Tag Archives: dnd

1
Jan

Obsidian Portal Campaign of the Month January 2024: More Things in Heaven and Earth

Get ready to jump into the mystical techno-magical future of North America after “the Awakening”. The year is 2082. The place is “The Emerald City”, where people are willing to risk it all and walk on the bleeding edge, making deals with anything. The GM is Dropbeartots. The runners are a rag-tag group of humans, an elf, an ork and a troll. They adventure in a Sixth World Shadowrun game called More Things in Heaven and Earth.

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?

I’m just an Immortal elf hanging around waiting to see the Awakening happen still! My alter-ego is a dropbear, of course. My folks were military, so I really didn’t settle down anywhere for very long until my Dad retired. Since then, Ive been in Texas. Aside from gaming, I work a lot and try to make enough money to keep up with Shadowrun’s new releases and increase my collection of older edition books. Two of the gamers in my group are related to me: Ringpop is my wife, and Nomad is my youngest son. My internet activity has decreased quite a bit in the past few years, but I have a neglected site on WordPress called When Dropbears Attack! I really should get back into it…

You are running a Shadowrun Sixth World Game. Are you familiar with the previous editions and if so, can you mention any differences, or talk about the evolution of the Game? What are the things you most enjoy about the Shadowrun world in general?

Shadowrun has been the single game that’s really carried my interest across all editions. I’ve been the forever GM with it since first edition came out! The most captivating thing for me about it has been the evolution of the story of the Sixth World across the decades, and the back cover blurb of the first edition core rulebook just grabbed me more than any other game ever has. It has always been a game about three worlds – Man, Magic & Machine – that kept me engrossed the most as a reader, player, and game master. I keep coming back to it time and again even when I get distracted with my interests in a wide variety of other games. When most people can point to D&D as their definitive TTRPG starting point, I can honestly say that yeah I started with it but I never really loved gaming as much as when Shadowrun was first plopped down in front of me.

Sixth World, for me, has a plethora of good points. In the first five editions, the skill lists were pretty extensive. As a skill-based game, on the surface this always seemed appropriate. But this often seemed to me to cause characters to have a lot of spread-out skills distributed at a low level just to cover all of their bases. With Sixth World, the skill list has been very condensed, and I have found that a lot of my long-time players are happier with building characters.

Another good point to me is the Edge system. As a sort of advantage mini-game, it has encouraged a lot of thought by the players into roleplaying seeking out various environmental and situational advantages

in their exchanges, both in combat and social encounters. I will admit to it being a lot of work to keeping up, but I think if used and taken advantage of, the system offers a lot to players.

Mechanically at its heart, SR has always been a d6 based dice pool system. Since 4th edition, the target of rolling has changed from a sliding scale Target Number that varied wildly to 5 or 6 being a “hit” and the more hits you collect the better off you are at whatever you want to be doing. I think that’s great, as it puts less mathematical work into the rolling part of the game. Although I personally never had a problem with doing the math (and never had any issues with THACO, either!), more people seem to be into less math with their math rocks, so it meets that desire well.

I‘m well aware of a lot of the editorial and mechanical issues with Sixth World. I think the recently released corrected Seattle and Berlin city editions of the core rulebook have done a fantastic job of correcting a lot of errata and injected pieces that were missing with the original core rulebook. Also, the Sixth World Companion offers up a lot of optional rules to flavor your game to taste. Overall, I find Sixth World to be superior in every way to the previous 5th edition of Shadowrun.

As I’m sure most fans of Shadowrun will agree, the biggest draw to the game for me is the game world itself. From the 2050s to the 2080s, the game‘s writers have built up a backdrop of shadowy intrigue, corporate espionage and betrayal, magical wonders, ancient mysteries working their way into a postmodern cyberpunk world, and moved that world through some strange, weird, off-the-wall and sometimes downright head-scratching moments. In the end, it’s largely what you make of it at the table as a group though. And I personally have the most fun with it over all other games.

As far as my thoughts on the most complete, most well-written, and well-tested edition of Shadowrun? I would have to say I’m mixed on that. I find both 3rd and 4th edition to be the ones that grabbed me the hardest of all. I’d put Mike Mulvihill, Rob Boyle, and Adam Jury on my list of those who produced my overall favorite stuff for Shadowrun. Why don’t I stick with those editions instead, you might ask? Hrm, have you seen the prices people are asking for some of those out-of-print books? Can you say “collector gouging”? 😉

How did your group meet up? How often do you play? What are your sessions like?

I have known Bowynn, Krysa’s player and Kwaba, Robot Jones’ player, for an exceedingly long time, I think it’s going on thirty years now. We’ve played SR since Third Edition. It seems like I have known Nomad’s player all of his life 😉 It’s sorta my fault he got into gaming, after all. Twitch and Little Doll’s players, I met through my wife. She met them on the Amtguard field, and introduced them to me and we tried out gaming with D&D for a while, then i finally had to start them playing Shadowrun. I seduced my wife into the dark side of Shadowrun shortly after we met, and I think that she fell in love with the game just as much as she did with me, lol.

We have been playing weekly together for a while now, with game night settling on Tuesdays. My wife and I have been travelling a lot for her job as an RN, so there’s been a lot of play through voice calls on Messenger for a while. Since I recently settled into a new job a few months ago, I’ve been more localized to our house and our in-person gaming has resumed.

Our sessions can usually be boiled down to one word, lol. Chaotic! If you know, you know…

You have a very innovative Navigation System on your site. What inspired you? How did you go about setting it up? What advice can you give for new GMs on Obsidian Portal who want to do the same?

Really, I have to give a lot of props to the site’s design here. It gives the opportunity for Ascendent

members to edit, add, remove, and modify the navbar to their heart’s content if they wish. And I speak only for myself here, but it is a GREAT feature that I was super enthusiastic about when it came up.

I was particularly intrigued by the way you extended your Experience Point Awards to cover three different sections – Heat, Reputation and Karma. I know you also had this on your previous award-winning site, “Wildside”, but what inspired this, and in what way does it help you and your players?

Karma is the real “experience point” value among the three here, although all three are earned by characters in Shadowrun through play. Reputation is how well-known a character becomes among other groups of the world by their actions in-game – its not always positive, either! And Heat measures how much characters have screwed up and both how well-known among and how wanted by the authorities a Shadowrunner has become. The lower the better there 😉

Your “Critters” section is very cool. Which ones have been the most memorable in your game so far? And DO tell us more about the “Drop Bear”…

A lot of the threats a character will run into are human in Shadowrun, but there are other… things out there as well. In Shadowrun, these critters are normal animals that have changed somewhat due to the influx of magical energy into the Sixth World over the seventy-some-odd years of the alternate history. I wanted to build a section for my players to be able to see some of these things and reference rumor of their various capabilities. Most of the time, I add to the critter section before one is potentially encountered.

Well, the Drop Bear is kind of exactly what is described in the Critters section. An awakened koala with very sharp teeth and claws that fall off of trees to drop on their unsuspecting prey – which often tend to be humans! The group has managed to find one of these critters well outside of its native habitat that was subjected to a variety of experimentation in a corporate lab. Ringpop, the resident animal lover, has ended up sort of adopting it and is trying hard to tame it and teach it tricks. She named it Tater Tot. She gets a lot of static from the rest of group because of that…

How involved are your players in the site? Who tends to do what? Do your players add their own Adventure Logs?

The player of Little Doll, the group’s social butterfly and face, tends to post the bigger updates on the Adventure Logs from her character’s perspective about all of the goings-on. When other players are able, they have added to the Adventure Logs as well.

I tend to use the site as a whole as a reference and tracker for our game, and the Adventure Logs to post contacts reaching out to various members of the group to set up jobs, or to frame events that occur in the world that are outside of the characters’ spheres of influence but might affect them in some way.

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

I have been using OP since 2009. I had been looking for a campaign journal site, and I really enjoyed the features OP offered a lot. What keeps me there is the fact that they are so devoted to continually improving the experience of use and site utility, and the community built up around the site that is so supportive among the users.

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

I would say that Obsidian Portal is awesome for giving me the means to keep my campaigns’ details

organized, cataloged, and documented. And it allows me to customize so much of the way I would like to do that.

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

Little Doll and Nomad say that Tater Tot (https://morethingsinheavenandearth.obsidianportal.com/characters/drop-bear) is the highlight of the game 😀

Ringpop says it was the time her character got stuck in Dante’s Inferno and was singled out by Dion (https://morethingsinheavenandearth.obsidianportal.com/characters/dion), the lead singer of Thursus (https://morethingsinheavenandearth.obsidianportal.com/characters/thursos), for romantic overtures only to find out that he is actually a dragon! She ran so fast… Ringpop does not like dragons at all, they make her very nervous and she already has a difficult time in social environments.

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?

In Shadowrun especially, if you can set up paranoia, do it! Use what the players tell you about their perceptions of what’s going on to feed the flames. Don’t always confirm what they say, but do confirm enough to make them feel what they are thinking is right before you introduce a twist and pull their rugs out from under them.

Always keep pressure on the characters, keep them hungry, use external organizations to push them and show them the sharks swimming alongside them, and give them enough rope to hang themselves.

Be sure to reward them well when they pull off something ingenious, give their characters’ actions, relationships, and personal motivations weight, and make them matter in the world at large.

And last, but, not least, if they decide to take on an MCT Zero-Zone, go hard. Make them work.

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

2
Oct

Obsidian Portal Campaign of the Month October 2023: Thieves & Kings

Well met and welcome to Argoth, the land of Thieves & Kings — our October Campaign of the Month winner! GM Robling is no stranger to our crown of conquerors, and adds to his accolades with some of the best world-building and writing you’ll read this side of the City of Bright Sails. Thieves & Kings has been many years in the making and promises to take adventurers from humble inns to fey courts to powerful portals into the realms beyond understanding. Warm your worn hands by the common room fire and listen to our tale…

What’s new in your life since your Campaign of the Month win in 2014 for “Battletech (Farscape): The New Breed”?

Practically nothing, though, fundamentally, COVID changed all our lives, neh?

“Thieves & Kings” has many chapters and hundreds of gaming sessions spanning seven years of real time. We know it would be impossible to sum up everything, but could you give us an overview of the story, so far?

Overview, hmmmm. It started with six players, each representing a character, who had been fostered for their youth to various clans across the realm of Shem, being informed their adopted father had died and left them his farm. They gathered and discussed matters, and were immediately involved in an assassination, and fled the town of Hexwater a few steps in front of the local law. Over the next few months, they established themselves in the region of Thornkeep, and discovered the local mystery around a troll invasion, the local fey creatures, and mistakenly (?) began hunting a former fey hag as their chief enemy. As the years progressed, they began to acquire divine powers and discovered that their former enemy “Blackmaw” wasn’t so bad, really, and that she was fighting someone who was far worse, “The Great Hunger”, her former lover. At present, the survivors have decided they wish to embrace these offers of divine power, and are sorting-out how to achieve true divinity as a Demi-God. But their enemy, The Great Hunger and his followers, know them and work to unravel their plans as they unravel his.

The continent of Argoth and the world of Kethira as a whole is extensively catalogued in your wiki — it’s a veritable library of information that has been built up since your school days. And the character section is absolutely full of people and stories. What were your favorite bits to write and what parts of the site do you find most useful?

It’s extensive because of the years of effort both I and my players have placed into it. The efforts of today’s campaign reflect in the campaigns to come, and that forms a very wide amount of information that never makes the WIKI or Portal files, but exists, nonetheless. The ability of the Obsidian Portal website allows a wide disbursement of information, including bios, stats and even connects them to items and other characters, because each has their own story to tell and share. I’ve found if you approach each NPC as a real person, and treat their reactions as real and honest from *their* point-of-view, it enriches the encounters with the players, and then influences future encounters.

At the end of the wiki for “Thieves & Kings” there is a section on customized rules for the campaign — many adapted from various supplements and systems and modified to fit your needs. The Rulership and Thieves’ Guild Operation rules were especially interesting. How have these worked out for you and your players during the game?

I established each for the players to read and decide which version they wished to implement for various campaign management operations. Most were discarded, as the group slipped away from large-scale management of armies and realms, and decided to concentrate on small, close-knit organizations of their own, dealing with dozens of people, rather than hundreds. The “Thieves’ Guild” operations remain important, as one of the players has worked to establish their control over the underworld of Mornhaven, and allows us to abstract that aspect of the game enough to concentrate more on the role-play and combat. Which was kinda the point of them, really.

According to your Obsidian Portal bio, you have tried out many game systems and have a lot of experience with a variety of settings and game mechanics. From your perspective, what are the advantages and disadvantages of 5th Edition D&D compared to other games? Was shifting Argoth from other editions into 5th Ed. a challenge? Are there any plans to convert it into other systems in the future, if needed?

The advantage of 5th edition, I feel, is that it remains very robust in sliding back and forth between combat and role-playing, and allows exploration to be easily adapted to the encounters. If you compare it to early editions, it allows a great deal of mobility and movement to combat, which allows players to shine, rather than simply two characters beating on each other, whittling away HP as they go (*Cough Cough* 2nd Edition *Cough*). Pathfinder is nice, but too dependent on Prestige classes and Feats determining each encounter, whereas 5th Ed allows simpler math and makes the combat flow swiftly. I don’t think we’ll be transitioning into D&D One anytime soon, if ever, and the recent “home rules” introduced by Larian Studios “Baldur’s Gate 3” are intriguing and show how simple rules changes can make a difference in playstyle and encounters, and bears scrutiny.

The Adventure Logs for “Thieves & Kings” feature a clever format — a quotation, an inspiring image, and a video link to help set the mood. Are these atmospheric touches selected prior to a game session or afterward? Do you find that reinforcing the moods or themes during gameplay to be important or is it better to let the players create their own impressions?

I have found my players don’t typically pay much attention to them, until suddenly in the middle of an encounter they remember the title of the episode, or the picture, or the video, and it all falls into place in their minds. That’s the point of it, really, to hint a little and to provide some real physicality at a key part of the episode. Sometimes, however, they ignore it completely, and go out into left field, and the title proves irrelevant, as they choose to follow a new line of investigation from what they said they wanted to at the end of the last session. But that’s okay, because, ultimately the Players have the power, and choose where they want to go and what they want to accomplish. I simply provide options.

As to mood, I’ve found sometimes that you can lead the players to the encounter,and set the mood, but if they’re not into it, they won’t care. Sometimes they just want to chew gum and fight, and they forgot their gum.

What have been your favorite moments in the campaign, so far?

The sudden realization that one of the main characters, Blackmaw, wasn’t really so bad after all. She’s unabashedly NE, but they have accepted her as an ally, because she doesn’t see them as rivals, and sometimes they prove to be useful pawns to play. Her reveal of her love for her monstrous children to the party was especially precious, and one of the players said it was the highlight of the campaign to her. “Blackmaw” is my favorite NPC of all time.

Also the moment they were confronted with the knowledge there were actually seven children raised by their father, and they had another “sister”. At that point, they realized that the place they had been investigating was called “The Hall of Seven”; and they realized a truth they had known for months, but never clued into. Later, she swindled them to acquire a magical artifact with them, and during that reveal, they realized they’d been utterly taken advantage of, and never trusted anyone for a long time afterwards. They really didn’t like or trust her for a long time, though now they are openly working with her. “Skazzy” is a favored NPC this campaign.

Without giving too much away, what hints can you give us about the plans (if there are any) for the conclusion of the tales of “Thieves & Kings”? Or is this the kind of adventure that might go on for as long as possible?

The players know the ultimate goal of the campaign is to achieve demi-godhood, and the defeat of The Great Hunger. Only a couple of levels away from that, they understand their goal, and know that their characters are going to become demigods in the campaigns to come, so they have a vested interest in achieving this goal. Back when they gained their first “Divine Level”, they established the path of their cult, and its worship, and now it’s all about following-up with this to achieve their proclaimed status. We just started talking about what the next campaign might be…

During your first interview with Obsidian Portal for your prior Campaign of the Month win, you wisely advised GM’s to avoid being adversarial and to “Be the storyteller, and make the players the focus of the campaign.” In the years between then and now, what other insights have you gleaned regarding the craft of game-mastering, writing, and world-building?

Don’t plan too much. While I run an open-world campaign format, and for the most part, the players are quite willing to stay close to home. They really have so much to explore closeby, that they don’t *need* to travel much. Just have a couple of adventures handy that you know well and can adapt on the fly, and apply, whenever the players decide to “go rogue”. And they will go rogue on you in an open-world format. Otherwise keep plenty of notes so you can allow them to explore the world around them, and forge their own destiny. If you have notes from previous campaigns handy, they can travel over lands from previous campaigns, and realize what their previous characters have done, and how much effect their actions have at the moment and reaching into the future.

If you want the Players to travel, provide them with the means; Teleport Circles and Flying Boats (Spelljammer), or even just normal boats, allow them to travel extensively and explore across the worlds you design, and let them explore other genres of gaming, such as Oriental Adventures, Fallen Empire ruins and even isolated rocks in space at need, and give them a tie to the campaign world that they will treasure and love. In this campaign, they adore their flying ship, the “Emerald Angel”, improved their ability to get across the map quickly, rather than slogging across mountains for weeks, they can travel across the planet in days, or reach the markets at Mornhevan in a couple hours, rather than a couple days, making them able to concentrate on the task at hand, rather than the means to get there.

Otherwise, my campaign advice remains the same, keep it open-world, keep copious notes, and let the Players explore themselves as they explore your world, and they will develop the stories you will replay and talk about for decades.

Thus concludes our tale of Thieves & Kings, for now. Our thanks to Robling and his Players, once again, for sharing their creative might. Go forth now, fellow adventurers, with this edict: find us more worthy campaigns upon which to cast our eyes, so that our circle of judges may bring you fresh insights and inspirations. Bring your treasured discoveries to the forums, here.

2
Sep

Obsidian Portal Campaign of the Month September 2023: Arcanearth

Do you enjoy Dark Fantasy? You will love this month’s CotM- Arcanearth! Great evil and selfless good, Magic, Angels and Fallen Angels. Religions play a big part of the world as well! This D&D 5E game has seen epic battles against ancient Dragons, Overlords, and giant frogs! The world itself has seen Ages of Angels, Dragons, Magic, Ice, and Rebirth! Come explore this rich world created by Omegabase and crew!

1. Tell us about the person behind the GM screen. Where are you from? Where can we stalk you on the internet? What do you do aside from gaming?

Not much of a social media presence beyond OP. Live and work out of Austin texas. Father of 2 earning a living from IT consulting.

2. You made your home page your main artery to get information on your campaign- Why did you pick that approach? It is quite unique.

Didn’t see the need for another menu, convenient to have most info one click away.

3. You run D&D 5E- What do you like about it? Are there any things you dislike about it?

In most ways it’s the best edition of d&d. I did tone down the ‘easy mode’ aspect by eliminating hit dice for healing on short rests, limited healing on long rests, and allowing only one death save. This certainly contributed to the only 2 pc fatalities. Probably would use a different system next time around, like PF2, or integrate rules from other systems, like PF2. Also might consider an OSR system like the forthcoming Shadowdark.

4. You added Rogue Modrons as a race- what do you like about them, and how important are they to your campaign?

This came about from a short mini campaign where the players took a break from their main characters and assumed the personas of favorite henchman. These sessions don’t appear as separate logs but are mentioned in session 74 when one of the henchmen, who subsequently became a PC for a new player, revisited a key location from the mini campaign.
The player of Hoxton chose a modron he liberated from the plane of mechanus in session 63. Rogue modron seemed the obvious choice as this player has a thing for bots…played the robot Strelok in the last half of the gamma world campaign.

5. You have a very detailed world origin story, as well as a focus on angels and religion, for your game. How important are these to your characters?

Settings as such generally don’t have much utility to players and that holds true here as well. However the setting is indispensable to integrating the pc’s into the world events and related adventures when running an epic scale world-shaking superhero campaign such as this one. Ultimately the players will appreciate being part of a living world and adventures thereof.

6. How regularly do you play?

On hiatus currently, 2-3 sessions monthly when playing. Sessions average 3-4 hours in length.

7. How long has your group played together? How long have you been running Arcanearth?

Most of this group has played together since the 80’s. Most also played the last 50 or so sessions of gamma world 2754. Arcanearth started dec 2017. One player has the distinction of appearing in almost the entirety of both gw2754 and arcanearth (Grek/Strelok/Finch/Hoxton).


8. You won CotM all the way back in 2016 for Gamma World 2754- what keeps you coming back to Obsidian Portal?

Familiarity and lack of any worthwhile alternative. It’s a great place to organize and document your rpg campaign. A friend is starting a shadowrun 4e game soon, maybe we’ll throw that up on OP as well.

9. If you had to pick just one thing, what would you say Obsidian Portal helps you with the most? Do your players get involved on the wiki too?

PCs use OP for character sheets and backstories. The searchable database helps a lot for finding old npcs and events from past sessions. The character pages are the single most useful feature for both players and GMs.

10. Where do you draw inspiration from when preparing your game?

This setting is from fall from heaven 2, a total conversion mod for civilization 4. The epic scope of the macro game is inspired by the FFH2 setting and the fantasy works of Michael Moorcock. On the micro scale, you may discern the influence of Jack Vance. See the sessions about a certain ‘Green Pearl’.

11. How much time do you usually take to prepare for a session?

On average across all sessions, not counting the original world wiki creation, probably as much time to prepare as to play (3.5 hours). The wiki and world building, hundreds of hours over the course of years.

12. What would you say has been the best moment your table has had thus far in your game?

For me, the green pearl sequence. For the pcs, possibly the waking of the sleeping god Danalin and defeat of the Overlords, or more recently, the close battle with the ancient red dragon Acheron.

13. Okay, before we get out of here, give us some of your best GMing pearls of wisdom.

Don’t be afraid to feature a few challenges where it is uncertain or even unlikely the pcs can win outright. Have an out if/when they lose, that leads to more interesting possibilities rather than simply a TPK. Epic foes filled with hubris typically want more from pcs than merely their deaths. Such as their services, use as bargaining chips, information, entertainment, conversion to the cause, experimentation, torture, or simply groveling submission. All of which provide ample scope for a dramatic comeback. Players (and GMs!) enjoy nothing more than hard-won triumph snatched from the jaws of defeat.

Victor
“Age just a number, one and one and one. We stronger than number. Next year I’ll be younger”
Li Na

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

1
Jul

Obsidian Portal Campaign of the Month July 2023: Esomor Prime

Enter the intriguing realms of Esomor Prime, a 5th edition D&D campaign set in the homebrew world of Sam. Here we find a world dominated by 13 powerful noble houses, who rule over dozens of factions and hundreds of lesser houses. In this world Sam runs SIX separate groups, totalling TWENTY FIVE players, all in different regions of the world, for now…

Tell us a little about the people behind the logs? What’s your group like, how did you all start playing together, and what drew you to your current system?

The groups are all friends of mine through various corners of my life, and I use one Obsidian Portal site for all of them. My original group has been playing D&D since 1995 and we were brought together back then by our mutual friend and first DM, Roy. I eventually took over as the full time DM of that group and have never relinquished the reins. The other groups started trickling in over the last 5 years, and include a “brewers group” a “work group”, a “circle of friends new to the game group”, and “friends from college group”, and an “online only group” for those out of town.

How often do you play and how do you generally do so?

The online group is constantly going in a “play by post” format. For live sessions I usually DM every two weeks but with so many groups, they only get to play every two months. Sometimes I am booked solid 4 months out!

What’s the primary inspiration for your game? What themes do you and your players like to explore or situations you dream would come about?

For this current campaign I am running, I wanted a Game of Thrones like setting with lots of political intrigue with strong noble houses and powerful factions and huge world-changing story arcs. My “oldest” group is 8th level and my newest is 2nd, so some of them are just now starting to see the beginning of the “big picture”. I do have a dream of assembling an All-Star game with one player from each group and them all coming together to form an epic, end-of-campaign, world saving task.

You have a mighty list of Player Characters, what complications does that add for you and your players?

Obsidian Portal makes it so easy for all of my players to sort by their own campaign, but there is so much crossover information at their fingertips that each group can indirectly learn from each other group. Not sure who this NPC was? Look them up on the website! Maybe another group has run into them before and you can learn even more about them!

How long did you spend developing the style of your site, and did you have any help?

This huge campaign has been a dream of mine for a long time and I have been tinkering with the idea for years. For the longest time I would just make notes on what style of campaign I wanted to run and eventually this homebrew world started to take shape. As a previous campaign world was coming to an end, I launched this one to transition into. Lately, ChatGPT has really helped streamline the process for some of the minor details.

I love your inclusion of art/memes in the adventure logs, do you create them by yourself, or do share that responsibility?

The Bing Image creator through DALL-E has been a huge help, such a time saver!

As you’ve been on Obsidian Portal for a while, what is your favorite feature for helping to manage your campaign?

Obsidian Portal is so easy to use! It looks great, links are easy to create, and it is a breeze to import images. Plus having one single wiki page for the “Order of Bones” faction that is seen across all groups is a HUGE time saver.

Back to your game, what would you say has been the best moment your table has had thus far in your campaign?

Each group has had some amazing moments, but one of my favorites was my “Bronzewood Valley” group following up on a random minor encounter I left for them where they found a broken compass on a trail. They thoroughly investigated who left it, where it was purchased, and was able to track and save the lost explorer. Through a long series of other events, this led them to working with that adventurer to establish their very own town in the mountains, all from this random broken compass!

Let’s round this out with one of our favorite questions for our featured GMs! If you had a secret sauce for running a great game, what would be the most important ingredients?

Have fun! Sometimes I worry if I have enough prepared for a session, or do I have enough handouts, will the battles be challenging, but once the session gets rolling just go with it and remember why everyone has taken time out of their day to play, so have fun!

 That’s all for this month folks! Don’t forget to head on over the the OP forums to nominate your favorite campaigns for our next Campaign of the Month!

1
May

Obsidian Portal Campaign of the Month May 2023: Motes in the Serpent’s Eye

In space… no one can hear you Psychic Scream. But they can feel it! Half dragons in combat armor and bio-anthropologist plant-creature druids find themselves embroiled in galactic politics for May’s winning Campaign of the Month: “Motes in the Serpent’s Eye.” Captained by The_CDM, a GM who has sailed the cosmos of space-time to engineer a fantastic combination of multiple systems and settings, there’s plenty of Veteran-level knowledge to impart on how to run a successful, multi-season game. Come join the experienced crew of the Royal Exploratory Service’s Cygnus Class long-range science vessel, the Speaks Softly, as they seek the origins of life, the universe, and everything.

Hail, The_CDM and congratulations on winning Campaign of the Month! We know from your Obsidian Portal profile that you have been gaming for many years and have been a long-time member of OP. How did you get started in the world of rpg’s and what keeps you involved after all this time?

For me, I suppose it all really began with Chain Mail, which led inevitably to that darn blue box of original DnD basic. A couple of friends and I discovered them in grade school and that was it – we were hooked. Far beyond the dull and regimented board games of the late 70s, we discovered a medium to express our imaginations and develop a sense of deep friendship and camaraderie while doing it. I don’t think I’m being trite when I say it was eye-opening and mind-expanding. Over the years, my gaming groups and I have explored the realms of Traveller, Space Opera (from FGU), Call of Cthulhu, Villains & Vigilantes, Hero System and many, many others. But always we return to that touchstone, some form of DnD.

What keeps me, personally, involved in the hobby nearly fifty (omg that long now?) years later is both complicated and very very basic. Friendship. Camaraderie. The joy of collaborative story telling. Shared experiences, both good and bad. Many of the players and friends that I began this journey with are still with me to this day and to paraphrase one, “Some of my favorite memories are of things that never happened, places that never existed, and folk that only reside in my head.”

From TheTokenShadow, who plays the soul-mech, RC-880 “Durendal”.

Hail, CotM! I am TheTokenShadow (name flub when creating my account and I just stuck with it). I have been playing D&D since 1989 and met this current group in late 2011.

From Zentropyse, who plays the half-dragon, Lord Serpentce:

A long time ago (1982) in a land far away a friend got this new game called D&D he wanted to play. It was a blast! Months later another friend who ran a game I played in introduced me into a group he played with at college. I’ve played with this group ever since because our GM/DM rocks and whatever he’s running is always amazing and fun!

From AcReiBuruCGe, who plays the half-dragon, Pei’Fa:

I play Lord Pei’fa half blue dragon/Drow, who presents as a Mandalorian/Jedi murder machine, who is a truly good time, stabbing bad guys with parts from other bad guys, or sharing a story with the over-entitled nobility at a draconic imperial ball.

I’m called Doc, and I got started in D&D in high school, right before I joined the service. I started because I realized I could utilize the game to practice problem solving skills, and it turned out to help me to not only survive, in some situations, but excel in my career. My friends call me that due to being a combat veteran who was a Fleet Marine Force (FMF) Navy Corpsman (medical). I have PTSD as well as a full list of physical problems from my military service. I added to this list of problems on, many occasions with many activities, including not sleeping well for 23 yrs and living in my car with 2 cats for a bit. I now work at the local Veteran’s Hospital as a Yogi trained by Hindu and Tibetan monks, and last month celebrated 22 yrs of service, at the hospital, not including my 10 yrs in uniform. (Our gaming group is old. Average age around late 50’s. The core group has been together for over 35 years)

My duties now include working on the wards of Acute psychiatry, Dementia, Rehab medicine, long-term Spinal Injury (residents, who live in the hospital), and Blind rehab. I’m also the Aquatic conditioning instructor for our amputee and TBI (traumatic brain injury) patients who are Para-Olympic athletes.

The reason for the “wordy” introduction is to answer the second part of the question. The reason for me to continue gaming is very simple…the gaming group I’m in. We often hear/read about gaming groups calling themselves “family”. The group that makes up this gaggle of “Homicidal Indigents” or “HI”, as we affectionately refer to ourselves on occasion, have been the best support system I could have been blessed with. They were there for me when I was a complete idiot, didn’t deserve any slack, or was simply broken for awhile…over and over. My ability to become a yogi, or even simply do my job, is due to these people. Generous and loving even when they would’ve loved to punch me, these folks had my back when I didn’t or wouldn’t. Our DM told me that he was glad to see that the healer inside me was stronger than the warrior, as his congratulations speech for getting out of the military. As far as I’m concerned, these are the best reasons to continue gaming, even if it’s only 2-3 times a year.

Your winning campaign, “Motes in the Serpent’s Eye” has been running for about six years, split into multiple seasons. Can you give us a brief summary of the main story-lines, so far?

Brief, huh? The main, hidden story engine that drives the campaign has to be Dr. Eon Rose’s research. She’s trying to prove that all sentient species in the setting are not only related, but ultimately are derived or descended from some unknown origin species. Publishing her hypothesis set off a long chain of events that have led to the story-lines we are exploring in Motes. Other ‘main’ story-lines include: the integration of the remaining ‘original’ crew of the Speaks Softly with the ‘new’ crew members, overcoming mistrust, resentment and personal bias to become a team and family that truly cares about one another; the behind-the-scenes machinations of the powers that be in the Dragon Empire, who is involved in promoting and funding this mission? What stakes do they have in it’s success or failure? Why is this mission important?; Encountering new cultures and people and finding ways to interact with them with wisdom (and sometimes violence); Exploring themes that could be taken from our own world, such as the abuse of power, strength through inclusivity and compassion, and of course politics – with a few Kobayashi Maru scenarios mixed in – for instance, the Safe Haven story is proving to be the group’s crucible of fire at the moment.

To create “Motes” you and your friends had to combine core elements of the D&D space opera Dragonstar with Savage Worlds, as well as some supplements and modifications. What kinds of challenges caused the biggest headaches during this process? How did you solve those issues?

Biggest headaches? Emulating that DnD mechanics feel with Savage Worlds was the most gigantic. Especially the magic system. Without it, Dragonstar was just not the same flavor. Originally we tried a version of this campaign using DnD 3.0 – a complete disaster that resulted in an unintentional TPK (a failed piloting roll in an asteroid field combined with me not realizing just how much damage can be generated by such). Savage Worlds presented an opportunity to try it again with superior mechanics, but capturing that vancian magic from the original rules really proved to be a challenge. Stumbling across Rich Woolcock’s work (Savage Vancian Magic) really made it viable. Since then, the new SWADE updates and their exceptional new Fantasy Companion has helped immensely. Savage Worlds modularity makes much easier to describe and emulate new spells, creatures, items, etc. DnD in it’s various incarnations provide players with hundreds upon hundreds of spells and items. At first glance, Savage Worlds, with its fifty-plus powers seems sparse by comparison, but use of trappings, limitations and power modifiers are essential to creating a cornucopia of magic options. We are obviously still evolving the rule set as we continue the campaign, but are pretty happy with what we’ve got going on now. Other headaches were codifying the monstrous amount of gear available in the original Dragonstar setting books. That is still an ongoing process, but I deal with it on a case by case basis. Player: Hey I saw this in the DS books? Can I get one? What are its SW stats? That and the continuing debate between the coin counters and the simple wealth mechanic factions in the group – but that’s a relatively minor headache.

Zentropyse writes:

It’s a work in progress, the tech/magic balance is hard to master- in my mind you’ve got technology which can almost be magical but it is really just absolutely mundane- all of it. Then there’s magic which is magical but in a head to head comparison plays second fiddle to the powered armor, big guns and missiles, IMO. Having a spell battery with spells like Power Down, Control High Tech Devices as well as custom spells like Arcane Cyberjack and Electromagic Pulse helps immensely.

AcReiBuruCGe writes:

a) Play testing
b) Play testing

The mix of high-technology, fantasy, and magic was really intriguing in this setting and it appears to have blended very well into every aspect of the game. Have you or your players discovered any clever combinations that stood out? Any cool items or special spells that saved the day?

Serpence using a Ring of Invisibility and the spell Arcane Cyberjack to take over a pirate gun emplacement in ep 18.
The enchanted gatling ice laser (tripod mount) used by Doctor Keystone to repel pirates from the Speaks.
And while it didn’t save the day, I thought that the intro for episode one, describing the player’s approach to Mount Rimidil Skyhook Station and it’s techno-magical space elevator was quite cool.
Dr Nodagil saving a bunch of the crew from certain death after an explosion on the bridge. Everyone who had been present was bleeding out. The good doctor used his cloak of teleportation to get to the bridge immediately and his Healing with the Mass Healing power modifier to save the entire bridge crew.
Giants shooting down the ship’s shuttle with arrows, giant ones, of course, during Rumble in the Jungle.

Zentropyse writes:

I have been waiting for the perfect moment for the combination of Dampsuit (creates silence) Shattergloves of Ambidexterous Speed (the base Shattergloves- a short range sonic disruptor outlawed by many planetary governments) and Brilliant Energy Touch spell to debut. It will be glorious! If I don’t flub the roll…

AcReiBuruCGe writes:

My character has a glamoured t-shirt, that doesn’t “save” the day, but adds a little ray of sunshine. As he tends to present himself as a fun-loving moron, he will often casually walk towards enemies letting them see various sayings crossing the fabric.

“Your demise isn’t required for my meal to start”

“If I’m not wearing your insides on my outsides, it’s an off day”

“Open your mind and say ‘Ah'”

“I’m not egotistical… I don’t think I’m half as good as I really am”

That sort of magic item is precious to a character hampered with the conceit hindrance.

In the Encyclopedia Obscurum within your wiki, we noticed you even incorporated some X-Crawl, the gladiator-style arena battle game (and a personal favorite). How did this element feature in the campaign?

Primarily as background noise and role play fuel. First of all, X-Crawl is cool as heck. Second, if you had a five thousand year old, galaxy spanning, fantasy race inhabited, civilization hanging around, do you think the favorite imperial sport would be softball? No, they’d revel in the ‘good old days’ of idealized dungeon-delving heroes, romanticized and polished up for broadcast across the empire. Monetized and replete with player-endorsements, and over-priced team tabards for sale! Every scaly backside that’s sat upon the Imperial Throne knows the value of bread and circuses – keep the masses appeased and they will never revolt. Motes players have created their own teams and celebrities (many of them based on old DnD characters) and posted them on the campaign wiki. One player (who plays Lord Pei’fa) graciously runs an occasional side game that is just X-Crawl events in the Imperial League. They are, of course, bloody and gratuitous.

AcReiBuruCGe writes:

I tend to be the one who latched on to the X-Crawls concept. I have written a couple of Imperial Sports Presentation Network (ISPN) news segments. We also have referenced characters from previous games being current superstars in the professional league. There is also a semi-pro, college, and amateur leagues (pros and college are the only ones with full resurrection, post-game contracts).

You seem to be blessed with an abundance of players and have experience running for larger gaming groups. How did you find each other and do you have any advice for maintaining and organizing big parties?

Most of these chuckleheads that I call my dear friends have been hanging around in my life for forty years or more – proving their questionable judgment. Some go back all the way to high school where were understandably the oddballs of the student body. Gaming came naturally and was a less expensive and more dynamic pastime option for us back then. We all ran a game or two, but it seemed either I had a talent for it or was masochistic enough to become the primary game master for the group. One particular friend ran a Villains & Vigilantes game that actually focused on continuing stories rather than the battle of the day, which inspired me as a game master. Members of our gaming group came and went and came back, brought friends, partners, and the curious to participate.

My advice for maintaining and organizing big parties? Patience. Communication. Keeping a campaign alive and focused with 8-12 adults all with real lives requires high levels of the cat-herding skill. Thus tools like Obsidian Portal are essential for scheduling games, keeping players up-to-date, and session recording. Use the Forum feature in OP to give players and GM a place to post in-character interactions and information tidbits in between sessions. The Secrets feature is another amazing tool – every character and NPC has at least one or two on the site. As PCs explore and investigate, they are able through this device to discover hidden stories about their fellow crew mates. As adults getting all of us together regularly can be a serious challenge, but small interactions, secrets and even character short stories posted for all to see can keep the momentum and interest going for those ‘dry’ gaming periods when no one’s schedules mesh. Lastly, if you’re going to be foolish enough to running a game with an average of a dozen players – find a simpler gaming system. DnD will always have a warm place in my heart, but that many players, especially once they get high level, can turn a ten round combat into an 8 hour session. Savage Worlds was our solution to that dilemma. It also makes generating challenging opponents on the fly MUCH easier on the GM. Because when do players do what you expect?

Zentropyse writes:

Obviously we are all cursed, fated to band together and bear that burden though all eternity with aplomb and resolve knowing the game doesn’t serve us, we serve the game.

AcReiBuruCGe writes:

I was introduced to the group by one of the current group. He asked if I could be allowed an audience game, due to being a wordsmith smartass with a dark sense of humor. I’ve been his and the DM’s “special project” ever since.

Do you or your players have any memorable moments, epic showdowns, or favorite quotes that were highlights during the campaign?

One of my favorites took place during the crew’s attempt to capture the pirate ship Happy Insanity. The players used an EMP grenade to disable the bridge defenses – only to ultimately cause that vessel’s demise by disabling the control systems in a key moment. They beat the pirates but lost the ship.

TheTokenShadow writes:

One of the things I enjoy most is the collaborative aspect of our campaign. We have a number of really good writers in the group and some of our best material is spontaneously created when we riff off each other’s experiences.
For example, there was an in-character conversation between the characters Bishop and Rwvyan regarding their secret benefactors.
They had the discussion on the forums and it was generally assumed to be a private interaction over the ship’s comms. I decided to add a bit of chaos and chime in:
Durendal leans over and casually presses the commlink.
“Bishop, you’re on the open channel again…”
It about killed the CDM, he was laughing so hard. Rwvyan’s player rolled with it in good natured fashion however:
“You hear muffled cursing from an unidentified person, and then the line goes dead…”
Ultimately the CDM decided it was an in-person discussion between the characters, rather than over comms, but it’s still an interaction we reference and chuckle over, 4 years later

AcReiBuruCGe writes:

a) Having the requirement of dragon conceit, all of my character’s moments are memorable and all his experiences are highlights as shining examples for others… so I have two.

The first is when my character needed a little exercise and dropped a T-Rex in 3 rounds with his lightsaber through its head. He rode said head to the ground, ala Legolas, and casually stepped off the corpse to announce “Tada!”

That’s when he saw the rest of the away team fighting demon dryders. Everyone was too busy to notice his performance, so he tore into the demons for stealing his moment.

The second is when my character grabbed 4 corpses with telekinesis and used them as shields dancing towards their bad-guy friends. 24 bad guys and 2 hover vehicles ran away just because my character was grinning at them the whole time.

b) My favorite quotes tend to be on my t-shirt.

From laser-lit combat while boarding spaceships to galactic political intrigue ruled by royal dragon houses, there’s a little bit of everything in this massive setting. What aspects of a fantasy space opera story have resonated best with you and your players?

The Dragon Empire is supported on the Twin Pillars of Magic and Technology. What science can’t overcome, magic picks up the slack – for instance – FTL. The laws of science can’t break the speed of light. But a high-powered teleport spell ignores that limitation. Mighty magic is wielded by individuals with specialized discipline or talent, but any old Joe with a week or two of training can climb into power armor and ravage their enemies with laser rifles. The mix and contention between these forces make for intriguing dynamics and some strange dichotomies in the setting. Why bother developing a deep understanding of the healing sciences when you can call a cleric? Prayers don’t need to understand cellular mitosis to fix a broken leg or cleanse toxins from the blood. Same with Starcasting (FTL travel). Science couldn’t solve the FTL puzzle, but magic did handily – but modern commerce and interstellar travel wouldn’t exist without technology – the automated manufacture of which can outstrip the output of an entire school of mages. With hundreds of thousands of worlds under the sway of the Dragon Empire, it is simple to find any flavor of adventure you care to run – from a dungeon-crawl exploring a ‘primative’ world in the outlands to Shadow Run-like stories in the back allies of the Throne Worlds. Its the sheer cornucopia of rpg experiences that are available all in one setting that really resonates with me. Finally, the concept of soulmechs I found fascinating. Science can’t create true AI in this setting, and while magic can appear to with creations like golems, they are either merely sophisticated automatons or controlled by bound spirits. Leave it to gnomes to find a way around that combines both magic and tech. Summoning the spirit of a deceased individual and binding it to a mechanical body is both inspired and pure nightmare fuel.

Zentropyse writes:


For this particular setting, having a Half-Dragon character in a Galactic Empire ruled by Dragons, who are supposed to be arrogant, full of avarice and conceited means my character is an unrepentant jerk that even other Half-Dragons, or as my character relishes in pointing out, other Half-Mammals can barely stand, much less any of the lesser races. That’s fun to play to see how far I can push it before he actually gets thrown out a space lock.

AcReiBuruCGe writes:

I work for the federal government and often refer to it as the Imperium. As a player in this setting, I’m just here for the fights, not the politics.

Without giving too much away, what hints can you give us about the future of this futuristic plot? Is there a Season Four somewhere on the event horizon?

Oh, very much so. The seasons were originally implemented as a way of separating both story arcs and times when we needed a break due to busy real-world lives. Season three will culminate in the finale of the Safe Haven story-line with some very telling reveals and surprises in store for the crew of the Speaks Softly. Assuming they survive and prove victorious over the little pirate kingdom, expect to meet more characters from the Royal Exploratory Service and perhaps some changes in the crew itself might occur.

Season Four, well, that’s going to focus on the Duchess Reythliivmaar and House Esmer’s involvement in the politics and intrigue surrounding the Speak Softly’s mission. Her minion, Lord Di’Shio, Eater of All, has not been idle since the episode six teaser… We will also get some glimpses of some of the other players in the machinations that plague our heroic crew. There’s enough material to keep us all going for several more seasons at least.

Zentropyse writes:

The Dragon Emperor Mezzenbone will be dethroned and suffer the shame of having had the throne and lost it, and my character will have played some small part in that but it’ll probably be somewhere around Season 37.

As always, Obsidian Portal loves to ask experienced GM’s if they have any tips, tricks, or words of wisdom when it comes to delivering fun gaming experiences.

Always remember, the story you are telling is not exclusively yours – it belongs and is being crafted by you and all the players who are joining in the game. Railroading is good only for one-shots and short, focused campaigns, don’t hesitate to embrace the plot twists and kinks that players create with their decisions. Don’t expect to predict their actions – they will always surprise you should you become complacent.

Know your NPCs and plots. Everyone has a story or secret – it doesn’t have to be more than a single sentence about their motivations, but it is essential that you understand them even if your players do not. Let the gears of the evolving story unfolding reveal and alter your plans.

Don’t try to build the entire world(s). Understand the portions that the players currently inhabit and the interaction between these places & people and other parts of the world. This makes you more nimble when your group does something unexpected. Don’t be afraid to improvise on the fly.

Listen to your players. Especially when they are trying to figure out what’s going on in part of the story. Often they’ll come up with a speculation that is a hundred times better than what you came up. Be the Environmental Interface, not the Author.

Take LOTS of notes – they don’t have to be particularly meticulous, or verbose, but jotting down little mnemonics for yourself during sessions/discussions/brain storm meetings gives you a plethora of dangling plot strings and ideas to tie into adventures and help you remember that, for instance, Bishop-1 was once a family man and still has flesh-and-blood relatives out there somewhere. Writing something down helps fix it in your memory for later use.

Give everyone a chance in the spotlight. Tougher with bigger groups, but worth the work.

Never let the players see you sweat. Even when they do something you never saw coming that completely upends your plans for the adventure. Smile knowingly, make a few notes, roll some dice and improvise as if you had planned on that very decision.


Well, the sound of incoming laser-fire and proximity klaxons means it’s time for us to wrap things up. We hope these cosmic insights have helped inspire you to re-tool your own systems and settings to make something really stupendous, like “Motes.” Special thanks to The_CDM and the Players for an excellent interview! Keep a robotic eye out for future Campaigns of the Month here on the blog, and be sure to visit the OP forums if you’d like to nominate a campaign for consideration (even your own).

8
Feb

Creator Spotlight | An Interview with Author Lou Anders

A lineup of the works of Lou Anders, ranging from Once Upon a Unicorn, to Star Wars, and the Thrones & Bones series.

This week, we’re talking to Lou Anders of the acclaimed Thrones & Bones series!
Fans of all things Viking should be particularly excited, because Anders’ world is an ode to the rich history of the Norse legends and traditions, with some personal tweaks of his own that make for a truly fantastical setting. Based on the titular book series set in the lands of Norrøngard, Anders has brought his world into the world of tabletop gaming (currently compatible with D&D 5E, but read on for a sneak peek on what else to expect), allowing fans of the books an immersive experience of gameplay, and a whole new audience chances to tell their own stories in this richly-detailed world.

He has a whole line of materials that flesh out the world with playable classes, monsters, and adventures all stemming from Norrøngard.

He offers us insight into how he created this series, what it was like to bring that world to a different format, and what else we can look forward to from him in the future!

What initially drew you to the Norse mythos as an inspiration for your world, and what was it like to adapt your research into the world of Norrøngard?

When you say “initially” we have to go back to 2010, because the world was born first in the pages of my children’s novel before it was an RPG. In 2010, I was an editor in science fiction & fantasy publishing, running the Pyr books line, but noted anthologist Jonathan Strahan and I teamed up to co-edit a sword & sorcery anthology for Simon & Schuster called Swords & Dark Magic. It featured new and old authors of gritty fantasy writing S&S, including Michael Moorcock, Glen Cook, Steven Erikson, Garth Nix, C.J. Cherryh, Tanith Lee, others. During all this, I got inspired and tried to write my own short story (not for the anthology) about a “female Conan” who was half human, half frost giant. The story was, frankly, terrible. Really bad. But the character wouldn’t leave me. She stuck around, and then one day I realized that what was interesting about her was not her as an adult, but her childhood, what it was like to grow up half human in a village of giants. And that became my novel Frostborn. But I’m not a fan of monocultures. I never wanted to write “Viking Planet,” so from the start it was important to me that Norrøngard was just one country on the edge of a vast continent. Before I even started plotting, I had worked out their history across thousands of years and who they had interacted with in that time. I think I had twenty or so countries, many with their own gods and naming conventions and detailed history, before I ever wrote a line of prose. But as I started working out Norrøngard specifically, I looked at both history and mythology to build their culture. A lot of it was building out a backstory for a country the same way you’d build a backstory for a character. Figuring out where they came from, what they’d been through to get where they were, and who they were today. Also, it’s not 1:1 Norse myth. The Norrønir have their own creation myth, a different if analogous set of gods, a slightly different afterlife, and are at least a century passed their raiding period and living under an era with a Norrøngeld with their nearest neighbors (a “tax not to raid” that the king collects, inspired by the Danegeld of our world.)

What was the process like to shift this world from a set story into a world that people can play in?

A lot of hard work! In Frostborn, we start in a human farm and a small giant village, visit only one city briefly, and spend most of the book in the wilderness. For Thrones & Bones: Norrøngard, I not only detailed the city of Bense but nine other Norrønian cities, with maps, details of their histories, key locations, their jarl, etc… Just the lore itself went through a major expansion, which doesn’t even begin to talk about creating the mechanics of ancestries and subclasses and rune magic and a bestiary, and all of that! It was a massive project that took over a year of full time work.

What was it like having multiple groups playtesting these supplements, and were there any surprising insights you can share about the playtesting process in general?

The best advice I can give about play testing is sign up way more groups than you need because half of them will never get to it and the other half will decide to veer off the rails and go in a direction that doesn’t help you much!

Your work clearly respects the Norse tradition and practices and having an actual Norse language consultant proves your dedication to authenticity. What was it like to work with an actual translator, and how much of their input helped to mold the world outside of just spelling suggestions?

Trond-Atle Farestveit is wonderful. He didn’t just translate things for me from English to ancient Norse. He’d work with me to get at the heart of what I was trying to do and help me pull from the culture to make sure it made sense in those terms.

-You’ve got a seriously robust bestiary, and aside from the Linnorms, my personal favorite is a tie between the Butter Cat and the Iron Dwarf. What was it like to playtest all of these creatures?

Playing with something you created yourself is a blast. Hearing from other folks playing and enjoying it is even more so. I’m really proud of a lot of those creatures and how their traits and actions keeps to the heart of how they are portrayed in myth and folklore.

Will fans of the books be able to see any familiar faces in these guides?

I deliberately kept the principal characters out of the game. The timeline in the RPG picks up one year after events in the books, and while I haven’t settled exactly where Thianna Frostborn goes after her journey to Thica, I know for a fact she’s not in Norrøngard right now. Neither is the dark elf Desstra. Karn *may* be back on his farm, or he may have gotten sidetracked heading home. But I didn’t want to “stat them out” and make them NPCs. So Stolki’s Mead Hall is in Bense, and Helltoppr is still in his barrow, but other than that, the RPG is populated with new characters. That being said, there are illustrations of them in the books – so you can technically see them.

Personally, I’m a sucker for any type of in-world games and activities that players can play as their characters. What was it like to make Thrones & Bones, Knattleikr, and Flyting as playable in the game?

Thrones & Bones came first. It dates back to when I was writing the first novel, Frostborn. The Norse played a game called hnefatafl before they discovered chess. In the novel, my female protagonist, Thianna, is a skilled knattleikr player. When I realized I needed a male co-protagonist, I wanted to give him something to be good at and it couldn’t be sports. So Karn Korlundsson because a hnefatafl player. I realized early on that I needed to know the rules—and there aren’t any. Not that we know. The Norse never wrote them down. There are quite a few reconstructions based on what we do know or can infer, and the various games in the tafl family can differ from each other a lot, right down to how many squares on the board and whether dice are involved. The more I looked into it, the more it made sense to create my own original game in the taft family. I built a board. Then I cherry picked rules from several of the best hnefatafl reconstructions, mixed in some of my own rules, and then play tested. I was fortunate in that my two oldest nephews were both chess champions in our state at the time, so I took them to Starbucks and set the game down between them, and they played each other for hours. I actually had to pry it out of their hands! That’s when I knew I had something. When it came to translating the novel into the game, including the game-within-a-game was a no brainer. Knattleikr came next. The rules for the sport are the only bit of text in the core book I didn’t write entirely by myself. I’d written rules, but then I hired designer Brian Suskind to write an adventure for the companion book, Sagas of Norrøngard. Brian didn’t like my rules and rewrote them. He fixed some things, but then he had me thinking about it, so I took what he did and made some changes, and we passed it back and forth until we had something we both liked. Flyting was a late addition, but I realized I needed all three of these Norse pastimes in the setting guide. And then it ended up coming into play in the second starter adventure.

You offer a lot of unique ancestries and class options for players in the Player’s Guide, what guided you through that process of progression, and do you have a personal favorite character build to make?

With all the designs, I wanted to go to the actual Scandinavian myth and folklore, especially with monsters and subclasses. My favorite build, and one that’s proving popular with players, is the huldra völva. Originally, the huldra were just monsters. But they are the “hidden folk,” and they interact so often with humans, I realized there were probably a lot of huldra living among the Norrønir in secret, and if they are there, then you should be able to play as one! The völva was tricky. But mostly because I put myself into a corner and then had to see my way out. My neighboring country of Araland is a faux-Celtic setting, so in my mind Araland is where you get druids. I was thinking of the völva as another spellcasting class—the name translates as “carrier of the magic staff” so I was trying to make them wizards—and it was just so much trying to force them into a box they didn’t want to go in. Finally, I took a step back and looked at what the völva actually were – wandering seeresses who could shapeshift, see the future, and control the weather, and I went, “Doh! That’s a druid.”

To take a quote from the introduction to your setting guide, “A map is nothing without a viewer.” 
What has your experience been like working with artists to bring the world of Qualth to life with visuals with world and battle maps?

Working with artists is tremendous. I was an art director in SF&F publishing for 10 years, so I come to game design with experience working alongside illustrators and a deep appreciate for their talent. I’ve always been a visual thinker, so when I was writing novels, I was commissioning artwork and maps as I wrote—not for publication (the art in the book falls under the purview of the publisher’s art director), but just to help me visualize the world as its being created. From the start, I commissioned a lot of art from Andrew Bosley and maps from Rob Lazzaretti, while Justin Gerard did a lot of work for the novels that he kindly let me reuse for the game. When it came time for battle maps, there was no question it would be Heroic Maps. They are hands down my favorite cartographers in that space. I’m fortunate to have several great artists for the game I’ve worked with more than once—folks like Ksenia Kozhevnikova, William O’Brien, Craig J. Spearing, and Bryan Syme. One of the fun things too has been to work with William on “aging up” my three protagonists Thianna, Karn, and Desstra (she joins in book two). They are around 13 years old in the novels, but the game isn’t targeted at the same age group as the books, so I wanted to include “what they look like now” illustrations of older versions of my heroes. Then Effincool Minis actually made a 3D printable sculpt of the older Thianna, which thrills me beyond words.

One of my favorite items you’ve made is the Brúsi Shield (found in Sagas of Norrongard), a special shield that can summon a spectral goat’s head to make ramming attacks a few times per day. What has it been like to make unique weapons and artifacts, and what was your process to playtest them?

So, the Brúsi Shield is a bit of an in-joke. “Brúsi” is the Old Norse word for “he-goat,” and the earliest version of the tale “The Three Billy Goats Gruff” we have comes from Scandinavia, De tre bukkene Bruse. It’s a small spoiler to say so, but the shield is found in the adventure “From Svartálfaheim, with Love,” right before you encounter a troll on a bridge… As to playtesting, that’s the best part isn’t it?

Your game materials cover far more of the world than Karn and Thianna are able to visit and see, was there any area in particular you were personally excited about getting to explore in more depth?

All of it. I really worked hard to make each of the new cities we explore its own unique place. So Herkeby is laid out like a giant Trelleborg (ring fortress), Sindholm sits above an enormous cavern in which longships dock, Umsborg is bisected by a lava flow, and so on. With the recent Kickstarter, Vengeance of the Valravn, which takes place in Sindholm, we have adventures that take you everywhere but Oslendhom and Umsborg (though the lore from these two locations is, of course, in the core book). There are still places I want to explore one day though!

What work might fans look forward to in the future from you?

There is so much in the pipeline, and the recent OGL kerfluffle has only upped the number of projects. With the usual caveats about the “best laid plans,” here’s a run-down. Vengeance of the Valravn is in copyedits now. I hope to have it out in March. Then I’ll immediately Kickstart the already-written Tales from Stolki’s Hall. After being out of the editor’s chair for seven years, I’ve put that hat back on and reached out to some of the best fiction writers I used to work with. Stolki’s Hall is an anthology of adult fantasy stories, written not by me, but by ten other authors, set in the land of Norrøngard. It’s fantastic, and I can’t wait for people to read it. I’ve also just signed contracts for two conversions of the campaign guide, Thrones & Bones: Norrøngard, to two other systems. I’ll probably turn to Kickstarter again for those, not for the budget (it’s a done deal with budget already set aside), but for the visibility. Beyond that I’ve got an idea for something “mythos related” in the world of Qualth that I want to do. I’ve already outlined and started commissioning and receiving art for the next Big Project, which is the first adventure set outside of Norrøngard. It starts off in Nelenia, a country that is in the middle of the continent of Katernia, about a thousand miles from Norrøngard, and modeled loosely on Switzerland.  I’m really excited about this adventure, which I hope to announce by year’s end, but given the aforementioned list of projects, it might slide into 2024. When it does debut, it will most likely be multisystem, so they’ll be 5e, Pathfinder 2, and other versions. I think it only makes sense going forward not to put all the eggs in one basket, which means my tiny indie, Lazy Wolf Studios, is set to grow whether it wants to or not!

Lou Anders is the author of the novel Once Upon a Unicorn, as well as the Thrones & Bones trilogy of fantasy adventure novels (Frostborn, Nightborn, and Skyborn), and the novel Star Wars: Pirate’s Price. He has also done role playing game design for Kobold Press, River Horse, and 3D Printed Tabletop. In 2016, he was named a Thurber House Writer-in-Residence and spent a month in Columbus, Ohio teaching, writing, and living in a haunted house. When not writing, he enjoys playing role playing games, 3D printing, and watching movies. He lives with his wife, children, and two golden doodles in Birmingham, Alabama. You can visit Anders online at louanders.com, on Facebook, Instagram, and on Twitter at @Louanders.

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