Jan 31, 2012

The Long Narrative: Recurring Locations

While roleplaying games don't have a budget in the traditional sense, they do share one kind of scarcity with television and movies, which is the limited amount of attention and memory the audience has. If anything, this is more of a hard limit on roleplaying games than it is for replayable media like television and movies because one can't really replay or rewatch a section of a roleplaying game. Once it happens, it has to continue to live in the minds of the players and DM, with at best a few supplemental notes to assist the memory.

One way in which television shows conserve the attention of the audience is in the use of recurring locations / sets. Sitcom sets, for example, are often focused on a single apartment or house or place of business. The goal is to create a familiarity with the space. Familiarity places fewer demands on the attention, while allowing minor changes and alterations to stand out more clearly. Recurring locations push internal conflict to the forefront while unfamiliar ones emphasise conflict with external forces. That's why you know on Star Trek that when they stay on-board the ship it'll be a character-driven episode, and when they leave the ship it'll be more action-oriented. This isn't a hard and fast rule, but even when it's violated, the principle of allowing the background to appear familiar and boring so as not to draw attention away from the characters. People argue in corridors and grey rooms with chairs, they shoot one another in front of reactors and strange alien vistas.

Science fiction games, like science fiction shows, usually have a go-to familiar location - a space ship. The advantage of this location is that it travels with the PCs as they go on their adventures. For fantasy games this is more difficult. One of the cleverest uses of this principle comes from a video game, Dragon Age: Origins (the first one). Your character wanders around with their team for most of the game, and you get little side exchanges here and there, but the brilliance comes out when you camp. No matter where you camp, you get a consistent set up, with all the characters in the same places, and the terrain looking the same, and basically the whole place becomes extremely familiar. It's in the camp that you squabble and cajole your team of misfits into sleeping with you or at least teaching you how to use the cool armour you picked up in the previous dungeon.

Try it: Ask PCs to draw out what their camp looks like, who sleeps where and then whenever they camp for the night, pull out the map and use it as a point of reference. As a special bonus, your PCs have just drawn the basis of the battlemap you will use for night time ambushes and wandering monsters. You can fleck some trees or rocks around the edges for variety as needed. And because they'll get used to this set-up, times where they are fleeing across the moors being pursued and have to sleep out in shitty weather will stand out. As PCs grow more familiar with their camp, they will begin to use it as an opportunity to socialise with one another, and the consistency of the set up will help them to imagine the scene.

Warren of the Leper Queens: Areas 1-2

Area 1: Entrance & Storage Room

This part of the caverns is used as storage space, as well as the entryway to the rest of the warren. The room is 3m high, and the ground is flat enough to be safe to run on.

At any time, there are 1d10+10 1m x 1m crates stacked around the room containing food, clothes, and other basic supplies. The crates are stacked in piles of 8, with one layer of 4 on top of another layer of 4. A full stack blocks line of sight.

There are also 1d10+10 55-gallon barrels containing fresh water, wine and oil (50% chance of water, 25% of the other two) lined up in rows of 8 against the walls. The barrels may be tipped or broken with Brawn +10% checks.

Finally, there are 1d4 piles of rags, food waste and other garbage ready to be brought above ground and discarded. These are usually near the centre of the room, away from the crates and barrels. These piles require a Perception check to spot in the darkness. Characters who do not notice the piles must make an Evade +10% check or trip and fall prone in the slippery mess. Characters who run through the piles, whether they notice them or not, must also make an Evade +10% check or fall prone.

The area is lit by 6 lanterns resting in alcoves in the wall. There are more alcoves than lanterns, letting the Servants move the light around to best suit their work.

There is a 33% chance that there are 1d4 cultists and 1d2 Sons of Acephax in this room. If the Servants are on alert, the number increases to 1d8+2 cultists and 1d4 Sons of Acephax.

Area 2: Distribution Corridor / Carpentry Supplies / Sawyer

Crates are opened, broken down, and the wood stacked and assembled for various purposes here. There is a 1m x 4m table with a mounted rack holding a full set of carpentry tools and cooper tools here, including saws, hammers, drills, chisels, files, planes, etc. There is a lantern on the table lighting the room.

There are 1d3 stacks of planks waiting to be put to work at any given time. The stacks are about 1m by 1m and are set up against the walls when full.

There is a barrel of water next to the table that is bloody - the tools are also used to torture and dismember victims of the cult and are washed clean in the barrel. The accumulated blood of individuals being killed in the Servants' rituals is mildly magical, and is used to feed the various disease spirits present in the warren. Characters with magical senses can detect the bloody water's very mild magical aura.

Anyone touching the water has a 5% chance of contracting leprosy. Anyone drinking a mouthful of it has a 15% chance. Characters drinking a mouthful regain 1d2 magic points.

The ceiling is 2.5m tall.

There is a 10% chance of 1d2 cultists here. There is a 10% chance of 1 rank 1 leprosy spirit here.

Designing Your Own MRQ2 Myths for Cults

Here I'm going to talk specifically about religious cults, though some of the points will hold true for shamanic and sorcerous cults as well (I'll do them in other posts).

I have never given a cult more than three myths, and I try to keep it to one or two. Myths will give you a sense of the cult and its central concerns. Imagine you were designing Christianity as a cult in MRQ2. You'd probably want to start with the gospel narratives and work outward from there, rather than deciding that Catholic priests will have the following powers: Transubstantiation, Exorcism, Blessing and trying to work back to what kinds of stories they tell that justify those things. However, when it comes to fantasy religion, you often see things like "These guys are the priests of the war god, so they need lots of fighting powers, which spells are the best in combat?"

In general, I find it useful to plan one myth to be the life of an exemplary individual, and the second to be the actual teachings or interpretation of the religion. Exemplary individuals are ubiquitous in monotheism and extremely common even in polytheism. Heroes, demigods, saints and avatars all work well. The use here is to justify the specific set of behaviours associated with that individual's life, and to provide you with a prepared reference you can drop when appropriate (people might swear by the hero, their icons might be religious symbols, etc.).

I often use the second myth to develop how the ideals of the hero's life are interpreted or developed by the religion. I like to introduce some conflict or discrepancy with the first myth here. This allows for intra-religious debate, schisms, etc. and basically keeps the religion from being overly simple and dull. It also provides PCs with conflicting impulses that others can play on an exploit, or that the PCs can play on and exploit. I almost always make the second myth considerably (20-25%) weaker, for same reason that television is more influential on popular ethics than Aristotle is.

Having the second myth be the result of abstract debate makes heroquesting it easier but more interesting - you basically can do things like throw yourself a church council and claim you're re-enacting the struggles that defined the faith, which is way cooler than yet another myth where you have to punch out Satan or some dragon or whatever.

Myths are supposed to have their percentile score divided by twenty in associated behaviours, but I semi-ignore this. In general, the only kinds of associated behaviours that are worth marking out are ones that separate the person from ordinary society, and specifically, those that the players wouldn't automatically think are good anyhow. If members of your church are supposed to always tell the truth, well, congratulations but it's a total waste of time to write out. On the other hand, if members receive special dispensation to lie remorselessly to non-members, that's worth noting.

The one time you might want to mark out an obvious ideal is if it's ignored by most members of the religion in practice, but serves as a rhetorical point you can use to batter people who try to disregard it. Here it becomes a way of mimicking the rhetorical effect that religious condemnation has on premodern peoples. For example, "turn the other cheek" or "love thy neighbour" in a medieval game would be totally appropriate to note, so that priests can invoke these as the PCs plot their murderous revenge against the shopkeeper who refused to discount their arrows enough.

Heroquesting is something that notoriously gives people shitfits to figure out, both PCs and DMs. My recommendation is to delink it from myths. I know this is total heresy for Gloranthaphiles, but I stand by it. I recommend having very specific, real acts that people must do, rather than complicated mythic journeys that overlap worlds. In Moragne, you "heroquest" by going to very specific locations and stepping through to the Heaven-equivalent (Beyond the Veil). Once there, you meet God, and if you survive, you come back rune-touched. Nice and simple (plus it allows me to roleplay God). In the Dawnlands, you get runic associations through tons of different ways, including your daimon marking you, being soul-forged, dying and then reincarnating, etc. While many of these have religious components, they're not really classic heroquests in the Gloranthan sense, because while I am capable of running those, they strike me as more effort than they're worth, especially when multiple PCs of the same religion want the same runic associations.

Jan 30, 2012

The Holy Universal Church of the Revelation in Moragne

I decided to do fantasy Catholicism right when I created Moragne. Rather than a pantheon of Greco-Norse pastiches with pseudo-Catholic trappings, I decided to create an all-encompassing, monotheistic church that resembles Catholicism (theologically, it's actually quite similar to medieval Islam as well) without being quite identical to it. This was part of my overall goal to create a high fantasy medieval Europe setting, something I thought MRQII really lacked (Deus Vult was really low fantasy, and just a bit too historical for my tastes).

Most of the population of Moragne are modestly pious members of the Revelation Church (RC). This is the national branch of the religion, the leaders of which answer to the Pope in Bithistia far to the south-east. The church is about 1215 years old, and worships the Hidden God, who it claims is the creator of the world and the ultimate source of magic, but who does not manifest or interfere directly in the world. The church claims a messiah named Barnabas discovered the existence of the Hidden God, spoke with It to discover Its true wishes for Its creation, and then was killed by an ancient empire (the Raenil Empire) after teaching a few disciples what he had learnt. The Hidden God has not spoken directly to anyone since, though occasional miracles, omens, and angelic visits occur.

The church collects its teachings in a holy book called the Aleuthia, a collection of prophecies, stories, gospels about Barnabas’ life, and correspondence from the early church fathers who took over from him. Most copies in Moragne are written in Church Thernish or Raenil, which only a few people read.

This organisation represents the main body of the church, and is compatible with membership in its various

Infinity, Magic, Mastery

Common Magic: 
Bearing Witness, Countermagic, Demoralise, Detect Infidels and Apostates, Detect Magic, Fate, Heal, Light, Protection, Second Sight, Skybolt, Thunder’s Voice

Divine Magic: 
Bless Crops, Blessing, Consecrate, Cure Disease / Poison, Dismiss Magic, Excommunicate, Exorcism, Fear, Heal Wound, Lightning Strike, Regenerate Limb, Shield

Commandments of the Aleuthia (50%): Don’t Lie, Don’t Steal, Don’t Murder; Show Mercy and Kindness to Everyone; Don’t Worship Idols or Images of God; Only Worship God

Teachings of the Church Fathers (60%): Lying to and Killing Heretics and Infidels is Fine; Confess Your Sins Regularly, Tithe to the Church, Don’t Rebel Against Your Superiors; Spread the Faith, Defer to the Church on Religious Issues

Cult Skills: 
Influence, Insight, Language (Any), Lore (Theology: Hidden God), Meditation, Oratory, Pact (Hidden God), Persistence, Sing, Teaching


Lay Members – Legally, everyone in Moragne is a member of the Revelation Church. Lay members have been baptised, are required to attend confession at least once a year, to obey the spiritual commands of the church and are expected to donate generously to the upkeep of their local church. Lay followers may learn cult common magic spells up to magnitude 3 and the cult skills by paying full price.

Canons / Curates / Vicars / Sextons / Oblates (Initiate) – These low-ranking ecclesiastical offices can be obtained either by paying 1200 silver pence to the local bishop or by demonstration of merit to the priest responsible for a parish, who may award them at his discretion. The candidate must have five or more of the cult skills at 30% or more, two of which must be Lore (Theology: Hidden God) and Pact (Hidden God) and must swear to obey his superiors within the church. Anyone of this rank or higher in the church has the right to be tried in ecclesiastical court instead of civil court for any crimes they may commit. They may learn cult common magic spells up to any magnitude, cult divine magic spells up to the Initiate level and all cult skills from the church.

Priest (Acolyte) – Most members of the clergy are priests. Most are assigned to specific parishes, manors or bishoprics and their responsibilities vary widely based on the assignment. To become a priest, one must have read the Aleuthia and must either pay 7200 silver pence or demonstrate one’s merit to a local bishop. The demonstration requires the candidate to have five or more of the cult’s skills at 50%, two of which must be Lore (Theology: Hidden God) and Pact (Hidden God). Priests are entitled to officiate at any sacrament, to be safe from violence unless they attack first, to be tried in ecclesiastical court for any crimes they commit, to be ransomed if captured in war, and to be given shelter and aid by any fellow priest when reasonable. They must remain celibate, eschew violence against their fellow believers, work for the good of the church, and obey the orders of their superiors in the church. Priests may learn cult common magic spells up to any magnitude at half the normal price, cult divine magic spells up to the Acolyte level at full price and all cult skills at half the normal price. Priests and churchmen of higher rank cannot be legally compelled to pay any taxes or tolls (the church as a whole pays a yearly lump sum to the king instead). 

Bishops / Arch-Bishops / Cardinals (Rune Priest) – These are ascending ecclesiastical ranks, but the level of miraculous power is equal between all three. To become a bishop requires a payment of 240,000 pence, to become an arch-bishop requires a payment of 480,000 pence, and to become a cardinal requires 2,400,000 pence paid to the College of Cardinals in Bithistia. Otherwise, a candidate must possess the Influence, Oratory, Persistence, Lore (Theology: Hidden God), and Pact (Hidden God) skills at 85% or higher and must convince a high official of the church (either a cardinal or the Pope himself) to award them the office for great service. Officers of the church are considered gentlemen regardless of the circumstances of their birth. 

They will be given a territory as their special jurisdiction with the right to income from it both for personal enrichment and the betterment of the church’s prospects. Officers of the church may learn all cult skills and any cult common magic spells to any magnitude for free, and all cult divine magic spells up to Rune Priest level at half price.

Confessor / Servant of God – Any individual who has the Lore (Theology: Hidden God) and Pact (Hidden God) skills at 100% and is in communion with the Revelation Church is may be personally recognised by the Pope as a “Confessor” or “Servant of God” and is treated as a living saint. The individual is above all temporal authority, and may learn any cult skill, cult common magic spell or cult divine magic spell for free. All members of the church are to assist them in any non-sinful way they require.

Magic in the Dawnlands: Shamans

Of the three kinds of professionals who possess specifically magical knowledge (gnostics, priests, and shamans), shamans are by far the most feared on the plains.

To become a shaman one must be approached by a daimon, a kind of astral symbiote that lives in the Great Light beyond the night sky. This typically happens during a serious sickness or due to a vision quest, or from some other stressful circumstance. The daimon offers to bind with the would-be shaman in exchange for their service towards the daimon's goals. Refusal is possible, though daimons tend to approach at moments where it is extremely unlikely. Once bonded, there is no "going back" or stripping the daimon from the shaman, except by death. The daimon, until it bonds with a person, cannot affect the material world directly.

Daimons are effectively immortal, and once bonded serve as the fetch and patron spirit of the shaman, teaching and aiding them in the binding of the spirit world in exchange for tasks. These tasks may involve the following of taboos and performance of rituals, but just as often they are specific, often dangerous changes to the world. Daimons may be good, or evil, but just as often they are inscrutable and alien, even to their hosts. They appear to possess a kind of dominion or authority over other spirits, and the most common kind of task they demand of their host is binding and compelling other spirits to stop interfering in the world in "improper" ways. Daimons appear as anything they please, from humanoid figures to totally abstracted geometric shapes though most have a singular "true" shape which immediately distinguishes them from all other daimons.

Shamans may refuse their daimon's requests, but only at the cost of alienating the daimon. While daimons do not usually select people opposed to their goals, they are capable of enforcing their will by harrowing the shaman, calling hostile spirits to attack, refusing to help the shaman (by possessing their body while the shaman spirit walks to keep out passing spirits, for example), and otherwise making life difficult. Conversely, they reward and aid those who fulfill their requests, binding more closely with the shaman and developing their powers.

Socially, shamans are highly respected by the Kadiz and Hill People, but are a class apart. They travel the plains freely, from tribe to clan to tribe, without interference, and even a Kadiz shaman will be welcomed by the Hill People and vice versa. It is considered good luck to help one, and terrible luck to enslave one. To ensure that there is no confusion over one's status, shamans are tattooed with three lines on their jaw. Occasionally someone will imitate their marking without true shamanic status, though this is highly blasphemous. Unless a shaman can demonstrate their power when challenged, they will be killed out of hand, though most people err on the side of caution. One promise daimons often make with their hosts is that upon the shaman's death, the next shaman to bind with the daimon will avenge their death.

Shamans and their daimons have defied the urge to build grand organisations, so there are no shamanic cults or groups to join. Daimons do not all coexist peacefully, and shamans may be sent to fight one another over what precisely constitutes "improper" behaviour on the part of the spirit world. As a result, shamans tend to be solitary persons, or at most duos, with a student shaman and master, to avoid impromptu violence due to daimonic disagreement.

Pursuit of shamanic power does not prevent one from being a gnostic, though all regular religions ban their members from shamanism and expel members who become shamans (as peacefully as possible). Despite that, shamanism is not considered improper by the nomads, and most tribes have at least one shaman. A surprisingly large number are exiles from the Orthocracy of Kaddish and Dwer Tor who have integrated into life on the plains.

Species of the Dawnlands: Halflings

The dwarf-halfling-goblin-gnome genus consists of the original halfling species, and three true-breeding soul-forged races. Only dwarves and halflings are interfertile, though in actual practice such mixed-race children are considered abominations and the government of Dwer Tor puts them to death when discovered. That halflings and dwarves are the same species is not a widely-known fact within the Dawnlands, even by members of both populations, and due to the tense racial dynamics of Dwer Tor, public claims to this effect are heretical and treasonous. This is also true of the knowledge that dwarves are soul-forged.

All members of the superspecies have more efficiently rooted muscle groups than humans, allowing similar strength despite inferior leverage to longer-limbed humans and elves. All members of the superspecies are either hairless (goblins, some dwarves) or possess only dark, curly hair (most dwarves, halflings, and gnomes).

Dwarves are a true-breeding soul-forged race created from the halfling followers of the divine hero Kakarna by the early Kaddish as payment for his services. The population was transformed to resemble lesser versions of Kakarna. Dwarves tend to have flat or blunted noses, brown skin and large light-coloured eyes with slightly-ovoid pupils, similar to a horse. The average dwarf is about two-thirds the size of a human, but weighs about the same. Dwarves can see heat like others see visible light (hotter objects are brighter), which allows them a degree of vision in total darkness, though they cannot discern colours, or the outlines of objects the same temperature as the background. All known dwarves are found either in Dwer Tor, or in its colonies, or are exiles or refugees from the same. Dwarves are omnivorous, and have similar dietary requirements to humans. Dwarves live several hundred years barring disease or accident. Most live to be between 300 and 400 years old.

Halflings are the autochtonous race of the Dawnlands, having inhabited it since the local equivalent of the neolithic. Halflings tend to have pointed noses, dark-coloured pupils, and their skin is either brown with pale mottling, or pale with brown mottling, which disrupts their outline in natural environments and serves as camouflage. Their physiology resembles a smaller, fatter elf. Halflings are typically half the height of a human. Halflings have a faster metabolism than most humans, and rapidly shed weight if not constantly eating. The halfling digestive system is much more robust than humans, and will digest cellulose in plant material readily, allowing them to eat tree bark, grass, etc. Halflings are omnivorous. Halflings have excellent night vision, but cannot see heat like a dwarf. Their lifespan is comparable to a human's. They are found in the Orthocracy of Kaddish and in Dwer Tor and amongst the Forest Dreamers. In the former two places, they are lower class or caste individuals, while they are the preeminent species amongst the Forest Dreamers and form the bulk of that population.

Goblins are a true-breeding soul-forged race created from halflings 500 years ago that inhabit Moon Peak in the northern Dawnlands. The Dawnmen created them to seek out gold and silver, and goblins possess the ability to detect the presence of metal within about a kilometre of themselves. The same ability gives them an unerring sense of direction. Goblins refer to this sense as a variety of taste or smell. The goblins escaped during the Kaddish revolution, allied themselves with Dwer Tor, and now live a sedentary life operating the only known gold mine in the Dawnlands. Goblins are typically the same height as halflings but considerably thinner. Their skin varies from light blue-grey to dark grey-black, and they have long, sharp noses, large, pointed ears, and extremely large eyes very similar to a dwarf's. Goblins are metallovores, and possess the same heightened lifespan as dwarves. They are not interfertile with any other race of halfling or species.

Gnomes are a true-breeding soul-forged race created in the kingdom of High Kaddish about 600 years ago. Gnomes are widely loathed in Kaddish, and are often extremely lower class in the Orthocracy. A small emigrant population lives in Dwer Tor, where it pursues an honoured and respected trade. Gnomes are of similar height and build to a halfling, but their eyes are completely black, and they have sharp, canine-like teeth filling their entire mouth. Gnomish fingernails are hardened, similar to claws when allowed to grow out. Gnomes subsist entirely on the life-energy of living things and spirits, particularly ghosts. The easiest time for them to feed is either at the point of death or shortly after. Cadavers that are "gnome-eaten" will not rise from the dead of their own accord, nor will they spawn ghosts. Popular belief amongst the Kaddish holds that gnomes eat souls, and this is the source of the hatred the Kaddish feel. The Dwer believe that gnomes eat the pneuma, or animating life force of the body, while the soul is untouched by them. There is some evidence to support the latter idea, as gnomes traditionally work as morticians and grave attendants in Dwer Tor, and their preparation / consumption of several dying divine heroes has not prevented those same heroes from returning on later occasions.

Jan 29, 2012

The Long Narrative

The roleplaying campaign has the potential to be the longest continuous narrative that a person will ever experience. Most movies last under 2 hours, and it takes maybe 16 hours of continuous reading to get through War and Peace. Only a handful of television shows will breach 200 hours of broadcasting (400 half-hour episodes across 18+ seasons, not counting commercials). On the other hand, the 50 or so 8-hour sessions of that Iron Heroes game I played constitute 400 hours of narrative. And the entire campaign was less than a year and a half instead of spread out over decades. It was written by the three PCs and one DM, as opposed to the large creative team and consultants and so on that are brought into popular and long-running shows.

This length is one of the reasons that I am extremely suspicious (though not completely opposed to) the transferal of narrative techniques and patterns from other media to games, or at least their uncritical transfer. I think this uncritical transfer is the reason behind the existence of so many Forge microgames, which strive to compress the experience of gaming into the length of a long movie. I think that as a unique feature of roleplaying games vs. other media, we should not seek to reduce the length of our stories, to compress them into movie-length chunks, but rather to expand and broaden them to adequately fill this time.

Expanding them adequately involves preparation and planning to handle changes in tone, in detail, in the cast (both in game and out of game), in the sets and environments PCs encounter, many of which are similar to what creators in other media deal with, and are far more worthy ways to spend your time than figuring out how to mix up a bunch of tropes and cliches to avoid writing a backstory or setting (which is 90% of all "cinematic" techniques that I've ever seen anyone talk about for games).

I'm pretty hungover right now, so I'm just gonna let my readership know that over the next little while I'm planning to write some articles on a similar theme to the "Abolishing Parties" pieces but with specific emphasis on allowing you to run long, continuous games in consistent settings, regardless of changing membership of the group, the itch for "something different" etc. 

The Dawnlands: The Forest People

The Forest People tribes are a collection of peoples who inhabit the rainforest penninsula of the Dawnlands and who were never conquered by the Kingdom of High Kaddish.


The Forest People tribes were once merely a collection of lizardmen, kobolds and halflings all warring with one another at the edge of civilisation. That changed when the rainforest in which they live suddenly began to bleed into another realm they called the Great Dream. The fey peoples of the Great Dream emigrated from that other realm, bringing with them new gods, new knowledge, and new organisation to the warring tribes. More bizarre beasts came through as well, and under a series of great chieftains, the tribes were unified in the face of this threat. Though they never completely eradicated the creatures, they absorbed the new peoples and colonised the Great Dream, learning much about its way. In the passing centuries, the tribes have fragmented and reunited many times, but the most recent unification, completed thirty years ago by the chieftain Xochimunza, has reinvigorated the tribes. Xochimunza's son, Moctanimunza has begun preparing them to move out of the rainforest and into the wider Dawnlands, to take vengeance for Dwer Tor's invasion of their homelands.


The Forest People have a majority of halflings (50%), but also have lizardmen (20%), kobolds (20%), and a scattering of humans and elves (>10%) amongst their members. Typically, any given tribe has only one or two species amongst its members. Tribes of the same species tend to band together in the great councils as blocs, though opportunistic chieftains will switch sides whenever it benefits them.


The Forest People worship the insect spirits of the Hivehome, the ur-nest hidden in the Great Dream. Some spirits are wild, and are little more than particularly powerful beasts, while others are intelligent and are amenable to sacrifice and other propitiation. Individual shamans tend to have a particular patron spirit that they invoke, while the wider community worships the insect spirits as a whole. The Forest People consider it a sacred duty to encourage the spread of Dreaming Trees, strange trees that spread open the border to the Great Dream. These trees feed on the blood of living things, and ritual humanoid sacrifice to them is common.


The Forest People have great canoes they use for travel within their domain, but they avoid the sea except for short trips from one river opening to another. They have few domesticated animals, and none suitable for riding other than dogs for the smaller halflings and kobolds. Many of their great temples and buildings have alternate entrances underwater for lizardmen to use.


The Forest People tend to a monogamous, patrilineal system, except for lizardmen and kobolds who are matrilineal and polygamous due to their egg-laying nature. Tribes are oriented around a charismatic individual and typically possess one or more settlements under their sway. They are typically named after these settlements though exceptions do exist. Tribes are not economically specialised, and most survive off some combination of hunting, gathering, fishing, orchard cultivation and limited agriculture. The exception are the small number of tribes who border Dwer Tor's economic outposts who have learnt to produce the specific rare goods that Dwer's merchants want - silk, teak, rare herbs, etc.

Jan 28, 2012

A Few Modifications to the Stars Without Number Planetary Generator

There was a point at which I had used the Stars Without Number planetary generation more than just about anyone else, excepting perhaps the author of the game himself. By the time I'd drawn up the Tellian Sector for 40K using it, I had 130-odd locations drawn up. While the generator is very good (the best since Traveller's), it does tend to produce extremely normal worlds - easily inhabited, populated by hundreds of thousands of ordinary citizens. I prefer a little more variety in my science fiction settings, so I came up with the following modifications to the system:

1) Roll 1d6 for interesting locations within a system to be statted out.

2) Change some of the ranges to create fewer garden worlds. The norm in SWN is a world with a breathable atmosphere, a human-miscible biosphere, temperate temperature, with hundreds of thousands of inhabitants at TL4.

Specifically, I would change the Atmosphere table to read

2 Corrosive
3-4 Inert Gas
5-6 Airless / Thin
7-8 Breathable Mix
9-10 Thick, Mask-Breathable
11 Invasive, Toxic
12 Corrosive, Invasive

Temperature to

2 Frozen
3-4 Variable Temperate to Cold
5-6 Cold
7 Temperate
8-9 Warm
10-11 Variable Warm to Temperate
12 Burning

Biosphere to

2 Biosphere Remnants
3 Microbial Life
4-6 No Native Biosphere
7 Human-Miscible Biosphere
8-10 Immiscible Biosphere
11 Hybrid Biosphere
12 Engineered Biosphere

and Tech Level to

2 - TL 0
3 - TL 1
4 - TL 2
5-7 - TL 3
8-10 TL 4
11 TL4 + Specialty
12 TL 5

3) The book recommends rolling for two tags, but I think 3-4 is more interesting and helps to throw planets into sharper relief from one another. This is especially true if you don't use the above altered tables, since you'll need something to make all the garden worlds the base tables generate distinct.

Knightly Orders of Moragne: The Militant Order of St. Aemer of Naral

The Knights of Naral are a militant religious order based out of their mighty fortress, Naral Manor. They are a popular and powerful crusading order involved heavily in the fighting in the Northern and Western Marches. Their ranks have been swelling with land-poor knights from across Moragne, all eager to serve the Hidden God in the fight against the heathen Dakon. Though many are irreligious at best when they join, the esprit de corps of the organisation emphasises piety and asceticism, and the rich rewards of fighting in the marches have turned many a heart to thoughts of the Hidden God. They are one of the few militant orders with a specific focus on Moragne; many of the others have Lacallians and knights from even more distant nations (Sassens, Geornlings, Cassermen, Narboniks, Bithistians, and Cugtlanders), as members. This has led King Harold to encourage the Knights of Naral by treating service to them as payment of scutage to him. They in turn have declared him one of their Grandmasters, and allow him to use Naral Manor as a gathering point for crusaders.

Luck, Mobility

Common Magic:
Befuddle, Clear Path, Coordination, Demoralise, Detect Enemies, Lucky, Mobility, Strength, Vigour

Divine Magic:

Amplify, Blessing (Any Combat Style), Blessing (Ride), Channel Strength, Disarm, Fear, Madness

St. Aemer's Sacrifice (50%) - Behaviours: Charity to women, children, and priests; Chastity and temperance while on crusade; Fortitude while suffering;
The Glorious History of the Knights of Naral (85%) - Behaviours: Never betray a fellow Knight of Naral; Rashness in the cause of righteousness; Strive for a glorious death

Cult Skills:
Athletics, Axe & Shield, Brawn, Courtesy, Lance & Shield, Lore (Knights of Naral), Pact (St. Aemer, Patron Saint of Naral), Persistence, Shortsword and Shield, Resilience, Ride


Applicants - Squires of a current Knight of Naral and the young sons of nobles may ask to join the order. They are tested in arms and must make a donation of 300 silver pieces to fund the good works of the order.

Miles - The lowest level of the order is composed of young men and land-poor knights who have not yet won themselves a piece of land through battle. They must show knightly potential by possessing at least five of the cult skills at 30% or greater. The miles must sanctify themselves publicly in St. Aemer's name, dedicating at least 1 point of POW to his cult. They also swear loyalty to the Militant Order of St. Aemer of Naral and to the Grandmasters of the order personally. After a successful battle, the Grandmasters portion out small fiefs to suitable miles as rewards for loyal service.

Crusading Martyrs - The next level of knights are the rank and file, who gather once a year for worship in the great cathedral of St. Aemer (which will finally be completed in only a few years time if all goes according to plan). The Crusading Martyrs must be landowners, of at least a hide of land. They must dedicate at least 3 points of POW to St. Aemer's cult. They must demonstrate knightly prowess by possessing at least five of the cult skills at 50% or greater, and at least one of these must be the Pact skill.

Grandmaster - The highest level, a grandmaster is expected to own a castle or fortress and to host any Knight of Naral who requests hospitality. They must have led other knights in a successful battle. They must possess at least five cult skills at 80% or greater and at least one of these must be the Pact skill. They must have dedicated at least 5 points of POW to the cult of St. Aemer, and must be of unreproachable character. Finally, the grandmaster candidate must be runetouched by either the Mobility or Luck runes.

Jan 27, 2012

Changing Characters in Emern

I use a house rule in my Swords and Wizardry Complete game, which is that if you die, no matter what level you were, your next character starts back at level 1. On the other hand, if you swap out your character for another during downtime, they can be the level of your current PC. The purpose of this house rule is to make it easier for me, as referee, to introduce new characters, while encouraging the PCs to diversify their character holdings.

Surprisingly, while people have discussed doing this a few times, no one has yet. Partially it's due to an investment in their characters - I've tried to make everyone feel like they've got a unique thing going on, from our ninja elf woman with a leechman's enchanted claw, to Shithead the wizard and his transparent chest, to Mordechai the Silver Man of Arkhesh (who skin was burnt off by an exploding rocket and replaced with a nanosuit by the soul of an astronaut-wizard) and McGillicuddy the dwarven cleric's crisis of faith. Actually, since no one's died in a while, people may just have forgotten this rule, which nullifies its incentive far more effectively than any amount of poor design does.

As it stands, the PCs were given Jamaica by Governor Hesh last session. Technically it's the "Isla de Naufragio" (Shipwreck Island in doggerel Spanish), but it's Jamaica and we just call it "Jamaica" out of character. The scene was one of my favourite interactions so far, since Jamaica hasn't been surveyed, and Hesh is basically willing to give it away to a bunch of adventurers because it's temporarily-worthless wasteland he hopes they'll make something of. Hesh is this old man, and knighting the PCs involved him hoisting his extremely dull ceremonial blade up onto their shoulders and muttering some phrases before trying to figure out how he can award them territories in Jamaica without knowing what the interior of the island is like.

Anyhow, since four of the PCs are now barons of various parts of Jamaica, and three are knights or dames, and they've all got a fat chunk of change in the bank, it's about time they had retinues and people working for them. You may recall I planned some changes to the XP rules, and I think in a few sessions I'll be introducing them. In the mean time, one of the things I'm going to do is have Governor Hesh hire a surveying and exploration team to head out to Jamaica and check it out... meaning new characters and a new adventure, while their old characters remain behind to help Hesh deal with a slave revolt (which we will also play out). And so the cast begins to expand.

I'm really looking forward to the Jamaica map, though I may have to keep it secret for a while since some of the players read this blog. It also means more background cards. Right now there's a two week break since one of the guys is going to be out of town next week, but that works out well, since is the sort of thing where I want extra time to plan and get things in order.

Religious Groups of Moragne: The Coiners

The Coiners are a relatively recent variant on the oldest and most enduring heresy in the church, Iconism. About fifty years ago, an engraver in Aemeth named Prudt claimed to have a divine vision in which he saw the Hidden God. He described him as an elderly giant with wings and rising from a throne over a mile in height, wielding a hammer and pick with which he hewed and smote raw earth to become the land of Moragne. It turned out that Prudt had been shaving coins for years, and using the excess silver and brass to mint special "holy coins" bearing a hammer and pick and baptised in a sacred oil which his disciples distributed freely amongst the poor of Moragne. This bought Prudt a lot of popularity, even though he was burnt within two years by civil authorities for heresy and debasing the coinage. Efforts to round up the heretical currency were seen as church-sanctioned theft, and led to riots in every major city north of the Vellingwood.

The pickpennies (as they are known) continue to circulate this day, though their use is frowned upon by royal and church assessors and they cannot be used to pay taxes. Prudt's disciples are still active across Moragne, though they are mainly found in the large cities and the unsettled fisc. They operate similarly to a criminal gang, stealing money, and either shaving it or melting it down to produce more pickpennies. Many peasants find it easier to conceive of the tangible, powerful god of Prudt's vision rather than the somewhat ethereal version the church proposes.

Disorder, Earth

Common Magic:
Abacus, Armoursmith's Boon, Bludgeon, Fanaticism, Glamour, Pierce, Thunder's Voice

Divine Magic:
Bless Crops, Blessing (All Cult Skills), Cure Disease / Poison, Excommunicate, Gleam, Heal Wound, Illusion, Rain, Regenerate Limb, Sunspear

Prudt's Vision (90%) - Behaviours: Work hard; Share everything you have, especially with the poor and unlucky; Be kind, just and decent to the faithful and potential converts, everyone else is a heretic and deserves what they get
Prudt's Life (65%) - Behaviours: Steal coins to make pickpennies, especially from nobles, churchmen and burghers; Spread the word of Prudt's holy vision; Work to undermine the false priests of the Hidden God

Cult Skills:
Combat Style (Pick and Shield), Craft (Any), Disguise, Influence, Lore (Coiners), Oratory, Pact (Coiners), Sleight, Stealth, Streetwise, Survival


Lay Members - Anyone who receives a pickpenny and holds onto it is considered to be, at least by civil authorities, a sympathiser of the Coiners.

Proselytes - This is the lowest level at which one is truly considered, by other Coiners, to be a member of the church. A proselyte is expected to follow the laws Prudt set out in his letters to his faithful followers, mainly to work hard, to think of God in accordance with his vision, and to support and shelter those Coiners actively working to overthrow the false church. In practice, they typically blend in as hard-working members of their local community, usually in skilled trades where they will deal with cash. Their tithes are a tenth of all the coins they make in a year. They must also devote at least 1 point of POW to the Coiner's cult and swear an oath of loyalty.

Picks and Hammers - Picks are devout urban criminals, operating in almost every city and town north of Ethrikston. Hammers are rural bandits who rob travelers and provide protection to Coiner communities. Both must dedicate at least 3 points of POW to the cult, and must be skilled enough to possess at least five of the cult skills at 50% or greater, at least one of which must be the Pact skill. Picks and Hammers provide the backbone of the revolutionary and criminal network that the Coiners operate, and act as enforcers and templars for the Coiners. To become a Pick or Hammer, one must turn over at least 300 silver pieces to the Coiners in a single year.

Priests - Coiner priests are often former priests of the Church of the Hidden God, but even they must show their loyalty to the cult by serving time as either a Hammer or Pick. To reach this level, a priest must have five of the cult skills at 75% or greater, at least one of which must be the Pact skill. They must have dedicated at least 5 points of POW to the cult. Finally, they must have donated at least 750 sp to the cult in a single year for conversion into pickpennies.

Species of the Dawnlands: Mankind

Though inhabitants of the Dawnlands do not think in modern scientific terms, from such a perspective are four main sentient species in the Dawnlands. Each population in turn is divided in races, which differ physically from one another.

The first is the orc-human-elf-gnoll ring species. This species is referred to as "Mankind", with "Human" being the name of a specific subpopulation rather than a synonym (In the Kaddish and Kadiz languages of the Dawnlands, the word for "human" is "Kad"). Each of the populations listed is interfertile with the adjacent populations, but not with the others. Orcs and humans produce half-orcs, humans and elves produce half-elves, elves and gnolls produce half-gnolls. Hybrids are interfertile with all populations adjacent to both parent types (i.e. the entire species), and most of the "human" and "elf" populations have small amounts of all populations in them.

Orcs are divided into two types, green-skinned and grey-skinned. Grey-skinned orcs are mostly found in the northern reaches of the Dawnlands as part of the Mountain People or serving the Hobgoblin barrow-kings. They have yellow or red eyes, and are comparable in size to a tall Man of the Dawn, with small tusks. Green-skinned orcs are mostly found on the southern plains, as part of the Hill People culture and have yellow eyes. Green-skinned orcs tend to be much taller and heavier than a human or elf, with more prominent tusks.

There are varieties of humans known in the Dawnlands, though only two are "native" to the area.

The Men of the Dusk are found amongst the Hill People, the Kaddish, the Kadiz nomads, amongst the Mountain People, and as helots in the villages surrounding Dwer Tor. They have pointed noses, light-coloured eyes and fair, straight hair. Their skin tone ranges from pale to a grey-blue not found in the real world. They are of average height, comparable to an elf. They are humans who are not descended from the Dawnmen. To a modern person, they would mostly look "European". The Men of the Dusk have interbred extensively with elves, and orcs, and many shown signs of that heritage.

The Men of the Dawn form the bulk of the Kadiz and Kaddish human populations. They have swarthy brown or black hair and skin that ranges from sallow to pale with yellow undertones. They have both snub and pointed noses, and a small number have epicanthal folds. Their eyes are mostly brown. Men of the Dawn tend to be taller than Men of the Dusk. The real world population they most resemble are Central-Asian Turks.

The Men from Across the Desert have jet-black skin with jet-black irises. They have curly hair and pointed noses. Their hair is either black or white naturally, but is often dyed. They are taller than elves, comparable to Men of the Dawn. They come from across the desert from the city-state of Rhuap using secret routes known only to them, and they do not permit travelers to return with them. They do not breed with elves, and so none of them show elvish features.

The Salt Men have skin that ranges from a dull golden colour to light brown, flat noses, red or yellow hair, and grey, green or blue eyes. They tend to be shorter than elves, very slightly. They come from across the sea, from places they call "Krosmil" and "Haran" to trade with Dwer Tor. They have elves and orcs in those places, but do not bring them on their ships.

The Men of the Three Towns have skin from copper-red-brown to deep chesnut brown, pointed noses, hair of all colours, and eyes of all colours. They tend to be of comparable height to an elf. They come from far to the south, beyond the Kingdom of the Fallen Star, from Ilac, the City of Blue Roofs; Moryek, the City of Clocks; and Lassan, the City of Gods. No one has traded with them since the fall of the Kingdom of High Kaddish, and only a few individuals are known in the Dawnlands.

The Burnt are a true-breeding creation of the Kaddish using human and elf stock. They have black skin with undertones of red, blue and purple. They have bright white hair, and red, blue or purple eyes. They have an arbitrary mix of human and elvish facial features. They are found only amongst the Kaddish, who created them.

Elves are found amongst the same communities as the Men of the Dusk. Elves' skin is either brown with green lines, patches and freckles, or pale with green and brown lines, patches and freckles. Their skin tans to green in either case, so skin with very little green is highly prized as a sign of beauty. They have dark hair, either brown or black. Elves have pointed ears and more angular features than any human. They tend to be slightly shorter and leaner than Men of the Dawn, and of the same height as Men of the Dusk.

Gnolls come in three types. There are yellow-furred, red-furred, and blue-furred.

Yellow-furred gnolls are the most common, and are found as part of the Hill People frequently. They are as large as a green-skinned orc, with dark noses and pale green eyes without irises. Many have patches of red or black spots on their coats. 

Some yellow-furred gnolls have red-furred children, who have yellow or red eyes, and spots that are orange or brown. This is caused by recessive genes in their population. Red-furred gnoll children are considered lucky, and they will be pushed to become prophets, priests and shamans.

Blue-furred gnolls are actually mottled a black or grey colour, but the mottling produces a grullo colour. They have pale noses and skin, and an extra finger and toe compared to yellow-skinned gnolls. They are larger than the yellow-furred kind. They are much less common, and are found deep in the desert. Their tribes were not part of the Hill People originally, but have since made common cause with them.

Testing Out a New Layout

My blog archive and blogroll were starting to get too massive for a single column, so I've shifted things around. My main goal here is to organise things a little better without impacting the readability of the blog. Let me know what you think of the new layout vs. the old one.

Jan 26, 2012

Abolishing Parties Part 2: Stop Saving the World

Part 1 is here.

Yesterday I said, "The adventuring party with a consistent membership and unified goals is the most pernicious construct to good gaming known," and dealt with consistent membership. Today let's deal with getting rid of unified goals.

A unified goal is one which all, or almost all, of the party treats as the most important thing they should or could be doing, and which they all accept responsibility for dealing with. The stereotypical example of this is saving the world, whether that involves fighting off an alien invasion, dragging the MacGuffin of Power to the Vacation Spot of Power or stopping some schmuck from attaining godhood. I'm sure you've all played in games like this. I know I have, tons and tons of them, until it got to the point where every time Curtis would pitch a new campaign to me, the first thing I'd say would be "I'm cool with anything so long as we don't save the world".

Referees tend to rely on saving the world because it's an immediate, simple way to get everyone to buy in regardless of their personal squabbles. Everyone lives in the world, having it end would be a bad thing, so no matter how much of a prick you are, you probably want to stop whoever's trying to destroy it. The idea is that unifying all the PCs in the pursuit of a common goal will prevent conflict between characters.

Except preventing conflict between characters isn't an inherent good, and part of the point I'm trying to make here is that efforts to prevent it distort games and campaigns. Not only does it prevent the kind of games I like from occurring, it also prevents the kinds of games most other people like, especially if you want tons of drama and exciting narrative twists and so on, because the essence of drama is characters in conflict. So by setting it up so that the party is not a site of conflict, you the DM have declared "I am the font of assholes, all conflict shall be through and with me".

And that puts tons of load on you. You have to develop and remember everyone's rivals and enemies, make sure to have them pop up once in a while, figure out what they're doing when they're not around, plus, all of those rivals and enemies have to have their own teams of dudes helping them out, because as soon as one member of the party is challenged or attacked, the rest will jump on board to help out.

Let me suggest that instead of your campaigns having unified goals, especially ones that last the entire campaign, that you should instead establish a strong frame at the beginning, and then mainly rely on temporary, shifting, goals which engage only some of the PCs directly. Once you have this going, it may be interesting from time to time to reunify the PCs in a common, urgent cause once more, but only as a change of pace, and only from time to time, rather than suddenly shifting over to this mode and then running the rest of the campaign like this.

A strong frame is a set-up that establishes how and why the PCs associate without forcing them to do so or containing a goal with it automatically. For example, in Emern, the frame was "You were all part of Don Marengo's expedition to find the lost city of Xapoltecan until a hurricane scattered the entire expedition and left you out here in the jungle with only each other". The very first thing the PCs had to do as they clambered out of the muck and surveyed their ruined camp was decide whether they wanted to find Don Marengo, continue to the lost city of Xapoltecan, or just start heading home. Frankly, if a bunch of them had wanted to do one, and a bunch the other, I wouldn't have stopped them. But I didn't, because the PCs had a discussion about it, which immediately established what kinds of people their characters were. After discussing it, they decided to stick together and find Don Marengo, hopeful that he would help them. And so their long journey to Xapoltecan began.

Q. Why should goals only engage some PCs directly?

A. Engaging only some PCs directly forces those PCs to make the case to their comrades, to enlist their aid, and encourages less committed party members to participate but without eclipsing other opportunities to explore the world. It serves as a test of the relationships between PCs, and that testing generates dramatic conflict without you, the referee having to do anything. It also allows for debate about priorities. If you have two or more things going on, each of which only directly affects a subset of the PCs, they will have to pick and choose. The losers will harbour resentment, the winners will be forced to make concessions (or their arrogance may be such that they do not), all of which stirs the pot.

Q. But how will I keep the party on track?

A. In my experience, parties are excellent at keeping themselves on track, so long as they have reasonable and meaningful feedback on the effects of their actions and clear ideas about what they are capable of doing. The other night, playing the intro to the Thousand Thrones with two totally new roleplayers, the first question during play that one of them asked was "So what's the goal?" I answered this question (as a fellow PC) not by saying "to roleplay your halfling" or whatever, but by saying "Well, we're on board a ship going somewhere, and you're a stowaway, so you might want to use your sneak skills to stay hidden and get food", which seemed to help her without actually directly answering the question (I myself don't know, I'm just a wizard on a boat right now).

If you lay out opportunities, and they are real opportunities that are clearly understood as such by the PCs, then they will follow up on them. One of the most fun things about being a DM is having my PCs say things like "Clearly Rev [my nickname] wants us to follow up on this," or "The Rev must know we'd be interested in this," when in reality I don't have any strong preference or special knowledge at all. I just puff on my cigarette, raise my eyebrows and say "Gentlemen, what's your decision here? Do you want to examine the side corridors or ignore them for now?" and they do their magic.

Q. Why shouldn't my goal be my frame?

A. Frames and goals should not be unified because if they are, the integrity of the frame will collapse when the goal is accomplished. You should especially not do this if you are thinking of the frame being a short, easily accomplished goal that will "bring the PCs together", because that almost never actually works. The PCs accomplish the goal, and then there's a slump where you have to figure out how to weld them together now that there's nothing unifying them.

The frame should present problems or opportunities, not goals. The purpose of a frame is to push the PCs to start defining themselves, their relationships to one another and to the wider world. Frames don't need to be complex, they can be as simple as "You are the four mercenaries who live in this quiet farming town" to "You are the three sons of Errol Dessinger, Warden of the North".

By not linking frames to goals, you allow the frame to persist across goals, which allows you to do what I said earlier, which is confront the PCs with goals that only some of them are directly interested in, but which that subset is inadequate to resolve.

Microlite Iron Heartbreakers v. 1.52

I once had someone say "It sounds like a romance game for chicks". In reality Microlite Iron Heartbreakers (link is to a 156KB pdf) is a fantasy heartbreaker that combines some of the concepts from Iron Heroes with Microlite20 to allow you to do low magic fantasy adventuring. It's meant for use with the M20 Monster List, and has rules for conversion from that list. Or you can just use this super cool M20 monster generator and convert stuff over.

MIH is one of a handful of games I've ever written from scratch, and of them, it is the most recent (2009) and the most complete (about 3000 words). It's also a failure. I've never managed to convince anyone to play a session of it, not even my buddy Rob the amateur boardgame designer who loves playtesting stuff. In fact, it was the failure of MIH to capture anyone's interest - after almost everyone I knew was complaining about D&D 3.5's complexity and practically demanding a switch to something similar but simpler - that made me re-evaluate my philosophy of how rules should work in a game.

The two most common complaints I got about it were that nobody knew what the title meant, and that there wasn't enough "game" in it. At the time, my philosophy was that a few, simple rules that left a lot of leeway for personal creativity were the best. I'm not talking about Forge minigame things, but the kind of attitude that led to Microlite20 in the first place. Take the universal resolution mechanics of the d20 system, throw out the edge cases, exceptions, and variations and let people use the same resolution mechanic to handle a wide variety situations. In this case, the mechanic was opposed attack rolls in combat, which handled everything from tripping and disarming to... well, that was the problem. Nobody who read the game other than me seemed to know, even if they had played systems with complex rulesets that provided a variety of options (for example, Iron Heroes).

At the time, my attitude was "Use your imagination, losers!" until I played FATE 2.0 and Mongoose Traveller with the same group in the course of a year (2009 as well). Both games were fairly short due to scheduling problems, but the juxtaposition clarified something for me. The group was composed of new players, people who were familiar with computer games, board games, etc. but had never roleplayed before.

The first game we tried was FATE 2.0. FATE 2.0 was a system with a similar problem to Microlite Iron Heartbreakers. It's a schematic, really, on which you are supposed to build whatever game you want without a lot of guidance from the rules. While the expectation is that a few broad rules will free players, in my experience just the opposite happened. Without clear and explicit guidance about what they could and could not do, players were lost. There was no frame around their expectations for how the world should work, and no specific points (in the form of skills, abilities, etc.) that clarified what kinds of things one could do and what kinds of things were not possible.

By contrast, Traveller, which is filled with rules for things, went over smashingly with the same group. Character generation doesn't involve a ton of choice, and the amount it does provide is just right for new players. You pick what career you want to try to get into, you have information about what that career needs and will give you, and you mainly just roll things up. At the end of it, you have a detailed history, a bunch of abilities, some cool stuff, some connections to the other PCs, and a frame around yourself and the other PCs that defines what you are trying to do - get rich, get powerful, have fun, retire in comfort.

One player came up with a detailed spreadsheet that autocalculated the value of everything on the ship, and they had a great time sailing the stars until they misjumped into a system where an aggressively evangelical transhumanist cybercult attempted to convert them, and they violently resisted.

This experience taught me that at the very least, if you're going to have broad rules or abilities that are at least partially up to the people at the table to define, you've got to provide concrete examples and ideas about how to use that ability. They don't need to be exhaustive or exclusive, but you can see this philosophy at work in my attempt to make Culture (Own) useful by providing a series of specific, potentially recurring questions it can answer for PCs in the Dawnlands.

If I were to ever release another Microlite Iron Heartbreakers version (1.52 means it's based off the 1st edition, 5th update to the rules set, 3rd wording change), there would be a few changes.

1) I would include a list of possible tactics, probably 5-8, that could be specifically attempted or resolved using the mechanics. These wouldn't be edge cases, they would literally just be statements going "You can try to do this using this already existing mechanics". I would do the same for the skills, by providing 4-6 uses of each skill.

2) I would spend more time at the beginning providing a frame for PCs just to reassure them that yes they will be fantasy adventurers roaming around killing things for glory and profit.

3) I would rename the game, I think. The word "heartbreaker" is too jargonistic, and seems to confuse people. "Thrill Killers of the Outer Wastes" might be a touch more evocative.

Life in the Warrens of the Leper Queens


The warrens are inhabited by between 50 and 150 Servants of Acephax at any given time. The lower number is typical, but the population swells during the high holy days of the cult, which occur four times a year (the two solstices and the two equinoxes). The total population of the cult from Cultist to Bride is ~165.

Of that number, there are 6 Brides of Acephax, the inner circle. Only 1-2 are aboveground at any time, usually coordinating the devotee's spread of leprosy in Saffork and Sherwater Market or performing some quest for their demonic master. The rest are found in the inner chambers of the Warrens (Map 2).

There are approximately 40 devotees at any time. About 20 are the sons of Acephax of varying age, with the other half being women who aspire to be Brides. Almost all the sons of Acephax are underground at any give time due to their demonic appearance. A few are let loose to escort the Brides or for other nefarious purposes, but the Brides keep tight control over their sons. The women-leper devotees are just the opposite. Most are aboveground, with a circle of 5 in each major settlement of the Leprosarium controlling the intelligence network of the Servants. The few who are not part of these circles either assist the Brides underground or are cooking up some scheme to elevate themselves to the rank of Bride.

The remainder of the cult are mere cultists. Typically, there are about 30 underground, with the remainder dispersed through the settlements and farms of the Leprosarium in groups of 10-20. They are extremely discreet about their status as Servants, and they have infiltrated every level of society in the Leprosarium other than the abbey. Cultists who are underground split their time between relaxing and doing light work for the cult. This includes manufacturing weapons (mainly arrows, spears, and other weapons whose pieces can be forged aboveground and assembled in the warren), sharing information, and teaching one another valuable skills individual members know.

PCs attempting to infiltrate the warrens will typically face a force of about 4 Brides, 22 Devotees (mainly their sons), and 30 Cultists unless they have raised an alarm or alerted the cult, in which case the number of cultists will double to 60.


About half the population of the warrens will be asleep or drowsing at any given time unless the alarm has been raised. The Brides rarely sleep due to Acephax's influence.

At any given time, the Servants of Acephax have 5-10 prisoners they will sacrifice to Acephax by drowning in the demon's spume. A sacrifice happens at least once a fortnight, usually on the first night of a new moon and the first night of a full moon.

The Servants of Acephax bring in supplies once a month, during the nights of the new moon when it is easier to conceal this activity. The supplies are four cartloads brought in from Saffork, spread over two nights so that two carts go each night. 6 cultists from the local Saffork cell load the carts and drive them to a lay member's farm about 1km north of Saffork. They then abandon the carts and return home. The carts are retrieved by 6 cultists from the warrens, who return the carts to the farm once they are offloaded. The Saffork cell retrieves all four carts on the day after. The cargo is brought in through the first aboveground entrance.

Cultists typically spend a fortnight underground before rotating back to the surface. They are paid by the cult for their time underground and claim to have been working as day labourers or carters to those who ask.

The latrines are cleaned and loose garbage removed once a day. It is taken above ground at night and buried, usually around midnight. Cultists use the first aboveground entrance to carry it out.

Jan 25, 2012

I am Sitting in a Coffee Shop Listening to Two People Discuss D&D Behind Me

This post doesn't have much substantial content, but it is simultaneously very pleasing and very odd. On the other hand, what can you expect in the city that was the inspiration for Waterdeep? I find that people don't talk about it too much, but Toronto has a huge gaming scene that I really only skim the shoals of. I blame the Canadian winter and the need for indoor social activities once fornicating and drinking are exhausted.

Emern in half an hour.

Abolishing Parties Part 1: Play More Characters

The adventuring party with a consistent membership and unified goals is the most pernicious construct to good gaming known. Get rid of them. As a baby step, let's start with consistent membership.

The best gaming group I've ever known was the one with the most character versus character conflict. This CvC was driven by the existence of a large roster of PCs played by the same 3-4 players. The character roster started off small, and then gradually grew as people wanted to play new characters, as characters departed temporarily to pursue their own and then circled back when they needed the other PCs as allies. This created a dynamic, changing cast with no need to rely on player sentiment and niceness to temper dramatic conflict. It also allowed us to do things like kill jerk characters without the player running them feeling like we were "kicking them out of the group" or something, since they would have two or three other PCs hanging around who were woven into the story. Or characters who were or became incompatible would split off to pursue their own goals and accumulate a group of allies more amenable to their tastes. Every so often, something would change, or the different groups would come into contact and they might trade members, as priorities shifted or temporary goals caused different bands to ally.

I cannot convey in mere words how captivating this was. It allowed campaigns to feel truly epic, allowed time to be spent exploring the subtle mysteries of the world or facets that otherwise would have to be left by the wayside due to more pressing concerns, and allowed characters to act on their passions and beliefs with a freedom that an artificial commitment to avoiding trouble would constrain and dampen.

For example, I played in an Iron Heroes game in 2007-2008 that was the single greatest campaign I have ever been part of, at least partly due to the dramatic freedom this kind of play allowed. Our first set of PCs were the three scions of a powerful noble house. I played the youngest of the three brothers.

Each one of us had certain tendencies and inclinations, often conflicting, but we were brought together despite that due to fraternal obligation and fondness. However, our goals would frequently separate us across the kingdom, or one of us would be incapacitated for some reason while the other two were able, etc.

At first, we began by fleshing out and playing what would otherwise be NPCs. For example, the oldest brother once took some of his guards into the slums of the capital where he was ambushed. The other player and I, rather than sit this out, took over, named, and fleshed out two of the more important guards accompanying the oldest brother- Doc, a respected veteran, and Sgt. Fusker, the head of the detachment. These characters remained even after this incident (having acquitted themselves bravely), and whenever one of the brothers wasn't around, we would play them instead.

Similarly, the middle brother at one point ran off from his responsibilities to become a mercenary adventurer. He met up with one of our shifty uncles, and a mercenary that uncle had hired, once again played by the other two PCs. Even after the middle brother departed, the uncle and the mercenary (now his trusted bodyguard and assassin) remained and found a third person, a young impressionable nobleman, to accompany them on their own adventures. As people died, others stepped in to take their places, often transferred over from less active clusters who the currently active group encountered. For example, when my noble brother died, the uncle's bodyguard was sent to assist his nephews and keep the remaining two safe. At other times, there would be conflict, as when one group of PCs, a group of revolutionaries, captured said noble brothers and mercenary and were debating whether to execute them (in essence, we held an IC debate about whether we were going to kill our own characters, albeit ones we weren't playing at that moment).

This kind of natural proliferation kept interest high, as you never had time to get bored of a character before you were creating and playing a new one, and you started to long to find out what characters you hadn't seen in a while were up to. This proliferation culminated when the noble brothers provoked a civil war and then left the continent. We played out the civil war through three different parties in three different locations, switching between them each session and seeing the war through its various facets.

I give full credit to the referee for knitting all of this together and making it coherent. It was one of his best realised settings, and the consistent vision of its development and change helped keep everything synchronised. It helped that only a few points was there any sort of direct "quest" which would save the world. For the most part, it was a power struggle driven by personalities for control of the kingdom, something important but not so important that nothing else mattered.

Multiple PCs keeps people from over-investing in a single character, which prevents them from feeling like their goal in playing the game is to have that one character succeed at everything and be the most important person in the world. Preventing over-investment is critical to pulling off dramatic conflict and by extension, character versus character conflict, as it prevents people from getting into mindsets where they confuse in-character disagreement with out-of-character disagreements and feel that someone is picking on them or bullying them or actively conspiring to keep them from being cool or whatever.

Give this a try if you haven't already. It's actually even easier to pull off in settings where the PCs are disconnected murderhobos, as such groups IRL (gangs, essentially) had and have an ever-changing membership motivated by mercenary concerns and prone to violent resolutions of even petty disputes.

My Potion Tables for Emern

I got the idea for these from a quirk early on in the game where the PCs' only supply of healing potions was also a powerful hallucinogen.

How Does One Ask to Be Listed in Blogrolls?

Right now, somewhere around a third of my traffic is coming from the wonderful Mr. Jeff Rients, simply because of all the various blogs I follow, he is one of the few that has listed me on his blogroll. I am curious to hear from more experienced blognards about what the etiquette surrounding blogrolls is, and whether I will cause dire offense if I ask a few key people who I know and respect if they would like to list me?

"My Own Name Is a Killing Word"

As a follow-up to the previous post about abolishing the Common Magic skill, I'm tempted to allow PCs to use the Create Charm spell to enchant words and letters permanently so that merely speaking them aloud causes the effect, with the caveat that every time someone says the word, the enchanter's magic points are drained, which would probably leave the enchanter in a permanent coma if they used a common word as the base.

I'm imagining a guy who's set it up so merely saying his name aloud causes a Disruption 6 spell to anyone listening. His name would literally be a killing word.

On the other hand, this seems like it would be ripe for abuse.

Jan 24, 2012

Abolishing the Common Magic Skill

Technically in Openquest this skill is called "Battle Magic" and in Mongoose Runequest 2 / Legend it's called "Common Magic", but I don't care either way because I'm abolishing this skill in the Dawnlands. When I need to refer to the type of magic, I'll call it "Common Magic". I'm not abolishing the type of magic, just a special skill that governs it.

In Moragne (a MRQII only setting), there's a ready answer for what this skill is, it's minor prayers to the Hidden God, or to various powerful spirits for some boon (it differs from divine magic in that divine magic can only be cast by ordained priests). But in most other settings, including the Dawnlands, this kind of specificity of domain is lacking. Magic in the Dawnlands is much more diffuse, much more worked into the ordinary world. This distinguishes it from the other kinds of magic you get, all of which have specific domains of knowledge and power represented by skills, which I am fine with.

So I decided to abolish the Common Magic skill and use the following house rules instead.

1) Character still learn Common Magic spells. Learning Common Magic spells is represented by learning sacred and esoteric lore related to some other skill.

2) Characters cast Common Magic spells by declaring they are doing so while making a skill check. They must provide an explanation for how the spell can manifest based on what they are doing. They expend magic points to cast the spell. If the check fails, so does the spell, and the magic points are expended until they are regenerated. You need a skill at 50% or better to be able to cast a spell using it.

3) Skills like Craft (Whatever) can be used to create objects imbued with a spell, Natural Lore can be used to find potent objects like herbs, stones, etc., and Language (Native) can be used to find potent truenames and words. Essentially, these skills can be used to give the "Trigger" condition to any Common Magic spell. In these cases and others like them, the character rolls the skill and expends the magic points during the period of creation / discovery, but the spell does not trigger until they wish. They must choose the magnitude of the spell during creation / discovery. They don't regenerate the expended points until the spell is triggered. The character must handle or manipulate the item containing the spell, and if it lost, the points cannot be regained until the spell is discharged. If someone else takes the item, they may use the magic points the creator imbued into the object to cast the spell. Only a single use of a spell by a single person may be imbued into an item at a time without the use of the Create Charm spell.

Yes, this means the only use of Create Charm is now to create permanent magic items. That still makes it a really good spell. 

Locations in Axrew

Click for a bigger version where the numbers are clearer
17:15 Sile's Pass - A fortified town (pop. 3500) under the command of Roger, Count of Sile (the surrounding area), it guards the two main northern passes into Axrew. Roger's sons are both crusaders in the Knights of Naral, and both are current prisoners of the Dakons. He has begun charging steep tolls to travelers through the passes to raise their ransoms. Many claim he has also turned to banditry, though nothing has been proven.

17:18 Naral Manor - One of the greatest castles in Axrew, Naral Manor is owned by the Militant Order of St. Aemer, and is the preferred staging ground for expeditions into the Northern Marches. At any given time, up to 250 knights and their retinues (an additional 2500 men) may be here, along with the grandmasters of the order and other religious pilgrims to St. Aemer. Naral County, held in trust by the grandmasters of the order, is known for its fine apples and cider.

21:22 The Leprosarium - The dry climate of Axrew is thought to be particularly amenable to leprosy and other wasting diseases, and many who find themselves afflicted by these diseases head for the Leprosarium, a segregated complex of villages in the middle of the desert meant to house them (pop ~5000). It is a place outside the normal restrictions of Moragnian society, with sexual morality relaxed, sumptuary laws ineffective, and social class abolished. Though leprosy is curable through magic, it is a low priority for the church of the Hidden God compared to the more infectious and mortal diseases rampaging through the major cities. A small chapterhouse of the Dombatian monastic order is slowly trying to cure all the lepers, but only a few priests capable of divine healing are present. The Dombatians administer the Leprosarium, and own the land on which it is built, and they make quite a lot of money from encouraging the lepers' trades.

23:19 The Moot - The castle of the Duke of Axrew, currently occupied by Robert Lameleg. Often besieged by angry vassals, it is one of the most imposing structures in Axrew, its motte raising it nearly eighty feet off the plain surrounding it. It is built on the site of a battle between Thern and Morags during the conquest. The area around the castle is dotted with caves and warrens where Thernish peasants and soldiers attempted to hide after Weallan, Earl of Axrew was defeated. The victorious Morags butchered everyone they could lay their hands on and dumped the bodies further in the caves while searching for the earl's lost wealth. The mass death led to the caves being infested with uneasy spirits and undead abominations, which periodically emerge to ravage the countryside.

26:17 Rockwood Shire - The shire is the site of a bloody conflict between freeholders and local barons. The freeholders hold much of Rockwood Shire in allod, and make a fine living harvesting and processing timber. As allodial freeholders, they pay taxes directly to the crown through Gordon of Earlingshire, the sheriff. The local barons and knights charge the freeholders with extortion because of the high prices they charge for the timber, which the barons use in the construction of castles. They also accuse Gordon of denying them the right to buy land in Rockwood to exploit for their own use (he does do this, with the support of the local franchisers). In recent years, the barons (particularly Robert of Amark and Robert of Gonton, who hold lands in 25:17) have taken up arms on several occasions to force the issue, and only a lack of coordination has prevented them from overunning the shire. As it stands, Rockwood is a shire besieged, with Gordon forced to hire mercenaries to protect visiting merchants from southern Axrew.

29:17 Redfriar Abbey - The largest Sesquinard abbey in Moragne, the Redfriar abbey gets its name from the deep red-brown robes its members wear. Of Lacallian origin in the city of Sesquin, the Sesquinards in Moragne are the King's bankers of choice. They also run a highly esteemed scriptorium that produces illustrated psalters on commission. Finally, they also serve as neutral ground for the other sects of the church to meet on, and Redfriar Abbey is traditionally where conclaves, councils of Moragnian bishops and abbots, and theological debates take place. The abbey itself is a sprawling enclosed compound built atop a massive motte that stretches for nearly a mile, and is surrounded by smaller fortifications staffed by client knights of the Sesquinards. Years of donatives mean the monks own everything a man can see from the abbey's tallest tower, and the abbot, Morse Remla (from Narbonika) is known more for his nous and business sense than his theological skill.

30:23 Remeldag - A thriving city long before the Revelation of the Hidden God, Remeldag has been a ruin for nearly a millennium, after the immortal sorcerer queen of the Vellings slew its half-demon sorcerer-king, Remel I. The city was barraged with powerful curses that transformed its inhabitants into half-bestial half-demonic abominations, and which enchanted the city so that it is impossible to find by ordinary means, though its lights can be seen at night during the rare times when the desert and surrounding wasteland will support a fog. Nearly a thousand of the original inhabitants remain under the rulership of Remel II, the son of the original sorcerer and a powerful wizard in his own right. He calls himself the Count of Remel, and pays a yearly tribute of 1,000 lbs. of silver to King Harold to be left in peace. Where he gets the silver from is unknown.

32:19 Harken - Harken (pop. 10,000) is the seat of the Moragnian king and his court, as it was of the Thernish kings before him. The current king is Harold II, grandson of Harold I "the Builder". About a third of the population of Harken is employed by the state or the court in one capacity or another, and the city receives many immigrants from across Moragne who have come to make their fortune in politics. Harken is more of a cosmopolitan city than Carlaw or the rest of Axrew, with Vellings, Morags, Therns, and Einermen mixing freely and creating a uniquely "Moragnian" culture.

33:20 Carlaw - The great commercial crossroads of Moragne, Carlaw (pop. 20,000) houses the Royal Mint, the Eastern Tower (the royal armoury), the largest brick and iron works in Moragne, and the University of Carlaw and its associated colleges. The city was built on land belonging to the archbishop of Carlaw, and he remains its feudatory lord, though city government is a run by a council of burghers and gentlemen. Armies are equipped in Carlaw, cannons cast, and sutlers, sumpters and merchants abound. Almost every religious order in Moragne keeps at least a chapterhouse here, due to the city's reputation for piety. Famously, it produces the Twelve Men of Carlaw every year rather than ordinary scutage or levies (though it does possess a well-equipped and trained militia for civil defense).

34:17 Wyrmbone - The site of the famous battle where Jack Dragonkiller (aka Sir John Weaver of Carlaw) slew the dragon in the time of Harold the Builder. A small village (pop. 200) has grown up that makes a living off of pilgrims, who come to touch the bones and dried blood of the great wyrm which stretch for nearly half a kilometre. It is claimed that any sword plunged hilt deep into one of the scabbed pools of blood becomes capable of cutting anything, but no one outside Jack Dragonkiller's line has ever succeeded in doing so. His grand-daughter, Countess Margaret Weaver of Wyrmbone (aka the Woman), has a nearby manor and title to the lands, but she appears to mainly use it as a cottage for suitor-pilgrims and is rarely found there.

34:26 The Heronage - One of the true prizes of Moragne in the eyes of the Church. The Heronage is a sacred location where it is possible to cross the Veil and enter the divine presence of the Hidden God and his various emanations, the runes. It is used for heroquesting. It is guarded by the Fraternity of St. Gerrard, a monastic order who prevent the unworthy from abusing the location, and protect the hermits who live in the surrounding valley. The Heronage is named after the local wildlife, which includes a colony of blue-black herons unique to the area whose plumage exactly mimics the colouration of angelic wings. Brother Ruget, widely considered to be a living saint and perhaps the most holy man in Moragne, is the leader of the brotherhood and it is he who administers the tests that determine whether a visitor is worthy to enter the church itself. Its monks wear blue-black robes in the same shade as the herons' feathers.

35:24 Aemeth County - Aemeth County is an extremely large county controlled by Ogoth the Dog. It is naturally well-fortified, has rich soil, good timber, and several mines that supply it with silver and iron in great abundance. It produces extremely fine wines and fruit, and is significantly wetter than much of the rest of Axrew. However, Ogoth is greedy, and he has taken the opportunity of his excommunication and used it as an excuse to prosecute war and plunder against his neighbours. This has led to the mountains being flooded with free companies on both sides of the conflict. Because he has been excommunicated, the local clergy has risen up against him, and is encouraging the peasants to revolt and flee to more pious masters. The Coiners are proselytising, as are several other heresies, and religious hysterics claim to see the Great Beast lurking behind every tree and stone. Only Ogoth's soldiers and his success in battle are keeping things from exploding into civil war.

37:15 Athelshall - Athelshall (called Affeldag by its former inhabitants) is another pre-Thernish city. It is known in legend as the Great Sinful City, and was destroyed by Estan the Pure, the king who oversaw the conversion of the Kingdom of Therne, at the behest of St. Jerse of Narbonika. The city was looted, its walls dismantled, its inhabitants put to the sword, and the fields salted. No one has ever resettled the land. However, the city has over time become home to several different heretic sects, including Coiners, Whites, and the followers of Barry Nearn, as well as more mundane bandits. Though each thinks they are the true faith and the others vile schismatics, they have set aside their differences to concentrate on banditry, raiding the merchant trade from Harken to Lanarth and Moragland.

37:13 Woodwell - The southernmost settlement in the Einerwood, Woodwell is a walled village built on one side of a ravine with a well-made wooden manor from which William, Baron of Woodwell rules. The town is rich in lumber, and serves the carrying trade with carts, hitches, barrels, chests and lumber. He is currently imprisoned by the Dakons, and his wife, Gertrude of Woodwell, has increased taxes and excises to pay his ransom. This is highly unpopular with the local freeholders and cottars, and the entire barony is on the brink of revolt.

Marrying Your Cousins: Kinship & Gaming

One of the things I've spent some time doing for the Dawnlands is figuring out what kinship system the four main cultures - the Kadiz, the Hill People, the Kaddish and the Dwer - use. It turns out that there are only eight basic kinship systems in the world, and every known culture uses one variety or another, with most falling into six classic patterns.

Modern Westerners use the "Eskimo" kinship system, which emphasises the nuclear family. However, this is unsuitable for the sprawling clans and gentes of the Dawnlands, so I decided to use two common patterns, one more recognisable, one less so.

The more recognisable kinship system is the "Sudanese" system, which Anglo-Saxons, Romans, the Chinese and evidently the Sudanese use. It's the most common type in the world, and it's a "pure" descriptive system, where every person is described according to their relation to the describing individual. This differs from the system most of us will be familiar with in that things like one's mother's brothers and one's fathers brothers are given distinct names, often overlaid even further with distinction by age, so that that "oldest brother of my father" and "youngest father of my brother" are distinct. Sudanese kinship systems evidently occur frequently in complex, stratified societies, perfect for the Kaddish and the Dwer.

The less recognisable one is the one used by the Kadiz and the Hill People, "Iroquois" kinship.

This looks exceedingly complex at first pass, but I actually chose it because it's comparatively simple and it makes sense within the cultures of the plains. The eponymous exemplar of Iroquois society is matrilineal, but the Kadiz and Hill People are patrilineal (kinship passes through men).

The basics of it are simple, you are related closely to your father, your mother, your father's brothers, and your mother's sisters, and their children (including children your father has had by other wives, if any, but not including any children your mother had by previous husbands). The relationship is close enough that reproducing with any of them would be considered incestuous. On a side note, if a woman declares herself to be male by getting a name tattoo, she is treated as a male for all purposes, though such women rarely have children. If they do (which is shocking by plains morality), they are relatives. Also, any catamites / eromenoi your father or uncles have are relatives. For hard numbers, this is typically between 20-40 people, since nomad families tend to be large.

On the other hand, your mother's brothers and your father's sisters and their children are not considered close enough to fall within incest taboos (they are "cross cousins" in anthropological jargon). While still related, they are distant relations, comparable to second cousins in our own society.

Your sept (your Kadiz character's "middle" name) is your paternal grandfather's, who founded the "sept" to which your father and his brothers belong. Your clan is an agnatic descent group from some male ancestor.

Relatives are a ready source of allies, warriors, friends and expertise who are customarily obligated to help you, unless you have been declared a bandit, in which case they will probably help you anyhow and pretend not to have.

The Kadiz and Hill People are constantly raiding one another. Around a 1/3rd of all women are abducted from external groups, and their fathers, brothers etc. may be trying to kill you or at least may raid you with the intent of abducting your female relatives (or you may be doing the same to you). This explains why doing so does not constitute incest, since the same groups tend to raid one another over and over again due to geographic proximity.

This hashes out into the following two new uses for the Culture (Own) Skill:

Who Will Back Me Up In a Fight?

A character may test Culture (Own) to determine how many of their male relatives and friends are available for violent purposes. This does not mean they are on hand at the present moment, simply that they are old enough, skilled enough, physically well enough, and closely related enough that they will be of some use in violent struggle.

A successful check lets the PC know an exact number, along with a clear idea of how they can be reached. The clear idea may not necessarily be convenient or even possible (if, say a PC is imprisoned). If the referee does not have a specific family tree worked out, it may be convenient to roll 3d10 for the number of warriors who can be summoned. This number may be increased if a PC is part of a particularly fecund or prominent sept, or reduced as appropriate if circumstances like a previous disaster or depopulation have reduced the family.

A critical success allows the PC to know an exact number, along with a workable plan on how they can be reached as rapidly as possible. This may still be agonisingly slow under the circumstances, but the plan has a good, though not inevitable, chance of succeeding. The PC can roll 5d10, as minor relations are encouraged by closer ones, and a portion of the broader sept and clan come to the rescue. Alternately, if the PC has established a common ancestor with a group who normally would not consider themselves relatives, a critical success allows him to call on them as allies instead. 3d10 will arrive to support him, and they may be much more accessible than distant relatives of closer relation.

A failed check means the PC miscalculates, perhaps forgetting whether certain relatives have come of age, or are injured, or off elsewhere. They do not receive any useful information from the referee about how they can be contacted, and must formulate a plan on their own.

A critical failure means that the PC miscalculates the capability of his family to support him, and may in fact arrive at what he thinks is a workable plan that is spectacularly incorrect. Examples include sending a messenger to the wrong seasonal pasturage, forgetting to equip the messenger with tokens of safe passage or a description of one's name tattoo, interrupting an important clan ritual with one's complaints, etc. The net result is that either no one comes, or they are significantly delayed beyond the point of usefulness.

Who Am I Feuding With / Who Am I in Debt To?

When one member of a sept enters into a feud or incurs a debt which they cannot repay, it is the responsibility of the entire sept to ensure that the feud is discharged honourably or the debt paid off. A successful Culture (Own) test allows one to keep accurate track of these matters, so that one is not surprised by the debt-owners or feuding enemies. Failure simply means that one loses track of it all.