Cleaning the Sewers

So, on the blog were lagging a bit in the game log, so I’m going to make posts this week to try and catch everyone up on where the story was, and is, and will be.

When we last left out intrepid heroes they were attempting to clean out the sewers of the goblin menace between the fairly standard fantasy city of Bechamel.

You might remember from the “Slaying the Goblins” post they had captured a goblin, followed him down into the tunnels, gotten ambushed, and rescued the kidnapped women.

Once they had the captives secured, then the real work began.

The began working into the maze of tunnels. The dungeon was laid out so that they could not cover their rear. The tunnels looped around and back again, giving the defenders an advantage in mobility and surprise.

Basically, whenever they got into combat, they were always going to get hit from multiple angles, but they were canny enought to see it coming. They put their strongest fighters in the front, but kept their heavy armor cleric in the back, shielding the wizard from getting ganked.

Goblins are chaotic and stupid, for the most part, so without strong leadership they simply hit the party in successive waves, from as many angles simultaneously as possible.

They slaughtered the goblins as they went, not given a chance to rest, until they came to a large room that didn’t have goblins in it.

The room was scattered with goblin zombies, their first clue they were facing a necromancer. They quickly realized the zombies were the goblins they had been killing and leaving in their wake. They had been quietly gathered, recycled, and they had to face them a second time in this weaker form.

There, in the middle of the zombies, commanding them, was a flumph. The players had been asked by a friendly flumph to help find his brother, and this was the one they had been sent to find.

It’s flesh was grey and limp, and it’s eyes glowed with a malevolent, predatory light. It’s underspikes were stained with old blood as it floated above the goblin zombie (gombies?).

The barbarian grinned and charged, eager to try out his new cleave ability on the throng of undead. Is first swing struck true and he axes into the second, killing it also. As the zombies dropped to the ground from out of their corpses flew a spark of purple negative energy.

The necromancer wasn’t without a plan. The zombies themselves were worthless in battle, but each one carried a small spark of negative energy. The energy flew out and exploded, washing over the barbarian and the other zombies, hurting him and healing the others.

The barbarian took a second to assess how hard he’d just gotten hit, and do a quick headcount of the remaining zombies. He laughed and kept chopping.

The other adventurers focused on the flumph. They had experience with the undead before, and knew how weak a normal flumph was. What they didn’t have experience with was vampires.

The vampire flumph called out to the night to gather wolves and then attacked with his dominating gaze, trying to turn the barbarian against them, but fueled by rage he shook it off.

The mage countered with magic missile, knowing it would bypass the monsters damage resistances and armor. She threw all of her magic items into it, boosting damage and caster level, and rolled high.

“BLERG! Magic missiles! My only weakness!” It cried as it dissolved into mist and fled down the hall.

Most of the way through the zombie horde the barbarian saw it run and chased after it like a dog with a rabbit. Knowing how badly he had gotten hurt so far, the cleric called after him, “Wait! You don’t know whats back there!”

Rushing around the corner, the barbarian, without any reinforcements, ran face first into an ambush. Waiting around the corner, held in reserve, was a full sized ogre zombie with a greatclub.


The ogre smacked him once, full on, with an unconfirmed critical, and the barbarian knew he was in deep trouble. The cleric started sprinting to him and dropped the biggest heal he had.

The ogre got on two more shots, each time negating the healing the cleric had done, before the barbarian started hitting back. He kited it, falling back, knowing the zombie was far more sluggish than a living ogre, and hit it several times as it closed with him. The zombie was too mindless to use it’s reach advantage.

The dread necro in the party moved up with support him, and the mage tried to assist with her bow. She had already burned all her spells for the day in the earlier battles.

The barbarian finally got in a critical hit with his greataxe, sending the top half of the ogre spinning off to the left as it’s legs fell to the right.

The party stopped to catch their breath and take stock of their situation. The cleric was spend, and was down to wands of healing, the mage was burned out, the barbarian had used his rage and the dread necromancer had spent her time turning the zombies away from the barbarian to keep him from getting overwhelmed.

That’s when they heard the sounds of drums coming from down the hall…

Rolling in the Open

Once upon a time I was running a game where a gang of goblins had overrun a border plantation, driven out those lucky enough to escape, and set up the manor house as their own personal fortress.

My player, the halfling and the wizard, decided to take a side mission and investigate the trouble, at the behest of a henpecked middle aged farmer and his overbearing sandal-weilding wife.

They made their way carefully through the crops, using the tall wheat to mask their advance, and got the jump on an outlying patrol, slaughtering them and getting some intel in the process.

They approached the main manor and found they area around the building was flat and open (originally for moving wagons around and for gatherings) and had been cleared of obstructions, leaving a wide open space maybe fifty feet in a all directions. In addition, there was at least one sentry posted that they could see from the concealment of the grain.

The building was two stories and wooden, with a southern style wrap around porch and lots of windows.

In military terms, the goblins had cover, a clear field of fire, and an established kill zone.

Goblins: Not Usually this Elaborate

The players attempted to snipe at the sentry, so they could approach quietly, but missed. The alarm was raised and the battle was joined.

Archers appeared in the upper windows, and a small skirmishing force attacked from the ground floor. These were just goblins though. No big deal, right?

The players lured the skirmishers into the grain and massacred them, but quickly found themselves unable to advance and heavily outgunned at range but the archers.

Then the goblins brought out their ace. The door opened and they rolled out a small ballista with a crew onto the porch. It had been held centrally in reserve inside so it could be deployed in any direction.

Yes, this is the goblin ballista story.

The players decided they were heavily outmatched at range (even though they specialized in bows and slings themselves) and they didn’t have any powerful offensive magics available to them. Rather then retreat, they charged.

The halfling charged across the open field toward the ballista without the benefit of smoke or darkness and the ballista took it’s shot.

Roll: Crit

Roll: Confirm Crit

Roll: Almost max damage

As it stood the halfling was going to have a hole in him big enough to see daylight through and the wizard was going to be in no position to safely rescue him without getting perforated herself. He was going to die.

There are several schools of thought on how the DM should roll. Some roll behind the screen because it allows them to fudge the dice when needed and keep the players alive when the story requires it.

I am not that DM. I always roll in the open, and at the beginning of the game, before character creation I make it clear that the dice are rolled in the open, and if they say you die, then that’s what happened. There’s no harm in running a game like that, provided the players understand how the game is run ahead of time, and make their decisions based on that.

One of the drawbacks of rolling in secret is that when the dice do roll hot, and the players get in trouble, the players can always foster the suspicion tht the DM is out to get them, because things are hidden, and they could be literally anything.

Quantum dice are nobodies friend. I strongly advise rolling in the open. It keeps the hits and damage as the fault of fate, rather than a malevolent and fickle DM. Rolling in the open can save friendships.

With those parameters established, and a character’s life on the line, we referenced the books, the supplemental books, and online commentary.

It turns out, unbeknownst to me, small creatures get a listed -4 to hit when using a ballista. There’s no explanation given, just a flat penalty, and that was enough to turn the confirmed crit into an unconfirmed crit, and saved the character from instant death.

The halfling cleric healed himself, finished charging across the field, and slaughtered the goblins to a man.

Some might say the encounter was to hard, but in reality the goblins were monster manual stock goblins, with the only modification being the ballista crew, which needed their feats and skill shuffled to allow them to actually use their equipment.

Goblins have a CR of 1/3 so a small group of 12 should have been easy peas for a pair of level 3 characters. They just got lucky and had above average positioning.

Rolling in the open can prevent the suspicion of persecution, and can prevent a lot of social drama. Social drama isn’t fun, and the most important rule is “Have Fun!”


The frozen city of Elsarime was once the prosperous island nation of Iwi Tapu. It was a land full of bountiful natural resources and sun kissed and bronze skinned natives. They went to bed one night and woke up the next morning in the Bastard Lands with the beginnings of frostbite.

Shown: Former tropical paradise

They discovered their entire island chain had been transported along the feet of a massive mountain range, far in the frozen north of their new world. They literally almost died.

They quickly began burning whatever wood they had stockpiled and felled additional trees for fuel. They upgraded their grass skirts for the warmer furs of the local animals. Regardless, they were fairly doomed in the long run, and they knew it.

What really saved them was divine intervention. The goddess Ahi, once a minor deity in their pantheon, became the center of their new culture. They discovered that idols to Ahi actually generated heat, and a small effigy (something the size of a toaster) could heat an entire hut.

The Iwi Tapu became monotheistic almost overnight.

Reaching out, they established trade with the confused dwarves in the mountains around them, trading skilled woodwork for metal weapons and armor and adopting their alphabet for writing. It was from these initial jumbled encounters their name was changed in translation to Elsarime.

Far from any known body of water, they repurposed their catamarans with blades, able to go over snow and ice with ease. The adopted the axes that kept them alive at the beginning as their signature weapons, wielding them either two handed or with a large round shield painted with frightful imagery.

While some of the Iwi Tapu migrated south to warmer climates, the bulk of them remained in their new home, content to see through whatever fate had brought them.

(So the name of this exercise was called “narrative super-collider”. I took two awesome nautical cultures and I slammed them together like a kid with a pair of HeMan toys. Hope you liked he result.)

Empire of the Whirling Gate

Because players have to get their katanas somewhere… (Source:

Originally a mountainous country that dominated it’s neighbors, the Whirling Gate Empire now sits in the Celestial Mountain range on the far east side of the Great Grass Sea, between the grass sea and the Koniro Ocean.

This is a very lawful and harmonious society, with extensive laws and clear heirachy. The laws themselves may not be universal, as the Empire is not one of equality, but they are uniformly enforced as they are applied to the classes and castes among the citizens.

The empire consists of the immortal emperor (who’s name has been forgotten in time, and is usually refered to as “Glorious Emperor”) who appears as a normal human man, a ruling/administrative council of Ogre Magi, an warrior class, and a working class.

These classes are not fixed at birth, and they are not tied to race. More than one dishonored Magi has been expelled to toil in the fields for the rest of his days.

The working class, and the bulk of the simple soldiery, is composed of Hobgoblins. They thrive in these conditions, and enjoy working within the confines of the society. Each of them look to their betters, and idolize the stray hobgoblins that has been promoted to Daimyo or Samurai retainers to prestigious patrons.

The ruling elite is composed of Ogre Magi, who’s various families conspire against each other to expand their power and their estates. This is for several reasons, and not just money and power.

The third race that populates the Empire is the Ko-Oni, the little ogres.

As an ogre mage grows through adolescence he absorbes the magic of the land around him, using it to grow both physically and magically. The magic they absorb runs through the Celestial mountains in the form of Dragon Lines, that emanate from the Nexus of the Lines, the Unassailable Palace, where the emperor keeps his court.

Ogre Mages that grow up near the strongest dragon lines, grow extremely powerful, becoming Elemental Lords. Those who grow up far from these centers of magic never grow into their full measure of power, becoming Ko-Oni.

Thus, the ogre mages fight and scheme amongst each other for the one thing of greatest value, estates where their children can grow to become as powerful as possible, increasing the honor of their family, and extending their legacy to the next generation.

The Whirling Gate is not a metaphor. It is a very real object that rests in the throne room of the Unassailable Palace. It is unclear if the Emperor draws power from it, or or if his power maintains it, but those details are irrelevant in everyday life.

The Whirling Gate is an massive objects some fifteen feet across and seemingly made of hammered bronze. It is composed of three rings that rotate independently in a lazy gyroscopic fashion. They are not linked in any way, but are suspended by magical energy. Withing the rings floats a field of energy of sun yellow light, far too bright to look at directly.

The one thing everyone in the empire is clear on, is that the Gate connects this life and the afterlife, and the more souls that pass through it, the faster is spins. This has lead to certain uncommon expressions in Imperial parlance, such as “charging the gate” meaning “to run headlong into death” and “meet you at the gate” meaning “I may not see you again until after we are both dead”

The Emperor, linked in the public consciousness to the gate, is worshipped as a god, and, despite his godhood being technically unclear, can grant spells to clerics. The Emperor’s domains are Law, Balance, and Competition.


*+2 Strength, -2 Dexterity, -2 Charisma

*Creature Type: Humanoid

*Medium: As Medium creatures, Ko-Oni have no special bonuses or penalties due to size.

*Ko-Oni base land speed is 30 feet.

*Darkvision: Ko-Oni can see in the dark out to 60 feet. Darkvision is black and white only, but it is otherwise like normal sight, and sharakim can function just fine with no light at all.

*+1 natural armor bonus: Ko-Oni skin is tough and difficult to pierce.

*Oni-Blooded (Ex): Ko-Oni count as Giants for any effect relating to race or type. They also count as their actual type (Humanoid), and may choose whichever is advantageous to them at the time.

*Shadow Affinity (Ex): In areas of darkness or shadowy illumination (including magical shadow), a Ko-Oni gains a +2 racial bonus on Hide and Move Silently

*Favored Class: Wizard (Conjurer) or Rogue. A multiclass Ko-Oni ‘s wizard or rogue classes does not count when determining whether he takes an experience point penalty for multiclassing. However, only one of the classes can be ignored.

(I couldn’t decide if this is LA+1 or +0. Let me know what you think.)


Ok, starting out, this is going to be a much more negative post than my usual articles. You’ve been warned. It’s a rant.

I’m going to open by saying I absolutely detest the Goliath race. I remember cracking open my brand new copy of Races of Stone back in the day and thumbing through all the awesome dwarf and gnome content and being very happy with it… until I got to the end.

Basically, the Goliath race tacked on to the end of the book stinks heavily of a “crunch before fluff” creation process. They are numerically superior, and have history and culture as thin as single ply toilet paper, and just as disposable. Unlike the other races that have some background and a clear place in the world, these guys exist solely to give players who want to play melee “toons” something to build without all that roleplaying nonsense getting in the way.

I use the word “toon” derogatorily, in the WoW usage. It’s a collection of numbers and stats and nothing more.

Imagine, of you will, you were the DM and one of your players came up to you with a homebrew race they made up and wanted to play. I imagine the conversation would go something like this.

“So, I want to play a melee guy and I made a new race I want to try out.”

“Ok, let’s talk about that. I have to make sure it’s balanced well against what were already using.”

“Oh, it’s super balanced! The race has a level adjustment, so it’s balanced.”

“That’s a good start. That means it will not have as high of an attack roll or as many hit points as the other players.”

“Right! So I gave him a +4 to strength to negate the penalty to attack roll and actually give him a bonus!”


“And I gave him a bonus to constitution so he’ll have as many hit points as everyone else.”

“That doesn’t sound right…”

“Oh, and Ive been doing some thinking, and remember that encounter where that fighter was tripping and bull rushing everyone?”


“I gave myself a bonus to resist that! And remember before the encounter before that with the enemy wizard that cast hold person on me?”


“I’m immune to that now! And remember the encounter before what with the rogues who kept using feign to get sneak attack against me?”


“I get a bonus to resist that now! And remember the encounter before where that giant kept doing extra damage because he was using a large weapon?”


“I get that too!”

“…wait, hold on…”

“Super cool, right? They’re all bald too!”

“Hold on. You want all that; negating the penalty of the level adjustment, and all the bonuses? You want to be strong, tough, huge, bald, and charismatic without any downsides?

You realize you made an entire race based on Terry Crews? You’re going to need to take this idea back to the drawing board…”

Leaked original Goliath concept art

Never before have I seen such a thinly veiled attempt at Mary Sue bullshit in a race as I have seen in the Goliath. Basically, any character concept you have can be made mechanically better with a layer of goliath cheese on top. (Yes, even wizard.)

So I had a new player text me his concept yesterday for the game this Friday. I asked him what kind of character he wanted to play.

He hits me back with “goliath with half-minotaur hurler?”

You know this ain’t my first rodeo, right son?

Elochian Gnomes

Elochian Gnomes generally have large eyes, straight hair, thin facial features and pale thin skin. They take their name from their city, Elochia, and carried from their old world the most advanced magitech found in the Bastard Lands.

That’s a Tleilaxu, but close enough for now. (Source:

Implants, rideable golems, enhanced armors, eternal wands and fantastical flying conveyances all stem from Elochian innovations. Their golem corps were unrivalled on the battlefield and even their rank and file soldiers were equipped with magical weaponry.

The city of Elochia itself was a marvel. The fortress city floated above the ground, and when the patchwork of the new world was created the entire city was plucked out of the air and transported whole to it’s new home.

The gnomes were, of course, unhappy having been stolen, but their mobile position allowed them to adapt quickly, and they set themselves to escaping back to their old homeland.

With their only hope laying in they magical prowess, a minor gnomish god of technology, Mancer, became their focus of worship. He, in trade, blessed them with the secrets of greater craftsmanship.

They set up a series of ground stations where they could dock and resupply and trade with their new neighbors.

The entire time they considered themselves above the problems around them. They kept to themselves, insular and isolated, trading the services of their golem corps for alliances and supplies.

Then the invasion came, the demons found a weakness in the barrier between their world and the prime material, and exploited it, tearing open the space between the two and allowing their bloodthirsty horde to pour in.

The heroes of that age rallied together, calling on the nation’s to band together and stand against this new threat, and the gnomes gave their response in a grand fashion.

Instead of deploying their golem corps in their glorious array, they enacted the escape plan they had been working on the entire time.

A crackling field of energy whipped around their floating city and with a flash of light they disappeared.

The world was not theirs. The gnomes, without their ties to any place or group, hadn’t adopted the new world as their own, in the same way the terrestrial races had. And, when the new world was in crisis, they simply left.

They left behind relics of their having been there, as well as the various bases had used for trade, but where they went, and how they went, was to this day a mystery.

They did leave behind one unlucky band of gnomes, the fourth light golem lance, that had been deployed to the city of Elsarime in the far north and had not returned in time. They returned from their mission to find themselves without a home.

They joined the battle against the demons and aquitted themselves well, and afterward the survivors retreated to the most substantial settlement the Elochians had created, the Fortress Peregrine, in the Peregrine Mountain Range.

They continued to export magical items, but it was clear the greatest craftsmen among them had left with the city.


*+2 Intelligence, -2 Constitution.

*Humanoid (Gnome).

*Small: As a Small creature, an Elochian gnome gains a +1 size bonus to Armor Class, a +1 size bonus on attack rolls, and a +4 size bonus on Hide checks, but he uses smaller weapons than humans use, and his lifting and carrying limits are three-quarters of those of a Medium character.

*Elochian gnome base land speed is 20 feet.

*Aura Vision: An Elochian gnome can read the auras of an enchantment. After one minute of handling an item or concentrating on an environmental effect, the gnome may determine it’s magical properties as if he had cast detect magic. The range of this effect is touch.

*Weapon Familiarity: Elochian gnomes may treat siege weapons as martial weapons rather than exotic weapons.

*+1 to caster level when creating magic items.

*Favored Class: Wizard. A multiclass Elochian gnome’s wizard class does not count when determining whether he takes an experience point penalty. All golem pilots have a minimum of one wizard level to interface properly.

*Level Adjustment: +0.

(I know, as a rule, there are no +2 Int/LA +0 races in core 3.5. Rules were meant to be broken)

The Bastard Lands

My own homebrew world I call the Bastard Lands. It’s an amalgamation of whatever the heck I want, mixed, diced, chopped, covered and chunked, like good Waffle House hash browns.

Pictured: Good storytelling

The original idea was that there was a gang of gods that were unhappy being the lesser beings of their pantheon, and decided to improve their station by creating their own world full of worshippers. The “minor” problem with their plan was that none of them had the raw power to do that, creatio ex nihilo.

Thus, to create their world they stole a jigsaw of pieces from other worlds and times and stitched them together in a seemingly haphazard fashion, according to their own designs.

Entire kingdoms woke up one morning to find everything outside their borders was changed. Cities finished lunch to find everything outside their walls was different. Fishermen returned from sea to find their ports gone and the entire coastline changed.

For a short time, there was chaos, as the various and vastly different neighbors met each other for the first time, without centuries of context. Wars were waged in an instant, as everyone searched for the cause, and blamed everyone else.

As the geological locations changed, weather changed with it, and once fertile lands became deserts, former deserts bloomed to life and jungle kingdoms found themselves in a new frozen climates.

As the final act of their plan, the gods sealed the realm, preventing extraplanar travel. Wizard who had once walked he multiverse suddenly found their spells simply no longer functioned, or deposited them, unceremoniously, in the great sea of the astral plane that now surrounded the new prime material.

Eventually there came an uneasy peace, as simple survival concerns became more important than petty questions of misguided vengeance.

The gods realized quickly they made one serious mistake. Without access to other planes, the souls of the dead were trapped and unable to escape to the afterlife. After some debate among them, they peeled back some of their previous isolation, allowing connections to the upper and lower planes for the purpose of transporting the deceased.

However, the demons of the abyss quickly learned of the connection, and began scheming, as they do, to drag this fledgling plane into hell.

Only the oldest of the elder beings remember the time before the (insert cliché term for major event here) Apocalypse/Sundering/Founding/Confabulation/Explodemageddon. Lichs and elder dragons, as well as those surviving elves over 1000 years old, might have distant memories of their original worlds, but for most the new world is the only world they’ve ever known.

There are surviving records and relics of long lost magics and places, as well as ruins of those who were shunted in and did not survive.

The largest city in the Bastard Land is simply called “The Place”. Desirous of a major city to rival the other realms, the young gods simply stole five or six existing cities, and placed them all next to and overlapping each other in a jumbled mess, as well as including several unconnected towns and villages. The ensuing clash of languages and customs was catastrophic, but effective. Without an actual name for the city, and with each group wanting to keep their original name, the conflicting factions took to calling the megatropolis “The Place” as a sort of compromise. The Place is not peaceful, by any stretch of the imagination.

This is where I tell my tales. I’ll go into the more established groups and races later, but this setting allows me to tell whatever story I want, with whatever races and classes, from whatever existing setting, regardless of rhyme or reason, because chaos the name of the game.

I plan on going into the parts of the world I’ve created of my own in later posts. Two creations immediately come to mind; the Elochian Gnomes, and the Holy Halfman Empire.

Creating Life: The Art of Worldbuilding

As a storyteller, I consider myself a craftsman, and, as a craftsman, it’s important to practice, and also read.

That in mind, in February I picked up a series of books, specifically on worldbuilding. I got the entire three book set, and read them, mostly.

I say mostly because the instructions were very close to what I had already come up with independently. See, at the time I had joined a floundering LARP, and was trying to help them turn their game from nothing more than a disconnected set of sparring matches into an actual role playing game.

The key to that was worldbuilding. Without some sort of established setting, it is very hard for new players to immerse themselves, especial during the crucial time before they have played their first game.

Before the first game all the new player has is whatever information that might be written. After they’ve gotten their feet wet and interacted with other players and NPCs is a bit easier for them to stay engaged, but initially it’s vital for a potential player to have something to put hooks into. I’ll talk about immersion at another time.

So at the time I was painstakingly collecting the scattered bits of lore they already had and stitching it, like a quilt, into a useful whole.

My work was unappreciated, but that’s beside the point.

So I bought these books and in my own roundabout way I’m recommending them to those who are either learning or polishing their craft.

Simply put, if I were to teach a class on being a Dungeon Master (I can dream can’t I?) this is the series of books I would use as the textbook and teach from.

I only have one fundamental disagreement with the authors method. Personally, when I start building a world, I always always start with the gods.

The gods are the ones that literally create the world. Even without a “Genesis style” creation event, the gods will shape the world based on their desires.

Also, as a man of faith and a student of history, I am acutely aware of how unifying and decisive religion can be. I could list a pile of historical references for this. Christians vs Pagans in Brittania. Christians vs Muslims in Spain. Muslims vs Pagans in Arabia. It’s a long list.

I mean, if you are going to create a society with a patron deity like war god Ares, it’s going to have very different laws and customs than one that devotes itself to harvest god Ceres. Religion is fundamental to law and culture, and thus gods must be created first.

All in all, loved the books. Would recommend.


Ash and Gary Oak

Goku and Vegeta

Wedge Antilles and that weird kid from Tatooine

Rivals are an excellent way of driving the characters in a story to better themselves and push themselves to bech gt theome greater than they already are. The hero often has a riva to lol I’ll okl that he uses to compare himself to, this serves several purposes.

One, it serves as a metric of power. In pokemon, Gary is your metric of power. You clash with Gary several times, and it gives you a feel of whether or not you are progressing along power wise by level in the world.

Two, it serves as a behavioral comparison. Vegeta is an asshole, and while they are rivals in power, we know that whatever the choice they are facing, Vegeta’s plans will always be the asshole plans, and thus the not-heroic plan.

Third, it emphasizes the feeling of a living world. The players are not the only adventurers/space marines/investigators that exist in the world, and yet in the typical game, we never see anyone else doing what the players are doing. Sure, we may see “the wreckage of a doomed expedition”, but never actual adventurers.

“fellow adventurer”

All of that said, actually implementing rivals is a tricky business. See, rpg gamers are programmed like sharks often times, and each encounter/object/npc is weighed with the basic metric.

“Is it food” IE, is this something that I can get a reward from? Will this thing make me stronger?

And “Is it a threat”. Threats are either destroyed or fled from.

Dungeons and Dragons adds one complication to the metric. By granting experience points, all threats that are strong enough to be destroyed are automatically considered food, because they make the player stronger. This everything becomes either food or flee, exactly like a shark.

Rivals, on the other hand, are intended to be neither food nor a threat. This may confuse players used to the traditional game patterns. Like a shark, something that is not not food and not a threat is ignored.

Amusingly enough, this is what happened in my last game. In the classic tavern setting, I put a band of fellow adventurers. They were obviously fellows because they had explicitly fixed a problem the players had created earlier (namely, siccing a flumph on a high class eatery) and the barkeep had given this information to the player. The conversation went like this.

“You move flumph?”

“Why yes, we found it in…”

“You kill it?”

“No, that poor…”

“Where flumph?”

(clears throat) “Well, we got it a room here at the…”

(player walks off to find the room)

Very frustrating for me, the Storyteller, who had put a little effort into fleshing out actual characters to make for interesting conversation. They never even got the man’s name (His name was Sir Chaz Chadwick), just the briefest of descriptions I insisted on putting in before they started talking.

The challenge becomes adding characters that are neither food, nor threat, because the players will kill anyone they think might keep them from “winning.” The best way to win a race isnt to run faster, it’s to destroy the other racers, right?

More tragic video game logic.

You have to break that conditioning.

One thing I do is always set the rivals about two levels ahead of the party. That makes them enough of a threat not to be food, but also not enough of a threat to be fled from.

The other thing I do, and will emphasize more in the future, is having them talked about by other NPCs. I’ve done this in the past, the NPC they are working for said outright he strongly considered hiring the other party over them. They might have made the connection if they had talked long enough to get a name.

One thing I don’t recommend is having them compete for the same goal. At that point they will kill your rival party, because murder hobos will murder.

How do you know if your players are murder hobos? Offer them a house. Hobos don’t have houses. If they sell the house and buy more stabbing equipment, then you’ve got murder hobos (because stabbing), and treat them accordingly.

All of that said, if you end up, by some miracle, with roleplayers in your group, rival parties can make for interesting, deep, and rewarding gameplay mechanic.

Viking Morality

So Vikings; cool guys, axes, beards, boats. I love Vikings. They are dudes you don’t want to screw with, right?

Not someone you want to tease about his ponytail.

So I’ve pontificated a bit on the importance of the heroes in your game being, well, heroic. Traditional heroism, and especially the D&D idea of the hero, is strongly based in medieval chivalry. Those are Christian Chivalric codes, with ideals built in such as “protect the weak” and “respect your betters”.

The problem is, as a pagan people, they have an entirely foreign mindset from what we see represented in the game and it’s historical basis.

The entire Viking Ethos, roughly translated from elder futhark into english, is two phrases.

“Fuck Bitches, Get Money” and “Don’t Start no Shit, Won’t be no Shit”

This leaves us in a bit of a pickle. After all, who among the fantasy archetypes regularly indulges in raiding, taking people crap, and enslaving everybody that survives?

Cannibalism was added later

So if orcs are evil, then viking raiders must also be evil, by the metric of behavior. The only real difference in this example is the raider is human and the orc gets to be a green skinned, easily villified “other kind”.

But Vikings are cool, and eventually someone is going to want to play one.

You really have two options. One, is to keep the honorable brute archetype and ditch the raiding. This will suffice if the players is just looking to play a really big fighter type with an axe, and isn’t looking to embody the actual historical precedent.

But what if you want to run an entire Viking game, where the players are all norse (or norse-ish) and fully embrace the history of it?

Are you just running a villains game at that point?

My suggestion actually sort of comes out of left field. You are going to have to ditch the Judeo-Christian medieval prototype entirely, and pull on your Oriental Adventures book.

Oriental Adventures, at least the 3.X version, has a decently robust honor system, because bushido, and tacks it into the normal alignment system.

Ditch the classic alignment system entirely. You are not going to fit on either the good-evil axis OR the chaotic-lawful axis.

See, behaving with a modicum of honor among your peers would be considered lawful behavior. Kicking the crap out of random peasants and burning everything around you would be considered chaotic. The entire axis is borked when it comes to Vikings.

It would take a bit of homebrew, but remember the First Rule of DMing, “If it doesn’t already exist make it up.”

But most importantly, have fun!