Tuesday, July 27, 2010

River Valleys Civilization

Arizona Adventures is a Dawn of Civilization campaign, characterized by the early stages of the rise of a river valley civilization. The scope of the campaign sandbox extends over what is known as the lower basin of the Colorado River watershed. This area corresponds remarkably well to the political boundary lines of today's state of Arizona, but does extend out of it as well. See the first map of the Colorado River Basin. Understanding the geographical boundaries of this region is crucial to understanding the campaign possibilities.

Colorado River Watershed - Lower Basin

The upper basin of the Colorado River Basin covers the lands of Utah, Colorado, and Wyoming. In campaign terms, these lands are thickly infested by powerful giants and dragons. There are no large scale civilizations in that area, although scattered communities of settlers can be found, of course.

The lower basin begins officially on the south side of Lake Powell, as the Colorado flows westward through northern Arizona. The far right/east side of the basin is formed by the mountains along the Arizona/New Mexico border. The peak of that mountain ridge is actually in New Mexico, and the headwaters of the Gila begin there.

The state is divided across the middle by a major ridge called the Mogollon Rim. North of the rim, the water flows to the Little Colorado River (which joins the Colorado before the Grand Canyon). South of the Mogollon Rim, the waters flow south into two rivers: the Salt River on the right, and the Verde River on the left.

The Verde joins the Salt in the northeast Phoenix Valley, producing a fairly large river that flows through the desert valley from top right to lower left.

There is also a mountain ridge in the southeast part of the state. The San Pedro River and the Santa Cruz River flow northward from those mountains, to the Gila River. The desert washes of southern Arizona all flow north into the Gila, though they are usually dry.

The Salt eventually joins the Gila in the southwest Phoenix Valley. The Gila flows around and through various mountains on its way southeast to join the Colorado at Yuma.

Human Settlements

The main human settlements are situated along the Gila and the Salt rivers, which run strong but shallow through the desert, allowing for large-scale irrigation. The largest of the towns is Tempe, where they king and his court reside. Smaller farming towns include Mesa along the Salt, Coolidge along the Gila, and Buckeye after their confluence.

The Verde River is largely cut through steep canyons, so is not generally suitable for large-scale crop irrigation. The exceptions are Cottonwood and Camp Verde, which are two farming communities located along some of the few flat planes along the Verde River banks.

The towns of Prescott and Flagstaff get most of their food supply from the agricultural areas along the rivers. Those mountain towns provide the raw metals and timber for the farming towns. Thus, the Highway of the 17 Lords (I-17) connecting the Phoenix Valley to Flagstaff, is an crucial economic artery and the main highway in Arizona.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Druids in the Wild

In the Arizona Adventures campaign, druids are part of an ever-present network that can be found, and that CAN FIND YOU, pretty much anywhere you go in the wilderness. I think of the druid network as a group of self-appointed "park rangers", and they view the whole state as their park.

[Suddenly and surprisingly, from behind a tree a man steps out, mostly naked, with wild dreadlocked hair and dark sun-baked skin. He raises his hand in greeting, and says, "Hi, I'm Druid Bob, welcome to the Coconino National Forest Preserve. We invite you to enjoy your visit to our forest, and would like to kindly remind you to be a respectful visitor by picking up all garbage as you travel. The fire danger level is code red this week, so please, no campfires in the forest; remember, only you can prevent forest fires..."]

They are absolute masters of the terrain, and pretty much know everything there is to know about the monsters and humans in any area. They are likely to be keeping tabs on any intruders, probably in an unobtrusive animal form.

Depending on the actions and attitudes of the PCs, the local druids can either be guardian angels or avenging angels:

--A druid might help the PCs out of a tight spot, or provide them with some saving resource.
--A druid might reveal to the party a crucial piece of information about the area, like monster lair locations, or dungeon entrances.
--A druid might also attempt to recruit the PCs into an adventuring hook, like asking the PCs to take care of an intruding magic user who has been upsetting the balance of nature lately with his monster summoning and wacky experiments.
--If the PCs are the cause of the disturbance, or decide to disregard the "park rules", a druid may become the party's hostile stalker...

In Arizona Adventures, the druids maintain a headquarters of sorts in the area of Fountain Hills (south of the Tonto Forest, at the NE edge of the Phoenix valley), tending the sacred fountain there. They are the only group to be trusted by and have a positive relationship with the Elves of the Tonto Forest.

They also maintain a permanent liaison in Tempe to consult with and advise the Arya leaders there. The druids are privy to an widereaching network of knowledge, extending even outside the Arizona region, and so their counsel is well-regarded and highly sought-after. Their yearly blessing upon the domesticated animals and crops is also highly valued.

In return for the druids' services, the Arya leaders have agreed to recognized Celt sovereignty over the wilderness regions, and to seek the druid's permits for any major activities there. The Arya leaders also agree to send their clerics and fighters to combat any undead which make their way into the druid's wild lands.

Colorado River Encounters

The main problem for human civilization along the Colorado River is that most of its length is in deep rocky canyons. The river is deep and navigable in these areas, but is not condusive to agricultural uses, thus, major human settlements have not sprung up there.

In campaign terms, these areas definitely have some human river traffic and some human settlements, but it is mainly dominated by water-based creatures and monsters. This is especially true in the main lakes that have formed along the way.

All the river tributaries to the Colorado come from the east, from the Arizona side. There is nothing to the California side of the river, just harsh dead desert, effectively cutting the region off from the Pacific coast.

Giants and their Fishing Holes

An adventuring tourist to any one of these river lakes is likely to find Mountain Giants frolicking in the cool water, or fishing for giant catfish and giant crayfish for their evening meal.... [For the sake of gaming adventure, I am treating the man-made lakes formed by dams as existing in the same places, but the dams are non-human in origin. Thus, the dams are either natural features, or the creation of Giants, or other giant creatures.]

Lake Powell in the north part of the state, and Lake Mead near Sin City are the major huge lakes on the river, with hundreds of miles of jagged coastline and dark depths housing all manner of dangerous beasts. Along the south-flowing stretch of the river are found a series of smaller bodies of water: Lake Mohave, Goose Lake, Lake Havasu, and the Imperial Lake.


Aside from giant varieties of fish, eels, frogs, spiders, snakes, and crustaceons, other water creatures to be found in the lakes include aquatic ogres, aquatic trolls, dragon turtles, eyes of the deep, nereids, water nagas, sea hags, froghemoths, and sea serpents.

Humans Along the River

The only humans to be found settled in such areas tend to be powerful recluses who have the wherewithall to survive in such hostile regions. Aside from the ever-present network of druids, I am thinking mainly of magic users, with the rare chaotic-minded psionic. Perhaps a retired ranger or an exiled fighter lord on the run from justice can be found holed up in some river canyon as well.

Rumors of their powerful magics and huge loot stash would definitely attract wandering treasure hunters and adventures. Surely the old wizard/dread lord is long dead by now, his lair just waiting to be found and treasure hauled away....

Crabmen of the Salton Sea

The great inland Salton Sea is fed by the runoff from a branch stream of the Colorado on its far southern leg near Yuma. [For fantasy campaign purposes, I will consider the All-American Canal that runs along the US-Mexico border to be a natural stream that feeds the Salton Sea.]

The Salton Sea is a swarming nest of Crabmen civilization. They like the semi-salty water of the isolated inland sea, rarely venturing upsteam into the fresh water river or downstream into the open-water depths. Their strength and numbers prevent any permanent human settlement in the area.

Human forays into the Salton Sea are occasionally conducted to obtain some of the magical artifacts of the Crabmen, which are said to provide their human possessors with great survival advantages in watery environments... The captains of the Colorado River merchant fleet are said to possess such items, but it is not known whether they were obtained by force or by trade.

Storkmen of the Baja Gulf Delta

The Colorado continues its final leg downstream to empty into the Baja Gulf in a shallow water delta. The streams of the delta are too shallow for anything but small boats, thus, no ocean going vessels can sail upstream. The area is largely wild and unpopulated by humans, but is a friendly home to all manner of animal and sea life.

Huge flocks of birds are especially prominent here, with some sort of avian civilization ruled by the intelligent Storkmen. For the most part, the Storkmen lords are unfriendly to human intrusion upon their lands. However, the Storkmen are known for their love of finely crafted jewelry and glimmering statues (which are apparently helpful in their mating rituals), which allows for a certain amount of mutual trade. Human merchants have been known to set up arrangements with the Storkmen allowing them passage to conduct their trading business with ocean going suppliers.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Making the Mythic Mundane

I really like chatdemon's analysis of the overuse of mythic creatures, over at Stocking the Dungeon (http://stockingthedungeon.blogspot.com/2010/06/setting-campaign-mood-mundane.html).

His point: keep the magic alive by NOT using too many mythical creatures. His example was a throw-away minotaur encounter in Keep on the Borderlands. Mine would be sub-level of the Giant's keep, where 20-odd trolls populate a cave room, right next to a cave room with a ancient red dragon, next to a cave room with 10 fire giants, etc.... I found the The Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan to give off a similar feel, too overstocked, if you know what I mean.

I like the idea of an exploration, a discovery, wrapped in a puzzle and a mystery, surrounded by meaningful role-play, with a feeling of building suspense and mounting danger. If you want an exercise in victory via dice tossing, you would play Risk, right?

I am keeping the thrill in mythic monsters, by, number one, making the PCs human-centric. In Arizona Adventures, the different races are totally foreign. There are no random dwarves or elves cruising through town, and a visit to a elven forest or dwarven cave will be weird, and pregnant with danger. Heck, in my campaign, the different human races are mistrustful and competitive, and there is no such thing as a Common language.

The standard monsters in mythic Arizona are giants and dragons. Giant insects, birds, and mammals are also a regular feature of the dangerous wilderness, but they are large versions of regular animals, not mythic at all. The standard crew of humanoid tribes can add to the sense of drama and intrigue, as SENTIENT monsters create many adventuring hooks. But, come on, how deep in the monster manual do you need to dig to create a good adventure?

You should probably be able to number your list of standard/mundane monsters on two hands (e.g. dragon, giant, troll, goblin, orc, gnoll, centaur, werewolf, griffon, etc.). We consider them "mundane" monsters, because they are so common in our cultural myths, your players know of them and expect them to be there.

In other words, mythic creatures should be rarely used, and only used when set up with a meaningful context. In other words, chimeras/hydras/sphinx/medusa are not just part of the regular ecosystem. They a break in the regular fabric of the world, perhaps the creation of some insane mage, perhaps brought to our world from some foreign plane of existence, or working on behalf of some unknown god. Keep them special by keeping them rare, and using them only in the service of a larger story arc.

Of course, in the "mythic megadungeon" all bets are off, anything goes, and the appearance of the wonderous mythic is to be expected. (H.T. http://www.philotomy.com/#dungeon). Let's put it this way: there are dungeons built by human hands for human purposes, and there are dungeons built by dwarves and goblins, but then there are dungeons which seem to have a life and purpose of their own... With no known bottom, with seemingly random and shifting connections to various planes of existence... Every campaign should have at least one mythic megadungeon.

Experience and Advancement in Arizona Adventures

The overall theme for all my house rules is K.I.S.S. The lighter-weight the better, keep it fun and fast moving.

So, for XP, I go with the 100 XP per HD old-school ODD guideline. Simple to keep track of, simple to calculate, and gets our heros moving up relatively quickly. Especially in the context of not playing very often. If I'm ever back to having summers off and playing for hours every day, the more detailed XP calcs and harder-earned progression would be appropriate, but when you are only playing a couple hours two or three times a month, come on!

I am also a fan of the 1 GP = 1 XP rule. I put a slight twist on it, because I require the PCs to "go to school" to level up. Going to school requires tuition, right? So it is a built in requirement that PCs must acquire some treasure in order to be able to afford the tuition at their academy to progress in their career.

I set the tuition amount in GP at about 1/2 of the XP required for that level. For example, if She-Ra the Half-Elf magic user needs 2500 XP to level up to 2nd, the tuition for her training will be at least 1000 GP. So, as a newly minted 1st level witch fresh out of ASU (Applied Spellcasting University) in Tempe, she knows she can't level up without getting her hands on a pile of cash. Dangerous adventuring beckons! I mean, really, where else is she going to get that kind of money? The Wizards Guild is paying 1000 GP per vial of dragon's blood, hmmm, maybe that is a good place to start...

As the "points of light" are so spread out due to the Dawn of Civ setting, the training locations in Arizona Advntures are fairly limited and centralized:
--The good magic users are trained at ASU, while the evil ones attend NAU (Necromantic Arts University).
--The noble-minded fighters, cavaliers, and paladins are trained at the King's academy in Tempe
--Rangers are trained at the Wilderness Survival School in Wickenburg.
--Lower-class, neutral, and evil fighters find welcome at the rough frontier academy in Prescott. --Aryan clerics learn their trade under the high priests in the Tucson Temple, while Monmore clerics apprentice in Mesa.
--Druids study with the Celt wisemen at Fountain Hills.
--Thieves have a guild for further training available in either Tempe or Flagstaff (assassins in Flagstaff only).

Of course, going to school only works up to a certain point, probably level seven. After that, it is assumed that characters are progressing through their own hard-won experiences in the school of hard knocks.

P.S. It is also my practice that XP can be earned without "fight to the death" encounters. As encouraged in OSRIC, losing opponents will disengage and flee, and PCs earn XP by defeating monsters, not just for slaying them.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Best Table Ever

Random consequences for your drunken whoring? Yeah, we do that.


1. You're in love! You're going to have to go visit her EVERY TIME you're in town. 1d100% of your wealth goes to her during those visits as well. Save vs. your wisdom to break this cycle.2. You're in love, but it ain't because you wanna be! She tosses a charm person on your ass. Use your version's rules to adjudicate. 1d100% of your wealth goes to her every time you see her.3. Mamma got a squeeze-box... you didn't regain any health or rest enough to gain spells. You are one tired puppy. In fact, you're basically at risk for constitution rolls until you get a full day's rest. You stud!4. You're married! Congrats! 1d20% of your wealth went to the drunken wedding party after. Now you have to support 1d10 family members (parents, grandparents, siblings, children) too. 5. The pimp wasn't in no mood to see his bitch with you. 1d4 hp loss from the fight. 25% chance the local law got involved. 50/50 they believe you or him.6. Man, you run your mouth. If you are in possession of knowledge of some great treasure, very likely the local thugs are going to go after it first. Roll vs. intelligence to be aware that you ran your suck.7. Man, she ran her mouth! Good thing you were listening and now you're in possession of an oral treasure map. I hope you got those directions right.8. Go see the cleric for that Cure Disease spell. You need it, badly.9. Go see the cleric for that Cure Poison spell. Don't even ask.10. You shouldn't have called her THAT while she was ... well, you know. Not only did you take 1d4hp damage, but there's a 10% chance you ... well... suffered a scarring injury. Since I'm equal-gender offensive, this could count for both sexes.11. She wasn't who you thought she was! Now the local ruling class is UPSET that you've besmirched her honor. Better bribe or run.12. She wasn't what you thought she was! Polymorphed ugly bad monster. Roll for initiative...13. The law breaks down the door and you're in chains for murdering the working ladies. Except... you didn't. But she is messed up. What are you going to do? 14. You wake up cocooned in spider webbing in the middle of the wilderness. WTF?!?!15. You wake up in a graveyard in a coffin. WTF?!?!?16. You wake up in your own bed and there are strange marks all over your body. They don't wash off. Everyone now avoids you and makes the sign of warding evil. And why do you keep hearing evil laughter in the silence?17. You have the Gamblers Debt Mark! Just how much did you drink and why don't you remember gambling away your future? Who owns the mark? And when will they collect?18. You sly dog! Now she wants to work for you. And she says she has some information that could make you King of the Underworld. Do you trust her?19. ROBBED! 1d100% of your wealth and 1d6 items of yours are gone! 20. You wake up tied to an altar with a bunch of Amazonian women chanting to a very nasty looking demon idol. Wait... what are you doing with that knife THERE??!?!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Everyday Psionics - the Animal Whisperer

Wild psionics exist throughout society, and in a given campaign, can add great flavor to the role playing. Today: the Animal Whisperer.

The Animal Whisperer is a high-charisma individual who exhibits unconscious skills in the psionic type of Communication and Control***. In game terms, he is adept at Charm and Mass Charm. As a skill level 1 or 2 psionic, simple-minded creatures, like insects, reptiles, and fish, he can manipulate easily, while most mammals and birds respond to him readily enough with small efforts, especially when combined with mundane training techniques.

The Animal Whisperer typically advertizes his services as an animal trainer, and training hunting dogs and guard dogs is his stock and trade. He has also produced many prize-winning hunting falcons and messenger birds.

The Amimal Whisperer can also turn a nice profit as a caravan driver. The most stubborn mules move quickly and quietly when he is driving them. Veteran teams of docile draft horses seem to cover twice the ground per day under his guidance. Animals never spook or run away under his care, even when surrounded by fierce carnivorous threats that normally send pack animals bolting in panic.

The Animal Whisperer is also prized by ranchers at round-up time, and to bring back valuable animals which have escaped the herd. He can also be hired to break in wild stallions.

An Animal Whisperer of questionable ethics is also higly prized in the criminal underworld, being hired by thieves and assassins to neutralize guard animals.

The Animal Whisperer is always well-liked, with many would-be friends, including a large stock of female admirers. He attributes his luck with the ladies to his "charm and wit", but he secretly realizes that when he concentrates, he can subtely bend people to his will almost wordlessly. This power scares him, and he does not speak of it to anyone. [In game terms, the ability to Charm people is a skill-level 3 ability, so it is slightly beyond his power to control or exploit with confidence].

The Animal Whisperer is also secretly plagued with hearing voices inside his head, especially in crowds when he is tired or lets his mind wander. For this reason, despite his popularity, he tends to prefer solitude, and usually lives in untrafficked areas, alone with his menagerie of pets and animal companions.

*** Communication and Control type disciplines:
Charm, Confuse, Dispell Exhaustion, Emotion, Empathy, ESP, Hypnosis, Invisibility, Detect Lie, Dominate, Mass Charm, Mass Confuse, Mind Bar, Hold Creature, Sleep, Suggestion, Telepathy, Forget, Fumble, Hallucination, Possess, Summon, Feeblemind, Mass Dominate, Mass Hallucination, Commune with Dead, Contact Other Plane, Exorcise, Mass Possession, Commune with Divine, Commune with Nature, Geas, Hallucinatory Terrain.

The Sacred Mission of the Tucson Warrior Priests

Tucson is not a town, according to the usual definition of the word. It is essentially a sacred fortification. All the priests of the Aryan gods are required to perform service there as part of their religious training and duties. For it is in service to the Tucson Temple that the fighting spirits of our holy men are hammered into mature steel. The atmosphere there is monastic and disciplined, for, as they say, nothing focuses the mind quite like the threat of immediate, horrible death.

The warrior-priests of Tucson don't simply wait around for our dark enemies to encircle and envelope them. As we have learned through long practice and painful trial, the best defense in the war on the undead is an aggressive and forward offense. Regular patrols sally forth from Tucson, always pressing in upon the evil void that is Tombstone.

We have learned that whatever evil power is based there creating the Dark Hoardes, it is not self-sufficient. Which is to say, it cannot create its undead monsters from scratch, but requires a regular supply of corpses to animate into its undead service. Thus, the mission of Tucson is two-fold: destroy the undead monsters that emanate from that region, as well as prevent them from dragging more victims back to their source. Thus, the clerics of Tucson can be found all throughout the southern deserts, as by protecting the living everywhere, the powers of death are weakened.

The war appears to be going well. Our forays into the Tombstone region penetrate deeper and deeper every year. Our hope is to find the source of the undead armies, and destroy it forever.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

History and Current Status of Tucson

Tucson began as a fortified trading and supply post during the Great Migration. Migrant families would use Tucson as their final stop before arriving into the Phoenix Valley. The warriors of Tucson were charged with keeping the highway clear of goblin raiders from the northern mountains, along with dispatching the occasional giant or dragon which foolishly wandered too close. Through the decades of migration, a larger settled community grew up around the fort, and Tucson waxed strong as a thriving town.

That idyllic arrangement ended abruptly with the rise of the Dark Hoardes a century ago. Streaming out of the Tombstone region, the undead army swarmed across the desert every evening when darkness fell across the land. Killing all living creatures and smashing to dust any object fashioned by human hands, the Dark Hoardes seemed poised to extinguish the light of the living entirely. The ranks of the undead army were swelled as the corpses of their unfortunate victims were dragged back to Tombstone, thence to be animated with the curse of living death, and sent to join the Dark Army in its assault upon the living remnant.

Smaller settlements were swept away, and even the walls of Tucson were breached. Its citizens panicked as the dead hungry for flesh crawled through the town and over the King's castle ramparts. The noble and ancient clans of the Tucson were perched upon the scarp edge of extermination. But just as the castle walls were falling, and all hope for surivival seemed lost, a great magnificent light broke. The prayers of the faithful were heard, and powerfullly answered.

At the center of town, the walls of the Great Temple were suddenly burning, awash in towering flame. The cadre of temple priests sallied forth from within the temple walls, each of them bathed in a glowing ball of fire, which burned fierce and bright but consumed them not. The undead attackers hissed and groaned frightfully, and were burned into dust wherever they came into contact with the holy fire of the Aryan gods which the priests threw at them. The city rallied, and behind the sacred power of the warrior-priests of Tucson, the Dark Hoardes were for the first time, stymied.

The ensuing battle for Tucson is still the most storied battle in the history of human civilization in Arizona. As every Aryan child learns from birth, the Dark Hoarde, whose ultimate mind and leadership was never determined, seemed to concentrate all of its malign powers against that poor town. In the course of the savage battles that followed, the entire town was overrun and destroyed. Except of course, for the Temple, the one lone human artifice whose holy fires were never extinguished, though seemingly all the underworld was vomited up to snuff it out.

Such malignant creatures which rose up from the underworld in those days, had never been imagined before, whose very existence could scarcely be dreamed of by any but the most insane and depraved mind. Zombie dragons, skeletal giants, armies of goblin ghouls, what hellish creatures were not thrown against those Temple walls? And just as the battle seemed destined for loss, with the Temple's heroic defenders on the verge of complete exhaustion, with the full moon's light blotted out by the rising swarm of vampire bats, whose heart even today can fail to be roused by the arrival of the majestic Phoenix bird that night?

The Arya's long tradition of reverence and friendship for the sacred bird of the central desert was paid in full on that night. Was it motivated to pity by meagre but heartfelt human entreaty? Or was it moved simply by its own distaste for the putrescent swarms of undead impinging upon its desert lands? Perhaps none shall ever know, but the result was spectacular. The night lit up with firestorm, the vampire army, so recently gloating over, even arrogantly toying with their intended victims, suddenly broken, falling back in fear of heat, flame, and holy light. The seige was broken, and Tucson's living remant saved from certain extermination.

The next day, human reinforcements began pouring in to the Temple district from all over the region, and Tucson assumed the mantle that it wears to this day: forward bulwark against the Dark Hoardes of Tombstone. To this day, the warrior-priests of Tucson wage a never-ending battle against the forces of darkness emanating from that evil region.

As of today, the main power of the Dark Hoarde seems to be broken. The highway of the 10 Immortals is still contested ground, leaving our connection to the Great River kingdoms severed. And of course no living being dares approach the district of Tombstone proper. But at least no longer do undead hoardes threaten to overrun the human settlements of the desert lands.