Friday, April 27, 2012

R is for ... Reading

Hi there

So I'm off to the South Island (yes, exotic place names in NZ) tomorrow morning, with something from no to dubious internetness for the next 10 days.

R was tricky, so here's a list of the books I've been reading recently;

Adrian Czajkowski's (real name) loooong series about human empires based on insects.  Only a hundred or so pages in, so I think it will involve seeing the character's work their way from 1st to 20th level over some eight novels. Not bad, but reminds me a little of a slightly less original Belgariad where, instead of each kingdom being based on a human stereotype, it's bugs. Still....

 Stephen Erikson's Malazan Empire series is epic.  Very, very epic. So epic I can handle the books in small quantities. This series is even looooonger than the one above, but I'm at book eight or so, and it's entertaining, so I'll keep going....

 I got it very cheap at a second hand book stall... It's got some good stories, but, with all respect to MZB, the liberation angle is wearing a bit thin by now (and many of the stories in the first half admit this, and, amazingly, have strong male AND female characters in the same story, although the number of princes getting on with humble druidesses is rather high). Not too sure how the series got to number 20, but I'll admit women didn't feature at all, let alone feature well, in some of the early novels.

That's all at the moment, along with some of the Fight On! episodes, and the complete 90's collection of National Geographic magazines....

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Q is for ... Qoril, The Scholar-Mages of

The Scholar-Mages of Qoril

Some see the minions of this wide-reaching organisation as thieves, grave robbers and looters; others value them as the foremost scholars of many ancient civilisations and forgotten languages. Those engaged in the profession of exploring long abandoned ruins will have invariably come across members of “The Seekers” (as they are commonly known to the public) through party members, signs, clues or sigils, or devilish traps disarmed or reset. Wizards in lonely towers may have bargained with their representatives, trading a scrap of irrelevant lore or undecipherable writings for items or information to be retrieved from known or unknown resting places. To the general public that have an interest in real stories of adventure and treasures gained and lost, they are viewed as somewhat Indiana Jones-like, at least, as much as one can in a quasi-medieval fantasy world...


Senses - level variable 1+

Subtly enhances one of the basic senses (sight; hearing; touch; smell; taste; intuition) for every level that the spell is cast at, up to a maximum of 6. The duration is 60 minutes, divided by the number of senses enhanced. All senses end at the same time.

The basic effect is to give +1 (on a d20 scale) to all actions that rely on that sense. Combinations give cumulative bonuses (i.e. searching for secret doors – sight and touch gives +2; testing potions for effect – smell and taste +2).

In Southern Kheldaria, a few miles north of the City of Brythyn, along the main road that skirts the edge of the plain where it drops to the green river valley, sits a half-ruined fortified manor house, on the plain side of the road. Although pillars have fallen, and rubble and thorns choke most of the grounds, there is a well worn track threading past several mounds of fallen masonry, to a low dark opening in the wall. Most must duck under the stone lintel.

Within lies a labyrinthine-like network of passages, corridors and rooms, all carved out of the earth and lined with cut stone blocks. Here is the nerve centre of the Scholar-Mages, and where their vaults, libraries and leadership are all safely tucked away. There is a Great Assembly Hall, various separated libraries, each housing volumes and notes relating to a different civilisation or major site.


Subvert Trap - level 3

This allows the mage to temporarily disarm (or render inoperable, etc) an already identified trap. At the end of whatever simple conditions are set, it returns to full operation and impact.

It can be used for the mage to skirt past a trap, knowing that his pursuer will fall victim, or he may set it to allow the first three people through, knowing that the fourth member of the party bears him ill will. It may also be able to be disarmed for a finite amount of time – no more that one hour per level of the mage, and only accurate to half an hour. If no conditions are set, it will stay harmless for 24 hours, minus an amount for the quality of the trap, and a random adjustment (d6 hours?)

There are around a dozen Grandmasters, each with a wealth of knowledge of a particular little known but lucrative ancient civilisation. These worthies are supported and encouraged, and spend their days investigating legends and tomes to discern locations of ruins, decipher runes and sigils, and avoid or mitigate traps, locks and guardians.

These each have a group of lesser scholars to follow certain theories, experiment, transcribe or translate writings and do the grunt academic work.

Overseeing this hive of scholarship are the Chapters, who glean information of practical use from the Grandmasters, and set in motion activities to make use of it. Part of this is co-ordination of the resources and field staff of the Scholar-Mages to excavate, explore, steal or acquire. It also involves setting rumours through a network of carefully placed contacts in governments, guilds and especially the establishments where one-armed men give cryptic clues. It is these stories of wealth and adventure that usually create a flood of sellswords, itinerant mages and rogues flocking to a particular dungeon, ruin or border town, with the Seekers field staff accompanying, or venturing in once all the ways have been opened, guardians slain and gold looted. It is then that the secret and hidden treasures, the writings and engravings, the statues and fountains, can all be dissembled and removed to a safehouse, with items of incredible academic, magical or financial worth eventually making their may to the Chapters and Grandmasters.

Perhaps there is an ultimate aim for the Order rather than just the accumulation of lore, but if so, none outside the leadership of the Chapters knows it.

The real strength of the Scholar-Mages of Qoril are the field operatives. All recruits, except the outstandingly academic ones, start here, where they are part thieves, part mages, part contract managers, public relations experts and networkers. A few are undercover, such as spies in academic institutions or in positions of responsibility in governments or royal courts, but the majority make no secret of their loyalties, referring to it as though it were a guild, or a reasonable employer, but nothing more.

Their role is to sniff out items, places or lore of interest to their higher-ups. Whether researching tomes in distant keeps or libraries, travelling as a bard amongst isolated settlements or actively participating in exploration of dangerous places and the extraction of items, they are a low level but constant presence to those in this line of work.


To Track a Ghost level 2+

This is similar to Senses, but involves obscuring traces and tracks of the Seeker. Cast at second level, it will obscure traces from one chosen sense (i.e. sight would remove all visible signs of passing such as footprints in dust, but not physical damage to plants, masonry, etc). Every additional level it is cast at will remove one more sense’s traces. Smell and taste are important when tracking beasts are involved, and intuition adds a penalty to detection by magic. Must be cast separately for each additional creature to be rendered traceless. Also, it does not remove the traces, but obscures them for the duration – same as for Senses.

The field operatives are spread thinly, so their method is to direct other, stronger or more capable groups to clear dangerous or blocked paths, and reward them for extracting items, or, more usually, accompanying them and assuring that the group is happy with items that are not those that interest the Seekers. This is not usually hard, as most groups of dungeon delvers value gold and silver over engraved tablets, indecipherable notes and illuminating statues.

Dragon Warriors Profession

Stats – min 9 Reflexes and Intelligence.

Attack, Defence, MA and MD & Health Points – same as mystic, only no bonus MA/MD bonus at certain levels.

Skills – thief skills as assassin, only slightly less chance (maybe 5 - 10% less).

Magic- 2 spells/level, and 2 MP level. All relate to finding, inquiry and detection, misdetection and Jedi mind tricks.

P is for … Port Oorath

Well, I'm probably not going to finish all the letters in the alphabet this month, as I've been away, and am away for over a week from Saturday, but I'll keep plugging away.

P was tricky - nothing came to mind, until I found two paragraphs I'd written a while ago on the invasion of this trading city by a culture I'd clearly based on an ancient Greek/Roman civilisation. Then I started writing, and couldn't really stop.  I'll have to work on brevity..


This coastal city has squatted on the western shore of the Gulf of Silver longer than any of the inhabitants have knowledge of, and no stories of its establishment or founding seem to exist. For all purposes, it is easy to assume that it always existed, and served its purpose of opening the lush interior plains and jungles, and the cities of Ji Phandar and Sy’ren, to the outside world. The animal and vegetative wealth of these cities flows out – captured and trained exotic animals, timbers of all sizes and shades, and plant leaves, fruits, berries and juices that exist only in these lands – and the metals, jewels and utilitarian of the northern and eastern lands flows in, along with new ideas and entertainments.

But this story is not about the interior, nor the mighty conflicts of the Southern City-States, which lie to the north of this location.

It concerns recent changes to Port Oorath, which may or may not have actually changed the life of the inhabitants.

Traditionally (for there is no other way in this city) Port Oorath is managed, or mismanaged, by the twelve Merchant Princes (prince or princess, the title is the same), an honour held by the richest, or most successful, or most daring of the traders of the city, or at least, those at want the honour. Service is for life, or until they give it up, or lose the edge that propelled them to such heights, and common consensus usually anoints a suitable replacement soon enough. The role of a Merchant Prince is to support or enable the city’s trade, and minimise threats to it, and its trade. But if one chooses to spend their time undermining another Merchant Prince, that is considered fair sport as well. It gives the holder licence to spend and recover large sums of coin, both their own, and what they can skim off the lawfully gathered tax and excise revenue. There is a large and quite efficient bureaucracy that supports the functioning of the city, in spite of the individual ambitions of the Merchant Princes.

The invasion of Port Oorath by five legions of Trieste heavy infantry occurred 21 years ago, and came as a surprise to the inhabitants. The only committed defenders of the city were a mercenary company that had been decimated in an assault in the Southern Cities conflicts, and had taken the contract to man the main gates in the city for a chance to recover and recruit. When the odd hundred or so of the Whitetail Blades finally mustered, and stood at the Sea Gate, facing two thousand legionaries, and watching the remaining three transports jostle to unload on the few remaining vacant spaces of land on the piers, they lost no time in surrendering and taking the invading representatives on a tour of the city.

The populace of the city barely noticed the invasion, and accepted the strange square silver coins of the invaders easily enough as they tried to force their way through the crowded markets. However, during the initial occupation, the leaders took advantage of its distraction, and two of the Merchant Princes were stabbed to death by their rivals, and several strategic locations or items were occupied or abducted, or, in the case of Lothmal’s Tower, both.

The invasion was amazingly successful, or a complete failure, depending on how one looked at it. Two of the Trieste officers were duly appointed as Merchant Princes, but the entire bureaucracy has been retained as the only way of keeping the city functioning, and the goods (and taxes) flowing.

The invasion was initiated by the political situation of the Trieste Homelands – a narrow coastal strip and islands far to the south, on the other shore of the Painted Sea. It is positioned with a towering mountain range behind them, a warlike civilisation that uses domesticated giant insects to the west, and the fortified lands of the Beastmen to the north. A decline in open hostilities with the Beastmen around three decades ago resulted in both a large standing army with little to do, and a generation of young, noble offices with no opportunities for upward social progress through battle.

Enter Lomos Numa, a minor noble of Karitha Island, who paid close attention to the stories of traders and travellers from the distant northern lands, that his forefathers had invaded, overrun, and then lost, half a millennia ago. He developed a rather optimistic plan to conquer the mysterious, hot lands to the northwest, to bring riches to the Empire, and set him on the road to glory and rulership. Bargaining with hard men and tired, disappointed generals, he borrowed or hired enough ships, soldiers and provisions for the endeavour, and set off.

The hot, humid climate of the interior, combined with rust, diseases, strange and dangerous flora and fauna, and the poison arrows and spears of the elusive but antagonistic inhabitants soon blunted any hope of pushing inland, and after the money ran out, three legions and all of the transports headed home, loaded down with an interesting selection of animals, carved timber fetishes and fine materials and alcohols that, although unlikely to reduce the expedition’s debt by much, will probably revitalise Trieste culture in the short term.

Of the remaining two legions, all those willing to continue their military career (roughly half) have followed the more war-like officers, and have headed to the endless conflicts of the Southern Cities, and their immortal rulers, to become a mercenary force. A thousand well trained heavy infantry, supported by a cadre of soothsayers and diviners, has fitted well into the chaos of these lands.

Of the remainder, most forfeited their training and rank, and were soon incorporated into the population of Port Oorith. Although many settled down with suitable local partners (as the indigenous peoples tend to be slender and lithe, with golden-coppery skin and heart shaped faces, and almond shaped eyes, there was no hardship here). The locals themselves were amazed by both the different appearance of the Trieste population (pale olive skin, square faces and jaws, blue or grey round eyes and far too much dark wiry hair, including, on men, almost permanent 5 o'clock shadow) and their ability with engineering, architecture and civic works. This has led to a massive improvement, with roading, water supply and docks improvements all started recently, although given the natural chaos of the city, and its adherence to unwritten traditions, these are unlikely to be completed in our lifetime.

Lomos Numa himself owes several fortunes to money-lenders and nobles alike back home, and so has no plans to return. He is enjoying is new role as a Merchant Prince, and is responsible for most of the planned infrastructure improvements. Also, the Emperor cannot rescind his citizenship while he is absent without also excusing the coin he owes, as only Trieste citizens are subject to the complex laws of financial transactions.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

O is for Orcs...

Orc is Elven for Goblin, and both the pointy eared freaks (as most humans would tern the average elf) and the Dwarves (human terms depend on the last time they did business with a dwarf, and what the outcome was) despise them.

Humans, on the other hand, have developed a complex relationship with them, or perhaps it's the goblins that have developed this relationship.

Goblin kind are ubiquitous denizens of wild lands, and can be feared, despised, tolerated or even treated as something not quite an equal.  They are as varied and individually unique as humans are, with the only common features their green tough skin, bowed legs and rather ugly features.  They are tough and wiry, and strong for their size, with an amazing constitutional resistance to overexertion and poisons, which may explain their varied and disgusting diet. They have a strange genetic mutability that allows their physical size and other matters to change greatly over only a few generations, something of great use when involved in sustained conflicts, but exploited by warlords and other chaotic leaders with interesting ambitions.

Their social structure is family based, with, depending on the limits of their environment, can be basic family, clan or tribe based. Power is decided by a mixture of the vicious application of both strength and base cunning, with stronger or smarter members preying on, or, even worse, plotting with, those beneath them. Perhaps due to this social pressure, most goblins have cowardice, duplicity and cunning as firmly entrenched moral values.

They live, aside from the rare social outcast, in tribal groups from around one hundred to, in the larger wilderness holdings, over fifty thousand. All with a strong, ruthless leader who directs their innate talents to suitable ends, such as raiding, stealing, infighting or manual labour for chaotic warlords. They are prolific breeders, with the young born in helpless 'litters' of around half a dozen, and about half of these reaching a useful age. Aside from the brief pregnancy, there is no real difference between the sexes, and as no scholar has been desperate enough to investigate, no-one knows or cares anything about the sex life of goblins.

Due to this ready supply of young, the average goblin's life is unimportant to those in charge, as their is always another replacement. The average goblin usually disagrees. But for those who survive long enough, cunning and instinct grow, and exceptional goblins can break away from this cycle and become figures of some importance.

The burrows of goblin clans are varied, but always involve underground caves and tunnels, away from the prying eyes of the sky [Incidentally, in mountain with large flocks of wyvern, goblins can be up to 60% of their diet]. These underground dwellings may be hand dug caves or burrows in earth or soft rock, but they are also known to have taken over habitations from frigid troll caves in high mountain ranges to ruined cities in humid swamps, and most suitable structures in-between.

One must always remember that they are creatures of fey, and can sense hidden magics with great sensitivity, blend into shadow, and use strange powers to misdirect or confuse. As with most fey, it is assumed amongst the greatest naturalists that these were perhaps the original inhabitants of this land, before the Ancients settled and brought in their slave and servant races.

In some of the more tolerant human cities or lands, or those desiring a cheap manual labour force, or those with no-one really in charge, clanless goblins can find acceptance as servants, workers, cleaners, refuse collectors, etc - a general underclass undertaking the thankless and unpleasant duties required where-ever a large group of people settle down. Despite this, usually there is a curfew during daylight hours, where they are required to be outside the city walls in their muddy, refuse strewn shanty town. This does not greatly distress the goblins, as the common warren they sleep in is strangely homelike and comforting.

I've just come across the writings at Huge Ruined Pile, where goblins are addressed, in a much more disturbing manner. I do like, and may steal, the idea of 'upstart' goblins being a
abducted and 'changed' into Bugbears, strange deviants changed with infiltrating other cultures and abducting children that are spirited away to never be seen again...

Friday, April 20, 2012

N is for Nopperu

Hi there.  N looked hard, but I thought about one of my and my wife's favourite bits from Hayao Miyazaki's Spirited Away, a delightful tale of the Japanese spirit world.  No-Face is one of the more interesting characters of his movies...


Although the curse of the Dopplegangers, and their tragic quest, is well known throughout the Civilised Lands, along with the fear and suspicion associated with shapechangers and impersonators, a different type of shapeshifter is known to exist in the lands to the south of Kheldaria’s border; the Three Cities, the Dunish Marshes and the Plain of Blood.

A misty, damp land, with large tracts of uninhabited moors, stonefields and dank primeval forests in the northern and eastern reaches, many strange beasts are known. The prime source of detailed information is from the wild peoples of the Whorim Hills, even through their vicious, degenerate and insular behaviour prevents most conversational contact.

The rural population inhabiting these lands survives through the years, helped by their knowledge of hedge magic in the form of rough sigils and charms to protect hearth and home, and a number of traditions and taboos to prevent misfortune.

Although these actions generally allow them to resist the depravations of fey and goblin, the stories of the faceless ones send a shiver down the spine of all who must travel through these lands at night.

The word Nopperu is not part of the local languages, and is thought by scholars to be a remnant of the peasant style of speech during the First Empire’s reign of these lands. Etymology aside, although little physical evidence has been found of these human like demons, enough similar stories from all manners of people have established a common pattern.

The Nopperu are also known as the Faceless Ones, and are used to frighten unruly children. They appear usually as normal humans, seen from behind, or engaged in a pursuit where hair covers their face. When a person approaches, they will turn, and the viewer may be confronted with familiar features – that of their friends, family, or even themselves. And then the figure will simply wipe these features off, leaving a smooth blank sheet of skin where their face should be.

This is frightening to normal peasants and those of high breeding, and they usually flee, followed by a high pitched giggling laughter, to be found lost and terrified the next day. Those of a stronger character may retreat with some dignity, still faced with that terrible laughter. Of those who have stayed and attempted to fight, charm or converse with the figure, all that can be told is from the fragmented ramblings of those who observed the featureless face cracking open to reveal an impossibly wide, shark-toothed slash of a mouth with which they swallowed the intruder. Those who retained a semblance of sanity upon seeing this have also described seeing the Nopperu suddenly adopting the form, mannerisms and face of the individual just swallowed.

This may explain the not uncommon disappearance of lone families or small communities from isolated farms or holdings, as a well known family member or friend, arriving at night is sure to warrant a quick invitation inside, therefore negating any form of magical warding or protection from creatures of fey. Once inside, a killer who can adopt the faces of any present will soon lead to its downfall. Of those few that have been reported slain, through the use of silvered or elven blades, or magic of ice or fire, no physical trace survives the dawn, with all subliming to a low crawling mist.

Others, however, especially children lost at night have spoken of people with blank faces leading them towards known places, although usually ruins or deserted towns rather than places of light and voices. And well armed and armoured travellers can sometimes tell stories of practical jokes being played on them, from bands of travellers or even taverns, in the middle of nowhere, inviting them in and conversing with them in strange repetitive speech or random garbled phrases. After a suitable period of time to allow for confusion and panic, the entire crowd of strangers, including any buildings, dissolve into mists, and a high pitched laughter flows from the distance.

Kiloch of Bolis Rock, an ex-mercenary of those lands, tells how his troop came across and spent the night at a hostel in moors where no building had ever been known. In the morning, he woke resting on a pile of leaves in the damp peat instead of the soft bed he remembers, but, more sinisterly, only twelve of his twenty soldiers remained. The other eight had faded away along with the buildings. All through their two day trek across the swamp to the nearest town, they were followed by a faint but high pitched noise that some said might be laughter.

All that comes from this is that lone travellers away from the main highways are told not to travel at night, and even large groups should note the locations of towns and inns, and be careful not to be caught in the moors or forests after dark.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

M is for Mewlips...

Yes, Tolkien had amazing and astounding ideas and stories, and many of these have formed the basis of mainstream fantasy writing.  Rangers, glowing swords, orcs, majestic elves so annoying you want to strangle them...

But there are many other stories, poems, fragments, ideas, that haven't been so mercilessly mined.  At least, I thought so, until I ventured into the shadowy world of the Tolkien Gateway...

Here's the poem - from The Adventures of Tom Bombadil (1962), a collection of poems, that, aside from this one, are mostly fairy story rhymes or comedy poems. I had a copy as a kid, and this one struck me as quite different, and scary...

The Mewlips
Richard Svensson's Interp.

"The Shadows where the Mewlips dwell
Are dark and wet as ink,
And slow and softly rings their bell,
As in the slime you sink.

You sink into the slime, who dare

To knock upon their door,
While down the grinning gargoyles stare
And noisome waters pour.

Beside the rotting river-strand

The drooping willows weep,
And gloomily the gorcrows stand
Croaking in their sleep.

Over the Merlock Mountains a long and weary way,
In a mouldy valley where the trees are grey,
By a dark pool's borders without wind or tide,
Moonless and sunless, the Mewlips hide.

Angus McBride's famous image
The cellars where the Mewlips sit
Are deep and dank and cold
With single sickly candle lit;
And there they count their gold.

Their walls are wet, their ceilings drip;

Their feet upon the floor
Go softly with a squish-flap-flip,
As they sidle to the door.

They peep out slyly; through a crack
Their feeling fingers creep,
And when they've finished, in a sack
Your bones they take to keep.

Beyond the Merlock Mountains, a long and lonely road,
Through the spider-shadows and the marsh of Tode,
And through the wood of hanging trees and gallows-weed,

You go to find the Mewlips - and the Mewlips feed"

Which leads to this...

Anyway, what are mewlips?  Primordial beasts from the beginning of time; undead monsters, like sneaky ghouls; cannibalistic men? Does it matter? They hide, they eat people, and they have gold. Almost an invitation to kill and loot them.

But, it's not that easy. Even if a group of PCs finds the Shadows of the Mewlips, through spider-woods, the Marsh of Tode, not to mention gallows-weed and all that slime, it's all about misdirection, psychological terror, henchmen vanishing when you turn around, rooms underwater.  There's no need for stats , as they don't get isolated or trapped, not on their own turf. There's a touch on your shoulder, but nothing there when you turn. There's a grinning skull behind you, but when you look again, it's only the stone wall.

 Forget about Tucker's Kobolds - these guys (girls?) are nasty, especially when the group stumbles across a courtyard full of sacks, and each one contains a carefully cleaned and stacked skeleton.  And the skulls start whispering when uncovered...

And thanks to all who leave comments here. It's great to know that people are actually reading this and maybe getting inspired to do something interesting!

L is for Lizards

I like lizards.  In my line of work, I often come across native NZ skinks and geckos.  Cute little guys. And the odd tuatara. It actually has three eyes (one covered by skin but apparently reasonably functional) and is a survivor from the age of the dinosaurs.  Really.

A tuatara.
But that's not what this post is about.

Creature from the Black Lagoon?
It's about Lizard People (formerly Lizardmen, but we're PC these days...). They are an interesting subject in fantasy writing and RPGs.  Usually either dimwitted and slow, or magically gifted and special.  Moving away from the slow and cold-blooded trope, as that seems to have come from the old B grade movies, let's look at reskinning them.

Most little lizards (the afore mentioned skinks and geckos) are quite bright and active, although they do tend to lie in the sun, warming up, in-between periods of bright activity.  Larger creatures (around man sized) have more mass, and are able to retain their internal heat long enough so that they won't be frozen by, well, frozen weather.  And a variety of types and forms is good, to reflect the different things I like about real lizards.

A note here on fantasy races.  I don't see the need for too many species (e.g. orcs, goblins, hobgoblins, bugbears, thoul, and snotlings) when you can have one that just demonstrates a strange mutability and differences in personality and looks between different populations.  Kind of like humans, actually.

Anyway, the 'generic' lizardpeople are soft skinned, three fingered and three toed, and kind of like the guy to the left (from here - fascinating site...).  Cautious, curious and gentle. The example there looks a little buff for my guys, but when you search the interweb for lizard pictures, you get into some very worrying communities very quickly.

These were the original lizardpeople, that spread out and constructed exotic looking ziggurats and chambered caves across the world after the Ancients fell. This brought them into contact with the other surviving races. The humans of the time, escaping from slavery, probably gave them a wide berth, and the dwarves were burrowing deep in the distant corners of the continent. Which left the rather antagonistic elves, lost after their masters vanished.  This soon developed into a vast battle across many landscapes, with the elves mustering their forces, and forging their glass armour and wicked swords, and the lizardpeople 'hanging' their offspring to produce more heavily armoured and warlike beings.

A lizardman hunter by anagorrax - no other info...
The battle raged for centuries, with frightened humans watching from the forest eaves and presumably looting some of the battle sites.  Although the two sides were matched in size and strength, the ability of the lizards to produce new and outlandish warrior types each season to counteract the strengths and abilities of the elves gave them a slight but constant edge. Just when it seemed that the elven forces were about to break, and the lizardpeople armies would rampage through the Elven Homelands, the planet shifted slightly on its axis (assumed to be the final release of the vast energies released by the fall of the Ancients) and the continent began to cool, noticeably.

Although this was only a matter of a few degrees, the carefully specialised physiologies of the lizard warriors couldn't cope, and the decision was made by the Elders to retreat back to their vast southern island.  The elves considered this sudden withdrawal a cunning trick, and did not follow until too late. Along the long path of their retreat, though, many of the new forms that would not fit well into the carefully ordered traditional lifestyle were left or resettled at various suitable habitats along the way.

These areas were usually swamps, marshes, fens, or desert oases. That's why these types of areas may contain wildly different types of lizardpeople, some small and sneaky, some large and powerful, some very much in tune with the forces of magic, sometimes in close proximity. 

Well, that's a bit of history and a just-so story.  This alphabet thing is tricky, but a double post today to make up for lost ground!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

K is for Kheldaria

Hi - Apologies, but I've had a strange day, so here's something pasted in that I wrote up not too long ago, concerning the largest empire in the campaign world. Few links and no pictures... Normal service will resume later...

Every FRPG world needs a home base, a ‘normal’ civilisation that other, more exotic, interesting, or outlandish features can be compared to. If the entire setting is gonzo, then it can be hard to maintain the believability in the long term, and these features can fade into the background. And I’m also more interested in a low fantasy, reasonably grounded in reality type of setting. The PC’s aren’t automatically shiny paradigms of hope and piety, nor are they crippled rat catchers living in sewers. They muddle along somewhere in the middle, scoring the odd treasure, spending or loosing it quickly, and always not having quite enough to get them exactly where they think they want to be.

So I’ve based most adventures in this world, or at least started them, on the edges of the biggest kingdom in existence. The edges are where conflicts and adventures occur, but some information on the kingdom that provides the law, order and tax collection services the PCs love so much is required.

Therefore, we have a historically divided but recently united kingdom, seeking to be a worthy successor to the semi-mythical First Empire that fell some 3000 years ago.

Kheldaria is big, and the helpful tables in ACK tell me that to support a population of about 5,000,000 people (that’s one million families) it needs to be 125,000 square miles, or about the size of Montana, apparently. That has just under a million people, according to Wikipedia, so Kheldaria is more hospitable, or at least, more densely settled than Montana. Also, it doesn't have Buffalo.

It’s a fertile land, sprawling across the largest area of flat land on the map (that isn’t desert or tundra) and quite central. It’s roughly U shaped, and bordered by the Star Cairns Mountain Range to the east, beyond which lies various other kingdoms, and by the loosely settled forests and tundra of Komesh to the north. The curving Komari River borders it to the west, and curves around to form the southern boundary as well. To the west lies land claimed by the Free City of Stalish, and ancient ruins, including the Barrowdowns and the Road of Skulls, and passes to the coastal cities and lands over the young, high mountains named the Crystal Peaks. The south holds the Dunish Moors and the Whorim tribespeoples, with the Three Cities of the Shadowed Plain, the city of Zheckia and it’s dark library, and Sto’nat, City of Blood. Beyond this is the Bay of Sykath, leading to The Painted Sea, and the warring Southern Kingdoms.

This area was one of the first conquered by the First Empire in ancient times, and was their main food production area, exporting grain and meat to feed the Great Cities to the west. In the years since, many of their exposed ruins have been occupied, torn down, or had the building stones reused for newer structures.

Under the First Empire, two peoples inhabited the region. The drier, hillier western areas were settled with the Baulti, a dark haired, shorter, agile and sharp people, with faintly copper skins, while the original inhabitants, the Andui of the flat, well watered eastern region were taller and wider, predominately blond, and hard working.

With the fall of the First Empire, the land was torn by battles between minor nobles, bandit kings and mercenaries, and splintered into hundreds of minor opposing kingdoms. The population suffered and declined, with great losses due to battles, starvation and disease. The Baulti found themselves pushed further to the west, and suffered restrictions in eastern areas.

After two millennia of this continual destruction, eight major kingdoms or states emerged from the chaos. Shortly after, a great leader arose, and, although failing to conquer all, his daughter, and then her son continued the work of bringing all under their banner, through sword or diplomacy. And so, from this hundred year struggle, the Kingdom of Kheldaria rose, with King Mortos Yagamoth its first ruler.

These eight kingdoms were retained as the first Duchies, awarded to the long time supporters of this first ruling line. As this rose in eastern lands, they tended to be dominated by Andui peoples, which has created limited conflict to this day with the Baulti. These Duchies are further divided into Baronies and Holdings, with a roughly feudal structure of accountability.

Tordath, city of the home province of the ruling line, was rebuilt as a capital city, and much development of the eastern and southern lands occurred.

Kingdoms and their rulers don’t stay settled for long, as human history shows (look up any of the Royals during the middle ages, and you’ll see enough inspiration for any number of games)

Some 400 ya, a major battle with the Thyredian Empire, a battle with a mageocracy in the far north-east occurred. Although the battle was drawn, the King of the time was slain, leaving a 2 year old heir behind. This resulted in a change of the power structure, with the Dukes gaining more authority to manage themselves, creating almost autonomous states overseen by the Prince.

The current royal family came into power three generations (90 years) ago, when the father of the first new king, Karlhem, a minor noble in Byrthyn and cousin to the royal line, rebelled against an inept king. It was a swift coup in the Capital, but defeating royalist forces in distant areas took several decades, and it was his daughter Alaras who was crowned Queen.

Alaras’s reign was marked by ongoing minor rebellions by loyalists to the old crown, and the need to re-establish relations, both political and financial, with the Duchies. Her son and successor, Deurwin, set a militant tone, and required the Duchies to recruit units for royal use. The famed Golden Company of Helvan, and the Black Dragons of Torath were formerly established at this time, but were formed mostly of veterans of the overthrow.

King Germain (50) and Queen Leonia (42) have ruled for the last twenty years, as Duerwin did not step down until a fall from a horse crippled him. Germain is a scholar-knight, and clever rather than strong.

He has blunted the powers of the Duchies by requiring them to each raise and outfit a 5,000 strong guard force, and then assigned these to a distant province as royal guards, commanded by loyal officers. This has created a strong guard that owes loyalty to his men rather than their distant and unreachable homeland, reduces the possibility of lax smuggling and tax collection due to family and other connections, and gets the different parts of his empire actually mingling. It also redirects funds that the Dukes may be tempted to use raising forces against his rule.

Queen Leonia is a priestess of the Lady, a common vocation for the partners of recent kings of Kheldaria. She is a capable ruler herself, and has personally stared down several diplomats or Dukes in the past. Being associated with a deity whose worshippers have been rumoured to include assassins has undoubtedly helped.

They have three children, all potential sources of adventure;

Elean (24) – a standard princess, engaged in court life and intrigue, but rumoured to be seeking training as an enchantress.
Tayne (22) – this strapping lad has just been confirmed as a Knight of Torath’s City Guard, and is looking forward to hunting bandits or whatever they do.
Lisle (19) – the youngest is quite magically talented, and is officially apprenticed to her grandfather, Ane de Brissac, father of Leonia, a talented Storm-mage.

That's all for part 1 - no doubt, there will be more in the fullness of time...

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

J is for Jewels

A big, shiny topic, as jewels, gems, crystals, precious stones, and hardstones abound in loot, treasure chests and plunder in nearly all RPGs. I've rewritten this post three times, as it got too out of hand too quickly. This is just a simple primer with an attempt at a table...

I've got supplements from around half a dozen different systems, each with their own way of describing and assigning value to various gemstones.  Pretty much all go into far too much detail, and assign too much value to things like feldspar, moonstone and haematite, and, at some stage, give each common stone strange and magical powers that serve more to confuse and cheapen good jewellery.  (IMHO, that is).  But a haematite set necklace shouldn't really be worth all that much compared with the shiny gems that are DIFFICULT to mine or acquire.

I got the idea of writing up my own ideas when I came across "A Re-Evaluation of Gems & Jewel[le]ry in D&D" in Issue #8 of Dragon Magazine.  Other aspects of this article, a collection of tables to detail gem & jewellery hauls, have been discussed in the blogisphere, but I'm going to assault TYPES of gemstones. 

So here is my little, simplified guide to gems in a FRPG, to add a consistent flavour...

The Cardinal Gems are the most expensive, favoured gems, desirable by nobility, elves, religions and other decadent types with more money than sense.  Therefore, treasure seekers and tomb robbers should remember these, be able to identify them, and seek and collect  them over other, less lucrative gems.

They consist, unwaveringly, of the following gems;
Amethyst- found in veins and cavities in granites, and in geodes. Rare in medieval times.
Diamond - deep volcanic pipes - kimberlites.  Associated with garnet & spinel.  Also in weathered alluvial placers.

Ruby       - red corundum. Marbles and gem gravel deposits
Sapphire - blue corundum. Similar to ruby, usually found together, with one dominating.
Emerald  - green beryl. Granite pegmatites, mica schists, contact metamorphosed limestones.

I tend to add pearls to this, given the extra number of 'things that can kill you easily' existing under the waves in fantasy worlds.

So really expensive jewellery will have some of these stones, or jewellery will be expensive as it has some of these.  Identification of some of these gems can be hard, though. Don't be afraid to throw a nice zircon gem where they might suspect a diamond, and spinel and ruby were considered the same until not too long ago - several rubies in Crown Jewels are actually red spinel. And, as these links show, most BIG gems have histories, as they are visible, rare and easily transportable, sometimes even without the rightful owner knowing.

Lesser stones are more tricky. They are still shiny, however, and although of lesser value, still worth a bit to starving tomb robbers.  Here's a little table I've been working on for Shiny Things Held By People You've Killed or Robbed;

Item of Jewellery (d12);

1. Anklet - ankle chain
2. Buckle - belt, weapon belt, etc
3. Bracelet
4. Brooch
5. Amulet - usually a minor magical effect or protective function.  Note 'minor'.
6. Earring - not exclusive to ears...
7. Necklace
8. Ring
9. Pendant
10. Clasp - like a brooch, but specialised for holding cloaks, clothes and other things fastened.
11. Diadem - any sort of head jewellery - tiara, crown, headband, etc
12. Integlio - small semi-precious gems carved into cameos

And the gem type involved;

The first three are all chrysoberyls;
1.   Alexandrite - changes colour with changes in light -  green/yellow or yellow/red.
2.   Chrysoberyl - yellow or yellow green
3.   Cymophane - 'cat's eye' effect
4.   Aquamarine - turquoise colour
And these three are all beryls, different from chrysoberyls;
5.   Golden Beryl - strangely, yellow or gold colour.
6.   Helidor - greenish yellow
7.   Morganite - pink to rose shades
8.   Opal
9.   Peridot - small and green, easily mistaken for emeralds
10. Sunstone - bright yellow, red, pink colours, displays aventurescence 
11. Zoisite - can be Blue, Green, Brown, Pink, Yellow, Clear (d6)
12. Topaz - can be Black, Brown, Orange, Yellow, Green, Pink (d6)
13. Black Tourmaline (Schorl) 
14. Coloured Tourmaline - Pink, Green, Clear, Dark Yellow (d4)
15. Spinel - Red, Blue, Black, Green, Mauve, Clear (d6)
16. Amber
17. Ivory
18. Jade
19 & 20. JACKPOT! Give them one of the Cardinal Gems.

I'm slipping behind on this A to Z thing, but will go for some slightly shorter posts to try and catch up, if I can.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

I is for Islands

First, off, a little Nightwish, a Finnish Metal Band that does really good acoustic folk tunes, and an appropriate song;

Islands are special places, but I'm a little biased, growing up and living on two smallish islands near the bottom of the world.  There's a different mindset, knowing that you're completely surrounded by water, and share borders with no-one.

In an island, if you want to visit somewhere else, you need a boat of some type, and that's also where bad, and good, people can come from.  You can grow insular and inward-looking, making do with only what you can gather around you, but you can also become entranced by dreams of what might be out there, beyond the horizon.  This can lead to wanderlust, especially when it's rather inconvenient to return home from wherever you are.

There are three island/ island groups in my world setting that have been fleshed out more than a shape and a name on the map.

The Hundred Isles

A cluster of islets to the west, lying in a curved arc between the larger islands of Velindor (known in distant lands as Island of the Silversmiths) and the fearsome Dragon Isles.  The exact number of islands is in dispute, to those who care about such things. Perhaps seventy have fresh water, maybe slightly over a hundred exist at high spring tide, and perhaps double or more at lower tides.  They are close, with only a few hundred metres separating most, and many a lot closer, with narrow channels of only a few metres between them.  This creates a vast labyrinth of intricate channels, with many fast and dangerous currents, and sudden and varied tidal changes.

There are a few bridges between close lying islands near Send, the island most easily reached by traders from the Mainland, but there are no major towns.  The Meethall on Send is the centre for the thetse fish oil extraction industry, as these small greasy fish that abound only within this archipelago contain a rich flavoursome oil that is favoured in coastal and southern cities.  Trading galleys visit on a regular basis to trade essential goods for barrels of oil. There is accommodation for travellers in this large, barnlike building, with hot meals and a hall for rest.

The other islands are grouped into natural 'townships' of five or ten islets, usually with an extended family or two on each.  A Chieftain informally governs this, usually travelling to Send a few times a year to raise concerns and queries on behalf of the township at the Great Meets, and bringing news and information back.

Flat land, where it exists, is protected by stone walls and intensively farmed, and steeper arable land is terraced and planted.  Even so, much of the islands are bare wind and sea-swept rock, and life is dominated by the sea.  Nets are strung between stacked rock houses and across channels to net thetse and other fish, children have their own coracle or canoe by the time they are old enough to walk, and most homes are built with windows and balconies leaning over the water, but secure enough to withstand winter storms.  The islands are not rich, and have few natural resources other than driftwood and flotsam, the thetse oil, and occasional lag deposits of alluvial silver and small pinkish rubies, but the people are hardy, self sufficient and are a happy and family oriented lot.

The people have, according to their legends, always lived here, and tell legends of the passing of the great ship of the Sonderholm peoples some two thousand years ago, and of great flights of dragons at rare intervals.  They are shorter than average, like the original peoples of the Kheldarian Basin, but are quite broad across the shoulders and stout, and very agile and nimble around water.  Hair is dark brown or black, and eyes blue, grey or green, with fair skin tanned by sun, wind and wave.

Things to do;

  • A wanted criminal has fled to the outer, lesser known outer islands. Brave storms, currents, sharks and treachery to capture and return her to justice.
  • Towards the Dragon Isles, a small submerged rock is covered by several ruined buildings of an unknown style, lying under about three metres of water.
  • Someone comes into possession of a treasure map, identifying a stash of hidden loot on an island.  Investigation reveals that it could be any one of a dozen islands in this group, and the two dominant families are feuding Romeo and Juliet style.  Parties must not offend either group while sneaking around, digging holes all over the place.

  •  A barren, windswept island peopled with ghosts (kind of like in the video).  Talk to the lone inhabitant, and discover the reason for the curse and how to break it and free the spirits.
Well, I'll leave the other two until another date, as I've written a bit more here than I'd planned.  The others are Miseleth, The Black Island, famed for pirates and lawlessness, but a major trading port, and the home of a number of isolationist mages; and The Island of Seahorses, with a Greek-style colony on the northern shores, and, separated by a narrow but steep mountain range, on the southern shores, an animistic cult worshipping a vengeful water god, with ritualistic drownings.  Although somewhat dangerous, it is one of the few places elementalists can begin to fathom the deep mysteries of water magic...

Thursday, April 12, 2012

H is for Healing

Busy weekend, and yesterday involved a site visit two hours drive away, followed by some socialising later so no blogging time, unfortunately.  Which means I'll do a double post at some stage to catch up, if need be.

So, in RPGs, healing is essential, due to the number of ways that you can get hurt, sliced, crushed, poisoned, slashed, punctured and bitten.  Especially if you're going around getting into fights.

In real life, we use natural healing, pharmaceuticals, and surgery as the main ways of fixing injuries, with a bit of medical practise thrown in.

In most fantasy worlds, as the risk of getting hurt is much, much greater, and medical science hasn't got to the stage of slicing people open then sewing them back up again (the last part is the missing bit), they have to do things differently.  Magic is an obvious tool, but needs to be managed so that you don't have a) a world full of people missing bits of fingers and limbs or b) a world where no-one has scars or injuries and magic can fix everything.

A word here on my RPG system of choice - Dragon Warriors, although not too dissimilar to D&D, has a lot less hit points going around.  Rather than increasing your total by a dice roll every level, you get an extra one health point to your total with every rank gained, if you're a fighter type, and if you're a spell caster, one point every second level.  So people are more fragile and die easier, even at high levels.  There's really no chance to be a 'tank' in these games, and armour is VERY important

The first and most obvious method is recovery after battle.  I've seen this used a few times in other ways, but after each encounter where damage is suffered, if time is spent bandaging, washing, binding and cooling down, then half the damage can be healed.  Round down. You know when you fall down the stairs or go over your mountainbike's handlebars, and although it hurts for a bit, after a few minutes rest or a nice cup of tea, it's a lot less painful and you can get on with your day.

So, for example, Kodak the Barbarian is 5th level and has 18 HP.  He's hit by a crossbow bolt for 7 damage but survives and slays the lone goblin.  Assuming he can rest, extract the bolt from his torso, and wash and bind the wound, he'd get 3 HP back.  In a running battle where he can't take the time for this, such as fleeing the Sultan's Palace with the Princess over one shoulder, it doesn't work.

There's natural rest and recovery, which is 1 HP per day of rest.  Rest can include training and exercising, but no real dangers or overexertion. Must have clean water and food for this to occur, though.

There are healing potions, or bars, or salves.  They all work by restoring the integrity of the body and lessening the effects of concussion and trauma - i.e. health points.  As stated in B is for Bees, honey is an essential ingredient, as well as a variety of rare and difficult to procure other ingredients.  I'm thinking of unicorn bits, rare alpine flowers, ink sacs of tiny poisonousness  octopi and fungi from the deepest dungeons.  Something to justify the cost that seems to be about twice the annual income of an average peasant.

But there's a bit of variation in quality;
  •  Quality potions - deep translucent blue in colour, made painstakingly by really good alchemists that specialise, high level mages, and monks in temples that have a tradition and a secret recipe handed down through the years.  Tastes like a fine liquor, and costs 300 Gold Pieces or more.  Heals 7 HP if all is drunk, 3 if only half the bottle is consumed. Rather addictive if consumed too often...
  • Average potions - lighter blue, almost turquoise, and cloudy, produced by standard alchemists (small batches made but many other potions also brewed at same time) and witches, with their strange ways - don't ask about the ingredients.  Also the type found in ancient ruins, goblin loot and offered as rewards by cloaked men in taverns.  Would fetch 100 - 150 gold in the right type of transactions - night markets, desperate adventurers (their normal state of existence), Elven nobles slumming it... A bit of variation in quality, so heals 1 - 6 HP per bottle, no half sips. Tastes like a half decent red wine, with a peppery aftertaste. Can only drink once a day; any additional produce cramps and no healing.
  •  Hedge potions - a very light blue, with little insoluble 'bits' floating in it.  Frequently with a soapy foam on the surface.  This is the type your average villager would be most common with, and is brewed using reasonably common herbs and fungi, probably including penicillin.  Probably made by wise women/men that live alone in a hut in the woods, hermits, village herbalists, goblin shaman... The type found in goblin ruins and treasures. Can taste mind numbingly hot, intensely sour, nastily sweet or think and soapy.  Not pleasant.  Heals 1 - 4 HP, but can only be used once a week, otherwise something resembling a severe allergic reaction occurs.  Also not pleasant.  Still, it usually stops those suffering agricultural accidents from dying.
Healing magics provide more dangerous but also more dramatic results.  Sorcerers know simple healing spells that give back health points, but stronger magics that heal broken bones, regrow lost fingers or even limbs, and cure heart disease and organs that have stopped working are the domain of the gods, specifically the God of Death, and to a lesser extent, the Huntress and the All-Mother. Death can heal anything, provided the priests, using arcane methods, determine that your time has not come quite yet.  The Huntress is simple magic, usually along the lines of letting you ignore the gaping wound or missing arm so you can still fight, and the All-Mother is usually only concerned with pregnancy and childbirth.

These healings can be tough on the body. Steven Erikson's Malazan Book of the Fallen series (if I remember properly) has magic healing quite nasty bodily wounds, but not healing the mind or spirit's response to the damage, which can't comprehend the sudden change.  Rest helps, sometimes unconsciousness does too.  The gods can lessen this impact, but sometimes don't, either due to benign negligence or, in some cases, because the injured needs to learn a lesson.

Either way, adventurers use the term "Health Struck" to describe the punch drunk, slightly disassociated from reality, unfocussed behaviour of those that have not reacted well to magical restoration.  If this condition is seen in someone in dangerous environments, most parties would hole up until it passed, or even decamp back to base.  Others would look forward to the amusement to be had. 

Sunday, April 8, 2012

G is for ... Gods...

Well, G has so many possibilities, but most of my considerations can be covered under other letters - goblins = orcs (according to LOTR), gems = jewels, gold = precious metals, but for gods, only deities would work, and that's already taken.

So many fantasy worlds have gods.  Most of these are blandly interchangeable, as a god of the underworld looks the same anywhere, more or less (depending on your underworld, I guess), as do most gods of war, death, life and all the normal things.  Talking of Gods of Death, most examples are either really really evil, or the same as, or polar opposites to the Discworld version.  And the most important things in most versions of D&D is what they dress like, and what weapons they can use.  These things are probably important, but don't really cover the complex realities of religion, even made up ones.

I've taken a different approach in the gods of my main campaign world.  Based a little on Discworld ideas, and strangely stealing a lot of concepts from the Way of the Tiger gamebooks I loved when I was much much younger, as the worldbuilding there was very good.  I've taken the idea that big cultural forces provide the ... energy... for deities to do whatever they do.  Not every cultural idea, but the ones people spend a lot of time thinking about - sex, death, war, darkness; and a few more specialised ones that involve a bit more thought.

Gods don't come into the world from outside.  The Ancients probably had theirs, but when they all vanished during the night that was their fall, they left us no ideas of what they might be, and in the devastation of that night, nothing recognisable as a temple have ever been found.

The gods we have have all once been human, or at least, we think they once were.  Some have changed as a result, and others must have become gods long before anyone thought of writing things down for history.  Others have, well, complicated stories, with many holes, pieced together from all manner of sources, that give a reasonably coherent story.  Which invariably isn't true, but is closer than most other guesses.  They have moved into wider circles, and play games that we couldn't even imagine, with powers that we couldn't guess at, but they also need to ensure that their 'power base' of mortal worshippers is secure. 

From an Ann Stokes card...
The god that all agree was probably first, and is most ingrained in peoples conciousness is the All Mother.  She's the representation of the natural world - seasons, the cycle of birth, life and death, abundance, wild animals.  It's thought that whoever she is become that back in the primordial days, when humanity was first set free on this world.  Her clergy exist, paradoxically, in most major cities, where their temple, and its walled forest, provides a link with nature for those that choose to enjoy it.  The goddess herself has not been seen for millennia, but High Priests in different cities all receive the same vague dreamlike messages.  They are most concerned with preserving life where possible, and preventing the destruction or desecration of the sacred, natural places.  Not every tree, just the really, really important trees.

Yes, the Discworld Death...
About the same vintage as her is the god Death.  He is remembered in the most ancient chants as a Shaman determined in conquer the power of death, and crossed over to the 'other side' without dying first.  He may have won, or been trapped, or lost, but now is the god in charge of this.  Not all dying.  That's natural, even when it's not my natural means.  His clergy are almost fanatical about preventing any messing with the sacred boundary between life and death.  This means the Undead, and Death's Champions exist only to destroy it, wherever it exists.  They are also the only church that offer magical healing and raising the slain from death.  And offering timely death to the terminally ill.  Their Gothic temples are usually surrounded by the infirm and sick, seeking healing, as white and black armoured inquisitors stride the hallways.  Complicated?  You bet.

Next was probably Gord.  God of humanity's careful custodianship of nature - crops, domesticated beasts, brewing, village life, village militia.  Every village or hamlet will have a Priest of Gord before all others, unless there's something rather special there, and they advise and organise all the things needed to sustain, grow and defend a rural community.  Gord was probably a farmer that a lot of other farmers looked up to, and it grew from there.  Strangely, or perhaps not so much, he and the All-Mother are seen as closer than most other gods.

There is no apparent god of war.  In fact, none have been visible since the last incumbent, Moraine, left it to become the god of Empire.  It is one of the greatest secrets of the world that the god of war is a mad, broken man who sits in an isolated tower, reliving his greatest failures with each new day.

Moraine was a mighty warrior, never king, but the advisor and maker of rulers, and fair in thought and judgement.  He won his first godship as god of war, as all soldiers, on all sides, believed in his power.  He remained immersed with mortal concerns, though, and eventually raised a young warrior to fill his place, as he became god of Empire, whom kings and emperors looked to for guidance and support.  His temples exist where any major power with a martial bent thinks is appropriate, and his clergy are warriors and advisers to normal armies.  The sight of two armies meeting with Moraine's priests advising both sides is not unheard of, and allows for the refinement of martial science... His underlying aim is to support empires becoming larger and more powerful by conquering others, but the impreciseness of life and the attentions of other gods usually stop this at an early stage.

There is the Mistress of Elements, an upstart goddess that has only been apparent for the last millennia or so.  Worshipped by those that use elemental magic, she is capricious, but steadfast in defending, and lending power to, her own.  Frequently tasks minor mages to accomplish certain actions, undoubtedly playing a very long game.  Interestingly, the texts of elemental magic remaining from the First Empire do not mention her, and speak of the Elemental Princes being the source of this magic.  It seems she may have been a mage once herself who subjugated or overthrew these mighty rulers of magic.

The best I could find...
The Huntress is a young woman, almost Diana-like, combining the attention for the natural world of the All-Mother with the martial sense of Moraine, and seeking to retain freedom for those that want it.  Hunters, sportspeople, those involved with working with animals, or animal products, and those who enjoy the sense of nature without the structure of the All-Mothers worship.  Large warhalls in borderlands are usual places for her forces to be based, but several Free Cities have invited her clergy in and established trained fighting forces that help temper outside aggression.  Interestingly, although the leaders of this army-like priesthood are all women, the majority of the common fighters are men (60:40 spilt).  The church is currently split, as the Huntress has apparently appeared to a male ex-convict who had recently signed up, and he and a motley group, including a recently excommunicated High Priestess, are searching for something near the Whorim Marshes, with most other forces in the region looking for them.

And The Lady, goddess of night, lovers, thieves and marriage.  I'm still trying to work out the associations myself, but I;m sure I'll get there.  She takes an active role in ensuring the stability of her worship base, and in undermining that of the other gods.

There are others, but the concepts are less well refined.

Apologies as I've gone on a bit here, which tends to happen when I'm basically thinking out loud. Thanks for all the comments so far, and I can't wait to see what I come up with for 'H', as I'm clueless at the moment...

Saturday, April 7, 2012

F is for Forges

The Third Gift - by Elmer Boyd Smith
Forges, and the process of forging, creating and melting metal objects, is a theme throughout mythology, legend, and most RPGs.

This isn't surprising, given the importance of a) metal objects to hit other people with; b) armour to prevent the things in (a) hurting you; and c) pretty things made of metal in both history and fantasy games.

I'm not going into the process of finding, mining, smelting, or purifying the metal, as interesting as these processes are (in my first career, I spent three years roaming the Australian Outback, doing the first and assisting the second of those processes), or the actual forging of objects.  Rest assured, however, that it's more in-depth than Skyrim indicates.

I do want to touch on the forges in mythology and see what can be stolen for campaigns.

Given that there is a book somewhere called "Smithing Gods, Including: Hephaestus, Aul , Gofannon, Goibniu, Creidhne, Luchtaine, Ogoun, Seker, Ilmarinen, Wayland the Smith, Svarog, Kotar (God), Qaynan, Gobannus, Vishvakarman, Tvastar, Kothar-Wa-Khasis, Sethlan...."(ISBN: 1242775668 / ISBN-13: 9781242775666) this won't be an exhaustive listing, just my usual attention deficient musings.

Bill Nighy being a God, Wrath of the Titans...
Hephaestus (Vulcan to the Romans) was Greek god of fire, volcanoes and metals, and had an interesting time.  He was lame, an association apparently common amongst mythical metalcrafters. Some legends credit this to a fall from Olympus (one of several) and others that he was lame from birth.  But his skill at his craft led to his acceptance, despite this deformity, and he is said to have created a silver chariot to cart him amongst the gods; a number of bronze servants and gold slave girls to serve and assist him; bridles that make any mount tame and swift; beautiful jewellery and cunning traps, and the metal artifacts of the gods. He was assisted, some say, by the mighty cyclopes.

Front panel of the Franks Casket
Wayland the Smith is more familiar to my generation of gamers, at least those who ever watched Robin of Sherwood, the mid-80s British TV series with an evocative score by Clannad.  Many swords of legend are attributed to him, including Gram, the sword used by Siegfried to kill the Dragon Fafnir in the Völsunga saga. In this legend, the sword was stuck in a tree by a god, shattered in combat with that god, and the fragments reforged to make a sword that could cleave an anvil in two.  

In most tellings of the legend, he was married to a creature of faerie, sometimes a Valkyrie, others a Swanmay.  She leaves him, as she must, and he is left with only a ring.  Later, he is imprisoned, and crippled by King Nithad, and made to craft wonders.  He escapes, able to fly by his craft, after revenging himself on the kings children.  He is credited with many of the famous swords of the era, and is rumoured to still exist, in the lands of faerie, only able to be reached through the megalithic cave named after him.  Here's a somewhat neglected page that gives more details.  Also, Michael Scott Rohan's Winter of the World series has this story as it's basis, especially the last book, Hammer of the Sun, even though this typifies his problem of the story getting too huge and too metaphysical in the third book, somewhat out of keeping with the first two (IMHO).

What can I steal from this?  Well, given the physical frailties of these legendary smiths, I'm happy having no 'god of smithing' (except for the blasted dwarves) and make this craft the sole providence of mortals, who can exceed and even challenge the gods.  Especially if it is a beginning science, with different techniques of metalcrafting held secret by guilds or cities, and the complications of magic in the whole process. Also, don't try double-crossing or betraying a master smith.  They will screw you over in the end, especially if you're planning on using the stuff they made for you.  I'm happy with the idea of a god having to visit a smith to get their weapons and armour, and more delicate goods, forged, and having to bargain with someone who knows their own worth, and isn't beholden to any of them.

There are also many places of legend, where mighty forges of past ages once sang, or famous items were forged.  Some of these are still used, and held for special purposes, such as the Thran Forge near the Kheldarian Capital, where all the arms of the Royal Guard are forged, and the sword and armour of each fallen king is remade for his successor.  Some are recovered from the sufferings of time, and fired up again, like the Sacred Foundry, near Ironholm, where an exotic but powerful furnace and machinery for hammering and billows was found in hidden tunnels below the ruined fortress that towers over the coastal road.  

Others are lost; the most famed being the Forge Kudotha in the deep passages of the lost Dwarven Fortress of Azhgaul, clearly first modelled on Moria, but now different, even if I use the random mapping tables from the 1st Ed. I.C.E. sourcebook.  

There are also smaller, lost forges, in dungeons and ruins, and each of these can hold precious and rare materials, often in the form of ingots, half-finished artifacts, or even the quality of the crafting tools.  It may not pay to be the new owner of one of these forges when the descendants of the original owners hear of it and decide to reclaim it, especially if they are Dwarves.  Even the Elves can be a hit nasty about it, too.

Happy Easter Everyone!