Sunday, August 31, 2014

Greyhawk is a mess

The Marklands, 20 miles per hex
In the process of getting ready for my 5E Greyhawk sandbox campaign (in two weeks - yikes!), I started where I always start. Maps. So in the process of trying to put together a map of the Gnarley Forest and the surrounding environs, I went to the sources and started to put them all together.

And I discovered that the official cartography of the central Flanaess is a complete and utter mess.

The region is well-covered. There's the original Darlene map, of course, but there's also the region map from the City of Greyhawk boxed set, the campaign map from From the Ashes, the wilderness maps from Temple of Elemental Evil and Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil, one of the maps from The Marklands, the map from Rary the Traitor, and the Domains of Greyhawk map from the Player's Guide.

From the Ashes, 6 miles per hex
Now, naturally, they don't have a consistent scale. That would be too easy. Some have hexes, some do not. And the fact that they span some 15 years of in-game time doesn't help, but it's hardly insurmountable; the number of major geographic features that change during that time is manageable; mostly forts and castles that are built.

But what's incredibly frustrating are the details. Many of the maps don't line up, even when they're blown up to a consistent scale. Coastlines are inconsistent, rivers are off their courses by many miles, and forests ebb and flow like the tide.

Villages move from place to place; one notable example is the village of Walthain in Furyondy. In the FtA Campaign map, it's about 50 miles away from the village of Dianrift, and a road heads inland from Sendrift (another 40 miles along the coast) into the interior of Furyondy. But in the Marklands map, the two villages are suddenly 20 miles closer to one another, and the road now heads inland from Walthain, which is ten miles further away from Sendrift than it was before! Plus, the coast of the Nyr Dyv doesn't line up between the two maps at all; in one it has a much more pronounced northward swoop than in the other, where it's relatively flat.

Rary the Traitor, no lake
Perhaps the most annoying/hilarious is the case of the disappearing lake in the Abbor-Alz. In the FtA map, there's a lake near a camp named Marstefel, which the accompanying campaign book tells us is a semi-permanent camp inhabited by tribesmen. But in Rary the Traitor, both the lake and the tribesman camp are gone, replaced by a castle called Griffon's Nest, inhabited by the self-styled Bandit King of the Abbor-Alz! The castle is apparently quite old, having been abandoned by dwarves in years past. And the two products supposedly both take place in the same time-frame, CY585.

From the Ashes, behold a lake!
So it's taking some creative tinkering to get everything to fit together. In the process it's almost impossible to avoid contradicting some previously published material, since it seems to contradict itself! Still, I muddle through, but it is a mess.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

It is coming...

Soon. Soon I can let the world know. 

But not now. Not yet.


Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Hasbro brings D&D brand to Shapeways via SuperFanArt

The site originally launched just for
"My Little Pony", now includes
Dungeons & Dragons
This caught my eye this morning:
As you may have heard, Hasbro and Shapeways are working together to encourage artists to create and sell 3D designs based on Hasbro brands. Our July launch of featured five artists and their My Little Pony-based designs. The event generated substantial press for the artists and goodwill toward Hasbro and Shapeways for opening up major entertainment brands to fans. Given this early success, we want to expand this opportunity to include more artists, more Hasbro brands and more 3D printed awesomeness.
Starting now, you too can become part of SuperFanArt to promote and sell your designs to other fans. Submit your designs for the following brands:
My Little Pony, Transformers, Dungeons & Dragons, Monopoly, Scrabble (to be sold in US and Canada only), Dragonvale, GI Joe
So if I'm reading this correctly, it is now okay for D&D fans to legally sell D&D miniatures (and jewelry, dice, game tokens, or just about anything that can be 3D printed, short of a replacement pelvis) on ShapeWays via the site. The specific design has to be approved, of course ("no ponies with guns"), but the mechanism is there to sell your own D&D products through an officially-sanctioned website.

Are you pondering what I'm pondering?

Thursday, August 21, 2014

No, cosplaying a drow isn't racist

Is that drow on the right dual-wielding banjos?
So last weekend R.A. Salvatore had his photo taken with some folks cosplaying drow, and it was posted to the official D&D Twitter feed. Naturally, some people went apeshit, because, well, racism.

The line from the Outrage Brigade was that these folks who were dressed up like subterranean elves were actually in "blackface", and thus their choice of costume was demeaning to black people, with some explicitly calling the picture racist:
And it should be pointed out that this is not a new phenomenon. People have been complaining that cosplaying drow = racist for years. Not that it makes it any more valid as a position, but it's not new.

This is blackface; it
deliberately demeans blacks
But I have to say that cosplaying a drow is not "blackface" despite the superficial similarities. "Blackface" is more than just the color of the makeup; there's a whole set of behaviors that are specifically designed to outrageously parody black behavior and speech that really form the core of what makes "blackface" offensive (and rightly so).

The only thing cosplaying a drow has in common with actual blackface is the color of the makeup used. Even the application of the makeup is different; I've never seen anyone cosplaying a drow with exaggerated red lips, for example, or with exaggerated nappy black hair. There are no picaninny dark elf children stuffing giant mushrooms into their mouths, nor are half-drow referred to as mulattos (mulat-drows?). It is not remotely the same thing, on an objective, aesthetic, level.

This is not blackface; it makes
evil subterranean elves look cool
It is simply not the point of the type of cosplaying at issue, and despite the superficial color of the makeup, there is nothing to link cosplaying with racism, blackface, or minstrel shows. Without the critical addition of the performance, deliberately intended to let the audience know that it is black culture that is being parodied (and demeaned in the process), to assume otherwise is simply to be looking for an excuse to be offended.

Now, it's one thing to say that something doesn't meet the objective definition of blackface (and/or racism). It is also the case that many folks could have a subjective impression that anyone putting on black makeup, for whatever reason, is inherently and irredeemably racist, simply because of the superficial resemblance to historical blackface. Indeed, Dace at the Black Roleplayers Association blog seems to make this very point:
So how do we get such different ideas on what cosplaying Drow means. Most of it comes down to the lived experience for people of color (black people in particular). As last Halloween showed ,when Julianne Houghe darkened her skin to look like her favorite character Crazy Eyes from Orange is the New Black, black people take the idea of black face very seriously. Even when it's not done to insult black people we still feel slighted. This has to do with racial scares [sic] that have never quite healed. I know on an intellectual level that a lot of time has passed between when black face was done as a way to degenerate [sic] an entire people and now.
So, the question becomes, how to react when someone self-admittedly reacts negatively (and strongly so) to something that is:

  • Not actually the thing that denigrated black people
  • Wasn't done with the intention of denigrating black people

To his credit, Dace addresses both of my points in his post:
But in application what you're doing is black face. The idea of black face isn't static. While yes it originally was meant to be white actors doing minstrel shows [sic - black performers donned blackface too, as it was the convention of the performance at the time] the concept of what black face is has grown. That's just how culture works. ... It is no longer limited to minstrel shows and is pretty much taken to mean anytime someone dresses in black skin. We will never be cool with black face.
"What'chu talkin' 'bout, Willis?"
That is precisely the point, though. It is not "pretty much taken to mean anytime someone dresses in black skin." It may be taken that way by Dace and those who agree with him, but the mere fact that there are people out there who don't agree with him means it is not "pretty much taken". It's his personal, subjective, opinion, and his personal, subjective, reaction. (And those of the people who agree with him.) What he is (and they are) really saying here is, "Anyone who disagrees with me needs to change how they think on this issue, because I'm right." Except his is a subjective opinion and not an objective fact; more about that essential distinction below.

As for my second point:
I knew Ms. Houghe intent was not to do harm but to honor a character she cherished from an excellent show. That's why I never thought she was racist. However I did feel her choice was in bad taste.
But "bad taste" is a far cry from "racist", and taste is by its very nature a subjective thing. Everyone, every day, does dozens of things that someone else could find in bad taste. Driving a car with a Darwin Fish on it, for instance, is incredibly insulting to tens of millions of Christians in this country. Does that mean that they should be banned, or that people who have them on their cars (as I do) should somehow be publicly shamed, or individually confronted in mall parking lots? Of course not.

Do the collective historic experiences of black people in the United States somehow give them an elevated status in regards to their subjective opinions (even - especially when those opinions are at variance with the reality of what blackface is, and that someone who is demonstrably not racist can still want to dress up like a cool evil subterranean elf)? Does the fact that a century and a half ago their great-great-great-great-great-grandfather was a slave mean I need to defer to their subjective, ahistorical opinions in my choice of fantasy costume, even though my ancestors (as far as I know) never owned slaves and in fact fought on the side of the Union in the Civil War?

I do not believe it does.

Not a drow. This is more like an
Andorian without the antennae.
There are some folks out there who do try to split the baby. Cosplaying drow is okay, as long as one does it with gray (or purple???), rather than black, makeup. But that is simply pandering to those who think that their subjective opinions -- that anyone wearing black makeup, for any reason, is in blackface and therefore racist. Bear in mind that the drow were invented by Gary Gygax years before cosplaying became a thing, and certainly before Drizzt made drow "cool". And their description?
Drow are black-skinned and pale-haired. They are slight of build and have long, delicate, fingers and toes.
Not gray, not purple. Black.

Ultimately, though, this whole thing is such a product of our hypersensitive culture. Everyone is looking for something to be outraged about, such that true outrages get lost in the static. When blacks have such disproportionately high rates of incarceration, single-parent families, high school dropouts, and unemployment, it is ludicrous to claim that people dressing up like cool evil subterranean elves are in any way, no matter how minor, contributing to the woes of the black community.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Well, I've certainly been quiet lately

If you've noticed a certain slack in my frequency of posting lately, it's not your imagination. I've got a couple of Really Big Somethings brewing, but I can't take the lid off the pot just yet. Give it a month or two. But in the meantime I'll try to find some game-related ephemera to fill up the lonely gaps.

But man oh man is it going to be awesome.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Game Magazines

By way of explanation of the title of this post, I don't mean "magazines about games". I mean "magazines that come with games", which is a unique subset of the game magazine industry that I thought had reached its zenith in the 1970's and early 80's, but is alive and well and quite vibrant today.

Basically, these were (and are) magazines that not only contain a number of articles about a given topic, and other articles, but an entire ready-to-play game as well. Counters, maps, rules; the whole shebang.

Take, for example, Ares Magazine. This was originally an SPI publication (spun off as a dedicated fantasy/science fiction magazine from their other offerings; Strategy & Tactics and Moves), acquired by TSR, continued as an insert in Dragon for a while, and finally laid to rest. It has recently been resurrected by One Small Step Games, after a successful Kickstarter. You can find pdfs of the original online via the Internet Archive.

I used to be a regular subscriber to the original (alas, all gone now, of course), and was thrilled when I saw it was being revived. I received the first copy of the new magazine a couple of weeks ago, and while I haven't played the included game yet (it's a War of the Worlds game, based on a Martian invasion of London), it certainly looks good and the rules seem clear. The magazine itself contains a bunch of articles on science, as well as a number of pieces of fiction, making it almost like Omni in its feel. If Omni had had a game inside. The one thing I found lacking was the absence of articles about the subject of the game; I would have expected at least some background about H.G. Wells, the War of the Worlds novel, etc. But it's hardly a deal breaker.

There is also Modern War Magazine, whose latest issue I bought today at Maplewood Hobby (the most wide-ranging game store this side of The Compleat Strategist). Published by Strategy and Tactics Press, a division of Victory Games, it (quite obviously) focuses on modern warfare. In the case of the particular issue I got, it had the game "Dragon and Bear", which simulates a conflict between China and Russia in the 21st century, and which is an update of the old SPI game China War.

The magazine comes with encyclopedic treatments of modern Russian and Chinese military equipment, organization, and doctrine, as well as abundant articles on a variety of different issues around the theme of modern warfare. Military junkies will find it a trove of hard information, and the fact that they have articles that support the theme of the game in the issue really helps, in my opinion.

The same company also publishes Strategy and Tactics, which is the descendant of the original SPI publication, and also includes a game in every issue, and themed articles as well as stand-alone articles. S&T is the most general of their offerings, with games and information covering just about every genre imaginable. They also publish World at War, which focuses on World War II.

The magazines with games cost about $30 each, which is actually quite reasonable when you consider you're getting a whole magazine (which alone cost $15, as these are large, glossy, full color magazines stuffed to the gills with content) as well as the game. One of the new (since the 1980's, anyway) innovations is the ability to get issues and subscriptions of the magazines sans the games. This certainly makes them more affordable, but it does make them somewhat less interesting, at least to me.

I'd heartily encourage you to seek out these magazines and give them and their games a try. If you're not ready to take the (admittedly quite hefty) plunge for a subscription, keep an eye on the websites and look for a game that piques your particular interest. It's a legacy that goes back to the heyday of the wargaming hobby, and they're keeping the banner (and quality) flying pretty high.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

I've been playing D&D wrong all these years...

The folks at Zombie Orpheus Entertainment, who have turned the infamous Jack Chick tract "Dark Dungeons" into a movie, have put the first seven minutes up on YouTube:

The rest of the film is available for $5 on their website. Judging by the first free part, it's going to be well worth it. The actors play it straight, but it's all the more hilarious for all of that. Just seeing how that sliver of the country viewed (views?) RPGs -- immensely popular, seductive, and of course the route to the under-cellar of Hell -- is both funny and frightening.

(h/t to

Sunday, August 10, 2014

5th Edition Player's Handbook: First Impressions

Now that I've had a weekend to read through and digest the new Player's Handbook for 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons, I wanted to share some impressions with you.

But seriously, folks...

I'm very impressed with the book itself as well as the rules. The book has some nice artwork, but it seems to steer clear of the "massive spiky armor and 2' wide swords" aesthetic that plagued previous editions. If I had one stand-out complaint about the art, it would be the depiction of halflings. Not only are they shown with shoes (a pet peeve of mine), but their legs are uniformly spindly, making them look like walnuts propped up on toothpicks. The pages have a faux-parchment look that I suppose is unavoidable these days, but it doesn't interfere with reading the text, as there isn't any actual design that shows through behind the text, which was a problem with certain other books in the past.

The rules expand on the previously-released Basic Rules and the boxed Starter Set. We now have a full line-up of character races and classes, with suitable backgrounds, options for customization for each class (bard colleges, barbarian paths, etc.), and the like. I don't personally understand the need for wizards (get spells by studying), sorcerers (get spells through raw/wild magic), and warlocks (get spells through pacts with powerful beings), but I know I'm in a minority in that and have reconciled myself to the fact that not everyone is a Grognard. I won't probably ever play a sorcerer, but I can see how folks might like it (it's very DCC in feel, with a big random table for "wild magic surges" that happen when you roll a 1 when casting a spell).

I am particularly fond of the sprinkling of references to the various published D&D campaign worlds throughout the text. Greyhawk, Forgotten Realms, and Eberron even have deity lists in an appendix, but there are references to Dark Sun, Blackmoor, Planescape, Mystara, Birthright, and probably others that I missed. The Wheel of the Planes is also back, which I like. 

Speaking of appendices, there's an Appendix E that gives an extensive "inspirational reading" list. There are some works in there you'd expect to see, like Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, ERB's Pellucidar series, and Conan, but some more modern works like The Book of the New Sun and A Song of Ice and Fire. (In a particularly recursive move, Andre Norton's Quag Keep is listed, which is weird because it was itself based on the D&D game...). 

All in all, a very impressive work, and my cautious optimism about 5th Edition seems to have been justified. I'll delve more deeply into the rules themselves in some follow-up posts, and there will be some more Greyhawk-specific material as the months wear on, but I can say that WotC seems to have struck the right tone and content for me with this one. Well done.

Friday, August 8, 2014

How do you read rulebooks?

Now that the 5th Edition Player's Handbook is here (it still feels weird to put that apostrophe in there), at least at those FLGS's who are members of the Wizards Play Network, I wanted to ask a general question. How do you read new rulebooks when you get them?

Do you read them cover-to-cover? Just skim through it and then read the rest in bits and pieces as needed as you play? Something else? Do you mark certain sections as important, or to follow-up later? Do you make margin notes?

Feel free to sound off in the comments. And look for my initial review of the new Player's Handbook later this weekend, once I've had a chance to absorb it.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Whither the FLGS?

My attention was caught by the following exchange on Twitter tonight, in the context of the new D&D Miniatures being available at GenCon prior to their being available at your local FLGS:
(On a technical note, this is the first time I've ever embedded a Tweet in the blog, so I'm sure I've unlocked some new level now.)

The thing is, I can see both sides of the argument.

To @Hahnarama's point, a lot of us have a certain loyalty to our FLGS, and are willing to pay full retail prices simply to help sustain them, because of the added value they provide, beyond simply being a place to buy games. Often, this takes the form of providing a place to play games, which is increasingly more valuable as venues become harder to come by.

I remember back in the early-mid 80's, my local FLGS, Fat Moose Comics and Games, had access to an empty storefront in the mall on Friday and Saturday nights, and at times there were literally hundreds of kids playing D&D there every weekend, myself included, just sitting on the floor in an otherwise-empty mall store (it used to be a clothing store, and it was quite huge). The pizzeria, McDonald's, Chinese restaurant, and video arcade were all more than happy for the extra custom, I'm sure.

The point being that having a place to play the games is just as important as having a place to buy the games, especially when more and more gamers are turning to things like to find players, so inviting complete strangers into your home isn't quite an optimal solution.

On the other hand, I can see Trevor Kidd's point. Conventions like GenCon and Origins are events. People look forward to, and plan for, them for an entire year, and it's nice to be able to provide something special for them to be able to take home as a reward for going to all the trouble and expense of attending. I remember I bought the first-ever-sold copy of Temple of Elemental Evil at GenCon, and it never occurred to me that I was taking money out of Fat Moose's till in doing so.

And to complicate matters are online retailers like Amazon, who regularly discount gaming materials (books and miniatures) by absurd amounts, to the point where the extra money paid to the FLGS for play space might just not seem worth it...

It's a conundrum, and it's not one I pretend to have an answer for. I welcome your thoughts on the subject in the comments.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Review: Artifact of Evil

(Caution: Spoilers)

Hot on the heels of my review of Gary Gygax's first novel, Saga of Old City, we come to the second in the series (and the last published by TSR), Artifact of Evil, published in 1986.

This book has a very different feel than its predecessor, even though the action takes place only a few months after the end of the first. Where Saga of Old City was episodic, with no real plot threading throughout it other than chronicling Gord's early adventures, Artifact of Evil has a definite plot. The forces of Evil are searching for a powerful artifact that can be used to loose the evil god Tharizdun from his prison, thus bringing doom to the world unless they can be stopped.

The novel begins in media res with a siege and battle of a Scarlet Brotherhood-controlled stronghold in the Pomarj, Castle Strandkeep. It's fascinating to see Gygax's version of what a mass battle would look like in a D&D world; there's even a justification for the creation of all those dungeons underneath castles (to make it much more difficult for sappers to undermine castles during sieges; imagine tunneling into a warren of trolls or ogres).

The action doesn't let up as the forces of Good (or, at least, Balance) launch their own expedition to recover the Second Key. The book is then a chase, as the evil Obmi, one of the servants of Iuz, gains the Key and heads northwards to deliver the prize. There's a lot of interesting tactics, and although some of the traitor/spies were telegraphed pretty early, it didn't lessen the story. We see some familiar places like Hommlet, and the Temple of Elemental Evil gets a cameo as Zuggtmoy is freed in a way very different from how that pivotal event happened in Gygax's home campaign. (Which in and of itself raises the question; which is the canonical version of the story? Both have been referenced in official TSR products.)

The new characters, like Deirdre and Oscar of Hardby, were used to good effect to illustrate the female-dominated mores of that place, but the stand-out characters are the villainous Obmi and his insane elf minion, Keak.

Long-time fans of Greyhawk will recognize Obmi as the dwarf in the original Greyhawk campaign on one of the upper levels who controlled a magical device that caused those at whom its beam was aimed to move backwards, even as they were under the illusion they were moving forward. Between his magical apparatus, his boots of speed, and his gnoll guards, he became infamous in the original Greyhawk campaign (Gygax recounts the story in Dragon #287). He is also seen as a slave/adviser to the Fire Giant King Snurre Ironbelly in the adventure G3 Hall of the Fire Giant King, where his stats are given. In the book he is said to have come from the Crystalmists, so that might be a nod to his presence in Snurre's halls.

All in all this is a very satisfying read. There is a wealth of interesting details about the central Flanaess, especially small villages and various personages. We also get our first look at beings such as Iuz, Zuggtmoy, and Iggwilv in action, and having their personalities demonstrated gives a great deal of flavor as to how they could be used in a campaign. All in all I highly recommend the book, and give it five wizards out of five.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Review: Guardians of the Galaxy (spoiler-free)

I saw Marvel's latest entry in their shared MCU, Guardians of the Galaxy, today, with my wife and daughter. We saw it in 3D (not IMAX) mostly because of scheduling; I generally eschew 3D if I can. Short version: this is another solid entry in the MCU, and should make a whole pile of money for Marvel. We enjoyed it thoroughly. Was it the best ever Marvel movie? Not quite. Spoilers are kept to an absolute minimum; if you saw the trailers, there's nothing new here for you (although they are somewhat misleading; there are pieces of dialogue in the trailers that definitely aren't in the movie).

Obligatory sfx note: the effects were flawless. Groot and Rocket especially, being CGI characters, were a wonder to behold. Not only were they technically flawless, but they were impressively physically emotive. There's a scene with Rocket in particular that really took my breath away with the pathos that they were able to put into a CGI character. It's a quantum leap beyond Gollum (and forget about CGI Yoda from Phantom Menace).

The rest of the cast is very well done, although Zoe Saldana as Nebula seemed a little flat to me. Chris Pratt as Henry Quill/Starlord steals the show, although Dave Bautista's Drax the Destroyer was a close second, with a lot of unexpectedly great lines and a real arc that let him change from the person we see at the beginning of the film to his final character. His was the character who most grew from their experiences.

Good villains make great movies, and Ronan the Accuser was a good villain. He actually had a real motive, which was wonderful to see.

There are some tie-ins with the rest of the MCU, specifically stuff we've already seen in Avengers and Thor 2 (which again shouldn't be a big surprise to anyone), and it should surprise no one that a GotG 2 is already in the planning stages. But what interests me more, as a fan of the whole ginormous enterprise that Marvel is attempting to create, is where Guardians fits into the grand scheme. There are at least three different sub-universes within the MCU; the Avengers, the Cosmic, and the Mystic. This film is of course the first real foray into the Cosmic (Thor and Thor 2 were only peripherally so, as the Asgardian worlds seem rather self-contained compared to the rest of the galaxy), and it most definitely links the Cosmic to the Avengers universes.

A lot of people early on said what a big risk this film was, and that may be true, given that it was based on a fairly obscure team of heroes in a new setting. But I see it more as testing the waters for other similar efforts, namely, the Cosmic universe. I think the inevitably positive response (and huge box office) of Guardians means that Doctor Strange will be seen as less of a risk in itself. It all weaves together.

Getting back to this film specifically, there is a lot of humor in it, but it's not nearly the goofy space-comedy that I was expecting. There's a lot of wisecracking from nearly everyone, but it's nothing more than one might expect from a particularly energized episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. There are one or two truly bizarre moments, which will absolutely baffle those who aren't familiar with the comics (not just GotG, either; there's a bit of fan-service in there that is just out of left field, but all the more wonderful for it).

The action sequences were well done, but perhaps a bit pat. I found myself enjoying the repartee between the characters during the action than the action itself, which might not be entirely accidental. That sort of banter is where the relationships between the characters lives, and that is most definitely the heart of the film, just like it was in Avengers.

This is a terrific Marvel film. It's not my favorite Marvel film, though; Avengers, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and the first Iron Man definitely top it in my personal list of favorites, but it is a completely solid contender against stiff competition. Absolutely worth seeing in the theater, and it should have a lot of rewatch value on television, too. Don't bother with the 3D if you can avoid it, though; it didn't add much, and was as annoying as it always is when there was a lot of contrast between bright white and dark areas. Lots of double-images in those cases.

Factions of Greyhawk - The Scarlet Brotherhood

The Harpers
One of the new elements in the upcoming 5th Edition D&D rules are factions. Specifically, there are rules for factions in the Forgotten Realms as part of the D&D Adventurers League, which is the new organized play thing (is it replacing the RPGA? I've not seen anything one way or the other). They are, quite coincidentally, much like I had envisioned factions in my own Adventures Great and Glorious; player characters can belong to a faction and gain levels within that faction, and there are certain benefits from doing so. Basically, each time you do something that benefits your faction, you get one or two "renown points" that eventually take you up the ladder within the faction.

In the Forgotten Realms, the factions are the Harpers, the Order of the Gauntlet, the Emerald Enclave, the Lords' Alliance, and the Zhentarim. As far as I know, only the Harpers and the Zhentarim were present in the Realms before the latest incarnation, but I could very well be wrong as I've not kept up with it.

Now, naturally, my thoughts turn to the Greyhawk setting when I see something like this. First and foremost, I don't see any reason the faction mechanism can't work outside of organized play. In a home campaign, there are going to be shadowy and out-in-the-open groups, and having a nice set of mechanics to regulate how the PCs interact with these organizations could be beneficial to a lot of DMs.

The Zhentarim
Factions are of course optional, and not every member of a party need belong to a faction (or the same one!). A PC might go through an entire campaign without ever even encountering a faction, although another PC might find their interactions with a given faction to be central to their experience. It all depends on how the DM has set up the game.

Greyhawk is replete with such factions, that could be used to both support and oppose the activities of the PCs over the years. The Scarlet Brotherhood is an obvious choice, as is the Circle of Eight. I'd throw in Iuz, as he has agents across the Flanaess in various guises and positions. A campaign set in and around the City of Greyhawk might include the Rangers of the Gnarley Forest, and perhaps the Greyhawk Thieves' Guild. I'm not sure if the Old Faith would count as a faction in this sense of the word, but there's definitely some group of Druids in the Flanaess operating in a coherent fashion (the "Oaken Concatenation" perhaps?).

There are still some details yet to come about the mechanics of the various levels work (mentoring at level 2/4, downtime at level 3), but there's enough there to at least get an idea. Let's see how this works.

The Scarlet Brotherhood

Faction Overview

The Scarlet Brotherhood (also known as the Brothers of the Scarlet Sign) can trace its lineage all the way back to the vanished Suel Imperium. Although the hierarchy of the Brotherhood places its highly trained monks at the top, followed by assassins and thieves, it has agents and operatives of all sorts pursing its subtle and dangerous ends. Those who operate openly offer sage counsel and seemingly wise advice; those who are less open about their ties to the Brotherhood are ruthless in their obedience to the orders of their superiors, to further the end of one day seeing the Suel dominate the Flanaess, as is their destiny owing to the innate superiority.


  • The Suel race is inherently superior to all others, and the Suel are the natural rulers of the world
  • Evil is the only philosophy that will achieve our goals
  • Influence is preferable to control, control is preferable to force, force is preferable to failure


  • Protect the purity of the Suel race
  • Infiltrate the centers of power in the Flanaess
  • Establish a new order with the Suel people at its apex

Member Traits

Members of the Scarlet Brotherhood can be of any class, but must be of evil alignment. Most agents of the Scarlet Brotherhood will have been raised in the Tilvanot Peninsula itself and sent out into the world, but some few people of pure Suel blood are recruited from outside. All believe in the inherent superiority of the Suel race and its destiny to rule the world, although they are wise enough to hide that belief from outsiders, who might misinterpret it (or interfere with the Brotherhood's plan to see that destiny come to pass).


  • Friend (rank 1) - faction insignia is a tattoo bearing the Scarlet Sign
  • Cousin (rank 2)
  • Nephew (rank 3)
  • Brother (rank 4)
  • Elder Brother (rank 5)