Friday, 28 February 2014

Pirates of the Thunder Sea - Meet the Crew! (part 2)

This post is some background for our latest game.  The current adventure is a return to the world of Eberron, and specifically Xen'drik.  Last week, we met the dwarven half of the PCs, now let's see what the taller half are like!
Admiral Galinndan Duskwalker, Emissary of the Spire

"Admiral" Galinndan Duskwalker

Galinndan left his Feyspire numerous years ago to explore the possibilities of harnessing the power of airships without a Dragonmark.  His title is less of a naval rank, and more of a rough translation of his position back in the Feyspire.

Galinndan's current predicament - being trapped at the mercy of a dwarven crew of pirates - came about after his latest voyage of experimentation failed.  The experimental ships foundered and sunk not long into the journey, leaving the renamed (and re-crewed) Kami Kaze to be attacked and plundered by the piratical bunch of dwarves.

The eladrin believes that he can find a way to bring the airship technology to the Feyspires, though he concedes that the half-elves, and House Lyrandar in particular, may not be too keen on losing their monopoly.

Urquilla the Scaled, Delegate of the Takamak Tribe

Urquilla the Scaled

Urquilla recently joined the dwarven crew after their latest stop off in Stormreach.  There, the dwarves managed to save his father from the hands of savage orcs, and he signed himself on as payment for the debt he felt he owed them.

Brought up as one of the few remaining warriors in his tribe who still drew their strength from primal forces, Urquilla has been trained to fight the hated Argonnessan dragons from a young age.  Already mastering the fighting styles of the Black, Red and Gold dragons, his recent foray with the White aboard the Kami Kaze has further expanded his repertoire of manoeuvres.  

Despite his rough appearance, Urquilla has had a good amount of schooling, already speaking Dwarven fluently, and making good headways into the Elven tongue.  He hopes he may be able to soothe tensions between the two races, though realises that there will probably be few opportunities to perform such tasks.

Regdar d'Vadalis, Outcast Animal Handler

Regdar d'Vadalis

Regdar the Druid wouldn't even admit to his last name or dragonmark until Kami forced it out of him "for official reasons".  What the House Vadalis animal trainer was doing on his own in Stormreach has not yet been divulged, though it is only too apparent that he had some sort of falling out with his house.  Those that knew him vouched that he had been in Xen'drik for a few years, back from before the Last War ended, though none could add to his mysterious background.

What he lacked in clear answers he made up for in other talents, not the least of which is his uncanny ability to see clearly in the darkest of nights, and at a distance far outstretching any other on board the ship.  So, the mysterious traveller joined the crew as lookout, causing Redtail to return to his rigging role.

Although he keeps to himself, he has no lack of companions - animals of all kinds come to him, fighting alongside or even ahead of Regdar, and all with a fierce loyalty that would see them dead before he should take injury.

Thanks for reading about our crew! Now, look out for their future adventures, coming soon!

Friday, 21 February 2014

Pirates of the Thunder Sea - Meet the Crew! (part 1)

This post is some background for our latest game.  The current adventure is a return to the world of Eberron, and specifically Xen'drik.  One character (Kami) has carried across from our previous Drow game, but is no less worthy of introduction.  So, please meet the first half of the characters!
The Dread Pirate Kami, once more upon the seas!

The Dread Pirate Kami

Somewhere in her past, Kami's family descended from those in Mror Holds, but the land she holds as "home" is a little east of that: the Lhazaar Principalities.  It was there that her family raised her, and there that she learnt her trade - piracy.

With a (unfortunately fake) treasure map in hand, she took her meagre crew south to the untamed lands of Xen'drik, in search of wealth, magic, and fame...and ended up shipwrecked and drunk, lost in the jungles, and captured by drow.

Between drink, jungle, and crazed drow, Kami somehow managed to survive and eventually cut herself free from all three.  With a bare-bones crew and a vessel hardly worth the name, she set out again, this time finding riches on an elven ship. It's crew put up little in the way of defence, and soon it was hers: the 'Kami Kaze'.

Now with ship, crew, and enough wealth to (barely) feed them, Kami is back on her search for lost treasure along the Xen'drik coast!

Tvennir Breiox Farmaor, Scourge of a Hundred Battlefields

Tvennir Breiox Farmaor

Tvennr has been around boats and ships (both sea-bound and those aloft in the skies) since he was relatively young, when his family moved into a small port town.  They were working as blacksmiths and armourers, but he was never interested in that line of business; instead, he set a task for himself to escape the area, and head to the sea.

Over the years, he has spent time working for "independent" airships, helping to clean out various caverns and other locations that folk of more reputable means would have little use for.  However, the end of the war brought a crackdown from House Lyrandar on the "independent" airships, meaning Tvennr has had difficulty recently gaining work, and so has taken more sea-based jobs.

Though he misses the sky, especially as the sea air intensifies the crustiness of his beard, he was thankful of Kami's captaincy after being stranded in port so long.  The other company could be better, but he admits he has put up with worse.

Hassan Elfbane, Treasurer of House Kundarak

Hassan Elfbane

As a child from a minor line of House Kundarak, Hassan was "bullied" by an "elf" - the exact nature of these events have been clouded by time, but Hassan has dedicated himself to righting this wrong, primarily by killing most any elf he can.  Or eladrin.  Or half-elf.  Or a human with particularly pointy ears... He's not a barbarian (not quite), so he does manage to restrain himself at times... and if the incentive is right.

Being not only a member of House Kundarak, but also dragonmarked, Hassan is the only member of the pirate crew who is widely trusted to hold the ship's treasure - which he does, in a magically linked chest, deep within the Mror Holds vaults.  Interestingly, this trust sees him also act as the ship's cook.  The thinking is that he would be the least likely to deliberately poison the crew - the taste of the food might suggest otherwise.

Although he was very happy to have liberated the shop from the elves, he was not so happy when one of them was allowed to stay aboard.  The promise of riches did, as it often does, turn his blade.  For Hassan is thinking that after some twenty years away from family and home, it may be time to return soon - he just needs to establish some independent wealth, first.

Stay tuned for next week, when the second half will be introduced!

Friday, 14 February 2014

Pirated Mechanics

I cancelled my DnDI subscription this week.  It felt kind of sad, a more official end to the long journey I had with WotC through the fourth edition of DnD.  Now, we're parting ways - they are going on with their 'next' edition (come on, let's all just call it 5e, we all know that's what it is!), whilst I'm happy hanging back with the wealth of information and adventures left with 4e.

That's not to say we're going to continue playing as-written - we weren't really doing that anyway. That's one of the great things about DnD, adapting and mutating it as your group sees fit.  And that's going to happen moreso now, as we're left without the tools that many, especially myself, feel have become a stable part of the game.  But sadly, they have failed - whilst the online compendium certainly made games easier to run (I look back with horror at the many years I tried to run online games of 3e DnD, with only the SRD online, and everything else in a book on a shelf nearby - how hard it was to look up a power, a feat, or a spell! The compendium, and great sites like iplay4e, helped look up and understand rules so simply), they never fully delivered on their promises.  The virtual table never surfaced, the character portrait vanished without a trace, and even those tools that made it through were sickly and malnourished (Monster builder? Encounter builder?).  The Character Builder, arguably the best part of the package, is still slow and sluggy, in need of updating, and capped at an embarrassing 20 characters.  I have over 400 saved character files, and even though some are doubles (characters at various levels), the majority are unique characters.

And so it is that I have made the decision to stop my many years of my DnDI subscription.  Of course, it helped that they have stopped the Dragon and Dungeon magazines (and had many months of irrelevant content beforehand), and that no new books or information have come into the compendium for some time.  Much of what was offered has not been given, and a lot of the rest is sorely missing.  I can only assume that will get worse once 5e is finally released officially.  I would hope that they open the compendium up to the "few" folk remaining behind in DnD (at least, that seems to be WotC's take - not enough to merit continuing to support the product, not enough to shape the coming 5e?), or failing that, allow it to be downloaded and used at home.  The latter would save them server costs and allow fans to update it as needed.  But whatever they choose, the simple fact is that a whole lot of 4e games will need to start running without it, or pay an exorbitant fee for a fraction of what was originally promised them.

The big question is then, how do you run 4e without those tools?  Well, maybe you don't ask yourself that.  I do. I wonder how I will keep track of character powers without having to pour through books continuously.  How to look up rules when needed.  How to know which errata has been applied, and what the correct reading of that particular feature is.  Strangely, my engineering mind wants to simplify the least, a little.  And so, over my home games this year, my group will be taking in some big houserules adapted from another adaptation from (or take on, or houserules for) DnD: 13th Age.

Simply, we are shortening character levels (by a third) to soften maths, but keeping the power level the same.  Less feats, more base damage.  Less powers, but the powers remaining are more impressive, being built up and strengthened.  Our aim is to have characters that are still of the same power level (or perhaps a little tougher), but are simpler to play, are quicker to run, and have less rules-baggage dragging behind them.  Now all that is left is to see how effective the change are!

Friday, 7 February 2014

Pirates of the Thunder Sea 1x01 - A Salty Start to Adventure

These posts are from our DnD group's latest game.  The current adventure is a return to the world of Eberron, and specifically Xen'drik.  Although one character (the Dread Pirate Kami) has carried across between campaigns, the rest of the party is new, and the adventure has little bearing on the Drow game of old. 

The ship was sailing south, along the coast of wild Xen'drik jungles, towards the Gulf of Zantashk, despite some of the crews' strong resistance.  Tvennir in particular was muttering amongst a few of the other dwarves about the horrors he has faced over the past thirty-four voyages across the dreaded bay.  Still, despite his reluctance, the Dread Pirate Kami was able to convince him to stay with the group, thanks to some flowery promises of riches and wealth, and Tvennir's apparent lack of understanding as to basic mathematics.  

The elven crew that once inhabited the decks were all gone, save for one individual - Admiral Galinndan Duskwalker.  He had bargained, first for his life from Hassan Elfbane's axe, and then for his place on his captured ship.  Information was his main bartering good - he alerted the crew to a hidden valuable they were about to throw away, a small box hidden in a secret compartment of one of the chests of elven goods.  The box contained but a single item - a solitary card.  But the card had power - on its face was a flame, flickering back and forth as if it were real.  There was much power in the card, magical enchantments just waiting to be focused and used.  And Galinndan said he knew where they could find more.

Selling of Stolen Supplies
When they had arrived in Stormreach - almost a month ago, now - their intention was to sell off all the mundane elven-treasures found in the store below via Kami's usual fence.  It would not get them the best prices, but it would be quick, easy, and without questions.  This time, however, Hassan suggested trying his cousin Walid, whom he had ties with from Khorvaire.  Walid has trade contacts in Trolanport, Zilargo, and could get far better prices on the goods than any fence could manage. However, it would take time to ship them across to Khorvaire and get the money returned.  Whilst they waited, Walid offered them another job.

A simple scouting mission was all he asked - sailing down the the Gulf of Zantashk, map out the ruins, determine a safe path to the watchtower that overlooked the Gulf, discover the truth about the dragon sightings (for more than a few folk had started talking about the Argonessen folk being sighted along the shores of Xen'drik), note the safe harbours for ships to travel, and determine what sort of threats there were in the area (in addition to dragons, that is!). 
By the time they returned from such a scouting trip, their money - and their payment for their task - would be waiting them. 

A Few New Hands on Deck
Whilst in Stormreach, the ship picked up a few more crew members.  First, the dwarves came across a rowdy bunch of feral orcs, who had nearly torn a scaled man apart.  This thing was quite rare - the violence, and the scales.  Not many humans had scales, and almost all who did lived on Argonessen with the dragons, or Q'barra, with the other lizardfolk.  But there was a tribe of barbarians - the Takamaks - who sought to battle the dragons, and who took on scales through their primal magics.  The Takamak elder lived, and his son Urquilla, wanting to pay back the debt of his father's life, offered to join the crew. 

The other human to join the crew was an animal handler by the name of Regdar d'Vadalis.  He bore the mark of Handling, and saw with the eyes of Hawk and Owl. Naturally, he proved to be an excellent lookout, though exactly why he wanted to travel with them was never answered clearly...

Scaled Terror on the Seas
The dragons, clearly, had no such problem.  On the third day, Redgar called out to Kami, and the crew prepared for an attack.  Three dragons, including one monstrous white one, swept down from the cliffs towards the ship, swooping in close to allow their riders to jump and engage the crew.  Despite their ferocity, the dragons were ill-prepared for the skill and might housed on the vessel.  The riders were finished quickly, and the copper dragons only survived by keeping well out of reach, and fleeing when the battle turned.  The great white would have followed them, but for Galinndan's display of might - the eladrin caught the gargantuan dragon and held it fast atop the ship, blinded and immobilised by his own magic.  There, the crew (and especially Tvennir) cut into its unprotected belly, whilst Kami kept the ship moving just so.  The deck would need a good week of scrubbing, but the dragon's dead body fell to the side as it struggled for safety, and didn't deal too much damage to the ship.
The inland coast proved as harsh as the cliffs that met the sea, and it took them a further two days to find a safe spot to port.  Safe might have been a hasty word, for there were numerous wrecks sighted beneath the clear waters, but at least they could anchor the boat for cleaning and repairs, and send a party to investigate the land.

Landbound: Ruins and the Ruined
The town had been destroyed.  Tvennir was particularly saddened by the destruction of a favoured inn, but the entire settlement had been reduced to ash, burnt timbers and scalded stone.  Dragons had been through here, weeks, maybe months ago, destroying anything that dared to suggest interest in the ancient ruins.  And somehow, a hydra had been left to guard the way to those ruins.

Not wanting to face the four-headed beast just yet, the party elected to first make the trek through the forest, and up to the watchtower.  Before entering the dark forest, they camped and rested on solid ground for the first time in over a month. 

They weren't the first to camp outside the forest - small tell-tale signs of another group passing this way within the past few days were only too clear. A boot-print here, a scuffed tree there, some discarded waste behind a bush... Could they be survivors from the town?  Natives of the jungles further inland?  Scaled riders, or other allies of the dragons?