Saturday, October 31, 2020

Revisitng Elsai

It's been awhile since I touched base with Elsai, my homebrew setting that I talk about the most on this blog. I really want to revisit Elsai and really think about it; figuring out what lands and what flops, what to keep and what to drop.

I believe the best approach would be to start with some kind of elevator pitch and go about it from the top down.

So here's the pitch:

Elsai is the love child of Conan and Mad Max, born of a romance as described by Terry Pratchett.

That's a lot to unpack. I'm going to start with the ConanxMad Max thing. Elsai is a gonzo setting at its heart. It's a disparate mishmash of several genres; but, sword and sorcery and post-apocalyptic, represented by Conan and Max, are the number 1 and 2 spots on that list.

Elsai is a broken world (the apocalyptic) ruled by cruel liches only concerned with sacrificial gain (the sorcery) where the inhabitants have to fight for their way of life (the sword). 

With that said, Elsai seems like a pretty grimdark setting, but that's where Mr. Pratchett comes in. Yes, Elsai is grim and dark; but, it's presented in a humorous and/or satirical light.

An example will explain what that means easier.

Take the lich kings for example. They bill themselves as all-powerful god-kings invulnerable to anyone and anything. Make no mistake, they are powerful, but they are just as lost and confused when it comes to the cosmos as we are. They know next to nothing about the galactic civilization beyond their planet, other than that they use Elsai as a junkyard. They could drop a 200 ton nuclear bomb, annihilating Elsai off the face of the solar system without the liches even knowing. And that fact terrifies them. They talk like Death from Discworld too, IN ALL CAPITAL LETTERS, or an equally silly formatting.

Elsai is a dire world, yes; but, it's also a silly world. Its melting pot of genres make it hard to take seriously, in addition to its weirdness and dialing things to eleven. Also I don't want to drop players into a hopeless meat grinder or beat them over the head with morale lessons more suited for a show like the Walking Dead.

Ok, now that that is out of the way, I'll start by going through the elements one by one and determining if they fit my pitch.

Let's start with the races, the people of Elsai.

I'm not stringent enough to omit any races from a homebrewed setting (except maybe halflings). Chances are if a race exists in D&D, it exists on Elsai. Whether or not it has lore is a different question. Of the races that inhabit Elsai here's a small list and their accompanying lore. (Races will get their own posts later.)

-Humans. Every D&D setting has humans and Elsai is no different. However, I've tried to make them more interesting than just being the default. Humans live in the eight great cities. They're the only race that can learn color magic. They have physical oddities based off what city they're from. For example, humans from Change have subdermal plates on their foreheads, making them look a lot like Klingons.

-Dwarves. The oldest race, dwarves are made from the stone and metal that they work with. They live in factory hiveminds and it's assumed that they were created by the ancient forerunners and built the eight great cities.

-Elves. Being an elf is a curse. They are born of humans infected by the nature plague that originates from the terradomes shattering. Elves are manic, always on the verge of laughing, and over-positive.

-Lizardmen. The ancient colonizers of Elsai now reduced to tribal wanderers. Though some tribes still possess ancient artifacts from their glory days. The race is all male, surviving by asexual reproduction and regeneration.

Those four seem like a good base for now, and they match the usual four races you find in most OSR products.

Moving on to history. Again, this deserves its own post, but I'll summarize briefly here with bullet points:

-A collection of beings inhabited Elsai, creating the dwarves who created the eight great cities. Then they either left or died out. Evidence of their presence only exists in secret chambers accessible only by the lich kings.

-space-faring lizardmen find Elsai and decide to colonize it. They build terradomes to terraform the planet and construct the space station that would become the Broken Ring that encircles Elsai.

-Humans as a civilization are born when the lizardmen's apeman slaves escape confinement and make their way into the eight great cities. The Lizardmen pay them no mind at first because they're brainless monkeys and they're more concerned with elves and the nature plague. The cities have an effect on the humans similar to the monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey. Humans gain sentience and magic.

-There's a human-lizardman war. This war would lead to the Explocalypse, destroying everything except the eight great cities, leaving countless ruins and destroying the ring space station. Gathox appears in the Red Barren Wastes.

-Elsai is reclassified as a junk planet by the Galactic Civilization and they begin dumping the junk of various subsectors on the planet. Native Elsains scavenge the mountain-sized piles.

That's probably enough to get to the state I want most Elsai campaigns to be in. If any more history comes to mind, it'll get a seperate post. 

What else is there? There's culture and tech level, but those are deserving of their own posts, along with specific locations. This post is more about the big picture. 

Speaking of big picture, now it's time to get to the real reason I made this post.

I commissioned this map of Elsai from Luka Rejec what feels like forever ago, and I haven't had the chance to use it yet. I gave some rough details and a few key locations and let Luka fill in the rest. 

The only thing to say about this map, other than that it's beautiful, is that most of my effort will go towards keying this map when it comes to expanding Elsai.

Monday, October 26, 2020

GLOG Class: Hoplite, a Bronze Age Warrior for Greek Fantasy Games

Starting Equipment: bronze-tipped spear, bronze breastplate, shield, sun-bleached sandals

A: Phalanx Tactics, Pile In
B: Stubborn Sandals, Heroic Advance
C: Shield Brothers, +2 Attack stat
D: Ruthless Cadence

You gain +1 Movement for each Hoplite template you possess

A: Phalanx Tactics

After you make a charge attack, you and allies within 5' gain +1 Defense. If you're equipped with a shield, you and allies within 5' instead gain +2 Defense. A character can only gain this benefit from one Hoplite at a time.

A: Pile In

Once per combat round, after an ally within 20'+Movement is attacked, you can make a free charge attack.

B: Stubborn Sandals

As long as you're wearing sandals, you are immune to effects that knock you prone or knock you back and allies within 5' gain +2 to Save against such effects.

B: Heroic Advance

When you make a charge attack, you can instead call for a heroic advance. When you call for a heroic advance, you and allies within 5' can move 50'+your Movement towards an enemy. Allies have to end their movement within 5' of you.

C: Shield Brothers

When an ally within 5' misses with an attack, they gain +2 to their next attack.

D: Ruthless Cadence

Any hit you score against a creature that has all of their hit points is a critical hit. When you score a critical hit in this way, add your level to the damage dealt.

Shields up, spears out, heels set, hearts firm.

Sunday, October 25, 2020

Boneclaw, the Lich That Gets Hands-On

I put my Eberron campaign on hold until the holidays are over. In the meantime I offered my players a casual, no strings attached, campaign of epic fantasy set in Theros. Last week they encountered their first villain, a boneclaw named Polocho.

Polocho made his debut when his master, his former apprentice, blew up the PCs with a glyph of fireball. While they were tying up the kid, Polocho walked his bone claws out of a window of the adjacent building and grabbed the cleric and wizard. Then he shadow jumped to the building across the street, giving the wizard several new holes. By the time the party reached him, Polocho just dropped the wizard off the building, teleported again, and ran off, daintily picking up his master along the way.

My players, being the masochists that they are, loved this. Now they are torn between giving a fruitless chase, investigate the burning mage's house, or cheese it since the guards are on the way.