Tuesday, February 2, 2016

5 Reasons to Visit Nyrond

Welcome back, World of Greyhawk buffs as I once again treat you with my ongoing feature titled "5 Reasons to Visit...". If you haven't seen my overviews of Keoland, the Bandit Kingdoms , Great Kingdom or Furyondy, be sure to check them out. Anyone who has played D&D should at least know the classic adventures of Greyhawk and hopefully you hard core fans like me, also know the setting's esoteric material. With 5 Reasons I seek to put a spotlight on five good plots and places in (ideally) each of the nations of the Flanaess. Perhaps a new DM will be intrigued by these locations or an experienced one will be reminded or inspired to revisit these areas. As always, comments, suggestions and additions are appreciated. Enjoy!

1. Rel Mord: The capital of Nyrond was first developed in the module Fate of Istus and later expanded upon in The Marklands (the best source for things Nyrond). This great walled city on the Duntide River sports 34,200 to 46,500 people depending on your era. This is also where the (future) sage Pluffet Smedger the Elder and the Royal University is located, first mentioned on the very covers of the boxed set Greyhawk guides. 

Nyrond is ruled from Rel Mord by King Archbold III (or his son King Lynwerd post-wars) and starting at any published Greyhawk timeline, the strain of war with the Great Kingdom and Iuz on either front wears on his stalwart kingdom. This is a nominally good realm (lawful neutral) yet constant political drama, massive war casualties, peasant poverty and droves of refugees moving out threaten to tear Nyrond as we know it apart. During the timeline of King Archbold's succession, the rather large domain of Nyrond and its varied factions could be a perfect place to set up a campaign akin to Game of Thrones

2. Star Haunt: To the west of Rel Mord, the Celadon Forest and it's inhabitants' strife concerning Baron Bastrayne of Woodwych makes for a good sub-campaign, but within the Celadon itself is a site that is adventure worthy all on its own. Star Haunt is an aptly named, star-shaped ruined castle built long ago by an insane tribe of Oeridians

What else is distinctive about this ruin? For one, the walls of Star Haunt are covered in a phosphorescent moss giving the ruin an eerie glow at night. Do you expect monsters to lair here? Of course this is monsters, but it's much worse than you think. A strange curse on Star Haunt's location imbues all monsters living here with a displacement effect. That's right, just like displacer beasts. Now imagine something like displacer trolls or displacer rust monsters! 

It gets even worse unfortunately, because the longer monsters stay here the more they fade out and become specters and wraiths. Hopefully not displacer wraiths though. Nuff said there. There is undoubtedly still treasure to be had in Star Haunt, because the locals give this place a wide berth and for good reason!

3. Kurast's Tower: To the east of the capital on the borders of Almor is another point of interest called Kurast's Tower. At the source of the Flessern River on a hill is a plain looking, squat tower made of a black stone unknown in the Flanaess. The tower is owned by a clumsy, absent-minded wizard named, yes, Kurast. Old man Kurast is a water-elementalist and normally keeps to himself.

Then during the times of the Greyhawk Wars after the fall of Almor, the area of this tower becomes a Nyrondese garrison to keep an eye on the vile animus Duke Szeffrin across the border. Kurast is a curious fellow going from joking and friendly to Nyrondese forces, then alternately grumpy and shut away for days in his impenetrable tower. What watery magic goes on below in his dungeons is currently open to DM speculation, but he is known to have sent elementals down river to deal with humanoids in the past. 

Kurast makes for a perfectly new and unusual benefactor wizard in a campaign setting that is already full of typical archmagi. His location on the buffer zone between two major kingdoms could give him more prominence if war escalates on the border. Then again, if PCS rub Kurast the wrong way he could also be one of their biggest antagonists!

4. Claw Point: On the southern coast of Nyrond is many small towns and ports, but one remote peninsula called Claw Point bears visiting. Claw Point is used by smugglers to hide in its sea caves, but lately the sides of this cliff have eroded to reveal a network of catacombs from the early Oeridian migrations. Naturally tomb robbers and adventurers down on their luck have come here to pilfer the burial ground that is said to run a mile deep.

The trick to Claw Point is accessing its tall cliffside entrances by climbing all the while knowing that the Sea of Gearnat is quite windy year round. Once inside, the tunnels are constantly crumbling and undead creatures lurk here, entirely ready to follow you outside. Inevitably some robbers also return from here with curses and diseases. A small price to pay for buried Oerid treasure.

5. Crystal Springs: Lastly, north of Rel Mord is another notable location at the headwaters of a river, called Crystal Springs. Strange bluish-quartz stone formations surround the bubbling springs that form the Duntide River and despite being brittle yet centuries they hold no further importance except as a way stop for several garrisons in the region. 

However, below the springs somewhere, is an extensive series of chambers or caves which may hold the true secrets of Crystal Springs. Despite reports of monsters and magics, no one to date has ventured down there long enough to find any answers. Crystal Springs is a good location for a DM who wants to develop an their own dungeon crawl yet set it near a few centers of civilization (its at the edges of Nyrond, the Pale and the County of Urnst). 

Five Shall Be One: The Quest Begins!

Welcome back fans of Greyhawk, today is the second installment of my new 5E Hold of Sea Princes reboot of the 2E modules Five Shall Be One and Howl From the North, set in the south seas. What sort of intrigue and escapades will the crew of the Sea Hag get into this week? Read on!

Dramatis personae:

Cullen (fearsome first-mate, human rogue)
Sabriel Loreweaver (qualified quartermaster, human bard)
Tyrrus Bandale (diligent deckhand, human fighter)
Kuma Sand (serene-surgeon, human druid)

Ostyn (dual-wielding deckhand, human fighter)
and Lash Driftwood (balanced-bosun, sea elf ranger)

When last we saw the crew of the Sea Hag, they had been ambushed in their sleep by goblin-sailors from the rival vessel the Iron Trident. This delaying action didn't work however, and the survivors were questioned, looted and tied up. The next morning the regatta was getting underway in the harbor of Monmurg. a grandstand stood near the water's edge where the nobility and captaincy of the Hold sat with their ruler and guest of honor, Prince Jeon II. The Sea Hag for its worth was getting into position along with nine other large, younger ships. Compared to these vessels, some made for war, the weathered crab boat stood out on the glittering waters. Among them was the Azure Jewel, the prince's best carrack, the Lyrical a sleek white caravel from the port of Windsong and alongside the Hag was of course the Toli Armada's finest, the Iron Trident, bristling with energy and ire for reasons they couldn't say.

Kuma Sand had consulted the sea gods ahead of time for Captain Cragg, and knew the weather would be fair and their racing winds moderate. The crew all were at their stations, Cullen standing at the wheel with Cragg at his side and Sabriel nearby, ready to relay orders and use her talents to raise morale. The signal was made and the city erupted in cheers as the ships started the regatta, a complete circuit of the harbor vast front. The Sea Hag jumped out ahead with the Iron Trident cruising close alongside its starboard side, the old crab ship still had legs. Five vessels began to lag behind, including the Azure Jewel, then on the turn the Sea Hag and Iron Trident began to have complications as they got too close to one another, both vessels falling behind to the swift Lyrical. Kuma again dropped a rope and made a subtle appeal to the four wind goddesses. Their sails then filled again with a quick boost of wind and the Trident fell out of sight. On the last stretch the Hag gained, the crew all straining and focused on their duties, then by a prow the Lyrical was defeated. The harbor roared in applause for the two ships.

Both winning crews were brought to the grandstand to meet Prince Jeon II a handsome young captain, but hardly regal, and his rival from Port Toli, Prince Varek IV an older, shrewd looking noble. They gave each ship their prize purses and all the sailors were presented with a silver pin bearing the symbol of the Sea Princes, a crown over a ship. The pin gave them the prince's favor for a year.  Captain Cragg was presented a silver cup as well which was to bear his ship's name and be displayed in the prince's palace. Just as they were ready to attend a party, news spread through the crowd and reached the princes that the Provincial Navies of the Great Kingdom were amassing an armada in the east Azure Sea and further, had issued letters of marque against the Hold of the Sea Princes for daring to run their economic blockades. This news caused a nationalistic furor among the captains. The Prince's Fleet all called for a show of strength and immediately left to rally their ships. Prince Varek and the Toli Armada faction however changed their tune and decided to return home and guard what they have instead of engaging the Great Kingdom of Aerdy. Captain Cragg, loyal to Prince Jeon and Jetsom Island was ready to act, but he was told to stand down. He and his ship were too old, the new fleet could handle this for now.

Sulking, Cragg and the Sea Hag returned to Jeklea Bay to what else, crabbing. Sabriel Loreweaver consoled the old drunk white beard privately and learned he was in a battle twenty years ago when the Hag was in its prime. He had lost both his sons in that conflict and his wives left him. He was useless but the bard lifted his spirits some. That night, Cullen discovered a hidden crate in the hold. After some effort he found it contained a cannon from Cragg's warship years. Confronted, Cragg apparently thought he had sold them all and forgot it was down there. Was it a sign?

A few days later they had brought their latest catch to the far flung city of Sasserine on the bay. Here, Cragg and his officers sold the lot to Vico Bevenin a businessman of a shady sort. Also dealing with the Bevenin family was a young half-elf mage named Mallon who helped identify a minor wand the captain needed to sell off. Once the crab was delivered, the crew went about the town enjoying their time off. On their way back to the docks, the group noticed the young man in an alley fighting off three chainmail clad assailants. Lash used his sea elf abilities to call up a fog cloud so Mallon could disengage. Cullen feeling bloodlust rushed to the cloud with Ostyn not far behind. Sabriel noticed more of these mercs in the shadows though, ready to flank them. Tyrrus was undaunted and sped to the flank to hew one down while Kuma sprayed poison spells at a second to keep his mace at bay. Cullen and Ostyn's flashing blades took down one armed man lost in the clouds and drove a second back. Lash climbed to a roof for an archer's position and saw the attackers already had a man up there on overwatch. Fiery rays shot out from the man's hand, barely missing Lash who dove for cover before loosing an arrow back at the wizard and hitting his arm. The mage fled, flying away into the night.

Just then, the leader of the mercs emerged from the shadows bearing a two handed sword ready to cleave down Tyrrus. Ever-alert, Sabriel's hand shot out defensively and from her lips a thunderous wave of force knocked him back. Tyrrus then turned his attention on the leader and their large swords clashed. The battle was cut short however as a mob of Sasserine city-watch pounced on both groups and arrested them. Apparently they had been gathering to bring down a smuggling deal and the Hag's crew was in the wrong place at the wrong time. At a prison tower, the crew was in a communal cell with Mallon the half-elf as well. Their enemies were in a different cell but were soon released. Bailed out by Vico Bevenin. Mallon thanked them for saving his life and he too was being held on trumped up charges. The men who attacked him had been hired through Vico for an expedition and decided to double-cross him instead.

Captain Cragg then entered, his pleas to the guard were not going well though. Sea Prince sailors were always distrusted in Sasserine. Before the crew could argue their case, the door to the cell block rumbled and crashed open. A small whirlwind of paper and debris whisked into the chamber knocking everyone about. The dust devil then passed through the bars of the cell and dispersed, leaving behind mysterious letters at the feet of all in there save Mallon. The letters bore the wax seal of the enigmatic Fivefold Council only known among pirate culture as the original lawmakers for all conduct upon the seas. Opening the letter, they were stunned to discover the Council had chosen them for a quest most perilous. Their arcane mark was soon transferred from paper to their hand. The Black Spot. And Mallon cowering in his corner, raised his hand to show he already had one before they met. The powerful Council had twisted fate in order to bring them together...

(to be continued)

Campaign notes: The letter from the Fivefold Council is REAL! Check it out ye squabs.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Quick Greyhawkery Update

Wow it's been almost a week since I posted? Okkay, so I have been falling behind on my projects, thus I'm airing this fact to motivate myself to get back on track. 

First, I have a new page of our Castle Greyhawk graphic novel coming up in a few days. The climatic battle with the white dragon is almost done!
My next installment of the Five Shall Be One reboot should be tomorrow (including some nice visual aides that will make you jealous). 

I also have neglected my 5 Reasons to Visit series which I vow to get back to ASAP. I'm thinking Nyrond or the Bright Desert. 

Anyone else running some Greyhawk? I'd love to hear about it. Until then, make mine Greyhawk!

Monday, January 25, 2016

Five Shall Be One: Prelude

Welcome fans of Greyhawk, today I'm undertaking my first campaign in the Hold of Sea Princes using 5E and I intend to try and do session recaps in my distinctive storytelling fashion like my original Sea Princes campaign years ago. I play and run a lot of campaigns though, so what makes this one special is that I'm making an effort to reboot the 2E modules Five Shall Be One and Howl From the North, set in the south seas. This means in addition to some game play accounts, I will provide some custom free 5E Greyhawk material. Enough set-up, let's get to the adventure and for future reference spoilers ahead!

Dramatis personae:

Cullen (finessed first-mate, human rogue)
Ms. Loreweaver (querying-quartermaster, human bard)
Tyrrus Bandale (daring-deckhand, human fighter)
Kuma Sand (crab-curing, human druid)
and Lash Driftwood (longbow-bosun, sea elf ranger)

The Sea Hag is not much to look at; a dingy, old crabbing ship crewed by a motley group of sailors from about the Azure Sea. But this outward appearance belies the Sea Hag's true stature, for it's originally a warship built for speed and seaworthiness thanks to its aged captain Sid "White Beard" Cragg. The year is 578 CY and the Hold of the Sea Princes is enjoying a relative peace, truces with neighboring Kingdom of Keoland and foes in the far-south Pirate Isles have proved profitable for all.

The Sea Hag begins its tale on Jeklea Bay, a huge tropical body of water nestled between the Hold, the Amedio Jungle and the volcanic Hellfurnaces. The crew is particularly better than most rivals in their profession at locating the best areas to catch lucrative crab thanks to the weather predictions of Kuma and the undersea insights of the sea elf Lash. Their haul this voyage is potentially extra profitable because the captain intends to take them to the capital, Monmurg, where the Hold of the Sea Princes will be celebrating the three-day Princes' Festival. Their first day out was rainy and warm, a pleasant day for throwing pots and hauling lines from the blue waters of the bay. Cragg was becoming disappointed, the crew worked hard but was catching very little despite his expert's advice. Then suddenly Cullen's crab-pot was raised on deck and out spilled a trio of giant crabs!

The crew scattered because the giant species always put up a good fight, though one deckhand, Tyrrus was never intimidated by sea critters. He rushed in to aid the dual-scimitar wielding Cullen, swinging his own long two-handed blade. As Lash began to fling errant arrows at the lumbering crabs, the captain and druid both yelled sharply over the roar of confusion to take the giants alive. Any crab is money after all. Subduing the large hard-shelled crustaceans with bladed weapons proved harder than they figured, especially for Tyrrus' great sword. Loreweaver motivated her compatriots to try harder (after she found crabs aren't affected by insults) and soon the creatures were down and bound up with Kuma tending to their minor wounds (damaged crabs won't sell as well). That night the crew choked down an awful meal cooked by "Good" Bill Barden and listened to a long crabbing story (for the 17th time) by Ms. Loreweaver. The captain retired to his chamber early.

Having finally filled their hold with delicious crab, the Sea Hag sailed north to Monmurg where Prince Jeon II's festival was just getting underway. Ships crowded the port, while kites rose in the air and music played everywhere giving the city a colorful and vibrant feel. Member captains and nobles of the three rival Hold factions were all in attendance: The Princes' Fleet, the Toli Armada and the Hold Flotilla. The Sea Hag's home is Jetsom Island and thus their loyalty lay with the Prince's Fleet, which is an important fact for soon after unloading their cargo, a message was delivered by courier to the hands of Cullen imploring the Sea Hag to represent their island in the next day's Princes Cup Regatta. Evidently their ship's reputation still abounded back home. With some bardic encouragement (and the promise of a rich purse for winning) from Ms. Loreweaver, the captain and crew accepted the invite. 

The rest of the day the crew wandered the docks and streets to take part in the festival. Tyrrus' brawn proved useful in fixing a broken beer wagon earning him a hand keg for his trouble, while Loreweaver and Cullen went on a side jaunt to pick a pocket or two from drunks, then ended up in a brothel where they in turn were nearly pick-pocketed if not for the perceptively intimidating insistence of Cullen to return the stolen items (which Loreweaver would've gladly gave the working girls anyhow). That night everyone congregated at the Black Anchor Inn to crash after a full night's carousing in a third floor common room. That is when dark shapes skulked in through the windows...

Meditating Lash and the jumpy bard and rogue were awakened by a slight noise and the sign of glittery dust in the air. No one had succumbed to the magical dust, though Kuma slept like a baby and Tyrrus hugged his keg still asleep. Lash could see in the dark of the room that there were goblins dressed as sailors with a human leading them. Afraid that their mission failed, the trespassers began to flee if not for the quick grasp of Cullen and in another direction Loreweaver's thunderous wave of sound shattered glass, burst goblin eardrums and woke everyone else in the inn. The goblins began to flee down a catwalk and down trellises after that show of magic.

Groggy but alert, Tyrrus sprang toward the shattered window and leaped out not heeding their third story room and tackled two of the interlopers to the ground, crushing their skull and severely spraining his own neck in the effort. Lash retrieved his bow against the wall and discouraged another goblin climbing down, till he was too caught at the bottom by Tyrrus (though he also caught some fleas from them). Cullen wrestled with the human sailor until the charms of Loreweaver calmed him. Kuma knocked out a goblin from behind before he could rouse his boss. Outside, Cullen gave chase on the catwalk for the last goblin who leaped for the next building and came up short. With the little pirate hanging from the ledge, Cullen leaped over him to the other side then offered his hand to help. The goblin was fooled and he fell, concussed to the ground. Ms. Loreweaver soon learned from her newest "friend" that they hailed from the ship Iron Trident, the fastest ship of the Toli Armada; and they intended for their opponents to oversleep and miss the regatta, A new rivalry was created...

(to be continued)

Camapaign notes: All the prelude encounters were my own creation as a way to let the players get a feel for their characters, the crew, the ship and the background of the setting. Next session we will delve into my adapted remake of FSBO. The characters started at level 3 and rolled stats 4d6 drop the lowest, assigned any order. I want heroic characters for once not lovable losers. We also do a seventh stat, comeliness (from Greyhawk lore) to represent "looks". Next week I hope to have more material to show off, plus maybe a map in a session or two.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Castle Greyhawk: The Tide Turns

Greetings fans of Greyhawk! Today is the day I promote the latest episode of our ongoing Castle Greyhawk graphic novel. Check out page thirty-five to see some manic monster melee manuscripted by Scott Casper. On our site you can also check the archives and follow the entire Castle Greyhawk story from the very beginning.

Artist's Commentary: The battle has taken a turn in favor of the heroes! The more I draw this encounter the more I've learned about dragon anatomy and keeping a consistent look has been a challenge. I've also, probably belatedly learned how to give the dragon some emotion be it through the glance in panel one or pain in panel five.

It's good to see Murlynd again. It's fun to think in hindsight how he hung back for most of the chapter just being the light bearer or as my friends call it "the sherpa". In truth he might be the highest level character in this bunch. I wondered while drawing this page what spell he was casting. Surely it isn't magic missile but that's the obvious choice. These arrows of force seem to have more oomph behind them is all I can observe.

As always Tenser is overly brave and dramatic in using his unidentified wand. (do players even do that anymore?) Terik likewise throws caution to the wind just so he can get a lick in on the dragon. By my count so far, I think Yrag has done the least damage to the dragon. What will happen next? Check in soon to find out!

Monday, January 18, 2016

Curse of Strahd

Well, this is tangential Greyhawk news, but no less exciting. On the heels of the new OGL and DMGuild news, Wizards has officially announced their next adventure is Curse of Strahd and from the blurbs and chatter, it's entirely set in Barovia in the setting of Ravenloft. Check the link to get all the details as they continue to roll in daily. D&D celebrity Chris Perkins again takes the lead on this with original creators Tracy and Laura Hickman. It doesn't get much better creatively than this.

I am a huge fan of Ravenloft second only to Greyhawk of course. I've already ran a couple one-shot 5E adventures in Ravenloft and was planning to do a longer campaign when this news coincidentally dropped on my head (I've postponed the idea since). Needless to say I'm anxious to get this book and possibly the tie-in Tarokka deck by GF9, and what's more, if it is true to the setting and not just another Forgotten Realms exploit then that's grand news for the future of the D&D multiverse.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Finally! D&D 5E OGL

The internet is aflame with the news. No not David Bowie's death and not the president's state of the union address. What's up is WotC has finally released an Open Gaming License (and SRD) for 5E! Well about time, right? It's progress yes, but for aspiring Greyhawk creators, it's not quite time to celebrate.

According to Wizard's official article, writers can now use the OGL and sell their material through the approved Dungeon Masters Guild website (from what I seen Wizards gets a 50% cut) provided your 5E product uses original IP or is set in the Forgotten Realms. Well that of course crushes the hopes of many Greyhawk fans such as myself who want to share some quality material for the new edition. Of course it's mentioned in their FAQ that other settings' IP may be opened later, but the pessimist in me says this will be hew closer to 6th Edition than the start of the OGL. Then again, with so many people potentially developing FR maybe Wizards' staff will focus on Oerth for once (pipe dream?).

Greyhawk gripes aside, this new OGL set-up is indeed great news for everyone, especially for people who want to develop and sell a homebrew setting. In the very least it will be good to get into the practice of self-publishing in the event Greyhawk or some other loved setting comes open for general use. Who knows, maybe then a clever team of Greyhawk fan-writers can revive the setting like they did almost two decades ago...