The latest map and an updated overview of Kaendor

My old computer has been reaching the end of its life and the backup I am using now just doesn’t have the power to handle the large file sizes I usually like to work with, so for the time being I am limiting myself to basic layout sketches without trying to make them look pretty as handouts for players. I also decided to limit the scope of this map to just the part of the continent that I actually need for planning my next campaign.

30 miles per hex, 900 miles by 1800 miles.

This area actually covers a good 90% of all the content that I have already created for the setting. There’s still the far northern lands of Venlat where the white skinned and white haired Kuri live under the rule of Maiv the Witch Queen, but I am quite happy with that being a far off distant land that has no direct contact with the main civilized region shown on this map.

Senkand

On the east side of the map is a huge valley between two mountain ranges with a total size roughly on the same scale of France or Spain. I think that’s as big as I can go with the main city states (maked in red) still having meaningful regular interactions with each other. The eastern mountains and highlands are the lands of the Yao mountain people, while the great plain in the center of the valley is the lands of the Murya sorcerer kings. The woodlands north of Senkand are the home of the Fenhail tribes.

This incarnation of Senkand takes a lot of inspirations from Dark Sun, but instead of a barren desert its environment is more like Northern Spain and southern France, with the mountains being comparable to the Pyreneese and the Alps. In earlier versions of the setting it used to be more like the coasts of Greece and Southern Italy, but in the process of downscaling the city states considerably to make a more wilderness focused setting, I decided to drop the Mediterranean port city model (which is more a think of Antiquity) with the river valley structure that dominated in the Bronze Age.

I don’t have any specific plans for campaigns set in the east and I mostly want it to be background material for NPCs and factions. Though I think it would be a perfectly playable region that still works in the overall style I am pursuing with Kaendor.

Dainiva

The center of the map consists of a large region of temperate-warm woodlands that are bordered in the east by the mountains that separate it from the city states of Senkand, and in the west by a great river that marks the edge of the known world for most people. This area is what Kaendor was always meant to be about and that is most reflective of the kind of environment implied by the Dungeons & Dragons Basic and Expert rules. A vast wilderness full of ruins, monsters, and treasures, and only a few scattered villages and forts.

Dainiva, as well as the forests beyond the great river, were once the realm of the asura who ruled there for thousands of years. Their presence alone was what had kept the various early societies of Senkand from attempting to cross the mountains. But now the asura are almost entirely gone, and the lands of Dainiva have been abandoned for many centuries. The first people to cross the mountains where Murya shamans and witches seeking the occult secrets of the great asura kings. They brought back great amounts of esoteric knowledge about other realms and demons that became the basis of sorcery, but many of them stayed in the lands beyond the mountains to delve deeper into what the asura had discovered before them. Whatever they found, something covered the peaks of the mountains in clouds of poisonous ash and made the few passes crawl with ghouls and other undead horrors. For many generations crossing the mountains was all out impossible, but over time clouds of ash become more rare and the undead only rarely seen. Slowly Murya from Senkand resumed making the crossing into the lands beyond the mountains, while further north some Fenhail and the occasional Yao made the journey through the forest. Most of the people who came to Dainiva and settled down had fled from Senkand for one reason or another, which greately affected the kind of society that developed in the west.

The woods of Dainiva are home to scattered villages of rarely more than a few hundred people, often surrounded by wooden palisades or build on top of defensible hills and cliffs. Hunting is just as much a part of daily life as farming and great amounts of tools and weapons found by local traders have been imported from the East. The woods are also filled with ancient asura ruins, as well as the lairs and tombs of the first sorcerers.

Beyond the Great River

While the woodlands of Dainiva are a barely explored frontier, the lands on the western bank of the great river are a completely unknown wilderness. Rumors are that those distant forests are still ruled by asura kings, the mountains swarming with dragons, and that ancient gods are walking among the trees. But in truth almost nobdy ever returned to the taverns and trade posts of Dainiva with any proof that they actually had made it to the other side.

The Yellow Crystals Fields

There is something about areas that have been corrupted the demonic powers of sorcery that occadionally leads to the growth of formations of pale yellow crystals that can grow to enormous size. The crystals are extremely hard and almost impossible to remove once they have started to appear.

Instead of feeding on the sorcerous power lingering at the sites of demonic rituals, the destruction of powerful demons, or the lairs of ancient sorcerers, the growth of the crystals appears to actually increase the corruption of the surrounding area. While the initial spread of the crystals can happen quite rapidly over the span of just months, the growth seems to slow down and stop eventually. If this were not the case, some sages think the crystals could eventually take over the entire world, and would likely have done so long ago.

But even if they don’t pose a serious threat to the world as a whole, the areas covered by the hard yellow formations are left as otherwise barren wastelands. In many places corrupted by sorcery, the demonic influence seems to slowly ebb away over the course of man centuries and eventually become barely detectable. But as far as everyone’s been able to tell so far, the crystaline formations are eternal.

The crystals have some limited uses in a number of sorcerous rituals, but their incredible hardness makes it very difficult to remove large chunks of it. The corruption around them also makes them dangerous to carry, so there is little trade with these crystals among alchemists.

The Golems of Dainiva

Throughout the vast reaches of the Dainiva Forest rest the ancient and overgrown remains of massive stone giants. Sometimes found slumped against a hillside, sitting slouched among the trees, or lying face down in a river, these silent golems offer scarce insights into how they got to their final resting places.

Even though often heavily weathered, missing large pieces, and covered in moss and lichens, each of these golems seems to have had a unique appearance, with no two known examples being the same in size, proportions, or the stone they are made from. Some appear merely mishapen hunks of rock whose blunt arms and legs only distantly resemble a person, while others show great amount of carving and chisseling to give them simple but distinguishing faces and hands and the proportions of a roughly hewn statue.

The origins of the golems is a mystery lost to time. The clans of Dainiva and the surrounding lands have no stories of their creation, or even about them being encountered alive. As far as everyone knowns, they have always been sitting motionless under the canopy of the forest. With no way to tell their original purpose, they now only serve as landmarks for the occasional hunters making their way through the forest.

Midnight is coming back

I was thinking about some kind of pun for the title, but couldn’t come up with even a stupid one.

Back in the days of the avalance of d20 books based on the D&D 3rd edition, the Midnight campaign setting stood out well above everything else in quality. Though that didn’t seem to make it any more popular. It actually had a number of books with outstanding high production values. I think the only other thing in the same league was the second edition of the Conan d20 game, but that really was just the d20 system with a complete replacement of all content. Midnight on the other hand was still a D&D campaign setting.

And I remember anytime it was brought up in conversations, there was immediately a couple of people agreeing that it was a really cool that would be great to play in. I’m not quite sure when it became the common catchphrase for the game, but it could practically use “If Sauron had won” as its tag line. Everyone who reads about it seems to get this same impression of it.

It’s a pretty generic fantasy world, but somehow the god of evil was cast out of the realm of the gods, with the unforseen consequence that the worlds of the gods and mortals were forever separated. Leaving the god of evil with no real opposition in leading his armies of orcs to a conquest of the mortal lands. Most of the known world is now under the tyrannical occupation of the orc priests, with only the elven forest and a few other places still holding off the siege. There is no real hope that the dark gods forces could ever be driven back.

And apparently, the setting is now being relaunched. The announcement seems to have been a while back, but I only heard about it now. Talk is not about a 5th edition campaign setting but about a Midnight RPG based on 5th edition. I remember the original setting not having any clerics and paladins, since there are no gods, and a special cleric variant for priests of the dark god. Druids and rangers might also have been restricted, and I remember there being a special new spellcasting class that takes their role with a more limited access to magic. So my uninformed guess would be that the new setting is getting it’s own Rulebook that will likely still be pretty much 5th edition, but with all the setting-specifc changes to classes, magic, and races, and new feats already baked in. With it being sold as a game rather than a setting, I also expect it to stick with the original races and not include for example dragonborn and tieflings. Though warlocks would fit perfectly into it. While I doubt there will be a great market for people who want Midnight but don’t have the D&D rulebooks already, having everything in one tome with all the additions and the unavailable stuff removed seemd very useful. That would be at least what I am expecting.

The sad thing about Midnight was that it didn’t really take of back in the day like a good number of people thought it deserved. I thought it looked really cool, but never had a campaign planned myself either. But I feel like this might actually have a decent chance to get some moderate success. I think the kind of product that was being made back then would be pretty popular now. Something like the success of Adventures in Middle-Earth seems quite achievable to me. I might even want to take this one out for a small scale campaign if it turns out well. Unless the press comes out very poorly for it, I will most likely at least get and read it. While 5th edition turned out not to be a suitable game for my setting, I’m not inherently supposed to using it for a campaign it’s suited for. And Midnight should fit it just fine.

Doppelgangers

I wanted to write this post a long time ago, but somehow I never got around to actually do it. The upload date on the image files is from over one and a half year ago. Such is the life of an AD&HD gamemaster.

I first encountered doppelgangers all the way back in my first introduction to RPGs, and really to fantasy other than The Lord of the Rings and kids TV shows, Baldur’s Gate. They are pretty prominent monsters in the last part of the game and apparently meant to play a big role in the story, but while their appearance looked really cool to me, the way they were presented was rather strange and felt quite disappointing to me even back then. They are these grey naked humanoids that can assume the appearance of other people and have at least some degree of telepathic ability to read your mind, which helps with impersonating the person convincingly. But in the game, you see people you know in the middle of a dark dungeon where they shout incoherent mad ramblings at you and then drop their disguise to charge at you with their claws. What was that all supposed to be about? There is another semi-hidden quest involving doppelgangers infiltrating a merchant company and wasting all its money in bad trades, as an attempt to help a rival merchant company to rise in power. That works better, but they still were really not subtle about it at all. And again, they drop their disguises to attack with their claws as soon as you confront them about something fishy going on.

In the 3rd edition Monster Manual, doppelgangers have one of the coolest illustrations in the book. I love all the Sam Wood illustrations in the book, but I think the Di’Terlizzi interpretation from 2nd edition still looks like a more interesing monster. But this was the first good closeup view of a doppelganger that I’ve encountered and it made me fall in love with them even back then. But even getting proper descriptions of these creatures from the 3rd and 2nd edition monster books, I still found them a bit difficult to make sense of. As described, doppelgangers are a race of humanoid creatures who have the ability to assume the form of humans and other people, and use this ability primarily to replace rich people and enjoy a life of luxury for as long as they can keep up the deception and the money doesn’t run out. Basically just being social parasites. Alternatively, they sometimes offer their services as mercenaries to spy on the enemies of their employers.

That does make some degree of sense, but I also find it really disappointing. Just look at these weird alien things with their featureless faces and blank eyes! They could be anywhere and anyone, with no way to tell how many of them there are and for how long they’ve already been in a place before their presence was discovered. And all they want to do is to eat other people’s porridge, sit on other people’s chairs, and sleep in other people’s beds? That’s so lame. These are some nightmarish horrors from that come to replace your friends and family and you might never even know it.

I always like to approach worldbuilding with the assumption that the world came into being as a product of more or less natural processes rather than the deliberate work of a creator, and that the supernatural forces at work in the world are vastly older than even the primitive ancestors of the civilized peoples inhabiting it today. Monsters existed long before people walked the earth, and any abilities that are directly targeted at humanoid victims would have evolved in these creatures alongside the mortal races. Comfy town houses for doppelgangers to infiltrate are a fairly recent new thing in mortal society, and an ancient creature perfectly adapted to infiltrate cities and palaces wouldn’t make much sense. And that raises the question of what doppelgangers would have been doing all day for the long eons in which mortals inhabited caves and roamed through the wilderness searching for food. There wouldn’t be any space for these creatures as they are commonly described and what would they use their unique ability to replace people use for instead?

There is a really simple and obvious answer to this question: To feed on the flesh of people.

The ability of doppelgangers to perfectly mimic the appearance of people, and to read the minds of people they approach to impersonate a person without acting suspiciously, is a perfect mechanism to get close to their victims and to lure them away from groups where they can kill them without being noticed. And then continue to devour them. When suspicion arises, the doppelganger can simply assume the appearance of a different person. Not only does it make it impossible for searchers to find the real murderer, it also leaves them with a false trail to the person last seen with the victim. A doppelganger that plays things careful and smart can feed on a single community for months before it becomes too dangerous and it disappears silently into the night.

The description of doppelgangers in the Basic Rules say that they assume the form of a PC and attempt to kill it, and if they can do it without being seen, they will use that PCs appearance to get close to others. That just doesn’t make any sense. If you take the appearance of your target it’s really the most straightforward way to tell it that you are some kind of shape stealing monster. This is just stupid. When you can immitate anyone, at least make an attempt at pretending to be someone trapped in a dungeon and in need of rescue. The players might not fall for it, but immitating the person you’re about to attack is literally the worst possible shape to pick.

A doppelganger as a monstrous spy or assassin hired by a villainous antagonist, perhaps even unknowingly, still is can make for really cool adventures. But it all becomes much more interesting and many times more creepier if the doppelgangers are not motivated by laziness but by the taste for human flesh.

Doppelganger
Armour Class 14
Hit Dice 4* (4 – 32 hp)
Attacks Bite +3 (1d12)
Movement 30’
Saving Throws D6 W7 P8 B8 S10 (10)
Morale 10
XP 125
Number Appearing 1d6 (1d6)

Shape stealing: Can adopt the form of any human-like creature (7’ tall or less) observed.

Trickery: Will attempt to kill a PC, retainer, or hireling, take on their role, then lure further victims away from the group.

Reversion: If killed, reverts to its original form.

Spell immunity: Unaffected by sleep and charm spells.

Source

Also, in the fantastic awesome movie The Thing, why are they always talking about “the Thing”. Clearly there are multiple of it running around, as at least two of them are seen to be killed.

From the Collective Cultural Subconscious

I was once again browsing through old posts on Planet Algol to help me get into the right mindset for overhauling Planet Kaendor as a more wild, more weird, and more quirky world than it’s been before. And there I stumbled upon this:

Also known as pack lizards, Nguamodons are a horse-sized species of iguanodon. Herbivores that can survive for two weeks without food or water, they are commonly used as pack animals although any burden limits them to a quadrupedal gait that reduces their speed and renders them unable to use their thumb spikes in combat. They are placid, stupid and easily spooked.

I know that thing! That’s a droha! Seen in the wild over six years before I thought about the idea. I based the droha on a hadrosaurus instead of an iguanodon, but otherwise it’s really the same thing. I even set it at the same 3 HD as the nguamodon.

So someone had the same identical idea, years before me. So what. It actually only proves that there is at least one person out there who agrees with me that this is the cool shit for making great alien fantasy settings.