Star Wars Gamemaster Handbook – A book that teaches gamemastering

Star Wars Gamemaster Handbook, West End Games, 1993.

The Star Wars Roleplaying Game by West End Games was first released in 1987, four years after Return of the Jedi had been in theaters. It got a second edition in 1992, which this time also included a Gamemaster Handbook that was released in 1993. This was 14 years after the first Dungeon Master’s Guide for AD&D 1st edition, and 2 years after the 2nd edition DMG. At the same time, Shadowrun had  been around for four years, Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay for seven, and Call of Cthulhu for twelve, so it really wasn’t entering into any completely unknown territory.

While I can’t really say anything about the later games, I am quite familiar with all the Dungeon Master’s Guides other than 4th edition, as well as the GM sections for a dozen or so retroclones based on B/X and AD&D 1st ed. But when I managed to get my hands on the Star Wars Gamemaster Handbook and read it, I discovered something that seemed amazing:

The Star Wars Gamemaster Handbook tells you how to be a Gamemaster!

“Well, duh!” you say? “That’s obviously what a gamemaster book is for.” Well, it should be obvious, but when you look at what passes as Dungeon Master’s Guides in D&D, it really isn’t. In the many editions I had both on the internet and with the players of my D&D 5th edition campaign (most of who have much more experience with it than I do), people regularly bring up how 5th edition is really unclear on how you’re supposed to actually run the game because it seems to assume that you run narrative-driven campaigns but all it’s rules are for dungeon crawling. Particularly older GMs express that the 5th edition DMG fails to even mention such basic things like how you make a map for a dungeon and fill it with content.

But this isn’t really a new thing. Since the very beginning, D&D has always assumed that GMs already know anything there is to preparing adventures and running the game, and all the GM content in the books consists of optional mechanics, lists to roll for randomly generated content, and magic items. What are you supposed to do with those to run an enjoyable game for new players? “Well, it’s obvious. Isn’t it.” But no, it isn’t.

The Star Wars Gamemaster Handbook is the complete opposite. It’s 126 pages and except for the example adventure that makes up the last 21 pages, there is a grand total of two stat blocks! Both as examples for the section that guides you through the process of creating named NPCs and translating them into game terms. Which don’t even take up one page in the twelve page chapter dedicated to this topic.

  • Chapter 1: Beginning Adventures, 10 pages, gives an overview of the process of coming up with adventure ideas and turning them into playable content that has some narrative structure to it.
  • Chapter 2: The Star Wars Adventure, 11 pages, expands on the previous chapter and goes into more detail about making full use of the unique setting and capturing the tone, pacing, and dynamics of Star Wars in a game.
  • Chapter 3: Setting, 11 pages, has great advice on using places and characters from the movies or creating your own material, with a focus on explaining what kind of elements you actually need to prepare, what is irrelevant, and the reason for it.
  • Chapter 4: Gamemaster Character, 12 pages, is all about thinking of NPCs as people first, and imagining them in ways that are memorable and makes them relevant to the events of the adventures and campaigns as individuals, and how to use them during actual play. Creating stat blocks for them is only a minor subject at the end of the chapter.
  • Chapter 5: Encounters, 13 pages, deals with encounters primarily as social interactions and what purpose individual encounters could serve to further the development of the narrative. There are a few sections on selecting the right amounts of hostiles for encounters that could turn violent, but it manages to do so without using any tables or stats.
  • Chapter 6: Equipment and Artifacts, 11 pages, is all about gear and related stuff, but doesn’t include any stats for specific items. It’s a chapter about resources that can be made available to PCs and NPCs and how they can drive the developing narrative of adventures as they unfold.
  • Chapter 7: Props, 7 pages, is about handouts and maps and the like.
  • Chapter 8: Improvisation, 8 pages, explains in simple and easy to understandable terms the concepts of prepared improvisation, or the art of equipping yourself with the tools you’re likely going to need to quickly address completely unplanned situations on the fly.
  • Chapter 9: Campaigns, 9 pages, lays out some basic ideas of running games for a long time through multiple adventures, in many ways approaching it from a perspective of sandboxing.
  • Chapter 10: Adventure “Tales of the Smoking Blaster”, 17 pages, is a simple adventure consisting of four episodes that shows how all the principles from the rest of the book could look like in practice.

To be fair, none of the things I’ve read in this book are seemed in any way new to me. I knew all of this before, and it doesn’t go very deeply into detail. But it took me 20 years to learn these things on my own and soaking up the wisdom of several dozens old-hand D&D GMs. And here it is, black and white on paper, spelled out in simple terms that are very much accessible to people completely new to RPGs, in a 27 year old book!

Now I am not a dungeon crawling GM. I am not a tactical fantasy wargame GM either. And there are different goals and requirements for different types of campaigns. But I feel that this is hands down the best GM book I’ve ever come across. It even beats Kevin Crawford’s Red Tide and Spears of the Dawn. They are very impressive books in their own right and do a great job at explaining the practices of sandbox settings in a D&D context. But they also fail to mention most of the information that is in the Gamemaster Handbook, like how you run NPCs as people and set up encounters to be interesting and memorable, apparently assuming that these things are obvious and already known. Like all other D&D books on gamemastering.

I think for most people reading this, there won’t be much new or particularly enlightening in this book either. But I think when any of us are asked by people who are new to RPGs (or maybe not) and first want to try their hand at being GMs but have no idea where to start, I think this book is still very much worth a huge recommendation. Not just for Star Wars, but for all RPGs in general. All the things that are laid out in this book would be really useful to know even when you want to run an OD&D dungeon crawl.

This book is fantastic, because it’s the only GM book I know that really teaches you how to be a GM instead of telling you about additional mechanics not included in the main rulebook. If my favorite RPG posters all got together to put together a guidebook on how to actually run games in basic and easy to understand terms, I don’t think I’d expect anything to be in it that isn’t already in the Gamemaster Handbook for the Star Wars Roleplaying Game 2nd edition from 1993.

I’m done with Dungeons & Dragons (again)

This week I finished my D&D 5th edition campaign that I’ve been running almost weekly over nearly five months for a total of 19 games. This has not only been the longest campaign I’ve been involved with, but also the first one that actually reached its conclusion. I think it’s also the best one I’ve ever run by a considerable margin. My experiences from running campaigns on and of over the many years since the 3rd edition was first released, but also the many theories about gamemastering that I’ve learned about in the seven years since I started this site finally came together in a way that made me feel like I actually knew what I was doing, and that things turned out more or less as I had intended. And in the process, I think I learned even more from this campaign than any other I’ve ran in the past.

So all taken together, this really was a huge success.

But one important thing I realized in the final third or so of the campaign is that D&D really is not the game for me. I feel like I am done with Dungeons & Dragons, but also with dungeons, as well as dragons.

One of the reasons is the particular style of fantasy that D&D is both build upon and it perpetuates through the mechanics of its rules. D&D fantasy is fantasy that does its primary worldbuilding through establishing mechanics and standards for how things work and how beings behave. It’s a form of fantasy that is structural and rational, with clear rules that everyone can understand, leading to expectations that players automatically bring to the game. It is the opposite of being magical, wondrous, and elusive, which to me defeats the overall purpose of fantsy. Everything becomes systemised, quantified, stiff, and bland. I do have some fond memories of The North of the Forgotten Realms, and think there’s some really cool sounding ideas about the less popular lands in the distant east. Dark Sun looks really cool with really great concepts, and there’s something unique and compelling about Planescape. But when you play campaigns in these settings, you’ll always be playing D&D, and players looking at everything through the D&D lense, trying to analyze their situation and formulate their plans by D&D logic.

While I think that the D&D mindset is not my cup of tea and that other styles of fantasy are much better, this is something that I could live with and accept as something that comes with entertaining the players. As a GM, my job is not to get the players to play the ideal fantasy campaign that I would want to play, but to give them the opportunity to play the way they want to play. (There is only darkness and despair down the path of telling the players how to play the campaign right.)

The bigger problem, and I think ultimately the dealbreaker, is that D&D is build around certain structures that I simply don’t find compatible with where my strength in the preparation and running of adventures lie. I just don’t get dungeons.

And it’s not like D&D needs dungeons because they are in the title of the game and players would be disappointed if they don’t get them. The whole game is based around dungeons on the most fundamental level. The game needs dungeons, not just as locations within the story but as a structure in gameplay. D&D is a game of attrition. If the party is facing just one villain, even one surrounded by guards and minions, the fight will either be very short, or very lethal for the PC. Single fights are not meant to be difficuly, they are meant to gnaw away on the endurance of the party. To play the game as it is designed to work, you need environments where the players will be facing six, eight, or ten fights in a row. And that is just not something that works in the kind of stories that I can create. For situations that make sense to me and that I feel will be rewarding for players, it almost never makes sense to have more than two or perhaps three encounters before leaving the place to regroup for the next outing on another day. When I make larger dungeons, they always end up as huge piles of guard creatures that serve little narrative function. Classical dungeons also regularly have puzzles, but I almost never find situations in which the presence of a puzzle would make sense and wouldn’t be nonsensical. You also can have nonhostile NPCs and creatures, and I often include those, but they don’t contribute to the attrition that games like D&D need. I often feel like I do rationally understand how dungeons are supposed to work, how they are structured, filled with content, and the purpose they have in a game. I just find them somewhat dull and completely out of place in the kind of adventures that I know how to make compelling and fun.

So what then about simply forgetting about all that attrition stuff and embracing the unlimited freedom to make the way whatever I want it to be. Yes, that certainly is an option. But what would really be the point of that? The main thing that broke the camel’s back for me with 3rd edition was the abundance of new class features and special abilities that characters get at almost all levels. And that’s something that is still present in 5th editon. Not quite as heavily as in 3rd, but still very much. Way too much, I think.

D&D is ultimately a game about pursuing experience to get access to new abilities. At least in the editions of the last 20 years, but it’s been like that for spellcasters since the very beginning. D&D is a game about getting new special abilities. It’s a main element of what drives players forward, and the prospect of new abilities is what makes players pick their character concepts. The group I had for my last campaign was amazing. They all went all in, head first, with all the narrative freeform nonsense I presented to them. But even these players were constantly talking about the new abilities they were looking forward to after and between games, and they were always proud to tell each other what cool new tricks they just got when they reached a new level. This is something that is baked into the game. This is what the game is about. And I feel that when you run adventures for the group in which most situations don’t result in fighting, then what is the point of running D&D? I am feeling very confident that I am certainly able to run cool and fun adventures. But when I run D&D, I have to provide plenty of opportunities for the players to use their wide and always increasing range of cool special abilities, and I simply don’t see how to do that in adventures that are cool and fun.

Dungeons & Dragons is not for me. If a group of players I like to play with invites me to a game of D&D, I probably wouldn’t say no. As long as I don’t have to come up with adventures that provide something to be entertaining for the players, I have no problem with it, even when I think other games would be even more fun. But running D&D sets requirements and limitations for the GM that don’t work with my abilities as a GM and what I consider enjoyable about gamemastering. Perhaps if the planets happen to align and some unexpected circumstances arise, I might possibly run a B/X campaign or something of a similar type. They are nowhere near as burdened by special abilities, but in the end they are still games about large dungeons filled with monsters and puzzles. I much more see my future with heroic fantasy games looking like Barbarians of Lemuria. Or perhaps some Apocalypse World. But for now it’s Star Wars all the way. And not the Star Wars with the D&D class features, or the Star Wars with the funky dice. The original Star Wars d6 game, where all the dice you need are d6s, and all your character’s abilities are the basic skill rolls. Rules light rules at their best.

Star Destroyers are big!

Yes, of course they are big. Everyone knows they are big. That’s their thing.

But in the movies we only ever see one of them next to a Corellian Corvette, which is one of the very smallest ships that is still considered in the capital ship category. A number of additional capital ships have become well established in the Expanded Universe over the decades, each with their own listed lengths. But seeing the numbers on paper usually does not really give a true sense of the relative sizes. A ship that is twice as long as another ship of the same shape is not twice as big in total mass and volume, but eight times as big.

To better visualize this I took images of the various ships that make the most frequent appearances and put them together side by side at the same scale. And it turns out, Star Destroyers are really big.

Top to bottom: GR-75 Medium Transport (90m), Action VI Bulk Freighter (125m), CR90 Corellian Corvette (150m), Lancer Frigate (250m), Nebulon-B Frigate (300m), Carrack Light Cruiser (350m), Strike-class Medium Cruiser (450m), Dreadnought-class Heavy Cruiser (600m), Victory Star Destroyer (900m); in background: USS Nimitz (333m), Interdictor cruiser (600m), Imperial Star Destroyer (1,600m)
Top to bottom: Victory Star Destroyer (900m), MC80 Star Cruiser (1,200m), Imperial Star Destroyer (1,600m)

In the movies, the Imperial Star Destroyers are simply very big, with no real reference to how they compare to other large warships. But against the most common ship types of the Expanded Universe, they are still absolutely massive. There really isn’t anything in their weight class except for the occasional obscure one-off appearances.

Because the Mon Calamari MC80 cruisers are over a thousand meters long, I always had assumed that they are comparable to Imperial Star Destroyers. But seeing them side by side that really is not the case. The MC80 is actually most comparable to the Victory Star Destroyer, which is usually seen as the miniature version of the Imperial Star Destroyer.

And again, the Victory Star Destroyer is not a small ship itself. It is still absolutely enormous. When Dreadnoughts were introduced in the Expanded Universe, they were usually portrayed in a way that made them seem like extremely large and powerful ships, or at the very least would have been during the Clone Wars. Apparently the biggest ships the Old Republic had in its fleet. But at 600 meters in length and with a relatively narrow shape, they are already dwarfed by a Victory Star Destroyer and appear almost tiny next to an Imperial Star Destroyer.

When I create stuff for Star Wars, I always try to take the three movies at face value, taking them as my reference frame for what the Star Wars universe is by default. But in light of this comparison, sending four Imperial Star Destroyers into an asteroid field to chase the Millennium Falcon was absolute overkill. And as much as it pains me as someone who regards The Empire Strikes Back as the best movie ever made, the Super Star Destroyer was just stupid.

When it comes to having Imperial ships make appearances in Star Wars adventures, I think Star Destroyers should be reserved for scenes of particular significance. Using them as the go to Imperial warship for most common space encounters lessens the impact their incredible size and power can have. The appearance of Star Destroyers near a planet where the heroes are on a mission, even a Victory Destroyer, can be used as a very effective signal that the stakes have been raised well above normal. Because when there’s a Star Destroyer, there’s always a huge number of TIE Fighters, and even larger numbers of Stormtroopers that could be on the ground. A Star Destroyer is a threat you can not really fight. Your only options are to try to hide or to run. But unless you have a huge fleet on your side, you’re not going to defeat it in battle. And if you manage to get on board of one to sabotage it, your only hope is to evade the thousands of Stormtroopers. You’re not going to defeat them and capture the ship.

It’s just too damn big!

Records of Inixon, Day 27: Snakes and Pirates

Day 26: 4th Day, 9th Month, Year 507

After having defeated the pirates, Ilmari went to talk with the freed prisoners. They told him that most of them were fishermen who had been caught by the pirates, but apparently the people who had the pirates hunting for slaves didn’t want them to draw attention to their home base and so the pirates kept them in their camp instead. The other prisoners still at the pirate camp had been left there because they were not healthy enough for whatever their masters were needing them for.

Meanwhile Alamar and Haren interrogated the four pirates who had surrendered, who told them that their captain had made regular trips to the main island to deliver the slaves they had captured or were transporting from the cult outpost on the mainland. Not wanting to risk the prisoners causing them any trouble in the future, the two executed all four of them.

After searching the camp and the pirates stores for anything useful, it was decided to give the second pirate ship that was docked at the pier to the fishermen so they could return to their villages. An offer to join in the hunt for the pirates’ masters was declined.
Since they were not certain that all the pirates had been killed and there could still be more out there, the whole camp was then set on fire and burned down completely.

The next morning the ship headed northeast to search for the place the captured slaves had been delivered to. When they came close to the location indicated by the interrogated pirates on a map, Haren, Alamar, Ilmari, and Sagari took a boat to the beach to scout ahead on foot. As they were trying to cross a muddy river flowing from the forest into the sea, they were attacked by an enormous crocodile. It managed to land a hard strike on Ilmari, but was quickly killed by Haren and Alamar.

Continuing along the beach, the group soon spotted a small bay with several ancient white marble ruins that still showed some signs of the architecture of the ancient Naga. The ground had been dug up and huge piles of earth were surrounding the ruins. Sagari sent out Jawa to scout out the area, who spotted a group of frog men digging in the ruins and half a dozen armed reptilian humanoids patrolling the area. There were also several tunnel entrances in the surrounding hill sides, which raised the possibility of much larger numbers of warriors being present inside.

Sagari and Ilmari sneaked forward along the edge of the jungle and ambushed two of the patrolling serpentmen with a sleep spell. Sagari then created an illusion of a small shack around the two prisoners to fool them into believing they had been taken far away from the ruins while they were out. The first of the two prisoners refused to say anything to his captors and did not respond to any intimidations from Ilmari and Haren, so they killed him to get the other one to talk. Alamar telepathically whispered into the mind of the captive that he was an allied servant of the Naga and managed to convince him to tell his captors what they wanted to know, as it would make an ambush waiting for them more believable. He told them that there was a Naga in charge of the camp, and about a dozen serpentmen warriors, as well as numerous slaves who were doing the excavation. Feeling confident that they would be able to deal with these forces if an open battle broke out, and convinced that the reptilian slavers were cruel and heartless masters, they killed the second prisoner as well and went to make plans for entering the ruins.

Records of Inixon, Day 26: Thieves and beggars, never shall we die

Day 26: 4th Day, 9th Month, Year 507

After returning from the crypt, it was decided to take the ship northwest to search for the presumed pirate ship that had been spotted by Sagari’s familiar Jawa earlier. In the evening they discovered another group of small islands some distance off the coast of Inixon, where Jawa spotted the ship again, docked in a large camp sitting between the beach and a steep cliff. Using his ability to turn invisible, he searched the camp further and found a fenced off area where several prisoners from both the local tribes and the mainland were being kept.

A plan was made to wait for nightfall and then have Jawa take some spare weapons from the ship and drop them outside the huts of the prisoners. Meanwhile the ship was kept out of sight behind one of the islands while Haren, Alamar, Ilmari, and Sagari took small boats and the ogre Hai, and six of their sailors to land on the beach outside the sight of the guard towers.

Sagari attempted to use his magic to put two men working at the forge to sleep, but when only one of them was taken out, Ilmari quickly ran up to silently kill the other without waking the nearby sleeping guard beasts. Alamar teleported up to one of the guard towers and killed the sentry as well. They then proceeded further into the camp and managed to kill three more pirates and two guard beasts with only little noise, and signalled their crew to move up. They began looking into some of the small huts and managed to kill several more pirates before the noise woke up others that had already gone to sleep, but they had already killed a dozen of the pirates before their attack grew into a full out battle.

As more and more pirates appeared from their huts and came running from many directions and more guard beasts charged at them, Sagari decided that it was time to use the magic gem they had taken from Perang’s house in Tual, and threw it into the water to summon an elemental. In the chaos, the prisoners took up the weapons they had been given and started to break through the fence that held them. Some particularly mean pirates who had put on their armor emerged from some huts that were build into the side of the cliff, and Haren climbed up a ladder to fight them. Sagari cast an illusion on the pirate shouting orders, who began trying to fight off an imaginary fire elemental, causing the men behind him to fall back and remain stuck on the narrow walkway. So Haren turned around to face some pirates on the walkway behind him.

One the other side of the cliff, a woman with a staff and white face paint came from one of the huts, casting magic at the escaping prisoners that were joining into the fight below her. Alamar climbed on the roof of a larger house and began shooting her with magic, and Ilmari took up his bow to help take her down. Meanwhile the water elemental that Sagari had summoned turned towards the ship to prevent it from leaving, causing some of the remaining pirates to foolishly jump into the water to escape. When the battle started to come to an end, Haren charged back towards the pirate leader, who attempted to make an escape by climbing up the roof of his hut and jump to other huts behind it. Haren managed to corner him and told him to surrender, as several dozens of his mean where already dead. But he refused to give up without a fight and turned on Haren with his sword, who faugth back while Alamar and Ilmari assaulted him with magic and arrows. When the leader fell, the last four pirates that attempted to break out of a cave within the cliff gave up and the fight and asked to surrender.

Faction Spells

I am working on a concept for a Planescape campaign, and part of it includes modifying several tanar’ri, yugoloths, and other planar creatures from their 5th edition version to give them back their magical abilities that got lost somewhere along the way. And their Intelligence scores. I really have no idea what anyone was thinking with a marilith and nalfeshnee that don’t have any spells, or an alkilith and hezrou with an Intelligence of 6 and 5 respectively. These are demons, not ogres! And ultrolths at the same relative power level as beholders, storm giants, and nalfeshnees? Oh, please! You can run these monsters, but it wouldn’t be Planescape.

While I was making the updated monster stats and restored their lists of spells to something that would reflect the original abilities at least in spirit, I got the idea that spellcasting NPCs from the planar factions could also have lists of commonly used spells that reflect the spirits of their beliefs and organizations.

The results of this effort vary greatly. For the Athar, Godsmen, and Guvners I didn’t get anything, and for the Ciphers and Xaositects the lists also ended up very short (to the point where they will likely be undetectable as a pattern when players encounter them). But that’s alright I think. This can simply be something that is a prominent feature of some factions but not others.

When creating NPCs that could potentially be fought or provide magical assistance, the following lists are my starting point. I think these spells would also be the first ones that would be offered to PCs who are joining the factions and are looking for assistance and training from their new allies.

The Bleak Cabal

The Bleakers would have an interest in spells that cause madness in others and also preserve their own sanity. There’s not a lot of those in 5th edition, but these are certainly spells that many Bleaker spellcasters would be happy to have in their arsenal.

  • Cantrips: vicious mockery
  • 1st level: dissonant whispers, hideous laughter
  • 2nd level: calm emotions
  • 3rd level: fear
  • 4th level: confusion
  • 6th level: eyebite, irresistible dance
  • 8th level: feeblemind, mind blank
Doomguard

The Sinkers are all over entropy, and as such would be very much into all spells that either drain the strength from creatures or cause decay in the environment. And there’s really quite a lot of spells of this kind.

  • 1st level: arms of hadar, bane, ray of sickness, sleep
  • 2nd level: blindness, darkness, ray of enfeeblement, silence
  • 3rd level: bestow curse, hunger of hadar, slow, vampiric touch
  • 4th level: blight
  • 5th level: contagion
  • 6th level: circle of death, disintegrate, harm
  • 7th level: finger of death
Dustmen

For the Dusties everything revolves around death, so they would commonly use all kinds of necromancies. But they are also very much opposed to people dying before their time has come, or returning from death after their life has ended. As such, they would be using spells that keep people at and make them come back from the brink of death. They are of course also interested in interacting with the undead.

  • Cantrip: chill touch, spare the dying
  • 1st level: false life
  • 2nd level: gentle repose
  • 3rd level: animate dead, feign death, revivify, speak with dead
  • 4th level: death ward
  • 5th level: antilife shell
  • 6th level: create undead
Fated

The Takers believe that everything rightfully belongs to those who can take it and keep it. The most deserving people are those with the determination to do what it takes to get what they want. Unfortunately there are not a lot of spells to get things, but I think spells that help characters to keep the things they have would also be a perfect fit for this faction.

  • 1st level: alarm
  • 2nd level: arcane lock, knock, locate object
  • 3rd level: glyph of warding
  • 4th level: private sanctum, secret chest
  • 7th level: sequester
Free League

The Indeps hardly even count as a faction, sharing only the desire to not have to pledge allegiance to any other faction and simply be left alone to do as they please. Spells that allow them to avoid and escape control and detainment are great spells to help them maintain their freedom.

  • 1st level: expeditious retreat
  • 2nd level: misty step, sanctuary
  • 3rd level: haste
  • 4th level: freedom of movement
  • 5th level: passwall
  • 8th level: mind blank
Harmonium

The only thing the Hardheads ever really want is for everyone to comply and obey. They do want to make everyone adopt their beliefs and comply voluntarily, but they are really not above making people follow their rules by force when needed.

  • 1st level: command
  • 2nd level: detect thoughts, enthrall, hold person, suggestion
  • 5th level: dominate person, geas, hold monster
  • 6th level: mass suggestion
Mercykillers

They are all about delivering punishment to the guilty. There are plenty of spells to apprehend and imprison those who are trying to escape their just fate.

  • 1st level: compel duel, hellish rebuke, hex
  • 2nd level: hold person, see invisibility, silence
  • 3rd level: bestow curse, slow, stinking cloud
  • 4th level: locate creature, resilient sphere
  • 5th level: hold monster
  • 7th level: forcecage
  • 8th level: maze
  • 9th level: imprisonment, true seeing
Revolutionary League

The Anarchists are constantly working to overthrow the people in power and living their whole existence in complete paranoia. Anything that helps with maintaining secrecy is just the thing they need.

  • 1st level: disguise self, illusory script
  • 2nd level: detect thoughts, invisibility, knock, pass without trace
  • 3rd level: nondetection
  • 4th level: arcane eye, greater invisibility, private sanctum
  • 5th level: mislead, seeming
  • 8th level: mind blank
Sign of One

The Signers reject your reality and substitute their own. Pretty much all illusions and transmutations, as well as several enchantments are exactly the kind of magic they are looking for.

  • Cantrip: minor illusion
  • 1st level: charm person, disguise self, silent image
  • 2nd level: alter self, phantasmal force, suggestion
  • 3rd level: counterspell, dispel magic, major image
  • 4th level: fabricate, hallucinatory terrain, phantasmal killer, polymorph
  • 5th level: creation, modify memory, seeming
  • 6th level: mass suggestion, programmed illusion
  • 7th level: magnificent mansion, mirage arcane, simulacrum
  • 8th level: demiplane
  • 9th level: true polymorph, weird, wish
Society of Sensation

The Sensates seek to experience the Multiverse in as many ways as possible, so they can fully see the big picture behind everything and make sense of all existence. Like the Signers they would be very much interested in transmutations that let them experiences the forms of other creatures, but also in divinations that let them perceive what is usually hidden from their ordinary senses. Additionally, spells that help them survive particularly dangerous experiences are of great use to the Sensates.

  • Cantrips: resistance
  • 1st level: comprehend languages, identify, purify food and drink
  • 2nd level: alter self, beast sense, darkvision, protection from poison, see invisibility
  • 3rd level: clairvoyance, protection from energy, water breathing
  • 4th level: arcane eye, polymorph
  • 5th level: legend lore, scrying
  • 6th level: magic jar
  • 9th level: shapechange, true seeing
The Transcendent Order

The Ciphers believe that all the challenges of the Multiverse are not solved through reason, but through instinct. The Ciphers don’t think about threats they encounter or make plans or come up with tactics. They simply act, without hesitations or doubts, in the firm belief that everything will just work out as it’s supposed to.

  • Cantrip: guidance, resistance
  • 2nd level: enhance ability
  • 3rd level: haste, water walk
  • 8th level: mind blank
  • 9th level: foresight, time stop
Xaositects

Chaos is its own reward.

  • 2nd level: misty step
  • 3rd level: blink, hypnotic pattern
  • 4th level: confusion
  • 5th level: animate objects
  • 7th level: prismatic spray, reverse gravity

There might be more that I have not yet thought of. It seems rather suspicious to me that the concept I have in mind for the campaign would feature the Bleakers, Doomguards, Dustmen, Anarchists, Signers, and Sensates in quite prominent roles, and that these just happen to have the largest and most evocative spell lists. Though that could just be coincidence. Something about the Rule of Three or something.

Records of Inixon, Day 24: Sticks and Bones

Day 24: 2nd Day, 9th Month, Year 507

When the ship reached the Sui town Mora, several warriors with spears and war paint where already at the docks watching their arrival. The locals seemed friendly enough, but the warriors asked about their business and were told that the group was searching for old ruins. They went to see the chief of the town but where told to come back in the morning, and so they went to have a look at the town’s trade post that was run by a friendly mainlander named Zeb, who was able to provide them with some basic information about the island. Being far from any sea routes, Inixon didn’t see much traffic from ships passing through, and even the Sui tribes had only started settling on the island a few generations ago. There were some ruins in the jungle that most people didn’t pay much attention to, and in recent months there had been some pirates in the area south of the island, which was why the Sui warriors were a bit more cautious about visitors than usual.

Day 25: 3rd Day, 9th Month, Year 507

The next morning the group returned to the house of Chief Dura, presenting gifts of two golden cups they had taken from Perang’s mansion and an expensive wine they bought from Zeb. They told the chief that they had come to Inixon to search for ruins and showed him a copy of Kamar’s treasure map that did not show the treasure’s location. The chief’s son recognized the small islands that were shown on the map and showed them their location on their navigational charts, which didn’t show these parts of the Southern Islands in much detail.

After leaving the chief’s house, the group walked to the nearby temple of the Sui not far into the jungle. They were unable to hire one of the Shaman’s apprentices to help them on their expedition, but stocked up on healing potions and antitoxins.

Soon after, they returned to their ship to begin their search for the hidden treasure.

Day 26: 4th Day, 9th Month, Year 507

Later in the day, the ship reached the small island off the coast South from Inixon and spotted the distinctively shaped rocky hill that was drawn on Kamar’s map. Sagari send his sea drake Jawa to fly over the island and search for signs of habitation, and he soon spotted a large ship in the waters on the other side of the island. Sagari told him to go and take a closer look, and after a short wait determined that it looked very much like a pirate ship, heading North to Inixon. With the ship not being able to spot theirs, and currently heading away, it was decided to first look for the treasure that was almost at hand, and follow the other ship’s course later.

Haren, Alamar, Ilmari, and Sagari took a boat to the island and after a short search discovered a small and simple doorway made from three heavy stone blocks, that lead into the hill. Inside the doorway was a small cave that had some old scattered bones in it, so Jawa turned himself invisible to search the passage leading deeper into the earth. Roots from the jungle above were growing through the ceiling and along the walls, and Jawa discovered several moldy skeletons that were tangled up in the dense roots. Tugging at the leg of a skeleton made it come to life and swipe at Jawa, which made him quickly return to the entry cave. Four creatures consisting of tangles of bones, roots, and mold came shuffling from the passage and Haren stepped forward to stop them as they emerged from the tight and narrow tunnel. They were easily felled but kept getting back to their feet and continuing their attacks until an ice spell from Ilmari and some burning oil proved successful in destroying them, making the others retreat back into the darkness.

The group carefully continued their journey into the small passages that were covered in tree roots and had many small shelves cut into their walls, some of which held old crumbling skeletons. They encountered more of the bone and root creatures that tried to ambush them from both sides, but were soon fought off, with the survivors retreating again into the tangled maze. Eventually they reached another doorway of big stone blocks that was blocked by crumbling and moldy woodden planks. Haren tried to kick them apart, but got covered in a cloud of poisonous mold. Ilmari used his ice magic to destroy the mold covering the planks and the doorway and they continued into the next chamber. Sitting on a stone throne was the skeleton of a tall humanoid creature with a fanged inhuman head. In it’s hands it held an old sword and large yellow stone. After Alamar checked the throne and the skeleton for magic, only the sword and the stone turned out to be enchanted. Haren carefully approached the skeleton and not taking any risk chopped off the skeleton’s hand with his axe before reaching for the sword. When nothing happened, Jawa picked up the stone from the skeleton’s other hand and handed it to Sagari. Everyone agreed to take a rest in the chamber with the throne before attempting the return back the entrance of the tomb.

Records of Inixon, Day 24: The Reefs

On the fifth day of the journey through the Southern Islands, the mountains and jungle covered shores of Inixon appeared in the distance in the afternoon. As the ship slowed down to carefully navigate the reefs around the island, a sailor called out creatures in the water swimming alongside the ship. Suddenly the ship was janked sharply to the right and then pulled back hard to the left, coming to a very sudden stop that threw many of the sailors to their feet. A heavy cloud was forming right above the masts and Alamar was send below the deck to get the magic conch shell they had taken from Perang’s mansion in Tual. A dozen humanoid fish creatures started climbing up the sides of the ship armed with spears and jagged knives. Alamar appeared with the shell and blew into it, which caused the fish men to turn their heads and step back from their intended attack on the sailors.

Sagari stepped forward to talk with them in the language of water spirits, and the leader of the fish men told them that they would not kill and eat everyone on the ship because they had blown the magic shell, but they still needed to pay the sacrifice in blood. It was quickly decided to bring up one of the goats they had taken from the cult lair in Orlane, which was then killed and thrown into the water by the leader of the fishmen. On that signal all the fishmen jumped back into the water, the cloud above the ship disappeared in the wind, and the ship continued its journey towards the nearby island.

Not long after, a strange sound could be heard on the wind and the ship changed directions. Alamar suddenly started walking towards the front of the ship but Haren managed to catch him before he could throw himself into the water. The sounds came from sharp rocks reaching out of the water ahead, and Sagari send his water drake familiar to dive into the sea to see what might be causing the sounds. In the water around the rocks were three sirens with long sea serpent tails whose singing had clearly been affecting Alamar and some of the sailors. Realizing that their ship wasn’t being pulled to the rocks, someone pushed Jiub away from the rudder and turned it back towards the safe passage before they crashed into the reef.

With their luring song having been foiled, the sirens jumped out of the water flew towards the ship on huge wing-like fins. Sagari used his magic to force one of the sirens to flee from the ship at the start of the fight and in a fierce fight the other two sirens were killed. With the port on Inixon already becoming visible ahead, it was decided to hang the two sirens from the masts as trophies instead of throwing them back into the water.