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Now that my Wordpress blog at parsantium.com has been going strong for a year, I'm going to stop crossposting Parsantium content here, and go back to using this Livejournal primarily for session logs from my D&D games.

If you want to keep up to date on Parsantium: City at the Crossroads, please visit parsantium.com.

You can buy Parsantium in PDF and print online at drivethrurpg.com, paizo.com, amazon.co.uk, amazon.com and d20pfsrd.com.

If you want to support your FLGS, print copies are in stock in London's Leisure Games and Orc's Nest.

A Busy Day

Crossposted from http://parsantium.wordpress.com/blog

Today, while Kate has been working her way through her first edit of the lengthy Gazetteer chapter – at 43,000 words, it’s the biggest in the book by a long way – I’ve been drawing a map of the hideout of the infamous Golden Scimitars criminal gang in the tunnels beneath the Old Quarter. I started with a handrawn map which I scanned,  then edited and labelled using Photoshop. It’s pretty old school, but I’m pleased with how it’s turned out. This location was the site of memorable battles in both Parsantium campaigns so it’s fitting there’s a map of it in the book.

Final draft finished!

Crossposted from http://parsantium.wordpress.com/blog

This afternoon I finished my third draft of Parsantium: City at the Crossroads

With the addition of the mini 2e-style stats for each NPC (e.g. Sisethros Clovenhoof, CE male tiefling fighter 4/rogue 3) that I wrote about in this post, the word count is now over 93,000 words, although that may well come down in editing. I still have an introduction to write and I am sure that I’ll need to make some changes during editing but that’s the writing done for now. Phew!

Actually, one thing remains –I still need to change the name of the dragonborn. Just waiting for the poll to end tomorrow, although I think it’s going to be” dragonkin”….

Latest News

Crossposted from http://parsantium.wordpress.com/blog/

I've had a busy few days revising the first draft of the text and also working out a "flat plan" with Kate to see how the text will fit the pages and where the interior art will go. As things stand, the text is 90,000 words and will fill 136 pages, making the book pretty meaty in size. I've revised over 25% text so am making good progress there.

The real exciting news, though, is that I have found an excellent artist for the cover and a fantastic cartographer to draw the map! Details to follow....

Choosing the Right Art

Crossposted from http://parsantium.wordpress.com/blog/

This week I've been working my way through the text, revising what I wrote in the first draft, and incorporating feedback from Kate's initial edit and from other people who've been kind enough to read bits of the manuscript and give me their honest opinion on what works and what doesn't. Since I'm starting at the beginning, most of this material is stuff I wrote way back in January or February, so I'm checking that the material is consistent with what I've written more recently, making changes where necessary.

I'm also starting to think about the layout, now that the first draft is done, and the art I need. The whole book is going to be longer than I initially expected, likely around 120 pages which means I am going to have to put more interior art in than I planned. Given that my budget is limited, some of this will have to be stock art or out of copyright illustrations, but I am going to need to commission some new art too. I want to make sure I choose the right pictures to include, so have a question for you:

If you're reading a city sourcebook, what kind of art do you find most useful or relevant ? Drawings of NPCs? Illustrations of important locations? Street scenes? Events from history? Let me know in the comments!

And if you are an artist who does black & white illustrations, feel free to get in touch!

taken by Richard Green & Kate Berens

Naming Imaginary Places

Crossposted from http://parsantium.wordpress.com/blog/

Today I started revising my first draft of the Parsantium: City at the Crossroads book. I've been through some of the notes, feedback and emails I'd gathered in the five months or so it took me to write the first draft, and have sorted them into some semblance of order.

I haven't touched the text yet, apart from one thing I've been putting off. I needed to change the placeholder names I've been using for the lands surrounding Parsantium since 2008. This was a pretty big deal – I like these names and the players in my campaign had got to know them too. But they needed to go, because like many DMs, I'd nicked them.

Batiara is the name of the Italy-like land in Guy Gavriel Kay's excellent Sarantine Mosaic series. and Rhodias is its capital, from the same books. Sahasra is the name of a cool Indian-style campaign setting from Dog Soul Publishing. Akhran is the name of a god in Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman's Rose of the Prophet series. These are very cool names. When you say them out loud, they don't sound weird, and the players don't giggle.

The new names I've gone with aren't that different – if they were, I'd probably end up confusing myself! Let me know what you think of them. Batiara is now Bathura, so Parsantium was once part of the Bathuran Empire.  Rhodias is now Rezana. Sahasra is now Sampur. I haven't changed Akhran yet. I toyed with Aqhran and Akerhan but both looked wrong to me. Any suggestions, gratefully received!

While I'm on the subject of names, it would be remiss of me not to let you know about a fantastic site – I can't remember who put me on to this, but I've used this website time and time again to name NPCs in Parsantium and in my D&D games.

How do you come up with names for your games?

New Parsantium website now live!

Spurred on by the WordPress course I am attending at City Lit, I've turned my dormant WordPress blog into a website for Parsantium: City at the Crossroads. So far, I've found WordPress both easy and fun to use, and I'm pleased with how the site looks. If you have time, do pop over there and let me know what you think.

The new site is the official home of the forthcoming Parsantium city sourcebook and I'll be posting updates on my progress with the book there. I'll keep crossposting stuff here on LJ too, though, and this blog, which I have grown very fond of, will still have write ups of the games I'm running and playing in, as well as general posts about RPGs and other things.

First Draft Done!

Very happy to report the first draft of Parsantium: City at the Crossroads is finished! Coming in at 87,800 words it's a lot longer than I initially thought but I've tried to do each aspect of the city justice.

I think I might take tomorrow off and prepare for my D&D Next game, then get stuck into the revised draft from Friday ;)

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The Paragon Clockwork Mage / Kobold Press

When Brian Liberge, Paul Baalham, John Pope and I wrote Defenders of Midgard we ran out of space for all the cool ideas we had, and ended up not including paragon powers and features for the clockwork and glyph magic mage schools. We've put this right and the first of two articles is now on the KQ website:

The Paragon Clockwork Mage / Kobold Press

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Check it out and let us know what you think!

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This week I’ve been writing more about the important organisations and power groups in Parsantium. In my last diary, I talked about the Hidden Quarter gangs and the Cult of the Black Mother. Since then, my attention has turned to knightly orders and fighting brotherhoods, including the Axe-Bearing Guard and the Platinum Knights, as well as the less than honourable Crusading Brothers of the Sword who have turned to piracy to keep their coffers full.

The Axe-Bearing Guard are based on the historical Varangian Guard, mercenaries from Scandanavia who formed an elite bodyguard for the ruler of Byzantium. Unswerving in their loyalty to the Basileus, these Northerners fight with reckless ferocity, not seeming to notice their wounds in battle. These days, being in the Axe-Bearing Guard is pretty dull – mostly they guard doors in the Great Palace and escort the Basileus and the Royal Family to and from services at the Holy Basilica – prompting some of them to leave and become adventurers.

VarangianArtistsConception

The Platinum Knights are paladins of Themecia, goddess of justice, protection, nobility & honour, sworn to protect the god’s clerics and followers from harm and to mete out justice to evildoers. From their chapter house in Parsantium, the Celestial Bastion, the Knights support the Parsantine army in fighting back raiding humanoids. Some choose instead to become Platinum Knights-Errant. These knights are free to wander the lands, taking up honourable and chivalric quests to fight evil. All of the Knights follow a chivalric code:

The Code of Themicia

Protect the weak and the vulnerable

Live and die with honour

Fight for justice and welfare for all

Punish the evildoer

Respect and obey your superiors

Guard the honour of your brethren and sistren

Do battle bravely and fairly, eschewing trickery and deceit

Always speak the truth

Never leave a quest unfinished


I’ve also written a fair bit about Parsantium’s powerful guilds. These organisations are often at each other’s throats over goods and services where their spheres of influence overlap, leading to street fighting, arson and sabotage. Rival guilds sometimes call on the gangs of the Hidden Quarter to do their fighting for them, complicating the situation further. Other guilds are corrupt or have something to hide; some, like the Entertainers and the Vintners, just want to get on with making as much gold as possible. The idea with the guilds, as with the rest of the book, is to provide plenty of cool adventure hooks for DMs and players, as well as adding some verisimilitude.

Next up, I’m going to detail the noble families of Parsantium. Then, it’s on to the gods, the last chapter of the book. The current word count is 76,500 so my latest estimate on the final total is 81,000. 
This week I’ve been working on the Organizations chapter of the Parsantium sourcebook. This section includes a number of power groups, noble families, city guilds and other organizations that have a big impact on the city. Some are downright evil, some are goodly and well-intentioned, but most sit somewhere in between the two extremes. Many of these will be familiar to those of you who have played in the Parsantium campaign – the Platinum Knights of Bahamut, the Esoteric Order of the Blue Lotus, the Golden Scimitars and the Dockside Crew – but some are new like the Brotherhood of Spite, a cabal of gnomes who compete against each other to see who can inflict the deadliest pranks on the big folk, and the Fellowship of Venturers Bold, an adventurer’s guild. In theory, PCs could join any of these groups, although some might be a better idea than others!

The gangs of the Hidden Quarter were fun to write about. I had a lot of material on the Golden Scimitars and Orloch Scragmane’s Mangy Curs already but virtually nothing on Avishandu, the Dock Ward Bosses and the Lamplighters, and I’ve added in a guild of master thieves called the Felonious Larcenists, as well as a Tiangaon tong called the Eight Scorpion who run lotus dens in the Temple Ward. And, of course, the evil Heinsoo is in this section too.

Today I’ve been writing about the Cult of the Black Mother – the secret religious sect that worships the dark Sahasran goddess, Kali. I won’t deny the influences of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom here – you can’t have a Kali cult without thuggee – but things aren’t as straight forward as they first seem. Next, I’ve got the fighting orders like the Platinum Knights and Axe-Bearing Guard to do, plus the guilds and the noble families. And then some rakshasas.

Kali

The book is now over 72,000 words so my revised estimate of 75,000 words might need looking at again – I’ll probably hit this word count before I finish the rest of the organisations and I’ll need 2,000 words at least for the gods. On that subject, I am thinking of taking a leaf out of Saladin Ahmed’s book – he wrote the excellent Throne of the Crescent Moon – and going with one god for the Akhrani, rather than coming up with yet another pantheon. I reckon this could provide an interesting contrast to the many gods of Sahasra and fits well with the Arabian flavour. Let me know what you think.
This week I finished off the last few locations in the Old Quarter, including several places in the Poor Ward which have appeared in both campaigns such as the Winking Vixen brothel and the Floating Palace gambling hall. It’s been interesting going back to revise these descriptions as they were some of the first things I wrote for Parsantium, way back in 2008!

With the city wards all done, I moved on to the Hidden or Fourth Quarter – the ruins of the older city of Dhak Janjua buried under the modern day one, the sewers, ghoul tunnels and other underground locations. This was a lot of fun to write about and the section includes the infamous Orloch Scragmane’s underground slave market (from the second ever Parsantium adventure and seen again recently at #UKT4), the headquarters of the Golden Scimitars criminal gang and a cool cave temple to the Black Mother, Kali. The idea behind the Hidden Quarter is to give DMs and players who like to have plenty of dungeons in their D&D a means of doing this. The locations are all connected to the city above and the organisations I’m going to be writing about next, hopefully making it easy for the DM to come up with exciting adventures that combine intrigue and roleplaying with some entertaining dungeon bashing.

I’ve also written a short section about the places just outside the city walls, including another old favourite, the Forest of the Dead, the city’s cemetery where the priests of Soranus, god of the dead, stand guard against any who would disturb the resting places of the deceased. I’ll be writing about the Feyshore Forest as well as it’s just too cool not to include in the book.

The picture below is a postcard I bought in Istanbul of the Mosque of Suleyman and its graveyard. I think this style of interior art would work well – just need to find someone who can draw like this....

Forest of the Dead

The word count stands at 65,600 so I reckon I have about 10,000 more to write on the organisations and the gods before the first draft is done. Then Kate will give it all a good read through and I’ll start the process of revising everything prior to editing and the initial layout.
Since my last design diary, I’ve almost – but not quite – finished writing about the eleven wards of the city. I’ve got a few more locations in the Poor Ward to write about and then that’s it. I’m also very pleased that the first draft now stands at over 60,000 words!

Once the city wards are done, I’ve still got the Hidden Quarter beneath the city to write about – home to the Golden Scimitars, ghouls, derro necromancers, underground slave markets and more cool stuff. I need to write a short section about places just outside the city too like the Feyshore Forest. Then, it’s on to organizations (criminal gangs, fighting orders, guilds, nobles etc) and the gods. The gods need a lot of work – I already talked about needing to sort the Batiaran pantheon out here but I also need to revise the gods of Akhran (borrowed from Al-Qadim in the original campaign) and Tiangao (borrowed from Dragon Fist) as well as tidying up the Vedic gods I’m using for Sahasra. Talking of which, I still need to come up with new names for Sahasra and Batiara too – something to tackle in the revised draft, I reckon!

The stuff I’ve been writing about recently has been the Artisans (formerly Makers) Ward, the Temple (formerly Faiths) Ward and the Garden Ward. The Garden Ward was fun to do as I got to write up Parsantine versions of a couple of cool places we visited on our trip to India in 2007. That’s how long some of this stuff has been kicking around in my head before it finally gets committed to text in a computer file. The Observatory is one of these locations, based on the very cool Jantar Mantars in Jaipur and Delhi:

The Observatory was built by the great sultan Hulieman as part of the many public works that took place during his thirty year reign. Hulieman was very interested in astronomy and astrology, and wanting to use the movement of the stars and planets to predict important events in the future that would affect the city, including wars, earthquakes, political upheaval and famines. The construction of the Observatory was overseen by a vanaran mantrika (sorcerer) named Vipinbehari and carried out by numerous human and dwarven masons.

The Observatory consists of sixteen huge astronomical instruments for measuring time, predicting eclipses and monitoring the positions of stars and other celestial bodies. Each instrument is a large stone structure bearing an astronomical scale; the tallest, the Samrat Yantra or Supreme Instrument is a 90 feet high sundial which can tell the time with pinpoint accuracy and is also used to predict crop forecasts. The other instruments include the Jai Prakash Yantra, two sunken hemispheres which map out the heavens, the Unnatansha Yantra, used to determine the position of the stars and planets, and the Rashivalaya Yantra, composed of twelve pieces, each of which represent a different sign of the zodiac, and are used to draw up horoscopes.

The instruments are located in a walled compound amid trees and grass, allowing visitors to walk amongst them.  Admission is normally restricted to students from the Scholasticia (who take some of their lessons here) and members of the Esoteric Order of the Blue Lotus. The current Royal Astronomer is a male gnome called Barreus Pogor who dresses in black robes and hat embroidered with stars and moons in silver thread. Barreus is a scholarly wizard of some renown who specialises in divination magic. His recent observations of the alignment of the stars and planets indicate that a terrible evil is soon to return to Parsantium. Are the stars right for Vrishabha to be freed from his icy prison? Barreus has tried to warn the Basileus but has yet to be taken seriously.


As you can imagine, coming up with new locations, changing names and moving things if I’ve realised they don’t make sense where they are has played havoc with the city map. So far I’ve been scribbling over a printed out version of the most recent campaign map (see below).  Once the first draft is done, things should be firmed up a bit more and I’ll be able to revise the map properly, making sure I have a complete list of places to include before I brief the cartographer.

Amended map-p1
Since my last design diary, I’ve completed the Mercantile Quarter and two wards of the Old Quarter, so the Gazetteer chapter is about two thirds done and the whole book is over 52,000 words! A noted game designer – it might have been Ray Winniger in his awesome Dungeoncraft articles for Dragon – once wrote that you should only design the stuff you need for your game. I followed this advice when I was only running Parsantium for my game groups and it’s a top tip if that’s what you’re doing. However, if you’re writing a city sourcebook for others to use, you need to provide at least some information on all the areas of the city. As I’ve been writing about the Mercantile Quarter and the Caravans Ward in particular, I’ve had to write nearly everything from scratch as only one location, the Curio Cabinet in Tinker’s Alley, had actually appeared in my campaign.

I’m now on to the familiar streets of the rest of the Old Quarter which have seen a lot of action for both the Juma Gang and the Luminous Heroes of the Ironcrags. This has meant revisiting and rewriting stuff I first wrote back in 2008, including the boat town of Flotsam, the Black Dolphin’s Wake and the slums where Orloch Scragmane rules his criminal empire. It’s been a lot of fun. Here’s the section on the Dock Ward slums from the first draft:

The Slums
This is a dirty place in the worst part of the city, best avoided by anyone who isn’t desperate enough to call the slums home. Most of the  dark and dank buildings are either completely derelict or half-way there. The streets and alleys are close together and very narrow, with the top storeys of the blocks on opposite sides of the street leaning in and nearly touching, making walking below feel claustrophobic and oppressive. Disease is common, and the streets are full of flea-ridden cats and troops of mangy blue-bottomed monkeys hunting for something to eat. The whole district is smoky due to the fires people use to cook on, but the smells of food (usually lentils or rice with some scraps of meat, fish or vegetables and a pinch of spice) does little to mask the stench of unwashed bodies and waste. The residents of the slums are the dregs of society and hate the world for it.

The decrepit apartment buildings are owned by a series of ruthless “slumlords” who charge cheap rents to the tenants but do nothing to maintain the property. Roofs leak, mould grows on the walls, stairways are unsafe, and all types of vermin from rats to giant centipedes and spiders are rife. Many of these slumlords are wealthy nobles and merchants living in the Imperial Quarter or elsewhere in the Old Quarter, but some are also Bosses, crime lords based in the ward.

The most notorious of these Bosses is the gnoll slaver, Orloch Scragmane, nicknamed the Undisputed King of the Slums. The gnoll gangster has his headquarters in a tenement building on Snail Street, protected by a barbed iron gate and guarded by his gnoll pack mates, known as the Mangy Curs. As well as exploiting the poor tenants living in his apartments, Orloch is involved in extortion, kidnapping and murder, and runs an underground slave market based in the Hidden Quarter where he sells human, dwarf, elf and halfling slaves to ruthless brothel keepers from the Poor Ward’s red-light district, evil necromancers and various other dodgy characters. Orloch buys his slaves from pirates like the notorious bugbear swashbuckler Captain Ferrukk and from land-based gangs like the Dockside Crew who aren’t above knocking a few dockworkers out with a blow to the head as they wander drunkenly home from the pub. He is over seven feet tall with a flame red mane and dozens of tattoos. He wields an execution axe in combat and there is nothing he likes more than inflicting terrible pain on his enemies.

Next door to Orloch’s HQ, is a chapel dedicated to Pelor called St Carinus’ Redemption. The kindly cleric, Brother Jerome, an elderly silver-haired, softly spoken man, wanting to do some good for the desperate souls in the slums, runs a soup kitchen for the needy out of the church hall. Some of the Dock Ward’s most accomplished thieves and scoundrels are regulars here; Brother Jerome hope that they will step out of the darkness and into the light at some point in the future.


I also have a question to ask. Since I want Parsantium to work with any edition of D&D including 4e, Pathfinder and D&D Next, what is the best way to indicate the level and/or class of NPCs, if at all? I haven’t included this information at all so far which is how Menzoberranzan, City of Intrigue does it but I could describe each NPC as an apprentice, journeyman or master (as per The Pirate’s Guide to Freeport) or even list a level & class. The drawback with the latter approach is that 4e NPCs don’t really have classes and 4e is on a 1-30 level spectrum compared to 1-20 for Pathfinder and D&D Next. My inclination is to leave this information out entirely but I do see how it could be useful to know roughly what spells a cleric can cast for example. Any thoughts or suggestions greatly appreciated!

When we did the Kickstarter campaign for the Midgard Bestiary for 4th Edition, Brian Liberge and I needed to provide some extras for the higher level backers. The obvious answer was to provide some extra 4e monsters so we looked through the long list of Midgard monsters that we just didn’t have the room for in the original bestiary and picked our 12 favourites to go in a “bonus bestiary”.

We had to turn things round very quickly so we enlisted the help of Paul Baalham and picked four each. I can’t remember how we divided them up between ourselves, but I was very happy with the ones I got to work on: the pig-faced infernal deal-making chort devil (a level 22 skirmisher), the hideous oculo swarm (a level 6 skirmisher capable of removing the eyes of its victims) and the goat-horned stuhac (a level 18 solo brute that wears the woven ligaments and tendons of its victims as garments). Best of all is the kikimora, a kind of “reverse brownie” that persecutes the owners of the house it lives in, smashing stuff and making the place filthy, rather than tidying up and polishing their shoes. As well as these four, the book contains another eight awesome monsters, including the multiplying doppelrat, the freaky looking strangling watcher and the witchlight, a glowing orb familiar.

The Bonus Bestiary is now available at drivethrurpg.com for just $2.99 (or £1.95) and has already had a five star review!

Since my last design diary I’ve made some good progress and the manuscript now stands at over 45,000 words. If I had to guess, it looks like the whole book could be around 70,000 words – as long as the Midgard Bestiary for 4th Edition. Today I finished writing the first draft of the Imperial Quarter – this is the northern, Batiaran half of the city and includes locations such as the Great Palace, the Hippodrome, the Curia, the University and the homes of the great and the good. It’s been a lot of fun to write and, as I said in my last diary, most of it is new as neither group of PCs in my two Parsantium campaigns has spent much time there. I’ve also started coming up with some new gods for the Batiarans – the Batiaran gods in my own campaign were a mixture of the official D&D gods (Bahamut, Pelor) and the pantheon in Aaron Loeb’s superb Book of the Righteous. I’ve a lot more to do but I have at least nailed down Voltan, God of Fire and Smiths and his consort Dorna the Fire Keeper, Goddess of Hearth and Home – both much revered by dwarves – and Amphetia, Queen of the Sea. Overall, the Imperial Quarter has come in at over 11,000 words, with each ward covered in about 2,200 words. The Mercantile Quarter is much smaller – it’s only one ward – but I would imagine the Old Quarter will be a similar length so it’s probably going to make sense to divide the Gazetteer into three separate chapters.

Anyway, here’s one of the introductions to a ward, in this case the renamed Jewel Ward, now the Harbour Ward. Does this do enough give you an idea of what it’s like to wander around this part of the city? What else could be added?


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Parsantium Design Diary No.8 The University

I haven’t written a design diary for a while, but that’s partly because I’ve been busy writing the actual book! As some of you know I’ve left my job at Waterstones, so I have a unique opportunity to write full time for a while and get the book finished much quicker than originally planned. In the last three weeks I’ve completed the third chapter, entitled Running a Campaign, and have moved on to the Gazetteer in which I get to write about all the cool locations the PCs can visit in the city.

Running a Campaign includes the PC backgrounds I wrote about last time. I gave these to the players at UKT4 when I ran my playtest game there and everyone seemed to find one that fitted their character without too much trouble. Seeing as there were a couple of left field PCs including a gnome bard and a pixie warlord called Appleblossom, this was a good sign! The players also enjoyed the setting, and got their heads around it pretty quickly – another big positive – and it was great to get feedback from people who haven’t played in Parsantium before.

I also wrote some of the key themes for a Parsantium campaign in this chapter, such as going up against the gangs of the Hidden Quarter or delving into the city’s ancient past. A Parsantium campaign doesn’t need to have a recurring theme – it can be a series of unconnected adventures – but one or two themes can help give the campaign a bit of focus. The other sections in these chapter are Facilities & Services, Getting Around and Random Events. I had a lot of fun with the latter – I loved the events section in the back of 1st Edition Oriental Adventures and I’ve tried to do something similar for Parsantium so the city feels like a living, breathing place where stuff happens even when the PCs aren’t up to much. This chapter is just over 7,000 words, again coming in longer than I expected. I’m not worrying about this though – I’m going to keep writing and trim later if I need to.

With the first three chapters finished, my attention has turned to the massive Gazetteer chapter which will take up a large part of the final book. I’ve started off with the Imperial Quarter which is interesting for me to work on – players in my Parsantium campaigns will know the vast majority of the action has taken place in the Old Quarter – so my notes on the Imperial Quarter are pretty sketchy in places. It’s coming along nicely though – I finished the Civic Ward and started on the Emerald Ward today. As a sneak preview, here’s the first draft entry for the university district – some proper names (like Tinel) will be changing. Comments welcome!

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Here are Six Things You Need to Know About Parsantium from the first draft of the introductory chapter of the Parsantium city sourcebook. Parsantium is a complex city, but the following points encapsulate the main features of this campaign setting. For an update on progress with the book, please click here to read my design diaries.

1.  A Melting Pot
Parsantium is a city where trade routes meet and where several cultures collide. It is a cosmopolitan setting, inspired by the real-world city of Byzantium which also sits astride two continents, and allows the DM to incorporate characters, monsters and magic from the tales of the Arabian Nights, ancient India, and the Far East into his game alongside the more traditional European fantasy elements.

2.  A Divided City
The layout of the city and the fact that the Batiaran rich tend to live on the north west side of the strait while the poor (many of Sahasran or Akhrani origin) live on the south east side makes Parsantium a divided city, both physically and culturally. This is made worse by restrictions on commoners from the Old Quarter visiting the Imperial Quarter – they need a pass which is only issued for those on “special business”. Unsurprisingly, there is a thriving black market dealing in stolen or forged passes, and many would-be burglars disguise themselves as nobility to sneak into the Imperial Quarter. However, since many of the residents of the Old Quarter are Sahasran in ancestry and therefore darker-skinned than the Batiarans of the Imperial Quarter, some of the guards are known to make racist assumptions about who is a commoner and needs to show a pass.

3.  Intrigue Abounds
The rich and powerful inhabitants of Parsantium are always scheming, and the presence of rakshasas in the city makes it difficult to know who to trust. As the player characters gain levels and grow in influence, they are sure to attract the attentions of those who seek to manipulate and use them for their own ends.

4.  A Dark Past
Parsantium is built on the ancient ruins of Dhak Janjua, ruled long ago by the rakshasa rajah and ruthless tyrant Vrishabha. Slain by a great hero, his reincarnated form is encased in ice atop the Pillars of Heaven Mountains far to the south east. Perhaps one day his disciples will find a way to free him from his prison so he might reclaim his throne.

5.  The Fourth Quarter
The cellars, cisterns and twisting tunnels and passages of the Hidden Quarter are supposedly ruled by the “Fourth Tribune”, a sinister crime lord and the “Boss of All Bosses”. Certainly, criminal gangs such as the Golden Scimitars, slavers and necromancers use the catacombs to conduct their evil business and make their way around beneath the city streets without detection by the City Watch. Monsters live here too, and in the deep places forgotten since the heyday of Dhak Janjua, dark things slither.

6.  Dozens of Adventuring Possibilities
The city (and this book) contain enough adventure hooks and potential patrons and adversaries to keep most adventuring groups busy throughout their careers, without them having to leave the city.

Note that some names are placeholders and need to change (e.g. Batiara, Sahasra).

Let me know what you think!

Parsantium Design Diary No.7 PC Backgrounds

Since my last design diary, I’ve written two more sections of the Parsantium city sourcebook – one on trade and currency, and one on PC backgrounds.

Getting the Trade and Currency section done meant I’d finished the massive Life in the City chapter – an important milestone as this chapter is over 9,000 words and also covers Government & Politics, the army, Law & Order, Culture & Customs. For the Trade section, I wrote about the overland and maritime trade routes in and out of Parsantium, what goods Parsantium imports from where, duties and smuggling, and the city’s currency. It would be great to include a map showing where Parsantium is situated in the wider world in the book, like the original campaign map here, although I’m not sure I’ll have the budget. Also, since many DMs will probably use the city in their own campaigns, this may not be necessary. Let me know if you think this kind of map would be useful in the comments.

Chapter 3, Running a Parsantium Campaign, kicks off with a selection of PC backgrounds, designed to help players root their characters in the setting at the start of a game. My outline had a target for this section of 750 words but it ended up being over 2,700! I’ve included 16 backgrounds, including Arcane Apprentice, Feytouched, Gladiator and Merchant. Each has a description and includes one or two mechanical benefits, designed to work with either 4e and Pathfinder, and roughly equivalent to a 4e background benefit or a Pathfinder trait. Here’s a couple of examples:


Old Quarter Commoner

You come from a poor family struggling to make ends meet in the Dock Ward or Poor Ward of the Old Quarter. You might be a Sahasran, belonging to the shudra caste, or a half-orc. Either way, you work as a labourer of some sort, although if you’re a half-orc you might do an “unclean” job such as  tanning leather, slaughtering animals or undertaking. Alternatively, you could be a street orphan, running errands for local merchants and acting as a tout or unofficial guide. Whatever you do, it’s an honest living, and you are part of a community of folk in the same situation, meaning that you all look out for each other.  Life is hard, though, and you earn a pittance. If someone offered you a way to climb up the social ladder, you’d probably grab it with both hands.

Benefits: You gain a +2 bonus to Diplomacy and Insight/Sense Motive checks when dealing with other commoners


Platinum Knight-Errant

You belong to a fighting order of clerics, knights and paladins acting as the “sword and shield” of the Church of Bahamut, sworn to protect the god’s clergy and followers from harm. You were trained in the art of battle, and in the chivalric code of your order at the Celestial Bastion, the Platinum Knight’s chapterhouse in Parsantium’s Grand Ward. Your organisation helped Corandias the Stubborn recapture the city from the hobgoblins in the Great Crusade 100 years ago, and continues to defend Parsantium from her enemies when called upon to do so by the Basileus to this day. While most Platinum Knights are required to remain on duty in the chapterhouse, as a Knight-Errant you are free to wander the city and beyond in search of honourable adventures and quests in which you are expected to prove your chivalric values, protect the innocent and mete out justice.

Benefits: You gain a +1 bonus to attack rolls against hobgoblins and orcs, and a +1 bonus to Religion knowledge checks.


I’m going to be testing these out at UKT4. Players in the Parsantium game I am running there will be able to add one of these backgrounds to the 4th level PCs they bring along to the tweetup or to the pregens I’ve built. It will be interesting to see what people make of them and if any key archetypes or character types are missing.

Next up: Facilities and Services in the city. I want to keep this edition neutral so I’ll need to think about how I reference temples where clerical healing/raise dead is available and other NPC spellcasting. After this, I’ll be writing about campaign arcs and themes. Although I have a lot of ideas for this, I reckon this could be a section I’ll be coming back to again and again as I write more of the book.

Oh yeah, and the manuscript has gone over 30,000 words! I think 40,000 words for the whole book is looking on the low side ;)
I didn’t write a design diary last weekend for the simple reason that lots of stuff going on in real life got in the way of me writing much of the book. In the last week, though, I’ve written about 2,500 words, bringing the total word count for the book up to 26,000 of the 40,000 I’ve set myself as a target. This is a bit misleading because a fairly large proportion of those 26,000 words are unedited write-ups of city locations from my campaign notes that I’ve pasted into the manuscript. These will need a lot of work, and some of these entries may not even make the final sourcebook.

The 2,500 words I’ve written this week have been on Festivals and Entertainment – both fun sections to write. I’ve written about eight important festivals in the Parsantine calendar including the Victory Games (which players in my Black Horse campaign will know well since their PCs took part in them) and the Festival of Starlings, inspired by a Chinese legend that features in a novel I keep trying to track down, David Hughart’s Bridge of Birds.  Researching this section led me to an article online about the crazy Turkish sport of camel wrestling which I knew I needed to include as soon as I read it! I have 900 words written on the festivals but I think I could do with adding two or three more so will keep thinking about this subject as I continue onwards.

The Entertainment section includes an overview of the all the stuff Parsantines like to do for fun. There’s a section on chariot racing – the city is obsessed with the races and the rivalry between the factions has triggered fights and rioting in the past – as well as gladiators and the theatre. I’ve also written about inns and taverns, bathhouses (another Parsantine institution), gambling, prostitution and drugs.

Next up, hopefully today, I’ll finish off the Life in the City chapter with the last section on Trade & Currency. I don’t think there’s room in the book to cover the world around Parsantium so I’ll write about the various trade routes – to and from the Sunset Lands, the Caliphate of Akhran, Sahasra and Tiangao – in this section to show how important the city is as a trading centre and write a bit about these distant lands. The whole chapter will be around 9,000 words so it’s an important one and will be great to have the first draft done on this.

Hopefully my wife kb98, a talented professional editor, will be able to start looking at the first two chapters in the next week or two as I start working on chapter 3, Running a Parsantium Campaign. This chapter will include stuff like PC backgrounds to make a regular D&D PC fit better into Parsantium, campaign story arcs and themes, random city events and so on. My plan is to get the backgrounds done for the UK D&D Tweetup 4 on 16th March so I can use them for the PCs in the adventure I’m running. I’m also thinking about including information on facilities and services in this chapter – how much it costs to live in each ward, where to sell loot and NPC spellcasting. Any suggestions on what you’d like to see here as a DM would be appreciated!

Think I’ve rambled on enough for now. I’d better get back to writing the actual book…..

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Richard Green

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