The World of Ark

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Treasure: Tiny/Titanic Trouble?

It is one of the primary motivations of adventure right? Well, shouldn't we take enough time to consider treasure more? Yeah, well, that is what I'm going to talk about.

First lets talk about something simple: how much do you give your party? Well, as much as you want...hell, as much as THEY want. That doesn't mean drown them in riches; but make sure your player's are happy with what they are getting. One of my favorite pictures illustrates what to me is a happy party:

Those adventurers look happy don't they? I mean, they killed the bad ol' dragon and have a box of treasure. Wait...why the hell are they happy about a box of treasure???!!! Well, let me tell you why!

We spend so many hours making challenging encounters, but what I think we should spend just as much time on is creating treasure for the players. I don't like to even so much as put a +1 dagger in my game without giving it at least a basic history and story that can be found is just that important to me. When your players open up that treasure chest, it is often the time on their face that you see the look of resignation...the time of "no fun" as numbers are recorded and inventory is taken of what has been found.

One of my favorite places to find AWESOME items of treasure is on a "scroll" called The Candlekeep Magic Shop over at the Candlekeep Forum. If you haven't joined this Forum for discussion on all things Forgotten Realms should! Right after you finish reading this blog. There are many places like this (and many other scrolls on Candlekeep you can find all sorts of things on!) that help to make a Dungeon Master's life easier; but you may not find that unique thing that sets YOUR game world apart. It is ok to loot ideas from other worlds and make them your own; but it is FAR better to have created what you might like for your own world that you can be proud of. The way that I do this in my own game worlds is pretty simple...I make lists of random names.

Several lists...many lists! The first list is a list of every God, Great Demon or powerful Immortal being that exists in my campaign world. The next list I make is one of every great magical kingdom, city or mythical realm in my campaign world...past and present both together. The next list is one of every great wizard that has ever lived that I have created for my world, and a companion list of every great druid, priest and other divine individuals. On and on the list making goes...right down to a list of colors and household items!

Why do I make all these lists? Well, the next thing I do is assign numbers to the words on each list in fairly even proportion for a 1d100 (percentile) roll. This gives me several lists to make item names from! You can vary which names get more chances, that is entirely up to you of course. When I decide that I want to place an item of importance in a treasure, I just pick a few lists and make a few rolls. VIOLA...Mordenkainen's Ivory Wand of Black Fire! Then I make a bit of history for the item:
"Mordenkainen's Ivory Wand of Black Fire was created by the powerful wizard to use in spell battles against creatures of the Underdark. It functions just as a normal Wand of Fire, but with each casting, any creature which survives the damage dealt is outlined in an effect similar to Faerie Fire..." Yep, just made all that up off the top of my head.

I have always felt that simply jotting down this and that item makes for poor play in my experience. Not BAD gaming, just somewhat tedious and boring play. When a party decides to get their magical items identified, they have something to look forward to other than "You find out it is a +1 Dagger" and instead they find "Hroth's Blue Blade of Scant. A dagger that sheds only a dim light equal to a candle's illumination, Hroth is said to have often used the blade to both be armed while studying his spellbook, but to have light in the dungeons he frequented while doing so that couldn't be blown out!" Much more fun for a makes them think "Who was this Hroth? I wonder where his spellbooks might be!?" and gives you the DM ideas for future adventures as well!

I have spent literal days writing down lists of magical items...but not just magical items; even simple silver decanters and necklaces once belonging to princesses. The dragon didn't just EAT the princess, he also stole some of the crowned jewels when he took her...the new King (the younger brother of the princess) wants to make it known that dragons don't steal from his family and get away with it! Yeah...never mind the broken bones the beast pooped out that once belonged to the princess eh ol' boy?

For "mundane" items, you can put just as much history behind them and make them the same way. Examples could be: The Sapphire Heart of Ulek (a gigantic sapphire set in the top of a silver mirror), King Merith's Silver Goblet (yeah, just a silver goblet, but worth a lot more than it would normally be to the right people!), Jorranna's Emerald Necklace (belonged to a VERY wealthy merchant's wife who was long ago kidnapped by an Ogre Magi and never seen again; the old man is still alive and would likely pay a nice bit for his long dead wife's necklace) and so on. Simply having a list of different metals, gems, household items (cups, bowls, mirrors and such) and so on can make it very easy to create an item; then just tack a name on it and there you go! Don't forget the list of names from your campaign world of course.

We've all heard about the various coins in Dungeons and Dragons...I'm not going to say much on that except that you can make magical items that are coins, rare coins from fallen dynastic lines that collectors would pay well for and so on. Use your imagination and a bit of thinking on this one: how many people in our own society collect Trading Cards (baseball and so on). Imagine a world where magic could have created items such as a silver disc which when placed on a table automatically projects an image of a great figure from history.

As a last, I want to talk about how adventurers feel about treasure. Take ol' Otus here; he probably just wants to grab some good loot, get the heck out of the dungeon alive and spend some quality drinking and wenching back in town! But how much better will Otus feel if he also finds the Placard of Rhis, a magical sign that allows any spoken word to be recorded on its surface. He knows JUST the wizard's apprentice who would love to have this so that the fellow can better record his master's instructions! Not to mention that those ancient silver coins in the Wight's treasure are already known to be in high demand among coin collectors at the Temple of Martek...those Merchant-God Clerics always are looking for them and telling adventurers where to find them. That is how Otus knew how to find the crypt he just plundered after all!

Now, not every player is going to appreciate the time it takes you to make these items. Hell, you may only have ONE player who really appreciates it (I doubt it, but stranger things HAVE happened to me); but you will find as a Dungeon Master that some of the best fun you can have is actually creating the things in your world. Likely you wouldn't be a Dungeon Master if you didn't like world creation right? Oh, you are the one "stuck" with it eh? Well, this actually can make the tedious job more fun for you I'll wager.

On the side of betting otherwise, your players are likely to really like it if you do this sort of thing in your game. They will be able to immerse their minds in your creations more deeply, so when they are fighting the monsters they will be looking FORWARD to the treasure because they will be learning more about the world they are playing in that you have created. What is more, they will often then have reasons to go adventuring even more. Who was Hroth the Magic-User? How much is the King offering to kill the Dragon that ate his sister? Why the hell did Rhis make something to record what people said...was he a spy maybe?

I promise you, if you make your treasure more than just coins, gems and jewelry worth X amount and magic items that all have the same names you won't regret it and will more than likely find that your players are far more enthusiastic about your game. If they aren't, find some other players after you kill their characters with a snake hiding in the treasure!

Seriously...get rid of them...go have fun!

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Helpful Heroes, Part 1

As a companion to the Valuable Villains series that I have started, I wanted DMs to have at their disposal some Helpful Heroes too! To kick off the series, I wanted to talk about an NPC I created a while back (2010) for the Forgotten Realms...however, he was entirely inspired by the cover art for the module C4 by Bob Blake:

Gammel Krage is a very old Druid, but rarely if ever has he walked the path of a man. None truly know his origin, but he walks as easily with the Fey as any could hope to do and not be lost forever to them.

Gammel travels the Dales and the deep woods of the Elven Court, ever on the lookout for evil creatures bent on hurting his homeland. Gammel cares little for the towns and cities of course; and more for the land and those beings that live in harmony with it. He will gladly do battle against evil creatures, but his ways are those of the slow mover. He is known to aid those who, whether they know it or not, are working to help the lands. Gammel prefers long term goals slowly worked to fruition over abrupt and immediate combat.

Because Gammel has sworn off the trappings of civilization, he has also sworn off wealth, magical items and so forth. Those that come to him are often given as gifts to lone travelers who simply find them sitting at their fire in the morning; or, as is most often his desire, Gammel simply destroys those things made by civilization and returns their component pieces to nature.

Gammel does desire two things however: the destruction of the Zhentarim and the same for the Cult of the Dragon. Gammel hates evil wizards, clerics and undead…the spreaders of ruin and destruction most unnatural in the world. He will often work behind the scenes to aid any individual or group that works against such forces.

Gammel travels most often as a bird of prey that circles high over head watching the goings on below (he favors the form of an eagle); and knows full well the range of True Seeing, and so stays well away from those he is spying upon. When Gammel finds someone of note, he will approach them in human form most often; but only after finding out all he can from a distance as a deer, wolf, bear or some other common wildlife in the area. Because he carries no magic of any sort, few ever suspect that the old man is anything but what he claims to be. His lies range from being an old hermit, to a pilgrim, to even being honest and saying he is a druid.

If Gammel finds someone he thinks needs help against unnatural forces or evil, the druid will place what help he can in the path of the individual or group; whether it is the body of an orc he mangled as a bear that carries a magical weapon they may need or leading them in the right direction using whatever animal forms he thinks are most appropriate.

On the rare occasion that Gammel aids someone directly, in combat, he will assume the form of a Giant Eagle or Giant Owl and attack fiercely any spellcaster that he thinks he can quickly over-power. If undead are the enemy, he will nearly always assume the shape of a Unicorn and activate his most potent defenses and his Holy Radiance power before attacking. He will constantly summon creatures to his aid while doing so, never relenting in his attack once engaged except to finally retreat if needed. He does not believe in giving quarter to undead…ever.

At no point will Gammel ever willingly enter a town unless he is giving chase to an enemy, or the need to communicate with someone in the town is of utmost urgency. When he does enter a town, it will usually be in the form of a common animal; he has entered an enemy stronghold once as a “lost” horse that the wizard’s soldiers found in the woodlands and captured. The wizard died that night under the claws of a great hunting cat that found its way into the wizard’s quarters through an open window.

DM NOTE: Gammel Krage has no “home” or other sentiments to protect. He has no favored meditation pool, regular sleeping area or any such thing. He travels as does a wild animal; but even more unpredictable because he intentionally varies his travels so that there is never any routine to his existence. He has been struck by a near life-long form of wander-lust and favors no home over any tree to sleep in. In fact, these days he tends to sleep in the shape of an animal; usually within a tree or burrow. His last act of killing a wizard in his keep resulted in him actually returning to the stables, taking the form of the same horse, and then being ridden out of the keep by a former retainer of the wizard. That young apprentice wizard was later found face down in the muddy tracks of a trail not too far away; his body apparently ravaged by a pack of wolves. Using Gammel a DM should never let anyone know exactly who he is and what he stands for.

In AD&D and 2e AD&D Gammel can be represented as follows:

Neutral Human Druid 9 (Str 11, Dex 15, Con 13, Int 14, Wis 19, Cha 17) with the ability to Shapechange into a Blink Dog, Giant Eagle, Giant Owl, Pegasus or Unicorn (with all powers of those creatures while in their forms) and cast spells in any shape-changed form. His Armor Class should be treated as if he were wearing Plate Mail Armor against all attacks and he can strike in melee any creature requiring +1 magical weapons to hit due to the Blessings of Lurue. He has been given this power by Lurue the Unicorn who also allows him to shed a radiance about himself that causes all undead within 10 feet to take 1d4 damage per round (no saving throw).

In D&D 3.0/3.5 Gammel can be represented as follows:

Gammel Krage
Male Dalesman Human Druid 9
NG Medium Humanoid (human)
Init +2; Senses Listen +15, Spot +15
Languages Chondathan, Common, Druidic, Sylvan, Elven, Giant
AC 21, 13 touch, 19 flat-footed (+7 Supernatural, +1 Deflection, +1 Natural, +2 Dex)
hp 59 (HD 9d8+9)
Fort +8, Ref +6, Will +13
Speed 30 ft. (6 squares); Face/Reach 5 ft./5 ft.
Melee +12/+7 (1d6x2 Staff)
Base Atk +6; Grp +12
Atk Options Staff, spells, wildshaping
Combat Gear: Quarterstaff
Druid Spells Prepared ( base DC = 16 + spell level; caster level 9th)
0th- Cure Minor Wounds x2, Detect Magic, Flare, Light, Resistance
1st- Cure Light Wounds x2, Entangle, Longstrider, Produce Flame, Speak with Animals
2nd- Barkskin, Heat Metal, Hold Animal, Owl’s Wisdom, Tree Shape, Warp Wood
3rd- Cure Moderate Wounds, Dominate Animal, Neutralize Poison, Protection from Energy
4th- Dispel Magic, Freedom of Movement, Ice Storm
5th- Stoneskin, Tree Stride
NOTE: Gammel changes his spell list often, wholly depending on what he is currently undertaking; this list is what he might have if traveling a long distance with no true purpose.

Abilities: Str 11(+0), Dex 15(+2), Con 13(+1), Int 14(+2), Wis 22(+6), Cha 17(+3)
SQ AC Bonus +7 (Su), Endure Elements (Ex), Exalted Strike +1 (Su)- any weapon or natural attack Gammel uses is considered +1 as well for purposes of damage reduction, Sustenance (Ex)- Gammel does not require food or drink, Deflection bonus +1 to AC (Su), Resistance to all saving throws +1 (Ex), Ability Enhancement (Ex), Gammel has a +2 bonus to his Wisdom score, Natural Armor bonus +1 (Ex), Mind Shielding (Ex)- Gammel is constantly protected from all attempts to discern his thoughts, detect his alignment, or discern if he is lying. Due to Gammel’s Vow of Poverty, he has been granted 5 Exalted Feats based upon his level. Animal Companion, Nature Sense, Wild Empathy, Woodland Stride, Trackless Step, Resist Nature’s Lure, Wild Shape (3xday, Large), Venom Immunity.
Feats: Sacred Vow (+2 to Diplomacy checks) (1st), Vow of Poverty (1st), Nymph’s Kiss (bonus Exalted) (+2 to Charisma related checks, +1 bonus to saves against spells, and +1 skill point per level), Nimbus of Light (+2 Diplomacy and Sense Motive checks with Good Creatures), Holy Radiance (all undead in 10’ take 1d4 damage per round), Intuitive Attack (Wis bonus on attacks), Exalted Wild Shape (may also change into Blink Dog, Giant Eagle, Giant Owl, Pegasus or Unicorn), Track (3rd), Improved Counterspell (6th), Natural Spell (9th)
Skills: Concentration +13 {12}, Diplomacy +11 (+13 with good creatures) {4} Heal +8 {2} , Knowledge: Nature +20 {12}, Listen +15 {9}, Sense Motive +12 (+14 with good creatures) {6}, Spellcraft +14 {12}, Spot +15 {9}, Survival +20 {12}
Synergy bonuses not included.

Possessions: Quarterstaff, wooden holy symbol of Lurue, old dirty gray robes and sandals.
Hook: “You’re in the Mother’s Forest now child.”

Description: Gammel is old and bent, his long hair falling freely about his shoulders and his ancient beard most likely never having been cut falls fully past his waist. He appears well into his ancient years; but is still has a spring in his step and isn’t truly fragile appearing.
Height: 6,1", Weight: 138lbs, Hair: white, Eyes: icy-blue.

I hope you find Gammel Krage (which means Old Crow) useful in your own games. Let me know how it goes if you do use him!

Valuable Villains, Part 1

Some time ago, I started a thread on Candlekeep called Valuable Villains...and I think it is time I expand that so that anyone outside of the good ol' Keep can also have Valuable Villains to work into their campaigns!

Today, I'll be talking about one of my all time favorite Valuable Villains: "Baron" Krell.

This fellow first appeared in my world within the module "To Find a King" (TSR Module C4 by Bob Blake...thanks Bob!) where he holds something the party needs. I won't drop any spoilers, but I decided I had to have this guy in my campaigns! For a long time this fellow has been behind the scenes in my games, with the party never even encountering him and never suspecting he was there. Let me relate to you his story as he exists in my campaign:

“Lord” Krell is an insidious dealer of intrigue matched by few who know of him; and in truth few do know of Baron Krell as he keeps a very low profile. His wilderness fortress sits astride a rather obscure backwoods trading trail rarely used by reputable merchants; but it is in fact much faster (if somewhat more dangerous) than the commonly used route in the area. This pleases Krell quite well, as it allows him to be close at hand to the intrigues of the land, but in a place that few travel to.

Krell’s story is one of twisting fate, and began over three decades ago when he was ordained a Paladin! He was an intensely loyal and fervent adherent to his faith; even known commonly as “Krell the Kind” for his constant donations to the poor of the land and his steadfast vows of always allowing even the most evil individuals to have the opportunity of forgiveness and redemption. His adventures were many, and he brought many evil individuals to justice; but not at the end of a sword, but in the halls of justice in whatever land he lived within. He was by no means without ability with sword and lance however! Krell was well known in tournaments as a champion jouster and swordsman.

The first turning point in Krell’s life was laid as a trap for him by a wizard he had foiled on several occasions. The wizard, named Varlhaz, was a minor mageling intent on obtaining nobility by forced marriage to a Lady of one family or another; but Krell had on two occasions prevented the wizard from magically compelling such unions on unwitting noble Ladies. Infuriated at Krell’s continued interference, he had acquired a nasty artifact to enact his vengeance upon Krell: a Helm of Opposite Alignment.

Varlhaz arranged that this magical helm be part of a suit of armor to be rewarded as the prize in a minor jousting tournament; and then ensured that Krell would win the tournament by continually using his magic to the bane of Krell’s opponents. As the wizard hoped, Krell won the tournament and was awarded the armor as one part of his purse. Krell later donned the armor, sans helmet, for the victory banquet before returning to his own tent after. Wanting to see how the full suit looked upon him, a Lady-in-Waiting (an unwitting accomplice of Varlhaz) asked Krell to don the helmet as well so that she could view her “Knight in Shining Armor” in all his glory. Needless to say, the result was tragic.

Krell “the Kind” became known soon after as Krell “the Cruel” to the people of the land. He, not understanding what had happened to his own heart, left off from his own people for many years. He became a mercenary adventurer renowned for his cruel leadership and butchery in equal measure. He eventually tired of simple-minded pursuits and, having gained knowledge he hadn’t possessed before, returned to his homeland for revenge. Though he didn’t know who had caused his fall, he had learned that only with such evil magic could he have been so changed. No longer possessing the kind heart he had before…his vengeance was swift and deadly. He knew that only someone who wished him harm directly would have used such magic on him; and his list of enemies was small.

One dark night, Lord Varlhaz, was entertaining guests in his country estate; which he had finally gained at the expense of an insipid young lady who fell for his enchantments. The chamber doors burst open and Krell the Cruel entered with his mercenary warriors in tow. It didn’t take long for all in the hall to fall either in surrender or death before Krell and his warriors; Lord Varlhaz throwing himself at the mercy of his old foe. A short, and brutal, interrogation ensued in which Varlhaz confessed before all present what he had done…and Krell summarily executed the man on the spot. Going one step further, he had his henchman Hedrik marry him to the now widowed former wife of Varlhaz the very next day who was quickly enamored of the powerful warrior.

Krell (already a Lord via his family heritage) did something few would do: he sold off the lot of his wife’s holdings! Turning the quick profit, he then sent his wife to a convent within the week and later had his marriage annulled by the same priest who had married them! With a small treasure in hand, he and his men set about finding a suitable place to make their own…Krell ending up then where his fortified manor sits to this day. He sent for servants from his father’s household which he thought might serve him best and began to build his own estate into one of strength. A fourth son, he wrote off his family after that and simply focused on his own future.

Krell has, for the past decades, become one of the most powerful individuals in the land. His private army numbers several hundred strong and is in a position that would take a King’s army to dislodge. Further, he has agents in many lands; being master of thieves and assassins alike. While no genius, Krell is a natural negotiator and manipulator because of his great charisma and insight into the hearts of others. No longer as chaotic as he was in his youth after losing his Paladinhood; Krell is still a thoroughly evil and reprehensible man. His outwardly strict adherence to the laws of the land keeps him out of trouble with the law and without trouble from other nobles of his homeland; though in other lands he is not so serene in his acceptance of laws which inhibit his desires.

Krell actually ensured his strength via the purchase of a true noble title. He arranged marriage with the daughter of a Baron from a foreign Kingdom; and then promptly had the entire family (save his new wife) assassinated. Feigning no desire to take over the lands of the family, he sold them for a “bargain” to a Count (which was fully part in the assassinations) with the approval of the Baron’s Liege Lord (who’s family Krell theoretically still owes fealty to). Still retaining the title of Baron, Krell brought his new wife to live with him and there she stayed for many years a virtual slave to his will. After “gifting” him with two sons as heirs, she passed on while bearing a third child; and Krell was none the less happy as the fortune he secured via their marriage had long before that time been invested and used to further Krell’s power.

Today, Baron Krell (his given name is Heldrath) is possibly one of the most powerful individuals in the land. He has ensured his protection via immense gifts to the Grandfather of Assassins (such gifts include supply of muscle, coin and information), owns several merchants who must pay him indefinitely due to past loans, extracts heavy tolls to use his road, holds debts from several wizards (and is currently served by the apprentice of one of these wizards), donates heavily to nearly every clerical order in the land (ensuring the good will of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs of those faiths), sponsors several bands of adventurers that he uses as subtly manipulated hit-men via intermediary agents, is the true master of several thieves which lead bands of their ilk in numerous towns and cities, and so much more as well.

If Krell wished, he could probably found his own Kingdom; but he prefers to be the power behind the scenes. Those who whisper to others of his true evil are usually the first to vanish from the rooms they rent (as those Inns are often owned secretly by him or his agents frequent them heavily) or are attacked by brigands in their camps at night. Simply put, Baron Heldrath Krell is not a man to be considered as a foe by anyone without serious consideration of what the outcome of such a relationship might be.

The Baron never leaves his home at the behest of anyone; his supposed Liege Lord is well aware of his true power and does not summon him…while the other Lords of his homeland have no true claim to call on him either. His holding exists within a wilderness area which is free from any claim but his own and no noble or royal house has made claim to the land but him. His own family died out with the death of his older brothers (one killed while in battle, and the other by a dragon which burned down the family manor…which many think, but don’t say, was sent by Krell!) and their lands were also sold off by Baron Krell. He is, in essence, a Free Lord with no responsibility to anyone (though loose claim exists that his lands belong to the greater realm).

Baron Heldrath Krell is a master villain plain and simple.

Depending on what campaign world you are playing in, you could use Krell in various ways. I wanted to share with you where I think he would be well at home in various campaign worlds; although, these are not always the places I have used him in the past.

GREYHAWK: In my version of Greyhawk, Krell has set up shop in a very nice spot between the Viscounty of Verbobonc, Free City of Dyvers and the Elf Kingdom of Celene. Right where you see the Star/Circle. (Thanks to Anna Meyer for the awesome base map!)

He ensures his "freedom" by generously paying Salt Tax to both the Viscount of Verbobonc and the Free City of well as reminding both that he is on amicable terms with the "right people". His title of Baron he holds from the now defunct Shield Lands where his family once lived and in which land he was once known as Krell the Kind...yes, he was once a Knight of Holy Shielding. This is my most often used area for Krell, and he has deep ties with the criminal elements of Verbobonc, Dyvers and Greyhawk City (where he has strong ties with Turin Deathstalker). He never cared at all for the ascension of the Temple of Elemental Evil in the area; but gave them token cooperation until the place was crushed. Krell's evil is not overt...he knows (having been a Paladin once!) what happens to the overtly power-hungry in the world.

FORGOTTEN REALMS: In the of my favorite places, Krell has set up his holding in what was once a Dale, but is now shattered.

Krell's connections here are very subtle indeed sitting upon the border of Cormyr as he does. He is a steadfast member of the Cult of the Dragon in my Forgotten Realms. He openly supports the protection of Highmoon, tries to interest merchants to skirt through "his" lands to the Moonsea from Archendale and has proclaimed his lands an ally of Cormyr who he sends gifts to on a regular basis. In the background however, he works with several evil groups beyond even the Cult of the Dragon. He has many interests in Sembia he is heavily invested in and even within the walls of Zhentil Keep, Hillsfar and as far away as Mulmaster, Thentia and Melvaunt. He is originally from Cormyr, but his title of "Baron" is absent in this game where instead he had previously wed a cousin of Lashan of Scardale. He openly opposed Lashan during that war and sent arms and some few soldiers against his In-Law on the side of Highmoon.

BIRTHRIGHT: In the world of Cerilia I placed Krell in the land of Mhoried in the Viscounty of Torien's Watch. That fella over at Halfblogre does some awesome maps!

I just replaced what he calls Caerholm with Krell's Manor and there you go! In this world, Krell is very much at ease in his holding. He pays his due, but is in deep with the Guilds of Cariele and even has dealings with the Goblins of Markazor, the Warlock of the Stonecrowns and several groups in Thurazor as well. He treads lightly, but because he is un-blooded, he isn't seen as a great threat by many. In my Birthright World though, he actually holds the key to recovering the ancient Imperial Line of Anuire!

Well, there are just a trio of places you could have the fellow...he can really be used in any game in any system quite frankly!

Where will YOU use Baron Krell?

EDIT: someone else suggested THIS quick read as a companion to this article, and I agree!