Tag Archives: Dungeons & Dragons

D&D: Nine Towers

Without really meaning to, I started coming up with a campaign setting for D&D4e. It makes me wish that I could buy something close to it in book for, because I’m not sure I’m qualified to write up everything it calls for. Still, I was thinking about running a D&D mini-campaign, and this is looking to be an interesting enough setting to make me want to do it.

The setting is a mixture of D&D, Final Fantasy, assorted anime, Neil Gaiman, China Mieville, etc. I want a world that’s over the top, baroque, and sometimes surreal. So, there’s this massive Empire of Man that, through ambition and soulfire technology (tentative name), which uses captured spirits as batteries/fuel, spanned the whole of its homeworld and is now spreading through the ether to colonize other worlds. This takes place in Nine Towers (also a tentative name), a colony that has very rich soulfire resources, but also faces threats from powerful natives and dangerous monsters. The Empire is spread thin right now, so it can’t actually provide Nine Towers with the military support it really needs, even as it demands more and more soulfire shipments.

The capital of Nine Towers is a city that was formed by a Dreamshaper, one of an exceedingly rare breed that can transpose elements of reality and the Dreamtime. Thus the city is a great surreal sprawl stretching into the sky, beautiful and twisted, but with very real nightmares lurking in its far corners.

This setting is meant to have some of the issues that D&D normally glosses over, including racism (non-humans are not given imperial citizenship unless they earn it through exceptional service), sexism (though more like 1950s than medieval), and modernity (soulfire technology has propelled the Empire beyond its agricultural economy abnormally fast).

Imperials refer to the main race of the natives as “Wild Folk.” This is a new race I’m working on, based on the Varna from Arianrhod, the weird tribes you meet in Gradia, and so forth. Basically, they look human but they’re a little smaller and quicker, and they have some kind of animal features (tails, ears, horns, etc.) depending on which tribe they come from. The twist is that they’re at least as vital and ambitions as the humans, but the Empire founded Nine Towers before their civilization really took shape. The Wild Folk have an animistic religion, and a considerable command over spirits, though how they express it varies greatly. Hence, Wild Folk can include druids, witch doctors, shamans, barbarians, summoners, etc. (And to do the setting properly I think I need a new Summoner class…)

Some other things that I think are neat:

  • The two main religions of the Empire are the newer monotheistic faith of the One God, and the polytheistic faith of the old gods. The clergy of the One God dislike letting the old ways persist, but soulfire technology depends on the summoning rites of the old ways.
  • Magic is a scientific practice; the Empire employs many sorcerer-scientists. Divine powers are actually magical rites encoded within scripture.
  • I want to do something with different varieties of humans (races in the proper sense of the word) rather than leaving it totally generic, but I’m not sure what.
  • Most D&D races are not present. Eladrin, Tieflings, and Genasi are “re-skilled” as “Spirit-Touched” humans, people warped by soulfire exposure or other factors. I may throw in some of the other optional races from the Monster Manual (Shadar-Kai, Dopplegangers, and possibly Drow) as other varieties of Spirit-Touched.
  • I want to put together another, less common native race, to give the setting some kind of big bruisers.
  • Nine Towers has great need for adventurers, whether in the bowels of the city or out on the frontier.

So, the list of things I would need to do it properly includes:

  • Information on the Empire and Nine Towers.
  • A Summoner class, and appropriate rituals.
  • A Wild Folk race writeup, with some racial feats. If I were to go for the full effect, probably one or more paragon paths too.
  • Rules where appropriate for soulfire stuff, including magic items, rituals, etc.
  • Guidelines for monsters in Nine Towers, probably including some write-ups of new ones.
  • Other stuff that I’m no doubt forgetting.

D&D 4e Actual Play: First Impressions

My group played D&D4e for the first time last night. We have a strange and quirky bunch of characters, but once we got into combat the role-playing part fell away almost completely in favor of figuring out how to use the rules. It was fun, but definitely not the kind of fun I usually play RPGs for.

Anyone who says that 4e characters are “superheroes” is totally full of shit. The heroes’ numbers are higher, but so far even the weakest monsters are consistently vicious and dangerous. Kobolds with slings were dishing out as much as 9 points of damage at a time, where my fighter has 31 hp (the highest in the party). And that’s before we mention the fire beetles. We really had to go all-out using powers, Second Wind, and other little tricks just to avoid a TPK. (Though it doesn’t help that the rogue has a sub-optimal build, something the DM will hopefully let him fix before we play again).

The logistics of playing the game are a bit more intensive too. We played the game with minis and a map, and after doing so I really can’t imagine playing it without them. There’s also the matter of referencing powers, which in turn has us wanting to make cards or worksheets with the necessary info. (This site has links to lots and lots of promising stuff) I found that just writing the page number down on the character sheet (a trick I got from some Japanese RPGs) helped ameliorate the difficulty somewhat, though even with 3 copies of the PHB we were contantly having different people trying to grab a copy to look stuff up. But regardless, the powers were consistently useful, though some more than others. I almost got to use Cleave once, but Sure Strike was very important tactically.

We got through two encounters, so apart from some initial role-playing and killing kobolds, not a whole lot happened that session. However, all my friends who’d played 3.5 marveled at how fast it went.

Update: We wound up playing D&D again and finishing the dungeon on Sunday. I had bought a pack of cardstock (why is it they sell packs of 250 sheets of white cardstock for $12, and packs of 100 sheets in funky colors for $10, but not packs of 100 sheets of white for $4-6?) and printed out power cards for everyone. My friend Tim brought card sleeves to go with them, and they definitely did help. Everyone is also getting to know the rules better and generally adjusting to the attendant paradigm and avoiding stupid mistakes.

The final battle was against a young white dragon. It first used its presence attack ability and its breath weapon, which hobbled half the party with status effects, but once we recovered enough the rogue got his Blinding Barrage off on it, the fighter and paladin flanked it, and we all generally pounded on the thing until it died (though the paladin took a lot of bad hits and was knocked out just before the battle ended).

Everyone’s Doing It: My Thoughts On D&D 4th Edition


I think I’ve figured out what it is I like about Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition. To me, they’ve managed to laser-focus on the things where D&D is in fact better than most other RPGs. They’ve turned it into a combat-oriented dungeon-crawling game par excellence. If it’s not as strong on role-playing elements as some prior editions, there are plenty of other games that were better than D&D at such things to begin with, and it was never part of D&D’s paradigm to stress such things mechanically. Basically, I’m looking forward to playing 4th Edition with my friends because it’ll be a novel experience for me. We played 3rd edition some when it first came out, but otherwise we’ve pretty much abandoned it, and playing such a “game-y” and clearly-defined RPG would be something new after playing long campaigns with Fudge, Truth & Justice, and OVA.
Continue reading Everyone’s Doing It: My Thoughts On D&D 4th Edition