History of Nod, Part III – The Dwarves

Today, we cover the ancient history of the dwarves of NOD, with a special bonus at the end covering the identities of the major Kabir and Igigi.

Image by Jon Kaufman (pachycrocuta at DA – check him out for commissions!)

The ancient elves, being fey creatures, were physically malleable. Not to the extent of the Kabir, of course, who could assume any shape they pleased. The elves were humanoid in shape, and humanoid they would stay. But when they were angry, their faces twisted and their bodies distorted (sometimes called a warp spasm), and when they were happy, they almost glowed with joy. An elf’s children were physical duplicates of their parent’s emotional and spiritual selves.

As the ancient elves grew darker, their children grew uglier. Thus were born the orcs, goblins, bugbears, hobgoblins and dwarves. These waifs were turned out into the wilderness by their disgusted parents to die, but many were rescued by entities who saw them either as useful pawns in their own sinister games, or in the case of the dwarves, who were born of greed, by the compassion of Ys, who believed they might be brought up to do good in the world despite their parentage.

Ys was correct about the dwarves, hiding them in the mountains and under the hills, and shepherding their development until they were honorable men and women, industrious, clever and just. Of course, they were still greedy and stubborn as all get out, but nobody is perfect.

As was mentioned before, the dwarves were no match for the ancient elves, and were forced to pay tribute to them. A dwarf loves his gold, and being cheated of it brought a terrible hatred for the elves among the dwarves, and they bent their minds to one day throwing off this indignity. They were a patient folk, the dwarves, and they had much time to plan and scheme. They forged weapons of power and hid them away, and watched as the debauched elves grew insular and petty. They had long ago stopped having children with one another, choosing instead to produce children with their more handsome human slaves, that they might escape the aforementioned curse of “ugly children”. In time, there were many more humans and half-elves in their kingdoms and empires than true elves. The time the dwarves had waited for had finally arrived.

In this time, the disparate elven kingdoms had come under the control of a queen-of-queens, an elf called Vinrix. Vinrix was the most powerful elf of her age, and nothing to be trifled with. When her people came to the high king of the dwarves, Dvalinn, with demands that a hundred-thousand of his people be delivered into slavery to build her monuments, he declined, and sent back from his halls a few bloodied and blinded survivors carrying the heads of their comrades. This, of course, meant war.

War between the elves and dwarves centered around the dwarven holds in the Bleeding Mountains, which in those days were known as Golden Mountains. The elves besieged the dwarves in their mountain holds, as Dvalinn had desired, and slowly but surely the dwarves chipped away at the strength of the elven armies, slaying their great wizard-lords with such mundane things as rockets and cannon. More importantly, they undermined the positions of the elves, and bypassing their enemy’s lines worked their wiles on the human slaves that formed the bulk of the elves’ strength. Before the elves knew it, their human subjects were in open revolt, and they were forced to divide their armies again and again until they were spread thin across the globe.

It finally came about that the dwarves left their strongholds to challenge the army of Vinrix in the field. The elves had made camp around the base of the Crown Stone, the keystone their magical network of standing stones, which augmented their eldritch power and denied it to most other folk. There the dwarves went with humans and others in tow, and joined battle with their ancient enemies. Eventually, it was a matter of High King against Empress, and finally, her back pressed against the Crown Stone itself, the dwarf made a last mighty swing with his hammer and missed. The hammer, forged in the raging elemental fires beneath the earth, tempered in the immaculate grudges of the dwarves, cracked the great stone his people had raised, and everything was cast in a brilliant white light.

Those who were far enough away to have seen the event and survived tell of a great white light that lasted but an instant and then disappeared, followed by a great rush of wind. Vinrix and Dvalinn and their armies were gone, as was the Crown Stone and, with it, the network of standing stones. Some toppled physically, others remained standing, but the great network that channeled magical energy was gone. Where once there stood the Crown Stone on a lush prairie, there was now a great, gaping gulf – a piece torn from the Material Plane. A few bits of land floated in this black gulf, this void-scar on the landscape, but the rest was gone.
With the magic dissipated across the globe, the impossible cities of the elves toppled and those who were left found themselves the inheritors of wrack and ruin.

Needless to say, the elves were none too happy about this. To be sure, the greatest of their cities still stood, fabled Tara Tilal, but most of the others were gone. The elves were now weakened, and they were forced into the wilderness by their former slaves. While some repented and turned back to their ancient gods, many others had revenge on their minds, and magical communications sent a great many (perhaps two-thirds) of the surviving warriors and wizards marching to the wondrous western mountains known as the Pillars of Asur, where that grand old kabir’s great temple stood. They gathered in the foothills and swore oaths and forged weapons and summoned demons, and then started up those slopes to topple their ancestor-god’s house of worship.

They did not get far, though, before the old god himself did appear and whisper a single curse. The sun would be denied these elves for all eternity; it would become to them a hateful thing of pain, burning eyes and flesh, an eternal reminder of their fall from grace and final punishment. These elves turned and fled from their god and the sun, which burned their skin black, and hid themselves in dark places under the earth, and would come to be known in future centuries as the drow. They would eventually have their revenge on the dwarves, though, as they excited the fires that burned beneath the Golden Mountains and gathered the foul goblin folk who dwelled near them and finally freed the last of the elder things that were chained therein. As hundreds of volcanoes exploded simultaneously, the skies were blackened and the holds of the dwarves were cracked and destroyed. The goblins swarmed these strongholds and the dwarves were forced to flee. The Golden Mountains had become the Bleeding Mountains, so named for the red rivers of lava that now flowed there and for the copious amounts of dwarf blood spilled by the goblins. The dwarven diaspora had begun.

THE MAJOR KABIR

ASUR: Kabir of the Sun; ruler of The Noble Procession (the aristocratic and beautiful, chivalrous and vain fey, especially the ancient elves and even the rebellious drow who are their closest relatives)

BEL: Kabir of death and rebirth; rules the Mourners (fey concerned with the dead, such as banshees)

GHOBB: Kabir of geology; rules the Keepers of Kitchen and Pantry (the household fairies, as well as the useful folk of the fairy world such as leprechauns and brownies)

KARN: Kabir of the hunt; rules the Bloody-Minded Lot (mean-spirited killers and torturers, such as red caps and trolls)

NUDD: Kabir of the oceans, the “ancient mariner”, who went to sea and never again set foot on land; he might be said to rule the fey of the water, though he shows little interest in doing so and generally leaves them to their own devices

TUT: Kabir of mischief; rules the Merrie-Met (tricksters, dancers, and makers of mischief like satyrs and sprites)

YS: Kabir of fertility; rules the Painters of Flowers and Dapplers of Dew (the fey that make the world go ‘round, the nature-workers of Nod such as the flower fairies, nymphs and dryads, as well as the storm giants – though nobody really rules those folks)

THE MAJOR IGIGI

ALAD: Igigi of Benevolence (NG)

AZAG: Igigi of Morbidity (NE)

AZUR: Igigi of Virtue (LG); After Azur’s destruction by Zid during its crusade in the Material Plane against evil, when it stretched itself too thin and made itself vulnerable, Azur was shattered into seven archangels (solars), generally known as the Seven Virtues.

GUZU: Igigi of Rage (CE)

NIM: Igigi of Love (CG)

SUUL: Igigi of Madness (CN)

ZID: Igigi of Logic (LN)

Toxicons [New Monsters]

Lately, I’ve been thinking about useful replacements for some of the traditional low-level monsters – the kobold-goblin-orc-hobgoblin-gnoll-bugbear “chain of fiends”. After all, lots of us have played in quite a few of these here dungeons and have faced more than our fair share of these 0 to 3 HD creeps. Something new might be fun. Additionally, that chain of beings may not be as useful for campaigns that are not Tolkien-fantasy based. With that in mind, I offer up these fearsome fellows – The Toxicons!

The Toxicons are for slightly higher than 1st/2nd level parties, owing to the fact that all of them bring poison to the table, and most low-level parties will find poison a very difficult challenge to surmount. They were actually inspired by an episode of Adventure Time, maybe the most inspirational show in history for gonzo role playing.

CREEPERS
Small Humanoid, Chaotic (NE), Low Intelligence; Gang (1d8)

HD 0
AC 13 (leather armor and buckler)
ATK By weapon
MV 20
SV F14 R16 W17
XP 50 (CL 1)

Creepers are gaunt creatures that stand about 3 to 4 feet in height, though their hunched backs make them look shorter. They have dog-like faces, with downward-pointing teeth jutting from their muzzles, brilliant green eyes, greyish skin that looks warty and wrinkled in places, and a single row of bony nodules running from their forehead to the back of their skulls.

Once per day, a creeper can cough up a bluish mist in the face of an opponent. This mist consists of Poison I and forces the adventurer to either hold their breath (treat them as fatigued while holding their breath, which they can do for a number of rounds equal to 3 + their Constitution bonus) or succeed at a Fortitude saving throw to avoid falling asleep.

Creepers generally wear scanty bits of armor, and rarely more than leather. They arm themselves with small weapons and bucklers.

GRAPPLERS
Medium Humanoid, Chaotic (NE), Average Intelligence; Gang (1d6)

HD1
AC 14 (studded leather armor and buckler)
ATK By weapon
MV 30
SV F13 R15 W15
XP 100 (CL 2)

Grapplers are the larger cousins of the creepers. They look like taller creepers, with smaller muzzles, two rows of nodules on their heads, and longer arms that look like a cross between a humanoid arm and a tentacle. Male grapplers have manes of short, brownish fur covering their necks and shoulders.
Grapplers are covered in a thin sheen on contact poison (Poison II). Any creature coming into direct contact with a grappler must pass a Fortitude save to avoid the poison, adding their armor bonus to their saving throw.

CRUSHERS
Medium Humanoid, Chaotic (NE), Low Intelligence; Gang (1d6)*

HD 1+1
AC 16 (chainmail and shield)
ATK By weapon
MV 30
SV F13 R15 W16
XP 100 (CL 2)

Crushers are the largest of the Toxicons, standing a bit taller than a human being. They are rugged and muscular. Their faces have weak chins and down-turned mouths that usually hang open, revealing their sharp teeth. They are hairier than the smaller toxicons, being entirely covered with brownish fur of varying lengths.

Crushers emit a cloud of toxins in a 5-ft radius. Any creature coming into this cloud must hold their breath (see above) or pass a Fortitude save against a weak form of Poison III (1d4 damage). As the shock troops of the Toxicon species, crushers usually wear heavier armor (up to chainmail) and wield heavy bludgeoning weapons and shields.

LORDSMedium Humanoid, Chaotic (NE), High Intelligence; Gang (1d4)*

HD 2
AC 15 (chainmail and buckler)
ATK By weapon
MV 30
SV F12 R15 W14
XP 200 (CL 3)

The lords of the toxicons are notably smarter than their fellows. They look like grapplers with prominent foreheads and bluish skin and black manes that cover their knobby heads (save for their foreheads) and backs. They are known for the magical powers. Most lords wear chainmail or heavier armor and carry bucklers and piercing weapons (like spears).

Spells: 3/day — poison

Special: Immune to poison

The History of Nod, Part II – Elves and Gnomes

Another chunk of Nodian history …

THE ELVES AND GNOMES

The gnomes and elves are offshoots of the fey, the elves being descended from the fey and dragons and the gnomes descending from the brownies, pixies and sprites, probably from congress with more mundane humanoids.

Though the elves are actually a younger race than human beings, they are longer lived, and they fancy themselves the senior partners in the firm – wiser, more beautiful, more graceful, etc. The ancient elves, being only a few generations removed from the Kabir, were virtual demi-gods and terribly powerful. In no time, they spread their influence and their kingdoms across the face of the world, and their general lack of morality and compassion for lesser creatures drove them to enslave other folk. True, their influence did not spread to Mu-Pan, where their dragon sires held sway, but the rest of NOD was theirs to do with as they pleased.

The elves demanded tribute from the dwarves (more on them later) and drove them to construct a network of towering standing stones that formed the natural flow of magic on NOD into a network they could tap to work wonders. This network also denied magical access to most other folks. With this magical power, the elves constructed impossible cities and walked the planes of reality. They were the greatest explorers of their age, mapping the cosmos and making enemies far and wide.

The power of the ancient elves was staggering, but not without limits. Their magic flowed from the Kabir via elven druids, and the dictates of the Kabir irritated the arrogant elves. They raged against their ancestor gods, and in time they were heard by the demons, that still haunted NOD, and the fallen angels who now inhabited Hell at the center of NOD. These agents of Chaos and Evil reached out to the ancient elves with promises of power unlimited, asking nothing in return, for they knew the elves, unhampered by compassion or morality, would do exactly what their new tutors would like to be done to the world.

Tune in next time for the dwarves and the destruction of everything the elves held dear (i.e. their power)

What Alignment is the Universe?

More “History of NOD” coming very soon, but a brief thought on alignment in games today.

Is there a God (or gods) and how does He/She/It/Them want people to behave?

This is the big religious question, of course, and one I don’t want to answer here (or have answered in the comments – hint hint). But it got me thinking about religion/mythology/alignment in game worlds.

In many game worlds, the presence, identity and even ultimate aims of the divine powers is rarely in question. In most campaigns, a list of gods and goddesses is provided, each with a portfolio and an alignment, and players with a cleric pick their favorite and off they go.

What, though, would be result if nobody (no players, anyhow) really knew anything about who ran the universe?

Sure, there might still be pantheons that people worship, but what if those pantheons were just collections of names and mythological stories. What if what actually lay beyond the Material Plane was unknown to 99.9999% of the population, and those who did have some knowledge of it were super high level and thus generally unavailable for consultation? To put it in other terms, what if nobody knew what the universe’s alignment was? Clerics and players would have to creep along, wary of breaking an unwritten divine law and suffering the consequences if they did – loss of spell access, no healing, no resurrection, visits from divine enforcers, general bad luck, etc.

You could still have the different angels/demons/devils/demodands/modrons/etc. – you just don’t know which faction is in charge of the universe and which faction is just pretending to be control of the universe. Imagine too the excitement of stepping into the Outer Planes not knowing what you would find or who’s religion (i.e. alignment) was the One True Alignment. Maybe the Universe is Lawful Neutral, maybe its Neutral Good, maybe its Chaotic Evil, maybe it is completely unaligned. You won’t know unless you ascend to the Outer Planes and knock on some doors. In the meantime, players collect clues and interpret portents in-game and do their best to figure it all out, just as folks do in the real world.

However you structure such a game world, it could be for an interesting place to adventure.

History of Nod, Part I

It’s good to be the God of Nod …

There have been requests, so here it is. It will also appear in the NOD Companion (coming soon … I swear!) I have generally hesitated to get too much into this, since, in my opinion, this is just stuff from my personal campaign. I’d like others to feel free to concoct their own history of NOD if they use it in a campaign. Still, some folks like to get the “official” word on a campaign setting, so I guess this is it.

We begin with the Primordial History of NOD

I first conceived of NOD as a campaign setting about 5 years ago. It had two key sources of inspiration. The first was a map that depicted what some folks believed would be the layout of the continents on Earth millions of years from now. Is NOD meant to be the future of Earth? No. Just liked the map.

The second bit of inspiration came from the fiction of Dunsany and Lovecraft, specifically the Dreamlands. Having grown up on more Tolkienesque fantasy, they were both a revelation and a welcome “shot in the arm” to my imagination. I had created worlds that were little more than fantasy versions of the CIA’s factbook – collections of make-believe countries (mostly based on real world countries) and currencies and languages, etc. Tons of background that would rarely come up when a motley band of tomb robbers, religious zealots, scoundrels and necromancers were descending into the unlit depths of the world in search of fame, fortune and experience points.

NOD, therefore, would be a dream world, one conjured by the dreams, fantasies and mythologies of everyone who ever lived (but mostly dreams, fantasies and mythologies that I made up myself, or that were in the public domain – after all, I live in the real world and don’t fancy getting hit with a lawsuit!)

NOD is composed of dreams. In that regard, it has no geological or cosmological history. It wasn’t, and then it was, and slowly, it got itself crammed with all sorts of fantasy nonsense to entertain and annoy people who like to play fantasy games.

The LAND OF NOD once floated in a great sea of undiluted Chaos. Beset by demons and their ilk, and other things born in nightmares, those organisms that tried to eke out a life on the little planet had a tough time of it. Fortunately, what exists in the Material World has a soul in the Ethereal Plane. Like souls tend to flock together in great eddies in the Ethereal Plane, and these collections of souls, united by common purpose, gain a sort of divine sentience. It was thus that Ka, the first deity, was born.

Ka was composed of the souls or spirits of everything alive, and in fact still is. In those primordial days, though, Ka was mostly composed of the spirits of simple organisms and beasts (as they outnumbered sentient beings by a significant margin), and thus embodied (so to speak) the desire to survive.

Seeing its subjects beset by the creatures of Chaos, Ka injected bits of itself into the Material Plane – like sticking one’s fingers into the bowl of jelly. These protrusions of Ka took material form in the Material Plane, and they are called the Kabir. The Kabir might be considered the first of the fey, though in game terms they would be considered outsiders. Their shapes were variable, but primarily humanoid, for humans, the most advanced animals on NOD, gave them the benefit of their own advanced minds.

The Kabir went to war with the demons and other chaos creatures. In this war, they created soldiers from the stock of creatures already living on NOD, and in this way gave birth to the fey, the giants and the dragons. In time, they achieved a sort of victory, and life flourished on NOD. In time, Ka was shattered, or at least smaller eddies formed within Ka. These were the animal lords, each a collection of animal souls united by the drives of their component species, and more alignment-oriented entities, composed of the souls of sentient beings based on their own dedication to philosophical concepts like Law, Chaos, Good and Evil. These entities could also project pieces of themselves into the Material Plane, appearing not only as the planets that orbit around NOD, but also as the various outsiders (devils, angels, etc.) that plague and aid humans and demi-humans.

The structure of the Nodian cosmos was the product of ZID, the “god” of Reason and the Need for Order and Organization, through the workings of the polyhedroids, who are its manifestations in the Material Plane. They derived the crystal spheres that guide the movement of the planets and constructed from raw chaos the Firmament, which holds the undiluted chaos of the cosmos at bay, the churning of this chaos serving as the motivating force that keeps the Nodian cosmos in motion.

The Kabir eventually retired from the Material Plane to the pocket dimension of Fairyland, leaving their fey children behind to serve as nature’s agents on NOD. Since NOD has no innate physical laws to govern it, all that happens in NOD must happen through an intelligent agent. The polyhedroids are in charge of the big things, like gravity and the conservation of matter and energy, while the natural flourishes like the seasons are overseen by the various fey courts.

Next up … a brief history of the elves and gnomes

Warriors for Hire

Sometimes, you need to hire some muscle to dig into that dungeon. Sometimes, you need a quick, easy blog post that can be written off of a simple illustration. This is that time!

The following warriors correspond to the images above, in order from left to right.

BARL THE BOLD
HUMAN FIGHTER (CHAMPION), LEVEL 3
STR 14 INT 10 WIS 5 DEX 11 CON 13 CHA 11
HP 17 AC 15 ATK +1 FORT 11 REF 14 WILL 16
Dominate 0 HD foes
Bull Rush
Chainmail, Quarterstaff (1d6+1), Short Bow (1d6)

Barl cut his teeth on the field of battle, and fancies himself quite the tactician. Of course, his tactics usually involve rushing the enemy and hacking them to pieces …

AVOMIR THE DARK
HUMAN RANGER (PATHFINDER), LEVEL 2
STR 13 INT 6 WIS 16 DEX 13 CON 10 CHA 5
HP 7 AC 15 ATK +2 FORT 12 REF 11 WILL 13
Sworn enemy (orcs)
Expertise
Chainmail, Short Sword (1d6+1), Longbow (1d8)

Avomir prefers the woodlands and the small villages on its borders to town and city. A lusty rascal, his exploits with the fairer sex are known far and wide.

ASTLEY OF THE BLIGHTED LAND
HUMAN FIGHTER (DUELIST), LEVEL 4
STR 13 INT 8 WIS 11 DEX 11 CON 11 CHA 10
HP 12 AC 00 ATK +4 FORT 11 REF 14 WILL 13
Dominate 0 HD foes
Iron Will, Knack (Hide in Shadows)
Chainmail, Halberd (1d10), Short Sword (1d6)

Astley comes from a far-away kingdom that was laid low by the fires of a red dragon. Speaking little, he prefers to keep to the shadows when not fighting. Astley is a suspicious man, believing there was a traitor involved in the death of his homeland and family.

ORMSBY THE GOOD
HUMAN PALADIN (COMPANION), LEVEL 5
STR 14 INT 5 WIS 15 DEX 13 CON 13 CHA 15
HP 20 AC 19 ATK +4 FORT 9 REF 11 WILL 9
Detect evil, smite chaos (evil) 3/day, lay on hands, immune to fear, turn undead, quest for warhorse
Dodge, Iron Will
Banded Mail, Shield, Spear +1 (1d6+1), Silver Dagger (1d4)

Ormsby is everything a paladin should be, save for his rather conservative approach to fighting evil. Ormsby is a plodding planner, who often takes his comrades to the brink of madness with his hesitancy to move.

CARLOVAN STRONGHANDED
HUMAN BARBARIAN (PLUNDERER), LEVEL 3
STR 15 INT 9 WIS 10 DEX 10 CON 16 CHA 11
HP 20 AC 14 ATK +3 FORT 10 REF 14 WILL 14
Land speed +10, rage 1/day, sixth sense
Cleave, Two Weapon Fighting
Scale Armor, Short Sword (1d6), Hand Axe (1d6)

Despite his prickly exterior, Carlovan is a rather decent man, though with admittedly little patience for the ways of “civilized folk”. If it were not for taverns, he would have no use at all for entering towns and cities.

ZYBOLT WYRM-BANE
HUMAN FIGHTER (FREELANCE), LEVEL 7
STR 14 INT 8 WIS 9 DEX 12 CON 13 CHA 12
HP 31 AC 19 ATK +6 FORT 9 REF 13 WILL 13
Dominate 0 HD foes, two attacks per round
Alertness, Weapon Focus (Longsword)
Platemail, Shield, Longsword +1/+3 vs. Dragons (1d8+1)

Zybolt doesn’t speak much of his history, but he has the acid scars on his back to prove that he once did battle with a green dragon. He offers no proof that he slayed the beast. He is a cunning warrior with a boundless, though wry, wit and a particular love of hard cider.

GEOFF OF THE SHIRE
HUMAN FIGHTER (ARMSMAN), LEVEL 1
STR 17 INT 6 WIS 7 DEX 14 CON 10 CHA 10
HP 6 AC 13 ATK +1 FORT 13 REF 14 WILL 16
None
Toughness
Leather Armor, Pole Axe (1d8+1), Dagger (1d4)

Geoff is a big country boy, earning his armor by fighting orcs on the frontier. A bit naïve, he is nonetheless a brave and patient warrior with a desire to become better.

HAFNAR THE DOUR
HUMAN FIGHTER (GROGNARD), LEVEL 6
STR 14 INT 10 WIS 12 DEX 13 CON 12 CHA 6
HP 21 AC 16 ATK +5 FORT 10 REF 12 WILL 13
Dominate 0 HD foes, two attacks per round
Cleave, Sunder
Chainmail, Short Sword (1d6), Heavy Crossbow (1d6+1)

Even dwarves find Hafnar unpleasant company. He is unrelentingly bleak in his outlook on life, though fortunately he speaks only rarely, preferring instead to spend his downtime smoking his pipe and staring into the fire. Despite his pessimism, he looks forward to one day building a stronghold and governing a barony.