Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Time of the Tarrasque #27: A New Year Dawns

"Time of the Tarrasque" is my current homebrew Pathfinder campaign. For an index of past session summaries, see The Story So Far.

Our heroes include:
  • Edel Naergon, high elf bard (archivist) 5.
  • Fatou Damiri, human wizard (evoker) 3/cleric of Yaziel 2; and Nochaesh, owl familiar.
  • Jumari Boneface, half-orc inquisitor of the Lost Egg 5.
  • Skarlo Rockhopper, gnome summoner 5; and Skuttledust, scorpion-like eidolon
  • ZhaZha, half-orc cavalier (order of the dragon) 5; and Zafira, camel mount.

Last time, our heroes experienced some frustration when trying to find out more about the resistance, who did not trust the newcomers yet. They did, however, learn a bit more about the upcoming winter solstice festival.

During the week before the solstice, ZhaZha found employment as a guard at a gnomish shop, where her size and watchfulness did much to discourage troublemakers. In her free time, she worked on making her banner. [This led to the conversation between her and Jumari appended to last session's summary. They have yet to share any of that discussion with their companions.] Jumari also found some work as hired muscle, but was not trained to be a soldier, so earned less. Edel's performances during this time were enjoyable enough, but garnered him a disappointing amount of coin.

With Skarlo's help, Fatou located a gnome illusionist willing to allow her to copy some spells from his spellbook (for the usual fee). The young wizard also shopped for arcane supplies, and scribed a handful of new spell scrolls (including enlarge person for Skarlo, as thanks).

Fatou also wished to meet the priests who would be leading the solstice rituals. Yaziel's cleric made a good first impression on the four leaders, who eagerly explained some of the basics of their faith. In return, they listened attentively to Fatou's talk about her own, as about the gods of the giants. Of the local priests, only Banwyn was familiar with the Javanian faith, but all knew something about the elementals gods--especially the earth god Genesib, who is popular among gnomes. Edel joined her for this meeting, and made an even stronger impression on them. Skarlo tagged along, too, because he was related to the two gnome leaders.

On the eve of the Winter Solstice--the last night of the year in most calendars--Jumari went into the forest around Galdar to find a secluded clearing with a view of the night sky. Her devotions at each new moon involve stripping nude to pray under an open sky, so she needed solitude. (ZhaZha offered to watch her back, but the inquisitor declined. She was still close enough to Galdar to be seen by a few nocturnal travelers, who all gave the scary skyclad albino half-orc in a trance a wide berth.)

Jumari rejoined her companions well before dawn, when the pageant was due to begin. They made their way to the marketplace, where a wooden platform had been erected, with four simple thrones in two tiers. The religious procession began at the river at the break of dawn. The four leaders marched with an honor guard from the banks into the center of town to the raised thrones.

The first pair represented the Faerie Sovereigns of Autumn and Winter, who ruled supreme during the season that was ending. The elf druid Daenestra wore hides and antlers to show her devotion to the Autumn prince, Basaran, lord of animals and the harvest. The gnome Felvar, repesenting the sinister Winter Queen, Maridor, wore a long gown of black leaves, and had turned his skin and hair snow white with either makeup or magic. (As explained last time, a layperson always represents the goddess of cold and death; Maridor is an essential part of the annual cycle, but those who favor her above the other three Sovereigns are not welcome in civilized lands.)

The second pair represented Spring and Summer, whose power was secondary during the autumn. Skarlo's cousin Banwyn, a gnome cleric of the Spring Princess, Nalanimil, was dressed as the fertility goddess in vines and scarves and not much else. This revealing costume showed off the small but obvious bulge of her pregnancy. Beside her was Ornthalas, a high elf priest of Vanatar, the Summer King and lord of light, who was dressed in a shiny breastplate, a mirror-like shield, and a helm with a metallic unicorn horn and mane. Although both Daenestra and Banywyn carried quivers and slung bows, Ornthalas was the most conspicuously armed member of the group, with his spear trailing a banner of woven flowers.

When the four actors reached the platform, they performed a bit of sacred mummery, speaking ritual words as they exchanged partners. Winter remained ascendant on Her holiest of days, but took Spring as Her new consort. Autumn joined Summer in decline. With Banwyn and Fulvar being a married couple, the new ruling pair's ritual kiss lasted longer than strictly necessary--to some knowing cheers. The Sovereigns then assumed Their seats on the four thrones, with the two gnomes taking the more exalted seats.

Representatives of the town's most prominent businesses and families took turns offering gifts to the Sovereigns. This took quite some time, as the "gods" gave their thanks for each gift. This part of the ceremony allowed the party to take better note of the crowd. They spotted a number of kobolds watching the proceedings from the edge of the crowd. Most of these were gathered on the side of the market closest to their garrison (a cluster of elven stone buildings surrounded by a kobold-built palisade). Jumari and Fatou could tell that the kobolds were on edge throughout the ceremony, and spotted some who openly sneered at the gift-giving.

While that was still going on, Fatou and ZhaZha noticed a disturbance as a new group approached from another direction. This proved to be two satyrs, one of which started playing his pipes and dancing as the pair approached the stage. The other carried a  fancy hunting horn, held aloft to let the crowd get a fine look while he pranced up to the stage. He bowed and, speaking in Common, presented the horn as "a gift from the satyrs of the forest to the true gods of the land." Some of the kobolds understood his words, and clearly took offense. Those reptiles translated into Draconic for their fellows, and a handful of kobolds rushed off in the direction of the garrison.

The satyr remained kneeling, and exchanged greetings with the actors. Autumn presented a wineskin to the satyrs in thanks. They sampled it, and praised Daenestra's work. A bad of musicians near the stage was given an unseen cue, and started to play. The two satyrs joined in with their pipes, and led the dancing that followed. With the solemn part of the festival concluded, the rest of the day was for celebrating the return of the sun. Stalls around the edges of the market square provided ample food and drink of many kinds.

The four actors remained on the platform for a while longer. Skarlo went to his cousin and, somewhat awkwardly, congratulated her on her pregnancy. The gesture pleased her and her husband, so he asked when the baby would be born. Banwyn expected their child to arrive in late spring, which she felt would honor her patron goddess.

Fatou offered to buy drinks for all her friends. The two half-orcs, however, declined, resolving to stay sober in case of any trouble. (Jumari also wanted to keep her face veiled.) Instead, they wandered around together, feeling lost among the followers of this strange religion. ZhaZha made sure to inform Edel that the kobolds were antsy, but the elf was determined to join in the carousing. He even asked to take Skarlo for a spin, and the gnome agreed--though he left Scuttledust with Fatou, for her protection.

The wizard tried to keep an eye out for the return of the kobolds who had gone to the garrison, but got too caught up in the festivities. After some time, the party heard a commotion nearby: one of the two satyrs was arguing with a kobold wearing rich, fancy robes and bearing a dragon-headed staff.  Going closer, they could hear that the satyr was insisting that the kobold join the party. The kobold and his two guards all wore insignia of garrison officers. The small reptilian was angry, insisting that the fey mind its own business and behave itself. Just as the party arrived, the argument turned into an exchange of insults in multiple languages.

Edel attempted to intercede and make peace: this was a festive occasion, which everyone should celebrate in their own way, and there was no need for such hostility. He succeeded, and the other two backed down. (Edel and his companions were somewhat disappoionted that they didn't get to join in a fight after all.) The satyr feigned boredom, and asked Fatou to drink with him instead. She agreed, and was led off to the nearest drink stall. Skarlo followed to keep an eye on her.

Jumari then addressed the kobold: "Don't you have somewhere else to be?" The kobold scoffed, and stated that wherever it chose to go in this town, it would. It soon decided that the half-orc and her friends were not worth its time to talk to, and walked off to where some kobolds were erecting a sunshade for it to sit under.

The two half-orcs decided to "wander" in front of the kobold to "accidentally" block its view of the continuing festivities. This gave Jumari time to determine the kobold's alignment (faint evil). It wasn't long before they were accosted by one of the junior officers, who barked at them to move along because they were blocking the view. When Jumari stubbornly replied in only Orc, the officer signaled the handful of soldiers beside the spellcaster, and they all leveled their crossbows at the half-orcs. At that, ZhaZha feigned difficulty getting her camel to move out of the way, but she and Jumari withdrew. The kobolds just glared at them and cursed them in Draconic.

Meanwhile, Fatou was in some trouble. The satyr had offered her a drink, and her lack of tolerance to alcohol left her too drunk to notice him getting handy, or to understand her owl familiar's warnings. Fortunately, her friends tracked her down her before the satyr got any other ideas, and extracted her from the fey's clutches. Fatou fuzzily thanked her friends, who took her back to the inn to sleep it off. Skarlo pointed them towards a shop where they acquired some alchemist's kindness for her. With Fatou safe again, Edel returned to the party as quickly as he could.

(ZhaZha has attached her new banner to her lance, and is working on a way to attach it to her armor so that she can display it with her hands free. During the day of the festival, the rest of the party noticed it, but only Fatou immediately picked up on the resemblance to the Tarrasque symbols in her home village.)


One of our players has started a new job that, unfortunately, makes scheduling this game more difficult. It may take us a couple months to find an alternative time slot that works. 

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Time of the Tarrasque #26: Hurry Up and Wait

"Time of the Tarrasque" is my current homebrew Pathfinder campaign. For an index of past session summaries, see The Story So Far.

Our heroes include:
  • Edel Naergon, high elf bard (archivist) 5.
  • Fatou Damiri, human wizard (evoker) 3/cleric of Yaziel 2; and Nochaesh, owl familiar.
  • Jumari Boneface, half-orc inquisitor of the Lost Egg 5.
  • Skarlo Rockhopper, gnome summoner 5; and Skuttledust, scorpion-like eidolon
  • ZhaZha, half-orc cavalier (order of the dragon) 5; and Zafira, camel mount.

Last time, our heroes fought a pair of primitive dragons and recovered one of their eggs. They then finally reached their destination, the elven forest of Fendorlis, and the kobold-occupied border town of Galdar. They gladly parted ways with the kobold caravan, and met a young gnome named Skarlo Rockhopper who is interested in seeing the desert. Skarlo confirmed the existence of a local resistance effort, so the party promised to take him with them if he could put them in touch with the rebels.

Skarlo went to talk with his contacts, Pyntle, a female gnome who worked as a street entertainer, and Theren, a male elf who was a warrior of some kind. He told them about the newcomers he'd met, who were interested in the resistance. Teren and Pyntle were surprised that Skarlo would suggest that half-orcs join them, but the summoner explained that they had worked for the kobold caravan, but didn't like them much. The two rebels decided to watch the group, and asked Skarlo to find out more about their capabilities. 

Meanwhile, the others discussed Jumari's paranoia. She explained that her parents tried to kill her as an infant, and she expects other people to try to, too. (ZhaZha opined that everyone is trying to kill everyone else in her home village, but that's just training.) The conversation then changed to the dragon egg. ZhaZha offered to train it for Jumari if she hatches it. Fatou suggested the cavalier might be able to train it as a mount. 

Skarlo returned to the inn later in the day, to report what his contacts had told him. Jumari replied that she didn't plan to stick around just to be watched. ZhaZha wondered aloud if the rebels expected their party to fight someone to impress them, and said, "I don't want to kill things just for the sake of killing things...I don't believe I just said that." (Edel and Fatou were also shocked by this statement.) Jumari insisted that if Skarlo's friends wanted them to do something, they needed to let them know what. She suggested that they could give more information on the caravan they arrived here with, and Edel suggested they might be able to sabotage those kobolds. In the end, they sent Skarlo back to request more enlightenment about what the resistance expects.

While the party waited to hear back about that, ZhaZha suggested that they look for signs of the death cult here in Galdar. The other agreed, and also tried to learn more about the local resistance, and whether there were any problems that outsiders could solve. They found no trace of the death cult. (Most of the people they asked assumed they meant the Winter Queen--the faerie goddess of death and darkness--and knew nothing of Asmolon.)

The townsfolk were very close-mouthed about the resistance. Jumari and Fatou sensed that some of them knew more than they were willing to say, but were afraid to talk to outsiders--especially a group that included half-orcs. Fatou offered her two friends some coin to go have a nice meal while she and Edel talked to more people; the cavalier and inquisitor readily agreed. By this time, the party had also noticed of elves following them, so splitting the group would also test their tail. 

As Fatou and Edel continued asking questions about town, they did not gain many answers to their questions. However, they did hear that the locals planned to hold their usual Winter Solstice celebrations in a week, but were worried about the kobolds interfering. Since the occupation of Galdar, the kobolds had mostly let business continue as usual, but they gathered taxes on all trade that passed through the town, and forbid some things like other races gathering in armed bands. (Fatou believed that one of the elves continued to follow her and Edel, but the bard saw no sign of this.)

Jumari and Fatou went to get food, and easily spotted the elf following them. They continued to be nosy, mostly just for the sake of hearing what others said about them. They attracted a good deal of attention, but could not understand most of the bystanders' comments (which were in their native Elven, Gnome, or Draconic). Fatou had been generous with her coin, so they sampled food from many shops (favoring those with "barbeque" or other roasted meat), and brought quite a few leftovers back to share with their friends. 

Skarlo was unable to locate Teren (who was probably busy watching the newcomers), but did find Pyntle. The summoner told her more about the group--two could fight, one wore a holy symbol, one told stories--and Pyntle relented enough to tell Skarlo that the resistance may have work for them by the solstice. 

After the gnome reported this to the party, Jumari opined that she might need to leave town, to avoid causing trouble. However, and ZhaZha wanted to find work to earn some money if they found nothing better to do during that week. Edel could easily make some coin performing. Fatou planned to replenish her supply of wizardly materials and scribe some more scrolls. 


[We stopped there because I found myself underprepared for a full session, and some of us were more tired from the week than usual. In order to have a more productive session next time, we continued the conversation via email. What follows summarizes that discussion and exposition.]

The Winter Solstice celebrations in Galdar normally begins with some sacred pageantry, led by local religious leaders and their assistants, to mark the changing of the seasons. This is followed by a great deal of raucous partying. 

Skarlo learned from his contacts that the resistance was concerned that the kobolds might interfere in these celebrations--especially if any of the local fey showed up, which they have in the past. Fey are wild and unpredictable, so tend to make the kobolds twitchy. The rebels wanted the PCs to stay near the religious leaders and protect them if there is any trouble. 

As natives of Fendorlis, Edel and Skarlo know that the solstices and equinoxes are the principal holy days of both the Faerie Sovereigns and the druids. The principal actors in Galdar's religious drama will represent the four Faerie Sovereigns as those deities change partners with the progression of the seasons. The Winter Queen and Summer King exchange consorts (Spring and Autumn) at each solstice and equinox; one of those two monarchs, along with their current consort, are ascendant during each season. Winter and Autumn are the current ruling pair, but at the solstice, Autumn will decline and Spring will ascend. (At the vernal equinox, Summer and Spring will become the ascendant pair, and so on.) 

Skarlo is related to two of the actors: his cousin Banwyn is a priestess of the Spring Princess, Nalanimil, and her husband Felvar will play the role of the Winter Queen, Maridor. (Maridor is a sinister goddess, feared rather than worshiped by honest folk, but she remains an integral part of the yearly cycle. She has no priests of her own among good-aligned elves, gnomes, and fey, but clerics of the pantheon honor her as part of the whole of nature. Here in Galdar, a layperson always plays her role.) The summoner knows that the other two leaders are both high elves: Daenestra, a female druid who will represent the Autumn Prince, Basaran, and Ornthalas, a male priest of the Summer King, Vanatar. 


"...a fat camel with big jaws."
[And finally, we had a brief session with just Jumari and ZhaZha's players, in order to address the potential conflict between them once the inquisitor finally learns the cavalier's religion. ZhaZha acquiring the banner class feature at this level provided the perfect opportunity to explore that.]

Jumari found ZhaZha sketching images in the dirt, and asked what she was doing. The cavalier explained that she was designing a banner, which would help their party remember that they had help at hand. She belonged to the Order of the Dragon, but was having difficulty drawing one, because she had never seen a true dragon. (Despite Fatou identifying the two amphipteres they had fought as dragons, they didn't fit her mental image of one.) The thing that the people of her village drew has powerful limbs and a lot of teeth. But given her limited knowledge with strong beasts, she was afraid that her drawing looked too much like a fat camel with big jaws.

A dragon--this specific dragon--is the most powerful thing that ZhaZha could think of. It had been ages and ages since any of her people had seen one, so they only had crude drawings. Jumari asked if she follows or worships it. ZhaZha revealed her incredulity at Jumari not having figured it out when they were in Gorza's Well. She hesitated to name it because, based on Jumari's reactions in the past, she was afraid the inquisitor would want to kill her. Jumari was still confused, so ZhaZha had to explain bluntly that she and her family worshiped the Tarrasque*. The leaders of her tribe all wore its symbols. Jumari was surprised-she had never seen its symbols before to recognize them. She reassured ZhaZha that she wasn't going to kill her--she liked her, and would miss their friendship. (Also, it was far more fun to tease Edel together.)

ZhaZha guessed that Fatou might have a better idea what it looked like, due to her extensive book-learning. Jumari reminded her that Edel had spoken of it, too. (ZhaZha confessed that history mostly went over her head--she'd rather be pointed at things to fight now.)

Jumari wanted to kill the Tarrasque, because it ate her god. Edel wanted to kill it because it ate his king. ZhaZha wanted to be the best rider ever, and the hardest thing to ride must be the Tarrasque. If she could ride it before they kill it, she'd be content. Jumari believed Edel would agree to that. But ZhaZha worried that another one might not appear within her lifetime--which, as a half-orc and a warrior, was bound to be short.

ZhaZha explained that the Tarrasque's cult was not a death cult (which she knew Jumari was violently opposed to); instead, her people revered it for its strength. Granted, her religious views might not exactly match her family's, but she wasn't with them now.

She asked Jumari what she thought of being "the white orc" now. Jumari claimed that as she long as she gets to destroy Ras Raduz, she didn't care about what happened to herself. She just didn't want to die for some stupid reason first.

ZhaZha showed Jumari her drawing, asking her if seeing it on a banner would inspire her to fight. The inquisitor wasn't comfortable with the idea of gaining support from a Tarrasque banner, so asked if she could add an egg to it. She explained that the birthmark on her face was in the shape of a broken egg, her god's symbol. (She repeated the story of the Tarrasque and Lost Egg's origins that she had told her companions before.)

ZhaZha's new banner design. (Drawings
used with her player's permission.)
As they talked, ZhaZha modified her drawing, and decided it would be much easier to depict just the dragon's head rather than the whole body. She had saved a few scraps of yellow-brown amphiptere hide from what they sold to the kobolds, and planned to cut the dragon head device out of that and mount it upon a red canvas background; she would also add a cream-colored broken eggshell to the design. Jumari recalled that their new gnome acquaintance, Skarlo, was a leatherworker, so suggested that he might be able to assist with the work, or at least with finding the right tools and supplies.

The two friends struck a deal: ZhaZha would ride the Tarrasque, then the others would kill it. They might never get that chance, but at least there would be plenty of death cultists to kill together along the way. (ZhaZha stated that if she died before then, she did not want to be reincarnated as a gnome. Being that small would make it even harder to achieve her dream.)

With the difficult part of the conversation past, their talk turned to lighter subjects--such as ZhaZha thanking Jumari for setting her up with Morag. 

* The Tarrasque is not a dragon, but in my setting's cosmology, it is the cursed spawn of the dragon gods, so its worshipers usually consider it to be one.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Strongholds & Followers

Strongholds & Followers is the primary physical reward from the wildly successful Strongholds & Streaming Kickstarter by MCDM Productions. This book for Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition presents Matt Colville's rules for mid- to high-level heroes building strongholds, recruiting followers, and using those resources to wage war, indulge in intrigue, and improve their heroes' personal abilities.

Previous editions of D&D assumed that most of the wealth that adventurers collect will be spent on magic items to boost their own power. However, such items are much rarer in 5E, and the default assumption is that characters cannot simply buy, sell, or craft magic items at will. Colville's solution is to give characters the option of using that money to build a stronghold, which allows them to attract followers and gain other tangible benefits. It also gives them more motivation to get involved in the politics and intrigue of the region around their new base, which can lead to new kinds of adventures.

The book is divided into six parts (three main chapters, plus substantial appendices which make up 40% of the book):
  • Strongholds: Rules for building a stronghold, and the benefits characters gain from that investment.
  • Followers: Details on the army units, retainers, and other followers a character can attract to their service, as well as special allies who help out from time to time.
  • The Siege of Castle Rend: An adventure designed to introduce players to many of the new rules in this book.
  • New Monsters: A bestiary of new extraplanar and draconic servitors that can be summoned by characters with a temple stronghold, and a few other methods. 
  • Warfare: Rules for mass combat, using army units gained as followers and/or hired with gold.
  • New Items: New magic items referenced elsewhere in the book, or that use the new rules presented here (such as battle magic or new monsters).


A stronghold is a structure that provides a base of operations, a home for followers and allies, and enhanced personal abilities to its master. There are four basic types: a keep allows you to raise an army and defend the local populace; a tower helps with spell research and learning battle magic; a temple allows the summoning of divine servitors and learning battle magic; and an establishment allows you to perform espionage and generate income. A castle combines more than one type of stronghold, allowing a larger complex to be built and run by multiple characters. A stronghold's size (1-5 levels) is a measure of both its cost to build and the benefits received.

In addition, the leader's class determines a number of the stronghold's features. Each class's entry lists a few possible demesne effects (ways in which the leader's power manifests in the local area) and stronghold actions (special abilities that the leader can use in combat). The leader also gets an improved class feature, which they can use a number of times equal to their stronghold's level before needing to take an extended rest (a week spent at the stronghold, re-attuning oneself to the site and recharging one's influence).

These abilities are typically very powerful, in order to make building a stronghold more attractive to players. They are not designed to be "balanced" (an overrated idea, in Colville's philosophy), but to give a cool reward to players who invest time and effort in this part of the game. In effect, the land responds to the leader's influence by granting them these special abilities, but they require the leader to periodically return to renew that bond.

Colville never says this explicitly, but the demesne effects and stronghold actions are an obvious parallel to the regional effects and lair actions associated with a powerful monster's lair. Once a player character has the resources to build and maintain a stronghold (at least 5th-7th level), they have arguably become powerful enough to manifest similar effects in their own "lair." Because the game is focused on the PCs, these stronghold actions and related effects will likely see more use than any NPC monster's lair would, so DMs will want to think about whether to use them and how often. The improved class features, on the other hand, have a built-in limit, and seem much more reasonable in their scope when you consider what a character could accomplish in a campaign that allowed them to invest the same amount of gold in portable magic items.


The leader's class determines what table to roll on for followers, which fall into five categories:
  • Units are military forces that can be used to defend the stronghold or wage war against enemies. They have special stat blocks used in the warfare rules.
  • Retainers are lower-level adventurers who help the leader in their adventures, and can serve as lieutenants in the leader's absence. They use simplified stat blocks that give them a few cool powers but make them easy to run in combat.
  • Artisans attach a shop to the stronghold, and can provide benefits such as reduced construction costs (carpenter, mason), magic item production (alchemist, scribe), training of troops (captain), or specialized knowledge (sage, spy). 
  • Ambassadors are members of local nonhuman tribes who act as liaisons between their people and the stronghold's leader. They allow the recruitment of army units from their ancestry. 
  • Allies are powerful local monsters who are impressed by the leader. They do not take orders, but can provide special help from time to time. 

The Siege of Castle Rend

This 5th-level adventure is designed to introduce players to many of the new rules in this book: seizing and restoring a stronghold, attracting followers to serve there, and a mass combat battle to defend it. The adventure has several tough encounters, but there are also opportunities to resolve a couple of them through clever play rather than violence.

New Monsters

The new rules for temples involve tracking concordance, a measure of how pleased the character's god is with them. A god's favorites can call upon divine aid, which can take the form of an extraplanar servitor arriving to aid the petitioner. The Monster Manual provides numerous examples of fiends that can fit this role, but far fewer celestials and elementals, and not many extraplanar creatures of other origins. Therefore, as a stretch goal, Colville created over 30 new monsters, grouped into several planar factions in the unique cosmology he has created for his own campaigns. Each faction contains creatures of Challenge ratings 5-10, providing a good spread of foes and allies over several levels' worth of play (much as the MM's demons and devils do).

While all of Stronghold & Followers is lavishly filled with gorgeous artwork, this chapter shines brightest of all. Almost every new monster gets it own illustration, many of them full-paged pieces.

The largest section of this appendix is devoted to a new category of dragons, the gemstone dragons. Unlike metallic or chromatic dragons, these creatures are at least partially neutral in alignment, and wield psionic rather than magical powers. Of the handful of short fiction pieces in this book, the gemstone dragons get the two longest, to help convey the author's intent for how to use them in game.


Colville's rules for large battles are a highly abstracted system, with stats based on ancestry, experience, equipment, and type of unit. It isn't a wargame, but a simplified system to run in parallel with the heroes fighting enemy leaders while their armies clash around them. And for DMs who want resolve battles even faster, there is an even simpler option presented at the end of the chapter.

MCDM's next book will be Kingdoms & Warfare, which will expand on the mass combat rules presented here. Colville makes a number of references to that book throughout Followers & Strongholds--to battle magic, provinces, etc.--but because he doesn't want to overwhelm the reader with two books' worth of new rules at once, he keeps them to a minimum. For example, there is very little battle magic available in this first book, with most of it being provided by codices.

New Items

This chapter presents several new magic items, including objects that can be installed in a stronghold to gain various benefits; artifact-level, reality-bending books of battle magic known as codices; and powerful weapons capable of summoning many of the new servitors introduced in this book.

My Conclusions

I have a few quibbles with Colville's writing style, which tends towards an overly conversational tone for a gaming rules supplement, with far too many "Gee, ain't this cool?" asides for my taste. (And smiley-face emoticons in a professional book, Matt? Really?!) But that's my personal opinion, and I have to admit that, like it or not, that choice does set his brand apart from other RPG books.

That said, Strongholds & Followers is a very useful book for 5E DMs who want to include some of the fun of earlier editions' "name levels," when PCs were assumed to have acquired enough wealth and renown to build strongholds and attract followers. Colville presents a fairly cohesive system for players to invest in such projects and reap in-game rewards for their efforts. The time that he and his team put into play-testing those rules shows--they cover a great deal of material and options in an easy to understand way, and there is ample advice for tweaking things to suit your own game.

This system isn't for every campaign--it requires a game where characters will be regularly returning to a home base, and a GM and players who want to explore political and military challenges. But there is material here that will be useful even if you don't use the strongholds and warfare rules on a regular basis. The appendix of new monsters is a lovely addition to any 5E library by itself, and will help immensely in fleshing out a campaign's cosmology outside of the lower outer planes.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Holiday Week/Weekend

Work and family matters kept me too busy to write and post a new blog this past week, despite (and in large part due to) the long holiday weekend.

Over the next few weeks, expect to see posts here about:
  • The next installment of my "Time of the Tarrasque" campaign. (We had a short session recently, but we need to do some follow-up over email before I can post the summary.)
  • A review of Matt Colville's Strongholds & Followers (which arrived late last month, and I'm currently reading). I will most likely present that column as part of my "Freeport 5E" series.