The Lich Wars

The Liches

Why are they fighting? What are their goals? Can their goals be understood by our soft living brains?

Vecna: traditional lich, concentrating on undeath and secrets known for having an artifact hand and eye

  1. Wizard Cultists missing an eye and/or hand
  2. Floating undead eyes
  3. Swarm of crawling undead hands
  4. Corrupt priests who know your secrets
  5. The Hand and/or The Eye, adorned like reliquaries watched over by the lich-spawn apprentices
  6. Death Knight Praetorian Guard

Acerak: demilich turned stranger and stranger through traversing the far realms while his bejeweled skull mouldered in a horrific tomb

  1. Traps
  2. Illusions within illusions
  3. False treasures behind a secret door hiding the True secret door
  4. Alien tentacle beasts from the Far Realms
  5. Undead beasts with magical gems embedded in flesh and bone
  6. Castle-sized floating gem-fortress shaped like a skull (subtle!)

The Lich Queen: immortal leader of the Githyanki state, sending armies bolstered by red dragon winged cavalry into all the worlds from her capital city built on the body of a dead god in the Astral Plane

  1. Warriors with Silver Swords
  2. Warlock Courtiers with Silver and Obsidian Teeth
  3. Red Dragon Air Cavalry
  4. Gate-Fort under construction
  5. Crystal Psionic Battery in a recently requisitioned mule drawn cart
  6. Githyanki Rangers hunting Illithid

Minor Players

  1. All undead adventuring party (Vampire fighter, ghoul thief, revenant wizard, Spawn of Kyuss Priest) led by Kaz
  2. Local Vampire Lord(s) here to treat with Kaz
  3. Local monks enthralled by Githzarai unorthodox ideas on chaos and free will
  4. Githzarai fighting tournament
  5. Black winged angels watching from a distance
  6. Paladins in black armor helping refugees, offering prayers over the dead

Kaz: vampire rival of Vecna’s, leading a small platoon of ghouls, revenants and vampires

Githzerai Monks: ancient rivals of the Githyanki, monks who find solace in the chaos of their monasteries floating in the chaos of Limbo

Raven Queen: goddess of death and winter, often sends her black winged paladins to planes where these forces are warring to make sure the state of death isn’t damaged too terribly

Roll 6d6 (choose which 6 or go for it and roll all 8)

Arcane forces, unleashed in a battle have damaged:

  1. Time
  2. Weather Patterns
  3. Death
  4. Gravity
  5. Memory
  6. Dreams

For now, the upper hand is held by:

  1. Vecna
  2. Acerak
  3. The Lich Queen
  4. A ducal army
  5. Ragtag adventurers
  6. Stalemate

The last battle was a:

  1. Bloody slaughter
  2. Long brutal siege
  3. Feint within a feint
  4. Series of otherworldly storms
  5. Landing action as one of the armies made its way through a gate
  6. Vicious attack in order to gain control of a vital piece of geography

The Ghoul’s Hungry Throne  is:

  1. Pledging their teeth and axes to Vecna
  2. Rallying to Acerak
  3. Treating with the Lich Queen
  4. Entertaining offers from all armies
  5. Using the chaos to grab more territory
  6. Fortifying its position and declaring neutrality

The three armies are sending scouts and preparing to attack in order gain control of a:

  1. Castle
  2. Bridge
  3. Gate
  4. City
  5. Dungeon
  6. Unknown, what the fuck are these undead wizards trying to gain here?


Finding an old, lost world…

On a whim I posted a recycled old idea, one of the ideas I sent for the old WOTC Setting Contest years ago. A friend posted an interested reply, which sent me into the depths of my Google Drive, uncovering Anthropa:

Anthropa is the fantasy world of anthropomorphic Animals, Magical Beasts and Aberrations struggling in their newfound society as remnants of humanity’s civilization crumbles around them.

Animals, Aberrations and Magical Beasts of the Monster Manual walk on two legs.  Examples of heroes found in Anthropa are the Psionic Ape Councilors of the Feathered Serpent, the Griffon Barbarians of the Black Glass Mountains and even the Rat Rogues, who skulk under the haunted cities of extinct humanity looking for hidden artifacts or just some chow. The hunter who looks for more than just a meal and a mate, the herdsman yearning for something more than merely safety and green grass, or in the Magical Beasts who rise up and fight against the Aberrations all heed the call of heroism.

Unicorn Paladins take up sword and shield against the thousand knives of Carrion Crawler Assassins. Dire Lords struggle to feed an empire of carnivores. The Feathered Serpent to the south rules a jungle empire from atop his Golden Pyramid.  Beasts act out the primal drama of their former four-legged existence while struggling with their newfound humanity.  Deer arm themselves against Wolf pack violence with the very bows and arrows that hunted their stags in the old world.  The line between hunter and prey has become complicated.  Tomb-like cities contain magic, remnants of a lost age, clues concerning mankind’s extinction.       

Nightmare Blackguards conspire with Yeth Hound Sorcerers on moonless nights. The Dire Lords mercilessly hunt Herdsfolk for food as they did when they walked on four legs. Aboleth use their stolen memories of the old world to scheme and enslave. Driders and the Panther-like Displacers pour out of the Underdark reaping sacrifices for their Spider-Queen. Beasts twisted with an evil lust for power gather in their rotting fortress, Tarrasque.

There still exist provincial herdsfolk who foolishly believe that Unicorns are tales told by drunken Horses and that Dragons are myths. Nonetheless, former Wizards’ familiars teach the magicks of their now dead masters. Some say this Arcane meddling is unnatural and will bring the Doom of the Humans upon all of Beastkind.

Anthropa allows its players to bring their favorite mundane or mythical animals to vivid life. It is a fantastic world of high adventure that invokes the work of Brian Jaques’ Redwall, Robert Adam’s Watership Down and Stan Sakai’s Yusagi Yojimbo while putting their textures and themes in a high fantasy context. Sword and sorcery meets hoof and horn.

I had forgotten this thing existed, hadn’t touched it in 6 years.

lion v unicorn

The picture above is from a scroll from the Dire Lords hunting grounds. See how they depict the unicorn as the extinct humans depicted them in their ancient tapestries, 4-legged and full of herd-fear.

I kind of want to use Knave to play it. Maybe species just allows you an Advantage Die under very specific circumstances or a special power.

Predator: When chasing an enemy or a group you gain an advantage die

Prey: When running from an enemy or looking for an ambush you gain an advantage die

Carrion-eater: When you eat the dead they tell you a secret

Familiar: Start with an advantaged extra roll on the arcane items table (roll twice, take your preferred result)

Unicorn: You can use your horn to Cure Poison as many times per day as your Wisdom bonus +1.


Don’t throw anything away.

Be kind to your past self.

Don’t go extinct.

Not bad for an off-hand tweet I wrote up because I couldn’t sleep.





Art and Picture Collection, The New York Public Library. “T U V.” The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1911.


Remembering Leo DiRoarinsky

I had this odd flashback from being a 13 year old gamer. This is probably a 30 year old gaming memory thanks to the rpgtheoryjuly hashtag over on twitter and reading tweets by Evan Torner and Emily Care-Boss.

dr evanstweet

I cannot tell you how often I was introduced to a PC’s long-lost relative or whatever, only to have them kidnapped or killed #rpgtheoryJuly

The above tweet reminded me of a D&D game I DM’ed almost 30 years ago.

I was DMing; it was probably my first few dozen games. I was 13 years old, sitting on the edge of my bed while my friends sat on the floor. My parents had been divorced for two years. It was some kind of off-night game we’d play when everyone else was out of town. It might’ve been my first experience with GM + 2 players.


A friend of mine was playing this lion-headed swashbuckling character in our D&D game because of course he was. His name might’ve been Leo DiRoarinsky. Here’s the thing about me then and me to this day. I’ll laugh at the name and then I will take it seriously. The name’s only funny once, really…maybe. After that, let’s get to adventuring and find other reasons to laugh or gasp or cringe or cheer. I took Leo seriously and listened to his back-story.

I remember him pitching the character to me. He said the name and laughed and then he passionately described this pale-furred, lion-headed swashbuckling adventurer. I didn’t like silly fantasy, still don’t. I was sold, though. He had mentioned a princess girlfriend his character was involved with but something was keeping them apart. Was it a kidnapping or a father or something?

I don’t remember. It was almost 3 decades ago. I only remember this dashing ivory-furred lion-headed skyship captain.

I decided that the princess would show up. I was young and had no idea about romantic relationships of any kind. What I did know was that it was really interesting if they had to co-exist. What does this lion-headed sky-boat captain do now that his princess girlfriend has showed up? I had no idea what that would look like. What does she think of adventuring? Does he really love her or just the idea of her?

I knew it was satisfying, uncomfortable and odd all at once. I learned right there that liked those things all together at the table. It was difficult, as difficult as my 13 year old brain with just-divorced parents knew how to make it.

Yeah, Leo, you can pine for this princess and you would’ve crossed the 9 skies to save if she had needed but can you live with her? Can you share a cramped skyship cabin with her? Can you plot a course across the stars with her?

I learned some good lessons:

Take your friend’s ideas seriously; even if they are silly, the silliness might be hiding some real pathos buried in there. Find that pathos before you dismiss something out of hand.

Sometimes, give a character what they want but not in exactly the way they want it. Especially when it can make the adventuring life even more interesting.

Asking a character to live with family is often more interesting than using that family as something to threaten or destroy for that character’s motivation.

The Womb Bog and The Bowl

The Womb Bog

Womb Bog

I’m having fun playing with Hex Kit.

I was futzing with the randomly generated maps, where you can put different hex-types at different elevations and see what happens and got this one with a bog right in the middle. It made me want to play a game with lizard-folk, bullywugs and maybe dragonborn. Lizard-folk vampires from the Bonegrove steal your warmth by grappling with you.

Clerics of single elements, all elements in balance or two combined.

I want a demi-god called the Froghemoth and a primordial world being put together out of the broken pieces of dead worlds (hence, elf lake). I added in rivers and lakes and named some stuff.

Fun toy.

Old World Markers

(If one isn’t enough for you, roll 2 and combine them)

  1. Dead Gods’ Rib
  2. Broken Shrine
  3. Infernal Amber (Frozen Piece of Hell)
  4. Statue’s Limb
  5. Stone Tentacle
  6. Boundary Marker designating the edge of a long-dead empire
  7. Cyclopean Cog (Broken Piece of Heaven)
  8. Golem Cemetery
  9. Dead Tree Deity
  10. Cathedral-sized heart, slowly rotting
  11. Dead Mushroom Deity
  12. Tower-sized Sword embedded in ground
  13. Blasted Wizard-God’s tower
  14. Crucified Paladin-God
  15. Crow’s cage containing the rotting Thief-God
  16. Broken Skyship Gate
  17. Crashed Capital Skyship
  18. Chains running from deep in the earth into the sky
  19. Lich-god’s crystal skull
  20. Broken siege engine meant to wage war on other-planar fortifications

The Bowl

And we’ve got the Bowl, rivers running towards the cold void at the center of a broken shard of a world, turning into frozen crystal waterfalls as their water spills into the uncaring stars.

The Bowl

Why do Sky Fortresses guard the void?

What blasted the old towers along the rim?

Who decides the path of the free-floating Sky Pyramid?

What is the relationship between the Black Monoliths and the Glyph Rocks?

Will the Mushroom Grove engulf the entire Bowl some day, as foretold?

What is the source of the river’s waters?


Volo’s Guide to Monsters: Kobolds

Volo’s Guide to Monsters continues to be an inspiring and fun read. The section on kobolds is also really cool and makes me want to run a kobold warren campaign using the build for kobolds as player characters.

Favorite Bits

“In the kobolds’ version of a perfect world, the creatures would be left along to dig their tunnels and raise the next generation of kobolds, all the while seeking the magic that will free their imprisoned god…”

“Furthermore, kobolds can slowly change sex. If most males or females of a tribe are killed, some survivors change over several months until the tribe is balanced again.”

“Roughly one-quarter of the towns and cities in the world have kobold communities living under them, but the kobolds are so good at staying hidden that the surface-dwelling citizens in the area often don’t know what lies beneath them.”

“Kobolds willingly serve chromatic dragons and worship them as if they were demi-gods…”

The Pitch

Red Death, an ancient red dragon, was driven from her lair by powerful adventurers a little under a century ago. In the midst of her exodus, she left you all in this warren to hold on to a few of her treasures and one of her eggs. There are rumors that Red Warrens were seeded up and down the chain of volcanoes that range this continent’s coast but none of you have ever seen nor heard from them.

None know where Red Death now lairs but there are warren myths that she will come back and take you all to glory some day when the mountains belch smoke once again.

A party of adventurers, inspired by the original interlopers who drove Red Death from her volcano home, are making their way to your warren with dreams of treasure and glory.





Kobolds don’t see the morality of the universe divided along the law/chaos, good/evil spectrum (and I find alignment kinda dull). This is how they divvy it up. In game, following the tenants of one’s alignment would be how players would earn Inspiration, able to change alignments with a short rest and prayer.

The Five-Headed Matron (Tiamat, in Draconic): Actively scouting out coming danger, serving your betters, interacting with sorcery

The Egg (Boosh, in Draconic): Learning new things, staying very still to wait for your moment, becoming something new

The Interloper (Ku in Draconic): Sneaking into danger, acting on emotional attachment like some love-blind human or elf, trespassing

The Winged Kobold (Urd, in Draconic): Personal glory, being special, taking on power and responsibility

Kurtulmak (God of Kobolds): Escaping captivity, finding that which is lost, besting a bully


On the Map

On he wall of the warren is a map, copied from a now lost map from the Olde Lair’s legendary library.

Dwarven Outpost: The beards have no time for you; their current grey-bearded Queen was among the adventurers who drove away Red Death.

Elfstone Fields: Border markers the elves put down when humans first made their castles to warn them against wandering too far west.

Goblins in the Mountains: They are spiteful but sometimes can be allies if you can convince them it is in their best interests.

Hobgoblin Border Fort: They will enslave you all and put you to work tunneling under their enemies and making traps if they get through Duchess Pass.

Human City: City Kobolds live underneath it and through them you can buy human goods. There is a wizard with a tower there who even had a kobold apprentice once!

Olde Lair: The volcanic Red Peak in which was the lair of Red Death, the dragon your ancestors served, is currently cool and silent.

Wyvern Barrows:  The spirits of the humans who called themselves the dragon-chiefs are buried here with the bones of their wyvern steeds.



Slavic and East European Collections, The New York Public Library. “Kliuchevskaia sopka.” The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1856.
Volo’s Guide to Monsters, covers by Hydro74 (bad-ass retail, Illithid cover) and ???

When giants and dragons made war…

I’m a few dozen pages into Volo’s Guide to Monsters and I’m digging it.


I’m thinking about a world where humans are young and have not yet made their first city; the only city is in this world the giants’ city, Ostoria. Elves are tourists from alien Fey realms and Dwarves are in their glory, profiting hand over fist as the giants and dragons make war and they play both sides against the middle. The Thousand Years War between the giants and the dragons is about to begin.

Humans don’t have gods yet. If players level up, they are the first humans to reach those heights. They’ll meet NPC’s like the inquisitive and young Vecna and his best friend, the hardy warrior, Khaz – maybe a young Raven Queen.


Alignment, I’m taking a cue from Court of Swords. Alignment and morality is based on giants and dragons, the foremost powers in the world.

Bahamut: Justice, Wealth and Leadership

Tiamat: Lore, Collecting and Sorcery

Annam: Strength, Breeding and Order

Othea: Building, Defense and Teaching

Sigil: Adapting, Balance and Learning

Bahamut and Tiamat are draconic deities.

Anna and Othea are the all-father and all-mother of the giants.

Sigil is an idyllic nexus where all elements and ideas meet in a beautiful oasis filled with hidden doorways.


Planarch Codex has me thinking about Kobolds

From an e-mail about an upcoming DW/Planarch Codex game:

I think I want to play a kobold, straight out of the Monster Manual.

A little scaled, horned being who grew up among 40 to 400 other kobolds. Raised to hate in a huge evil pile but left home with his red robes, his short sword and his wicker shield and is realizing quickly that the way he was raised might not have been perfect.

And so, I re-read the Monster Manual entry:

kobold jpg


I asked on G+, thinking I had run into some kind of old school D&D jargon but no. I was set straight.

Screen Shot 2016-08-15 at 10.52.08 PM

“gens, n.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, June 2016. Web. 15 August 2016.