Mar 31, 2012

Ten Rivers and Hinterland Map

This map is to the immediate south of the Cauldron and Hinterland map. You can click on it for a larger version. The Lorinths and Solkars, like the Torbails, are nomads, while the villages are Hill People. Dwer Tor is the south, and will be on the next regional map.

Mar 29, 2012

Emern Update

The Emern game has been on hiatus for a month, but I ran a session tonight and it looks like we'll be playing every fortnight for a while. The PCs encountered Yuan-Ti from the moon who took them into custody and offered to make them rulers of the human population of the world so long as they would conduct their dominion in the interests of the Yuan-Ti. The Yuan-Ti left for the moon 2000 years ago when the various underpeople created to be the successors to Don Marengo's civilisation went to war with one another (or so they claim) and returned six months ago when Don Marengo was killed while trying to stop the Caquix in Xapoltecan. They chose the Isla de Naufragio for its regional importance (and its climate), as a number of dangerous individuals from Don Marengo's time are located there, including "God", who the PCs awoke on Sword Isle and who created the leechmen and kraken-shoggoths.

The Yuan-Ti have decided to conquer earth and preserve its ecological diversity before mankind once again rises to an advanced technological civilisation and destroys it. This will preserve with the genetic material they need to artificially supplement their small genetic pool to prevent cloned Yuan-Ti from degenerating into mindless snake men through mutation. They will cull the population of humans, elves, dwarves and goblins (which they see as one species) to keep it manageable. They need some human figureheads to make this process more easily palatable, and because the Yuan-Ti are a non-hierarchical, non-territorial society that does not operate on an exchange economy, while the most widespread societies on earth are. Also, the Yuan-Ti are not inherently violent (they are predatory but not territorial) and wish to harness the sentient races who are to do the dirty work.

This session was a lot of roleplaying. There was a brief period where the PCs were taken to the Yuan-Ti outpost, and then they met the 2000 year old Yuan-Ti Ambassador, who had silver translator wires that let him speak Emern and Tash (and all other human tongues), except for words that didn't exist in each language but did in Yuan-Ti. The voice his translation wires projected was metallic, like Stephen Hawking with emotion, until they had trained him to speak the languages. When it couldn't find the right word, it spat out "UNTRANSLATABLE" like Stephen Hawking on PCP. He looked mostly human except for yellow snake eyes like a python. They ate a bowl of live baby mice and drank a diluted narcotic venom in cut crystal goblets in an art deco lounge. One of the PCs had to pee, and managed to get through using a modern toilet without humiliating himself (the other side of the room had a trench for the more snakey Yuan-Ti to slide into for snake craps). The Yuan-Ti let them stay in the guest suite of their cave-fortress's tower, which had a computer, a printer, a Brita pitcher and a handheld neural-disintegrator along with several comfortable beds.

Most of the session was talking to the Ambassador and trying to figure out his agenda or see what they could get from him. He gave one PC an injection that stopped the ageing process and cured a minor genetic flaw that would have led to pancreatic cancer in forty years. Another PC found the lost city of Zancalla on the satellite feed, but the Ambassador warned him away from it, saying that it was the laboratory where the underpeople (including the Yuan-Ti and minotaurs) were created, and that it had defenses that were still intact and would kill him. The PCs eventually decided that they would be in deep shit if they accepted, and they had Sapporo Saki, whose player just bowed out, draw out the Resolver of Conundrums, a small white metallo-ceramic disk with a peace symbol on one side and a line on the other which they found in a altar last session that was being protected by a giant undead sloth with laser eyes created during the underpeople wars (or so the Yuan-Ti claim). Nobody is totally sure what it does. Saki concentrated on the disk, clapped both hands around it, there was a fade to white, and the session ended.

Mar 26, 2012

The Long Narrative: Better Notes Part 2

One of the most common problems referees have is coming up with names for NPCs on the fly. These days, many people use name generators to create names beforehand, but they typically only create a small number of names ahead of time, and then find themselves floundering in play, or coming up with some random agglomeration of syllables. 

My suggestion is that one ought to take a name generator or name list appropriate to the feel one wishes, and create a huge list of names, many more than one immediately needs, and then print this list off in single columns on two pages (I recommend both sides of a single sheet). Repetition is fine, so long as bynames, last names or nicknames can be used to distinguish individuals. I also recommend that one side be male names and one be female names. You can make more as you exhaust any given page.

The use of this list in play is that whenever one needs a name, one can simply glance at the list, and pick the next unused name off. I mark names that have already been used with a check mark and include a short description (only a few words), so that an entry that has been used will look something like "Tom Flatnose - Only priest in Norchester". I start at the top of the column and work my way down so that it's faster to reference, instead of hunting for names. I also make sure that I group people with the same last name, or who are otherwise related together, and I'll sometimes draw a bracket on the lefthand side of the column to make that clear. It also makes it easier to jump them if they're not appropriate for the scene going on.

What you may find this encourages you to do is fill out crowd scenes and other situations where there are large numbers of people with named individuals rather than a faceless horde of peasants, courtiers, etc. I find this is extremely effective at bringing crowd scenes to life. Saying "All the village folk have surrounded the tavern where the exciseman is staying. The crowd is waving pitchforks and torches. You can see Margaret of Cardin with Charles Vourner and James Vourner, the Vourner Brothers, in the front looking furious, and at the back screaming for blood are Tom Coxcomb and Lara Willwright," brings the scene to life in an effective way, even if the players don't actually know who any of these people are. It encourages PCs to ask questions, and seek out what knowledge they do possess about these people, which will give them and you ideas about how they can react to what is going on.

Mar 25, 2012

Places to Go: Grey Hill Quarry

An old back injury flared up and I've been incapacitated for a few days as a result.

Hex 2002 of the Cauldron and Hinterland map: Grey Hill Quarry

The Orthocracy of Kaddish relies on incredible amounts of cement and concrete to construct its buildings, and the limestone needed is mainly quarried and pulverised by an army of zombie and skeleton labourers at the Grey Hill Quarry, which produces the highest quality clinker due to trace elements of aluminum, sulphur and gypsum in the rock. It is a vast open pit mine carved into the side of a large stone hill, with dozens of smaller galleries cutting deeper into the rock.

The Grey Hill Quarry is run by Linus Vortha Hassan, on behalf of the powerful Hassan clan. He employs a force of about a hundred living persons, mostly guards and foremen with a small number of gnostics, to oversee an undead force of thousands. They live in a reinforced concrete keep at the top of the hill and travel in large, well armed gangs to defend themselves from their bloodthirsty workforce. Hassan also employs a gigantic necrophagous ogre named "Yurch" as his night-watchman to prevent escapes.

The labourers are a mixture of zombies and skeletons from diverse sources. The first were gathered hundreds of years ago from the battlefields of Black Eagle Pass, while others came when the Wastes were created. New arrivals tend to be slaves purchased from nomads or slave cartels out of Kaddish and then slaughtered. About half are intelligent, wicked undead created when a person died and was not buried, while the other half are unintelligent corpses reanimated through necromantic magic. Only the unintelligent ones are allowed out of the mine, where they pulverise the stones and load the clinker into wagons to be transported back to the Orthocracy. The mine has been in operation for over four hundred years, but the living are not allowed past the threshold without Hassan's permission.

Unknown to Hassan, several of the intelligent undead are the remnants of the cult of the Joyous who were killed when the Wastes were created. Their new state has done nothing to diminish their lust for blood and flesh, and they have proselytised to many of their fellow undead, so that now most of the mine's population is under their sway. The Joyous know that Eater-of-Corpses is still alive, but have not yet managed to make contact with him. They are lead by Dreamer-of-Darkness, the former leader of the living cult, now an elf skeleton with only a few tattered scraps of flesh and hair hanging down over eyes of black fire. 

Dreamer-of-Darkness has discovered the instrument of her revenge in the deepest gallery of the mine, far under the earth. This is a 4m' long purple glass slab known as the "Huthmankexir" from the engraved runes on it that Dreamer-of-Darkness has partially deciphered. It is a solidified piece of dream-stuff, and can be used as a portal into the dream world. Dreamer-of-Darkness intends to invade the dream world of the Kaddish bodily with her army of zombie slaves and then slay the entire population as they sleep.

Mar 22, 2012

Fighter Abilities, Morale Checks and Fatigue

I think morale enriches combat and allows PCs options on resolving combat other than slaughtering their enemies mercilessly. When I finally introduce fatigue mechanics (the fatigue saving throw concept), I plan to make morale an off-shoot of them - morale checks will be a type of fatigue check. Turning undead will be a morale check (specifically, it will force undead creatures to make a major fatigue check, and will be one of the few ways of forcing them to make such checks).

I also think that yet another feature fighters should have is the ability to force morale checks in certain situations. This represents the awe-inspiring and disheartening skill with which they dispatch their opponents, or perhaps merely their savagery. Mindless monsters like golems and undead will have special rules about making fatigue checks that will make this less useful against them. Two proposed powers:

Ferocious Hewing: Whenever a fighter deals sufficient damage to kill an enemy, he can force one other opponent to make a morale check. Failure means they must cower or retreat for one minute (DM's choice).

Champion Slayer: Whenever a fighter of 5th level or greater deals sufficient damage to kill the enemy with the highest remaining hit dice, he can force all remaining opponents to make a morale check. Failure means they throw themselves on his mercy or flee screaming (DM's choice).

Mar 21, 2012

PvP and Bullying

A recent post from Magician's Manse got me thinking about PvP again. It sounds like the monk player there was being an asshole and a bully, though Ian doesn't want to come out and say it. I don't play in the Flailsnails / Constant Con Google Plus games, so I don't have to worry about anyone's emotions.

I think referees ought to step in to prevent bullying between players (not between characters), and that the most effectively way to prevent it is not to have a long talk about expectations and people's emotions, but to simply and firmly assert authority over the bully. Basically, you make an injunction, and then refuse to negotiate or argue about it. Bullying people is all about getting them to accept your authority over them as somehow deserved or legitimate, and a common tactic when one's victims resist is to negotiate or argue, especially if you can present yourself as an expert or at least the best qualified to discuss an issue. A bully wants to provoke you into an obviously emotional and irrational outburst which allows him to assert that he is the most rational, most level-headed, not so overcome by emotion, etc. which allows further bullying and control to be exerted. The best response here is not to give into that, and get as angry as you feel is appropriate. It's also why it's always easier to stand up for someone else when they're being bullied rather than for yourself when you're being bullied, because you haven't got someone else directly asserting their authority over you to prevent you from resisting them.

When you assert authority over them and then refuse to negotiate or argue about it or to allow one's self to be trivialised emotionally, a bully's options reduce to withdrawal / submission or violence. Most won't escalate to violence (and you probably shouldn't be gaming with them anyhow unless you like being threatened constantly). Most will submit, even if only half-heartedly.

The problem in the above example really happens well before there's any trouble, when the other PCs are acting from a position of good faith, but ignorance, and the bully has them submitting to his authority using a plausible pretext (I'm the highest level; this is my home game). Especially in online games or games where you're not face to face (like the Flailsnails games), this is super easy to get away with because all the rich social cues you use to figure out that someone is the interpersonal equivalent of a fluttering scabrous strand of menses are suppressed, either because it's all text, or there's only tiny boxes of people's faces with so-so microphones and lighting.

Also, the referee should have stepped in from the get-go and said "This is a dungeon for first level characters, I'm looking for first level characters. This isn't a first level character," to the troublesome player. I'd bet money he was pressured into letting the bully's character participate by the bully. This is no doubt exacerbated if the bully can talk to the referee one-on-one and strip away any third parties who will help the referee resist the bullying.

Cutting down assholes is pretty fundamental to keeping gaming a living hobby.

[Review] The New Death and Others

Disclosure: I received a free pdf copy of this work for review. I read his blog, but don't know him other than that. I contacted him before this review to ask him if he wanted me to publish it, and he said yes.

The New Death and Others is a 94 page self-published pdf by James Hutchings of the Teleleli blog. It's a combination of short stories, most under a page long, and poems. The poems are poetic retellings of a number of famous fantasy short stories by authors such as Robert Howard and HP Lovecraft (with credit given). The stories are pastiches of Neil Gaiman and the 1001 Nights with a lot of recursion and comedy, sort of postmodern fables.

The book has two good stories in it, The Scholar and the Moon and Temptation, three OK stories (The God of the City of Dust, Everlasting Fire, the Name of the Helper), a group that have good concepts and images but need major rewriting (How the Isle of Cats Got Its Name, the Construction Workers of Telelee, Sigrun and the Shepherd) and the rest. The poems are solid.

Most of the stories are intended to be humourous, although some are not, and some don't seem to want to be funny until the halfway point or later. Most have what is presented as a "twist" ending, which works well exactly once in the collection. Too often, they pull one out of the story one is reading just at the point where one has started to suspend disbelief and invest in the situation. This creates an extremely frustrating reading experience, and it took me a couple of weeks to get through the book (which is about 1/20th my normal reading speed) because I kept on giving up and starting to skim after a very brief time.

The two stories that I consider the best are the two that also happen to maintain the most consistent tones, or at least follow the most comprehensible progression of tone. The Scholar and the Moon has an ethereal, fantastical air that is maintained throughout, and the ending doesn't attempt to change our understanding of what has occurred so much as reflect back on what we've seen going on throughout the story. Temptation has a briefly fantastical set-up, before getting into the banter between a demon and the wizard who summoned him. The dialogue helps it maintain a consistently humourous tone that builds hilariously throughout the story and then pays off in the last line.

Otherwise, however, the twists often appear to be a drive for the humourous to avoid more conventional resolutions. I will not speculate on why they do this, but many of them have strong and interesting premises that would have been better served with a serious, or at least semi-serious treatment.

Stylistically, the book is overwritten, fairly common for self-published texts. Clause is piled upon clause, often contradicting or modifying one another until the whole sentence becomes an unreadable mess. This is not improved by the author's tendency to make final clauses comment ironically on the preceding portions of the sentence. His word choice can be abtruse, pretentious and ill-chosen all at once, and there are times where a single word is almost enough to pull one out of the story, especially the frequent references to shit.

There is some genuinely interesting and captivating imagery buried in the individual stories, even some of the fairly poor ones. There is a gargoyle in The Scholar and the Moon who wears a glittering cape, and this detail is well-chosen enough for the character that it sticks in my mind. In The God of the City of Dust, the descriptions of the various idols and gods are excellent and succinct. In How the Isle of Cats Got Its Name, the cat-harp is by far the most memorable and interesting thing in the story. I don't think the author lacks for imagination, but more discipline in writing would serve these excellent images better by putting them in stories that deserve them.

Mar 19, 2012

New Major Wound Table for Openquest

I would like to use the major wound rules in Openquest, but they are far too brutal in actual play to draw on all that often. For those unaware of the rules, whenever one takes a hit that inflicts more than half of one's maximum HP after damage reduction for armour, one takes a major wound. One rolls a d10 on the major wound table and gets one of ten possible results.

HP is calculated as the average of SIZ and CON (round up), so most characters have between 10 and 13 HP. This total does not increase very often, and requires CON to be improved enough to increase the average, since one cannot improve SIZ. Critical hits ignore armour and inflict damage, so they are almost guaranteed to inflict a major wound. It takes three improvement points to increase a stat one point.

The problem comes in that major wounds are too great a penalty. One loses on average 4 stat points to a major wound, as well as other penalties. This might be massive skill loss, permanent paralysis, etc. This means it costs at least 12 improvement rolls to recover from a major wound. Healing skill checks and certain divine or sorcerous magic spells can heal major wounds, though it's unclear if they restore the stat or skill penalties (the spells seem like they would, the skill does not). This can be extremely problematic in games without easy access to these types of magic. In some cases (permanent paralysis), they are severe enough that they effectively remove the character from play until they can be magically healed.

I don't want to remove major wounds entirely, as they help contribute to the deadly feel of the game. However, they are too deadly. I also want more variety, especially around unconsciousness, as major wounds represent a quick way to knock someone out and potentially capture them. Finally, there's a collection of supplementary rules that happen when a major wound is inflicted that I think should be major wounds themselves rather than happening on all major wounds.

I therefore propose the following rules:

1) Characters should be able to improve their SIZ with improvement points like other stats, representing adding bulk and mass, rather than height.

2) Whenever a character inflicts a single wound that deals damage that is greater than half the target's maximum HP, the target receives a major wound. Which major wound is discovered by rolling 2d10 and consulting the Major Wound Table below.

3) "Regenerative magic" when referenced below means Divine Heal, Regenerate, and any other spells the referee feels are appropriate. It specifically excludes the "Heal" battle magic spell.

Major Wound Table

2 Severe Brain Damage: The character's INT drops to 1d6 and all skills that use INT to calculate their starting percentages are at -50%. This condition requires regenerative magic to cure. Regenerative magic will heal the INT loss and remove the penalty.

3 Minor Brain Damage: The character loses 4 points of INT and all skills that use INT to calculate their starting percentages are at -25%. This condition requires regenerative magic to cure. Regenerative magic will heal the INT loss and remove the penalty.

4 Arm Severed: The character's arm is severed above the elbow. Anything it was holding is dropped. Roll percentiles for which arm: 1-50 Right Arm 51-100 Left Arm. They begin losing 1 HP per round until a successful Healing check is administered to staunch the bleeding. This injury requires regenerative magic to cure.

5 Nerve Damage: The injury damages the character's nervous system. They lose 4 points of DEX and counts as fatigued. They must succeed on a Persistence or fall unconscious for 1d10 minutes. A Healing check can wake them if they fall unconscious, but regenerative magic is required to heal the DEX loss. They have to recover all lost hit points before they count as "resting" for the purposes of recovering from the fatigue.

6 Eye Gouged Out: The character loses an eye. All Perception tests are at -25% permanently. Losing both eyes blinds the character. The character begins losing 1 HP per round until a successful Healing check can be administered. Regenerative magic is required to heal this injury.

7 Concussed: The character must succeed on a Persistence test or fall unconscious for 1d10 hours. Whether they succeed on the test or not, they are now fatigued. If they do fall unconscious, they do not count the hours of unconsciousness as rest for the purposes of recovering from fatigue. A successful Healing check will restore them to consciousness but not cure the fatigue.

8 Stunned Fugue: The character must succeed on a Persistence test or can do nothing but stumble around for 1d10 hours helplessly. They move at 1/4 their normal movement rate. They drop anything they are holding, and must be led by hand to move in a single direction. They must make a Persistence check or lash out with a punch or kick at anyone who grabs them roughly. Such an attack is at -50%. A successful Healing check will restore them to consciousness.

9 Arm Mangled: The character's arm becomes useless. They drop whatever they are holding in it. Roll percentiles to determine which arm: 1-50 Right Arm, 51-100 Left Arm. This injury requires a Healing check or regenerative magic to cure.

10 Blackout: The target must succeed on a Persistence check or immediately fall unconscious for 1d10 minutes

11 Crippling Pain: The target must succeed on a Persistence check to attempt any action other than writhing on the ground and screaming. A separate Persistence check is required for each action. This continues until a successful Healing check is administered.

12 Agony: The target must succeed on a Resilience check or immediate fall unconscious for 1d10 minutes

13 Leg Mangled: The character's leg becomes useless. They drop prone and require support (a cane, crutch or another person) to move at 1/4 their normal rate. Roll percentiles to determine which leg: 1-50 Right Leg 51-100 Left Leg. This injury requires a Healing check or regenerative magic to cure.

14 Hemorrhage: The character begins losing 1 HP per round until a successful Healing check is administered to staunch the bleeding.

15 Broken Ribs: All skills whose starting percentages are calculated with STR, DEX or CON are reduced by 50% from pain and weakness. To start recovering from this, a successful Healing check must be performed to set the ribs. The penalty goes away when all hit points lost in the attack are recovered.

16 Internal Bleeding: The character begins losing 1 HP per round until a successful Healing check is performed. The character becomes fatigued. The character does not count as "resting" for the purposes of removing the fatigue until all the hit points lost in the attack are recovered.

17 Organ Damage: One of the character's vital organs is pierced. They lose 4 points of CON and begin losing 1 HP per round. The HP loss continues until a successful Healing check is administered. Regenerative magic or Improvement Point expenditure are required to heal the CON loss.

18 Leg Severed: The character's leg is severed above the knee. They drop prone and will required a prosthetic or other support to move at 1/4 their normal rate. They begin losing 1 HP per round until a successful Healing check is administered to staunch the bleeding. Regenerative magic is required to heal the injury.

19 Severe Lower Spinal Injury: The character is permanently paralysed below the waist and may not attempt any skill check that requires their legs. This condition requires regenerative magic to cure.

20 Severe Upper Spinal Injury: The character is permanently paralysed below the neck and may not attempt any skill check that requires their limbs. This condition requires regenerative magic to cure.

"Where Do You Get Your Adventure Ideas From?"

I saw a thread on about this, and it's a question that's come up several times in discussion with new players, especially ones who are thinking about DMing but intimidated by the concept. I've talked with several people I consider excellent referees about this over the years, and thought I'd share the fruits of those discussions.

The first thing to get out of the way are modules. I don't actually know very many referees I would consider excellent who rely on published modules, unless they've written them themselves. The best referees I know will occasionally pilfer a map, or a character idea, or a statblock, but the elements tend to be pulled out and inserted into their own games rather than run straight. The less story-driven a module is, the more useful it seems to be, since the group is busy telling their own stories. Also, narratives in modules tend to be written and presented in exactly the wrong sort of way to make them useful. There are rarely timelines or relationship maps, or sensible, coherent descriptions of NPCs' motivations. An evil mastermind's plan presented as a simple flowchart would be a drastic improvement over the longform notes presented piecemeal throughout an entire module, which seems to be the norm.

The second source is imitation. I know a lot of people who use television, film, and books as inspirations for adventure (and campaign) ideas. I'm not personally much of a fan of this for my own games, but I have seen it done well. The most successful adaptations of this technique tend to involve two or more different sources that are blended. When I see this process done well, it reminds me of one way professional screenwriters create compelling dramatic characters, which is by combining two real people's qualities into one person. The worst imitations tend to be the "X + Y" type, where two sources are layered on top of one another rather than blended. Often this involves merely transplanting characters or ideas from one source into the dramatic situation of another source. I also count recreating historical situations as imitative, though I do use this far more than television, film and books as a source.

The third type of source is the setting itself. This is more common with published or well-established settings, and I think that one of the reasons metaplots in published game lines are so popular is that they give you an idea of what kinds of adventures PCs should be having. This is the one I tend to draw on the most, since I love world-building. A good campaign setting should have plenty of possible frames (the initial situations that define and incentivise the goals PCs will pursue), and I think that defining these kinds of frames does far more to make a setting playable than does detailing every innkeeper's name and stat-line or every hex (though these can be useful as well).

The fourth I'll call the "imaginstic" source. The best referee I know, my buddy Curtis, uses this one a lot, as do I and many others. This is where one gets an idea for a character, situation, image, etc. Some singular element that isn't necessarily tied into anything else or part of some greater structure. One then starts from this single idea and develops an adventure or campaign idea based on it.

The last two, despite being far more productive and useful in my mind than the first two, do have the weakness of basically pushing the problem to the second-order - how does one get the images or ideas, how does one pick out the elements of the setting that will be most amenable to being gamed?

The answer is "creativity", of course, but "creativity" isn't really an innate, divine talent that one receives at birth. So here's a simple exercise that can lead one to develop adventure ideas.

Exercise: Breaking things

The point of this exercise is to take a happy situation and remove or degrade elements of it until it is an unhappy one. You start by imagining a happy situation according to the trappings, settings, or whatever other constraint you have. For example, it might be a well-run fantasy kingdom at the medieval level.

Then, you list out all the elements you consider relevant to creating this situation. The kingdom might have a just and popular king, righteous nobles, industrious peasants, religious harmony, abundant natural resources, peace, prosperity, and fair laws. The more specific the better, but even broad strokes will work.

Then you start inverting or removing these things. So "religious harmony" becomes "religious strife". Invert or remove them one at a time. Each time you do, assume that at some point the good thing existed, and tell a little story about how and why it stopped existing. I recommend stories that are exactly three sentences long, each one describing one event or change that happened along the way. I also recommend they mention one or more specific people who do things.

"A monk began preaching that the dogmas of the church were lies and was excommunicated. He built an army of followers who defended him from the church. Eventually, his followers attacked the church in a crusade."

Sentence 1 is your set-up or backstory, sentence 2 is the present situation when play begins, and sentence 3 is the future unless the PCs act to stop it. The person mentioned in the sentences is either the ally of the PCs or the antagonist whom the PCs oppose.

Once you have two or three of these little stories written out, you should have enough material for at least one adventure if you combine them all. If it's not, continue writing these out until you have enough, or check to make sure your stories have enough specificity, and aren't just broad strokes. It can help to make all three sentences describe the specific actions of the person at various places and times.

I could rewrite the above as "A monk began preaching that the dogmas of the church were lies and was excommunicated. He preached a great sermon at Colchester on Easter and converted many people who defended him. He spoke to them a month later in London to convince them to kill their local priests and burn their churches."

Mar 18, 2012

Places to Go: The Wastes

Hexes 0508, 0509, 0608-0613, 0707-0713, 0807-0813, 0908-0913, 1007-1014, 1109-1114, 1210-1215, 1312-1314 and 1413 on the Cauldron and Hinterlands map.

The Wastes are an old battleground that was devastated four hundred years ago. The area used to be the southern border of the Kingdom of High Kaddish until a cannibal immortalism cult known as "the Joyous" established itself, killed most of the inhabitants and were preparing to sacrifice the rest to an arch-devil who they believed would lead them to conquer Kaddish. The Undying Strategists authorised the use of the Chains of Life and Death, one of their weapons of mass destruction. The Chains (which resemble extremely fine spiderwebs) link all living things within their radius together so that the death of one means the death of all. Within seconds of deployment, the death of a single bacterium caused everything to die - plants, animals, cultists, victims, and the half-emerged arch-devil. The Chains have mostly dispersed harmlessly by this point, though a few patches here and there can be found. They are still potent (though safe if not directly handled), and the Undying Strategists will hunt down those who fail to return them.

0910 contains the slumped, rotting, upper body of the arch-devil. The area is marked by triliths engraved with runes that glow green under a full moon. The upper body is about 15m long, laying "face" down. It appears as a four-armed mass of deep blue flesh with a bony epidermis covered in projecting horns, ridges, etc. The bones are extremely valuable to gnostics, collectors and smiths. The creature completely fills the portal, which is still open. Over the intervening centuries, lesser devils have been gnawing their way through his lower half, attempting to escape into the world. Cutting the arch-devil apart for its bone will free them.

Only one member of the Joyous survived the attack. He is an gnoll who calls himself "Eater-of-Corpses" who has lived these past four hundred years preying on travellers. He avoids consuming their pineal glands, which mean his victims rise as undead, which he binds to his service. Eater-of-Corpses has a small hut in 1013 which he is based out of, though he roams the plains.

The people killed in the attack have congregated for unknown reasons in 0709 as undead. There are about a thousand of them still active enough to be a threat, and they are clustered around a grey stone statue of a leopard that the ancient Hazilua carved, though no one knows why.

Mar 16, 2012

Places to Go: The Cauldron

Hexes 1107, 1108, 1208, 1209, 1308, 1309, 1310, 1311, 1409, 1410, 1411, 1412, 1509, 1510, 1511, 1610, 1611, and 1710 on the Cauldron and Hinterland map

The Cauldron was once a massive sea floor trench, but when the ancient seas receded, it became a verdant, humid wetland. The bottom of the chasm is over 500m on average from the top, with steep cliff walls and a spectacular waterfall at the southern end called the "Skywater". There are a few tracks here and there that wind down, with the widest and shallowest in 1311 and the second easiest in 1107. The chasm has several large deposits of red glass in it, which draws treasure seekers looking to make a fortune and the agents of Jarek the Snake.

The Cauldron is much hotter and wetter than the surrounding plains. It is often completely clouded by fog which the wind lifts off in great drifting clouds, giving the place its name. Down on the abyssal plain, there is a complex rainforest whose canopy combined with the high walls keeps the floor of the chasm shrouded. The Cauldron is densely populated with animals otherwise not found outside the Great Forest, as well as many monsters who have made their way down the paths from the Hill of Release.

1410 and 1510 are an unnamed endorheic freshwater lake. It is inhabited by a godfish smuggled across the plains by the Men from Across the Desert, as they are wont to do. The godfish's temple name is Ab-Xal-Inth (it of course, has no use for the names mere mortals dare to give it). It has begun to use its malign psychic powers to seize control of the creatures who come to the lake to drink. As with all godfish, its greater agenda is incomprehensible to mere mortals, but undoubtedly it shows the signs of the megalomania typical to such creatures.

In the northern part of the canyon (1107, 1108, 1208 and 1209), the most frequently encountered creature is a rusty golem known to the few who journey to the Cauldron as "The Rust Spider". Created during High Kaddish's short-lived experimentation with magical automation, it is roughly humanoid with ten arms, and about four times the height of a man, with thick plates of rusted iron scales covering its body. The golem desires to bring all projects to completion in a timely and efficient manner. A passing philosopher once explained the goal of ethical living to it as "to die well" and became the first victim of the golem's eager assistance in this regard.

1311 contains a sessile predatory hut, originally created by the soul-forgers in one of their inscrutable exercises of sadistic whimsy. The hut is capable of swelling itself from a cozy cottage to a large hall depending on the number of travelers. Its breath smells of roast duck, and its feces resembles stacked cords of firewood. Once the party is safely inside, they can find several pitcher-glands containing alcohol laced with soporifics. If they go to sleep, the creature crushes the floor and roof of its mouth (the inside of the room) together to crush them for better digestion. The creature can be recognised when its eyes are "open", as the roof tiles that serve as eyelids flip up.

The Black Eagle Tribe has set up a hunting encampment in 1412 at the top of the trail leading down to the Cauldron. There are between 30 and 50 elves, gnolls and humans of various ages there at any given time, hunting, scavenging and preventing fools with death wishes from journeying to the bottom of the cavern.

A mad hermit lives in 1710. He has no magical powers or talents except for one - he cannot be affected by magic. Even he doesn't know why. He knows where many of the deposits of red glass are, though he is extremely concerned about the godfish and will demand that anyone who wishes a guide first slay it. The godfish has received many new humanoid servants as a result of this request.

Gaming Plans 2012

If you had asked me even in university if I would have been able to plan out my gaming plans for an entire year ahead of time, I would have laughed. These days, things are different, and I find that my gaming is stable enough that I have a planning horizon of about 18 months.

In 2012:

Thousand Thrones (Every other Sunday) 

This is an expected 36+ sessions, so I should still be playing it somewhere around a year and a half from now

Emern (Every other Wednesday) 

This is a recent change, and may not be permanent. Emern used to be weekly, but we've had the last two weeks off. School is getting busy for one of the players, and I recently had a player leave due to scheduling commitments, so I'm hoping we can recruit some new blood and fiddle with the schedule to make sure it works for everyone.

Dark Heresy (Once a month on Saturday)

Curtis, the best DM I know, is planning to start coming back to Toronto in April or May to run a heavily houseruled version of Dark Heresy in a custom setting. The group attached to this game was for many years my "main" gaming group, but it imploded in spring last year, lingered in its dying spasms through summer and fall, and died full on in late December / early January. I'm hopeful we'll go from Narsil to Anduril over time.

Dawnlands (TBD)

I was originally planning to run a Dawnlands game in March, but I've been busy with the interview process for a job and some other things. Now that I have the job and a definite starting date, I'm thinking of running the game online per a suggestion by my buddy Jude. I'm thinking it will be every other week, on IRC or another platform if people have recommendations, in 4 hour sessions. I'm looking for text-based platforms instead of speech or video ones, I think. Anyhow, this'll have open recruitment, and I'll put up a post when I'm ready letting folks know.

Places to Go: The Labyrinth of the Sklen

Hex 0410 on the Cauldron and Hinterland Map: The Labyrinth of the Sklen

The sklen are a race of dog-sized labyrinth-building beetles from the dream world. They were summoned long ago by a shaman to construct a catacombs in which he could hide the treasures gathered on his many adventures, and they have remained in place ever since. The massive labyrinth extends for kilometres underground, and is built out of large rounded tunnels and chambers. The sklen themselves have continued to dig deeper and move the treasures as they go. The upper levels have become infested with all manner of weird and horrific monsters that have found refuge there from the Hill of Release.

The sklen look like large silvery weevils with jet-coloured carapaces that are about the size of a mastiff. They are normally peaceful, but will attack if approached or attacked. They have two defenses. The first is a toxic spray that causes insanity, mainly the delusion that one is trapped in an infinitely complex labyrinth from which escape is impossible. The second is a fearsome bite that drains blood.

Their eggs contain highly psychoactive chemicals in high demand in Dwer Tor as a recreational drug, though they must be ground up thoroughly before using. Otherwise, the person who snorts, smokes or eats them will hallucinate and dream constantly as the egg migrates to his dream life, gestates and hatches there. The young sklen will eat the person's dreams and then leave for the dream world using the victim's mind as a portal, which may allow other creatures like horror-ants to come back through. The whole process from consumption to hatching takes about a month, and makes more than an hour or two of sleep a night impossible.

Mar 15, 2012

Places to Go: The Hill of Release

Hex 0701 on the Cauldron and Hinterlands Map: The Hill of Release

The area surrounding the Hill of Release is the most monster-plagued part of the Dawnlands short of the inner depths of the Molten Womb, or the ruins of the Cities of Night. This is because the Hill of Release is where the Kaddish soulforgers traditionally release their creations once they no longer require them for any other purpose. This is done in a festive, congratulatory air, especially when it's a new Master Forger's first true-breeding species.

The hill itself is unassuming. It is located about a day's march south of the nearest hill fort, and consists of a set of large pits with gutters to release the creatures from, and a stone tower of four levels, with a balcony ringing the top level. The tower is known as the Impregnable Tower, and is sealed to visitors by the orders and magic of the soulforgers. When not being used, it is guarded from intrusion by the Thurakan Himex, a creature made of glass and shadow with a killing gaze that spares only those who know its command word.

Recent releases from the tower including a humanoid set of glass pipes whose whistling drives those who hear it insane, a collection of giant crabs with dog's heads for claws, a herd of horses made of quicksand into which anyone attempting to ride them is drawn inexorably, and a flock of ravens made of interlinked legs of brass spiders. These are far from the strangest creatures to have been created and set free to plague the Dawnlands.

Mar 14, 2012

The Cauldron and the Tomb of Thranisphane

This map is to the immediate south of the map of the Orthocracy of Kaddish and its hinterland.

I know I've been blasting you folks with a lot of anthropology and other high-level stuff lately, and people who haven't read theRPGsite thread are probably asking "What is there for PCs to do in this setting exactly?" This map, containing the tomb of Thranisphane, is a good opportunity for me to give you a taste of that.

The Tomb of Thranisphane the Twice-Killed

Thranisphane was an ancient king of High Kaddish, one renowned for his wickedness and evil. Even death was not enough to stop Thranisphane, for he returned as an undead monster, slew his own children, and reigned over High Kaddish for ten years before he was slain once more while fighting the Black Eagle tribe of the Hill People. The Black Eagles took him within a circle of binding stones and sat him atop a throne made of red glass, with unbreakable pins through his wrists and ankles to hold him in place. Thranisphane still sits there, dead and yet not passed from this world, waiting for the end of time when he will break free and stride over the dead earth as its lord. Thranisphane knows many things, and though it is death to come too close, brave men may stand at the bottom of the hill and shout questions to him, which he will answer or not as he pleases, though his answers are not always truthful.

The twelve stones are arranged as four trilithon gates. Walking between gates kills the one who attempts it, but the gates are comparatively safe. Walking through a gate transports one to another point in time. All four gates were originally in the future of the Black Eagles, but as time has passed, the end point of one has passed into history. All people who will ever travel through the gate arrive within about an hour of the same point in time, with just enough displacement between petitioners to prevent jams. This means that the hill at each endpoint save one is relatively crowded.

The northern gate leads to the end of the world, to a few minutes before Thranisphane is released. This gate is no longer safe, as the number of petitioners present has become large enough that they cannot all petition Thranisphane before he is released, whereupon he kills anyone still remaining and strides forth as Lord of the Dead. The land from the hill is flat, level and grey, a featureless waste in all directions. Overhead, the sun is red and swollen, and the heat is unbearable.

The eastern gate leads to what is estimated to be millions of years in the future. The hill is underwater, and those who cannot breathe water will quickly drown. Hive-intelligences composed of schools of small fish have built a city of black stone around the hill, using enslaved cephalopod gnostics as labourers. They will not cross the barrier, and know nothing of the times of Kaddish save what Thranisphane and other travellers tell them.

The southern gate leads to tens of thousands of years in the future. The hill is surrounded by a blue glowing dome of force, and in the distant horizon, a city of red glass blocks looms. The people who live in this time do not approach the hill. The skeleton of a great serpent lays around the base of the hill, just inside the perimeter of the gates.

The western gate leads to shortly after the revolution in Kaddish (about two hundred years ago). This is the most commonly used gate, but at this time, a great serpent lives here. Anyone entering will arrive at the same time as the serpent, and be forced to fight it.

Mar 13, 2012

Dog Sledding On the Plains of Kadiz

The Iditarod is expected to finish up tonight. For those unfamiliar, it's a commemorative race for a great real life adventure, the 1925 Nome Serum Run.


The Dawnlands has an abundance of dogs. All the major cultures raise, care for and use dogs in various ways. The Hill People in particular are fond of dogs, and raise great colonies of them which help startle the Kadiz's horses during raids.

The most common breed of dogs used for sledding are "elf-eared dogs", similar to huskies or Inuit sled dogs. Elf-eared dogs have forward-pointing triangular ears, large builds, and thick coats. They tend to patches of grey and white with occasional black and brown, and are used for herding, guarding livestock and children, and dog-sledding. They are an intelligent breed with lots of energy, and are allowed into the home, especially in the wintertime when they provide needed body heat.An adult dog stands about 3ft. high at the shoulder and weighs between 40 and 50kg in good shape.

Young Kadiz and Hill boys are given an elf-eared puppy to raise as a traditional gift around the time they can talk, and this dog will often become the lead dog of one of their teams. A sept typically has at least twice as many dogs as people. There is an old, humourous tale that gnolls originated from elves who loved their sled dogs too much, but gnolls and half-gnolls are known as being particularly good with dogs and sledding.


Dog sleds are operated with the "Drive" skill.

The broken karst geography of the plains and the heavy snowfalls it receives in winter makes riding horses extremely dangerous. Snow hides the cracks between rocks and drifts hide when exactly one of the stone shelves breaks, and drops or raises to another. Any sort of fast travel on horseback almost inevitably leads to injury to the horse, and probably to the rider as well when the animal fails. To compensate for this, most septs own at least one dog sled to allow them to travel safely in wintertime. They are used for hunting, for defense, and to travel between one encampment and another.

A typical sled is 2m long and about 0.75m wide, weighs around 20kg, and has traces for between 12 and 22 dogs, depending on its load. Using a sled on thick snow (more than 0.25m worth) lets the dogs pull about twice their body weight each, though the ideal load for long term travel is half that (20-25kg per dog). The sleds have a step on the back for the driver, and a slingbag in front to carry passengers or cargo.

The Kadiz and Hill People do a lot of fighting and hunting from sledback, since winter drives the more vicious predators of the plains wild with hunger and nearer to their camps. Slings, javelins and throwing axes are commonly employed. There is an uncommon variant of the sleds that mounts the drive closer to the front and turns the back of the sled into a platform for an archer, but it is extremely difficult to stay afoot as the sled maneuvers with both hands on a bow.

A Miscellany of House Rules for Openquest

This is a grab bag of various minor rules tweaks for Openquest.


Currently, humans move at 15m by default, and other creatures move at whatever speed the referee thinks is appropriate, but there are no clear guidelines for them. I propose the following:

All creatures can move a number of metres per round equal to the average of their DEX and SIZ. Dextrous creatures move more quickly, big creatures take longer strides.

Two Weapon Fighting

A person can always count their hand, if it is not holding anything, as a second weapon for the purposes of determining whether they are armed with two weapons or not. I think brings an element of swashbuckling into fights.

Called Shots

Characters may strike specific points on opponent's bodies if they so desire, though knocking things out of people's hands or off their bodies is done by the disarm maneuver. Called shots are at -25% and require the PC to give up their reaction for the round. They cannot be used to bypass armour or to maim opponents.

Mar 12, 2012

Representing Warrior's Expertise with Weapons

I run a Swords and Wizardry Complete game without weapon proficiencies. This is because I hate them, and find them pointless. I want wizards to use swords, for everyone to wave guns around, and for people to select weapons that express some element of their character's personality or style rather than because they're proficient with it. As readers of this blog know, I am strongly influenced by Runequest, where everyone casts spells and waves swords around, and I wanted to introduce this feature to D&D.

Without weapon proficiencies, one of the few advantages fighters and fighting-man classes have is removed. I am not bothered by its removal, since it's such a minor advantage that it barely qualifies as such. I have been considering replacing it with an ability that represents the fighter's training and expertise but that is also a significant and distinct advantage over other classes using weapons. I think that this expertise is not represented in the main mechanical use of the fighter's expertise, which is making attack rolls and dealing damage. I think in S&W Complete, the ranger and paladin already have enough advantages to compensate for this reduction, but the fighter doesn't really (though I do find S&W does a better job balancing the fighter with other classes. I would not be opposed to extending it to rangers and paladins in games with stat minimums to qualify for those classes (something I do not use). Here is my proposal to compensate the fighter:

Weapon Expertise

A fighter using a weapon upgrades the damage dice he rolls on a successful attack by one type using the following progression.


I prefer this system to static bonuses because it upgrades both average damage and maximum damage each time. It also incentivises the fighter to attack and press the offense, instead of just tanking for thieves and wizards, by making them attack specialists.

This is What Gnomes in the Dawnlands Look Like

Additions to the Weapon and Armour Creation System

This is for figuring out the encumbrance of the items created with the weapon and armour creation system for Openquest.

Armour has 1 ENC for every AP it provides. Nice and simple.

Weapons start at 0 ENC and add +1 ENC for each "Yes" to the following questions:

Is the weapon mostly made of metal?
Is it longer than one metre?
Does the weapon require two hands to wield effectively?
Does it deal most of its damage from the force of its impact?

If you want to use this with MRQ2, here are some suggestions for how to figure out which weapon-based combat maneuvers it gets. Any "Yes" answer gets the appropriate maneuver. These are relatively straightforward because a lot of it is already built into the weapon design of MRQ2.

Is the weapon wielded with two hands? Sunder
Does the weapon or projectile have a stabbing point? Impale
Does the weapon or projectile have a blade? Bleed
Does the weapon or projectile do most of its damage through force of impact? Stun Location
Does the weapon or projectile have a tensile component that wraps around the opponent? Entangle

Yes, this means halberds no longer have entangle. They are the only exception to the above principle in the core rules, and I can't figure out why they would have it and poleaxes wouldn't.

Reach and size (properly mass) don't have any sort of systematic relationship and are best determined on a case by case basis.

Mar 10, 2012

Wards of the Orthocracy: The Granary District

The Granary is the most highly fortified building in the entire city, with several limestone curtain walls nested inside one another, and looming watchtowers full of armed guards that scan over neat rows of warehouses, vaults, and the offices of merchant factors. Even the buildings near to it have marksmen armed with crossbows and specially-hired gnostic guards. No building in the Granary District is allowed to be built higher than the innermost, and highest, walls of the Granary.

All of this is because the Granary is the financial centre of the Orthocracy. The grain merchants who work there set the value of the Orthocracy's paper currency, mint it, and back it with their own grain. They speculate on the value of almost every type of good entering Kaddish, and they negotiate and enforce the contracts that keep the economy of the Orthocracy humming. It also serves as the bank of record for all the richest citizens of the city, an institution known for its honesty in a city of thieves.

The Granary is surrounded by a ring of businesses catering to the merchants who work there, as well as clusters of well-protected neighbourhoods barricaded off and patrolled by mercenaries. Several broad avenues run through the District. Wagons use them on the short and hurried trip up from the Guardhouse Ward into the safety of the Granary's internal warehouses.

The rest of the district is a typical Kaddish urban maze, filled with the poor and desperate crammed into tenements, inns and hovels built so closely together that the side streets vanish and reappear like a river on the plains. The two groups, merchants and poor, hate one another, as the merchants refuse to share their wealth. Those broad avenues serve equally well a gathering places for the disaffected to lash out and riot while the alleys sprouting off of them let the rioters escape when the colleges come out to disperse them. The Granary District is split between two colleges, the Poormen, and the College of Glorious Struggle, who represent the two groups.

New Use For Streetwise

Organise Riot

Streetwise is the skill used to organise and channel a riot, protest or other gathering.

A critical success means that the organiser has managed to keep the gathering extremely focused on the reason they have come together, and they will not cause widespread damage except in the accomplishment of their specific goal. The crowd is large enough to be very likely to accomplish its goal. e.g. a lynch mob that only drags a criminal or outcast from their home without setting it ablaze.

A normal success means that the organiser has managed to keep the gathering focused on the reason they have come together, but there's incidental damage to unrelated persons as members of the crowd express their anger through violence. The crowd is large enough to probably accomplish its goal. e.g. a group of beggars that wants to protest a rise in the price of food overturns all the stalls in the market and beats the merchants, even though many do not sell food.

A failure means the mob is either under-sized, or disperses ineffectually at the first sign of real resistance. These crowds are the most peaceful.

A critical failure means the mob turns into a true riot, a violent mass of people without any goal beyond damage and looting. Opportunists flow in to take advantage of it, while everyone else tries to run or get to ground. People can and will be trampled to death while buildings burn, outcasts are lynched, and armed gangs roam the streets.

+50% The organiser hires the protesters; A college drawing on its members to fulfill their duties

+25% There is a legitimate, widespread grievance against the target of the protest; The target is located in one spot and is not able to relocate; Booze flows freely

-25% The cause is unusual or not of concern to ordinary people; the targets are spread out in multiple locations or are able to flee ahead of the mob; The organisers make an active effort to exclude drunks

-50% The target hires agent provocateurs to sabotage the demonstration; Participating in the mob is expressly forbidden by an orthocrat the demonstrators answer to

Mar 9, 2012

The Long Narrative: Better Notes Part 1

Notes are essential aides for memory over the course of a long narrative. They help one plan sequences of events, track what has happened, and who is involved in the story. However, many DMs use the least efficient and least useful form of notes possible - long-form descriptions of events, sometimes even session by session. These notes are hard to refer to in play, difficult to index, and rarely have all the relevant information required. They also encourage book-flipping, which is perhaps the single slowest and most agonising common activity at a roleplaying table. Long-form notes encourage railroading and rigid plotting, perhaps not intentionally, but simply because they cause one to think that one is writing a story, or at least the outline of a story. Finally, they take forever to make, both in preparation for a session and after the fact, which contributes to referee burnout.

My suggestion is to change the way you make and use notes. Different notation styles will allow one to spend less time prepping and recording, less time flipping through them for relevant information, and allow one to improvise deviations from them more easily than long form notes allow.

This entry, the first in a series, will focus on improving the notes one takes for monsters and antagonists. While not the most absolute and dire problem here, this is a simple, easily remedied source of slowdown at the game. I'm always surprised to see how many referees just pull out the Monster Manual or equivalent and flip between the various entries relevant to the fight, often without even using an impromptu bookmark. Then, having found the monster, further flipping is often required to look up what its abilities / feats do, and how they modify a given roll.

I have several recommendations here:

Get ahold of monster stats in electronic form whenever possible, or create electronic copies of these stats when possible, and print them out. I tend to use the same kinds of monsters multiple times, especially common ones like thugs, skeletons, etc. At the start of a campaign, if there aren't stats for the most common kinds of opponents, I will whip them up, print them off, and use the same sheet over and over. If the monsters use weapons, I will calculate the two or three most common kinds they use, including one ranged weapon, and write them on the sheet so that I never have to flip over to the weapon tables. I organise these sheets with paper clips into encounters, so that I have everything at hand for any given situation, ready to go.

If the monsters have special abilities or situational bonuses, I write out what these do in point form, especially if there's a calculation or trigger that needs to be remembered. If it will come up a lot, I precalculate what the bonus or roll will be, so that I have it on hand, easy to remember. If the monsters have two abilities which combo with one another, I will write the combo down: "1st: save vs. paralysis 60ft 1 target 2nd: Laser shot +4 100 yards 1 target 1d10+3" so that I don't have to hunt across the sheet to find stuff. I make a little list of these on the bottom or side of the sheet, wherever I have room.

Finally, spells. Spells, especially in D&D, take up the most room and require the most hassle. I suggest drawing up one electronic master spell list (two if the game has an arcane / divine split). This spell list should be the spell list of a master wizard (a 20th level wizard if you're playing D&D) with good stats (so bonus spells added already), and have a good selection of spells, avoiding most of the highly situational spells.

Then, whenever you have a spellcaster, you print a copy off, take a black marker, and just scratch lines through all the spells the monster does not have for whatever reason. In most versions of D&D, there are only a handful of spells a smart character will take unless they expect something unusual anyhow, so it makes sense for monsters to be using the most common and effective spells. Most PCs never catch on to this, and even if they do, I've never really found one who cares.

Mar 8, 2012

Orthocracy of Kaddish Regional Map

Click for Big Version
I realised I screwed up with the big map yesterday when I started to calculate how big the Orthocracy was and it turned out to be the size of Peru or Angola. So I'm starting back at first principles and building up from regional maps using the Welsh Piper's templates and Hexographer. This one took less than an hour to make, especially now that I have the big map for layout (if not sizing).

As you can see, the Orthocracy is basically one city and some exurbs (the Exile, Reservoir, and Muster wards of the so-called "Outer City"), with the general pattern of settlement following the river valleys. The villages mainly serve as common markets for an otherwise dispersed settler population.

Wards of the Orthocracy: The Spire of the Screaming God

From time immemorial the Screaming God has served as the utmost punishment possible for traitors, arsonists and those who would attempt to spread the secrets of soul-forging. The kings of High Kaddish fed their opponents to it, while more than a few murders have been committed by "accidentally" knocking someone into its pit. The priests of the Screaming God are really its attendants, who ensure that it is fed on a regular basis. They are one of the oldest and most respected cults in Kaddish, serving as the voice of tradition and conservatism in a culture otherwise mad for the new.

The district is one of the safest and most orderly in all of Kaddish. It radiates out from the Spire of the Screaming God, a 100m tall obelisk made of obsidian engraved with metal runes in the language of the Dawnmen. The obelisk lists the "Old Crimes" and their punishments, being one of the only two existing copies of the law code of High Kaddish, though it no longer has any force, having been abolished with the revolution. 50m north, at the other end of the plaza that has grown up around it, is the pit of the Screaming God, an open, stone-lined hole in the ground without railings or markings. The rest of the plaza is a market, one of the safest in Kaddish, for the presence of the ancient god dissuades thieves, who are often thrown summarily into the pit when caught.

The Screaming God itself lives at the bottom of the pit, about 50m down and unconnected to the Orthocracy's sewers. The exact extent of the pit's lowest chamber is unknown, for sometimes the god can be seen and sometimes it is absent. The Screaming God itself is an amorphous mass of mouths, tentacles, suckers, stingers, compound eyes and pulsing, veinous purple-black flesh. It does not speak or otherwise make noise, except for a slithering sound as it pulls itself along. It receives its name from the sounds those thrown to it make in the few moments they have before the Screaming God devours them. Proper form in the eyes of the cult is to tie a rope around the victim, hand them a lantern and lower them down, so that the fall does not kill them and so that their death may be observed and recorded, but summary executions by amateurs often involve simply pushing the offender in.

Outside the plaza, the rest of the district features low-rise concrete tenements interspersed with taverns, teahouses, defensive barricades, mansions, and various small artisans constructing the clever and wonderful luxuries which Kaddish is known for. The district is known for the many heads of clans who live here in fortified compounds, and is the preferred home for rich merchants.  The edges of the district are bounded by no canal, but the residents place the black print of a hand with the fingers spread on their doors to represent the patronage and protection of the Screaming God and its priests, and the streets are barricaded and watched at all times by the Traitor Slayers, the local college.

Crimes, Justice and Government in Kaddish

From the Dawnmen to the revolution the code of the Old Crimes prevailed. Magistrates were appointed by the king. They traveled the city and the hinterland, hearing cases and dispensing justice. Laws were easy to break, and punishments draconian. The old warrior-aristocracy had special laws governing their behaviour, which allowed them to exercise a reign of terror over ordinary people. When the revolutionaries came, they burnt all the old laws, executed the magistrates, drove out the old warrior-aristocracy (who became the Kadiz nomads) and instituted the Freedom of Kaddish, where nothing is formally forbidden except for three things: Arson, treason (trying to become king), and injury to others (assault, murder, theft, rape, etc.). All three are punishable by death, though in actual practice a system of restitution covers almost all crimes.

There is no police force and no formal magistracy in the Orthocracy. The Assembly of the People has not convened in a hundred and fifty years, and it is unclear who should belong to it. To resolve the ordinary disputes of everyday life, the Kaddish rely on two systems:

The first is simple mob justice. Someone who has been wronged simply confronts the person they believe wronged them with their demands. Those nearby inevitably intervene to provide their opinion or back one side or the other, until one side prevails and enforces it will on the loser(s). This typically leads to a riot, until the local college(s) come into to crack heads and disperse them.

The second is the system whereby the Orthocracy gains its names. All citizens have orthocrats, persons they have agreed to let arbitrate their disputes. These typically involve cult leaders, clan heads, the leaders of local colleges, powerful gnostics, and anyone else strong enough to enforce their decisions. Plaintiffs and defendants who share allegiance to an orthocrat will go to them for their decision on the matter, which is usually more lenient than mob justice would be. Complainants who don't share orthocrats will often ask them to convene with one another and decide on a mutually acceptable compromise. "Orthocrat shopping", searching around to find an orthocrat who will give the most lenient (or severe) sentence possible, is extremely common

Orthocrats are also expected to be able to enforce their decisions. If one side does not appear for the decision, or flees justice, or does not provide adequate compensation, all the various organisations the victim belongs to are expected to help bring the perpetrator to justice. This can cause a simple manhunt to snowball into a massive citywide investigation by multiple cults, clans and colleges, which is surprisingly effective when it does not lead to minor civil wars between competing factions.

New Use for Culture (Own) When One is From the Orthocracy of Kaddish

Find Convenient Orthocrat

The most important part of settling any dispute in Kaddish is finding an orthocrat who will agree with you on the obvious correctness of your position. Most citizens of Kaddish fall under the purview of multiple orthocrats and the challenge is to remember the cares and quirks of each one so that one presents opinions they will agree with.

A critical success means the tester knows the name, organisational affiliation and concerns of an orthocrat who will be extremely favourable to the position the tester advocates, or to the tester themselves, possibly even to the point of summary judgment or support in an armed struggle. The orthocrat has jurisdiction over the individual.

A regular success means the tester knows the name, organisational affiliation and concerns of an orthocrat who will probably be sympathetic, at least if the case is presented well. The orthocrat either has jurisdiction over the individual or jurisdiction can be obtained easily.

A failure means the tester can't think of any orthocrat whose jurisdiction they fall under who will be well-disposed, nor do they know of any easily joined factions who would support them.

A critical failure means the person is mistaken, and believes an orthocrat will support them when in reality they are strongly opposed to the position or the person.

Common modifiers to the roll include:

+50%: Looking for support on a widely held position like killing in self-defense not being murder; A member of a cult looking for support on practicing the unwholesome and bizarre rituals of that cult

+25%: Advocating a position held by the dominant college or cult in the ward one is in; Justifying an action that is politically convenient for one or more of the factions one belongs to

-25%: Advocating a position opposed to the ones held by the dominant college or cult in the ward on is in; Justifying an action that is politically inconvenient for one or more of the factions one belongs to

-50%: Looking for support on a bizarre and aberrant belief like abolishing slavery or ending human sacrifice; An apostate or heretic looking for support from a particular cult on the beliefs that caused them to be thrown out

Mar 7, 2012

Organising Pit Fighting in WFRP 2e Part 2

Part 1 Here


There are three kinds of tournaments, weeklies, monthlies and regionals. All three types of tournament are single elimination contests between 16 combatants, fought sequentially in pairs. Typically a tournament is an all-day event with a break in the middle. The first round of eight fights is fought in the morning, and the other three rounds (seven fights) in the afternoon. There is a break at noon for lunch. The hype man may take this opportunity to go outside the stadium and draw in more viewers through a Charm test so long as they have the Public Speaking talent. Each degree of success increases the gold the winning pit fighter takes. Multiple hype men may assist one another, but all of their successes go only to the winner. Tournament fights are normally to the first critical. The exception is the final round in each type of tournament, which are to the death or incapacitation of the opponent.

Weekly tournaments are held each week at the discretion of the pit master and are open to all comers of any rank, except for rank 1 fighters. There are four rounds in each tournament, with combatants in each round paired off with the closest ranked fighter available to keep fights more interesting. Typically, professionals (rank 6+) avoid these tournaments to avoid being seriously injured by an amateur.

Weeklies cost 2 GC to register for. The winner of the tournament takes a purse of 16 GC + 1d10 + 1 GC per degree of success the hype men get at the noon day break. He also goes up to rank 6 automatically, even if this allows him to jump multiple ranks. The surviving second-place finisiher gets 8 GC + 1d10.

Monthly tournaments are held each week at each fighting pit and are open to all professional pit fighters (rank 6 or higher). Their registration fee is 5 GC and they pay out 40 GC + 1d10 + 1 GC per degree of success. The surviving second place finisher gets 20 GC + 1d10. The winner goes up only a single rank. Monthlies may be used to go up to rank 9. They are otherwise identical to weeklies.

Regionals are held once a year by the biggest and/or most prestigious pit in the region. They are by far the biggest events, and draw out huge crowds. They are open to pit fighters of rank 8 and higher only and are normally by invitation only. The rank 10 pit fighter must compete in them to hold his title. The pairing here is different than normal, as the pit masters seek to pair opponents with the greatest difference in rank (so the rank 10 fighter always fights a rank 8 opponent in the first round). They have no registration fee. They pay 200 GC + 1d100 + 10 GC per degree of success on the hype man's roll to the winner only. The winner also becomes the new rank 10 holder, and the previous holder of that title is downgraded to rank 9 until next year.

Organising Pit Fighting in WFRP 2e Part 1

So we played the third session of Thousand Thrones on Sunday, in which we finally arrived in Marienburg. Our group consists at this point of a barber-surgeon with amnesia, an apprentice celestial wizard played by me, a halfling tomb robber, an elf rogue, a squire and a pit fighter. The initial set up left us fairly poor, and so upon arriving in Marienburg, we set out to make some money. In particular, the pit fighter looked for pit fights, found one, was mauled in it, lost a fate point in the process and there was some discussion about whether the current set up for pit fighting is viable, both as a thing in the world, and a fun thing that a player would want their character to do.

The set-up the referees had put in place was the following:

The matches are set up using a Swiss ladder between all the pit fighters who register. In practice this means that one must win in at least three fights to win the day. It costs 1GC to register for the day, regardless of how many matches one fights in. Odds are determined once matches are assigned at referee discretion (in game, the operators of the pit set them). Fighters may wager on themselves, and winners will be paid 1d5 gold crowns for winning the first round, 1d10 for the second, and another 1d10 for the third, plus the option to enter the weekly tournament.

Fighters have a cut-man and a hype-man. The hype-man places bets on behalf of his team, and encourages the crowd to bet more money, which may either swing the odds or improve the gate. In practice, for each degree of success on a Charm test by someone with the Public Speaking talent, the payment the winning pit fighter gets is increased by 1GC. The hype man may also encourage the crowd to throw money into the ring at the end of the fight with a Charm test. The cut-man is a healer who patches the pit fighter up between fights, allowing them to continue, and who can rush out onto the field after a fight to deal with critical results.

Fights themselves are handled with three opposed rolls: a weapon skill test, a strength test and an agility test, in that order. The first to get two successes wins the fight. Ties are rerolled. The loser of each test takes damage after that test is failed, which may also cause them to surrender and withdraw.

The goal of the system was to abstract and speed up what was originally intended to be a one-man sideshow (the roles of cut-man and hype-man were added once other PCs expressed interest in assisting the pit fighter). The problem is that by negating all the various talents and skills that a character uses to avoid damage in WFRP 2e, pit fighting became incredibly deadly, and it was unclear how anyone could survive long enough to get through three rounds without being killed.

In the car ride after the game, one of the referees and I discussed some possible changes, which I decided to write up in a systematic fashion. The system I propose here is intended to satisfy several criteria:

1) Provide a method to establish what opponents a pit fighter faces and the odds on each combatant
2) Avoid requiring pit fighters to fight multiple times in the same day except on special, dramatically interesting occasions
3) To expand pit fighting in such a way that it becomes a viable and interesting, if highly dangerous, career.

1) The Hierarchy

All pit fighters in a large city like Marienburg are graded from 1 to 10 by the Pit Fighter's Guild in conjunction with the individual arenas who report wins and losses to them. "1" means an absolute rookie who has never fought before. "10" is the champion of the pits. The grades are organised into 2 tiers: 1-5 and 6-10. Only fighters within the same tier will be paired with one another in "fair" fights.

All pit fighters start their careers graded as "1".  If they leave the city their ranking is in, or do not fight at least once between one regional tournament or another, they are considered to have retired or abandoned their rank.

Ranks 1-5 are essentially "pit fodder". Fights are between individual combatants with real weapons, and may result in death. Fights end when one opponent is too badly injured and withdraws, or with the death or incapacitation of one of the combatants. Ranks 1-5 have an unlimited number of members.

To progress to the next rank, a pit fighter must win a number of victories equal to (the next rank - 1). So to go from rank 3 to rank 4 requires 3 wins. The placing wins for each rank are separate and non-cumulative, so to get to rank 5 a fighter must have won 10 fights. Losses count for nothing. Wins must be accumulated within the time between one regional tournament and another (essentially over the course of a single year).

Ranks 6-10 are professionals. To move from rank 5 to rank 6 requires the pit fighter to win a weekly tournament. Professionals at this level still fight one another in one-on-one fights, but they also participate in a variety of showy games, like team fights, fights against beasts, and the executions of prisoners who have been sentenced to death (pirates, traitors, heretics, etc.). Most fights are to the first critical, though this may still cause death.

Progression through the ranks in this tier is done at tournaments.

2) Matches

Registering at a pit as a combatant costs 1 GC, and the registration is good for one day. A pit fighter may fight as many matches as they please during that day, though most fight only one, except at tournaments. The roles of the hype man and cut man in the fight are unchanged.

Matches are played out as regular combats. This actually makes them less deadly than the current system we are using, since hits can be dodged or parried. This makes 2H weapons less dominant and less likely to get Ulric's Fury.

Winning a match brings 1d10GC, modified by the hype man's roll.

3) Odds

Higher ranked fighters are always favoured over lower ranked ones. The odds of any given payout are [(difference between the two fighters' ranks) x 0.5] +1 to 1, with the higher number being the payout on the lower ranked fighter. Fights between fighters of the same rank payout at even odds.

e.g. A rank 1 fighter challenges a rank 4 fighter. The payout if he wins is 2.5 the value of the bet.

3 (the difference in the ranks) x 0.5 = 1.5
1.5 + 1 = 2.5

This system keeps payouts reasonable (it represents the house taking a part of every bet).

Fighters may bet on themselves, but not their opponents.

Next up, the tournament system.

Mar 6, 2012

Another Map of the Dawnlands

Click on this for the big version
I broke down and finally bought the professional / full version of Hexographer. The ability to make "child" maps is just too useful, and will simplify the work of mapping the Dawnlands tremendously.

These are hexes with 20km apothems (40km from face to face), which match up with the Welsh Piper's 25 mile hexes. This map would be as large as two regional maps using WP's scales. This has increased the size of the Dawnlands a bit, to 2000km of longitude, while retaining 1000km of latitude. Fortunately, most of what I had to add was just desert.

Abolishing Spell Ranks in Openquest

Tracking the known ranks of spells for divine and battle magic for PCs and NPCs in Openquest is the most tedious and annoying part of character creation and progression. I recommend getting rid of it. Here is the system I will be experimenting with in the next Dawnlands campaign to replace it. The divine magic calculation is taken from Mongoose Runequest 2.

Battle Magic: Characters may cast any battle magic spells they know at a magnitude less than or equal to 1/3 of their POW. They choose the magnitude of the spell at the point of casting. The spell costs a number of Magic Points equal to the magnitude of the spell

Divine Magic: Characters may cast any divine magic spells they know at a magnitude less than or equal to the tens digit of their appropriate Religion (Cult) skill. They choose the magnitude of the spell at the point of casting.

Learning Spells

New battle magic spells cost 5 Improvement Points to learn.
New divine magic spells cost 5 Improvement Points to learn.
New sorcery spells cost 5 Improvement Points to learn.

This has the effect of slowing down the development of magical breadth, while extending depth in its place, so that PCs have an incentive to focus on specialising in a few spells rather than becoming a magical grab bag. It also rationalises sorcery spells with the other two types to keep tracking how many IP you've spent on spells easier, and because I think Sorcery spells are too easy to pick up (2 IP each under the current system). Finally, it prevents having to track individual spell ranks, which reduces book-keeping drastically, especially when you're creating new powerful characters on the fly.

Mar 5, 2012

The Wards of the Orthocracy: Greyward

Greyward is the factory of Kaddish. Almost a fifth of the city's population is crammed into the mere eight km^2 it occupies. Tenements crowd together, holding one another upright through the resistance of their mutual collapses. Almost every free space is filled with a shack or lean-to. Workshops, smithies, warehouses and lumber mills crowd the banks of the North Canal, presenting an impassable wall of industry. Most of the city's halfling population lives here, working in tiny airless rooms too small for humans, sharpening spear heads, sanding barrel staves, weaving cloth and attending to hundreds of other products. The great fires whose smoke gives the ward its name turn raw wood into charcoal for the blast furnaces, and light the entire ward at night. The district extends downwards as well as upward, and many buildings collapse as their foundations are mined out for new living quarters or work space. Slave labour, including press-ganged citizens from other districts, is common.

The southern boundary of Greyward is the North Canal, the largest active canal left in the Orthocracy. Greyward is alone on the northern side of the canal from the rest of the city, though multiple bridges cross over to it. There is a partially complete wall being built around it to block it off from the rest of the city and the outer plantations, and this physical separation is a representation of the psychological separation that the residents of Greyward feel for the rest of the city.

Greyward is ruled by alliance of several guilds, its native college(the College of the Righteous) and Marcion of Greyward, high priest of the Black Vermin Gods, who has enthusiastically taken over responsibility for keeping the peace. Lone dragonmen are killed on sight and their heads are posted at a spot on the North Canal that can be seen from Snakes Ward as a warning to the rest. The Greyward is by no means safe, but citizens may walk the streets without having to worry about encountering slavers and gang wars around a corner.

The Cult of the Black Vermin Gods

The Black Vermin Gods are the newest major religion introduced to the Orthocracy, with their temple having been built less than a decade ago. They are a group of powerful devils capable of possessing vermin, who manifest as swarms of rats or flies or fouler creatures. They use this power to spare their followers the scourge of these creatures, in exchange for sacrificing criminals to them. This has trod on the traditional prerogatives of the priests of the Screaming God, but the priests of the Black Vermin God have made it known that they do not care. The cult is also an enemy of the Cult of Red and Blue Snakes, the patron cult of the Snakes Ward. The temple of the Black Vermin Gods is a massive hall of white marble, the only such building in Greyward.


The Black Vermin Gods are the patrons of Greyward, and everyone who lives or works in the ward is expected to pay homage to them and acknowledge Marcion as an orthocrat. Even outside Greyward, the Black Vermin Gods have been growing in popularity, as people who live in rat-infested hovels pray to them for relief. There are perhaps 100,000 people, mostly halflings, who can be said to be part of the cult, and another 50,000 who will at least utter a prayer to them.

Type of Cult

Powerful Devil Cult - The Black Vermin Gods have a devoted, organised cult structure with a professional priest class several hundred strong. The faith is charismatic and proselytic, and actively recruits from amongst the urban poor.

Cult Skills

Religion (Black Vermin Cult), Resilience, Streetwise, Trade

Worshipper Duties

All: Sacrifice criminals and the cult's enemies to the Black Vermin Gods by casting them into open pits filled with vermin.

Lay followers: Follow the commands of the priests of the Black Vermin Gods.

Priests: Do not harm insects, rats and other vermin (pray to the Black Vermin Gods to deal with them instead); Follow the commands of Marcion; Preach the message of the Black Vermin Gods that deliverance from the petty ailments of the flesh depends on their mercy; Build pits for the vermin the Black Vermin Gods possess to be stored safely and into which criminals may be flung; Administer justice in the Greyward.

Battle Magic


Divine Magic

All common spells plus Berserk, Call Elemental, Fear, Shield

Special Benefits and Notes

When battle magic and divine spells taught by this cult have a cost in gold ducats in the rules, the cost must be replaced with the sacrifice of one or more humanoids who collectively have a POW equal to the number of gold ducats required. These humanoids must be devoured by insects, rats or other vermin.

The Find spell included in this cult's common spells is Find (Vermin).

There are only two levels in this cult, lay follower and priest. To become a priest, a lay follower must spend 5 IP and have Religion (Black Vermin Cult) at 75% or better.

The elementals priests of the Black Vermin God summon are made of swarms of vermin, but otherwise act like normal elementals. The terrain they may blend into is the urban environment of the Orthocracy itself.

Rather than waiting for a specific holy day to replenish their spells, priest must immerse themselves bodily in a swarm of insects or other vermin while uttering prayers to the Black Vermin Gods. While doing so, the creatures they are immersing themselves in will not harm them or sting them even if they are normally dangerous.

Marcion Trin Greyward, High Priest of the Black Vermin Gods

The man known as Marcion of Greyward was born Marcion the Beggar to a family of poor day labourers living in a shanty built out of rotting planks dug out of the North Canal. When he was a boy, he went into the sewers underneath the Greyward, went missing, and was presumed dead until ten years later, when he emerged in a splendid black cloak and wrappings that covered his entire body. He announced that in the darkness under the  city, he had traveled to another realm, that he had met the Black Vermin Gods there, and that he had persuaded them to return and help him purge Kaddish. His former friends laughed, said he had gone mad, and left him to wander the streets of the Greyward as another lost soul.

Marcion Blackcloak wasted no time demonstrating his power, summoning swarms of centipedes and spiders to devour the fools who mocked him. He declared himself an orthocrat, and began recruiting other beggars and outcasts, who he made votaries and priests. Soon he had a large organisation that had thoroughly infiltrated the factories of the Greyward, challenging the guilds that ran them. He seized control of the College of the Righteous with masses of voter-converts and sacrificed the guild masters in the Great Gate, the first pit to the Black Vermin Gods. He replaced the guild masters with ones loyal to him, had them reward his flock with preferential pay over nonconverts, and quickly had the entire district in his pocket. Since then, he has ruthlessly crushed all opposition, even amongst his own followers. He was instrumental in crushing the North Canal Work Riots five years ago, the greatest strike in the history of the Orthocracy, for which the guilds of Greyward voted him the unique honour of taking the ward's name as his own.

Marcion Greyward is the second most powerful politician in the Orthocracy, and he is keenly aware of it. He and Cassius, the master of the Snakes ward, are moving towards open civil war, with each faction sending raiding parties across the North Canal. The other wards are being pushed to ally themselves with one of the sides for the coming conflict. Whispers are already circulating that whichever one wins will declare himself King of Kaddish, though no patriot has successfully managed to kill either man yet.

STR 12
DEX 11
CON 13
INT 17
POW 14
CHA 16

DM +0
HP 12
MP 14
MV 15

Dodge 21
Persistence 50
Resilience 51

Close Combat 73
Ranged Combat 28
Unarmed 23

Culture (Kaddish) 54
Language (Kaddish) 90
Natural Lore 27

Athletics 23
Craft 27
Deception 78
Driving 28
Engineering 27
Healing 27
Influence 100
Mechanisms 28
Perception 56
Performance 26
Riding 25
Sailing 28
Streetwise 100
Trade 27

Religion (Black Vermin Cult) 100

Battle Magic: Call Spirit, Countermagic, Create Magic Point Store, Demoralise, Detect Enemy, Detect Magic, Dispel Magic, Disruption, Drive Out Spirit, Enhance Skill (Influence), Enhance (Perception), Enhance Dodge, Fanaticism, Heal, Light, Protection, Second Sight, Slow, Spirit Shield, Vigour

Divine Magic: All Available to the Black Vermin Cult