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Codex of the Infinite Planes Road Map

My goal with the Codex of the Infinite Planes is to dig into each separate plane with an eye towards making it accessible for DMs and interesting to explore for PCs. A lot of the planar information I’ve digested over the years I’ve found to be not usable information, and Planescape for me had an attitude about it that was just off putting to me (I understand that this is just me, however). I’m glad Planescape exists, but that attitude kept me from really running anything in it.

D&D 3rd Edition brought the planes into the general setting, much more like it was with 1st edition, and the 3E Manual of the Planes was an excellent resources. A lot of solid nuggets of information spread across the planes, but I still feel there was a bit too much “planar wonkiness,” especially in the part alignment played for many of the planes. Plus, the sourcebook covered all the planes, plus prestige classes, plus spells, plus monsters, so the book was tight and didn’t get into the level of interesting detail I wanted.

4th Edition’s cosmology changed so much, and by that time I had moved on to other games in my personal and professional life so I didn’t pay it much mind. In picking up some of the sourcebooks for the Plane Above and the Plane Below, the Astral Sea and the Elemental Chaos, and I find a lot of content holds up when you look at it as distinct pieces. It was actually the 4th Edition Manual of the Planes that held the level of detail I wanted on the planes, it was just in support of a cosmology that I didn’t like personally.

Core 5th Edition seems to have come back around to the 1st and 3rd Edition cosmology’s as a base, though the World Axis theory is still there. But I felt it was time to start digging into the interesting sites, and I had already worked on the Plane of Fire (see previous post on the history for that) so why not clean it up? So I did and put it up on the DMs Guild in its shiny new format, with new content and a few pieces of stock art.

I’ve been tinkering with how I wanted to structure these articles. Was I really going to work on each plane and try to get a 15K word article about each one? I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it before I pushed up my road map, so I jotted down some notes but kept my head down on the rest of the Inner Planes. The Plane of Water flowed easily, and I managed to unearth cool stuff about the Plane of Earth as well. Some family health issues pulled me away a bit after that but I’ve been coming up with interesting things on the Plane of Air and the end is in sight on that one. Where to from there?

Here’s what I’ve been thinking, and this is all subject to change if I get better ideas or have to pivot for some other currently unknown reason.

  • Volume 4 Plane of Air – nearly done, should be complete in less than a week
  • Volume 5 Border Elemental Planes – I’m going to lump the planes of Ash, Ice, Magma, and Ooze into one supplement as there aren’t a lot of things happening on each to justify their own volumes. Likely it’s still going to run small though, so it will likely be priced lower too.

These first five volumes wrap up the Inner Planes. Next I’m going to try and tackle the Transitive and Reflective Planes, so the next few in the series include …

  • Volume 6 Astral Plane – Loads of cool stuff about the Astral Plane out there
  • Volume 7 Ethereal Plane – Going to be interesting diving into this one
  • Volume 8 Plane of Shadow – One of the biggest contributions from 4E was cool information on the Shadowfell, now known as the Plane of Shadow.
  • Volume 9 Plane of Faerie – The Feywild was a popular spot for 4E and again there’s some super interesting things here that deserve another look.
  • Volume 10 Plane of Dreams – This one I’m excited about as there isn’t a lot of information about it at all!

Those are the Transitive and Reflective Planes. After that I’m planning on the Outer Planes, which are likely going to be in alphabetical order, again with an eye towards making them fun and interesting sites of adventure rather than just “the home of gods and pure philosophical energy.”

Codex of the Infinite Planes Vol 2 Preview!

So it’s been a week and a half since I released Codex of the Infinite Planes Vol 1 Plane of Fire and in that time I’ve buckled down and written the next volume, Plane of Water. Why Plane of Water? Truthfully, I have no idea. If I were to do this over again I would probably do it alphabetically, but I’ve always found the Plane of Fire to be the most interesting from a DM standpoint, so that’s why I started with it. Water was the next most versatile one, so I decided long ago that it would be next.

And for as long as I’ve had Plane of Fire written, I had procrastinated greatly on the further volumes. I find momentum a difficult thing to keep up with projects, unless I really knuckle down and focus on it. Thankfully, with no Kickstarters to fulfill and my time filling up with dad responsibilities, this was an opportune time to charge forward with the Codex of the Infinite Planes articles.

It was a busy week, but the more research I put into the Plane of Water the more I really liked it. It’s no as sexy as the Plane of Fire, but there’s a lot of great adventure material to mine from that plane that has been left alone for too long. I’ve been using the Manual of the Planes books as my primary inspiration and starting point, and it’s curious how few of them mention the City of Glass. It’s a really cool site, filled with intrigue, politics, and no small amount of danger. In the new article I had a lot of fun fleshing it out along with its seedy underbelly, the Freezer, and the governing political body, the Azure Council. Lots of fun stuff there.

I’ll save that preview for another day (hell, I might have this thing released this week!), but for today I wanted to share the Lay of the Land section, or at least the primary bulk of it. This is what gives the reader an overview of the Plane of Water. Here it is!

Codex of the Infinite Planes Volume 2 Plane of Water Preview

Lay of the Land

The Plane of Water has three major layers to its endless geography and two side regions where it borders other Inner Planes. The first is actually above the waters of the Sea of Worlds, where a sun and stars sit similar to most Material Planes. Ships that inadvertently travel through a portal to this Inner Plane can drift forever on the waves, though it is more likely they run afoul of one of the many terrible storms that rocks the region. This elemental realm is a plane of constant change, with seas shifting dramatically from calm to stormy in the blink of an eye.

Islands comprised of rock, earth, and even coral break the surface of the Sea of Worlds, though few are permanent. The nature of the watery plane breaks down hard surfaces, eroding them and sending them back to the depths. Few things last above the sea, as super storms are known to suddenly appear without warning to drag everything back down. There are no native creatures that do not swim in the Plane of Water, though swarms of winged quippers break the surface of the sea to ride the stormy winds.

The upper region of underwater is known as the Sea of Light. Here, much of the sunlight from above the sea filters down, creating a brightly lit aquatic wonderland. Great swaths of coral reefs clinging to unanchored rocks dot the Sea of Light, and within these are found the fortresses, strongholds, and cities of the most common planar natives, including the sahuagin and kuo-toa. Nominally, the marid genies rule over much of this layer, but they care little for the machinations of non-marid.

Even at night, the Sea of Light is illuminated, bathed by a soft green light that seems to infuse the water. The water temperature is near perfection at all times, not too hot and not too cold, though pockets of intense heat, slime, and chill float through the currents. Throughout the waters, “up” is considered to be towards the surface of the Sea of Worlds, while “down” is considered away from the light. In all portions of the Plane of Water below the surface, however, it can be difficult to easily determine “up” from “down.”

The deepest sections of the Plane of Water are reserved for a lightless realm known as the Darkened Depths. It is here dwell the greatest and most monstrous of creatures, including elder krakens and the lairs of the elemental lords of water. Olhydra, the Princess of Evil Water Elementals, is the best known among these primordial powers, and she is fickle and without mercy. Light from above the Sea of Worlds does not filter down to the Darkened Depths, and whatever infusion illuminates the Sea of Light above is lessened here.

The Plane of Water borders two other Inner Planes at its extreme edges. Where it borders the Plane of Air, the Sea of Worlds grows frigid and great icebergs bob slowly in the water. This is the Sea of Ice, and travelers that continue through it eventually reach the Frostfell (also known as the Plane of Ice). White dragons and remorhazes are known to lair in the icebergs of the Sea of Ice. Particularly large rogue icebergs have been known to break from this area to float into the Sea of Worlds, though the warmer waters ensure the massive ice formations don’t last forever.

At the other end, the sea grows shallower where the Plane of Water is near the Plane of Earth. This area is known as the Silt Flats before giving way to the Swamp of Oblivion (also referred to as the Plane of Ooze). In the Silt Flats, the water is thick and sludge-like, and it is not uncommon to have acidic globs float out into the Sea of Worlds to wreak havoc on all life. Unnaturally large and aggressive insects, such as mud mosquitos, are known to occupy the Silt Flats. Because of its thick, shallow water, most regular inhabitants of the Plane of Water avoid the Silt Flats, though travelers have been known to scour the region looking for lost treasure sites, such as the Mud Tombs.

Codex of the Infinite Planes Vol 1!

I’ve always enjoyed the Great Wheel cosmology of D&D, and the Manual of the Planes books have consistently been one of my favorite sources of reading material. Interesting enough, though, I never played Planescape, and I think that’s because of the way it was presented. Planescape was all about attitude and beliefs, and how those beliefs could change the very fabric of the multiverse itself. It was a heady concept and never jived with what I wanted to get out of my D&D games.

But the idea of the planes has always been really fascinating to me. Endless worlds of adventure and possibility wrapped around a common theme. For the Inner Planes, the themes were definite – air, earth, fire, and water, along with the borders between those planes creating the paraelemental planes. Simple, straightforward. The Astral Plane I thought was pretty dull until fairly recently as it seemed to be just the generic “connector” between all the other planes. The distinction between the Astral Plane and the Ethereal Plane was never very clear to me in the past.

And then you’ve got the Outer Planes, such as the Abyss, the Nine Hells, the Beastlands, and a host of others. So much cool spread out across so many cool places that it was difficult to grasp! The 1st and 3rd edition Manual of the Planes books were my go to sources for these planes, though Planescape had quite a bit of information on a lot of those planes.

For 5th Edition, I wanted to create some guides to these planes that could be used by any DM or player. I wrote an article that I intended to submit to Gygax Magazine a few years ago that was all about the Plane of Elemental Fire, taking a look at it from the standpoint of a classic D&D place of adventure. I liked the material I wrote and I always intended to continue it, but my interest got pulled away when Gygax Magazine ceased publication (booooooo).

I cleaned it up a bit and threw the article up on the DM’s Guild just to do something with the material I wrote, and there it fell into obscurity. In the two years that it’s been up I’ve sold roughly 15 copies. Not a lot.

But recently I decided to revisit it, clean it up, and expand it out for the core D&D setting. I used my newfound skills in InDesign to update the layout dramatically, playing around with a lot of the contents. I added more description to the new monsters, expanded out the list of interesting adventuring sites, and added a bit of art. Even with all of this, I wanted to create more value, so I worked out some details on a few PC options to include as well. I added the Fire domain for clerics, the firedancer archetype for rogues, and the school of pyromancy for wizards.

I had an absolute blast doing this, and I put it up for sale a week ago. And I got in the first week just as many sales as my original Plane of Elemental Fire article did for 2 years (which I took down before putting the new one up). Here’s the cover!

Codex Vol 1 Plane of Fire Cover

That image should take you to the DMs Guild page for the article ($2.99! What a steal!). I should have put up this blog post a week ago but I’ve been busy working on a few things, both personal and professional.

Next blog I’m going to post a preview of what I’m working on for the next volume, which is regarding the Plane of Water. Lots of fun stuff in that one!

DCC RPG – Adventure vs. Character

I really like the feel of the Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG by Goodman Games. They really nailed the aesthetics of those Appendix N stories – the primordial fantasy stories that inspired Gygax, Arneson, and countless others when the hobby gaming industry was still in its formative years. Leiber, Moorcock, Howard, Vance, and so many others, the authors that really blazed the trail for fantasy gaming to take shape.

That being said, there’s a strange disconnect with the game for me. The disconnect comes in the assumptions between the characters and the published adventures. The adventures are almost all crazy and out there, and in really interesting ways. Post-apocalyptic, Dying Earth kind of stuff, with robots and horrendous beast-men and savage monsters that defy description and corrupt sorcerers that just need to be stopped. These adventures are what really connect with those Appendix N stories.

The characters, however, seem to fall more into the classic archetypes of fantasy gaming that came about after those Appendix N authors. Or maybe it’s so indelibly linked in my mind with Dungeons & Dragons that when I see the list of classes – cleric, warrior, thief, wizard, dwarf, elf, halfling – I immediately go, not to the Appendix N authors, but to the Gygaxian adventures of the early years.

Because, while the starting point may have been Leiber and Moorcock and Vance, the ending point became it’s own thing entirely. It seemed to blend in heavy doses of Tolkien, leaning heavily on the iconic images from Lord of the Rings to base these various races on. This combination resulted in a new style, one that has grown with its own tropes and archetypes over the past 40+ years.

I grew up reading Tolkien, so as far as Appendix N authors go that was my introduction. I didn’t pick up the other masters until much later, so D&D had that Tolkien-esque feel for me right from the beginning. I didn’t glom onto the Vancian spellcasting system – it was simply the D&D spellcasting system. The play between Chaos and Law from Moorcock was secondary to the primary battle between Good and Evil from Tolkien.

All of this is to say that the characters as presented in the Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG, and even the blurb at the beginning of every adventure, seems to call back to the early days of fantasy gaming, but the content of the adventures themselves reaches back way before that. It creates a disconnect for me that’s been hard to reconcile.

I’ve been itching to play more Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG but I think I’m going to need to change something about it. It might be as simple as removing the demihuman races as options – play humans, simple as that. It might be that simple, though it would require some adjustments to the 0-level funnel table. I like that idea a lot actually and is certainly the easiest adjustment to make.

On the other hand, I’ve been tinkering with some ideas on how to move some aspects of DCC RPG into a more stable core fantasy setting, with those elves, dwarves, halflings, and more thrown in. I even have a great starting point, but I’m going to have to think about it some more. I’m sure you’ll see more here on the blog though!

GaryCon IX – What a Con!

I’m still recovering from the awesomeness that was GaryCon IX in Lake Geneva, WI. This is my fifth year going, and my fourth year running Cut to the Chase Games for as many people as I possibly could. That actually predates Cut to the Chase Games as a licensed company too! I’ve met tons of people there, and I can honestly say I have not had a bad table in the five years I’ve gone (as a Game Master at least – there have been one or two “duds” as a player unfortunately, but sometimes that happens). I hope my players have had a great time!

This year, I went with 4-hour blocks of my new adventure, Crypt of Bones. I skipped the first part of the scenario, which is an undead siege on a northern town. It’s a nice nod to Army of Darkness, but for the game I wanted to run it just didn’t fit in, so I worked around it to get players in and running as quickly as possible. The party of 10th-level characters (for D&D 5E) were sent by the aged Father Barondo to find and recover six stolen children, with divination spells pointing to the sinister Black Graveyard as their location.

I didn’t manage to kill any of the characters (which isn’t the point … really I swear!) but I think all of the tables had their challenging moments. The crypt itself I built on poster board sheets using a wide variety of premade cardboard Dungeon Tiles stuck on with 3M sticky buttons. It worked incredibly well – they were light, easy to transport, and most importantly were functional at the table. My Vault of Thrym that I ran at Gamehole Con 2016 was a bit unwieldy in those points, but it made up for it in “wow” factor.

The trip out to GaryCon was quick and painless. My friend (and co-creator of the upcoming Badlands & Barbarians RPG) Taylor drove and we had a friend of his with as well, Troy. Troy was running Adventurers League stuff all weekend, something I was very tempted to do, but ultimately I’m glad I didn’t cram more than my 30 hours of GMing into the con (which was spread over 3 days, since we left on the 4th). Great traveling companions, great weather (well, at least the weather wasn’t BAD), and a great time.

On Saturday evening, I helped out Danny O’Neill from HammerDog Games with the big finale of his Tower of Jing adventure. I’ll post more on that one, as it was a TON of fun and requires more details than I feel I can bang out just this moment. I’m looking forward to working with him at future cons, that’s for sure!

Sadly, I didn’t take any pictures this year, so you’ll just have to take my word for that it was an awesome time. Slung lots of dice, had lots of laughs, and still managed to keep my voice on Sunday. The trifecta!

12 Days of OSR Christmas Sale!

It’s that time of year – time to celebrate the holidays with some good, old-school fantasy roleplaying with friends and family. What better time than the 12 Days of OSR Christmas to pick up the WRATH OF THE KOBOLDS modules designed to entertain for hours and hours on end. Fight kobolds! Fight curses! Fight … more kobolds! There are other things too, and you can also snag the Tower of Skulls for a higher level romp through a demon undead plant filled dungeon.

It’s all 40% off until December 25th! Get the PDFs and complete your collection for D&D 5th Edition, Pathfinder, Swords & Wizardry, Savage Worlds, or Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG. More fun than you can shake a kobold spear at!

Check out the sale today!

Note that this sale does not include the just released TG1 Lost Temple of Ibholtheg. I should post about that release too!

Merry Christmas all!

“Weird Dave” Coulson
Cut to the Chase Games

The Spectacle Game

Woo hoo! You know what’s just around the corner? GAMEHOLE CON IV! It’s a great convention in Madison, WI, the first weekend in November. You’re going, right? I’ll be there, and I can’t wait. In the past few weeks I’ve been knuckling down on my big “Con Game” that I’m designing to be a real showstopper. As a matter of fact, I thought it would be a good time to write about something I’m referring to as “The Spectacle Game.”

I love conventions. I love gaming at them, I love meeting people at them, I love traveling to them, and I love seeing what vendors have for sale. Now I have transferred from “visiting vendors” to “being a vendor” but I don’t think my modules would move very well. I don’t think adventures sell very well, because there’s a lot of decisions that go into buying one. Is there information you can mine for your game? Are the encounters interesting and engaging? Can the designer convey the flow of the scenario without resorting to a railroad?

Most of these elements are difficult to sell at a booth, and since I plan on selling adventure modules pretty much exclusively (no plans for a big setting book or anything like that at this point), paying money and spending time in a booth just doesn’t seem like the best use of my time. Or the time of a volunteer. No, I want to be out in the trenches running games.

Which leads me to The Spectacle Game. Simple put, it’s a game that draws the eye and grabs the attention of people and just begs to be played. I started this earlier this year at GaryCon VIII by running BF1 Tower of Skulls – with a replica of the Tower of Skulls. It wasn’t to scale, but it was impressive in its own right. It caught peoples’ attention and I hope made some memorable games for people.

That was just the trial, however. I’ve been tinkering with an idea for a module series based around a relic called the Primordial Eye, which was used by Annam, god of the giants, to shape the elemental planes from the Elemental Chaos. He then broke up the Primordial Eye and gave a shard to his four favored children – Thrym, Surtr, Skoraeus, and Stronmaus. Each giant god took their shard and hid it away, some better than others.

Thrym took his and placed it in a hidden vault disguised as an iceberg in the Sea of Ice, which bordered the Frostfell and the Plane of Elemental Water. I wanted to BUILD this vault, which started initially as a pile of packing styrofoam that came with some printers where I worked. This was late spring/summer 2016 that I was planning it out, which eventually became Lost Vault of the Frost Giant God.

Tinkering with some ideas, going back and forth with tools, I planned out my three level vault for miniatures and maps and got busy. After a few trials and error, I finally settled on the process, and set out during a few weekends to create the Vault of Thrym. The result was fantastic! I’ve posted some pictures of the (nearly) completed vault on Twitter that you can take a look at.

I plan on taking the Vault of Thrym to Gamehole Con in November – along with Con of the North in Minneapolis in February – to create the first true Spectacle Game from Cut to the Chase Games. As luck would have it, likely the Kickstarter for the next series is going to be running at the same time, which is a bit of a bummer. If I had planned better, my Spectacle Game would be the Temple of Ibholtheg itself, but so goes the best laid plans of mice and men. Live and learn!

It is nice that the current hardcover release for Dungeons & Dragons is Storm King’s Thunder, a giant (literal and metaphorical) adventure that I feel Lost Vault of the Frost Giant God can serve as a nice follow-up. Likely I’ll get the finished module up on the DM’s Guild once it’s completed, though just for D&D 5th Edition. I use a few too many elements of the core product to comfortably release it under the OGL, but that’s OK.

And you know what’s also pretty awesome? I’m running Vault of Thrym five times at Gamehole Con, in two hour blocks for eight players each, and they’re all sold out! I’ll likely carve out some time for a pickup game or two as well. I hope people enjoy navigating the traps, tricks, and monsters of the iceberg vault of the frost giant god!