Monday, March 28, 2016

Greyhawk Adventurers Guides

I've done this topic recently but today I have a new brainstorm to get out in type. So far, Wizards has given us the Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide which highlights the most popular corner of Faerun with the appropriate player material one would need to go with that world. Given the broad strokes the book uses in some parts (namely races, classes and gods), I really wonder if that's all that FR needs in a 5E "sourcebook". If it were possible to make a similar guide for other parts of the Realms then who wouldn't be for that? I'm no FR scholar, but I certainly can imagine how Greyhawk could be broken down into distinct guides in this format, This idea is based in part on the Living Greyhawk Gazetteer geographic divisions in fact. Here is my dream product lineup:

Baklunish West Adventurer's Guide: As it implies, this would be my "Al Qadim" flavored campaign sourcebook. Very distinctive from the others in class, religion and magic.

The Marklands Adventurer's Guide: This comprises much the same territory in the 2E product The Marklands; namely the war-torn region from the Yatils/Highvale to Furyondy-Veluna, across the Shield Lands and their opponents the Empire of Iuz, Horned Society and the Bandit Kingdoms.

Barbarian North Adventurer's Guide: Another broad stroked area that probably needs to be broke up, but thematically it works as one. It covers the Tiger and Wolf Nomads in the northwest, across Blackmoor, Rovers of the Barrens and the entire Thillonrian Peninsula.

Central Flanaess Adventurer's Guide: Based on prior publication, this is the area in which most players would be invested. Dyvers, Celene, Greyhawk, the Bright Desert, Wild Coast, maybe even the Pomarj.

Sheldomar Valley Adventurer's Guide: A close second the Central Flanaess is a solid sourcebook on Keoland and all its satellite nations, plus the Valley of the Mage and the Giant Lands perhaps.

Great Kingdom Adventurer's Guide: This one might be the most bloated, but the information it would contain has to be pretty general across the region. It's essentially everything on the parts of the former Great Kingdom of Aerdy from Carl Sargent's Ivid the Undying plus Nyrond, the Urnsts and the Theocracy of the Pale.

South Seas Adventurer's Guide: This would basically be a 5E rehash of The Scarlet Brotherhood by Sean Reynolds. It would include info on Hepmonaland and Amedio coastal stuff but I wouldn't go overboard. Instead, I'd save room to cover the myriad island chains inbetween these land jungles and throw in the high seas themed Hold of the Sea Princes and the Lordship of the Isles since it is sorely ignored in canon.

Again these ideas are broad in scope and some probably wouldn't fit in a 160 page book like SCAG. I could ideally break these books down into smaller units for fluff reasons, but then some of the crunch would start to seem repetitive. Thoughts?

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Assorted Greyhawk Thoughts

Easter. March Madness. Daredevil Season 2. Superman v Batman. It's a slow week for gaming basically. Here is some assorted Greyhawk thoughts of mine heading into the next month...

-Started on Castle Greyhawk Chapter 4. Good ol Scott Casper has some new characters coming into the story as usual, time to retrain my artistic reflexes yet again.

-Those who have followed my Five Shall Be One reboot should known I'm about to undertake a huge section of the story in an undersea setting. This is something I've heard talked about often in Greytalk by long time hawk fan and aquatic aficionado, Aeolius. He ran or still runs an all-undersea campaign on IRC called Heirs of Turucambi set in the south seas if I'm correct. Would love to pick his brain this week for some ideas.

-Mike Mearls recently answered a fan's call on Twitter for more 5E remakes/expanded classics after the success of Curse of Strahd. He said:

"I have to admit, the overwhelming reaction to it has definitely pushed doing more updates on to my radar."

Very intriguing. If you're going to remake and expand a classic module, you need it to be grand in scale already like the original Ravenloft. I'm not sure Dragonlance's constituent modules which follow the story of the Chronicles would fit, though it's possible. Darksun, Eberron and some of these worlds that poll higher than Greyhawk just don't have the catalog of adventures that would scream for a remake/expansion. Then again, I'm not sure expanding the usual Greyhawk mods like White Plume Mountain or Tomb of Horrors would excite me either. It will be interesting to see where this goes.

-The list of guests who were at Garycon this year staggers my mind. I cannot miss this kind of a lineup again.

-The World of Greyhawk boxed set came out in 1983. That was my portal into D&D. That makes this year my 33rd year running campaigns on Oerth. I've DMed for so many great players over the years, most of which are still friends of mine to this day. Even better, some of my newest and most enthusiastic players weren't even born back when Greyhawk got its start. I'm definitely blessed to keep the Greyhawk fires burning for so long.

Update 06/11/2021:
Had to remove broken link to old GaryCon site.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Five Shall Be One: Drawmij's Home

Welcome back Greyhawk fans, today is the sixth 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 high adventure will the crew of the Envy get into this week? Read on, and beware, this story may contain spoilers!

Dramatis personae:

Cullen (cagey captain, human rogue)
Sabriel Loreweaver (flashy first-mate, human bard)
Tyrrus Bandale (bleeding bosun, human fighter)
Kuma Sand (stoned surgeon, human druid)
Ostyn (damaged deckhand, human fighter)

and Lash Driftwood (quiver-carrying quartermaster, sea elf ranger)

When last we saw the crew they had switched ships in Sasserine, departing the Sea Hag for a smaller, newer vessel called the Envy. The pinnace, Envy would only be crewed by the six principle members of the quest with their passengers, Mallon, Eristen and the lowly ogre deckhand Ogie who is paid regularly in trinket jewelry obtained in town by Kuma. After unloading all essential items and supplies to their new ship, they sailed out across the Jeklea Bay from Sasserine through the heart of Sea Princes waters to stop in the capital of Monmurg. Here, the locals still celebrated their good names for winning the Prince's Regatta and in hope that the new ship might join the Hold's defense against the Aerdy fleets, a sailmaker even outfitted the Envy with better sails and rigging free of charge. Alas they refused all offers to join the fleets citing unfinished business of a personal nature. Sabriel meanwhile commissioned a woodburned sign that aptly read "Beware of Ogre" for their ship.

The Envy only spent a day and a half in port before taking the directions of Mallon to cross the bay a hundred miles to the north where the next afternoon on the coast of neighboring Keoland they came into view of the white cliffs from Sabriel's visions. Eristen, the female sea elf and Mallon the half-elf felt a sudden comfort upon seeing the location. Cullen was dismayed however went it was pointed out there was no where to harbor. Mallon had inadvertently failed to mention they would need to anchor here and go up the cliff-steps to Archmage Drawmij's house above. Sabriel scratched behind Ogie's ear assuredly, and left him behind to guard the boat alone, while the group ascended the carved stairs slowly; waves pounding the cliffs below. Several minutes later, at the last handful of steps, the echoing sounds of deep laughter and crashing wood was heard by all. The house was under attack.

Tyrrus, Cullen and Sabriel rushed up the cliff-stairs first to see a two-story town house being pelted by boulders thrown by a laughing hill giant and two ogres. Eristen arrived after the trio and gasped in horror that her master's home was being demolished. The four rushed in recklessly to concentrate their attacks on the hill giant first. Lash has slipped, while Kuma, Ostyn and Mallon carefully caught up to the scene. The hill giant was taken by surprise, his legs criss-crossed with sword slashes and stabs. He tried to wheel and chuck his rock at Tyrrus but missed. Sabriel mocked the dim-witted creature while Cullen rolled out of range before he could take his club out. That is when Lash arrived on the scene to loose an arrow into the giant, followed by a timely disarming blow from Ostyn. Kuma then coordinated the group effort by casting a spray of poison into it's eyes. The giant howled and his ogre friends converged, hammering clubs into Tyrrus and Ostyn.

A dark figure suddenly was seen peeking out of the smashed opening in the house. The hill giant saw this and angrily turned from the gang of assailants to run at the house, but was hamstringed and pummeled to the ground by Tyrrus and Ostyn. Just as the ogres were ready to smash the pair, a flash of lightning crackled and half-seared through Sabriel and Lash. The source of the attack was a flying wizard in dark robes hanging above the house. Cullen dashed for the breach in the house but lost sight of the figure in the door way. He called out for the person and only ran into an invisible barrier. A voice beyond answered that he was the 'butler'. Outside, Lash rolled to his feet and loosed a quick arrow at the flying mage and penetrated his force shield much to his chagrin. The wizard yelled for the ogres to take the house and get Drawmij and that he'd handle the strangers. 

Encouraging her allies, the bard Sabriel waded into hand-to-hand combat with Dreamsinger, sped up by a hasting spell from Mallon. Ostyn and Tyrrus held the line while Kuma's thorn whip struck the flying mage forcing him to move. Then the worst happened, the dark wizard loosed a second bolt of lightning and the two fighters, Tyrrus and Ostyn fell. Dashing from the house, Cullen furiously stabbed himself on accident but still managed to fell an ogre with his other blade. Lash sent another arrow at the mage and he juked it menacingly. Sabriel and Eristen teamed up and dropped the second ogre, while the druid Kuma used his healer's kit to tend to electrocuted Ostyn  finally managing to get him conscious and sitting up. Poor Tyrrus still bled and smoldered on the grass. Just as Sabriel got her fighter comrade to open his eyes, the mad wizard launched a trio of magic missiles, knocking Sabriel backward and putting the weakened Ostyn down again.

Cullen had enough. He drew the black powder pistol Captain Cragg gave him and fired a booming shot that actually hit, sending the wizard crashing backward into the building and down to the grass with a thud. The ranger Lash then put an arrow in the dazed man to make sure he didn't move again. The battle over, Ostyn was stabilized again, while from the house came the wizard they came to see, Drawmij, the Archmage of the Azure. He was holed up in the building behind walls of force and hadn't expected his servants to come to the rescue. Looking at the body, Mallon identified him as Randrin, a disgruntled former pupil of Drawmij's come back for revenge with giants in tow. Drawmij thanked them for stopping the attack and implored them to come inside for food, drink and rest. Drawmij and his two servants were unseen for several hours while the others relaxed, and at one point Sabriel began to have musical visions in her head sent from Dreamsinger. Upon their return, Drawmij then asked the entire party to join him at his real home. The house was a public facade. In one of the halls was a fish pond surrounded by glyph-etched stones. Activating the teleportation circle, they all jumped into the pool and were whisked through a watery tunnel to his undersea palace a couple miles up the shore.

Drawmij's undersea fortress was a maze of stone and coral of all colors. The rambling halls and turrets of the place had glass-steeled windows looking out to a myriad of sea-life, making Lash quite nostalgic. Farther out in the murky waters Lash and Sabriel also spotted a whale. made of metal! Drawmij ushered them on to a conference chamber and there, he observed and related tales about Dreamsinger, the five Blades of Corusk and their origin from the lost Suel Empire. Furthermore Drawmij announced how with his help the other three swords would be tracked down. Cullen raised a hand and pointed out the subtle cue, "Don't you mean four swords?" Drawmij grinned at the observant rogue and then used his namesake spell to instantly summon a parcel to his hands. Within the garb he revealed a golden scimitar - Greenswathe. The second of the five blades. Drawmij had evidently long kept this sword in trust for the former resident of the palace, the Grand Druid of the Azure Sea, Sverdas Meno. The sword was handed over to the questing group and the difficult decision of who to bear the blade was argued (Sabriel offered to wield both). 

Before their decision could be finalized Drawmij then related some more info that Eristen had also brought to him concerning the blades: "Stalker is in the Blackwell at the Mirodian Deep." This sentence triggered a vision in Sabriel from Dreamsinger

"In a gloomy and oppressive set of caverns and passages you see scaly armored, grim-faced monsters – thousands and thousands of them. They are moving through the darkness and they arrive to the infernal sound of some horn. Their eyes glow with malevolence and hatred."

Lash suddenly grew uneasy knowing that part of the sea, the Mirodian Deep is the deepest trench in the Azure. Drawmij complicated matters by adding that on the edge of the chasm is the capital city of the Sahuagin Empire. The quest for the next blade had gone from perilous to nearly impossible. Fortunately, resourceful Drawmij had a lot more surprises in store to help them on their way.

to be continued...

Campaign notes: SPOILERS. First off, the Mirodian Deep is not canon, but was cleverly created by a super Greyhawk fan, Osmund-Davizid on And lastly, as promised, more 5E material. I present to you, Greenswathe! (player info only)

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. 

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Sword Coast Adventurers Guide

Because of 5E, I've played quite a bit Forgotten Realms lately. The reason I bring this up is I finally got a chance to borrow "SCAG" from my friend Dan  this week and looking through it, this book is a nice template for future regional setting guides. It has everything you need to know about the history, cities, races and factions of Faerun and the Sword Coast. Before I start gushing too much about FR, let me tell ya it has an appendix at the end on how to convert some of the character class material to other worlds, namely Greyhawk. Let me fill ya in should you be on the fence buying this.

Barbarian: It's mentioned how common they are throughout Oerik. They suggest the Path of the Battlerager be in those pit fighters trained by the Slave Lords. Tiger totems are obviously good for Tiger Nomads and the Elk totem they suggest is good for a Rover of the Barrens.

Cleric: Arcana Domain is perfect for clerics of Boccob. Agreed.

Fighter: It says Purple Dragon Knight is a good analog for Knights of the Watch given their defense from Baklunish incursions, which is true though an outdated cause compared to the Giant Troubles from the mountains. I'd argue the Knights of the Hart or Shielding have more need to be mentioned, but hey it's an A for effort.

Monk: It says monks are rare outside the Scarlet Brotherhood. That's what I've always felt new editions notwithstanding. Way of the Long Death is tabbed for SB types, while the Way of the Sun Soul is perfect for monks of Pelor or Baklunish monks dedicated to Al'Akbar.

Paladin: The Oath of the Crown it says is good for Knights of the Hart, again, I'd choose Shielding, but good mention anyhow. It then says paladins associated with the Great Kingdom would take this oath too. Yeah, the Great Kingdom from like 500 years ago.

Rogue: The City of Greyhawk is given good credit here. The Mastermind archetype is suggested for thieves guild characters who want to be like Nerof Gasgol. Big canon points! The Swashbuckler is given for nearly any city in the Flanaess but roving Rhennee are mentioned in particular. Okay I can see that.

Warlock: This class is considered rare in Greyhawk (especially given edition history). Even so, Iuz, Vecna and Tharizdun are specifically mentioned as suitable patrons for Warlocks. Shew!

Wizard: Everyone's favorite 2E kit, the Bladesinger is of course a good option for an elven character from Celene.

All in all a good read and the class options will flavor your game up beyond the PHB choices. As for SCAG overall as a sourcebook, I can only hope someday Wizards or some hardcore fan, makes a Flanaess Adventurers Guide in this fashion. You know who you are. Get on it.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Five Shall Be One: Beauty and the Beast

Welcome back Greyhawkers, today is the fifth 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 high adventure will the crew of the Sea Hag get into this week? Read on, and beware, this story may contain spoilers!

Dramatis personae:

Cullen (captured captain, human rogue)
Sabriel Loreweaver (flirtatious first-mate, human bard)
Tyrrus Bandale (brained bosun, human fighter)
Kuma Sand (subverting surgeon, human druid)
Ostyn (dependable deckhand, human fighter)

and Lash Driftwood (questing quartermaster, sea elf ranger)

When last we saw the crew, they had just defeated the vile shadow dragon and recovered the first Blade of Corusk, named Dreamsinger. Properly rested and patched up, the party searched the ruins and caves for anything to carry the king's ransom worth of treasure they now possessed. Encumbered with sacks and rickety boxes they made their way out of the ruined city to retrace their steps back through the jungle. The way back was clearly blazed thanks to their earlier ranging efforts and so it was on the second day trekking on the path that Cullen and Mallon sped ahead of the slowed group to alert their ship of their arrival; meanwhile Sabriel began to feel the first effects of her newly attuned sword as she entered a trance-like fugue state and saw a vision:

"You see a single dolphin swimming and jumping across a vast cerulean sea. The dolphin dives underwater leaving a wake behind as she speeds toward an imposing cliff of white stone. You sense that the dolphin has a purpose and knowledge, but what she knows and exactly where she is heading you don’t know."

Sabriel wandered off the path too far before the others noticed her altered condition and there she crashed through the bushes into a clearing where stood a coven of three greenhags around a cauldron. Near them lurked three tanned ogres with gnarled clubs and behind them all sat a flimsy wooden cage containing a damsel in distress. The creatures were all startled to see the dazed woman enter their territory, mumbling incessantly about dolphins. Speaking only in the local Olman tongue the hags commanded their guards to seize their newest "pretty" and put her in the cage. They were disappointed however, when four other men came following. Sabriel swaggered, lost in her vision while a fight seemed to be at hand. A moaning plea for help came from the caged woman, her accent familiar to them somehow. 

Just when Sabriel roused from her reverie, Dreamsinger vibrating in hand, Kuma schemed a brilliant plan with her and his compatriots. Sabriel, using Kuma as an interpreter, presented the ogres with a bribe of shiny gold and trinket jewelry if they only would turn on their mistresses, the greenhags. Small sacks of gold thrown their way, were distracting enough and soon the ogres leered at the grisly hags and complained at how they never gave them "shiny stuff". This affront was met by a flashes of magic as an ogre was turned into a boar, but the other's spells had no effect on the humans. As the ogre-boar squealed and wandered off, the other two raised their clubs and made to advance on the hags, who backpedaled away from their cauldron and cage. The hags screeched in horror as Kuma laid a faerie fire upon them. Then the party attacked in force with their ogre allies. Ostyn circled the trio and saw the woman in the cage was a sea elf like Lash who just then took a bead on one hag hiding behind that same cage and hit her with a sharp arrow whose enchantment entangled the horrid woman. The hag was strong however, and broke out of the bonds, using her claws to slash the throat of one of the traitorous ogres, who fell and bled out quickly. 

Tyrrus meanwhile, vaulted the cauldron (where a chest lay behind) and slashed another hag so viciously her tendons were sliced, slowing her retreat. Sabriel charged and ran her rapier into the third hag who replied with a vicious mockery about her feeble strike. The bard was infuriated at the insult and soon the third ogre was bashing at the hag from over top Sabriel's head. Kuma aided this effort, a thorny whip grabbing the witch's ankle and dropping her prone. Then, as the fallen hag tried to stand, she was slain by the ogre and Sabriel, who ended up half covered in hag-gore and straddling the larger hag's twisted face. Tyrrus harried the middle hag, cutting at her relentlessly until she tried to polymorph into a bird and fly away, but the steady sentinel was too quick and swatted her down to the grass, finishing her off with a bloody overhead cleave. The last hag tried to run as well, but couldn't go invisible due to the faerie fire; she too was cut-down by arrows and dual weapons from the striding Ostyn. With only one ogre left, Sabriel made friends with "Ogie" and as acting captain, she invited him to join their crew. The stupid creature only wanted more treasure so he happily agreed and offered to help carry all their loot in the cauldron!

The sea-elf woman was released and immediately recognized Lash Driftwood as her long lost kinsman. As she retrieved her belongings from the hags' chest (kept among other treasures, trinkets and magic) she told the others her name was Eristen Undertow, also a ranger of the deep; while Lash left to join a human crabbing ship, she ended up serving a powerful archmage instead. That same wizard had in fact sent her to track down and bring back Mallon who also served the same master. Tyrrus then inquired who their master was, to which she boasted proudly, the Archmage of the Azure, Drawmij of the Circle of Eight! Drawmij was famous both above and beneath the south seas. Knowing Mallon was close and further deducing from their black spots that they shared his quest, Eristen decided to join their group in addition to Ogie who hoisted Sabriel on his shoulder until they found their rowboat to return back to the waiting Sea Hag.

As they floated to the mouth of the Sabriel River they saw the abandoned fort where their ship was still docked. However, a second ship, the Strongbow was anchored not far off. To their chagrin, the Sea Hag's crab crew had surrendered to a well-armed mercenary party who had also apprehended Cpt. Cullen and Mallon, bound together near the imposing barbaric Captain Gundar carrying a hunting falcon. Also in charge was a noble from the Bevenin family who eagerly waited for the treasure laden rowboat with some of the same mercenaries they had fought back in Sasserine, led by the great sword swinging leader, Harkon. The mercs laughed, taunted the bard and demanded their surrender to come back with the captured Sea Hag or else be left behind. This upperhand was lost on the questing crabbers though, Tyrrus exited the boat and marched right at Harkon, while Kuma's faerie fire spraying out again over the unwary men. An arrow streaked out from Lash's bow and hit the Bevenin noble who crawled away in pain toward Gundar.

The mercs raised weapons and engaged Ostyn, Eristen and Sabriel in stunning weapon-play. The bard's gloryseeking inspiration spurred loyal Ostyn and the others to battle harder however. Harkon in single-combat, was hewed badly by Tyrrus' greatsword and dropped to a knee in exhaustion, while his men tried to gang up on the brutish bosun, with one giving him a concussive mace strike from behind. Lash put another arrowhead into the rear-end of the fleeing noble, but his second shot harmlessly deflected off the opposing barbarian captain who only watched by the captives. The mercs soon broke, the mocking merc spit on by Sabriel as he fell to Dreamsinger's blade. Once Harkon fell unconscious to a vicious whip strike, the remaining two tried to surrender yet the first was cut-down by Tyrrus when he heard the yell of no quarter! The last foe then backed into a huge figure, Ogie, who grabbed the man and tramped off into the woods to do unspeakable things with the hapless man.

Captain Gundar was backed away from Cullen and Mallon by a roaring gust of wind emanating from Kuma the druid and once at the dock he called to his own men from the Strongbow to slice the throats of all the Sea Hag crew if they did not parley. Weapons were lowered, Harkon and the noble were tied up, and Cullen and the half-elf mage were freed. Captain Gundar's neutral crew came to an accord and returned to their own ship with no further conflict, having only brought the double-crossing mercs here to catch Mallon and his treasure. Mallon was overjoyed to meet Eristen again, and as Sabriel was just about to ask him to decipher her dream-vision (it was figured the dolphin meant Eristen), when she triggered another trance:

"You see an arc of green color which slowly takes form and clarity. It becomes a strange, curved, green sword which you see sweeping effortlessly through anything in its way. You sense that, in the arc of the sword, there are echoes of time; the ebb and flow of the seasons, the bitterness of winter, and the explosion of life in the spring. How such powerful feelings arise from a simple image of a moving sword you don’t understand."

With the visions subsided and the Sea Hag regained, Cullen was appraised of their newest passengers, and they all set sail back to Sasserine to ransom the foolish Bevenin noble back to his family for a coffer of gold, a favor and a promise to never meddle in their affairs again. Harkon was also remanded to his guild sans gear after he apologized for his behavior from their first meeting. While in port, the crew rested, got new attire (Ogie was outfitted with large armor and a tricorn hat) and Lash sold their hoard of loot. After the generous shares were passed out to the entire crew, with so much money suddenly in hand, the officers told their comrades from the Sea Hag to go back to their old trade (Kuma really wanted to stay too) while they purchased a smaller, newer ship to resume the quest, the pinnace, EnvyEristen and Mallon patiently waited for the fated-sailors to finish their personal business, but reminded them that they needed to sail north to the white cliffs from Sabriel's dream which they revealed had to be Drawmij's home on the coast.

to be continued...

Campaign notes: Nothing to share this week except a wiki article on Drawmij. But stay tuned for next episode, there will be more to see!

Friday, March 11, 2016

Curse of Strahd Review

Well folks, this is a rare post on Ravenloft, my second favorite D&D world. Chris Perkins, Tracy and Laura Hickman have outdone themselves to bring back the exact look and feel of the original Ravenloft module in 5E form. Here's a quicky review for those on the fence about buying it.

Maps: Let's start here since maps usually make or break a game. Cartography is done by Mike Schley, Ben Wooten and Francois Beauregard. They keep in quality with previous 5E products, but they have the Ravenloft flare to them, from the fonts to misty borders and of course the distinctive isometric map of the castle itself. Most of these maps are in the form of an incredibly gorgeous two-sided fold out map. If you are a Ravenloft fan, this map is worth the purchase on its own.

Story: The goals, structure and story of CoS is much the same as the original module, making it a remake of sorts. The overall quest to find info and items to help defeat Strahd are expanded upon allowing the PCs to wander the region of Barovia in a more sand-box fashion. The module is for levels 1-10 so needless to say PCs will spend time here, and often be outmatched by threats in certain locations, which is just what you want in a horror setting.

The location of certain plot points just as in the original work are determined by a fortune reading from the Tarokka Deck which figures heavily in the book's design. I believe there is an actual Tarokka deck being printed which would make running this much smoother and add to the immersion.

Art: The art is superior as I would expect for a Ravenloft book. There are some interior images that really bring the setting to life going well beyond anything done before. The aforementioned Tarokka deck artwork showcases a ton of these gothic themed images. And finally, nearly every important NPC has an image of some sort which is a vast improvement over older RL production value. There is so many artists involved in this book I can't name them all, but kudos to all of you.

Rules: There is random encounter charts, plus easy reference stat blocks for all the unique monsters and villains you'd expect in a RL game. Magic items unique to the world are presented here in the updated edition too. One thing I am disappointed in however, is there is no Horror and Madness checks. Now admittedly this is more a function of the Ravenloft setting not the module, so maybe they get a pass. But still, this is something I was hoping for before I heard this book was coming out.

Extras: For those in the know, ol' Chris Perkins put a nod to Greyhawk in this book. I won't spoil it right yet, but it's gonna be controversial. The set-up for the story's start is of course in the Forgotten Realms, but it is so brief that I'm sure anyone could bring over characters from Oerth or wherever if they felt like it. So yes, buy this book. I am jazzed that wizards has branched out a bit after doing three heavy Realms story lines. We can only hope the next one will be as classic as Ravenloft.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Castle Greyhawk And Conventions

Last weekend I had the pleasure to attend the Schaumburg Township District Library Comic Con with my co-conspirator from the Castle Greyhawk webcomic, Scott Casper. After more than a few years working together, and living in the same state, this was our first ever live meeting and I must say after attending many GenCons, being on the business end of a small convention was a pleasure! Scott was a gracious host and went the extra mile (or twenty) for me. The STDL is an amazing place with so many events and visitors. My tiny hometown library could learn a thing or two from them.

Pitching our webcomic to people who don't know Greyhawk or even D&D was an interesting exercise and actually has been an important learning experience. I also learned to not leave people empty handed. Not everyone is going to want your work unless you're super-famous, so the next best thing is to give people something free to remember you by, even if its just a business card with your email or website URL. Postcards, buttons or other knick-knacks might suffice as well.

I also see the need to promote my personal art more. Even if the comic's content is IP owned by WotC, I think I have enough striking images, pages or even individual frames from the comic that could appease even a casual "sword and sorcery" fan looking for a print to put on their wall. Now if I only knew something about making prints, pricing and stuff like that.... On the other hand, I can see myself being open to commission work. I have published some pieces for BRW Games and some ezines, but beyond that I've always been leery of art-for-pay projects. Too modest I guess. I will give it more thought and perhaps get into that once I have an online portfolio to show off.

The best part of the event however was sitting in on an authors/artists panel in front of a crowd. I never saw myself doing this, maybe a private interview like I'm used to on the podcast GamersTable, but not this! It was fun answering questions and interacting with the audience. I wish I had been this relaxed at public speaking 25 years ago.

Anyhow, it was a lot of fun. Looking forward to another event, possibly an in-state con or to Wisconsin for GaryCon next year. Who knows?

Sunday, March 6, 2016

5E: Classic Modules Today

As I've recently started dabbling in converting a module for my own use, here is a bit of community news that caught my eye on G+ today. Stan Shinn and company have embarked on a big project called Classic Modules Today where they are organizing an effort to help others convert old B/X and 1E modules into 5th Edition via the new DMsGuild portal. They've already done a few modules like B4: The Lost Temple and B3: Palace of the Silver Princess. They provide all the tools and support you need to get started as well as maintaining a "dibs" system so that no two authors will clash over a chosen project. It's all pretty slick:

"Do you love classic D&D modules? So do we! Here’s what we’re doing in a nutshell:
We’ll provide free conversion tools and standards for you to create early edition conversions of classic D&D modules.
We don’t make money off of conversions you sell yourself; you keep all the profits!"

"These are conversion guides, not completely converted adventures. You should still need the original module to run these adventures. Completely converting an adventure (rewriting each scene) is likely not possible without further conversation or licensing from WOTC. What we’re doing is converting magic items, monsters, traps, and other key statistics, and giving some notes on running the adventure. If you have ideas about extra encounters or other changes to the adventure, put them in a separate section, maybe called “Extending the Adventures” or “Alternate Adventure Ideas’ but have the core conversion notes be such that DMs can run the adventure as it was originally written, but in the Forgotten Realms."

I've never been one to put much work into adventure writing/publishing, but I am slightly excited at the prospect of so many Greyhawk modules being converted to 5E, something we never got much of in 4E (outside Perkins' eDungeon mods). Check out this link to a list of modules they've already put up on DMsGuild for download and which have been vouched for; a ton of them are Greyhawk classics. And yes, they have to be Forgotten Realms compatible, as per their FAQ:

Question: Does it have to be set in the Forgotten Realms?

Answer: Per requirement from WOTC, we’re converting all adventures to be in the Forgotton Realms. We put the Forgotten Realms setting fluff and optional adventure ideas in their own sections and DMs are free to use or ignore that material.

That's not too bad then, though you certainly know I won't use my time to convert stuff for FR use. However, the upshot here is that if CMT can uphold quality and consistency among a community of dedicated fan-authors then when/if Greyhawk does truly get released to the public, there will already be a climate of peer-based work, to ensure old and new stuff alike will be worth patron's generous donations.

Update 06/11/2021: Looks like these guys are still cooking. G+ is not however.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Barbarians in the World of Greyhawk

Recently I was in a discussion about barbarians in RPGs/fiction and it reoccurred to me that the World of Greyhawk (via 1e Unearthed Arcana) really is a hot-bed of barbarian activity. So here is a quick bashed out line up barbarian cultures in the setting for those who need a wild-frontier campaign or need a barbarian horde to descend on your PCs.

Wolf and Tiger Nomads: The Cold North of the Flanaess is practically all "barbarian" cultures. The wolf and tiger follow totems of their appropriate animals and are plains dwelling people of mixed-race, but mostly Baklunish origin. The tiger nomads come into conflict with their cousins and the "civilized states" of the Baklunish more often, whereas the Wolf Nomads also have Iuz as a neighbor and have warred with the demigod's empire a few times in history. They also abut to another barbarian culture...

Rovers of the Barrens: These Flannae horsemen are to the east of the Wolf Nomads and are the traditional hunter gatherers you'd expect in the cold climates. In some sources they've even been equated to American Indians, though its not a required analogue. These nomads too run afoul of the evil Iuz and are also hated by the Stonefists.

Hold of Stonefist: This far north pocket of barbarians have a couple towns but they are more savage and brutal than most any barbarian culture in the north. Their 'battle rite of fitness' is unique to the setting and shows how it is survival of the fittest in their land. Needless to say the Stonefists are not loved by anyone. They are featured as bad guys in the module Howl From the North.

Ice, Snow and Frost Barbarians: When someone mentions barbarians, these three mountainous countries are the first thing that comes to peoples minds. They are the viking analogue and deservedly so. They have their own rich histories and adventures, also featuring in the Five Shall Be One/Howl From the North epic plus other mentions throughout Greyhawk publications. These barbarians as you would expect like to raid by longship and harass the Aerdy on the Solnor Ocean or explore the Icy Sea and beyond the oceans to the east.

Plains of the Paynims/Dry Steppes/Ull: In the Baklunish West are many many more nomadic cultures. These Mongol/Persian themed groups wander a very wide band of the maps from the Sea of Dust to the southern edges of the civilized Baklunish countries to the west beyond the Flanaess where once the Golden Horde raided eastward and went through Ket to attack the rest of the Flanaess. The Dry Steppes and Ull are very remote, sparsely populated areas with their own lost legends, many which you can find here on Greyhawkery.

Bright Desert: Even in the middle of the Flanaess within this small hill-ringed desert you can find barbaric nomads of Suel and Flan descent. The place was once the flan kingdom of Sulm but now the ruins and remnant people of this culture are ruled by the archmage Rary as seen in the sourcebook Rary the Traitor.

Amedio and Hepmonaland: The two jungle areas to the south are separated by expanses of water but linked by islands, all of which are inhabited by decidedly "barbaric" peoples of the Olman and Suel subraces (we won't go into the Touv of Hepmonaland yet). The Olman, based on mesoamerican culture, were like many races once quite civilized, but over time fell and are now hunter-gatherers competing to survive with interlopers like the Suel, who also once were mighty but fell, some say into savage cannibalism.

Are there more barbarian cultures? Yes I am sure I can spot others. The Land of Black Ice/Burneal Forest tribes. The Crystalmist Mountain snow elves and maybe even the humanoid tribes of places like the Pomarj could count too. That's a debate for another day though.