Monthly Archives: January 2010

D&D Nexus: Into the Freehold District

District Spotlight: The Freehold District

The Freehold district is the most welcoming and most open of all the districts of the city. It has the few requirements for residency, and the people tend to be welcoming of outsiders. Getting there is another issue- the district’s portal leads to a ruined area of the natural world, so Freeholders tend to come in through other parts of the city, or on airships through the Astral Sea.

To a new visitor, the most obvious qualities of the district are its strange architecture, and its safety. A decade ago it was home to yuan-ti and their abominable or undead servants. The district is a mix of ancient stone repurposed Yuan-Ti buildings, and much newer constructions where old buildings were torn away. The second feature is the magical ban against spilling blood in the district- no permanent harm can home to anyone from violence.

Background: Nexus Freehold District

A character with a background in the Freehold District likely lived a storied and transitory life, filled with wanderlust and journeys. The character may have settled down in the Freehold district, or he might have moved on. Freeholders always move on sooner or later, as there’s always the prospect of another adventure across the horizon.

A character who takes this background may take either Dungeoneering or Streetwise as their background skill, from an experience as a professional adventurer and ruin delver, or experience living in a bustling place.

The Mystic Warding

A magical effect on the district prevents the spilling of blood and violent death. Any player character who falls below 0 hit points does not need to record failed death saving throws. (The character should still roll them, in case a natural 20 is rolled.) A character who falls beneath their negative bloodied value does not die, but may not roll death saving throws, and if healed, is only restored to 0 hit points.
A nonplayer character or monster who is reduced to 0 hit points is only knocked unconscious, not killed.

The Wardens: The Iron Circle

The Freehold district is unique in that it has not a single ruler, but a ruling group- the Iron Circle, an experienced adventuring party. After defeating the previous Warden, a Yuan-Ti Mummy Lord, they decided to make the District their home and turn it into a point of light. So far, their effort seems to be working.

Officially, Loriengard, a Half-Elf Bard serves the district’s Warden. The other members of the group include Etherios, an Eladrin Swordmage, Minishutsu, a Human Ranger, Broken Feather, a Shifter Warlord, and Illustriel, a Deva Invoker, who each hold the position of Knight-Warden. The Iron Circle treats all its members as equals, and confers privately on important matters, with Loriengard taking the role of diplomat and messenger to the other Wardens.

Except for Loriengard, who’s duties keep him very busy, the others are fairly accessible and take an active hand in the District, often serving as mentors and patrons for up-and-coming adventurers.

Organizations and Locations

The majority of the District is known as the Freeholds. This area is host to many large houses, each one typically hosting an adventuring party. At first it was custom that these buildings themselves were the Freeholds, and those who lived in them Freeholders, but the term has come to apply to just about anyone who lives in the district. In addition to the Freeholds themselves, there’s a variety of boarding houses and inns for new residents or those who are loners by nature.

Located in this area is the Adventurer’s Gathering Post. A building to rival the proper guildhalls, this is a gathering area for adventurers, functioning like a guildhall and a giant tavern rolled into one. The organization has been lobbying for official guild status for several years, without any promise of progress any time soon.

The Armory is the headquarters of the Freehold Militia. Any resident of the district is welcome to serve a stint in the militia; it’s not required, but highly encouraged for resident adventurers. Those adventurers who don’t do their fair share in the militia often find the district becoming rather unwelcoming. Knight-Warden Etherios leads the Militia, and can often be found here or patrolling and surveying the city.

Ringing the Freeholds are the Outfitters, streets devoted to armorers, blacksmiths, and provisioners catering to the adventurers ready to go out on expeditions. There isn’t quite the sheer variety to be found in the Market District, but there’s the essentials, and enough variety to serve.

The Outfitters are home to the district’s sole guildhall, the Carpenters’ Guildhall. The guild used to be based out of the Market District, but with the vast construction effort going on, decided to move its headquarters. The Carpenter’s Guild specializes in tearing down and making new buildings, and is busy working across the district. They deal in more than just wood too- metal, stone and stranger things are within the Carpenter’s Guild’s arsenal.

District Hall is the Iron Circle’s attempt to democratize the district. Every week one of the members of the Circle (usually Loriengard or Illustriel) hosts a meeting to hear grievances and suggestions for the district. Often, those who have an idea for improvement are given permission to take responsibility for implementing it.

The Old Freeholds are the official name for the area of the city consisting of Yuan-Ti architecture, and inhabited by kobolds, goblinoids, minotaurs, and other monstrous races. Less charitably, the area is known as Freaktown. The residents officially have all the same rights as other Freeholders, but are under represented at District Hall meetings and are publicly reviled.

The Iron Manor is the home of the Iron Circle. It’s located in an out of the way corner of the District, and has a large woodsy grounds, full of reclaimed wildlife. The Iron Circle does not appreciate visitors on their own Freehold.

The Temple of Adventure is a stone building, formerly one of the District’s many temples to the dark god Zehir, now reconsecrated in the name of Avandra, but shrines to Erathis and Sehanine are present as secondary altars.

The Ziggurat looms over the center of the district. This abandoned testament is a reminder of what the district once was- this is where the undead Yuan-Ti Caliph, the previous Warden, resided, and at the top performed bloody sacrifices. Now the Ziggurat is empty and abandoned, but it is huge, and can be seen from all over the district.

The Ruins are unoccupied parts of the city, still filled with empty, Yuan-Ti architecture. Anyone who likes can take ownership of a building, but they have to reside there or make it a place of business. The Ruins are slowly being overtaken by the Freeholds, Freaktown and the Outfitters, but are still a place of shadows and mystery.

Delver’s Square is the name for the area around the district’s portal, and is home to the priciest shops, and the district’s airship hangers. The construction here is all stonework- either Yuan-Ti, or in imitation of the older style.

Law and Order

The Freehold Militia patrols the district- mostly the Freeholds, Outfitters, and Delver’s Square, but there’s token patrols in Freaktown and the Ruins. Generally they’re on the lookout for lawbreakers- thieves, thugs, agitators and miscreants. For minor crimes (such as excessive drunkenness resulting in violence), criminals are given a couple of thumps on the head and kept in jail at the Armory for a few days. For more severe crimes, such as theft, arson, or treason, restitution is often required, then the criminal is exiled. Those who break their exile risk suffering the wrath of the Wardens.

On the Other Side of the Portal

The district’s portal leads to the ruined Yuan-Ti kingdom of Ath-Sethoth. Once an emerald city of glimmering spires, it sunk (deeper) into depravity and corruption. A combination of war, slave revolt, and natural disaster finally broke the kingdom apart. The Caliphate District, which once acted as a client state and natural ally was cut off, and dwindled in power until the Iron Circle came along.

Today Ath-Sethoth is rather changed. Large portions of the city are overgrown or flooded. The slave races the Yuan-Ti mastered, lizardfolk, kobolds and shifters largely among them, have taken large parts of the city, but have slid into barbarism, and war against each other. The Yuan-Ti were masters of magic and necromancy, so locked away are powerful arcane secrets and horribly monsters.

The residents shun the site of the portal, considering it haunted- a fair assessment, since adventurers come through on a regular basis, hacking and slashing their way across the ruins.

Rumors, Secrets, Adventure Hooks, and Outright Lies

The Iron Circle originally had six members, but one died fighting the Caliph. Someone matching that person’s description has been seen, but there haven’t been any confirmed sightings.

Back when it was the Caliphate district, there were two unsanctioned guilds operating in the district- the Thieves’ Guild and the Assassins’ Guild. One or both of these might still be operating, out of the shadows of Freaktown.

The Carpenters’ Guild is looking to expand its business into airships, which is going to put it into direct conflict with the Shipmaker’s Guild.

Only one person can be Warden, and that person happens to be Loriengard. But it’s not just a title- it comes with an imbuement of power. Someone else in the Iron Circle is jealous, and is setting up Loriengard for a fall so they can take his place.

What started out as a benevolent mandate has gotten darker- the Iron Circle isn’t content with what they’ve got, and want to elevate every one of their members. For that to happen, four other Wardens- and their Districts- are going to have to fall. The Iron Circle is slowly preparing for a war on the rest of the city, with the adventurers as their pawns.

Somehow, someone’s figured out how to murder. Victims are showing up here and there. The only clue is that it seems to be Yuan-Ti blood magic. The Iron Circle is keeping it hush hush- they don’t want anyone knowing that the safety of their wards are failing.

The Adventurers’ Gathering Post is agitating for guild status again. This is up for the Wardens as a whole to decide, but it’s rumored the Iron Circle is against it- they enjoy the role they have sponsoring and guiding adventurers.

Relations between the Freeholds and Freaktown have never been good, but they’re getting worse. The Hobgoblins are showing up to do militia duty and being turned away, militia patrols are being bullied out of Freaktown, and monsters are being denied serve in the Outfitters, as always. Now adventuring groups from the rival neighborhoods are skirmishing on the other side of the portal. A race riot can’t be far behind.

Minishutsu has been absent from the district for some time, but has returned, and rumor has it he’s perfected the ultimate martial technique. He used to train apprentices, but since his return, he’s been cloistered in isolation.

As a Deva, Illustriel has multitudes of lifetimes behind him. How many of those were spent in Nexus, and how much information about the other Wardens does he have?

D&D For Forge Midwest?

I’m pondering doing a D&D session for Forge Midwest.

Pros: I get to run D&D at Forge Midwest!
Cons: I’m not doing something else. And Tim has to lug out the warchest.

If I do this, it’d be an ‘indie-game themed’ D&D session. With pregen characters like The Dog (Shifter Avenger), The Star Knight (Deva Swordmage), The Sorcerer (actually a Warlock), the Trollbabe (Half-Orc Fighter) etc. Throw in encounters that are homages to indie games.

D&D Nexus: Alistair Dalewynd

Alistair Dalewynd, Nexus Student

Alistair is in many ways a typical student of the colleges of Nexus’s University District- studied in a variety of subjects, trained in the arcane arts, possessed of a cunning mind, and sadly devoid of any moral compass. He is double majoring in two subjects- Dimensional Travel and Artificial Construct Design. This heavy coursework doesn’t leave him much time for leisure, especially not with his thesis coming due soon. Alistair is a mediocre artificer at best, and many of his constructs are knock-offs or derivatives of other’s work (a less generous term might be plagiarism.) However, he shines superbly at creating and manipulating small dimensional spaces, and can send and retrieve inanimate objects from them.

Alistair’s background places him originally as a younger son as a lord from Dalewynd, a small valley in the natural world. Feeling cheated out of an inheritance by his older siblings, he stole away from the valley one night, taking a good portion of the treasury with him (what he felt he was owed of course), relying on his guile, a few arcane tricks, and the stolen coin to help him make his way to a portal to the great fabled city of Nexus, where he might walk its hallowed halls and study amongst peers and equals.

Alistair Dalewynd, Nexus Student
Level 7 Controller (Leader)
Medium Natural Humanoid (Human)

Initiative +4
Senses Perception +5

HP 80, Bloodied 40
AC 20, Fortitude 19, Reflex 21, Will 21

Speed 6

Quarterstaff (Melee Basic Attack, Standard, At-Will)
+10 vs Fortitude, 1d8 + 4 damage

Icy Bolt (Standard, At-Will)
+11 vs Fortitude, Range 10. 1d8 + 5 cold damage, and the target is Slowed (save ends)

Icy Burst (Standard, Recharge 5-6)
Area Burst 1 Within 10
+11 vs Fortitude, 3d8 +5 cold damage, and the target is Slowed and Weakened (save ends both)

Arcane Teleport (Move, Encounter)
Alistair teleports 6 squares.

Dispel Magic (Standard, Encounter)
Targets any zone or conjuration within 10.
+11 vs Will of zone or conjuration’s creator. The conjuration or zone is destroyed, and all its effects end.

Alistair’s Banishment (Minor, At-Will, Close Burst 10)
Choose an ally in the burst with the Animate, Construct, or Homunculus keyword. That ally is banished to an extradimensional space, and can be returned with the Alistair’s Summoning or the Alistair’s Sudden Summoning ability.

Alistair’s Summoning (Move, At-Will, Close Burst 10)
Place one of Alistair’s previously banished allies in any space within the burst.

Alistair’s Sudden Summoning (No Action, Encounter, Close Burst 10)
At the start of any encounter involving Alistair, place any number of previously banished allies in any space within the burst.

Alignment: Unaligned. Languages: Common, Primordial
Skills: Arcana +12, Bluff +9, History +12

Strength 13 (+4), Constitution 16 (+6), Dexterity 13 (+4), Intelligence 19 (+7), Wisdom 14 (+5), Charisma 12 (+4)

Equipment: Quarterstaff, Robes

Tactics:

Alistair prefers to stay out of melee, using Icy Burst on clustered enemies to keep them from moving into range and keeping their attacks weak. He uses his Alistair’s Banishment and Alistair’s Summoning in the same turn to teleport his allies to any space within range. He uses this to keep his allies between him and his enemies, or to pull an ally out of a tight spot. If an enemy is using an annoying conjuration, he uses Dispel Magic to destroy it.

Encounters and Adventures

Academic Rivalry (Level 7- 1500 xp)

As a student at the Academy of Arcane Mastery, Alistair has inherited it’s great tradition of a rivalry with the Nexus College of Wizardry. And he isn’t exactly popular amongst his own fellows either. Someone, maybe an irked classmate, maybe someone from another school, maybe the PCs themselves if they’ve been wronged by Alistair in the past, has decided it’d be a good idea to trash his laboratory, to teach him a lesson. Unfortunately he’s in his lab at the time.

Alistair (Level 7 Controller)
2 Flameskulls (Level 8 Artillery, MM)
2 Iron Cobras (Level 6 Skirmisher, MM)

Trial by Combat (Level 8- 1700 xp)

Alistair’s been working to get his constructs up to par for a Tactical Examination- academic speak for combat. He needs some sturdy combatants- perhaps some adventurers will do. Alistair is strapped for cash, and can’t afford to hire mercenaries, and if a group of kind souls won’t agree to help test his constructs out of the kindness of their hearts, well, he’ll just have to ambush them later at a time of his choosing.

Alistair (Level 7 Controller)
4 Flameskulls (Level 8 Artillery, MM)

Pub Crawl (Level 8- 1725 xp)

Alistair’s out of a night on the town with a few of his friends. They’ve had a few drinks in them, and are ready to turn in for the night, when a chance encounter with the PCs and a perceived insult puts them at odds. Can the PCs tarry from whatever business they themselves have to deal with this cabal of unruly mages?

Alistair (Level 7 Controller)
Brain in an Armored Jar (Level 9 Artillery- Open Grave)
Eladrin Twilight Incanter (Level 8 Controller, MM)
Human Hexer (Level 7 Controller, MM2)
5 Human Lackeys (Level 7 Minion, MM)

Using Alistair as a Companion Character

If your party is small, lacks a controller, and are as mercenary as Alistair is, he might make a fine addition to your adventuring crew. If you use Alistair as a companion, make the following changes:

Hit Points: Alistair has 50 hit points as a companion. He also has 9 healing surges.
Abilities: Alistair’s Icy Burst becomes an Encounter power.
Alistair’s various summoning spells are likely both too complex for a companion and too narrow to be useful in the typical adventuring group. Replace all three of them with the following ability:
Alistair’s Teleport (Move, Encounter, Close Burst 10)
Teleport an ally in the burst to any other square in the burst you choose.

D&D Nexus: Into the University District

One of the more puzzling districts for new arrivals to the city, they are often first impressed by the collection of knowledge, learning, and erudition. But soon they discover the district’s darker side: the slavery, the underdark influence, the cultists, and the Grand-Provost himself, Zhirilith the Mind Flayer. Despite his intentions to make the University District an attractive place for savants and academics, he has a cruelty that shows itself elsewhere in the district.

Background: Nexus University District

A character that studied at one of Nexus’s universities is likely to have picked up pieces of lore unattainable elsewhere, in addition to picking up all sorts of academic contacts and dabbling in other fields. Even the enforcers, slavers, and university bureaucrats pick up scholarly habits, peppering their speech with foreign loan words or academic buzz words. A character picking this background may choose Arcana or History as their background skill, or may gain an extra language.

The Warden: Grand-Provost Zhirilith

Zhirilith is a powerful member of his race, and practiced in both the arcane and psionic arts. Given that so few others of his race are present in the city, it is suspected that he may be an outcast or exile from his people. Zhirilith, like all his kind, has an appetite for brains, and consumes those of slaves imported from the underdark or imprisoned for breaking the District’s laws.

Zhirilith oversees the operations of all four of the District’s colleges, funding them out of his personal fortunes, direction research policy, and making all major decisions personally. He gives his academics a loose leash, allowing them to teach and research as they please, but expecting his share to any breakthroughs.

Ordinary students or residents of the District rarely interact with, or even see Zhirilith. He only occasionally gives lectures, his travel about the District is highly secret, and he does not issue open proclamations. The Grand-Provost spends the majority of his time conducting his own experiments, using only expendable slaves as lab assistants. No one knows exactly what the Warden is researching, or what will happen when he finishes.

Organizations and Locations

The largest portion of the District is known as College Court, and his home to the universities, lodgings for students and faculty, and many support businesses.

The University of Nexus is the largest and oldest of the city’s universities, offering a broad and general curriculum. Generally, students who wish to attend one of the other universities spend a few years studying here first, though it can’t be matched in several fields, such as arcanozoology or planar geography. The Transplanar Library is operated by the University of Nexus, but partners with the other three universities. Students of any of the schools have access to most of the texts; outsiders have to pay 100 gold pieces per year for basic access.

The Nexus College of Wizardry and the Academy of Arcane Mastery are both specialized in the arcane arts, and have a healthy rivalry. The Nexus College of Wizardry is both older and larger and views the Academy as an upstart, less prestigious school. The Academy, for its part, views the College as overly focused on theory and the idea of magic, whereas the Academy does useful, practical research into things like how to make a bigger (and hotter) fireball. The debate rages on, between theory and “pure” academics on one side, and practical usage on the other.

Also located in College Court is the Symposium, an auditorium and debate hall, where regular meetings are held discussing open topics on a variety of issues ranging from the academic to the politic. The Sensory Auditorium is another strange diversion. Sensory performers are situated at the center of the stage and engage in a variety of activities, some enjoyable, some sensual, some gruesome. The magic of the auditorium transmits their sensations to the audience members, allowing them to experience the same sensations as the performers.

The relatively humble (for one of Nexus’s Wardens) Warden’s Estate is home to the Warden, his experiments, his slaves, and his constructs, and no one else. Only his closest confidantes and allies ever see the inside of his estate, and few are foolish to try to steal from it.

The District is the seat of three guildhalls- those of the Printer’s Guild, Tinker’s Guild, and Slaver’s Guild. The Printer’s Guild specializes in the reproduction and distribution of texts, by way of massive printing presses situated in their Guildhall. The nature of these machines is very secret, and their work is in high demand. The Tinker’s Guildhall is host to artificers, enchanters, and machinists. They are unable to monopolize enchanting itself, but have a lock on creation and innovation of mechanical devices and contraptions, and were recently given license to operate the city’s only Warforged Creation Forge. The Tinker’s Guild is highly involved in the creation of the district’s airships, working in concert with the Shipmaker’s Guild. The Slaver’s Guild, while operating in many of the city’s districts, locates its Guildhall here, and uses the portal for slaving runs into the underdark.

The Temple of Ioun serves as the only major temple in the District, exalting the goddess of magic, knowledge, and prophecy. Smaller statues of Ioun are scattered throughout the district, often on the university grounds or as the centerpiece for a neighborhood.

The Gnomehill neighborhood is home to a large population of gnomes. Many are involved with the universities, or with the Tinker’s Guild (the Guildhall is located in the neighborhood.) The hilly, almost rustic area is home to several parks, and is also host to several halfling and dwarf families.

Caravanserai Square is located in front of the Portal, and is a stopping point for the expeditions into and out of the portal. Outfitters, stablers, merchants, and above all, guardians, line the square. Behind closed doors, slave negotiations often take place.

Thrallstreet is a walled neighborhood, patrolled by both the Slaver’s Guild’s and the Warden’s enforcers. Slaves who are not kept in residence in their owner’s homes have meager lodgings here, and it also serves as a holding area for new imports.

Law and Order

The University District employs the Enforcers to keep the district organized. The rank and file soldiers of the enforcers are all constructs- automata, homunculii, and warforged. The leaders and officers of the Enforcers includes distinguished warforged, alongside swordmages, drow mercenaries, and other strange characters. The Enforcers protect the students, keep the slaves (and the slavers) in line, and in general work to keep the appearances of a safe, orderly district.

Most severe and violent crimes are punishable by either a very steep fine or slavery, the duration depending upon the duration of the crime. Senior enforcers have the ability to set sentences for crimes. Minor crimes are punished by small fees.

One unusual law that’s almost never punished is the ban on worship of Vecna. Charms and symbols of Vecna are absurdly common, and many a study group doubles as a cult, making dark sacrifices to sway their grades. Zhirilith outlaws such cult activity, and every so often there’s an enforcer raid on a larger cult, but the low-level cult activity is far too widespread for the Warden to effectively combat.

Rumors, Secrets, Adventure Hooks, and Outright Lies

Zhirilith occasionally shuts down the Sensory Auditorium, and invites a select few to spectate as he dines on the brain of one of his slaves. Sometimes he broadcasts the sensation of devouring a brain, sometimes that of having it devoured.

Worship of Vecna is illegal in the city, but widepracticed and rarely punished. The cults must have connections going high up. Does the Warden himself tolerate the cults, or is he behind them?

Zhirilith has a number of strange lieutenants, but none are stranger than the Transcendent One, who is an independent consciousness with no body.

A wide variety of wizards are agitating for the creation of a Wizard’s Guild (again). This has always failed before and is expected to fail again, because the Warden dislikes the autonomy that would give them. This movement seems to be taking off though. What backing might it have? Another Warden?

Zhirlith often attends the Symposium in disguise, or perhaps he scries. In any case, he uses it to gauge the pulse of public policy, and amends his own designs to suit.

They never touch the students, but a group of Enforcers is abusing their power to press strangers and outsiders who won’t be missed into slavery, or to extort heavy fines from them. Sooner or later this is going to catch up to them- this sort of thing happened before, and the Warden’s wrath was great.

The Warden’s research is none other than divine ascension- he intends to join the gods in the cosmos as a Divinity!

The Warden doesn’t need to ascend to godhood- he already serves as an Exarch of Ioun, Vecna, or somehow both. His works are solely to serve his god.

The true project beneath the Warden’s Estate is a vast mind flayer spawning pool. One day, all those hidden mind flayers will rise up and enslave the entire city.

Dragon Age: Can’t Stop Playing

A while back I posted my first impressions of Dragon Age. I have to say that since then, my opinion of the game has only improved.

Let’s start with addressing my biggest complaint from the first post- yes, you can skip dialog. (I believe it’s the Y button on the x-box.) This is extremely useful in follow-up playthroughs, or big boss fights preceded by a lengthy dialog tree. However, I found I’m using it less with Gaston, my new character, than I had expected to.

The end game is suitably epic. By around level 20 or so, your character is an ultimate badass, and you fight swarms of lower level characters. This is a great feeling. The endgame area is hugely awesome, with the stakes being high and the opposition being just as badass. I don’t think it can hold a candle to Mass Effect in terms of badass endgame sequences (after all, it’s just the world that’s at-stake, not the galaxy), but damn is the boss-fight more memorable (minor spoiler: it’s a Dragon. And a tough one.) The ending has a recap/epilogue for all the plot seeds and the choices you made, so it’s nice to have a reminder of how your decisions play out.

I’m currently a good chunk through my second playthrough, this time playing as a Blood Mage and taking delight in seeing my enemies literally explode, and taking the choices I didn’t the first time around. With four more character backgrounds to go, I’m still looking forward to my next playthrough.

Also, this time I took advantage of Dragon Age’s downloadable content. The decision to have day-one DLC was rather controversial, though given the design parameters, it’s less of a money-grab than it’s being presented as. (The in-game reminders are perhaps a bit tacky, granted.) Shale is a badass golem ally, and Warden’s Keep is pretty darn fun. The price tag on Shale is a bit steep, but Warden’s Keep is fairly cheap, and so far seems like the better bang for the buck, generating another dungeon and unique special abilities, 2 per class. (My mage gained the ability to trade health for mana, and a spell that damages me a little bit, but my enemies more.)

The verdict: Truly epic fantasy roleplay.