The World of Ark

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Journies in Ark, Part 1

Welcome to the World of Ark my friends! Each month I will be writing a bit about a particular region of the World of Ark to entice you to go there yourself and take part in adventures and stories of your own making. It is my greatest wish that you, like myself and others, will find that Ark is a place you can call home away from home. A place to whet your appetite for adventure stories, dark mystery and even to make you shiver a bit because of some horror that you read about! On with it shall we!

Today we are just going to talk about some of the basic facts about the World of Ark. As you can see by the small map to the left, Ark is a massive world. The entire 48 contiguous states of the United States would easily fit in the western area of the continent called Ghanam (which the Aerkay still call Aerkaya).

Unlike the planet Earth, however, Ark is a non-spherical world, and is instead a "flat" disk/cylinder approximately 12,000 miles (19312.128 kilometers) in diameter with a height of just over 1,000 miles (1609.34 kilometers). If we use the formula for Volume we get that Ark has a Volume of roughly 1.13x10ⁿ miles (n=11)! That sounds like a great deal, until you consider that the Earth has a volume of 2.61x10ⁿ miles! This means the volume of Ark is less than the Volume of even Mars!

Gravity (g) on Earth is 9.8; but so is the Gravity of Ark...how can this be? Ark's Gravity (if we use science) should be even less than Mars (which has a Surface Gravity of  3.71). The answer is complicated, but lets simply say that Science was actually used to increase the gravity of Ark when it was created. This increased gravity field can be negated by various means, and is one of the ways that "magic" allows people to leap and even fly! Unfortunately, negation of the increased gravity is also how such dreaded monsters as dragons are able to fly as well!

The World of Ark travels among the stars, with no galaxy even to call its own. While the Ancient Aerkay found what they came to call "The Ark" as it journeyed into a region of their interstellar empire long ago, it had passed their world many times before. Ark is ancient and filled with life from a thousand worlds. When the Aerkay found Ark, they placed above it, in orbit, a great fiery "star" that they call Mundil to light the part of it that they were able to inhabit due to an existing atmosphere; they were unhappy with the little light provided by the glittering stars in the eternally night sky. It should be noted here: Mundil lights Ark, but it does not heat it. Mundil was set in the sky to track the passing of days for the Aerkay who colonized the alien surface of Ark, and since that time it has only failed once (for that story, read about The Burnt Maiden).

With this light, the Aerkay felt more at home and began to settle The Ark. However, no science/magic they knew could compel the place to stay in any place. To remain connected to their people, the Aerkay quickly placed one of their greatest creations in orbit above: the Ring of Selish. This titanic structure (powered primarily by Thorium) still glows in the sky. Its orbit follows a particular (and peculiar) path designed by the Aerkay and is the source of the ability to travel instantaneously from one place to another upon the surface of Ark. Travel through the Ring of Selish itself allows anyone able to survive the vacuum of space to travel to the now fallen Aerkay homeworld. The Aerkay do not talk about it, and indeed it can bring great anger to them.

Peering up from the surface of Ark when it passes into a new solar system brings constant awe to the inhabitants of the world. As Ark continues to get closer to a "new" world (new to those alive, though Ark visits the same worlds as often as once every 1,000 years) it slowly turns until the inhabitants of Ark can no longer see the world as the "Underworld of Orcus" hovers above the new planet. What happens then, few know; but quite often as Ark leaves the world behind, new creatures and beings appear in Ark in various places.

The stories of mankind tell of bright lights and demons taking them and then they found that they were living upon the face of Ark; while the Alven and their Gods relate that they came to Ark of their free will after Azar "the Undying" took Gersemi from them. The Dwarfs say they have always lived within the ground, the Fhraen remember no other place as home, and the lizardfolk speak of times when they ruled the world even before the Aerkay came. The Lizardfolk say they have lived on Ark so long in fact, that they have seen the "blue world" (perhaps earth) where the Thunder Beasts come from and consider the "Blue God" to be the creator of both the Thunder Beasts and their own people. The Dinosaurs of Ark lend proof to this story.

However the various races came to Ark, today humans dominate; but even humanity is divided against itself. There are "breeds" of humanity that are unable to conceive children with others. Many human scholars say that the Aerkay, Alven, Dwarfs, Fhraen and others are all different breeds of humanity that evolved beyond the ability to intermix any longer. Among the groups of humanity that can intermix, there are perhaps dozens of them; with only about a score that are dominant in the world. Ark seems to have taken humanity at various stages though, and so on Ark are found many different "races" of human. Some locked in a seemingly perpetual state of savage existence (such as the Rhul), while others seem to have sprung into civilization when prior to their ascension they were not even recorded upon Ark (such as the Chaeldain).

Whatever the purpose of "The Ark" was originally, today it is a world of splendor and darkness at once. Great monsters live upon its surface and in its waters; while fell terrors have found it from what they call as the boundary between their universe and this: Beyond the Black or simply The Void. There are many secrets to Ark which are truly horrible to comprehend and drive the weak of mind to insanity and deplorable acts of chaos and evil.

Our next journey into Ark will be the Rivlands. I  hope you will join me then!















Want to know more about Rivland before you read the next "Journies in Ark" article? You can find it HERE in hard copy or HERE in PDF.






Monday, December 21, 2015

Adventures in the Sea! (for AD&D)

For some reason, many people dread taking their adventures under the Seas...or hell, even into a Lake. It IS hard at times because the rules become much more complex when you are dealing with swimming, drowning, several planes of combat in a spherical area around each character...on and on and on. The thing is, few people have trouble with Flying Creatures and gaming "In the Sky" right? So what gives?

In my own experience, I think it has a great deal to do with breathing and weight...and rust! Rust is the worst because it destroys all those cool magical swords and armor. Oh, wait, magical items don't rust...so that one is knocked out immediately! So lets get on to the ones that really bother players and DMs alike.

BREATHING: Unless the thief, fighter and so on have someone with them who can cast spells that enable them to breathe under water, adventurers are scared of drowning! Even at higher levels, characters without spells can't breathe under the waves without someone else or a magical item. Then there is the thing of "But if I give everyone a magical device to breathe water, it just seems to cheapen the uniqueness of the magical item!" That is true. So what do you do?

Monsters! Yep, Monsters are the key to helping you delve beneath the waves. There are critters to help you get this done. Using a particular type of monster in an "Adventure Hook" (a way to snare the party into thinking it is a cool idea to go for a long walk on a short pier) you can have your characters wet in no time.

Lizardmen: These folk usually don't mix well with other races, but there is no reason they can't. In fact, they sometimes are mercenaries in armies; so it wouldn't be out of the question for a party to eventually get a Lizardman as a cool Henchman...or even a full party member; but usually only from among "Advanced" Lizardmen. There is NOTHING that prevents a party from visiting this Lizardman's people if they need help. Maybe they have a Shaman that has a nasty "potion" it knows how to make that enables its people to be under water longer...and if the party can stomach it, they can use it as well to have water breathing ability for an adventure against a common enemy. You can easily use a modified version of this for Mermen or Tritons as well (maybe the party does trade on a beach somewhere with a representative of either race...think ahead and have them make contact peacefully with a Merchant from one of these races. A Wizard sends them to buy pearls maybe?).

Nixies: I LOVE these little rascals! It takes 10 of them to cast a powerful Charm spell, but once they have you, they will keep you for a while! If you want your party to adventure in a large body of Fresh Water (only fresh water mind you!) then Nixies are a go to. They can peacefully approach a party because they need help against some underwater monsters...you don't even have to Charm the characters, they can be offered treasure by the Nixies (who can go onto land!) for helping them against something. What is more, each Nixie can cast a spell that enables a character to breathe water for "1 day" (so if your world has 36 hour days...great!). The Nixies can even give the party a base of operations like the old lair of a Giant Water Spider!

There are other ways to get the party under the water: Druids, Nymphs (as long as they stay clothed!), Sylphs and many others. You can essentially come up with just about any reason you can think of: The pretty Sylph approaches the party "I was flying over the lake and dropped my locket in it!" She then offers to use her magic to help the party breathe under water. Look at any creature with spells enough and you can find a way to get a party into even a long lost dungeon that is under water now because those pesky damn dwarfs built a dam and drowned the place a long time ago!

WEIGHT: Yeah, this one is easy! If you are worried your character(s) will sink like rocks...who cares! They can already breathe under water, so no problem right! This really makes things easier on the party honestly. If the party sinks to the bottom easily enough, you are essentially back to adventuring on land and worrying about aerial (don't ask me why they spell it that way!) attacks...except now pretty much everything flies except for the party. That is just pure win for the DM anyway right? Oh, you aren't a sadist like me when DMing? Hmmm...

Well, there you have it...just a quick way to take your game into another direction. I like to use Under Water Adventures even right next to a major city...who knew that long ago the river jumped its banks and drowned a dungeon! Well, that map the party has says the ancient wizard's tomb was right in the area...maybe THAT is what those crazy Nixies were going on about!

Trust me, once you get your party going under water, they won't be wet behind the ears anymore! Wait, that isn't right...





Thursday, December 17, 2015

A Gem for the DM



Every Dungeon Master needs help sometimes. Today I want to talk about one of the best ever modules to help beginning Dungeon Masters, or even experienced Dungeon Masters who have beginning players. In fact, this module is good for anyone with any game...I'm not kidding!

The Sunless Citadel (from Wizards of the Coast, by Bruce R. Cordell) is perhaps one of my all time favorite modules from any version of Dungeons and Dragons. The primary reason is this: it is easily converted to any rules edition. It is also easy to place in any campaign (either yours or one already published by someone) and is easy for a Game Master to read through and be ready to run in very little time.

Other great factors to the game are that it has an awesome cover by Todd Lockwood that you can show the players to pull them into the game, many great interior illustrations to show the players (some below), and many hints and tips for both a Dungeon Master and Players. The module gives solid background for the DM to slowly reveal to the players so that they feel more immersed in the adventure, with unique items of magic and detailed items of treasure that make the entire adventure an all around great experience!

As I mentioned, the art in this module is really great and can help create the ever elusive "suspension of disbelief" that I love in my game. Several encounters and areas are given unique pieces of art that players will really appreciate. As a Dungeon Master, I really loved the art for younger players (like my children) who like to look at the images to help them imagine a fantasy world. Many new players of fantasy have a hard time getting out of our world, and so this is a great treasure in my opinion.

The Non-Player Characters included in the Sunless Citadel are awesome! Several are given their own art that help to bring them fully into the mind of both DM and player alike. More than just stat-blocks, they are given details which make them more than simply useful to the DM, they can easily become recurring NPCs to be used again and again...just Google "Meepo the Kobold" and see what you come up with!

My personal favorite NPC in this module is actually the Druid found within. Very non-traditional and fully in keeping with the time honored tradition of having an intriguing villain in a module!


I always look at the replay value in any module I purchase too...and this module delivers on the ability to use it time and time again. I have used it for two versions of Dungeons and Dragons (AD&D and D&D 3.5), for MERP (Middle-Earth Role-Playing) and even once for a Star Wars d6 (from West End Games) where the players were playing on a Medieval technology world in the Star Wars Universe that had not been found yet (and the Force was the magic of the world).

Where can you use such a great module...like I said: anywhere!

  • In the World of Greyhawk I would place it somewhere that early adventurers could get to it easily. I placed it in the southern Wild Coast.
  • In the Forgotten Realms I would place it in either the Dales (likely somewhere near mountains) or in The North. I placed it south of Mulmaster near the town of Kurth.
  • In Middle-Earth, I placed it in the Ered Luin (or Blue Mountain) foothills south of the Tower Hills, and had decided the Goblins that infested the place were the corrupted descendants of the Elves taken by Morgoth. The Kobolds I replaced with other Goblins...the other monsters were easily replaced with Middle-Earth creatures as well.
  • In my Star Wars d6 game it was easy to replace the monsters with any number of alien species...and it was by far my greatest experience with the module!

So there you have it, one of the best modules you will find; easily adaptable to any game you want to play...and I certainly encourage you to play it!

It is easily found on E-bay, Amazon.com or even on DriveThruRPG.

Have fun with this one, and let me know how it goes!

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

To Guide Your Way...

A Compass to find your way?
Lots of adventures start very simply; but they can quickly become the centerpiece of a player's whole gaming life! A Game Master (DM, Storyteller, etc.) can quickly go from an easy paced adventure to nearly drowning under the weight of pressure to create a "great game" for their players! So what do you do when things become so exciting that they are suddenly VERY serious? Where do you go?

Modules are always a great way to go. Nearly every game system has them, and they are a time tested way to "fix the holes" in any game...trust me, I've used them for decades now!

That is why I love to create modules to use even if I don't think I will need them...yes, create your own modules! Any idea you have can become a module. They don't have to be epic page turners, but you should always put your ideas down and flesh them out a bit. You can always tweak them in the future if you need them. If you already don't have time to create your own, then I recommend looking around the internet (Amazon.com has LOADS from any game system you can think of, and so does Ebay). For only a few dollars, you can find just about anything you need.

Some of my favorites are:

KEEP ON THE BORDERLANDS

Even if you aren't playing Dungeons and Dragons, you can use the material here for almost any Medieval-Fantasy game system. Simply plug it into your game, and you have something ready to go! This one works BEST when you AREN'T playing Dungeons and Dragons because your players may have never heard of it, or (at worst) they will have no idea what the statistics for the various monsters are since you can make them what you want for other systems.

THE SECRET OF BONE HILL

Another awesome module is The Secret of Bone Hill! This one has it all: a town, a wilderness, a great dungeon! This can easily be placed in any game with any rules. Much like Keep on the Borderlands, this module is well worth the investment!

THE ISLE OF DREAD

If you need to buy yourself some time...THIS is the module for you! The Isle of Dread only requires that you get your characters on a ship! A horrible storm later and BAM, you have them right where you want them! Ancient Civilization, Check. Dungeons, Check. Dinosaurs, Check. Much needed time for you to work on other things for your campaign, CHECK! Yes, The Isle of Dread is perfect for the Game Master who is in desperate need of time to get things figured out in other places for his game. I saved this one for last because it is one of my all time favorites! Perfectly adaptable to any game that has statistics for dinosaurs, you are good to go...and on top of that, even if your system doesn't have dinosaurs, there is no way you can lose with a "Land of the Lost" style of adventure. Heck, you don't even have to put your players on a Ship! You can just replace all the water surrounding The Isle of Dread with impassable mountains (or in a gigantic cavern!) and you can have them stumble into an amazing adventure that they get to leave when you are ready for them to. Don't worry about them getting frustrated by being railroaded...this module is awesome, and you can let them out any time you want with a passing ship or tunnel out.


Modules are a great resource to help you guide your way through the troubles of being a Game Master. Use them, you will thank yourself for the investment and time reading them.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Worlds without end...

The World of Ark, art by Mark Taylor
From Ravenlore Press
When I first met Mark Taylor he was known as "Markustay" on the Candlekeep Forums where he had already gained a reputation for making outstanding maps. I had no idea just how close we were to become though.


We first worked together on a "fan project" called the Isle of Ixinos...a little place near the Forgotten Realms nation of Turmish and the Vilhoun Reach. Mark blew me away with his ability to quickly adapt my horrid map sketches into something that looked authentically Forgotten Realms! If you want to explore what he's done in Forgotten Realms mapping, just look here and be amazed!

It wasn't too long really before we started talking about creating books together; well, mainly because we wanted more Forgotten Realms awesomeness to share with others. One thing led to another, and today we work together both at my own company of Ravenlore Press, but also on projects with The Ed Greenwood Group.


The thing I want to get across here is just how much more in depth my writing becomes because of Mark's amazing insight into making maps that seem to pull the strands of a great tapestry right out of my head and onto a map he can apparently create with great ease! Again, take a look at some of his stuff at DeviantArt...it is amazing. Writing just becomes all that much more interesting when you have an amazing cartographer to work with.

It is one thing to draw a sketch map and then write a story...the entire thing changes when you can see/feel the world you are writing about. I encourage EVERY writer to work with someone; whether on sketch work for characters, maps or just someone to bounce ideas off of. Yes, everyone includes me.

I was fortunate to become friends with Mark because the guy is just that good at brainstorming with. Not only can he create the worlds he imagines, but he can create the worlds I imagine too! That is no small accomplishment I have to say...it is a truly rare thing to find a collaborator who "gets" what I am thinking and can (as Mark does time and again) SEE what I am thinking too.


As for how others feel about Mark's work? Well, he is now the Art Director/Cartographer for one of Ed Greenwood's new world building projects. Currently called Pony Island Adventures; it is turning out to be an AMAZING setting for fantasy! One of the primary things making it so amazing: maps by Mark Taylor! I wish you could see these things! Simply amazing...and to be honest, better than anything I've seen from WotC or Pathfinder; I'll stake my career on his ability any day!

How does all this help my writing? I get to live in the worlds that Mark makes...I get to see for myself the world taking shape as I write about it.


If you don't work with a map making genius, it doesn't mean that you can't be your own map maker. Sketch your world out as you write. Draw a sketch of a house you are writing about, make the floor plan even. Are you writing about a bank robbery? Then draw the bank...put the map on the wall in front of you so that you can see in your mind's eye how the characters move through their world that you are creating with your words.

Don't be afraid of your drawings ever...if they are anything like mine you don't want anyone else to see them; but they are for you. Going further, make your world more real by MAKING your world. I have sketches of castles on my wall, a sketch of a bookshelf lined with tomes belonging to a wizard, a sketch of the study the wizard has that shelf in...anything that you imagine, put it down so that it is there and done in front of you; so that when you write, you write about a world that really exists.

Enough rambling from me...time for a cigar and a glass of whiskey before I go to bed; my little demon is trying to get out because I haven't given him sacrifice of smoke and spirits. Cheers!