.I haven't read the spellscared and I definitely don't want drow right now, although I could be convinced that a genasi works, with the right background.

The new Bard in Dragon Magazine is incredibly intriguing to me, and I would love to see someone play that.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Historical Stuff (some meta)

For those who have an interest in the real-world area we're playing in:

  • Baal-gad, the home town for the party, is geographically correct, as are the major cities of the region. The citadel exists, but it was built during the Middle-Ages, likely by Christian knights.
  • The roads I've included in the player's guide are mythical; they're based on modern day highways. Since highways are often based on older routes, I suppose it's possible these were used.
  • The Fertile Valley, was in fact called that, kind of like California's "Central Valley." It's in the northern part of the Golan Heights region of Israel. Everything in this region has a biblical name as well, which I try to avoid. If it has an obvious biblical name, I'll research back until I find something older. Sometimes too far (I now like Tyre rather than Zor, for example). Newer names are often Arabic, which is far too modern a feel for what I want.
  • Leish and Dan. Leish on my map is actually the real Dan, which had a biblical role as a city of many religions, as I've tried to portray it. Sometimes the bible is perfect for my fantasy life. I moved the mythical Dan in my game farther south, because I wanted it to have a lesser influence. The small farming village of "Leish" on my map is the real world location of Dan (now a ruin and Israeli tourist site).
  • Samaria is the land of the Philistines. I couldn't really leave it as Philistines, right? In the game, it's a confederation of barbarian tribes, devolved from a greater civilisation. It's likely it happened in reverse in real life, a primitive sea people that evolved into a civilized group of traders and city builders. I didn't want another human civilization right there, so they now roam the coast as barbarians.
  • Thunderspire Mountain. There appears to be a modern day highway through this pass area. I originally planned to have it as a mountain pass, with a haunted citadel of some sort there, guarding it from my Syrians (Tash), but Thunderspire fits much better, with its underground highway.
  • Lake Genneseret. Also called The Sea of Galilea, Lake Tiberias, Lake Kinneret, and several other names. Sometimes I have to work to obscure names.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

About Thunderspire

click to enlarge

As told to you by Mayor Haroum:

Everything you have been taught about our history and geography is true. We guard the Southern route into our once great empire from Tash invaders. We guard the Western route from ogre tribes. And as you now know, we guard Shadowfell Keep from those who wish to open the portal and expose us to an otherworldly threat. There is another way into our lands that is not often discussed, it is gained from under the mountains.

To the south, at the top of the fertile valley, lies Thunderspire Mountain. You may know of the ancient watchtower, now abandoned, that observes the movement of the Tash armies on the other side, giving us advanced warning. What you probably don't know is that there is a way through Thunderspire. A great city was built within the mountain by a race of minotaurs during the ancient days. They kept the ogres in check, but also enslaved the Samarians, the southern coastal peoples. The Samarians once had a brilliant, learned kingdom while we were still picking olives and living in caves, but the minotaurs reduced the Samarians to simple barbarians. It is said not two bricks were allowed to sit upon each other when the minotaurs punished them for their rebellion.

The seat of power of the minotaurs within Thunderspire is now just a small trading post. It's called the Seven-Pillared Hall. The place is run by a group of powerful wizards, called the Mages of Saruun. They were once Phoenicians too, until they renounced our rules and were banished to the south. We are forbidden to trade with them, but somehow goods get through anyway. What's important now is that the mages maintain a balance of power within the mountain, including the deep labyrinth to the underdark, which also leads through the other side of the mountain to Tash. Be wary of these mages, and keep in mind that whatever happens, a balance of power needs to be maintained within their realm to protect us from this back door to our lands.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

More on Phoenician Gods

Here are more Phoenician deities and how they map over to the D&D deities. Some of these are only outlined in the Dungeon Master's Guide, so you may not have seen them before. I suggest you print this, if you care about this kind of stuff.

Asmodeus Asmodeus Power, domination, tyranny
Avandra Shamash Change, luck, travel
Bahamut Bahamut (Tash god) Justice, honor, protection
Bane Anath War, conquest
Corellon Corellon (Shamar
Arcane magic, beauty, arts
Erathis Melqart

Civilization, laws, underground, Patron
God of Zor

Melora Yamm The Sea, wilderness
Moradin Kothar Creation, Artistry, Family
Pelor Baal Sun, summer, time, agriculture
Raven Queen Melqart Death, fate, winter
Sehanine Yarikh Moon, trickery, love, autumn
Tharizdun Seth (Badar god) Annihilation, Madness
Tiamat Tiamat (Tash god) Wealth, greed, vengeance
Torog Horon

Underdark, Good aspect revered by dwarves.
Also worshiped as god of slavery by evil underdark creatures.

Vecna Mot Death, secrets, necromancy
Zehir Ejo (Badar god) Darkness, Poison, Serpents

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Find the Slavers

Mayor Haroum of Baalgad pays out the various rewards to the party and listens carefully as you tell him of your adventure. One thing sticks in his head, a letter that you found that was bound for Kalarel, the evil priest of Orcus you stopped. The note you have reads:

"Greetings, Kalarel,
I have recently learned of your actiity in the area and have an offer for you. During your time in this region, if you should capture any humanoids, we are eager to buy them. We have duergar allies in Thunderspire in need of slave stock. If you are interested, send an envoy back to me. My messengers will show the way.
Krand of the Bloodreavers"

There have been many disappearances over the last several months, some have been our own townspeople but most were travellers coming into or leaving the area. At first I thought it was the Harad or a result of more sinister activities, which you've recently uncovered. Now I think some of these people may have been captured by these slavers, and might still be alive. I know a little of these slavers, they are vile tieflings from Badar, who travel up and down the coast in search of victims. I believe stopping them is your next mission.

(more live discussion to follow)

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Dwarven God

Horon is the god of those who dwell under the earth. He's a good god, so most of his worshipers tend to be dwarves. In D&D he has the same portfolio as Moradin. Horon is not a Phoenician god, instead his mythology and portfolio come from the religion of Tash (Syria). This puts worshippers of Horon at a disadvantage when dealing with Phoenician religious figures, who are suspect of Tashtak influence. However, it's an immediate positive when dealing with anyone from Tash or traditionalist Dragonborn. The worship of Horon has spread to dwarven communities as far as Badar, although the Badarins have included Horon into their pantheon and look upon his messengers favorably.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Creating Your 4th Edition Character

Character Sheet. There's one in the back of the Player's Handbook you can photocopy or use the PDF here.

Here are the basic guidelines:

  • Use the 4E Player's Handbook
  • Ability Scores. Use Method 1 or 2
  • Alignment. It's up to you. You can be Good, Lawful Good or Unaligned. You cannot be Evil or Chaotic Evil.
  • Gods. The standard gods are fine. A few of the D&D gods map to the Phoenician gods:
  1. Baal is Pelor. Baal is the patron god of Baal-gad.
  2. Melqart maps to the Raven Queen (you can call him Raven King). Melqart is the patron god of Zor.
  3. Most of the others can be mapped to Phoenciain gods. Ask me if you want to use them.
  • Personality. Please go through the various matrices for coming up with your character background. Please make backgrounds short and concise, 1-2 paragraphs at the longest.
  • What I'll provide you. Once you have a basic background in place, the last thing you should write, I'll provide you with a basic contact in town, or if you chose something more exotic, potentially farther away.
Everything else is fine!

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Details on Baalgad

Total Population: Around 1000

Geography: The town is on a horseshoe shaped hillside, with roads running in semi-circles at different levels. The modern day satellite photo at the top gives you an idea along with this photo from the 1920's. Crafts people and farmers live in the houses along the hillside, as well as the surrounding area. Houses are of a more ancient style, but are large, with at least four rooms, filled with a wealth of items. The wealth of the Phoenicians are kept private in their homes.

The citadel is marked in red in the top right. It is the center of activity in Baalgad. It's made up of two sections, a smaller, fortified section and a public section. The smaller section includes a small barracks, supply house, along with the manor house of Mayor Haroum.

The public section contains the various permanent commercial buildings of the town, along with the marketplace and the trade hall.

Trade Hall. As you enter the walled keep, the first building you see is the trade hall. All trade comes through here first, as the town is usually invested in the activities of the citizens. The trade hall is also where you'll usually find Mayor Haroum and Sister Lenora of the Baal temple. Although Lord Haroum is considered high priest of the temple, it is mostly a symbolic position, with Sister Lenora the priestess in the field, ministering to the community.

Marketplace. To the left of the trade hall is the open marketplace. Various commodities can be found from throughout the region, along with the traders that come from hundreds of miles to sell their goods. Adventurers will find some equipment, but no armor and weapons. The people of Labash are peace loving people and frown upon open display of such things.

Stables are to the left of the marketplace, along a wall of the citadel. It's a quiet town and you might find a horse or two for sale, but never a war horse or more exotic beast.

Moving down a path through the marketplace, to your right is the dwarven smithy. Here you'll find standard weapons and armor, although military equipment requires a days notice.

Bairwin's Grande Shoppe is to your right, a store that has fired your imagination since childhood. Bairwin sells adventuring equipment, some minor magic items, and other impractical items that your parents warn you not to spend your money on.

Moving farther down the path into the keep, you'll find the tower of Valthrun the Sage to your right, in front of the gateway to the inner courtyard of Major Haroum's manor house. A couple of sulking ogres stand guard here.

To the left is the Warrior's Guild, the training hall of the towns meager militia. Participation is rewarded with a small payment each year, so many young men reluctantly train here at various times.

Along the left side wall of the keep is the entertainment center of the town, the Salvana's Inn. Here you'll find travelers, local villagers who gather here in the evening, and on occasion, various town luminaries like Mayor Haroum, Valthrun the Sage, and other interesting folks.

A few small houses of those who own businesses in town are scattered around the back of the keep. On the far wall of the keep is the Temple of Baal (Pelor). It is generally empty, with Sister providing services several times a week. She generally spends her time out in the community, ministering to people in their homes.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Waiting for Shadowfell

The Keep on the Shadowfell adventure is due out May 20th. I'm at the point where I really, really want to see some of the details. For example, a list of monsters would allow me to start painting or collecting miniatures. The town layout and notable NPC's might be useful in allowing me to avoid duplicating effort and would help me flesh out the town.

I figure there's probably a kernel of usefulness in the published town that I'll want to salvage before I go off and create my own. If this is the home base for the campaign, and I'm world building and not adventure writing, then that town should be very solid, with lots of NPC's and detail. It will certainly resemble a Phoenician town, so I have that in mind, but I'll have to decide where it goes from there, especially making it more fantasy oriented.

At the same time, we've got some very cool adventures for the end of the Iron Crown campaign. I've got at least two cool set pieces that need building. One may get shipped from a guy who built a set piece for his campaign but no longer needs it. I think we should have a little clearing house for such items. I certainly don't want these things when I'm done and they represent many hours of construction.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008


This blog wasn't set up properly to forward me comments, so I'm just now getting to the ones from the last week. Nobody was posting before except Jess. Thanks Jess!

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Ass Pain Revisited

About six months ago I wrote a post of the top 5 most difficult to deal with game manufacturers. Lately I've got good things to say about some of them. They're not all on the right track, but good things are happening:

  1. Rackham. You could hear the collective groan when Rackham (my #1 ass pain) teamed up with Fantasy Flight Games (my #5 ass pain) for US distribution. Distribution of the game did seem to improve, but at a cost. That cost was the price that FFG charged for their services, which amounted to 2% of my margin from my primary distributor. This put us back to the old metal days of Rackham pricing, where we looked at what we were being charged, scoffed at the MSRP, and priced product at margins we could afford. Manufacturers "suggested" retail price. As for Rackham product, AT-43 has inched up our top game charts, while I've declared the new Confrontation DOA.
  2. Wiz Kids. This is a company that has lost relevance for us in the last six months. We're completely finished with anything "clicky" from them. We'll never order clix again, unless it's a special order. Pirates releases far outstrip the demand for the game. We're down for a single box of the next set, due out this week (already!), and then we'll probably see a slow slide to nothing over the next year or so. The company continues to have problems coordinating "big box" and "hobby channel" distribution, with game store owners regularly complaining about early releases at Target, for example. I see them as a very small company that used to be very big, trying to do big company things unsuccessfully.
  3. Fantasy Flight Games. Here's a very big company, that used to be small, that still does things like a small company. FFG rocks. They have great products and they've just acquired very popular lines from Games Workshop, notably the new Dark Heresy RPG but also games like Talisman. However, they lack street dates on any of their products and lack communication about their problems. I was slightly embarrassed after I lambasted them in the game industry forum a few months ago, only to have them respond with an honest explanation of what had happened, explaining situations well out of their control. If companies like this would only communicate with us, we would be very understanding and we could explain it to customers so their frustration level is reduced. Today's ass pain was the realization that new Dark Heresy products were released in the UK already, while the US market has a wait of several weeks, at least. This has happened with Black Industries before, so it's not new, so it seems FFG has inherited their own ass pains.
  4. Upper Deck. I dare say, they're starting to listen. Last week they released a hobby exclusive Yu Gi Oh gold series pack. This $25 pack had incredibly rare cards and it was only distributed through hobby stores. I think these hot packs demonstrated the true demand for Yu Gi Oh product, something we could only see when Target and other big box stores were temporarily removed from the equation. My 15 boxes sold out in three hours when our Yu Gi Oh crowd arrived, something I've never seen for this game. Upper Deck is listening, but the biggest ass pain is their continued attempts to artificially inflate demand by limiting quantity. It's a frustrating strategy for game stores, especially managing cash flow. Compare these: The next Magic set will be released in May. I need to order enough product to get through the weekend until I can place another order. Now lets look at the new World of Warcraft set. Limited supply means I have to order enough to get me through June. Upper Deck has just shifted a huge burden onto my shoulders, while Wizards of the Coast is partnering with me to sell their product.
  5. Mongoose Publishing. They dropped their in-house printing, with its warped covers and low quality. I won't touch any of their existing product lines, which I consider irreparably damaged by this fiasco, tainted by incompetence, but I will be selling their new Traveller release, printed by a professional. Battlefield Evolution is officially dead and I would be incredibly reluctant to try a new miniatures game from Mongoose again.
What am I looking for in a good company? Consistent communication including street dates, quality product, appropriate margins, adequate supply, and protecting their product in the hobby chain (not selling direct, or through mass market). I don't know any company that has all of these, but four out of 5 is acceptable, provided the product has enough quality to be sold:

Rackham WizKids FFG UD Mongoose

Quality X X X X




Both Games Workshop and Wizards of the Coast get my best marks. GW has a reduced margin while WOTC often gives preference to mass market by breaking street dates.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

The Metal Ages

Bronze sword

The historical development of Labash and the surrounding region is tied to the use and trade of metals. Just as Iron Crown thrives primarily as a source of trade in precious metals, the major historical developments in this new world are tied to metals.

We begin with the Bronze Age. Bronze weapons and tools are made primarily from copper, with tin or other minor alloys added or occurring naturally. The Badari empire grew to power during this period, their armies of supernatural beings unopposed. The weapons of the time were made from copper, mined profitably from the lands of Labash.

The Iron Age emerged with the help of the dragons, who passed on the secrets of iron to the dragonborn so they could strike at the devils summoned by the tieflings of Badar. These creatures were only harmed by enchanted or cold iron weapons. These weapons were comprised of new metals, iron and tin, both of which were abundant in Tash. Local power shifted once again, from the south (Badar) to the north (Tash). Labash suffered during this time, but eventually they discovered a solution.

The Iron Age II period occurred with the widespread use of iron weapons, thanks to Labashi trade in iron ore from the lands west of Badar. The Labashi grew wealthy from this trade and eventually the Tashtak relented and traded their own weapons throughout the region, weapons of much higher quality. At the end of this period, the Labashi civil war occurred and regional trade was severely disrupted.

The Mithral Age is what some call this narrow period that succeeded the Labashi civil war and the destruction of region trade. A vibrant land trade in precious metals developed, but this time in exotic metals crafted by dwarves and elves. Mithral and adamantine had existed long before this period, but with tin supplies dwindling, these metals became more widespread.

The Age of Steel followed the Mithral Age. It's the time we are in now, with Labash recovering from its warfare and trade restored. The Tashtak no longer control the local supply of tin, but they control something much more important: the secret to steel. Dammeshek, the capitol of Tash, holds this arcane secret. Dammeshek Steel is now widely coveted everywhere, and part of the Labash recovery is in the trade of these finished weapons (but not their method of creation). Many Dammeshek Steel weapons are double edged, with a slightly darker edge of cold iron juxtaposed against the shiny razor sharp steel edge. This is so that the wielder can take advantage of the steel edge most of the time while having a means to vanquish devils if necessary. Dammeshek Steel is still very rare, much like mithral and adamantine. The steel is highly prized for use in creating magical weapons and armor (considered Masterwork).

What will happen next? The spread of steel will likely occur next, provided others can make reasonable copies of the Dammeshek technique. On the battlefield, one is likely to find a mishmash of weaponry, with spearmen with bronze tips and iron short swords while heroes may use ancient adamantine blades or state of the art Dammeshek Steel.

Dammeshek Steel

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Stop the Sanity!

At a certain point in my real-life world building I'll need to stop with history and allow fantasy to begin taking over. It's really interesting to me that Phoenicia had a vibrant trade in cedar and cloth, but it's pretty boring when put next to the fantasy of D&D. I'll have to begin meshing fantasy with reality. The key, I think, is not defining reality too sharply, to leave it fuzzy, using the "points of light" concept. Reality will be a framework that fantasy will be overlayed upon. I don't want to push out the fantasy with too much real-world stuff. I think my last act of real-world world building will be a private map for myself. My latest book on the Phoenicians includes more inland areas and their purpose. I'll keep those to myself for later exploration.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Campaign Structure

We've had at least six campaigns in my home-brew Iron Crown campaign. They've spanned around 6 years. We started in the city of Hollowfaust in the Scarred Lands setting shortly after the HF book was published in 2002. The reason for the many campaigns instead of one single one was the uneven structure of D&D 3x. There are "sweet spots," such as around 5th level and another around 10th. Then the game becomes unmanageable and a lot less fun for me around 13th level. The best laid high level plans of DM's are often brought to ruin by simple arcane bypasses by players.

4th Edition vows to smooth out sweet spots, providing lots of fun at any level, including ascending to 30th level within the Player's Handbook. So for the Labash campaign, I'm stating my intentions now to run the first campaign to 30th level, or at least try. I was usually the one responsible for instigating a campaign re-boot, so I figure I'll be equally responsible for keeping it together. I've never had a player quit because their characters were getting too powerful. On the contrary, there were quite a few arguments to keep going.

The concept of going from first to epic levels allows the campaign setting to be singular. I can state now that I only want to run one campaign in this setting. It is our playground and you're welcome to tear it up, create empires, vanquish evil, travel the planes, whatever you like. My investment in time to create the campaign should be well rewarded if we hit 30th level. I figure it should take at least 4 years, perhaps longer.

Sunday, March 23, 2008


You gotta have them. Here's what's available starting out:

  1. Common (aka Phoenician)
  2. Draconic (Tash common language and language of magic)
  3. Supernal (Badar, a new language spoken by celestials and fiends alike on the astral sea and favored by tieflings)
  4. Giant (ogres, giants, etc.)
  5. Goblin
  6. Elven
  7. Dwarven
There will be three others announced with the rules.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Player's Guide 2

Here is the second version of the player's guide. It's a bit longer and is more consistent with the ancient Phoenicians. The maps are much better too. I printed out copies for everyone.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Baalgad to the Fertile Valley

It's 9 miles to the fertile valley. Farmers regularly take this route to Baalgad. It takes about 3 hours from Baalgad to the valley floor and 4 hours from the valley floor to the hill city.

Baalgad to The Seat of All High

The tri-tipped mountain range may seem close, but it's 14 miles away by road. Yet it's still considered the closest inhabited outpost to the mountain range.

Total Distance: 14 miles. 6 hours by foot, 4 by horse.

Baalgad to Zor

Here's the most logical route from your home town of Baalgad to the local city-state, Zor. It makes sense that modern roads used ancient paths, especially in mountainous regions like this.

Total Distance: 40 miles through the hills and mountains. With horses you could do it in 2 days. On foot, 3-4 days. The northern route (not marked) would be 50 miles.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Phoenician Privacy and Equality

The Phoenicians shared their riches equally among the people, running their government and their trade as identical. Citizens were shareholders and the leaders were like board of directors, with the king as the chief executive officer. The king could easily be removed if he was incompetent or wasn’t acting in the best interest of the people. In exchange for dividends on trade investments, the people only needed to follow the seven principles of Phoenician society, most important of which was privacy.

Privacy meant that rule number one was: We don’t talk about Phoenician trade! Rule number two: We don’t talk about Phoenician trade! Because Phoenician mercantile society was based on relationships and partnerships and not based on force, the secrets of trade, boat building, routes, and various inside information were what kept the society going. Privacy also meant keeping the riches of the society secret from prying eyes. Living an ostentatious lifestyle was not only indiscrete, but it could land you in trouble. An outward air of austerity is a virtue; have as many fancy things as you like when you’re in your own home.

In Baalgad, like in other Phoenician cities, the headquarters was the trade house. The trade house is where all mercantile activities centered as well as all public meetings and governmental and religious offices. In Baalgad, the mayor of the town, Mayor Haroum, is all the local high priest of Baal (Pelor). His dual role is common and he has not always been major, sometimes stepping down when his religious duties take precedent.

The adventurers in Baalgad are hired to protect the city and surrounding region. There are not nearly enough of you, because it is far more lucrative and less dangerous to be a tradesman. If you wanted a life of adventure without the high mortality rate, you could simply go to Zor and enlist for a seagoing voyage. Because of this, adventurers are not required to submit their earnings to the city for re-distribution. You also aren’t paid for your labor, although you do receive an annual distribution of city profits. Phoenicians don’t tax, they distribute wealth to citizens. The adventuring party will receive their annual distribution as we begin the campaign. This will be you starting out money and everyone will have the same amount (the maximum money anyone could get, depending on the 4.0 rules).

As adventurers are hard to come by right now, the garrison at the citadel is manned primarily by ogre mercenaries of the Bald Moon tribe. The government is careful to protect its secrets from the ogre mercenaries and to balance power within the citadel, assuming that others could buy the ogres and they could take it over.

If you want to learn more about the Phoenicians, the book to get is: Phoenicians, by Sanford Holst. If this were a class, it would be required reading.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Satellite Photo (Better)

Here's a much better satellite photo showing the fertile valley to the south of Baalgad. I was a little disappointed with the last one because it lacked any greenery. The fertile valley is a famous region known as Wadi El Taym. Wadi means valley, since we're pre-Arab by about 2,500 years. El Taym is named after an Arab tribe that moved into the region after our historical setting. So for now it remains "Fertile Valley."

Tagging "Phoenician" Aspects

In Spirit of the Century, you can tag aspects, or important descriptors, in order to further role-playing. For example, an aspect of a castle is that it has a portcullis in the entry way. If you saw a castle and needed for there to be a portcullis, possibly because you're good at metal work or bending bars, you would "tag" that portcullis aspect of the castle. If the GM agrees, there is a portcullis. That would probably be a free tag, because it's so common. Perhaps you're more ambitious and you decide that there's a portcullis and that there's a lever nearby that opens the portcullis, attempting to snag it with your grapnel. That would be ambitious, but if the GM agreed, and you paid a resource to make the tag, you're allowed to do it. This same concept can be applied to our D&D games.

For our campaign, Phoenician culture will play an important role in how people behave. You can tag Phoenician principles as aspects for free to do basic things. Perhaps in role-playing conversation an NPC is being religiously intolerant. You can "tag" religious tolerance to shame them or point out their poor behavior in hopes of getting them to do what you want. Likewise, you might tag an aspect of Phoenician principles to justify something, such as a Diplomacy role to create a partnership. In any case, having these principles in mind can be important for role-playing and may provide a concrete advantage if you keep them handy. They are:

  1. Peaceful resolution of differences
  2. International trade
  3. Religious tolerance
  4. Creating partnerships
  5. Respect for women
  6. Equality
  7. Privacy
You can also expect NPC's to use these "aspects" against you, if you seem not be following them. For example: You already know that the people of Zor are a little annoyed with your town for its confrontational ways. You're like their guard dog on a short leash. They believe in peaceful resolution of differences. They are religiously tolerant of you Baalites, despite your militarism, because they want to maintain a partnership with you, a coming together of equals, but your war mongering is diverting their resources from their goal of international trade. Worse, trading partners are getting word of this unrest, as the Baalite priestesses have been indiscreet, rather than discussing these problems privately.

So how would you approach the Zorians about a problem, perhaps ogres invading from the hills? The conversation may go like this:

"My dear magistrate, thank you for meeting with us in your private chambers. As much as we've tried to assuage the ogres and appease their insatiable appetites, our attempts at negotiation and hiring them as bodyguards has been unsuccessful. Our head abbot met with their venerable shaman, "the butcher" they call him, and was unable to find common ground. She was subsequently eaten, unfortunately. I hate to bring this difficult problem to your attention, but the ogres are not allowing trade from the southern valley to enter Baalgad. As I know you plan a large shipment of figs and honey from the region to the Badari, I thought you might help us in dispersing this threat with your superior negotiating position."

I'm not saying you should be spineless, or that diplomacy is always the way, but if you're trying to get people to do things, this might be a good way to start.

The Seven Principles of Phoenician Society come from Stanford Holst's book, Phoenicians.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Regional Map

This is a satellite image of the Middle-East. One shortcoming is climate change. We should imagine the region to be a bit greener, less deforested, less air pollution from sand storms, etc.

Nations. We're using my names for nations with designators to denote their political organization. It's easy to imagine a sultanate for the arab-like Tashtak or a king sitting on a throne in Badar. I chose "dominion" for the eladrin kingdom of Shamar because it sounded exotic and arcane. Chittim is the original name for Crypress.

Cities. Each of the major city-states of Labash are listed with a red city circle. Labash is a cultural region and is not a nation-state, although city-states are usually closer than a relationship between city-state and nation-state. The major capitals of each nation are marked with blue boxes. Baalgad is marked in blue and is a small town (our starting point).

City names are almost all based on ancient names for that city, even though many have made up nation names.

The first exception is the Shamar city of Corrella, named after Correllon Larethian. I did this because there's no way to include Jerusalem without it invoking real-world feelings. Although Shamar is situated where Israel is now, I figure the eladrin are incredibly alien and their idea of a kingdom will be very different than anything in real life.

The second exception is Ssalimass. The correct city is called Salimas, but I added extra "s's" for Yuan-ti emphasis. Not mentioned before now, the yuan-ti nation is Chittim. Rather than being a central place where all regions meet for trade, like in history, it's a hazardous obstacle that inhibits relations, and perhaps traps the unwary. Imagine an island where no man has ever returned from. Imagine a fleet that attempts to conquer that island and is never heard from again. Don't messsss with Chittim.

Artwork. So many game handouts go right over the players heads. Who has time to read this crap? I certainly don't read other peoples lengthy handouts. I'm hoping to distill this entire blog down into a simple handout that's only a few pages long, as opposed to my 50 page Iron Crown Player's Guide that has gone through half a dozen versions. Anyway, the artwork is simple the primary races that live in that nation-state or region.

Geography. I need to label a few minor things:

  1. The Great Sea. Now known as the Mediterranean.
  2. The South Sea. Now known as the Red Sea. There's an interesting entry on how ancients sometimes used colors to denote direction.
  3. Iteru River. The Nile. This is the only major river on this map.

National Boundaries. For the sake of simplicity, I think we'll stick with current national boundaries. They're lightly marked on the satellite photo.

My intention is not to do a lot of international travel or major international events. My goal is to get back to basics, with traditional fantasy adventures, outside, with nature, blue sky, elves in forests and angry hill ogres. I want the "macro" world designed here to add flavor, rather than be a blueprint for a playground. At least that's what I say now.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

War and Trade (Zor vs. Baalgad)

The people of Zor are traders. They conquer other lands by making them dependent on their goods. The Badari need Zorian cedar trees and resin for their construction, as well as certain types of magic spells. The Shamar in the south enjoy Zorian silk and fine, dyed cloth. The Tashtak depend on the wine trade to quell their warlike dragon natures. It is trade that conquers nations, the Zorians will tell you, and because of this, the Zorian have no standing military, only a small group of advisor's capable of raising a militia if necessary.

The Zorians worship Melqart. Melqart is a god concerned with the cycle of nature, living in harmony.

The worshippers of Baal (Pelor)
, such as those in Baalgad, appear as warmongers to the trade focused Zorians. Baal is about physical power, of defense and war, of about direct confrontation and heroism fighting evil. Those who worship Baal think likewise, and those who follow Melqart find clerics of Baal a necessary evil, at best.

You would want Baalites to guard your walls, although it would be an admission that you've failed in your economic diplomacy. You prefer such people out of sight, out of town, in the hinterlands protecting your borders like the ignorant, slow thinking warriors they appear to be. Thus the Zorians have little respect for their cousins in Baalgad. If it comes to war, a failure already, Zorians may request assistance. Otherwise, a problem in Baalgad is due to the ignorance of the Baalites and the citizenry. Surely they can think their way out of the problem. They better, because Zor has few physical resources to put down a real threat.



Regional Perspective

Hooray for Google Earth!
  1. Zor and Baalgad. Zor is the southern power base and Baalgad, as we can see, is defender of a couple things. Travel from Zor to Baalgad is tortuous, even today. There is no direct route, but rather a meandering way around hills and valleys that is so complex, I won't attempt to map it (nor has anyone else). Lets just say that Baalgad is very isolated, while at the same time, food has to get to market and people find a way. Note that Zor in modern times is connected, while in ancient times (and in our campaign), it's an island with suburbs on the mainland. Only by filling it in to create a bridge was it ever conquered and that took many months.
  2. The Seat of All High. Baalgad defends this holy sight. It also would make sense that our shadowfell gateway is near this area. Perhaps the area is especially holy because there are religious defenses that keep the gateway closed, or whatever is there in check. Maybe it's a bit like the Fifth Element, where a lineage of priests watches and protects, but is mostly forgotten. Perhaps it is the same family or lineage that owns the keep. It would be very easy for such knowledge to be lost or pushed to the side amidst national calamity or events, kind of like knowledge of the Ring of Power in Lord of the Rings. It's only after terrible things begin happening that the powers that be take notice. Note that the geography of this "mountain" is actually three separate peaks.
  3. The Fertile Valley. Defending this valley is likely why the keep was built. We have the fertile valley with lots of essential agriculture, driven by rainfall from The Seat of All High, and we have Lake Gennesaret (The Sea of Galilee) at the opposite end of Baalgad, a major source of fish. I've thought of changing the name, but all I've found are Hebrew and Arabic names for the sea, so Galilee is just as appropriate.
  4. Badlands to the North. As far as I can tell, it looks pretty barren north of Baalgad. My guess is it's ogre territory.
The Purpose of the Citadel:
  1. The Secret Reason: To keep an eye on the shadowfell.
  2. The Public Reason: To protect the fertile valley in times of strife. The Tashtak (Syrians in the real world) could invade from the far south where the mountain ranges end.
  3. The Current Reason: To keep the ogres to the north at bay and act as an early warning for the region.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

The Village of Baalgad

THE GOAL: The goal is to find a town that will best represent Winterhaven, the site of the Keep on Shadowfell adventure. I could make up such a place easily enough, but one of the advantages of using the ancient world as my campaign setting is that thousands of years of history has done a lot of my job for me. Why create geography, trade routes and conflict when the good folks of 2,000 BC have already done the heavy lifting?

THE TOWN: Baalgad (or Baal-gad), meaning troops of Baal, is an ancient town that is thought to now be called Hasbaya. It has a rich history, most of which I want to use well beyond Phoenician times. It features:

  • The Seat of the All High. The town sits at the foot of Baal-Hermon a mountain that all religions in the area hold sacred. It's a local Mount Olympus.
  • Fertile Valley. A long fertile valley runs to the west of the mountain with Baalgad it's local town. People grow olives primarily, but also produce honey, pears, grapes, figs and pine nuts.
  • The Citadel. There's an ancient keep. Nobody knows who built it and when. Nobody even knows how many rooms are in it (really, no kidding). It's got a large dungeon of at least three floors, used for keeping prisoners, entombing the dead, storing goods, you name it.

  • Religion. Although multiple religions find the mountain to be holy, the town and the citadel are clearly dedicated to Baal, or as we call him, Pelor, god of light. Baal is important but remember that Malqart is the god of Zor, so there's no religious support from the powerful city-state.
  • The Citadel. I rather like the historical reality that the citadel is family owned and maintained. This family in our campaign will be the keepers of the citadel. The citadel in the campaign, like the real one, gets no government support and is in a shambles. The purpose of our citadel is to guard against the nearby shadowfell. Zor has more pressing matters at hand, so Baalgad is on its own.
  • Trade Routes? Not really. It's well protected and isn't on a particular route, thus the citadel's only purpose is to guard against the Shadowfell.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Brief History of Labash (The Human Realm)

Before there was the Labash we know today, comprised of city states, points of light in a dangerous realm, there was Phoenicia. Phoenicia was a rich and powerful sea-trading kingdom, run by a council of elementalist wizards and a powerful king. It was a learned kingdom that invented the alphabet and codified magic, dividing light magic from dark and thus allowing magic to help the kingdom prosper. The kingdom was comprised of beautiful cities with tall spires and a system of paved roads that reached even the smallest of hamlets. Phoenicia held its own against outside threats, and rebuffed outside efforts to divide the peoples against each other.

What Phoenicia could not do was purge itself from its inner corruption. The humans who ran Phoenicia were powerful and greedy. Over time, the king answered to the powerful trade lords rather than to his own people. His advisors were likewise influenced unduly by those with money who could get their grievances heard, whether right or wrong. The greed of Phoenicias governors eventually resulted in a brutal and devastating civil war, in which the Phoenician army was torn apart, with governors marching to war with wizards who could shake the earth or stir the sea to swallow batallions of men in watery maelstroms, even a hundred miles from the sea.

What remains from this greed, corruption and in-fighting is modern day Labash, a handful of city states built atop the ruins of once great Phoenician cities. Phoenicia of old can ocasionally be discovered, often along the ancient trade routes amidst ruins and once prosperous villages. However, one is just as likely to find such an ancient site inhabited by rapacious ogres or cabals of evil sorcerers. Still, there are points of light amongst the darkness, such as the hill village of Winterhaven, once a Summer vacation spot of ancient kings, or the Palace of Faith, a place of healing baths run by priests of the sun god, Melqart [Pelor].

Despite the dangers in Labash, many peoples have found its loose power structure conducive to their needs. Refugees from other kingdoms have settled peacfully in Labash, living alongside humans in a way that would have aroused suspicion in the time of the Phoenicians. The fact that nearly all residents of Labash know a Dragonborn or Tiefling or Eladrin defuses a lot of xenophobia that would have led to war in the past. The destruction of Phoenicia from internal pressures has ironically insulated it from sinister outside influences.

Metagame: I've managed to have fallen civilizations everywhere except for the primary human kingdom. With the Points of Light approach of 4E, I was going to have problems unless I had an underlying civilization or made all the adventures occur outside of the main realm.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Starting at the Fringe

Rather than start in a big city, the party will be from the village instead. This does a few things. First, it prevents the campaign from becoming de-facto urban. We've done that and we want to avoid that. Second, starting in a small town sets the characters up to be the potential heroes. Rather than have all the heavy hitters busy with more important stuff, YOU are the heavy hitter and THIS is the important stuff. Third, a more rural setting should allow some racial mixing, absent the political ramifications of the large city state. We can have generations of tieflings and dragonborn living in this small village, likely ancient refugees from their homelands. The idea behind using Lebanon as a model is that you have all these different peoples living in harmony, while their peoples from outside the country are hostile to each other. A rural setting is where this should work best.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

4E Adventures from WOTC

Mostly for my own reference. With an April street date (sounds wrong), the first one at least is likely to be my first campaign adventure. It has that Keep on the Borderlands feel to it, and it's co-written by Mike Mearls. I'm a Monte Cook fanboy, but with him retired, my fanboyness has transferred to Mike Mearls. He wrote a lot of great stuff for Monte Cook's Malhavoc Press, along with Book of Nine Swords for 3.5 (a prototype of 4.0 ideas).

Keep on the Shadowfell: Adventure H1 (D&D Accessory)

A D&D adventure for characters of levels 1-3.

The town of Winterhaven stands watch over a ruined keep that was once a bastion of good in the realm. This keep overlooks the Shadow Rift, a dark scar in the world that was once a gateway to the Shadowfell but has been dormant for many years. Now, an evil cleric of Orcus, Demon Lord of the Undead, seeks to re-open the gate, and the only thing standing in his way is a small yet determined band of heroes from Winterhaven.

Keep on the Shadowfell is an exciting Dungeons & Dragons adventure designed for characters of levels 1-3. It includes three double-sided poster maps suitable for use with D&D miniatures, as well as information on the town of Winterhaven and environs.

Gleemax Playtest Report

Thunderspire Labyrinth: Adventure H2 (D&D Adventure)
Book Description
A 4th Edition D&D® adventure for characters of levels 4-6

Beneath Thunderspire Mountain lies a sprawling network of mazes, tombs, and caverns collectively known as the Labyrinth of Lost Souls. In recent years, this vast labyrinth has become a living dungeon where trade between the surface and subterranean worlds is possible. However, beyond the well-lit halls where prospectors, merchants, and traders convene lies a darker world where adventurers battle monsters and fiendish beings perform secret rituals for their dark masters. . .

H2 Thunderspire Labyrinth is a D&D adventure designed for heroic-tier characters of levels 4-6.

Pyramid of Shadows: Adventure H3 (D&D Adventure)
No information available

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Thougths on Adventures

Now that I've got a feeling for the campaign world, I can focus on adventures. Most of what I know now is what I don't want the adventures to be:

  • Urban. After Iron Ptolus and years of playing urban Iron Crown, on the Astral Plane no less, I want to get out of town. I long for elven glades and mountain passes.
  • Dungeon Delving. Some underground stuff is fine, but I want most of the interaction to be above ground. What I really want to have are experiences from some of the old-school adventures like Village of Hommlet and Against the Giants. I want primal fear and excitement, something believable and honest.
  • Planar Travel. If we do this it will happen much later in level. One of the first stops would likely be the new faerie realm. Reading a lot of Dresden Files has me excited for such an adventure. In general, adventures should be local.
  • One Shots (vs. a campaign). I could see having a one-shot or two that tied into a larger campaign. Something to get your feet wet, with a hint of a larger campaign plan. What I don't want to do is a series of tedious one-shot adventures. That's tedious for everyone. I need a campaign.
  • Genre Campaigns. I'm not interested in starting a war, fighting off horrors, or similar adventuring genres. I want vanilla, but I want gourmet vanilla with those little bits of vanilla bean embedded into it; the kind of vanilla that makes you wonder why they ever invented chocolate.
One advantage of having a home brew campaign world that's fairly normal (unlike Iron Crown) is that I can focus more on an adventure and less on determining how minutiae, like how yeast procreates on a plane of thought and similar distractions. I would like to drop in a pre-made adventure, but at this late stage in 3.5, the only safe thing is to make up something on my own. Then again, it would behoove me to run some of the new 4.0 adventures, which in theory should showcase some of the major differences between the systems. Hmm, more thought required.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

A Game of Chess

Chess is a martial game invented by the Badari, or so they claim. Despite their prowess at the game, the Shamar would meet their challenges, the eladrin taking up the game in their giant white towers in their southern homeland. The Shamar would send an envoy to the Badari with their turn and the Badari would return their envoy with a response. The average turn would take around a year and half, with large crowds of people massing in Badar to hear the latest moves. Inevitably, the kings of Shamar could outlast their human opponents, winning each game as the Badari king died of old age or a more violent end, not unusual in Badar.

This humiliation lasted for centuries, along with military humiliations visited upon the Badari by the Tashtak and their dragon knowledge of weapons and technology. Then one day, the Badari went quiet. For nearly a century, their borders were closed and spies reported back the building of great structures, pyramids and statues of great size. When the borders once again opened, the world knew a new Badari king, Pharaoh Asmod I. The games of chess with the Badari began again. This time, the pharaoh did not die. The game lasted two centuries and in the end, Pharaoh Asmod I won his game. A separate message was sent to the Badari along with his checkmate and shortly thereafter, the Shamar eladrin retired from the world to the fey realm.

With their first enemy vanquished with a game of wits, Pharaoh Asmod I took on the Tashtak. This would not be solved with a chess game. He brought an army against the Tashtak, an army comprised of devils and soldiers with horns and glowing red eyes. An entire race of new diabolical creatures grew during the closing of the ancient kingdom and they were brought to bear against Tash. Pharaoh Asmod I grew in power as his victories were recorded, the people of Badari worshiping him as their god. With the battles going well, the pharaoh retired, claiming that it was his peoples turn to lead themselves, according to their pact.

Pharaoh Asmod I ascended to godhood, taking on the title of deus after his name. He would forever be known as the god Asmodeus and worshiped for eternity by the Badari. There are those Badari who are less happy with their pact, especially since their victories against the Tashtak ended after Asmod's ascension. The Tashtak developed new technologies, such as cold iron to counter the devils they faced on the battlefield. The war eventually devastated both civilizations, yet even as shadows of their former selves, they represent the two most powerful forces in the region. Asmodeus is still represented on the battlefield by his cruel and ruthless clerics.

A little metagame: This little story is supposed to represent some 4th edition changes. Asmodeus is a major god in 4E. Also, the tieflings and dragonborn races are designed to be from broken kingdoms. It's just easier to follow that pattern. What I have a harder time doing is the racial mixing of the new 4E setting. I've set it up where there is suspicion among many of them, so the newer races will be outsiders for a while.