19 November, 2014

Anglian Religion and World View - Airtha, Fairwhus

Few in mainstream Anglian society dispute Odin and Frigga and their family, or the kinship of the Æsir and the Vanir. They take for granted that these individuals exist as (divine and different) flesh and blood, and that they live in a place called Asgard. To assume much more than that in public company is often seen as becoming a bit too familiar. Even referring to whether Asgard lies in some other nigh-inaccessible place, or is located in an as-yet undiscovered region of the same world on which Anglia rests can be a matter of deep contention. The reasons for this are somewhat complex.

A different group of travellers meets elves
The official position of the Imperial Church is that when Theodoric the Elder first stepped through the Imperceived Door to this world, he had left Midgard and set foot on Ælfheim. This was self-evident to Theodoric, since he almost immediately met the elves. He declared to all those of his kin travelling with him that they had arrived in Ælfheim, and indicated this with a sweeping gesture. This sweeping gesture, the Church maintains, marked the entire world on which he now stood. Even these early people were comfortable with the concept of what we would now call a “planet,” or “fairwhus” to them, though it’s unclear whether they brought this understanding with them or gained it from the elves.

Fairly early on in the history of what would become Theodoric’s kingdom, and then empire, in this new realm, his people encountered coastlines and seas, as one eventually does after walking far enough. As travelling and exploration was the current wont of these fourth century Germanic expatriates, they ventured forth to nearby islands and other coastlines. Now they had a quandary. Did Ælfheim stop at the cold shingle beach they had left? Standing on an island or some further shore, were they still standing on Ælfheim, or were they standing somewhere new? If it was somewhere new, where was it?

Map of Yggdrasil - Tina Solstrand
Those who said “yes, this is somewhere new” took their cue from Theodoric and selected from the other worlds of their cosmology: Vanaheim, Niflheim, Jotunheim, Muspelheim, and Svartalfheim. They “knew” they hadn’t found Asgard or Hel, and also hadn’t gone back to Midgard. “Svartalfheim” is yet to be applied to a land here. A few felt that names like Útgarðar and Niðavellir must refer to unique places, rather than being other names for places like Jotunheim and Svartalfheim, since after a while it became clear there were more lands than a mere five names would cover.

Admittedly, there was some advantage to this. Theodoric had specifically claimed all of “Ælfheim” as his.

As more diverse members of what the Romans had called “The Germanic Tribes” continued to find their way to this other place, some even rejected the notion that they had ever left Midgard at all.

And with that, we have the current spectrum covering most opinion. At one extreme, “it’s all just more Europe” and at the other extreme, “every new landmass here is a different one of the nine worlds.” Some are even certain that one could sail to Asgard or Hel; they just haven’t been found yet. The most common view throughout the Empire, and in Anglia as well, is that:

  • This is indeed not Midgard. 
  • Neither Asgard nor Hel reside upon this sphere. 
  • The six more earthly homelands of legend (Ælfheim, Vanaheim, Niflheim, Jotunheim, Muspelheim, and Svartalfheim) are in fact merely different continents on this world.

The third point is deep heresy in the eyes of the Church, and can land one in deep trouble back in the Old Empire if bandied about publicly. Interestingly, although still technically heresy, the Church in Anglia tends to overlook this. Anglia, of course, happens to rest on a continent explorers named Jotunheim.

10 November, 2014

NPC Parties

One of the most dreaded results on the random encounter table is the NPC party. Not for the players, but for me when I’m GM’ing. I am suddenly responsible for randomly rolling five or more characters right in the middle of a game. The best solution I’ve found, for wilderness encounter tables, is to pre-generate several NPC parties, and then randomly determine which one is met.

Nabonidas of Akhdar
Not every dungeon has an NPC party but some should, unless the GM has determined that the players are pretty much the only adventurers in the area. For dungeon encounters, it makes more sense for me to pregenerate one or possibly two parties of NPCs for that specific dungeon. Then they can appear by name on random encounter tables for dungeon levels appropriate to their abilities, or more rarely on other levels where they’re either passing through or in over their heads. You can also roll a check (1 in 20 works well) to have them be in a room the players are about to enter.

Below is a party of NPCs that I used in a slightly different way. I placed them in one of the rooms of the Temple Catacombs under the ruined temple at the corner of Castle Nicodemus. But then I put one member of their party on the random encounter chart for the Catacombs. That way they might run into him first (chasing a polymorphed but defeated green slaad), giving the players the opportunity to interact with him, trace his steps back to the rest of the NPC party, or some combination of the two (or ignore him altogether, of course). The players also might run into the main body of the NPC party first, thus hearing about their recent defeat of a green slaad who bolted and ran rather than giving over the soul gem embedded in its forehead. The players could then choose to interact with the NPC party, help them track down their “ranger” who chased off after the slaad, try to avoid them, attack them for their loot, or anything else the players might think of. (You might recognise the ranger, the green slaad polymorphed into a raven, and his party of companions. If you do, please let me know in the comments or on G+. The basic idea for them, though not their party composition, is lifted from some old pre-WOTC TSR product, but I can’t remember which one.)

The first question I addressed about them was “why are they there?” I decided they were a professional treasure hunting company hired to find a specific item. In addition to providing some variety from the usual simple lust for loot, this choice also snuck in some incidental information about the campaign world. Anglia and other nearby kingdoms and locales are rich enough in ruins to support a professional company of delvers. The ruins are known to hold highly valuable or powerful items, widely enough that multiple patrons would seek to hire delvers. The ruins are known to be dangerous; dangerous enough to warrant hiring professionals instead of delving on one’s own.

Another factor I consider when putting a party of NPCs into a dungeon is time. Just how long are they going to be in there? There’s obviously a limit (unless the dungeon is big enough to get lost in), but until the players have some clue they are down there, there probably isn’t any reason to start their clock ticking. For this party, the clock started when the players found their tracks heading down into the Temple Catacombs entrance. After that, they would be leaving the dungeon after a maximum of 1d10+14 days. (If I was stopping time between game sessions, I probably would have made that quite a bit less.) I had them camp in the temple ruins just above, but if the Catacombs had been larger I would probably have had them hole up in an empty room down below. Being professionals, they were fastidious campers who left no glaring evidence. Each day a game session occurred, they had a chance to notice the players, modified by how close the players got to the ruined temple, or how loud and obvious the players’ characters became.

The last question I wanted to answer before they encountered players was “how will they act toward another group of adventurers?” Even though I knew I wanted to come up with one or two basic character traits for each member, I wanted an overall party MO as well. Although their alignments differ individually, on the whole they will work toward good ends, beneficent to most of society and the innocent, and will do their best to limit the amount of chaos caused (or Chaos unleashed) in getting there. Being professionals working on a contract, they will do their best not to reveal their current employer, or what they’ve been hired to retrieve. If they can “foil some evil” without risking their contract, they’ll do it.

Jovaell the Monk
Now it was time for the individuals. The foundation here is that they are not player-characters. Just as I don’t allow players to choose “wyvern” or “bugbear” or “king” for their class, other things players can’t choose are open to NPCs. In essence they are all “monsters,” just like the Druids found in the monster section of the original 3 little brown books of OD&D. Thus, for players “ranger” is just a varied combination of background skill (e.g. the Secondary Skills table, page 12 of the 1e DMG) and flavour, potentially applied to several different character classes. However, for the NPC in this party “ranger” is what type of “monster” he is. He possesses and uses special abilities in the same way any other “monster” does. Since I had chosen an “off-standard” class to base this NPC on, I decided it would be amusing to do that for the other members of the NPC party as well. Thus: assassin, druid, monk, illusionist. 

The next big consideration for the individuals is what their hit dice should be. Again since I knew they were professionals, I decided they would have researched the item they’re after and its location as much as possible. Therefore, they’d be unlikely to be in over their heads in the Temple Catacombs. Other monsters down there included wights, wraiths, several areas where glyphs are set up to summon red slaad, a medusa, and at least one summoned green slaad. 6 to 8 hit dice (9 for the leader) sounded about right, while still making it difficult enough for them to progress so that they wouldn’t end up clearing the dungeon instead of the players. This would also determine things like their available spells and other special abilities.

  • Darius Ravenwood, Ranger, 8hd. Jovial and boastful, which interferes with keeping contracts confidential.
  • Nabonidas, Assassin, 7hd. Soft-spoken, pleased with himself. The “common peoples’” antics amuse him.
  • Tasha, Elf Illusionist, 9hd. The Company Leader. Friendly, but all-business underneath.
  • Jovaell, Monk, 6hd. Quiet and introspective. Hard to tell if she’s observing or meditating.
  • Cormac O’ Connacht, Druid, 7hd. Old and sort of senile. Prone to confusion and revealing secrets.

I’ll give more details about some of these NPCs later on, as at least one has another function in Anglia. Tasha is one of several possible mentor choices for 1st level magic-users.

07 November, 2014

News from Castle Nicodemus

In the year and a half (!) since we last looked in on events in the area around Castle Nicodemus (a pre-empted siege attempt by a company of five score orcs), a mere 3 months have passed in Anglia. All agree the chronological flux between Anglia and Europe has become increasingly more erratic. From Migellito’s point of view, his caravan has returned to “the fields he does not know” every 2 weeks, consistently, over what he and other caravan stalwarts claim to be more than a year and a half. However, to those who have become regular residents of Renard’s Folly and The Blue Rabbit it is sometimes only a day or two between visits from the caravan, and sometimes as much as a month, with none involved being able to puzzle out any sort of pattern.

Winter is solidly entrenched in the Anglish countryside, with leafless woods, clear cold skies, and snow-blanketed fields only occasionally punctuated by patches of brown grass. The first sabbat appropriate for placating Dagon down in the fens of Blackmarch to “benevolently” allow conversion to Tsathoggua has long passed, but another approaches in early February, only a couple months away.

The traditional Anglish corken roast
Visits from the nearby subterranean refugee village of Underbridge have slackened considerably, recently. This is not to the liking of most of the mercenaries, since the occasional home-cooked enticemen.. er.. meal had become a welcome counterpoint to “more supplies from Europe.” During what was usually harvest-time for the locals (fouled this year by the orc occupation) most of the men even warmed quickly to the oddity of “roast corken,” an animal which brings to mind equally the qualities of both large pheasants and large marine crabs. Some scouting reports in the direction of Bridgewater (the above-ground village from which the refugees fled, built almost directly over Underbridge) say the orcish military occupation forces may have dwindled to the lower end of their usual range of 30 to 300.

In Castle News, Cadogan Dee, mercenary footman, languishes in one of the Renard’s Folly jail cells, suspected of the murders of other mercenaries Niels Noorlander, Helmut the Saxon, and Harbrecht of Utrecht. Found cowering in the cold shelter of a rubble pile near the Castle edifice dubbed “The Great Laboratory,” Dee still claims “I don’t remember anything!” The Dutch contingent is particularly doubtful of his innocence, owing in no small part to the blood on Dee’s lips when found holding Harbrecht’s severed hand.

18 August, 2014

My Known World - Western Half

Here's a map of the Western half of the known area of my "Ruins of the Morvalian Empire" game world.
Prepared in the Tavern at Castle Nicodemus by Willyd "Patchy" Nilsson, to the best of his recollection. He affirms that Niflheim is very cold, Alfheim is farther away than it looks, the Helic Ocean is full of bad deadly things, Regnenwald is what the Akhdarans call a "jungle," and that is just wax right there.

The country stretching from Freeport in the South to Norchester in the North, and from Blackmarch in the West to Æden's Bight on the East is the Kingdom of Anglia. Æden's Bight, by the way, is the name of the waters around Inverland.

Anglia was the part of Jotunheim settled by the Anglish around two centuries ago, after they fled the highly oppressive Saxon rule of Westsaxia. Of course, the King of Anglia owes allegiance to The Grand Theodic Empire, but at two months just to reach the shore of Alfheim and a further 2 to 3 weeks to reach the seat of the Empire, the real effect is largely formality.

17 August, 2014

How Bugbears are Born

Let's join the life cycle of the bugbear with our little friend, the goblin. Goblin children, about the age where human children might be called toddlers, are notorious for getting into places and situations away from their parents. They are also notorious for being horrifically violent, cruel (as in physically cruel) and deceptive, but that's not important right now.

In some areas near where goblins dwell, the little goblins sometimes find themselves (either by misadventure or design) in proximity to a certain breed of enormous semi-translucent spiders.
Sort of, but 8 feet long and way more gross.

The little goblins are bitten, envenomed, and swallowed whole by these spiders, which have big sacs, one sac per spider, inside their abdomen. The little goblins languish comatose in the spider’s translucent abdomen as they slowly transmogrify into full-size bugbears. As they grow, they gradually take over the spider’s body, slowly killing it as their limbs squeeze out into the four rear legs of the spider, expanding the girth of the legs and forcing them to moult aggressively.

In the final stage of the process the spider takes on a centaur-like existence, with the bugbear occupied abdomen (with their head in part of the thorax) acting as the horizontal motive portion, and the rest of the spider vertically upright, it’s non-bugbear-filled front legs flailing in pain as it continues to search for sustenance to feed the growing bugbear within. Finally, the fully grown bugbear bursts from the still-living spider, killing it. The bugbear will, over time, produce spider eggs about the size of green grapes. These eggs generate in glands analogous to a dog or skunk’s scent glands. You can probably guess where these nasty, slimy, translucent eggs can then be found, and what the hatchlings' diet consists of.

14 August, 2014

Character for Marvel '78

After reading the latest post on Rogues and Reavers about Marvel '78, I got all excited about coming up with an original character concept. The tone is late-century Eastern urban decay, so my head stirred up Welcome Back Kotter, Fritz the Cat, Barney Miller and Wolfen. This is what came out.

During the day, Fritz Epstein is a mild mannered pharmacist's assistant at a small drugstore in Brooklyn. When the doors are locked and the chores are done, he looks over his shoulder and makes sure the place is empty. He ranges up and down the shelves behind the counter in back, popping a pill cocktail that brings about his transformation into...
The Cat!
He's cool. He's smooth. He's covered with fur. The sunglasses he dons aren't just for the ladies. His cat-vision eyes need shade from the dirty lights of a hot New York City night. He doesn't just fight the criminals who take advantage of the people, like the Junkyard Dog. No, he also fights The Man. He's not just one color, baby - he's full-on calico!

13 August, 2014

Niflheim and The Spike

If you go far enough south, you hit the ship-breaking ice, and in beyond it is Niflheim. Now, if you find the right spot, you can find what they call The Spire or The Spike. It's like a great mix of a tower and a mountain peak, but it's taller, hundreds of feet, than any tower made by manskind. But it's no more than a chain across, not like any natural mountain you've ever seen either. The Spike sits right at or just past the edge of the ice, and then a great long spit of rock knifes off South for leagues and leagues til it hits Niflheim proper. Some call that spit of land The Spear.

That's the only way to get into that cold land down there. Whoever controls The Spike controls Niflheim. Unless you've got the gold to build an icesailing ship, but I've never seen one of them. I've heard tell that long ago the elves used to build them, but what the elves had to do in Niflheim no one knows.

[Willyd Nilsson, A.I. 811]

17 April, 2014

Chance and Timing of Wilderness Encounters

This is basically the system I used to use for rolling wilderness encounters back in the day, but I've updated it a bit. It assumes the DM is going to check the chance of an encounter based on the passage of time, not based on distance traveled. That's how it is in the dungeon, and that's how I've always preferred to do it.

Instead of using arbitrary units like hours or days, this system divides time into more natural sections based on sunrise, sunset, and the typical activity cycle of creatures outdoors. If your world has 2 suns or 60 hour days or other vastly different time schemes, just alter the column titles as appropriate, or add or remove whatever columns you need to make it work.

As far as the rows are concerned, you just need to have one for each encounter table (the thing that lists the actual monsters) that you've made.

"Aww jeeeez, this looks so complicated!" Bah, whinger! The idea is to make it as quick as possible while playing; to give the DM a rich answer to the question "does anything happen?" using as little dice rolling as possible. Then the DM rolls on their list of monsters/events/etc. for that area.

Result = No. of encounters for that period. Less than zero = zero.


2d6-9 gives the following percentages:
0: 83.3%
1: 8.33%
2: 5.56%
3: 2.78%
This means the overall chance of at least some kind of encounter is 16.67%, or the same as 1 in 6 on a d6. For 2d6-10, this chance is the same as rolling a 1 on a d12. For 2d6-11, this chance is 1 in 36.

When during the listed period does a rolled encounter occur? There are 2 main options:
1 - The DM rolls a single d6, with higher results indicating progressively further into the time period. If more than one encounter has the same result, they happen at roughly the same time.
2 - The DM decides how many hours are in each time period, then rolls randomly for hours and minutes. If the DM has a detailed calendar, the number of hours in each period may depend on the season.

The same 2d6 roll can be used to determine non-encounter events at the same time. If the roll on the above encounter table results in doubles, the DM would then roll on an event table. This allows for the chance of monster encounters to be different than the chance for events. For any area or situation, the DM can decide the chance of an event based on the desired probability below:

double 1: 2.8%
double 1 or 2: 5.6%
double 1 through 3: 8.3% or 1 in 12
double 1 through 4: 11% or 1 in 9
double 1 through 5: 13.8%
double 1 through 6: 16.7% or 1 in 6

As an example, if 2d6-9 is used for encounter chance, and an event is rolled on any double result, the overall chance of something happening is 1 in 3. Half would be encounters and half would be events. If instead 2d6-11 is used for encounter chance, and events are rolled on a result of either double ones or double twos, the overall chance of something happening is 1 in 12, with events being twice as likely as encounters.