Thursday, December 11, 2008

Gates of Death

If you haven't read any of Karl Edward Wagner's Kane stories, well, I'm not surprised. They've been out of print for years, and the few collections printed in the recent past go for outrageous sums of money. I prowl the Planet Stories forum at Paizo on a weekly basis, hoping that they've managed to secure the license for a reprint. So far, no dice.

I've read only one Kane novel, Dark Crusade, and it provided a number of ideas to help populate my campaign:

1. I want to create a number of "freelance NPCs", basically rival adventurers who can serve as foils to the characters' plots. Think of it as semi-character driven sandboxing.

2. I've designed a series of gates throughout the region that allow rapid transport across the area, turning a week-long trip into a one day excursion.

There is, of course, a catch. I don't like the Star Trek/science fiction-esque feel of a teleportation transit system. It's too cold, clinical, and technical.

Instead, these passages are called the Gates of Death, and for good reason. When the gods and titans warred over the world, it was only partially completed. Here and there, titanic and divine creatures still labored over the world. The world spider was one of these creatures. It and its brood wove the firmaments of time and space.

The Death Gates are areas where the world spider and its children still lurk, realms where time and space run at odd angles. To a mortal, this lets you take a journey of 100 miles in 50 steps. Nice, isn't it?

Sadly, the world spider and its children are trapped within the gates. They've gone mad over the eons, as they are trapped within creation while the gods and titans are consigned to the planes. Thus, while a journey through the Gates is but 50 steps, it is 50 steps of pure, maniacal, panic as a horde of eons old spider demons rushes after you.

Legends hold that the world spider has lost track of the extent of its domain. Passages twist and turn, leading to chambers and realms untouched since the dawn of time. Further legends whisper that, hidden within that awful maze, are doorways that contain the treasure troves of gods, lands where gold grows from the soil like grass, and a library in which every single truth of the world is kept hidden.

So, that's how I'm handling gates in my campaign.

Kane's adventures also prompted a few other ideas, but I'll get to those in future posts. If you have a chance to read any of the stories, I highly recommend them.


Unknown said...

Good idea, Miguel, but you've got to give it teeth. It's all fine and dandy to describe the danger of the Gates, but without some mechanical punishment to back it up, there's no real sting.

In 4e terms, I'd make each passge through the Gates a skill challenge. Success means you arrive where you intended, shaken but unharmed. Partial success means that you arrive at the wrong Gate or you emerge with some damage (lost healing surges, perhaps). Failure means that you're thrown out of a random Gate *and* you've got some lingering damage (-2 to attack rolls for the next day, representing how badly shaken you are from the experience).

Mike Mearls said...

Actually, I've designed the gates as a dungeon. You can move through them, dodge monsters, and hope to escape through the right door before you're dead.
Taking a short rest in there is suicide.

NthDegree256 said...

Dungeons cure all ills!

NthDegree256 said...

Incidentally, we've taken to calling Linked Portal destinations in 4E "gate addresses," ala Stargate SG-1.

Unknown said...

Ah, Kane.. good stuff. I was lucky enough to get Dark Crusade, Darkness Weaves & Bloodstone from the Science Fiction Book Club when they offered it years ago (the "Gods in Darkness" collected work). Didn't get "The Midnight Sun" though, the companion short story volume, and I've been kicking myself since.

I can loan you the Gods in Darkness volume if you'd like to read the other 2 Kane novels. Shoot me an email if you like.


Stuart Greenwell said...

Mike, check out the Paperback Swap site. They have some Karl Edward Wagner stuff there.

Unknown said...

Been a big fan of the Kane books for quite some time. Darkness Weaves, Night Winds, Bloodstone, Dark Crusade, and Death Angel's Shadow in no particular order.

Psynister said...

Looks like you either are (or should be) a fan of Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series. There is something very similar in that series known as the Ways.

They were beautiful passageways when they were created, full of light and life. After an event known as the Breaking of the World, they became dark and the life within either died or became twisted. Now they are haunted by a black wind that whispers with the screams of tortured souls longing to bring suffering and death to the living.

Here's a link if you want a little more detail about them:

The books themselves give far more depth and description to them than that link does, of course, but that's a general idea of them.

Anonymous said...

Wow, that's an excellent resolution between travel that is quick, and travel that is too easy, both from a fluff and mechanical perspective. I really want to do that now.

It explains why everyone ELSE doesn't do it much, and it means that you CAN easily travel to far off lands, but that you can't just "pop back to sell the loot" unless you want it to be.

It's a bit like the idea of making travel interesting by having skill checks or encounters happen on the way, except that it's really hard to make those _interesting_: either (a) there's a significant chance a player will be permanently harmed by a single random roll, which normally sucks or (b) there's no out-of-character downside to travelling for weeks and you lose any sense of immersion, which normally sucks or (c) you have contrivedly complicated challenges, which often sucks.

It is indeed very like the Ways in the Wheel of Time, except that it works _better_ in DnD, because in DnD "and then there's a random lot of monsters which are creepy" is _fun_, whereas in Jordon it becomes repetetive, where it's supposed to be very risky, but they kill tension by doing it whenever quick travel helps the plot, and NOT doing it whenever horrible out-of-touch-ness helps the plot.