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.