Thursday, July 19, 2018

Current Projects: Umberwell and Cinderheim

Krevborna: A Gothic Blood Opera was well-received enough that I've been putting in work to get two of my other settings into publishable form. As you can see from the picture above, the inspirations going into Umberwell and Cinderheim are quite different, but to be honest it's actually been refreshing to have two separate directions to work in at the same time. Here's where I'm at in the process:

Cinderheim: The Land Under the Demon Sun
Under the demon sun lies a desert wasteland of desolate barrens where seven warlords rule seven oases of savage beauty. Amid the dunes, brutal scavengers battle for survival against desperate raiders and monsters born of demonic corruption. This is Cinderheim, a blasted hellscape of barbarism, sandstorms, and unrelenting heat. In Cinderheim, freedom beckons to those strong enough to fight for it.

If you like Dying Earth fiction (Brackett, Vance, Dark Sun), Sword and Sorcery (Berserk, Tanith Lee, Clark Ashton Smith), and Weird Westerns (Jonah Hex, Pretty Deadly, The Dark Tower) then Cinderheim might be what you're looking for.

Originally I wanted to publish Cinderheim as a saddle-stitched 'zine, but apparently that form factor isn't a possibility given the other specifications I have for it. The upside is that this means I could give myself a little more breathing room in terms of page count.

Right now, Cinderheim has been been written and edited. It still needs another copy editing pass by me and one more piece of interior art. This one could be out the door at the end of summer.

You can find additional blog posts about Cinderheim here.

Umberwell: City of Rust, Blackened Be Thy Name
Umberwell exists amid the streets, across five islands, underground, suspended above the clouds, within domes beneath the sea, and perched perilously upon towers that lord over the rust and refuse below. New ways of life germinate and flower in the corroded splendor of Umberwell. Umberwell is honeycombed with all-night cabarets and taverns. Some of the city’s delights are migratory—here today, displaced tomorrow. Umberwell is a city in a world where the cosmic forces of repression and anarchy clash eternally. Umberwell is interplanar; its reality overlaps countless other permutations. Umberwell is an impossible fever dream.

If you like fantasy cities like Ashamoil, New Crobuzon, Sigil, Sharn, and Duskwall, then Umberwell might be what you're looking for.

Umberwell is the kind of city campaign setting I'm always interested in, but rarely find: heavy on adventure possibilities, light on minute definition of the city's limits.

Umberwell is written and currently in the hands of an editor. Art for Umberwell hasn't started yet and I haven't made the indexes--which can't be made until I'm satisfied that I don't desire to add more content--so this one isn't likely to see the light of day until the fall. But it will be worth the wait, and I like taking my time.

You can find additional blog posts about Umberwell here.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Umberwell: Aasimar, Birdfolk, Catfolk

The citizenry of Umberwell are a varied myriad; the ancestries discussed bellow denote only a fraction of the peoples that comprise the city-state’s populace.

Aasimar are not a separate race in the usual sense; aasimar children are born seemingly at random into human families. Those who believe in the teachings of the People’s Covenant believe that aasimar are touched by the spiritual glory of the six goddesses. This reverential attitude tends to push aasimar toward haughty or imperious personality traits.

The winged birdfolk are a rare sight in the city, but a few do rent or own “nests” atop Umberwell's highest towers and skyward spires—they prefer to live at height rather than at street-level. Birdfolk are notoriously insular and xenophobic; most birdfolk in Umberwell are exiles forbidden from returning to their homeland for crimes that seem baroque to most other races. 

The feline catfolk are a scattered people who find little welcome in the world, save for a grudging acceptance in Umberwell. Even so, catfolk sometimes garner a poor reputation; some regard them as thieves, thugs, and con artists due to their dubious regard for personal property rights. However, due to their natural stealth and agility, some catfolk find employment as scouts and rangers working for the Umberwell Militia.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Hot Ghost Pirate on Ghost Pirate Action

Over the weekend I went down to Alexandria to play games as part of the D&D Weekend my friends get together for every year. This is how the game I played in went down:

Characters. Fillian Frost (human rogue), Sterling (human fighter), ZhaoWei (eladrin warlock), Gunther (gnome barbarian), Wolfric (half-elf paladin), Ivy (aasimar cleric).

Events. After attending the funeral of a character we met last time--and did not murder ourselves, we asked--we were approached by a cleric who told us about a series of villages that had been raided down the coast...apparently by a ship full of ghost pirates. Of course we agreed to investigate.

We talked to a madman that claimed to have seen red eyes during one of the attacks. We also talked to a ludicrously named gnome healer named Filistrum Wundercundoodle who had some "toe bones" from the "ghost pirates."

"Filtrum Wundercumdoodle, your shop has a wonderful aroma. Now, let's talk about bones." - Ivy Valerio

The fact that the bones had some sort of adhesive glue on them led us to believe that a Scooby Doo situation was afoot.

And then, side quests. A talking squirrel directed ZhaoWei to a woodland glade where he was told that something was messing with the weather patterns. Sterling and Gunther were given a silver axe in the cemetery by a half-orc who warned them of demonic cult activity. Ivy was invited to a late-night dinner and was asked to keep an eye out for a delayed merchant.

Encounters on the way! We found the delayed merchant, fixed his broken axle, and ate his stew. We got caught between a dire wolf and her cubs, but Gunther managed to talk her out of eating us.

We met up with a ferryman who told us that there was nothing interesting about the island village he lived in, so of course we wanted to go there. It was a suspicious shit hole. A little orphan girl asked us to take her with us when we left. A bunch of old women threatened to poison us. The guy we were hoping to get information from told us that a dracolich was responsible for the attacks, but he was clearly lying and wouldn't admit it even after we escalated from good cop/bad cop to bad cop/worse cop.

The villagers told us that no one comes back from the forest, so we explored it and found their demon cult cave, complete with sacrificial altar, evil dagger, and books that indicated that the villagers had sold their souls to Tiamat. Since the village was full of hovels, it looked like they got ripped off. On the way back we fought a demon made of sagging skin.

Back in the village, a storm had hit. We checked out the smokehouse, where dubious meat was hanging. We took refuge in the barn, where Gunther talked to the goats--who were unhelpful. Of course, a miscreant with a crowbar and his "skeleton pirate" pals showed up to fuck with us, but we killed them handily. (And probably blew too many resources doing so.) The ghost pirate was actually just a kobold in a costume.

Then, we saw the fake ghost ship...rammed by a real ghost ship. Our Scooby Doo situation had gone meta. We commandeered a boat and rowed out to the melee. Our plan was to fight the real ghost pirates first, then clear out the kobolds.  Things looked good for us at first, but then we had at least three solid turns of bad rolls on our side. Things were looking dire. Gunther was knocked out, Fillian's player fell asleep, the fake pirates' cleric leader tried to make off with our boat, all of us were low on hit points and we were out of spells. 

We retreated to the boat and let the ghost pirates take their revenge on the villagers.

Monday, July 16, 2018

The Nine Hex-Marked Houses

Although the noble classes were relieved of the burden of political power many generations ago by a populist uprising, nine hex-marked houses of aristocratic tiefling witches and warlocks cling to feuds that stretch back through the ages; these hostilities often erupt in street violence between gangs of partisan cavaliers or duels to the death between courtiers. The magical melees between House Stockwither and House Bao are particularly brutal. The members of each house bear the black sigil of their family magically branded onto their left hands.


  • The House of Bao. The tieflings of House Bao are gifted with powers of conflagration and darkness. 
  • The House of Demian. The tieflings of House Demian are gifted with powers that bend their victims’ will. 
  • The House of Kortigo. The tieflings of House Kortigo are gifted with powers of illusion. 
  • The House of Malrouge. The tieflings of House Malrouge are gifted with powers of force and entrapment. 
  • The House of Moriah. The tieflings of House Moriah are gifted with powers of madness and disease. 
  • The House of Renash. The tieflings of House Renash are gifted with powers of stealth and deceit. 
  • The House of Stockwither. The tieflings of House Stockwither are gifted with powers of ice and frost. 
  • The House of Underhill. The tieflings of House Underhill are gifted with powers of control and manipulation. 
  • The House of Vexenvolk. The tieflings of House Vexenvolk are gifted with fiery, violent powers.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Don't Hate the Flayer, Hate the Game: The Rules

House Rules
99% of terrible house rules are born from wanting to add "realism" or "logic" to necessary abstractions.

"I didn't design this with balance in mind" is most often said by people who either don't want to do the work to make something balanced or don't have to design chops to even try.

Tweeting at Game Designers, Demanding Answers
People who tweet increasingly aggressive questions to game designers--or worse, people who demand new content or rule changes under the guise of asking a question--are actively trying to tell you that they aren't well suited to a game that is essentially based on the premise "make up fun stuff."

The Bait and Switch
If you tell people that you're going to run an "old-school 5e game" but what you really mean is that you added the advantage/disadvantage mechanic to Swords & Wizardry, it kinda feels like you couldn't get any players for the game you really want to run and maybe you should think about why that's the case.

If you suspect that someone is cheating on their dice rolls, keep a tally of what they claim they're rolling. If the only roll they ever blow is for initiative, they're probably fudging and you can safely stop inviting them to your games.

The funny thing about cheating at D&D is that the stakes are so low. I get being attached to your character, but it's not like money is riding on how the roll goes--which makes me think that people who lie about their rolls are playing in your game for reasons unconnected from having fun with other people in a pro-social way.

I've never encountered anyone who lies about their rolls that isn't also bringing some other problems to the table.

Speaking of cheating, this Twitter post by Bluejay sums up why I never fudge rolls as a DM (unless I think I screwed up and added wrong, rolled too many dice in the heat of the moment, etc.):