Sunday, 25 July 2021

Why a Canonical D&D is the Only Way Forward for WotC

ComicBook.com reported recently that Principal D&D designer Jeremy Crawford offered clarity on the subject of what is canon in the Dungeons and Dragons RPG world.

Crawford said.

"Basically, our stance is that if it has not appeared in a book since 2014 [the year that Dungeons & Dragons' Fifth Edition core rulebooks came out], we don’t consider it canonical for the games."

Typically this got a fractured response from the RPG community who are typically divided into two camps, those who slavishly follow the product/story lines of D&D and everybody else.

Why a D&D Canon is Important to WotC

Wizards of the Coast is a business owned by toy making giant Hasbro.  Dungeons & Dragons is just one of its properties, not the most profitable one but it is the most recognised brand in the Tabletop Role Playing Game (TTRPG) sector.  Each edition of D&D has its own life span.  At the time of writing 5th edition is 7 years old and as with any games system the bulk of its sales will always come initially from the sale of its core rulebooks and as the edition ages these are overtaken by supplemental materials such as adventures, settings, campaigns and other entertainment properties.  

Older gamers like myself have seen this pattern repeat itself over many editions of many games systems.  It's similar to the way that movie and tv franchises like Doctor Who, Star Wars, Star Trek or Battlestar Galactica have been rebooted multiple times over many decades.

The rise in popularity of streamed D&D game channels such as Critical Role or Acquisitions Incorporated has changed the audience dynamic,  For some their only experience of D&D is watching it being played by people on Twitch, YouTube etc.  They passively consume the content in exactly the same way as you would a movie.  It is a story from beginning to end and a history of play emerges which becomes canonized episode by episode.

When this audience wants to begin playing their own sessions their desire is to emulate what they have watched, after all it is their only frame of reference.  WotC needs to take this into account and provide a world and a shared canonical history which they can control in order to feed the various different projects that they have planned for this edition of D&D such as movies, books, TV series and merch, merch, merch. 

It's not personal it's just business - The Godfather
It's not personal it's just business - The Godfather

If WotC D&D is to make more money then they have to sell more than just rule books.  They have to control their universe to make other properties easy to write and to enable their consumption as passive entertainment.  Good luck to them I say.

So why are some people getting upset about this?

Older players might view this as just one more betrayal in a long list where WotC is taking their beloved franchise and turning it into something else entirely.  We've seen this happen across all of the rebooted movie and TV franchises in recent times but I don't think we are going to see the same voracity or backlash in D&D.

But stop, calm down, put down the keyboard and step away from the monitor...

Everyone's D&D Experience is Different.

Playing D&D is not like watching a movie, reading a book or watching a twitch stream of internet celebrities playing a game of D&D.

When we play D&D we do not play the same game, the choices we make during the game change the story and our experience becomes unique.   How the Dungeon Master brings the story to the table, the characters in the adventure, how the rolls go, how players react to events, everything becomes a unique experience.

With the best will in the world, once those books leave the store, WotC has lost all control of how they are used, interpreted, played, written about, podcasted and most importantly experienced.  Your D&D experience is a product of all the choices and decisions made around your table regardless of what the author, designer, WotC or Hasbro might say.

The D&D Expanded Universe (DDEU) vs My Exapanded Universe (MEU)

WotC is carving out it's DDEU so that it can continue to make products for the coming years.  To me this signals that 5e is here to stay for many years.  It wants to homologate these products into a framework of historical canon which helps its many writers and designers to navigate the confusing and inconsistent waters of a property that has existed across many different editions over the last 5 decades. 

Good for them.

My Epanded Universe will continue to beg, borrow and steal it's material from anything which I have read or watched in my 5 decades.  WotC can't police what I'm doing with it's product, it doesn't dictate what can happen in my games, my players do. 

Good for them.

The Only Thing that Matters is Having Fun

The concept of control strikes at the heart of the recent "Culture Wars" that are ongoing in every hobby and every social or political structure at the moment.  The incessant labelling of ist, ism and phobe being bandied about on the cesspool of social justice that is social media (mostly twitter) is a mask worn by those without imagination and creativity. 

These people play the person and not the ball because they cannot win (control) the argument.  The only way to win the argument is to not play the game by their rules.  The recent debacle with the relaunched TSR is a case in point.

What happens in your game, what rules you specify for the alignment or moral choices made by orcs and dark elves or what frameworks you implement to ensure that your games are internally consistent (or wheelchair accessible) are for you and your players to decide.        

WotC and the horde of blue check mark allies can shout all they want and try to define what is and what isn't D&D.  I am not forced to use what WotC is selling to still play D&D, those books walked out of the store many years ago.  If they sell something I like I might buy it.  If they don't I won't.

In summary the only voices I hear are the ones around my table.  If they don't like something they'll tell me.  If they like something, they will be laughing and having fun.

And that my friends, is all that matters.

Sunday, 11 July 2021

Troube in Sommerlisse - Part 5 - The Thrymstone Curse

Trouble in Somerlisse is a Savage Worlds campaign using the Hellfrost setting.  The Games Master is Mark Hamilton and play takes place every Friday night at Dragons Keep Roleplay Club.

Examining the Thrymstone

As the night and the cold draws in Vigo drinks and dances in the firelight casting strange shadows around the room. Athura and the others sit by the fire examining the stone. It is long, flat, icey blue in colour and very, very cold to the touch. Carved upon its flat side are frosttongue runes, just a single word, POISON. 

Poison cursed Thrymstone
 Historians call this is a Thrymstone a creation of the followers of Thrym the God of Frost also known as The Ice King. During the Blizzard War, the Thrympriests used Thrymstones to curse the land and the people as they spread their influence South. Athura surmises that this explains how the quarryfolk of Lier were poisoned, but not why the Ridder’s daughter, Aylsluf shares their affliction. 

Vissarel wonders if those who died at the quarry of the poison became the zombies which attacked them. It sounds plausible but a more learned opinion from some priests would no doubt say that zombies are the bodies of those who have been cursed and occupied by Demons released by Hela.

They retire to sleep their dreams filled with ancient mysteries and a sense of dark foreboding. Athura feels the connection to her Goddess strengthen and she feels as though she is being watched, her actions scrutinised. 

A Return to Somerlisse

Thingol lights a fire and cooks a small breakfast of venison and dried fruit. They need to return to Sommerlisse with haste but he wants to secure the Forge before they leave. They cross the bridge over the small river. Winter is approaching and the river is beginning to freeze. 

They search the forge and find evidence of the work of the quarrymen. Pottery in all stages of production, mostly homeware such as bowls, pots and plates. Some are raw clay others have been fired in the kilns, their lustrous green hues dance in the light.

They find tracks of the goblins who were clearly searching for something, but find none of the foul creatures. Vigo finds a cache of seven gold shields, 

“goblins don’t know where people like to hide their money, but I do” 

he chuckles brandishing his find like a prize. Athura tells him to put it back, it’s owner will need it when he recovers from sickness caused by the curse. Vigo grumbles and makes a show of returning the money to its hiding place whilst deftly transferring it into one of his many hidden pockets.

It is time to head back to Somerlisse and our heroes retrieve their horses from the barn. Vissarel takes the time to milk the goat for the journey. 

They lead their horses out of the quarry on foot and soon leave the rocky section and mount up. As they get on to the road to Somerlisse it is still very cold and with a light snow covering and by mid afternoon they arrive back at Somerlisse. 

The Saviours of Sommerlisse Return 

Athura heads immediately to the infirmary whilst the others had for the warmth and ale of the Copper Kettle Inn.

Vigo is looking for someone to sell his loot to. The last time he was here he thought he saw a couple of Engrosi. He was right and he speaks them out engaging in loud conversation whilst secretly speaking in fingerspeak to arrange a more private liaison where they can talk business.  Thingol has never seen Vigo with his own kind and notices how animated their hands are, it's as if they are having two conversations at the same time. "What a curious folk the little people are" he muses. 

Vigo the Engro

 

Vissarel and Thingol talk to the innkeeper who tells them that the people of Somerlisse had started to give up hope. Their return has really lifted the peoples spirits and their return is the talk of the town. Some have even begun to refer to the four of them as the Somerlisse Saviours.

The Infirmary

When Athura enters the infirmary she is greeted by Ydonia who inspects the Thrymstone. Athura once again tries to appeal to the Goddess to use her as a conduit to heal these people of the sickness but to no avail. 

Runa arrives shortly after and thanks for retrieving the Thrymstone. Now that they know that they are dealing with a thrym curse they can help stabilise the sick. However, the only way to lift the curse is to kill the one that put the curse on the stone. The heroes must find and kill the Thrympriest. 

Athura says that it still doesn’t explain my Aylsluf is sick. She didn’t drink the poisoned water from the well at Lier. Ydonia says that Aylsluf frequently visited her step mother's burial mound in the Somerhlaw Valley perhaps the answer lies there.

Athura returns to the inn. “Our work is not done” she tells her comrades explaining everything that Runa and Ydonia told her. 

Somerhlaw valley lies an hours ride Southeast following a less well travelled path. They leave immediately and ride out with haste.

Among the Burial Mounds 

An hour later they are overlooking a small valley dominated by 20 or so earthen mounds. The paths between the mounds are overgrown with bushes and small trees and there is a gloomy somber feel to the whole place. The people of sommerlisse have abandoned the ancient practice of burying their dead in mounds and this site hasn’t been used for nearly 20 years.

Athura explains that Penfrick's first wife and Aylsluf's mother, died in child birth and it was his second wife Friggyth who raised her as her own. Friggyth died almost 20 years ago and that it is her name which will be carved in the lintel of the tomb.

The heroes move between the mounds searching the lintels for the name Friggyth Skalsunu. they find it on one of the newer mounds. 

In Frosttongue Athura shouts “Servants of Thrym, the Ice King, reveal yourself”.

Athura repeats her cry and Thingol booming voice ads “we are waiting!”

Still no response and so Athura clears her mind and attunes herself to the sounds of the animals whispering a prayer to the goddess. Nothing. Has her Goddess abandoned her? As she ends the prayer she suddenly feels feint and staggers on her feet. 

Vissarel watches Athura intently realising that this is some form of prayer magic and she weaves a spell of mimicry. She calls out to the beasts of the valley, their voices fill her ears and a deer bellows

“undead are near”

Lying in the snow in the doorway of the mound is a Thrymstone. Athura brush the snow off of it revealing a crude flint like knife with traces of a rune for wounds carved into it. 

"Reveal yourself murderer" she cries into the sky.

Vissarel hears the restless chatter of the the birds, "The undead are here" they sqwalk, as they launching themselves into the sky with a cacophany of cawing. 

Hurriedly, the four climb up onto the mound to get to high ground. With the birds and the beasts silent all that can be heard is the cracking of branches.

Something wicked this way comes... 

Sessions

 

Trouble in Somerlisse - Part 4 - Well, Oh Well, Oh Well!!

Trouble in Somerlisse is a Savage Worlds campaign using the Hellfrost setting.  The Games Master is Mark Hamilton and play takes place every Friday night at Dragons Keep Roleplay Club. 

Aftermath of the Goblins

At the Mill, the heroes search the bodies of the 5 dead ice goblins who attacked them. They find several bags of food which have clearly been looted from the barn and six silver shields. They find no new information on why the goblins are here. Thingol decides to check out the level above and cautiously climbs the stairs to the storage area. This has been recently used by the goblins as some sort of camp and there are five bedspaces. Judging by their excreta, they have been here for more than a day, maybe two.

Athura Magnussdottir
A Sister of Mercy


Athura hypothesises that the goblins must be working for whoever killed the ranger, perhaps they are a trap left to waylay any who returned or even an investigating party like themselves. This is too organised for goblins. The prints found at the funeral pyre are too big for goblins, they must be in league with another, possibly a human, maybe even a frost mage judging by the way the ranger was slain.

Vissarel votes to investigate the world and Athura finds a vessel with a stopper to carry a sample of well water.

Athura winds down the bucket which hits the bottom with a thunk. The well is either dry or frozen over. The steads people have left a large rock tied to a rope besides the well for this specific purpose. She drops the stone-on-a-rope into the well to break the ice and it lands with a crack. She hauls it out and it's dry.

Thingol casts 3 firebolts into the well illuminating the sides as they descend. With an echoing boom a hot shockwave of steam bursts forth and immediately turns into pretty snowflakes in the icy air.

Viggo picks himself up out of the snow and Vissarel ties her rope around his waist. Thingol casts a smite spell on the engro's tiny dagger and the blade bursts into flame. "Be quick about it, the flame will not last" the paladin says. Viggo leaps over the edge of the well and disappears from sight. Thingol grabs the rope assisting Thingol. The engro comes to a sudden stop dangling inches above the surface of the water. His mission, although not an impossible one, is to retrieve the bucket.

In the daggers fire he sees that the bucket is trapped under a strangely shaped rock. However, he does not see the huge snake that lives in the bottom of the turnip shaped well chamber. The snake strikes and misses.

Athura grabs the rope and climbs over the low wall wall as Vissarel casts a deflection spell upon her. Vigo strikes at the snake but misses and Thingol is pulled towards the well edge straining with the added weight of both Vigo and Athura. The rope slips in his hands and Viggo splashes into the water.

At that moment three frost zombies burst out of their hiding places in the snow surrounding Thingol and Vissarel. "Sorry Athura '' he sighs and drops the rope needing both hands to unleash a flurry of fire bolts at the zombies. Each hits a separate target but they just are shrugged off. Vissarel responds with her own spell conjuring tiny frozen stars of air which circle the well before slamming into their targets without effect. Digging deep into her reserves she casts again and all three hit their intended targets. The spinning stars decapitate one and slice another zombie's head in twain but the third remains it's cold, evil grin haunting the elf. Thingol strikes the hellfrost with his mace but misses.

ice zombie
An ice zombie

In the well Athura with one foot in the bucket and smacks the snake in the head with a mighty blow from her mace temporarily stunning the beast. Her triumph is very short lived and the snake strikes again, it's bite parried by the Sister of Mercy. A blustering Viggo emerges from the water with and stabs the fiery blade into the soft underbelly. The flaming blade smite is extinguished as viggo repeatedly sinks the dagger into the snake. The quiet darkness is punctuated by the snick,snick,snick of his blade and the creature lets out a death rattle.

The last zombie summons its strength and punches Thingol in the chest, denting his armour and breaking his ribs. Vissarel fashions her bolt in the shape of an air demon which arches into the sky and slams into the zombie crushing its skull.

Panting with exertion, Viggo stands triumphantly atop the snake. "We have to get out of this well before we catch our death" says Sister Athura. "Wait" replies the Engro and thrusts his hand under the water retrieving the oddly shaped rock which he stuffs in the bucket. Thingol shouts "Hold on" and hauls the pair up.

Shivering they rush to a house which has not been raided. Thingol sets a roaring fire in the hearth with his firebolts and the heroes warm themselves. Athura tends to Thingol's wound. Viggo strips off and triumphantly dances in front of the fire as Vissarel conjures air currents which weave between then all.

“Who would have thought getting a bucket of water would be such an adventure”, Thingol mutters.

 

The frozen well
An innocent looking frozen well

Sessions

Trouble in Somerlisse - Part 3 - The Quarry at Lier

Trouble in Somerlisse is a Savage Worlds campaign using the Hellfrost setting. The Games Master is Mark Hamilton and play takes place every Friday night at Dragons Keep Roleplay Club.

Athura Magnusdottir - a healer - Tony
Thingol Chillblane - a paladin - Tony
Vigo - a rogue - Martin
Vissarel - a mage - Kat

The Quarry at Lier

Our heroes have been tasked with a most urgent mission. They must find the source of the poison which afflicted the Ridder's daugter Aylsluf and the quarryfolk of Lier. They don't know how long these people have and the urgency of the mission weighs heavily on their minds. Athura assembles a quick breakfast and they head out.

Passing by the gaol hut they notice that the door is ajar. They rush in to find the orc lying dead on the floor still chained to the post but with his throat slit. Someone has murdered him in the night. 

Thingol states grimly 

"Well that saved me the bother of hunting it down and killing it" 

and casts a knowing glance at Vissarel.  Athura sighs, says a quick prayer to the Goddess Eira and replies "It is done and there is naught we can do but focus ourselves on the task at hand, saving the people of Lier.  We must hurry"

Athura's words kindle a new sense of urgency and they ride out with haste on the snowy path to the quarry.  

It is not long before the path through the hills gets more rocky and they must dismount to lead their horses on foot.  By late morning they crest a hill to find the valley of Lier stretched out before them.

The Quarry at Lier

Searching the Abandoned Quarry  

200 yards outside the stead on the left hand side of the rode lies a small patch of tilled ground which must be where the quarryfolk grow food. The ground is frozen into neat littel rows and furrows but the shape of a dead body is clearly visible in the snow in the snow.

Thingol dismounts and approaches cautiously. He brushes the freshly fallen snow from the body and discovers a man lying face down in the snow, naked from the waist down.

“Thingol what do you see?” Arthura demands. He turns over the body, there are no signs of obvious wounds. his eyes are open and his face contorted in agony. One leg is frozen solid from the mid calf Down. He is missing one leg of his hose, he didn't die of exposure, he died of a sudden extreme exposure to cold.  Searching nearby Vigo find his missing clothes with some money, a travelling bag and a short bow. Vissarel thinks he has been exposed to cold fire, magic quite a powerful frost mage spell or a breath weapon from a hell frost dragon. 

Thingol and Arthura carry the corpse and place it on the large funeral pyre standing just outside of the palisade. Someone had been preparing to burn many dead here judging by the size of the pyre and the many booted prints surrounding it. Despite being covered in last night's snow they are clearly visible and could be from one or more of the quarryfolk, it is hard to say for sure.

The Barn

Vigo and the Vissarel take the horses and investigate the barn inside the pallisade. It contains some livestock, sheep, goats, chickens, sacks of grain and the body of a dead goblin. It has been beaten to death and there is plenty of blood on the ground. The animals keep their distance from the goblin and seem content to munch on spilt grains and straw. As Vissarel ties up the horses, Vigo takes the opportunity to check the dead mans travelling bag. It contains some dried meat, snares and other small items consistent with that of a woodsman trapper or hunter.

The team briefly unites at the barn and share what they have found. The quarry looks deserted and they agree to split up and cover more ground. They need to make this place safe quickly. Thingol and Sister Athura head for the first house just inside the pallisade walls. It has been ransacked by something, probably goblins. They scour the ground floor for evidence of poisoned food and collect some scraps in a sack.  

Vissarel crosses the snow to the second house. She is stopped dead in her tracks by an ice zombie who bursts out of the snow to attack her. It whirls its clawed hands at her but misses and is inceremoniously sliced to pieces by a flurry of air daggers unleashed from her hands with elemental wizardry.

Vigo checked out house number three and finds it is in good order. It has not been ransacked and he spends some time rifling through the owners precious items before uncovering a shard of fired green pot clay. "Didn't someone say this stuff is valuable?" he mutters to himself.

The sounds of conflict bring Athura and Thingol running to Vissarel's aide but as they arrive Vissarel is dusting off the remnants of the snow that showered her when the zombie attacked. She can handle herself well if need be. The Engro is nowhere to be seen.  

The Watermill 

The group approaches the water mill, outside its walls the snow has been disturbed by lots of footprints. Thingol opens the door and is surprised by five goblins who immediately attack. Vissarel kills two with a flurry of air bolts. Athura pushes past the paladin and attacks a third with her mace a solid hit which momentarily shakes the creature. 

Thingol boldly strides straight into the centre of the mill and casts a trio of fire bolts one bolt for each goblin. They all strike their targets but he only succeeds in shaking two of them who recover immediately. Athura brings her mace down on the head of one near her killing it. She apologises to the goddess.  Vissarel lets fly a trio of air stars which wheel around the big frostborne paladin and slam into their targets stunning them.

Thingol attacks the remaining goblins with his warhammer but today luck has abandoned him. Vissarel weaves the elements together into a great spear which shoots across the room impaling the pair of goblins onto one of the mills supporting wooden beams. 

As the magic dissipates they slump to the floor quite dead.

Sessions

Sunday, 4 July 2021

Trouble in Somerlisse - Part 2 - What Ill has Befallen Sommerlisse

Trouble in Somerlisse is a Savage Worlds campaign using the Hellfrost setting. The Games Master is Mark Hamilton and play takes place every Friday at Dragons Keep Roleplay Club.

Athura Magnusdottir - a healer - Tony
Thingol - a paladin - Tony
Vigo - a rogue - Martin
Vissarel - a mage - Kat

The Aftermath of the Bridge Attack

On the bridge which crosses the moat our heroes try to calm the sole surviving and now captured orc. Sister Athura orders the guards to fetch The Ridder. The stunned militiamen look at each other in confusion and run off into the town. They soon return accompanied by a man who announces that he is Oswulf, the Hurscarl.

They drag the bound orc to a well built round hut, which passes for a gaol, and tie him to the central post which supports the roof. Vigo searches the orc and finds 4 silver shields. Oswulf posts a guard and orders "none may enter and if the orc tries to escape... kill it". 

Meeting The Ridder 

The heroes are led to the house of The Ridder and to the Great Hall where the are fed a hearty meal of meat stew and bread. The Ridder, Penrick, enters accompanied by a Taiga Elf who he introduces as Runa a priestess of Eostra the provider of bread.  

Penrick says that the orcs have not been this bold in over 15 years. Vigo presents Runa with the four silver shields. 

They have heard nothing from one of the outlying steads so a rider was sent to visit the Brinya Family and get them to retreat to the safety of the town. 

There was an incident at the quarry at Lear. A number of the miners became sick of a fever and died, those that could fled to Somerlisse where many have become sicker and died. Runa tends them in the infirmary.

The Ridder explains that his own daughter, Alsluf, has come down with a sickness and Runa takes Sister Athura to examine her. Despite the windows to her bedroom being wide open, Alsluf is sweating and feverish. Athura examines her and finds a fresh wound on the falm of her hand which does not appear to be healing. This must be the source of her affliction and is likely to have been inflicted by someone she knows.

The Ridder tells them that he has arranged for lodging at the Copper Kettle Inn and his Huscarl Oswulf will give them any assistance that they need. 

The Interrogation 

With Oswulf leading, they return to the gaol and interrogate the orc. In orcish, Sister Athura promises the orc that no harm will come to him if he tells them what they want to know. He will be released to return to his tribe. It is hard to say if Athura's kindly manner and soothing tongue are more persuasive than the imposing shadow of Thingol Paladin of Kenza which looms over the orc.  

With a grunt, Thingol leaves for the sanctuary of the inn and ale. The thought of aiding an agent of the Hellfrost does not sit well with him and he wrestles with his conscience as he slakes his thirst.

The orc tells them that they were paid to raid the human settlements. He does not know who paid them, he was just told to attack anyone trying to get to the town. The tribe numbers 20 to 30 orcs but he does not know where they will attack next or in what numbers.

Athura opines that attacking the steads is not normal behaviour and the incident at the quarry seems far too coincidental to be such. She suspects that the raids are a diversion and that they should strike out for the quarry in the morning. She tells the orc that he will be escorted out of the town in the morning and he can return to his tribe. The Huscarl tells the guard that he has done a fine job and that he is relieved.

The Copper Kettle Inn  

Retiring to the warmth of the Copper Kettle Inn, the group rest. Athura excuses herself from the party and goes to the infirmary to see if she can be of any use. Vigo tells tall tales to the through out the night to anyone who will listen. He gathers a crowd around him as he tells of Athura the midwife who saved the golden calf. Thingol takes this opportunity to satisfy his religious code which demands that he destroy the orc, as he cannot in good concious allow aid as agent of the Hellfrost. He sneaks out of the inn and heads to the gaol, Vissarel follows him in the shadows.

Athura meets Runa and her assistant at the infirmary. The room is full of people exhibiting the same symptoms as the Ridder's daughter. Examining them she discovers that unlike Alsluf, none show any signs of physical injury and surmises that they have ingested a poison. She tells Runa that whoever poisoned Alsluf is probably here in Somerlisse and possibly travelled with the miners. The Ridder needs to be told and if the poisoner is human then there is some other plan at work. Tomorrow they will ride out for the quarry and try to bring back samples of food and water. If they are lucky they will find the source of the poison and can treat these unfortunate people. She returns to the inn.

The Orc

Thingol approaches the unguarded gaol hut in the darkness and opens the door. The orc is slumped on the floor still tied to the post and asleep. He readies his warhammer raising it over his head to deliver a killing blow when a hand reaches out of the darkness and grasps his arm softly. 

"A quieter approach is necessary on this occasion" whispers Vissarel and she walks around the other side of the post slitting the orcs throat with her dagger. The pair close the door and walk back to the inn confident that the fresh snow fall will cover their tracks.

Thigol Chillbane - Original art by https://www.creativeuncut.com/gallery-38/sf3-human-male-armor.html
Thingol Chillblane - Original art by creativeuncut.com

Sessions