The World of Ark

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Journies in Ark, Part 3

Forn Torr

We've explored a bit about the basics of Ark, then a bit about the area of The Rivlands and Kingdom of Rivland; but now we are going to the dreaded structure known in the past as the Forlorn Tower to Karnites, or Forn Torr among the Vannulvir.

Long ago, before humans even started to use writing independently of their Aerkay masters, the structure now known as Forn Torr was raised by the power of the Aerkay Emperor known as Agath. This fellow was NOT someone common at all; he didn't have Forn Torr built, he pulled it from the bowels of the world and forced it to rise up at his command with magic that can scarcely be imagined today even by the most powerful users of arcane lore. Agath was exceptional even among the Aerkay, and had lived so long that even his normally long Aerkayan life had been spent. He had been one of the first ever Aerkay to delve deep into the mysteries of the cosmos and found secrets Beyond the Black to ensure his continued "life" into what is now commonly called undeath...and he did so with the blood of Gods on his hands. Agath was not a common Lich, Vampire or any such abomination, he was what some call a "True Undead" in that he had managed to wrench immortality from the still forms of minor Gods he had destroyed in titanic struggles that literally changed the face of Ark. In fact, some blame him for the decimated area now known as The Fallen Lands far away beyond the Shadowed Sea.

Whatever the origin of his power, he pulled Forn Torr from the ground and caused it to be. The Druids of Rivland say that Agath's power was so great, that he tapped into the very power of the God Kragg and used that beings primal power to intertwine Forn Torr's existence with Kragg's own; thus ensuring that as long as Kragg lived and was imprisoned within Rivland, Forn Torr would be impossible to topple and immune to assault. Today, the vast structure (much the size of the largest cities of mankind) still stands as it did the very day it was brought up from the bowels of Rivland.

 

Forn Torr is not a ruin in the classical sense: it is not fallen, it is not at all bent by age...it is simply thought to be primarily vacant of intelligent beings capable of leaving the place. There are birds in plenty (as well as other beasts) that nest in its many balconies; even magical creatures are known to lair within it, but the Aerkay no longer inhabit their southernmost outpost of power. The entire place seems to be built of obsidian, the outer wall surfaces riddled with razor sharp edges and the smaller Inner Wall is the same. The great tower itself is also built out of obsidian that seems to mend any damage to its surface just as the outer walls do...literally healing in time from any damage.

The outer towers, immense structures in their own right, have dancing black flames (said to be made of a Dark Energy) that lift into the sky above them and perhaps act as an eternal power source with no known means to quench their burning despite repeated attempts to do so by even such powerful beings as the Alven and their Goddess Vanadis. Anyone and anything moving through those dark and cold flames is eternally consumed and without ability to be restored short of power wrought in Ark by the very Gods who are for some reason loathe to do so.

Forn Torr's interior is a labyrinthine structure of mazes, great halls and miniature towns it is said. Legions of warriors once inhabited the place and ruled the lands now known as The Storm Coast for the Aerkay. There were said to be tens of thousands who lived within and were fed by continuous supply from the surrounding lands and from great underground farms beneath Forn Torr itself. Some of the mightiest magics of the Emperor Azar "The Undying" were also wrought here. Azar had been the premiere pupil of Agath and had succeeded the dread creator of Forn Torr when Agath fell at last in battle against the God known as The Shining One. It was Azar who brought the sealing of Forn Torr however...in his hubris he dared take as his concubine the Goddess Gersemi, who was daughter of Vanadis and half-sister to The Shining One. The invading hosts of the Alven were relentless, and despite the fact that they could not topple Forn Torr, they did use their mightiest magic to seal the place shut.

It is because of this event that Forn Torr today sits as a mostly quiet reminder of Aerkay power in Ark...and an equal reminder of Alven power. The evil forces pulled from Beyond the Black that once lived within Forn Torr still do; but are forever barred from leaving the place because of the magical wards placed upon the entire structure by the Alven and their deities in retribution. The primary reason for sealing the place instead of placing a garrison was the very first chamber in which a being finds they stand within when entering Forn Torr:


The "Gate of Infinite Gateways" was a structure as integral to Forn Torr as air is to living beings of most sorts. The place could not be destroyed, but led to so many strongholds of the Aerkay (and other beings allied to them) that it had to be somehow contained to limit the resurgence of Aerkay power. As Forn Torr could not be destroyed without killing both Gersemi and Kragg (who are said to be bound to the existence of the dreaded place) the Alven instead shut it up with powerful warding magic. The portals were quieted, but not destroyed; and so lay in wait even today for activation again if those who wish their use can only discover how to undo what the Alven have wrought on the place.

GAME DESIGNER NOTES

The purpose of Forn Torr in the World of Ark is to facilitate almost endless adventure opportunities in the same location. The Gate of Infinite Gateways will be a place where a party of adventurers, when discovering how to unlock various gateways, will be able to embark on many dungeon adventures without ever having the leave the area of Rivland. It will also make it possible to visit far lands and perhaps even new worlds as well. The Aerkay were once a much more powerful civilization who had mastered the ability of travel to distant places without the need of vessels for either sea voyages or star voyages.

From a gaming perspective, Forn Torr is essentially designed to be an "Infinite Dungeon" but also limited in whatever way is most convenient for the Lore Master's (Dungeon Master) own designs. It can be used to connect the players to far corners of Ark, far worlds, or just lost dungeons that the party can explore. The structure itself will carry several levels of "dungeon" which can be explored; but only when the Lore Master is ready for the party to do so. Certain Keys will be needed to pass certain points within the place and so without them a party will be unable to go where the Lore Master is not prepared for them to go. The first level (pictured above) is intended as a low level dungeon; though certainly not for beginning adventuring parties at all.

We are having a great deal of fun designing the place to be sure...so stay tuned and be on the lookout for when Forn Torr comes to Amazon in hard copy and to DriveThruRPG in PDF form!

Friday, February 12, 2016

(Re-)Adventuring in Old Places

Have you played in an old module and had amazing fun? Of course you have! But did you go back again? What happened in the Village of Hommlet after you left? What came later to the Caves of Chaos after you had plundered it the first time?

I absolutely LOVE to re-use old modules; but not just in new ways that fit them into a new campaign world; but with the same characters that went through them before. Your powerful character is now a Lord or Ranger Lord; perhaps even an Arch-Mage...but what do they remember of their youth when they were scraping copper coins together for their treasures eh?

"As you sit and ponder the formula for the new spell that you feel will enable you to control the weather in your lands so that farmers will have an easier time of things and merchants will visit more often; you glance out of your window from your high tower and see a group of riders coming hard toward your tower..." Minutes later you are in an audience with a group of men from the Village of Hommlet.

"Great Wizard, we heard in our youth that you were one of the adventurers that defeated the monsters of the Caves of Chaos. Unfortunately, the caves have been lost to our guardianship as they were recently invaded by a powerful demon and his orcish host!"

Looks like its time to go back to the Caves of Chaos!


You see, you can re-use any adventure location when you are stuck for something to have your characters do! The wizard can grab a couple of friends and return to the Caves of Chaos to fight the demon and again cleanse the place of evil so that the Keep on the Borderlands and its new village can be safe. You already have the map, now you just need to quickly stock the place!

You see, the first time you went to the Keep on the Borderlands, you were just a new adventurer and things were really different. You had no idea really what was there...but this time you get to return like Gandalf going through Moria...you know the place, you have been there! In fact, you may have a few advantages knowing secret ways that the new inhabitants may not even know about...of course they may have set new traps; and obviously there are going to be new monsters as well. It is sort of thrilling for adventurers to go back to places and have knowledge of something. Also, the game play tends to go faster as the mapping is easier and the characters don't have to worry quite as much...especially if they kept their maps from before.


Something else to consider with old adventuring locales: use them again! Having a base of operations is a solid investment for players. While some people simply like to sit down and have good ol' hack-n-slash dungeon crawls, there is likely to be at least one player in your group that likes to keep their character's life "tidy" and know what is going on in the background. Take for instance a party that goes through the Village of Hommlet before taking on the Temple of Elemental Evil. What if they decide to STAY in Hommlet?


As a DM, it is sometimes a good idea to perhaps make it easy for your party to make a base somewhere. This allows you to develop that area and give it a depth that you can feel accomplished in making, and the party will really appreciate as they are able to more deeply immerse in the environment with their characters. Having a base (such as Hommlet which is already made for you!) has huge advantages. Your party may replace the corrupt merchants and start their own side business to invest their money in. They hire a Shop-Keeper to keep tabs on things while they are off adventuring; but when they return to town, they have a stable place to stay and can easily resupply too. Also, their hired henchman can make orders for them, attempting to acquire potions of healing from the local churches or from even far away Verbobonc, Dyvers or Greyhawk City.

Other party members may take it a step further once their reputation and power grows. Maybe the party Fighter decides that the old Moathouse really needs to be permanently garrisoned so that monsters don't keep creeping into the area and using it as a base...maybe you have already had the group go back to the moathouse because a group of bandits took up to living there again; or worse, maybe cultists started using it again. Either way, some of the Fighter's (or even Cleric's?) money might be used to rebuild the place and they might station their soldiers there!

One of the best things that can happen out of all this though: REVERSE DUNGEONS!

The party member(s) may have a base of operations...but do their enemies know about it? Do they have enemies that want revenge for wrongs? When the party has everything set up and feel secure, are they willing to have their base invaded by evil "adventurers" wanting to claim a powerful item of magic that now rests in a vault?

I've only been able to do Reverse Dungeons a couple of times, and both times they were great fun! They are best used as only one session surprises for the party member(s) though. Give them a bit of a scare, but don't overwhelm them and make it feel like they have no hope. They may lose resources, hirelings and even have a valued henchman slain...but that creates the opportunity for more adventure really as they seek to have their companion Raised from the Dead or as they track down the attackers in a new lair that you have designed. It is a wonderful way to spend an evening!

So, don't just go through a module once...don't just use the dungeon you created once. Remember them and think about what is happening in those places your party has visited in the past as time passes by. It can be a very valuable resource to Re-Adventure in Old Places!


Saturday, February 6, 2016

Convention(al) Wisdom

It is generally accepted that Gaming Conventions are both awesome...and stressful! Sometimes, they are said to be a great deal like a theme park: you just can't see it all, and may feel like you didn't get all you wanted out of the experience. Well, there are a few things you can do to "hit the sweet spot" in conventions!

First, think relative to your budget obviously! Can you afford to go to the convention that is around the world just to play some games? Or is there something else you are wanting to get from the experience? For me, I've never gone to GenCon...not because I don't want to mind you; but primarily because it is too much to absorb in one go for me. The only real reason I would go to GenCon is to meet people and chat; it wouldn't be so much for the gaming at all. Only recently has GenCon had appeal to me simply because I have started meeting a lot of people online that I would like to meet in person!

I'm not going to go into crunching numbers on what you can "afford" because I'm not just talking about money...but time also. Time is more valuable to me than money. How much fun can I get in the time that is available...that is my measure. So what I WILL do is give an example of what I think would be a worthwhile convention for me to go to:


Looking at this convention, it has four primary things I'm looking for:
  1.  Mature Audience: I know lots of people like to game with their kids...I'm one of the first to say that some of my fondest memories of gaming are the looks on my wife and kids' faces when cool stuff happens. However, sometimes you just want to "Adult" a little, and CafCon would give me just that. It means I can be myself, and not worry about saying "f***" if I miss a saving throw! It means I just get to relax and enjoy myself!
  2. Content I Relate to: the folks over at one of my favorite Facebook Gaming Groups are heavy into this one...so I know I'm going to relate to what is going on! There will be people there who game like I game, and who like what I like. I know I'm going to KNOW people when I go.
  3. Affordable: I'm talking time and money here. At only $4 to get in, it is a steal! I get to decide which games I want to play and only pay for those...a big bargain for me. As far as time goes, it is a sweet weekend deal: starts Saturday Morning and is done by Sunday evening...so I can fly in on a Friday Night and fly home on Sunday Night...or however I want without too much time from home and still get to have fun and pack in meetings with awesome friends. Location is good too. Morganton is fairly close to Charlotte, and for me a ticket round trip (from SeaTac to Charlotte) is under $400 and room there is inexpensive too. For a nice mini-vacation gaming weekend, I think that is well worth it. Compare this to a flight for me to GenCon with rooms, and I break down quickly into spastic fits of rage because of the hiked up motel costs alone!
  4. Quality of Fun: I've hinted at it in a couple of places already, but this one is the most important to me. Am I going to remember what I did for a long time, is it going to bring me fond memories, what is the convention offering that I'm going to laugh at and enjoy over all? Well, CafCon has the likes of Chris LarrAndrew HughesRandall Perry and many more involved that are cool as hell...I KNOW I'm going to have fun. We have a blast on the AD&D Uncensored Page. If you want fun, make sure where you are going is actually going to be fun!

Some people like to talk Pros and Cons when it comes to things...but it feels weird to think about Cons when talking about Conventions. The only thing I don't like about CafCon is that it isn't in my own state!

Just remember that a Gaming Convention is supposed to be fun. If you find that you are lagging ass and feel miserable after a Convention, well, maybe you didn't have as much fun as you could have. There are some rules that I stick to for gaming:
  1. If I'm not having fun, I'm not going.
  2. If it is boring, I'm not going.
  3. I'm not going to go into debt for something.
  4. My vacations should include gaming, so conventions are the rule.
That is it folks, seriously. Gaming conventions should be fun and easy. They should be small enough (or your focus should be on a small section of the convention) so that you have fun and don't get overwhelmed and fatigued. So, make sure you get what you are going for...don't just go for a name and you will enjoy it much more!

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

"Old School" Mapping, Part 2

So, I have been trying my hand at making maps of the Forgotten Realms this past weekend and this week so far. My first attempt at the Moonsea was pretty good I think...considering I'm an amateur. I didn't care too much for how the Forests were in these though...they look too crowded and don't leave much room for someone to place what they may want on the map. On top of that, this first map doesn't include a scale for distance...shows my amateur status for sure!

My second attempt at a Forgotten Realms map was this one of the Cormyr area. I decided to do away with the trees and instead use shaded areas to designate where forests were. I felt like this was working much better because now someone can print out the map and use it to make notes on without so many black trees that make it impossible to place notes in the forests. The mountains still have the same problem as the forests, but early on I decided to keep the Mountains the same because they just look good this way. I remembered a scale for miles...primitive looking, but it will work!

Today found me making a map of the Easting Reach for someone who asked when I would be making it. I had a lot of fun with this one because I used a map by Mark Taylor for reference; and I always enjoy looking at his maps. My map is pretty much a "Player's Copy" of his...because my intent is to make a bunch of maps that people can use in game to make notes on and such. It was really fun working on this one because there was just so much detail!

I've made a few other maps as well, but they are for upcoming publications via Ravenlore Press, The Ed Greenwood Group, and The DMs Guild by Wizard's of the Coast. It will be a while before those are properly finished as I use these other maps to get a better feel of "gaming maps" for people to use while they are playing.

If you have any questions about mapping, I'm probably not the best person to ask, but I can say without a doubt that the folks at Hexographer have an amazing application here and you should check it out for your own gaming needs. Having said that, if you do have any questions for me, you can either ask below or head over to my Facebook Page and ask me there!

Bonus Map: "Mystara" style map of Cormyr