Thursday, November 30, 2017

Water Your Garden

Water Your Garden

As much as anyone subscribes to any philosophy in a mundane life, I try to live out the teachings of the stoics. One of the central concepts to stoicism is the acceptance of what you can and cannot control. In an age of over consumption of media and information, taking control of your inputs is an important step towards more gratifying, less stressful, and (perhaps) a richer life.

I'm in a place in my life where I drive a lot and most of the media I consume comes in the form of podcasts. I easily listen to 5 or 6 a work day. Originally I was going to write a comprehensive list of things I like, but I settled on just podcasts because I feel I have more authority to give a recommendation on them. I've avoided mentioning the trite and well known shows in favor of lending some spotlight to some more modest gems.

The format is as follows: Title, Host/Studio/Station: Brief description, and game-ability score (1-5)

Podcasts:
99% Invisible, Roman Mars: A look at all things design and applying design based principles to real world problems. 1

Gastropod, Cynthia Graber and Nicola Twilley: Food through the lens of science and history, often with a specific food for each episode. 2

Heaven's Gate, Glenn Washington: Examination of American cult of the same name, lots of interviews with surviving members and hosted by a former cult member. 4

Hidden Brain, Shankar Vedantam: NPR's psychology podcast. Lots of great guests and examples of psychological principles in society. 1

Imaginary Worlds, Eric Molinsky: Multifaceted look at modern fiction and its interface with other parts of our culture. Has a lot of modern authors on. 4

LeVar Burton Reads, LeVar Burton: Short stories read by a classic reader. The stories vary in content, but all are pretty excellent. 3

Love and Radio, Nick van der Kolk: Raw stories told in a stream of consciousness format. These are all utterly captivating. 3

Mission to Zyxx, Audioboom: Improv comedy, in space! Its actually really very funny. 5

More Perfect, Radiolab: Deep looks into specific US Supreme Court cases. Not very gameable, but very well researched. 1

Myths and Legends, Jason Weiser: Stories researched, adapted, and retold. Some of which annoy me, but its part of keeping old stories alive. so thats cool. 3

Open Source with Christopher Lydon, Christopher Lydon: Sometimes really boring, sometimes wonderfully insightful interviews. His interviews about artists specifically are great. 1

The Allusionist, Helen Zaltzman: A hard look at language. 2

The Heart, Kaitlin Prest: Intimate stories about life and love. 1

The Memory Palace, Nate DiMeo: Vignettes about characters, places, or events from history. Lovingly crafted and brief. 4

The Sporkful, Dan Pashman: Food show centered on interviews with celebrity chefs/not chef celebrities. Actually really delightful. 1

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Voyage of the Void Seeker: The Set Up

The whole idea for this came from seeing this piece at a street fair in my town. I met the artist, got this piece, and hung it on my wall. Its been staring at me, asking to be used...

In a recent post condensing all of my Ánemos writing into one place I had a dense little mess of the going-ons in the Scattered Sea. There was mention of "the long-thought-lost Magi Trophonious the Fool has risen out of the depths on the back of a Kētos and is looking for a crew to sail with him to the bottom of the Abyss". This is that adventure hook explored, and incidentally my first adventure to be published on this blog!

You can get it here, on this blog, as I write it. When it is all done, I will compile everything into a PDF for easy download.

(I'm relatively new to this. There are some bad-ass writers out in the DIY/OSR blog-o-sphere that I admire greatly and get a lot of inspiration from (you can see their blogs on the right panel of this page). This adventure was written as my entry into the published adventures of the DIY RPG scene, but this is the effort of one person that is doubtless in need of editing. If you have comments and edits I'd love to read and incorporate them.)

Bon voyage!

Source unknown

The Set Up

The party is going to start in the City of Twins, Diopolis, the largest Island State in the Chalcis Chain, seat of the Chalcis Alliance of Protection (CAP).

The city spans two islands, Euboea and Boeotia. The story goes that the islands where once one, but the Goddess of the island had a mental break and two personailites and two islands formed, creating the Euripus Strait over which the longest bridge in the world spans. It is home to the Counsel of Magi and a number of famous wizards and enchanters, and one of the only places in Ánemos that the secret techniques of making Wyrships are known and practiced.

While not as militaristic as their main international competition the Republic of Minoa or the Comitia Tributa of Arsuf, Chalcis is full of her own dangers. Magi are cunning folk, and work in slow and subtle ways to ruin each other and turn the world to suit their needs. Intrigue lurks in the steamy halls of every bath and rumors rip through the City of Twins like the breath of a zephyr.

Trophonius arrived in the Euripus Strait that bisects City of Twins strapped to the back of a Ketos, a massive whale like creature. The Ketos has strange structures of seaglass and clamleather affixed to it, apparently enabling Trophonius to live comfortably upon the beast. The event has the city's rumor mills working triple time, its a nice diversion from the news of titanic horrors ravaging the outer reaches of Chalcis, but also worrying because most of the CAP's war bands are out on their Wyrships fighting the monsters.

Trophonius calls his "vessel" the Void Seeker, what nickname have the citizens of Euboea given it as it rests in the shallows waiting for its master's call?

1d10 Nicknames of the Void Seeker:
  1. Hubris
  2. Catharsis
  3. Thalia
  4. Apotheosis
  5. Exodus
  6. Moira
  7. Ananke
  8. Halcyon
  9. Abyssinia
  10. Gravitas
Trophonius has made it clear that he does not plan to stay in the city for long, just long enough to find himself a crew and stock the vessel for a long trip.  What does he tell people that his mission is?

1d6, Trophonius's Stated Goal:
  1. To find the source of the titanic sea monsters terrorizing Chalcis and destroy them if he can, looking especially for heroes and madmen
  2. Uncover and mine Orichalcum nodules at the bottom of the Sea, looking especially for deep water miners and alchemists
  3. He seeks to find the corpse of a long sunk vessel with a belly full of treasure, looking especially for scavengers and demolishonists
  4. Wants to find and pass through the Gates of the Underworld to be reunited with the soul of a dead lover from his youth, looking especially for grave robbers and those that speak with deamons
  5. To kill a god by severing their connection to wellspring of divinity, looking especially for blasphemers and the morally bankrupt
  6. To reach the Bottom, looking especially for companions and thrill seekers
In addition he is hiring: Sea grass gardeners, artisans (bronze smiths, cordells, leather workers, glass blowers), cartographers, navigators, biographers, musicians, cooks, cabin boys, harpooners, quartermaster, boatswain, surgeons, and a few swabs.

Those that knew Trophonius recall his many bad habits, addictions, and general uncannyness. What are his flaws?

1d10 Bad Habits:
  1. Chews with his mouth open
  2. Doesn't cover his mouth when he sneezes
  3. Has bad body odor/terrible breath
  4. Bites his nails
  5. Refuses to make eye contact
  6. Mummbles
  7. Poor posture
  8. Fiddling with his beard and hair
  9. Always humming to himself
  10. Picks his nose/ear wax
1d10 Addictions:
  1. Alcohol (wine)
  2. Opiates (opium)
  3. Salty Snacks (smoked sardines)
  4. Sweets (candied dates)
  5. Tea (green)
  6. Hallucinogens (sea slugs on the eyes)
  7. Gambling (dice)
  8. Stimulants (carrow root)
  9. Inhalants (smelling salts)
  10. Chewing gum (sap of the drakon blood tree)
1d10 Weird Detail:
  1. Continuously has teeth falling out, never runs out
  2. Tattoos that dance and flow on his skin
  3. Eyes never look in the same direction
  4. Hair and beard are made of sea weed, he keeps them wet
  5. Robes change from slate grey to azure to match the character of the Sea
  6. Weird Pet (1d4: giant hermit crab, several goofy seagulls, an animate pile of sand, a very old sheep)
  7.  Voice echoes no matter his soroundings
  8. Seems to always have the hiccups, though he will deny it
  9. He can't hear rhymes
  10. Poorly hidden gills
Source

The movers and shakers in Diopolis don't believe a word Trophonius tells them, they are sure he is up to something more sinister. The party happens to be in right place at the right time, someone needs something done aboard the Void Seeker and they are asked to help. The following motivations can be for the whole party (especially easy if part of an ongoing game), or to make things interesting each party member could be given a motivation secretly as the game begins (easy if this is the first adventure a party is taking part in).

 1d10 Party Motivations:
  1. Spies of the Chalcis Alliance of Protection, defensive information and an assassination team if there is a threat to the region uncovered
  2. Lackeys of the Counsel of Magi, sabotage Trophonius' reputation and steal his arcane secrets
  3. Members of the Guild of Scalers, representing the Guild's trade interests in the virgin markets of the Deep Sea
  4. Agents of a society of theological scholars, learn more about the Mythic Underworld
  5. Hired by Trophonius from a mercenary company (1d3: Stellar's Jays, Stormking Mountain Battalion, Black Sails), hired muscle
  6. The party are Secret Merfolk, aboard to ensure the safety and secrecy of their underwater citadels
  7. Ascetics, seek yet uncontacted Spirits of the depths and ingratiate themselves with them
  8. Daemon Binders, CHAOS
  9. Vagabonds that lied their way in, murderhoboism
  10. Classic 20,000 Leugues Under the Sea start, hired to hunt a sea monster nearby and it turns out its the Void Seeker causing trouble. After sinking their ship Trophonius invites them in and the adventure begins...
And so, the crew is set, provisions are loaded, and the Void Seeker is bound for the depths!

Friday, October 20, 2017

Game Review: Dramasystem

So I saw this video on a Youtube channel I watch sometimes, LindyBeige. It popped up in my feed and I clicked on it because of the title:"The coming revolution in role-play games?". Lindy talks about the story game Hillfolk and gives a rather rousing review of it. I showed the video to my gaming group one night when a game was cancelled and we were all just hanging out and there was a lot of enthusiasm to try it out.

So I got it!

And we played it!

And here is my review, both of Hillfolk and Blood on the Snow, the companion book that further expands the Dramasystem that Hillfolk establishes. The Dramasystem is published by Pelgrane Press and primarily written by Robin D. Laws with many guest authors for the settings (see below).

Design Notes:

There are two nicely bound books, both around 200 pages each with full color full page illustrations. They are on par with the production quality of the old 3.5 D&D books (the last physical RPG books I bought...).

Most of the art is pitch perfect, while some of the other art falls utterly flat:

Good art (Hillfolk)

Off color art (Blood on the Snow)

The text is presented in the standard two column format that has a sometimes confusing mix of hint boxes that consolidate rules (in a way the text never does), dramatic quotes ("You again!" -> "I told you I'd be back, when you least expected it.") (that I suppose is the author's way of showing how he thinks the game should sound like?), and the main text.

I have been consistently frustrated with the organization of the book, and it seems that others have been as well because there are several rule consolidating pdfs that fit on a single page as reference to use during play. This is a great resource, but its frustrating that the texts themselves don't fulfill this purpose.

One of the highlights of both books is the "Additional Settings" sections that take up the last half of both books. They are written by guest authors and illustrated by guest illustrators so there is a tonal shift in the writing and the art midway through the book, but many of the ideas are gold.My players and I were very intrigued by the additional settings, so to give a glimps at what the published texts claim to be able to simulate play in, here are some examples:

  • Support group for mad scientists
  • Undercover CIA agents spying on Soviet Moscow 
  • Courtiers fighting over the realm of the Rabbit King (think Watership Down)
  • An ant colony fighting the war on two fronts against a rival colony and a zombifying funagl pathogen
  • Professional Wrestlers turned thugs for hire in 1980s Ohio
  • Augustan intellectuals dukeing it out in 1700s London
  • Hyper-capitalist robot drama in a post organic earth
  • Orcs squabbling for the Chieftainship
  • Ninjas
  • A ship lost voyaging in Dreamspace, looking for reality
  • Robodoctor medical drama
  • Dolphin eco-quest
  • Magicians secretly fighting in WWI
  • Recently dead ghosts hang out together
  • Teenaged battlemecha pilots from Japan and America are stationed at the same base
  • And many more!
Basically if you can imagine a TV drama you can play that. The settings section also gives some good fodder if you want to run another game system with the setting concept.

System Outline:

Lets briefly break down some of the mechanics for the uninitiated masses. This is not a table top RPG in the sense that D&D or Pathfinder or Warhammer are, this is Role Playing. There are no dice, your character doesn't level up and hardly has statistics, gold and treasure don't matter, and most of the game is represented by "scenes" between players.

It is in short a story game.

Character Creation:

Characters are created as a group in the first session of play. Every one sits down together and decides on a setting (in my groups case the canon Hillfolk setting, Iron Age Middle East) and then take turns make declarations about their own character and their relationships with other characters. For example:
  • Get named (Jaw Bone, Savy, Flint, etc)
  • Their roles in their tribe are determined (chieftain, medicine woman, lead scout, etc)
  • Relationships between characters are established (siblings, lovers, raid partners, etc)
  • Desires are declared (I want respect!), with a strong emphasis on desiring more abstract emotional goals than concrete ones
  • Dramatic poles are chosen (spirituality or carnality?) that show how the character wavers between their conflicting natures
  • State something they want from any other character, the other character in turn tells them exactly why they can't have it ("I want your approval father!" -> "You will never have it because I loved your mother and I blame you for her death" etc)
  • Choose their strengths and weaknesses by ranking the following "stats" (you get 2 strong, 3 middling, and 2 weak): Enduring, Fighting, Knowing, Making, Moving, Talking, Sneaking
Once this process is done you have a fully formed web of relationships that can be mined for dramatic narrative tensions. The youtube video I linked to above does a good job of walking you through this using the TV show Breaking Bad as an example of how these narrative tensions look in a story that we are familiar with. There are also cool relationship webs that look like this:


Pacing (Episode vs Scenes):

Each session, as most of us would call the thing where we sit down together for a few hours to play a game and then come back for another one next week, are instead called episodes. Each episode has a theme that is chosen first by the GM (game moderator) then by the a randomly chosen player at the end of the episode before. Themes are things like: Hunger, Change is Hard, What's In a Name?, Progress, etc. Themes should be brought up and built upon or highlighted through their absence. i.e. the chief isn't going hungry when everyone else is licking rocks which highlights the absence of Hunger.

Within an episode scenes are called. First by the episode caller, then by a randomly chosen precedence order that cycles back around once everyone has called a scene. A scene has: a cast of characters who are there (and even what they are doing, "Jaw Bone you are evesdropping, feel free to chime in when/if you see fit),  a setting (down in the training yard, out by the freshwater spring, in my hut, around the central fire, etc), a time (especially if this is much later/earlier than the previous scene), and a "mode" (whether this is to be a dramatic scene or a procedural scene). Often the character calling is designated as the "petitioner", the person going into the scene with something they want on their mind. The caller doesn't even have to be in the scene and can designate anyone the petitioner.

Any one of the above attributes of a scene can can challenged by anyone at the table. Don't want your character in the scene? Just say so and the caller can allow or try and stop you from "ducking the scene". Or if the caller is amenable to the alteration it just happens, This is true for most of the game, there is a lot of negotiation and consulting with everyone for narrative elements.

Dramatic vs Procedural Scenes and the Relationship Economy:

Once the scene is called the cast begins to engage with it. This kind of just looks like talking if the scene is a dramatic one, think of a Game of Thrones scene where two or three characters are just being snide to each other and threatening and bargaining. Scenes should only take a few minutes, and once they start getting too long other characters can call "end scene!" to speed things up. At the end of the scene the petitioner says whether or not they feel like they got what they want from the scene. If they didn't get what they wanted they are given a "Drama Token", if they did get what they wanted they give a Drama Token to the one that conceded to them.

When players are in a procedural scene they tend to be in conflict with each other or some abstract opponent (a cliff face, a rival tribe, a herd of wild hores, etc) that they want to win dominance over. So if a character is challenging the chief for rulership they would have a procedural fight. This involves a deck of cards and drawing to match a target card. Its a little complex and I won't get into it here.

The Drama Tokens are a way to reward flexibility with narrative influence. If you allow your character to give a dramatic consession you can later spend that token for something that matters to them. They can be used to force scenes to happen the way they want, advantage in procedural resolution, and other boons.

Play Test Report:

My group and I played 4 episodes in the stock standard Hillfolk setting. We had a cast of 6 players all playing a family closely related to the current chief of their tribe.

Character Creation:

This took a majority of the first session. We sat down and literally read out of the book step by step how to create characters and it actually worked surprisingly well. This is a central part of the game set up, as having a sufficiently complex web of desires and relationships is what drives the whole game and the system that is presented is a good way to create these relationships.

Play:

In all honesty, it was pretty fun! There is a sufficient amount of structure to provide snappy and interesting play, but plenty of room (mile and miles of room) for creative collaboritve improvisation.

The largest complaint my group had about the system was the procedural scene resolution. Its clunky and we had to re-read through the rules each time we had a procedural scene. I don't think we ever satisfactorily learned.

It was also difficult to play with more or fewer players at a session, you are really tied to the cast of characters that you begin play with and its very hard to incorporate new players into the webs of relationships. On the flip side of the same coin, if you don;t have the whole cast present much of the tenssion dissolves; I am sure I am not alone in having trouble getting the exact same group of people together weekly for several hours at a time and having play rely on that is a significant weakness.

In Summary: What You Should Steal

The real innovation of Dramasystem is the web of relationships, I want to use it everywhere. You could have a fast version of the character creation process when rolling up a new party for D&D. This sets up the adventure to be more than just a hack and slash rampage through a dungeon. Having everyone give predefined relationships with each other also meets one of my goals of having a community driven adventuring party. It would also be a useful system to define tensions at a larger scale by running through the process with the factions in a setting (the Bloobloods want the capitol city of the Annix Empire back as their holy city, but the Empire will never let them have it because they think the Bloobloods are a shattered and broken people...)

The dramatic scene system has use in carousing. The party gets back to town and tries to blow off some steam and maybe some tension boils over (Matild! How could you let Hiens get slashed by the orc assassin, you know he is my little brother! I swore to protect him!) This also fits in with the longer time skips I am using in my games to allow for community scale events. The dramatic scene is also a way better way to handle negotiation with NPCs, certainly much better then rolling against a diplomacy DC!

The procedural scenes, as written, are my least favorite part of the system and I would scrap them completely. D&D and other simulation style games are built to handle these kinds of conflicts and do it better than Dramasystem attempts to.


Rating: *** /*****, worth checking out (more so with Blood in the Snow), but maybe not worth buying the hard copy, especially if you can't stand story games

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

1d6 Treant Knights and Their Quests

Lets talk about Knights and Quests.

A Knight is someone who, through ardent belief and pure heart, quests.

A Quest is a long-form search, often in the form of a journey, trial, mission or other strongly intentioned action, undertaken by knights.

(You may notice the circular nature of these definitions. Knights do not, it all makes sense to their dreamy eyes and airy heads filled with convictions and ideals)

Yes, even they were true Knights, even if they were very silly.
Source: Monty Python and the Holy Grail

Your love is betrothed to another? Become a Knight and Quest for their hand against all hardships and societal convention!

Your grand-sire once lost a fight ? Become a Knight and Quest to return your family's name to its original status!

Decide you really like that bridge? Become a Knight and Quest to never let anyone across it who can't beat you in a fight!

The church say that those infidels a hundred hundred leagues away live in the town God was born in? Become a Knight and Quest to cross the continent and join hands with your brothers and sisters to slaughter the nonbelievers and cleanse the holy city!

For the right Quest anyone can become a Knight. Even Treants.

1d6 Treant Knights and Their Quests


1: Ser Phoenix the Resiliant, first of the name, sprouted long ago in a lush oasis in the middle of a harsh desert. As the years past Able fought with his cohort in the slow wrestling match for light, eventually succumbing to darkness and death, or so he thought. He awoke to the hard wind of the desert covering his now animate trunk with biting sand and he took his first steps into the unknown.

Ser Phoenix quests to kill the South Wind, that wind that drowns oases in sandy death. He haunts the dunes around where he grew up, waiting for the day the South Wind is foolish enough to blow that way again. In the meantime he protects travelers unused to the ways of the desert.

Ser Phoenix is a date-palm of short stature, hardly taller than a man, and wears only his fibrous bark for armor. His lance is the quill of a dire cactus and he rides a chariot pulled by wild jackalopes. He has a rather dry humor, but will eventually warm up to strangers.


2: Ser Pruner of the Blossom was cut down six winters ago after a long treelife of providing crabapples to homesteaders. Her human neighbors had finally moved away and a logging camp had set up to clear the land, starting with Ser Pruner's orchard. As the axes bit into her stem, she gave a horrific shout and ambled out of the orchard and out of those mountains forever.

Still a young Treant, and a new knight at that, Ser Pruner quests to bear the best apples in the world. Through her journeys she collects pollen from her inanimate kin to bear their fruit, and every traveler she meets she will offer a brace of fresh apples to be judged.  Those that do not provide constructive feed back, or that run from the walking apple tree trying to get them to eat apples, will be the victims of her other quest: make sure everyone world loves apples.

Ser Pruner wears her ever blossoming branches loose and free, but wears a chainmail shirt and tabard with the likeness of an apple upon it. She does not ride, but rather has a pair of mules that cart the fruits of her labors. She wields a longstaff and wears a pair of sharp shears at her belt.


3: Ser Popule the Shaking was one ramet of a large aspen grove. He first sensed something was wrong centuries ago, when the far edge cried out in slow pain. As the decades ground on, so did his looming death, a glacier. When at last it was him and the wall of ice Ser Popule took his first quavering steps out of the way of the ice.

Now Ser Popule has made it his quest to never been cold again. Keep in mind that treants, like trees, aren't especially warm in the first place, but Ser Popule will not be dissuaded! He treks from cozy cabin to comfy bed, always with a thermos of warm sap in hand, always looking for a home the with forever be warm.

You'll rarely see his white barked face, Ser Popule wears heavy woolen clothing and furlined leather armor. He will occasionally strip to immerse himself in a hot-spring or tub, and then you will see his is tall and lanky and forever shivering. He rides a great white bear, and wields a flaming mace.


4: Ser Salix the Shambling grew wildly and with abandon in her youth, her greedy stems reaching for any light, her greedy roots drinking deep any water. One fall in the little valley choked with willow where she grew a chill settled on the lowlands, blackening her neighbors before they could shed their leaves and blighting them. Ser Salix would not sit idly by and freeze to death, so she uprooted and wandered to milder climes.

Ser Salix quests to protect the weak and helpless from the evils of gluttony. The Church converted her early on in her new life as a treant when they found her wallowing in the shallows of a creek drinking as much as her road hardened roots could absorb. The holy man that found her taught her the virtues of abstinence and so she preaches on the road and challenges any she sees as gluttonous to a duel.

Ser Salix would cram herself into the plate mail of a holy order of knights if she could, be she has settled for an iron corset of sorts, binding her many wandering stems into a tube. Its terribly uncofortable, so she will only gird herself when duels are imminent. She wields the most abstinent of weapons, a simple rod of iron and rides on an old donkey given to her by a converted farmer she preached to once.


5: Ser Cary who was Burned speaks little of his past, though the sharp eye can read his history on his old hickory face. The burn scars that go that deep rarely heal well, and the dead charcoal flesh takes on a deep black sheen after years in the rain and sun.

Ser Cary is on a quest to extinguish all fires. He is deep into this endevor, an expert fire fighter. He is currently arming himself with everything necessary to travel to the Plane of Fire to do battle there in a purer sense of the word with the animal spirits of the destructive element.

His fire hardened flesh acts well as a human knight's plate mail, and over it he wears a heavy oiled cloak to retard flames. He travels on the in a boat on the back of a water elemental he met and befriended years ago, and wields a strange mix between of an axe and pick that he swings with vigor and rage.


6: Ser Tsugan Half-Rotten will tell you his tale with a his great wheezey voice, how when he was still a tree a fungal blight came to his forest in the high peaks where he grew. In the alpine hemlock forests everything happens in slow motion, he watched neighbors and friends succumb to the rot, and one spring found the death in his own trunk. He sighed and figured he should see the world before he died, so he ripped up his roots and half-walked, half-tumbled down the mountain.

Ser Tsugan walks with obvious pain, and the remains of his corky face and often twisted into a resigned grimace. For all his discomfort Ser Tsugan is kind to every soul great and small he passes. You may find him politely listening to a waterfall waiting for it to be done speaking, or gingerly watching robins hatching in their nest. For his quest is to show kindness, even when it is hard.

Half-Rotten is a large treant, but bent into a hunch. He wears only robes of moss, kindly giving them a home. He rides no beast, but prefers to limp along side them for company. He wields no weapon, for what kindness can a weapon give?

Source

Monday, October 9, 2017

Soul-Catcher Canyon

The idea of a plane traveling campaign has never really interested me. I always like it when I am gaining enough fluency with a setting that I can began to add lib on my own as a player. Jumping from gonzo plane to gonzo plane while playing a rat butcher from 1890s London sounds fun, but at a certain point the comedy of juxtaposition wears thin.

The idea of Purgatory similarly disinterests me. You die. Then you wait around a sanitary, not good, not evil place until all the little bad things you did in life are purified and you can go to Heaven. There is no tension in Purgatory, you aren't on probation where you can mess up and get sent to Hell.

So lets try and fix both of those with this plane/adventure(/dungeon?) concept.

Soul Catcher Canyon

There is said to be a place between this world and the next.

This place is said to be a network of canyons forming a circle around a faint and cold Sun. This cool celestial giant rises and sets, but in the center of the maze it oscillates on a vertical axis (not ringing the world as a faithful dance partner like in our good home). At night it sinks to kiss the center of the maze for a moment, and then it rises again to begin a new day.

The souls that find there way to this place call themselves Travelers, for they know that if they can reach the center of maze when the dim Sun kisses the earth and they touch the Sun the will be permitted to ask for one True Desire and will be allowed to move on to the next world. The Travelers hail from many different worlds, but they have all found their way to the Canyon.

Not many Travelers reach the center of the Canyon. Many loose faith, turning to cynicism and despair where they tarry on the Road. These cynics have built cities, claiming that this is the next life, that they should make the best of their time here by wasting away their time in hedonism and avarice. They take advantage of the hopeful Travelers, charging tolls for safe passage through their lands. But they wither and die in the Canyon, just like everyone else. No children can be born here, no planted seeds grow to trees, only rot blooms.

The cynics call the place the Meat Grinder, or the Labyrinth of Dust, or the Alleys of Despair.

The Travelers call the place Soul Catcher Canyon.

It kinda looks like that, but only kinda.
Source

Mapping Soul-Catcher Canyon

Structurally Soul Catcher Canyon resembles a large disk with canyons inscribed on it winding their way to the center. These winding canyons intersect regularly at nodes. These nodes are centers of meeting and conflict. Many toll takers have setup their booths to get their due from the striving Travelers working their way to the Center.

The canyons in-between the nodes are still inhabited but operate much closer to a wilderness than a dungeon/cityscape, and even then I recommend using them as flux space.

From Etsy

So using the basic geometry of the dream-catcher above we can make a point crawl map:
Key:
Big C: Center of the Canyon
Rectangles: Node [Ring #, Node #]
Green Line: Outer Rim of Canyon
Blue Line: Canyons Between Nodes

Structurally we can see that there are seven "rings" of nodes relatively equidistant from the sun, and there are seven nodes to a ring. Souls enter the Canyon in the Outer Rim and work their way to the center to leave the plane. There is a minimum of seven nodes that they must visit on their way, passing through eight canyon floors.

The scale of the Canyon is very large, with most canyon floors being a mile across and the canyon walls are all around a mile high. The circumference of the outer ring is on the order of 300 miles

There are many paths to take, none of them is correct.

Light, Water, Clones, and Soil Formation: Ecology of the Canyon

So the big thing we get to play with in the Canyon is "aspect", the angle that the sun hits a surface. In our case the surface that we care about is the Canyon floor and walls. More light, for longer, and at a more perpendicular angle leads to a higher energy input into a system. The below two diagrams shows the the relationship between distance from the sun and amount of light a given canyon will get:

Light at noon

Light at dusk

So with that we can derive the energy, and therefore the heat characteristics of our concentric rings of nodes. The farthest out ring will be the very coldest, with its sunward wall getting some direct light and its floor only reflected heat from the wall, and the outer-facing wall remaining very icy and dark.

Because this is intended to all be a viable adventuring location I will assume the outermost ring is as cold as the coldest earth ecosystem, a tundra. Each ring closer to the sun will be warmer and warmer until we arrive at the desert at the center that gets continuous light. Using our handy rainfall/average temperature ecosystem graph we can create an easy way to assign ecosystem characteristics to an area:
The ring number remains static and determines the average temperature at the bottom of the Canyon. For rain fall/water content simply roll d8 and use that value as how much water is present in that system. If there is no ecosystem mapping to that rainfall value round down to the wettest possible ecosystem for that temperature and add a river, lake or sea to account for the extra water. For example in ring 5 I rolled a d8 and got 8, meaning I got a temperate rain forest with many large lakes.

There is no sexual reproduction possible in Soul Catcher Canyon, and because of this clones rule the Canyon. You see, asexual reproduction is totally fine. This means that the ecosystems are dominated by lifeforms capable of clonal reproduction, and these lifeforms experience a glacial genetic drift relative to the rapid diversification of sexual recombination. To make things worse any plants or animals that make it to the Canyon must first survive the tundra in the Outer Rim and make their way to warmer climes where the can establish their hegemony.

Because of the low probability for a diverse and adaptive ecosystem the the entire Canyon food chain is based on corpses, not unlike the Lut Desert in our plane of existence. Most everything that enters the Canyon dies there, and they act like migrating birds caught in unworldly heat swell dropping them from the sky to be fed on by scavengers.

There is no vulcanism in this plane, but the canyon walls do shear off occasionally leading to the formation of sedimentary rock. Even down to the geology there can be no birth here, only death, for what is a volcano but an explosively pure act of creation in the blink of a geologic eye? No, the Canyon only decays, and on the dust of the bodies of the fallen are the brief lives of the Travelers lived.

Example Encounters and Locations in the Canyon:


Source
The Sky Gate: Usually just a stately carved archway set into the Outer Rim's leeward (?)(opposite of sunward) wall like all the other Gates that emit Travelers, it occasionally spews forth great vapors and mists into the Canyon. Those Travelers that have seen it rarely survive the super-cold fog or the shapes that scream in the twilight. When the fog dissipates and the killing cold passes they have found the bodies of creatures that have violently dedicated in the heat of the Outer Rim, the creatures seem to come from a much colder plane of existence.


Source
The Demons Passage: If you ask around in the Slush District of Hailifax some frost drunk fool is bound to tell you to go check out the Demons Passage. If you can make it all the way through you'll be in a warmer better place, close to the Center! If you can make it through...


Source
The Divine Cabal of Liches: Many forms of artificial life extension are available in the Canyon, one of the most expensive but sure ways is Lichdom. But first you must sumbit yourself for approval at the Divine Cabal, and if you are judged worthy they will not hinder your quest for immortality. They long ago gave up on leaving the Canyon, preferring to drink deep from the well of ego and squabbling amongst themselves, so woe unto the Traveler who would stand in their way.

Source

Source
Warbeast Strike Team vs Megapradator: When new Travelers come to the Canyon they often literally come in waves. Clonally reproducing megapredators lie dormant near an entrance portal waiting for the feast to come, while brave and kind souls riding a mishmash of cancerous vat cloned warbeasts rush to save them.


Demon Starfish, from Kamen Rider V3

Source unknown
Empire of the Starfish People: The largest nation in Canyon is the Starfish Commonwealth, dominating the seas and rivers of the inner rings with their dead eyes and blithe smiles. They reproduce easily in this strange land, a melee will do to hack off some limbs to grow new starfish people. The Commonwealth's goal is to perpetuate the cycle of death and decay, for it suits their strange lifestyle.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Ánemos Anthology

***This a formalized post that is to be used as a continuously updated resource for all of my writing on my current setting of fascination, Ánemos. The goal here is to have one page that links to all of the resources I have made and adding a little context to the links.

Its also a rewrite of this post that is meant to reorient, refocus and reaffirm my goals with the setting (a la this post by +Jack Shear) and to provide an evocative hook (a la this post by +Jeff Rients ) for fresh players.***

Setting Hook:

It is the end of an Age of Peace and Hope, across the Scattered Sea change is on the wind.

The Minoan Republic's grand democratic experiment is floundering in a sea of war and political strife quietly fanned by the  subversive poet-priests, the Vardini. Arsuf revolutionaries are working to shatter an Age old system of oppression with blood magic and ritual, while rumors of the rise of a new War-Leader spread. Monsters out of half remembered myth emerge from the sea foam in Chalcis to challenge the Council of Magi's dominion. Ramsay Stellar's company of hired killers, the Stellar Jays, have risen to prominence quickly and have proven to be an unstoppable tool in the hands of the highest bidder. The Obsidian Bank remain in the shadows brokering deals and lending captial, though they have begun to collect ancient debts and consolidating their power.

Dead things thought to be banished beyond the mortal veil have been seen on foggy moonlit nights proffering power in return for mysterious favors. The outcast Tribes of Arsuf wander the Sea with their patron Daemons lovingly feeding off of their binder's misery and causing a reign of horror on the high seas. The Spirits have sensed a change coming, and have redoubled their efforts to consume Civilization in feral fury. The slow machinations of the Hecatoncheires are coming to fruition, and the first sighting of one of the titans in generations is causing panic across the Windswept Isles.

The hunt for the Amphora of Dákrya is being called in Iolcus, whosoever returns with the Amphora will be granted any boon from the Lady of Iolcus. The siege of Gythium has finally been broken, the Orichalcum Citadel has been shattered, and the forces that were united under King Agathokles' Banner of Vengeance are scattered to the winds on their way home. The tombs of Sea Kings long buried are being rediscovered, and the brave and foolish are disturbing them in search of ancient relics. The Flowing Forest is descending on Oropus, and the Storm King Mountain Battalion has been hired to not only fend off the danger, but once and for all destroy the verdant scourge. The long-thought-lost Magi Trophonious the Fool has risen out of the depths on the back of a Kētos and is looking for a crew to sail with him to the bottom of the Abyss.

In the midst of all of this astronomers locked in their lonely towers are gleaning whispers from the stars about an Age of Blood and Thunder on the horizon...

Ánemos in Five Lines:

A Sea of Adventure: Your ship is your life blood, with it you have freedom to decide your own destiny. In the Season of the Sun you must travel across the seas to exotic lands where glory will be won, riches made, and ancient secrets uncovered.

For Home and Hearth: As a player you come from a small settlement in the vast Scattered Sea and your goal is to see your home grow and prosper in this time of upheaval and change. Every Season of Storms you return home to help mange the growing settlement and to bring back riches from across the sea. You must carve a place for your people in myth, or at least help them weather the coming storm.

Monsters of Myth: The people of Ánemos are plagued with beasts and monsters unleashed by spiteful Gods and Spirits. These mythic foes demand mythic heroes to rise to their challenge.

Of Gods and Spirits: In Ánemos metaphysical forces clash, the spiritual landscape is as important as the physical. Gods demand worship and the march of Civilization while Spirits necessitate placation to prevent Extinction. The immortals are petty and short sighted though, and each can be dealt with in their own time and manner.

War of Thoughts: There is a war of ideas being waged: Gods are the products of their follower's beliefs, Spirits are cast into opposition to the march of civilization, Daemons embody our darkest tenancies, the very geography of the Islands is mutable through belief. Who ever wins the war of thoughts may determine the fate of Ánemos.

Links:

Character Options and Information:


Monsters and Creatures:

Random Encounter Tables:


Races and Factions:

Locations:

Gods and Spirits:

Thursday, August 17, 2017

The Disremembered Tribes and their Patron Daemons

(Just a fluff post continuing to flesh out my home setting Ánemos)

(I'm eventually going to re-write my Intro to Ánemos post, compiling all of the fluff and islands and monsters and ships and cultural ideas and generators and tables I have written for the setting so that someone can just open one page and play in the setting. Eventually.)

The Tribal Government of the Arsuf Islands:

The Tribes of Arsuf are more than just an ethnic group, they all participate in a regional government known as the Comitia Tributa (this form of governance is loosely based on the Roman "Tribal Assembly", the Comitia Curiata, that are defined by the 30 curiae that are in turned based of off three ancient tribal lineages in Rome (the early Republic was super interesting. There is a very very good RTS based in this time period)).

The Comitia solves inter-Tribal disputes of a very specific scope:
  • Economic; no selling goods dishonestly or monopolies, especially no price fixing or collusion with other Tribes for profit. The goods must flow.
  • Philosophic; no propaganda campaigns against other Tribes, the ruling Tribe of an island get full thought control. Minds must be kept compliant.
  • And most importantly, Militant; there is to be no use of resource destroying methods for the Sea is a barren enough place and the fertility of the few islands must be preserved. Conquest is encouraged, for the strong deserve to rule, but foolish squandering will be punished.
These disputes are heard and judged in an open court where every Tribe has equal voice, housed atop one of the great monoliths in the sacred island-city of Ierá Aktés. This mountainous Court is also the temple of the lion headed goddess of Law and Vengeance, the Judge Léaina. No Tribe lays claim to the holy shores of Ierá Aktés, but each of them builds and maintains a sovereign fortress within the city where their laws stand (these are especially useful after the Comitia has made a decision, more on that in a second). Léaina presides over the Comitia and drinks the blood of equivocators so that no lies are uttered in the Court.

Many of the decisions made at the Court are reflective of the crime. Economic slights are met economic sanctions for a year and a day. Philosophic attacks will be met with firm refutation of thought and reinforcement of preferred ideals. Military crimes are met with military actions, where identical violences against a Tribe are allowed to be repeated in order to teach the Law breaker.

Ierá Aktés (source)

Judge Léaina's Court (source)

The Disremembered Tribes

A Tribe that does not agree with the ruling of the Court has the option to go rouge, to spit on the conventions and traditions of the Comitia Tributa and stand defiant or flee Arsuf. There are legends of Tribes standing up to the fury of the collective Tribes, that stood firm in the face of opposition, and that eventually laid bare some conspiracy against them to show that their cause was righteous. And the righteous always win in the end...but these are legends.

In the modern Age a Tribe who has been condemned by the Court has a better chance of survival by taking to their Clancraft and leaving Arsuf. There they can decry their ill luck and damn their enemies. There they can lick their wounds and pray to Gods that they abandoned who will never hear their prayers. There, on the tumultuous Sea, they make pacts with Daemons.

Lost Tribe Daemon Binder (source)


Their Patron Daemons

You are a child born on a Big, Old, Boat. All of your siblings were born on this Boat. Your parents were born on this Boat. But your grandparents talk about when they lived on the land, when they ruled a whole island, when they were a real tribe. But the Boat is the only world you have ever known. You have been on land a few times, but there aren't enough enough fish there, it's too hot, and everyone looks at you funny. You like the Boat, the Boat is where your Daemon lives. The Daemon is scary, but it keeps everyone on the whole Boat safe. It's a small price to pay for safety...

You get the idea. To stay safe when the world has agreed that you and yours are dangerous scum means making allies where others wouldn't even look.

Daemons want offerings for their service. The Tribe's Binder will have formed some agreement with the entity, "You keep us safe, we'll give you the blood of our young every new moon and I will not share your truname with other Binders". Since Daemons are the manifestation of some dark part of a group's psyche the offerings they demand nurture that dark emotion.

In return for their favorite horrible emotion the Daemon will manifest however the Binder wishes and will fight their battles (you can treat this as some ambiguous large-huge monster with 4-10 HD and flavor specific abilities). The larger and more emotional the Tribe the more terrific their Daemon.

When a Tribe has a dispute with another Disrememebered Tribe tradition dictates that they will both summon their Daemons and have them engage in a clash of words, a debate. The winner of the debate consumes the form of the loser and that Tribe is victorious. Its a common trope in the Legends of the Isles to have the wandering hero come across two Clancraft tied together on the high seas while titanic Daemons bicker at and debate each other across the decks about the state of politics in Minoa, the price of mutton on Sheep's Head, or what it means to live a good life.

When Tribes clash with outsiders they do not lend them the courtesy of their words, instead the invoke their Daemon to empower them. If they are in high favor the Daemon may even manifest to join the combat themselves.

1d10 Patron Daemons:
  1. Asag the Dark Drinker: Asag hungers for the words that are whispered in the dark out of anxiety. She lurks in that darkness and groans with pleasure as the words are uttered. Asag's favored can cloak themselves in darkness and she will debate their foes with dark logic and nihilistic tendencies.
  2. Abyzou that Drinks Our Tears: Abyzou craves the tears of terror, not tears of grief or sorrow or happiness but pure terror. As often as not it is Abyzou themselves who strike this terror in the dead of night or the flames of battle. Those that appease Abyzou will find that they can resist their worst fears when needed and he will berate his debating opponents with an encyclopedic knowledge of human nature's shortcomings.
  3. Ronwe the Wizened: Ronwe thrives on the little complaints an aging body makes. When the back aches and the eyes darken the curses of the Elders strengthen his power. But when they need to Ronwe's supplicants can shrug off the yoke of age and fight as in their prime, all the while he explains in the patient tones that come with the wisdom of age why he is correct.
  4. Barbatos the Swollen: Stomache aches from rotten food are Barbatos's favorite misery. The Tribe who patronizes him feasts on fetid meats the night before conflict to empower their fearsome protector. Come the engagement the feasters can use battle emesis while he paints straw men out of his opponent's arguments to watch them crumble.
  5. Beleth the Smoldering: They lay out on deck all day, nurturing their puss filled burns and moaning at the pain of it. Their discomfort is the anguish that Beleth draws her form from. When the flames of combat are high her Tribe will not feel the lick of the flames while they burn their enemies and she will use her fiery rhetoric to argue for her side.
  6. Eligos the Cutting Gale: With dark clouds on the horizon fear of the storm wells in even the heartiest of sailors chests, and Eligos drinks up the terror of the strong like water. Come their time of need though the sailors in the Tribe stand firm to ride the gale into battle, while Eligos's keening voices and verbose arguments overwhelm her challengers.
  7. Agares who Sees: When ennui bogs down the heart and mind, when utter world weariness overwhelms, or when sheer dread of the unknown and unknowable seeps in Agares is there to soak it up and in so doing stoke it. In conflict his Tribe is unshakable in their belief while Agares's opponents are met with his razor insights and worldliness.
  8. Buer the Shifting: They stare into the mirror and see a torso too think or too thick, sagging flesh hangs off of bones, wrinkles appear and are loathed; the imperfections of their body and the frustration that breeds is Buer's favorite dish. But when needed they cast aside their doubt and turn it to their foes who waver with their advance, while Buer attacks the moral fiber of his opponents with cruel mockery.
  9. Paimon who Hungers: They are happy they claim. Their partner is the one they want, their soulmate. They settled down with them, had children with them. But still, they wonder, what if I had chosen another? Don't I still think of them sometimes? It is this doubt and insecurity that nourishes Paimon. When called upon he will cast visions of lost loves to distract enemies while he uses traditional logic that all recognize as truth.
  10. Aka Manah the Laughing: It is a rare thing on the Open Sea, the sight of a strangers misery. They know their shipmates intimately, and strangers are kept at shouting distance for the most part. But Aka Manah must be kept happy. So they lay traps in the rock shallows, false lighthouses are built. And when misfortune finds the faceless men in the dark of night the Tribe laughs and blesses their own luck that they do not share their fate. And Aka Manah is glad and will lend some of the misfortune gathered by the Tribe back to enemies, and in debate she will stand tall and relate heart wrenching tales to sway others to her side.
You could also pull things from this list from Swords and Stitchery.

(Much of the idea for these Daemons comes from David Edding's concept of demons from his sprawling fantasy series The Belgariad and The Malloreon, magicians bind demons to a form of their choosing and make them fight. Its like Pokemon kinda)

Paimon who Hungers (source)

Eligos the Cutting Gale (source)

Vanth who would Posses (source)

Asag the Dark Drinker (source)

How to Use the Disremembered Tribes and the Comitia Tributa

One of the main themes of my Ánemos setting is a war of thoughts. Philosophers and wise men litter the Isles bickering amongst themselves, Magi and Priests quarrel about the meanings hidden in the stars, and senators and the chiefs of tribes debate policy. So what better way to ingrain your PCs in this oratory culture than a courthouse drama type encounter. This can occur in an expected place (the high court of a ruling body) or an unexpected place (between titanic daemons perched on massive ships on the open sea).

This is a superb example of how you might run a courthouse drama type encounter, by the illustrious Patrick Stewart from False Machine.