Saturday, July 21, 2018

Etheral Visions III: The Maelstrom

What follows is a repost of material I developed years ago for my Rolemaster game world and later published in an issue of Grey Worlds, the Rolemaster fanzine. Inspired by a conversation thread at the Kobold Press Midgard Facebook group I thought I'd post some background of my use of Elemental Planes.

Etheral Visions III: The Maelstrom

Another semester of teaching and instruction begins at the Arcane Guild in Tarna's capital city of Roim. These next weeks, the last semester of the year, just following the High Spring Festival, will prove to be unlike any other. Telengard, master mage and researcher, looks about the auditorium at the somewhat sparse crowd of students.

"I trust your Festival was a fine and exciting day," Telengard remarks with obvious sarcasm, gesturing at the cracks across the walls and the piles of debris yet to be cleared from the corners of the hall. 

"The events of yesterday were brought about by the dieties and servants of the realm known as the Maelstrom. These beings sought to bring their power and beliefs to the world, over all others, but were defeated by the might of the Lords of Light and Dark as well as the awakened might of Arda, our world itself. The contest of power was won and the minions of the dieties of the Maelstrom were driven back to their Elemental Realms.

It is this realm that we will discuss in detail over the next weeks, with particular attention to its geography and its inhabitants."

AUTHOR'S NOTE: What follows in this article ( and perhaps others ) are ideas, from an existing campaign setting, for the creation and integration of a realm of the elements.
This article draws heavily from Elemental Companion ( EC ) as well as the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons supplement Manual of the Planes ( MotP, (c) 1987 TSR, Inc. ).

I have included modifications and adaptations of material drawn from both sources. Note that I have rather liberally ignored the precise element descriptions from EC to form matches with the elements presented in MotP. Apologies to M.Carlyle and any others whose feathers I may ruffled with what might be a rather cavalier adaptation of the material.

"Imagine, if you would, a globe of vast proportions surrounding Arda as well as Arien, the Sun, and Tilion, the Moon ( a misnomer for Tilion is much like Arien but that is a matter for other lectures ). Within that globe is our world, the gods and their realms. Outside of that globe is the Maelstrom. Now imagine another globe, bigger than the first but centered on the same point, Arien.

I propose that the Maelstrom fills the gap between the first globe and the second while outside the second is what we call the Astral realms. Yet also outside the second is what we call the Etheral regions. And also the realms of the Spirits. From Arda we can access all three realms yet they do not exist in the same place. We occupy what might be called a Nexus between the Astral, Etheral and Spirit realities, subject to the influence of all yet affected by none."

The campaign world of Arda is part of the Arien system, consisting of Arien, a G-type yellow star, and Tilion, a white dwarf. The entire star system is surrounded and separated from normal ( astral ) space by the Maelstrom.

See Figure 1 for more information on Arda and its surrounds.

"The Maelstrom is a thing of matter, energy and magic, insulating us from
the Astral, the Etheral and the Spiritual. Yet for what its name implies, one can find stable structures within it and there is a flow or method to its existence. There is a continual flow of Essence, of a vast power, from one point in the Maelstrom to another point directly across the spheres from the first. The ability of the first source to generate Essence ( or more precisely the more basic Arcane form of magic/mana ) never wavers and the ability of the second point to absorb or drain Essence never fails.

Yet the Sorcerors, the Entropy Mages, tell us that perpetual processes can not exist, things tend to end or randomness. Are we in an anomaly, a cycle of magic which should not exist.
What if the cycle were to end, would we return to whence we came or would the Nexus of Arda be snuffed like the candle I now snuff to end this first portion of the lecture."

In normal space, the Maelstrom is a large gravitic anomaly and has been classified as a navigation hazard by local spacefaring cultures. It is also a potent emitter of some forms of radiation much like a large star. Every couple of years or so, an expedition is mounted into the Maelstrom. So far, none have returned. In actuality the expeditions are most likely destroyed by the Boundary Regions or by impact into Elemental matter.
Figure 2 shows the flows of Essence within the structure of the Maelstrom.

 Returning to the hall after a brief break, Telengard begins anew, "The Maelstrom is a region between two spheres of great size, encompassing our world and the realms of the Gods as well. The borders of the Maelstrom is a hellish region of flows of time, gravity and nexuses affecting the unprepared traveler with shifts into the past or future, crushing stresses or slips to other realities. 

The "top" and "bottom" of the Maelstrom are the source, a region of expanding primal energy and condensing matter and elements, and the sink, a region of decaying matter and energy and absorbed primal energy. The realms of the elements are arrayed throughout the walls within the borders, fed by the source and drained by the sink."

Figure 3 shows a view of the Maelstrom from the top with the Plane of Chaos in the center.

Figure 4 shows a view of the Maelstrom from the bottom with the Plane of Nether in the center.

Telengard closes his notes and peruses his students once more, "In my next lecture, we will consider the various creatures, cultures and specifically, the deities of the Maelstrom. I will also discuss spells and enchantments derived from the study of the Elements.

I have finished for now but we are barely just begun. Those who have questions may reach me in the lounge for my office seems to have disappeared in the aftermath of this inconvenient business with the Maelstrom."

With what actually might be a sigh, he turns and walks from the stage.


Monday, April 30, 2018

2018 One Page Dungeon Contest: The Infernal Contraption of Doctor Ellipsis

Tomorrow (7pm EST) is the deadline for this year's One Page Dungeon Contest ( ) and we've finished (well as soon as I sent it off). This year we present the Infernal Contraption of Doctor Ellipsis. 
We decided on a steampunk theme'd mechanic monstrosity of dark magicks and technology. I have a couple idea sketches I will post in upcoming days that didn't fit on the one page. We decide to go with a descriptive and schematic approach giving the GM room to fill in the blanks or cubes as it were.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Enter the Dragon’s Lair: Son of the Sun

Good Evening,

A while ago I wrote a small dragon's lair for Kobold Press' Midgard setting (Ishadia it appears). Thought it might be nice to post it for all to read and hopefully enjoy. (I may have maps which I will find, scan and add.)

Son of the Sun
An inquiry for characters level 5-6

On a stretch of lonely road on the frontier of Ishadia, west of Mardas Adamat, a well-armed merchant caravan is destroyed by desert nomads armed with newly forged black sparkling weapons made of what the survivors called “dragon glass.” Some mumble of a shadow in the skies overhead, watching the raid unfold.

The government in Mardas Adamat receives word of the nomad attack on a caravan returning from Siwal in the Sarklan Desert. Normally this would be considered acceptable losses if not for the disturbing development. One of the survivors was found with a Dragon-forged arrowhead buried in his gut. The Tamasheq of Sarklan have never been so armed. An alliance of any sized Tamasheq tribe with any of the Dragon Lords or lesser Urmanli would be a problem. Fearing another incursion from the Mharoti Empire, the players given the recovered dagger and are dispatched to the west to investigate with all due haste.

Dramatis Personae:
Güneşin Oğlu - The “Son of the Sun” - a young Solar Dragon who has come to Midgard for reasons unknown beyond the joy of making items and collecting the offerings of his followers. In Dragon form his upper scales are gold with black flecks, as are his wings and tail. His underbelly is the black of the night sky dotted with golden stars. In human form, depending on his mood, his skin is either black flecked with gold or gold flecked with black.
  • Young Solar Dragon, CR 9
Ahmet Basarin - Charismatic priest of the Sun Followers.
  • Human (Tamasheq) Male Cleric, level 5
Ilfet Tarasa - Chief horse tender of the Sun Followers and girlfriend of Ahmet Basarin
  • Human (Tamasheq) Female Expert, level 3
Narique Tarasa - Leader of the Sun Followers and brother to Ilfet Tarasa
  • Human (Tamasheq) Male Fighter, level 4
Güneş Disciples - “Sun Followers” - The tribe of Tamasheq followed the Dragon out of the Sarklan to settle in the hills.
  • 20 level 1-4 Human Fighters
  • 40 level 1-4 Human Commoners
  • 20 Human non-combatant elderly and children
  • 60 horses, a dozen hunting dogs, two hawks and a dozen wagons
A time ago, while wandering the Sarklan deeps, Ahmet Basarin was alone, and subject to visions. In one he thought he saw a tall man of gold-flecked obsidian skin crowned with a halo of golden fire. That image turned out to be the young Dragon, Güneşin Oğlu. Basarin bowed down to the Dragon, believing him to be a Mask of Aten, the Sun God. The Dragon smiled at the cleric but did not discourage him.

Ahmet returned to his tribe of Tamasheq and managed to convince their leader, Narique Tarasa, to uproot the tribe and follow and serve the Dragon. (In fact, Narique’s sister, Ilfet, prevailed upon him to support her lover, the addled priest.) The Tamasheq rode into the desert and trailed the Dragon as he followed a Ley Line, ending up across the border in Ishadia, at a narrow box canyon. Oğlu found this site to his liking - material and magic were plentiful.

The Dragon carved out his lair, built the altar site and placed the watch stones in an arc about the area. Oğlu, through Basarin as his “voice,” commanded the horsemen to raid nearby caravans for coin, supplies and resources. In return he supplied the nomads with dragon glass weapons that he creates at his forge.

On the Trail of Broken Glass:
West of Mardas Adamat, the main road crosses the slowly drying hills before reaching a line of ridges that divide Ishadia from the Sarklan Desert. The highway, dotted with heavily defended way station Inns and oases, separated from each other by a day’s caravan travel, passes through a gap in the ridge to follow a dry river bed into the wilderness. Two days before the border and that gap, the players discover the site of the attack.

Little remains of the encounter. Organic pieces have been consumed by scavengers. Inorganic debris has been scooped up by scroungers. The rest scattered by the desert winds blowing from the gap. Survivors hurriedly buried their dead in a communal pit marked with a blessed fetish. Examination of the site reveals the raiders attempted to conceal their path which leads directly south.

The Black Orb:
A half day on horse to the south, the trail leads toward a hill rising in the distance. As you near the foot of the rise, you spot a square chunk of basalt, 3 feet on a side and 4 feet high. On top, resting in a slight depression is a spherical black glass orb almost as wide. Both radiate magic.

The following can be determined:

  • The orb is an alarm ward
  • It is connected to a point further south
  • It was created by a dragon within the year
  • The glass sphere is the same material as that of the recovered dagger, made from the basalt of the hills.
  • Placing the dagger against the sphere de-activates the alarm allowing all to pass into the hills
If the players trigger the alarm, the torches in the raider’s village burst into light, warning the Tamasheq. The Dragon also senses the breach.

The Followers of the Sun:
Several hours south by horse you can see a new village in the distance. Paths separate tents set in rows by the Tamasheq, surrounding more permanent structures built by the Drake, for the use of his prospective followers. Their horses trot about a corral along the northern edge. Paths lead to trails into the hills. Faint voices and noises - conversation, horses, tools, children laughing - are carried by the wind to where you stand. The paths are lined with wooden posts each topped with a black stone. A gift of the Dragon, they glow softly at night and blaze with light if the alarm is raised.

Just south of the village a section of hillside has been scooped away, forming an amphitheater of a sort, bare except for a dais, surfaced with thin slabs of basalt, rising five feet above the packed earth. The colors of the stone have been selected to form a large sunburst on the surface. Two iron poles, 10 feet tall and about 5 feet apart, are set in the center. A row of square pits lines the north arc. Here captives of the Tamasheq are hung in chains and offered to the Dragon.

If the alarm has not been raised there are no patrols during the day, but numerous Tamasheq walk or ride in and about the site. At night, two patrols of two riders each, circle the village and amphitheater about 50 yards out in opposite directions.

Typical activities at the village:
  • 2d4 Tamasheq gather and depart to hunt or forage in the surrounding hills, heading in any direction except directly south
  • 1d6 Children rush about the fields playing a game of some sort
  • 2 Tamasheq engage in a horse race about the village cheered on by 2d6 others
  • At sunrise or sunset 4d10 Tamasheq gather at the amphitheater where a tribal elder leads a service honoring their Dragon patron
Unusual activities at the village:
  • 2d10 Tamasheq gather and prepare to depart on a raid, taking any one of three paths northward out of the camp
  • The Tamasheq pull a prisoner from the pits about the amphitheater and chain him or her to the posts
  • A dark shadow rushing across the ground announces the arrival of the Dragon
Where the Light Sets:
Almost a day’s ride south, beyond the village, the trail ends in a basalt box canyon. Here the Dragon resides. If not at the village, or hunting in the wilderness, 50% chance the Dragon can be found here (25% of the time active, 75% of the time resting but aware).

The Dragon’s lair is about 120 feet wide and about 260 feet from the high basalt cliffs at the south end to the debris strewn field at the north. In the center of a circle of razor sharp fragments of rock and stone, sprinkled with a hoard of coins and the bleached bones of the dead, rises a single basalt spire 60 feet tall. The Dragon, when awake, frequently perches on the column and ponders the distance. South of the spire is a series of ledges against the cliffs, each about 10 feet high.

At 30 feet above the canyon floor, the ledge features a natural pool of unknown depth. The Dragon uses the pool to both bathe and cool his forged creations. Basalt columns, of various heights, surround the pool and are used as anvils and workbenches. Raw stone is heated with his breath to the melting point and then shaped with bare claws into various lengths and sizes. Edges are fashioned and ground to razor sharpness across the tops of the pillars. Sparks fly as the Dragon works the now enchanted black glass.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

The High Ranges: The Eastern Approach

Returning to my #Southlands sandbox, The North Watch, with a #micromap considering the Eastern Approach.