Sunday, July 31, 2011

More Varied Magery

The wizard's name is -- uh -- Merklynn. Yeah, that's it.
For me, one of the big attractions to new Fantasy RPGs is to check out the magic systems (which are part of the overall setting, yes) and the mechanics used.

While in the HERO System, almost any magic system can be created (with varying degrees of ease) the concept behind the system is where it usually starts first.

Now, what if -- rather than starting 1st level and moving up in a general sort of magic school -- you start in a very specific (yet eventually broad) niche? I'm not talking about evocation, abjuration necessarily but... well, here's a list:

Color-based philosophies
White Magery -- healing, curing, purification, absolution, resurrection
Black Magery -- damage, corruption, destruction, damnation
Colouratives -- auric manipulation, light manipulation (visual illusions), prismatics

Elemental Magery
- fire mages (aduromagus? pyromancy?)
- water mages (aquamagus? hydromancy?)
- metal mages (terramagus A?)
- plant mages (terramagus B?)
- air mages (aeromagus?)
Alternative Magery
- sound and frequency mages (clamormancers?)
- summoners / channelers
  -- human spirits (saints, powerful deceased)
  -- inhuman spirits (holy spirits, elemental spirits, fallen spirits)
  -- holy entities
  -- unholy entities


Friday, July 29, 2011

Research: first 8 lands and first 8 plagues

Still on the Zoroastrian kick. Looking at this document which talks about a creation battle between Ahura Mazda (good, omniscient) and Angra Mainyu (evil, not omniscient). Basically, Ahura Mazda creates various nice lands to inhabit, while Angra Mainyu creates plagues. Sixteen each (more or less), but I'll just go through the first eight of either side for now.

Interesting battle -- the nice god creates nice places for people to live in, the bad god introduces stuff to mess things up.

Let's check out the score card, shall we?

Round 1
Land: "Airyana Vaeja, by the Vanguhi Daitya"
Plague: "the Serpent in the River and Winter, a work of the Daevas"

Don't know much about the land, but it must be fantastic. Angra Mainyu gets away with creating two plagues here. Sneaky.

Round 2
Land: "the plain [Doubtful] which the Sughdhas inhabit"
Plague: "the locust, which brings death unto cattle and plants"

Nice land, a race that lives there. The plague of locusts is created to destroy sources of food. Nasty.

Round 3 
Land: the strong, holy Mouru
Plague: "plunder and sin [Doubtful]"

A holy land, excellent! I'm assuming the [Doubtful] tags reflect that the translator is unsure about the exact meaning, but the evil god gets away with two plagues again -- or maybe it's just one plague and the subtle connotations are lost in the translation.

Round 4
Land: "the beautiful Bakhdhi with high-lifted banner"
Plague: "ants and the ant-hills"

A beautiful land vs. ants (insects again, darn it).

Round 5
Land: "Nisaya, that lies between the Mouru and Bakhdhi"
Plague: "the sin of unbelief"

Hm. Mouru, Nisaya, and Bakhdhi are beautiful neighboring lands. I'd interpret this sin of unbelief to be mostly a plague on priests who -- it is assumed -- need faith to perform their duties.

Round 6
Land: "the house-deserting Haroyu"
Plague: "tears and wailing"

The land doesn't seem that great to have house-deserters, unless it's so comfortable outside that there's no need for shelter. The evil created -- crying. Loud crying. Well, it is annoying. Unless it means he created 'sorrow'.

Round 7
Land: "Vaekereta, of the evil shadows"
Plague: "Pairika Knathaiti, who claves unto Keresaspa"

A land with evil shadows from the good god, and... who knows what that is from the evil god? Guess I'd have to Google it, but I'm not approaching this as a scholar, just looking for material for a setting. But still, the last two lands don't seem that spectacular.

Round 8
Land: "Urva of the rich pastures"
Plague: "the sin of pride"

Whoa. At last a kick-ass land. Breadbasket of all the lands! But the evil god is worst here -- it's said that the sin of pride has toppled even angels...

More next time, but it seems that the sneaky evil god is winning in quantity. As for quality, well, the good god's probably very humble and lets his work speak for itself -- which is why we don't know that much about these wondrous lands. His followers probably do and think that they outshine all the stuff that the evil god made.

Let's hope so!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Stars of the Court

In the current weekly game I'm in, we're constructing a court of 108 Stars to stand against the end of all things. And if you Google "108 Stars", or know of that reference, yes the game is inspired by Suikoden and many other stories.

The main point of this post: to list the first batch of star positions!

  1. Soverign Star
  2. Star of Preservation
  3. Star of Remembrance
  4. Invincible Star
  5. Star of Judgement
  6. Faceless Star
  7. Restless Star
  8. Star of Eight
  9. Prodigal Star
  10. Star of Brilliance
  11. Star of Omens
  12. Star of Miracles
  13. Dragon Star
  14. Star of Craggadon
  15. Star of Moments
  16. Opportune Star
  17. Craven Star
  18. Star of Bitterness
  19. Hidden Star
  20. Reckless Star
  21. Star of Thrones
  22. Star of Swords
  23. Star of Slayers
  24. Watchful Star
  25. Star of Scorpions
  26. Star of Grace
  27. Wasting Star
  28. Humbled Star
More next time.

Research: Cataclysms and the Underground and Ants

I've been checking out out sites discussing Native American tribes and references to the "Ant People" to further extend my ideas on this world-building premise:

The Cataclysm that was used to cleanse the world may not have been one thing; it may have been two things that were not experienced at the same time since the people and races were so far apart:

1. A nuclear explosion-type event (war of the gods? Blackmoor?) in this D&D fantasy world with accompanying nuclear winter (evil winter!);
2. An Ice Age (scientific or evil in origin);
3. Something else that causes fires and winters.

Okay, so that's three things. Anyway, to distract you from my inability to count, here's an interesting passage:
The First People of Tokpela, the First World, were safely sheltered underground as fire rained down upon the earth. Volcanoes and fire storms destroyed all that was above them until the earth, the waters, and the air itself was all elemental fire.

While this was going on, the people lived happily underground with the Ant People. Their homes were just like the people's homes on the earth-surface being destroyed. There were rooms to live in and rooms where they stored their food. There was light to see by too. The tiny bits of crystal in the sand of the anthill had absorbed the light of the sun, and using the inner vision of the center located behind the eyes they could see by its reflection very well.

Excellent basis for more underground caverns. And with Ant People, you can certainly use the material in the Fire in the Jungle sourcebook by dbrandt regarding ant-based dungeons. Or you can use the compressed version of it on his blog.

Which reminds me, the sourcebook itself had a whole bunch of material on postholocaust jungles and the blog has a multiple posts on the matter. Time to read the book again.

In the meantime, let's reflect on the image of a giant monkey head (the Tomb of the Monkey God) and think about the possible cataclysm.

A war of wizards is mentioned in the FITJ sourcebook -- perhaps something greater? If I take this for Enigmundia, then maybe when the War in the Heavens took place, way back when arcane magics and divine spells were the same thing, it was not fought between gods but also between their followers -- the most powerful, skilled, and trusted sages and mages and warriors gifted with ancient lore.

I also like the idea of two distance empires fighting over the Jungle for some unknown reason, and the use of a Beam to control the peoples in the Jungle, and the transorbital lobotomy used to overcome the effects of the beam -- many many mysterious things in the past to uncover if the players wish to.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Research: An Evil Winter Is Coming; Save the Best Seeds!

If you'll remember the past posts on my Enigmundia world-building adventures, you'll remember that other folks had suggested I take a look at Persia as an inspiration for a couple of the countries / empires (Zoroastrian Persia and Muslim Persia actually).

I found this link on Zoroastrian beliefs / teachings and learned how "Ahura Mazda Teaches Yima How To Save All The Best and Fairest In The World".

From line 46: 
And Ahura Mazda spake unto Yima, saying,

'O fair Yima, son of Vivanghat! Upon the material world the evil winters are about to fall, that shall bring the fierce, deadly frost; upon the material world the evil winters are about to fall, that shall make snowflakes fall thick, even in aredvi deep on the highest tops of the mountains...

Of course, this could be the sanitized version. The original statement could be something more like this (assuming a D&Dish world):
"And God said to his chosen prophet, 'Some idiot went into Raggi's Death Frost Doom  module (currently available in PDF form for only $5 on RPGnow) and foolishly unleashed a frosty hell-on-earth by doing things they shouldn't have. Good thing the dead don't travel that fast -- you've got time to build an underground city and move all your food and family and friends there. Don't worry; I'll help."

Seriously though, check out these lines:
(70) 'Thither thou shalt bring the seeds of men and women, of the greatest, best, and finest on this earth; thither thou shalt bring the seeds of every kind of cattle, of the greatest, best, and finest on this earth.
I understand the seed of every kind bit, but what does the "seeds of men and women, of the greatest, best, and finest on this earth" mean? Since I know nothing about the actual religion, and am only using this as an inspiration for a game world -- could it be like a Noah's Ark, only with the best and the brightest people? When the word 'seed' is mentioned, does it mean the actual people? Certainly not their souls, because it talks about seeds of every kind of tree in #74. Or does it mean their genetic material, or something that can be used to reincarnate or resurrect or repopulate the earth?

I think it's also interesting to note that there'd be a whole lot of flooding once the evil winter is over.
(74) 'Thither thou shalt bring the seeds of every kind of tree, Of the highest of size and sweetest of odour on this earth; thither thou shalt bring the seeds of every kind of fruit, the best of savour and sweetest of odour. All those seeds shalt thou bring, two of every kind, to be kept inexhaustible there, so long as those men shall stay in the Vara.
Hm. Seeds here seem to be actual seeds, leading credence to some sort of material in the prior line that should allow reproduction of humans from the best genetic stock -- like an ancient GATTACA. The divine power will render the fruit of these trees inexhaustible.

And there's an opportunity here to twist a little Garden of Eden riff.
(80) 'There shall be no humpbacked, none bulged forward there; no impotent, no lunatic; no one malicious, no liar; no one spiteful, none jealous; no one with decayed tooth, no leprous to be pent up, nor any of the brands wherewith Angra Mainyu stamps the bodies of mortals.

Ooh, you might think this line is talking about animals until you get to the 'no one malicious, no liar; no one spiteful, none jealous' bit. We're talking about people here.

Maybe when some folks were talking about the Master Race way back when -- if this was their inspiration -- they should've looked at some of these qualifications.

You could read this as someone saying, "Save only the best people from this terrible blight." Seems brutal, but you could argue that they're saying "we've only got space for so many, and they've got to repopulate the land after this thing blows over, so let's stick with the best for our best chances at good future stock." It's like the end of the human race here.

I also like the suggestiveness of the line 'nor any of the brands wherewith Angra Mainyu (the evil deity) stamps the bodies of mortals'. Reminiscent of the Mark of Cain and the Mark of the Beast if I'm remembering my Bible correctly -- sorry to any priests or religious folk out there, it's all mixed up with various conspiracy theories and horror movies.

Besides, I used to cry myself to sleep after forcing myself to read Revelations so that whole portion of the Bible is traumatic for me.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Inspiration: Dreadstar

Vanth Dreadstar with sword in hand.
Dreadstar was a long-running epic comic series. It was essentially a space opera / space fantasy story with a mix of moderately powerful to ridiculously powerful characters with the self-appointed task of bringing down an oppressive empire (having already neutered the opposing one in the 1st issue).

As if facing off against the might of an intergalactic empire wasn't enough, the head of that empire -- Lord Papal -- was granted powers to face off against the heroes of the story by the gods that he served.

It was a great run, full of mind games, strategy, betrayals, and personal tragedy.

What can we grab from this comic series?

Campaign Premise

The series was premised on a core team of characters with a very specific goal -- to bring down an Empire. Even with powers abilities far, far beyond those of normal citizens of the empires this is a huge undertaking.

To achieve their ends the had to gather allies, secure technologies that could unbalance the delicate balance of power with the OTHER empire in existence, elude capture from determined and highly skilled and funded individuals, and complete their attempt to erode popular support of Lord Papal and his Church.

Well, they don't think small. Dare I say -- sandbox campaign?

Characters and Teamwork

Individually, the members of the Dreadstar team are pretty formidable:
  • Vanth Dreadstar - bonded to a mystical sword crafted by a god, he is at least twenty times stronger than a normal human, can use his sword to absorb and reflect energy attacks, can blast things with the same sword, has a regenerative healing ability, and is a superbly skilled hand-to-hand combatant.
  • Syzgy Darklock - powerful mage with a dark past (he traded something precious to him for power), he is skilled at magic, mental abilities, and a host of other things. He can be surprised and knocked out, but if he isn't he can make you wish you were dead a hundred times over.
  • Willow - blind telepath and technopath (she can control computers and machines) who was trained in combat by Vanth and Syzgy, and can see through the eyes of her pet monkey (and anyone else open to her telepathy) she acts as the mindlink to the team.
  • Oedi - the deadly Cat-man of the group. Swift, agile, possessed of keen feline senses and driven by revenge.
  • Skeevo - the resident smuggler who's a relative lightweight in combat but wealthy with resources, contacts, and sneakiness.

Together, however, they're damn near unstoppable. The best way to take them on is to separate them (GMs take note) and deal with the resulting gaps in the skillset. But that's not always easy. I mean, Vanth and Syzygy survived a nuclear blast that decimated an entire -- ah, but that's a post for another day.

Players, think about completing your party similarly, and be wary about your team-ups. You want to be like these guys when taking on an empire.

Christmas in July on RPGNow and DriveThruRPG

There's a sale on RPGNow / DriveThruRPG.

Of interest (so far) are the D6 Astral Empires RPG that I posted about before, the Fading Suns sourcebook Arcane Tech, the Red Tide Campaign Sourcebook, and the Cthonian Stars Core Setting book.

Of course, my choices may change over the next few days. But it's darned tempting.

I'm really not in the collecting mode anymore, but the premises and the potential executions of these items are intriguing.

Anyone else out there have any recommendations regarding items on sale?

Tricking Your Own Mind

Worldbuilding is a tricky thing. And with folks like me who obsess about details, sometimes you get sucked into unnecessary details while leaving critical core ones undefined.

So, this comics inspiration week is also there to allow me to take a step back and look at what folks are doing in the blogosphere, to read up on unrelated games, and to look back at my Enigmundia stuff with fresh eyes.

Oh, and to make sure that I finish my short story by the end of this month. Our focus for this round of writing is setting (while still maintaining competent -- if not excellent -- plot, character, and storytelling). And to read the set of readings due for this weekend's short story critique!

If I didn't do this, it's likely I'd be scribbling away at the smallest things here and there.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Inspiration: Body Bags

Body Bags is a sporadic comic book series that spotlights two characters: the knife-wielding Mack and his 14 year old daughter Panda. They are body baggers, paid bounty hunters / assassins in a futuristic U.S.A. where cybernetic body modifications are available but not necessarily mainstream.

The comic book series was controversial for numerous reason, including -- a main character who seems to have no compunctions about killing others regardless of age, a main character who is underage (14 and a half according to the comic) and is depicted as volumptuous, and gratuitous amounts of (at the time) violence and swearing in a comic book.

Did I like it? I liked it enough to collect the entire initial series, but there was something about the cold-blooded murder by Mack in the opening sequence that really turned me off him. In fact, in order to enjoy the rest of the series I realize now that I deliberately ignored it. Even now, I find that scene extremely distasteful despite the two rationalizations in the comic book concerning the matter.

Anyway, what can we extract from the series for games?




Characters

Distaste over character morality aside, the two main characters are interesting for different reasons.
Meet Mack and one of his knives.

Mack is a huge, hulking man who wears an armored T-shirt and armored zippermask with a yellow clown face on it. He also uses two massive knives in combat that seem indestructible and cable of cutting through almost anything and -- it's not really clear how -- he seems strong enough to throw these knives hard enough to match the concussive force of a howitzer.

He's a killing machine, and for powergamers or GMs looking for an interesting recurring villain or on-and-off criminal ally, he certainly fits the bill as dangerous, cruel, and distinctive.

Not just a tough girl, Panda obviously has a certain way with words.
It's Panda who steals the show however. Despite the criticisms of her overtly sexual visual representation, I felt that her personality and attitude overpowered her look and appearance. She doesn't have any outward doubts about her capabilities or her self-image, she pushes constantly to get what she wants, and (thankfully) doesn't ever once resort to the stereotypical 'feminine wiles' to achieve her goals.

Like her father, she's quite capable in combat. She apparently has mad skills with guns, and something called "The Eye". There is some pseudo-scientific rationale to this ability, likening it to "the Zone" in sports. It sounds suspiciously like Taskmaster's ability, only less powerful (perhaps because there aren't any true-blue superheroes to copy) but still dangerous enough to supposedly rationalize taking a teenager into combat. Hey, some folks believe that being a circus acrobat from a young age and training them in the martial arts is enough, right?

Pop culture reference, anyone?
Furthermore, she reminded me a lot of a foul-mouthed madcap superhero in the vein of Spiderman, Daredevil, the classic Robin, and maybe even the Creeper during her escapades. The only softer side to her is her intent on joining her father in his chosen profession -- and we're smackdab in the middle of controversy again.

Rather than earn a living some other way, her mom -- an officer of the law who died from breast cancer -- sent Panda to live with her dad rather than any other options. At least that's the story Panda tells. Being a body bagger isn't really the best profession for anyone, especially a 14 year old girl.

Because bullets have a tendency to hurt people.
Attitude and skill don't make you bulletproof, kids.
Together, Panda and Mack work like Comedian and Straight man in a comedy duo. Mack's always dead serious, while Panda almost never says a line without attitude, a put-down, or a zinger. Their first meeting set the tone for all their future interactions.

That ain't no way to talk to yer daddy.

Genre

I'd call it a different take on the cyberpunk genre merged with low-level metahuman abilities. People with money get to become full conversion borgs, while folks like Mack's pre-Panda partner Pops have to get by with low-tech cybernetics just to stave off impending death. And there are folks like Mack who are ridiculously strong and tough, and people like Panda who have "The Eye" (photographic reflexes but not at the level of certain Marvel super-villains).


At the same time, it's firmly in the action genre with a dash of noir -- the difficulties of staying alive and taking care of family when living a criminal lifestyle, the stress of shifting from the grey areas to the black areas of the law, and so on.

And no matter who you are, there's a definite respect for the power of guns and explosions.

GURPS and HERO can handle the rules. I'd think that guns and cybernetics and low-level superpowers would be also managed by a number of other cyberpunk settings in the pool now. Actually, now that I think about it, something like Ghost in the Shell would work as well, just with a lower cybernetics budget.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Preview of Upcoming Week

This coming week, I've got a writing deadline. That being said, I do want to post some quick stuff about some of the comic book inspirations for my games -- sources of NPCs and storylines and themes.

I'll be posting five of them this week, and the following images are taken from those comics. Most are pretty obvious, some may be a bit more obscure.

Panda being welcomed into the Body Bagger
lifestyle by Clownface.
Sure you don't know this guy? If you take him, you could
earn 10,000 credits!
Ah, a cute little memento of WWII. Hey, ain't that the
Torch of Liberty in the top row?
Wonder what they're looking at?
Beware the wounds of equal people.

Sexism in Role-Playing Games

And so, having avoided the latest thread concerning Palladium and Kevin Siembieda on RPG.net I chanced upon a thread concerning Sexism in RPGs.

The thread, in which the original poster had requested men refrain from commenting initially so that the side of the women could be heard first, is very long. Despite the not-surprising comments and arguments from the male side of the community (many of which are fairly common arguments outside of the RPG community) there were some successful sharings of experiences which seems to be composed of the following:
    a) sexism during gameplay;
    b) sexism in the written RPG material; and
    c) sexism outside of gameplay, but within the group.

The issue of sexism is very complex, can vary in some ways from culture to culture, and -- while certainly unwelcome -- doesn't seem to have very many easy answers.

Because I feel that it's unlikely that it will be possible to impact the sexism in (a) and (c) without being able to impact the societies and communities that they're taking place in, I seem to really zero in on the question of sexism in written RPG material.

Above and beyond the issue of gender neutral language, there seems to be a concern about the 'sexiness' of the portrayal of female characters in RPG books (pictures and write-ups of NPCs and sample PCs). Interestingly, many of the concerns raised are about the unrealistic portrayal of women (yes, yes, many of the worlds of RPGs are unrealistic -- but the plausibility of the women in them need not be) and the rebuttals thereof seem to be the same concerns and arguments raised about the portrayal of women in popular media.

Could it be that possible approaches to addressing the issue of sexism in RPG books are actually similar to the approaches espoused by female writers of SF/Fantasy?


Saturday, July 23, 2011

Ruminations on Characters, Sandboxes, and Story

I've been thinking about the sandbox approach to setting/adventure design as compared to the approach, and here are my thoughts so far:

Characters in a Sandbox

The classic example of this is the D&D trope of low-level characters running through a gauntlet of rooms and adventures, with those who manage to survive and level up eventually getting a chance to build up relationships with other PCs and recurring NPCs -- perhaps even allowing their backstories to intrude on their current adventures. It may be that these NPCs eventually spark some adventures, but the PCs themselves -- ideally -- should be the prime motivators of the next set of adventures.

There seem to be two approaches to handling adventures: (1) at the end of the next session, agree what the next adventuring site will be so that the DM can prepare; or (2) allow the DM to read as much of the setting and adventure locations as possible, and trust to the random tables and improv abilities of the DM to fill in the gaps. These approaches are not mutually exclusive, of course. The DM can employ one or the other or a combination of both as long as he and the players continue to have fun.

Is there a story in this? There can be, if the DM prefers. The PCs aren't necessarily required to be involved in it though -- and that storyline will tend to continue if the PCs don't meddle in it. Examples: increasingly powerful goblin raiders, more and more shadowy creatures roaming the forests, strife between the nobles of the land over a matter of succession, and so on. The players can occasionally listen to town criers and pick up local scuttlebutt at the taverns, but -- like true wandering adventurer archetypes -- only get involved when they feel like it.

In a way, from the point of view of the movers and shakers of the realm (good, evil, or in-between) the adventurers are the wildcards. They are seen as tools, pawns, and even scapegoats if they even register in the minds of the powerful forces of the land.

Once they become notable, however, unless they perform a disappearing act or manage to hide their identities, then the wise movers and shakers will likely to try to determine where these ruffians' loyalties lie. This would be a natural transition point to a story-based campaign.

Ultimately, there is a sense of empowerment here -- players can bug out of a dungeon at any time (if they carefully secured a way out) and move on to some other less dangerous challenge.

Characters in a Story

Just as the most negative portrayal of sandbox play is a run-of-the-mill Computer RPG with stock characters who don't remember who you are unless they're programmed to and unchanging, re-spawning monsters from given locations, the most negative portrayal of storyline play is one where the PCs are expected to perform their roles exactly as the adventure / story crafter expects them to. There is an illusion of player decision, when in fact there is none (or very little).

Good story campaigns should take into consideration the various decisions of the PCs and extrapolate the reactions of the NPCs accordingly. The PCs may not have an impact on the world at large, but on their own stories their efforts and successes should matter. For example, if a player comes up with a clever way to kill a major NPC villain early in the storyline, it should stand. The NPC(s) who step into the vacuum should not be mere carbon copies of the deceased either, and should have their own foibles and personas that make the resolution different (perhaps easier given some PC strategems, perhaps harder). Ultimately that triumph of the players should in the end make a palpable difference.in the rest of their storyline.

In fact, a very rigid storyline adventure comes across like a linear dungeon with only one possible entrance and one possible exit from each room that PCs must trudge on inexorably through, hoping to roll well enough (since their decisions -- tactical or strategic -- make no real difference) to get through to the end.

PC empowerment is trickier, though not impossible in story-based adventures in campaigns. The difficulty may lie in the fact that NPCs have just as many options as the PCs, and this can overwhelm the DM, who not only has to roll up these NPCs, but roleplay each and everyone of them as well (stupid or smart, vindictive or forgiving, generous or greedy), and know their pasts and families and opponents should the PC suddenly engage them in conversation.

Friday, July 22, 2011

God, Elves, Dwarves, Giants and Monsters

So, inspired by this post, I've decided to avoid my initial idea for a post -- to be written in in-character tone -- on the ancient history of Enigmundia told from different viewpoints.

Instead I'll just write out all my thoughts at once.

There is a Creator, but also an Enemy, and eventually the Accuser. There are Those Who Were Cast Out and Those Who Fell.

Those Who Were Cast Out are the devils and demons of the universe. As to where they were imprisoned it is a place separate from the Presence of the Creator.

Those Who Fell transitioned from being mere spiritual creatures to being partially of the material universe as part of their escape from the War in the Heavens. On Enigmundia, they began manipulating the natural laws with their celestial knowledge, taking on mortal women as wives, siring children (the earliest giants), carving out many kingdoms across the land, and teaching their increasingly mortal numbers the secrets they brought. Also, for a short time, they fooled or coerced the various Heralds and Warders of the world into recognizing their false authority. When the Creator and his loyal Choirs resolved matters with Those Who Were Cast Out, eventually caught wind of the anomalous reports from Enigmundia (and other realms) igniting the War in the Realms.

High Elves and High Dwarves were among the ranks of the Heralds and Warders of the world, and the War in the Realms caused many schisms and much confusion. As it continued, ancient secrets, strange wonders, and warped powers erupted in the service of these many factions. In the aftermath, the High Elves and High Dwarves disappeared from public view -- and the more familiar forms of the 'modern' elves and dwarves began appearing.

Let's see. And the halflings were mortals creatures brought into the world to kill abominations like the giants and chimerical creatures.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Inspiration: Grimjack, Cynosure, and Paradise Lost

Grimjack against a chaotic demon swarm entering doomed Pdwyr.
In many ways, Grimjack was a big inspiration to the phase of my gaming where a character's backstory was as important as his present.

At this time, I was regularly playing in a Champions campaign where I played a character with a death wish. I remember that, after the first few games I'd survived, I began planning out the backstory of this martial artist character.

Much was borrowed from Grimjack there: a troubled past with betrayals and a lost love, a series of tragedies, and a tendency to throw caution to the wind when trouble reared its head. Of course, I borrowed things from other sources as well, such as the classic Daredevil and Spiderman portrayals -- tough, haunted characters who laughed and joked irreverently in the face of terrible opposition -- but Grimjack was the source of my grim and gritty before grim and gritty became the norm in comics.

I was also fascinated by the concept of Cynosure -- a city that eventually slipped into phase with ALL dimensions in the multiverse -- and the tagline: "guns work here, magic works there, swords work everywhere."

There were many characters and concepts of note here that are fun to mine for fantasy games and for Fading Suns campaigns -- and in fact I ripped the plots of a number of issues for some adventures I ran.

Characters I'd like to reimagine for Fading Suns include:
  • Kalibos -- the folly of the Free Marines; a cold, cunning, sentient machine with a too-literal love of freedom and a PRG (portable reality generator) that renders it immune to many powerful technological and magical attacks
  • Spook -- a female ghost whose intangibility and supernatural nature ebbs and flows with the magical levels found in Cynosure
  • Gordon Munden -- barkeep for Munden's Bar with his own past involving succubi and some very special knives
  • Jericho Noleski, Finance Minister Honesworth, Blacjacmac, Dancer, the Major, Jim Lanyon, too many to list!

Perhaps I'll do a series on these issues and translate them into Fading Suns adventure seeds.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

More on the Vancian Spell System

In coming up with a rationale for the Vancian system and why it's so prevalent in the D&D worlds.

In the context of Mystara and the Thyatian / Karameikos lands, there's one possibility I've thought of that doesn't preclude the existence of other magical systems: reliability.

Thyatia is characterized as a conquering empire, one that looks at the utility of all things -- including magic. It's arguable therefore that the Vancian magic system, with:
  • verbal, somatic, and material components;
  • spell books;
  • memory space requirements;
  • etc.
are actually the most reliable spell system in the world. It's a magic system that -- assuming that the target doesn't make any potential saving throws -- will work reliably.

You'll know if you've successfully memorized something or not. You'll always cast it successfully (assuming all components are doable) if uninterrupted in combat. You'll always know how many spells you've got with you and how many more you can cast that day!

Spells and the Vancian Paradigm

Having read the various posts on Vancian magic, the stories that inspired the system, and some of the criticisms of the same, several thoughts have come to mind:

1. The core ideas --  that spells take up mental space, and that human mental space is limited -- can easily be rationalized in a setting. Whether it is because one can only memorize so many spells in a day, or because spells are semi-living things that take up certain amount of finite mental space in their hosts, or because spells are complex mathematical formulae that can be pre-cast in a finite amount of time and released with triggers, if that's the way magic works then it should be accepted as part of the setting... just like half-elves, massive underground dungeons, and a mysterious mint that continuously strikes generic gold, silver, and copper pieces for placement in treasure chests.

2. The criticism of Vancian magic seems to stem from the very specific mechanics, which vary from the portrayal of magic in stories and media that we're exposed to. In the Harry Potter universe, magic does require some learning, but once learned the spells seem to be castable at will -- and there are consequences for miscasting. In the Belgariad, the most common price of magic is to tire out the spellcasters, but there seems to be no restriction on which spells are available on a given day.

3. The wizard class itself seems to be restricted, given the restriction on swords and other weapons and armor -- which runs counter to the portrayals of spellcasters in fiction. Gandalf, of course, wielded a sword; while he may be characterized as a multi-classer, he didn't seem to be much of one and is still held up as a classic example of a wizard.

It seems that a lot of the criticisms, and the attempts to fix the magic system and magic-user class in general stem from the perception that D&D mages aren't really very generic despite their portrayal in the art.

Now, I've read somewhere in magazines (forgive my memory, this was 15 years ago) that there used to be a magic point system in the very early days of D&D, but there was a terrible effect on gameplay: mages became spell-slinging machine guns, which robbed the RPG of the flavor of mages.

These days there are many magic systems with different mechanics out there, so issues #2 and #3 are easily fixed (3E and 4E have both taken stabs at it, as have other retroclones).

How successful have they been in retaining the feel of a mage or wizard, despite / because of the chosen mechanics?

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Enigmundia: Megadungeons in the Kingdom of the Wheel

As I mentioned in my previous post, the default megadungeons in the setting are those found 'beneath' or are associated with the Spires, and the rationale is one of reclamation: this belongs to the Kingdom and we need it back before the Overking returns.

What are these megadungeons like?

Purpose of the Spires and their Megadungeons

The original purpose of the dungeons was safe mass teleportation; even in the time of the ancient (one might say epic) era of Kingdom of the Wheel, earth blocked all teleportation. To ensure that no small amount of built up dirt, kicked up by winds or movement, would interfere with the movement of troops and valuable commodities, the spire teleportation system was created.

A teleportation spire has the visible spire towering above the ground, allowing teleportation beyond the horizon. The lower half (whatever shape it becomes below the ground) drops into the earth into a large dirt-free chamber far below the surface. Around this teleport platform, there were various staging areas, corridors, security checkpoints, offices, quarters, stairs, featherfall pits and levitation tubes for the transport of the troops and commodities in and out of the underground area.

Of course, because this was underground, the dwarves of the area were involved in the construction and in some cases even linked some of their secure Underground Halls and Highways to the underground spire facility.

The Coming of Chaos

During the war with the Overking of Chaos, these underground areas were further enlarged to house wartime personnel to defend the network against the potential infiltration of the Chaos Courtiers. Because of these precautions, not all of the Spires fell to Chaos and in most cases even those that did were able to secure the auxilliary teleport chambers to allow the surviving forces of the Kingdom to mount retaliatory invasions.

However, the presence of Chaos had some effects on the size, shape, on the original layout of the underground spire complexes. Furthermore, the fall of the Overking of Chaos did not signal the end of all of his Chaos Courtiers. Most were greatly diminished in power and had to sacrifice much of their power to retain some semblance of physical existence in Enigmundia's reality. A number were enslaved or had their powers stripped and transformed by the devils and demons and lesser gods of the realm. The remaining few ensconced themselves in portions of the Spire Complexes, warping the rules of reality in a -- to them -- pitifully small area of influence to survive. It's rumored, that other Chaos Courtiers did the same to other parts of the Kingdom of the Wheel and its surrounding lands (some mountains, forests, and portions of the Dwarven Underkingdoms).

Behind the DM's Curtain

All this is a rationale for dungeons and megadungeons in the Kingdom of the Wheel, and a rationale for various patrons and industries to back megadungeoneering (particularly in the case of the Spire megadungeons) which I'll tackle in a later post.

It also allows folks interesting in using much of the online material for megadungeon creation to do so -- fitting the existence of these megadungeons into the Kingdom's backstory is pretty easy. For example, one of the 'big baddies' of Stonehell Dungeon is easily recast as a Chaos Courtier -- one whose existence can be built up with rumors and/or logs from the military archives of the bygone era.

Also, the presence of the standard goals for megadungeoneering in the Kingdom of the Wheel (map the dungeon, find the teleport areas, clear the facilities for use) is an argument for more facilities and support from the outside world for adventurers, as well as a source of fresh adventurer gossip (various failed and successful expeditions with new updates to the map).

As for a canonical map of the spires -- I don't have any. However, I'm currently considering the work of 0One for The Dungeon Under The Mountain (see the image above for a neat teaser image) as the Shadowspire megadungeon. To date (and I think they're done), there are ten levels to this interactive PDF product, and the links to each of the levels can be found below:

In addition, I'm checking various blogs for the wealth of resources on megadungeon creation, and here are the ones I've found so far... oh wait, someone's done this already.


Saturday, July 16, 2011

Enigmundia: Checklist for Kinda-Christian Religion

Awesome Orthodox representation of
the nine orders of angels.
The Thyatian Empire of Enigmundia has an official religion. I'm trying to put together enough elements of it to make it workable in a gaming world (adventurer priests) but still feel like the monotheistic religion it's based on. So here's my current checklist of things that this religion needs:
  1. rationale for adventurer priests
  2. rationale for usage of the cross (not crucifix) as a holy symbol
  3. detailed explanation of how the sacrifice of the Prince of the Cross saved / saves the world and its believers -- current working idea is that, by his continuous sacrifice, the world (Midgard) is walled off from direct interference from entities of the higher and lower realms
  4. rationale for the clerical spells (sacraments, blessings from angels, appeals to saints, spiritual authority, genuine miracles and gifts)
  5. hierarchy of the choirs of angels
  6. the role of high elves and high dwarves
  7. the role of elves, halflings, and dwarves
  8. the church's view of other sentient races
  9. the church's view of chimerical creatures
  10. the church's view of pagan religions and their clerical abilities
  11. the church's stance on magic (official system)
  12. the church's stance on magic (other systems)
  13. the church's hierarchy (central authority, religious orders, lay personnel, believers)
  14. the church's most prominent saints
  15. why doesn't the church just set up an assembly line of healing?
  16. what's the real reason the clerics can't use edged weaponry?

Inspiration: Capitan Alatriste RPG

Oh, I wish I had a copy of this. Preferably in English, but the Spanish would be fine as well.

As source material on Spain and swordfighting and the culture of the era, it would be as invaluable as the novels that the RPG is based on!

I have been following the author of the books, Arturo Perez y Reverte, ever since a friend introduced me to the novels The Club Dumas and The Fencing Master. When I found out about the Alatriste series, I greedily devoured them as well -- swashbuckling, but with the same sense of gritty, textured noir that pervades the other novels.

All the art is by the artist who does the covers of the novels, I'm told.

The rules system (as reviews on RPG.net have stated) appear to be a very rules lite version of GURPS. Based on what I've been able to piece together (a number of words in the Filipino tongue are also derived from the Spanish language and at a point in time, knowing Spanish and one other European language was considered a sign of class and distinction among the well-to-do families of the Philippines, so I get the gist. Plus I studied Spanish in high school and watched Sesame Street) it is a rules lite resolution system, but with a lot of emphasis placed on manuevers and tactics in combat. Especially sword fighting.

In fact, there's supposed to be a sourcebook out on various Esgrima (fencing) fighting styles already!

I want to come out with an RPG like this, but with a Philippine flavor.

Maybe when I've gotten one small RPG or sourcebook completed first.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Reading Room: Thieves by Retro-clone

"Hah! You thought I wasn't a thief, didn't you? Well, these
are leather pants, buddy. So there!"
Similar to my entries for the Fighter and Cleric classes, I'm reading through the retro-clone descriptions of the Thief Class to get some sense of the essence of the character class before building it in HERO System 6th Edition.

Yes, there is an 6th Edition Fantasy Hero book out, and I'll be referring to it as well for the mechanics. However, I'm trying to build something that hearkens back to then essence of the D&D classes -- Fantasy Hero really broadens the definitions and gives more options to allow different types of classes so something may be lost. Anyway, HERO prides itself on allowing folks to build exactly the characters they want -- I'm just trying to figure out what I want from the classes first.

Basic Fantasy RPG says:
Thieves are those who take what they want or need by stealth, disarming traps and picking locks to get to the gold they crave; or “borrowing” money from pockets, beltpouches, etc. right under the nose of the “mark” without the victim ever knowing.

Thieves fight better than Magic-Users but not as well as Fighters. Avoidance of honest work leads Thieves to be less hardy than the other classes, though they do pull ahead of the Magic-Users at higher levels.

They may use any weapon, but may not wear metal armor as it interferes with stealthy activities, nor may they use shields of any sort. Leather armor is acceptable, however.
Clearly, Basic Fantasy RPG doesn't avoid the implications of the character class name and makes the acquisition or procurement of wealth or items as the primary motivator for someone who's entered into the profession of rogue -- THIEF, I mean.

It's interesting that they point out that thieves are better fighters than magic-users, but point out their lack in hit points (even supplying a rationale for it). I hadn't noticed the hit point edge they gain after 9th level, but it's good to know.

The infamous leather armor restriction is there, along with the rationale that it interferes with theiving activities.

Labyrinth Lord says:
Thieves have a range of unique skills associated with their profession that make them very handy companions in adventures. However, thieves can be a bit shady and they sometimes are not as trustworthy as other classes.

A thief will usually belong to a Thieves Guild from the character's local town, where he can seek shelter and information between adventures.

Because of their need of stealth and free movement, thieves cannot wear armor heavier than leather, and they cannot use shields. They have a need for using diverse weapons, and are able to use any kind.

A thief has the ability to backstab. He must catch an opponent unaware of his presence, using move silently and hide in shadows.
A bit more coy about the inherent lack of morality and ethics that come with being a Thief ("You can't trust him! He's wearing leather armor -- he'll rob you blind!"), Labyrinth Lord mentions other classic thief bits: the Guild and the backstab ability.

Swords & Wizardry says:
Note: the Thief is an optional character class that the Referee may choose to allow or forbid, depending on the campaign.

The thief is a figure in the shadows, an expert in stealth and delicate tasks. As a thief, locks, traps, and scouting are your trade; you are the eyes and ears of the adventuring party, the one who handles the perils of the dungeon itself. In many ways, you are a scholar of the world; in the course of your profession you pick up knowledge about languages and even magic.

True, in combat you are not the equal of armored Fighters or Clerics, but they have to rely on your knowledge and specialized skills to get them safely into and out of the dangerous places where treasure is to be found. You are the guide; the scout; and when necessary, the deadly blade that strikes from the shadows without warning.

In your profession, it takes great skill to survive – the life expectancy of most Thieves is very short. However, if you rise to high level, your reputation in the hidden community of tomb robbers and alley skulkers will attract followers to your side, often enough allies to place you in power as a guildmaster of Thieves.


A high-level Thief is a deadly opponent, for such an individual has learned subtlety and survival in the game’s most difficult profession.
All characer classes are, of course, subject to DM approval. Swords & Wizardy, however, goes as far as stating that explicitly, indicating that the class is optional and isn't necessarily meant to be a part of the generally available character classes of the game.

The description of the thief class, however, is clearly pro-thief and one that can reflect a PCs own worldview regarding his chosen profession.

Of special interest is the note that it is the game's most difficult profession -- I hadn't though about it, but I do remember that there were no straight thieves in my AD&D games. All my fellow players multi-classed their thieves, thus leading to the party's clerics, fighters, and mages all trying to see "if that door is really locked".

OSRIC says:
Thieves sneak furtively in the shadowed alleyways of cities, living by their wits. They are often members of the criminal underclass, usually trained by a thieves’ guild in the arts of burglary and stealth. It is not uncommon for a thief to seek out the great rewards that can be gained from the adventuring life, especially when circumstances require lying low for a while.

Most thieves come from the teeming masses of a large city, wherein a thieves’ guild is often the only source of justice and exercises as much power as the city’s legitimate government. Of course, not all thieves are members of a guild. Some are freelancers, evading both the authorities and the guild, living on the edge of the knife. Some are even found working on the side of the law; agents or spies who use their skills in more accepted (though equally shadowy) pursuits.

Sensible adventuring parties will almost always include a thief, for the skills of such a character are invaluable in reaching inaccessible places via climb walls, pick locks, and so on. In addition, dungeons frequently contain traps which must be located and disarmed, and the thief’s cunning and stealth conspire to make him or her very useful in a scouting role.

Thieves in OSRIC are modelled on characters of fiction and legend, particularly characters from the works of Fritz Leiber and Jack Vance. Leiber’s “Lankhmar” series is highly recommended, particularly for its description of the operation of a typical thieves’ guild; but the high-level thief’s ability to read (or misread) magic scrolls is a nod to Vance’s Cugel.
OSRIC's take actually mentions the normal origins of such a character -- from the masses of commoners living in a large city -- and gives examples of variants on the profession different from the stereotypical cutpurse or footpad.

OSRIC also mentions the role of the class outside of combat, and makes allusions to the literary origins (and thus legitimacy) of the class in the game.

Enigmundia: Kingdom of the Wheel

Warning: radius and size of spires and circle not to scale.
In the Kingdom of the Wheel, magical teleportation is stymied by the very earth itself. It is possible, with sufficient power in teleportation magics to reach one of the moons in the sky, but it is not possible to teleport beyond the horizon (unless one is at sea). This limitation on teleportation (or property of the soil and sand of the land) secured castles and fortified cities from efforts that would compromise the very nature of their defenses, but it also made it difficult to rapidly transport military forces and much needed supplies across the Empire.

That is why the ancients built what was once known as the Silver Spire, and its sister spires known as the Cardinals. These towering crystal-shaped stone monoliths, flecked with streaks of unknown metals, were once able to teleport huge amounts of personnel and resources across the Empire. It is theorized that they somehow break the limitations of line-of-sight teleportation from spire tip to spire tip, but that knowledge was lost in the war against the Overking and his Chaos Courts 986 years ago.

In the war, the underground complexes that once moved the men and material that shaped a continent, were warped by Chaos magics, turning them into labyrinths filled with strange creatures. Many heroes and villains of that age died in those underground bastions of the Empire, many finding themselves fighting side by side against overwhelming odds -- but in the end they succeeded.

The Overking was imprisoned, the power that fueled the Courts somehow leeched by the Silver Spire itself (turning it black as night),  and the Chaos Courtiers were left to fend for themselves. Some fled into the spaces between the former Silver Spire (dubbed by many as the Shadow Spire) and carved out realms of their own; others ensconced themselves into the caverns and labyrinths and dungeons all along the perimeter of the Kingdom of the Wheel.

It is rumored that the wondrous teleport halls of the spires must all be found in the mega-labyrinths beneath the Shadow Spire and the Cardinals so that the Empire might once again regain a semblance of its strength and find a more permanent solution to the Overking. It is rumored that the luminaries of that legendary age knew that solution, but were slain before it could be enacted. It is rumored that the Overking's imprisonment -- the result of a mad, one-in-a-million chance taken by the ragtag aides and retainers of the legends of that time -- would last only a thousand years, and time is running out.

Will you join the expeditions into the spire labyrinths, map out their secrets, and prepare against the Overking?

Behind the DM's Curtain
So where did this come from?

This was started because I realized several things about my 'Karameikos-and-Philippines-inspired-setting': (1) it's gonna take a while before I start posting key location stuff; (2) I wanted to create a setting in the same cosmology that was less culture-focused and more dungeon / castle / weird creatures / evil mastermind oriented; (3) I took a look at OSRIC and was wowed by it, and remembered a classic campaign by a friend -- Bill Homeyer -- known as the Kingdom of the Wheel; (4) I remembered that it was structured really nicely to maximize the usage of a lot of random tables in AD&D; (5) I realized that some tweaks to the Kingdom of the Wheel allowed people to create mini-sandboxes with at least one mega-dungeon per spire.

So I decided to stick posts about the Kingdom of the Wheel (a lot of the Wheel ideas were from him, but the stuff I don't remember because it was quite a while ago, I'm filling in with embellishments and rationale because he was very stingy with revealing secrets, dammit) in between my efforts to create my original Enigmundia setting just to share some of the joy and sense of wonder that Bill's old campaign imparted to me.

Furthermore, rather than my proposed HEROic D&D ruleset, this one will use OSRIC for game mechanics -- primarily because I played this setting in AD&D and it feels right.

Wherever you are Bill, thanks for taking pity on a stupid kid fresh from the Philippines who didn't quite understand what a rune of death trap was and kept trying to read it.


About the Spires

The spires are artifacts and are protected by powerful arcane and divine magiks for some reason unknown to mere mortals. They are really tall -- I've not done the math yet, but I'm thinking at least a 5000 feet up. That makes the distance to the horizon around 30 miles. So the empire is 60 miles across? Then again, the spires are tall, maybe they can be seen above the horizon and I can stretch it out a bit more. What's the curvature of the earth? Hm, I'll need to revisit my math and geometry.

I'll need to figure out how to use some graphic design software to superimpose the darn thing on a map. Here's a mockup of the Kingdom superimposed on the map from the excellent Roma Imperious setting (Hinterwelt). Still not to scale, but it helps me get an idea of how I can proceed.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Inspiration: Amaya's Shipbuilding and Creature Lore

It seems that the TV series Amaya has been laying on the research pretty thickly. First off, they've been dipping into William Henry Scott's research work and built a ship -- the Karakoa -- based on his research and from other sources.

Furthermore, creatures such as the Bakunawa and Amaya's own snake twin are alse featured on the show.
Thanks, William Henry Scott. Now I have to buy your book from Ateneo de Manila (hello alma mater) Press. Fortunately the preview pages on Google books have a wealth of historical and cultural information.

The Karakoa

In this link we read from the tv channel GMA some of the material concerning their construction of the Karakoa. They didn't build it from scratch, but they did use some of the building techniques mentioned in the book to do it.

The karakoa was a type of warship / raiding vessel that was faster than any spanish galleon and was built without the use of a single nail. It is described as a
sleek, double-ended cruiser with an elevated fighting deck amidships, and catwalks mounted on the outrigger supports to seat as many as six banks of paddlers. They displayed tall staffs of brilliant plumage fore and aft as a sign of victory, called sombol on the prow, tongol on the stern.
If you're thinking the front looks a bit like the back, you're right. This was part of the karakoa's claim to fame for maneuverability -- to change directions, the rowing crew just flipped positions and the commanding party walked to the other prow and they went off in the opposite direction.

The ship wasn't without downsides, however. Because (1) it was built with a relatively lightweight, flexible hull; and (2) it lacks a central rudder, it was easily blown sideways on smooth seas and was easily frustrated by choppy waters.

In between some of the interviews of the actors and actresses, there's a shot of the constructed karakoa for the show in the video below:


Bakunawa

The Bakunawa is a creature from Philippine mythology that was blamed for eclipses. I'd always thought of it as a giant monstrous fish, but WikiPedia calls it a gigantic sea serpent or a gigantic sea turtle. In ancient times, the people of the land would bang the floors of their houses, along with their cooking implements and metal weapons to scare the creature into spitting out the moon. Other stories claim that playing music helped calm the creature.

In Amaya, there's a slightly different take:
The night sky used to have seven moons, until the bakunawa — a giant winged sea-serpent in the spirit world — was entranced by their beauty and ate six. But one moon remains in the night sky because the gods punished the serpent before it could devour the last moon. Despite that, the bakunawa still gets tempted and occasionally attempts to eat the moon.

I like the concept of the six other moons being in the belly of this creature somewhere in the world, or perhaps already digested and remnants hidden somewhere in the waters surrounding the island as Moon Pearls. It allows for the creation of some pretty neat magical items (Bakunawa Balls? Nah.) too.

Indianna Jones wouldn't have liked her sibling

Amaya is born as a snake twin. This means that when she was born, she came out with a little snake which is considered her twin ("She's not my familiar; she's my sister!") and for the little background surrounding this I'll just quote the article directly:


A pregnant woman would be warned against viewing the red-hued moon or leaving the house during an eclipse, lest tragedy befall the child she carried in her womb. Traditional beliefs vary, with eclipse-touched children feared to be suffering from a wide range of afflictions, from black-spotted skin to disfiguration, even madness.

The circumstances surrounding Amaya’s birth were slightly more fortuitous, the eponymous heroine being fair-skinned but born with a snake-twin — seemingly bringing to fruition the prophesy of a woman warrior with a snake-twin destined to kill the ruling rajah.

Amaya’s snake-sibling is thought to be an umalagad, or spirit that escaped the bakunawa’s realm, that would protect and guide its human twin.
I'm going to have to do more research on the snake twins. It really works with the cosmology I'm working on and evokes wonderful ideas when contrasted with the mythological serpent in the Garden of Eden.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Mining Firebirds: Trail of Cthulhu

This Ennie-winning product should be familiar to many, but let me take some time to bring up some points as to the usefulness of Trail of Cthulhu in the Fading Suns setting.

One of the things that FS tackles is the Annunaki (the ancient ones who built the moon-sized jumpgates at the edges of the solar systems of the universe), the existence of ancient evils and intelligences in the dark between the stars, and the Holy Flame of the Pancreator as revealed to his prophet Zebulon and his apostles and disciples.

Aside from the echoes of various monotheistic religions found in the Orthodox Church, there are also various heretical beliefs and proscribed knowledge such as Antinomy -- a label for certain worships and forbidden knowledge that are 'against the Name of the Creator of All'.

And into that space, we find the need for the aforementioned ancient evils and intelligences.

Trail of Cthulhu has that in spades. But what makes this particular 'monster's manual' different from other listings of the Cthulhu pantheon and creatures is the work that Kenneth Hite has put together into creating alternative options for each of the well-known and less-well known elder Gods and Old Ones from the pantheon.

As the text itself says: "This book takes a similar approach to these beings, providing as many contradictory explanations and alternate versions for the Mythos heavyweights as possible."

Here are some examples with some staples of the pantheon with their variant definitions:

Azathoth
Original -- Azathoth, the blind idiot god, exists at the center of the universe, dwelling beyond normal space-time. Its amorphous form writhes eternally to the piping of demonic flautists, attended by mindlessly dancing lesser gods. Azathoth is the ruler of the Outer Gods, little worshipped on Earth, as it provides not even attention to its would be cultists. If summoned, it blasts the area around it, leaving cracked boulders, pools of alkaline water, and dead, splintered trees.

Variant -- Azathoth is an emergent intellect – a titan – created in the immense pressure at the event horizon of the supermassive black hole at the center of the Galaxy (in Sagittarius). The “hellish piping” is the howl of high frequency radiation emitted from its “prison,” the black hole’s Schwarzchild radius. Its sentience exists in hyperspace and maintains instantaneousdipole communication with other black hole entities, its “attendants.” The Tunguska blast of 1908 was an attempt to summon Azathoth to Earth.

Variant -- Azathoth was the leader of a revolt against the Elder Gods who impose order on the universe, without which matter itself could not exist. He failed and was hurled back to the endless wormhole moment at the beginning of time.

Cthulhu

Original -- The Great Old One Cthulhu dwells in the sunken basalt necropolis of R’lyeh, miles deep at the bottom of the South Pacific. He sleeps eternally while there, sending horrifying dreams to mortal men, tipping some into madness and others into his fanatical worship. Someday R’lyeh will rise again and Cthulhu will wake, freed once more to raven and slay, freed to rule the world.

Variant -- Cthulhu is an Outer God, the incarnation of (or a sentient facet of) gravity, one of the four fundamental forces within our space-time.

Variant -- Cthulhu is an infra-dimensional entity that has only a conceptual existence within the human “R-complex,” the brain stem and limbic system left over from our primordial reptilian ancestors. This is why he appears only in dreams, high-stress encounters (such as shipwrecks), and artistic impulses. He is attempting to create a critical mass of believers so that he may “emerge from R’lyeh” and open the eyes of all.

Now, some purists may take issue with these reinterpretations, but they do provide the FS Gamemasters ideas for blasphemous creatures for use in the Fading Suns context. All you need to do is change the names!


Monday, July 11, 2011

Enigmundia: Tactics used by the Spaniards to Convert the Heathens

Not Professor Susan Russell, but rather Marian Rivera as Amaya wearing an
example of indigenous armor worn before the Spanish Friars came a'calling.
I happened upon an interesting article / lecture by Professor Susan Russell here talking about the tactics used by the Spaniards to conquer -- er -- convert the godless Filipinos (who weren't Filipinos yet because the land hadn't been renamed the Philippines in honor of Philip yet) to Christianity.

For those of you with very little time on their hands, here are key points of her lecture (which is the second one on the page):
  1. A majority of the population of the "Philippines" at the time was organized into scattered communities with no central authority -- which made it easier for the Spaniards to do their work;
  2. The Muslim Sultanates, found mostly in the southern islands with some presence further north, never fell to Spanish rule;
  3. Before he met his end against Lapu-Lapu, Magellan successfully converted Rajah Humabon and 800 of his followers after Magellan's people were able to cure the Rajah's grandson of an illness;
  4. Legaspi conquered a Muslim Filipino settlement in Manila in 1570;
  5. Islam spread slowly through the Philippines and would likely have dominated the archipelago if not for Spanish intervention.
She also cited several key practices that help the Spaniards win converts:
  1. Mass baptisms -- given the friar to Filipino ratio, this was the only way to convert huge numbers quickly; it was aided by the fact that Filipino animist / syncretic beliefs of the various settlements also believed in the potency of holy water;
  2. Reduccion policies -- the practice of resettling the small hamlets and thorps into artificially created towns helped the Spanish enforce their will (which included paying taxes) on the populace... when the population stayed and didn't eventually wander away back to their original homes;
  3. Attitude of the clergy -- many of the early missionaries learned the many (more than 200) languages (not dialects, there are even more of those) of the Philippines at the time in order to preach to Good News;
  4. Attitude of the clergy 2 -- many of the clergy at the time also stood up against abuses and excesses of the Spanish military, winning the favor of the indigenous population;
  5. Adapting the faith to the local context -- where possible, the clergy sought to supplant existing beliefs; where there once was a minor god, the priests inserted a saint; where there once was an animist festival for the harvest, an appropriate religious celebration was held instead; and so on.
A lot of this will be useful in setting up the initial political climate in my Filipino-esque take on Karameikos. I'm actually quite happy to hear about the reduccion policies as it helps justify abandon hamlets and settlements. It also makes me think about those rumored settlements where the denizens were all aswangs and other creatures who preyed on other towns -- it must have been fun when the soldiers and priests rounded them up to join the common folk.

Have I mentioned that some of the animist beliefs echo stories of faeries and little people and strigoi and wereboars of other countries? I'm quite thankful for the work of GM Dariel on Hari Ragat because it means I won't have to bust my butt too much when it comes to the 'monsters'.

Thoughts on Cosmology

Because I started doing research on Elves and Dwarves, and I've been working on my kinda-Christianity and kinda-Zoroastrianism religions, I found myself banging my head repeatedly against the concept of a cosmology for Enigmundia.

Now, because my first area of concern is based on Karameikos -- a land whose Gazetteer is built primarily as the most familiar type of D&D mini-setting in the overall setting of Mystara -- I'm also trying to make mine a starting point for a 'typical D&D' setting with a distinct character of its own.

In fact, creating a kingdom on one of the borders of a large empire with:
(1) a native population with its own pagan / syncretic beliefs
(2) neighbors (human and non-human) who have their own cultural, political, and religious beliefs; and
(3) a wise and cunning ruler with substantial yet limited resources and support

makes a strong argument for the practice of tolerance of many beliefs in the setting. That's not to say that there won't be clashes, but the Powers That Be will frown on those seeking to upset the delicate balances.

Actually, it's starting to sound a bit like Babylon 5, only instead of a space station, it's an entire country that is most definitely not neutral territory.

In any case, I've found myself awash in fairly dense and contradictory and confusing WikiPedia resources that I'd like to share with some of you:

Norse and Germanic Mythology
Alfheimr -- one of the nine worlds of Norse mythology, and home of the Light Elves. It has been characterized as mystical and benevolent but sinister and wicked at times.
Frey/Freyr -- brother of Freyja and also ruler of Alfheimr (it was given to him by the gods as a teething gift).
The Nine Worlds -- Midgard / Mannheim is one of them but other fantastic places to visit remain, even if differing sources don't agree on the lineup of worlds.


A Bible and The Book of Enoch
Always good for world-creation flavor, though I shall probably dip into Von Daniken's "Chariots of the Gods" and Sitchin's Earth Chronicles series at some point in time:

That's all for now. Keep those postcards and letters coming.


Link Roundup: Maps & Geo-Morphs

Well that's serendipitous.

Just I begin worrying about having to whip up a new map for Enigmundia, there's a post on map comparisons from different settings (and real life). Thanks jrients!

And, following a link from FrDave, who has his own vertical geomorphs, there's a neat resource post on "A Character for Every Game" for vertical geomorphs from all around the blogosphere!

And now that I've linked these down for future reference, it's time for breakfast.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Fading Suns: The War In the Heavens Series

"Ever since the Vau gave
humanity its first setback
among the stars, their
space has been shut to
prying eyes. For a brief
moment, however, it has
opened - long enough for
the most daring to catch
a glimpse. But the daring
need as much wisdom
as courage, for encounters
with the Vau teach that
things are not always
what they seem.
"The first in an epic trilogy,
Lifeweb details the Symbiots,
explaining for the first time
who and what they are,
from their beginnings on the
wilderness world of Chernobog
to their modern starfaring empire,
carving worlds from human space.
Also included is an adventure
pitting player characters against
Symbiots, with the fate of
the Empire at stake."
The setting of the Fading Suns RPG is filled with mysteries and secrets and paramount among them (aside from the "why are the suns fading" question) is the War in the Heavens between the Annunaki -- the ancient ones who built the jumpgates.

When this series of sourcebooks came out years ago, I was excited not only because it seemed to provide more information on the more enigmatic alien elements, but also because it seemed to suggest hints at the old War in the Heavens or perhaps a new one in the works.

Sadly, the next book in the series didn't materialize -- the one on the Annunaki. But the new information on the shape-shifting Symbiots and the Vau Mandarins was very welcome.

But maybe the relaunch of the Fading Suns franchise with the 3rd Edition of the Fading Suns rulebook will resurrect that sourcebook series.

Creating Gaming Sourcebooks: What Tools To Use?

It was during the time that I was running Star Wars (d6) and Cyberpunk (Interlock) that I was bitten by the graphic layout bug. Computers and printers had made it possible to put together your own source material. Of course, printing them out and binding them were a problem but you could make do with several copies on acceptable paper stock and 3-ring binders but it didn't feel the same.

This is an open post asking: what are the tools that folks use out there to create their sourcebooks? I'm only asking because legal copies of my favored tools (InDesign and Photoshop) are 'spensive, mehn.

Above and beyond that, what are some good map-making tools (hex and otherwise) that are out there? I'm searching online right now and boy howdy there's a lot of 'em out there.

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