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.