Slowly gearing up for that new campaign and it’s time to start pulling a few odds and ends that have been bouncing around my head for a long time. So yes. The Orcs of Zoong are EVIL. And no. This has nothing to do with all the hubbub from early. It’s an idea that’s been there I just hadn’t blogged on it until now.
The Orcs of Zoong appear out of nowhere and hew a path of death, destruction and misery. Their sole goal is cause as mush pain and devastation as possible. Why?
The Orcs are the souls of the most cruel and evil mortals sent back to the material to cause as much chaos as possible. If they inflict enough pain and suffering on the mortals before they die, their souls return to Hell. But instead of being a tortured soul in Hell, they get to be the torturer. So it’s sort of a promotion.
There really isn’t anything that could remotely considered an “orc” society. They are just these bands that appear and start killing. They are constant threat every where. On the bright side, there never seems to be enough of them in one band to stage what anyone could consider a large scale military operation. Nor are they organized enough. The safest time to attack a new band of orcs is when they are still fighting amongst themselves to see which one of them is toughest and gets to lead.
Do they have any different stats than you’re run of the mill Orc (pig-faced or otherwise)? Nope. It’s the lore and those subtle things like just appearing out of nowhere in a civilized region.
Yes, I know that a real click bait title for this post. But you know it kind of fits. Let me start of with saying that I understand that maps are cool. Some are even works of art but how valuable and efficient is that work of art at the gaming table? Sure they can inspirational and evocative but I’m looking plain old utility and ease of use at the gaming table.
I’ve been playing around with Inkarnate for a world map for the reboot of my original campaign and while also playing around with online campaign managers I got to thinking about the way I actually keep notes which is a lot of bullet journaling and mind maps. This lead me to the idea of using “one map” for each thing in my world and basically here it is:
Wait? What? That’s it? Yep. I started with the simple concept of a group of hexes then changed it up to off-set squares just to make it easier to use with a word processor. As you can see, it’s numbered from 1 to 19 (20 is “outside” the map) in case I want to do something random. I also grabbed some inspiration from Index Card RPG with the zoned combat and the Ultimate Dungeon Terrain from Dungeon Craft on Youtube.
I figured if you can do this combat then why use it on a bigger scale?
Here’s how it works. Let’s start with the big picture. The World. You may be tempted to put that Big City in the middle of the map. I say no. Put where the characters start in the middle. Build the map from the character’s perspective. Let’s say you’re starting your campaign with the classic Keep on the Borderlands. Put that right in the center. What do the characters know? Since this is the “world” map at this stage. They would know that say the Dwarves come from “Far Away” to the north. So put the Dwarf home there like in Box 9. The Elves are far too but to the south east and so on. All that matters really is that something “near” to where they are or faraway. Fill in what extra bullet details you want.
Then you can do the same thing with a region. Once again with Keep on the Borderlands. Put the Keep in the middle then add the Caves of Chaos, Caves of the Unknown, the Mad Hermit, and the other adventure areas on the region map. All that really matters, is it close or far?
And you can do the exact same thing with a city. I know that the actual distances are abstract. Personally, I’ve found it better to measure the distances in actual miles or whatever but how many days it will take the party to get to their destination (for supply purposes) and what may be between them and their destination (making getting rumors even more key to survival).
This idea is also handy for my DM World Notebook. I can squeeze just about all of the information for a city or region that I need quickly into a single page.
And there you go. A single simple tool with many uses. And here’s a PDF of it:
I’ve been posting about YARC a lot so I figured I should make this Sticky Post to explain what the heck it is.
First, it’s a neat little acronym: Yet Another Retroclone. And it’s a little call back to “Bree Yark!” Google it. It started years ago as a little side project to put together different parts of various retroclones that I thought were cool but it’s evolved over the years.
YARC is now my own fantasy heart breaker, garbage punk rock, basement dweller Franken-game. I figured why not? Grab whatever mechanics that I liked from whatever game or whatever edition. Go ahead slay a couple of those sacred cows and mold it into what I and, hopefully, my players will enjoy. Astute readers will see the DNA of various ideas and concepts pop in there.
It’s very much an attempt to make play fast, efficient, and fun! And it’s very much a living project. I don’t think that it will ever be “done”. New rules and ideas pop up all the time. Things that might have worked get replaced with other things. And sometimes. Things just don’t work.
So hang on and have some fun. Roll the dice. Kill the monsters. And laugh.
The good old 5E Sword & Sorcery game is going well but I do have a the habit of planning well in advance for the next campaign. For this, it’s time to go back to the more traditional D&D style game and that means knocking the dust off the old notes.
So, Zoong is my own home brewed setting for the more standard style of campaign. I’ve already ran in this setting with 5E, Swords & Wizardry, and Dungeon Crawl Classics. For this iteration, I’m gearing up to use my YARC 5E/Old School Hack.
There’s bits and pieces of each of those earlier campaigns that are left over and made some changes to the setting. Of course, also my own preferences and experiences add even more bits. Plus the returning players already have a good feel for the whole vibe of the world. And what’s the best place to start? A New Map!
I decided to kick the tires and learn how to use Inkarnate. Since I’m just learning, I only used the free version. This isn’t the final version of the map. I may do some more tweaking here and there. Really, I have no idea what I’m doing. And there were about half a dozen false starts that I just trashed and started over.
I’m also debating on whether to use on of those fancy online campaign managers or keep it old school and just do PDF’s for my players and the good old three-ring binder for my DM notes. I’m playing around with a couple of them but more on that later.
I spend a lot of time brewing up house rules. I try to make whatever game that we happen to be playing fit both my own and the player’s sensibilities about what will be fun and interesting. But then I got thinking about something that I’ve been doing without really considering it too much. The rules need to match up to the setting as well. Whenever I start a campaign, I like to look at the big picture first and then drill down to the details.
With that in mind, I generally start with Gods & Magic. These are the two big things that I think really define any fantasy setting. What gods are predominant? How the different sects, orders, cults, and temples interact? What’s the relation if any to arcane magic? Are wizards hunted down and burned at the stake? Tolerated or what? What about arcane magic? What’s the source of power? Is it by bloodline? Maybe a demonic pact has to be made? Made it’s just studying book. Or combination of all of them. All good questions to ask. This sets the tone not only for the world but also what roleplaying challenges certain classes may face and what exactly the DM may want to change about a specific class.
Then I look at races. It’s perfectly OK for a DM to say, “No, there any magic hamsters in my world.” First, does the race even exist? If it does, is it for player characters? And how do those races interact with each other? It’s OK to have some rivalry or tension. Just don’t set up things so party members want to kill each other on sight. Whatever races a DM uses and their relations and origins can be linked back to Gods & Magic. Sure you may allow Tieflings but the Church hunts them down as abominations or maybe they’ve banded together and created their own kingdom? More food for thought. Can Elves be clerics? Or heck will you only do Race as Class?
Then I look at Classes. It’s more than what’s allowed and what isn’t. It time to really start doing some house ruling. When I was running The Blight with Swords & Wizardry, I completely redid Paladins. They weren’t the wholesome knight in shining armor. They were grim Witch Hunters and Slayers of Undead and Demons. Does a class even fit into the world? There’s a lot of DM’s who kick out Monks because they just don’t fit the setting.
Start of with this trinity; Gods & Magic, Races, and Classes. Look at the synergies and the points of friction. What’s crazy over powered? What just plain doesn’t make sense. What rules need to be altered in order for it to work? Heck, maybe even you’re using the wrong rules. Maybe a different game that you were intending doesn’t work as well as another game.
And here’s the most important part. Be upfront with the players. Let them know well ahead of time about what’s allowed and what isn’t. Let them read those preliminary notes and there’s a good chance they may notice something that you missed. So take their feedback. Remember, the players are stakeholders in the campaign too. If they aren’t having fun then DM isn’t going to have fun either. And it’s all about the fun.