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D&D Ancient History, Part IV

posted Friday, November 27th 2009 by Jonathan Drain
Fluff/InspirationFourth Edition

This is the fourth (and probably final) part of Age Before Ages: D&D Ancient History.

Dungeons & Dragons Fourth Edition breaks some continuity with the old Greyhawk-based history and takes its own setting. Nevertheless, the broad strokes of pre-history are the same. The gods fought with primordial beings long before the time of men, and in the end the gods won. Mythical figures like the Miska the Wolf-Spider and the Wind Dukes of Aaqa still appear on the correct sides.

According to the 4th edition Dungeon Master’s Guide 2, the Wind Dukes were a group of seven angels who served Bahamut, and forged the Rod of Seven Parts with the assistance of one of Moradin’s exarchs. The rod hates all elementals (strange since in 3E the Wind Dukes were elementals), strongly hates primordials (a term which doesn’t exist in 3E), and defends immortals (including demons, such as Miska the Wolf-Spider).

This isn’t actually too far from the 3E myth. According to Dungeon’s Age of Worms series, armies of evil elementals fought on the side of Chaos at the Battle of Pesh, including the earth elemental prince Ogrémoch. One hypothesis is that the oldest gods already existed at this time, and several fought on the side of Law, in which case it’s likely that the Moradin, Bahamut and a group of Wind Dukes collaborated in secret on the construction and deployment of the Rod of Law.

It’s feasible then that the Rod has a mild hatred of elementals, who mainly took the side of Chaos, and is somewhat protective of immortals, who aided its creation. It devotes itself to destroying the remaining primordials, whose number may include most of the surviving leaders from the side of Chaos. Although the Rod should hate demons, perhaps it has a strange tolerance of the tanar’ri, who overthrew the primordial obyriths after the battle, and thus in the grand scale of things tilted the balance of power against Chaos.

On the surface, it’s a little confusing that the Wind Dukes, who are air elemental creatures, would create a weapon that hates elementals. One possible answer is that the Wind Dukes were in fact created by the gods, in a time before any mortals existed whose souls could be forged into new beings; instead, they used elemental air to create intelligent beings to fight on the side of Law. This would strengthen the idea that the early conflict of Law versus Chaos was closely linked to the conflict between Gods and Primordials.

World Building 101: Keeping a Campaign Bible

posted Wednesday, November 25th 2009 by Brandan Landgraff
Dungeon Mastering Advice

Last week, I discussed how to write an effective campaign brief. While this is an important skill for any DM starting a new campaign, there’s more to world-building than the initial introduction of your players into the world you’re creating. A campaign brief is a tool designed as a starting point, but the moment you sit down and start describing the first scene in your first adventure, you’ve given the players more information on the setting than is in the scope of the campaign brief. It’s time to graduate up to a full-fledged campaign bible.

A campaign bible is an impressive enough sounding name, but what it really refers to are the notes and details of everything the players encounter. It’s really up to you how detailed to make it–some DMs work entirely on jotted notes, others spend hours or days detailing large swathes of their world. Either way, as you dole out more information on the campaign, it’s important to keep track of it somewhere for reference; thus, the campaign bible.

If you’re running your game in a setting with which the players are familiar, the campaign bible really only needs to contain a few notes on important NPCs and whatever locations or events you feel are most important. If you’re designing your own world, though, then you may want to use the campaign bible to store history, myths and legends, cultural notes, geography, and anything else besides. Anything and everything you would find in a published campaign setting fits into a campaign bible–up to and including content added in by further campaign supplements.

Read on for some things to consider when writing a campaign bible: Continue reading this article »

World Building 101: Sample Campaign Brief

posted Monday, November 23rd 2009 by Brandan Landgraff
Dungeon Mastering Advice

Several people requested an example campaign brief after last Wednesday’s article was posted. Never let it be said that we at D20 Source do not oblige our readers. Presented here for your edification is an annotated sample campaign brief. There’s not much more to be said about it that the document doesn’t say for itself, so enjoy!

Campaign Brief (85KB)

D&D Ancient History, Part III

posted Friday, November 20th 2009 by Jonathan Drain
Fluff/Inspiration

This is the third part of last Friday’s post, Age Before Ages: D&D Ancient History.

Age of Mortals

The first mortal was created by accident when Piscaethces, a massive Far Realm creature perhaps related to the Sleeping Ones, brushed against the prime material plane, creating the first monsterous aquatic aboleth. As they have perfect genetic memory, all aboleths remember this event.

Over millions of years the aboleths came to dominate the material plane, learning the first magic and creating creatures – the oozes, at first, and later the first humanoids, who they created as slaves. Precisely who created what race is unclear, but the gods found that mortal faith increased their power. In exchange, they freed the humanoids from aboleth control.

The mortals were also valuable to the primordial creatures for their souls, which the baernaloths used to build into the evil yugoloths, and the obyriths to create the first demons, the tanar’ri. The first tanar’ri, Demogorgon, was forged from the primal fears of the first mortal souls. The tanar’ri became numerous, and overthrew most of the obyriths before turning against Asmodeus’ devils, whose numbers included deities’ servants turned traitor for the promise of power.

The Age before Ages concluded at the Battle of Pesh, a colossal battle between law and chaos. On the side of Law were the Wind Dukes of Aaqa, an air elemental race whose empire spanned many worlds, while Chaos included demons and evil elder elementals led by an obyrith called the Queen of Chaos. The result was a stalemate: the Wind Dukes destroyed or banished the most powerful demons, but lost too many of their number to continue the battle of law against chaos.

Age of Men

With the primordials weakened and the gods reinforced by exponentially increasing numbers of mortal worshippers, the era of humanoids and their chosen deities began.

In the millennia after the Battle of Pesh, humans and the other races created civilization and have learned the use of magic. The demons and devils continue to fight each other in what has become termed the Blood War, although few are ancient enough to remember why it started.

The Wind Dukes never recovered their losses.

Age of Worms

Doomsayers speak of the end times, an era of destruction known as the Age of Worms. Servants of mad cults work to hurry this along. Neither the deities nor the remaining primordial evils want this to happen any time soon, since both benefit from the continuing growth of the human race.

World Building 101: Effective Campaign Briefs

posted Wednesday, November 18th 2009 by Brandan Landgraff
Dungeon Mastering Advice

One of the great joys of being a DM is creating a world for your players to experience through their characters. While there are some very high quality campaign settings available, especially if you’re willing to adapt from older editions, if you’re at all like me then nothing can possibly match the enjoyment of building your own world for your game.

Of course, all that intricate detail is of no use if you can’t communicate it to your players. Handing most players a campaign bible the size of an average university history textbook is a surefire way to ensure they won’t read through any of it. One obvious reason for this is that the sheer volume of the detail is intimidating, especially if you expect them to become intimately familiar with it before you play, but that’s not the only one. There are several factors to consider for effectively building a campaign world and communicating the details to your players.

The first introduction to your campaign that your players will have is typically a campaign brief. This is usually a document presenting them with the vital information about the setting that they need to understand in order to create suitable characters. Here are some tips to help write an effective campaign brief.

  • Keep it short. Most players are more likely to read a campaign brief of 3 pages than a detailed campaign bible of 30 or more. This is not to say that you can’t or shouldn’t have more details in mind than can be contained in those three pages, but especially for the initial communication, shorter is better. Try to consider 3-5 pages as the absolute maximum length for an introductory campaign brief.
  • Keep it to the point. If your campaign world has a history rich with lost empires and great battles, that’s wonderful, but if your player characters are beginning as adventurers based out of a small town in the hinterlands, none of that is going to be directly affecting them.
  • Keep it clear. Try to avoid using terms specific to your campaign without defining them. Make an effort to ensure that names are consistent and that your writing style is clear at all times on who is doing what to whom. If your players aren’t able to understand part of the campaign brief, it may as well not have been included at all, and that’s something you do not want.
  • Consider formatting. Use bold or italics to emphasize important details. Keep the formatting consistent throughout the document—the idea is to make it as easy to read and understand as possible.
  • Keep it open-ended. This is a critical point that’s often forgotten or left out by novice world-designers. Always remember that you’re creating a shared world with your players—the lion’s share of the effort in designing a world is the DM’s responsibility, but try to leave room for the creativity of your players. As an example, one game I ran began as a fairly standard fantasy setting in my mind, but one of the players decided to play his tiefling ranger as a cowboy. Rather than telling him that wouldn’t work, I ran with it, and the campaign setting became much richer as a result.
  • Keep it organized. With only three to five pages it may not seem super-important to keep every bit of detail cleanly organized, but it’s actually quite vital to do so. Not only does it improve readability , it makes it that much easier to add to it as your campaign continues to grow.
  • Avoid fiction. There may be some temptation to lay out your campaign setting using an in-character document. This can be an excellent exercise to get into the right mindset for both you and your players, but it’s not always especially clear, concise, or easy to refer back to for specific details. The campaign brief should be presented to the players first, so they have time to digest the information, before you bring them further into the world with in-character writing.

Once you have the basic campaign brief laid out and your players have become familiar with the material you provided initially, expect more details to come out. Check out next week’s article for a more in-depth discussion of keeping up with the details!

D&D Ancient History, Part II

posted Monday, November 16th 2009 by Jonathan Drain
Fluff/Inspiration

This is the second part of Friday’s post, Age Before Ages: D&D Ancient History.

Age of Primal Forces

The multiverse was created by the Sleeping Ones, so called by the kuo-toa because they promptly left for a billion year nap. The elemental planes formed – Fire, Air, Earth, Water. According to some, the planes form four sides of a cube, with Positive and Negative at the top and bottom and quasi-planes at the edges where two planes meet.

Primal concepts like law and order warred over this creation for millions of years before spawning the first immortal creatures, living embodiments of primal forces. Evil created the baernaloths, chaos the obyriths, and law created the Twin Serpents Ahriman and Jazirian, of whom Ahriman fell from grace to become Asmodeus, the first devil.

Several other ancient entities are thought to have existed in this era. The Ancient Brethren are a group who may include the Lady of Pain, who rules the city of Sigil at the centre of the multiverse and may be a primordial agent of Law, and the Serpent, an entity who is the embodiment of magic and it is claimed spoke directly to the archlich Vecna. The draedens are terrifying, massive descendants the Sleeping Ones, one of whom slept while the Abyss formed around him.

Age of Gods

Another ancient entity, called by some the powers of creation, sacrificed itself to bring the first gods into being and give order and meaning to the multiverse. The prime material plane was created out of the substance of the elemental planes. The outer planes came into being, and the gods claimed them as their domain, although some say the Outer Planes were first conquered by the Wind Dukes and the forces of Chaos, and the gods didn’t take the Outer Planes until after the fall of these two planar empires.

After such an act of creation, the being that created the gods became a force of destruction as if to maintain the balance. Known as Atropos, it is a decaying, disembodied head as large as a small moon, floating through the cosmos and populated by countless undead and bringing destruction to the worlds it visits.

The gods entered the fight to contest the form of the multiverse, but came into conflict with the primordials already there and began to suffer losses. At least one deity was slain outright, and the gods had insufficient power to stand against the primeval forces of the cosmos.

Age Before Ages: D&D Ancient History

posted Friday, November 13th 2009 by Jonathan Drain
Fluff/Inspiration

Greyhawk Wiki at Canonfire is a repository of information on the Greyhawk setting, and by extension, on D&D tradition and canon. I’d like to showcase a particularly interesting group of articles detailing the D&D world’s pre-history, the Age before Ages.

Sages divide history into five eras. In the first Age, the multiverse came into being and beings of law and chaos, good and evil warred for millions of years. In the second Age, the Material Plane was formed and the first gods came into being.

In the third Age, the aquatic aboleth race was created by divine accident, who went on to master magic and create many creatures including the first humanoids. This Age culminated in a massive battle between Law and Chaos, crippling the ancient powers. These three eras together are called the Age before Ages.

In the following Age, humans and other species became numerous and human civilization began. This is the current era, and is predicted to end one day with the Age of Worms, where all life will be destroyed.

Over the next week or so I’m going to go into a little more detail on each of these and fill in the gaps. Look out for the next part on Monday.

Universal Solution To Every Plothole

posted Wednesday, November 4th 2009 by Jonathan Drain
News, Reviews & Culture

What to do when your players find plotholes in your game story?

This week’s Penny Arcade comic has the answer.

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