The SpellCast D&D

A 5th Edition Dungeons and Dragons Actual-Play Podcast!

May 10th, 2020    

Adam’s Retroverse DM Blog: Entry 8

Entry 8: Quadrant Contents - Solarian Sands and The Tangaroan Sea

 

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     I’m going to merge two quadrants into one entry today because Quadrant 6 does not have a lot that I want to present. It’s chock-full of content, believe me (lol, or not), but, out of precaution due to the possibility of my players reading these articles, I’m not going to be posting anything concerning Solarian Sands except for general knowledge, corroborated stories, and features that can be seen from outside the Quadrant. Where the Iosian Peninsula is a mysterious region within the larger Quadrant (which is still mysterious in its own right), I wanted a whole Quadrant that is, in all practicality, completely shrouded in mystery and plagued with unanswered questions. I find that to REALLY engage the explorational elements of D&D, two variables MUST be at play: a mysterious region that the characters AND players know nothing about, and a reason to go there (challenges that need overcoming, questions that need answering, people that need contacting, and/or items that need obtaining).

     Without those, there is no exploration, because it’s not really ‘exploring’ if your players/character already know where they should and shouldn’t go within the location, and the chances of them unveiling that blank space on your map that’s actually REALLY full (it is, I swear!) are slim to none if nothing about it’s possibilities pique their interests.

 

  • Solarian Sands. This entire Quadrant is a mystery nearly everyone with the exception that it is, indeed, a desert of some sort. Wide-spread laser storms blot the sky and render airborne reconnaissance impossible while staggeringly high mountains on all sides with no known passes between them makes even visiting this land on foot a Herculean task.

 

  • The Waterfalls of Cleansing drop from an impossible height from the Quadrant’s northwestern corner and into the Sea of Peace. These waters are so pure (or likely magical) that they entirely dissolve or dissipate the continuous river of sludge from Quadrant 3 that might permanently pollute the sea were it not for their presence. Numerous conspiracy theories flood the forums and sites on the AEN, and all feature the same picture: The Waterfalls of Cleansing as their endless deluge pours over the shoulders of the three titanic stone warriors who stand guard in an armed vigil.

 

     The second Quadrant that I’m going to feature in this entry is the Tangaroan Sea in Quadrant 7. I’ll be the first to tell you that, while pirates and their stories weren’t the first in my head when I played pretend as a child (let’s set the record straight: my imagination primarily consisted of me being a Power Ranger), their depictions in popular culture were still influential in my upbringing. So, I translate that enthusiasm into this world as region of adventure and tales on the high seas. You might find San Angeles a little out of place, but it fits the tropical/island/beach aesthetic and I also really, REALLY wanted a “West Coast” city in this world, somewhere.

 

  • Tangaroan Sea. Warm, clear waters and beautiful, feckless beaches. Those are the defining traits of the surf and turf of the Tangaroan Sea. With biomes ranging from the tropical to the mildly temperate, this oceanic Quadrant holds treasures, secrets, adventure, and, most importantly, good ol’ fun in the sun!

 

  • San Angeles is the largest city on the Tangaroan Sea’s various shores. It is a city of palm trees, beach bodies, and chill/dream/pop wave beats that saturate the airwaves and find their destinations in the stereos of the numerous luxury cars cruising the sunny streets. Everybody is somebody, or knows somebody, and has their favorite lounge, dancehall, or exclusive club. It is the capital of Face 5’s music industry, and only the casinos of Port Silvertooth have more neon lights and signs than San Angeles. Must have for living here: a sense of style, a laid-back demeanor, and a kickin’ pair of shades.

 

  • The Mahalo Islands: THE premiere island getaway for members of the upper and upper-middle class. This chain of islands was formed by long dormant or extinct volcanoes, but the “newer” islands have been known to spring to life every now and again. They also serve as a forward naval bases for the San Angeleno Navy and the Aurakian paramilitary force, the DRAKEs.

 

  • Freeport serves as the headquarters and neutral meeting grounds for the many pirate clans that sail the Tangaroan Sea in search of booty, treasure, and phat loot. This large island on the western edge of the Quadrant is led, always, by an elected Council of 8 who vote on important matters and new laws to “govern” the codes by which all pirates must conduct themselves (they’re more like guidelines than actual rules, anyway). Bristling with cannons on every available perch and building roof of this fortified town, few navies have dared to smoke out this wretched hive of scum and villainy (fantastic rum-and-cokes, though!).

 

  • Black Water Archipelago borders the Reliant Ocean in the northwestern corner. Navigation is perilous, as large patches of oil float about the waters surrounding these islands, and some sailors have even claimed that the oil comes to life, attacking crews and sinking ships with murderous intent.

 

  • Gato Vino. An entire island east of Black Water Archipelago dedicated to the creation of fine wines. Site of the annual Gato Vino Wine Festival for the rich and famous.

 

  • Dragon’s Roar. Where most of the volcanoes of the Mahalo Islands are dormant, there is not a single spire that stabs the sky in the islands of Dragon’s Roar that is without smoke and/or fire. Eruptions are frequent here, flinging large boulders of flaming, molten rock into the sky and down onto passing ships that sailed too close. The air always smells of phosphor and brimstone, and the smoke from these peaks often fuses into a thick fog that swoops across the ocean, blinding unsuspecting vessels that, without proper visual navigation, remain unaware of any peril until fire begins raining down on them.

 

  • The Bioluminescent Atolls are easily the most beautiful islands in the Tangaroan Sea. Normal in appearance by day, any boats who dock near one of these islands at night need only look down at the ocean of glowing life below. Creatures of all shapes and sizes dazzle beneath the waters with such fierce light that the sea seems made of multicolored, swirling, neon polka-dots when viewed from those who fly above.

May 4th, 2020    

Adam’s Retroverse DM Blog: Entry 7

Entry 7: Quadrant Contents - The Dreadlands

 

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     With The Dreadlands, I wanted to cram all of the horror tropes I could into one location. The evil here bides its time and makes itself know only when necessary or to gain the upper hand in a moment of surprise. It is insidious. I fully expect that adventures set here will contain some of the most disturbing things my players will face.  

 

  • The Dreadlands were once a quadrant comprised of mostly land, but during a Shift some countless years ago, it became bordered by both the Iosian and Tangaroan Seas on its northern and southern edges, respectively. Some 60% of the landmass was below sea-level, unfortunately, and thus succumbed to the immediate and vicious tsunamis that raced across the land, devastating everything in their path towards the inevitable, calamitous clash at the Quadrant’s equator. Countless lives were lost in the torrent, and many a sailor still claims that their tortured, drowned screams and cries for help echo across the water to this day. The sea-faring folk also believe that the amount of chaotic, negative energy that erupted from the tragedy was enough to taint the whole quadrant with pain, horror, and spite.

 

  • The Reliant Ocean is so named for the role its waters play in many fishing communities who, indeed, rely on the sea for food and trade for their survival. Its waters are a light aquamarine on a rare cloudless day, and an eerie green on all the rest. Even at night, there is a certain jade glow ever always on the horizon, bifurcating the mantle of dark, storm-like clouds and the often turbulent, murky waters. Who knows what riches (or terrors) lie below, begging to be discovered, yearning to rise from the depths?

 

  • Port Kingsmouth sits nestled on the norther portion land that remained unscathed by the flooding long ago. It is a quiet fishing town (although certainly the largest) with buildings structured in the New England style. It is also home to the relatively small, yet still prestigious, Azathothatonic University.

 

  • Serenity Island Psychiatric Institution is the premiere mental hospital in this corner of the Retroverse. Their patients enjoy stunning vistas of the ocean, three nutritional (and delicious!) meals a day, comfortable and spacious living arrangements, a diverse number of productive, entertaining, and educational activities, and (most importantly!) excellent care from the ‘Verse’s leading practioners in the field of mental health! “Seekers after peace roam strange, far places!”

 

  • Cliffmont is a town full of youth and the joys and experiences of suburban life! Cliffmont High School is its largest institution (and famed for its undefeated varsity football team, the Bobcats), educating the young minds of the city and preparing them for the responsibilities of adulthood! At least…that what the parents want. In actuality, the nature of events that occur in this town make it seem stuck in some strange coming-of-age movie. It gives off vibes of rebellious teens striving to live “the best years of their lives” to the fullest. Within its bounds exist all the amenities of an idyllic American town: the cinema, the more iconic drive-in cinema, the local mall, Cliffmont High School, City Hall, Eddie’s Juice Bar and the all-important hang-out spot, Lovers’ Ridge.

 

  • Sleepy Knoll is yet another suburban town located southeast of Cliffmont. The Sleepy Knoll Cavaliers might not be anywhere close to the Cliffmont Bobcats when comparing athletic prowess, but at least they try! Sleepy Knoll High School does, however, excel at producing top-notch students, many of which go on to attend Azathothatonic and Kingston Universities, or The Arcane College of Hoghold at Scholomance. The town’s architecture is decidedly more gothic with unsubtle displays of Expressionism and the common sight of either a striped or checkered black and white pattern found in the inhabitants’ design and fashion choices.

 

  • Tillerman Woods/Buckner Mountains intermingle with one another east of Cliffmont and north of Sleepy Knoll.

 

  • Krev Castle. A remnant of a time before the flooding/creation of The Dreadlands.

April 30th, 2020    

Adam’s Retroverse DM Blog: Entry 6

Entry 6: Quadrant Contents - The Sludge Pits

 

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     I love Mordor.

     I love Mordor SO much, that it was one of my favorite factions to play in Battle for Middle-Earth II, and I’d like to have that chance again in a Battle for Middle-Earth III (hint, hint, nudge, nudge, developers and rights holders…).

     In fact, the concept for Mordor so influenced me and my ideas of fantasy “evil” that I wanted, nay, NEEDED a realm of ULTIMATE EVIL. It had to be more(dor) than just another Mordor. Welcome to the Sludge Pits.

 

  • The Sludge Pits. It is agreed upon by nearly all scholarly minds in the Retroverse that no known Quadrant on any Face of the Cube harbors a greater collection of vile, evil essence than The Sludge Pits. A wasteland of dusty hills hued in a sickly mauve and pock-marked by puddles, ponds, lakes, and other “waterways” of lime green, radioactive sludge, this realm is Hell incarnate for anyone with a conscience and/or a strong concern for their overall health. Those who willingly venture here are often of the nefarious sort, and those who stay are often the most depraved, wicked, abominable, and loathsome denizens one could ever meet here or in any ‘Verse.

 

  • Mt. Ronkin. On the eastern end of the great northern mountain range that spans from Iosia to the center of The Sludge Pits towers the spewing blemish that is Mt. Ronkin. It is a boiling volcano that has known no dormancy since its formation. From its corrupted caldera oozes the slurry of radioactive fluids which flows down its slopes and cuts through the land in viscous rivers to fill the various reservoirs and permeate the soil. To pilgrimage here is to consign oneself to death, but members of the Cult of Sludge from all over Face 5 choose this fate to reach an apotheosis of sorts. They believe that by hurling their ailing, tumor-ridden bodies into the volcano’s mouth, they will ascend to an enlightened state and learn the secrets of The Cube and the meaning of life in The Retroverse.

 

  • The Waste of Waste. Littering the land in a miles-wide line from the southern slopes of Mt. Ronkin to the quadrant’s southern edge is a vast junkyard where garbage, trash, scrap, and other refuse from all Quadrants on Face 5 is sent to rot in a veritable moor of debris. The stench in this plain is a phenomenal miasma that chokes the immediate atmosphere. Few travelers who safely cross will leave with their health intact. This blighted bin of rubbish serves as home to the most wretched and unwanted of people as they vie for survival every waking moment in a land that makes the crumbling concrete jungle of Old Metro seem like an estate of bourgeois palaces. One must be wary of covens of Trash Hags and the grimy displays of their dark arts, or the packs of territorial orphans whose tribes are governed by strict, inscrutable, and often brutal rules and laws of their own design.

 

  • Thornwood. Just west and slightly north of the volcano lies a sprawling thicket of prickly brambles and razor-sharp barbs not uncommonly the size of spearheads. When trimmed back or hewn down, the branches and stumps often secrete a sap suffused with radioactive material absorbed by the entanglement of parched roots below in their search for any form of liquid sustenance.

 

  • Bog of Decay. In the Quadrant’s northeast corner lies a delta filled with monstrous beasts who have been warped and mutated by the polluted waters through which they must wade and swim. Solid ground in this swampy land is a rare sight to behold, and imperceptible mires of quicksand threaten to drag passersby into their depths.

 

  • 5K Island. This five-kilometer-long island is the sight of the 5K Island Nuclear Power Plant. This facility is owned and managed by one Mr. Richard Birmingham Smolders, and provides power for nearly all of Megalopolitan Plains.

 

  • Isle of Malice. A lonely island surrounded by a sea of sludge from which no known visitor has returned.

April 27th, 2020    

Adam’s Retroverse DM Blog: Entry 5

Entry 5: Quadrant Contents - Hyperborea

 

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     The goal of Hyperborea, when I was drafting this quadrant up, was to establish a dichotomy of attitudes. Whereas one will discover many struggles and conflicting factions within other quadrants, this one is defined by an overarching struggle between these two political forces. I wanted grand, epic imagery and vistas as the set pieces, because I always found those types of locations to be the most evocative as I was growing up and even more so now as an adult with a greater understanding of their sublimity. So, if you find yourself thinking in sweeping panoramic shots as you read some these descriptions (which will be expanded upon in the future), that’s the intent!

 

  • Hyperborea sees some of the coldest temperatures on this face and lies nestled between an impassible mountain range to the north and the Sea of Peace to the south. A gradient of rolling tundras and steppes, pine, sakura, and bamboo forests, deep fjords, lush rivers, and fields of rice and grain, control over this land is contested by two peoples: The Yonaguni Empire, and the United Jarldoms of Ysgard.

 

  • The Yonaguni Empire is a vibrant nation of refinement. Within its bounds, a visitor will find the ancient home of the Emperor and his palace in the Divine City, the lofty, tranquil Temple of Icons nestled in the mountains to the northwest, the misty Ghost Woods, the marvelous feats of agricultural engineering that are the Grain Terraces, the rolling Steppes with herds of horses, the expansive and verdant Bamboo Forest, and, of course, the bureaucratic, de-facto capital of the Empire, the city of Yonaguni, itself.

 

  • The United Jarldoms of Ysgard can best be described as primal to the core. Conjuring imagery of the Pleistocene epoch and that of Old Norse Scandinavia, this realm will challenge even the hardiest of adventurers. At its cultural center lies Ysgard, home to the largest population of peoples (others are scattered among various smaller towns and villages across the landscape). North are the Aesir Peaks, the tallest mountains of the northern range, with reliefs and statues of the Ysgardian gods and heroes carved into the mountain sides that are so gargantuan, one can distinguish the faces from as far away as the Divine City. Just southeast lies the most sacred Gods’ Wood, and to the forest’s west, across the Ormt River, is the Mammoth Run, where herds of its namesake roam freely. This borders the Karthian Reach to the southwest, a rocky, hilly region through which runs the Kormt River. Both the Kormt and Ormt flow into the Vimur River as it carves deeper into the majestic Fjordlands before exiting into the Sea of Peace. South of the Gods’ Wood stretches the Aurura Springs (one of the few touristy attractions of this harsh territory), pock-marked with popular hot springs, and even further south, on the eastern border of Hyperborea, lies the Truce March, a grassy plain where the untrusting Yonaguni and Ysgardian peoples warily work together to protect both nations from any evil incursions emanating from the Sludge Pits to the east.

 

     This Quadrant's contents need more definition and detail. I haven't moved much past broad strokes with Hyperborea because I don't want to rush it and take shortcuts. Hopefully soon I'll be able to sit down and expand some of the locations and cities mentioned above into their own bullet points so that the next blog entry on this won't be as short! :P

April 23rd, 2020    

Adam’s Retroverse DM Blog: Entry 4

Entry 4: Quadrant Contents - Iosia

 

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In addition to pop-culture references, there are more than a few nods to the reality of the world we live (it’s somewhat of a occasional modus operandi of mine when it comes to campaign design, as you can tell from the podcast). Quadrant 1: Iosia, is certainly not an exception. I apologize in advance for the shorter article, but, like another area of this face, Iosia is shrouded in mystery on purpose. Well…a better way to describe the narrative state of the quadrant would be to say that gathering intelligence here suffers from a major breakdown. Much like North Korea, the nation that governs much of Iosia’s landmass is a hermit state. Unlike North Korea, it is crammed full of somewhat advanced technology. I have no plans to paint regimes like this in a cool tone (there’s not enough phthalo blue in the world for Bob Ross to even pull that off successfully). You’ll just have to wait for the story of this quadrant to be told in its own time. I only hope that it’s compelling in the end.

 

  • Iosia is a quadrant dominated and suffused with Code energy that few rarely (safely) traverse. One singular political actor, The Iosian Netocratic State, governs most inhabitants of this quadrant.

 

  • The Sea of Ios is the lone body of water that blankets roughly 3/4ths of the quadrant. It is arguably the most inhospitable body of water on this face of the cube, and possibly all of the Retroverse. This “honor” is bestowed upon this ocean due to the inky, reflective blackness of its “water” at all depths, surface to bottom (which no sentient creature has ever seen and returned to tell tales of), and the dangers that lie within. One could try swimming to the bottom but would almost immediately find themselves blinded by the opaque liquid, chemically burned on all patches of exposed skin, and covered head to toe in cuts and lacerations received from the near-invisible shards of glass and larger glassbergs that are abundant on and below the surface. The only creatures that seem content with these conditions are seafaring holo-beasts of all shapes and sizes, who can swim through these shards, unaffected. In contrast to its deadly nature, the beauty of this quadrant shines at the end of the day, when the sea, almost always flat and still, perfectly mirrors the night sky, surrounding sailors with stars above and below. Should one wish to navigate these waters, special boat hulls are required to withstand the shards, glassbergs, and acidic nature of this sea.

 

  • The Iosian Peninsula is the chief landmass of Iosia. From above, one would mistake it for a colossal, ill-placed, black rectangle jutting out from the face’s main continent, and those who venture across it would find the surface as equally flat as the sea and made of an extremely resilient and reflective glassy material. The edges of this peninsula are perfect 90-degree angles, with cliffs that rise 400 meters above the Sea of Ios. Nothing grows on this land, and therefore one will find no wildlife except for herds of holo-beasts whose fleshy counterparts would usually be found in grasslands.

 

  • Data Falls is the name given to the large, jagged chunk missing from the Iosian Peninsula along its northwestern edge. From it, waterfalls of the dark, opaque liquid gush into the sea. This 400-meter-tall, 80-mile-deep breach serves as the sole entrance to The Iosian Netocratic State.

 

  • The Iosian Netocratic State. Unfortunately for the average denizen and most, if not all, nations of this face of the cube, very little is known about the reclusive, hermit nation that resides within the glassy, metallic confines of the Iosian Peninsula aside that it is a vast metropolis lit only by the few rays that penetrate the smoky, quasi-transparent, crystalline ceiling that separates it from the world above. Few actually trade with this state and its people, leading many to speculate that it might be an entirely self-sufficient society. More than a few merchants and businessmen who have journeyed to offer economic opportunities reported that often those who travel with them choose to stay there, starting a rumor of some glorious, digital utopia. The INS is immensely protective of its borders and its people, chasing away nosey intruders with armed drones that patrol the peninsula’s surface.

April 21st, 2020    

Adam’s Retroverse DM Blog: Entry 3

Entry 3: Quadrant Contents - Megalopolitan Plains

     This next set of entries is going to comprise mostly of my notes I have for each quadrant, starting with the central quadrant. If any location or NPC names mentioned in these sound like tongue-in-cheek references, they’re meant to be (that’s just par-for-the-course in the Retroverse in general, as I spoke of concerning my MacGuffins). I will be providing a very rudimentary legend below at the start of each entry with the referenced quadrant highlighted: 

 

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And, as the example above shows, we will be starting off with the heart of this face, Quadrant 5: Megalopolitan Plains.

 

  • Megalopolitan Plains. The very heart of Face 5. This quadrant is literally the center of attention in all matters of politics, economics, industry, and entertainment. Easily the most diverse and densely populated of all current Quadrants by a large margin, it is said that one can sample the entire Retroverse without ever leaving the bounds of this largely urban realm.

 

  • Neo Metro. Towering monuments of glass and neon pierce the skyline as one approaches the glassy walls of Neo Metro. This city is an urban utopia. “New,” “shiny,” and “elite” are at the core of its essence. Spectacular skyscrapers, fine restaurants, and bourgeois clubs line what are surely the cleanest streets one could ever set foot on. Though the city is busy, it runs like a digital machine in pristine condition. For those seeking a respite from the city, myriad scenic parks are within a short walking distance from nearly any point of origin. This is a city for the privileged…and they like to keep it that way.

 

  • Old Metro is defined by abandoned warehouses, empty concrete towers, and unkempt avenues. Although no longer the cultural center, it remains the geographical center of Face 5, sitting at both zero degrees longitude and latitude. This artificial jungle is a no-longer-shining example of how the march of progress leaves people and places behind. The harshest of critics will write-off the whole area as a slum begging to be flattened to expediate its slow crumble into rust and dust, but their ignorance and bigotry blinds them to the dazzling examples of life thriving among the bricks and mangled metal. Thumping music resonating to the surface from basement raves, aromatic vapors wafting through the air from bazaars of street food vendors. The soft blue glow in a tall window of an old tenement building as a streamer on the Arcane Eye Network (AEN) battles their way through digital foes on their overclocked computer to scrape together enough credits to afford a better life…and a better connection. Be warned: although pockets of hope exist, this is a city of decline, a refuge for some, but a prison for most, and prisoners are not most often kind.

 

  • New Tokyorkisco! The Big Fuji Apple! The City So Nice, They Built a Golden Gate! Jutting into the waters of the Sea of Peace (I might change this name later) rises a city comprised mostly of the middle- and upper middle-class citizens of the ‘Verse. Some folks here can be rude, but often you can blame that on the fast pace of the city. Everyone has a hustle, a grind, a place to be, and a thing to do. Visit the lively Yonagunitown, go shopping or gaming in the Gorakujuku district, or try your hand at the stock market in LoFiDi!

 

  • Kingston University is the sole member of its self-founded “Birch League” of schools, and that alone should tell you how prestigious (and expensive) this establishment of higher learning truly is.

 

  • Fabrication Flats is the industrial workhorse of the Megalopolitan Plains. If it exists and wasn’t grown out of the ground, it was probably made here (Disclaimer: it is often not wise to assume that any food found in the Megalopolitan Plains wasn’t made in a factory in Fabrication Flats). If it can be worn, driven, used to accomplish a task, or often just held, you’ll more than likely find the little words “Made in F.F.” engraved on it somewhere. Many denizens find work in the rows upon nearly endless miles of rows of factories and industrial complexes that dot the landscape and fill its section of sky with smog and steam. The cacophony of gears, hammers, foundries, and shift whistles accompany the roaring engines of big rigs and cargo trains that tirelessly deliver the endless output of goods to all corners of Face 5.

 

  • Nirvana Plaza. And if it WAS made in Fabrication Flats (let's be real, it was), it can probably be bought here, among the empire of indoor and outdoor malls that span the southern countryside of the Megalopolitan Plains.

 

  • Thunderdrome Raceway. If you like the sound of roaring engines and the thrill of a chase or a literal race against time, park your keister in the risers at one of the many courses at the Raceway and cheer for your favorite driver (or pilot!). With artificial courses mimicking a plethora of locales both real and imagined, your need for speed might never be sated! AND, if you find yourself in possession of a sweet ride (and a pit crew to keep you on the road [or in the air {or above the water}]!), feel free to enter yourselves in one the many round-the-clock races for a chance to win some fabulous prizes!

 

  • Retro-World Theme Parks are the very place to go for some resort-based fun! Find roller coasters of all themes and levels of thrill, excellent shows to entertain the little ones, and world-class dining establishments all in one location! Go on a safari! Relax in the Longest Lazy River! Face the perils of Mr. Bones’s Wild Ride! Get a photo with your favorite franchised character! Try a Deep-Fried-Hot-Dog-On-A-Stick-In-A-Waffle-Cone™!

 

  • The Boardwalk. Few things conjure the magic of romantic love and endless summer like a boardwalk, the beach, and all the accompanying amenities, so why not visit one that’s 320 miles long?

 

  • Slushee Slopes. Need to carve some powder? Then this year-round wintry destination should be at the top of your list.

 

  • Super Suburbia wraps gently around the border of Neo Metro and is a veritable ocean of quaint houses, backyard pools, gas stations, grocery stores, and small outlet malls.

 

  • Interstate 99 / The Metroway. This belt of asphalt extends in a perfectly straight and flat line, vectors across the Megalopolitan Plains to the mainland of the Tangaroan Sea, and transitions into the main thoroughfare through the far-away city of San Angeles. Exactly every 10 miles or so, there is a franchise of Pizza Shack™ (some long closed, but their shells still standing) for hungry voyagers of this long, open road! Gas stations are also abundant, in sundry brands: Conch, 4-Twenty, Fess, Moonoco, Immobil, Xeenon, and Triathlon, just to name a few. Just off I99 are numerous trailer parks, where the attractiveness of the low cost of living has led landowners to the solution of stacking trailers on top of one another to maximize their tenant numbers and their profits. Some communities of trailer, RV, and other mobile homeowners have welded and duct-taped their dwellings together into enormous, off-road monstrosities decorated with string lights, plastic flamingos, lawn chairs, and yard gnomes that crawl across the flatter grasslands, migrating on an endless loop from Super Suburbia to San Angeles and back again.

April 18th, 2020    

Adam’s Retroverse DM Blog: Entry 2

Entry 2: A Quest Format and a World

     I decided immediately upon reading the lore behind Laser Dragons that one would be the main quest giver of my campaign. I’m fully leaning into nostalgia for this story and all of its elements (nostalgia is something of a force multiplier for anything included in L&L), and a creature that craves hoarding collectibles, memorabilia, limited edition promotional swag, and one-of-a-kind items associated with pop-culture cranks everything up to 11. Revakfaraandeinmaar would be the dragon’s name (he prefers “Reggie” as a more humanoid name), and those of you keen to do research will find that his dragon name translates to (and it’s likely butchered, I’m sure :P) “Sacred Fortune Keeper” from the language of the dragons used in The Elder Scrolls universe (subject to change if any of the words in his name or the entire name proves less than above water in terms of copyright laws). I thought it most appropriate, and if you don’t think I’m going to hide an enormous paperback video game guide to The Ancient Codices V: Rim of the Sky (complete with a partial Dragon-Common dictionary) somewhere in my game world, you’ve obviously missed the point of the Retroverse.

     His job in the plot is to give the party a list of MacGuffins to find and deliver to him. Not very original, I know, but like I said before: tropes and nostalgia. The items aren’t a secret, and I have no qualms about sharing them with you, reader (and some are subject to change anyway):

  • A Holographic, Shadowless, First-Edition Charizard Pokemon Card.
  • A Limited Edition Gizmo Furby.
  • The Lost Boys…on Betamax.
  • Atari's Star Wars Game Cabinet.
  • Eurythmics’ Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This) Album on Vinyl.
  • A T-shirt from Nirvana’s Last Tour/Kurt Cobain’s Guitar.
  • All Three Books from The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (Bonus for The Hobbit)

 

     Each item, of course, has an accompanying location and challenge to reach and overcome, respectively. Here, I should mention that a fundamental property of the Retroverse is that the plane “wobbles” on its axis like a spinning dinner plate on a stick. When it “wobbles,” it interacts with other universes, “copies” what it finds, and “pastes” it onto the plane. From what I've read and understood from the test wave documents of this supplement, it seems to me that sometimes the “copied” information mutates, changing a name or an appearance that’s slightly different from the original person, place, or thing (I see what you did there, Chris 😊). For the items above, I just let them be perfect copies of their original inspiration for the time being. The cultural significance seems important to keep intact for the players to be more excited about the search, and maybe they ARE perfect copies, making them that much more unique. We’ll just have to see if I get any cease-and-desist orders if I make a show out of this.

     In keeping with my “mixed-bag” approach, I’m instituting heavy variation among the gameplay methodologies of the different challenges, and it would be no surprise to also say that the locations are just as unique, aided in no small part by the nature of type of world L&L is designed around.

     See, the primary planet of the Retroverse is a gargantuan cube (called Cube) comprised of 26 smaller cubes that rearrange themselves on strict linear axes according to the orientation of their edges (a cosmological Rubik’s Cube, and yes, the faces CAN and DO rotate). The six faces of the planet are comprised of 9 quadrants built around a larger theme with the points of interest contained therein inspired by the elements of that larger theme. Now, the intended method of deciding these quadrant themes as described in L&L is to give the central quadrant (the very middle square in the 3x3 grid of a face) an element (here they list the four cardinal elements of fire, water, air, earth plus good and evil for a total of six) and a flair (more on that later). Then you give each of the remaining eight quadrants on that face their own individual elements (there will be double-ups) which are then also influenced by the element of the central quadrant. Following so far?

     THEN, you give each of the remaining quadrants their own flair that further adds to theit uniqueness, and from all off this you start designing the actual geography, cultures, flora/fauna, and features/points of interest that exist within those quadrants. They give an example in the most recent test wave of an Earth quadrant influenced by a central Water quadrant with a “Beat” flair (think music and rhythm) as being a sea dotted with tropical islands and filled with pirates who quest after the “…greatest sea shanty ever created…” It’s a fairly simple formula that anyone can follow and use to build pretty much any area they want.

     I…didn’t use any of it. You could probably tell by the fact that I italicized ‘intended’ a couple of paragraphs ago. I’M NOT SAYING IT’S A BAD FORMULA OR THAT I DIDN’T LIKE IT. The creators state that you don't have to stick to the rules and lore that they've laid out if you don't want to. One of their main goals, as I understand it, is to create a supplement that embraces and supports your ideas and does nothing to impede their growth. For my creative process, I started with the actual intentions, main influences, and gameplay/story elements I had in mind for a quadrant first because I felt the need to start off with strong visual and emotional elements for me to build out from. I’m also going to add I can, with relative certainty, break down the quadrants I have created into elemental themes and flairs. One quick example is a very Classic & Hollywood Horror/Lovecraftian quadrant with a very deep sea (water), a strong, rocky coastland (earth, likely from the central quadrant), and a bounty of just…horrible things, places, and people (a “Blood” flair, but definitely a “Cosmic” flair as well because of the Lovecraft influences). I might have been able to come up with the same result if I started creating with the tools provided, but if I already know where I need to go, I tend to take the shortest road there and indulge in the scenic route on the way back.

     My goal is to span this campaign across one face and all of its 9 quadrants, which, mind you, are supposed to be large enough to hold “…a major continent, a few smaller plots of land, a small sea, and enough variety to start your adventure” (blinkingwhiteguy.gif) because each FACE of the CUBE is supposed to have “around the same surface area of the Earth.” This is fine and dandy, and it should not be counted as a negative review of what Chris and Lluis have created (thank you both, by the way). It’s just a LOT. Gods forbid my players fucking rappel onto a new face (that shit ain’t gonna fly, by the way, because “magic” [and no, I am NOT ashamed of that excuse here]), and I have to make, on the fly, a whole different godsdamned...planet, basically. If they visited EVERY face, that’s six planets, fifty-four (54!) UNIQUE quadrants, and I’m not going to even fathom the dozens upon dozens of cultures, hundreds of cities, thousands of “important” NPCs and their quests, and millions of people (I'm not opposed to expanding later, but one face is at the extreme edge of being a "manageable chunk").

     So, before I try to pull a Tolkien…six times (I would kindly like to remind you that he died before all of the work he ever did towards his ONE (1) world was published, and the latest addition to the lore just came out…in 2018, 45 years AFTER his death), I’m going scale this down a tad. The one face I’m fleshing out at this time will only be able to contain a small-sized continent that even Australia could confidently take in a fight (provided we took away all the deadly animals to make it fair). This accomplishes two things: it makes the world large enough to be profound and interesting, and it makes it small enough to not be absolutely daunting when I tell them the MacGuffins could be ANYWHERE on the face they currently inhabit.

     Before you say, “Aw! Come on! This is just a boring collect-a-thon,” know that there is a meta-plot (there’s always a meta-plot) that they’ll discover, and they might even abandon the MacGuffin gathering along the way to pursue it. All the quadrants will be linked in some way to this meta-plot (more plausibly done, I feel, now that the scale is smaller), so it won’t be hard for them to stumble across elements of it. It will be a tad more difficult, however, to piece it all together. Therein lies the real puzzle to unlocking the “true ending.”

April 16th, 2020    

Adam’s Retroverse DM Blog: Entry 1

[We know you all miss our show! We'll have new episodes, we promise, and until we can get back on a regular production schedule, Adam has decided to share with everyone his creative process towards the formation of a new campaign. This will be a series of posts that will come every other day or so. We hope you all enjoy!]

Entry 1: An Intro and a Recommendation

     For about a year (and some change, to be honest) I’ve been developing what I’ve considered a very exciting campaign for a group of players who are interested in it. It’s played using the D&D 5e ruleset, but the most essential component is a supplement called Lasers & Liches (L&L, and yes, DO click the link and explore). If you haven’t heard about this supplement, it’s a godsend for people (like me) who are more…eclectic in their campaign elements.

     See, I run a mixed-bag game. You’ll tend to find every element of a tabletop game if you sit at my table long enough: dungeon crawling, social/political intrigue, investigation, hack n’ slash, war simulation, explorational/historical dot connecting, puzzles, puzzles that kill you, and puzzles that make you wish something would just hurry along and do you in. That being said, my inspiration is often (very often) drawn from sources that don’t *fit* the worlds that are often paired with modules or sourcebooks. Often, I will be able to find a path of least resistance when it comes to putting medieval fantasy clothes on my tropes (thank you, Mystic Knights of Tir Na Nog, for, quite literally, existing as a bridge between traditional Japanese tokusatsu and traditional high fantasy for my purposes as they pertain to the current campaign).

     Other times…I find myself bending my campaign, adventures, and especially encounters in ways that, while they DO fit, and CAN be explainable, make me feel less confident in presenting them to my players. I like to worry less about what people think of an element’s plausibility (and/or complexity) and more about their opinions concerning how interactive and inspiring that element ended up being towards their experience. I want everyone to have more chances at having fun and fewer chances of being taken out of the immersion.

     It’s not that I don’t like being descriptive (why the hell would I run games…at all…if that were the case?), but its more fair to my players for me to take more time to develop and balance the mechanics of something I’m adding rather than twiddling my thumbs over a cup of coffee, mulling over how I can make a Jurassic Park clone location work. This is especially true when shoving it into a world where: a) people haven’t even been using gunpowder OR electricity in their tech (let alone genetic engineering) and b) mAgIc CaN sOlVe EvErYtHiNg (an excuse I loathe to have to use when push comes to shove). If you listen to The SpellCast D&D, you can hear for yourself what I ended up doing, and I’m fine with that solution because at least it leads somewhere instead of being the dead-end excuse that, “I don’t know, it’s magic,” can often end up being.

     Laser & Liches embraces, at its core, the vast eclecticism of the influences that governed the childhoods of those of us who were born in the 70s, 80s, & 90s. It takes what inspired us and our imaginations and makes it real for our games. Have a favorite television show you want to reference? Don’t worry about heavily reskinning it. Shove it in whole cloth if you want (don’t even have to change the names if you’re not selling anything). Want your party to be able to communicate over long distances with ease? Don’t worry about re-writing the rules of a sending stone (I have. Not fun.) to make them act more like cell phones. Hand your barbarian an actual cell phone (or not, for…reasons).

     I could wax eternal about the benefits and positive effects something like the “Retroverse” in L&L brings to D&D as a supplement, but instead I’d rather direct you to Chris Lock (@snickelsox on Twitter) and Lluis Abadias (@LluisAbadias on Twitter), the creators.

     The Retroverse is where I’m setting the new campaign I’ve been working on. I’ve never done full-on, actual world-building before to this scale and detail, so what will follow in this series of posts is my best draft, up to this date, of what I have cobbled together. You may think you only have to fill in where your characters are supposed to go, but adopting that attitude at any scale of your game’s world is a sign that you have truly underestimated a player’s ability to send their character out of the bounds of what you’ve prepared. So, I have to prepare everything, like a god. Like a god who needs coffee, sleep, and the common sense to know when he should be having either of those.

March 30th, 2020    

Episode 65: The Undercellar Horror - Fangs for the Memories

This fight has been dragged out onto the streets, and the public is both appalled and enthralled and the explosive brawl. Can our heroes contain the situation before anyone else gets hurt? Idris makes a tactical decision to distribute clothing, Saffron teams up with her spiritual weapon, Halexan finds himself wrapped up in the moment, Ront looks inward for the power to finish what he started, and Thiathel whips up some witchery.

With special guests Tyler Carson as the Tabaxi Monk, Idris Macavity, and Julia Doi as the Tiefling Cleric, Saffron!

The SpellCast D&D brings you a saga of high adventure! Join Adam Brooks (Dungeon Master/Storyteller), Pierre Viola (Ront Havenfair), Mike Vides (Halexan Wynalder), Gerald Acevedo (Conall Pending), Charlotte Raines (Sav’ah Rah Vicarro), Sam Ortiz (Azazel Makeus), and Kelsey Hogan (Thiathel Dalanadrin) as they navigate a perilous homebrew Faerun setting!

(Music courtesy of Magic Sword)

(Art by Rob Robbins)

March 16th, 2020    

Episode 64: The Undercellar Horror - My Armaconda Don’t Want None

The final encounter of this arc has finally kicked off, and we promise a truly explosive showdown to round it out! The gang gets to meet the head of the snake for this particular scheme, and our heroes' semi-spiritual companions decide to kick things up a notch! Thiathel pops off a particularly nasty 4th-level spell, Idris yields to his feline nature and goes for the eyes, Saffron's got the fire, fire, fire, and she's gonna let it burn, burn, burn, Halexan gives a thiccc snakey boi the lion's share of his blade, and Ront shakes things up a bit.*

*read: A lot.**

**read: No, like, we really mean it.***

***read: Thunderstone is broken.

With special guests Tyler Carson as the Tabaxi Monk, Idris Macavity, and Julia Doi as the Tiefling Cleric, Saffron!

The SpellCast D&D brings you a saga of high adventure! Join Adam Brooks (Dungeon Master/Storyteller), Pierre Viola (Ront Havenfair), Mike Vides (Halexan Wynalder), Gerald Acevedo (Conall Pending), Charlotte Raines (Sav’ah Rah Vicarro), Sam Ortiz (Azazel Makeus), and Kelsey Hogan (Thiathel Dalanadrin) as they navigate a perilous homebrew Faerun setting!

(Music courtesy of Magic Sword)

(Art by Rob Robbins)

 
 

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