Friday, October 14, 2011

A Moment of Inspiration

I've had a moment of inspiration.

I was reading Beedo's Dreams in the Lich House post about Threat Analysis in a Weird Setting, where he discussed a campaign set in quasi-historic Reformation-era Europe and based on the diary of an inquisitor when a moment of inspiration has struck me. I have been thinking for some time about a post-Revolutionary city where conspiracies, both mundane and occult, abound, but now I had a framework for my campaign: the PCs would be agents of the City's equivalent of the Committee of Public Safety charged with investigating various threats to the new Republic.

Not only will this give the PCs a lot of freedom and a powerful patron, but also a reason to adventure: to investigate an root out conspiracies, secret societies and cults of all sorts, not to mention monsters.

I'll talk to Hani about this - she has a keen interest in revolutionary history, so this might appeal to her...

Thursday, October 6, 2011

A New, Revolutionary Direction?

First and foremost, after purchasing Vornheim from LotFP, I've decided once more to go for a city of 100,000 people rather than a small town. I think that my mistake, so far, was to try and detail each and every part of the city/town, rather than paint it with very broad strokes; this meant creating a lot of stuff which won't be useful in actual play. Vornheim has inspired me to think bigger, all while keeping away from all the details that might burden me without contributing to play.

That said, I had some interesting and radical thoughts about this setting. In short, I'd like to set it a few years after a major revolution which has deposed the city's ruling Duke, as well as large parts of the nobility, and won independence for the Zagadur Peninsula from the mainland kingdom. Vive la republique!

Why a revolution? Because that means instability, factionalism, monarchist conspiracies, revolutionary conspiracies and all the attendant chaos - in short, a TON of adventuring opportunities as well as openings for ambitious players to gain wealth and power.
Revolutions also mean an opening to all sorts of radical new ideas to be put to play, from mad scientists (Frankenstein!) to steampunk to particularly weird magic.

Inspiration will come not only from the French Revolution but also from other revolts and revolutions in history, from Dolcino's revolt through the Hussites and the German Peasant War to the English and American Revolutions to the Paris Commune. All of these mean a lot of ideas, plots, factions and conspiracy. Like the game deserves.

The New Faith will survive the Revolution, but sectarianism will intensify inside it, leading to secret religious wars conducted in the dark with cloaks and daggers, especially between the Forge (conservative) sect and the Anvil (reform) sect, both worshipping the same God, but sharply disagreeing on how to interpret the holy word.

The Revolution will also work well with the Stonehell megadungeon module; the Duke used to dump his opponents into Stonehell, and now that his reign is over, promises of gold and glory - as well as potential rescue missions - draw intrepid souls to it.

In short, a lot of chaos and infighting. And conspiracies. And much, much darker things emerging from the cracks of old society to haunt the new one.

What do you think about this? Will it work?

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Demography (part 1)

I will now try to figure out the demographics of Zabreba, our coastal town.

First, I've decided that Zabreba is actually composed of two distinct components - the walled Old Town and the ramshackle New Town.

The Old Town dates back several centuries, and is mostly medieval in construction, and also quite cramped; it has 2,000 residents, including most nobility, the old urban middle-class (i.e. craftsmen and merchants) and almost all fishermen. It follows the standard Medieval Demographics Made Easy distribution.

The New Town has sprung up in the last 25 years, following famine in the countryside and "enclosure" enacted by several rural nobles, which have, taken together, driven large numbers of peasants to the city. These disenfranchised peasants were the perfect (that is, cheap) work-force for the up-and-coming merchants who started developing manufactories around the new iron mine up-river from the Old Town and around the new shipyards. Most such incipient industrialists reside in the Old Town, in palaces sold to them by nobles who were too deep in debt, but the richest live in their own mansions a short distance from Zabreba itself. The New Town has a population of 7,000, but lacks many of the businesses expected in the "well-balanced" town according to Medieval Demographics Made Easy due to the fact that almost all residents are extremely poor.

So what do we have in the Old Town?
3 Noble Households (2 minor, 1 major)
7 Wealthy Merchants (5 minor, 2 major)
45 clergy and monks of the New Faith and one Priest
5 clergy of the Old Faith
12 City Watchmen (not including men-at-arms for the nobles)

5 Jewelers
5 Taverns
1 Inn
2 Bakers
2 Wine-Sellers
2 Hatters
2 Saddlers
1 Woodseller
1 Magic Shop (who is also the antiquarian and all-around weird guy)
1 Bookbinder/Seller/Illuminator/Printer (there are printing presses in this setting)
1 Butcher
3 Fishmongers
1 Beer-Seller
1 Spice Merchant
1 Blacksmith
1 Painter
1 Doctor (and 5 more unlicensed doctors - or midwives?)
1 Locksmith
1 Public Bath
1 Sculptor
1 Ragmaker
1 Cutler
3 Lawyers

So what do we have in the New Town?
3 Wealthy Merchant Households (major, in the countryside near the town)
150 clergymen of the New Faith and 5 priests of the New Faith
35 City Watchmen (not including factory guards and assorted thugs)

18 Taverns (mostly in horrid conditions)
8 Jewelers
7 Old Clothes
3 Weavers (and one big textile manufactory)
3 Carpenters (and two larger timber mills)
4 Bakers
2 Woodsellers (actually those are the timber mills)
1 Blacksmith (plus a very big steel mill)
1 Spice Merchant
2 Doctors (and 20 more unlicensed doctors - or midwives?)
3 Locksmiths
3 Inns (in bad condition)
4 Tanners

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Town on the Ice-Choked Sea

After some thinking, I got to the conclusion that a large city would be a bit overwhelming for my NPC-centric gaming style. I'd like to have something more personable on hand, maybe a port town, called Zabreba, with 2,500-5,000 residents. This will probably have a few nobles and merchants present, and about two inns, one small bookstore and one or two "magic" (i.e. ingredient) shops.

2,500-5,000 residents - still enough for very cool urban adventures IMHO, but much more personable than a large city.

It won't be a city-state per se. HOWEVER, the Kingdom of Zagadur would be quite weak and corrupt, so the King will rarely be able to intervene in local affairs, leaving the Mayor as the de-facto supreme authority in Zabreba.

It will still be an ice-age setting, with domesticated Mammoths used as draft and war animals, and huge beasts roaming the countryside, hardly held in check by the City watch in the lack of any real support by the King.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Of Rank and Fighting Ability - a rant

I'm thinking about the major NPCs of my City on the Ice-Choked Sea setting for D&Dish weird fantasy. Part of it includes deciding what to do with the high-level NPCs I've detailed earlier for that setting. And here I come face to face with a very common trope: many video games and face-to-face RPGs equate social (or military) rank with fighting prowess. and i don't think that this should be the case.

Assuming that fighting prowess equals social or military rank is assuming that the society or military force in question is a perfect meritocracy centered on fighting ability - where the more competent people are promoted to positions of power. While this might be true for groups such as pirates or viking raiders, where people literally fight their way up the rank ladder to the top (and have to keep themselves in good shape to stand against challengers), many more civilized organizations and societies do not work this way.

Examples of this abound. In the typical western state, the military is, ultimately, under the command of a civilian politician, who may or may not have any military experience; this is quite extreme in the USA where the President - an elected civilian - is actually the direct commander in chief of the military. But this is not only a case for democracies - not all medieval monarchs were warrior kings; many were even invalids, yet had armies at their command.

Furthermore, even inside the military hierarchy, ranking officers need not be high-level Fighters. After all, climbing the ranks and administrating armies require quite different skills than fighting in the battlefield. And this is not to mention the even less meritocratic forces where a noble (or other dignitary) could earn a military rank by the virtue of his social status... In many cases, indeed, a Sergeant might be more experienced as a soldier than the Lieutenant he answers to, especially is the Sergeant has plenty of real combat experience and the Lieutenant is fresh out of officers' college...

So the game stats of people in power will vary in my settings. Some would have powerful stats, other will be (in LotFP terms) be level 0. But in many cases, a low-level (in game terms) person in a position of power will have mighty warriors at his or her disposal - bodyguards, elite units and the like.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Demographics in the City

As part of my work on the City on the Ice-Choked Sea, I'm trying to figure out the general make-up of the city's population, and, particularly, the rarity of classed and leveled characters in the City.

Note that the City is a well-established city with early-industrial technology and an incipient industry; technology should look like something out of the Age of Sail rather the Middle Ages, with Mad Scientists getting into steampunk proper.

First, I'll have to decide how big the City is. Of course Medieval Demographics Made Easy is an excellent reference, but I'm aiming towards something more similar to the Age of Sail (circa 1600-1800) rather than the Middle Ages themselves (that article gives examples from the 1400s). What I have in mind is a population of about 100,000, of which about 70,000 are the relatively new urban working-class formed by newly (last century) disenfranchised peasants. Most new workers live in ramshackle slums around the harbor and the industrial districts, outside of the old city walls. The remainder are mostly urban craftsmen and merchants, with a small nobility (about 1,000 people split into 3-5 major families and numerous lesser houses) and a wealthy merchant class (about 2,000 people split into numerous families). There are also about 3,000 clergy and monks of the New Faith.

A good source of inspiration for the class and level breakdown of the population is this EnWorld thread. However, I feel that with the large amount of mercenaries, guards and thugs attracted by such a fractured, decaying city, there would probably be more Fighters and Specialists in the population than the 1E assumption of %1 classed characters. What I have in mind are about 5% classed characters, of whom 2% are Specialists, 2% Fighters and 1% all the rest of the classes (including level 1 or higher Changelings and Elders - i.e. Elves and Dwarves). So we're talking about circa 2,000 Specialists, 2,000 Fighters and 1,000 other classed characters (200 M-Us, 300 spellcasting Clerics, 400 Changelings and 100 Elders).

As for Changelings and Elders, they should be a minority. Changelings are 5% of the total population, Elders are 1%.

So the class breakdown I'm thinking about is:

Level 0 Normal Men/Women
5,000 Warriors (higher end of HP, usually armed with something - thugs, guards, rank-and-file soldiers and so on)
84,600 Non-Warrior Normal Humans
4,500 Level 0 Changelings
900 Level 0 Elders

1,000 Level 1 Fighters
500 Level 2 Fighters
250 Level 3 Fighters
125 Level 4 Fighters
62 Level 5 Fighters
32 Level 6 Fighters
16 Level 7 Fighters
8 Level 8 Fighters
4 Level 9 Fighters
2 Level 10 Fighters
1 Level 11 Fighter

1,000 Level 1 Specialists
500 Level 2 Specialists
250 Level 3 Specialists
125 Level 4 Specialists
62 Level 5 Specialists
32 Level 6 Specialists
16 Level 7 Specialists
8 Level 8 Specialists
4 Level 9 Specialists
2 Level 10 Specialists
1 Level 11 Specialist

150 Level 1 Clerics
75 Level 2 Clerics
36 Level 3 Clerics
20 Level 4 Clerics
10 Level 5 Clerics
5 level 6 Clerics
3 Level 7 Clerics
1 Level 8 Cleric

100 Level 1 Magic-Users
50 Level 2 Magic-Users
25 Level 3 Magic-Users
15 Level 4 Magic-Users
6 Level 5 Magic-Users
3 Level 6 Magic Users
1 Level 7 Magic-User

Changelings ("Elves")
200 Level 1 Changelings
100 Level 2 Changelings
50 Level 3 Changelings
25 Level 4 Changelings
15 Level 5 Changelings
6 Level 6 Changelings
3 Level 7 Changelings
1 Level 8 Changeling

Elders ("Dwarves")
50 Level 1 Elders
25 Level 2 Elders
15 Level 3 Elders
6 Level 4 Elders
3 Level 5 Elders
1 Level 6 Elder

How much would these numbers (in a 100,000-people city) fit a LotFP campaign?

Also, assuming an ice-age on one hand and higher-than-usual technology (and mammoths as draft animals) on the other hand, how many 24-mile-wide hexes would be necessary to feed a 100,000-resident city?

Input would be welcome.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Races in the City

Decision time: I have to decide which races to include in my world.

In a more tropical setting, I think I would've used lizard-men and serpent-men, as both of these races fit squrely into the sword & sorcery milieu. But since my setting is cold and icy, with some Norse and Slavic connotations, I think that I'll use the following races:

1) Humans. The vast majority.
2) Sea Blood (i.e. Deep One Hybrids), who belong to the big Noble Houses. I'm not sure if I'll let them be PCs, though; but they'd make great villains.
3) Changelings, who are Fey babies placed in cribs from which the Fey have abducted Human babies. They are essentially Fey, but raised by Humans, so they belong to both worlds. Use Elf stats as-is.
4) Elders/Dwergar. They are a dying race who once ruled a vast empire in the now-frozen North, evolved Neanderthals who moved deeper and deeper underground as the glaciers ate through their homeland. Use Dwarf stats as-is.

Anyone not Human (except for young Sea Blood who could pass as Humans) is subject to prejudice and, for the very least, a -2 penalty to Reaction when interacting with mainstream Humanity.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

So how do you call a Magic-User?

I think that, in most sword & sorcery worlds, the average person will not use the term "Magic-User" too much; indeed, I am not even sure if a typical commoner will know the difference between a Magic-User and certain kinds of Clerics. In fact, in my City on the Ice-Choked Sea campaign, some Clerics (those of the Old Faith) will be considered Witches by the New Faith and many of its lay followers; on the other hand, the priests of various esoteric faiths - such as nature worship, "demon" worship and Fey worship would be, in game terms, Magic-Users.

The average commoner in the City knows, of course, that magic - both Lawful and Chaotic - exists, and that otherworldly beings exist as well. However, magic, particularly high-level, is uncommon, and not everyone has actually seen a spell cast in their lives. So misconceptions, both intentional and unintentional, abound.

To the ignorant peasant in the countryside does not know much about the difference between a low-level Fey-related Magic-User and a low-level priestess of the Old Faith. Both will be either called Witches and feared, or called Wise Women or Hedge Wizards and relied upon for spiritual help, depending on their relations with the locals. None will have, in most cases, much magical power, but a few weak spells here and there will be enough to give them a reputation.

Well-off City-dwelling Magic-Users usually fancy themselves to be Scientists, Renaissance Men, Doctors, or, for the very least, Scholars or Alchemists; many actually hold academic degrees from the University of Zagadur or other, foreign, universities. Others, less affluent, would be known as sooth-sayers, fortune-tellers and the like in the Market District and the slums.

The Old Faith priestesses tend to be quite reclusive in these days for the fear of prosecution, and are far more common in the deeper, wilder countryside than in the City. They rarely advertise their worship any more, but rather carry it in the shadow of forests and mountains (or the City's sewers), and sometimes perform the duty of a Midwife or Wise Woman of a village or a slum.

The New Faith sees, in theory, all magic-using characters who are not Clergy as Witches, Heretics or far, far worse. In practice, except for the most fanatical sects, the New Faith begrudgingly accepts the existence of the more well-respected urban Magic-Users as a necessary evil which could be contained but cannot truly be eradicated.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Magic in Zagadur

I think I'll call this city Zagadur.

Anyway, I've been thinking about how magic interacts with the setting as a whole. In LotFP, like in most D&D-type games, there are two types of magic - D20 calls them Divine and Arcane, while LotFP calls them Lawful and Chaotic. I'll stick with that LotFP definition - and give it a meaning in the game world. No, there isn't a total war going on between Law and Chaos in this world; things are more complicated. Chaos is unnatural, unworldly, yet intertwined with the rest of creation. Law is the natural world, the mundane (and divine?) "reality".

Both the Old and the New Faiths are Lawful. The Old Faith worships a quasi-monotheistic nature/agriculture goddess (of the Maiden-Mother-Crone type); the New Faith worships the Mastersmith, a monotheistic god focused on craftsmanship. The Old Faith has a less aggressive stance towards Chaos, and merely seeks to contain it and to ward against its worst excesses; the New Faith seeks, in theory, to smite Chaos whenever it defiles our reality; in practice, certain types of chaos (such as Changelings and some M-Us) are tolerated by all but the most fanatical sects.

Fey are the most common manifestation of Chaos in the Mortal Realm. They dwell relatively "close" to reality, and thus, in many cases, resemble worldly creatures and plants - sometimes even humans - to a degree. Further away from reality lie far more alien things - the creatures summoned by the Summon spell in LotFP. Fey sometimes abduct Human babies and replace them with their own - this leads to Human-like Fey being raised by Humans (these are the Changelings), and while their standing in society is quite low (most people distrust Fey), they are usually tolerated (usually is the key word here - sometimes a more fanatical sect of the New Faith lynches them).

Low-level Magic-Users usually consort with Fey one way or another. High-level Magic-Users usually learn far more bizarre truths and consort with far more alien beings from Beyond the Veil.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Politics in the City

I've been thinking about politics in the City, and am strongly leaning towards making it a city-state. That would make having a chaotic wilderness quite easy - the City defends itself and watches the main roads to its trade partners (as well as the farm supplying it with food), but stray from the main roads and things will be in quite a disarray.

Regarding the City's armed forces, I think that a multitude of them will serve both setting and game quite well. Noble Houses will have their own Men-at-Arms; the City Council will employ the (quite corrupt) City Guard to police the city and defend the roads; and the City Council will employ mercenaries (think the Italian Condottoeri of the 15th-16th centuries) when engaging in warfare with other city-states or nations. With order deteriorating and politics being in a state of flux, there are MANY armed factions with the City's walls. And as long as the PCs won't be marching around in field plate with cannons in tow, or start attacking by-passers in the middle of a street, I don't think that a breastplate, a rapier or even a slung musket will draw too much attention.

The City was founded approximately 700 years ago by several (3-5) bands of adventuring Vikings, the leader of each establishing a Major Noble House; later on, other people of power became Minor Houses. Today, the City is managed by a Council composed of representatives of all Noble Houses (the Major ones having more votes than the Minor ones) and the clergymen of the New Faith. There are also some upstart wealthy merchants and industrialists who would like to have a bigger say in politics - some would even prefer to get rid of the Noble Houses altogether and let the merchants and industrialists run things - and their money gives them a clout. So far the conflict between the Noble Houses and the Merchants hadn't exploded into much overt violence, though.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

City on the Ice-Choked Sea

I've been thinking about yet another, this time final, revision of my old Wounded Gaia setting over the last several weeks. My original intention was to move the setting into a hard-line post-apocalyptic milieu, with tiny communities of survivors living underground while the surface is frozen and wild. However, I discussed this with my principal player, my beloved spouse Hani, and she remarked that she has already seen enough post-apocalyptic and/or wilderness and/or underground settings in our last RPG campaigns, and that she'd like to try something different for a change. The two ideas we raised together were either a pirate campaign or an urban campaign. We choose the urban one.

This got me thinking, like conversations of this type with Hani usually do. And here is the rough idea that I have developed over the last few days.

My main sources of inspiration are Thief: Dark Project, my second all-time favorite computer game (the overall all-time favorite is of course the immortal System Shock); Michael Scott Rohan's Winter of the World saga; Slavic and Nordic Folklore (especially faeries); Lovecraft's Shadow Over Insmouth; Tony DiTerlizzi's and Holly Black's Arthur Spiderwick's Field Guide to the Fantastical World Around You; Age of Sail Britain (especially in the 16th-17th centuries); Arcanum: of Steamworks and Magic Obscura, another computer game; and possibly also Balzac's Le Père Goriot and Restoration-era France with all its attendant corruption.

My preferred rule-set for this would be Lamentations of the Flame Princess: Grindhouse Edition.

What I want is a campaign set in a major city, a major port city in the Kingdom of Zagadur. The Kingdom, as well as the City, are in the state of social flux as the old nobility decays while the new merchant class rises in power, creating vast rifts in the social fabric. Technology is also rapidly advancing, and the conservative nobility is slow to catch the latest innovations. It is a city of extremes: sprawling slums filled with newly-arrived displaced peasants in stark contrast to the brand-new expansive mansions of the rising merchant stars; crumbling noble castles in contrast to the modern factories; rational science as opposed to old occultism and to the much newer mad science; and the Old Faith as opposed to the iron-fisted New Faith.

The city's harbor is excellent in the spring, summer and autumn, but ice-choked (though not completely frozen) in the cold winter.

For the resident of the slums, this is urban hell; for the enterprising thief or thug-for-hire, this is heaven.

Technology is more advanced than in a typical fantasy setting, and is an anachronistic mix of Renaissance, Age of Sail and early Industrial Revolution tech, with mad scientists creating completely fantastic clockwork and steam devices. Firearms have replaced bows and crossbows for the most part, while not yet rendering armour, swords and pole-arms obsolete; firearms would use very similar rules to Crossbows, but be much, much noisier (so hunters and other people who wish to be silent would still use bows, crossbows and blowguns).

The dominant religion is the New Faith, a monotheistic religion (inspired by Thief: Dark Project's Hammerites) who worships the Mastersmith and who sees its duty to crush Chaos (and the heathenly Old Faith) with a sledge hammer. The Old Faith, which worships the Triune Goddess (modeled after Hecate), still lingers in the countryside and the slums, as well as in the hidden chambers of some of the nobles. Both of these Faiths are Lawful in game terms, as they seem to smash (New Faith) or safely contain (Old Faith) the Fey and worse unnatural forces; both have, in game terms, Clerics. Most cultists and witches who do not belong to either Faith are Chaotic, consort with Fey or with worse beings, and are, in game terms, Magic Users.

The climate is very cold. In the past, approximately 1,500 years ago, the Northern Empire (to the far north from Zagadur) was a shining beacon of civilization and magic. But the Empire's mages made pacts with Chaos, and, some say, have injured the Triune Goddess herself. This brought about the Great Winter, which still lingers, and the fall of the Northern Empire to Chaos. The climate and ecosystem now resemble Europe in the last Ice Age, megafauna included; mammoths have been domesticated and used for labor, while beasts such as sabertooth cats and wooly rhinoceroses roam the wilderness where civilization does not hold sway.

The Fey are an active, and potent, force on this world. They are Chaotic and not part of the natural order, though not all of them are malevolent. Their magic is Chaotic, and many rural Magic-Users learn their magic from the Fey. Elves (which are Fey in this world) sometimes kidnap babies from their cribs - even in the City as long as a New Faith temple is not close by - and replace them with Changelings of their own kin. These Changelings, when raised by Humans, still retain some of their Faerie heritage, and, in game terms, they use the rules for Elves and replace them. Changelings have a negative social stigma, as do Magic-Users who do not keep their abilities in the shadows (or masquerade as alchemists, scientists, apothecaries and similar respectable professions); most noble or rich families will abandon Changeling babies in the Slums to their fate (most die; some are adopted by poor families).

(as far as I've thought about it, I think that there is no need for Dwarves or Halflings in this world, though you might convince me otherwise).

There should be some dark secret for the Nobility; my current idea is that they are other Deep One Hybrids or Snake Men Hybrids. Vampires are probably out as I've used them enough in previous games and want something new.

Note that both City and Kingdom are crumbling. The monarch has little control of the deep countryside (far from the major cities); and the city is an armed camp, with almost any noble or rich merchant having his or her armed private guards, some of which are better trained and equipped than the corrupt (and often drunk) City Watch. Crime thrives, and so does intrigue.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

A Change in Direction for Wounded Gaia?

There is something that bothers me with the two existing incarnations of Wounded Gaia. My original intention was to create something different and distinct from the typical D&D campaign world, something with strong flavor and features that'll make it stand out. But for some reason I keep detailing more or less typical D&D worlds, albeit cold and wild, instead of creating something radical, interesting and challenging to design.

In short, I want to think out of the box, but the box is quite difficult to break out of.

So I am considering a radical re-imagination of Wounded Gaia, possibly switching to the excellent Lamentations of the Flame Princess ruleset for added weirdness; my main reservation about using LotFP for Wounded Gaia is that I'm not sure how well this game will work with my animist cosmology. Another option is to use S&W:WB, which might be easier to graft the animistic cosmology into them but might add a "vanilla D&D" flavor to the setting, which is not necessarily what I'm aiming at.

So I propose the following:

The Frozen Age came and abruptly ended the Age of Blossom. Now the Surface World is a frozen wilderness, hardly tillable even in the most hospitable locales and an untillable harsh tundra or taiga in most places. Monstrous beasts stalk this icy wilderness, beasts that one were confined only to the furthest reaches of the north. But other things stalk the frozen wastes, metal abominations from the old Age of Blossom driven by unknown masters; terrible new things which grew from the ice; and the legions of the dead, who fell in untold millions when their world froze down, haunt the barren landscape. Only a handful of men cling to the world above, men of a hardy sort who have domesticated wild Caribou and Mammoths, and wander the wastes trading between the various underground cities, plundering ruins along the way.

The bulk of what is left of Humanity, however, live underground, shielded by rock and soil from the icy wind and torrents of snow of the outside world. In these vaulted towns and hamlets - remnants of old caverns, mines, dungeons and sewage systems - most remaining men eke out a living. The most prosperous (relatively speaking) underground towns are those who inhabit old mines or dungeons which still have some working Elemental systems, which enable them to create light and heat on a more or less permanent basis. The others, who have hidden in underground caverns, have to make do with expensive Continual Light spells to raise their crops, spells which must be case on precious gems and which eat gem after gem as time goes on.

But deeper underground, older things steer, things which were left over from the less savory sides of the Age of Blossom. Young warriors, Magic Users, clerics and rogues are needed to venture to the harsh surface world or into the treacherous warrens underneath, to seek out salvation for their people, and mayhap also for their world.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Age of Blossom Technology

Due to the fast pace of advancement in the final few decades of that Age, technology varied greatly, as older devices were not yet completely superseded by newer developments being invented in an ever-growing rate.

At the height of technology stood the Elemental Crucible - a magically-sealed chamber into which permanent portals have been opened into the Realms of Water and Fire. The violent reaction between the two opposing elements produced a massive amount of super-heated steam. A single Crucible could provide for all the heating and machine-running needs of a large industrial site (such as a Dwarven city). The main drawback of an Elemental Crucible was that powerful Elementalists had to monitor it around the clock lest nasty creatures would siphon through the portals from their respective Realms. When the Ice came and civilization fell, if the Crucible was not properly shut by an Elementalist, the facility - and, indeed, the whole city in some occasions - became infested with hostile Elemental creatures.

A more primitive application of Elemental techno-magic was the Boiler of Endless Steam, forcibly binding a Salamander and an Undine into the same boiler to produce a constant supply of steam (and endless agony for both Elementals). While the typical boilers of that kind were quite large and were used to power large vehicles or machines, more advanced (and expensive) versions were small enough to include in smaller clockwork devices such as Automatons.

Firearms were common in the hands of Humans and Dwarves. The most advanced - used by Dwarven military forces - were percussion weapons, in some cases built as revolvers (both pistols AND rifles) in order to allow repeating fire; the most common, however, were single-shot flintlocks. The main disadvantage of firearms was that in order to add magic to the attack you had to enchant each bullet - which was quite expensive as spent bullets were usually less recoverable than arrows or crossbow bolts. Another disadvantage was their relative cost to produce and operate.

Crossbows, too, reached a high level of development. Precise clockwork systems allowed marksman to fire massive volleys of bolts with great accuracy and speed without having to reload. While firearms had greater damage potential, crossbows were cheaper, and, more importantly for Kobold tactics, far quieter.

Another wonder came in the form of Automatons - intricate clockwork devices that seemed to breath with their own life, driven by miniature Boilers of Endless Steam. Ranging from tiny marvels to gargantuan Steel Titans, these Automatons never reached widespread use, as their construction was difficult and expensive, and only a few powerful Elementalists knew the secrets of their creation. Rumors, however, speak of hordes of such Automatons built by the ice-hearted clerics of Koschei, metal servants of the Clockwork God, who still roam the icy wastes to this day.

Transportation also underwent a similar revolution. Not only were ships powered by steam - often produced by a Boiler of Endless Steam - but a few unique ships were able to sail underwater, their steel hulls protecting them from the crushing weight of the waters. Ancient cities used steam for rail transportation, and a few inventors bound Sylphs into ships to turn them into flying airships. Few of these wonders still linger in our Frozen Age, though.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Religion and Cosmology

While there are greater gods in the setting (in this case, the Chaotic mother-goddess Vesna/Marzanna and the Lawful clockwork-god Koschei), they are very distant and inhuman. They very rarely interact directly with mortals or with worldly affairs on the day-to-day scale. However, there is a huge number of minor Spirits present in the Mortal Realm and in the adjoining Spirit Realm, Spirits with which mortals can interact with directly, Spirits which have discernible influence over day-to-day affairs. These are the spirits of ancestors, the spirits of unique places, the spirits of old terrs or groves, of tall mountains and strange stones... Even the very minor spirits of a household (such as a Domovoi). Many creatures which are regarded, by D&D or S&W defaults, as ordinary "monsters", would be Spirits in this setting: dragons, elementals, dryads, fey, ablothes, beholders, even dire animals.

A Spirit is, first and foremost, an NPC. It can only be present in one place at any given time, and is not omniscient by any means. It can be talked with, negotiated with, fought and even defeated by heroes. Anyone can try and interact with a Spirit, even commoners, though Shamans and Elementalists have far greater chances of getting a good outcome from such interaction. Peasants leave bowls of sweet milk gruel on their homes' floor at night to invite their household Spirit - a Domovoi - to bring them good luck and help them keep their house neat and tidy; farmers leave offerings by the nearby forests' eldest tree so that the Dryad resident in it will bring them good harvests and keep savage beasts away from their children; nobles pay homage to their heroic ancestors to gain their blessing in coming battles; evil villagers might even sacrifice their first-born sons to a mighty dragon in return for good weather and bountiful harvests; and so on.

Many "Spirit" monsters - vampires, dragons, aboleths, beholders and so on - would die once and for all when slain, though slaying them in the first place won't be easy (to say the least). The Spirits of the dead which could be found on the Mortal Realm or close to it are ones who have a reason to linger there instead of going to the Realm of the Dead; "slaying" them would banish them to that Realm, but if they have a good reason to stay near the Mortal Realm (say, revenge, improper burial and so on), they'll return to haunt the Mortal Realm once again unless this reason is taken care of. When you kill a nature spirit, the result depends on its kind; slaying a wholesome nature spirit would cause the area to whither; slaying a corrupt nature spirit might be able to clean its taint from the area.

Spirits have both regular monster powers of their type and thematic Spirit powers - such as influence on weather or harvests in a given area or spells such as Raise Dead or Reincarnation. The more HD a "god" has, the more powerful its abilities. A Domovoi, for example, will have only minor cantrip-level powers helping to keep a household clean and free of vermin; a Dragon would be able to control the weather and find precious metals and so on.

During the Age of Blossom, the great Elemental Engineers created mighty contraptions based on advanced spirit-binding techniques. Essentially, they forcibly trapped elemental spirits/"Gods" in special clockwork receptacles, forcing the spirits to serve for eternity (until the binding is dispelled) as energy-sources for machines. The most common contraption was the Boiler of Endless Steam, where a fire spirit and a water spirit (a Salamander and an Undine) were bound to the same spot, endlessly producing a stream of hot steam and causing unimaginable suffering to both spirits; this allowed for very efficient steam engines without the need for fuel or added water. Of course, the spirits who broke free from such entrapment are typically VERY pissed off at mortals and might become extremely vengeful!

This is the cosmology I have in mind for my campaign world:
Essentially, the Spirit Realm is a combination of the Ethereal/Plane of Shadow/Astral/Faerie World and so on - a place very close to the Mortal Realm, overlapping in places, yet quite alien. The Realm of the Dead is where the spirits of the dead go - it is not a place of punishment but rather of rest; dead who have a strong reason tying them to the Mortal Realm (such as improper burial or great injustice) linger behind as ghosts, and can only be permanently driven to the Realm of the Dead where they belong if that reason is resolved. The Elemental Realms are the building-blocks of the universe.

Zagadur Isles

Here is a draft map for the default sandbox setting for Wounded Gaia, the Zagadur Isles (made in Hexographer).

To the north, fully exposed to the icy winds, are the Island of Ice and the Island of Ghosts. The Island of Ice was once, during the Age of Blossom a smaller island sporting a busy trading-port on a major shipping route; now, the ice chokes the crumbling ruins of this city, though much of its wealth still lies in waiting under the glaciers. The remnants of the Age of Blossom's Machines still roam this Island, and there are rumors of a temple for the inhumanly cold Koschei - the Clockwork God - located deep under the city. The Island of Ghosts used to hold a major Shaman's tower, but when the ice came, something terrible happened there, weakening the barrier between the Mortal World and the Realm of the Dead; the spirits and remains of the dead roam its cold rocks to this day.

Barin's Isle is exposed to the icy winds and blizzards in its northern parts, but the mountains along its spine shield its southern half from the cold wind, allowing massive pine forests to thrive there. Mammoths, woolly rhinoceroses and sabertooth cats roam these thick forests, and only the hardiest hunters dare to venture into their heart. Along the coast, however, lies the mixed Human-Dwarven fishing and trade town of Noringorod, and up in the mountains is the bust Dwarven mining-town of Barin's Stand, where the great Dwarven hero Barin Ironhelm made a stand against the creeping forces of ice and death that once threatened to topple the mortal settlement on this island. On the riverway Between Noringorod and Barin's Stand lies the forestry and trade village of Baringorsk, where weary barge sailors and traders rest on their journey to and from the coast/

The safest and most civilized island, relatively speaking, is Olav's Isle, shielded from the icy storms both by Barin's Isle to the north and by its own mountain range. In its heart lies fertile lands exposed by the receding sea level and filled with rich soil brought by the three rivers streaming down the Isle's mountains. The city of Olavsburg, the largest Human settlement in the Isles, lies at the mouth of one such river, and seven villages farm the fertile soil of this island. In the foothills of the mountains, a coal mine, an iron mine and a copper mine feed the craftsman's quarter of Olavsburg.

Chaotic Beastmen about on Ogokash Island, in the shade of Fort Ogokash where the dread Giant King reigns. From its frozen east to its grassy west, this island is choke-full of monstrosities and Beastmen wallowing in the Giant King's chaos, and, on occasion, raiding trading ships sailing between Noringorod, Olavsburg and Lesgorod.

The Cursed Island is a frightening place where ships and their sailors disappear in the sickly marshes where the accursed City of Arches, exposed when the sea level receded, reigns the landscape. Rumors tell of a horrible "god" - probably a major Spirit - who rules from that city and who is worshiped by the fish-men and wild Men of this island.

As its name implied, the Isle of Forests is mostly covered by thick pine forests, the home of wild beasts such as mammoths and sabertooth cats. The only settlement on this island is the town of Lesgorod, which trades in forest products, which is situated in the marches at the mouth of the Lesgorod River. Somewhere up on the slopes of the active vulcano which dominates this island lies the legendary Lost Dwarven Mine, a diamond mine now abandoned, where untold riches are rumored to remain buried underneath the rocks.

Welcome to Wounded Gaia!

"During the Age of Blossom, Nature's bounty was abundant, and the fields and orchards flourished. Civilization, too, has blossomed: mighty and magnificent empires of Men, Dwarves and Spirits grew out of the many kingdoms of the North; culture, philosophy, art, magic and the crafts reached unprecedented heights; and many new, wondrous machines were invented to make the lives of Men and Dwarves easy.

But then came Winter. Suddenly, in the middle of the springs three hundred years ago, thick clouds gathered at night and showered snow. The Decade Without Summer followed, a horrible time of frost when the rapidly-growing glaciers and mountains of snow buried the great cities of the North. The Northern fields, once yielding fertile crops, withered and died in the unending winter, bringing widespread famine - the harbinger of civilization's fall. Strange creatures, once trapped in the frozen edges of the North, now roamed freely among frozen cities and frost-choked farms.

But not all was lost. The South, once dry and arid, has enjoyed heavy rains, giving rise to new forests and fertile lands where sparse woods and dry steppes have once existed. There, south of the edge of the continent-spanning glaciers, the remnants of Men and Dwarves found refuge from the howling winter blizzards and the savage, furry beasts of the once-glorious North. Even then, these survivors were tattered, mere shadows of the former civilization. And strange new creatures, unknown before, roamed the countryside, spreading terror and fear. Even nature, once bountiful, has taken a dark, cold twist. Soon, a barbaric new Dark Age took hold, an age where the sword reigned once more.

And you, adventurers, are sons and daughters of that age, out to reclaim the remnants of the glorious past, slay the beasts that guard them, and maybe even restore a little bit of the lost splendor."

On this blog I will post my developing fantasy setting, Wounded Gaia, set in the aftermath of the Decade Without Summer and the Frozen Age that followed. It is intended to be played using the fantasy "retro-clone" RPG, Swords & Wizardry: White Box.

Welcome aboard!