Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Howl From the South: Battling to Blue

Welcome loyal Greyhawkers, today is the tenth installment of my ongoing 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 high adventure will the crew of the Envy get into this week? Read on, and beware, this story may contain spoilers!

Dramatis personae:

Cullen (carousing captain, human rogue)
Sabriel Loreweaver (fatigued first-mate, human bard)
Tyrrus Bandale (boastful bosun, human fighter)
Kuma Sand (sleeping surgeon, human druid)
Ostyn (deft deckhand, human fighter)

and Lash Driftwood (queazy quartermaster, sea elf ranger)

When last we saw the crew, they had just teleported away from the capital city of the sahuagin empire with the third Blade of Corusk, Stalker. Now safely onboard their vessel, the Envy, the crew knew they had to move immediately and get to a safe port. Unfortunately, while the resonating power of the three swords had saved the day, it had exhausted Sabriel and Lash and rendered Kuma Sand unconscious, Cullen barked orders to his healthy crew, especially the strong ogre Ogie, to get the pinnace under way. Mallon conferred and told Cullen that Blue Port to the north was closest, but in the middle of the Azure Sea and shorthanded they had trouble steering the right course. Less than a day to the north, much of the crew tried to finally get a difficult rest. That is when weary Sabriel was visited in her spell by another vision from her magic rapier, Dreamsinger:

Your vision swirls still from the inky blackness of the deep sea, crashing into the sudden stillness of a blank void. Points of light come into focus gradually and you sense the seething bloodlust of the hunters as they restlessly hunt in all directions.

Waking in fright, she ran to the aft of the Envy to tell Cullen of her dream. Just as the rakish rogue was about to dismiss her, she looked over his shoulder to see several large wakes in the water behind their ship and closing fast! Yelling for Lash, the sea elf wearily trudged up to see what commotion the bard was causing and that's when his eyes grew wide and he groaned. A sahuagin raiding party from the city was chasing them down, and this time they had brought sharks as transportation. The rest of the crew began to converge at the rear as Lash went the opposite direction. Eristen, their other sea elf companion then gasped and pointed as the largest wake was indeed a giant shark, what storytellers in the Sea Princes called a megalodon.

Lash ran to climb the mast and get to high ground, his new weapon Stalker was attuned and he knew suddenly that he could turn invisible, the sea elf faded from view gradually like a shadowy mist. Captain Cullen remained at the wheel defiantly to try to out-maneuver the host, but the sharks were fast and the sahuagin too sharp to out-wit. Tyrrus busily enlisted Mallon the mage to help aim and fire one of their rear cannons. They had not spent much time practicing how to use the black powder weapons since acquiring the new guns, so the fighter and wizard bickered on how to point the weapon that the giant shark rose up first and bit a hunk out of the rail in front of them. Sabriel was concerned with the sahuagin raiders and sang a song of sleep, causing a few to fall off in pursuit.

Ostyn retrieved his crossbow that he had left about for just this scenario and began firing at the attackers. Likewise, Ogie had a harpoon he was saving for just this occasion and he plunged it right into the hide of the unfeeling megalodon. Cullen continued to turn the ship and avoid the largest shark even as the smaller ones swam alongside their hull to allow their sea devil passengers to climb off to the side. Spears were thrown in advance of the boarders, one striking the preoccupied Tyrrus. Sabriel was also distracted by the huge shark and used her bardic powers to inspire the crew while viciously mocking the uncaring beast. Cullen looked behind him to see spears flying all around and invisible Lash's arrows zipping back at them from nowhere. Eristen stood by in defense of Cullen as webbed hands scrambled for the rail. Just then Tyrrus and Mallon finally got the point blank shot they needed, the cannon was lit and an ear-piercing blast blew a gaping hole in the giant shark. The smoke cleared and the monster was still unfazed, perhaps controlled by the evil will of its sahuagin masters.

That will was tested by the ranger Lash Driftwood though. Again, using the special powers of Stalker, he was able to converse with the injured megalodon and though frenzied, he miraculously convinced it to calm and turn away without further harm. Meanwhile, Sabriel, Ostyn, Ogie and Eristen began to repel the boarding sahuagin, clubbing and stabbing them back into the dark waters, a handful reached the deck however, led by a fearsome four-armed baron. The sea devils frenzied and ganged up on Tyrrus who had just taken up his great sword. Bites and claws tore into the bleeding fighter and then the leader's trident pierced him for a painful lasting wound. Cullen tied off the wheel at last and dashed in with the rallied crew to defend Tyrrus. The lesser warriors fell easily yet the leader was tenacious and big as the ogre, his wicked trident deeply stabbing Ostyn's weapon hand at one point. Cullen circled and lunged back in to wear the leader down, while Ogie's huge club battered the creature to his knees. With a determined stab, Cullen finished the sahuagin off, ending the battle ended with all exhausted and bloody except Lash who appeared from the shadows.

The next day the crew had finally got the rest they needed and came upon the relatively safe harbor of Blue Port, a pirate haven in the peninsula called the Pomarj ruled for life by a group called the Council of Three. The most notable feature of Blue they saw was the Dock Wall, a high wall and rampart lining their port, to defend the city from sahuagin attacks. This was surely a place that would be sympathetic to their cause. Upon arriving the party split up, Lash sold the pearls and other treasures gained from their undersea jaunt, Sabriel and Ostyn talked to the shipwright of the town about upgrades to their pinnace, while Kuma and Cullen separated to go wander the town alone. Tyrrus meanwhile took Mallon with him to the fish market to string up their catch of the day: sahuagin bodies including a four-armed specimen. The hatred the town had for the sea devils was great and most just spit on the carcasses, but eventually a wealthier local bought them for his own reasons.

That evening Cullen was itching to get back to his old profession before hard times had found him on a crab ship then questing for swords. He had been carefully watching for a mark in Blue Port and found one that likely deserved his fate. From the shadows, Cullen jumped a haughty tax collector and his two goon guards in an alley. After intimidation for half their money or their lives failed, he slew one guard and gut shot the second, leaving him to bleed as an example. The tax collector for his worth did make the deal, handing over half the day's take. The man ran home, but was secretly followed by Cullen. That evening at the Low Tide Inn, the crew of the Envy and all in attendance were treated to food and drinks on Cullen. who had brought his own date to the celebration, the tax collector's daughter.

The next morning the Low Tide Inn was quiet and hung over. Sleeping idly, Lash had cleaned up on side bets while snoring Ostyn had been the life of the party with his antics. Kuma, Mallon and Eristen were nowhere to be seen, having left the raucous party early. Sabriel had performed her bardic duties all night and now slept soundly in their common room. Tyrrus had got blitzed however, and eventually woke up in a totally different location; light on some coin to boot. Cullen also rested with a rare smile on his face in the arms of his new paramour, what's her name. Sabriel was then nudged awake by a boot. Gazing up with a sleepy frown she she saw a familiar face who had missed their party, the charmingly handsome Blue Port pirate Captain Kendrick.

To be continued...

Campaign notes: Most of you probably haven't owned or read Howl From the North, the continuation of the five swords quest. Naturally since this is set in the south seas I am calling this adaptation "howl from the south", but the reason I bring it up is that HFtN is utter trash. It was written by a different author from Five Shall Be One so it loses a lot in the transition, failing to come through on promises from the first, as well as failing to capture the feel of FSBO in both adventure and the nature of the swords, and then there is the crappy NPCs and the infamous ending. The impending war backdrop is also sketchy. The author tried admirably to deliver on this threat but for well-versed Greyhawk historians like myself the story doesn't work. I'll rant on that another time. All you need to know for my campaign is that Howl From the South will bear little resemblance to this module except in the objects of the quest. More next time!

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Glittering Isles of Greyhawk

Sometimes I get so wrapped up in my own Greyhawk projects like Greyhawkery, or Castle Greyhawk that I neglect to mention and promote some of the other great Greyhawk fan-authors out there. One worth directing all eyes toward is Anthony Conrad Edwards. Mr. Edwards is notable for game and novel writing through his Ravenlore Press in addition to an excellent blog From the Raven's Quill where he has been parceling out details on a project of his; the Realms of the Glittering Isles.

The Glittering Isles is a "Beyond the Flanaess" type location set in the Solnor Ocean east of the Great Kingdom. Anthony explains all in his prologue post on the realms, but it's basically his home campaign built by stitching together several published modules and reworking them to fit into the greater Greyhawk setting. The isles were once a hidden land exclusively inhabited by grey elves and faerie-kind, but over time through certain machinations and migrations, it has become inhabited by a variety of races and cultures. I particularly like how he has tied the elven demigod Ye'Cind (of Recorder fame) into the Glittering Isles. Ye-Cind isn't heavily developed in D&D canon yet he has an artifact named after him, so I say own it!

Anthony's write-ups on the Glittering Isles is reminiscent of the Guide to the World of Greyhawk format, from his overview of the Realms to his charts on populations and PC birthplaces. Anthony has also introduced a clever silver-based monetary system, the Aerdy Pound, which is inspired by a Footprints magazine article by Joe Maccarrone.

One last thing, I especially like how the Glittering Isles has Corsairs who ply the Hepmonaland coast and interact with other seafaring nations like the Lordship of the Isles. This makes Anthony's isles very much in tune with my own Hold of the Sea Princes campaign where I'm striving to bring the action to the southern and eastern waters of the Flanaess instead of the oft-published inland areas of Greyhawk. I look forward to reading more of Mr. Edward's efforts

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Five Shall Be One: Three Blades of Corusk

Well met Greyhawk readers! I had an off week for my adapted Five Shall Be One campaign so today I'm going to recap my conversions for the first three Blades of Corusk. Enjoy! For players be warned some of this could be considered spoilers!

DREAMSINGER
Weapon (rapier), legendary (requires attunement)

This fine blade is made of white steel with elaborate platinum filigree. Its basket and pommel is also set with polished moonstones. The blade was wielded long ago, by the prophetic bard Kristin Permfors who famously adventured with four other northerners.
   You gain a +3 bonus to attack and damage rolls made with this magic weapon. It has the following additional properties.
   Aura of Protection. While you are holding the weapon, it grants a +1 bonus to Armor Class and all saving throws, except enchantments and illusions because of the strange mental effects of the sword.
  Spells. While the weapon is attuned to a bard or any class that uses Charisma for spellcasting ability, you can use an action to cast one of the following spells (save DC 15): augury and detect thoughts.  Once you use the sword to cast a spell, you can’t cast that spell again from it until the next dawn.
   In addition, the blade grants the spell divination. Once cast, you can’t use this spell again until 7 days have passed.
   Firespear. This power only activates if the wielder of Dreamsinger or any of its sister-swords is in mortal danger. As an action, make a ranged attack against the target. A long spear of intensely hot fire is launched at a single target within 240 feet. On a hit, the target takes 6d10 fire damage.
   When the firespear is hurled from Dreamsinger, waves of melodic music cascade out from the sword in a 60-foot radius sphere. Treat the effect as a bless spell for allies, and a bane spell (DC 15 Charisma saving throw) for enemies that lasts for one minute.
   Sentience. Dreamsinger is a sentient neutral weapon with an Intelligence of 14, a Wisdom of 12, and a Charisma of 14. It has hearing and normal vision out to a range of 120 feet.
   The weapon communicates by transmitting dreams or visions when the wielder is either in a trance or asleep. Often these visions send the wielder into a fugue state without warning. This semi-dream state causes you to have disadvantage on perception checks and a -2 to initiative rolls although the wielder functions normally once any combat begins.
 Personality. Dreamsinger is a quiet, dutiful sword until it is aroused by anything concerning its past. The sword’s purpose is to locate the other Blades of Corusk with whom it considers to be kin. Conflict arises if the wielder ignores the visions and directions suggested, and the fugue states will only intensify if the sword gains the upper hand.

GREENSWATHE
Weapon (scimitar), legendary (requires attunement)

Greenswathe is made of uniquely golden adamantine that is marred only by alien glyphs etched into its blade and handle. This scimitar is crowned by a single large emerald set in the pommel.  It is not known who crafted Greenswathe though it was once famously possessed by Perenn, a druidess of the cold north.
   You gain a +3 bonus to attack and damage rolls made with this magic weapon. On a critical, Greenswathe does an extra 10 slashing damage and then cleaves through to another target within 5 feet if the original attack roll would also strike it.
Spells. While the weapon is attuned to a druid or any class that uses Wisdom for spellcasting ability, you can cast one additional spell slot in each level you know. Once you use the sword to cast these spell slots, you can’t regain them again until the next dawn.
Sentience. Greenswathe is a sentient neutral weapon with an Intelligence of 14, a Wisdom of 12, and a Charisma of 14. It has hearing and darkvision out to a range of 120 feet.
   The weapon communicates by transmitting emotions, sending a tingling sensation through the wielder’s hand when it wants to communicate something it has sensed.
Personality. The sword’s purpose is to preserve and defend the other wielders of the Blades of Corusk. To that end, Greenswathe is a moody blade that expects to treat its charges with motherly attention and determination. If the wielder is somehow lax in caring for the welfare of the blades’ family, conflict will occur and it will try to force the bearer to perform mundane duties most would find demeaning.

STALKER
Weapon (long sword), legendary (requires attunement)

Stalker is a sleek long sword with a blue-steel blade, but its guard and pommel are fashioned out of the starkest black adamantine metal. If stared at long enough, the blade seems to have wisps of shadowstuff moving silently along its surface. Stalker was once wielded by the Thillonrian ranger only known as “Swifthand”.
   You gain a +3 bonus to attack and damage rolls made with this magic weapon. It has the following additional properties.

Enhanced Traits. While attuned to the blade, your Wisdom and Intelligence scores each increase by 1, to a maximum of 20. You also gain advantage on Stealth and Survival checks.
Affinity with Animals. While holding Stalker in your hand you gain proficiency in Animal Handling and Persuasion when dealing with beasts.
Spells. While the weapon is attuned to a ranger or any class that uses Wisdom for spellcasting ability, you can use an action to cast one of the following spells: invisibility, greater invisibility and speak with animals. Once you use the sword to cast a spell, you can’t cast that spell again from it until the next dawn. The action of becoming invisible appears to others as becoming a shadow, fading into translucence until entirely gone from sight.
Sentience. Stalker is a sentient neutral good weapon with an Intelligence of 14, a Wisdom of 11, and a Charisma of 11. It has hearing and darkvision out to a range of 120 feet.
   The weapon communicates by transmitting emotions, sending a tingling sensation through the wielder’s hand when it wants to communicate something it has sensed.
Personality. Stalker’s purpose is to scout for enemies of those who possess the Blades of Corusk and if possible eliminate or elude them. The blade is sullen, serious and not keen on its wielder acting careless. If conflict with Stalker arises, the blade often forces its owner to wander away and hide until its temper cools.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Castle Greyhawk: Coins and Conversations

Welcome Greyhawk readers! Well I did it again, I'm a week behind in promoting chapter four in our ongoing Castle Greyhawk graphic novel. Check out page two to see some sly scripting by fantasy alumn 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: So here I am in the middle of finishing a very frustrating page three (tune in to see why) when I realize I haven't yet commented on page two! Yeah it's been a busy, but fun week. This page was an utter delight to draw. Scott had some great effects, angles and composition ideas and they all flowed from words to page perfectly. The coins flipping on the table was so good I had to clip it to use in the blog. Astute readers will notice the orbs on the coin correspond to the heraldry of the city of Greyhawk.

The stranger framed by Ehlissa's arms and body was a nice touch and I tried much harder than normal to get variable thickness in my line art on that panel. As for the rest, I think I nailed the comfort of them sitting at a small, cozy table, It's purely random how I chose stools vs chairs too. The Green Dragon Inn is apparently a mish-mash of seating. Lastly, I am already starting to love drawing Ehlissa's barmaid garb. It's simple looking but complex, much like her.

Now back to work on page three. Let's hope I can keep the magic going...

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Five Shall Be One: Treasures and Teeth

Welcome home Greyhawk mavens, today is the ninth installment of my ongoing 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 high adventure will the crew of the Envy get into this week? Read on, and beware, this story may contain spoilers!

Dramatis personae:

Cullen (cut-up captain, human rogue)
Sabriel Loreweaver (fascinating first-mate, human bard)
Tyrrus Bandale (blood-letting bosun, human fighter)
Kuma Sand (steady surgeon, human druid)
Ostyn (destructive deckhand, human fighter)

and Lash Driftwood (quirky quartermaster, sea elf ranger)

When last we saw the crew, they were descending into the bowels of the royal palace in the capital of the sahuagin empire. The sleep-song produced by the combined power of Dreamsinger and Greenswathe still echoed above as they searched the hollow inner tower. The group swam downward through chamber after chamber, one with weapons and tools, one painted like a map of the undersea floor, another decorated with trophies of the ship raids, and another a museum of undersea kingdom exhibits. 

At the bottom of the well-like tower they finally entered the vestibule of the palace. A chamber spread out before them laid in obsidian with glowing globes above set like stars. A pair of four-armed royal guards floated near a double-door while a mob of warriors swam in their direction near another door framed in the skeletal jaws of a great shark. In the center of the room an idol with an stone eye began to throb with an eerie reddish radiance like in Sabriel's visions. The magical light proved to be the bane of the intruders as they sprang to the attack. Sabriel swiftly sang her own sleep spell toward the sea devils and a couple slowed to a stop in the mid-stride. Lash's arrows bore through the murky water to strike another behind them. Ostyn, emboldened by the their earlier success swam into the fray and missed wildly, bothered by the red light. Kuma Sand surprisingly arrived on the scene behind the party, the affable sea druid made no mention of how he got to the center of the city alone, but he had only needed to follow the trail of carnage and sleeping sahuagin to catch up to them. Further inspired by their reinforcements, Mallon the mage tapped Tyrrus' shoulder and hasted him into combat along side the stabbing blades of Eristen, Captain Cullen and Sabriel; bloodied sahuagin warriors began to be dismembered in the water.

The two royal guards roused the sleeping sahuagin and threw them into the front line, even as Lash began to mark one of them and sent stinging arrows their way. A four-armed sahuagin then swam at Ostyn who deftly parried back teeth and multiple claws. Kuma's magic caused the large guard to glow in an outline in the darkened chamber making it easier to attack by the cleaving Tyrrus Bandale and Sabriel Loreweaver. Tyrrus' blade flashed a few times and then the bard's thin magic blade ran through the creature's arm pinning it long enough for Lash to put a killing arrow into it. The second guard however frenzied at the sight of blood and Cullen took the brunt of the four-armed beast's claws, he fell backwards just as Mallon tried to hand him a healing potion. Eristen the sea elf wrapped-up the guard and aided Tyrrus who sprang to his ally's defense, his long blade severed the monster's spine while Kuma swiftly saved Cullen's life, binding the horrible sahuagin bite he received. Ostyn stabbed the dead guard in frustration while Sabriel darkly stashed a sea devil arm to give to Ogie the ogre for a snack. That is when she was hit with another waking-dream:

You anxiously seek the Blade of Corusk in the undersea city. You sense it is plunged into utter darkness. You shiver, feeling bitter cold and blackness numbing you. Evil is gathering all around and a desperate move must be made.

There was little time to rest however, Ostyn broke the idol with some tools, while the roused Sabriel sang a haunting healing song to Cullen until he was good enough to move. Lash investigated a door beyond the shark jaws, testing it for traps with a sahuagin corpse, then beyond found a piled wealth of pearls and a chest filled golden eel bracelets and even more pearls, one the size of a fist. Side-tracked by riches, the undersea pirates had looked to move on when a second raiding party nearly took them unaware from a side hall. A four-armed sahuagin prince, wearing pearly bracers and wielding a spear led the charge, but Cullen, even in his weakened state was much too fast for the devils, especially wearing the Cloak of the Manta Ray. Two warriors were diced up within moments. Lash's barbed arrows streaked and fell two more of his hated enemies while Ostyn thrashed another with his dual weapons. Tyrrus meanwhile, went for the prince predictably and was astounded that his armor and speed was greater, every attack was turned away. Smelling his fresh injuries, the prince couldn't contain himself and swam at Cullen, knocking aside the two warriors and soon even more needle-like teeth and bony nails were tearing up the roguish leader yet again. 

The whispering psychic magic of Sabriel knocked the monster away from Cullen just in time and the huge sahuagin was pinned by a net-like web cast by cowering Mallon. Dripping with blood and aided by the skills of Kuma, the determined Cullen angrily shot back at the restrained prince and stabbed him before disengaging in time for Lash to put a finishing arrow in its eye. The creature hung dead in the web and his bracers were taken and worn as a trophy by the mocking sea elf ranger, Lash. The party again caught their breath, regrouped and made sure they were ready to press on through the pearly double-doors. What lay beyond was a marvelous sight. A grand hall lined floor to ceiling with sharks teeth of all sizes. Not to be distracted for too long Lash swam at the fore and crashed through the doors at the other end and stumbled into the great hall of the Throne of Teeth.

 Lash gazed up to see the vaulted chamber of the throne room, it's design and shimmering colors were unmistakable, they were inside the mother-of-all-mollusks. At the far end on his coral throne, framed in curtains of seaweed, sat the huge four-armed king of the sahuagin, his fearsome eyes and sharp teeth sneering while his pet shark circled overhead in the murky shadows. Warriors lurked at the fringes while to his side stood the king's consort, the heavily muscled, long taloned high priestess of their demonic god, Sekolah, To the king's other side was a huge white shark statue of Sekolah and another priestess standing before a low well that was filled with icy darkness. It had to be the black well that Drawmij had sent them after! Lastly, floating directly in front of the king was another prince of the city and his glare was the worst for Lash wore his brother's pearl bracers. It screamed a guttural call to attack from all sides.

Tyrrus and Cullen both streaked through the chamber juking away from the prince to instead cleave down the priestess by the well; her bloody body soon misted around the unholy statue behind her. Near by the well they could feel the horrible chill emanating from it. The enraged prince swiftly lunged at Lash and struck at him with a wicked trident and gnashing teeth. Kuma, standing behind the retreating ranger lit up the sahuagin prince with a fiery glow to allow Eristen and Ostyn to gang up on the four-armed monster. As the battle ensued, scheming Sabriel focused her attention at the throne, her bardic skill allowed her to magically speaking many tongues and so she now spoke alluring words to the royal pair and miraculously they both fell for her charms, becoming content enough to watch the battle unfold for the time being.

Lash shook off his wounds and drew one of the sahuagin slaying arrows Drawmij had gifted him, for the first time and loosed it with expert marksmanship. The arrow penetrated the breastplate of the prince, who dropped his trident and howled madly and painfully shook to a still death. Across the chamber however, the eye of the shark statue opened and fired a profane beam of energy over the head of Cullen and Tyrrus, to strike feeble Mallon, driving him back injured. Kuma thrust out a hand and thundered a magical wave knocking out more of the mass of sahuagin warriors. The king and his consort continued to watch the bloodshed with amusement, for even charmed, sahuagin were sadistic. The great shark then reacted smelling the blood in the water, it came at Lash next with a wounding bite, but was soon surrounded by stabbing and slicing attacks, finished off by eye-gouging point of Dreamsinger. There was no time to celebrate though, the statue's eye shot a beam at Ostyn causing him to furiously swim at it to bust up the offending object. All the sea devil warriors and the prince were chum in the water when the king finally stood up with the high priestess at his side. They seemed grimly ready, only to be struck by Kuma's familiar faerie fires. The king, taller than any sahuagin they'd seen, was aghast at the death of his pet and charged with severe speed at Sabriel. Cullen and Tyrrus darted to intercept him however, cutting at his legs and one blade even left a mark from brow to chin. The four-armed king was undaunted and his iron spear bit into Sabriel's arm and his fangs tore into her shoulder. The priestess only watched on and in her native tongue, actually encouraged the interlopers to kill the king so she could rule!

Sensing it was the right moment, Lash drew another sahuagin-bane arrow and his aim was again true- the potent magical shaft pierced the thick scales of the king and he too shook and writhed in place, screaming in an ear-piercing tone till he hung there motionless, eyes staring up to the ceiling of his throne room. Sabriel deftly turned to question her charmed victim, the only living sahuagin remaining, as to where the king kept his treasured weapons. She pointed at the black well and its impenetrable void, snarling with a laugh that they had better get what they came for quickly for the king's death-shriek was calling the armies of the city to the throne as they dallied. Cullen wasted no time and reached into the well, the cold was so numbing he could barely feel his arm when he pulled out a dwarvish warhammer, surely taken from a recent raid. Tyrrus, Kuma and Ostyn all hastened to help by groping into the well next, the chill driving them back either weakened or withered. Sabriel went to speak to the consort again but she had escaped behind the seaweed curtain to a secret tunnel leading to the Mirodian Deep.

Tyrrus then took a deep breath and reached into the inky cold one more time, this time pulling free a long sword, made of black adamantine and blue steel. It was the legendary blade Stalker. Shivering and now hearing the arrival of the sahuagin horde, the surface raiders followed through the secret sea tunnels to the outside and swam anxiously in a long winding effort to get back to their magical diving sphere. Then to their horror a mass of sahuagin had already discovered it, their only mode of transport had been destroyed by their profane magic. Dismayed and defeated, the group knew they couldn't out swim the horde for long. That is when the trio of reunited blades began to glow and hum. Sabriel quickly drew Dreamsinger and called for the other two blades to touch. In a building surge of magical energy the entire party vanished, whisked away from danger to reappear thousands of feet above, on the deck of the Envy where a very surprised ogre woke from his slumber.

To be continued...

Campaign notes: Thus concludes my 5E adaptation of Five Shall Be One. Thanks go out to Carl Sargent, Bruce Cordell and artist Jeff Easley. I'll be continuing on to the next module Howl From the North next, plus I will have the 5E conversion stats for Stalker soon for your enjoyment!

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Beyond the Flanaess

I was recently asked about my thoughts on the published parts of Oerth that fandom labels "Beyond the Flanaess". In general my super short answer would be that I'm all for it. Exploring beyond the edges of published Greyhawk is indeed one of my interests; hell I've carved a pretty nice niche doing Ull articles and running campaigns and creating maps devoted to the tropical shores of the world. What I'm not crazy about is that official map of Oerth first debuted by Skip Williams in Dragon Magazine Annual #1 and the follow up "development" of parts of this by D&D's failed 2002 Chainmail skirmish game.

This is an old rant, we've lived with the map of Oerth for nearly two decades now so the sting of having my own vision of what Beyond the Flanaess map looks like is almost gone, but it does bear pointing out for posterity that the in-game lore sages spoke about is slightly wrong. Let me try to explain.

The 1983 World of Greyhawk boxed set is staged as a meta-plot manuscript and historical simulation of life and politics in the "eastern portion" of the continent Oerik during the Epoch of Magic. Sages like Pluffet Smedger the Elder tell us that the Flanaess is the center of human civilization and indeed with the Suloise and Baklunish empires in dust for a thousand years the center of gravity should be here now. There is high magic, there is hints of civilizations on the edges and barbarian invaders from across the plains, but the setting for the RPG is east Oerik, where euro-centric analogous culture exists. Except once the Dragon Annual map came out, the sages were wrong and the center of the world became all wobbly to a hardcore fan like myself.


Once we had the hastily thrown together pangea-super continent of Oerik and its predictably arranged cultural analogs it removed the biggest mystery of the setting for good, is the Flanaess the only civilized continent in the world? Archmagi and Spelljammers could now easily pick a point on the globe and know with some inclination what's over there. The names and analogs aren't even what bothers me. We know the Flanaess is a patchwork world anyhow. Blackmoor is from Dave Arneson's home world, the Great Kingdom, Duchy of Tenh, Maure Castle. And in later years the Isle of Dread. Very cobbled together, from various authors not just one man's vision. The fact that TSR threw it into an Annual as a curiosity shows it is flimsy canon, but I can live with the placeholder names. It's not like I would had any better ideas. I did have my own vision of Oerth's other continents however and it wasn't a super-continent. Why? Because I based my maps on this inset map in the main guide:

This important map not only showed latitude lines for the first time, but it also showed that the game area of the Flanaess was only half the picture. And we're told this repeatedly, the area to the left of the dotted line is WEST OERIK. Just eyeballing this map you can see the middle is where the former Suel and Baklun empires existed. It's not hard to imagine every to the west of these lands were part of their lands as well, or perhaps ruled by an "orc reich", an archlich or maybe even a Hindu culture. Doesn't matter. West Oerik kinda tapers off the edges and you can either imagine you can sail around them somehow or you can do what TSR did and make them keep going by doubling the area of Oerik. So yes, with the DA#1 map, we now have to believe there is an east Oerik as well as a central, west and maybe even a southwest Oerik. It's huge!

Now when Chainmail was relaunched they used this expansive West Oerik as the fluff setting for their mini factions, you know, the usual medieval Euro-humans, Tolkienish elves, dwarves, orcs, etc. Added to this is the strange fact that Chainmail used the map above, but not really the placeholder names from the DA#1 map. To complicate matters, many of those names were not Gygaxian, but yet another patch for the quilt, an homage to the French graphic novel Black Moon Chronicles by Francois Marcela-Froideval who used to work with TSR. Nevermind all that though. Those map and cultural differences can be duly justified later on by devoted fans and fixed by clever cartographers. It's Oerik and the uncertain center of civilization that grinds my gears.

With the Empire of Lynn/Sundered Empire from Chainmail and its neighboring realms, you have what amounts to a carbon copy Flanaess separated by a string of mountains and deserts. Impossible? No. Improbable? Yes. The World of Greyhawk's post-cataclysm migrations are pretty clear and deliberate. Should a Celestial Imperium be right there in the center of the map where we once had west Oerik or should perhaps an Asian analog continent be across the ocean west of Oerik. This is what I believe was originally intended by Gygax when Oriental Adventures came out in 1985. I remember quite vividly that the intro map in the first adventure for OA's world of Kara-Tur had the PCs, or "gaijin" sailing across an ocean from a west coast to the "far east", as we would in the real world. Last I checked, Kara-Tur is east of Faerun but not directly west of it, yet if you look at the vague west coast of the Oerik inset map, it lines up pretty good with the map in Swords of Daiymo.

Put another way, the DA#1 map pushes an Asia into the middle of two competing Europes. Suddenly the sages of Rel Mord in the Flanaess are very wrong. There is a huge culture not only to the west, but another even farther west than them! There is one more gripe I have about the Oerik super-continent and that is how it affects the poor arab flavored Baklunish nations. Going by the DA#1 map, this rich and vibrant culture that IS part of canon since the beginning is cut off from much of the Flanaess by water due to some icy areas called Hyperboria and the Land of Black Ice. What's a Sinbad-Al Qadim type of sailor to do? He's pretty much trapped by geography unless you figure the two polar masses aren't connected by a land bridge. However, with the smaller Oerik-inset map variation, one can conceivably sail from Zeif for example around west Oerik and arrive up from the southern tropics right in the middle of the Azure Sea with the same nautical effort that explorers had in our history. It's definitely a more scenic route than breaking through ice.

So there you go, I think Beyond the Flanaess has a lot of potential for fan-writers and map makers who want to develop the rest of Oerth, but my only wish is that the main continent had been broken down into something more manageable.

/end rant


Sunday, April 10, 2016

Five Shall Be One: Songs and Sahuagin

Well met honored Greyhawk lords and ladies, today is the eighth installment of my ongoing 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 high adventure will the crew of the Envy get into this week? Read on, and beware, this story may contain spoilers!

Dramatis personae:

Cullen (cleaving captain, human rogue)
Sabriel Loreweaver (phonic first-mate, human bard)
Tyrrus Bandale (buoyant bosun, human fighter)
Kuma Sand (studious surgeon, human druid)
Ostyn (diving deckhand, human fighter)

and Lash Driftwood (quarrelsome quartermaster, sea elf ranger)

When last we saw the crew, they saved a ship adrift in the Azure from a sahuagin raiding party. Seeking a direction to their secret capital city, Sabriel the bard then spoke with the corpse of one sea devil to learn that they followed a certain deep sea current which was definitely familiar to Lash and his sea elf kin, Eristen. They spent the remainder of a day getting the dwarven ship fit to sail thanks to Ostyn's shipwright background. In return, the survivors gave the crew of the Envy their only cannon and an ample amount of shot to go with it, increasing the small pinnace's firepower significantly. They thanked the dwarves and after deliberating on their charts, continued on southward into the deep sea, the weather was strangely serene for the next day's worth of work. Only a vision given to Sabriel by Dreamsinger, marred the perfect time: 

You see a huge, single eye of white stone. The large pupil suddenly turns black, the narrow cornea blood red, while ghostly red light plays around the entire eye. There is a powerful sense of evil about the eye.

That evening they came upon an eerie sight, green glowing lights wavered and played in the sky overhead. The assemblage was transfixed at the omen, while Tyrrus muttered something about St. Idee's Fire. Mallon the mage however ruined the mood pointing out that those had to be radiations of magic coming from some strong source nearby. Lash paled and pointed down indicating the sahuagin city must be below their hull. Ogie the ogre perked up and took this as a cue to get the magical metal diving bell ready. Indeed, there was no time to waste, they couldn't linger on the surface here for too long over sahuagin central. Kuma decided to stay behind with Ogie on the Envy just in case, but the scimitar Greenswathe was handed over to Cullen just in case, they'd need all the power they could muster down below. With Kwalish's Deep Sphere in the water and opened the remaining party climbed in and Lash operated various levers to seal it and begin the steady descent into the endless darkness of the sea. Ostyn nervously sat on a bench listening to the cracks and groans of the sphere, while others checked weapons or haplessly hung onto the rails and poles holding the arcane contraption together. The trip down took nearly a half an hour, and during the monotonous journey Sabriel spaced out again:

You sense the presence of another of the Blades of Corusk. It is obscured by flickering shadows and illusion and you do not see it clearly. You have a keen feeling of semi-reality, as if the Blade is elusive and other-worldly in some way.

Sabriel roused from her reverie and the others were stock alert as the sphere jolted to a stop at the bottom. Lash pulled a lever to open a view port, there was little they could see even through their dark vision goggles supplied by Archmage Drawmij; they were on the seafloor surrounded by emptiness. The sphere was shielded by an air elemental so when they finally gained the nerve to open the hatch, exiting and entering the sphere was effortless. The magic objects supplied by Drawmij made swimming this deep quite manageable and weapons were tested for effectiveness, before Eristen and Lash converged to track a direction to the city following the same undersea currents. Eventually the ground rose up to the lip of the caldera of an extinct undersea volcano on the edge of a  vast chasm, the Mirodian Deep. What was within the bowl of land was startling to see, it was the domed and many-spired city of the sahuagin and it glowed with a ghastly dark green radiance like the skies on the surface above. They group stared in abject horror. Even the aquatic-folk among them weren't ready for a sight like this, an impossible city in an impossible place. Surveying the place from afar thanks to the green lights, they planned on how to best search the vast city.

Sabriel held Dreamsinger and consulted the ancient blade's properties to divine the best course for them to take and though it couldn't directly locate its brother sword Stalker, it would give them a general idea which areas to avoid, namely a temple region and the heavily attended undersea colosseum where the frenzied sahuagin watched their favorite bloodsports. She then lapsed into the fugue state once again: 

You are moving through a cavern with hundreds of sea devils rushing towards you. Their weapons are readied; hatred and bloodlust are etched in their faces. As they close in on you, there is a fuzzy green glow at the edge of your vision and an echoing song in the air. You don’t understand this, but you know you must hasten onwards to a place of even greater evil.

The visions were coming more frequently and this bothered Sabriel and the others but it was a sign they were close. It was decided by the roguish captain, Cullen that since his acquired Cloak of the Manta allowed him to swim fastest, he would stealthily go off alone to create a diversion in one part of the city, while the others tried to search the central spire by diving in from directly above. Mallon gave the captain two potions before he left that could bestow water breathing, in case any allies could be found. Cullen then swam down toward the city vanishing from sight, until he sneaked into the opening of a large dome and soon discovered he was in a prison complex for captured air-breathers brought down to fight in their arena. Lurking out of sight he maneuvered around and plotted, soon discovering a tunnel that passed beneath cells holding air pockets that held a few captives, namely two humans (one catatonic and useless) and a dwarf, the very Godred that had been recently apprehended in the last surface raid. Cullen used his tools to free the two capable swimmers, but he had no sympathy for the captives however, he only wanted them to get loose and create a distraction for the sahuagin guards in the city. The pair were given the potions to give them water-breathing and then Cullen sped away from the complex before he would be found. He had a hunch where to go next.

Half way across the city, the larger group swam downward from the gloom toward the white central tower, surrounded by teeth-like rocks jutting from the ground. A swarm of scores of warriors and a few sharks surrounded the opening in the tower, which lay at the top of the spire, not at the base. They had to detour and landed in the shadows of a dome which seemed to serve as a market place of sorts. One non-threatening sahuagin carrying a net full of shells was skewered by the sea devil hating Lash to keep it silent after Tyrrus and Sabriel tried in vain to calm the frightened creature with offers of jewelry. Blood was in the water now however and Eristen ushered the group to flee from the scene again. Keeping close to the ground they wound their way back toward the tall central tower and were dismayed to still see the swirling mass of sahuagin high above, guarding the obviously important location. Thanks to some disturbance off in the city all the sharks and a modest sahuagin patrol peeled off the mass, but nearly 80 sea devils still maintained their tireless vigil. 

Frustrated, Sabriel held Dreamsinger again and implored it for more insight. That's when Cullen caught up, swimming swiftly around the base of the turret with Greenswathe in hand. Without warning, the two sentient blades' proximity began to create a resonating effect; Dreamsinger sounded a soothing yet loud song added to by Greenswathe's throbbing greenish radiance, more intense even than the glow of the city. Panic came over the questing group that they would be noticed. Sabriel couldn't quiet her sword nor could Cullen cover the glow that surrounded everyone. Despite this, a miracle happened, the sahuagin high above stopped their perpetual circling around the spire and just hung there motionless in the water. The swords had put the entire platoon of sea devils to sleep! Lash's eyes got big and he waved for his compatriots to quickly ascend; their arms and legs kicking hard as they neared the entrance to the tower, evading the scores of scaled creatures in torpor, as if they could reawaken at any moment. Once at the top the team just as impatiently descended again, this time into the heart of what the sahuagin call their tallest structure, the Throne of Teeth. 

to be continued...

Campaign notes: A few quick notes, the group is 6th level at this point. I'd like to mention in 2E that FSBO was originally written for levels 7-10! Yeah I think 5E characters are a bit more stout than back in the day. Second, the sahuagin city is not canon Greyhawk, nor is it my creation. It comes from the 2E module, Sea of Blood by Bruce Cordell of Far Realms fame. I find my mash up of this module with FSBO is a nice synergy. When I get a chance I'll post some of the art from Sea of Blood, it's amazing. The maps likewise were done by Rob Lazzaretti who is better known for his 3E and Paizo work. The original quest however takes players into the heart of an underground orc city named Garel Enkdal. The goal of this part of the module is stealth and searching in caves, but since this doesn't translate perfectly to an undersea environment I allowed the players to use the direct approach to save time. Next session should be a blood bath!