Updates

Thank you!

This was our first Kickstarter campaign and it went beyond our biggest expectations! We are super proud that our vision and passion spread to almost 400 backers and now that we have your support, the adventure really starts. We will hard at work over the next few months to deliver a product of great quality and meet all the deadlines we talked about. Please connect with us here, on Facebook or on our Website to receive all the updates we will share along the way. See you on the Wailmoor! Thank you again for making this possible.

We are totally excited about bringing Curse of the Lost Memories to you.

The Griffon Lore Games team
Christophe & Anthony
www.griffonloregames.com

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.

Stretch Goal #2 Reached: Mohr Maps! And Have a Video Update

BOOM! Another Stretch Goal Reached! Mohr Maps! WE LOVE ALL OF YOU!

This makes the Map Folio just that more awesome. And if you’re on the printed map tier, you are getting a heck of a deal. You’ll open the shipping tube and out pours high-quality MAP GOODNESS you don’t normally see in adventure path modules.

Stretch Goal #3 is Kicked into High Gear Interior Design and Artwork. We’re going to go crazy with functional, but highly stylish-artistic, interior art. We’re talking opening the book and going whoa. And the book layout. Will be. So incredible!

Please back us on Kickstarter!

Have a video update, in which Anthony talks about Hard Fantasy.

Curse of the Lost Memories Video Update 1

BOOM! We’ve flown past a stretch goal and marching towards another!

In this video update I talk about art styles. The next video update we’ll talk about hard fantasy and Curse of the Lost Memories.

Be sure to back us on Kickstarter if you haven’t already. Back early! Back Often!

Best Regards,
Anthony

LIVE ON KICKSTARTER – Curse of the Lost Memories

CURSE OF THE LOST MEMORIES is now LIVE on KICKSTARTER!

We are very excited that what was a gamers dream a few months ago finally takes shape today and is ready to fly with its own wings! We’re going to Kickstarter to fund our first campaign, an ambitious and original Adventure for Pathfinder and D&D 5E that we hope will capture the imagination of the folks we’re building this for. Starting today, you can back a great module, with original art, excellent cartography and packed with fun, yielding about 10-15 sessions of play! We’re in this in the long run and your support will not only allow us to deliver this first module but enable us to build the foundations of our others projects to come!

Thank you and see you on the Wailmoor!

 

The Best Adventure Modules Start With a TPK

Not literally, of course (unless yer talk’n about some undead campaign), but the ever-present honest-to-Istus looming threat of the real possibility that the Game Master (GM) will let it happen and the party is dead forevermore, no NPC white-wash-find-the-bodies-and-Raise-Dead, etc., etc.

Now, before I go further, this isn’t an original concept for moi. Entire product lines are predicated around TPK threats in encounters and advocating tough games. So, not blazing fresh territory here, at all.

But I have a Griffon Lore Games spin. This post is part one of The Campaign Imagination Engine blog post series.

Deaths and the Game Master

That section title sounds like a bad early-80’s sitcom. But I digress.

Before going into the TPK, let’s talk about the GM (DM in D&D speak).

What’s the main function of the GM in the fantasy Role-Playing Game? There’s a bunch of attributes we can slap on to that, but let’s prioritize. The GM:

Lays the foundation for the game by populating Non-Player Characters (NPCs), monsters and villains in a fantasy setting in order to:

Be the role-playing arbitrator of the story the PCs are telling in order to:

Be the conflict arbitrator of the conflict the PCs are creating

I’m talking campaign play, not off-the-shelf one-offs, living campaigns or gaming societies. Once the GM and the players are going to venture forth on their own by playing in a campaign world, well, that’s when the magic starts happening!

The GM Hierarchy of Giving goes like this—a campaign has a start. The GM determines where that start is based numerous things that need to be determined ahead of time. Many DMs purchase campaign worlds to help them with this start, some roll their own, just as many take a world and heavily modify it.

Once the campaign world is set and the game starts, the GM, at that point should be the arbitrator of the narrative the PCs are creating. For themselves. Sure, there may be an adventure, or adventure path tossed in, but GMs should rise above their own narrative desires and embrace the story-telling the players are creating.

And once that occurs, the GM really is the neutral third-party to the conflict going on at the game table. The GM has no skin in the game insofar keeping everyone alive so the players can have fun. Fun isn’t just winning at the game table. It’s heroic wish fulfillment. And a PC can’t be a hero if they don’t have a stake in the game and if they don’t have the consequences of failure.

And once that occurs—the TPK falls under the story telling auspices of the PCs. The GM is no longer responsible for that TPK.

The party did it to themselves.

It was a TPS: Total Party Suicide. Oh, sure, maybe the GM screwed up and flubbed the difficulty by accident. More than likely, the PCs in a game where they are the drivers of the story, failed at combined arms. Or just had some bad dice. Or, a combination of the two.

It took me years to understand the real role of a GM. Years of GMing, years of playing, years of playing MMO. Feedback from players, feedback from GMs.

Being the GM using a Campaign Imagination Engine means letting go of the story. Stepping back, and letting the players run with it.

The larger benefit of that philosophy is player deaths are a blip in the player’s world, not yours. Your shackles have been removed. You are now free to create encounters that have weight and meaning.

The Wailmoor, a pretty setting for a TPK.

TPK Where the PCs Drive the Story Means Never Having to Say You’re Sorry

So, with an understanding of the GMs real role in player death, encounters that have a chance of killing PCs bumps up the game a rather large notch, doesn’t it? But if we have most combat encounters like that, aren’t we becoming too formulaic? Isn’t there some drama to the lead up to the Big Bad?

That’s just it. Once the GM lets go of the baby, the lead up to the Big Bad can be just as interesting as the Big Bad. Here’s a look at hard encounters leading up to a TPK encounter. Which is like, but dramatically different from, the resource draining encounter leading up to the only real challenge.

PCs have a talky-talk encounter that leads them to an area.

On the way, the PCs encounter some Bad Guys that are super motivated to prevent them from getting to that area. These encounters have the capability of killing some PCs. The NPC motivation: prevent PCs from going forth. This has nothing to do with draining 25% of a player’s resources. It has everything to do with preventing the players from getting from point A to point B.

Maybe Bob the Ranger dies on the way. Now the PCs have some handy information. The Big Bad can kill them. Heck, someone else could die on the way!

Arrival. The virgin is in the cage, waiting for darkest hour to be sacrificed. The Big Bad is angry. He has everything to both lose and win. So, he goes at it with everything he has. Now it’s the PCs who have everything to lose or win–this encounter has the capability of killing them all!

But, but, but, what if this is a neutral party with no paladin. Maybe they don’t care about the virgin, they care about how much money they can get when they bring the virgin back to the Baron, her father. Maybe the Big Bad sleuths this out and simply gives the PCs a greater reward to turn around and pretend they didn’t find the Big Bad.

Well why would the PCs simply not take the reward and then kill him, and then return the virgin, and cash in?

Because, the Big Bad is really a Big Bad. Your mercenary PCs know this. They came here for the money and they are now being offered to leave with the money. Maybe they really, really need the money to do something Super Important. The Super Important overrides the virgin’s desire to live and her father’s to have her back. Or maybe they remember how Big Bad Minion Ganked Ranger Bob. Maybe the players are looking over at Dead Ranger Bob’s player looking forlorn about not being at the Big Bad encounter.

Let’s pretend the PCs take the Big Bad up on his offer because they have bigger fish to fry.

And the Baron finds out and sallies forth to kill them all in an encounter that has a chance to kill them all.

Get it? The TPK this scenario was based on the GM not moving the story along but simply arbitrating PC role-playing:

The PCs KNOW there is a Big Bad coming up because his minions are the shiz-nit and are formidable, and difficult, opponents.

The Big Bad sits there enraged when confronted, but his goal is to sacrifice the virgin. That’s his motivation, and he’ll do everything he can to meet it, including humbling himself by offering a bribe. If not accepted, all bets are off. It’s do or die time–welcome to the chance of a TPK.

The Baron can dole out his own TPK. Bonus points if the Big Bad, still smarting over losing all that loot, drops the hints on what really happened–welcome to the chance of the TPK.

Ah! But maybe there is a paladin in the party. And the paladin needs that coin for the Big Bad his god cares about, and, wait for it, there is a ticking clock. Well then, that makes the Virgin Sacrificing Big Bad offer (VSBB) all that more interesting, does it not? Your PCs free actions in a long-running campaign have more narrative weight than all the Game of Thrones episodes combined.

The above scenarios are dramatically different from the typical module scenario because the typical module scenario is predicated on a narrative, rather than narrative choices.

TPK means never having to say you’re sorry, because it’s was never your story. It was a great run, PCs. Let’s try a 20-point buy on the new characters. Sorry not sorry.

But I Feel Bad Because Everyone Died

That’s a given and natural. There is a point, however, where that feeling is recognized, acknowledged and then dismissed. Your players will go through life without the actual, real thrill of rescuing (or not) the virgin from the VSBB.

They can, however, play D&D or some game where they can find that thrill in a campaign world.

And thus, I’ve concluded, that the GM that doesn’t let their player’s risk going the Ultimate Splat still has narrative control over their stories. It’s less about the PCs all died, and more about your baby, the story you are trying to tell, is now at an end. You don’t want to let go, so, as the GM, you aren’t going to put the players in a position where they can fail because their failure is just a reflection of you.

The Campaign Imagination Engine

This is Griffon Lore Games design philosophy. This is hard fantasy not just as defined by the wikis, but as the foundation to the wonderful difference between an RPG campaign and an MMO where death is simply a re-spawn. Curse of the Lost Memories presents a world in which the GM simply provides a structure for the PCs to start driving their heroic fantasies. There is structure, yes, but there is just as much opportunity to do the hard thing, because the PCs thought it was the right thing.

The best module adventures have the looming threat that the Game Master will let a TPK happen and the party is dead forevermore. Its more than the stakes, it’s a story. Their imagination, kick-started by the GM’s campaign start, made it all possible.

It’s the PCs story.

Best Regards,
Anthony

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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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Why Do They Care? PCs, Settings and the DM

Picking on the Slow Kid

Now, I’m going to beat up on Hoard of the Dragon Queen, a 5E 100 page “super module” by Wizards of the Coast, an early 5E module that I had the unfortunate experience of trying to run creative and expressive players through. I know this is like picking on the slow kid in old-school junior-high PE by beaming his face with a dodge ball, but we’re going somewhere folks.

Hoard of the Dragon Queen is gorgeous. It’s a great book physically: hardcover, color interior, thick paper, nice interior layout. The cover art was Official WotC Sexless(TM), but that’s par for the course, now. And the adventure starts off with a bang. The PCs, as they are walking to a town, see a dragon swoop down and breathe on a bunch a guards.

Keep in mind the PCs are 1st Level. It’s the first thing that happens!

Unfortunately, it’s all downhill from there. There are a multitude of sins in Horde of Dragon Queen; poor editing, plot inconsistencies to the adventure presented on rails when the players go off the rails by doing obvious things, maps that had poor keys (and sometimes were just bad maps), monster descriptions spread all over the place—just a mess. And the BANG! of the opening scene was lost in a series of frantic do this and do that while avoiding the dragon. This early 5E module is not recommended.

However, the sin of the module was the squandering of the rich, detailed setting that is the Forgotten Realms by having the PCs run around doing this, that and the other thing and meeting NPCs for the first time, doing some quest, and then moving to a different location.

And. My. Players. Didn’t. Care. About. Anybody.

And why would they? Remember that town with the dragon? As soon as they save it they are off to an enemy army camp. And while they may go back to that town, they are soon placed on a rail and leave, only to arrive at another location where the PCs hook up with a quest giver and are sent somewhere else.

Enter Some Wenches

Now I have some skills as a DM. I tried to make my NPCs engaging and the setting interesting. But the NPCs were just props in the PCs story without any life or passion. They were, for all intents and purposes, MMO NPCs in a static MMO town. One day I stopped the game mid session, had them roll-up 2E  AD&D characters, and started T1-4, Temple of Elemental Evil by Gary Gygax and Frank Mentzer.

LO MY PLAYERS ACTUALLY ENGAGED. They were engaged because they arrived in town and had to talk to people. The visited all the obvious places, talked to NPCs, hung out at the Inn of the Welcome Wench. They had to do role-playing to get to the Moat House, where the critters and bad guys were. This is what composed T1, The Village of Hommlet.

They had a blast in the Moat House, took their loot, went back to Hommlet —and bought some land and started to build a house.

That’s when I realized T1 was brilliant. Hommlet was a sandbox that had multiple ways for the DM to get the players to the Moat House. There was a clear map and interior maps of all the important buildings. The NPCs had secrets and motivations that were presented in such a way as to leave an impression they were real people that had lives that continued when the PCs went elsewhere.

I fell in love again with T1-4. Because my players loved it. The loved it so much they moved there!

Enter Some Bone

TSR also produced another great sandbox-style module, L1 The Secret of Bone Hill by Lenard Lakofka. The town of Restenford is Hommlet on steroids, containing mini-dungeons and is a place to adventure, not just kickback and buy a beer and resupply. Like T1, many NPCs in L1 had their own motivations (such as the Baron’s daughter, heh) and the town in the module is so engaging, fun and memorable, there is an entire blog about it.

I played in Restenford a couple of years ago. Like my PCs, me and my party decided to settle there. We had a great time.

Because we cared, in our role-playing way, about the town, and the people within.

The Crossroads Village

Curse of the Lost Memories starts in the Crossroads Village. Like Hommlet and Restenford, we try our best to present a setting where the NPCs have motivations and secrets of their own. Take a look at the map commissioned from Tad Davis:

Isn’t this map gorgeous?

I’m not the kind of guy that’s going to spit some tobacco on the ground and go “Well, back in my day we had T1 and L1, Sonny!” and wax nostalgic about the good old days. Sometimes the good old days were not that good and there are some great, current products on the market for Pathfinder and now 5E.

But I am the kind of guy who wants his cake and eat it too. I want a rich, detailed starting point along with a sandbox. I believe the goal of engaging scenarios a DM pressed-for-time can jump on—while the development DM can have an opened-ended starting point to spur the imagination—is obtainable and doable in one product.

And later, if the PCs find a dragon breathing on The Crossroads, they’ll actually give a crap. They will be righteously pissed and unleash their own fury. Because they’ll care about the place and the people who live there who think all the world of their heroes.

Yours,
Anthony

PS. THE MAP GUYS LOOK AT THE MAP. THE MAAAAAAAAAAAAP

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