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1
May

Obsidian Portal Campaign of the Month May 2024: The World of Elurah

Flickering candlelight illuminated the sage’s page as he worked his quill furiously over the parchment’s surface. He squinted with the effort of finding the right words to put to page and illustrate his thoughts.

“Hope here is not yet extinguished. While civilization is taking its first tentative steps towards recovery, danger lurks around every corner. The monsters of the Dark Tide have not disappeared and even in the reclaimed land nature’s wrath and magical anomalies pose formidable challenges.”

His hand paused as the dinner bell rang, and sighed.

More of his thoughts would have to come later. He signed the page, “LucasValenti”.

And more writings would soon come… join us as we talk to LucasValenti about The World of Elurah and read on further into his scrolls of knowledge!

Q. Congratulations on The World of Elurah’s selection as the Campaign of the Month for May!

We’d like to get to know more about the icon behind the GM Section! Tell us a bit about LucasValenti… Where are you from? What do you do aside from gaming? Alter Egos? Life partners? Family? Where can we interact with you on the internet?

A. Thank you! I wish I had some sort of fascinating story to tell but at the end of the day‒surprise, surprise‒I’m just a huge nerd. I live in the Seattle-area of the US with my girlfriend. She and I have been together for the past 8 years. We spend our days playing TTRPGs, making geeky stuff and annoying our cat, Ashamane. My day job is in construction, where I model out plumbing systems for commercial buildings and hospitals. Exciting, I know. I partake in the SCA (Historical re-enactment, check them out!) and do a bit of cosplay. Outside of that, I just love making anything and everything. We’ve got an array of laser engravers, 3d printers and other funs toys. Drawing, painting, sewing, sculpting, resin casting, leatherworking; we do a bit of everything. She has recently relaunched her business and we’re starting to set up booths at conventions and are working on setting up an online store where she sells dice bags, gaming accessories, hand-made dice and art. Check out Celestial Peryton on various social media to see her stuff!

Here’s a small portion of her dice collection that has gradually taken over our hallway over the years. Many of the sets here are various experiments we’d made over the past few years learning how to mold and cast resin. Not featured are few large cookie jar-sized containers filled the brim with more dice and a few bags scattered around. She’s recently been upgraded from Dice Goblin to Dice Dragon on account of her horde.

We just spent 4 days at a local convention called Norwescon. I don’t tend to meet a lot of players outside of my game group and social media, so it was a great experience. It was a ton of fun to spend a few days chatting with a bunch of other gamers and talking about character creation and world building with everyone that stopped by our table. Everyone was super friendly and really excited to just spend some time geeking out about shared interests. It was also really promising to see so many newer players that are just getting into gaming! I got to feel like some kind of wise old sage dispensing out advice, haha. The event went really well and we’re looking forward to doing more soon!

Q. The World of Elurah is a Dungeons & Dragons 5E campaign. For those in the community who have not yet seen your site, and reveled in its glories, tell us a little bit about the setting you have created for the game, and what sets it apart. How did you create that awesome map? Where did you use Inspiration most during your campaign’s creation? Was it gained through Bardic Inspiration, or did you earn it through your pursuit of an Ideal?

A. Right, so on to the real reason I’m here. Elurah, as a setting, is something of a life’s work. I’ve been playing TTRPGs for the past 20 years or so and started GMing shortly after starting. Even before that, I’ve always been a huge fan of fantasy literature and D&D, in particular. I remember reading Brian Jacque’s incredible Redwall novels in elementary school and later moving on to the Shannara books, Dragonlance and Forgotten Realms. So, when I started actually playing D&D in my early 20s I had plenty of inspiration to draw upon. The first game I ever ran was in a small kingdom I created called Hairen. As I went on to run other campaigns I started sprinkling in NPCs and small nods to the games I had run before, which eventually led to everything naturally interconnecting. Finally I just sat down and officially tied all these disparate stories and locations together and Elurah officially was created. It all happened rather organically. But I can only take proper credit for the structure. So much of the world and its background owes to all of my players over the years that have added to and “lived” in it.

And then there’s the stealing. We’ll call it inspiration. There are entire swathes of the world that reflect what my current interests were back when I was making those parts of the setting for a campaign. Names and locations based on a game or a book series I was into. Character that were tweaked slightly and dropped into the world, etc. I used to try really hard to make everything new and unique and different. Eventually I realized that I didn’t need to try so hard. Tropes aren’t strictly a bad thing. When my players catch on to references to Monster Hunter or Warhammer 40k or other things, they aren’t upset or call me lazy. They see them as fun easter eggs. Heck, a lot of the original lore was just directly ripped from the Forgotten Realms. Kailea is just Netheril with a new coat of paint slapped on it, amongst many others. But all of those things are what me and my friends enjoy, so I want to bring those things in and have fun with them.

The gist of the setting, in the current timeline, is that it’s set after the Dark Tide, a massive magical apocalypse that unleashed hordes of monsters across the world. For the past few centuries, civilization has been relegated to living in massive walled cities (there’s that “borrowing”, again). However, the current period sees the world beginning to reclaim what was lost. Trade routes, while dangerous, have been re-established. New towns are being built and old ones reclaimed. There’s something of a tension to the setting, a precipice where they’re on the edge of either reclaiming what was lost or losing it all again. The through-line of this setting is this delicate thread of hope the world managed to weave, and whether the players are able to preserve and strengthen it. I didn’t want a setting that is full of grim chaos and despair. That period happened in the skip of the old version of the world to the current time and the effects of it can still be seen, but I wanted to provide my players with a setting that can grow alongside their actions.

The current main party is trying to piece together sparse information from the lost period of time and figure out the origin of the Dark Tide. This was the first game I started in the current timeline after the setting jumped ahead a few hundred years. I was stagnating on stories to tell, so I wanted to shake things up and create an opportunity for a bunch of new mysteries and plotlines. The appearance of the monsters that swept over the continent and how the world got to the point it’s found itself in are two of the biggest mysteries.

Meanwhile Hairen, due it its isolation, was spared the brunt of the Dark Tide and is even somewhat prosperous. Currently the party there is working to unravel an ominous prophecy with grave implications. This was my original setting I made years ago. Back then the campaign was called the Sundered Kingdoms. But due to the players in those original campaigns unifying the fractioned nations and re-founding the kingdom, well….it wasn’t very sundered any more, haha. This part of the setting is a little more advanced after the skip, with a strong budding aetherpunk vibe that I’m really into.

Lastly, the disparate shipwrecked crew on Haven have uncovered a secret that could change the course of the world. The mysterious vanishing island is, in fact, one of the lost floating cities of Kailea. With the help of an Archmage they woke from a magical stasis, they’re working to restore the arcane engines that power it. However, the Archmage guiding them may not be quite what he seems. This game has been fantastic. It’s the newest one I’ve started and we’ve only been player for 5 or 6 months. My players are all my GF’s family, from be brother and sister-in-law to a cousin and her nephew. Aside from myself running and Skylar playing, everyone else is basically a brand new player. So it was a lot of fun to create a game and really focus on building an experience tailored for teaching and slowly introducing them to mechanics and concepts of the game. Everyone really seems to be having a great time so far, and the setting itself is a lot of fun. The island is designed to be something of a…limited sandbox. I wanted to give them the ability to explore and hunt around without overwhelming them with too much content. But, as with the other two games, everything here ties into the overarching plot of the setting. In fact, this game will probably have the most immediate impact on the world depending on how it resolves.

As for the map, you can thank Inkarnate. Huge shoutout to them and their tools. I was able to take years of hand-drawn maps and notes and combine them all into the current version on the site! I’m really good with character illustrations and creature design. I have come to realize over the years that I am…not a cartographer, haha. I was able to find a map on Inkarnate that was pretty close in overall design to the world and was then able to import and modify it to reach the version you see now. Though, the way things are going in-game, it may be due for yet another redraw soon. Here’s one of my older maps from when I was first trying to transition over to digital and attempted to update the map of the Sundered Kingdoms. It’s not…the worst, but the new version of Hairen is clearly much, much better, haha.

Q. How did your group meet up? How often do you play? What are your sessions like? I would be very interested in seeing some Adventure Log posts in the future about your group’s trials and triumphs – does anyone in your group plan to take on a role as Chronicler?

A. Currently, I have 3 groups all playing in different parts of Elurah, with a total of around 13 players spread across the different games. Some of my players are friends I’ve known since I was in school, used to be co-workers at previous jobs, or were just friends of friends. We play in-person, weekly, which means I’m currently running 3 nights a week. It’s a ton of work, but I genuinely love DMing so I don’t have any plans on slowing down. Our average session is about 3-4 hours. We’re all quite tight-knit, so our sessions tend to be quite relaxed and most of us have been playing together long enough that we just sort of have a groove we fall into. Lots of jokes, teasing, goofing off and we play some D&D in-between. We skew more towards roleplaying, so there are many nights where we don’t even throw all that many dice and just enjoy interacting with the characters and world.

As for and Adventure Log…I have plans! Before anything else, I have to give the biggest shoutout to one of my players, Seoc. She’s been playing with us for well over a decade now, and she takes the most meticulous notes. We’re talking stacks of binders over the years, hundreds of pages for each game. Check one of these things out!

There have been times where I’ve been struggling to remember the name of some random NPC from a single session 5 or 6 years ago. She snags a binder from the shelf, spends a couple of minutes flipping through some pages and BAM, there it is! I seriously cannot throw enough praise her way for all the work she puts into it. The only downside is, well, they are all handwritten. I’m planning on writing up some synopses for each game in order to have a starting point for visitors to the site to see how the setting is actually being used and the current adventures that are taking place. Look forward to it!

Q. Your site has quite a lot of interesting features that I have noticed you update very frequently. From the navigation banners’ design, to the linked banners on each page, to the way you have set your backgrounds to match the color of the corresponding navigation banner. There are so many interesting tidbits that it is difficult to list them all! Do you have a background in design? How did you piece together all of these ideas to use these features and put them together to create your site?

A. I don’t have any real experience with web design, per se, however I do have a background in art and print design. I also have a fascination with color. That said, if there was one overarching design philosophy it would probably be “readability.” At the end of the day, the Elurah wiki is intended to be a repository of information, and that information being presented is always the focus. Everything is aimed towards helping the reader, I don’t want the site itself to be a distraction. So I use color to break things up and divide information in an unobtrusive way. I’m a simple man, but simple doesn’t have to be boring. The color-coded backgrounds, for example. The wiki currently has sections for Elurah – the primary continent, Hairen – a smaller isolated kingdom, and Haven – a mysterious lost island in the Thirhe Strait. When viewing a page related to information on one of those three, the background changes color to match, as well as the color of the various badges and buttons. Since there’s quite a lot of information available it helps keep the reader from getting too lost, you always have a sense of where you are. It’s all tied into the site Tag system with a bit of CSS I cobbled together from the forums. Using a [class*=”arilon”] or whichever campaign before my line of code, as long as I tag the page with the name of the campaign it belongs to, the backgrounds and set dressing are automatically applied. That said, it’s a bit of a shotgun approach because it’s not *just* looking for the tag, but really anything to do with the page information, haha. So if the page name happens to have the word in it, it’ll apply the effects regardless. Thankfully for me, I don’t really have any pages with the campaign names that aren’t for those campaigns.

The Nav bar is another good example. If you take a closer look, you’ll see that the 3 bars for those sections are primary colors, and are of a higher saturation than the others. It’s just a subtle way to naturally draw the eyes towards them, since those pages are the primary focus. Aside from that, the page layouts have a consistent formatting intended to present information and guide readers towards related pages. I like to break up larger blocks of text with buttons and images to add some visual interest and make them feel a bit less daunting. Walls of text can be scary! The consistent and somewhat understated design is something I’m most proud of. I recently decided to add some fun little deocartive corners to the page…and subsequently had to reformat basically every wiki page, haha. They were cutting off the text in the upper left of every wiki page, so I had to go through and add page titles to every wiki page. I’m actually really happy with the end result. I forgot how helpful something as simple as a page title can be, haha.

All of the various assets around the site like the buttons, icons and mouse cursor are either designs I created or ones that I found and edited to suit my needs. I do all of my editing in ClipStudio, since that’s the program I use for my Illustration work. I like everything to match and co-ordinate, so I reuse and modify a lot of my assets in different ways. For example, the NavBar icon is actually the same as the main decorative title buttons. I just lopped off one side, added a decorative caret and compressed the height into more of a banner shape. Like a nice rug, it really helps “tie the room together”, haha. As for actually coming up with ideas for what to add, really I just shamelessly steal from all over the web. Sometimes I’ll be on a random website and see something neat that catches my attention. Then off to google and down the rabbit hole I go. Not everything works, but it’s fun to just test out new things and see what I like and come up with interesting ways to implement them.

At its core, the site is mostly just the original layout with a handful of tweaks and a shiny coat of paint on it. I added in a few additional Nav bars for each of the current campaigns so they could live on the side. I hid a few elements for a more streamlined look and used my illustration and art experience to build a unified aesthetic. Most of the CSS invested isn’t for any flash or spectacle but, rather, to make using the site easier and more natural. I try to make sure that everything works equally well on both Desktop and Mobile, since often my players are looking up information on their phones or a tablet.

If anyone is interested in the code for any part of the site, I’m more than happy to share! I can’t promise it’s the most efficient, though, haha. I’m available on the OP Discord server or just via a PM.

Q. Your Timeline for The World of Elurah is a fantastic feature! I feel certain that a lot of GMs would be interested in knowing your process for building that page. Tell us a bit more about your thoughts behind its design, and how you went about putting it all together!

A. The Timeline! So this was literally the first major CSS tasks I undertook, because apparently I hate myself. I do not have any background in coding or web design, so naturally I decided to tackle the hardest thing right away. The base code for the timeline was provided by Keryth987 on the forums from his Phoenix Rising campaign, and from there I spent probably a week smashing my head against it to get it to work properly on my site. His version has some really slick animation to it and is really just incredible. It didn’t quite fit what I wanted, however, so I spent a lot of time teaching myself the basics of CSS and HTML in order to understand how it worked. So much trial and error and I constantly kept breaking it. But I finally figured it out enough to make it work, and I’m really very happy with the end result. One thing I do need to figure out is a way to indicate that the timeline entries are actually links! A lot of people viewing it don’t realize you can click on each entry for a full writeup. In the end, I gave up on the animation because I just had too much information I wanted to fit in, so I kept the timeline entries to short descriptions and linked them to full wiki pages, instead. It was honestly such a great learning experience. It’s really uses quite a few different aspects of CSS and so I was able to learn the difference between the different elements.

The anchors to set the dates, in particular, were a major pain. Every time I would try and tweak something they’d just randomly move around, misalign or just disappear entirely. Thankfully with the original code as a reference and a couple online guides, I was able to figure things out and get them working. I think the best thing I came away with was an understanding that it’s fine to just try thing out and test stuff. Sure, I might end up breaking things, but the code can always be removed or edited without any permanent damage. Once I realized that, it’s really helped me moving forward with just testing out random stuff and seeing what works! Also big shout out to Keryth987, Abersade, Nuadaria and the rest on the Discord server, they’ve been awesome and have helped me out with various random bits of code and other ideas since I started working on this.

It was sort of a trial by fire that I unintentionally set for myself. I’ll usually just sit there with a ew different pages open so I can just tweak the CSS, adjust the HTML on the page and then refresh to live page. Just…changing things and seeing what happens. “What happens if I add a span element here?” “Oh, a line break would be good here…annnnd everything exploded all over the page. Let’s take that out.” It’s definitely a bit tedious, but I’m feeling much more confidant now and have been trying a bunch of new things recently. I actually just added a second timeline for Hairen that I’m working on, and it’s a night and day difference in how I understand everything now. I duplicated the code so I could have a color variation on it and just…the speed at which I can parse what originally felt like some kind of alien language is so much better. Changes that would have taken me 10 or more minutes just to figure out how to swap out a color…now only take a moment. It was daunting, initially, but I was able to find so much information and help from the Forums to the Discord server. Honestly, if I can figure this stuff out anyone can. Just maybe start with easier things, first, haha.

Q. As we follow along with The World of Elurah and watch it grow, do you have any particular additions planned that you’d like to tease us with?

A. I think I’ve already teased a few, haha. There’s still a lot left to add in. I have pages and pages of notes and descriptions to still be added. Hairen and Haven were added recently, so their wiki pages are going to need quite a bit of fleshing out. I also want to go through and do a better job of hyperlinking between pages so that if something is mentioned, you can just go straight there instead of having to dig around for it. I feel like the overall design could also use some more touching up. I recently added some nice decorative borders to the content pages. Extra flourishes. Lots and lots of little things. I would say the next big thing to tackle is the Adventure Log. I’ve already got some CSS in place the spruce it up, and I’m figuring out my plans on how to best make use of it so I everyone can keep abreast of our adventures!

Oh, right! The main page. With the current design, the Main Page was quite unused. I’m starting in on repurposing it into shining a spotlight on our current Adventurers and showcasing them…hopefully it’s finished by the time you’re reading this. I’ve got some really fun code using a mixture of scaling, opacity and hover effects to give it a sort of fighting game Character Selection look. I’m so happy with how it’s coming out so far. Also, there are a few more sections of the world to add in addition to the current 3. But I want to finish fleshing the current ones out, first, since they’re being actively played in at the moment. I’ve also found out some really neat examples for CSS to add a bit of visual interest and fun, so I’m still deciding exactly how I want to implement those. You’ll just have to check in periodically to see!

Q. How long have you been using Obsidian Portal? What brought you to the site and what keeps bringing you back?

A. I first joined back in 2014. I really wanted a way to provide my players with access to all of my notes and information. You had various sites around, including tons of fan wikis for all kinds of various properties, so I figured I’d find some sort of free wiki site and just make something like that but for my D&D setting. A bit of poking around later and I what did I stumble across, but a site designed for the exact thing I needed! Seriously, I was really excited. I think for the first year or so I mostly just used it to keep track of NPCs and a handful of pages with basic information. Not exactly what I had planned. It wasn’t until I created the wiki for my Nexus campaign after a few years or using OP sporadically that I really started making full use of the site. Since it was for an entirely new setting and I was getting into it from ground-level, I really invested into building it out. I learned a ton from that and finally committed myself to doing it properly. It only took me nearly a decade.

Where was I? Oh, right. I really love that you can get as much or as little as you want out of the site. Whether that’s just keeping track of some NPCs or an entire world. Everything is easy to use and I got used to the basics in a day or two. I’ve also been really happy to see all the new features and updates that have been added recently. The Character and Item page update that was put out a bit ago was huge for me. There is such a massive roster for Elurah (seriously, there’s currently around 150) that the ability to break things up and organize them was a lifesaver. I’m really looking forward to seeing what else is in store.

Q. If you had to pick just one thing, what would you say Obsidian Portal helps you with the most?

A. My players. It really helps so much at the table. A lot of the smaller questions that we’d have to take small pauses for “Who was the wizard we met in that one town?” or “Where was that place, again?” have slowly began to lessen. They can just pop onto the wiki and look it up without having to stop game. It also means they have access to all of the information away from the game table. It’s been a huge help. Also, personally, just the act of building the site and creating everything is very…therapeutic, is the word, I suppose. I just get to sort of zone out for a while and create.

Q. What you say has been the biggest highlight of your game so far (and please provide images and links if possible)?

A. While it’s not a single specific event, exactly, it would have to be bringing my players back to Hairen. It was the first game I ran. And, as established, I clearly am a glutton for punishment so I made this entire setting and storyline for it. We played games in Hairen for 3 or 4 years before moving on. A couple of years ago, after about a decade, I found my old Sundered Kingdoms campaign notebook and decided I’d start a new game there, with a significant time skip for the world, revamping the entire setting of that kingdom.

3 of the 5 players were in those original games. It’s truly been so much fun being able to let them explore that world again and see all the changes they brought about and how it shaped everything. Towns named after NPCs they fondly remember, bards singing tales of their previous characters and adventures. Some old foes reappearing…It’s really been a delight.

Q. As a grand finale, we always ask for the GM’s “pearls of wisdom”. What insights on how your GM style impacts play within your group to best facilitate a great time at the table with your gaming group that you’d like to share with the community?

A. Be flexible. An issue I dealt with when I was a newer DM and that I’ve seen others struggle with is learning to adapt and change their ideas. It can be very easy to pour tons of time and effort into creating a world and a story only to inadvertently lock yourself into how something ‘should be’. Nothing is sacred. I’ve been talking a lot about my world and how I built it, but that’s really rather disingenuous. So much of my world was made together with other people. Players, friends, internet strangers. Whenever one of my players makes a character in my games, it’s a co-operative affair. There are tons of locations, organizations and peoples in my world that came about as a direct result of my players want to play something I hadn’t prepared for, or potentially even directly contradicted established lore. Instead of forcing them to fit, I let the world adapt around them. Orc samurai? Sure, why not. Hell, why not an entire NATION of orc samurais? That sounds awesome. Tiefling Viking barbarian? Love it. There’s some icy tundra up north, why don’t we drop some reclusive tribes up there?

“Let your players build you world.” Noble houses to add in, new races to include and flesh out, entire cities and cultures to incorporate. Brainstorm, discuss and weave them into the history and lore. Let them see the effects those things have on the world. Take them there. Show them. I genuinely believe it’s the reason I have players 20 years later that are still excited to come back to a setting that they have been to a dozen times already. We’re all invested in it and have each left our mark. Plus, it’s just a ton of fun. Share what you’ve made and be proud of it, while staying open to new suggestions and ideas.

Thank you to the community for making this campaign of the month possible! That’s all for now, join us on our next adventure June 1st, and don’t forget to nominate your favorite campaigns for our next Campaign of the Month!

14
Apr

Creator Spotlight | An Interview with Hankerin Ferinale of Runehammer about Crown and Skull

Fantasy RPGs are a dime a dozen, but Crown and Skull promises a refreshing experience. In this interview with Hankerin Ferinale, creator of the system from Runehammer, we delve into the unique mechanics, world-building, and design philosophy that sets Crown and Skull apart.

Ferinale sheds light on the inspiration behind the game, how it challenges player interaction with the world, and the exciting future planned for this evolving system. So, grab your dice, and prepare to be enthralled by the evocative world of The North Holds!

Crown and Skull feels like a fresh take on fantasy RPGs. What inspired you to create this unique system?

I played Fantasy Hero (1st Edition) for years in high school. The system didn’t age terribly well, but its foundational thinking was great. After 8 years of RPG publishing, I wanted to both look back to my origins and forward to a few current inspirations like Cairn and Into the Odd. That’s just the mechanics. The WORLD and TONE are where I’m the most excited. I’ve been working as a writer and artist for over three decades now, and I started to feel real, emotional, moody, evocative stirrings in this setting. I hope all the readers feel as deeply connected to THE NORTH HOLDS as I do. That humanist connection is teh core inspiration of the book(s).

The “skill as tool” approach sounds intriguing. Can you elaborate on how this changes player character interaction with the world?

For ages now, we’ve been taught that our stats/attributes can solve any problem with a die roll in role playing. Removing stats from the mechanics and being strict above the use of skills only, forbidding attempts by the unskilled altogether, is the biggest step toward substantive character differentiation I have seen. So different, in fact, I find many players and GMs a bit dazed at first, then very excited. As for interaction with the world, there’s far more think-before-act. The player can’t simply roll a stat to get out of a bind or overcome a challenge.

The phase-based combat seems like a strategic twist. How did you develop this system and what are its advantages for players and GMs?

I didn’t! I reduced Fantasy Hero’s 12-phase system into a 5 phase setup. The advantage is almost entirely offered to the GM. These 5 phases allow room to build truly challenging foes against even large parties of heroes. A single foe might take action(s) on up to 3 phases, while heroes are always limited to one. This lets the monsters expand into vastly larger realms of challenge and variety, compared to traditional initiative systems.

Crown and Skull is known for its emphasis on player skill over character stats. Can you talk about the design philosophy behind this approach?

As mentioned above, stats blend all characters together. By removing them entirely, and forbidding attempts by the unskilled, the differences between heroes becomes extreme. MUSCLE is a skill, not a stat. No muscle skill? You can;t even ATTEMPT to move the boulder. This differentiation enhances one of the key visions of the hobby’s framers: that characters need each other to thrive.

We’ve seen some discussions about the lack of traditional “gold” mechanics. How does Crown and Skull handle character progression and rewards?

In CROWN, you earn hero points. Gold is seen as banal and uninteresting, though present if your table wishes. Hero points replace gold, and adjudicate the finding of usable loot. They come in all kinds of reard packages, from deeds of renown, to the dire and unavoidable choice of THE CROWN, OR THE SKULL?

Crown and Skull is still evolving. What are some exciting things you have planned for the future of the system?

There are 4 more volumes of CROWN and SKULL coming. These volumes introduce new mechanics, world material, and tables. The coolest part of the forthcoming volumes, though, is portraying ongoing epochs of the world, influenced and shaped by the actions of all of CROWN’s players and GMs. It is a 6 year experiment in a truly living world… another core dream of our hobby’s mighty originators. Achieving a truly living world is not easy! It requires a DAILY interaction habit with the player community.

Do you have any advice for GMs and players who are new to Crown and Skull?

Join the Runehammer Discord! This isn’t a sales pitch at all, but a call to engage with a living, breathing community that is building a world brick by brick. It’s also a great resource for those odd questions or sticking points as many 5E players seek new horizons.

Thanks for the interview, Obsidian! FOR THE CROWN!

-Hankerin Ferinale

Crown and Skull is produced and published by Runehammer. Visit them on social media:
Patreon, Youtube, Instagram, X (formerly Twitter), Facebook

1
Apr

Obsidian Portal Campaign of the Month April 2024: Season of Strife

Twenty years after the fall of Utugash’s kingdom, a group of adventurers sail into Celestine and into their new destiny. Villains and allies of every faction eagerly await to use the newcomers for their own purposes, while even more sinister forces lurk in the shadows… Join us in talking with GM EdgarS as we explore the Season of Strife!

First off, feel free to tell us about the person behind the GM screen. Where are you from? What do you do aside from gaming? Alter Egos? Life partners? Family? Where can we interact with you on the internet?

Heya, I’m Edgar, I’m from the Netherlands, and I’ve been playing D&D for about 15 years now since I was invited to join a campaign for the first time. I really got into Critical Role around 2018 and watching it helped elevate my gaming and give me a way bigger sense of the possibilities the medium held to tell a story beyond ‘there’s a monster in the next room of the dungeon, go hit it.’ I also started DMing in 2018 and have or are running a couple of campaigns at the same time.

Before D&D I came from the world of tabletop gaming: building, painting and playing Warhammer Fantasy and 40K mostly, which really helped me get out of my shell as a teen (you gotta play with/against other people physically present on the other side of the table after all). From there it was a hop and a skip to D&D. I’ve been lucky to have had a pretty stable and dull life. The most I have in terms of baggage is experiencing bullying in high school because, well, huge giant nerd, but it’s precisely due to things like tabletop gaming and DMing I’ve gotten over that and grew to be a version of myself I enjoy, and being way more extrovert and bringing the sorely needed levity at office meetings. But yeah aside from that, I grew up in a fairly affluent household with loving parents, went to college (studied history and international relations), and after maybe a couple of years in the wilderness got a proper job recently working for the government. I even bought my first apartment a few months ago, which gave me the opportunity to set up a purposely-built storage room for all of my D&D terrain!

As for online, I used to be more active in various places such as tabletop gaming forums, but now I mostly lurk in peace and quiet, stay in my lane, and occasionally tweet out some art or dnd pics on my twitter (no I’m not calling it X) at @DCabbagefarm. That refers to Emperor Diocletian’s cabbages by the way. I’m a historian. Hi.

Tell us about “Season of Strife” in a nutshell. How did you design the world? What was your inspiration?

So the Season of Strife was born when one of the players put out a ‘looking for group’ call on Tumblr for an online d&d campaign, and I decided to take the plunge and offered to DM, back in late 2020. Not quite knowing whether this’d end up being a massive campaign or would bleed out early I decided to use the same homebrew setting I was using for my weekly campaign, the Twilight of the Spheres (and by the way, that one’s got its own Obsidian wiki too, probably even more expansive than the Strife one), but simply designing a new area for the world like it was some kind of Warcraft expansion. Exactly how many hidden continents are there?!

After this I expanded the map further, filling it out as I went until it reached its current state of completion, with enough space for a few more fresh campaigns. Here’s the full map, and be warned it’s a big boy

The first Twilight of the Spheres campaign (2019-2022) took place in the north-eastern region of the world, Eos, dominated by the Coalition (a pretty standard late-medieval European fantasy society consisting of a union of city states) and the Kyshtar Dominion (a majority dragonborn proto-industrial semi-Babylonian hodgepodge). That quarter of the map was all that existed of the setting, with no more than vague allusions to other stuff being beyond the boundaries. The new area I added specially for the Season of Strife was far to the south of it, an island chain called the Teylu Archipelago, inhabited by the Teylu eladrin & water genasi people who mix inspiration from both Polynesian culture and aesthetic, and Scandinavian and celtic. Two of the players are Scandinavian so that’s how that got included into the mix, plus the traditional celtic influences of the Feywild re: the eladrin. As a historian I like to draw heavily on history as inspiration for my worldbuilding, and regions in my setting often have some kind of ethnic or socio-political conflict. In this case it’s the colonial settlers who arrived from the Coalition and Kyshtar Dominion (collectively called ‘the Elyzians’) in the wake of a devastating flood that hit the Archipelago, and whose presence is pushing the Teylu to the margins. This conflict operates as a backdrop to everything going on in the campaign and it’s been very fortuitous that the players themselves chose to have a party consisting of two Elyzian characters and one from the Teylu, so that they could RP through these clashing perspectives and get a multifaceted view of the situation. Settler politics. Fun!

Welcome to the colony of Celestine, our version of Pallet Town but a lot smellier

As for the outline of the campaign’s plot, in ancient times the Spring Court of the Feywild was cursed by the other season courts to slumber, and left behind buried in the material plane. However now a radical Teylu cult, the Teyhua, are seeking to awaken Spring and use its power to expel the settlers from the Archipelago. To do this a number of seals first need to be removed, which can each only be done by the Summer, Autumn, Winter and Spring knight (mortals in the employ of the courts as their champion, because they’re able to break Fey rules such as crossing running water and being able to lie), and the player characters find themselves entangled within this storied web and – mostly by accident – becoming knights for the fey courts.

The players discover a magical tree in some hidden Spring Court ruins

I’m an avid worldbuilder, drawing heavily on historical minutiae, so in order to scratch that itch and build up a corpus of material I also write a “worldbuilder gazette” article every few months, dealing with info about the world that might not naturally pop up during sessions, such as how the different regional calendars work, lunar orbits, holidays, the economy, and nations the players haven’t visited yet. For every other worldbuilding-obsessed DM out there: I see you, I hear you.

How regularly do you play, and where do you play? Tell us about your current group of players.

The campaign is played online, using roll20 and Zoom, and we play about once every two to three weeks. With me included we’re a group of four from across the UK and west-central Europe. I’m gonna refrain from telling you too many personal details, but I’ll just say they’re some of the goshdarndamndest best RP’ers – nay, actors! – I’ve ever seen at any D&D table. They’re so insanely good. Sometimes I just shut up and listen for 30 minutes while they RP amongst themselves.

You put a lot of emphasis on the factions in your game, enough to place them on the front page. Can you tell us how important they are in your game?

As mentioned previously, I draw a great deal from history when worldbuilding, and if anything history is a revolving door of peoples, polities and cultures clashing with each other. The factions on the wiki’s home page are for the most part the main cultural groupings; what background an npc is from can inform a massive amount about their character, customs and perspective on things, especially how they relate to the local background conflict and what that means for their relationship with the player characters. I don’t want to have my game world populated by unattached caricatures, I want the npcs to have allegiances of their own – be they culture, country, ethnicity, etcetera. In my opinion they make characters richer and more vibrant, and give the players an additional set of approaches to relate to them (are they from a rival faction? Are they both foreigners away from home? Do they have certain proclivities or interests relating to their culture that might be used to sway them?)

I don’t want every country to be contained in its own cordoned-off little box either, like they’re in their own stasis bubble: People move! Countries do war, trade, diplomacy, propaganda, cultural exchanges, religious exchanges, espionage, migration and more! Interactions between the different factions are the building blocks of my world, and the quest design flows organically from that. Part of having a reusable setting is having background conflicts that continue to passively generate animosity that can be leveraged into new quests. In the season of strife campaign the main plot is almost entirely motivated and impacted by the background conflict of the indigenous Teylu being squeezed by the Elyzian settlers, and most quests and npcs are at the very least tangentially related to that. Most recently the players were sent on a little sidequest to solve a dispute on some Teylu islands where wealthy Elyzian settlers had built… well… the Hamptons, basically, and their mayor was secretly throwing meat into the bay to lure sharkfolk to the local Teylu water genasi village’s spiritual site to disrupt their traditional links to the land.

I’ve also been working with a couple of artists whom I have commissioned many times. One of them is designing the factions icons for me. Those icons are all unique and purpose-made for my setting, not just plucked from the web! The faction icons there are the ones that are currently done, but in the end there will be two to three times as many! I’ve currently got a plan in the works to start a project with these artists, in order to make an illustration of one or two “average joe”’s from each main culture, to create a kind of setting sourcebook and give an idea of what the regular person in the street of each nation would look like.

Your WIKI section is very detailed and quite comprehensive. Who is responsible for adding the information and organizing it? How much time do you spend updating it as the campaign progresses?

A work in progress icon for the setting’s Imperial Rome equivalent

Your WIKI section is very detailed and quite comprehensive. Who is responsible for adding the information and organizing it? How much time do you spend updating it as the campaign progresses?

L’wiki, c’est moi. It’s all done by me and I’ll conservatively estimate “a metric ton of time”. It’s a good thing I enjoy wiki-building (I read aloud from my hostage note) and I’m a glutton for punishment if nothing else. My players do help me out every so often with writing sections of the summaries if I don’t have enough time to finish them, and one of my players performs vitally important recording wizardry, making video recordings of the session and uploading them to a private youtube playlist so we can watch them back and use them to make summaries. And she also makes thumbnails for each session! Recently we also redistributed some tasks so that another player would help me out with writing the short synopses.

Your campaign has many items and makes great use of Obsidian Portal’s Items section. How do you feel the extra work it takes to implement this benefits you and/or your players?

It’s always good to have a central place to store data as a master reference. Handing out item cards or putting them into word documents or reading out the item descriptions is all well and good but you can almost guarantee that stuff’s gonna get lost or misplaced at some point. Much better to have somewhere you can always refer back to. We also have a few items that have become real staples of the characters’ iconic look, such as the sword Spring’s Edge, one of the first items the group acquired in the first ten sessions, and it’s nice to be able to give these items an image to represent them.

What made you choose D&D 5e as your gaming system? Have you played other gaming systems, or earlier editions? How do you feel it compares?

I played 3.5th edition in the first campaign I joined (playing for a good 13-14 years) and DM’ed it for a while, and gods above and below in hindsight I found it so cumbersome and bloated, with hundreds of sourcebooks and a level of stat block number crunching I was simply never going to be able to get a proper grip on; After a while you get monsters on the field with modifiers of +20 to hit, and if you overshot the challenge rating you were supposed to give the players by a bit you could quickly end up with foes the characters could literally do barely more than single digit damage to. And worse, I disliked how lower level spells became exponentially useless as time wore on, because both the DCs and effects of those spells remained as low as a low level character casting them, encouraging you to only throw your highest level stuff. I could probably go on for a while but I’ll save the internet the byte space.

In comparison the 5th edition rules are easy enough to follow that I learned them simply through watching/listening to Critical Role, picking up most of the game (and learning answers to some of the baked-in rules conflicts or less commonly understood features) before ever even opening the Player’s Handbook. The familiarity I now have with the system appeals to me, the basics are pretty easy to follow, flexible enough to homebrew off of, and combat can be balanced quite decently on sheer ‘vibes’ alone, while fixing a lot of the annoyances I had with 3.5 (I don’t think any annoyed me more than being unable to move more than 5ft and make more than one melee attack, turning most battles into stationary ones because it was actively detrimental to move). The system is also robust enough that you can overshoot and make monsters too strong, without instantly signing the players’ death warrant.

How much time is usually spent preparing your game sessions? Describe a typical session.

Most sessions take me a couple hours of prep, often about equal or slightly less than total playtime… except when I need to build a battlemap in Roll20, which can eat up hours of my time while I finetune tiny details. Regardless, my prep can often be described as “leapfrogging.” Whenever I prep a session I will inevitably have enough material that we end up covering (nearly) two sessions with it. Plus if I need to buy time, I’ll just let the player characters talk to one another. Bam, there’s half an hour filled, easy peasy. In our very latest session the players started right after having been portalled to the gates of a Feywild city. They were right in front of the gates! It took 30 minutes before they even walked up to the guards! It’s a miracle we get anywhere at all.

Can you please explain the difference between your session summaries and your miniature session summaries? What is the difference between the two types of sessions?

Those both relate to the same sessions. The ‘session summaries’ are the long versions – which are probably a little too long at times, sometimes reaching more than 10 pages and rarely less than 4 – and the ‘miniature session summaries’ are brief synopses about one paragraph long. It’s a practice I picked up in the first campaign that I ran, where I noticed players had difficulty recalling the basic outline of the few sessions before it (especially because that campaign only played once every 6-7 weeks or so), so the mini summary contains a very basic outline of the main events/facts of the session, just so you can more easily search back for when something happened and so you can recall the basics at a single glance, rather than walls and walls of text. The mini summary section on our wiki then links to the long-form summary of that particular session.

I’m a bit of a fanatic about chronicling everything in massive detail because:
A) I’m a historian and work with archival departments at a government ministry. It’s kinda in my blood at this point.
B) The first campaign I ever joined as a player ran for like 12-13 years and we had basically zero documentation, so halfway through there were just complete year-long arcs of the campaign I had no recollection of or where I didn’t know the order of events anymore, so a lot of plot stuff inadvertently flew over our heads half the time because we didn’t remember anything.
C) I just can’t stop myself. Help.

How long have you been using Obsidian Portal? What brought you to the site and what keeps bringing you back?

I had an account before then but I’ve actively used Obsidian Portal since about 2018, when I first started DM’ing my own campaigns. There might be shinier things out there, with widgets and gadgets and holograms, but I like the easy legibility Obsidian Portal’s format provides if you wanna put up big blocks of text. With some pretty basic coding you can do a fair amount to make it look nice, formatting it like it’s a Wikipedia article. And of course being able to hyperlink back and forth between different pages makes navigating through the wiki a breeze.

If you had to pick just one thing, what would you say Obsidian Portal helps you with the most?

I put up stupid amounts of text, and like I said above I like the legibility Obsidian provides. As a history enthusiast my favored terrain is wikipedia pages (I get a +2 to hit modifier against other historians), so that’s the model I like to copy. I’m also happy with the pre-defined sections for characters, game logs and items, rather than needing to build custom wiki pages for each of them and it becoming a right old mess. If there’s anything else I might want to see from Obsidian Portal it’s one or two more sections like that, such as a bestiary section for common creatures/creature types found in your setting.

What would you say is the biggest highlight of your game so far?

Oh gosh, oh golly, oh jeepers, I had such a tough time answering this question!! We’ve played 74 sessions up to this point, and so many exciting things have happened! Should I pick the time the cleric held an impassioned speech before the church to denounce the bigoted high priestess? Or the victory in the Autumn Tournament when the rogue defeated the other candidates to become the new Autumn Knight? Perhaps I ought to pick that time the party were surrounded by enemies on all sides and opened up the Iron Flask they’d carried with them for nearly 30 sessions without knowing what was inside, summoning a succubus to their aid? That time the ranger/druid had a romantic ride across the meadows of the Feywild on the back of a stag with one of the main villains (he’s hot so it’s okay), or simply when two players were wasted drunk and trying to escape across the rooftops from some bandits, with the air genasi rogue floating away from danger like a balloon?

This artist has done a huge series of illustrations for our campaign, all of which can be found here

I guess if there is one moment I had to pick it would be in the earlier stages of the campaign when the players were at a fancy gala, and the rogue suddenly ran into the crime boss (and secret weretiger) on the dancefloor whom she’d been romancing at the start of the campaign before getting cold feet and breaking it off. I cannot describe the utter mic drop moment when that French accent suddenly returned and I showed off the art I had commissioned for the occasion:

As an aside I also want to add that for me the personal highlight of any game is when the ranger/druid communicates with any flora or fauna. I never know what voice will come out of my mouth but let’s just say the interactions don’t really live up to the wise, sage druid image. Pigeons hate her, seagulls have died for her, trees want to practice their stand-up comedy routines on her.

Okay, as a last question, we always ask for the GM’s “pearls of wisdom”. What GM insights can you offer the community this month?

I mean you’re gonna hear this one repeated ad nauseam, but communication really is key in playing a game like this. You gotta have some people at your table you can trust you can talk with like adults, make sure you’re on the same wavelength as to what kind of game you’d like to play, and make the players feel you’re playing with them not against them. Though as a DM I feel you should always reserve the right to not acquiesce to every single thing the players might ask for; sometimes mother knows best.

However, apart from slam-dunking that low-hanging fruit into Tantalus’ head, there’s a couple more things I’d like to add: First off, the success or failure of your campaign can lean very heavily on what the players are like, irrespective of your quality as a DM. There’s something Brennan Lee Mulligan said at a DM roundtable a couple years back that’s always stuck with me, namely “there’s nothing you can do if the players don’t care.” You can be the best DM in the world with the coolest party tricks and goblin voices but if there are sacks of potatoes sitting opposite your screen it’s gonna be a bad time (and I don’t mean people who are simply shy or withdrawn, I mean people actively unwilling to engage or care). And conversely if you’ve got some people who come to the table with a good attitude, are willing to engage and have a good time, you can elevate any game to beyond what it is on paper. I’ve had about half a dozen campaigns in my DMing career and I’ll earnestly admit some are running better than others (but on the whole I’m very happy with them all), but there’s one that thankfully bled to death where I was straight-up not having a fun time, because of a complete unwillingness from half of the table to engage, like they were forced to participate against their wishes. I didn’t DM that game any differently from my other campaigns, but it was a rotten experience while my other campaigns give me a surge of energy at the end of the night. You’re playing a collaborative game and that collaboration is what makes or breaks a campaign.

Secondly, being behind the DM screen gives you certain insights into how the game functions, and you can try to transfer some of that wisdom to your players to help them get better/get more out of the game. If you have players at your table who are DMs themselves you’ll often quickly notice they play a little bit differently that other players, and in my experience they tend to be a bit better with spotting plot hooks, unearthing crucial info buried in a piece of dialogue, and jumping on opportunities to give the scenario a different twist. With a little encouragement and advice I’ve seen the folks in one long-running campaign in particular transform from ‘enthusiastic amateurs’ into model players. If you wanna give your players any insights to help their play, I’ll offer you this one: “If you don’t do anything, nothing happens.” This applies to every aspect of the game. If you don’t respond (promptly) when the DM asks you about scheduling, the game doesn’t happen. If you don’t go talk to that npc who seems to hold a potential plot hook, then that quest doesn’t occur and you don’t do anything during the session. If the rest of the party is chasing the undead who just attacked the village and kidnapped someone but your character doesn’t want to leave their bed (this happened once), you won’t be able to do anything in the game for the next hour or more. If your character is getting distorted visions about their personal quest but is informed they first need to consume the waters of life to see them more clearly but you make no move to acquire said waters of life, nothing happens. If you never take the initiative to turn to your fellow players and go “hey I think we should plan a heist to steal the plot item”, then no fun shenanigans-filled heist happens. If you play the game super safely and cautiously, none of the fun stuff happens. D&D is an immensely malleable game, where your efforts as a player can and will shape the contours of what the session is gonna be like: Make your players aware they have that power and co-opt them into making the game more fun and to try and get them to engage with what you’re putting out for them.

Thirdly, based on my own campaigns so far and the ones I’ve participated in as a player I’ve picked up a way to structure my campaigns that I’m quite happy with, and that I’m using for the second Twilight campaign. If I could do Strife again from the start I’d have liked to use this approach there too. I like to start by taking my time with the lower levels – giving players enough time to fully explore all their spells and class features and ways to use them creatively, and making them appreciate their new abilities more when they finally get to level 5 and beyond – and giving them a pure sandbox game. They’re set loose in the world and allowed to do generic low-level quests: Root out the goblins blocking the local road, escort the archeologists to the nearby excavation site, find out who’s stealing from the warehouse, etcetera. They get the sense of fulfillment of completing quests (rather than just subsections of a long-running main plot), get to explore your world and setting, get to build a network of NPC contacts, and have complete freedom to pick and choose for themselves what to do. This also puts them at liberty to fail or abandon quests without the stakes being too high and introduces the players to the idea that “if you mess up, you make a mess”, because at a certain point in a high-level plot the party can’t really be allowed to fail that much anymore without endangering the entire setting… and DMs put a lot of work in their settings! They don’t wanna toss it out on a whim! So this early sandbox stage both gives the party freedom and gives the DM freedom not to have to plot-armor the party. In the Season of Strife the party spent their first ten sessions in the starter-town, Celestine, engaging with a local crime boss (slash love interest), and then hitching a ride on an archeological expedition to another part of the island for a while and doing a bit of dungeon delving, before they got involved in the bigger plotlines. You can also start throwing in subtle foreshadowing to the campaign’s eventual BBEG… A namedrop here and there, a whispered rumor, mysterious graffiti appearing in the cities, and so forth. After the sandbox stage you’ll start reaching levels 6, 7, 8 or so, which in my opinion is the game’s sweetspot. This is the part where the format becomes more plot-driven, your players may encounter recurring villains (possibly lieutenants to the campaign’s BBEG), and the stakes start increasing. Perhaps this stage results in a kind of mid-campaign climax. A big victory for the players to revel in at the end of the second act. Maybe you’ll even return them to the sandbox stage for a while to do sidequests or loose ends, before the plot and stakes start dramatically ramping up again as the BBEG starts coming to the fore and you get to the big, epic, dramatic battles as you work your way to the final confrontation. Players generally don’t like losing more than once (in a row), so my recommendation is to always split up your plot into separate portions which can be won piecemeal.

Also, get theater kids to join your game. They are good at roleplay and drama. It’s… it’s in the name.

Thank you to the community for making this campaign of the month possible! That’s all for now, join us on our next adventure May 1st, and don’t forget to nominate your favorite campaigns for our next Campaign of the Month!

3
Mar

Creator Spotlight | An Interview with the Creators of Divination RPG

Divination RPG offers a transformative approach to tabletop roleplaying, merging the ancient tradition of tarot with the dynamic mechanics of RPGs. This game invites players to embark on a journey of self-discovery and adventure, navigating a world where the flip of a card determines fate.

In this exciting interview, we delve into the minds of the creators behind this innovative game, Matthew Muñiz and Nyx Tesseract, to uncover the inspiration, mechanics, and future for Divination RPG. Join us as we explore the fascinating world where destiny is woven with each card drawn, and where players become active participants in an unfolding narrative guided by the very tools of divination.

Don’t just consult the cards, adventurers! Support the Divination RPG Kickstarter!

What initially drew you to incorporating tarot into an RPG experience?

I’ve always used tarot as a part of my TTRPG ventures, I think. It’s been an idea generator, a generator for NPC motivations—a set of huge, abstract symbols from which to draw. So as I ran D&D games growing up, and later, World of Darkness games, I liked to use tarot to get ideas about plots, motivations, antagonists, worlds of magic, all kinds of stuff. I got my first Pixie (RWS) deck in my teenage years, and started running games for my friends right around the same time.

Matthew Muñiz

Were there influences other than tarot that served as inspiration for the game’s mechanics?

I loved the World of Darkness games from the 90s, and grew up on Basic and Advanced D&D—a childhood inheritance from my erstwhile-nerd parents. I liked how WoD games let you develop your character without levels (I recall that as revolutionary once upon a time, way back when). Those worlds also aspired to delve into the psychology involved in role-playing and character development. I think of those games as blazing a trail that now lots of other narrative-first games follow.

Some of those, like Bluebeard’s Bride and Kids on Bikes, use shared hero and shared character dynamics that really influenced Divination as well. As roleplaying games explore GM-lessness, elements of shared storytelling are becoming increasingly common, and I think those mechanics work beautifully in Divination because it’s based on tarot. Tarot is so much about introspection and personal growth, and so a game where the parts of the mind negotiate that (and sometimes fight over it) suits our world really well.

Matthew Muñiz

Can you walk us through the core mechanics of Divination RPG?

There are two main mechanics that make up the heart and soul of playing Divination. One is the shared Hero that Matthew mentioned, and the second is the performance of Tests.

You play Divination as one Aspect of a Hero, and your fellow players are also Aspects of that same Hero. Each Aspect embodies one set of drives and desires inside that person, which adds an additional element to roleplay. Sometimes one Aspect is in Control of the Hero and is navigating the world and dealing with NPCs just like any other roleplaying game, but at other times we zoom in to the internal and see the conversations happening between the Aspects—the Hero’s internal thoughts and conflicts and questions playing out live. Each player has an Aspect sheet which tracks the stats and abilities unique to them as an individual, and collectively the players share a Hero sheet which tracks the stats available equally to all of them.

Where all those different stats and abilities come in brings us to the other core mechanic of Divination: the Test. This is essentially your skill check, but it’s resolved by drawing a tarot card instead of rolling a d20. We use one portion of the tarot deck that contains numbered cards only, and draw a card to get a numerical result (after applying modifiers to reflect difficulty, stats, and Powers, of course). The number gives a clear success or failure, but the scene depicted on the card and the meaning of the card is rolled into the how of that success or failure as well.

Tests can be Active when the Hero is proactively acting on the world, or Passive when they need to respond to the forces of the world acting upon them.

Nyx Tesseract

How do you envision the concepts in Divination RPG fitting into the broader world of tabletop RPGs?

One of the things I’m personally most excited about is the way Divination handles the Hero’s experience of being hurt both physically and emotionally. We’ve separated this experience into Injury, which happens to the body, and Harm, which happens to the mind or the psyche. I don’t want to spoil too much of what you can discover playing the game, but I think we offer the opportunity for players to explore a lot of nuance in what it means to be hurt. This is something we’re really excited about offering to the gaming community at large, because I don’t think either of us has seen it handled or delved in quite this way before.

And I mean, it’s so tarot. It’s so tarot to explore every element of our human experience, the good and the bad, through a lens of non-judgmental curiosity.

Nyx Tesseract

How does interpreting the cards impact the gameplay and decision-making process for players?

The beautiful thing about Divination is that it’s both numeric, which means it can do the things that dice can do, and it’s pictorial, which means it speaks in the fuzzy, flexible language of pictures. When a Test is read, it does more than just tell the players whether or not they were successful at whatever they were trying to do—it can also suggest why. This almost always amounts to thoughts and feelings that influence the moment, but a Diviner is invited to weave the meanings they read in the cards into the story in any way that inspires them. This makes for emotional, profound moments where everyone is surprised by what they discover in the cards. I know we keep saying this, but it’s so tarot.

Matthew Muñiz

What challenges did you encounter while designing a system that incorporates both numerical crunch and interpretation of tarot cards?

It’s challenging to offer people permission to interpret tarot cards. People think they have to memorize long lists of meanings, but in my opinion, all you have to do is look at a picture and allow it to make you feel something. In Divination, we divide the tarot deck into smaller decks to make it easy to do this. The mechanical crunch is fairly easy, with +1s and -1s like other games. 

You really just have to trust that you’ll look at a picture and seize the opportunity to be creative with what you see—or give yourself permission to skip that part when you want! You don’t have to interpret any moment that doesn’t make sense to you. A joy of Divination is allowing a symbol to persist and coming to understand what it means later.

Matthew Muñiz

Besides tarot’s role in the mechanics, how does tarot exist in the world and society of the game?

Tarot is baked into every part of our setting, which imagines two worlds: the Apparent and the Esoteric. The Apparent is the mundane world we all inhabit, and the Esoteric is the one populated by Artists—modern wizards who use the tarot and their unique connections to the Art to pursue their agendas.

These Artists each walk a Road that dictates what their connection to the Art is like. There are seven Roads in total, and each is wildly different. In Divination, you’ll make a single Hero on a single Road, so you get incredible replayability from our game as you explore all seven Roads. Each Hero on an Esoteric journey will be a part of a rich world full of competing agendas and surprises, all drawn from tarot.

Matthew Muñiz

What has been the community’s response to Divination RPG so far?

We’ve been just blown away by the way Divination seems to really touch every single person that touches it. I think the shared Hero is a huge part of that, and particularly the way the game builds that Hero. Our character creation process isn’t something you do at home before you show up to play; it’s almost a game in and of itself as the players are led through a series of story prompts (guided by tarot cards, of course) to tell formative stories about their Hero’s life. It acts as kind of an icebreaker, but in practice it becomes so much more than that. We run a lot of games at conventions and events where you regularly have four strangers come together for a game, and we’re always blown away by how naturally the game fosters investment and trust as the players build their Hero together. It’s pretty magical.

Nyx Tesseract

Are there any plans for future expansions or other content related to the game?

The core book—the Divination RPG Guidebook as we’re calling it—is going to be really complete in terms of running and playing the game. But as Matthew mentioned earlier, there are these seven different Esoteric Roads to explore, and I think that’s the most likely place for some expansion. The core book will include setting information for each Road, but eventually we’d like to create a full campaign module for each one as well, complete with NPCs, antagonists and threats, and even an outline of story beats and options. Currently we’ve got a full module like that for one of the seven Roads, but that’s a place we’d love to continue exploring and even bringing in outside writers to create more of those modules.

Nyx Tesseract

What is one of the most creative things you’ve seen players or Diviners do with Divination RPG?

I think you could pose this question to our Discord community and get dozens of stories, so I’ll just share one very recent one that brings me so much joy. One of our Discord members ran across an event called “Capybara Week” where a gaming group was looking for GMs to run any system with a capybara theme. Our community member signed up to run a Divination game with the following pitch: “Four aspects of the mind of someone find themselves awakened one day inside the body of a capybara, by a twist of fate. Together, they will navigate this new life on the shores of the lagoon, deciding whether to adapt or seek a way back to who they once were.”

Nyx Tesseract

Divination RPG is produced and published by Night Goddess Games.

Visit them on social media:
@divinationrpg on Instagram, X/Twitter, Facebook, BlueSky, and Spoutible

1
Mar

Obsidian Portal Campaign of the Month March 2024: Wrath of the Highborn

You search the lands for treasures and find them within the Obsidian Portal, in a land called Beregond. Like a glittering, magical jewel, one campaign shines brightly — it is “Wrath of the Highborn” by Keryth987! Within its many facets, you behold lands many decades in the making, fantastical stories written by a true entertainer, animated visuals and videos, and some surprises… is that a Klingon Bat’leth? Step forward into the not-quite-forgotten realms of this multi-award-winning GM to find out how he did it and how you can improve your own campaigns…

  1. Congratulations on your third, winning campaign! We know from your previous interviews that you’ve been playing since 1991 and have been using Obsidian Portal for almost a decade and a half, now. What changes in the world of gaming have you seen in that time which have had the greatest impact on you and your group?

First off, thanks. It’s nice to see what is a Labor of Love for me to get acknowledgement. Regarding changes in the world of gaming, I’d have to say the presence of computers and technology, along with the growing popularity of TTRPGs in general. When my group began playing it was 2nd Ed D&d and everything was pen and paper with dice, some miniatures, and a GM screen. Now everyone has a laptop or pad at their seat, with Obsidian Portal and D&D Beyond open as we play 5e for the current game (Other non-D&D Campaigns well, no Beyond being used of course). It’s also been nice to see gaming go from a fringe hobby to the popular activity it is now.

  1. The Chronicle section of “Wrath of the Highborn” details the journey of your players with some very excellent writing, from a simple village meeting to epic battles with dragons and demons. Can you give us a brief synopsis of the campaign, so far?

Well, this campaign actually comes out of my previous D&D Campaign, “A Rising Darkness.” In that campaign, the group of PC’s ended up needing to free a powerful elven sorceress to obtain something they needed to stop the Big Bad. That sorceress helped them in turn by also eliminating one of the lieutenants of the campaigns Big Bad, who just so happened to be the Elven Queen who had exiled her in the first place. She then went on to take over the city her rival once ruled and began building an army and playing conqueror, all while sending those she dubbed Her Chosen (and provided with a means of automatic resurrection should they die) with recovering some powerful magic relics called The Jewels of Aelis. The current party, through discovery, divine messengers, and prophecy, learned of this and have taken up the cause of defeating The Highborne Queen, recovering The Jewels of Aelis before she does, and destroying them.

The campaign began with them escorting the daughter of a prominent merchant from Goldshire, along the Sword Coast, across the Trackless sea, to Maztica, where they journeyed to Fort Flame. It was about the time of their arrival in Maztica, that they learned of the Jewels and The Highborne Queen’s goals. Since then the group has been following what evidence they have gathered as to where the various Jewels are, recovering them, and trying to find a way to destroy them, all while dodging The Highborne Queen’s Chosen, as well as some other enemies they have made along the way. As of the writing of this, they are off in Kara Tur, trying to infiltrate the Monastery of the Black Moon, to recover the last of the Jewels that have not already been recovered by either them or The Highborne Queen.

  1. “Wrath of the Highborn” is set in Beregond — a world adapted and expanded from Forgotten Realms material — and is also part of a shared set of worlds called “Chornalth” which are written and organized by other GM’s. Are there any challenges or advantages when dealing with interconnected planets and stories managed by other game masters?

Not really. We’ve been sharing “Chornalth” now for some time (The other two worlds being Liga – a heavily modified Oerth/Greyhawk Adventures, and Krynn – a highly modified Dragonlance world with some Dark Sun and others thrown in). Everyone in our group is pretty good at separating player knowledge form character knowledge, so when there is crossover, we are usually able to confer well and still not ruin the RP and sense of wonder while ensuring no one steps on another GM’s toes or messes something up in the other GM’s world. It also is a nice thing to have the shared world, as the last campaign on Liga (a Pathfinder Campaign) and actions taken by those PCs were what was utilized by the Big Bad of “A Rising Darkness,” to release his evil Over-Deity from his prison, which the events of, in turn, provided the villain for Wrath of the Highborne. It’s fun being able to play in one’s own sandbox sometimes as well, so, having the crossover ability allows that to happen both character wise as well as lore and interaction.

  1. Decades of work have gone into Beregond and it shows — one of your previous winning campaigns was set in the same world. Is “Wrath” connected in any way to the previous stories of “A Rising Darkness” or are your players treading on entirely new territory?

Well, as mentioned previously, the villain of “Wrath,” The Highborne Queen herself, was a sort of ally of the PCs in Rising, and two of the PC’s in “Wrath” – Shalryssia Peshlakai and Vimesh Damocles, are related to two PC’s from “Rising” – Sylmara Skystriker and Vito Damocles respectively. However, the party has covered far more territory than in past campaigns as they’ve also adventured outside of my modified Faerun, venturing to the continents of Maztica and Kara Tur, and even up into Selune’s Tears via spelljammer.

  1. Your site visuals are always outstanding and you’ve been incorporating video and audio components with your games for some time now. For GM’s who want to emulate those same techniques, what advice would you give or what digital tools and resources would you recommend?

Well, the videos are made using Wondershare Filmora, and the music is usually edited as needed in Audigy. I’m rather proud of the two videos for “Wrath,” both the Teaser on the Main page as well as the Introduction/Opening Credits that is listed as the Prologue for each Book on the site). As for the artwork, lots of Photoshop work, and, I have to admit some AI tools for base images. – Specifically Dream by Wombo. I know many frown on AI art, but were I to rely on my art skills, everything would be stick figures and such. The AI lets me take my ideas and those of my players and turn them into images that can be used, though not a single on has not been manipulated via photoshop, whether it’s to create and entirely new image such as the campaign background (there are, according to the folder on my PC, 20 separate images utilized in that), creating the many Book Covers (angain 8-10 base images to produce the various components and then Photoshop to put the elements all together), to modifying the skin colors and eyes of images so Night Elves and Genasi and Half Drow match the player’s vision of their character. It also lets us let our characters not only be “This character looks like Alessandra Ambrosio as a Maztican Priestess of Qotal” as a text or vocal description, but actually be able to see the character’s physical appearance.

  1. You have extensive experience with lots of different gaming systems — story-driven like Dresden Files, more rules-focused like D&D, and everything in between. In your opinion, is the game system critical to the success of a campaign or is it just a personal preference?

To be honest, the system isn’t as important to a campaign’s success as much as those involved in playing it – both GM and Players. My group’s been blessed for many years to have had plenty of great players and storytellers. Some have since moved on from the gaming table either due to Real Life commitments or moving out of the area, and others have joined the group to take their place, but in a gaming group that meets regularly every week and has done so since the 90s, we’ve only had to ask 2 people to leave the group due to issues. The heart of any successful campaign is not the setting or the system, but the people playing the game.

  1. You don’t shy away from mixing and matching elements from different settings to get the kind of game you want, like bringing in a race from a futuristic TV series or movie into a fantasy game like “Wrath.” Have you ever run into any unexpected problems when introducing something like this? Is there a lot of prep-work involved to make it all fit together or can you just make adjustments after enough years of GM experience?

Well, in “Wrath,” adding in Mass Effect’s Asari was a bit of a challenge…but eventually I found a way to make it work based on the lore I’d created for Beregond and “Chornalth” in general. Others, the idea of how to bring them in just came to me suddenly. And some, like the Draenei and Night Eves of World of Warcraft, well, they were simply a modification of their origins as provided in their original source material. To be honest, the biggest problem caused by this would be a toss up between trying to figure out how to make Klingon weapons work stat-wise, or finding a location to place the Tharks of Barsoom. Seeing as how every race that has been added has been because I wanted said race available, it’s not been too much trouble. And now, with resources like OP and Beyond, it’s even easier as I am able to find resources for these already available to use rules wise.

  1. Without giving too much away to your players, can you give us any hints about the future direction of “Wrath of the Highborn?”

Well, as mentioned they are working on retrieving the final Jewel that they know has not already been recovered. This is forcing them to infiltrate the Monastery of the Order of the Black Moon, a group of Shar worshiping Shadow Monks in Kara Tur (and something that came completely out of the background of one of the PCs, Koumori Shojo). This will bring the group into conflict with the Order’s Master Monk, as well as his followers and probably some Priests of Shar as well, After that, the players have indicated to me that they want to deal with the Red Wizard of Thay that once possessed one of the Jewels and that they have come into conflict with, as well as eliminating the remaining of The Highborne Queen’s Chosen. They also have a side quest for the Sha’ir Warlock in the group, Vimesh , to finish, as well as recovering the remaining Jewels from The Highborne Queen (which might cause them to destroy her). And then, finally, they need to discover the location of The Hall of Bones, to destroy the Jewels.

  1. Any plans for future campaigns that you would like to disclose? Or are you looking forward to a break while someone else runs the next game?

Well, I always am working on new campaign ideas. I have at least three concepts I’m tinkering with on OP now. But, the current plan is to resume our Savage Worlds campaign that was put on hold, then after that it looks like we might be playing a Planescape campaign, and one of the other players is hinting he is ready to start running the sequel to his last Pathfinder campaign. Honestly, the fact that pretty much everyone at the table is capable of and enjoys being a GM, is one of the reasons our group has lasted this long (the other being strong bonds of friendship). So, it looks like it will be a bit of time before I’m behind the screen again after this.

  1. Finally, Obsidian Portal readers are always hunting for helpful hints on how to better run their own games or build their sites. Do you have any particular tips or tricks that you would like to share?

Well, Obsidian Portal has been a godsend for me, enabling me to organize my thoughts and concepts and get them down somewhere solid, as well as to keep track of previous events in campaigns. As for developing sites themselves, Wolfhound’s tutorials over on his “Dresden Files Dallas” site are still a good place to start, as are the Obsidian Portal forums. However, the biggest help for me has been the Obsidian Portal Discord Server, where I have repeatedly gone for help and assistance on how to take an idea and make it work Textile/CSS wise (I’m looking at you Nuadaria and Abersade and others) and i highly recommend anyone interested in using Obsidian Portal go there, socialize, bring up their questions, and share their creations.

Alas, adventurer, our journey into Beregond is brief and too swiftly ended. With thanks to Keryth and his players, we turn our sights to other realms and future jewels of wondrous writing, clever coding, and delightful design. Do you know of a campaign worthy of notice? Perhaps your own, even. If so, send us word on the Community Forums or the Obsidian Portal Discord so that we may share the creativity of our gaming greats with everyone. Until next month, traveler!

Thank you to the community for making this campaign of the month possible! That’s all for now, join us on our next adventure April 1st, and don’t forget to nominate your favorite campaigns for our next Campaign of the Month!

1
Feb

Obsidian Portal Campaign of the Month February 2024: Cyberpunk 2077 Fate Accelerated

Welcome to a futuristic world where corporations control everything from their skyscraper fortresses, enforcing their rule with armies of Cyborg assassins. Gape in wonder as the player characters track down a Combat Cabb in Dog Town, using cyberenhancement and cutting edge technology in HumAnnoyd’s latest High Tech site, Cyberpunk 2077 Fate Accelerated!

You are no newcomer to this forum, having won several times before. Some people may know you already, but for those who don’t, how would you like to introduce yourself? Anything new going on?

I am an artist, designer and animator who has made a living in video games, tech, education, and marketing. Inspired by Tolkien and Star Wars I started playing RPGs in the late 70s with the Holmes Edition of D&D and ran my first game using Traveller’s “little black books”. In the 80s I picked up Cyberpunk 2013 and ran a seven-year campaign using it and CP2020. This year has been trying due to an intense battle with cancer, but it looks like I am on the mend and may just beat it yet.

What new approaches did you take when designing your site for this new game? Did you adapt old templates or start with an “empty page”?

This website was a little different than my others. During the pandemic I was put on furlough, so I started working on writing rules for a Fate Accelerated version of the video game based on the Dresden Files Accelerated rules. To prevent losing my mind in boredom and to keep my design skills sharp I decided to lay it out in InDesign, using an aesthetic inspired by the amazing artists of the video game. I built the OP Site after that, trying to recreate that aesthetic online.

Are your players new, or have you stuck with players who have been with you in previous games? How often do you play? What are your sessions like?

My roommate and his cousin both expressed interest in playing CP2077A and have little experience with RPGs and none with Cyberpunk. We have played the first two sessions in person but, due to busy schedules will be using Discord and Roll20 going forward.
The sessions have been quite fun so far, with both of my players being creative and clever. I cannot wait to see how the campaign develops as they gain more confidence and experience! We also have a couple of people who may join the game soon.

You are obviously a big fan of the Fate Accelerated Game. What do you like most about it, and in what ways does Cyberpunk 2077 differ from Emerald City: Requiem, which won Campaign of the Year in 2022?

I think the primary difference is that DFA is a full game with rules out of the box. I had to write and create rules for the CP2077A game which required a lot of picking and choosing from Fate’s vast tool sets and games as well as innovating my own ideas. The Emerald City is also set in a city that the players all participated in creating while Cyberpunk is the creation of Mike Pondsmith and the amazing team at CD Projekt Red. What I love about Fate Accelerated is that is such an easy system to hack and for new players to grasp. It also gives players agency to flourish narratively and with much more freedom compared to many other RPGs.

Your choice of artwork throughout the site is great, but it looks like you manipulate each image to give it your own particular flavour. Can you share how you go about this, and what sort of tools you use in your “touch up” palette.

The images are all taken from a mix of screenshots from the video game and photographs blended in a long and involved process in Photoshop that I have been honing for over a decade now. I use an arcane mix of smart objects, filters, actions, blending modes, layer styles with some painting for the final touches that results in massive file sizes of 3 Gigs or more. I am constantly changing and adapting my process as I learn new things.

Tell us a bit about the Cyberpunk world. Boostergangs, techies, outriders, Maelstrom gangers, roadwarriors! How do your cyberenhanced players interact with these characters? Where are they heading?

My players are involved with the 6th Street Gang whose leader just died under mysterious circumstances. The heir apparent of the gang asked them to quietly track down one of his missing friends who went missing along with his expensive Combat Cabb™ in Dog Town, the walled-off combat zone on the edge of Night City that is run like a fiefdom by an ex-soldier who betrayed his masters. The PCs have managed to use some impressive cybernetic implants to infiltrate a business and track down the Cab’s GPS signal to a garage held by the hated Scavs gang. I cannot wait to see how they will carry out the contract and the repercussions that will arise from their actions.

Do you get help from your players in adding to the site content? Or do you do most of the “heavy lifting”?

For now, I am doing all the writing and art and creating for the game. I am hoping that, as my players become more adept at the game, they will help with that “burden”.

You have obviously been with Obsidian Portal for some years. In recent years, many gaming platforms have come onto the scene. What keeps you “sticking with” Obsidian Portal.

I love Obsidian Portal’s ease of use and adaptability with CSS. I am constantly pushing myself to do something new and better with my sites and OP has always risen to that challenge for me. I also enjoy the community who are all a great help when I run into a snag with CSS or provide feedback on a design choice.


If you had to pick just one thing, what would you say Obsidian Portal helps you with the most?

Organization. Having written my own rules for this game OP has proved invaluable for keeping them organized and easy to access for my players. As the game develops there will be more and more NPCs to track and that is so easy using OP.


What would you say is the biggest highlight of your new game so far (please also provide images and links if possible)?

I think the best part of the game so far is when my players started realizing how much freedom they had in the game. They were wanting to infiltrate the Combat Cabb™ garage and came up with a good plan to do so with little to no prompting from me. The infiltrator had to improvise and role-play a fair amount to make it all work and my players did so despite having had little experience with RPGs in the past.

Okay, as a last question, we always ask for the GM’s “pearls of wisdom”. What GM insights can you offer the community this month?

I strive to always stay flexible enough to be able to react nimbly to my players’ choices and plans while at the same time providing enough narrative structure to keep the story interesting and fun for us all. It is a very delicate balance that benefits from trying to never say “no” to my players. This gives the players a greater sense of ownership of the game and agency to be truly creative. I admit that I sometimes struggle with it when I get too attached to certain ideas or storylines, but it is always my goal.
END

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