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.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Political Structure

Zor has a stable government structure ruled by three groups:
  • Queen Esira and her court
  • The Temple of Melqart and High Priest Baltazar
  • The Council of Elders
Zorian rule is so effective, that it threatens to annex nearby regions into a nation of its own.

Foreign emperor in Zorian Purple

Trade Routes of Common Goods

Double click on it to blow it up.

A trade ship:

Character Names

To keep things consistent with the setting, here are some Phoenician names to choose from:

You don't need to choose from the list, but it should give you an idea of the sound and feel of the names.


I'm putting the campaign technologically at around 1450BC, or the late bronze age. Recently, within a hundred years, the Tashtak (dragonborn) removed Badari (tiefling) dominance of the region by introducing iron weapons. Many of the infernal allies of the Badari were unaffected by bronze weapons, but iron seems to bypass their defenses. Badari forces have been forced to retreat from conquered lands and a balance of power has been established. Iron is quickly replacing bronze.

The Tashtak secret weapon is steel. Dammeshek is the center of Tashtak steel production. Tashtak steel weapons are all masterwork with a +2 to hit. They cost four times as much as masterwork weapons. All steel weapons are masterwork in this fashion, but iron weapons can also be masterwork (and thus enchantable under the 3.5 rules).

Because of the Tashtak influence, we're going to increase weapons and armor development for the campaign. Using the 3.0 Arms & Equipment guide, we'll use the "Dark Ages" category on page 18. Here's a break down:

For armor:

Not allowed from the PHB:
Full Plate
Half Plate
Splint Mail

Uncommon (usually used by the military, attracts attention)
Banded mail

For weapons:

Not allowed from the PHB:
Chain, spiked
Crossbow, hand
Crossbow, heavy
Crossbow, repeating
Flail, dire
Glaive (and other pole arms)
Longbow, composite
Sword, bastard

Uncommon (usually used by the military, attracts attention)
Crossbow, light

I wouldn't micro-manage this so much, except that a historical break can be really glaring.

Some new items from the same book:

Ring mail
leather scale

Sunday, January 6, 2008


Each city state of Labash as its own patron deity. The deity of Zor is Melqart.

Melqart, Son of Baal (Ruler of the Universe), God of Zor, King of the Underworld, Protector of the Universe symbolizes the annual cycle of vegetation and is associated with the female deity Astarte in her role as the maternal goddess.

Melqart's Temple in Zor has two pillars one of pure gold and the other of emeralds which shines brilliantly at night. Zorian coins show Melqart riding on a hippocampus (seahorse). The religion of Melqart is popular, and temples exist to him in areas where Zorians have settled around the realm.

Zorian clerics of all alignments worship Melqart. Some clerics choose to focus on Melqart's role as god of the underworld. Some focus on his role as sun god. Others focus on his role as patron of sailors or agriculture. There's something for everyone in the worship of Melqart and there is also great wealth within the temples.

Game Play: We'll track this god with one of the 4E gods. Those who want temporal, political power through organized religion will likely choose this god. Those out in the countryside, where the campaign starts, can make other choices.

The Map

I'm not making a map. Instead I'm using this map of the ancient Middle-East, changing names when necessary.

Peoples of The Realm

We're in an alternate version of the Middle-East. The main homeland is a version of ancient Lebanon. Various peoples live in harmony.

The Tashtak, from Tash, are essentially Middle-Ages Arabs; educated, wealthy, and powerful due to ties with ancient dragons. Tashtak are dragonblooded (a new 4E race). The Tashtak live to the east and north, what would be modern day Syria. The Tashtak are way more advanced than other cultures. They meddle in affairs of other cultures, especially those of the less sophisticated Labash.

The eladrin (an official 4E race) are the original ancient race that lives in their homeland of Shamar to the south of Labash. They're a bit haughty, but mostly because they've seen everything and the other races are uppity newcomers. The other races were created by the gods, but the eladrin were just always there. Centuries ago, the eladrin left their homeland for reasons unknown. The eladrin didn't just flee their homes, they fled the plane! The eladrin returned from exile about a hundred years ago, displacing those who took over their ancient kingdom, the halflings.

The halflings are nomadic traders whose populations tend to grow at very high rates (they're like rabbits in many ways), resulting in inner conflict. For centuries, the halflings had stopped their wanderings and found a home in the eladrin homeland. When they were rudely evicted by the eladrin, many could no longer go back to their wandering ways. They make up ghettos and refugee camps throughout Labash, often residing in swamps and on river boats, plying the waterways. They are generally disliked as they represent all the external problems of the realm. The Tashtak support many halfling groups, providing material support and weapons, but only enough to make the halflings a thorn in the side of the eladrin, never enough for them to be an actual threat to other nations.

The dwarves are another created race and play the usual underground craftsmen role. Their homelands are in the mountainous regions but they are generally cut off from civilization due to other threats in the hinterlands, especially ogres.

The Badari are the ancient Egyptians of the world. They are tieflings (a 4E official race). In their past they've had dealings with devils; thus their infernal heritage. They are culturally right after the time of the ancient pyramids, complete with all the Egyptian gods, culture and pharaohs. The Badari influence the Labash to a great extent, but they tend to reserve their underhanded activity for their arch-enemies the Tashtak. Unfortunately, the Labash always seem to be in the middle, suffering the consequences.

The elves are woodland folk found mostly throughout the cedar forests of Labash. As with the new 4E model, elves are all wood elves, and tend to revere nature and keep the ogres from getting too powerful.

The ogre kingdoms exist in the hills to the East of Labash. They are supported by their goblin minions. They generally war amongst themselves, raid against elves and dwarves, and cause trouble for both the Tash and Labashi. They are insatiably hungry and raid villages of all sorts on their borders for food. As horrible as they are, they act as a buffer against the Tashtak. The Tashtak cannot pass west from their kingdom. Instead they come south or via the sea. The ogre kingdoms are modeled after Warhammer Fantasy ogres.

Finally, there is Labash. Labash is a region comprising what we know as Lebanon. The cities within Labash are powerful coastal city-states, so they form no unified kingdom, which is why they are easy to manipulate by outsiders. Nobody is Labashi, as people identify themselves by their city-state. For example, if you're from Zor, you're Zorian and you might have just as many problems with the Gebali city-state dwellers as the Tashtak. Where the other kingdoms were once great and now in ruin, Labash is ancient, but its power is at its height in the world.

The PC's are from outside the city-state of Zor (ancient Tyre).

Zor: maritime and trade center. People known as Zorians. Zor means “rock” Consisted of two distinct urban centers, one on an island and the other on the adjacent coast (approximately 3.5 miles apart). One was a heavily fortified island city amidst the sea (with defensive walls 150 feet high[3] and the latter, originally called Ushu was actually more like a line of suburbs than any one city and was used primarily as a source of water and timber for the main island city. Occasionally they fought against each other, although most of the time they supported one another due to the island city’s wealth from maritime trade and the mainland area’s source of timber, water and burial grounds.

Zor is a metropolis with a population of 200,000 spread throughout dozens of districts.

Other cities:

• Berothai: Trade and religious center. Olive oil
Gebal: Trade and religious center. Cedar, wine, olive oil
Zidon: maritime and trade center.

The Meta in the Campaign

Labash is a campaign based on ancient Lebanon. It's pre-Islamic, pre-Arab, pre invasion of the Syrians or the Egyptians. It's back far enough that we don't have ready cultural references to play upon. Yet, the geography and nearby civilizations make it easy to model a campaign after history, at least a poor recollection of it.

From a DM's perspective, this means I have to work less hard than creating a campaign world from scratch, but harder than if I just grabbed one off the shelf. For much of the campaign, I'm changing the names and borrowing from various periods of history in the same region to come up with events. This has worked very well in the past for me, even mixing historical peoples that never co-existed together.

From a player's perspective, you'll be playing straight D&D, 4th edition in this case, without cultural reference points. You won't see Middle-Eastern cultures as you generally know them. You also won't be seeing a straight European medieval setting. We're aiming for something several thousand years old that appears culturally neutral.

For those not playing in the game, please excuse the historical inaccuracies and cultural insensitivity as I generally mix and match modern day Middle-Eastern politics and events from several thousand years ago.