Tuesday, September 29, 2015

You Say the Underdark is Going Crazy? Diinkarazan Started That.

Buppido, who thinks he is the reincarnation of Diinkarazan in Out of the Abyss

For the last couple of years I've been looking occasionally at the boxed set The Night Below (TSR 1125). The adventure fascinates me as it's a massive undertaking designed in such a way that it test both the players' ability to improvise and plan effectively, as well as, the Dungeon Master's. That's been a rare commodity in the modules that I've examined over the years and so the Night Below has captured my imagination. Still, I've never made a concerted effort to really plow through the adventure from beginning to end so that I'm prepared to actually run it.

I'm changing that.

Anyway, there's a character that has kind of gotten my attention lately, Darlakanand (a Derro with a terrible name) who is driven by the mad Power, Diinkarazan (again, a terrible name). Diinkarazan is one of the many Second Edition divine powers that you run across every so often when exploring a module from that era that will send you off through other books trying to figure out who the hell they're talking about.

The first time that I noticed Diinkarazan was when I ran across the Isle of Derangement: 
". . . This small island has, in the center of its one cove, a single 6-foot-high standing stone with a Derro handprint indelibly etched into its surface. This stone was once touched by the mad Demo demi-deity Diinkarazan, and it causes insanity in anyone approaching within 30 feet (saving throw vs. spell to resist). However, from time to time creatures swim too close to shore and are affected; as a result,a community of wholly deranged kuo-toa lives here. They have become the dominant group by killing anything else that arrives . . ." (Sargent NB, 35)
There's something about the idea of a divine presence coming in contact with a location and leaving a part of its will behind to forever affect the world afterwards that just strikes a perfect tone for me. I mean, Diinkarazan has manifested real evidence of his presence in a world where few even acknowledge his existence and in so doing has indelibly changed a whole section of the Underdark. Sure it's not as sexy as a bunch of Demon Lords running amok in the Underdark as is happening with this year's Rage of Demons story BUT wouldn't it be wild if the ultimate secret of that storyline was that the players had come into contact with the Isle of Derangement from Night Below and were living out the Rage of Demons story in their minds?

Diinkarazan is an interesting character who is really only developed in three places that I know of: the Night Below (TSR 1125), Monster Mythology (DMGR4, TSR 2128), and On Hallowed Ground (TSR 2623). In the Night Below Diinkarazan is a passing presence mentioned but not really defined. Monster Mythology Diinkarazan is granted a whole paragraph where we learn about his relationship with the Derro's primary god, Diirinka. Here it is revealed that Diinkarazan is shunned in Derro lore because the shamans who revere his twin brother, Diirinka, are doing their best to make sure that Diinkarazan is never powerful enough to seek his revenge on his brother for betraying him. The betrayal happened like this:
". . . The two young gods, probably children of one or other of the lesser dwarven gods (this is most unclear), sought to expand their dominion and wished to create their own race of dwarves. They wanted their creation to be distinctive, typified by qualities hill and mountain dwarves lack - speed, dexterity, and magical prowess. Drawn to deeper places than to other dwarves, they explored the Underdark and found a vast cavern glittering with the elemental force of raw magic. They began to gather up strange, alien magical artifacts scattered about a central green crystal sphere floating just above the ground, and as they did so a vast spectral brain floated up from the sphere and surveyed them coldly. Ilsensine, the god of illithids, did not take well to his secrets being stolen by a pair of diminutive dwarves. Diirinka backstabbed his own brother and left him to be consumed by the spectral horror, fleeing for his life. He left his brother to be cursed most horribly by the furious illithid, and banished to the Abyss where he still dwells . . ." (Sargent MM, 59 - 60)
It should come as no surprise to longtime D&D enthusiasts that both the Isle of Derangement and the god Diinkarazan come from the man who moved the needle of D&D away from what had become a tired and banal system and into a whole new realm of possibility: Carl Sargent. Sargent's work has always been the sort of thing that inspires my imagination in ways that few others before him have been capable of doing and almost no one has done since. Just look at that description for the relationship between Diirinka and Diinkarazan! Betrayal, family, power, horror! It's all there and yet so little is defined. It's tantalizing and in the equivalent of two paragraphs Sargent has created a demi-god that I want to make a part of my campaigns. He's everything I like about the Gods of Chaos from Warhammer without the baggage.

I have yet to read On Hallowed Ground yet, but I've ordered it. If anyone would like to fill us in on Diinkarazan's role in that supplement while I wait on UPS to show up I'd love to hear about what he's doing there.

Works Cited

Sargent, Carl. Monster Mythology. USA. TSR, Inc. 1992. Print. pg. 59 - 60

Sargent, Carl. Night Below, Book II, The Perils of the Underdark. USA. TSR, Inc. 1995. Print. pg. 35

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Monday, September 28, 2015

The Van Dyke Papers, Part 1: D&D Only Allows You to Play White People

This morning I was reading an old article put up by Chris Van Dyke about how racist Dungeons & Dragons actually is and how we should be aware of the assumptions the game makes about race. The article has an odd sort of logic to it that I would like to discuss for a few moments.
". . . In D&D, humans are the normative race, and given the Anglo-centric depiction of human culture in the game, humans can be interpreted as representing “white people.”  They are “normal,” while all other races, whether good or evil, are to some extent “exotic,” and otherized.

First, lets just look at race as it relates to the real world.  How are different human ethnic groups – black, white, Asian, Latino – depicted in the world of D&D?  In a word, they aren’t, and their presence is felt strongly through their near total exclusion.  This isn’t a great surprise, as the source material for high fantasy primarily stems from Anglo-Saxon and European folk-lore. Additionally, the vast majority of players are white males.  I actually have no statistics to back this up, but anyone who wants to argue that point can after I’m done.  In a game based around “role playing,” players are encouraged to take on the part of elves, dwarves, half-orcs, assassins, and warlocks, yet it is assumed that in all these roles they will still be white.  Not that this is ever stated, of course, but this assumption lies both in the lack of any mention of human ethnicity in the character creation process and the illustrations of player characters found in the core texts . . ." (Van Dyke)
In certain segments of our hobby there is the belief that Dungeons & Dragons is a game where racial prejudices are given free reign by allowing us to place the non-white man in the place of elves, dwarves, and other humanoid races. These proxy races then allow us to freely kill, maim, and defile the other with wanton abandon. For these people, and it's clear that Mr. Van Dyke should be counted among them, unless it is expressly mentioned that there are Black people, trans-gendered people, homosexuals, or any other minority group present in the game than they are excluded from the setting and are then shoved into the category of the "other." This "other" category represents anything that your character cannot expressly be allowed to play and into it are shoved all the repressed minorities that you find in the real world so that your white characters can go about smashing their brains in.

As you can imagine this is all complete bullshit.

The argument that games like Dungeons & Dragons are creating an assumption that all your player characters are white - half-orcs, drow, and all the other playable races included - is ludicrous. D&D isn't a game that says, "You can only play one type of character here, kids: white." It's a game that let's you build any sort of character that you want. Would you like to play a gay, trans-gendered, Hispanic Wizard? You got it! Want to play a Black, female Barbarian who rides a mechanical horse in search of treasure and male booty to plunder? Do it! Thinking about rolling up an Asian Rogue who only speaks in riddles? Get on it! The only person preventing you from picking any sort of minority group to represent in your game is you.

Van Dyke then moves on from this series of false assumptions to bring up outright misinformation:
". . . In the over 100 illustrations of adventurer’s in the 2nd Edition Player Handbook and Dungeon Master’s Guide (both published in 1989), there are NO non-white adventurers.  Finally, after 25 years the 3rd edition, published in 2003, makes some passing mention of race in the character creation process
". . . Most humans are the descendants of pioneers, conquerors, traders, travelers, refugees, and other people on the move. As a result human lands are hom to a mix of people - physically, culturally, religiously, and politically different. Hardy or fine, light-skinned or dark, showy or austere, primative or civilized, devout or impious, humans run the gamut . . . Thanks to their penchant for migration and conquest, and to their short life spans humans are more physically diverse than other common races. Their skin shades range from nearly black to very pale, their hair from black to blond (curly, kinky, or straight), and their facial hair (for men) from sparse to thick . . ." (Tweet, 12)
There you have it – “dark” and “kinky” are they only two adjectives in the first 25 years of D&D core texts that acknowledge that PCs might be something other than fair-skinned Anglo-Saxons.  Yet the illustrations still show an almost purely white world.  In 80 illustrations spread over the two core books of 3rd ed., there is one black woman and no black men.  Coming across this picture after flipping through 982 pages of rules, I wasn’t sure whether the correct reaction was to be glad that the editors of the 3rd edition were broadening the concept of who a PC might be, or wonder why the first trace of race was a scantily clad, busty black female warrior . . ." (Van Dyke).
Van Dyke presents the passage he quotes from the 3.5 revision of Dungeons & Dragons as the first time in "25 years of D&D core texts that acknowledge that PCs might be something other than fair-skinned Anglo-Saxons;" which is outright false. Three years earlier the 3.0 version of the Dungeons & Dragons Player's Handbook was published with the exact same text. Going even further back my Second Edition Player's Handbook, which he apparently only examined the illustrations from and not the text, expressly states that: ". . . Although humans are treated as a single race in the AD&D game, they come in all the varieties we known on Earth . . ." (Cook, 32). If we do as Van Dyke suggests and limit our inquiry into D&D's racial bias to the core books than it is clear that the game has explicitly acknowledged the wide variety of racial differences possible for human beings since 1989, eleven years after the publication of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. Yet even if we were to ignore those earlier, explicit acknowledgements of humanity's racial diversity in the game we would still have things like Oriental Adventures (1985), The Greyhawk Boxed Set (1983), and the myriad of Setting supplements that came out after the publication of First Edition that had peoples in a wide variety of hues that would contest with Van Dyke's assertion.* From this point forward Van Dyke is so wrapped up in his misinformation and false assumptions that he wildly jumps to conclusions that are not supported by evidence he has presented.  

More later.


* Van Dyke will later mention Oriental Adventures in his article by first making a snide comment about the term Oriental, as though everyone in 1985 had the same understanding of the term and it's offensiveness as we did in 2008, and then quoting a Something Awful post that said ". . . it wasn’t until 1985’s Oriental Adventures that you could even play an Asian person and when you think about it they are just smaller magical white people, which is what elves are . . ." (Sumner). He then follows this up by stating that ". . . 1992 saw the publication of the Al-Qadim: Arabian Adventures.  And really the less said about that the better . . ." (Van Dyke). He might as well be saying, "I know that I'm wrong here but I feel like I'm right so rather than present you with evidence that I am correct I'm going to malign the two things I know about that punch holes in my theses - especially since I missed illustrations of clerics from different races in the AD&D Player's Handbook from 1978 and there are lots of other illustrations in products before 2003 that I'm ignoring because they undercut my point as well."

Works Cited

Cook, David "Zeb." Dungeons & Dragons Player's Handbook. USA. TSR, Inc., 1989. Print. pg. 32

Sumner, Steve "Malak." Is Faerun Ready for Its First Orc President?. Something Awful. Something Awful, 25 April, 2008. Web. 27 September, 2015

Tweet, Jonathan, Monte Cook, and Skip Williams. Dungeons & Dragons Player's Handbook. Core Rulebook I v.3.5. USA. Wizards of the Coast, 2003. Print. pg. 12

Van Dyke, Chris. "Nerd Nite Presentation – November 18th, 2008" Race in D&D. Race in D&D, 28 November, 2008. Web. 27 September, 2015. 

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Monday, September 21, 2015

Dyvers, Part 2: So There was this City Filled with Monsters . . .

I've been thinking some more about what it would mean to have a city that is built on these colossal statues of lake monsters and filled with smaller lake monsters that are kept in aquariums throughout the city. The stereotypical side of my mind wants to say that the city would automatically be evil, or at the very least filled with vile cults worshiping the monsters of the deep as gods, but that's because we've been conditioned to think that way about such things by the hobby we love (just think about such a city in Call of Cthulhu, Warhammer 40K, and so on). It would be so easy to go down that road and to make the Dyvers I've been working on into such a place; a second city of evil on the continent that will draw millions of vile worshipers to its haunted streets - and yet that seems so boringly predictable. To go down that path where my players would know what to expect is to make Dyvers into a pit stop barely worth remembering beyond the fact that it had enough shops in it for them to unload their loot and get drunk for a fortnight before they had to head back into the wilds to seek their fortunes (and eventual deaths). So we need to go a different route.

One of the themes that I focused on in the last post, Dyvers, the City You Don't Remember, Remembers You Still, was the rivalry between Greyhawk and Dyvers that existed not only militarily but also culturally and economically. It's this rivalry that would make the lake monster thing more than the hallmark of vile worship. The statues and aquariums are a form of bravado and a way to remind the wider world that they have just as much danger and potential as Greyhawk itself. Yet it enlarges their position in regard to such things as they're bringing the Nyr Dyv and its dangers into their city. By doing so they've given the world the idea that their city holds the secrets to something more dangerous and lucrative than the hidden depths of Castle Greyhawk.

Now that's something that I can get behind.

It gives Dyvers a greater sense of itself. A population that would openly show off the dangers that surrounds them would naturally have a bit of a chip on its shoulder; like Memphis surrounded by the Mississippi and waiting for the next flood but proud as hell of that muddy water that could wipe every last soul in the city off the face of the earth if the dams fail. Perhaps even more appropriate is to compare Dyvers to those old Southern cities that name streets after the hurricanes that took neighborhoods and the Yankee generals who burned their way through the South leaving a swath of destruction behind them that crippled the South for decades afterwards. For the citizens of Dyvers the Lake Monsters aren't just an act of bravado but an open acknowledgement of what's made them who they are. The monsters and their attacks that come from the Nyr Dyv have significantly shaped the culture of the city and the way of thinking that the people have developed. 

Are they fatalistic? 

Undoubtedly; but this isn't a taciturn acceptance of fate's cruelty from a helpless populace blankly staring at certain death ahead of them. This is a whole city that has thrived on the edge of an unfathomable lake with a wild river that could wash them all away. Yet in spite of that they have thrived. Their economy is second to none and the trade that flows through their streets has opened up a nearly unlimited supply of cash. Only that isn't enough because everyone that matters is heading to Greyhawk and everything that's important seems to happen there. So they're faced with two options: let Greyhawk remain the number one city in the world and fade away or spit in their face and remake the world in Dyvers image. 

This isn't some fruitless cultural war waged in the forums, across Twitter, and through online petitions. The stakes for the people of Dyvers actually matter because if they win they aren't getting Target to stop dividing toys by Boys and Girls they're getting the whole world to look at them and wish they were them. This is the old style of culture war where one city is attempting to set the tone for the rest of the world by bringing the best, brightest, and most creative together and changing everything that comes next. This is Paris, London, New York. This is the place you dreamed about going to from the first day realized that there was more to the world than just your own little town. This is Dyvers. 

More later.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Pushing Past 500,000 and Digging in for the Long Haul!

Earlier this week I broke a new milestone that I never thought I would reach: 500,000 page views!

I knew that I was heading towards this number earlier in September but the new job has kind of occupied all of my attention and I wasn't watching the blog as closely as I have in the past. Kids, this is way cool! Thank you to everyone who has published a link to me, shared a post of mine in your social circles, your facebooks, and your tweets. I couldn't have done so well without all of your support! 

Now I have to come up with something for the 750,000 mark to celebrate! Maybe a give away?

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

The Price of Out of the Abyss across 5 Online Retailers

After receiving the letter from Zohaletha it occurred to me that it might be a good idea to look into what the book is running across the Big 5 online book distributors: Barnes & Noble, Amazon, Books-A-Million, Walmart, and Chapters (primarily a Canadian retailer). The last time I checked the prices in June (see Rage of Demons Pre-Order Price Drops! for more) Amazon was offering the best price at $34.33. My guess is that Amazon will continue to offer the lowest price.

Original Price: $49.95
Current Price: $31.00
Savings of: $18.95

Barnes & Noble
Original Price: $49.95
Current Price: $31.30
Savings of: $18.65

Original Price: $49.95
Current Price: $49.95
Savings of: NO SAVINGS

Original Price: $63.95
Current Price: $40.09
Savings of: $23.86

Original Price: $49.95
Current Price: $31.00
Savings of:$18.95

Color me surprised. I had no expectation that Walmart, which didn't even have the book available last time I checked, to provide a price for the book equal to that being offered by Amazon. I also had no idea that Books-A-Million wouldn't provide any savings at all!  

You've All Been Lied To [Letters to Dyvers]

Back in early May, 2015 I started looking into the soon to be released Out of the Abyss (D&D Accessory) campaign (see Out of the Abyss, Rage of Demons, Announced and a Look at Other Connected Products that have been Announced for more) and one of the things that became apparent during my investigation into the product was that Drizzt Do'Urden, R. A. Salvatore's famous Drow, would be playing a prominent role in the story throughout the majority of the connected products. While some of my readers were unhappy about this connection others were excited by the possibility of having one of their favorite characters taking a prominent role in the game.

Zohaletha was one of those looking forward to having Drizzt Do'Urden play a big role in the games with the players having an opportunity to interact with the world's most famous Drow in a big way. Unfortunately it seems that Zohaletha was more than a little bit disappointed in the final product.
You've been lied to about Drizzt Do'Urden being a part of the Out of the Abyss campaign. I just double-checked at the D&D sites, thinking maybe I misread. I did not. The Rage of Demons publication line, computer-games to RPG, were ALL supposed to feature Drizzt Do'Urden. Out of the Abyss is the RPG campaign for that line and was advertised to have him. But our local gaming store actually got the campaign early (release date 9-15-15) and we have been able to purchase them.

IT IS A LIE!!!!!! Drizzt Do'Urden is nowhere in the campaign setting of Out of the Abyss. There isn't even a hint of him. The closest you get is a single interview with Bruenor (who doesn't even mention his good friend, btw). The adventure starts you off as prisoners of the drow. Upon your escape you can line up with an NPC to do some sidequests that don't really have anything to do with anything until you're sent back into Menzoberranzan on a sidenote by Bruenor. After that you line up with an evil drow (who is previously unheard of) to complete the storyline. I'm so angry. I waited months for this campaign to come out, believing that at least in some way, shape or form our characters would work with Drizzt Do'Urden. I made a character especially for this campaign. I'm pissed and I'm returning the product. I'm willing to bet the video game and computer game are the exact same way. Don't waste your money on this product. The company (TSR, WotC, Hasbro, whatever they are calling themselves these days) have lied to you.

Undoubtedly some will find Zohaletha's terrible experience to be a blessing as Drizzt has been a source of concern expressed in my feed since the early announcement of the new storyline. For myself Drizzt was more of a curiosity than anything else as I've never actually read anything with him involved so I was looking at the possibility of his inclusion as I did every 'famous' non-player character I've ever run across in my years playing: as a good source of precious loot and experience points. Although I will say that I kind of enjoyed seeing him leap into Demogorgon's mouth . . .

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Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Dyvers Part 1: The City You Don't Remember, Remembers You Still.

When you think about the Free City of Dyvers what do you imagine? Is it a large city? Does it nestle against a river? Or does it sit against the mighty Nyr Dyv, the lake of unfathomable depths, and keep a watchful eye on its rival, Greyhawk? 

For a lot of us I don't think there's a clear answer to any of these questions because Dyvers isn't a sexy location. There are no Temples of Elemental Evil cropping up on its boarders; no castles built on long forgotten necropolises filled with ravenous monsters. I can't even think of adventures where it's featured. Let's face facts, kids: Dyvers is the city people throw in their campaigns when their players can't make it to Greyhawk.

I'd like to change that.

For me that means that I need to remake my beloved city in a way that makes it special. That means that I need to create a city that my players will want to not only explore but come back to repeatedly and always find something new to discover and explore. Before I go changing everything I need to firmly establish what Dyvers is as it exists in the game world today.  The best way to do that is to look at how it's described in the Living Greyhawk Gazetteer:
The city of Dyvers is located in perhaps the most lucrative trading nexus in all the Flanaess, a fact that has benefited it greatly throughout its long history. The city's position on the southern banks of the the mouth of the Velverdyva River allows Dyvers to capture the flow of trade from markets such as Schwartzenbruin, Highfolk Town, Tornward, and Verbobonc. Of course, trade flows up the Velverdyva, as well, so Dyvers sees much traffic from the Nyr Dyv and her various port cities. Accordingly, Dyvers is a reflection of many cultures - even the common barkeep can make change in a dozen different coinage systems.

The Free Lands of Dyvers consists of approximately 2,000 square miles on the southern bank of the Velverdyva, including four river islands, the verges of the Gnarley Forest, and the northernmost tip of the wooded Kron Hills. The land nearest the free city is suitable for farming and is leased to freemen by the Gentry of Dyvers, a collection of noble families who proudly trace their lineage back to the city's Aerdi founders. The wild lands beyond the farms are technically owned by the less influential members of the Gentry, but are in fact populated primarily by lawless woodsmen, sylvan elves, and no few fairies, who of course pay tribute to no human lord.

A number of small villages dot the Free Lands of Dyvers. The most notable is Maraven, a burgeoning eastern town near the border with the lands of Greyhawk. Maraven straddles the highly traveled Greyhawk Road, and in the past played the Gentry of Dyvers against the Directing Oligarchy of Greyhawk, managing to remain neutral even through periods of heavy skirmishing between the cities. In recent years, however, the Magister of Dyvers, Larissa Hunter, put an end to this intrigue, by stationing a castle to the east of Maraven, solidifying a hold on eastern nobles whose support was once tenuous at best.

Dyvers enjoys temperate weather throughout much of the year, with some accumulation of ice on the Velverdyva in deep winter. Due to its immense size and perhaps magical properties, the Lake of Unknown Depths does not freeze in cold weather; Dyvers runs shipping operations year round. Crews are mindful of the monstrous predators of the lake, however, and prepare accordingly.

The elite of Dyvers' small military forces are the Free Marines, 1,500 well equipped and trained mariners who double as passable cavalry and infantry in times of crisis. Most troops are in the Free Army, roughly three thousand humans carrying either polearms or shortspears and shields. The current magister achieved great success in the wars as the captain of this able force . . . (Holian, 40 - 41)
The description is pretty bare all said (though it should be noted that the history of the free city provides some interesting details to the city). We don't have any landmarks of note and unless you're looking for a place to trade there isn't a lot to get excited about there. But there are features here that we can use to make the city more impressive: the location of the city on the Velverdyva and not directly on the Nyr Dyv; the lake monsters in the Nyr Dyv; bandits on the outskirts of the territory; and a conflict with Greyhawk. 

The situation with Greyhawk is really only mentioned above in relation to actual armed conflict in the past, but there is no reason to suppose that the two cities have only fought with arms. As any World of Greyhawk enthusiast knows the Free City of Greyhawk has meddled in the affairs of other nations through economic and diplomatic manipulation. It would only be natural that Dyvers, being the rival city to Greyhawk, would attempt to do the same. In order to do that it would need not only the economic power of its trade but it would need the cultural capital to influence others. How do you imagine that Dyvers would attempt to bring that to bear?

I find myself thinking about Paris here and how it managed to influence the world even after the French Empire stopped being the economic and military center. It did it by having the best education through its universities; by having the most influential philosophers, scientists, artists, authors, and inventors living there; by becoming the cultural melting pot where new ideas and social mores are being born; and by creating architectural marvels that still take your breath away today. Thinking about the cities that have risen, and are in their ascendance, since Paris was the cultural center of the world it becomes clear that these avenues of cultural power are the way that Dyvers would attempt to become a counter-point to Greyhawk.

We know that Dyvers has the money, remember it ". . . is located in perhaps the most lucrative trading nexus . . ." (Holian, 40) in the world. We know that there is a rivalry with Greyhawk and that without a war going on the nobility of a nation will spend their money attempting to prove how much more wealthy, powerful, and important they are than their rivals. That means that the nobility of Dyvers will attempt to out shine that of Greyhawk by becoming patrons of art, invention, science, and so on. They will actively court the brightest and best of the world to their city so that best, new wonders of the modern world will only be found there. 

That sort of thinking about Dyvers changes how the city should be thought about. Instead of asking the name of the next inn we should be talking about the next marvel being unveiled. Dyvers should feel like a thriving metropolis that has new wonders of every sort appearing seemingly every day. For me Dyvers is a city ascending. It is a place with a chip on its shoulder looking to prove its importance, not only to the surrounding nations that press against its border, but to Greyhawk. Dyvers is London to Greyhawk's Paris. It may never become the dominant cultural power in the world but it will be a threat on every level to Greyhawk in that regard.

In order to push this on the right foot we need to make Dyvers important from the first minute that your players lay their figurative eyes on it. It needs to feel like something special not just another large city sitting on the edge of a river. There are lots of options for this but the one that I like the best was created by Robert Silverberg in his novel, Lord Valentine's Castle, and the description of the city Stoien.
". . .Valentine found Stoien strikingly beautiful. The entire peninsula was altogether flat, hardly twenty feet above sea leave at its heights point, but hte city-dwellers had devised a wondrous arrangement of platforms of brick faced with white stone to provide the illusion of hills. No two of these platforms were of identical height, some providing an elevation of no more than a dozen feet, others looming hundreds of feet in the air. Whole neighborhoods rose atop giant pedestals several dozen feet high and more than a square mile in area; certain significant buildings had platforms of their own, standing as if on stilts above their surroundings; alternations of high platforms and low ones created eye-jiggling vistas of startling contour.

What might have been an effect of sheerly mechanical whimsy, rapidly coming to seem brutal or arbitrary or fatiguing to behold, was softened and mellowed by tropical plantings unrivaled in Valentine's experience. At the base of every platform grew dense beds of broad-crowned trees, interlaced branch by branch to form impenetrable cloaks. Leafy vines cascaded over the platform walls. The wide ramps that led from street level to the higher platforms were bordered by generous concrete tubs housing clusters of bushes whose narrow tapered leaves were marked with astonishing splashes of color . . ." (Silverberg, 306).
Reading that passage I found myself imagining a Dyvers that followed a similar path. The idea has kind of been bouncing about in my mind for weeks as I have been thinking about rebuilding Dyvers as something far more exciting than just the next shop and inn. Yesterday I even put down a hastily drawn sketch during my break.

I like the idea that you could have a city suspended on stilts and platforms but the idea that these mountainous, statues would be supporting the city really made me excited. It set Dyvers apart from the minute that you first looked at it and immediately gave it something special that your players would remember for years after. There would have to be more than just these statues though or else they too would fade from memory and become just a footnote in the game; nothing more than a mote that gets in your eye and then is gone. 

What made Stoien so memorable for me was that there was this over-arching theme to the platforms and the city. The gardens make the whole place something special and give it's people a character that would otherwise be lacking. I want to borrow what Silverberg so brilliantly achieved and make Dyvers have that same sort of impact for my players.  Right now that means that I'm borrowing his platforms since there's a logical reason to use them with Dyvers - the flooding Nyr Dyv and Velverdyva river - but if I keep them than there has to be some theme to the city that makes it more than just a situation where they've seen it once and they're done ever hearing about them again. 

Perhaps the best idea is to change the statues under the platforms into lake monsters and use that as the theme of the city. Imagining statues of them throughout the city with live, smaller varieties of the Nyr Dyv's monstrous denizens kept in aquariums on every wealthy lot and in practically every well-to-do business seems like a good way to go. It's a bravado that echoes that described later on in the city of Stoien and creates a sense that the people of Dyvers have this fearless attitude about their surroundings; as though they realize that they are surrounded by forces of nature that could easily destroy them tomorrow and instead of cowering before their fates they have decided to embrace them. 

More later.

Works Cited

Holian, Gary; Erik Mona; Sean K Reynolds; and Frederick Weining. Living Greyhawk Gazetteer. USA: Wizards of the Coast, 2000. PRINT. pgs 40 - 41

Silverberg, Robert. Lord Valentine's Castle. United States. Bantam Books, 1981. PRINT. 306

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Tuesday, September 8, 2015

The Book Shelf: A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr.

Without question A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr. is one of the best novels I've read in my life. Miller has an amazing writing style that allows him to be absurdly funny one moment and then tragically prophetic the next without the typical sanctimonious preaching that can accomplish such things.

The novel follows the story of a single church through periods within the lives of three monks, of vastly different time periods, that illustrate the steady progress of man after having survived the self-inflicted nuclear annihilation of the planet. Each monk's life dominates a single section of the book with each life's story exploring a different aspect of humanity's climb back from the abyss while at the same time examining the importance of religion within an individual's life and it's importance in our collective survival.

Now when I picked up A Canticle for Leibowitz it was without ever having heard of it before. I had no idea that I was getting ready to read one of the classics of Science Fiction or post-apocalyptic fiction - and if I had I would have been far less likely to pick it up. So often when you see a book that is presented as universally praised it tends to be terrible. The writing is either overly stylized, nebulous to the point of pointlessness, or overly complicated for no other reason than to complicated. Books like that have an audience and it is small for a reason: because the vast majority of people who tell you about them haven't actually read them. These books take on a life of their own were people talk about how great they are without ever having read them because that's what everyone else thinks. That isn't the case in A Canticle for Leibowitz. Miller's novel is perfect in every way. The writing is brilliant; the characters are pitch perfect, and I cannot recommend it enough. Do yourself a favor and pick up this classic work today.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

So There Was This Pregnant Pause That Meant Something . . . To Some People

So, how have you been?

Really? I can't believe she said that! What did you do?

Oh? Me? Man, let me tell you I've had a busy, busy September. I helped move my brother and it was a challenging move - as all moves are - but we got it done and even though we couldn't get him into his new apartment because of a scheduling conflict we were able to help him get his U-haul loaded and the old place cleaned. Plus, it's always great to get to see him; I can never get enough of that.

Then I started a new job and it has been the best thing I've done in several years. I mean I am just having an absolute blast with no two days being exactly the same. It's made things challenging and that is just fantastic! I love challenges because it creates a situation where I can honestly say, "If it's up to be, then it's up to me," and mean it. Love, love, love that.

Anyway the new job has kind of put the blog on the back-burner this past week while I've been getting used to the new schedule. Still quite a bit of adjusting on my end but I've got some stuff in the pipeline for this upcoming week so there shouldn't be a dearth of content like you've seen this past week.

Best Reads of August (barring any unusually difficulties) should be up the week of September 12 - 18. Also, I'm getting the Out of the Abyss book! So excited!

Here's the greatest gif ever made.

Thursday, September 3, 2015


Welcome back to the Best Reads of the Week! Every week I read through more than 450 blogs looking for the best rpg related articles and bringing them directly to you so that you don't miss any of the best stuff. This week we've got: a fantastic little story from +Stelios V. Perdios; thoughts about running games at conventions; some excellent Dwarf variants; an amazing npc Orc that's just dying to make an appearance in your home games; fantastic advice for writing adventures from one of the OSR's best; thoughts on the best asset at the game table - the power gamer; and so much more!

As always, if you liked any of the posts listed here be sure to let the author know. Leave them a note on their blogs, give them a plus 1, like them on the Facebooks, and share their posts in your social media feeds! Till next week!

JULY 20 - 31, 2015!

Anne Greyhawk and Her Curses Part 1 and Anne Greyhawk and Her Curses Part 2 by +Stelios V. Perdios, from the blog The Word of Stelios: I'm firmly convinced that Stelios is brilliant at nearly anything he attempts. This short story just continues to confirm that belief.

Restarting my AD&D campaign - doing it differently by +Michael S, from the blog ChicagoWiz's Games: Sometimes one of the hardest things to do is to look honestly at your own campaign and to realize not only where it went wrong but why. In this insightful post from Michael he breaks down his campaign in a way that I've rarely seen done. His honest and direct appraisal is a refreshing look into what can go wrong, how to confront it, and where to go from there.

Doing It Wrong When It’s Right There In the Book pt 2: Magic in B/X by Cirsova, from the blog Cirsova: I won't lie to you, this Doing It Wrong series that Cirsova is putting out is quickly becoming my favorite from the entire blog. It's amazing how many things that we take for granted because we've always done them a certain way - especially when we've been doing them wrong. Can't wait to see what Cirsova discovers next!

LL / 5e Mashup Part IV: Bard Songs by +Gavin Norman, from the blog The City of Iron: Gavin continues his attempts to combine parts of Fifth Edition Dungeons & Dragons with Labyrinth Lord. Really neat stuff and I think this one is the best of the quartet.

The Lost Shrine of the Trickster God: GMing at Conventions by The Chatty DM, from the blog Critical Hits: While the Chatty DM is specifically talking about running at a convention his advice would work well for any situation where you're playing with new players. Well worth reading and bookmarking for future inspiration when you're getting ready to start a new group.

Clerical Work Part 18: Specialty Priests of Tymora for D&D 5th Edition and Part 19: Specialty Priests of Loviatar by +Mark Craddock, from the blog Cross Planes: The continuation of Mark's series of posts attempting to bring the Specialty Priest into 5e through feats.

Alternate Turn Undead Mechanics by Delta, from the blog Delta's D&D Hotspot: In this really well done post Delta explores an alternative to the Original D&D version of turn undead. The rework could be used in other versions of the D&D game and it might be worth checking out for those of you who have never been all that happy with how Turn Undead works.

4 popular beliefs Dungeons & Dragons defied in the 70s by DM David, from the blog DM David: While this post is specifically aimed at Dungeons & Dragons it's amazing to me how these beliefs have all been turned on their heads and essentially become a part of popular culture in a way that would never have seemed possible back in the 1970s. Great article by David.

TOLKIENIC DWARFS by +Dungeon Smash, from the blog Dungeon Smashing Empire: If you're looking for some excellent Tolken-esque dwarves to populate your world with, this short list is the perfect place to start. Many of the names presented have their meanings next to them which really lends a sense of depth to them.

1d10 Reasons You Should Have Done Something Else . . . Like Drink. A Lot by +Charles Akins, from the blog Dyvers: Terrible, terrible things are being said here. Most of them funny.

The No-Man's Land Trillogy: Part 1, d100 Whats in that hole in no-man's land; Part 2, d100 No-Mans Land Encounters; and Part 3, d100 Strange encounters in or under no man’s land by +Chris Tamm, from the blog Elfmaids & Octopi: Of the long string of d100 tables Chris has made in the last four years this trio may be my favorite. Not only are they easily manipulated into any deadly area you create in your home campaign but if you use all three it actually creates this wild mini-setting, complete with its own story hooks. A brilliant series.

Princess Determination Table 1: Leigh Brackett's Solar System by +John Till, from the blog Fate of Tekumel: While this table is setting specific I dig the hell out of it. There's something about it that just makes the pulpy, space-opera loving heart beat just a little bit harder.

Game Night Extrordinarie and a Game Prop of Epicness by +Tim Shorts, from the blog Gothridge Manor: I am rarely given to open jealousy but on this occasion I am laid bare. I am completely and totally jealous that Tim was lucky enough to explore this home made dungeon. Check it out to see lots of pictures and be just as jealous as me.

The Sad Story of Tik Tok the Half Human by +Jez Gordon, from the blog Giblet Blizzard: If this short piece by Jez doesn't provide you with a NPC for your games than you haven't read it. Love this character and I can't wait to have Tik Tok show up in one of my own campaigns.

What Happens When Cthulhu Is Released by +Arnold K., from the blog Goblin Punch: What would happen if a creature like Cthulhu was released from his slumbers? Arnold has a good idea and I like it a lot.

Adventure Writing Advice  by +Tim Shorts, from the blog Gothridge Manor: Tim's been writing a lot of adventures and he's got some pretty solid advice on how to go about making something that you can be proud to have made. Worth checking out for anyone who writes their own adventures.

Why no Nations in Gamma World? by +Joseph Bloch, from the blog Greyhawk Grognard: I'll confess that I have a soft spot for Gamma World, but that doesn't stop me from wondering about some of its eccentricities. It doesn't stop Joseph either and that's why he's asking where are the nations? Why haven't the peoples of Gamma World once again formed nations? What do you think?

Jean Veber by Aeron, from the blog Monster Brains: Someone needs to go through these retrospective of Jean Veber's work and stat up these monsters. Practically every picture in this post has my brain off to the races and plotting adventures to encounter these creatures - and even if I had never heard of role-playing games I would be writing stories about them. Jean Veber is right in my wheelhouse and I am now a huge fan.

On Principled Profit, The Con Man and the Fraud by +Courtney Campbell, from the blog Hack & Slash: If you haven't heard of Ken Whitman then consider yourself lucky because this charlatan has been bilking consumers and industry professionals for nearly twenty years. Before you invest in any of Ken's future Kickstarters be sure to read this first.

D&D 5e: Magic Item Economy by +Brandes Stoddard, from the blog Harbinger of Doom: Brandes discusses magic items and the economy built around them in a setting like Eberron here. His thoughts on the subject can easily be extrapolated to any setting where magic items are more common.

Why PDFs of Fifth Edition D&D still matter by +Robert Jazo, from the blog A Hero Twice A Month: We're over a year since 5th Edition dropped into our laps and still there are no official 5e PDFs. Does it even matter? Robert thinks so.

Suggested Readings for Running Fantasy Cities by +Chris Kutalik, from the blog Hill Cantons: If you're thinking about running a fantasy city this post is a great place to start as Chris has already created an index of books, blogs, and articles that you should check out for your research. Well worth bookmarking and revisiting time and time again.

Edmund Joseph Sullivan by Aeron, from the blog Monster Brains: If this retrospective of Edmund Joseph Sullivan's art doesn't inspire you take your games into an exciting direction that you need to check your pulse because you dead.

Why your Power Gamer is your most valuable player . . . sometimes by +Murky Master , from the blog Murky Murky: Without out a doubt the Power Gamer is often the most maligned player at the table. They min / max every skill, ability, and power until their characters are often walking gods that dominate the game. Such a player is trouble in almost every way. So why then is Murky saying they're your most valuable player?

Differences Between 1st and 2nd Edition AD&D by Mike Summers, from the blog Old Guy Gaming: When it comes to discussing the differences between the two editions there's often this hand-waving that goes on because many of those changes aren't really that substantial. But what actually changed and how did it affect the game? Mike has your answers.

Victory Speech by +Zak Smith, from the blog Playing D&D with Porn Stars: Often victory speeches are complete garbage, but this one isn't. Instead of being a self-congratulatory pat on the back it stands as a rallying cry for everyone who creates their own products in this hobby. Stop taking the easy way out. Stop compromising and do things the way you envision them. It's arguably one of the two best victory speeches I've seen in the last five years. Well done all around.

Why  I  Love  Dungeon  Crawl  Classics  RPG  (and  Why  You  Should  Play  it) by +Stelios V. Perdios, from the blog The Word of Stelios: Dungeon Crawl Classics is one of those games that I've always been interested in but have never been willing to pay the money to get a copy of because I was on the fence about whether it was worth the cost or not. After reading Stelios' post I can say that I'm picking up a copy today.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015


Welcome back to the Best Reads of the Week! Every week I read through more than 450 blogs looking for the best rpg related articles and bringing them directly to you. This week we've got: a FREE adventure from +Sean Bircher; +David Dolph is asking if this is the last edition of Dungeons & Dragons; a fantastic way to bring new life to encounters with elementals; thoughts on where GURPS goes from here; a love letter to Castles and Crusaders that will have you checking that game out; and so much more!

As always, if you liked any of the posts listed here be sure to let the author know. Leave them a note on their blogs, give them a plus 1, like them on the Facebooks, and share their posts in your social media feeds! Till next week!

JULY 13 - 19, 2015!

GM Advice - no time for introductions by +Moe Tousignant, from the blog Windsor Gaming Resource: When it comes to starting the adventure a lot of Game Masters find themselves at a loss for what to do. Start in an inn? It's a valid option, but Moe has a better idea: start with a bang!

HONOR AND DEATH by +Sean Bircher, from the blog Wine and Savages: Sean is one of the creative powerhouses of the role-playing game blogging scene and this short adventure he did for the Week of Vengeance project just his talent and creativity. Check this one out if you're looking for an adventure to throw at your players!

Why 5E is the Last Edition of D&D by +David Dolph, from the blog Big Ball of No Fun: Since the launch of Fifth Edition there have been various claims that this would be the last edition that run from semi-official statements from the Wizards of the Coast Design Team to wilder pronouncements in the fringes of the internet. Many of these have been dismissed immediately by the wider community of D&D enthusiasts, but David has a theory about why these pronouncements may very well be true.

5 Narrative Details About Caves that will Give your Games some Grit by +Doug Anderson, from the blog Blue Boxer Rebellion: Not being a natural cave explorer myself, as is the case with many of my readers, I found this short guide by Doug to be really valuable. Well worth reading for anyone looking to throw their players into the caverns of their favorite imaginary setting.

LL / 5e Mashup, Part I: Skills; Part II: The Rogue Class; and Part III: The Warrior Class by +Gavin Norman, from the blog The City of Iron: These mashups of various parts of Fifth Edition Dungeons & Dragons and Labyrinth Lord are really interesting. I kind of love mashups on the whole so this is really in a sweet spot for me.

Clerical Work Part 17: Specialty Priests of Kossuth for D&D 5th Edition by +Mark Craddock, from the blog Cross Planes: Mark's continuing series of post attempting to bring the Specialty Priest from 2nd Edition into 5th Edition through feats.

Elemental, I choose you! by +Daniel Davis, from the blog Detect Magic: Daniel has this fantastic idea about treating elementals like Pokemon. I really dig the idea because it kind of makes the enemies you encounter unpredictable in a way that could really become one hell of a fun challenge.

My Rule Zero by +Jens D., from the blog The Disoriented Ranger: Everyone has a rule in their role-laying games that is central to how they play. For some this rule is, "The Dungeon Master is always right," and that's fine but not everyone holds that as a central tenet of their Game Mastering. Jens certainly doesn't, do you?

Disorder vs. Disaster  by +Peter V. Dell'Orto, from the blog Dungeon Fantastic: When you think about games like Dungeons and Dragons is the world you're playing in suffering from disorder or from some post-apocalyptic disaster? Peter contends that most of us D&D players are exploring worlds suffering from disorder. What do you think?

A Tale of Carnage and Revenge by +Jens D., from the blog The Disoriented Ranger: A short, enjoyable bit of fiction that makes me way too happy. I really dug the way he wrote this one.

Jackalware by Blanca Martinez and Joe Sparrow, from the blog Dungeons and Drawings: If this evocative drawing by Blanca and Joe doesn't get you interested in throwing a Jackalware at your players than I honestly don't know what's wrong with. Also, these guys are amazing and you should totally peruse their archives for some kick-ass illustrations of over 300 monsters.

The Ax Grinders Goal by +Mark Van Vlack, from the blog Dust_Pan_Games: An alternative way to reward revenge plots that goes beyond just a satisfying chop to the neck and an end to an imaginary life. Like so many of Mark's efforts on game design he has a way of taking you beyond the complicated mechanics and making the whole thing into something not only enjoyable to read but that feels easy to implement into your own games.

Cultist by +Mike Bridges, from the blog Greyhawkery: This funny one off comic from Mike is a great introduction to not only his sense of humor but to the sort of things he does with his fantastic Greyhawk comic. If you've not checked him out before now is a great time to do so!

Clerics of Blackmoor by DHBoggs, from the blog Hidden in Shadows: The Cleric class originated in the Blackmoor supplement yet we have scant little in way of information about the clerics of Blackmoor. DHBoggs attempts to rectify that in this rather enjoyable post.

I ran Torchbearer by +Natalie Bennett, from the blog How to Start a Revolution in 21 Days or Less: Torchbearer is one of those games that I have an unreasonable fascination with in spite of never having actually gotten a copy of the game; so reading Natalie's experiences with it is right up my alley.

R.E.V.E.N.G.E. by +Alasdair Cunningham, from the blog Iron Rations: There is something so exciting about an organization dedicated to fighting back against the heroes of your campaign; someone your villains can call on when everything goes against them. I love the idea and in Alasdair's capable hands they become the stuff of nightmares for your players.

The Future of GURPS? by Jeff Lees, from the blog Jeff's Hobby Blog: There are hints that a new edition of GURPS may be in the offing and it brings a lot of questions with it. Jeff has some thoughts on where GURPS has been and where it should go in the future.

 Arts & Crafts: Morbidly Encumbered edition by Rose and +Logan Knight, from the blog Last Gasp: Open this article and be jealous. It's okay, really. These cats who play with Logan and Rose just happen to get all the cool shit you wish your Game Master would do for you. So you might as well know what it is that you want when you pick out your next Game Master.

I think level drain is stupid by +Patrick Henry Downs, from the blog Nerdwerds: There is a legitimate argument that has been going on for some time now in our hobby that revolves around the use of level draining. Patrick puts forth a powerful argument against level drain.

D20 Disgust by +Zak Smith, from the blog Playing D&D with Porn Stars: A semi-funny table of reasons why a rpg book would suck so badly that you would throw it aside. Sadly some of the things he mentions are very close to things I've actually read and thrown a book across the room for doing.

Revenge, and Why Your NPCs Want It by +Travis Milam, from the blog The Rambling Roleplayer: Sometimes the idea that your NPCs might have something at stake in the games - well, beyond giving the player characters things like quest and loot. Travis, however, reminds us that they should bee more than just a blank face and numbers on a page. They should have motivations too.

Why I love Castles & Crusades by +Otto Q, from the blog Quarzis Games: Have you ever gotten the chance to play a game that captured your imagination? Otto has, and in this fantastic post about Castles & Crusades he'll have you loving it too. Well worth reading!

Closing Comments.

Due to the influx of spam comments on Dyvers I am closing the comments. I'm not currently doing anything with this blog, but I don'...