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Under the Dark Fist now in POD

Posted: Tue Jul 03, 2018 5:39 pm
by night_druid
Under the Dark Fist is now available in Print on Demand format at drivethrurpg.

Under the Dark Fist

I have mixed feelings about UtDF. I'm not fond of the adventure itself, but it does have potential as a framework to build a campaign around. I think it suffers from power creep, and yet at the same time it really needed more powerful antagonists (if that makes sense). In a nutshell, the "bosses" of the empire are a little on the disappointing side, while they command armies in the tens of millions with thousands or millions of ships. They should have explored the horror aspects of the Vodoni more, I think, and incorporate more horror elements & creatures such as flesh golems, other lycanthrope types, and the like.

Re: Under the Dark Fist now in POD

Posted: Wed Jul 04, 2018 12:26 pm
by Big Mac
night_druid wrote:
Tue Jul 03, 2018 5:39 pm
Under the Dark Fist is now available in Print on Demand format at drivethrurpg.

Under the Dark Fist
Yay!

Under the Dark Fist is also on DMs Guild and RPG Now (in case anyone prefers to use one of those storefronts).

Also the Book-House page for SJA4 Under the Dark Fist has a link to resources (the deckplans are the most useful at the moment - more will be added later, if/when I find out about them).
night_druid wrote:
Tue Jul 03, 2018 5:39 pm
I have mixed feelings about UtDF. I'm not fond of the adventure itself, but it does have potential as a framework to build a campaign around. I think it suffers from power creep, and yet at the same time it really needed more powerful antagonists (if that makes sense). In a nutshell, the "bosses" of the empire are a little on the disappointing side, while they command armies in the tens of millions with thousands or millions of ships. They should have explored the horror aspects of the Vodoni more, I think, and incorporate more horror elements & creatures such as flesh golems, other lycanthrope types, and the like.
I have mixed feelings about Under the Dark Fist too.

Many of the spheres in the Vodoni Empire make little sense. Either they are uninhabited/uninhabitable and of no apparent strategic use (except perhaps to get people from one part of the SJ universe to another) or they just don't have any useful detail. A smaller empire, with a bunch of races that could be recruited to join a rebellion would have been a lot better.

Having said that, Under the Dark Fist is a major storyline in the Spelljammer timeline, with opposing factions uniting to tackle the threat. So the events of SJA4 should have influenced later products.

I think that SJA4 needs a bit of TLC, with each Vodoni Empire sphere getting a backstory for the time before the empire takeover that works well as well as additional backstory that makes the sphere into something worth visiting during the era of the empire.

And it should be possible for people to fight the empire in a long war of attrition, if they fail to "chop off the head" of the empire.

Re: Under the Dark Fist now in POD

Posted: Wed Jul 04, 2018 1:26 pm
by night_druid
Big Mac wrote:
Wed Jul 04, 2018 12:26 pm
Many of the spheres in the Vodoni Empire make little sense. Either they are uninhabited/uninhabitable and of no apparent strategic use (except perhaps to get people from one part of the SJ universe to another) or they just don't have any useful detail. A smaller empire, with a bunch of races that could be recruited to join a rebellion would have been a lot better.
Part of the problem is that some of the spheres feel more like planets. Gorth, Thaisa, Kra'aken, Salzar, and even Zalani all feel like they should just be planets, not spheres in their own right. Were I to run a Vodoni game, I'd slim the Empire down to 3 spheres: Vodoni (mostly unchanged), Vodonika (combining Vodonika, Gorth, Zalani, Passar, Theisa, & Kra'aken), and Vergon (combining Golot, Kofu, Salzar, Lost, & Vergon). The Empire's military is much smaller as a result; fewer ships, with a feudal system of Breeder lords & Enforcer knights ruling over a population from Dracula-esque castles. There are many noble houses (hundreds), and several royal houses (all distantly related to the Emperor) who constantly bicker & feud. "Purges" of these houses is not uncommon as small wars break out over the smallest slights; never enough to threaten the Empire or even the Houses overall health, but these wars might see dozens to hundreds of minor nobles die along with thousands of dandies and countless citizens caught in the cross-fire.
Having said that, Under the Dark Fist is a major storyline in the Spelljammer timeline, with opposing factions uniting to tackle the threat. So the events of SJA4 should have influenced later products.
Almost everything done in the SJ line was done in a vacuum. Almost nothing affected anything else, aside from maybe Goblin's Return/Heart of the Enemy.
And it should be possible for people to fight the empire in a long war of attrition, if they fail to "chop off the head" of the empire.
With UtDF, I see a fat sourcebook (100,000 words, 196 pages; think some of the later FR books like Empires of the Shining Sea) with a set of modules attached to it (3-4) in alphabet-module style. In my perfect universe, that is. ;) The Vodoni shouldn't be a quick, one and done fight. It should have been a long war to begin with. With multiple ways to end the war. Such as:

* Kill the emperor (meh)
* The emperor gets bored and moves on to other challenges
* The Empire realizes that conquering the PCs home spheres (don't tie it directly to the Radiant Triangle) is not worth the effort
* Rebellion in the Empire forces them to withdraw (for now)
* Internal strife within the various houses force a withdrawal (similar to Rebellion, but in the nobility, not commoners)
* PCs find a way to disrupt the flow river to the Empire, severing the route between it and their home spheres
* The Empire was never at war; the "war" was in fact a feud between two (or more) houses, the PCs just got caught in the crossfire. The Empire as a whole ignores the PCs' home spheres.
* The war was just probing the PC's home spheres' defenses. The Empire decides war is unprofitable, and turns to trade instead.
* The Empire discovers a greater threat, such as neogi or illithids, and turns their attention away from war with the home spheres.

Good gawd I didn't think that list would go so long! :o

Re: Under the Dark Fist now in POD

Posted: Sun Jul 08, 2018 7:25 pm
by GMWestermeyer
night_druid wrote:
Tue Jul 03, 2018 5:39 pm
I have mixed feelings about UtDF. I'm not fond of the adventure itself, but it does have potential as a framework to build a campaign around.
Yeah, it's the frame work for a campaign, but as an adventure on its own it is very blah.
night_druid wrote:
Tue Jul 03, 2018 5:39 pm
I think it suffers from power creep, and yet at the same time it really needed more powerful antagonists (if that makes sense). In a nutshell, the "bosses" of the empire are a little on the disappointing side, while they command armies in the tens of millions with thousands or millions of ships. They should have explored the horror aspects of the Vodoni more, I think, and incorporate more horror elements & creatures such as flesh golems, other lycanthrope types, and the like.
I agree. The Vodoni military, and its dependence on werewolves needs to be far better explained.
Big Mac wrote:
Wed Jul 04, 2018 12:26 pm
Having said that, Under the Dark Fist is a major storyline in the Spelljammer timeline, with opposing factions uniting to tackle the threat. So the events of SJA4 should have influenced later products.
But they don't, not that I can tell which leaves it as a one off. The Vodoni are simply never mentioned again.
Big Mac wrote:
Wed Jul 04, 2018 12:26 pm
I think that SJA4 needs a bit of TLC, with each Vodoni Empire sphere getting a backstory for the time before the empire takeover that works well as well as additional backstory that makes the sphere into something worth visiting during the era of the empire.
I think it can be used as background without doing much more then expanding the ships and crews. In many ways, instead of fighting SJA4 as an adventure, if you just use the Vodoni as raiders, like Pirates of Gith or Neogi the module makes more sense.

Re: Under the Dark Fist now in POD

Posted: Sun Jul 08, 2018 7:30 pm
by GMWestermeyer
night_druid wrote:
Wed Jul 04, 2018 1:26 pm
Part of the problem is that some of the spheres feel more like planets. Gorth, Thaisa, Kra'aken, Salzar, and even Zalani all feel like they should just be planets, not spheres in their own right. Were I to run a Vodoni game, I'd slim the Empire down to 3 spheres: Vodoni (mostly unchanged), Vodonika (combining Vodonika, Gorth, Zalani, Passar, Theisa, & Kra'aken), and Vergon (combining Golot, Kofu, Salzar, Lost, & Vergon). The Empire's military is much smaller as a result; fewer ships, with a feudal system of Breeder lords & Enforcer knights ruling over a population from Dracula-esque castles. There are many noble houses (hundreds), and several royal houses (all distantly related to the Emperor) who constantly bicker & feud. "Purges" of these houses is not uncommon as small wars break out over the smallest slights; never enough to threaten the Empire or even the Houses overall health, but these wars might see dozens to hundreds of minor nobles die along with thousands of dandies and countless citizens caught in the cross-fire.
It would be a great pdf, detailing the Vodoni. I wouldn't reduce the spheres, many of them are really on claimed in name alone. :) But I do like your other thoughts. I would absolutely make the military smaller, and the feudal idea makes sense - especially given the alignment of the enforcers.

Re: Under the Dark Fist now in POD

Posted: Sun Jul 08, 2018 11:14 pm
by night_druid
GMWestermeyer wrote:
Sun Jul 08, 2018 7:25 pm
I agree. The Vodoni military, and its dependence on werewolves needs to be far better explained.
I think they did that with Breeders. But then again, Enforcers are 7 HD brutes; a single enforcer could chew through a small party of low-levels no problem, and could even give a 5th level PC trouble. I kinda see Enforcers are pretty rare; a typical warship should probably only have a few aboard with a few breeders, the rest being normal crewmen. A ship of 60 of them...yikes. That'd be danged scary even to a fully-loaded ogre mammoth.
But they don't, not that I can tell which leaves it as a one off. The Vodoni are simply never mentioned again.
They don't mention any of the SRA series ever again. They don't link together, they don't have an overall plot, and they sorta take place in their own spheres, away from the Radiant Triangle. They can be woven together into a campaign but there's nothing in the books that really suggest that or provide help on doing so. All in all, I'd almost say TSR was ashamed of them, in some small way. Which is a shame; each had potential, if they had reigned in the authors and gone less "silly overpowered" and gave us more meat.
I think it can be used as background without doing much more then expanding the ships and crews. In many ways, instead of fighting SJA4 as an adventure, if you just use the Vodoni as raiders, like Pirates of Gith or Neogi the module makes more sense.
In so many ways a Vodoni Sourcebook would have been so much more useful. They could be raiders. Or even merchants (aggressive merchants). Or just another place to adventure. Nothing says the evil empire need be a completely closed society where adventures are slain on sight. With a little political intrigue, one house could welcome and even sponsor adventurers of less than entirely scrupulous morals to undermine their rivals. ;)

Re: Under the Dark Fist now in POD

Posted: Sun Jul 08, 2018 11:15 pm
by night_druid
GMWestermeyer wrote:
Sun Jul 08, 2018 7:30 pm
It would be a great pdf, detailing the Vodoni. I wouldn't reduce the spheres, many of them are really on claimed in name alone. :) But I do like your other thoughts. I would absolutely make the military smaller, and the feudal idea makes sense - especially given the alignment of the enforcers.
I've got notes on that sort of thing, although nothing even approaching a working outline, and probably nothing more than a few pages, at best. One day I need to compile them into at least an outline.

Re: Under the Dark Fist now in POD

Posted: Mon Jul 09, 2018 12:49 pm
by Big Mac
GMWestermeyer wrote:
Sun Jul 08, 2018 7:25 pm
Big Mac wrote:
Wed Jul 04, 2018 12:26 pm
Having said that, Under the Dark Fist is a major storyline in the Spelljammer timeline, with opposing factions uniting to tackle the threat. So the events of SJA4 should have influenced later products.
But they don't, not that I can tell which leaves it as a one off. The Vodoni are simply never mentioned again.
Exactly.

Given the threat level that just does not make sense.
GMWestermeyer wrote:
Sun Jul 08, 2018 7:25 pm
Big Mac wrote:
Wed Jul 04, 2018 12:26 pm
I think that SJA4 needs a bit of TLC, with each Vodoni Empire sphere getting a backstory for the time before the empire takeover that works well as well as additional backstory that makes the sphere into something worth visiting during the era of the empire.
I think it can be used as background without doing much more then expanding the ships and crews. In many ways, instead of fighting SJA4 as an adventure, if you just use the Vodoni as raiders, like Pirates of Gith or Neogi the module makes more sense.
I think that there needs to be some foreshadowing for SJA4, put into a game before the adventure is run.

Maybe the PCs could find a destroyed Vodoni ship and take the figurehead off of what is left of the ship, thinking that it might be magical.

Perhaps the PCs could travel to one of the spheres of the Vodoni Empire shortly before it is invaded.

Perhaps the PCs could hear rumors of werewolf pirates long before they actually meet the Vodoni.

And there is no point in having all those crystal spheres if there is no reason for the PCs to go and visit them. :)

I'm not sure how the Vodoni invasion could fit with the Second Unhuman War. I'll have to check what products were published when, but if the Vodoni invasion caused the Elven Navy to pull away from key space orc worlds, that could give the scro time to get ships and helms onto those worlds and to get the space orcs back into Wildspace. :twisted:

Other factions (like the Mind Flayers) could also be looking for the Elves to make mistakes that could allow them to reestablish parts of their former empire. :twisted:

Re: Under the Dark Fist now in POD

Posted: Mon Jul 09, 2018 12:51 pm
by Big Mac
GMWestermeyer wrote:
Sun Jul 08, 2018 7:30 pm
night_druid wrote:
Wed Jul 04, 2018 1:26 pm
Part of the problem is that some of the spheres feel more like planets. Gorth, Thaisa, Kra'aken, Salzar, and even Zalani all feel like they should just be planets, not spheres in their own right. Were I to run a Vodoni game, I'd slim the Empire down to 3 spheres: Vodoni (mostly unchanged), Vodonika (combining Vodonika, Gorth, Zalani, Passar, Theisa, & Kra'aken), and Vergon (combining Golot, Kofu, Salzar, Lost, & Vergon). The Empire's military is much smaller as a result; fewer ships, with a feudal system of Breeder lords & Enforcer knights ruling over a population from Dracula-esque castles. There are many noble houses (hundreds), and several royal houses (all distantly related to the Emperor) who constantly bicker & feud. "Purges" of these houses is not uncommon as small wars break out over the smallest slights; never enough to threaten the Empire or even the Houses overall health, but these wars might see dozens to hundreds of minor nobles die along with thousands of dandies and countless citizens caught in the cross-fire.
It would be a great pdf, detailing the Vodoni. I wouldn't reduce the spheres, many of them are really on claimed in name alone. :) But I do like your other thoughts. I would absolutely make the military smaller, and the feudal idea makes sense - especially given the alignment of the enforcers.
I wouldn't reduce them either.

There is little enough Spelljammer canon, as it is. I'd rather build more content than cut stuff back.

But to each his or her own. :)

Re: Under the Dark Fist now in POD

Posted: Mon Jul 09, 2018 1:08 pm
by nerik
I think Under the Dark Fist should have been a full-on boxed set.

1 book is the campaign
1 book is a gazetter of the empire's spheres
Ship cards
Map cards (1 per sphere)
Big old paper map of the whole empire
Carstock ship stand-ups

...the works!

Re: Under the Dark Fist now in POD

Posted: Mon Jul 09, 2018 1:55 pm
by night_druid
I hesitate on boxed set solely because boxed sets tended to have low word-count per page. I'd want it to be jam-packed ala the later 2e FR products ;)

Re: Under the Dark Fist now in POD

Posted: Mon Jul 09, 2018 4:01 pm
by night_druid
Big Mac wrote:
Mon Jul 09, 2018 12:51 pm
I wouldn't reduce them either.

There is little enough Spelljammer canon, as it is. I'd rather build more content than cut stuff back.

But to each his or her own. :)
Not so much cutting back as those spheres, as presented, are damned thin on anything really interesting. Some are just "here's a one-note planet. Nothing else interesting in the sphere. And even the planet given reads more like a moon or something." If you combined it all together you might actually get an interesting sphere or three.

Re: Under the Dark Fist now in POD

Posted: Tue Jul 10, 2018 1:27 pm
by GMWestermeyer
night_druid wrote:
Mon Jul 09, 2018 4:01 pm
Not so much cutting back as those spheres, as presented, are damned thin on anything really interesting. Some are just "here's a one-note planet. Nothing else interesting in the sphere. And even the planet given reads more like a moon or something." If you combined it all together you might actually get an interesting sphere or three.
I would still leave them as spheres, and focus on the idea that spheres are large, the Empire's 'control' of 12 spheres is largely a fiction, many of the spheres probably have more going on then is listed. They could be expanded a bit. :)

Re: Under the Dark Fist now in POD

Posted: Tue Jul 10, 2018 3:01 pm
by nerik
GMWestermeyer wrote:
Tue Jul 10, 2018 1:27 pm
night_druid wrote:
Mon Jul 09, 2018 4:01 pm
Not so much cutting back as those spheres, as presented, are damned thin on anything really interesting. Some are just "here's a one-note planet. Nothing else interesting in the sphere. And even the planet given reads more like a moon or something." If you combined it all together you might actually get an interesting sphere or three.
I would still leave them as spheres, and focus on the idea that spheres are large, the Empire's 'control' of 12 spheres is largely a fiction, many of the spheres probably have more going on then is listed. They could be expanded a bit. :)
Most, IIRC, got a single paragraph of description - they could stand to be expanded more than just a little. :mrgreen:

One sphere, IIRC, was a null-magic sphere, how did he conquer that one?

Re: Under the Dark Fist now in POD

Posted: Tue Jul 10, 2018 10:21 pm
by Jaid
i dunno, it doesn't seem to make much sense to go off to a new sphere with your conquering fleets if you don't even really have control of spheres where you already have a presence, unless your goal is something other than controlling spheres (it makes sense for trade, for example, because you can find new markets, new and more profitable trade routes, etc... but if you're looking to control territory, picking a fight in a new sphere is going to cost a lot of resources and add a whole lot of enemies).

Re: Under the Dark Fist now in POD

Posted: Wed Jul 11, 2018 12:08 am
by AuldDragon
Much of of the empire is *explicitly* Vulkaran's just because he says so, rather than having conquered it in an extended war. Golot is essentially a tributary, where the dragons (who rule the humanoids) are too divided to mount a counterattack that would break them free; it's possible the humanoids don't even know the dragons are tributaries of the Vodoni. Gorth has no known sentient life, meaning there is no one to dispute his claim of dominion. The "drow" of Kofuspace are peaceful agrarians, and weren't able to mount a defense (and can't now), so Vulkaran didn't need to try very hard to conquer them; it's quite possible there's also many "bubbles" that his forces have not even been to, where the residents aren't even aware they've been "conquered." Similarly, the Kra'aken are pacifists, and so they didn't mount a defense of their sphere; a good addition to the details would be that they work to undermine Vulkaran slowly with their mental powers. Lostspace is a ruin, so there was no one to defend the sphere. Passarspace has no life, so again, there was nothing to defend against Vulkaran's claim. Salzarspace has no spelljamming creatures, and is magic-dead. There's nothing to dispute his claim to the sphere. Thasiaspace is again another one where there's no spelljamming presence to dispute his claim, even though he can't actually conquer the natives. Vergonspace is Vulkaran's simply because he supplies all the warring factions with weapons, keeping them fighting each other rather than fighting Vulkaran. Zalanispace is yet another sphere of peaceful people who couldn't put up much of a fight. Many of the systems with peaceful populaces probably have governments created by Vulkaran, so they rule in ways that are acceptable to him.

There's enough on each sphere to expand them if a DM wishes to do so. Obviously it would be a lot of work, and more information would be really helpful, but other than the two spheres are are essentially empty, the rest could definitely make interesting campaign locations.

Jeff

Re: Under the Dark Fist now in POD

Posted: Wed Jul 11, 2018 1:49 am
by Jaid
see, that's what gets me. if there are places that you don't control in spheres where you know people can't fight back effectively, why would you go off to some other place? you already have easy targets, and the resources to increase your control there are already in place. why would you stretch your supply lines by another 100+ days to go somewhere else?

then again, i suppose the abundance of total pushover crystal spheres in that area may be what drove that decision... frankly, i wouldn't be the least bit surprised to find out that in the aftermath the mind flayers (and to a lesser extent the neoghi, once they get their fleet back in order) move into those spheres in a big way to take advantage of the pathetically weak resistance; the elves lost a lot and probably won't be able to stop them effectively, and nobody else is likely to care. so that's how i would have the story go forward from the events in the adventure... with the vodoni fleets defeated, there are now an assortment of smaller fleets with poor organization scrambling to grab control for themselves of whatever they can get their hands on, and unable to control nearly as much of it... with the mind flayers and neoghi making significant gains for themselves (again, with probably the mind flayers gaining the upper hand because their fleet was on the winning side, while the neoghi were on the losing side and were probably extra-hated for betraying the other members of the fleet).

Re: Under the Dark Fist now in POD

Posted: Wed Jul 11, 2018 3:26 am
by AuldDragon
Jaid wrote:
Wed Jul 11, 2018 1:49 am
see, that's what gets me. if there are places that you don't control in spheres where you know people can't fight back effectively, why would you go off to some other place? you already have easy targets, and the resources to increase your control there are already in place. why would you stretch your supply lines by another 100+ days to go somewhere else?
But those that can't fight back *are* effectively under his control. He can take what he wants from them, when he wants. His empire extends there simply because he is willing to make the claim and it isn't contested.

A good long-running campaign with Under the Dark Fist as the backdrop would be to teach some of those pushover spheres the importance of a decent self-defense force, IMO. The Zalani would make for good leaders in that group, IMO.

Jeff

Re: Under the Dark Fist now in POD

Posted: Wed Jul 11, 2018 5:03 am
by Jaid
AuldDragon wrote:
Wed Jul 11, 2018 3:26 am
Jaid wrote:
Wed Jul 11, 2018 1:49 am
see, that's what gets me. if there are places that you don't control in spheres where you know people can't fight back effectively, why would you go off to some other place? you already have easy targets, and the resources to increase your control there are already in place. why would you stretch your supply lines by another 100+ days to go somewhere else?
But those that can't fight back *are* effectively under his control. He can take what he wants from them, when he wants. His empire extends there simply because he is willing to make the claim and it isn't contested.

A good long-running campaign with Under the Dark Fist as the backdrop would be to teach some of those pushover spheres the importance of a decent self-defense force, IMO. The Zalani would make for good leaders in that group, IMO.

Jeff
i have serious doubts that he has anywhere *near* the infrastructure required to fully exploit those spheres, and even more doubt that he has genuinely fully conquered them; to control one earth-sized planet alone would likely require many millions of troops to be able to take on a planet full of pacifists, never mind that they likely won't stay pacifists forever (or at least, not all of them). to control even a single asteroid belt and exploit it (ie have enough ships to patrol them regularly etc) is going to require major investments.

he might control the biggest population centres in the sphere... and even then, probably not all of them because new ones not under his control must be popping up on a regular basis. and many of the spheres has has are largely empty of people to conquer, and will need major development, but likely also have bountiful resources (like precious metal deposits and such).