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Book Interior Reveal: Silas’s Tower

We want to give you another concrete example of the cartography we are including in the book. This is Silas’s Tower designed by Christophe and illustrated by Tad Davis.

love this tower!

The encounter around this tower is something interesting, that’s for sure. Don’t let the current lived-in look fool you. The demon trapped on the third floor should be an indication things are not fine by any stretch.

This is a low-res version of what will appear in the Map Portfolio. This version doesn’t have room numbers, so would be well-suited for a VTT like Roll20 or Fantasy Lands. In the physical book, we’re putting a version with room numbers on a half-page for the DM to reference with the resultant encounter.

We’ll be showing off a preview of that encounter next month—to our backers. If you haven’t backed yet, you have until early morning of Feb. 22 to do so. Click here to do so!

In the Wailmoor, there are a number of places PCs can “clean out” in order to establish a base of operations. While Silas’s Tower is a ruin (the floors above the third are collapsed), it has unique, magical properties the PCs can exploit to their benefit.

Assuming they can deal with the tower’s defenses and the trapped demon, of course. I’ve nicknamed this tower “The Tower of Broken Dreams” and it’s quite possible some PCs won’t even make it past the stairway entrance.

One possibility is the PCs can even leave the trapped demon be while they use Silas’s Tower as a base of operations in the Wailmoor.

Spoiler: not recommended.

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Campaign Worlds & the Great Greyhawk Magic Number

A Brief Introduction

Let’s talk about someone else’s dirty laundry. And the laundry is so dirty, ha!

Ladies and Gentlemen, I’m not the crotchety old D&D guy with a long white beard looking like a hippy reject expounding on the Good Old Days and claiming that AD&D is the final, be-all of RPGs and that everything that has come after is poo.

Because I love Pathfinder and D&D 5E. They done good. That’s a whole separate blog post. Their websites aren’t that great though. I could do a rant post about that—but I digress.

AD&D had a lot going for it, particularly the campaign setting of Greyhawk. I love Greyhawk. And it’s stupid the amount of Greyhawk fanfic I’ve written that I will never sell to anybody because I have no license for the intellectual property. The AD&D Greyhawk boxed set had the killer map. It had two books. It had the timelines, political factions galore, gods and weather. Bad guys and good guys and people in between. A “state of the union” section. Bandits, elves, dwarven princes, knights in shinny armor. Greyhawk was one great big imagination fuel creation machine and if I didn’t have such a burning desire to create my own worlds, the current campaign I am running would still be there today, after all these years.

Reading Between the TSR Lines

Product historian Shannon Appelcline writes: “When Gygax was asked to create the World of Greyhawk product, he was somewhat surprised that other GMs weren’t interested in creating their own worlds.”

Well, as someone whose built a campaign world from scratch, I’m not surprised, heh-heh-heh. Its time consuming and prone to a world-building exercise failure point in what I call “Blending Failure.” Blending raw creative juices, use recognizable or translatable troupes while staying fresh, plausible atmosphere and subsequent DM ease-of-use—these are all obtainable singularly but difficult to blend into a cohesive whole. The result of RPG world-building isn’t simply entertainment, it’s spurring and nurturing the imagination of a GM so he or she can tailor a world to the desires of players and GM alike.

Greyhawk wasn’t just all the things. It was all the things made possible within the two books and the map!

Shannon goes on further (emphasis mine):

Over the years, TSR and Wizards have published a few more overviews of the portion of Oerth that was depicted in the World of GreyhawkFrom the Ashes (1992), Greyhawk Player’s Guide (1998), and the Living Greyhawk Gazetteer (2000).

 

However, when Gygax wrote that World of Greyhawk was “Volume III”, he was imagining a larger world. At various times Frank Mentzer, Len Lakofka, and Francois Marcela-Froideval were each going to create one or more continents east of Oerik, while an Asian-influenced continent was planned for the west. Gygax imagined that there would eventually be “a real globe”.

 

Though the lands depicted in World of Greyhawk have been detailed in the years since its publication, there has been almost no expansion beyond these lands of eastern Oerik — with the one major exception being the Sundered Empire that Chris Pramas designed for the Chainmail Miniatures Game (2001), which lies in western Oerik.

Translation: Gary Gygax lost control of TSR, and the resultant product mangers there, and then at Wizards, fucked it up. They lost sight of the Great Greyhawk Magic Number. In their attempt to broaden appeal, they pulled the rug from the setting. Rather than expand it along Gygax’s original vision for MOHR GREYHAWK, they did something—else.

Ignoring the Liberty of Imagination

Looking at From the Ashes and Greyhawk Wars though Shannon’s historical product sleuthing lens it becomes clear how TSR went to shit and had to be bought out by Wizards of the Coast.

These are not bad products. From the Ashes spurred on some good stuff: Iuz the Evil and The Marklands, the unofficial released Ivid the Undying However, taken as a whole, it took the idea that a published campaign world is a imagination engine for the GM and tossed it in the trash.

And how did they do that? Instead of adhering to that grand vision of globe description, TSR simply advanced the clock. Instead of this:

However, when Gygax wrote that World of Greyhawk was “Volume III”, he was imagining a larger world. At various times Frank Mentzer, Len Lakofka, and Francois Marcela-Froideval were each going to create one or more continents east of Oerik, while an Asian-influenced continent was planned for the west. Gygax imagined that there would eventually be “a real globe”.

They went:

Tick.

The Tick of (reverb) DOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOM (reverb) !

Welcome to Someone Else’s Campaign

TSR advanced the Greyhawk campaign clock.

And they were doing so well.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know Gary Gygax would write in Dragon Magazine about current events in Greyhawk. I read them. In my subscription to Dragon Mag. That’s not the sheer folly I’m talking about. That’s a convo between DMs about campaigns.

What I’m talking about is much deeper—changing the underlying foundation of a product’s primary attribute, in this case, turning the DMs Imagination Crank to ELEVENTY.

I met this guy at GenCon. We were chatting and he said he used to dream about Greyhawk. Do you think we as talking about From the Ashes? No, he was talking about the world presented in the box set. He was talking about the Darlene maps. He was talking about a dungeon he built on the Wild Coast the Prince of Ulek sent the PCs to explore. He talked about how in the Temple of Elemental Evil, his players rescued Thrommel and united Veluna and Furyondy. He was talking about his campaign.

And as soon as TSR ticked the clock on him, it was someone else’s campaign.

I played in Living Greyhawk and Living Blackmoor, and they were the ultimate in playing in someone else’s campaign—but that was all on purpose. That was the intent. I decided this style of play wasn’t for me, but it made me think mighty long about what happened to Greyhawk.

TSR would repeat the follow of ticking the clock on campaign worlds with the justification that to increment editions they needed some campaign world shake up.

And it never worked, because it never could work—the whole concept of a campaign world is one grand campaign world for heroic wish fulfillment with players and a GM united in a glorious fantasy setting tailored to their needs and unique to their experiences. Action is character. A PCs real character history starts at Level 1. They change their world.

The Great Greyhawk Magic Number

The Great Greyhawk Magic Number is 576. That’s where the campaign guide ends its timeline. That’s when most DMs started their campaigns. And the entire campaign world is predicated on that one tiny number. 576. And it went like this:

The Prince’s disappearance destroyed these plans, however, and brought about the current state of affairs in the Flanaess, which is confused indeed. Humankind is fragmented into isolationist realms, indifferent nations, evil lands, and states striving for good. The Baklunish countries in the northwest have grown in power. Nomads, bandits, and barbarians raid southward every spring and summer. Humanoid enclaves are strongly established and scattered throughout the continent, and wicked insanity rules in the Great Kingdom. The eventual result of all this cannot be foretold.

Much has been written and said about the fall of TSR into the hands of Wizards. Sure, the Blume Brothers and Williams fucked it up. That’s the why.

The how is they didn’t understand the players and the DMs. They didn’t understand their customers and even what made their own earlier products outstanding achievements of creativity and the imagination. The sheer magnitude of how useful Greyhawk was to a DM. How some people would dream about that world.

And they went tick.

Griffon Lore Games Campaign Worlds

Our super module Curse of the Lost Memories is part of the Chronicles of the Celestial Chains Adventure Path. The AP is designed to plug-and-play into your own world (pick an undeveloped temperate place on your map and change the names to protect the guilty). We have a campaign world for the GM to use for a fresh start at something new and what we hope is wondrously hard fantasy. We have a stretch goal for Curse of the Lost Memories to furnish 100+ pages of it as The Kingdom of Lothmar Setting Guide.

Lothmar is just a part of the overall campaign world that we’ll put into its own Kickstarter once we’ve gotten into the rhythm of shipping modules on the Chronicles of the Celestial Chains Adventure Path. And we plan to have the best campaign world on the market.

This is what you get when you back our Kickstarter—you get lead designers who understand 576. Back our upcoming Kickstarter to the hilt, because we’ve got plans and products and none of our shenanigans includes a number past The Great Greyhawk Magic Number of 576.

Best Regards,
Anthony

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DM Friendly Modules

All modules are for DMs (or, in Pathfinder, the Game Master aka GM). And there are good, mediocre and bad modules. But even a bad module can have DM friendly features, although modules that have inherent flaws usually have issues with features that make a DM’s life easier.

Here at Griffon Lore Games (I admit it; I just like typing “Griffon Lore Games”), we think about making the DMs life easier all the time. Mainly because we are DMs ourselves. Here are some of the things we do to make the life easier for the DM to run our adventures:

Prioritized Lore: Lore that directly impacts the PCs has priority over descriptive text that has no consequence to the current adventure but may be beneficial to the DM in other ways (such as modifying their own game world). The Dame with a lore-based secret isn’t as interesting as the Dame with a lore-based secret that motivates her to help or hinder the PCs based on what they do and say.

Prioritized Setting: Related, setting the PCs most likely will be interested in will receive priority with description and narrative (and maps!).

Impactful Encounters: All encounters are impactful and have weight. There are no fluffy-bunny fro-fro encounters of attrition shoved into the module either as filler to get the PCs experience points so they can challenge the Big Bad the module writers are over-enamored with to the exclusion of the journey to get to the big bad, make some narrative point rather than the PCs making the narrative points, pad the page count or other dubious reasons not having anything to do with adventures DMs want to run. You won’t find encounters in our product designed to test if in a series of combats, the PCs can monitor their resources in a game of attrition. Most encounters will leave players with a sense of accomplishment and sense of heroic wonder that will linger with them until the next play session. Every combat encounter has the capability of dropping heroes to the ground, and if the players don’t combined arms, death or TPK.

Dynamic Plot and Villains based on PC Actions: The PCs do things, and it impacts the world in “real-time.” They do more on their day-to-day interactions than change the life of a stable-boy tipped 100 GP. PCs can influence, and be influenced by, the story’s movers and shakers because they themselves are movers and shakers. Good plot and good villains in a living, breathing game are dynamic based on motives. Rather than dedicating pages for lore for the sake of world-building, let the PCs build their own world by dedicating pages in anticipating common adventure party directions and actions and let them build the world. If the players wanted static quest givers with explanation points over their heads, they would play a MMO designed in the early 2000’s.

Book Mechanics: PDFs even for people who buy the print version. Quality hardcover book printed in color on thick paper you can write on. Module text dedicated to describing dynamic monsters and NPCs that could change tactics based on their overall motives and PC actions. Good stat blocks that are easy to read. Clear maps that can be used in a Virtual Table Top (VTT) program by having the map key in the module text rather than on the map. Proper developmental editing from an experienced RPG-savvy editor and comprehensive, not token, play-testing.

Cohesive Adventuring in an Adventure Path: An adventure path should take a character from Level 1 to Level 20 (or several levels beyond) with a distinctive end. Doing that without putting PCs (or, just admit it, your players) on rails is no easy task, but it is possible with hard work and play testing. The adventure should provide a foundation for the next in a manner that seems organic and plausible. Modules that come next should anticipate several major possibilities of the prior adventure and dedicate text to help the DM transition her players into the next part of the game world without negating their prior hard-won efforts.

This is what Christophe and I are dedicated to. This is hard fantasy, baby. The DMs are putting it all out there. They need as much support as they can get.

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Hard Fantasy and the DM

Brandon Sanderson writes some excellent fantasy and to paraphrase him, hard fantasy is more about what you can’t do with magic than what you can. A DM that subscribes to the tenants of hard fantasy has a rather large narrative tool in the DM Toolbox. By defining restrictions and limits, a DMs campaign world actually becomes more fantastic, not less!

So what is Hard Fantasy? From Infogalactic: the planetary knowledge core:

Hard fantasy is a subgenre of fantasy literature that strives to present stories set in (and often centered on) a rational and knowable world. Hard fantasy is similar to hard science fiction, from which it draws its name, in that both aim to build their respective worlds in a rigorous and logical manner.

<snip>

The hard aspect of hard fantasy can refer to different elements. It can refer to a consistent history and folk lore, as we see from Lord of the Rings, well-defined magic systems as seen in Mistborn or The Name of the Wind, and is sometimes even applied to A Song of Ice and Fire for its political system, though the latter only defines limits of magic the main characters learn.

Here at Griffon Lore Games (which, right now is Anthony and Christophe, ha ha) we are big fans of hard fantasy well beyond a descriptive, logical definition of how magic works. A hard fantasy word to us is indeed:

Motivational: NPCs have motivations both covert and overt.

Political: The fantasy world has movers and shakers, those that fight the status quo and those that try to preserve it.

Historical: The current world can be explained by describing what has come before.

Villainous: The bad guys are not the bad guys in their own story, and on the off-chance they recognize they are the bad guys, they have distinctive motivations for being so.

Magical: The story doesn’t drive the magical system where horrific miracles happen because suddenly it’s the middle of the book and the hero needs a low point. The magical system codifies the story, not the other way around.

Mythical: All people have a creation myth, and the magical and historical items and people within the world have lore that defines them, even if the lore isn’t accurate.

Divine: Especially with RPGs, the divine impacts the people and the people impact the gods. Especially with hard fantasy, what the gods can’t do is just, if not more, interesting and useful to a DM than what a god can do.

Geographical: The fantasy world has distinctive, descriptive geography that shapes all the other hard fantasy attributes.

Now, if you’re into RPGs and the above sounds like a bullet-list for world building—now you get it! It’s not just tough encounters and hard win conditions. It is the whole package. It’s gritty, it’s rich, it make sense and sometimes you can win the battle but lose the war. It’s a fantasy world that breathes. Curse of the Lost Memories is hard fantasy and the campaign world presented in the overall adventure path, Chronicles of the Celestial Chains, is so hard fantasy you can bounce a rock off it. FROM ORBIT.

I’ve got a lot more to say about hard fantasy. We’ve got examples we’re going to talk about later. I’ll even go so far as to truck out RPG products that are hard fantasy and were successful, and RPG products that played fast and loose and were not.

Be sure to bookmark our website or follow us. This is going to get good!

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Curse of the Lost Memories

We are announcing our new adventure: Curse of the Lost Memories!

Curse of the Lost Memories is the first volume of Chronicles of the Celestial Chains adventure path. It is set in hard fantasy setting, a ruthless environment with successful villains, detailed political setting, and tough consequences for our heroes’ mistakes.

The player characters have memories that are seemingly not their own—visions of the past that don’t feel like visions, some lingering while others vanishing as if hiding from something dark. The external threat coming from the local moors is only part of fight the PCs find themselves in. This isn’t simply a mission for the local Viscount to clean out a moor of monsters. This is a war for their very identities and they must stand together or perish all.

The 100+ page adventure is setting agnostic, but with original locations and written for both Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition as well as the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game. The module will take characters from level 1 to level 4 and brings them through four narrative acts of a story arc, yielding 12-15 sessions of play.

Curse of the Lost Memories is a uniquely DM-friendly module that encourages role-playing even when players don’t normally do so. The inhabitants of the land the PCs interact with fleshed out with their own motivations for the DM to use or modify, every location mapped carefully to provide a rich background of detail that when the DM starts to wing it, he or she has a solid foundation. The encounters are challenging and impactful, and many will leave players with a sense of accomplishment and sense of heroic wonder that will linger with them until the next play session.

Curse of the Lost Memories and the campaign world it is not an MMO on paper with a formulaic progression. It’s table-top D&D with 100+ pages of pure campaign role-playing goodness that walks the fine line of giving the DM directions to take the adventure to its conclusion and support when the adventure goes off the rails.

WE WILL LAUNCH ON KICKSTARTER SOON!

We want to deliver you a high-quality product with encounter maps, area cartography, pre-generated PCs, interior artwork and well-tested encounters in a bold, engaging style. Offered both as a hardcover and PDFs, Curse of the Lost Memories is the first mega-module in an adventure path taking the player characters from levels 1 to 20.

Please let us know if you have any questions! 🙂

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