Records of Inixon, Day 3: Temple of the Great Serpent

Day 3 (13th Day, 7th Month, Year 507)

The party decided to use their limited funds to store up on healing potions and then set out with a boat in the late morning to travel down the river to the abandoned town by the sea.

By the evening they reached the coast and left their boat behind when the first roofs appeared in the distance and continued to the ruins on foot. Finan and Ilmari scouted ahead and found some other boats dragged up the shore next to a collapsed bridge and an overgrown road leading up to a nearby hill. They came upon a group of cultists that had set up a guard post at the edge of the ruins but  didn’t put much effort into actually guarding.

The group decided to simply circle around the cultists and follow an old path up to the top of the hill. The path led to a series of caves that housed a giant bee hive, that the people of the town used for harvesting honey. They tried not to disturb the giant bees as they descended into the caves, but Ilmari slipped on a slope covered in honey and landed in a honeycomb wall, which greatly agitated the bees. The giant bees were easily fought off, but Ilmari got stung and fell to the ground paralyzed.

Once Ilmari had recovered and night had fallen outside, the group continued to an old wooden door that had been mostly covered up in wax and honey. Haren managed to break through the door with relatively little noise and they discovered a passage leading into a larger network of tunnels. The only people they encountered awake were two people busy in a large central cave serving as a kitchen and three guards watching the main entrance, none of which had taken notice of their presence inside the tunnels. Finan and Ilmari killed two acolyte in their beds without raising a noise, and the door to a room with sleeping cultists was quietly blocked by several sacks of grain from a nearby store room.

Eventually their luck ran out and Ilmari peeked inside another bunk room where two cultists happened to be awake. They didn’t buy his story that he was a new arrival from Orlane and looking for kitchen, so the group had no choice but rush in and overpower the four residents. With the acolyte in the next room already dead, still no alarm appeared to be raised, and Alamar learned from one of the captives that their priests were all residing in the lower tunnels.

Taking a dark and apparently rarely used passage in the deeper parts of the tunnels into the lower caves, the group crossed a creaking bridge over an underground pool and where attacked by two giant eels. Ilmari and Karim were badly bitten and starting to bleed out, but Haren and Finan managed to kill one of the eels and drive the other back into the dark depths of the pool.

The walkway led to a small underground harbor that connected to the sea, which had been covered up by a mud coated tarp to hide it from ships getting close  to the shore. Down there they discovered a group of prisoners who told them of a mute priestess with a golden mask who had turned the other captives into loyal followers. All of them had resisted her magical gaze and they had heard the cultists talking that they would be taken away by a ship to serve as slaves. They freed the prisoners and told them to take the boats hidden in the cave and travel back up the nearby river to return to Orlane.

They continued to explore the lower tunnels and found the rooms of the priests. Fearing that their assault would be discovered soon, Haren and Alamar started to search one of the rooms and woke up one of the priests, but with only his mace in reach he stood little chance against the two of them. At the same time Finan and Ilmari sneaked into the room of another priest trying to assassinate him in his sleep. He woke up just long enough to reach for his serpent staff next to his bed before the two of them shanked him to death. Searching the quarters of the priests, they discovered a recently written and unsent letter addressed to a captain, which revealed that the missing captives were being taken to a place called Inixon and that the priests were afraid that the raiding of ships near their hidden temple would draw the wrath of the local smuggling gangs.

Click to embiggen.

Records of Inixon, Day 2 (continued)

Day 2 (12th Day, 7th Month, Year 507)

After having defeated the priest, the party searched the rest of the temple and discovered two prisoners in the basement guarded by a large snake.

Alamar: Murya nobleman and warlock.
Ilmari: Kuri rogue and sage.

The two had been ambushed in the inn two days ago and had been kept in the temple since then.

They looked out the windows to see that the remaining acolyte had gathered more cultists in the temple grounds that were guarding the only two doors with two large guard beasts. They came up with a plan to open the main doors of the temple to lure the cultists inside the main hall, where the rogues and warlock could shot at them from a balcony at the upper level while Haren and Karim were keeping them from getting deeper inside the temple. (And Tarani guarded the prisoners.)

As the cultists rushed inside the first ones went down in the arrows and magic raining down on them. But they kept coming and piled up in a heap at Haren’s feet. Alerted by the noise of fighting, the cultists guarding the back door came running around the building and the two guard beasts rushed through the door just as the last survivor of the first group made it out. One of the best tore into Karim and had him collapse on the floor, so Alamar jumped down from the balcony to save him. In the end, the last three cultists standing turned around to retreat, but Haren managed to knock one of them out before he made it through the temple gates.

The surviving cultists were all tied up and taken to a store room and Alamar decided to interrogate the two acolytes, who confirmed earlier information that the headquarters of the cult were located at an abandoned town where the river ran into the sea, and that they had been capturing and converting villagers and travelers for the last two months.

They decided to interrogate the deranged priest in the main temple room that was still covered in corpses. But before they could get him to tell them anything, he simply used his magic to command them to release him. They untied his hands and he made a run for the door, but wasn’t able to make it to safety before Ilmari came to his senses and shot a blast of ice after him. Unfortunately he had not been able to heal himself while he was tied up and so died on the steps of the temple.

The remaining prisoners were taken to the basement and the cages of the guard beasts and given food and water while the party returned to the elderman’s house to report the events at the temple. The plan was made to spend the night at the empty house of Brian and to take a boat down the river the following day.

Records of Inixon, Day 1 and 2

Inixon is a D&D 5th Edition campaign based on the classic adventures I1 Dwellers of the Forbidden City, N1 Against the Cult of the Reptile God, and X1 The Isle of Dread. This record covers the first two sessions.

For over a hundred years, a seemingly unending series of typhoons and thunderstorms has been plaguing the lands of Kaendor, slowly but inevitably weathering away the old Bronze Age civilizations with floods and landslides. Fields are turning into marshes, bridges and mountain paths are being destroyed and never rebuild, and whole cities are slowly crumbling into the sea. Towns and cities are being deserted as people flee into the vast forests of the hinterland to survive on wild plant and animals and roads are being blocked by fallen trees and quickly overgrown by the always encroaching wilds. Villages become isolated and depending only on themselves, and what trade still exist is limited to the coasts and rivers that are reachable by ships.
The wilds of Kaendor are littered with the ruins of cities, but scholars know that many of these have laid empty for thousands of years, and that their own civilizations are not the first ones to fade from the face of the world. Floods and landslides reveal previously hidden vaults and tombs beneath the empty cities, drawing to them scavengers who are searching for the riches left behind when their owners abandoned their homes.

The Party
Tarani, Murya Wizard, acolyte of the Moon goddess Temis.
Haren, Yao Fighter and Tarani’s travel companion.
Finan, Fenhail Rogue in service of a corrupt harbor master.
Karim, Murya Cleric of the Storm Lord.
Day 1 (11th Day, 7th Month, Year 507): The Inn

Tarani and Haren were visiting to the small town Orlane, searching for a man named Brian who has not been responding to any messages for the past weeks. They are joined by Finan who was send by his boss to find the whereabouts of a shipment of poisons that never got delivered by a merchant from Orlane.

As they reached the town and asked some locals for the home of the elderman, they discovered many of the people to be weary of strangers and a mood of uncertainty being over the town. Even the elderman was not very forthcoming with any information and merely let them know that people have been leaving in search for a better life elsewhere for many years. That some seemingly left over night without telling anyone is certainly strange, but people have been quiet about their business for some time now.

The inn made a shady first impression, with a suspicious inkeeper and unfriendly locals quietly sitting with their drinks in the common room. Haren decided to get beds for the night anyway.

As they explored further through the village they visited a small trading post for traveling merchants, where they got another offer for beds for the night. Which was an option to consider, but they decided to decline.

Tarani searched the northern parts of the town for magic and discovered traces of abjuration coming from a path leading into the nearby woods. Tarani and Haren came upon the hut of an old woman named Remi who described herself as a herbalist and gave them advice to be careful around the inn, as the innkeeper is hanging around with other unpleasant people like the smith and the carpenter, and shady looking strangers that have come to the town a while back.

In the east part of the city, Finan discovered that the store of the merchant he was looking for had burned down and none of the locals seemed to know anything about his whereabouts. The smith next door turned out to be an excessively angry man who threatened them with violence if they don’t leave him alone immediately. The carpenter across the road had his workshop in complete chaos and seemed barely able to follow the conversation with the strangers asking him questions about the town.

They headed over to Brian’s house near the temple and found it empty, but it appeared like Brian’s family had left almost everything behind.

Clearly something was very wrong with this town, and it seemed to have something to do with the Inn. So Haren and Tarani decided to return there and stay for the night, while Finan set himself up in an abandoned house across the road to monitor the comings and going throughout the night. Late in the night, three men came down the road from the eastern part of the town and went into the darkened inn, so Finan decided to follow them inside.

Haren and Tarani had been expecting trouble, but Haren had a very difficult time staying awake. Five men were bursting into their room with clubs, but Tarani took half of them out immediately with a sleep spell. Finan heard the fighting from the common room and ran into a woman in armor in the hallway. The woman’s mace hit him with magical power and injured him badly, and the innkeeper and the cook came from their rooms to join in the fight. Haren was able to overwhelm the remaining villagers in the room and with Tarani’s magic attacked killed the woman. The innkeeper was subdued quickly and the cook was caught trying to climb out a window.

While Haren and Tarani were tying up the unconscious men, Finan found a box of poisons in the kitchen and searched the upper floor, where he discovered the smuggler Nazim in a locked room, who told him he was captured by the innkeeper’s men a week ago, and all his goods stolen.

Tarani used her ability to detect magic on the tied up attackers and discovered than all but one of them were under some kind of enchantment.

The Storm Priest Karim was found trapped in another room, having been captured by the people in the inn the night before. He joined the others in their attempt to find out what is going on in Orlane.

They took the one man that showed no signs of magic to another room and began questioning him. He told them that the other people who were with him were members of a cult that worships the Great Serpent. He was taken from his bed in the inn two months ago and taken down the river in a boat to a hidden underground lair. There he was kept with other villagers until they were brought before a priestess with a golden mask. Some stopped to fight and argue when she started them in the eyes, while those who continued to resist were dragged back to their cells. He decided that it would be better to play along, but he does not have any of the fanatical devotion to the priestess and her deity like the others. Getting a free room, food, and drink simply for kidnapping some villagers now and then seemed like a pretty good deal to him, but now that the game is up he just wants to be on his way and never get close to Orlane again. Whenever they captured travelers in the inn, they would keep them there until a dark night and then take them in a boat across the lake to the temple on the other side of town. He assumes they are taken down the river and to the priestess later, but he doesn’t known and never asked.

Tarani and Haren got Remi to come to the inn and take a look at the captured men. She confirmed Tarani’s suspicion that they were under some kind of spell, but a regular charm spell would not be able to control that many people for such a long time. Some much more powerful magic must be behind it.

They then explored the basements of the inn and discovered a hidden meeting room that connected to a small series of tunnels where they were attacked by several snake, one of which dropped from the ceiling on Finan and almost managed to strangle him. They came to a small underground shrine with a bronze serpent idol and Haren threw his cloak over it before Tarani checked to see that there was no magic on it.

It was decided that they would rest in the inn for the rest of the night to regain their full strength and go talk with the elderman the next day. The smuggler Nazim asked if he could go and seek shelter at the trading post, as he didn’t want to get involved in whatever dangerous business they were planning.

Day 2 (12th Day, 7th Month, Year 507): The Temple

As they went to the house of the elderman, some of the villagers were watching them from the distance, but it was impossible to tell if this was any different from the reactions they had gotten the day before. When they knocked on the door, Tarani checked the elderman for magic but found that he wasn’t affected by it. They told him that some kind of cult was behind the recent disappearances and that the innkeeper was part of it. The elderman told them that the armored woman was one of the two priestess of the local temple of the Three Keepers of Fields, House, and Herds, which supported the information they got that the people were being taken to the temple.

Hoping that nobody at the temple would recognize them, the group walked up the hill and straight through the gates into the main temple hall. The acolyte they encountered eyed them suspiciously and a present servant quietly disappeared through a door soon after their arrival. While the others claimed to be praying at the altar, Finan snuck out to take a look around the temple grounds. He found the gardener who told him to stop snooping around and either return inside the temple or leave. Tarani quickly excused herself to the outhouse to prepare herself to search for magic in the temple and the people who were present, and found the acolyte to be enchanted as well. She let the others know that they were leaving and outside the temple building they decided to split up and attempt to silently take out the gardener and search his shed. Haren and Tarani went around the back, but they discovered that the gardener had disappeared when they ran back into Finan and Karim. As they searched the shed they discovered the gardeners room and the cages for two large arags.

Arag

Assuming the gardener went inside the temple building through a small side door, they decided to try to follow and came into a small store room just as the gardener was coming back with three other men. A fight broke out at the side door, just as the acolyte came around the corner of the building with more men. The group all rushed inside and killed and knocked out the men. Finan quickly bolted the door shut behind them and then raced through the temple building to get to the main temple doors which he blocked from the inside as well. Three more man with clubs were quickly defeated and the group headed up the stairs to the upper level.

Quickly searching through the rooms, the found the other priest and another acolyte who were waiting for them with protective magic in place. Haren and Finan rushed in and quickly knocked out the acolyte, while Tarani and Karim hurled magic at the priest. Haran ordered the priest to get down to the floor, but the priest told him “No, you all get to the floor!” with a command spell. Haren went down, but the others continued their assault. Haran quickly rose back to his feet and fought with the priest, deflecting his magically charged mace with his shield and knocking him out as well.

Inixon – Against the Dwellers of the Isle of Dread

I returned to university last year and right now it doesn’t look like classes will resume until may at the earliest. So I really can’t pass up on the opportunity to get a new online campaign off the ground.

And this is as good a time as any to finally make use of my old idea to combine I1 Dwellers of the Forbidden City, N1 Against the Cult of the Reptile God, and X1 The Isle of Dread into one big B/X campaign. Combining my three favorite modules is really quite easy. The Forbidden City replaces the ruins in the volcano on the Isle of Dread, and the Reptile God is an emissary of the Dwellers trying to establish a foothold on the mainland.

All of this will be set in my Green Sun setting, which I recently decided to give a little update to make it more interesting and conductive to adventures. I finally overcame my aversion to post-apocalyptic settings and decided to take inspirations from the Bronze Age collapse. The world of Kaendor is now set in the days after a century long period of increasing storms and rainfall, that has caused much of the farmland to become too swampy for local crops and many of the coastal cities to be lost to erosion. There are now only a dozen city states left with most people living scattered in small villages in the forests, where they can get by with hunting, fishing, and foresting.

The old trade networks that enabled the large scale production of bronze have collapsed, but fortunately old bronze can be recycled very easily. When the first cities were abandoned by their people, nobody saw how great the scarcity of bronze would become, and much of it was left behind for being too heavy. Now these forgotten stockpiles of bronze ingots are worth their weight in silver and a draw for many treasure hunters. But buildings that have collapsed in typhoons or landslides also uncovered large numbers of previously hidden vaults and tombs.

In the jungles of the south, the ancient serpentmen are sensing the fall of the younger civilizations, and many of them remember their old dreams of their return to power and reclaiming the lands of Kaendor for themselves. Currently there seems to be little chance of that ever happening again, but that doesn’t stop ambitious snake sorcerers from sending their minions north.

And deep beneath the sea, the primordial aquatic horrors and the fishmen are watching the events in the world above.

And given the source material, I need to have an NPC cook named Zeb. :p

Exorcists For Hire

Three months back I wrote about giving quest givers some kind of existing relationship to the PCs to make adventures more personal and to create a stronger sense of the party having their own place in the world, and also make it feel more plausible and natural that of all the people they get picked to deal with the situation. Hiring some random dangerous vagabonds to deal with very sensitive matters always feels forced to me, and even more so that said vagabonds can make a career out of these jobs.

What I didn’t really adress back then however, was what exactly the PCs do as their day jobs. How did they become qualified to deal with roaming monsters, hauntings by spirits, and demonic artifacts? Since the Kaendor setting is designed from the ground up to provide opportunity for encounters with spirits and supernatural forces, and I deliberately avoided adding military conflicts or endemic banditry, I feel that the setting is really lending itself to to parties that are well equipped to deal with spirits, demons, and curses. While a campaign about adventurers who make their bread and butter with exterminating bandits and goblins, with the occasional evil wizard or giant thrown in, does feel implausible to me beyond the point that I am happy to ignore, a group of specialists who are called upon when their services are needed, does feel more believable. It’s not even much of a stretch that they might go on extended “patrols” beyond their home turf now and then, to see if more remote settlements might be in need of their services.

Armed travellers looking for opportunities to make money through violence shouldn’t really look that different from the bandits and raiders they are regularly fighting to most villagers. But groups of clerics and druids with their retinues of guardians present a completely different picture from demons or other supernatural horrors. It feels much more justified that people would welcome them with relief and approach them to plead for their help.

It does actually change very little when it comes to how adventures are prepared and played out. Just avoid having regular bandits, monstrous raiders, or normal wild animals as threats. The rest would be very much the same. But it’s the context that changes.

Honey Caves Harvesting

One of the major parts of food production in Kaendor is the harvesting of honey from giant bees. Giant bees construct their hives in cave systems and abandoned burrows of large animals, but in some places have been successfully lured into artificially dug tunnels. Hives generally consist of a small number of brood caves where larvas are being raised, and several storage caves where honey is being kept.

Giant bees are highly protective of they honey and quickly attack any intruders they perceive as a threat. To safely harvest the honey, workers protected by armor take buckets of honey contaminated with a fungus that is deadly to giant bee larvas and pour it on the floor of a storage cave. Worker bees quickly detect and identify the fungus and use chemical markers that make the entire cave off limits and abandon all the honey stored in it. Within a day or so, the cave becomes safe to enter and the honey can be harvested, with the giant bees having no more interest in it.

While seemingly easy work, harvesting honey is a highly skilled occupation. Not only is preparing a storage cave for harvesting extremely dangerous, with death a constant threat, but the leader of a harvesting group also has the great responsibility to prevent the fungus from accidentally being spread to other caves, potentially killing off the entire hive in a matter of weeks. As such, giant bee keepers are often highly respected people in their towns, like millers, smiths, and shipwrights.

Giant Bee

Small beast

Armor Class 11
Hit Points 4 (1d8)
Speed 10 ft., fly 40 ft.
STR 8 (-1), DEX 12 (+1), CON 10 (+0), INT 1 (-5), WIS 10 (+0), CHA 3 (-4)
Senses passive Perception 10
Languages
Challenge 1/8 (25 XP)

Actions

Sting: Melee Weapon Attack: +3 to hit, reach 5 ft., one creature. Hit: 3 (1d4 + 1) piercing damage, and the target must make a DC 10 Constitution saving throw, taking 7 (2d6) poison damage on a failed save, or half as much damage on a successful one. If the poison damage reduces the target to 0 hit points, the target is stable but poisoned for 1 hour, even after regaining hit points, and is paralyzed while poisoned in this way.

Swamp Sage

I saw this picture and had to turn it into a creature. Took just an hour to create this.

The swamp sage is a spirits that lives in swamps, marshes, and other wetlands. Its body consist of a large shell that often looks like a boulder overgrown with moss and lichen and can easily be mistaken for such when its small crustacean legs are tugged in below it under the water. There is a small opening in the shell at the creature front that houses its face, which consists of four small black eyes and its maw. Swamp sages are reclusive and rarely seek interaction with people, but are of a calm and nonthreatening demeanor and occasionally come together to consult with each other when something is causing disturbances in their territory. They usually try to avoid fights and use their fetid cloud and entangling plants abilities to retreat from attackers. If forced to defend themselves, they can spit a spray of acid from their mouths and strike out with one of their four long tongues.

Swamp sages know almost everything that is going on in their homes and know much about a swamp’s or marsh’s history and inhabitants. If something is threatening their territory, they usually prefer to advise others on how to deal with the situation than engaging threats themselves.

Swamp Sage

Large fey
Armor Class 15 (natural armor)
Hit Points 78 (8d10 + 24)
Speed 20 ft.
STR 17 (+3), DEX 8 (-1), CON 16 (+3), INT 15 (+2), WIS 17 (+3), CHA 14 (+2)
Skills Stealth +2
Damage Resistances bludgeoning, piercing
Damage Immunities poison
Condition Immunities charmed, poisoned
Senses darkvision 60 ft., passive Perception 13
Languages telepathy 60 ft.
Challenge 4 (1,100 XP)

Special Traits

Amphibious: The swamp sage can breathe air and water.
Magic Resistance: The swamp sage has advantage on saving throws against spells and other magical effects.
Innate Spellcasting: The swamp sage’s innate spellcasting ability is Charisma (spell save DC 12). It can innately cast the following spells, requiring no components:

At will: dancing lights, druidcraft
1/day each: commune with nature, confusion

Swamp Camouflage: The swamp sage has advantage on Dexterity (Stealth) checks it makes in swampy terrain with ample obscuring plant life.

Actions

Multiattack: The swamp sage uses either its Acid Spray, Entangling Plants, or Fetid Cloud, then makes a tentacle attack.
Tentacles: Melee Weapon Attack: +5 to hit, reach 10 ft., one target. Hit: 7 (1d8 + 3) bludgeoning damage.
Acid Spray (Recharge 6): The swamp sage spits acid in a 15-feet cone. Each creature in that cone must make a DC 13 Dexterity saving throw, taking 10 (3d6) acid damage on a failed save, or half as much damage on a successful one.
Entangling Plants (Recharge 5-6): Grasping roots and vines sprout in a 30-foot radius centered on the swamp sage, withering away after 1 minute. For the duration, that area is difficult terrain for non plant creatures. In addition, each creature of the swamp sage’s choice in that area when the plants appear must succeed on a DC 13 Strength saving throw or become restrained. A creature can use its action to make a DC 13 Strength check, freeing itself or another entangled creature within reach on a success.
Fetid Cloud (Recharge 6): A 15‐foot radius cloud of disgusting green gas extends out from the swamp sage. The gas spreads around corners, and its area is lightly obscured. It lasts for 1 minute or until a strong wind disperses it. Any creature that starts its turn in that area must succeed on a DC 13 Constitution saving throw or be poisoned until the start of its next turn. While poisoned in this way, the target can take either an action or a bonus action on its turn, not both, and can’t take reactions.

The Realms of Reality

Two months ago I wrote about an idea of one day running a campaign in a downsized Planescape setting that has only 8 outer planes and 4 inner planes. Planescape has been a major influence on the Green Sun setting in general, and my ideas for the Spiritworld in particular. And so soon after writing that post, I went ahead to try out combining the two ideas for a campaign. While I had some good idea what I want the realms of the spirits to look like for a long time, I never actually got around to nailing them down into something tangible and specific. The planar system that resulted from toiling in the dark for many nights takes ideas and concepts from the planes of the Outlands, the Beastlands, Arborea, Pandemonium, Carceri, and Gehenna, and is tied together by a combination of the Plane of Shadow and the Ethereal Plane with several influences from the Gray Wastes of Hades. There are no dedicated elemental planes and no Astral Plane. Perhaps most curiously, there is no dedicated Material Plane either. As a result, the arrangement of the different realms is quite different from the way they work in Planescape.

Nature of the Realms

The world consists of an indeterminate number of realms that fall into two primary categories. The Spectral Realm and all the other realms. The other realms can be thought of as Corporeal Realms and people often divided them into Wild Realms and Underworld Realms, though that distinction is a subjective judgement and not based on specific distinguishing traits. The Wild Realms tend to be more similar to the Realm of Mortals, while the Underworld Realms are generally more inhospitable and their creatures more alien.

While the Corporeal Realms are generally separate from each other, all of them overlap with the Spectral Realm and are inseparetely tied to it. Mortal beings are native to the Corporeal Planes, while all spirits, which includes fey, elementals, and fiends, are native to the Spectral Realm. Mortal creatures can physically leave the Corporeal Realms and travel into the Spectral Realm. For spirits it is quite different. Spirits have the ability to project themselves into a Corporeal Realm without leaving the Spectral Realm. In fact, it is impossible for spirits to leave the Spectral Realm.

The Spectral Realm

The Spectral Realm mirrors all the Corporeal Realms, though there is a perpetual gloom and all colors are faded to almost gray, with the landscape appearing more like shadows than actual physical matter. It mirrors all the Corporeal Realms at the same time, resulting in a landscape as if someone had cut the maps of the Corporeal Realms into countless pieces and assembled them together into a single giant map at random. By travelling through the Spectral Realm one can reach any place in any Corporeal Realm. The difficult part is to find it. Fortunately for spectral travelers, the nature of time and distance seem to be very different in the Spectral Realm and if the right path is known seemingly every destination can be reached in just a few days.

However, keeping track of time in the Spectral Realm is difficult and its hard to determine how much time one has actually spend there. While staying in the Spectral Realm, mortal creatures are unable to fully fall asleep and gain no nourishment from food, making it impossible to take a long rest. They soon start to feel slightly tired and hungry but it never becomes unbearable, though for every day spend in the Spectral Realm they gain one level of exhaustion. If the exhaustion kills them, their physical forms fade away and they turn into shadows.

Spirits

Spirits come in three types. Fey, elementals, and fiends. Celestials and intelligent plants have their creature type changed to fey, while aberrations have their creature type change to fiends. Generally speaking, fey are only encountered in Wild Realms and fiends only in Underworld Realms, as well as in areas of the Spectral Realms that correspond to them. But since there is no hard distinction between the two there are some of the Corporeal Realms where one might encounter representatives of both. Elementals are neither fey nor fiends and they can be encountered in all the Corporeal Realms and anywhere in the Spectral Realm.

The Wild Realms

The Wild Realms are Corporeal Realms with environments quite similar to that of the Mortal Realm. Most are dominated by forests, mountains, and oceans and are full of life in many forms, much of which appearing very familiar to mortals. For some reason the Mortal Realm is rarely visited by physical manifestions of spirits, which many scholars believe to be in some way connected to intelligent humanoid mortals being native to it. In the other Wild Realms, fey and elementals are much more frequent and the forces of nature appear to be even more powerful and unpredictable. People have told tales of realms where it is always night or where the sun never sets, where it is snowing all year or the mists never dissipate. While many of the Wild Realms are majestic to behold, all of them are considerably more dangerous than the wilderness of the Mortal Realm.

The Underworld Realms

Compared the the Wild Realms, the Underworld Realms tend to be much more barren and desolate. Many of them appear to exist entirely underground without any surface, which gives them their name, though there are also numerous realms that appear as barren hills or deserts. Most tend to be dark or gloomy, but again this is not a universal rule. Storms are just as common as in the Wild Realms, often driving before them clouds of dust or ash from constantly errupting volcanoes.

Borders between Realms

While the Corporeal Realms are generally separate from each other, they do occasionally touch and form border regions between them, through which creatures can travel from one realm to the other without going through the Spectral Realm. Border regions are not really in one realm or the other, and the environment blends traits of both of them. Often these regions are difficult to notice and the change in environment only becomes fully apparent once travellers have crossed fully into the other realm. Border regions generally have two edges that allow passage to the two realms they connect. Often these edges are found at the entrances of mountain passes, cave mouths, or at different points along a river that runs between two realms. But in many cases they just exist in completely unremarkable spots in the forest. Some known edges have been marked by either mortals or fey, which can take the form of lines of unusual trees, thickets of brambles, or carved posts made from wood or stone. Border regions also exist out at sea, but these are particularly difficult to locate and map.

While many border regions stay in place for a very long time, they are not entirely permanent. Some might in fact be quite short lived, but are never discovered or their locations shared among scholars and hunters. Other border regions are only accessible during specific times. These could be specific months of the year for example, or only during night at a full moon. There are stories of islands of the mainland coast that can be reached only for a single night every year, or ships disappearing without a trace along routes where no signs of a border had ever been noticed.

Conflict on the Horizon

As my focus is turning away from the basic worldbuilding for the setting and towards the practical work of preparing an actual campaign and adventures, I’ve been noticing that the setting is still very much lacking in the way of plot hooks. Poking around in strange ruins in the wilderness and dealing with alien spirits and dangerous sorcerers is all fun and well, but why are the characters doing that? What greater purpose do their activities serve? Having stories emerge from the players’ choices and actions is fantastic, but you can’t have something come from nothing. Which is why great settings almost always have some form of underlying tension. Which so far Kaendor has been lacking. There is this concept of civilization being under pressure by the erratic and volatile forces of nature, but I found out that this is too fuzzy to really build adventures on. There is also the idea that sorcery creates terrible environmental damage which most people fear and oppose, but it raises the question why anyone would turn to it other than for moustache twirling evil.

In practice, larger scale conflicts come in just two basic forms. Competition for a resource of which there isn’t enough to cover the amounts that everyone wants, and contradicting opinions on what shape society and culture should take. Whatever reasons and justifications people give for why they fight or oppose others, it almost always comes down to one of these two as the root cause. Both the themes of a permanent struggle against a hostile environment and the lure of the powerful but dangerous tool of sorcery are closely connected with competition for vital but scarce resources.

In the lands of Kaendor, the omnipresent forests keeps growing back exceptionally fast and populations of animals are almost impossibly difficult to control. The climate makes storms, floods, draughts, and wildfires extremely unpredictable, and earthquakes, blights, and pests are a constant threat. Maintaining the small and limited areas of farmable land is a constant struggle and claiming more land almost impossibly difficult. This makes maintaining a stable supply of grain and access to large amounts of salt for the preservation of food a primariy concern for all rulers. A third resource that is almost as critical for the survival and prosperity of the domains is tin for the production of bronze.

Because civilization in Kaendor is both small and scattered across great distances, invasions and conquest are not practical approaches to securing access to these vital resources. Armies arriving on ships have little means to assault or besiege fortified strongholds far away from home, and even when a distant domain can be taken it is almost impossible to hold. The distances involved make it very difficult to control whoever is put in charge or to respond to rebellions once the conquering armies have returned home. Raiding is a much more common form of warfare, but with most resources being stored within the walls of well defended strongholds, this approach is very unreliable and carries great risks, and is usually taken only out of desperation.

The most common, and most effective way, in which strong rulers and powerful city states secure their access to vital resources is by controlling the trade with the smaller domains. All the domain rely on trade across the Endless Sea and the Southern Sea for resources they don’t have themselves, and even the Wilders have extensive trade relationships among their tribes. With their great riches and large numbers of merchant and war ships, the larger city states have a great amount of influence over all trade. They have the power to dictate who can sell which goods and for which prices, and make demands that serve their own continued interests. Domains that have such power over others are always trying to maintain and expand it, while those who are under the influence of more powerful domains are constantly searching for ways to escape it. This is the primary source of conflict between domains in Kaendor.

The specifics of commerce and the intricacies of trade power aren’t of any greater relevance to either the setting or the activities in which players are involved. Instead, the purpose of this background is to provide motivations for people in power to set events into motion in which the players can become involved. Rulers are always interested in finding ways to weaken the influence of their enemies or the means to reduce their dependency on trade for certain resources with their rivals. Much of it is politics that does not involve the players, but in the world of Kaendor there are also always many opportunities to gain support from the spirits of the land and the gods of the forest and the sea. Similarly, the spirits are the only ones able to stop changes to the environment that threaten the prosperity and survival of a domain.

Both desperation and ambition can also be strong motivations to turn towards the lure of sorcery. The chaotic magics of sorcery can bend nature to its will and can be a source of great power and riches, even though it is well known that its practice drains the land of life and in time warps and corrupts that which remains. When times are dire, this steep price might appear worth paying, but even more often prideful sorcerers believe that they have found ways to contain the corruption and prevent or at least limit the spread of the blight. Some are motivated by greed and others by the more noble goal to ensure the survival of their domains. But among the common people and the servants of the gods, hardship and abandoning their homes for new lands are far preferable to this madness.

Another aspect that naturally follows from this underlying tension is the emergence of crime. When the larger city states control access to certain goods and determine prices that only benefit themselves, smuggling becomes a major part of trade. Smuggling in Kaendor is not simply about some men rowing to shore at night to unload a few boxes of goods outlawed by the lord of the domain. It’s a vast network reaching from Var Sharaz all the way to Nevald in the Northern Sea, consisting of wealthy merchants, pirates, and corrupt officials. There might well be not a single palace anywhere in Kaendor that doesn’t have two or three people involved in smuggling, and many of their biggest customers are minor lords who wish to be doing business without knowledge by the city states. Most smugglers trade in bulk goods, but their connnections and secrecy enable them to get hold of almost everything for the right price and when time not a pressing issue. Pirates rely entirely on smugglers to sell their plunder and many leaders make some additional money at the side with blackmail, extortion, and bringing in debts for their associates. Smugglers make for great sources of information and rare magic resources, and questionable allies. They can also serve as antagonists who are introducing new trouble by threatening befriended merchants or lords, accidentally angering or awakening spirits while hiding out in forbidden caves, working with sorcerers, or bringing in disrupting magic object from distant lands.

None of these things are exactly material for adventures in strange woods and mysterious ruins. But they do make a solid foundation for why the players have to go out into the wilderness, either to find something that can help solving a conflict, or to stop a threatening disasters that has been set into motion by the desperation or ambition of influential people.

The Truths of the World

Last week I watched a video by Matt Colville that as a short side note had him mention that from the perspective of a writer, a major part of making the game compelling is “the ability to convey the truths of the world in an easy to grasp manner”. He didn’t go much more into detail than that, but this stuck me as something very close to my unconscious motivations to create a setting like this to begin with. There are of course the aesthetic things. I think huge forests, dinosaurs, giant insects, giant mushrooms, ruined towers, and dramatic weather are cool. But they are not just cool in themselves, they also mean something to me. They are not just elements of a surface picture of the world, but also components of a deeper character and identity of the setting that fuels my inspiration and sense of purpose for all this work. “The truths of the world”is a great phrase to describe it. Maybe you could also call it the internal dynamics or logic of a setting. I think this is where settings really start to shine and become something special. Like Planescape, Dark Sun, Morrowind, and Star Wars. People in these worlds approach the things in their environment in a unique way, and think in concepts and a logic that make sense only in this particular setting. When you get the players to internalize this unique way in which the setting ticks and start to think in its logic without conscious effort, then you succeeded in conveying the truths of the world.

I have written about basic concepts for the serting before, in the very first post. And of course there mostly is an overlap with this post. But those concepts were rather abstract, and don’t answer what they actually mean when it it comes to creating adventures for the setting and running the game with players. “Conveying the truths” was a very useful phrase for me to figure out how to translate it into practice.

The World is huge

Of course, every world is world-sized. For all intents and purposes, all non-multi-dimensional fantasy worlds have the same planet size. But in practice, we never think of a world in planet-scale. Most of western society exists in the modern cities and towns located in the cultivates coastal lowlands. Our native environment consists of landscapes heavily modified or purpose build for humans. The plants around us have been cultivated to grow to sizes that are convenient for the purposes humans intend for them. They only grow in the places and the amounts humans have decided to be the most convenient to them. If you see a very large tree in or near a city, it’s because city planners have decided that a very large tree is perfect for their plans for that spot. We also have no more sense of distance. Flying from Europe to Australia is an 18 hour flight? Wow, that’s long. No! That’s not long! We think of any place in the world as being reachable within a day.

Of course, nature isn’t that way. Nature does not care a single bit what environments would be convenient for human use. Nature is not human-scaled. The world is absolutely massive in scale. This does not mean that the setting needs to have large amounts of content, but for the purposes of player characters, everything in nature is just really inconveniently big. In practice, this means that overland journeys should always be long. On how to make this fun and not a chore, I plan to write some ideas later. But no simple leaving in the morning and being back before sunset. In most cases, I would say getting there should take at least a day, with exploration only starting the next morning at the earlierst.

When it comes to environmental features, everything can be big. Maybe the single biggest influence on the style for this setting is Endor in Return of the Jedi, and those are the biggest trees found anywhere in the world (and quite probably of all time). But that’s just visuals. Tree height has little practical impact. But whenever something would be a serious problem of major inconvenience if it were bigger, that’s a great occasion to make it bigger. When cliffs become really high, gorges really deep, and rivers really wide and strong, they become obstacles that the players have to come up with solutions for to get past. Or monsters could be making their lairs up in trees, but the lowest branches are really high up. Fallen giant trees can be included in ambush sites, serving as 3 meter high walls that affeft the tactics of a fight.

If it were inconvenient if it were bigger, make it bigger.

The World is ancient

Very ancient civilizations like the Sumerians and Egyptians are fascinating. 5,000 years ago is an incredibly long time and most people couldn’t even imagine that. It seems like civilizations have been around for practically forever. But what would things have looked like to the ancient Egyptians and Summerians? Their records and historical accounts would go back maybe 400 or 500 years, and then what? Of course there had been people before that for hundreds of thousands of year, but how much would they have known about them? To them, as for us, 99% of humanity’s past would likely have been unknown. But the amount of known history for them would have been much smaller and a much shorter timespan than it is now for us. In a similar way to how we don’t really perceive the size of the world anymore, we are also ignorant of how tiny a fraction the history of human civilization makes up in the full history of the Earth. Unless you are into early Bronze Age cultures like me, you can pick any culture or period from history, and always see how it’s the continuation of something that came before. You can always ask what came before that? My intention with the setting is to make it feel like whatever civilization exists now is just a drop in the vast ocean of time.

One way in which this is already worked into the setting is the lack of a historic timeline. The currently existing cities have an age since their founding, and the most recently ruined cities have have an age since they were destroyed, but those are all mostly in the last 400 years with the founding of the very oldest existing city being 800 years ago. Before that, nothing is known. No stories, no names.

Without a history of the wilderness and the spirits, it’s pretty much impossible to convey their age. But what can be done is to show practically how civilizations come and go, but nature always persists the entire time. While barely anything is known about the most recently destroyed cities, other than stories of how they were destroyed by one of the still existing cities, and nothing about the cities that came before them, there are still plenty of ruins left behind by the Ancient Builders. When showing how much these have been overgrown by the forest, you get some vague implications about the timescales in which the wilderness exists. Imagine a giant ancient palace that has its roof collapsed long ago, and the through the hole get trees growing that are a hundred meters tall and 20 meters in circumference. These giant trees must be ancient, and they only started to grow after the palace had already be turned into rubble. Or you could have the remains of ancient harbors, a hundred miles away from the coast. Occasional signs that there was a large city in a place a long time ago, but there are only the faintest of hints left. Which does come with the implication that there could be even more even older cities pretty much anywhere that have already been completely erradicated by the forest. I also like to put large underground halls under simple unassuming grounds holes in the ground where the ceiling has collapses, burried by several meters of dead leaves that have build up over the centuries. Corral growth on coastal ruins are also fun, showing that the area was at one time beneath the sea and at some point rose above it again. (I’ve seen one such case in Italy, which was the evidence for the discovery of plate tectonics.)

It’s impossible to convey the sense of millions of years of past ages, but showing the short lived nature of current civilizations and how the forest completely erases any of their traces might perhaps evoke some feeling of incredible age.

The Material Realm is not the full world

I’ve been somewhat undecided about how the Spiritworld and other planes are supposed to work in this setting, and I am still not fully commited to any specific solution. But thinking about the truths of the world, I believe that this definitely should be one. The world that mortals perceive and interact with is only the surface of true reality. The specific mechanics might still change (probably), but the wilderness through which characters are travelling when they go beyond the borders of settled and explored areas should be full of magical phenomenons that have causes that are invisible to them. When they enter the domains of particularly powerful spirits or descend into the Underworld where the distinction between the natural and the supernatural is no longer as clear as it seems to be in settled areas.

One way in which I think this can be done in practice is to have areas in which the passing of time is inconsistent with what they think of as normal. The length of a day could be considerably longer than 24 hours, or the sun and moons appear to not be moving in the sky at all. Spirits don’t get bored staying in the same place for ages and people could be trapped for decades or centuries without growing hungry, old, or completely insane. Castles could collapse into rubble within minutes, or wildfires burn in place for decades without consuming the trees. And of course, a journey into the wilderness could have you be away for considerably longer than the time you thought you had spend there. (Though in practice I think I want to keep the lost time in months or a small handful of years at the most.)

Spirits are powerful

I am not a fan of the fey from Monster Manuals for several reasons. One thing I realized is that they are pretty much always very weak. This is a world that is not at human-scale, and that also means that its spirits are on a different scale as well. Not much deeper philosophy than this. In practical terms, this means that most spirits that are encountered should be in the mid-range of difficulty, about CR 6 to 12. Alternatively, they appear in groups. I recently revised my naga and shie by downscaling them from their base stats as a yuan-ti from CR7 to CR 5, and a succubus from CR 4 to CR 3. Otherwise, even small groups could slaughter even 6th level groups of above average size.

Another modifications to creatures that serve as spirits is to give them both lair effects and perhaps even regional effects. The bigger spirits are the gods of the land after all.

One of the main ways in which spirits affect the world is in their control of the weather and climate. To show that the spirits are powerful, I want any weather effects to be big. When there are storms, they should be big storms. Not just background flavor, but actually impacting gameplay. And they should be used frequently. The Wilderness exploration system I am working on will have the current weather as one of the random parameters in the rolling of random wilderness encounters.

Spirits are alien

The other thing that I don’t like about fey from the Monster Manuals. They are too human. Fey should be dangerous, not just because they have great powers (lots of mortal NPCs do so) but because you don’t know what they might want to do to you. Even when a spirits does not intend to do harm, or feels actively hostile, there is a risk that they could do something that would be harmful for mortals. Even if they intend to help, they might make things worse, and then be unaware that anything is wrong. The concept for the shie is “they look like us, but they are not us”.

Complete random behavior is not desireable, though. To have meaningful interactions with anything, players need to have at least something to work with. My approach to this is to run spirits with “predictable patterns, but unintelligible motives”. Some spirits to certain things. That apparently make perfect sense to them, but not to anyone else. They are incapable of fully explaining themselves to mortals, and in most situations don’t see any need to. They have priorities that stay consistent, even extremely so, but the purpose of those stays completely mysterious. Spirits should never really make full sense, but they must never be random. Before players start to interact with them, their priorities and main behaviors need to be established and fixed into place.

People don’t really matter

This truth is a consequence of several other aspects. The wilderness is huge and ancient, and eventually will swollow up anything that people have made. Spirits are much more powerful and very inflexible in their wishes and as such pretty much always get their will, but what that will is is not only outside of people’s control but also understanding. In the big picture, at the end of the day, all the things that mortals do don’t have any meaningful impact on the world as a whole. Nothing lasts forever. Except for the forest.

The first way in which I approach this is to think that in the hierarchy of creatures, people are the weasels. They are predators who can be very deadly to most smaller creatures and even cause unpleasantness for several larger ones. But against determined bigger beasts, really the only thing they can do is to get out of the way. They don’t rule this world, they are really more at the smaller side of things, their impact not really that visible from a zoomed out perspective. Far from helpless, and far from harmless, but they aren’t anywhere where near the top of the food chain.

In practical terms, this means that players don’t have real hopes to defeat or even stop a god. When a change comes down from the top, the task of the players is to help the population to adapt to the new conditions or escape before it is too late. The only situation in which a coming disaster can be averted is when appeasing the wrath of a god. These things started with people trying to make a change and can only be stopped if the change is reversed and things returned to how they were. When people are the cause of a god’s wrath, then only removing the cause will end the god’s wrath. This builds on the concept of spirits being utterly inflexible in their priorities. It is not possible to prevent the god from using its power, or to change its mind while the cause still exist.

Whatever accoplishments the players might reach can only be important in the here and in the now. They can not fundamentally change anything in the big picture. You can not claim any new land for settling unless it is offered by the local gods. You can not remove a god or make any changes to the environment. You can not remove a type of dangerous creature from its habitat. You could kill a monster that has started to attack farms at the edge of the forest. But you can not clear the valley from which it origially came to make sure none will ever come again.

Adventures should be planned arounf this truth. At the end of the game, the players want to feel that they have accomplished something and have made a difference. When dealing with purely mortal opponents this is not an issue. But when the main threat is supernatural and unstopable, the adventure should be framed in a way that makes it clear that the goal is not to prevent the disaster, but to save the people who will be affected by it.

Overreaching is disastrous

This is part of the ecological subtext of the setting. I’m a trained gardener and was in cultural studies and geography at university, and all of this has given me a perspective on the relationship between people and the environent that “there are no natural disasters”, as one researcher put it. What we percieve as natural and ecological disasters are not random freak accidents of nature, but simple the environment doing what it always does. It’s just that people didn’t look at the patterns in a long enough scale, and build in places where they shouldn’t build, refused to move aside or adjust when a predictable and regular change was coming, and then had no plan what do if anything changes. Or when people made changes to the environment that benefit them in the short term, but didn’t consider that they removed important regulating and moderating from the ecosystem. When you get hit by a massive asteroid, that’s just bad luck, and when you drown in a tsunami that really isn’t your fault. But if you die from disease or starvation after a tsunami or an earthquake, that’s entirely on the people who build build your city. Humans are amazing creatures. In nature there are only a small number of creature that can threaten us and almost none of them want to get anywhere near us if they can avoid it. Pretty much anything else bad that nature can do to us is because people thought they had great ideas to improve the environment and were not aware of the full impact their modifications would have. This really is the underlying philosophy of the entire setting. If you try to make big changes, you get a huge risk. If you want to improve your situation, adjust and try to adapt to the environment. Don’t try to change the environment to suit your wishes.

People don’t really matter in the bigger picture and what threy can accoplish is pretty strictly limited. This doesn’t just apply for the players, but for all NPCs as well. If people try to go beyond these limitations, they will always fail. And the harder they tried, the worse the resulting damage will be. Sometimes the opponents of the players can be villains who want to do evil things. But in this setting, the opponents can just as well be people who have put ambition over caution, setting events into motions that will have disastrous consequences. Not only is there a need to save people from these consequences, the players will also have to get the opponents to give up their ambitions and change their plans. Warlocks are great candidates to play both role, as their art of sorcery is all about getting around the rules of regular magic and the God Kings and Sorcerer Lords of Senkand all work on wrestling control over the environment from the spirits.

Humility will keep you safe

This is the inverse of the previous truth. To survive in the wilderness and deal with the spirits, the key is to aknowledge the limits of your powers and to adapt to the situations you are facing. But I think this approach should apply to all challenges that the players will encounter during adventures. Whenever the players use trickery or make offers of cooperation, this should increase the odds of leading to success. Taking great risks to themselves for the benefit of other should be held in their favor as well.

On the other hand, relying on force and threats, and acting selfish or with pride should not be doing them any favors.

This does not mean that all PCs are required to be humble and kind all the time. But use of force and intimidation will not quickly be forgotten, and the target numbers for success might be a bit higher. Bull headed characters can still succeed. They just are not making things easy for themselves. On the other hand, if such characters do show moments of humility and reserve, this should be held in their favor when deciding on NPC reaction and target numbers.