Category Archives: Heroic Explorations

Heroic Explorations: Organization of the Etatian Empire

Etatia is an elective empire in the west of the Old World, north of the kingdom of Vaquero and south of the Staten.  It is a vast feudal nation that imagines itself the heir to a much older empire of the same name.

Imperial Provinces

The Empire is made up of over a hundred Imperial Provinces ranging in size from independent cities to counties, duchies, and minor kingdoms. The chief requirement is that the territory answer to no feudal lord other than the Emperor.

Imperial Circles

The Imperial Provinces are organized into half a dozen administrative Imperial Circles for the purposes of defense, gathering taxes, and organization within the Assembly. There is no internal Circle organization or hierarchy. These are, incidentally, the basis for our campaign map development.

The Assembly

Martin Luther at the Diet of Worms by Hermann Wislicenus

The head of each principality is entitled to vote in the Assembly, the chief legislative body in the Empire. Each Imperial Circle’s provinces vote and act as a block within the Assembly. Other Assembly members include the Pontifex of each god’s priesthood and the Grand Master of the different knightly orders. These members do not belong to specific Circles; their votes are “loose” and they are highly courted to vote alongside a given Circle.

The primary duty of the Assembly is electing a new Emperor from among their number when one is required. They also pass the various laws of the Empire, and rule on matters that concern all of them.

Each Circle meets in an great hall in their own territory, each of which is in magical contact with each of the other circles. In most cases the actual members themselves do not travel to these meetings, but send a representative.

The Emperor

Election to the the position of Emperor is for life. In the past, when the position held more power, that might not be terribly long – competition could be fierce. However, over time, the Assembly has gained more and more authority, and at this point the Emperor is mostly a figurehead. The appointment still carries a great deal of prestige, and elections themselves can be fiercely competitive.

A meeting of the Aulic Council c.1700The Imperial Concilium

The supreme court in the Empire, the Concilium hears cases between provinces, and any case that it otherwise chooses to weigh in on. It is perhaps well known for the length of time it takes to reach a verdict. The 18 members of the Concilium are advisors appointed by the Emperor, and when an Emperor dies, his Concilium is in turn dissolved. It does not generally hear criminal cases, unless a procedural matter is involved, or a crime has been committed against the Empire itself.

The Imperial Army

The Empire itself has no standing army. When defense against a foe or a military campaign is called for, each principality has a certain military obligation to meet, providing a fighting force to act under Imperial command. These units typically have greater loyalty to their homeland than the Empire as a whole.

Questions? You are invited to either leave a comment below, or ask directly through the comment form.

Heroic Explorations: Implementing the Sandbox

We have our broad-strokes campaign setting, some history, fuzzy notions about incorporating the quirks of FRPG systems as setting conceits, but nothing we can actually use to play with. It’s time to get down to the nitty gritty of implementation. How exactly we do this has a lot to do with the kind of game we’re planning to run, so at this point we need to step away from the theoretical and make some solid choices about the game we’re going to be playing.

Welcome to the Sandbox

This Heroic Expeditions campaign is going to be a hex-based sandbox played in 5th Edition Dungeons and Dragons, using the Hexbox supplement freely available from Taoscordian Games through DriveThruRPG. Go ahead, download it if you want, give it a quick read-through. The basic idea is that the game is structured by the players’ choices, without a heavy metaplot, and the story arises from the stories they create as they explore.

If you’re not interested in sandbox games don’t worry; most of what follows will still apply to you. The first big difference is that rather than starting with a “bottom up” or “top down” approach, we’re going to start by defining a large campaign area in playable detail, and move on to another when our players express an interest in exploring it. We’ll start on the nation-state level, giving us Avalon, Vaquero, Alem, the Staten, and Etatia to choose from.

I haven’t drawn a full map of these areas, but I picture the Staten in the north, Vaquero to the south, Etatia in the middle, Avalon as an island to the west, and Alem somewhere East. Etatia seems the most centrally located, giving us plenty of room to expand, so we can start there.

A Matter of Scale

Of course, the way a Hexbox map works is that every hex includes something interesting for the players to interact with, so the more hexes we have, the more work we have to do. We could use bigger hexes too, but that means that our map becomes more sparse, with a lower density of “interesting things” overall. In our case, though, Etatia is, for our setting, fairly well settled… there’s still a monster-haunted wilderness and dungeons a-plenty, but maybe here, in the heart of civilization, they’re not so tightly packed. We can definitely get away with a larger scale map.

If Etatia is a Holy Roman Empire analog, we can use the size of the historic HRE as a basis for deciding what we’re dealing with. At its height in 1050, the Empire covered almost 400,000 square miles. The standard Hexbox hex covers 70 square miles, so a standard map of Etatia might require 5700 hexes… or a hex map 75 hexes by 75 hexes.

Yeah. I’m not going to come up with 5700 interesting locations. For Ibu: The Emerald Canopy, we ended up with 60-70 hexes, owing to the irregular coastline and plentiful water, and we can consider starting with a project of similar scope using a 10×10 hex grid. 100 hexes.

A partial map of Ibu

Ibu’s midsection. Each of these hexes had to have some interesting encounter or location written up.

The question is, how sparse are we talking here? If we wanted to cover the entire Empire, we’re talking hexes of 4,000 square miles each. That gives us hexes that are 68 miles across, taking days for a party to walk through. Yeah, that’s possible, but each hex’s interesting encounter is a needle in a hay stack. We could subdivide each hex into a hundred 40 square mile hexes, but that gives us hexes that are only 6 miles across. A party will zip through a handful each day, making it even less likely that the prep work we do will be used. And besides, it feels sort of arbitrary.

Instead, we should consider starting with a hex map of some political or geographical division within Etatia. A given province, perhaps, or some other Feudal grouping. Duchies. If we go with a 24-mile across hex – the distance a party can move in a day under normal conditions – that gives us 498 square mile hexes, and 10×10 grids of 50,000 square mile coverage. Eight such regions makes up our 400,000 square mile empire, and that feels a lot more manageable.

And that is how we’ve come to the design decision that Etatia will be made up of 8 roughly equivalent regions, either geographically or politically.

Questions? You are invited to either leave a comment below, or ask directly through the comment form.

Heroic Explorations: World War Wizard

Two-thousand years ago, our Heroic Explorations setting wasn’t too different from Earth’s own Iron Age, with the addition of nonhuman races, powerful magic, and active gods. There are a number of powerful empires, but nothing on the scale of the earlier Atlantean or Elven civilizations. There are powerful Dwarven kingdoms as well, but the Elves are still sequestered away, and the other races don’t organize above the community level.

Atlantis Rises

The ancient Atlantean wizard-kings had been sealed away by the Elves twenty-thousand years ago, but no spell lasts forever. Each had grown in almost unimaginable power during their exile, even compared to their earlier might. Their return to the world was heralded by death and destruction across the globe as each ancient established a domain, dominating the locals with pathetic ease. The only thing that could stand against the wizard kings were the other wizard kings.

Once again their battles rocked the world, and this time there were no immortal spirits to oppose them. In the end, it fell to Adventurers, who traveled to the realm of the gods and secured a great pact; the gods would seal away the wizard-kings, but in doing so they would have to leave with them. Mortals would be alone in their world, with only very rare connections to divinity.

The bargain was struck. The gods left, bringing the wizard-kings with them.

Life Goes On

Empires continued to rise and fall in the absence of the gods over the next thousand years. While the gods had gone, the religions left behind to venerate them remained potent political forces, providing spiritual guidance to their communities and shaping the course of geopolitics.

Many fell beasts were left behind by the wizard-kings, propagating and growing in power over the centuries that followed, unchecked by divine might, until the wilderness between cities became the monster-haunted nightmare we all know and love. Left behind, too, are the numerous Dungeons of ages gone by, scars on the face of the world, resources to be exploited by those with the guile and willpower to wager their life against the unknown.


  • 400,00 BCE: Atlantis founded, beginning the era of human domination.
  • 20,000 BCE: Atlantean civil war. Island sinks. Elves begin clean up efforts
  • 18,000 BCE: Era of elven dominance begins. Those elves that reject the plan become the first Ranger order.
  • 15,000 BCE: Human slaves throw off yoke of elven oppression; Avalon removed from time and space
  • 13,000 BCE: First human civilizations arise. Indus Valley/Catal Hyuk equivalents.
  • 9,000 BCE: Humans in late neolithic
  • 4,000 BCE: City state unions. Like Mesopotamia, Minoan on Earth.
  • 3,000 BCE: Writing rediscovered. Arcane magic isn’t far behind. The first small kingdoms.
  • 2,000 BCE: First empires. Call it the Bronze Age.
  • 800 BCE: The Etatian Empire is founded.
  • 0 CE: World War Wizard. Ancient Atlantean Wizard Kings return. The Gods seal them away, but are themselves removed. Dawn of the Common Era.
  • 200 CE: The Empire of Etat falls due to internal conflict and pressure from barbarian tribes.
  • 1000 CE: A conquering adventurer unites many of Etat’s former provinces and declares it a new Etatian Empire.
  • 1200 CE: The provinces of Vaquero are conquered by the Alem Caliphate
  • 1300 CE: The Last Wizard-King returns, and in thwarting him Avalon is returned to the world. The Elves decide to remain aloof.
  • 1325 CE: Vaquero expels the Alem invaders, and opts to remain a separate nation rather than rejoin Etatia.
  • 1480 CE:  The Norse kingdoms form the Staten, in order to compete with modern nation-states.
  • 1490 CE: The Vaqueran army fails to invade Avalon. The Elves decide they cannot simply sit out eternity, and begin establishing colonies with surprising efficiency.

So, there we go. Call the current year 1500, reckoning from the defeat of the Wizard Kings. We have given ourselves a rich history to dig through when designing our world of magic, mystery, danger, and excitement.

Questions? You are invited to either leave a comment below, or ask directly through the comment form.

Heroic Explorations: Developing Ancient History

When we were talking about the setting’s magic and cosmology, we decided that the Gods had once been more active and communicative, but were no longer, and that’s one of the reasons why there are so many monsters running around tearing up the countryside. Let’s expound upon that a little.

The History of History

Just to be clear, what we’re dealing with here is what’s actually happened, not how it’s remembered. Remembered history, oral or written, is a matter of culture. Different people may have more or less accurate recollections of what’s happened. The Elves are probably the closest, though the Dwarves keep the best records.

In the Beginning

In the beginning, the various humanoid races wandered the world in loose bands, knowing neither civilization nor magic. Barely more than beasts, they were largely nomadic, though those in especially fertile regions might settle down for decades or even centuries.

The spirits that would eventually become the elves, the Alvar, were immortal and unaging spirits of nature, manifestations of the earth’s life force, serving to nurture and protect it. They were the stewards and guardians, largely immaterial but able to manifest physically as needed.

The gods existed as the primitive races saw them, rough manifestations of natural phenomena and cycles. The world was simple, if occasionally savage.

The Fall of the Elves

The Alvar eventually became addicted to the sensation of physicality, spending more and more time experiencing the world as flesh and blood, and less time as spirit. Eventually some made the choice to give up their true immortality for a life of pleasure and pain, becoming the first elves.

The First Civilization

Four-hundred thousand years ago several tribes of humans banded together into the first true civilization of Atlantis. They were advanced in both science and magic, mastering metalworking, writing, and agriculture on a scale unseen in the world.  They were a true magiocracy, where political power was tied directly to magical might, and over time their pantheon grew broad and complex. The wonders created in those days have never been equaled.

The elves watched with growing concern, but by the time they were moved to act, the Atlanteans had far outstripped the power of the Alvar.

The Fall of Atlantis

While the elves were unable to stem Atlantis’s ambition, no empire lasts forever. Twenty thousand years ago the ruling mage-priests fell to factional bickering that soon blossomed into civil war. Great magics were brought to bear against the different factions and the gods they championed, some bargaining with strange entities from beyond reality. In the end the power was too much for the humans to wield, and the world was threatened with destruction and dissolution.

It was left to the Alvar and Elves to preserve the tattered remains of reality. The remaining Alvar sacrificed themselves to power a massive spellwork to seal away the most powerful wizards, trapping them in the space between space, the time between time. Atlantis itself sank below the waves, abandoned by its gods, failed by its masters.

Elven über alles

It became clear to the Elves that the humans and other mortal races could not be trusted to gain so much power. To preserve the world, they had to dominate it, bringing the scattered tribes to heel. While they felt the need to regulate the action of all, they were harshest upon the humans, enacting strict limits on their population and limiting their exposure and understanding of magic and technology. The shattered remnants of Atlantis could offer up no resistance, and the rest of the world never had a chance.

The Elves Fall. Yes, again.

This Elven dominion lasted for almost five-thousand years before the humans managed to overthrow their yoke. The elves had never been very numerous and largely kept to their own island of Avalon, ruling at a distance by decree rather than force. Many of the earliest legends of Adventurers date back to this resistance, and this is at the point where the earliest of human written records begin. The elves themselves were exiled to their island, which itself was mystically sealed away. The few that remained were only the ancient order of Rangers, who had rejected the formation of the Elven state, instead choosing to remain true to their origin as wanderers in the wilderness.

A New Beginning

Free from elven suppression, human civilizations rise across the globe, mostly independently. While there was some benefit to be gained from Elven and even older Atlantean ruins, for the most part it all had to be discovered again.

So far, the world we’re describing is not yet far from Earth’s own neolithic age, but with a few monsters, nonhuman races, and active gods. Next time we’ll delve into more recent times, with the return of Atlantis and the Elves, the fall of the Gods, and World War Wizard.

Questions? You are invited to either leave a comment below, or ask directly through the comment form.

Heroic Explorations: Linguistics and Monoculture

The way that languages are presented in a lot of FRPGs has always bothered me. Intellectually I understand that they’re playable abstractions, that the players usually don’t care, that it really doesn’t matter, but emotionally I’m still attached to the way that linguistics actually work, how mutable language is, and how they impact the very way we think.

A Common Tongue

Historically, yes, there have been pidgin and trade languages used by those who frequently interact with other cultures, but they’re a lot more limited than presented in fantasy gaming fiction, and they don’t really “solve” the problem… each pidgin is itself a language. If you speak German-French you don’t speak Hungarian-Russian and only a little French-English. These pidgins are determined by the intersections of cultures at specific places at specific times – hardly universal.

On the other hand, for much of medieval history Latin was close to a common language in all of Western Europe and Greek was in the East; if you spoke both, you could find someone to understand you no matter where you went. Still, this was in Europe during a given time period, and many of the people you’d meet – farmers, craftsmen, etc – would only speak the local language. This ties in to our next section, actually.

Racial Tongues

every dwarf

Pictured: Every dwarf

All Elves speak Elven. All Dwarves speak Dwarven. All Orcs speak orc. What?

This is part of a larger issue; monocultural species across the globe. Despite the vast variety among humans even on the same continent, all of the members of a nonhuman culture will share, with little variation, the same general cultural archetype, perhaps flavored by the local humans. Japanese elves have Daimyo and Samurai and all that plopped down on top of the elven cultural template.

There is some support for this, in that we can ascribe “Elven” or “Dwarven” or whatever nature to the way they differ from humanity on a biological and neurological level; if Dwarves, as a race, tend to be more staid than the human baseline, then Dwarven culture itself will come across as more somber and dour to human observers. But there should still be a great deal of variety within that spectrum.

You can see this in science fiction, too – where the human protagonists retain some sort of national identity and cultural variation, but the aliens are a single “sort” of people with one language, fashion, and set of social values.

The reason for this is obvious; it takes a lot of work to define one culture, let alone several. This is the same reason we have a single Common tongue; the humans, too, get one language.

A Few Cultural Options

Now, remember that we’re here to incorporate FRPG tropes and not subvert them, here are a few solutions to ponder that embrace the monoculture.

  1. What we think of as Elven is just these elves. Other elves might have different customs or speak a different language, but the ones we’re familiar with are like this. If and when we describe other groups, we’ll need to figure out how they differ.
  2. These elves are the only elves. Our local elves are the only ones in the setting. That’s right. Just the one group. We don’t need to define others, on account of scarcity.
  3. All elves from the same source, with little drift. Across the world all elves come from a common cultural source, and for whatever reason, time and distance hasn’t made much of an impact on who they are. Maybe they keep great records. Maybe “change” isn’t something they’re comfortable with. We can come up with minor variations, but overall they’re a lot more “stable” than humanity.
  4. Elves are just riding humanity’s coattails. They have no true culture, just variations on the local dominant race’s themes.

In Heroic Explorations, we’ll use all of these excuses and explanations at different times, for different races. The Elves might be few in number. The Dwarves might have a heavily traditional mindset. Our orcs are like this, who knows about the rest. And halflings? Little runts have no culture.

But what about Common? Do we want a single language that can be spoken anywhere you go?


Let distant places stay mysterious, and let the language barrier be part of that. We’ll have a lot of common languages, maybe one per big region, to eliminate most of the problems within our own homeland, but you go far enough East and they stop speaking Latin, start speaking Greek. Go a bit further? Maybe they speak something you’ve never even heard of. Hire a guide, cast a spell, or learn a new language, traveler.

Questions? You are invited to either leave a comment below, or ask directly through the comment form.

Heroic Explorations: the parts that aren’t dungeons

We have our Adventurers, and we have Dungeons for them to cavort around it. In describing them we’ve sort of implied a context for the rest of the setting. Let’s run through that quickly.

  • Adventurers are a known and specific class of generally powerful individuals known to cause problems as often as they solve them.
  • Anyone can potentially become an Adventurer, but few do, owing to the effort involved in uprooting your life and the general lethality of Adventuring.
  • The landscape is littered with dungeons of great danger and potential financial reward.
  • Many of these dungeons are ancient ruins.
  • There was an ancient advanced Elven civilization.
  • Adventuring has a dramatic impact on the local economy.
  • Guilds exist as a thing. So does a nobility.

So from this we can sort of imagine a quasi-feudal landscape filled with danger. Adventurers are tolerated, why? Maybe the world is just that dangerous. In fact, let’s say that it is, as FRPG tropes imply a high frequency of random encounters with fierce beasts just in the course of daily travel. Just… just monsters everywhere.

So with so many monsters (so many) how can civilization persist?

Civilization among the monsters

The default situation is one of chaos and danger. Predators exist in numbers greater than a sensible ecology could reasonably be expected to support, so let’s put a pin in figuring out why. We could just backtrack and say that encounters with dangerous monsters or fierce predators are actually relatively uncommon, but that goes against the strengths of the games we’re going to be playing. In a very abstract way, let’s say that an encounter with a dangerous beast is possible once a day, and likely once a week. These encounters don’t always result in combat, but there you go. Still way more dangerous than in the real world.

So we have this monster haunted wilderness. Add civilization. Towns, cities, villages. There’s a pacifying effect… settlements mean organized human resistance. Not that monsters never attack, but you’re safer in numbers. Safer yet if you build a wall, maintain a militia. So any communities we run into have some sort of defense against the darkness surrounding them, or else they’d be dead. This pacification doesn’t extend far… say only within a mile or so band, enough for the growing of crops, but where possible the crops are within the walls, too.

So a lot of isolates. People rarely travel, and when they do, they do so in large groups. This is not too different from pre-industrial societies where a peasant was likely to be born and die without ever leaving the sounding range of his village’s church bells.

To have gotten to this point, though, civilization had to have advanced to the point where fortifications and the like were at least possible. So maybe all the monsters weren’t always there. This brings us back to our ecological problem; the preponderance of monsters is an artificial crisis. Dates back, at most, to the bronze age. Maybe the gods stopped protecting us, or maybe wizards did it, or maybe it’s an otherworldly invasion. Pandora’s box got opened. We’ll think of something cool that makes an interesting hook.

For now, though, we have a sparsely populated landscape of isolated communities where travel is dangerous and uncommon. So there’s a greater degree of self-sufficiency, which works well with a Feudal power structure. There’s a king, sure, but for all practical purposes the local lords are on their own and operate with minimal oversight. Small villages and isolates are uncommon due to the danger; towns are more frequent, and there’s a greater frequency of cities than in the real world, though they’re far apart.

Vaguely EuropeanEuropish

As I said in the first post in this series, we’re developing a world based on the “Old World” briefly mentioned in Ibu: The Emerald Canopy. I didn’t elaborate much in the book because it was just a generic placeholder, but here’s what we’ve got to work with.

  • The Etatian Empire is loosely based on the Holy Roman Empire with an age of sail twist. There are a number of client states, each of which gets a vote for the Imperial Seat. More French and Italian than German.
  • Vaquero is a mix of post-reconquista Spain and colonial Mexico. Vast open plains, a powerful navy, machismo.
  • The Staten is a northern land of ice and snow, Scandinavia having just outgrown its Dark Age “viking” phase. Independent kingdoms united in an almost-democratic Confederacy.
  • The Alem Caliphate is more of a near neighbor, but it’s mostly what you’d expect from the Near East. A little ancient Persia, a little Ottoman Empire, a lot less monotheism.
  • The Avelonian Empire is an elven colonial power based on an island, very early British but with more of a Celtic influence and Elven snootiness. I don’t want them to be a direct analog to the British Empire, but there will certainly be parallels. The goal here, though, is to emphasize the inhuman nature of a culture of veritable immortals.

This gives us a good enough base to start with, though the geopolitical situation may in fact be a distant concern to our Adventurers. It does provide a lot of cultural “flavor” to draw from. And further afield? Is there an Africa with kingdoms like Egypt and Kush? A Russian princely state? A far East?

Yeah, probably, but let’s deal with what we’ve got here, first. We have more “Big Picture” questions to address first. Like what’s up with the gods. Like how magic works. Like where did that Common tongue everybody speaks come from. Like why are gold coins only worth ten times the value of silver. Like how did all the monks get to our European analog from wherever martial arts comes from. And is everywhere as ridiculously dangerous?

Yes. Yes it is.

Questions? You are invited to either leave a comment below, or ask directly through the comment form.

Heroic Explorations: Magic and Morality

A setting’s magic and cosmology are usually tightly related. Let’s deal with that.

Miracles are Everywhere

The first question we should concern ourselves with is, “how common is magic?” Let’s say, “pretty common.” Not so much that everybody’s a wizard, but maybe everybody knows one. Everybody has an idea of what magic is even if they don’t know how it works. Powerful magic is correspondingly more rare, but so is high skill in every endeavor. We don’t want it so common that magic isn’t special, but nobody gets burned as a witch for lighting a candle from across the room.

Magic helps a little with the “how do lone communities in the middle of a monster-filled wilderness survive” question, but not so much that they’re living in a post-scarcity magical economy. Everything is still more or less recognizably medieval and feudal.

Do Divine Powers Prove the Existence of Gods?

Maybe it’s the opposite. Maybe divine powers are a matter of the blessed individuals personal faith, rather than a gift from on-high. This has two implications.

  1. Faith is the belief in the absence of proof, or in the face of contradictory evidence. With absolute proof of divinity, there can be no faith. With no faith, there is no magical divine power. So there must be room for doubt in order for faith to resist doubt. That means the gods are either so subtle or inactive that they don’t really make their presences known on the earthly plain.
  2. Divine power is untied to rank within the church itself. This fits in nicely with our general attitude towards Adventurers as powerful outsiders, and gives priest characters a reason to be off adventuring rather than in some town giving sermons.

In fact, we can take it a step further and say that our established religions are largely orthopraxic. Modern religions tend to be orthodoxic – what matters is your belief, your faith. In an orthodoxic religion, like that of ancient Rome, your faith doesn’t matter… only your behavior. That makes our faithful priests more the outsiders; rank within the church is about your ability to play politics, and the highest ranks may be outright political appointments.

The Gods

But what about the gods? Well, they’re distant, if they’re real. We established earlier that the appearance of all the deadly monsters is relatively recent; maybe this is tied to the cause of the gods’ disappearance, or the result of their inaction. Or maybe they were never real to begin with.


Despite the ambiguous nature of divinity itself, morality is an objective force. There are spells and magical effects that target “good” and “evil.” And everybody has an alignment.

In Dungeons and Dragons and many other systems, this Alignment is a defini

te part of your character’s stats. You are good. You are evil. You are lawful. You are chaotic. In some interpretations alignment is fluid and based on your behavior and attitudes.

Not here, baby.

No, we’re going to say that Alignment influences your choices. It’s not absolute. Good characters are not incapable of harm, and Evil characters are not unable to be compassionate, but these tendencies are strong, known, and taken into account by the people who live here.

What is ‘Alignment?’

Alignment is a concept within the context of the setting, as are its variation. If we’re playing Dungeons and Dragons, that’s Lawful Good, Neutral Good, Chaotic Good, Neutral, Lawful Evil, Neutral Evil, and Chaotic Evil. These alignments aren’t choices that you’ve made, the result of devoting yourself to good or evil, but accidents of birth.

You were born that way. This is this setting’s astrology. The time of day, the position of the stars and planets, a lot of tiny astrological circumstances determines your Alignment. It’s not a definite thing. It’s not a divination. But it influences who you are, and who you will become. You’re not doomed to a life of evil for being born Chaotic Evil, but it might be a constant struggle against your nature.

So, Alignment is not what you have done, but what behaviors you tend towards. It’s not a compulsion, it’s an affinity.

  • Good characters feel altruistic.
  • Evil characters are selfish.
  • Lawful characters prefer order, structure, and hierarchy.
  • Chaotic characters find such restrictions stifling.

But in all cases, characters have free will, and can make conscious choices to resist (or play into) their instinctual drives.

Attitudes towards Alignment

Most people don’t know their alignment. The process to chart it out is complex and requires specialized training.  But it’s an accurate enough statement of character that people do judge one another. As a result, most people are close-mouthed about their alignment except around very close friends. To ask someone about their alignment is one of the rudest things possible, and “proper” people refuse to discuss such things in public. “Are you Neutral Evil” is the same kind of question as “Are you a liar?” and “Are you Good” is like “can you be trusted?”

Racial Alignment

Are all orcs evil? No. Just as with every other sentient creature, they are born under an Alignment Sign. Their culture and society may reward different behaviors and encourage different attitudes, but that just reinforces the fact that alignment is not an absolute predictor of attitude and behavior.
Same goes for every other race.Universality

Alignment is a literal moral force within the setting, but of course, not every culture views it the same way. Maybe they think about it in other terms, or ascribe different reasoning to the reason for these attitudes, like blood type or time of year.

But Alignment itself is a spiritual reality, and magic can and does reveal its truth.

Questions? You are invited to either leave a comment below, or ask directly through the comment form.

Heroic Explorations: Dungeon Keepers

The tradition of the Dungeon Keepers is an ancient one, at least as old as Adventuring itself, grown out of the tendencies for communities to grow around serving the needs of Adventurers.

The Role of the Keeper

Dungeon Keepers’ ultimate goal is to maximize the income Adventurers spread around their communities. Generally this entails:

Attracting Adventurers to the Site

The simplest way to attract adventurers is to simply send word to the local Adventurers’ Guild. The Guildmaster will generally work with the Keeper to make sure that the company sends Adventurers suited to the task. Skilled, but not so capable that they clear the site in one trip. The more they have to come up to heal and resupply, the more the town makes off of them, but if it’s too dangerous and they don’t make it out, nobody gets rich.

Dungeon Evaluation

Vital to this process is the ability to accurately assess a given dungeon’s danger level. Different Keepers have developed different processes for this, from careful and systemic checklists of observable qualities, to subconscious ‘gut feelings’ developed over long careers. They evaluate potential adventurers in much the same way.

Boomtown Management

Once a Dungeon Keeper knows a dungeon’s relative danger, he can estimate, roughly, how long it’ll take Adventurers to clean it out. More powerful Adventurers may handle the dungeon more quickly, but they’ll also have more coin to throw around. This lets the Keeper manage the Boomtown’s population and makeup, so that there’s enough commerce to go around.

The Keeper also does what he or she can to maintain order within the boomtown itself.

The New School: Dungeon Cultivation

Those are the traditional duties of the Keeper, but in recent years a new philosophy of Dungeon Keeper has been evolving, one that takes a more hands on approach in making sure that a Dungeon experience is suited to the Adventurers who meet it.

These Keepers go so far as to enter the Dungeons to make whatever small changes are necessary, replenishing them with guardian creatures and traps.

In extreme cases this becomes a form of Dungeon tourism, where wealthy and terminally bored aristocrats can pay for the “Adventurer” experience. They fight trained beasts, contend wih dangerous-seeming but non-lethal traps, and find specially placed trinkets, often with the assistance of a professional adventurer as guide.

Needless to say, professional adventurers and more traditional Dungeon Keepers alike don’t look upon the practice very kindly.

Questions? You are invited to either leave a comment below, or ask directly through the comment form.

Heroic Explorations: Hirelings

Adventuring is big business, dealing routinely in sums otherwise the province of small nations and nationwide merchant companies. This can have an inflationary effect on communities as adventuring companies pass through, spending more in a fortnight than would otherwise be spent in a season.

Places where adventurers congregate develop specialized economies catering to the needs of adventurers with goods and services not generally required in common society.


One industry that has grown up in the periphery of adventurers is that of the hireling. These are individuals who lack the stomach, skills, or will to be adventurers themselves, but who are brave enough to accompany them on their excursions. Hirelings act as porters, wilderness guides, torch-bearers, cooks, servants, valets, and groomsmen, as required.

The work is dangerous and many hirelings do not return, but a commoner can earn as much from a single expedition than he or she could earn in a year at an honest trade. Even more are attracted by the reflected glory of their patrons, hoping one day to join them as partners, as equals.

These hopes are rarely realized, and many Hirelings end their careers as lost bones in the bottom of some fetid pit.

Types of Hirelings

  • Valet: An adventurer’s personal assistant. They care for any horses, clean their master’s (or mistress’s) clothing, polish their armor, clean their weapons, cook for them, and see to minor arrangements in town. The equivalent of a Lord’s gentleman’s gentleman, or a Lady’s personal maid.
  • Cook: Prepares meals for the entire camp of adventurers and their hirelings. Will handle food procurement from the budget allotted by their employer.
  • Jack: Handles logistical matters for Adventurers. Will hire other hirelings, manage them, arrange for lodging, plan routes, handle the treasury, manage camp, purchase equipment and provisions, find buyers for recovered treasure, and act as liaison with local business and authority. May accompany adventurers, or simply offer his services when they come to his town or city.
  • Link Boy/Torch Bearer: Hired to accompany adventurers into dark and lonesome places, carrying a torch or lantern to light the way. A derogatory term is “trap finder.”
  • Guard: Literally hired to guard the adventurer’s camp, expedition, or less physically inclined members of the party. Better as sentries than monster-killers.
  • Entertainer: A musician, poet, jester, or acrobat present to liven up otherwise dull moments and take Adventurer’s minds off of the grimness of their business.
  • Healer: Trained in nonmagical healing techniques to keep wounds clean and provide care after battles. May also be a barber.
  • Groom: Hired to feed and care for adventurers’ mounts. Will take care of them while their bosses are down in the dungeons.
  • Guides: Locals who know the area Adventurers are expected to be traveling in. May also hunt to provide fresh meat for the expedition. May be capable woodsmen, or may just know their way around.
  • Laborers: Take care of the heavy lifting. Will carry supplies and recovered treasure, dig holes, set up camp, any other nonhazardous and unskilled work required of them.
  • Armorer: Commissioned to make field repairs of adventurers armor and weaponry. May be a bit of a luxury.

Hirelings come in a range of competency for their skill-sets. Few will willingly accompany their masters down into a dungeon, and even fewer will be effective there. Except link-boys, of course. That’s basically their only job.

Generally speaking a Jack can be hired to assemble any other desired hirelings, and once they’ve done so, will cheerfully manage them as part of their other duties. Valets (and sometimes Jacks) may be long-term employees of adventurers, but the rest are typically commissioned for a single expedition.

Questions? You are invited to either leave a comment below, or ask directly through the comment form.

Heroic Explorations: Adventure Boomtowns

When a new dungeon is discovered, merchants and craftsmen who specialize in providing goods and services to Adventurers will flock to the area, followed by merchants and craftsmen catering to the first group of entrepreneurs. These men and women will either swell the population of an existing settlement in the event that one exists within a day’s travel. If not, they will establish a semi-permanent camp of their own.

Both cases are generally referred to as ‘Boomtowns.’

What a Boomtown Offers

There are, generally, two classes of service offered in a Boomtown; those geared towards Adventurers, and those provided for the entrepreneurs. Prices are generally higher than they’d be elsewhere, as Adventurers tend to carry more wealth than the rest of the population. The exact degree of inflation depends on how much money Adventurers have withdrawn from the local dungeon.

Services for Adventurers

Prices for goods and services of primary use to Adventurers range from twice to ten times as expensive as they might be elsewhere, based on current inflation and how specialized the goods are for the adventuring trade.

  • Arms Merchants: While the boom and bust cycle of the adventure site is generally too short to have a complicated suit of armor custom made, armorers who specialize in the sale of well-made weapons and armor can make a brisk trade. More in demand are repair services and the manufacture of expendable ammunition like bolts or arrows.
  • Appraisal: Those with the skill to accurately value gems, art objects, and even magical artifacts can earn a good amount of coin, moreso if they can also act as moneychangers to buy gems, precious metals, and foreign and ancient coins at a premium.
  • Henchmen offering various services to Adventurers are a common sight, both those hoping to replace the fallen, and to convince new adventurers that they could use the help.
  • Provisioners provide the unglamourous but necessary supplies of torches, pitons, and rations to adventurers interested in long-term trips into the dungeon site.
  • Taverns provide adventuring companies with the entertainment, dry beds, and perhaps most importantly, drinks they need to unwind. In more established Boomtowns they make double as brothels. They may partner with or operate alongside stables.
  • Temples may offer worship space to the servants and faithful of various deities. These temples may be non-denominational. They may offer magical services, or simply absolution.
  • Healers, Apothecaries, Herbalists, or Barbers can offer medical care to Adventurers who manage to escape the Dungeon without the aid of magical healing.
  • Guides who know the area between the boomtown and the Dungeon, or who simply know what the boomtown itself has to offer. They may also be interpreters for obscure local languages.
  • Teamsters offer their services to transport treasure-laden and often exhausted adventurers from the Boomtown to whatever other civilization lies nearby. If the town is along a river or coast, they may instead be served by Boats for Hire.
  • Fence to handle any recovered treasure not legally traded in the host country. This is more or less an open secret, but it’s not unknown for the authorities to crack down on Boomtowns believed to trade in illegal treasure as a display of force.
  • Linkboys and Torch Bearers
  • Entertainers of various sorts to take the Adventurers minds off of their traumas.
  • Laborers and Porters and other unskilled workers offering sweat for pay.
  • Freelance Wizards offering the sorts of spells useful to adventurers. They won’t usually accompany them into dungeons, but if you need something cast quick, you have options.

Services for Merchants

Establishments designed to cater to non-adventurers will often also offer inflated prices, but not to the same degree, depending on the prosperity of the town. Without the benefit of supply chains, everything in the boomtown is imported, so prices can range from fifty-percent more to double normal.

There will be some lower-end duplicates of the services available to Adventurers — and while Adventurers won’t be forbidden from visiting, say, the laborers’ tavern, they will be strongly encouraged to drink in the more upscale (and expensive) taverns provided for them.

Many of the merchants will work in their own shops, others will build temporary housing, live out of carts or tents. There may be a hastily constructed boarding house or two.

Hunters will work the land around the area to provide any taverns or restaurants with fresh meat. They will also sell to grocers, who distribute to other merchants who do not themselves have foodstuff distributors.

Some towns will appoint a marshal to keep the peace between the different merchants and their families. In other cases, a strong willed Dungeon Keeper may act as judge or moderator.

What You Won’t Find

Boomtowns seldom last for more than a season, meaning that they usually won’t support farms or crops. Supplies used in the manufacture of goods will be shipped in from afar, which means that intermediate steps in a good’s production cycle are less likely to be found. While there will be a tavern, it is less likely that there will be a brewery or alehouse, as no grain is produced locally. While there will be a smith, there will not be a smelter, and he’ll do more repair work than manufacturing.

Questions? You are invited to either leave a comment below, or ask directly through the comment form.