Thursday, November 30, 2017

Not sure how to begin a campaign?

Here's one way to start a Swordfish Islands campaign

Your past does not matter.

About a year ago you got black bagged and thrown in a cell. A dark cell. They said you deserved it. There was a list of allegations. You could recognize the voices of people you knew testifying against you, or at least you thought you could through the hunger and the dark.

It wasn't right. It wasn't fair. And that doesn't matter. What matters is that it happened. And here you are.

After sitting in the dark for 6 months, the door opened and an impeccably clean person, wearing black pants, black boots, and a bright coat of saffron yellow offered you a deal. Redemption. The Martel Company needs recruits. It will be hard work. And dangerous. But there will be treasure, and you can buy back your good name. In time.

They beat you. But they fed you well. They beat you harder. But they gave you equipment. They beat you 'till your bruises bled, but only if you did not obey. And they were fair.

For 6 months you hauled rocks. Big rocks. Rocks that were stuck in mud or in rushing rivers. You became wonderful at tying knots and lashing. You can make a crude sledge out of just about anything. After about a month of the beatings and hauling the only thing you thought when you saw something was "How can I pick this up and move it".

You were not alone. You don't know how many others there were total because everyone came and went so quickly, but you were placed on a hauling team, and they became your family. You've slept together, bathed together, eaten together. Watched each other shit.

Maybe you've become friends. Maybe you hate each other. It doesn't matter. Trust was beaten into each of you one blackjack at a time by the Martel Company. You know you can count on the people you are with right now because you already have for months.

A week ago you were equipped to go to the islands. The Swordfish Islands. Men and women in yellow coats lined the rails of the ship and held crossbows to the haulers. Some tried to escape. They were shot, and no one flinched. Not even you.

They branded the back of your left shoulder once the ship set sail. Black magic swirled around the iron and it felt like you were marked by ice, though you had seen it in a blaze.

When all were branded a Martel representative spoke with the boom of a storm. "You belong to Martel now, and you have been brought here to haul. Haul gold. Haul statues. Haul art and treasures of magical danger you cannot even begin to comprehend."

"The more you haul and return to a Martel quartermaster, the quicker your brand will fade. I cannot tell you how much you must haul. That amount is tied to your crimes, and you have had plenty of time to reflect upon them, so you know your amount better than I."

"We may sink. There are reefs and storms and monstrosities of every stripe between here and our destination. If our quartermaster is incapacitated any Martel Company quartermaster can process your hauls. There will be others. Boats arrive at the Swordfish Islands weekly."

"You do not need to haul. You are always free to choose, but in time, the brand will consume your flesh."

A naked man was brought onto the decks. His mouth gaped and his eyes lolled about blindly. A crooked V of black and green flesh covered the left half of his body. As he was thrown to the deck, the flesh on his left side sloughed off like a corn husk and bones and shriveled guts spilled out.

And then, the storm struck.

[If your character's strength and constitution scores are below 15, increase them by one point. If either stat is 15 or higher, add a single point to your charisma because you look fantastic after all the work you put in over the last 6 months]

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Books Are On Sale

As the title says, the Hot Springs Island books are on sale. 25% off. Check it out. Or don't. It's a sandbox adventure afterall.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

3 Questions about Hot Springs Island

The blog is not dead. I just do most of my blathering these days on Google Plus. The Kickstarter was successful and has been 100% delivered (aside from 10 people who haven't told me where to send the books!) and the books are live and for sale. There have been some great reviews that I really need to do a better job of collecting all in one place, but check out this excellent video review by Questing Beast if you haven't already.

A viewer asked a few questions about Hot Springs Island, and I thought it'd be nice to post them here, along with my answers.

Hi Jacob! First off, thanks for Hot Springs Island! Second off, I do have some questions, and will probably have more when I finish reading both books. But for now,

1. Approximately how tough should the Ashlords be? It was hard to get an idea of this because they have no precedent in D&D or OSR that I am aware. Svarku is at least a little afraid of them, but that could be more because of their numbers and connections rather than their individual power. I realize that you probably intended each DM to adapt them according to their own needs, but I nonetheless want to know how YOU would treat them.

1. Let me step back one level first. I treat Svarku and Damadar and many of the other big bad guys on the Swordfish Islands (especially if they're of an extraplanar origin) as demi-gods. In something like 5e, Damadar and Svarku are just too "killable" in a "toe to toe" combat situation. They should be scary as fuck to go up against, and you should (in my unenforcable ideal world) never go up against them directly or else face insta-death. So with that in mind, Svarku is afraid of the Barons. I view them of a power level comparable to low level gods. Or on the level of a demon lord that controls a layer (or their own infinite chunk of an infinite layer) of someplace like the Abyss. Or, "terrifyingly powerful, but someone like Zeus could fuck 'em up without that much of a problem". Now, all that said, I also don't imagine them really being a combat target. IF you're powerful enough to not immediately suffocate on the Plane of Ash, and if you're powerful enough to not be immediately smited, and if you're powerful enough to be an actual, potential threat, then you're powerful enough to be useful to them, and they've got access to levels of raw material wealth that could break a human mind to ponder. AND if you're that powerful, and you've been around enough to get sent before them, I also imagine that you've figured out a number of the pieces of leverage that are in play, and will probably be smart enough to be playing them yourself. And that's a really fucking long way to say, I never tested them as a combat target, but I think viewing them as a combat target in the first place is the wrong way to go about it. Your question is really good though, so as a direct answer I'd say "a little bit of both". Their connections are staggering, and they're the physical manifestation of an elemental plane on that plane and have a nobility title, so they should be fucking scary in my book.

2. Is Hot Springs Island unique among the Swordfish Islands, especially in how potentially disruptive it is to a greater campaign world? I'm relying off this review, an interview you did elsewhere (possibly on Patrick Stuart's blog), and my own incomplete reading in characterizing the island as "disruptive," such as by all the gold hyperinflating the world economy and those plants putting nail makers out of work.

2. The Swordfish Islands as a whole are intended to be disruptive in that way. There are similar elven ruins on 4 other islands, and hopefully we can keep rolling with useful plants. The whole idea I wanted to explore (look at how pretentious I am) is the idea of _abundance_. I think it's a problem that we're not good at dealing with as humans. We've got scarcity down pretty pat. To get hand-wavy I feel like there is tons of fantasy about "There are 3 magic swords on the entire planet, what does that mean?" and not much along the lines of "The material once used as currency has become so abundant that it's basically worthless, now what?". Honestly that's one of the things I like so much about Pokemon. All the pokemon are so powerful and so destructive that it's shaped the entire culture into that duel system because if anyone says "Pikachu attack the trainer with thunderbolt" like... the entire world will devolve into absolute chaos because everyone has ultimate power in their pocket.

3. Any plans to do a module set on the planes when you're done with the Swordfish Islands? Your vision of them is intriguing and I'm sure many players will want to get off their "backwater" world once they catch a glimpse of the picture you've painted.

3. Heh. Thank you. :D Maybe. I don't know. Swordfish Islands is in many ways my personal response to what I viewed as the failings of Planescape (super amazingly awesome, yet not dense at all) and I want super density, which is very difficult to pull off if you're dealing with the infinite. I kinda think it's going to be best to have a vague notion of the cosmos and let individuals leak into the Prime Material (in large part because normality is what will give them a frame of grapsable reference in the first place). But "backwater" is such an important term imo regarding this. I kinda feel like an awful person, but if the cosmos is at your fingertips, then your world (any world) is basically shit as far as I'm concerned. The infinite cosmos becomes reality and everything is defined by the squabbles of the various all powerful immortals, and your entire world is literally a dust speck compared to the infinite infinities. Nothing that happens there is important... except! If the planes are defined by the consciousness of their ruler/creator then, there is going to be repetition. Like.. when you're playing a roguelike game and after a while you can tell how this "random" cave is going to turn and you start hugging the left wall, and there's the exit, just like you thought it would be, but can't articulate why. So then the importance of the Prime Material then becomes the TRUE randomness of its creation (as well as potential worshipers). And this is what leads to things like Reywish. Which is also why trade (especially trade in raw materials) then becomes such a critically important thing. Maybe one day.