Jun 30, 2012

Religions of the Dawnlands: The God of Gates

The God of Gates

The God of Gates is a popular god in both Kaddish and the petty kingdoms of the northern plains. He is the deity of protection, of travel, of medicine, of lies and telling the truth, of overcoming obstacles, of beginnings and endings, of cleverness, of tricks, secrets and mysteries; the patron of fools, children, criminals, wanderers, exiles, doctors, architects and those who make their living by their wits and intelligence. He is a powerful god, and somewhat untrustworthy like all the old gods. No one has ever coherently explained where he fits in the myth cycle of Eternal Night and the Dawnmen, except that he appears, already ancient and well-known, at the parley with Moon, where he gives the Dawnmen a gift that leads to the loss of their names.

His icons are a beggar in tatterdemalion bearing a ring of keys; a ring made of swimming fish; three vertical lines of equal length with a horizontal line through them. His true name is every sound that can be made by sentient beings, all spoken at once. Many claim the writing that covers the mountain called "Dawntongue" is his name completely written out. He is called the Gentle God, the Humble God, and the Clever God by his priests and the God of Gates by everyone else.

The Gate Cults

His church was once powerful in Weykuln, but since the fall of that kingdom, it has been dispersed, with the largest and most powerful sect existing in the Orthocracy under the leadership of Versullus Halia Terminus. The God of Gates is one of the few gods other than the divine heroes and the Hard-Faced Mother whose worship is permitted in Dwer Tor, and a small number of ecclesia maintain shrines to him. The hobgoblin petty kings who conquered Weykuln have continued to seek his favour to strengthen their bastions.

All of these sects are engaged in a constant, murderous intrigue against one another for inscrutable reasons. They are forbidden to use their magic to directly kill one another, or to summon augermen against one another, but everything else is fair game. Occasionally two sects will band together to take down a powerful rival, but such alliances usually collapse, ideally only after the completion of their mutual goal.


The God of Gates is widely propitiated. His temples and priests are most common in the petty kingdoms of the northern Dawnlands and in the Orthocracy, though there is a single large temple complex in Dwer Tor.

Type of Cult

Great Deity - The God of Gates is a popular folk deity, and even devout members of other religions will whisper a prayer his way.

Cult Skills

Deception, Engineering, Mechanisms, Religion (God of Gates)

Worshipper Duties



Battle Magic


Divine Magic

All Common Spells plus Call Augerman, Divine Heal, Illusion, 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 by a number of keys equal to the number of ducats. Each key must be to a different lock or gate from any other key used in the ritual. The keys may be used by another priest to cast a spell, but the caster can never use them again.

The Find spell included in this cult's common spells is Find (Path) and allows a priest of the God of Gates to find the nearest traversable pathway to where they wish to go.

Priests of this religion do not receive ally spirits. The Summon (Otherworldly Creature) spell summons Augermen.

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 (Gate Cult) at 75% or better. They must be accepted by the priests of a temple as a peer (which often requires a task or favour).

Religious clothing varies from order to order, but all incorporate a ring of keys that is constantly being exhausted and replenished.

The God of Gates does not have a specific holy day. Priests may return to a temple or shrine and recover their spells whenever they wish.


Also known as Door-Spirits, augermen are the servants of the God of Gates. They are capable of shape-changing as needed, but their "true" form is a lean grey humanoid without gender whose face is a featureless mass of honeycombed orifices and with six, unnaturally long fingers on each hand, each one ending in a long claw. Their only clothing is a belt of jangling keys of all types. Despite their terrifying appearance, augermen are not malignant except when ordered to be by their master. Augermen possess many powers. They can step through a doorway into any other doorway. They can find a way into and out of even the most tightly sealed location. They can create portals in time and space with a flick of their claws (this is how they defend themselves, sending their attackers careening off to far away lands and worlds) and they can pass through barriers that would bar any other traveller. They are capable of bringing others with them if convinced to do so.

Augermen have a relatively straightforward method of summoning and obtaining services from, though they are almost impossible to bind. One requires a container with an extremely complex lock that one does not know how to open. This cannot be simply a mechanical lock that one does not know how to pick, but the actual mechanism of the lock must include a puzzle or challenge, preferably inobvious. The container contains the payment for the augerman, usually a key of some sort (more valuable locations are preferred). Placed under the light of the full moon, it may attract nearby augermen (there aren't many, but they get around), who will come to open it and take the treasure inside. If the lock was sufficiently challenging, they will offer to perform a single service for the summoner. Augermen will not destroy the container in the process, as they consider this shameful.

In the rare case that the augermen cannot open the box for some reason, they will begin bargaining with the summoner, offering more and greater services in exchange for the secret of how to open the box. The high priest of the God of Gates in Kaddish, Versullus Halia Terminus, occasionally uses this to reinforce his power over the cult of the God of Gates and the augermen. Past examples of unopenable chests have included a solid block of glass with the key to the city granary inside, feeding the key to the outer glacier wall of Kalak-Who-Blinds' palace to a worm which then cocooned itself, and injecting the chemical mixture required to unseal the Tomb of Mestinves the Wyrm (which turned out to be poisonous) into the bloodstream of a slave.

Jun 24, 2012

[Review] The Age of Shadow

The Age of Shadow is mostly identical to stock Openquest (including large chunks of reprinted text), so I'm mainly going to be discussing the differences. The differences include: a sample of play, character creation, barter value, some minor clean-ups and clarifications in the combat chapter, some changes to the spellcasting systems available, slightly different character improvement rules, and the bestiary.

In reverse order:

The bestiary's formatting is superior to stock Openquest's. It compresses more information more usefully than stock Openquest monster profiles, and its formatting should be adopted or improved upon in Openquest 2nd edition. It contains 15 monster types, with three stat profiles for each (lesser, common and greater) plus an animal list that looks like it came from stock Openquest. The monster types are mostly staples - beastmen, vampires, barbarians, sorcerers (it's nice to see some human antagonists written up), demons, etc. It also has a list of animals statted up, though this appears shorter than the list in stock Openquest.

I like the horde rules, which simply codify what happens already when you run a large number of antagonists. I don't like the Fear rules. 10 of the 15 monster types in the bestiary have the Fearsome special rules apply to them. You make a Persistence test when you first encounter the creature (and RAW appear to test for each creature, not even each type), and then depending upon whether you passed or failed, critically succeeded or fumbled, you cross reference your result with the Fearsome rating of the creature to determine the result, which includes penalties, fleeing, passing out, etc.

I would have preferred only one kind of Fearsome, and to have its effects be to make a Persistence test when a group of creatures with at least one Fearsome member is encountered. Fumble and you pass out, fail and you flee until you can't see any Fearsome monsters, pass and you stand your ground, and critical and you force the Fearsome creature to make its own Persistence test against you as if you were Fearsome (A creature that expects you to flee before it suddenly freezes up in shock when you seem not only unaffected but actually ready to take it on).

The character improvement rules grant 2 x 1d4% to skills, or 2d4% to one skill, instead of the flat +5% to one skill that Openquest does. The average gain is the same, but there's more variance. I don't know how I feel about this idea, since the problem I've had with the 5% gain from spending an improvement point is the rapidity of improvement, which I don't see this affecting. I'd be curious about the reasoning behind it.

And no, you still can't improve SIZ.

The spellcasting systems basically remove divine magic and make it harder to cast sorcery and innate magic aka battle magic from stock Openquest. You have to spend background points during character creation to be able to cast spells. Sorcery is basically stock sorcery with a corruption mechanic - fumble and you gain a point of corruption, get more corruption than your POW, and you become a evil NPC. You also tend to know fewer spells than a sorcerer will in stock Openquest.

The goal of these rules is to encourage low levels of magic, as part of creating a low fantasy feel. I'm not totally convinced this is possible in any game with PC spellcasting and defined spells. This is a larger discussion than this review can accommodate, and it's not a problem unique to Age of Shadow by any means, but I think that what people mostly want when they say they want "low fantasy" or "rare magic" is for magical spell effects to feel less like a form of technology. This means: less reliable, less safe, less defined, and to create a sense of awe and wonder at both its operation and its means. IRL, the essence of "magical thinking" in the developed Western world is the elision of means by which something is accomplished. Any game that defines and explains magic's operations will have magic that is more technological than "magical".

Anyhow, corruption triggers extremely rarely, and sorcerers are characters who will have high POW scores or who will spend improvement points to get high POW scores as rapidly as they can. I'm not sure how much of a threat corruption would actually be, except over extremely long play. As well, the only mechanical effect is to lose the character, which is a type of effect I hate (especially since I have played, and will play again in future, evil characters). I don't think this represents corruption very well - there's no gradations, just a threshold that if you cross, you lose the character.

The combat chapter has some minor rewrites, particularly around moving (He basically shows the action-move-reaction schematic a little more clearly). There are no differences in the rules, but I think this chapter reads easier than stock Openquest does, and I commend Kristian Richards for caring enough to clarify some of these minor issues.

Age of Shadows does not use money. Instead, all objects are assigned a barter value. BV is basically a virtual monetary system. I think this works as a transitional step to representing a non-monetary economy, but it's a virtual monetary economy, not truly a moneyless one. The end result is that you'll carry around physical treasure with a certain BV rather than a small cargo container worth of coins. For some people, this is far enough away from money to get across the Tolkienesque feel. Personally, I'd prefer something more radical.

Also, the gear list is the same boring OGL list as every other fantasy game these days. I've complained about this before.

Character creation is similar to stock Openquest except that it now includes elves, dwarves, and some "background points" (Humans get 3, Dwarves 2, Elves 1) that allow them to boost skills or cast magic, etc. Elves and Dwarves get some fiddly modifiers as powers, and can cast spells. Background points are spent like improvement points, or to allow humans to know and cast spells. I wanted to like and praise this stuff, but I mostly find it bloodless and confusing. As many of my readers recall, I abolished all attribute differences and most special powers that different species / sub-species had. While perhaps not suitable for a Tolkienesque world like Age of Shadows, I would suggest that attribute variances are the wrong way to handle this, as are powers that are merely +25% to this situation. I've come to prefer treating species abilities are unique features that don't add mechanical benefits directly, but that allow them to do something or use a skill or other ability in a way that no one else can.

Overall, I think it's worth downloading Age of Shadows, but I would hold off on buying it. The main selling point is the new formatting for the monster stats, which I encourage the rest of the Openquest community to adopt and use.

Jun 20, 2012

Designing Better and Narrower Supplements

I haven't been gaming in about six weeks, except for a single session of Thousand Thrones (and another one on Sunday). Emern is on hold, and I have yet to launch the Dawnlands game, since work is busy, I'm moving to a new apartment, several PCs are also busy, etc.

There is an ongoing thread on rpg.net on what is the cutting-edge of sandbox game play, and particularly procedural generation. One of the complaints against supplements with procedural generation tools in them is simply that in actual play, they are hard to reference - one must flip through the book, find the tables, roll the dice and sometimes look up entries. Often, one must perform this several times, flipping across multiple pages, with even more page-flipping required to move from situation to situation. As well, the procedural generation tools are often created as a set of nested tables.

I am sympathetic to this complaint. I tried to play the Riddle of Steel once, and it was nightmarish, as one had to flip repeatedly through the book, and it has made me "flip-shy" ever since. The problem is exacerbated when there is only one (very large) corebook that multiple people may need to refer to at once. If I had to coin a rule, it would be that page-flipping is death to excitement and speedy resolution.

I don't think, however, that we are doomed. Instead, I think this is a problem with a ready solution, one that can be solved by redesigning how supplements that focus on procedural generation work. I haven't seen the Vornheim supplement in person, but I have heard that it already implements something like this. If so, good for Zak, but it needs to go beyond just Vornheim.

The proposal is that we should take the mini-games or extended sequences of die rolls, and turn them into simple, small, short guides. This includes discrete mini-games like overland travel and wilderness exploration, dungeon exploration, merchant trade and domain management. I'm thinking 20-30 pages, tops. The manuals would include step by step instructions on resolving the situation, and use mainly dice maps instead of nested tables. Each step in the sequence would involve turning to the next page, until the guidebook was complete

A sample layout for wilderness exploration explaining things further:

Page 1: Table of Contents
Page 2: Die Map: What Can You See When You Look Around
Page 3: What dice to drop on the map and how to interpret the results.
Page 4: Navigation roll & notes on resolving navigation issues; Weather roll & notes on resolving weather issues
Page 5: Distance traveled per unit of time and modifiers
Page 6: Die Map: What Interesting Thing Happens?
Page 7: What dice to drop on the die map and how to interpret the results.
Page 8: Spotting Interesting Things roll and modifiers
Page 9: Die Map: Minor flourishes and details for wilderness encounters
Page 10: Treasure and other rewards from wilderness encounters
Page 11: Rules for establishing camp, setting up watches, and sleeping
Page 12: Rules governing the depletion of supplies and modifiers.

These would be 8 1/2 x 11 or A4 pages printed in a two-column format, which should be plenty of space. If any set of rules is more complicated than can be printed on a single page of 8 1/2 x 11 in two columns, it's probably too complex for actual use. The idea is that anyone, whether a PC or referee, could start on page 1, and flip through the book in sequence resolving each issue until a complete "turn" of wilderness exploration had passed. At various points, one might loop the process back. In the above example, Pages 2 through 10 could loop until PCs decided to camp down.

These kinds of supplements are simple and short enough that one could even create them for personal use. The main advantage here is clear and simple organisation, and their separation from the mass of other rules. In fact, if they're short enough, you could produce several and distribute them amongst the PCs for speedy resolution and consultation.

I'm going to try to create some of these for the Dawnlands before the end of the summer, but I would propose that you try it for your own.

Jun 11, 2012

Some Useful Stats on Kickstarter

Since I know many people in the OSR are using Kickstarter and Indie GoGo to fund projects, I found a link that may provide some useful information and ideas on how to structure a Kickstarter project based on the currently available stats.

Jun 6, 2012

Question Answer-Question

The whole debate over the "Mother May I?" thing is asinine, in that rule design neither encourages nor prevents communicative breakdown, which is the real cause of most rules disputes at the table (followed by poor sportmanship). Communicative breakdown is where relevant information is not being communicated in a clear and timely fashion. It's an interpersonal issue, not one of rules design.

Preventing communicative breakdown and repairing the damage when it does occur are critical to the long-term viability of a gaming group. This post will discuss one pattern of interaction that helps accomplish these goals: the Question Answer-Question form of interaction.

Questioning and answering questions are two of the most fundamental activities that occur at the table. While long descriptions and dialogue between players are useful, adventure games are fundamentally about making choices and decisions. Those choices and decisions are bound up with asking questions and receiving answers to them, which inform characters about the world, the effects of their actions, what their capabilities are, etc. It is possible to run an engaging and extremely interesting adventure game session without anyone ever actually acting out dialogue or pretending to see things from one's character's point of view so long as questions, answers, choices and decisions are present.

Breakdowns in communication basically happen due to conflicting assertions, which are just statements about the fictional world and how it operates. You think the world works one way, another person thinks it works another way, and this difference is not realised in time. A decision gets made based on one understanding but the consequences are imported from the other person's understanding. This can often be quickly rectified with a "takeback", but if you're playing "No Takebacks" (and many people do) then people start to feel cheated and look for rules to ameliorate or exacerbate the consequences until they match their understanding. This can be particularly galling when it's the referee inventing spot rules to cover some lapse in their knowledge. Even if people do accept the consequences, it can lead to frustration - it wasn't supposed to go like this - and feelings that a scene or encounter has been "ruined".


A: "He punches you with his superhuman strength and does 30 points of damage. It's the hardest blow you've ever felt, and your chest buckles"

B: "Naw. I have damage resistance 30. It doesn't even affect me."

A: "But he's the strongest man in the world!"

B: "DR is cheap, bro."

A: "Goddamnit. Alright, he flails futilely at you. There's no way he can even hurt you. So much for my cool supervillain."

This also plays out in things like the "You forgot to look up" school of killer trap design.

As a preventative to this, I recommend that you, whether a player or referee, end almost any and every assertion you make, especially one that answers another player's question, with another question, one that either asks what their response is, what further information they want, what the foreseeable consequences of doing something would be, even just confirming their choice. In a game session, I'll have a lot of interactions that go something like:

"You can see some vertical grooves in the wall ahead. They look pretty deep. Did you want to go for a closer look?"
"Sure! I'm staying at an angle to them. What can I see?"
"OK. Keeping at an angle reduces how deep you can see into them. They're definitely more than a finger-length deep. They're big, pretty much the height of the corridor, there's two of them, and they're aligned with one another. What are you looking for?"
"I want to know if this is a trap?"
"Maybe. What kinds of traps are you looking for?"

The idea is to keep a constant flow of answers and questions on both sides, rather than just having one side asking all the questions, and the other providing all the answers. This keeps the relevant visions of the fictional world aligned with one another. If you as a referee do it, you'll often find your players start to mirror you, and vice versa. Even if you don't allow takebacks, or occasionally screw up the rules, you'll find that other players begrudge these things less. When someone dies in my games, it's almost always possible to reconstruct the series of decisions that led them there, and because the player of the dead character owns the decisions, having chosen at each step what to do, they don't feel cheated or that the decisions were unfair.

Give it a try.

Jun 3, 2012

Age of Shadow is Free to Download

Age of Shadow, which is LotR by way of Openquest, is free to download (legally) from RPGNow.com. I just discovered this, downloaded it, and will be reviewing it shortly.