Post-Apocalyptic Points of Light

As I was contemplating what to do with Enderra, I remembered the D&D 4th Edition “Points of Light” setting. Points of Light has specific, if fairly typical, D&D assumptions.

After mulling them over, I realize that not only did this describe most D&D settings (there are exceptions), it describes most settings where the “wilderness” dominates. Fallout? Points of Light in a nuclear wasteland. The American West? Points of Light in the arid regions of a world without magic.

When we think “post-apocalyptic”, we usually think of nuclear war and its aftermath. For my generation, that was the most likely scenario for the end of civilization; these days, we can add climate change to the list. Nuclear wars and other world-ending calamities have been a popular excuse for introducing magic and elves to Earth for a long time.

However, threats to all of civilization, even the world or at least life on it, have always been a staple of Fantasy fiction – and gaming. So what if the unthinkable happens, evil triumphs, and wipes out everything that we hold dear? Boom. Post-Apocalyptic Fantasy.

While some settings do feature this in some fashion – ancient civilizations that disappeared in some great catastrophe, either natural or man made, only to leave behind treasure-laden ruins – I believe few, if any, settings play this straight.

The heavy stone door, fashioned by Dwarven artisans to withstand anything and everything, trembled and shook, then slowly slide aside. Bright daylight entered the ancient vault for the first time in a century. One by one its inhabitants emerged, shielding their eyes against the sun.
“What do you know,” said the Fighter. “The wizards got it right. The stasis field worked. We’re alive!”
“The same can’t be said of the others,” the Ranger replied. The others followed his gaze. Far below them, a field of moss-covered ruins littered the floor of the valley. Trees poked through the ancient stonework, swaying gently in the summer breeze.
“That’s the Capital City, isn’t it?” the Bard asked. “By the Gods, it feels like we left only days ago!”

Obviously, the characters do not have to be “vault dwellers”, they could be regular survivors or the descendants of the same. You can lift any sort of post-nuclear fiction, theme, or location, remove the high tech aspects, and put them directly into a fantasy setting. The “points” in “points of light” are the few civilized settlements. Everything else is a vast Wasteland of magical mutants, marauding monsters, and rampaging raiders.

Enderran Agenda for 2020

Plans and Other Whimsy

I know, I know. I am great at making plans, maybe not so great at following through with them. But, contrary to what you might believe, not finishing things actually annoys me greatly.

One of the things I realized I really want to do is decluttering. Both in real life – it is amazing how much crap one accumulates if one lives in the same spot for a decade – and digitally. And Enderra.com is at the top of that list.

I started the process last year, with the big blog cleanup of 2019. I quietly continued that cleanup since then. There is more work to do, but there’s very little return on time invested after a certain point, and I’ll likely just fix whatever I find when I find it, rather than actively looking for stuff to change.

So, anyway, what’s my plan for Enderra.com?

Well, simply put, I’d like to turn Enderra into and actual thing. Something I can look at and say, “yup, this is done”. I mean, we all know that fictional worlds are never “done”. What I mean is something someone who finds their way to this site can grab and use. A complete campaign world. I will identify what “complete” means in another post.

The Future World of Enderra

From this point forth, everything that has ever been posted about Enderra is non-canonical. Enderra, in its almost 30 years history (oh boy – I am getting very old), has always gone through revisions and changes. Some minor, some major. And while I am happy to re-use old material, I don’t want to be bound by it. Times change. Tastes change. And one has to wonder if the world really needs another pseudo-medieval European fantasy setting.

(Indeed, the main reasons why I keep the “Enderra” name are a) it has history and b) I’d have to come up with a new name…)

While much remains to be worked out, and this really warrants at least one future post, I do have a general idea of what Enderra should look like.

  • D&D compatible: There are a couple aspects of Dungeons & Dragons I do not like, but in the end D&D remains popular and accessible, there’s a huge body of third party material out there, and, well, it works. (And this is an excuse for me to finally pick up D&D 5th Edition.)
  • Sword & Sorcery: Enderra has always been more of a low magic setting. Not that there were no major plots or high stakes, but the player characters were always more likely to free some prisoner, search treasure in a dungeon, fight some dark cult, or hunt some criminal than to have a tea party with the gods. Dragons exist, but are rare.
  • No Color-Coded Morals: Speaking of dragons, they’re not color-coded to alignment. Nor is anybody else. Some cultures, organisations, or species may tend towards specific alignments, but that’s it. In reality, nobody does something to be evil; villains are just as convinced they’re “doing the right thing” as the protagonists are. In the context of D&D, alignments are a tool to aid gameplay, nothing more.
  • Wilderness and Exploration: Enderra has always been reasonably civilized. Sure, with a lot of wilderness between the towns, but most of the known world was under the control of one organized, functioning kingdom or another. I’m thinking of limiting the civilized spaces a lot more, with most of the world wild and untamed. Of course, adventuring opportunities abound. Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition stipulated a setting type called “Points of Light” which is the right direction (again, I’ll post more detailed thoughts on this later), but I am thinking about “The Frontier” and a possible land rush.
  • Technology: I am very tempted to move the technology forward a little, notably to include firearms. I’ll have to see just how well it works. More technology probably moves the setting closer to a Fantasy Western. Which actually sounds like fun.

As usual, all of this will probably be refined as we go.

Last but not least – a teaser: I signed up to host the RPG Blog Carnival in February. I always enjoyed running these events, and they always spurned me on to create stuff.

Creature: The Scavenger

The scavenger is humanoid, and indeed easily mistaken for a human. They stand between 1.5 and 2.0 meters tall and appear as ordinary people, usually dressed in good clothes such as dark suits. They do not speak, but their demeanor is passive, even friendly.

However, this is mere mimicry, designed to put the scavengers’ prey at ease. In reality, the entirety of the creature’s front is one big maw – when the monster attacks, this maw opens from its human mouth all the way down to the navel, revealing sharp rows of teeth not unlike those of a shark. The scavenger will, with its maw open, slowly approach its victim, use its human hands to hold onto the victim and bite off whatever it can – be that an arm, a head, or most of the victim. Children are swallowed whole.

While scavengers prefer eating people, and live prey at that, they do not hesitate to eat animals or corpses. The first witnesses to the scavengers’ true form observed them feed on corpses, and thus gave them their names.

Survivors invariably report being held in place as if in shock, or in a dreamy state. This is a hypnotic effect projected by the scavengers’ minds. This paralyzes the victims, as the slow-moving scavengers approach and ultimately devour them. A person who is able to resist the effect, or shake off the drowsiness, can easily evade the scavengers – they are relentless but move at a slow pace, meandering, swaying back and forth, at a slow walk’s pace.

Once a scavenger has gorged itself, it retreats to a quiet, secluded place – disused buildings, attics, basements – where it starts to digest. If it has eaten especially well, it will proceed to reproduce by mitosis – that is, a second scavenger will grow out of it until it detaches, fully grown and hungry, ready to start feeding.

Although it is easy to dismiss the scavenger as a dumb brute, they are quite intelligent. They will cooperate and hunt in packs, isolating individual humans or small groups, then swarm and attack them from multiple sites. In at least one reported case, the scavengers camouflaged themselves as security guards working crowd control at a demonstration.

Statistics

Strength: Average
Agility: Low
Intelligence: Average (human)
Endurance: Very high
Weapons: Holds on to victims with human arms, then takes bites out of them with teeth that can cut through limbs and bones.
Armor: None, but has no vital organs that could be critically hit.

Notes

I dreamed about these things and decided to write them down. I am sure they were subconsciously inspired by some horror movie or other.

The Big Blog Cleanup of 2019

It’s been a while, hasn’t it? My apologies. All I wanted was migrate to a new host, and then… things happen. And then other things did. And then it was Wednesday. And then suddenly 2019. You know how that works, right?

I’ve been absent from RPGs, world building, and writing for way too long. I never really stopped creating, just didn’t post much anymore.

I intend to do an overhaul of the site, clean up some of the older stuff, but above all… just get all these damned ideas out of my head and onto, well, what passes for paper these day.

Here is what’s changed so far.

  • New header image: I changed header images around a bit, I am somewhat happy with the current one. The “Martian” one was too science fiction specific. And I really used the snow one long enough.
  • Improved Shakespeare & Dragons Archive: All of the MP3s are now hosted on Google Drive.
  • Better archive sidebar: Collapsing list for the archives in the sidebar for easier navigation.
  • Advertisement free: Removed adsense and analytics. Added a cookie consent bar for the WordPress cookies.
  • New categories: Tried my best to re-organize the site. The new categories are:
    • Worldbuilding: Everything related to worldbuilding. Methods, techniques, and so on.
    • Worlds: Posts directly covering the worlds I design. One sub-category for each world/setting.
    • RPG: Posts related to role-playing games.
    • Plot-a-Day: All posts with plot ideas
  • New host: Updated software, new host, all sparkly and shiny. (I hope..)
  • Site Optimizations: I did some tech stuff and Enderra.com went from a Google Page Speed Insight score of 14 to 84 – a huge improvement. I hope this is notable to visitors, too.
  • Deleted a bunch of old, minor posts: I’ve deleted a whole bunch of older posts – basically applying what I call the “Twitter test”. If a blog post would work better as a tweet, it got removed. I did make some exceptions where I thought something was worth keeping.
  • Other Worlds: Likewise, I went through some of the older settings and removed a lot of cruft. Where posts were worth-while to keep, I put them into a new category – “Other Worlds“. This usually means there’s less than a half-dozen posts about a given world.
  • All the Links: Over the years, I posted “monthly” about new links I found. Needless to say, many of those links are broken, outdated, et cetera. And even for those that aren’t, I can’t imagine anybody actually going through all those old posts. So I’ve collected them on one page and will subsequently verify them all.

I’m still not happy with the state of Enderra.com but it’s a big improvement.

Update, 2020-01-09: Amazingly, it’s been almost half a year again. Well, I’ve not been entirely idle. I’ve continually cleaned up the blog. Changed the header again, optimized page speed, but above all, I’ve removed small, pointless posts, fixed a bunch of tags and categories, added a bunch of “featured images” to posts – that kind of stuff.

Plot-a-Day: Satanic Machinations

I’m an atheist, but I still enjoy a good satanic conspiracy. There’s just something about Lucifer’s fall and the whole idea of a secret organization devoted to spreading evil that’s very powerful – archetypical, you might say, and Satanists make for good villains – probably because they are, by definition, devious and capable of great evil in pursuit of their goals.

Satan – Dantes Inferno, by Gustave Doré

Since Halloween is once more upon us, let us look at some fun we can have with these minions of the dark prince.

Second Coming

The Satanists are usually keeping themselves busy preparing for the second coming by spreading chaos and destruction – take the current fad of Islamic terror and put Anti-Christians at its core.

The protagonists are small, well-funded mercenary unit in the pay of the Vatican (perhaps supported by a faction of the US government) and are trying to fight the encroaching evil – as time is of the essence they can not work within the law. As their enemies gain power, the dangers increase, until they have to fight demons in urban areas. (I am sure someone wrote this book already.)

Gates to Hell

Another obvious idea is a search for a magic book or satanic tome which opens the gates to hell (if you’re running a high-supernatural game or novel), allowing some of the Devil’s minions slip through and aid in the preparation for Satan’s return. In a more realistic setting, the Satanists are deluded – there’s no hell and of course the “magic spell” won’t work – but the heinous crimes committed by them are quite real.

The Devil Made Me Do It

In a less advanced society, “satanists” and witches (really anybody the locals decided they didn’t like very much) were blamed for everything from diseases to accident to bad weather. Such accusations usually ended in the painful death of the accused; your protagonists may need to clear their names (if there is enough time for rational discourse) or run for their lives. And in some settings, the accusations might actually be true – or the accuser might themselves be working for the devil.

Just a Bunch of Deluded Fools

A satanist (or other cultuist) based plot doesn’t have to do with the “real deal”. Religion, in any shape or form, is a great motivator to a great many people, on all ends of the spectrum. If the guys in the black robes brandishing daggers made from meteoric iron want to kill you, does it really matter if they want to use your blood to summon a demon or not?

Even if there’s no truth behind it all, Satanists (or any other cultists) can make a great red herring, or you can bait-and-switch your players (the cult is really a money-making scheme, for example). Maybe the satanists are employed by someone who lies to them, and employs them to do their dirty work to achieve some other goal. For example, a politician could use them as thugs to ensure his own election to office.

Star-Spawn of Satan

In a science-fiction setting, satanists might set up their own colony – far away from the usual trade routes. Such a society would be very dysfunctional; just take a look at the various sects that run afoul of the law almost every other year.

In the best case, members are just exploited for cheap labor; but usually, there’s rampant sexual abuse of both adults and children, violence, murder… The colony could support itself by piracy, and pirates that are unusually ruthless and ritualistically murder the crews of the ships they rob may be what brings the protagonists in as investigators.

Good Guy Lucifer

I usually assume that it’s best to play with the audience’s expectations. Keep them guessing. If your players assume that Satanists are “the real deal” then it turns out they aren’t, or maybe they are but the devil is really different from what everybody thinks. You could even make Lucifer the good guy – after all, the victor writes the history book – or in this case determines dogma.

Happy Halloween, folks.

RPG Blog Carnival – Unusual Dungeons – Wrap-Up

May comes to an end, and so does the Unusual Dungeons RPG Blog Carnival.

After a somewhat slow start, we’ve had a number of submissions:

James Introcaso was the most prolific contributor this month, supplying us with a series about a prison for dragons:

And from myself:

Phil, from Tales of a GM, is taking over for June – with the appropriate subject “Summerland” (Summer in RPGs). Take it away, Phil!

(And of course, if you’d like to read up on past carnivals or check on future subjects, head on over to the RPGBA Carnival archive page.)

Unusual Dungeon #4: Crevasses

Antarctic Crevasse, Photo by Mtpaley
Antarctic Crevasse, Photo by Mtpaley

Crevasses – basically cracks in glaciers – are a type of dungeon I first encountered in the Secret of the Silver Blades, where they lead up to the evil Dreadlord’s castle. Cringeworthy as that sounds, I’ve always loved the idea of a band of adventurers exploring the bottom of crevasses – the combination of dangerous environment, bitter cold, and even unearthly beauty is quite potent. Snowy environments are also much neglected, in my opinion, so here’s the chance to kill two yetis with one chunk of ice.

The crevasses will be a fairly irregular mess. There are similarities with caves, but the passages will mostly be narrow and long. Lots of dead ends. A similar feature – ice caves – can offer larger, covered spaces.

Use: The crevasses is probably best used as an obstacle, or rather, a passage through an obstacle – the glacier. It could connect to one or more destinations. One trope is the hidden valley full of lush vegetation, warmed by magic or volcanic vents. Another the frozen castle or similar lair. Or turn it around – the crevasses are the only means of escape from the white dragon’s lair.

The crevasses also serve as a “man vs nature” subplot. Adequate equipment, food, and protection from the cold will be essential to the protagonist’s survival.

Enemies: Since the structures are of a fairly temporary nature, your adventurers won’t find much in the way of permanent settlements. Opponents will be related to cold – yetis, snow elementals, frost giants, ice mephits, you name it. Less fortunate adventurers who fell into the crevasses could now rise as frosted-over zombies, awoken by the warmth of the player characters’ campsite.

Tschingelfirn crevasses, Phot by Ambroix
Tschingelfirn crevasses, Photo by Ambroix