Monthly Archives: November 2009

022 The Plains Of Iron

The Plains Of Iron

Gray land beneath gray sky.

They stretch beneath a sun the color of dried blood, always waiting at eternal late afternoon. The vast flatness is broken by occasional low, worn, hills, or bisected by a flowing river of red dust. Copses of trees appear sporadically, as gray as the grass, as gray as the hills, as gray as the sky. The only colors here are iron gray and rust brown.

Oh, and blood red. Briefly. When the wolves have taken another soul.

These are the Iron Plains.

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021 The Midnight Depths

The Midnight Depths

There’s darkness. And then there’s something else, something that is to ordinary darkness as darkness is to light. This darkness is not merely the lack of light, but a force unto itself, light-devouring. It can be found in many parts of the Abyss, but rarely is it as dominant as it is in the Midnight Depths.

Mortal scholars call the lowest parts of the sea the Abyssal Zone, and in some worlds this is done without knowledge of how accurate that term is. The crushing pressure, the life-draining cold, the utter darkness, and the nightmare things of claw and tooth that dwell in those bleak expanses all combine to form a sort of psychic symmetry with the swirling maw of nightmares that is the Abyss, and where there is symmetry, there is connection. It is quite possible that those few explorers brave and foolish enough to enter the abyssal zone of the seas of a mortal world may find themselves in a somewhat different kind of Abyss.

The Midnight Depths is a layer of the Abyss where there is an ocean without surface, and not merely without light, but actively, brutally, hostile to light. It is a place of crushing water and crushing despair, a maze of blade-edged canyon walls and sudden, unavoidable, currents, inhabited by strange and twisted creatures, all dwelling forever in a blackness that cannot be easily described, just experienced.

Read on!

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020 The Clockwork Hive

The Clockwork Hive

Something continues to grow in the Abyss, a new power, once which the elder Demon Lords do not seem to comprehend. In the twisting tumult, it infests one plane after another, slowly gaining a foothold in many places before it reveals itself. The first hints of it were seen in The Jungle Of Gears, and a second stronghold has now been documented — the winding passages of the Clockwork Hive.

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019 The Flaying Tempest

The Flaying Tempest

The Flaying Tempest, sometimes called the Cyclone of Blades, the Knifestorm, Razorwind, and so on, is one of the many planes of the Abyss which doesn’t even pretend to mock the shape or form of the mortal world. It has no surface and no clear boundaries, and it is lit from everywhere and nowhere with a brilliant, almost blinding, glow. (Creatures with darkvision or low-light vision will suffer a -2 to Perception checks.) There is no gravity as such. There is only the wind.

And the knives.

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018 Nugraal’s Arena

Nugraal’s Arena

Nugraal’s Arena is an unusual layer, in that it is not controlled, technically, by demons. Nugraal, often called Nugraal Paingaze or Nugraal of the Black Diamond, is a medusa death knight of tremendous power, who struck a bargain with some of the powers of the Abyss, offering them easy access to his homeworld to despoil as they wished. He has managed to enforce the terms of this bargain by a combination of raw power and trickery, and the fact the arena has attracted other beings of might, who act to make sure it continues to function.

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Five Layers, Five Days

Five Layers, Five Days

There’s no denying I’ve been a bit slack over the past few weeks, often taking 2-3 weeks to do what should be one week of articles. I blame the rise of paying work. Nonetheless, I am somewhat determined to try to get back on track, and so I am going to return once more to the Abyss, with the intent of producing five layers in five days. As I write this, I do not have in mind any particular theme or focus, or even an idea what the first layer will be, never mind all five, but, here goes. This page, filed oddly under Breakfast Crunch, will be update with a link to each layer as it is written; the layers themselves will be under Abyss Project, as they ought to be.

Monday’s Layer: 018 Nugraal’s Arena

Tuesday’s Layer: 019 The Flaying Tempest

Wendesday’s Layer: 020 The Clockwork Hive

Thursday’s (Late) Layer: 021 The Midnight Depths

Friday’s (Ridiculously Late) Layer: 022 The Plains Of Iron

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Of Chitin And Creativity, Part VI

Of Chitin And Creativity VI: The Undiscovered Country

Whew. It’s taken a lot longer to get here than I’d ever dreamed, but this is the finale of the series, finishing up the Cha’k for Fantasy Craft.

No blather, no intros, just on to the good stuff!

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Of Chitin And Creativity, Part V

Of Chitin And Creativity V: The Final Frontier

Or, what does a giant bug need with a starship?

And thus, we arrive at the end of our exciting adventure. Bringing the Cha’k into Crafty Games’ "FantasyCraft" is fairly straightforward. Direct conversion of mechanics is Right Out; I’m not going to figure out how much a Cha’k can list in Dungeons & Dragons Fourth Edition and then give it the necessary Strength in FantasyCraft. Rather, I’m going to convert conceptually — if a Cha’k is "slightly above average" in 4e, it will be "slightly above average" in FC.

There are a few other points to consider, and here we get into issues of game goals and design assumptions. 4e is very heavily balanced around combat. This is not a criticism or an accusation that it’s "not a roleplaying game" — it’s a clear fact, explicitly stated by the designers. No class or race is going to be balanced by trading off combat and non-combat abilities, period. Other than a very small number of utility powers, all non-combat specialization is handled via feats. Assuming the design goals do not change over time, you will never see a class where attack powers are weaker because the class makes such great diplomats. There’s quite a lot of reasonable debate over whether or not this is a good thing, but that’s not what this article is about.

FantasyCraft, coming from its roots in SpyCraft, very explicitly does the opposite — classes are balanced around several roles, and while no class is completely useless in a fight, some are much better than others. Likewise, while 4e’s racial balance and design is heavily focused on "Never inconvenience the player", FantasyCraft’s is much more simulationist, and balances some racial traits via limiting player freedom. Dwarves, for example, cannot make jump or swim checks. Orcs cannot attempt to calm people down. Drakes can’t use gear built for humanoids.

With different design assumptions come different choices. FantasyCraft emphasizes different aspects of play than 4e does, and when designing, or re-designing, for it, it’s vital to keep that in mind.

Let’s see how it goes, shall we?

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Of Chitin and Creativity, Part IV

Of Chitin And Creativity Part IV: The Quest For Peace

Well, my planned update schedule didn’t go as… er… planned. So it goes. But, hey, it’s not quite next week yet, unless you’re a Seventh Day Adventist, and, if you are, don’t you have some confusing billboards to set up, or something? 

Today, we’ve got to round out the race with some feats and maybe some other goodies. I am a big, big, fan of race-specific feats, weapons, powers, and so on. I feel it really adds a lot to the distinctive feel of a race, and fulfills what I consider to be an extremely important design goal — mirroring fluff with mechanics. A lot of games, and I have to say 4e is often guilty of this, give you a bunch of fluff about races, usually very grandiose and extreme, and then don’t back it up in any meaningful way. Dwarves are stubborn, but get no bonuses to resisting mental command or sly words. Elves are magical, but don’t actually make better wizards than anyone else. Everyone hates ogres, but they get no penalties to social skills. Etc, etc, etc. I see this all the time. I also have heard the excuses: "Well, you should roleplay that!", "I want my elf to be different!", "That leads to munchkinism", blah, blah, blah. This idiocy reached it’s extreme, IMO, in a thread on which proclaimed even racial stat mods ought to go, since they (gasp!) led to some races being marginally better at some classes than others. Wow, short, agile, halflings make better Artful Dodger rogues than stumpy-legged barrel chested dwarves! What’s up with that, huh? But I digress.

Rant over. On to the feats!

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