Sunday, September 25, 2016

Sea Travel in the Ancient World and Sea Travel in RPGs Set in the Ancient World

A Brief History of Sea Travel

Humans began using boats to get around a long time ago. It started with using wood as a buoyancy aid for swimming, then we started to tie them together into rafts, these eventually had sails attached to them, then better rigging was invented and compasses where made and then ships were made out of metal and had lots of guns.

But for our purposes we are interested in ships that the ancient Greeks sailed, or at least people like the ancient Greeks in ships maybe similar to what they might have sailed. What it comes down to is this:
-There are lots of oars needed to move a ship around, they solved this by having multiple decks of oars (trireme literally means three decks of oars). Oars meant you could go fast and turn better than just with sails.
-You need a very large crew to move around a big ship.
-The sails are square, not triangular, and have pretty simple rigging. This means that they sailed with the wind for the most part, not across it or against it.
-The Aegean Sea wasn't that big and there were islands everywhere. It was probably very difficult to sail out of sight of land, meaning that they had little need to develop navigation systems.

Sea Travel in Ánemos, or "I should buy a boat"

While most people in Ánemos have never even left their village, let alone their island, those that do need ships. But the Sea is also the main source of food and lively hood in Ánemos, so even the most backwards bumpkin knows their way around a row boat or fishing sloop. This means that mechanically all PCs are very competent sailors and can work in pretty much any position on a ships crew as needed. And most everyone in Ánemos wants a ship of their own as a way to gain prosperity and independence, plus fares are expensive!

Using the guidelines from the 5th Edition DMG I expanded the specifics and made up some stats. I also liked Joseph Manola's idea about making mounts and therefore travel more interesting and useful, so I created a similar "quality" spectrum on which to describe ships.

Ship Descriptions and Stats

Common Galley: The all around utility ship, with room enough for passengers and cargo. Faster than cogs, but not great in a fight.
Trading Cog: Large slow moving ships with deep cargo holds, these are very common on the high seas. Many rowers are needed to move their great bulk and ballast is required when their holds are empty.
Fishing Sloop: Small sail boats favored by fishermen, just large enough to make small journeys between islands.
Row Boat: Basic row boat, cannot be used to travel across between islands due to strong currents. Most ships carry at least one with with them.
Minoan Quinqureme: The backbone of the Minoan Republic's navy, these tall and well built ships prowl the Inner Sea and enforce Republic law. Built To carry many fighting men from place to place.
Minoan Maris Castra: The crown jewels of the Minoan Republic's navy and the largest ships ever built, there are only three in existence at a time. They lead the navy in war, but otherwise act as merely symbols of power. Massive, heavily armored, and slow.
Arsuf Longship: Lean and fast, these are weapons used to raid and flee quickly.
Arsuf Clancraft: The pride of every Clan, these are mobile homes and the Clan's most important possession. With a full crew, these ships can sail longer and faster than almost any other ship on the Sea.
Chalcis Wyrship: Every timber was carefully chosen, every join is caulked with , and the sails have spells and runes sewn into them. They run light and fast on the water almost seeming to sail themselves. With a Windcaller crew of Chalcis mages these are be the fastest ships in the world.


Ship
HP
Base
AC
Damage
Threshold
Ramming
Damage
Dice
Speed
(mph)
Crew
Passengers
Cargo
(tons)
Common
Galley
200
10
10
d6
2
20
20
150
Trading
Cog
250
9
10
d6
1
30
10
300
Fishing
Sloop
100
8
0
d4
1
1
6
1
Row
Boat
50
8
0
d2
1.5
4
2
1
Minoan
Quinqureme
500
12
20
d12
3
60
60
100
Minoan
Maris Castra
1000
13
30
d12
2
100
200
100
Arsurf
Longship
300
11
15
d10
3.5
40
20
50
Arsurf
Clancraft
350
12
15
d10
3.5
30
70
50
Chalcis
Wyrship
250
12
15
d8
4
20
10
10
Chalcis
Wyrship,
Windcaller
crew
250
13
15
d8
8
5
25
10


Ship Quality

Quality
Cost
HP
AC(None/
Reinforced
/Plate)
Damage
Threshold
Damage
(Ramming)
To-Hit
Bonus
Speed
Poor, -1
-25%
-25%
(-2/+0/+3)
-25%
2d-2
+0
-50%
Average, 0
0
0
(0/+2/+5)
0
2d
+1
0%
Good, +1
10%
5%
(+1/+3/+6)
5%
3d+4
+2
0%
Excellent, +2
25%
10%
(+2/+4/+7)
10%
4d+8
+3
25%
Exceptional, +3
50%
20%
(+3/+5/+8)
20%
5d+12
+4
25%
Magical, +4
-
30%
(+4/+6/+9)
30%
6d+16
+5
50%
Exceptional
and Magical, +5
-
40%
(+5/+7/+10)
40%
7d+20
+6
50%

*Damage Threshold: This is the minimum amount of damage needed to damage this ship.
A +5 Ship

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Divinity in Ánemos and a Spirit Generator

In my home setting, Ánemos, I have borrowed Arnold K's ideas of divinity and god-hood. In his post about pre-world religion history in his own magnificent setting Centerra he plays with the what makes a god divine. Is it their immortality? Their omnipotence? Worshipers? Mythology? A system of morailty? And he asks the critical question, what happens if a god is lacking one of those elements? I found this all so compelling I had to see how it would operate in play...

Gods are finite, their reach extends to the shores of their islands, their influence extends only as far as those that sing their praises wander, and their mythologies are dim histories of a half remembered past.
Probably a God

The Spirits on the other hand are both even more extremely local and universal beings. Since each straight and passage is undoubtedly part of the same Sea, but also undoubtedly distinct from each other, so are the Spirits all the fragments and sums of the same wholes. They exist in a reality closely linked to our own, indeed they seem to be the very heart and soul of our world, but it is clear that they have a Realm and affairs of their own. Clerics and Druids, with sufficient training and an able teacher can even learn to journey to the Spirit Realm…

The Spirits do not care for the thinking races of the world, they prefer to defend their haunts and carry out their opaque wills. Woe be to the woodsman who enters a Spirit’s forest and fells a tree without asking first, or the engineer that would damn a stream without sacrificing his best goat and offering a song of praise every year at the beginning of the dry season.

People do not worship the Spirits, they appease them. Worship is for a God, fear is for a Spirit. Who knows if the Spirit will be satisfied by your supplication? It may prefer to devour you instead. This is a primary reason that so much of Ánemos is untamed wilderness; the Spirits of these places have not yet been killed, domesticated, or expelled. To move the Sea and wake the Wind sacrifice is often asked from the Spirits, and the Spirits love to see the blood of mortals spilled. Even greater acts require great sacrifice, and with enough at stake who is to say where the bounds of possibility lie?
Definitely a Spirit of the forest's decay

Generating and Striking Deals With Spirits

In play Spirits can be used any many ways: as antagonists (all of our food turns to ash!), as conselors and informants (oh great spirit of the stream, who killed these men?), as quest givers and rewarders (bring me all the wine you can find and I'll give you my blessings), and great random encounters. So I made some tables to generate Spirits on the fly.

Spirit’s Domain…: 1d12
1: Wind, especially the weather
2: Water, the tides, currents, and rivers
3: Earth, especially land formations
4: Fire, especially volcanoes
5: Life/Vegetation
6: Death/Decay
7-8: Ancestor
9-12: Roll twice and combine!

Spirit takes the form of…: 1d12
1: Reptile
2: Amphibian
3: Bird
4: Land mammal
5: Humanoid
6: Elemental
7: Fish/Aquatic Mammal
8: Vegetation
9: Insect
10-12:  Roll twice and combine!

Spirit is generally…: 2d8, take both
1: Hungry
2: Lethargic
3: Chatty or lonely
4: Angry or vengeful
5: Timid or cowardly
6: Curious
7: Greedy
8: Helpful

Angry river Spirit
Example from my last session:
The party was checking out an island and asked if the locals knew anything about the islands Spirits they pointed them to the forest where they harvest timber for ships and make annual sacrifices to the Spirit of the Forest. So I knew I wanted a vegetation-ish Spirit, I rolled a 2 (amphibian) for form, and a 5 (timid and cowardly) and a 6 (curious) for temperament. So I have a forest amphibian Spirit that is both a coward and curious. So has the party cleric calls out to the Spirit many frog eyes appear all around him and a small voice answers his questions.

Basically just take the results and make it super weird.

Convincing the Spirit to Help:

Now in order to add to their depth you need to give players a way to concretely interact with the Spirits, so I borrowed Joseph Manola's excellent post on this topic (note, I changed very little, pretty much all of this is from Joseph):

Spirit likes this offering best: 1d5

  1. Food: Food offerings can be burnt, buried, thrown into water, or just left by a shrine
  2. Drink: Libations of alcoholic drinks are poured out into water or onto the bare earth. 
  3. Praise: Prayers, chants, and songs in honor of the spirit and/or shrines and temples are raised in its honor.
  4. Blood: Blood offerings are poured out onto the earth or water, or spilt across the spirit's shrine. If an animal (or person!) is killed to provide the blood, then their body is burnt or thrown into water to feed the spirit.
  5. Wealth: Coins or precious objects are thrown into water, buried in the ground, or heaped up around the spirit's shrine.

How picky is the Spirit?: 2d4
2: Amazingly picky. It will only accept offerings of one, very specific kind: the blood of a black ram with curly horns, for example. It isn't interested in anything else.
3: Fairly picky. It has one, very specific, kind of offering that it prefers, but it'll accept something similar (e.g. the blood of any black sheep) as long as the offering is made a bit bigger to compensate.
4-5: Mildly picky. It has one sort of offering that it likes, but that category is fairly broad: sheep's blood, for example. It will accept something vaguely similar (e.g. the blood of any animal) if the offering is made larger to compensate.
6-7: Not very picky. It will accept any offering of the appropriate type (e.g. any kind of blood).
8: Not picky at all. It will even accept offerings of different kinds (e.g. food instead of blood) if the offering is enlarged a bit.

"Letssss strike a deal"
Suggested Favor to Offering Rate:
Minor Favor (e.g. asking a forest spirit for permission to go hunting in its woods): A crust of bread or a few grains, a few drops of blood or wine, a brief prayer, a scrap of copper or brass.
Small Favor (e.g. asking a river spirit to protect your boat from the dangerous rapids downstream): A handful of grain or a small piece of meat, a cup of blood or wine, a long prayer, a couple of pennies.
Moderate Favor (e.g. asking a storm spirit to please stop raining for a few hours): A whole meal's worth of food, several pints of wine, the blood sacrifice of a small animal, hours worth of sung prayers, a piece of silver jewelry.
Large Favor (e.g. asking the disease spirits to leave your tribe alone this summer): A banquet's worth of food, a whole barrel-full of wine, the blood sacrifice of a large animal, the building of a shrine accompanied by several days worth of prayer-recitals, a piece of gold jewelry. 
Huge Favor (e.g. asking the ancestor-spirits to back you in your attempt to become king of your people): enough food to provide a lavish banquet for several hundred people, hundreds of barrels of wine, the blood sacrifice of dozens of large animals (or a few humans), the building of a temple accompanied by lots of prayers and praise-singing, a small fortune in gold and gems.
Epic Favor (e.g. asking a river to permanently change its course): The blood sacrifice of hundreds or thousands of large animals (or scores of humans), the building of a large temple accompanied by continuous prayer-singing performed by teams of singers in rotation, a large fortune in gold and gems. Food and drink sacrifices at this level must always be of some special kind (e.g. bread baked with magical grains); no amount of ordinary food or wine is ever going to persuade a spirit to perform a favor of this magnitude.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Medicine and Poison Ingredients and Where to Find Them

This is the promised follow up post to this one.

A Brief Ecology Lesson

The game I am currently running is set in Ánemos (the Greek word for wind, or the "animating breath", it a root for for words like animate). The world is a vast stretch of sea, scattered with many small islands. The climate is very Mediterranean, meaning that it has two seasons: wet and dry.

There are only a handful of places like this on Earth: the coast of California, South Africa, Chile, a few spots on the southern Coast of Australia, and of course most of the landmasses touching the Mediterranean Sea. All of these places are botanically unique, for example California's Floristic Provence (where I live) is considered a biodiversity hotspot. Relative to the other Floristic Provences in the United States it is small and very biodiverse, more than 50% of the plant life here is endemic (only occurring here).

This is chiefly due to:

  • The Mediterranean climate
  • The Sierra Nevada mountains acting as a barrier to the worst of the storms coming off of the Gulf of Mexico
  • Having every Order of soil (except for Permafrost)
  • A diversity of elevations and there for bands of variable moisture and rainfall
So people are always arguing about saving the rain forest because its incredible biodiversity may have some miracle medicine hiding in an saprophytic fungus in the canopy of a rare tree or something. The same goes for the biodiversity elsewhere, in fact an effective breast cancer treatment was discovered in the bark or the Pacific Yew, a small under story tree in the temperate evergreen forests of California.

So any way, the islands in my game are Mediterranean and very diverse and you can find medicine there if you know what you are looking for, and the only difference between medicine and poison is dose.

Medicine and Poisons Ingredients and Where to Find Them

This will be split up into the five rough ecosystems that can be found on and around the islands. Not every island is large or tall enough for each system, so getting an idea of the scale of the landscape is helpful when deciding what ecosystem your forager is in.

Coral Reef

Coral Reefs are found in the shallow and warm waters of oceans, built around the funny life forms coral. Tons of different fish and weird aquatic things can be found here (and they are critically endangered around the world due to ocean acidification leading to coral bleaching). It may be appropriate for the forager to have to fight a shark or something, but its up to the DM if they want to throw in some random encounters.
Something has to be poisonous down there!
2d4
Ingredient
Effect (Medicine/Poison)
Craft DC Modifier
2
Lionfish quill
Removes a level of exhaustion/ 4d4 poison damage
+3
3
Midnight Algae
Resistance to sleep effects/Blinded status effect
+2
4
Emerald Seaweed
Heals 2d4 HP/Increases save DC +1
+1
5
Anchovy Liver
Suitable medicine/poison base
+0
6
Jellyfish Slime
Reduce crafting DC by 2
-2
7
Fire Fan Coral
Resistance to fire damage/2d6 fire damage
+2
8
Eel Tongue
Heals 4d4 HP/Reduces targets AC by 2
+3

Coastal Prairie and Scrubland

These occur right next to the ocean, the soils are to rocky and it doesn't rain enough for them to really grow trees. During the dry months the plants rely on fog drip for moisture. Many small animals live under the shrubs and raptors soar the sky looking for funny looking mice and lizards, and there is an incredible diversity of forbs (herbaceous flowering plants) and shrubs.



2d4
Ingredient
Effect (Medicine/Poison)
Craft DC Modifier
2
White Sage Root
Heals 4d4 HP/Targets speed is 0 for duration
+3
3
Stone Pine Nut
8d4 temporary HP for duration/Increase save DC +3
+2
4
Wild Rose
Reduce crafting DC by 2
-2
5
Black Sage
Suitable medicine/poison base
+0
6
Dune Mouse Tail
Heals 2d4 HP/Increase save DC +1
+1
7
Red Olives
Advantage against poisons/3d4 poison damage
+2
8
Whisper Berry
Advantage against being charmed/Charmed status effect towards the first creature seen
+3

Grassland Hills and Savanna

Once you start moving into the hills on these islands trees can begin to grow as they get more moisture. Larger animals live here, in Africa this is the home of elephants and lions and zebra, in the Pleistocene in California there where giant ground sloths and mammoths and sabertooth tigers.
If you squint  you can see the sabertooth tiger
2d4
Ingredient
Effect (Medicine/Poison)
Craft DC Modifier
2
Emberbee Wax
Immune to audible effects/ All fire damage is maximized
+3
3
Grey Oak Acorn
Heals 3d4 HP/ Imparts a level of exhaustion (stacking)
+2
4
Silver Cypress Buds
Removed sickened condition/2d4 poison damage
+1
5
Feather Grass
Suitable medicine/poison base
+0
6
Singing Poplar
Reduce crafting DC by 2
-2
7
Rattlesnake Venom
Advantage against petrified condition/Double damage dice
+2
8
Bloody Mistletoe
Immune to Poisoned condition/1d6 bleeding damage per round for duration
+3

Mountain Forest

Now you are in the mountains proper, and most islands in Ánemos simply are too small to have this ecosystem. But like 10% of inhabited islands (therefore freshwater bearing and big) probably have this ecosystem.



2d4
Ingredient
Effect (Medicine/Poison)
Craft DC Modifier
2
Death Cap
Immune to Unconscious Condition/Double damage dice
+3
3
Widow’s Lace Fern
Advantage with auditory attacks for duration/Target is silenced (unable to speak)
+2
4
Robin Eggs
4d4 temporary HP for duration/ Save DC +2
+1
5
Golden Fir Bark
Suitable medicine/poison base
+0
6
Diana’s Cypress Root
Advantage on Intelligence based checks/1d6 Int damage for duration
+1
7
Gadfly Larva
Reduce crafting DC by 4
-4
8
Dragon’s Blood Tree Sap
Heals 4d4 HP and resistance to Fire damage/Causes 1d6 fire damage per round for duration
+3

High Peaks

Now only the truly large islands are big enough to have alpine peaks, but these islands also tend to be the inhabited ones with well settled low lands. Its dangerous and frustrating work foraging up here, and the altitude can be a problem.
Also most of the Mountains are probably volcanoes
2d4
Ingredient
Effect (Medicine/Poison)
Craft DC Modifier
2
Giant Puffball
Haste as the spell/Petrified status effect
+3
3
Luminous Lavender
Advantage on Strength based checks and saves/2d4 Str damage for duration
+2
4
Lover’s Orchid
Reduce crafting DC by 3
-3
5
Ghost Hemlock Cone
Suitable medicine/poison base
+0
6
Crawling Lichen
Move through difficult terrain normally/Targets speed is halved for duration
+1
7
Billy Goat Liver
Advantage on Dexterity based checks/Slow as the spell
+2
8
Snow Poppy
Heals 6d4 HP during 1 hour long deep sleep/Causes Stunned status effect
+3