Wednesday, April 28, 2021

World in Motion: Breathing Life into your City State

 In my Majestic Fantasy Basic Rules, I touched briefly on the idea of that the setting has a life of it own. Most of I wrote was about prep, before and during the campaign. I didn't touch on things one can do at the table to breath life into the setting. This following is one thing that hopefully you find useful that makes players feel like they are part of a living breathing world with a life outside of what they do.

The specific issue I will be dealing with is life within a fantasy urban setting. The example I will be using will be based on Judges Guild City State of the Invincible Overlord.

One effective technique I use  is to develop a patter to describe what going on particularly in urban areas. I don't attempt to describe everything unless asked. I limit it to things that "caught" the attention of the PCs. The time you go downtown or to a crowded area look at what you notice as you go about your business. Then take a long look around at everything else. You will find that you have a natural filter that so that only certain things come to your attention. Because of this I feel comfortable in highlighting only a few details as the player traverse the city. If the players specifically want to observe in detail then I will paint the full picture around them.

To explain how I do this I made a graphics to illustrate what it is I do using the City State of the Invincible Overlord. The map I use is on the right and is fully keyed. The map the players see is on the right. Either laid out on the table, or up on the screen if using a VTT. There will be a marker on the player map to mark their current position.

The initial situation is that the party is current eating breakfast at the Seahawk Tavern. They decide to pay a visit to the Sorcerer's Supply House. I look at my map and figure out it would take four minutes to get there. Each square is a 120'. The party can move two squares a minute.

The urban encounter table I use has you rolling every minute. I will making six rolls: one to see if anything happens in the tavern while leaving, one to see if there anything going on outside of the tavern. Then four more to see what happens along the way. The reason for the first roll is that for the purpose of encounter the Tavern is it own thing. The reason for the second roll is that players don't know what they will find once they leave the tavern. So I roll to see if anything is going on when they exit. The rest are normal periodic encounter rolls.

I rolled the following.

  1. No Encounter
  2. Foreigner Urchins/Children To/from market/church/work Seeking/In a duel/fight/etc.
  3. No Encounter
  4. No Encounter
  5. No Encounter
  6. Thieves Guild: Pursecutting/Stalking a mark/etc.

This how it would play out.

click to view at full size

The players can deal with or ignore each of these situation as they see fit. It not uncommon for one or two players to decide they want to check out or deal with something while the rest of the party moves on. In which case I handle the split using a round robin technique. I will spend 5 to 15 minutes with a group and then turn my attention to the next group. Going back and forth as needed.

The Dots on the right hand map roughly marks where I would pause the party (or character token) and describe something.

It take some practice but highly effective in giving the players the sense they are part of a larger world. 

One problem I had until recently is the number of encounter rolls I needed to make. After running two campaigns using Adventures in Middle Earth, I really liked their journey rules. The most applicable part is where you roll for the number of events based on the length of the journey using a logarithmic scale. This means you will have journey 10 times a long before you get the twice the encounters. 

I am working on how this will work for a city adventure. The general gist so far is.

  • One the same street: 1d3-1 encounters
  • Within the same quarter: 1d4 encounters.
  • Across the city: 1d6 encounters. 

Afterwards I sprinkle the encounters along the player's route where they would make sense. Sometime it more or less evenly spaced. Other times they can be bunched up around a single block of buildings.

Hope folks find this useful.

Thursday, April 8, 2021

Another Harn Day: The City of Azadmere and Kingdom of Kaldor Hardcover Kickstarter.

City of Azadmere

Columbia Games released their latest Harnquest the dwarven city of Azadmere. If you needed a dwarven city in your campaign this is the one to get. Compared to the original release the NPCs have been fleshed out and numerous adventure hooks been added to proved reasons for (mostly) human PCs to adventure there. 

Kingdom of Kaldor Kickstarter

Except in a few rare instances Harn has been presented as a series of loose leaf article designed to be placed in  a three ring binder.  Now that Columbia Game is nearly done refreshing and updated their entire list of Harn article, they decided to take selected articles and kickstart them as a limited edition hard cover book.

The first up is the Kingdom of Kaldor Hardcover. 

The Kingdom of Kaldor is an isolated large feudal realm in eastern Harn. Of all the different kingdoms on Harn, Kaldor has the most "Game of Throne" potential as King Miginith is growing more ill with no clear successor. The intrigue along with elements from the surrounding wilderness can make for a interesting campaign set on the Island of Harn.

The book has two articles bound into it. The first is the 60 page Kingdom of Kaldor Article and the second is the 70 page City of Tashal article. Tashal being Kaldor's capital and largest city.

For the Causal Hobbyists

The other benefit of the kickstarter that they are offering for $1, the Harnworld PDF, Harndex PDF, and the Harnworld Map PDF to ALL backer levels. So if you want to see what Harn is about this is a good way of doing so.

Wrapping it up

I enjoyed Harn for over 35 years not only for the setting itself but for the sheer amount of useful material it provide for any fantasy setting with medieval tropes. Harnworld and Harndex were useful to me in their original form 35 years ago and still just as useful in the current edition.

And if you want more Harn goodness check up the numerous fan uploads on and especially the Harn Pottage series.

Monday, April 5, 2021

Small Islands of Wonder, Magic and Society Part III

 Part II

After the end of the last post, the world of magic is dominated by clerics, religion, and divine magic. With the exception of the Elves and their allied culture where a tradition of arcane wizardry was developed along divine magic. 

As world rediscovered bronze and later iron technology. Arcane magic remained in the background. Cultures and religion proved to be a barrier but not an impenetrable wall. Independent discoveries and trade with the elves slowly spread arcane knowledge, spells, and rituals. Like in Earth's history the endless summer of small regional cultures doing their own things was to be shattered by the rise of the empires.

The Rise of the Viridians

Despite being divinely constructed and guarded by the Great Dragons, the entrance to Abyss that chromatic crystals guarded was a location in the world that could discovered and explored. Chance and circumstance combined with evil intent to allow a powerful wizard to steal one of the chromatic crystals, the Ebon Flame. The story of that wizard and the war against him is epic but is a tale for another time.

The theft of the crystal left a gap within the ward. and a thousand years later, the weakest of demons the Green Lords or the Viridians found the gap and they were just weak enough that they could use it to escape. Once free they sailed away and founded an empire. Soon other races including the Elves came into conflict with the Viridians and war broke out.

For magic, the Viridians had the first major independent tradition of arcane magic outside of Wizardry. Demons had no access to the divine as they considered themselves enemies of creation. So they developed arcane rituals into a high art including the development of the powerful 7th to 9th level rituals.  

The Rise and Fall of Empires

The Viridians did little to endear themselves to humans and the other races. They believe themselves to be lords of creations and sought to enslave whole cultures at every opportunity.  But their numbers dwindled and like neighboring cultures their realms experienced a rise, a fall, a dark age, and rebirth.  In both the Majestic Wilderlands and the Majestic Fantasy Realms there were three empires over the centuries. The downside of how the Viridians acted that for many cultures, arcane magic became associated with demons and evil.  It wasn't until the rise of the next great empire that arcane magic came into it's own.

That empire was the Ghinorian Empire in the Majestic Wilderlands, and the Bright Empire in the Majestic Fantasy Realms. Both considered themselves universal empire espousing ideals to appeal to all people regardless of cultures. Both had a dominant religion that preached these ideals as divinely ordained and both were highly successful in spreading to all corners of the main continent.

Like most religions in other cultures, the empire had a tradition of Arcanists subordinated to the church. One specialty found among others in various orders of scholars and monks. The success of the empire meant contact with many different cultures including the Elves and their tradition of Wizardry. And the Viridians and their tainted  tradition of arcane magic. This widespread contact lead to renaissance of learning and scholarship spearheaded by the church.

But as the centuries rolled on, the empire developed cracks and faltered. Both versions weakened by civil war, and both had their death blow delivered by barbarian invasions. In the chaotic centuries after the fall, the church shattered and it adherent left to fend on their own. The old arcanist used their knowledge of elven wizardry, the rituals of over a dozen cultures, and Viridian own tradition scrubbed of any demonic taint to create a new form of arcane magic, the Magic User. Freed by the demand and constraints of religion the early magic-users were able to prefect the new way of casting spells and teach it to others. 

Like a wizard a magic user performed mediations to memorize a spell form that could be filled with energy and released as spell. But instead of internalizing the forms, they made a crucial innovation of the spell book. The use of the spell book allowed many more forms to kept in a magic user's mind compared to a wizard. In addition it only took a short amount of time to rememorize new forms. Although the number and powers of the memorized forms depended on the skill of the magic orders.

The Magical Orders.

Art by Richard Luschek
The centuries after the empire's fall saw the rise of various magic orders. The Order of Thoth arose from some of the early magic-users banding together for protection. The Order of Sarrath was an alternative tradition of ritual casters that became an important part of the Ochre Empire one of the largest successor realms to emerge from the collapse of the Bright Empire. The various viking cultures developed an order of ritual casters using runes. Alongside these new order Wizards from the elves and their allies and Viridian artificers who used the old form of ritual magic to create magic items.

All of the orders are still finding their way. The present day of my campaigns in both the Majestic Wilderlands and the Majestic Fantasy Realms is set during the time where these orders are coming into their own. The turmoil's of their early history is past and each have established a place in their respective cultures.  

The wider world is also coming into its own as the various realms have move past the dark age after the fall of the empire. Commerce and finance has step alongside land as a source of wealth and power. And nobody know what the next few centuries will bring either for the realms or magic. 

The Mechanics

Magic Users

The same as any classic edition. Additionally magic users can cast 10 minute rituals from their spellbooks. The maximum level they can cast as a ritual is equal to 1/2 of the high spell level they can cast (rounded down). If a magic-user can cast 4th level spells they can also cast 2nd level spells as ritual. In this area magic-users regressed compared to the older ritual caster due to the focusing on memorizing spells. 

Order of Thoth

The same as magic users above. In addition they learn the Shield of Magic which confers 20% magic resistance per level until it maxes out at 100% at 5th level when they become a master in the order. I recommend limiting this to non-damaging spells that require a save like charm person. Not to spells like fireball or stinking cloud that create something else that does the damage. The Shield of Magic was developed to protect mages from being controlled as a slave by another mage. 

Order of Sarrath

This is a order of the ritual only spell casters known as Theurgists. As an official arm of an empire dedicated to worship of the dragon god of war and order (think lawful evil) these spellcasters learn to cast joint rituals. They can combine their caster levels for an increased spells effect. For example 5 5th level Theurgists can cast a 25D fireball.

Rob's Note: I have to admit, I thought this would work out better than it did. At the time I thought there were a fair amount of spells in the classic editions like fireball where they were more effective when cast by higher level magic users. This turned out the exception not the rule for the classic editions. 

But would out work out fine if 5e is being used. In 5e most spells are more potent when cast through a higher level spell slot.


This is another order of ritual only spell casters originated among the dwarves and human viking cultures who used runes. Instead of scrolls runecaster can scribe runes that function the same. Used the spell is cast and the rune disappears. The difference is that runes are more compact so Runecaster can make runewands or runestaffs with many runes on them. And they are more lasting than paper being carving into a durable material like wood or stone. Runes for a spell take up around three inches of length for a staff or wand. A three inch by three inch square on a flat surface.


Charms are like scrolls except they remain after being used. They cost double (money and time) what a scroll costs and half to recharge (money and time). They also can be activated by non-spellcasters as one-use magic item. For runecasters they are an advanced form of runes.

Wrapping it up.

My hope with this short series of essays on magic and society provide some useful insight and inspirations for your own campaign. The history of magic I outlined is not the only way it could have played out. With different premises and history turning in a different all kinds of interesting possibilities emerge. 

One thing to keep in mind if you believe that a magic utopia is inevitable. Once way to sidestep that issue to set the campaign prior to the time in which the utopia will happen. Everything has a beginning and Rome wasn't build in a day. 

Finally this material is also preview of the upcoming Lost Grimoire of Magic. The next book in my Majestic Fantasy RPG series with will debut late this summer after the Wild North is released.