Saturday, June 14, 2014

R.P.G. Project in the Works: "Secrets of the Mistwater"

"Secrets of the Mistwater"
A Complete "Sandbox" Campaign for Levels 1-12
Having It's Own Rule System or Compatible
With Any Fantasy Role Play System
I am currently working upon the manuscript and maps for publication of the campaign which I have Dungeon Mastered for my players for the last year, tentatively entitled "Secrets of the Mistwater".
This will be a complete campaign setting with a large City Map, a Towne map, several villages and settlements, an "Outdoor" Map, and no less than six dungeon locales. It will feature all original art, some of which is complete as I write, and will be a "sandbox adventure" in the truest sense of the word.
It is a challenge but I am attempting to add several design elements to this book which I hope will make it a welcome tool to any seasoned Game Master and his or her players as well as to novice players.
One of these ideas is a complete set of simple rules that allows anyone who purchases the game to play it "as-is" without buying any other rule set. I have the rules system written and will not preview it yet but it is less than ten pages and will decidedly favor "rules light" playing. However, the creatures and treasures will be familiar enough that any system like D&D can be used.
Another feature I am building into the game is that each dungeon locale will have a keyed map that has alternate encounters depending on the level of the player characters when they actually enter that dungeon. I struggled with how to make the map truly open and not railroad players in a certain direction, because I really wanted the party to be able to go anywhere they wanted at any time.
Normally, this would lead to trouble if they decided to explore a ruin that was beyond their level of skill or ability. As a veteran DM, I'm well aware of the methods one can use to discourage a group from entering an area but I did not want the "Mistwater" campaign to use these methods--I wanted the players to feel they could go in any direction fate or choice led them so that it would unfold naturally.
The solution I came up with at this point was to have a dungeon key for each map that provided different monsters and treasure that a DM could choose from dependent upon the power level of the adventuring party at the time they enter the ruin. I call this the "Level Neutral Dungeon Approach." Basically there will be a room description that will be the same for any adventuring party but below this a list of encounters. with treasure, that will match the level of the Party.
The Devil will be, of course, in the details, and I'm still working it out right now. Feedback is therefore much appreciated, reader!
The real challenge as I see it is to not let the dungeon map and encounters become too generic, and to ensure that story flow is kept. As an example, if the players are to visit an ancient barrow that is a reputed haunt of the undead--if they decide to visit it at 1st level, there will of course be skeletons and zombies and similar monsters. But let us say they decide not to go there until much later in the saga--any map I had designed for 1st level players will be useless at that point. With a "Level Neutral Dungeon" key, I have stats for undead monsters much more commensurate with the level of the party when they finally do arrive...mid level parties might encounter wights where a higher level party would meet a vampire.
Now there will still be some areas clearly marked "Don't Come here Till You Can Kick Some Ass", but only two, and part of the mounting tension of the campaign will be players getting to a place where they feel ready to brave the ultimate lair.  But for the most part, a DM running this book will have at his or her fingertips at all times the preparation for any course of action the players may choose.
There will also be XP awards for "Quest Objectives", so that sessions that involve mostly role playing can help level up characters as much as dungeoneering.
The campaign is a locale within my larger, private world of Rysanthis--it will include world setting material such as holidays, customs, culture, and calendar, as well as major myths and known legend. However, this will be inserted in such a way as to either be of easy use to the DM or set aside in favor of his or her preferred setting. If the campaign setting is well received, I may begin work on an atlas of Rysanthis as a published setting.
The Rysanthian setting is one I invented about six years ago and have been playing with ever since. I originally created it as a realm to introduce my kids, then 11 and 12, to fantasy gaming. It was also to be the setting for some stories I began to write but did not and work intervened, alas.
Some Rysanthian differences are race, culture, and magic. In Rysanthis as I envisioned it, I created my own races and did not use any Tolkienish patterns. I was inspired by a little of everything from Tekumel to Sci Fi and sword and sandal flicks, not to mention my own readings in myth, magick, and lore. In Secrets of the Mistwater, since most will be coming from a D&D or LOTR fantasy background, I make exception so that the campaign will be compatible with D&D. I did this with my AD&D campaign that the Miswater locale was originally played by, but added the caveat that in Rysanthis is that magic comes from a source which only the Faery races can use and not be corrupted. All magic use by humans is considered "Dark Arts" and is Dragon Magic. leading to evil alignment. But the Elves have a different psyche and spiritual relationship to Illuvion, the central Deity of the Rysanthian setting, and so can use magic without being turned to the dark side and falling under the "Dragonspell".
So, in this setting, a party would have clerics or warriors/paladins of Illuvion and his Temple but no human magic users.  However, I do plan to make this optional and set up the module so that straight D&D can be played to one's content.
And what of the themes of the Mistwater campaign? I can promise lots of adventure, perfected by having run a very skilled group of players through this campaign. There is a deposed King who has gone missing with an heir who lurks somewhere within the environs of the Mistwater, a great fresh water lake with many ancient secrets. There is an ancient elven ruin unashamedly based upon Tolkien's Menegroth with plenty of peril and gold to whet the appetites of any party of adventurers. There is intrigue and betrayal within the Temple of Illuvion, the subterfuge of the Dragon Cultists, the oppression of the people by the tyranny of a despotic Overlord and his evil sorceress Queen. There are many ancient relics whose magic will tip the balance of power. There is a mysterious and forbidden isle where the forgotten past of Rysanthis is revealed. Encounters with angels and avatars, the testing of the moral fiber of any lawful party (the setting is geared towards lawful or neutral groups), visions and stronghold building--I have aimed at this setting having it all!
I have a great deal of material already written and will be finishing it up by the Fall I hope.
And as usual, I would love to hear your thoughts!

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Book Review and Author Interview: Sally K. Ito's The Prison Blade

 The Mazes have been quiet of late, but there's no better way to get the quill flowing again than for me to introduce the first book in a fantastic swords and swords series that is well underway by an author I feel very privileged to know!

Sally K. Ito is a librarian in Central Oklahoma who self-published her debut book The Prison Blade in October of last year. The Prison Blade is the first tale in a series she is writing entitled Shadows and Light.

I was very pleased to receive a print copy of her novel and I truly enjoyed reading it. I am happy to recommend it to readers of this blog as well as travelers in the various gaming forums I frequent, because while just about anyone who loves swords and sorcery will probably enjoy the Prison Blade, it will resonate especially with the old school gaming community since Ms. Ito is a life long D&D player who has played the game in it's earliest editions and traces of the aura of the gaming table are quite discernible in the Prison Blade.

The Prison Blade opens with a young princess and her brother excusing themselves from wedding festivities in the Palace of Verindii to enter a forbidden reliquary in the vaults where powerful and dangerous magic relics are stored in safekeeping. Orielle and her younger brother Kye, a boy with innate talent as a mage, are captivated by the legendary artifacts they find, but by none so much as the Prison Blade, a mysterious sword sealed by spell craft in an ornate but ominous scabbard. The two know the legend of the Prison Blade; how one of their ancestors saved the realms from devastation by imprisoning within the sword the spirit of a being half mortal, half divine, named Everie. Oreille is compelled irresistibly to draw the sword; having some magical talents herself she overcomes the locking rune on the scabbard and looses the Prison Blade, just to have a look. Curiosity proves perilous indeed as the demi-god attains a measure of freedom and also power over the young princess.

The book moves from this scene into the events of the life of Orielle many years after her fateful choice, laying the foundation for the series of catalysts that will unfold to determine both her destiny and the destiny of her kingdom, and whether the Light can outshine the Shadows or the old, dark gods instead prevail. One of the most fascinating and original elements of the Prison Blade is the unique symbiotic relationship between Everie and Orielle through the magic of the blade, and how Kye's enchantments have created an uneasy balance between the young woman Orielle's will and the greedy and destructive will of Everie. Since this drama and the unfolding nature of those enchantments form a large part of the plot I will not spoil enjoyment of it for the reader and will simply state that it is one of the most intriguing and original concepts for a magic swords that I have ever seen, making matters like the soul and the strength of the human spirit in resisting evil real themes in the Prison Blade.

Ms. Ito has joined us to talk about her book and answer some questions about this great series. Her answers and comments are italicized.

Image of K. Ito
Sally K. Ito

Tell us about your novel. What sort of stories and characters can a reader expect in the
Shadows and Light series?

It's sword and sorcery, full of epic battles and struggles of good and evil, and also some
fun and silliness. It's very character driven while being largely plot-based. I like to
throw challenges in my characters' paths and see what they'll do, so a lot of the story
highlights their personalities, and draws a clearer picture of each character while the
story keeps moving and the plot unfolds.

Tell us about Orielle, the Mad Lady of Verindii, your conflicted protagonist.

I think some people who like strong female leads my be disappointed with her at first.
She does begin the book considering herself powerless. She thinks of herself as Everie's
pawn and expects her brothers to take care of her, not much for girl power beyond
But that's really what the story's about. Orielle is in a nearly impossible position. She
is outmatched by nearly everyone around her, and it's only when she has to make a choice
that she realizes she can, and she finally finds the strength that is hers.

The book's title comes from the magical sword which is the catalyst of the epic events
that unfold in Orielle's life and provides to the reader an extremely compelling character
in the personality of the soul within the blade. Tell us about the Prison Blade and
Everie, its inhabitant.

Everie is shown to be evil from the beginning of the story. His plan was to steal Orielle's
body and live again, and it wasn't because of any kindness on his part that she was
Yet it's easy to forget he is a villain. He's Orielle's constant companion, and, in a way,
her only friend. He is elegant, attractive, and even helpful from time to time, and
Orielle struggles to remind herself that he cannot be trusted and that the power he
sometimes uses to protect her could just as easily destroy her.
His goals are unclear and his indifference to the suffering of others obvious, but the
past he hides so carefully may hold more than just the history of a monster.

The Prison Blade imprisons Orielle in a different way than it does Everie, doesn't it?

They are both trapped by the enchantment that binds Everie's soul to Orielle's body.
It is a new life for Everie, a step along the road of immortality.  It was not supposed to
be a trap. But he never intended to have the company of the original soul of any body he
posessed.  Everie is caught with Orielle in her body and forced to look at the world
through her eyes, an experience he doesn't at all appreciate.

For Orielle the prison is far more extensive. Her thoughts and feelings are all exposed to
him. She knows no peace or privacy. After so much time with him she doesn't even know who
she is alone. She has never had a real life or friendships. Everie is the stronger, and he
makes all the choices for the body they share.

You wrote the Prison Blade over many years--tell us about your writing process.

I actually started it ten years ago. At first I wrote simply for fun. I sent the story
chapter by chapter to a friend just because she enjoyed it, but when I finished I realized
I really had a fun story here and gave it to others to read.

I have changed things extensively due to the commentary of others. I'm not naturally a
writer, just a storyteller, and it took a lot of criticism to get it into a proper

I am very lucky to have a family that was interested in assisting in the process. I have
had help with all sorts of editing--I think my sister is one of the best editors ever if
you can manage not to be sensitive.

I think I'm pretty good about not taking things personally. I just want to make the story
better.  I doubt more than a third of it is actually the original writing.

Your writing style is more narritive and storytelling based than descriptive, isn't it?

It is. And I really feel more like a storyteller than a writer. For me it's not about the
words and the art of writing. I can appreciate beautiful writing and clever word use, but
I write to let my characters live and to get my story told. I have a habit of skipping
through books I've read before, looking for the good parts, the exciting bits and the
entertaining conversations, and that's basically what I've written, a good parts
version--or at least I hope so.

How much of your D&D gaming comes out in your writing?

I've been tempted to call my book gamer fantasy. I really feel like my world could just be
a big RPG. I use the flashy magic everybody loves, and the enchanted weapons, and even the
same sort of epic monsters you might run across gaming

I love the setting. The city of Torindii and the manner and customs of Orielle's time and space very much evoke the Renaissance cities. And yet the book has such a definite flavor of Japanese mythology in it as well. I was impressed at how neatly you blended these.

Torindii does feel Italian; I'm glad you noticed that. Italy is really the core of the
high renasance for me, and I wanted to have the feeling of that sort of sophistication for
the capital, but I do see what you mean about the Japanese elements as well. The Japanese
wasn't really intentional, except that I lived in Japan and was watching lots of anime
when I wrote the rough draft.

I like the speed of anime and manga and picked that up intentionally, but looking back I
can see that my characters, especially my villains, have a Japanese edge. There're a lot
of pride and loyalty issues that I might have dealt with a little differently if I had
never had that exposure.

I think it makes my book a little more unique, with just a slightly different flavor from
most sword and sorcery fantasy.

You don't spare readers when it comes to showing the dark. Is that why you call your
series Shadows and Light?

Sort of. I was really thinking of Orielle living constantly surrounded by both shadows and
light and also of Everie's sort of fluctuating loyalties.

I think the horror has to be there though because I want the conflict to be real. I want
readers to understand that this is a fight that has to be won because the alternative is
unthinkable. I also want the danger to be clear. There is a very real chance for
failure--and honestly, one of my biggest struggles is giving my heroes a fighting chance.

How much of a part do the gods and goddesses play in the tale?

Well, Everie is the son of a dark god, as is the Nameless One, but their father does not
activly appear in the story.
But there are prophecies and destinies and once I even have Lyaru appeal to and recieve
help from a goddess.
I plan to involve them more, but at the same time, I really think more Greek gods than
all-powerful gods, and in the end the story is a human struggle.

When will your second book be ready for readers and what is the title?

I plan to release the next book this summer. I'm still working on the title--for some
reason, for me, that's one of the hardest parts.

Tell us how to buy your book.

It is available on Amazon as both a paperback and an e-book. It is also available from the
Apple store and Barnes and Noble. I have a website at where you can
find some extra content and a few other works I have in progress.

Ms. Ito, thanks so much for taking the time to talk about your novel!

I would like to add as a final note that the printed copies of Ms. Ito's book are very sturdy with a beautiful glossy finish on a cover decorated by a very simple but beautiful original illustration of the Prison Blade. It's book store quality and at very affordable price.  I wholeheartedly recommend this great tale!