Earlier today I noted on G+ that I was slogging through some worldbuilding. I’m fleshing out the realms and areas that appear on the map of the continent on which Dragon Heresy takes place (I’d post an image, but the maps aren’t done yet, and so technically I don’t own them).

Morevel is a realm in the bottom-left-hand corner of the map. It really doesn’t play much of a part in the conception and execution of the game’s main area, which is a pseudo-sandbox north of the Norse/Viking-inspired country of Torengar. 

Still, it was on the map, and so I need to at least give prospective GMs something.

I decided to base the culture and history after that of Macedonean Greece, right after Alexander brought the region under his control, but before he launched his ridiculously successful campaign that ended deep into India.

This provided me with all sorts of goodness. A rich, prosperous country, but until recently, not a player due to internal strife. A 4,000-year history, with plenty of time to develop a local cultural identity, but also time for the political geography to change massively, several times. 

As I got writing, it got more interesting. I definitely will keep this in mind in case the project is successful enough to spawn follow-on works as either “wouldn’t it be fun” or stretch goals as part of a crowd-funding effort. Morevel’s neighbor to the immediate west, Inthriki, will be based on Kamakura-era Japan. Two rival lines to the throne, a not-so-stable military dictatorship, samurai, feudal systems, something like twelve different buddhist sects, and of course, there have to be ninja. There are always ninja. But that’s the rest of the night.

For now, I give you Morevel, in draft form. I suspect I may edit the hell out of this, since at this point in the draft, it’s mostly about getting thoughts on paper, rather than “yes, yes, publish this now.”

For the record: yes, Alidrus is Sparta.


MOREVEL

Land Area: 217,000 square miles.

Morevel lies directly to the west of Brousha and continental Barakthel, separated by 150-200 miles of the Neveri grasslands. It is a principally human-occupied realm, and is comprised of a significant continental land mass, as well as a vast archipelago sheltered inside a vast bay.

BRIEF HISTORY

The realm of Morevel is old, and came into existence around 1945 AS, in the last third of the three-millenium long dragon wars. It does not, however, owe its existence to the wars and their aftermath, as do the coastal cities bordering the Reithur Sea. 

The peoples which now comprise the lands of Morevel formed city-states and small kingdoms and domains, a pattern that exists to this day. The large archipelago that forms the heart of Morevel gave rise to a substantial naval expertise, which has also been developed and maintained as the realm matured.

After 500 years of exsiting as hundreds, if not thousands, of micro-domains, Soryuchis of Morevel began a period of expansion and conquest that would last for perhaps 200-300 years, expanding the small domain of Morevel into a country roughly the size of Brousha – about 60,000 square miles. Other areas formed similiarly-sized realms, either following Soryuchis’ example of conquest, or as a defensive alliance. Eventually, six large domains would form: Morevel, Dodeusis, Eretanes, and Cythmna were the largest, each of 30,000 to 60,000 square miles. Kepeira was the smallest at 12,000 square miles, and Alidrus was the final kingdom, at roughy 25,000. These six kingdoms existed as sometime allies, sometime enemies until the time of the Great Alliance. 

The daughter and the widow-king of Morevel had chance to meet with the son and the Queen of Alidrus. In was was surely a sordid affair, Orinon, Queen of Alidrus and Gunsus, widow-King of Morevel, and their children – Tytor of Alidrus and Iaira of Morevel both met, fell for each other, and plotted and executed the murder of the former prince-consort of Alidrus (who was apparently so beloved history does not record hs name). These countries were not geographical neighbors, nor had there been a long history of friendly relations between them. The death of the prince-consort was expected by those not involved to plunge the two nations into war. Instead, upon returning back to their respective countries, they mounted a dual-invasion of the next-largest and most powerful realm, Dodeusis. When the armies of Morevel and Alidrus met in the middle of Dodeusis, having subdued the country in a shockingly violent and successful campaign, the two couples married right there on the battlefield. 

They turned their eyes to the rest of the realms. Cythmna simply surrendered, having seen the violence of the recent campaign first hand. Kepeira and Eritanes did not give in, and did not fall immediately, but fall they did, with the last battle that unified the six realms under one ruler ocuring in 3006 AS, under the strategic command of Iaira, Queen of Morevel.
Since then, the realm grew unified, fractured into dozens to hundreds of component states around 4200 AS, was re-unified as the Republic of Dodeusis, broke apart again in 4440 AS, was reunified for the third time as the Autocracy of Alidrus in 4751, only to immediately break apart again upon the death of the Autarch in 4802, this time back to the six original realms that had been unified into Morevel in the first place.

Modern Morevel

In 5558, the King of Morevel watched the Neveri clans gather. Fearing the worst, he tried to rally his countrymen to mount a defense, only to find that the massed clans were directed at Torengar rather than the city-states. Vowing that they would never be that vulnerable, he and his heirs made plans to once again re-unify the realms under the banner of Morevel. Through a combination of hard fighting and hard negotiations, the country was consolidated again under Arcestus and Hypalia of Morevel, in 5772 AS – five years before Krail II made his proclaimation opening Tanalor to conquest.

PEOPLE AND SOCIETY

The realm of Morevel has been a single nation and comprised of a multitude of domains and city states over the roughly 4,000 years of its history. Nonetheless, mostly the peoples surrounding the Gulf of Otheoi (the body of water around which Morevel lies). It is realm that values education, literature, valor, and skill.

The population of Morevel is estimated to be between 7-8 million people, who are distributed relatively evenly throughout the six provinces of Morevel. Cities can be much larger than those found in the coastal realms, with the capitol of Morevel estimated to contain over 100,000 citizens, and several other cities being home to 50,000 people or more. 

Growing up in Morevel

A newborn in Morevel will be unnamed for the first ten days of life. If the child is sickly or weak, in most provinces clerical or magical aid will be brought in to assist. In Alidrus, it was – thousands of years ago – traditional to leave a sickly or deformed child to die of exposure; some from that provice will still follow that tradition. Others will give the child to the clergy to be adopted by others. Some, of course, will simply bring the mages, doctors, or clerical assistance that is common in every other province.

If the child survives that time, will be welcomed into the world with as glorious a feast and party as the parents and their family can afford to put on. A special dance is performed, with the mother, father, and the new child passed between them as they move through the four points of the compass, symbolizing the life-journey the newborn will take.

The child is educated at home until roughly age six, at which point they will be educated in mathematics, literature, debate, military skills, and generally be given as complete a physical, mental, and magical eduction as can be afforded, and as the talents of the child allow.

Again, Alidrus is a bit different – the child goes away to what is effectively a military academy until age 16, drilled under harsher conditions of discipline and physicality, but trained in substantially the same skills.

At 16, the child comes of age as an adult, and may marry, own property, and serve in a line of battle – in fact every year, each polity will send 1/40 of its adults to serve in the military for a two-year minimum term (service past two years is voluntary). This practice, called eikostos, keeps roughly 5% of the adult population of Morevel under arms at any given time.
At the age of 30, the citizen of Morevel is allowed to be appointed or engage in politics and serve as a government official should they wish to do so, and they are of the land-owner class.

Hierarchy in Morevel

Power in Morevel is mostly driven by wealth, and the noble familes are those with the largest resources. The nobles by definition are the landowners, but the lands and power is not hereditary, and it can be won and lost, bought and sold, as the fortunes of the land change.

Slaves. The lowest level of Morevelian is the slave. While those captured in warfare might become slaves if they’re foreigners or if the victorious commander has a personal grudge against his foe, that is not usual. The most common reason to become a slave is debt slavery. Where a citizen can no longer afford to pay land-rent on property, he can enter into a period of indentured slavery in exchange for funds. It is always possible to buy a slave’s contract, and the prices/terms are well established.

Citizens. The next level up are those who work or craft or serve in the military, but do not own their own lands. They are wage-makers, artisans, and soldiers, but as they do not control their own fortunes through land ownership, they are lower on the social pyramid.

Land-owners. Those who own real estate are at the highest level of Morevelian society. There are, of course, huge variations in how much land might be owned, and large estate holders could be almost comically wealthy. But to own land is to largely have the potential to be debt-free, or to receive revenues from others who work the land. One must also own land to hold political office or military command.

Military elite. A curious twist on the Morevelian culture was instituted by Arcestus and Hypalia – land owners who were also domain rulers must serve as heavy cavalry in the Morevelian army, or alternately provide and crew a ship in the navy. They must serve personally, not by proxy, for at least six months of the year when not on campaign, and if on campaign, until the campaign is over. Regents, spouses, and stewards rule in their stead while away. In this way, Arcestus and Hypalia keep the nobility busy, far from their homes and power base, and in constant mortal peril.

GOVERNMENT

Ultimately, the government is a military dictatorship under Arcestus and Hypalia, at least for the moment. They wield total power.

There is a senate of 500 advisors comprised of wealthy landowners and influential philosophers (who are also wealthy landowners), each of whom represents roughly a medium-sized city (15,000 people) and it’s surrounds. The provide advice, policy options, and intelligence from networks that they are encouraged to develop as part of the position in order to run the realm.

They are also responsible for the collection of taxes, with each senator responsible for the collection of roughly 20,000 gp per month of taxation revenue – or more – that flow to the treasury of Morevel.

ECONOMY

The economy of Morevel is based on the blessing of the land, whose average productivity rivals the best of that of Torengar, and the best of which produce an amazing bounty. Of highest value are crops that cannot be easily grown well in the more-northern climate of Torengar, such as olives, nuts, figs, and truly wonderful wines. They also have access to what amounts to a 125,000 square mile sheltered fishery on the continental shelf: the Gulf of Otheoi. 

The Morevelians also possess large access to limestone rocks, from which they have developed a remarkable variety of products, up to and including a pumice-reinforced lime cement, which is used both as a construction material and trade goods.

The natural metals of the area tend strongly to copper and alloys – iron is available but less plentiful, and so one finds bronze and brass in heavy use throughout the realm.

COMMUNICATIONS AND TRANSPORTATION

There have been many different styles of communication in the 4,000-year history of morevel, but the predominant ones have been through physical and mystical messengers. The recently-ended period of chaos and internal war that have led to the re-unification of the country under the banner of Morevel led to the breaking up of some of the established communication networks as strategic goals in the war. Arcestus and Hypalia have made the re-esablishment of these networks under trusted operations a high priority.

MILITARY

Though in recent history it has been used mostly against other Morevelians, the military of Morevel is large, sophisticated, and extremely well trained. 

Morevel maintains a standing army of professional fighters, and maintains discipline in the country through a two-layered system which is in effect a military dictatorship. The high-ranking nobles of nearly every domain must either command or ride as heavy cavalry with the King’s army. The peasantry is required to provide a continual portion of the population in service to the military, a personal levy called the eikostos (the “twentieth”). As such, it is estimated that there may be as many as a third of a million people under arms in Morevel.
Nobles and peasants alike are never stationed close to the lands where they were born.

Land Forces

Morevel maintains a powerful combined arms force and employs them in well-drilled maneuver. Such troops include:

  • Units of heavy cavalry, armed with bronze or steel breastplates and greaves, and each with a shortsword as a backup weapon. Their primary armament is a 12’ double-ended lance (treat as a pike).
  • Light cavalry in the form of horse archers armed with hide or scale armor and a shortbow, or with several javelins and a shortsword. These troops make darting hit-and-run attacks against opposing forces.
  • A phalanx of heavy infantry, each with a long pike usually used in two hands, a shield (used by those at the forefront of a formation), breastplate and greaves, and a shortsword.
  • Shock infantry with breastplate and greaves, a short spear, shortsword, and shield.
  • Light infantry, usually unarmored, carrying a light shield, several javelins, and a shortsword.

One notable feature of the armies of Morevel is that Hypalia has forbidden the use of wheeled transport when the armies are on the march, and limited servants amongs the troops to no more than one in ten. This significantly increases the speed of march and nimbleness of the armies of Morevel in recent times; several battles in recent history were won just because Arcestus’ army showed up days earlier than his foes’ thought they might.

Naval Forces

With well over 1,000 islands scattered through a central bay, and over 1,000 miles of coastline mostly enclosing a relatively narrow gulf, maintaining military power in Morevel has also meant maintaining a strong naval force as well.

The principal – and nearly omnipresent – vessel of the Morevelian military is the trireme. These large ships are built to a pattern, and tend to be about 120’ long, 20’ wide, and weigh about 40 tons. It has three banks of oars, 170 oars at one man per oar, and a total compliment of 200 souls. It had one large mast, and another small one in the front of the ship. Best continuous speed is about 10’ normal speed with half the oarsmen rowing, and sprinting under full power at 40’ per turn.

RELATIONSHIPS WITH OTHER NATIONS

Up until recently, the only nation that has been in regular contact with Morevel from the coastal realms has been Brousha, who trade across the Neveri steppes.

Morevel does have limited contact with Inthriki, though less than the map of Etera might suggest. Significant topographical barriers separate what would otherwise appear to be neighboring countries. Fennu and Shenho lakes are large and be quite turbulent, though there are two cities neighboring each other and trade and commerce occurs there. To the south of Shenho is a significant mountain range that extends south to the ocean, making the limited border along the lakes the primary point of contact.

As part of the run-up to Dragon Heresy, I quickly realized that the book was going to be very large. My initial estimates of a single 250-300 page volume were crushed under the heels of 90,000 words of just monsters. And that’s after culling things down and eliminating many that are thematically inappropriate. 

There are ways to deal with this, of course. One is “be even more ruthless about culling.” That’s valid. Another is to just suck it up, and publish a 550 – 600-page book, which would be even larger than the Pathfinder Core Rules (512 pages), and about the same size as Hero Fifth Edition (592 pages). Hero solved this problem in 6th edition by publishing in two volumes. This is the same tack GURPS took, releasing a Campaigns and Characters book with sequential pagination (if the Characters book stops at p. 250, the Campaigns book picks up at p. 251, in concept). Dungeons and Dragons Fifth Edition is something like 990 pages if you include every page (including the index and TOC, which isn’t entirely fair) of the Player’s Handbook, Dungeon Master’s Guide, and Monster Manual.

By that yardstick, Dragon Heresy is the very soul of brevity.


Still – I was curious as to preferences, so I posted a poll, which was very well attended by the reading population – for which everyone has my thanks (the poll is still active here).

Poll Results

The results were illustrative. I figured “two volumes, please” would simply dominate. I was not entirely correct.

The first swing of voting broke sharply in favor of One Giant Tome. Subsequent voting broke hard the other way.

Eventually, things settled, with roughly 3 people preferring the two-volume set for every one person that wanted a single book. The most useful piece of advice came (predictably) from +Peter V. Dell’Orto, who suggested one PDF, but two (or more) printed books, so that you could have a combat rule, a campaign rule or map, and a monster open on the table simultaneously, but do a one-volume PDF search.

A Modern Print-on-Demand Solution?

Still, while from an RPG electoral college perspective, the multi-volume set won huge, 40% of the market, more or less, wants a volume they can just haul around. 60% wants multiple volumes. The reasons for both are valid.

A bit of a history of multi-volume sets

What I am considering, but I’d have to work out the logistics of it in a big way, is a “build-a-book” concept. You select a cover, get the intro, and choose the components of the book. Book A would be the character generation and core rules. Book B would be the campaign rules and setting information. Book C is monsters and stuff. The Index would cover A, B, and C. There would be three Table of Contents files, one for A, B, and C.

Each customer could then assemble the book or books that they want. Want the One Book to Rule them All option? Assemble Cover + ToC A, B, C + Intro + Book A + Book B + Book C + Index.

Want three volumes? Cover + Introduction + ToC A + Book A + Index; Cover + ToC B + Book B + Index; Cover + ToC C + Book C + Index.

Print on Demand how you like from the PDFs. 

Something like this was the favorite

The indices and ToC would obviously be free. The cover or cover variants maybe not, because you have to pay for good art, and if I have paid for a custom awesome cover, I need to charge for the work. If it’s my current decent but not eye-bogglingly-awesome cover, it would be free as well.

I would dearly love to do this. Everyone could get what they want, and Print-on-Demand means that I would not have to deal with the logistics and costs of stocking offset print runs of anything, much less infinite combos of A, B, and C.

Based on the poll results, though, my initial offerings will likely be “one-volume PDF,” “two-volume PDF,” and “two-volume print book.” If the product is well received enough to do more, I will do more.

Editing and Length

One reasonably-frequent observation was “if it’s that long, your editing is bad.” A less aggressive phrasing might have been “does it have to be that long?”

Yes and no. The largest sections of the book – fully half it’s length – are spells, magic items, and a gigantic section of monsters. I could easily chop the heck out of the magic items. I think I still need the 60,000 words (!!) of spells, since they’re core to at least five character classes, maybe more. The monsters could be reduced to “early challenges, a few big dogs, and if you want more monsters, make ’em yourself or buy this New Extra Volume!”

I’m loathe to do this, but it could be done.

I’ve never really asked for art before, so I’m going to post some art direction notes here and ask for reactions from artists as to whether this is the right kind of direction. Is this enough information? Is it too much? Does it get your juices flowing, or stifle creativity?

Art notes: Chapter 2 Core Concepts

Art Types

Full-page art.
These facing-page illustrations should tell a story.
Insert art. These
are small pieces of art that fill white space in the manuscript, frequently
next to a table that does not fill a column.
Column Art. This
is a full-column width, arbitrarily high (can be the entire column) piece of
art that tells a partial story or illustrates a concept found within a few
pages of the artwork. It is used for spacing out text.
Half-page art.
This is a full-page width, arbitrarily high piece of artwork that can be used
either for spacing out text or pushing an important section start to the
beginning of a page.

Art Notes

p. 4
Full page color art.
8.5 x 11, and art should run off the page/fill the entire sheet if possible.
Possible theme: Starting
out on the adventure! Fresh-looking adventurers depart from a safe haven.
Possible composition:
A group of norse-looking adventurers, starting out from a walled city or keep.
The mid distance should look somewhat inviting, and the far distance should be
threatening and dark, with wild woods and a scary sky. If it can be worked in,
mystical elements such as fae, goblins, and maybe a troll should be in the near
distance on the left. On the right, lizardfolk and kobolds, with a dragon
wheeling in the distance.

p. 7
Insert art: 1.5”
wide x 4.25” tall
Possible theme:
scaling, or anything that increases or decreases from up to down.
Alternate:
anything long and narrow!
Possible
composition(s):
scaling a ladder or wall. Yggdrasil – the world tree – done
in abstract view. A weapon rack with spears and swords.

p. 9
Insert art: 1.5”
x 2”
Possible themes:
the aftermath of doing something difficult
Possible composition:
A dented or pierced helm, Viking-style (please, no horns)

p. 16
Column Art. 3.5”
wide x 9.5” tall.
Possible theme:
avoiding a disaster by great effort. NOT avoiding a calamity. Calling on
powerful forces (magic or the divine) to help bring victory.
Possible compositions:
A dragon vaporizing one adventurer as another ducks behind a shield or other
cover. A powerful faerie casting a glamour or destructive spell on a group of adventurers.
A warrior in armor holding a glowing sword overhead, which is being struck by
lightning; a hint of Thor in the clouds providing the lightning would not go
amiss.
Special Note on p.
16-17.
 These two pieces of artwork could be pushed together into one piece that would cross over the book binding into each other, making a single wide piece of artwork.

p. 17
Column Art. 3.5”
wide x 9.5” tall
Possible theme:
avoiding a disaster by great effort. NOT avoiding a calamity. Calling on
powerful forces (magic or the divine) to help bring victory.
Possible compositions:
A dragon vaporizing one adventurer as another ducks behind a shield or other
cover. A powerful faerie casting a glamour or destructive spell on a group of adventurers.
A warrior in armor holding a glowing sword overhead, which is being struck by
lightning; a hint of Thor in the clouds providing the lightning would not go
amiss.
Special Note on p.
16-17.
These two pieces of artwork could be pushed together into one piece
that would cross over the book binding into each other, making a single
wide piece of artwork.

Starting to get layout chapters. Here’s the introduction. Tweaks are still being made, but this is starting to look like a real book. The Core Concepts chapter has tables and more box-text, and it looks very, very good to me.

Comments welcome!

 A 2-page spread from the Core Concepts chapter…


And another showing two full-column pieces of artwork placeholder. I’m tempted to ask for one illustration that will be split in half, bracketing the text with a complete picture like bookends.

Here we are. August 1st. I’d posted a hopeful schedule two weeks ago on what I had to do and the timing it was supposed to do down on.

Yeah. I’m behind. But maybe not by that much. And the last two weeks have seen me get a yuuge amount done.

What’s the Status?


Two weeks ago, I noted what I had left to complete, and here it is in brief:

Monsters and Foes.

I had what I thought was 90,000 words of grunt-work. I was really thinking this was going to be a slog. And it was, but thanks to Emily Smirle and her coding skills and Luke Campbell and his tireless approach to reading my stuff, I got the grunt-work done.

It’s not completely finished, because the SRD has bupkiss, mostly, for monster descriptions and information.

But every monster has a Dragon-Heresy specific stat block that makes it very easy to just look at the entry and fight with the monster. 

We also did a lot of re-jiggering names and monster types so that they go better with the setting. Trolls are now fey, because they are described that way in the setting. Monsters that are notoriously non-Norse have been eliminated, while those that are mostly non-Norse but too cool to leave out have been retained but renamed, often with helpful parenthetical reminders.

Example? Pegasus is a unique flying horse to the Greek mythological set. Not only is he Greek, but there’s only one of him. That was expanded to a type of creature rather than just the one horse Bellerephon rode. But again: Greek.

And yet flying horses were very much a Norse thing, even if not Pegasus. So a quick rename to Hofvarpnir (flying horse) and boom, done.

Oni is a magical Japanese Ogre. But the power set is much (!) closer to the Norse troll legends than the actual 5e Troll is. What did we do? We called the Ogre, the Oni, and the Troll all trolls, and renamed them something like the brute troll, the magical troll, and the tough troll (that one has the regeneration). 

And the Norse legends are full of serpents and dragons, with little to distinguish them. So a lot of things like giant lizards and worms got slid over to the dragon subtype. Plus, the winged flying dragon of Beowulf is not the only dragon in Norse mythology, and thanks to Luke again, I have 15,000 words of additional nasty dragons to compliment the chromatic and metallic dragons of the classic SRD. 

Total wordcount of the Bestiary is currently maybe 95,000 if you include Luke’s portion. So mission accomplished there – mostly – and the book is better for it.

Setting

The main map of the “starting kingdom” has been finalized, and I got some great help from the folks on the Iceland reddit on making sure that my cool ethnic names weren’t stupid. Most were OK, but my name for “High Lord” suffered from a grammar error and would have been “Hair Lord,” which really needs to be an 80s Cover Band.

The map of Etera, the continent on which everything takes place, is also done.

The map of the sandbox is proving troublesome, because I don’t want to define too much, because each GM should have freedom to do what they want, but I also don’t want to do too little, or else why bother with a setting at all.

I think I have a compromise in mind.

Also, I realized that the Races chapter of the characters book (which now has a name) just said things like “DWARF” and then right into the stat block.

Well, that wouldn’t do.

I am expanding the entries there to talk culture, appearance, size and weight, and important traditions. Plus how each race deals with magic and religion. That obviously crosses over with my setting information, so every word spent on Races is also a word spent on setting and worldbuilding. So good progress there, and I hope to finish that up in the coming week.

Once that’s done, then I need to get my CIA Factbook done for each country/kingdom/political entry, plus the different factions and regions in Tanalor, my game-play sandbox.

Oh, and I got permission to include a well-known set of domain building and management rules into my own game. It was OGL to begin with, but I thought it would be polite to ask, and he said “sure.” This was a major coup, in my opinion, and it enabled me to write more into the next section on GM advice.

So setting isn’t done. But it’s been much advanced, and if I can put nose to typewriter this week, I should be able to polish that off. Finishing the Races chapter will truly put the bow on the player’s book.

GM Advice

I have three sections left to do here, and they’re all C-HEAD/Topic level, meaning they can be pretty short. These sections are Combat and Tactics, Lethality and Challenge, and Converting from Other Source Material.

Then that’s done.

Environments and Hazards


I have some free-form sections on Dungeons, Wilderness, Settlements and Ruins, and Unusual Environments to write. Again, those are Topic level, so they can be as short or long as things require.

The Setting


Back to the setting. Here’s the outline:

THE CONQUEST OF TANALOR
KINGDOMS AND TERRITORIES

  • Settlements
  • Languages
  • Foes, Factions, and Organizations

THE AESIR, WINTERFEY, AND ELDER DRAGONS
YGGDRASIL AND OTHER PLANES AND WORLDS
MAGIC

  • Basic magic
  • Ley lines and leyferths
  • Enchantment and permanent items
Once that’s complete . . . the book is done.
Also on Deck

This is the month I get the Kickstarter prepped, and form an LLC to host the sales and keep it separate from my regular life.
The players’ book has also entered layout, with +Rob Muadib working to start putting things into a good format, chapter by chapter. I feel this will go slowly at first and then he will get on a roll. 
That will let me start writing art notes based on the spaces he’ll need for layout.
Parting Shot

I can’t say if I honestly expected to come this far. The project will likely be released as two 250-275 page volumes, and I think people will like the mix of rules and setting. 

As you can see from my various playtest reports, the game seems to play well, and has some very interesting outcomes that make sense to me.

Story: I have been reading Poul Anderson’s The Broken Sword for the first time. In it, the protagonist and an ally do battle with a mighty venomous serpent (an ormr; we’ve got 15,000 words of those in the book now). Despite many close calls, the two emerge victorious and mostly unscathed, and the ormr retreats.

This outcome is very, very possible in Dragon Heresy through emergent mechanics. This was somewhere between designed in and a happy accident, but I’ve seen it more than once, and most recently with the 3-on-1 battle with the Hill Giant in the last playtest session.

So I’m very much looking forward to finishing the draft, and then getting it in front of folks. I think you’ll like it.

Schedule

I’m behind on finishing the draft, but mid-August seems reasonable.  The book has been split in two, with a Character book and a Campaign book, and I think people will get a lot of use out of both.

Layout has started, and I hope will get major effort over the next three weeks. After that, my layout guy has life thing starting up, so progress would either stop or slow down a lot. We’ll see.

That means art holes and direction is the last half of August.

September, then, is “fill in the art holes and prepare for Kickstarter,” which would push to October.

The length of the overall manuscript means the KS will need more money for indexing, editing, black-and-white, and color artwork – in that order. November and December would be taking delivery of the art as it’s done – but that’s hard to predict, because I’m going to need a LOT of art. 

Still thinking Q117 release.

We mostly got our quorum for today’s game. The players and I had decided that this game would start at level 7 instead of level 1, to test out the mid-power game.

So whom did we have?

+Anne Hunter was Gudrun, a level 7 human runic barbarian. She carried a greatsword and a shortbow, and has DR 2 thanks to Unarmored Defense.
+Wright Johnson was Dakar,  a level 7 human berserker barbarian, who brought a greataxe and a longbow to the fray, with DR 3 from Unarmored Defense.
+Nathan Joy was Ka’Shyx, a level 7 dragonborn cleric of the Justice and War domain. He sported DR 6 from chain mail armor, carried a shield and a warhammer.

This was a test on several levels, and I explained to the players that I was deliberately trying to convert a bog-standard 5e adventure to Dragon Heresy somewhat on the fly. They were OK with this, so it was good. 

I purchased the module – Palace of the Crowned Skull – from the DM’s Guild. It’s Pay What You Want, and I threw in $5. I took screenshots of the map and put them in Roll20, using Dynamic Lighting for the first time. I came up with a good way of quickly putting in the blockers, and honestly the hardest part is rescaling the maps.

I have a suggestion for the +Roll20 crowd for this, for what it’s worth. you should be able to define two squares, likely of about 20×20′ or even more, and say “the native image that’s being imported has 20×20 squares that are this big.” The squares will usually be (say) at the upper left and lower right of the map. Since both squares are 20×20 (four 5×5 squares), that gives a centerpoint for each, as well as four parallel lines in X and Y, as well as four 20′ lines in X and Y. The map can be centered, aligned, and rescaled accordingly to the grid on the blank Roll20 map. Poof, instant alignment and rescale, making a very tedious portion of the import process trivial.

Anyway, the vision-blocks worked well, once I figured out a few things.

Playing through the module worked well. I dropped the references to the Forgotten Realms, and relocated the keep to a very convenient ruin on my own setting map. It fits so well that I really should contact Bill Volk about repurposing it for Dragon Heresy, but it’s DM’s Guild, so I probably can’t. But that makes for a pretty good test  run.

Anyway, the conversation with the representative from the noble family went easily, the players asked some of the right questions, and were satisfied with the offer of 800gp each for their efforts.

One thing we quickly realized is that we need a table of expected wealth by level. Not just because we were starting at level 7 so we needed to know what stuff they might be able to afford (can the cleric afford plate armor by Level 7? My Level 6 paladin was tromping around with +2 plate by then, but the GM was very, very generous with magic items and threw bounded accuracy right out the window). Armor is a huge deal in DH, as are magical weapons, so knowing what’s possible is key. I think I know how to resolve this! Roll once on the Hoard Table with a challenge equal to level – for a level 7 character in DH, at the low end it might only be 800gp. At the high end, it’s 4,200gp and two powerful magical items (rare or very rare). 

They didn’t find any wild encounters, and traveled the roughly 60 miles to the keep in two days. It was easier to find with the provided map, and they made good time and did enough preparation to not draw any monster encounters.

They elected to come up the back way, and immediately encountered a Hill Giant on a large lower area of the castle.

They detected the Hill Giant first, and he was on patrol, walking predictably in circles on the platform, which was roughly 90×140′. They got a first-shot at the (Challenge 5) giant, but he wasn’t surprise (he had a good Perception roll).

The players immediately twigged to the right tactics – the two barbarians started peppering him with arrows, draining his vigor. Now, the hill giant had DR 6, so mostly could ignore the shortbow, but with two attacks (one of which could be used for aiming), the archers could vastly increase the odds of a critical hit, which made even the shortbow a threat. 

Initially, the giant pinned the players at the top of a narrow staircase, but then a good/lucky shot got through and caused a few wounds. This caused the giant to lose his nerve, backing off with the Demoralized condition.This allowed our players to flank him and spread out on the platform, while continuing to pepper him with arrows and the cleric used Sacred Flame a lot.

The giant retreated until his morale re-solidified, whereupon he attacked again.

It should be noted that he (and Dakar, for that matter) more or less didn’t roll higher than an 8, almost ever. The one time the giant did roll well, he was Demoralized, with disadvantage on attack rolls and skill checks, and so what would have been two shattering hits on Gudrun turned into “the mighty Casey had struck out.”

So they beat down his vigor and then went to town on wounds in hand-to-hand combat, mostly using flanking and good tactics to render the giant unconscious. They emerged unscathed, with 1 gp and 170 sp, and 965 XP each as spoils.

They did a bit more exploring, found a bit of treasure, including a potion of healing, and we called it a night. We played a bit less-long than we’d planned due to some confusion on timing.

Parting Shot

Was it an easy fight?

Yes and no. It went about as I expected it to go.

The hill giant was bad news, with 49 wounds required to kill him (but fewer required to demoralize, injure, and knock out), and 105 vigor with which to soak defenses. However, my experience here is that many-on-one, with the defender lacking a shield and the attackers well endowed with spells and ranged weapons? 

Always, always bad for the one. The giant had to make use of frantic defense to turn wounds to vigor on nearly every ranged attack, though he probably should have just taken more shots, trusting his high DR to spare him from all but lucky shortbow attacks. Still, the three players really made with the pincushion syndrome, and there’s not much the hill giant could do about it. He’s too stupid to come up with clever tactics (INT 5).

He hit Ka’Shyx with a thrown rock, but he used his reaction to take it on his shield, damaging the shield (it was a fairly poor roll) with one “hit,” and three hits and it’s broken. Unless he has the mending cantrip to repair it, he can only pull that trick 1-2 times more, and then he’ll need a new shield.

On the other hand, he rolled really badly. Throwing rocks, he was looking at 2-20 wounds per rock. With his greatclub, two attacks for 8-15 vigor each. Even with 60-70 vigor, our barbarians (who elected not to rage, because of the exhaustion effects). So only a few hits, not even counting criticals, and our heroes would have been the ones on the short end of the stick. A few hits and the PCs would have been severely short on vigor, and one greatclub crit and you’re looking at 11-65 vigor loss, and if that also exceeded the Hit DC, that could double to “you’re at zero vigor and taking plenty of wounds through only DR 2 or DR 3.”

So again: it went as I expected. A couple of hits and it was bad news for the PCs. But they did not take those hits, and kept up a steady stream of vigor-reducing attacks. Had there been a few minions or lower-level guys to take up the slack, it may well have been very different. Heck, I bet two or three goblins would have occupied enough mindshare that the hill giant would have been a magnified problem.

Lessons Learned


The massive amount of work writing up stat blocks for all the critters paid enormous dividends. I was able to just look up “Hill Giant” and adjudicate the fight with a couple of glances at the table. 

The adventure ports over easily and well.

The game still rewards sensible tactics that are intuitively obvious to players. Flank your foes. If your foes do not have shields and you’re many on one, hang back and pelt ’em with arrows. 

Taking a blow on a shield is a good thing. Having a shield is a good thing.

High DR matters, and GMs and players alike should be encouraged to think about this. Take the time to aim when dealing with armored foes, as it allows you to increase your chance of a crit by quite a bit.

The emergent behavior of our giant becoming demoralized and then in a few rounds snapping out of it and pressing back to the attack works freakin’ great. That has been a real pleasure to see.

I still need to write up a quickie combat flow algorithm for maximum clarity. It’s clear enough, but you can never be too clear about this sort of thing.

Good session. The game still plays well, and I don’t think I need to adjust challenge ratings much. Fights may well end up “gee, we’re all OK” or “tomato paste” more frequently than the SRD5.1’s base assumption of everyone down a bunch of Hit Points.

Tomorrow will be a big writing day, and then pushing hard for the rest of the week to finish the complete draft of both books. I’m guessing 350,000 words total. Maybe two books of 250-280 pages each. Solid but not with their own gravity well.

More later! 

I tossed this up on the SJG Forums as part of a discussion on the role of the GM in gaming. So I figured I’d share here as well. There’s nothing terribly profound, I think, that hasn’t been said repeatedly over the last 40 years.

WHAT IS ROLEPLAYING

No game would be complete without an introduction to roleplaying itself – or at least it seems that way.

Roleplaying is interactive storytelling. You will take the roles of characters who are mundane and magical, mighty warriors and cunning rogues, wandering bards (also called skalds) that tell the stories of mighty deeds of heroes – perhaps even performing them yourself.

In a roleplaying game, you create a character, which is a collection of descriptive and game-mechanical abilities that provide the lens through which you as a player interact with the world that has been created for you to adventure in.

A useful concept in thinking about roleplaying characters is that of the avatar. Originally a Hindu concept, it was the physical manifestation of a god on earth, usually as a human or animal form. In a way, your character is thus an avatar, the physical appearance of the player in the world of Dragon Heresy, the tool, body, and voice that the player uses to interact with the world.

Throughout the text of this book, and the Book of Heroes, the rules and text will refer to the player and the player’s character (avatar!) mostly interchangeably. This is done for convenience as well as some degree of accuracy – while it is hopefully unlikely that the actual players will draw swords and axes to settle conflicts with each other and the GM, it is the players making the decisions for their avatars, their proxy in the game world.

The Role of the Gamemaster

The Gamemaster, or GM, provides the voices and actions of everyone but your other fellow players and your own character. The GM provides the plot outline, plays the roles of the men, women, monsters, and gods you might meet during the course of adventuring, and will generally set the structure and tone of the game.

Rule Zero

Through these rules, there is one assumption that is made tacitly, but will be stated here explicitly and is often referred to as “Rule Zero” of roleplaying: The GM’s word is final in all discussions about the in-game rules, especially while the game session is in play. The Gamemaster is, as the name implies, the master of the game, and if the GM wants to change a rule, or even bypass the use of rules for a particular scene, that’s the way it goes.

The Golden Rule


There’s an important corollary to Rule Zero in social endeavors like roleplaying. Derived from “The Golden Rule,” – do unto others as you would have others do unto you – and recently referred to and popularized as “Wheaton’s Law,” the less-colorful phrasing of which would be “Don’t be a jerk”.

Yes, the GM’s word is final, but abuse of this role will lead to tension and strife, and the most important part of the roleplaying game is to have fun telling great stories playing your characters with friends and people with common interests.

As a GM, your job is to provide structure, continuity, and inspiration to the game so that the players can live fast, engage in epic struggle, achieve noble successes, or failing that, at least die gloriously and memorably. In short – you are creating a shared play area in which your friends will also have fun. Take that seriously – but Rule Zero is, in the end, yours.

I’m into serious worldbuilding for the Dragon Heresy RPG now, so this will be a short post. 

I’ve settled on an organizational structure for detailing the Races that come out of the SRD5.1 with nothing but the stat-block and abilities, and also the Kingdoms that make up the political entities in the setting.

So, what am I including with each?

Races

Each race of course has it’s game-mechanical abilities. But there’s also the other bits that define a bit of the culture and background for each one.

The SRD5.1 races are Dwarf, Elf, Half-Elf, Gnome, Human, Halfling, Tiefling, Dragonborn, and Half-Orc. Half-orcs might be a problem from a setting point of view, as they’re not really the common cannon-fodder monster – that honor belongs to lizardfolk and kobolds. 


However, fey are a big part of the setting, and legends of fey mingling their blood with humans – usually through charms and shapeshifting – are pretty common. I may keep the stats as they are and just rebrand them half-trolls. But really they’re not real trolls, but half-hobgoblins, because goblins are fey in Dragon Heresy. (I needed more fey. I made a bunch of critters fey that weren’t before, mostly with some nudges from mythology. I might yet do more – Will-o-the-Wisps in Finnish mythology guard faerie treasure, so rebranding them as fey instead of undead makes a lot of sense to me.

Anyway, here’s the outline of information to be provided fo reach race:

[This Race] in Etera

  • Do they have a home kingdom?
  • What Kingdoms do they live in?

[This Race’s] Stereotypes

  • Demeanor with each other
  • Demeanor with other races

[This Race’s]Appearance

  • Size, Weight, and Body type
  • Distinguishing Features

Culture

  • Social Organization
  • Customs and Traditions of Note
  • Religion
  • Language
  • Arts and Literature
  • Forms of Government
  • Economic Systems

Priorities

  • Power/Influence
  • Violence/Command
  • Wealth/Resources
  • Desire/Fellowship

Names

  • Male Names
  • Female Names
Kingdoms
Here, I nipped over to the CIA World Factbook, and totally stole the outline of what is covered for each country. Too useful not to.

  • INTRODUCTION
  • BRIEF HISTORY
  • PEOPLE AND SOCIETY
  • GOVERNMENT
  • ECONOMY
  • COMMUNICATIONS AND TRANSPORTATION
  • MILITARY
  • RELATIONSHIPS WITH OTHER NATIONS
Parting Shot

The overall work is about 306,000 words as last night. I was hoping to have the entire first draft complete by Sunday night, but I very much doubt this will happen – too much yet to write. I might be able to cover it all in a week.
I have, however, sent a chapter-by-chapter draft of the player’s book (175,000 words) to +Rob Muadib, my layout guy, and while the Races chapter is obviously expanding, the rest of them are basically done. The act of putting them into layout by chapter will also allow my three-dozen playtesters to say “hey, what happened to X?”
It will also allow me to start writing art direction. I posted a call for artists a while ago, but then things changed and evolved, and so I put that on hold. But I’m getting to the point where I can start writing a “what I would like to have” primer for prospective artists, and I’ve got some strong interest from more than one already. Paying them is the province of Kickstarter, of course!
Back to the grindstone. But things are getting closer. Much closer.

Edit: I also want to give a shout-out to both the +Norse Mythology G+ community as well as the Iceland reddit. While my forays into DnD-inspired reddits have largely been met with . . . hmm. Smug hostility? Maybe too strong. Still, it’s not been welcoming – and the SJG Forums are pretty special with regard to how eagerly people will embrace and comment on a well-written question – but these two communities have been very, very helpful to me in these later stages of development. The Iceland guys in particular have gone above and beyond the call to help me turn really bad Icelandic/Old Norse into far-less-bad Icelandic and Old Norse. The errors that will appear on the maps are mine, and mostly there purposefully.

Example? Rivers. The ending/word for river is just á. Toss in an -in ending, áin and you get a definite article or some such. I’m using it wrong deliberately – rivers in the primary Kingdom of my world end in áin in the area north of the river on which the capital city lies. It’s deliberately ungrammatical, to show that it’s a bit rough and tumble and archaic up there. Below the twin rivers that terminate at the capital city – the Freysáin and the Blítháin, all the rivers end in á. 

They’re probably pretty smug about it, too.

The Dragon Heresy RPG player-centric book is finished, at least in complete first draft form. 
Based off of an extensively edited and modified SRD5.1, the player’s book consists of roughly 172,000 words, or between 235-275 laid-out pages depending on how that goes.
You can see the raw dump of the Table of Contents below. This represent Chapter and Section Titles (what I’d call A-HEAD and B-HEAD in a GURPS manuscript).
Next step for this one is for +Rob Muadib to pour it into our black-and-white layout format, and then make holes for art. In the meantime, my squad of nearly three dozen playtesters and readers will hopefully be looking at this with a “tweak and fix” rather than “suggest sections to write” eye.
I have also created an outline for the GM’s book, and ported the major already-written sections into it, whch means it’s over 120,000 words on day one. This is good. Not all of my effort is going into the GM’s book, but most of it will be over the next week.
So: a good bit of progress, but more yet to do. I’m still hoping to have a complete draft in a week, but that’s a lot of writing in a short time. We shall see.

Introduction………………………………………………………… 5
Core Concepts……………………………………………………….. 9
Using Ability Scores………………………………………………… 11
Saving Throws………………………………………………………. 22
Combat…………………………………………………………….. 23
The Order of Combat…………………………………………………. 23
Actions in Combat…………………………………………………… 25
Defensive Target Numbers…………………………………………….. 27
Making an Attack……………………………………………………. 30
Grappling………………………………………………………….. 36
Movement and Position……………………………………………….. 41
Mounted Combat……………………………………………………… 42
Underwater Combat…………………………………………………… 43
Injury, Rest, and Healing……………………………………………. 44
Inspiration………………………………………………………… 49
Generating Characters……………………………………………….. 52
Character Description……………………………………………….. 52
Generating Ability Scores……………………………………………. 54
Character Races…………………………………………………….. 57
Racial Traits………………………………………………………. 57
Dwarf……………………………………………………………… 57
Elf……………………………………………………………….. 58
Halfling…………………………………………………………… 59
Human……………………………………………………………… 60
Dragonborn…………………………………………………………. 60
Gnome……………………………………………………………… 61
Half-elf…………………………………………………………… 62
Half-orc…………………………………………………………… 63
Tiefling…………………………………………………………… 63
Character Classes…………………………………………………… 65
Barbarian………………………………………………………….. 65
Bard………………………………………………………………. 70
Cleric…………………………………………………………….. 76
Druid……………………………………………………………… 93
Fighter…………………………………………………………… 101
Monk……………………………………………………………… 106
Ranger……………………………………………………………. 122
Rogue…………………………………………………………….. 131
Sorcerer………………………………………………………….. 137
Warlock…………………………………………………………… 144
Wizard……………………………………………………………. 156
Character Background……………………………………………….. 165
Backgrounds……………………………………………………….. 166
Motivation, Cohesion, and Goal………………………………………. 190
Beyond 1st Level…………………………………………………… 192
Explicit Multiclass Options…………………………………………. 196
Equipment…………………………………………………………. 204
Coinage…………………………………………………………… 204
Selling Treasure…………………………………………………… 204
Armor and Shields………………………………………………….. 205
Weapons…………………………………………………………… 208
Magical Attacks vs Armor……………………………………………. 211
Adventuring Gear…………………………………………………… 212
Tools…………………………………………………………….. 218
Mounts and Vehicles………………………………………………… 220
Trade Goods……………………………………………………….. 221
Expenses………………………………………………………….. 222
Feats…………………………………………………………….. 226
List of Feats……………………………………………………… 226
Spellcasting………………………………………………………. 235
What Is a Spell?…………………………………………………… 235
Casting a Spell……………………………………………………. 238
Spell Lists……………………………………………………….. 245
Spells by Class……………………………………………………. 245
Cantrips………………………………………………………….. 262
1st Level Spells…………………………………………………… 268
2nd Level Spells…………………………………………………… 281
3rd Level Spells…………………………………………………… 300
4th Level Spells…………………………………………………… 315
5th Level Spells…………………………………………………… 327
6th Level Spells…………………………………………………… 345
7th Level Spells…………………………………………………… 358
8th Level Spells…………………………………………………… 369
9th Level Spells…………………………………………………… 376
Conditions………………………………………………………… 386
Open Game License Version 1.0A………………………………………. 389