More and More Maps

Posted by Labyrinthian in ,

Over the last few weeks I have continued to work on the map that I started here.  When  I began I didn't realize what an epic undertaking it would be.  It has over 550 layers and the photoshop file is nearly 600MB in size.  It's been pretty exhausting and it still isn't finished, but hopefully by next week I'll be done.

First I'll start by showing you where I left off.  This picture on the right was the last version of the map that I had posted.  I had just finished drawing the political lines and layering the shields on top of each kingdom to mark which was which.

Since then I've had to change the political lines (twice) which was a bigger pain that I realized it would be.  I also added mountain ranges, hills, forests, and rivers.  Many of these natural features provide markers where one kingdom ends and another begins.

Labeling is still a work in progress.  The major seas, Lochs, Firths, and straights have been labeled; the mountains, a few passes, some marshes, and major hills also, but so far no cities, towns or castles have been put down or been labeled.  The forests and lakes also need labeling, that being the next step I plan on taking.

To the left is the most current version as described above.  As I said the political lines are slightly different though each kingdom is in more or less the same place.  This represents a good bit of work, and though I think it looks to be coming along well, I would appreciate some feedback.

I was messing around with various filters and came up with this alternate version of the map in sort of a faded monotone look.  I don't think I'll use it, but  it looked kinda cool so I figured I might as well share it.

Finally this last version of the map is what I call the Pirate Treasure map version.  Don't think I'll use this style either, but I love treasure maps.

More Frandor's Keep Support

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Support continues on Kenzerco's recently released Frandor's Keep.  Check out these overhead maps supplied by Jolly.

This first shot is of the view from Reylfor's tower.  It gives some great detail that you just don't get from the overhead maps.

This map here is of the middle bailey.  It's a great aid to give your players as they are exploring this section of the keep. 

The guys over at Kenzerco were also nice enough to supply high res versions of these that can be downloaded.  Here is the tower view and here is the middle bailey map.  More great aids for what is already an amazing product.  As I said in my review of Frandor's Keep, I highly recommend this product and it will only get better as more and more supporting content is released.  I'll keep you informed as more updates become available.

Mysterious Shrine

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Kenzerco has continued to offer more free suppliments to Frandor's Keep.  The most recent addition is Mysterious Shrine, an adventure opportunity in the area of the Keep.  As it is 100% free you have nothing to lose, so head on over and check it out!

A Game of Thrones

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There is some disapointing news regarding casting on HBO's A Game of Thrones.  It seems that Catelyn Stark has been recast with Jennifer Ehle being replaced by an Irish actress I've never heard of by the name of Michelle Fairley. Fairley's apparent claim to fame is portraying Mrs. Granger in the final two Harry Potter film.  Don't ask me why Mrs. Granger appears in either film, as I am just as baffled as you.  I thought Ehle was a good choice for Catelyn, while Fairley, despite being a few years younger than Bean who is playing Eddard, looks a little old and haggard to me. 

Further there is a possability that Daenarys is also being recast.  In addition to the fact that I thought Tamzin would be fine in the role this is going to result in even more reshooting.  One might wonder if they plan on reshooting the entire pilot.  If that is the case hopefully the original will appear on the eventual DVD set.  I for one would be interested to see the difference.

On a seperate but related topic several members of my gaming group and I got together to play the A Game of Thrones board game.  It had been a long time coming, with suspence having been built up for the last few months.  I am happy to say that the game did not disapoint.  I lived up to its reputation over at

The game features five of the great houses (Stark, Greyjoy, Lannister, Baratheon, and Tyrell) vying for control of Westeros.  I played as House Greyjoy while Revil who was also playing in the game took the part of House Stark.  The Game got off to a very slow start as we all had to learn the rules, but a few turns in we had learned the ropes.  The game is sympal at first glance but with a variety of complexities that make it a very interesting strategy game.  The game is usually highly diplomatic, though the first Clash of Kings, a kind of auction for several powers within the game, drew some some pretty hard lines.  An alliance between House Greyjoy (Myself) and House Stark (Revil) proved to be the most pivotal of all the alliances forged in the game.  It was formed chiefly to spite ManOnFunTrip who had screwed me over for the Iron Throne, and who was hosting the game.

Once we moved into the middle turns things really stated to heat up.  House Baratheon (ManOnFunTrip) and House Tyrell (His Wife) were engaged in some very heated battles in the far south.  This caused Barathon to move his troops out of Dragonstone to reinforce his war efforts.  This proved to be a very caustically mistake as NSAA (The Northern Strategic Alliance of Awesomeness i.e Greyjoy & Stark) pounced like a hungry Tiger.  While Greyjoy expanded into the center of the map and the Vale of Arryn House Stark delivered the devistating blow by moving his entire navy from White Harbor to push back the Baratheon fleet and take Dragonston.  From there it was all down hill for Baratheon and his allie House Lanister.  NSAA kept pushing south while House Tyrell pushed north.  Both houses were all but eliminated from the game when the final turn ended. As it turned out I had actually won the game on round 8, as the main victory condition was control of 7 cities and/or Castles, but we didn't know that and continued all the way through round 10.

The game is a lot of fun and I highly recommend it.  Unsurprisingly the game seems more fun to those who had read the books, but more people at the table hadn't read them than had and everyone had a blast.  I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys strategy board games.  The game has two expansions; A Storm of Swords, and A Clash of Kings.  I received a Storm of Swords for my birthday so next time we play we'll be trying that out.  

New Writer

Posted by Labyrinthian

I'd like to take this time to welcome the newest staff writer on this site, Professor Obscure.  The good Professor was kind enough to join us after minimal prodding, poking, extortion, and blackmail.  He serves as GM in our weekly Pathfinder games, is an excellent GM, and an extremely talented artist

Though I meant to give him a welcome prior to his first article, you will not doubt have already read his recent RPG Orphan.  This is just the first of many great pieces and we look forward to hearing his thoughts in the future.  Please join me in welcoming the professor aboard. 

RPG Orphan

Posted by Professor Obscure

I wasn’t always an RPG orphan. For the better part of twenty years I had a game I loved to play: Dungeons and Dragons. I’ve been playing Dungeons and Dragons since the mid-eighties. Its not that great a claim. Its not like I’ve been there from the beginning. I haven’t been an important contributor to the evolution of the game. I’ve never published anything and I’ve never had the ear of any game designers or TSR executives. All I can claim is that I’ve been a loyal consumer of Dungeons and Dragon products for more than twenty years. I won’t bore you with my gaming history and clever anecdotes about trying out different TSR products back in the day. If you are anything like me, you have your own memories from your youth (yours are probably more vivid than mine) of how Dungeons and Dragons has been a part of your world for the better part of your life. TSR was a great source of inspiration for me. All of childhood imaginings are steeped in the sword and sorcerer adventures I read and played growing up.
It is important to understand that I am a Product Loyalist. Perhaps it was my upbringing. I’m a ford guy, I buy my major appliances at sears, and I buy Irish Spring soap even when it’s not on sale. I’ve been the same with TSR and Dungeons and Dragons. I bought all those boxed sets in the 90s (Al-Qadim, Ravenloft, Dark Sun, Planescape, etc.) even if I had no intention of using them in a game. I’d read through those campaign settings every night before going to bed. I’d get inspired by the art and descriptions, and cherry-pick the coolest stuff and put it into my own game.
Being a TSR product loyalist, when the news of 3rd edition starting showing up online I was thrilled! I know a lot of loyal TSR gamers left the fold when 3rd edition hit. I was not among them. I welcomed 3E with open arms as I hoped it would streamline the countless rules options available in 2nd edition at the time. For me, the prospect of a shiny new edition of Dungeons and Dragons was great. For a while everything was perfect.
3.5 was a bit of a slap in the face for me. 3E was only two years old when they announced 3.5. To this day I feel like the 3.5 rules changes could have been contained to a 50 page errata & clarifications pamphlet rather than a $90 investment in new core rulebooks. Even after it became clear that WotC’s new owner was trying to make my beloved Dungeons and Dragons into a money machine (I think I clued in around ‘races of destiny’ that these monthly hardcovers were a waste and detracting from the game), I was still there buying $30 rules supplements! It was still ‘my game’ even if it was broken.
4th Edition was announced in 2007. I couldn’t have been more excited. The art looked great, lots of the early ideas I supported, and Dungeons and Dragons was going to take its first major step into the digital age by having an online content and an online gaming table! I was ready. 4th Edition was especially anticipated for me for a couple reasons. One was that I was in a weekly D&D game and we were very good at finding the problems with 3.0/3.5 and I was ready for some fixes. The other was the ‘.5’ in 3.5 suggested an eventual new edition. Fourth edition was the fulfillment of an unspoken promise. That little ‘.5’ also suggested, to my mind anyway, that the new Four edition would feature improvements to the game roughly equal in quantity and game impact as the 3.5 improvements were to 3.0 (3.0+.5=3.5, 3.5+.5=4).
When 4th Edition Dungeons and Dragons was released it barely resembled its namesake. Eladrin, Tieflings and Dragonborn as starting races, omission of classic races and classes, World of Warcraft-like talent trees, and a focus on battlefield tactics rather than actual role-playing were all most ominous to me. The various shortcomings of 4th Edition have been covered ad nasuem elsewhere. I will say that for me the most disturbing part of 4th edition to me was (an continues to be) that the designers are taking their inspiration from a corporate model first, people who comment a lot on their message boards second, and actual sword and sorcery source materials a distant last. The people over at WotC can make any game they like, but to call it ‘Dungeons and Dragons’ it needs a few things that seem omitted purely to make us buy the next book, and replaced by additions people on message boards thought were ‘cool’. Dungeons and Dragons 4th edition could be the greatest miniatures game ever, but I’ll never know because I’m not interested in that from a product called ‘Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition. It would be like buying a can of soup and finding dog food inside the can. I could be the best dog food in the world and it still would not be what I wanted. Some might argue that 4th Edition changes were no more radical than 3rd Edition changes. I don’t follow that line of thinking. Despite its many changes, 3rd Edition still feels like dungeons and dragons whereas if 4thEdition had a different name (say, Wizards of Coastcraft) I’d completely believe it was not a rip off of Dungeons and Dragons, but its own game I’d never have any interest in or need to write about.
And so Dungeons and Dragons and I must now go our separate ways. I’ve tried many similar roleplaying games before and since 4th Edition’s release, but none of them quite do it for me. Paizo’s post-4th Edition effort Pathfinder is very good and I’m sure many RPG orphans have found a new family in Paizo. Kenzerco seems to be taking their next edition of Hackmaster very seriously and all evidence suggests it will be very good. Time will tell if it can fill the emptiness left by 4th Edition. In the meantime I find myself surrounded by dungeons and dragons materials (just looking around this moment I see more than a dozen TSR and WotC products strewn about my room) but left to my own devices as to what to do with them. I know now that there will never be another Dungeons and Dragons product for me to buy and read hungrily. Any further fun to be had from Dungeons and Dragons will have to be solely on my own terms. I know people who have felt this sense of abandonment since 2th edition was released more than twenty years ago. Abandoned by the game that they love, they choose to forge on, playing the game that they grew up with on their own terms. For them this means playing an older edition of the game, usually with a host of house rules to keep things current and fix the problems they had hoped would have been fixed in 2nd Edition. For me, that ‘.5’ still need rounding up! I will draw from sources wherever I can find them to make my 4th Edition the game I always wanted it to be.

Frandor's Keep Review

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I've finished reading Kenzerco's most recent Hackmaster release Frandor's Keep, and as promised here is the review.  I'll try to walk the fine line of keeping things spoiler free while giving in depth information to those of you on the fence about buying this product.

Chapter One: Introduction
Not much to say about this.  It includes a quick little narrative, has an introduction, explains how the book is to be used, etc.  They also mention the downloadable content and introduce the little icon that denotes when DLC is available on a topic or graphic.   

Chapter Two: The History of Frandor's Keep
As the tittle indicates this chapter deals principally with the history of the Keep.  It includes information on why the keep was built and the various events that have surrounded its bloody history.  The history is interesting and well thought out, but is closely tied to Hackmaster's Official setting of Kalamar.  That having been said, it wouldn't be too difficult to move the Keep and the surrounding area to your own setting while keeping most if not all of the history intact.     

Chapter Three: The Earldom of Reyifor
This chapter deals with the Earldom that the keep is found in.  Details on local towers, geographical information, rivers, and roads are all available here.  Areas later featured in adventures are given a brief overview here.  A quality map of the Earldom is included in this chapter. 

Chapter Four: In The Vicinity
Chapter four presents the area immediately around the Keep.  Another great map in this chapter provides a more detailed view of the few miles around the keep.  This chapter introduces both major geographic features, such as The Shelf, as well as important man made sites, like the nearby Quarrytown. 

Chapter Five: Quarrytown
Quarrytown is a rock quarry turned seedy town.  Those unable or unwilling to reside in Frandor's Keep live here.   The map of Quarrytown is a bit different from the others presented in the book, but no less useful.  A vast number of rumors and NPC knowledge information is presented in this chapter.  Each important building and person is gone into with a good deal of depth.  One of FK's more interesting antagonists is intorduced here.  His group, the Ravens, make excellent and cunning adversaries for the PCs.  Quarrytown is an excellent addition that provides an alternative to the orderly environment of the Keep. I love the detail in this chapter, though unwary PCs will most certainly not.  

Chapter Six: The Palisade
Chapter six is short and deals with the Palisade just outside the Keep where the Smithy and Stables are found.  There is a map of the interior of the Palisade, but there isn't much to it.  Info on guards stationed in the Palisade can be found in this chapter as well as information on the Stable Master, Markin Binsaro.

Chapter Seven: Frandor's Keep
By far the largest chapter in the book, Chapter Seven deals with Frador's Keep itself.  The detail here is exquisite.    It breaks down each section of the keep and offers in depth information of people, buildings, and even the history of the section.  The map gives you an idea how much larger and detailed FK is than the old Keep on the Borderlands.  A number of smaller maps of each section offer a three dimensional view of the Keep's various sections.  One of my favorite maps is called "Elevations at the Keep" which is on page 45.  It really gives you a three dimension picture of the keep and shows you just how high those towers are compared to things in the middle bailey.  Like this map the whole chapter just flat out rocks.  This is the reason I bought the book, and believe me I was not disappointed. 

Chapters Eight though Eleven
These chapters provide the various adventure opportunities in and around the Keep.  I don't want to say too much here because it would spoil things for players and GMs alike.  The adventures range in length from very short single encounter opportunities to much longer multi-encounter full dungeon adventures.  Some adventures are straight forward requiring the PCs to go and deal with the problem in a typical violent fashion, while others are far more complex giving the players multiple options for success and/or involving moral or political choice.  There is a very good mix to ensure that things don't get monotonous and your players will be able to focus on the types of adventures that they enjoy.  These adventures provide the PCs with more than enough experience to reach level five, as promised. 

Appendix: New Rules 
This section includes rules for a new monster.  I won't say which one for spoiler reasons, but I will say that it comes with a good bit of info on the creature, a picture, and a stat block.  The rest of the information provided in this section is a compilation of the various rules and info presented in Knights of the Dinner Table and the various Hackjournals.  Rules provided cover Mounts, and expanded equipment list that includes trade goods, a new skill (Jewelery Making), Proficiencies, New Quirks and Flaws, and details on both Poison and Disease.  I love the decision to put this info in the book as there is no guarantee that anyone who purchases FK would subscribe to either KoDT or HJ.   Even those that do will likely find it useful to have all of the information compiled in once place for easy reference. 

NPC Quick Reference Chart
I love this chart.  With so many NPCs it can be difficult to keep track of them.  This chart makes it infinitely easier to do so.  It lists the NPC by location in the keep, and it also lists their Sex/Race, Location, Position, Information Known, Places Frequently visited, Associates, and the faction to which they belong.  Did I mention I love this chart?

The Good
Just about everything.  Frandor's Keep offers a lot for a reasonable price.  At $24.99 it provides you and your group with an entire HMB campaign and leaves the GM with very little work to do.  This is the best suppliment I have bought in a very long time.   

The Negative
This book has very little down side to it.  If I had to levy some complaints against it I guess I would start with page 95.  Now, there isn't anything wrong with the content on page 95, my problem is with the lack of it.  The entire right hand column is completely blank for some reason.   Normally if there isn't enough text at the end of a chapter it would be filled up with pictures, but here there is absolutely nothing but empty space.  Page 130 features the same problem, with the right hand column being empty for lack of content. 

Some of you may wonder why I don't list among the negative elements the fact that Frandor's Keep is a softcover book, as I have been critical of many soft cover publications, especially Hackmaster 4th edition's core rulebooks, in the past.  My answer is that this book costs $24.99, if it were hardcover that would have increased the cost around 10 dollars.  Though there is a lot of content in the book, certainly enough to get characters from level 1 to level 5, it will not be used nearly as much as a core rulebook.  Thus, I usually prefer softcover modules and supplements as it keeps the cost down.  I would always prefer core rulebooks be in Hardcover.  Now I may grumble about Hackmaster Basic being softcover because mine is already falling apart, but with a price tag of $20 it's hard to grumble too loudly. 

Frandor's Keep is an extremely strong product, with a wealth of content and a reasonable price tag.  Kenzerco already has some of the promised online content available.  With more on the way it's safe to say that this product will only increase in quality and support in the coming months.

Kenzer and Company could have just created a nice little homage to the original Keep on the Borderlands, more in the vein of their 4th edition parody, but they chose a higher path.  They chose to stay true to the feel of the original while creating something new and innovative.  This product doesn't rest on its laurels, it get's up and charges forward down the path of progress.  This is the kind of product that sparks the imagination and sends out a siren's song to those who's hearts crave adventure.  In short, it is a product that original Keep on the Borderland's author, Gary Gygax, would have loved.

GaryCon This Weekend

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GaryCon 2010 will be taking place this weekend.  Every year I lament that I can't go to various convention and though I hope this is the year I finally break the GenCon barrier I know that GaryCon isn't going to happen for me. 

Though I'll be missing out others will be attending what is by all accounts one of the best weekends of gaming available.  Dave Kenzer has said that his team plans on running three to six Hackmaster Basic and Hackmaster Advanced games. 


Well maybe next year.  But those of you who are going this year I encourage you to pounce on a Golden Opportunity to play Hackmaster Advanced... and then tell me all about it!  Yes that's right, I am serious.  If you come back from GaryCon with a cool story and/or info on Hackmaster Advanced I invite you to email me and fill me in.  Maybe it will make me less disappointed at missing out. 

Safe trip to those heading out!

Keep on the Borderlands: Great Module, or the Greatest Module?

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The release of Frandor's Keep prompted a question from a fellow site owner on the RPG Bloggers Network, "Keep on the Borderlands: Great Module, or the Greatest Module?"  Those of you who watch the Colbert Report will understand the intended humor of the question, and those of you who have played the very best published Dungeons and Dragons modules understand how difficult this question is. 

In 2004 when Dungeon magazine was still around they set out to make a list of the thirty greatest Dungeons and Dragons adventures of all time.  I had fully expected Keep to be in the top three, but it actually came in at number seven.  As we are only interested for the moment as to whether Keep is the Greatest let's look at its competition in the top 10.

1. Queen of the Spiders, 1986 (G1-3, D1-3, Q1)
2. Ravenloft, 1983 (I6)
3. Tomb of Horrors, 1978 (S1)
4. The Temple of Elemental Evil, 1985 (T1-4)
5. Expedition to the Barrier Peaks, 1980 (S3)
6. The Desert of Desolation, 1987 (I3-5)
7. The Keep on the Borderlands, 1979 (B1)
8. Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil, 2001
9. White Plume Mountain, 1979 (S2)
10. Return to the Tomb of Horrors, 1998        

All right, let's begin at the top.  Number one is a complete and utter cop out by the people who assembled this list (Bruce Cordell, Monte Cook, Ed Greenwood, and Christopher Perkins).  Queen of the Spiders isn't a module but rather seven modules all strung together.  It has often been called a "supermodule" based on its length and not its quality.  A lot of people lament the fact that QotS relies almost exclusively on combat leaving very little room for role playing.  Peter Green in White Dwarf #85 said, "What Queen of the Spiders gives you is slaughter on a grand scale. There are supposed to be various power struggles in progress in the depths, but the players never really get to see any of this."  Now I'm not saying that QotS isn't a good module, it is.  But really this should have been broken up rather than being presented as a whole.  I would have listed the Giants series and the Drow series separately, but hey either way I don't think it is better than Keep.  

I'm sure right now you think this is going to be a list of me going through each adventure by pointing out that Keep on the Borderlands is Better.  Nope.  Because number two is Ravenloft.  I'm not sure I can say any module is better than the original I6.  At only 32 pages it delivers more than most adventures could in ten times that number.  This adventure spawned an entire setting, and though I didn't like much other than the original module, still stands testament to how much Ravenloft ignited the imagination of Gamers everywhere.  So which is better Keep of Ravenloft?  Well they are good for very different reasons.  Ravenloft is a streamlined module that encapsulates the Gothic Horror genre seamlessly into the Dungeons and Dragons.  It is amazingly replayable because its classic villain, Strahd von Zarovich, has goals that change with each playing.  Where Ravenloft is linear Keep is anything but.  It is more of a setting that allows the players to explore the nearby Caves of Chaos at their own pace and for their own reasons.  Both approaches have their merits and neither is better than the other. 

I don't think the Tomb of Horrors is a really great module and coming in at number three is certainly too high on this list.  I realize that some people love this module based mainly on nostalgia, but if you look at it with a cold eye it isn't good enough to rank in the top three. 

Number four is the Temple of Elemental Evil is a good module, though it spawned a truly awful computer game.  Its demon spawn aside I still like Keep better.  Expedition to Barrier Peaks was a module I never really liked.  I just couldn't get past the whole crashed spaceship thing.  I don't like technology in D&D.  Number seven the DoD which I have never played so I can't comment too much on it.  I've read through some of it and it did have some interesting elements to it, but I'm not sure I would ever run it.  Eight is Return to the the Temple of Elemental Evil which I wouldn't have in the top 10.  Maybe they felt they needed to have a certain number of 3rd edition modules near the top, that's about the only explanation I have for its presences here.  Number ten, return to the Tomb of Horrors, is another sequel that somehow made its way into the top 10.  The very fact this Return presents the original Tomb of Horrors as a mere antechamber to the real Tomb pisses me off to no end.  Needless to say I don't think it belongs in the top 10 or anywhere within 20 slots of Keep.

Right about now some of you are saying, "Hey you skipped number nine!"  Which is obviously true.  That is because I think White Plume Mountain deserved some special attention.  It is a great module that is extremely linear with a very straightforward plot.  It doesn't try to do anything complex or overly complicated, but it is immensely fun to play.  Do I think that it is better than Keep?  No, but I certainly have no problem with it being in the top 10 and would recommend it to those of you who haven't played it before.

In the end White Plume Mountain and some of these other modules are really good, they just can't stand up to what Keep on the Borderlands offers.  It is in some ways a microcosm of the soul of D&D itself.  Some adventurers travel to a small keep on the edge of the wilderness hoping for fame and fortune.  They delve into the unknown facing peril around every corner.  If they survive they will find everything they have ever dreamed, money, power, notoriety, but many will find nothing but death. 

Keep on the Borderlands continues to fascinate us more than thirty years since its original publication.  Aside from the original B2 module itself there has been a sequel, a Hackmaster 4th edition parody, a novelization, and most recently a serious homage to it in the form of Frandor's Keep.

So... Great Module or the Greatest Module?

Put me down for Great. 


Posted by Labyrinthian in

Warriors, the new book featuring numerous short stories by a number of fantasy writers, was released today.  The book was edited by George R. R. Martin and features a story by him as well.  The Mystery Knight is the third part in the Tales of Dunk and Egg.

A Gamer's Bibliography

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"Cite your sources!!!" Mrs. Marsh, my 10th grade English teacher, shouted at us over and over again.  While I'm not doing a paper on Mark Twain anymore that doesn't mean that I'm done with research.  In fact I find myself doing more research for Gaming than I ever did in school, and enjoying it far more.

Research can add depth and a sense of stark reality to your games.  It provides rich details, and insights you wouldn't otherwise have to the setting in which the game's adventures take place.  For my current Caliburn game I've found myself doing a host of research on everything from Knights to the Black Plague.

We are fortunate to live in the information age.  The amount of information we have access to is simply mind blowing if one stops to think about it.  Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia, is a perfect example of this.  In just a few seconds one can search about nearly anything they want from astrophysics to pistachio nuts. It is a great tool for getting general information and finding refence material to continue your research.  Google books is another great research, with over 10 millions books scanned. 

Here is a list of books I am using for research for my Caliburn game, while they are by no means all equally useful sources they have all had some important information to offer.

Sword in Hand
The Archeology of Weapons
The Politics of Enchantment
Medieval England
The Landscape of Britain
Archeology of Medieval English Monarchy
Medieval Castles
Woman in Early Britain
Early Metallurgy
Food in Medieval England
The Norse Colonization of the North Atlantic
Ancient Europe
the Archeology of Medieval Ireland Armies

For those with less time or inclination for in depth research you may find some shortcuts.  For example TSR did some really great historical setting books during 2nd Edition's reign.  I've found some very good information in the Celtic Campaign Sourcebook as well as the one for Vikings, Romans, and Crusaders.  Books such as these have done a good deal of the research for you and help save a lot of time. 

Frandor's Keep Has Arrived!

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No reason to beware the Ides of March this year!  Frandor's Keep was waiting for me on my doorstep when I arrived home today, two days earlier than its scheduled release date.  I already begun to delve into the book and I am quite impressed with what I've found.  The maps and the details of the Keep and its inner workings are fantastic.  I'll post a longer review when I've had a chance to read through the whole book, but my initial reactions are very positive.

There are a number of previews and bonus downloads available through Kenzerco's website so head on over and take a look for yourself.  The Keep map in particular is great and will really bring back memories for those who loved the original B2: Keep on the Borderlands and the map of the Keep found therein.

Ending a Long Campaign

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Nothing is worse than playing a game for an extended period of time; months, years, decades, only to see it whither and die with no satisfactory conclusion.  When that happens it just leaves everyone who took part feeling very unfulfilled with no sense of closure.  When you have invested so much in a character you don't want to leave him right in the middle of a quest, you want to see him make it through it.  Unfortunately that doesn't always happen.

My group has been together a while now, but up until recently we just couldn't finish a game.  Now a big part of this was the philosophical debate within the group about whether or not a game should have an end and not just be a constantly running thing that ends only when the players have all lost interest.  I have always approached a game I am building as one might view a single season of a television show.  TV seasons have a beginning, middle, and ending, but that isn't to say that the cast won't reunite for another season.  If a game is successful there is almost always room for a sequel campaign. 

That was the approach I took during the last game I ran, Legacy of New Lago.  I wanted the end to provide not only a sense of closure, but a real sense of accomplishment.  I wanted the players to know, if they were victorious, that they had really achieved something special.  In short, I wanted a truly epic ending.  I got some advice from DNAPhil's article on Delivering the Goods over at GnomeStew, but I still felt I was missing something.  I wanted the end of the game to be truly special, to do something no one in our group had ever done.  Then the idea hit me... I would build out the battlefield.

I had a picture in my head of the final battleground.  An ancient ruined temple with weather worn statues and crumbling buildings, I figured I could give it a try.  I did some research online and got some helpful tips and set out to purchase or requisition what I would need.

Here is a picture of my supplies.  Nothing overly expensive here, in fact I was able to salvage a lot of it from my parents garage.  What?!  They weren't using it.  Some things, like the plaster of paris I did buy, but it was dirt cheap at Home Depot. I had to buy a massive board for a base and have them cut it so I had a ton of leftovers there.  My end board was 3 feet by 5 feet, the rest of the twin sized bed plank I never used.

Next is a look at my work area.  I'm not going to lie... it got pretty messy.  That pink you see is the left over  foam board I used.  Everything you see is made out of the foam board, it's really great stuff.  Don't try to use superglue on it though.  It dissolves the foam and releasing some really nasty (and more than likely toxic) fumes.

Here is the best picture I have of the whole terrain piece.  I took it when I put it into storage... also in my parents' garage... What?!  They weren't using that space anyway.  The PCs began the battle on the near side while their opposition began on the far side already "entrenched" in the ruins. 

The water is made of silicon, also very cheap and very smelly.

Here are some close up shots of the ruins.  Made of that pink foam board.

Again I'm going to mention the usual disclaimer... I have no artistic talent to speak of.  But just like with digital mapping you don't need it, sure it helps, but you don't have to be artistically gifted to make something that your group will love and that will create a long lasting memory.

This terrain is crap compared to what some people can make, but it did its job well.  My players realized that this was a serious battle, the fate of the world was at stake, to say nothing of the lives of their own characters.  They had fought battles against their arch enemy over the course of the whole campaign.  Some they won and some they lost, but none of it mattered as they stepped onto that final battlefield with everything on the line.  Even without these pictures to remind me I'll always remember this fight.  How Trogan and Klemdo hid behind the weathered obelisk, how Viola and Kain fought off Voraptis' minions while their allies charged ahead, how Alexis took cover behind some rubble while being blasted with spell after spell, and how Phineas who was hopeless the whole campaign rose the challenge and became a true hero.

That's what it's all about, the stories and memories we take away from the game.  No part of a story is as important as the end, it is the part that leaves a lasting impression in everyone's mind.  Next time you are working on a new campaign spare a thought for how the game will end and find some way to make it truly special and memorable.  Whatever it is your players will appreciate it and the end will be that much sweeter.