Earthwardens & Dragonlords

Two of my favorite elements of Shadow World are the Earthwardens and the Dragonlords. Both groups represent incredibly mysterious but powerful influences in Shadow Worlds history. Until the Xa’ar supplement, which delved into the origins of the Earthwardens in more depth, we only knew that both groups sprung up in the early Interregnum without further explanation.

However, it was the Dragonlords that really fired up my imagination but while they are ubiquitous in Shadow Worlds history, there has never been an “origin story”. It wasn’t until the Xa’ar supplement that a solution clicked in my head and tied up quite a few loose ends. I would cite the following excerpts from various SW books:

One such group actually became trapped in the event horizon of a singularity and suffered a time dilation of many thousands of years before they were able to escape.

These K’ta’viiri built enchanted places of guardianship to help protect these weaker races, and came to them as teachers and counselors. They would become the Earthwardens, and they inhabited the Shadow World for a period sometime between 70 and 50 thousand years ago, though almost certainly not for that entire period. Apparently after a time they felt they had done all they could, and departed again for space. However many of their structures survive, some of an enchanted stone, and some—like the Coral Roads—are living legacies.

Note: This establishes that the Earthwardens are actually Ka’ta’viir that returned to Kulthea during the middle of the Interregnum period.

c. 1500: Founding of the Four Orders (Elder, Oak, Nya, Thorn), Elven animistic groups dedicated to protecting the natural order and combating demonic and other evil forces (demons remain relatively common,trapped in this plane after the Wars of Dominion; and within a few centuries the order will face the threat of the Unlife). The original founders are four remaining Earthwardens who elect to stay behind. They do not divulge their true nature to their Elven followers; nor do they fully reveal the powers of the Isle of Lost Magic. They teach the ways of nature and related professions. Each possesses a staff of the named order, and they (and their Elven successors) are called the Guardians
of those staves.

Notes: This establishes that not ALL of the Earthwardens left as mentioned in the first section above. Not only did they establish the Four Orders, there is a Druidic/Animistic legacy created.

re: Taranians. Over time they added settlements on other continents
and connected to them via a high-speed underground rail system, which they referred to as the Subshuttle. Exactly why they went to the expense and trouble of constructing a tunnel system under the ground and beneath the oceans is unclear, but it is believed that either the skies were unsafe because of a proliferation of hostile creatures and/or beings,

Note: Something was happening on the surface that motivated the Taranians (and Worim) to build underground. Were Dragons ruling the sky and the lands of Kulthea?

There were only a few hundred of them, along with
mates and offspring, but they decided to remain on
Kulthea and do their best to restore their world to its
former beauty. They would keep a low profile, remain
aloof from politics and power, but they would aid the
fragile peoples in need where they could. They built
protected roadways, and constructed magical guardians
who could be summoned to fight against the terrible
demons that now walked the earth. They kept apart
from the Jinteni and Wôrim and the Elves for the most
part, and faded into legend as those civilizations rose.
Like all the K’ta’viiri, the Earthwardens were powerful
masters of Arcane Essænce, but in particular they were
able to tap the Channeling power from the earth like
few others
. Thus they had great ability to manipulate
nature as only the most talented Animists can today.

Also, when they returned to Kulthea, they abandoned
most technology in favor of Magic—though both were
somewhat unreliable in the fi rst fi fty millennia or so
after the fall of the empire.

Notes: The Earthwardens went from Arcane magic to “Channeling from the Earth”. This should not be confused with Channeling from Orhan as it appears the Althans and Ka’ta’viir were unaware or perplexed by the Lords. “Channeling from the Earth” should be seen as a tapping of primal power from the planet: Flows, Foci etc.

Earthwardens, who spent most of their energy on rebuilding the planet’s
ecosystem. They received unexpected help in that from the Fey Folk of Orhan: Naiads, Dryads, Oceanids and others. They came to respect these spirits and work in cooperation with them, though even they never fully understood the nature of these ephemeral creatures, created by the hidden Lords of Orhan.

Notes: Again, we see a collaboration between the Earthwardens and “Fey” powers. Very Animistic/Druidic.

Around 40,000 years before the beginning of the
Second Era, most of the Earthwardens decided that
their work was done, and wanted to resume their travels.
Their ship had remained in orbit during this rebuilding,
and they hoped to embark on a great journey to another
galaxy. A handful—and their descendants—remained
on the Shadow World to continue their efforts. A few
survive on Kulthea to this day
, but most have retreated
to a simple, reclusive way of life.
Some like to refer to
themselves as ‘The Elders.’
One is the Storm Wizard;
he was always the most talented at creating magical
golems.

Notes. Quite revelatory! Here we see conclusively that “some” Earthwardens stay behind.

[ Andraax gives one of the Dragon Rings, the
Daath Leerssoi (K. “Maker of the Shadow Drakes”) to
Tev Yu’um, a Lotana Mentalist who is also a clanlord
in the T’sai steppelands of NE Mulira. This ring
allows Tev to assume the form of a blue Air Drake.

It becomes apparent to Tev over the centuries that
the ring has other powers than allowing its wearer to
assume dragon-form: he gains knowledge of the Great
Drakes—including their language—and is granted a
lifespan akin to those creatures.]

Note: The Daath Leerssoi are basically the opposite of the Dragon Helms. They allow mortals to assume the shape of Great Dragons (while the Helms allow the Dragons to assume mortal form). But this is not just a physical change but imparting of knowledge and language.

[Yu’um knows that people are growing suspicious of
his secretive ways and mysteriously long ‘lives,’ and he
fears that he is losing the ability to control himself in
Dragon-form
.

Note. Using the Dragon ring risks him being subsumed by “Dragon-form”; becoming more creature. We should assume that this risk exists for the other rings as well. Are some Dragons in SW actually mortals lost to their rings power?

A Blue Dragon is spotted several times …. [It is in fact Yaalc Muul awakened, but his mind is unstable: most of the time he does not remember that he is actually human.]

And:

In dragon form now he is more animal than man, and he rarely reverts to his human state any more except to go back into slumber.

Note: Again, there is this idea that the transformation into Dragon kind subsumes a “humans” personality and memories.

Tev Yu’um was given one of the Daath
Leerssoi (K. “Maker of the Shadow Drakes”) by Andraax.
It is a ring that allows a human to assume the form of a
dragon, with virtually all the powers and abilities of that
dragon.
He was given the Kodul ring, which transformed
him to a Blue Air Drake: a fl ying dragon, but with a
breath weapon comparable to those of the Great Drakes

Note: Here is is even more clear that the rings are akin to the Dragonhelms and the powers of a Great Drake.

Ssoiayig Saer (K. ‘Caves of the Drakes’ Birthplace’), the ancient
secret breeding caves overlooking the Silver Scales Lake.

Note: A clue to the origin of Drakes? Does this ancient place preclude the idea that Dragons were another experiment of the Lords of Essence?

[The Dragon Helms are completed, and the Six gather. What
they do not know is that Krelij, using the knowledge gleaned
from Oran Jatar, has also made six rings
. These rings, which he
names the Daath Leerssoi (K. “Makers of the Shadow Drakes”),
allow a human wearer to assume the powers of a dragon.

Note: The Rings are created at the same time as the Helms by Krelij.

So what should we make of all this?

  1. Dragons, Great Drakes and Dragonlords were “birthed” sometime during the Interregnum and probably not a remnant of the 1st Era or a product of Orhan.
  2. The Earthwardens slowly assumed new “earth and elemental powers” and worked with the Fey creatures and Elves to rebuild Kulthea.
  3. Some of the Earthwardens stayed behind on Kulthea while the rest left about the same time as the emergence of the Dragonlords.
  4. Around the time of the Dragonlords appearance, the skies of Kulthea became dangerous and non-terrestrial races (Taranians and Worim) were forced to build/hide underground?
  5. The Dragonlords are avatars of Kulthean earth powers: elemental creatures that can “ride the flows” and control great powers.
  6. There are magical helms and rings that have similar but opposite powers: one to turn Dragons into men and the other to turn men into Dragons.
  7. RM Companion I references the “Ritual of Ascension” that allows a Mage to transcend into a Drake/Dragon.

Terry never circled the square, but is it reasonable to argue that the 6 Dragonlords were Earthwardens that underwent the “Ritual of Ascension” to become permanent guardians of Kulthea? After the Ritual the “nature” of being Dragonkind overwhelms their past memories and Althan/Ka’ta’viir background and they become more “wild” and elemental; even being construed to be “evil”. Certainly, some of the Dragonlords more than others, but as Terry notes: their motivations and behaviors are unfathomable to mortals.

That’s my theory and solution. Have any SW users come up with something else?

Shadow World Timeline Dive: The “Empire of a Thousand Dawns”.

As I continue my review of the extensive Shadow World Timeline, I’ve noted a number of prominent references that haven’t been developed in further SW books. I’ve created a list of these and will delve into them in further blogs, but today I wanted to deal with the “Empire of a Thousand Dawns”. There isn’t much to go on in the Master Atlas(s) , 11-12 mentions and 1 slight mention in Emer III, but it’s clear the the EoaTD has been around since the dawn of history and it exists in the timelines present day. 10,000 years is a very old civilization; even for Elves!

This is what the Master Atlas’s have:

Second Era c.300–471: Palia: Consolidation of much of Ran Tairi
by the Loar Elven Lord Jayled Kodorian. He names
his domain the Empire of a Thousand Dawns.
(Master Atlas 4th Ed.)

Second Era c. 1000-2000 Palia: The Elven King Jayled Kodorian of Ran Tairi more-or less peacefully brings most of the city-states and rural communities
of Iylar and Erlin Elves of the archipelago under his reign.
He dubs his empire the Kingdom of a Thousand Dawns. (MA 3rd Ed.)

Second Era C.3000 – 4000 Emer: A group of Loar Elves, political refugees
from the Empire of a Thousand Dawns, sail
west from Palia. They are swept through the Shallow
Ocean and past Iyxia. Upon entering the Circular
Sea, they reach a cluster of lush islands, inhabited
only by a few scattered clans of Erlini. The
Loari settle here, naming it Námar-Tol (Iy. “verdant-
towers”). (Master Atlas 4th Ed.)

Second Era c. 4100: Palia: Many city-states in Dhuria (Iy: ‘East’) ally under
the Loari Duke Beyris Dalan and declare independence from
the Empire of a Thousand Dawns. After a number of skirmishes
and several negotiation sessions, Emperor Kodorian agrees to
allow Dhuria some autonomy in return for keeping it part of
the Empire. (MA 3rd Edition)

Third Era Winter 6049. Palia: Princess Maris Kodorian of the Empire of
a Thousand Dawns unwittingly befriends a Sister
of the Steel Rain. (Master Atlas 4th Ed.)

Third Era Fall 6049: Palia: The Vulth Horde consolidates its hold on
Vulth-torgu and—using ships seized from their
victims there—begin raiding along the northeast
shores of Dhuria in the Empire of a Thousand
Dawns. Loari nobles call for aid from the
Imperial fleet.

So where exactly can we find The Empire?

Dhuria: [Tropical/Rainy–Humid] Erlini, Thesians,
Eritari (Mixed economies/Monarchy/TL:5-6).
Dhuria is heavily forested with scattered feudal
city-states mostly along the coast and major rivers.
It is part of the Empire of a Thousand Dawns.

Ran Tairi: [Tropical–Temperate/Rainy–Seasonal]
Erlini, Loari, Iylari (Mixed economies/Monarchy/
TL:5-6).
The heart of the Empire of a Thousand Dawns,
this island is a mix of forests and rolling hills
with many fertile fields. While there are few
true cities, there are many small towns huddled
around fortified castles. King Rænedor rules
from the ancient city of Ketharia.

Dalov Ram: [Tropical–Temperate/Humid–Seasonal] Loari, Erlini
(Mixed economies/Feudal Monarchy/TL: 5-6)
Part of the Empire of a Thousand Dawns, Dalov Ram is similar
in many ways, with many dense forests broken by Loari fortified
manors and villages.

Dalov Cor: [Tropical/Rainy–Humid] Erlini, Jineri,
Eritari, Sulini (Mixed economies/Clan/TL: 3).
Also part of the Empire of a Thousand Dawns,
Dalov Cor is almost entirely forested and inhabited
by the more rustic Elves and their half-
Elven brethren.

Ketharia: Capital of the Empire of a Thousand
Dawns, it is an ancient fortified city and trade port.
The Elven-king resides in a massive palace built
into the mountainside overlooking the city.

A Loremaster from the Empire of a Thousand Dawns:

JAYSTEN TYRALLION
Age: 150 (immortal; appears 20) Eyes: Dark Blue.
Hair: Pale blond/curly. Build: Slender. Height:
6’6″. Race/Sex: Linær/M. Skin: Fair. Demeanor:
Gentle, quiet. Dress: Simple black and grey traveling
clothes. True Attitude: Sensitive, intelligent.
Home: Dalov Ram, Empire of a Thousand Dawns.

The only mention in books other than Master Atlas’s in Emer III on page 6:

To the east across the Crystal Sea is the land of Dalov
Cor. While a part of the Elven Empire of a Thousand
Dawns
, this region is heavily wooded and only sparsely
inhabited by Erlin Elves who have little interest in seafaring.

So what do we make of all this?

First, the Empire was founded in 200SE or basically the beginning of “known history” immediately after the Interregnum.

Fugitives from the Empire founded Namor-tol!

It’s a collection of islands and lands in Palia that are around tech level 5-6, led by a “Elven-King” (also referred to as an Emperor).

The society seems mostly rural with fortresses, fortified cities and villages with few “true cities”. Basically standard FRP stuff.

The current King is Rænedor, his daughter is Princess Maris Kodorian which implies that Raendor is a descendant of the Empire’s founder, Jayled Kodorian.

The country is currently under attack by the “Vulth Horde” and there appears to be an “Imperial Fleet” that has been called upon to help.

In my mind, there is a lot of mixed messaging going on. Despite it’s immense age and longevity, the Empire sounds rural and standard tech level (medieval to early renaissance), but there is an implication of a more Imperial nature to the country. In my own campaign, The Empire of a Thousand Dawns’ history is intertwined with Ulya Shek the Black Dragon. It’s unlikely that Palia will ever be fleshed out, but I wonder if more could be done with this Empire. Has anyone introduced The Empire of a Thousand Dawns in their campaigns?

Ancient Sites in Shadow World. How old is “OLD”?

Now that I’m back from Malta I’ve had time to ponder the issues of time, civilizations and “ruins” from a RPG perspective. It feels like most of our RPG experience is based on some quasi-medieval concepts: dank tombs, cobwebs, giant spiders and the mandatory undead all dating back to a medieval period; perhaps 500-1000 years past.. But what if those ruins and labyrinths were thousands, or tens of thousands years old? What about 100,000 years old?

In a previous blog post, I suggested modifying the immense Shadow World timeline by shortening the Interregnum period from approximately a 100,000 year span down to perhaps 10,000 or 20,000 years. Why? Shadow World features a number of ancient Althan, Worim, Jentini and Taranian structures and artifacts that need to be 50,000 to over 100,000 years old. Kulthea is not an inert planet and features tectonic activity and cataclysmic events (like comets) that wreak havoc on the surface. It beggars belief that any structure could survive 100,000 years or more, and yet we have just that with these ancient civilizations. We can certainly hand wave this away, or lean on “magical” explanations for the longevity and functionality of these structures. I’ll throw my ideas out that might account for that a bit later, but I wanted to toss a few real life examples to put things in perspective:

2500BC The Great Pyramids of Giza. The only surviving of the “Seven Wonders of the Ancient World” the Pyramids are perhaps the best example of an ancient structure that still retains most of it’s form factor (excluding the polished casing stones). But these are only 4500 years old–they would be “recent” history in Shadow World and only centuries into the Third Era!

3600BC Hagar Qim. This is Hagar Qim in Malta. The first picture gives the impression that while still impressive, the rock walls are somewhat primitive in fit and quality. However, if you look at the second sketch, just hundreds years ago, the walls were in much better shape and appear to be tightly fitted dressed stone. Sketches of the site from even further back make the temple even more impressive and enigmatic given it’s purported age! One take away is the impact of weathering on those limestone blocks–the temples were buried for thousands of years and once uncovered, much of the stone deteriorated rapidly–in just a few hundred years! Without considerable conservation efforts most of these temples will be a pile of unimpressive stone in just decades or a few centuries.

7500BC. About 1/2 way through the Second Era. Çatalhöyük, Turkey. This ancient village is estimated to have a population of 5,000 to 7,000 people; all the buildings seem to be residential with no apparent “public” buildings. Overall, the construction seems fairly crude and simple and most of the site is destroyed or eroded with foundations and little left after 9,000 years.

7500 BC. (Second Era) Nabta Playa. Located in Egypt this site is believed to be of astronomical site similar to Stonehenge or the Goseck Circle in Germany. While incredibly old, it is clearly eroded and generally not “impressive” in the way that one might expect of a 2nd Era Shadow World complex.

9000BC or the early part of the 2nd Era of Shadow World. Gobekli Tepe. Pushing up against the Younger Dryas boundary at 12,000 years old, Gobekli Tepe predates humanity’s oldest known civilizations! And as impressive and enigmatic the site it, compared to Shadow World it’s almost new!

Certainly, most gamers might care little for this level of archeological realism, but this is just one aspect of Shadow Worlds timeline that might be considered problematic. Why might ancient Shadow Structures fare better than earthly counterparts?

  1. Advanced materials. Certainly the Althans were a technological society and developed material sciences to at least tech level 10+. It can be assumed that these construction materials and techniques would last far beyond what we could comprehend.
  2. Magical Materials. Laen, Eog and other enchanted metals and alloys are immune to rust, degradation or aging.
  3. Restoration. Long lived races like the Elves will have retained advanced building skills and continual rebuilt or restored ancient structures.
  4. Magic. That solves everything!
  5. Burying. Gobekli Tepe, the Malta temples and many other surviving ancient structures have lasted because they have been preserved underground. So it’s conceivable that subterranean structures (like the Taranian subshuttle system) would have considerable longevity without the deleterious effects of surface erosion and exposure.

So even pushing into speculative or fringe science, sites like Tiahuanaco, Bolivia which are argued to be 17,000 years old, are still relatively recent compared to Althan and Ka’ta’viir structures.

In my own campaign and found in Priest-King, the only surviving Althan city on Kulthea is Auraax-Centra. Over 100,000 years old and lying is shallow waters, it is has survived due to construction materials and repair “nanobots”. But it’s still mostly rubble and debris! But Terry’s SW also features a number of operational Ka’ta’viir structures and installations with working tech. It’s all great material for the setting, but does the timeline need to be that long? Can we snip a few thousand years here and there to make it more accessible?

What are your thoughts and does it matter? Unless your players have some in depth knowledge of SW’s history, “Ancient Pre-history” can just be “very old” in practical game terms.

Quickie Dungeons?

This was a tip published for D&D, but it is equally applicable to any fantasy games.

Build dungeons quickly with a map, some one- to three-word room descriptions with fantastic monuments, and a handful of potential encounters (good and bad).

Casting this into Rolemaster throws up so interesting ideas.

  1. Three Things. This is an improvisational theatre technique. When you want to improvise something you only create three very general facts about the ‘thing’. Then if your attention or focus falls on the thing, you create three more facts about the thing. You can continue to drill down as greater detail as you need.

    In RPG terms this could be describing a room as being dominated by a pair of statues of angels (1), an altar stands between the statues (2) and the floor is made of chequered black and white tiles (3). At this point you can possibly imagine the room, but much of it is vague. If your players think that floor is suspicious, they want to know more, so… Each tile of the floor is made of marble with only the faintest hint of coloured veins (1), the joins between tiles are near perfect and no caulking has been used or was needed (2), the tiles running along the centre of the chamber are worn and scratched from the passing of hundreds of feet over years or decades (3).

    You can keep drilling down to almost forensic levels, if the players have the interest or the means of discerning ever more detail.
  2. A handful of potential encounters. This one is something that Rolemaster has traditionally been very bad at. For two reasons (at least). The first is that no one has ever thought to publish books of encounters. If you ever get the chance to read the rules of Forbidden Lands the random encounters are fantastic. You are not just looking at the combat stats of a random monster, but you also get roleplaying advice on how to play them, strategies and context, why they are doing what they are doing.

This one is about as basic as they get. Now, the interesting thing is that they include no game mechanics. If you replaced “page 64” with Creature Law/Creatures & Monsters/Creatures & Treasures and the page number, this could be for any flavour of RM.

The second reason that published encounters are harder than one imagines is that your version of RM is the sum of all the optional rules. Almost invariably the optional rules in the companions made the player characters more powerful. Sometimes it is neglible, sometimes the power creep was obvious. But, as soon as you tweak the player characters any published encounters go out of whack.

If you have to roll your own encounters, tweaking all the monsters to fit your version of RM this stops being quick, by any reasonable meaning of the word. If you are using published encounters, you are going to have to rejig them to challenge your players. Flexibility is Rolemaster’s greatest strength and weakness.

3. The last part is the quick dungeon map. There are dozens of random dungeon map tools. This one is more interesting for the GM that wants something not entirely random but fast and customisable.

https://probabletrain.itch.io/dungeon-scrawl

Take a look and have a play.

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Rolemaster (u) tips?

I started this blog in November 2014. At that time I thought Rolemaster Unified was imminent.

Now, I again feel that it is just around the corner. There is a scene in Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy where the planet Margrathea is closed until the galactic economy is strong enough to afford their designer planet-building service.

I kind of feel the same way now. I set the blog up waiting for RMu, I started the fanzine in April 2017, again expecting RMu to be right around the corner. This time I hope that it is third time lucky.

What I would like to gather together are some Rolemaster tips, not version-specific, but generic Rolemaster tips that will be as useful to old hands like us as they would be to new blood. The kind of people we need RMu to bring in.

I will then turn the tips into articles and start regular posting again. As you may have noticed I took a bit of a break this year. Then if I can get the posting habit back, I can kickstart the fanzine again.

If you have what you think would be a good tip, or piece of GMing advice, you can contact me via the contact form on the ‘about’ page. https://www.rolemasterblog.com/about/

I will gather them up and start posting again.

Shadow World Earthwardens and Megalithic Temples.

I’ve been writing frequently about the Earthwardens in Shadow World. Not only do I find them a viable link between the techno-magic of the Ka’ta’viir and the “arcane magic” of Shadow World, they also represent a mysterious shadowy past also present in our history.

So Monday I’m heading to Malta to explore the ancient megalithic temples found there. Much is mysterious there, and history continued with the Knights of Malta and even more recently with the German invasion during WWII (I’m a history buff!)

I’m excited and I know this will spur my imagination and creative in the coming months! If you are intrigued by the Earthwardens as well, please read my blog posts and add your own thoughts and insight.

50 in 50 Update: The Inn of Dusk hits “Electrum” sales level on DrivethruRPG!

Back in 2017 the Rolemasterblog created a writers challenge for ourselves to write 50 adventures/hooks over a 50 week period. Basically 1/week to be published on DrivethruRPG as d100 adventures.

By almost every measure it was a great success and those adventures are still selling to this day! Many of mine were cribbed from my Shadow World campaign, but The Inn of Dusk was written specifically for this challenge.

Now, 5 years later, it has hit “Electrum status” based on sales volume. (not sure how many units are needed for that…)

Our second attempt at 50in50 sputtered out a bit due to COVID, but I think it might be worth revisiting!

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/234207/The-Inn-of-Dusk

Shadow World Religions Handbook

It’s odd how creativity works isn’t it? Like many of you, I have multiple writing projects in the works and while I plan on finishing one, I end up getting distracted and start working on something else!

One project I “finished” was my Shadow World Religions Handbook, but after some review I realized that I had left out some useful information that would have been easy to include.

So given that I’ve been compiling some past encounters I’ve used in my campaigns, plus some NPC’s and other adventure hooks to integrate various SW religious organizations into an adventure. All told, I want to have at least 3 “hooks” or encounters for each religion covered in the handbook.

The goal of course is not to get distracted by some other project, but my goal is still 2 pages/day.

RM Users

I have not posted for several months, but diligent in watching other posts here and on the Rolemaster Forums. What are your thoughts? We have done well with this blog, but if users migrate to the official RM Forum, what should we do??

What is our role here and Shadow World?

Campaign Themes

Can you boil down the overarching theme of your campaign into just one or two words?

And, why would you want to?

I have been thinking about this idea, and the essence of it is that if you know what your campaign is about at a conceptual level, it becomes easier to guarantee that each adventure sits within that theme, and you are not drifting toward something generic fantasy. It is also a useful prompt for when you are knocked into improvising. If you have to start making stuff up, if it is bang on the theme, it should be easier to reintegrate the stuff you made up on the fly with the stuff you have prepped for future sessions.

The theme of my Rolemaster Classic campaign is Deception. Dark Elves have deceived the dwarves into believing they were attacked by surface elves. The person the characters beleive is the villain is actually trying to prevent a brewing war between elves and dwarves. This person will use any means available and is one person against an entire conspiracy of dark elves.

Powerful artifacts that all sides want have been hidden in plain sight and protected by deceiving magics.

The list goes on. At first, the characters had no idea what was going on, but they have slowly started to pick at the loose threads and are getting a glimpse of what lies behind all the lies.

It is possible that in the next session they will work out that their early patron had been lying to them.

If my players flounder, such as when one of my ‘obviously brilliant’ clues goes right over their heads, I can easily make something up that will fit the overall theme of deception and misdirection.

If I need to get my characters back on track, I can have one of the opposing forces misdirect the characters back towards that groups natural opposition. The dwarves share evidence of elven treachery, the elves portray dwarven reprisals as unprovoked attacks, and the dark elves are just trying to drag both sides into conflict. It gives me enough levers to pull.

By sticking to my theme I am also signposting, bit by bit, what kind of powerful magics they are eventually going to have to face down. I am not going to go from deception, deception, deception to fireball.

I am finding having defined my theme that it is making my GM prep more fun. It is a challenge to weave the theme into, not every encounter, but all the big encounters and when building NPCs.