Returning to Waterdeep, the City of Splendors

My buddy Jay would communicate his jealousy concerning our Forgotten Realms games, so when he told me he was going to visit, I suggested we set up a one-on-one Burning Wheel game set in the Realms.  We’re brainstorming ideas, something to do with the criminal under-belly of Waterdeep and a noble family known for blackmail or as Jay said to me via IM:

I think lowtown has the feel that I was thinking for this. Less tragic drug dealerey more tired aging man trying to juggle his obligation to the lord he works for and his worry about the effect of the power vacuum on the streets.

Yes, BW will do that just fine.  I can’t wait, honestly surprised at how much I miss the Sword Coast.

I want my burned up Realmsish NPC’s and monsters all in one easy-to-find place, so here they are:

Xanathar, Beholder Crime Lord

In the sewers of Waterdeep is a Beholder Crime Lord by the name of Xanathar. He is building up a thieves’ guild bit by bit, as the former guild was driven south years ago.

He’s got a bookkeeper, a mercenary captain thug, a one-eyed dwarf and a drow spy as his crew. He’s a Tom Waits song written by Gary Gygax. He’s Keyser Soje with eye stalks.


Gnolls, heyena men who worship a demon-god of murder and blood

Heyena Men who worship a demon-god of murder and blood.


Khelben “Blackstaff”Arunsun

One of the PC’s has a relationship with him, another has a relationship with his wife and has written beliefs about how much he doesn’t like him. So its time to burn up the Archmage of Waterdeep (no, Elminster is the Sage of Shadowdale…wrong wizard). I am going by his description in the original gray boxed set and the supplement, Waterdeep and the North and tossing out any other history I could dig up because it just doesn’t interset me. Here’s what I am building off of:

  • Powerful Archmage
  • Masked Lord
  • Instrumental in keeping the Lord’s Alliance together
  • Forester and painter
  • Gravely Wise
  • Fully learned in the history, lore and traditions of magic as practiced by humans in the North since the rise from barbarism

Graz’zt, Demon Prince

I’m paraphrasing, here, “He was winning the war in the Abyss against Orcus and Demogorgon when he was summoned by a mighty magic-user and pulled to the prime material plane.”  Cool. That fits right into the game we’re in.

“Graz’zt is the handsomest of the demon rulers, at least by human standards. He appears as a huge, good-looking man, although his skin is shining black and his eyes are glowing green. Graz’zt is six fingered and six toed.”

The 3.0 Manual of the Planes is a nifty book. I especially like the 3-line descriptions of each plane:

“It is an infinity of clutching horror.
It is home to demons.
It is where morality crumbles and ethics perish.”

Waterdahavian Marinade

I miss the Forgotten Realms; I really do.  We ended the game at a nice resting spot but I wanted to say, “good-bye,” in some meaningful way.  Ah well…

A buddy of mine is visiting and it looks like we’ll have a little more than a day to hang out while everyone’s off at work.  He had told me how jealous he was of our Realms game, so I suggested that he make up a character and we’d start a solo game, when I get to New York City, we’d have a game in our trunk to take out when nothing else was brewing.  He has a daughter on the way, so this could be a pipe dream but still, its good to have one-on-one games seeded hither and yon.

When he told me about his Realms jealousy, I asked him what he would play and he posted that he would play a bard.  We narrowed that down a bit, a bard or a spy of some kind in Waterdeep with some kind of underworld contacts.

Okay.  So, I sent him this e-mail to get the wheels burning:

Note: this is all according to the gray boxed set and the original supplement, Waterdeep and the North.  We can change it; it is presented here just to inspire ideas.

P.S. This is too much writing.  The gist: the underworld is up in the air, there is a vacuum and something is looking to fill it.

Book of the Eldar: in which Celedon observes the growth of a young port city on the Sword Coast

Fall of the Shadow Thieves

Waterdeep grew from a humble cow pasture used to feed passing sailors into the largest metropolis the Young Races have ever seen at a staggeringly fast pace.  As such, the criminals were not able to organize and have a hold over the entire city.  Skullport probably had an effect on these disparate cells of criminal activity never gathered under one banner, as the rogue city was a gathering point for all manner of evil, scum and villainy.

The criminal element of Waterdeep did not boast an organized guild as could be found in Calimsham or even the gangs in Neverwinter until the Shadow Thieves.  Not only were these assassins and cut-purses supported from Amn but many of these thieves had otherworldly powers directly from the demi-plane of Shadow.

A troupe of Harpers, deputized by a Masked Lord and supported by Khelben Blackstaff and several bonded adventuring companies drove the Shadow Thieves from Waterdeep in the Year of the Devil Manticore.

Once the Shadow Thieves were banished, smugglers, cutpurses and desperate killers all over Waterdeep laid low for a while, not wanting to bring on any attention to themselves.  While the Shadow Thieves controlled the gangs and criminals in Waterdeep, many obeyed out of fear without actually being a part of the criminal guild’s infrastructure.

Now there are rumors of a criminal tyrant of some kind, a creature fascinated by wizards and having intense supernatural abilities.  Someone or something is making a bid for power, hoping to fill the vacuum that has been unfilled for years since the Shadow’s banishment.

Any thoughts?

Next up: Some lords of Waterdeep and thoughts on the noble families therein.

The Matron’s Handmaidens

“Just because a garden spider sits around all day and waits for prey doesn’t mean you have to. Once you take over your Great Spider character, he can literally do anything you want him to: Learn new skills and earn new traits. Don’t limit yourself.”

– Monster Burner

Rob, Witt and I got together at Dexcon on Sunday morning and played Burning Wheel, did it again at Dreamation. Truth is, we don’t get to see each other all that often and rather than hope we have enjoyed taking the time to sit down and game. And now its a thing, a tradition. The game is about an invading empire of giant spiders out of the Monster Burner. There are different kinds of the beasts, wolf spiders, orb weavers, undernesters and sea lords.

I snagged the mythology suggested by the undernester’s traits and skills: their matron and her 8 handmaidens and put them at the head of a ravenous inter-planar empire, casting its web over worlds and devouring every bit of meat it finds. Tossing together the different types of spiders this empire has brutal shock troops. It has sailors, hunters, spellcasters. Shit, it even has paratroopers, sailing through the skies on silk web parachutes.

In the game, the Matron’s Empire has landed in Evermeet, taken it over and dubbed it Everweb. Evermeet was a fun choice and it made sense to me as it is isolated and well stocked with tasty meat. Also, wrapping the elven capital in webs and eating its elven children was a solid way to kick this setting in the teeth.

Through the course of play, Witt’s vicious wolf spider has been dubbed a Handmaiden, one of the Matron’s chosen few, a general in the empire. She will be formerly inducted by her sisters in the next game and now I’m daydreaming about arachnid politics and thinking about who the other Handmaidens are.

Handmaiden God-eater: Yes, she ate a god in a monotheistic world, among the first the Matron ever devoured. They say any survivors from that world still consider her the Bringer of the Apocalypse and a goddess in her own right. She finds this quaint and flattering.

Handmaiden Devil-binder: In a world with strong ties to the Hells, she bound its patron devil in mystical webs, allowing the Matron’s armies to devour the infernal beach-head. They say that some day the Matron will launch her assault on the Hells from that world’s barren carcass.

Is Handmaiden Devil-binder too dependent on her bound pet? Is he only a spy sent by the Devils as a gambit in a longer game? Her reputation depends on this not being so.

Handmaiden World-Breaker: When the Matron turned her eight eyes on the delightful jewel known as Athas, it was this handmaiden who was sent to weaken it and she went too far. The apocalypse she brought about through subtlety and cunning rendered the world useless and cut it off from all planar contact. She is still reeling from the loss and trying to regain her place.

Handmaiden Matron’s Weaver: She is the most aged of the Handmaidens and there are whispers that she will attempt to hand her position to one of her daughters and be devoured in the process some day soon. It is through her magicks that the Matron can cut off a world’s contacts with other planes of existence. She hopes to one day be able to weave webs that capture prayers and holy sendings, leaving a world with only the Matron for their worship.

Handmaiden Orc-Tamer: They say she is one of the Matron’s daughters by birth and that she was fostered to Grumsh’s court in some nether plane made of endless caves and broken skies. Orc, goblins and trolls are her servants and she is quite mad by arachnid standards. If she weren’t an undernester with such a pedigree some whisper she would have been deposed and devoured by now.

Handmaiden Chronicle Weaver: This handmaiden is a long limbed orb weaver. She collects the histories of the matron’s conquests and weaves them into webs that help her subjects remember. Chronicle weaver keeps track of logistics, with eyes forwards towards the next world, eyes back on the grounds they have just left and the food in between. She is often frustrated because she isn’t as close to the queen-mother as the undernesters claim to be and is often not informed of important holy messages.

And that is about it. There is going to be a clique of ancient handmaidens around god-eater and matron’s weaver, a hard knot of older undernesters who keep strictly to the Way of Eight’s orthodoxy. And I want a clique of younger undernesters, up and comers who are around World-breaker’s age. I want the political power of the undernesters to be clear, with a few wolf spiders they use as front line generals and the orb weaver but no Sea Lords in the upper echelons.

But for now, that is it.  I want to leave some room to breath because:

  1. I think I have already named some handmaidens and I want to check my notes and be sure.
  2. I want to leave room to design handmaidens to tweak the players’ beliefs.

Thoughts on the Matron’s Empire or thoughts on the crazy shit you are creating for your own gaming? Please post below.

2 Apocalypses and a Year of Healing

AW: Lights of Hoover:

“Pima, this is a late model, Chevrolet Interceptor.  It has a 5 point 5 liter V6 engine.  Which means it can crank out 600 horse-power.  It goes from 0 to 60 in 3 point 6 seconds.  It has steel breaks, rather than ceramic, which were popular in late model Chevrolet’s.  That means it can go from 120 to 0 in 4.7 seconds.  That generates enough force, that you’d throw up.  Its got a reinforced suspension, which means I can take corners at 72 miles an hour, 12 miles an hour faster than other muscle cars.

“Its got a carbon-poly-mimetic skin over a titanium alloy frame.  That means when impacts occur at ninety degrees to the skin, it ripples like throwing a pebble on a lake.  The front and rear fenders are designed to crumple and fall off if impacted.  The wheels are a solid carbon, rather than inflated – to resist punctures.

“And it was made by the all-mighty GM, so it’ll last us.

“So, when I’m behind the wheel, you have to follow some simple rules.  You don’t question what I’m doing and I can guarantee you as long as I am behind this wheel, I will get you in and out alive.”

AW: Just Outside the City:

The Hudson River Valley shuts down as the river freezes up and the squid-eaters hole up in their villages for the winter.  A few squiddy families have sled dogs and will run messages up and down the valley but never into the city.

BW: So passes Obould, the orc who would be king:

We’ve played with many of the other Forgotten Realms toys: Mirt the Moneylender, Khelben Blackstaff, Peirgeron Paladinson, Obould, Old Snarl, Waterdeep, Evermeet, etc. It was time to send in the Sage of Shadowdale.

Arkadian Lahl needed a tutor to learn summoning and 13 months while Auric healed. We busted out the learning new skills rules and got to have some fun moments role-playing with Elminster. Good stuff.

Web Over the Moonshaes

At Dreamation we got together on Sunday morning and continued the game we began at Dexcon, in which a planar empire of giant spiders begins to take over the Forgotten Realms from their base on what used to be known as Evermeet and is now christened by the Matron’s Handmaidens, Everweb.

From the BW forums:

Arachnid Naming Conventions

We decide that spiders are named after their deeds. Until then, they are just named whatever they are.

So, Witt’s bad-ass spider started off as Wolf Hunter, then went on to Wizard-killer after she took down a wizard and then on to Conquering Wizard-hunter after she took the Moonshaes.

Finally, towards the end of the game, she became Handmaiden Dragon-heart after she molted, because bigger and was given the exalted status of Handmaiden.

Rob’s character when from Web Wyrd to Keeper of the Tome when he won a Duel of Wits with a Handmaiden (!) because he wanted to keep the wizard’s magic book that he was trying to decipher. Now I believe we called him, Dragon-heart’s Reader.

Other Cool Little Things

Lloth, Drow Goddess of the Demon-Web Pits, is referred to as the bastard-demon-mongrel or the bastard daughter of the Matron.

When Rob’s character was learning to read, it was a great shock that books do not begin in the middle, or at the outside as a web would.

7 knights for 7 bridges pic from Zak

Zak sent this amazing picture, inspired by yesterday’s post about the 7 knights:

by Zak Arntson


Man, I am a sucker for rough pencils.  Love ’em.

Go check out Zak’s web site.  He has fun games, especially games to play with children like MonkeyWrench and Shadows.  I am going to keep the inspiration cycle continuing and write a short story based on the pic for next week.

But for now, I just wanted to have some links to Zak’s free games, especially MonkeyWrench, I played it when I was working at an elementary school after-school program.

7 knights for 7 bridges

North of Waterdeep is a swampland called the Mere of Dead Men. Caravans headed north push past the mere without sleep, not wanting to deal with its ghost-infested waters or the angry lizard-folk who now call it home. Yeah, we adventured there a bit. In hopes of giving the joint a kind of Middle-Earth, well lived in vibe, I talked about some half-sunken statues of olden kings near the ruined castles in the mere (of course it is a rip-off of the Dead Marshes). On the far side of the swamps I had the players stop at a tavern called the Drowned Kings.

Daydreaming about gaming is one way I pass the time on long car rides, sometimes talking out loud as an NPC, saying something that might or might not ever come to pass in game. During this past weekend’s car ride, I found myself thinking about the Drowned Kings again. I like the idea of a once fertile land struck down by the gods, now a ruined swamp with a black dragon sleeping in its guts, ghosts becking over its skin and lizard-folk living in its blood.

The Drowned Kings were known as the Sword Kings back then, named as such for the magic blades they carried, given to them by an earlier incarnation of the Seven Sisters. The dwarves gave them bridges as gifts, making it easier for caravans to reach them from the dalelands and the far north and giving the kings easy access to not only the north but to Netherese portals that could allow their merchants to ride to the far reaches of Faerun and beyond. These bridges were self serving gifts, allowing the dwarven princes to deliver their metals, gems and crafts to the sword coast.

The kings knew that not only were these kingly gifts, that control of these bridges would come to mean the control of their kingdom. Their seven mightiest knights, tested by the Sisters themselves were assigned to guard these bridges. The gifts were made of stout stone with a shrine to Moradin on one side and a shrine to some unidentified lost-to-time human sword saint on the other.

The Sword Kings drowned, the last of their statues descending under the Mere of Dead Men’s brackish waters, but their bridge knights remain to this day. The route that was once pivotal to a kingdom has been rendered useless by Waterdeep’s amazing port and the well traveled roads up the Sword Coast. The portals that once fed the routes with foreign travelers from all manner of cultures beyond the Sea of Stars or even outside our plane’s borders are now damaged, used only by reckless adventurers.

The remaining knights are humble men and women who swear fealty to the ghosts of long dead kings and worship an ecclectic gathering of sword saints and Mystra, lady of magic, whom they believe chose them for their appointed tasks. Some have traveled abroad in search of the Drowned Kings’ blades, many die trying to exorcise the Mere of Dead Men and others have stayed home and taken up masonry. They all wage a centuries long feud with trolls who covet their bridges. Three of the bridges go over rivers that have long since dried up. One of the knights even built her manor incorporating the bridge itself into the design.

When a bridge knight reaches a venerable age, considered to be as such when they cannot ride over each bridge in less than a week on a solid horse, they retire to Candlekeep, spending their elder years doing research on the kings of old, sending any scrolls or vague mention of the Sword Kings’ glory days that they find back to their children.

They know that their knightly responsibilities have long since stopped being important to the world at large but still they remain. They are artifacts of a lost age, romantic wardens of a dead empire, living and breathing avatars of a part of the Forgotten Realms that steadfastly refuses to be entirely forgotten.

Oooh, know which pic this makes me remember? This one:

Ravaged by Feral Dogs

We were sitting around talking shite about gaming last night in Anthony’s library last night.  It was lovely.

I was reminded of my first forays into D&D 3.0.

Picked up the books way back in 1999 or so at The Yellow Submarine, an amazing game store in Tokyo.  I hadn’t gamed at all that year, which is a shame.  Honestly, I was in a foreign country for the first time and getting to the English speaking game club would take me over an hour each way.  It was time to do new things, I decided.

But the pining for gaming was there and when I got back the guys in Jersey and I got together and we gamed.  There were four characters, a fighter, a rogue, a cleric and a paladin.  The characters felt like they were representing some kind of thematic something-or-other…something about steel and cunning vs. faith and piety.

The characters were 1st level and some kind of werewolf was loose in the city, causing the local packs of feral dogs to attack folks.  The players were checking it out.

Its all a blur after that until the last scene.

The Paladin and the Cleric were unconscious, ravaged by feral dogs, their life’s blood spilling on the cobblestones.  Rob’s thief was wading his way through rabid dogs  clogging the hexes between him and the other characters, trying  to heroically  stop their bleeding.  He needed to kill the dog and it was possible with a solid shot.


The dog attacked and got him but good.  Maybe the dog tripped him too?  I don’t recall but it was clear that the Rogue was not going to get there in time.  The characters were going to perish.  And they did.

Pete, who was playing one of the holy folk, said, “I’m going to go home and tell me my wife we won!”

It was a joke and we laughed but there was something bitter about it, something that didn’t sit right.

And I wouldn’t change that decision.  It is quite possible that the encounter was poorly designed.  D&D encounter design, particularly for 3.x was never a strong suit of mine.

That Cleric could have become the prophet of his era, bringing his deity’s word to everyone in that world and beyond.  That Paladin could have ended up being the right hand of god.  Instead they were ravaged by feral dogs.

This brings us to the coming game this Sunday.  The players freed Graz’zt not only because it was outside-the-box thinking that I explicitly said they would need if they were going to take down a dragon but they did it because they knew I’d love GMing it and that they’d enjoy playing with the Demon Prince in the party for a while.  They knew it was nigh-suicidal and dangerous.  They did it anyway.

And here we are.

One breath from the dragon could kill them both as dead as our Worshipful 1st Level Friends from the above story.  That was vexing me.  It was stressing me out.  Then I had a thought and relaxed, was ready to game, ready to roll the dice and see where the War Wizard and the Hanged Prince end up.  What is it, lads – death or glory or a spoon full of both?

Because their deaths would have harsh consequences on the Sword Coast; it would create the kind of Situation that Burning Wheel thrives on, the kind of conflict and series of problems we could build a campaign around.  There would be a kind of mourning as is proper when a fiction perishes and then a kind of joy that occurs when the players are inspired to create new characters and confront something that is wrong in the world and make it right.

I’m making my peace with feral dogs, making my peace with blood on the cobblestones and being caught between a dragon and a demon prince while a self-proclaimed orc king squats in your ancestral hall.  And I guess I’m making my peace with the other end of making shit up with my friends and that is ending things that we begin.


Arrakis teaches the attitude of the knife — chopping off what’s incomplete and saying: “Now it’s complete because it’s ended here.”

My table-top play past and future: 2010/2011

During the past months, my gaming has been limited due to my work/school/practicum schedule.  Working 14-16 hours a day during the week meant that all gaming was shifted to the weekend.  I have two games going, Apocalypse World set in the Hudson River Valley and Burning Wheel on the Sword Coast.  I stubbornly refused to give either of them up but my schedule took its toll on both games.  There were weeks I had to cancel because I was just too shot and needed to re-coup for the coming week.

I really like playing both games on the weekend and having the week to myself.  In 2011, I’m going to keep my gaming on the weekend, with the exception of one House Game with the house-mates.

But in the coming year I’m hoping to move to New York City.  I’ll be in the same city as Olde Guard buddies I have gamed with for a decade or more (Jay, Witt and Janaki)  along with lots of other folks I’d love to sit down and make shit up with (BWHQ, Matt and Matt and Terry and John and Bret and more).  It is going to take real discipline to keep that shit contained because I will also want to make rocking my new job, doing crossfit, wrasslin’ and more than those having lots of meals, hang-outs and make-outs with Janaki my priorities.  I will want to ease into the gaming scene.  I’d imagine getting together with the Olde Guard once a week and just staving off the desire to do more for a few months to a year.

I haven’t even begun to think about saying good-bye to the friends with whom I romp around in fictional places every week.  That will likely be its own weepy, overly dramatic post or series of posts.

For now I am looking at the tail-end of my practicum work, finishing up certification and graduation requirements odds and ends and resume re-writing and job applications in the real world.

Meanwhile in the Realms, we will soon see the fall-out of what happens when a Demon Prince and an ancient Red Dragon clash on the Sword Coast.

Meanwhile in the post-apoc Hudson River Valley the HRV crew are going after the cannibals on their own well preserved highways.

And in the coming year I’ll continue to get together with friends and make shit up because I have found very few things that are more fun to do with buddies but I am going to be more careful about when I schedule our visits to our fictional playgrounds.

How was your 2010 in gaming?

What are you thoughts on 2011?