Setting: Io (all ages)
Legacies carry weight in the expansive timeline of Io. A name can be earned, or stolen, or bound, or lost, and all carry a legacy of rich history and meaning. Much like the etymology of language, a name's path and purpose can change given their circumstances; heroes become villains, tyrants become priests, and thieves become nobles.
Yet these developments benefit most from a structured timeline. Instances and events of momentous growth and change powered by the metaphorical jet engine of past transgressions. There is a line to follow in this madness.
What if the line were broken? What if your name, your legacy, was taken from you; displaced somehow? Without the benefit of a past to learn from, what new future does a creature forge?
In today's Lore Drop, on November's theme of Legacy Names, let's take a look at one of the most curious of NPCs - the Va'Orodin.
Temporal imbalance in magic and arcanum is a running theme across every Age of Io, but in no other age was it felt more than at the turn of the 4th Age. The event that triggered the turn was the manipulation of an Ancient called the Riftskin - a terrifying creature made up of an endless cloud of indestructible, semi-sentient spikes - who tore through both the Infinite Battlefields of Acheron and the Plane of Water, flooding the Material Plane with volatile surges of magic and gigantic aquatic beasts. The event would usher in an age of steampunk piracy and expand the world and its industry, laying the groundwork for the sky ships of Cloudsinger...and their eventual fall.
But this surge of the untapped Aether sent ripples across the Feywild and Shadowfell, their oceans and tides rising to match their Material parallel, and with them, a torrent of storm fronts buffeted the once forgotten continents at the edges of the world. These storms, though, were special. Echoes of the tears - tattered remnants of the veils between worlds - these screaming tempests were gateways to other planes of existence, and, for some, a path across time.
The Loremasters of Io-Shar began documenting reports of expeditions to the far continents whose fleets were set upon by these temporal storms. Entire sections of ships struck by strange purple lightning; but the wood, cannons, and occupants were not destroyed...they were taken. Chunks of cities missing. Mountains and forests with impossible, gaping holes in their geography, only to be discovered hundreds of years later in Elysium or Pandemonium.
Collected in their archives were also minute entries, many tens to hundreds of years apart, of individuals seemingly displaced by these storms. Their stories are always the same; a thunderclap, a vision in the clouds, a flash, and now they are here. Most do not remember their past lives, but carry knowledge of past ages and their history, general and specific, and when asked their names, they can repeat them, save for one curious addition: first names are recalled perfectly, but each surname is precisely the same - "Va'Orodin."
Originally believed to an ancient, shared lineage across multiple races, the Loremasters of Empyr - the 5th Age - derived through their studies alongside the tribes of Air Elementals and the Skyborn Aarakocran that this name carried great power. In fact, its utterance was once a word of power among the Auran people. Roughly, it translates to "Storm-Touched."
Entities Out Of Time
In every Age of Io, a Va'Orodin has crossed the paths of the dozens of heroes ignited by furious purpose, but few gave their names. Of the ones that did, even fewer stuck around.
Io-Shar: Ja'Naya Va'Orodin was discovered by a pirate crew under the leadership of a stalwart lizardfolk (Ricin) and a grumpy elf (Grim). Ja'Naya was fiercely loyal to Captain Grim, devoting her life to his cause of vengeance and dominance over the flooded world. An adept cleric of some ancient neutral angel, Ja'Naya entered hailed from Io-Sooth, the 2nd Age, and carried with her a terrible sacrifice. The first keeper of the legendary Sunraker Gauntlet, she was surprised to find that when she would remove the item from her arm, her skin and muscle came with it. At some point in her past life, she willingly or unwillingly traded the flesh of her right arm for a legendary item. Whatever the case, though, the Gauntlet would leave her body at her passing nearly 20 years later, and serve the Valenwood family for nearly 100 years before passing into Loremaster care.
Io-Ren / Io-Shar: Once a cleric of Istus, the deity of fate and chance, Straiga Va'Orodin was undeterred by his displacement. An adept tactician and pole arm master, this red trifling would find rewarding work among others like him - the lost and forgotten. He found this home through the mercenary band known as the Knight Owls, and would rise through its ranks to command his own team in the 4th Age (Knight Owls - Season 3).
Io-Shar (Feywild): Yasha Va'Orodin is a creature of subtle, athletic frame, and stalwart reserve. She is one of the Gatekeepers of the nexus city of Astrazalian. Where and when she came from, no one really knows, but she holds great respect for the Fey Court, especially Lady Winter Sarissa. Perhaps we'll see more of her...perhaps not.
In the sky battles of Cloudsinger, during the 5th Age known as Empyr, the Va'Orodin of this age would find a dread purpose to follow. Once called The Smoking Banners, a coup within the ranks of this pirate legion would repurpose its resources to chase the temporal storms that ravaged the surface of the Material Plane. These "Stormsingers" would ride the dark lightning currents and attempt to harness the tears between worlds, trying to shift planes with their ships. Some sought conquest, while others yearned for the astral frontier. Many...just wanted to go home. And many, failed and died.
But one, a charismatic swashbuckler named Gideon Briarios (Va'Orodin), with his fleet of Singing Hammers, found the gateway to Elysium this way. In fact, it was the event that ushered in the 5th Age, when he broke the coveted Seal Of Heaven, and ignited the dormant World Engines in the First Cities of Io-Temm (the 1st Age). It was this event that lifted the old civilizations into the clouds and awakened the dragon lords to reclaim the sky. It is his song that the bards sing when they sing of Stormsingers, and it his banner they rally behind.
Flames Of A Second Chance
And what say the Raven Queen, the one who holds memory and time and antiquity aloft to the thousands of souls that pass her bastion in the planes of shadow? Or the Angels of the Sunrake? Or the Valkyrum of the Evernight? Powerful overlords and dissonant factions pull a curious lens over those in ages without belonging, so what purpose awaits creatures like this?
This old Loremaster is pulled to consider instead the Equation of Potential. As long-lived as I am, I know not everything, nor did my past lives, but if you'll humor a fellow ancient for a moment, we may yet find common ground. There are many across the Ages whose actions have sent ripples unknown; great things, terrible things, powerful things. All without knowledge of the future. Yet, we know there to be entities whose intelligence and memory are ageless; the mere concept of our mortality is a single drop in the river of their understanding. Perhaps, say, they drop a pebble into that river. Each ripple is a lifetime, and three lifetimes over, a ripple shifts a stone ever so slightly, and the river flows a different direction. Such a tiny act can have a tremendous impact. And if that pebble had free will? Yes, I think we understand each other.
So are the Storm-Touched spilled by design of some great entity, or are their fateful tempests random? This one knows not. Only time will tell.
Safe travels, Stormsinger.
-Loremaster Arteza Rainmaker
Campaign: Ionian Shadowfell, across the Ocean Styx
When: as Styx is flooded in direct parallel to the Material Plane being flooded, we must be somewhere in the 4th Age Of Shar.
The Ionian Shadowfell
In Dungeons & Dragons's legacy, the Shadowfell is a bleak, desolate place full of decay and death. A dark reflection of the Material Plane, like a mourning echo, it is said to pull color and vitality away from those that pass into it, like color itself were bleached from its lands. As a mirror to the Material world, its geography is similar, but not identical, and because it passes into the prime world much the same way the Ethereal Plane would, skilled arcanists and cosmologists can use the Shadowfell as a means to travel great distances across the known world.
But to LIVE in the Shadowfell is very different. Adventurers of any merit would have been unheard of, as it is assumed that creatures who reside here are so devoid of hope and purpose that they would never amount to more than a pile of sad, broken bits of useless flesh and bone...
But that's boring and stupid sad.
So in Ionian Lore, there came a moment in cosmological history called The Sewing. As the Astral Seas churned, the Material Plane found its seasons in the Elemental Chaos, its laws and legends by the positive and negative planes beyond, and its magic from the influences of the multiverse. And the days and nights...from the Feywild and Shadowfell.
At the close of the 3rd Age of Io, when an Ancient called The Riftskin tore open the Plane Of Water and the battlefields of Acheron, a flood of magic and mayhem spilled across the Material Plane. However, its echoes - the Feywild and the Shadowfell, so too mirrored this cataclysm, and what they tore open...was each other.
Influences of the Fey seeped into the lands of Shadow, while dark beings wormed their way into the lands of fairies beyond. The Darklands gained surges of color and inspiration, and the Torchwick gained its first true form of depression and malice. Tears and veils between both worlds; pockets and portals shifting with the tides. These connections - new threads of travel and magic - would help maintain the vitality of both planes. At least, for now...
And with this, a surge of vitality. Inspiration, heroism, and creatures who come from dark beginnings fighting for purpose and perhaps a small measure of good, whilst surrounded by vampire lords, devilish valkyries, and a flooded ocean of the dead.
The War Of Dominion (Shar 146-195)
As the pirate lords of The Ashen Horn and Scarborough battled for dominance over the new world in the Material Plane, their parallels did the same, carving out new territory across the Ocean Styx and claiming dominion over the ruined and dissonant nations still scrambling to survive.
During this time, five cities arose to seize power.
The Valkurym Of The Evernight - the Honor Guard of the Shadowfell's Capitol
The Thuulian Imperium - a motivated sect of Mindflayer engineers and alchemists.
The Brakenork of Krakenspire - The Orks of the Blake - an orc-like civilization that values strength and renown.
The Factories Of Kennrock - Eldritch machines and industrial weaponry.
The Gladiators Of Jotunheim - a city of many races, battle, and coin.
The next 50 years would cut a bloody swath across the dark sea, where no nation was safe and no action disavowed. In the chaos, the Valkurym, with their dread wings and fallen celestial tactics, easily seized control of the skies. After only 10 years in the fray, they rained fire upon Jotunheim and Kennrock, reducing the proud cities nearly to rubble. Each swore allegiance to the Evernight, if only to cease the heavenly onslaught.
Meanwhile, the seas churned with cannon fire, blood, and steel. Dennisen Thuul, Lord King Corsair of the Mindscythe, was busy. The Mindscythe is a ship of legend; living and breathing and slicing through the black sea, it sails as if to drink the ocean dry. Flanked by his vicious Echo Fleet, Dennisen, in the name of the Imperium, continued to stake and stretch the borders on his massive nation. Only the proud barbarian Orks of the Blake were able to push Dennisen back from their waters, but only just. And as the Mindflayer nation continued to sink its tendrils into the fallen ruins and outposts deep beneath the Styx, a sixth nation chose neutrality in the conflict.
These would be the Artisans of the Kuriale.
A nation of twin cities, Onyxheart and Undraaken, Kuriale was tasked with protecting the ancient relics drudged up from the flooded ruins beneath the Ocean Styx. They are a mixed people of elven tribes; beliefs in high art, study, and creative expression rule their ideals, laws, and exports. In fact, marked at the edge of the Azraelian Kretch, they are the region's main source of magical weapons, items, potions, scrolls, and magical services.
Though news of the War reached their shores quickly, the people of Kuriale decided against entering the conflict. In fact, when Jotunheim and Krakenspire each approached the Artisan Guilds for aid, the Drow council of Onyxheart emphatically refused. Even the sister city of Undraaken, and their Council of Seven, spoke no ill will of the visiting nations, but declared themselves neutral ground to any side. No trade, however, was to be given to participants in the conflict.
And though Kuriale remained neutral in this conflict for its total 54 years of bloodshed, this choice painted them as cowards on every side. Their kindness was exploited, and their artisan work raided and plundered by every city. Though they remain nearly pacifists, the backlash following the Dominion War has forced the city to raise its own elemental protections.
The Plight Of The Drow
Under the Evernight Vale (the region where our main campaign began) Drow women are not treated particularly badly, but they tend to be pushed toward lower class work and servanthood. However, the males of the species, are treated more like cattle. Creatures to be herded, expendable, and worthless; a leftover stigma from the soldiers of Lolth.
This belief, especially the latter, has informed an extra layer of prejudice toward the Kuriale, especially their "princes." The Vampire Lords, their Courts, and others with cruel, long memory enjoy dominating these Drow; crushing their will and expression, as a last insult to their neutrality. Even the White Court, the most empathetic of the Vampire Lords, deem these creatures "mongrels," as they chose indecision over carving their own destiny...so they must deserve to be forever used and manipulated. Many Lords will take these Drow and use them as humiliating labor, then toss them to the hounds, or sell them to another Lord as a joke. But those that have been around long enough realize the value a Kuriale can have, even as a bargaining chip, and will risk renown and rebuke to protect all those that cross their threshold, even if they dominate them first to steal claim from another more vicious lord.
The Difficulty Of Prejudice and Racism
Though these elements exist in the world, none of them are painted in a positive light. When they have shown up, the players are distinctly uncomfortable or frustrated, and will find ways to either divert attention away, cause a disturbance, or even try to undermine the system from within. They know it's wrong, and though they don't have a lot of power yet, they're planning to fix it. No matter our setting, the players nor the DM are siding with these manipulative Lords and Ladies; it's definitely NOT a good thing.
But it IS the Shadowfell, and I am honored to share a table with people mature enough to tackle these painful challenges and seek the light on the other side.
No matter what realm we share, it's worth it to fight for one another.
See you at the table.
Hey everyone! I took April off to do some birthday cleaning, figuratively and literally. Those of you that follow me on social media know I just completed an online "garage sale" / 10-year purge recently, and the energy that such an endeavor released has been monumental.
It's amazing how much clutter we allow into our lives, and how many things we hold onto that weigh us down. Enough. Is. Enough. I feel lighter, stronger, and more motivated than ever. Here's to my next year. :)
It was only just May the 4th, and any nerd worth her salt knows what's up. It seemed a no-brainer for me to run a very special kind of game, and in preparing it, and running it last night, I've made a few key observations on how it's changed over the years, how my style has changed, and how I prefer to run my games in this system.
Saga Is The Best Version, don't @ me
I've played the original D20 Star Wars (where Jedis are broken beyond reason), the West End variations (very open and creative), and the most recent Age Of Rebellion and all its various extra settings (weird dice and conceptual misalignment, still good, just weird). But what I've always returned to is Saga Edition.
Star Wars as a property has a problem when it comes to their tabletop settings and systems. They don't maintain support on older systems, actively discarding and going out of their way to forget they even existed. Everything's out of print (or hundreds of dollars), resources are fan-made only (well done, chaps), and everyone pushes the new stuff down your throat. Now, I understand a business model where you have to push the new products out...but Saga was SO GOOD. I don't want your new edition with new rules and weird dice; nothing was broken, so why fix it?
But WHY is Saga so good?
Well, it took the best of the giants at the time, Pathfinder and 4th Edition D&D. Now, the latter was getting panned, and the former heavy on the rules with lots of floating modifiers, conditional effects, and active rolling. We've talked about this already.
But Saga took some of that weight and just made it static. You have Defenses, not bonuses. You use skill checks in combat, and numbers aren't *as insane. Let's get into it.
There's no AC in this game. Instead, enemies will be targeting one of three static defenses: Fortitude - your constitution and strength to resist poison and getting thrown around, Reflex - your dexterity and ability to dodge, feint, or parry, Will - your mental clarity and focus. Now, in Pathfinder, these numbers would be bonuses to opposed checks against a Difficulty Class etc... But Saga takes a page from 4th Edition and keeps these numbers as static defenses. These are the numbers your enemies and you roll against to hit them and cause damage and debilitating effects, which is much faster and cleaner.
Perception and Initiative can be treated as static as well (rolling in a clear "passive Perception"), but my players prefer rolling for Initiative for familiarity and that possibility of striking first. Rolling with crazy bonuses IS fun, don't take them all away!
In 5th Edition, there's a proficiency bonus that increases every few levels; in Pathfinder, you've got skill ranks - points you distribute each level to offset your weaknesses and augment your strengths. In Saga, you get an automatic bonus of 1/2 your total level rounded down automatically added to ALL OF YOUR SKILLS. Then, like most systems, the appropriate attribute modifier is applied, maybe you've got a training bonus (+5), and that's it. Most of what you "distribute" by selection is done at character creation. After that, the numbers take care of themselves.
Feats and Talents
The bread and butter of Saga Edition is found in their Talent Trees and Bonus Feats. Let me explain.
There are only 5 Heroic Classes to play in the game.
Jedi - Noble - Scoundrel - Scout - Soldier
But each of these Classes has *at least* three different Talent Trees, and each class is awarded a Talent selection every odd level in the Class. These Talents can give passive or active bonuses, special powers, penalty removals...tons of cool stuff, and it's all very straightforward in how it operates (again, going back to targeting one of those three Defenses, or offering an easy bonus/alternative combat choice). Some Talents require others in order to be taken (Talent "chaining"), but it's never too alarming; the connections make sense and are easy to do.
And Talents fulfill other requirements later, like Prestige Classes (Bounty Hunter, Jedi Knight, Ace Pilot, etc.), but you can always take levels in another class to gain access to another Talent Tree. Multiclassing is fully supported and encouraged because, at the end of the day, your character ISN'T just a Noble, or just a Jedi, they're a complete person with various skills and, ha, talents. Leia may have started as a Noble, but lord knows she has Talent with a blaster and we KNOW she's force sensitive. There are no "capstone abilities" in each class, just an ever-expanding web of Talents.
Now, Feats suffer the same problem they do in Pathfinder, but instead of 2000+ of them... We're under 75 easy. And so many of them streamline the choice down to the player. Take Power Attack, a Pathfinder staple, for example: trade melee attack bonus for damage. Except, the player chooses how much to take away every time. I want to deal an extra 10 damage? Take a -10 to the roll. Only 5 damage? Take a -5. You choose the level of risk; that's an interesting choice, and we don't need compounding Feats to work through that.
Feats exist to help specialize the player, each class offering Bonus Feats at ever even level in a Class from a select list that makes sense. On top of this, each character gets a Feat from the big list at 1st, 3rd, 6th, 9th, 12th, 15th, and 18th level...but the amount of required chaining is either nonexistent, or only 2 or 3 in, and the bonuses along the way make sense. Yes, using a lot of Feats take some getting used to when you come from 5E, but at least this system flows a lot easier and is much simpler to digest. And since I come from the other end, I'm happy to teach the transition. :)
The Force and Destiny
The Force operates in two big ways in Saga: in the form of Force Points (a D6 added to a roll) and Force Powers. Jedi and other Force users collect powers in their Force Power Suite to wield within the world, slowly expanding the suite as they take Force Training (a Feat taken multiple times, based on your Wisdom).
Now, as per Raw, the Powers you have count as one use of said power, and this is where I split from RAW and flow toward my own preferences.
+ The Powers in your suite are treated like spells known and prepared. It tracks that a Force user that uses a Force Push would be able to push multiple times; they wouldn't forget how just because they already did it once.
+ Some Powers require the use of Force Points to work, while others can be augmented by the Force (using points), but most don't require burning them. Your pool only increases and replenishes every LEVEL, so no.
+ Most Powers take a Swift action in combat. I've seen Obi-Wan swing a lightsaber and shove a stack of droids in the same turn, so you guys can do it too. Force Lightning, on the other hand, may take a little more oomph in the action economy (unless you're a certain skill level in the Sith traditions).
Destiny Points function much like inspiration, but I add a nice big D12 instead. It's not *just* a re-roll, it's a possible value (you pick how you want to use it).
AND - Because my setting is in the Old Republic, when the Force is prevalent and surging, I added a mechanic to wonderful effect last night.
Your Force dice and Destiny die can Ace. Acing is a mechanic utilized in games like Mekton, Deadlands, and the entirety of Savage Worlds (probably a ton of others, but those are the ones I know). Anywho, if you roll the max number on a die, you roll again and add the two values together (Ace again? Keep going and keep adding). And because you can add a Force die to anything, a punch to the face might send someone through a wall...and isn't that awesome?
So, in short, Saga Edition functions like a streamlined D&D in space with laser swords and wizards.
It was so good, and it reminded me why I liked this system so much and why I miss it so terribly.
Get ready for a resurrection - we've got more stories to tell.
See you at the table.
Thursday D&D is now my oldest campaign. Running since my inception into the Questers' Way model, they've been fighting cultists, talking to dragons, crushing beholders, and squaring off against Ancient Ones riding gargantuan titans for nearly 3 years now. And last Thursday marked the close of the final arc of the story.
We'll have one last dungeon crawl at level 20, 5 years later, as our epilogue next week. After that, 150 years pass into the fourth age of Io, and we start anew at Level 2. It's been quite a journey, and they're not the easiest group to run ;), but the lessons are real with this crew and I've changed a lot since we started.
Here's what I picked up.
When I started the Thursday game, I was coming off a blend of 10 years running and teaching Pathfinder, and though I fell in love quickly with 5E, I had made some assumptions regarding its player options.
The system is deceptively simple and highly accessible, but I had listened to the cry-babies online declaring it "D&D Basic," and decided to create specific Prestige Classes based around lore and player discovery. It created a very special and unique option inside my custom world, where "secret" classes actually existed that could augment player builds, and could only upgrade through experimentation, player exploration, and discovery into the deep layers of the world's history. I still think it was a great decision. It adds a lot of rewards for players that invest of themselves in the history and machinations of this fantasy you've spent so much time on.
But after two years of deep-diving mechanics, game mastering, game design, player-master interaction, social development, and the study of flow... I realize I made a boo-boo. Not a mistake in flavor, nor in reward, but in mechanics.
It's a little thing, and the more you do the more you realize that "it's the little things" that matter most. In this case, my Prestige Class of the Aegis - a powerhouse of a Cleric that wields the souls of the dead to unleash fury upon her enemies - and the final form of a Ranger with a Legacy Bow - a weapon that levels up with you; semi-sentient and created by a god - created an issue with Action Economy and TMRPA (Too Much Rolling Per Action), respectively.
The Aegis's main mechanic involves gaining Furies - souls of dead warriors unwilling to pass on - and spending them like Ki Points to unleash powerful attacks, augment healing spells, and create more options. Unfortunately, as long as you have Furies to burn, there's no limit to their use, and at high level in any class, you're already managing so much... It eats up time easy when you're able to summon an Action Surge every turn AND cast AND fight. On the other side of the table, the crazy-bow-now-living-winged-armor attached to the Ranger added an extra attack, but the main time suck is derived from two main extra elements in play: the bow requires a Con save when it hits or the target takes extra necrotic damage. It's also got a crazy bonus (with a high level character with max Dex), so hitting is often, mean more rolls for me. On top of this, IF she rolls a natural 20 on the bow, she rolls Constitution damage on the target, on top of everything else. Moving forward, leveled up weapons will deal static numbers, instead of rolling more... And in terms of time, it always feels more effective in flow and execution to have a power spike (the awesome power of rolling 8d6 for a Fireball) than many small spikes of damage, so if I can eliminate the parceled rolls where I can, everyone still feels effective, but turns take less time.
In the fourth age, Io-Shar, though it is a more industrial time period of naval exploration (after the world flooded), home-brew materials are much tighter and more balanced; action economy manipulations have higher costs, and there's less compounded rolling. The bonuses are also much more subtle; there isn't a need to add a whole new system to track when it could be as simple as a palette swap in damage type. New age, new prestige classes and custom feats open up (hello, Knife Expert), but this play test has heavily informed what special elements are extended to the player. A little goes a long way - there is an elegance in that design, and it keeps the playing field even across the table.
I look forward to the interesting things I can give them this time around. :)
Self Actualization / Player Agency
NPC's can be tricky business.
Introduce them as careful lore drops, powerful relationships, killer resources...but never have them solve a problem for the players. Good gods. Holy cows on toast with mayonnaise. Don't do it.
NPC ex machina is not the way to go if it comes out of nowhere.
Well-established order of guards and officers? Sure thing. Sudden mass teleport wizard is sudden. If it feels like a puzzle to the players and they're enjoying solving it, don't help them with an NPC. Hints are fine, solutions can hurt the party.
...Unless they're utterly lost and confused. Help them along, but don't do it for them. EVER. If you do, you run the risk of insulting them and equally "playing without them." And that's just rude. ;)
Clear Intention Of Background
Some players want their background conflicts resolved in the grand arc of the story, while others use their backgrounds predominantly to inform their play style from session 1 and need it no longer.
Now, this group in particular was one where I didn't get that feel easy from most of them. With a high mix reactive players with a few proactive ones, some offering extensive background information while others offered a few sentences explained away, the hindsight of the matter is obvious but the player execution and my observations were misunderstood often. When you give a hook that to you is obvious, but the player misses completely, and therefore doesn't pursue it, one might assume that the view of their background fits into the former category.
Compounding confusion, still, are those that feed very little into the overall narrative, but then wonder when "their story" will be featured, but say nothing - instead assuming they were forgotten. Please talk to your DM; I won't be offended - it's much worse if you don't approach the issue until the end of the campaign and I wonder why NO ONE SAID ANYTHING. :)
Like many GMs out there, I'm not a *dick*, but I can't read minds. There are so many stories of a player misinterpreting a DM's intention, or of the GM making an assumption about a scenario that ended up being incorrect, or seeming to ignore obvious intentions. In the same vein of: "if I knew it was a problem, I would have fixed it right away," though we can intuit quite a bit the longer we're at the table, our human nature begs us to err. We miss things, we get caught up in the narrative, and we lose sight of players. I am imperfect, as are we all, so open communication helps everyone. Also, GMs, CHECK IN WITH YOUR PLAYERS MORE. I picked this up as a requirement when I started Gray Owls and OH MY GOODNESS is it an essential element at every table. I don't know how it took me that long to put in my workflow OMG.
Moving forward, with each new campaign, I've started to put together a few questions for character creation; some fulfill the essential detail of world building, while others touch on player intentions - what do they want to get out of this experience?
1. Where was your character born? Describe it as best you can; do you reflect on this place positively or negatively? Would you ever want to return? Why? Do you have a family there? How did they treat you? Were there any important people in your life growing up? Why did you leave?
2. What is your character's goal in life; what do you seek? When did you "grow up" and start taking care of yourself?
3. What emotion best describes your character? What emotion do you bring out in others?
4. How do you carry yourself? What are your means/dress/attitude as you move through life? What do find valuable?
5. What is your comfort zone? What is your greatest fear? Personal tastes, quirks, and opinions?
6. Player: What kind of story do you see your character fitting into? What role do you see them filling?
7. Player: Please weigh (3 being most important to you, 1 being least important) the Three Pillars - Combat/Social/Exploration
8. Player: How do you interpret your play style? What are your pet peeves? What do you respond well to?
9. Player: How do you want your character to die? (this is more important than you think; it strikes at the heart of our own values - your story could end abruptly, and if it did, how would they meet that end do you think?)
10. Player: Do you want your background details to be referenced or hooked into the story? You can always change your mind - just let me know.
Now, especially number 10 I can see a few of my fellow GMs hemming and hawing over. "You mean we have to bend over backwards to make this character's weird backstory fit into OUR GRAND NARRATIVE??? How dare they assume they'd be so important - they should be happy just to be playing!" ...Hmm.
This is a group game, and it's really important that everyone understands the type of experience they're getting into. Clear expectations are a good thing; Trust and Empathy are two main factors to building a great table of play. Now, do I have to make that character's stuff the most important element all the time? No. Absolutely not. But I can give them sprinkles of content more directly spun into the story. It won't happen all the time, and sometimes it might not even come up, but IF I KNOW going into this that there is a clear desire to wrap up a specific story thread, I can find more ORGANIC ways to weave and tie these disparate threads together. It might even be a limiter of location; hints of the conflict in the north (echoes of another character's story), but we don't need to go there now. It's just a sprinkle.
Everyone's connected to something. Everyone's from somewhere. We don't know everything going in; the mystery is the fun part, and some players want their mystery. Others don't care for it; I need to know which one you are.
Players Learn Too, And Comfort Tells Stories
And when they do, their real play styles come out. It's amazing what comfort will do for the table, and how much it reveals what a comfortable player actually WANTS to play, and if that concept doesn't jive with how their current class works, there will undoubtedly be a desire to play something different.
The more this group learned about how the game works, the more effective they became, but also the more some of them drifted toward other builds, concepts, and ideas. This type of momentum is helpful to notice; in a way, it reveals a player's true nature. Like the first campaign was our test run. The next one is where we're going to really shine; players and DM alike. We take what we learned about the game, ourselves, our styles, and how to advocate for the experience we want...and finally, just PLAY.
See you at the table.
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Every Game Master has their fair share of custom content and home-brew incorporation. We add a mundane item here, a magic item there, pull from previous editions, or adapt from other mediums. Hell, maybe we'll change the setting altogether; flip the script and play in the whimsical alternate dimension of: Milwaukee.
Whatever the case, each Game Master has their own house rules and a whole bevy of alternative items, mechanics, and elements ready to be created, discovered, and reinforced by their players...
So I thought I'd talk about mine.
The Timeline Of Io's Seven Ages
My setting of Io enjoys seven distinct settings, or Ages, in its interwoven timeline. I did this originally to be able to offer an abundant mix of games inside the same system but with a progressive timeline. What this created was a beast of internal consistency, where the actions of a party of adventurers on Tuesday could potentially affect the world experienced on Wednesdays, and the actions of the Knight Owls could have echoes in the Gray Owls campaign. I was careful to allow a large enough passage of time to avoid any weirdness, but the extra-meta knowledge of players in multiple campaigns has been pretty cool.
What it's also done is allowed me to create a literal progression of industry from age to age, unlocking special race, class, and item options setting to setting - all of which have lore and reasoning implications. ...Like how the heck Illithids (literal Mind Flayers) became a playable race in the 6th age of Io-Firma (the Gray Owls setting). So here's a quick overview of how each Age functions and what type of setting it offers.
The NEXUS: where all creation began - the world and its gods came into being in the Nexus, where the raw energy found in its core flowed through the planet and forged the elemental forces. Many believe it still exists to this day, somewhere far beyond the planar circle yet intimately close - like a door waiting to be opened. The details of its location have been lost to antiquity, a single remnant referred to only as The Song Of The Ancients.
Io-Temm: The Worldshaping - The first age of Io, where the Seven Wings birthed the now known pantheon and their inevitable war that shaped the main continent of Erena, the disparate islands of Abaddon, and the kingdoms beyond the Aether.
Io-Sooth: Mortal's Edge - Classic D&D fantasy setting; the second age entertains the birth of the mortal races, created by the first known pantheon. Tiamat and Bahamut - Dragonborn; Pelor - Humans; Morahdin - Dwarves; Corellon - Elves; you get the idea...
Io-Ren: Balance and Ruin - The flames of industry have begun to burn and the mortal races try to harness the power of the gods, ushering in an age of demigods, exploration, and tempting fate. Campaigns: Tuesdays, Thursdays, Knight Owls Season 1
Io-Shar: The Broken Seas - After a cataclysmic event involving an ancient being ripping a hole in the plane of Water, the world has flooded and expanded into an age of naval piracy, massive sea creatures, and temporal storms. Campaigns: Wednesdays, Knight Owls Season 2, Knight Owls Season 3.
Io-Empyr: Cloudsinger - After a sky pirate and his merry band pierced the Veil Of Heaven, cities rose into the sky, forming Clusters of new nations and expanding the world further. Steampunk airships, sky pirates, and tears in the threads of the Feywild and Shadowfell summon a whole new caste of creatures and entities that threaten to take the sky for their own. Campaigns: Cloudsinger (YouTube)
Io-Firma: The Reclamation - Magic is broken. A Prime God is dead. The world is dark and deadly and cold. Shattered psions, enlightened gnolls, ancient detectives, hired guns, and mature themes, this is not an age of heroes. No, this world is just a tad...gray. Campaigns: Gray Owls (21+)
Io-Nixx: The Sundering - Not much is known of this age, as only one adventuring party has caught a glimpse of it. It is a battle; constant and enormous, where literal gods clash in the skies. It may even mark the end of the world as we know it.
So, depending on the age, we can assume that certain gear is available as industry increases. Sooth and Ren are pretty similar, but Ren's adventurers begin to discover the powerful Legacy Weapons from Temm (the first age), tapping into the power of the gods before the turn of the age. Cataclysm changes things in Shar, and the world adapts; ships, naval warfare, cannons, spell cannons, automated ships, subs - Outlaw Star style ship combat. Empire allows more steampunk gunslinging, taking the naval concepts to the air at the peak of an industrial revolution. Then Firma comes along and everything breaks, and it breaks hard; whole classes are gone, or changed dramatically; races disappear, others resurface with new abilities, and no one truly knows how the world works anymore - with magic mostly illegal for the lower class, now we've got to find other ways to get it (drugs, I'm talking about magic drugs).
So without going into too much detail with the various Ages, the following are *mostly* available in all of my games.
I like to employ all that the Player's Handbook has to offer for 5E, but sometimes I draw some extra inspiration from my Pathfinder days (extensive weapon lists), and add on a little extra blades for good measure. None of these are Masterwork (so no +1's, or cutting through resistances), but there might be some other cool perks. I've always been a fan of incorporating more martial arts weaponry (given my own background), and like utilizing die steps to help illustrate a power increase. Also-also, not everything is available at every shop. These custom mundane items, along with other items, might fluctuate depending on supply, demand, harvest, and other such factors age to age. Again, lore and reasoning for the world. The mass production of Duskweave in the third age led to a near extinction of the Displacer Beast packs, and no one's heard of a Pack Lord in eons. Whoops.
Claymore - adapted greatsword; 2d8 Slashing - Two-Handed, Heavy
Katana - adapted longsword; 1d8/1d10 Slashing - Versatile, Finesse, Monk
Wakizashi - reskinned Scimiar; 1d6 Slashing - Finesse, Monk, Light
Chain Maul - 2d6 bludgeoning - reach, thrown, grapple from 10 feet
Chakram - 1d6 slashing - thrown (10/30)
Gauntlet Blade, Retractable - 1d8 slashing - 4 lbs. - concealed, retractable (Shar+)
Monolith - 1d12/2d6 slashing - Versatile
Naginata - 1d8 slashing - reach, heavy, two-handed, brace
Tonfa - 1d6 bludgeoning - AC +1, Light, Monk
Sai - 1d4 bludgeoning - Light, Monk, Disarm on critical
Nunchaku - 1d6 bludgeoning - Light, Monk, x3 on critical
Plated Robes (not armor) - AC = 11 + Dex Modifier
Duskweave Leather - AC = 13 + Dex Modifier, Light Armor
Ironwood Scale Mail - AC = 14 + Dex Modifier (max 2) - Disadvantage Stealth - 35 lbs.
Elderwood Scale Mail - AC = 15 + Dex Modifier (max 2), Medium Armor
Ballistic Duskweave Doublet - AC = 14 + Dex Modifier, Medium Armor
Dragon Plate (specific materials required - AC = 18 w/resistance to the element associated with the dragon scales used
SHIELDS (I treat shields as weapons. Direct reference to my Pathfinder sword and boarding, so there you go)
Buckler - 5 gp - AC +1 - 3 lbs.
Constructivist Shield - 65 gp - AC +1 - 4 lbs. - Can be used as a reaction to raise your AC. Does not occupy a hand.
Round Shield, Light - 15 gp - AC +2 - 6 lbs. - Bash 1d4
Round Shield, Heavy - 30 gp - AC +2 - 10 lbs. - Bash 1d6
Tower Shield - 100 gp - AC +3 - STR 17 required - Disadvantage Stealth - 20 lbs. - Bash 1d8
Duskweave = made from Displacer Beast pelts, and thus has a smoky dispersal that shifts and moves as the armor moves.
Magic Items and Ammunition
Now, many of these additions are lifted from my Knight Owls Armory, but if you don't normally venture over there, you'd never see them. So here they are anyway for your consideration.
Charged Arrow - 150 gp - in addition to the damage of the bow, this arrow deals 1d6 lightning damage and is consumed upon impact.
Boltslinger Arrow - 650 gp - in addition to the damage of the bow, this arrow creates a 5 foot wide lightning bolt in its path to the target. All creatures caught in the bolt's path must make a DC 10 Dexterity save for half damage, or take 6d6 lightning damage. The arrow is consumed upon impact.
Bonebreaker Arrows (bundle of 10) - 50 gp - deals bludgeoning damage in place of piercing.
Burst Arrow - 500 gp - when fired, this arrow splits into 4 separate arrows; the user must make an attack roll for each arrow. These arrows crumble to dust after impact.
Divine Arrow - 150 gp - in addition to the damage of the bow, this arrow deals 1d6 radiant damage and is consumed upon impact.
Flesh-Hunter Arrow - 200 gp - adds +4 to the attack roll. (when you REALLY need to hit that dragon)
Frost Fling - 500 gp - in addition to the damage of the bow, this arrow deals an additional 2d10 cold damage and is shattered upon impact.
Green Gremlin - 400 gp - in addition to the damage of the bow, this arrow deals an additional 3d6 poison damage and crumbles shortly after impact.
The Sapphire Chakram - 250 gp - in addition to the damage of the bow, this arrow deals an additional 2d6 thunder damage and is consumed upon impact.
Immolation Arrow - 600 gp - in addition to the damage of the bow, this arrow's impact creates a 5-foot radius fireball with the target at its center. All creatures caught in the blast must make a DC 13 Dexterity save for half damage, or take 6d6 fire damage. This arrow is consumed upon impact.
Soothsayer - 2000 gp - in addition to the damage of the bow, this ancient arrow deals 2d6 force damage and allows you to see through it until it impacts an object or creature.
Topaz Burst - 250 gp - in addition to the damage of the bow, this arrow deals an additional 2d6 lightning damage and is consumed upon impact.
A good many of the magic items in Io are remnants of the past, but as time marches on, more and more wondrous things become available to the standard market, such as:
Cloak of Shadows - 1000 pp - an adapted Cloak of Elvenkind that grants the wearer advantage on Stealth checks and imposes disadvantage on creatures trying to perceive you. Also, when moving after sunset, roll a set of percentile dice. On a 75 or higher, the shadows wrap around you, granting you Invisibility until you make an attack, cast a spell, or meet direct sunlight.
Ring of Animal Influence - 5100 gp - this ring has 3 charges, and it regains 1d3 expended charges daily at dawn. While wearing this ring, you can use an action to expend 1 of its charges to cast one of the following spells: Animal Friendship (save DC 13); Fear (save DC 13), targeting only beasts that have an intelligence of 3 or lower; Speak with Animals.
Ring of Bravery (Attunement) - 2000 gp - wearing this ring grants you Advantage when saving against becoming Frightened.
Ring of Enlargement (Attunement) - 5500 gp - by turning the tiny, clicking inner track of this ring, you increase your size category by 1 for 1 minute. This ring can only be used once per Long Rest.
Ring of Protection (Attunement) - 6000 gp - You gain a +1 bonus to AC and Saving Throws while wearing this ring.
Ring of Spell Storing, Minor (Attunement) - 3750 gp - this ring stores spells cast into it, holding them until the wearer uses them. This ring, when delivered to you, arrives empty. It can fit 3 levels of spell power at once.
Alchemy and Herbalism
Alchemy and Herbalism, especially as it pertains to potion making as a pursuit, has really come to fruition in Io-Shar, where my industry-heavy players reside. They crave that personal control of their universe, and I LOVE IT.
So, potion-making in Io borrows from Skyrim, The Witcher, and my own head, as well as a blend of other home-brew resources dotting the landscape of Reddit, DM's Guild, and the Open-Gaming License. All that being said, let's run it down a bit.
Quick Brewing Overview
In Io, there are a large number of known ingredients that create specific effects in the brewing process, while others might augment or dilute others. Bloodgrass, for example, can be used to add an additional 1d4 to the healing amount for a healing potion you are brewing, but Rubygrass (grown in the Feywild), will actually REMOVE a d4 from the healing (the taste is sharp and difficult to swallow). So we use Herbalism to "enhance" the potion. We call them Enhancements. Some can cancel each other out, while others augment the effects.
Then, there are ingredients that we actually derive the Enchantment from. We treat them as our Core. The intended potion effect. Like using Void Root to brew a Potion of Flying.
Finally, we need a Base. The liquid that we'll be using. Some potions can be brewed in water, while others require Holy Water as their Base, or Salt Water, or Liquor. Specific liquids may also imbue the potion with specific properties.
So, if I want to brew a Healing Potion, I need at least a Base and a Core.
Base: Water. Core: Cherrymoss Extract. Then 3 hours.
If we want, we can mix in some Ground Ephedrana to increase the die step of the healing potion from 2d4 to 2d6. Finish the brew and you've got a "boosted" healing potion that heals 2d6+2 hit points.
And that's one potion. Booyah.
....Experimenting with all of this is going to be A LOT of FUN.
So there's a lot going on, and I haven't even talked about the Prestige Classes or the Legacy Weapons (they're coming, don't worry), but this post has gone on long enough, and hopefully it clears up any confusion from looking at the lists from the Knight Owls armory moving forward. :)
See you at the table.
Professional Game Master musician, music teacher, game designer, amateur bartender, and aspiring fiction author.
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