Jump to content

Alex Greene

  • Posts

  • Joined

  • Last visited

  • Days Won


Alex Greene last won the day on October 3 2020

Alex Greene had the most liked content!

About Alex Greene

  • Birthday 06/30/1963


  • Ocarinist from Fioracitta


  • RPG Biography
    Fan of Mythras, Traveller, White Wolf's World of Darkness and Legend. Author of Fioracitta, and articles for Traveller and World of Darkness.
  • Current games
    Mythras, Traveller
  • Location
    Wrexham, North Wales, UK
  • Blurb
    Author of: Hunter: the Vigil; Night Stalkers; World of Darkness: Dogs of War; "The Thing In The Pit" in Signs & Portents; Traveller: Cosmopolite; Castrobancla, the City of Aliens; Oddities (Odd Soot); Circles of Steel (M-Space); and Fioracitta: The Heart of Power (Mythras).

Recent Profile Visitors

2,651 profile views

Alex Greene's Achievements


Member (2/4)



  1. [Cover image is from https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/b6/Atelier_von_Rahmenmachern_und_deren_Werkzeuge_im_18._Jahrhundert.jpg] One of the more overlooked issues about Mythras adventuring is what equipment the Adventurers are carrying while out on a campaign. The basic tool lists on pages 60, 61 of Mythras and page 88 of Fioracitta are good guidelines as to what one could expect to take on an adventure, but there is still a need to plan in advance for the adventure. The equipment an Adventurer would be expected to carry depends on the environment, and on the nature of the adventure. This article's purpose is to get the Games Master and Players to think about the logistics of adventuring, and to provide a sense of immersion as the Players enter into the Adventurers' spirit, as they trek through the countryside on their adventures. Standard Armour and Weapons Just to make things easier for each Adventurer, have the players choose their primary melee weapon (e.g. staff, sword, rapier, axe, hammer), secondary melee weapon (e.g. club, dagger, hand axe), and one ranged weapon if their Combat Style includes it (e.g. dagger, bow, crossbow). No more than those three weapons. Those are included in their kit. It is also a good idea to have every Adventurer wear the same type of armour, such as a 2AP Quilted / Padded armour. Each piece is made separately, and put on once they reach the destination. Each such suit provides the same AP protection to all Hit Locations, costs about the same, and has a standard ENC load. Pack Each Adventurer needs the following, for adventures which require travel. Backpack Bedroll Flint and Tinder / firemaking kit Knife (cutting tool, not a weapon) Lantern, basic Lock picks Mirror (hand glass) Mug/Beaker/Dish/Plate (wood or ceramic – double price for metal) Oil flask Razor, folding Rope (hemp), 10m Waterskin or Canteen (holds 2 litres of liquid) Rations - Feeding The Party Every adventuring party is going to have to carry food, particularly if they are travelling cross-country and in environments where foraging is expected to be poor. It is generally accepted that 1 kg of trail rations (biscuits, dried vegetables, cured meat) will sustain someone for two days. With the Preserve Folk Magic cantrip, that food can be kept practically indefinitely if some form of attempt at preservation is made (and yes, carefully wrapping them up in greaseproof paper counts). Here is where Survival and Locale skills become essential, naturally - but Craft (Cooking) is also overlooked.All of the above basically amounts to the bare minimum kit needed of an adventuring party in the wilderness. The rations should last for one to two weeks before running out; supplemented by forage, they could last for a month's travel. That presumes that the Adventurers will be hiking on foot to their destination. There is a listing for feed for one's mounts listed on the table on page 60, but assume that beasts of burden are going to need to eat a lot more than one kilogram of hay per day - again, they would need to find something to graze. Toolkits Adventurers may require specialised toolkits to perform their work, not counting weapons. Many of the items in the table on pages 60 and 61 of Mythras presume that each Adventurer may wish to bring along their favourite trade tools, if those tools are relevant to the situation. An actor's elaborate theatrical kit, with wardrobe, might weigh several hundred ENC and be impossible to move around - but a small stack of basic cosmetics, enough for one attempt at Disguise, might only weigh 2 ENC at most. The basic list on pages 60 and 61 is only a rough guide. Articles such as a chess or backgammon set (1 ENC, 10 - 1000 SP), burglary kit (grappling hook, crowbar, lockpicks - 1 ENC total) and so on should never encumber the characters. Every character should have some small, lightweight travel version of their primary work tools. Never more than about 10 ENC. Preferably no more than 5 ENC. A burglary specialist's toolkit is very different to a journalist's writing kit. Urban Adventuring Urban adventuring may require Adventurers to dispense with much of the equipment they take for granted out in the wild. Nobody needs to carry forage around in the city; and nobody needs to carry around a bedroll (or their weapons, in general). It would be awkward indeed for Adventurers to attend an upper class soiree in the cultured section of the city, dressed in full armour and carrying a full armoury of weapons and adventuring kit. While in the city, less is decidedly more. How can the characters get away with carrying along full kit? Work Of course the Adventurers can carry their heavy tools around, if they have to carry their own work tools to and from the job. Training The Adventurers could sign up as trainers, and go off on wilderness drill training to teach members of the public the basics of Locale, Survival, and Track. Rescue Force Adventurers could convince people of their advanced understanding of the locality (Locale skill), enough for them to form an amateur rescue group whose job is to patrol regularly, looking for people who get lost in the wilds. Deputised The local law can give the Adventurers a badge of office, then order them to go on patrol around the perimeter of their city and its condato, looking for brigands, providing protection detail to passing caravans, and so on. Signing Up The Adventurers could even join the militia, or at least sign up for their regular public drills. Some towns and cities require all able adults to attend at least some sort of mandatory training to defend the city in the event of an invasion. Their adventures could happen to them while they are on their way home from a training session - or while en route to training. Inspiration The above should provide some measure of inspiration to players. The journey to a destination can be made as memorable as the adventure itself, providing scenes which allow for dialogues between Adventurers, minor problems for the party to solve together, and all the experiences (and Experience Rolls) of surviving in the rough. And back home, the players should never feel that their characters are underequipped if all that they have on them is the clothes on their back, and maybe a single dagger or concealed weapon hidden somewhere on their person.
  2. The Adventurers are the core of all games. As games have developed, adventure modules have been less about pre-packaged mazes full of hazards and more about dramas and conflicts, with the Adventurers at the heart of driving the changes. As adventures have developed from their implausible "mazes full of traps and horrors" to more nuanced scenarios and dramas, so too have Adventurers. Modern Adventuring parties now more closely resemble bands of roaming mercenaries, military units or hunting parties - even posses, rounded up by the local law to track down and apprehend fugitives. Adventuring parties show structure and purpose, and there is a definite lifestyle pattern to Adventuring. Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing Every party begins life during Session Zero, where the Games Master allows the players to introduce their characters. This generally just consists of the player introducing themselves, their character, and something about who their player is (what species they are, where they come from, what they are most famous for). In certain older games, it's all "name, species, class" and everybody would know what the character can do; but, this being Mythras, things are not nearly so clear-cut. The player may use their background, or their career, or their culture, to explain why they are Adventurers, or add a detail out of whole cloth. It might be a good idea for Games Masters to note down any player additions to their GM character notes. Games Masters, it's a really good idea to get a copy of the player characters' sheets, so you can tell at a glance what each is good at and where they are weakest. Players, work with your GM on this. It makes things so much easier when both you and the GM are aware of your character's 90% Track skill and grasp of the Pathway Folk Magic cantrip, for instance, especially if the other players forget these details about them. An example - in the adventure "A Race Through Dark Places" which I ran during GenCon 2021, each pregenerated character had one thing in common - some sort of connection to the spirit realm. Only one of the characters was an actual animist; the others had some sort of exceptional ability or experience which connected them to the spirit, and which allowed them to interact with spirits in some way. This was, of course, important to the scenario, which required characters who were capable of defending themselves against spectral assaults. Another adventure might have the characters united by a common theme - they are all theatre entertainers who lost their job, or they are all competitive fighters who are out training, or they are a patrol of guards securing the condato of a city (the country beyond the city walls which grows the crops the city needs to keep its population fed). The real point of Session Zero, beyond introducing the characters to the other players, is to allow the players to let the character bond with one another. They will be working as a team, soon enough. First Time Out There are many ways to start an adventure going. The Adventurers could be drawn into an ongoing story, unfolding before their eyes; or they could be brought together by a friendly Connection ("I'm puttin' together a team"). The party leader could well seek to form a team of people, based on their already-existing renown (The Seven Samurai, The Magnificent Seven, The Dirty Dozen, Hawk The Slayer, Krull, Battle Beyond The Stars, The ABC Warriors) and lead that team in person, rather than send them out on a mission. However the team forms, they must spend their first few days together. This is the time where the players get to form the team's dynamic. Which characters are early birds; which ones are night owls; and how effective the party leader's Oratory skills are. It is okay for the players to have trouble integrating the team at this point. Every team of veterans began as raw recruits, and there is no such thing as Adventurer Boot Camp in most fantasy milieux (unless a member of the party comes up with the idea as a long-term ambition, but that's for a later blog). Every new team has to start learning to fit in, to work well within the group, and to complement everybody else, filling in the weaknesses in other characters' skills while hoping other team members will support their weaknesses, and so on. An example is a party whose first adventure takes them deep into the wilderness, for example looking for the driver of a trading wagon who disappeared during the night. Characters need to have access to a variety of wilderness skills to make sense of the adventure - but while every character may have access to Athletics, Boating, Locale, Ride, and Swim, not everyone has access to Navigation, Seamanship, Survival, and Track. It is reasonable, however, to have at least two characters show a mix of at least two relevant skills (Navigation and Survival or Boating, Seamanship and Swim, Locale and Survival) in order to ensure that the party has access to all of the relevant skills between them. This allows each character a chance to shine - the Survival expert to build shelters, the Track expert using Navigation to determine where the prey is going, and so on. The players should work out for themselves how to allocate the best tasks to the best players - such as getting the Folk Magician with knowledge of Ignite to help start the fire built by the Survival expert, and getting all the party members to help one another out with pitching tents, foraging, finding clean water, preparing the food, establishing a camp perimeter, and so on. The concept of standard kit should be brought up before play ever begins. Every character must have access to a minimum amount of kit to help them to survive. This will be covered in the next blog post. Games Masters: What To Do Give the characters tasks suited to their needs. Let the party leader know what needs to be done, and allow the leader to negotiate with the players as to what tasks they ought to do. This is the best time to iron out any conflicts and complaints about leadership style, and allows the leader to get a feel as to how the team can work together. Remember, this is the first time for these Adventurers. They will have been torn from their cosy lives by the call to adventure, and they are bound to make mistakes. Games Masters: What Not To Do Their mistakes should not, however, cost the players their lives, or even injure them. Humiliate them, sure. The Survival expert might put together a perfect campfire, but the wood might be green and non-inflammable without the team magician's Ignite spell; the Navigation expert might get turned around and be unable to find his way back to the camp until somebody finally gets the campfire lit, and so on. Never put the starting party in jeopardy of any great or permanent injury. And never have them face a combat encounter on their first ever trek out - not unless the combat was the point, such as teaming up to fight brigands camping out in the woods, or kobolds driven down from the mountains to raid a village, and so on. And even so, never soften them up with a lethal combat encounter, first thing. Even an adventure involving tracking down and punishing miscreants should end with the battle, not have the battle take place in the middle somewhere. No, it is a stupid idea to have them face a random giant, passing dragon, or lich on their first night under the stars. You know they couldn't cope. They know they couldn't cope. Handing the party a TPK (Total Party Kill) in their first session is a guarantee that you'll never have a second session with those players. First Night Rewards The first day and night of adventuring should end with the characters being rewarded for their efforts. Either their skills (or spells or other abilities) can bring them some physical reward (such as an Ophidian's superior sense of smell detecting truffles, or a Bestia hunter discovering a perfect site to set up camp), or they can learn something (such as discovering tracks leading away from the site where the wagon was found abandoned, indicating that the wagon was indeed attacked and, judging by the bootprints mixed among the bare footprints in the soft dirt, the driver abducted). Always give each player a chance to feel that they made a difference to the whole team, before their first period of rest. Assigning Watch Details Part of the fledgling party's duties may include watches. Who gets to sleep for four hours first; who has to stand watch for predators of all descriptions in the small hours; and who gets to be woken in the middle of a lovely dream, with hours to go before sunup. There is no need to play out each watch as its own scene, unless the Games Master has something planned for the party on their first night out. Not an ambush; something unexpected. Examples:- - The old ruins were once a thriving town, until it was abandoned by everybody but the ghosts. The night the Adventurers camp out in the ruins is the anniversary of the town's desertion, and this is always a night for the ghosts to come out and play. - The legend of a Parliament of Wolves in the area happens to be true. All the wolves gather nearby this night. Not all of them come on four legs. - The miscreants were from a non-human species (e.g. Bestia or Lili'tri). Most of the time, humans stay away from the communities of these non-human beings, but these raiders are outcasts from their communities, and the characters' activities have attracted the attention of a patrol of members of this species, who are basically doing the same thing they are. - An object falls from the sky, waking everybody up with a tremendous explosion nearby. The characters desert their camp to investigate. The First Real Conflict The Games Master should not drag out this first adventure. Its point is to bring the party together and unite them, allow the players to give the team an identity. Scenarios run in conventions are always one-shots, self-contained and designed to last no more than, say, four hours, wrapping up with an ending for each character; but even if you are planning a long campaign, this first adventure should not last more than one or two sessions, of four hours each. The first session establishes the party; the second pits them against their first ever antagonists, and the characters should have acquired enough information about the antagonists in the first session, or first half of the session, to know who they are up against in the second half, or second session. When pitting the characters against the antagonists, injuries on the players may hurt, but always stop short of Serious or Major Wounds or outright death. Characters may expect wounds, but nothing grievous. They should always come home, grinning and telling onlookers "You should see the other guy." Wrapping Up The First Scenario The Games Master must always challenge the characters with each scenario or story in their campaign, assuming you are running a campaign instead of a one-shot. The challenge of the first session of actual play must always be to get the player characters to play nice with each other and to have each other's backs when the inevitable conflict occurs. There will always be other challenges; but the first challenge should always be to turn a bunch of disparate heroes into a team, for the first time.
  3. [Featured image taken from Monster Wiki - https://monster.fandom.com/wiki/Dragon?file=DragonRed.jpg] This post is a hard one to write, and not for the reasons you might think. Dragon slaying, noble questing knights, castles ... they are all such staples of fantasy, it's hard to get away from such tropes. From Anne McCaffrey's Dragonriders of Pern, through to more modern incarnations in popular media such as Kilgarrah (voiced by the late, great John Hurt) in the TV series Merlin, the dragons in the movies The Last Dragon and Reign of Fire, Skyrim, the Eragon series, and the "How To Train Your Dragon" animated movie franchise, dragons are as iconic to the fantasy genre as robots and rayguns are to science fiction. Big, Scaly, Breathing Fire You're all familiar with the trope. Dragons are house-sized, sometimes palace-sized, reptiles which fly with the aid of huge, leathery wings, They have long, flexible necks and tails, and breathe fire (or ice, or electricity, or acid, or cold, depending on the colour of the scales). They live to prey upon villages, carrying off sheep and cattle, and the occasional peasant girl. They can be lured by tying a princess to a rock, then striking at it in the one vulnerable spot on their bodies, which is typically where they are ticklish *cough* some spot just under a forelimb, in its armpit. Oh, and let's not forget the pile of gold it's supposed to be sitting on. There's one problem with this image of dragons. Symbolism and Parable Dragons aren't actually supposed to be literal big flying fire-breathing reptiles, you know. They just symbolise an even more horrible beast. Feudalism. A dragon is actually some kingdom next door. It takes a tithe from each village (it's called taxes), it sits on a hoard of gold (again, taxes), it is destructive (armies), and it has a penchant for princesses and virgins (droit de seigneur - look that up. It is not nice). Of course dragons are just symbols for that nasty feudal kingdom next door. Painting the king next door as being a greedy, gold-hungry reptile is about as low as propaganda can get. But what does that mean for dragonslaying quests? Well, if the adventurers are off to slay a dragon, that makes them mercenaries hired by the local government. It makes their quest an invasion. Their mission - to slay the king next door (assassination, regime change) and retrieve its hoard (plunder the nation's already-stolen wealth and extricate it from its country of origin) in the form of the spoils of war. This is sounding more and more like a mediaeval Crusade to the Holy Land, isn't it? Invoking The Draconic How can a GM invoke a dragon as a threat force in a fantasy, without going down the tired old Tolkien / Arthurian road, following the well-worn tropes trodden by so many identikit heroes of literature and tabletop? In other words, what does the dragon represent in the story, if it is not a literal fire-breathing flying kaiju lizard? Blatant Symbolism The dragon's treasure might not be gold - after all, that is mere matter, the coffers of the plundered nation next door. The real treasure, the dragon's strength, could be political power. The adventurer who conquers a dragon, or rather conquers a nation, can take on the might of that dragon, assuming the mantle of rulership. They can talk about war with the kingdom they came from, and spend their nights sleeping with one eye open for the next adventurer to come along with an eye for slaying the dragon ... Magical Symbolism What can a dragon symbolise, other than political power? The power of magic, tamed by a human will. The quest to master the dragon can symbolise nothing less than the character's quest to Awaken to a legacy of magic and power, invoking its essence into the soul and transforming the protagonist into a sorcerer on the level of a Merlin or a Dr Strange. Power of The Elements The dragon can be a symbol for raw elemental power - the untamed power to raise earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, fires, ice storms, tsunamis, lightning and thunder, or volcanic eruptions. The antagonist could be summoning a dragon to evoke such a threat and devastate an entire region. First Contact The entity being faced by the adventurers is so alien to their perceptions that they literally see what amounts to a dragon, because their minds cannot process the cosmic horror of what is actually there. Dynastic Legacy The dragon could well be a genetic legacy - a bloodline of nobles, Old Blood, coming from the Old Days - perhaps from some chthonic former kingdom now claimed by Earth and Time and Fire, but still surviving, in the genes of this one clan. Snake People / Lizard People The dragon could indeed be a bloodline - in this case, a species of ophidians. The dragon may be metaphorical, but the serpent people in your story might definitely be real, very ancient, and very alien. Running A Dragon-Themed Adventure But what if you, as Games Master, really want to run an adventure where your player characters are out to literally slay a fiery flying magic lizard the size of their village? What can you do to prevent your characters from just grinding over a bunch of tactics and combat tricks like some ho hum run of the mill combat scenario? What can you do to make the adventure the scariest, most exciting, most immersive story ever for your players? Make It Mean Something Make the story a confrontation, rather than a straight combat against a big boss level beast. Your characters' goal is to stop the dragon, not try to kill it. You can't kill something with the power of the living Earth running through it. Skin In The Game Have something at stake. The dragon has something - or, rather, someone - dear to the player characters. A loved one, a Connection, a ruler to whom they owe undying loyalty, a mentor, a loved family member (or even a hated one - family is family), or someone loved to the nation such as a High Priestess. Whatever, or whoever, it is, the dragon has them as a hostage - and it is up to some of the characters to confront the beast long enough for the rest of the party to bust that loved one out of the dungeon. Yes, there's the dungeon. Follow The Leader The characters aren't there to kill a literal dragon, but rather to disband its human cult of mind-enslaved pets. Your dragon could be a human, with all the charisma of a Thulsa Doom, but - in a devious twist - actually ruling with wisdom and benevolence, preaching peace and offering diplomacy to bring war to an end. She could be uniting the squabbling nations, and the characters are part of a coalition team of mercenaries sent to assassinate this guru because it's cutting into their business of selling weapons to the warring chiefs. Regime Change Here's where the symbolism comes into its own. The adventurers are mercenaries sent to the nation next door to raid its coffers, kill its king, and bring back the wealth of a plundered nation to satisfy their king's draconic (draconian?) dreams of conquest. The only visible dragons are the banners of the human enemy soldiers. My Boss, The Dragon The final twist is to have the characters actually work for the dragon. She's too big and old to go flying about, and the characters are her guardians and protectors, perhaps even diplomats, making trade agreements with nations to keep her fed in her dotage in exchange for the dragon's incredible wisdom and knowledge (dropping hints about such innovations as the mouldboard plough, springs, the compass, and timepieces governed by mechanical escapements, but somehow avoiding the invention of gunpowder for some reason ...) Dreams of Dragons From literal flying kaiju reptiles, to the banners of kingdoms and cults, to ancient noble or even royal bloodlines, to the thundering nuclear power source of magic itself, there are so many ways to bring dragons into your fantasy campaign. Just don't fall into the one dreadful pit that ruins it for everybody - making them a cliche, running dragons as just plain old boss level monsters without putting a little thought behind them to understanding what dragons really mean, in terms of their symbolism and the sheer power that they epitomise and represent. A power that the players could potentially acquire for themselves, whether through conquest ... or legacy. In short - don't let your dragons get stale.
  4. One of the most potent storytelling techniques in anybody's arsenal is immersion. Without it, your players cannot really appreciate the setting you have laid out for your characters. Immersion is, in short, a state of mind in which the players are so invested in the unfolding game that they can forget they are in a game at all, and actually live out the adventure in character. Immersion is the reason why some game settings just take off, and others fall flat on their face. The Power of Immersion The most important point about immersion is that it starts with the game author - whoever is designing the scenario for the players. This might not becessarily be the Games Master who will be running the game, but often enough it is. If the writer of the game creates a compelling enough setting, or campaign, or even just a single scenario, for the game, they will feel the power of immersion while writing it. It can be so powerful that writers who immerse themselves in the setting can become lost in it - whether they are writing fiction, designing a setting, or creating a game within that setting. The secret to immersion is to present that feeling of being drawn in and lost in the setting, in such a way as to draw in the Games Master (if they are not the game setting's creator) and also to draw in the readers or players. Creating Immersion Engaging Characters In a work of fiction, a character must be presented as sympathetic, somehow, possessing qualities of heroism or benevolence which mark that character as a protagonist to the reader. In a Mythras game, the character can be created with appropriate powers and abilities - but more importantly, they must come across as being the sort of exceptional person to whom the community turns; a member of the only group of characters who can solve the problems presented to them by the Games Master. Similarly, a character is more likely to be an enjoyable figure to work with if their abilities and personas jibe with the rest of the group. A combat-orientated character might not get along with a team predominantly composed of investigators or social climbers in a game of political intrigue. Engaging Setting Likewise, the setting must be something that is not only appealing to the players, but a place worthy of being defended. Immersion in the setting, in a game, is pretty much the same as it is for a written work - the players must feel as if they are living there, letting the place surround them and bring them to life. The players must want to live in the setting, whether it is the setting of Perceforest, or Lyonesse, or Worlds United, or Fioracitta. Sensory Immersion This is probably the aspect of gaming immersion that most strongly involves hypnotic elements. It is not enough to tell; you must show. Examples:- 'You've been marching through this forest for so long. You come across a tree which looks so familiar, and you feel a chill of apprehension as you begin to suspect you may have been walking in circles.' 'You can't identify the stench coming through the now-opened door of the laboratory. Perhaps you don't want to.' 'Candlelight, and incense, and a low, indistinct choir singing somewhere nearby. The sandstone of the walls feels pitted, smoothed down - countless hands must have rubbed off on this darkened spot on the wall, smoothing down the stone. This is the place all the pilgrims wanted to come to; the smooth spot on the wall, supposedly the place where their Saint laid their hand and performed some miracle. But it just feels like smooth, cold, eroded stone to you.' Sustaining Immersion Once you've created a sense of immersion, you must sustain it throughout the adventure, possibly the campaign. Engaging Plots What makes a plot engaging? For the players, it could be the promise of treasure, or a desperate need to stop some bad guys. Which means you have to make the antagonists compelling, too. This does not mean that you have to add new tricks to old undead, making zombies leap about and climb walls for instance. It means having an antagonist whose scheme poses a credible threat, if not to the characters, then to their way of life. The protagonist is doing something bad, and only the player characters can stop them. The plot becomes engaging if the characters want to stop the antagonist, possinly without needing to be prompted by the Games Master. Plausibility There is no greater power of verisimilitude in a story than plausibility. Is the antagonist believable? Are their goals achievable? The fact that they are not remotely desirable is irrelevant; if the antagonist can destroy the characters' whole town and only home, and they demonstrably want to do so, the Games Master can ramp up the threat by having to characters work out how and why. Stakes The most important hook to keep the player characters in the game is stakes. The characters must have a stake, and they must want to do whatever it takes to protect that stake. Examples of stakes include family and loved ones living in the characters' town; the characters' town or neighbourhood; a neighbourhood which will pay for the characters' protection from some marauding force; a rich financial reward from the patron who needs the characters to see a task through which they cannot do. Or something less tangible, such as the characters' reputation, or a rescue or escort mission, or the completion of a diplomatic, trade, or courier mission. Sometimes, the stake can be something owed to oneself, and a need to know that a character can still perform a task they once could do routinely - for example, Athletics after having been injured during a fumbled Athletics check. The Payoff of Immersion The whole aim of immersion is to draw in the players with the promise of a memorable experience that is as much lived and enjoyed as a real life experience. The Games Master must be able to immerse the players into the game, and the only way to do this is to immerse yourself into the game; to run the game out in your own mind, both from the viewpoint of protagonists and the antagonists. The best sort of immersion is so deep that players can find themselves dreaming about the characters and the setting. Of course, as the Games Master you could find yourself dreaming out the adventures yourself, living in the setting, running the scenarios in your dreams. But that's all part and parcel of giving the players a memorable game, one which will stick in their memories, possibly for years to come.
  5. Most of this week, I have been focusing my attention on "A Race Through Dark Places," my GenCon Online blog set in Fioracitta. This weekend has been a real test of all those principles I've been using, especially the hypnotic storytelling. Welcome to Fioracitta This map is a detail from a region map created by Jim Abbott for Fioracitta, The Heart of Power. The adventure takes place in Escharro (bottom centre left). The six player characters are:- Amares - Adventurer / Entertainer, who works in The Painted Mask in Lascha East District. Loves to scout ahead while adventuring. Keeps their adventuring and professional lives separate. Kepina Chauput - Bestia Adventurer. Originally from the Chauput Valley in Fourche, but has been hearing a psychic Call for years, originating somewhere here. Literally walked from Fourche to Itarra, following The Call. Maghe' Piccuri - Adventurer / Celebrity. Brash, charismatic, larger than life, this renowned actor from Lascha East may be hiding a few secrets behind his in-your-face persona. Padana di Sottibo - Adventurer / Rescue Worker, this sleek Longane is equally at home in the waters of the River Cariccia and Lake Lascha as she is the streets of Fioracitta. Currently employed by the Guardia, and is also a member of The Lakeside Warriors (a rescuer and mystic). Turan Charesi - Adventurer / Family Man about town. The best-dressed member of the party. On call by the Family he belongs to (the Charesi) to take care of matters which require his unique brand of diplomacy. Zurhan al-Turaph - Adventurer / Benedittara Animist, Zurhan is a typical magician with piercing eyes, whose flowing, graceful movements almost make him appear like one of the spirits he interacts with. The Prompts "A Race Through Dark Places" was a one-shot adventure run twice over the course of GenCon Online 2021, on a dedicated Discord server. Both sessions were, in effect, the same story. The initial prompt was this image:- In the end, some of the unused prompts included these images:- # The Adventure "A Race Through Dark Places" opened with the player characters boarding the ferry from Vindia to Birigna, stopping at Escharro before heading off to Teldatta, Orchudo Island, and Birigna, before making its long journey back to Vindia. There had been disappearances around Escharro, coinciding with bizarre phenomena surrounding the Magetti Estate, which was only accessible via a lakeside boat dock cut into the native rock of Escharro. Rumours included a possible hidden Venea temple, a secret meeting place of the Dragons of Shadow (a secret society set up during the Bragoni Conquest of Fioracitta), and brigands. The characters met the owners, Aldo and Genti Rubeno, and their majordomo and factotum, Pilor Garic, a Macenti. For this mission, I bought some mansion floorplans from DrivethruRPG rather than create my own Villa Magetti. This was the ground floor plan which greeted the players. Hypnotic Storytelling Tips Here are some of the hypnotic tips used to immerse the players into the action. Revivification Have you ever described something so vividly that you find yourself losing all sense of where you are, and immersing yourself in the memory as though you were living it? This is known as revivification, and it is the workhorse of all hypnotic techniques. The basic principle here is "Where attention goes, energy flows." Second Person Narrative Addressing each player as "you" is a powerful narrative technique. Don't be afraid to use "you" in the in-character chat. Your players' unconscious minds quickly pick up that it's they who are being addressed, not the players. This leads to revivification, and players living out the adventure as though they were there. Appeal to The Senses Sense memory is your best friend. Allow evocative details to fill the narrative - the rich floral scents of a garden, the cool of the lake water on bare feet, the taste of cool clean drinking water going down your throat, the sounds of ravens overhead; or the scent of blood (those who've smelled blood will flinch, and others will just imagine), or fire, or the sounds of movement in a corridor which is supposed to be empty, dusty soft scraping and swishing, coming closer down the dry floorboards ... You Are The Problem Solver The NPCs are not the problem solvers. The players are. Or rather, the unconscious minds. The mind is a natural problem solver, and if there is a situation where there are two disparate clues, the unconscious will put them together and find a connection, somehow. Newbie GMs, here's a hint from an old GM. Let them make the connection. You'll find that most of the time, the adventure takes a sharp turn away from your plotted narrative if the characters (i.e. the unconscious minds of the players) solve the problem in their heads, talk about it, and come up with a rough idea of what is going on. Nine times out of ten, if you've laid down a carefully-scripted narrative, whether it is a mystery, a conspiracy, or a room full of monsters, the unconscious minds are going to figure it out. They are going to look right through any schemes you come up with. Figuring it out is the point. It's half the fun. Want to know what the other half of the fun is? Letting the players come up with a plan that saws your plan into little bitty pieces, then executing it. Last Thoughts On "A Race Through Dark Places" Everything I described above came true. I felt it happen, right before my very eyes. Remember - your players are going to be smart. A lot of them have been GMs before, and want to run characters rather than run games because, deep down, they want to win something. It's got to be meaningful. It's got to justify the characters' being there. Most of all, they want to feel like the heroes. Which they are. Being a Games Master is a hard job. Deep down, you've got to love one thing - the looks on the players' faces, the sound of their voices, when you present them with a story they can sink their teeth into. They can put in a personal stake in the adventure. They will want to get to a happy ending, where happy endings are not guaranteed unless they make it happen. The rewards are there. Hard won, sometimes with deep personal losses - injuries, Tenacity loss, fatigue - but when they can come away feeling that they have won every single Experience Roll, where they have spent those Luck Points and it has made all the difference, then you will have done a great job, and brought smiles to the players' faces. And if the game's more than a one-shot, but a multi-session story or even part of a campaign, that will bring them back to the table to see how it turns out next time. And in the end, that's the best reward you can live for, as a Games Master.
  6. And so it's the turn of civilised cultures to come under the spotlight. The words "civic," "civil," "civilian," "civility," and "civilisation" come from a Latin root, "civitas," city. It can be argued that a civilised nation is one which has reached a sufficient level of sophistication as to require urban developments - the formation of communities into cities, plural. Throughout history, there have been a good many examples of civilised societies, each of which thought itself the pinnacle of human societal development. Until they weren't. What, then, makes a civilisation? The cities? The languages? The landmarks? The wonders? The songs? It could be argued that it is consensus and consistency alone which define a group of people as a civilisation or a society - the agreement that all members of that society share a common identity, history, language, and so on, and the independent standardisation of the stories the members tell of themselves, how they came to be, and who they are. Arguably, it's the consensus which defines a civilisation. No civilisation ever declared itself to be the barbarians. Strange Nations This time, this blog looks at the civilisations you create for roleplaying games, rather than real world historical civilisations. The Earth has so damn many civilisations and societies that to chart them all, from their origins to their downfalls, would fill the syllabuses of entire universities. As, indeed, it does. You don't need a doctorate to create a culture for Mythras - not a Primitive, Barbarian, Nomadic, or Civilised culture. Going by what's on the market, most roleplaying game settings just set up civilisations as backdrops for adventures, with a cursory paragraph or two defining the known history of how the city came to be, and so on. Few settings ever take the time to write long and detailed historical essays about their settings (Kelestia Publications' Summa Venariva, which defines the history of Venarive, Northwest Lythia, for the Harnworld setting, is one exception), and fewer readers will pay good money for such a book, apart from diehard completists. Settings are presented as is, with stock tropes of Nomadic, Primitive, and Barbarian outsiders coming to the relatively static Town to sample the food, the ale, and the willing nightlife. As a Games Master or setting creator, you are not bound to follow any logical structure for defining your civilisation; but for verisimilitude, here are some guidelines. Water Water is the hidden element which defines where the centres of civilisation will set up. Crop plants will only grow where there is an abundant supply of water. Plants can grow in desert conditions, but not without some source of water coming from somewhere - the Atacama Desert is described as the driest place on Earth, and the only plant life which grows anywhere in that most arid of wastes exists because of the fogs which blow over the barrier mountains from the Pacific. Without the clouds bringing airborne moisture, there'd be nothing growing there at all. Water enables plant growth. Abundant water brings herbivores, carnivores, and eventually humans. Those who decide to settle in these places of abundant water eventually found the communities which grow into cities. Agriculture A society develops into a civilisation when it can move out of basic subsistence farming, where intensive labour provides only just enough to satisfy one's immediate needs. Advances in farming technology, such as the Archimedes Screw, the mouldboard plough, and selective breeding of grains and domesticated animals for different characteristics such as food animals for their meat or milk, or other herd animals for their skins or wool, yield a surplus of goods which can be taken to a city for trade with its every-growing hungry population. Other forms of domestication include apiary (beekeping), domestication of birds for their meat (chicken in particular), and even silkworms to produce silk. Just don't ask how they go about extracting the silk from the silkworm caterpillars' cocoons. You'll never touch silk again. Surplus means trade - trade for better equipment, for money, for labour to improve on the buildings of the holdings - and even time, because if you have a stock of goods you can sell, and some way of preserving them from rot and vermin, you won't have to labour so hard to fill your stocks - and that means time to begin to pursue leisure pursuits not related to growing crops or animal husbandry. Trade Of course, trade goes both ways - goods come in, goods go out. Coin is a useful guide to measure the worth of something, but many civilisations exist for centuries without a currency, just going by honouring debts and bartering. Currency can be food, equipment, labour or more abstract things such as artworks. The independent publishers WMB Saltworks have published a book listing 108 different forms of currency, and some of these are historically relevant - such as salt, which was so valued to the ancient Romans that it was used to pay the wages of the Empire's soldiers - hence the word salary, which derives from the Latin word for salt, and the modern phrase "Worth their salt." One harsh note here - a lot of ancient and not so ancient civilisations considered disenfranchised people a form of currency, too. The history of the world is a lot darker than the history books would have it, because many of the monuments and cities listed in those books were likely built, and maintained, but never run by, slaves. Communications Travelling along the trade routes with the cargoes would have been information; gossip, news, songs, jokes, and stories. Instructional information - planting advice, recipes, and so on - are also transmitted along these trade routes. In time, they become a corpus of information which, at least in civilisations, become solidified on paper - which leads us to:- Writing and Arithmetic One of the earliest signs of a civilisation, though not a definitive sign, is the adoption of a writing system to abstract trade, turning words into symbols to represent cargoes and consignments of trade goods, and number systems to quantify amounts. Gradually, writing systems expand beyond their remit of facilitating trade to encompass the transmission of stories, poems, and so on. Laws and Standards As a development from trade, civilisations develop standardised weights and measures to determine the standards by which traders must follow, in an attempt to establish universal consistency across the market places in all parts of the overall community or polity which shares the common cultural identity. Lawmakers arise, to press their stamp on fair trading standards on things like the length of cloth, standard weights of grains, the prescribed formulae of medicines, and so on. Trade guilds form to codify the authorised procedures which members of the guild must apply to their work, and set the standards of quality of goods, and the market prices. The highest forms of laws governing such topics as crime, enforcement, trials, and punishments, srise from the earliest trade laws. It does not take long for the law to change to forbid murder, once some landowner starts killing off their neighbours to take their land. Shared Resources This, then, is where civilisations develop, when there is a shared experience of history, carried down through the generations both orally and in written form; where systems regulating trade develop into bureaucracies, and all that leisure time develops into arts and crafts, songs, poetry, myths and legends. Every culture develops its cultural identity through art, but civilisations do what they can to preserve the material forms of those expressions - artworks, books, journals, recipe collections, history books, and so on. Biijs, including libraries of scrolls, enable people to learn what once had only been available to a selected few who'd been entrusted to keeping the oral records through recitation. Community and Identity In the end, it is the people who define their society as a civilisation. It is people who are responsible for maintaining the histories and creating their own, for sharing their dreams and composing new songs, for forgetting stories only to have mystified future historians dig them up down the line. Most other cultures generally have little time for such things as professional dancers, artists, and philosophers - and there is a threshold through which a society must pass in order to be considered a civilisation, something which does not depend on inventions and technology, but on the ability of its individual members to live out entire lives pursuing abstract goals unrelated to living out a life making or growing things just to survive. It is the move away from subsistence which provides the roots for the consensus and consistency which define that which is shared by the civilisation. The Civilised Voice Here, then, is the alternative Civilised Voice. This one is set in Fioracitta, the Heart of Power. ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ My name is Zurhan al-Turaph, and this is my journal. I have been asked to provide a regular journal of my daily activities and musings. A man in Lascha East swears to me that my written thoughts can be a source of much luchre from an ever-increasing, demanding audience, so I cannot deny him his ambitions, however vain they seem to be to me. After all, what harm can it do to write about my life? The hardest thing for me to write about is contemporary idiomatic speech. What exactly does it mean when somebody is rolling in the pigs? It is an expression much used among the young to denote someone who has come into wealth. Personally, I cannot see the metaphor. Pigs are inedible to me, carriers of parasites, dwellers in their own filth. Although, now I've written down those words, perhaps the metaphor does describe the rich, and their behaviour once they have money. I cannot exactly exempt myself, since my home in Degianna appears to be the most expensive home of this party of Adventurers to which I have become attached, and I am considerably wealthier than all of them put together. Perhaps this is a timely warning to myself not to allow myself to follow suit and "roll in pigs." I would introduce the other members of this expedition, but they have all requested that I refrain from dropping names. They are all, in their own way, charming and peculiar. One, a Latolian, was once seen by myself as they emerged from the staff entrance of The Painted Mask in Lascha East District, before crossing the piazza to attend services at the San Tamaggia opposite. Until then, I had never met a more beautiful - looking person. I was assured by my employer that they are definitely human, unlike my Bestia and Longane colleagues. I am not startled by the sight of Bestia, Longane, Monacielli and Serpent People roaming the streets - my old mentor was a Besti - but these two companions of mine are a rare breed. I had never seen anyone swim that lake as quickly as my Longane companion. I swear, she must have mystical capabilities. The other two are as human as I am, though they have not got, nor can they imagine, my history. My story is unique. As with the Latolian, I am not certain of the sex of one of my colleagues - I swear, they are male one moment and female the next, or so it seems in the dark of this place we are exploring. A trick of the light, perhaps. The other, a well-dressed and refined man, reminds me so much of myself in my impetuous, cocky, callow youth. So, then, these are the people I am to work with. And a fine assembly they are. I watched them from the vantage of the rowing boat which bore me to the boat dock of the house we are to explore. My boat was last, of course, and apart from my rower I was alone; but I watched the others as they sat in pairs in their boats, chatting and gossiping excitedly. I have not yet told them about the destination, this house in Escharro we have to explore. Namely, that I think I may know its layout better than they can imagine. It is tied to my story - for this is the home of my old mentor in the Arts of the Benedittara. ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ If you want to know the rest, see if there's a space available in "A Race Through Dark Places" at GenCon on the 17th and 18th of September, at GenCon Online. Or you can wait till I publish the fanfic afterwards ...
  7. The Civilised Voice - Alternative ended up being delayed ten hours from its usual go-live time of 12:00 UTC+1. It went live at 22:00 UTC+1. This was due to my ongoing preparations for running "A Race Through Dark Places" for Fioracitta, at GenCon Online, September 17 and 18. All future blog posts are going live at 10pm UTC or UTC+1 on Saturday nights, from the 2021-09-11 post onward.
  8. Good point. These would be part of the tents and wagons, and carried along with the shelters themselves. Those nomads who have caravans traditionally decorate their mobile homes: wagonmaking was as much an expression of art as of vehicular engineering. Nomadic peoples who have wagons would keep their food supplies and medicines with the wagons, of course, and spend a lot of time creating more art for trade goods as well as for telling the family's stories on the sides of their vehicles.
  9. Continuing the exploration of the different Cultures from the Mythras Core Rulebook, this time looking at Nomads. Nomadic people have coexisted with settled peoples since the dawn of humanity. There has been a dichotomy between settled people and nomadic travellers since the first humans left Olduvai Gorge to fend for themselves when it became too crowded. Some humans settled in new places ... others, kept on going. Epic Scale Going by the fossil records, hominins evolved bipedal locomotion (walking upright) millions of years before Homo sapiens arrived in the world. Fossil evidence of Homo foot and leg bones show that the early ancestors of modern humans literally walked around the world - many thousands of miles, in all directions. They picked a direction, and only the oceans stopped them. And when they invented sailing, even the oceans ceased to be a barrier. Nomad Lifestyle The earliest nomadic lifestyle is also the oldest actual lifestyle. Early humans were hunter-gatherers, regularly following the migrating herds and seeking out locations where seasonal plants and game could be found. Pastoral nomadic tribes raised cattle and drove them across the land in order to ensure that their herds never overgrazed in any one given area. Of course, the herds themselves knew where to go to find the best food sources, and the nomadic tribes supplemented their mostly-meat diet with whatever vegetables, fruits, and grains they came across in their travels. Wealth Nomadic peoples usually measure wealth by their herds. Since their wealth is mobile, theft is discouraged through a culture of fear from reprisal. A code of honour is a necessity, particularly when different nomad tribes' routes intersect, for instance at their regular overwintering stops. Diet Ironically, many nomadic tribes suffered from lactose intolerance. They usually got around this by fermenting milk, from cattle or horses, since fermentation destroys lactose. There is, of course, no problem with consuming the herd animals' meat, which is often served boiled, in a broth. Grains which grow quickly and easily, requiring little labour to cultivate, are also common. Millet, fennel, oats, and spelt are staples, often served boiled or roasted. Millet and fennel can provide sustenance to keep people on their feet for days. Clothing and Art Every part of a nomad's life has to be portable. And that includes art. There is little need for heavy artefacts such as statues or paintings. Personal adornment is common; jewellery and other forms of artistic expression, possibly including tattooing, were common. Clothing tends to be practical and designed for endurance; clothes would be worn until they fell apart. It has been argued that horse nomads invented the first trousers, to spare their inner thighs from chafing from riding over long distances. Trousers could be tucked into boots, providing extra protection to the extremities from exposure to the elements. Nomadic peoples also adorn their tools and equipment. Those wanderers who travel in wagons traditionally decorate their vehicles - which are also their homes. The symbolism of their art can tell a story of the family, painted and carved into the wooden sides of their wagons, or adorning the fabric of their tents. Rugs, carpets, and other items of furniture such as cushions are also highly decorative items in and of themselves, as well as being functional in keeping out draughts and providing soft surfaces to sit and sleep on. These items are bundled with the tents, or stowed in the wagons, as part of their homes, and are designed to be as portable as the homes' structures themselves. There is archaeological evidence to suggest that many nomadic tribes were accomplished at working copper, bronze, tin, silver, and gold. Some are expert craftspeople at woodworking and leatherworking. In Britain, wandering metalworkers may have driven the trade in ores from the tin mines of Cornwall and the malachite (copper ore) mines of the Great Orme in North Wales, responsible for driving the Bronze Age. Across The Sea Oceans did not offer a barrier to people, either. Nomadic people often take to the water for trade and to conduct diplomacy between people living on the land. The Pacific Ocean hosted an entire culture of people who regularly travelled between the Polynesian islands on sailing canoes. Diversity Nomadic cultures are diverse. Historically, the Eurasian Nomads were different to Amerind Nomads, and the most famous Nomads of all - the Mongol Hordes - were among the most aggressive people on Earth, until the United States. Nomads In Your Fantasy Game Your fantasy roleplaying game can be based around your characters belonging to a Nomad culture tribe, wandering between towns, meeting other cultures. Of all the different cultures, Nomads are the likeliest to encounter and interact with every other culture - Civilised, Barbarian, and Primitive - on a regular basis. This gives the Nomadic campaign a perspective that has not often been explored in many fantasy roleplaying games. Here are some example themes for a Nomadic campaign, using an example setting introduced in the last article, The Barbarian Voice - Alternative, where the Southern peoples are Civilised, and the Northern nations are small Barbarian cultures. Trade Characters can be hired by a caravan of the Northwestern Trading Tribespeople to provide protection for the wanderers from raiders, both of their own people and from barbarian, primitive and civilised robbers. Examples: mercenaries hired to travel along the dangerous West Coast Road between the Southerners and the wintering grounds of the Northwestern Trading Tribes. The greatest danger comes near the end of their epic journey, when the caravan has to cross through the territory of the Northern Mountain People. On the road, the characters can learn about the Traders. At first, they hardly interact at all with the Traders; but as the journey unfolds, they find themselves becoming assimilated into their wandering culture, ultimately going native. They discover that this is how the Traders keep going - through a steady influx of strong, hardy men and women they collect along the way. Diplomacy There is often little in the way of a centralised Nomadic leadership. However, on occasion a conflict may arise between individual tribes - and there are rules in place to smooth ruffled feathers and ensure harmony between the tribes. One of these is the provision of moots, gatherings where the conficting tribes meet in a neutral place, under a flag of truce, in order to negotiate peace and to offer diplomatic trade - horses, cattle, husbands, wives. The characters can be drawn into one such moot, either as hired hands (in which case they get to see very little of the trade, only to become involved in an investigation when things go wrong and someone begins killing the Elders in their tents), or as members of the tribes themselves, getting together and resolving their differences to fight against a raiding party of outsider brigands. Survival The characters can begin a campaign out in the wilderness, starving, freezing half to death, only to be picked up by wandering Nomads. As they travel, and earn their Culture, Locale, Language, Lore, Navigation, Survival, and Track skills, and gradually assimilate into the Nomadic way of life, the reason for their stranding can become clear - they were robbed, and left for dead, by Southerner brigands who operate in the area, taking from lone wanderers. The brigands have left hundreds of people lying dead on the side of the road, and the Nomads are familiar with these brutes, so much so that when the characters next neet those brigands, they have plenty of opportunities to mete out justice for themselves, and for their other victims. And this time, the Travellers won't be alone. Exploration The characters are Nomads, and they have reached sufficient numbers - along with their spouses, families, and herds - that the caravan of which they are a part can no longer sustain such numbers, and part of the caravan must hive off and forge their own road in an unexplored territory to the Northeast. This is a story of exploration, of survival, and of conflict. The characters are responsible for their people as they carve out a new path to a land nobody has heard of before - a land of tumbled ruins and ghosts, but also abundant plants, game, and water. Along the way, they may find primitive peoples, and trade with them. Conflict There is so much potential for conflicts. Internally, a Nomadic people can be at war with its own identity. Opportunities can arise for people to settle down and form a sedentary community. If this internal faction does settle down while the characters keep moving, can the sedentary settlers ever be called Nomads again? And will they extend the same hospitality when their wandering cousins return along their route, looking for a spot to overwinter? Externally, the most obvious conflict is one which, sadly, is echoed in the real world. Bigotry is prevalent in many Civilised cultures, and often as Civilised cultures degenerate they turn to nationalism, populism and racism, painting a romanticised illusion of hearkening back to some "good old days" or "glorious Empires" - and wandering peoples, from Travellers to Rroma and Sinti peoples, are often picked upon by these governments, enacting harsh laws which criminalise them for just existing - something which is not confimed to history books talking about World War II, but which is actually taking place in Great Britain and Europe in 2021. This is an ugly theme, one of the ugliest themes you will encounter - and it is included here only as a reminder that the real world is often a harsher place for footloose people than any fantasy world can ever be. Games Masters may wish to explore this theme, but bear in mind that it always brings out the worst in people, and it can lead to conflicts around the table - so this is a theme best left alone, unless everybody around the table is comfortable with wanting to explore this theme. The Nomadic Voice Here, then, is the alternative Nomadic Voice, from the Lands of the Southerners and Northerner Tribes. +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ The road had never been this rough before. Our cattle were complaining, the horses were complaining, and every single baby began squalling at the same time in the nursery wagons. We were all on edge as we entered The Valleys of Pain, just north of the dreaded Forest of the Storm Child. They say that a great spirit of pain dominates this entire region, and that not a single valley is free of its influence. People are afraid to sing here. Afraid to love, or to laugh, or to compose poems or tell the stories. We must cross through these valleys in order to reach our wintering grounds to the North, and everybody hates this part, the worst leg of our route. I spotted the first corpse, lying beside Hovath's crossroads. A piece of broken steel protruded from the body's chest. A sword, snapped off halfway up the blade. The dead man must have been in agony in his last moments. It wasn't long before Davvo saw another corpse beside the one I saw. Then Matti saw a dozen more in a field nearby. But we had already sent for Affric, our leader, long before. No wonder the Pain Spirit was strong. There had been a war here. A major one, by the looks of it. We used the Southerner loan word for war in our speech, because there is no equivalent in our language. Most of the dead were fringe Southerners, in their fancy armour and shields, all shattered. One or two of their weapons were intact, and some in need of repair. Matti crowed in triumph as he unearthed what looked like one of the Southerners' fancy new firearms, a black powder musket. But then we heard Vrida's keening lament. She recognised some of the bodies. They were Gailo, Fendi, and Tamon, three of her cousins from the Bariski Clan; and Sardi, the only nephew of her late brother, who had settled in with the Southerners. By the looks of it, they had met here and been forced to kill each other without even recognising that they were kin by blood and birth. Affric told us all that the rules were clear. We could not profit from slaughter. Moreover, since the fancy weapon had belonged to Vrida's nephew Sardi, there would be a blood curse upon any of his kin by blood and birth who took that gun from Sardi's body. We buried all of their weapons of war, along with the bodies, in a single mass grave near the edge of the Gorimir Forest, and left a marker to future Trading Tribes caravans who will wander along here. Some treasures are to be left alone. We could not do much more for them. We were in the last days of Autumn, and we could not stay for long, if we were to make our wintering camp site in time. The night before we moved on, we defied the Great Spirit of Pain with singing and festivities, honouring the dead and releasing the spirits of Sardi, and the cousins Gailo, Fendi, and Tamon, who had ended up dying at Sardi's hand before Sardi fell at their hands. But in the morning, we slaughtered one of our herd, a sickly thing, and prepared it for a feast in honour of the Pain Spirit. We left it there, on the corner of Hovath's crossroads, in the hope that there could be peace between it and the travelling tribes which crossed through its land. After all, hospitality is our highest virtue, and we never exclude family from our feasts.
  10. The Design Mechanism are running a variety of scenarios during GenCon, based on Mythras, as well as their Casting The Runes horror game. Just to let you know that there are two scenarios being run on 17th Sept 1pm and 18th Sept 9am, set in Fioracitta, called "A Race Through Dark Places." I believe there are still free slots available, but most of the rest - including scenarios for Destined - have now been fully booked, subject to the inevitable cancellations and last minute dropouts. If you were running a Mythras-based scenario at any given GenCon, what setting would you play, and what would be your scenario's general idea and theme?
  11. Continuing my look into the four basic cultural backgrounds from the Mythras Core Rulebook. What, exactly, is a barbarian anyway? What distinguishes a Barbarian culture from a Primitive, Nomadic, or Civilised culture? The answer, shockingly, is nothing. "Barbarian" is a political definition - basically, it's "any culture that isn't ours." Technically, "barbarian" just means "foreign," or "outsider," just like "pagan" just means "country bumpkin" and "mundane" means "man of the world." It's only in gaming that barbarians are conflated into a generalised image of some shirtless, woad-daubed warrior types with braided beards and hair and helmets with horns. Technically, there really should be no Barbarians - just other people. However, fantasy games demand that barbarians exist, so what can you do? Barbarian Culture A Barbarian culture is one which does not follow the laws or mores of the civilised culture next door. That does not mean that they are Primitives, though it is feasible to have a culture which leans towards Primitive or Nomadic, yet retains an identity which is identifiable as Barbarian. Languages Barbarians could speak their own language, heavily accented, and either plain speaking or laden with idiomatic expressions. Half the fun of dealing with a Barbarian party encountered in the wild is figuring out which tribe they are, and which language and dialect they speak. Language defines territory, for the most part, and an Adventurer familiar with Barbarian cultures may have to fine tune their Lore to cover, for example, the Northern Lake People from the Northern Mountain People and the Northwestern Trading Tribespeople, even though they could all be classified as "The Northern People" to people from the Southern lands. Social Structure Generally, Barbarian cultures tend to be led by Chieftains, Thanes, and tribal leaders with similar titles. Rulership does not have to come at the end of a sword, nor does the title always go to the strong. A weak man may win the mantle through guile; a woman can rise to prominence as a great leader, uniting disparate tribes through trade and diplomacy yet also enforcing the accord between tribal nations by commanding strong armies, leading from the front. Clans and lineages of ancestry are common, with extended families being led by a Matriarch or Patriarch, and revered elders frequently making journeys to attend a Parliament, or Thing (pronounced "ting") of the tribes, to lay down the new laws for the year and to settle disputes between individuals and entire tribes. Knowledge of The Land Your Barbarian culture is highly likely to have just as extensive knowledge of Locale as their Primitive cousins. They are likely to have Animism as their primary source of magic, with some Mysticism and Folk Magic. Their literature, carried mostly in the head with the same oral traditions which sustained the Primitives, may tell of ancient gods and even older demons, those demons being the Primitive gods who were rendered obsolete by the new deities of the Barbarian tribes. The oral traditions are also likely to form the basis for their Locale and Lore skills - knowledge of where the healing herbs are, knowledge of how to cultivate crops, make the proper sacrifices to the land to allow travellers to pass without incident, and the best seasons to plant and to reap. The oral tradition ties the Barbarians to the land, perhaps even more deeply than it does the Primitive peoples. Laws Laws are kept in the minds of Lawkeepers, and mostly have to do with the placement of borders and bounds between the lands of different tribes, or matters of inheritance. Again, do not assume that only men may be Lawkeepers - imagine a Barbarian, tribal culture dominated by their women, ruling each tribe with a Triummulierate (the term for a Triumvirate of women) and laying down laws regarding the need to be honourable in conduct, whether that be in trade, diplomacy, or warfare. Some of the highest laws in Barbarian cultures concern hospitality. Many Barbarian tribes dwell in wilderness regions which would be considered inhospitable to a "civilised" citizen, and even to other Barbarians who are used to the land, to be exiled from the comforts of the hearth is effectively a death sentence. The presence of a warm hearth nearby can mean the difference between life and death - so there are laws of hospitality proscribing the conduct of both hosts and passing strangers. The offering of hospitality to a stranger who arrives in a storm is one of the highest expressions of the Barbarian culture's ethos. Hospitality is sacrosanct, and hosts are expected to offer a warm bed, hot food, and a place by the fire to strangers. Likewise, a stranger may accept hospitality (they'd be a fool not to), but they are required to behave with dignity and grace, and to express gratitude to their hosts (rather than try to seduce or murder them). Good feasting, good poetry and song, and - if the stranger is a healer - treatment of the sick of the household for free, are generally accepted as a cause for celebration. A stranger who can entertain the hosts, or help them, or stand with them and defend them, is considered a gracious visitor and their good reputation will spread. Trade and Diplomacy The same drives behind the treatment of strangers applies to trade and diplomatic relations. Representatives of other tribes, including "civilised" cultures, are feted like visiting kings, because the hosts are bound by the laws of hospitality. This extends to visiting bands of Adventurers passing through Barbarian territory: these are Barbarians, not bandits or brigands, and the Games Master should take great care not to just turn an encounter with Barbarians as just another random combat encounter. It's a cliche, it's been done to death, and you can do so much better. The Barbarian Voice So here, then, is my take on The Barbarian Voice. ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ We stumbled across the ragtag party of Southerners, close to sunset. They were still building their encampment in the worst possible place - exposed, high on a windswept hill particularly vulnerable to cold, high winds, and right next to a field of burial mounds prone to nightly hauntings. I ordered my men to stay silent and refrain from laughing. These Southerners seemed little more than children; and they seemed to be ill-equipped to handle the elements. They certainly had no awareness of the land, nor its hazards: one of them sought to pitch her flimsy tent right on top of a nest of firegrubs, and one of the party, a fancyman, was trying to erect their tent next to a tree ... on a hill prone to being struck by lightning in a storm. Indeed, there was a storm looming, and so I approached these wayward children, bringing with me one of my lovers, a man called Shanto - which means "Speaker of Truth in Many Tongues" - to ask the wanderers if they would like to share our fire tonight. Their response was predictably hostile. At our approach, they drew swords. The fancyman gestured to the sky, in a vain attempt to summon lightning to his aid. I did not have the heart to tell him that his vulgar sciences will not work on this sacred hill, if the spirits do not permit it. Instead, I let Shanto speak for me. I offered these frightened, ignorant children the chance to sit at our fire and share hospitality; a mark of respect, even to those who know not how to respect our highest laws. Fortunately, the fancyman knew both Shanto's language and his tribe, and spoke to him in greeting. Shanto told the fancyman to insist on speaking directly to me. It took some coaxing - apparently, the fancyman prefers the company of other men, or something- but eventually, he turned to me and stated his intent to seek out some treasure which was reputedly buried in the grounds of a ruined Southerner fort, abandoned to the wilds some two generations before even the summers of my Grandmother. I nodded, silently, and spoke to Shanto in my tongue, for him to translate, as was our custom, and made our offer. The young children gratefully accepted, and struck their tents and abandoned their futile attempt to light a fire on Windspirit Hill to join us at our camp. On the way back to the camp, Shanto spoke to me in my tongue, to let me know the strangers' plans, which they thought they could conceal from us by speaking in their Southerner tongue. I reminded Shanto that I could overhear them just as well as he, and that I was aware that they planned something nefarious with the artefact they sought. I also told Shanto that, should they survive the wilderness and the beasts which lurk around the Southerner fort, to return home with that prize they sought, that they may do what they like with it once they return home. In the end, if they are tested by the land and survive the tests, they would not need any artefact to seize power back home. They would be entitled to power in and of themselves, because the land will have tempered their strength beyond the capabilities of their fellow Southerners.
  12. This week, and for the next few weeks, you're going to take a little side step. You're going to be presented with the voices of the different cultures of Mythras. I know, you've already got The Primitive Voice, The Nomad Voice, and so on, from the Core Rulebooks. But these Voices are different. A Connected World These voices assume two things: one, that fantasy worlds are connected places, where that which affects one person, one place, affects other people, other places; and two, that the world is not always out to get you. Unlike most roleplaying books, if you reach out your hand to help, they're not going to cut it off at the wrist. The worlds of roleplaying games have become bitter and cynical since 1991's Vampire: the Masquerade attempted to make it cool to be an edgelord. Spoiler: it's never been cool to be an edgelord. In these fantasy worlds, if you meet beings with pointy ears, or fur and tusks, they're not sent there to try and kill you, nor are you expected to have to try and kill them. There is no automatic assumption that encounters are solely combat encounters. Roleplaying has evolved away from wargaming. We're not beholden to the lineage of That Guy Who Invented Roleplaying In The Seventies to continue to play the games their way, when we can honour Greg Stafford's memory and play a much more shamanic, connected, mysterious, and often magical game, where mysteries are to be explored, secrets revealed, and the characters belong to peoples and cultures who are just living their lives. Primitive Cultures Ask any anthropologist, and they'll tell you that primitive cultures are anything but "bang two rocks together, wear animal skins, ugh, everybody afraid of sky." That's a racist holdout from colonial days, when Westerners would descend upon isolated villages and immediately denounce the locals as "savages" ripe to be converted to Christianity. "Primitive" meant "lacking in brain power, unlike us," and primitive peoples were depicted in the popular media as clumsy, filthy, crouching, beastly people, little better than animals. Converted natives would be branded "the Noble Savage," and depicted as clean-shaven, tall men, standing straight, wearing very civilised loin cloths to hide their modesty - modern fig leaves, echoing the Biblical Adam after he had eaten of the fruits of the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden and thus, somehow, lost all their innocence. They were painted as wise men, cunning men, in tune with "savage Nature," with their ear to the ground - this being the literal origin of that "ear to the ground" trope. These wise men could literally put their ear to the ground and somehow discern the movements of all living things within a few miles by the sound their feet and hooves made in the ground. Often, civilised people would be depicted in comics as slumming it. Robinson Crusoe roped in Man Friday; Lord Greystoke became Tarzan, and Sheena became Queen of the Jungle. Somehow, all it took was a bit of civilised nous, and Westerners could fancy themselves as lords of the savage land, always charming, perfect teeth, not one hair out of place or speck of dirt on their oiled-up, flawless supermodel bodies. The Primitive Tech Level Lest you imagine otherwise, primitive cultures continue to surprise us Westerners. They have art, musical instruments, knowledge of how to make jewellery, and trade. Modern anthropologists maintain that the marks of emerging sentience include evidence of first aid and attempts to heal injuries through surgery, including trepannation, and tattoos on ancient bodies which seem to be road maps similar to acupuncture meridians (as well as tattoos placed on modern bodies to tell radiotherapists where to focus their beams). Others cite the invention of bags as a mark of emergence of civilisation, rather than weapons. Bags allow people to carry tools with them, in anticipation of their future use. Bags allowed primitive workers to carry the tools of their trade along with them - awls, scrapers, drills. Bags could be used to carry a variety of items - medicinal herbs, firemaking kits, knives for cutting, bows and arrows to hunt food. Other technologies have made it through the centuries. Leather burnishers are traditionally made from bone; there is no other material, natural or synthetic, which comes close to what bone can do when used to burnish leather and seal in the pores. People still use bits of flint to create fires, even though those flints are now found in Zippo lighters. Sure, tools such as knives could be used as weapons against other people; but primitive people also carried trade goods, which meant that they travelled between communities, sometimes looking for work, sometimes looking to trade. Ores of tin from Cornwall and malachite from North Wales were dug up, and there was a brisk market in those ores, essential in the making of bronze. Those people who knew the secret of smelting were close to magicians. And they were impressive artists. The Mold Cape is a garment of solid gold, some 3600 years old. Nobody knows how it could have been made using the technology of the day, or even the technology of today; but make it, they did. The Beaker People, also, showed remarkable sophistication. So-called because of the containers (beakers, jugs, jars) found with their bodies, the Beaker People showed a highly sophisticated knowledge of medicinal preparations, clay working and pottery and, going by the mead and ale residues in the bottom of some of these beakers, brewing. Mead infers beekeeping, and beer infers agriculture; which means that primitive cultures had developed a symbiotic relationship with the land. The ability to anticipate the regularity of winters shows that early humans had learned about the seasons, and could count the days and moon cycles, and perhaps came up with primitive reasoning such as "three moons full, hot days go away and leaves turn brown; three moons full after that, days are short and snow starts to fall." The Oral Tradition Until the written word obliterated the need to retain long memories, there was always the oral tradition. Modern people cannot imagine what it was like to carry the equivalent of several books around in a person's head, nor how much time and effort was needed to train people to recite the sacred knowledge, word for word, intonation for intonation, until they could sing the same songs as their ancestors did, even after generations. Primitive, barbarian, and nomadic cultures specialise in having long memories. Traditions such as memory palaces are nothing compared to the mnemonic techniques which were developed by ancient cultures - techniques which we have, quite literally, forgotten. Oh, yes - let's also not forget that thing with the big stone monoliths. We atill can't figure out how they got those big sarsens of bluestone from the Brecons all the way to Wiltshire to build an observatory at Stonehenge. It's not exactly like they carried those stones around with them in their pockets. So there is much more to primitive cultures than Clan of The Cave Bear or The Flintstones, or even Stig of The Dump. Bearing that in mind, I am closing this little rant with ... The Primitive Voice The days and nights are endless. We have much to learn. Once, my Mother said, My birth was announced By the spirits of the storm. The storm brought with it Wind and rain, Thunder and lightning. The spirits howled to us "Among us is born A Great Spirit." I give no credence to that. I only recount What Mother says. I do know That when I came of age, I underwent The Rite of Ad'aan. The Elders took me Deep into Orna's Forest, To the darkest place, And forced me to survive there, With nothing but woad on my body And a knife of obsidian. The food was good. I built a fire. I found honey in an old tree, And the bees fell asleep With the smoke from the fire. When I was weak, I dug up talla roots And ate small eggs from a nest High up in a tree. I left most of the hive, the biggest root, And the largest eggs, Because I knew That the world only gave me What I needed, And that if I took it all, Mother would not feed me again. When the spirits came for me, I was ready. When the elders came for me, To see if I had passed the Rite Or perished, They were surprised to see That I had built a shelter, And the Spirits had provided Medicines from the Forest Medicines for the sick For the women with child. "So young," they said. "Truly, the spirits were right." And they left me there, In the darkest part Of the Forest. But it is no longer Orna's Forest. It is the Forest of the Healer. It is the Forest of the Child of the Storm. And they say of me "Listen to her, The Child of the Storm. Take her medicines. Listen to her If she comes to the village." The days and nights are endless. We are not afraid of what they have to teach us.
  13. Joining in with the sadness here, on hearing the news of Steve Perrin's passing.

  14. What makes a player character a great character to play? All too often, I see people asking the most toxic questions in numerous online venues, along the lines of "What if orcs stumbled across Xenomorphs?" or "What if a sorcerer were assimilated by the Borg?" - and I realised something awful recently. What made those questions toxic was that those questions were about nothing but combat. At least, within the confines of roleplaying games and popular entertainment. The unspoken questions were clear. "Would there be Xenomorph / orc hybrids with acid for blood, and what would they be like in a fight?" "would the Borg have all of their technology, plus magic, and what would they be like in a fight?" You might as well ask "what if cops became hybridised with sea lions, and what would they be like in a fight?" The Assumption of Combat Roleplaying is an offshoot of wargaming; and the assumption came down from wargaming that all encounters - literally all encounters - had to involve combat to the death. Players would spend hours poring over the rules minutiae in order to minmax their characters specifically to optimise their hit points and the damage they could inflict. The only measure of success in old school roleplaying was a character's brute strength, damage, and hit points, and one's body count: you could only gain XP through killing, and every class of monster had an attached XP value. Needless to say, this was not the most realistic of takes on life. New Kinds of Character Runequest, and all of its offshoots from Call of Cthulhu through to the modern BRP and Mythras, challenged players from that original old school fantasy roleplaying game, by having a character generation engine which allowed players to create characters who used different skill sets: skills which were not themed around combat at all. Standard Skills now included skills such as Dance and Sing; Professional Skills included Commerce, Courtesy. Oratory, and even Seduction. Track and Survival, Musicianship, Art, Craft, Lore, and Language spoke volumes about the expectations of player characters with actual down time lives, as artists, musicians, wilderness hunters, even trellis-climbing seducers a la Ninon de l'Enclos, one of history's forgotten seducers. Systems like Mythras allowed for sandbox play. A character could be dropped into the heart of a community such as, say, Fioracitta, and the player could choose their own adventure. A newcomer with a pretty strong Athletics skill could make their way to Prosoche or Little Fourche or Peligran and apply for a job in a Banevio fighting studio, training up in field and track sports, or developing Ride and becoming a jockey, or learning Swim and Boating and join a small ship's crew on Lake Lascha as a deckhand. New Assumptions Other games emerged such as Traveller, designed to reject this simplistic old school philosophy. Travellers' Hit Points do not bloat up as they progress, no matter how much their skills and bank balances improve. A master of firearms in Traveller is just as physically vulnerable as a one-term raw recruit fresh out of boot. This physical frailty forces players to think not only tactically, but to look for solutions other than combat. This is a philosophy which is present in BRP games systems, including Mythras. Call of Cthulhu is a game of cosmic horror, where entities are simply too powerful to kill. They very sight of them is enough to break player characters - now called Investigators, to reflect their new non-murderous role. CoC is a game where characters grow and develop as human beings, sometimes combat able and combat ready such as cops, soldiers and criminals, but despite the players' insistence on stocking up with weapons, very often the monsters win just by turning up and wafting a facial tentacle vaguely in their direction. Not long after the first roleplaying games arrived, games systems began to emerge whose assumptions were based around achievements other than murder, where players had to develop characters whose lives focused on non-combat activities, and where players had to develop tactics for social play or investigative play, rather than on brute force and ignorance. Admittedly, many modern roleplaying sourcebooks' combat chapters are still the biggest chapters in their books - but they do have sections on non-combat encounters, so that is encouraging. Social Conflict in Mythras Companion One of the most recent developments in Mythras was the Social Conflict chapter of Mythras Companion. This was a whole chapter devoted to the tactical application of social skills in a conflict, using the same kind of cut-and-thrust found in the Mythras Core Rulebook, but allowing characters and opponents to choose the skills they wanted to bring to bear in the conflict, not just Combat Styles. In the case of Social Conflict rules, Deceit versus Willpower became a thing, with a cunning deceiver's fast talk being bounced off the opponent's mistrust, or an Ellakan pitting Influence against a Fiorese citizen's Passion of Fear (Non-Itarrans). The Social Conflict rules allow for less physical kinds of conflict: battles of words and passions, of deceit pitted against angry rebuttals, of brute threats against scintillating wit, of seduction against Willpower. They allow for more dramatic interpersonal conflicts to unfold, where a character can be crushed without a single weapon being drawn, or wars declared, or won, or lost, with a careless tongue. The Social Conflict rules have opened up Mythras to scenarios based on social dramas as gripping as any found in TV shows, movies, or plays, the more traditional forms of mainstream entertainment. If Mythras Companion is not available, it is even possible to run scenarios based on social conflict or investigation using the rules found in the Mythras Core Rulebook on page 287. It is possible to run scenarios in Mythras without a single combat scene appearing anywhere, based entirely on the Core Rulebook's social conflict rules found in the Games Mastery chapter, and come away from the table feeling a sense of tension and anticipation of what could come in the next session. It is possible to develop a scenario where the players come to care about their characters, and the non-player characters who surround them in their daily lives. Deep Characters Mythras is a modern RPG product. As such, the character generation rules allow for the generation of some very deep kinds of characters. Their cultural backgrounds, careers, skill sets, family, connections, and background events all combine to produce characters who are more than just the sum of their Combat Styles, weapon stats, and Locational Hit Points. Characters can be generated who can handle themselves in an investigation (Perception, Insight, Influence, Deceit, Acting, Disguise, Stealth, Track, Seduction), a social situation which can range from political conflict as two representatives stand for election against one another, to a Battle of the Bands, pitting Musicianship against Sing, or even a dance-off, pitting Dance against Endurance. Mythras characters can be designed to handle any kinds of situations, from foot chases to competition horse races, to rescues at sea, to stealth infiltration of an enemy stronghold by water in the dead of night. There is so much variety available, that player characters can specialise - become master sorcerers, dedicated artists, and yes - even career soldiers, climbing the ladder of their martial Order, one battlefield promotion at a time. Note how martial promotions are not based on random combat encounters, but on such aspects of a character's makeup as valour and bravery in battle, quick thinking (e.g. taking over from a fallen General, and using Oratory to rally the panicking troops together to push for a decisive victory in the face of defeat) and leadership. Intangible qualities which aren't so much measured by numbers on a character sheet as which can come from the player behind the character. So, to answer the question, what makes a great player character? The answer can only be "the player," but the player has to learn to come to the game table with higher expectations than to run their character as a bunch of numbers on a sheet and lists of powers, with how those powers are used to kill and murder mooks like some video game. Players have got to learn that there is more to their characters than being murderhobos any more. Characters are, within the context of their game settings, people. They are a part of their communities, with loves and hates and fears and ambitions and aspirations; with allies and contacts to help them out, family and pets to take care of and care for,;and even rivals and enemies to keep them on their toes - and not in the sense of getting into a random rooftop fight with them like the Spandex crowd in a four-colour comic book. Great player characters are, above all, sentient beings (whether they are human, Bestia, Longane, Pelacur, or Bandaluk). And they become great when their players realise their characters' true potential (to be extensions of their personas) and play them accordingly.
  15. Basically, check out Luther Arkwright. That really is your best bet. The psionic powers listed there include drain prana, evil eye, focus force, inflict pain, mind probe, psychic wrack, sap vigour, and synaptic puppetry. Telepathy, clairvoyance, and telekinesis are a given. Everything a growing illithid needs.
  • Create New...