D'OH!

In the past, I've always used my laptop to type up posts while I was at work . . . where, um . . . I've got more freetime? Well, at least less kids bugging me for stuff like food, water, antidote for the poisons, you know, the usual whining stuff.

For the last two weeks, I've been working on improving the thing. It is rather old, and in the process I did more harm then good. It took forever to stabilize the damned thing, but finally it was in tip-top shape! For about 24 hours, and then the monitor fried out . . . sigh, I can't fix that.

Alas, I'm not sure how I am going to update this site until taxes come back and I can pick up a new laptop, YAY! Unfortunately that isn't until February. Expect it to be even slower around here, and I'm sorry for the inconvenience. BOO!!!!!!!

A Look Back at the History of Ravenloft


October has always been my favorite time of year. I simply love Autumn, the scent of Fall always reminds me of happy times, but it is Halloween which in my house, is like those crazy Christmas lovers. Around here in never really ever goes away. Our house is decorated for Halloween year round.

Nothing says Halloween more wonderfully, then a day excursion into the Domain of Dread, or the 2e fantasy setting better known as Ravenloft!

Ravenloft was first brought into being in a module which features a gothic Vampire Hunt! A mysterious dark and foreboding castle inhabited by a generic Dracula!

A sequel followed, however this Modules was one of the worst pieces of trash that TSR had ever put out. It lacked everything which the former had, but let’s not dwell on the failures of Ravenloft, but on its good side.

The first box set was released for the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, and it was packed full of goodness! A huge map which greatly expanded the Domain of Dread, revealing that the lead character which we know as Straud was just a bit part in this land.

The Boxset contained pictures of some of the buildings in the realm, family portraits of major NPCs and their families, and other cards which were designed to help the DM play a game within its misty borders quicker and more effectively.

It also came with a great booklet which described each of the different domains of the Core, as well as giving a few ideas about how to build your own Isles of Dread! And, much like the original Module which inspired this world, there was a lot of experimentation going on on the part of the writers. THIS was a highly unique product, which not only showed you a brand new realm in which to have adventures, but presented its own, very unique set of rules!

As a teaching tool, this was very different! It taught us how to really modify a world and make it completely unique. Now, not all of these changes were “good”, or useful, this product was originally intended for short, one shot adventures, however it must had just kept growing and growing into a full fledged world by the time that it was all done.

It had it’s own unique effects on spells. Some spells no longer functioned as written, and a player never really knew what would happen if he cast something. This spell list was secret, the players were not supposed to know what changes had taken place, but some of the spells changed were required to keep a party alive! Most horribly effected were the priests spells. In the Domain of Dread, the clerics lost contact with their gods, and it was a mystery of who or what was granting their spells, or why they would change the effects. Healing spells no longer functioned and did terrible things to those who expected to benefit from them. Again, this rule is intended for short one-shots, however with all of the cool domains in Ravenloft, many DM’s wished to run campaigns full-time within the dark borders.

Ravenloft also had a unique look at evil. Evil forces were the norm here, not the exception. For the first time, the forces of good were the minority, while the forces of Evil had the final say in anything. The players were over-whelmed, and if they strayed to the dark alignment, then their bodies would suffer as the forces of Ravenloft consumed them. Evil acts caught the attention of the mysterious forces which ran this place, forever known as “The Dark Forces”. If somebody’s actions caught the attentions of the Dark Forces, then they would be rewarded, yet at the same time cursed terribly. This was strange and a really clunky mechanic at first. Again, this rule was established to add some mystery to one-shot adventures. To me, it also effected how I see evil in the game. Adding a Satanic Master of Evil to the world, as well as overlaying a sense of morality to the environment.

One of the strangest rule changes was the “Fear Check”, of course it became one of the most misunderstood concepts of the game, and all of these rules truly appealed to DM’s who had the nasty habit of being mean to players. Crappy DM’s loved it! It gave them even more power to hold over players who may not have had the option of finding a better Dungeon Master. However, for fair and smart DMs, it gave us a ton of tools which we could incorporate into our games to really get in and challenge ourselves, and our players.

Now, the original Boxset was a thing of beauty. On it’s own, it was full of ideas for adventures centered around ideas instead of hack and slash. The setting was the star, and it catered to role-players, vs. guys sitting around a table rolling dice. Combat was secondary, when it did take place, the encounters were with more powerful monsters, but fewer of them. Instead of fighting an entire horde of orcs, you were pitted against a mastermind, and you had to solve a mystery to uncover your true enemies identity if you hope to win.

Of course this simple concept was destroyed instantly once it got itself in the hands of too many cooks in the kitchen. The very first module presented for the new, expanded Ravenloft was one of the greatest Hack & Slash adventures ever put out by TSR, titled Feast of Goblyns. A two-edged sword right from the get-go.

Feast was definitely NOT a short, one-shot adventure, but so big that it could take months of full-time play to complete it. The setting was wonderful, and the adventure ran well, however it forced the DM to let many of the secret spell effects to slide, as a healer was definitely required company! Later modules also required a healer on call, however in the core book, it crippled them. Not very good planning, and if we overlook this spell mechanic, then why not overlook others?

Feast also started an idea which led into other modules. Those folks at TSR were always figuring out ways to make money with providing inferior products, which was stupid, because as far as Accessories go, Ravenloft had some of the best! The Van Richton Guides were superb, and could be used system neutrally to really flesh out monsters and make them do what you want them to do. Werewolves, Vampires, Ghosts, the series went on and on and featured some of the best writing to ever come out of the TSR sweatshops.

Also released for 1e was a second boxset which was both cool and full of crap. It came with some cool toys, a deck of Tarot Cards and a set of dice which a DM could either use to stack the deck or, if he had a huge set, could use them to dictate the adventures themselves.

The Tarot deck, I apologize, I am writing from memory alone, I can’t recall the exact name of the cards, featured some excellent art, each card having its own unique picture, something that not even most real Tarot Cards have! Even for Tarot Cards, this was a really unique product. I guess that they used them in an issue of Dragon Magazine to present a new cardgame that could be played with them (bah!)

Along with the toys for divination, it came with some little booklets, most of them junk, but a few were cool. Ideas on creating Curses, Straud’s Spellbook full of unique and never before seen spells which, honestly, were crap that only a vampire who wanted to impress people would use. Secret Societies of the realm, and some other book which included modified rules for running psionic characters, which worked excellently for lining birdcages as long as the cover was removed first.

RAVENLOFT 2E

Once the 2nd Edition books were released, Ravenloft really didn’t need to be edited to suit it. All of the changes which it made to the 1st edition rules were also easily compatable with the 2nd Edition, however this didn’t stop TSR from wanting to repackage it to make more money. The Redbox combined the two 1st edition boxes into one product. You didn’t get the divination dice, but you got the tarot cards. It also removed many of the cards, which made the original box set so cool, but hey, the product was usable!

It was during the Second Edition which much of the work that destroyed the setting took place. Now don’t get me wrong! This is where I personally walked into the hobby. I wouldn’t had started a 2e blog if I didn’t have a deep love and respect for the time period. I discovered the original box set just prior to the release of the red box. It was in the clearance isle and the owner of Dragonslair wanted to clear it out to make way and discounted it heavily. We gamers love our good deals don’t we!

My problem isn’t with the setting, but with the modules. They were horrible! A few were good, it destroyed my game with a problem that I couldn’t put my finger on for years. It gave me big and bad NPCs to play with, and instead of centering the game around the players, I wrote them for NPC’s. BAD BAD BAD!!!!

The original boxset, and the red box are perfect, stand alone products. They are much in the spirit of Greyhawk, were they present nothing but ideas to a DM. This is the world, and it is now in your hands to do with as you will. It had mysteries for the DM to solve, and tons of hints to inspire brand new games and themes. GOOD STUFF!

Many of the Accessories covered topics which just didn’t fit in well with other settings, but could be used to put Vampires that drained blood instead of levels in Dragonlance, Infect players with lycanthropy in Dark Sun, or add a Demon mastermind to Forgotten Realms. The point was that the accessories were about themes and inspired the reader to rethink different aspects of the monsters which they used regularly, and add a sense of class to them which the Monstrous Manual didn’t have the space nor the resources to add.

It also inspired 3 new Monstrous Compendiums, the first being the best, the second being nothing but even more NPCs to drop into your world, and the 3rd a bunch of high level and very dangerous monsters.

While the accessories were great, other forces were working against it. Modules revolved around either NPC’s or the greatest disaster to ever infect a setting. Again, all of the failures resulted from the original concept of Ravenloft, which was exploration and experimentation, however it didn’t go into directions which were all that entertaining. Again, only a few of them were One-Shot adventures. Most were outright abusive to players, the craziest ideas involved killing them fast and bringing them back. In The Children of Adam, the characters are slain and brought back as Flesh Golems. In the finally to the Grand Conjunction storyline which crushed the Domain of Dread forever, and took it away from the DM, the players were again killed quick and woke up as disembodied heads in the castle of the Demi-lich lord Azalin, where he sent you over and over into the past as you possessed people and witnessed the fall of Straud over and over again until you accomplished the goals set out by the lich in a scene that is a pure nightmare to DM.

Now the theory behind Ravenloft is brilliant. It is without borders, and it expands and grows and drifts in the Astral Plane. New lords are created, and those evil enough join the core, while minor Dark Lords drift in isles and clusters around the core. If a Dark Lord is destroyed, then either the land seeks a new Dark Lord within the domain, or ceases to exist.

This experiment is a success, in my oh so humble opinion. There are areas where you can have straight, balls out Dungeons and Dragons sessions, and there are areas where that are highly specialized to achieve a specific flavor of a game. I literally took different worlds and pieced them together in a way that was a Dungeon Masters dream to work with. A countries neighbors are not just a different language, or culture, but of a different time-period and level of advancement as well. BRILLIANT! How does this effect trade? How does this effect later races from interbreeding? How do higher societies treat neighbors who are so technically different from themselves? It invited wars, the Dark Lords bickered with one another, the people themselves were incredible, and it was fun to figure out how a society like this would function, but the beautiful thing was that the Ravenloft Setting Handbook let you answer these questions and more on your own!

Enter the Nightmare of published adventures purposely altering the map itself, giving the Dark Lords even more power and making them not just Super-NPCs which break games, but also making them indispensable. It also killed Super-NPC’s which maybe you liked, and wanted to explore more?

It gave you so much information that it made the Death of Straud sound like so much fun that it just screamed to be written, however at the same time, it forbid it from ever happening.

You’ve got the grand conjunction which resulted in the destruction of half of the core, a prophesy which started fulfilling itself right from the get-go with Feast of Goblyns, and is present in all of the great Ravenloft Modules, but it goes some place that takes all of the cards away from the DM, and places the winning hands firmly in the grip of TSR. What destroyed Dragonlance began having the same effect on Ravenloft, what with all of the Novels hitting the shelves, and Modules that did nothing but break campaigns.

To me, a module should be able to be laid over the top of what you are doing, to give the DM a break from writing his own material, and the Ravenloft modules made this impossible. They dictated and required too much from the DM. It shatters all plans, and requires so many specific things just to run properly. Many were written badly, or didn’t even bother to disguise the fact that it was a railroad job from hell. They also were hard to run, not only did you have a separate spell list from any other campaign setting, but you also had the weird ideas that might look good on paper, but in the end required much more paperwork on the DM’s part then if he had just written his own material, which in hindsight, I should have!

I think that for ever good idea that Ravenloft had, the horde of cooks in the kitchen present three bad ones, and fans were no better really. Or at least that is what the bigwigs of TSR would have you believe. Folks debated about what is Gothic terror, and if you don’t run it this way then you are doing it wrong and might as well just be running a normal campaign! I suppose that all settings featured a few noisy, obnoxious, pig-headed, elitist fans, after all, tis the nature of the hobby, right? The domain of Darkon, the largest and coolest Domain was wiped out, an experiment which not only killed everybody in the domain, including the PCs, but allowed the PCs to create and come back as forms of Undead Monsters! PC Vampires? Really? Now on the serface, you might be saying COOL! But at the table, and in play, there is a reason why Monsters aren’t Player Characters, once you are identified as such, the amount of games which you can now play are severely limited. How do you challenge a Vampire? Maybe it would make for a fun 1 shot, but again, they put out an entire box set on the subject which destroyed a damned cool lord that many true fans of the setting really didn’t want to lose. It also took all of his history and personality and replaced it with an empty Grim Reaper character with no personality what so ever. Now that might confuse folks who have never played the game. They’re probably saying GOOD! But the Demi-Lich could really inspire more stories then even Straud could! He was an interesting character and an example of just how far you can go with something as basic as a Lich.

ENTER THE GOTHIC EARTH

Getting away from the problems of Core Ravenloft before I suffer total brain failure and fall off my stack of soap boxes, a new experimental project was released, one that was largely ignored at the time but in recent years has become almost a cult hit with players.

This Box Set was WAY before it’s time. It was originally hated because it was so different. What it essentially did was take the rulebook and totally threw it out the window. All of the D&D classes were reworked and redefined, even the list of supplies and mechanics for combat were rewritten to cater to factor in guns.

Ravenloft: Masque of the Red Death placed players in the world of Count Dracula, Dr. Jeckle & Mr. Hyde, and Sherlock Holmes, just to name a few. It was a brilliant mix of fiction and history and unlike the core rules of Ravenloft, this setting was kept untouched. A few magnificent Accessories were published to help flesh out the time period, but other then that the box set stands alone. It contained a world map, and a poster with calanders dating from 1890-1899. It contained the Rule book which is complete enough to get a game up and running in an hour or two, and 3 short modules that you can either run or easily modify to fit your personal needs. While it was taunted at the time as ANTI-D&D, today, this is a refreshing and unique kind of game which is honestly ripe with unique possibilities and fresh enough to keep even the most die-hard player guessing and having fun in a totally new way.

THE RETURN TO THE DOMAIN OF DREAD: Death Rattle

Just before the thing wrapped up, the last great Ravenloft book was released. It was a hard-bound titled “Domains of Dread”. This book was a godsend! While it updated the map, the map itself wasn’t published with the book. It was made to replace the boxsets but it failed at this job, the map was unreadable due to it being printed way to dark, and on such a small scale that you really couldn’t do much with it. What changes were made were improvements! The modified spell list was finally altered to one which was more expectable, and would actually function as is. It also added mechanics for Dark Powers checks, as well as improved the mechanics of Fear Checks and Madness Checks in a way which was much clearer then the original incarnation.

It updated all of the Dark Lords, and finally offered pictures and stats for ones that didn’t get much attention before. Besides the map, it made the setting better, and stronger then before, but it also allowed the DM to do something that he’s never been officially allowed to do before, CREATE PC’S WHICH WERE NATIVE TO THE SETTING! Awesome! Why, this almost makes the loss of Darkon forgivable . . . almost, but not quite.

3E, THE COFFIN NAILS

3rd Edition of Dungeons & Dragons did not interest me. It was too different, and I never was willing to go there. The Setting of Ravenloft did make the jump to the 3rd edition, however it was never as glorious or as rich as the original 1e box set. It was reduced to a few overpriced pamphlets which gutted the world to cater to the new mechanics.

Overall, Ravenloft as a setting had a good run. It had its ups and its downs. It had its triumphs and its faults, but after all of these years, most of the folks who had the fortune of playing with the system have fond memories of it, I know that I do! For better or for worse, it taught me how to DM, and it has given me a style which I and my players seem to really enjoy. I did have to find its faults to identify my own failings, and attempt to eliminate them . . . well, as I can identify them; but overall I feel that Ravenloft has left me stronger then what I normally would had been had I only played standard AD&D.

Some Tips in Describing Settings


Today I’d like to talk about describing stuff. Scenes can be difficult, and storytelling isn’t easy. The secret is to be quick and brief, but choosing your words carefully to put just the right things into the player’s imaginations so that they can all color the world in roughly the same way and see the same things.

I find that most modules are too wordy, and these huge text boxes need to be trimmed down and summarized considerably so that we don’t get ignored, and we need to resist over describing things because, for one, players loose interest in such things, and two, we don’t want to fill their heads with gibberish. The human mind can only hold so much information, and if we bog it down with too much information then we’ll get lost. I’ve had characters put too much stock in facts that really weren’t important, and I’ve had them become so lost that they can no longer remember what in the hell the goal that they were supposed to be accomplishing even was anymore.

Coloring things is simple. The quicker that you are at doing it the better. Say that I describe a room to you, I can go all crazy and describe everything right down to the shine on the couch, but is that really necessary? Probably not! We’ll just want to put the idea of what this room is used for in the players heads, and let them fill in all of the empty spaces themselves. They can also learn more about the things by asking questions.

You open the door and see a 25 x 25 foot room dominated by plush furniture constructed of well-lacquered wood, the room smells of lavender. Many pictures hang on the wall.

PLAYER: Is there anything of interest in this room?

On a small table, next to a sitting chair is a reading lamp and a book.

Player: Anything else?

A curious cabinet is all by itself on the west wall.

Player: Anything else?

Nope.

And from there, these guys can explore the rest of the room. People who just assume to much are going to miss much, but this is the way of life too isn’t it? Most folks, when they walk into a room, don’t even bother to look around. Five minutes later, if asked to describe the room their answers aren’t going to be all that accurate, if they can tell you anything about it at all.

Basically, what we want to do is describe what a space is used for, and then the things that are found within the space that might be useful to adventurers. The best advice that I can give you, is to be observant yourself. What is the first thing that you notice when you walk into a space? Is it the loud ticking of a clock? Maybe a scent? Is it visual or is it something else? Scents are dramatic while sounds are more easily ignored, however once we leave a space we will miss the sound of white noise that a particular room created. Pay attention to this. Most visuals aren’t emotional, however scents and sounds are; and they both bring an emotional response.

The fun part is that we get to describe fantasy settings, or places that never existed. What would a goblin cave small like?

Well first off it would smell like dirty bodies, as goblins don’t bathe. They also don’t have plumbing so the smell of bodily waste would be an indicator that that is what a particular room or cavern is used for. What can one find in a cavern like that? If you dropped a coin or something, would you pick it up, or bother looking for it? Perhaps there is some treasure in Poop caves, but getting too it would probably not justify the risk . . . nor the smell. Perhaps a goblin tribe counts on this, and it is this place where the goblin’s hide their horde of stolen booty?

Goblins also must eat, and they are pigs about it. Do they cook? If so, they need a space to keep food and utensils to cook with. They may have procured an oven, but they might not know what to do with it, it might not be ventilated properly so whenever the cooks start it up the entire cave fills with noxious wood smoke and ash which sticks to everything, and if they are using coal, then it will be even worse! This adds color, but we needn’t bother the PC’s with this stuff unless they specifically ask what the source of this ash or smoke is, but once they discover the cooking cavern, the oven will definitely be out of place, and probably the cause of a giant mess since the goblins wouldn’t really ever clean the thing, and just scrap the hot ash and partially burned fuel right out onto the floor in front of it.

The eating area won’t be much better, the place would be covered in bones, inedible chunks of gristle, and other stuff which the goblins don’t care to eat. Perhaps dry, and withered eyes shrunken by the heat, stray fingers and toes or other things which don’t have much meat on it. This room would be filled with horror and what would that smell like? Rats would have a heyday here, as would lots of parasites and insects which feed and breed in filth. Broken pottery filled with living fuzzy molds which may or may not be infectious if it is touched.

The deal that you want to accomplish, is to bring the spaces to life. This is where we DMs are allowed to become story-tellers. We can use the five senses as foreshadow, or in layman terms, giving hints of things to come.

We can look at the map on Prep day, and study it. What noises would be generated by this thing? During the day we would tend to ignore everything but what is in our own general area, but come time to camp, deep in some underground labyrinth of endless hallways and monster infested corridors, our minds expand and we would hear EVERYTHING!

The underground lake with a monster in it would generate sounds as it catches a lone orc for dinner. Perhaps the pine supports in the dwarven mine section are creaking and shifting under the tremendous weight that they are forced to endure? Natural caves are caused by water carving paths in the rock, drips and damp drafts are constant. Then we have the sounds of the master race underground. The fighting, the yelling, the nightmarish grumbling as they make their rounds . . . and of course, if the party is being too loud, then they can be heard too!

Spirits are also fun to throw in. Nothing strong or formidable, nothing powerful enough to even pose a threat to anything, just little things to keep the adventurers on edge. Chains rattling down a hallway, a disembodied sigh or a few meaningless words uttered in the darkness. Critters can also sound bigger in the middle of the night, a mouse could get inside of a pack and look for food or some bedding. We should fill up the time spent resting with some kind of color, even if it isn’t combat.

Have fun with descriptions, be colorful and be aware of your own senses and how your mind works. What does your living space look like? Perhaps your favorite spot in the house? I know that mine is the leather chair down stairs. Its got a forever full ashtray, a bowl of candy, and my remotes right there, as well as a book or two. My wallet is sometimes there if I’m planning to come back soon, and if I just left, there is usually a cigarette butt smoldering in the ashtray. I suppose that that is helpful foreshadowing too. Signs of life, is a room empty? How long has it been so? Does it look like the occupant has just left or will be back soon? All of this can be colored in with a little ingenuity on your part. It may not be outright apparent, a person who just steps into my living space may not notice the smoldering cigarette right away, only after they look at my little coffee table will they catch it; how they feel about it depends on their intent.

The undead can be a tricky thing to describe too. We want to fill their worlds up with evil. Things of gloom. Few creatures can tolerate them being around, creatures like rats, owls, and ravens would not only be present, but possess a very brave and bold front. There should be an oppressive weight upon everything until the undead creature has truly been destroyed, and once this happens, then, and only then will life and light return to the area. Walking from a crypt would reward you with a sunny day, and all of the birds chirping and singing and carrying on. It should be in stark contrast of how the cemetery felt on the way in to perform this grim task. Evil corrupts, it stains and taints everything that it touches, and this should not be forgotten.

Chapter V: The Hill Giant


I was forced to escape the Ogres once their lair was discovered by their sometimes allies, the trolls. It was bloody and savage, many of the ogres which I described have been slain, their bodies stolen for food, and come thaw, this will be forgotten.

If not for my spells, I would not had survived my trek to a new winter shelter, and I thought that ogres were bad! I discovered an abandoned castle, built by I know not whom, but now the property of Hill Giants. I live like a rat here, scurrying in the hidden corridors and between the walls; stealing food as I can. Every day I must risk my life to survive. Winter has left me bitter, please forgive my crabbiness. How I hunger for a true city, a warm bowl of porridge, and the comfort of a bed! These thoughts torture me, as I know that if I am careless, or even if I am not I could still be murdered here in this hellish maze. I have discovered the following information through observing as undetected as possible, fore when I am seen, all of the hill giants in this place give chase, my spells doing nothing but infuriating them further. This is terror!

CHAPTER V
The Hill Giant



These creatures are sixteen-feet-tall normally, some slightly smaller others slightly larger. I estimate that they weigh about 4,500 pounds. They resemble giant apes, but are hairless as man is. There are, I estimate, 4 separate family clans taking resident in this place. They have hair of brown or black. All of their eyes are a deep and almost dead black. When they look at you, no emotion registers, and these black eyes seem to draw you into an abyss. No intelligence, no feeling, just black!

Their bodies are extremely well muscled, even the women who are just as hairy as men, and lack the comely well-developed breasts of our own species. Their arms are grossly exaggerated, their hands touching their knees. They appear to shave their thick faces, yet a few grow facial hair however this does not seem to effect anything.

They are not a very brilliant race, they are easily fooled over and over again with the same tricks, however they have developed enough intelligence to build many survival skills which the north requires of all who live here. Skins have been hung over doors and windows, they hunt daily and are able to preserve the meat that they kill. They have trained a savage pack of enormous dire wolves which they keep as pets, and while they play with the giant children, they pose the greatest threat to my own survival.

NATURAL FUNCTION OF THE HILL GIANT

This species does not cooperate with mankind. They are simply too big and too violent to fit into human society. There are many items here which are common with ogres, but are used for different purposes, mostly decoration. I have seen goblin shields used as buttons, Orcish broadswords used as eating utensils, their lives are strange. They have developed ways of using things in ways that were never intended.

The hill giant is not a good cook, does not sing, or have any written language. What the hill giant is good at is tanning and working with hide. They, unlike the ogres, properly cure their skins and sew them together. While their work is far from beautiful, it serves its function. They make their own clothes, but have no metalworking skills what so ever.

I believe that the hill giant is a raider and a thief, and that the only race that they have anything to do with, with the exception of their fellow giant-kin, are ogres which they trade with on a fairly regular basis.

RELATIONSHIPS

As I’ve already noted, the only relationships which they keep are with ogres, the rest are viewed as weak and weakness must be crushed. This includes all other species, including the smaller humanoid races.

Meat is meat to the hill giant, and they consume great quantities of it, which includes all species, even themselves in a bizarre cannibalistic funeral ceremony.

RELIGION AND THE HILL GIANT

The giants of the hills believe in a god named Grolantor, but worship him very passively. They have no holidays, nor priests of any kind. Grolantor, or sometimes Crolantor, is a god in name only. The only story which I have been able to gleam from them is Grolantor’s refusal to bow to the greater giants. Perhaps they are even in a riff with their own kind? At this current juncture I don’t believe that I have enough information to form a proper opinion in regards to this subject.

FAMILY STRUCTURE

Women here are just as powerful as the men, and share job duties equally. Children are cared for by both parents, and this society watches out for all of the children equally. Babies are completely dependent upon their parents, but once they reach the age of juvenile, they are already formidable in battle.

The hill giant has the language which is common among all giants, and also many of the adults are fluent in ogre, and usually curse in this second language, hinting that there is a great relationship between these two clans which explains why some ogres worship Grolantor as well.

OF MAGIC AND SCIENCE

The Hill Giant is adamant in its hatred for all things magical. Once they discovered my being here, I made the mistake of protecting myself through spellcraft. This infuriated them more then I could possibly understand! The word “Wizard” to them is equal to the worst words of taboo in our language. If a magical item is discovered, it is ceremoniously destroyed! They take great pleasure in murdering Mages and Priests alike, and blame all misfortune upon witchcraft and magical forces. Perhaps if I had not cast my spell, I wouldn’t be hunted with such gusto and fever; I would be a mere pest, but as it is, they believe that I am a devil which must be slain before winters end if they hope to survive.

HILL GIANT RACES

The hill giant is a subrace of the Giant-kin, and while it is the smallest of them (if one can call 16’ small), they are the most aggressive. I have seen a few other giants, and while the other races of giant are all powerfully built, none is as defined and heavily proportioned as the Hillish variety.

Daily Routine

It is winter, and the snowy winds are brutal, even by hill giant standards. I hear them moaning that this has been the worst winter that anyone of them can recall. This, no doubt, will taint my investigation.

The men go out hunting daily, which they are highly skilled. Women stay home and mind the children, unless their mate is ill, then the woman heads out into the cold to hunt while the male stays home.

Much of their time is spent sowing and patching the skin tarps which constantly blow loose. They keep daylight hours and do not appear to have what the elves call “Infravision”. They eat three large meals per day, as well as snack often. Eating is their pleasure, and they seem to enjoy food which is scorched black on the outside and almost raw on the inside.

Children who are old enough to fend for themselves are allowed on the hunting parties, and are taught how to dress what they catch, as well as have the grizzly job of dressing the kills of the adults. Children have few games, one of the ones that is most popular is throwing rocks at one another, with points earned by hitting each other in the head. Strangely enough, this game never proves to be fatal, regardless of the lethality which each hill giant possesses.

The families all go to bed at dark, and rise at dawn. They do not beat their children, nor discipline them in any way, which causes them to grow up as brats. They love to torture small animals that they find, small to them anyway. The adults take pleasure in their little games, only telling them to finish killing their toy when it is time for bed.

LAWS OF THE HILL GIANTS

In a word, Might is Right. I have only witnessed one fight which was between two males who had a dispute over who had the rights to a kill which both of them had apparently claimed. This fight was horrifying, and everybody else cleared the way for them to settle it with fists. Both combatants were beat terribly, but before the melee became fatal, the other loudly proclaimed the other the victor, and he was allowed to keep the kill, though both men were unable to hunt for a few days. The loser lost no status, nor were any grudges held towards the other once the clash ended.

A month before winter ended, a lone adult showed up at the castle. The other giants, who were of no relation to the visitor, allowed the giant in and shared their food with him. After much discussion, the new giant accompanied the others on a raid, which was successful and the lone giant was allowed to remain with the families, and excepted among them almost instantly. This must be how giants keep their personal relationships. I was wondering how they breed, the new Giant was allowed his choice of the daughters, who as long as she is happy will serve as a wife to him.

HILL GIANT WARFARE

By a means of survival, the hill giant is a raider, and a brutal one at that. Not only do they rob, but they kill their victims. They are not known to be mercenaries, nor do they have memories to keep a true war going. Violence is a way of life to them, they have nothing but contempt for all races with the exception of themselves and the races listed above.

Their methods hardly ever vary, they set up ambushes and prefer to hurl large stones at their prey, killing as many as possible so that they can safely advance on the party and finish the job with clubs. Blades are not fighting tools to them, and are only used for eating and skinning.

A few of them have found a wide variety of armors which have been sown onto leather to form a bizarre armor of their own. While this armor is not pretty, it is effective. The giants are aggressive, however they are not suicidal. They are not afraid to flee if their own lives are in jeopardy, but can take one hell of a beating before it comes to that point.

HILL GIANTS OF THE REALM

This race is best to be avoided. Humans serve as only a means to an end to any of them. They will gladly steal your property after they have slain you, and while they will usually leave large armies alone, small parties of men are their prime targets.

Hill Giants who discover the hiding places of small humanoids and demihumans will systematically destroy their homes and kill as many as possible, seemingly out of pure meanness and to prove their dominance. Gnomes are generally their most well-known targets, as the Gnome tends to keep their homes and villages in the hills. The hill giants themselves don’t seem to have any natural enemies, with the exception of Trolls who will feed on anything, including giant flesh.

While some giants can be friendly and beneficial to mankind, this subrace is NOT among them. Approach them only if necessary and with the greatest of caution! These humanoids are not to be trusted to do anything but evil! Consider yourself warned.

Religious Problems in your Milieu


WOW, I honestly didn’t expect such a good reaction to my druid post. Around here, they aren’t that popular of a character class. I think that there is a mystery to how religions used to function. I mean, in high school literature they teach you Roman and Greek mythology, as it is very rich. I discovered a problem with my lack of faith early in life, I was baptized into Roman Catholicism, but in the 80’s my folks stopped taking me, as our regular priest was granted the rank of Bishop, and he was replaced by a pervert who got caught shoplifting porno mags from the local sex shop. GREAT STUFF!!! I think that something like that is enough to cause anybody to have second thoughts about the people who choose to dedicate their lives to God.

I tried other Christian religions, but none of them filled me up the way that Catholicism did, thus I went the other way. I studied the occult, and devils, and Satanism; this is some scary stuff, which got me into tons of trouble. It was then, at this climax in my life, when I needed spiritual assistance the most, that I discovered the Norse Runes. I found them to be magnificent, their magic easily grasped, but they are like chess, easy to learn but very very difficult to master. I have always felt that one’s relationship with God should be very personal. I have always had problems with every form of Christianity, I have a deep understanding of it, though I have found much more worth as a private practitioner, and I am not very Christian at all. I understand what God is, and that people need Deities to give it a human face to gaze upon.

There is some confusion about Neo-paganism. That we worship many gods, which isn’t true, we worship one god, but we break the one god down into many different parts, or aspects. Once one understands that all gods are one god, and that the myths are about us, then we understand the basic foundation of all religions.

I really enjoy the Nordic Mythology of Odin and Thor, of course this history is not as complete as the Roman myths, much of it was never written down, and many of the ones that we do have are either highly important to understanding, else are simply just the tales of bards which entertained the writer. There is also much mystery to them, or their incompleteness, how many “important” myths were lost, forever? That answer, is no doubt, MANY!

Christianity, I believe, has made us as a race, rather confused. Religion has always been about people and god, it has always dictated, to the people, what is proper behavior, and what is not; however, Christianity, particularly Roman Catholicism, actually took over as the law. One can accurately say that at one point, the Pope was more politically powerful then the grandest king. I do not believe that in the history of man, that a religion was ever as aggressive, nor as wealthy as Christianity. How did this happen? This too is a mystery.

I will admit that the Roman’s came close. The Romans also built elaborate temples, as did the Babylonians. Permanent structures dedicated to a specific god, with acolytes of that god always on hand on a full-time basis. As far as I can estimate, this is very rare, and it says something about the culture who did it. And was it not the great city of Rome that was the first city to be crushed by the Christian religious war? I doubt that it was the first battle, but the falling out of the Roman gods and the belief in the Christian faith was the first decisive victory.

All of this is good and dandy, however how does this help us in D&D which is the name of the game? I don’t really want to get too far into religion here, that isn’t why I started this blog, but religion does come into play.

Folks seem to avoid the classic archetype of the original PC Cleric. The mace wielding, undead turning, spell-caster of gaming’s past, into more of a Christian take on old religions. But do we really know any better? Christianity has us by the throats and won’t let us go.

Some classes, in and of themselves upset the balance which we might want to keep, thus begging the question, do we introduce an all consuming religion into our milieu, or do we resist it?

I believe that most religions in the dawn of man, were based on answering problems. Why does the sun move across the sky? What do the seasons mean? Big questions! God provided and punished wickedness though providing food and animals. By teaching us about tools, and methods of our survival.

Once we evolved past tribal life, we settled down and cities became. Gods are different for city life, we still sought protection, and wealth, however we had time to ponder a different question, what happens to us after our death? It also brought plagues and sickness, new gods for us to fear! Temples were raised to honor them, out of fear and hope they came to be.

Christianity started as a slave religion, the religion of the Jews. Once Christ came, the religion changed into one of forgiveness and hope. A caring god, one who let us punish ourselves, and gave us new gods and myths for us to chew on that were more relevant to the times. However the teachings of Jesus went into one ear, and right out the other. Christianity grew in strength through the blade of a sword. Once it took the minds of the Nobles, it took over government. The old ways are still around . . . the old gods are not dead, their ghosts are still around. The people hid their beliefs.

Today we have this Wiccan stuff which claims that witchcraft is a religion, which it isn’t. A witch is not a healer, they are the spies of hell. Demons in human form, who sold their souls to the devil for powers beyond the realm of mankind. A healer, and the old religions are not witchcraft! I have no idea why they chose this title? Perhaps to shove the Witchhunts in their faces, attempting to gleam some kind of pity from the church, or some way to legitimize what they are doing, making it appear to be an older faith then what it really is.

Now that I have properly offended the Wiccans, let us go back to the topic. Who was in charge of religion prior to city life? The answer is simple! We all were. Fathers taught their sons the gods, and what they do. Holidays were practiced by everyone. In small towns alters were erected, but people also kept them in their homes. There were no true clerics in the modern sense of the word. Before the age of writing, none of it was written down, it was all a oral history about our past. Great men and women from our histories became Gods, and we invoked their names to keep our children informed of what is to come, and to instill in them, and ourselves, a specific code of conduct which we shared as a culture.

I think that this is important! The church is a bi-product of what happens to a culture when they all lose their faiths. When they cease to need God, and stop looking up. God to us, evolves as our minds do. I don’t think that we would be happy with worshiping a god of the hunt, because how many of us are forced to hunt for our survival? As long as we can go down to the Piggly Wiggly to pick up a package of ground beef, we could give a crap about the god of the hunt!

The gods reflect the people, they always have. They display the cultures needs, their fears, and their desires. How did they go about practicing these beliefs? What are the cultures holidays? Are they private, or are they practiced as a community? Should we instill a dominant, and violently zealous religion into our worlds, they are dual bladed. On one hand, you have noble paladins, but on the other, you have religious war and witch hunts. Paladins cannot exist without power and wealth, and where do they get their wealth? Why from other people, of course! Some knightly orders were usually founded upon the wealth of a man, but it stays rich by hunting down the enemies of their gods and taking their land and money. But paladins are Lawful Good? Well, one final thought before I go. In the legends of King Arthur, all of the knights of the round table were Cavaliers, but just one, Sir Lancelot, was a Paladin.

Communing With Trees? YES!


I have played almost all classes, except for one. The Druid has always just been too confined for any group that I’ve ever played under, else the party needed something besides another cleric that don’t go into cities. True Neutral is also a really tough alignment to play, but I think that the real reason why most folks never play them is because DM’s have it in their heads that they can’t DM specialty settings. Of all specialty settings, be it underwater or in the air, the easiest to work would be a massive forest adventure which deals completely in rural environments and primordial forests or other outdoor settings, far far away from any civilized city or town.

Rangers and Druids are difficult characters to play, because they are so rural, and I would like to add a spell for your consideration which might aid you in designing a completely woodland adventure. Of course the biggest problem is lack of contact or information. In the city, you are surrounded with NPC’s who can slip or sell little tidbits to the party, but in a rural setting, one has to prove oneself to all of the inhabitants. Wood elves are not known to be very forgiving when their territory is breached, and it will take some time before they allow you to be there . . . though if you get to close to their villages, they are highly likely to kill you if you don’t take the hint to change course.

Other forest creatures are probably no help, however if you add the proper spell to a cleric or ranger, you can have tons of opportunities to allow the party to learn a bit of gossip from a source that maybe you haven’t thought about before, THE TREES!

The Complete Ranger’s Handbook contains a spell called Chatterbark, which is a 3rd level cleric spells aligned with the sphere of Plants. It says that the spell animates the tree so that it is allowed to talk, this allows the caster to ask the tree a simple question of it, and it will give a simple answer and revert back to normal.

For some, this spell might work, however I want a first level spell, and something less flashy. A spell that is fast to use, and more of a divination spell then a plant spell.

Commune With Trees
SPHERE: Plants, divination
RANGE: Touch
COMPONENTS: V
DURATION: 1 round/level
CASTING TIME: 2 rounds
AREA OF EFFECT: One tree
SAVING THROW: None


A variation of the 4th-level priest spell, speak with plants, this spell allows the caster to form a temporary psychic bond with the tree. The caster must touch the tree with his bare hand, and meditate upon the tree for at least 2 rounds before mental contact is made. Once contact is made, the caster must stay focused on the tree, and nothing else. If contact is broken suddenly, then contact is lost. This spell allows the caster to have a mental conversation with the tree for as long as he can maintain his focus, or 1 round/minute per caster level. The tree is a complex thinker, and may show the caster images which will require an INT check, or a WIS check depending on the information requested of the tree. Only the caster can see this information, or hear the trees thoughts in his head. The caster must ask questions mentally, each question requiring a wisdom check, to insure that he has the proper wording to convey his wishes.


Now this is all good and dandy, and nothing to fancy. It will probably require more player-testing on your part, as this is just a sketch really. What I really wanted to submit to you is a handy little chart which I got out of a book written by Donglas Monroe titled, “The 21 Lessons of Merlyn: A Study in Druid Magic & Lore”.

In this book, it contains a tree personality chart, which I will share, in part, with you. If you wish to learn more about Druid Magic as it was practiced by the Welsh, Donglas’s book is definitely a must read!

TREE – RANK – PERSONALITY / OPPOSITES

Oak – Chieftain – FATHERLY / dominating
Alder – Chieftain – AMBITIOUS / impulsive
Hawthorn – Peasant – PASSIONATE / ruthless
Holly – Shrub – DETERMINED / insensitive
Furze – Bramble – PROSPEROUS / vane
Birch – Chieftain – HAPPY / immature
Ash – Peasant – CHARMING / egocentric
Rowes – Shrub – SPIRITUAL / fanatical
Reed – Bramble – ADAPTABLE /indecisive
Heather – Bramble – CAREFREE / superficial
Apple – Chieftain – MOTHERLY / weak-willed
Willow – Chieftain – WISE / bitter
Aspen – Peasant – CAREING / insecure
Hazel – Shrub – GENEROUS / deceptive
Vine – Bramble – SYMPATHETIC / dependant
Pine – Peasant – OUTGOING / introverted
Yew – Peasant – ENDURING / sanguine
Blackthorn – Shrub – HONEST / deceptive
Elder – Shrub – INTELLIGENT / unfortunate
Ivy – Bramble – AMBITIOUS / lazy

You can use this list to quickly put a personality to the plants which you animate, even if you don’t use the spell. The uppercase words are the dominate trait, while the lowercased ones are what lies just underneath the surface. All trees should have the same personalities, they aren’t humans or people, they are creatures who sit and watch. They fight with one another in ways that we cannot perceive, and in many ways, they are beings all to themselves.

Chieftains are royalty, Peasants serve the royal trees, and shrubs and bramble are the common type, with shrubs being a higher class then the bramble. They see all men as children, and less intelligent then themselves. They will cut deals, they will say stuff just to get rid of us, or take pleasure in sending men on wild goose chases for the fun of it, but they won’t purposely try to hurt us. Life to them is more valuable then we will ever know. We are a short lived race who they just don’t understand.

How you chose to fit fantasy plants into this list is up to you. How do they feel towards Trents? They can be just as violent and as hurtful as man! What kind of personalities do the fantasy trees of Greyhawk possess? This is far from complete, but it can add some color into an area which before didn’t have any, so I hope that you can take out of it what you will.

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