Monthly Archives: May 2011

My Vornheim- Development and Evolution of the Wailing Widow

The beginning of this piece will be the actual creature Herself (eventually I’ll have some art done) and a table to use.  This explains a bit of history, role, etc. Afterwards I will explain the drastic changes  (if anyone gives two poops) that have occurred to the Widow.

Wailing Widow Info

Very few dangerous creatures are tolerated in Vornheim and only one, the Wailing Widow, has the regard of being protected by the law.

This creature is both pitied and feared by the people of Vornheim.  The Wailing Widow was once a human woman who died violently at the hands of her father, brother, or lover.  The spirit of the girl is unable to rest and becomes twisted, full of hatred, rage, and vengeance.  On the anniversary of her death the spirit returns and to slay the man who brutally took her life.  Once this goal ha been achieved the Wailing Widow retreats to dark abandoned areas of the city to continue to hunt men who happen across her way.  A Wailing Widow will hunt women, but will always go for a man first.

The Wailing Widow looks like a woman wearing a black traveling cloak and veil.  This works to her advantage as she blends in with the darkness and can strike quickly.  When in a frenzy or about to attack her cloak opens showing the gown the girl wore when she was murdered and her veil flies of revealing a woman with mad rolling eyes and abrasions and cuts along her face, evidence of her violent death.  Under her dress dark smoke billows out and spider legs and be seen skittering towards her intended prey.

Wailing Widows have several weapons that make them dangerous.  They attempt to lead men into their traps by crying and begging for help or asking someone to stop hurting them.  It is believed that these creatures constantly relive the last moments of their death constantly.  Once a victim is close by the Wailing Widow releases scream that can jar a person, stunning them for a few seconds.  The most dangerous of her weapons is the webbing which she is able to shoot out of her mouth.  This pinkish translucent webbing creates a euphoric effect to those caught in it making it easier for the creature to feed of their life energy and kill them.

The webbing of the Wailing Widow is highly sought after for its euphoric effects.  When dried and mixed with a few choice herbs a powerful psychotropic drug, which has been dubbed Wisps of the Web, is produced.

This drug is a strong cash crop for Vornheim since the material isn’t found anywhere else.  By law of Vornheim the slaying of a Wailing Widow is highly illegal and the offender faces possible jail time, steep fines, or indentured servitude.  Only if there is no other course is a person allowed to slay the creature, however it is almost impossible to prove this (and many whisper that the officials of Vornheim just turn a blind eye to the truth), so usually everyone is found guilty.

Many people venture into the old abandoned areas of Vornheim in an attempt to harvest the webbing.  It is an extremely dangerous job, but pays well.  It can be made more dangerous when multiple Wailing Widows group in the same structure.

 I wanted to create a pretty random set of circumstances for when a person uses Wisps of the Web.  I wanted a few negative ones, but I needed some interesting effects that would keep people using it and the cash flow still coming into Vornheim coffers. 

Wisps of the Web Reaction Chart

1: Have a prophetic vision that you interpret correctly about: 1) Yourself; 2) Friend; 3) Family; 4) Enemy; 5) Vornheim; 6) Other Location.

2: Have a prophetic vision that you interpret incorrectly about: 1) Yourself; 2) Friend; 3) Family; 4) Enemy; 5) Vornheim; 6) Other Location.

3: Euphoric trip that makes you feel popular.  +2 to Charisma during trip (6 hours).

4-6: End up blacking out and waking up in strange place.  See Carousing Table.

7: Assaulted with strange visions from beyond the Void.  You begin ranting incoherently about what you see -2 to Charisma for trip (6 hours).

8-12: A nice hallucinogenic trip.

13-16: The trip started out nice, but has now gone awry and is no longer enjoyable.

17: You can see ghosts and they come to you and begin to tell you their problems, whether you want to hear them or not.

18: You believe that you are invisible.

19: You believe you have super powers.

20: You become empathic and are able to read the emotions and some surface thoughts of people.

Evolution of the Wailing Widow

When I started to develop my Vornheim and I decided I wanted it to be a huge city set in a world that is not quite a dead, but ravaged by something long forgotten and unknown to the living, that makes it dangerous to venture outside of the city I knew I had to create a means of survival that wouldn’t make it a constant struggle.

I created the Portals, Baby’s Tears, and Wisps of the Web.   The Portals and Baby’s Tears are major cash cows and very important, but I won’t really spend any time today covering them.

I thought it would be interesting to have a drug that the State is not only cool with, but actively protects its investments.  I didn’t want the drug to come from the standard arenas (plants) so that left animal/insects.

I decided to go with a spider that had webs that created a euphoric effect on the poor hapless creature stuck in it.  Obviously that effect would want to be duplicated/utilized by alchemists/etc to make money.

The name Wailing Widow popped in my head then and just kinda cemented itself there.  I liked it.  However I didn’t want just a mundane giant (or even small) spider to have this name.  Vornheim is Weird Fantasy after all and this beast should reflect that.

So my brain then went to a normal trope of the Drider.  Again I didn’t really want that as it has been done and I’m just really reskinning.  However I left the modeling there and moved to the creation of the beast.

As described above this is a woman who died a violent death at the hands of a close and intimate male figure in her life.  I knew her creation, however I had gotten stuck on her habitat.

Due to the initial spider idea I had built up the idea that the Wailing Widows lurked in the Shattered Mines, which would create a problem for miners attempting to gather Baby’s Tears and create a problem for the people going deep into the mines to harvest the webs of these creatures.   It just didn’t sit right with me however.

I was going over all this with my girlfriend and after bantering back and forth a bit I decided that the creatures should be in Vornheim itself because this presents a unique problem for the city.  They want this drug because it makes money in the city itself and through the Portals, however you have people going missing, dying, etc.

I thought that the legal protection of these creatures (except under the most dire of circumstances) would add an interesting layer to how someone/the players interacts with this challenge.

Once that had developed Angie gave me a great idea for the look of the creature (which is described above).  I liked the idea of this much more and, to me, it actually makes it more horrifying.  I took it in a more disturbing direction of actually seeing the physical abuse on her face and body (that is visible).   I want these creatures to hit that uncomfortable spot in the brain of pity and perversion.

Here is someone who had a hard life, was killed by someone who should have loved them and protected them and now they are these creatures, forever tortured by the last moments of their lives, doomed to repeat it for all eternity.

Yet while being pitied and feared they are also used and their eternal suffering and murdering of the populace is governmentally backed.

My Vornheim- Some Magical Items

These are magic items I have created for my Vornheim game.  Some of them provide mechanical bonuses (albeit small ones).  I wanted to have most of the magic items be A) Weird and different than the standard fare.  B) Have a difficulty or cost to use that would cause the player question whether or not to rely on the item more than just a mystic Pez dispenser.

Aside: These items are formated for Savage Worlds, but can easily be redone for pretty much any system.

Note to my Players: These will probably end up in game at some point, but that doesn’t mean I won’t have other items in there just to fuck with you.


Magic Items

Cloak of the Damsel- This silky cloak allows the user to turn into a beautiful woman when the hood is raised.  The character gets +4 to charisma rolls.  While wearing this they gain the “Utterly Desirable” Aspect and men (and women) will pursue them (often times leading to trouble.

The problem is taking the cloak off.  The cloak requires the wearer to perform some function of a Damsel (IE- a noble party, wooing a nobleman, damsel in distress, etc).  When the requirement has been met the cloak can be removed.  If not removed in 5 minutes the wearer must do this all over again.

Dagger of Horrible Wounding- This jagged dagger can inflict a grievous wound on the victim and all it asks for in return is help from the wielder.  The Wielder pushes a small button on the handle, which inflicts 1 wound (no save) and this cannot be soaked.  If the dagger hits successfully and the targets toughness is passed the target automatically gets one wound (on top of whatever other damage might be inflicted).  This must be decided before the wielder makes their attack roll.

Bracelet of Cat’s Grace- This simple silver bracelets power only comes out at night.  The wearer’s dexterity goes up by one die level, however the characters eyes become feline like and they suffer -2 to charisma off putting appearance.  Once worn this cannot be taken off until morning.

Summoner’s Blanket- This intricately designed and woven blanket has ancient runes etched onto it.  This blanket serves as a focus for a magic user to channel their energy into this to summon something from the nether to do their bidding.  This blanket gives a +2 to the Magic roll of the Summoner.

Collar of Pain- This black leather collar has small pins that gently stab into the wearer’s neck.  The targets toughness is reduced by 2 while wearing this, but they gain +2 to damage.

The Other Self Cloak- This amorphous mass has some sentience.  It can allow a person to assume the shape of a humanoid it has touched in the past week.

The process is not with out pain however.  The creature stabs small tendrils into the pours of the host and begins reshaping the person’s bones and muscle mass.  The wearer must make a Vigor check (for both putting on and removing the Cloak).  Success= 1 wound.  Success with a raise= Perfectly fine.  Failure= 2 wounds.  *A soak roll can be used for this.  While wearing the cloak the wearer gets +4 to deception type rolls against people who know the “face.”

Here are a bit more “normal” items that will be incorporated in my game.

Torch of Firebreath- This torch has 10 charges.  Functions just like Blast Spell (2d10 Fire Damage).  Target must make a Spirit or Magic Check TN 4 to use.  Failure means nothing happens.  A roll of a 1, regardless of Wild Die results in an explosion (blast) centering on the user and that the charge was consumed in the attempt.

 Poison of the Ruby Asp- This vile concoction is one of the most deadly snakes in the Great Graveyard.  This snakes red sheen and gemmed forehead makes it a sought after prize for that alone.  However its poison is deadly and excruciating.  One vile contains 2 applications.  The target must pass a Vigor Check -4, failure means the target is incapacitated and must roll another Vigor Check -3 to keep from dying.  This poison is a contact poison.  Anyone wishing to put this on their weapons must make a Poison Use Skill check -2.

Choking Cloud Grenade- This grenade lets loose a thick green cloud of stinking gas that causes everyone in a small burst template to gag and cough.  Targets get to roll a Dexterity Test to avoid being caught in the blast.  Failure means they take begin choking and receive 1 level of fatigue and must make a Vigor Check (now -1) to avoid secondary effects.  Secondary effects- The targets eyes are streaming and stinging, they suffer -2 to attacks for the rest of the encounter.  Each round the target is in the cloud they must make the Vigor Save or take an additional level of Fatigue.

 I wanted to create a summoning spell that was simple and quick and allowed for the player to customize exactly what they want (in some fashion).  This hasn’t been play tested yet, so I’m not sure how successful I was in creating it.

 Summoning Ritual- The Base cost for this is 2, and TN 4.  The player then describes what exactly they want to pull forth.  Each degree ups the MP and TN cost by 2.

Others can help on this roll- using their magic or spirit as the test.  They suffer the modifiers as well.  For every success they receive you gain +1 (+2 with a raise).  Summoning takes 10 minutes.

Once the creature has been summoned it must be placed under your domination.  The summoner must roll a Spirit Check VS the Demons Guts (the demon gets a +2).  Success means the creature will stay for the 1d6 hours.  Success and a raise means the creature will stay for 1 day.  Failure means that the creature will act independently.  A roll of 1 on the magic die, regardless of Wild Die, means the creature will go after the summoner and kill them.  They will fight until one is dead.

The base creature is a Glop demon:

Attributes: Agility: d4  Smarts: d6        Spirit:   d6        Strength: d6      Vigor: d6

Skills: Fighting: d6        Guts: d6           Intimidation: d6 Knowledge (?):  d6

Pace:    5          Parry: 5            Toughness:  6 (+1 slick skin).

Claws: Str +d4

Idea- Player (Nate) is half Succubus.  Father/Mother wasn’t who they seemed.  Was demon in possession of body or in disguise.  Character get +1 to Charisma and Charm Person (Puppet Spell) 1x/day.  Rule functions same, save for duration which is 1d4 + Chr Modifier.

My Vornheim Contest Entry

Zak S, the author of Vornheim, is doing a kick ass contest that really speaks to the spirit of the book!

I definitely wanted to throw my hat into the ring for this one (even if I don’t win it is a awesome contest and maybe someone will find some use for this chart).

I went with this because after watching I Hit it With My Axe I noticed Zak always had a chart for potions and peculiar substances.

So here it is (also here is a cleaner nicer PDF versionVial Of Chart):

1 A 1- Dream; 2- Nightmare
2-4 Venom; 1- Snake; 2- Spider; 3- Other**
5 Potion of Fire Breathing
6-7 Insects; 1- Maggots; 2- Flies; 3- Grubs; 4- Locusts; 5- Ticks; 6- Beetles; 7- Butterflies; 8- Spiders
8 Potion of Barbed Skin
9-10 Skin flakes of a leper
11-16 Body Excrement; 1- Spit; 2- Sweat; 3- Blood; 4- Urine; 5- Feces; 6- Semen
17-19 Healing Potion
20 Potion of Water Breathing
21 Potion of Tongues
22-23 Smoke
24 Potion of Resting Sustenance
25-26 Potion of Sleep
27-32 Mold
33-50 Water
51-53 1- Pollen; 2- Honey
54 Potion of Babbling Idiocy
55-75 Liquor
76-78 Germs
79 Potion of Raising of Attribute (temporarily)- 1) Strength; 2- Constitution; 3- Dexterity; 4- Intelligence; 5- Wisdom; 6- Charisma
80 Potion of Lowering of Attribute (temporarily)- 1) Strength; 2- Constitution; 3- Dexterity; 4- Intelligence; 5- Wisdom; 6- Charisma
81 Potion of 1- Shrinking 2- Enlarge
82-86 Acid
87-90 Oil
91-95 Glue
96 Scabs
97 Potion of Dark Vision
98 Sunlight
99 Baby Laughter
00 Liquefied Fat
Vial Of….

** This is a good opportunity to keep your players on their toes. For Other, if it fits your setting, you could say it’s Beaver venom. This departure from the norm will make them question what else is more than “mundane.”

Edit: I kept this system neutral so it could be incorporated in any game.

Vornheim Recap- Session 2

My Vornheim

Obsidian Portal Page

Meeting the Parents

We kicked off the session (where we left off last time) with Philip stuck in the bedroom of a dead soon-to-be Priestess of Tittivilla as a knock and call of a male calling more urgently through the door.

Philip ran to the window and attempted to climb out onto the ledge. However he lost his footing and ended up with his head and arms stuck in the window while his feet dangled towards a 90ft drop.

The door knocked in and a large man with concern etched on his face ran to the bed, oblivious of the unwelcome stranger dangling precariously out the window. The man’s concern turned to shock and grief as he discovered his daughter was dead.

Philip seized opportunity of the man’s emotional pain and quietly heaved himself out of the window, slinked across the room and down the hallway grabbed the man’s coat and headed out the door as a ravaged pain scream tore from the bedroom. Philip heard two women exclaim concern and footfalls coming from the kitchen. He quickly closed the door and made his way towards the 4th floor bridge which connected to the tower that housed the Whining Dog Saloon on the 1st floor.

Walking along the bridge Philip nonchalantly threw the coat over the ledge of the bridge.

Aside: I rolled randomly to see if Keplin was around. I rolled a d100 and gave a 25% chance. I rolled a 02. Not only was Keplin walking by to the Whining Dog Saloon, but the coat landed on him.

Keplin searched the pockets, found some gold and a bracelet for the now dead girl and walked into the Saloon just as a sweaty Philip arrived. The coat provided a nice bit of RPing between Fletch and Liam.

The two drank for a few and decided to go hit up the local Jobs Office to make some spare coin.

Anger Issues

As Philip and Keplin walked towards the Jobs Office they literally ran into an 8’ ½” Orc staring down at them. Looking at Fletch, “You Keplin?” the large orc rumbled.

“Yeah. What of it?”

“Come with me down this alley way to discuss business.”

Keplin shrugged and walked into the aforementioned alley with Philip bringing up the rear, keeping an eye on the lumbering orc.

Sitting on a trashcan was a 3’ Halfling a white tunic and a Lynx fur vest.

I introduced them as Happen Ankle-Bitter and his lieutenant Targrak. I role-played out that Happen was in a bit of a problem. Keplin’s dad owed him a bit of money ($2,000) and that Keplin could either do a job for him (assassinating a Noble who has been giving Happen too much trouble) or he’ll take the payment out of his father, “I’ll brake his fucking legs and make sure he never works in the steam pipes again. He’ll be a useless cripple. Got me?”

Aside: Fletch took an interesting approach on this. I figured he would charge the little bullying bastard or something. Instead he calmly rebuked the threat to his family and then tried to get more money out of the situation.

Happen nodded at Targrak who made a grab to face-palm Philip, who proved to be too agile for the large creature. A quick fight broke out, with the players getting the upper hand. However before anything more than an unconscious Targrak could be accomplished, Happen (at wounds -1) threw a gas grenade at the players, who failed their saves, and ended up unconscious.

At this point Nate (Terra) joined us on Skype and I tied him into the story. Having him walk from his apartment towards the Whining Dog Saloon he ran into his friends just coming to as onlookers gathered.

Here the group went back to the Saloon, Liam almost died twice due to botched Healing Rolls by Fletch (which we are now calling “Orc Healing.” In the dungeon coming up he killed two enemies by healing them.

While resting up, Karl and his daughter Elywnn arrived and were ready to hit the sewers to find the gangers who were selling boot-legged Wisps of the Web.

Into the Stinking Depths of Vornheim

This next session of the review I am going to describe the layout of my sewer dive and a few highlights. There was quite a bit of role-playing and hilarity during the dive, but I will gloss over that for the sake of (possibly) useful information to others.

Tidbit of Flavor Info for my Vornheim- The sewers (as you’ll see in the notes below) are quite expansive and I got to thinking how the city accomplished creating these huge cylindrical tunnels that are about 10 ½ feet tall and about that wide.

Zak mentions Grub fighting as a past time in Vornheim and I decided that I wanted emphasize that even further. In the past long forgotten Vornheim grew too fast and did not have an adequate sewage system. Filth and plague was very common.

The leaders of the great city knew it was only a matter of time before plague killed off the entire population. The leaders bred massive grubs and had “handlers” guide them through the solid rock beneath the city, creating massive tunnels. As the grubs burrowed and created what was to be the new sewer system, indentured servants laid down the brick and mortar along the walls and added grates, doors, levies, etc.

This is how the great sewer system of Vornheim, which spans over a hundred miles, was created

Here are my notes from the game and the map:

This map is to “simulate” the long winding sewers under Vornheim. Each one of the pipes drawn on the map is actually 4 pipes heading in that direction. Each tunnel is 500 feet long. One lump equals 2,000 feet distance. Roughly each lump is 30 minutes of travel. That is not including fighting/excursion/role-playing. If the players want to “hoof it” to make better time, Agility rolls must be made. Failure means more time taken and possible injury.

They start in the Sewers at 6pm. They have until midnight to get to area.

Click to Enlarge

On room 1 and every two rooms after roll for a random encounter in the sewers. Roll 1d6. On a 5-6 there is a random encounter of some sorts.

1- Hear skittering but can’t see anything.
2- Find a skeleton 1) Animal; 2) Humanoid Adult; 3) Humanoid Child; 4) Monster.
3- Wall falls down- 3 Goblins are burrowing through tunnels w/ pick axes. Seem shocked. Try to run away. *Only once*
4- Rats scurrying around.
5- A bloated corpse completely looted.
6- Several bodies have been dumped here. There is a grate above you. The bodies have been brutalized, their skin flayed off in many areas. Seems ritualistic *Only Once*
7- Sewer Folk. Seem skittish. Filthy.. Mention that they are protected by their King.
8- 1) Group runs into thick spider webs that are wet and sticky. 2) Group hears a hissing and a splashing. Water ripples.
9- Monster Encounter.
10- Monster Encounter.

1- Giant Spider 1d4 +1
2- Rabid Rats Swarm
3- 1) Halfling Thug; 2) Human Thug; 3) Elven Thug; 4 Dwarven Thug 1d3
4- Corpse Grubs 1d2
5- Choker
6- Goblins
7- Semi-Sentient Refuse Pile. This fight can be avoided if item it desires is given to it. Roll character then roll on their items.
8- Roll twice- these are fighting each other and players stumble upon them.

I also had the Great Albino Spider Snake going around. I wanted this fight to occur at the end.

I had a few variations prepared depending on when the players actually got the far room in the upper right corner. The GASS (shut up about the acronym) could arrive before the player and have the gangers already killed and be lurking in the water (especially if the players arrived late). This is how it played out actually.

The Snake could come after the gangers were taken care of by the player or even during that conflict, just depending on how I rolled.

Highlights/Encounters of the Dive:

Goblins crashing through the brick completely excited at their accomplishment only to be frightened back into the darkness by a howl by Philip.

Tera slipping down a slope and getting completely submerged in fetid sewer water.

The group running across the Semi-Sentient Refuse Pile (I was extremely happy I rolled this one). The item it wanted was Keplin’s lamp. It kept lumbering after him saying, “Mmmmmmmmmiiiiiiinnnnnnneeeeeeee….” They had no clue until it lashed out and took it away from Keplin and moved away. Fletch pouted quickly then moved on.

Tera sneaking up 4 Sewer Folk and hearing their conversation about the King having trouble in Lower Vornheim, but that he’s promising more food than just toad and fungus soon.

The group being ambushed by 2 human ganger sentries. In the fight, Karl (NPC) was killed, yet Elwynn kept it together. The group tortured the two by Orc Healing, killing one then shooting the other in the head with a crossbow.

The Big Snake

As the fight ended the group heard screaming coming from ahead where the deal took place. Tera and Philip went to investigate and came upon a scene of total carnage. Dead bodies and pieces were strewn all across the floor.

Suddenly Philip heard a noise behind him and turned around just in time to dodge out of the way of a gigantic pure white snake with red eyes with spider legs coming out from its underbelly. The creature was about the size and height of a bull elephant.

Nate: “Holy shit.”

Liam: “Are you fucking kidding me?!”

The fight was very fast and the group actually made quick work of the GASS. Once it was knocked to wounds -1 I had it roll a check and it retreated back into the water and disappeared.

We ended the session with the group looting the bodies, picking up the undamaged container of Wisps of the Web, and getting level 2.

How My GMing Style Has Changed and Where I Want to go From Here

This is a reflective post that looks at my GMing stint over the past 16 years and what has changed. I will be looking at many of my faults, realizations, and revelations.

On 05/12/11 I launched a series of posts on Zak Sabbath’s Vornheim City Building Kit starting with a review and diving into how I took that book and created my own world with it.

Here is the links to those posts:

Part I- Overview and System Decisions

Part II- Player Questionnaires

Part III- Creation of the World- Races

Part IV- Creation of the World around Vornheim

Part V- Final Bits and Pieces

Part VI- Player’s Answers to Questionnaires

Session 1 Recap

Vornheim Review

In the first post about my take on Vornheim I mentioned that the book woke up ideas/philosophies that have long been dormant in my brain. Some of these ideas that have been asleep have caused niggles in my gaming subconscious that proved irksome, but were hard to nail down as a single entity. These were issues that have spaced themselves out, so it was hard for me to identify them. Or traps I, as a GM, should have avoided, but fell into as time has gone on.

Reading Vornheim and what Zak stated and accomplished with it really drove a spike in my brain (and it hurt quite a bit) that got me to look at these niggling bits and pieces that I have been unhappy with in my games, myself, what was causing them, and where I wanted to go from here on out.

Also I have been reading many awesome blogs that have also been commenting on these niggles. I wanted to give them due credit as well.


Disclaimer: This stream of consciousness is not meant to offend anyone who plays a way I find dissatisfying, that’s your call and what makes you happy. I do not mean to offend any of my players (if they actually read my blog) by what I state here, it is just a reflection/critique on my GMing.

I have broken this post down into the following categories to make it easier to follow my train of thought:

Over-Cumbersome Rules

Many who look at this may already start to see a theme here: Old School VS New School. While that is definitely a theme in this post it is more than that for me.


I was introduced to role-playing when I was 15 by way of AD&D. My friend ran myself and my friend Brian through a game and we had a blast. He had 2 books: The Players Handbook and the Dungeon Masters Guide. He didn’t have any of the kit books, the monster manual(s), or campaign settings.

The DM had given me those two books because he had another set at home. I read through the books, created a quick world, kidnapped some people and made them my friends, and bam we were playing!

As the next few years went on my homebrew worlds became a little bit more detailed (or too detailed in some cases) but I always created my own worlds and my players always enjoyed them (probably because they didn’t know any better… the poor sods).

Eventually I made the switch to 3.x, bought the books, only to have to be told that 3.5 was coming out in 6 months, so I bought those as well. We kept playing in one of my homebrew lands using the new system(s). I started to develop a problem however, feeling that I was over-detailing my world and my players (this was a sandbox style game) weren’t going to many of the areas I had so lovingly created (which is their damned right! I wasn’t mad at them for this but I was disappointed because an area I was excited about wasn’t discovered or a NPC that I thought would prove interesting ended up with his head on a pike, etc). Time was becoming an issue as well due to college and a full time job, so I wasn’t able to dump as much effort into world creation/management as I wanted.

My friend was really excited about the Eberron campaign setting that was coming out and was pushing me to get it and run it. I read it and it was a damned cool setting. What got me was just how detailed it was (I had never even picked up a campaign setting prior to this). I started wondering if I had been doing my world creation wrong and felt inferior to the greatness of Keith Baker.

Second I believed that a authored Campaign Settings would minimize my work load. “What do I care if the characters never get to the Demon Wastes? Sure it’s cool, but I didn’t create it. I didn’t put in the effort.”

While I think that there is validity to the statement of a minimized workload there is also the “not knowing” and having to refer to the book multiple times.

After several years of running campaigns in Eberron, and a few others briefly, the idea of homebrew world creating became foreign, intimidating, and daunting. I now looked at what was in these authored settings and thought that I couldn’t compete and my players would not find my creations as interesting. Every time I started to step up to the bat to create a world I let myself get beaned and walked (wow.. I just made a sports reference… god).

Recently the homebrew has begun to seem more enticing and the established settings more restricting. The final break for me was reading the Freeport book by Green Ronin (which is where one of my current games is located). This is a good book which is richly detailed and has everything someone needs to make a good story, but I think it is too loaded with information. Roughly 300 pages is a huge amount of information about one city.

My dissatisfaction with established settings reached a pinnacle and I decided to venture onto the internet and look to fellow bloggers advice for doing homebrew to see if they could help me overcome this new fear I had developed.

Here are two amazing posts Sandboxing World Creation:
Bat in the Attic- This one is for pretty damned detailed worlds, but still really useful.

DnD With Porn Stars- This one is more quick and dirty (no that is NOT a pun, although it is now) that will get the job done easy (double damn).

ChicagoWiz- A great bit of advice on prepping for Sandbox creation

So thanks the inspiration and foundation laid out by Vornheim and to a ton of great info I’ve found on the web, most notably on I have conquered that fear and have created my own sandbox.

Now let us move onto the next issue.

Over-Cumbersome Rules

I believe that 3.x was a reaction to the free form rules or possible lack of rules of its predecessors, just as Bebop Jazz was a reaction to the rigid commercial conformity of Swing/Big Band Jazz.

I remember playing AD&D and would come across a spell that would just state it did a MASSIVE amount of damage (Creeping Doom I’m looking at you) over a large area, but not how that damage was distributed.

3.x and on has a rule for everything. Jumping, running speeds, lighting, sleeping on a slope VS sleeping on flat ground affecting resting rates, and bowel movement speeds per race. The list goes on and on.

When I first got into 3.x, which was a only a bit before 3.5, I welcomed many of the rules because they did provide clarity and allowed everyone to know what was going on (not just relying on my arbitration).

However now I’m finding those rules hindering in two ways. 1) Rule Diving. Something comes up and I don’t know the rule, my reaction (especially at first but not anymore) and my player’s reaction was to grab the PHB and look up the rule.

Later on when I realized how much this was slowing/bogging the game down I started going back to making split decisions based on the stimuli and situation. However I now had to contend with rules lawyers who argued about a rule for jumping that they remember or blocking or holding their breath or whatever. A small debate/argument possibly would ensue. I would put my foot down, I’m the DM and this is my decision so deal with it.

Rules-lite systems are not perfect and not without their fair shares of hassles and complications (both mechanically and in terms of players) but I’m tired for having rules for everything and need to break away from that constraint.


This one is quick and pretty simple. I’m tired of tons of books being released with so many options, power creeps, and the like. I went crazy in my 3.5 days and bought SO MANY splat books because of new feats, spells, and classes. Most of then never got used or, or worse they did, and they introduced a mechanic I wasn’t familiar with and thus diving into the rules to figure it out ensued.

I have no problem with RPG books coming out, if they didn’t the industry would die! However I would like more constructive books with tools on world building, campaign creation, NPCs, etc come out that explore a huge amount of options, opinions, etc to be released instead of this constant stream of classes, spells, and etc.

That is one of the reasons I love Vornheim so much. It gives more useful information to building a City (even pre-established) and truly making it yours quickly.


This also can be called another name, “Player Entitlement.” Treasure Parcels, Standard Dungeon Treasure Rewards, XP bundles, or whatever. I’ve seen people espousing on blogs or in a few pick up games I’ve played in/witnessed since 3.x about not “liking” their magic weapon or wanting to find another one, or why haven’t they gotten more magical items, or whining about the amount they got in a dungeon, etc etc.

Now this may be a knee jerk reaction for me, but my first inclination is… “what the fuck?”

As a player you are entitled to fun around the game table with a couple friends, some shitty food, dick and fart jokes, and engaging in a (hopefully) cool story. That’s as far as the entitlement goes.

In a game I was in (AD&D) the DM gave me a dagger that did an additional 1d4 poison damage when I was level 2 or something. I remember I almost DIED getting that dagger and when I got it (by my own cleverness) it was the sweetest prize ever. I also had that dagger till I was about level 10. I think I had gotten one other magic item at that point, a cloak that did something minor.

It just never entered into my mind, or the other players for that matter, to whine about it. If the Magic User had gotten a dagger he would have been tickled pink as well. I just don’t like that books now-a-days advocate “material” rewards as part of the story. Are they a bonus? Yes. Are they awesome? Yes. Are they mandatory? Not in the slightest.

Players and Improvisation

These two go hand in hand for me so I’m just gonna squeeze them together.

One thing that I have had a really awesome track record at is getting people to try role-playing, enjoy it, and actually become a player. The other problem is that I tend to be the only one who DMs. I understand that it is a huge effort and is quite time consuming so I can see why people tend to shy away from the captains chair.

However what has ended up happening is that I have a pretty large gaming table. On a low day I have 3-4 players and on a high day I have 7-9 players. My preferred table is a max of 5, but I’m not gonna deny someone who wants to hang and have fun a chance to play.

However I need to get back to my smaller game venue. As much fun as large games can be, something is lost in them; the ability for real personal character explorations and stories. I’m not saying that they don’t exist or are impossible. I just think that in large groups, for a functional story that includes everyone there has to be sacrificing of some freedoms and spotlight time. It’s simple to develop meaningful stories that really hit home to a character/player when there are 3-5 of you as opposed to 9. The kind of stories and situations that I really enjoy engaging in belong to a smaller more intimate venue.

Another situation that has arisen is improvisation. I am pretty damned good at it, but I used to be way better. It is a skill that has rusted with time due to a lack of use (in some ways).

The people I used to play with in Montana are the “give them a lemon and they’ll open a restaurant” type. There was no end to some of the crap they would come up with. Our game table was dynamic with awesome action/reaction going on from everyone. They thrived in a sandbox/open environment.

Some of my players in NJ are of a different breed. The important thing to disclaim here is that many are casual or REALLY casual gamers and is not a slight against them, their play-style or anything like that. This is just a comparison of two different play groups.

I think that the problem with my rusting improvisation skills is two-fold. 1) The size of the table really does hinder the ability to go anywhere and do anything because nothing would really ever get done and there is too much downtime for each player. So things become slightly more linear or constructed.

I tend to construct my adventures down a plot point basis. If my players come up with something I didn’t think of or want to do something different or hit it from a different angle, awesome I roll with the punches, make shit up and we’re golden. Does this happen often? Not really.

2) Some of my players like being told what to do or can’t give me feedback and I have to push and prod to get something, which can be frustrating and demoralizing to me. I do not fault them, blame them, or wish them ill.

So Really is There a Point to Any of This?

I just wanted to expound what is going on in my gamer head because there might be people out there who feel the same way and it always helps to have someone else to relate to.. except with evil cults… That’s never good.

I also wanted to map out, for my own edification, as well as others where I’m going with gaming. I’m going back to my roots. I’m taking some of the new school mentality back to really quick and rules-lite systems (that don’t necessarily have to be OSR), like Savage Worlds, Lamentations of the Flame Princess, and AGE.

I’m looking to once again play a more sandbox style game and rely more on my improvisation and intuition. I am cutting down on the large game table to once a month and upping my small game with my MT friends via Skype to twice a month.

I’m really looking to get back into that DIY feel that I had when I first discovered the hobby rather than relying on an abundance of books and telling myself that it is easier this way.

I really am looking forward to where this “new gaming adventure/rekindling of my past love being made anew” will take me. My love for this hobby isn’t going anywhere, and neither am I (although you may have hoped). I gotta keep challenging myself before I become set in something and stale.

My Vornheim- Player Questionnaires Answered

This is a part six in a series of posts that will outline my homebrew campaign that utilizes the Vornheim Complete City Kit.

Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, and Part V.

Here are the answers that my players came up with to the questions I asked them.

Questionnaire 1- Nate

1) When you were young you were bit by an asp and managed to survive. Some say you are blessed and others cursed.. How do you feel and why?

A: Some same I am blessed, some say I’m cursed, I say I’m lucky and I’ll keep playing the odds until I’m not. People read to much in to stories.

2) Vornheim looks beautiful in what season and what time of day? Why?

A:Vornheim, in the fall just after the leaves fall, the lonlieness after the jubilation of summer is enchanting.

3) What do you tell friends about yourself that isn’t true?

A: A question that is almost always answered by a lie, how much I owe, how old I am, what I know, the truth depends on the beholder.

4) What instrument can you play? Why?

A: I’ve played the lute since I was a child, but I only play it alone now.

5) When alone and in the dark you…?

A: Find where the treasure is, whatever that may be.

6) You have a gem worth 200 gold in your pocket. How did you get it and why can’t you sell it?

A: I won it off an illegal bet, or stole it at an opportune moment.

7) Why do you react the way you do when threatened?

A: Hasn’t Answered Yet.

8 ) What are you most proud of about yourself? What is your biggest fault?

A: Pride is in the display, in the talk, and hopefully no one will notice all the mistakes that haunt my life.

9) Why do you favor the color ________?

A: Dark blue; reminds me of the cold pools of my child hood, and i could swim and float in peace.

10) What creed do you live by?

A: Who Dares, Wins.

11) You are afraid of _______________. Why?

A:I’m afraid of people learning about my past. My debts and problems now, are nothing compared to the troubles I escaped.

12) Who is living in your immediate family?

A: As far as I know, my husband and child are still alive, but that’s been many years.

13) How did you meet the group? Why stick together?

A: I met the group at the contracted job boards. After we brought in a good haul I challenged them to a game of chance and took most of their money. These are people I can stick with.

14) What is your name?

A: There’s a nickname everyone calls me by, Terra. My real name Daneya Roa’dell, is the answer, to this riddle, which has a prize at the bar I work at if anyone cares to wager a few gold on guessing my name.

Questionnaire 2- Liam

1) Your mom sang a song to you when you as a child. Why do you cry now when you hear it?

A: Because my family fell on hard times and my family sold me into being a human lab-rat.

2) What did your grandfather give you give you or say to you as a child?

A: “Never forget who you are and from where you come”–a silver pocket watch with a gold filigree.

3) Why do you favor ___________ weapon over all others?

A: Wakizashi it is an ideal weapon for a noble who never knows if he’ll be on the offensive of defensive.

4) The glass is half empty or half full? Why?

A: The glass is half empty…because everything good always comes to an end usually quite suddenly.

5) You have a reoccurring nightmare. What is it about? Where does it stem from?

A: The dream is of me as a young child camping in the woods before my grandfather’s death when suddenly we are surrounded by a pack of wolves that look absolutely ravnous when suddenly they attack my grandfather and i watch them tear is body apart while i am frozen there in terror watching them gnaw on his bones.–It presumably stems from some traumatic experience i had as a child which i have repressed and have no conscious recollection of.

6) What are you really good at? What do you wish you were better at?

A: I am really good at going unnoticed yet am equally clumsy.

7) On an average day what is in your pockets? Why?

A: The watch my grandfather gave me and usually a small amount of coin and a couple pieces of jerky.

8 ) Coming from a noble family why do you sometimes “slum”?

A: Because i realize nothing is right in the world and sometimes you have to do what is right even if it means questionable means to an end.

9) You have a habit or twitch that drives the group crazy. What is it?

A: Unbeknown to me my eyes flash between my nature color of hazel to an ice blue of an arctic wolf….or am constantly checking my pocket watch with no real concern of the time.

10) Old people creep you out. Why?

A: They remind me the walking dead with their sagging skin and their varicose veins and their boney structure.

11) What do you want to accomplish before you die?

A: Return to my family.

12) Who is living in your immediate family?

A: My younger brother and twin sister and my grandmother.

13) How did you meet the group? Why stick together?

A: I have no recollection of how we got together but i know we have been through a lot and that i probably owe them my life.

14) What is your name?

Philip Phineas Balder Molineaux.

Questionnaire 3- Fletch

1) An old crone read your fortune four days ago. What did she say? How do you feel?

A: I was told my life will be in much peril, most of which will be brought on by my companions. Which is the norm in this city. The crone also said “You know not what your truly seek, for you to find this answer you must travel with a band of misfits and trouble makers.”

2) Why do you strive to make your father proud?

A: Father is a Steamer (plumber for steam pipes) for the dangerous works dpt., knowing how to fight is half the requirement to work there. Any way I’m a bastard of father and a whore in outer town, he raised me to know how to fight and work. I could have turned out much worse or dead, I do what I can to show him my thanks.

3) You feel ______________ about bullying. Why? What happened?

A: I know it’s wrong so I try to stop it where I see it, because of the neighborhood gang was beating up someone I knew from the area so I jumped to help and got my beat up too, but I still do the same from time to time.

4) Your house burned down. You saw your puppy, an old photo of your grandmother, and an old tome of knowledge but could only save one. Which did you choose and why?

A: Puppy, There are other photos of grandmother, tomes can be replaced but I love that dog.

5) When a friend is in danger you ________________. Why?

A: I will stand with them or run with them, depending on the situation. it’s just the way I was raised.

6) You have your mom’s necklace. What does it mean to you and why?

A: Not too much, but I can’t bring myself to sell it, I some time have a romantic that she gave me to my father cause she loved me enough to know she couldn’t give me a good life.

7) What does Vornheim mean to you?

A: Its where the rump rests, I’ve heard of the portals and wouldn’t mind going there.

8 ) Your birthday is next week, what do you want? Why? Why won’t anyone get it for you?

A: There’s a set of brawlers shocker gloves at a pawn shop, but pops told me if I want something as dangerous as that I can buy them my damn self. There’s know one else I can ask.

9) Other people’s opinions matter to you in what way?

A: For most people I could care less what they think, but for people that are friends I try to keep in good graces.

10) When you were a kid you got lost in Vornheim. What happened? What did you discover?

A: It started with me running away from a street gang, I made a lot of random turns to ditch the guys, how were very persistent over 3 miles or better, when I found that I was in an area very unknown to me. A square filled with all manner of people, with a ring in the center. Thinking it was a festival of some kind I began to walk around and watch.

During the fights people were placing bets and cheering for one or the other fighter. I watched for a few fights with great enthusiasm before I came back to myself and had the since to find my way home, ever since I’ve wanted to become a fighter of note.

11) What do you routinely do? What will happen if you don’t or aren’t able to do it?

A: Not answered yet.

12) Who is living in your immediate family?

A: Only one known to me is my father.

13) How did you meet the group? Why stick together?

A: At the contracted jobs office common room in front of the board of jobs. We all agreed that the highest paying jobs we could get would be easier and faster as a group, and we have worked well as a team so far.

14) What is your name?

A: Keplin by name, bruiser by reputation.

The Superhero With the Most Arches!

After much painstaking research, calculations, and divining I have figured out the superhero with the most Arch-Villains..

No it isn’t Batman.
Or Superman.
Or Spiderman.
Wolverine isn’t even close.

I give you the Master Crime Fighter!

She'll getchu by your OWN admission!

Let’s look at the statistics:
12 Seasons
Roughly 22 Episodes Per Season
4 TV Movies
Estimated Crimes Thwarted: Over 268.

That is an astounding number of evil-doers rotting in jail contemplating how they are going to get back at the meddling Jessica Fletcher!

The astonishing thing is that she did it all through observation and conversation! No superpowers! No fists of fury! Just quick wit and keen observation!

Take THAT Batman! She doesn’t have a Utility Belt! She’s just got a vial of arthritis and blood pressure meds!

Aside: I actually am a Murder She Wrote fan (my girlfriend weeps). I have watched every episode. I am a huge fan of Murder/Mystery and love things like this show or Agatha Christie novels/BBC specials. I’m pretty damned good at solving them too.

Guest Post by anarkeith- Homebrewing an Alternative to 4e Powers

Many of us know anarkeith, but don’t really know him (oooo that sounds so deep I hope some of you are clicking your finger in appreciation while I continue this beat man). While anarkeith doesn’t have his own blog he IS an active participant of RPGbloggers! Many of you will probably find, through past reflections, that anarkeith has visited your blog and commented, offering positive and constructive feedback or his own inspirations/aspirations pertaining to your post.

anarkeith and I have been chatting for quite some time now and I have talked with him on his homebrew systems and was more than happy to offer him the chance to do a post about it here.

So without any more preamble here it is!

I’ve been a DM running various editions of Dungeons & Dragons on and off since 1979. I soldiered through the transition between 3rd edition and 3.5 because the 3.5 books were so much better organized, I could more easily find the vast amount of rules information I needed access to. Eventually, I burned out on the overhead. The game had become too complicated to prep and run for my available time.

Just before 4th edition was released I ran a spontaneous game for a group of kids. We had a d6, a pencil, and a few sheets of paper. We all had a blast for about four hours. That experience rekindled my interest in D&D. But I was determined to play something rules-light. I worked up some d20-based rules that, while imbalanced (I’m a graphic designer by trade and training, not a mathematician), ran fine. My old 3rd edition group dove into it enthusiastically, and a new campaign was born.

Even with internet access, PDFs, and a myriad other resources, the task of converting monsters, traps, and other game elements soon began to chew up too much time. In addition, as the players leveled their PCs, it became apparent that the imbalances were getting worse. Most encounters were relatively non-threatening, and there was little tension in the game.

By this time 4th edition had been out for a while, I’d had some hands-on time with it, and my players were open to trying it out. The conversion went pretty smoothly, and we enjoyed continuing the campaign using the same characters, but with different game mechanics.

A number of factors influenced my encounter design for our early experiences with 4th edition. I had played some World of Warcraft, as well as several single- and multi-player console games. Early published materials used the combat-heavy “delve” format. The powers attributed to PCs in 4th edition had a distinct combat orientation. So, we ended up with a lot of combat encounters. In general, this was fine. Most of the group had fun. The watchers and the tacticians were content. The storyteller and the explorers, not so much.

Over time however, the group lost a bit of its fascination with the proceedings. I launched a second play group of more “focused” players to see if there was something I could do better. I emphasized the story and exploration, but spiced it with regular combat encounters. Still, I was running the game with the delve-mindset. Finally, one of the players arrived at the table with a freshly-leveled PC and announced that his new daily power was probably broken. When he easily wiped out an elite monster several levels above his, this seemed to have been confirmed. 4th edition had morphed into what troubled me about 3rd: Too complex. And, seemingly too complex for its own designers, who were (perhaps) losing the balance they’d originally set out to bring to the game.

As all this was going on, I resolved to have another try at home-brewing rules. This time however, I had the modular components of 4th edition to use as a framework. The Dragon Age RPG from Green Ronin, and ideas from the many great blogs that can be found on the RPG Bloggers Network also influenced me.

Looking at the powers in 4th edition, I identified a number of key conditions that they applied to enemies and/or allies in combat. I reduced the number of conditions in the published materials to a more limited list (grouping the existing conditions under these headings to aid in roleplaying.) For example, Blind, Deaf, etc., became “No Sense”. The player could supply the flavor behind “No Sense” as part of describing their action. Throwing a cloak over the orc’s head. Detonating a thunderclap beside the kobold’s ears to deafen it.

Next, I assigned numerical values to encounter, utility, and daily powers. Each PC in my home-brew system has a number of points, depending on their level, and in some cases modified by their ability scores. During combat encounters, they spend the points for dice of damage, or tactical options like applying conditions to enemies. The key is that they decide, based on the situation, what conditions to apply, or how many dice of damage (up to a level-based limit) they want to inflict. I felt like this overcame the artificial feel of once-per-encounter or once-per-day effects.

Here are the tactical options available for weapon-users. Each costs one point, and the maximum number of points a 1st through 8th level character could spend per attack is four. Note that I’ve divided them into specialties that are restricted by class/role:

1) Universal (available to all weapon users)
a. 1[W, where “W” is a die that varies by weapon] damage
b. Grab (range: melee 1; target restrained until it escapes or you end the grab)
c. Knock Prone (range: melee 1; no move)

2) Martialist (e.g., your typical D&D Fighter)
a. Cleave (strike an additional target; target must be adjacent to attacker)
b. Disarm (no attack)
c. Press (push target 1 square and shift into the space that the target occupied)
d. Intimidating Charge (when you charge, target suffers -2 on next attack)

3) Skirmisher (e.g., your typical D&D Thief/Rogue)
a. Blindside (gain combat advantage)
b. Switch Positions (exchange positions with adjacent target)
c. Tumble Past (shift 1 square)
d. Fusillade (no sense)

4) Hunter (e.g., your typical D&D Ranger)
a. Volley Fire (strike an additional target; target must be adjacent to, or the same as original target)
b. Vulnerable Prey (when target has no adjacent allies, target suffers -2 on next attack)
c. Hit and Run (shift a number of squares equal to 1 + Wisdom modifier)
d. Hunter’s Fury (strike an additional target with off-hand weapon, attack is Dex vs AC, target must be adjacent to attacker. Special: You can use this option only once per round.)

Note that durations of all effects are until the end of your next turn, unless otherwise defined.

So, a fighter on scoring a hit might choose three dice of damage (3 points), and the Disarm option (target unable to attack until the end of the fighter’s next turn.) Or, if the circumstances are favorable (e.g., a nearby yawning chasm), the fighter might choose to spend a point (or two) on the Press option, effectively harrying the creature into the chasm (or at least prone on the edge.)

Thus, tactical considerations are part of “building” the attack. And, there’s no artificial constraint on duplicating specific options, other than the “fatigue” modeled by running out of points.

The point-recovery system I developed basically says that during a short rest PCs automatically recover points equal to their unspent points in hand. You’re allowed one short rest after an encounter. In addition to the automatic recovery, players may elect to make a DC 12 Constitution or Wisdom check to regain 50% of your used combat or magic points (respectively), rounded down. I use a similar system for hit point recovery. My design goal was to give combats more serious, and potentially lasting consequences. I’m still playtesting these options, as they may be a bit generous towards the players. Ideally, PCs will deal out more damage, and should recover a bit more slowly than standard 4e. I’m using D&D Monster Vault and Monster Manual 3 monsters almost exclusively as enemies, as they tend to deal more damage and seem better designed from a play perspective.

In combat, weapon users roll to hit, and if successful, then they decide how they want to apply points. Spellcasters are required to expend their points in advance, and then roll to hit. I did this because I handled spells similarly to the tactical options I provided for the weapon users. The result is a pretty powerful approach to magic use, in which spellcasters can literally create spells on-the-fly. There is a menu of duration, area of effect, dice of damage, and other options that spellcasters use to construct their spells. I’ve provided each of my players with converted versions of their 4th edition spells, and in addition, I’ve converted some spells from previous editions as examples of how my home-brew rules can be used. Rituals are treated just like other spells. When their effects fall outside the menu of options I’ve created (which is, admittedly combat-oriented), I use the level of the ritual or previous-edition spell as a guideline to determine casting cost.

My two groups each have a couple of sessions under their belts, and as I gather more data, I may alter some of the numbers. My goals for it were to replace the Library-of-Alexandria list full of 4th edition powers with something more playable, to make combat faster, more dangerous, and more heroic, and to give my players a sort of “essential” form of their character to play with. Taking those goals into account, I’ve also resolved to continue to incorporate opportunities for exploration, storytelling, and role-playing into my game sessions. I will include opportunities for combat, but my encounter design is taking into account other options for resolution that the players might choose.

You can find the specifics of what I’ve done so far in the house rules section of the Obsidian Portal wiki for my campaign, in the empire of the Dominium.

I’d like to thank Mike Evans for providing input, and the space to talk about this project, and I hope to be able to provide more details as we proceed and evolve these house rules. I’d also like to thank my players, especially Randy who has his own fantastic, and completely home-brewed set of rules, which inspired the magic system. And to Dave and Adam who are quick to point out exploitable weaknesses and relish the opportunity to exploit them, while doing so with playful spirits. In the spirit of the internets, I’m open to comments and criticism. As the robots of the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation like to say, “Share and Enjoy!”

Vornheim 1st Session Recap

My Vornheim

There will be role-playing and analytical descriptions in this post.

When pondering how I wanted to start my Vornheim game I was at a cross roads, not really able to commit to one particular path until I read a post by Zak over on his blog that kind of gave me some focus on how I wanted things to kick off.

From the way my players answered their questionnaires, each seemed to be on the lower rung of the law or moral compass. Yes, there is some channeling of Han Solo for these characters and that is what makes them interesting and unpredictable.

So I decided that Nate and Liam would wake up, hung over, in a jail cell with no recollection as to what happened or how they got there. The focus here was not a mystery of what happened or solving it (as in the Hangover) but just to give a feel of the mood of my Vorhnheim, plus highlight what I had seen on their character sheets in a small way.

Not only did they find themselves in a jail and not knowing how, but both were basically wearing a burlap sack.

Nate’s character Terra and Liam’s character Phillip were greeted by Constable Narrix and after establishing him as someone that Terra has known and is on friendly terms with I highlight exactly why they are in jail.

Terra had apparently started a barroom brawl at the Whining Dog Saloon which spilled out into the streets, which on that particular day was illegal in Vornheim. During the altercation Terra assaulted a noblewoman.

Constables reported on the scene in due haste at which Phillip panicked and attempted to steal a Put Put (horseless carriages that have gigantic steam engines in the back) that was being worked on. Revving it up, the engine exploded and damaged a storefront, breaking all the windows.

Now that the group knew what had transpired they did a little bit of role-playing to try and convince Narrix that they were innocent.

Then I gave them a nice jolt, “I’m not the one who two have to convince. Your trial is in 20 minutes.”

The players both exclaimed about this, obviously shocked. Very beautiful.

“Your jury is business people celebrating in Masquerade. I’ll take you to the courtroom now.”

I wanted to capture the weird chaotic laws/trials of Vornheim, so I thought what a better way than having two people who caused a major public disturbance be put on the spot (especially for something they don’t remember doing) in front of a bunch of snobby business people dressed in colorful clothing and intense masks.

The trial was quite fun and I enjoyed watching the players scramble to make up how they were innocent and it was all a misunderstanding. Some of the stuff that both Nate and Liam came up with made me crack up.

After the exposition I weighed how good of a case the players built for themselves (regardless of overwhelming evidence against them and the fact that a Noble was assaulted by a commoner) and lessened the penalty that would be levied against them.

In the end I decided on 1000 gold.

I then plopped another twist into their laps by having to the orator state, “We will now begin bidding on their contract.” I then role-played out some of these business people haggling over trying to get the price down until I had a woman wearing an Orc Mask that had its eyes ripped out and blood spilling down the cheeks stand up and buy them outright for 1000 gold.

I portrayed the business people becoming hushed and slightly cowed, giving this woman an aura of power and “don’t fuck with me.”

The characters were given their gear and got dressed and were lead outside by this woman who introduced herself as Lady Zane.

“You are free to do as you like. You are not a slave. However when my mistress needs you, she will call.”

“Well who the hell is your mistress?” Terra demanded.

“She will reveal herself when she is ready. Undoubtedly you can ask around and figure out who I serve, and if you wish to engage in such a waste of time I will not stop you. I shall take my leave of you here. When my mistress calls, be prompt. Don’t make us come look for you.”

Now the group has a “who’s pulling the stings kind of hook” that they can choose to ignore when the summons comes. Will there be repercussions? Absolutely. That doesn’t mean it’s any less fun however.

From there I turned the table completely to the players and asked where they wanted to go and what they wanted to do.

Both wanted to go back to the Whining Dog Saloon and have a few drinks and see if there was anything interesting going..

Holy Fuck! Brain Worms!

The group made their way to the Whining Dog Saloon and was greeted by the proprietor Hazock, an older Orc with a grizzled face and white hair. After a few joking remonstrations made by Hazock at the mess caused last night, Terra made her way to the Grub Fighting box and Phillip went to talk to a lonely girl reading a book at a table.

I described the small box that was on a table that a few people were cheering at. As he got to the table people were using clamps to pull these 3 ½ inch grey worms with a 3 tooth maw out of the box. The worms, even the gravely injured one, were struggling in the clamp, snapping at the people.

I described one guy bumping into the one holding the worm making him almost drop it, “You fool! Be careful! These are brain worms! Do you realize what could happen if I dropped it?!”

Nate said, “Holy Fuck! Brain worms!” I loved it. I got a disgusted noise when I described the creature and now Nate was on edge simply through the act of description and eluding to something dangerous occurring should this small creature get free. That was an awesome moment for me.

To make the gambling of the next match more exciting I let Nate roll for the one he was betting on and I rolled for the reigning champion. It lasted two rounds and Nate was out 15 gold. Too bad.

Liam made headway with the woman who introduced herself as Hessna, who was about to become a priestess of Vorn. After a few more drinks the couple was off to Hessna’s apartment to have some fun.

Terra watched him leave while drinking a Scorpion’s Sting. One of Terra’s friends, Karl, offered her in on a job to steal some illegal Wisps of the Web (a drug made from the purplish webs of the Wailing Widow) that was going to be the main prize of a bootleg deal done down in the sewers tomorrow night. Terra agreed and bid him good night.

Things Just Got Interesting

Once Phillip and Hessna were in her apartment she confessed that she was not about to become a priestess of Vorn, but of Tittivilla (which worships the flesh, pleasure, and pain).

Phillip cleared his throat nervously, “And what aspect of the church do you represent?”

Hessna removed her dress showing pierced nipples and healing cuts and scars along her ribs and her arms. “We sample all that life has to offer.” With that she leapt upon Phillip and ravaged him.

Phillip woke the next morning feeling sore but satisfied. Smiling to himself he turned his head and felt the smile slide off his face as he stared into the dead eyes of Hessna.

Phillip sprang up and checked her for a pulse.

Liam: “Are there any signs of violence. Is her neck broken?”

Me: “Her neck definitely isn’t broken. Looking at her body there are tons of signs of violence. Her back and ribs have scars and cuts that are healing. However what you realize is there are fresh scrapes down her back where you dragged your nails on her, and there are bits of skin and blood under your fingernails.”

Liam: “Um.. Fuck.. I start checking around the room for anything peculiar or out of place.”

Me: “Ok. You look for a few minutes, but since this is a strange place you really don’t notice anything out of the ordinary. Suddenly there is a knock at the door and a deep man’s voice is muffled through the wood, “Hessna dear it’s time for you to get up. Don’t want to be late for your coronation as a priestess of Tittivilla.””

Nate: (laughs) “Oooo shit dude. You’re fucked.”

And that is where I ended the evening..

Everything that happened after the court introduction was thought of on the fly and has introduced several threads to the characters right off the bat. I am really excited to see where my characters take this and am bummed that I have to wait till June 26th for us to play again (I’ll be in Scotland for two weeks and have family visiting mid-June).

I am very happy with the Vornheim book and the help/inspiration it brings to my gaming table.

My Vornheim- Final Bits and Pieces

This is a part five in a series of posts that will outline my homebrew campaign that utilizes the Vornheim Complete City Kit.

Part I, Part II, Part III, and Part IV.


Now that I have races and locations around Vornheim done in loose terms I wanted to tackle the dreaded map. I am not a map maker. I used to do it long long ago however now I just don’t have the damned patience to do it anymore.

I tried a few different times to do it on graph paper as well as Gimp and Hexographer, none of them were coming out as how I had it in my minds eye, which of course because I’m not fucking talented in this aspect. My lands were looking like they had all been too close to Chernobyl.

So I started thinking about HOW I wanted to get this map done. I wanted it to be extremely simple, flexible, and have open areas that are ripe for “discovery.”

So this is what I came up with:

My simple map

I know some players/GMs would balk at this, but it works for me and that is what is important. I know what is in each square, and there is room for new stuff to be inserted as well as ALL that lovely open space out there for the players to discover and can be made up as time goes on.

Once I had all this done I needed to create a few interesting aspects that really fleshed out Vornheim (aside from all the delicious stuff that was already in the Vornheim book that is).


The first thing I looked at were the laws in Vornheim (the two outlined by Zak). I took the names, Armament Laws and Sumptuary Law and took his feel, but added my own flavor to it all. I pondered magic and what I wanted to do with it and came up with Shattered Law.

Armament Laws - By Decree of the Avian Court and the High Lord Thrawl any citizen found carrying any kind of weaponry shall be arrested and put on trail. The guilty party will be made to wear rotten fish around their necks to let the jury smell the guilt that lingers around them.
Nobles and peoples of higher status are permitted to carry one dagger or rapier in open display.

Sumptuary Law - It has been deemed that those of lower status found emulating or impersonating those who are their betters through the wearing or displaying of Noble clothing or high fashions shall be arrested, fined, and made to stand trial.
This law stands in accordance to Vornheim philosophy, “Know Your Place.”

Shattered Law - Magic is a strange and powerful force. For the protection and safety of Vornheim it has been decided that only the practitioners of the Raven Clutch are allowed to cast spells while in Vornheim. Fail to comply with this law will result in tar and feathering under the full moon and being forced to stand trial.

Exceptions to this law are such: Nobles who carry a talking yellow canary on their shoulder are allowed to practice magic openly. Priests and Priestesses of the Church of Vorn and Church of Tittivilla are allowed to practice magic. Lesser religions are not, this is in accordance with the Vornheim philosophy, “Know Your Place.” Also on the two days of festival, the Day of Masks and Day of Wolves, all people are allowed to practice magic.


After I outlined the laws that I was interested in making important enough to mention I began thinking about who runs Vornheim, where could there be a few power struggles and machinations. I also looked at religions. There would be power struggles there, people for the players to interact with, contend with, and worry about.

The Religions Church of Vorn and Church of Tittivilla and the names Thrall and Vosculous Eeeben are Zak’s creations, but I added some of my own flavor to the religions (mostly to Tittivilla).

Dream Hunters - The lost souls who have nothing left to lose and glory hounds seeking riches risk the unspeakable horrors trying to find that one big dream in the Lake of Dreaming for themselves or, if the price is right, someone else.

Avian Court - The High and Esteemed Court of Vornheim. He who wears the Feathered Crown is hence forth called Lord until the Final Molting and the crown is bare. The current Lord is Thrawl the Wise. While Thrawl has been abroad for several years his trusted advisors, administrators, and servants, most notable Vosculous Eeeben, have been handling the affairs of this great city.

It is said that members of the Avian Court who serve Vornheim with distinction and honor are blessed with the gift of the great bird. However none have done so in living memory.

Raven Clutch - The mysterious and enigmatic Raven Clutch is an ancient and honored group of practicing Sorcerers and Clerics that serve the Avian Court and aid Vornheim (if they are offered the right amount of profit, or something equally enticing).

Without the Raven Cluth there would be no regular opening of the Bat Wings.

Church of Vorn - Major religion of Vornheim. The church has its claws in many things. It sits in the Eminent Cathedral, which is part of the Eyes of Vorhnheim. The current leader of the church is Sublord Mealix.

Church of Tittivilla - The church of all flesh, pleasure, and pain. This cathedral is drapped in tapestries and art that depicts depraved acts of both sex and violence. There are two doors to walk down in the main chamber; one is colored a deep red and the other a greenish blue. Worshipers choose from the noises which exercises they will participate in that day. The leader of the church is High Priestess Lieal.

Cult of the Dying Bird- This obsessive cult follows a depraved and exiled member of the Raven Clutch, now siredThe Dreaming Crow. They roam the desert sometimes causing trouble for Vornheim and its citizens.


I then looked at Technology in Vornheim and also generated a few ideas for locations where possible encounters could occur. I didn’t want to create too many places, because A) what if they never go there and it just sits and gets dusty. B) I wanted to generate ideas and put work in as needed. This is a sandbox, but I will create as I get inspired or as players give me juicy things to work with.

The steam technology that now fills Vornheim was invented and pushed by the Dwarves. The technology has brought some convenience to those who can afford it. Those who live in outer Vornheim still live in an “archaic” manner.

This new technology has brought about extraordinary changes in weapons and travel. Ball and powder muskets and pistols are available as are cannons and cannon ball style grenades. There is also a deadly weapon that spews forth gouts of fire. It is a formidable weapon, but is extremely unstable.

A trolley system has been built through Inner Vornheim that allows for quick and easy travel and there are plans to build a train system to some of the outlying areas, most importantly to the Shattered Mines, Plains of the Slithering Shadows, and the Dungeon Below.

Horse carriages that run on steam and motors called “put puts” can be seen moving around the streets of both Inner and Outer Vornheim. Dirigibles of various sizes are docked at the towers of Vornheim, waiting to go through the various portals transporting goods.

Many people still use large Aardvark like creatures called, Grazers, are used as beasts of burden since they are easy to take care of and feed compared to horses and cows. Only the very rich have a horse and only larger noble estates have any livestock. Cows are kept outside of Vorhneim in pens and corrals.


I have to say that I’m curious as to how the player will react to Jean Le Tiepe. I think he has the potential to be an interesting contact/adversary.

The Sculpture Gardens of Jean Le Tiepe - Some people find it an honor to be immortalized in song, painting, or sculpture, but the avid and devoted fans of Jean Le Tiepe have very different view; they know the highest honor is to be immortalized as the sculpture.

If Jean Le Tiepe feels you are beautiful or unique in some fashion he will pursue you to become a part of his collection so you can remain beautiful forever. Dozens of sculptures line this stunning garden. All were once living fans of the eccentric artist.

The House of Dignitaries - This is where officials representing the districts and the other dimensions all meet. The House also has living quarters for those from the other dimensions.

Lastly I created a few NPCs for the players to interact with/have heard of (the NPCs on my OP page are notable ones. Lesser ones that may fade into the darkness of mediocrity won’t get an honored place here). I also created about 6 events and 6 rumors for each of the locations I mentioned in my previous post except for Vornheim itself, which has about 12 of each. Again this is on top of all the ones in the Vornheim book itself (plus other hooks I’ve created in the past or are in things like the Game Mastery Guide for Pathfinder). Basically I’m set.

And that’s it! My Sandbox-ish Vornheim was ready to go! All I needed to do was plunk my players down in it and see where adventure took them.

We played this Sunday and it was an AWESOME session! We all had quite a bit of fun! The recap will go up tomorrow!


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