Wednesday, October 30, 2013
A few (ie, a lot of) years back, Jackson ran a Champions game where we played students at the Massachutses Academy in the X-Men Cinematic Universe. It was a pretty cool game. The X-Movie verse is more internally consistent than the comicbook universe. There's one kind of superpower: Mutants. The fact that the world fears and hates mutants doesn't have to be held up against the idea that the world isn't afraid of cosmically powered freaks or guys who build suits of powered armor that can take out a fighter jet.
Today (actually, Monday) I thought a little bit about playing in the Marvel Cinematic Universe: the world created by the current crop of Marvel movies: Iron Man (1-3), Hulk, Captain America, Thor (1-2), and The Avengers, with a side-order of Agents of SHIELD.
* No "Mutants." People with inexplicable powers are fine, but you can't call them "Mutants." Further, there isn't a widespread "Mutant Hysteria." The basic MCU man on the street seems to think the idea of superpowers is pretty neat, but any individual super can be pretty scary.
* No FF or Spider-Man, either. Thus also no Dr. Doom, Sinsiter Six, etc.
Beyond those, anything goes. Depending on who I played with, I might go one of two ways. The purist in me says it'd be cool to put together a MCU Defenders team or something similar, using as much as possible real Marvel characters as they might be transformed into movie characters. My main group, though, doesn't have enough comic book fans, so I'd be more inclined wiht them to go the Agents of SHIELD direction: make up original characters who could exist in that world.
Option 2 provides more freedom, of course. You can do whatever you want. And you have less risk of being completley contradicted by the next couple waves of movies.
Without cheating, your possible origins are: Supersoldier Serum derivatives, Extremis, Gamma Radiation, Power Armor/Cybernetics, Otherworldly, Alien, Advanced Training, and the Centipede, which is just a coctail of origins taped to your arm. So far, nobody has displayed psychic abilities, according to SHIELD.
With extrapolation, you have: Terragen Mists, Spontaneous Expression (which is to say something else activates the "expansion slot" in your brain and brings on biological changes), and probably magic in some form.
With outright cheating, you can do just about anything but Mutants. You could even have cosmic-powered heroes, just not the FF stable.
Proper game flavor is a little different than the bog-standard supers game. In one of the big two comic book worlds or a derivative, it's easy to say "a mutant, a wizard, a Greek God, and a cyborg meet up and decide to fight crime." But the flavor of the Marvel movies doesn't run that way. Characters' adventures are heavily tied in with their origins, and the only team we've seen came together to fight a literally world-destroying threat.
Some fun game possibilities (which I will not be running in the near future):
* Runnaway Supersoldiers: The PCs are experimental subjects of a supersoldier process who were created for nefarious ends. Now they're on the run from their creators and trying to bring down the evil [Government agency, Crime syndicate, Underworld Conspiracy, Whatever]. An AIM side project is an obvious choice, maybe with a ramped up version of Extremis that grants different powers so everybody doesn't have to have the same set. It'd be cool if they still had the heat regulation issue, though.
* The Superlative [Number of PCs.]: You can't have the Fantastic Four, but you COULD have another group of humans exposed to some kind of strange energy and transformed into amazing beings. I'm not sure how well the cosmic exploration of the FF translates into the slightly more grounded MCU, but hey, it's your game.
* (Some Other) Agents of SHIELD: spinning off of Coulson's team, there might be other rapid response units. Personally, I believe that if there's going to be superpowers in the game, I want some, so I wouldn't dig a pure SHIELD Agents game. So maybe Nick Fury assembles a second team of Avengers or something similar-- maybe lower-powered and lower profile than the main team, and a little easier for him to manage. The Avengers are majorly heavy hitters. Calling them together is the equivelent of ordering a nuclear strike (literally, as it turns out). They're also very high-maintenance and most of them have their own agendas. Fury would probably like a more managable team.
I didn't really like Ultimate Spider-Man (the cartoon), but the idea of a SHIELD training team is pretty cool.
But, as I said, I'm not running any of this. I'm writing a novel.
Saturday, March 03, 2012
Welcome to another semi-regular feature. My legions of fans from my days as a podcaster will no doubt remember the "Hey, Look at This" segments from Radio Free Hommlet. I'm not podcasting right now, but I still see cool stuff I want to talk about from time to time.
This is one of those times. Yesterday, I clicked on an RPG.net banner ad for a cool-sounding product. Based on a look at the website, it's an actually cool product.
Basically, a set of map tiles designed so they'll all fit together in any orientation. You can get them on dice to randomly roll up a dungeon, or on cards, or on geomorph tiles, or as a font so you could just type up a dungeon. (Reminds me of Sparks! from S. John Ross, of which I have a few sets)
If I had some money to blow right now, I'd buy the whole set. Unfortunately, I can't quite justify the expense since I'm not running anything where I need large, random dungeons. But still, very cool. If you're a dice fetishist like me, I totally suggest you buy a set. And if you're looking to buy a gift for a former podcaster and occasional blogger...
Monday, March 17, 2008
Magic of the Stars
Though cold winds assail me, I will
The sun warms me
Though I wander the night, I am not
The moon guides me
Though I am alone in the darkness, I will not
The stars shine above me.
Above the Land, above the Lesser Air, stand the
spheres of the Greater Air, the abode of the gods. Similarly, the Spirits
of the Greater Air stand above other Spirits. No wizard or king can
command them. The most Men can do is call upon them and try to live as
they would wish in hopes of their blessings.
Prayers of the FaithfulOnly a few have
the patience to learn the ways of spirits, but every man can call upon the gods
through prayer and supplication. Men mark the turnings of the year through
rituals, make sacrifices to atone for their sins, and pray for the favor of
their gods when they feel the need. Wiser men also pray to thank the gods
for their favors and make sacrifices to recognize their blessings. The
gods truly have little need for such gestures, but they appreciate
Across the Land, there are many nations with many
gods, and, in a way, they are all real. Most Men tie their gods to one of
the Greater Lights, the Planets. They may have different names for these
gods, but the similarities will outweigh the differences in the end. Men
know also that the Stars are servants of the gods. The Spirits of the
Planets are, in truth, too far beyond mankind to answer directly. Prayers
are always heard by lesser Spirits within each god's Sphere. Various of
the Stars have taken an interest in different nations of Men, and lend their own
flavor to the religions that have grown up around them.
Prayers and sacrifices have a subtle effect in the
world. The Spirits of the Greater Air rarely send down hosts of angels or
part the seas. They gave Men the knowledge of magic for that sort of
thing. But they provide inspiration, vision, and intuition that guide Men
toward their will. They also grant minor boons. When the sea-swells
fail to swamp a ship, a god might have been stilling the waves. When a
soldier survives a battle, a god might have given him courage to fight and
strengthened his shield against enemy blades. Those who discount the power
of the Spirits of the Greater Air call such things nothing but fortune.
Wiser men know that "fortune" is the desires of the Spirits of the Greater Air
made manifest in the lives of men.
intervention is always tricky. Fortunately, if /everyone/ is calling on
the gods, it mostly evens out. Seeking divine favor is probably worth a
small bonus or a coincidental event every once in a while - when it will turn
the tide. Divine displeasure can work the same way. A king who
pisses off the gods might find his armies falling ill or his ships being
becalmed until he does something to atone.
Cinematic Unisystem Drama Points map to divine
favor pretty well. If a character has done something to earn divine favor,
he might have some different options for spending his DP. If he's earned
divine ire, he might end up sucking down a "When Bad Things Happen to Good
People." If I end up using a system with no dramatic editing
possibilities, then I'll probably add one in for divine
The Spirits of the Greater Air granted Man dominion
over the Land, so there is a special class of rituals concerning the powers of
Lords and Demesnes. In many lands, the Lords claim that their power
descends from divine mandate, and they are not wrong. However, more than a
few Lords have learned that the Mandate of Heaven can be withdrawn as easily as
it was given.
Lords who lose their Demesnes, or who sicken them
through weakness of character, must appeal to the Stars to regain the mandate of
their Lands. Often, this involves a difficult quest imposed by the Spirits
of the Greater Air, made more difficult because it is undertaken when the Lord
is at his weakest personally and politically, while his people languor in pain
In the lands of the Val Aleen, there is
said to be a castle guarded only by women. The Lady of these women is so
beautiful that to behold her is to be blinded as by the sunrise. She holds
a drinking horn carved from one of the Great Beasts, and the mead of her hall,
when served from the Horn, is sovereign to all ills.
But the Lady and the castle are like unto clouds of
mist, first appearing, then disappearing. The Lady will only consent to
grant her horn to one pure of heart, unflinching of courage, and unwavering of
will, if that one can even find her.
Prophets and Oracles
When Dragada Iron Hand threw down the
Pillars of Flame and conquered the Land of Kaamar, he put to the sword all the
sons of King Elor, and took his daughters as slaves, except for one,
Shalamar. When her father was slain before her, Shalamar screamed and fell
into convulsions. When at last the tremors stopped, she looked up at
Dragada with sightless eyes and said "Despair thy throne, Iron hand, for only a
child of my father may stay the Desert's Wraith." Then she fell,
Dragada was troubled, but he knew the Desert's
Wraith had not been seen for many years, and his fortunetellers had promised him
that he had the blessing of his gods to conquer Kaamar. Also, Dragada
carried a sword of starmetal that could slay any beast.
That year, the Desert's Wraith arose and buried
three camps beneath the sands. Dragada rode out to fight the Wraith, but
his sword, proof against anything that bled, was useless against a creature made
of sand and wind.
Dragada called on his wizards and sorcerers to
protect his lands, and their spells held the Wraith at bay. But blind
Shalamar said "Despair thy wizards, Iron Hand, for none shall stay the Wraith
until a child of my father inherits his throne. Half your realm, you will
never see again, and all will be lost to you."
For a fortnight, the wards of the wizards held the
Wraith, but then they cracked, and burning sands ravaged half the kingdom.
When the stinging grains finally stilled, an ancient temple stood revealed three
days' ride from the throne of Kaamar.
Dragada took his warriors and his wizards, and took
also Shalamar and a priest. Under the spires of the lost temple, Dragada
took Shalamar as his wife, and claimed her as his own before all
assembled. Even blind, she fought like hellcat, even scratching out one of
Dragada's eyes. But in the end, she was his, and filled with his
The wizards were able to limit the damage done by
the Wraith for three seasons, and then in the winter a son was born from
Shalamar. Dragada named the boy his heir, and ruled Kaamar as Regent for
many years, and the Wraith was quiet, beneath the sands.
Most priests are just men and women with a
particular dedication to the Spirits of the Greater Air, or a desire for the
prestige of the office. Some are also magicians who use their power over
lesser Spirits to serve the greater ones. But a few are truly touched by
the power of the Spirits of the Greater Air. They are regarded as greatly
blessed, but also accursed. No one the gods touch escapes
Oracles can hear the Celestial Chorus, the Music of
the Spheres. As such, they are attuned to the will of the Spirits.
And the Spirits hear the voices of the Oracles. Oracles speak words of
prophecy and can deliver the benedictions or warnings of the gods.
Oracles are very rare. One might not be found
in one hundred Lands. For some reason, most are women. Some say this
is because womankind has a closer connection to the Celestial than males.
Others claim it is because it is the lot of woman to be accursed and benighted
for Her sins. Whatever the case, Oracles are sought after and
cherished. Even so, the life of an Oracle is not one many would
envy. With senses enmeshed in the Celestial world, she is often only
barely in touch with the Land around her. She sees visions of past,
present, and future, and hears words no mortal mind should hear. As such,
an Oracle needs constant care. They almost always find themselves in the
care of priests, eventually, and it is hard to say how much of an Oracle's life
Men speak in hushed whispers about Moria
Mane, she of the blood-red hair, who speaks the tongues of beasts and can see a
man's future in the way his shadow falls across a rose-bush. In fact, in
the Nine Hills, most men will try to avoid letting their shadow touch roses,
just in case she is watching.
Moira Mane wears cast-off clothing, but she is
always well-dressed. A harsh word from Moira Mane can wither crops or stay
the rain. A kind one can save a woman's son from wolves or cure a sick
child of the night-fever.
Moira Mane never lifts a weapon, and only carries a
copper knife. But a black hound shadows her every step, and he'll kill any
man or beast who crosses her.
Moria Mane has no husband, no brothers, no
sons. But she is always heard at the Lord's Court, because no lord in the
Nine Hills dares not hear what she has to say.
Moira Mane knows. She knows when the rains
will come and when the tribe in the next valley is ready for war. She
knows when the lambs will come, and who's bed you laid down in that was not your
wife. She knows if you'll have a son or a daughter, and she knows the day
Don't ask Moria Mane any question you don't want
answered, or your hair might be as white as hers is red.
Not all who are touched by the gods are quite so
blighted. Prophets and Sybils hear the music of the Spheres to a lesser
degree, and are often the focus of only a few voices. They have the same
gifts as Oracles, but are not so overwhelmed since their gifts of prophecy come
upon them only occasionally. Prophecy can still be as much a curse as a
blessing, since the gods always speak the truth, and not all men wish to hear
it. There are at least as many Sybils as male Prophets, and their gift of
Prophecy is often stronger. Male Prophets are perhaps a bit more likely to
master other mystical powers, and tend to be more active and nomadic than their
female counterparts, but then again, this is often the way between men and
Unlike Oracles, Prophets often find themselves
outside established religious orders. The Truths they impart stir up
discord, and they are led on paths that do not fit the regimented life of a
priest. Most Prophets seek out some other kind of power, and have an easy
time finding it. The Spirits of the Greater Air gave Man all the secrets
he knows, save those of the Deeps, and those are not good things to
Gamespeak: Prophecy is a
power that has brought many a game designer low. I'm pretty sure the way
I'd handle it is to make it just a plot device, but if I was feeling frisky, I
might make it so that a Prophecy creates a collection of metagame
resources. When the PCs are trying to fulfill the prophecy, they have
advantages, and can take advantage of dramatic editing. When they're
fighting against fate, they're at a disadvantage, but will rack up Drama Points
(or whatever) to help them later. And if they can find a way to fulfill
the Prophecy and avoid the bad side, they get the best of both
In any case, "Prophet" or "Oracle" are probably not
things you spend a lot of character-building resources on. They're
value-neutral at best, or a disadvantage at
Kemp MacKoor all his life bore the curse
laid on his father's clan when they stole the Stone of Lyssee, but he was born
under Fortune's Star. No thatch would shelter him, no hearth fires would
burn for him, and he would never have two coins to rub together. But Kemp
MacKoor was always lucky.
Lucky, he was, to meet each of his Red Band, who
were peerless at the skills of war and guile and stealth and strategy.
Lucky, he was, to find the gnome caves that moved through the forest so that
each day they were in a different place, and lucky again to befriend the gnomes
so they taught him the secret of finding them. Lucky he was to slay the
dragon Kes in her den, and take her heart that burned as hot as fire.
Lucky he was to win the love of Lady Eleane, at least until she betrayed
But that is another story.
Every person born is seen by a Star, and every Star
picks out a special person to watch and guide all his life. Prophets and
Oracles, they say, might have been chosen by too many Stars, or by no Stars at
all. But everyone else has a single Star watching over him. To
follow that Star is to follow your destiny.
Destiny is a frightening thing sometimes, and a
subtle one others. Most people go their whole life without ever hearing
their Star, but a few learn to listen, or chance to hear, and those few are
legends. Their Stars will guide them to greatness and imbue their deeds
with magic stronger than any wizard's spell. A child called by a Star of
War will be a peerless warrior, valorous and terrible. He could stand
against armies and slay dragons. A child called by a Star of Poetry may
never lift a sword, but the words he scribes could fell kings and change the
course of nations.
The gifts of the Starborn are not the magics of
Wizards. The Stars do not give Men the power to throw fire or fly on
invisible wings. Instead, the Starborn work magic through mundane
efforts. A Starborn hunter can track a grey hawk through a cloudy
sky. A Starborn swordsman can sharpen a blade enough to cut light, or
reverse it so it heals who it cuts. A Starborn singer can sing
There lived a woman in Dunnan Wood who
prayed to the gods with great fervor that her child would be blessed by the gods
of War. The barin would be all that was left of her husband, who died in
the King's war with the Kurnish. She prayed and sacrificed, and wore the
blood of her sacrifices on her growing belly. By day, she called for their
blessings, and by night she prayed for revenge against the warriors who slew her
man, and the king who led him to his death. She prayed that her child
would slay the Kurnish, unseat the weak and unsteady king, and take his daughter
And the gods answered. And the child was
delivered... a girl. Even the gods of War have a sense of humor. A
Spirit spoke her name into the mother's ear: Bellatrix.
When other girls played with dolls, Bellatrix
wanted to play at swords with the boys, and she often gave better than she
got. By the time she began to bleed and her breasts grew, no boy in the
village could best her. When one boy who should have known better thought
he deserved her favors, she killed him with her bare hands, and was obliged to
flee for her life, since he was the Shire Reeve's son.
In distant lands, she learned the ways of sword and
spear and bow, and she came back with an army to grind the Kurnish into the
rocks, then to take the King's tower. And she did take his youngest
daughter to wife, because gods of War are often honorable, and they enjoy happy
This could end up somewhat "Exalted-like" but probably on a slightly lower scale
and a bit looser. I like the idea of someone who really can talk her way
out of a sunburn, or sing birds down from trees. A warrior who can fight
an entire army is hell on game balance, but he's such a great literary
My rough thoughts are that a Starborn will have one
special profession he was born to master. He'll pick it up as easily as he
learned to walk and talk, and then he'll get even better. He'll be able to
do flat-out magical things with his skill.
But there's a down-side to being Starborn.
The Star you're born under has plans for you, and to really reach your full
potential, you have to be willing to follow them, no matter what you'd really
want to do. It's entirely possible to be the Starborn of a war god, but
really want to be a florist. The gods don't really care. You're not
going to be a legendary florist, and you probably ARE going to end up in a lot
of fights where your only chance for survival is to master the ways of
So that sums it up for Celestial magic. I put
in Oracles and Prophets and left out Fallen Stars. Perhaps I'll put them
back in at some point, but really they're just powerful non-human beings.
I've got Spirits of the Land for that, and Fallen Stars just complicate the
But I'm a big Neil Gaiman fan, and have a totally
inappropriate crush on Claire Danes, so don't hold me to that.
So anyway, next is Magic of the Deep, which I'm not
quite sure how I want to approach. I'd like to do something unexpected -
maybe take a riff from faerie-tale witches and wizards who are physically ugly
as well as morally repugnant. The idea about Magic of the Deep is that it
is WRONG. It's not necessarily "evil" because it could be beyond such
concepts, but someone who practices it is almost certainly going to be evil by
the time he's through, even if he started with the best of reasons.
After Magic of the Deep, the project I set out to
do is done. I might decide to write up one sample Land with a few Demesnes
in it, and I might decide to pursue it as either a fiction setting or a game
setting. The former is dependent upon me coming up with a character idea I
really like. The latter is dependent upon me hearing from a game company I
really like with a system that fits really well. Or just deciding it'd be
fun. That might also work.
For those who already really want to game this
setting, daHob on RPG.net has been working up a very loose Savage Worlds
treatment. He's not trying to get the magic to work the same way I
describe it her, just to come up with SW analogs for everything. I like
what I've seen of his work so far. It does the job well
Tuesday, March 11, 2008
Welcome to another installment of the project that never
ends. I've decided to change my
organization style a little bit to take on "magicians" all at once
instead of spread out over Magic of the Lower Air and Magic of the
Underworld. For one thing, I realized
there was still more Magic of the Land that didn't quite fit the mold of the
earlier article. For another thing, I'm
hideously disorganized, so that's just the way I roll.
Ways of Magic
The Land provides power to kings. The Stars provide destiny to Men. But there are other powers and principalities
in Creation, and those who learn their secrets can become powerful, or go
mad. Men call them wizards and witches,
sorcerers and shamans, or sometimes darker names.
Wizards, by whatever name, are set apart from other men by
knowledge. They know secrets, both
arcane and mundane. They seek out
knowledge known to no other. Their
knowledge is their power and often their downfall, because there are things Man
should not ken.
Not all wizards have the same secrets, and not all men who
know any secrets would choose to call themselves wizards. The smith who sings the songs of fire and
iron and blood as he hammers ore into a blade has found a secret, likely taught
to him by his master long ago, but he may very well know no others and would
never think to learn them.
The bow bends as your back must bend.
The string holds, as your will must hold.
The shaft is straight, as your sight must see.
The fletchings are of falcon's feather, better to hunt.
The falcon strikes not where the rabbit is, but where he
You do also.
-- A huntsman's rhyme.
The simplest magic, used by practically everyone, is the
magic of harmony.
The Spirits of Land
and Lower Air follow patterns and forms.
Even without knowing their languages, it is possible to interact with
them in minor ways.
In fact, it is
impossible not to.
The spirits are
everywhere, suffusing everything.
magic of the common man is built upon harmony with the spirits.
The Smith knows how to appeal to fire and
The farmer knows how to appease
the spirits of the Land and those of his crops.
The mother is familiar with the spirits of the hearth and asks them to
keep her barins healthy.
Gamespeak: Common magic is just skills, at least at
the beginning. There will be some sort
of mechanism for really magical uses of skills.
A normal smith can make a sword.
A magical smith (or a wizard) can make a sword that can slay a dragon.
When we talk about the Starborn later on, we'll see
something similar with them, I think.
The main thing for now is to get the idea that the way this
world works is that spirits are part of everything. A fish really does participate in the
category of "fish," as Socrates would have said. So when people manipulate their environment,
they're doing "magic" in a small sense.
Hedge MagicThe bitter draught cures many ills
-- Old proverb
Somewhere near every village is a hermit's hut or a witch's
cottage. Here, the small folk may go to
intercede for help with the spirit world.
So-called "hedge wizards" are often not very powerful, as the
mighty masters of magic reckon such things, but they can heal simple hurts and
prepare minor charms and potions.
Hedge magic is often drawn from local Spirits of the Land
rather than any spirits of the lower Air.
It is sometimes drawn from no spirits at all. A wise old woman can dispense advice that seems
supernatural, but is really nothing more than the benefit of years of
experience. That same woman probably
knows every plant in the nearby forest, and which will cure a fever or cause a
Most often, hedge wizards have no power to compel spirits. They can bargain with those they can see, and
they know what those spirits want and what they fear. Some of this knowledge is useful everywhere,
but much of it is strictly local. As
such, hedge wizards are often rooted to one spot, a locus of power where they
have struck pacts with local powers and learned the simple secrets of the
people around them.
The Hedge Wizard's tricks:
- Healing craft and herb lore, and natural knowledge.
- Gossip: Often,
Hedge wizards have spirits of one sort or another to collect intelligence for
them. This is generally passive
watching, rather than active spying.
Besides that, the hedge wizard is often someone respected for wisdom, so
people tell him things.
- Spiritual favors:
Anyone can learn to bargain with the local Spirits of the Land, and most
people at least learn to live with them.
Hedge magicians learn their habits and manners, and can interact with
them more easily than other people. This
primarily involves learning what minor Spirits want, what they fear, and where
they can be found. If the local mischievous
sprites can't abide the presence of iron, then a Hedge magician who knows this
fact can ward his home against the faeries for the price of a sack of old
nails. If he knows they can be trapped
in wicker baskets when they're drunk, and that they can't resist the lure of honey
mead, then he has a way to force them to do his bidding. That could be dangerous, but useful. Bribery can also be efficacious.
- Minor powers: In
their truck with Spirits of the Land, some hedge wizards earn or buy
supernatural abilities. These will vary
widely depending on what the local Spirits of the Land have to offer.
- Speech with the dead: Hedge wizards probably pick up a
little about how to deal with Spirits of the Underworld, particularly those
that manifest without being summoned.
Gamespeak: Hedge magic is minor magic that just
about anyone might know a little bit of.
In fact, the real keys are perfectly mundane skills with supernatural,
or seemingly supernatural, applications.
A hedge wizard is likely to use his Etiquette (Barrowmen) skill to do
stuff like bargain with the Barrowmen to find lost sheep or to fight
enemies. Anybody else in the village
could do the same thing, but they're prevented because (a) they're afraid of
the Barrowmen, or (b) they don't know what they can use to curry the
Barrowmen's favor. Mechanically, this
isn't stuff the hedge wizard has on his sheet, but to any superstitious
peasant, it's plenty magic enough.
Hedge wizards are likely to have hit up any local spirits
for supernatural abilities, if such things are available. For instance, if there were a Spirit of the
Land who could convey the power of true seeing by kissing one's eyes, a hedge
wizard is the person in the area who's likely to know that, and know how to ask
the Spirit for the power without getting cursed or killed for his trouble.
Those powers will probably be some kind of
Advantages/Disadvantages with pretty straight-forward rules, and would be available
to anyone who took the correct actions.
It's just that a hedge wizard is more likely than anyone else to know
what the correct actions are.
High WizardryJared Dun was the seventh of seven brothers. When each of his brothers had reached his
naming day and asked the village god for a gift, they had asked for strength of
arm; sharpness of eye; for swords that would not blunt; for courage that would
not quit; for limbs that would not tire; for fortunes that would not fail. But Jared Dun asked "May I always know
what I need to know." His brothers
mocked him for his weak gift.
In the neighboring valley, there was a king who's daughter
had come under a curse, and together with her the whole valley. Everyone slept in endless sleep, circled
round by great thorn vines. Thus it had
been for all of Jared's life. And
practically every young man tried his luck to enter the enchanted wood to free
the princess. But no matter how strong
their arms or sharp their eyes or swords, no matter how tireless their limbs or
their courage, they could not pass the thorns.
After Jared Dun was named, he took up his staff with a
bundle of his meager possessions and assayed the dark wood. Although there was little movement, he could
hear the songs of birds, and Jared Dun reasoned that if the birds could move through
sleep and thorny vines, might he not as well?
Whistling the song of the birds, he entered the wood, which parted
There came he to the castle gates, which were locked. But Jared Dun reasoned that all locks opened
with a key, and if he had one key, might it not be persuaded to open many
locks? He took an old iron key from his
pack and whispered to it "Open," and the key opened the ancient lock.
Onward, Jared Dun walked, whistling his birdsong, and the
vines parted before him. Where they
parted, they revealed rich hangings, piles of coin, and the possessions of a
wealthy king. At last, Jared found the
princess, who slept on in a bower, perfectly preserved except for a wound on
her finger where she'd pricked it on a spindle.
Jared reasoned that the wound was magical, and if it were treated, she
might awaken, and with her all the others.
But then did Jared Dun reason further. He knew this magical wood must have been the
work of a powerful Lord or Lady of the Fey, who would likely be offended to see
his work undone. So Jared Dun left the
princess to sleep, with naught but a kiss.
He filled his pack with coins and jewels and returned from whence he
came, and at the edge of the wood, he buried three coins as payment to the lord
of the wood.
So-called "High Wizardry" is only a few short
steps from simpler hedge wizardry. They
are steps that few people take, though.
Much that magic can accomplish can be accomplished more easily by
strength or human cunning. The rewards
of wizardry are long in coming.
"Wizardry" itself is a difficult term to pin down. Wizards learn to deal with all manner of
spirits, and thus no single wizard knows more than a fraction of all the
Spirits of the Lower Air: Wizards who learn the secrets of
the Lower Air master the powers of the physical world. They can call down fire, dissolve into
clouds, heal wounds, and the like. This
is accomplished through knowledge, rather than supernatural will. A wizard learns the ways of different
spirits, and ultimately their special languages, which he may divine through
meditation, study of ancient texts and natural philosophy, and the revelations
of the stars. At the last, a wizard
transcends mere mortal knowledge and can understand things as the spirits do. Then, he can call upon spirits, compel them,
bind them, and use them for his own ends.
Such arts have limits.
A spirit can not be summoned where none exist. Nor can one be commanded to do things beyond
its personal ken. Thus, a wizard of fire
might need a raging bonfire o're which to work his arts, and he could bend a
spirit of flame to the task of burning something, but not to the task of
knitting wool into cloth. If a true
example of a Spirit's bailiwick cannot be produced, a symbolic representation
will suffice, but the true thing is almost always to be preferred.
A wizard can command a spirit in almost any way inside these
limits. Classically, the commands
wizards give fall into these groups:
- Banishment: forcing a spirit to leave an area. Banishing a spirit ends that spirit's
influence. If the Spirit of a fire is
banished, the fire will flicker and die, although it might catch again and have
a new spirit. If the Spirit of a city is
somehow banished (no easy feat), then the city would die. In time, no stone would be stacked upon another. Although it is far more likely that the
banishment would end before the city fell.
For a banishment to be permanent, the wizard would have to find some way
to make his pronouncement permanent as well.
- Binding: trapping a spirit in a place, person, or
object. Spirits do not always object to
this treatment. Binding by itself is a
useful way to trap a spirit that has become hostile or dangerous, but it is
more often used in the creation of magical tools. Spirits can be most easily bound into objects
similar to their own natures. Thus, a
fire spirit might be bound into a lamp easily, an iron sword with a bit more
effort, but only into a milk pail with the greatest of difficulties.
- Service: forcing a spirit to do something. A spirit can exert influence directly over
its bailiwick. It can control, aid,
change, or harm that bailiwick. Powerful
spirits can create or destroy their bailiwicks.
Spirits can also scry on things at a distance, after a fashion. They are only really aware of their environments
in the most basic ways, though. A cloud
spirit can see all the Land beneath its cloud, but it doesn't really
/recognize/ that land in the way a human would, so asking a cloud spirit to
describe what it sees is like to be an exercise in frustration.
- Summoning: Calls a spirit to the fore. Normally, spirits of the Lower Air are
content to follow their functions without notice of human activity. A spirit must be Summoned before it can be
interacted with in any other way.
- Warding: Warding prevents spirits of a given kind from
entering an area, person, or object.
Warding is a useful way to provide defense. However, Wards have limited strength. A wizard would have to expend great effort to
ward the bottom of a lake against water, likely far more than any one wizard
(or even a dozen) could muster.
The practice of the magic of the Lower Air always requires
at least speaking, and sometimes a great deal more. The more complex or powerful a command, the
more difficult it is to communicate.
Thus, a wizard who wanted to create a castle out of empty air might need
to appeal to spirits of stone through a lengthy ritual in which he invokes
symbols, makes sacrifices, dances, and chants for days. The duration of a spirit's command depends on
how permanently it is invoked. Spoken
words will compel weak spirits for days and strong ones for only hours or
minutes. Written runes last longer, and
carving in stone or metal lasts longer yet.
Wizards of different lands use different methods and trappings, but the
end effects are generally the same.
Gamespeak: This is the bones of a freeform magic
system. I am very fond of the one from
Buffy, and if I end up building this, mine will be similar. A wizard can generate any effect he can think
of, but he'll need three things.
- He'll have to know the right language. In a system with a lot of skills, each kind
of spirit could have a different language skill. In a lighter system, there will still have to
be some kind of limit for that.
- He'll have to have the time and resources to do the
necessary spell. The bigger, more
powerful, or more complex the effect, the more effort it will take to
"explain" to the spirit.
- He'll have to be able to scribe the spell in a way that
will last long enough. There are some
options here: carving in stone, repeating endlessly, etc... For simple, quick effects, just a few words
and a gesture will be enough anyway.
A few classics:
- Fireball: Pretty simple.
Get a fire spirit and tell it to blow something up.
- Flight: A wind spirit can make you fly on the winds.
- Transmutation: A spirit of whatever you want to transform
something into can, with great effort, transform it. The further removed the target state is from
the original state, the harder it is.
Turning a prince into a frog until a princess kisses him is a massive
effort. The wizard who can do such a
thing is not to be trifled with.
- Scrying: essentially involves communication with a spirit
who can go where you want to see.
Sympathetic links help you scry on specific people.
- Invisibility: Pretty hard for the magic of the Lower
Air. Spirits of darkness or fog could
conceal you under limited circumstances.
Wizards who can do this might be using different magics. Spirits of the Land can turn invisible, and
might grant that power in return for some sort of favor. Spirits of the Underworld can probably also
turn invisible, or at least make people not want to notice them.
- Cursing: A curse brought about by a Wizard probably
involves placing some sort of spirit mark on the subject so that one or more
classes of spirits are hostile to him. A
sufficiently vexed Wizard could blight a town's crops, make it so that a
warrior's sword writhed in his hands unless he fought for true love, or
something similar. A really powerful one
might level all sorts of difficulties, just making every Spirit in the area
somewhat hostile to the target.
The system for Spirits of the Underworld will probably be
somewhat similar. There are just
different things Spirits of the Underworld can do.
The Underworld is the echo of the Lower Air. While the Lower Air contains what is, the
Underworld contains what was. Those who
learn its secrets are more often concerned with the past than the present. The Underworld is not inherently evil, but it
is a place of darkness. Necromancers
aren't evil by definition, either, but those who delve to the deeps of the
Underworld are certainly drawn in that direction. After all, the Underworld is between the Land
and the Deep.
In some ways, Spirits of the Underworld are easier to treat
with than Spirits of the Lower Air.
Human dead are still fundamentally human, and can be appealed to through
human reason or human vanity. They often
retain some of the goals they held in life, and can be induced to cooperate by
one who will advance those goals.
Besides, Necromancers have the most potent currency of all, the ability
to bridge the gulf between the Underworld and the Land, however briefly.
That ability is the key to Necromancy. Every person who treats with the Underworld
has touched its dark shores in some fashion.
A child born with a dead twin, it is said, will be able to see ghosts
all his life. A man who dies and returns
from the dead will hear the whispers of the dead. The only survivor of a village wiped out by
plague, or one who lived through a battle because a wound made him seem dead,
might find that some part of himself was left in stygian realms. Some pursue this path deliberately, through
self-mutilation or the drinking of poisons, or through mass sacrifices to
attract the attention of the Underworld.
There are, it is said, even less savory ways to draw up the voices of
Not all methods need to be so dire, however. Some Necromancers, particularly those who are
satisfied with lesser power, began with a very weak thread tying them to the
realms of the Dead and strengthened it through study and practice. Wizards who dabble in Necromancy are often so
empowered, and might be better prepared than some to resist the call of deeper
and deeper power.
Gamespeak: Necromancers aren't just Goth wizards. They're intimately connected to Death, and
draw power through that connection.
Necromancy is all about feeding energy into that connection and taking
power out of it. Spirits of the Dead
can't normally exist in the Land. When
they do, it's unnatural, and probably bad.
Necromancers are able to give Spirits of the Dead, even corporeal ones,
access to the Land. That power can be
used responsibly and well, but it can easily be abused.
An early thought is that a Necromancer's power will be
largely measured in how strong his connection to the Underworld is and how deep
he's willing to go into it. A simple
medium who only talks to ghosts and never even channels them into herself
doesn't need much of a connection and doesn't have to feed much energy into it
- her own personal strength is probably enough.
A terrible Dark Lord who wants to raise an army of rotting corpses to
smite his enemies probably has a very strong connection to the Underworld - to
the point that he might look like a corpse himself - and he's going to need a
lot of energy. He might get it from ritually
killing people, or from killing a powerful being like the local Genius
Locus. Or he might have some kind of
magical artifact that gives him the power.
(A black cauldron, maybe...)
Liuz was born with a dead eye. That milky white orb saw things no one else
could see, and her ears heard things no one else could hear. The people of the village feared the girl,
but they feared more to kill her and be haunted by her shade, so instead they
drove her from the village. Children
would fling stones at her, and merchants would sell her only shoddy goods at
too high prices. Everyone called her
names behind her back. The cruel spoke
them to her face. And the cruelest spat
on her shadow when she passed in the street.
Her mother and father protected her as well as they
could. They told her that even though
the villagers were her cruel and ignorant, they were her kin and she should try
to love them.
But in time, the old couple died, leaving Liuz alone. Of course the people of the village began to
whisper that the girl with the dead eye was somehow responsible, even though
both of them had been old when their daughter was born. Soon, Liuz found life in the village
intolerable and she fled into the darkenvold, where none of the villagers would
go at night, and few even in the daytime.
There were faeries in the darkenvold, but they avoided Liuz,
all except Master Wolf. He told Liuz
that he hated the villagers as much as she did, because they hunted his
children and denied them their rightful food with fence and spear. He told Liuz she would be his bride, although
she always refused him. She said she was
of the human world, not of the Spirit world, and would not leave her kin even
though they bore her no love.
One day, black ships sailed up to the village, and warriors
with black armor and black swords spilled forth to raid and slay, to plunder
Liuz watched from the shadows of the darkenvold, and Master
Wolf watched with her.
"All your kin are dead now," he said. "Come be my bride."
"I will come to your bed," she said.
When the Wolf was sated from their lovemaking, she took her
father's gutting knife and gutted him as easily as she would a fish. Then, still naked and wet with the Wolf's
blood, she took up her cloak and went back to the village. Through her living eye, she saw the black
raiders as they took their pleasures from the few survivors. Through her dead eye, she saw the pitiful
spirits of the villagers.
And with a voice long dead to human words, she bade them
rise up and have their revenge.
The black-clad men were slain, and their dead rose up
likewise until nothing but Liuz stood in the village, and only crows and flies
She still had her kin, but now she had shed her last
connection to the world of men. She took
her people into their fishing boats and the ships of the raiders, and now she
sails the seas, looking for the land of the men in black ships. Her kin are hungry, and only the flesh of Men
will feed them. They waylay such sailors
as they find, and leave the ships stripped of life, but otherwise untouched,
because Liuz is not a thief. Or so say
A Necromancer's power is proportional to his connection to
the Underworld and the energies he can bring into play.
The least power is the ability to hear or see Spirits of the
Underworld that have the power to reach the Land on their own, either by being
bound to a fetter or having found some sort of fissure up from the
Underworld. With this power, the
Necromancer can interact with Spirits, but has no power but his charisma and
wits with which to compel them. Even
this is more than most can do, and some Spirits can be turned from harmful
courses with the right words. Further,
if a Necromancer of even this minimal power has the fortune to bend a few
Spirits into allies, he can listen to their counsel and sometimes benefit from
With greater power, a Necromancer can call up Spirits from
the Underworld. He still cannot command
them, and more powerful spirits can refuse to answer. This is a dangerous power, since hostile
spirits can answer a call if it is not sufficiently specific.
Many Necromancers develop the ability to command the dead in
limited ways. One might have the ability
to shroud himself from their senses.
Another could make them flee his presence. Still another might learn to trace runes that
will turn the dead away from a living dwelling.
Others learn to borrow power from the Dead if the Dead are
willing. The spirits of the Underworld
hold the sum of the past, and some have supernatural powers as well. Without some sort of external energy source,
a Necromancer must allow the Spirit to enter his own body, or the body of
another. This is a dangerous game, since
the Spirit might not be willing to leave, and his presence exacts a toll that
will eventually be fatal.
Beyond this level, a Necromancer's own personal energies are
likely insufficient to bridge the gulf between worlds further. He needs sacrifices, gifts of power, or some
other means of supplying his Spirits.
The greatest Necromancers can summon and command more
powerful spirits. They can force Spirits
into dead bodies to animate them, or fetter Spirits into specially prepared
vessels. They can call forth armies of
shadow creatures, and they can wield the powers of the Dead. A Necromancer of this puissance needs
external sources of power, and by channeling so much of the darkness of the
Underworld begins to become like a Spirit of the Underworld himself. In fact, the ultimate fate of all who pursue
the powers of darkness for too long is to become indistinguishable from a dead
Gamespeak: Necromancers have abilities similar to Wizards,
but rather than needing a huge breadth of knowledge, they need a depth of power
to pull off the most amazing feats. The
powers a Necromancer can use fall into a hierarchy, with greater ones requiring
both a higher "Necromancy Score" and more "Fuel."
It might seem that Wizards have a better deal, and indeed
they do in some ways, but Necromancers make out well on the low end. At least some Spirits of the Underworld
understand human language and desires, and can be appealed to on that
basis. And some Necromantic powers are
passive. Everything a Wizard can do
requires conscious effort. He has to
project his psychic senses "upwards" where a Necromancer's naturally
The energy requirement is the reverse, of course. Energy naturally cascades downward, so
Wizards can call on massive power, whereas Necromancers have to find fuel for
the more outrageous things they want to do.
Will it all be balanced in practice? Who knows.
I'm still not making up real rules yet.
And that covers the two "middle realms" in the
great club sandwich that is this setting.
Next up is the Magic of the Greater Air, and possibly the Magic of the
Deep, since I'm not really sure how much of that I want to go into. Given my attempts at symmetry so far, there
should be ways that people can call on/be seduced by the Spirits of the Deep,
and special people who are their personal champions. Which is a sort of scary thought. I'm reminded of Ashitaka in Princess
Mononoke. He might have been touched by
the Deep and is now a "champion" against his will, slowly being
overcome by it even as he's forced to use it.
More generally, I've been thinking about Magic and how one
of the great complaints of many games is that it's not very
"magical." When a guy in a
robe and a pointed hat levels his staff at you and shoots out a ball of flame,
you don't think "Amazing! That man
can call flames from nothing! We're
doomed!!!" You think "He's got
at least 3rd level spells. Could be a
Some games try to get around this by making magic really
freeform, but that doesn't really solve the problem. In a system like Ars Magica, you can still
narrow down what the wizard did, so the mystery is gone. In a really loose system, you just get a host
of problems relating to exactly how much the wizard SHOULD be able to do.
You could try to conceal the inner workings from the
players, but that presents another problem - the players need to know what
their characters can do so they can properly play their characters. The guy in the funny hat isn't going to point
his stick at a hostile force unless he's pretty damn sure a ball of fire is
going to shoot out.
So I've been musing on the idea that what magic can do at
any given moment may change, but the players can see how it changes. Castle Falkenstein's magic deck is like this
in a way. You can see how much
"juice" is available within 100 miles or so, and that's all there is.
I wonder if I can think of something similar. It might not be too hard. A Wizard's training would tell him what
spirits are in the neighborhood, and he'd know generally what he can tell
spirits to do. To add a layer of
mystery, there might be some kind of arbitrary restrictions on spirits'
behavior that are based on local conditions.
The Wizard is trained to be able to figure out what these conditions are
and how they affect his powers. To other
people, they seem mysterious.
But that could just be a useless layer of rules and
I DO want magic to be mysterious in this world. This is a world of mysteries where Men face
things beyond their ken (and generally stab those things with swords). We'll have to see.
It's also about time to start thinking about a system, if
I'm ever going to use one. If I just
decide to use this setting for my writing, I don't really need rules.
Tuesday, January 29, 2008
participant, occasional blog reader, and Domino Girls fan daHob has been making
noises about wanting to write up this setting as a Savage Worlds PDF, so I
suppose I'd better get on with it. Now we're getting into the hard
parts. It's time to talk about magic.
"Magic" I refer to all the means that humans have to manipulate the
supernatural aspects of the world. Of course people in the setting have a
different view than we do. To them, there's no division between the
supernatural and mundane worlds. And don't even get me started on
religion vs. magic.
of the Land
The Lord is
the Land. The Land is the Lord. This relationship is sacrosanct and
unalterable. Once the Land recognizes a Lord, it takes its shape from his
will and gives him power in proportion to his strength. The mechanisms of
rulership vary, but they generally involve dealing with a powerful Spirit of
the Land who dominates an area. If a Land doesn't have a powerful spirit,
one will arise to challenge its new Lord soon enough. Then he must either
defeat it or reach some kind of accommodation with it. The nature of this
encounter will determine, to some degree, the Land's destiny under its Lord.Qin-Zhang
was a master of the sword and a poet and philosopher. He wandered the
world, battling for causes he believed to be worthy and elegant, defeating
bandits and kings alike. His legend was, if anything, a shadow of the
truth of his deeds. But time flows like a river from the mountains of
birth to the seas of death. Qin-Zhang knew that in time his blade would
dull, as would his wits. He wished for a lasting testament to his life,
and for a place to lay his head when he slept, and his bones when he died.
The warrior and philosopher wanted a home and a wife. But what land could
be equal to his brilliance, and what woman could be worthy of his seed?
took his parchments and inks, and his sword and armor, and went in search of
his destiny. He followed the Jade
River to its headwaters,
and there he found a beautiful land nestled in the shelter of five
mountains. He climbed the first mountain, and there he found un-men with
arms like tree trunks and skin of bronze. He slew their leader and they
bowed down before him. He left that place and climbed the second
mountain. There, he found a serpent of fire, which he slew also, although
it cost him the finest sword he'd ever forged. But the serpent's entrails
were of ever burning flame, and its scales were of bright steel. He
forged a new blade, better than the old, and journeyed to the third
mountain. On the third mountain, he found nothing to battle, but voices
howled on the winds and spoke riddles. In a shrine on the mountaintop,
Qin-Zhang meditated for a year until he could answer every riddle, and when
he'd answered the last one, it began to rain. Each raindrop became a
silver coin. Qin-Zhang filled his pouch with silver, because even heroes benefit
from good rice wine and a soft bed, and journeyed to the fourth mountain.
There, he found water spirits, immune to his blade because their flesh was as
water. He could not pass them nor defeat them, so he paused and wrote a
poem of such sadness that it made the water spirits weep. As they cried
out their tears, they dissolved into nothing, and joined the river of Jade.
Qin-Zhang left that place and climbed the fifth mountain.
mountain was higher than any of the others, almost as high as the stars.
Qin-Zhang's steps became heavy. He abandoned his pack, then his scribe's
pouch, and finally his silvery sword, and ascended the peak in only his
robe. Unarmed and nearly starved, Qin-Zhang looked up into sky more black
than blue and fancied that he could reach out and touch the stars. As he
reached up his hand, he saw a dragon descending from the sky. The sight
so inspired him with awe that he was overcome with euphoria and fainted.
awoke, a woman stood over him wearing a robe of gold silk with a dragon's
scales embroidered into it. The robe was open, and he saw her
charms. She gave him rice and wine and told him that this land was hers,
and that she had been waiting for one who could take it.
had no sword, but he had substantial charms. He opened his own robe and
claimed the woman.
was sated, the woman, who was a dragon, told Qin-Zhang that he would have a
place to lay his head when he slept, and to lay his bones when he died.
He would have a land to rule, and his land would never forget his name.
But he would never have a wife, and if he ever took one, she would take away
all that she had given, for what mortal woman could be worthy of his
seed? Qin-Zhang accepted this with equanimity, and descended the
mountain. He retrieved his sword and his scribe's pouch and his pack, and
when he descended, he found a great palace. There, he ruled for many
Qin-Zhang would ascend the mountain again. In time, his blade and his
wits dulled. Age bent his back. And one year he did not
return. But one claiming to be his son descended the mountain holding his
sword and wearing his robe. The man had skin of gold and eyes of
darkness, and ruled over the Empire of Qin for many years, stretching out his
hand to conquer all of the nine kingdoms.
of the Lord
Once a Lord
has claimed a Demesne, he has power over it. This power can take many
forms, depending on the character of the Lord and the care he takes over his
lands. Strong Lords have strong Demesnes, and have greater power over
them than weak Lords.
these powers fall into three areas. There are powers of the Heart, powers
of the Eye, and powers of the Hand.
of the Heart: The most elemental of a Lord's powers, and among the most
subtle. Powers of the Heart are those that describe a Lord's relationship
to the land he rules. His heart pumps blood and life into his
Demesne. If his heart is weak, his land is weak as well. Powers of
the Heart affect the Demesne more than the Lord. They shape the character
of its terrain, the fertility of its fields, and even the nature of its
people. A cold, cruel Lord will rule over a harsh Demesne. It might
be prosperous, but its prosperity will come only with struggle and pain.
Its people will be either fearful or cruel. Its Spirits will be
dangerous. A kindly Lord will rule over a kindly Demesne, with happy
people and lush fields. But it is easier to be strong and cruel than
strong and kind.
Gamespeak: Powers of the Heart are the stuff that determines what the
land is like. I'm the kind of guy who would model this by hand waving.
If I were going to define a system for it, it'd be something like the
Organization rules for Angel. You'd have various attributes of your land
that you could assign points to. You'd earn points by doing lordly
stuff. I think they'd need to be a fluid resource, rather than something
you pay character points for, because the whole point is that they can be
gained and lost. In a balanced point-gen system, being a strong Lord
would be difficult because you'd need to spend points on Lord stuff OR personal
stuff, and the system I'm trying to create says that the more personal strength
you have, the stronger your Demesne is.
the Heart will probably work as kind of a shopping list of attributes and
ratings. You can customize your Demesne by choosing the ones that fit
best. They'll cover a lot of things like the general weather, the
terrain, what kind of natural resources there are (although this can't be changed
radically), and even the people. People from a land where the Lord
venerates physical strength might really just tend to be stronger than their
neighbors, but they might also be quicker to anger or a little less
of the Eye: The connection between a Lord and his Demesne gives him
supernatural knowledge over it. Not all Lords have the wisdom or insight
to excel in this area. All Lords have at least a vague sense of the
health of their Demesnes, and they receive some kind of warnings when their
lands are in immediate danger. Depending on the character of the Lord and
the Demesne, this could come in the form of prophetic dreams, whispers from
Spirits of the Land, or supernatural intuition.
perceptive Lords begin to develop means of scrying over their realms.
They might be able to locate game, know the status of distant cities, or call
into vision different parts of their land. Often, this knowledge comes
from totem animals or Spirits of the Land who answer the Lord's call.
Lords schooled in magic might employ scrying rituals instead.
knowledge gained this way is of concern to the Land, not always to the
Lord. He might be able to send ravens to track an invading warband, but
not to follow his wife who he believes is unfaithful. Or perhaps he
might. The Land can be fickle.
perceptive Lords begin to know their Demesnes as well as they know their own
bodies or minds. They know when to plant, when to harvest, and when to
seek shelter from a coming storm. They can look upon a suspect in court
and know his guilt or innocence, and what punishment is most appropriate.
The wisest and strongest begin to become infallible, at least insofar as ruling
their Demesnes is concerned. As with the other powers of the Eye, these
powers often have an external focus, but just as often, they are purely
intuitive. The Lord simply is his Land, and knows it as well as he knows
himself. Of course, this also means that a Lord can deceive himself about
his Land as easily as he does about anything else.
of the Hand: A Lord in his place of power is fearsome to behold. He rules
his Demesne through magic as much as through will and action. The
stronger a Lord is, the greater his power over his Demesne, and the greater
power he can draw from his Demesne.
Gamespeak: These are fairly straightforward. A Lord will have some
kind of perception level, and as it increases he gets access to deeper levels
of information and insight. Players will probably be able to define their
own "special effects," but the powers will be pretty constant.
There's room for some customization, though. A Chinese Emperor might want
to know which bureaucrats will be best for certain jobs, while a Plains Indian
chief wants to be able to find buffalo. So some of the specific insights
his Land healthy, a Lord keeps himself healthy to some extent. While he's
defending his own Demesne, very little can harm him, and he will not fall ill
or fall victim to misadventure. But if hostile spirits blight his lands,
or treachery weakens his will, he becomes vulnerable.
also begins to answer the Lord's will. Its' people's loyalty comes as
much from the bond between Lord and Land as from his decisions. Thus do
strong, but cruel, Lords hold their people in bondage. They might hate
him, but fear him too much to rebel until some greater force inspires
them. Some Lords also learn to master the beasts of their realms, or even
have some sway over the Spirits of their Demesnes, but this is not a sure or
certain power. Often, there is a price for invoking it. At the
minimum, any Spirit of a Demesne will recognize its Lord and not commit treason
upon him. Lords who take time to court their Spirits' favor might be
served by spectral knights, or ride upon steeds of fire.
Gamespeak: This will be another thing to spend points on and to advance
at different rates. In fact, the whole thing will probably work that way,
with a Lord player choosing what aspects he cares most about and getting more
points to spend over time.
One way to
balance this against other players would be to follow the example of King
Arthur's legend. While Arthur was the king, his Knights were often more
powerful in specific ways. Lancelot was the greatest of sinful knights,
for instance. So a PC party might have a Lord with all kinds of cool
Demesne powers, but his companions might be a powerful, mysterious wizard, a
Starborn bard who can literally sing birds down from the trees, and a Starborn
warrior who can't be defeated in battle. Having those people as friends
is part of the Lord's strength.
have to be a way to gain and lose power in your Demesne, involving events like
going to war, being betrayed, or losing your heart, and acts of atonement like
questing for the Holy Grail or going out again to fight your Demesne's Spirit.
of the Lord
A Lord has
to stay strong to keep his Demesne strong, and he must periodically renew his
ties to the Land.
Lord is supreme in his Demesne, he may fall victim to a greater Lord's
weaken either through age or lack of will. He might always know what is
best for his Demesne, but he can deceive himself, and his judgment can be
clouded in personal matters. A Lord who rests on his laurels and falls to
drink loses his strength, and his land weakens around him.
is the greatest bane. Any treachery weakens the entire realm. A
strong Lord's subjects might not be able to betray him directly, but powerful
allies are not so bound, and even the least peasant is still a Man with the
ability to influence his own destiny.
Gamespeak: This is the stuff that costs you "Lord
Points." And generally, the GM gets to decide which of your
advantages are degraded. The typical way will be for them to all be
degraded more or less equally, but there could be exceptions depending on the
kind of bane that hit you. It is, of course, especially nasty to lose
your physical invulnerability in the face of a treacherous attack...
wants to be strong. A weakening Lord will find his Demesne slipping
away. A blind Lord might not notice. If he is wise or fortunate, he
might have the chance to win his strength back through some kind of act of atonement.
Such a feat is at least as difficult as winning the Demesne in the first
place. Often, the best a weak ruler can do is to die to atone for his
sins and leave a strong kingdom for his son.
The Lord of
a Demesne is not immortal. If a Lord becomes so, the Land begins to
twist, because immortality is not the province of men. When a Lord dies,
a new Lord is chosen. A Lord's children share in his command of the Demesne,
and very often his chosen successor takes his place. The heir will have
to face the same renewal ritual his predecessor faced, but this is often easier
than conquering the land the first time. Thus, in fact, begins the fall
of many Demesnes. The first Lord had to be very strong to take the
land. His son doesn't need to be as strong, and thus might not be.
Wise Lords send their sons abroad to face hardships and win victories, but this
has a risk because the son doesn't have the protection of his Demesne so far
from home, and enemies might seek to slay him. That would, in turn,
weaken the Demesne as the Lord grieves for his lost child.
of a Lord, and sometimes his feudal vassals, share in his ties to the Land to a
lesser degree. They will never have as much sway as the Lord does, but
are often still quite powerful. A deposed Lord's subordinates lose all
their powers when he is deposed. Of course, sometimes one of these subordinates
is the one who claims the land from his ailing Lord. In this case, he
will, of course, retain his powers and might choose to share them with his
brothers and sisters.
Gamespeak: This is pretty straightforward up until you get to the Feudal
system, where the King rules a big land that's cut into small pieces ruled by
Dukes and so on. In those cases, a Duke probably has a Demesne with its
own Spirit, but that Spirit is subordinate to the greater Spirit of the King's
Demesne. The King has power over all of the Spirits and all the Demesnes,
but a Duke probably has equal control within his own Duchy. Lesser Lords
only inherit power from their Masters, if they get any at all. Some
people just have to get by with strength, cunning, and charm.
into this a little more down below.
The Land is
a living thing, and its Demesnes have life, breath, and will. A Demesne
wishes to be strong, and has a natural urge to prey on the weak. Strong
Lords are often moved by this will to conquer their neighbors. Just as
much, a land with a weak Lord will slowly start to attract would-be conquerors
as the Land searches for a worthy ruler.
does not have to claim the Demesne as the original Lord did. By force of
arms, he makes himself the new successor, and so only has to continue the
rituals of connection. Matters are often not quite that simple,
though. The Land will seek to test its new ruler, and might not
immediately grant its powers. The new Lord will have to make some kind of
accommodation with the Land before he rules it completely.
If the conqueror
already holds a Demesne, the two lands are merged into one, dominated by the
Spirit of whichever was larger. Spirits of the Land follow after the
mortals in their realms, so the conquered people may find their land changing around
them as once-familiar Spirits are displaced by new ones. The new Lord's
character will start shaping the land within a year, as well.
more complicated yet if the old Lord and his heirs are not slain
outright. If they escape or are exiled, there is always the chance they
can return. The Land will accept a past ruler or his blood more easily
than an entirely new conqueror. If the current Lord is weak, a Demesne
might even start answering to the "lost heir." But sometimes a
Lord of a Demesne bows his head to a greater Lord. In these cases, both
lands retain their Spirits, but the conqueror’s Demesne becomes stronger, and
the High Lord's power extends into the new realm.
Gamespeak: This isn't too complicated. It probably doesn't need a
formal system. A deposed Lord who somehow escapes has the chance to come
back and try to get his realm back. A callow orphan boy could turn out to
be the True King. A King can grant power to his Dukes and Earls.
The actual mechanics of the power work however I design the system to work.
Next up is
Magic of the Lower Air, and possibly Magic of the Underworld. They may
end up being really similar, since a lot of the powers actually belong to the
spirits, not to the magicians. Sorcery and Necromancy are more about
knowing secrets and being able to get spirits to do favors for you than having
Thursday, November 29, 2007
The glacial pace continues. Spirits of the Underworld took me a while because I wasn't sure how to approach them, and I wanted at least one of the nifty fiction sections like in Spirits of the Land.
Spirits of the Underworld
The souls of Men long for the Celestial Spheres, but are
drawn by morbid gravity to the Depths.
For those souls that have found neither fate, there is the Underworld, a
place of cold and darkness. The
Spirits of the Underworld were once human souls. Some might be again, purged of their
past stains until they are light enough to ascend and be reborn. Others have been twisted into something
Souls are bound into the Underworld for several
reasons. Those who die without
proper funeral rites to clear their way to the heavens have nowhere else to
go. Worse yet, there are rites that
will bind a soul to the Underworld.
Even with all spiritual care, some souls are so burdened that they cannot
make the journey. An ill-chosen
oath can leave a soul so bound, as can unfulfilled vengeance or desire. And finally, those slain by creatures of
the Underworld are often transformed into creatures of the Underworld
themselves. Thus does the curse
The great majority of spirits of the Underworld are
incorporeal and trapped within the cavernous depths. They can be called up by sorceries in
the dark of the night. Such spirits
might have greater or lesser power.
The strongest can kill men, or drive them to madness. The weakest might be able to do no more
than dim the light in a room or create a chill. But even the weakest of spirits might
have knowledge. Those who practice
the Dark Arts most often seek knowledge.
Spirits do not willingly part with their secrets, however. There is always a motive or a
price. Only the most powerful or
clever of Necromancers escape such transactions
This was the fall of Ahankara, that the people were
prideful and haughty, and denied hospitality to a passing traveler. This man bore the dark mark, and saw the
world through one dead eye. He
spoke no ill of those who wronged him, but in the dark of night dropped a
polished black stone into the town well.
Every night thereafter, the dead arose to howl through
the city on dark, cold winds. They
grew stronger with the waning of the moon, and weaker under Her light. Under the new moon, anyone caught
outside was in risk of death, and of arising as a shade himself. At other times, the howling was enough
to sunder sleep and to erode sanity.
The people of Ahnkara were wealthy, and promised gold to
any wizard who could banish the ghosts, but the ghosts whispered to the
necromancers of Ahankara's sin, and none would stay. To this day, no one knows what sin
Ahankara committed against the wandering sorcerer. Her once proud people were reduced to
being wanderers themselves, and if they settled anywhere, ghosts would come to
hound them. In time, few people
even remembered where the city was.
And at the center of a ruined city, at the bottom of a
well, perhaps the stone still sits.
Some Spirits of the Underworld do not need to be
summoned. They are bound to the
Land, fettered to some place or thing or time. Most often, this is the result of a
sorcerer's spell. The slaves of a
mortal king might be bound to guard his grave and protect his grave-goods from
robbers. Rarely, though, an object
or place exerts such a strong pull that a soul might be bound to it
Spirits so bound are more resistant to the light of day
than others. Their powers are often
diminished, but they can still act or speak.
Kal the Bloodwulf took the land of Geth by force of arms and force of
will. The symbol of his rule was
Kallenfang, a sword crafted for him by the greatest swordsmith of his age. Fire and Blood were bound into the
blade's metal, and the heart of the Dragon of Geth was set into the pommel. With the blade in his hand, Kal was
unbeatable until slain by trechery.
His son, Kel, took up Kallenfang, and with it, took up the might of his
father. Kel died in the plague
years, and the whole land mourned, for Kel was as dauntless as his father, but
far kinder. The blade passed to his
grandson, Dal, a child of Kel's daughter.
Many thought that when Dal came to rule Geth, he would have to face the
dragon, but the great wyrm recognized his claim, and he ruled with his
grandsire's wisdom and his greatsire's courage.
The land of Geth fell many years ago, but the line of
the Bloodwulf survives. They are
slayers and reavers and men of great renown, with the courage of heroes and the
wisdom of kings. And one day, one
of them will destroy each of the petty kings who rule what once was Geth, and
rebuild the Bloodwulf's domain.
Still other Spirits of the Underworld are able to leave
its depths in corporeal bodies, grotesquely reanimating their own corpses or
sometimes the corpses of others.
Ghouls, Revenants, and Vampires are of the Underworld even though not in
it. The Land rejects such beings,
and the light burns them to some degree, although they might withstand it longer
than fleshless shades. Animate
Un-Dead are often very difficult to destroy. Magical rituals might serve, or weapons
of Power. Fire is often
efficacious. One fortune of Men is
that many such creatures are vulnerable to some special thing, often silver, the
Moon's metal. But in the night,
when ghouls are shrieking for your blood, silver might be in short
Gamespeak: Spirits of the Underworld will be handled in a
similar manner to the Spirits of the Land.
They'll have a list of capabilities the GM can "shop" from. I expect that there will be some kind of
bestiary of sample monsters, but I want the setting to be mysterious, so I'm
leaving a clear option for unique Spirits.
One power Spirits of the Underworld might have is the
ability to possess humans. This
could be good or bad, depending on the degree of control and the motives of the
spirit. I'm particularly
considering it in the case of fettered spirits. Someone wearing the torc of a bound
ghost might be able to draw on his strength and skill. Alternately, the medallion of an ancient
sorcerer might hold his soul and take control of whoever puts it on so that the
sorcerer could live again.
Some basic rules that bind all Spirits of the
-Light is bad for them. To some degree, they're bound by
-The Land rejects them. Spirits of the Underworld have some sort
of taint they spread. It could just
be a chill in the air, or it could be that plants die, milk sours, and so
on. The worst ones might spread
plague just by existing.
-Spirits of the Underworld exact some price on creatures
of the Land. Ghosts will share
their secrets, for a price.
Revenants need revenge.
Vampires drink blood. A
Spirit of the Underworld can't just exist, although the price doesn't have to be
particularly terrible. In one of
the above examples, it's just that the holder of Kellenfang has to uphold the
Bloodwulf legacy, or the sword will reject him and the spirits won't advise him
or lend him their strength.
Thursday, November 15, 2007
Hi y'all. This has taken a while, because I kept forgetting to send it to my laptop, from which I do most of my blog posting, so it languished in obscurity in a sad, forgotten folder on a different computer until I remembered to email it to myself.
But now, at long last, a little more of my latest exercise in world-building is ready for your perusal.Spirits of the Lower Air
The Lower Air encircles the Land, marking out safe boundries beyond which the Land cannot exist. The purpose of the Air is to provide the Land with breath. Sound, light, warmth, shadow, cold, and flame all travel through the medium of Air. And these are not just nameless forces, they are living things, breathed out by the Land. They are the Spirits of the Lower Air.
Unlike the Spirits of the Land, Spirits of the Lower Air are almost always incorporeal. They live only in their earthly manifestations, and never step beyond them. In every shadow is a sprit of shadow, but only in exceptionally rare circumstances will the shadow spirit take any action beyond slowly moving across the wall as the sun passes in the sky.
The Spirits of the Lower Air can be categorized, but some defy easy classification. Almost every natural occurance or element has a spirit. The works of Man can sometimes give birth to spirits as well, or perhaps to transform the spirits already inside. A sword of legend that has slain dragons and kings and lovers might have its own spirit that embues the sword with great power and Will, but not all swords have spirits beyond the iron in their blades.
Some philosophers even doubt the individuality of the Spirits of the Lower Air. Does a storm spirit retire to his bed when the storm abates, only to return for a new storm? Or does each new storm have a spirit that lives and dies within the span of the storm? The Spirits themselves are little help in answering the question. Their perception of time is different than that of Men. While a spirit can understand such concepts as "wait until later" or "before this, that," it will be utterly baffled by such questions as "when were you born?" or "How long have you lived?" In fact, most Spirits of the Lower Air can only speak of concrete, immediate things, and seldom speak at all other than to acknowledge commands.
Spirits of the Lower Air have pretty simple balliwiks. A Fire spirit can make things burn, keep things from burning, and control fire to a limited extent. A really powerful Fire spirit might be able to make water burn, but most couldn't.
I'm thinking that Spirits of the Lower Air will have limits to their duration. I'll probably get into this more in the magic section, but the basic idea is that if you summon a fire spirit and take it out of the fire, it can only last so long, and as it expends its energy, it gets weaker and will discorporate sooner.
Anchoring the spirit in some way could give it longer time duration.
Spirits can only be called up within their elements. To summon a fire spirit, you need a fire, and the bigger the fire, the bigger the spirit you could summon. Human manufacture changes what spirits are available. For instance, a lump of raw iron ore could be used to summon a rock spirit, but if that iron were smelted and refined and beaten into a sword, the spirit would then be a sword spirit. If the sword were broken, the sword spirit would die (only to live again if the sword were somehow re-forged) and those particular fragments of iron might not be useful to summon anything anymore.
----Spirits of the Greater Air
Beyond the Land and Lower Air is the perfect Celestial realm. Men cannot go there, and nothing from the Celestial spheres can easily enter the land. The Lunar Sphere marks the barrier between the Lower and Greater Air. Naturally, this means that on nights when the moon is dark, the barrier is weaker. New Moons are times of portent. Lunar eclipses are major events.
The Spirits of the Greater Air are both most and least like men above all other spirits. They understand the passage of time as Men do, although as immortal beings they see more of it pass. Unlike spirits of the Lower Air, the Spirits of the Greater Air are visible to human eyes, hanging in the sky. The barrier of the Lunar Sphere separates Man from the Spirits of the Greater Air. Men can call upon them, but cannot summon them or bind them, and Spirits of the Greater Air never touch the Land. When a star falls, the spirit is consumed and destroyed, leaving only a shard of stone. This stone, when found by Men, is of great power, but is no longer a spirit.
Legends say this is not always true. Sometimes, a Spirit of the Greater Air longs so deeply for the Land that he might fall from the sky and survive, diminished in power and cast into the form of a man or beast.
as an unabashed fan of Neil Gaiman's Stardust, I am very likely to include rules for fallen stars, but I'm not completely decided. At the moment, this is a very "human" setting. Adding any sort of demihuman should not be done lightly.
The Greater Air is marked by spheres encircling the Land like nested dolls. Each Sphere is the domain of one of the most powerful spirits of the Greater Air, the Spirits who shape the destiny of the Land. Men all recognize these Spirits in some form, although the details, and even the names, might differ.
First is the Lunar Sphere. The Moon is one of the two Spirits closest to the Land, and the one that gives it light in the darkness. She (although the Spirits are not bound by human sex, the Moon is almost always seen as a female spirit by the peoples of the Land) represents Life in its physical, changing aspects: fertility, birth, aging, and eventual death, plants, animals, and the like. The Spirit of the Moon seeks to elevate mankind by bringing Man into harmony with the Land.
Second is the Solar Sphere. The Sun is the second Spirit closest to Man, and brings life-giving light to the Land. Without Light, the Land would be cold, dead, and unseen. The Spirit of the Sun holding purvue over life, healing, purity, and inspiration. His are the spiritual domains of life, and he seeks to elevate Men's souls.
Next is the Mercurial Sphere. The Dawnstar treasures knowledge above all else. This includes philosophy, secrets, and languages. It is the Spirit of Mercury who orders the Stars to reveal the secrets of the universe.
(aside: Yes, I know that the morning star and the evening star were really both Venus. Work with me here)
Fourth is the Venusian Sphere. The Spirit of Venus is concerned with the "soft" or "gentle" emotions, and seeks to elevate Man through love, beauty, and art. She inspires poets and romantics.
Fifth is the Martian Sphere. The Red Star is the star of War. The Spirit of Mars finds elevation in conflict: constant striving, challenging, biting, scratching for advantage. The Red Star finds Men at their best in the midst of a struggle.
Sixth is the Jovian Sphere. The Spirit of Jove admires all forms of strength, and believes the best way for Man to ascend is through the wisdom and strength of kings. It is by Jove's will that a Lord may rule his Land.
The seventh, and final Sphere is the Saturnian Sphere. Beyond this, is the Abyss. The Spirit of Saturn sets limits. He separated the Land from the Air, and the Lower Air from the Greater Air. He separates life from death and day from night.
Within the Celestial Spheres, there are countless stars. Each is aligned with one of the Greater Lights, serving and supplimenting it. Some of these are part of the celestial chorus, singing the eternal music of the Spheres. Others take a direct interest in human affairs, watching life play out far below.
When Men send up prayers and sacrifices to the Celestial Spheres, the Spirits hear them. For reasons of their own, they sometimes deign to answer.
Gamespeak: Spirits of the Greater Air are essentially gods and angels. They don't often communicate with individuals. The greatest of them don't even really care about countries or dynasties. They're only interested in the ideals they represent, and exert constant subtle influence to promote those ideals. Mars' light shines down on men and makes them dream of war and blood and glory. Lesser spirits associated with Mars might communicate with specific men, but only rarely. Men can pray to the gods, and by doing so can forge a slightly stronger connection to them, which sometimes results in minor miracles.
The big exception to this will be discussed in the magic section.
So, that's it for now. Spirits of the Underworld and of the Deep remain, and are actually not written yet. I'm trying (futily) to do NaNoWriMo again this year, so I probably won't have time to get to them for a couple weeks, at least.
Thursday, October 04, 2007
And now we're back.
Obviously, when I said magic was next, I really meant Spirits were
You got that, right?
No, seriously, since I write these things off
the cuff, I sometimes change my mind midway through.
Spirits are so fundamental to how everything
in this setting works that I decided I needed to handle them, first.
I’m breaking this down into sections, since otherwise it
would be pretty long. (Also, this way I get
several days worth of content instead of just one)
Man and beast share their world with Spirits, born in the
echoes of creation long ago. Spirits
ruled the world before the rise of Men, and some say they will rule it again
when the last Man dies. Sometimes
allies, sometimes enemies, Spirits are at least as variable as humans, and
wield fantastic powers.
Powers of Spirits
The ways of Spirits are not the ways of Men. Men are bound by flesh. Spirits are part of the eternal Land or the
boundless Air. They are creatures of
Will, rather than of Flesh. But they are
also constrained in ways that men are not, enmeshed in their roles or lacking
Each Spirit is bound, to some degree, by its nature. A Hunting Beast must hunt. A spirit of flame must burn. A spirit of a lake cannot journey out to
other lands. But within its purview, a
spirit can be very powerful.
My thoughts are that this needs to be a freeform system. A spirit will be defined by attributes that
tell you how powerful it is, and what areas it can influence. Then there's a system for calculating how
powerful a spirit needs to be to generate a given effect. On a scale of 1 to 5, a fire spirit with a 1
might just be able to light a candle, while a 5 STR fire spirit might be able
to set a whole city afire. A Spirit's
stat block would have whatever basic statistics are needed, plus its power
level (possibly different for each of its areas of influence). Then some common/well-known specific effects
would be a good idea, so you don't have to calculate them on the fly every time
you need them.
The Buffy Magic system is a pretty good guideline, with its
definitions of effect, duration, number of people, and so on. I'll probably end up with something like
The goal is to produce a system where the GM always knows
what a given spirit can do, and the players can make informed guesses, but
there's still room for surprises.
Spirits of the Land
The Spirits of the Land are manifestations of the Land's
will and character. A land with no
spirits withers and dies, becoming a blasted wasteland where nothing grows and
nothing can survive for long. Far from
the places of Man, the Spirits of the Land are vast and powerful. Primitive men in this primordial wild often
worship them as fearsome and terrible gods. Wild Spirits of the Land generally have the
form of great beasts. In places where
the rule of Man dominates, the Spirits are diminished, but no less vital. They are shaped by men's wills into forms
closer to human.
The Spirits that dwell in the wild are often savage and
terrible, but also often hold ancient secrets and awesome powers. Only the bravest, or most foolish of men can
face them. The risks are great, as are
The Black Woods of Gothe are ruled by a black bear taller
than a house, with burning embers for eyes, and with claws that can sunder tree
trunks. Anyone who brings iron into the
forest raises the black bear's rage. In
his presence, fires will not burn, and shadows become visions of men's darkest
fears. By day, the bear is never
seen. Only the sharpest arrows will
pierce the dark bear's hide, and any hurts he takes one night will be healed by
the next.Stories say that a warrior who kills the dark bear will gain
his power - skin that turns blows, and strength beyond mortal ken; shadows that
answer his call, and power over flame.
No one has done so yet. Kenning
Men say that one can, on the first new moon of spring, approach the bear
carrying neither weapons nor flame, and the bear will judge the man's worthiness. For a worthy man, the bear will answer any
one question, and give the man one of his teeth, which may be made into a spear
tip or a dagger sharper than steel. But
if the man is judged unworthy, the bear will kill him and devour him, such that
no one remembers his name. Still other
stories say that if the man is found worthy, the bear will still kill him, and
he will rise three nights hence as a bear himself.
Each land has one totemic spirit, a Genius Locus.
To defeat or treat with that spirit is to
become a Lord.
Thereafter, the Land
recognizes its Lord and rewards him when he is strong.
The Land makes demands of its Lords, though,
and these demands must be met, else great doom befall the Lord.
Once, a mighty city stood on the mountain called
Drakencrag. The city's first king slew
the dragon of the mount with a sword forged from starmetal. As the dragon died, he granted the king and
his descendants dominion over the mountain, the valley, and the fertile plains
beneath, so long as the people never slew any
of the lesser dragons that lived in the mountains, and each shepherd
left his first ewe of the year as an offering to the dragons when it was a year
For many years, the people prospered. Their hunters brought back full sacks. Their fields produced more than sufficient
grain. Their warriors brought back great
plunder in raids against weaker neighbors.
Until there came a king who grew tired of the wyrms that sometimes stole
from his herds or burned his crops. With
the sword of his fathers, he slew a wyrm.
Thereafter, the city knew no peace.
A plague of wyrms descended, burning the city and the surrounding
villages, and killing those who lived there.
The king and his warriors fought back, but they were defeated, and the
starmetal blade was lost.
Now the Drakencrag is once again ruled by a great and
powerful dragon, and legends speak of the wondrous treasure that might be found
in the ruins of the city. The people who
dwell in the valley and the fields beyond will slay such wyrms as descend from
the hills to steal sheep, but they never pursue the wyrms into the mountains,
for that is surely death. To appease the
Dragon, they must now sacrifice to him a virgin girl who has just begun to have
her moontime each year on the longest night.
Not all Spirits of the Land are gigantic or dangerous. Even in wild places, there are some spirits
that can be helpful to men, although even these spirits are not to be crossed.
Many wild places are home to the Little People, who look
like misshapen effigies of humans. They
are attracted to human activity, but seldom do more than watch from a
distance. Few travelers ever get more
than a glimpse of them. When unobserved,
the little men will steal small objects, often hanging them in the tree
branches nearby, or work other small mischief.
But other times, they will mark safe trails, or lead lost travelers from
danger with their haunting voices, which warble like birds and click and croak
like frogs and insects.
A man who touches a little man will have good luck all day,
so some people think to capture one and keep it in a cage. This is a poor idea, since the others will
take great offence and work their small mischiefs on the captor and everyone
around him, and even if he releases the captive, they will never stop hounding
him. Or so say the legends.
Spirits of Man
Spirits do not only dwell in the primordial wilds. They are part of the Land, and as such are
found everywhere upon it. But in places
dominated by Man, they are diminished in form and power. This does not mean they are powerless, by any
In the ancient city of Illyum,
after the sun has set, fortunate men (or unfortunate ones) will sometimes see a
trio of women, shapely in form, but clothed head to toe in red wrappings, with
red cloaks hiding their heads and silver, eyeless masks hiding their
features. These women sometimes walk,
sometimes dance to inaudible music, but never speak. Everyone knows that the Red Ladies are
harbingers. Anyone who actually hears
their music will die in a fortnight. If
he can actually hear them sing, he will die that very day.
Very rarely, a Red Lady will stop and lay hands upon a
person, always a woman or a child. If
she bestows her blessings upon a grown woman, that woman will conceive a child
within the next year. If she chooses a
child, that child will not fall ill until his beard begins to grow (if a boy)
or her moontime begins (if a girl).
Once in a great while, only two Red Ladies will appear. They will dance through the city plaza in
broad daylight, and everyone in the square will hear the haunting music. The pair will pick out a woman in the plaza,
be she young or old, pretty or ugly, and dance around her, finally taking her
hand and leading her from the plaza in a frenetic, spiraling dance. Anyone who tries to stop them will be
compelled to dance as well, although not to follow. Those stricken will dance until the next
sunrise, if they do not die first. The
chosen woman will be led away and will never be seen again. The next time the Red Ladies appear, there
will be three again.
Many peoples know of household spirits, like the Brown Men
as small as mice, always dressed in clothes made from scraps of cloth and
decorated with bits of stone and metal.
The Brown Men live in the shadows beneath cupboards, in the gaps between
stones, and in the void between roof and rafters. They prefer rough, somewhat shabby dwellings
over the fine houses of the rich. Wise
people will leave out a bit of food for them, and make sure the odd scrap of
good fabric falls to the corner, because Brown Men will protect the house they
live in. They chase away vermin, and do
not foul what bits of food they steal for their own use as rats would do. Sometimes, they might also deign to do small
chores like patching a leaking thatch roof or mending a small broken thing left
If they are well-treated, they will also protect the
inhabitants from hostile magics.
Whenever a malevolent entity or evil spell targets a member of the
household or a guest, a Brown Man can choose to sacrifice his life in the stead
of the original target. The next day,
the lady of the house will find his corpse, blackened to a cinder, on the
hearthstone. When this happens, it is
important that the inhabitants of the house honor the little cinder with a
proper funeral, scaled down to its size.
Otherwise, the remaining Brown Men might give offence and leave the
Gamespeak: Spirits of the Land will have fairly
esoteric power purviews like "Healing" or "Hearth" or
"Hunting" (although they won't all have to begin with the letter
"H.") I'll try to avoid the
more elemental ones like "Fire" or "Storms" because those should
be the realm of Spirits of the Lower Air.
But fire or storms might be part of a Spirit of the Land's repertoire. A spirit of fear might only appear during
storms. The Genius Locus of a volcano
could well have a body made of burning lava.
I'll have to think about how those work.
Next up, Spirits of the Lower Air.
Saturday, September 29, 2007
Seems like people would get bored of these.
Seems like I should finish the other world I started designing before I start
designing a new one.
Life is full of things that seem really obvious, but aren't. :)
"Kickin' it Old School" has kind of fallen by the wayside because I
decided I wasn't really all that interested in sky pirates. I didn't feel
like I had anything really cool to do, and I couldn't work up much
enthusiasm. Since this blog is purely voluntary, I'm letting that project
languish in the back corners of my mind and the non-updated corners of my blog.
But all is not lost. Another old idea of mine has bubbled to the surface,
and I think I'll use my blog to hash it out for a while. For now, I'm
just concentrating on the setting, without thinking about rules or game
systems. (Well, I say that, but really I'm thinking about rules and game
systems, just not writing down the specifics.) My goal is to build the
world and figure out how stuff in it is supposed to work, then figure
out how to represent it mechanically.
So, let's get started.
This world came to me from several sources.
Princess Mononoke, with a modernizing world pressing up against an ancient,
magical world. I love the talking animals and the god of the
forest. I love how magic isn't something intrinsic to any of the human
characters. People with magical knowledge use it the same way that people
in the real world use practical knowledge.
The Arthurian mythos (also seen in other places) with the King's ties to the
Land. The King is the Land, and the Land is the King. While Arthur
was strong and true, his power extended across the world. When he was
laid low by sloth, treachery, and falsehood, the very land weakened, and
eventually Camelot fell.
A desire of mine for a world where "Magician" doesn't mean
"Superhero in robes." (Not that there's anything wrong with
that.) I like the idea that "Magic" is the manipulation of
forces external to man. What this means in comparison to, say, a D&D
Wizard or a Mage: the Awakening Mage is pretty subtle. On the surface of
matters, there's not much difference between casting a fireball spell and
summoning a fire spirit to tell it to burn someone, but there's a big
difference in what the magician thinks about it, and a lot of little
differences in how it all plays out.
A little bit of Hermetic lore I picked up in various places (including
RPG.net, where all the cool kids hang out): One of the laws of Hermetic Magic
(of which I'm ignoring many more) is that human magic can't affect anything
beyond the Lower Air - which is to say the moon's orbit. Shadowrun had
the same rule, as I recall. I wonder if the guys at FASA were inspired
the same way I was. Another bit is "As above, so below," which
points to a symmetrical world.
These tidbits floated around in my cluttered brain until they collided, and the
shape they took was of a fantasy world with a different flavor than the
bog-standard High Fantasy world I'm used to. I started thinking about how
this world might fit together and what the people who lived there would act
So, without further ado, here's the world:
In the center of creation is The Land, where men and beasts dwell.
On the Land is fresh water and every manner of plant and animal. The Land
shelters life, and is Alive. The Land is sometimes a lover to be
cherished, a teacher to be respected, or a foe to be defeated for your
The Spirits of the Land live upon it and within it. They take their
shapes from the Land's nature and power. In the deep wilds, the Spirits
of the Land are huge and fearsome. In the places of men, the Spirits of
the Land are smaller and tamer, diminished and changed by the presence of Men.
The Wise might know the ways of the Spirits of the Land, but cannot compel them
with words learned in the movements of the Stars. Men must contend with,
or supplicate, the Spirits of the Land, for they can be deadly enemies or
powerful allies. Every demesne within the Land is ruled by a powerful
Spirit, a Genius Locus. A Man (or Woman, the spirits don't really care)
who can bind this Spirit to himself through force of arms, cunning, or
sacrifice, becomes the Lord of this demesne. Thereafter, the Land answers
to the Lord, so long as he remains true to it.
Above and around the Land is the Lower Air, home to incorporeal spirits.
The Spirits of the Lower Air are reflections of the primordial world. A
Spirit of Fire is the essence of flame, and dances in every candle and sleeps
in every ember. Spirits of Storms dwell in the heart of raging
maelstroms, making the wind blow, spitting lightning, and crying out with
voices of thunder. Ponderous and slow, the Spirits of Stone are hard and
impenetrable when they are young, but over centuries are worn down to Spirits
of Sand. Everything has its Spirit, its archetype and first cause.
Those who follow the Wise ways can learn the language of the Stars, which
allows them to speak to these spirits, and sometimes to command them.
Normally, Spirits of the Lower Air are incorporeal and only able to affect the
Land in limited ways. Spirits of Storms do not cause storms, they are
born in them, and they rarely take notice of specific places to savage or to
avoid. They only interact with Men when they are called to do so, or in
times and places of power.
Beyond the Lower Air is the Greater Air (or the Higher Air). Here,
dwell the Spirits of the Greater Air. The Spirits of the Greater Air can
never be summoned or compelled, only entreated. They cannot directly
affect the Land, but they can inspire Men and Spirits to do their will.
The Spirits of the Greater Air wish to see Man ascend, but they are not united
in the belief of how Man should ascend, or what ascension means. Thus,
the Spirits of the Greater Air often contend with each other.
Every Star is a Spirit. Their movements through the heavens reveal secret
knowledge to those who learn to read it. Every person is born under a
specific Star, and some people are chosen by their Stars as special
agents. Only through these Champions do the Spirits of the Greater Air
directly act upon the Land. To follow one's Star is to follow one's
Destiny, often into greatness, but just as often into death.
As above, so below. There are worlds of Spirit beneath the Land, as well
as those above it. Beneath the Land, and in every dark place, there is
the Underworld. Those human spirits that cannot ascend beyond the celestial
sphere and are not dragged into the ever-darkness of the Deep dwell in the
Underworld, as do fallen and corrupted Spirits of the Land and of the Lower
Air. The Underworld is not evil itself, but much evil dwells there.
It is a place of stagnation and rot, but also a place of ancient
knowledge. Some who follow the path of the Wise learn to treat with the
Spirits of the Underworld.
Like Spirits of the Lower Air, Spirits of the Underworld are generally
incorporeal and unable to treat with Men. They can be called and bound,
and they can touch the Land in times and places of power.
Beneath the Underworld, and beyond the Land, is the Deep.
The Deep touches all waters. The Sea is a barrier to the magics of the
Land. No man can rule the Sea, even if he slays 1000 Krakens.
Similarly, the magics of the Land often have difficulty passing over
water. The magics of the Lower Air are generally unaffected, but the
Spirits that dwell over the Deep are not the same as those who dwell over the
Land, except for those of the wind, which blows everywhere.
People of the Land are always suspicious of those who choose to live their
lives over the Deep, and those who live on the waves are rarely comfortable on
In the Deep, terrible spirits dwell. As the Spirits of the Greater Air
wish to see Man ascend, the Spirits of the Deep seek to drag Men down and
diminish Mankind. Men who fall to despair or hatred, or who were born
under fallen Stars sometimes hear the voices of these Spirits. The
Spirits of the Deep will offer knowledge and power and strength to those who
hear them, but such power destroys the user as surely as it destroys all around
him. The Stars will not shine upon such a one.
Next up, Magic (which might be split into several parts)
Tuesday, March 20, 2007
Welcome to what might be a new feature for The Astounding
Mr. Goodner's Amazing Electric Widgets: "Beyond the Game Shelf." By the title, I of course mean real life - or
at least non-gaming related stuff. I
read more genre fiction than is probably good for me: fantasy novels, comics,
horror, science-fiction. And a lot of it
inspires my gaming. I read mainstream
fiction, too, and that's a good resource as well. If you can stand the plots, nothing in this
world will teach you more about character interaction than a romance
novel. (Albeit a fairly limited view of
character interaction, but the ability to generate conflict without violence or
external stakes is a valuable one)
But fiction is just a tiny slice of the world, and it's
filtered through the needs of a story.
There's so much more out there that's worth a look. So, recently, I've resolved to start reading
Of course, as enlightening as that is, there's not really
any reason for me to inflict my reading on you.
I'm not really interested in writing book reviews, and even if I was,
I'm sure you could find other people to write them better. So why are we here? Well, I apply a lot of what I read or pick up
from other sources to my gaming just like the movies I watch and the comics and
books I read.
So, let's get started.
Today I ran across a book called Blink, by Malcolm Gladwell.
Blink is a book about how we think without thinking, our
instinctive judgments that are often correct.
Every person has the ability to take in a situation at a glance -
Gladwell calls it "thin-slicing."
The book opens with an example: a museum is offered a rare statue in
amazing condition. They proceed
cautiously, hiring experts to study the style, provenance, even the stone with
the most advanced techniques available.
The experts agree that the statue is likely genuine. Except that several other experts simply take
one look at the statue and are convinced it's a fraud. And they were right. In a second, with just a glance, they got
better information than a team of lawyers, investigators, and art experts could
compile in months.
Blink is all about why and how, and what it means.
The book covers cognition, instinct, and how our instincts
can be manipulated. Then it goes on to
talk about how and why our instincts mislead us or fail us. It's written for popular consumption, so
there's not much in the way of technical language. The writing was lively and easy to follow,
with lots of examples. In fact, every
section was built around case studies to illustrate the points.
After reading it, I have what I consider to be a good
lay-person's knowledge about cognition, instinct, and reflexive decisions. I learned a bit about how they affect people
unawares (like the fact that the package your ice cream comes in affects the
way it tastes), and how they can be trained.
But What Does It All Mean?
The real point of all this is how I think Blink might affect
my gaming. I'll focus on three areas.
From a player's perspective, I began to see just how limited
the world revealed in an RPG really is.
An expert on ancient Greek art can take one look at a statue and tell
whether it is genuine or fake. He won't
know how he knows, but he'll know. But
as a player, I'm limited to what the GM tells me. Finding out the statue is fake probably
involves asking for a perception roll of some kind, if I even think to
ask. Thinking to ask involves me
realizing the statue is important, whereas in real life, an art expert
constantly makes these judgments.
On the other hand, I'm starting to re-think the way I think
about combat. One really interesting
section talked about the way our perceptions shift under stress. As your heart rate goes up, your brain filters
out extraneous data so you can focus on the task at hand. At about 110, you reach a sweet-spot where
distractions are distant, and the world seems to move in slow motion. But past that spot, your performance rapidly
diminishes. Tunnel vision sets in, your
ability to make rational decisions is impaired.
Even your coordination drops as blood retracts from your surface muscles
to protect you from injury. Trained cops
can completely lose it. And the
psychological aftermath of a shooting can be devastating. This is stuff I knew before, but it helps to
I enjoy playing cool, steady combat monsters, but I should
give a lot more consideration to how a less seasoned character would behave in
a fight. I should also give more thought
to the kind of psychology that makes someone find a firefight exciting, but not
cripplingly scary. It's probably not a
happy place to go.
All the above applies from the other side as GM. I need to think about ways to convey a lot of
subtle information very quickly. What
I'm thinking of is a look a each character's skills and stats to get some
general thresholds of info. In my
beloved Unisystem, it might go like this.
(This is a rough draft. I haven't
thought all this completely through yet)
Perception + Skill total of 2 or so: The PC is actively
impaired. He gets outright
disinformation sometimes, unless he takes time to look carefully. In combat, he could easily get tunnel vision
and not notice the movement of any characters or environmental factors other
than his chosen target. He'll see his
target in the most threatening possible way.
He won't be able to hear much at all.
Perception + Skill total of 4 or so: The PC knows what would
be obvious to an average person. Almost
everything I tell him would be true, but he wouldn't always get told
everything. I'd throw in really obvious
social cues like "the guard looks bored" or "the guy walking by
looks kind of dangerous." The
player would have to ask for more, and would need to rely on perception
tests. In combat, he tends to have a
tight focus, and might not notice anything beyond it. Situational Awareness obviously negates most
of these penalties. That's what it's
Perception + Skill of 8-ish: Now you're talking about a
major expert. The baseline knowledge I'd
give this guy is really high. Without
even a skill roll, he could spot a fake statue unless it was REALLY good (but
he'd need to do research and tests to PROVE what he knows). A people expert would be able to tell more
about the people he meets - I'd still probably use opposed tests for some
things, but not all of them. A combatant
with this kind of skill is aware of almost everything going on around him, and
can easily stay in control of himself.
Perception + Skill of 10 or more: Now you're talking about
someone with godlike instincts. He's the
kind of person who, if he's a musician, can identify another musician's style
from just a note or two. As a combatant,
I might even start giving someone like this hints about what his opponent is
going to do next. Unless something
unrelated to the fight pushes him over the edge, he probably never loses
I don't know how much of that I'd implement formally, or
what I might add to it, but at the very least I'm going to start keeping it in
mind. The guy playing the mechanical
genius can probably tell when an engine has problems just by walking by. The girl who's an Olympic triathlete (read
"Sniper") probably has the ability to size up ranges without even
thinking about it. I should just tell
her "it's right on the edge of medium range" before she even asks.
I'm a pretty rules-lite kind of designer. If I were to design a game, there wouldn't be
weighty systems to support casual perception, but I can kind of see how someone
would go about designing them. For a
rules-heavy kind of game, a combat system that takes into account tunnel vision
and the like might be kind of neat.
For a game that deals with psychology like Unknown Armies or
World of Darkness, a system to measure the initial effects of stress might be
as interesting as the existing systems that measure the aftermath. Say you enter combat and roll some kind of
willpower test, modified by your previous combat experience. It might be part of your initiative
roll. The result gives you modifiers to
know what's going on around you. A bad
roll could send you into kind of a berserker rage against one target,
completely unaware of the other potential threats, or worse yet unaware that
your target isn't really a threat at all.
A good roll might give you extra actions, or the ability to change your
action based on what other characters choose to do because you're so
But, like I said, I'm a rules-lite kind of guy.
So anyway, that's Blink.
If I get the time to sit down with it, I think the next one of these
will be How to cheat at Everything, by Simon Lovell. I skimmed it at work a couple days ago, and
it had some really interesting stuff.
But don't count on it. The whole
point of this blog is that I don't have to be consistent. :)
Thursday, August 10, 2006
in Tooth and Claw
it's time to populate the world, which might seem a little out of sequence
since I don't have a world map or anything. Life is funny that way.
That'll happen soon enough. But for today's exercise, I don't really need
any details about the terrain.
we're doing monsters. And probably some plants and slimes and stuff, but
ancient days of yore, I pretty much just assumed anything I wanted from the
Monster Manual (and later the Fiend Folio) could be found in my world wherever
I wanted it. Education about the basics of geography, climatology, and
ecology would come later, along with a more developed understanding of world
building in general.
Now I know
better, at least a little bit. My world-populating is done with a more
considered process. I start by answering several questions.
kind(s) of creatures exist?
A game set on modern earth with few or no supernatural elements has "only
real ones." A game set in a Star Wars-esque Space Opera universe
could have all kinds of strange beasties. For my purposes, we're somewhat
closer to the latter than the former. I don't necessarily want hundreds
of sentient species or thirty-seven varieties of "ork" but there's
more than just normal animals.
Why do the
species that exist exist?
Once again, on earth, this is pretty easy to answer. The Flying Spaghetti
Monster did it. But for my D&D style game world, there are more
Humans, horses, sheep, frogs, and whatnot (all the normal stuff) got there in
pretty much the "normal" way. Whether it's evolution,
intelligent design, or outright creation isn't completely important. The
point is, all these organisms were created through the union of Mother Earth
and Father Sun. They're the normal flora and fauna. In the absence
of all the stuff that makes the campaign world cool, they'd be all there is.
The next category I know I'll have are "good" monsters. These
might not actually be "good" in the sense of being nice or not trying
to eat people, but they're more closely related to the world than the ones that
will follow. These will mostly be the creations of various gods.
Some may also have been created by powerful wizards.
Beasts are somewhere between the zone of "animals you should only kill if
you need to" and "monsters it's always a good idea to
kill." Of course, for much of human history this line was drawn
between "people and livestock in your village" and "Everything
else," so that's not a huge deal. But the point could matter if
there are demihumans who don't fit into the other categories. Orks (a
staple of fantasy genocide) will be Goblinkin (see below). Elves will be
Faeries (see below). But what about Centaurs? I'm not sure I'm
going to have Centaurs, but it could come up.
example might be Gnolls, or perhaps Lizard Men. Goblinkin will all be
bad. It's in their nature. But Gnolls might just be
"barbaric." Slaughtering a Gnoll rading party would be
perfectly moral. Wiping out a Gnoll village would be more dubious.
Declaring war on the Gnoll race just because they exist would be pretty much
into the whole area of D&D's Alignment system, and whether Alignments are
external absolutes or internal guidelines. I'll come back to that later
if necessary. For now, I prefer to leave myself a note and otherwise
avoid the issue.
I suspect the majority of Fantasitc Beasts will be wizardly creations: golems,
sorcerous hybrids, the ever-popular mimic, and so on. The picture of the
world that's building in my mind is a place of nearly Space-Romance level pulp
sci-fi wizardry rather than the more classic Tolkien-derrived high
fantasy. We'll see if that remains to be the case. Staying with
high fantasy was one of my goals, but goals get discarded all the time.
The Fey Folk, all the demihumans and probably the Dragons, came to the world
from somewhere else. I haven't worked out where that is yet, but it'll
come to me. I do see one potentially tricky decision ahead. The
demihumans who had innate powers will almost certainly have to have lost them
in order to be playable characters. In the stories, it's all well and
good for the Faerie Lords to be able to reshape the world to their whims with
glamours and beguile men's minds, but in game that makes them way too
powerful/expensive to play alongside normal humans.
I have a
few ideas about how I'm going to deal with that when the time comes. If I
don't make this a D&D game, the problem may be more manageable. I
wrote up a fairly decent Sidhe Quality for a Buffy game that isn't too awfully
expensive. If I stick with D&D, I'll have to work out some kind of
schism between the PC demihumans and their more powerful counterparts.
That should be manageable.
that the "worldbound" Faeries have lost some of their power is one
I'll probably keep. It gives me a source of vastly powerful potential
threats, and makes the PC-level Faeries nicely angsty. There are also
potential plots involved in why they lost their power and how they might get it
In a way, the Goblinkin are dark mirrors of the Fey. In fact, I could end
up drawing on the Seelie/Unseelie dichotomy and saying the Elves and their kin
are the (sort of) good Faeries and the Goblins and their kin are the (Just
about universally) bad ones.
with that line of thought, the Goblinkin are similar to the Faeries in that
they aren't native to the campaign world. They came here from elsewhere -
brought by the Darkness or Created by the Darkness. They're BAD,
always. There's no way to redeem the orks or civilize the goblins.
Evil is in their bones.
brings up an interesting point where Half-orks are concerned. I'd love to
just skip them, but they're part of the project goals. So I'll take the
dodge that the "human" half of a Half-ork gives the "ork"
half the chance to be a free moral agent. Half-orks still probably have
violent inclinations and dark desires, but they can master them.
So then the
question is, why are the goblinkin always evil? Wouldn't it be more fun
to be morally ambiguous?
maybe. But there's plenty of moral ambiguity left as it is. Humans
can be good or evil, too. Having one thing you know it's okay to go hit
is... liberating. Goblinkin, as tools of the Darkness, are a constant
threat and symptom of the corruption of the world. They're meant to be
used in a few ways:
- Easy targets: Not every adventure, or even every campaign, needs to be
a deeply nuanced morality tale. While I'm not planning to have the
goblinkin live in caverns with 10x10 foot halls, guarding treasure chests full
of stuff they don't use, I do see them as useful for melodramatic adversaries
akin to zombie pirates, Imperial stormtroopers, and Nazis in other forms of
pulp-inspired gaming and literature.
- A campaign-spanning adversary: In Lord of the Rings, the conflict that
most people saw was humanity and its allies against the boundless hordes of orks.
The more important conflict was Frodo's purity and bravery against Sauron's
will and corruption, but that was more subtle, and not as fun for the other
- A backdrop to other things: The goblinkin can be a constant, low-grade
threat. They've mostly been pushed out to the worst of the
wastelands. A goblin war is a possibility, but not a probability.
So humanity has moved on to other pursuits, and other conflicts. But the
threat of the goblin lands always lurks. If the relatively prosperous
human civilizations were to decline for some reason - say, an internal war -
the goblins might see their chance to strike again.
Goblinkin may be a subset of Dark Faeries, but for the moment I'll keep them
separate. The main creature I see in the "Dark Fey" category
are the Drow Elves. (I might rename them "Sluagh" if I veer
away from D&D) They're Elves who betrayed their kin because the
Darkness could give them back some of the power they lost when they became
almost trite these days. I hope I'll be able to put a new spin on them
and make them more interesting. Drow should be (to my mind) utterly
terrifying, seldom-seen, and as beautiful and terrible as a pit of vipers.
As the dark reflection of Fantastic Beasts, Fell Beasts are big, nasty monsters
beholden to the Darkness. This is sort of the same catch-all category as
Fantastic Beasts. If something doesn't fit well somewhere else, it goes
here. I can also imagine a few specific Fell Beasts, akin to the Kraken
of Greek Mythology or the Terrasque in D&D - terrible forces of nature,
rather than animals.
also include smaller stuff, monsters that are too powerful to make the cut as
goblins, but too cool to leave out. I could also see this as a category
for demons, unless I decide to make demons and devils a separate category unto
So at last we come to that which lives without life. The obvious route is
to make undead be servants of the Darkness, but I think I'm going to go a
different way. Back in the mythology segment, I killed off a bunch of
gods when their worshipers were all wiped out. But can a god really die?
instead, the dead gods lived on as the hollow shells of gods, and their power
stretched out from beyond the grave of the heavens and created a twisted
semblance of life? What if they're like a cancer that might be cut away
or burned into remission, but is never really cured?
someone dies outside the protection of the living gods, his spirit might not be
able to rest easily. He might rise as a wraith or a ghost, or even a
vampire. Improperly buried bodies might rise as ghouls, hungry for the
flesh of the living.
foolish, magicians and insane or evil priests might learn to harness the forces
of these dead gods for unholy spells. They'd be able to raise zombies and
skeletons to serve as slaves and warriors. They might find a way to slip
between life and death as Liches.
be a third major pole of power, opposed to the living gods because of jealous
hatred, and opposed to the Darkness out of cold-burning desire for
revenge. That's always nice to have.
I haven't completely settled on a structure for the higher/lower planes
yet. Until I do, I'm not sure what the inhabitants of those planes will
be like. Demons might fall into the category of "Fell Beasts,"
and there might not be angels in the conventional sense at all. But it's
a possibility, so I'm leaving the option open.
pretty much covers the broad classes of creatures. When I get ready to
fill in the blanks, I'll have a guide to follow. From here on out, I'll
be working on progressively more specific stuff. I think one more
"broad strokes" piece is in the offing, where I start trying to rough
out the basics of the ethnology of the world. Then, just about all the
bones will be in place and I'll have to start making specific decisions.
slow down then. My free time and attention span will stay the same, while
the amount of work involved in producing a finished piece will go up.
about the point where I have to really decide on mechanics to use, and I
honestly have no idea which way I'll go. It should be fun to find out,
Monday, August 07, 2006
History of the World, Part 1
With my bare bones set, I usually start trying to figure out
how to put the pieces in order. I've got
some ideas floating around, unattached, as it were. Since I have to start somewhere, I find that
a rough chronology is as good a spot as any.
It'll end up changing in response to ideas I develop later, probably
multiple times. But for now, it'll do.
The way I usually do this is with a pseudo-timeline. I'm not going to try to assign dates yet,
just put events in order. At the end,
I'll have a pretty good idea of how the setting developed from the "Big
Bang" or whatever. (This being a
fantasy world, it could be a cosmic sneeze, or any number of other things)
What you're going to see below is actually a pretty poor
representation of my timeline. You'll
just see it all laid out in order.
There's no good way to show you the deletions, rewritings, and
additions. You will probably see the
uneven writing. I go pretty freely
between "game text" and dry (or occasionally sarcastic) descriptions
that just get the point across without being particularly pretty. This isn't the final product. It's just my notes.
The First Age
In the beginning, there was nothing. Father Sun and Mother Earth joined, and
created the world. The races of man were
few and scattered, and worshiped the Mother and the Father. They might have used different names, but
they worshiped the same entities.
There was a third being at the beginning of time, the
Darkness. The Darkness was opposed to
creation. The Light burned him. The softest earth was like daggers to his
feet. He retreated to the darkest places
and slept. In his sleep, his dreams were
of blood and fire and pain, of destruction to all that had been created. And because he was a god, his dreams were
Father Sun and Mother Earth saw that their creation would be
despoiled by the creatures of Darkness, so they dreamed together, and their
dreams were of gods and angels to defend the earth. Father Sun and Mother Earth were exhausted by
their efforts and fell into sleep. Their
children, the gods, divided the tribes of men among themselves and shepherded
They young gods were dreams, and were shaped by the dreams
of their worshipers.
The Second Age
The foundations of modern civilizations were laid. Each god or group of gods "adopted"
a part of the world and the people found there.
Some gods roved around, and had different guises in different
lands. The rest, though, took on racial
characteristics - shaped by their people and in turn shaping them.
During this time period, the gods lived on the earth as
beings of flesh and spirit, just like humans, but vastly more powerful. They eventually forced all the demons into
the dark places, beyond the reaches of men.
(In point of fact, into a physical "Underworld" that can be
reached by going deep enough underground.
In a way, it was a golden age. But it was not to last. Warfare between neighboring states led some
people to wipe out others. The "orphaned"
gods sometimes died, but other times went mad. Among those who went mad, some were tempted to
The Third Age
Eventually, as they always do, things went all to hell. The dark gods (those who had been corrupted
by the Darkness) unleashed the forces of Darkness on earth. They attracted worshipers to the Darkness,
which allowed for the Reign of Darkness.
This lead to years of plague, the release of fell beasts and goblinkin,
storms of ice and fire, and finally a global cataclysm as the Darkness tried to
destroy the earth and all life upon it.
Humanity found allies in the Fey, who entered the world to
battle against the Darkness. But even
so, the tide was turning against the light.
The gods realized they'd failed their worshipers and
sacrificed themselves to save the world.
They fell into dreams and used their dreaming power to preserve their
people's lives and keep the world from destruction. They forced the denizens of Darkness into the
Underworld, and by their blood sealed the Darkness away.
The Fourth Age
The world had nearly been torn asunder, and much of the
surface was still overrun with poisons, flames, and goblinkin. Many people retreated to the sky, on magical
islands born on the wind. Those who
remained on the ground had to be hard and fierce, or were corrupted by the
remnants of Darkness.
There were years of upheaval in the wake of the
cataclysm. A new order emerged. The sleeping gods could no longer protect
their servants directly, and further, they had learned that it was better to
inspire and guide humans than to treat them like sheep.
Or possibly they figured out that they couldn't lead them
around like sheep anymore. The only way
to influence mortal events was through living conduits -clerics,
essentially. Either way, this marked the
end of the age of the gods and the beginning of the age of man.
Some time into the fourth age is when most of the cool stuff
of the game will happen. There will be
modern countries, with their interrelations mostly worked out. Allies and enemies will mostly have the
battle lines drawn, and everything is more or less at a stasis point, with the
possibility for major change just a few key events away.
Where Do We Go From Here?
With the history done, I have kind of a road-map for future
- I know that the world is layered. There are sky islands, surface settlements,
and underdwellers. I also know roughly
when each came into being and what you're likely to find in them. The "Civilized World" is mostly
going to be found up in the sky, with things getting more dangerous (and
profitable for adventurers) as they get lower.
With massive geological upheaval, I also have a nice excuse for lost
cities and dungeons; always a good thing for a "Dungeons &
I know there are multiple pantheons of gods. I'll have to think about how they
interrelate. What happens when two gods
of the Sea clash? Or when a cleric
leaves his homeland?
I know where orks and goblins and monsters came from, by
I also know I'll probably be revisiting the history for more
work at some point.
- I still haven't figured out quite who the dragons
are. The easiest answer, though, is that
they're Faeries, just like the Elves and other demihumans - more powerful, but
of the same stuff. So I'll have to
figure out how they fit into the overall scheme of things.
- Exact details of which gods went to the Darkness and when
will also be important. That'll come
into play when I start designing the gods and their religions.
So, lots of work still ahead, but I can see how it's shaping
up now. My next step is likely to be
flora and fauna, which mostly means monsters.
But I could start with cultures or something if that strikes my fancy
Fourth Age history will be expanded more than any of the
previous ages once I start really writing the world's history. Before that, history was almost more myth
than fact. Different regions probably have
different takes on what happened. But
now that I have the basics down, I can start skipping ahead to the modern age
and working my way back along the path, rather than trying to build everything
from the most ancient past to the present in exact order.
In fact, I don't really want to get too detailed with
history until I have to. Leaving some
gaps gives me more options as I go along.
Wednesday, August 02, 2006
Where to Begin?
So, I've undertaken to create a world. After I say "Fiat Lux" and take the rest of the day off, what do I do next?
Twenty years or so ago, I'd sit down with a piece of hex paper and
sketch in a big, vaguely Australia-shaped continent with a few islands
off to the sides, and start filling in terrain any old way that struck
my fancy. Deserts next to forests near the coast? No
But now I'd like to take a little more care. I want to create a
fantastic, yet internally consistent environment. This task is
made a little more difficult since I'm thinking in terms of a Dungeons
& Dragons game. I have to have room for wizards, elves, magic
items, and monsters. Dragons would be nice, too. Otherwise,
it's just "Dungeons &" and nobody wants that.
I have some touch points I need to hit for this to be a good world.
- It has to be a place to have adventures. Further, I don't want
to design a world with one overriding conflict. I could do that
pretty easily. It's even my usual mode of setting design these
days. I just want to try something else.
- It has to be a recognizable setting - but not just plain
vanilla. Worlds that are basically earth with different
continents need not apply. I want something different.
- It has to be viable. But that's fairly easy with magic mucking
around with things. I just need to be sure not to overdo the
So before I get too married to any one concept, I'm going to brainstorm
stuff I think would be cool. Not all of it might make the cut,
but I'll give everything a good look.
- Sky pirates! Flying ships in general are cool.
Possibly even something more like real aircraft, rather than boats with
- Magic as technology. It's been done, of course, but in the
D&D mode, it makes a lot of sense. If one out of 1000 people,
even, can cure the sick, create light, or throw blasts of fire, that's
going to change things. Even with just one out of 10,000 that's
an important issue. But let's keep the magic "magical" as much as
possible. It won't take on the forms of technology, just fill the
functions. I'll go for all new forms if I can get them.
- Ancient ruins. Ruins in various types are a staple of the
genre. But let's see if I can come up with a really cool reason
- More nuanced religion. I have it in my mind that people
worship different kinds of things. Druids might be mystics who
are in tune with some kind of nature spirit. Clerics could be
chosen by real, existing gods who are physically present in the setting
- or maybe it's not necessary to have "faith" at all. Anyone who
follows the necessary rituals can attune himself to a source of cosmic
power. I'll have to think about it, but one way or the other,
religion needs to be a big part of the setting.
- Mecha. Everything goes better with Mecha. Or is that tobasco sauce?
- I'd like to do something really new with the demihuman races. I'm not quite sure what yet.
Cruel and Unusual Geography
One of the big things I'd like to see in this setting is a new
foundation. I really like Creation from Exalted. D&D's
Hollow World was cool, too. The little pocket realms from
Ravenloft are neat, as are the "floating" realms in the Faerie world in
Deleria. There are some other neat options, looking a little
further afield. Discworld (by Terry Prattchet) is a flat disc
held aloft by four elephants on the back of a giant turtle. There
was a nifty video game called Septera Core (I think) with a world made
of nested spheres that align once in a while. And in the late,
lamented comic book "Meridian" (alas, Crossgen, we hardly knew ye), the
world was made up of islands that floated in the air over a poisoned
Yeah. I like that.
There are some issues, of course. What kept the islands up?
Where did they islanders get food and water? Way up in the air,
there are probably problems with solar radiation and thin air, for that
matter. So I'm going to have to come up with some answers.
In the comic, the rocks floated because they were largely made of a
buoyant ore. Ships flew because trees that fed their roots from
tainted ground absorbed whatever chemical made the rocks float.
Of course then one wonders how the ships ever got down to the surface,
and why they'd be ship-shaped. It's not really a very good
idea. There's no reason to build a flying craft that's only
water-tight on the bottom, or to limit yourself to sails only on the
That's all in the fine details, though. For now we're working in broad strokes.
The world used to be pretty normal - a spheroid floating in space
around a sun (or maybe with a sun and moon orbiting around it.
Why not?). Then there was a major cataclysm, which is pretty
common in Fantasy literature. The cataclysm ushered in the modern
world with floating cities and all. I'll have to decide when that
happened. The world will be a lot different if it happened
"yesterday" than "untold generations ago." I'll probably shoot
for somewhere in the middle. Shadows of the world that was can
still be found in the world that is.
I'll have to decide how many islands there are, how big they are, and
how close together. For now, let's assume they're far enough
apart that it takes several days to sail from one to another, although
they could be arranged in "archipelagos" to some extent. They
were primarily mountainous regions that were torn from the earth and
floated in the sky.
Rather than a "natural" phenomenon, my sky islands will be
artifacts. Each one has a Heartstone that makes it fly and
provides other needed functions. Without the heartstone, the
island sinks back to the earth - probably fairly rapidly and
uncomfortably for anyone standing on it. Larger landmasses take
bigger, or more, heartstones.
Sky Islands might move slowly, drawn on currents, or pushed by
magic. Maybe just a few of them can and the rest are still mostly
Since Heartstones are a major resource, everybody has to protect
them. Evil islands could raid their neighbors and steal their
Down below, what would we have? Whatever it is, it drove a lot of
people up to the sky. I'm envisioning a blasted, cracked world,
and the fissures lead down into hell (perhaps literally). There's
still life of a sort, perhaps even verdant life in places, but poison
seeps up from the depths to taint and kill it.
And there need to be ruins: cities choked with alien plant life, fallen
islands, older structures that nobody understands. Brave
explorers can try to delve into the secrets of the past and try to
bring up ancient treasures.
Places to Go, People to See
With a rough idea of what the ground (and lack of ground) under
everyone's feet will be like, I'm ready to move on to who the people
are and where they go.
First of all, there are at least two, possibly three obvious groupings
- Subterranean cultures
Dungeons & Dragons also provides some groups to consider
- Half-orks, which means I have orks.
- And possibly others. Half-elves fit in somewhere, and there's various monster races like centaurs.
I'd like to avoid monocultures for any of these groups. At the
very least, there will be different cultures represented on the
islands, the surface, and the "underdark," rather than just
"Islanders," "Surface people," and "Dwellers below." I haven't
decided how to implement the demihumans yet. Depending on how
wide-spread they are, they could have fewer cultures than the humans
(who are presumably natives) do.
At this stage of my planning, all I have are some ideas.
- Islands are mostly individual city-states.
- A powerful empire or trade federation that controls multiple Islands and possibly is also significant on the surface.
- I'd like to see Dwarves as a major power.
- There should be cults. Every setting needs cults.
This one can have crazy druid cults dedicated to corruption and
There will, no doubt, be more later. But now I have some bare
bones to start with. Next, I need to start working out some
specific issues that will shape the rest of the world
development. But that's a post for another day.
Monday, July 31, 2006
In the Beginning (or a little before)
Back in the day, I loved nothing better than to sit down with a pad of
loose-leaf, college-ruled paper, some hex paper, some graph paper, and
a pencil and some colored pencils and whipping up D&D campaign
worlds. My high school gaming days were never given over to a
single, generations-spanning campaign. We'd switch GMs and
settings often, so I ended up writing a lot of campaign worlds.
In retrospect, it is probably a kindness that I didn't keep any of
them, because they were pretty bland. Mostly, it was just an
exercise in poorly thought-out maps and ideas where I stuck in
everything from the PHB and the Monster Manual. By the time I got
better at world design, I had mostly abandoned D&D as a system.
But the appeal remains. And now I have this bright, shiny blog
that constantly hungers for new content. So I've decided just for
the heck of it, it'd be fun to whip up a campaign world. Maybe
someone will like it enough to offer me money to finish it. :)
So, here are the parameters:
- My world has to have room for every race in the Player's Handbook.
- I'm not allowed to add any new PC races. I will try to avoid adding new monster races.
- All the Player's Handbook classes have to be present and make
sense in the setting. I am, however, allowed to suggest that
certain class/race combinations are frowned upon.
- Should the time come, I am allowed (ye even encouraged) to write
new PrCs. But mostly I'm planning on skipping the mechanical
My goal is to create a basic gazetteer that covers every region in the
setting, world and "nation level" history, and discusses races and
classes in some depth. I might also do some maps. It'd give
me an excuse to learn some more about Campaign Cartographer. When
the world guide is done, I'll consider mechanics. Maybe I'll even
use d20, but I'm leaning toward Unisystem, since it's what I dearly
But rather than just produce the world book and post it here, I'm going
to use the blog to post my initial thoughts, then assemble them into
the coherent book at the end.
Now, let's begin.
Most D&D worlds derive from Middle Earth, and hence are
European-flavored worlds with Elves off to one side, Dwarves off to
another, and Hobbits hanging around somewhere. There are Wizards
and Clerics, and incredibly powerful monsters like Dragons, and yet
normal, mortal humans tend to rule most kingdoms. And I'm not
going to completely condemn that approach. It produces a setting
that's familiar to most players, so it's easy to communicate. If
you have to spend too much time figuring out the setting, you have a
very hard time doing anything else. Tekumel and Journe have their
hardcore fanbase, but they have never reached a lot of popular appeal
simply because they're difficult to get into.
And yet, there's no good reason that a D&D world would look
anything like medieval Europe. Why wouldn't magical "technology"
have caused massive societal changes? Why aren't Dragons in
charge? Spell-resistant, damage resistant, magic-using creatures
with massive damage capabilities would be hard to beat.
For that matter, why should we limit ourselves to a spherical world
floating in space? How about a flat disc with the bowl of heaven
up above? That'd sure be easier to map, let me tell you.
So my goal for this setting is to find a good middle-ground, to produce
a setting that isn't too tied to convention, but stays close enough to
it to be comfortable. I'm looking for a novel approach to
traditional material, rather than a whole new paradigm.
Over the next few posts, I'll be looking at many of the common
assumptions of a D&D world and seeing how I can bend, twist, and
shape them to work for me.
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