Labyrinth of Thorns

cover.jpg

My third original title for Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition was released last week. Labyrinth of Thorns is about — you guessed it! — a labyrinth. I wanted to write a story for Valentine's Day because I absolutely LOVE Valentine's Day, and the familiar symbols associated with the holiday make for fun storytelling.

Labyrinth of Thorns is set in a city called St. Valentine, which exists within a demiplane called Emberez. Emberez is embroiled in a long-lasting war between celestials and demons, and that larger narrative arc plays a role in this standalone module. My first one-shot, A Night of Masks and Monsters, is also set in Emberez, and both of these stories are part of a full campaign called A Requiem of Wings. Emberez is loosely inspired by old European cities; West Emberez is very Mediterranean — Italy/Greece — and East Emberez is eastern European, evocative of Czechia and parts of Russia. This campaign is a way for me to explore my heritage, since I am Italian on my mom's side and Russian-Jewish on my dad's.

St. Valentine, specifically, is very much a fantasy version of Florence, a city known for its incredible food and wine. I was in Florence last year (on my birthday! best day ever) and just swooned over all of the gorgeous architecture and art. I die over medieval and gothic cities so I wanted to write something that felt both pleasant and mystical. 

In the story, characters travel to a labyrinth through the back of a bakery called Dante's Casa di Dolci. Dante's wife, Simonetta, was kidnapped by the keeper of the labyrinth, so the characters must go find her. The character of Dante is somewhat inspired by my grandfather, Paul, who was so very handsome. (And my mom makes an appearance in the story! She is the NPC named Paula, who is a florist in St. Valentine.) Since this story is so Italian, it only made sense to include members of my family.

  Florentine chocolates... which definitely contained magical properties. 

Florentine chocolates... which definitely contained magical properties. 

I've been fascinated by mazes and labyrinths since I was a kid. Something about getting lost among hedges just seems so appealing to me. I pulled inspiration from Greek and Roman mythology, so I picked specific creatures and places that the players may encounter, including a harpy, a satyr, and a river of lost souls (a nod to the River Styx). The players will fight a three-headed beast called a chimera, which is a pretty obvious reference to Cerberus, the three-headed dog who guards the underworld. I love choosing creatures for my stories; that's usually where I start, by just looking through the Monster Manual

In a review of my one-shot, DM_Dango spoke kindly of the detail I include in describing the setting and scenery, and that made me happy since I always try to make the atmospheres of my stories very immersive. Here's the moodboard I made before writing; as you can tell, I was going for something lush and moody and sinister while also beautiful.

Snip20180222_20.png

You can get Labyrinth of Thorns on DMs Guild. Hope you enjoy exploring the labyrinth of St. Valentine!

Sleeping Giant Mountain

fantasy-2925250_1920.jpg

I'm so excited that my new original adventure, Sleeping Giant Mountain, was released earlier this week! The response has been so amazing so far and I can't wait to hear how people explore Kaiva!

This story was really different than anything I've written before. I tend to write very character-driven stories, and there's only ONE character in Sleeping Giant Mountain (to be fair, she is a super rad woman named Silja.) I start each campaign with a question: what kind of adventure do I want to play? I think the best stories begin with our own desires. So, I wanted to write something that was very focused on exploration that still had a very distinct atmosphere. Here's an early moodboard I made for it:

Snip20180123_17.png

The story is about a race of elemental giants who have been banished to wild abandoned planet called Kaiva and have remained in stasis for centuries, thanks to a lich's curse. An archaeologist named Silja has spent her life studying the giants and wants the giants to be awakened so they can claim Kaiva as their home. To get to Kaiva, characters must step through a portal that has appeared in the Forgotten Realms. I was initially inspired by this portal depicted in this piece of art by Andrei Pintea:

 
tumblr_nhbo90syaU1sp8yqvo1_1280.jpg
 

Giants are fascinating to me, and I was inspired by the mountain range in Forgotten Realms called "Spine of the World." What if the spine wasn't a metaphor, but once belonged to an actual giant? From there I came up with some lore for the backstory.

Beyond that, the story is a pretty straightforward quest — go into a mountain and break a curse by defeating the enemies who protect it. Rather than having an elaborate system of traps, I thought it'd be fun to just use the natural challenges of a mountain, such as slippery ice, dark tunnels, and treacherous ledges.

I enjoy writing stories in which mountains play an important role. I live in Northern Nevada and I absolutely love the Sierra Nevada mountains; I see them every single day and they never fail to inspire awe. 

My favorite part of this adventure is the unique mechanic I created for it called prismatic flux. At the start of the quest, each character is given a gemstone found around the perimeter of the portal.

healing_crystals__medium_4x3.jpg

The gemstones have magical properties that trigger a "prismatic flux," impacting the story in different ways and aiding the characters through encounters and challenges. Because this is such an elemental story, I thought gemstones were a fun way to capture that and reward players with a unique item. (Clearly I have crystals and gems on the brain, because minerals play a huge role in my upcoming full campaign, The Fractures.)

Sleeping Giant Mountain is the first in a quadrant I'm calling the Giants of Kaiva series. The next installment probably won't be out for a few months since I have some other projects coming out before then, but I am excited to explore all of Kaiva's lore and diverse ecosystems. For now, you can experience Kaiva by downloading the free one-shot or listening to my playlist below!

Download Sleeping Giant Mountain

A Night of Masks and Monsters

adphoto.jpg

A couple weeks ago, I released A Night of Masks and Monsters, my first original one-shot adventure for Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition. I first wrote this story back in November, and since then, I've been writing RPGs non-stop!

After playing D&D regularly for a year, I was ready to create my own stories. Writing an RPG is totally different than writing other forms of fiction. It's less about creating beautiful prose (although that's part of it!) and more about establishing a unique world and atmosphere with which players can interact. As someone who writes stories with mood/atmosphere in mind, writing RPGs has been a great way for me to approach this in a new way.

venetian-mask-ball-image-with-no-text.jpg

Inspiration for the story

A Night of Masks and Monsters was inspired by my October trip to Italy. This was my second visit to Italy, the country where my maternal family originates, and I was so inspired by the mysticism of Rome, Florence, and Venice. While in Venice, I perused shop after shop with wall-to-wall displays of masks. I have always loved the artistry of Venetian masks (and I have comedy/tragedy masks tattooed on my shoulder) and wanted to write a story prominently featuring masks. 

This idea reminded me of one of my absolutely favorite book series, Daughter of Smoke and Bone, which is about a war between seraphim and chimera. A scene in the book features a masquerade, and while in Italy, I saw no shortage of art featuring the eternal tension between angels and demons. The story kind of unfolded into something weird and new and cool after that, so I ran with it! (I did name two of the NPCs, Karou and Akiva, after the two main DOSAB characters. It's an homage to the series.)

A Night of Masks and Monsters is a one-shot, contained in a larger world I'm expanding into a full campaign later this year. It takes place in the fictional demiplane of Ibrido (Italian for "hybrid") which is a Venice-esque city built on multiple islands. The player's characters have been invited to a lavish party at the Castel di Maschera (Italian for "mask"), hosted by the Marquis di Maschera, Prospero (a name taken from my favorite Shakespeare play, The Tempest, as well as from Mask of the Red Death by Edgar Allen Poe). Upon entering the party, each player is given a unique mask modeled after an animal. The players learn early on that each mask has magical properties, both good and bad. Without spoiling too much, a larger adventure unfolds. I tried to marry a "murder mystery" with a "masquerade" and add some surreal, mystical elements to it. 

This story will become the starter leveling quest in the main campaign, which centers on a centuries-long war between celestials and demons. This campaign, titled A Requiem of Wings, takes place in a mystical realm loosely inspired by Gothic and Baroque Europe. There are some fun ideas in this that I'm excited to explore, such as a common thread of incense; mischievous deities who tug at the fate strings of life and death; and some new takes on familiar western and eastern European mythos (inspired by my own Italian and Russian heritage).

In the meantime, you can get A Night of Masks and Monsters for free on DMsGuild.com. I hope you enjoy the story, and be sure to let me know what you think!

Download A Night of Masks and Monsters

IMG_20171218_191401.jpg