Friday, April 30, 2010

Friday Musings on Game rules

Zach over at RPG Blog 2 asks whether do you run with the rules as written. In general the rules that make up the reality of the settings (combat, magic, actions, etc) I generally run as written. The major exception if it is a bit too abstract (like Swords & Wizardry) or doesn’t reflect my setting (Majestic WIlderlands) I will add house rules. But if it is something like GURPS, Fantasy Hero, Harnmaster, etc I generally run with the rules as is with the addition of setting specific stuff (mostly magic). The reason for this is that I prize consistency in my rulings. Having a solid rule set helps me with that. Also having Tim, Ken and Dwayne as part of my group keeps me on my toes.

I am loving GMing Swords & Wizardry but it is a bit too abstract at times despite my house rules. But I really like the ease of preparation and the ability to use all my old D&D/AD&D stuff. Being able to use that stuff that OSR is producing is anothing major benefit.

One benefit of blogging, publishing and writing is becoming aware of the different system out there. Sure I am well read in RPGs but when you couple your raw knowledge with somebody account of playing the game you begin to get an understanding of those RPGs that you haven’t had the time to play.

This has led me think about what it would take to get my ideal system in place. Something with skills so character can be customized. With attacks and defenses and semi-realistic combat maneuvers but not go off the deep end on complexity. Try to relate back to d20 somehow so I can take advantage of already published material. After reading Runequest I am wondering if I am thinking along the same lines as those guys.

I don’t have any specific ideas on this nor I have any time to try to cobble something together. Also I really like being able to publish stuff. Trying to sell a new RPG when I have so many other things that people like and work with the world’s most popular roleplaying game it seems silly at this point.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

From the Attic: Chaosium's Runequest

James at Grognardia has started a series of posts on Runequest. I recently got a hold of a copy of Runequest 2nd edition and enjoyed reading it. Along with Runequest I got a hold of the new Basic Roleplaying book as well.

Like James I never played Runequest back in the day. I made a character once and for some reason the game did not go off that day. My friend Dwayne of Gamer's Closet had a copy that I borrowed for a while but that didn't amount to much and I returned it too him.

The problem was that from my point of view Runequest was weird. The big turn off for me was the explicit bronze age technology and the fact that whole game seemed to revolve around become a Rune Lord or Rune priest. Then they had spirit stuff that was to me "out there."

The players of Runequest in my area were bit snobbish about the fact they played Runequest. Sure I played other RPGs but Runequest was the first time I encounter people who looked down at playing AD&D. My interest was finding a customizable system that was somewhat realistic to do many of the same things I was doing in my AD&D games.

Glorantha was just plain weird as well. Not Tekemul weird but pretty close. What also clashed was how the adventures seemed so typically. Not they were not good, well written or interesting. It just they kinda of like what I did with AD&D only with a really strong dose of Glorantha. Wasn't sure at the time what to do with it. Most of the campaigns I heard about seem to ignore most of it.

Only if I had the experience back then that I do now. Looking at Basic Roleplaying I can see that the "Bronze/Iron" divide was mostly flavor. I didn't get that Bronze, Iron were english names for Gloranthan metals. Today I am interesting in running Runequest for a one shot not likely in Glorantha tho.

One thing I also didn't get then but I do now is that a lot of advancement and character generation in 2nd edition Runequest depends on how much money you have. Sure you can advance by doing skills but the big leaps come when you can pay for training. This emphasis is interesting and different than GURPS or Fantasy Hero.

I am glad that Runequest is getting a revival at Grognardia, Mongoose, and other players. For those desiring to do more with the system take a look at Openquest which is under the OGL.

Perhaps I should look at doing a MajesticQuest or something like that. Runequest certainly has option for making religion a powerful part of the game which plays a big part in the Majestic Wilderlands. (Probably need a better title than MajesticQuest).

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Swords & Wizardry the White Box Edition

I got my copy of the Brave Halfling's Swords & Wizardry the White Box Edition. First up are the goodies. Some nice dice, the box itself, a pad of graph paper and a #2 pencil. Nice touch there John. I especially like the side illustrations on the long sides of the box. They were my favorite in the AD&D 1E's DMG and these don't disappoint.

The quality of the box is fairly good. The top is nicely done however the bottom is a bit on the flimsy side. With care it should hold up nicely

Next the are the booklets. There are six in all. Four rule books, the Old School Primer, and a surprise an Adventure.

The rule books are the various sections of S&W White Box divided into their components. The quality of the print is really nice. On page 2 of the Book I Character there is a graphic of a character sheet written on an Index card. The print quality is so good that it looks like there is an index card on the page. The books feel sturdy enough to withstand heavy use.

Including the Old School Primer is a smart move and will help those who pick up this once it hits general circulation. The adventure is impressive and very different than the usual dungeon. Taking place under a giant old tree it is evocative and will challenge the players.

All and all I am impressed with the John's achievement in putting together this product. Also right now there a sale going on so go over to Brave Halfling's website and check it out.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Paizo's Kingmaker a review

There is a growing discussion of sandbox campaigns. The term is taken from computer gaming where it applied to games that allow the players free reign to wander the gamescape. It is epitomized by Fallout, the Grand Theft Auto series and the Elder Scroll series.

This term came into use for roleplaying games five to six years ago particularly when the boxed set of the Wilderlands of High Fantasy was being promoted by Necromancer and it's authors. It came out of explaining why $70 worth of locales, lairs, ruins, and islands spread among 18 maps helps run a campaign. Among the early example of sandbox roleplaying accessories were the original Wilderlands of High Fantasy, Traveller sectors, and B2 - Keep on the Borderlands. All of these were noted for a free form setup where the direction of the campaign was primarily determined by where the players wanted to go.

Now a major RPG company, Paizo, has thrown their hat into the sandbox campaign ring with the release of their ninth Pathfinder Adventure Path, Kingmaker. In the introduction they came out and state that unlike prior adventure paths this designed to be free-form with multiple avenues to discovering what is happening.

The series itself is about the player adventuring from the Kingdom of Brevoy into the Stolen Lands where they can crave out of their own realms. The Stolen lands lies at the junction of Brevoy and the River Kingdoms and both have tenuous claims to the region. The history of the region has largely bypassed the Stolen Lands and the surrounding inhabitants known little of it's denizens. Into this steps the player characters.

The true situation is filled with complications. It is obvious from this module and the included previews that the authors have created a a situation where there is no one way of dealing with the complications. The player are going to have to make some interesting decisions along the way and are going to be challenged by what they find.

The first module, the Stolen Lands, deals with the players starting out Oleg's Trading Post. It is the only known settlement of note in the area and the natural place for the players to start. It becomes quickly obvious that banditry is a major problem in the area. Dealing with the bandits, and exploring the stolen lands are the major focus of the first product. There are one other major plot thread dealing with a conflict among the non-human sentients of the stolen lands, some hooks to later modules, and plenty of individual encounters.

Physically the product is impressive. It made with Paizo's high standards and feel like a glossy magazine with a sturdy cover. The battle maps are photo realistic and are well done. Although I do wonder how those catapults got up and are used in the towers of Oleg's Trading Place. The regional maps are functional but I have some criticism of them which I will detail later.

The organization starts off with a forward by Tim Hitchcock. Then goes into detailing the Greenbelt region of the Stolen Lands. This starts out with the initial scenarios surrounding Oleg's Trading Post, and then the details of the 26 locales of the Greenbelt. These locales are arranged on a horizontal hex grid of 5 hex rows each roughly 6 hexes long. The scale is 12 miles each. Note that only the northern half of the Greenbelt is detailed the southern half I believe will be in the next issue of this adventure path.

Each locale is fairly detailed with stat blocks for moth. Some have full color photo realistic battlemaps. Those who like 3.5 and Pathfinder style module will have no complaints. For those liking a terser format, the added length isn't as as big of a distraction as in some 3.X modules. Some locale's description are deferred for a full writeup later on.

After the locales are the full write ups of four of the locales. They are written to 3.5/Pathfinder standards. After this is a rumor chart! This details 10 true/false rumors about the Greenbelt region of the stolen lands. Then we have short descriptions of each of the major rivers of the Greenbelt.

Next is a chapter called Into the Wild. This sections goes into more of the Geography of the Stolen Lands. The map given in the previous section is only represents a quarter of what the entire series will cover. Next comes some rules for exploration and how to deal with each hex and the different terrain types. They are short and to the point. There is only one major issue which I will go into later.

Next is a history of the Kingdom of Brevoy which lies north of the Stolen Lands. There is a lot of background information and a lot of interesting factions that one can use while adventuring in this area. After this is a short gazetteer of locales and geography of Brevoy.

Brevoy was conquered by Choral the Conqueror who united two lands Issia and Rostland into one kingdom, Brevoy. He and his descendants ruled Brevoy for two hundreds years until recently the entire royal house disappeared. One of the noble family was able to gain a tenuous hold on the throne. Now the houses are scheming among themselves not only for the Dragonscale Throne of Brevoy but whether the kingdom will survive at all.

After this is a short story titled Death at the Swaddled Otter. It actually fairly well written and entertaining although I question it's inclusion in the product. I am not familiar enough with the Pathfinder Adventure Path to know whether they have regular features like a magazine.

Next is a Bestiary with random encounters for the Greenbelt and several new monsters. Only some of the monsters are directly relevant to the Greenbelt, so like the short story I question their inclusion. I found the Tatzlwyrm interesting as a variant form of dragons. Unlike most dragon variants this is presented as a less evolved form. The dragons went in one direction leaving these creatures to struggle on.

Following this is a teaser section letting the referee know what future installments will bring. Following this are what I think are some pre-made PCs the group can use. The inside cover of both the front and back are filled with wanted posters and summaries of various mini-quests that are sprinkled throughout the Greenbelt.

As a a sandbox campaign I give a solid B+ for content and A- for presentation.

What is there is well written, plausible, exciting, and builds up to the next section in a way that doesn't seem forced. To me these are all essential elements in setting up sandbox campaign and Paizo nailed it on their first sandbox product.

The problem is that there isn't enough. In my opinion they have about what half of what they need from 1st to 3rd level. I am not just talking about the fact they only detailed the northern half of the Greenbelt. There is only one major plot and one minor plot (the non-human conflict). To make it really feel like a sandbox it would have been better if there was one more of each.

The short story and the extra monster should have been omitted in favor of the extra detail.

Without known more of what the subsequent modules hold but I would included a way into the Greenbelt from the River Kingdoms and something that adventurers from the direction would have to deal with. It could be another bandit faction one that has different issues than one currently in the module.

The one other major problems are the region maps. The photo realistic Greenbelt map is OK but where they fail is relating that to the overall Stolen Lands map, and relating the Stolen Map to the Kingdom of Brevoy. The overal Stolen Lands maps should have the quarter sections marked off and some of the geography name printed so make the text clearer. And the Brevoy map should have been extended southward (I think that where the Stolen Lands are) to show the connection better.

Finally the exploration of the hex rules are somewhat boring. It hard to make simple hex by hex exploration interesting. The best way I found mitigate these issues is with really good wandering monster charts. And although adequate the charts in this release are not up to the task of making hex by hex exploration interesting. Particularly for a referee new to running a sandbox.

My suggestion to anybody getting this product is to goto encounter chart on page 75. Start at the top and makes some notes on what you will be doing if you rolled that entry. Also have some notes to weaving in the local terrain (lake/river, plains, hills).

For example if I rolled 1d6 bandits on a lake/river. I could decide that they are fishing. Or perhaps to make it more interesting they were fishing but one of them fell into the water, can't swim and is now drowning and the white are scurrying like ants to figure out how to rescue him. (or perhaps they are just laughing).

Doing this will make the hex by hex exploration of the Greenbelt a far more interesting experience.

But as you see from my letter grade of B+ and A- these issues do not fatally distract from the overall utility of the product.

Suitability for the Old School Renaissance
I would give this product a B as far as usability with older editions of D&D. The padded length due to it's use of the Pathfinder rules can be a bit annoying but for one exception the plot and creatures of this module are all very much old school. The exception being one of the sides of the non-human conflict being of a certain race. I would fix this by making both sides the same race but two different tribes. Keep everything else the same and go from there. The overall plot is also easily adapted to use with older editions. I think fans of the eerie feeling of the city of the drow in D3 will like the later stuff they promise in Kingmaker.

The added rules this product bring can be adapted easily to older editions. I am looking forward to some of the kingdom building stuff they are brining in the next issue.

Finally but not least important the price is reasonable at $20. Any higher I would have hesitated but the combination of good writing, and production values left with a good feeling after getting this.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Treasure Generator

Tim of Gothridge Manor showed me this really nice Treasure Generator from Chaotic Shiny Productions. So head on over there and check out his review

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Morning Star Games in Savannah Georgia

When I go on service calls for the company I work at I like to check out the local gaming store wherever I am at. This time I was in Savannah Georgia and found Morning Star Games. The store is very nice with a wide selection of board games, roleplaying games, and miniatures. They have a pair of small table in the front up against the glass store front and several large tables in the back.

Like many gaming stores I been into recently they have a lot of board games and they kept up the latest releases. With miniatures they have a wide selection of recent releases along with plenty of support for the historical miniatures including books. They also appear to have a selection of older material from the late 80's and 90's so if your want to get something that you missed from that era they may have it.

As far as roleplaying goes they have some late 2nd edition stuff, a lot of 3.0 and 3.5, Vampire, and other major lines from the late 90s and early 2000's. They also kept up with a few new releases especially Paizo which the owner, (a real nice guy) is pleased with. He also get a few really old things from time to time. He has a copy of First Fantasy Campaign and an early printing of City-State of the Invincible Overlord.

I picked up a couple of back issues of Knights of the Dinner Table, A Cook Expert book, a 1979 Boot Hill Map, and Kingmaker from Paizo (Tim hates me now that I got it before him). I plan doing a review of Kingmaker.

So when you are by the Georgia seashore and Savannah take a minute to stop at Morning Star Games and see what they have. They are at 1545 on East Montgomery Road. It is easy to get into if you are travelling west as they are on the north side of a divided road. Currently Thursdays starting at 5:00 is roleplaying night.

Dark Wilderlands, a campaign for 4th edition D&D.

When 4th edition came out I bought the basic three books. Not only because I basically a gaming geek but I didn't really know what I will be writing for at the time. So I figure it would be best to learn the current version of D&D. This was before Version 1 of the GSL. Little did I know.

After reading the three books, one thing that struck me about D&D 4e was that it as more oriented to a high fantasy feel than regular D&D. This didn't fit very well for my Majestic Wilderlands. I decided to run a 4e campaign and wanted to come up with a concept that fit the feel of the system. So I came up with the Dark Wilderlands


The Majestic Wilderlands is a campaign that I have run for over thirty years. Sometime in the mid 80’s I decided to destroy my campaign world. Using AD&D 1st edition and BattleSystem a short series of games was run where the Apocalypse happened and the players fought through the battles and short time after. After a few sessions I changed my mind and decided to continue the story of the Majestic Wilderlands as if the Apocalypse never happened.

D&D 4th edition talks about “Points of Lights” where players hail from outpost of civilizations in a wilderness filled with monsters. I wanted to try at least one campaign using the system. I decided to use not the Majestic Wilderlands I normally use for this campaign but rather the world that would have resulted from that Apocalypse I aborted all those years ago. I have a campaign arc that should span the entire level range from 1st to 30th along with side arcs for players to choose from.

The Story so Far
It is now the year 4458 BCCC, twenty years after the Demons escaped the Abyss and destroyed the Wilderlands in the Shattering. The Wilderlands are now a ravaged wasteland of shattered kingdoms and monster haunted wilderness. The Brimstone Warlocks remain to ensure that no new power emerges to challenge their demonic masters. Ruling from Viridistan, the Black City, they inflict a reign of terror on the survivors. Scattered in the Wilderness are outposts of the civilizations that once ruled the Wilderlands. The Gods send what aid they can but remain in constant battle with the demons besieging their realms.

For Existing Players
The Wilderlands for this campaign is the same up to the year 4438. The events that already occurred were.
1) Valeric became King of Nome
2) Blackstone becomes one the greatest wizards of the Wilderlands
3) Endless Star kills the last Emperor of Viridstan
4) Lord Divolic conquers the Halkmenan Empire becomes Warden of the Southern March
5) Dorvon the Dwarf and his companions travel from Harn, replaces the Ebon Crystal and become Lords of Viridstan.

Basically everything that was done using 1st Edition AD&D, Fantasy Hero, the 2nd time we used AD&D but not anything done in GURPS (except for stuff that fleshed out the overall background).

The Setting
The campaign will start in the old borderlands between the old City-State and Viridistan. More details will be provided later.

Dragonborn (Reptile Men)
These are the mighty descendents of the Dragon Legion that journeyed with the first Ghinorian Colonists nearly a thousand years ago. They aided the city-state of Caelam in establishing the Dragon Empire. When the empire fell to the invading Tharian Barbarians they were forced to flee and inhabit the desolate wastes of the Quern Desert. Since the Shattering they have emerged from the desert and started wandering the wilds. At first they were taken for another minion of the demons. But since they have proven they are just as much an enemy of demons as the other races.

In Thunderhold Keep the Dwarves dreamed of retaking the their ancient home, the Majestic Fastness from the clutches of the dragon Ancelgorn. But in the Shattering that dream was taken away and dwarves forced scatter once more. They now exist in isolated forges and holdfasts hidden in the hills and mountains of the Wilderlands.

The elves had suffered much with the loss of Silverwood, renamed Dearthwood, to the Orcs. With the Shattering they lost their last refuge, Loshain and are now forced to live in scattered homesteads. Some of the survivors have all but given up on the Wilderlands and now have turned inwards. They are now intimately connected with a realm known as the Feywild and use it’s magic to protect the remaining survivors until they can all withdraw to safety. They adventure with other races to buy time for this to happen.

The shattering has reignited the passions of many of the surviving Elves. Now faced with the clear evil of the demonic hordes and their allies they now fight for the liberation of all the races. Although scattered in tribes and isolated homestead they work toward preparing refuges from which the races can regain their strength and strike back.

Since the Shattering the Elves and much of humanity have become firm allies and friends. Some have chosen to ally on a more personal level. In the past twenty years a new generation of half-elves have been born combining the best of elf and man.

Once the Halflings lived in tranquil lands living simple and pastoral lives. The Shattering forever changed that. Their lands devastated they are now forced to live a nomadic life using their natural skills to hide and evade the dark forces stalking the land. Many of chosen to hide along the shores of the numerous waterways of the Wilderlands to allow them to quickly escape any who threaten them.

Once the most numerous race in the Wilderlands, humanity was divided into numerous cultures and nations. Elessarian, Tharian, Ghinorian have no meaning since the Shattering. Only echoes of their past now haunt the few scattered output left as former enemies now struggle to unite in the face of overwhelming odds.

Tiefling (Viridians)
The green skinned Viridian were the lone demonic race to escape the Abyss during the demon’s imprisonment. Once one of the weakest of the demons they carved out a mighty empire from their capital city of Viridistan. Centuries of assassinations, civil war caused their number to dwindle until the great paladin Endless Star killed the last Viridian Emperor two years before the shattering. The only legacy of the Viridian were thought to be the Tieflings; half-human/half True Viridian. Green skinned, sometime horned, their demonic heritage was apparent to all.

At first the Tieflings welcomed the Shattering and supported the arrival of the demonic hordes. But the demons viewed them as tainted by their human half. They were treated little better than slaves. In the last decade many have managed to overcome the distrust of the other races and have made common cause against the demons.

For a time after the Shattering it appeared the gods themselves have abandoned the Wilderlands. The only divine powers that existed were the abilities granted by the great demon lords. However last decade has proved the gods still survive. Their ability to intervene directly is limited as long as their lands are under siege but they have managed to inspire a new generation of clerics lead their believers in the darkest hours of the world.

This is the age of war and the fighter rules supreme. Their armor and weapons are at the forefront of battle as man and demon contend for mastery of the world.

The vanguard of reappearance of the gods was lead by the the paladins. These champions strike out against the demons and all those who ally with them. Now champions of all the gods even those of Delaquain and Sarrath fight together.

Some fights cannot be won head-on. Here the skill and stealth of the bow, and the quick strike of two weapons come into play. Those who walk the path of the Ranger live a difficult life but ultimately they may be what tips the balance in favor of the races.

Some fights must end before even they start. Some secrets must be discovered in spite of the strongest locks. Here the rogue is in his element striking back at the demons by stealing their secrets.

The gates of the Abyss are broken, chaos and hell alike reign across the realms. Once bound by the forces of creation the primal forces of the Wilderlands are now unchained. Some have discovered the secret of communicating with these beings. In pacts of blood and oaths of power they have channel their power for woe and weal.

It is an age of war and the fighter reigns supreme. But there still must be those who lead and those who follow the Warlord’s both have undertaken the difficult challenge of wresting victory from the devastation.

Before the Shattering the Wilderlands was a land of magic where wizards battled for supremacy among themselves and the powers of the world. The Shattering destroyed all that they knew. Mana, as they called magic, was gone with the arrival of the demonic hordes. The original primal force of magic was now dominant form. Over the course of two decades the wizards have managed to recreate effective battle spells and are now ready to met the demons as equal. The rest can only be accessed through an elaborate system of rituals that require specific materials , time, and focus to perform.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

River Secrets for Mapping

Recently I been playing around with some mapping techniques. A new one that I developed is a trick to allow the ocean to seamlessly enter into rivers without actually having to draw the coastline for the effect.

First this uses the Inkscape vector drawing program and the Shadowed Island svg file from the More Mapping Secrets Post.

I first unlock the River Layer and then I use the Bezier tool to draw a wizard on the River layer.

I open up the Stroke property dialog and make the ends of the river rounded and the size 1.

I switch to the node tools and make sure there at least seven nodes. I add more if needed by double clicking on the line. Then I use the node break tool break apart the line into seven segments.

The line is still bound together so to break apart into separate entities click on the menu Path and then Break Apart. Now you have seven separate lines touch each other. Because you made the lines with rounded end the ends overlap each other slightly.

Make sure you coast is 2.0 pixels, then from the source of the river make each of the segments increase in size by .25 increments. I.E. 1.0, 1.25, 1.5, 1.75, 2.0, 2.25, and 2.5. Note that 2.25, and the 2.5 segments are going to have some additional work done to make them look like the ocean is intruding on them. This maintains the illusion of a 2.0 pixel coastline extending up into your river. I don't this for the remaining segments as they are 2.0 pixels or lower.

But because of the rounded end I need to get the last segment end point on the coastline. Select the zoom tool and zoom in.
Then select the node tool and drag that end point so it looks like it is touching the coast line.

Now select the 2.5 wide segment and 2.25 wide segment.

Using the Stroke properties dialog make their color as follows.

Then select the 2.25 segment and use the Stoke Style Tab to make the with .25 (2.25 - 2.0 = .25)
Do the same for the 2.5 segment only make the width .5
Then drag the endpoint of the last segment so that it completely in the ocean. The result looks something like this.

Zoomed out.
You can go as far as you want with this. My rule of thumb is that if it is 1.0 bigger than the coast draw the feature as part of the coastline. From 3.0 to 2.25 in width I use this technique.

You can download the final file from here.

Monday, April 19, 2010

A tale of two television series

In the fantasy television department there been two television series of note, the Legend of the Seeker and Spartacus: Blood and Sand.

Legend of the Seeker is a retelling of Terry Goodkind's Sword of Truth series of novels starting with Wizard's First Rule. It is a retelling because after reading the first two there is no way those novels can be turned into a episodic tv series. The background elements and characters are fine but the novel's plot other than the fight against Darkon Rahl doesn't really work for tv.

The series itself is made by the producer of Hercules and Xena, Raimi and crew. However unlike those two it takes itself more seriously. The result is pretty much fantasy popcorn fare. Pleasant to eat but not very satisfying or filling. However I really like the characters as portrayed by the actors. Richard Cypher, Kahleen Amell, Zeddicus Zol' Zolrander, and the ex-Mord Sith Cara are what keeps me coming back week after week to watch the show.

The episodes are pretty hit or miss. Some are really good and some well are not so good. The first season's plot of going against Darkon Rahl worked pretty good and the season finale was stellar. However this season's search for the Stone of Tears goes on and on and on although the addition of the ex Mord'Sith Cara is welcomed.

One thing is that this series is definitely influenced by Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings in how it is filmed. It even located in New Zealand and uses it landscape to good effect.

Then we have Spartacus: Blood and Sand. This series also has a distinct filmed look but one taken from the 300 rather than Lord of the Rings. It is also a mature series with lots of stylized violence and full frontal nudity stopping just inches from the infamous Caligula film. It is also involves many of the same producers as Hercules, Xena, and Legend of the Seeker. It also uses a cast of unknown combined with Lucy Lawless, Craig Parker, and John Hannah all actors noted for being genre typecasted or for being supporting actors (John Hannah is the sidekick from the Mummy series.

This all has the makings of major suckatude. Certainly for many of you the initial experience of 300 style filming, bloody violence, and nudity will be a major negative.

But this is one of the best historical series I ever seen and unlike Legend of the Seeker is filled with stuff crying out to be used your campaigns.

The actors turn in great performances particularly Andy Whitefield as Spartacus and John Hannah as Batiatus the owner of the ludus that Spartacus is sold too. The plot of the series is outstanding and there isn't a single bad episode in the bunch. They wisely choose to do only 13 which was perfect for the story they choose to tell. There are climaxes that are pitch perfect and lulls that build up to the next one.

Spartacus, played by Andy Whitfield, isn't an all powerful presence like 300's King Leonidas or the 1960's Kirk Douglas Spartacus. He has moments of stupidity and makes bad decisions that have bad consequences. But he is a man touched by the gods and driven by the love for his wife Sura he gropes towards his destiny. Around him swirls the plots and lives of Batiatus, his wife
Lucretia, fellow gladiator Crixtus, Assur, Doctore the head trainer, and many others.

The result is a great series that will leave you gripping your chair and leaving with some great ideas for you campaign. Just don't have your kids in the room when you watch it.

You can get this on Netflix instant view if you don't have Starz.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

A Demon Wolf visits the Gold Star Anime Part 2

Continued from Part 1

The party had Reeve Tomas send a messenger to Baron Westtower for aid and then marched as fast as they could to the Beggar encampment. Crested a ridge they could see the two side confronting each other. Hazar ran down and placed himself between the two side and tried to call for calm. However neither side was having any of it and tensions were about to break when Alagazar cast a sleep spell from a distance. Over 15 went down nearly half of the villagers. Stunned by this display of arcane might the remaining villagers broke and ran. Elder Anselm also retreated verbally cursing Hazar as a traitor and promising Mitra's wrath.

After the priest and villager left, Hazar and the party met with Chief Darius again. Grateful that a confrontation was avoided the chief explained that they only remained because his son was killed by a wolf beast. He actually saw it and said it was no natural creature. The party explained why the confrontation happened due to some of the killing to be the work of people not monsters. Chief Darius then took a deep breath and revealed that due their outcast status they were often forced to make shady deals. In this case they were originally in the area to fence goods for a local bandit gang. His opinion is that they are taking advantage of the wolf attacks. Normally he would never betray a customer but after the near lynching Darius explained that feels he doesn't owe them anything.

With one mystery solved the party resolved to deal with the wolf. Figuring that they might not have the best reception in the village. The messenger to the Baron will take at least four day to get there so they had a lot of time before aid arrived. They decided that the best thing is to check out some orc caves in the Cloudwall Mountains and see if the creature is a warg. But they needed Yoluf so they went back to the village.

Unfortunately they ran into a villager in one of the crop fields. Hunter quickly stepped up and cold cocked the villager with the butt of his sword and knocked him out. Hazar then hoisted the passed out villager on his shoulder and sneaked into Yoluf's house. Aghast at the knocked out villager they had to do some fast talking to convince Yoluf to lead them into the hills to one of the orc caves.

Once at the Orc cave they found every orc has been long dead and brutally mauled. The caves were empty. Alagazar was convinced that it wasn't warg but rather one of a dreaded werewolf. And that Elder Anselm was the beast.

On the way back they spotted a rocky outcropping with some object left on it. After careful examination by Alagazar he determined that it was the remnant of a demonic ritual designed to summon a wrath demon (he rolled a nat 20!). Searching the area they found a den underneath the rock where a long dead wolf mother and her pups laid. They all showed signs of being eaten and gnawed upon. Also a satchel for a codex was found in the rocks next to the altar rock. On it was a Thothian wizard sigil used as identification marks. Unfortunately what the various sigils means are unique to each mage. Alagazar was now convinced that a renegade was involved in transforming Elder Anselm into a werewolf.

They returned to the village by nightfall and sneaked into Yoluf's cabin. There Hazar said he would break into the temple and find evidence that Elder Anselm was a werewolf and dealing with demons. Hazar was able to use the few things he learned as a thug to get inside the temple annex where the priest slept. Finding three books he was disappointed when it turned out that they were two holy books of Mitra and a ledger of temple accounts.

Venturing deeper into the temple he found a loose stone in the kitchen. Prying it loose he found the temple's coffers with almost 30 pounds of silver (over 7,500 silver pieces), and another 10 pounds of silver plate. Giving into temptation he grabbed the sacks and the half of the plate. Unfortunately the extra weight caused him to mess up while trying to put the bar back on the door. This woke the up the priest who raised a hue and a cry.

Hazar ran across the High Meadow with a village posse forming behind him. Successfully hiding in a tree he watched them search the area. Creating a distraction by throwing silver coins into the woods he fled east away from Kensla. After collecting his breath he figured that he will try to find the exact location of bandits. So he headed east into the woods between Kensla and Denison's Crossing. After about an hour of walking he spotted wolves shadowing his path.

Now quickly running the wolves dogged his every step. Finally he spots a large tree and climbs as the wolves surround him. Unable to get at him they snarl and growl at him. And then the massive bulk of the Demon Wolf looms on a rocky outcropping nearby. Hazar shoot the wolf with a crossbow and score a hit! This only angers the beast who then runs at the tree and attacks Hazar by leaping into the air.

Luckily for Hazar the wolf has to take a minute to tense for the next jump so this gives him time to light a torch and reload his crossbow. The next few minutes are a desperate battle as the wolf claws at Hazar two more times and Hazar only scoring a few light hits with his crossbow. Finally Hazar is able to thrust his torch into the beast's eye forcing it to retreat for good. After driving off the remaining wolves Hazar ties himself to the upper branches to await the dawn.

During this, a villager arrives at Yoluf's cottage. Yoluf calms the nervous party and meet with the villager outside. Apparently they need Yoluf to track down the intruder at the Temple. After a while Yoluf comes back and explains that they think it was beggars, and that he was able to track Hazar to the east but then he heard wolf howls and felt it was no longer say with the villager with him. So he conveniently "lost" the trail and returned.

In the morning the party went after Hazar. They found the site of the attack but no Hazar! It turns out the Hazar was stumbling back west to the village and went a different route. They caught up with just outside of the village. Hazar showed them the silver he had that they needed to bury it before going back to the village. Immediately Yoluf accused him of stealing the temple silver. Hazar came up with a story about how he found a chest in the wilderness and that this is not the temple silver. Yoluf wasn't having any of this, sweating Yoluf then comes up with another story about how there was a bandit and that he spotted him taking the temple silver, followed him out here and waylaid him. He apologized for lying about at first. This story Yoluf bought.

So they returned to the village where a tense confrontation with Elder Anselm. Hazar gave an inspired speech about his confrontation with the Demon Wolf. While it didn't convince the Elder entirely he swayed the rest of the village to his side. Finally the Elder backed down and remained on the defensive for the rest of the day. Sitting down with the Reeve they discussed their options and decided for now the best thing was to start the harvest tomorrow focusing on one field at time. The party will personally guard the villager during this.

At this point the game had to be called to resumed later.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Reduced Shipping at Lulu

If you haven't bought a physical copy of the Majestic Wilderlands then from now until May 1st Lulu is taking $4 off of shipping. Which for the US for their slowest option means effectively free shipping. The code is FREEMAIL305.


A Demon Wolf visits the Gold Star Anime Part 1

First I wish to thank Big Jerry for allowing us to game at Gold Star Anime in Edinboro. If you are interested in anime they have a huge selection along with a small but nice selection of cards and games. Finally they have a bunch of Gaming Paper which is the only source of it in the NW PA region that I know of.

Once again Big Jerry brought Janus an Elven Cleric of Silvanus, and Little Jerry, his son, stepped up with Hunter the mighty Halfling Fighter. New to the team was John with Alagazar a mysterious Human Mage from the Order of Thoth, and Josh with Hazar, Alagazar's thuggish bodyguard a Human Thug.

The Baron of Westtower (a name change from last time), thanked Janus and Hunter for finding where the missing villagers were located. While the Giant Ants forced the duo to retreat the last time the Baron Guards were able to follow up and get the villagers out.

The Baron has new troubles, apparently the village of Kensla is refusing to bring in the harvest. Several villagers have been attacked and killed including the Baron own Baliff. Much of this occurred after the Baron's Huntsman found and killed the pack of wolfs that did the first attacks.

The four walked to the Great Hall of Westtower passing the former huntsman in stock. The Baron greeted them and outlined what they needed to do.
Do what it takes to get the villager to bring the harvest in! Find those wolves and kill them.
Alagazar talked to the Huntsman, all the poor fellow could relate that he killed a pack dozen strong. He doesn't understand why the attacks are still continuing. Janus blessed him and wished him better days.

The four went off to Kensla. First they passed the hamlet of Darktower with the Mill, the Greenhaven Inn and a Tollbooth. They took the turnoff to Kensla and a mile down the road they found an overturned cart with with a dead tinker on the grounds.

An examination of the body found bloody gashes across the back and multiple wounds on the front. Sadden the party wrapped up the body, uprighted the cart, put the body in and proceeded to Kensla. Once there they went to the Temple of Mitra where they met with Elder Anselm. Elder was saddened by the Tinker's death and had his Acolyte Carl take him into the Templeyard to be cleaned up for burial. During introductions the Elder and Alagazar exchanged harsh words after the Elder expressed disapproval of Alagazar being a mage of the Order of Thoth. Neither man was going to be back down.

The rest of the party calmed things down and they went down to the village green to meet with Tomas the village Reeve. The party explained that they were from the Baron and had come to deal with the wolves so that the harvest may be brought in. The Reeve was firm about the village demand but also offered help in the form of Yoluf a local trapper. Plus arranged for food, drink, and some sleeping space at the Estate house. Elder Anselm was much more "difficult" during the conversation generally taking the hard line that wolves must be stopped. During the conversation they learned that the Baliff was killed on the High Meadow, and the attack before that involved an elderly couple on the north side of the village.

That evening the party was introduced to Yoluf the trapper. He did not cut an inspiring figure, coming off as a local yokel complete with a slow drawl. However he did know the region and the party did not so I guess they were stuck with each other. They went to the Manorhouse and retired.

Then in the morning the party when out to High Meadow where the Baliff was dismembered. During the conversation the prior day the party learned that not only the Baliff was killed but torn apart in a dozen pieces. All Elder Anselm could say was the scene was indescribable. Even after two week there was still traces of blood throughout the meadow. After careful examination Alagazar and the party figured that the Baliff was attacked near the meadow edge, killed or injured badly, dragged 20 to 30 yards, and then torn apart.

A careful examination of the surrounding cropland led to a trail. They were able to follow it out of the field for about a mile into the wilderness. Then finally lost it in a ravine. Pondering what to do next they realize they didn't have Yoluf with them. So they headed back and met Yoluf at his house preparing fur racks. There they decided to check out the elderly couple's house with Yoluf.

Once there they carefully examined the area. The door was deeply scored with claw marks and blood was splattered throughout the cottage. However Hazar was getting suspicious as this scene look more like a thug hit than a wolf killing. The lock on the door wasn't forced but opened. The mage Alagazar then said that despite the difficulties with Elder Anselm they are going to have to ask to look at the bodies of the couple.

Learning that they laid in the burial catacombs of the village, they were able to get the priest's permission to look at the body provided that Alagazar stayed outside. Elder Anselm was not going to take any chance that thothian magic will be used to desecrate the couple's bodies. So Hazar went in and examined the bodies. Sure enough like the tinker there were gashes on the back. However when turned to look at the front wounds, Hazar was pretty sure they were stab wounds made with a knife, crudely torn at to make them look like an animal attack.

Meeting with Reeve Tomas, the party discussed the possibility that the wolf attack are really the work of men not beast. Elder Anselm immediately blamed local Beggars that were in the area. Beggars are outcast Tharian Horselords that have been dishonored or lose their horses due to misfortune. They wander from locale to locale doing what odd jobs including illicit work to survive. These beggars have been warned twice by the Baliff to leave the area and still they remain. Elder Anselm immediately became convinced that the Beggars were to blame for all the trouble.

The party and the Reeve tried to came the Elder pointing out that further investigation is needed. They would go out and meet with the beggars and see what they had to say. So that afternoon Yoluf and the party went out to the Beggar encampment. There they met the Chief Darius. The conversation was basically going nowhere but before the party left Alagazar gave the chief a silver mark, a 1 lb silver bar worth 240 silver pieces. Alagazar convinced the chief it was a free gift, and only ask if anything was heard about the wolves to let them know. This seem to move Chief Darius and he bid them safe journey.

It was evening when the party returned to the village. Rather sleep at the Estate House they decided the party would go into the wilderness and set up a trap for the wolves. They kill their donkey and spread it's blood around then made camp underneath a large tree. Sure enough during the 2nd watch, several wolves came. One attacked the party while three dragged the dead donkey away. During the fight Hazar was injured badly however thanks to Hunter and the rest of the party the wolves were driven away.

In the morning the party decided to return to the village to fetch Yoluf to track down the wolves that attacked them. However when they arrived at the village they found it nearly empty. Tomas was nursing a head wound. He apologized that he couldn't stop Elder Anselm from forming a mob to go deal with the Beggars.

To be continued tomorrow.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Quality sells, but sometimes quantity is needed

James Raggi posted some thoughts on business models. The follow on comments are interesting in their own right. John Adams of Brave Halfling Publication has some astute observation on the retail side of the roleplaying game industry. Namely that game store owners need a flow of new products in order to keep customers coming in.

Since the release of the Majestic Wilderlands I had several conversations with OSR Publishers. Without going into details the issue of having a retail presence came up.

The best answer I heard so far is for OSR publishers that want to have a retail presence to band together in order to keep a constant flow of product into the stores. This way the retailers are happy and the publishers can still take their time to hone their products.

In reply to the first comment each OSR publisher still continue to work as they did before, releasing one or two well honed product each year. It just when you have say ten publisher pooling their efforts into distribution then the retailer is now happy that there is a stream of new products coming in every month.

However the trick is getting enough of us with enough of a cash flow to afford print runs. Even then the margins can be low at our sales level.

UPDATE: Stuart comment on looking at the experience of Image Comics sounds good. While I don't know much about the comic scene I can see the hobbyist and industry atttitudes to be roughly equivalent as the gaming side of things. Certainly they are experiencing the same impact of PoD and the internet as we are.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

From the Attic: Alternate Hommlets

Back in the 1990's I rewrote the Village of Hommlet for use in GURPS. I even did a layout, printed it out and had it in a Binder.

Most of it was restating the NPCs, redoing the treasure and money using the Harn price system. But I did add a plot element to spice up the in-town adventure.

An alternate Entry #32

Some dozen temporary shelters are along the edge of this corpse of trees. They house ten peasant laborers and families. They are the workers constructing the castle. A few villagers also work on the castle, putting a half-day's work every week.

Currently there is mounting tension between the workers and the villagers as the workers attempted to erect a tent to serve as a pub. The resulting protest from Ostler Guntram forced the Braumeister not to sell any more kegs of beer or ale to the workers. One of the workers is currently in jail because he tried to steal a keg from the Braumeister.

The Workers do not want to go to the Welcome Wench because the villagers have made it a unfriendly place for them to visit. Recently a spate of vandalism has hit the village the works are being blamed for this.

One of the workers, Rodolf, is working for the slave lords spying on the construction. He is currently trying to enflame situation as much as he can. He was the one that did the initial vandalism and was able to incite some of the workers to join in.

Rodolf Labourer and Agent of the Slavers, 34 years old

Lothar Labourer, 26 years old
Austrechild Wife, 24 years old
Hildeoc son, 3 months old

Giselpert Labourer, 34 years old
Brunie Wife, 32 years old
Rego daughter, 10 years old
Salinga daughter, 8 years old

Dragolen Headsman, 41 years old
Audovera Wife, 38 years old
Gunthuec daughter, 12 years old
Lamisso son, 11 years old
Ingund daughter, 8 years old

Horik Labourer, 32 years old
Malulf Labourer, 36 years old
Theodebert Son, 12 years old

Wechtari Labourer, 23 years old

Thoris Labourer, 28 years old
Thyri Wife, 26 years old
Theuli daughter, 2 years old

Ferghus Labourer, 45 years old

Ivar Labourer, 25 years old
Truda Wife, 26 years old

This is one of the characters I created for the GURPS version. In my version it wasn't the Temple of Elemental Evil that had spies in town but rather the slave lords.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

A Referee Rumbles, To use miniatures or not use miniatures that is the question!

Miniatures are a tool, you can over use them. Verbal descriptions are a tool. Some DMs are good at only using one, others can combine both to create a superior game session, others are poor at both. The key point is to figure out which combination of techniques works best for you and then hone them.

For myself I use miniatures with dry erase board and a minimum of props. I have a lot of standard stuff, (orcs, men-at-arms, undead, etc) that are readily accessible. For example I a set of what I call "official guard figures". They always represent city guard, noble retainers or other military forces,

The same for the props I throw onto the board after drawing the room. I use props because the ones I found setup faster then me drawing it. I tried using Dwarven Forge stuff but it took long in the setup department and too prone to jostling and then falling down.

Other DMs have their own techniques ranging from no miniatures, miniatures for purposes of marching order, to the full blown Dwarven forge setup. The quality of their game was independent of what technique they used. In short DM wer bad or were good regardless whether they were verbal only, or used the full dwarven forge experience.

However if a DM was verbal only, or a DM used Dwarven Forge there were certainly dos and don't for each technique. For example most Dwarven Forge DMs typically had the most detailed sections prebuilt and covered them until needed. Using only standard pieces for stuff built on the fly. Good verbal DMs are methodical and well organized in their descriptions and made sure each player described clearly what and where they were doing.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Musings on Knights

Tim of Gothridge Manor asked a question about Knights

Rob, very good blog. This should be one of your handouts. I got a question. Say a knight from one lord smacks around a few serfs in another lord's territory, what would happen? Some scenarios:

1. If the knight felt slighted by the peasants and killed one or two.

2. Maybe they were workers under strict orders and could not accomidate the knight.

3. The knight attacked the village, the villagers defended themselves and the knight runs off and calls upon the lord for justice.
The answer for the Majestic Wilderlands is that it depends on the culture. In Western European History, a knight smacking around another knight's serfs at the best would be treated as a property dispute with an attitude as if you deliberatly banged up another person's car. At the worst the other knight genuinely like these peasants and takes it as a person insult resulting in a feud.

This attitude is born of the fact that the warrior elite of much of Western Europe was born of conquest. Germanic warriors carving up the territory of Rome like so many biker gangs with horse and swords. Despite the Germans wanting the benefits of Roman civilizations they did not admire the Romans themselves.

In general the two things throughout history that leads to widespread tyranny and abuse are conquest of one population by another, and oriental style despotism where one man has absolute power over all.

In the Majestic Wilderlands this situation exists among the Tharian Horselords who conquered the western half of the Dragon Empire. There they made the native Elessarians into serfs. In contrast among the Ghinorians and the Elessarians the Knight are more like police. Still prone to abuse but not absolute arbeiters of life and death as the Tharian Horselords are to their peasantry. In short the Ghinorians and Elessarian do not fear own knights as a default. While the Elessarian peasantry under Tharian rule do.

Before the death of the Emperor the situation in Viridistan was similar to those of the worse of the oriental despotisms of history. The Emperor's word was law, and thus of his representative down to the least knights. Watching over them all was a separate hierarchy of Imperial Cultists who reported to the emperor but did not rule themselves. And watching everybody where the Black Adders the secret police.

In situation 1 to 3 the Tharian Knight only consideration would be who the peasant's lord was. If situation #3 is occuring then the Knight would feel that the peasant liege was too weak. In any case the dispute would have to resolved by the highest lord the two knights had in common. If not, as it is the case where two clans adjoin each other, then the ultimate recourse is war.

Likely if the two knight are of equal reputation then the matter will be resolved by a feud. If the offending knight doesn't want to participate in a duel then he would pay a fine to the knight he offended. A lot depends on the personal dynamics between the two knights.

The Ghinorian and Elessarian Knight will have to have cause before striking against anybody. Otherwise they risk losing title and position. Present day, 4436 BCCC, Ghinorian Society favors the Ghinorian Knight a lot. The collapse of the empire and the money economy has left most Ghinorian Realms dominated by the warrior elite. The situation is similar to a company appointed sheriff in a company town.

The Elessarians Knight in contrast will scrutiny by the Trehaen. Even with the turmoils after the fall of the Dragon Empire the Trehaen are still the ultimate judges and lawgivers of Elessarian society.

I hope you find some useful items to apply to your own setting.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Allegiances not Alignments

Zach over at RPGBlog choose alignment for his Friday topic.

Even back in the day, I never used alignment much other than an indication of personality. What critical was your allegiances. Which god you worshiped, your liege, your patron, or what organization you belonged. Even players that played freebooters had to take the concerns of the local culture into account.

I found that properly presented this system was easier and more fun for the players as the consequences of actions were easier to for them to determine. Forswearing your god was much more obvious than determine whether an action was Lawful Good, Neutral Good, or Lawful Neutral. The same for betraying a liege, cheating a patron or neglecting your duty to an organization.

Back when I did first did this for AD&D I didn't much about the history of D&D. But now I realize that although more complex my system of allegiances was more in the spirit of the oldest version of D&D with their system of Law-Neutral-Chaos. If you read the First Fantasy Campaign you will set the three alignment system very much represented factions. Granted the Chaos were never very nice people.

To me nine alignment system was more useful as a description of a character's personality. As a useful indicator of a character's general tendencies. When I switched to Fantasy Hero, and later GURPS ; the roleplaying of motivations and personality assumed center stage. My old allegiance setup came along almost intact.

As for the mechanics they were simple. In-game loyalty was rewarded with in-game resources. Consequences came with disloyalty. My attitude is similar to that of "The die fall where they may" except that I had to rule on the various attitudes. Sometimes my decisions didn't ring true but I learned and gotten better over the years.

In addition I don't punish players for not knowing background details that are only in my head. This is not the same as tricking them with a clever plot or ruse. When a background detail is important I will give them plenty of chances to learn what it is before the time it is really important to know. Sometimes it is done in-game other time in my Updates that I hand out from time to time that fill the players on some aspect of the Majestic Wilderlands.

The reason for this is that I think immersion is one of the strongest aspects of roleplaying games. That you as your character are in another world, another time. Second to that is being a different person than you normally are with different motivations and personality. This what makes 30 year campaign possible and drives us to game over and over again through a mosaic of situations, genres and time periods.

Friday, April 9, 2010

The Ghinorian Imperial Prince

In the Majestic Wilderlands and various post I mention the Imperial Prince and occasionally a King of Ghinor. An explanation of the difference between the two may prove useful for developing your milieu.

A short historical sequence of Ghinorian History goes like this

The Beginning
The Exodus
The Judges
The Kingdom
The Interegnum
The Empire
The Successor Realms

After the exodus the Ghinorians were divided into seven tribes. Six were given different portions of the Valley of Ghinor to live in. The seventh, the Tribe of Loris, was devoted to the worship of Mitra. They were scattered among the other six but lived apart while leading the worship of Mitra.

After away the tribes began to fight one another. Territory, women, resources, the usual things caused arguments to occur. Occasionally a Judge will be anointed by the Tribe of Loris when a external threat or serious dispute arises. Eventually this system proved incapable of handling the Vahon a barbarian tribe that migrated into the region. The Tribe of Loris anointed seven warriors who trained seven more each to form the first paladins.

To join the paladins one cast all ties to a particular tribe and fought for Ghinor and Mitra. Their adoption of Chariots gave them exceptional mobility and checked the threat of the Vahon. Judges were still appointed but they became more legal advisors to settle disputes between the tribes.

Even this system started to creak when the Princes of the Tribes became wealthy and powerful. Many became little better than tyrants and reduced their fellow Ghinorian into mere subjects. When the people cried for deliverance and asked for a King to check the power of the Princes. The tribe of Loris reluctantly agreed and anointed Valol, the then current leader of the Paladins, as the first King of Ghinor.

The Kings had their own land and their own sources of income. They did not rule the individual tribes directly but rather acted through the six princes and the patriarch of Loris. They could and did punish princes that abused their power and attacked other tribes. Eventually the power of the Kings grew at the expense of the Princes and the last Kings were little better than tyrants themselves. Civil wars regularly broke out on the anointing of a new King

After 800 years the Kingdom of Ghinor fell when a new wave of Vahon barbarians entered the region and conquered much of the valley of Ghinor.

It took two hundred years for the Ghinorian win their freedom again. They were lead by the Prince of Shalol the last free tribe. When the Valley of Ghinor was liberated and the Vahons were finally conquered the Ghinorian Empire was proclaimed. The Prince of Shalol refused to restore the monarchy. Instead they had themselves crowned seven times, one for each of the tribes of Ghinor. They styled themselves as the Imperial Prince of the Seven Tribes of Ghinor.

To manage the Church of Mitra they appointed a pontiff of the Tribe of Loris. A pontiff being an assistant to the old office of the Patriarch. As the centuries wore on the tribal lines blurred. The Tribe of Loris was transformed into the Church of Mitra and accepted any Ghinorian into Mitra's service. When the Empire fell and along with the office of the Imperial Prince the colonies of Ghinor proclaimed themselves Principalities and their rulers as Princes not Kings.

Because the office of the patriarch was lost along with the other six titles of the Imperial Prince, the Church of Mitra became separated from the Principalities. In the Karian Islands and for a time when the Restored Empire existed the office of Imperial Prince was restored along with the patriarchy.

The distinction between the King and the Imperial Prince was inspired by Rome's history with their Kings and Emperors. Augustus carefully preserved the forms of Republican Rome while retaining all the real power. His titles were carefully chosen to give the impression that he was restoring the old values of Republican Rome. He did not want to wind up as Julius Caesar did.

The same for the early Imperial Princes. They crafted the political structure of the early empire so that it preserved the forms of what the Ghinorian people considered ideal. The early days of the tribes settlement of the Valley of Ghinor. But the reality was that the Imperial Prince held all the power.

I know some of you are interested in the Majestic Wilderlands and for the rest I hope this is useful in developing your own political and religious backgrounds for your milieus.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Majestic Wilderlands and roleplaying the Knighthood.

In the Majestic Wilderlands supplement I detail a knight class. The basic concept is a fighter that is good at mounted combat. For a thousand years from the Battle of Adrianople to the last Middle Ages the mounted knight was the premier weapon on the battlefield.

I draw a distinction between the knight as a weapon and a knight as a social institution. The knight class that I created is focused on the Knight as a weapon. Whatever social conventions that surrounds this class will need to be created for your campaign.

But the implication of being a knighted warrior is that your status is fairly high. A horse require care and food, as much as a person per year. Also you just can't have one horse as a matter of practicality you will need multiple mounts. They are not cars to be ridden at need and then put away. In most societies a mounted warrior has some measure of status and wealth. With status come a bonus in charisma. This is reflected in the Charisma requirements for a knight. A fighting-man needs a constitution or charisma of 12 or better to start out as a knight. And neither can be lower than 8.

Over the centuries to the knight status was attached a lot of mysticism and religion particularly during the High Middle Age and the rise of the ideal of chivalry and the romance.

In the Majestic Wilderlands the fundamental essence of a knight is that he is his liege's man. To fight at his liege command in the place and time of his liege choosing. It is the reason he given status, power, and equipment. In short he there to kick the shit out of those that piss his liege off. Various cultures may obscure this with social conventions but this is the heart of knighthood.

The Tharians were horse barbarians. In their society status directly correlates to the size of your herd. If you have no horse you are not a warrior and without honor. Tharians that have the misfortune to lose their last horse often join the Beggars, wandering groups of clanless, honorless Tharians.

Tharians organize themselves into clans. A clan is basically several extended families sharing a common ancestor. Existing alongside the clan are the housecarls. These are warriors who have sworn personal loyalty to the clan chief. However this loyalty isn't a one-way street. The housecarls expect their chief to be generous and reward them greatly for their service. The chief who is frugal and stingy is soon bereft of any housecarls. Those that give freely are known for their generosity command the largest contingents.

Since the conquest of City-State this ideal has been under a lot of pressure. For the first time Tharian Culture have a mean of gaining power without having a lot of horses thanks to the money economy they inherited from the conquest. Warrior can be gained by paying them gold and silver. This most pronounced near the heavily urbanized regions near City-State.

This has caused some Tharians to turn away from their traditional religion (ancestor worship) to worshiping Set, the Dragon God. The harsh discipline and stern codes of Set appeals to many Tharians.

Ghinorians are a reflection of the traditional western european d&d fantasy. Instead of a Catholic Church, they have a Church of Mitra. Believing themselves to be the chosen people of Mitra.

The Ghinorian Knighthood had it's origins in the foundation of the half-legendary Kingdom of Ghinor. When they arrived in the Valley of Ghinor for nearly a thousand years they lived in separate tribes ruled by Princes. They fought each other as much as the surrounding barbarians. From time to time there were threats that require the tribes to unite. But because they rarely cooperate the armies lack a lot of cohesion and lost as much as the won.

The Tribe of Loris, what the Church of Mitra was known back then, anointed seven warriors. These seven trained seven more. This group of 49 warriors were known as the Paladins. The paladins were the first military force that the Ghinorians had that would fight for all the tribes. To join the paladin was to leave your tribe behind and fight for Ghinor and Mitra.

Their force grew and became highly effective when they adopted chariots. Their mobility allow them to respond to threat quickly regards of how far away a tribe was. The Paladins became a source of unity and from their leadeship came the first Kings of Ghinor.

Eventually the Kingdom of Ghinor passed away but the ideal of the Paladins lived on. During the rise of the Ghinorian Empire, the Imperial Prince split the Paladins into two groups. The first retained the name of Paladin and focused on the protection of the Church of Mitra. The second group became Knights in service of the Imperial Prince fighting the wars of the empire.

This division continued after the Empire's fall. The paladin grew into being holy warriors fighting Mitra foes in the Wilderlands. The Knights focused on the defense of the successor realms and upholding Mitra's justice among the Ghinorian people.

Other Realms
In Elessarian lands Knights function purely as police and soliders. Unlike Tharian and Ghinorian lands, the judgment of the law in the hands of the Trehaen a druidic order. They consider the Knight an office than an all-encompassing mark of status.

Among Sylvan realms, lands dominated culturally by the Elves, a Knight is a mark of honor. Granted to warriors that showed exceptional valor or service. Rangers are warriors in service to the god Silvanus, the patron of elves. They are noted for aiding any allied realm regardless of race.

In Viridistan a Knight is a military office denoting a mounted warrior. It carries some status because of the requirements of keeping up a horse but no more than being a officer in a modern military would. This is similar to how the equites of the Roman Republic worked.

Dwarves, Skandian, and other barbarian societies there is little concept of knighthood. Instead prestige is earned by reputation alone. Like the Tharians, chiefs known for their prowess and generosity will attract a warband loyal to him.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Remembering History

A key ability of a referee is to be able to put themselves in the shoes of the NPCs and look at the world from their point of view. One day while working on the one of the histories of the Majestic Wilderlands I wondered what do they know about their own history?

See in our history much has been preserved and much has been lost. We know that the roman emperor Claudius wrote a history of Rome up to his reign. But so far no copies have been found. It was mentioned and quoted in other works that have been preserved, so we know it exists.

The central drama of the history of Majestic Wilderlands is the rise, and fall of the Ghinorians. They noted for believing that they are the chosen people of the goddess of justice and honor, Mitra.

Their history in brief involves escape from slavery at the hand of Set Worshippers, the estabilshment of the seven tribal principalites, the Kingdom of Ghinor, it's fall, the estabilshment of the Ghinorian Empire under the Imperial Prince, the estabilshed of several colonies throughout the wilderlands, the fall of the Empire, and finally the histories of the individual successor states. Whew! Over four thousand years compressed there.

My inspiration for the Ghinorians is a mash up of Old Testament Hebrews and Rome. So when I was thinking of the Ghinorians it natural to think they have holy books chronicling their early history.

These books are Beginnings, Exodus, Judges, Kingdom, and Chronicle. Detailing the history of the Ghinorian People from Creation to the foundation of the Empire. Like the Bible it not what we consider a straight historical account but rather the story of the Ghinorians relationship of Mitra throughout the centuries. Like the Hebrews of the Bible, when they are adhere to Mitra's principles they prosper, when they don't bad things happen.

Along with the Five Books, there is also the Commentaries of Loris. Loris was the second Patriarch of Mitra. The commentaris function as a catcheism, outlining the beliefs and rituals of the Church of Mitra. Unlike the Five Books the Commentaries can and have been updated. Although never excised. Older entries are noted as being no longer in force.

The Five Books and the Commentaries were first written after the foundation of the Empire. It is believed the first Imperial Prince, Palanon, was instrumental in collecting the oral traditions and scattered writing into their final form.

There are probably over 200 books that have been preserved from the days of the Empire. Four dozen of them are considered the classics are found in nearly all the Ghinorian Successor states. The rest are scattered in different libraries. The collections are those of Lenap-Tlan, and of Modron-Nome-(City-State)-Nomar-Tarantis. The Ghinor Homeland has a smaller collection as much was lost during the invasion of the Ionian Barbarian and the Great Harrowing of the Church of Mitra. The Karian Isle have a fourth collection but much of it has been altered to conform with the belief that the Imperial Prince of the Karian Isles is the divine son of Mitra.

The Elves preserved their history through oral traditions. They have honed the art of memory to a science. The various ballads, and poems have been honed through the age to maximize both accuracy and ease of memorization.

To aid this Elves craft pattern stones. The pattern stones don't preserve the actual words but rather the rhyme or meter of the associated poem. Much like the opening theme of Star Wars or Indiana Jones brings up the stories that the movies tell so does the inscriptions on the pattern stones.

The Elves apply this to much of their record keeping using physical objects as mnemonics to bring up the memory of the desired information. This includes spell casting.

Occasionally an Elf will create inscriptions or a scribe a scroll as a gift to one of the mortal races.

Like the Elves the Dwarves use a oral tradition to preserve their history. In their holds they have memory halls were the poems, epics, and ballads are inscribed for apprentices to learn off of. Minor works typically only have the first line of each part inscription and only the greatest works are inscribed in full.

The loss of the Majestic Fastness was a particular tragedy for the Dwarves of Thunderhold. There was no time to record the memory hall of the Majestic Fastness. Due to the many death in Ancelgorn's wake of destruction only half was able to be recovered through the memories of the survivors.

The Gnomes use sound as memory aids. They construct different wind instruments that are unique in their notes. When played they allow the Gnomes to recall the the poem.

That pretty much all I got for now on this topic.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Sandbox Fantasy: Random Elven Settlement Determination

Random Elven Settlement Determination
1 Hex = 5 miles or 10 km

Stat block
(Elf) 12-345678-9

1 Defense Level
2 Barrier Level
3 Local Water Level
4 Local Soil Fertility
5 Local Resource Level
6 Population
7 Government
8 Law Level
9 Magic Level

Fortification level

12 A-Underground Cavern with Fortified Gate
11 B- Castle (Usually integrated into the surrounding landscape, functionally the same)
10 C-Naith, (a huge central tree with the same protection as a wooden castle).
9 D-Underground Cavern
8 E-Treetop Flets (Tree platforms)
7- X-None

+6 if Pop 7+
+4 if Pop 5+
+2 if Pop 3+
-2 if Pop 1-

+2 if Gov 2,4,6,8,A,F

Barrier Level
12 A-Taigh (a encircling barrier that entangle and confuses those attempting to cross)
10-11 B-Thorn Hedge 10'+ thick
7-9 C-Landscape (the settlement site is deliberately set so that landscape is difficult to navigate)
6 E-Hedge
5- X-None

+6 if Pop 7+
+4 if Pop 5+
+2 if Pop 3+
-2 if Pop 1-
+2 if Gov 7,9
+2 if has A Underground Cavern (A or D)
+1 if has Castle

2d6-2 Min: 0 Max:10
+6 within one hex of a river
-6 within desert terrian
-2 within mountains
-1 within hill terrian
Automatically 10 within a swamp
+2 within forest
+4 within two hexes of a coast or lake of one hex size.

1d6-1d6+Hydrographics Min:0 Max:10
10 is average fertility divide by 10 then multiply by crop yield to get actual yield.

Resource Level
Represents the percentage chance of finding a resource.

2d6-5 Minimum of 0
-6 within 2 hexes of a settlement of any other race
-3 within 2 hex of a Elven settlement.

0 100
1 200
2 400
3 600
4 800
5 1,000
6 2,000
7 4,000
8 8,000
9 16,000
A 32,000


1 Head of Family
2-3 Council of Elders
4 High Priest
5 Mage
6 King

Law Level
This represents the degree of the ruler's involvement in the populace daily life. 0 being the lower and F the highest.

Tech Level
Represent Capability more than knowledge. Interpretation should be done on a region by region basis.
1d6 + Modifiers
Min: 0
Max: Max TL of Campaign Region
0 No Magic (barbarian tribe)
1 Low Magic I(personal use only)
2 Low Magic II(battle magic)
3 High Magic I (battle magic)
4 High Magic II (full range of spells)
5 High Magic III (artificers)
6 Faerie Realm (everything is magic)

Pop 0-1
-1 Pop 2-3
+1 Pop 6
+2 Pop 7

+1 if Gov - High Priest
+2 if Gov - Mage
-1 if Gov - Head of Family

Monday, April 5, 2010

Packing it in with the Majestic Wilderlands Part 2

A couple of days ago Timeshadows asks
Are all of these neighbouring places on friendly terms?
--There are so many of them, so close together without much in the way of buffer zones. I just wonder if things would be a bit hairy with them so closely packed together.

Yesterday I answered the first question. Now to answer the "closely packed" portion of the question.

When you read history there are many factors that come into play that cause the events to unfold the way they did. There are lot of competing theories over which are the most important. Some believe in the Great Man Theory others believe that history is a product of environment. My personal opinion that everything is important. Remove one individual decision or one piece of the environment the outcome, given time, will be vastly different.

One of the most important factors of the environment is geography. For Timeshadow's question the aspect of geography we need to look at is the shape of the land. Consider two places from our history, China and Europe.

China doesn't have any real internal barriers. Instead you have to far to the south (Vietnam), to the West (Himalyas, Tarim Basin), and the North (Siberia) before you find anything that hinders the expansion of a civilization. As a consequence China's history reads as a series of great states Chin, Han, Song, Mongols, Ming, Manchu, PRC. There were period of significant divisions like the Three Kingdoms and the Warring States. But the geography worked against them being lasting divisions.

Europe in contrast is divided into numerous Peninsulas, interior basins. It has large mountain ranges dividing Europe into distinct regions. Even the North German plain which stretch from France, the Low Countries, Germany, Poland and finally to Russia is divided by numerous and large rivers that act as barriers.

Europe saw the Roman Empire that unified much of the Mediterranean and Western Europe. The barriers could be overcome by the will of the Great Mens of the time. But most of the time the geography of Europe cause regions to develop their own identities. In some places down to the point where areas the size of a US County or Metro area saw themselves as separate from other similar size regions only a few miles away.

Let's look at the Wilderlands. The maps show the mountain ranges as dark gray and the important rivers.

To me the geography looks more like Europe than China. The Padizan Peninsula (the bottom map) is even more broken up into distinct regions. Hence the reason why when I wrote the history of that area we see so many small yet distinct states.

If you use these ideas while creating your setting, you will have a plausible reason for all the little kingdoms and realms you want.