Monday, November 30, 2009

Fram Framson's Monsternomicon

Fram Framson started as a last-minute filler name for an NPC that I wanted the party to talk to.

I had been playing plenty of the Middle Earth CCG, and the name had been bizarre enough to stick in my brain. So when the party asked for the wanderer's name, I blurted it out.

The rest is history.

Fram became one of the most prevalent characters in my campaign world for many years, providing plot exposition and party assistance, always working for the Explorer's Fraternity as he travelled the world, ending up wherever the party happened to be at the time.

So when the time came to begin drafting my Monster Manual, there was no doubt in my mind who should write it.

The idea is not totally mine, either. The Monsternomicon for Iron Kingdoms uses the adventures of a travelling scholar as well, although he covers far less area than Fram. It occurred to me that Fram should be compiling this book in a different way than either the IK Monsternomicon or the Monster Manual - I could combine the two methods, providing personal notes from Fram when these were monsters he had seen, rather than simply heard about. It seemed a good compromise, and one I could finish.

As for the manual itself, I found myself gravitating to large numbers of animals, beasts, and low-intelligence monsters. I like the idea that the primary threats in Galadran are creatures, rather than complicated societies of vicious, intelligent monsters. I have NPCs for intelligent threats, the wildreness should be populated with savagry and be ruled by the law of the jungle.

It should also have a feeling of weird fantasy as well. Owlbears, rust monsters, scorpion-men, Kyuss spawn (who will be aligned with Nimis in this world), oozes, molds, and cannibal birds. That evokes the sort of feeling I want. Once you step out of the more civilized parts of the world, expect anything.

I've also found some converted creatures from the old Magic: the Gathering CCG that I always thought would make good D&D monsters. In this case, thallids and slivers. I'll have some fun repackaging them for my world, but it was the mechanical aspects of these creatures that really attracted me to them, so I think they'll fit in just fine with the rest of the assembled weirdness that is the Wilderlands. Semi-sentient fungi allows me to use a lot of fungus-related monsters and threats that I would have had a hard time individually explaining. And slivers are just plain fun - low CR swarms that quickly become high CR challenges. Scalable for a mid-to-high level party, they are a lot of work, but worth it.

Whatever is in the book, its got to have a place. Each monster has to fit the ecology, sure, but it also has to be part of the Galadran story as well. Monsters don't just happen - animals do, even large predators, but monsters should feel like another part of a normal world that has gone wrong, like the murder of a God, or blood-drinking immortals living off the suffering of a underclass of slaves. Monsters are another part of the wrong-ness of Galadran, and they should feel that way. They should add to the feeling of anxiety and fear that adventurers feel, and a lesson about the effects of a world gone mad with blood and magic.

A world that needs fixing is the point of D&D, after all. That's what heroes are for. And the world should remind them of that.

That's it for now,friends. Excelsior!

Friday, November 27, 2009

The Last Few Sessions Part 1

The following synopsis is a result of several scattered and haphazard sessions the party managed to have over the past couple of months. Between work schedules and day care and school, it has been difficult to get the whole party together for more than a couple of hours at at time for gaming. Nevertheless, they have made some progress, and I thought it best to bring the record up to speed.

After returning to camp, the party discussed their options. It was obvious that there was both wealth and shaft wights to consider, and the group was in no shape to continue in the caves without diverting the water to travel into the tunnels, or purchasing specialized gear to explore the crypt. It was finally decided the party would return to Borderville, collect what money they had stored in the bank there, and take it to the city of Long Lake. There, it was hoped they could purchase enough equipment and supplies for a major excursion into the caves, hopefully driving a portion of the creatures from an area and gaining a foothold from which to launch more extensive expeditions.

The return trip was nothing like the outbound journey. There were no songs, no bragging, no talk of wealth... this excursion had been a failure, with the group only managing to learn that the cave system was more extensive an better defended than they had supposed. Hinda was optimistic, however, that the wealth in the caves could be taken, if a concerted effort was made to drive back the undead. To that end, she planned to recruit more clerics in Long Lake, hopefully establishing contacts with powerful individuals interested in destroying evil or keeping the environs safe.

For his part, Wahleed considered this mission a fact-finding tour and little else. He had learned more about the cave system, and the extent of the crypts below them, and he felt that there was much potential in these mountains, if properly equipped. There was also the dragon to consider, and its mention of a leader that commanded these undead that bore consideration...

Both Meatwad and Meghan were disappointed in the mission. They had not managed to make any headway on either major front, and had little or no gold to show for their troubles. This sort of adventure tried their collective patience. Meghan wanted to demonstrate her prowess on the field of battle against hordes of foul creatures, proving the superiority of her race and its combat culture against all comers. Meatwad wanted to get paid. Neither goal had been met in the last excursion to either's satisfaction.

To top it all off, it began to rain.

Great sheets of ice-cold autumn rain poured down on the party when they had been travelling for less than an hour. Tired and cross, the group maintained its march until nearly dark, making it roughly 10 miles in the rocky and muddy terrain until finding a dry cave at the foot of the mountains to take shelter.

It took nearly half an hour to get a good fire going - the wood from the nearby forest was wet and cold. Finally, they managed to heat some food for supper and make camp. The meal was unsatisfying (boiled hardtack with a few exotic seasoning commissioned by Wahleed from Long Lake), but at least it warmed them up.

Perhaps it was the smell of the seasoning, or the noise from the front of the cave that brought the creatures. Perhaps it was just their time for hunting. Whatever the cause, Charles first spotted the movement from deeper in the cave, and hurriedly sounded the alarm as three large creatures emerged from the shadows and converged on the huddles adventurers. Without that warning, they would surely have been killed. These were beats the like of which the party had never seen before. They held much of the same countenance as grizzly bears, with deep chestnut fur and wicked paws. But from the neck up, the beasts' appearance chnged, becoming one of sharp beaks and feathers. They stood before a perversion of nature, created in times lost to memory as weapons for a long-forgotten war.