Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Anhur - The Patchwork D&D Gameworld

So here's the quickie handout that I typed up for that D&D game, just because I thought it would be fun to share, and it would give Slusser something to read over the Thanksgiving holiday. See how many setting names and elements you can spot - there's at least five or six settings that I ripped off here...

Happy Thanksgiving!



In ancient days of yore, the many lands of Mithra were ruled by the Elves and the Dwarves, who hated each other with such a passion that they waged terrible wars for dominance. They employed mighty magics and created horrific beasts with which to strike at each other; many relics of this age may still be found in the wilder places of the world. Since their numbers were never great, and births rare enough that any death was considered a great blow, they enslaved other peoples to fight on their behalf. This was the Age of Blood.

The Humans were one of these subject peoples, though they were enslaved by both sides. Their gods, the Asgardians, reflected their warlike and brutal lifestyles. However, they were united for the first and only time in the history of the world by divine beings known as the Harbingers. At the mountain peak of Denelspire, the Harbingers anointed a woman as Divine Imperatrix, and guided her to forge the Earthly Empyrean of the Firstborn (as the Humans began to call themselves). This was Anhur, in the Ancient Antillian tongue. The Firstborn, bolstered by the divine power of the gods, rebelled against their venerable masters, and overthrew their rulership. The rebellion that they began inspired the other races - most notably the violent and treacherous Blackblood (those which we call Orcs, Goblins, and their ilk today) - to rebel in kind. The Elven and Dwarven empires could not withstand such a loss, and they retreated into the hearts of their realms, the Elves to the forests and the Dwarves to the mountains, never to rule over others again. This was the Age of Fire.

A golden age followed, in which the Firstborn spread even further across the world, claiming dominion over Mithra as the Harbingers directed. But division amongst the Harbingers as to how the world should be ruled spread to their followers, and the Firstborn fragmented into a hundred nations. The Divine Imperatrix remained loyal to those Harbingers who stood for life and honor - Corean the Champion, Madriel the Redeemer, Tanil the Huntress, Hedrada the Lawgiver, and Denev the Earth Mother - and Anhur prospered for it, a beacon to all Firstborn nations. But the schemes of the remaining gods - Chardun the Tyrant, Belsameth the Slayer, and Vangal the Reaver - conspired to destroy Anhur. For centuries Anhur warred against her enemies, always seeking leadership from the gods, but ultimately it was Enkili the Trickster who turned the tide. Deceiving the Divine Imperatrix into believing that her most loyal soldiers, the Taltain, were conspiring against her, Enkili convinced the Imperatrix to call down a divine curse upon them. This betrayal rent the Firstborn apart from within, and the once great nation of Anhur fragmented, falling to civil war. Thus ended the Age of Illumination.

Centuries have passed since the Great Betrayal. Three nations clash for the mantle of the Divine Imperatrix: Cygnar, Kingdom of the Swan; Magador, Kingdom of the Condor; and Khador, Kingdom of the Raven. Though the King of Magador holds court in ancient Denelspire, the other rulers are not content to let this stand. Each nation always grooms a woman to be anointed Divine Imperatrix, once Denelspire has been taken and Anhur reunited under one crown. This is the Age of Strife.

The Harbingers of Anhur

The Anhurian nations formally reject the worship of the Old Gods (as they call the Asgardians), seeing them as remnants of a culture of slavery, not truly of the Firstborn but belonging to the Elder Races of Elf and Dwarf to keep them in line. This doesn’t stop many Anhurians from worshipping them, of course, and many worship both pantheons, as well as any others they may pick up. Most peasants think they can use all the help they can get.

A Gazeteer of Southern Mithra

Mithra is the continent in which the lands of Old Anhur lay, and it is also what its natives call the world. Old Anhur is in the southern hemisphere of Mithra, so it gets warmer the further one goes north, and colder the further one goes south.

Little is known regarding the farthest stretches of the world aside from dire legends. Far beyond the Viridian Empire in the east is said to lie the savage Kingdom of Karak, whose natives are the most degenerate of all Firstborn, engaging in cannibalism, ritual torture and sacrifice, rulership by the undead, and worship of heathen gods most hideous. To the furthest south is the Great Glacier, where it is so cold that no human can survive, where the wild freezing winds can shear flesh from bone, and giants perpetually war with titanic beasts of ice and iron. In the distant north are said to be the Demon Empires, earthly domains of demon princes and the vilest of diabolic monsters, who capture any interlopers into their domain, gleefully tormenting them to slake their mad sadistic lusts. None have ever returned from these mysterious and deadly realms...

Alvarheim - The largest forest in the southlands, Alvarheim - as its Wroclaw name suggests - is ruled by Elves. This Elven nation call themselves the Raesha, the High or Sun Elves. Their arrogance is considerable, as they think of themselves as the paragon of Elven culture. Their Queen is devoted to maintaining Elven cohesion as a people; in fact, while there have been many Queens, they are always known as Enduriel, suggesting that the culture of the Raesha is eternal and unchanging.

Aneirin, the Forest of - Also known as the Silverwood, the Forest of Aneirin is revered as the ancestral home of the Anhurians. The first Divine Imperatrix was a slave of the Elves who ruled this forest, the Danae (more commonly known as the Grey Elves, Silver Elves, or Moon Elves). The Danae still dwell here, but live in relative peace with the humans who surround them, preferring to remain isolated in most ways. An ancient pact called the Sanguine Covenant ensures peace between the Anhurians and the Danae, though there are those amongst the Elves who push for aggression against the interloping humans, especially since it could be said that Anhur no longer exists. A recurrent Danae raiding party known as The Wild Hunt spontaneously arises on the occasional full moon, hunting down and slaying humans like animals. In their defense, the humans they target are almost always those who have aggreived the Elves, despoiling the sanctity of the Silverwood or otherwise antagonizing the Elves. Cygnans believe that the Wild Hunt will only slay those who are not pure of heart. The Danae are ruled by a council called the Eldermost, consisting of the oldest Elves in the forest. While consent to their rulings is not enforced, it is generally understood that those who disregard their judgments willingly withdraw any claims to protection by their fellow Danae. Corunglain was the village where the First Divine Imperatrix, Ragnahild I, was born, and has since grown into a considerably large town.

Atruaghin Clans - The grassy plateau, forest, and hilly regions of the Battleplains of Gwalion are inhabited by barbarian herders, hunters, and fishermen who live in small villages. All the villagers claim to be descended from the ancient hero Atruaghin. If threatened by war they unite under a temporarily-elected leader, but usually live independently of each other. The Clans worship no gods, but rather revere the memories of their ancestors who have gone on to Elysium, and seek wisdom from the elemental spirits of the world.

Caldea - The westernmost barony of Cygnar, Caldea enjoys a reputation as a doggedly loyal and rugged province (indeed, the standard of its largest city, Caneus, prominently features a dog). Caldea has always been at the forefront of any conflict against the Wroclaw barbarians. In order to discover what was going on with the barbarians, the Baron of Caldea formed the Rovers. The Rovers would scour the wilderness looking for signs of the barbarians, or worse. They would then report such impending incursions to their leaders who would be able to raise a large enough force to repel the invaders. Over the years, the Caldean Rovers gained a reputation for being the best wilderness scouts available - a reputation enjoyed by the Taltain before the Great Betrayal.

Canolbarth - Home to an Elven people called the Arali (“Wood Elves”). They are on good terms with the Quolya (“Sea Elves”) of the Coreanic Sea, and respect Deep Sashelas as well as their own patron, Corellon Leaflord. The Arali traditionally meet four times a year - or in times of great peril - at a great fortress known as Evefalim, which, it is rumored, magically changes location within the forest dependent upon the positions of the moon, stars, and planets.

Cygnar - Kingdom of the Swan. Contender for the throne at Denelspire, the King of Cygnar has always upheld the tenets of Corean and Madriel, trying to retain the glory of Old Anhur. While not as efficient as the fighting forces of Magador, and not as magically powerful as the sorcerers of Khador, the barons and knights of Cygnar take inspiration from their deities, and have a reputation as being blessed champions (or holier-than-thou meddlers, according to others). Honor is considered one of the highest virtues in Cygnar, and features prominently in its many knightly orders; it inspires many to live noble lives, but it is also responsible for countless duels and petty conflicts. The city of Belynar - once known as Belarus in Old Anhurian days - is known as the City of One Thousand Temples; immigrants and merchants which have flooded the city over the centuries have brought their native gods with them, and so this city is believed by many to be the holiest city in the world…or the most deeply, hopelessly divided. Cygnar is effectively ruled by the Grand Master of the Royal Order of the Aquiline Cross, Lord Sir Malbeth Blackhawk, who advises the Imperatrix of Cygnar, Sylmarine IV.

Darokin - The wealth of this western Magadorian city is based on trade from Lake Amsorach, the Streel River, and the eastern caravan route which trails north of the Malpheggi Swamp. Darokin is effectively a plutocracy, ruled by the wealthiest merchant families. It has a vicious rivalry with the "common-blooded thugs" of the Minrothad Guilds. The Darokin regularly trade with the Ædlung, or “Hill Dwarves”, of the nearby Jaw Mountains.

Elsewood - Once this relatively small forest was known as Astoth, where the Arali once ruled, but have since been scattered or have joined with their kin at Canolbarth. The forest was largely used as a royal preserve for the King of Cygnar until a lord who was unjustly stripped of his titles and lands by an unscrupulous noble escaped imprisonment and took refuge here. Taking the old name of the forest as his own, Lord Astoth declared the forest his kingdom. He enticed a large number of folk to migrate to the forest by offering them more freedom than their local nobles allowed them. Lord Astoth, being one of the best archers in the land, decided to make archers the core of his growing army. This new army, smaller than most armies fielded by Cygnan nobles, used every advantage that the forest could provide for them. This small army soon became one of the most feared in the land. Lord Astoth is long dead - as is his enmity with Cygnar, having received a pardon from the Imperatrix - but his half-Elven heirs still hold sway here, training new generations of archers to defend the forest and those who would threaten her.

Ethengar, the Khaganhold of - The Khagan of Ethengar rules a nomadic, horse-bound Human people who ride a long strip of land based on the seasons. They are an enigmatic people, long removed from the Anhurians, who have turned their backs on all gods, worshipping none. The Ethen justly claim that there are no more skilled riders in all of Mithra.

Khador - Kingdom of the Raven. This Anhurian nation is effectively a magocracy; most noble families in Khador have a sorcerous lineage, and all must be proficient with arcane magic to be considered fit to rule. While the princes and princesses of this nation mostly live in the Razhirum, splendorous citadel of Tarahir, each ruler has a castle hidden in some remote wilderness area. The rulers are more concerned with magical research than actual ruling; most decisions are left to the various local councils of elders and princely stewards (the latter of which often tend to be warlike thugs and raiders who abuse their authority). The princes and princesses do not trust each other and live in a state of uneasy truce, yet history has shown that in the face of invasion they are quick to unite. In extreme emergencies, they will rally under their chosen Imperatrix, Varsinya XIX, but this typically lasts only as long as the emergency does.

Krakathoz - Deep within the mountain chain known as the Stormholds lies Krakathoz, kingdom of the Mablung Dwarves. These Dwarves are also called "Mountain Dwarves" by other races, and consider themselves the true heirs of the Undying Imperium, the Dwarven empire that once enslaved the Firstborn. It is said that the Mablung of Krakathoz are ruled by one of the Living Ancestors, a Dwarven ghost magically encased inside an Iron Golem. No one knows what the Mablung currently plot...

Magador - Kingdom of the Condor. A militant Anhurian nation with a disciplined professional army. Were it not for their relatively poor resources, they would have united Anhur under the marching boots of the Magadorian Legions long ago. Hedrada is as popular a patron deity here as Corean (and some even go so far as to openly venerate Chardun). The Magadorians consider the Wroclaw to be less than human, and treat them accordingly. Magador is ruled by King Eregoth III, who easily maintains control over Magador’s child Imperatrix, Magdolnae V. Eregoth hopes to conquer the rest of Anhur before Magdolnae reaches puberty in the next few years.

Memnoth, the Archprelacy of - A theocratic nation which claims descent from the Anhurian temple of Hedrada, though they are not a culturally Anhurian people, but the descendants of Viridian immigrants. Notable for their rigidly enforced clerical rule, their indomitable Templars (paladins) and their ever-watchful Justiciars (demon-hunting Inquisitors), the Faithful of Memnoth believe that while the Harbingers established the ascendancy of the Firstborn, only Hedrada gave them a way to live. They dismiss the need for an Imperatrix, believing the office was only necessary to create Anhur, not to maintain it. One of their more shocking beliefs is that every Firstborn is equal to others, and they long ago rejected the concept of a noble class. Memnoth is currently ruled by the elderly Archprelate Hedjhazi, who longs to capture Denelspire before he dies.

Minrothad - A semi-independent city-state within Khador, run by a syndicracy: the heads of various trading guilds. The trade influence of the Minrothad Guilds is felt as far west as Wroclaw, and all along the eastern coasts.

Revelshire - Home of the Hin, called "Halflings" by most; they themselves specify that they are of the Lightfoot lineage. This area is ruled by a council of sheriffs. Four times a year the sheriffs meet at a great feast and there decide shirewide policy by vote.

Rhona - The Rhona, commonly known by other races as “Gnomes”, roam the countryside in colorful, noisy caravans. They are known for selling all manner of wares to anyone they meet, and range from underhanded peddlers trying to con witless peasants into buying junk to master craftsmen offering high-quality goods to those who can meet their price. They have a reputation for being not entirely trustworthy, making shifty deals and devilish contracts, but also for finding and selling things that no one else can.

Taltain, The - Rangers devoted to Tanil and the Anhurian crowns, the Taltain were renowned as the most deadly and loyal warriors in the Anhurian armies. Answering directly to the Divine Imperatrix, the Taltain abided by a code of honor which respected the land and protected the innocent from those who would prey upon them. Due to the deceit of Enkili, the Divine Imperatrix came to believe that the Taltain were plotting against her, and she cursed them with lycanthropy, making them outcasts. The Taltain’s fall from honor was the catalyst that divided Anhur, and there are those that say the souls of the Taltain are intertwined with the soul of Old Anhur. Though they remain secretive, dwelling on the outskirts of society, the Taltain still act in accordance to their old vows and code of honor, serving the cause of Old Anhur wherever they may. They are known by their lycanthropy, though over the ages there are various strains according to family lines; Taltain of different families turn into different beasts. It is said that they train their young to control themselves when they are in their changed bestial forms, though there are rumors aplenty that the Taltain no longer know how to do this… The leaders of the Taltain are a council of mysterious beings known as the Guardinals - few, if any, outside the Taltain are said to have ever seen them.

Tharbrian Coast - A wild and untamed strip of land along eastern Khador. The Tharbrian Coast is renowned as a dangerous, wicked, and thoroughly exciting place, featuring pirate havens galore. The Viridian Empire often attempts naval raids along this coast, but has always been thwarted by the combined efforts of the Minrothad Guilds and the sorcerous princes of Khador.

Viridistan - The Viridian Empire sprawls over lands across the Coreanic Sea, ruled by the so-called World Emperor of Viridistan. Viridistan is a city-state nearly as old as the citadel of Denelspire, though by all accounts this subtropical empire is deeply wicked and decadent. Cygnar entertains a Viridian ambassador - Farzad Fazan Malekai - almost as a formality, partially so as not to offend the ancient power and partially so as to remind herself what the Anhurians could become if they forget their noble origins.

Wroclaw - Considered barbarians by the Anhurians, the Wroclaw are united only by their faith in the Old Gods of the wild places - Odin, Tyr, Thor, Freya, and others. The Wroclaw are renowned as fierce warriors; their religious devotions are rumored to involve human sacrifice. They keep a respectful distance from the Raesha of Alvarheim, giving tribute to the Elves in exchange for what the forest provides. The Wroclaw usually recognize no single authority outside their own warchiefs, but a powerful lord named Istvan Vargha is reportedly rallying karls (warrior-chieftains) under his feathered banner to take the fight to the Magadorians.

A Real, Live D&D Game

Being in my last semester of art school, I don't really have the time to do any gaming for the most part. There's simply too many time-consuming projects, many of which suck the creative juices right out of you, and the rest just take too freakin' long to finish to devote time to any other pursuit. So it was with some measure of enthusiasm that I was invited to do some D&D on Saturday. Not only did I get to play, but I got to wear the viking hat, as they say.

For a long time, I was loathe to put anything unoriginal into a game setting. I thought that I was a creative type, a story writer, and so everything I made should be original, springing forth from my own brain and drawing upon nothing else apart from general impressions. When you're trying to be both a gamer and a comics writer, this is a really tough thing to do, because your creativity gets stretched kind of thin, and you end up putting your efforts into one thing or another, but not really both.

So this time around, invited to fill in as DM for a game that had begun as a completely improvised one-shot, with characters but no real setting apart from some handwavey vague details, I decided to make up a setting for this game that would fit the characters and the situation described to me. And I ripped off a half dozen published game settings to do it.

And it felt good.

I like my patchwork game world. I like that I didn't have to stretch my brain to come up with utterly unique names and situations, but rather just picked and chose names and concepts that I liked from other game worlds, and made a setting that made some sort of internal sense. I quickly typed up a four-page summary of the setting as a handout, complete with map (thank you, Wizards of the Coast Map Archive). I came up with a basic story idea after glancing through the Creature Collection and considering the ending of the last adventure, and made a couple of level-appropriate encounters (thank you, Hypertext SRD). I wrote everything on Initiative Cards and Storyteller Aids, grabbed my screen, and felt more prepared to run a game than I think I have in years.

And it ran well. While I still miss the quality of character roleplaying that I enjoyed in my old California game group, it turned out nonetheless to be the sort of game that one thinks of in later years when looking over the old gamebooks and getting nostalgic. It was what a good D&D game session should be.

I don't know if it was just that I was so in need of a break from homework, or if it was the college atmosphere (we played in an empty classroom); if it was the fact that I didn't overthink and overplan the entire thing, but planned just enough; if it was that I got to make a fun world that was just what I wanted and I knew instinctively; if it was that one of our players had her laptop and the school internet connection so we could have the "Diablo II" soundtrack playing on a loop in the background (thank you Bee.fm); if it was that I didn't feel a lot of pressure to perform because the improv that came before was, well, very improvisational... I don't know exactly what it was, but man, it was fun. It reminded me why I like gaming so much.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Blast From The Past: RIFTS

My wife and I are packing up our things, preparing to move back to California in December. As I was going through my bookshelves today, I decided to toss out a pile of old notebooks that had been sitting on the bottom shelf since before we moved out here to Minneapolis. They're full of old gaming ideas, characters, system notes, and other things, but ultimately I decided that I don't seem to have a big problem coming up with new ideas, and one must preserve moving space for more important things.

Still, I couldn't resist going through them to see if there was anything of worth. There were one or two things I could see myself using, but I also happened across this RIFTS character, one of many that I never got the chance to play. This one was made for a planned game that my friend Sammy was going to run, which would have been the first RIFTS game I'd played since, well, I don't remember.

This is Mercy Libre. As you can guess by my choice of playing a Principled Purestrain Human Rogue Scholar, munchkinism isn't what brought me to RIFTS. The logo on her helmet says "Ex Libris Lazlo", the motto of the Order of the Library of Lazlo.

Heck, I'd still play this character.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Worldwide Dungeons & Dragons Game Day

My e-mailer and postcard from The Source in Falcon Heights, MN (the best comics and games store I've ever been to) inform me that this Saturday, November 3, is International Dungeons & Dragons Day (or "Worldwide Dungeons & Dragons Game Day", according to WotC; and after all, wouldn't they know?). What with 4th Edition looming on the horizon and WotC's final big 3.5 hurrah, the Rules Compendium, I expect the tables to be packed. I'm usually wary of gaming with people I don't already know on a friendly basis - I've had enough creepy or disappointing convention gaming experiences - but man, I really would like to go play. As it is, I'll be spending part of the day helping a teacher set up an art show, and the rest of the weekend working on homework. It's a little disappointing, because there have been a lot of "last time I'll probably ever get to do this" moments in the past months as I prepare to leave Minnesota in December, and this is one of them: the last time I'll get to sit in on a big event like this where I'll have all the necessary gamebooks to jump in.

After buying every new edition of D&D since the Moldvay Basic Red Box, I'm ready to sit this next edition out. I don't have the disposable income I once did, and I certainly don't have the time I once did, but even more than these two things, if I want to do a dungeon crawl, or an epic fantasy campaign, or simply "play D&D" (which is a legitimate urge all its own, I think), I've already got more than enough books to do it to my taste. Especially since I find myself running from rules creep and massive stat blocks, diving back into the womblike security of Blue Box Expert D&D, its clones (like Basic Fantasy), or stripped-down versions of d20 like Core Elements or E6. Even True20 looks like a lot of work to me these days.

So, au revoir, D&D. I am now officially a grognard.